Title: Sheppard Moon
Disclaimer: Stargate: Atlantis and its characters are the property of Showtime/Viacom, MGM/UA, Double Secret Productions, and Gekko Productions. This story was created for entertainment purposes only. No copyright infringement is intended. The original characters, situations, and story are the property of the author(s). Thank you to the amazing writers, producers, actors, crew and directors who bring it to life.
Sheppard and McKay are the heart (because I love them so), but Teyla, Weir, Ronon, Beckett, Caldwell and even Hermiod have pretty big roles.
Spoilers: All of Season One. Season Two up to Inferno. Off the top of my head, definite references to Before I Sleep, Epiphany, Sanctuary, Aurora and Trinity. Especially Trinity. If there are others, they're really minor.
Feedback: Please! It's the only thing that keeps me going! Well, that and copious amounts of Diet Coke.
A/N: I managed to avoid reading spoilers for all the episodes of this season but one. I accidentally read something about Inferno, which I regretted (because I hate being spoiled!). But, at the same time, it lodged a scenario into my brain (sort of like the way reading the spoiler for Sanctuary twisted inside my crazy brain and disgorged A Show of Trust.) So, yeah, there are a number of common elements, but I hope this is still unique enough to stand on its own.
A/N2: This story morphed after my dad showed me this cool picture in “Science” of one of Saturn's moons, and I went a little nuts on Google. Anyway, the moon in this story is modeled after one of the Saturn moons (that's it above). Oh, and, for reference, Asimbabbar was the name given to the god of the new moon by the Sumerians. Figured, after Hippofilralcus (sp?), Asimbabbar would seem tame!
A/N3: I am absolutely and totally clueless when it comes to physics and the hard sciences, even more so than the soft ones. Why I decided to write something like this, I don't know. To all astronomers, astrophysicists, and engineers, please forgive me and, seriously, don't bother to correct me when I really start to wing it, I probably won't understand anyway.
Description: When the shield device around an Ancient space-station begins to break down, it traps more than just our heroes....it traps the Daedalus.
CHAPTER ONE: NOT IMMEDIATELY TOXIC
“Well,” Rodney muttered, crossing his arms tightly, “that doesn’t look promising.”
He, along with Elizabeth, Sheppard, Teyla and Ronon, were staring at the large monitor screen in the Control Room, studying the images being transmitted back by the MALP scoping out P1H-369. The feed showed a planet the color of rust, and not just on the ground. The sky was the same color, and so was the smoggy-looking air. It was like looking at the almost monochromatic images sent back from the Mars Rover Spirit, but only if the same had broadcast from inside a massive gas cloud.
As McKay said, it didn’t look promising.
"You know...," Sheppard titled his head, "Kinda looks like the color of an old brown Yugo I had once, after it had been left out in too many rainstorms."
"Really?" Rodney said, glancing at him, "You had Yugo?" His eyebrows perked in honest, if horribly patronizing, curiosity. "Why?"
Sheppard just glared in return.
"Rodney," Elizabeth called quietly where she stood on his left, "the planet?"
"Oh, oh, right." The scientist leaned towards the screen a little, eyes reflecting the date being flashed down the side. "Well, the air's toxic," he said after a moment, frowning a little.
“Although,” noted the Canadian tech sitting down next to them, tapping away at his keyboard controlling the MALP, "the readings do indicate the atmosphere is not immediately toxic." He sounded oddly cheerful about this fact.
“Not immediately toxic?” Sheppard repeated, arching an eyebrow. “What does that mean?”
“That the air could be breathed for a short time, perhaps a few hours, before the effects of breathing it in would overcome the respiratory system and kill you." The tech shrugged. "There is oxygen there, just not enough to sustain a human being for an overly long time.”
“Huh,” McKay snorted, “Did I mention, not promising?”
“I do not understand,” Teyla said, peering more closely at the monitor, as if she could see something more than what was visible. “I thought you said the records indicated an outpost here. Yet, if the atmosphere is...mostly…unbreathable, what would be the point?”
“Could the atmosphere of the planet have changed in ten thousand years?” Elizabeth asked, glancing at Rodney.
“Good Lord, no,” the scientist scoffed. Then, suddenly remembering who he was responding to, he swallowed nervously and smiled weakly at her arch look. He loosened his arms. “I mean, that is to say, it would be very, very unlikely. Not impossible, but very unlikely.” His hands gestured quickly as he added, “I mean, it would take a cataclysmic event of epic proportions—like a comet crashing into the surface—" he smacked a fist into the palm of his other hand, "or some other terribly fantastic thing, for something like that to happen, and even then….” He shook his head, arms lifting in a shrug. “Honestly, 10,000 years is just a far, far too short span of time for something like that and, seeing as the Gate seems to be working just fine, and the planet’s surface appears to be stable, and there's no overt evidence of….”
“I get it, Rodney,” Elizabeth interrupted with a raised hand. “You can stop.”
He smiled gratefully and returned his attention to the screen. His arms crossed again as he focused once more on the readings scrolling down the side.
"There are no obvious structures," he noted after a moment.
"Destroyed?" Sheppard asked.
"No rubble either," McKay said, frowning in puzzlement.
“Could be underground,” Ronon suggested.
“Sure,” McKay agreed, nodding distractedly, obviously already a few steps ahead, “But then why put the Gate on the surface?” He waved a hand vaguely at the screen. “Why not put it inside the underground outpost?”
“To hide the outpost's existence better from the Wraith? So they don't walk right into it?" Sheppard shrugged at the scientist. "Put the entrance on the surface, that way,” he lifted his eyebrows, "if the Wraith can't breathe the air to look around, they might never find—"
"You forgetting something?" McKay asked, arching an eyebrow. "Remember those fast, pointy little spaceships they have? Sound kinda like mosquitoes?" He shook his head, ignoring the look Sheppard threw him. “The Wraith darts would protect them from the atmosphere. They could simply fly to the outpost entrance—because, if it’s underground, I assume there is some kind of stairwell entrance—and beam themselves into it.”
“Could the entrance be, somehow, only activated by the gene?” Elizabeth suggested. “If it is a transporter, for example, the Ancients might have only allowed those with the gene to have access.”
That earned an eyebrow arch from McKay as he pondered the idea, then frowned. “It’s a good idea, but, let’s say it is a transporter of some kind…” He pursed his lips and looked at her, “if the Wraith found it and couldn’t use it, then…what would they do?”
“Destroy it," Ronon growled with his trademark anger, crossing his own arms. "Wipe the location of the transporter from the face of the planet. Leave nothing but wreckage, just like every other Ancient ruin we’ve come across.”
“Exactly,” McKay said. “So, would it really matter whether the gate was on the surface or not? Unless, of course….” His eyes narrowed in thought.
“They hid the entrance beneath a cloak,” Sheppard finished, glancing at the scientist.
McKay had already pushed the Canadian tech out of the way, typing furiously into the laptop--sending new instructions to the MALP. A moment later, something “blipped” on the screen. A triumphant smile crossed his face.
“I take it that’s a yes to Sheppard and Ronon’s theory of a hidden entrance?” Elizabeth asked, glancing at McKay.
For a moment, he looked bewildered, “Their theory?” With a shake of his head, he snorted and returned to his work.
“Yes, Elizabeth, that’s a yes,” Sheppard said, smiling smugly. McKay shot him a dark look, but finished whatever he was doing and straightened, pointing at the screen.
The MALP’s image had shifted, focusing on a certain point, and a yellow line appeared outlining a currently invisible structure about a hundred yards directly behind the Gate.
“The entrance,” he said with a smug grin.
“Okay.” Elizabeth nodded, and stepped forward towards the screen and turned to look at the gathered team, “So, what we’re saying is…?”
Sheppard nodded, “It’s worth checking out.”
CHAPTER TWO: RUST-ICK
The rubber Haz-Mat suits were damned uncomfortable, like wearing...well...rubber. Hot blond chicks in mini-skirts made of bright pink latex was one thing, but head to toe, blood red, solid rubber was another. And thick rubber, to boot. Horribly, horribly thick. And hot. And heavy.
And who was the sucker carrying the big, overloaded pack over his suit on the planet o' rust? Yup. Just call him Sherpa McKay. Why did Zelenka convince him to take that stupid third laptop battery? How long did he think they'd be gone? And why did he listen? He so needed to stop listening to the Czech. Problem was, he often got so impatient arguing with Zelenka—especially when the annoying man started spitting out half his words in his face-drenching language—that he'd just throw up his hands and agree just to stop him talking. Three batteries. Big ones. Felt like he was carrying lead bricks in there.
McKay shifted inside the suit for the fifth time, adjusting the straps of the pack, trying to get to an itch that was just killing him on his shoulder. Didn't help they were wearing the flak vests underneath—he couldn't get through both the rubber and the vest's straps.
Sighing heavily, he tried to refocus on the datapad in his arms, the plastic faceplate of the damn suit making the small information blurring past look even more blurry. Although, that wasn't the only thing giving him a headache. He was trying to scan for power sources and information about the planet beneath their feet, but very little was actually registering, despite the fact that the datapad was attuned for Ancient tech—hell, half of its inner-workings were pieces from Atlantis equipment.
It was frustrating, and McKay didn't like frustrating. It suggested failure, something he refused to accept...
Sheppard plodded along at his side, ignoring the scientist's constant grumbling (McKay was well aware most of his thoughts were actually being muttered out loud, but he didn't care). Ronon and Teyla were behind, backing up the colonel, and all three were on sharp alert, peering uneasily into the glittering rust-colored mist blanketing them on all sides. It was like trying to see through tomato soup.
He glanced at the colonel's face, seeing the unhappy twist of Sheppard's mouth as he scanned for danger. He just happened to catch a line of sweat drip down the side of Sheppard's face inside the mask. Well, Rodney thought, at least I'm not suffering alone.
Funnily enough, that cheered him up quite a bit.
Almost smiling now, he nearly missed Teyla calling his name over the radio.
He turned, seeing that she had stopped a few feet behind and was staring down at something to her left. Turning in that direction, he quickly understood the sour look on her face as the smog thinned a little with a gust of silent wind.
Bones. At least four skeletons, and one of them a child. They were white, almost perfectly preserved in the toxic atmosphere.
He gave her a shrug, not knowing what to say or do. Her response was only to nod sadly, though he knew she was thinking the same thing as he. Why had those people come here and, when the atmosphere started to make them choke, why didn't they leave? The DHD, as far as they could tell, was functioning perfectly. They'd already checked it.
"McKay." It was Sheppard this time, and the scientist turned around, to find the colonel staring at his feet. There was a touch of wonder on his face.
The ground was glowing beneath his feet. Very faintly, but definitely glowing, like the emergency lights lining the aisles of an airplane, forming a path to be followed. Looking down at his own feet, McKay realized his were glowing as well. Together, the two men looked at Teyla and Ronon...but there was nothing for them.
"Gene activated," Sheppard said.
"Looks like," McKay nodded, though how the path sensed their presence through the rubber soled boots he had no idea. He looked from his feet back to his datapad, and his eyes opened a bit wider. Suddenly there was a lot more information scrolling down the screen. And not just information about a power source—it was if whatever was blocking his ability to scan the planet was being lifted, and he was being given the ability to see straight down into the heart of it.
Sheppard saw the opening expression on the scientist's face, and just watched as McKay stepped forward some more. More of the pathway brightened. Symbols were becoming visible. But Rodney was paying little attention, focused completely on the data streaming past.
Teyla had walked forward, tilting her head as she tried to read the meaning of Ancient writing on the path.
"Haven?" she asked, pointing at one of the symbols.
Rodney heard, but didn't reply. He was too absorbed by the datapad. This couldn't be right....
"McKay?" Sheppard called, the tone an order to pay attention to Teyla.
"Huh?" McKay looked up, saw Sheppard's look, then turned his head towards Teyla. She was still pointing, and, when he glanced at the symbol, he nodded. "Yes. Haven. Exactly. Um," he squinted at the ground, and took another step. More symbols lit. "It reads...uh....A place to hide...something... haven...something...." he grimaced, shaking his head. "We should record a copy for Elizabeth."
"Any warnings?" Sheppard asked, the tinny radio not hiding the tension in his voice. Pretending not to hear it, McKay turned in a circle, lit up a few more symbols, did a quick translation in his mind, then shook his head.
"Not that I can see." He glanced at Sheppard, "Nothing about a one-way trip, anyway."
The colonel's eyes narrowed slightly at the reference. "You sure?"
McKay stared at the hazel eyes boring into his. Finally, he looked down, and reread the Ancient written on the path again—to show he was not rushing this time.
"Yes," he stated, looking at the colonel again.
The colonel still didn't look convinced. "Just translate as much as you can for us," he ordered.
So they can make their own decision, McKay understood. The lack of trust didn't sting as much as it used to. He knew he deserved it.
McKay heaved another sigh, and shifted his pack. "Fine. Then keep walking—see if you can get them all to light. I've got a few partial sentences here."
Sheppard did as he was told, and, in moments, the path was lit all the way from where they stood—about half way from the back of the Stargate—to the structure McKay knew was ahead of them, though it was still hidden. McKay hugged the datapad to his chest as he walked up and down the symbols, reading them. Teyla followed behind—she was recording them with a video recorder, along with McKay's translation.
"Okay," McKay licked his lips, "This is what I've got. Elizabeth will do a better job of this, but I think it reads..." He blew the air out of his cheeks, and pointed to the first symbol, "Welcome to...I think it's pronounced...Asimbabbar?..." he grimaced again, the name uncomfortable on his tongue. He glanced at Teyla, but she just shrugged, so he continued. "Um, okay. Welcome to Asimbabbar, a place of study and learning and strength? Um...for those returning, may it provide...answers and truth. For those seeking...a place...to hide...may it be a haven until you are...found. Uh, may it always...something...for those in need...until...peace happens?" He sighed heavily, and looked at Sheppard, "That's it."
"Peace happens?" Sheppard arched an eyebrow, visible even inside the suit, "Awfully sixties, McKay."
"Look, whatever, there's no warning here," McKay said, indicating the ground. "Frankly, what this says isn't what is bothering me right now."
Sheppard's eyebrows lifted at that, obviously confused. "What? What are you talking about?"
McKay indicated the datapad, "According to these readings, this planet is solid, Colonel. And I mean solid. It's made up of heavy elements, as all planets are, but the metal content of this one....Incredibly high quantities of lead, gold, iron, platinum...." He shook his head, looking up again, "Unless the Ancients have perfected some method of transporting massive amounts of metal of that weight that I don't know of, there is no way they built an outpost inside this planet. It's next to impossible. It's just too solid."
"You telling me they didn't mine ores?" John replied, frowning a little. "Surely they could have..."
"Yes, of course they did," McKay interrupted. "But not on this sort of scale. Look, Colonel, you can find these elements anywhere—they're very common—and in places where they're not so bogged down with other incredibly heavy elements. I'm just saying that the power requirements necessary for a mining or drilling operation on a planet like this would have to have been astronomical. It's basically one enormous metal ball with a sheet of rock surrounding it. Why would they waste that kind of power and time?"
Sheppard frowned more deeply. "So what are you saying?"
"I'm saying...there's no outpost under this planet's surface."
A short staring contest ensued, until Sheppard finally broke it with another, "Are you sure?"
McKay opened his mouth to answer, then closed it with a soft sigh.
"Well, No. Not exactly. Just...it's so unlikely and—"
"Then we stick to the plan."
"But I don't like—"
"There's obviously something here, McKay," Sheppard said, indicating the glowing path beneath his feet. "A haven, if your translation is correct. So...we should find it."
"Oh. Fine. Ignore the smart one," McKay muttered, "what a great idea that is." He returned his attention to his datapad. Grimacing, he swiveled on his toes and started walking towards the still hidden structure.
Damn that Sheppard. Why didn't he ever listen?
The path ended almost too quickly, and McKay sighed, looking at the nothing before him. Without waiting for the others, he tucked his datapad under one arm, and pulled off a glove.
"McKay!" Sheppard's voice admonished him. "What are you doing?"
The scientist glared at him, "What?"
"Toxic atmosphere ring a bell?" Sheppard asked, pointing a rubber gloved finger at the rusty sky.
"It's poisonous, not corrosive. I'll be fine." McKay glanced at his hand, ignoring the fact that it was beginning to tingle a little. Of course, the skin breathed as well, to a degree. Still, as the tech had said, not "immediately" toxic. Stubbornness and anger overcame caution every time.
Reaching forward, to where he guess the entrance to be, based on the path at his feet, he stopped only when he felt cool metal beneath his palm. A smile lit his face, and he closed his eyes.
Hello, he thought, Anyone home?
The metal shivered and he opened his eyes...to find a door before him, painted a similar rust red to the planet. Smiling, he backed up and watched as the rest of the structure became visible, as if someone were pulling off a heavy cloth from a piece of antique furniture. The invisibility cloak rippled as it faded, leaving behind what could only be described as...
...A big, ugly, red box.
"Hunh," McKay said, eyebrows lifting. "Well...that's surprisingly dull."
"Funny," Sheppard said, "I was going to say, it was kinda...." his eyebrows waggled inside the suit, "'rust'-ick."
The three glares he got in response could have melted that rubber suit right off.
CHAPTER THREE: GOLDEN OPPORTUNITY
McKay tapped his hand against the panel next to the entrance, and the metal door slid open silently, revealing a nearly empty, perfectly square room. As if on cue, Sheppard and Teyla stepped forward, shining the flashlights atop their P90s around the dark room, while McKay consulted his datapad.
"Nothing visible," Teyla announced.
"And nothing showing up on here either," McKay confirmed, looking up at them. Sheppard gave a head nod and moved into the room, Teyla right behind him.
McKay followed third, stopping only a few feet in to consult his datapad, while Ronon hovered just outside the door.
At their presence, light flooded the square space from sconces lining the walls, revealing a room dominated by a red metal—probably iron. Atlantian style architecture lined corners and walls, though, unlike Atlantis, nothing bubbled. In fact, almost everything was made of pure metal—including what was very obviously a generous use of gold. It glittered from inside the architectural pillars, furniture and wall sconces, giving everything a rich, almost gaudy hue.
"Hmm," Sheppard hummed, pretending disinterest, but even Teyla seemed to stare at it with a dreamy look. Gold was a valuable commodity, no matter the planet, for its weight, versatility and, of course, beauty.
McKay drew his eyes away from the glitter to contemplate the one and only console in the room. It was small, about the size of the console that had controlled Old Weir's stasis chamber, and against one wall. It blinked away happily at their presence, flashing red and green and blue. Otherwise, the only other large fixture in the room was a soft looking metal bench that circled the three other walls. Oddly, it made this place feel like a waiting room.
"You can come in," Sheppard called to Ronon, who was still waiting outside and looking very bored as he stared out at the rusty fog. "Doesn't appear to be a trap."
Ronon did so, ducking his head under the low-hanging door and then nearly cracking his head on the low, metal ceiling when he was inside. Keeping his head down, he moved past McKay to get a look at the console that Sheppard was cursorily examining. Teyla was drawn to a gold sconce against the wall opposite, the metal mixed with a sort of mother of pearl shell, the light inside only accentuating its beauty.
"Hunh," McKay had been taking readings on his datapad, then suddenly turned and walked back to the door, waving his hand over the panel on this side. The door slid shut with a soft clang, startling the other three. At the same time, air gushed into the room, and three sets of eyes looked up at the vents now obvious along the top edge.
"No need to worry," McKay called, smiling. With a grunt, he used his free arm to pull off the hood of his haz-mat suit. When his head was free, brown hair sticking up at crazy angles off his head, he smiled again. "It's just oxygen. The vents are cleaning the air, making it breathable."
Sheppard was glaring angrily at him for not providing a warning, but Ronon and Teyla were already pulling their hoods off in obvious gratitude. Ronon then unzipped the body of his suit partway, blowing the air out of his cheeks as he did so. McKay could easily see the sweat on the side of the tall man's face, and the way his dreads looked even heavier than normal. He must have been roasting in there.
Seeing them doff their hoods, Sheppard sighed and pulled his own off, then dumped it next to Ronon's and Teyla's on one of the benches. McKay had his tucked under his arm, and was looking down at his datapad again.
"So," Sheppard said, "is it an entrance?"
"Give me a minute, will ya?" McKay snapped, glaring across the room at the colonel. "Unbelievable," he added under his breath, shaking his head as he looked down once more. Give people clean air to breath, and they reward you with impertinence. Typical.
With a sigh, he peered again at his datapad in his arms for answers, but, when his eyes caught sight of something in the floor by his feet instead, he immediately lost all interest in it. As before, it turned out the actual answer was beneath his feet.
"Oh my God," he breathed, stepping back and taking in the perfect circle embedded in the ground. The others heard and turned, then looked down at the floor they had so casually walked over.
"It looks like someone built a small Stargate into the floor," Teyla said, glancing up at McKay.
"It's not a Stargate," McKay answered, lifting his own head to grin at her. "It's a ring platform!"
CHAPTER FOUR: RINGING ENDORSEMENT
"A what?" Teyla looked to Sheppard.
"A ring platform. It's a transporter, like those on Atlantis, but capable of greater distances," McKay explained.
Ronon tilted his head, examining the ring while carefully staying outside of it. "Greater distances? You mean, like around a world?"
"Better. In the Milky Way galaxy, the Ancients used ring platforms like this to transport materials from the surface of a planet," he pointed to the ground, "to a ship!" And he jabbed the same finger up at the sky.
"A ship?" Sheppard's eyes instantly lit up. "Like a warship?"
McKay met him glee for glee, nodding excitedly. "Yes! Which completely explains why it doesn't look like there's something underground here. Because it's not below us, it's above us!"
"A ship." Sheppard sighed happily, glancing up at the ceiling as if he could see the massive, fully loaded, Wraith-destroying warship he knew in his mind's eye was floating just above the planet, cloaked and waiting to be awakened.
"Well, actually, it's probably not a ship, exactly," McKay was bee-lining for the console now, shifting the backpack off his shoulders to get at the laptop inside. "It's even less likely that it's a warship."
Sheppard's eyes almost went dewy at that. "Not a ship?" he asked, disappointment thick on his tongue. It was like telling a kid the music he heard wasn't the approaching ice-cream truck, it was just someone playing their radio too loud.
McKay gave him a look, then knelt down, opening the pack he dumped at his feet, pulling out equipment as he spoke. "Most likely, it's a space station of some kind. Cloaked and floating above us. At least...." he frowned, recalling the state of the Ancient satellite near Atlantis, "I hope it's cloaked. And still intact. Hang on." He placed the laptop on the bench closest to the console, then cracked the console open at the base. In moments, he had the laptop jacked into the console, and was sitting on the bench, furiously typing away.
With nothing else to do at this point, Sheppard, Teyla and Ronon settled on the other benches to wait.
McKay continued to attack the keys, then, abruptly, broke off and reached for his datapad. Playing with the touchscreen for a moment, he put it down, and returned his attention to the laptop.
Finally, he sat up straighter, eyes simply absorbing the information flying across the screen. Even from where they sat, the other's could see it was mostly numeric codes. Whatever it was, it was obviously telling their scientist what he needed to know.
Rodney's face morphed from a frown...to a smile.
"It's still there," he said, glancing over at them. "Better yet, it appears that it has power and, from what I can tell, seems to have life support." He looked back at the screen.
"You can tell that just from this console?" Sheppard asked.
"Oh, sure," Rodney nodded, distracted again by the information. "For one thing, the ring platform won't send you someplace that doesn't exist anymore, and it's registering a receiving link on the other side. Which means, besides that the space station is still intact, that it has power enough to accept a ring transport." He smiled at them again, chin lifting.
"Sure, power," Sheppard said, "But enough for life support?"
"Ah, yes, that's trickier, but I have evidence of that as well." He punctuated the statement with another finger point, and the smile grew, telling them, oh yes, he really was brilliant. "See, every time the ring platform activates to transport someone up or down, it records information about the receiving end. And since it was used fairly recently, I can tell you that—"
"Whoa! What?" Sheppard was suddenly on his feet, tension filling his frame. "Recently? What do you mean recently?"
McKay froze, the import of his statement suddenly occurring to him as well. The arrogance drained from his face, and he swallowed, frowning at the computer.
"Um, well," the frown became a grimace, "a...according to this, it was used about six months ago..."
"Who used it?"
"Who used it?" McKay's brow furrowed, lifting his hands off the keyboard to shrug in exasperation. "I don't know! My Favorite Martian? How the hell would I know?"
Teyla stood and scrutinized the ring platform, her fingers wrapping tightly once more around her P90, while Sheppard strode over to glower over Rodney's hunched shoulders, the scientist having immediately returned to typing frantically at the keys. Ronon just sighed and settled more into his seat. He was still bored.
"You know that's not what I'm asking," the colonel growled at McKay, glaring at the information on the glowing laptop screen he didn't understand. "Can you tell if they were human?"
"Oh. Um," McKay did some more typing, and the screen flipped to a different one—this one with a bunch of colored waves on it. "Yes...they were human." He glanced up at Sheppard, "Not Wraith."
Teyla relaxed, and Sheppard's glower faded, replaced simply by annoyance.
"People looking for a refuge?" Ronon suggested, leaning forward on his knees, "like the ground said?"
The colonel contemplated this with a furrowed brow. "Wouldn't they need the gene to find it?"
"Not necessarily," McKay said, reaching for his datapad again. "The path helps, but if someone just walked into the structure, they'd know it. It's cloaked, not rendered intangible. And it would take only some clever feeling around to find the edge of the entrance and the panel that opens the door. Once open, the building would decloak for them, then cloak again when they shut the door." He waved towards the closed entrance, "In fact, it's already cloaked again now. It's automatic."
"And anyone can use this ring transporter?" Teyla asked, glancing at the scientist.
"Ring platform," McKay corrected, then shrugged. "It wouldn't take long for an intelligent person to figure out how to use this console."
"Me, intelligent," Sheppard said, "or you, intelligent?"
McKay snorted a little at that, giving him a wry look. "Yes, you, intelligent."
"But," Teyla frowned, turning to the rings, "What would stop a Wraith from also using the rings to find the space station? Could they not also find this place as easily as a human?"
"Maybe," McKay shrugged. "But then, what's to stop the Wraith from firing on Atlantis every time we cloak it, just in case it's still there? Seems to me, they wouldn't bother searching this planet on foot, not with the toxicity of the air, and, unless they accidentally fly into this building, they probably wouldn't ever find it." He looked up at the low lying ceiling, "That's probably why it's so low to the ground. Ronon's practically brushing the ceiling with that massive mane of his."
A slight frown creased Ronon's face at the description of his hair, then faded. Clearly, it didn't bother him. Great Danes were rarely bothered by terriers, mainly because they could eat them.
"Hmm," Sheppard frowned, but didn't dispute the logic. "Well, either way, we know that there is someone up there."
"Several someones," McKay said, indicating his computer. "At least half a dozen, possibly more. All I can tell you is, six people traveled up there the last time this was used."
"Well," Sheppard glanced at the ring platform, "then I guess the only thing we can do is go up there and say hello."
McKay grimaced, looking up at him, "What if they don't want to say hello?"
Sheppard shrugged, "The ring platform is not locked or anything, is it?"
McKay gave him a dark look. "Oh, sure, but then, neither was a certain secret underground hatch, if you recall."
That earned the scientist a wry smile. "What I mean, Rodney, is there's no evidence saying we can't use the ring platform. Or that someone doesn't want us to use it."
"Oh yes, that's a ringing endorsement," McKay muttered as he turned back to his laptop, oblivious to his pun.
Sheppard's smile grew—he wasn't oblivious. "Well, it's not like we can just, you know," he gave a tiny smirk, "ring them up and ask...."
McKay's head came up slowly, and turned to look at him, eyes narrowed.
"Or, ring the doorbell..."
"You're kidding, right?"
"...Talk to their, ringleader," Sheppard added, not even bothering to hide the ridiculous smirk on his face.
McKay face grew pained, "Oh God, you're not kidding."
"Who knows," Sheppard said, grinning, "They could even be dead ringers for Ancients."
McKay flinched, "Ouch. Please! Stop! That didn't even make sense!"
"What, don't you want to throw your hat into the ring as well?"
"Oh, that's it. We're going now!" And McKay shot up, hastily shoving his equipment back into his back.
"Oh, come on, McKay," Sheppard's grin was a wonder to behold, "I'm running rings around you here!"
"What you are causing is a rather annoying ringing in my ears!" the scientist snapped, zipping the pack with an almost ferocious speed. He threw it on his back, not even looking at the hovering colonel as he did so.
"Do I hear the familiar ring of victory?" Sheppard followed as McKay stomped over to the console and started pressing buttons.
"I'm not paying any attention to you anymore," the scientist muttered, hitting another button. Something flashed red, and he swore. Sheppard leaned over his shoulder.
"Having trouble ringing the number, McKay?"
McKay spun, standing toe to toe with the colonel. He raised a finger, the hand shaking as his lightning fast brain considered a dozen quick rejoinders, but in the end, he just turned bright red, gritted his teeth and groaned in frustration. Lips pressing in a thin line, he shoved the colonel out of the way, strode over to Ronon and slumped down on the bench next to him, crossing his arms and looking thoroughly pissed.
Sheppard just stared at him, eyebrows raised. Holy Hannah, he had won?
Teyla and Ronon, having not understood anything within the last few exchanges except that Sheppard had finally succeeded, it seemed, to actually get the last word in a silly argument, also turned their gazes to the hunched scientist.
"Rodney?" Teyla asked softly.
Sheppard actually looked a bit abashed—he hadn't meant to push Rodney so far that the scientist stopped working.
"Okay, McKay," he said, adopting a tone of contrition, "I'm didn't mean—"
"Oh, please," Rodney sneered. "I can't dial the space station until it's orbiting on this side of the planet, which will be in about an hour. So, until then, I suggest you and your horrible puns stay far, far away from me."
Sheppard's smile came back full force, pumping a fist in the air, "And the brass ring goes to me!"
McKay's raspberry response even had Ronon laughing.
CHAPTER FIVE: UNSETTLING BEAUTY
Having an hour to wait provided enough time to dial home and let Elizabeth know the change in situation. Ten minutes later, a jumper came through the stargate flown by Major Lorne. He flew up through the thick atmosphere to the emptiness of space beyond, looking for evidence of a cloaked space station.
And found actual rings—asteroid belts spinning around the yellow planet. They were so luminous and vibrant, they gave the rings around Saturn a run for its money. At least five obvious bands of rings we counted by the jumper crew, all reflecting the bright sun that was the central core of this particular solar system. It was breathtaking. A large number of moons—about fifteen or so—of all different shapes and sizes orbited the planet as well, some moving swiftly, some erratically, others slowly. Most of them were small.
Doctor Kusinagi received permission to take as many photos as she wanted, and the young woman was currently snapping away fervently from the co-pilot's seat, muttering in wide-eyed awe at the incredible sight. Lorne smiled, knowing this was the physicist's first flight up into space.
In the background, he listened to Doctor Vogel typing away at the information pouring in about the system. He glanced over his shoulder at the stout American astronomer, who was just a hunched, dark figure behind him.
"A lot," Vogel replied in his flat mid-western accent, "but not what you're looking for. Oddly, there seems to be a great deal of interference..."
"Not sure. I'm not reading anything that would explain these readings, but then...half the time, I'm not reading anything at all." The scientist turned around, his round, ruddy cheeks flushed inside the warm jumper, "I think something man-made is screwing with the jumper's sensors."
Lorne grimaced at that. Why would an Ancient outpost screw with an Ancient jumper's systems?
"Major," Sheppard called up from the surface, "How's it look?"
Lorne frowned as he circled around the third tiny moon they had found orbiting the planet, this one shaped like, honestly, a lima bean. Like the first two they'd circled around, it was crater ridden. He wished he had something to tell his CO.
"Still nothing showing up clearly, sir," he replied. "Sorry."
"There's got to be something up there," McKay's impatient voice snapped over the radio. "This ring platform is linked to something."
"Well, beautiful as it is up here," Lorne answered, "all we're registering is ice, metal and rock. If there's a space station, it's hidden even from the jumper."
"Which," Sheppard mused, "really doesn't make sense."
Even McKay didn't contradict that, which made Lorne frown a little more. He glanced at Vogel, whose broad back was to him again, then to Miko, who was still avidly taking photographs. Corporal Recillos sat straight in the fourth chair, trying to pretend she wasn't as awed as the rest of them. He gave her a little smile, which the fiercely independent marine just responded to with a sharp nod. Turning to look once more out the massive window, Lorne took in the incredible view...and the blank HUD screen showing nothing but space.
As Vogel said—a lot was registering, but not what they wanted to see.
He swept past the fourth moon—larger and, unlike the others, actually round. Still, it was small, even as moons go. The only thing that made it at all distinctive was that it appeared to be less crater ridden—in fact, it looked quite smooth.
"That one's tidally locked, meaning it's always facing the same direction," Vogel informed him, without turning around. "And it has an atmosphere."
"No. Predominantly Nitrogen."
"Oh." Lorne sighed.
"That's odd," Kusinagi said, lowering the camera from her eye to look more closely at the moon. "It shouldn't be that smooth."
"Probably active," Vogel said dismissively. "Whatever—it's as cold as the rest."
Miko just hummed at that, and raised the camera again.
Silence descended after that, filling the jumper with nothing but the clatter of keys and the "cht" sound of photos being taken. Then the radio crackled to life again.
"Yes, sir?" Lorne swung down through a gap in the rings to where a tiny moon spun wildly on its axis in the distance.
"Rodney just told me that we're good to go. Anything more you can offer us?"
"Just that, we're pretty sure something's messing with the jumper's sensors, sir. I'd move with extreme caution."
"Will do. Sheppard out." And an audible click was heard, cutting the connection.
Lorne expelled a heavy breath. "Good luck, sir," he whispered.
Rodney looked behind him, to where Sheppard, Teyla and Ronon were all once more fully decked out in their suits, so Sheppard's voice was again echoing tinnily over the radio in his ear. Despite Rodney's assurance about there being life support, the haz-mat suits might offer some protection...just in case he was wrong.
(That had caused about five minutes of vehement arguing, cut off by Sheppard clapping in McKay's face. The scientist had blinked and stepped back, startled. In the pause, the colonel had managed to calmly state that it was an order. McKay steamed, but spat out his usual peeved, "fine." Of course, that didn't stop him muttering nasty things about Sheppard's parentage as he readied the console.)
McKay lifted his eyebrows, though the sneer of annoyance was still on his face. "What now?"
Ignoring the tone, the colonel was tapping his gun resting against his stomach, a sure sign he was thinking about something.
"Could you lock it? I mean, can you lock it?"
That caused the scientist's brow to furrow, "Huh?"
"The transporter. Can you put some sort of access code in place, so that only we would be able to use the ring platform? You know...a lock?"
McKay frowned, "Why?"
Sheppard shrugged, "Just a feeling."
"That's a strange feeling."
The colonel gave him a look, "Just do it, McKay."
The scientist grimaced, but he did as he was asked. It didn't take long. He created a direct link to his datapad, so he could type in the code to exit quickly.
When he was done, he glanced over his shoulder at Sheppard and the others. "Password's the usual," he informed them. The other three nodded, and McKay turned and hit a button on the console. It started to blink, and he moved to get inside the circumference of the rings with them, hastily putting his hood back on as he did so.
He had just managed it, when the rings lifted up out of the ground. Teyla and Ronon both stiffened at the strangeness of it, but only for a second. Then the red and gold walls around them disappeared in a flash of white light.
To be replaced by platinum gray walls, glittering with lines of silver.
The rings collapsed back into the ground, and the four Atlantians found themselves surrounded on all sides by people and weaponry—the barrels of the guns pointed straight at their heads.
Instantly, Teyla, Sheppard and Ronon had their own guns raised and pointed in three different directions. Rodney, slower on the uptake and burdened by the datapad in his arms, just sort of backed up, and the other three instantly moved to cover him. He cleared his throat, taking in the hard faces of the fifteen or so cold looking people facing them down. Every single one looked ready to shoot.
"Told you there was life support," he whispered nervously.
CHAPTER SIX: ALPHA MALES
It was obviously trained military who encircled them, based on the confident way they held their Genii-like weapons. Their outfits were dark, patched and weathered—the clothing of survivors. Their expressions were all cold and steady, as was their aim.
The room itself was square and plain, with only one entrance leading into a shadowed corridor. Sheppard, facing generally in that direction, turned a little in the heavy haz-mat suit as two people emerged from the darkness.
The first was an old man, crippled and leaning heavily on a wooden cane. He stared at them with narrowed, dark brown eyes, as if sizing them up, before shuffling off to one side and sitting on a bench very similar to the ones in the red room on the surface.
The other was a tall, dark haired man with pale green eyes, wearing the same dark, patched clothing. He was young—perhaps mid-thirties—but his eyes were old. Like many of the people they had met in this galaxy, this man had seen and experienced far too much for his years. His bearing was of a leader, natural charisma and strength washing off of him, and he obviously carried scars—only a few of them visible. One in particular ran down one side of his face, as if someone had drawn a knife down it. It suited him.
"Who are you?" he asked calmly, staring at Sheppard.
Sheppard lifted his head slightly, "Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard, and this is Teyla Em..."
"Why are you here?"
The rude interruption got a head twitch from John, but he took it in stride. "We're explorers, we—"
"How did you find the rings?"
John didn't answer for a moment, then gave a crooked smile. "Okay. Look. We're happy to answer your questions, but—"
"I asked you, how did you find the rings?"
"—we don't like answering questions while there are guns pointed at us. At the same time, I'm guessing you don't particularly like our weapons either. So, how about we--"
"We outnumber you. How did you find—"
"I couldn't give a rat's ass whether you outnumber us. I've got two highly trained specialists backing me up. Believe me, we're about even."
The man's lips pursed in annoyance, but, after a moment, he nodded.
The guns in the room were lowered, but the weapons were not dropped. They just pointed at the ground now.
Seeing that, Sheppard lowered his own weapon. At the cue, Teyla and Ronon lowered theirs as well. At the same time, the colonel pulled off the hood of his haz-mat. Behind him, Rodney rapidly did the same using his right hand, his left still gripping the datapad to his chest in a death-grip.
Dropping the hood to the ground by his feet, Sheppard put on yet another bright smile.
"Now, why don't we start this again, yes? I'm—"
"How did you find the rings?"
The colonel's jaw stiffened, but he nodded. "Like I said, we're explorers. We learned of this outpost from a database we found. Now, I'm sure you—"
"database? What database?"
It was Sheppard's turn to purse his lips, until he smiled again. "Nuh-uh," he said, shaking his head. "I'm not telling you that. Not like this. Listen, how about we sit down and—"
The man shook his head abruptly, "No. I don't think so. If you don't have a good reason to be here, you should leave."
"Don't have a good reason?" Rodney piped up finally. "What do you mean a good reason? We have as much right to be here as—"
"McKay," Sheppard hissed, throwing a dark glance at the scientist over his shoulder, "Don't." He turned back to the other man, and took a deep breath. "Honestly, I think you've got the wrong idea about us. We're not here to—"
"You know," the man said, shaking his head again, "I don't care." He turned and looked at a tall black woman standing near a console identical to the one on the ground below. "Send them back, Dohran," he ordered.
She turned immediately, hitting a button on the console.
And, of course, nothing happened.
For the first time, the people in the room showed a moment of uncertainty, glancing at their leader.
Sheppard's eyebrows lifted. "Having a little trouble?"
The leader was staring at the woman as she fiddled with the console, the skin on his face stretching tightly. When she looked across at him, shaking her head worriedly, he looked again at Sheppard.
"Did you do this?"
"Yup. Had a feeling you might be a little territorial," Sheppard replied, still smiling. Behind him, Rodney snorted.
The man drew in a breath through his nose, then let it out slowly. Finally, he nodded.
"All right. What do you what?"
Sheppard shook his head. "We don't want anything. As I said...twice...we're only here as explorers. We came to see if we could learn anything from this place, something which might help us in the fight against the Wraith." He took in a deep breath, "Of course, now that we know you are here we—"
"This place has nothing for you."
"I doubt that," McKay snapped.
"Please," Sheppard said, glancing again at Rodney to quiet him before returning his gaze forward, "why don't we go someplace to talk about this? And, while you're at it, we wouldn't mind a tour."
The man arched an eyebrow, "a tour? Of what?"
"Of the space station," McKay said, "What else?"
Sheppard gave a wry look, "He thinks we want to check out his armory, McKay. Scope out his defenses." He arched an eyebrow at the leader, "Again, that's not why we're here. All we want to see is the station itself, that's all."
The man glanced at Rodney, then back to Sheppard. "All right," he acquiesced. "But this isn't a space station."
"Of course it is," McKay replied, frowning. "What else could it be?"
The man stared at the scientist, his eyes narrowed. Then, oddly, he smiled.
"Okay, it's not a space station," Sheppard said slowly. "So what is it?"
The leader's ice-green eyes fixed on the colonel's, amused.
"It's a moon."
CHAPTER SEVEN: ONE SMALL STEP...
They stood on a platform, the glass domed enclosure giving them a perfect 360 degree view of the moon' surface. The outpost was buried deep inside, hidden within layers of rock and metal. This tiny room on the surface was accessed by a transporter only, and it's only purpose was, according to Rodney, aesthetic—a sort of mediation room for those seeking a place of solitude and complete peace. A place to commune with the emptiness of space.
Sheppard walked to the edge of the platform and looked out at the smooth, pinkish-gray lunar surface, his heart hammering in his chest—it reminded him of images of earth's moon he'd seen as a child, though a little less cratery. He reached up, splaying a hand across the cold glass, shivering a little at what he knew to be outside the seemingly thin material.
For the first time since he had walked through the wormhole, John Sheppard truly felt like he was in outer space. The little boy that had been glued to the tiny television set in his parent's home in 1968 was suddenly standing there, awed into silence at the view before him. Part of him expected to turn and see Neil Armstrong planting the American flag into the soft rock, and it made the lump in his throat grow larger.
Ronon came up to stand next to him, the large Satedan quiet as well. He seemed to understand that Sheppard was not totally with them at this moment.
When Sheppard finally dropped his hand from the curved glass, Ronon cleared his throat to speak.
"This is new," he offered softly. "Never seen a moon before. Least, not one like this."
Sheppard just nodded.
The former runner glanced at him out of the corner of his eye, then back at the moon. "You okay?"
The colonel let out a deep breath, then nodded. "Yeah."
Ronon nodded. After a moment, he asked, "You try the radio again?"
Sheppard turned his eyes away from the surface, though it was almost painful to do so, to look at the Satedan. He came back to himself then, the 39 year old career soldier once more in charge.
"Yeah. I get nothing. Just like in the outpost below. As McKay said, this whole place is heavily shielded, even from friendlies."
Sheppard shrugged, "Hopefully, Rodney will find out." He looked over his shoulder then, to where McKay was fiddling with his datapad on the other side of the room.
Osheen, the leader of the people here, stood with Teyla and McKay, explaining how his people had found the outpost. As McKay had suspected, it was luck. Writings passed down from generation to generation on Osheen's original planet (and, apparently, several others) told of a haven hidden inside a gas planet. After barely surviving a Wraith culling, he and the last of his people had stumbled through the Stargate to the planet about five years ago, trusting in the Ancestor's to guide them and keep them safe. And they had.
"But others were not so lucky," Teyla said, recalling the bones. "They died, rather than give up looking."
Osheen frowned, but nodded. "Yes. There are bones all over the surface—almost all before we got here, but some after. Sadly, until someone activates the room with the rings, we do not know that anyone has come through the Gate, so we can not help them in their quest."
McKay had been working with his datapad, but at that, he looked up, fixing Osheen with a sharp eyed stare.
"And how many of those bones are people you sent back, because you didn't want to share this place with them?"
Osheen flinched at that, and stared hard at McKay. "How dare you!"
"Why? You were about to do that to us?"
"Doctor," Teyla said, resting a hand on McKay's arm. "It is not our place to—"
"Oh please," Rodney said, shaking her off. "We take in refugees all the time. But these people..."
"You were armed and protected from the atmosphere," Osheen replied harshly. "Obviously, you could go back to where you came from. We do not turn away people really in need. For all we knew, you were Genii."
"Genii?" McKay sneered, "Hardly. Nice excuse, though." Huffing, he returned his attention to his datapad.
"Do not mind Doctor McKay, Osheen," Teyla said, smiling at the leader. "Believe me, we understand the need for wariness, especially from the Genii. The doctor can speak a little too rashly sometimes. Of course we know you mean well."
McKay paused, and looked at her, a hint of surprise on his face. He had never heard Teyla use that tone before. It was strange, almost as if she were...
Oh Good Lord.
Teyla was smiling up at Osheen, her eyes a oddly soft. As he watched, her hand lifted, brushing back some hair from her face, and, if he thought Teyla knew how to giggle, he was pretty sure she would have just then.
She was flirting!
He looked more closely at Osheen, and realized grudgingly that, in the conventional sense, he might be considered handsome. He had that cheekbone and jaw thing that women seemed to like, not to mention a full head of hair, shorn in a rakish style that made Sheppard's look downright staid.
Yup. He now disliked him even more.
Snarling, he turned and walked away, headed back to the transporter alcove that had brought them to this little room, ready to leave. He was about halfway there when it happened.
The ground shook.
With a squawk, he stumbled the rest of the way to the transporter, pressing against the edge of the doors. Sheppard stumbled, grabbing onto Ronon's arm, the two of them holding each other up. Teyla fell into Osheen, who held her close. One of the guards also up in the room fell to the ground on his ass, his face paling.
It lasted only seconds, but it was enough to spook the Atlantians, and did nothing to make McKay feel any better about their trip here. He had been reading some very strange things on his datapad, and this only confirmed that something was very wrong here.
"What the hell was that?!" he yelled at Osheen, who was gently placing Teyla back on her feet. She was blushing. The leader looked across at the scientist.
McKay's eyebrows lifted, "Yes, obviously. I know that. What caused it?"
Osheen shrugged, not looking to worried. "I don't know. What normally causes tremors?"
"Normally? Volcanic activity! Shifting tectonic plates! An unstable gravity field!" McKay pointed towards the lunar surface, "Asteroid hits! None of which should be happening! Or at least it shouldn't be!"
Osheen blinked. "What?"
"What the hell just caused that?"
Osheen just stared back, his brow furrowing. McKay's eyes widened a little, realizing that the man really had no idea. Teyla was watching him as well, looking worried. The scientist frowned, looking to Sheppard, then back to Osheen.
"How long have you been experiencing the tremors?" he asked.
Osheen's brow furrowed.
"Please," McKay stressed. "How long?"
"It was an asteroid hit," the man said finally, shaking his head. "We just didn't see it."
"Even if we somehow missed it, it wouldn't have shaken us that much, and we'd see the crater and the dust," McKay insisted. "And there are no new craters out there."
"We can't see the whole surface."
"We wouldn't have felt it if it weren't close."
"Hello? Astrophysicist here! It's what I do! Yes! I'm sure!"
"Believe him, Osheen," Sheppard said, stepping forward. "He knows what he's talking about."
Osheen looked to the colonel, then to Teyla, who nodded. With a heavy sigh, he turned once more to McKay.
"About six months. Since the last group of refugees came."
McKay nodded, and fiddled with his datapad. His eyes narrowed as he read the information, then looked up again.
"Can I see the control room?" he asked quietly, his voice filled with tension.
Osheen's eyes narrowed, "Why?"
"Please," McKay stressed. "There's something wrong here. And you know it. I might be able to help."
Osheen stared hard at McKay, as if measuring him. After a moment, he closed his eyes, took a breath, and nodded.
"All right. Come with me."
The control room resembled greatly the auxiliary power room in Atlantis. Screens surrounded them on all sides, and semi-circle of consoles filled the center of the room. McKay was barely touching them, the screens lighting up one by one as he tapped them. He was talking quickly as he worked, hooking up his laptop to the central console, explaining what he was doing to the handful of Osheen's people watching him. The leader himself was standing off to one side, his arms crossed, expression dark. Teyla stood close to his side. He didn't seem to mind.
The only other strange occupant of the room was the old man. He was sitting on a chair off to one side, watching McKay intently as the scientist bustled around. His eyes were dark and focused, and the frown on his face deepened as McKay worked.
Finally, the central screen in the room brought up an image of the moon, surrounded by a series of interlocking colored lines. It looked like someone had wrapped the sphere with rubber bands, criss-crossing the surface almost haphazardly.
"Oh wow," McKay whispered, taking the image in.
"What?" Sheppard asked, stepping up next to him. "What is that?"
"I...I'm not sure. It's the shield protecting this moon, but...wow."
Sheppard's eyes narrowed, "The shield? Looks like lots of shields."
"That's because it's been...split up, siphoned and rearranged into...that. It's...wow."
"Stop saying wow."
"I can't help it. There are layers on top of layers on top of layers. I've no idea why. They're all just...it's like...It's a mess."
"It's fine!" the old man suddenly snapped, struggling to his feet. He grabbed his cane and hobbled forward, glaring at McKay. "And what the hell would you know about it?"
The scientist glanced at him, "What? Who are you?"
"This is Enceladus," Osheen introduced. "He's our resident astrophysicist." He waved at the screens, "He's the one who has been working on all this."
McKay stared at the white haired, half bent over, old man. He had the urge to blow really hard--because he was pretty sure it would tip him over.
"Okay...Enceladus." McKay arched an eyebrow, "Explain how this is 'fine.'" He pointed at the screen. "Because it sure as hell looks like chaos to me."
The old man just sneered, "I've been listening to you. Looking to blame someone, aren't you? And for what? Nothing. There's nothing wrong. It works just fine!"
"Works? It works? To do what?"
Enceladus just snorted, "You should go away. Now. You are nothing. A child. Too young to understand."
That caused McKay's eyes to widen. "I'm a what?"
"He said you were a child," Sheppard supplied helpfully, a tiny smile visible at the edge of his lips.
"I know what he said!" McKay snapped back. He glared at the old man, "You may be older than me—a lot older—but I guarantee, you are not smarter. Now, I take it you did this? Why?"
Enceladus shook his head, "I do not talk to arrogant brats. I would not waste my time. Osheen!" The old man turned to the leader, leaning hard on his cane as he did so. "These people should leave, now, before they do damage. And I am sure, especially this one," he gave McKay the fish-eye, "will do damage."
McKay spluttered, "Damage? How could I cause any more damage than what you've already—"
"McKay," Sheppard said, raising a hand. "How about you explain exactly—"
"No!" Enceladus rammed his metal tipped cane down hard on the marble surface, and it echoed through the chamber. "Enough! It's enough! Send them away!"
That even surprised Ronon, who, until then, had been hovering in the background. Now, the Satedan moved forward, putting himself closer to McKay.
"Enceladus is right—your time is up," Osheen said, stepping forward. "We've accommodated you long enough."
Sheppard glanced at him, not hiding the confusion on his face. "Osheen, I know you don't know us that well, but McKay—"
"Is a destroyer of worlds," Enceladus spat. He turned to McKay, dark eyes boring into the scientist's pale blue. "Aren't you?"
And, for a moment, McKay actually froze. Those eyes seemed to be boring straight into his soul, revealing his greatest failure—Doranda.
"All right," Sheppard said, stepping forward, "That's enough. You want us to leave. We'll leave."
McKay looked down, shaking his head as if to clear it. When he looked up again, he caught sight of the screen showing the manically layered shield and his expression hardened again.
"No, wait, Colonel, we can't. What they've done to the shield," he pointed at the screen, turning again to Sheppard. "It's—"
"LEAVE!" Enceladus shouted, hitting something on the main console that shut down all the screens, plunging them into darkness.
McKay jumped back, and Ronon took his arm in a protective grip. For some reason neither man could explain, Enceladus scared them both.
"Let's go, McKay," the Satedan mumbled.
McKay looked up at him, then, with a grimace, shook his arm loose and went to gather up his equipment. Enceladus hovered over him the whole time, like a condor eyeing its prey from above.
"Fine, fine," McKay muttered, shoving the laptop into his backpack, glancing uneasily from time to time at the old man.
In moments, they were being led back through the platinum colored corridors, headed once more towards the ring platform. They passed the large plate glass windows showing the massive outpost built into the interior core of this dead moon, only vaguely taking in the massive biodome on one side, and the other rounded, metal and glass structures that were obviously rooms and labs—very few of which the Atlantians had a chance to see.
And when they finally reached the ring platform again, and McKay had unlocked the console, they gave only very quick goodbyes...before they were sent back to the planet.
The red room was exactly the same. The gold still glittered. And outside, the air was still toxic.
Sheppard tapped his radio, and Lorne answered immediately, the major not hiding the relief in his voice at their safe return.
And called it a mission.
CHAPTER EIGHT: RESTLESS
Atlantis felt warm and comfortable, homey and clean. As Sheppard walked through the halls towards Elizabeth's office, he took another deep breath, just content to know he could.
They'd returned the day before, McKay muttering and unhappy, Teyla oddly moody, Ronon...well, Rononish...and himself? Despite the happiness of being back with Johnny Cash, his guitar and his windows (and yes, he always thought of the windows behind the Stargate as "his" windows), he was restless. Because the situation they had left behind on Asimbabbar was restless.
When he reached the back entrance to Elizabeth's office, the doors sliding open with a soft whoosh, he found his team already there. Teyla was sitting in front of Elizabeth's desk. Ronon was sitting on the bench against the far wall. Elizabeth herself was in her own chair. And Rodney was pacing.
The scientist was actually wringing his hands as he moved, long strides eating up the floor as he turned and faced the door. At seeing Sheppard, he nodded, turned again, and walked back to Elizabeth's desk.
"Okay," Elizabeth said, leaning forward, "Now that we're all here. Rodney? What is it you wanted to tell us?"
The scientist stopped pacing, turning his focused gaze to Elizabeth's. "We have to go back there."
Sheppard slid into the seat next to Teyla, looking over his shoulder at McKay, "To Asimbabbar?"
"Yes." McKay started pacing again.
"Why?" Elizabeth leaned back slightly, her eyebrows lifting, "Didn't they kick you out?"
"Yes," Ronon stated, standing up as McKay got close to him, "with definite instructions not to return." He arched an eyebrow at the scientist, "Meaning we shouldn't."
"I know what they said," McKay snapped back, glaring at the Satedan. "But those people have no idea how much danger they're in." He looked to Elizabeth again. "They can't stay there." He turned and paced back to her side of the office.
Elizabeth frowned, her eyes narrowing as they followed his movement. "Are you sure?"
"I stayed up all night going over the data I downloaded from the outpost's computers. Reviewed it three times in case I missed something." He stepped between Sheppard and Teyla to meet Elizabeth's gaze straight on. "If we don't do something soon, that entire moon is going to be ripped apart, and all those people are going to die."
Elizabeth let out a harsh breath, and the other three sat up straighter.
"Hang on," Sheppard said, staring hard at Rodney, "Did you just say—"
"Yes," McKay gave a nod, "I did. And it's going to happen sooner, rather than later."
"An entire moon?" Sheppard said. "But how does a moon...?"
"Tidal forces in sufficient strength," Rodney replied. He spun a finger around in a tight circle. "The rings around the planet were all probably moons once. Soon, it'll have another ring."
"What are tidal forces?" Teyla asked.
"Gravity." Rodney made a fist with his left hand. "The moon is affected by the gravity of the planet, and vice versa, meaning that the gravitational field," his right hand spun a circle around the fist, "around the moon varies significantly between the near side and the far side. This strain on the moon distorts it, stretching it, and because it's been made so brittle by being hollowed out...." He opened the fist up, splaying the fingers. "Silent boom."
"Rodney," Elizabeth shook her head, "I'm...sorry, but that's...that's very hard to believe. Why would the Ancient's build something in a place that unstable?"
"No, that's not it," McKay said, shaking his head, rocking back on his heels. "It wasn't unstable when the Ancients got there—least no more than any other moon. They made it unstable."
Elizabeth's eyes hooded over slightly, "Rodney..."
"Listen!" McKay said, raising a hand to stop her before she cut him down, " I know you think they're infallible, but they weren't, Elizabeth. Light years ahead of us, yes. I'll even admit, light years ahead of me..." He shook his head, "I'm just...I'm not saying they did anything wrong on that moon, no more so than when they sank this City. I'm just saying that not everything they did could be expected to last forever, and in some cases, when their tech does fail, it can prove disastrous. It's one of the reasons they were working on the Arcturus Project in the first place—because they knew that."
She tilted her head, "Wait, sinking the City? How could sinking Atlantis be seen as something they did wrong?" Apparently, she only heard one part of his little speech.
McKay frowned in frustration, shaking his head.
"You're not listening to me," he said. "I never said it was wrong, Elizabeth. Not at the time...."
She frowned, "Not at the time? So, it became wrong later? What, could you have done better? Found another way to save—"
"No!" He gripped his hands into fists, turning away from her, "This isn't like....I'm not....Damn it, Elizabeth!"
"What he's saying," Sheppard suddenly interrupted, turning forward to look at Elizabeth, "Is that, despite everything, the power in the ZPMs powering the shield protecting this City would have run out eventually. And if Janus hadn't gone behind the council's back on your behalf and put in the failsafe that caused Atlantis to rise, it would eventually have been destroyed by the ocean, even if no one had ever found it. That is what was wrong with sinking the City. It was a good idea, and for a long time, it worked. But it would have killed us if Janus's intervention hadn't come into play. At the very least, Atlantis would have been lost forever."
McKay looked at the colonel gratefully, "Yes."
Elizabeth looked to Sheppard, then to McKay, who was waiting for her to give him the go ahead to continue. Finally, she nodded. He gave her a tiny nod in return and started talking again.
"Now, think of Asimbabbar in the same terms. The Ancients did something that requires a huge power source to maintain. In this case, like Atlantis, they used ZPMs. And, yes, I mean that in the plural," he glanced at Sheppard, then back to Elizabeth. "But when the ZPMs fail, that moon is going to be vulnerable to natural forces, here gravity, and it will be destroyed, just as Atlantis would have been by the ocean."
Elizabeth gave a begrudging nod, "All right. I get it. Go on."
"Way I see it," McKay said, "the Ancients hollowed out the moon to put the outpost inside. They did this, I presume, because the composition of the outer core of the moon provides an almost perfect natural shielding against most forms of sensors and radio signals. But, hollowing out the moon—and I've no idea what was there before, though I assume it was liquid, based on the smoothness of the moon's surface—screwed with its mass...its weight...and its ability to bend. That in turn, screwed with its orbit around the planet, and, since the planet's gravitational forces were probably already a strain on the moon's stability...the moon probably started to shiver and shake—to break apart. The Ancient's compensated for this by placing a shield around the moon to protect it—giving it almost artificial gravity and more flexibility. The shield also ensured the moon was tidally locked—which stabilized the ring platform access—and protected it from asteroids. Finally, it added a layer of extra shielding that would absolutely make the outpost invisible to even the most sophisticated scans."
Elizabeth nodded, accepting all this easily. "But..." she prompted.
"But...the ZPMs powering the shield are failing. I checked. There are two of them, and they're both nearly depleted. Like Atlantis, the moon might have survived for hundreds of years more, but with Osheen and his people living there, using it constantly, and more people arriving, possibly brought there by him...." he shrugged.
"I see," Elizabeth sighed, lowering her eyes to the desk.
"But that's not all," McKay said. "Thing is...the ZPMs should have failed a long time ago. Maybe even when Osheen's people first got there five years ago. But they didn't."
Elizabeth looked up, brow furrowed, "Why not?"
"Enceladus." McKay frowned, "Somehow...he's been manually adjusting the shield. Near as I can tell, he's managed to weaken it in places, stripping it in locations where it's not needed, and redistributing the energy to where it is needed. That's why it looks so insane when you bring it up on a single screen. It's like skin grafts in surgery, replacing skin with other skin. I don't know how he was able to do it, but not only is it still protecting the moon...it's added time to the life of the ZPMs."
"You can do that?" Elizabeth said, catching some of his wonder.
"Apparently." He shook his head, "And it's amazing, but...it's not enough. The moon is suffering tremors because its grown more vulnerable to the tidal forces of the planet, and they're just going to keep getting more and more violent. The shield is collapsing, like a house of cards, despite all the shoring he's done. Soon...the shield will fail completely." He frowned, "Those people need to get out of there."
Elizabeth stared at McKay, seeing the earnest belief in his eyes. After a moment, she nodded. She looked to Sheppard, who lifted his chin a little. She never really had to question whose side he was on.
"How long until the Daedalus is back from earth?"
"Two weeks," he answered.
Elizabeth nodded, then looked at Rodney again, "Will it last two more weeks?"
McKay frowned, then gave a small shrug. "I'm not sure. It could last days...or months. But," he nodded, "I think so."
She looked down, then up again. "Well, I'd rather the Daedalus backing us up if we go back. For one thing, the ship has a ring platform on it."
Sheppard nodded in return, agreeing.
"I have a question," Ronon said, moving over to look at the group around Elizabeth's desk. "If this Ence...guy...."
"Enceladus," McKay supplied easily, which earned him a surprised eyebrow from Sheppard.
"Yeah, him," Ronon gave McKay a nod, "From the sounds of it, he's pretty smart. Smart enough to know what was happening to mess with the shielding to try and fix it...."
"Yeah?" McKay said. "So?"
"So," Ronon shrugged, "Why hasn't he already warned his people? He's got to know what'll happen if they don't leave. Yet..." He arched an eyebrow.
McKay grimaced, and looked at Sheppard. The colonel shrugged in response, then turned to look at Elizabeth. She shrugged as well.
"Well, when I meet him," she said, "I'll ask him."
CHAPTER NINE: ALPHA FEMALES
Over the next two weeks, Elizabeth tried several times to connect with Asimbabbar, but was rebuffed. Polite but cool.
Finally, the Daedalus was there, and, despite Caldwell's objections to trying to save a people who didn't appear to want to be saved, he headed the ship to the planet. It was only about two hours out at the ship's top speed, and it left with a light crew—just in case they needed to take on any refugees themselves. Beckett went along with them, "just in case," as he put it.
Meanwhile, SGA-1, along with two other Stargate teams, stood ready to walk through the Gate. This time, they just wore gas masks. The few moments it would take them to walk from the Gate to the structure housing the ring platform behind it (now that they knew where it was), would not cause them or their clothes any real damage.
Sheppard was adjusting his weapons, glancing vaguely at McKay and Ronon, who were listening to Zelenka yammering on about something and trying to hand them what looked an awful lot like a portable generator, which McKay was rejecting. Sheppard gave a tiny smile, knowing that Zelenka would probably eventually win. He seemed to do it more and more these days.
He heard movement behind him, and turned...in time to see Elizabeth walking very stately down the stairs in her black silk suit. And that wasn't all—her hair was done up in very neat curls and she had a noticeable amount of make-up on. She looked...good.
"You, uh," he frowned a little as she reached his side, reaching to take her laptop case from someone, "are looking nice."
She glanced at him, smiled, and looked back at the Gate. "Just trying to make a good impression," she replied.
McKay had wandered over, and was frowning slightly at her outfit. "You're not wearing your uniform," he said, managing to mix both surprise and a little disdain into the statement. Sheppard pretended to give him a dark look for being tactless, but, well, he was curious himself. Elizabeth never wore anything but her uniform off world.
"Well," she said, adjusting the nicely fitting material, "I don't want to seem imposing."
"Oh," Sheppard nodded, "You won’t. But," he arched an eyebrow at her, then turned to look at one his men, "you will wear your utility belt." He waved at a soldier across the room, calling for one. Elizabeth gave his back a disappointed look, which quickly disappeared when he faced her again. A moment later, she was walking over to the soldier to get a belt.
McKay stepped up next to Sheppard. "What's that about?" he asked, indicating Elizabeth's outfit.
"My guess?" the colonel looked askance at his friend, "She saw Osheen on Teyla's video of the outpost."
McKay snorted, "I did note that Teyla seemed to film him more than necessary when he was giving us the tour."
"Yeah, well, he is, as they say, a pretty boy." Sheppard sneered a little, watching Elizabeth as she obviously worked to hang the belt the soldier had given her in such a way that it wouldn't ruin the line of her suit.
The scientist snorted, shifting to adjust the strap on his backpack.
"Speaking of Teyla," Sheppard said, turning around, "Where is she?"
"I'm here," Teyla called, exiting one of the side doors. McKay looked up, and sighed heavily upon seeing her.
"Ronon won't be pleased," he muttered.
Instead of her usual plain band, Teyla had gathered her hair up on her head with a beautiful clasp that set off the red in it, and it was neatly brushed. Her eyes glittered with eyeshadow and the tint in her cheeks was definitely not natural. She still wore her uniform, but the purple shirt she usually wore underneath was replaced with the Chinese-style green shirt she often wore when trying to look...prettier than normal. Sheppard had a feeling the grey uniform jacket would come off once they were on Asimbabbar again.
As McKay had foretold, Ronon had stiffened slightly at seeing her, and watched as she walked across the room to Sheppard and McKay, his lips lifting in a slight snarl. Teyla, however, had an innocent seeming smile on her face.
The smile fell the moment she saw Elizabeth.
"Colonel," Teyla said, eyes boring into Elizabeth's back, "Doctor Weir is not in uniform."
"Well, technically, she's not a soldier," Sheppard said. "She's also in charge, so I suppose—"
"You can not let her go off-world like that," Teyla snapped with a lot more venom than necessary.
McKay instantly turned and walked away quickly to the other side of the room.
Sheppard watched him leave, eyes screaming coward! at his friend's back. Elizabeth, meanwhile, had seen Teyla as well, and she sauntered back over.
Sheppard continued to stare at McKay, who, now that he was safely amongst some of the soldiers suiting up, was grinning broadly back at him. The scientist gave him a thumbs up sign. Sheppard snarled.
"Teyla," Elizabeth said, eyeing the other woman up and down as she reached her and the colonel. "That's not your normal off-world uniform."
"And that," Teyla replied icily, "is not a uniform at all."
"Ah," Elizabeth looked at her suit, "actually, on earth, it is customary to wear such outfits when entering a negotiation." She smiled coldly, glancing at John. "Isn't that true, Colonel?"
Sheppard swallowed, "Um..."
"But we're not on earth," Teyla said, smiling back. "And I thought the rule was that we were to wear the uniform at all times off-world. Is that not what you told me, Colonel?"
"Gee..." Sheppard was staring so hard at McKay, his eyes were beginning to dry out from not blinking. The scientist just waggled his eyebrows, still grinning. Sheppard cleared his throat, to find both woman looking at him in anticipation. "Well, I...see...that's...uh...."
"Colonel Sheppard understands that these are special negotiations," Elizabeth said suddenly, cutting him off and turning her gaze to Teyla. "I do not want to appear imposing. Besides, I am not a soldier. I do not want to appear as one."
"Well, you succeeded," Teyla said. Her smile was so forced, it looked painful. "I am certain that you will not be mistaken for a warrior in that outfit." She emphasized the word, 'warrior,' deliberately.
Help me! Sheppard mouthed over their heads at McKay. The scientist's eyebrows perked up, responding with an obvious, What's in it for me? Sheppard just opened his eyes wide, and mouthed, Please!
"There are many kinds of warriors, Teyla," Elizabeth replied. "Isn't that right, Colonel?"
"But not that many who are also leaders," Teyla shot back. "And leaders should always lead by example. Don't you agree, Colonel?"
Like a whip snap, two sets of female eyes lasered in on a now sweating Sheppard. He looked at them both, swallowed thickly, and tried to think of something to say that wouldn't lead to his instant death.
"Colonel Sheppard!" McKay's voice suddenly called across the room, "Can you come here a moment? I need you to see something!"
Sheppard's eyes lifted, the gratitude in them clear. "Right away, Rodney!" he shouted, a little too loudly. He smiled weakly at the two women. "I'm sorry, ladies, you heard the man. Gotta go!" And he slid between them and practically skipped over to where McKay was pretending to look busy with something on his datapad.
He skidded to McKay's side, staring down at the nonsense on the datapad screen.
"You okay?" McKay whispered softly, pretending to point something out to him.
"Yeah," he whispered back. "Thanks. Saved my life."
McKay snorted, "Heh. Well, I was planning on making you suffer in return for all those bad puns back on the planet, but when I saw the way they looked at you that last time..." He shuddered. "I wouldn't even wish that on my worst enemy!"
"Well, I owe you one," Sheppard told him. "Guess it's my turn to save you next time, eh?"
McKay chuckled and patted Sheppard on the shoulder in comfort. Looking up, he risked a glance at Teyla and Weir.
They were watching the two men with that sort of narrowed eye look all women seemed to possess. Oh yeah—they saw right through the dumb male ploy. Still, they didn't seem inclined to continue their little debate.
"We ready to go?" Ronon asked, walked over with his gun resting on his shoulder. "Because I'd really like to go and shoot something now."
Sheppard gave a quirky smile, "Yeah, me too. Though, of course, you won't, uh, follow through on that desire, right?"
"Not at the moment, no. Though that Ency guy bothers me."
"Enceladus," McKay supplied, shutting the datapad down for travel. "And I think I can safely say he spooks me too."
"I didn't say he spooks me," Ronon retorted a touch defensively. "Just don't like him."
"That's twice," Sheppard said suddenly. McKay looked at him as he attached the datapad to his back.
"You're terrible with names," Sheppard said, eyeing the scientist curiously. "How is it you've remembered one as difficult as Ence...whatever..."
"Yeah. How is it you've remembered it twice." He jiggled his head, "Now, three times."
McKay gave a small smile, "Oh. That. I did one of my theses on the moons of Saturn. One of them has that name." And with that, he looked up at the gate room and made a circular motion in the air. "Fire up the Gate!" he called.
CHAPTER TEN: MAKING A CONNECTION
Elizabeth watched as McKay checked the radio transmitter that they'd rigged on the console in the red and gold room. He was making sure it was off. At his nod, she reached up and tapped the radio on her ear.
"Colonel Caldwell, this is Doctor Weir. Do you read?"
"Loud and clear, Doctor," Caldwell replied. "And you'll be happy to know that the ring platforms on both the planet and on the moon are registering with ours. We should be able to not only maintain radio communication through them, but, if something goes wrong, we can pull you out."
Elizabeth nodded, "Good to know. Thank you Colonel."
"My pleasure. Good luck."
"You too. Weir out." Clicking off the radio, she looked to Rodney. McKay was watching her. When she nodded, he turned to the console and reactivated the radio transmitter connected to it.
Elizabeth clasped her hands behind her back and spoke up generally at the red ceiling.
"Osheen? My name is Doctor Elizabeth Weir. I work with Colonel Sheppard and Doctor McKay. Can you hear me?"
There was nothing for a moment, just static.
"I repeat, my name is Doctor Weir. I've asked Doctor McKay to rig up this radio communication so that we could speak. According to him, if you are in the ring room, you can answer. Please, we only wish to talk. Are you there?"
Her lips pursed and looked to Rodney. He glanced down at the console, then shrugged. It was working. She sighed and nodded.
"Okay. As you know, twice now, we've attempted to speak to you in this manner, telling you that we planned to come today, but you have chosen not to answer. I can not say I blame you entirely. We are strangers, and you can't know what our intentions are, especially after you asked us not to return and we obviously have." She frowned, looking down at the floor now. "All I can do is give you my word as the leader of my people that we are not here for our sakes, but for yours. Please." She was looking up again as she finished, hopeful.
But, again, no one answered. She grimaced, gave a quick headshake, then shrugged.
"Then you offer us no choice. We are coming up." She glanced at Sheppard, who was grimacing, looking uncomfortable without his P90. "And we are unarmed." She glanced at Ronon, remembering his hidden knives, and smiled thinly—well, almost. Looking across at the marine now standing by the console, she gave a quick nod. McKay had already moved to stand inside the rings with Elizabeth and the rest of his team, once more hugging his datapad to his chest.
The rings activated, and they disappeared.
When they arrived in the platinum room inside the outpost, they were unsurprised to find themselves surrounded by weapons again. Elizabeth looked around, then frowned when she did not see Osheen amongst those facing them. She also wasn't expecting to see what looked like nervousness in their stances—from what Teyla had told her, these people seemed fairly self-confident.
They also looked tired—almost bedraggled. It was not a good omen.
Elizabeth raised a hand, smiling softly as she met their gazes. "We are not here to harm you," she said. "We only came to talk. There is something you need to know."
A black woman near the console stepped forward, her expression grim, the revolver in her hands aimed only generally in their direction.
"You should not have come."
Elizabeth nodded at her, recognizing her from the video. "You are Dorhan? Osheen's second in command."
The woman gave a nod, "And you are Doctor Weir." The woman's eyes flickered to the rest of SGA-1, "We have met these others before."
"Yes," Elizabeth replied. "Listen, we came because—"
"We could not answer you. We tried, but there was a problem."
"A problem?" McKay asked, frowning. "What kind of problem?"
Dorhan looked at him, her eyes narrowing slightly, but she answered, obviously seeing no reason not to.
"Our console has no power, meaning the rings are only working one-way."
"What?" McKay snapped, stepping forward out of the rings towards the console, heedless of the guns that followed him. Sheppard jumped forward, hands raised and half covering the oblivious McKay with his body, but when it seemed no one was going to fire he just moved to stay next to him. Ronon and Teyla moved closer to protect Elizabeth.
Dorhan sighed and nodded to the guards in the room, and they lowered their weapons. She moved so that she was on McKay's other side, and pointed vaguely at the console before them.
"It has been without power for a week and a half. And now you are trapped here, along with us."
McKay hit a few of the more obvious dials, with no effect, then lifted his datapad, obviously running a quick scan. He frowned, then snorted.
"You've no power," he said, sneering a little, "because it's not on."
Dorhan looked puzzled by that, "I'm sorry?"
"Someone has deliberately shut it down. There's power in the buffers, it's just not being used." He turned and glanced at Elizabeth then, "We need it on to communicate with Caldwell." He looked back at Dorhan, "If you take me to the control room, I'll turn back on."
She just stared at him, her eyes obviously confused. "But...we were told...."
McKay frowned, "By whom? Listen, it's an easy fix. Literally like flipping a switch." He pointed towards the hall, "Shall we go?"
Dorhan stood as one completely out of her depth, still not comprehending the information. Finally, she licked her lips, frowned, and shook her head.
"You need to speak with Osheen."
"Yes, we would like that," Elizabeth said quickly, reinserting herself into the conversation. "Can you take us to him?"
McKay frowned. "But, what about...?"
"Caldwell can wait a few moments, Rodney."
"Actually," Sheppard interrupted, "we need to check in, Elizabeth. You know how he worries."
"Who is Caldwell?" Dorhan asked, her tone suspicious.
"We left some men behind on the planet," Sheppard answered her, lying easily. "To watch our backs and let our people know if we don't return." At his response, her eyes narrowed slightly, but she seemed to accept that answer.
Elizabeth grimaced at the exchange, then glanced at Rodney. "Can you do something here, quickly?"
McKay gave her an annoyed stare, then rolled his eyes. "Fine, fine, but you're making this harder than it is." He turned and knelt next to the console, settling on his haunches, grumbling under his breath as he pulled a heretofore invisible panel off the front. Guns were instantly raised again, but Dorhan waved them down, her eyes curious as she leant closer to McKay to see what he was doing. Sensing the danger was finally past, Sheppard moved closer to Elizabeth.
The scientist fiddled with a few things inside, and the console lit up.
"Residual power from the last use," he said to Elizabeth. "It won't last, so talk fast."
She nodded and tapped her radio. Quickly, she relayed their status to Caldwell and then cut down the communication. McKay undid whatever he did and the console shut down again. Smiling up at Elizabeth, he started to stand...
Just as the room began to shake...massively.
The scientist, precariously perched, fell hard on his side with a squeak, dropping his datapad. Elizabeth stumbled sideways, falling into Sheppard, who immediately protected her with his body. Teyla and Ronon fell against a far wall, imitating the rest of Osheen's people, who were looking terrified.
It lasted for almost fifteen seconds this time—much longer than the one they had felt two weeks before.
As soon as it stopped, McKay peeked out from behind the console. He found Dorhan standing near to him—she'd obviously been hanging onto the console for balance. Her dark eyes were wide and they stared down at him. Quick as a snake, she latched out with her hand, grabbing his arm as he worked to get back to his feet.
"Can you do that again?" she demanded, gripping his arm tightly. "Get it working?"
"What?" He ripped his hand from her grip, shakily brushing dust from his outfit.
"I...yes...of course, but—?"
"We need to see Osheen!" she snapped, pulling him closer and then twisting towards the door, dragging him with her. She glanced at the rest of the Atlantians, "Follow me. Now!"
CHAPTER ELEVEN: PIRATES AND SCAVENGERS
Dorhan moved quickly, almost jogging through the halls. The Atlantians kept up, at first confused by the desperate feel of Dorhan's actions, but they soon understood the reason for the haste.
McKay was wrong—two weeks had been too long to wait. Asimbabbar was in serious trouble.
Chunks of ceiling had fallen, leaving obstacles in the previously clean halls, and metal dust coated everything and everyone they passed. A glance through the same large plate glass windows they'd seen before showed much of the outpost was now in darkness, power obviously only on in a few restricted areas. Even the large biodome Teyla had admired previously was dark—meaning all the plants being cultivated inside were probably dead or dying.
"What's been happening here?" Elizabeth called as she hurried to catch up to the woman leading them. "The video my people brought back—"
"About a week and a half ago," Dorhan answered, suddenly swinging down a different hallway on the right, the Atlantians almost falling into each other to keep up, "we suffered a massive quake—ten times greater than anything we'd felt over the last six months. Enceladus tried to fix it, but by the time he had it under control, it had brought down half the bio dome's glass ceiling, killing nearly twenty of our people instantly, and caused much of the damage you see. That was also when the rings stopped working. Many were badly hurt." She glanced over her shoulder, "Including Osheen."
Elizabeth frowned, glancing at Rodney by her side, who only grimaced in return, and they moved even faster to keep up with Dorhan.
They burst into what looked to have once been the outpost's infirmary, but much of it was in shadow. All the beds were occupied, and some were shrouded. A handful of beleaguered looking people dressed in gray bustled about, but they appeared overwhelmed by the sheer amount of chaos in here. And the smell...
"Oh my God," Elizabeth breathed, coming to a stop and covering her mouth. Ronon stepped back...and waited outside the door. Dorhan paused as well, panting a little as she tried to pinpoint her leader in the melee.
A dust covered soldier ran into the room behind them, looking wild-eyed. He glanced at them, then saluted Dorhan. She nodded back.
"We've lost the Silver Section," he said, coughing a little. He shook his head, "There are...there are almost fifty people trapped in there, and I don't know if life support is working. I think power is shut down."
Dorhan grimaced, and glanced at the Atlantians. Pressing her lips together tightly, she raised a hand.
"Please, wait here a moment." And then she was gone, leading the poor dust covered soldier with her deeper into the room and around a corner. Elizabeth glanced at Sheppard, who simply shook his head. What could they do? he asked her silently. At the look, both turned to Rodney, who had crossed his arms and was simply waiting to be summoned by Dorhan. The scientist's foot was tapping nervously.
Sensing the scrutiny, McKay glanced at them, then away, not wanting to meet their eyes.
"So, I may have been a little off about the two weeks," he muttered, crossing his arms across his chest.
Elizabeth shook her head at his ego, smiling softly, "No, Rodney, that's not what that look was for. You couldn't have known. And I doubt they would have believed us anyway."
He just wrapped his arms around himself tighter, grimacing. Sheppard cleared his throat.
"McKay...we looked at you because," he glanced at Elizabeth, "can you think of some way to help those people in—"
"No," McKay said, cutting him off. "I can't do anything until I see the control room, figure out what's happening exactly." He looked down at the floor, and added in a softer voice, "But, to be honest, I doubt we can help the people who are trapped, at least, not with technology."
Sheppard accepted that with a nod, but Elizabeth frowned.
"Don't say that," she said. "Not until you know for sure."
He turned to look at her, then gave a shrug in acquiescence.
For a moment more, they stood in uncomfortable, apprehensive silence as Osheen's people bustled around them, like water flowing around rocks in a stream. The people here barely looked at them, except in vague curiosity, but, in reality, were simply too busy to care. Finally, McKay looked up at the ceiling, as if expecting it to fall on his head, zeroing on what looked to him like a very large crack in the marble.
"I don't like earthquakes," he admitted softly. "Felt a big one once in California, when I was a student. Terrified me so much, I swore never to go back to that side of your country."
Sheppard, having grown up around them, just shook his head, smirking a little. "Yeah, well, I hate ice storms and hurricanes. It's all relative. Besides," he offered a dry smile, "technically, that wasn't an earthquake." At McKay's look, he smiled more, "It was a moonquake."
The dirty look he got in return made it worth it.
Elizabeth, meanwhile, was looking around at all the beds, a contemplative frown on her face. Teyla had shifted forward, looking like she desperately wanted to dive in and help.
"McKay," the Athosian asked softly, glancing back at him, "could Asgard beaming technology penetrate this deeply into the moon?"
McKay slowly shook his head. "No. Between the shield and the amount of mass between us and the surface...no."
"Even if it were combined with the power of the ring platform?" Teyla pressed. "If you can use it to transmit a radio signal...."
"Only when in the proximity of the platform, and piggy-backing on the rings' transporter signal. And I can't 'combine' them as you put it—it doesn't work that way. The technology is just too different." He sighed, shaking his head and looking down. "Best we can offer is manpower and cutting tools from the Daedalus."
"And Beckett's help," Elizabeth added. She lifted her wrist to check her watch, then with a shrug, strode forward to where Dorhan and the other soldier had disappeared, obviously tired of waiting. With the exception of Ronon, who stayed outside, the rest of the Atlantians followed their leader. Several of Dorhan's men were still hovering, but did not seem inclined to stop them.
Coming around a corner in the oddly shaped room, they found Osheen propped up in bed, a stained bandage covering most of his head and his arm in a sling. He was listening to the soldier—who sounded like he was bandying ideas with Dorhan about how to free the trapped people—but turned his head when the Atlantians appeared. He frowned at their appearance, then sighed.
"Well," he said coldly, "if you've come to pillage, be my guest. But if you touch any of my people while doing it, I will kill you." Even despite his obvious infirmity, there was an underlying strength that told them he would back up the threat with his dying breath. Sheppard couldn't help but smile, recognizing himself in this man.
"Actually, we're here to help," he told him. "McKay sort of figured out you might be in trouble. We were coming back to warn you."
Interestingly, Osheen didn't look that surprised. Instead, he just snorted.
"Unfortunately, you're a little late."
"But hopefully not too late," Elizabeth stated, moving forward. "Osheen, my name is Doctor Weir. I am the leader of these people. We have come to offer assistance, if you'll let us."
Osheen frowned, then winced a little, putting a hand to his head. Sighing, he looked at her for a long moment, then looked down.
"You know, Enceladus painted an ugly picture of you all, said you were scavengers and pirates, particularly you," he glanced at McKay, "but..." he looked to Elizabeth again, "sometimes my instincts and his opinions don't exactly mesh." He gave a single nod in acceptance, "Obviously, we need the help, and I'd be a fool not to accept any that you can offer. But, the fact is," he pursed his lips, "you may have doomed yourselves along with us. The ring platform has no power, meaning it is only working in one direction. No one can—"
"Sir," Dorhan interrupted, glancing at the Atlantians, then to Osheen. "Doctor McKay got the ring platform working. Not for long, but he tells me he can do it again."
Osheen's eyes narrowed slightly, looking at her curiously. "What? But Enceladus said it—"
"It worked, Osheen. I was there." Dorhan glanced at them again. "They used it to contact some of their people waiting for them on the planet."
Osheen frowned deeply at that, which earned him another wince as it obviously pulled on the wound under the bandages. He looked at Dorhan, "Go, fetch Enceladus." Then he looked to Elizabeth, "If you really can get the ring platform working to—"
"He can't," a scratchy voice stated from the shadows. Enceladus—still old, thin and beady-eyed—hobbled out from behind a pillar where he had obviously been eavesdropping. Dorhan stopped mid-step, turning in surprise to see him there. Enceladus nodded at her, not unkindly, then back to Osheen. "She doesn't have to fetch me. Send her to go help with the rescue of your trapped people. I listened to the boy's plan," he nodded to the dust covered soldier, "seems like your best bet."
Osheen pursed his lips, but nodded to Dorhan. She nodded back and took off, to go coordinate that work. She took the guards and the dust covered soldier with her. Apparently, the Atlantians were no longer considered a threat. At least, not a big one.
Enceladus struggled up to the side of the bed, and settled himself up on a bench next to it. It looked like it might have been placed there just for him. He glared at the Atlantians then, as if they were the pox.
"Enceladus," Osheen said, pushing himself up a little to better speak to the man, "Dorhan says..."
"You're hurt, Osheen," Enceladus snapped, "Stop trying to push yourself up."
The younger man rolled his eyes a little, still trying to sit up more. "Go soak your head, old man," he muttered in a teasing tone, in response to which Enceladus just snarled, though there was no real malice in it. Meanwhile, Teyla had taken off her jacket and folded it up. Smiling, she moved to tuck it behind Osheen's back, leaning a little closer to the man than was really necessary. Sheppard tried not to smirk when Elizabeth pretended not to be bothered. Osheen thanked the Athosian with a handsome smile.
"Thank you, Teyla," he said smoothly. She blushed a little and backed off, smoothing down her green silk top as she did so.
Sheppard was suddenly really glad that Ronon was not with them.
"Anyway," Osheen started again, "as I was saying, Enceladus, according to Dorhan, Doctor McKay can—"
"Of course he can. So can I. It's not hard to turn the rings back on." The old man had returned to staring angrily at the Atlantian scientist. McKay grimaced slightly, but did not try to hide from the gaze.
Osheen, though, seemed to have stopped breathing. "What?" he hissed. "Are you kidding? Then what the hell...?"
"It's not a matter of turning it on," Enceladus told him, still not turning away from McKay. "It's a matter of what will happen if I do."
"What do you mean?" McKay asked, crossing his arms and meeting the old man glare for glare. He was clearly not going to be intimidated by him this time.
"The ring platform takes a tremendous amount of power. Power that I need for the shields. If I power the rings, the shield matrix will fail before one group of people can even transport off this moon." He lifted his chin, "So, unless you want to condemn the other three hundred people living here to death, I suggest you stay far away from the control room, boy."
McKay snorted, eyes narrowed, but he didn't say anything.
Osheen's brow was furrowed, looking around the room at the others. He obviously did not know how to take that new information. The Atlantians, however, only had eyes for one person—McKay.
"Rodney," Sheppard said, drawing the name out a little, "is that true?"
"Possibly," McKay said, but he didn't look worried.
"Weasel!" Enceladus snapped. "Of course it's true!"
"Even if it is true," Rodney said, sounding almost bored, "it's easily solved." His eyebrows perked. Sheppard had to smile at that—there were times when he really loved having Rodney on his side.
"How?" Osheen asked, watching him intently.
McKay gave a little smile, then looked to Elizabeth. "Zelenka convinced me to bring one of our spare naquedah generators. It should have enough power to get the rings working and transport the people off this moon."
Her eyebrows raised, and she smiled at him, "Smart man, that Radek."
"Sometimes," Rodney shrugged, looking back to Enceladus. "Well?"
"Naquedah..." For the first time, Enceladus seemed puzzled by something. He frowned, "it's powerful?"
"It'll power the rings," McKay affirmed. "And won't draw any power from your shield matrix."
Enceladus frowned more, then leaned forward, staring fixedly at McKay, who was looking very smug.
"Why are you really here?" the old man demanded abruptly, his anger back in full force. McKay's brow furrowed—he clearly hadn't expected that.
"You're not really here to help. Why are really here? Tell me!"
"Enceladus," Elizabeth said, raising a hand, "I assure you, we are only here to—"
"Oh sure, you are," the old man snapped, dismissing her with a wave. "You and these others, and the folks up in that ship of yours—"
"Ship?" Osheen repeated, head snapping up to look at Elizabeth. "What ship? You came by ship?"
"—But not him!" Enceladus finished his thought, pointing at McKay. "He's here to steal from me!"
McKay looked honestly surprised, "What?"
"Enceladus," Osheen said tiredly, "Let's not do this."
"No! Not until he tells the truth." The old man shook his head, "Go on, brat. Tell them why you're really here."
Oddly, everyone looked to McKay, who just looked puzzled. He shook his head.
"Honestly, I don't..." He shook his head, "Look. I'm here to help, that's all. And don't call me brat!" But his tone was a little too defensive—even Osheen heard it.
"McKay?" Sheppard said, raising both eyebrows.
The scientist grimaced at him, then shrugged. "All right, fine. I admit, I thought, maybe, if Enceladus showed me what he did with the shield—how he did what he did—I might be able to offer some ideas on how to make it last longer. And...how to make our shield stronger back at home. Last longer. That sort of thing." He frowned, staring hard at Elizabeth, "I just want to understand what he's done! I don't see what's wrong with that."
She shrugged, and looked questioningly to Enceladus, "Actually, neither do I."
"Besides," McKay said, holding a hand out, "You never know. I might come up with some brilliant solution to save this outpost." He offered a smug smile, "I have been known to come up with last minute, brilliant solutions before."
Enceladus snorted, but Elizabeth gave a wry smile, nodding to Osheen and the old man.
"He's right," she confirmed, though it sounded as if it pained her a little to admit it, "he has." She tilted her head from side to side, "Not all the time, of course, but—"
"Wait, not all the time?" McKay said, crossing his arms again. "Name one!"
Elizabeth just crossed her own arms and gave him a look. McKay grimaced.
"Okay, okay, name two," he challenged.
Her eyebrows just lifted higher. He rolled his eyes and gave her an aggrieved look.
"Fine! Name five!" He held up his hand, fingers spread out. "Can you actually name as many as—"
"McKay," Sheppard scolded, "knock it off."
That earned the colonel a dark look, but McKay did shut up.
Meanwhile, Elizabeth was looking to Enceladus again. "Well?" she asked. "Will you let Rodney look at your work? It seems a fair trade, especially if he can help."
"No," the old man spat. "There's no point. He won't understand. He's too simple."
"Hey!" McKay spouted in his defense, but Elizabeth held her hand up to him.
"Please," she said, still to Enceladus, "let him try. What harm can it do?"
"Plenty," Enceladus said, sneering at McKay. "He could destroy it all. Done it before."
"All right, that's it!" the scientist finally snapped. "I've had just about enough—"
At that moment, another tremor shook the outpost. It was small, but enough to cause everyone in the room to tense up. For a moment, no one spoke, just stared up at the ceiling as if it were about to come crashing down.
"Damn it," Enceladus swore suddenly, and moved to get off his stool. "I have to get back to the control room. Wasted too much time already." Leaning heavily on his cane, he glared at the Atlantians in his way. "Move," he ordered.
"Wait!" Osheen ordered sitting up enough to catch the old man's sleeve. "Let Doctor McKay work with you."
"What?" the old man demanded, looking as if Osheen had just offended his mother. "No! I refuse! He'll just—"
"That's enough, Enceladus!" Osheen looked suddenly very tired, but he gripped the other man's arm tightly. "Stop it," he said, authority in his voice. Letting go the man's arm, Osheen sat up some more, and looked at McKay. "If what you say is true, how soon can you get us that extra power?"
McKay snapped his fingers, "Like that. Just say the word."
"All right," Osheen said, smiling a little. "The word. Do you know how to get back to the rings from here?"
"I do," the scientist said, smiling suddenly. He was already beginning to bounce.
"Okay then," Osheen nodded. "Go. Fix the rings. Then Enceladus will show you what he's done to the shields."
McKay grinned broadly, ignoring the way Enceladus was swearing under his breath.
Elizabeth chuckled a little, and looked to Rodney, giving him a nod. The scientist gave her a thumbs up, and with a little wave, jogged away towards the exit.
"And bring Beckett back with you," she called after him, "with a med team! And help for the trapped people!"
"And keep Ronon with you!" Sheppard yelled, though McKay was already gone around the corner.
"Will do!" came the distant reply.
Enceladus sighed, gave Osheen a hard stare, then sighed again. This time, the Atlantians moved as he hobbled out of the room, moving at a surprisingly fast clip despite the cane, swearing like a sailor as he did so. When he was gone, Osheen started to chuckle softly.
"He's a handful, huh?" Elizabeth said, smiling.
Osheen gave a nod, meeting her gaze. There was obvious fondness in his eyes when he spoke.
"He's a bit nuts, a lot rude, and even more brilliant. But beneath it all, he's also a good man."
Elizabeth gave a single nod, "Sounds familiar." She tilted her head, "He's been with you a long time, I take it?"
Osheen's brow furrowed, then nodded, "Well, since as long as we've been here. About five years."
Elizabeth's eyebrows lifted, "Oh. He's not one of your people?"
"Well, he is now," Osheen said confidently. "But, no...not before. He was here even before I got here, and my people were the first to find this place after what must have been a very long time. I think he was alone for a while—I get the sense it might even have been a few years—which is how he knows its workings so well. He was a real hermit when we first arrived—not too pleased with us invading his little kingdom—but he soon got used to the idea. Now, he's family. Everyone here is, regardless of when they came to Asimbabbar." He smiled genuinely at her, and Elizabeth gave him an understanding smile back. Their gazes locked, and Elizabeth found herself drifting closer...
Sheppard cleared his throat.
Shaking herself a little, Elizabeth turned and covered by shifting to sit in the little stool Enceladus had left behind. She looked back at Teyla and Sheppard, ignoring the dark look the Athosian was giving her.
"Colonel, perhaps you and Teyla should go and see what help you can offer Dorhan? I'm sure they could use the help." She looked back to Osheen, "Osheen and I need to discuss his people's future, about where they can go once Rodney fixes the ring platform for the evacuation."
Teyla stood up a little straighter, but she didn't say no. It wasn't in her nature to deny anyone else help, even if, at that moment, she was clearly tempted to rip Elizabeth's hair out. Sheppard, meanwhile, was nodding.
"Sounds like a plan," he said. "So long as someone can lead us there."
"There should be someone outside in the halls," Osheen said, waving in that direction. Sheppard gave him a nod, and turned to walk out, Teyla falling in behind with one last pouty look at Elizabeth.
"Stay in radio contact!" Elizabeth called after them, tapping her earpiece.
CHAPTER TWELVE: A TREMULOUS SITUATION
"So, what you're saying, Rodney, is that this is a one-way trip." The Scottish brogue seemed even thicker then normal on the radio connection, betraying its speaker's clear distrust.
McKay rolled his eyes. He was lying on his back, hands deep inside the console in the ring room. "Yes, Carson, at the moment. But it won't be for long. I'll fix it so everyone can get off this rock. Listen, I don't have a lot of time to argue. Just get over here, bringing as much of your voodoo medicine and as many tools as you can to free the trapped people. Apparently, no one on this moon wants to leave until those folks are free, so we need as much help as we can get."
"I understand that, Rodney, but freeing people isn't really my job. You're absolutely sure I need to—"
"Carson! Did you miss the part about the infirmary? There are people dying here! They need to be, oh, what's that phrase you people use? Stabilized and readied for transport? Whatever. Are you coming or not?"
"And you'll get the rings working in the other direction?"
"Yes! As soon as I cut this connection, Major Lorne will send the generator, I'll attach it, and this will be two way again! What part of that don't you understand?"
"And what you're doing will definitely work? I mean, you are absolutely certain that--"
"Colonel Caldwell? Are you listening? This thing is going to run out of power in a second. Can you just, like, push him onto the ring platform or something?"
"I'd love to, Doctor McKay," Caldwell's amused voice replied, "believe me. Doctor Beckett, how long until you are ready to go?"
"Oh, bloody hell. Fine. Give me ten minutes."
"Great." McKay grinned. "Ronon will be here to lead you to the infirmary, where Elizabeth and these folks' leader is."
"Wait," Ronon interrupted, staring at the scientist, "I'm supposed to stay with you."
McKay waved a hand up at him, "I'll be fine. What's Enceladus going to do? Berate me to death? Beckett'll need you more than me. You get that, Carson? That Ronon will meet you?"
"Okay then. We gotta go. See you soon."
"Good luck, Doctor," Caldwell cut in.
"Thanks Colonel." McKay took his hands out of the console, and slid out from under the console, sitting up. The lights started to flicker on the console, fading. Rodney grimaced at the sight, tapping his radio again. "Major Lorne, you read?"
"Yes, sir," the major replied from the planet.
McKay nodded and stood up, brushing his hands off on his pants. "Send the generator."
A faint buzzing sound, and then the rings came up out of the ground. Ronon's eyebrows lifted, having not seen it from this side before. It was pretty damned amazing. White light flashed within the rings, and then the rings collapsed back into the floor, leaving behind a naquedah generator. McKay grinned, stepping forward and lifting it off the platform. Resting it down next to the console, he tapped his radio again.
"Great. Thanks Major. McKay out."
He got down under the console again and disconnected it completely from the buffer and, simultaneously, the outpost's power source. The flickering lights went out completely. Reaching for the generator, he dragged it closer. As he took hold of the cables connected to it, he smiled up at Ronon. The Satedan just looked unhappy.
"Oh, don't be like that," McKay said, returning his attention to the console. "I'll be fine."
"Sheppard wanted me to stay with you."
"He's a worry-wart. I've handled scientists like Enceladus before. Believe me, they're all bluster." He reached with the cables and attached them, fiddling with the workings to get the connections to fit.
"If you say so," Ronon stated.
"I do say so," McKay replied. After another moment, he pulled his hands out and turned the generator on. The console lit up. Grabbing his datapad, he checked the power output and smiled. "Perfect." He nodded smugly. Standing, he brushed off some more dust and faced Ronon.
"Right. Do me a favor and tell the Colonel that the rings are all good to go, will ya? I'm going to go find Enceladus. You'll be all right?"
Ronon just scowled a little. McKay took that as a yes, and patted him on the arm. A moment later, he was gone, out the doors and on his way to the control room.
The Satedan grimaced, then looked up as the room shook softly, the grimace turning into a dark frown.
Teyla was really regretting her decision to wear her best shirt, covered as it was now in sweat and filth. She wiped an arm across her forehead, knowing without needing to see that she had probably just left an ugly black streak. With a sigh, she returned to pull at the wreckage before the door to the Silver Section. In the distance, she could hear the people on the other side banging on the doors, trying to get out. Around her, brute force and adrenalin fueled the rest of Osheen's people desperately trying to free those trapped.
Occasionally, she'd find one of them looking at her, trying to be surreptitious. When she caught them, they'd smile sheepishly and duck their heads. But there was always gratitude in the look, and, much as she was annoyed with Elizabeth right now, that look made even the ruination of her clothes worth it.
Glancing to her left, she saw Sheppard climbing partially into the rubble to get a better handle on what looked like a fallen girder. Like her, he was covered head to toe in grime, oil stains on his cheeks and his hair matted down in a number of places. He caught her looking and flashed an encouraging smirk. She tried to provide one in return, but it faltered on her face.
Fact was, they needed help. Badly.
As if on cue, the radio on her ear came to life, and Ronon's voice came through.
"They're here," the Satedan informed them. "Twenty marines volunteered, and we've got blow torches, winches and...what are those?"
"Jacks, sir, like for a car?"
Teyla heard Sheppard chuckle, obviously knowing what Ronon's next question would be.
"What's a car?" The Satedan was nothing if not predictable.
"Um...a jack's a heavy duty lifter, sir. You'll see."
"Okay. Anyway, Sheppard, we're on our way."
"Sounds good," Teyla heard the colonel reply, as he rested a hand on the girder. "Ronon, you stay with Rodney. The rest of you...."
"McKay's not with me."
That earned a moment's silence. Then Sheppard clicked his radio.
"Rodney? You read?"
"Yup. Kinda busy, though. This important?"
"You're a son of a bitch, you know that?"
"Yup. Can I go now?"
"I'm sending Ronon to be with you."
"Oh for...I'm fine, Colonel. There's no need—"
"I think there is. And don’t do that again. When I tell you to do something—"
"Really, Colonel, I'm fine. Elizabeth has no one with her either, remember."
"He's got a point, Colonel," Elizabeth suddenly patched in. She'd obviously been listening.
Sheppard's whole face pinched, and he looked at Teyla. The Athosian shrugged.
"Those people need him more than me, Colonel," Rodney said finally. "If I get into trouble, I'll let you know."
"You always get into trouble, that's the problem."
Several people chuckled on the line, until Rodney replied with:
"Not this time, Colonel. I'll be fine. Trust me."
That earned a very different sort of silence, until Rodney cleared his throat.
"That is to say, you don't have to trust me, exactly, just—"
"It's okay, Rodney. I get your point. Fine. I'll see you later."
"Okay. McKay out."
"Ronon. Get down here."
"Sure thing. We'll be there in a minute." And Ronon clicked off.
Sheppard sighed, then his brow furrowed as he obviously considered the exchange.
"Colonel," Teyla called, stepping over some of the rubble to get closer to the man. He waited until she was close, then bent her head as she asked quietly, "Why are you worried about Rodney? This would not be the first time you have left him alone."
He shook his head, "I don't know. A feeling."
"Yeah. There's something strange about him."
Teyla frowned, and shook her head. "I do not agree. I sensed an underlying goodness to him. The people here seem very fond of him, as well."
Sheppard just shrugged, "I'm not disagreeing. But...he knows about Doranda, Teyla. I don't know how, but he does."
"Are you certain?" Teyla asked, tilting her head. "It could just be a guess to—"
"I just don't like him, Teyla. Just leave it at that, okay?"
She leaned back, so she could see his face better. He was in earnest, meeting her eyes evenly. Seeing that, she nodded.
Just then, the outpost shook with a renewed violence, staggering them. The large metal girder Sheppard was gripping started to slip sideways. He immediately made to stop it, then looked up when an enormous amount of dust started to cascade it down like a waterfall. His eyes widened.
"Colonel!" Teyla yelled, seeing what had spooked him.
It was bringing down ceiling with it!
Sheppard shouted for everyone to run. Teyla was already ahead of him, leaping away across the rubble to the hallway, trusting he was right behind her. They just cleared the bulk of the rubble when the massive piece of metal crashed to the ground in an explosive shower of sparks and sound, sending dust and metal fragments everywhere with a burst of hot air. Massive chunks of the ceiling came down with it, exposing a mess of wires and conduits—the noise from it all was defeaning.
And a heartbeat later, it was over.
Teyla, huddled against the hallway wall, risked opening her eyes, blinking rapidly in the settling dust. Looking up, she found Sheppard leaning protectively over her. He straightened, his expression unhappy as he looked back at the mess of the entranceway to the Silver Section, as were the twenty or so of Osheen's people with them. Most of the clearing they had just done to get to the people in the Section was ruined. And they had no idea if anyone on the other side was still....
Someone on the far side of the blocked doorway started banging again. They were still alive! Everyone in the hallway let out a relieved breath.
"Well," Sheppard said with a crooked smile, reaching up to wipe away blood that trailed down from a new cut on his cheek, "let's get back to it."
CHAPTER THIRTEEN: INTIMIDATION FACTOR
McKay frowned, staring at the information Enceladus called up on the main screen in the control room. Slowly, his lips parted in wonder, and after a moment, he turned to look at the old man, eyes wide. Enceladus was sitting on a chair on the far side of the room, bent nearly in half, his chin and hands resting atop his cane. The dark eyes regarded McKay beadily, the seemingly unrelenting undercurrent of hostility unabated despite the news that he'd gotten the rings working again. McKay was almost getting used to it.
Oh, who was he kidding. He'd lied to Ronon. This old, wretched man intimidated the hell out of him. Why?
Because Enceladus knew more than he did.
He'd suspected it before, when he was examining the specs they'd brought back from this moon on Atlantis, but now he knew. And for the first time in many, many years, he was faced with the possibility that someone else had a grasp of Ancient technology beyond his own. No one, not even Sam Carter, had that on him.
Which meant that he had to learn everything this man could teach him. Everything. He had to. He couldn't rest until they were at least on par. No one was smarter than Rodney McKay. No one.
Trying to stay calm, he pointed to the screen. "You did this?"
Enceladus lifted his head and gave a single nod.
"It's...," McKay looked at the interwoven delicate strands that made up the shield matrix, "it's amazing. What you've done....I would never even think....I didn't even know it was possible. Well, possible, yes, just not...feasible."
Enceladus snorted at that, unwavering stare still dissecting McKay like a lab rat. Rodney swallowed, uncomfortable, and looked back at the screen.
"Let me see if I get this. You've somehow managed to turn the shield into a sort of siphon, but, instead of liquid, you're siphoning the energy from the gravitational forces maintaining this planet's system of rings and moons." He leaned forward a little on the edge of console, his mind dancing with the possibilities. "I just...gravity is such a weak force...I mean, as forces go. It's not electromagnetic or even nuclear...but....you've....wow. You know, where I come from, they've been studying quantum gravity as a possible..." He gave a small smile, "But you don't care about that." He looked again at the screen. "So this is how you've been extending the life of the ZPMs?"
Enceladus didn't answer. McKay bit his lip, and suddenly felt as if he were back in the 6th Grade, talking to Doctor Cheevers, the CIA scientist who had questioned and tested his theories about the weapon he'd created. Cheevers, he came to know later, was something of an idiot, but at the time, to a twelve year old boy, he was frighteningly smart.
He breathed out heavily, eyes drifting across the information streaming across the screen.
Suddenly, something on a different screen flashed, the one showing the weblike shield around the planet, and he jumped back. Immediately, the room started to shake violently, easily the worst quake they had felt yet, and he backed up against a pillar, staring in fear up at the ceiling.
Enceladus spat out a swear at McKay and stood up, stumbling over to the consoles. Ignoring the laptop McKay had propped on one side to copy the information, the old man started fiddling with the various buttons and crystal matrices covering it.
Around them, the shaking intensified.
Enceladus was swearing like a sailor now, cursing the machines, McKay and even the moon itself.
Finally, his withered hands ripped out a crystal and tossed it across the room.
"Hey!" McKay objected weakly, following it with his finger, "What did that do? What are you even—"
"Shut up!" Enceladus yelled back. "I'm busy!"
For a moment, McKay was about to retort angrily—when a massive chunk of ceiling came crashing down mere inches from Enceladus, exploding in a mess of metal. The old man was knocked off his feet, landing in a painful heap on his side, his cane clattering across the floor in the opposite direction. And didn't move.
Another chunk of ceiling fell a few feet away as the shaking intensified, nearly taking one of the other consoles with it. McKay looked up, able to see that another piece was about to fall...right on top of Enceladus.
He was by the old man's side in a second, pulling the still prone man under the console, getting him out of harm's way. Enceladus rolled over as soon as McKay let him go, blood pouring from a cut above one eye—the thin skin over the bone having split—and blinked up at him out of half hooded eyes. They focused on him for a moment without comprehension, then opened fully—turning fitfully angry again. Thin, almost skeletal fingers reached up and grabbed at McKay's jacket...and shoved him even further away.
"Brat!" he croaked. "Let me go! I need to get back up there!"
"What?" McKay shouted. "Are you insane? The ceiling—"
"I have to stop it!" And Enceladus turned, trying to crawl back out. McKay grabbed at his leg.
"You want to do it, waneling? No? Then get off me and let me finish!" With the wiry, frightening strength of the old when pushed to their limits, Enceladus freed his leg and kicked McKay hard in the stomach. The scientist doubled over under the console, coughing hard at the pain, and Enceladus wiggled the rest of the way out on his own.
Able only to see the man's stick-thin legs now, a slightly green McKay watched as they shifted back and forth, Enceladus obviously working the console under which the scientist was hiding. More chunks of ceiling fell around the old man, some barely missing him, and McKay pulled himself into a tighter, more protective ball.
And, suddenly, the shaking stopped.
"There," the old man crowed. "Saved again. You can come out now, rabbit."
McKay took a deep breath and, wiping a hand across his face, shifted to pull himself out from under the console. Enceladus backed away with a hobbling step, sneering as the scientist emerged.
"Is that what you do?" the old man asked. "Hide when things need doing? Run away? Pray that you won't die?"
McKay just sort of looked at him, his mouth agape. He was still on all fours, looking up at the old man.
"Rabbit suits you. Afraid of everything, aren't you?"
Instead of answering, McKay just stood up, trying to hide the way he was still trembling from the quakes.
"You want to learn how I did this? Is that why you came? To steal this knowledge?" Enceladus limped forward, until he was right in McKay's face, snarling up at him, obviously enjoying the fear he seemed to generate. The old man's dark eyes were almost black, and he looked even more insane when he was this close. "That's why you're here. I knew it. You're greedy and arrogant and petty and small." The eyes widened, "Why would I share what I know with someone like you?"
McKay grimaced, his bottom lip trembling a little as he tried to think of a suitable reply. But Enceladus was already chuckling.
"Can't even deny your failings, can you?" He shook his head, and turned away, limping back to his chair. "Well, Doctor Rodney McKay...if you came get this knowledge from me," he turned, beady eyes boring into the scientist, "you can't have it. I don't share."
That touched something inside the scientist, and McKay's mouth finally closed fully, lips pressing into a thin line. He backed away, pulling his shredded dignity around him like a cloak. Breathing through his nose, he lifted his chin a little so that he was looking down at Enceladus, his brow furrowed as he regarded him.
"Fine," he said, crossing his arms in front of him. "If that's the way you see it."
Enceladus looked amused, but he nodded.
"Just answer me one question," McKay said. He indicated the screen that showed the level of the two ZPMs powering the outpost with a tilt of his head. "How are you going to keep this moon in one piece now that you only have one ZPM left, and that one at only seven percent?"
Enceladus's smile fell, and his head whipped around to look at the screen McKay indicated. His lips parted, seeing that, indeed, the power levels had gone to zero in the ZPM on the right hand side of the screen.
"No," he croaked, "No!" A bony fist slammed down on the console, "No!" The old man leaned forward over the controls, breathing hard. "No," he said one more time, softly. It was the first word Rodney had heard him utter that wasn't filled with vitriol. Instead, it was lined with despair.
McKay lowered his eyes and stepped back, tapping his radio. "Colonel Sheppard?"
"How's it going?"
"We're almost through, finally. Believe it or not, that last quake helped. We're nearly to the doors."
"Good, because we need to start evacuating people. That last quake nearly finished off the ZPMs. In fact, it finished one of them. We may not even have hours left."
There was a moments pause, then, "Okay. Elizabeth, Carson, you read?"
"We're here, Colonel," Elizabeth replied.
"Barely!" Carson snapped. "This infirmary is chaos! Did you know they were about to start cutting off perfectly good limbs? Honestly, I feel like I'm in a bad horror—"
"Yes, Carson, yes," Sheppard interjected, chuckling softly. "Thing is, we need to start moving people. What's the story on the folks in the infirmary?"
"Ach, well...not good. It's not going to be easy," Carson replied, "Or quick. There's something like sixty people packed in here, none of whom are mobile. And...more just came in. Can't Rodney do something about these wretched quakes? It'd help if we had some warning or—"
"Rodney says we've only got hours, Carson, if that. We have to get the people off this moon— now."
There was a longish pause this time, until Beckett finally breathed a "Bloody hell."
McKay grimaced—he heard all of Beckett's fear and pessimism in those two words. And he wasn't the only one.
"We can do this, Carson," Sheppard stated firmly.
The physician sighed heavily over the radio. "Aye," he replied at last. "Right, of course."
Elizabeth chimed in then, her voice as calm and confident as her chief military officer's. "I've informed Osheen, Colonel. He tells me there are about three hundred people here. He's going to give orders to his men to start evacuating them to the planet, twenty at a time, and we'll send them through to Atlantis. How goes the work to free the people in the trapped section?"
"We’re almost...oh, hey! I think they're through!"
"That's good news! Well done, Colonel!" McKay could see Elizabeth's smile in his head as she said that. He smiled softly as well.
"Yeah, well, still a ways to go, but I can see Dorhan climbing to get inside the Section. We'll be able to start pulling people out soon."
"Good," Elizabeth answered. "Oh...Carson just told me he is going to prep the people in the infirmary to be transported to the Daedalus' infirmary instead—he doesn't want to subject them to the planet's atmosphere."
"Okay. Corporal Recillos, are you in the ring room?"
"Yes, sir," Inez replied.
"You heard all that?"
"Then contact Caldwell," Sheppard ordered. " Let him know what's happening. And contact the soldiers on the ground."
McKay straightened a little, "Yes, Colonel?"
"Give us as much time as you can."
Rodney glanced at Enceladus, who was working the consoles feverishly, obviously already doing that.
"We're on it."
Enceladus glanced at him, then turned away. Rodney clicked off the radio connection, and moved to join him. Enceladus moved to another console, leaving Rodney standing over the central one. The old man pressed a few crystals, and reached for a third. Before he did, Rodney tapped a couple of the crystals on the central console.
Enceladus stopped, pulled his hand back, and looked at him.
McKay just raised his eyebrows, "That helped, didn't it?"
Enceladus snorted, and moved to another console, turning his back to McKay. The scientist waited...and watched.
CHAPTER FOURTEEN: NEVER TRUST OLD MEN
Two hours later, they had released the trapped people in the Silver Section and nearly everyone had been evacuated. All that was left were the last of Carson's patients in the infirmary, a handful of Osheen's military...and about ten Atlantians.
Sheppard, Teyla, Ronon and a handful of other marines followed Osheen's second in command, Dorhan, back to the infirmary, picking their way through the mostly dark, rubble strewn halls tiredly. No one spoke—no one had the energy. They were intent only on getting everyone together again, so they could all leave together.
Sheppard knew Carson was now only waiting for the go ahead from Corporal Recillos in the ring room, in order to transport the last of the patients to the Daedalus. Elizabeth had already returned to Atlantis, to supervise the temporary housing of Osheen's people. Osheen himself was still here—refusing to be moved until everyone else was out safely.
The moon shook more than it stayed stable now, though nothing as violent as the tremors they felt when they first got here. Another hit as they were closing in on the infirmary halls. Dorhan stumbled, falling into a wall. Sheppard thought about helping her, but his own arms and legs felt like jelly, it was all he could do to stay standing. Looking around, he saw the others in the same boat. Just trying to hold on.
When it was done, he wiped a shaking arm across his sweating forehead, and shivered at the same time. The temperature was barely above freezing now, to conserve as much energy as possible, according to McKay. The scientist had sounded strange on the radio when he informed them that they were cutting power everywhere except the infirmary and those corridors leading to the control room and the ring room. He sounded beaten down, instead of elated, as he had when they had first arrived. Sheppard didn't like that, because he was pretty sure he knew who was behind it.
Coming around the last corner, Sheppard was happy to see the lights still on full in this area, breathing a little easier when the temperature seemed to rise a little as well. In the lead, Dorhan seemed to relax a touch as well, climbing over yet another section of fallen ceiling as they saw the entrance to the infirmary. She smiled back at the Atlantians, confident that they would all be all right now.
"I'll be glad to get out of here, Colonel," Teyla said, rubbing at her sore arms as she moved by his side.
"I know, "Sheppard agreed, shifting around some collapsed girders.
"Me as well," Ronon added from behind them, then asked, "Want me to go check on McKay?"
Sheppard slowed to a stop, turning to look at him in order to answer in the affirmative.
Dorhan, ahead of them by a few steps, reached the infirmary doors, and looked in. Her face lit in a grateful smile at whatever she saw there.
She never saw it coming. None of them did.
Something audibly cracked, and the hallways exploded in movement, undulating like waves on the ocean. Screams echoed through the infirmary as the lights flickered, then exploded within the sconces. The whole moon came alive with noise, and nothing made sense. It was like the world was melting and exploding at the same time.
Sheppard's head turned towards the infirmary doors, almost in slow motion.
The lights flashed like lightning, and Dorhan's head turned, her eyes meeting his for a split second.
The girder came slamming down, directly on top of her head, nailing the woman into the ground like a hammer.
The screams got louder, and Sheppard recognized his own among them as he slipped into the wall and to the floor.
It felt like it went on forever, the shaking. On and on and on.....
Enceladus shouted, twisting and turning, hitting controls on the consoles.
McKay held on to the pillar behind, watching with wide eyes. He'd been watching almost this whole time, absorbing everything he could, despite the old man's almost constant vicious barbs against him.
The room shook like jelly, and Enceladus moved faster...but his actions had changed, his eyes filled with a crazed sort of desperation. He was attempting something new...
Suddenly, with total clarity, McKay understood it all...and he realized with horror Enceladus was doing.
"No!" he yelled, pushing away from the false stability of the pillar to stagger into the shaking console. He landed hard on the side of it, and stared at Enceladus, "You can't!"
"Get away!" the old man spat, "This isn't yours! It's mine!"
"You'll kill them! And trap us!"
"I don't care! Now, get back!"
"You don't understand!" But it wasn't a true statement—it was a whine. Enceladus shoved at McKay, to get to a specific crystal that McKay was trying to block.
"I won't let you," McKay shouted back, shoving hard at the old man. Enceladus fell backwards, collapsing into a heap on the trembling ground. Turning, McKay started keying in commands different from that of the old man. Working the crystals to stabilize the moon, even if only for a moment, just enough to get them all out of here.
He nearly had it under control, feeling the tremors subsiding, when pain exploded in the back of his skull.
Enceladus lowered his now bloodied cane, staring at the unconscious man on the ground. For a moment, he looked ashamed, and even worried. Then his eyes hardened and he got back to work. Climbing over the prone scientist, Enceladus undid McKay's work and inputted his own.
He had to save Asimbabbar. Nothing else mattered now.
"I'm sorry, Osheen," he whispered.
Caldwell stood up, stepping forward to look more closely at the moon in his viewscreen. Visible cracks were appearing in the surface, and a plume of what looked like ash had just flared out the side.
"What the hell is happening?" he demanded.
Novak's voice came over the comm, "Sir! The moon's disintegrating!"
"I can see that, Novak!" Caldwell hit his radio, "Recillos! Corporal! Come in! What's going on down there?"
"SIR!" Novak yelled, "Something's happening to the shield matrix! Hermiod—"
"We must move away from the moon," Hermiod's calm voice interjected. "Now."
"The moon's shield matrix is expanding. It's...oh dear."
The ship shook violently, and Caldwell looked up as he fell backwards, stumbling towards his chair.
"Hermiod! What's happening?"
"We are being drawn into the moon, Colonel," Hermiod replied, still absurdly calm. "The artificial gravity formed by the shield matrix expanded and is now contracting. In a moment, we will either crash into the moon's surface and be destroyed, or be ripped to pieces by tidal forces as the moon adjusts to its new orbit...and be destroyed."
"The moon has been released from its tidal lock. That has caused it to skip from its fixed orbit. It is now spinning out of control, but will presumably assume a new orbit soon...if it doesn't break apart first or crash into any other moons or the planet's asteroid rings. Which it probably will not, because releasing the tidal lock increased the power of the shield matrix, which appears to now be drawing power from the gravity its new motion has engendered. Unfortunately, we were not quick enough to get out of the way."
The ship shook more violently, and panels began to explode around the control room.
"Do something!" Caldwell yelled.
"I can not."
"It is out of our hands now, Colonel."
"Then we have to abandon ship! Start beaming people down to the planet!"
"I am afraid we can not do that either. The moon's shield matrix has essentially grabbed us and is now driving us into the moon's surface at a high rate of speed. I can not beam anything while the shield maintains that hold."
"Can we use the ring platform?"
"No. The shield is blocking that as well."
Caldwell's eyes widened, and he stared out the viewscreen as the visibly shivering moon grew larger in his sight.
"Options?" he called.
"Death by impact, or death by explosion."
"What? Those aren't options!"
"Then I don't have any." Hermiod said matter-of-factly. "We are all going to die in approximately eleven minutes."
Caldwell just shut his eyes. Oh God.
CHAPTER FIFTEEN: A MOMENTARY REPRIEVE
McKay blinked, still feeling the floor shaking under him. Blurrily, he looked up, to see Enceladus still busily attacking the consoles. His hand reached up to touch his head, and felt a little faint when he felt the wetness there, knowing it was blood.
Enceladus stepped over him, and he rolled over to watch the old man scurry cockroach-like to the other side of the room. Everything still tilted and swayed, but he was cognizant enough to see the screens...and the blip that was the Daedalus descending far too quickly towards the moon's surface.
Enceladus stopped moving suddenly, like he'd been shot, and he turned around to look down at McKay behind him, his eyes wide.
"No," he said, backing away as McKay got unsteadily to his feet. "You don't understand. I have to save the outpost!"
The Atlantian scientist fell against the console, but never let up his stare. Enceladus attempted a menacing look, but it fell away, revealing the scared old man he was. Turning, he scrambled for his cane, to use it as a weapon.
McKay shoved away from the console, staggering towards the other man.
Swinging the cane up, Enceladus held it in both hands like a baseball bat.
"You stay away!" the old man croaked nervously. "You stay away!"
McKay lunged, and, when Enceladus swung, simply trapped the cane mid-motion and ripped it out of his hand. Enceladus squeaked...and turned to run. McKay grabbed the back of his shirt, spun him around...and punched him square in the jaw.
The old man collapsed like a bundle of sticks.
Instantly, McKay was at the consoles, adjusting the shield matrix. He couldn't stop the moon's movement, but he could use the now stronger shield to act as net.
He turned his head, his hands moving almost instinctively, watching as the blip that was the Daedalus shone blue as he wove a bubble around it with the shield...and trapped it.
Meanwhile, the moon's shuddering stopped. The shield was holding steady once more because of Enceladus' work...but who knew for how long? There were simply too many variables--was it strong enough to survive, say, an impact with another moon, or even a big asteroid? Probably not. Worse, he'd just trapped the Daedalus within this spinning death trap with them. On top of that, he wasn't sure if he could undo the tangle Enceladus had made, and that he'd just worsened, to get them out of here.
Fact was, he might have just saved the Daedalus for the moment, but he might have doomed them both in the long run. And by "long"...he meant maybe an hour's worth of extra time.
Caldwell was standing straight and tall, facing the windows and the moon's grayish-pink surface that filled every inch of them...with his eyes closed.
Slowly, very slowly, he opened them.
"We've stopped," Hermiod informed them calmly over the comm..
Caldwell swallowed thickly, cleared his throat, and nodded shakily. "So, I see. You do that?"
"Oh." The landscape of the moon was really quite extraordinary, now that they were so close to it. Peaks and valleys, some old looking craters....At this distance, he could make it all out so clearly. Too clearly.
"What happened?" he asked, clearing his throat again. Around him, he could sense his crew slowly beginning to move around, released from the daze nearly dying had trapped them in.
"I do not know. But I do not think we are safe."
"Right now...," Caldwell said, turning to look around at his crew in the control room. They all stared back, and some of them smiled weakly. "I'm just glad we're not dead."
"Not yet," Hermiod replied darkly.
Pulling his hands away from the control panels, McKay raised a shaking hand to his pounding skull.
"McKay?" Sheppard's voice called over the radio suddenly. "McKay? You okay?"
"No," he breathed.
"McKay?" Sheppard repeated, more desperately this time. "McKay! Reply, damn it!"
Rodney realized he hadn't hit his radio to reply. Tapping it, he swallowed and looked up, blearily eyeing the screens around him.
"I'm here," he said weakly.
Sheppard gave a heavy breath of relief. "You hurt?"
McKay considered how to answer that, and looked up at the screens again. The Daedalus was still safe. The moon was still intact.
A momentary reprieve.
And now, because of his actions...none of them had a way out.
"Sheppard," he said softly, "I think...I may have just...killed us all."
CHAPTER SIXTEEN: SNAP AND REBOUND
"I think," McKay's voice was barely audible over the comm. link, "I may have just...killed us all."
Sheppard's jaw tensed, drawing his bleeding leg closer to himself, and looked up at Teyla and Ronon standing over him. Ronon was bleeding from where a hunk of metal had skewered his arm (and it was still in there), while Teyla's jaw was bruised as if someone had punched her.
"Just hang on," he stated firmly, meeting their worried eyes. "I'll be there in a minute."
"Okay," McKay replied gratefully, sounding very much like the lost little brother.
Levering himself up off the ground with Teyla's help, Sheppard looked around at the shambles of the hallway. Amazingly, none of his men were more than battered, though, from the looks of it, some of them weren't long for the conscious world. Nodding at them, and the handful of Dorhan's men also with them, he turned and made his way gingerly over the rubble that now marked Dorhan's tomb.
Sliding down the far side, he pretty much fell into the infirmary, finding it lit by mostly by flashlights and electric lamps. Beckett was standing close by the entrance, having obviously heard them coming, holding a bloody bandage to his head. Next to him, lying on the ground, a woman dressed like a nurse was unconscious.
"Are you all right?" Carson asked Sheppard, blue eyes checking the colonel from head to toe. The searching stopped when he saw the blood staining the side Sheppard's thigh, where the trousers had been shredded—it looked like something had clawed his leg. "Other than that, of course," he added with false humor.
"Bad scrape, bruises, nothing broken," Sheppard replied tiredly. "May not be true for the rest of the group though." He turned, limping to the left as the rest of his and Dorhan's men found their way inside. Beckett appraised each of them, and sent two of them to a couple of the beds. When he looked back at the colonel, Sheppard limped closer, his expression worried.
"And how are you?" Sheppard asked, glancing up at the bandage Beckett was using. "That bad?"
"It's not good," Beckett replied, sighing heavily. "I'm conscious by Scottish will only, I think."
"The strongest kind," Sheppard smirked, then looked down. "And her?" He was staring at the still out cold woman on the ground.
"Oh, her? Fainted. She saw what happened to Dorhan. So did I," Beckett gave a dazed shrug, "but I think I'm getting sort of used to it now." The numbness of his tone suggested otherwise, but, for right now, there wasn't much any of them could do. Beckett frowned, lowering the bandage to check the amount of blood, and revealing the ugly gash on his head. He blinked slowly, then raised his eyes again. "Colonel, can we leave now?"
Sheppard chuckled. "Lord, I hope so." He tapped his radio. "Corporal Recillos, you read?"
No one answered. He frowned, "Anyone in the ring room read?"
Again, silence answered him. Sheppard closed his eyes, then turned to look at Teyla.
She nodded back, not needing to be told what to do. In moments, she was climbing back out of the room to get to the ring room.
"Son," Carson had walked forward towards Ronon, "let's get your arm cleaned up. And colonel," the physician eyed him, "your leg—"
"I know. I'll put a bandage on it. First, I gotta go find Rodney."
"Is he hurt?"
"I don't know," Sheppard shook his head. "Look, start moving everyone who is left to the ring room. How many are there?"
"Oh," Carson turned around, and stumbled a little as his balance failed him. One of Dorhan's men caught him, for which the physician offered a thankful smile. Blinking, he turned to John, "Seven. Including Osheen. He was knocked unconscious in that last tremor. There were eleven but..." He trailed off, sniffed, and pressed the bandage back against his head.
"All right. Get them out of here. Teyla will meet you in the ring room. It's possible Corporal Recillos is hurt as well, so..."
Carson just nodded. Stepping away from Dorhan's man, he walked over to where some bandages were stacked on a cart. Grabbing one, he looked at it a moment...then tossed it at Sheppard.
"Put that round your leg. Now go."
Sheppard offered one more nod then, with another nod to Ronon, turned and climbed out of the infirmary.
The control room should have been the most fortified area of the outpost, but the rubble here was just as treacherous and insane as everywhere else. Lights flickered and sparked, hunks of metal hung haphazardly from the ceiling, wires trailed the ground. It was chaos.
Sheppard slid between a collapsed metal wall and an undamaged one, trying to avoid getting cut by the sharp edges, and found himself inside the main room. A few hunks of ceiling littered the ground, but otherwise it looked fairly intact. All the consoles still blinked, and the screens all still functioned.
McKay was sitting on the ground with his back to a support pillar, his head in his hands. Enceladus was out cold on the floor to his right.
"McKay?" the colonel limped forward, then knelt before his friend, favoring his good knee.
Rodney looked up, his expression lost. "Sheppard?"
"He, um," the scientist glanced at Enceladus, "he released the moon from its tidal lock. The moon's slipped its orbit—we're out of control."
"To save the outpost. There's a slim chance that the increased friction caused by the intensified gravitational forces could generate enough power to keep the moon's shields intact, if it can stabilize in a new orbit without hitting anything. But it's only a very slim chance. There's not enough power getting to the shields right now to withstand an impact with anything large..." He glanced at the screens, seeing in them more than just numbers and flashes of light. The colonel grimaced.
"Okay...still, sounds like he saved the moon. I mean, if it works...Felt like we were all going to die if you and he didn't do something quick."
McKay shook his head, grimacing a little as if in pain. "No, you don't understand. He didn't have to go to that extreme to save the people still here. We could have worked the shield matrix to keep the moon intact long enough to get the last group out. But it would have definitely meant the destruction of the outpost. Instead...he spun us out of control."
Sheppard frowned, "Yeah, but..."
"It means we're trapped, Colonel!" Rodney met his eyes sharply, desperately. "If we're not tidally locked, we can't connect to the rings on the planet. We're stuck."
The colonel frowned, looking away, then back again. He licked his lips, shaking his head. "No, we're not. There's the Daedalus. We'll just—"
Rodney snorted, "Oh, didn’t I mention? They're trapped too." And he pointed at one of the screens depicting the moon. A light with the Daedalus' call signal blinked away, enmeshed within a bubble of interlocking blue lines just seconds in distance from the surface. Sheppard stood up, stumbling a little as his hurt leg threatened to give way, and stared at the screen.
"How the hell...?"
"They got drawn into the shield matrix. They would have smashed into the surface if I hadn't trapped them in that blue net."
Sheppard turned to look at McKay with wide eyes.
"Actually," McKay said, smiling a little as he pushed himself to his feet as well, "the moon would have had a better chance if I hadn't diverted power to save the ship. Enceladus probably could have stabilized us into an orbit if I hadn't knocked him out...but it would have killed everyone on board the Daedalus." The scientist fell back into the pillar, one hand going up to rub at his throbbing neck, "but I stopped him." He chuckled a little hysterically, "I punched out a little old man. And now we're all trapped, and this moon is like the ball in a pinball machine—it's going to hit something...and soon. And we're all going to die." He pinched his eyes shut, "God, Colonel...I'm so sorry."
Sheppard just continued to stare at McKay. He had no idea how to respond to that—he'd rarely heard such defeat in McKay's voice. The scientist opened his eyes to look at him, then quickly lowered them. Sheppard frowned.
"This isn't your fault," he offered softly. McKay just closed his eyes again. The colonel's frown deepened. "No, hey...stop that."
The blue eyes opened, still staring at the floor. "I don't know what to do," McKay admitted, the lost little boy back again. "Maybe," he looked up at Sheppard, "you can help me wake Enceladus up? He might be able to fix what I've done..."
"Stop that!" Sheppard snapped, stepping closer to the other man. "This isn't your fault!"
"You don't know, I—"
"Stop!" Without warning, Sheppard slapped McKay upside the head, knocking him off the pillar he was leaning against. "Knock it off!"
"Ow!" the scientist winced, trying to regain his balance. "Christ! I've got a head wound here! That hurt!"
"What the hell is wrong with you!"
"You hit me! That's what's wrong with me!" The scientist took a step back, as if he were about to start running.
"Then fight back!" And Sheppard grabbed McKay's arm to stop him from backing up any further, holding it tight and squeezing.
"What? No! Ow! Let go!"
"Fight me, damn it!"
McKay grimaced, then snarled and wrenched his arm free. With the other, he punched the colonel in the sternum, sending the taller man back a few steps. Sheppard caught his balance on a console, then crossed his arms, glaring at the scientist, ignoring the pain thrumming up his breast-bone.
"That hurt!" McKay spat, rubbing his arm.
"Well, I don't want to die!" Sheppard snapped back.
"Neither do I!"
"Then get off your duff and figure something out!"
"There's nothing I can do!"
"I don't believe you!"
McKay frowned, "Well, I'm sorry, but I don't think you have a choice in the matter!"
"No! That's bullshit. You figure out a way to get us off this damn rock. Now!"
"Oh, sure!" Rodney waved his unhurt arm about, "Just figure it out, McKay! Save the day, McKay! Do the impossible! Well, I can't this time!"
"Yes, you can!"
"No, I can't! And shouting at me, even appealing to my well honed survival instincts, isn't going to change that! Nor is hitting me! It's not going to work this time, Sheppard! I can't get us off this rock!"
"That's crap! There's always a way. You just have to—"
"Why the hell not?!"
"Because it's impossible!"
"Nothing's impossible! You said that yourself. Come on, McKay, are you the smartest man it two galaxies or not?!"
And for the first time Sheppard could remember, McKay didn't answer that with a yes. In fact, he didn't answer at all. The scientist just grimaced and rocked back a step, looking almost...embarrassed.
And Sheppard finally figured out what was wrong.
"Oh," the colonel snorted, "so that's it."
Rodney looked down, then over to Enceladus, still lying on the ground.
"Look," McKay said, all the anger gone from his voice, "like I said, if we wake up Enceladus, and I apologize, he might be able to figure out—"
McKay glanced at Sheppard, "You don't get it. He's smarter than me, Colonel. He knows how to—"
McKay frowned, "It's not bullshit! He—"
"Nearly killed everyone on the Daedalus to save a rock. I don't want him involved."
"He's not smarter than you, McKay."
Rodney looked up in exasperation, then sighed. "I admit, I once thought that I—"
"How'd you save the Daedalus?"
"How'd you do it?"
"I punched an old man," Rodney's eyes narrowed. "Pretty sure even Zelenka could've taken him, Colonel. I wouldn't really call it my best moment."
"Okay," Sheppard arched an eyebrow, "not going to argue that. But then what did you do?"
McKay frowned. "You know what I did—I told you. I converted the contracting shield matrix into a sort of net, trapping—"
Sheppard held up a hand, "How did you do that, if you don't understand how any of this stuff works? If you don't understand Enceladus' work?"
Rodney blinked a few times, then frowned. "Well, I understand it now. I watched him. For a couple of hours. I mean, once I understood the basic concepts, it wasn't hard to—"
"So what you're saying is, in two hours, you've managed to learn, absorb, and master the work this man has probably spent years working on?"
McKay blinked, "Huh?"
"Two hours. Most folks can't even master their VCRs in two hours, McKay." The colonel leaned forward, "Do you get what I'm saying?"
The scientist just blinked some more. Christ, Sheppard thought, how can someone be so brilliant and so dumb at the same time?
Rolling his eyes, Sheppard grabbed McKay's arm again, dragging him in close.
"Now you listen to me, Rodney McKay. You're going to snap out of this right now. I don't care what he said to you to get you thinking like one of your lab rats back home, but you're going to put that huge brain back in gear and hit the gas. You get me?"
McKay just grimaced, still looking uncertain.
"Now!" Sheppard yelled right in his face, and McKay flinched backwards.
"Okay, okay," the scientist said, stepping back and pulling his arm free. "Fine. Just...stop breathing on me. I...I'll figure something out."
Sheppard arched an eyebrow, "You certain? I don't see the wheels turning yet."
McKay curled his top lip, "wheels?"
"You're an open book, McKay. I don't see anything sparking inside that head of yours yet."
"Yeah, well, well...," McKay threw up his hands, "give me a minute! I just...I have to think about it..."
"You're not thinking fast enough."
"I'm not a machine!"
"No, you're better. Make the connection. Figure it out."
"You're such a jerk."
"It's what I do. Now work!"
The scientist just exhaled heavily, staring at Sheppard. Then his pupils shifted, looking to the screens behind the colonel, their bright, flashing lights reflecting inside the black.
"Okay...," McKay's eyes danced across the screens, but nothing seemed to be catching. He frowned, still obviously unable to think clearly. Sheppard frowned, turning to look again at the Daedalus' position.
"All right, look," he said, gesturing towards the blip, "Can you at least find a way to put us in contact with Caldwell?"
"Can you get the radio working?"
"Did you forget the shield matrix, colonel? We can't get through it, remember? If the rings can't get through it, neither can a radio signal."
"Why would you have to get through it? Isn't the Daedalus is trapped inside the shield matrix? If they're inside it, can't you just," Sheppard waved his hands about, "work the harmonic frequencies or something?"
McKay snorted a laugh. "Harmonic frequencies? Please, that's...."
He froze, the mocking smile fading from his lips. The blue eyes started to move rapidly from side to side, no longer looking out, but looking in. Then they stopped, focused intently on the web-like part of the shield trapping the ship on the screen. Then he laughed, a short laugh of disbelief.
"You know," he said, turning to smile knowingly at Sheppard, "you really are a lot smarter than you look."
Sheppard was never so happy to be insulted in his life. "Oh thank God," he breathed, grinning to see the lightning again in those blue eyes, "There you are. About time, McKay. Now what's the plan?"
CHAPTER SEVENTEEN: WORKING WITHIN THE SYSTEM
"The plan? Just like you said..." Rodney moved to one of the control panels in the wall, opening it to reveal a mess of crystals inside. "First, get in touch with Caldwell." He put the panel cover on the wall, and started removing crystals. "Second, connect the Daedalus' ring platform with ours."
"So you can do that?" Sheppard asked.
"Of course," McKay rocked back a step and opened another panel, "As you pointed out, they're inside the matrix, or at least, within it. I had sort of, uh," he waved a hand about, "forgotten about that. But connecting the rings is going to be the easy part." He looked over his shoulder at the colonel. "Freeing the ship from the shield matrix once we're on board? That's the killer. Hopefully not literally." He gave a tight smile, then dove into the control panel with vigor.
Pursing his lips, Sheppard watched him for a moment, allowing himself to take heart in the other man's new found confidence—using it to bolster his own. It was, after all, something of a two-way street with them. Smiling wryly, he turned and walked away a few steps towards one of the exits, reaching up to tap his radio. He stopped halfway there, and pivoted on his foot.
He simply stared at the empty floor by the far console for a moment before it registered.
Enceladus was gone. He glanced at Rodney again, to see if the scientist had noticed, but McKay was probably not even aware that Sheppard was there anymore. Sighing, he walked the rest of the way to the exit, peering through the mess in the hallway to see if he could spot the old man. Nothing.
Reaching up, he tapped his radio and walked over to look out the exit closest to where the man had been.
"Teyla? You reading me?"
"What's the story?" Sheppard looked around the corner that marked the exit. No old man. He grimaced.
"Corporal Recillos is alive, but not well," Teyla replied. "She took a bad blow to the head and is not very cognizant. Doctor Beckett told me to put pressure on it while I wait for him to arrive."
"He's not there yet?"
"No. There has been some problem coordinating the evacuation of some of the more delicate patients over the rubble. They are moving as fast as they can. And Doctor Beckett himself is a little hampered by his own injury. He...uh.," she paused, as if carefully considering her words.
"...is in a foul mood," Ronon finished for her.
"Heh," Sheppard smiled, glancing up at Rodney still deep inside his machinery before moving to the second exit, "Gotcha. So, how long?"
"I do not know." Teyla answered. "He—"
"Is moving as quickly as he can!" Beckett suddenly snapped furiously over the radio, obviously listening in—probably when he heard his name mentioned. "This is not the bloody grand prix, Colonel! I can't move these people fast, and these hallways are about as navigable as the M25 at rush hour! I'm doing the best I can, under circumstances no sensible doctor in his right mind would--"
"Okay, okay, Carson," Sheppard interrupted, eyes widening a little as he glanced at Rodney. The scientist was smiling slightly as he fiddled with a console, obviously enjoying Carson's bitching. He had to admit, it was oddly comforting. "Calm down, we—"
"Don't you bloody well tell me to calm down, Colonel. You just tell McKay to get us out of here."
"He can hear you, Doc."
"Oh, I know. Right bastard. Did you know he told Caldwell to push me into the rings to get me here? I am now not speaking to him ever again. Done. You hear that, Rodney?"
"You just spoke to me," Rodney said, tilting his head as he peered into the innards of the control panel.
"Ach! Well never again! You're out of my good books! Out! You hear me? Not another word!"
"But he's hurt, Carson," Sheppard supplied, frowning when the second exit way showed no sign of any sneaky little old men. "Got a nasty crack on his skull."
"What?" The tone changed completely, "Rodney? You okay? I thought—"
"You just spoke to me again," Rodney said, pulling out a crystal and inspecting it curiously.
"Oh, that's it, ya tosser!" Beckett barked. "He's well enough for doing that, he's well enough to get us home. And if he doesn't, you tell him I'm going to torment him for the rest of eternity!" And the radio clicked as Carson deliberately turned his radio off.
"Okay, then," Sheppard smiled, moving to the third and last exit. "Teyla, back to you. How long do you think it'll take Carson to get the rest of his patients to you?"
"Well, there are about ten people here with me already, including Ronon....who does not look well either."
"I'm fine," Ronon cut in, slurring a little. Sheppard smirked, but the expression turned sour as, again, there was no sign of the old man inside the third exit way either. Enceladus was gone.
Teyla sighed a little, then continued, "But I believe there are still about seven more to come. Colonel there is another problem. The ring platform is not working. There is power, but--"
"Yeah, I know about that. Rodney's going to fix it. Sit tight and tell Beckett to move faster."
Sheppard turned around, to find McKay up to his elbows inside a portion of the wall. The scientist was wincing, obviously having some difficulty.
"Need a hand?"
"No, no," McKay ground out, "I've got it." He gritted his teeth...and yanked. "There!" he said, pulling out what was clearly a half melted crystal. Dropping it to the ground, he patted his sides and looked around. "Now..." he muttered, stopping when his eyes lit upon a different panel. In seconds, he was reaching into the guts of that one as well. Sheppard just watched, trying not to seem impressed even though he always was. Far as he could tell, none of the Ancient structures they visited were that similar, and yet McKay always seemed to know where everything was. He didn't know where everything was in his own room. Hell, the number of times he'd misplaced his earpiece alone....
McKay had already bounded back to the first panel and was inserting the non-melted crystal he'd pulled into it.
"That going to get me radio?"
"Yeah, and more, if we're lucky," McKay replied.
"Okay. I'm going to head up to the ring room to—"
"You don't need to. This is subspace communications. You'll be able to talk to him from here."
Sheppard lifted his eyebrows, "Subspace communications?"
"Yup," McKay frowned slightly as he fiddled, obviously having a little trouble with the fit. "Strange thing. The shield was never designed to block out Ancient sensors or transmissions, and yet...Enceladus seems to have deliberately made blocking out Ancient transmission part of the matrix. Why would he do that? It's not like anyone other than someone coming from Atlantis could...." he trailed off, because he had turned his head and was now looking at the blank piece of floor where the old man had been lying. "Oh."
Sheppard was sort of central to the room now, standing before the main console. He gave McKay a shrug when the scientist looked worriedly at him.
"He's gone?" Rodney asked.
McKay looked around a bit, then gave a short, unconvincing laugh. "Sneaky little bastard."
"Yeah. Can you stop him from getting into the works of this station from a different location?" Sheppard asked. "Just in case..." he added.
"Yeah, yeah," McKay moved over and did something to one of the side consoles. A second later, a bunch of green lights disappeared off one of the screens depicting the outpost. He nodded, "That should do it."
"Near as I can be."
McKay seemed stalled, still staring down at the console before him.
Sheppard tilted his head, "McKay?"
The scientist didn't reply.
"Rodney," Sheppard called again, stepping more into McKay's line of sight.
The scientist frowned, and looked sideways at the colonel.
Sheppard lifted his eyebrows, "The radio?"
"Oh, right," McKay turned around and headed back to the first control panel. He stared at it a moment, then reached in to pull another crystal. After a moment, he started talking again, slipping into his usual babble tone. "Did I mention that Enceladus hit me on the back of my head with his cane?" he asked, almost conversationally as he started swapped some crystals around. "Actually knocked me out for a minute." He gave a weak, nervous laugh. "Who knew the old man had it in him."
Sheppard gave a small smile, "yeah, well, he probably wasn't be the first person to want to do that to you."
McKay gave a tiny, wry smile, but didn't look up to reply. Sheppard's smile fell, and he turned to look once more towards the exit.
"You could always check your life signs detector," McKay suggested, not looking away from the panel.
Sheppard gave him a look, but pulled out the scanner in his pocket. McKay and himself, that was it. He expanded the search area, but it just showed more empty halls. Finally, it started showing blips—and he recognized that he'd somehow reached the people in the ring room. There were about twelve life signs there now.
Sighing, he put it away and looked back to McKay. And waited.
"All right," Caldwell said, pacing the small space
before Hermiod's station in the science room on the Daedalus, "so what
you're telling me is, despite being the smartest person on this damned boat,
despite having access to the most advanced technology in existence, despite
being...you..." the colonel waved a hand at the unimpressed looking
Asgard, "you can't break us out of this damned shield?"
Hermiod sighed, "You do realize that I have now answered that same question in the negative twelve times, Colonel? The answer is not going to change simply because you rephrase it."
Caldwell threw up his hands, "But there has to be something!"
"There is not."
"You know," the tall man spun around, slapping his hands on top of the large console in front of Hermiod, "if McKay were here—"
"He'd be stuck as well."
"—He'd find a way around this mess!" Caldwell finished, leaning forward over the panel to glare at the little gray man.
"I sincerely doubt that. Doctor McKay is brilliant...for a human...but he is not omnipotent." The Asgard sniffed, and looked down again at his monitors.
"Well, I'll give you ten to one odds that he's the reason we're not dead right now."
Hermiod gave an imperceptible shrug, large eyes hooding slightly in a sneer, "Perhaps. Although, from what I've been able to discern, this shield matrix is far advanced, even by Asgard standards. I doubt Doctor McKay could have mastered—"
"Colonel Caldwell," an excited sounding voice cut in over the comm. from the bridge, "we're receiving a subspace radio transmission from the outpost. It's Colonel Sheppard!"
Caldwell immediately straightened, "Thank God. Put him through!"
"Colonel? This is Sheppard. Do you read?"
"Sheppard! It's good to hear your voice!"
"It's great to hear yours too, sir. How are you doing up there?"
"Well, as you probably know, we're sort of stuck. Still, it's better than dead."
"Yeah, well, you've Rodney to thank for that one. He manipulated the shield to catch you."
Caldwell grinned and arched an eyebrow at Hermiod. The Asgard just muttered something under his breath and shook his head, looking down at his console.
"We had a feeling it might be the good Doctor's work," Caldwell replied smugly. "Tell him thanks."
"He's right here, actually."
"Hey," McKay's voice called over the comm.. "And you're welcome."
"Doctor," Caldwell greeted back. He leaned against a different console, "Tell me, what exactly just happened?"
Sheppard answered before McKay. "One of the locals tried to save the moon, sir, at the expense of the people still inside it and, unfortunately for you, the Daedalus. In some ways, though, it might've been a godsend, because, otherwise, we would have been completely cut off from you."
"I'm not sure how much a godsend it was, considering that, according to Hermiod, we're as stuck as you are. He also tells me the moon skipped its orbit, and we're sort of on a crash course with some rather frightening things. Like other moons."
"Actually, Colonel," McKay cut in, "That's why we're calling. I'd like to talk to Hermiod about the shield. I'm going to need his help to break through it."
Caldwell's eyebrows lifted, and he glanced at the Asgard again, "You can do that?"
"I'm sending you the schematics of the matrix now. It'll be a bit like peeling back the layers of onion until we get to where the Daedalus is and free it. From the looks of it, you got very close to the surface before I stopped you."
"I'd say so," Caldwell agreed, "the only thing visible out the viewscreen on the bridge is your damned moon's surface. Can't even see the horizon—just that barren, cold, grey everywhere you look. According to Hermiod, we're only about ten thousand feet from the surface. You cut it very close, Doctor."
"I'll try to do better next time. Say, five thousand feet? You know, so you can really see the striations in the surface," McKay snarked. Caldwell gave a wry smile, and glanced at Hermiod when McKay added, "Did you get the information?"
"Yes, Doctor McKay," Hermiod answered, "I'm adding it to the ship's database now." He gave a head tilt as the information scrolled past on his screen, "It's actually...quite extraordinary. This is an Ancient creation?"
"Really?" the Asgard sounded impressed. "I did not know your people had this sort of advanced work in you."
"Well, gee," McKay deadpanned, his sneer obvious even over the comm., "how generous of you."
"If this person is still alive, you should consider asking him to join you. He could certainly teach—"
"Okay, that's enough," Sheppard cut in rudely. "The guy who did this nearly turned you into a bug on a windshield, Hermiod. I wouldn't praise him too much."
"Oh," Hermiod sounded disappointed. He gave another imperceptible shrug then started clicking away at the keys on his station, studying and reworking the information Rodney had sent.
Caldwell frowned. "Wait, you're saying that it was Osheen's scientist...what was his name?"
"Freaky old man," Sheppard replied. Caldwell gave a half smile, and shrugged.
"Okay...So, freaky old man is the one who nearly destroyed my ship?"
"And is freaky old man still alive?" Caldwell asked in a dangerous voice, clearly hoping for a negative answer.
"Unfortunately, sir, yes... but he's currently missing."
"You're looking for him, I hope?"
"Actually, sir, we're a little short-handed, very bruised and a lot busy. He's not in the immediate area, and we hope he stays that way. Rodney's cut the power to all of the outpost except the control room and the ring room, so we're fairly confident that freaky old man won't be able to kill us all anytime soon."
"Okay, if you say so."
"However, we're also not averse to leaving him behind when we get out of here ."
Caldwell gave a dark chuckle, then shook his head. "Can't say I blame you, Colonel. In fact, if it weren't for the potential value of his work for Earth and Atlantis, I'd agree."
"Yes, well, maybe he'll show up when it's time to leave. Speaking of which, Rodney tells me we can use the ring platform to connect to the Daedalus now. We have about two groups of people to send up. The first group will contain the last of Beckett's patients, as well as the good doctor himself. The second will contain a very stubborn Osheen, Teyla, Rodney, Johnson, Tanner, a couple of Osheen's men, and myself...and the freaky old man, if he shows up."
"Sounds good to me, Colonel. Whenever you're ready—I'll have people there to meet you. I might even be there myself when you arrive."
"Good of you, sir," Sheppard sounded amused.
"Doctor McKay," Hermiod's voice interrupted. There was a hint of concern to the Asgard's voice, and Caldwell's amusement disappeared instantly. Hermiod showing any sort of concern usually meant that everything had just gone to hell in a hand-basket.
"Yes?" McKay answered.
"You stated that, releasing us from the shield matrix would be like peeling away the layers from an onion, but it is clearly more complicated than that."
"Because, if I am reading these formulae correctly," Hermiod continued as if the other man hadn't spoken, "as you release each piece of the matrix, it will increase the stress on the rest of the strands holding both us and the moon together. It will not only result in massive instability within the moon, but could potentially rip this ship apart if we do not move quickly enough to avoid the greatest pockets of strain."
"So," Hermiod's brow furrowed, "you are aware of this?"
"Of course, why do you think I need your help? We'll have to simultaneously direct the ship the entire time we're breaking down the shield, keeping it within the most stable portions of the framework. With any luck, it'll be enough to keep the ship together."
Hermiod's brow lifted, "Then I take it I also don't need to point out that, once the shield matrix is fully released, the moon itself will probably suffer a cataclysmic event of a planetary magnitude—probably even ripping apart itself?"
"Again, yes. The Daedalus will just have to book it out of there and get to a safe distance as soon as it can."
"And," Hermiod actually seemed to frown, "I assume you also realize that the actual work of releasing the shield can not be done from this ship? It has to be done from the control room within the outpost?"
"What?" That was Sheppard.
"No, that's not the case," McKay said firmly.
"Yes," Hermiod argued, "it is. You know we don't have the necessary equipment or ability to control all the pieces from here. At best, I can work and feed you equations, but—"
"I have a way around that problem," McKay insisted.
"May I ask what it is?"
"I'm still working on the logistics. Let's just say that it will not delay the transportation of the people to the ship, or the freeing of the Daedalus."
Hermiod didn't answer for a moment. Then, slowly, he nodded, "I see."
"I don't," Sheppard said, and there was a clear doubt in his voice.
"Don't worry about it, Colonel," McKay replied. "I'll get it done."
"And I'm sure it will," Caldwell stated. "Now, however, I suggest you let Doctor McKay and Hermiod work, Colonel Sheppard. Your time might be better spent coordinating the remaining evacuation and, perhaps, locating the old man?"
"Freaky old man," Sheppard corrected.
"Yes," Caldwell smiled, "Freaky old man. See you soon, Colonel."
"Yes, sir. Sheppard out." And the transmission cut.
Caldwell sighed and glanced at Hermiod. "So, you think you'll be able to—"
"As you suggested, Colonel Caldwell," the Asgard replied, not looking up, "perhaps it is best you let me work?" The large black eyes looked meaningfully at the tall man, and Caldwell responded by lifting his hands up, turning, and walking away...to head back to the bridge.
CHAPTER EIGHTEEN: CALM BEFORE THE STORM
Beckett gave a small, nervous wave as he, a semi-conscious Ronon, a badly concussed Corporal Recillos, and about fifteen others disappeared in a flash of light within the rings. Sheppard thought about waving back, but, by the time he decided to follow through with it...they were already gone. Instead, he used his raised hand to tap his radio, contacting Rodney back in the control room with Corporal Johnson.
"Did it work?"
"Yes," Rodney replied. "They're safely aboard the Daedalus. Wait, hang on...there. You can now contact the Caldwell on your radio and ask him yourself."
"Oh, okay." Sheppard tapped his radio again. "Daedalus, you read?"
"We're here, Colonel," Caldwell replied.
"Beckett, Ronon and the others get there okay?"
"Of course. What's the timing on the rest of you and getting us out of this mess?"
"I'm not sure. I'll ask—"
"You know, this isn't easy," Rodney cut in, his annoyance clear over the transmission. "I'd like to see you undo thousands of years of shield matrix adjustments in less than an hour."
"I only ask, Doctor," Caldwell replied patiently, "because, according to Novak...the moon's velocity has accelerated."
"What does that mean?" Sheppard asked.
"It means something larger than us is pulling us in with its gravitational pull," Rodney replied, the annoyance replaced by concern. "What is it?"
"A larger moon. In fact, it's a pretty big moon. Our moon suddenly looks like an overgrown asteroid."
"Fantastic," Rodney replied. "How long?"
"According to Novak, about ninety minutes."
"Damn it. Okay, leave me alone, all of you. Not another word, unless it's the two minute mark." And Rodney's transmission cut off.
Sheppard grimaced, looking at the handful of people still with him in the ring room. A barely conscious Osheen was leaning against Teyla, his head on her shoulder (which she clearly didn't mind, judging by the way she was unabashedly stroking his hair). Two of Osheen's men still with them watched over their leader from the other side of the room, showing Osheen the same level of trust and devotion that most of the population of Atlantis offered Elizabeth. Of course, Sheppard had told Osheen that he and his men could leave with Sergeant Tanner—resulting in only himself, Teyla and Corporal Johnson to watch over McKay, but Osheen had refused. His argument being, he'd rather die here than on a strange ship, because, after all, if McKay failed, they were all dead anyway.
Made sense to Sheppard.
"Okay," he said finally, standing. "I'm going to go spur on Rodney and I'll send Johnson back here to hang with you folks. If Enceladus shows up, call me immediately."
Teyla and Tanner nodded, and their eyes tracked the colonel as he left. Osheen's closed at the name of the old man, the sadness clear on his face.
The halls were eerily quiet now—dark, cold and completely silent. Sheppard grimaced a little, rubbing the top of his thigh above the bandage as he limped back to the control room, skirting debris everywhere. He was more bothered by the atmosphere than the soreness of his leg at this point. Whatever fixit Enceladus had done, it had stopped the tremors, but the result was total creepiness. It felt a little like he was walking through a tomb. Which, in a way, he supposed, it was. They were leaving a good number of bodies behind.
And knowing that the "freaky old man" was out there somewhere wasn't helping.
Sheppard didn't understand Enceladus. From what Osheen had told him, the old man had found a place amongst his people. Why turn his back on them in their greatest hour of need, just to save this outpost? What was so important about it that it was worth the lives of hundreds of people?
To Sheppard's mind, no object, no matter how filled with knowledge or wealth, was ever worth that.
He just hoped Enceladus was far, far away from here.
The old man leaned against the inside of the shadowed doorway, listening to Sheppard's uneven footsteps as they faded into the distance, a dark frown on his face.
That man didn't understand. Why would he? This wasn't his home, now, was it? Wasn't his life, his legacy, his...his only reason for existing.
Reaching up, he touched a trembling hand to his aching, aged face, the swelling around the eye very pronounced now. His breathing, he knew, was too shallow and his heart rate too quick. All these years of trying to stay alive, to keep the outpost intact, to protect his work...
Was it all for nothing?
Enceladus looked down, staring at his withered hands in the half-light, then slid to the floor to sit, burying his aching head inside them.
Unbidden, the faces of Osheen's people who had taken him in and made him one of their own flashed across his mind. He still felt Osheen himself here on the station—and his heart filled his throat. The young man had become as important as family to him. They all had.
He closed his eyes, and a single tear tracked down the bruised side of his face.
His whole existence had been about preserving this place and his work....
But in light of what that brat McKay had done, saving the his people's ship, and what the boy was doing now to save the rest, and what it would cost...why did everything Enceladus had lived for all these years suddenly seem so....
"Insignificant," he whispered softly.
No, worse. It was vain.
Was that right? Had he made a mistake? Had he done it again?
Tipping his head back, liquid filled eyes stared up at the darkened ceiling above.
"When did I go so wrong?"
McKay was lying on his back under one of the consoles, working the guts of wires and crystals hidden inside. His objective was to cut out or bypass all the failsafes and potential pauses that could hinder the release of the shield matrix, and to get as much speed out of the controls as possible.
Because he’d need it. The whole thing was going to hinge on how fast he could do this.
Pulling out his hands, which were cramping up slightly, he put down his tools and rubbed his hands together, warming them up. Footsteps nearby had him glancing up as Corporal Johnson’s feet moved past his head, the large black marine pacing the room and keeping an eye on the exits. For a second, McKay just watched him move, then returned to his work, hands once more inside the console, manipulating the wires.
“You’re wearing glasses,” he said, cutting another wire.
Johnson paused, clearly a little bewildered by the total non-sequitor, and looked down at the scientist. “What?”
“Glasses. I’ve noticed you wearing them,” he stripped another wire and connected it to the first. “I thought marines were supposed to have perfect eyesight?”
“Oh,” he could hear the shrug in Johnson’s voice, “Yeah. Well, I used to. Gone sort of wonky lately though—age, I guess. Doctor Jewell checked my eyes, said I needed glasses, and told me one of the other docs on Atlantis had the same prescription and suggested I borrow one of his spares. So, I did. Done me a world of good. I thought I’d have to go home, but these work fine.”
“Really? Wait…silver rims…Doctor Vogel?”
“Huh.” McKay pushed the wires he’d been working on aside and moved to the next set. “What’d you give him in return?”
“Oh, come on. Vogel’s mercenary about his stuff. What’d you’d give him?”
Johnson snorted, then shrugged, “A box of my mom’s brownies next time she sends ‘em.”
Rodney chuckled, “Now that makes sense.” He leant his head back to look up at the large man, “But, still, glasses...don’t they get in the way? I mean, with all the, you know, beating up bad guys and stuff?” As he spoke, he pulled out a crystal from one location and stuck it up inside another.
“’Cause you could consider contacts,” Rodney said, moving on to the last set of wires he needed to rework.
“There aren’t many Lenscrafters in the Pegasus Galaxy, sir.”
“Sure, but couldn’t Doctor Jewell…is that what Beckett's eye guy is called? Funny name.... Couldn’t he order you a set for the Daedalus to bring or something? After all, what if someone comes at you from the side? Or, more importantly, comes at me while you're standing sideways? Wouldn’t contacts be better?”
"I see fine, sir. And Doctor Jewell is a 'she.'"
“Oh, right. Speaking of which, you’d probably get more girls, too.”
“I get plenty of girls, sir.”
“Sure, but you could get more,” Rodney said, fiddling with a particularly stubborn crystal. “And isn’t that always the goal?”
“Should you be talking, sir? Don’t you need to concentrate?”
McKay snorted, smiling as he wrestled with another crystal. “Sounds like someone’s a little sensitive.”
“I’m not sensitive,” Johnson replied quickly.
McKay smiled some more, “Sure you’re not.”
Johnson gave a wry smile, then walked over to squat next to McKay’s head, “I’m just saying, maybe you should pay more attention to what you’re doing so we can get out of here? You know, before we all die?”
McKay rolled his eyes a little, sighed, and grabbed one more crystal in the underside of the console, yanking it out. “I am paying attention. I just have the ability to pay attention to more than one thing at a time.” He slotted the crystal in another place and made a show of wiping his hands. “It’s part of my charm.”
“Sure, sir, sure.” Johnson stood back up, and resumed his pacing. “Just…” and his voice softened slightly as he looked down one of the corridors, “I don’t like it here, sir.”
McKay frowned, but didn’t reply immediately. Instead, he closed up the bottom of the console and slid out from under it. Sitting up, he looked over at the other man, his expression serious.
“Corporal,” he called quietly, “You don’t have to worry. I’ll get you out of here, I promise.”
“I know, sir,” Johnson replied, not looking at him but moving to check the next exit. “I know you will. You always do.”
McKay looked down, smiling a little sadly at that, then moved to stand up, using the console he’d been working on for balance. Looking around, he realized he really only had to do one more thing now. He wondered how Hermiod was doing with the algorithms. Grimacing a little, he walked over to one of the control panels in the wall and opened it.
For a few moment, neither man spoke. Then…
“Corporal?” McKay pulled out a crystal, inspecting it for cracks. He needed these to be perfect.
“You have a first name?”
McKay inspected a second crystal, waiting for more, then glanced over his shoulder at the other man when he didn’t expand on the statement.
“What is it?”
“Does it really matter, sir? No one calls me by my first name.” He actually sounded a little uncomfortable.
“Oh, come on,” Rodney said, replacing the crystal and pulling another, “Can’t be as bad as Rodney.”
“Rodney’s a good name,” the corporal huffed.
“Are you kidding? You try growing up with a name that can be shortened to ‘Rod,’ and see how many infantile jokes you can handle before you start cracking heads.”
“You cracked heads, sir?” Johnson didn’t hide his amusement.
“Well, no…but I thought about it. Pretty often.” McKay snorted. He pulled the second to last crystal, and found his hands were shaking slightly. Willing them to stop, he checked the fine surface for imperfections. “So what’s your name?”
“His name is Ferris,” Sheppard announced happily, sliding in under the rubble partially blocking the main room and smiling at the two men. Johnson had seen him coming and was standing attention. “Corporal Ferris Johnson.” Sheppard gave him a nod, and Johnson stood at ease.
“Like Bueller?” McKay said, turning to look at them. “Hey, Sheppard.”
“Rodney,” the colonel greeted back. “And, no,” Sheppard grinned, “more like the wheel.”
“I go for a cult classic, he goes for an amusement park ride. Of course.” Rodney turned and arched an eyebrow at Johnson, “What’s wrong with Ferris? It’s a good name.”
“Lots of ‘Save Ferris’ jokes in school, sir. I was a pretty fat kid. Folks would leave me things like packets of rice cakes with ‘Save Ferris’ written on it. Kinda pissed me off. That, and growing up on Staten Island—for a while I was known as the 'Fat Island Ferry.'”
Rodney winced as he examined the crystal in his hands, "Ouch."
"Yeah, that's what they said," Johnson smirked, shifting his considerably muscled shoulders, "after I grew big enough."
Sheppard chuckled, “I can imagine.”
“By the way, sirs, it’s not spelled Ferris like Bueller...or the wheel.”
“Oh,” Sheppard actually looked embarrassed, “whoops. How’s it spelled?”
“Now that’s a great name,” Rodney commended, pulling the last crystal. Not a scratch on it. “Your folks were cool.”
Johnson grinned, “Thanks, sir. I’ll tell ‘em you said so.”
“You do that,” Rodney slid the last crystal back into the panel, and closed it.
“Ferrous…is that iron?” Sheppard said, glancing at Rodney.
“Yes, sir,” Johnson replied, still proud from the scientist’s commendation.
“I’m done here,” Rodney said abruptly, stepping away, frowning a little. “We can go now.”
Sheppard's eyebrows shot up. “What, really? You're kidding! Best news I’ve heard all day. And will you look at that, " Sheppard glanced at his watch, "it's not even the last minute, not even close. Will wonders never cease!” He looked up to smile at Rodney...only to frown when he realized McKay wasn’t smiling or meeting his eyes. “Wait, what's the matter? I thought you said we could go?”
“What?” Rodney glanced at him. "I did say we could go."
“Then what’s the matter?”
“Oh, um,” McKay frowned, “just thinking about Enceladus. I’m worried he might try to stop us. You sure you never found him?”
Sheppard stared at Rodney, and the scientist shifted uncomfortably. The colonel could obviously tell he was lying, but, with any luck, he wouldn’t know why until it was too late.
“No,” Sheppard answered slowly. “We never found him. Can he screw up what you’ve done up?”
“Only pretty sure?” Sheppard grimaced, and looked around, “Maybe we should seal off this room, so he can’t get inside. Set some explosions in the doorways….”
“No, no,” McKay said quickly, “That…that’s not necessary. And it might damage the delicate work I did.” The scientist grimaced, then looked away again, pretending to be interested in the screens. “Let’s just go.”
Sheppard watched him for another minute, then, finally, shrugged. “Okay. Johnson,” he turned to the Corporal, “lead the way?”
“Yes, sir.” And the large man slipped under the rubble in the doorway. Rodney paused a moment longer, still watching the screens, then turned and followed. Sheppard, frowning deeply now, took up the rear and called Teyla to let her know they were on their way.
CHAPTER NINETEEN: YOU CAN'T SAVE EVERYONE
Teyla was arguing softly with Osheen when Sheppard, McKay and Johnson reached the ring room, obviously trying to get the leader to move inside the ring platform. Osheen was standing—leaning against one wall—glaring down at the smaller woman, a stubborn jut to his chin. His two men stood just behind him—looking ready to catch him if necessary.
"What's going on?" Sheppard asked, stopping just outside the rings. Johnson moved to join Tanner, already standing inside the platform, while Rodney moved over to the console to program it.
"Osheen does not wish to leave without Enceladus," Telya explained, sighing. "I can not convince him otherwise."
"I won't leave him behind to die," Osheen said, pushing himself more upright, though he looked like he was going to topple over any second. "I can't. We have to find him."
Sheppard shook his head, "Osheen, we already did try to find him. He doesn't want to be found."
"Then we force him out somehow, make him come. I don't care what he's done. He—"
"I know," Sheppard said, stepping forward, "Believe me, I understand, but there's no time anymore." He tilted his head towards where Rodney was standing by the console. "Soon as Rodney sets the delay, we're all getting out of here and we're not coming back. I'm sorry, Osheen, but it's him or everyone else, and I won't risk the Daedalus for someone who seems intent to die here."
Osheen grimaced, but didn't disagree immediately. His eyes were dark and sad, searching the colonel's face. Then, slowly, they fell to the ground as if in resignation...and he slumped, eyes closing as he blacked out. His men caught him, gave Sheppard a nod, and pulled their leader inside the rings. Teyla followed, glancing sadly at the colonel as she did so.
Sheppard frowned. Fact was, he wasn't happy with leaving the old man behind either, despite his earlier joking with Caldwell. He just didn't like leaving anyone behind—even someone like Enceladus. It was against his nature to do so—he wanted to save everyone.
And suddenly he understood.
He knew what Rodney was lying about.
Straightening abruptly, he swung around to stare hard at the man standing at the console. Rodney, in turn, had been watching him, looking like he was waiting for something.
The scientist had a habit of ducking his head when he knew he had been caught in something, and he did it now, looking quickly away.
"You're not coming," Sheppard stated matter-of-factly.
McKay still didn't look at him. The people standing inside the ring frowned, and Teyla made a move as if to step out of it again.
"No," Rodney said, holding up a hand at her. "Don't. Stay in there."
Sheppard frowned, crossing his arms, "McKay?"
The scientist winced at his tone. "Step inside the rings, Colonel."
"No. You're coming too. Set the delay and get over here."
"I can't." McKay grimaced and looked up, finally meeting Sheppard's eyes. "The shield matrix can't be released from the ship, Colonel."
"What? But you said—"
"Hermiod was right. The Daedalus can't do it. It doesn't have the equipment or the means. It has to be done from here. From the Control Room. There's no other way around it."
Sheppard stared at him, not saying anything for a moment. Then his eyes hardened.
"Because I...," McKay shrugged. "I didn't want," he waved his left hand about a bit, "this to happen."
"You. Trying to save me. Just like Osheen tried to save Enceladus." Blue eyes challenged hazel. "I didn't want you to...to feel like you had to make a decision."
Sheppard's eyes narrowed, but the hardness in them faded a little.
"Especially when," McKay swallowed, "there really isn't a choice."
"There's no time, Colonel. Get in there with the others. I'll get you all out of this, just like I said I would." He smiled softly, "And then you can all drink a toast to my memory when you get home."
Sheppard swallowed, his anger fading completely. "Rodney, no, there's got to be a way we can..."
"Not this time."
"Colonel?" Caldwell suddenly called over the radio, "What's taking so long? I thought you said you were ready to come aboard. What's going on?"
Sheppard stared at McKay a moment longer, then turned, hitting his radio, "Teyla and the others are on their way up, Colonel. McKay and I—"
"No!" Rodney shouted, angry all of a sudden, taking a couple of steps towards Sheppard. "You too! Get in there."
Sheppard ignored him, still talking into his radio, "McKay and I will try to—"
"You're not helping!" McKay moved to stand in front of the colonel, "You can't help me! And I won't have you die down here with me!"
Sheppard stared at him, frowning. He looked away, reaching up to tap his radio again when Caldwell asked him to "say again."
That was when McKay took a swing at him. Sheppard dodged easily, grabbing the fist and twisting it behind McKay's back, turning the scientist around as he did so.
"Ow!" Rodney squealed. "Ow! Ow! Ow! Leggo!"
Sheppard did, and McKay jumped away, pulling his right arm around and rubbing at it. His face was pinched, eyes watering slightly.
"Colonel?" Caldwell's impatient voice demanded over the radio.
"Did you just try to sucker punch me?" Sheppard asked McKay, as if it hadn't been obvious.
"Yes!" McKay snapped back. "To get you inside that ring with the others! Don't you get it, Colonel? You can't save me! But you can save them! And everyone else. Atlantis needs you. It can't afford to lose both of us. You have to get inside those rings, and go up to the Daedalus." McKay was pointing wildly now, from the rings to the ship they couldn't see above them, his arm shaking. "And you have to go now!"
Sheppard still didn't move. He just stared, his eyes wide and incredibly soft.
"Please," McKay begged, his voice breaking slightly. "Get inside the rings."
"You...can't...save me," McKay pressed, his voice fading to barely a whisper. "Just...just go. Please."
Perhaps it was how softly he said it, or the sheer desperation in his voice, but Sheppard found himself taking a tentative step backwards, then another. He never took his eyes off McKay, who stood still, just watching.
It didn't take long before Sheppard was inside the ring platform. He felt someone take his arm, and he didn't have to look down to know it was Teyla. He then heard her radio up to the Daedalus that they were on their way.
McKay gave them both a fragile smile, then turned to take the two steps to the wall, where the controls were.
"McKay," Sheppard called.
Rodney turned, looking at him over his shoulder.
"It," Sheppard swallowed, because his own voice cracked, "it's been fun." And he somehow managed a smile.
McKay met his eyes squarely, and he smiled warmly in return. Then he hit the button.
CHAPTER TWENTY: EGGSHELL MOON
Caldwell was tapping his foot impatiently, arms crossed. As the group appeared within the ring platform, he was about to rip into Sheppard for delaying...then he realized he didn't see McKay with them. Usually, the force of nature that was Rodney made itself known immediately.
Caldwell's anger faded instantly in the face of the distant look Sheppard gave him, recognizing the look all to well, and he frowned.
"Where's Doctor McKay?" he asked. It was not a demand, just a soft question.
"He stayed behind," Teyla answered for the colonel, saving him from answering. "He said he could not control the outpost's shields from here. He had to be in the control room down there."
Caldwell frowned, remembering Hermiod saying the same thing.
"He lied, sir," Sheppard said, meeting Caldwell's eyes without emotion. "He was afraid we would not let him stay down there."
Caldwell stared at him a moment, and, then, slowly, he nodded.
"I see," he replied evenly. He turned to Teyla. "Could you see that our guests are squared away with the others in the infirmary?" At Teyla's nod, he turned to Sheppard. "The bridge, Colonel?"
"Yes, sir," Sheppard replied listlessly, and he followed Caldwell out of the room towards the bridge.
Teyla watched them go for a moment, then steeled herself and turned to lead Osheen's men to the infirmary.
McKay slid back under the rubble into the Control Room, finding it just as he had left it. Part of him had been afraid he'd find Enceladus in here, but the old man was still nowhere to be found. Still, he thought, better safe than sorry—and he maneuvered some of the heavier pieces of fallen wall and ceiling to completely block all three exits, nearly crushing his foot in the process. That way, no one would be able to get in.
...Or out, he noted a tad morosely.
Shaking that thought away, he moved to prepare the consoles in the room, pulling out his laptop from his pack and quickly setting it up again in the middle. As soon as it was booted up, he connected it to the Daedalus' computer system.
"Doctor McKay?" Hermiod's voice called over the radio. The Asgard had clearly seen the connection was made.
"Yes," he replied, hands working the central console now, readying it. He needed all the possible variations and coordinates at his fingertips.
"Are you ready?"
McKay gave a small smile. The Asgard had known he'd stay behind. "Not really, but, hell, whoever is?"
"Indeed. I have just sent you the formulae. I will work as many of the equations up here as I can and send them to you to input along with your own."
"Roger that," he replied.
McKay smirked, surprised to hear that from the Asgard. "You too," he replied sincerely.
Swallowing thickly, he lifted his hands away from the main console, and looked around at the other consoles, monitors and workstations filling the room, making sure that all the different screens were showing what he needed them to. They were. And right in the middle was a picture of the Daedalus, swirls of color banding around it, evidencing the warped and twisted shield holding it in place. It wasn't really an onion—it was more like untangling several strings of bunched up Christmas lights. He just had to be careful not to break any of them.
Blowing the air out of his cheeks, he tapped his radio one more time.
"Doctor." Caldwell's voice was quiet.
"I, uh...I wanted to ask....how do you want to do this? Because, I can deliver the orders directly to your crew using subspace communications, or just relay them to you over the radio, and you can repeat them. Which...?"
"I'll repeat your orders, Doctor."
McKay nodded, figuring as much, and secretly glad for it. The crew wouldn't question orders coming from Caldwell—they would do exactly as they are told. But, if it came from him, there might be hesitation, and even a moment's hesitation could kill them.
"Are we ready?"
"Yes, and, uh....I need you to do exactly what I tell you, okay? If I say, back up, you back up. If I say shift to port—"
"We shift to port. Yes, I understand, Doctor."
Rodney nodded, "Okay then. Here goes nothing." His fingers attacked the console, and the first band of color on the screen lit up in red, flashing. Hermiod immediately started feeding equations to the screen on his laptop, and he input them without even looking at his fingers, eyes shifting from the laptop to the main screen to the other screens monitoring the shields.
"Hard astern!" he called, hands a blur over the console, moving purely on instinct, "thirty two point eight degrees, three hundred eighty seven point zero two meters...."
And around him, the moon immediately started to shudder violently.
Sheppard stood on the bridge, watching the disintegrating moon through the viewscreen. The view shifted as the ship shifted, often sharply, responding exactly to Rodney's commands over the radio. He listened without listening, feeling utterly useless as Caldwell repeated every single one of McKay's commands to his crew word for word, a constant stream of directions, numbers and distances.
His arms wrapped around himself, watching as billows of smoke and ash exploded up from the surface, enveloping and rocking the still trapped ship. The viewscreen shifted again, a bit like riding a roller coaster. It was almost unreal.
Then the smoke grew too thick, and he could no longer see anything but the occasional glimpse of the cold, grey surface through the dust.
The Daedalus was shaking like a leaf, struggling to maintain its own shields under the strain of the matrix. McKay's voice was constant, orders clear and concise. It was a testament to Caldwell that he didn't question any of them, even when it felt like things were getting worse.
One of Caldwell's people yelled that the shield's were nearly depleted. Caldwell snapped an order to reroute all non-essential power, then returned to his exact repetition of McKay's commands.
Sheppard left the disorienting windows, now showing nothing but ash smoke, and sidled over to one of the radar screens. It showed the moon cracking like an egg below them, chunks falling away, drawn towards the gravitational pull of the planet's rings.
And McKay's voice was cracking over the radio. He was coughing in between orders now, a low rumble constant in the background, but the speed of his delivery never slowed. Damn, he was fast—it was amazing they were able to keep up with him.
Sheppard gripped his arms tighter.
And, suddenly, the Daedalus stopped shuddering.
"GO!" McKay shouted. "Go now! Get out of here!"
Caldwell was way ahead of him, shouting for full thrust as the large ship lifted up and away from the moon at its best speed short of hyperspeed.
And, suddenly, they were once more in the blackness of space, free. After the frighteningly shaky moments before, it was almost freakily calm.
Once they were well out of range, Caldwell ordered the ship to slow and turn.
Below them, the small, gray moon had ash hiding most of its surface. The shield was breaking down at an alarming rate now, flashes of light showing where it was losing cohesion, like lightning across the surface. McKay had freed them, but the shield was still fighting for life.
"Colonel? Are you out? Are you okay?" McKay's static filled call asked. They could hear him coughing, hacking. "Please answer!"
"Yes, Doctor McKay," Caldwell said, smiling. "You did it."
"Oh, thank God," McKay's voice replied. "I...I wasn't sure." He coughed again, "The screens blanked out when....," another painful cough, "I couldn't see if—"
"You did it, McKay," Sheppard repeated firmly.
There was a momentary silence followed by some more fierce coughing. Then, and they could almost hear the smile in his voice as he said, "Well, of course I did."
Sheppard gave a small smile, then dropped his head down, closing his eyes.
"Can you get to the ring room, Doctor?" Caldwell asked. "Maybe we could..."
"You're too far away, and I couldn't get out of this room now, even if I wanted to. All the exits are completely blocked. But...thank you."
No one said anything then for a moment, just the soft sounds of McKay coughing over the radio. Finally, the radio came to life once more.
"I, um...," the scientist's voice wavered, "I...just wanted to...thank you for not leaving."
"We're not going anywhere, Doctor," Caldwell replied. "We'll be here."
Abruptly, the radio connection emitted a high pitched whine and cut off. Sheppard's head came up, and he turned back to the radar screen. The eggshell moon had cracked completely.
"Colonel," Hermiod's voice called emotionlessly over the radio, "The shield matrix has failed completely, and the moon has begun to break apart on a fundamental level. The outpost's structure also appears to have exploded from within, what part of it we can read from here—now that part of it has been exposed to the vacuum of space."
Caldwell closed his eyes, then nodded, "Thank you, Hermiod. You...can you read any life signs down there now that the shield is gone?"
There was a pause, then, "No, though there is still substantial interference."
"What about a radio signal?" Sheppard asked, looking vaguely at the screen. He saw Caldwell glance at him.
"I'm sorry, Colonel. No."
"Keep scanning, Hermiod," Caldwell ordered. "If there is any chance we can still pull him out of there..."
There was a pause, then, almost reluctantly, Hermiod answered, "Colonel, I know you do not want to hear this, but it is extremely unlikely—"
"No buts," Caldwell said, still eyeing Sheppard, "We're staying until the last possible moment. Just in case."
"I assure you, Colonel, nothing could have survived—"
"Just keep scanning, Hermiod," Caldwell snapped.
Sheppard turned, meeting Caldwell's eyes, and nodded a thanks.
CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE: THE CRYPT KEEPER
Rodney had finally managed to call back the screen showing him the Daedalus, and saw it was hovering well outside the range of the now somewhat unpredictable planetary system. Safe. He smiled, and coughed raggedly into his hands, doubling over a little. Around him, the room was filled with ash and smoke, causing his eyes to water even as it made it very hard to breathe. They had to know that he would be dead soon, but still...they were still there. Waiting. Right then, it meant the world to him. With a shaking hand, he touched the communicator again.
"I, um...," his voice wavered, rough from coughing too much, tears running down his dust-covered face, "I...just wanted to...thank you for not leaving."
"We're not going anywhere, Doctor," Caldwell's strong, comforting voice answered. "We'll be here."
McKay gave an almost imperceptible smile, his bottom lip trembling.
"I apprec—" Suddenly, the whole room shook and screamed, as every alarm went off at the same time, drowning out all else.
McKay yelled in pain, covering his ears and falling backwards away from the console, shutting his eyes against the assault of light and noise. He didn't feel himself fall, exactly—it was more like the ground jumped up to greet him as everything shook and exploded in a cacophonous boom.
A couple of heartbeats later, he risked opening his eyes. The whole room had been pitched into complete darkness—only his laptop was still shedding any light. Miraculously, it was still on despite having crashed to the floor near him. The screen flickered a little, but was mostly steady, coating the room in a soft, faint bluish light. At least, what remained of the room. From what he could see of it, that wasn't much.
He was lying on his side...and found he couldn't move. Something was pinning him down, laying right across his hip. It took him a moment to realize it was the big pillar he'd leant against before. Now it was leaning against him, holding him in place. How ironic.
It also didn't seem to hurt. In fact, he couldn't feel anything below his waist at all.
He sighed and coughed, knowing what that meant.
And silently cursed fickle fortune for not crushing his skull instead.
Resting his head against the cold floor, he closed his eyes.
At least the shaking seemed to have stopped. Maybe it was done...?
The wind picked up, rushing air past his face, playing with his hair. For a moment, he just ignored it, rather enjoying the sensation across his heated skin, then it occurred to him....
Wind? What wind? There was no wind here. What the hell...?
Vacuum. The moon must have cracked open sufficiently to expose the outpost to space. The artificial atmosphere was probably venting out some massive hole somewhere. Fast.
He gave a weak, slightly hysterical laugh. So, if he didn't die from being crushed, he'd die by having all the air sucked from his lungs, probably in a matter of minutes.
Well, wasn't that just perfect.
"Why can't I just die when I'm not watching?" he whispered softly, opening his eyes again. He gave another cough, then sneered up at the ceiling. "Other people die instantly, I die slowly and in pain. How is that fair?"
"I mean, sure," McKay continued weakly, "I might've been a bit of an ass, sometimes, but..." he trailed off. Had someone else just said, 'it's not?' to him?
Rodney eyes widened, and he turned to look over his shoulder.
Enceladus was standing over him, bent over, resting heavily on his cane. His old face was garishly lit by the laptop, and, peculiarly, McKay was reminded of the Crypt Keeper.
Enceladus frowned. "Crypt Keeper?" he asked, his voice still as scratchy as sandpaper.
Rodney stared at him a moment, then snorted, which turned into an ugly bit of coughing. When it was done, he narrowed his eyes up at the old man and croaked out: "You're a telepath. That's how you knew about—"
"Oh," the old man interrupted, "I'm much more than that." Looking around, Enceladus seemed to be considering something, then, stepping over McKay's torso, he used his cane to help settle himself on the uneven ground next to the scientist, sitting Indian style, joints creaking. Sighing, Enceladus shifted so that he could see McKay's face without the scientist having to lift his head too much.
Rodney frowned up at him, "How are you not hurt? Or dead?"
Enceladus shrugged, then undid the buttons on his jacket, revealing a green personal shield beneath.
"Oh," McKay whispered. "You've the gene."
"I should," Enceladus said, fiddling with the jacket a moment before shrugging and taking it off altogether to place on his lap, "Seeing as I'm what your people call an Ancient."
McKay stopped breathing, just staring at the other man. It made a terrible sort of sense.
"An Ancient?" he exhaled heavily after a moment, which resulted in some ugly coughing. When he could speak again, he asked, "How...?"
"I've spent most of the last ten thousand years in a stasis chamber," the old man explained, meeting his gaze again, "only to be woken when either the shield needed maintenance...or someone activated the ring platform."
He raised his eyebrows then, obviously catching the memory of Old Weir that Rodney thought up, and gave a short laugh.
"Janus did that? Ha! Good man. Predictable in his unpredictability," he shook his head a little, smiling affectionately. "But, to answer your unasked question, I modified the stasis chamber here to slow time down at such a rate that not even the chambers on Atlantis could match it. But," he sighed, looking at his withered arms, "I still ended up an old, old man." He sighed, resting his arms down on his legs. "Believe it or not, Osheen and his people were the first to use the rings in all that time."
"An Ancient," McKay laughed weakly, trying to ignore the fuzziness at the edge of his vision, "Can't believe...we have...wanted to...for so long...." He punctuated the words with soft, liquidy coughs. "To learn..."
"Yes, I know. And, from what I can see in your head, Chaya wasn't much more helpful than me, was she?" He gave a short laugh, "And she disliked you, too! What, do you try to piss off every Ancient you meet?"
McKay gave a tiny smile, "Yeah...seem to be good at it." He coughed again. "Colonel Sheppard, on the other hand..." He smiled, closing his eyes. "At least...with the women."
Enceladus chuckled, "You know, Chaya was a beauty among my people, too. I'm not surprised your Colonel Sheppard fell for her. Hot tempered, though. Like me." He shrugged. "Her only difference being, she made her mistake after she ascended."
"Mistake?" McKay opened his eyes again, but only a little. Around them, the "wind" had picked up, and the temperature was dropping very quickly. He started to shiver. He flinched a moment when he felt something being draped over his shoulders, and realized Enceladus was giving him his jacket. He lifted his eyes to meet Enceladus' clear gaze as the old man leant back—he had to know. "What mistake?" he whispered.
"Project Arcturus," the old man replied, looking away.
The blue eyes opened wide then. Oh my God. "That...that was you?"
"In part. A big part—I was one of the three chief scientists in charge." Enceladus' face pinched a little at the memory. "It...it's failure nearly destroyed me. The others tried to convince me it wasn't my fault, what happened to the people on Doranda, but I knew it was." He shook his head, heaving another sigh, and looked around at the chaos.
"I came here to hide. Oh sure, I said I was coming here to develop better shield technology, to find a means to create a shield that would be practically self-sustaining, but I really came here to run away. And when everyone evacuated, to return to Earth, I stayed."
"Why?" Rodney whispered, shaking badly with cold now, despite the extra jacket. He shut his eyes, the lids were just so heavy...
"Because I detested them. Thought them the worst kind of coward—running out on everything and everyone in Pegasus that they had created, when they needed them the most. Knowing that, I cut off all communication with Atlantis. I decided I never wanted to see them or anyone else ever again. I'd finish my shield technology, and use it to save Pegasus, without them."
"I didn't succeed, I know. As it always does, it came down to power...or rather lack of it. I should never have let Osheen and his people stay—Asimbabbar was never meant to be more than a temporary refuge for the truly desperate. But it seemed a good way to test the durability of my work. But...," he looked around again at the rubble. Some of the smaller, loose pieces were lifting to fly out of the room out the main exit, pulled by the vacuum. "I failed again."
McKay frowned, disagreeing. The work he had done here was amazing. It wasn't a failure....
"Yes, it was, boy," Enceladus told him. "I couldn't generate enough power to sustain the outpost and the shield at the same time, couldn't avoid draining the ZPMs. I knew that ages ago, but even then, I didn't make Osheen leave. I was so certain I could fix it. And they nearly died for my hubris. Just like Doranda."
McKay's lips were as blue as his eyes now, and his voice was gone, though he wanted to add his own culpability. If he hadn't tried to save the ship...
"No, boy, it wasn't your fault, though I wanted to blame you." Enceladus sighed again, shaking his head. "I should have evacuated them six months ago."
The old man glanced down at the scientist when the man didn't reply, and realized the other man probably couldn't really hear him too well anymore. Rodney's shivering was beginning to slow—his body was giving up. Enceladus gave a soft sigh.
"I'm sorry, boy," he said. "I was wrong."
McKay's brow furrowed, but he was too tired and too cold to open his eyes again. His breathing was hitched and shallow, the wheeze very loud in the fading world. There would soon be no sound in this place at all.
Enceladus reached over, resting a hand on the now icy-cool forehead, "It's not an excuse for how I treated you, but...you have to understand..." He bit his lip, and looked away again. "I saw it there, in your mind. Right at the front, coloring everything you said and did. Project Arcturus. The dried husks of the bodies there, the destruction and failure. And your own foolish, egotistical attempt to fix my mistake. And what happened when you did, nearly killing both yourself...and your closest friend. It was...like someone had stuck a knife in my brain." He frowned. "You were the last person I wanted to share my work with. The last person I wanted to be near." The frown lessened, and Enceladus titled his head, lips almost lifting into a smile as he studied Rodney's now still features.
"But you learned anyway, didn't you, boy?" he said. "You watched, and you learned. I have not seen someone as bright as you in, well," his lips quirked, "millennia. Even among my own people...." He gave a small laugh, gently carding his hands through the scientist's hair. "And you used it to save not only your people, but Osheen and his people, knowing full well that you would die doing so."
Rodney showed no sign of having heard that. Completely unresponsive. Around them, the room was beyond freezing, and the wind was fierce. Only seconds of air left.
Enceladus smiled. "You will be a great man, someday, Doctor McKay. Better than me." He snorted, "You might even be able to do what me and my people couldn't—and save this galaxy." He lifted his hand away, and glanced towards the hallway. "And I hope you do," he added softly.
Reaching up, he removed the personal shield from his chest, and immediately shivered as he felt the frigid cold for the first time. Resting it on the ground next to McKay, the old man reached forward and rested one hand on McKay's head, the other on his arm.
Warmth flooded through the scientist, and McKay's eyes opened in shock as pain blasted through his senses from his legs and back. He tried to yell, but his lungs seemed frozen, and he felt like he couldn't breathe. His eyes shut again, pinching closed, unable to bear it.
"Healing," Enceladus muttered weakly over the roaring in McKay's ears, "was never my greatest strength, and I really am old now. But I will do all that I can. With luck, it'll be enough...."
McKay tried to reply, but the pain was too much...
Right before everything went black again, the world erupted in light...
"Colonel Caldwell," Novak called over the comm., causing both Sheppard and Caldwell's heads to lift, "The outpost is completely exposed...and we are reading two life signs still! They are deeply inside the outpost, but it has be them! Hermiod has managed to lock onto...oh...wait...one of them has...."
"Beam them here!" Caldwell shouted, shooting out of his chair. "Now!"
A flash of white light, and Rodney lay on the floor of the bridge, his clothes ripped and bloodied, covered head to toe in dust and filth—and what looked like someone else's jacket. He was unconscious...and alone.
"McKay!" Sheppard was there in a moment, pressing a hand to the scientist's cold neck—he was freezing! It seemed impossible, but there was a heartbeat there—slow, but there. "Hermiod," he called, "get us to the med bay. Hurry!"
Another flash of light, and both men were gone.
Caldwell exhaled a hard breath, looking out the viewscreen at the planet, pinpointing the pieces of Asimbabbar floating off in different directions. "What about the other?" he asked over the comm.
"I am afraid it disappeared," Hermiod answered, "before we could get a lock. I am sorry, Colonel."
Caldwell grimaced a little, but then simply smiled. He just couldn't be unhappy right now. "Oh well," he said. He turned around to look at his crew, smile growing. "I'll be in the med bay. Captain, you have the bridge. Take us home, will you?" And he turned and walked briskly out.
CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO: WAITING
Caldwell strode into the med bay in time to hear Beckett yelling orders for heated solutions, the doctor working with Sheppard to strip McKay of his ruined clothes. Rodney showed no signs of awareness as the knife sliced efficiently to cut the frozen shirt and trousers away, and one of the medics yanked off the ice-cold boots.
He stood still for a moment, listening as Beckett and one of the Atlantian medics—Greene?—listed out injuries and diagnoses for the nurse to take down.
At some point, Sheppard was pushed back, asked kindly to get out of the way. The lieutenant colonel seemed momentarily disconcerted, stumbling a little at the "polite" shove.
Caldwell moved up beside Sheppard and took his arm gently, tugging him further away.
"Let them work," he said quietly. Sheppard didn't seem to hear, just watched unblinkingly as one of the nurses pulled the curtain to block his view of the frantic actions of the Daedalus and Atlantian med crew working to keep his friend alive.
Sheppard sat with his head in his hands where he sat next to Ronon's infirmary bed, occasionally moving his hands to rub at his forehead as if he had a headache. At some point, someone had cleaned and bandaged his leg, but the lack of beds meant he had a chair, which was fine with him.
Teyla, meanwhile, was sitting at the very end of Ronon's bed, her arms wrapped around her curled legs, resting her chin on her knees. She looked very small in that position, almost childlike. Her eyes stared straight ahead, clearly not seeing the med bay around her.
Ronon was sitting up, his eyes staying open by pure stubbornness. The bandage around his shoulder was stark against the man's dark skin, and it had to be causing him pain, but there was no sign of it on the man's face. Instead, the eyes were focused on the playing cards on the tray sitting on his lap, playing some kind of solitaire.
On the next bed over, Osheen considered the tableau of the three people, and wondered a little at it. He knew the tension he read was because of the scientist being taken care of in another room. None of the three had spoken since finding each other in here a little while ago, a few moments after all the excitement of getting their man out alive, and none of them had made a move to leave. It was if they were in some sort of bubble of anticipation, unable to move, think or say anything until they heard whether their friend would be all right.
Sighing a little, Osheen rested his head back against his pillow, still amazed that they had managed to rescue their scientist.
But part of him was also deeply unhappy that he had still lost his own. It seemed somehow unfair.
Closing his eyes, he sighed sadly and settled back and tried to sleep.
Thoughts and worries about the future, combined with memories of all those who had died, cluttered his mind, causing his anxiety to rise. He pinched his eyes, shifted his legs, and, finally...opened his eyes again.
And found Enceladus standing over him. The old man was just standing there, bathed completely in a bright white glow. He looked years younger and healthier...and he was smiling fondly down at the young man.
Osheen's mouth opened, and he turned to look at the Ronon, Teyla and Sheppard, but none of the three appeared to notice anything. Turning his head back, he met the eyes of the old man and silently wondered if he was losing his mind.
Enceladus shook his head, and reached out a hand, resting it atop Osheen's.
"It'll be all right, son. Your instincts were right—you can trust these people. You've made valuable friends and allies here. They'll help you. And," the old man smiled again, "someday you may be able to repay the favor."
Osheen opened his mouth to speak, but Enceladus shook his head again.
"Just keep trusting your instincts, son. You are a true leader, and it will see you and your people through. And thank you," he squeezed Osheen's hand, "for everything."
And then he was gone, disappearing up into the ceiling of the med bay in a wash of light.
Osheen breathed out heavily, his eyes falling once more to the room around him, and then over to the bed next to his.
Teyla had turned her head and was glancing at him over her shoulder. She looked concerned, worried for him.
So he smiled at the woman...and was graced with a beautiful smile in return.
"He'll be fine," Beckett sighed, walking over tiredly to the three members of SGA-1 still waiting for him. All three shifted to sit up, looking at him intently. "I don't know how, but he will." He looked around for a moment, spotted a chair off to one side, and went to grab it. Pulling it over, he set it down next to Sheppard's and sat down heavily with a big sigh.
"What do you mean," Teyla asked, "that you don't know how?"
"Near as I can tell, he was almost completely exposed to the hard vacuum of space, not to mention sporting deep bruising and cuts all over the lower half of his body that are indicative of, well, being crushed by something very heavy." He gave a snort, "And yet, internally, he appears to be just fine. Scans showed no broken bones, no ripped cartilage, no internal bleeding, no lung damage, nothing....it's all superficial." He had been rubbing his forehead on the side opposite the bandage he was sporting, but he lowered his hand to look up at them.
"I seem to say this a lot, but...he should be dead." He shrugged, "You'd think I'd be getting used to seeing the impossible happen." He shook his head, smiling a little, "Almost makes me believe that you four have real guardian angels watching over you."
Sheppard smiled back, "To be honest, Doc," he said, "all I care about is what you first said when you walked in here. That he'll be fine. The rest," he waved a hand about, "I'm not going to think about."
Beckett glanced at him, then smiled more broadly. That would always be a difference between them and him, and he appreciated it. Sighing, he stood again.
"Well, he'll be moved in here with Ronon in a few hours, after we're sure he's stable. But the two of you," he nodded at Sheppard and Teyla, "should retire to your quarters for some rest."
Teyla smiled brightly, and uncurled her legs, letting them slip off the edge of Ronon's bed, "You, too, Carson. You need rest as well."
"Aye," he admitted, resting a hand on his head again.
"See you in a few hours," Ronon said to them, yawning spectacularly as Sheppard and Teyla moved to leave. They grinned at him, watching as his eyes closed. He was snoring within seconds.
Sheppard chuckled, gathering his cards from off the tray on the man's lap and pocketing them, before turning to follow Teyla and Beckett out of the med bay.
CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE: SHEPPARD MOON
A couple of days later found Sheppard wandering into the infirmary on Atlantis, nodding at the nurses he passed, catching the eye of the blonde one he had a crush on and turning around in a full circle as he passed by her, getting her to blush prettily.
Smiling even more brightly now, he nodded to Beckett off to the side, and received a nod in return as the physician continued talking to Doctor Biro about something.
Coming around a corner, he stepped inside a curtained area to find Rodney sitting cross-legged on his infirmary bed, typing furiously on a laptop. The scientist was frowning.
"What do you want?" Rodney groused, not looking up, "Can't you see I'm busy?" His fingers never skipped a beat—if anything, their speed increased.
Sheppard's eyebrows lifted, "Someone's grouchy."
"Beckett spent the morning poking and prodding me everywhere I have a bruises and cuts," the eyes finally lifted, "how would you feel?" They fell again to the laptop screen, "Plus, he only allows me a few hours at a time with the laptop, and I'm barely making any headway on Enceladus' work as it is." The frustration in his voice was clear, and Sheppard understood much better now the reason for McKay's churlishness. "Can't wait to get out of here. I swear, Beckett just likes to prolong the agony."
"For him, or for you?"
"Ha, ha." The fingers slowed finally, lifting off the keyboard like a pianist's off the keys. He stared at the screen a moment, sighed heavily, then looked up to meet Sheppard's gaze. The colonel smiled, purposefully keeping his arms behind his back, tilting back and forth on his feet like a kid. Rodney's brow furrowed and his face softened slightly, the dark circles under them showing just how tired he was.
"Seriously," he asked, "why are you here?"
Sheppard just shook his head, "Rodney, I'm just here to check up on you. Part of being team-leader, you know?"
"Oh," Rodney frowned slightly, then offered a contrite look. "Right. Ronon still doing okay?"
Sheppard shrugged. "Healing. He's not happy with the sling—keeps taking it off. Teyla's dogging him, though. She clears her throat every time she finds him without it, and he puts in back on, scowling the whole time." He smiled, lowering his head, "It's actually pretty amusing. She has him under her thumb, and he's so clueless."
"He's not the only one," Rodney said, smiling cheekily. "I watched her charm Beckett into letting her accompany him to P7X-135 a little while ago. She said she was here to visit me, but the moment Beckett walked past, she was on him like glue."
"Oh, ho, really?" Sheppard's eyes lit up, "I heard Elizabeth was already planning on going along to see how Osheen and his people were settling in there." He grinned, "Poor Beckett!"
"Fly on the wall, eh? Just be grateful it's not us," Rodney smiled, and looked back at his laptop. He frowned slightly, then hummed a little as he started typing again.
"So how's it going, really?" Sheppard asked, moving to the head of the bed so he could see the screen.
"Slow," Rodney admitted, the frustration Sheppard heard earlier crawling back into his voice. "Enceladus' work was just so dense. I only saw one tiny piece of it." He sighed, "It'll take me weeks to get through everything we copied from the moon's database, and, even then, it'll take months to distill it into a form we can use for our own shield...if we even can." He frowned.
"Yeah, but you'll find a way."
"Hunh," Rodney grimaced slightly, and his typing sped up. "Maybe. So," he eyes flicked to Sheppard and then back again, "what are you hiding behind your back?"
"I was wondering when you'd ask," Sheppard replied with a cheeky grin, pulling his arms around to reveal two glasses, then reached inside his partially zipped jacket to pull out a single bottle of Newcastle Brown Ale. Rodney stopped typing immediately, his jaw dropping in surprise. It just made Sheppard grin wider. "I got this from Dr. Stearns. I was hoping to find more than one bottle, but, well, we can split it. Move your laptop." Rodney did, sliding the laptop to the side, and Sheppard dropped the glasses onto the other man's lap before moving to make sure the curtain was pulled. Then he withdrew a bottle opener from his pocket. Rodney, completely dumbfounded, just fumbled with the glasses a little to keep them upright and watched Sheppard open up the bottle.
"Beer?" he asked. "But...why?"
"One of the last things you said to me," the colonel said, popping off the bottle cap, then nodding to Rodney to lift one of the glasses. "You said, when we got back, to drink a toast to your memory when we got home. Now, since your memory of nearly dying is apparently a little shaky—meaning you don't remember much after the radio went dead—I figure I'd rather toast to your not being dead." He moved to fill the second glass.
"Oh," Rodney just frowned, still not really up to speed. "But, obviously, when I said 'memory,' I didn't mean my actual—"
"I know what you meant, Rodney," Sheppard said sharply, putting the empty bottle on the side table and then taking one of the half-filled glasses from Rodney's hands.
"Oh," Rodney said again. "Okay, but, well, then shouldn't it be champagne?"
Sheppard laughed, "Damn, expensive, aren't you? No, no, this is much better. Champagne is what you drink at weddings...and funerals. Beer," he smiled, "is what you drink with friends." He raised the glass, and arched an eyebrow.
McKay gave a real smile at that, clearly pleased, and raised his own glass. Sheppard then downed all of his, while McKay drank about half of his, grimacing a little at the taste on his dry tongue. Then he finished it, determined.
Sheppard smiled again when his friend was done, and took the empty glass away from him.
Rodney gave a him an inscrutable look, then gave a small smile. "Thank you, Colonel."
"No problem." He gathered up the empty beer bottle and the glasses into his hands again. "Just get better. We need to get back out there." As he spoke, he grabbed a tissue from the side table and covered the sticky top of the empty bottle with it, then slid it back inside his jacket.
"Right," McKay nodded. When Sheppard looked at him again, he flushed slightly and looked down at his hands. "You know, I lied a little."
Sheppard pursed his lips, and this time, it was his turn to say, "oh?"
"I remember a lot of what happened after we were cut off."
"But you didn't want to share it," the colonel said understandingly.
"Yeah," McKay glanced up, then down again. "Exactly."
Sheppard just smiled, "Don't worry. I understand, believe me."
"Yeah, I guess you would. Still remember your amazing lack of memory about what happened when you visited Chaya that second time." McKay chuckled, and pulled his laptop back onto his lap.
"Exactly," Sheppard grinned. "And, look, uh, in return..." he licked his lips, "don't tell Beckett about the beer, will ya?"
McKay gave a short laugh, "Are you kidding? God, no." He started typing again. "I'm not that dumb." The eyes were once more absorbed in the information on the screen—the scientist unable to keep away from his true love for too long.
Sheppard watched his friend work a moment, then smiled affectionately.
“All right then, Answer Man,” Sheppard said. “I’ll see you later.”
McKay glanced up from the laptop, gave a small smile and nodded. “Thanks. You don’t have to, though, you know. I’m okay.”
The colonel wrinkled his nose and turned, already walking away. “I’ll see you later.”
Behind him, the fingers clicking away stopped, then started again.
Sheppard stopped at the edge of the curtained area and turned, to find McKay still watching his screen. “Yeah?”
“Do you, uh...do you know what a Shepherd Moon is?”
“A what moon?”
“Shepherd. With an H. Don’t get cocky, they’re not named after you.” And McKay smirked, arching an eyebrow at the colonel before returning to his work. He started typing again.
“Well, then obviously, no, I don’t.”
“Shepherd Moons shape and stabilize ring systems. They constrain and maintain the rings through gravitational forces, essentially keeping the ice, dust and rock that make up the rings in place. In other words, Shepherd Moons stop things from flying out of control and potentially causing great damage." McKay shrugged a little, fingers attacking the keys in a steady prattle. "Saturn has a bunch of them keeping the rings in place around it. P1H-369 probably does too.”
Sheppard just gave a nod to show he understood, “Oh.”
“I was just thinking,” the fingers paused again on the keyboard, then started again, “if Enceladus had found away to utilize the stabilization factor of a Shepherd Moon, he...I mean, his moon...might have been better able to handle the stresses. Been more effective, you know? Stronger.”
Sheppard gave that a thought, then shrugged. “Sure, maybe so.”
“No, I’m pretty certain.” McKay's fingers were flying now over the keys, almost to distraction. “It would have been stronger.”
“Well, I’m sure you’re right. You usually are.” Sheppard smiled, “See you, McKay.” And he turned again, headed back out of the infirmary.
The clicking continued unabated in the background, but Sheppard heard McKay’s reply anyway.
“Because I know I am,” the scientist said softly.
The small smile on Sheppard’s face grew as he disappeared out the doors.
Helix Nebula (most awesome penname ever!) made me a picture to go along with this story, and it’s absolutely gorgeous. I was going to put it up at the beginning, but then I was afraid it might spoil the story for those who hadn’t read it yet, but now that you have…Isn’t it cool?! It’s even got Hermiod in it! So, so cool!
Hope you like the story! Drop me a line if you did! Email