Title: DOWN CAME A SPIDER
Disclaimer: Stargate: Atlantis and Stargate: SG-1 and their characters are the property of Showtime/Viacom, MGM/UA, Double Secret Productions, and Gekko Productions. This story was created for entertainment purposes only. No copyright infringement is intended. The original characters, situations, and story are the property of the author(s), not me. Thank you to the amazing writers, producers, actors, crew and directors who bring these shows to life.
Rating: Gen/T – action/adventure, angst, crossover
Status: Complete – 11 parts
Characters: McKay, Carter, Sheppard, Beckett, Zelenka, Teyla, Ronon and Weir...in about that order of weight.
A/N – This is a Season Three Story in terms of timing, but it is NOT A TAG. Just an idea I had for something which could occur soon after the resolution of Allies. I have no idea how they're going to resolve that, or the cliffhanger on SG-1, so I'm avoiding that altogether (Horrible, horrible cliffhangers, both!). But this stray thought would not get out of my head....so I wrote a story around it.
Oh, the stray thought? The fact that our friend Rodney McKay is now, most probably, the foremost (human) expert in two galaxies on Wraith technology. I'd wager a guess he's the only human with first hand knowledge of the inner workings of a Wraith ship—you know, seen it, hacked it, blew it up (hopefully)...
Obviously, there are NO SPOILERS FOR SEASON THREE. I haven't even read the episode descriptions, so...no worries there. This is all AU. It could take place in the second season except for the aforementioned stray thought.
Description: Crossover with SG-1. The Wraith target their most dangerous human enemy, intending to teach the Atlantians a lesson, but they didn't count on the bull-headed resilience of his friends.
CHAPTER ONE: THE UNINVITED GUEST
Zelenka leaned forward, staring curiously at the laptop screen attached to the main console in the control room. He had been attempting to find ways to fine tune the long range sensors, and was thus the first to see the tiny blip on the screen. The sensors weren't normally calibrated to "see" anything that small, so it was mostly luck that he spotted it at all.
And tiny it was. If the readings were right…it wasn’t bigger than his fist. Looking down, he noted his right hand had unconsciously formed said fist, and he released it, so he could type.
Brow furrowing even more deeply, he typed some orders into the computer and called up a different screen, zeroing in on the object. A moment later, he overrode the current information scrolling on the large, hanging screen behind him and sent the information there.
Next to him, the Canadian tech looked up and turned around in his chair, having heard the distinct beep of new information being sent to the big screen. Others also turned their heads, watching as Zelenka got up slowly from his chair and limped over to the screen, hobbling a little on his casted leg. He leaned against the upper console, eyes scanning the information scrolling down the screen.
“What is it?” the Canadian tech asked, coming up alongside the Czech. For a moment, Zelenka didn’t answer, then, with a frown, turned to him.
“You’d best get Doctor Weir.”
“What is it?” Elizabeth asked, leaning into the screen as if she could make better sense of what she was seeing by getting closer to it. “A ship?”
“Good lord, no,” Zelenka replied. “Not unless a Wraith has learned to fit himself into a six centimeters by eight centimeters wide container.”
Elizabeth’s eyes widened, and she peered more closely at the red markings on the screen. “You mean...that’s it’s actual size? I thought they must be percentages…but that’s tiny!”
“Yes,” the Czech gave a small, unsettled sigh. “It’s very strange. I doubt the sensors would even have picked it up if I had not been fiddling with them.”
Elizabeth tilted her head, squinting her eyes a little. That didn't help her make sense of it either, and, with a snort, she looked again to the Czech scientist.
“So, what is this tiny object doing?”
Elizabeth’s brow lifted again, and she turned to face the scientist directly. “What? On purpose?”
“Yes. Without question."
Elizabeth grimaced, "Well, if it's not a ship, then what is it?"
Zelenka shrugged, looking against to the screen. "It’s metal—made of an alloy designed to withstand temperatures caused by atmospheric burn. Near as we can tell, it has its own power source and propulsion system—include hyperspace technology—and…it’s making a beeline for us. At least, for this planet. I have not been able to discern if it actually knows where we are.”
“Is it a scanning device of some kind?”
“I don’t know.”
“I don’t know that either.”
She tried not to look frustrated, but as she turned again to the screen, to see that the dot had moved quite quickly across the screen already, which was amazing considering the distances, and shook her head.
“Well, what do you know?”
“Nothing. I can't do more than tell its basic schematics from this distance. But I’ll know more in half an hour.”
She frowned, glancing at him askance, “Half an hour? Why?”
“Because that’s when it will reach us. It's moving almost as fast as light itself.”
Halfway up inside a massive cylinder in the central heart of Atlantis, the chamber three times the size of the Gate room, and surrounded by pipes, wires, tubing, and blinking control panels, McKay struggled with the guts of the City’s propulsion system, trying to fix some water damaged piping that connected the system to the City’s fuel cells—meaning the ZPM room. Not that it meant they could possibly get the City to fly if he did this, not without two more ZPM’s handy, but it was a great excuse to get a real look at Atlantis’ engines and also…damned fun.
Like getting your hands on the engine of a Nascar stock car.
And he wasn’t the only one interested.
“What do you think this one leads to?” Sheppard yelled down to him, leaning over a massive, long piece of rubber tubing hanging about twenty feet over McKay’s head. The scientist leaned back on the balcony he was standing on to look up, peering curiously up at what Sheppard was inspecting on the next balcony overhead.
“Not sure; what does it look like?”
“A hose. Like to a radiator.”
“Then it’s probably a hose to the cooling system. Is it damaged?”
“Yes. Got several big, honkin’ holes in it.”
“Can it be patched?”
Sheppard disappeared for a moment, then returned. “I think, if we’re going to fly this thing in outer space, we should probably try to get a new one. Just thinking about not wanting to, I don’t know, explode while in hyperspace, you know?”
McKay grimaced at the unscientific notion, then shrugged and grinned. "Okay. Tell you what, why don't you go give your girlfriend over in the other Tower a quick call, see if she'll give us theirs. Better yet, you could steal it from her," he grinned, "she'd probably even love you more if you did. What's her name again? Maid Marion?"
"Mara," Sheppard sneered, eyes narrowed as he glared down at the scientist. "And she's not my girlfriend, McKay."
"Oh, right. And why was that again?" McKay's eyebrows lifted in mock curiosity. "Oh right! Because she's not ascended!"
"You're such an ass!" Sheppard disappeared from sight again, to look at something else.
"Oh. Colonel Sheppard, don't go!" McKay sing-songed, and slapped a hand to his chest. "You'll break my heart if you do! Whatever will we do without you!"
"Yeah, yeah," the colonel said, leaning over the pipe again and grinning his best leering grin, "At least I'm getting some!"
McKay grimaced, and put his head down to look again at the schematics on his datapad. He had no good comeback for that one.
"I could get some," he muttered defensively, eventually. Up above his head, fully aware he'd just won that one, Sheppard started humming...again. He'd been humming a lot. It was incredibly annoying.
"Do you have to do that?!" McKay yelled up, finally.
"Do what? Get in the last word? All the time!"
"Ha ha, very funny."
"I try. Look, what do you want me to do about this hose?"
"How about sticking it up your—"
"Okay, okay. Take the specs of the hose. We’ll include a request for something built to match in the next check in with Earth.”
Sheppard snorted, looking down the hose, then gave a short laugh. “Man, I’d love to see the face on the contractor’s faces when they get this manifest. Can you imagine? One 30 foot wide radiator hose pipe, several hundred feet in le—“
“Doctor McKay? Colonel Sheppard? Do you copy?” Zelenka’s voice echoed tinnily over the radio, the connection a little spotty considering how far down they were. “McKay, Sheppard," he repeated, "do you read? Please come in.”
“We’re here,” McKay called, raising his voice a little as, somewhere else, one of the engineers with them dropped something with a clatter. “Be careful, for Christ’s sake!” he shouted into the air. “Delicate equipment, remember?”
“What?” Zelenka asked.
“He said, we’re here,” Sheppard said cheerily, humming as he took down measurements.
“You’re way too perky, today, you know that?” McKay called up to him.
“I like engines.”
“I know. Does that mean you have to hum ‘Life is a Highway’ while you work?!”
“You can tell what I’m humming?”
“Despite what is obviously a tin ear on your part, yes I—“
“McKay, Sheppard, please!”
“Oh, right, sorry, go ahead, Radek.”
“McKay, there is an object entering our atmosphere. We’ve cloaked the City, but it’s still coming. I don’t know if it’s because it can see through the cloak or what, but—“
“Wait, object? What kind of object? And why am I only hearing about this now?” McKay was already moving, unhooking his datapad from the console and scooping up his laptop off the ground and snapping it closed. Above him, he heard Sheppard’s footsteps already jogging along the upper metal balcony aiming for the stairs.
“It’s very small," Zelenka continued, his tone a touch defensive, "smaller than a tennis ball. We didn’t even detect it ourselves until it was practically on top of us.”
“What is it?” Sheppard asked, clanging down the metal steps from above just as McKay reached them on his level, and the scientist started following the colonel down to the base.
“We’re not sure. I think it is a scanning device. It dropped into the atmosphere of the planet not far from our location, then stopped. For a moment it hovered, then it started to make a beeline straight for us. In fact…oh my God….”
“If it knows where we are, don’t let it in!" McKay ordered. "Raise the shield, Radek! Now! It could be a bomb!”
“Oh dear, I don't think..." Zelenka suddenly started muttering quickly in Czech, a sure sign he was worried or frustrated...or scared.
"Radek?" McKay gripped his equipment tightly, focused only on getting down and back to the control room as fast as possible. "Radek! What's happening?"
"It’s too late—I did not think it would be so fast." The fear in Zelenka's voice started to grow. "Oh my God. It’s like an incredibly fast moving insect—we never even saw it move. It’s… It’s inside the cloak.” The Czech’s voice was almost frantic now. “It’s heading straight for the Control Tower! And it's emitting some sort of high pitched noise. The sensors are going crazy.”
“Lock Atlantis down! Lock everything down!” McKay shouted, running down after Sheppard out of the massive engine room towards the transporter. “And sound the alarm!”
Zelenka didn’t have to be told twice, and the claxons echoed through the corridors. Sheppard swore as he reached the transporter in time to see it close in front of him. McKay never paused, racing past him in another direction, still clutching his laptop and datapad close to his chest.
“Where are we going?” Sheppard yelled after him.
“Auxiliary Power room!" He tapped his radio again, "Zelenka, we just passed Transporter North Red, open up a route for us!" He glanced at Sheppard again as doors started opening before them. "I can reroute the sensors into there, and free up the ones in the control room.” McKay swung down a corridor, then another, coming to a different set of metal stairs. Bounding up them, he tapped his radio again, his breath now coming in heavy gasps. “Zelenka, what’s the status?”
“It’s circling the Tower.”
“Is it Wraith?” Sheppard asked, just a couple of steps behind McKay.
“Yes. We believe so.”
“Damn it. Lorne!” Sheppard tapped his radio again, connecting into the security line, “Where are you? Is there anyone out on the balconies who can see this thing? Maybe take a shot at it?”
“No, sir,” the major replied. “I’m in the control room with Doctors Weir and Zelenka. We have the civilians covered, but if that thing is a bomb and it decides to just break through—“
As if reading his thoughts, the horrible sound of glass exploding echoed over the radio connection.
“It’s broken through the window overlooking the stairs!” Zelenka shouted, barely audible over the screams and shouts that surrounded him, as the other people in the Control Room and Gate room below obviously panicked. In the background, they could hear Lorne yelling at everyone to “Get down! Find cover!”
McKay stopped climbing on a floor about three levels up from where they were, and started running down a new corridor. “Radek! Divert Power to auxiliary!” he yelled, “Now! I’m almost there!”
“Done!” Zelenka called back.
“Major, take it down!” Sheppard yelled, the order unnecessary as he could hear the sound of gunshots over the comm.. He was soon side by side with McKay, easily keeping up with the other man.
Suddenly, the firing stopped. The abrupt quiet filled the static-filled connection.
McKay shot a terrified glance at Sheppard, then turned into the main doors leading into the large auxiliary power room. Anticipating him, there were a couple of winded looking scientists there already – a gate tech and another engineer. They waited for orders as McKay started plugging things in. The room itself was already alive with light and power, humming away happily. Meanwhile, Sheppard kept trying to raise someone on the radio.
"What the hell is happening! Someone answer me!" he called into the radio.
“It’s,” Zelenka’s voice was shaking as he answered, his tone barely above a whisper, “It’s right in front of Doctor Weir.”
CHAPTER TWO: SINGLE PURPOSE ENTITY
Elizabeth didn’t move, afraid to even twitch, as the strangest looking object she had ever seen floated barely two inches away from her face. It was made up of essentially three pieces. The central piece was a sphere about the size of tennis ball...or maybe a cricket ball. It was made of a silvery alloy, similar to that used for Wraith ships, and had that same strangely iridescent quality. She wasn’t even sure if it was solid—knowing how the Wraith Dart canopies could disappear at will.
Out of either side of this central sphere emerged a number of long, curved strands, each about twelve inches in length. They had uncurled from the ball as it had jumped directly in front of her, stretching out like the legs of a daddy long legs in either direction. And at the end of each strand was a small disc, about the size of one of Beckett’s heart monitor discs.
The object—for they really didn’t know what it was yet—floated in front of her, bobbing up and down, hovering almost like a hummingbird before a feeder. Looking past it, she could see Major Lorne and several other guards pointing guns in her direction, waiting for it to move. They knew, though, that if they tried to take it down now—they would kill her as well.
With nothing else she could do, she just stood there. Waiting.
Suddenly, the object buzzed and emitted a white light right into her face, causing her to wince and flinch, closing her eyes instinctively. The touch of it prickled the skin on her forehead, as if someone had shot an toothpick into it.
Then the pain was gone.
The buzzing stopped, and she dared to open an eye.
The object hovered a second longer, then, in a blink, it was gone.
Zelenka nearly leapt back a foot as it had apparently jumped in front of him, barely keeping his balance as he tried to stay off his hurt leg.
Elizabeth emitted a short gasp, watching as the same bright light lasered in on the Czech’s forehead. Zelenka whimpered, but didn’t move.
In a second, it was done. And was in front of the Canadian tech. The poor boy tried not to flinch as it shocked him as well, but the plaintive, soft "ow" was not lost on anyone.
The guns following it never had time to shoot—it was like trying to shoot a fly. Until it stopped, it was almost impossible to see with the naked eye. It seemed to leap from place to place almost without motion.
Shakily, Elizabeth reached up and tapped her radio, to answer the desperate questions of McKay and Sheppard over the link.
“It appears to be scanning us,” she said quietly, still somewhat afraid to even speak lest she draw its attention again.
“For what?” Sheppard demanded.
“I have no idea.” She shivered again, thinking about the sharp pain, “But I don’t think it’s found it yet.”
McKay had connected into every single sensor and scanner in the city, focusing them all only on the object that currently had the entire Gateroom and Control Room in thrall. The two other scientists with him were carefully monitoring the city’s power and control systems, checking to make sure nothing was being compromised or damaged by the object’s presence.
“It’s definitely Wraith technology,” McKay informed Sheppard, who was pacing around behind him like a caged panther. “And Elizabeth’s right, it’s looking for something.”
“I don’t know yet. But, if it’s scanning people and not machines, that would suggest….” He trailed off, frowning at something on the screen.
“What?” Sheppard stopped pacing, moving to lean over his friend’s shoulder. "You've got something?"
“Yeah....I think I’ve hacked into its hard drive. It’s got a very simple brain—which makes sense considering how small it is. I’m surprised it wasn’t more protected. Probably means it’s only programmed with one purpose in mind. I just…hang on.” He typed some more, and more windows filled his laptop screen. To Sheppard, it was a mess of numbers and what looked like Wraith programming language—in other words, total gibberish. McKay’s eyes skimmed down the information with incredible ease, telling of just how familiar he had become with Wraith technology.
“Stop it! Stop it!” Lorne’s voice suddenly shouted over the radio, causing both McKay and Sheppard to jump. “Don’t let it get away!”
Gunfire exploded across the radio, and McKay winced, turning down the volume on his speaker as Sheppard started pacing again. The colonel’s hands fisted and released, but he knew damn well that, with the city in lock down, he couldn’t get up there to help.
Shattering glass was audible again, and Lorne yelling at his men to chase it. The window at the top of the stairs led out onto the main balcony, and Sheppard guessed they were now climbing through it, going after the object.
“Major!” he called, “What’s happening?”
“Sir,” Lorne’s voice was punctuated by heavy breaths, “It’s escaped back through the window! We’re trying to see where it went, but it’s disappeared.”
“It’s seeking by sound,” McKay said softly, “that’s how it found us, even through the cloak. Like a bat. It can’t see or sense us, but it can find us by echoes. Like searching for a submarine in a deep ocean.” He was rambling, talking to himself mostly, but Sheppard was listening, despite also hearing Lorne’s description on his end. He had perfected the ability to “listen” to two things at once, particularly when McKay was around.
Speaking of Lorne, Sheppard realized the major had finished his recitation of the object’s activities.
“So, no one was hurt?” Sheppard said finally, mentally tuning back in.
“No, sir. Everyone appears shaken, but fine. It scanned the people here, but, from the looks of it, didn’t do anyone any damage.”
“Even so, inform Doctor Beckett and—“
“I already have, Colonel,” Elizabeth’s voice chimed in. “He is instituting a quarantine here until he’s given us all the all clear. Meanwhile, that thing is still out there. I’m standing on the balcony outside of the Control Room with Major Lorne, and I can’t see it anywhere.”
“If McKay wants to give us back access to the sensors,” Zelenka chimed in, “we could—“
“No need,” McKay said, his voice tight. “I know where it is.” He looked up at Sheppard, who was watching him intently. The colonel knew that tone of voice all too well. McKay swallowed, then added, “I also know why it’s here.”
For a heartbeat, neither man moved. Sheppard almost didn’t want to ask.
Elizabeth, however, probably because she couldn’t see McKay’s stricken face, had no such compunction.
“Why is it here?” she asked over the radio.
“It’s looking for me,” Rodney replied quietly.
And suddenly, the scientist was in motion, typing furiously into the laptop, his eyes shifting across the screen.
“What? You? Why you?” Sheppard demanded, moving to stand right over McKay, knowing full well he was getting in the scientist’s way.
"Because they're scared of me, why else? Now, Move!" McKay shouted, pushing Sheppard back to refocus on his furious typing. But Sheppard wasn't about to be daunted, and pressed in again, coming around the front of the console to stare at McKay.
"What? What the hell does that mean?"
“Think about it!” McKay shouted back angrily, then twisted around to yell at the two scientists with them “Send power back to the Control Room. Tell Beckett the quarantine isn’t necessary. The object was only taking DNA samples from the people up there, while also “listening” to the City. Their keeping quiet while it did so did the damn thing a favor! Damn it!” he returned to his hasty typing, “There has to be a way to stop it…” he muttered, fingers flying over the keys.
“McKay, are you sure?”
“Don’t ask stupid questions,” the scientist snapped back, clearly losing his patience. “I don’t have the time; that thing has a one track mind and once it finds me it'll…wait…wait…that’s it...” He started typing faster, his eyes brightening with an idea. And for a second, Sheppard thought everything was going to be all right.
“Sir!” one of the scientist’s shouted. “Sir, it’s coming here! It’s nearly to this room!”
“What?” Sheppard turned and dashed to her side, looking down at the City layout she had called up. Sure enough, even with the lockdown, the object had somehow found a way inside and was now shooting down the corridors, straight to their position. “Damn it! How did it find us!” He pulled his 9MM, moving to stand in the corridor he knew the object was coming down.
“I told you,” McKay answered. “Sound! When Zelenka sent the power here, this room powered up. It was like a beacon of noise. All the object had to do was stay quiet for a while. It must be programmed to assume I would be nearest the areas with the highest concentration of complex noise. Crap,” he continued to type, then looked up. His eyes were scared. "How close is it?"
The scientist just looked up, her face stricken. "Close."
McKay swallowed thickly, and returned to his typing. Suddenly, with the same sort of frozen motion he made when he realized he couldn't stop the Arcturus Weapon from exploding, he looked up. “Oh God…I don’t have time to finish explaining...." Shaking his head, he looked to the two scientists. "Atchison, Torrens, don’t let anyone touch this laptop except Zelenka, you hear me?!”
And Sheppard saw it. The silver ball careened down the hallway, straight towards him. He started firing—but the bullets were far too slow, like trying to hit a supersonic pinball.
McKay grabbed his datapad and backed up, hesitating in the open doorway on the far side of the room. The two scientists had also backed up, pressing themselves against the curved walls.
"Rodney! Get out of here!" Sheppard shouted.
But it was too late. The object zipped past the colonel—it would have gone through him if Sheppard hadn't ducked at the last minute. It jumped in front of the first scientist, the woman, took a sample, then shot towards McKay, hitting him with the same white light. The object emitted a high pitched whine, then hit McKay with a blue light in the right shoulder as the scientist fell backwards towards the door.
"RUN, YOU IDIOT!" Sheppard shouted, dodging around the consoles to get to McKay and grabbing his left arm, propelling the man out of the room before the object could do anything more.
It galvanized the scientist into motion, and he and Sheppard both started running down the corridor, but not quick enough. The object's silvery color shimmered, changing to an almost black color—it had found its target.
CHAPTER THREE: INFLICTING PAIN
The female scientist slammed her hand down on a console, locking the doorways leading out of the auxiliary power room—and locking her and Atchison inside with the now multicolored object.
"What are you doing?" Atchison demanded, staring at her.
"We have to slow it down!" Torrens replied sharply. "Give them time to...oh God."
The object had turned silvery again and, with a whining buzz, aimed for the door...and passed through it as if it were water. The two scientists' eyes widened.
"Doors don't stop it!" Torrens called into her radio.
Sheppard actually found himself hard pressed to keep up with his fleeing best friend. In front of him, McKay was really moving, charging down the hall back to the stairs, his long legs eating up the ground. Fear was an incredibly powerful motivator.
“Elizabeth!” he heard McKay yell over the radio, “I need the transporters!”
Almost immediately, showing their complete trust in McKay, the City came alive around them, the lock-down releasing even though the alarms continued sounding.
McKay jumped into a transporter and hit the pad. Sheppard slid in after him, almost not making it.
Breathing hard, the colonel looked at McKay, “Where are we going?”
But the doors were already sliding open, and McKay was already running. "Someplace we can get more time!" he called over his shoulder to Sheppard.
“McKay," Zelenka's voice echoed tinnily over the radio, "I don’t know how, but it’s still following you. It’s coming up the stairs from the lower levels. How is it doing it? Has it changed its—?”
“Yes,” McKay responded, panting now. “It's...it's following me directly now. How far behind us is it?”
“Not far. It’s incredibly fast, McKay. I’ve never seen anything move that fast.” The Czech's tone was a mixture of concern...and awe.
“Except objects through a wormhole,” McKay threw back, smiling a little even despite the direness of the situation.
“Rodney, how did you figure out it was after you?” Elizabeth asked over the radio. "And why is it after you?"
“The 'how' is because my name is all over that thing’s central processor," Rodney replied, skidding around a corner and shooting down a different corridor. "Subject Doctor McKay—DNA, RNA, everything a death machine needs to know to kill me and only me. Lovely, eh? As for the 'why'…isn’t that obvious?”
“Because McKay knows more about both Lantean and Wraith technology than any other human in this galaxy—probably any galaxy,” Sheppard said, getting it all of a sudden. “You’re their greatest threat. You probably know almost as much about their tech as they do themselves.”
McKay didn’t reply, just kept running, darting down a new corridor.
"Oh my God," Elizabeth breathed over the radio.
“Where are we going?” Sheppard demanded again, still dogging McKay’s footsteps.
“Stasis Room,” McKay replied, pulling in a harsh breath. “You have to stop it,” he added, skidding around a corner and nearly slipping.
“What do you mean, ‘I’ have to stop it?” Sheppard replied, eyes widening as he too nearly fell when his boots slipped on the slick floor. "Why can't you do it? Or we do it together?"
“Because it’s going to get to me and kill me before I can, unless I can find a way to slow it down….”
And suddenly they were there—in the same room they had found old Weir. Breathing heavily, McKay went straight to the console, keying in commands. The stasis chamber was already up and humming. McKay must have turned it on down in the auxiliary room.
He keyed in some things one handed into the console, then swore, turning to Sheppard and shoving the datapad he was holding in his other hand into the colonel's hands.
“I don’t know. I’m not sure why I was even carrying it. Habit?” And for a second, when he smiled weakly up at his friend, all the terror he was feeling came through.
“The Gate room,” Sheppard said suddenly. “Let’s get you through the Gate and then it can’t follow you.”
“Unless it follows me through. Besides, there’s no time to get up there. The Gate Room was even closer to the Auxiliary Power room than this place—I'd probably already be dead. Do you not get how fast it is?”
“There’s time! I’ll find a way to get you time.”
“Even if there was, the moment I go through, it’ll just disappear. Go into hiding until I return. That’s what it’s programmed to do. And the moment I do….”
“Not necessarily, we could find a way to stop it before it does.”
“You’ll have to find it first. This way you’ll know exactly where….” He trailed off as he turned to the door. A buzzing sound raced down the hallway—the object. “Damn it!” Turning, McKay went back to the control panel. “Okay, look, once I'm in stasis, the stasis field won't stop that thing, but it will slow it down. A lot. It'll hopefully give Zelenka enough time to figure out a way to shut it down before it does any permanent—“
And suddenly it was there. McKay barely had time to gasp as the object came up behind him and literally slammed into the back of his head.
“No!” Sheppard yelled, catching McKay as he collapsed, the scientist screaming as the metal wires shooting out of the sides of the ball seemed to wrap themselves around his head, the discs planting themselves squarely above each ear and over the temples. More tiny, thin tentacles exploded out of the tiny ball, injecting themselves into McKay’s brain and spine.
Sheppard didn’t think, he just hauled McKay up and threw him into the stasis chamber, then ran back to the console. He was about to hit the control, when McKay stopped screaming and shouted something.
He didn’t catch it at first, but looking up, he saw McKay watching him from pain-filled eyes, his hands pressed against the sides of his head, fingers obviously trying to pry away the wires.
“Carter,” McKay said, nearly choking on his own voice, a trickle of blood running down out of his nose. "Carter'll know….” And then he screamed again, as the object flared an angry blood red color.
Sheppard slammed a hand down on the console, freezing his friend in torment.
CHAPTER FOUR: DAMAGE ASSESSMENT
Sheppard stood in the stasis room, staring at his friend hidden behind the smoked “glass” of the stasis field, his jaw tensed to the point of painful. It had been three days since the attack, three days since he had tossed his friend into the chamber, three days for the brilliant minds of Atlantis to find a solution….
Three days for them to come to the conclusion…there may not be a way to save McKay.
The scientist was half bent over, leaning against the back and left hand side of the chamber, hands pressed to this sides of his head, fingers prying at the “legs” of the metal spider (as they had come to call it) attacking him. His eyes were screwed tightly shut, his mouth showing teeth gritted against the pain, his face flushed and tight, the frozen trail of blood from his nose glistening in the pale light.
It was almost unreal, like seeing a gruesome image in a movie, frozen forever in time, or a painting or photograph of some terrible, unthinkable torture being inflicted. The problem was—this was real. Worse, this was his friend. His closest friend. And it was still happening to him in there. McKay was not frozen—he was trapped in there, feeling a pain which, for him, was essentially endless.
The colonel let out a shaky breath, fingers gripping and releasing at his sides.
He had never felt so completely helpless before in his life. Everything about this was outside of his control, outside even of his ability to think of an idea to help. He could do nothing but wait while Zelenka and Beckett and all the other scientists and engineers and doctors worked feverishly to save his friend.
There was no military solution, no half-cocked last minute save that could be done, nothing to do….
While his friend suffered.
"Damn it, McKay," he whispered.
“Colonel Sheppard?” Teyla’s soft voice carried across the room, and Sheppard closed his eyes. He had expected either Teyla or Elizabeth to come down at some point. He knew he had been haunting this room, unable to stay away, and they were getting worried. But if McKay had any sense of his presence here at all—even though Zelenka assured him it was impossible—then he wanted to be here.
“Yeah,” he replied hoarsely, turning around to look at her.
“Doctors Zelenka and Beckett are ready to display their findings. Doctor Weir has called us all to a meeting upstairs.”
He grimaced, already knowing from the looks on Beckett’s and Zelenka’s faces over the past few days that the news probably wouldn’t be good. He had wanted to threaten them, force them to find a solution, to make them figure it out, but they weren’t McKay. McKay’s ego always came through in a pinch. Zelenka, brilliant as he was, was not as quick or as willful—which is why he would always be second place.
“Okay,” he said, once again forcing back the defeatism trying to drown him. He was not giving up, not while McKay was still alive. “I’ll be right there.”
Teyla nodded and, without looking towards the stasis chamber, turned and walked out. Unlike Sheppard, she had taken one look at McKay’s face inside the field and had refused to look upon it again. Her eyes, when in this room, would see everything except the scientist. Ronon, on the other hand, had walked right up to the field, knelt down, and pressed a hand against the solid wall between him and McKay. The former Runner had stared at the scientist for a moment, growled, and stood up, almost like a grizzly bear rearing up on its hind legs. He had turned to Sheppard, Teyla and the other people in the room and, with a snarl, informed them that they were not going to lose McKay to some “stupid Wraith toy.” He’d then turned to Beckett, who was trying to calibrate his machines to read data inside the field, and demanded, “you got the transmitter out of me. Now get that thing off of him.” And with that order, had turned and left. Beckett just stared after him with his far too expressive eyes, sighed, and returned to his work.
Fact was, none of them—Teyla, Ronon, nor himself—was willing to accept McKay’s loss. Not yet.
Which might be why he was so damned afraid to go upstairs. Terrified of what they were going to say. Terrified that, in fact, they might not have a choice.
Taking in a deep, fortifying breath, he took one more look at McKay, gave the scientist a reassuring smile (just in case), then turned and left the room.
Elizabeth sat down in her chair, doodling lightly on the notepad by her hand, drawing circles around circles. The action was automatic, unthinking. Her attention was clearly far, far away from this room.
Zelenka and Beckett’s assessment had taken three days to make, mainly because their equipment had taken that long to register any real details with the time delay. What normally took milliseconds to scan, took almost two and a half days with the stasis operating at its greatest possible time dilation ratio. Beckett could tell sooner that McKay was alive simply based upon the information provided by the stasis chamber diagnostics, but as to the Wraith tech and what it was doing to him, that was much harder. Zelenka’s scanning of the device itself, meanwhile, was as complicated as if the metal spider were sitting on the far side of the Grand Canyon from his equipment. Filtering through time made even distances of that size seem like nothing.
To make matters worse, as soon as the metal spider had latched onto its target, much of the information McKay had downloaded about it onto his laptop got scrambled—much in the same way the data from their hive “ally” had broken down after it had left orbit. All that was left intact was McKay’s rapidly typed notes and a map of the links he followed when searching for a way to destroy it. For the last two days, two of Zelenka’s best computer engineers had been working to decipher the scrambled information, with McKay’s notes as a guideline. They hadn’t slept, as far as she knew. In fact, none of McKay’s scientists had slept. Zelenka wouldn’t let them.
When Elizabeth looked up to finally see Zelenka enter the room, moving at a slow hobble on his cane, her doodling stopped.
She already knew they had failed.
The Czech sighed, sliding into a chair next to Doctor Beckett, and removed his glasses to rub at bruised looking eyes. Carson saw the Czech’s expression as well, and turned a frightened expression to Elizabeth. She just shook her head, and started drawing circles again.
Not long after, Teyla, Ronon and, finally, Sheppard filtered in, taking the remaining seats. As a group, they turned to the expedition leader, and Weir sighed. Like Sheppard, part of her really did not want to start this ball rolling.
“Okay,” Weir said, clearing her throat and looking up, pushing the pad away from beneath her hand. “Thank you all for coming.” She looked down at the pen still in her fingers, “Obviously…this has…caused…” She paused, pursing her lips. Swallowing, she sighed and looked up. “Let me begin by telling you that, no matter what is said here today, we’re not going to give up on Rodney until every avenue is extinguished. That being said, I also know…that none of us want to prolong what is happening to him. If…keeping him in that chamber only results in his pain being drawn out…” She trailed off, looking down again. No one said anything, which she took as a good sign. Nodding, her eyes lifted, this time to meet their gazes.
“We’ve all had some time now to study what has happened to Rodney, and to try to make sense of it. Before we get into the details of what can be done, however, I wanted to start by asking, first, why you think the Wraith did this? I have my ideas, but I would like to hear yours.”
“Why else,” Ronan said gruffly, shrugging, “to kill McKay. He’s a threat to them now. More so than even Atlantis is. They wanted him gone and dead, and so they sent that,” his lips lifted in a snarl, “thing to do it.”
“Yes, but,” Elizabeth’s eyes narrowed, “why that device? Why not just send something that would kill him instantly?”
“To punish him,” Teyla replied, her own tone very even. Her eyes were unfocused, not meeting anyone’s gaze, not even Elizabeth’s. “And to warn others away from his hubris.”
“Hubris?” Sheppard snapped, “What the hell does that mean?”
Teyla sighed, and turned to look in his direction. “I do not mean that Doctor McKay’s ego put him in this position, Colonel.” Her voice was even-toned, unconsciously falling into her most formal tone. “I meant that, in the eyes of the Wraith, Doctor McKay’s daring to learn so much about their technology—to the point he was able to use it against them—is, to them, hubris.” She swallowed, her eyes shifted away, “With this attack, they are warning us from thinking we can get the better of them, and to make us fear them more.”
“Ha,” Ronon snarled. “It won’t work.”
“No,” Teyla agree soundly, looking up and actually meeting the Satedan’s eyes for the first time since they had been told what happened, “it will not. Even if we lose Doctor McKay.”
“We’re not losing anyone yet,” Elizabeth reminded them. When she had their eyes on her again, she gave them a single nod, then turned to the rest of the room. “My thoughts about the matter were similar. But I did have one fear, which I hope Doctor Zelenka can assuage.” She looked at Radek, who tried to appear confident as he sat in McKay’s usual chair, “Radek, can that device…download information from Rodney? Take information from him somehow and transmit it?”
Zelenka’s eyes widened momentarily, then, swiftly, he shook his head. “No, the device is not that complicated. Even if the Wraith had such technology, which, from what I have seen, they do not, the metal spider does not have that capability. No…what Doctor McKay has inside his head is not being transmitted to the Wraith.”
“Thank goodness,” Elizabeth said, releasing a small sigh of relief. Straightening her shoulders, she looked around. “In that case, we can focus solely on how we’re going to get Rodney out of there. Carson? You—“
“Wait,” Sheppard said, anger boiling behind his usually calm eyes, “Do you mean to say that, if it turned out that that thing was able to copy his knowledge, that it would make a difference.”
Elizabeth’s green eyes focused on his, clear and filled with sadness. Then, quickly, she ducked her head, looking down at her notepad before answering.
“You know it would have, John,” she replied quietly. “And you know why as well.”
Sheppard sucked in a harsh breath, shutting his eyes, trying not to explode in fury at the idea. Logically, yes, he did know. But he was never one to think purely based on logic. It was the main difference between him and Elizabeth—and also the main reason she was the leader and not him.
“Now,” Elizabeth said, looking up again and once more focusing on Beckett, “Carson, what can you tell us?”
Beckett was watching Sheppard, his own emotions clear on his face. Like the colonel, Beckett would not have accepted anything less than moving mountains to save their friend, not matter the cost. Turning to Elizabeth, his blue eyes were accusatory and hurt. Elizabeth met his gaze with remorse, but not apology. Beckett sighed and looked down. Clearing his throat, he started to speak, his voice almost a monotone.
“Well, I’m afraid that I do not have much good news,” he said. “The spider machine has managed to wind around Rodney’s skull and down his spine, penetrating his brain and nervous system at definite points, stimulating those areas which will cause Rodney the most pain. It is truly the most insidious device I have ever seen. There is no question in my mind that its primary purpose was to punish without mercy in the most horrific way possible.” He shivered slightly, taking another deep breath before continuing.
“That being said, Rodney and Colonel Sheppard’s quick actions with the stasis chamber stopped it from embedding too deeply. As it stands, the spider machines is only barely touching most areas. If it could be shut down now, or instantly upon Rodney’s release from the chamber, I should be able to extract it without any permanent injury. However,” he grimaced a little, “if it is not shut down instantly—if even as little as one minute passes—the damage to Rodney will likely be irredeemable. At one minute, I’ll still be able to extract the spider, but Rodney will suffer brain damage and will probably experience pain for the rest of his life. At two minutes…I probably will not be able to extract it at all, and he will die, horribly and in pain.” His eyes had dropped again to his papers as he had continued his speech, and he looked up again now to indicate he was finished.
“So, then…it’s possible to save him,” Sheppard said. “If we can shut the device down now.”
“Yes.” Carson looked up, then to Zelenka. “If we can shut the device down now.”
Radek looked at him, his eyes telling them nothing. Slowly, his head turned to look in Elizabeth’s direction. The expedition leader was leaning forward on the table, resting on his arms. Her eyebrows lifted as he found her gaze.
“Well?” she asked, “Can we?”
Zelenka’s eyes fell.
“Why not?” Ronon growled.
“The device has no shut off mechanism,” the Czech began, speaking slowly, as if weighing his words carefully. “Thus, the only way to shut it down is to cut its power. Normally, to do that, we would locate the power source and either pull it out, or render it inert with an electromagnetic pulse. Problem is,” his eyes narrowed, “the machine does not have a normal power source.”
“Not normal?” Sheppard asked. “What does that mean?”
“It means,” Zelenka took in a deep breath, “that part of the power that the machine is drawing on right now…is organic.”
“My God,” Elizabeth’s eyes widened. “you mean, it’s alive?”
“Yes—in a way. It has living tissue inside it. Worse…it’s now pulling part of its power from Rodney himself.”
That caused complete silence for a moment, until Sheppard spoke again, asking quietly. “How is that possible?”
“We know that much of Wraith technology has an organic base. They’ve managed to integrate living tissue with machinery in ways…we can’t even imagine. Rodney is…was…”
“Is,” Sheppard stated plainly.
Zelenka nodded, “…is working on schematics for a weapon that will take advantage of that mix of matter, finding a way to disable Wraith technology via the living tissue. It is really quite fascinating, he—“
“Radek,” Elizabeth said quietly, calling him back.
“Yes, yes, what I’m trying to say is,” he pursed his lips, his eyes looking down at his notes, “that Rodney himself has become part of the power source for the spider machine. The discs at the end of the larger tendrils are drawing power from McKay's own strength. Even if we shot an electromagnetic pulse at the thing, and found a way to kill its own living matter energy source at the same time—“
“It wouldn’t completely stop it,” Elizabeth supplied. “Because it would still have Rodney to feed on.”
“Correct,” Radek agreed, “in fact, it might make it worse. We believe it was intended to switch entirely to feeding entirely on Rodney if attacked in that manner. All it would do would be to make it even more impossible to shut down.”
Sheppard’s eyes were wide, determined. “But…but there must be something we can do.”
“In less than a minute?” Zelenka replied. “If what Carson says is true…I can’t even shut down my laptop in less than a minute.”
“Well, what if…” Sheppard’s eyes moved around, finally landing on Beckett, “What if we killed Rodney as well. Like we did with the Iratus bug when it was latched to my neck?”
The physician shook his head, “No. Even if we did ‘kill’ the machine and Rodney at the same time, I would still have to extract it before reviving Rodney. The extraction will take several hours at least, at which point…” He trailed off, not needing to say more.
“What about the Daedalus?” Teyla asked suddenly. “It should be on its way back from Earth, now, yes?” She looked to Elizabeth, then back to Zelenka. “Could they use the beaming technology to…to extract the machine? As it did with that…snake like creature which took over Colonel Caldwell?”
Zelenka shook his head, “The Goa’uld was a single, living entity. It wrapped itself around Caldwell’s brainstem in a very specific way, one earth science has known and studied for years. We have detailed schematics on exactly how and where it inserts itself. This device, we have no such detail. Moreover, it’s far smaller—a number of the metal strands it has embedded into Rodney are even invisible to the naked eye. I doubt even Hermiod’s math skills would be enough to ensure that, if we tried to beam it out, it would either leave a lot of itself behind, or take pieces of Rodney with it.” He grimaced, while next to him, Beckett just closed his eyes at the thought.
“So, what you’re saying is,” Sheppard said quietly, “you don’t think there is a way to save him.”
Beckett didn’t answer. Zelenka, however, shook his head.
“No!” Ronon suddenly slammed a hand down on the table. “There has to be a way!” His glare was so enraged as he stared at the two doctors, Zelenka even shrank back a little. The Satedan rocketed up out of his chair and leaned over them, staring them both down. Zelenka ducked his head, but Carson met the harsh gaze undaunted. “Find a way!" Ronon demanded. "He’d do it for you!”
“Yes, he would try,” Carson replied softly, standing up himself to face Ronon. “Just as we have, lad. I promise you, we have done everyth—”
“That’s crap!” Ronon crossed his arms, “He’s still down there. He’s still alive. He’s given you time to figure it out. So figure it out!”
“There’s nothing medical I can do, until that machine is turned off,” Beckett stated firmly. “I’m sorry.”
“Then you,” Ronon shot out a finger at Zelenka, “find a way to shut it off!”
Radek still did not look up, probably figuring there was no point, and not wanting to see the anger in Ronon’s eyes. Instead, he just stared downwards at his notes, eyes skimming down them for probably the millionth time. The Satedan stared at him for a moment, his brow shifting from fury to disbelief.
“No...no, you can’t give up,” Ronon said then, his voice sounding almost strangled. “I thought you people never gave up.” He looked to Elizabeth, “You said…you said…we wouldn’t give up.”
Elizabeth just stared back, her eyes wet. “We don’t want to, Ronon. But sometimes…” She shook her head.
The Satedan just stared at her, then, slowly lowered his eyes. Still trembling a little from unused adrenalin, he slowly sat down, his eyes wide and fixed on the table in front of him.
The tension in the room was almost tangible, weighing on them all as they hoped Zelenka or Beckett would suddenly say something else, come up with something more, give them even the smallest kernel of hope….But Beckett stayed quiet and the Czech was almost as frozen as McKay, appearing unable to say another word on the subject. An internal struggled seemed to be being waged behind his worried eyes, as emotions obviously warred with logic.
And then Sheppard cleared his throat.
Four pairs of eyes turned in his direction.
“You know,” Sheppard mused, his now quiet voice feeling almost intrusive inside the room, “McKay…did believe there was a way. Ronon’s right—he put himself in that stasis chamber because he thought...no, he knew...you could find it.” The hazel eyes lifted and came to a rest on Zelenka.
Zelenka lowered his head, sighing heavily. He nodded. “McKay’s idea…was to buy himself time, in case there was a way. But that’s as far as it went—there is nothing to indicate that he had himself found a way to destroy that infernal machine. He would not have had the time to discover it anyway, not in the short time he had.”
“No, that’s not true,” Sheppard asserted, warming to his topic. “He did find a way. I saw it in his eyes. He knew how to stop that machine.”
Zelenka shook his head. “I very much doubt that, Colonel. What you saw was probably just—”
“You don’t know him like I do,” the colonel insisted, leaning forward. “You see him in the lab, working at a normal pace. I see him in the field, when he has to come up with ideas in even less time than this. And when he has that idea…I know. And he did. He had the idea.”
Zelenka grimaced. “Yes, but think about this. He was probably thinking about stopping the machine before it attacked him. That we could have done, now that we know how it works. But not now that it has attached—”
“No, no, he knew. He said it would get him. He expected to trap it in stasis with him. I don’t think he anticipated the pain, but he knew it would get him.”
Zelenka’s grimace grew into a frown as he considered this. Finally, he sighed. “Look, Colonel, even if he did think of something…something none of my team has considered in the last three days, he did not leave us any clue of it. We—“
“That’s not true, either,” Sheppard replied, smiling a little. “He left two clues.”
Zelenka’s eyebrows lifted, waiting. The colonel lifted his hand and held up a finger.
“He left you his laptop—specifically told Torrens and Atchison to save it for you, and you alone.”
“Yes, but, the information on that laptop was—“
“Scrambled, I know. But McKay’s additions, mapping and notes were not.”
“They are not much use without the information connecting them.”
“Maybe,” Sheppard said.
Zelenka’s eyes narrowed, “Maybe?" he snorted. "What, you think you can do better than my team?”
“No. I don’t. But…see, McKay also left us a second clue.” And he held up a second finger. “Right before I hit the control to freeze him, he said—“
“Carter will know,” Elizabeth said, recalling Sheppard’s words from three days ago. She stood up, facing him. “Do you really think she can help?”
“Carter?” Zelenka repeated, a strange look on his face. “Colonel Carter? Of the SGC?”
“Who’s Colonel Carter?” Ronon asked.
“Rodney’s equivalent back on Earth,” Zelenka supplied quickly.
“I don’t think she’d agree with ‘equivalent,’” Elizabeth said, her lips lifting in a tiny smile. “Not sure Rodney would either.”
“They do have a little bit of a competitive thing going,” Sheppard explained.
“Well, Rodney does,” Carson noted. “I don’t think Colonel Carter’s all that worried he’ll—“
“Yes, well, point is,” Sheppard interrupted, “Rodney’s last thought was that she would know how to help him.” He looked to Elizabeth, “And I think it's worth it to ask if she can.”
The smile that had momentarily touched her lips at the thought of McKay and Carter sparring again faded, and Elizabeth looked back at the colonel. She saw the desperate need for hope in his eyes, knew it was reflected in her own, and nodded. Turning to Zelenka, she raised her eyebrows.
“Is that all right with you, Radek? Can we show this problem to Colonel Carter?”
Slowly at first, then more affirmatively, the Czech nodded and smiled. “Yes...yes! If anyone can see another way out of this, Colonel Carter is the one who can do it.”
Elizabeth smiled. “Okay then.” She stood up, “Let’s give her a call.”
CHAPTER FIVE: PAGING SAMANTHA CARTER
“Unscheduled off-world activation.” Harriman’s voice came in clearly over the comm., and Carter was up and jogging to the gate room immediately, happily leaving behind the headache-inducing data from Merlin’s workshop. She’d been staring at the same page for the last hour, and, until the alarms sounded, hadn’t even really noticed her total lack of progress.
The alarms cut out at the same time she reached the control room, just in time to hear Harriman inform General Landry and Colonel Mitchell that it was a call from Atlantis.
Carter’s brow furrowed, glancing at the date on her watch, knowing that Atlantis was not scheduled to call in for another two days.
“They’re early,” Daniel said, coming up behind her.
“Never a good sign,” Mitchell concurred, grimacing as they all stared in the direction of the open wormhole, as if they could see through the shimmering blue to the faces on the other side.
The monitors in the room lit up then as the transmission came through, showing Doctor Weir’s strained expression as she stood in the Control Room. To her left stood Colonel Sheppard, his arms crossed, a furious sort of tension emanating from him in waves. On the other, the Czech scientist Carter recognized as Doctor Zelenka was also present. He was wringing his hands as he stood on Weir’s other side, as nervous as Sheppard was tense.
“Doctor Weir,” Landry greeted solemnly, taking his cue from their body language, “What can we do for you?”
“We need your help,” Elizabeth answered, getting straight to the point. “Actually, we need Colonel Carter’s help.”
Carter’s eyebrows raised, and she stepped forward to be more visible to the people on the screen.
“I’m here,” she said, then smiled slightly. “Is Doctor McKay not with you?”
Elizabeth’s lips pressed together a little tighter before she answered, “Doctor McKay is the one who needs your help. He specifically asked for you.”
“Me? Really?” Carter’s eyebrows lifted in surprise, and she couldn’t hold back the teasing smile. “Well, that’s a first. I didn’t think there was anything the great and illustrious Doctor McKay couldn’t do on his own.”
The dig was out of her mouth before she thought about it, and she knew immediately it was the wrong thing to say. The eyes of the three people on the monitor hardened, even those of Doctor Zelenka, and Carter’s smile fell. A knot formed in her chest, and she stepped forward, closer to the camera, the worry on her face clear.
“Oh God,” she said softly, “Is he okay?”
“No,” Elizabeth answered, looking down for a moment, as if to collect her thoughts, “he’s not.” She looked up again, “Colonel Carter, Rodney’s going to die unless you can help him. And we can’t afford to lose him.”
An hour later, the tension in the conference room at the SGC was almost as thick as the atmosphere of the call itself, and it was mostly being generated by two people—Carter and Landry. Daniel and Mitchell were really just along for the ride.
“No,” Landry said, sitting up straight in the conference room chair and shaking his head at where Colonel Carter was standing in front of the star map. “The journey is far too long. We can’t afford to have you out of pocket for three weeks, not with the Ori on our doorstep. Besides, the Daedalus already left a week ago. I’m not about to call them back, not for this.”
“The Daedalus is not quite clear of our galaxy yet,” Carter argued, pointing behind her at the star map to Caldwell’s last known location. “The make a quick detour to P4M-399, pick me up as I come through the gate, and I can be in Atlantis in a week and half. It’ll only delay them a couple of days. Then give me three or four days there...At most, I’ll be out of pocket, as you put it, for two weeks.”
Landry shook his head, “It’s still two weeks, Colonel. As much as I agree with Doctor Weir’s sentiments about the value of Doctor McKay, we have our own problems, as you well know, and they’re not going to wait.”
“I’ll stay in regular radio contact,” Carter stated firmly, “And I can take most of my work with me.”
“To work on when?” Landry’s eyebrows lifted. “In between trying to figure out how to save Doctor McKay’s life? Which, I might point out, some of the smartest people in two galaxies haven’t been able to do.” He stood up from his chair, already taking on a dismissive tone as he gathered the papers in front of him, “Look, I’m sorry, Colonel, but we can’t lose your services, not for that long. Right now, knowing how close all of us are to ruination at the hands of the Ori, one life is just not worth—“
“His is,” Carter insisted fiercely, then, quickly added a contrite, “sir." She took a quick breath, "Please….”
Landry arched an eyebrow at her, but, respectfully, he sat back down. She gave him a grateful nod and walked up to the conference table, pressing a hand down on its surface.
“General, as you know, Doctor McKay and I…,” her fingers tapped the wooden surface lightly, “have not had the best of relationships.”
“I’ve heard you refer to him as a pompous, overbearing ass with more attitude than brains on more than one occasion, yes,” Landry said, eyebrows lifting. Colonel Mitchell and Daniel, also sitting at the table, nodded in agreement, and Daniel cleared his throat.
“To be fair, he did call her a dumb blonde,” Daniel noted, smiling a little. “And I think, often likes to call her Blondie, and not in a good way. Oh, and then there’s the way he leers at her when—“
“Daniel,” Carter warned, “not the best time.” In reply, Daniel just smirked teasingly.
“Just a minute,” Mitchell said, far more sober than his teammate, “if I remember correctly from the report, isn’t he the one who came up with that 48 hour deadline that nearly lost us Teal’c?” His brow furrowed in anger, “Gotta say, Carter, he doesn’t sound like the greatest guy to me. Anyone willing to help put an arbitrary deadline on a man’s life…” He trailed off, the contempt in his tone obvious. He didn’t need to finish.
“Yes,” Carter admitted, “He was part of that, and, while I love the idea of making him pay for that, I—“
“Not downplaying the Teal’c thing,” Daniel said, sobering as well, “but he did help out with the Anubis thing,” he arched an eyebrow at Sam then Landry, “didn’t he?”
Landry grunted in acknowledgement. “I suppose he might have—“
“He did more than help,” Carter confirmed. “He came up with the subroutine that preprogrammed the X-302's hyperspace generator to fire for only a fraction of a second, while I worked on disabling the safety protocols. Together, it allowed General O'Neill to eject in time and essentially saved earth. I honestly don’t know what would have happened if he hadn't been there to....”
“Yes, yes,” Landry said. “Look, character aside, and even despite knowing that Doctor Weir believes he has been valuable to the people in Atlantis, what it comes down to is he is only one among many and—“
“Sir?” Carter asked, lifting her eyebrows. “You see, that’s just it. He’s not just one among many. Please, may I finish what I was going to say before?”
Landry snorted softly, but nodded again.
Carter thanked him with a small smile. “As I said, Rodney and I have not had the best of relationships, but personal feelings aside, he has not just been valuable to the Atlantis expedition—from what I’ve read in their logs, he has been invaluable. I think, simply from the expressions of the three people who called us an hour ago, you can see that Doctor Weir’s claim that they can not afford to lose him is one they feel deeply. They looked desperate, General. And I can understand why. No one else can match the sheer breadth of knowledge Rodney has in both Lantean and now Wraith technology, especially now that he has first hand working knowledge of both beyond anything we have in this galaxy. Not even me.” The tiny hint of jealousy in her statement was quickly quelled as she moved on, “And that knowledge is not only useful to them, but to us. I agree with Doctor Weir—they can’t afford to lose him, and neither can we.”
“If I can save him, General, I have to try.” Carter met Landry’s gaze squarely, “Sir, please.”
Landry looked at her a moment longer, then his eyes narrowed. “I still don’t see why you can’t work on it from here.”
“I need to see the device, General. I need to know what it’s doing to him in real time.”
Landry studied her a moment longer, then sighed. Finally, he gave a nod. “All right, but I need a time limit, Colonel. If you can’t free him within…“
“Don’t say 48 hours,” Daniel warned suddenly, tapping a finger on the table. Landry gave him a tired look, then returned his eyes to Carter.
“…72 hours, Colonel,” he said, “you return. We need you here. Too much can happen in two weeks these days.”
Carter grimaced, but nodded. “Yes, sir.”
Landry stood, “Okay then. You have a go.”
“General,” Daniel jumped up, “Permission to go with—“
Jackson frowned, “But—“
“I’m not losing you for two weeks as well, Doctor. Besides, someone needs to be here when Teal’c returns from Dakara to explain where Carter has gone, and I’d rather it not be me. Probably it’s best it’s you.”
Daniel frowned, but didn’t disagree.
“Can I go?” Mitchell asked.
The young colonel shrugged, expecting that. “Worth a shot.”
Landry gave him the tiniest hint of a smile then nodded to the whole room. “Right. Dismissed.”
CHAPTER SIX: CROSSING OVER
A day and a half later, Carter found herself sitting down in the Daedalus engine room, near Hermiod’s station, the Asgard looking over her shoulder as she scanned information about McKay’s condition on her laptop. A little ways away, Novak was pretending not to be interested in what they were looking at, pretending to stretch or yawn or “flex” her neck so she could glance in their direction.
When she caught site of what were obviously biological life signs, though, her face paled and she looked away for good. Remaining detached was not a Novak skill.
Carter sighed slightly, eyes trying to keep up with her mind, which was racing with possibilities. By her side, the Asgard was very quiet, barely even breathing. He had been quiet from the moment she had explained why she was there and what she was doing. He even offered his assistance, his voice carrying the usual disinterested tone of the Asgard, but she had noticed a slight tension in him. She had only ever seen it before in Thor—that hint of emotion that showed he did actually care. She’d thanked him with a smile, and, together, they were now scrolling through the notes Doctor Zelenka had sent concerning the device currently wrapped around Rodney’s head.
“It is far more delicate and intricate that the Goa’uld I retrieved from Colonel Caldwell’s head,” Hermiod said finally, tilting his head a little. “At least the Goa’uld was one organism. This one appears to have started to separate into multiple pieces, as if to attack different sections of the brain and nervous system at the same time. Something I find puzzling and disturbing, since it is not that difficult to kill a human.” He paused a moment, then gave the smallest of head shakes. “Doctor Beckett is right—it is too dangerous to risk trying to beam it out.”
She glanced at him, “Even with the extra cushion of the time dilation caused by the stasis field?”
“Cushion?” Hermiod repeated, pinching his face. “It is not a cushion, Colonel Carter. It is a hindrance. The beaming technology was never meant to work in two different temporal planes. Even if I felt confident enough that we could beam all the pieces of that machine out, I could not guarantee that I would be able to do it any more quickly than it would take the machine to kill him.”
Carter nodded, “I thought you might say that.” She shrugged, “If it was as easy as beaming it off his head, they wouldn’t need me.” She sighed and leaned back in her chair, rubbing a hand down her eyes. Fact was, she wasn’t entirely sure why they needed her anyway. From what she’d read of Doctor Zelenka’s notes, they had already thought of and tried everything she could think of at the moment.
“So,” she said, “see anything else I’m missing?”
The Asgard looked at her, really looked at her, yet another trait that was unusual among his kind. Then he turned away.
“But then,” he said, more quietly, “I am not you. Nor am I Doctor McKay.”
She frowned, glancing at him. “I’m sorry?”
“My people have come to you in the past, Colonel Carter, because of your unique human way of thinking around problems. Doctor McKay appears to share that ability with you, although," Hermiod's brow flexed, as if remembering something particularly irritating, "I will admit, he is somewhat louder about it than you are.”
Carter just stared at him a moment, then, with a quick shake of her head, asked, "Really? McKay?"
"He can be...quiet inventive."
Her eyebrows lifted, and she turned back to the screen. Inventive? Rodney? He was smart, sure, but...inventive?
"And for that reason, because, like your Doctor McKay, you are inventive," Hermiod continued, "I am certain that you will find a way to help him."
Carter frowned slightly, then grimaced, finding she very much wanted to change the subject. "Well, I hope so. For Atlantis' sake."
The Asgard just hummed at that, then returned to his study of the information on Carter's laptop.
A moment later, something else registered, and Carter spoke again. "Oh, and he's not my Doctor McKay."
If she didn't know better, she would have though Hermiod smiled slightly at that.
Carter walked onto the bridge of the Daedalus, called up there when Caldwell said they were about to enter the planet's mesosphere. Looking down, she was startled first by just how blue the planet was. A smattering of clouds, but otherwise, it was almost all blue.
"Seventy percent," she whispered to herself, remembering the intel about how much of the surface was water. And they called Earth a blue planet. "Wow."
"Pretty, isn't it?" Caldwell asked as she came up alongside him. He was standing up before the central window, arms crossed, watching the approach.
"The descriptions don't do it justice," Carter agreed.
"Wait until you see Atlantis," he promised, his eyes smiling. Carter met the smile with one of her own, and wondered if he could see how her heart had started to beat faster at the prospect.
The blurred, flaring air before the windows disappeared and they descended through the upper levels of the stratosphere towards the troposphere. Soon, the were flying through clouds, and a glance at one of the monitors showed the temperatures down below: 75 degrees Fahrenheit (24 degrees Celsius) and sunny on the surface. Heh. Colorado this was not.
The Daedalus banked, inertial dampeners not quite absorbing all of the motion, and Carter found herself leaning a little on one leg as the horizon angled before her.
Then she saw it. Laid out like a snowflake on the water.
Unconsciously, she moved forward, closer to the windows.
The Daedalus leveled out and drew closer, and her eyes quickly catalogued the six long piers and tall central tower. Many other buildings—many of them spires and skyscrapers—filled the long piers, and, for a second, she wondered if Frank Lloyd Wright and I.M. Pei had been descendants of these people. Maybe all artists were, but she still saw a lot of the architectural genius of those two men in this place.
It was beautiful.
She was right against the windows now, leaning against the bar. The Daedalus was descending almost too slowly. She glanced behind her at Caldwell.
"You might want to get your things," the Colonel said, easily seeing the impatience and excitement in her eyes. "Hermiod can beam us directly to the Control Room in the Central Tower."
Carter didn't need to be told twice. "Yes, sir," she said, turning and walking swiftly out of the room. Once outside of his view, she started to run.
When Carter opened her eyes, the last of the white Asgard light fading from around her, she found herself standing on a balcony overlooking the Gateroom with Colonel Caldwell. Doctor Weir stood a few feet away, and was smiling broadly. Carter couldn't resist looking quickly around at the grand room just once, a place she had only ever seen through a computer monitor, before smiling back at the woman standing before her.
"Colonel Carter," Elizabeth greeted warmly, moving forward and giving her a quick hug. "It is very good to see you again."
Carter grinned back, "It is good to see you as well, Doctor Weir."
Elizabeth backed away to Carter's side, and swept an arm out to indicate the people up here with her—a full crew was here. A shorter man with wild hair and slightly askew glasses limped forward, a broad smile on his face. Weir smiled at him.
"I believe you know Doctor Zelenka?"
"Of course," Carter said, reaching to take Radek's hand. "It's good to see you again, Radek."
"Colonel Carter," the Czech greeted warmly, shaking her hand vigorously. Carter's eyebrows rose as she saw the cast on his leg, but he waved her off. She just smiled, planning to ask later.
"And Doctor Beckett," Elizabeth said, looking to the man closest to Zelenka as the Czech limped out of the way.
"Carson," Carter's smile was equally warm as she took his hand. "General O'Neill sends his warmest regards."
"I'm sure he does, lass," Beckett replied with a rueful smile. "He forgiven me yet?"
"Almost," Carter's smile grew as Carson drew back. A shorter woman stepped forward, a quiet strength emanating from her.
"And this is Teyla Emmagen of the Athosian people," Weir said.
"I have heard much about you," Carter said, reaching out her hand. Teyla took it, holding it tightly.
"And I you, Colonel Carter. Doctor McKay and the others speak of you often. You have quite the reputation."
"Yes, well," Carter blushed, "I'm sure we speak of all of you just as often, believe me. What your people and mine have managed to achieve since being here, against such amazing odds...."
Teyla just gave a polite nod in return, recognizing the words for what they were—diplomacy—and let go. Backing up, she remained aloof to the newcomer, but even in her carefully maintained air of calm, Carter could easily sense the same deep anxiety that she saw in the others.
"And, finally, Ronon Dex of the Satedan people," Elizabeth finished, indicating the tall man on Teyla's right. Carter tried not to lift her eyebrows too high as one of the tallest men she had ever seen stepped forward and took her hand. He gripped it fast, but the clear wariness in his eyes suggested a man who had spent much of his life learning never to trust anyone. It was an interesting counterpoint to Teyla.
"It is good to meet you, Ronon," Carter said. "Like Teyla, we have heard—"
"Colonel Sheppard is waiting for you downstairs," he said abruptly, letting go her hand. "Shall we go?"
"Oh, I..." Carter looked at Elizabeth, who gave her a chagrined look.
"We're all a bit anxious, Colonel. I apologize. Ronon," Elizabeth turned to the Satedan, "please inform the Colonel that we will be down soon. First, we should show Colonel Carter to her quarters and see if she needs—"
"Actually, Doctor Weir," Carter interrupted, "I would like to see Rodney. I have a limited time here, as you know, and I probably shouldn't waste any of it."
"I'd like to see him as well," Caldwell asserted, stepping up, his expression grim.
Elizabeth looked at the two of them, then inclined her head. "Follow me, then."
The halls were quiet, and Carter found herself growing increasingly uncomfortable as, every time they passed a group of people, conversations immediately stopped. All eyes had been on her almost from the moment they had left the Control Room, and she would have to have been blind not to see the hope and fear filling the eyes of the people here.
Elizabeth walked at her side, speaking constantly, if somewhat distantly, about things they passed, explaining as best she could some of the more technical aspects. Zelenka would add items if Elizabeth missed something, but, generally, he was fairly quiet, hobbling along on a crutch next to Teyla behind them. Walking at the back of the group, Beckett spoke softly with Caldwell and Ronon, answering some of the questions Caldwell had about McKay's physical condition, and Carter soon found she was more interested in the background conversation between the two of them than what she was walking past.
It wasn't that she wasn't completely enamored of Atlantis and dying to see more of it, it was simply that the intensity of the people around her was making her want to stay focused on Rodney even more than she had been.
The new corridor they walked down after exiting the transporter was cooler and a little darker than the ones up above. The feeling of disuse flavored it, despite the occasional scientist or marine that they passed. Eyes widened at her appearance, and that marines saluted with a little extra vigor.
And then they turned into a brightly lit room at the end of the corridor, where she met Colonel Sheppard for the first time, the man saluting her formally before shaking her hand after she returned the salute. It was a clear gesture of respect from an equal, which she appreciated, knowing his record. He had obviously been sitting down at a table set up for scientists, and her eyes took in the half finished game of solitaire he had dropped at her arrival. His eyes were shadowed, his expression grim and almost stern. She swallowed, recognizing in the small action of his "being here" just how much this man cared and also just how afraid he was for Rodney. And when she looked at the other faces with her, even Caldwell's, she realized she saw that same look repeated on all of them, and had also seen it in all the faces she has passed on the way here.
Never in a million years would she have guessed....
These people didn't just need Rodney...they loved him.
"He's over here." Sheppard took her arm, guiding her around the console, and she saw the stasis chamber for the first time.
"Oh my God," she whispered, nearly choking on her own breath at the sight of seeing him for the first time, her hand covering her mouth, "Rodney."
CHAPTER SEVEN: BREAKING THE TENSION
Sheppard watched as Colonel Carter knelt before the stasis chamber, just as so many others had done, her eyes taking in the horrible sight. For a moment, he saw a myriad of emotions cross her face—worry, disgust, anger, fear—before she managed to quell them. Her jaw steeled and her shoulders straightened, and she stopped seeing the man in there. Instead, she only saw the machine.
Her eyes studied it, absorbed the reality of it, and then the eyes narrowed.
Standing, she looked over at the colonel, then past him to the table Zelenka and the others had set up in here. Besides his half-finished game of cards, it was covered in laptops, diagnostic equipment, and various piles of notes and disks.
She turned to face Caldwell and Elizabeth behind her. "My things were supposed to be taken to my quarters, but, if you don't mind, I think I would like to have them brought here."
"Here?" Elizabeth repeated, glancing at Sheppard before returning her gaze to the blonde scientist. "Are you sure?"
Carter nodded. "For now. I told General Landry that I needed to see that thing, and what it was doing to Rodney. I have—but I still don't feel like I have a full picture of it yet." She looked to Zelenka, "Will you allow me access to your files? And I will also need access to the Ancient Database."
"Of course," Zelenka nodded. "Whatever you need."
"Thank you," she said, before turning once more to look at the man inside the chamber. For a moment, her face softened a touch, then she looked to Sheppard. "And, with your permission, Colonel, I would like to have a cot set up in here. I don't plan to leave this room too often, and it will probably just be easier that way."
Sheppard didn't reply for a moment, not sure whether he liked the idea or not. But then again...this was Samantha Carter who was asking.
Taking in a deep breath, he gave a single nod.
She smiled gratefully, then looked to the others, looking specifically to McKay's teammates. Teyla and Ronon gave their nods as well.
"Thank you. Doctor Weir," Carter looked to the leader, "is that okay?"
"Of course," Elizabeth smiled. "Consider it done."
Carter nodded and then moved across to the table. She looked over at Zelenka and Beckett.
"Could you show me what's what?"
In seconds, both Carson and Radek were explaining the set up to a very attentive Carter, and Sheppard found himself slowly backing away.
In moments, he was near the door, standing with Teyla and Ronon. Elizabeth met his gaze, and gave an encouraging nod. Caldwell was looking at Rodney, his face twisted into an angry grimace.
"Well," Elizabeth said finally, speaking quietly to just those four people with her, "let's leave them to it, shall we?"
Carter slumped forward on the table, shoving the half-eaten breakfast out of her way, wrinkling her nose at the now ice-cold scrambled eggs and hash-browns. She pressed her head against her hands for a moment, then let it go, slumping the rest of the way forward and letting her hot forehead rest against the cool table. After a moment, she tilted it sideways to rest it more comfortably, using her arms as a pillow.
For almost thirty hours now, broken up only by a couple of short naps and bathroom breaks, she had been reading and rereading the data, cross-referencing everything she could think of against both the Database and what McKay had hastily typed before being forced away from his laptop.
She couldn't see it. Zelenka and his team were right—there was no way to shut that thing down, not while it was attached to McKay.
Why, then, was Colonel Sheppard so certain that, not only did Rodney have an idea to save himself...but that Rodney thought she would know what it was?
She let out a huge sigh and pushed up off the table again, lifting her arms high up over her head to stretch her back.
Around her, the monitors and machines kept up a steady beep and flash, the sounds a subtle counterpoint to her own motions.
Rolling her shoulders, she looked at the clock on the monitor, narrowing her eyes as she took in the time.
It was about 11:50 a.m. Atlantian time—she only had a little over a day and a half left before Landry wanted her back.
There was a terrible irony to it. McKay's snide little voice echoed in her head from five years ago: "That's why they call it a deadline." She wanted to pummel him that day, squish his smug face into the lemon chicken and watch him squirm. And now she was killing herself trying to save him.
Standing, she did some stretches then walked over to the doorway. She was still pulling on one arm as she got there to work out a kink when Colonel Sheppard walked in. Her eyebrows lifted and she backed away, letting him enter.
"Taking a break?" he asked softly, moving past her to check on McKay.
She followed him with her eyes, wondering why that simple question had made her feel guilty even knowing he didn’t mean it to. She shook her head when he turned to look at her again over his shoulder.
"Just stretching," she said.
He nodded and turned his back to her to look once more at McKay. "No progress I take it?"
She lowered her eyes. "No," she sighed softly, "not yet." She shrugged, watching his back as his shoulders tensed slightly. "I thought...that seeing it might help me make sense of it. See what it was McKay wanted me to see, but all I see is what it's doing to him. I don't know how to stop it."
Sheppard didn't reply. Finally, he turned around fully.
"Look, you need a break. How about a walk? Or, we can head to the gym. Teyla's probably working with some of her people there. She's something to watch."
Carter gave a small smile, glanced at McKay, then nodded. "Actually, maybe getting out of here would help me clear my mind."
Sheppard smiled back, "Then come on." He glanced at the table, and then moved over to scoop up her cold food. "We can also get you some lunch."
They walked down the halls together, neither saying much. Carter tried to do what she said she needed to do—clear her head—but it kept wandering back to the man inside the stasis chamber. She thought about the two times she had worked with him most closely—wondering how he could have changed so much for these people to care about him like this. He had seemed so callous when she first met him—callous and unfeeling and arrogant beyond belief. The second time they had met, he had redeemed himself in her eyes, somewhat. He had made her laugh, despite how much she had wanted to hate him, and showed himself again to be stunningly brilliant (not as smart as her of course...oh, Sam, knock it off! she chastised herself), and deep down...showed himself to be very human.
An artist, he had called her. And he had admitted to being jealous of her...her ability to come up with crazy ideas....
She snorted a laugh, and Sheppard glanced at her. She blushed slightly, shaking her head.
"Nothing," she said.
He just grunted, turning a corner. It looked as if they were walking towards a wall, but, as they reached it, the whole thing opened up, revealing a massive balcony.
"Oh," she breathed out, walking out onto the balcony with the colonel. Stepping forward, she reached the handrail and gripped it, leaning over the lip to stare down at the City splayed out below. She could see the Daedalus from here, sitting on the pier off to her left, looking oddly small. Hints of movement around it were visible—it was being prepared for the return trip. Off along other piers, she caught sight of other movement. Before her, the Central Tower gleamed in the bright sunlight, its balconies and windows glittering. She frowned momentarily, looking up at it.
"Hunh," she said.
"I thought...strangely, I thought we were still in the Central Tower."
Sheppard gave a small laugh, "I know, disconcerting, isn't it? The transporters are good at throwing you off that way. No, we're on the southwest pier."
He tilted his head at her, "You really haven't been out of that room, have you?"
She gave another laugh, "No. No, I haven't."
His eyebrows lifted, and he leaned forward on the balcony rail next to her. "It's funny," he said, "I wasn't actually expecting..." He looked at her, "I didn't think you actually cared about him that much."
She shrugged, "There was a time I would have agreed with you."
"Carson said you hated him once."
She nodded, "I did. His arrogance nearly lost me a friend of mine." She looked over towards a different pier, "But...then he turned out not to be as...horrible as I thought. I didn't want to forgive him, but...bastard managed to make me laugh."
Sheppard smirked, "Yeah. That arrogance of his...can't tell you how many problems it's caused. Some funny, some..." his eyes narrowed slightly, "not so funny." He took in a quick breath, then smiled again, "You know, Teyla spends half of our meetings off world trying to smooth feathers he's ruffled." He laughed suddenly, "On the last mission we went on, he called the head scientist, and I’m quoting here, 'a mountainous pile of moronic jelly, just jiggling with pointlessness.' Then went on to ask the man if he was always that stupid, or just making a special effort that day." He raised his eyebrows at her, then burst out laughing. "And that was one of his milder insults!"
Carter smiled as well, looking out at the water in the distance. "Probably not the best way to make friends."
"No, no," Sheppard agreed, still chuckling, "but, well, the guy was an idiot. They thought an Ancient generator was an oven. Seriously, they were roasting a pig over it." He laughed again.
"In other words," she tilted her head, "his tongue is as acerbic as ever?"
"Oh, hell yes."
"Hmm," she looked out again at the city, "Then, seriously, why do you take him into the field? I mean," her eyebrows lifted, "Funny as he is, sounds like he's a liability."
Sheppard's smile faded, and he shook his head. "No...he's not. Not up here," and he tapped his head. "Can't tell you how many insane ideas he's had to save our lives, most often coming up with them at the last second. It's amazing really."
Carter's brows lifted, "Oh?"
"Well, you know what I'm talking about...." Sheppard glanced at her, "You've read the reports, right?"
Her lips twisted a little, "Yes...that is...I've read McKay's reports. And the other scientist's. I don't have time to read the military or executive reports."
"You mean, mine, Caldwell's and Weir's."
"Yes. We have a lot of our own issues to deal with, Colonel—I just don't have the time, and it's not really my job. I read McKay's reports for the science...and they're usually pretty formal. He's all about the technology and the science and the discovery and not much else. I mean, the things you've found here are incredible, and," she gave a knowing smirk, "he certainly takes the credit for a lot of them, but..."
She trailed off, and she leaned forward again on the rail. "To be honest, I would really like to know why you put him on your flagship team. You must have made that decision pretty quickly. Why did you do it? How did you know he'd be the right choice?"
Sheppard was watching her, his eyes curious. "You don't know?"
"I put him on the team because, besides obviously being ridiculously smart, we hadn't even been here two days before McKay risked his life to save us." His brow furrowed, "Did you read the report on the energy creature?"
"Sure—McKay wrote that you managed to lure it out of the city by sacrificing a naquedah generator. You sent it through a wormhole and the creature followed."
The hazel eyes narrowed slightly, "What about what he did?"
"What he did?"
"To make it go through."
She just shook his head. Sheppard's eyebrows lifted, clearly surprised. For a moment he just stood there, then he reached up and tapped his radio. "Teyla, Ronon, you two planning on having lunch soon?"
He waited a moment, then nodded. "Great. I'm bringing Colonel Carter. Do me a favor and see if Carson, Elizabeth and Radek are around too, will you? And Cadman. And Biro. Oh, and Johnson. And Caldwell if he's still in the City. Hell...bring everyone you know who..." He smiled, obviously cut off by something said to him by whoever was responding on the radio. Then he nodded, "Exactly. Yeah. Fifteen minutes, then....what?"
Sam leaned against the railing, her arms crossed now as she listened to his one-sided conversation.
"Perfect. Great. Thanks Teyla." Sheppard tapped the radio off, and smiled at Carter. "Come on," he said, turning to walk off the balcony, "Time to see the other side of McKay, Colonel."
The group at lunch was loud and uproarious, bursting into laughter almost constantly. Carson had tears in his eyes he was laughing so hard, and Ronon was grinning like a fool next to him. Teyla was coughing, holding her stomach, half choking on something she had eaten because she'd been laughing too hard, while a grinning Elizabeth unhelpfully whacked her back. Next to them, undaunted, Zelenka was describing some event in the lab with McKay, his eyes bright and vivid, doing what was, unquestionably, a great impression of the imperious dictator that was Rodney in the labs, hands flying everywhere. Corporal Johnson nearly spewed soda over the table at one point, covering his mouth hastily, while Major Lorne rapped him on the head for being a dork. When Zelenka finished, Caldwell jumped in, quickly describing a sparring match he'd overheard between Hermiod and McKay not long ago, describing the two of them as two mountain elks ramming their heads together (complete with hand motions). Sheppard nearly fell off his chair at that, tilting it back too far, it was only Carter's quick grabbing of his arm and pulling him back down that got him into place again. Cadman then brought up McKay's sending Zelenka to the "kiddie planet" which got them all laughing again—except Zelenka of course.
And in and out of this core group, other people—scientists and soldiers both—came by to add their own stories, keeping the joy level so high, it was amazing it wasn't chemically induced.
Carter absorbed it all, torn between disbelief and total amazement. McKay had left a lot out of his reports.
A couple of hours later, freshly showered, and feeling ten times better, Sam followed Sheppard back to the room McKay was in.
As they got closer, the lightness began to fade from the air, and soon Carter was dreading facing looking at that same data again.
As they walked into the softly lit room, the machines beeping away, Carter sighed and found herself moving directly up to the front of the chamber, to see him again.
He was exactly the same. Horribly exactly the same.
Her heart felt like lead in her chest. What the hell had she been doing, leaving him for this long? When he was like this....?
She closed her eyes, but it didn't help. He was still there—fingers still gripping ineffectually at the spider's legs, face still contorted in pain, the hint of blood trickling down from where the metal had embedded. Eyes screwed tightly shut—would they ever open again?
Had she just attended his wake this afternoon? Oh God...she felt sick...
When she opened her eyes again, a tear ran down one cheek. Hastily, she wiped it away.
Too much emotion in too short a period of time.
Sheppard had walked over to the table, and was sitting down in front of McKay's laptop. His hands didn't touch it, he just looked over the screen, stone-faced, hazel eyes lit by the monitor light. He looked strangely distant.
Carter turned around and walked over to sit next to him.
"You have to help him," Sheppard said quietly, not taking his eyes from the screen. Carter looked at him, then lowered her eyes.
CHAPTER EIGHT: ONE TRACK MIND
"God DAMN it!" Carter screamed, throwing a pen across the room. "What the HELL, McKay! Why did you put this on me!"
She only had twenty hours left now. Twenty hours to figure this thing out. But she was nearly convinced that there was nothing to figure out. She was exhausted, hungry, furious at Landry for imposing this deadline, and just frustrated beyond belief.
She raged up out of the chair, sending it to the floor, and stalked over to the front of the chamber, glaring at the man inside. "You are complete pain in the ass, you know that? What the hell did it mean, Carter will know? What am I, a god damned McKay mind-reader now?" She turned around, walking in a tight circle, then faced him again. "How is it possible that you can drive me crazy, and you're not even here to fight with me?! Huh? You come out of this, McKay, and I'm going to wring that scrawny neck of yours! You hear me?"
"I brought you some food," a faint, nervous voice interrupted from behind her.
Carter spun around, to find a young female scientist looking at her with worried eyes, a tray of food in her arms. Carter blushed mightily, and attempted a smile. The woman didn't buy it, just watched her with narrowed eyes, as if expecting her to go off again.
"They said you missed dinner," she told Sam, her voice tentative. "Colonel Sheppard suggested I bring this down. I think he's thinking of coming down himself soon, but was stopped by Doctor Weir, so he asked me to do it." She held the tray up a little, but the wariness in her eyes remained.
Carter forced herself to retain the smile. "Yes, sure...thank you." She indicated the table, "You can put it over there."
The woman nodded, and went to put it down.
"And I'm sorry for yelling," Carter said quickly. "I don't...I rarely yell. Or get angry, really. In fact, the only person who can ever seem to do that to me regularly is..." she trailed off, glancing again at McKay behind her.
"That's okay," the woman said. "He does that to everyone."
Carter smiled again, and walked over to the table, looking down at the light dinner they had prepared for her. She was grateful it wasn't heavier. She glanced at the woman.
"What's your name?"
"Doctor Torrens. I'm a chemical engineer." She stepped back from the table.
"Torrens?" Carter frowned slightly, "Wait....You're one of the two scientists who was with McKay and Sheppard in the auxiliary power room, right?"
"Yes. Doctor Atchison and I. We made sure the metal spider wasn't attacking the City while Doctor McKay studied the spider itself."
Carter nodded, "I don't suppose Doctor McKay said anything to you or Atchison—"
"No, Colonel. We weren't doing anything like that. I'm sorry. I assume you've seen Doctor Zelenka's notes? He questioned us for a while."
Carter gave a disappointed nod, "Yes. I did."
Torrens gave a weak smile. "Well, if, uh, if you need anything else...."
"No," Carter returned the smile and sat down in front of the food Torrens had brought her. "But thank you."
The scientist smiled more fully and turned to leave, then stopped. She was looking at McKay's laptop. For a moment, she didn't move, just looked at the information on it. Carter watched her for a little while, then frowned again when Torrens seemed confused.
"Just," Torrens frowned and turned to face the monitor, "this isn't what Doctor McKay had up on the laptop when he left it."
Carter glanced at it, then shook her head. "No, that's true. The information he had on there about the metal spider was scrambled. Doctor Zelenka and his team have spent a great deal of time trying to decipher it."
"No, that's not what I meant," Torrens sat down in front of the laptop, and hesitantly touched a couple of keys. "This information is about the spider's hard drive and technology, not...." She trailed off, typing some more, searching around the different drives on the laptop.
"What are you doing?" Carter asked, forgetting the food to stand up and lean over the other woman.
"While we waited for Doctor Zelenka and the others to arrive, I read a little of what McKay had in his main window. It wasn't the data from the metal spider, it was data the spider was receiving...." She typed some more, and frowned when she obviously had trouble finding what she was looking for.
"What do you mean?" Carter asked, feeling a touch of hope for the first time.
"I'm not sure. It was definitely something connected to the spider, outside of its main hard drive. But it was separate. I remember thinking it was spooling data impossibly quickly down the screen across the link McKay had made. Almost like...directions." She typed in some different commands, then growled in frustration. "I can't find it now," she said, grimacing.
"Hey," Sheppard called, walking into the room. He was carrying another tray of food, obviously for himself. "What's going on?"
Carter couldn't hide the hope in her eyes as she looked up, and Sheppard quickly put his food down, coming around the table to see what Torrens was doing.
"You found something?" he asked, his voice shaking slightly.
"Not yet," Carter said, watching as Torrens continued to search for whatever it had been she had seen. She looked at Sheppard again. "Colonel, I know you've been asked this a hundred times, but can you remember anything else that McKay might have said when he was working on the laptop? Anything at all?"
Sheppard glanced at her, and shook his head. "No. He was complaining, mostly."
"About not having enough time," Sheppard said, grimacing.
"He also told Torrens and Atchison not to touch the laptop."
Carter frowned, looking down at the woman with them, then back to Sheppard. "You're absolutely certain. All he said was that he didn't have time?"
Sheppard nodded, "Actually, he was telling me to stop asking stupid questions," he gave a rueful smile. "He didn't have the time to answer, and...and since the spider had a one track mind, he—"
"Wait, wait, wait," Carter's eyes lit up, and Sheppard found himself surprised how familiar that gaze was. "One track mind?" she repeated, "Is that what he said? One track mind?"
"Yeah," Sheppard nodded, "I think so."
"Oh my God," Carter said, "Oh my GOD!" She turned around, and grabbed the laptop away from Torrens.
"Hey!" the woman said, "I was—"
"I know what his idea was!" Carter said, grinning now as she started typing furiously. "How could I not see it before? We've been looking at this all wrong! Of course! It's not about shutting the spider down, it's about sending it somewhere else! Just like we did before."
"You've seen one of these spiders before?" Sheppard asked, not hiding his confusion.
"No, no, it was the gate we had to send away, but...no matter, no matter...." She typed some more, then grinned as something appeared on the screen.
"That's it!" Torrens cried gleefully. "That's what he was looking at!"
Carter's eyes read quickly down the screen, then nodded. "Okay, I gotcha, McKay. I gotcha. We’re going to get you out of this." She reached forward, grabbing the radio on the desk that she had been issued. "Doctor Beckett, Doctor Zelenka, Doctor Weir, this is Colonel Carter. I think I've got it, but I need your help."
CHAPTER NINE: WHAT CARTER KNOWS
"Four years ago," Carter said, pacing before the table in the stasis chamber with Zelenka, Beckett, Weir, and Sheppard all watching her, "Doctor McKay and I worked together when Anubis attacked our Stargate with a weapon designed to cause our Gate to explode while at full power...."
"Effectively destroying Earth," Zelenka said. Beckett paled next to him, but didn't interrupt.
"Yes. After spending many, many hours trying to find a way to shut the Gate down, or shut down the device on the other side," Carter glanced towards the chamber, then back again, "we realized that we couldn't...and also that we didn't have to. We couldn't save the Stargate, but we could save Earth if we propelled the Gate into outer space."
"Right," Sheppard nodded, "I read about that. You put it on the back of the prototype F-302..."
"The X-302, yes," Carter nodded. "We mounted it, and, with Doctor McKay's help, used the X-302's hyperdrive to send it deep into space, where the Gate exploded."
Zelenka nodded. "Yes, yes, McKay speaks of this often—one of his favorite stories, actually. How is this relevant?"
Carter lifted her eyebrows as she looked at him, "Because that's what McKay meant by I'd know what to do—because his solution is based on the same concept as what we did then. See, we've all been focusing on how to shut the metal spider down, to destroy it before it can destroy him. But we don't have to shut it down to get it to leave McKay alone."
"What?" Beckett frowned. "Lass, I don't know if you've noticed, but that thing's half embedded into his skull and spine. It's not just gonna let go because we ask it to."
"It will," Carter said, eyeing him with excitement, "if it thinks it's got the wrong man."
"Wrong man?" Beckett frowned, "How? It's got his DNA."
"It had his DNA," Carter said. "Once it got it, it stopped looking for it, and started looking for something else."
"Okay, I'm clearly not following," Beckett said, his face pinching. "Seriously, do you and McKay practice this sort of thing?"
"Look," Carter said, raising a hand to him and smiling more, "When the spider first entered this City, it was seeking based on sound, correct? Complex noise. That's why it went to the Control Room first, then, when system control was transferred to the auxiliary power room, it went there, correct?"
"Correct," Zelenka said, still frowning.
"But once it found McKay, it was no longer seeking based on sound, was it? It changed tactics."
"Again, correct, it was following him directly..." Zelenka's brow was lightening. He was catching up. "You mean the tracking device?"
"Yes," Carter grinned, pointing at him, "Exactly."
"Oh, wow," Sheppard said, glancing at Elizabeth, "that was eerily similar, wasn't it?" Elizabeth just nodded.
"What does 'exactly' mean?" Beckett asked.
"When the device found McKay," Zelenka answered, turning to the physician, "it injected a tracking device into him. That's how it was able to chase him after he and Sheppard started running."
"The blue light," Sheppard remembered, looking at Zelenka. "That's what that blue light did?"
"Yes—that was the spider injecting the tracker." The Czech scientist walked around the table to one of the laptops, and started typing, "I think we located it at one point, while studying the device...."
"It hit him in the right shoulder," Sheppard said helpfully.
"Right, right," Zelenka typed some more, then nodded. "And it's still there."
Beckett moved around, squinting down at the screen. He nodded after a moment at whatever the Czech had called up, and Zelenka glanced at him.
"Can you pinpoint it better?" Zelenka asked the physician. "Get it's exact measurements?"
"Aye," Beckett nodded, then looked up at Carter, "But I still don't understand why."
"Because," Carter was almost grinning now, "although Hermiod may not be able to beam out the spider, because of its location and the complexity of the device, he can probably beam out the tracking device."
"So...the metal spider is really a very simple device. Once the tracking device was embedded in the target, it lost all interest in DNA and sound and everything else that had driven it before. It was only interested in destroying the person with the tracking device in it."
"A one track mind," Sheppard said, smiling now.
Carter smiled back, "Right." She pointed to McKay, "We beam out the tracking device, send it somewhere else—maybe embed it in some substance similar to skin—and the device will think it's got the wrong person. It should let go of McKay and go after whatever the tracker has been put in. The moment is shows up there...we destroy it."
"How?" Beckett asked.
"Oh," Sheppard said, eyes narrowing, "I think Ronon, Teyla and I might have the answer to that one."
"The only questions being..." and here Carter looked at Carson, "can Hermiod beam out the tracking device without hurting McKay, and," she frowned slightly, "whether the spider will actually take the bait before it finishes killing McKay."
Beckett met her gaze darkly, her jaw tensing and releasing. Finally, he looked down at the laptop again, and the information Zelenka had called up, his eyes scanning the data.
"Let me study on it a bit," he said slowly.
"Of course," Carter said, and she backed away a little from the table.
Sheppard walked around to Carter's side of the table, standing shoulder to shoulder with the scientist. He smiled at her, then looked at the others. Elizabeth still looked concerned, meeting his gaze with her usual level of restrained worry, while Zelenka was once more wringing his hands, hovering over Beckett's shoulder. The only one completely calm now was Beckett, the physician now back in his element.
Frankly, that was all Sheppard really needed to see. Beckett calm. The physician was probably already sewing up the wound in his head.
With that thought, Sheppard turned and left the room, intending to find Teyla and Ronon.
That thing was going down.
"It's not going to be pretty," Beckett said, working with his team to set up the medical equipment in the room. The table had been removed, replaced by a gurney and a whole myriad of machines from the infirmary. "The tracking device is impossibly small. Hermiod can not beam out something that small, so..." he blew the air out of his cheeks, "unfortunately, he's going to take some of McKay's skin, blood and muscle with it."
Elizabeth grimaced as she followed his movements with her eyes, "How much?"
"Not a lot," Beckett replied. "About the same damage as, say, a bullet wound in the shoulder. Hermiod and I have fine tuned it enough to ensure the risk to him will be small. At worst, he'll have a nice scar to show off." Nurses and other doctors darted about, and Beckett directed them as he spoke. "Yes, over there," he told someone. He looked again at Elizabeth and, to her right, Sheppard and Carter.
"I'm more worried about the damage the metal spider has done. Depending on how fast Hermiod can work the extraction of the tracking device, and how quickly the spider will react to its disappearance...."
"I know," Carter said, her eyes narrowed slightly, "it'll be close."
"Very," Carson agreed. He looked to McKay, "the moment he's free of stasis, I'll give him something for the pain, but I can't slow the device down." He grimaced, then turned to them again. "You may not want to be here when it happens."
"We're going to be here," Sheppard said, his voice brooking no argument.
Carson gave him a wry look, "Aye. I figured as much. In fact, Colonel, I've sort of assigned you to support...."
The colonel didn't need to be asked, moving to where Carson told him. Carter and Elizabeth were asked to stay against the wall next to the door—out of the way. Carter pulled her 9MM, holding it firmly in her hands, safety off—just in case—and met the eyes of the two marines in the room with them against the other wall. They nodded back. Just in case. Beckett then made sure everything and everyone else was ready in the room, radioed both Hermiod and Ronon to see if they were ready where they were, then checked in with Zelenka up in the control room. When he got their affirmatives, he nodded and dropped his hand, leaving the comm. open.
"Okay," he said, moving over to the console. "Here we go." He took in a deep breath, then exhaled. "On my count," he said calmly, his hand hovering over the control to release the stasis, "Three...two...one...now!"
The hand came down.
And McKay's screaming pierced the room.
CHAPTER TEN: THE DEATH OF THE SPIDER
Sheppard and another doctor reached in, holding the screaming man in place as a bright white light flashed on McKay's shoulder, removing the tracking device. As soon as it faded, they allowed McKay to collapse forward towards the ground, and Sheppard took over completely, arms wrapped tightly around his best friend as Rodney fought blindly against the hold and just screamed and screamed. The scientist's shaking hands dug at his own skin and hair, trying to get to the metal spider on his head, his legs writhing against the cool, marble floor. Beckett leapt to their side, not the least bit daunted by the constant pain-filled screaming, moving with the fluid efficiency of someone expertly doing his job. Twisting around, the doctor grabbed the morphine shot from a nearby nurse's hand and turned to inject it.
And then it happened.
The metal spikes all swiftly retracted, and the spider lifted off McKay's head in an eye-blink, rising to about Carson's eye level and hovering before the startled physician. Blood dripped from the wires sticking out of it and from the central ball itself, its metallic surface modulating with multiple colors of red and black and blue. Beckett's eyes were wide, his body frozen as it seemed to look straight at him.
And then it took off.
Everyone ducked as it sped out of the room, skidding out of sight in less time it took a person to flip a switch. Elizabeth shouted into her radio to Zelenka and the others that the spider was on the move while Carter and the marines ran after it, just managing to catch sight of the tiny object as it disappeared around the end of the long corridor. Carter swore softly, lowering the 9MM gripped in her hands, disappointed to not even be able to get a shot off. Behind her, she heard similar grunts of frustration from the two marines that had followed her.
Inside, McKay had finally stopped screaming, changing instead to a harsh sobbing.
"Shh, shh," Sheppard still held on, pulling a crying McKay up off the floor and letting other hands take him away. "It's okay; it's okay." Carson had Rodney on the gurney in seconds, injecting the sedative into him, while his people hooked the scientist up to a number of different portable devices designed to keep his vitals in check. Others held cloths to Rodney's head and neck—McKay was bleeding...a lot. Soon, they were bustling the still softly crying man out of the room and taking him to the infirmary, Sheppard running along next to the gurney as it left.
The whole affair had probably only taken minutes, and, when they were gone, leaving just Carter and Elizabeth behind staring at the mess in the room, it felt like the aftermath of a small war.
Weir shut her eyes, then opened them again, looking to the colonel. Carter was staring down at a blood stained cloth on the floor as she holstered her gun.
There had been a lot of blood. She hadn't expected that much blood.
"You okay?" Elizabeth asked.
Carter nodded, then sighed and shook her head. She glanced across at the expedition leader. "Are you?"
Weir sighed, then shook her head as well. "Come on," she said, turning to leave and head to the infirmary. As she did so, she reached up to tap her radio. "Teyla? Ronon? What's happening?"
The Asgard beam had deposited the tracking device into a small, spongy mass the kitchens called "salmon mousse." (Although the fact that there wasn't any salmon anywhere on this planet suggested it might...possibly...be a misnomer). It sat in a small container atop a thigh high pedestal in one of the side rooms along the deserted southeast pier, a half dozen very bright lights shining down on it.
Teyla, Ronon, Major Lorne and a couple of other marines waited in a sort of semi circle around the pedestal, armed with stunners, P90s and 9MMs. They wore safety goggles, goggles and helmets, as if armed for a riot. Silently, they all watched the door, weapons raised.
"It's coming down the corridor," Doctor Zelenka informed them coolly over the radio. "Should be there...right about now."
As if on cue, the metal spider burst through the open doorway and aimed straight for the pedestal.
And was hit by three sets of Wraith stunners and Ronon's weapon set on stun.
It shuddered, paused and spun in place for a second.
Ronon flipped the switch and shot an angry red pulse at the now "confused" metal spider.
The blast sent it backwards a couple of feet, but it managed to stay aloft, swaying now as it spun.
"Tough little bastard," Lorne noted coldly. Four stun weapons could kill a man twice over if shot at the same time. This thing was barely bobbling.
Ronon shot it again, and this time about a third of it blew off in a mass of sparks and light. A high keening wail emitted from the now busted metal ball, and more of the "legs" emerged from the sides, waving like a dazed insect's antennae.
"Let me," Teyla said, walking forward, 9MM raised and held steady in both hands.
She started to fire, slowly, methodically, bullet after bullet after bullet. The metal spider flinched and keened as every shot hit its mark, leaving dents and, finally, holes.
At some point, it fell, hitting the ground with an ugly clang.
She kept firing, leaving smoking black holes in the now plain, dead surface, sparks and chunks of metal flying up in all directions.
Ronon came up next to her and pointed his gun at it. Teyla stopped firing, waiting for him.
The red pulse exploded what was left of the spider, bits of metal and goo spreading out across the metal floor. Something pale and soft looking wiggled in the still partially intact central core.
Teyla sneered...and crushed it under her heel, digging deep.
After a moment, she lifted her foot up again, and scraped it on a clean part of the floor.
The metal spider was nothing but bits of scrap and slime now, like an exploded child's wind-up toy.
Ronon shot it one more time.
Teyla looked at him, her eyebrow arched at the unneeded action. He just shrugged, smiling wolfishly.
"I feel better now," he told her.
She matched the dark smile, looked down, and shot one last quarter sized piece into smithereens.
"Me too," she said, nodding back at him.
Behind them, Lorne tapped his radio, glancing vaguely up in the direction of the Central Tower. "It's done. The spider is dead." He snorted, glancing at Teyla and Ronon, "Actually, the better word might be obliterated."
Carter and Elizabeth reached the infirmary in time to see Sheppard being shoved back out into the "waiting room" by a strong, determined nurse. Beckett's voice echoed from the other room, calling for a series of scans that, undoubtedly, were supposed to check McKay's brain and spine for damage. The nurse retreated back through the door and it shut, cutting them off.
Sheppard's hands gripped into fists, and he sighed heavily. Turning, he saw them looking at him. He nodded, then spun around and stomped over to a chair, sitting down heavily into it.
The same nurse appeared a moment later with a towel, walking over and holding it out to the colonel.
Sheppard stared at it a moment in confusion, then apparently noticed for the first time that his hands were covered in blood. Looking down, he swallowed harshly at the sight of his shirt and arms covered in even more blood, and hastily took the towel, wiping his hands and face and shirt as best he could.
Walking over to his side, she sat down on the chair next to his.
Weir moved to stand in front of them, but she didn't sit. She just stood and waited, arms clasped tightly across her chest, fingers digging into the skin of her bare arms.
A few moments later, Teyla and Ronon joined them.
"How is he?" Ronon asked, moving to stand on the far side from Weir. Teyla ended up in the middle, and grimaced down at all the blood on Sheppard's clothes.
"We don't know yet," Carter replied.
"There was a lot of blood," Weir said, sounding a little numb. Her eyes were fixed on the closed doorway separating them from the rest of the infirmary.
"We can see that," Teyla noted. She looked at Sheppard with worried eyes, "Too much?"
He just shrugged.
"The spider's dead, right?" Sheppard asked then.
"Very," Ronon grunted, turning and walking to a different part of the room to start pacing.
"I crushed it," Teyla said.
Sheppard gave her an appreciative nod. "Good."
Zelenka arrived next, still talking to Caldwell up in the Control Room over his radio. They all heard Caldwell's request for news as soon as Zelenka had it, and Radek's answer in agreement. The Czech nodded to them and moved to sit next to Carter.
And, as a group, they settled in to wait.
CHAPTER ELEVEN: JUBILATION
A few hours later a very tired Doctor Beckett walked out of the main part of the infirmary and headed over to the chair on the other side of Sheppard from Carter.
They watched him come, no one saying a word.
Beckett leaned back, resting his head on the back of the chair, and closed his eyes, sighing heavily.
Elizabeth moved to sit on the other side of him, and, gently, pressed a hand on his arm.
Beckett's eyes opened again and he tipped his head forward, and looked each of them in the eye.
And then he smiled.
Sheppard laughed, and soon they all were, the sound a little hysterical in its joy.
Carter checked her watch—less than six hours left.
She was walking quickly in the direction of the main conference room off the Control Room, Teyla by her side. The Athosian had been showing her some fighting techniques this morning, and they were pleased to learn they were pretty evenly matched. Teyla had kicked her ass with her fighting stick technique, but Carter had managed to bring her down in straight hand to hand. Sheppard had wandered in at one point, obviously looking for entertainment, and had clapped when they were done. He had then made some strange comment about feeling like he had just been watching Hector and Ajax fighting each other for the future of Troy.
"Hector and Ajax?" Teyla had asked, rubbing a towel across the back of her neck. "These were warriors of your people?"
"Two of the greatest, yes," Sheppard had nodded. "They faced each other thousands of years ago, but their story is still told."
Teyla's eyebrows lifted, impressed, while Carter just smiled softly where she was putting her things away. "So who won?" Teyla had asked then.
"Neither," Sheppard had replied, a knowing smile on his face. "They were too evenly matched. Heroes can't defeat heroes."
Teyla had smiled brightly at that, and nodded to Carter, who matched the smile with one of her own.
Now, freshly showered and full of breakfast, they were being summoned to a final briefing on the "metal spider incident." It was 0800 hours Atlantian time, and Carter's time here was quickly running out.
Walking into the room, the two woman nodded at the already gathered group and slipped into a couple of the vacant chairs.
"You look well rested," Elizabeth said, smiling at Carter. The colonel returned the smile easily.
"Well, between a good night's sleep and one hell of a workout this morning," she said, "I have to say, I'm feeling pretty damn good." She turned her head to Carson, "How's Rodney?"
"Still sleeping," Beckett said, nodding at her, sounding unworried. "Probably will for awhile yet." Turning to Elizabeth, he added, "He's healing well, though. Whatever worries I had about possible hemorrhaging or other damage has been pretty much wiped away. The Ancient diagnostic equipment has shown he is doing remarkably well, considering the trauma that thing caused. Within a week, I reckon he'll be back to his usual charming self."
"You mean, bitching and moaning," Sheppard said.
Carson nodded, grinning, "Yup, pretty much."
"And won't we just be so pleased," Elizabeth replied.
"Speak for yourself," Sheppard said, lifting his arms up in a stretch and putting them behind his head. "I was actually beginning to enjoy the quiet."
"Oh, please," Elizabeth mocked. "Like you haven't been sleeping in the infirmary these last eight hours."
"I was tired," Sheppard shrugged noncommittally, lowering his hands again, "and Beckett offered, since he had a spare bed..." Weir's knowing smile had him rolling his eyes. "Yeah, yeah, fine, you got me." He looked up, "It's not like I was the only one." And he glanced at Teyla and Ronon, who gave crooked smiles in return.
"Anyway," Elizabeth said, her tone changing, "we had a few more issues to consider before we can file this one away. First," she looked over at Sheppard, "if this happens again, will be ready?"
"Absolutely," Sheppard said. "We know how to stop it now. There will be stunners in all the major control centers, which we now know are, combined, effective in slowing it down long enough for it to be destroyed by our more conventional weapons. Plus, now we know the trick with the tracking device thingy."
"I've also made sure that long range sensors will pick up any more similar objects," Zelenka added. "We won't be caught unawares again."
"Speaking of catching us unawares," Elizabeth said, leaning forward on the desk, "any theories on how it knew to come to this planet at all? I mean, I can't imagine that the Wraith just sent something that small out into the galaxy blindly...."
"We've managed to unscramble the rest of the data Rodney downloaded onto his desktop," Zelenka nodded, "and the hive ship that sent it...was our hive ship. They released it right before the ship was destroyed. It took the spider this long to get from there to here." He shrugged, "It was sort of...a curse from the grave, so to speak."
The expressions on the other's faces were grim, and Elizabeth shifted in her chair, shaking her head.
"And, could you tell if there were any more such curses...so to speak...coming our way?"
Zelenka grimaced, then shrugged. "No. I'm sorry. But...." he tilted his head from side to side for a moment before adding, "I would think this was it. If anything else was out there, I think it too would be here by now. Still, we are monitoring everything we can. Just in case."
Elizabeth nodded, "Just in case," she repeated. "Good." With a sigh, she leaned back and looked around the room, eyebrows raised. "Okay, that's everything I had. Any other questions?"
The room was a chorus of shaking heads and "no's" so Elizabeth nodded again.
"All right, then. You're dismissed."
The group stood, and Doctor Zelenka quickly approached Carter as she stood up, smiling up at her shyly as he leaned on his crutch. She frowned a little, watching him expectantly.
"I was wondering," Radek said, shrugging a little, "would you like a tour? Since, I think, you haven't really had one yet, yes?"
Carter grinned. "Actually, I'd love one. But that reminds me," her eyebrows lifted, "how did you break your leg?"
"Ankle, and..." Zelenka shrugged, "well, that's a whole different story...."
Five hours later, Carter was checking her watch again, grimacing to see just how little time she had left, and shifted again in the infirmary chair.
According to the deadline, she was supposed to be sent back through the wormhole in a little less than twenty minutes, and McKay had yet to awaken.
Beckett had actually said, quite definitely, that it was unlikely Rodney would awaken before she left, much less be coherent, and yet, here she was…
Doctor Zelenka had shown her around the City, the Czech far more animated than he had been when she first got here, gleefully letting her wander the stores of equipment and artifacts they had so far discovered. Before he was even halfway done, though, Colonel Sheppard arrived to take her for a ride in a puddle jumper around the planet, showing her more of the City, the Mainland and a little of the solar system they inhabited. She was barely down again when Doctor Weir found her to introduce her to some of the non-Athosians inhabiting Atlantis, as well as some of the diplomatic allies who were visiting. The groups were small, but Carter got the sense the numbers of their allies were growing.
It was important to have friends.
Now, with twenty...no...eighteen minutes left…she was sitting in the City’s infirmary, wasting away her last eighteen minutes in Atlantis in this chair on the off-chance that McKay might wake up.
The scientist was lying on the bed next to where she sat, resting on his side, his head and neck swathed in bandages. She knew he would recover (although, according to Carson, McKay’s haircut would be pretty damned amusing for a long time. She wondered if he’d like a baseball cap. Or maybe a hockey cap. Do they make hockey caps?)
Sighing, she looked at her watch again.
Oh for Christ’s sake, Sam, stop looking at your…
“Hello, Colonel…” Carson’s voice drifted over, the physician walking quietly across the room. “I didn’t realize you were still down here. I thought you’d be gone by now.”
Carter looked up at him, offering a smile. “Well, I still have a little time left.”
“And you’re spending it here?”
“I know.” He smile grew wry, as she glanced at McKay again before returning her gaze to the physician, “Odd, isn’t it.”
Beckett just smirked, then shook his head. “No, no…not really. For some odd reason, he seems to….” He looked over at McKay, then smiled. “There you are, lad! You awake?”
Excitement lit Carter and she turned to the bed to find a pair of very sleepy looking blue eyes watching her. McKay blinked slowly once, but the eyes were definitely focused on her.
“Hey, McKay,” she said, getting close and taking one of his cold hands gathered up near his chin, “God…it’s good to see you.”
The blue eyes just blinked again, their fixed gaze never leaving her face.
“Ask if he’s feeling all right, will you?” Beckett prompted.
“Well?” she asked McKay. “How are you feeling? Any pain?”
There was no response, just more staring.
Carter frowned, “Can you even hear me? McKay? Squeeze my hand if you can understand me at all.”
Still, nothing. The cold hand stayed unmoving. The only reaction came from his eyes, following her as she shifted slightly so that Beckett could lean in closer to take a look at him. The physician hummed a little, shining a light into his eyes, smiling a little as McKay’s nose wrinkled up a little in displeasure, then pulled back.
“He sees us,” he informed her, “but I’m not really sure he’s awake…exactly.”
Carter gave McKay a rueful look, “So, you think you’re just dreaming, eh?” Suddenly, she smiled wickedly...and leaned in to kiss him on the cheek. When she leaned back, there was a puzzled look on his face, and she grinned roguishly. “Only in your dreams, eh McKay?”
For a second, annoyance crossed his face at the tease, but it didn’t last long. The eyes were already blinking closed, though they gamely tried to stay open and focused on Carter. Finally, as if it had been a huge effort to keep them open at all, he sighed and shut them fully.
Carter tried not to appear too disappointed that she hadn’t been able to really talk to him, but clearly didn't succeed since Carson started to pat her shoulder affectionately.
“Not to worry, Colonel,” he said kindly, “I was surprised to even see him open his eyes, to be honest. Getting a response out of him this soon would have been remarkable.” He smiled, “But, I’m afraid even McKay’s got his limits.”
“I just…I would have liked…,” she looked down, and smiled again. “Doesn’t matter.” She stood up then, looking at the physician on her right. “But he’ll know I was here, right? Because you’ll tell him.”
“Aye, we’ll tell him. But I’m guessing he’ll know anyway.”
“Yeah, well…” she paused suddenly, her eyes widening as she felt the fingers twitch under her palm where she was still holding McKay’s hand. Looking down, she found he was looking up at her again.
Instantly, she was sitting again, leaning towards the bed. “McKay?”
His lips parted, as if he were trying to say something, but no sound came out. Leaning in, she put her ear closer to his lips.
"What?" she asked.
And suddenly leapt back, as if stung, nearly braining Carson who had leaned closer.
“What!?” Beckett asked, pulling down on his ruffled coat, “What did he say?”
“Nothing,” Carter spat, glaring fully at McKay, whose eyes were closed again, though now he was smiling softly. “Bastard kissed me!”
Beckett’s laughter could be heard all the way to the Control Room.
A couple of weeks later, McKay sat in his usual chair up in the Control Room…wearing a baseball cap to hide the few bandages he still wore (and the "unfortunate" haircut)…and waiting while the last of the reports they were sending to Earth compacted into the databurst. He was leaning back in the chair, staring vaguely towards where some enterprising systems folks were replacing the stained glass window at the top of the stairs. They’d borrowed an identical window from a different room about three floors down, putting a plain plate glass window in that one’s place until it could be properly replaced.
Next to him, Sheppard was humming something lightly…and a little off-key.
McKay frowned, then frowned even more deeply, turning to look at him.
“You're kidding. Simon & Garfunkel now?”
Sheppard grinned, and started singing softly.
“...I got up to wash my face, when I come back to bed, someone’s taken my place, Cecilia...you're breaking my heart, you're shaking my confidence lately…”
“Oh, very funny.” McKay sneered. “She was never in my bed, you moron.”
Sheppard just continued to grin, and returned to humming.
McKay rolled his eyes, “You could at least try to stay in key!”
“Oh, Cecilia...I’m down on my knees; I’m begging you please to come home…”
“Oh God," McKay pretended to cover his ears, "just stop it now.”
“We ready?” Elizabeth asked, walking across the balcony from her office. Sheppard immediately stopped singing, a big smile on his face. She gave him a puzzled look, then turned to McKay.
“Just about,” Rodney replied, clearing his throat and sitting up, eyes focusing on his laptop screen. “In fact…” The screen beeped. “Done.”
“Great,” she said, looking to the sergeant by the DHD, “Go ahead and dial Earth.”
Sheppard stood up as she spoke, moving to stand next to her. McKay stayed sitting, typing a few anticipatory commands on the laptop.
Below them, the wormhole established, and McKay glanced perfunctorily at the ZPM levels before turning around in his chair to look at the vid screen.
“This is Elizabeth Weir of the Atlantis Expedition,” Elizabeth called. “Anyone home?”
The static on the vid screen cleared up, to show General Landry, Colonel Carter, and several others in the Gate room on the far side.
“Hey Doctor Weir,” Landry greeted, smiling jovially. “How’s everything looking?”
“Much better, thank you,” Elizabeth replied. “Thanks in no small part to Colonel Carter. Hello, Sam.”
Sam smiled brightly and waved.
McKay glanced briefly at the vid screen at the blonde scientist, but mostly kept his eyes down.
“We’re sending our reports now,” Elizabeth said, nodding to Rodney, who hit enter a few times to send the databursts.
“Anything we need to talk about right now?” Landry asked.
“A few things,” Elizabeth admitted, nodding slightly. “I’ll let Colonel Sheppard fill you in on the military aspects first.”
Sheppard cleared his throat. "We have some further intel on the Wraith movement in this galaxy, sir..."
McKay began to drift a little as Sheppard spoke, only vaguely paying attention to the precise description, and to Landry's questions about the same, stuff that might not be in the reports. Without really thinking, his eyes lifted up and drifted to meet Carter’s, and saw she was trying subtly to get his attention. He frowned, and saw her put a radio earpiece over her ear, then type something into the laptop in front of her.
McKay’s laptop beeped a half-second later, and he turned to see she'd sent him an email. It contained an odd radio frequency—one rarely used. Still frowning, he took off his earpiece and adjusted it to the frequency she’d written before putting it back on and tapping it.
“Can you hear me?” Carter’s whispered voice asked. She was speaking softly enough not to be heard over Sheppard’s recitation, Elizabeth’s interjections and Landry’s questions.
McKay gave a tiny smile, looking up at the vid screen. “Yeah,” he whispered back.
“How are you feeling?” she asked quietly, and he could see her tapping her head. “You look a hell of a lot better than when I last saw you.”
“I’m fine,” he replied quickly, in the tone of someone who probably wasn’t but wasn’t going to say otherwise. He gave her a nod, “I…was sorry you had to leave before I woke up. I didn't get a chance to thank you.”
She gave a quick, bright smile, then shrugged. “Timing was never something we did well.”
“Radek said he gave you a tour.”
“He gave me a short tour, just a taste really,” she agreed. “But I want a full one from you, next time I come.”
His eyebrows lifted, “So you will come again?”
“Hell, yes. Your city is amazing, McKay.”
He grinned, he couldn’t help it. She’d just called it his city.
“I know,” he sat up straighter in his chair. “And we’re learning more everyday. There’s some things in the report this week I think you’re going to find really interesting.” He preened a little, “I have to say, I’m probably going to surpass you soon in knowledge of Ancient technology. The things we have found out here…”
“Surpass me? Oh, please,” Carter retorted, her eyes narrowing playfully as she whispered. “I don’t think so, McKay. Don’t forget your Ancient equipment is Lantean only. Between what we’re learning from Merlin’s workshop and the Ori, not to mention the Al-Terran works the Ancients left behind here—“
“Outdated,” McKay snorted. “Hundreds of thousands of years more advanced here, remember?”
“Merlin was only a thousand years ago, McKay,” Carter shot back. “Besides, I’m not sure you can really call yourself an expert on what you’re finding there anyway.”
“What?” McKay’s eyes widened. “Please, besides obviously being the smartest man here, I work with this stuff every day!”
“Yes, but,” Carter's eyes narrowed as she gave him a mocking smile, "with all due respect, McKay, you spend most of your time in the field."
Rodney was about to give a scathing reply when exactly what she had just said registered…and he realized it sounded very, very familiar. He paused, then, slowly, began to smile crookedly.
“You remember that, huh?” he asked sheepishly. “I was sort of hoping you might have forgotten I said that to you. I was something of an ass, then.”
“You’re an ass, now.”
“Yeah, but I was younger then,” he explained. “My assness was of a greater magnitude. After all, I had more hair.” And he gently touched the cap on his head. “I do miss that hair.”
“It was bushy,” Carter shrugged. “Looks better short.”
“Really?” McKay asked, eyebrows lifting, “You think so?”
“I like your hair, too,” he offered.
Carter snorted, “I know.”
“Well, Doctor McKay?” Elizabeth asked suddenly, loudly, staring down at him, "Anything else you want to add?" Her eyebrow was arched. “Other than comments about hairstyles, of course?”
McKay blinked rapidly, not hiding how startled he was, then glared at the highly amused grin Sheppard was throwing him. Glancing at the screen, he saw Landry was looking down at a blushing Carter, who was pretending to read something on her laptop with great seriousness.
“Um, oh…no, no…it’s all in the reports,” he stammered.
“Well, then,” Elizabeth said, “so, if the two of you have finished discussing your…”
“Very important scientific matters,” McKay stated firmly. He saw Carter roll her eyes a little on the other side of the screen, though she had a small smile on her face.
Elizabeth just looked at him, “fine…very important scientific matters, then I think we’ll sign off.” She looked back at the screen. “General, we'll see you again in a couple of weeks." She smiled warmly, "It was good to speak with you, as always.”
“Same here, Doctor,” Landry replied, and his eyes shifted to Sheppard. "Keep them safe, Colonel,” he said.
“Yes, sir,” Sheppard gave a quick salute.
“And, of course, Doctor McKay,” Landry finished, staring at the doctor. McKay stood up with only a slight wobble, and Landry gave him a light smile. “It's good to see you…still alive, doctor.”
McKay gave him a wry look, “Thanks, General.”
Landry grinned, then nodded to Harriman, who cut the connection.
“And stay that way,” Carter’s voice whispered in McKay’s ear just before the screen went dead.
McKay smiled. “You too, Sam," he whispered back to the cosmos.
"Jubilation!" Sheppard sang softly as he patted his friend's shoulder lightly on his way out.
Hi! Okay, I know I took a few liberties with canon here. I'm only guessing that our former Hive "allied" ship will be blown up in the premiere, and that the Wraith did not manage to broadcast Atlantis' location to the rest of their brethren. I don't know how at the moment, but that's what I'm hoping. Eeep! Also, on the check-ins with Earth, Derry's totally right. It's more likely that they just send information bursts, not have actual face to face meetings, but...well, I'd already written this and didn't want to change it. (sheepish look). Hope it didn't detract too much!
Now back to the novel (I'm beginning to hate Orkids! LOL!)