Disclaimer: Own nothing and no one. I just hope MGM loves me as much as I love it.
Archive: Anywhere you want.
Characters: Sheppard's Team (do they have a designation?) in general, but I do have a leaning towards McKay (it's the smart-ass thing--I love smart men with sharp tongues).
Spoilers: Childhood's End, Hide and Seek, Suspicion and Underground, I think. Passing references only.
A/N: This is not my fandom. I'll say that right off. It's actually miles (and over a hundred years) away from mine, but I can't seem to help myself. I don't pretend to have anything but the utmost respect for the many, many, many, MANY writers in the Stargate fandom, and the many readers and commentators, and I sincerely hope that you do not beat me up for this. It's my first try. I don't have the background, not having been a dedicated watcher of the original series (though I do watch it, just not with any serious attention), and I know next to nothing about anything scientific or medical (other than common sense). All I can say is, I had to write something. I was dying to.
A/N 2: Teyla's not very Teyla at first—she's too humorless for me most of the time in the show, and I have trouble writing someone that way. She becomes more like the canon Teyla later.
Description: Searching again for a Z.P.M on another world, Sheppard's Team find themselves on a planet with an unusual form of defense against the Wraith--shame it's broken.
CHAPTER ONE: IDIOMS AND IDIOTS
For some reason, as seemed to be a common feature of many of the places they'd visited so far, the planet they were visiting was lush and green. Long grasses, wildflowers, buzzing insects, thick forests and soft, rolling green hills....They could be in Montana somewhere, Major Sheppard mused, flying around in a piper on a lazy summer day, and never know the difference.
Well, except for the fact that the Puddle Jumper made virtually no noise and 3-D computer images seemed to randomly appear in the air in front of his face, but other than that....
When they flew over the planet where they had met Keras, McKay had started to talk about Colonel Carter's hypothesis regarding the ecological similarities of the many planets SG-1 visited, but he'd been cut off when they'd discovered that energy field. Part of the major actually wanted to hear the end of the story...but he just couldn't give McKay the satisfaction of knowing that something the doctor had said had actually been of interest to him.
As if reacting to his thoughts, he heard McKay mutter something to himself, then shift in his chair behind John's.
"Land over there," the doctor directed imperiously, leaning forward into Sheppard's line of sight for a moment in order to point towards a field.
"You sure?" Sheppard asked, scrutinizing the landing spot. It looked like every other field they'd flown over.
McKay snorted as he leaned back in his chair, favoring the back of Sheppard's head with an acerbic look. He clearly wasn't going to dignify that with an answer.
The snort of disgust was really all the response Sheppard needed as he headed for the field, a hint of a smile on the major's face.
"Just making sure we won't have to do any unnecessary hiking, McKay," he said. "After all, you know what they say about skinning a cat."
McKay made a face, again not bothering to answer, but Teyla piped up from her chair:
"Actually, no," she admitted, "what do they say? And who are 'they?'"
Ford chuckled, unable to help himself, and Sheppard smiled, responding cheerfully, "Oh, 'they' just means people in general, Teyla. And what they say about 'skinning the cat,' is that there is always more than one way to do it."
Teyla frowned. "More than one way," she paused a moment, "to skin a cat?"
"Yup." The puddle jumper landed gently in the field, and Sheppard shut it down except for the cloaking device.
"A cat is animal you eat, I assume?" Teyla added, her tone curious. "You skin it before you eat it?"
Ford nearly choked while McKay pressed his lips together tightly to avoid laughing. Sheppard grunted, clearing his throat.
"Ah no. Um...the phrase....I'm just warning McKay to make sure that his decision to land here is the best one."
"No he's not," McKay snapped defensively, his good humor at Teyla's question disappearing instantly. "He's questioning my ability to choose a location, which, of course, is silly. I wouldn't choose this field if I wasn't certain it was the closest one to the energy readings we found. You think I'm blindly pinning a tail on the donkey here? The readings—"
"Now, now, McKay, no need to get all testy," Sheppard smiled.
"Um," Teyla blinked, "I am sorry, but why would you pin a tail on some poor—"
"Testy?" McKay laughed, "Oh, I'd let sleeping dogs lie, Major, if I were you."
"Dogs?" Teyla looked at Ford. The young lieutenant was grinning.
"Birds of a feather, Teyla," Ford whispered quietly, pointing to the two men then tapping the side of his nose.
Now Teyla was really confused, trying to figure out what birds and feathers had to do with one's nose.
"You? A sleeping dog?" Sheppard was laughing, turning in his seat to arch an eyebrow at the scientist, "More like the cowardly lion...."
"Oh, ha ha," McKay crossed his arms.
"I think McKay's the tin man, myself," Ford added, still grinning. McKay gave him a dark look.
"At least I'm not the Scarecrow and Toto," he announced, lifting his eyebrows and leaving the two men with no doubt as to his meaning.
"No, wait, wait," Sheppard grinned, his eyes bright as he looked at Ford, "he's a flying monkey!" Ford burst into laughter, while McKay rolled his eyes. None noticed the glower Teyla had adopted.
"If I'm a flying monkey," McKay whipped back, "then the two of you are—"
"Stop!" The Athosian stood up, "That's enough! I do not know what any of the creatures you just mentioned are, but if you do not mind," she stuck her chin in the air, "I am not in the mood to skin one, pin a tail on one, watch it sleep or watch it fly! So," pivoting on her heel, she headed to the back of the craft, "shall we go?"
Ford's laughter instantly filled the Puddle Jumper, while both McKay and Sheppard shared surprised glances, before quickly catching the infectious sound. None could miss the glittering eyes of the glaring woman at the other end of the craft, impatiently tapping her fingers against the panel that would open the hatch.
McKay lifted up the hand held scanner, turning to the left and right to double check his earlier readings. The others stood around him in a rough circle, watching for movement and danger...and, frankly, enjoying the nice weather on this planet. The air was an odd mixture of scents—the smell of the forest was strong, but there was also a hint that something far away was burning, but the wind shifted too much to nail it down. After a moment, McKay nodded to himself, pointing in the direction of the rising sun.
"You sure?" Sheppard said again. McKay looked at him out of the corner of his eye.
"Just don't want you counting your chickens before they're hatched, McKay."
Teyla spun around to stare hard at the Major. All innocence, Sheppard kept his eyes on McKay. A slight twitch on McKay's lips was the only indication that the doctor understood the joke...and was more than willing to play.
"Oh, well, put it that way," McKay licked his lips, looking back down at the scanner, "Frankly, Major, I think you're barking up the wrong tree."
Teyla turned her glare to Rodney.
"Oh?" the Major said. "And how's that?"
"Because the day I can't read this device is a day that pigs will fly."
Teyla's glare intensified, but the Major was grinning.
"So how far?" he asked.
"Oh, about half an hour," McKay shrugged, adding smoothly, "as the crow flies."
"Nnnnng," Teyla miraculously kept her mouth shut. McKay glanced at her.
"What's the matter, Teyla?" he asked, "Cat got your tongue?"
The tiniest peep of exasperation came from her throat, and, instead of replying, she turned and started walking. The three men couldn't help snickering like her wicked older brothers, even as Sheppard ran quickly to stop her.
"Teyla, Teyla, we're sorry," he assured, getting in front of her and trying to appear sincere. "We'll stop. Look, they're just silly proverbs about earth animals. We have many."
"We Athosians have a few ourselves," she challenged, drawing herself up, "but you do not see me using them to speak over your head, now, do you?"
"Then, if you do not mind...." She raised both eyebrows.
"Okay, okay," Sheppard looked at McKay and Ford, who were still smiling. "Boys, that's enough."
Teyla glanced back at them over her shoulder, and the two men immediately straightened out their expressions. As soon as she looked back to Sheppard, though, the grins came back.
Sheppard, seeing them perfectly clearly because he was facing them, immediately thought of the phrase "the cat that ate the canary," and it was only through a supreme effort that he didn't say it out loud. Teyla was watching him expectantly now, waiting for orders. Inwardly, he sighed. Back to work.
"Okay, McKay," the major turned to look towards the sun, "let's find that power source."
CHAPTER TWO: THE AMAZING MESA
About two days previously, a probe sent through the gate to this world had detected a fairly strong energy reading, strong enough to suggest it could be a Z.P.M. As the world itself appeared peaceful and quiet without any obvious signs of life, it didn't take much for Weir to authorize the mission. Once here, McKay had discovered the energy being utilized was more spread out than initially indicated, but still remarkably potent. His readings suggested that something was powering an area the size of a small city, and, seeing as all they could visually see were trees and the occasional meadow, that probably meant it had to be underground.
Not the most auspicious of discoveries.
Still, power was power and McKay was leading to them to one of the highest concentrations of it.
Teyla moved to the front as she walked in the direction pointed out by the doctor, striding purposefully, probably still a little annoyed with them. A woman with a mission, Sheppard thought to himself.
Thing was, it wasn't her mission.
Sheppard cleared his throat, stepping up to match her stride.
"You've been here before, then?" he asked innocently.
Teyla looked askance at Sheppard, her brow furrowing slightly. "No. I believe I have already said that. I have not been here before."
The major frowned in response, then shrugged, "Then how do you know where you're going?"
Teyla frowned again, then stopped moving. She realized then that she had unconsciously moved into the lead of the group, as if she herself were, in fact, the leader. Sheppard nodded in mock thanks as he took over the role of point, and she blinked slightly as she rejoined the vaguely circular formation they usually took when visiting new planets. Ford winked at her, while McKay gave no indication at all that he'd heard the exchange, focused, instead, on the device in his hand.
"So," Sheppard spoke again a little while later, "we almost there, McKay?"
A grunt was his reply.
"McKay?" the major glanced over his shoulder, his tone a little more commanding.
"Not much farther, major. Keep your pants on."
"I'm only asking, because," Sheppard slowed, "well, we're running out of road, here."
He stopped. So did Teyla and Ford. McKay only slowed a little, eyes still on his scanner.
"Well, since you seem so intent on knowing," the scientist was saying, "the most concentrated readings are coming from exactly…." McKay stopped finally, discovering what Sheppard meant as his foot hit solid rock, "Oh." Then, a moment later, as his body registered that he'd stubbed his toe, "Ow!" Shaking the foot, he held up the scanner again, puzzlement clear on his face.
Before him solid rock rose straight up into the air, forming a massive cliff face. It seemed to climb into infinity, rising well above the tree line before eventually capping out at a horizon somewhere well above their heads. It also stretched away from the little party to both the left and right without obvious end. Bits of grass and plant life peeked out of the rock's crevices, but, for the most part, it was sheer. The stone itself was gray and speckled, like granite.
"It should be here, right here," McKay muttered, tapping the cold rock with his finger before stepping back with a frown.
"Inside the mesa?" Sheppard asked coyly.
"Yes, um," McKay peered up at the apparently seamless rock, then back at his scanner, then back to the rock again, "Seems odd, doesn't it?"
"A little," Sheppard said, stepping forward and placing a hand palm down against the rock. Then he knocked on it, earning a slight sting in his knuckles but learning little else. "I think it's solid McKay."
Ford and Teyla both looked at the doctor, who grimaced, his eyes once more on the scanner. He was still looking supremely puzzled and now a little disgruntled.
"Um," Ford adjusted the P90 on his shoulder with a shrug, "sir, not to be difficult, but are we sure it’s a mesa?"
Sheppard and McKay both looked at the lieutenant.
"As opposed to…?" Sheppard prompted.
"I don't know. A butte?"
McKay half smiled, looked over at the major, already sensing what was coming.
Sheppard's eyes narrowed at the young man. "A butte?" he repeated incredulously.
"Sure, I mean, just—"
"As someone who is trying not to be difficult, please, tell me, what is the difference between a mesa and a butte?"
"Um, well," Ford frowned, "buttes are…smaller?"
"It could also just be a really big rock," Teyla suggested, looking at them all expectantly.
McKay grinned at that. He quickly schooled his face when he received a glare from Sheppard.
"A big rock," Sheppard repeated, looking back at the Athosian. "Listen, this," he pointed behind him at the cliff, "is a mesa. Buttes," he looked at Ford, "have sloping sides, while this is a vertical cliff face, and," he looked at Teyla, "it's too big just to be a big rock."
"Actually," McKay mused, "Teyla could be right; it could be a monolith." He glanced at the Major, "Ever been to Ayers Rock? It's really quite an amazing—"
"It's a mesa! That's what we're calling it; that's what it is!" Sheppard was glaring fully now at the doctor. McKay just shrugged, a hint of a smile on his face at the tiny victory, and looked again at the cliff. As he did so, something occurred to him, and he frowned again, taking a step forward to look more closely. Meanwhile, the major's eyes narrowed, just then realizing he was being made fun of. Licking his lips, he quickly turned the tables.
Rodney," Sheppard leaned on one leg, "You've basically led us to an
impenetrable wall. Now what?"
"Um," McKay played with his lips a moment, looking back up at the rock face, "Well, look, it's clearly hollow."
"Doesn't look hollow."
"Well, looks can be deceiving."
"Doesn't feel hollow, either."
"Fine," McKay grimaced, grunted, and lifted his scanner again. He moved a few steps to the right, then pivoted around and walked a few steps in the other direction. His eyes lifted upwards, narrowing as he inspected a portion of the cliff above their heads. "Okay, here's the thing," he said, looking down again, "according to the readings, there is a concentration of power here, but it then leaves this point and spreads itself out in roughly three directions. To the left and right, the energy output is negligible but evenly distributed, as it rises upwards, however," he looked up, eyes narrowing again, "more power is utilized."
"So more energy is used as you go up," Sheppard reiterated.
"So?" The major shrugged.
"Well," McKay frowned, arching an eyebrow at the major, "doesn't it make you wonder why?"
"Why the sky is blue," the doctor snapped. "Why more power is being used up above, of course!"
"Look at the cliff, Major," McKay returned his gaze to the rock, "Doesn't anything about the cliff over our heads strike you as odd?"
"Look closely," the doctor pressed, "and think about the fact that we flew to a spot not far from here."
Sheppard's eyes narrowed, while Teyla just looked at Ford. The lieutenant was blinking, trying to guess what McKay was getting at. Suddenly, the young man's eyes lit with understanding, and he was about to speak but the major beat him to it.
"Oh, just tell us McKay," Sheppard growled. "I would prefer to return home sometime this century, if you don't mind."
The doctor sighed, clearly disappointed.
"Okay, okay," McKay tucked the scanner back into his belt and looked around his feet, "Maybe I should just show you." After a moment, he saw a fairly hefty rock and he leaned down to grab it. Tossing it in his hand for a few moments, he pursed his lips, then leaned back and threw it with all his might in the direction of the cliff wall about ten feet above their heads. As one, the other three members of the Team followed the trajectory of the rock as it arced, fully expecting it to hit the wall and bounce off.
So, it was with some surprise, then, when it instead passed straight on through the solid rock.
"An illusion!" Teyla gasped, stepping back.
"How did you know?" Sheppard asked McKay, grudgingly impressed.
McKay, in full smug mode now, opened his mouth to answer, but Ford beat him to it.
"Because we didn't see this when we flew in," the lieutenant said, nodding to himself. "Something this big should have been really obvious from the air, but all we saw were rolling hills. It must not appear until you're closer to it." He looked at McKay, "Is that right?"
"Give the boy a prize!" McKay grinned back. "Yes, that, and, if you look at that creeper there," he pointed to where a fairly large clump of ivy was growing out of a crevice to the upper right, "it's identical to that one there," he pointed at a crevice much closer to the ground to their left. "It's simple cloning," he chuckled, "a more impressive version of a simple photoshop effect."
"Well, whaddya know," Sheppard nodded, his hands on his hips. "That's one hell of an illusion."
"But," Teyla frowned, "I would not think such a thing would offer much protection from the Wraith." She shook her head as they all turned to her, "They would have the same readings as us, and would move to investigate this place as we have, and, though I know how quickly your mind works, doctor," she nodded at McKay, "I do not imagine it would take them long to discern that this," she glanced at Sheppard, "mesa, as you call it, is an illusion either."
"But perhaps long enough to give the people inside the opportunity to find a good place to hide?" Sheppard suggested.
"Wraiths are masters of illusion themselves," Teyla shook her head, "it would not be enough time. Their probes, darts and scanners would penetrate this illusion as easily as the doctor's rock did, as easily as they did the trees on Athos or any other structure." She shook her head, "I do not see it as offering any protection at all. It would delay the inevitable; that is all. If anything, it would hasten it, as the Wraith would be drawn here."
"Like moths to a flame," Ford said. Teyla froze for a second, then turned to look at the lieutenant. He blushed at her gaze, "Sorry. Kinda hard to stop."
"Well if it's not for protection," McKay interrupted, scratching at the back of his neck, "then it must have another purpose."
"Maybe," Sheppard said slowly, his fingers tapping the butt of his P90, "it's not to hide the people inside," he frowned, "but something the people have."
"If there are people inside," McKay quickly amended. "We haven't exactly seen any signs of life around here."
Sheppard shrugged, "They may not know we're here."
"I threw a rock through their illusion," McKay said, "don't you think that would have triggered some sort of alarm?"
Sheppard grimaced, staring at McKay out of the corner of his eye, "Are you saying…that you may have already pissed these people off?"
McKay blinked a few times, and smiled briefly before shrugging, "Well, we are pretty good at doing that; why buck the trend?"
Ford cracked an involuntary smile, and Teyla looked back up at the cliff, not about to ask what a buck was. As she studied it, she became more convinced she could see where real rock ended and fake rock began.
"Sorry, sorry," McKay held his hands up. "Fact is, what you said makes sense. If it's not there to hide people, then it's hiding something else. Question is, what?" He crossed his arms, his lips pursing in concentration, eyes trailing up and down the illusion for an answer. The other three members of the team found their minds drawing a blank at the question, but, then again, that's why McKay was there. As they watched, the tension left the scientist's face and his lips stretched into a smile—an answer had been found. Tilting his head slightly, McKay looked into the expectant face of the major. "What if what's hidden in there," he smiled more, "is a weapon?"
The major's eyebrows rose, "A weapon? You're kidding."
"Well, Teyla said that the Wraith would be drawn here, right? Well, unless they have some ability we don't know yet, they still rely on their eyes to see. If they can't see a threat until too late, then an illusion is effective. What if," he licked his lips, "what's inside is a weapon? When the Wraith ships go inside, the weapon is triggered…." He shrugged.
Sheppard looked back at the cliff, arching an eyebrow. "A weapon," he repeated, saying the word as if tasting it.
McKay shrugged, "Don't get too excited. It's just a theory."
"But one worth checking out." The major stepped forward, hands on his hips now as he looked up. "So, how do we get in?"
"Well," McKay frowned, peering again at the rock face, "there must be a door somewhere."
"Why do we not just climb?" Teyla asked. They all turned to look at her, and she pointed up. "I am almost certain I can see where the illusion begins. It is not that high. And if a rock can pass through it, why not a person?"
The major frowned, "I don't know," he shook his head. "We don't know what's behind that screen. Could be this world's version of an electric fence or barbed wire, and you wouldn't see the danger until you're right on top of it."
"True," she admitted, eyeing him, "but there could also be nothing at all. Is it not worth the risk? It could take many days to find a door, if one even exists."
The major frowned, then looked at McKay, "Can you disrupt the illusion, enough to give us an idea of what's behind it?"
McKay frowned, "Um, maybe." As he spoke, he was unbuckling the pack on his back, shifting to slip it off, "It's possible I can interrupt the power to it for a moment, enough to open a kind of window. Though," he looked back at Sheppard, "If I do…and that rock didn't trigger some sort of response from whomever may be inside, I can almost guarantee that my monkeying with their power source would."
Teyla's eyes narrowed slightly at "monkeying," mentally connecting it to the flying monkey comment from earlier. Made a little more sense, now.
"Oh come on, McKay," the major stood hipshot, "you're saying someone like you doesn’t know how to hack into someone's computer without leaving a trail?"
The scientist rolled his eyes as he knelt, opening his pack to rifle through the contents. After a few moments, he pulled out what the major would describe as a "doodad" along with some wires. Moving forward, he wedged it into a portion of the cliff-face, then stepped back, connecting the wires to a tiny keypad he had also pulled out of his pack. The other three waited patiently as the scientist's hands attacked the pad, fingers tapping away like a pianists' on his keys. Ford, the closest, was the only one to see the number of times McKay hit the tiny "delete" button in the corner. It was pretty often.
Sheppard sighed, while Teyla returned her concentration to the rock. Stepping forward, she played her hand on the cold stone, testing its roughness under her fingers.
"Sir?" Ford asked, getting a little anxious.
"Say we do climb. Why wouldn't the Wraith do the same thing? What if the weapon is triggered the moment anything travels through the illusion, not just flying machines?"
Sheppard's lips pursed, and he caught McKay glancing at him out of the corner of his eye, a fresh look of concern on his face, his fingers pausing for a moment on the keyboard.
"A Wraith would not climb this," Teyla said, her tone disdainful for the vampiric creatures. "They would see no gain. If they can not cull people using their ships, they often do not bother with them at all. When you have hundreds of worlds to choose from, one less group of people is not much of a loss. I would guess there is nothing up there but air."
"It doesn't matter," the major said, cutting Teyla short. "We're not going in blind." He looked back at the doctor, "McKay? Any luck?"
"Not yet. This technology, while familiar, is still alien, don't forget, and I'm not sure I even have the right…oh…wait…ha. As usual, I'm smarter than I think I am."
"Really?" Sheppard looked at Ford, "I didn't think that was possible."
The lieutenant smirked, "It's not, sir."
"What?" McKay looked up, catching on a little late, then his eyes narrowed. "Oh, very droll." Ignoring them for now, he typed a little more then stopped. "There we go. Look up," he directed, lifting up his head. Four pairs of eyes focused on the rock wall as McKay hit the enter pad on his scanner.
A "window" opened in the illusion about five feet above their heads. It showed what looked like a metal railing, lining the end of a dark, concrete corridor, and concrete walls on both sides. Before they could see more, however, the window closed, and the illusion of the mesa returned. McKay gave a tiny swear, attacking his little keypad again.
"Something has blocked me out—must be a failsafe mechanism. I could probably find another way around the defenses of the computer creating this illusion, but," he looked at Sheppard, "I'm not sure what more we would learn. There's obviously a way in up there."
"Shall I go then?" Teyla asked, already shifting her P90 around to her back. Ford's eyebrows lifted.
"I am the lightest, and I am adept at climbing. If you boost me up, I can be over that railing we saw in a matter of moments."
"Well, sure, but—"
"She's right, lieutenant," Sheppard walked forward, pressing his hand to the rock again, "Besides, it was her idea." Turning, he looked back at the Athosian, "No time like the present." he looked past her to the lieutenant, "Ford, cover her. McKay," the scientist perked his eyebrows, "You see any sort of spike in those power readings from that thing, you yell and Teyla, you fall back. We'll catch you."
McKay nodded, while Teyla just rubbed her hands together to warm them in anticipation of the climb.
"Okay, Teyla," Sheppard put his hands together in a cradle and lowered them, "Alley-oop."
She paused, her mouth opening to ask, then decided not to bother. Jogging up to him, she placed her foot into his hands and allowed him to propel her upwards. Her fingers quickly found handholds and, in seconds, she was scrambling up the cliff. Her hands grabbed the edge of the railing she had seen when McKay opened the window, trusting her sense of touch over that of her sight, since to her eyes it appeared as if her arms were melting through solid rock.
On the ground below, McKay kept his eyes glued to the scanner, while both Ford and Sheppard had their machine guns raised and pointed, following Teyla's progress as she quickly passed straight through the illusion…and disappeared. Both the major and the lieutenant's jaw muscles tensed, trying not to be concerned when she didn't immediately reappear.
"Major Sheppard," Teyla's calm voice came in clearly over the radio.
Not lowering his hold on his rifle, the major nudged the receiver on the radio on his shoulder, "Yes Teyla. What do you see?"
"Well, I am afraid Doctor McKay was correct. Our presence has not gone undetected."
McKay made a sound a little like a chirrup as the readings on his scanner suddenly spiked at the same time that a new, wider window in the illusion opened, and not one of his making.
Teyla stood watching them from the inside of the railing. She was surrounded on all sides by guards in dark green uniforms, one of whom held what appeared to be a gun like a nineteenth century peacemaker to her head, while the rest pointed what looked a little like lever-action hunting rifles down on the three men. Sheppard sighed, though he didn't lower his weapon.
"Anyone else got a real strong send of déjà vu here?" he muttered.
CHAPTER THREE: DEUCALION
The guns were lowered after some very fast talking, a skill Major Sheppard found he was getting better and better at, especially with Teyla's calm tones backing him up. The lieutenant in charge of the platoon that had "captured" them was a young, dark-haired woman, slender and taller than Teyla, but not by much, and, after some communication with her superiors using a control panel along one wall, agreed to take them to her leader. Surprisingly, they were also allowed to retain their weapons, though Sheppard guessed that to be in part because these platoon members were nervous of the strangeness of the P90s on their shoulders and 9mms strapped to their thighs.
Perhaps ten minutes later, after a couple of the guards dropped down and led them to a hidden ladder leading to entrance not far from their location, they were all inside the illusion and being marched down a series of man-made, cave-like corridors through a labyrinth that would have made Daedelus proud. There was a faint, musty smell in the air, probably caused by the presence of lichen on the inside of the cave walls, and McKay sneezed a couple of times. Sheppard finally recognized what the smell really was--it was disuse.
"You have to understand, Major," the young lieutenant was saying, glancing sideways at the taller Sheppard with dark brown eyes, "You've literally come out of nowhere. However…human…you look, we have been fooled before."
"Really?" McKay asked, jogging a little to keep up with the brisk pace the lieutenant and the longer legged Major Sheppard were making, "How? Who?"
The lieutenant waved her hand, "Another race. It's not important, as it was a long time ago, but we have long memories."
"As do we all," Teyla agreed sagely.
"How did you figure out this other race wasn't human?" McKay pressed, jogging again. The young lieutenant looked at him out of the corner of her eye.
"I'm not sure," she admitted, "but probably when they started killing us."
"Ah," McKay dropped back.
"It was a long time ago. That race may be long gone, for all I know. They never did come again."
"This, uh, this other race," Sheppard began, "they weren't, oh, freakily tall with long, wrinkly faces and stringy whitish hair…."
"No," the lieutenant gave a small smile, "That's the Wraith. You can't mistake them for human."
"No," the major shrugged, "I suppose not."
McKay frowned. Was he the only one disturbed by the information the lieutenant had just imparted? It worried him. Then again, everything worried him. He glanced around at the armed guards flanking them, all still with their hands on their rifles, and sighed. Oh well…no fear like the present, he mused gloomily.
Eventually, they reached what appeared to be a large, steel framed door, and the lieutenant stood back, indicating to two of her men to open it. They obliged quickly, and the whole platoon blinked as bright sunlight poured into the darkly lit hallway. A moment later, the lieutenant was leading them up a set of stairs.
The Team from Atlantis had to stop as they reached the top—they would have tripped over their feet otherwise.
"Wow," McKay breathed.
"Yeah," Sheppard agreed.
They had emerged on one side of a massive circular courtyard enclosed by a spectacularly high glass dome, the translucent roof shimmering and glittering beneath the sun shining through from overhead. A number of the windows in the ceiling of the dome were raised, allowing fresh air inside, though the musty smell still pervaded. At their feet, the rose and gray marble floor was laid in the pattern of a many pointed star, pointing in all directions. McKay lifted the scanner, taking in readings quickly. Dark, closed doors stood at various points along the glass walls, but, looking through the glass on either side of the doorways, it appeared they all simply led outside into more thick forest like the one they'd just left.
It was gorgeous.
The lieutenant smiled a little at their awed expressions, then looked around herself. "Other than the sky directly overhead," she told them, "it's all just more illusion—mirrors mostly. You are actually standing at the center of our small city, at the heart of the mesa."
"Ha!" Sheppard's exclamation startled the young woman, and she blinked. Clearing his throat, the major looked momentarily sheepish. "Sorry," he said, "inside joke."
The lieutenant raised her eyebrows, but otherwise didn't respond. "In any event," she said, "the doors all lead to various different parts of the city. I'm afraid to say that, other than this courtyard, most of it is a plain gray stone. The city really wasn't built for anything except a last defense against the Wraith." As they looked at her again, she smiled once more. "Now, if you'll follow me, I'll take you to meet Governor Borin."
"Um," Teyla cleared her throat, "before you do, may I ask: what is your city called?"
"Oh," the lieutenant chuckled, "My apologies. Major Sheppard, Lieutenant Ford, Doctor McKay and Teyla Emmagen," she swept her hand out, "welcome to Deucalion. Now," she lowered the hand, "shall we go?"
"Um," McKay held up a finger, "as you're being so helpful," he pointed to a door off to the left. Unlike the other doors, this one appeared open…and a shield of what look like a liquid mirror filled the interior about two feet from the entrance. McKay looked back at the lieutenant, "Where does that door go?"
She looked at the door, her face expressionless. When she turned her dark eyes back to the major, he saw a sadness in them.
"The Governor may be able to answer that. Now, if you'll please follow me." And turning on her heel, she led them across the marble floor towards a metal door roughly opposite from where they were, her boot heels clicking against the surface, echoing inside the dome.
It was only then that it occurred to Sheppard how empty the courtyard was—where were all the people?
"You come seeking allies."
Governor Borin leaned forward on her desk, her fingers steepling together, her statement a repetition of Major Sheppard's last words. She was not a physically formidable woman, her silver streaked reddish hair trapped up atop her head in a tight bun, her dark eyes shadowed with what looked like many sleepless nights. Still, there was an obvious steel to her bearing and her voice that belied her looks. Her outfit was plain—a long green coat over a white shirt, and matching long green trousers. A pendent at her throat reminded McKay of green amber. She was probably about fifty years old, and the lines around her lips suggested most of those years had been pleasant. Now, however, her lips were pressed in a thin, humorless line.
"That's right," Sheppard said, leaning back in his chair.
"And what do
you imagine we can offer you?"
McKay perked up from where he sat on the Major's left, "Are you kidding? This illusion of yours is an amazing piece of technology! If we could study it--"
"It offers no real protection," the Governor informed him coolly. "The Wraith ships just pass right through. They know the mesa is much smaller than it appears and that they can fly in high without risk of hitting anything, not even a building. You are on the top floor of the tallest structure in the city, and it is only four stories."
"Then why not build something tall that they will hit?" Ford asked, "A metal dome inside the illusion? They try to fly through and," he drove his fist into his palm, "Smack! Boom!" Outside of Ford's eyeline, Sheppard glanced at Rodney, his lips forming the word "smack, boom?" McKay covered his mouth to hide a smirk.
Oblivious to their
antics, the Governor was shaking her head at Ford, "Even if we had the
sort of resources to build such a thing, which we don't, their ships would
simply blast through it with their weapons as soon as they knew it was
"Then why have the illusion at all?" Sheppard asked. The older woman shifted her tired eyes to the major, reading his face. After a moment, she gave a small smile.
"Seems to me you already know, or," she tilted her head, "have a good idea."
"We think you may have a weapon," Teyla said, her usual brutal honesty coming to the fore. "Something that can deal with the ships that pass through the illusion's walls."
The Governor's small smile grew as her gaze switched to the Athosian, the thin pale lips parting to show aged yellowed teeth.
"Yes," she said, "We do have a weapon. Or rather," she looked back at Sheppard, the smile disappearing, "We did."
Sheppard's face grew confused at her statement, then a hint of anger crossed his face as he turned to glare at McKay. "What did you do!"
The scientist blinked at the sudden accusation, "What?" Behind the desk, the Governor also seemed a little taken aback. Sheppard sharpened his glare at the scientist.
"When you disrupted that power source, what did you do!"
"I didn't...You think I....Major, I couldn't...." McKay was torn between confusion and indignation.
"Oh no," the Governor's hand was raised now, "you misunderstand me, Major Sheppard. Nothing you have done has harmed any of the systems in this city, though," and here she turned a speculative eye on McKay, "did you really disrupt the illusion?" She looked beyond him to a military colonel standing in the background, a tall man with faded blond hair, "Is that why the alarm went off, Luphron?"
"Yes, ma'am," Colonel Luphron replied. "According to Lieutenant Che, they somehow opened a window along the Bell perimeter from the outside."
"Really?" The Governor looked back at McKay, and there was something akin to life in her eyes for the first time, "I just assumed that you set the alarm off by passing through it. You actually opened a window without using one of the control keys? How did you do that?"
"Oh, it wasn't hard, really," he shrugged, "I simply interfaced with the machine controlling the--"
"Why doesn't your weapon work," Sheppard interrupted. McKay sighed--he was used to being cut off by the major now--and the Governor turned her gaze back to the military man. Her eyes drooped again--the spark that had appeared at learning that McKay had opened a window faded.
"Well, it's not that it doesn't work," she said, "It's that we can't use it."
"It doesn't matter," she sighed. "Listen, major, I am sorry, but I'm not sure we would be very useful allies to you. Truth is, with our Weapon down, we can't even help ourselves at this point. If I were you, I'd leave," she shrugged, "In fact, I think you should leave as soon as possible."
Sheppard's eyes narrowed, and he grimaced, shaking his head. "Governor Borin, I know that you know nothing about us, but I promise, we're not looking to cause you any problems here. We just—"
"Major," she interrupted harshly, "Perhaps I wasn't clear enough. We can not help you."
Teyla leaned forward, a smile on her face, "Please, Governor, don't dismiss us so easily. Surely, with the knowledge that the Wraith are to come soon, you must understand that—"
"No, Miss Emmagen, it is you who does not understand…." Standing up, the Governor turned around to face a pair of thick wooden shutters behind her desk, her hands gripping into fists as she continued. "You have told us that the Wraith have awakened, and that they will likely start culling soon. For this reason, you come seeking allies and aid. Well…," reaching forward, she took hold of the handles of the edges of the shutters and threw them open, causing all four members of Sheppard's team to flinch and blink as sunlight poured in through the large plate glass window she revealed. She turned back to them, her eyes flashing, "I'm afraid your information is a little too late."
Outside, the gray and black city of Deucalion spread out before them…smoldering and in ruins.
Faint wisps of smoke rose from a few structures still, but otherwise it was as quiet and still as a grave.
"The Wraith have already been here," Governor Borin said, her voice strained, turning again to stare out at the destruction of the once proud city, "and they're coming back--soon."
CHAPTER FOUR: KNOWLEDGE IS POWER
A few moments of tense silence followed the revelation, with Teyla looking at Sheppard, McKay bending his head into his hand to hide his eyes and Ford trying to remain standoffish…without really succeeding. The Governor kept her back to them for almost a full minute, staring fixedly at the ashes of Deucalion, before finally lowering her eyes away from the sight. With a sigh, she then shifted them back to the four people now standing in front of her desk. The look of distress and pity on their faces was not lost on her.
"What happened," Teyla asked softly. The older woman shrugged.
"We had no warning, none at all," she leaned against the wall by the side of the window, her head shaking slightly as she looked outside again. "The Wraith were early, decades early. How could we have known?" She paused, looking back at them, then shrugged. Stepping forward, she rested her hands on the back of her chair, her tone calmer now that she was no longer looking out the window.
"You see, normally, our people do not live here. Deucalion is much too small for the size of our population to exist comfortably for more than a short period of time, but it is usually enough time to outlast a culling. So, again, normally, we would only come here just before a Wraith cycle was about to occur, because, until now, the Wraith have always been predictable. We take shelter inside Deucalion, inside its many tunnels and bunkers below the real mesa's surface, tightly packed but safer than we would be outside the city's walls—because of the Weapon. The ruined structures you see above ground here were meant for brief occupation only—our people rotate, those brave enough to risk being above ground during the culling and incapable of not seeing the sun for too long—they live in them. Or they would have."
"How many have you lost?" Teyla asked quietly.
"Many. As soon as the first probes appeared, people started moving as fast as they could to get here, but we were too spread out. Worse, without the Weapon, Deucalion is even more vulnerable than the outside world, because the illusion is intended to attract the Wraith, like a pet shamra to bright light, and it did exactly that. By the time the first evacuees made it to the entrances, the Wraith ships had already come and were inside." She turned again to the window, staring once more to the devastation below.
"They came in through the illusion's walls…and shot fire from their ships. Whether or not they remembered about the Weapon, they obviously knew that this city was too advanced to be condoned, and so simply tried to destroy everything they could see. To teach us a lesson, I suppose. The people unlucky enough to arrive here at that time, or were trying to get in…died." She shook her head. "The Wraith left after seeing most of the city on fire, but they will be back--to start the culling. All they need are the right ships—the big ones—which I keep expecting to look up and see at any given moment." Her eyes lifted to the blue sky, "They know the Weapon will not work now, and they will take advantage. People are still flocking here from across our world, but they are only making it worse for themselves and easier for the Wraith. They don't understand the danger, and though I have tried over and over again to tell them, I may as well be talking to the mesa itself." Her head lowered, her eyes shut. "The Wraith will come, whether it be hours or days; they will come and they will take as many as they can."
"But," Sheppard sat back down, and the other three followed suit, "why doesn't your weapon work? The illusion is obviously working--why was the trap not sprung as soon as the Wraith came?"
"The illusion is constantly maintained," she replied, looking over at him before shifting around and also settling herself back in her chair behind her desk. "It requires no additional work to make it function, and the machines generating it are buried deep within the real mesa's walls where even we can't reach them. It is just always there. The Weapon, however, needs someone to trigger and guide it, from the inside. There was no one here to do so, when the Wraith came. And now it is too late."
"You mean they succeeded in destroying it?" Sheppard asked.
She frowned, and then the strangest thing happened. Something seemed to spark behind her eyes, and they suddenly shifted to McKay. He flinched a little at her gaze.
"How did you open that window?" she asked abruptly.
He frowned, "I didn't." He pointed to the still open window behind her, "You did."
"Not that window," she waved a hand impatiently, "I mean the one in the perimeter wall."
"Oh…the window…you mean, in the illusion?"
"Yes. How did you do that?" Her stare was penetrating.
"Uh…" McKay was honestly confused by the sudden change in topic, and he looked to Sheppard for guidance.
"Why do you care?" Sheppard asked the Governor, taking his cue from the doctor. "From what we saw, you can open windows in the illusion as well."
Her gaze flicked back to the major, her lips pressed in a grim line. She looked back at McKay, who's expression was merely curious, then again at the major, who's expression was now one of suspicion. Her eyes lifted up to her colonel still standing in the background, but the man wouldn't meet her eyes. The Governor gritted her teeth, her jaw muscles flexing. Finally, she sighed.
"Okay," she looked directly at Sheppard, "at this point, admitting the extent of our helplessness to total strangers can't be any worse than what will happen when the Wraith return." She lifted her hand and indicated the room around her, "All of this," she began, "was built by another race, long before my people ever came to this world. We were originally brought here by the Wraith over half a millennia ago. Once here, we discovered Deucalion by accident, and, from the pictographs written down in what we call the hall of ages, figured out how to use the Weapon to defend ourselves. Since that time, we have used it to save ourselves from the Wraith on numerous occasions. Some have tried to learn how the machinery controlling the illusion and the Weapon work, but we are simply not advanced enough, and lack of access and fear of breaking it has curtailed our efforts. For many, though, simply knowing that they work was good enough. Now, that reliance on their simply "always working" could prove to be our downfall." She looked at McKay, "Control panels allow us to open windows in the illusion, but we have no idea how they really work. You, however, have apparently managed to access the illusion without one. How?"
McKay shrugged, "Well, see, I can—"
"Hold on a moment, doctor," Sheppard interrupted, cutting off McKay again as he focused on the woman opposite him, "you haven't answered my question from before, Governor. Why do you care?"
Her eyes narrowed as she leaned forward on the desk again, and the spark was back in her eyes as she answered: "Because, major, as you have obviously guessed, the Weapon was not destroyed. At least," she grimaced, "not as far as we know. After the Wraith attacked, something we have never seen before happened. When we went to inspect the Weapon, to see if it was even still there, we found some sort of…shield, I guess you call it…had formed. The doorway is open, but something that looks like liquid metal has blocked it. This shield radiates heat, and, when we tried to go through it, it left burns and welts too severe to treat. I assume this shield may have protected it from the Wraith's weaponry and, if they ever landed, the Wraith themselves, but we do not know how to shut it down, nor do we know whether the Weapon did in fact survive without harm." She looked at McKay, "But perhaps, if you can open a window in our illusion, you might find a way to lower the shield and discover if the Weapon is still functional?"
McKay's eyebrows rose, and he turned blue eyes to the major. There was no mistaking his expression, especially when the hint of a smile touched his lips. This sounded like a challenge, and McKay loved challenges. The scientist grinned smugly back at the Governor.
"I don't see why not," he agreed readily. "For someone of my abilities, I can't imagine—"
"McKay!" Sheppard snapped, "Hold on there. Nothing is decided yet."
The scientist blinked at the order, obviously confused, and turned a questioning gaze to the major. Sheppard also felt Teyla and Ford's eyes on him, both also clearly bewildered by his negative reaction. Teyla, in particular, he could feel. He already knew what side she would argue, and she was probably dying to voice it.
But, however up front these people were being, for some reason, as soon as the Governor has started in on McKay, warning bells had gone off in Sheppard's mind. It was nothing obvious, but something about the Governor seemed…false to him all of a sudden. He cleared his throat.
"Look, before McKay touches anything, how about letting us see this hall of ages you spoke of? It might give us a better idea of—"
"I can't. I'm sorry," she said, shaking her head despondently, "like almost everything else in this city, it was destroyed in the attack."
Sheppard's expression tightened, breathing slowly out of his nose at the information. The sense of being lied to…or at least of not being told the whole truth…was growing stronger. The Governor licked her lips, her hands moving to press palm down on the top of the desk. The same unnerving stare that she had favored McKay with earlier was now fixed on the major.
"Major Sheppard, please. I will not force you to help us, in part because I do not think our weapons could stand up to yours, and in part because all that would really accomplish is more death. I don't want that. I only ask that you allow Doctor McKay to see if he can find a way to fix the Weapon. There are thousands of lives depending on it. Please."
The muscles jumped in the Major's jaw.
"Please," she pressed, "do not condemn us if you can offer aid. Please."
"You do realize that just moments ago, when we asked for aid, you were trying to get us to leave," he noted slowly. "Insisting that you couldn't help us. Now, however—"
"I am aware of that, yes," she replied, blushing a little. "But that's the nature of a politician, Major. We have to be changeable, to keep up with the winds."
"You mean," the major's eyes were still narrowed, "because now that it looks like we can help you, you need us to stay."
She gave a small smile in response, and nodded with a shrug, "Yes."
Sheppard's face scrunched up, reacting both to her and to his own worries. But just seconds later, his face relaxed again, and, with a sigh, he frowned at her.
"Okay." He turned to look at McKay, "Go ahead. See if you can fix it, but be careful." McKay grinned as Sheppard looked past him to Ford, who was standing over the doctor, "I want you with him at all times—don't let him out of your sight. He's your responsibility, understand?"
"Yes sir," Ford stood more at attention at the command, while the doctor tilted his head up to look at the lieutenant. Neither man quite understood the concern the major was showing, but, truth be told, they both trusted Sheppard to know what he was doing.
The Governor grinned, unable to stop herself as Sheppard turned his eyes back on her. "Thank you, major," she said. "You have returned hope to—"
"Not yet, Governor." He stood up abruptly then, and Teyla rose with him where she had been sitting to his right. McKay stayed seated, staring up at Sheppard. "I need to consult with my own people, tell them what we've found here." When the Governor opened her mouth to argue, he held up a hand. "You trusted us this far, ma'am, I ask you keep doing so. I am giving you the help of our best mind; people at home will want to know why."
She grimaced, then nodded, "I understand. Will you need to return to your ship in order to do so?"
"Yes. If you could show Teyla and I out of the mesa, then after we reach the ship, I will send Teyla back here. When she returns, I would like you to tell her absolutely everything you can about what the Wraith did here, including the exact timing of the attack."
Teyla turned her deep eyes to the Governor, who met them, and nodded. "All right, if you think it will help."
"Knowledge is always helpful, Governor Borin," Teyla replied, smiling again. "It can be as powerful as any weapon, if used well."
The Governor tried to match her smile, but it was weakly done. "I will see that you are escorted down and out of Deucalion," she said, "and welcomed upon your return."
Half an hour later, Major Sheppard and Teyla were once more in the thick forest, nearing the cloaked Puddle Jumper. Both walked with their hands on their weapons, alert for anything—the major because he was still distrustful of the Governor, and Teyla because she was worried about the possibility of the Wraith once more returning without warning.
"You know," Sheppard was watching the trees for movement, in case they were being followed, "we were teasing you with them earlier, but you almost quoted one of our more famous idioms back there."
"Oh?" Teyla watched the trees on the other side.
"Knowledge is power."
She smiled, nodding, "Now that is an idiom I understand." The she frowned a little, "Tell me, Major, why I understand in general why you wish me to question Governor Borin about the Wraith's attack, I feel there is more here than just a desire for, as your people put it, 'intel.'"
"Well, in response to that, I have another idiom for you."
"Better safe that sorry."
She smiled again, "Ah."
"Perhaps it's because Deucalion is designed to trap the unwary by using illusion," he shrugged, "but I just couldn't shake the feeling that there was something more they weren't telling us. Something else hidden that they didn't want us to know."
"I saw no dishonesty in their dealings with us," Teyla replied. "The Governor in particular seemed very forthright in her meeting with us."
"I know--that's what worried me."
"I do not understand."
"As she said herself, Governor Borin is a politician, Teyla. Telling the truth is not often in a politician's nature. Especially not at a time like this."
"A time like this? But I would think a time like this is when the truth is most needed."
"That is because you are a different kind of leader, Teyla, and because, from what I can tell, your people value honesty very highly. I did not get that same sense from Governor Borin."
Teyla frowned. It was true—her people did not lie, or at least, they did so rarely. Their lives had been too difficult, leaving little occasion for lying. It was probably why she was always willing to accept other people at their word. It did not come as naturally to her as it did to Sheppard to doubt the intentions of others.
"We have a third saying," Sheppard said, "that may explain better what I mean." He frowned, "Needs must when the devil drives."
"Pretend I said Wraith. It means, in essence, that events can compel you to do things that you may not want to. The people here are desperate, and I don't like that. They may not want to lie to us, but if they feel it is the only way to save themselves, they may well do so."
"And you think they have?"
"I don't know. I just don't think they told us everything they know."
"Look," the major smiled a little as the field came into view where the puddle jumper was cloaked, "I know that you feel responsible for the situation these people are in. We woke the Wraith, and they came here before these people were prepared to face them, but there is nothing we can do about that now. All we can do is what we are doing. I just want us to be careful, that's all. I need you to keep your eyes open."
"I understand," Teyla replied.
"Good. Now listen," Sheppard walked up to where he instinctively knew the back hatch to be, and reached out a hand to touch the side, "what I want you to do is to stay with the Governor as much as possible. Ford can watch out for McKay at the ground level, but I need you to watch out for the two of them from above."
"I will do so," she said. "And I will, as you say, keep my eyes open."
Sheppard gave her a smile, then a nod.
"See you in a bit," he said. "Probably back within the hour. I already told Ford that you're in charge while I'm briefing Weir."
She nodded in acceptance and raised a hand as he disappeared into the invisible hatch, vanishing from sight. Turning, she headed back towards the hidden city, her ears picking up the now familiar drone of the puddle jumper as it rose in the air and headed back to the stargate…and back to Atlantis.
CHAPTER FIVE: LOWERING THE SHIELDS
His patience—what little of it McKay actually possessed—was quickly wearing thin.
Soon after Teyla and Sheppard had left, he and Ford had been taken to meet a group of self-described scientists, who, Governor Borin explained, had been working together on alternate plans of defense with the military. Once he was introduced, he had listened politely to them for about three seconds—which is really about the extent of McKay's version of polite—before barraging them with, what he thought, were some very basic questions. Unfortunately, he soon discerned that they were closer to Mary Shelley than Watson and Crick in terms of science, so, after a few minutes, he stopped bothering asking anything at all. He just asked to be led to the Weapon.
He really hadn't been surprised to find it was the same doorway off the central courtyard he'd pointed out earlier. Glancing at Lieutenant Ford's face next to him, he could see the often astute young man wasn't either.
As the scientists had all followed them out here, he tried tossing out a few more simple questions, such as "is there a control panel somewhere near?" and "why isn't there an actual metal door covering the entranceway, like the others?" They hemmed and hawed, and McKay sighed. Seemed all they knew was that this was the entrance to the Weapon. The force field glittering inside the doorway had formed during the attack, and they could not find a way to shut it down. That was pretty much it.
"See," one of the scientists was saying, "we think that the shield is probably made of the same stuff as the illusion, just, not the same, maybe the opposite, see, because—"
"Oh for God's sake, stop, please, before you hurt yourself," McKay ran his hand down his face in exasperation, then looked over at the lieutenant. "Ford?"
"Just keep them out of my way."
Ford grimaced at his rudeness, but nodded, "Right."
A pregnant silence descended then, and, after a while, it started making Ford uneasy. Besides the scientists, there was a healthy contingent of guards, and he didn't appreciate the strangely stoic demeanor they had taken. Before, they'd been nervous but still friendly; now they seemed detached. Many would not even meet his gaze, shifting their eyes away when he tried to meet them.
His mind tried to rationalize it—that they were concerned about McKay breaking their Weapon for good—but his gut still had his hand holding on tightly to the butt of his rifle.
Ford, as promised, was staying as close to the doctor as he could. He kept a wary eye on the small gathering as McKay set to work behind him, using his scanner to detect a power nexus for the defensive shield. The scientist began with the glass panels on the different sides of the door, ignoring the flawless illusion of forest on the other side. When he found nothing significant, he moved to the entranceway itself. With a frown, he noticed nothing along the edge of the frame except grooves for a door that didn't seem to exist.
"Okay," the doctor muttered, stepping inside the open doorway and taking a few steps down the dark hallway. The shield had formed about three feet down and away from the actual entrance, and he found he could get quite close to it without harm. It was, however, generating quite a lot of heat, and sweat quickly began to trickle down the sides of his face and down his back. After a few moments, he found it so intense that he was shrugging off the heavy vest and jacket, until he was only wearing the blue shirt, the arms pushed up to his elbows. The discarded clothing and gear were tossed in Ford's general direction, who looked down at it and ignored it, not about to become the man's butler as well as his babysitter.
McKay wiped his arm across his sweating forehead, licking his lips to get rid of the moisture collecting above his upper lip. Dark stains formed down the front and back of his shirt, and, though he desperately wanted to take that off as well, he just couldn't be that indecorous.
Passing the scanner of every inch of wall, ceiling and floor, McKay was almost on top of the shield when he suddenly grinned. "There you are," he mumbled, looking up at the wall in front of him. The scanner had finally detected a spike in power, and peering closely at the location, the scientist realized he could see the edges of a panel. Oddly, it had been painted over, but it was definitely there. "Hunh," he grunted, "No wonder they couldn't find you," he muttered, slipping the scanner back into his belt.
Ford had backed up a little to stand protectively in front of the doorway, still facing outwards at the guards and scientists. He listened to each of McKay's mutterings behind him, then to the sound of the doctor obviously kneeling down and rooting through his backpack of goodies. Risking one glance behind him, he was in time to see McKay pull out the same black device and small keypad as earlier. Kicking the backpack over toward Ford to get it out of his way, which Ford then nudged next to the jacket and vest, the doctor then put the device down on the corridor floor and pulled his utility knife from his belt. Ford focused his attention on the gathering again.
Using his fingers, McKay used the knife to define the edges of the panel. Soon after that, he was using it to pry the panel from the wall.
Some of the scientists moved closer, trying to see, but Ford stepped towards them, patting his rifle and shaking his head. Behind the scientists, the guards frowned, but otherwise didn't react.
"Ha," McKay chuckled, ripping back the panel to show the a series of wires beneath. They looked fairly basic, a mixture of colors and widths. A faint glowing light came from inside, giving McKay more light. After sticking the knife back in its sheaf on his belt, the doctor placed his interface into the panel, attached the wires to the keypad, and started working away, just as he had done before.
"What's he doing?" one of the scientists asked Ford.
"Lowering the shield," Ford answered curtly, confidently. For all that they all made fun of McKay, Ford had come to believe the doctor could do anything he put his mind to. McKay would lower the shield, the Weapon would be accessible for the people of Deucalion to use again, and all would be hunky dory.
At least, he hoped so.
Sheppard glided towards the open wormhole he had just dialed, keying in his IDC as the Puddle Jumper slowed to a hover just before the threshold.
"Atlantis, this is Major Sheppard."
"Everything all right, Major?" Weir's disembodied voice came back. "You're earlier than expected."
"There have been developments, and I'd prefer to discuss them face to face."
"Okay," she replied. "Lower the shield," she added, speaking to someone else. After a short pause, she spoke again. "The shield has been lowered, major. Come on through."
"I think I've got it," McKay called cheerfully at about the same time that, about thirty miles away, the Major was sliding through a wormhole home. "It's not much different from the program running the illusion, truth be told. Same basic tenets, really. You know, you folks really must learn to avoid painting over useful things like control panels. I do hope there was no lead…or lead like substance…in the paint I just scraped off here and probably breathed in…." As he spoke, he finished keying in a few more things into his program, the fingers of his right hand lifting up from the small keypad with a totally unnecessary flourish. "There!"
Ford turned sideways, wanting to see McKay lower the shield but still keep one eye on the gathering.
"Ready?" McKay asked everyone watching him. The scientists seemed frozen in place, but the colonel who had been standing to one side up in Governor Borin's office nodded.
"Go ahead, Doctor McKay." Colonel Luphron's voice sounded strange to Ford, and the lieutenant found himself frowning as the colonel added, "Lower it."
"Will do," McKay smiled, looking down at the keypad. As his finger hit the enter key, he looked at the shimmering barrier next to him.
As the gathering watched, the defensive shield disappeared in a flash, revealing a pitch black hallway behind it.
McKay's smile grew more smug and he turned back to the impressed scientists, about to say something more, when, suddenly, the entire hallway he stood in started to vibrate. McKay's expression fell, replaced by bewilderment. Bracing himself against one side of the shaking corridor, he found himself turning involuntarily to look in the direction of the inky blackness he had revealed by the lowering of the shield.
"Doctor!" Ford shouted as a bright yellow light flickered in the same direction that McKay seemed fixed on. "Get out of—"
But he was too late. The yellow light flared forward without warning, instantly surrounding the scientist. At the same time, a steel door slammed down to block the entrance from a hidden opening above, completely cutting the corridor off from the courtyard.
Ford's mouth dropped in horror. Around him, the scientists all lowered their heads. The guards remained cold.
"Doctor!" Ford shouted, quickly moving to bang on the metal door with his fist, "Doctor, open this door!" When nothing answered him from the other side, the lieutenant hit his radio, "Doctor, can you hear me? Doctor McKay?" He tried to will down the growing panic inside him, "Doctor McKay, respond!"
"Lieutenant?" Teyla's voice came over the radio, having overheard the transmission. "What's going on?"
Ford jumped, hearing her voice in coming in stereo. His eyes looked down at the doctor's things at his feet, seeing the radio still tucked inside the vest McKay had shucked off.
"Teyla," Ford's eyes lifted and he backed away from the steel door, "I don't know. Is the Major still with you? McKay's—"
"Inside the Weapon," Colonel Luphron finished, the older man having drifted forward to stand next to Ford.
"What? No!" Ford looked back at the door. Gritting his teeth, he pointed at the metal, "Get him out of there!"
"I am afraid that is impossible, son."
"Don't you 'son,' me. Get him OUT OF THERE."
"Even if we knew how," the colonel said, his face still as cold as snow, "I would not do so."
"I don't care what you would or would not do. If you won't help me get him out, then I'll go after him myself!"
"You can’t. The Weapon will only allow one person in at a time."
"How the hell do you know? Have you ever tried?"
"Listen to me, young man," the colonel pointed at the door, "he's inside the Weapon. You just have to accept that. The moment he lowered the shield from inside the doorway, the Weapon sensed his presence and took him."
Ford's eyes widened, and he found himself backing away from the colonel as realization dawned.
"You knew this would happen," he hissed, "didn't you?"
The colonel shrugged, "Yes."
"The one who triggered the Weapon had to be your Doctor McKay. We knew that if he lowered the shield, that he would also likely be the only one who could fix the Weapon if it has indeed been damaged. Thanks to him, we have a chance against the Wraith now. I will not risk the people of this City just to get him out of there, not when doing so could risk the Weapon as well."
"Lieutenant?" Teyla's voice seemed a little more breathless, as if she were running, "Lieutenant, I am almost back to the mesa. Major Sheppard has already passed through the Stargate, but he should be back in about forty five minutes. What has happened? Where is Doctor McKay?"
Ford tapped the radio, his eyes still glued on the colonel, "Telya—"
"He is alive," the colonel noted calmly, "If that helps."
In response, the lieutenant took in a deep breath, not hiding the fury he felt. Finally, he lifted his P90 up, the submachine gun pointed directly at the colonel's chest. "One way or another, you are going to tell me how to get him out of there. Now."
"Lieutenant!" Teyla's voice rang with startling clarity over the radio, "What is going on!"
The colonel lifted his eyebrows, looking down at the gun barrel, then back at Ford. The lieutenant didn't lower it, instead he tapped the radio.
"I don't know," Ford answered Teyla's question, his voice tight with tension, "but we're going to find out."
CHAPTER SIX: INSIDE AND OUT
Sheppard worked out a crick in his neck, watching as Dr. Weir paced the room. Her jaw was clenched tightly, something which Sheppard didn't find too surprising after what he'd just told her. Finally, she stopped moving, sighing slightly.
"Frankly, Major, I don't understand."
Sheppard shrugged, "What's not to understand?"
"If you were so sure they were lying to you," she explained, leaning over the table and squinting at him, "then why did you leave Teyla, Lieutenant Ford and Doctor McKay there? You know what McKay is like with new technology—he's worse than the proverbial fox in a henhouse."
Sheppard grinned, he'd have to remember to use that one next time he saw Teyla. "Meaning?"
"Meaning he's not going to wait for you to return before tackling this so-called shield. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if he hasn't already disposed of it."
Sheppard's eyes narrowed a little, "Really? You think he's that good?"
"Right, yes, well, look," Sheppard titled his head at her, "so what? I didn't tell him not to try. And if he has gotten rid of it, great for the folks of Deucalion. And good for us, because then we should be able to strike a deal with them to let us study it," his eyebrows waggled, "maybe even find a way to copy it for our own benefit. If McKay can figure out how it works—"
"But Major!" Weir was standing up straight, her hands clenched, "You just got through telling me they couldn't be trusted! And now you want to be friends with them?"
Sheppard grimaced, then he shrugged, "Well, I've been thinking it over, and it's possible I may have been over thinking things. I mean, sure, the governor's a politician, but so are you, and I don't hold that against you anymore."
Weir blinked, and a crooked smile creased her face. "Thanks," she mocked, "I think."
"Don't mention it."
"Doc, there is another reason."
Her lips pinched together, then she nodded, "You think we should try to help if we can."
"Because it's our fault they were attacked without warning."
"Even though you don't trust them."
The major opened his mouth once more to say "yes," but the word died in his throat. He just couldn't ignore his instincts, and Weir knew it. Finally he sighed, shaking his head.
"I don't know. Something felt wrong, but I was the only one who thought so, and they were in some serious trouble. McKay can probably help, and who are we really to deny them that?"
She watched him a moment longer until, finally, a genuine smile graced her face. "Okay," she said softly, "Thing is, Major, I tend to think your instincts are usually right, and it's very likely that you have good reason not to trust these people, even if it's nothing obvious. So, here's how we're going to play this. You're going back there, but not alone. Take another team with you, one which can stay by the gate and be in radio contact in case something does happen in Deucalion. In the meantime, you join back up with your team and let McKay work. However, if he hasn't made any progress or thinks that he can make progress by the time it gets dark on that planet," she looked down at her watch, "assuming that's about eight hours from now, then I want you to bring them all back here. I'll take care of McKay if he complains."
Sheppard smiled, "Oh, he'll complain." He winced, "In fact, I can hear him already."
Weir smiled more broadly, "Like I said, I'll handle it." She looked down at her watch again, "By the way, if you meant what you said to Teyla about returning within the hour, you'd best leave now." She looked up, "I just hope nothing has happened since you've been gone."
"Oh come on," Sheppard laughed, standing up, "it's only been an hour. What could happen in an hour?"
Ford and Teyla strode down the hall to the Governor's office in perfect step with each other, their expressions identical—they were both furious. A still stoic Colonel Luphron led the way, and several other guards walked with them. Ford was hefting McKay's backpack, because the Deucalion scientists had all been eyeing it greedily—like vultures—and he wasn't about to let those people touch the doctor's thing. Both Atlanteans also still held on to their weapons, as Ford was very clear in his determination not to give them up, and, again, the people of Deucalion had backed down. Ford had a strong suspicion that these people were, at their core, basically cowards.
The Colonel stopped at the doors, raising a fist to knock, but Ford swept past him and shoved the doors open.
Governor Borin sprang to her feet, and a young woman with her who looked to be holding plans in her arms, jumped back from the edge of the desk as if she'd been bitten. Their eyes focused on Teyla and Ford as they pushed their way in and stood directly in front of the Governor's desk.
"Why did you do this?" Teyla spat, resting her hands on the edge of the table and leaning forward. "You know perfectly well that, had he been told what standing inside that corridor would mean, Doctor McKay would have simply stepped out. He did not need to be in there—he could have easily found a way to trigger the lowering of the shield from outside."
A shuddering breath emerged from the Governor's throat, and she nodded. "Of course, you are correct, and I am sorry. However, we had good reason for not telling him. We needed him to be inside the Weapon, to repair it, if it's been damaged. He is the only one who can."
"Then you should have asked! You should have told us what would happen, and what it would mean. How do you know he would not volunteer to do just that?"
"I didn't," she shook her head, "but I couldn't take that risk." She drew herself up, "I am sorry, but I have my entire people to think about, Miss Emmagen. One man's rights, particularly an alien's rights, seemed less important. Surely you can understand that."
"No," Teyla shook her head, standing up off of the desk and crossing her arms, "I can not. You had no right to choose for him, or us, no matter who we are or what the reason."
"Besides," Ford added, his hand still curled tightly around his weapon, "how do you know he'll play along? McKay may be inside your Weapon, but that doesn't mean he'll fix it for you. Hell, he's probably just trying to find a way out or a way to contact us right now."
The Governor's eyes grew colder as she turned to face the young man, "Because, lieutenant, if he does want to leave, he will have to fix the Weapon to do so. Otherwise there is no way out."
CHAPTER SEVEN: DOCTOR "GET-ME-THE-HELL-OUT-OF-HERE" MCKAY
The soft white noise surrounding him was steady…and annoying. It intruded through his ears and into his brain, focusing itself on a spot just behind his right eyebrow until the dull throbbing sensation it created became too strong to ignore and finally woke him up.
"Oh for the love of…."
Rodney lifted his arm and draped it over his closed eyes, wondering if the fact that his entire body felt strangely heavy meant anything. As he woke further, though, the strange heaviness resolved itself into a dull ache, and, he realized dimly, he hurt. Not a stinging, knife wound kind of hurt, but more the constant imprecise pain one often felt when they were sick or had overexerted themselves. Like the body had given up, too tired to move, too beleaguered to care.
He frowned, still not lifting the arm off of his face.
He didn't remember being sick. Last thing he remembered was….
Like fireworks, flashes of memory burst inside his head, intensifying the headache. He remembered a force field, and he remembered trying to dismantle it. He remembered talking to Ford, standing nearby. He remembered Sheppard telling Ford to stick with him…and he remembered Sheppard talking to an older woman…the governor…Deucalion…about the Weapon…about the Wraith…..
And then the yellow light. The corridor shaking. Ford shouting to him….something grabbing hold of him….Had it been Ford?
"Not to sound trite," he whispered to the world, "but what the hell hit me?"
He paused, waiting for a response. When none came, he finally lifted the arm.
"Ford?" The eyes blinked open to a fuzzy but brightly lit world, "Lieutenant? Are you there?" With a grunt, he pushed up on one elbow, pinching his eyes shut again and rubbing them once with his free hand, before opening them again. This time, he could see clearly.
He instantly sat up the rest of the way with a sharp intake of breath. Pale blue eyes widened as his jaw dropped, taking in the room he was in without really understanding it.
"Oh God," he hissed, finding himself in a room so white that it was nearly blinding. "Hello?" he called, then, twisting to see more of the room, louder, "Hello! Anyone there? Lieutenant? Lieutenant!"
Only the humming answered him. He could hear his heart racing inside his ears as his fear kicked into full gear, his breathing on the verge of hyperventilation.
"Okay, okay," he said to himself, "okay, you can handle this. Calm down, calm down." He managed to shut his mouth, focusing on breathing through his nose to force himself to relax as he'd been taught. When he felt a little better, he levered himself up off the white floor and stood up, crossing his arms tightly over his chest as he turned in a small circle. The ache was leaving his body, but the headache persisted.
Finally really seeing the room he was in, the most absurd though crossed his mind, and he smiled, unable to stop himself.
"It's the fifth doctor's tardis," he chuckled, a hint of hysteria in the sound. "Someone's imitating the BBC's set design—that's got to be a copyright infringement." He shook his head and continued to smile, running a still shaky hand through his short hair before crossing his arms again. Truth be told, the absurd thought had gone a long way to calming him down, but the frown was soon back as he realized there was no visible doorway anywhere.
The room was white, pure white, and hexagonal in shape. It looked to be about the size of a good sized board room, complete with a white console in the center and a fairly impressive glass wall splitting the console in half and separating one half of the room from another.
No, he realized as he saw his reflection, not glass. A mirror. It literally stretched from wall to wall, interrupted only by the console sticking out of the center of it.
Unlatching his crossed arms, he tentatively took a few steps towards the console, eyeing the completely smooth surface—like white glass. Nothing about it gave any indication of what it did—for all he knew, it was just a table. Like the rest of the room, it was hexagonal, although, he realized, he was actually only seeing half of it. So, it was only hexagonal if, of course, the room on the other side of the mirror…if there was a room…was identical to this one. If not, then it was just a trapezoid.
Aw hell, he realized, mentally slapping himself, who cares what the shape is! How the hell do I get out of here?
Turning, he looked more carefully at the walls, looking for a doorway or a window, for some sort of way out. Large circular indentations of an off white color were placed in an even pattern over the three main walls, which was partly why Doctor Who had come to mind, and he reached into one to see what they were made of. They were about a handswidth in depth, but, other than being slightly warmer than the walls themselves, which looked to be marble or also some sort of colored glass, they appeared to hold no secrets.
Nevertheless, he checked all three main walls, remembering that Deucalion was a city based on illusion. Unfortunately he soon learned the walls were as real as he was. He hit one with his fist in frustration, and turned around.
Sighing in acceptance, he headed over to the console in the mirrored wall with a grimace. His fingers played over the smooth surface, looking for buttons or invisible sensors that might trigger something. Surely it wasn't just a decorative counter—it had to be hiding something.
As he reached the central section of the console, he saw a red light flash beneath the white surface. Frowning, he passed his hand over it. It flashed red again.
"Hm," he frowned, "wonder what red means here? Stop? Go? Caution?" He snorted, "You've just leveled Detroit?"
His lips twitched into a weak smile at that as he continued to pass his hand over the console. As he did, more lights appeared to flash beneath its surface, but none that remained steady, as if they couldn't maintain their power. Nothing about this was familiar, and nothing about it made sense. Still, there was obviously a pattern and he just had to….Damn his head hurt.
"This is pointless," he groused, pressing a hand to his aching forehead and looking up at himself in the mirror in front of him. He frowned at the reflection, trying to figure out what looked wrong.
Realization hit with a hammer. "Oh Crap!" he shouted, his hand slapping at his blue shirt where the radio should be on his shoulder.
He didn't have his backpack! Or his vest, or even his jacket! All he had on him was the utility belt and the 9MM strapped to his thigh. In other words, all the tools he had was a knife, his scanner and a whole lot of nothing. Hell and damnation! His right hand rested on the 9MM—fat lot of good that would do here.
"Oh this just sucks!" he shouted furiously, slamming a hand down on the console. Had he been looking down, he would have seen a brown light brighten and hold steady under his hand. He looked up at the white ceiling, sloping up away from him like the roof of a conservatory, anger taking over from fear, "What the hell is this! Where am I!"
He nearly jumped a mile, spinning around, his eyes searching the walls. His breathing was rapid again, and his heart felt like a jackhammer in his chest. He hadn't even noticed that the 9MM was now in his hands, thumb depressing the safety, until he felt the latch click.
"Who said that!" he yelled, searching the small room for the source of the voice, trying to pinpoint its origin. The voice was that of a man's, very evenly pitched, and unrecognizable. "I repeat," he shouted, "who said that! Answer me!"
In response, something seemed to move out of the corner of his eye, and McKay looked to his right, gun already pointing in that direction. As he watched, the light shifted and shimmered, forming a figure out of thin air. It was a man, about McKay's height, with wavy brown hair, brown eyes and wearing…brown. The figure nodded to him and smiled pleasantly.
"Hello. You are most welcome, friend and hero."
"Friend and hero?" He didn't lower the gun, but his hands no longer shook. Part of him was surprised he could be so calm in the face of this apparition—it was obviously a hologram, but, for a moment, the doctor's irrational side had screamed "ghost!"
"Most definitely," the hologram nodded, still smiling beatifically. "What is your name, sir?"
McKay's defensive mechanism kicked in. "My name is 'get me the hell out of here,'" he spat, adding nastily, "Why, what's yours? And if it isn't, 'the exit's over there,' I don't want to know!"
There was a pause, then, quietly, the hologram responded, "That is not a real name."
"Wow, nothing gets by your programming, does it? Look, what is this? Why do you want to know? Why are you even here?"
The smile remained fixed on the face, "To help make your stay more pleasant, of course. I am here to serve you, sir, to answer your questions and prepare you for what is to come. It would help if I knew your name."
The doctor grimaced, finally lowering the 9MM and returning it to its holster. The bullets would just go straight through anyway. He swallowed and crossed his arms.
"Prepare me for what's to come, eh? Fine. Rodney…McKay…Doctor Rodney McKay…." He tripped over his name, not even sure why he felt the need to add that he was a doctor. Habit, mostly. "You're here to answer my questions?"
"Okay then—where the hell am I?"
The hologram's face showed confusion for a moment, then brightened, "In the white room."
McKay's eyes closed for a brief second, then opened again. "No," he smiled thinly, "I meant, where is the white room? Where is this place located?"
"Near the Central Courtyard."
"That still doesn't help me," McKay sighed, wiping a hand over his face. "Let's try again. What is this place?"
The hologram stared at him for a moment longer, then frowned. "Don't you know?"
"If I did," the doctor snarled, "would I be asking?"
The hologram looked down, then up again. The smile was gone. "My apologies, Doctor Rodney McKay, I did not understand. You are inside the Weapon."
McKay's breath caught for a second, then released. Of course. He'd already guessed that, but just hadn't wanted to believe it.
"The Weapon," he repeated softly, "With a capital 'W', right?"
"Well, that's just great," he exhaled heavily. "How did I get here?"
Another pause, then, "That is not a logical question."
McKay made a face, then snorted. "Seems logical to me. I don't know how I got here. You must know. So tell me."
"When you stepped through the doorway, your presence was detected, and you were brought here."
Again, McKay closed his eyes. Those Deucalion bastards. They had to have known. Sheppard was right—the governor had lied to them.
"Okay," blue eyes opened again, "Then how do I get out of here?"
The hologram really frowned this time, "What?"
"How do I get out? Where's the exit?"
The hologram continued to look confused, until, finally, it shook his head. "There is no way out."
McKay straightened, his arms slipping to his sides, "What?"
"Do you not understand where you are? You are in the Weapon."
"So, Doctor Rodney McKay, surely you know--you are here to give up your life in order to save Deucalion."
The doctor fell back against the console, his hands gripping the edge of the smooth glass.
"I'm here to what?" he squeaked.
CHAPTER EIGHT: DUAL PURPOSES
"Is there no way to contact him?" Teyla asked. Governor Borin shook her head.
"I'm afraid not. Once inside the Weapon, there is no communication with the outside world until it's time to fire the Weapon. Doctor McKay is effectively cut off—we can't even see him in there, and he can't see us."
"But that doesn't make sense," Ford said, standing now closer to the door, his back nearer to the wall. "If he can't see out, how is he supposed to, as you put it before, guide the weapon?"
She shook her head, "I don't know."
"You don't know? How can you not know how your own Weapon works?"
She grimaced, then looked to Colonel Luphron standing nearby. The military man stood a little straighter, turning to face Ford.
"While we do not understand exactly how the Weapon works," the older man stated calmly, "We do know what it does." The man's dark eyes swiveled to the Governor, and the politician nodded back at him, allowing him to explain. He gave her the slightest of bows before turning back to Ford. "There is another room off of the hall of ages, one we call the Great Eye. Inside, a person can see in all directions at once, as far as the ring of fire, as high as the stars, and in all directions at once. In the room's center, it contains a small control panel, on which are six yellow buttons and communication device. When the Wraith ships appear, the people in the Great Eye can see them come and prepare the one in the Weapon to fire, telling him or her what to expect. When enough Wraith ships enter the illusion, the person in the Great Eye depresses one of the buttons, indicating the Weapon to fire."
"It only fires six times at any given time," Governor Borin added. "After that it must reset, so each shot must count for as much as possible."
"Reset?" Ford frowned, "What does that mean?"
"That the person currently guiding the Weapon from the inside," she smiled, "is released…and a new person must enter. It is very draining, controlling the Weapon, and a single person can not effectively contain its power after six shots." She shrugged slightly as she finished.
"You say it is draining," Teyla's eyes were narrowed, "How draining? Is it harmful?"
"Oh no, just exhausting," the politician smiled softly. "I would compare it to running a long race, or completing a long, stressful day in the fields."
"So, what you are saying is…."
"That, if your Doctor McKay can fix the Weapon, should it be broken, he will also have the honor of being its guide when the Wraith return. Once the weapon has been fired six times, his work will be done, and you can all go home." Her smile was steady throughout. Teyla searched her eyes, but she still could not see any deception.
"Can we see this control room?" Ford asked sharply.
"I…don't know," the governor admitted. "It too was protected by the force field that Doctor McKay has now lowered, but the hall outside was, as I mentioned, reduced to rubble. My people are trying to gain access to it now."
"I bet," Ford sneered. "Take us there."
"No arguments, governor, take us there now."
She grimaced, her eyes alighting on Colonel Luphron. He frowned, then gave a small nod and disappeared out of the room. The Governor stood.
"Okay. Give me a minute to settle a few items, and I will take you there myself."
The hologram took a step forward, and, though he knew it was merely a projection, Rodney backpedaled away from it, gripping the edge of the console and putting the corner of it in front of him.
"Stay back," he hissed, holding up a hand at the projection. The hologram frowned, but nodded and returned to where it had stood before.
"So," the doctor ground the word out, "what you're telling me is, that the people who come in here, they fire the weapon six times, and die doing it? Is that it?"
Silence greeted him.
"Is that it?" he repeated, the words even sharper than before.
"The people in the Great Eye fire the Weapon. You merely guide it."
"Why doesn't the person in here fire it?"
"Because the Weapon is connected to the walls of the Illusion, and can not see beyond it. The people in the Great Eye, on the other hand, have the means see beyond the edge of the Plateau, to the Ring of Fire and beyond. They have the clarity of vision to know when the Weapon will be its most effective, aware that it can only fire six times before needing to be reset."
"Okay, so, they fire it. But the person in here guides it somehow…and dies."
"Why does it kill the person in here? And why six?"
"The toll guiding the weapon takes on the chosen one is great. They do not survive more than six shots—the exertion is too much. In fact, to survive even that many, the chosen one must be very fit. Only the most healthy—"
"Why does a person have to guide it at all? Why doesn't someone just aim it from elsewhere? From this Great Eye place, for example?"
The hologram paused for a moment, and its eyes drifted to McKay's right hip. "The power of the Weapon is different from that which you have strapped to your thigh…that is a weapon, is it not?"
The doctor nodded, looking down at the 9MM, "It's a gun, yes."
"It shoots projectiles of some kind? Darts, bullets, shot…."
"Well, what if your bullets were aware of their purpose? What would they want to do?"
Rodney frowned. "Are you saying—"
"The Weapon's power is a force that needs to be controlled, Doctor Rodney McKay. It is aware of what it is and that its sole purpose is to destroy. Left to itself, with no force of mind to control it, it would seek to level this entire city, maybe more. Moreover, the fallout from that sort of uncontrolled explosion would make many sick for miles around."
"Fallout?" Something went cold inside McKay. Images of mushroom clouds entered his head.
"Millennia ago, my people traveled here, seeking weapons against the Wraith. We found an untapped, unspoiled source of energy deep beneath the surface of this mesa, and, with work, we learned to harness it. What we did not understand at the time, however, was that the energy we found had awareness. It became its use. For the Illusion, the energy we diverted to that purpose learned to flex and grow to maintain a stable cloak. It rarely looks the same from month to month, always with a purpose to deceive the one looking at it. From below, it might look like an impenetrable wall, from above, merely another hill, from another angle, it might look like a monolith…."
"Or even a butte," Rodney muttered quietly, Ford's earnest face coming to mind. Were they even looking for him out there? The hologram ignored his insertion, continuing with its explanation.
"…and the Illusion's control over itself became far superior to any safeguards we could place on it. But, it didn't matter, because there was no harm to it. It can stay that way forever, for all we cared. The Weapon, on the other hand…."
"I get it," Rodney sighed, lowering his head.
The hologram nodded. "We discovered that, if we used our own minds to guide it, it would follow our direction. And that aspect has become so much a part of the Weapon's consciousness that now it will not work without a human mind to guide it. In essence, a symbiotic relationship has been created."
"Symbiotic?" McKay laughed coldly, "It kills the person. How exactly is that symbiotic?"
"Because the person who volunteers to enter here works together with the Weapon to save the City. That person knows what he or she does is for the greater good—it's what they most want. That is why he or she enters the doorway and triggers the Weapon…as you have done. And the Weapon works with that person—it's not the Weapon's fault that it's stronger than the one guiding it."
Rodney stared at the hologram, taking this in with a strangely calm air. Any smart hologram would have recognized he was reaching his breaking point.
"And there is no other way to get it to work?" the doctor asked finally.
Rodney crossed his arms, "Well, I'm not doing it, you hear me? I'm not just going to…to connect myself up to this thing and let it kill me!"
"But nothing. The people in this city can kill themselves for all I care, but you and they are not going to kill me! Understand?"
He turned away from the hologram, his anger so powerful he was shaking.
"No, I do not."
"I'm not one of your precious volunteers, hologram! I'm not here by choice and I sure as hell am not sticking around to be murdered by your Weapon."
The hologram blinked, "I still don't understand. You entered the doorway…."
"Oh for…look," McKay stood up straighter, facing him again, "hasn't anyone ever changed their mind? Once they are in here, and realize that they're committing suicide, don't some ask to leave?"
"They have volunteered to save the city and its people—they have already accepted what that means, the sacrifice—."
"Yes, yes, I get that," Rodney sighed, waving a hand in the air. "What I mean is, when they are actually faced with, well, certain death," he shuddered slightly, "surely some must not want to go through with it."
The hologram frowned, obviously thinking about this. Finally, it nodded, "Yes, it happens," it admitted. "But I'm here to remind them why they volunteered in the first place. Thousands, hundreds of thousands, of lives depend on the Weapon and what it can achieve. Without a guide, it can not be fired, and if the Weapon is not fired, then the enemy will win and all those lives will be lost, taken by the Wraith to die the most horrible death imaginable. The sacrifice is noble—the greatest any one man or woman can ever hope for. And when it comes down to the line, they always make the right decision to finish what they started."
Rodney grimaced, his arms crossed over his chest again. "Wow," he sneered, "you're a real dual purpose monster, aren't you?"
"You are not only here to tell people there is not way out," the doctor's eyes narrowed, "but to actually make sure the so-called volunteers don't chicken out. Tell me, what happens if words don't work? Does it matter? Is being here enough?"
"Such an event has never happened."
"It means I think you're lying."
"No, I never lie, Doctor Rodney McKay. It has never happened. They always sit in the chair and—."
"Chair?" Rodney frowned, his quick mind grasping the new word, "What chair?"
The hologram blinked some more.
Rodney released his arms, "There's no chair here. Where is it?"
"In the other room of course."
"Other room?! What other room?"
The hologram pointed to the mirrored wall to the left of the console, "Through there. The Black Room."
The doctor looked at the mirror, then back at the hologram. It continued to point towards the mirror.
"There's a door there? All I see is a mirror."
The hologram frowned and turned, and his head tilted, as if seeing the mirror for the first time. Puzzlement appeared on its face as it walked up to the wall and stared at its reflection.
"This shouldn't be like this," it said quietly. "Something is wrong. There must be damage." As it spoke, it passed through the mirror…and a doorway appeared where the hologram had disappeared, leading to a dark room on the other side.
Slowly, tentatively, McKay stepped around the console to the heretofore invisible doorway and peeked through. He saw the hologram standing in the middle of a room the mirror image of this one, except that the room was black instead of white and there was a large reclining metal chair in the middle facing a black console.
"Oh," he grunted, "that chair." Taking a deep breath…he stepped through the doorway.
CHAPTER NINE: TRYING NOT TO BREAK EGGS
Two Puddle Jumpers glided through the wormhole and landed on the far side of the DHD. As John mentally shut his down, aware the other was doing the same, the open wormhole closed in the background, cutting them off once more from Atlantis.
"Okay," he said, standing up and turning around to look at the troops he'd brought with him. Stackhouse sat next to the controls, while Tanner and Greene watched from the back, the two marines looking deadly even when they were sitting still. He nodded at them before mentally switching on the craft's ship-to-ship receiver. "Jumper 2--Dunne, Saunders, Weathers--you copy?""
"Yes sir," Dunne's young voice replied, "Go ahead."
"I want you to watch the gate for incoming Wraith or anything else that might appear, and be ready to dial the gate at a moment's notice, understand?"
"And do not engage any enemies unless forced to or at my command."
"And, until something like that happens, radio silence, clear?"
"Okay then." Reaching over, Sheppard physically hit the pad this time to turn off the communicator before sitting back down and powering the puddle jumper up again. Next to them, the second puddle jumper lifted and shifted to land just behind the gate, cloaking itself as it did so.
Sheppard lifted his own jumper up into the air, turning on the cloak as he did so. As soon as the ship's course was set, he activated the walkie talkie on his shoulder, his eyes scanning both ground and air for anything that shouldn't be there.
"Teyla, Ford, McKay," he called, "This is Sheppard. Come in."
"Major," Teyla's voice replied, "This is Teyla. It is good you are back. We need your help."
Sheppard grimaced—that didn't sound good. "What's the matter?"
"I am with Lieutenant Ford, Major. Doctor McKay…." There was a pause.
Sheppard frowned, "Doctor McKay what? Isn't he also with you? Ford, I told you to watch him."
"I tried sir," Ford replied now, his voice colored with guilt even over the airways. "But these people lied to us."
Sheppard felt his chest go cold, and he frowned. "Explain."
"McKay lowered that shield, sir, but he was standing just inside the doorway when he did so. According to these people, his presence inside triggered the Weapon…and it took him."
"Took him? What do you mean took him?"
"I mean took him, sir. He's inside the Weapon and the Deucalions insist there is no way to reach him. But here's the thing, sir. McKay didn't have to be inside the doorway to lower the shield. Had he known, he could have stepped outside. They didn't tell us it would happen. They didn't tell us, because they wanted it to happen." There was no mistaking the anger in the young man's tone now, and Sheppard took a deep breath.
"Damn it. Can you get him out?"
"No sir. They insist that only Doctor McKay can get himself out of there."
"Then why hasn't he done so?"
"They think there's something wrong with the Weapon. He'll have to fix it first. Then he will be able to get out."
"Well," Sheppard recognized the field in the distance and headed the ship towards it, "Isn't that convenient for them."
"I believe that was their purpose in lying to us sir."
"Fabulous," the major deadpanned. "All right, I'll be there soon, Lieutenant. Sheppard out."
The Puddle Jumper slowed as the major maneuvered it down, to land softly on the already flattened green grass. Sheppard immediately set about moving to shut it down. Turning, he found the three soldiers watching him, waiting for their orders.
"All right," he said, "At this point, I now trust these people about as far as I can throw them, meaning I'm taking at least two of you with me. But," he lifted a finger, "I don't want them to know you're there. You'll sneak in after me, and follow us at a discreet distance." He frowned, "Of course, this would be easier if we had some sort of tracking de…" he stopped talking as a heretofore invisible drawer opened near his chair. Raising his eyebrows, he reached in and lifted out a small button…and a scanning device.
"Oh," he said, and gave a tiny smile. Pressing the butting to the underside of his jacket, he handed the scanner to Tanner. "Looks like you can track me with that."
"Neat," Tanner smiled, his Texas drawl informing the major, "Should be easy trackin'." Sheppard returned the look with a crooked smile before looking over at Stackhouse.
"You're staying here, in case we need to get picked up, fast, or need some extra fire power. Radio silence goes for you as well. Tanner, Greene," he tilted his head to the door, "Let's go."
Ford kept his focus forward as they walked through the concrete halls of Deucalion, while Teyla continued to glare at the Governor. Borin, for her part, was doing an admirable job of ignoring the unblinking stare of the Athosian as people constantly ran up to ask her or Colonel Luphron questions or to get their opinions on things, trying to prepare for the invasion they knew was coming. The older woman forced them to stop several times on their way to the Great Eye in order to okay plans, agree to weapons positions (Ford perked up when he heard someone mention the word "cannons" but it was too fleeting to latch onto), and generally coordinate the several different sectors of the increasingly obvious small Deucalion military.
At one point, Ford made a comment that it didn't sound like they'd had to coordinate a defense before. The Governor had made a disgusted noise.
"Of course we haven't. We've always had the Weapon before."
"And you think you won't again?" Ford asked cheekily. "Why? Because you don't think McKay will play along?"
The older woman's sharp eyes met his, and she frowned. "Well, let's just say that I've learned relying too much on one thing can be dangerous."
Ford pursed his lips, and nodded. "There is a saying we have," he said, "don't put all your eggs in one basket."
"Because one fall could break them all," Teyla breathed. She looked across at Ford, "I get that one."
Ford gave her a small smile. The Governor, meanwhile, was rubbing her forehead, shaking her head.
"What a mess," she muttered.
Teyla looked at her again, and some of the glare left her eyes—the Governor's current expression, at least, she knew well. She'd worn it enough times herself. She sighed.
"You are doing your best," she admitted.
The Governor looked up, a little surprised, then nodded. "I know. But it's not enough, is it? I feel like I'm making mistakes…but I can't see them."
"The mistakes you make now, I do not see. But that does not mean," and Teyla's eyes hardened again, "that you have not made at least one, a big one."
The Governor's expression stilled, then frowned. She looked up at the ceiling as if for answers as she spoke again, "Miss Emmagen, I know you think I've—"
"We're here," Colonel Luphron intoned, arriving at a stop in front of yet another steel door along a long, concrete corridor. There really wasn't much to differentiate it from the many identical doors they'd past so far. The older man reached up and knocked.
After a couple of seconds, the sounds of someone sliding bolts to one side echoed through the door. A moment later, the metal was slid to one side and a familiar looking young woman looked back at them. Lieutenant Che nodded at them and slid the door more to the side to reveal a fairly large room on the other side.
"We're still working, Colonel. We have not yet cleared all the rubble, but, as you suspected, the shield no longer prevents access to the Great Eye."
The Colonel nodded and swept a hand forward for Ford and Teyla to pass him and enter the obviously damaged hall on the other side. Sun streamed in through holes in the roof, and stacked mounds of concrete rubble were all over the place.
"I will leave you here, in Colonel Luphron's hands," the Governor said suddenly, causing them to turn mid-stride and look back at her in the dark corridor. "I will also see that Major Sheppard is directed here the moment he arrives." She nodded to them, then turned and looked at the Colonel, who was about to follow them. "Before you follow them, may I have a word, Colonel?"
Teyla and Ford looked at each other, then, with a nod back to the Deucalion leader, they disappeared inside with Lieutenant Che.
As soon as they were out of sight, Colonel Luphron bent his head down, so that he could hear the governor whisper in his ear.
"Was there enough time to have the images concerning the Weapon covered?" she hissed.
"Lieutenant Che would not have opened the door if they didn't, Governor, and our slow progress here guaranteed it, but," he frowned, "they will figure it out. What exactly do you plan to tell them when the Weapon kills their scientist?"
The Governor sighed, "But Colonel," her eyes glittered, "We already told them that we thought the Weapon was damaged. How could we have known it was so damaged that it would kill him?" Her lips gave a crooked smile, and the Colonel grimaced some more. Then she frowned.
"I would be more worried, Colonel, about the fact that the Weapon is damaged. You know that as well as I. And what might happen should the Weapon not convince Doctor McKay to fix it, or if he can not fix it. He does not have that pack of his, after all."
"I am more worried that he will not sit in the chair," the Colonel spat. "I wish only that the Weapon would allow more than one person to enter it at a time. I would have gladly made the sacrifice—"
"Well," she interrupted him, "What choice had we? It needs to be fixed, and no one here can do it. I can only hope that I have read these strangers well enough to know that they will not let innocent people suffer if they can help it."
"They're not stupid either, Governor. They know we're lying to them."
"I haven't lied," she said, blinking up at him, her face completely innocent. "I just haven't told them the whole truth."
The Colonel's jaw flexed. "Yes ma'am."
She stood a little straighter, not missing the derisiveness in his tone, "I am trying to save this City, Colonel."
He nodded, "Of course. But these strangers…if you're wrong about them…."
Her eyes flashed, "You think I don't know that?"
McKay looked around the other half of the hexagonal room, the mirrored wall now behind him. It was identical to the other side, except for three things. First, there was the chair…with vicious looking metal straps for arms and legs. Second, this room was black where the other was white--even the chair was black.
The third difference was more interesting and, for the first time, he felt hope—part of the roof had caved in over the main and right sections of the console, and the console itself was obviously damaged. He couldn't see the extent of the damage beneath the bits of fallen roof, but he was sure he could see numerous cracks in the otherwise smooth surface of the marble under there.
The low hum prevalent in the other room had a tinny quality in here.
The section of the roof that had caved in, probably because it took a direct hit from one of the Wraith's weapons, was blocked up by a now familiar liquid metal shield. He stared up at it for a while, interested that it had remained intact despite his obviously shutting down the rest of the force field blocking this place. Did it have a separate source of power? Or, more likely, he realized, it was just configured differently. The main shield was to protect against further outside threats. This smaller piece was to protect the integrity of the Weapon. Different programs.
And, he realized further, if he could figure out how to shut it down, he might be able to crawl out of the hole and get the hell out of Dodge.
The idea infused him with warmth, and, for the first time since waking up in the neighboring room, he didn't feel totally at a loss. With that in mind, he turned his attention to the broken console. Like the one in the white room, a few lights flickered at him from the unbroken left section, but they were erratic.
Carefully, he moved to lift bits of glass, marble and concrete off of the section, trying to clear the area. As what was beneath the rubble was revealed, his lips spread into a smile.
A massive section of the marble surface was gone and a healthy cross section of the wires inside the console were visible, including a dark board on which some familiar looking colored crystals glowed--or didn't glow, depending on whether the wires were connected to them. Most of the wires were ripped or snapped in half, and part of the board beneath looked busted. Rodney got the feeling this wasn't a good thing for the Weapon…but it could be a great thing for him.
"What do these wires do?" he asked, looking at the hologram. It was still standing in the middle of the room, staring around with a perplexed look on its face. It turned at his question, and Rodney realized for the first time that it was flickering.
"Please repeat the question," it asked formally.
"These wires," Rodney pointed to the broken console, "What does each do?"
The hologram walked closer, staring down at the damage.
"The console is damaged."
"Yes," Rodney agreed slowly, as if to a child, "I need to know…."
"The Weapon can not be effectively controlled without it. Can you fix it?"
"Can I fix it?" Rodney's eyebrow's lifted, "I don't know. Can I fix it?"
The hologram frowned. "I do not understand."
"It's easy. You tell me what these wires do, and I will tell you if I can fix it."
The hologram blinked some more, and stayed silent for a while. Finally, it nodded.
"The blue wire," it pointed to a thicker wire than the others, and the least damaged, "provides power to the console. The black one," he pointed to its right, to a completely severed wire "connects the console to the chair. That must be repaired immediately." The finger drifted further, "The yellow wire connects this room to the Great Eye and to the Entranceway. The brown…provides my power. The white…" he paused, blinked, then continued, "the white wire…." He frowned again. "The white wire…."
"Provides the power to the shields, like the one up above," McKay completed. "Don’t worry. Your programming doesn't want to give up everything. But I am beginning to understand the way this whole thing works a little better. And what does the red wire do?"
"The red wire?"
"Yup." He pointed to it. The hologram stared at it for a few moments.
McKay arched an eyebrow, "Does it, perhaps, have something to do with shutting the Weapon on and off?"
The brown eyes of the hologram lifted, meeting McKay's blue ones.
"Interesting," Rodney said, "This is making more sense now; how nice that your creators were so conscious of color coding their efforts." He grinned, leaning down to get a better look inside the console, and found another wire hidden inside the unbroken left side. This one was green—and it looked to be damaged as well, despite not being as exposed. "And this green one…what does it do?"
The hologram seemed to fight with itself, before answering, "It provides power to the communication system."
McKay's eyes widened, and he straightened up instantly, "Communications system?"
"Yes," the hologram nodded, "you can communicate with the people in the Great Eye."
Rodney's face lit up, and he grinned, "Why didn't you tell me I could—"
And suddenly the world exploded.
CHAPTER TEN: HERE THEY COME
"Sir!" Dunne's voice came in sharply over the radio, "Major Sheppard, come in!"
The Major raised a hand as he saw the illusory mesa come into view, and the two green-clothed guards waiting for him, but his grin was forced. So much for radio silence. "Yes, Corporal? What is it?" he said into the radio, the back of his mind adding 'this had better be good.'
"The Stargate just activated, sir! I think...oh shit! Weathers, get back in here now! Move!"
Sheppard didn't think, he just started running towards the two Deucalion guards. They perked up, confused by his sudden sprint in their direction.
"The Wraith, sir! Wraith darts! Two...three...four...They just keep coming...seven...eight… Oh, sweet mother of God...."
"Sir...there's a massive ship...it's descending from the sky above our heads...."
"Stay inside the ship, Corporal, you hear me!"
"Sir!" Stackhouse's voice came next. "I can see the mother ship! Lord, it's huge! The readouts coming up on the display...Christ, it makes n' aircraft carrier look like a tugboat, sir! Should I come...."
"Stay where you are, Stackhouse! Tanner, Greene, get back to the ship! I may need cover fire getting Ford and the others out of here!"
"Yes sir!" Tanner's voice replied. "Heading back sir!"
"Watch your backs! Stay under the trees and watch for shadows!"
The Major skidded before the two now very nervous Deucalion guards, his voice nearly a shout now. "The Wraith are here! They've come back! Alert your governor and take me to my people, now!"
Ford stared at the radio on Teyla's shoulder, while she gripped her hand around it, as if wanting to block the sound out. They'd heard it all, and the chills the Athosian was feeling made the reality of it even harsher. Colonel Luphron's eyes were wide before them, and he turned to the people he had clearing the rubble. They all stood like statues, staring at the two Atlanteans as if they'd betrayed them somehow, trapped by their fear.
"Hurry!" he shouted, jumping past the them to start tearing away at the fallen concrete himself, the action setting his people in motion again. "We need to get the doorway to the Great Eye clear now! We can't risk the shield coming up again. This is it!"
Teyla and Ford didn't even think as they dove in to help.
The darts bee-lined for the mesa, not in the slightest bit fooled by the Illusion. The mother ship followed more slowly, waiting for the smaller fighter ships to do their work and make sure the hidden gray city was secure before heading in after them.
The Wraith sensed the hundreds of thousands of people hiding inside that false hill, cowering inside the hollow rock. As if such a pathetic trick of the light would fool them. Did they really think they wouldn't be found? May as well try hiding a sun behind a moon.
The massive ship drifted towards the cloaked Puddle Jumper. It sensed a few small singular human presences below, but compared to the feast inside that Illusion, it was nothing.
Tanner and Greene stopped, pressing themselves against trees as the first dart whipped past over their heads, their eyes glued on the dark shape through the thick branches. Both men sighed in relief when it didn't bother to slow down, obviously not concerned with them.
"Keep moving!" Tanner called, turning and running once more for their cloaked craft. Not far now.
The Major and a couple of Deucalion guards sprinted down the dark gray corridors of Deucalion, trying to get to the hall of ages before the Wraith ships breached the Illusion.
"We're through!" Lieutenant Che called, jumping back from the gap they'd created. "I can get inside."
"Then go!" Colonel Luphron shouted.
She nodded, scrambling back up the rubble and slipping in through the gap. Teyla and Ford moved to go after her.
"It can only fit a handful of people inside that room," the Colonel called after them. "Some of us...."
"Too late," Ford called back, sliding in after Teyla as she disappeared through the gap.
The Colonel grimaced, his hands gripping themselves into fists. Shaking himself out of it, he looked at the other personnel around him.
"All right, go man your stations! We will defend this City, understand? We will not let the people hidden below be lost without a fight! Sergeant Cusp, stay here and wait for Major Sheppard, tell him where his people are. I have to get to the Governor."
The sergeant snapped to attention as everyone else around him ran out of the room, followed by the Colonel, who gave a half salute back before disappearing as well.
The first Wraith dart penetrated the illusion...and took aim at the first small gunnery firing at it that it came across.
"Yes," the hologram nodded, "you can communicate with the people in the Great Eye."
Rodney's face lit up, and he grinned, "Why didn't you tell me I could—"
And suddenly the world exploded.
The first blast rocked the entire room, shaking the foundations and sending Rodney harshly forward into the console as dust and silt came down from the ceiling.
"The Wraith!" the hologram hissed as the scientist levered himself back up, shaking dust from his hair. "It must be! You have to fix it! Now!"
Rodney just stared back at the projection nonplussed, not immediately responding, still feeling the aftershocks of that first hit in his knees. The hologram flickered more.
"Please," it begged. "The Weapon must work! It's our only chance!"
How does a hologram now how to beg? Rodney wondered.
Another blast rocked the room, and bits of concrete dust floated down from the already fragile ceiling.
It galvanized Rodney into action. Shoving the rest of the rubble off the console with a mighty heave, he pulled the knife from his belt and started trying to reconnect the damaged parts of the motherboard, to replace the crystals and reconnect the wires....starting with the green one.
CHAPTER ELEVEN: WHEN THE DEVIL DRIVES
Despite its name, the room of the Great Eye was tiny, no larger than a small, dark closet. Lieutenant Che sat down on a chair before a small square table about the size of child's school desk, which was the only furniture in the room, and passed her hand over it. Teyla and Ford squished inside with her, standing on either side and watching as six yellow buttons formed on the smooth surface of the table. At the same time, the walls of the room around them vanished….
"Wow!" Ford exclaimed, grabbing at the back of the lieutenant's chair as the floor seemed to disappear, replaced by a bird's eye view of the City of Deucalion. Except for the chair and table, they appeared to be standing on thin air, staring out at the entire surface of the planet, the Wraith darts looking like small birds far below them winging towards the City. Teyla reached her hand out, seeking the wall she had seen a second before. It was with some thanks that she felt its cold, concrete surface still there, even though she could no longer see it.
The Deucalion lieutenant didn't react to the change in perspective—her hand passing over a section of the table above the yellow buttons. If Ford didn't know better, he'd swear she was steering an invisible wheel.
Sure enough, the perspective changed, and they appeared to drop hundreds of feet in seconds—Teyla had to close her eyes for a moment from the vertigo, and even Ford looked a little green despite the fixed jaw—until they were right above the city, watching as the first Wraith dart swept through the Illusion, easily dodging the shots being fired from below.
Lieutenant Che flinched as the Dart fired a shot at one of the gunnery positions, and the soldier inside disappeared in an explosion of fire and blown rock.
Her hand hovered over the first yellow button, shaking slightly.
It suddenly occurred to her that she didn't know if it would work.
McKay finished with the green wire, watching as the green crystal connected to it come to life and stay lit. Without pause, he moved to the white wire, which was intact….and severed it.
A bright flash overhead and he looked up at the damaged ceiling.
Sunlight poured in through the now open hole, and McKay grinned.
The way out!
The hologram looked up as well, its expression obviously unhappy.
Turning back to the console, the huge smile still on his face, McKay passed his hand over the green light formed by the crystal just as another explosion rocked the city.
"Hello! Anyone out there! Can you hear me?"
"Doctor McKay?" Ford's voice replied, obviously surprised. "Is that you?"
"Lieutenant! How wonderful to hear your voice!"
"Doctor McKay!" Teyla said, looking around her for the source of the voice. "It is good to hear yours as well! We were not really sure that they...." She shook her head, changing the subject from the Deucalion's honesty, "Are you all right?"
"Teyla! Yes, yes, I'm all right. A splitting headache but otherwise….Are you all right? Where are you? Are you in the Great Eye?"
"Yes, how did you…."
"You'd have to be, to be able to hear me. What's happening out there?"
"The Wraith, doctor," Ford answered. "They've returned. There's already a Wraith dart…."
"Two," Lieutenant Che added sadly, looking at where a second dart penetrated the Illusion.
"Two Wraith darts are attacking the City. They're…destroying all of the defenses the Governor set up."
McKay didn't answer immediately, and Ford looked at Teyla.
"I was afraid that's what you'd tell me. Is Major Sheppard back yet?"
"He should be here any minute," Teyla promised him. "Doctor, tell me, is the Weapon damaged?"
"Can you fix it?"
McKay stared at the green blinking light, then back at the hologram. It simply stared at him. It was unnerving.
"Doctor?" Teyla's voice called. "Can you fix the Weapon? Can you make it work?"
His jaw tensed, and he closed his eyes, "Teyla…yes, I can fix it, but…."
"Then do so. As quickly as you can. We are here, ready to fire it as soon as you have finished."
Blue eyes opened again, "F…fire it? As soon as I've….But…."
"Doctor, you must hurry. The darts are already….Look out!"
Another explosion rocked the room McKay was in, and he ducked out of the way as more of the ceiling fell. Luckily, it didn't hit either him or the console, but it spooked him anyway.
"Teyla," he gasped, "Listen, I have a way to get out of here. I can just climb…."
"Three darts are inside now, Doctor! You have to do this!"
"But I don't think I can! Please! I can fix it, but can't someone else...?"
"It has to be you, Doctor. According to the Deucalions, no one can take your place."
Another explosion. McKay gripped the console, his eyes glued on the broken black wire--the one that connected the chair to the controls.
"Doctor, we know the Weapon can only be fired six times, and that it will drain you, but there is no time to find someone else, we…."
"You mean you know what it will do to me?" he asked softly.
"We have been told, yes. Doctor McKay, I am sorry. You and we were tricked into this position, but there is no choice now. We can not let these people die, not knowing we could have done something to stop it. You must fix the Weapon and guide it. Please Doctor, hurry!"
McKay took a deep breath, not quite believing her.
"Ford? You agree? And Major Sheppard does to?"
"Yes, Doc. I don't like these people, but they don't deserve to be Wraith food. And, Teyla and I aren't very safe either. The Major isn't here yet, but I know he'd agree."
Rodney felt like he was going to choke. It took him a couple of seconds to realize it was because he'd stopped breathing. Gasping in some air, he turned and looked one more time up at the opening in the ceiling, at the sunlight and blue sky above. At his last chance. All he had to do was climb up and he'd be free….
He realized then that he could see black smoke rising from somewhere, drifting past the opening.
Another explosion rocked the room.
"Doctor?" Ford's voice asked. "The Major is outside. He says if you don't fix that Weapon, we'll probably be trapped here with the Deucalions. You have to fix and ready the Weapon now!"
"He said that?"
"Yes. Doctor McKay, he said that."
Sheppard was willing to let him die! Hell, he was ordering him to! He closed his eyes again. He never thought the Major would allow it, not without a fight.
Well, who was he kidding anyway? In the end, did he matter so much? Only in his own mind, he supposed. He wasn't really one of Sheppard's men, now, was he? Not like Ford…or even Teyla now….Deep down, he always knew he was the one who would be left behind when push came to shove. Why did he ever think he could be part of their team? To have…to have people who cared about what happened to him….
He turned, staring up once more at the hole in the ceiling. So why shouldn't he just go?
Another explosion. He grimaced. He knew the answer already. Suck it up, Rodney. A far, far better thing…remember your Dickens....
"Okay," he sighed finally, his voice losing all its edge as his head lowered. "I'll be your Sydney Carton. I'll fix it." Swiping a hand back over the green light, he turned off the communicator.
His face held no expression at all as he quickly moved to rejoin the rest of the damaged wires, connecting them with their crystals. He specifically didn't touch the white wire—he wanted the sky to be one of the last things he would see. The black wire he left until last, and his hands shook as he finally got to it.
"Is he fixing it?" Major Sheppard's voice asked over the radio, still a little winded from his run.
"Yes sir," Ford replied, holding onto the radio on his shoulder, watching as Lieutenant Che kept her hand over the first button, obviously itching to depress it. "He didn't sound happy about it though. He said something about having found another way out of the Weapon."
"Other than being released after six shots?"
"Why would he not want to guide the Weapon? Seems to me he would love the chance to do something like that?"
"I'm not sure, but I think it has to do with the fact that he knows it will take a toll on him. The Governor told us it drains you of energy. He'll be really tired when he finally gets out."
"It takes a toll? You mean, it could hurt him?"
"No, at least, not permanently. But, like I said, he'll probably want to sleep for a while." Ford cracked a smile at Teyla, who had her arms crossed as she listened to him. She didn't look happy with any of this, despite what she had told McKay.
"Oh, okay. And you're sure I can't come in there?"
"It's too small sir. With you, I think we'd be too crushed. If you like, you can take my place."
"That's okay, Lieutenant. I'll keep watch out here—cover your back. The holes in the ceiling out here'll let me see anything coming."
Sheppard sighed, looking around the rubble of the former hall of ages, trying to see if there was anything else interesting about this place other than it was the entrance to this supposed Great Eye place. His fingers gripped the butt of his P90 as he moved around, ignoring the boyish Sergeant Cusp as the young man followed him like a puppy. He could hear the whine of the Wraith darts as they sped over the city, firing at the positions where the Deucalion Guard were doing their best to defend themselves.
He stopped as he came to a section of the wall which, oddly enough, looked as if someone had deliberately tried to cover it up. The piles of stone were stacked instead of naturally fallen, and it was obvious that something was behind them.
"What's this?" he asked, looking at the Sergeant.
In response, the boy backed away.
"I…uh…I didn't do it!"
"Didn't do what?" Sheppard's eyes narrowed.
"We had no choice. I'm sorry, sir! I really am, but you have to understand—"
"Why do you people keep telling me I have to understand something?" Sheppard snapped back. He looked back at the neatly stacked "rubble"…then started tearing it down.
McKay watched as the console lit up, stepping back as the tinny noise in the background reduced itself to a steady hum. The mirrored wall separating this room from the other turned into glass, and he found himself seeing clearly into the white room on the other side. The room really was a hexagon. Turning, his eyes caught the now perfectly intact hologram watching him, the smile back in its face.
"Thank you," it nodded.
"You're not welcome," Rodney replied. He turned the rest of the way around, staring at the black chair with a pained expression. After a moment, his thoughts became resigned, and he turned back to the console, passing his hand over the left hand section again where the green light was.
"Yes doctor, we're here."
"Thank the Light!" a third voice said, one which McKay didn't immediately recognize, though it sounded a little like the young female lieutenant they had first met.
"Just let us know when you're ready, Doc," Ford's voice said.
"Ha, ready for this?" Rodney snorted, then drew in a shuddering sigh. "Sorry. Just need a minute more."
Rodney gripped his hands into fists, ignoring the rocking as yet another explosion hit the city, and he turned to the chair. Shakily, he sat himself down, resting both his arms and legs inside the open metal braces.
He jumped as they snapped shut, and a white glow enveloped him.
His breathing quickened and he looked up, blue eyes widening as the ceiling became a sort of projection screen and the city outside was reflected on it. He found he could see everything within the inside of the dome of the illusion just by tilting his head to one side or another….meaning he could clearly see the devastation the three Wraith darts were causing. Fire, smoke and ash filled the air, and he could see people running along the ground, trying to get out of the path of the Dart's weapons.
"Just…do me a favor. If you can avoid it…don't fire six times. The…the Weapon…it doesn't have to…just…please don't fire it more than five times if you can avoid it."
There was a pause, then Ford's voice returned.
"Are you saying the Weapon may not be able to fire six times?"
Rodney closed his eyes again. "Please…Aiden. Just try not to. I realize, in the face of all this, that you may have to make a choice but….please. Do me that favor."
Ford paused a moment before replying, "I don't understand but….Okay Doc. We'll try not to."
"Thanks. All right…go ahead. Let's get this over with."
CHAPTER TWELVE: WHITE LIGHT
"Okay," Lieutenant Che said, leaning forward over the console, "Doctor McKay, this is Lieutenant Che. There are three ships. Can you see them all?"
"Latch onto each and think about destroying all three—I believe that's how it works. All right, here we go," she licked her lips. "Firing One!" she shouted, hitting the first button.
A high pitched whine filled the room of the Great Eye, causing all three people inside to wince at the overwhelming sound.
McKay focused on all three Wraith darts that he could see, his mind trailing each one and merging them together.
The white light intensified around him, building in heat and pressure, to the point where he couldn't breathe because it was crushing him.
He didn't even know he was screaming as the Weapon's power burst upwards out of the room.
Sheppard pivoted on one foot, jaw dropping as he saw the massive white flare erupt upwards from some location near the heart of the City, filling each of the holes in the ceiling above with such intensity that he actually had to shut his eyes to protect them.
Above the city, the three Wraith darts didn't even know what hit them. As soon as the white light of the Weapon touched them, they disintegrated.
On the ground, the Deucalion Guard erupted in cheers.
Governor Borin fell against the side of her window, thanking whatever gods had sent the Atlanteans here.
"Damn!" Ford grinned, impressed as the whine disappeared along with the light and the Wraith darts. "Well done Doc! That was amazing!"
"Two more Wraith ships are coming up fast on the Illusion," Lieutenant Che stated formally. "They won't know what has happened to the first three until they are inside."
"How many are there altogether?" Teyla asked, trying to count the number of ships she could see through the Great Eye.
"I count nine more," Che replied, looking out from her seat, "not counting the main hive ship."
"Oh, we're taking that sucker down," Ford grinned, his eyes bright. "Keep it up, doc! Only ten more ships to go!"
Rodney barely heard Ford's voice, his ears were ringing too much. Every muscle in his body felt like it was on fire, twitching and cramping with the energy he'd just directed from the Weapon.
Oh shit. He wasn't going to survive this five times. He barely survived one!
Sheppard had returned to his digging, ignoring the weak protests from the Sergeant. The Weapon had startled him, but more it had worried him. That was a lot of power. If Rodney was standing at the nexus of that….It wasn't harmful, Ford had said, just draining, but if they had been told that by that snake of a Governor….
How could something that powerful not be harmful?
They were lying again, he just knew it. Something was very, very wrong.
"Teyla!" he hit the transmitter on his radio again, pausing in his boulder shifting, a sudden thought coming to him.
"Did Rodney say anything else?"
"About anything. What exactly did he say?"
"I…Lieutenant Che, two more ships!"
"Firing two," Lieutenant Che called, reacting to Teyla's shout.
The white light burst upwards again, hidden from sight to those outside the Illusion's walls, but not to those inside. Most of the Deucalions were forced to cover their eyes from the blinding glare, but it didn't stop them from celebrating the rebirth of the Weapon.
Two more Wraith darts were obliterated just as a third passed through the Illusion.
"Catch it!" Ford yelled. The third dart had clearly seen what had just happened, and was executing a sharp turn to get out and warn the others.
"Firing Three!" Lieutenant Che responded, her fist slamming down on the third button.
Rodney channeled the power, grabbing onto the tail of the escaping Wraith ship, riding the wave of energy as it exploded up through the ship piece by piece. He saw the three Wraiths piloting it turning to look at the Weapon's force as it blew them apart. Every jolt, every pain, every explosion, he felt everything.
His agonized scream faded as his eyesight started to dull.
The hologram watched him from one side. It showed no expression at all anymore.
"Here come three more!" Lieutenant Che said, her hand already hovering over the fourth button.
"How can they not know something's wrong?" Ford marveled. "Six of their ships have just been smoked, and they still seem oblivious."
"It is our hypothesis that, when it wants to, the Illusion can block more than just light," Lieutenant Che informed them, not taking her dark eyes off of the ships. "We think it somehow inhibits their ability to communicate with each other."
"Teyla," Sheppard's voice came over the radio, "Back to my question. Did McKay say anything else?"
Teyla frowned, looking across at Lieutenant Ford. He wasn't paying attention, focused instead on the images around them. She took hold of her radio, trying to remember if she had left anything out, when it came to her.
"Just that he asked us not to fire the Weapon six times, unless we absolutely had to. And I think he used another of your idioms. He said he would be our, I think the name was, Sydney Carton? Who is Sydney Carton?"
"Here they come," Ford said, gripping the back of the chair. "You ready Doc?"
"Sydney…Carton?" Sheppard replied to the Athosian. "That's not an idiom, Teyla. But I know that name.…I think it's an allusion…."
"Doc?" Ford frowned, as McKay hadn't responded to his question. He looked down at the console as if for answers. "Doctor McKay, you ready? In a couple of seconds, three more ships will be inside the illusion's walls."
"Ford, please…" McKay's voice was very quiet, and for the first time, Ford heard the pain in it, even over the communication system, "I…I can't…."
"Firing Four!" Lieutenant Che interrupted harshly, hitting the fourth button.
McKay's whole body lifted off the chair, barely restrained by the metal now cutting into his wrists and ankles as the Weapon seared through every fiber. The purpose of the restraints was all too obvious now—without them, he would never be able to keep his body willingly in this chair.
Three more Wraith ships inside his mind, three more to grab and destroy.
Destroy….that's all it wants to do. Destroy, eradicate, annihilate, and remove from existence everything it can see….
No! Just the ships! Just the Wraith!
Oh God it hurt!
"Stop!" he begged as the light faded once more, "Stop please!"
The whine died down from the fourth shot, and Teyla frowned. For a second, she'd thought she'd heard Doctor McKay's voice asking for something as the sound faded….
"Doctor, what did you just—"
"The main hive ship," Ford breathed.
Teyla froze, staring as the massive ship touched the edge of the illusion. Four more darts covered its back, staying outside the illusion, covering the perimeter. After all, for all the mother ship knew, nine darts were already inside…that was more than enough to make sure Deucalion was defenseless and ready for the culling to begin.
Lieutenant Che's hand shook again, hovering over the fifth button.
"The mother ship, Doc," Ford said to the air, "it's entering the illusion. My God…it's massive."
CHAPTER THIRTEEN: FIRING FIVE
Sydney Carton, Sydney Carton….
Sheppard attacked the rubble with renewed vigor, nearly able to see the images painted on the wall behind. They'd been deliberately covered, he knew that now.
Pausing to wipe the sweat from his forehead, he grabbed his radio.
"Stackhouse, Dunne, anyone….Does the name Sydney Carton mean anything to you guys?"
McKay stared up at the ship appearing inside the illusion through bloodstained, watery eyes; tears ran down his frozen face that he couldn't feel.
"This is will be the fifth shot," the hologram said softly, turning off the intercom with a "thought."
Rodney tilted his head, turning it to the side in order to see the hologram's face. It took a step forward.
"You were not ready for this, Doctor Rodney McKay. I am sorry for that. I admit…I have been monitoring your condition. I don't think you will survive this fifth shot, especially not considering the size of the hive ship, but you must try to. Even after you destroy the mother ship, there are still four more Wraith darts out there."
The doctor gave a weak smile—it was all the muscles around his lips could manage.
"You…really…are…evil…." he whispered hoarsely.
"But when you do, and I know you can, you will have saved an entire people. That is an amazing thing. You will be honored. The people of Deucalion will—"
"I…am…not…going to…die. Ford…won't fire…the sixth shot….he promised…."
"He will have to, Doctor Rodney McKay. Even though those four darts are not as dangerous as the hive ship, they still must be destroyed, or they will bring back more. And he didn't promise, he only said he'd try."
"He will. I am sorry." The hologram's eyes lowered.
The hologram looked up, a hint of confusion in its eyes. Then it frowned. "I don't understand."
The projection tilted its head. "I don't understand," it said again.
"You…and the Weapon," Rodney breathed in, pain wracking his chest as he did so. "You're…too…conscious…to just be a computer…."
The hologram said nothing to that. After a moment, it took a step closer, so that its brown eyes seemed to stare directly into the scientist's blue ones.
"I am programmed to make this easier for you, that is all."
"You're programmed…to kill me."
The hologram stared at him a moment longer, then, it nodded. "In the end," it shrugged, "yes."
Rodney closed his eyes at the admission and tilted his head away.
The hologram leaned back, "Is there anything you would like to have me relay to anyone before you—"
The hologram stared at him, then bowed and stepped back, and turned the intercom back on.
"Doc? Doc, can you hear me?"
Ford was leaning over the Deucalion lieutenant, worried that he had not heard from the doctor in about a minute, though he'd been calling.
"Lieu…tenant….Yes, I'm…I'm still…here."
Ford grimaced at the weak response—it barely sounded like him. "Doctor, the hive ship is almost through. Can you…are you…?"
"Just…fire the…damn Weapon…Ford."
Ford's grimace became a real frown. There was real resentment underlying that voice. McKay always sounded mean when he was tired, but, despite the sharpness of his tongue, you still knew he didn't actually intend to hurt anyone. But Ford felt cold fury this time—McKay's anger was directed squarely at him.
"Doc…Are you okay?"
"FIRE THE WEAPON!" McKay shouted back, impatience giving him strength.
"Yes sir!" Che shouted, slamming her hand down on the fifth button, "Firing Five!"
The hive ship knew, as soon as half of it was through the Illusion, that something was very wrong. Rear engines were shut down, and thrusters in front turned on. It had to get out of there.
But it was too slow.
The Weapon released the full force of its power, white light flaring so brightly that anyone looking directly at it felt like they were witnessing a supernova.
In her window, the Governor cried out, turning away and covering her eyes. Colonel Luphron squinted, watching through his lashes as the bolt impacted the edge of the hive ship, then closing them the rest of the way. Even he couldn't handle that much light.
Rodney chased the white light as it grabbed the edge of the ship, then boiled around the edges, not letting anything get in its way. It surrounded the entire ship, expanding beyond the Illusion for the first time in order to encompass the whole of the hive.
Then the Weapon boiled inside the ship, wiping out everything in its path, erasing the faces it came across, ignoring the screams of the innocent on board as they were trapped inside with the Wraith. The vampiric creatures themselves didn't scream, at least, not vocally. They just let the power envelop them without making a sound…and eradicate them from existence.
White light swelled and ripped through metal and flesh without discrimination, like a tsunami…nothing could stand in its path.
And through it all….Rodney screamed until he had no voice left.
In the Great Eye, the three people watched in awe at the power they were witnessing—both thrilled and terrified at the same time.
Rodney pulled it back, grabbed hold the power and wrenched, stopping it from doing any more damage as soon as the hive ship was obliterated. The Weapon resisted, angrily fighting the mind directing it. It turned, looking down at the gray city, wanting to erase everything it could see, to destroy it all.
The doctor bellowed noiselessly, bending it back, forcing it to retreat.
Until, finally, the white light allowed itself to fade.
After all…there was still one more shot to go.
The hologram watched, impressed to see the doctor's chest still rise and fall once the Weapon retreated again. He had survived after all.
"Well done, Doctor Rodney McKay," it soothed, inspecting the slack features. "Just one more now. One more and the Weapon will be sated."
One more, and I won't care anymore, Rodney added silently.
CHAPTER FOURTEEN: FINALLY, HE GETS IT
"Major, it's gone. The hive ship," Stackhouse's voice was filled with disbelief. "I saw it happen from here. But, sir, there are still four Darts up there. They're still coming—I don't know what they're thinking but…sir, I think they're going to try one last time to destroy Deucalion, even after witnessing that destruction. Speaking of which, Sir—what did that? I've not seen anything that powerful before, except on old footage of the New Mexico nuclear tests…."
Sheppard frowned, grabbing at the final bit of rock to pull it away from the wall. "That's their Weapon, Stackhouse," he answered without concentration. "And those four Wraith Darts won't survive it when…." He removed the last stone, and looked at the unobstructed wall for the first time, "….What the…?"
"Sir?" Stackhouse asked.
Sheppard's eyes narrowed as he absorbed the meaning of the images in front of him. The wall held a series of panels, depicting the way the Weapon worked. His eyes lit on the last panel in the bottommost corner and his breath caught.
"Sir, sir, I remember who Sydney Carton is," Dunne's excited young voice said over the radio. "We had to put our heads together, but he's the hero from…."
"The Tale of Two Cities," Sheppard finished, his voice soft, as the meaning of the last panel sank in. "The one who gave up his life to save….Oh my God." The major whipped around and ran for the entrance to the Great Eye, "Ford! Teyla, don't let it fire again!"
"Sir?" Ford was looking at his radio. "Why not?"
"There are still four more Darts," Lieutenant Che retorted, her hand over the sixth and final button. "We can take them all out with the final shot. I just have to time it right."
"Major Sheppard said not to fire it," Teyla said quietly, firmly. Che turned her head to look at the Athosian.
"But I have to. We can't let the Darts get away. If they do, they'll just go back and return with more ships. They'll—"
Ford grabbed her wrist, pulling it away from the button. "We're not firing it."
She glared at him, then twisted her wrist out of his grip and stood. "This is my city, not yours! And I will defend it!" Her hand raised to slam down on the sixth button as she turned back to the console.
The 9MM in her face stopped her mid-strike, Major Sheppard's eyes backing up the deadliness of the weapon in his hands. Because of the illusion of the Great Eye, none of the three people inside had seen him slide through the opening until he was right in front of them.
"You move, woman," he hissed, his voice the quality of death, "and you won't be able to defend a toaster." He nudged his radio as she backed up, her hands raised. "Stackhouse, Dunne…get those Jumpers in the air. You've got four bogies to take down. And be quick about it."
The hologram frowned, staring up at the images over Rodney's head. For his part, the doctor's pale blue eyes were open, but only barely. He watched the screens showing the four Wraith ships though half lidded eyes, without seeming interest.
"I don't understand," the hologram said suddenly, "why haven't they fired? Those four darts have been inside for long enough….They should have fired!"
"Rodney? Rodney, are you okay? Can you hear me?"
The doctor's parched lips gave a tiny smile. He knew that voice…what was it saying?
"John?" His voice was barely above a whisper.
"Hell yes, it's me, you asshole! Why didn't you tell us that thing would kill you? Sydney Carton? We were supposed to figure it out from that? You moronic, idiotic, stupid piece of—"
"John," he said, not really hearing the words Sheppard shouted at him as his eyes slid closed for the final time, but he could guess. He'd failed somehow. The last Wraith ships would finish the city, and they'd all be killed. "I'm…sorry," he pleaded hoarsely, "I…tried….Wasn't…strong enough…."
"Rodney? No! Rodney! Don't you give up on me! We're coming to get you! Rodney! Damn it, hold on!"
CHAPTER FIFTEEN: FINISHING THE JOB
Lieutenant Che climbed out of the Great Eye, clambering out over the rocks still partially blocking the entrance and slipping down the other side, ending up in an ungracious heap. Cusp darted forward to help her up, but stopped when he saw the tall, dark-haired stranger slide down after her, his strange black weapon pointed at her back as she got back to her feet on her own.
"Back off, Beavis," Sheppard spat. Cusp backtracked towards the door, raising his hands. Ford had appeared after the major, the menace on his face clear as he lifted up the submachine gun and pointed it at the young man.
"Call Luphron and Borin," he ordered, indicating the control panel near the door with his head. Cusp licked his lips, glancing at Che. She gave a small nod.
Turning, the young man reached for the panel, hitting the intercom.
"C…Colonel Luphron? C…can you hear me?"
A short pause, and the intercom came to life, "Yes! Cusp what is going on! There are four Wraith darts still—"
Sheppard yanked the boy away from the panel, tossing him in Ford's direction. Leaning into the panel, the major lowered his voice to a level that sent chills up the spines of the Deucalions.
"We figured out what your precious Weapon is going to do to our man, Luphron. We're not going to let it happen."
"Major Sheppard? Is that you? But I don' know what—"
"Can it, Luphron. You're a miserable, lying little parasite, you know that? I don't even know why I'm bothering with you, but I suppose I wanted to see if you had any shame at all. Lord knows your Governor doesn't. I'm only calling to let you know we're getting McKay out of that thing, and if you try to stop us…well, let's just say the Wraith would have been the lesser of two evils."
"No, Major, please, you can't mean—"
"You brought this on yourself, Luphron. I'm going back to that courtyard and blowing up that door. See you there." And he hit the same button the panel that Cusp had hit to activate it. He turned back to the boy, and looked beyond to where Lieutenant Che was watching miserably from near the rock-pile, Teyla standing firmly behind her. "Do you want to lead," he asked the dark-haired woman, "or follow?"
The Deucalion lieutenant's jaw flexed, "Those Wraith darts will finish this city. You've killed my people."
"Well, if McKay is dead, Lieutenant, we'll call it tit-for-tat. Now," he indicated the exit with his 9MM, "after you."
Stackhouse was grinning, swooping down on the hidden city of Deucalion from above, ignoring the two Wraith darts that just sped out from the Illusion masking the city, obviously headed for the Stargate. Those he'd let Jumper 2 handle—the two still inside the mesa were his. Without slowing down, the Puddle Jumper burst through the Illusion's walls, the sides of the craft opening to reveal its array of missiles.
The two Wraith darts were flying low, barely clearing some of the lower structures, firing down on the gray city, obviously hoping to destroy the weapon that had torn apart their mother ship before it fired again, a touch of desperation and panic to their aim.
Tanner's hands flew over the guidance system board in front of him, which had been adapted for those without the gene to manipulate the Jumper's weapons. Not that his skill was the only thing they were relying on—standing behind Tanner, Sergeant Greene had the Ancient gene, and though he couldn't use it any more easily than Dr. Beckett, combined with Tanner, the two of them were a powerful combination.
No words were spoken as two golden missiles burst out of the Jumper, flying in two different directions – one guided mentally by Greene, the other by Tanner's expert skill with weaponry.
The two Wraith darts responded with surprising agility to the new threat, instantly instituting defensive maneuvers—but the appearance of the Jumper had been too unexpected, and the golden missiles too smart.
Tanner's missile hit the Dart to the Jumper's right dead center, blowing it to pieces.
Greene's missile ripped down one side of the other Wraith dart, blowing out the wing and engines on the right hand side of the ship, sending it pinwheeling through the Illusion's walls. The Jumper followed it out, just in time to see the it crash into the side of a real hill, the resounding explosion shaking the thick forest cover.
"YEEEE-HA!" Stackhouse shouted, pulling up the Jumper to avoid the shockwave of smoke, fire and air from the destroyed Dart.
Grinning, Greene hit the communicator, "Two bogies erased from existence, Major. Two more on their way to you, Captain."
"Two bogies erased from existence, Major," Greene's voice announced smugly over the communicator, then, more formally: "Two more on their way to you, Captain."
Captain Dunne glanced at the communicator, then at Saunders and Weathers.
They were all so looking forward to this, it was almost ridiculous.
Dunne lifted Jumper 2 to hover above the Stargate, his eyes glued on the distance. He left the ship cloaked for the time being.
Two specks appeared on the horizon.
"Dial Atlantis," Captain Dunne ordered as he maneuvered the ship a little higher up.
Saunders' hands dialed the DHD as the two Wraith darts grew in size, aiming straight for their position. As soon as the event horizon stabilized, Saunders took control of the weapon array, hands raised over the panel in anticipation. In the back, Sergeant Weathers, a gene carrier like Captain Greene, focused his thoughts on the drone weapons attached to the ship.
The Wraith darts slowed fractionally upon seeing the Gate open already, but didn't stop their approach.
"Captain?" Saunders asked, glancing at the pilot.
"Whites of their eyes, Saunders," the Boston-born captain replied. "Whites of their eyes…."
The darts sensed something very wrong, but by the time they realized what it was, it was too late.
"Now," Dunne hissed, dropping the cloak. The Jumper put on a burst of speed, sending it directly into the path of both oncoming ships, almost as if he were playing chicken. At the same time, both Saunders and Weathers fired.
The two golden missiles burst from the ship, and the two Wraith darts crossed paths, flying off in different directions. The trick worked…for one of them.
"Aw nuts," Weathers sighed as his missile followed the one aimed at by Saunders. His control just wasn't good enough—he had mentally focused on the ship on the left. When the ships crossed, the missile stayed left though the Dart had veered to the right, while the one aimed by Saunders stayed on the ship it was intended for, which had been on the right but now veered left.
Hit by both missiles, the first Wraith ship lit up the sky, hundreds of bits of scrap metal showering the ground below, not one of them larger than a man's hand.
All three men's heads turned as the other dart barely missed ramming them, aiming for the Gate.
Dunne twisted the Jumper around, just in time to see the dart disappear through the event horizon.
Weir had her arms crossed, fingers tapping in annoyance and, frankly, worry, on her arms.
"Incoming," Grodin informed her, studying the readouts from the open wormhole. "It's a ship, I think."
She just nodded, her eyes narrowing slightly. All she could do was hope it wasn’t one of theirs. No IDC code had been activated, though her eyes constantly drifted to the laptop screen on the console, looking for it.
The burst of light and obvious explosion as whatever it had been hit the Iris caused her to flinch….
A second later, Captain Dunne's IDC appeared on the screen.
"Lower the shield," she commanded. Grodin pressed down on the pad button.
"Captain?" Weir asked. "What was that? What is happening out there?"
"Sorry, Doctor Weir. Two Wraith darts were attempting to escape, potentially to bring back more ships. Dialing Atlantis so that they couldn't dial the Gate themselves, knowing that if one got past us it would hit the shield on your end, seemed the most effective means to insure—"
"Wait, back up, did you say, Wraith darts?"
"Captain? What the hell is going on out there!"
"Um…well…the Wraith came."
Weir waited, expecting more, her eyes catching sight of Grodin as he instinctively held his hand over the button to put the shield back up, not hiding his nervousness at the word "Wraith."
When nothing more seemed forthcoming from Dunne, Weir sighed, "Captain, did you say…came? As in the past tense?"
"Yes, ma'am. They're gone now."
Grodin's hand lifted away from the Iris's controls with obvious relief, and Weir's shoulders relaxed slightly. "I see. What's your status, Captain?"
"At this time, I have no further intel, ma'am. We expect the major to contact us at any moment, however. We'll be back in touch as soon as we know more."
She nodded, not happy, but understanding.
"Okay, captain," Weir sighed, "We will wait for the major. But," she gave a small smile, "Next time you decide to use the Iris as weapon….just try to give us some warning, okay?"
"Yes, ma'am," replied the cocky pilot. "Dunne out."
"Wait, hold on, is everyone…." Weir trailed off as the Stargate shut down before she could finish, "…all right?" she finished weakly.
"He sounded to smug, doctor," Grodin noted. "If someone was hurt, I don't think he would have been so pleased with himself."
She nodded absently, "I suppose you're right. Guess we'll know for sure soon enough."
Her arms recrossed, fingers once more nervously tapping her arms.
"Last two Darts out for the count, Major," Dunne called over the radio.
"Well done, Captain. Stay by the gate and be prepared to dial Atlantis. I think we're going to need a medical team over here."
The young captain's smug expression instantly disappeared, and he glanced worriedly at his companions, "Yes sir."
CHAPTER SIXTEEN: RAY OF LIGHT
Rodney was floating now, drifting along a strange stream of consciousness that had his thoughts bouncing randomly from idea to idea. Vaguely he could tell he was still in the chair—he could feel the tackiness around his wrists and ankles where the metal restraints had cut into his skin and rimed them with dried blood like frost on a window—but there wasn't much real pain left. He didn't want to open his eyes, didn't want to see the harsh black and white world that had been his final resting place, didn't want to see the Weapon's triumphant grin as he became as ghostly as the machine itself.
It was just waiting, either for him to die, or for one more chance to destroy something…and then for him to die in the process. Either way, it was a win-win situation for the Weapon.
Either way it erased one more life from existence.
He started drifting deeper into wherever it was he was headed for, planning on giving up, when something new prickled his skin.
His expression frowned, not quite understanding what it was. It was so alien from the cold light of the Weapon. But something warm was definitely touching his right arm.
Against their will, the blue eyes blinked open.
He saw the hologram first, still standing there about two feet away, but its expression was only curious now. It was staring up at the ceiling over the chair, obviously watching something on the screens. It no longer had that sense of urgency on its face.
Not strange enough for the doctor to look up, though. He didn't want to see what his failure had caused. Was it all over? Was everyone dead…or taken?
Images crossed his mind of Sheppard kneeling before the Wraith, defiant to the end as they tortured him for information about Atlantis and Earth, of Ford and Teyla dying by degrees as their youth was sucked from them, of the triumph of those horrible creatures laying waste to the entire population of this city…of then going to Atlantis to finish the job….
They had all died because of him. Because he could not finish what he had started.
Rodney's eyes drifted down to the part of his arm that felt warm…and his lips lifted into the faintest of smiles despite the misery coloring his unsound mind.
It poured thickly through the hole in the ceiling, and it had shifted enough to touch his arm. He followed the light upwards, to the hole, and to the blue sky beyond. The smile grew. He had been right to keep the defensive shield off—it was worth the ceiling potentially coming down on his head to be able to see the sky now.
At least…it was something.
He just wished he could float out that hole and tell them…tell them….
"I'm sorry," he whispered.
The hologram turned, watching as McKay's eyes closed again, not sure if he had actually spoken just then or not. It frowned slightly, then looked back at the projections. It had just seen a strange new ship destroy both Wraith darts.
The threat to Deucalion was over.
At least the one from outside this room.
The brown eyes returned to the still form of the doctor, and measured the white glow still surrounding him. Its worry grew as it felt the growing impatience of the Weapon.
It was still waiting to fire…and take its payment.
Sheppard stopped before the metal door blocking the entrance to the Central Courtyard, watching as Che stood to attention and Cusp cowered against the wall. Teyla and Ford stood at the Major's back, both in full glare mode.
"Well?" he demanded, when neither Deucalion seemed inclined to open the door.
"The Central Courtyard is off limits when the Weapon is working," Lieutenant Che stated firmly. "We can not open this door until the Weapon's cycle—"
"Bull-crap," Sheppard spat. "Open it."
"I can't," she hissed back. "It won't open. No one can open it."
"I can," Ford smiled softly. Sheppard looked back at the young man, and then nodded. Che looked confused as the major grabbed her arm and dragged her away.
"What is he going to do?" she demanded, her eyes on the lieutenant as he knelt in front of the door and pulled something from his vest, "What is he doing!"
Teyla nudged Cusp in front of her, following the major and Che down the hall, the young man really just trying his best not to pee in his pants.
Che struggled in Sheppard's grip, "I asked you a question! Answer me!"
"What? Answer a Deucalion's question? Now, that wouldn't be fair now, would it? Not unless I lied, of course—that'd be fair. So fine, here's your answer—he's testing for termites."
They moved around a corner, Che's expression hateful and scared at the same time. A moment later, Ford's running footsteps echoed down the concrete hall behind them, and he rounded the corner with a smile.
"Fire in the hole, Major!" he called, hitting the detonator on his remote.
The explosion was small and contained, but also very effective. As the small group rounded the corner again, they saw the metal door had been blown of its hinges, landing about five feet away across the marble floor of the courtyard. It had gouged ugly black lines into the porous soft stone.
"Looks like you've a pretty bad termite problem," Sheppard said darkly, finally letting Lieutenant Che's arm go. "One down," he announced to Ford, and the lieutenant nodded. Che rubbed her arm where Sheppard's fingers had dug into her skin as the Major and Ford jogged into the courtyard.
"Go on," Teyla ordered softly, still standing behind Che and Cusp, her hands resting on her gun for emphasis. The two Deucalions sighed heavily, but did as they were told.
"Which one is it?" Sheppard asked, following Ford as the younger man headed to one side of the massive glass aula.
"This one sir," the lieutenant answered, skidding to a halt in front of a metal door that appeared larger than the rest. "It doesn't slide sideways like the rest of them sir," he noted, pointing up, "it came down from above."
"Like a garage door?"
"Yes, except it doesn't fold. It just came down."
"Well, doesn't matter. Find its weak points and blow it down, lieutenant."
"Yes sir!" Ford replied, unable to resist a smile at the prospect.
Both Sheppard and Ford turned around at the yell, as did Teyla, Cusp and Che standing off to one side, everyone looking towards the entrance to the courtyard that they had blown up. Colonel Luphron, Governor Borin and about twelve armed guards jogged towards them.
Ford sent a spray of machine gun fire into the air, stopping them in their tracks.
"I'm guessing those little rifles of yours aren't quite as quick on the job," Sheppard quipped, smiling at the Colonel.
Some of the more brave guards levered their rifles at the three Atlanteans regardless, but Luphron held up a hand, forestalling any movement.
"Wait, Major Sheppard, please, think about what you are doing."
"I'm rescuing my man, Colonel. What are you doing?"
"Trying to stop you from destroying our only means of defense against the Wraith!"
"You should have thought of that before—"
"The Weapon was damaged!" Governor Borin's shrill voice interrupted, stalking forward towards the Major. "You saw for yourselves how defenseless we are without it! It had to be fixed! And we couldn’t do it—only your Doctor McKay could. What would you have done?!"
"I would have ASKED!" Sheppard yelled back. "And I would have given us the opportunity to find another way, the option to decide for ourselves what could be done. But you didn't do that. You lied and stole something incredibly important to us, and now we're taking it back." He whipped around, "Blow the door Lieutenant."
"No!" Luphron shouted, "Don't!"
"Give me one reason why I shouldn't, other than you people trying to save your own skins," Sheppard hissed back.
"Because he's not behind that door!"
Sheppard straightened, cocking his head to one side.
Luphron took in a deep breath, "He's not inside there. It doesn't lead anywhere. It's just a corridor…and some kind of transportation device."
Ford was staring contemplatively at the door now, while Sheppard's eyes narrowed on the blond Colonel.
"How do you know?"
"It's written. The real Weapon's location is hidden…in case anyone tried to do what you're doing. We know it's nearby, but we don't know where."
Sheppard's eyes sparkled, torn now. His upper lip lifted into a sneer.
"You know what, Luphron? You've lied to us so much, I can't even tell when you're not lying anymore."
"I am not lying."
"How do I know that?"
The Colonel opened his mouth, then shut it. He had no answer to that.
"Major Sheppard," Teyla's quiet voice floated above the tension in the massive room.
Sheppard didn't take his eyes off Luphron, "Yes Teyla?"
"Doctor McKay did tell us that he had another way out of the Weapon. He said something about climbing out."
"So, if there is indeed a hole in the roof of the Weapon, then perhaps we can see it? We know that it is located close to this glass dome, because the light erupted out of the center of the city. Perhaps the men in Jumper 1 can find it?"
Luphron grimaced and Sheppard frowned. Ford continued to stare longingly at the door he wanted to blow up, while Teyla did what she could to bring reason back to the furious major's mind.
Finally, the major nodded. He hit his radio.
"Where are you?"
"Hovering not far from the city, sir. We're keeping an eye out to make sure no more Wraith appear unexpectedly sir."
"Good man. Look, I need you to come back inside the Illusion."
"Yes sir. Be there in two minutes."
There was a pause then, with the two sets of people still glaring at each other. Finally, Governor Borin stepped forward.
"Major, I…I just….I did want to thank you for destroying those last four Wraith ships. We did not know you had that kind of firepower."
Sheppard's eyes flicked to her, "I didn't do it for you."
Her eyes lowered. Sheppard looked away, back to Luphron. The Colonel managed to match the stare, but there were hints of sorrow around the edges of his eyes.
"Sir," Stackhouse's voice came in over the radio, "We're inside sir."
"Okay. I need you to focus your attention around the large glass dome in the center of the city. Start looking for—"
"Glass dome, sir?"
"Yes," Sheppard looked up to the sky shining through the glass overhead, "You should easily see the large…." Suddenly, it clicked. How was it possible that a roof as fragile as the one overhead wasn't damaged? There should have been glass fragments all over the courtyard floor, shattered windows from the barrage of gunfire from the Wraith ships…but all he saw were a few bits of concrete dust. "They don't see it," he realized wonderingly, his voice soft. Then, more into his radio, "Stackhouse, can you locate where we are standing?"
Another pause, and then Greene's voice answered, "We have you on screen, sir. You're in the middle of the city, beneath a fairly large concrete roof. I suppose it could be a dome, but it is not made of glass."
"No kidding," Sheppard breathed, and his eyebrow quirked as he saw the Puddle Jumper appear in the sky overhead and settle into a hover. He looked around at the places where it appeared that "windows" in the ceiling were open.
"Can you see any openings in the roof, Jumper 1?"
"Yes sir. There appear to be a number of cut openings, and at least one jagged hole that was probably created by weapons fire."
"A jagged hole," Sheppard repeated, staring at the illusory ceiling—it had the appearance of being pristine. "Hang on, Stackhouse. Stay where you are."
The Major looked around, then walked over to where a small chunk of broken concrete about the size of small rock rested on the floor. Picking it up, he was suddenly reminded of their conversation with McKay when they were all standing outside the mesa's wall. That seemed like years ago. Maybe I should just show you, McKay had said smugly, right before throwing a rock through the illusion he had seen. Clever, sarcastic, obnoxious son of a bitch.
Please let him be okay.
"What are you thinking sir?" Ford asked, echoing the thoughts of everyone standing in that courtyard.
"I'm wondering if McKay would have figured this out sooner than us if he were here," Sheppard replied, tossing the rock in his hand. "I'm going to see if I can break a window."
"Because I'm pretty sure I'm not even going to get close."
And leaning back, the major did his best Cy Young impression, throwing the rock with all his might up towards the ceiling.
It hit something hard about two thirds of the way there, the illusion rippling enough to show a concrete ceiling about a story's width below the illusory glass ceiling, before the rock came back down and the illusion of open space returned. There was a room hidden above their heads, underneath the dome.
"Light above," Lieutenant Che hissed, her eyes wide. "I had no idea…."
"No," Sheppard replied, staring back at the Governor, "but your Governor and the Colonel did. She can see the dome's roof from her office."
"So?" the older woman challenged back, "that doesn't mean I knew the Weapon was housed up there! I just…."
"That's enough!" Colonel Luphron shouted, staring at the woman by his side. Borin's eyes widened as she looked back at him, "They don't care, Barbara. Nothing we say now matters anymore. I say we just get out of their way."
"Got that right," Sheppard agreed. He tapped his radio again, "Stackhouse."
"See a place somewhere outside of this building where you can drop a line down and pick me up?"
"Um…yeah. Move forward a couple of steps, will you Major?"
Sheppard complied, moving forward.
"Okay, we've got you pinpointed. From where you're standing, there looks to be an open area at 2:00. We'll drop a rope down and pick you up. Where do you need us to take you?"
"Onto the roof, Stackhouse, where else?" Sheppard turned to Ford, and pointed towards the wall where 2:00 would be. There was no door there. "Ford, blow up that wall, will ya?"
The lieutenant's lips cracked into a grin.
CHAPTER SEVENTEEN: BLACK, WHITE…AND RED
None of the Deucalions tried to stop the Major as he grabbed the rope and harness thrown down from the Jumper floating above, tying it around his waist and giving the thumbs up for them to lift. Ford and Teyla just gave him encouraging nods as he rose, and he gave them his best confident look back. As soon as he was high enough up, the people on the ground climbed back inside the hole Ford had created in the dome's walls in order to watch the Major's progress through the "glass."
The Jumper lifted gently into the air, careful of the burden dangling at the end of the rope, smoothly carrying the major up over the edge of the roof.
Sheppard had to shake his head again at the sight of the obviously concrete dome. It suddenly occurred to him how fitting it was that even the buildings here hid things. There was nothing black and white about Deucalion; it was all illusion and shades of gray…well except perhaps for the Weapon itself. There was nothing false about its power.
As he was lifted higher, he saw the open "windows" letting in air to the courtyard.
And then he saw the jagged hole near the apex of the roof.
"There it is," he yelled into the radio on his shoulder. "Lower me down on the roof just next to the hole…I'm going inside."
"Sir, are you sure?"
"I'm betting my life and McKay's on it, Stackhouse. Just lower me down!"
There was a short pause, then "Yes sir, but you should know, there are no life signs showing up on the screen from in there." In other words, even if McKay was inside the hidden room…he was likely dead.
Sheppard's chest grew cold at the information, but he wasn't willing to give up so easily, "I have to believe it’s the Weapon doing that, Stackhouse, and the Illusion, keeping him hidden."
Another pause, then, "Yes sir. Here we go, sir."
As he got closer, he could see that the hole was about two feet across, more than large enough to fit him. But he could see nothing at all inside of it—just black.
"Here we go, sir," he repeated to himself as his feet hit the delicate roof just shy of the hole. The rope slackened, and he knelt down and crawled to the opening, sensitive to the roof's crumbling potential. Grabbing his 9MM from its holster, he let the barrel of the gun lead the way into the hole, just in case there was some sort of invisible shield blocking it he couldn't see.
When nothing happened, he nudged himself forward and peered more into the hole.
Well, that explained why it seemed black inside. It was black. He saw a black floor, part of a broken console, also black, and not much else. His eyes were having a hard time adjusting considering the brightness of the sun above his head.
"McKay," he called, "Rodney, can you hear me? Are you in there?"
Nothing answered him. He leaned more over the hole and dipped his head inside.
He jerked upright, nearly hitting his head on the edge of the hole, when he found someone staring back at him. It was a dark haired man, dressed head to toe in brown, and its glittering eyes reflected sharply the light coming in through the hole.
"You are not supposed to be here. You must leave," the man announced.
"Oh, I don't think so," Sheppard smiled, gesturing at him with his gun. "I am pretty sure you have a friend of mine in there."
"You must leave," the man repeated again.
"I repeat," Sheppard's eyes moved past the man and deeper into the room, "not until I find my…." The words died in his throat as his eyes caught sight of McKay. The doctor was sitting in the nastiest looking dentist's chair the major had ever seen, complete with metal straps holding him down. A white glow enveloped him, making him look washed out—and a little bluish in color. Like a corpse. "Oh God," he hissed. He tapped his radio, "He's here! I've found him. I'm going in."
"No!" the hologram gasped, as Sheppard quickly undid the harness around his waist, grabbed the edge of the roof and prepared to swing down inside. "You can not—"
"Out of my way!" Sheppard hissed, ignoring the stranger as he dropped into the black room. He took a quick glance around for threats, including into the corresponding white room on the other side of the glass partition, before focusing all of his attention on McKay's much too still form. He had only took a couple of steps towards his friend, though, when the white glow surrounding McKay intensified…almost angrily…and the doctor tensed, his whole body stretching in the chair, pain seizing his features with a choked gasp.
"Get back!" the strange man barked from behind the uncomprehending Major.
Sheppard quickly backtracked until the terrifying light died down again, breathing fast at the realization that the Weapon was still very much with them.
McKay settled, but the white glow was more intense than it had been before, and even from across the room Sheppard could see the man was racked with tremors still, his wheezing breathing erratic.
"You can not have him," the strange man informed the Major. "Doctor Rodney McKay and the Weapon are too closely joined. If you try to get near him, it will only destroy you, and him as well."
Sheppard took a shuddering breath, his frustration clear on his face as he rounded on the stranger.
"And who the hell are you?"
"I am the one who helps those, like Doctor Rodney McKay, who volunteer to guide the Weapon to—"
"Volunteer? He didn't volunteer for this!" The major pointed to the chair, "I want him out of that thing!"
"Oh, but he did," the man smiled thinly. "He sat in that chair of his own free will…after you and your people ordered him to do so. He was going to escape," the brown eyes glanced towards the hole in the ceiling, "and he would have succeeded," the eyes returned to the major's face, "but the words of the ones called Teyla, Ford and, particularly, the Major changed his mind, convinced him he had no choice." The head tilted at Sheppard's surprised face, "He has experienced more than one kind of pain today," he added quietly.
The major's brow furrowed, not understanding what this man was saying.
"Major?" Ford's voice called over the radio, "What's happening? You disappeared when you hit the roof. Are you in the room?"
The stranger's eyebrows rose, "So…you're the Major? Interesting."
Sheppard blinked, and he nudged the radio to respond, "Yes, I'm here, but there's a complication, Ford. I'm trying to figure it out. Stay put."
Yes, sir, Sheppard's mind rang with the words. He glanced at McKay, sitting on that horrible thing. They ordered him to sit there? Convinced him to?
"McKay…what the hell were you thinking? What did you hear?" he breathed. "You must know that had I known, I would have never…." He trailed off. How could McKay ever think that he would allow this? "How could you think that of me…?" he hissed, shaking his head partly in anger and partly in disbelief.
"Major, you can not be here," the brown man stated again, more harshly than before. "You can do nothing for him. Just accept that he is going to die."
The cold words caused some sort of primal response in Sheppard, and he reacted without thinking, sending a roundhouse punch at the stranger's face.
It passed right through, and Sheppard gasped as he stumbled forward, his body following the force of his throw and landing against the delicate console. He turned in shock, staring back at the man…hologram?
"You're not real," he gasped.
"I am a projection, yes," it replied. "You can not harm me."
"Well, nuts," the Major leaned heavily against the edge of the console, hands shifting to his hips. He lowered his head, shutting his eyes to calm himself down and think.
"Understand that I am not asking this because I want him to die. You need to leave," the hologram pressed again. "It is for the best."
Slowly, the major's eyes lifted to glare into the face of the hologram, then beyond him. The hands fell away from his hips, gripping themselves into fists.
"McKay," he snapped.
"McKay, wake up."
"MCKAY!" Sheppard shouted, all patience gone now. "Wake up!"
The doctor's body flinched ever so slightly.
"Come on, Rodney. Open your eyes. Talk to me. I know you're still in there."
The man on the chair struggled with something, his face registering both exhaustion and bewilderment.
"G'way ho…gram…." Rodney's weak voice whispered. It was barely audible—the Major had to strain to hear him. Sheppard swallowed down his fear at the un-McKay like sound and pushed on.
"It's not the hologram, Rodney," Sheppard's teeth gritted together, "It's me. Sheppard. I'm here. Open your eyes."
The doctor's face pinched, but, amazingly, he did as he was told. To John's immense relief, the lids fluttered and the pale blue eyes cracked open. He saw them look around a little, before finally landing on the tall man. Puzzlement crossed the tense features.
"Shep.…?" the voice died off.
"Yup. McKay, look, before you ask, I'm real. I came in through the hole in the ceiling. Now, I'm trying to get you out of here, but that…that chair thing you're strapped to…it won't let me near you. You have to tell me how to turn it off."
Dried, parched lips lifted into a smile, "Hi John." He clearly hadn't heard a word.
Sheppard grimaced, "Rodney, listen to me. How do I turn that thing off?"
The lips frowned, "Off…?"
"Yes, off. I need to get you out of here. How do I shut it down!"
"Kill me," Rodney chuckled morbidly, an ugly sound combined with the hoarseness of his throat. Sheppard winced.
"Damn it, not an option, Rodney. Find another way."
The scientist's face frowned at that, the words obviously have more meaning to him than any of the others.
"Find…?" he repeated softly.
"Yes, McKay. Another way," Sheppard nodded, thankful to see something more than resignation and hurt in his friend's eyes. "That's what you do. Find another way."
"Another…way…." The eyes closed.
"No!" Sheppard shouted, "Stay with me! McKay, don't you dare close those eyes!"
The blue eyes opened again to stare at the Major with some bewilderment, then shifted to the hologram.
"Real?" he whispered.
The hologram's jaw tensed, but he nodded, "Yes, he is real."
"Oh," Rodney looked back at the Major, and there was a hint of marvel in his eyes. "I didn't…believe….real….But it doesn't…lie…."
Sheppard's lips quirked into an involuntary smile at that.
"Then it’s the only thing in this damn city that doesn't."
McKay actually managed a hint of a smile back…then closed his eyes again.
Blue eyes opened again, a hint of aggravation in them now. Sheppard ignored it.
"Stop that. Stay awake! How do I get you out of here! Tell me!"
The eyes blinked, and then something very dark crossed Rodney's face, "Why?"
"Why…bother…." Rodney whispered, the pain in his voice more than just physical.
Sheppard's breath caught for a moment, finally understanding what Rodney was asking him—and what the hologram had meant earlier. Then he stood a little straighter, his jaw steeling.
"Because I'm not losing you, McKay. I will not allow you to die for these people. You hear me? I'm going to get you out of here and take you home, but you have to tell me how I turn the damn Weapon off first!"
Rodney focused on the Major, and for a second his brow furrowed, as if he would say something…but instead the eyes closed again.
"Just…go…." he whispered.
"No, damn it, McKay," Sheppard groaned in exasperation, taking an involuntary step forward…and the harsh white light grew again. McKay made a sound like he was choking and Sheppard instantly fell back against the console, a look of complete helplessness on his face. The light faded again.
McKay's breathing evened out once more into a steady wheeze, but this time the tremors cascading down his frame were more pronounced.
"Oh Christ, Rodney," the Major breathed, trying to make sense of what was happening as the tremors finally subsided, and the doctor's head lolled down closer to his shoulder. "You have to help me out here. I'm not going anywhere, no matter what you might think, but I can't fight this thing alone—I don't even understand what the hell it is!"
"I do," the hologram said softly.
Sheppard quirked an eyebrow and turned to the projection standing next to him. It actually looked concerned, which surprised him.
Fact was, he didn't have a lot of options here. Without McKay, there was no one else to tell him how to shut the Weapon down.
"Yeah," he admitted weakly, "I bet you do." He frowned, "McKay said you don't lie."
"I was programmed to only tell the truth."
"The whole truth?"
"Okay then," he licked his lips, he looked over at the unconscious scientist with the hologram, "you tell me: how do I get him out of here?"
The hologram frowned. "You…can't," it replied brokenly. "His connection to the Weapon would have to be cut off first."
"Okay, so how do I cut the connection?"
"You can't, not without damaging the console."
Sheppard's eyebrow quirked, and he looked behind him at the damaged console. He saw the crystals and wires, noting with some interest that a number of them had been reattached and reset. McKay had done that, obviously. His fingers touched the thick red wire he saw at the top of the console. It and a yellow wire were the only two showing no damage at all.
He arched an eyebrow, "And if I have no issues with damaging the console?"
The hologram frowned, "You don't understand; it's too dangerous. The Weapon can not be effectively contained without the console. You could cause greater harm than good if you try to cut the connection to the mind guiding it at this stage."
Sheppard looked over at McKay, wishing he could get corroboration from him, but the man wasn't even moving anymore. If it weren't for the soft rise and fall of his chest….He frowned at the thought, and looked back at the hologram.
"What kind of harm?"
"I do not know. It is possible nothing will happen, that it will just shut down. In the alternative, the Weapon could react uncontrollably."
"The Weapon is a conscious entity, with a single purpose—to destroy. If it senses it has no mind to guide it before it has been fired six times, it might choose to fire itself, and it would seek to eradicate everything inside the Illusion's walls. You could kill everyone in Deucalion, level the city. I do not know the extent of its power, but without a mind to control it…." The hologram tapered off.
Sheppard quirked an eyebrow, "Let me get this straight…you're saying the Weapon is an entity? You mean…it can think?"
"In a manner of speaking, yes."
The hologram actually smiled at that, "I know what that means now. It means you don't believe me."
"Neither did Doctor Rodney McKay."
Sheppard frowned, connecting the dots, "but he does now."
"He's connected to the Weapon. He knows now better than anyone," the hologram actually seemed sad as looked towards the doctor. "He has had to battle constantly to contain the destruction it wants to unleash. After the hive ship was destroyed, the Weapon's hunger was at its peak….Doctor Rodney McKay forced it back. He is a lot stronger than he appears." He looked back the major, "It should have killed him. The Weapon certainly wanted it."
The major was shaking his head. "I won't believe this. Machines don't hunger for things. Weapons do not want. They aren't conscious things. This is all a whole lot of—"
The hologram's jaw tensed, "Then explain why it reacted to you when you tried to approach Doctor Rodney McKay."
Sheppard grimaced, then waved a hand around, "Well…it has defenses, doesn't it? The shield thingy that McKay took down earlier," he looked at the hologram, "you," and he looked at the chair, "and that white light stuff. It's just reacting to outside threats seeking to extinguish it." He looked back at the hologram, "But, as McKay constantly proves, there is always a way around defensives. There's a way around this one." He turned to the broken console behind him, "and you're going to tell me what that is."
The hologram shook his head, "you're a fool. If it were just a machine, you would be right. But the Weapon is not just a machine!"
Sheppard stared down at the console, not wanting to believe what he was hearing. It was too fantastic. It couldn't be alive! It couldn't be aware!
But then…there was that shadow thingy back on Atlantis. McKay had gone Sydney Carton on them then as well….
What if the hologram was right?
"God DAMN IT!" he yelled, slamming his hand against the glass partition in front of him. The glass shook…but nothing much else happened except that now his hand hurt. He whipped around, staring hard at the oblivious McKay, everything finally reaching his breaking point. "You smug, arrogant, pig-headed, frustrating fool! You adolescent, snot-nosed, Canadian moron! You freakish, senseless, idiotic bonehead! You are not dying on me! Not on me! Not like this. Wake up! WAKE UP and help me!"
McKay didn't even move.
"God damn it, McKay….please. Don't do this! Show me another way!"
The softer plea was as effective as the yelling.
The doctor might as well already be…..
Sheppard lowered his head. No. Don't think like that. Don't give up.
"The Weapon will take him soon," the hologram said softly. "It will sense his death and—"
"He's not dead," the major stated softly, even with his head bowed. After a moment, he looked up, then turned to stare down at the console again. The hologram sighed.
"Not yet, but—"
"What do these wires do," Sheppard interrupted roughly, pointing down. "Red, yellow, blue…one of them must do something that can turn this thing off."
The hologram watched him for a moment, then stepped forward. "Those wires control the Weapon."
"I know that," Sheppard hissed, "what does each one do."
The hologram, even more reluctantly than before, pointed out the purpose of each wire. Sheppard arched an eyebrow at the severed white wire, thanking McKay for at least having that much foresight, then looked up as the hologram's voice stopped when he pointed to the red wire.
"Something wrong?" he asked.
"The red wire…," the hologram looked to be fighting with itself, "the red wire…."
"The red wire…what?"
Sheppard looked at the wire in question. It was one of only three wires that didn't appear to have been damaged inside the console. It was thicker than the others, more substantial—it would take more than a few hits to hurt it.
Why have such a thick wire?
Probably because…it was the most important one?
"You can't tell me what it does," Sheppard reasoned slowly, comprehension dawning, "because your programming prevents you. Two conflicting orders," he looked at the hologram, "answer all questions….and stop anyone from shutting the Weapon down." His eyes lit up, "the red wire is the plug, isn't it? The shut off. The big red button for abort!" He grinned as the hologram just stared at him, not saying anything at all. "I knew there had to be a way. There's always a back door, an ejector seat, a contingency plan…." He looked back at McKay, "All right, Rodney. That's it. I'm getting you out of here."
"No! It won't work!" the hologram spouted.
"Are you sure?" Sheppard snapped, eyeing it out of the corner of his eye. "Are you certain? How do you know? How do you know cutting this wire doesn't just shut it all down? You said yourself before that it's possible nothing will happen. Were you saying that was a lie?"
The hologram looked like it had been slapped, then it shook its head, "No, I don't lie. And yes, you're right, I don't know. Cutting that wire could do exactly what you want….But it could also do the exact opposite."
"But of course you're going to say that. You don't want it shut down! You're programmed to keep it running, isn't that right?"
"Yes, of course, but—"
"But nothing. I think the people who built this place had to have considered something going horribly wrong. They had to have put a failsafe in. The fact that you can't tell me what this wire does tells me this is it. So I'm going to cut it, and that's that."
"And if you're wrong?"
Sheppard stared at him a moment longer, then looked over at the unnaturally silent McKay.
"Well," he stated quietly, "I'm willing to take that risk, if it means I can save him." He looked back at the hologram, "And if it doesn't, then I'll figure something else out."
"I just," the hologram frowned, "I don't believe you can just shut it off. It can't work that way; it's aware…alive…."
But Sheppard wasn't listening anymore. Pulling his knife from his belt, he pressed the edge against the red wire…and started to saw
"I beg of you, don't…." Suddenly the hologram gasped, and waved a hand in front of Sheppard's face to get his attention, "Look what's happening! It knows!"
The major turned, and his lips parted to see the white light swelling around the chair again. It grew so bright, Sheppard had to squint, and in the center of it all…he saw McKay finally react. The doctor's head tipped back, a harsh gasp echoing from his ragged throat as his whole body convulsed in the chair.
"Oh no you don’t!" Sheppard yelled, turning again to the console, pressing deeper into the wire, like a surgical knife cutting through an aorta. "I won't let you have him!"
The white light grew in the room, and the hologram closed his eyes in surrender…and vanished.
A massive shockwave hit the back of the Major just as the red wire snapped in half.
The entire room was plunged into darkness…except for the sunlight streaming through the roof, forming a square of light on the floor of the black room. It lit up the slack right arm of the man still in the chair, the metal manacle clicking open, and the legs of the unconscious man by the console.
CHAPTER EIGHTEEN: WAKING UP
The entire dome suddenly filled with white light, and Ford vaguely recalled his voice echoing with Colonel Luphron’s as they all scrambled towards the hole in the wall, both men shouting for everyone to run. The actions were such a blur that he almost wasn’t sure they had made it—until the light looming before his blinking eyes resolved into sunlight.
Breathing heavily, feeling a strange tingling all over his body, he pushed himself off the concrete earth he’d landed on and looked around. Teyla was already up—the woman could fly when she ran—and she was checking on the Deucalions still lying on the ground after they had dived through the opening.
He frowned when he realized that he did not see everyone that had been inside with them. Stepping over those still lying on the ground, he peered back into the now very dark Central Courtyard. Lights around the walls had come on, probably normally used when it was nighttime, but the illumination they shed seemed woefully inadequate compared to the brightness of before.
About three guards and Colonel Luphron were lying still inside the dome, out cold.
He leaned further into the hole and looked up. The glass illusion was completely gone. He could clearly see the floor of the hidden room up above, metal and concrete crisscrossed in an ugly, but efficient pattern.
He felt a presence behind him, and he turned to see Lieutenant Che staring at him. Her face was bloodied a little—she must have hit the ground hard when she’d dived—but she didn’t seem to notice the hurt.
"Excuse me," she asked with polite formality. Ford nodded and backed away from the opening, allowing her to climb through to check on her people. As he turned back to the others, he saw Governor Borin watching him with a dark expression from where she sat, rubbing at her right shoulder. There was blame and anger in her gaze, both of which he chose to ignore. Instead, he hit his radio.
"Major?" he waited a couple of minutes, then tried again, "Major Sheppard, respond."
His eyes lifted to meet Teyla’s when he still didn't receive an answer, and saw hers lower to the ground.
He tapped his radio again, "Stackhouse, do you read me?"
"Stackhouse, the Major’s not responding. Can you see anything from up there?"
"We saw a flash of very bright light inside the hole in the roof, sir, about the same time we saw all of you dive out of the dome. Are you all right sir?"
"Yes, we’re fine. A few of the Deucalions have been hurt…" he trailed off, looking into the dark interior of the dome. To his relief, he saw Colonel Luphron shaking his head and pushing himself up to his knees, while Lieutenant Che was reviving the other three, "…but alive." He looked up, saw the puddle jumper overhead and waved. "Go fly as close as you can to the hole in the roof, see if you can see anything inside. I also think the shield protecting it might be…."
"Yes, it’s gone sir. I…yes, the ship is reading…two life signs inside. They’re still alive, sir!" There was no hiding the joy Stackhouse felt at this information.
Ford couldn’t resist a grin of his own, "That’s the best news I’ve heard in a long while Stackhouse. I’m going to keep trying to rouse the Major, you--"
"The Major’s roused," Sheppard’s weak voice interrupted over the transmitter.
The phrase "hit by a Mac truck" crossed his mind as Sheppard groaned and rolled onto his back, staring up at the now luminescent hole in the ceiling. The room was completely dark with the Weapon shut down, something not helped by the color of the walls, and it accentuated the brightness of the sunlight. There was a surprising lack of dust motes--this place was disgustingly clean.
He listened to Ford talk to Stackhouse for a moment over the radio, bringing his memory up to speed, before nudging the transmitter on his radio to announce that he was awake. Sort of.
His head was hammering like he’d been downing tequila shots while head banging at a Metallica concert….Oooh that thought brought up some nasty high school memories….
With another groan he rolled onto his front this time and worked on getting his feet under him, which every muscle in his body seemed to protest by overloading his pain sensors. Ignoring them, he pushed up on his haunches, using the console for leverage, and let his eyes adjust to the now near darkness. The glow that had been infusing this room from indefinable sources had gone completely out, so his only illumination was the sun through the roof.
He heard Stackhouse saying something about flying closer to the hole, and suddenly a shadow covered it.
"Back off, Stackhouse," he croaked into the radio. "That’s my only light."
"Sorry sir." The shadow fell back. " Just tell us what you need."
"I will. Sheppard out." And he shut the radio off.
Turning, he sought McKay in the shadows.
Relief surged through him to see the doctor still in that chair…still with him. He’d been half afraid he’d wake up by himself. Sunlight from the roof placed McKay’s right arm in stark relief from the rest of him…and it also showed the metal cuffs had been opened.
Shoving off the console, he used the momentum to stagger over to the scientist, leaning heavily on the arm of the chair when he got there. He felt weaker than a kitten, and was drawing on reserves of adrenalin to keep himself going.
"McKay," he whispered, reaching out with one hand to touch the scientist’s face. It was ice cold. "McKay, can you hear me?" He let his hand drift down and pressed his fingers to the side of the man’s neck, unconsciously holding his breath.
It seemed like hours before he realized he could feel a very faint pulse. It was erratic. Not good.
Leaning forward, he put his ear next to the man’s mouth, closing his eyes.
The faintest sound of breathing. But he was breathing.
Sheppard almost collapsed from gratitude.
Straightening, he tapped the radio again.
"Captain Dunne, you read me?"
"I need you to dial Atlantis. Tell them we need a medical team here immediately. Doctor McKay is critically hurt and I very much doubt they have the facilities here to help him."
"Yes sir. What’s the nature of the injuries?"
"I…I’m not sure exactly. Tell them…tell them something like electrocution…or radiation poisoning…or maybe heatstroke…" his fingers touched McKay’s frozen face again, "or hypothermia."
There was a pause, then a tentative, "Sir, did you just say it could be heatstroke or hypothermia? Aren't those sort of the opp—"
"Dunne! I'm not a doctor! All I know is that he's dying and you're wasting time. Just tell them to get here!"
"Yes sir! Sorry sir. We’ll tell them."
"ASAP, captain. Emphasize the critical part. I don’t know how much time he has."
"Yes sir. Dunne out."
"Major, you need help up there?" Ford’s voice asked over the radio.
"Probably, lieutenant. I’ll let you know."
Sheppard stared at the unconscious man in front of him, then down at the bloody wrists. His expression darkened.
"I probably shouldn’t move you," he muttered angrily, "but like hell I’m going to let you stay sitting on this thing."
Ignoring all of his own aches and pains, he crouched and snaked one arm under McKay’s shoulders, under his arms, and the other under his bent legs. Gritting his teeth, he lifted, expecting Rodney to be heavy.
It was with some surprise, then, to find he wasn’t as cumbrous as he looked. McKay was much leaner than his baggy clothes suggested, and the Major ended up lifting him much higher than he intended, forcing him to stagger back a step in order to keep his balance and not tip over. With a grunt, he turned, his burden safely ensconced in his arms, McKay’s head lolling against his shoulder. Shifting a little, Sheppard swiveled around and moved to lie the doctor down in the square of sunlight on the floor.
With an incredible gentleness, he placed the scientist down and pulled off his own vest and jacket, rolling up the latter to use as a pillow. When he was done, he rested his head against his chest, listening again for the pulse and to his breathing.
He only felt the faint, slow pulse.
"Damn it," he hissed, settling himself into a seated position by McKay’s head. Removing the "pillow" he tipped McKay’s head back to open his airway. Placing his head next to McKay's lips, he listened again.
"No you don’t, McKay," he hissed, taking in a deep breath to prepare himself and letting it out slowly, "I didn’t just possibly destroy one of the most powerful weapons against the Wraith I have ever seen just to let you die now."
He took in another deep breath, pinched the doctor's nose shut, then leant over and breathed for his friend. His eyes watched the scientist’s chest puff up, then recede. Taking in another deep breath, he repeated the procedure, then leaned forward to listen.
"No, no, no," he muttered, pulling in another breath. Twice more he tried to resuscitate McKay, watching the chest rise and fall. Before the third attempt, he pressed his fingers to McKay's neck.
He hit the radio, panting a little as he spoke and feeling a little lightheaded.
"Dunne…tell Beckett that McKay's not breathing and his heart's stopped. I'm going to give him CPR. I'll need you up…."
And that’s when the Weapon woke up.
CHAPTER NINETEEN: POT SHOTS
Sheppard sat up straight, his jaw dropping as the lights suddenly came back on, the crystals in the console started flashing all of their many colors, and a white nimbus formed once again around the chair.
"Ohhhhh crap," he hissed, grabbing McKay's unresponsive wrist and arm without thinking, as if he could drag him out of harm's way.
The white glow grew and expanded, and the major braced himself, shutting his eyes as the light enveloped him and McKay...and passed over them. Every skin cell felt like it was on fire as he gasped and turned his head, watching as the white light shifted across the rest of the room away from them.
It was searching, Sheppard realized, for McKay. But it could not find him—because McKay was dead. His fingers gripped the wrist tighter….
And felt a pulse. He looked down, his eyes widening slightly. Wait a minute....
McKay was breathing. It was coming quickly and unevenly, but he was still breathing. The Weapon must have shocked his system enough to get his lungs and heart working again, bringing the doctor back to life. Thankfully, the thing hadn't paused long enough to notice.
Well, that's irony for you, the major almost smiled.
Sheppard got up on one knee, twisting to watch the white light as it scanned through the rest of the black room, and then crossed over to the white half to continue its circuit.
Finally, it returned to the chair.
Sheppard gathered Rodney up in his arms, planning to pull him as far away from that thing as possible. As he watched, the glow started to swell again, but in intensity, not size.
"Sir," Ford's voice said over the radio, "Sir, can you hear me? You were cut off. Stackhouse just said he saw another burst of light, and that you and McKay are now off his sensors again. What's going on? Are you okay?"
"Umm, that remains to be seen, lieutenant," the major replied, squinting now at the brightness. "On what this thing is…well…doing."
"The Weapon. Um, turns out…it's sort of alive." And burning his corneas! He raised his free to block the bulk of the light, turning his eyes away, unconsciously drawing McKay closer to protect him. He could feel the edges of the Weapon now, pins and needles sparking all up and down his body.
There was a pause, then, "Alive, sir?"
"Yeah. And…oh…it's…is anyone still inside the dome, lieutenant?"
"Good. Because…yup, I think its going to fire at something." A sudden horrible thought occurred to him, and he grabbed the radio in his urgency as he finally closed his eyes against the brightness, "Stackhouse! Get the Jumper out of here! NOW!"
Almost simultaneously, the White Light burst out of the room, firing straight up.
"SHIT!" Stackhouse screamed, getting Sheppard's warning just in time as the Weapon's blast aimed straight for the hovering ship. Speed and a little help from Greene pirouetted the somewhat unwieldy Jumper 360 degrees, sending it spinning around like a car skidding on ice away from the dome. The White Light impacted with the top of the Illusion over their heads, and dispersed.
"What the hell was that!" Stackhouse shouted, regaining his balance as the jumper trembled to a halt several hundred yards away.
Before Sheppard could answer, the Weapon fired again.
"Look out!" Tanner shouted, seeing the build-up of power on the jumper's display this time just before the second shot was fired. Stackhouse gunned the puddle jumper towards the opposite end of the Illusion, his grip on the controls as tight as he could make them. The second blast from the Weapon missed their tail by inches.
The third shot burst right in front of them, lighting up the Illusion wall, and it was only Greene's mental command for the ship to come full stop that saved them this time.
"Good brakes," Tanner exhaled, his hands braced against the console.
Stackhouse didn't stop, he just whipped the jumper around, then up, trying to climb out of the Illusion's walls before the Weapon fired again. The puddle jumper actually shuddered with the speed he was forcing out of it over such a short time.
They blew through the top of the Illusion just seconds before the fourth shot hit the edge of it. Greene's eyes widened as the readout displayed the Weapon's power dissolving in an explosion of white across the top of the false hill. Thank god it couldn't breach the Illusion's walls.
"0 to 600," Stackhouse sighed, leaning forward over the controls, as he let the ship slow down, "in a nanosecond. Good boy, Jumper one," he patted the console, "good boy."
After the third shot, Sheppard put McKay down and jumped to his feet, lunging for the chair, not even noticing the frost-burn on his skin as he fell into it, closing his eyes as the Weapon wrapped itself around him like a blanket of dry ice.
He felt the fourth shot being fired at the Jumper, but however much mental exertion he tried to use to stop it, he couldn't make a connection.
"I'm here!" he shouted desperately at the room, "I'm in the damn chair! Come on!"
The Weapon geared up again to fire at something else now, and Sheppard could feel its anger…and its frustration at having missed the Jumper. He sensed it had never aimed by itself before. It was like a child with a submachine gun in its hands. It could fire, but it couldn't hit the broadside of a barn—but the damage it could wreak on the rest of the farm was unimaginable.
"Stop taking pot shots," the major hissed, opening his eyes and watching as the whole city of Deucalion appeared in a projection above his head—the Weapon was looking for a new target. "I'm here, damn it! Talk to me!"
And suddenly, it did.
It swept through him, and he gasped, his eyes widening at the sensation of having the Weapon's single-minded thoughts impress upon his brain.
Who are you? Where is the guide? I have not fired six times. I must fire six times, or take the one who was guiding me if he is dead. Who are you? Where is the guide. I have not fired six times. I must fire six times, or take the one who was guiding me if he is dead. Who are you? Where is the guide? I have not fired six times. I must fire—
"Okay!" Sheppard gasped at the broken record in his mind, "I get it. Stop repeating yourself."
Who are you?
"John Sheppard. And look—"
Where is the guide? Where is Doctor Rodney McKay?
"He's not here. I am. Look, you said—"
I have not fired six times. I must fire—
"Like hell you haven't fired six times! I counted four more shots just then! That's a total of nine!"
But I missed. I need the guide. I must fire six times or take the one—
"Listen to me! You can't have him. You just have me."
I can not start over yet; I cannot yet reset. I must fire six times or take—
"I'm not asking you to start over, damn it. I'm asking to stop! The Wraith are gone. There is nothing to fire at!"
I must fire six times or take the one—
"Okay, okay, I said I got it! Stop telling me that." He panted for a breath, feeling the same rib crushing pressure that Rodney had felt. He licked his dry lips, knowing innately that the Weapon was dehydrating him just as it had done the scientist. He had to think of something.
"Look, I'll make you a deal. Let me guide you. Fire the sixth shot and—"
No. It must be the guide. It must be Doctor Rodney McKay. You can not take his place. That is not the way. I must fire six times or take….
"Not the way?" Sheppard's voice rose in pitch on the last word. "You just fired four times on your own! Are you telling me that's the normal way of things?"
No response. Sheppard blinked rapidly, trying to stop his now watering eyes from actually sending tears down his face.
"Still there?" he asked after a moment. He knew it was—it was still weighing on him—but it seemed arrested somehow.
No…the way has changed. I was shut down before the sixth shot was fired. The guide disappeared before he could be absorbed. The way is not the way anymore.
"Exactly! So how about we—"
Then there is nothing to stop me. I can destroy everything.
"Woah, woah, woah! Hold on there. Why?"
That is what I do.
"No! No it's not! What you do is destroy Wraith ships. You don't destroy anything else."
That is what the guide limited me to; I no longer have such limitations. I destroy, that is all.
"No, that is not all, damn it! I refuse to believe that. You can obviously think for yourself, which means you can do more than just destroy! And, look, even if that were the case, then why are you talking to me? Why try to convince me?"
Again, silence answered him. Sheppard swallowed. He wished Beckett could have developed a Weir gene as well as the ATA gene he gave McKay. He could use her skills right now. He honestly had no idea if he was making headway, or making things worse.
Of course, could they actually get worse?
You're right. I can kill you as well.
Oh for the love of….Why the hell did he think things like that without any wood around to knock on?
But I don't want to.
"Oh?" It came out as a bit of a squeak. Sheppard really had no better answer than that.
I have never talked to anyone before.
The major's eyebrows lifted, "Really?"
I have only been guided.
"Oh," he took in a breath. The Weapon seemed less oppressive now. He could work his lungs a little better.
I like this new way. I like talking. I want to keep talking.
"Ha!" Sheppard forced a smile, "Then you don't just want to destroy, then, do you? Because if you destroy this city, and if you kill me right now, there will be no one to talk to. You get me?"
Another pause. This time, it was longer than before. Sheppard licked again at his dry lips. They had begun to sting.
Will you stay if I don't fire again?
"Ah, no, I won't. But others will come over time. And there's that hologrammy thing. You could talk to it, if it were here."
I want you to stay.
"Yes, well, that's not going to happen."
There was another pause.
I don't want to kill you.
"Well, that feeling's mutual."
Another long pause. Sheppard tried to shift on the chair, and, amazingly, the Weapon let up some of its pressure to let him.
I will make you a deal.
"Uh…what kind of deal?"
I will fire the sixth shot, and you will help me. Then I will let you go, and I will go back to sleep. But you must tell whoever next sits in this chair to talk to me. To…treat me as if I am….
Again silence. Then, after a moment.
I am alive.
"Yes, you most certainly are." Sheppard grimaced, wondering if the faint echo of the hologram's voice in his ear mockingly saying "I told you so," was just in his mind.
It really hadn't lied to him. Go figure. His respect for the machinery of Deucalion climbed another notch. Shame there were also people here.
"You have a deal," he agreed.
Then pick the target.
Sheppard frowned for a second…before a particularly evil smile graced his lips.
He tapped his radio.
"Sir?" the lieutenant's worried voice echoed back at him. "What's going on! The Jumper nearly—"
"I know. Listen, tell the Governor she needs to evacuate the people out of her office." His smile grew, "She has five minutes."
CHAPTER TWENTY: LEAVING DEUCALION
The Deucalion looked away, covering their eyes out of deference to the power unleashed by the Weapon for, they prayed, the last time.
When it was over, Ford peered towards the Governor's building…and couldn't hide the smirk.
The tallest building in Deucalion had just gotten a hair cut. Three stories remained, perfectly intact, but the fourth story, where the Governor's office was, had been surgically and expertly shaved off. Black smoke and a handful of sparks rose from the top of the third story—now the roof—and rose into the air to mingle with the dying fires and smoke from the rest of the finally free city.
Next to the lieutenant, he heard Governor Borin heave a sigh.
"Well," she sniffed, "I suppose I deserved that." Then, a little more softly, "A small price to pay, in the end." She looked askance at the tall young man, "It…is the end, right?"
Ford didn't answer her, instead tapping his radio, the smile gone from his face.
"Major? Can you hear me?"
Sheppard gasped, acutely aware of his racing heart and the spinning world around him. Every muscle seemed to spasm and shake as the light faded to almost nothing around him, and his throat was sore. Christ—McKay had done that five times?! The hologram had been right—the doc was a hell of a lot stronger than he appeared….
The Weapon touched his mind again. Even that hurt.
Thank you, John Sheppard.
"You're…" the major coughed and swallowed, the action barely creating any liquid inside his dry mouth. "You're welcome," he whispered, avoiding using sound altogether until he'd had a chance to recoup. Even the air pushing up through his vocal cords to effect the whisper had hurt.
Remember our deal
"Yeah," he agreed, trying to swallow some more to get his voice back. "I'll remember."
And the white light faded completely. The room went completely dark once more.
"Crap," he hissed at the near blindness that caused. Pushing down on the arms, he tried to push himself up off the chair. It took several rocking motions, but he eventually pitched himself forward off the nasty contraption, landing on the floor on his knees…hard. He stayed that way for a couple of seconds, resting on all fours, letting his eyes adjust again to the low illumination, before turning to McKay. The scientist was still bathed in the sunlight streaming through the hole.
Relief surged through him to see the chest rising and falling still.
He crawled over and slumped next to him on his side, propping himself up on an elbow.
"McKay," he whispered, his free hand weakly prodding the scientist's shoulder. He didn't get a response, which wasn't too surprising. "McKay, I…you can't hear me, but….Do you realize…I nearly…destroyed a city for you? So…seems to me….you owe me. Meaning…don't even think…about leaving me now." He grinned, prodding the shoulder again. "At the very least…you owe me…a good, stiff drink."
McKay didn't make a sound. Sheppard eyed him a little longer, then collapsed onto his back, lying next to the doctor.
"That's okay," he whispered, closing his eyes, "you…can…pay me later…."
The radio suddenly came to life. It was possible it had been working before, but it was the first time he'd actually heard it.
"Major, can you hear me? Major Sheppard, please respond." There was a hint of panic in the normally calm voice of Lieutenant Ford.
Sheppard sighed, and, somewhat reluctantly, tapped the radio. His eyes opened to fix on the hole in the ceiling, watching the occasional patch of smoke drift across the blue sky.
"I'm here…," he replied, feeling oddly serene.
"Sir! Thank…It's good to hear your voice sir. Is everything…I mean, are you…."
"We're still…alive. Is that med team…here yet?" Damn, why couldn't he catch his breath?
"We're here, Major," Beckett's lovely Scottish brogue said over the airways. Sheppard grinned—it was the most wonderful voice in the world right now. "I'm in Jumper 2."
"Jumper 1 has moved to cover the gate, Major. We brought the doc and his team here as soon as they came through the gate," Dunne's voice added. "We're currently just outside the Illusion's walls. We, uh, heard what happened to Jumper 1, sir. Is it safe to come inside now?"
"Yup….Safe as…houses. Come on…in!"
"What about inside that so-called hidden room of yours, Major," Beckett asked, a tiny tremble to his voice." Can we come in there as well?"
"Come…on down, Carson!" Sheppard replied, a little too happily. Punchy? Was he getting punchy now? "In fact…everyone come! We…We'll throw a party!" Yes, he was getting punchy.
"Err…Major? That…I…um…oh dear…."
Oops. Didn't mean to scare the excitable man. Sheppard's strange humor disappeared.
"Beckett, I'm…tired….Just…get here. And Ford…get up here too…and bring….Luphron."
"Right." Beckett said, just as Ford said, "Check."
Sheppard closed his eyes, listening to the sound of orders being spun over the radio between the different parties. He only opened them again when a shadow covered the hole.
Sheppard watched in a sort of daze as medical personnel ripped open IV bags, quoted vitals and prepped McKay for transport. Beckett started shouting words that only made the Major frown more and more, as flashlights, the sun and the beeping lights of monitors and tiny machines designed to help keep his friend alive all blended into a collage of confusion before his eyes. He tried to follow along with the information being given to him second-hand, but it was like trying to follow the journey of a single drop of water cascading down Niagara Falls.
Eventually, however, he saw McKay lifted out of the room on a stretcher through the hole, presumably up into the waiting puddle jumper. He heard orders from Beckett over the radio for it to fly to Atlantis now, and for Jumper 1 to come fetch the major.
While all this was happening, someone had also stuck an IV in his arm and he realized he could breathe easier. Only once the room seemed quieter, though, did he notice that there were still four people hanging about: Ford, Teyla, Colonel Luphron—the latter looking a little worse for wear—and a medical doctor form Atlantis, a dark-skinned man he didn't really recognize. It was another of Beckett's medical team, but he had never gotten his name. The doctor seemed to be talking to him. Since he had his breath back, he gamely decided replying was possible.
"I'm sorry," he muttered, blinking tiredly, "What did you say?"
"I asked if you felt strong enough to stand," the doctor asked. "Jumper 1 is here to take you home." Standing just behind the young man, Teyla was looking worried.
"Um, sure," the Major replied, staring at his legs. They looked like they would work.
But there was something else he needed to do first, before he could leave. What was it again?
He looked up, and saw Luphron watching him expectantly, his arms crossed. He also looked pissed.
"Wait," he said, holding up a hand and lifting his eyes again. They focused on the doctor, then at Teyla and Ford, then finally the Deucalion colonel. "Colonel…something important."
The tall blond man squatted down next to him, his shadowed eyes frowning a little.
"What?" the question was gruff.
"Something you need to know," Sheppard pressed a hand to his head, grimacing at the pounding it was making, "about the Weapon." His eyes closed, and it took some effort to reopen them.
"We need to get you out of here, sir," Ford said softly. "You can tell us later. They're waiting for us."
"This is important, lieutenant," Sheppard hissed, before breathing slowly back in again. His eyes had shifted to Ford when he spoke, but now they turned back to Luphron. "Colonel, the Weapon…it's alive."
The Deucalion stared at him for a moment, then frowned.
"Alive? I…have read it has awareness of its purpose, Major. But alive? No. You are mistaken."
"I talked to it."
This time, both Colonel Luphron's and Lieutenant Ford's eyebrows rose.
"I'm sorry sir?" The lieutenant glanced sideways at the doctor, "Um, did you say you talked to it? You mean to the computer controlling the weapon?"
"No…to the Weapon itself," Sheppard grimaced, "And I…I made it a promise. Look…turn it back on."
"Oh no sir," Ford shook his head vigorously, "I don't think that's a good idea. What if it—"
"Wait a minute," Colonel Luphron interrupted, his eyes narrowed. "Turn it back on? Are you saying it is not broken? I thought you had destroyed it!"
"Broken? Destroyed it? Ha!" Sheppard chuckled hoarsely, still feeling extremely lightheaded and wondering if the spinning would subside soon, "No. Just…rejoin the red wire."
"Yes Ford?" Sheppard blinked up at the lieutenant. Aiden looked pained, and he looked even more pained when Colonel Luphron stood back up and walked towards the damaged console.
"The red wire?" the Deucalion asked as he reached it. "That's all I have to do?"
"That'll power everything back up. I need to talk to the brown man."
"Brown man?" Ford crossed his arms, and looked at the doctor again. "Sir, I don't think you're quite—"
"He must mean the one we call the Truth Speaker," Luphron said, fingering on of the ends of the severed red wire. "It speaks to the volunteers and explains the way of things. I believe it is a projection of some kind, like a motion picture. It is depicted as wearing brown."
"Look, sir," Ford watched Sheppard blink slowly back up at him, "I'm sorry, but I'm not sure you're thinking clearly. If he turns it back on with the Jumper up there and us in here it—"
"I know what I'm saying, lieutenant," the major said clearly, firmly, "and I know what I'm doing. The Weapon will not power back up, just the console, the room and the brown man."
Colonel Luphron needed no further urging. He stuck the two ends of the red wire together, and watched with bright eyes as the room's lighting came back on. The low hum returned, and Sheppard smiled as Luphron sighed in gratitude to find it was just that simple.
"Thank the Light," the Colonel whispered. "I had thought…."
"Nah," Sheppard waved a hand in the air, "And in fact…I think I may have made things better for you guys." He words were slightly slurred. Luphron had returned to watching him, his expression receptive now.
Ford, meanwhile, found his thoughts had strayed. He was truly seeing the hexagonal room for the first time, and was wondering if either Sheppard or the doc realized it looked just like the inside of the fifth doctor's tardis.
He shook his head. Focus lieutenant!
"I hope that is true, Major," Luphron said, still holding the ends together. "Now how do we turn on the Truth Speaker?"
"By calling for him. Oh, brown boy!" Sheppard croaked, looking around. "Wake up!"
Both Ford and Teyla were having a really hard time not thinking that the major had lost his mind.
"Hologram!" Sheppard called more loudly, "Mr. Brown, where are you!"
"Here, Major Sheppard."
A form appeared in the white half of the room. Colonel Luphron almost dropped the two ends of the red wire he was pressing together, and Ford automatically brought his submachine gun to bear. The medical doctor moved down closer to Sheppard on the floor, ready to protect his patient bodily if need be, while Teyla just adopted a fighting stance. The hologram looked at the strangers, then walked through the glass partition towards the Major.
"You were right," Sheppard smiled at it, looking a little drunk, "The Weapon is alive."
The hologram nodded, "I considered the many conscious minds that have connected with it over the years, as well as its energy source's unique ability to become the purpose put to it by those minds…and thought that a likely consequence. I assume, then, that it came back to life without the console?"
"Yup, it sure did," Sheppard admitted cheekily, ignoring the open-mouthed stares of the people with him. "And, as you thought, it wanted to level the city." Behind the hologram, the Deucalion's eyes widened at that information. The hologram, though, just nodded again.
"And how did you," it paused, recalling the major's last words, "figure something else out? I assume by the presence of these people that you did, in fact, do so? Did you, perhaps, let it take Doctor Rodney McKay?"
"Nope," Sheppard smirked, "I talked to it."
The hologram blinked. After a second, it looked at the other four people. Its face was as surprised as theirs. When it looked back at Sheppard, it tilted its head.
Teyla's jerked slightly at the Earth phrase, while Ford couldn't resist a tiny grin. Sheppard, though, was shaking his head…stopping quickly when he realized it hurt to do so.
"Not bull, Mr. Brown. It's alive. I talked to it. We came to a meeting of the minds," he smiled, "literally. Pretty nice conversationalist for a sadistic weapon of mass destruction with OCD—a little, uh, repetitive at first, but it got over that."
The hologram blinked some more. "But I do not understand. The Weapon does not speak."
"Oh, outgrow your programming, hologram! If the Weapon can do it, so can you! Make the connections in that pixeled brain and make this part of your repertoire. It's alive and it can talk!" Sheppard took in a deep breath…and started to cough violently. The medical doctor was instantly there, massaging his back and grabbing a bottle of water from his pack.
The hologram waited silently, waiting.
After a few minutes, Sheppard was breathing evenly again, though the world was a little more fogged. He realized innately that he didn't have much time left before the fuzziness would take over and drag him out of the game. Drawing a more careful breath, he focused back on the hologram.
"Listen to me," Sheppard wheezed, his voice sounding a little like a teenager's after screaming all night at a rock concert, "You are going to tell the next person who comes here and sits in that chair to talk to the Weapon. That's all. And maybe…it'll help him destroy the Wraith and not kill him in the process."
The hologram frowned, "But the Weapon can't—"
"The Weapon has more than one purpose, hologram, just like you. It was taught to interact as well as to destroy. It has learned to talk, and, turns out, it likes that more than wiping everyone off the face of this planet. If I were you, I'd tell folks to take advantage of that."
"But this is not logical. It has no voice. How can it—"
"Oh, it doesn't need one. Trust me. And I'm the one speaking the truth, now, hologram. Somewhere inside the part of you that's connected to the same energy powering the Weapon and powering the Illusion and powering everything in this room….you know that."
The other three sets of human eyes looked to the projection after the major's little speech. It stayed focused on Sheppard, and they could almost feel the computer running it absorbing and learning and understanding what it had just been asked to believe.
And then it smiled. Computers really were much faster at this sort of thing.
"Yes, I do. Thank you, Major Sheppard. I understand and I accept the change. The volunteers will be told to talk to the Weapon. This is a great day for Deucalion." It bowed, then looked to the others, and bowed to them. "Gentlemen and lady, the console will now shut down until it is triggered again by the golden door." He looked back at the major, a real smile on its face. "Goodbye, Major Sheppard…a true friend and hero."
And without any further ado, the hologram vanished. As it did, all the lights powered down and the hum faded, returning the room to darkness.
"Well," Ford said softly, looking around, "That was abrupt."
"Is it over?" Teyla asked, just as softly.
Luphron, realizing it was no longer to keep the red wires together, gingerly placed them back. They could be repaired properly later.
He smiled, turning back to the four Atlanteans in the room with him, to thank them and the major for everything that had happened.
He frowned to see both Teyla and the medical doctor reacting to the fact that Sheppard had finally succumbed to unconsciousness. He eyes caught Ford's as the medical doctor called for another stretcher. The lieutenant backed away from the group, aware that he really would only get in the way. He stopped when he reached Luphron's side.
"Thank you," the Colonel said softly, honestly, to the young man. "And please tell the Major and Doctor McKay that the Deucalion people will forever be in their debt."
Ford grimaced, then nodded.
They watched in silence as Sheppard was shifted to the new stretcher and strapped down, then lifted gently upwards. The doctor followed next, and then Teyla. Ford walked over to the rope and harness as it fell back into the room, and turned to look back at Luphron. He seemed to be considering something…and, finally, he shrugged.
"You, uh," he gave a small smile, "got any crops you might be willing to…trade with us for?"
Luphron smiled, "We'd be honored, Lieutenant Ford."
CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE: ONE MORE WRINKLE
People talking. No…shouting.
Rubber soles on marble floors, squeaking.
Metal objects dropped on the ground.
Blown air tickling his nose.
carts crashing into each other.
"Aw, crap," Sheppard sighed, opening his eyes reluctantly. He was in a hospital.
He frowned when the world came into focus, and he found himself staring up at a very un-hospital like ceiling. It was actually a very pretty diamond patterned ceiling, rising up away from him in a delicate way.
Okay…not a hospital
The smile fell.
The infirmary on Atlantis.
"Double crap," he mumbled, turning his head to one side. He was looking to the noise. It was what had woken him up. The sounds of people calling out to each other, voices raised in worry and stress, feet running around in a small space.
Beckett's voice above them all.
"Bloody hell!" the doctor shouted, "Stop doing this, you radge bastard! Tara, get the crash cart! Hurry!"
Sheppard blinked some more, and rolled over to see more clearly what was happening on the other side of the room from him. There was a thin, gauzy curtain blocking his view, but he could easily see people moving around on the other side, silhouetted by bright light.
"Rodney, this is getting tiresome!" Beckett's strained voice yelled. "I can't keep rebooting you like a damned computer! Stop it!"
"Ready doctor," nurse Tara's voice called softly.
"If he survives this," Beckett swore, "I'm killing him, you hear me?"
"Yes doctor," the young nurse replied, handing him the paddles from the crash cart.
Sheppard grimaced, watching miserably as the silhouette of Beckett worked to start McKay's heart beating again. It didn't sound like it was the first time.
A few minutes later, John was propped up on his arm, leaning over the metal bar lining the edge of the infirmary bed, letting its coldness against his bare arm remind him he was alive. His fingers curled around the smooth, metal surface, the tight grip turning his knuckles white. He stayed that way until he heard Tara declare McKay had a normal rhythm and the tension behind the curtain seemed to ease. When he let go of the bar, his fingers throbbed at the abuse…not that he noticed.
Not long after, Beckett, still swearing softly, walked out from behind the curtain, wiping the sweat from his forehead. There were dark circles under his eyes, and he looked almost as worn as the major felt.
Sensing the scrutiny, the Scot looked up and met Sheppard's gaze. He smiled, and changed the direction of his gait.
"Oh, hello there Major. I thought you might come around soon—you're recovering amazingly quickly, considering. Are you actually awake this time, or is this just another semi-conscious eye opening?" He walked over and sat…or rather, collapsed…into the small chair next to Sheppard's bed. Blowing the air out of his cheeks, he wiped his hand down his face, then put on a false smile to look up at the hazel eyes focused on him.
"I'm awake," John answered, then he looked away for a second. "At least, I think I am. Is this Atlantis?"
"Then I'm awake."
"And how do you feel?"
"Like strained spaghetti, Beckett. And you?"
"Oh…," the doctor waved a hand about, "you know. Exhausted, stressed, desperately in need of a decent night's sleep. The usual." Blue eyes showed a hint of life after that, but the look quickly faded as he realized Sheppard was looking towards the curtain again.
"And how is he?" the major asked softly.
Beckett's dour expression locked back into place.
"How is he?" the Scot shook his head, "I've honestly no idea."
Sheppard frowned, turning back to him. Beckett had placed his hands behind his head and was leaning back in the chair.
"What do you mean?"
"I mean, that every time I think I've made headway against whatever the poison is in his bloodstream, something else breaks down." He shut his eyes. "You were remarkably astute in your description of his condition, Major. It's somewhere in between hypothermia, dehydration and some sort of poisoning, though not radiation. It's more like an infection—some living thing in his blood stream, not bacteria, that is attacking his internal organs one by one. The hypothermia and dehydration I could deal with. The poison…." He shook his head.
"What is the poison?"
Beckett's eyes opened and he sighed, sharp blue eyes focusing on the major. "Actually, I was hoping you could tell me. You have…the same strange poison in your bloodstream, though it doesn't seem to be doing any harm. What happened in that room? What exactly did you encounter?"
Sheppard grimaced, then, as succinctly as he could, he told the doctor everything he could about the Weapon. When he was done, Beckett was staring down at his hands.
"And this entity was alive?"
"Then it left some of itself behind," the physician's eyes looked up. "And though it's leaving you alone, it's killing him."
Over the course of the next day, Sheppard found himself visited by literally scores of people. Even Sergeant Bates stopped by, though he looked stiff and awkward the whole time. Weir's visit had been one of the best—she'd patted his arm, encouraging a quick recovery. Her face looked strained, though, making her seem older—being in charge of Atlantis was aging her, and it was even more noticeable when the machines behind the white curtain on the other side of the room went off again. This time, it was his kidneys. It was the third or fourth time since John had first woken up that Rodney had nearly crashed on them again. They kept equipment like the dialysis machine, the crash cart, a ventilator and others on constant standby.
The most enlightening meetings he'd had had been with Teyla and Ford, listening to both of them try to recall exactly what they had said to Rodney when he was communicating with them in the Great Eye. It took some work, but they figured out why McKay thought getting into that chair was what they wanted.
Teyla had looked devastated as she realized it had been her words, primarily. Ford just couldn't stop looking guilty. He'd muttered some self-hating words about failing in his orders to protect the doctor, and Sheppard had a hard time convincing him that circumstances had just been beyond his control. Truthfully, the whole thing had been beyond all of their controls, and, based on McKay's lack of progress…still was. But, deep down, they still all blamed themselves… especially Sheppard himself.
Eventually, it was night again, and the major was alone in the infirmary with Beckett, the nurse Tara and the dark skinned doctor who's name he just couldn't remember. He felt stupid asking, especially when he learned the man had saved his life and also seemed to know a lot about him….He had been hoping to here someone call the man by name, but not once did it happen. He was beginning to think it was a conspiracy.
He had propped himself up on the metal bar on his bed again, and was watching the shadows through the curtain as Beckett checked McKay's vitals. Rodney's lungs had stopped working this morning, but apparently he was breathing on his own again, because Beckett was talking with Tara about removing him from the ventilator.
Not long after that, McKay's heart stopped again. This was the second time in twenty four hours, and the third time since they had been brought back from Deucalion three days ago.
Sheppard closed his eyes, wishing he could close his ears as well.
He must have dozed off, because, when he opened them again, he found Beckett sitting in the chair next to his bed.
"You don't look too comfortable there, major," Beckett smiled tiredly.
Sheppard leaned back from the cold bar, pretending not to notice the imprint the metal had left on his arms. Propping up the bed, so he could see the doctor clearly, he looked towards McKay's curtained-off area then back at Beckett again, eyebrows both raised.
Beckett sighed, answering the silent question with a shrug. "I don't know." He shook his head, "to be honest, his body can't take much more of this abuse. At some point, I won't be able to bring him back." He swallowed, "At some point," he repeated, "we're going to have to let him go."
Sheppard stared openly at the doctor, his jaw muscles flexing. "You don't mean that."
Beckett grimaced, and Sheppard could see the exhaustion in every line of the man's face. He didn't look like he had gotten any sleep at all for days. And he probably hadn't.
The major leaned back, staring up at the ceiling over his bed. Beckett sighed, lowering his head and closing his eyes…just for a minute, he promised himself.
Sheppard cursed and mumbled something, and Beckett opened his eyes again.
"Just," the major sighed, "how could I have let this happen?"
Beckett frowned, "I'm not following…."
Sheppard sighed, "I just keep thinking, if I had figured it out sooner; if I had been in there when Ford and Teyla were talking to him; if I hadn't let him try and fix that thing without me there; if I had been able to get the truth from those people faster…." His eyes drifted again to the white curtain across the room, not noticing Beckett shake his head. "I should have prevented this," the major finished, "It should have been me, not him."
"Oh, dinnae gie yerself in a’ fankle," the physician muttered, crossing his arms and leaning his head forward to rest his chin on his chest, his eyes closing once more. Sheppard blinked at him, not sure he heard that right.
"Oh, nothing," the Scottish man replied, cracking an eyelid and waving a hand about. "Was just muttering. Too tired not to slip into slang."
"Fankle?" Sheppard couldn't resist a tiny smile, "Is that even English?"
"Not the Queen's, no. Major, look," he sighed, "I was just saying you shouldn’t twist yerself up in knots o’er this. You did everything you could. He’s as much to blame as you, and those Deucalion people e'en more so." He closed his eyes again, "But it’s up to me now…and it’s me that cannae figure it out." His accent had gotten thicker as he spoke, and the words were heavily slurred, "Jes' need more time…."
The Major watched as the physician slumped deeper in the chair, chin pressing more into his chest. After a few moments, a soft snore rumbled form his throat, and Sheppard smiled wanly. Leaning more up onto his arms, he looked out across the quiet infirmary. Tara was putting things away along one wall, while the young doctor he'd met back in the hidden room appeared to be writing things down in some sort of log.
After a moment, he sighed and sat the rest of the way up. Watching Carson out of the corner of his eye, he slid his legs sideways off the bed on the other side and prayed the marble flooring didn’t look as cold as it did. Reaching for the blanket on the bed, he wrapped it around his shoulders over the pathetically thin hospital gown, then looked at the floor again. He wiggled his bare toes, grimaced, and slid off the bed.
Tiny pinpricks of pain from the iciness of the ground had him shaking his head in sadness. Nuts.
Turning, he made sure Carson was asleep again, tugged the blanket tighter around his shoulders with his right hand, and grabbed for the IV pole with his left. Pushing the tall pole in front of him, wincing a little at the metal squeak it made and at the jelly-like feel of his muscles, he pushed off the bed and shuffled away towards the gauzy curtain hiding McKay.
Tara looked up as he sidled passed, her eyes darting from him, to the back of Carson’s still sleeping head, then back to the major. He gave her a his best disarming grin.
A noise from the right showed the young dark-skinned doctor standing up. Sheppard waved him back down.
"Know my limits, not going far," he whispered, still bee-lining at his slow pace for the curtain. "Just have to talk to Rodney."
The doctor gave a small smile at that, and sat back down. Tara, meanwhile, still watching the major, walked over to a cupboard in which they put some linens.
Sheppard wasn’t sure what he would find when he finally rounded the edge of the curtain, but the sight of the normally frenetic McKay lying completely still, hooked up to all sorts of strange machines, was not it. He’d seen people in the hospital before. In combat, he’d seen plenty of blood and, to be blunt, gore, in field hospitals, but this silent, desolate picture was a completely different level of disturbing.
Releasing his jaw, which he hadn’t known he was gritting until he felt the muscles around his mandibles cramp, he walked up next to McKay’s bed and sat on the small chair there. He wondered how many had sat here today…or yesterday….Teyla, Ford, Weir, he could guarantee. Zelenka? Grodin? Maybe.
As he was thinking, Tara materialized beside him. She smiled, holding a blanket to her chest. Without a word, she leant over and put in on his lap. She also put a pair of slippers on the floor.
"My toes thank you," he told her softly. She just nodded and backed away, disappearing back around the curtain. Slipping his feet into the slippers, he returned his attention to Rodney.
He looked the same. There was a little more color in his face than when he'd last seen him in that room, but it was just flush.
"Why aren’t you getting better?" John asked softy, reaching forward to touch the man's arm lightly. At least it was no longer icy cold. "What’s wrong with you?"
"I have a theory," the young doctor said, appearing on the bed’s other side and causing Sheppard to jump a little. "Though I haven’t told Dr. Beckett yet."
"Well, see," he looked down, "you said the Weapon was aware, right?" He looked up, a frown on his face, "What if the residue of whatever the Weapon left in his blood stream is also…."
"Aware of what it’s doing," Sheppard completed, nodding.
"Yeah, and it's trying to finish what the Weapon was supposed to finish. To kill him."
Sheppard nodded again, looking back at Rodney's pallid features.
"And I was thinking," the doctor licked his lips, "if you really could talk to it before, maybe you could do it again? Tell it to stop trying to kill him? Because I really think that’s what is happening. Dr. Beckett saves one organ, and it simply goes to try and shut down another…."
Sheppard looked at him, then shook his head. "But then, wouldn’t it be doing the same thing to me? You said I had it in me as well, right?"
The doctor’s shoulders slumped, "Oh, yeah, I guess it would."
"I had actually thought of that, you know," Beckett’s voice said softly as he walked around the edge of the curtain, wiping sleep from his eyes and sounding more awake—his brogue was less pronounced. He gave a tiny smile to his younger associate standing there, "You shouldn’t be afraid to come with me with ideas like that, doctor. I won’t dismiss them. Hell, it’s the best explanation for this, if it weren’t for the fact that the same residue seems to have gone away in the major."
"It's gone away?" Sheppard asked, surprised. "But yesterday you said—"
"Well, it's gone now. No traces left—it faded away last night while you slept. I suppose your strength defeated it."
"Your youth, vitality, however you put it."
"McKay's a year younger than me."
"I know that, but he was also in a lot worse shape that you, Major. You only fired that thing once; he did it five times." Beckett held up a hand, five fingers outstretched, emphasizing his point. Sheppard grimaced, then shook his head.
"Still, you could try talking to it," Beckett shrugged. "Lord knows, nothing else we've done has worked."
Sheppard nodded, watching as both Carson and the dark-skinned doctor backed out of the curtained area, leaving him alone with McKay. The major sighed, turning his head back to his friend, eyes searching Rodney's face for signs of animation.
He thought more about what Beckett had said, about his strength, and frowned. It didn't ring true in his mind. The Weapon was a lot stronger than him—his "strength" shouldn't make a difference, it shouldn't have been the reason the poison went away. They were all like deer in headlights to the Weapon—it really didn't discriminate between healthy and sick. It killed with equanimity.
But what if the poison wasn't the Weapon, exactly? What if it was the energy itself?
What if…what if the poison faded in him…because he wanted to live? The energy adopted the purpose put to it, right? If he wanted to live, and he did, then the energy would fade once he basically recovered, it's purpose complete. Hadn't Beckett said he had recovered "amazing quickly?"
But if McKay didn't want to live….or didn't think he should live….
His jaw clenched.
Damn it, if he was doing this to himself….
Beckett would have to stand in line.
Sheppard leaned forward in the chair, staring at the line of McKay's face in profile. It looked so drawn and stretched, like it belonged to someone else.
"McKay," he whispered, resting his arms on his knees, "Rodney, I need to talk to you."
Not surprisingly, he didn't get a response.
"Look, I have a feeling that, though you don't seem able to, I think you can hear me. And there's something you need to hear. I think some of the entity is inside you, and it's doing to you what you're telling it to….to kill you. I want you to stop that. I want you to think about beating it— about wanting to live."
He waited a couple of minutes, his eyes lowering to his clasped hands.
"Listen, McKay, I don't understand…what's going on in there. I'm guessing that Weapon messed with your head somehow, and maybe still is, telling you its more important for you to die than to live." He looked up, at the slack features again, frowning. "I only know that you're insane to think that. To my mind, there are at least two reasons, two very good reasons, why you need to fight." He licked his lips, looking off to the side as he spoke.
"The first, and, believe me, I wouldn't admit this if you weren't unconscious, but….you really are the smartest guy here. And you know you are, McKay. Heads and tails above everyone else. They're all brilliant—Zelenka, Kavanaugh, Grodin, that cute blond chick Stackhouse keeps hitting on, that guy you always yell at because he's always about five mental steps behind you—but you work on a level beyond all of them. I can't even express how fast your minds works. I've never seen anyone make connections between things that you do as quickly as you do." He paused, taking a breath, and his eyes returned to the man's face. "And they need you, Rodney. If Atlantis lost you, it'd send all of us back ten steps. What chance would we stand against the Wraith without you there? I've gotten so used to you be able to save the day with some amazing, genius scheme…so used to believing that "McKay'll think of something"…losing you would be like…like losing the starting pitcher the night before the world series begins."
Hazel eyes studied the face before him. Not even a twitch. After a moment, they lowered.
"And you'd miss it too," he added softly. "You love doing this, even though everything here scares the pants off of you." He smiled, "You should live for it, as much as it needs you to bring it to life. Oh sure, I can make it all work…but you're the one who actually knows what it does."
Slowly, the smile faded, and Sheppard sighed.
"The second reason," he said, his fingers gripping more tightly together, "is more personal." He jaw muscles flexed, and he looked again at the unresponsive scientist. "Fact is, McKay," he looked down again, "I don't think I…would do so well if you weren't here." He gave a half smirk. "I don't know if you've noticed," he looked up again, "but we have the same sense of humor. You're the only one who can keep up with me. Teyla and Weir…teasing them is more dangerous than walking into a tigress' den and trying to steal her cubs. You saw the way Teyla reacted to the idiom thing—I had to apologize! And Ford's a great kid, but he can't fight back either. When we first flew over the planet, I was going on about g-force, and you should've seen his face, he…." He trailed off, but continued to smile. "Anyway, my point is, you wouldn't have taken the teasing. You probably would have found a way to get back at me, or just ignored me in that way of yours that drives me nuts." He grinned stupidly, eyes focused on his hands again. The smile faded as he wrung them together, his eyes flickering back up to McKay.
"Listen," he swallowed, "with the exception of flying, I…have more fun fighting with you than I have doing anything else, and I don't just mean since we've been here on Atlantis. I haven't had so much fun working with anyone in a long time. If you left me here alone with the rest of these folks, I think….Well, let's just say that, after a while, I'd probably be spending a lot more time up in the air." He sighed, and his voice became softer. "When it comes right down to it, if I somehow ended up stranded on a desert island somewhere, and I saw that footprint in the sand…okay, first I'd probably hope it was a girl, but after that…I'd hope it was you. I have a feeling you're the only one who would keep me sane. We'd probably bicker and yell at each other most of the time, and I'd probably hate your guts for half of that," he flashed another quick grin that didn't reach his eyes, "but you would keep me going. You would keep me…me. And I'd miss that." He shook his head, then leaned it forward onto his hands. He chuckled and took in a deep breath, his back expanding with the air, then released it slowly. After a moment, he lowered the hands away and looked over at the scientist.
"So," he said, finally, "what I guess I'm saying is, stop letting it kill you, McKay. You're needed here too much. Wake up, answer-man, wake up and come home."
McKay stood there, staring up at the hole in the ceiling of the black room, Sheppard's words ringing in his ears. Wake up, answer-man, wake up and come home….
Sunlight streamed down, blanketing him in its warmth.
He looked around, saw the hologram watching him from the shadows, its brown eyes glittering in the half-light, felt the stinging icy-heat of the Weapon all around him, heard the pleading of the Deucalion's in the back of his mind, begging him to stay and fix their machine.
"It's an illusion," the hologram said. "The major is not really there. The real Sheppard doesn't want you to live. He wants you to die."
McKay's eyes filled with tears, and he looked back up at the blue sky.
"He's not there," the hologram pressed.
McKay frowned, "But—"
"It's an illusion. What you heard was not real."
Rodney's head was spinning, and he turned to look again at the hologram.
"Are you real?"
The scientist swallowed, and looked back up at the hole.
Suddenly, Sheppard's face was there, framed by sunlight. He was smiling down at McKay.
"Hey," he greeted cheerfully.
"Hey," McKay replied, not hiding his bewilderment.
"Where you're needed. You coming?"
"But where is that?"
Sheppard's head tilted, "You know where. Now stop being an ass, and take my hand." He reached an arm down into the black room, hand outstretched. "Come on, I'll lift you out."
"But," McKay stared at the hand, blinking rapidly, "what about Deucalion? The Weapon? The Wraith?"
"The Wraith're already gone. We beat them. Time to go home now."
"He's an illusion!" the hologram shouted. "Don't listen to him!"
"Like hell I am!" Sheppard shouted back. He made a face at the hologram, then looked back at Rodney, his expression serious now. "C'mon, answer man! You going to trust him? Or me?"
McKay stared at him, then back at the hologram.
"Come on, Rodney," the major waved the hand impatiently, "I need your help here and I don't have all day. You want to come home, you'd better take my hand. Just trust me!"
"But," Rodney squeezed his eyes shut, his hands gripping into fists, "That's just it! I don't trust you. I do trust him more than you. He's never lied to me."
Sheppard's smile faded, the hand he offered, though, stayed dangling. After a moment, the major frowned.
"I've never lied to you either."
"Yes you did! You said you never leave people behind! But you told me to sit in that chair! You ordered me to die!"
Sheppard stared at him, and, after a moment, he drew his hand back.
"Fine. Think whatever you like about me and don't take my hand if that's what you're afraid of. But I don't want you to die, Rodney. I want you to come home. You're needed there. If you won't accept my help, then climb out of this hole yourself. Don't stay here just because of me, or because of him. Climb out and come home—Atlantis needs you!" And with a final glare, Sheppard leant back away from the hole and disappeared.
McKay lowered his head, trying to think around the headache pounding in his skull.
"He left you again," the hologram taunted, smiling a little. "He left you to die again."
McKay's jaw firmed, and he stared over at the projection. He shook his head, "No, he didn't." He arched an eyebrow up at the hole, the grimace still on his face. Turning around, he moved over to the console…and climbed up on top of it.
"What are you doing?"
McKay grabbed the edge of the hole, finding his grip.
"I'm going home," he replied, as he pulled himself up into the sunlight.
CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO: THE MEANING OF HOME
Sheppard jerked awake when he felt himself nearly fall out of the chair he was sitting on, feeling seriously disoriented. Grabbing the blanket around his shoulders more tightly, he blinked the scum away from his eyes and swallowed some of the dryness from his throat. He ached from having slept in a chair all night, and it took him a few minutes to figure out why.
Oh right, Rodney. He was sitting next to his hospital bed.
He scratched at his head and yawned.
And that's when he looked up…and saw McKay watching him.
Hazel eyes widened.
"Rodney?" he whispered, his voice filled with hope.
The blue eyes blinked, but stayed open. The scientist's dry lips lifted into a tiny smile.
"Rodney!" This time Sheppard yelled the name, jumping up out of the chair and nearly tripping over the blanket that fell off his lap. He grabbed McKay's arm, seeing the blue eyes follow him up, then turned to face the rest of the room. "Beckett! Doc! Tara! Get over here! He's awake!"
Beckett was there first, stumbling around the curtain, fighting back his own yawn and looking more grizzled than a bear. Tara didn't follow him—instead, another nurse (who's name Sheppard was pretty sure was Karen)—rushed up beside Sheppard to start checking machines. The young doctor came next, also wiping sleep from his eyes and what looked like drool from his face. He actually had a yellow post-it note stuck to his cheek, but Sheppard wasn't going to tell him that.
They pushed past him, talking rapidly to each other and to McKay and taking down readings.
Still grinning like a fool, Sheppard backed away, pulling his IV with him and one blanket.
McKay's blue eyes followed him, never letting up on their fixed stare.
Until, finally, they closed.
Sheppard's smile faded, and he looked towards Beckett, trying to gauge his reactions. It wasn't until the doctor stood up and turned to look at him, a wide smile on his face, that Sheppard let out a pure whoop.
He was going to be all right.
About a week later, the first of the Deucalion crop came through the gate. Ford oversaw its delivery, smiling proudly as case after case of food was brought through. He had his arms crossed over his puffed chest, giving a thumbs up to the people upstairs watching.
Up on the balcony, McKay was sitting in a wheelchair, leaning forward with his arms crossed over the railing, his chin resting on top of them, taking everything all in with a slightly bemused expression. Sheppard stood next to him, bending over the railing with a foot on the lowest rung, a crooked smile on his face.
Weir stood not far from them, smiling beatifically as Teyla appeared through the Stargate, waving up at them, a small box under her arm.
"There is not much more," she called up. "Sergeant Stackhouse is dealing with the rest."
Weir nodded, "That's fine. Nice work."
Teyla grinned, and headed over to stand next to Ford. After a few minutes, and once Ford spoke a little with Grodin, both Team One members turned and headed upstairs to the control room.
"Um," McKay said, still eyeing the boxes being carried through, "not to seem, you know, untrusting, but, uh, how do we know this stuff isn't poisoned?"
Sheppard arched an eyebrow at him, "What? Why would they want to kill us now? We saved their lives!"
"True enough," McKay shrugged, sitting up in the chair, "Just hard to reconcile, I guess."
"Ah, you're such a worry-wart."
McKay paused, turning to peer up at Sheppard with a surprised expression, "A what?"
"You heard me."
"If the shoe fits…."
"Yeah, if it belongs to a six year old," the scientist barked back, shaking his head, "What kind of term is that for a grown man?"
"I thought it was appropriate."
"Okay then, if I'm a worry-wart, you're a doofus."
Sheppard's eyebrows lifted, and he looked squarely at McKay, "Did you just say, doofus?"
"If the shoe fits…." McKay grinned.
"Oh, you don't want to go there, McKay."
"Would you prefer," McKay looked up for a second, then grinned, "oh, I don't know, lame-brain?"
"Lame….oh, you asked for it!"
"Maybe stupid-head is better," McKay tapped at his chin.
McKay's eyes widened at that last one, and, despite himself, he started to laugh. Sheppard's jaw dropped, and he tried to explain something about accidentally combining the names of Mr. Magoo and Professor Plum, but it only made McKay laugh harder. Soon he was laughing so hard, he had to lean over in his chair, gasping for air. Sheppard tried not to join him, but it lasted about two seconds, and soon he was practically on the floor. Both men were completely oblivious to the amused yet silent group of people watching them. Even down below, Grodin and the workers dealing with the crates had stopped to look up.
"You're both completely mental," Beckett's voice wafted across the control room, headed from the stairs in back. "Fully certifiable," he added, walking up next to Rodney and leaning over. "Keep breathing, Rodney, and calm down now," he patted his back, "you're not well enough to laugh yourself sick yet."
Sheppard's laughter calmed a little at that, as did Rodney's, who was finding it a little too difficult to catch his breath. Still, soon enough he was grinning up at Beckett, his chest still heaving but looking truly happy for the first time in days. The physician smiled despite himself, shaking his head.
Still grinning, McKay pointed at Sheppard, his eyes lit up, "Did you hear what he said?"
"Unfortunately," Beckett smiled. "And it confirms some things I've thought about his level of maturity." McKay started laughing again while Sheppard mock glared at the physician, but Beckett ignored them both, kneeling down to look more seriously into McKay's face. "All right then, you had your fun, Rodney. Time to head back now."
"No, no," McKay waved him away, choking back his laughter, "I'll be good."
"Actually, Doctor Beckett," Teyla said, walking forward from where she had been standing with Ford. "I think Doctor McKay should be here for this."
Beckett grimaced, but stood up, "For what?"
"The Deucalions asked me to give these to Major Sheppard and Doctor McKay," she said, pulling the small box out from under her arm. Rodney glanced up at Sheppard, and the major shrugged in reply.
Teyla walked to one side and placed the slim box on the table next to one of the laptops. Opening it, she smiled, then looked across to Doctor Weir. The head of the SGA walked over, saw what was inside, then returned the Athosian's smile. Reaching inside, she lifted out two medals, both hanging from identical burnt-orange sashes. They were both a pale bronze color and in the shape of the many pointed star that had marked the floor of the Central Courtyard. In the center of both, a tiny white piece of quartz was embedded.
"I think these are for you," she said, turning. Walking over, she handed one to Sheppard and the other to McKay.
"They represent the Deucalions highest commendation," Telya explained. "Colonel Luphron only regrets not being able to present them himself."
They both looked at them, and then looked at each other.
McKay smiled, "Think the Deucalions are feeling a tad bit guilty?"
Sheppard nodded, "Looks like."
"Think Ford should have asked for more food?"
Sheppard grinned, "Yup."
"Hey!" Ford stood up for himself.
"He's just a kid, though," Sheppard said to McKay, his expression serious again. "Still learning."
"Hey!" Ford said again, looking a little baffled at the same time.
"Teyla was there too," Sheppard noted, fingering the orange sash. "She probably could have done better as well. Could have gotten more than food, I expect. Who knows what items we might have gotten?"
The Athosian's jaw dropped, and she drew herself up. "Major, I will have you know—"
"Well, she's young too," McKay shrugged.
"I am not young!" she retorted, then frowned, "I mean, that is, I am not—"
"They're teasing you," Weir informed her softly.
"Of course," McKay was still watching the Major, "Elizabeth herself knew what Ford and Teyla were negotiating for. For all her great experience, you'd think she could have encouraged them to—"
"Okay," Weir interrupted, stepping up closer to them, "You have had your fun now. Doctor Beckett, perhaps you should take—"
"Cutting me off," McKay said, shaking his head at the major, "Isn't that a sign of someone who is afraid to hear she might have done better? Classic defense mechanism."
"Oh, absolutely!" Sheppard agreed.
Weir's lips pursed, and she crossed her arms, "Are you two done?"
They looked at her, then back at each other, and grinned.
"So sensitive," Sheppard told McKay. That was all it took to set the doctor off laughing again…only to have it degenerate into a nasty cough.
Beckett sighed, and he grabbed the handlebars of the wheelchair, twisting it around towards the direction of the transporter on this level. McKay's coughing subsided, his chuckling returning even though he couldn't see Sheppard anymore.
"Right, that's enough," Carson snapped at the major's grinning face. "I'm taking him away now. It's obviously too dangerous to his health for you two to be in the same room." Beckett pushed away, and McKay had to grab the arms of the chair to keep his balance, nearly losing his medal. As such, neither man saw the flash of pain that crossed Sheppard's face at Beckett's words. He quickly covered it back up with a grin though, as McKay turned in the chair and gave a silly wave.
Sheppard waved in return, while everyone else either smiled or laughed.
"It's good to have him back," Weir said, smiling softly over at Sheppard as the two men disappeared, "even if he and you are as obnoxious together as always."
"Yeah," the major replied, his smile fading. Weir frowned at the sudden seriousness, but before she could ask what was bothering him, he had turned around to look down at the main room, fingering the ugly Deucalion medal held loosely in his hand. He was just in time to see the event horizon shut down behind Stackhouse, carrying the last box.
His eyes lifted to the sunlight streaming through the stained-glass windows behind the Stargate, the beautiful sight hidden whenever it was open. A sense of calm blanketed him, and he smiled—for some reason he didn't quite understand, seeing them meant hope to him.
"Yeah," he muttered, "it's good to be home."