CHAPTER FIFTEEN: FINISHING THE JOB
Lieutenant Che climbed out of the Great Eye, clambering out over the rocks still partially blocking the entrance and slipping down the other side, ending up in an ungracious heap. Cusp darted forward to help her up, but stopped when he saw the tall, dark-haired stranger slide down after her, his strange black weapon pointed at her back as she got back to her feet on her own.
"Back off, Beavis," Sheppard spat. Cusp backtracked towards the door, raising his hands. Ford had appeared after the major, the menace on his face clear as he lifted up the submachine gun and pointed it at the young man.
"Call Luphron and Borin," he ordered, indicating the control panel near the door with his head. Cusp licked his lips, glancing at Che. She gave a small nod.
Turning, the young man reached for the panel, hitting the intercom.
"C…Colonel Luphron? C…can you hear me?"
A short pause, and the intercom came to life, "Yes! Cusp what is going on! There are four Wraith darts still—"
Sheppard yanked the boy away from the panel, tossing him in Ford's direction. Leaning into the panel, the major lowered his voice to a level that sent chills up the spines of the Deucalions.
"We figured out what your precious Weapon is going to do to our man, Luphron. We're not going to let it happen."
"Major Sheppard? Is that you? But I don' know what—"
"Can it, Luphron. You're a miserable, lying little parasite, you know that? I don't even know why I'm bothering with you, but I suppose I wanted to see if you had any shame at all. Lord knows your Governor doesn't. I'm only calling to let you know we're getting McKay out of that thing, and if you try to stop us…well, let's just say the Wraith would have been the lesser of two evils."
"No, Major, please, you can't mean—"
"You brought this on yourself, Luphron. I'm going back to that courtyard and blowing up that door. See you there." And he hit the same button the panel that Cusp had hit to activate it. He turned back to the boy, and looked beyond to where Lieutenant Che was watching miserably from near the rock-pile, Teyla standing firmly behind her. "Do you want to lead," he asked the dark-haired woman, "or follow?"
The Deucalion lieutenant's jaw flexed, "Those Wraith darts will finish this city. You've killed my people."
"Well, if McKay is dead, Lieutenant, we'll call it tit-for-tat. Now," he indicated the exit with his 9MM, "after you."
Markham was grinning, swooping down on the hidden city of Deucalion from above, ignoring the two Wraith darts that just sped out from the Illusion masking the city, obviously headed for the Stargate. Those he'd let Jumper 2 handle—the two still inside the mesa were his. Without slowing down, the Puddle Jumper burst through the Illusion's walls, the sides of the craft opening to reveal its array of missiles.
The two Wraith darts were flying low, barely clearing some of the lower structures, firing down on the gray city, obviously hoping to destroy the weapon that had torn apart their mother ship before it fired again, a touch of desperation and panic to their aim.
Stackhouse's hands flew over the guidance system board in front of him, which had been adapted for those without the gene to manipulate the Jumper's weapons. Not that his skill was the only thing they were relying on—standing behind Stackhouse, Sergeant Tanner had the Ancient gene, and though he couldn't use it any more easily than Dr. Beckett, combined with Stackhouse, the two of them were a powerful combination.
No words were spoken as two golden missiles burst out of the Jumper, flying in two different directions – one guided mentally by Tanner, the other by Stackhouse's expert skill with weaponry.
The two Wraith darts responded with surprising agility to the new threat, instantly instituting defensive maneuvers—but the appearance of the Jumper had been too unexpected, and the golden missiles too smart.
Tanner's missile hit the Dart to the Jumper's right dead center, blowing it to pieces.
Stackhouse's missile ripped down one side of the other Wraith dart, blowing out the wing and engines on the right hand side of the ship, sending it pin wheeling through the Illusion's walls. The Jumper followed it out, just in time to see the it crash into the side of a real hill, the resounding explosion shaking the thick forest cover.
"YEEEE-HA!" Markham shouted, pulling up the Jumper to avoid the shockwave of smoke, fire and air from the destroyed Dart.
Grinning, Stackhouse hit the communicator, "Two bogies erased from existence, Major. Two more on their way to you, Dunne."
"Two bogies erased from existence, Major," Stackhouse's voice announced smugly over the communicator, then, more formally: "Two more on their way to you, Dunne."
Corporal Dunne glanced at the communicator, then at Saunders and Weathers.
They were all so looking forward to this, it was almost ridiculous.
Dunne lifted Jumper 2 to hover above the Stargate, his eyes glued on the distance. He left the ship cloaked for the time being.
Two specks appeared on the horizon.
"Dial Atlantis," Dunne ordered as he maneuvered the ship a little higher up.
Saunders' hands dialed the DHD as the two Wraith darts grew in size, aiming straight for their position. As soon as the event horizon stabilized, Saunders took control of the weapon array, hands raised over the panel in anticipation. In the back, Sergeant Weathers, a gene carrier like Sergeant Tanner, focused his thoughts on the drone weapons attached to the ship.
The Wraith darts slowed fractionally upon seeing the Gate open already, but didn't stop their approach.
"Now?" Saunders asked, glancing at the pilot.
"Whites of their eyes, Saunders," the Boston-born Dunne replied. "Whites of their eyes…."
The darts sensed something very wrong, but by the time they realized what it was, it was too late.
"Now," Dunne hissed, dropping the cloak. The Jumper put on a burst of speed, sending it directly into the path of both oncoming ships, almost as if he were playing chicken. At the same time, both Saunders and Weathers fired.
The two golden missiles burst from the ship, and the two Wraith darts crossed paths, flying off in different directions. The trick worked…for one of them.
"Aw nuts," Weathers sighed as his missile followed the one aimed at by Saunders. His control just wasn't good enough—he had mentally focused on the ship on the left. When the ships crossed, the missile stayed left though the Dart had veered to the right, while the one aimed by Saunders stayed on the ship it was intended for, which had been on the right but now veered left.
Hit by both missiles, the first Wraith ship lit up the sky, hundreds of bits of scrap metal showering the ground below, not one of them larger than a man's hand.
All three men's heads turned as the other dart barely missed ramming them, aiming for the Gate.
Dunne twisted the Jumper around, just in time to see the dart disappear through the event horizon.
Weir had her arms crossed, fingers tapping in annoyance and, frankly, worry, on her arms.
"Incoming," Grodin informed her, studying the readouts from the open wormhole. "It's a ship, I think."
She just nodded, her eyes narrowing slightly. All she could do was hope it wasn’t one of theirs. No IDC code had been activated, though her eyes constantly drifted to the laptop screen on the console, looking for it.
The burst of light and obvious explosion as whatever it had been hit the Iris caused her to flinch….
A second later, Corporal Dunne's IDC appeared on the screen.
"Lower the shield," she commanded. Grodin pressed down on the pad button.
"Corporal?" Weir asked. "What was that? What is happening out there?"
"Sorry, Doctor Weir. Two Wraith darts were attempting to escape, potentially to bring back more ships. Dialing Atlantis so that they couldn't dial the Gate themselves, knowing that if one got past us it would hit the shield on your end, seemed the most effective means to insure—"
"Wait, back up, did you say, Wraith darts?"
"Corporal? What the hell is going on out there!"
"Um…well…the Wraith came."
Weir waited, expecting more, her eyes catching sight of Grodin as he instinctively held his hand over the button to put the shield back up, not hiding his nervousness at the word "Wraith."
When nothing more seemed forthcoming from Dunne, Weir sighed, "Corporal, did you say…came? As in the past tense?"
"Yes, ma'am. They're gone now."
Grodin's hand lifted away from the Iris's controls with obvious relief, and Weir's shoulders relaxed slightly. "I see. What's your status, Corporal?"
"At this time, I have no further intel, ma'am. We expect the major to contact us at any moment, however. We'll be back in touch as soon as we know more."
She nodded, not happy, but understanding.
"Okay, Corporal," Weir sighed, "We will wait for the major. But," she gave a small smile, "Next time you decide to use the Iris as weapon….just try to give us some warning, okay?"
"Yes, ma'am," replied the cocky pilot. "Dunne out."
"Wait, hold on, is everyone…." Weir trailed off as the Stargate shut down before she could finish, "…all right?" she finished weakly.
"He sounded to smug, doctor," Grodin noted. "If someone was hurt, I don't think he would have been so pleased with himself."
She nodded absently, "I suppose you're right. Guess we'll know for sure soon enough."
Her arms recrossed, fingers once more nervously tapping her arms.
"Last two Darts out for the count, Major," Dunne called over the radio.
"Well done, Corporal. Stay by the gate and be prepared to dial Atlantis. I think we're going to need a medical team over here."
The young corporal's smug expression instantly disappeared, and he glanced worriedly at his companions, "Yes sir."
CHAPTER SIXTEEN: RAY OF LIGHT
Rodney was floating now, drifting along a strange stream of consciousness that had his thoughts bouncing randomly from idea to idea. Vaguely he could tell he was still in the chair—he could feel the tackiness around his wrists and ankles where the metal restraints had cut into his skin and rimed them with dried blood like frost on a window—but there wasn't much real pain left. He didn't want to open his eyes, didn't want to see the harsh black and white world that had been his final resting place, didn't want to see the Weapon's triumphant grin as he became as ghostly as the machine itself.
It was just waiting, either for him to die, or for one more chance to destroy something…and then for him to die in the process. Either way, it was a win-win situation for the Weapon.
Either way it erased one more life from existence.
He started drifting deeper into wherever it was he was headed for, planning on giving up, when something new prickled his skin.
His expression frowned, not quite understanding what it was. It was so alien from the cold light of the Weapon. But something warm was definitely touching his right arm.
Against their will, the blue eyes blinked open.
He saw the hologram first, still standing there about two feet away, but its expression was only curious now. It was staring up at the ceiling over the chair, obviously watching something on the screens. It no longer had that sense of urgency on its face.
Not strange enough for the doctor to look up, though. He didn't want to see what his failure had caused. Was it all over? Was everyone dead…or taken?
Images crossed his mind of Sheppard kneeling before the Wraith, defiant to the end as they tortured him for information about Atlantis and Earth, of Ford and Teyla dying by degrees as their youth was sucked from them, of the triumph of those horrible creatures laying waste to the entire population of this city…of then going to Atlantis to finish the job….
They had all died because of him. Because he could not finish what he had started.
Rodney's eyes drifted down to the part of his arm that felt warm…and his lips lifted into the faintest of smiles despite the misery coloring his unsound mind.
It poured thickly through the hole in the ceiling, and it had shifted enough to touch his arm. He followed the light upwards, to the hole, and to the blue sky beyond. The smile grew. He had been right to keep the defensive shield off—it was worth the ceiling potentially coming down on his head to be able to see the sky now.
At least…it was something.
He just wished he could float out that hole and tell them…tell them….
"I'm sorry," he whispered.
The hologram turned, watching as McKay's eyes closed again, not sure if he had actually spoken just then or not. It frowned slightly, then looked back at the projections. It had just seen a strange new ship destroy both Wraith darts.
The threat to Deucalion was over.
At least the one from outside this room.
The brown eyes returned to the still form of the doctor, and measured the white glow still surrounding him. Its worry grew as it felt the growing impatience of the Weapon.
It was still waiting to fire…and take its payment.
Sheppard stopped before the metal door blocking the entrance to the Central Courtyard, watching as Che stood to attention and Cusp cowered against the wall. Teyla and Ford stood at the Major's back, both in full glare mode.
"Well?" he demanded, when neither Deucalion seemed inclined to open the door.
"The Central Courtyard is off limits when the Weapon is working," Lieutenant Che stated firmly. "We can not open this door until the Weapon's cycle—"
"Bull-crap," Sheppard spat. "Open it."
"I can't," she hissed back. "It won't open. No one can open it."
"I can," Ford smiled softly. Sheppard looked back at the young man, and then nodded. Che looked confused as the major grabbed her arm and dragged her away.
"What is he going to do?" she demanded, her eyes on the lieutenant as he knelt in front of the door and pulled something from his vest, "What is he doing!"
Teyla nudged Cusp in front of her, following the major and Che down the hall, the young man really just trying his best not to pee in his pants.
Che struggled in Sheppard's grip, "I asked you a question! Answer me!"
"What? Answer a Deucalion's question? Now, that wouldn't be fair now, would it? Not unless I lied, of course—that'd be fair. So fine, here's your answer—he's testing for termites."
They moved around a corner, Che's expression hateful and scared at the same time. A moment later, Ford's running footsteps echoed down the concrete hall behind them, and he rounded the corner with a smile.
"Fire in the hole, Major!" he called, hitting the detonator on his remote.
The explosion was small and contained, but also very effective. As the small group rounded the corner again, they saw the metal door had been blown of its hinges, landing about five feet away across the marble floor of the courtyard. It had gouged ugly black lines into the porous soft stone.
"Looks like you've a pretty bad termite problem," Sheppard said darkly, finally letting Lieutenant Che's arm go. "One down," he announced to Ford, and the lieutenant nodded. Che rubbed her arm where Sheppard's fingers had dug into her skin as the Major and Ford jogged into the courtyard.
"Go on," Teyla ordered softly, still standing behind Che and Cusp, her hands resting on her gun for emphasis. The two Deucalions sighed heavily, but did as they were told.
"Which one is it?" Sheppard asked, following Ford as the younger man headed to one side of the massive glass aula.
"This one sir," the lieutenant answered, skidding to a halt in front of a metal door that appeared larger than the rest. "It doesn't slide sideways like the rest of them sir," he noted, pointing up, "it came down from above."
"Like a garage door?"
"Yes, except it doesn't fold. It just came down."
"Well, doesn't matter. Find its weak points and blow it down, lieutenant."
"Yes sir!" Ford replied, unable to resist a smile at the prospect.
Both Sheppard and Ford turned around at the yell, as did Teyla, Cusp and Che standing off to one side, everyone looking towards the entrance to the courtyard that they had blown up. Colonel Luphron, Governor Borin and about twelve armed guards jogged towards them.
Ford sent a spray of machine gun fire into the air, stopping them in their tracks.
"I'm guessing those little rifles of yours aren't quite as quick on the job," Sheppard quipped, smiling at the Colonel.
Some of the more brave guards levered their rifles at the three Atlanteans regardless, but Luphron held up a hand, forestalling any movement.
"Wait, Major Sheppard, please, think about what you are doing."
"I'm rescuing my man, Colonel. What are you doing?"
"Trying to stop you from destroying our only means of defense against the Wraith!"
"You should have thought of that before—"
"The Weapon was damaged!" Governor Borin's shrill voice interrupted, stalking forward towards the Major. "You saw for yourselves how defenseless we are without it! It had to be fixed! And we couldn’t do it—only your Doctor McKay could. What would you have done?!"
"I would have ASKED!" Sheppard yelled back. "And I would have given us the opportunity to find another way, the option to decide for ourselves what could be done. But you didn't do that. You lied and stole something incredibly important to us, and now we're taking it back." He whipped around, "Blow the door Lieutenant."
"No!" Luphron shouted, "Don't!"
"Give me one reason why I shouldn't, other than you people trying to save your own skins," Sheppard hissed back.
"Because he's not behind that door!"
Sheppard straightened, cocking his head to one side.
Luphron took in a deep breath, "He's not inside there. It doesn't lead anywhere. It's just a corridor…and some kind of transportation device."
Ford was staring contemplatively at the door now, while Sheppard's eyes narrowed on the blond Colonel.
"How do you know?"
"It's written. The real Weapon's location is hidden…in case anyone tried to do what you're doing. We know it's nearby, but we don't know where."
Sheppard's eyes sparkled, torn now. His upper lip lifted into a sneer.
"You know what, Luphron? You've lied to us so much, I can't even tell when you're not lying anymore."
"I am not lying."
"How do I know that?"
The Colonel opened his mouth, then shut it. He had no answer to that.
"Major Sheppard," Teyla's quiet voice floated above the tension in the massive room.
Sheppard didn't take his eyes off Luphron, "Yes Teyla?"
"Doctor McKay did tell us that he had another way out of the Weapon. He said something about climbing out."
"So, if there is indeed a hole in the roof of the Weapon, then perhaps we can see it? We know that it is located close to this glass dome, because the light erupted out of the center of the city. Perhaps the men in Jumper 1 can find it?"
Luphron grimaced and Sheppard frowned. Ford continued to stare longingly at the door he wanted to blow up, while Teyla did what she could to bring reason back to the furious major's mind.
Finally, the major nodded. He hit his radio.
"Where are you?"
"Hovering not far from the city, sir. We're keeping an eye out to make sure no more Wraith appear unexpectedly sir."
"Good man. Look, I need you to come back inside the Illusion."
"Yes sir. Be there in two minutes."
There was a pause then, with the two sets of people still glaring at each other. Finally, Governor Borin stepped forward.
"Major, I…I just….I did want to thank you for destroying those last four Wraith ships. We did not know you had that kind of firepower."
Sheppard's eyes flicked to her, "I didn't do it for you."
Her eyes lowered. Sheppard looked away, back to Luphron. The Colonel managed to match the stare, but there were hints of sorrow around the edges of his eyes.
"Sir," Markham's voice came in over the radio, "We're inside sir."
"Okay. I need you to focus your attention around the large glass dome in the center of the city. Start looking for—"
"Glass dome, sir?"
"Yes," Sheppard looked up to the sky shining through the glass overhead, "You should easily see the large…." Suddenly, it clicked. How was it possible that a roof as fragile as the one overhead wasn't damaged? There should have been glass fragments all over the courtyard floor, shattered windows from the barrage of gunfire from the Wraith ships…but all he saw were a few bits of concrete dust. "They don't see it," he realized wonderingly, his voice soft. Then, more into his radio, "Markham, can you locate where we are standing?"
Another pause, and then Markham's voice answered, "We have you on screen, sir. You're in the middle of the city, beneath a fairly large concrete roof. I suppose it could be a dome, but it is not made of glass."
"No kidding," Sheppard breathed, and his eyebrow quirked as he saw the Puddle Jumper appear in the sky overhead and settle into a hover. He looked around at the places where it appeared that "windows" in the ceiling were open.
"Can you see any openings in the roof, Jumper 1?"
"Yes sir. There appear to be a number of cut openings, and at least one jagged hole that was probably created by weapons fire."
"A jagged hole," Sheppard repeated, staring at the illusory ceiling—it had the appearance of being pristine. "Hang on, Markham. Stay where you are."
The Major looked around, then walked over to where a small chunk of broken concrete about the size of small rock rested on the floor. Picking it up, he was suddenly reminded of their conversation with McKay when they were all standing outside the mesa's wall. That seemed like years ago. Maybe I should just show you, McKay had said smugly, right before throwing a rock through the illusion he had seen. Clever, sarcastic, obnoxious son of a bitch.
Please let him be okay.
"What are you thinking sir?" Ford asked, echoing the thoughts of everyone standing in that courtyard.
"I'm wondering if McKay would have figured this out sooner than us if he were here," Sheppard replied, tossing the rock in his hand. "I'm going to see if I can break a window."
"Because I'm pretty sure I'm not even going to get close."
And leaning back, the major did his best Tom Brady impression, throwing the rock with all his might up towards the ceiling.
It hit something hard about two thirds of the way there, the illusion rippling enough to show a concrete ceiling about a story's width below the illusory glass ceiling, before the rock came back down and the illusion of open space returned. There was a room hidden above their heads, underneath the dome.
"Light above," Lieutenant Che hissed, her eyes wide. "I had no idea…."
"No," Sheppard replied, staring back at the Governor, "but your Governor and the Colonel did. She can see the dome's roof from her office."
"So?" the older woman challenged back, "that doesn't mean I knew the Weapon was housed up there! I just…."
"That's enough!" Colonel Luphron shouted, staring at the woman by his side. Borin's eyes widened as she looked back at him, "They don't care, Barbara. Nothing we say now matters anymore. I say we just get out of their way."
"Got that right," Sheppard agreed. He tapped his radio again, "Stackhouse."
"See a place somewhere outside of this building where you can drop a line down and pick me up?"
"Um…yeah. Move forward a couple of steps, will you Major?"
Sheppard complied, moving forward.
"Okay, we've got you pinpointed. From where you're standing, there looks to be an open area at 2:00. We'll drop a rope down and pick you up. Where do you need us to take you?"
"Onto the roof, Stackhouse, where else?" Sheppard turned to Ford, and pointed towards the wall where 2:00 would be. There was no door there. "Ford, blow up that wall, will ya?"
The lieutenant's lips cracked into a grin.
CHAPTER SEVENTEEN: BLACK, WHITE…AND RED
None of the Deucalions tried to stop the Major as he grabbed the rope and harness thrown down from the Jumper floating above, tying it around his waist and giving the thumbs up for them to lift. Ford and Teyla just gave him encouraging nods as he rose, and he gave them his best confident look back. As soon as he was high enough up, the people on the ground climbed back inside the hole Ford had created in the dome's walls in order to watch the Major's progress through the "glass."
The Jumper lifted gently into the air, careful of the burden dangling at the end of the rope, smoothly carrying the major up over the edge of the roof.
Sheppard had to shake his head again at the sight of the obviously concrete dome. It suddenly occurred to him how fitting it was that even the buildings here hid things. There was nothing black and white about Deucalion; it was all illusion and shades of gray…well except perhaps for the Weapon itself. There was nothing false about its power.
As he was lifted higher, he saw the open "windows" letting in air to the courtyard.
And then he saw the jagged hole near the apex of the roof.
"There it is," he yelled into the radio on his shoulder. "Lower me down on the roof just next to the hole…I'm going inside."
"Sir, are you sure?"
"I'm betting my life and McKay's on it, Markham. Just lower me down!"
There was a short pause, then "Yes sir, but you should know, there are no life signs showing up on the screen from in there." In other words, even if McKay was inside the hidden room…he was likely dead.
Sheppard's chest grew cold at the information, but he wasn't willing to give up so easily, "I have to believe it’s the Weapon doing that, Markham, and the Illusion, keeping him hidden."
Another pause, then, "Yes sir. Here we go, sir."
As he got closer, he could see that the hole was about two feet across, more than large enough to fit him. But he could see nothing at all inside of it—just black.
"Here we go, sir," he repeated to himself as his feet hit the delicate roof just shy of the hole. The rope slackened, and he knelt down and crawled to the opening, sensitive to the roof's crumbling potential. Grabbing his 9MM from its holster, he let the barrel of the gun lead the way into the hole, just in case there was some sort of invisible shield blocking it he couldn't see.
When nothing happened, he nudged himself forward and peered more into the hole.
Well, that explained why it seemed black inside. It was black. He saw a black floor, part of a broken console, also black, and not much else. His eyes were having a hard time adjusting considering the brightness of the sun above his head.
"McKay," he called, "Rodney, can you hear me? Are you in there?"
Nothing answered him. He leaned more over the hole and dipped his head inside.
He jerked upright, nearly hitting his head on the edge of the hole, when he found someone staring back at him. It was a dark haired man, dressed head to toe in brown, and its glittering eyes reflected sharply the light coming in through the hole.
"You are not supposed to be here. You must leave," the man announced.
"Oh, I don't think so," Sheppard smiled, gesturing at him with his gun. "I am pretty sure you have a friend of mine in there."
"You must leave," the man repeated again.
"I repeat," Sheppard's eyes moved past the man and deeper into the room, "not until I find my…." The words died in his throat as his eyes caught sight of McKay. The doctor was sitting in the nastiest looking dentist's chair the major had ever seen, complete with metal straps holding him down. A white glow enveloped him, making him look washed out—and a little bluish in color. Like a corpse. "Oh God," he hissed. He tapped his radio, "He's here! I've found him. I'm going in."
"No!" the hologram gasped, as Sheppard quickly undid the harness around his waist, grabbed the edge of the roof and prepared to swing down inside. "You can not—"
"Out of my way!" Sheppard hissed, ignoring the stranger as he dropped into the black room. He took a quick glance around for threats, including into the corresponding white room on the other side of the glass partition, before focusing all of his attention on McKay's much too still form. He had only took a couple of steps towards his friend, though, when the white glow surrounding McKay intensified…almost angrily…and the doctor tensed, his whole body stretching in the chair, pain seizing his features with a choked gasp.
"Get back!" the strange man barked from behind the uncomprehending Major.
Sheppard quickly backtracked until the terrifying light died down again, breathing fast at the realization that the Weapon was still very much with them.
McKay settled, but the white glow was more intense than it had been before, and even from across the room Sheppard could see the man was racked with tremors still, his wheezing breathing erratic.
"You can not have him," the strange man informed the Major. "Doctor Rodney McKay and the Weapon are too closely joined. If you try to get near him, it will only destroy you, and him as well."
Sheppard took a shuddering breath, his frustration clear on his face as he rounded on the stranger.
"And who the hell are you?"
"I am the one who helps those, like Doctor Rodney McKay, who volunteer to guide the Weapon to—"
"Volunteer? He didn't volunteer for this!" The major pointed to the chair, "I want him out of that thing!"
"Oh, but he did," the man smiled thinly. "He sat in that chair of his own free will…after you and your people ordered him to do so. He was going to escape," the brown eyes glanced towards the hole in the ceiling, "and he would have succeeded," the eyes returned to the major's face, "but the words of the ones called Teyla, Ford and, particularly, the Major changed his mind, convinced him he had no choice." The head tilted at Sheppard's surprised face, "He has experienced more than one kind of pain today," he added quietly.
The major's brow furrowed, not understanding what this man was saying.
"Major?" Ford's voice called over the radio, "What's happening? You disappeared when you hit the roof. Are you in the room?"
The stranger's eyebrows rose, "So…you're the Major? Interesting."
Sheppard blinked, and he nudged the radio to respond, "Yes, I'm here, but there's a complication, Ford. I'm trying to figure it out. Stay put."
Yes, sir, Sheppard's mind rang with the words. He glanced at McKay, sitting on that horrible thing. They ordered him to sit there? Convinced him to?
"McKay…what the hell were you thinking? What did you hear?" he breathed. "You must know that had I known, I would have never…." He trailed off. How could McKay ever think that he would allow this? "How could you think that of me…?" he hissed, shaking his head partly in anger and partly in disbelief.
"Major, you can not be here," the brown man stated again, more harshly than before. "You can do nothing for him. Just accept that he is going to die."
The cold words caused some sort of primal response in Sheppard, and he reacted without thinking, sending a roundhouse punch at the stranger's face.
It passed right through, and Sheppard gasped as he stumbled forward, his body following the force of his throw and landing against the delicate console. He turned in shock, staring back at the man…hologram?
"You're not real," he gasped.
"I am a projection, yes," it replied. "You can not harm me."
"Well, nuts," the Major leaned heavily against the edge of the console, hands shifting to his hips. He lowered his head, shutting his eyes to calm himself down and think.
"Understand that I am not asking this because I want him to die. You need to leave," the hologram pressed again. "It is for the best."
Slowly, the major's eyes lifted to glare into the face of the hologram, then beyond him. The hands fell away from his hips, gripping themselves into fists.
"McKay," he snapped.
"McKay, wake up."
"MCKAY!" Sheppard shouted, all patience gone now. "Wake up!"
The doctor's body flinched ever so slightly.
"Come on, Rodney. Open your eyes. Talk to me. I know you're still in there."
The man on the chair struggled with something, his face registering both exhaustion and bewilderment.
"G'way ho…gram…." Rodney's weak voice whispered. It was barely audible—the Major had to strain to hear him. Sheppard swallowed down his fear at the un-McKay like sound and pushed on.
"It's not the hologram, Rodney," Sheppard's teeth gritted together, "It's me. Sheppard. I'm here. Open your eyes."
The doctor's face pinched, but, amazingly, he did as he was told. To John's immense relief, the lids fluttered and the pale blue eyes cracked open. He saw them look around a little, before finally landing on the tall man. Puzzlement crossed the tense features.
"Shep.…?" the voice died off.
"Yup. McKay, look, before you ask, I'm real. I came in through the hole in the ceiling. Now, I'm trying to get you out of here, but that…that chair thing you're strapped to…it won't let me near you. You have to tell me how to turn it off."
Dried, parched lips lifted into a smile, "Hi John." He clearly hadn't heard a word.
Sheppard grimaced, "Rodney, listen to me. How do I turn that thing off?"
The lips frowned, "Off…?"
"Yes, off. I need to get you out of here. How do I shut it down!"
"Kill me," Rodney chuckled morbidly, an ugly sound combined with the hoarseness of his throat. Sheppard winced.
"Damn it, not an option, Rodney. Find another way."
The scientist's face frowned at that, the words obviously have more meaning to him than any of the others.
"Find…?" he repeated softly.
"Yes, McKay. Another way," Sheppard nodded, thankful to see something more than resignation and hurt in his friend's eyes. "That's what you do. Find another way."
"Another…way…." The eyes closed.
"No!" Sheppard shouted, "Stay with me! McKay, don't you dare close those eyes!"
The blue eyes opened again to stare at the Major with some bewilderment, then shifted to the hologram.
"Real?" he whispered.
The hologram's jaw tensed, but he nodded, "Yes, he is real."
"Oh," Rodney looked back at the Major, and there was a hint of marvel in his eyes. "I didn't…believe….real….But it doesn't…lie…."
Sheppard's lips quirked into an involuntary smile at that.
"Then it’s the only thing in this damn city that doesn't."
McKay actually managed a hint of a smile back…then closed his eyes again.
Blue eyes opened again, a hint of aggravation in them now. Sheppard ignored it.
"Stop that. Stay awake! How do I get you out of here! Tell me!"
The eyes blinked, and then something very dark crossed Rodney's face, "Why?"
"Why…bother…." Rodney whispered, the pain in his voice more than just physical.
Sheppard's breath caught for a moment, finally understanding what Rodney was asking him—and what the hologram had meant earlier. Then he stood a little straighter, his jaw steeling.
"Because I'm not losing you, McKay. I will not allow you to die for these people. You hear me? I'm going to get you out of here and take you home, but you have to tell me how I turn the damn Weapon off first!"
Rodney focused on the Major, and for a second his brow furrowed, as if he would say something…but instead the eyes closed again.
"Just…go…." he whispered.
"No, damn it, McKay," Sheppard groaned in exasperation, taking an involuntary step forward…and the harsh white light grew again. McKay made a sound like he was choking and Sheppard instantly fell back against the console, a look of complete helplessness on his face. The light faded again.
McKay's breathing evened out once more into a steady wheeze, but this time the tremors cascading down his frame were more pronounced.
"Oh Christ, Rodney," the Major breathed, trying to make sense of what was happening as the tremors finally subsided, and the doctor's head lolled down closer to his shoulder. "You have to help me out here. I'm not going anywhere, no matter what you might think, but I can't fight this thing alone—I don't even understand what the hell it is!"
"I do," the hologram said softly.
Sheppard quirked an eyebrow and turned to the projection standing next to him. It actually looked concerned, which surprised him.
Fact was, he didn't have a lot of options here. Without McKay, there was no one else to tell him how to shut the Weapon down.
"Yeah," he admitted weakly, "I bet you do." He frowned, "McKay said you don't lie."
"I was programmed to only tell the truth."
"The whole truth?"
"Okay then," he licked his lips, he looked over at the unconscious scientist with the hologram, "you tell me: how do I get him out of here?"
The hologram frowned. "You…can't," it replied brokenly. "His connection to the Weapon would have to be cut off first."
"Okay, so how do I cut the connection?"
"You can't, not without damaging the console."
Sheppard's eyebrow quirked, and he looked behind him at the damaged console. He saw the crystals and wires, noting with some interest that a number of them had been reattached and reset. McKay had done that, obviously. His fingers touched the thick red wire he saw at the top of the console. It and a yellow wire were the only two showing no damage at all.
He arched an eyebrow, "And if I have no issues with damaging the console?"
The hologram frowned, "You don't understand; it's too dangerous. The Weapon can not be effectively contained without the console. You could cause greater harm than good if you try to cut the connection to the mind guiding it at this stage."
Sheppard looked over at McKay, wishing he could get corroboration from him, but the man wasn't even moving anymore. If it weren't for the soft rise and fall of his chest….He frowned at the thought, and looked back at the hologram.
"What kind of harm?"
"I do not know. It is possible nothing will happen, that it will just shut down. In the alternative, the Weapon could react uncontrollably."
"The Weapon is a conscious entity, with a single purpose—to destroy. If it senses it has no mind to guide it before it has been fired six times, it might choose to fire itself, and it would seek to eradicate everything inside the Illusion's walls. You could kill everyone in Deucalion, level the city. I do not know the extent of its power, but without a mind to control it…." The hologram tapered off.
Sheppard quirked an eyebrow, "Let me get this straight…you're saying the Weapon is an entity? You mean…it can think?"
"In a manner of speaking, yes."
The hologram actually smiled at that, "I know what that means now. It means you don't believe me."
"Neither did Doctor Rodney McKay."
Sheppard frowned, connecting the dots, "but he does now."
"He's connected to the Weapon. He knows now better than anyone," the hologram actually seemed sad as looked towards the doctor. "He has had to battle constantly to contain the destruction it wants to unleash. After the hive ship was destroyed, the Weapon's hunger was at its peak….Doctor Rodney McKay forced it back. He is a lot stronger than he appears." He looked back the major, "It should have killed him. The Weapon certainly wanted it."
The major was shaking his head. "I won't believe this. Machines don't hunger for things. Weapons do not want. They aren't conscious things. This is all a whole lot of—"
The hologram's jaw tensed, "Then explain why it reacted to you when you tried to approach Doctor Rodney McKay."
Sheppard grimaced, then waved a hand around, "Well…it has defenses, doesn't it? The shield thingy that McKay took down earlier," he looked at the hologram, "you," and he looked at the chair, "and that white light stuff. It's just reacting to outside threats seeking to extinguish it." He looked back at the hologram, "But, as McKay constantly proves, there is always a way around defensives. There's a way around this one." He turned to the broken console behind him, "and you're going to tell me what that is."
The hologram shook his head, "you're a fool. If it were just a machine, you would be right. But the Weapon is not just a machine!"
Sheppard stared down at the console, not wanting to believe what he was hearing. It was too fantastic. It couldn't be alive! It couldn't be aware!
But then…there was that shadow thingy back on Atlantis. McKay had gone Sydney Carton on them then as well….
What if the hologram was right?
"God DAMN IT!" he yelled, slamming his hand against the glass partition in front of him. The glass shook…but nothing much else happened except that now his hand hurt. He whipped around, staring hard at the oblivious McKay, everything finally reaching his breaking point. "You smug, arrogant, pig-headed, frustrating fool! You adolescent, snot-nosed, Canadian moron! You freakish, senseless, idiotic bonehead! You are not dying on me! Not on me! Not like this. Wake up! WAKE UP and help me!"
McKay didn't even move.
"God damn it, McKay….please. Don't do this! Show me another way!"
The softer plea was as effective as the yelling.
The doctor might as well already be…..
Sheppard lowered his head. No. Don't think like that. Don't give up.
"The Weapon will take him soon," the hologram said softly. "It will sense his death and—"
"He's not dead," the major stated softly, even with his head bowed. After a moment, he looked up, then turned to stare down at the console again. The hologram sighed.
"Not yet, but—"
"What do these wires do," Sheppard interrupted roughly, pointing down. "Red, yellow, blue…one of them must do something that can turn this thing off."
The hologram watched him for a moment, then stepped forward. "Those wires control the Weapon."
"I know that," Sheppard hissed, "what does each one do."
The hologram, even more reluctantly than before, pointed out the purpose of each wire. Sheppard arched an eyebrow at the severed white wire, thanking McKay for at least having that much foresight, then looked up as the hologram's voice stopped when he pointed to the red wire.
"Something wrong?" he asked.
"The red wire…," the hologram looked to be fighting with itself, "the red wire…."
"The red wire…what?"
Sheppard looked at the wire in question. It was one of only three wires that didn't appear to have been damaged inside the console. It was thicker than the others, more substantial—it would take more than a few hits to hurt it.
Why have such a thick wire?
Probably because…it was the most important one?
"You can't tell me what it does," Sheppard reasoned slowly, comprehension dawning, "because your programming prevents you. Two conflicting orders," he looked at the hologram, "answer all questions….and stop anyone from shutting the Weapon down." His eyes lit up, "the red wire is the plug, isn't it? The shut off. The big red button for abort!" He grinned as the hologram just stared at him, not saying anything at all. "I knew there had to be a way. There's always a back door, an ejector seat, a contingency plan…." He looked back at McKay, "All right, Rodney. That's it. I'm getting you out of here."
"No! It won't work!" the hologram spouted.
"Are you sure?" Sheppard snapped, eyeing it out of the corner of his eye. "Are you certain? How do you know? How do you know cutting this wire doesn't just shut it all down? You said yourself before that it's possible nothing will happen. Were you saying that was a lie?"
The hologram looked like it had been slapped, then it shook its head, "No, I don't lie. And yes, you're right, I don't know. Cutting that wire could do exactly what you want….But it could also do the exact opposite."
"But of course you're going to say that. You don't want it shut down! You're programmed to keep it running, isn't that right?"
"Yes, of course, but—"
"But nothing. I think the people who built this place had to have considered something going horribly wrong. They had to have put a failsafe in. The fact that you can't tell me what this wire does tells me this is it. So I'm going to cut it, and that's that."
"And if you're wrong?"
Sheppard stared at him a moment longer, then looked over at the unnaturally silent McKay.
"Well," he stated quietly, "I'm willing to take that risk, if it means I can save him." He looked back at the hologram, "And if it doesn't, then I'll figure something else out."
"I just," the hologram frowned, "I don't believe you can just shut it off. It can't work that way; it's aware…alive…."
But Sheppard wasn't listening anymore. Pulling his knife from his belt, he pressed the edge against the red wire…and started to saw
"I beg of you, don't…." Suddenly the hologram gasped, and waved a hand in front of Sheppard's face to get his attention, "Look what's happening! It knows!"
The major turned, and his lips parted to see the white light swelling around the chair again. It grew so bright, Sheppard had to squint, and in the center of it all…he saw McKay finally react. The doctor's head tipped back, a harsh gasp echoing from his ragged throat as his whole body convulsed in the chair.
"Oh no you don’t!" Sheppard yelled, turning again to the console, pressing deeper into the wire, like a surgical knife cutting through an aorta. "I won't let you have him!"
The white light grew in the room, and the hologram closed his eyes in surrender…and vanished.
A massive shockwave hit the back of the Major just as the red wire snapped in half.
The entire room was plunged into darkness…except for the sunlight streaming through the roof, forming a square of light on the floor of the black room. It lit up the slack right arm of the man still in the chair, the metal manacle clicking open, and the legs of the unconscious man by the console.
CHAPTER EIGHTEEN: WAKING UP
The entire dome suddenly filled with white light, and Ford vaguely recalled his voice echoing with Colonel Luphron’s as they all scrambled towards the hole in the wall, both men shouting for everyone to run. The actions were such a blur that he almost wasn’t sure they had made it—until the light looming before his blinking eyes resolved into sunlight.
Breathing heavily, feeling a strange tingling all over his body, he pushed himself off the concrete earth he’d landed on and looked around. Teyla was already up—the woman could fly when she ran—and she was checking on the Deucalions still lying on the ground after they had dived through the opening.
He frowned when he realized that he did not see everyone that had been inside with them. Stepping over those still lying on the ground, he peered back into the now very dark Central Courtyard. Lights around the walls had come on, probably normally used when it was nighttime, but the illumination they shed seemed woefully inadequate compared to the brightness of before.
About three guards and Colonel Luphron were lying still inside the dome, out cold.
He leaned further into the hole and looked up. The glass illusion was completely gone. He could clearly see the floor of the hidden room up above, metal and concrete crisscrossed in an ugly, but efficient pattern.
He felt a presence behind him, and he turned to see Lieutenant Che staring at him. Her face was bloodied a little—she must have hit the ground hard when she’d dived—but she didn’t seem to notice the hurt.
"Excuse me," she asked with polite formality. Ford nodded and backed away from the opening, allowing her to climb through to check on her people. As he turned back to the others, he saw Governor Borin watching him with a dark expression from where she sat, rubbing at her right shoulder. There was blame and anger in her gaze, both of which he chose to ignore. Instead, he hit his radio.
"Major?" he waited a couple of minutes, then tried again, "Major Sheppard, respond."
His eyes lifted to meet Teyla’s when he still didn't receive an answer, and saw hers lower to the ground.
He tapped his radio again, "Stackhouse, do you read me?"
"Stackhouse, the Major’s not responding. Can you see anything from up there?"
"We saw a flash of very bright light inside the hole in the roof, sir, about the same time we saw all of you dive out of the dome. Are you all right sir?"
"Yes, we’re fine. A few of the Deucalion have been hurt…" he trailed off, looking into the dark interior of the dome. To his relief, he saw Colonel Luphron shaking his head and pushing himself up to his knees, while Lieutenant Che was reviving the other three, "…but alive." He looked up, saw the puddle jumper overhead and waved. "Go fly as close as you can to the hole in the roof, see if you can see anything inside. I also think the shield protecting it might be…."
"Yes, it’s gone sir. I…yes, the ship is reading…two life signs inside. They’re still alive, sir!" There was no hiding the joy Stackhouse felt at this information.
Ford couldn’t resist a grin of his own, "That’s the best news I’ve heard in a long while Stackhouse. I’m going to keep trying to rouse the Major, you--"
"The Major’s roused," Sheppard’s weak voice interrupted over the transmitter.
The phrase "hit by a Mac truck" crossed his mind as Sheppard groaned and rolled onto his back, staring up at the now luminescent hole in the ceiling. The room was completely dark with the Weapon shut down, something not helped by the color of the walls, and it accentuated the brightness of the sunlight. There was a surprising lack of dust motes--this place was disgustingly clean.
He listened to Ford talk to Stackhouse for a moment over the radio, bringing his memory up to speed, before nudging the transmitter on his radio to announce that he was awake. Sort of.
His head was hammering like he’d been downing tequila shots while head banging at a Metallica concert….Oooh that thought brought up some nasty high school memories….
With another groan he rolled onto his front this time and worked on getting his feet under him, which every muscle in his body seemed to protest by overloading his pain sensors. Ignoring them, he pushed up on his haunches, using the console for leverage, and let his eyes adjust to the now near darkness. The glow that had been infusing this room from indefinable sources had gone completely out, so his only illumination was the sun through the roof.
He heard Markham saying something about flying closer to the hole, and suddenly a shadow covered it.
"Back off, Sergeant," he croaked into the radio. "That’s my only light."
"Sorry sir." The shadow fell back. " Just tell us what you need."
"I will. Sheppard out." And he shut the radio off.
Turning, he sought McKay in the shadows.
Relief surged through him to see the doctor still in that chair…still with him. He’d been half afraid he’d wake up by himself. Sunlight from the roof placed McKay’s right arm in stark relief from the rest of him…and it also showed the metal cuffs had been opened.
Shoving off the console, he used the momentum to stagger over to the scientist, leaning heavily on the arm of the chair when he got there. He felt weaker than a kitten, and was drawing on reserves of adrenalin to keep himself going.
"McKay," he whispered, reaching out with one hand to touch the scientist’s face. It was ice cold. "McKay, can you hear me?" He let his hand drift down and pressed his fingers to the side of the man’s neck, unconsciously holding his breath.
It seemed like hours before he realized he could feel a very faint pulse. It was erratic. Not good.
Leaning forward, he put his ear next to the man’s mouth, closing his eyes.
The faintest sound of breathing. But he was breathing.
Sheppard almost collapsed from gratitude.
Straightening, he tapped the radio again.
"Corporal Dunne, you read me?"
"I need you to dial Atlantis. Tell them we need a medical team here immediately. Doctor McKay is critically hurt and I very much doubt they have the facilities here to help him."
"Yes sir. What’s the nature of the injuries?"
"I…I’m not sure exactly. Tell them…tell them something like electrocution…or radiation poisoning…or maybe heatstroke…" his fingers touched McKay’s frozen face again, "or hypothermia."
There was a pause, then a tentative, "Sir, did you just say it could be heatstroke or hypothermia? Aren't those sort of the opp—"
"Dunne! I'm not a doctor! All I know is that he's dying and you're wasting time. Just tell them to get here!"
"Yes sir! Sorry sir. We’ll tell them."
"ASAP, Corporal. Emphasize the critical part. I don’t know how much time he has."
"Yes sir. Dunne out."
"Major, you need help up there?" Ford’s voice asked over the radio.
"Probably, lieutenant. I’ll let you know."
Sheppard stared at the unconscious man in front of him, then down at the bloody wrists. His expression darkened.
"I probably shouldn’t move you," he muttered angrily, "but like hell I’m going to let you stay sitting on this thing."
Ignoring all of his own aches and pains, he crouched and snaked one arm under McKay’s shoulders, under his arms, and the other under his bent legs. Gritting his teeth, he lifted, expecting Rodney to be heavy.
It was with some surprise, then, to find he wasn’t as cumbrous as he looked. McKay was much leaner than his baggy clothes suggested, and the Major ended up lifting him much higher than he intended, forcing him to stagger back a step in order to keep his balance and not tip over. With a grunt, he turned, his burden safely ensconced in his arms, McKay’s head lolling against his shoulder. Shifting a little, Sheppard swiveled around and moved to lie the doctor down in the square of sunlight on the floor.
With an incredible gentleness, he placed the scientist down and pulled off his own vest and jacket, rolling up the latter to use as a pillow. When he was done, he rested his head against his chest, listening again for the pulse and to his breathing.
He only felt the faint, slow pulse.
"Damn it," he hissed, settling himself into a seated position by McKay’s head. Removing the "pillow" he tipped McKay’s head back to open his airway. Placing his head next to McKay's lips, he listened again.
"No you don’t, McKay," he hissed, taking in a deep breath to prepare himself and letting it out slowly, "I didn’t just possibly destroy one of the most powerful weapons against the Wraith I have ever seen just to let you die now."
He took in another deep breath, pinched the doctor's nose shut, then leant over and breathed for his friend. His eyes watched the scientist’s chest puff up, then recede. Taking in another deep breath, he repeated the procedure, then leaned forward to listen.
"No, no, no," he muttered, pulling in another breath. Twice more he tried to resuscitate McKay, watching the chest rise and fall. Before the third attempt, he pressed his fingers to McKay's neck.
He hit the radio, panting a little as he spoke and feeling a little lightheaded.
"Dunne…tell Beckett that McKay's not breathing and his heart's stopped. I'm going to give him CPR. I'll need you up…."
And that’s when the Weapon woke up.
CHAPTER NINETEEN: POT SHOTS
Sheppard sat up straight, his jaw dropping as the lights suddenly came back on, the crystals in the console started flashing all of their many colors, and a white nimbus formed once again around the chair.
"Ohhhhh crap," he hissed, grabbing McKay's unresponsive wrist and arm without thinking, as if he could drag him out of harm's way.
The white glow grew and expanded, and the major braced himself, shutting his eyes as the light enveloped him and McKay...and passed over them. Every skin cell felt like it was on fire as he gasped and turned his head, watching as the white light shifted across the rest of the room away from them.
It was searching, Sheppard realized, for McKay. But it could not find him—because McKay was dead. His fingers gripped the wrist tighter….
And felt a pulse. He looked down, his eyes widening slightly. Wait a minute....
McKay was breathing. It was coming quickly and unevenly, but he was still breathing. The Weapon must have shocked his system enough to get his lungs and heart working again, bringing the doctor back to life. Thankfully, the thing hadn't paused long enough to notice.
Well, that's irony for you, the major almost smiled.
Sheppard got up on one knee, twisting to watch the white light as it scanned through the rest of the black room, and then crossed over to the white half to continue its circuit.
Finally, it returned to the chair.
Sheppard gathered Rodney up in his arms, planning to pull him as far away from that thing as possible. As he watched, the glow started to swell again, but in intensity, not size.
"Sir," Ford's voice said over the radio, "Sir, can you hear me? You were cut off. Stackhouse just said he saw another burst of light, and that you and McKay are now off his sensors again. What's going on? Are you okay?"
"Umm, that remains to be seen, lieutenant," the major replied, squinting now at the brightness. "On what this thing is…well…doing."
"The Weapon. Um, turns out…it's sort of alive." And burning his corneas! He raised his free to block the bulk of the light, turning his eyes away, unconsciously drawing McKay closer to protect him. He could feel the edges of the Weapon now, pins and needles sparking all up and down his body.
There was a pause, then, "Alive, sir?"
"Yeah. And…oh…it's…is anyone still inside the dome, lieutenant?"
"Good. Because…yup, I think its going to fire at something." A sudden horrible thought occurred to him, and he grabbed the radio in his urgency as he finally closed his eyes against the brightness, "Markham! Get the Jumper out of here! NOW!"
Almost simultaneously, the White Light burst out of the room, firing straight up.
"SHIT!" Markham screamed, getting Sheppard's warning just in time as the Weapon's blast aimed straight for the hovering ship. Speed and a little help from Tanner pirouetted the somewhat unwieldy Jumper 360 degrees, sending it spinning around like a car skidding on ice away from the dome. The White Light impacted with the top of the Illusion over their heads, and dispersed.
"What the hell was that!" Stackhouse shouted, regaining his balance as the jumper trembled to a halt several hundred yards away.
Before Sheppard could answer, the Weapon fired again.
"Look out!" Tanner shouted, seeing the build-up of power on the jumper's display this time just before the second shot was fired. Markham gunned the puddle jumper towards the opposite end of the Illusion, his grip on the controls as tight as he could make them. The second blast from the Weapon missed their tail by inches.
The third shot burst right in front of them, lighting up the Illusion wall, and it was only Tanner's mental command for the ship to come full stop that saved them this time.
"Good brakes," Tanner exhaled, his hands braced against the console.
Markham didn't stop, he just whipped the jumper around, then up, trying to climb out of the Illusion's walls before the Weapon fired again. The puddle jumper actually shuddered with the speed he was forcing out of it over such a short time.
They blew through the top of the Illusion just seconds before the fourth shot hit the edge of it. Tanner's eyes widened as the readout displayed the Weapon's power dissolving in an explosion of white across the top of the false hill. Thank god it couldn't breach the Illusion's walls.
"0 to 600," Markham sighed, leaning forward over the controls, as he let the ship slow down, "in a nanosecond. Good boy, Jumper one," he patted the console, "good boy."
After the third shot, Sheppard put McKay down and jumped to his feet, lunging for the chair, not even noticing the frost-burn on his skin as he fell into it, closing his eyes as the Weapon wrapped itself around him like a blanket of dry ice.
He felt the fourth shot being fired at the Jumper, but however much mental exertion he tried to use to stop it, he couldn't make a connection.
"I'm here!" he shouted desperately at the room, "I'm in the damn chair! Come on!"
The Weapon geared up again to fire at something else now, and Sheppard could feel its anger…and its frustration at having missed the Jumper. He sensed it had never aimed by itself before. It was like a child with a submachine gun in its hands. It could fire, but it couldn't hit the broadside of a barn—but the damage it could wreak on the rest of the farm was unimaginable.
"Stop taking pot shots," the major hissed, opening his eyes and watching as the whole city of Deucalion appeared in a projection above his head—the Weapon was looking for a new target. "I'm here, damn it! Talk to me!"
And suddenly, it did.
It swept through him, and he gasped, his eyes widening at the sensation of having the Weapon's single-minded thoughts impress upon his brain.
Who are you? Where is the guide? I have not fired six times. I must fire six times, or take the one who was guiding me if he is dead. Who are you? Where is the guide. I have not fired six times. I must fire six times, or take the one who was guiding me if he is dead. Who are you? Where is the guide? I have not fired six times. I must fire—
"Okay!" Sheppard gasped at the broken record in his mind, "I get it. Stop repeating yourself."
Who are you?
"John Sheppard. And look—"
Where is the guide? Where is Doctor Rodney McKay?
"He's not here. I am. Look, you said—"
I have not fired six times. I must fire—
"Like hell you haven't fired six times! I counted four more shots just then! That's a total of nine!"
But I missed. I need the guide. I must fire six times or take the one—
"Listen to me! You can't have him. You just have me."
I can not start over yet; I cannot yet reset. I must fire six times or take—
"I'm not asking you to start over, damn it. I'm asking to stop! The Wraith are gone. There is nothing to fire at!"
I must fire six times or take the one—
"Okay, okay, I said I got it! Stop telling me that." He panted for a breath, feeling the same rib crushing pressure that Rodney had felt. He licked his dry lips, knowing innately that the Weapon was dehydrating him just as it had done the scientist. He had to think of something.
"Look, I'll make you a deal. Let me guide you. Fire the sixth shot and—"
No. It must be the guide. It must be Doctor Rodney McKay. You can not take his place. That is not the way. I must fire six times or take….
"Not the way?" Sheppard's voice rose in pitch on the last word. "You just fired four times on your own! Are you telling me that's the normal way of things?"
No response. Sheppard blinked rapidly, trying to stop his now watering eyes from actually sending tears down his face.
"Still there?" he asked after a moment. He knew it was—it was still weighing on him—but it seemed arrested somehow.
No…the way has changed. I was shut down before the sixth shot was fired. The guide disappeared before he could be absorbed. The way is not the way anymore.
"Exactly! So how about we—"
Then there is nothing to stop me. I can destroy everything.
"Woah, woah, woah! Hold on there. Why?"
That is what I do.
"No! No it's not! What you do is destroy Wraith ships. You don't destroy anything else."
That is what the guide limited me to; I no longer have such limitations. I destroy, that is all.
"No, that is not all, damn it! I refuse to believe that. You can obviously think for yourself, which means you can do more than just destroy! And, look, even if that were the case, then why are you talking to me? Why try to convince me?"
Again, silence answered him. Sheppard swallowed. He wished Beckett could have developed a Weir gene as well as the ATA gene he gave McKay. He could use her skills right now. He honestly had no idea if he was making headway, or making things worse.
Of course, could they actually get worse?
You're right. I can kill you as well.
Oh for the love of….Why the hell did he think things like that without any wood around to knock on?
But I don't want to.
"Oh?" It came out as a bit of a squeak. Sheppard really had no better answer than that.
I have never talked to anyone before.
The major's eyebrows lifted, "Really?"
I have only been guided.
"Oh," he took in a breath. The Weapon seemed less oppressive now. He could work his lungs a little better.
I like this new way. I like talking. I want to keep talking.
"Ha!" Sheppard forced a smile, "Then you don't just want to destroy, then, do you? Because if you destroy this city, and if you kill me right now, there will be no one to talk to. You get me?"
Another pause. This time, it was longer than before. Sheppard licked again at his dry lips. They had begun to sting.
Will you stay if I don't fire again?
"Ah, no, I won't. But others will come over time. And there's that hologrammy thing. You could talk to it, if it were here."
I want you to stay.
"Yes, well, that's not going to happen."
There was another pause.
I don't want to kill you.
"Well, that feeling's mutual."
Another long pause. Sheppard tried to shift on the chair, and, amazingly, the Weapon let up some of its pressure to let him.
I will make you a deal.
"Uh…what kind of deal?"
I will fire the sixth shot, and you will help me. Then I will let you go, and I will go back to sleep. But you must tell whoever next sits in this chair to talk to me. To…treat me as if I am….
Again silence. Then, after a moment.
I am alive.
"Yes, you most certainly are." Sheppard grimaced, wondering if the faint echo of the hologram's voice in his ear mockingly saying "I told you so," was just in his mind.
It really hadn't lied to him. Go figure. His respect for the machinery of Deucalion climbed another notch. Shame there were also people here.
"You have a deal," he agreed.
Then pick the target.
Sheppard frowned for a second…before a particularly evil smile graced his lips.
He tapped his radio.
"Sir?" the lieutenant's worried voice echoed back at him. "What's going on! The Jumper nearly—"
"I know. Listen, tell the Governor she needs to evacuate the people out of her office." His smile grew, "She has five minutes."
CHAPTER TWENTY: LEAVING DEUCALION
The Deucalion looked away, covering their eyes out of deference to the power unleashed by the Weapon for, they prayed, the last time.
When it was over, Ford peered towards the Governor's building…and couldn't hide the smirk.
The tallest building in Deucalion had just gotten a hair cut. Three stories remained, perfectly intact, but the fourth story, where the Governor's office was, had been surgically and expertly shaved off. Black smoke and a handful of sparks rose from the top of the third story—now the roof—and rose into the air to mingle with the dying fires and smoke from the rest of the finally free city.
Next to the lieutenant, he heard Governor Borin heave a sigh.
"Well," she sniffed, "I suppose I deserved that." Then, a little more softly, "A small price to pay, in the end." She looked askance at the tall young man, "It…is the end, right?"
Ford didn't answer her, instead tapping his radio, the smile gone from his face.
"Major? Can you hear me?"
Sheppard gasped, acutely aware of his racing heart and the spinning world around him. Every muscle seemed to spasm and shake as the light faded to almost nothing around him, and his throat was sore. Christ—McKay had done that five times?! The hologram had been right—the doc was a hell of a lot stronger than he appeared….
The Weapon touched his mind again. Even that hurt.
Thank you, John Sheppard.
"You're…" the major coughed and swallowed, the action barely creating any liquid inside his dry mouth. "You're welcome," he whispered, avoiding using sound altogether until he'd had a chance to recoup. Even the air pushing up through his vocal cords to effect the whisper had hurt.
Remember our deal
"Yeah," he agreed, trying to swallow some more to get his voice back. "I'll remember."
And the white light faded completely. The room went completely dark once more.
"Crap," he hissed at the near blindness that caused. Pushing down on the arms, he tried to push himself up off the chair. It took several rocking motions, but he eventually pitched himself forward off the nasty contraption, landing on the floor on his knees…hard. He stayed that way for a couple of seconds, resting on all fours, letting his eyes adjust again to the low illumination, before turning to McKay. The scientist was still bathed in the sunlight streaming through the hole.
Relief surged through him to see the chest rising and falling still.
He crawled over and slumped next to him on his side, propping himself up on an elbow.
"McKay," he whispered, his free hand weakly prodding the scientist's shoulder. He didn't get a response, which wasn't too surprising. "McKay, I…you can't hear me, but….Do you realize…I nearly…destroyed a city for you? So…seems to me….you owe me. Meaning…don't even think…about leaving me now." He grinned, prodding the shoulder again. "At the very least…you owe me…a good, stiff drink."
McKay didn't make a sound. Sheppard eyed him a little longer, then collapsed onto his back, lying next to the doctor.
"That's okay," he whispered, closing his eyes, "you…can…pay me later…."
The radio suddenly came to life. It was possible it had been working before, but it was the first time he'd actually heard it.
"Major, can you hear me? Major Sheppard, please respond." There was a hint of panic in the normally calm voice of Lieutenant Ford.
Sheppard sighed, and, somewhat reluctantly, tapped the radio. His eyes opened to fix on the hole in the ceiling, watching the occasional patch of smoke drift across the blue sky.
"I'm here…," he replied, feeling oddly serene.
"Sir! Thank…It's good to hear your voice sir. Is everything…I mean, are you…."
"We're still…alive. Is that med team…here yet?" Damn, why couldn't he catch his breath?
"We're here, Major," Beckett's lovely Scottish brogue said over the airways. Sheppard grinned—it was the most wonderful voice in the world right now. "I'm in Jumper 2."
"Jumper 1 has moved to cover the gate, Major. We brought the doc and his team here as soon as they came through the gate," Dunne's voice added. "We're currently just outside the Illusion's walls. We, uh, heard what happened to Jumper 1, sir. Is it safe to come inside now?"
"Yup….Safe as…houses. Come on…in!"
"What about inside that so-called hidden room of yours, Major," Beckett asked, a tiny tremble to his voice." Can we come in there as well?"
"Come…on down, Carson!" Sheppard replied, a little too happily. Punchy? Was he getting punchy now? "In fact…everyone come! We…We'll throw a party!" Yes, he was getting punchy.
"Err…Major? That…I…um…oh dear…."
Oops. Didn't mean to scare the excitable man. Sheppard's strange humor disappeared.
"Beckett, I'm…tired….Just…get here. And Ford…get up here too…and bring….Luphron."
"Right." Beckett said, just as Ford said, "Check."
Sheppard closed his eyes, listening to the sound of orders being spun over the radio between the different parties. He only opened them again when a shadow covered the hole.
Sheppard watched in a sort of daze as medical personnel ripped open IV bags, quoted vitals and prepped McKay for transport. Beckett started shouting words that only made the Major frown more and more, as flashlights, the sun and the beeping lights of monitors and tiny machines designed to help keep his friend alive all blended into a collage of confusion before his eyes. He tried to follow along with the information being given to him second-hand, but it was like trying to follow the journey of a single drop of water cascading down Niagara Falls.
Eventually, however, he saw McKay lifted out of the room on a stretcher through the hole, presumably up into the waiting puddle jumper. He heard orders from Beckett over the radio for it to fly to Atlantis now, and for Jumper 1 to come fetch the major.
While all this was happening, someone had also stuck an IV in his arm and he realized he could breathe easier. Only once the room seemed quieter, though, did he notice that there were still four people hanging about: Ford, Teyla, Colonel Luphron—the latter looking a little worse for wear—and a medical doctor form Atlantis, a dark-skinned man he didn't really recognize. It was another of Beckett's medical team, but he had never gotten his name. The doctor seemed to be talking to him. Since he had his breath back, he gamely decided replying was possible.
"I'm sorry," he muttered, blinking tiredly, "What did you say?"
"I asked if you felt strong enough to stand," the doctor asked. "Jumper 1 is here to take you home." Standing just behind the young man, Teyla was looking worried.
"Um, sure," the Major replied, staring at his legs. They looked like they would work.
But there was something else he needed to do first, before he could leave. What was it again?
He looked up, and saw Luphron watching him expectantly, his arms crossed. He also looked pissed.
"Wait," he said, holding up a hand and lifting his eyes again. They focused on the doctor, then at Teyla and Ford, then finally the Deucalion colonel. "Colonel…something important."
The tall blond man squatted down next to him, his shadowed eyes frowning a little.
"What?" the question was gruff.
"Something you need to know," Sheppard pressed a hand to his head, grimacing at the pounding it was making, "about the Weapon." His eyes closed, and it took some effort to reopen them.
"We need to get you out of here, sir," Ford said softly. "You can tell us later. They're waiting for us."
"This is important, lieutenant," Sheppard hissed, before breathing slowly back in again. His eyes had shifted to Ford when he spoke, but now they turned back to Luphron. "Colonel, the Weapon…it's alive."
The Deucalion stared at him for a moment, then frowned.
"Alive? I…have read it has awareness of its purpose, Major. But alive? No. You are mistaken."
"I talked to it."
This time, both Colonel Luphron's and Lieutenant Ford's eyebrows rose.
"I'm sorry sir?" The lieutenant glanced sideways at the doctor, "Um, did you say you talked to it? You mean to the computer controlling the weapon?"
"No…to the Weapon itself," Sheppard grimaced, "And I…I made it a promise. Look…turn it back on."
"Oh no sir," Ford shook his head vigorously, "I don't think that's a good idea. What if it—"
"Wait a minute," Colonel Luphron interrupted, his eyes narrowed. "Turn it back on? Are you saying it is not broken? I thought you had destroyed it!"
"Broken? Destroyed it? Ha!" Sheppard chuckled hoarsely, still feeling extremely lightheaded and wondering if the spinning would subside soon, "No. Just…rejoin the red wire."
"Yes Ford?" Sheppard blinked up at the lieutenant. Aiden looked pained, and he looked even more pained when Colonel Luphron stood back up and walked towards the damaged console.
"The red wire?" the Deucalion asked as he reached it. "That's all I have to do?"
"That'll power everything back up. I need to talk to the brown man."
"Brown man?" Ford crossed his arms, and looked at the doctor again. "Sir, I don't think you're quite—"
"He must mean the one we call the Truth Speaker," Luphron said, fingering on of the ends of the severed red wire. "It speaks to the volunteers and explains the way of things. I believe it is a projection of some kind, like a motion picture. It is depicted as wearing brown."
"Look, sir," Ford watched Sheppard blink slowly back up at him, "I'm sorry, but I'm not sure you're thinking clearly. If he turns it back on with the Jumper up there and us in here it—"
"I know what I'm saying, lieutenant," the major said clearly, firmly, "and I know what I'm doing. The Weapon will not power back up, just the console, the room and the brown man."
Colonel Luphron needed no further urging. He stuck the two ends of the red wire together, and watched with bright eyes as the room's lighting came back on. The low hum returned, and Sheppard smiled as Luphron sighed in gratitude to find it was just that simple.
"Thank the Light," the Colonel whispered. "I had thought…."
"Nah," Sheppard waved a hand in the air, "And in fact…I think I may have made things better for you guys." He words were slightly slurred. Luphron had returned to watching him, his expression receptive now.
Ford, meanwhile, found his thoughts had strayed. He was truly seeing the hexagonal room for the first time, and was wondering if either Sheppard or the doc realized it looked just like the inside of the fifth doctor's tardis.
He shook his head. Focus lieutenant!
"I hope that is true, Major," Luphron said, still holding the ends together. "Now how do we turn on the Truth Speaker?"
"By calling for him. Oh, brown boy!" Sheppard croaked, looking around. "Wake up!"
Both Ford and Teyla were having a really hard time not thinking that the major had lost his mind.
"Hologram!" Sheppard called more loudly, "Mr. Brown, where are you!"
"Here, Major Sheppard."
A form appeared in the white half of the room. Colonel Luphron almost dropped the two ends of the red wire he was pressing together, and Ford automatically brought his submachine gun to bear. The medical doctor moved down closer to Sheppard on the floor, ready to protect his patient bodily if need be, while Teyla just adopted a fighting stance. The hologram looked at the strangers, then walked through the glass partition towards the Major.
"You were right," Sheppard smiled at it, looking a little drunk, "The Weapon is alive."
The hologram nodded, "I considered the many conscious minds that have connected with it over the years, as well as its energy source's unique ability to become the purpose put to it by those minds…and thought that a likely consequence. I assume, then, that it came back to life without the console?"
"Yup, it sure did," Sheppard admitted cheekily, ignoring the open-mouthed stares of the people with him. "And, as you thought, it wanted to level the city." Behind the hologram, the Deucalion's eyes widened at that information. The hologram, though, just nodded again.
"And how did you," it paused, recalling the major's last words, "figure something else out? I assume by the presence of these people that you did, in fact, do so? Did you, perhaps, let it take Doctor Rodney McKay?"
"Nope," Sheppard smirked, "I talked to it."
The hologram blinked. After a second, it looked at the other four people. Its face was as surprised as theirs. When it looked back at Sheppard, it tilted its head.
Teyla's jerked slightly at the Earth phrase, while Ford couldn't resist a tiny grin. Sheppard, though, was shaking his head…stopping quickly when he realized it hurt to do so.
"Not bull, Mr. Brown. It's alive. I talked to it. We came to a meeting of the minds," he smiled, "literally. Pretty nice conversationalist for a sadistic weapon of mass destruction with OCD—a little, uh, repetitive at first, but it got over that."
The hologram blinked some more. "But I do not understand. The Weapon does not speak."
"Oh, outgrow your programming, hologram! If the Weapon can do it, so can you! Make the connections in that pixeled brain and make this part of your repertoire. It's alive and it can talk!" Sheppard took in a deep breath…and started to cough violently. The medical doctor was instantly there, massaging his back and grabbing a bottle of water from his pack.
The hologram waited silently, waiting.
After a few minutes, Sheppard was breathing evenly again, though the world was a little more fogged. He realized innately that he didn't have much time left before the fuzziness would take over and drag him out of the game. Drawing a more careful breath, he focused back on the hologram.
"Listen to me," Sheppard wheezed, his voice sounding a little like a teenager's after screaming all night at a rock concert, "You are going to tell the next person who comes here and sits in that chair to talk to the Weapon. That's all. And maybe…it'll help him destroy the Wraith and not kill him in the process."
The hologram frowned, "But the Weapon can't—"
"The Weapon has more than one purpose, hologram, just like you. It was taught to interact as well as to destroy. It has learned to talk, and, turns out, it likes that more than wiping everyone off the face of this planet. If I were you, I'd tell folks to take advantage of that."
"But this is not logical. It has no voice. How can it—"
"Oh, it doesn't need one. Trust me. And I'm the one speaking the truth, now, hologram. Somewhere inside the part of you that's connected to the same energy powering the Weapon and powering the Illusion and powering everything in this room….you know that."
The other three sets of human eyes looked to the projection after the major's little speech. It stayed focused on Sheppard, and they could almost feel the computer running it absorbing and learning and understanding what it had just been asked to believe.
And then it smiled. Computers really were much faster at this sort of thing.
"Yes, I do. Thank you, Major Sheppard. I understand and I accept the change. The volunteers will be told to talk to the Weapon. This is a great day for Deucalion." It bowed, then looked to the others, and bowed to them. "Gentlemen and lady, the console will now shut down until it is triggered again by the golden door." He looked back at the major, a real smile on its face. "Goodbye, Major Sheppard…a true friend and hero."
And without any further ado, the hologram vanished. As it did, all the lights powered down and the hum faded, returning the room to darkness.
"Well," Ford said softly, looking around, "That was abrupt."
"Is it over?" Teyla asked, just as softly.
Luphron, realizing it was no longer to keep the red wires together, gingerly placed them back. They could be repaired properly later.
He smiled, turning back to the four Atlanteans in the room with him, to thank them and the major for everything that had happened.
He frowned to see both Teyla and the medical doctor reacting to the fact that Sheppard had finally succumbed to unconsciousness. He eyes caught Ford's as the medical doctor called for another stretcher. The lieutenant backed away from the group, aware that he really would only get in the way. He stopped when he reached Luphron's side.
"Thank you," the Colonel said softly, honestly, to the young man. "And please tell the Major and Doctor McKay that the Deucalion people will forever be in their debt."
Ford grimaced, then nodded.
They watched in silence as Sheppard was shifted to the new stretcher and strapped down, then lifted gently upwards. The doctor followed next, and then Teyla. Ford walked over to the rope and harness as it fell back into the room, and turned to look back at Luphron. He seemed to be considering something…and, finally, he shrugged.
"You, uh," he gave a small smile, "got any crops you might be willing to…trade with us for?"
Luphron smiled, "We'd be honored, Lieutenant Ford."