Title: A Show of Trust
Disclaimer: Don't own anything. The characters and their evolution belong to MGM, Gekko, SciFi, the actors, producers and the writers.
Characters: Sheppard and McKay.
Spoilers: Pretty blatant ones for both "Home" and "Sanctuary" and minor ones for the rest.
A/N – inspired by the plot description I read for "Sanctuary" on Gateworld, interestingly enough, but my diseased mind came up with a fairly different scenario from the actual ep.
Description: A impromptu rescue leads to a rift in the ranks, and that's just the start of their problems.
CHAPTER ONE: TRESPASSERS
The young man stood, unfolding a long, lean frame more like a geometric puzzle than a body. Walking to the window, he tilted his head as the chimes rang in the distance, carried inside on the soft breeze. A couple of the younger acolytes in the room followed his movements, watching as he rested a tattooed hand on the window frame and gazed into the hazy daylight. Long, thick black hair fell across his face, and he impatiently pushed it back behind his ears, pale green eyes pinched in concentration.
His control, while strong, was not capable of stretching across the distance to the Great Ring yet, and he sighed in frustration.
“Who are they, Sette?” he asked quietly, turning to look at the bowed old woman sitting in the center of the room. She was petite and aged, with black hair heavily striped with silver and dark eyes hidden by cataracts. Her withered hands rested sedately on her lap above the dusty pink robe, and her eyes focused on nothing beyond what she saw in her mind.
“Travelers, explorers.” The voice was like aged paper, crinkling with each word. Her brow furrowed deeply as she concentrated, “They have never been here before. One…is Athosian, with some talent. The others….”
A moment later, her eyes opened wide, and she looked across at her apprentice. “Callum's Blood," she hissed in surprise…and anger. "Trespassers!"
"Do you know these people well, Teyla?"
Teyla Emmagen glanced askance at the Major, tilting her head in that way of hers that suggested she was not just looking at him, she was looking through him. It was sort of unnerving.
Sheppard met her eyes for a second, then looked away, adopting his best innocent expression at the annoyed look she gave him, and returned his scanning gaze to their surroundings.
They were walking down a flagstone pathway surrounded by flowering trees in full bloom, pale pink petals floating down around them. The forest floor to their left and right was a carpet of pink petals and light green moss, the two colors a sharp contrast to the pitch black of the tree trunks. Small, carved, white statues of animals and birds were artistically placed at regular intervals, complemented by white flowering azalea-like bushes. The whole thing reminded Ford of the grounds around a Buddhist temple he'd once seen on one of the pacific islands, though the colors here a little more surreal. The Gate itself had been up on a sort of gray stone alter, with more fruit trees and some sort of stunted bonsai like bush arranged around it. Soft chimes had been ringing when they walked through, presumably somehow triggered by the Stargate's activation, like a doorbell. Still, no one had yet rushed up this path to meet them. No one was quite sure if that was a good thing or not.
"Tell me, Major," Teyla asked, her voice honey sweet as she answered his question without answering it, "were you in the briefing with the rest of us?"
In back, Ford snorted, unable to stop himself. The major turned to fix him with a deadly stare, and the marine suddenly found the flowering trees overhead incredibly fascinating.
"He was physically there, Teyla," McKay said from his position on Ford's left, his tone completely serious, "mentally however…."
"Thanks McKay," Sheppard muttered.
"I only ask," Teyla continued, looking around at the serene surroundings, "because I recall quite distinctly stating that this planet was not one my people visited, because the people here are not traders. In fact, I believe I mentioned that they prefer seclusion and do not treat trespassers lightly. Isolationist was the term Doctor Weir used. And yet, still we came," she sighed a little, staring around at the trees, "against my…strong…objections."
"Oh, that's right," the major frowned. "Didn't you and McKay having some kind of argument about it…?"
"You mean a fight," McKay smiled.
"Merely a disagreement," Teyla corrected.
"More like a pitched battle," Ford amended, under his breath. Teyla glanced back at him, and the young man offered an arched eyebrow in return.
McKay was smiling smugly now from his position in the back, "Either way, all that matters is that you lost." He bobbed his head a little as she turned a glare in his direction.
Looking forward again, Teyla rolled her eyes. Sheppard smiled. It was interesting to see how quickly she'd picked up that particular mannerism. That was when something clicked in his head…. the sound of McKay and Teyla speaking in monotones to each other across the conference room table, neither raising or lowering their voices, but clearly at odds, the strain palpable in the air. He had only been half-heartedly paying attention…until, suddenly, both had looked to him. On the other side of the table, Weir had simply raised her eyebrows at him in question…to hear his opinion.
"That's right," he muttered, narrowing his eyes at the play running in his head. When discussing the planet initially, Teyla had mentioned that she believed the people here had some sort of small force field protecting a temple. The Stargate was kept within the grounds of a large monastery, surrounded by high walls on all sides, and there were a number of temples inside. At least one of them had a shield to guard it against the Wraith. She hadn't meant it to start anything, but McKay had jumped on it. She had then spent the next ten minutes trying to dissuade him, but the scientist was adamant.
Sheppard recalled that Teyla had said the people were not dangerous—they were even friendly as they turned people away--just that she didn't want to mess with these people's culture. But McKay's point that any kind of shield device was something they needed to check out, even if only for information purposes, was one the major tended to agree with.
"I said something about a quick recon, to check it out…." Sheppard trailed off, remembering now Teyla's gritted jaw at that answer and McKay's smug smile. Truth be told, upon learning that there was nothing dangerous about the planet, he'd spent most of the meeting thinking up potential football teams made up of the people stationed at Atlantis. He'd already made up his…the Sheppard Seahawks, he'd called it, after his hometown team….Stackhouse would lead the second one, the Stackhouse Steelers…and, of course, Bates would have the third…the Green Bates Packers….
A smile grew on his face. He'd loved that name when he thought of it.
His eyes tracked the woods, always alert, even though he had accepted Teyla's assessment that the people here were not dangerous. Truth be told, that was always his main concern…otherwise, he didn't really focus much on Teyla's concerns about Saroku, as she had named the planet, being isolationist. They'd cross that bridge when they got to it.
"So, you don't know these people that well then," he asked after a moment. Teyla rolled her eyes for the second time and an aggravated grunt emitted from her lips. Slowing her step, she fell back to walk next to Ford, reaching up a free hand for a moment to wipe at her forehead. A small headache had formed, and, combined with the major's obvious apathy to her opinion, she was not in the best mood.
Meanwhile, McKay jogged forward to take her place at Sheppard's side, his eyes on his scanner.
"I've got something here," he said happily. Sheppard glanced at him.
"Not a ZPM, but something strong."
"But not a ZPM."
"No." McKay gave a small shrug, "but something very interesting. The readings remind me a little of those readings we got on the fog planet." He looked around at the trees again, "without the fog."
"You mean, there's something in the atmosphere?" Sheppard stopped instantly, and Ford almost walked into him. McKay stopped a couple feet ahead of him, then turned around, his eyes bright with excitement. Sheppard hated it when he looked like that—it either meant a "McKay" discovery that could get them all killed…or a "McKay" plan that could get them all killed, usually related to the previous "McKay" discovery.
The major's instinct for trouble had just kicked into high gear.
"No, no, not around us, just…," McKay walked one way, then another, his eyes on his scanner. Suddenly, he frowned. "Huh, that's odd, it just faded away for some reason."
Teyla dropped the hand from her forehead, suddenly feeling better. The coincidence with McKay's statement made her frown deeply. She was about to say something when the lieutenant cleared his throat.
"Sir," Ford said calmly. "We have company."
The major's mood instantly changed, the soldier and CO immediately in control. He'd been focused before, always alert for danger, but allowed his mind to dwell on more thing at once. Now he only thought about one thing—protecting his team. McKay took a step back, as the other three rested their hands lightly on their weapons and took up a guarded stance.
Two people walked towards them from somewhere off to the right, through the trees—a man and a woman, both looking like they were in their early thirties. They both wore long pale colored chemise shirts over what looked like cream silk trousers, sashed by silk belts of different colors. They also had what appeared to be double-handed infantry swords strapped to their backs—causing tighter grips on the P-90s by the visitors. When they stopped, the man bowed slightly, his black hair hanging down in front of his angular face. Brushing it back behind his ears, he smiled thinly at the strangers, his pale green eyes unblinking.
"Greetings, strangers. Welcome to Saroku." The young man's voice was soft, deferential. "I am Tae. My companion," he indicated the light brown haired woman to his right, "is Kailin ." He paused, meeting each of their eyes, "And may we ask who you are?"
Sheppard nodded, recognizing the slight tension underlying the question. They were trespassing, and these monks were trying to be polite before sending them packing. He threw on his best smile and bowed back.
"Major John Sheppard, Teyla Emmagen, Lieutenant Ford and Doctor McKay." Each of the team nodded in turn at being introduced, and Teyla also bowed as the major had.
"It is an honor to meet you." Tae lowered his head, "However, I am afraid that you have arrived during one of our cloistered times. We are not allowing strangers to pass through the temple or out of the temple walls into Saroku. We mean no offense, but we must ask you to please return to the Great Ring."
"Of course," Teyla smiled, "but perhaps we could return? When you are not," she paused, recalling the words he'd used, "in a cloistered time?"
Tae nodded, smiling a little, "Certainly. That will occur in four and a half cycles, around the time of the grain harvest."
"Cycles?" McKay repeated, frowning as he stepped up next to Teyla, "You mean years?"
"If by year, you mean revolutions of the seasons, yes," the girl, Kailin, supplied. Unlike Tae, she didn't smile, sounding almost rude. McKay's face instantly darkened in annoyance at the tone, and he opened his mouth to respond in kind, but Teyla was faster.
"We mean no harm or intrusion, Tae and Kailin," she promised, speaking quickly. "But four and a half cycles is very long, and we may not have that much time. Please, we were simply hoping for a few moments with your leader. Our visit is merely one of information."
"Information?" Tae frowned, "About what?"
"You have some interesting…." Rodney began, but Teyla cut him off again, placing a hand on his arm.
"These people are new to our worlds. They have come seeking knowledge and are, truthfully, very curious. I, myself, am from Athos…or," she paused, "I was, before….in any event," she looked up again, "I have some familiarity with your people, but my companions wished to learn more."
Kailin frowned. "If you are familiar with our people, Teyla Emmagen, then you are also familiar with our desire to be left to ourselves." Her tone was cool as she added, "We have no need of visitors."
Teyla nodded, grimacing a little as the headache from before returned, seemingly aggravated by the examining stare of the Sarokun woman. "Yes, of course, however—"
"However," John jumped in, earning him a sidelong glance from Teyla, "whether or not you have a need for visitors, I nonetheless assume that you get them. Unwelcome ones, probably every couple of centuries or so? Ugly guys, with white hair and pasty skin…."
Tae eyed him warily, "You mean the Wraith."
"Yes. And, to be honest, while we may primarily be explorers, as Teyla has said, we are also seeking allies against the Wraith. That is to say, that we would share our tactical advantages with you, and, if you have any, perhaps you could share yours with us…." He raised his eyebrows at the young man, and Tae studied him for a moment. Then he nodded.
see. You think we have something that
can help you. We do not. Based upon your outfits and your weapons, you
are more advanced than we. I am sure we
would be of no help in this alliance of yours."
"Um," Rodney held up a finger, ignoring the tightening of Teyla's grip on his other arm, "that's not strictly true, see you—"
Tae raised a hand, but didn't look at the scientist when he interrupted him, "We do have two small generators which form defensive shields around our two main temples, for when there is a culling, gifted to us by Callum of the Ancestors millennia ago for our aid in their war with the Wraith. I assume that is what you are really here for." He raised his eyebrows at McKay, and the scientist grimaced a little in return, not liking being caught out. Tae ignored the expression, adding, "However, they do not protect more than those two very small areas, and thus only protect a small, hand-picked portion of our people—barely more than twenty at a time. And I am afraid we would never let you touch them. They are our only protection against the Wraith, and they appear quite fragile to us after all these years." He sighed, shaking his head. "I am sorry, but, though I assume those generators are why you came here, we can not part with them and we will not let you examine them."
"Oh, now, come on. I'm not going to break them," Rodney promised firmly. "In fact, if they are fragile, I could probably…." This time it was Sheppard who cut him off with a loudly cleared throat. It was beginning to piss the scientist off.
"We understand your fear, believe me," the major assured them. "But we may be able to help you increase the power of those shields, to better protect your people."
"No," Tae shook his head, "I’m sorry."
"You did say you aided the Ancestors once," Sheppard added, "perhaps it is time to open your doors again."
"The Ancestors," Tae bowed his head, and Kailin did as well, "were a great people. Their kind is greatly missed. They loved our people and we loved them. You, however," Tae looked up, and his eyes turned cold as he met Sheppard's eyes, "are not the Ancestors."
"Well, no but…." and Sheppard moved on to a different argument, about how making new friends could benefit them all.
Rodney was watching the major argue, his mind still bouncing around the idea of seeing those shields, and getting a better sense of the subtle power readings he found in the atmosphere, and his annoyance at not once being allowed to complete a sentence…along with thoughts of being hungry, wanting to sit down, wondering if these people had bathrooms and if Ford was going to say anything at all in this discussion…when something new occurred to him.
Teyla still had her hand on his arm, had had it there for a while. Except, she wasn't just resting it there, or trying to quiet him anymore…it felt like she was holding on.
He shifted slightly, intending to slide away from her, thinking perhaps she was still just trying to stop him from speaking, but when she slid with him, he didn't think at all—he just grabbed her before she fell to the ground, unconscious.
"Major!" he interrupted harshly, stopping Sheppard mid-sentence. He saw the momentary annoyance on the major's face, then concern at the sight of Teyla slumped against McKay. The doctor's expression was scared, as he propped her up against his hip, his arms beneath hers.
"She just…she just passed out. No warning."
Ford was suddenly there, kneeling on one knee, touching her face and neck, making sure it wasn't worse than it appeared. He frowned, turning to look at Sheppard over his shoulder.
"She's unconscious, sir. Her heart is beating fine, as far as I can tell, and she's breathing, but her skin is clammy."
"You mean she's sick?" McKay asked.
"What's wrong with her?" Tae asked, stepping back a little. "Have you brought sickness to our people?" He sounded scared, and rightly so. Kailin covered her hand with her mouth.
"No," Sheppard assured them, "That is, she was perfectly healthy," he glanced askance at Tae, "before coming here."
"Here?" Kailin shook her head, adding harshly, "There is nothing here to make her sick!"
Sheppard looked around, then over at McKay. The scientist shook his head.
"We should take her back," McKay stated, trying not to sound disappointed. "We'll have to call and tell them to set up a quarantine area first…."
Sheppard opened his mouth to agree when a shrill scream echoed through the trees, a woman's scream. It was filled with terror and fear, and Ford and Sheppard were both on their feet, guns pointed into the woods. Tae and Kailin jumped as well, sharing a scared look before turning back to the strangers, both hand instinctively placed their hands on their swords.
"What the hell is that!" Sheppard demanded roughly.
Tae grimaced, staring at Teyla still, then at the major. "It came from outside our walls, probably from someone from the village. But that is out concern, not yours. You should leave." He glanced at Kailin , and she nodded back. Without a word, she turned and ran down the flagstone path away from the Stargate. Tae bowed, as if in farewell, "Please respect our wishes and—"
The scream came again, this time with a desperate yell for help. It sounded like a young voice, and it was yelling for the "Callumites" to help her.
"I must go." Tae backed up a few steps. "Please," he begged, "Leave now."
Suddenly, he pivoted on his feet and started running towards the screams.
Ford straightened, looking over at the major. McKay still had his arms filled with Teyla, but he was staring at Sheppard as well. The two men had two very different expressions—one wanted to help…the other to retreat.
A third scream, the desperation powerful. Sheppard shook his head—damn it!
"McKay," he threw a sharp stare at the scientist, "Get Teyla to the gate. Contact Atlantis and set up the quarantine. We'll be right there."
"What?" McKay stammered, "No! You can't—"
"Ford, let's go," Sheppard ordered, holding his P-90 close and taking off after Tae. Ford nodded sharply at McKay, then took off after his CO.
"Major!" McKay shouted, watching them disappear into the wash of black trunks and pink petals. "Major, wait! What about…." But they were already long gone.
Damn it all to hell, Rodney swore to himself. Looking down, he shifted to get Teyla's arm over his shoulder and, with a grunt, he managed to lift her up in his arms. Trying not to think about the damage this would do to his back, he started carrying her back to the Stargate, his mind filled with all the names he wanted to call Sheppard when he came back.
He'd better come back.
CHAPTER TWO: THE RESCUE
Tae was fast, running unerringly through the short trees towards the screams he heard. If he knew Sheppard and Ford were behind him, he gave no sign. The soft petals and thick moss hid some of the noise of their mad dash, creating a strange sort of silence broken only by their panted breaths and the continued screams for help.
In a fairly short time, a high stone wall appeared, rising higher than the trees, appearing to stretch ad infinitum in both directions. Tae hit a flagstone path running along the massive wall, veered to the right, and increased his pace.
Sheppard and Ford were right on his heels.
Ahead of them, the wall broke, revealing a gateway. It was huge, at least twice as wide as the Stargate, which was impressive. Massive iron gates blocked it, but there was a doorway cut into them, just wide enough for two people to step through at once. It was open, and another cream-clothed monk stood guarding it. He had his sword out, and, at the sound of Tae's approach, looked up.
"Master Tae!" he called, "Thank Callum! I…" The monk trailed off, as Ford and Sheppard appeared behind the black haired monk. Tae glanced at them in annoyance over his shoulder, then looked back at the gatekeeper.
"Rande, What is happening?"
The guard blinked, taking his eyes off the strangers to focus back on Tae. "A girl…being chased by at least ten men from the village. She's obviously a slave, Tae. She practically tried to climb through the gate when she got here. She tried to invoke sanctuary—but didn't have the right words, and then those men came and she ran."
"She tried to invoke Sanctuary?"
"Yes. And she was close, really close. I think she could have potential, Tae, but she's not…and if they catch her, I think they'll kill her before she can ever try again." He looked at Sheppard and Ford again, clearly confused by their presence, but didn't say anything as Tae nodded.
"Okay, Rande, stay here. Kailin's gone to inform Sette and get more soldiers. I'll see if I can stop those men."
"Stay here!" Tae ordered the man harshly, and the guard winced. Suddenly, the black-haired man swiveled on his feet to stare at Sheppard. "And you! Go back to where you came from! Now!"
Sheppard just smiled. Tae gritted his teeth, then jumped through the open door in the gate.
Sheppard and Ford followed, leaving the confused guard in their wake.
McKay rested Teyla down on a decorative iron bench near the Stargate, checking her pulse and color. She looked well, despite obviously being unconscious. There was no sign of sickness or anything that should cause this state. And yet….
Frowning more, he grabbed his scanner, intending to measure her vitals….
What the hell?
The screen was abnormally bright, as if too much power was surging through it. He stared at it a moment, then started fiddling, trying to diminish it before it did any permanent damage to the instrument. It wasn't meant to contain that much power—the build up would eventually burn the screen out…or blow it up.
Then suddenly, oddly, it started to fade. Within moments, it looked normal again, and he quickly started keying in search commands for power sources in the area. He was completely bewildered now, as nothing strange registered. His thoughts leapt all over the place as scenarios whipped through his mind like racecars flashing past on a Nascar course.
The scanner was instantly forgotten, placed to one side. He knelt next to her, smiling to see her eyelids fluttering open.
Annoyed at himself for getting distracted even for a moment, McKay gently touched her face, trying to wake her more fully.
"Teyla," he called softly, "Teyla, can you hear me?"
Her dark brown eyes opened, blinked a few times, then shifted, focusing on McKay. Her gaze met his concerned one for a few moments, then the eyes turned away, staring up at the cloud-filled peach haze overhead.
"Teyla," McKay called again, "What's happening? Are you all right?"
"Something…," she whispered, blinking slowly, "something…covered my eyes."
"What?" McKay frowned, "Teyla, I don't understand. What does that mean?"
"Covered them…took my sight," her eyes closed again, "…can't think." Her voice trailed off, and her head tilted away from him towards the back of the bench as she succumbed once more to unconsciousness.
McKay's brow furrowed, touching a hand to her neck to check her pulse, making sure it remained steady. She simply appeared to be sleeping again. Breathing out heavily, he frowned and leant back in order to sit on the floor of the stone dais. With a tensed jaw, he looked over to the scanner on the bench by her head.
The screen was bright again, but fading. It had obviously just registered another burst of power and was now reading those same steadily strong energy readings he had seen when they first arrived.
Probably returned at the same time that Teyla was knocked out again, he realized.
It could be a coincidence.
McKay didn't like coincidences.
His lips twisted slightly, part of him wanting to pick up the scanner again, but only a small part. Pushing the anomaly to the back of his mind, he got up and jogged over to the DHD, to key in the code for Atlantis. Right now, he needed to get her home.
The scene was almost out of a movie. A trembling girl, perhaps twenty-five, had her back pressed up against the massive stone outer wall of the temple. Her dark clothes were in shreds, stringy, long blond hair covered half her face, and her wide, blue eyes were wide and terrified. The way her hands and feet scraped at the rough stone, she looked like she would climb it if she could. A small cloth bag was at her feet, where she had obviously dropped it.
Arranged in a semi-circle before the scared girl were about a dozen men of varying ages and health, some holding bows, others swords, and a couple had black maces. It took that many to capture one woman?
"Hey!" Tae had slowed enough to pull the sword from his back, not noticing as Sheppard and Ford broke off in a different direction. "You men, stop!"
An older steel haired man glared at Tae, "Stay out of this, Callumite!"
"I can't, not when I see so many men about to attack an obviously defenseless girl." Tae was walking now, and cautiously. With slow, measured steps, both hands on his sword, he slid into a position in front of the trembling girl. "This girl tried to invoke Sanctuary."
"But she failed."
"She has the right to try again," Tae said softly, not loosening his grip.
"She says one word now," another man said, this one younger with blond hair like the slave girl's, "and we'll shoot an arrow through her throat. We own her, monk. She's ours to do so with as we wish, even kill her, if that's out prerogative. You know the law."
"Yes," Tae was clearly unhappy, "I know the law, and so do you. In the presence of a Callumite, however, anyone may invoke sanctuary. I will let her try again. If she succeeds—"
"But she can TRY!" Tae spat. "Go on, girl. Speak."
The slave girl said nothing, staring at the back of the monk in front of her, her voice frozen in her throat.
"SPEAK!" Tae shouted, not taking his eyes off of the angry men threatening them.
"Ch…ch…." The girl stuttered, and swallowed. Finally, she shook her head, "I…can't."
"There you see?" the steel haired man snarled. "She can't!"
"Try again," Tae said softly over his shoulder. "You can do it."
The girl swallowed again, then, with a shaky voice, she began to speak.
Standing now behind the twelve men, Sheppard glanced over at Ford at the language she spoke. The lieutenant arched an eyebrow.
It sounded like…Cantonese.
Ford thought he caught a word or two, words he had learned from his time in the service, but most of it sounded like gibberish. He shook his head at Sheppard. The major grimaced, and looked at Tae. The monk's eyes were still on the gathered men, but his expression was grim. The angles in his face seemed sharper, the shadows deeper, especially the ones under his eyes.
When the girl finished, she was crying. She knew she hadn't gotten the language correct.
One of the men started to laugh, "She got it wrong!"
"Even I could have done better than that," guffawed another.
"She failed, monk. She's ours," the steel haired man stated firmly.
Tae's shoulders fell a little, and he looked over his shoulder. The girl was staring back at him, tears streaking down her pale cheeks. She was pleading with him, without saying a word.
"I'm sorry," he said, turning away from her. "These men are correct. I can not interfere." He lowered the sword…and stepped back to the side.
From her position against the wall, the slave sobbed out a pitiful cry.
"Maybe you can't interfere," Sheppard said suddenly, calling the group's attention to the two strangers who had purposefully positioned themselves behind the villagers, "but we can."
"What?" the steel haired villager said, peering over his shoulder at the weirdly dressed man. "Who the hell are you?"
"They came through the Great Ring," Tae answered, before he turned to look at Sheppard directly. "And you should not interfere either. Our laws are—"
"Stupid?" Sheppard interrupted, "See, Tae, here's the thing. Some laws…are really bad laws. And frankly," he gestured with his P-90 towards the slave girl, "any law that allows slavery is not just bad, it's downright repulsive. Slavery is something not to be condoned…on any world." He shifted the gun up, looking away from Tae to the villagers, "What I'm trying to say is, any man here who raises his bow to shoot at that girl back there, will die."
"Oh please," the dark haired man scoffed, staring at the two of them. "And how are you going to do that? Just the two of you against all of us? You have no swords." He lifted his own nasty spike headed mace up over his head, "What can you—"
Machine gun fire split the air, and everyone but Sheppard cringed. The slave girl screamed, covering her ears.
Next to the major, Ford smiled as he looked up a little from his P-90s sight-line.
The man with the mace blinked, his shaking hand dropping the now useless hunk of wood from his grip. The spiked head of the mace had landed about three feet away.
"They're a little more rapid-fire than your arrows," Sheppard smiled condescendingly. "If I were you, I'd drop your weapons."
The men didn't need to be told twice. Swords, maces and bows fell to the ground in a clatter of metal and wood, and hands were raised.
Tae's jaw was rigid, though something in his eyes showed he wasn't actually displeased. The slave girl just seemed lost, still not sure what was happening.
"Now, if we leave this girl here," Sheppard asked, looking at Tae, "I presume you'll just give her back to these men, right?"
The monk shrugged, "Yes."
"Well," Sheppard sidled through the men, his P-90 still raised, nodding at Ford who remained covering their backs, "then I guess we'll take her with us."
Tae looked down, hiding his expression, while the girl stared at Sheppard with wide eyes as he reached her side next to the wall.
"If that's all right with her, of course," the major said, looking at her briefly in question before turning back to the men before them.
The slave girl blinked. "W…where?" she asked softly.
"Far, far away from here," Sheppard answered. "A great city."
She swallowed, looking around at the others. The villagers watched her, bloody murder in her eyes. Tae's eyes were cool, but he gave her an encouraging nod.
She seemed to gather strength from that nod, and she stood up a little straighter, pushing away from the stone wall.
"Yes," she looked up at Sheppard, "I will go with you."
"All righty, then," the major grinned. "What's your name?"
"Straein," she replied, offering him her first smile back. "And thank you."
CHAPTER THREE: RETURNING HOME
McKay was pacing, watching the pink woods with a growing sense of trepidation. The gate remained open, waiting for either something to pass through or to be shut down, and part of him wanted to damn the precautions and carry Teyla through now. That, and he wanted the major to already be there. Sheppard and Ford had radioed to say they were on their way back with a slave they had rescued--a girl named Straein--but it wasn't fast enough for him. The longer he waited, either for word from Atlantis that the quarantine was set up or for Sheppard to appear, the more time he had to worry about the energy readings on his scanner.
Something was very, very wrong with this place. More than just Teyla and the rescue the major had reported to them over the radio, though they were obviously tied up with the whole. He couldn't put his finger on it…but it felt wrong.
The last time he'd felt this way was when he'd first met Chaya. Which wasn't a good thing. He'd been wrong then…well, he'd been right, but he'd been wrong as well.
But ignoring his instincts was not something McKay was particularly good at. He hated two things more than anything—ignorance and deception. Chaya had deceived them, even though she had done so for ostensibly honest reasons. It had rankled him, even after she left. And it had set a wedge between him and the major for several days. But, somehow, they both got over it. They often did…water off a duck's back. One day, they were just back to normal.
Well, as normal as his relationship with Sheppard was.
And part of him was afraid…that he was about to ruin it again. But he knew. He knew….
Something was very wrong.
And he also knew Sheppard wasn't going to believe him…again.
He straightened, sighing a little in relief as he recognized his two missing teammates appearing from out of the flowering trees….
Sheppard jumped up the steps of the stone dais, immediately shifting to kneel next to the still unconscious Teyla to check on her. Behind him, Ford walked more calmly, sticking next to a rather plain woman with startlingly blue eyes. As she moved up the stairs, lifting the hem of her skirt daintily as she did so, her eyes met McKay's…and seemed to recoil a little. Turning her head, she looked behind her to the monk they had met first. The black haired Tae had his head bowed slightly, looking up at all of them on the dais from beneath his eyebrows.
Tae looked unhappy. He turned away at the slave girl's look, furrowing his brow in a way that suggested he suddenly felt very uncomfortable.
The woman's jaw tensed and she turned to face the gate, letting the event horizon reflect in her depthless eyes.
McKay stared at the woman, his eyes narrowing. The feeling of wrongness was like a fire in his chest.
"This is her?" he spat, curling his lip a little. Her head turned to look at him again, but he was focused on Sheppard now.
Sheppard glanced up, not hiding his annoyance at the scientist's disdainful tone. Where the hell had that come from?
"You were expecting someone else?" he replied harshly. "Yes, it's her. Doctor Rodney McKay, meet Straein. Straein, Doctor McKay." Introductions made, he looked directly at Rodney. "She'll be coming with us."
"Really," the other man grimaced.
"Something the matter, doc?" Ford asked, also picking up on the tone. McKay glanced at him and then back at the woman. She stared back now, tilting her head slightly, and any nervousness she exhibited earlier melted away. She met his eyes evenly, and that made him even more suspicious. But he just shook his head.
"No, it's fine," he stated in a voice that said it was clearly not fine. The major grimaced, then turned his head away, standing up to face the open wormhole.
"Atlantis," Sheppard tapped his radio, "are you ready for us?"
"Yes, Major," Weir replied, "We were just about to radio you. Come on through. Carson will met you on this side. You'll come through, into the tent, and into a jumper. Assuming you're well enough to fly…?"
"Yes," Sheppard replied to the implied question. "As of now, it's only Teyla who's been affected. Then, what, out to the west pier?"
"Yes. The rest of Beckett's team will meet you there."
"Got it." Fixing the P-90 in place, the major turned to McKay and Sheppard. He was planning to pick up Teyla, but, surprisingly, McKay already had. He actually looked somewhat heroic, carrying her in his arms. But the expression on the scientist's face was not heroic. It looked somewhere between constipated…and darkly suspicious. He was looking sidelong at Straein. In response, or perhaps even in ignorance, the woman herself was staring down at her toes, her long blonde hair covering her face.
"We ready?" He was asking McKay, though it was Ford who answered.
"Then let's go." He turned, looking back at Tae. The young man still had his head bowed, watching them from the ground below the raised dais. He looked strangely uncertain, and, for a moment, it bothered the major. But only a moment. Absolute conviction that they were doing the right thing washed over him, and returned his gaze to the Stargate just as McKay walked through with Teyla…and he smiled back at the wonderful smile Straein gave him as she followed after them.
They were met on the other side, finding themselves inside a quarantine tent, as Weir had promised.
McKay was about to put Teyla down on the stretcher prepared for her, when her eyes opened. She looked up at his face, face bright with surprise. Her right arm wrapped around his shoulder tightly and her left grabbed the front of his shirt. Her leg muscles twitched where they were draped over his right arm.
"Dr. McKay?" she blinked, every muscle in her body tensing up.
His mouth fell open slightly, and then opened more as she wriggled.
"Please put me down," she said quietly, obviously uncomfortable.
"Um…." Rodney looked up, straight into the blue eyes of Carson Beckett…hidden behind the plastic cover of the Haz Mat suit.
"Not quite yet, darlin'," Beckett answered, putting his face in her line of sight, "You've not been well."
Teyla turned to look at him, her own lips parting in surprise at his suit, and the more so as she recognized the set up of the quarantine. Numbly, she let Rodney place her on the stretcher, then watched with completely puzzled eyes as she was wheeled into the waiting jumper.
McKay, the major and Ford followed, along with more of Beckett's team, and a woman Teyla had never met before. The woman smiled at her shyly, and Teyla found herself smiling back without compunction, though something niggled at the back of her mind in warning.
"This is Straein," Sheppard explained, waving at Teyla to get her attention. "She's going to be living with us from now on."
"Oh," Teyla met his gaze, still not hiding her confusion.
"Long story," he replied. "Let's get you well first."
She opened her mouth to explain that she actually felt perfectly fine, but Beckett interrupted.
"Major," the doctor appeared at Sheppard's side, glancing with the same curiosity at the girl before smiling at the pilot. "Feel up to getting us over to the West pier?"
"Of course," Sheppard was all smiles now, and so was the girl. Soon, everyone was smiling on the jumper…except McKay. He had his arms crossed, staring at the back of the jumper as the hatch sealed shut.
CHAPTER FOUR: THE DIAGNOSIS
"Nothing wrong with Teyla," Carson informed Elizabeth over the radio, standing off a bit to one side, "or with any of them, as far as I can tell. They're perfectly healthy. Whatever affected Teyla, it was confined to that planet. She's as fit as she ever was."
"Confined to that planet," Weir replied, her voice sounding slightly tinny over the frequency. "You mean, like an allergy of sorts? Something peculiar to that place?"
"As far as I can tell, yes," Carson replied. "I suggest we maintain the quarantine for 24 hours, but if nothing manifests, they can probably all be released."
Back in the control room, Weir twisted her lips a little, then nodded. "You're the expert, Carson," she replied calmly. "If you're certain…."
"I'm certain," Beckett replied. "I have no concerns, whatsoever. In fact, even 24 hours might be a little long. We'll probably know in less than 12."
He couldn't see her, but Weir's eyebrows lifted a little. "Really?"
"Honestly, Doctor Weir, I am ninety-nine percent sure there is nothing wrong. Fit as fiddles."
Beckett adjusted the radio on his ear, frowning a little at the words coming out of his mouth. Part of him was fighting the certainty he'd just relayed to Doctor Weir, surprised that he would be so glib as to suggest only a 12 hour quarantine. Shaking off the nagging voice, he turned to look at the people on the far side of the clean room they'd set up out here. McKay was leaning against a cot, his arms crossed and his eyes on the ground. He'd been very quiet since returning, which was unusual but not worrisome. Sheppard was chatting with Teyla, and she was laughing at whatever he was describing. Ford was listening in, enjoying whatever tale the major was spinning. And then there was the girl….
Straein was staring directly at him, her blue eyes twinkling. She smiled at him when he caught her gaze, and he smiled back.
"And our visitor? How is she?" Weir asked him, as if she could read his mind.
"She's as healthy as she is beautiful," he replied, almost sighing. Then, suddenly, he blinked and turned around, breaking the contact in order to complete the statement and cover up his obviously inappropriate comment. "She's human, just like the rest of us, and seems as fit as everyone else."
"Really?" Weir was surprised, "but I thought the major said she was a slave? I'm surprised there aren't any signs of mistreatment."
"Oh," Carson frowned, realizing that she was probably correct, and, as if only just remembering, added, "well, she is somewhat malnourished, and there are some bruises and other marks I'm not too happy about, but, mostly, she seems fine. Nothing that can't be cured."
"Ah, I see. Well, okay then, Carson," Weir replied, "I guess we'll see you in 12 hours."
"See you then," Beckett replied, shutting down the comm.
He turned again, and found McKay staring at him this time. His expression was tense. Beckett met his eyes, didn't like the look, and shifted his gaze to the others. They were all now listening to the major, including Straein. Shame really…he had hoped to see her smile at him again.
"Twelve hours?" the major shrugged, "that's not so bad. Particularly since, in about three, it'll be night." He smiled, looking around at the others. The others, except an apparently oblivious McKay, met his eyes curiously, obviously not catching his point. He waved his right hand around in a circle, "Meaning, that we can, uh, sleep for most of it." He raised his eyebrows, still smiling. Everyone else turned back to Beckett without response and the major deflated a little.
Carson smiled, surprised at how agreeable they were all being. Well, everyone except Rodney, who was now fiddling with his scanner in an almost bratty child like way. He hadn't looked up once since Beckett had come in to tell them the news.
"Well, I'm glad you feel that way, Major," the physician replied. "I'll make sure some dinner is sent over, and anything else anyone may need." He nodded at them, a strange sight behind the haz mat suit, the hood bobbing less than the actual head. "Any requests?"
"Rodney will have the lemon chicken," Sheppard grinned, "Followed by lemon meringue pie and a glass of lemonade." He glanced over at the scientist, waiting for the inevitable response to his joke. The grin faded when McKay didn't look up from the scanner he appeared to be fighting with, not even the tiniest of annoyed grimaces crossing the scientist's face.
"Ah, well," Beckett's grin faded as well, "I think there may be some new dishes, but it'll probably by MRE's. I'm sure there's a nice curry you all could—"
"Anything is fine, Carson," Teyla smiled up at him. "Do not worry about us."
Beckett nodded, then, with one more glance at Rodney, he turned and headed into the next room, heading towards a communications console to talk to the kitchens.
"Cards?" Sheppard asked then, pulling a heretofore hidden deck out of a pocket. Ford grinned, holding his hand out, while Teyla tried to remember the rules of the game she'd been taught a few days ago…something about straights and flushing? Sheppard placed the cards in his lieutenant's hands, and watched as Teyla leant in to listen to Ford explain (again) the rules to poker, and then turned to Straein.
She had moved a little ways away, picking at the knots on the small cloth bag she had brought with her.
Pasting the smile back on his face, he sauntered over, clearing his throat to signal his approach.
She turned, almost guiltily, keeping her tiny bag behind her, hiding it.
Sheppard pretended to glance over her shoulder, "You, uh, couldn't have brought that much with you."
Straein blushed prettily, color seeping into her high cheekbones, and her blue eyes fluttered back at him. "No, no, not much. Just," she shrugged, "those things most important to me."
Sheppard's smile faltered, then grew, "Ah, what I meant was, you don't have to worry about not having much. We have extra clothes we can lend you, or you can borrow something from the Athosian people on the mainland, and you're welcome to share everything we have here. I also know that Teyla's people would be happy to also make you part of their village, if you wish."
She blushed more, bowing her head and staring up at him through long pale lashes.
McKay had finally looked up from his scanner to listen to the conversation, his eyes narrowed. At her obvious coyness, he rolled his eyes. Straein's eyes flickered to him for a moment, before returning to the major.
"Thank you, Major."
"John," he corrected.
She smiled again, ignoring the shudder she visibly saw rack Rodney's frame a few feet away.
"Thank you John," she said softly. "Actually," she turned suddenly, looked a little like she was hesitating, and Sheppard's smile fell a little. She made a motion like she was pulling something from the bag, and, when she turned, she had something in her hand.
"I want you to have this," she said.
Sheppard held up a restraining hand, "Oh, no, Straein, you don't need to—"
"I want to. Please." She grabbed the hand he'd held up with her free one, and turned it palm up. With the other, she dropped the object into it.
Sheppard stared down at the tiny, perfectly spherical orange piece of glass on his palm, about the size of a golf ball. Silver lines stretched across the smooth surface, giving it an edging, and, possibly, keeping it together. It seemed to glow with a soft inner light, almost like a diamond, though it had no facets that could explain such a phenomenon. It appeared to be one solid piece of glass.
"It is called Renzite," Straein explained. "It comes in many colors, but that piece is orange, which is a rare color. Not many were made like it." She smiled up at him, pleased at his appreciative expression as he rolled the sphere around his palm. "Do you like it?"
"It's beautiful," he admitted, still admiring it. Then he shook his head, looking up at her, "But I can't take this."
"Please, it would be a great honor to me if you did. I can't repay you for what you have done, rescuing me like you did, but…." She trailed off, smiling softly, "If you keep that with you wherever you go, then that will mean something. It may even bring you luck, as it has done me."
"Wherever I go?" Sheppard was surprised. "Straein, I can't. It looks so fragile. What I do, it—"
"It's not as fragile as it seems. It would take a lot to shatter it, believe me." She met his eyes squarely, and Sheppard found himself unable to deny the statement.
"Nearly shatterproof glass," McKay said coldly, walking up next to them. He stared at the bauble, then at Straein, "I would imagine something like that would be of great value on your world."
She stared back at him, all smiles gone.
"You implying something, McKay?" Sheppard asked, wrapping his fingers around the glass, almost as if he were afraid the scientist would take it from him.
But McKay just stared at the girl, not listening to the warning tone of the major.
"McKay?" Sheppard knocked his arm, and not kindly.
Rodney turned his eyes away from Straein at the light hit, meeting Sheppard's gaze with something akin to hurt. To say the major found that odd was an understatement. Without another word, McKay simply backed off, returning to the table he'd been leaning on before. Sheppard watched him leave, then sighed. Turning back to Straein, he opened his mouth to apologize.
"No need," she said, anticipating his words. "He is merely mistrusting. A failing, but not one that can't be overcome. I'm sure, in time, he will learn to trust others."
Sheppard arched an eyebrow at her, then looked back at McKay again.
"Maybe," he said, feeling his dislike of the scientist's behavior growing.
He didn't even notice that his hand had tightened around the orange glass ball he held, and it pulsed brightly in reply. Straein's smile deepened.
CHAPTER FIVE: DISRUPTIONS
Beckett had shut the lights off after about four hours, when they were all getting a little stir-crazy after being cooped up together for so long. The major and McKay's sniping had degenerated to the point where they weren't speaking, which had put a damper on the mood. Sheppard had started it with a rib at McKay, trying to break him out of the morose mood he'd settled in, but McKay wasn't in the mood. It had gotten nasty…for only the second time that Beckett could remember. The first time had been when Chaya was here—that was something Beckett preferred to forget. They'd smoothed it out afterwards, fairly quickly in fact, but some of that same tension was back, and Beckett didn't like it.
It felt like something was wrong, like something wasn't right with the world.
They all slept now, resting after a long day. Even McKay seemed to have succumbed. Feeling a bit like the father who had ordered his children to bed, Beckett sat at the little temporary desk he'd set up, typing up his report of the day on his laptop.
He looked at Straein's vitals, once again feeling his curiosity pique at the fact that, sure enough, there really didn't seem to be anything wrong with her. Hell, she was as healthy as Teyla (putting her ahead of both Sheppard and McKay and even Ford). Why had he reported otherwise to Weir? The readings also showed she was older than she looked. He'd thought her to be about 23 or 24, but, according to this, she was closer to 35 or 38. How was that possible?
Shaking the question off, he heard a noise to his right, and nearly jumped out of his skin to find McKay tapping at the plastic sheeting separating him from the other room. Beckett put a hand to his chest to calm his breathing, and managed to look clearly at the other man.
The scientist's expression was troubled, and he looked at Beckett as if he were seeking someone to provide an answer. With a wry look, the physician grabbed for a face mask and pulled it on, as nothing had indicated any real need for the haz mat suit any more, then indicated Rodney come through.
"Rodney," Carson said, as McKay pushed through the plastic sheeting, "I told all of you to sleep."
Rodney shook his head. "I can't. I need to ask you something."
Carson frowned, "What about her?"
"Don't you think it's a little odd that, someone who just nearly escaped being murdered by her masters and spent her whole life as a slave girl…should be the picture of health?"
"There's not a mark on her, Carson. She looks healthier than me."
Beckett couldn't resist a smile at that one, "Well, that's not a difficult thing to achieve…."
"I'm being serious, Beckett. When I first saw her, I thought she was another monk. Her clothes, her hair, everything. Sheppard had reported her clothes as "rags" and "in tatters," but when I saw her, her clothes were rude, but not in ruins. She wasn't even dirty."
"Well," Beckett frowned, "perhaps she wasn't a menial laborer, son." He shook his head, "She is lovely to look at, you know. She might have been…." he trailed off, raising his eyebrows a bit. McKay frowned, and Beckett lowered his voice more to complete the thought. "You know," he blushed a bit, "as in a harem of sorts?"
McKay snorted, "A sex slave? Please. Did you found evidence of that?"
Carson pinched his lips, "Well, no, but—"
"Because there isn't any," the scientist snapped back. "She's, what, 35, 37? She's too old for that and far too confident. Besides, there's no way she was a…you know…and she wouldn't show the marks of it. Listen," he crouched down next to Beckett's chair, in order to lower his voice and to speak more face to face with the physician, "She's not what she says she is. I don't care what the major and Ford say—if that girl was a slave, I'm a four star general."
Carson's jaw clenched, looking over at the sleeping girl. She stirred a little, as if sensing the scrutiny, but didn't wake. The doctor looked back at Rodney.
"Paranoia, son. That's what this is. You can't seriously believe that sweet girl could cause us any harm, could you?"
McKay arched an eyebrow, "Are you forgetting where we are, Carson? You and I have absolutely no idea what sort of power one single girl could have, not here. I don't think we can trust her. Listen, here's the thing. Teyla didn't just get sick because she breathed in some soporific pollen or had an allergic reaction to bonsai trees, Carson. I think someone deliberately knocked her out."
Carson's eyebrows shot up, "What? How?"
"When I first got to the planet, I was reading something powerful on my scanner, something which reminded me of the beings on the fog planet."
Beckett's eyes narrowed, "The ones who took over your minds?"
"Yes, only," McKay grimaced, "not as strong as that, and not as constant. It ebbed and flowed, like the ocean. And when Teyla was knocked out," he licked his lips, opening his eyes a little wider, "the power surge was amazing. My scanner screen lit up like Times Square. Then, for a second, it wavered…and Teyla woke up. Not for long, but, when she fell asleep again, the energy readings came back at the same time."
Carson stared at him, tilting his head. He glanced over at Straein's sleeping form, then back to Rodney.
"And that's not all," Rodney added. "My scanner still reads a muted but still steady level of a power similar to what I saw on the planet. Now, it could just be because I hadn't calibrated the scanner to look for it before, and its always been here, but if it hasn't…." He arched his eyebrows, not finishing the thought.
Beckett grimaced, then sighed. "All right. I'll accept that something is not quite right," he agreed softly. "You had best tell Elizabeth."
"Will you back me up?"
"Tell her that you didn't find anything to suggest Straein's been treated badly."
Carson frowned again, reminded again about the lie he'd told Weir. He still didn't know why he had done that.
Slowly, reluctantly, he nodded.
McKay blew the air out of his cheeks, and reached into his pocket for his earpiece.
Elizabeth was wiping the sleep from her eyes, listening as McKay prattled on about possibly confining the girl that they'd brought with them. It seemed silly. She'd seen her herself, briefly, true, but the image of a terrified, young, fragile girl had been impressed on her mind. Even with Carson admitting that he had not told the exact truth about her health, it still seemed wrong to her.
"Please, Elizabeth," Rodney pleaded, using that tone that she found herself often hard-pressed to ignore. "I don't trust this girl. I don't trust anything that—"
"What's going on," Sheppard's voice came clearly over the radio. Elizabeth nearly jumped, almost as if she'd been caught doing something she shouldn't. She realized the major must have walked into the room with Beckett and McKay, where they were relaying their message.
"Major," she greeted coolly.
"Hang on," Carson said. There was some fumbling over the line, then Sheppard's voice came in more clearly. The doctor had obviously given him his radio.
"Hello, Major." She stood up a little straighter, feeling strangely self-conscious, even though he couldn't see her. She even tugged the bottom of her long pajama top down to smooth out the wrinkles..
"What's McKay been telling you?"
"Only legitimate concerns," Rodney replied calmly, "about your guest."
"Like you concerns with Chaya?" Sheppard was harsh.
"I was not wrong," the scientist replied just as coldly.
"Gentlemen," Elizabeth said calmly, trying to stop the direction of the conversation.
"You sure as hell weren't right either," Sheppard hissed to McKay.
"She shouldn't have lied to us," came the scientist's angry reply.
"Gentlemen," Elizabeth tried again. Her brow was furrowed—this didn't sound like the two men she knew. There was something ugly underlying this fight.
"She was trying to protect her people. She couldn't risk—"
"Of course not. But that didn't stop her from chasing you across the—"
"Gentlemen!" Elizabeth whipped the word out, "Please!"
Silence greeted her outburst.
"Thank you," she straightened the pajama top again, "John, Rodney has some real concerns that Doctor Beckett has…somewhat…backed up. I think perhaps…."
"Bullshit!" the major almost yelled the word.
"Major," she sighed.
"No, this conversation is idiotic. McKay wasn't there, Elizabeth. I saw those men chasing her; I know what they were planning on doing to her. He's way off here."
"I know something you don't, Major," McKay replied. "About Teyla and—"
"What about her? You blaming her illness on the girl as well?"
"Elizabeth, this is a joke; it really is. McKay is just being his usual selfish, cowardly self."
Weir's eyes widened slightly—cowardly? That didn't sound like the major. She opened her mouth to reply, when McKay's voice stopped her.
"You're wrong, Major," McKay hissed.
"Don't kid yourself, McKay. Underneath that cowardly exterior is an even more cowardly—"
"Major," Elizabeth cut him off, not wanting the conversation to get any uglier. Frankly, Sheppard was scaring her a little. One thing she had come to learn was that McKay wasn't a coward; he didn't deserve the label, and Sheppard knew that as well as she did. She hoped it was the strain that had caused him to say that. "Listen to me. Despite Doctor McKay's recommendation, I'm not going to tell you to lock her up. All I ask is that you…watch her for a few days. That's all."
"What? Elizabeth, No!" McKay gasped, "that's not good enough. I thought I was—"
"Watch her?" Sheppard interrupted. "Actually, that sounds fine. Not a problem."
"Elizabeth," McKay tried again, "you don't understand! If she—"
Elizabeth shook her head, "No, Rodney. If this girl is traumatized, which, from what I've heard from the major and what I've seen, seems accurate, I'm not about to make her salvation a prison. The major can watch her."
"Elizabeth, please!" McKay was almost begging.
"Until you come with stronger proof, Rodney," she replied, "I'm going to get some sleep. I suggest you do the same."
"What?" she sighed again, the action turning into a yawn.
"At least have the major give the orange ball to me."
"What?" she replied, confused. "What orange ball?"
"McKay," Sheppard ground the name out, and it wasn't a pleasant sound. But the scientist would not be daunted.
"Straein gave him a bauble—and orange glass ball about the size of a golf ball. Tell him to give it to me to study."
"The hell I will," Sheppard snapped back.
"Elizabeth, please," McKay was begging now. "Order him to give it to me. Please, trust me on this."
"Not a snowball's chance in hell," the major sounded deadly firm.
"Major," Weir shook her head, nearly losing the radio on her head, prompting her to reach up to reset it, "I'm sure it will only be for a little while. Why not let him—"
"I won't give it to him," the major insisted. "He'll break it."
"Of course I won't!" McKay snapped back. "I have never broken anything I've studied."
"Oh really?" The sneer in his face was audible even over the radio.
"Major," McKay sighed, "think about who you are talking to. I may be a bit clumsy when I fight alongside you, but I'm still the only reason we can work half the equipment in this city, and you know it. Of course I won't break it."
There was silence for a few moments, and Elizabeth tugged at her pajamas again. Finally, she couldn't stand the wait any longer.
"Major, let him have it. He's right. He won't break it."
She looked down, waiting for the response. Eventually, Sheppard's sigh echoed over the comm..
"Fine," he spat. "For a day only. Then I want it back."
"Fine," McKay spat back.
"Fine," Sheppard said again.
Weir shut her eyes, then opened them again. "Are we done gentlemen?" she asked tiredly.
"Yes," McKay said.
"Sheppard out," the major said, and the crackle of his cutting the connection went with it. A second later, another crackle, from McKay's removed radio, joined it.
Elizabeth shook her head, pulling the radio from her own ear. "What the hell just happened there?" she asked the room.
Over on the west pier, Straein watched as Sheppard and McKay returned to their cots, her blue eyes shifting from their constant focus on the major, to Rodney's broad back as he lay facing away from her.
The pale blue eyes darkened and narrowed.
CHAPTER SIX: VISION OF LOVLINESS
The next day, everyone was back where they belonged, more or less.
Ford and Teyla were sparring—he was still teaching her how to box. She hadn't quite learned the technique yet, but she was getting better.
McKay was in his lab, purposefully alone. He'd ordered the other scientists who shared his space to use "somewhere else" for a little while. It hadn't gone over particularly well, even when he explained it was for their own protection. It had sounded like a line. McKay always wondered why no one ever believed him; he rarely lied. Why did they always think he did?
Currently, he was having a 3-D image taken of the orange ball. It seemed to glow less strongly outside of the major's presence, but that only made him more concerned.
And speaking of the major….
He was giving Straein a tour.
She turned heads everywhere she went. People knew who she was, and knew a little of what she had been through (though most of what they "thought" they knew were rumors), but everyone who saw her were left with the same three impressions.
First, she was gorgeous. Heidi Klum gorgeous. Blond hair fell in waves over perfect shoulders. Blue eyes sparkled in the sunlight streaming through the stained glass windows. And, of course, her body…well, it gave Teyla a run for her money.
Second, she was completely oblivious to her beauty. She smiled, and people smiled back, even if they didn't want to. Weir had even subconsciously touched her hair several times, as if embarrassed that it wasn't as long or as shiny as Straein's. Of course, they had a limited supply of cheap shampoo, and appearance wasn't really that important but….
Third, Straein was clearly someone who needed to be cared for. Delicate was one word that rung in people's minds. Fragile was another. Innocent was a third. With each room she passed through, she left behind a fundamental belief amongst those gathered that this girl was, possibly, the sweetest person they would ever meet. She had to be protected and saved. It just wasn't obvious from whom.
The only fly in the ointment were the tiny number of people who, like Rodney, saw an older woman with light brown hair, sharp eyes and a confidence and strength that belied what the others were saying about her.
Kavenaugh grimaced, staring around at the people he was with, not understanding the beatific expressions on their faces after meeting Straein. He'd just felt mildly annoyed at her interruption of the work they were doing. He snapped a finger in front of Doctor Simpson's face, and the woman blinked a few times before glaring at him and turning back to the diagnostics they were running.
Sergeant Bates stared along with the others, but without any real emotion. He was judging her, doing his job by measuring, to the best of his ability, what her threat level was. He had her pinpointed as inconsequential, until he caught her eyes. There was something more there, a coldness….and he decided not to judge by appearances. She looked away quickly, brushing some of her light brown hair behind her ear and moving closer to Sheppard. Bates didn't take his eyes off of her until she was out of the room.
Doctor Zelenka scratched his head, adjusted his glasses, and shrugged. Nudging Doctor Ridderov, who was helping him readjust the relay station they were working on, he arched an eyebrow at the stupid grin the young scientist sent back to him. Ridderov whispered in Czech, asking whether or not Zelenka had ever seen anyone so lovely. Zelenka just grimaced, shook his head, and told the young man to get back to work.
In the mess, Corporal Recillos, who was on kitchen duty this month, had to clear her throat to call back the attention of the two marines who were craning their necks to follow Sheppard and Straein's progress down the hall away from them. Her quietly accented, "Senors?" brought them back, but the dazed expressions had the lovely Mexican woman shaking her head as she spooned their dinners onto their trays.
And finally, as they walked past where Teyla and Ford were sparring, Teyla had been forced to back off when a sharp pain sparked behind her left eye that had nothing to do with the sport. Trying to shake off the headache that suddenly formed, the Athosian looked up just as Straein and Sheppard waved to them from the open entranceway. The headache faded as soon as they were gone, and she looked over at Ford. He looked like a kid who had just gotten his first kiss from a girl, still gazing longingly in the direction of the now empty hallway.
She cleared her throat. He sighed, looked back at her…and almost looked disappointed to see it was just her.
She frowned, looking back out of the doorway to the hall.
For the first time, she began to wonder if Doctor McKay's paranoia…might have real validity.
"And you have been here how long?" Straein asked, her hands resting behind her back as they walked.
"A few months," Sheppard shrugged, "but it already feels like home."
"But it's not your home," she said, looking around. The hallway here looked vaguely familiar, and she realized he'd led her back to the living quarters…and her room.
"Well," the major shook his head, "Yes and no. We came here hoping to find the lost city of Atlantis, but we didn't expect it to be in as precarious a shape as it is."
"Virtually unprotected, and, after it rose…."
"It rose?" she gasped, "from where?"
"Ah," Sheppard grinned, "from the depths. It was really quite amazing…." And he proceeded to describe the whole story, from the moment they learned that the shield was failing, until the failsafe freed the city. Straein listened with widening eyes.
"By the gods," she looked down, then up again sharply, her blue eyes boring into his, "from what you just told me, you nearly destroyed the city by your trespassing here!"
Sheppard's eyebrow rose, surprised. "What? Trespassing? Now, that's not exactly…."
"You came here, unprepared and without any real kind of mandate from the Ancestors, and, because of your intrusion, the city was nearly destroyed!"
Sheppard's smile grew strained, "Well, yes, but, see," he tried to make the smile more genuine, "it wasn't. We're fine. It's fine."
"But not because of something you did."
His lips pursed, "Uh…well, no…we didn't…no." He grimaced a little, looking back at the lovely girl in front of him. Her eyes were mesmerizing.
"And now the Wraith will come here, will they not?"
"Well," he shook his head, "yes, but…."
"And then it really will be destroyed, and all your people killed, not to mention the people you brought here. All those on the mainland will be trapped, without a Great Ring to save them, and this city, protected and preserved for so long, will be ruined. How could you do such a thing?!"
The major was blinking now, "What?"
"Such a beautiful city, so powerful, and yet so delicate. But, had a more experienced, more powerful, more rightfully possessing people come here, probably it wouldn't be so close to…obliteration. The Ancestors themselves wanted it saved for their return, or the return of their chosen, but instead, you came."
Sheppard was blinking rapidly now, not quite sure what to make of her onslaught. "Now hold on a minute….Chosen? What do you mean, their chosen?"
"The true descendants of the Ancestors—the Ancients, as you call them. If they had been the ones to come here, the City's true glory might have returned. Instead," she shook her head, "I see a people acting like parasites, trying to interface foreign, ugly technology with beauty. Like a sickening disease, eating away at the golden apple." She sighed, lowering her head, "It just seems so sad."
Sheppard was frowning deeply now. "My people are not parasites," he intoned gruffly.
Her head lifted again, the blue eyes softening, sensing she had gone too far. Her right hand lifted, caressing his strong jaw, "Of course not," she agreed sweetly. "But you must see my point. It just…it doesn't seem like you belong here."
Sheppard grimaced, "But we are here."
"But do you deserve to be? From what you've told me, you are more dangerous to this city than beneficial."
"Well," he asked defensively, "where exactly do you expect us to go?"
"I don't know," her head bowed. "But, surely, you must see my point."
The major opened his mouth again, but paused. He hated to admit it but, yes….
He did see her point.
Was she right? Were they doing more harm than good? Was their presence here…harming Atlantis?
He lowered his head, then looked away. "You know, I need to go," he said gruffly, racking his brain for an excuse. He really just wanted to get away to think. "I was supposed to help Doctor McKay with something."
"Oh," she sighed, "Yes, of course. Doctor McKay."
He looked back at her, and the fragile girl looked back at him. There were tears in her eyes.
"I don't suppose," she asked softly, "that you might know when he will return the Renzite? It's just…it's so precious to me, and the thought of him…of someone like that…I did give it to you, John. It pains me to think of you not having it."
He was back on firmer ground now. The slouch left his shoulders and he shook his head, "I know. It bothers me too."
"It's just…The Renzite was a gift from my grandmother. She told me it was her wish that I someday be free, and the Renzite was to remind me never to give up that dream. I've held it close to my heart for so long, and now someone has it…who hates me." She sniffled, reaching up to rub a hand across her cheek to wipe away a tear. Sheppard reached up, to capture the trembling hand.
"He doesn't hate you, Straein. He's just…being cautious."
"Cautious? About me? What possible threat to you could I be?"
"He's not being cautious, John. He doesn't trust me! He hates me!" The tears were flowing freely now, "And I can't stand it! I never did anything to him! And yet, when he sees me, those horrible eyes of his…he wants to hurt me! I just know it!" she cried, hiccupping through the tears.
Sheppard did only what was natural, gathering her into his arms so that she could cry on his shoulder. He reached up a hand to smooth down her hair, making tiny shushing noises.
"I want you to have the Renzite," she choked out, between sobs, "not him! He's what I wanted to leave behind. The cruelty, the meanness…."
"I know, I know," the major whispered.
"Please, please get it back, John. Take it back from him. I want you to have it."
Sheppard looked up, staring up at the ceiling.
"Please," she begged, lifting her head back to look up at him. Her blue eyes caught his, her face so close, her pale lips just inches from his. He could feel the tickle of her breath on his chin.
He had no choice.
He had to kiss her.
CHAPTER SEVEN: BELLIGERENT ACTS
Rodney sighed, picking up the small digital voice recorder on the lab table and hitting the record button. Bringing it to his lips, he tapped a pencil on the pad before him as he started to speak.
"Initial scans of the substance called 'Renzite' are complete. It appears to be made of several known elements found on Earth and at least two unknown ones which—"
Rodney jumped nearly a foot, dropping the small recorder on the lab table and stumbling backwards. The stool he'd been perched on crashed to the ground beside him, and he almost tripped over one of the metal legs, before getting his bearings enough to stand up straight again.
The major stood in the doorway, filled with fury. McKay blinked, surprised at the animosity he felt rolling off the major in waves.
Sheppard walked in and stretched out his hand, palm up. "Give me the Renzite. Now!"
"The orange ball. Give it to me. I'm taking it back."
"Stop saying 'What!'" Sheppard stopped about a couple of feet from McKay, staring down at the shorter man, his eyes locked on his. "You know what I want. She gave me that ball, and I want it back."
"Oh, but," McKay turned to look at the sphere on the table. He was still a little discombobulated, "but I haven't finished—"
"I don't give a flying....," Sheppard paused, holding back the foul language, "just give it to me. You've had it long enough."
McKay blinked, watching with interest as the light in the orange ball seemed to flare brighter for a moment. What the…?
"MCKAY!" Sheppard slammed a palm-up punch into the scientist's chest, sending Rodney back a step and causing him to cough harshly. When the scientist looked back at the major, his eyes were wide, and he rubbed at his chest where he'd been hit.
"Major," he coughed again, then glared, "what the hell is wrong with you?!"
"Give it to me. I won't have you hurting Straein anymore, do you understand? You are going to give it to me, then we are going to go see her…and you're going to apologize for the way you've been treating her."
"Treating her?" Rodney spluttered. "But I've barely seen her!"
"She knows you don't trust her, McKay. And after everything she's been through, that's enough to cause someone like her pain. I won't let you do that to her anymore, understand me? I won't let you hurt her!"
"But, but," Rodney shook his head, "that's ridiculous! I'm not going to hurt her!"
"Damn right you're not. Not while I'm here." Sheppard rested his right hand on the berretta at his side, the possibly unconscious threat not lost on McKay.
This time, Rodney stepped back of his own accord. His expression was still completely dumbfounded. Sheppard followed him aggressively, and, for a second, Rodney actually felt a little afraid of what the major might do.
"Major, calm down!"
"Calm down? I'm not the one flagrantly making an ass of myself! Give me the Renzite."
"I…I can't," McKay shook his head. He glanced again at the orange ball, and was not surprised to see the light inside it was incredibly bright now. He looked back at the major, "And the way you're acting, I think I have good reason not to let you have it."
"The way I'm acting? If you mean my anger, I am angry! I just came from Straein's rooms, and she cried on my shoulder because she's afraid of you, McKay. And with good reason. She knows you don't trust her. She thinks you're going to convince Weir to send her away. And I won't stand for that!" Sheppard's hand gripped the handle of the gun. The strap was still in place, but it would take just a flick of his fingers….
"Well," McKay swallowed thickly, watching the other man's hand but still forcing himself to stand his full height. "She's right! I don't trust her! And I do want to send her away!" He had no trouble with the admission, trying to throw as much strength into his voice as he could muster. "She's doing something to you, can't you see that?"
"Oh please!" The hand lifted from the weapon and stretched itself out again, "The Renzite."
"I have good reasons not to trust her, major. There is something wrong with her! And the way people act around her. Until I know she's not a threat—"
"This is bullshit!"
"It's not bullshit!"
"It is! For Christ's sake, McKay! You think there is something wrong with me? Well I think there is something wrong with you! Everyone we come across you see as a threat! How can you not trust that girl? Oh, wait, what am I saying," Sheppard threw his hands in the air, "You don't trust anyone!"
"Of course I do!"
eyes shifted, hesitation crossing his face.
A smile of victory crossed Sheppard's face.
face reddened, his own anger coming to fore.
"Well, it's not like I don't have good reason!" he shouted
back. "Trust is not easily given—especially
when everyone here seems intent on killing themselves!"
Sheppard opened his mouth to retort, when it hit him what McKay just said. His eyes narrowed, causing McKay to take another step back. He kicked at the stool's legs, and he winced a little.
on," the major said slowly, "did you say everyone here?"
McKay snapped back, still not understanding the import of the question,
"What did you think I meant?"
there!" Sheppard pointed generally outside, indicating the walls beyond
the city. "Wait," he shook his head, still working it out, "You
mean don't trust anyone here at all?"
paused, suddenly understanding what he's being asked, but for some reason, the
right words died in his throat. The
major's eyes widened.
don't even trust me?" Sheppard asked, his voice strained.
flinched, "No, no...of course not...I trust you. I, I, I just...."
quick enough, McKay." The major's
tone was disturbingly cold.
"No," McKay held up his hands, waving them about, "no, no. You got that wrong. Of course I trust you! I just…I just don't trust her! Straein. Major, please, you got that wrong!"
"Truth has a funny way of coming out when one isn't paying attention, you know that McKay?"
"Major," Rodney shook his head, "Please, you're twisting what I said."
"I don't think so."
Taking in a sharp breath, McKay glanced again at the orange ball. The light was fading. His eyes narrowed, then flicked back to Sheppard's face, to find it stone cold.
"You're off the team," the major informed him.
"You heard me."
"What…why? Major! Please, this is all a mistake!"
"Trust goes both ways, McKay. You can't trust us? Then we can't trust you. How you react in any given situation is a matter of trust, McKay, and you don't trust us. In my book, that makes you a liability to the safety of our mission. In fact, it makes you a danger to the safety of any mission that goes through that gate."
McKay shook his head vehemently, "No, wait. This is screwed up. I am not the one doing this. She's doing this, can't you see that? She's making you hear and think things that—"
"Stop it! She didn't say she didn't trust me, McKay! You did! It's over, understand?"
"Major, no, this is crazy!"
Sheppard frowned, then turned, striding out of the lab. "Goodbye, McKay."
"Major!" McKay stumbled after him, reaching the door of the lab and staring down the corridor after the quickly disappearing man, "Major! Wait!"
But Sheppard was already gone.
McKay leaned heavily against the doorframe, his hand bracing itself on the cool metal. Turning his eyes to the ground, they flitted back and forth, trying to understand what had just happened. Looking back over his shoulder, he found his attention returned to the "Renzite." The light was nearly all gone, but it was still there, softly pulsing away within the orange sphere.
The blue eyes narrowed, piercing through the ball, to the person he was now sure was listening in.
"Did you enjoy that?" he asked nastily.
Back in the bedroom they had given her, Straein's eyes opened, and she smiled.
"Yes, Doctor McKay," she responded to the empty room, "I did."
CHAPTER EIGHT: THE WAR OF INFLUENCE
Elizabeth looked up from the laptop as Sheppard stormed into her office, her green eyes curious. She opened her mouth to say something, but the major was faster.
"McKay. He's off my team. I'll take Simpson next time."
She blinked, confused, "I'm sorry?"
"You heard me. Fact is, McKay's become a liability. In fact, if I were you, I wouldn't let him travel with any group that might go through the gate. He's too dangerous to have in the field."
Elizabeth blinked some more, and she looked down at the rotas she'd just been studying. They suddenly looked like gibberish to her. Shaking her head to clear it, she stood up and crossed her arms, frowning at the man.
"Now hold on," she stated "Back up. What in the world are you talking about?"
"I can't trust him."
He was succinct, paraphrasing for her the conversation he'd just had with McKay in the man's lab. Her eyes narrowed slightly at the description, and, slowly, she nodded as he finished. If what he was saying was true, then he had a point.
But at the same time….
She was remembering the conversation from last night, and the strangely antagonistic Sheppard that had been yelling at McKay over the radio, calling him a coward. Something wasn't quite right here.
He arched an eyebrow at her, and she looked down, staring at a point on the metal floor.
"Well?" he asked harshly.
"Would you mind," she asked softly, "if I spoke with Rodney about this?" She looked up, fixing her best diplomatic gaze on him. "Just to hear his perspective. After all, this is a pretty serious issue, major. I would do him wrong not to hear his side." As she spoke, she saw Sheppard's jaw flex, as if he were barely containing his anger.
"No," he ground out finally, waving a hand, "knock yourself out."
She nodded at him, then looked to the doorway. He took in a breath, then, with a nod, backed out of the enclosed glass space and crossed the balcony back to the control room. She watched as he walked over to the main balcony overlooking the gateroom and crossed his arms, pretending to watch the goings on down below.
Turning away, she tapped the radio on her ear.
"Grodin, can you connect me to Rodney, on a different frequency?"
Over in the control room, Peter glanced up, caught her gaze through the glass, and nodded. A moment later, he gave her a thumbs up sign.
She tapped the radio again, "Rodney, are you there?"
There was a pause, then, tinnily, "Yes, Elizabeth, I'm here."
She took a deep breath, "I've just seen Major Sheppard. He had quite a story to tell."
She could almost see the look on Rodney's face, feeling it in the pregnant pause, before he finally replied, "I thought you might."
"He wants you off his team. In fact, he wants you banned from all gate travel."
Another long paused, then, "I don't believe this."
"Rodney," she licked her lips, glancing over to Sheppard again, "he has a pretty convincing argument."
"No, Elizabeth, don't listen to him. He's not himself."
Her brow furrowed, "Not…himself? What do you mean?"
"It's not Sheppard I don't trust, Elizabeth. It's Straein, but the major won't hear that. In fact," he paused again, and she heard him sigh heavily, "I don't think he can hear it. Bringing it up only seems to make it worse.."
She glanced over at the major through the glass, still frowning, "I don't understand…."
"Listen, I know this is going to sound crazy, but…I think Straein is a telepath."
Elizabeth closed her eyes, then opened them again. "Rodney…."
"It's not just me, Elizabeth. Beckett admitted to me that he couldn't understand why he'd lied to you last night, about her health. And I spoke with Kavenaugh today at lunch, and though it seems impossible to think he and I could ever agree on anything, we both agree that she seems to appear differently to us than to everyone else."
She smiled, "Yes, but Kavenaugh is not exactly—"
"Look, Elizabeth, what I'm trying to say is, she seems to be influencing people. I don't know why, or for what reason, but I'm almost certain she's turned the major against me because she knows she can't affect me."
Elizabeth grimaced, not liking this conversation. She looked up at the ceiling, then sighed. "Okay, say you're right," she suggested quietly, "then why isn't she affecting you?"
"I don't know."
She pursed her lips, then shrugged, "Seems a little flimsy Rodney."
"Elizabeth, you've seen her a couple of times now, right?"
"How did she look to you. I mean physically."
Her brow furrowed, and she shrugged, "young, early twenties, long blond hair, beautiful face, blue eyes…."
"She's well into her thirties, Elizabeth. Her hair is a light brown and, while she's certainly attractive, I wouldn't call her beautiful. At least, not with the same tone you just used."
"Well into her thirties…?"
"Probably closer to forty. Beckett can back me up. His scan of her indicated as much." He breathed heavily again, "Look, here's the thing: I don't think her abilities can stretch very far outside of her actual presence. Sheppard is still high on whatever it is she fed him when they were in close contact, but I'm sure it will fade once he spends enough time away from her and his reason returns. I think that's why she needs him to have this orange ball thing. I think she can influence him as long as he carries it. It was flaring brightly when he was in here, arguing with me. Talk to him, maybe you'll have better luck than I did. And I think we need to stop him from seeing her. At least until we know how to deal with her."
Elizabeth's eyebrows were raised high as she listened, and she found herself shaking her head. "Rodney, I don't—"
"She's not who she seems, Elizabeth. I know you think my instincts are wrong, and, I'll admit, they're usually not all that reliable, but this time I've got something to back me up."
She grimaced, "I'm just…I'm thinking about what happened with Chaya, Rodney."
There was another long silence, then, quietly, "Yes. Okay. I accept that. But she's different from Chaya, Elizabeth. There's something dangerous about Straein. The way the major went after me…I'm almost certain she's behind it. Please…you have to believe me. He's not acting like himself. We fight, but not like this. Never like this. It's against his nature to be so…cruel."
"I understand that, Rodney, but—"
"Elizabeth, look. I'll ground myself. I won't go through the gate, if that's what it takes to get Sheppard to listen to reason. But, in return, I need you to do something for me. I need you to talk to him. Convince him to let us isolate her for a while, to confine her to her quarters. Please, Elizabeth…you have trust me on this."
"Trust," she repeated the word. It seemed to be bandied about a great deal lately. Who did she trust? Who did her men trust? What did it even mean? She wanted to trust Rodney. She wanted to trust John. She wanted to trust this girl….but, in the end….
She sighed, and for some reason, she suddenly heard her late grandfather's voice in her head. She could see him clearly, shuffling a deck of cards in his hands with the dexterity of an old gambler, his dark brown eyes sparkling as he finished and then handed her the deck. She was only eight, and she stared up with him with trusting eyes as he whispered: "Trust everyone, Elizabeth my love…but always cut the deck."
She'd learned later it was a fairly famous quote by someone else, but the way her grandfather had said it, it always stuck with her. Her eyes regained their focus. She nodded.
"All right, Rodney," she looked out through the glass walls towards Sheppard, "I'll talk to the major. If you really think she's a threat, then figure out a way to neutralize it. The Ancients must have had some sort of defense against the Wraith's ability to make people see things that aren't there. See if we can find a way to…make that work for us here."
She heard Rodney's grateful sigh clearly over the radio, "Thank you Elizabeth."
She closed her eyes, "You had better be right about this, Rodney."
She just nodded, "Right. Weir out." And she tapped the radio. Walking to the door, she called to the major. He glanced back, then turned and strode back to her office.
"Well?" he asked abruptly, as he arrived.
"Major," she sighed, "I have spoken with Doctor McKay…and I think he may have a valid reason to be concerned about Straein."
Sheppard's brow furrowed. "What? What has this to do with her?"
She gritted her jaw, then shrugged slightly, "Rodney thinks you have exaggerated his distrust of Straein to encompass all of us. But…."
"And you listened to him! Elizabeth, he's just trying to…to…." He trailed off, as if losing his train of thought, "to…stop me from keeping him grounded."
She shook her head, "No, Major, he's not. In fact, he has grounded himself. He has accepted that you want him off the team, and he won't go on any more off-world missions. But, in return," she licked her lips, "he has asked that you stop seeing Straein, at least for a little while."
Sheppard's eyes widened, "You're kidding."
She shook her head, "It's just temporary, Major. I know it seems extreme, but—"
"I won't do it." He crossed his arms.
She paused, watching his face. For the first time, she realized that he was sweating slightly. He did, in fact, look like he was coming down off a strange sort of high.
"Major," she said softly, stepping forward, "I'm sorry. I'm not asking you…I'm telling you. She is to be quarantined for the time being in her quarters."
His jaw dropped, "But—"
She held up a hand, "This is not open to discussion, Major."
He looked down, then back up. He was obviously flabbergasted. With a strained voice, he asked, "For how long?"
"As long as it takes," she replied, honestly.
He looked down again, then shut his eyes.
Elizabeth arched an eyebrow, "Do we have an understanding, Major?"
His jaw flexed, but his shoulders slumped a little. "Fine."
"Okay. Thank you, Major. Would you mind sending in Bates?"
Sheppard winced, but he nodded curtly. Turning, he walked out of her office.
Elizabeth lowered her head as he left, then tapped at her radio.
A pause, "Yes, Elizabeth?"
Rodney had set the stool back on its legs, and was sitting on it next to the table, leaning on the cool metal. He smiled faintly, gratefully, looking at the Renzite. "The major won't be seeing Straein anymore?" he asked over the radio.
Weir's voice came back strong, "Correct."
"Thank God," he straightened in his seat, smiling at the orange sphere. It was glowing brightly again. He nodded, "Thank you Elizabeth."
"We'll see. Weir out."
The connection cut, and Rodney unlooped the radio from his ear, placing it on the lab table next to the Renzite. He stared at the orange ball, feeling better than he had since he'd first seen Straein.
"Well," he said, looking at it, "if you are listening through that thing, you've just lost." He smiled, gloating a little, "let's see you influence the major without him there."
Humming a little, he picked up the digital voice recorder and hit erase, noting with some annoyance that it had probably recorded his entire earlier fight with Sheppard. When he saw that the time was back to 0:00, he hit record again, and started anew on his recitation about the physical make up of the Renzite ball.
"Have completed study of the substance known as Renzite. Physically, it is not imposing. The size of a golf ball and hued a pure orange color, it appears to be made up of several known elements and…."
Straein stood up, her hands balled into fists. She shook with rage at the doctor's reedy, gloating voice, and looked towards the closed door to her chamber. In two strides, she was at the door, pressing her hand on the panel to open it.
It didn't open.
She hit the panel again…then screamed in frustration. They'd locked her in!
She swiveled on her feet, staring out the small window towards the outside. Closing her eyes, she tried to penetrate the walls to reach out to anyone on the far side…but the walls were just as solid in her mind as in reality. The walls were made of some kind of material that inhibited telepathic abilities. She'd sensed that about this place when she'd first arrived, but had hoped, with time, she would be able to penetrate them. But she couldn't yet. Right now, they were stronger than her.
This was all HIS fault!
Her rage grew, to the point where it affected her outward appearance. Her hair started to billow slightly off her shoulders, and her whole body trembled with the adrenalin coursing through her veins.
She may not be able to penetrate the walls, but she was still connected to the Renzite.
The fury increased her power, and she knew exactly where to direct it. He would not stop her. Not now!
CHAPTER NINE: ATTACK AND RESPONSE
McKay leapt out of the stool, knocking it over again. This time, he did trip over the metal legs, falling to his rear on the floor in a painful heap, the tiny digital voice recorder skidding away across the floor from his open hand. He stared upwards, eyes wide and terrified. He crabbed backwards on one arm while the other rose up to ward off what he was seeing.
The orange sphere was suddenly floating above his lab table, and it had grown. One instant it was just lying there, and then next it was flying…and the size of a soccer ball. It had begun to spin, and the hazy orange glow filled and grew around it, brightening as the spin increased.
And an instant later, it was the size of a globe, brighter and more orange. It was almost happening too fast for him to see it.
He blinked, and suddenly it was as wide as yard across, and it burned like the sun.
And then suddenly she was standing there, her hair billowing out behind her, her now almost black eyes staring daggers at him. She was almost transparent, but it was definitely her.
"Straein!" he gasped.
"How dare you!" her image screamed.
McKay scrambled backwards even further, the stool's legs traveling with him. "What the hell are you?!" he shouted at the ghost-like image.
"You shall not interfere!" she hissed, raising her arms. "I won't let you stop me!"
"Get away from me!" he yelled, dislodging his right leg from the stool and pressing his back to the wall. "Help!" he shouted, looking towards the closed door to his lab, "Someone help me!"
"You shall not interfere!" Straein said again, her arms outstretched now, palms out. Suddenly, her fingers curled inwards, and the hands started to press towards each other.
McKay gasped, feeling a sudden horrific pressure inside his own skull. It felt like someone was crushing his head. His mouth gaped open, his breath coming more quickly. Using the wall as leverage, he somehow pushed upwards, getting back to his feet.
Strain just continued to press her arms together, her face a mask of twisted hate.
Blackness encroached on his eyesight; his ears, nose and throat started to burn. Watering blue eyes sought the radio on the lab table, but it was out of reach. He tried to scream for help again, but his larynx had frozen. Words came out in a strangled whisper, no sound, just shape.
She continued to press.
His eyesight dimmed further, until it could only see her, and, through her, the bright orange ball, spinning like a model planet above the lab table. Everything else in the lab had darkened to shadows.
"Please," he begged soundlessly, as he lost the feeling in his arms and legs. "Why….do…."
"You shouldn't have interfered!" she replied, still spitting the words with a venom that would have shaken a saint. "I do this for the greatness of the Ancestors, for the City of Atlantis. You are trespassing on sacred ground. I have promised to expel your parasitic kind from this place, and you will not stop me!"
The pain in his skull was excruciating now, and he closed his eyes, resting his head back against the cool wall behind him. His hands were pressed against the metal, all thoughts fleeing his head except the anguish she was causing. He could no longer think, no longer rationalize. All he had left…
Was the fundamental need to survive.
And so he tried one last time, screaming out with everything he had left, though no actual noise emerged from his throat.
He screamed with his mind, his fear, his strength, his very soul burning, sending the word right into the walls of the city.
And Atlantis responded.
The alarm rang through the city without warning, the unmistakable clanging shaking everyone from their reverie. Confusion rolled through the scientists, some running to the windows to look outside, others whipping out PDAs or rapidly typing into their laptops for information. Shoulder to shoulder with them, marines ran to take up their defensive positions as they waited for orders, watching as the scientists tried to make sense of what was happening .
Grodin spun in his seat, staring back at the green screen behind him, seeing the red flashing light clearly at the same time that information flew past his eyes at an incredible rate.
Weir ran from her office, shouting for information.
He shook his head, looking back to his laptop as she skidded to a stop in front of him.
"We're being attacked!" he explained breathlessly, "Atlantis thinks it's Wraith!"
"Where!" she demanded, "How!"
Sheppard had been meandering down the hall, now just around the corner from McKay's lab, intending once more to confront him. Strangely, though, he'd found that some of his earlier vigor had faded. He had begun to wonder if, maybe, he'd been overreacting….
The alarm shocked him into wakefulness, and he pulled the gun from his holster without thinking.
Tapping his radio, he called out to Weir for information.
Her response was strange, "Peter says that Atlantis is responding to a Wraith attack. But the sensors aren't showing anything on screen."
"Wraith? You're kidding! I'm heading back there!" He turned on his heel and started to run back towards the control room.
"Wait, Major…Peter…Peter says he's got it isolated. The attack isn't outside…it's here! Within the walls of Atlantis itself!"
Teyla pulled the towel off her hair, and walked back into the gym. Ford was just finishing putting away the boxing gloves. As she watched him work, she pressed the now cool but still damp towel to her head, where the headache she felt every time she saw Straein seemed to have reemerged. It was faint, but there. A sickening feeling settled in her stomach, and her eyes were drawn to their bags…where their radios were.
Frowning now, she headed towards them…and instantly dropped the towel when the impossibly loud klaxons rocked the room. She ran for her gear, pulling out the radio, barely noticing as Ford slid next to her, rummaging through his bag for his own.
Both fumbled them on, and Teyla tried to connect to the major, her eyes searching the windows for some sign of attacking ships.
Before she could call out to them, however, the major and Weir contacted them.
"Teyla, Ford, McKay, do you read?"
"This is Teyla and Ford," she replied, looking over at Ford. He nodded, indicating he was on as well. "Major, what's happening."
"Teyla," Sheppard replied, "We need to know, do you sense any Wraith?"
She frowned, thinking that, yes, her headache had worsened a little recently, but it wasn't Wraith. She shook her head.
"No, not Wraith," she said. "But…I do think there is something else here. I didn't want to say anything but—"
"Hang on," Weir said suddenly, "Peter has the attack pinpointed." There was a brief pause, then, softly, Elizabeth's breathy "Oh my God," came clearly over the connection.
"Elizabeth?" Sheppard's voice questioned.
"Doctor McKay's lab!" Elizabeth snapped back. "All military personnel in that area, head immediately to Section 3, Lab 9. Hurry!"
Ford and Teyla were nowhere near there, but that didn't make one bit of difference. They sprinted out the doorway together, heading towards the nearest transporter.
Straein jumped back, feeling more than hearing Atlantis's warning systems blasting through her connection to Doctor McKay through the Renzite. Her eyes widened where her astral body stood in his lab, shocked to realize that the clanging was directed at her. More than that, for a moment, she had actually felt the City—Atlantis itself—through him. But how could that be? Atlantis…could it actually be protecting him?!
No! It can't be real! She wouldn't believe it! The City must be responding to something else. It couldn't possibly be connected to this worm of a man! It just couldn't!
And she turned back to him, to finish what she started.
And this time it was her turn to scream in fear.
McKay gasped; his eyesight was suddenly returned full force, like an explosion across his mind.
Thoughts were scattered, but he could hear the alarm, could feel his strength returning, could see the object before him that was threatening his life, and the woman being projected through it.
Straein's image was staring upwards and around her, her face registering her confusion at the warning sirens reverberating through the walls. And through her, he saw the orange sphere still spinning.
He reached down, grabbing the metal legs of the stool by his feet, and stumbled forwards, raising it up like a bat and drawing it back behind his shoulders.
Straein looked back at him, realized what he was about to do, and screamed in fear.
Her cry echoed through his mind as if she were still inside it, but he didn't care.
The stool swung around even as he felt her pull back, saw the ball distort, trying to get smaller, but it was too late. Expanded to its full size, the glass ball had lost its solidity, its ability to withstand pressure—making it incredibly fragile.
The stool slammed into it….and shattered it spectacularly into a thousand pieces.
Shattering Rodney's own consciousness along with it.
Back in her quarters, Straein's eyes rolled back in her head as her own mind was blown apart, and she collapsed to the ground in an unconscious heap.
The alarms stopped.
The attack was over.
Sheppard skidded to a halt in front of McKay's lab, the first to reach it. He heard the running footsteps of the others, very loud now that the klaxons had stopped, but he wasn't waiting. Pressing his hand to the panel, he opened the door and ran inside with his gun raised, eyes searching for any kind of threat.
All he found was McKay, lying on the floor of the lab, out cold, both legs bent and his body on its side, back to the door. The scientist's head was turned away as well, so all the major could see was the brown mop of his hair. The lab stool was several feet away, almost as if it had been thrown.
And there were hundreds of pale orange glass fragments all over the room and underfoot.
He lowered the gun, staring at Rodney's back. His eyes sought the man's chest, waiting to see a soft rise and fall. He almost collapsed himself in relief when he saw his friend was still breathing.
Steeling himself, he looked behind him to see that Bates and a couple others were hovering in the doorway watching him. With a nod, he beckoned them inside, indicating to them to check it out and to watch their feet.
With gun still in both hands, he moved cautiously towards Rodney, stepping carefully around the orange glass fragments, seeking out anything in the corners or under the tables. He knew the men with him would do the same.
"Rodney?" he called softly, as he got closer. "Rodney, can you hear me? You okay?"
He was still keeping an eye out for threats when he finally reached the scientist's side, and he knelt down next to him.
"Rodney?" he asked, finally looking down for the first time.
His breath caught in his throat.
Rodney's eyes were open, wide open…but staring at nothing.
CHAPTER TEN: A MOMENT OF CALM
For once, the infirmary was fairly quiet. No one had managed to get burned, broken, beaten or bumped this week badly enough to warrant an overnight stay, so the room was abnormally empty…and quiet.
Sheppard sat by the bedside, watching his friend for any signs of animation. He'd been sitting here for close to ten minutes and, so far, McKay hadn't even twitched.
Beckett had closed Rodney's eyes, to give him more of the impression of sleep than death, but it did not help much. He still looked….
The major heaved a shaky sigh.
McKay was comatose, minimal brain activity, just enough to keep him alive. His body was functioning fine, acting on auto-pilot, but there was nothing going on upstairs.
And, according to Beckett, there was nothing he or anyone could do about it.
The major lifted a hand, wanting to reach over and touch McKay's arm, to grasp it and shake him awake. To see those eyes open, to hear the impatient voice challenging him, and to answer back, make a joke…and tell him…tell him….
The hand lowered, never reaching its destination.
Over in another room, Beckett gave a small sigh of disappointment, watching the major fighting with himself. The doctor uncrossed his arms, dropping them to his sides before turning away and retuning to the research he had called up on treating coma patients.
Sheppard lowered his eyes, glancing at his watch. Fifteen minutes now. For fifteen minutes he'd listened to the monitors steady beeping, watched McKay's chest rise and fall, thought about what had happened to Rodney and….
Back in the lab, he knew Doctor Simpson and her team were very carefully trying to retrieve every piece of the Renzite stone, to try and get a better sense of what it had done.
And over in the living quarters, he knew that Sergeant Bates, Corporal Recillos and Teyla were moving to confine and interrogate Straein.
Part of him still couldn't believe it had been her.
Sheppard looked down at his hands, at the digital voice recorder he was now rolling back and forth between this palms. He and the others had all already listened to it, several times. Hearing was believing, in this case. They had sent out a general call to see if anyone else had been unaffected by Straein's now obvious abilities, and those people were now going after the woman.
McKay, Kavenaugh, Recillos, Zelenka, Bates…..
Why had they all seen through her? Why hadn't she conned them as she had most of the expedition?
All right, that wasn’t what was bothering him.
What was bothering him was…why hadn't he seen through her?
He thought about the people who had volunteered. A handful of the scientists, all engineers, the razor sharp tongued female corporal that all the marines were in love with, the deadly serious Sergeant Bates….What did they have in common?
Nothing that he could see.
And now those people were going to trap and take Straein to the brig. To where they'd kept Steve. It had somehow inhibited Steve's ability to affect minds…it should work with her as well.
To trap the girl who just a few hours ago he'd been hopelessly in love with.
The girl he'd kissed. Deeply.
And part of him wanted to do it again. To do anything she asked of him.
His body shuddered.
He'd never felt so out of control as when he'd realized just how easily she had been using him. And had McKay not taken that orange ball away from him….He tried not to think about the power she would have had over him if he'd held on to the Renzite.
How far could she have pushed him? Who would he have hurt?
Well…he had hurt someone, hadn't he?
He looked up, finding Rodney's profile again, eyes trailing along the smooth brow, the slightly upturned nose, the line of his mouth…all disconcertingly still.
McKay was his friend. An obnoxious, rude, arrogant, often frustrating friend…but one of the closest he had. Someone he'd come to even think of…as his best friend….
And two hours ago he'd wanted to kill him.
He had stormed into the man's lab full of a rage he couldn't even imagine now. He had hit him square in the chest—nearly hard enough to break something, though Rodney probably didn't know that. And he had thought of using his gun. Only what must have been left of his self-restraint had held him from doing so. It was amazing that he hadn't.
A huge black hole felt like it had formed in his chest, as his own self hatred grew.
He went over all the conversations in his mind, those with her, with Weir and of course….
He opened his eyes again, and lifted them to look at Rodney.
"I'm sorry," he whispered.
Quietly, he stood and looked down at the still form, dropping the DVR onto the chair behind him. Reaching forward, he placed both hands on Rodney's forearm, pressing just hard enough to feel the steady pulse. Of course, he could hear it monitored, but, for some reason, he felt better for feeling it.
"I didn't mean it," he promised the man softly, not looking up from his grip on the man's arm. "What I said. You're not a coward, and you're not a liability. I just…." He closed his eyes, "Christ, what a mess. What a god damned mess. It's no wonder you don't trust me." One hand reached up to press at the bridge of his nose, pinching it between his thumb and forefinger, "After this…I don't trust myself."
He stayed that way for a few moments, just listening to himself breathe, consciously letting it match the rhythm of Rodney's own breathing, until, eventually, he was only listening to Rodney breathe.
He opened his eyes, and let the hand touching his face fall lightly on Rodney's cool brow. The scientist's hair was matted down, stuck to his forehead. With a gentle motion, he pushed the man's shaggy hair away from his brow, spiking it up, the way he knew Rodney liked it. He smiled a little.
And then it occurred to him.
This wasn't just about how he'd failed. This was about Rodney. And Straein. And everyone else on Atlantis.
The career soldier opened his eyes, pushing the self doubt deep inside, forcing himself to freeze out his heart…again…in order to respond to Straein's threat and protect the expedition. He couldn't let her win. She would tell them how to cure his friend, and then they would send her back to Saroku. In pieces, if possible. As shattered as her little orange ball.
The hatred he felt for himself was channeled in a new direction, and a colder, harder major looked out from behind the hazel eyes.
She would pay for this.
His radio chirped suddenly, and, with a sharper tone than he intended, he answered.
"Sir," Bates' voice was soft, even over the radio, "we have a problem."
"Yes. The Sarokun woman, Straein…appears to be in the same state as Doctor McKay."
Despite her obviously comatose state, they still put Straein in the brig. Beckett hooked her up to monitors, but his diagnosis was the same. Nothing they could do but watch and wait.
Back in McKay's lab, Simpson and her team started trying to reconstruct the Renzite from the pieces they found, but it was like putting a million piece puzzle together where all the pieces were the same color and basically the same shape. The software engineers worked through the night to create an effective program to guide them through the process, attaching numbers to the pieces, while the chemists and physicists just tried to figure out from Rodney's data what the hell the Renzite really was.
And Sheppard, Weir, Teyla, Ford and Zelenka, head scientist in McKay's absence, sat down to come up with a plan.
One thing was certain…they would have to go back to Saroku.
To a planet of people who apparently could kill other human beings with their minds.
It somewhat limited their negotiating position.
So Sheppard suggested some creative lying.
CHAPTER ELEVEN: SAROKU'S SHAME
Tae kept his head down, his eyes on the flagstone path. Pink petals floated down around him, and he watched them settle with his eyes. He was purposefully keeping his mind blank of everything but his destination, knowing that Sette would break past any defenses he had if she knew what had been eating at him for the last two days.
The Great Ring's platform rose before him, but he gave it barely a glance, moving around it to move deeper into the temple's grounds…to the point where even she couldn't reach.
He knew where that was. He just had to get there.
Slowly but surely, with each step he took, her oppressive mental influence on his consciousness lessened. It was like someone was lifting a veil from his eyes, pulling off a blanket from his body…it lightened and thinned, until, finally, it slipped away entirely.
The path rose slightly, up an incline, and when he reached the top and saw the small temple below, he knew he was safe.
He relished the freedom. This place was essentially a dead zone. No one could breach this place telepathically. It had been another gift from Callum. A place where, for a little while, even the strongest telepath could know true peace and quiet.
Stepping with a lighter foot, he followed the path downwards to the tiny metal-like construct, slipping inside and settling down on the carved marble bench. For a moment, he still thought of nothing, just enjoying the feeling of serenity he found here. Then, slowly, he began to think about what they'd done…to the people from Atlantis.
The nauseous feeling in his stomach grew, and he prayed to Callum for forgiveness.
The moment he had looked into the mind of those people, he had known Sette was wrong. These people weren't trespassers.
They were the ones the Ancestors had left Atlantis for.
And they'd sent Straein to destroy them.
He cast his mind back to the conversation when they'd first arrived, when he had first looked to Sette for answers.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * Two Days Previously* * * * * * * * * * * * *
“Who are they, Sette?” Tae asked quietly, turning to look at the bowed old woman sitting in the center of the room. The chimes ringing in the distance began to fade.
“Travelers, explorers.” The voice was like aged paper, crinkling with each word. Her brow furrowed deeply as she concentrated, “They have never been here before. One…is Athosian, with some talent. The others….”
A moment later, her eyes opened wide, and she looked across at her apprentice. “Callum's Blood," she swore in surprise…and anger. "Trespassers!"
Tae had stepped back, the word one of the worst in their language, "What? Where?"
"They are from the City of the Ancestors, from Atlantis,” she whispered back, almost reverently, before the anger marred her soft features again. “But they have defiled the sacred City! They are not Ancestors; they are mere trespassers, corrupting it to make it work for themselves. Worse,” she sucked in a sharp breath, "their presence has nearly resulted in its total destruction twice…." She shivered, her horror and growing rage clear on her heavily lined face.
"The City of the Ancestors? Truly?" the young man crossed his arms, "But I thought it was lost? Drowned beneath the sea and…." he almost added, just a legend.
"Not lost," she shook her head, "merely asleep. And now woken before its time by those who would hasten its ruin. How dare they," she hissed. Slowly, she began to shake, and for a moment her eyes seemed to turn completely black, almost as if something else were seeing through her eyes. "How dare they!" she yelled. With the swiftness of a snake, she stood, her hands raised before her as if she were physically pushing something back, “They must not be allowed to continue this transgression! We must rend them from Atlantis and restore it for the Ancestors' return! This can not be the City's time! It will not be corrupted in this way!”
“Rend them?” Tae's brow furrowed, “How?”
The old woman grimaced, her voice dropping to a level of fury that anyone ever heard outside of her apprentices. “We will force them out under their own volition, make the City of no use to them, and convince them to leave, to move on. Either that,” her eyes narrowed, "or find a way to kill them. Their numbers are not large—they can be," she paused, ice in her tone, "removed."
The young man frowned, clearly not liking the idea, but not questioning it either. Sette had experiences and knowledge well beyond his mere thirty-five years, and whenever she spoke of causing death to another, he knew that there was no other choice. Only four times in his life had he ever seen her do so, kill another, and every time it was justified. He was certain this time would be no exception.
Sette looked towards the entranceway to the room. "Straein, Kailin," she called, not loudly, "Come here. Quickly."
Tae grimaced, already getting an inkling of what she was intending. Kailin and Straein were both powerful telepaths, second only to him among all the apprentices. When the two women entered, Sette greeted them with a nod, and told them about the trespassers.
Straein grimaced. "What is the plan, Sette?" she asked calmly, already aware that she would be the one to carry out the task of ridding these parasites from Atlantis, as Sette would never risk Tae on such a mission and Kailin was too young.
Sette did not answer immediately. Instead, she closed her eyes again, resuming her seat to study the three men with the Athosian woman. One had a mind that was closed off and thickly walled, moving too swiftly to grasp, and sharper than a knife's edge. She immediately dismissed him as a potential, afraid of the danger that sort of mind presented. The second mind was young, both innocent and a touch naïve. It could be easily manipulated, but would not render great results, as the man was not the leader. The third…the third mind….
She smiled, opening her eyes to look down at her apprentice again.
“The leader is a man of passion and energy, apprentice, but he has not yet great wisdom. He still fights to balance his heart and his mind, and he chooses wrongly as often as correctly. And yet, he is also a voice among his people, and they listen to him. He is the one who will help us rid the City of the Ancestors of the trespassers. Convince him to leave, and the rest will follow. Or," she blinked slowly, "use him to destroy the others. He has the capacity to kill—I can see it in him. Straein," the old woman looked the other in the eye, "this will be your task. Are you up to it?"
"I am. I will not fail," Straein affirmed confidently, not taking her eyes off her mentor. Next to her, Tae was looking towards the window, finally sensing the four minds for the first time. Sette, meanwhile, had closed her eyes again, grimacing darkly.
“But," she whispered, "be wary of the sharp tongued one. He has no talent, but his mind….” her eyes opened, "like trying to touch pure energy. His thoughts are too wild to control and, worse, he has walled his mind against the influence of others—an adroit skeptic. It will take too much effort to manipulate both his mind and those of the others at the same time, which is a risk you'll have to take, Straein. He may see through you before you can stop him, and it could harm your task and maybe even you as well. From what I sense, he has some sway over leader, but I hope not enough—avoid touching his mind, but do not let him interfere. If he does…." She trailed off, looking at Straein again, "You know what to do."
"Yes, Sette," Straein nodded.
Kailin cleared her throat, "And the Athosian woman? You said she has some talent."
Sette smiled, "That, Kailin, will be the easy part…."
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *Present Day* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
And it had been easy. Kailin had knocked the Athosian down without even exerting herself, and then, covertly, had stayed with the sharp one and the Athosian, making sure the woman called Teyla did not awaken while still on this world while Tae led Major Sheppard and Lieutenant Ford to "save" Straein.
All elaborately staged, and perfectly executed.
And completely and totally wrong.
Tae covered his head with his hands.
Callum's Blood, what had they done?
The young man jerked upright, turning his head to find Kailin standing in the doorway. He could sense her now that she was practically in the room with him. She looked puzzled by his response to her, confused by the guilt and doubt she probably felt wash across his mind.
"Yes," he asked gruffly, clearing his mind of his thoughts.
She arched an eyebrow but, thankfully, did not probe. Instead, her own thoughts came across to him. She was scared. She looked down, then over her shoulder towards the outside.
"Sette sent me to find you." She looked back at him, "You must come now. Something strange has come through the gate. It has your name on it."
Tae grimaced, staring at the strange machine sitting atop the stone dais. It had shifted itself over to one side, next to the DHD, and halted. He walked up to it warily, followed closely by Kailin, trying to make sense of the metal box with its the strange wheels,. A couple of other apprentices, including a couple of the guards, stood nearby, eyeing it with plain distrust.
It beeped, and the entire group leapt back about a foot.
"Wh…what if…what if it's a weapon?" someone asked.
Tae swallowed, looking around at the others. After a moment, he nodded.
"Okay. Everyone step back. To the tree line, all the way. Get behind them. If this explodes or otherwise reacts, you all take off as fast as you can back to the temple and set the shield to protect Sette, understand?"
Quick nods answered him and people backed up, and he gave a taut smile. Kailin, however, didn't move from her position about two feet behind him. She had lifted her chin, evidencing the stubborn streak that had never been wiped out from the woman. She even stood up to Sette from time to time. Tae knew it was useless demanding that she step back as well.
A soft word of caution and concern touched his mind, and he knew Sette was scared for him. He tried to exude confidence…the concern only grew. He almost smiled.
Reaching the machine, he stopped and looked down at the flat top.
A note was pasted to it. It was written in three languages, and the young man almost swallowed his tongue when he recognized both the trader's language, the language of the Ancestors…and the melodic calligraphy language of Callum. Unable to stop himself, his fingers touched the beautiful characters.
In all three languages, the same meaning was written.
"Tae. Press the red button. It is a message for you and your people from Atlantis."
He swallowed, then lifted his hand and touched the red, blinking light.
The MALP came to life, and Doctor Weir's voice rang out through the clearing.
"This is a message for Tae, Kailin and the people of Saroku. My name is Doctor Elizabeth Weir and I am the leader of Atlantis.
Your attempt to attack us has failed.
Straein, if that is her name, is currently our prisoner as well as a prisoner of her own mind. She attempted to murder one of our people; however, she overestimated her abilities and underestimated the strength of ours, and is now effectively bound in our brig. Nevertheless, she has succeeded in doing harm to a member of our team whom we value very highly, and that has led us to this unfortunate position. We are forced to make a deal with you. The machine you see before you is programmed to dial our Stargate. We are willing to allow one of your number, preferably the one called Tae, to travel to Atlantis and retrieve Straein if, and only if, he can undo the harm that Straein has done to our Doctor McKay. This deal is non-negotiable. If whomever you send cannot cure Doctor McKay, that one will be returned, but Straein will remain our prisoner.
Should you choose to reject our proposal and use this MALP to attack us again, know that not only we who will respond, but the City of Atlantis will respond. It protects its own, as I am sure you know. It stopped Straein. It will stop you.
We will await your response. In half an hour, we will reopen the Stargate to your world. When it does, you can respond by depressing the green button on the MALP next to the red one you used to listen to this message.
Tae breathed out deeply as a tiny bit of static resonated before silence finished the message. He looked behind him at Kailin.
"How long ago did this machine arrive?" he asked her.
"About twenty minutes ago. We did try to find you more quickly, Tae, but…."
"No matter." He looked vaguely in the direction of the temple, calling out to their leader: "I will go Sette." He spoke to the wind, knowing the old woman in the temple's heart could hear him.
There was a vicious, almost violent response to that in his mind, the overwhelming meaning clear. Sette would not allow it. He flinched, and he saw Kailin do so as well, obviously also a recipient of the bitter feeling.
"I do not see as we have a choice," he replied. "Straein—"
Again, Sette sent another negative response, even shaper than before.
Tae sighed, "No, Sette. We need Straein, for when the Wraith next come. While I understand your fervent wish to protect Callum's City, I—"
This time, the mental pressure inside his skull was deafening. The world went black around him, and he was only dimly aware that someone, probably Kailin, had stopped him from falling down. Sette's voice, her actually voice, echoed inside his head, and he knew it took an enormous amount of power for her to reach over such a great distance to speak to him directly.
"Straein knew the risks," Sette's aged voice crackled through his mind. "And she failed, but that does not mean we can give up on the goal. Atlantis must be saved from these trespassers, these vandals. It must be protected. Part of our promise to Callum when he left was to guard, to the best of our ability, what he and his people left behind. We will not falter in that promise. These trespassers have given us a means of passage back to the City. We will take it, and send an army through. That—"
"No!" he yelled, both vocally and mentally. "You are wrong, Sette! You touched their minds from afar, and from that range you were unable to touch any of them deeply. When I met them, I was able to see more than you did." He drew himself up, gathering strength from his own power, "They are not trespassers, Sette. They are the one Atlantis has been waiting for, I am sure of it. If we try to stop them, we really will fail in our promise to the Ancestors."
He felt her mind recoil from him, in surprise and anger. When it returned, it was like an ice pick through his brain.
"To say such, Tae, shows you are a fool. They are not the Ancestors."
Tae nodded, "I know they are not the Ancestors, Sette." He licked his lips, "But I also know that…that these people…are part of their legacy. I felt the Ancestor's presence when I touched the mind of each of the three men, inside each of them."
"I don't know how to express it. But I think Atlantis was preserved…specifically for them to find and bring back to life."
Sette remained silent for a moment, but the darkness hadn't receded, showing she was still inside his mind.
"Why do you say this?" she asked softly.
"Because I saw it. The leader has the gift of the Ancestors, Sette; the young one has their heart, and the sharp one has their mind. I saw it as clearly as if Callum himself were standing before me, split in three. And if what this Doctor Elizabeth Weir says is true, then the City knows it as well. It will protect them. I will not attack them now. I will do as they ask, if I can."
Another pause. Then, like the touch of a light breeze, she asked a little more, and from her tone, Tae knew he had had already won the argument.
"But how can you be so sure, Tae? How can you know that they really are what you say they are? What if what they say about the City is a lie? How can you trust them?"
Tae nodded. "Because I trust myself, Sette. I trust what I felt and what I saw. I will help them, if they let me."
Sette remained silent for a little while longer, then, slowly, the light returned to Tae's sight. He blinked as the haze before him focused, and he found himself propped up against the machine, with Kailin's arm around him. She was watching him, her eyes soft with concern.
A gentle touch to his mind, and to those around him, told them of Sette's agreement with his decision.
Kailin helped Tae stand up straight again, just as the Stargate spun into activation. She smiled as he gave her nod of thanks.
"Be careful," she whispered, touching his arm.
"I will," he promised, as the MALP beeped again. It was looking for an answer.
CHAPTER TWELVE: EXPLANATIONS
Tae stepped through the event horizon, his heart racing inside his breast. He was scared, that much was clear, but he was also exhilarated. He was going to see the lost City of the Ancestors. No one from Saroku had done that, as far as he knew, in over ten thousand years!
Oh…please let him be right about these people.
His foot landed on marble, and he eyes were instantly drawn to the grand staircase before him, reading the message of welcome inscribed brightly in the ancient language of the Ancestors on it.
Its meaning contrasted sharply with the number of weapons pointed at his head.
A dark-eyed man with black, curly hair stood to his left, and an olive skinned brunette with a beautiful face flanked him on the right. Their uniforms named them as "Bates" and "Recillos." Both had the same closed sort of mind as Doctor McKay—difficult to influence, natural cynics. They both also had what he recognized as the same powerful projectile weapons of Major Sheppard and Lieutenant Ford pointed at his skull. And they weren't the only ones--several others were placed defensively around the room, all ready to fire, Tae knew.
"Hello Tae," Major Sheppard's voice rang through the large room, "Glad you could make it."
Tae looked away from the two warriors, for he knew that was what they were, to the source of the voice. His eyes lifted to the top of the stairs again, where four people now stood. They started to move down as he met their eyes.
Tae noted that Sheppard was unarmed as he walked down the steps, which surprised him. By his side, a woman in a red shirt matched his steps, her bearing oddly regal. A little behind them, the Athosian woman followed them down, watching him warily, along with a very tall man in a blue shirt and dark hair pulled back in a tight ponytail.
Tae greeted them with a small bow, "Major Sheppard. Teyla Emmagen. And, I presume, Doctor Elizabeth Weir?"
The woman in red hit the bottom step and headed towards him. She was lovely, with green eyes and a gentleness hidden behind a veneer of steel. She met his eyes without fear.
"You presume correctly. And this is Doctor Kavenaugh," she informed him, indicating behind her to the tall man. Tae tried not to recoil at the ugliness in this man's mind, immediately retreating when he sensed the same closed off sort of mind. They had chosen their guards well.
He looked up again, at the high ceiling, the windows, the grand architecture. "And this is really, truly, the lost City of Atlantis?"
Doctor Weir didn't answer. Instead, she simply blinked slowly, her lips stretched in a thin line.
"Who would you like to see first?"
Tae's enthusiasm at being in the City faded finally, and he met her eyes. He read her clearly, not needing much of his power to do so. She was angry, yes, but she was also afraid of him…and afraid that he wouldn't be able to help them. But he also felt the same deep-seated conviction that she and her people belonged here. He felt better at that knowledge. He had expected it, but it was always good to see one's impressions become fact. She loved this City and was afraid for it as well as her people, and he was glad of that.
He nodded at her question. It actually didn't matter who he saw first, but he felt it necessary to show some good faith.
Doctor Weir gave a curt nod back to him, and turned to walk. Tae accepted the silent instruction and followed her.
The others, including a healthy portion of the guards, followed them.
As they walked, Doctor Weir gave her best synopsis of the situation. By the time they reached the infirmary, Tae already knew what was wrong.
For some reason, Straein had used the Renzite to attack their Doctor McKay, had been interrupted, and someone, probably the doctor, had shattered the stone.
That made this much harder to fix. And he wouldn't be able to do it alone.
He stood in the infirmary, staring down at the man he had met just two days before. There was nothing in the man's mind now…except silence. It gave Tae great pain to know that. However sharp and closed the mind had been in this one, it was also beautiful. In the way that a hurricane or a thunderstorm is beautiful. To be honest, all mind's were beautiful in their own way, but this one had been filled with tornados and lightning strikes; something like he had imagined the Ancestor's minds to have been. To sense a void where once there had been so much life was a misery.
He looked up, meeting the pale blue eyes of the physician across from him. The same fear was in this one, but more pronounced. Doctor Weir hid her feelings better. This one was less concerned with appearances.
"And Straein is the same, correct?" he asked of the doctor.
Beckett shrugged and nodded. "Exactly the same. As if…they had both been wiped of all brain activity except the basic functions."
"Wiped," Tae sighed, "a good analogy, but not correct. Ripped would be better."
"Ripped?" Beckett rolled the "r," and Tae gave a tiny smile. It was a pleasant way of speaking.
"Yes." He screwed up his lips a little, and turned to look around the room in order to speak to all of them. "Your City is an amazing one," he complimented, nodding to Doctor Weir to show he had meant to emphasize the "your." She simply blinked, acknowledging the statement without a word, and he felt her barely contained impatience. He hurried to explain. "That is to say, it is amazing because Atlantis is designed to inhibit telepathic attack."
"We know," Sheppard stated harshly, the major's fury bubbling just beneath the surface of his calm exterior.
Tae did his best to ignore him, though he did shiver a little at the rage he sensed. "The walls themselves are designed to allow and respond to only one kind of telepathic connection, to those of the Ancestors…and their chosen…but others can not breach them. I, as you obviously know, am telepathic, but I can not see beyond these walls. It is a technology that both impresses and scares me."
"And yet," Teyla said, stepping forward, "Straein managed to overcome these barriers to attack Doctor McKay."
"That is because of the Renzite glass," Tae replied. "It can act as a transmittal and containment device for a person's consciousness. All of the monks of Callum's temple carry these stones. When we want to, we can attach a small part of our minds to the stone, and it will stay attached to the stone, even across the greatest of distances. It can not survive the distance to another planet, meaning it would not survive Stargate travel, but on one planet, it is rare for it to be severed. The mind's attachment to the stone is too strong."
"Like a radio transmitter for thoughts instead of sounds," Kavenaugh said. Tae nodded at the man, who sneered a little in return.
"Radio…yes, I believe that is correct. We don't need them, but I understand some of the science behind them."
"So, Straein could connect to her Renzite," Sheppard stated, in a tone clearly meant to hurry Tae up.
"Yes, and through the Renzite, she must have decided to attack your doctor, because she could not approach him another way. She…was given orders to kill him, if necessary, if he was jeopardizing her mission. I presume he was."
Sheppard's eyes narrowed, but Elizabeth just cleared her throat.
"What exactly was her mission?" Doctor Weir asked.
"I will come to that, I promise," Tae said to her. "For now, know that she must have believed him a great threat to attack him in the manner she did. The Renzite stone grows increasingly fragile the more it is used, to the point of instability if one intends to capture another's consciousness inside it as well as one's own. It was never meant to hold so much, but if the user is strong enough, and they are very careful, it can be done. And that is what Straein was attempting. My people would not take such a risk unless absolutely necessary." He paused, taking a deep breath before continuing.
"I believe she transferred her entire mind into the stone, in order to face Doctor McKay. She may even have projected herself physically before him. If her voice is on that recorder, as you say, then she probably did. She then would have attacked him by attempting to grab hold and rip his mind from his body, neither of which can function without the other. This would have happened in stages. First, she would have captured his conscious thoughts--his reason, in other words--then his subconscious—meaning his instincts--and finally…the unconscious, that which tells the lungs to breathe and the heart to beat. Once the basic functions are pulled, the body dies, and then it is simply a matter of disposing of the mind. My guess, she succeeded in ripping from him two of the three." He looked down again at Rodney, frowning as he once more sought any sign that there was some consciousness still in him.
"Oh, please," Kavenaugh muttered, sneer in full force now. "What a load of bullshit. Separating one's mind from their body. You can't seriously expect us to believe such absurd—"
"Kavenaugh," Elizabeth said the name in the same way someone would crack a whip. The scientist quieted, but he crossed his arms to show his doubt and annoyance at what he considered fantasy.
"Whether you believe me or not," Tae continued, "it is what happened." He glanced up from Rodney to the physician. "She must have been trapping his mind, pulling it from him into to Renzite, in order to destroy it, but she got interrupted." He looked over at Elizabeth, "How did you learn something was wrong?"
"The City," Weir replied, seeing no reason not to answer. "Doctor McKay signaled the alarm somehow, and the City went on alert."
Tae nodded, "The alarms must have interrupted her. Confused her. She would not have understood what was happening, and it probably allowed a little of your Doctor's instincts for self-preservation to kick in. He must have been given the chance to react to the attack, probably in the only way he could at the time, without any ability to reason out the action. He grabbed a weapon to attack her and shattered the Renzite ball."
"Yes," Sheppard agreed.
"What he couldn't know was that he was connected to it. As was Straein. Shattering the Renzite…shattered both their minds."
"Oh God," Elizabeth swore, unable to help herself.
"I don't believe this," Kavenaugh muttered again, shaking his head. "It's impossible. How can you even be listening to this—"
"If we put the Renzite back together," Sheppard interrupted, gaining him a dark stare from the tall scientist, "will that be enough to restore their minds?"
"Thousands of shards," Beckett mumbled softly from his position next to Rodney's bed, looking at his friend's slack features. "It will take weeks. And we may not have found them all."
"It is not that easy," Tae said to the major.
"Easy?" Beckett croaked, looking up.
"But also not that hard," the monk amended, smiling at the physician.
Sheppard glanced at Weir, and she gave an arched eyebrow back. For some reason, the image of Kwai Chang Caine and his elliptical way of speaking came to their thoughts. Tae looked at them quizzically, seeing the thought…and really not understanding it.
The major couldn't resist a tiny smile at that.
"Would you mind explaining that, please," Elizabeth said.
"Their minds are shattered, yes, but they are still connected to their bodies. They wouldn't be alive otherwise. Part of their minds reside still within each of them. We can tap into that, and then follow it out, to where their conscious and subconscious now exist in their… chaotic state outside of their bodies. Think of it like a river or a stream. We can touch the stream at the source, then follow it out. At some point, the stream will break up, dissolve into vapor, as if over a waterfall into nothing, but it will still be fundamentally water…and it will be cognizant of its existence on some level. All that is required is to get the conscious mind to focus itself again, by calling to it and getting it to listen to what we tell it, and then convincing it to return to its body."
"Calling to his mind," Sheppard repeated.
"Yes." Tae sighed, "But, of course, both minds will need to want to return. The best place for this to occur is wherever the Renzite ball was shattered. Both Doctor McKay and Straein should be brought there."
"Do you need all the pieces of the Renzite?" Kavenaugh asked.
Tae shook his head, "No. Straein may still be connected to it, but otherwise...actually, perhaps it should be brought there."
Kavenaugh arched an eyebrow, then shrugged, glancing over at Sheppard.
"And then what?" the major asked.. "You…talk to them?" His distrust was clear on his face as well as in his mind. He was having second thoughts about everything. Tae grimaced at what he saw. Sheppard was entertaining the idea that Tae was going to rescue Straein while finishing off McKay, then the two of them would try to kill everyone else.
Sheppard's hand rested on his empty holster, the hand grasping at the air where the handle should be.
"I have given my word that I would help," Tae said, meeting the major's eyes levelly. "What we attempted to do here was wrong. I know that. I will save your Doctor McKay...but I would be lying if I said I did not want to save Straein as well."
Sheppard's jaw was tensed. Finally, he looked to the dark, curly-haired man standing behind Tae.
"Bates. What do you think?"
He doesn't trust his own mind, Tae understood, as he turned to look at the man standing guard behind him.
"I believe him, sir," Bates replied soundly, though the man's steady hand on his P-90 never wavered..
"As do I," Corporal Recillos added from across the room. "But I have no problem shooting him if he is lying."
Sheppard quirked a smile at that, and the female corporal nodded back.
"And I think it’s a load of horseshit," Kavenaugh stated fiercely. "I say we toss him back through the gate and—"
"…Just let Rodney die?" Elizabeth spat back at him. Kavenaugh looked at her, his dislike of her clear on his face.
"Just my opinion, Doctor Weir."
"Really? And it's based on your disbelief of the idea, or your disbelief of Tae?" she demanded.
Kavenaugh's jaw flexed, and, after a moment, he rolled his eyes. "Fine. The idea. I don't think he's lying. I just think he's cracked."
She nodded, "Noted." Elizabeth turned to Carson. The doctor gave a soft sigh, but nodded his assent with Bates and Recillos. Then she turned to Sheppard. The major gave her a wry look, nodded, and looked over at Tae.
"Fine then," Sheppard licked his lips, "so how does this work? You…tap into their minds and then you call them back somehow?"
"Actually," Tae frowned, "I can call to Straein…but I doubt I will reach Doctor McKay. Right now, both are vulnerable and scared. They are adrift and probably feeling very lost. They will only return to a voice they trust. Straein will talk to me, but Doctor McKay will not. One of you will have to do this with me."
"I will do it," Elizabeth said, stepping forward.
Tae looked at her a moment, then shook his head. "I wish you could, Doctor Weir, as I believe that you would be the ideal voice. However…I can also tell that you do not have any telepathic ability."
She frowned, clearly not pleased. Straightening her shoulders, she nodded. "Okay, then who does?"
"In this room, I can sense three people with the ability. The good doctor," Tae met Beckett's eyes, then he looked at Teyla, "the Athosian," and his eyes shifted further, to land on Sheppard, "and Major Sheppard."
"Well that makes sense," Beckett admitted softly.
"And of the three of you," Tae continued to look at the major, "I believe it is you who has the greatest ability, Major, as well as the strongest connection to Doctor McKay."
Sheppard's eyes widened, "What?"
"He means the gene, Major," Beckett said helpfully.
Sheppard glared at the doctor, "I'm aware he means the gene, Carson." He looked back at Tae, "I was responding to the second part of his sentence. I think you've got that wrong, Tae."
"I do not. Your concern for Doctor McKay runs very deep, Major, and I think that you may underestimate his belief in you. Everyone here seems to see it very clearly. When I first said that someone here would have to talk to McKay, the first name to cross the minds of the people here was Doctor Weir. The second…was you."
"No, no, you don't understand," Sheppard was backing up, his hands raised in front of him, "I'm the last person McKay would want to talk to right now. The last person he would trust. His last impression of me was…was….well, I was acting crazy because of what your witch did to me. If I tried to talk to him, I'd only make it worse."
"Can it get worse?" Beckett asked softly.
"Hell yes it could get worse," Sheppard snapped back at the physician. "McKay could die. I won't let that happen! Not because of me."
Teyla had shifted forward, placing herself in the major's line of sight, "but he does trust you, Major. He may not say it, but deep down, he does trust you."
"Oh come on, Teyla. He trusts you more! Why don't you do this?"
"She is not strong enough, plus her gift is…different." Tae stated flatly. "Doctor Beckett is also not as strongly gifted as you are."
That caused a moment of silence in the room. Teyla turned to look at the Callumite. He lowered his eyes.
Sheppard cleared his throat, "So…what you're saying is," he licked his lips, "it's me or nothing."
"Unless there is someone else who shares your abilities and whom Doctor McKay trusts that I have not met."
There was another moment of silence, until, finally, Sheppard sighed audibly.
"This is a mistake. You'll see. I'll make things worse."
"Isn't that my line?" Beckett chuckled softly, trying to lighten the mood. No one was amused.
"Then you will do it?" Tae asked.
"Do I have a choice?" Sheppard replied.
"Yes. You could let him stay like this."
Sheppard grimaced, "Like I said, I don't have a choice."
CHAPTER THIRTEEN: MEETING OF THE MINDS
McKay's lab had been stripped of several pieces of equipment, to create room for everyone. Both McKay and Straein had both been wheeled in on gurneys, placed on opposite sides of the table where the Renzite ball had shattered. Pieces of it had been placed there, in case Straein still had a connection to it, as Tae seemed to believe. Tae and Sheppard were lying on cots on either side of Straein and McKay, respectively. Sheppard's fingers were tapping away on his breastbone, his eyes staring up despondently at the ceiling. Tae was propped up on his elbows, talking with Corporal Recillos and Sergeant Bates. Everyone else waited outside the room.
Beckett had, understandably, disagreed with the set up, wanting to be in the room as well, but as he appeared to have no protection of any kind, Weir had overridden him. Both people's fear was palpable as the door slid shut on them, locking the six people inside.
Sheppard listened with half an ear as Tae stressed the importance of silence to the two marines. He had initially asked for no one to be in the room, but that had about as much chance of happening as a snowball in hell.
Speaking of hell….
"Okay," Tae looked over at the major, "You ready?"
"No," Sheppard snapped back. "What do I have to do?"
"Nothing. Just lie back. I'll take care of leading you to where Doctor McKay is."
Sheppard sighed, tilting his head to look at Tae, "Can I just reiterate what a bad idea this is?"
"Now you sound like McKay," Ford's voice echoed over the radio near Sheppard's ear. The major chuckled, shifting his eyes to Recillos and Bates. The transmitter was by his head, but he wasn't wearing the earpiece.
"You'll be fine, Major," the corporal promised confidently. Sheppard looked over at her, and saw she had her hands tightly gripped around the P-90. She saw him notice, and loosened the grip. Bates just exuded confidence, as he always did.
His smile vanished, and both marines straightened a little at the suddenly deadly serious look on the major's face.
"Tae or Straein tries anything…." Sheppard said softly. Both people nodded. They would do what they had to.
On his side of the room, Tae grimaced, but didn't remark on that. "Again, are you ready, Major?"
Sheppard shifted, tilting his head back on the pillow, sighed, and closed his eyes. "Let's just get this over with."
Tae nodded, leaned back himself, and closed his eyes.
Sheppard's brow furrowed, as a small headache formed around his temples. A moment later, he frowned as it intensified, beating faster and harsher, like someone was hammering at his forehead. He opened his mouth, and an involuntary gasp escaping him as a sudden, really sharp pain pierced through his head. It felt like someone had just thrust an ice pick through his skull.
He opened his eyes, and saw the word as if through a filmy glass, distorted and discolored. Corporal Recillos looked scared, her mouth open as if saying something, taking a step towards him. He tried to answer when….
Everything went black.
He couldn't help it—he yelled.
"Major!" Tae's voice cut through his scream, and Sheppard looked for the source of the voice. "Major, it's all right!"
"Where are you!" Sheppard yelled, looking everywhere. He pushed himself up off the now invisible cot he was lying on, trying to see around him. "Tae?"
"Yes, I'm here."
And, suddenly, he was. He was standing a few feet away. Nothing else was visible—just the monk, his hands clasped together in front of him, his eyes on the major. He was like a shining beacon in the darkness.
"You're all right," Tae assured him. "Everything's all right."
"Where are we?" Sheppard couldn't keep the tremor from his voice.
"Right now…you're in my mind."
Sheppard's eyes widened, "What?"
"I connected to your mind, and brought you here. And now I'm going to find Doctor McKay. But you must stay calm. I'm trying to connect four minds together which, believe me, is not easy. And you're incredibly distracting."
"I'm distracting?" the major squeaked.
"Please," Tae sighed, "just…stay still. For a little bit."
Sheppard grimaced, but, after a moment, he nodded.
The major looked down, and realized that, again, he couldn't see anything. He couldn't even see himself. He lifted his hand up in front of his face, and there was nothing there. Just the sensation of knowing that his hand was there. He wiggled his fingers. Nothing.
God this was freaky.
Then, slowly, the world began to lighten.
The outline of his hand became visible, and he wiggled his fingers again. He saw them move.
Oh thank God.
He looked around him more carefully now, and realized he was still in McKay's lab. It slowly came more and more into focus, the colors losing their shadowed quality and becoming real again.
He frowned. Did Tae fail?
He sat up more fully on the cot when everything looked back to normal, swinging his legs over the side, more comfortable now that he could actually see it, and looked towards the door, to where Bates and Recillos were….
There was no one there.
He straightened from his slouch. What the hell?
Fear spiked through him, and he looked around at the room. McKay was still lying on his gurney next to him. The shards of Renzite were still loosely collected on the central lab bench. And Straein lay on the far side—though she appeared oddly insubstantial.
Tae was sitting up on the other cot, his legs also hanging over the side and his body half curled over, his eyes tightly shut.
Sheppard cleared his throat, "Tae?"
The monk took a deep breath, and opened his eyes, lifting them to meet the major's. He looked like he had the weight of the world on his shoulders. His eyes were shadowed, a visible tremor wracked his body, and Sheppard was sure those were sweat drops running down the sides of the man's face. Tae looked around him more fully, eyeing the room.
"Yes, I see," the monk sighed. "I see what's he's done." He even sounded tired.
"What who's done?" Sheppard asked.
"Doctor McKay. This will work."
"You lost me."
Tae smiled a little at that, and nodded, "I'm not surprised." He blew the air out of his cheeks, then pushed himself off onto the cot. "Right now, we are both inside Doctor McKay's mind—or at least, on the edge of it. I brought you here. I've also managed to touch and connect a little of Straein's mind to here as well. And you have unconsciously used your own power to make this place appear as it does in reality. Thank you—it helps."
"Again," Sheppard frowned, "what?"
Tae sighed again, and started again. "I connected you to me, as you know. Then I sought out Straein, and connected her to me as well. Then I sought out Doctor McKay and did as I said I would. I found what is remaining of his mind in his body, and followed the stream out to where his conscious and subconscious exist outside of it. And here we are."
Sheppard blinked again, looking around, "But we're on Atlantis."
"Uh…no. We're not. But then again," Tae shrugged, "yes, we are."
Sheppard's eyes narrowed. "You know what? That didn't help."
"That is, this is Atlantis in Doctor McKay's mind, though you and I have affected this particular room in it. This is where he is."
Tae frowned, tilting his head, "What exactly were you expecting, Major?"
"I was expecting…something else. You said a stream and a waterfall. I think I was expecting the outdoors, somewhere, and a waterfall and maybe a void, or something…."
Tae smiled, and shook his head. "The subconscious mind is very strong, and still able to function coherently, even outside of the body, so long as it remains even remotely connected to it. Doctor McKay's subconscious built this construct, as a means to keep his conscious mind from straying too far, and to protect it. Sort of like a halfway house—partway between life—which is his body—and death—which is nothingness. He apparently feels at home on Atlantis, and feels the most connected to his life here, so this is where his conscious mind is…but it also represents a place he is very scared of, and he probably thinks he will die here—that it will eventually kill him."
Sheppard listened to this, his eyebrows furrowing. After a moment he nodded, "Okay. So what does that mean?"
Tae looked like he was resisting the urge to roll his eyes, "it means…that this is where you will find your doctor. You need to seek him out. Call to him, talk to him, whatever it takes. Just find him, wherever he is in this place, and bring him back to this room. To where his body lies. I'll do the rest."
Sheppard arched an eyebrow. "That doesn't sound too hard," he said tentatively.
"Yes, but remember," Tae licked his lips, "Doctor McKay's conscious mind will be very fractured. What part of him that is even aware of what is happening to him, if it is at all, will be terrified and lost. He will be seeking understanding and help, but he will also be running from everything. Part of him will resist you. His doubts, his fears, his pain--all that is here, and a large part of him will want that to end, meaning he'll want to give up….You have to convince him to return with you before that happens. Do you understand?"
Sheppard met his eyes, then looked away towards the closed door of the room.
"Yeah," he admitted softly. "I get it. Try to talk him off the ledge. Gotcha."
"Good. Then there is just one other—"
"That is, I know what you want me to do," Sheppard interrupted him, speaking listlessly, "but that doesn't mean I can do it."
Tae looked at him. Then looked down, obviously thinking about how to respond.
"McKay doesn't trust me," Sheppard explained, turning away from the door to look at the monk again. "He won't respond to me. I might even make it worse. Hell, I probably will make it worse."
Tae continued to stare at the floor. Then he shrugged, looking up, "Try the door."
"What?" Sheppard looked again towards the closed door of the room.
"Just try it."
The major shrugged, walked to the door and raising his hand to touch the pad. But before he could, the door opened on its own with a soft swish, stopping the major in his tracks. The hallway outside was as quiet as a tomb. He turned around to look at Tae, eyes wide open.
"I didn't open it," he said, clearly surprised.
"No you didn’t," Tae smiled. "He did. He's letting you in, Major."
For a second, Sheppard didn't move. He just let the meaning of the words sink in. Then he turned again to look at the hallway.
"That is," Tae amended, "his subconscious let you in. This room, while in his mind, has also been altered by your and my perception of it. But the hallway beyond is just in Doctor McKay's mind. His subconscious let you open the door and see the hallway beyond. It recognized you, knows you're here. If I were you," Tae smiled, "I wouldn't be so sure to assume you know the mind of your friend." The smile grew, "He may surprise you."
Sheppard continued to look at the hallway, trying to make sense of all this.
"And…one more thing," Tae said. Sheppard looked back at him, his brow furrowing when he noticed that Tae seemed strangely uncomfortable all of a sudden.
"What?" he asked.
"If…you can't reach Dr. McKay. If you find…that you can't save him. If this place begins to fall apart, get back to this room, as fast as possible."
Sheppard's frown deepened, "Why?"
Tae grimaced, "So…you don't get lost as well."
Sheppard stared at him, then closed his mouth. He guessed at what the man was implying, but wasn't going to push it to full comprehension. He just nodded to show he would do as he was told. He didn't want to think about it further. Things were bad enough.
"All right then," Tae nodded back, "I must go now." He sighed, "I'm going to find where Straein has sent her conscious mind. When I do, if I can convince her to join me, I will bring her here. With both of them in this room…we should be able to bring them both back."
Sheppard gave a single nod to the monk as he finished. "Okay."
"Good luck," Tae smiled.
The monk gave a slight bow, then closed his eyes. With a shudder, he simply vanished.
Sheppard swallowed harshly, looked one more time at the silent, unmoving body of McKay on the table, then turned and walked out of the room into the hallway.
CHAPTER FOURTEEN: A SCARY PLACE TO BE
Sheppard let out a pent up breath as he hit the marble floor, his eyes shifting to the left and right. Turning, he took one last look into McKay's lab…or what looked like McKay's lab…and at the still form of his friend lying on the gurney.
Then the door shut.
And the signal alarm suddenly exploded into life, nearly flooring the major in surprise.
The major twisted around, adrenalin surging through his veins as the klaxons grew louder in his ears.
"What the hell?" he muttered, his feet jumping first to the left then the right. Which way? He cupped his hands around his mouth:
Turning, he yelled again, shouting the scientist's name over Atlantis' deafening alarm.
"MCKAY! RODNEY! RODNEY, ANSWER ME!"
He took in another deep breath, about to shout again, when the radio on his ear came to life. He reached up to tap it, part of him wondering when it had got there. He didn't remember looping the earpiece to his ear.
"Major, he's on his way back to the city!" Rodney's disembodied voice called over the transmitter. "You have to stop him!"
Sheppard blinked, his finger still to the earpiece, "What? Rodney, is that you?"
"Peterson! He got away from us. Ford's gone to look, but I'm almost certain he'll find a way through the doors. He's infected, I know he is. We…we all are."
"Peterson?" Sheppard looked in the direction he knew the east pier to be, making a quick connection in his head with the name. "McKay, where are you?"
"You know where I am, Major. We're all here, in the viral lab on the east pier I told Elizabeth about. Except Peterson. He's headed back into the city."
Sheppard's eyes narrowed, understanding dawning, "No, McKay, listen to me. I need to talk to you. I'm coming to find—"
"No! Major, didn't you hear me? We're infected! Now look, I don't have a lot of time here. Beckett's already figured out that Hays and I…that…look, just stop Peterson. We'll try to find a cure. Just be careful!"
"No, McKay! It's not real! You're going to be fine." Sheppard started jogging, heading towards the nearest transporter to take him to the east pier, "I'm coming out there. Just stay where you are!"
"Damn it, Major! Don't be an idiot! The alarms are going off for a reason. Atlantis is not going to let you get near me. I only have a little bit of time left before it kills me and Hays too. I don't have time to argue with you. Just stop Peterson. Beckett will—"
"You're not dying, Rodney! I'm coming there! Don't move!" Sheppard shouted, cutting him off, running down the hall. "Just hang on! Wait for me!"
Nothing answered him, and Sheppard wasn't sure if that was good or bad. Dropping his hand from the radio on his ear, he grimaced as he neared the doorway at the end of the hall. It was shut, closed because of the quarantine the alarms were announcing.
"And open the door!" he shouted into the radio. "You hear me McKay? Open this door!"
He skidded up to the barrier, staring at the unforgiving metal. Gritting his teeth, he pressed his hand to the panel to open them.
"OPEN THESE DOORS!" he shouted. "MCKAY!" He slammed his hand on the panel, grimacing as still nothing happened. "So help me," he yelled, "I'll break them down! Let me through!" He drew in all his breath, "LET ME THROUGH!"
And, suddenly, the doors spilt apart.
"Thank you," Sheppard whispered, not about to look a gift horse in the mouth and running through the opening. "Now…."
He paused, drawing up short.
The alarms had stopped. This new hallway was deathly quiet. He looked behind him—the hallway there was quiet as well. Confused, he tapped the radio on his ear, "McKay? Did you do that? The alarms have stopped."
Gingerly, slowly, he took a few steps forward, tapping at the radio again. "McKay?"
No response came over the radio, and he grimaced. Cautiously, his right hand fell to the gun at his hip.
Then the lights flickered.
His eyes lifted to the ceiling, and then the walls. The lights flickered some more…then went out.
Please not that.
His ears perked up, looking around. He pulled the gun out, though, if this was what he thought it was, the gun would be useless.
"Major," Rodney's voice called from behind him.
Sheppard spun around, to find McKay standing in a doorway to a different hallway off to the side, silhouetted by the lights still on behind him. It was one of the corridors leading to the back stairs to the control room. The scientist looked confused, as if he hadn't expected the major to be there, and his fingers were twisting away nervously where they hung by his sides.
"McKay!" Sheppard grinned, unable to stop himself. "Thank God, I—"
"Major, how did you get here?" McKay spoke softly, frowning at the major's grin.
"That's not important," Sheppard continued to smile. "I've come to find you."
"Me?" McKay blinked, shaking his head a little. "What? No, Major, you can't be here. The energy being, it's going to be here any second. You need to get out of here."
Sheppard's smile fell a little, "The energy being?"
"The others are in the control room. They're waiting for you…us. I came to find you. I know my plan to trap that thing back in the containment device failed, so I…so I…." he trailed off, eyes shifting away guiltily. "I wanted to talk to you first, before the others," he swallowed, "to tell you I'm sorry."
The Major blinked at the nervous tone McKay was evidencing, "For what?"
"You know for what!" McKay snapped, focusing back on the major, "You could have been killed because of my plan…and my cowardice!"
Sheppard frowned, "Killed? No, McKay, I'm fine. I'm not dead. But," he forced a smile, holding up a finger, "speaking of dead, I need to talk—"
"Well, it could have killed you. It should have been me facing it down. But I was too scared. Too scared and too…I mean, I thought it would work, but—"
"McKay, look at me. I'm not dead." Sheppard frowned then, realization dawning, "Christ, Rodney, how long have you been thinking about this?"
"Not yet, you mean. You're not dead yet," McKay replied, ignoring the major's question. "But you will be if you don't get out of here. It's coming. Grodin said—"
"Nothing's coming, McKay. This is all in your head. Literally. Now, look," the major stepped forward, finally putting the gun away and reaching out his other hand towards the scientist, "I need you to—"
"Oh God," McKay's his eyes shifted, to look over Sheppard's shoulder. "Too late," he whispered.
Sheppard spun around, to find a mass of black shadow boiling towards him at a fantastic rate of speed—he could almost here it sizzling as it sucked power from everything it touched. Instinct kicked in and he turned with a yell, running for the doorway McKay was standing in. The scientist was frozen to the ground, staring at the energy being with wide eyes. Sheppard grabbed the other man's forearm, gripping it tightly and spinning McKay around with him, to send them both running down the hall.
McKay stumbled, but was soon keeping up, his eyes looking unfocused. Sheppard let go his arm, running full out, listening to the scientists' footfalls behind him.
Ahead, the doors to the stairwell were closed.
"Almost there," Sheppard called, turning to look over his shoulder at the scientist, "We…."
He skidded to a stop. There was no one in the hall with him. What the hell! Rodney had been right behind him! Where did he go?!
"No," he whispered. "McKay? McKay! Fuck!" He gripped his hands into fists, "Damn it! Stay with me!" he yelled up at the ceiling.
After a moment of glaring at the metal crenellations overhead, he blew the air out of his cheeks and looked back down the hallway he had just run down. The lights were back on in the hallway at the end. No more energy monster.
With a grimace, he turned and pressed his palm to the panel to the next doorway.
The doors slid open, and he stepped forward, towards the metal stairs leading up to the control room.
That's when he heard it.
Rain. Lots of rain, pelting away unforgiving at the walls. A boom of thunder.
Fuckity fuck fuck FUCK! The STORM!
He started up the stairs, wondering when exactly this new nightmare was taking pla—
McKay's scream of pain burst through the air, causing Sheppard to nearly freak out himself. He didn't even think, taking the stairs two at a time to reach the control room.
Kolya's deep voice boomed and echoed down the stairwell, "You're not that tough, Doctor McKay! Tell me what I want to know, and the pain will end."
"Stop," McKay's voice pleaded, "Please…."
"What's the plan to save the city! Tell me!"
"I don't know what…."
Another scream, and Sheppard was at the top of the stairs, pressing his back against the wall. He saw the shadows of the Genii soldiers. Holding his breath, he slid down to his haunches, then, slowly, carefully, peeked his head around the corner.
McKay was being held tightly in the grip of a younger Genii soldier, his left arm twisted up behind him, his legs half buckled. Kolya had the doctor's right arm stretched out tightly, pressed against one of the consoles, while he held a bloody knife over it.
"If I don't get it from you, doctor," Kolya sneered, "I will get it from Doctor Weir. And believe me, I will not be as nice with her."
"You can't be serious," McKay's shaking voice replied, half gasping out the words. "Please…why are you doing this?"
Kolya didn't answer, just pressed the edge of the knife against the wound on McKay's arm. Rodney hissed, but managed not to scream this time. Sheppard saw his legs buckle a little more, though, causing the young soldier to brutally wrench him back up by the twisted left arm.
"Seems to me," Kolya hissed, pressing his face inches from McKay's "A doctor would need two hands to do his work. Don't you think?"
"No," McKay begged, "Please…."
"Tell me what I want to know!"
McKay shook his head, and Kolya dug the knife into the arm. This time, the scientist couldn't hold back his agony, his cry of pain echoing through the room.
"Okay, okay!" he pleaded desperately when Kolya lifted the knife away, and Sheppard could feel the man's abject terror, "I'll tell you! Anything you want to know! Stop! Please!"
"I knew you were a coward," Koyla sneered in disgust. "A weak little man. In fact…I think I'll take your hand anyway…." And he pressed the knife on the arm again.
Rodney's scream was deafening.
Sheppard couldn't stand it anymore, hiding back again behind the wall, trying to come up with a plan before it was too late. He pulled up the P90 clipped to his vest (his rational side choosing to ignore the fact that he hadn't had the weapon with him a second ago) and brought it up, standing up fully. Oh, to hell with figuring out a plan! With a deep breath, he turned the corner, weapon aimed and ready.
"Kolya!" he shouted, "Leave him…."
The room was empty.
Aw hell. Of course it was.
He lowered the machine gun, walking all the way through the control room. No one. No McKay, no Kolya, no one….
Damn it. This was really getting annoying.
His fingers gripped themselves more tightly around the weapon, and he walked over to the green screen, looking at the data scrolling past. It moved too fast for him to comprehend, and so he looked down at the laptop in front of it.
Keying in a few commands, he basically asked it to locate Rodney.
He found a lot more than that.
The mess hall was alive with lights—looked like the entire city was gathered there. What the hell?
Frowning, he turned and ran out of the control room, towards the transporter that would take him to the mess.
In moments, he was stepping out into the brightly lit hall, the huge space crowded tightly with people.
He stopped with surprise. It was the first time he had seen the rest of the expedition team here. And they were all here—even the Athosians. The room was alive with people…and they were all blocking his way.
The crowd paid no attention to him as he pushed through them, trying to find out what they were all looking at.
Just then, Weir's voice echoed through the hall.
"Doctor Rodney McKay," she announced, sounding horribly formal to the major as he shoved his way through the last layer of people. She had paused, presumably for dramatic effect, and when he finally saw why, it filled him with dread.
Rodney stood before a huge, wooden trial bench (where the hell had that come from?) with Weir in the judge's seat, perched well above the crowd's heads. To Rodney's left was Bates and to his right was Ford, both with tight grips on Rodney's arms. The scientist's hands were handcuffed before him, and he was staring up with hopeless eyes towards his leader.
Weir glared down at him. "For crimes against the people of Atlantis, Doctor McKay, and for your part in the deaths of Brendan Gaul, Jonathan Abrams, Claire Dumais, Andrea Johnson, Saul Wagner, Steven Hays and Dan Peterson," she lifted her head, staring down her nose at him in clear contempt, "You are hereby condemned to exile and death on the desert moon at the edge of this solar system. For your sake, I hope there are no more Wraith alive on that planet." She arched an eyebrow, "But then again, it would be fitting if there were."
The major's jaw fell open in shock. What?
"Take him away," Elizabeth snapped. "I can't stand looking at him anymore."
"No, wait! Are you crazy?!" Sheppard yelled, stepping forward. "What the hell is this!"
But no one paid him any mind, not even McKay. The scientist simply lowered his head. Bates and Ford pulled on his arms, and McKay let them turn him around and drag him away.
"Wait!" the major ran forward after them, "Hold on! McKay, this isn't real! You can't—"
"Please stop sir," Stackhouse suddenly appeared in front of him, hand upraised. "There is nothing you can do. He's getting what he deserves."
"Get out of my way, Sergeant," Sheppard hissed, pushing past the young man. Stackhouse put up a token resistance, but that was all. The major glared up at Weir as he ran past, seeing also Teyla by her side, also sitting in judgment. The two women glanced at him, then turned away. He noticed there was also a third seat up there, but it was empty.
Shaking his head, he continued to run after Bates, Ford and McKay, but they were moving impossibly fast. They were already going through the doors on the far side of the hall.
"McKay!" the major shouted, skipping down the stairs from the mess hall floor after them.
They were already through the doors, and they were sliding shut. For a moment, he saw McKay look over his shoulder, his eyes meeting the major's for a fleeting moment.
"Wait!" Sheppard hit the doors just as they slid shut. With a growl, he hit the panel, and they opened.
Hell and damnation.…This was getting repetitive.
He growled louder, turning around to look at the hall. Of course, it was empty as well. Everyone was gone.
Letting out an annoyed hiss, he turned and headed back into the hall, intending to head back to the transporter, when the lights suddenly dimmed.
"Not the energy monster again," he muttered, annoyed, looking up.
Hold up…the lights hadn't actually dimmed. He frowned—that meant something else had darkened the room….
He turned towards the massive glass windows.
"Oh for the love of God," he cursed at the suddenly blue and green world outside. Water. They were under water. Atlantis was at the bottom of the sea again. "No, no, no…." he muttered, just as the ground below his feet began to shake.
With a renewed sense of urgency, he ran to the transporter, feeling and hearing the city walls groaning around him. Just as he reached them, he heard the glass shatter in the windows. Eyes widening with understanding of what Rodney was imagining this time, he dove into the transporter and hit the right connection to close the doors, just as the weight of the ocean exploded into the mess hall.
He stepped out into the quieter hall near the control room, but the groaning and creaking of the walls was still evident. He started running now, heading towards the main doorways, which were still open. He heard McKay yelling from the control room, even before he reached it.
"No, no, no! There's not enough power or time, Elizabeth! Get everyone to the ships! It's our only chance! Grodin and I will keep working until—"
Suddenly the entire corridor shook violently, sending Sheppard slamming into the wall to his left, and the klaxons exploded into life. The doors to the control room started to shut.
"No!" he yelled, pushing off the wall and running full out to reach them. They slammed close just before he got there, and he slammed his shoulder up against the unyielding metal.
McKay's voice was muffled but clear, coming through the door.
"The bulkheads have slammed shut! We'll try to get up there but…Oh God. It's too late, the Gateroom's flooding!"
"How are we going to get out of here?!" Peter yelled.
"Just keep trying to open up that hatch!" McKay shouted back. "We have to find a way to—"
"What's the point!" Peter moaned.
"We have to keep trying! We can save them! We just have to—"
"No! Don’t you get it? You won't be able to figure it out! You're going to fail! And we're all going to die! Everyone! You've killed everyone!" Peter's shout cut through the air, and even Sheppard gasped as the harshness of the comment. It didn't sound like Peter—but it didn't matter. It wasn't really Peter speaking, now, was it?
"No" Sheppard banged on the doors with his fists, "McKay! This didn't happen! Don't make it happen in your mind! Stop it!"
McKay continued to call up to Elizabeth over the radio, telling her he'd try to open the hatch in the jumper bay, but Sheppard could hear the water rising inside, could hear Peter's yell of fear as the water probably breached the balcony, could hear McKay still trying…trying….
"But ultimately failing," Sheppard whispered, resting his head against the doors and closing his eyes. "Oh God, McKay. I'm so sorry. Please…please let me in."
After a moment, he looked up, sensing quiet on the other side. He saw sunlight streaming in through the glass again, and he sighed. Stepping back, he leaned over and touched his hand to the panel.
The doors opened and, just as he expected, the room was empty.
He slumped inside, finding a chair in front of the central console where Grodin normally sat, and plunked down.
For a moment, he just breathed.
He knew that, any minute, some other horrible thing would occur. A wraith attack, maybe. Or the Genii again. Or the Storm would return, and McKay wouldn't get the shield working this time. Or another catastrophic system failure….
Rodney was living out his worst nightmares, whether they be real or imagined, and nothing John seemed to do could stop him. He'd been chasing him all over the damn City, and it was literally like chasing a ghost.
The thought made him shudder.
He looked down at the console before him…and straightened in his chair.
Wait a minute.
His lips parted. Of course. Why didn't he think of it before?
Standing up, he licked his lips and reached a hand forward…opening the central comm. link that would send his voice ringing through all the halls of Atlantis.
"McKay," he said, looking up, "I know you can hear me. I know because you created this place, and you are everywhere in it. So, listen to me. I need you to come here. To the control room. I need to talk to you."
He paused, checking again to make sure the link was open, before sighing and trying again.
"You know who this is, and somewhere, some part of you knows why I'm here. It's been letting me keep up with you. To a degree. But it's not good enough. I need you to come to me. Please. I'm right here, and I need to talk to you. To all of you."
He grimaced at the words, to all of you. What the hell did he mean by that? He shook his head, annoyed with himself. He couldn't even talk to Rodney over the comm. without sounding like an idiot. How was he supposed to talk to him face to face?
He closed his eyes, shaking his head.
"Rodney," he called quietly, "please just come talk to me. Just for a moment."
When he opened his eyes again, he found himself standing on the Gateroom floor. Startled, he stepped back a bit, then forced himself to calm down, turning around to look behind him at the Stargate. The windows behind it were gloriously lit by the sun, sending cascading colors of light across the floor at his feet. He took comfort in their simple beauty.
"I'm here," Rodney called softly from behind him.
Sheppard turned, and, sure enough, Rodney was standing about three feet away. The scientist looked uncomfortable, and tired. His hair was oddly spiked, his eyes were sunken, and there were lines around his lips that Sheppard had never seen before. He looked…very tired.
Rodney lifted his eyebrows a little, and asked the obvious question when Sheppard didn't immediately begin to speak.
"Well," he said, "What do you want to talk about?"
CHAPTER FIFTEEN: A MATTER OF TRUST
"Rodney," Sheppard smiled first, then let it fade, holding up a hand and speaking quickly, "Now, don't disappear on me, all right?"
"Disappear?" the scientist arched an eyebrow. "Why would I do that?"
"Because you've been doing it a lot lately," the smile was back. "Just hear me out first. I have a question for you."
"Oh, something new," McKay replied evenly.
Sheppard gave him a look before motioning around with his hand to indicate their surroundings, "Do you know where you are?"
McKay's arched eyebrow grew more so, as a look of incredulity crossed his face. "Um, yes?" he replied, obviously surprised by the question. "Why? You don't?"
"No, no, I know where we are," Sheppard replied, and decided to plunge on, "But I don't think you do. See…here's the thing." His eyes narrowed, and he put on his best self-assured expression, "We're in your head, McKay."
Both eyebrow raised then, the lips parting. Then, suddenly, Rodney grinned, laughing at what he thought was a joke. "Really?" he deadpanned. "Now, see, that's interesting, because I was going to say the Gateroom on Atlantis, but I like your answer better. It's funnier."
Sheppard shook his head, "I'm not trying to be funny, Rodney."
"Oh, come on," McKay continued to laugh, "With that face? You look the same as you did when you tried to convince Ford that Doctor Beckett wasn't really Scottish, that Carson was just faking the accent and he was really a CIA spy. You almost had him believing it too…." McKay shook his head, and, for a moment, he looked a little less tired.
The major smiled a little, but then shook his head, "I'm sorry, Rodney. I'm not kidding this time."
"No?" Rodney continued to smile, but it had lessened, "Oh come on, you can do better than that, major. Tell me how I'm lying in a coma somewhere, with candles around me and Teyla leading a séance in Ancient." His eyes lit up with mirth, "Maybe that'll help make it more plausible."
"McKay, no, listen, I need you to be serious for a minute…."
"Serious? But you just said you were in my head, Major. That seems pretty funny to me. After all, far be it for me to state the obvious, but I think that's impossible." He chuckled again, "Not that I'm a neurosurgeon or even a psychiatrist, but, I think, if you were in my head, I'd know it."
"It's more likely that I would dream that you're in my head, but it wouldn't actually be you, but my representation of you. Which means you…are really me…talking to me…pretending to be you." The grin was very wide now, and the eyes losing their focus. "But I really don't have time for this, you know? I've got places to see, people to meet, Ancient cities to destroy…." His smile fell suddenly and he turned around, putting his back to the major, "Friends to lead to their deaths…." He started to walk away.
"McKay, stop!" Sheppard bounded forward, jogging to get in front of him, waving a hand in front of Rodney's distracted face, "Please. Just wait."
The scientist stopped, and, slowly, blinked, as if returning from a far away place. He focused back on Sheppard, and something akin to annoyance crossed his face, "What? Why?"
"Because I'm asking you to."
McKay frowned, and shook his head, snapping back in response: "I don't have time for this major. There's too much to do. Shouldn't you be saving someone's life somewhere or something?"
Sheppard snorted, "That's what I'm trying to do."
"I can't. I'm already here."
McKay's lips pressed themselves into a hard line, understanding the meaning. "That's not funny, Major."
"I know. That's what I was trying to tell you."
"It's not funny because I'm perfectly fine, as you can see. There's no one here to save. Now, if you don't mind…." He tried to step around the major, but Sheppard grabbed his upper arm. McKay looked startled, looking down at the tight grip. Finally, his eyes lifted to meet the major's gaze. The scientist's eyes were impossibly blue, for some reason, almost washed out, as if the man were about to become a puddle of water. He shook his head.
"What do you want, Major?" McKay asked softly, his voice breaking slightly. "Why are you here? Is this about Straein?"
Sheppard winced at the name, but nodded, loosening his hold a little, "Yes."
"I'm not going to hurt her," McKay swore defensively as he wrenched himself free from the grip. He took a step back and rubbed at his arm where Sheppard had held it, and seemed to become somehow less substantial in Sheppard's eyes, "I'm just trying to show you that she's not—"
"I know, Rodney. I know what you were trying to do. And I…I was wrong not to listen to you."
McKay's eyebrows shot up at the admission, clearly not expecting that, "What?"
"I know what she is, McKay. I know what you were trying to protect me and everyone else from. "
Rodney stared at him a moment, frowning. "You do? How?"
"Because she sent you here."
"To the Gateroom?"
"No, McKay," Sheppard sighed. "That's what I've been trying to tell you. This isn't the Gateroom on Atlantis. It isn't anywhere. We're in your mind."
Rodney blinked, then pursed his lips together, crossing his arms, "I don't like this joke, Major. This can't be my mind."
"It is, McKay. Believe me, I know."
"It can't be," Rodney waved a hand around, "If it were, it would mean I think about Atlantis all the time. I don't." He rolled his eyes a little at the major's incredulous look, "Okay, okay, I think about it…most of the time. But I also think about earth, about the places we've seen, about lots of things. And when I think about Atlantis, I think about learning about it, fixing it and discovering things about this galaxy and the people here. I don't think," he waved a hand around again, "about an empty Gateroom…and talking to you about stupid, childish stories that would sound better in a Stephen King novel than in reality." He finished by crossing his arms and adopting that arrogant expression of his that challenged anyone to disagree with him.
Sheppard sighed, "McKay, first off…you just pointed out that the Gateroom is completely empty. Is that normal?"
Rodney opened his mouth to answer, then frowned a little, looking up at the balconies and the doors. The frown grew.
"And," Sheppard continued, before McKay could come up with an explanation, "I would agree that, normally, your mind doesn't dwell on the things I've seen since I've been here, but there is a reason for that." He licked his lips, as McKay gave him a sidelong glance that showed he was listening. "Straein…she attacked you Rodney. I don't know if you remember that, but she did. And what she did…was to attack your mind. The way it was explained to us, she somehow separated your conscious and subconscious from your body, and was going for your unconscious mind when she got interrupted by you setting off the alarm. While she was distracted, you broke the Renzite ball she was using to channel both your mind and hers, and, when it shattered, it sent your mind…here. We're not inside your body, McKay, we're on some other plane. And your mind's way of dealing with the separation was to create this place."
McKay regarded him with a straight face, not taking his eyes from Sheppard's. He had no answer for that.
Sheppard swallowed, pushing on, "See, right now, your thoughts, your mind, is, is….It's a real mess, McKay. It's feeling lost and out of control and, apparently, guilt ridden…and scared…and lonely…And it's playing that out with these scenes, some of which really happened and some which didn't. Hell, you even brought old Weir's story to life, about you dying when the City didn't rise." The major grimaced, "And it's killing you McKay. At some point, I think your mind will…destroy you enough times that, eventually, you will die in reality. Tae didn't actually say that would happen, but I think that's what will occur if I can't convince you to come with me."
Sheppard smiled, "Yeah. The black haired guy from Saroku. He's helping us."
McKay looked away, generally staring at another part of the room. After a moment, he looked back.
"This isn't real. That's what your saying, right?"
Sheppard nodded, "Yes."
"Then, if this isn't real…how do I know you're real? How do I know you're not just another part of my head, as I said at first?"
Sheppard blinked, "Um…because I'm not?" He gave a sheepish smile.
"And," McKay crossed his arms over his chest, "how do I know you're not Straein…or Tae…or any of those people, just playing with me? Trying to lead me somewhere to finish me off?"
Sheppard's eyebrows rose, surprised by the question. He blinked a few times, then frowned. It was a good question, to be honest. His frown deepened, and he found himself searching the floor for answers.
McKay smiled suddenly, "Actually, I already know the answer."
The major looked back up at him, "You do? How?"
"Because…if I were really lost and they were really after leading me someplace to die, they wouldn't send you to find me, would they? If you were Straein or Tae, you'd probably come in the form of Elizabeth or Teyla or even Ford. If they were in my head, they'd know you'd be the last person to send."
Sheppard grimaced, a knot forming in his stomach. This is what he'd been afraid of. Damn it, he'd warned Tae that McKay didn’t trust him! Taking a deep breath, he asked, weakly, "Why?"
McKay arched an eyebrow, and a devilish smirk suddenly lit on his face. "Because," he explained, "I wouldn't trust you to lead me out of a paper bag, Major. You get lost on a regular basis. You're very good at it."
Taken off guard, Sheppard immediately got defensive. "What? I don't get lost!"
"No…you just tend to misplace yourself."
"McKay…" the tone was vaguely threatening.
"Come on, admit it. If we didn't have Teyla with us, we'd probably still be scrambling around M7G-677, trying to find a way back to the Gate after the Jumper went down."
Sheppard opened his mouth to argue, then shut it. His annoyed expression faded, becoming a wry look. He hated it when McKay had a point. He sneered.
"Yeah, well, you're not much help with a map."
"I'm not a pilot, Major. I'm not supposed to guide people places. And I can follow directions when they're given to me. You, on the other hand, seem to guide yourself based on a sort of Sheppard spidey sense…." He grinned.
"Oh, Christ. You are so obnoxious sometimes! Make that most of the time!" Sheppard snapped, shaking his head. "You're even obnoxious in your own mind!"
McKay's smile fell a little, "Yes, well…it's a scary place to be, apparently."
That caused Sheppard's own thoughts to return to the present, and he turned to look at the doctor.
McKay's own expression was somewhere between nervous and hopeful, all humor gone from his face.
After a moment, the major nodded. He realized that McKay had made a decision.
"So, you know this isn't real?"
McKay took a breath, looking around again, "Well…it is a little strange that the Gateroom is empty." His eyes narrowed as he focused back on the major, "And I don't think you're joking with me. And since I can't see any other reason for prevarication on your part…."
"Then you will…come with me?"
McKay just shrugged, "For now…I guess so." He pursed his lips, then sighed, "So…now what?"
"I take you home," the major answered softly. "You just need to follow me back."
Sheppard shrugged, "Your lab."
"My lab? Why?"
"Because that's where all this started."
"Oh." McKay looked down, "Okay." He looked up again, "And what exactly will we find there?"
"You, and, hopefully, Tae and Straein."
"What?" McKay's entire body shifted back, going from relaxed to terrified in an instant. "No!"
"I'm not going near her, you understand?" The scientist backed away from Sheppard, "I'm not!"
"McKay, no, wait!" The major took a step forward, following the agitated scientist. "You don't understand…."
"She tried to kill me! Maybe she did kill me! Maybe—"
"Rodney! Stop! Wait!"
"No! Get away from me!" The scientist threw his hands up in front of his face, as if to hide himself. "You're still under her control!"
Sheppard's eyes widened, "What? No, I'm not! I swear I'm not. Listen to me, I—"
And Rodney was gone. Completely without warning. He just wasn't there anymore.
"No! Rodney, come back!" Sheppard spun around, looking over every inch of the Gateroom. With a growl of frustration, he ran for the stairs, aiming to get back to the central comm. "Rodney!"
He was halfway up when the gate began to spin.
The major turned around, his eyes widening as the chevrons began to light up, one at a time. He didn't know what it meant, but his instincts told him he had to stop it.
He bounded up the last few steps and skidded into the control room. Reaching the main console, he stared at it a second, then started hitting panels. The gate continued to spin, even as he tried to shut it down.
The event horizon exploded into life, the wormhole established.
Sheppard hit the button for the iris. Nothing happened.
And Wraith guards started marching into the Gateroom. They were three men wide, and they quickly filled the room below, like a cancerous mass.
"No!" Sheppard screamed, "No, no, no!" He pulled up the P90, but when the first Wraith guard looked up and stared directly at him, he seemed to freeze. They just stared at each other. It was like a bad dream….
"Rodney," the major spoke softly, not taking his eyes off of the gathering force below. They were all standing there, staring up at him, as if waiting for him to react. "Rodney," he said again, "stop this. Don't let it happen."
"It's too late," Rodney's voice replied from out of nowhere, fear echoing through it. "I'm sorry. There's nothing I can do. I tried to stop them from using the gate, but I couldn't. I failed…."
"You didn't fail; you haven't failed." Sheppard turned around, and tried not to freak out to find Wraith guards surrounding him on all sides, filling every inch of the control room. Stunners were aimed at his head, but none of them were firing yet. He let the P90 fall, and held his hands out, aware that there was nothing at all he could do. "Don't kill me, Rodney," he whispered.
"It's not me," the voice promised. "I didn't bring them—"
"Yes, you did. And I think I just figured something out." Sheppard turned when he felt hot breath rippling down his shoulder. He didn't need to look over his shoulder to know it would either be Steve or the Wraith from the desert planet. Probably both.
"What did you figure out?"
"I think if you kill me…I really will die."
"What? I don't under—"
"We're tied together right now. And I think…I think…if you die, I'll die with you…and maybe vice versa."
Nothing and no one moved. Silence reigned.
"Rodney?" Sheppard couldn't keep the nervous tremor from his voice. "Rodney, please."
A hand pressed on his shoulder from behind, the grip tight. It pulled him around, and the major found he was shaking uncontrollably as the Wraith from the desert planet stared him directly in the eye. It had that gruesome smile on his face, the teeth as yellow as the creatures reptilian eyes.
"I warned you," it sneered. "I told you there was nowhere you could hide from me."
The major's breath caught. Christ…was this Rodney's nightmare…or his?
The Wraith pressed down on his shoulder, and the major found himself being forced onto his knees. Sheppard eyes widened as it drew its right hand back, and the maniacal smile grew on the monster's face as it prepared to feed.
Sheppard licked his lips, and tried to gather what composure he had left. "You…you're not…real," he stated weakly. The Wraith's eyes widened in amusement.
"I am as real as you," he hissed back.
"No you're not," he swore at the creature, then, more loudly, "No you're not! Rodney!" Sheppard practically bellowed the name, "Please stop this!"
"I can't," came the terrified reply in his ear.
"Yes you can!" Sheppard shook his head, unable to wrench his eyes from those yellow ones, "Do you trust me?!"
The Wraith's smile faded. It almost looked surprised.
"What?" Rodney's voice replied, from the Wraith's lips. "Why?"
"Because you're doing this. Make them go away. Make them go or blow them away somehow, and come back with me to the lab. If you trust me, then trust me when I tell you that you made these creatures. You brought them here, and you can make them go away. You can blow them to bits if you wanted to. For God's sake, McKay, don't kill me. Please, not like this. Please."
"The lab? But, you said…Straein, that she'd—"
"I won't let her hurt you. I won't let either of them hurt you. You have to believe me. You have to trust me! Please! McKay, if you trust me, you'll stop this from…."
He trailed off, because the Wraith suddenly released his shoulder and backed off, looking over Sheppard's head.
Confused, the major turned, to find McKay standing about a couple of feet behind him. The scientist looked terrified still, but was looking down at his shaking hands, at the strangest looking weapon the major had ever seen.
It was a gun of some kind, larger than a P90, and made of clear plastic. Inside, you could see a red coiled spring and lots of rainbow colored flashing lights.
McKay smiled suddenly, and lifted it up, pointing it at the ancient Wraith, his smile growing into a idiotic grin. The Wraith hissed at the scientist as it hit the balcony railing next to Steve.
And Rodney depressed the bright red trigger.
A high pitched, oscillating whine erupted from the gun, along with a bright red beam that hit the Wraith in the center of its chest. As soon as it hit, the Wraith froze, and started to burn away from the point of impact, like a match held to paper. In seconds, it was gone, and Rodney pointed the beam at Steve.
The scientist was laughing now as he turned a full circle, hitting and disintegrating every Wraith in the control room, then stepping forward past Sheppard to take out all the Wraith on the Gateroom floor below. The Wraith panicked, trying to run, but the moment the beam touched any of them…they were literally smoke.
Eventually, Rodney stopped, lowering the strange weapon and turning around to smile at the major.
Sheppard fell forward, catching himself with his hands. His breathing was ragged, as he realized he'd stopped breathing as soon as McKay had shown up. His head was beating a terrible pulse, and, despite the fact that his rational mind still told him that he wasn't really bodily there, he felt like he was sweating buckets.
Willing himself to calm down, he pulled himself forward to the balcony and looked down at the Gateroom floor below.
Empty. Not even a speck of dust on the marble floor. He rested his head against the cold railing for a moment, then used the metal bars to pull himself up and look over at the now grinning scientist.
The scientist's smile fell somewhat, still showing a hint of bewilderment at everything that was happening, but, when he met John's eyes, he nodded.
"Of course I trust you, you idiot," the scientist told him shakily, swallowing harshly, then smiling again. "More than anyone I have ever known. I hesitated before, back in my lab and down on the floor, because I thought you, and everyone else, were under her control. But you're not. I know that now, and I’m sorry for not seeing that earlier. I couldn't let you die for me."
Sheppard's eyebrows rose, "I…."
"Doesn't matter what I say, Major. They are just words, and I'm terrible with words. I say the wrong thing; I hear things wrong; words are gibberish to me." He smiled, speaking faster and faster as he got going, "But what should answer your question is the fact that I follow you. Everywhere. When it comes right down to it, on a mission, when you order me to do things, I do them. When we were on that desert planet, after we found Abrams, and you told me to stay behind you, shoot only when you tell me to shoot, etc…I knew you were saying it to protect me, and I trusted you. I might question your judgment sometimes, when there are decisions to be made. I argue with you, a lot. I make fun of you as much as possible," he smiled again, "but, ultimately…I trust you with my life, Major. I do it every time I walk through that gate with you. Don't you see that?"
The major just stared at him, still a couple steps behind the rapid-fire speech McKay had just made, then, after a moment, smiled crookedly.
"Well, after the show of trust I just saw, I'd be an idiot not to."
McKay's grin came back in full force.
"Although you don't trust me not to get you lost," Sheppard deadpanned.
The scientist started to laugh, "No, no, that's true. I just trust you with my life. Everything else is still questionable. I also don't really trust you to negotiate for food," he held down a finger on his hand, "or, uh, not to piss off the natives when the leader's daughter is cute," he held down another finger, "or not to get entangled with suspicious alien priestesses with big—"
"Okay!" Sheppard cut him off, shoving Rodney's arm, "I get the picture!" Rodney's cheeky grin almost broke his face. Matching the smile, the major pointed to the strange weapon still in McKay's hands, unable to resist asking, "By the way, what the hell is that thing?"
"Oh," Rodney looked down, "You said…you said I could blow them away. And I could only think of one thing that actually could...off the top of my head." He looked up again, and a sheepish smile crossed his face. "It's a ray gun."
The major blinked, then grinned, "A…a ray gun? Are you kidding me?"
"Nope. It's a circa 1950 Sci-fi B-movie ray gun." He chuckled, hefting it closer, "I used to love the Twilight Zone and Flash Gordon and Godzilla movies when I was a kid. You know, Creature Double Features on Saturday afternoons?" He met John's eyes, pleased to see the nod there, and lifted the weapon to peer at it more closely. "I think I had one like this that was a water pistol…."
Sheppard burst out laughing, unable to help himself, and he grabbed the top of McKay's head in order to hug him fiercely. Planting a kiss on the top of the man's head followed by a quick noogie, he roughly pushed him away, and threw his arms up into the air.
"A RAY GUN!" he yelled at the ceiling.
McKay was just grinning like an idiot as he got his feet under him again, his own laughter bright.
"Come on, Flash," Sheppard said, still grinning and slapping a hand on the other man's back, "let's get the hell out of here."
Rodney nodded once, his smile fading at that, and let himself be pushed along as the major herded him in the direction of the stairs, to head towards the man's lab. Sheppard kept his hand on the other man's back for most of it, feeling the way McKay still shook despite their good humor…and trying to calm the chills still running up and down his own frame.
CHAPTER SIXTEEN: MIND AND BODY
McKay stared down at himself where his body lay in the lab, which was, obviously, a little disconcerting. Sheppard had told him what to expect, but it was still very strange.
"That's really me?" he asked after a moment.
Sheppard grimaced, "Um…actually, no, I don't think so. I think I did that. I made up this room to look like the one back on Atlantis. But…that's what you look like."
The scientist crossed his arms, frowning, both fascinated and chilled by it all.
"I look tired," he said softly.
"You've had a hard day."
McKay smiled at that, and looked over at the major. The smile fell, and he tilted his head, taking in a quick breath in order to ask:
"Why are you here, Major? Why isn't it Elizabeth or Teyla?"
"Oh," Sheppard shrugged, "Tae said it had to be someone with some telepathic ability. The gene gives me some kind of ESP, I guess."
McKay nodded, looking down, "Okay…then why not Teyla? Or Beckett?"
Sheppard looked up, shaking his head a little, "I don't know. Tae said they weren't strong enough."
"Strong enough for what?"
"To…come here. I guess."
"But you said Tae did all the work."
"Ye…ah," Sheppard frowned.
"So, seems to me, it could have been anyone."
Sheppard looked down, and shrugged again. "What does it matter. I'm here. You're here. When Tae and Straein get here, we can all go home."
McKay watched him for a moment, then, slowly, nodded and looked down again at himself. After a moment, he smiled. "Right." He looked over at Sheppard, "Thank you."
Sheppard shrugged, also looking down at the sleeping body, "Don't mention it."
"He picked you," Straein's voice suddenly called from across the room, causing both men to jump a little, "Because, beneath it all, you both trust each other implicitly, and only someone Doctor McKay trusted that deeply would have been able to reach him here. Tae knew, even from his brief encounter with you both on the planet, that you shared such a bond."
Both men turned around in surprise, to find a nearly unconscious Tae being propped up by Straein on the opposite side of the room. They had literally appeared from nowhere. Straein had Tae's arm across her shoulder, and was staring at them with tired blue eyes. Despite the haggardness of her appearance, McKay quickly backed up, and Sheppard moved to get a little in front of him, resting a hand on his gun. She paid no attention to their movements.
"I tried to use Major Sheppard to kill you, Dr. McKay," she continued, her voice soft but cool, "but he couldn't. Even using my full strength, all I got out of him was a punch, and it caused him to recoil inwardly so much that it nearly broke the connection. He still had my mind in his to a degree, but not enough." She leaned Tae forward, letting him sprawl forward over the cot he had been lying on. He managed to push up a little on his elbows, but he was shaking. Straein sighed, meeting Sheppard's eyes, "You possess an undercurrent of steel, as does the Doctor, that I couldn't break."
Sheppard stared at her, deliberately ignoring her comments, "I won't let you harm him. You try, and I will kill you."
She shook her head, "I know. And I won't. I can't fight the power of the Ancestors…or of their true descendants." She sighed heavily, "And for what I did, I am sorry. We promised to protect the legacy of the Ancestors, and we nearly destroyed it. I still can't forgive myself for that."
McKay frowned, and stepped a little around Sheppard.
"You were trying to protect the City?"
She nodded, "Right up until Atlantis itself stopped me. It responded to you, Doctor McKay. I did not know the City itself was linked telepathically to its people. It sounded the alarm when you called to it for help…and it cut in on my power through the Renzite, dampening it….and I felt it respond to you…wanting to save you…." She shook her head in amazement, remembering her shock and awe at that moment.
"Telepathically?" the major repeated glancing at McKay in surprise. Like everyone else, he thought McKay had triggered the alarm himself somehow, though his computer. "You didn't trigger it?"
"I never even tried to trigger it," McKay replied, his brow furrowing. "I just…called for help. I thought someone outside the lab heard me and triggered it."
Both men's eyes widened at the implication. If what Straein was saying was true, then it was the City that had triggered the alarm. It meant the gene didn't just give them access to the technology…it linked them to the City itself, deeper than any of them had imagined. Almost as if Atlantis had adopted them, and would now protect them to the best of its ability, even damaged as it is. The City had reacted that way with the nanite virus to a degree, but the personal response it had to McKay, the fact that the gene had triggered such a fantastic response….meant Atlantis really did protect its own….
Elizabeth's message to the Sarokuns hadn't been a lie after all.
Straein watched their expression with a furrowed brow. She obviously couldn't read their thoughts here, and so didn't understand the looks on their faces.
"Didn't you know that?" she asked.
Sheppard's eyebrow shot up, "Uh…."
Suddenly, Tae groaned, stopping the conversation. Straein leaned over, pulling Tae up a little. His entire face was a mask of pain, like he had the mother of all migraines.
Straein gently ran a hand through his long black hair, pushing it from his face. "He is under great strain. He is the strongest of my people, next to Sette herself, but even she would be hard pressed to hold four minds together. Though," she frowned a little and looked up at Sheppard, as if surprised, "You are providing some help, and," she tilted her head at McKay, "so are you."
The major's eyebrows lifted, "We are?"
"Yes. But we can lessen the burden, Doctor McKay and I." Her eyes shifted to the still nervous Rodney. "Do you know what to do?"
He shook his head, not quite ready to answer her directly yet.
"Just…imagine yourself inside your body. Concentrate on any part of it, your right hand, for example. Try moving your fingers."
"Huh?" McKay looked at Sheppard, lifting his right hand to show he was moving his fingers. The major shrugged.
Straein shook her head, "No, not those." She pointed to the still body of McKay on the table, and to its right hand, "Those." Her eyes met his, "Your mind wants to go home…it will find its own way."
"What about me?" Sheppard asked.
"Tae will do that." She sighed, glancing sadly at her fellow Sarokun, "But Dr. McKay and I must go now, free him from the burden of our minds. It will take us longer than you and he in any event, since we are farther removed." She looked again at McKay, "Do you understand what to do now? I can try to guide you a little if you want me to."
Rodney looked at the major, and Sheppard turned to look at him. After a moment, the major gave a small shrug.
McKay heaved a shuddering breath, not capable of hiding his fear of doing anything that woman told him, but nonetheless stepping forward again to look at the sleeping body.
"All right, I think I know what to do," he replied finally. "But," gritting his jaw, he glared across the room at her, "you stay the hell away from me." His eyes narrowed, "I will do this on my own."
Sheppard turned to look over at Straein, his hand still on the gun at his side to back up his friend's warning, and she lowered her eyes to avoid both of theirs.
"Of course. And…please believe me…I really am sorry." Her shame seemed real this time, but Sheppard still held on to his weapon. After a moment, she clasped her hands together in front of her, closed her eyes and…started to fade.
Sheppard grimaced, not liking the idea of her going first. He turned to look again at McKay, to make sure he was all right.
He was gone.
Fear spiked through the major, and he stepped over to the body still on the table. Had McKay disappeared again? He watched the still figure for any sign of animation…and saw the fingers on the man's right hand move.
Please let that be real, he begged silently. Please let that be him waking up for real and not just my wishful thinking. Reaching down, he wrapped his right hand around McKay's left one, putting all his hope into that one prayer. It didn't help matters that the scientist's hand was ice cold.
Looking across the room, he saw Straein was gone as well.
Oh God. His terror was pure now. What had happened? Had it worked? Or had he read Straein and Tae wrong…did he just lose McKay completely?
"Tae!" he shouted desperately. "Tae, wake up!"
And, surprisingly, Tae responded. The monk pushed himself up off the gurney Straein had leaned him over, blinking away furiously. A shaky hand pushed the hair out of his face again.
"Yes, I know," the monk said, blowing the air out of his cheeks. He sighed, looking up at the major, and smiled, "They're gone."
"Where?" Sheppard snapped.
Tae's smile grew, "Back where they belong," he replied. "They are not in my head anymore."
Sheppard looked down again at McKay's body. It still looked so still.
"Are you sure?"
The monk frowned a little, "Mostly."
"Mostly?" Sheppard growled.
"All right, all right," Tae sighed weakly, then smiled, "I guess it's time to go as well." He took in a shaky breath, indicating the cot next to McKay, "You should probably be lying down."
Sheppard stared at him a moment, but didn't actually say anything. He just dutifully sat down on the cot and lay down. For some reason, though, he didn't let go of McKay's left hand. He kept a tight grip on it, as if afraid to let go.
The major opened his mouth to ask "now what?" when his head exploded in pain and everything went dark.
CHAPTER SEVENTEEN: WAKING UP
Corporal Inez Recillos jumped a little as McKay's heart monitor started to accelerate. Without a word, she turned and opened the door, letting in Beckett and the rest of the medical crew. She gave an encouraging nod to the worried faces of Dr. Weir, Teyla and Lieutenant Ford before shutting it again, keeping them outside. As soon as the door was sealed, Bates indicated she cross over to join him, when he noticed that Tae's heart monitors had also increased. The corporal nodded, glancing once more in concern at the major and the scientist, before taking up guard position over the two Sarokuns.
Medical personnel swarmed over the room—three doctors and four nurses, moving to check the monitors and study the health of the patients.
Beckett leaned over McKay, touching his forehead and smiling as he saw the eye movement beneath the closed lids—he was waking up. He smiled even more at the grip the major had somehow managed to get on McKay's left hand. He chuckled a little, knowing that, when they woke up, the two men would be awfully embarrassed about that one. For a moment, he considered separating them, but then decided against it.
"How's the major, Nathan?" he asked, looking across at the doctor checking Sheppard's pulse.
"I think he's waking up," the man replied, pulling back Sheppard's lids to flash a light across the pupils.
"They all are," said Doctor Biro in her usual clipped tones, the blonde doctor leaning over to listen more carefully to Straein's breathing. "Whatever happened among them in here, it appears to have worked." As she spoke, she put on her stethoscope to use with the blood pressure cuff she was handed by one of the nurses, her eyes reading two sets of monitors as she did so.
"Keep an eye on them, Bates," Ford's voice stated over the radio. "I still don't trust the two Sarokuns."
"Yes sir," the sergeant replied over the comm. as he shifted out of Dr. Biro's way, trying to hide his annoyance at the unnecessary reminder from the younger lieutenant.
At the same moment, Tae's eyes began to open slowly, fluttering at first, and then eventually opening to peer out with some confusion at the two faces hovering over him. He recognized the two marines, and he frowned slightly. A second later, both of them back off, replaced by a handsome, bespectacled blonde woman wearing a white coat. She flashed a light in his eyes, and he turned his face away, not understanding the purpose of Doctor Biro's actions.
"Doctor Beckett," she called, as Tae closed his eyes on her, "I believe the one called Tae has regained—"
At the same moment, Sheppard woke up with a gasp and a cry, his eyes flying open, losing his grip on McKay's hand as he moved to defend himself against whatever was around him. He was halfway off the gurney, pushing himself to standing, when he felt a strong pair of hands holding him back.
"You!" Sheppard gasped, recognizing the young black doctor whose name he could never remember.
"Me," the man acknowledged, pressing down. The doctor was taller than Sheppard, close to 6'4" and beefier, something the major hadn't noticed before…but did now as the doctor used his superior weight to force him back onto the cot. "Calm down, Major. You're all right. You're all right!"
Sheppard's chest continued to heave, his adrenalin still high, as he reluctantly let himself be pushed back down, and forced himself to do as he was told. The black doctor nodded, and, once the major was prone again, patted his chest.
"Okay, Major, better?" At Sheppard's nod, the doctor smiled, "Good. Now, do you know where you are?"
Sheppard blinked then nodded, "Hopefully…maybe…McKay's lab? The real one?"
The doctor arched an eyebrow at the odd answer, and decided to ask another, "Uh, yes, that's right. And do you know who I am?"
Sheppard opened his mouth to answer, then shut it stupidly. A flush lit his cheeks, and the doctor frowned.
"McKay?" Sheppard covered, swallowing.
The doctor frowned, and shook his head. "No, Major, I'm not Doctor McKay, I'm Doctor—"
"It's all right lad, he knows who you are," Beckett interrupted, smiling over at them and causing Sheppard to turn his head in his direction, the major trying to hold down his frustration at Beckett's bad timing. Oblivious, the Scot smiled more broadly, "I think he was just asking after his friend. Isn't that right, Major?"
"Yeah, Carson," Sheppard whispered, his frustration vanishing instantly as he thought of Rodney. "How is he? I wasn't sure if—"
"He's waking up, near as I can tell," Beckett smiled. "In fact…." The doctor trailed off as he felt McKay's breathing hitch under the hand he was resting on his chest. He lightened the touch and examined McKay's face.
McKay started to breathe more quickly, and his eyes rolled open a little, showing only whites before shutting again.
"Come on, Rodney," Beckett encouraged, "open them eyes a' yours. Come on son…you can do it…."
In response, the eyes cracked open a little more, barely slits, but the pale blue irises were visible now, shifting to look at the person leaning over him. They were nearly hidden again as the scientist frowned.
"It's okay, Rodney, you're home again," Beckett promised. "No one's going to hurt you."
Sheppard pushed himself up on an elbow to watch, and doctor "whatsisname" helped him, once the physician was sure that the major really was awake and in control of his faculties. Sheppard's eyes narrowed, trying not to let his last fears about Straein show on his face. Tae had said everything was fine....
McKay finally opened his eyes fully, staring up at Beckett for the first time with actual focus.
"Carson?" he croaked, before coughing harshly. He winced as pain radiated through his entire body, as if he'd tensed every single muscle, even his throat, and they still hadn't unknotted from the pressure. Beckett snapped his fingers at a nurse, and she handed him a cup of water, which he pressed to McKay's lips. The scientist accepted the water, Beckett leaning him up so that he could swallow. With a sigh, McKay leaned away from the cup, blinking his dry eyes as the world spun for a moment, and Beckett lowered him back down.
"How are you feeling?" Carson asked.
McKay was staring up at the ceiling now, and he obviously contemplated the question with some seriousness. He frowned a little again, then tilted his head to the left, as if sensing the major's presence.
Sheppard smiled back at him, and gave him a nod.
The frown faded, and McKay looked back at Beckett.
"Hungry," he admitted finally, his voice soft, "mostly. Muscles…ache…And, um, feeling a little," his right hand lifted to make a circular motion, "disoriented?"
Carson grinned, patting his shoulder. "That's better than I expected, son. Fact is, it's just good to hear your voice again, which is something I thought I'd never say. You'll be all right, I think. We'll soon have you grounded again." Looking over at the major, Beckett's smile softened. "Well done, Major."
McKay turned his head again to look at the major, and Sheppard smiled first at Beckett, then at his friend.
"You really okay?" Sheppard asked the scientist.
Rodney met his gaze, then smiled, still speaking very softly, "Think so, though…kinda miss the ray gun."
Sheppard gave a short laugh, and the room lit with smiles amongst the Atlanteans, even if they didn't get the joke, because that exchange between them had felt almost normal. All except….
"Doctor Beckett!" Doctor Biro suddenly called from the other side of the room, her voice concerned. "Something's happening to Straein!"
Beckett patted McKay's shoulder one more time, then moved around the table to get over to where Straein's body lay. Even from across the room, they could see that her body was twitching, and the heart monitor suddenly increased in pace beyond normal levels. Next to her, Tae was now sitting up, fully awake, his eyes dark as he watched Straein struggling to wake up…no, he realized painfully, struggling to stay alive. Her body started to seize, bucking even as Beckett reached her.
The monk looked up, meeting Sheppard's eyes across the room. The major couldn't hide his confusion.
"It's not us," Sheppard promised him softly, knowing Tae would hear him. No matter how much they wanted to make Straein pay for her crime, they wouldn't torture her this way. The monk looked around the room, obviously glancing off the mind's of each of them, focusing the longest on the female doctor trying the help Straein. He watched as she expertly called for medications and machinery, then backed off to let Beckett take over. All the medical personnel appeared earnest in their desire to save Straein, no matter what she had done.
Tae glanced over at the shards of Renzite and sighed, lowering his eyes.
Straein continued to struggle, until, finally, her seizures reached a climax…and her heart stopped.
Beckett shouted for a crash cart, which one of the nurses quickly wheeled over.
They had pushed Tae's cot away from Straein's, so that it was up against the wall. The monk was sitting cross-legged on it now, his back against the cool metal.
He closed his eyes, and a single tear ran down one cheek.
The doctor's continued to work, trying for conversion, using all the tricks at their disposal.
But, despite everything, nothing worked.
Eventually, Beckett was forced to call it.
Straein was dead.
The head physician backed off, grimacing and pulling his gloves off with an irritated air. He didn't understand this. Doctor Biro sighed, glancing apologetically at Tae where he still had his eyes closed. She saw another tear track down the monk's ashen face.
"What happened?" McKay asked curiously, sitting up now, holding his arms tightly across his chest. Sheppard was standing now, leaning up against McKay's gurney at the scientist's back.
Beckett shook his head, "I don't know. There is no reason why she—"
"Yes, there is," Tae interrupted, opening his eyes again. "She was prevented from waking up."
"What?" Beckett looked at him, taking his words as an accusation. "How dare you! We tried—"
"Not you," Tae said, lowering his eyes again. "Not any of you."
The physician frowned, "Then what—"
"I told you that part of her was still connected to the shattered Renzite," Tae said, looking over at the table, at the bits of orange glass that now looked completely dead. They had glittered in the light before, but now they didn't even do that, as if someone had placed a shadow over them. "She told me that she felt the City itself had acted to cut in on her connection when she tried to kill Doctor McKay, and that was part of the reason she lost her control. It somehow accessed the stone, and inserted itself into her mind to dampen her attack." The monk closed his eyes, "I believe it acted again now…using the Renzite again…to stop her from waking up."
Every person stared at the monk with utter astonishment.
"Atlantis…killed her?" Beckett said finally. He couldn't keep the wonder from his voice.
"No, no," McKay, though not quite up to speed yet, couldn't stop himself from responding to that statement. "It wasn't trying to kill anyone; it doesn't think that way." he coughed into his hand, and looked up, his voice still very hoarse. "It's not sentient. It just," he gestured vaguely as he searched for the right explanation, "reacts to threats." He coughed some more.
"It must still have been monitoring her through the Renzite somehow," Tae sighed. "And—"
"It acted to stop what it believed to be a threat to the City," Sheppard finished coldly. "It was just trying to protect the rest of us."
The room fell silent, taking that in, too impressed to speak.
"Wow," Ford's voice said over the radio.
The lieutenant's word brought them all back to the present, and Sheppard quickly grabbed up the radio by his bed to loop the earpiece over his ear.
"Hey, Major. We heard. Pretty amazing. Other than Straein, is everyone okay?"
"Yeah," Sheppard replied huskily, looking over at Tae. The monk had buried his head in his hands, his shoulders now trembling with grief at the loss of his friend, obviously crying. Unconsciously, the major placed a hand on McKay's shoulder, unable to express his gratitude that there weren't two dead bodies in here. "We're okay. And I think Saroku has learned its lesson."
CHAPTER EIGHTEEN: ALL'S WELL THAT END'S WELL?
A couple of days later, everything was almost back to normal, and Tae was ready to head home.
The monk gripped Sheppard's arm tightly, a smile on the man's face even as he stood next to the table on which they had lain the shrouded Straein. Behind them, the active Stargate leading back to Saroku rippled and glittered.
"I hope we can be allies," the major said to the monk, "someday."
"And I hope we can earn your trust enough to become so," Tae replied sincerely. "I realize…that may not be for a while."
Sheppard shook his head, "Probably not. But we'll send some folks through every so often to check on you. Probably Sergeant Bates and Corporal Recillos," he said, smiling more broadly and looking over at the two marines in question. Inez smiled back. Bates, of course, pretended he didn't notice the look, not even blinking an eyelid. Sheppard looked back at Tae, "Besides, we still want to see those shield devices."
Tae chuckled a little, then shrugged. "If you must." He leaned in, "Just don't send Doctor Kavenaugh," he whispered. "His mind is…ugh."
The major had to laugh, at that—it was so accurate. "Speaking of which," Sheppard lowered his head, "out of curiosity, why couldn't you effect McKay and the others as you did the rest of us?"
Tae's eyebrows lifted, and he smiled. "To be honest, we could. It just takes a lot more power, and our strength is limited. People like your Doctor McKay always question everything they see, making them much harder to influence. They don't trust anything at first or even second glance, though, as you know yourself, once they do, they are loyal to a fault."
Sheppard smiled at that, then opened his mouth to ask a follow up question, but Tae was ahead of him.
"Straein was trying to influence as many people as possible at a time. Spreading her power out that way, she didn't have enough ability to pinpoint those few who's barriers are the most resilient. If she tried to focus on, say, just convincing Doctor McKay, she would have been revealed to the rest of you. So, she focused on those who were…easier…and took the risk that the few who weren't wouldn't do anything until too late."
"Oh," Sheppard looked down. He didn't like the idea that he was "easier" to influence.
"But she couldn't affect you where it most mattered, Major," Tae reminded him softly. "Remember that. She tried to get you to kill him….You didn't. She was an extremely powerful telepath, Major, the third greatest on all of Saroku—most would not have been able to fight her manipulations."
Sheppard's hazel eyes lifted, and, after a moment, he nodded. "Thanks Tae."
The monk smiled back, then looked around at the rest of the room. He saw Doctor McKay standing at the top of the stairs, watching him warily, his hands twisting by his sides. He also recognized the Athosian by his side. Teyla was giving him a hesitant smile, but she had a light comforting touch on the doctor's arm. Doctor Weir stood a few feet away from Sheppard, a few steps behind Sergeant Bates and Corporal Recillos, clearly waiting for Sheppard and Tae's private conversation to finish. At Tae's look, she stepped forward.
"We would welcome a dialogue, Tae," she said sincerely, "despite everything that happened. We feel as if we've found a friend in you." Lifting her hand, she held out a radio. "Stay in touch."
The monk accepted the radio with a smile. Sheppard pointed out the talk and receive buttons. Tae nodded, and tucked it into the cloth bag he had on his back, into which he had also placed Straein's few things.
"I wish you and Atlantis well," he called to everyone in the room. "And good luck."
"You too," Weir said. He nodded at her, then turned and gently picked up Straein's body into his arms. With one more look at Sheppard, the monk turned and walked through the Stargate…home.
The gate shutdown a moment later.
Sheppard sighed, and looked over at Weir, then up at McKay. The scientist looked incredibly relieved now that the monk was gone, and he walked down the steps to join them, his gait still a little stiff, with Teyla right behind him. Weir signaled to someone up in the control room, and the doors opened to let in the rest of the expedition members to return to their posts. Ford jogged through the doors and immediately moved to stand by the major's side.
As McKay and Teyla reached Sheppard, Ford and Weir, the scientist clapped his hands and rubbed them together, smiling at them.
"Well, all's well that ends well, I suppose. I'm feeling a little worse for wear—not sure when the headache will go away—but I'm alive." His smile grew, "And next time, I hope this teaches you all to listen to me a little more carefully? Hmmm?"
"Actually," Teyla said, eyeing McKay from the side, "I think it means you should listen to me a little better. I told you we should not have gone to that planet."
McKay's smile faltered at that, then fell completely. Sheppard, Ford and Weir all started to laugh, and Teyla broke into a smile. The scientist pursed his lips at her, then smiled unwillingly, unable to stop himself.
"All right," he shrugged, "I'll give you that one."
Teyla's grin, a perfect imitation of the patented McKay smug one, lit up the room.
The END! (as McKay would say, "oh thank God!")