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 hummed brokenly, sounding for all the world like a scratched record. It intruded through his ears and into his brain, focusing itself on a spot just behind his right eyebrow. The area began to throb, the headache only mildly irritating at first, but growing more obnoxious until it finally forced him fully awake.
"Damn it, people," he groaned, refusing to open his eyes in defiance of being woken so rudely. "Would someone please turn whatever machine is making that awful noise OFF!"
And with that, 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, 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 unsteady humming answered him. He could hear his heart racing inside his ears as his anxiety kicked into full gear, feeling trapped and alone.
"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 snorted, unable to stop himself.
"It's the fifth doctor's tardis," he muttered, 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, 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 hands width 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 no," he muttered, his hand touching 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. Sergeant Markham sat next to the controls, while Tanner and Stackhouse 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 Markham.
"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, Stackhouse," 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.