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 there."
"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."
"Beware the wolf in sheep's clothing."
She arched an eyebrow at him.
Sheppard sighed, "Meaning, beware an enemy disguised as a friend. Wolves are predators. Sheep are prey animals."
"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."