|Boys Will Be Boys
Author: kashkow PM
Just a little something in my "everyone's done one of those" universe. John runs afoul of yet another Ancient device, and Rodney finds it more trying than usual, even for a genius.Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Drama - John S. & Rodney M. - Words: 42,122 - Reviews: 17 - Favs: 25 - Published: 02-18-09 - Status: Complete - id: 4873126
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Boys Will Be Boys
Author's Note: Okay, this is the next in my "everybody's done one of those" stories. I figure that just because everyone's done it doesn't mean that everything has been done already, if you know what I mean. Hope this has some redeeming qualities. Please let me know what they might be. (Yes, that was a shameless plug.) By the way, the first part is for you Steph. Why do you torment me so? By the way, timeline, who needs a time line? The characters that I wanted are here, and even if they shouldn't be they are so nyah! With special thanks to my long suffering Beta, I promise I will spell Ronon's name correctly next time!
Dr Rodney McKay slumped back against the wall of the transporter and raised one shaking hand to wipe at the sweat that was on his face. The tremors were still shaking his body, but he gritted his teeth and fought off the lassitude that threatened to drive him down to the floor in a puddle. As he lowered his hand he glared at the cuff-like device that circled his wrist. He then transferred the glare to the three people who were up against the opposite wall. In fact they were as far away from him as it was possible to get inside the small chamber. He absently noted that while he had been…otherwise engaged…that they had reached their destination. The problem was that they still had a ten-minute walk to another transporter that could get them even close to the infirmary from where they were all the way across the city and down fourteen levels.
He straightened with determination and headed toward the door, the rest of his team following behind like a herd of ducklings. He ignored the fact that his knees felt like two pieces of over-cooked spaghetti and forced them to work as he strode toward where he was sure the next transporter was. He had only gone a few steps when he heard a throat clearing behind him. He stopped and spun around on his heel lowering the full power of his glare on the person who had dared to interrupt his trek.
"What?" he snapped. Colonel John Sheppard, Military Commander of Atlantis, strongest Ancient gene carrier of any yet found, and general pain in Rodney McKay's ass, took a step back that strategically put him just slightly behind the slim form of their fellow team mate, Teyla Emmagen. From that safe port the dark haired colonel evidently felt brave enough to speak.
"You're going the wrong way, Rodney. The next transporter is that way." He pointed to the left. McKay snorted.
"Oh like I'm going to take direction from you, "Wrong-Way" Sheppard. Aren't you the one that got lost between the control tower and the west pier the other day?"
"Hey, that wasn't my fault. The power was out in the corridor that we usually use and I had to take an alternate route that I was unfamiliar with. Anyone would have gotten lost."
"You were lost for three hours, and they found you locked in what amounts to a broom closet."
"That was HIS fault." Sheppard said in a whining tone, pointing an accusing finger at Ronon Dex who was bringing up the rear. "He was sure he knew the way to go and I believed him." Ronon leaned against the wall with a shrug.
"Should have been the right way. Ancestors built it wrong." The accused said.
"And who is it that is always saying how the commander is always responsible for his troops?" McKay sneered, unwilling to cut anyone any slack. He looked at his watch. Only twelve minutes left. "Now, if you don't mind I would like to be in the infirmary soon. So…" He turned and started again only to be interrupted again.
"The Colonel is correct, Rodney. The transporter is this way." Teyla confirmed. He spun, about to growl at her as he had at Sheppard, but the glint in her eye stopped him. Giving up in the face of his teammate's united front, he turned and went down the corridor that Sheppard had indicated. If they were wrong, and he had to go through another of those…well, just say that he was not going to be happy.
They made good time, but it was still almost ten minutes later before they reached the transporter. McKay herded the others in like a Tokyo subway packer, and pushed in behind them shoving Sheppard out of the way and practically sticking his finger through the panel for the nearest point to the infirmary. Time was running out. There was the weird twist and turning sensation that accompanied the transport and he stepped forward. He was almost to the doors when a hand grabbed his arm. It was the first time anyone had touched him in the last hour, and it almost made him hit the roof. He turned to growl at whoever had dared and found Sheppard staring down at his watch.
"What?" he snarled again. It was becoming his word for the day. Great, this whole thing had dropped him from genius to semi-articulate.
"Uh, we only have about one minute. I don't think you want to be in the corridor when…" Sheppard broke off making a vague motion with his hands that could have been just about anything. Unfortunately McKay was well aware of what those gestures meant, and no, he didn't want to be in the corridor "when".
He bit his lip and reached down to twist at the cuff. It was already getting warm. He had really, really been wanting to avoid another session, but now that he though about it, maybe this was for the best. After all his team had seen it all, again and again, for the last hour, and he could not really be any more embarrassed with them. Beckett on the other hand was a whole new kettle of fish, and there would be the nurses, and any passing idiot that had managed to hurt himself and need a band aid for his boo boo. Oh yes, he could see it now. It would be all over the city before the last quiver stopped.
While he dithered it became obvious that the choice had been taken from him. He could feel the flush moving up his body, along with certain…other physical changes. His breathing was increasing, and he cast a quick glance at his teammates. Teyla was staring rather fixedly at the floor as if the smooth surface had suddenly sprouted a fascinating picture or pattern. Sheppard had turned his back and was leaning with his forehead against the wall. As he struggled to hold back a groan, he noticed that Sheppard's slightly pointed ears were turning red. If this hadn't been so damn embarrassing he would have kidded the man about that. Ronon on the other hand was leaning against the wall with his eyes locked on McKay. All he needed to look like a teenager who had found dad's porn movie, was a bag of popcorn and a soda.
McKay tried to glare at him, but could barely manage a half powered one as his eyes started to roll back. Before he closed them and just rode out the whole thing again he saw Sheppard reach out and punch Ronon's shoulder, hard. Ronon broke off his stare and with a glare at Sheppard, turned around as well. Left alone with his….issue, McKay let it roll over him and simply held on as wave after wave of …well, pure ecstasy rolled through him.
This time it was shorter, probably because while the spirit might be willing, not that it was, the flesh was definitely weakening. After all this was the forth time in the last hour. Somehow he managed to hold on to the thought that he had to get to the infirmary and get this damn thing off his wrist in the next fifteen minutes. He could not go through this again. He was panting now, nearing the end, and that is when it all went to hell. The transport door slid open, and just as his climax hit, he caught sight of Carson Beckett's shocked face.
"What the bloody hell is going on in here!?"
Thirteen minutes later they were all sitting in the infirmary watching as Beckett used the ancient equivalent of a laser bone saw to remove the cuff from McKay's arm. The Scottish doctor had not stopped muttering to himself in Gaelic the whole time as Sheppard and the rest of the team tried to explain the whole thing, all the while trying tool after tool to remove the stubborn device. The muttering had been interspaced with the occasional giggle-snort that the doctor tried, unsuccessfully, to turn into a cough.
He had nodded sagely as they recounted the locating of a new room in one of the lesser-explored sections of the city. It had been partitioned off to several smaller spaces and they had found that each section was soundproofed. They had found the device in a small alcove in one of the rooms, evidently forgotten when the Ancients left. McKay had warned Sheppard off from touching it, or even thinking at it, and had picked it up to examine it himself. No one, including McKay himself, could quite explain exactly how the cuff had come to get closed around the physicist's wrist. They all could explain what had happened once it was closed, and what kept happening at regular intervals since then. At fifteen-minute intervals as a matter of fact, for the hour it had taken them to hike and transport back to the occupied section.
In the end it was Teyla who was forced to explain the details as McKay had clammed up and refused to meet Beckett's eyes, finding something deeply interesting in the weave of the fabric covering the bed he sat on. Sheppard had started to explain but his blush had deepened with each word, and he had finally stumbled to a halt and with a nervous titter that reminded Beckett of a preteen who had just see his first sex-ed movie, had thrown it over to Ronon who simply laughed and made a gesture that was so descriptive that Sheppard's blush had deepened another shade.
Teyla had rolled her eyes at them all and had proceeded to detail what had happened with each cycle and made several suggestions about removing it. In the end the bone saw had been the only thing they could find that would cut the material of the cuff and so it was that with only moments to spare before the next sequence was due to start Beckett pulled the cuff off McKay's wrist and plunked it down into a small metal pan that one of his nurses had brought him. She hastily carried it off as McKay had slumped back onto the bed and lay there looking totally wrecked, which he probably was, thought Beckett. He turned and started shooing the other three away.
"All right you three. Post mission check-ups for you all. One of my lads or lassies will do your exam and sign you off. Then you might as well go along and get some dinner. I'll be keeping Rodney here for a few hours to monitor his blood sugar and run a few tests. And no, I don't need any or all of you hanging around and getting in the way. So go."
There was the usual arguments, griping, and bitching, but finally they left and he returned to the bedside where McKay way now laying with his arm thrown over his face, hiding from the world no doubt. Beckett picked up the blood pressure cuff from the bedside table and started to put it on Rodney's arm only to have it jerked away.
"Its just blood pressure, lad. I promise you won't feel a thing." He peeked up at McKay's grimacing face and gave him a blank face. "Of course I can have one of the female nurses do it if that would make you feel better. At least you wouldn't be doing it alone this time."
That got the response he had been hoping for, and he smiled to himself as McKay started ranting and raving about his experience. He was able to complete his full examination before the Canadian wound down, and he had almost used up his supply of wise-sounding "hmms" and understanding nods. He took a few blood samples and sent them off to the lab, thought he was pretty sure that other than some general fatigue and a very big case of embarrassment, McKay was none the worse for wear.
He got the physicist settled down with the promise of a well-stocked dinner tray and went toward his office pondering exactly how he was going to write this up in his log without it coming out sounding like something from a XXX-rated movie like the ones the Marines seem to have smuggled in on the last Daedalus run. Well at least all four of them hadn't been affected, then it would have been a bloody orgy, and there was no way he could have described that, there was only so much a doctor could be clinical about with a straight face.
Two weeks after "the incident" as it had been dubbed by a very noticeably NOT grinning Elizabeth Weir, Dr Rodney McKay had just about had it with the innuendo, laughter, mash notes, and outright teasing that had become his life. He had, of course, fought back with his best weapon, his brain. There were a lot of people currently bathing in cold water. Of course he had kindly offset that inconvenience by making sure that the humidity of their quarters was approaching 90%. Zelenka, a major contributor to the innuendo, was working to reverse the process but McKay was happy to note that his current password and crypto-programs were keeping the Czech at bay, and his victims were suffering still. It was only what they deserved. He had sworn to a still NOT grinning Elizabeth that security was not being compromised by anything that was going on, and it was all just a series of computer glitches that he would fix as soon as possible. He was after all, a very busy man.
His team, evidently well aware that their closeness would not save them from the Wrath of Rodney, had refrained from comment, even Ronon, though McKay suspected Teyla's intervention was responsible for that. Sheppard, the Kirk of the Pegasus Galaxy, on the other hand, was just too embarrassed about the whole thing to mention it. If McKay hadn't been so tired of hearing about it 24/7, he would have used it himself to jack up his friend. After all, everything else was fair game, why not inhibitions? And who would have thought that a forty something-year old, experienced, divorced, barbarian-princess and ascended-Ancient attracting, flyboy like Sheppard could be so…uptight when it came to talking about sex. Lord knows he didn't seem to be shy about actually doing it.
And there-in lay part of the rub, if it had been Sheppard with the device on his wrist, the jokes would have gone a completely different way he was sure. A sort of manly, 'We knew you could take it, Colonel. Good job.' After all everyone knew that Sheppard was over-sexed. One had only to look at the man's hair to see that. He attracted the women like flies, and of course he must be taking advantage of every opportunity to "get some". Hell, the device would just be a training tool for the Casanova Colonel.
McKay on the other hand, was practically the Cyrano De Bergerac of the Pegasus Galaxy. Maybe he was not as handsome as some, or as muscular, or as humorous, or as kind, but he WAS smart, and that made up for a lot. At least he thought it should, but not many of the women they had run into had agreed. He was not seen as a sex god. As far as he could tell, given the innuendo, practically the whole base thought he might still be a virgin, or damn close to it, mainly on the basis of his "attitude" and that this little 'experience' with the device was a thrill a minute for him.
Well he wasn't - a virgin that is - nor close to it, but he was damned if he was going to roll out his sexual experience for the prurient interests of the entire base. If everyone wanted to think that the Ancient's little sex toy was the best thing that ever happened to him, then fine. He could take it. He would fight back his own way until the next seven-day wonder came along and things got back to what passed for normal here in Atlantis. It was only a matter of time.
His opportunity to escape came a day later when SGA-1 was assigned one of the milk-run 'check-in' trips to one of their allies on PCX-1872, Pelowa, a planet that had only one redeeming quality as far as McKay was concerned. They had Jalsta. The confection, made from a bean that would grow only in the marshy, sub-tropical lowlands of PCX-1872, was the Pegasus equivalent of dark chocolate. It was rich, highly-caffeinated, and tasted like a piece of heaven on your tongue. The monthly 'check-in' to the small planet was a hotly contested plum assignment that the premier gate team had never managed to get before, and McKay suspected that this was one of Elizabeth's ways of trying to make it up to him for all the NOT grinning she had been doing over the last two weeks.
Once it was announced that SGA-1 would be going the next day they had all been inundated with requests for Jalsta. McKay had turned his nose up at any such requests from those who had tormented him over the last two weeks. He was also pretty sure he could bully…uh pursued his teammates to do the same. Not that it wouldn't get around anyway, but let his tormentors pay the black market price for it later. He on the other hand was taking a small, empty duffle that he planned to fill with the silky treat. That would show them all.
"All right, let's remember we are going to check in with the High Council and find out if they need any medical supplies or any kind of agricultural aid. We have to get that done BEFORE we go off and gorge ourselves on Jalsta," Sheppard lectured as they approached the village. He cast a look at Ronon, who could consume an awesome amount of the treat if allowed to, and then shifted his eyes to McKay, "or before we trade away whatever it is that is making our packs look like we're refugees from the Oklahoma dust bowl."
"Yes, DAD." McKay said with a sneer. As if he hadn't noticed Elizabeth, Carson, Lorne, Cadman, and Chuck the gate tech, all slipping something to Sheppard before they left. The fact that the Colonel could pack his backpack a little neater did not mean that the man wasn't going to be doing some trading of his own. He had yet to lower the boom on those who had offended, but then if his teammates couldn't figure out who was on the top of his list, then they deserved to have to explain why they hadn't made the trades to the disappointed many.
With a sigh at their antics Teyla led the way toward the council chambers. If you could dignify the small adobe building with the name, McKay thought. He was really tired of all the pomp that these backwoods politicians could imbue in almost anything. Teyla pushed past the decorative hanging that made for a door and they were suddenly standing before a semi-circle of middle aged men who were staring at them as if they had materialized out of thin air. McKay looked over his companions to see if he could spot anything out of line, but they all looked normal. A quick look down at himself showed no differences there either. He exchanged a shrug with Sheppard who had raised an inquiring eyebrow at him. Their silent question was answered when a shabbily dressed, at least as far as McKay was concerned, man who had been standing before the council turned and pointed at them.
"There, they are here now. Make them prove their claims. Why should we take their word for such an important matter? The Athosians may have vouched for them, but then they have much to gain helping these people. Make them prove it. That is all I ask. I am a member of this village in good standing, and there are others who also question the validity of their claim." McKay saw Teyla stiffen at the slight given to the Athosians, and saw Ronon reach down to loosen his gun in its holster. Sheppard was eyeing the standing man with a narrowed glare. The physicist, sensing a possible threat to the Jalsta supply added his own glare to the mix. As if they were not standing right there, one of the council members answered the man.
"Horsil, no matter what the truth is in this matter there is no need for rudeness. Certainly the Athosians have never given us reason to doubt their honesty. Their dealings have always been fair, as have those of the Lanteans. We have received fair trade for our goods, their secrets are just that, theirs. All rumors aside, why should we force an answer to questions that are not ours to ask?" The councilman asked calmly. Horsil - and just what kind of name was that anyway? McKay pondered - waved an accusing finger in their direction.
"If they are the chosen of the Ancestors then they have responsibilities and they bring us more danger as allies. Who more than the Ancestor's chosen ones would attract the anger and attention of the Wraith? If it is known that we are allied with them, we become greater targets."
"We are always targets, Horsil." The councilman, evidently the spokesman replied. "It has always been so. We benefit greatly from the alliance, or would you turn away the medicines and innovations that they have offered? Did not your sister's son benefit from the medicines just this last season?" Horsil seemed unwilling to answer this question, throwing an angry scowl over his shoulder at the Lanteans. The council had evidently heard enough however. "Horsil, you have had your voice heard, but you find no similar thoughts here among us. The Lantean's are our friends, and we shall continue the trading between our peoples in the basis of the faith we have been shown. This is the decision of the Council."
Horsil looked ready to protest again, but stopped himself when he saw the stern visages of the council. He turned on his heel and with another scowl at SGA-1 pushed out of the building. The council speaker turned his attention to the team.
"Welcome friends. Your visit has been anticipated. I am Tornet, speak for the Council, I apologize for any rudeness on the part of our fellow." Teyla stepped forward at Sheppard's nod in her direction.
"Please do not be concerned. It is to your people's credit that you allow all a say in front of your council, no matter what their point of view. It is a wise policy. We are not so easily offended. We value your people as trading partners. I am Teyla Emmagen, daughter of Tegaan, of Athos. These are John Sheppard and Rodney McKay of Lantea and Ronon Dex of Sateda. We have come at the behest of our leader to see what your needs are in this season of harvest and to trade with you." She said formally. McKay gave a little shake of his head as he saw the council all smile at her. She definitely had a way about her when it came to the diplomatic game. He would have probably had them offended and pissed off with only a word, resulting in their torture and death in some incredibly painful way. Sheppard would have no doubt made some lame joke, and ended up getting them thrown off the planet, at which point McKay would have killed him due to the loss of the Jalsta. Ronon wouldn't have even tried.
There followed almost thirty minutes of negotiating about medicines, irrigation needs, crop harvesting and other niceties. During that time the three men had plopped down on the floor, as there were evidently no chairs to be had for any save the councilors. Ronon had sprawled comfortably with his back to the center support pole, a position that McKay had tried to nudge him out of subtly, well subtly for McKay. When the Satedan had failed to take the hint, McKay had settled grouchily at his side, sitting cross-legged and muttering asides to Sheppard as they had listened to the negotiations. Sheppard for his part seemed just as happy to let Teyla take care of things, and sat seemingly bonelessly beside Rodney on the floor, leaning on his shoulder. McKay hadn't been aware that it was possible to slump when sitting on the floor, but somehow Sheppard managed it. The physicist never thought he would miss those old fold-up metal chairs from Earth, but the Pegasus Galaxy's lack of furniture gave him a new appreciation of the torture devices.
Finally the official exchange of needs and wants came to an end with another round of mutual appreciation speeches, and everyone rose to their feet. From Teyla's smile in their direction McKay figured that the trading had gone well and that Elizabeth would be happy with the results. Maybe that would get them kicked up on the list for the next visit back. You would think being the head of science and a genius would have given them a little bit of advantage on that, but Elizabeth had laughed at his attempts to manipulate the drawing that had been started to choose who went on these monthly meet and greets. He could not fault her honesty on it though.
He made it to his feet with help from both Sheppard and Ronon who grinned at him as he groaned and tried to get his left leg to "wake up". At first it was only the numbness, but then the 'pins and needles' started to kick in, and he stumbled as he tried to get the blood flowing again. Ronon put out a big hand and supported him as he hobbled toward the door. That's why they were far enough back to see what happened, and too far to stop it, even if they had known what was planned. As it was, McKay only became aware of a 'situation' when he felt Ronon's hand tighten on his bicep. He was turning to complain about it when he caught sight of what was causing the ex-runner's tension.
Horseface, Horshack, Horseback, or whatever his name was, was pushing past the councilmen who had preceded them out of the door. In his hands was an object that McKay almost instinctively recognized as being Ancient in design. It was cylindrical, and about a foot long with darkened crystals inset in the sides. The native man was holding it out before him like some sort of weapon, and his target was clear, a currently oblivious Sheppard. The colonel was talking to the council speaker, and had his head turned to speak with the man who was walking slightly behind him. Teyla, who was always incredibly aware of her surroundings, but who was five feet ahead of Sheppard reached out as if to grab the man, but missed as he rushed forward. As for the colonel, something, perhaps the widening of Tornet's eyes, or some weird 'super soldier spidey-sense' of danger, must have alerted him, as he started to turn, bringing up his ever present p-90 as he did so, but it was too little, too late. Horsil was within arms reach and as soon as the device sensed Sheppard's super gene it burst into glorious life.
McKay's sense of exactly what happened then was hampered by the white glare of the main crystal, but he was pretty sure of the outward effect. Horsil practically stumbled into Sheppard, his mouth now gaping in awe at the light show that he was suddenly holding. The device came into contact with the colonel, and the lights became blinding for a moment then Sheppard seemingly disappeared in a column of swirling lights that swept out of the device even as Horsil, finally getting a clue, dropped it and stumbled back. People were scattering in near panic, except for Teyla who was reaching for the device, probably to try to move it away from Sheppard. At his side McKay was aware of Ronon un-holstering his pistol and aiming it at the device. He grabbed the large arm and dragged it down with all his weight even as he yelled at Teyla.
"No, don't touch it." He didn't want to know what might happen if the device sensed her Wraith DNA. He turned his attention to Ronon who had seemed to barely notice his intervention. "Don't shoot it you idiot, there's no telling what it could do to Sheppard."
The gun lowered and McKay sighed in relief and then turned his attention to what had seemed to have become his main purpose in life, saving Sheppard's skinny butt.
He edged toward the device. He thought 'OFF!' at it as hard as he could, but as always his own manufactured gene was ignored in the presence of Sheppard's natural one. Okay, he would have to do it the hard way. He got down on his knees and put his face down on the level with the device. He was going to have to invest in a set of kneepads. This galaxy was way too hard on his knees. Not to mention that everything seemed to be hard and pokey here. Was there nothing soft and pleasant? Was it too much to ask for the crisis d'jour to take place somewhere with soft grass instead of gravelly dirt? Of course it was; the universe hated him for his genius.
He carefully studied the control panel that he could now see. It was pretty standard set up, one that was common to many of the devices they had seen on Atlantis and elsewhere throughout the galaxy. He carefully considered each button going over possible options, and then cautiously reached out and touched what should be the off button. There was another blinding flash of light, and the swirling lights that had surrounded Sheppard stopped abruptly. The colonel dropped as if pole-axed, landing face down on the ground. There was something about the still form that wasn't quite right, but McKay was too busy handing off the damned device to Ronon for safekeeping. Certainly no one was going to take it from the man, and since he had no gene there was no chance of him accidentally turning it back on.
By the time he had handed it off and turned back around Teyla was kneeling next to Sheppard, one hand hovering uncertainly over the black clad back. Now that he had time Rodney realized what it was about Sheppard that didn't look right. The still form was too…small. The usually baggy clothes were even baggier than usual, almost to the point that the body inside was indistinguishable. If it wasn't for the unruly shock of dark hair on the head, you would never even think it was Sheppard who was lying there. Hesitantly, evidently seeing the same thing McKay did Teyla reached, down and took hold of a wrist that was way too delicate to belong to John Sheppard. But it had to be Sheppard's wrist since she had to move the black wristband, now oversized, to the side to put her fingers on the pulse. There was a breathless moment but then she looked up and nodded. McKay felt something that he hadn't known was tight, loosen at that, but it twisted again as he once again saw the differences in the man he called friend and this…whatever it was. With an almost fearful look at McKay and Ronon, Teyla reached and grabbed at one black clad shoulder, pulling the limp form over onto its back. McKay heard Ronon breath out what he recognized as a Satedan swear word, and there was a gasp from the Pelowans who were gathered around.
As for himself, "What the hell?" was the only thing that was running through his mind in that moment as he looked down on his friend.
The gate activation alarm was sounding stridently as Carson Beckett sprinted into the gate room followed by his team with a gurney. The gate was activated and Elizabeth was pacing nervously on the platform near the gate controls. As Beckett slowed to a stop she spoke into her radio.
"This is Atlantis. John, is that you? You're early." It was that very fact that had scrambled the medical team and had the Marines that were on duty all at full alert. The premier gate team of Atlantis was not known for easy missions, even when they went to places that should be
"No, It's me. We have a medical emergency." Rodney's regularly strident tone was even more strained. Weir exchanged glances with Beckett. The very fact it was McKay calling gave them a good idea of who exactly was involved in whatever had happened. If you were taking odds on who would get hurt on a mission…
"Some idiot native had a device, an Ancient device, and he shoved it into Sheppard's hands. Of course it turned on instantly and it…" He cut off and it was obvious was addressing someone else. "He's not a sack of potatoes you Neanderthal! We don't know what else that damn thing might have done. Carry him gently, you know, like your dinner tray." There was a low rumble that had to be Ronon, and they heard McKay mumble something very uncomplimentary, something they were sure did not carry to the Satedan. Elizabeth was about to bring McKay's attention back to the matter at hand when Teyla came on the radio.
"Colonel Sheppard is unconscious, and there are…other complications. I believe it would be best if we get him to Dr Beckett as soon as possible."
"Is this some sort of contamination? Do we need to isolate you from the rest of the city? We don't want the city going into lockdown. If we need to we can send some isolation suits." Weir said, exchanging another look with Beckett who was on his radio with the infirmary. Lorne, who had come into the gate room in response to the alarm, turned on his radio.
"What's the security situation? If you were attacked do you need back up?" he asked. There was a snort from the other end of the conversation.
"After the tongue lashing that Teyla gave the guy that did this, no one is so much as looking at us cross eyed. Plus we have our weapons and everything still. It was just that one idiot with a grudge. The head of the council…Tourettes or Tusset or whoever it is says that he thinks that the man was influenced by some traders that were through here last week, Genii traders. So he got out his little piece of Ancient tech and tried to prove we weren't who we said we were when the council wouldn't demand proof." He paused to snap at his teammates. "I don't think the problem is that he's cold. If you wrap him in another blanket he's going to melt. Shock is one thing heat stroke is another. Let's not pile it all on the Voodoo doctors at once." Evidently having made his point to his satisfaction McKay turned his attention back to Atlantis.
"It's not biological, at least not…really. Not like you mean. It's not a disease or nanites. I scanned for those. We have the device, and it seems to be burned out, though I am not trying to turn it on, one time through that was enough, thank you very much."
"One time of what, Rodney? Is this something we've encountered before?" Weir asked.
"No, no this isn't something we've encountered before, though it is kind of something SG1 encountered before, in a way, though not really."
"Rodney, you are not making any sense." Weir said, frustrated at the lack of information. She had to decide if it was safe to allow the team back on Atlantis. As concerned as she was about John, she could not allow the whole city to be effected if it was something like the nanites, or a virus, and she knew he would be the first to agree to her caution.
"Does he ever?" That came from Ronon. It was somewhat comforting that the team was still bantering. She made her decision and motioned to Chuck to lower the shield.
"All right, the shield is down, you can come through. You will be going directly to the infirmary however. I want a full scan on all of you before you interact with anyone else."
McKay mumbled something about how if it was a disease that this way they would only be infecting the people that could find a cure, but then that was Rodney. It was a strange but familiar source of comfort; she only wished she could have heard another voice as well.
Moments later three forms stepped through the gate. They were close together, with Teyla and McKay hovering close at Ronon's side as if he were going to drop the bundle that he carried in his arms. It bothered her that the tall Satedan seemed to be carrying it all too easily. John was skinny, but he was well muscled, and not as light as he might appear. Beckett and the medics rushed forward with the gurney, and before anyone could even start to unwrap the blankets, the whole group rushed off toward the infirmary. She was pretty sure that as they went, Teyla was carrying what could only be a pair of military boots. But why would she be? Would they have removed John's boots for some reason? The answers were no doubt all waiting for her in the infirmary.
She watched as the gate shut down, her mind already moving ahead toward whatever would be revealed at the examination. She looked over at Lorne who was staring after the gurney with a look that said that his thoughts were much like her own. She reached out and took his arm and gently tugged it drawing his attention. At his raised eyebrow she smiled.
"Shall we go see what he's gotten into this time?" she said. Lorne nodded and they started toward the door. She just hoped that whatever it was, John could bounce back as well as he had in his previous adventures.
Rodney was puffing from the exertion by the time that they were near the infirmary. It was of course due to the extra weight of Sheppard's P-90 and handgun that he was carrying in addition to his own pack and weapons. It wasn't lack of training as Ronon suggested as they rounded the corner on the last straightaway in. If he had been able to both breath and talk, he would have given the man-mountain a piece of his mind. As it was, through sheer force of will on Rodney's part, they arrived at the infirmary all at the same time, and McKay sank down on the nearest flat place as Beckett started ordering nurses around. With all the proper Voodoo talismans in place Beckett was evidently finally ready to unwrap the mummy that was Sheppard and he leaned over to pull back the blanket. To McKay's amusement the man actually took a step back in his amazement. Good, he wasn't the only one.
"What the bloody hell?" Becket said, his accent coming to the fore as he spun on the three members of the team who were now sharing one of the nearby beds. "Are you all having me on? Is the Colonel going to come popping out of somewhere and yell 'surprise' while you all record this or something? Is this some sort of weird candid camera thing you dreamed up because I was teasing ya?"
McKay noted Elizabeth and Lorne's entrance into the infirmary as he started shaking his head. He was glad when Teyla answered Beckett's question as he was still catching his breath, and he was not sure that the Scot would have believed him anyway. It was a heck of an idea though; maybe in the future.
"I assure you Dr. Beckett, that is the Colonel. He was not out of our sight except as he was enveloped in the light from the device. When it released him he looked like that. We would not make a joke of something so serious." She added the last with a stern look at McKay who shrugged innocently as if the idea had never crossed his mind. Elizabeth was looking at them in puzzlement.
"What is going on? What's wrong Carson?" she asked, taking a step closer. In answer Beckett reached over and drew the blanket all the way off the form on the bed, and McKay swore you could have heard a pin drop in the infirmary as everyone stared at the form that was revealed.
On the bed, clad in a very large t-shirt, and very baggy pants with the legs rolled up, was a child of no more than 10 or 12. He was pale, but with a scattering of freckles across his nose and cheeks. Nearly black hair stuck up in uneven tufts all around the thin face, but showed the small slightly pointed ears. Thin arms poked out of the t-shirt ending in absurdly small hands, one of which was now clutching the black armband that had been on one arm.
Perhaps it was due to her diplomatic training that Elizabeth seemed to recover first. She spun on one heel and looked at the rest of the SGA-1 team. She scanned their faces one after the other, as if searching for any hint that this was some sort of joke. Her eyes lingered for a moment on the device that Teyla had removed from her pack and was now holding on her lap. Whatever Elizabeth saw in their faces she turned back toward the bed and stared for a moment longer. Then she stepped forward and very gently reached out to brush hair back from the pale forehead. She looked over at Beckett.
"I believe them. I believe that somehow that device has turned John into this child." McKay let out a breath that he hadn't realized he had been holding, and he heard a similar gust of air from Teyla. Ronon simply nodded. Beckett looked from the team and back to where Elizabeth's hand rested on the boy's forehead. He shook his head and moved forward again, reaching for his penlight. Elizabeth stepped back to allow him access.
Beckett performed his regular checks and drew some blood that he sent off with a nurse after a hurried but whispered conversation. The nurse practically ran out of the room. In the course of the exam the doctor and his nurses removed the clothing that the child was wearing, but Beckett could not get him to release the wristband. McKay caught sight of a skinny form before Beckett completed doing whatever else he needed, and left the nurses to slip on the smallest pair of scrubs they could find, which they did and drew the covers back up over the small form.
"Well?" Rodney asked impatiently. Surely after all that the doctor must have something.
"Well what, Rodney?" the Scot said back in a snippy tone, "It's not like they cover this in medical school now is it? I've had blood drawn and its being run through the scanner now to see how it compares to Colonel Sheppard's last sample. Beyond that I can tell you that the patient appears to be a perfectly normal, if somewhat thin, 10 to 12 year old human male. He has a scar on his left leg where Colonel Sheppard had, has, one from a compound fracture of the tibia when he was six. His eyes are hazel and he has a death grip on that wristband that would probably take breaking a finger or two to release. He's currently in what I would call a deep sleep, though it seems that he is starting to wake."
"So it is John." Elizabeth concluded. Beckett nodded.
"Aye, barring any surprises on the blood tests I would have to say that it is indeed John Sheppard, in a younger package."
"Well that's the question now isn't it, and it's certainly not one I'm going to be able to answer. Whatever that bloody thing did, it needs to be reversed." McKay jumped down from the table and went to stand next to Elizabeth, looking down on the boy. He could so easily see the adult Sheppard in the face before him.
"We can't just twist a bunch of dials and flip the switch. I somehow don't think that trial and error is going to be the best way to figure this thing out. What if it continued to regress him? Next thing you know we'd have a toddler, or an infant. I don't know about you, but I'm not ready to change Sheppard's diapers." he said. He noticed that the dark lashes fluttered. "I think he's waking up." That spurred everyone to a higher level of activity as Beckett pushed McKay and Elizabeth back.
"We don't need to be scaring the bairn now. We don't know what state of mind he'll be in when he wakes. You lot stay back and I'll talk to him." he warned. He moved to the side of the bed, but McKay could see that he was being careful to not loom above the boy. He hadn't given any thought to what exactly Sheppard's state of mind might be on waking in this form.
The dark head tossed from side to side several times and a faint moan could be heard. Moments late the lashes fluttered again, lifting to reveal the same familiar hazel eyes that McKay was used to seeing everyday, whether sparkling with mischief and good humor, stony with determination, or cold with anger. They blinked several times, as if trying to being the room into focus, and settled on Beckett, widening in something that could have been fear, but was quickly masked. McKay made a mental note that Sheppard had learned how to do that way too young.
"Hello lad." Beckett said softly. "Do you know who I am?" The dark head shook, the hazel eyes scanned around the room, looking at each of them with a surprisingly speculative air, returning to Beckett afterwards. "I'm Dr Beckett. They brought you to me when you had your…accident. Do you remember what happened?" The head shook again. Beckett looked over his shoulder at the others.
"Do you recognize any of the people here?" Another shake. "Can you talk, son?"
"Yes…sir." the child said softly. McKay noticed that somehow the child managed to put that same smidgen of disrespect into the word "sir" that Sheppard always managed to slip into them when used to a superior officer that he didn't really like, or trust. Beckett was continuing with the questioning, evidently trying to find out the effect of the device on Sheppard's mind.
"Can you tell me your name?" the hazel eyes scanned over Beckett again, seemingly evaluating his trustworthiness. McKay noted that Sheppard's eyes drifted over toward Lorne and the side arm that the major was wearing. The boy seemed to recognize the uniform and the gun. It must have given him some degree of comfort because he answered the question.
"And how old are you?"
"Twelve and a half." Came the fast answer, then a faint blush rose in the pale cheeks. The hazel eyes wondered away from Beckett's intense gaze. "Almost."
"You're a fine braw lad for twelve and a half." Beckett assured the boy. "What's the last thing you remember, lad, before you woke up here?"
"I was at school. I was playing basketball with Jimmy Phelps and waiting for the dinner bell to ring." Beckett looked puzzled at the response and Elizabeth stepped forward, smiling down at the boy.
"I'm Elizabeth Weir, John. Can I call you John?" she said. At the boy's hesitant nod she smiled again and reached slowly for his left hand. He jerked his hand away then winced at the movement. Beckett's eyes narrowed, but he didn't say anything. The boy offered his right hand, but he gave her a suspicious look that was so very Sheppard that McKay almost laughed. Adult Sheppard was not touchy-feely even on his best days, and it seemed the younger version was just the same. She held onto his hand as she introduced the others, pointing out each on turn. They all smiled at the boy who continued to watch them expressionlessly. "You were at military school, right?" Elizabeth asked, evidently oblivious to the child's discomfort about touching, but then she had always pretty much ignored the adult Sheppard's personal space issues as well.
"Yes, ma'am." Sheppard answered as he tried to extract his hand surreptitiously. McKay realized he was going to have to think of this child as something beside 'Sheppard' he just was not able to reconcile his picture of the pilot with this…Mini me.
"You can call me Elizabeth." she said. The dark head shook.
"Adults are always referred to by their surname and their rank or title, or by sir or ma'am…ma'am." It had the feel of a rote repetition of some rule that had been handed down repeatedly. If, as Elizabeth had indicated, Sheppard had been in military school, it probably had been, Rodney thought. Elizabeth was nodding in understanding.
"Very well, then you may call me Dr. Weir. Do you know where you are now, John?" The shuttered eyes looked around again, this time looking at the very Atlantean walls and the various beds. The eyes lingered for a moment on Lorne's uniform and side arm, and the small brows drew into a frown as the boy obviously tried to put what he was seeing into some context that he could understand.
"No, ma'am. I guess some kind of hospital or infirmary? Did I hurt my head playing ball?"
"Does your head hurt, lad?" Beckett asked.
"Do you hurt anywhere at all?" the doctor pressed. McKay could tell by his tone that he was becoming slightly frustrated at the boy's reticence. It seemed that some things didn't change with age when it came down to John Sheppard. The boy seemed to consider the question and he rubbed his left arm with a grimace but then he shook his head.
"No, sir." Beckett shook his head and looked at Elizabeth for inspiration. She took up the challenge again.
"I think it would be best if you were to remember what happened by yourself, if you can. Dr Beckett would probably be happier with that than if we told you. For now let's just say that you had an accident." She released the boy's hand, which was instantly moved out of reach, McKay noted with amusement. She looked around at Lorne and at the rest of the team.
"You are on a military base, a classified base of which I am in charge. I won't tell you how you got here, as that is part of remembering, but I can tell you that you have nothing to be afraid of. We'll be keeping you here for a time, while some things are taken care of." Sheppard's eyes had widened at the emphasis she had put on 'classified', but he thought the answer over carefully. Impulsive decision-making must have been a later development in the Sheppard psyche.
"What…what about my classes? I can't miss the midterm in calculus. If I don't get an A this semester I won't be able to take the AP class in non-Euclidean geometry next fall. I already missed too much…" McKay could not keep his eyebrows from shooting up almost to his hairline. Sheppard had taken Advanced Placement Non-Euclidian geometry at thirteen? Evidently Mensa wasn't the only thing Sheppard had been hiding about his intelligence. He must have made some sort of sound as Elizabeth glanced over her shoulder at him. He saw a sparkle come into her eyes that he had just enough time to fear before that fear became a reality.
"We'll make sure that everything is fine with your school. In fact Dr McKay over there is a physicist, and he would be happy to help you with your math work so that you don't fall behind. Isn't that right, Rodney?" She turned to him with a smile, and McKay knew he was trapped. He could see the boy looking at him doubtfully, but when Teyla nudged him with her elbow he nodded.
"Sure, why not. I have nothing better to do than tutor math. After all it isn't as if I have any devices that I should be working on." he added snidely. Elizabeth smiled serenely upon him.
"It seems that under the circumstances that Dr. Zelenka would be better suited to perform at least the preliminary testing, given the machine's…sensitivity." She observed, and he could not fault her logic there. Zelenka did not have the gene, and would be in no danger of setting it off, as he himself would be, if he were completely insane that was. He nodded reluctantly. Ronon who had been silently listening slid off the bed and straightened to his full height. Sheppard's eyes widened again, taking in the sight of the huge man with the dreadlocks and leather.
"I'll take it down to him. Are we done here?" Elizabeth looked at Beckett who nodded reluctantly.
"We can do the after-mission checks in a bit. Get that bloody thing out of here for now and come back later, lad." Ronon took the device from Teyla and with a nod, disappeared out the door. Lorne cast one more look at his transformed commanding officer, and with a nod at Weir, followed Ronon out. Sheppard's eyes had followed them and widened once more as the doors opened and closed seemingly with no effort on either man's part. He blinked several times as he obviously tried to figure out what had just happened. He turned puzzled eyes back to the remaining adults.
"Do I have to stay here, in the hospital?" he asked. It was such a Sheppard-type question that a small laugh echoed through the room leaving the boy looking puzzled. Elizabeth patted his leg.
"I think that Dr. Beckett may have a few more tests that he would like to run, don't you Doctor?" she asked with a meaningful look at the Scot. Beckett started nodding almost immediately, and McKay had to shake his head at the man's lying skills. He was pretty sure even the kid wasn't buying it.
"Yes. I have a few more tests to run, and I'm still waiting on those blood tests. Once everything is done we'll see about finding you some clothes and getting you out, maybe to the mess hall for that dinner you missed. I think you can expect to spend the night in here though, so I can keep an eye on you. Just in case; you understand." McKay was about to make some comment about snake-oil sales when Teyla stood and moved gracefully to the side of the bed. Sheppard looked at her curiously as she smiled at him.
"Hello John." she said. "I am Teyla Emmagen. I believe I know of someone who has some clothing that will fit you. I will go to him now and bring them back to you and we will see about getting that dinner. I am sure that Dr. Beckett's tests will not take long. Do you like turkey? I believe that is what they are serving in the mess hall tonight."
"Yes ma'am. Turkey is my favorite." Sheppard enthused. It was the most animated response they had seen so far, and it amused McKay that it was over turkey. What was it with that particular meal? Teyla smiled at the boy and bent forward slowly to touch her forehead to his. The boy shrank back for a moment then allowed the touch. But then, McKay pondered, Sheppard had always allowed their touch, the team's that was. Teyla's forehead hug thing, Ronon's punch in the shoulder, McKay's own shoulder bump or invasion of his personal space for chocolate or MRE. He had not really recognized the significance of that until just then.
Teyla left, and Weir, Beckett, and his nurses were huddled in a corner talking about something, probably the plan to keep the boy here that night. This left McKay alone with the boy who was eying him with suspicion. He sidled closer, nervously looking toward the others. He hadn't dealt with a child one on one since he had lived at home, and Jeannie had never been the typical child. She was, after all, only slightly less brilliant than he was, despite the aberrant detour into marriage and motherhood. Must have been the female hormones.
The hazel eyes were studying him from under long lashes, and what sort of boy had such long and full lashes anyway? Sheppard had been an exceptionally pretty boy, just like he was a pretty man. Sometimes life was so not fair. At the very least the man could have been a pimply mess with bad hair, but no. McKay reached out a hand and traced a wrinkle on the blanket that covered the boy. It seemed that the boy was waiting for him to speak.
"So…." He said at length, drawing out the word.
"Yeah." the kid said unhelpfully. His eyes shot over to the other adults as if not quite sure that he wanted to be alone with McKay. McKay set his jaw, he was not going to be intimidated by a…a…mini John Sheppard.
"What do you want us to call you anyway? John, Johnny, Jack, Jonathan, Mr. Sheppard, what's your preference?" he asked.
"Only my brother and my mot…" the boy started to say but then stopped. He swallowed heavily and blinked. "Only my brother calls me Johnny, my teachers call me 'Cadet Sheppard', my father, he's Mr. Sheppard, and he calls me Jonathan when he's mad." Okay, that was a little more information than McKay had expected, and he hadn't missed that near reference to a mother that Sheppard had never mentioned before. Ex-wife, check; estranged brother and father, reluctantly, check; mother, nothing. That didn't seem about to change either.
"What do your friends call you?"
"J.T." Chatty little bastard was not making this easy. But he was a genius, damn it and he was not going to be put off by a child.
"J.T. it is then. So, military school huh? What grade? You should be in what 7th, right?" that earned him a glare eerily reminiscent of Sheppard the elder.
"I'm in high school, a freshman."
"Skipped a grade or two then. Good job. Did that myself. I completely missed jr. high. Some say that that's why I have no social skills, but I think that they are just envious that I missed the whole sex ed/girl-boy awkwardness thing." he theorized. John looked impressed.
"You skipped three grades?"
"Well, it was a little more complicated than that, I was never in what you might consider regular classes anyway. I'm a genius you see, very precocious from an early age. They really never knew exactly what to do about me so I kind of hit the high points of most years in the advanced placement classes and then moved on when the teacher couldn't keep up any more."
"Wow. So you were like one of those prodigies. Dr Weir, she said you were a physicist, I never heard of a physicist prodigy before."
"Well it's not just physics. It's kind of everything. I'm your basic all around genius." Rodney was saying humbly when another voice interrupted.
"Yes, well enough about Rodney." Beckett said snidely. "You can listen to him toot his own horn later. I have a few tests that I want to do, nothing painful, and no needles. You'll really like this one I think. You'll get to see what your body looks like inside in real time, not just an x-ray. Doesn't that sound like fun?" John looked skeptical about it, but nodded anyway. He was unconsciously rubbing his arm. Beckett shooed McKay out of the way and unlocked the wheels of the bed. He looked around in surprise as McKay started to follow along as he rolled the bed toward the Ancient scanner.
"I thought you might have better things to do than hang out in my 'Voodoo Palace', Rodney," he stated mildly. John snickered behind a hastily raised hand, eyes sparkling. McKay scowled.
"That's why I'm staying. Someone has to watch out for Sheppard's…J.T.'s interests. A voice for the helpless, so to speak."
"I've not thought of you as an advocate, Rodney. At least not for anyone but yourself." John's head snapped around to look at McKay as if waiting for the next volley in a tennis match. He didn't have long to wait.
"So you're calling me selfish?" McKay said, offended. A quick glance at their audience showed the dark head was now turned to Beckett, and the boy didn't seem to notice as the Ancient scanner ran over him.
"Well, if the swelled head fits, Rodney."
"Oh, now I have a swelled head too? At least I don't dance around waving dead chickens and praying to whatever dark gods you people invoke. Have you been burning those herbs again? I think you may have inhaled a bit too much smoke."
That proved too much for the boy and he burst out with a full laugh that shook his slim body. The two men broke off at the sound and turned to look at him as he rolled around on the bed holding his belly as he laughed. That went on for several minutes before the laughs petered out. John wiped a hand across his face to clear the tears that had rolled down his face.
"Are you sure that you are doctors? You guys are funny." he said. It twisted something in McKay's stomach to see the open joy and laughter in those so-familiar eyes. He could count on one hand the number of times in the last three years that he had seen such an expression, and he would bet that there had been just as few in the years before they had come to Atlantis. He had never really thought about just how closed off his friend kept his feelings, both good and bad. Maybe Beckett wasn't so far off with that self-absorbed crack, even though he was pretty sure that the Scot had started the whole thing to distract the boy.
"Yes, we're doctors, lad, though different kinds of doctors. Rodney here doesn't feel that medical doctors are real. Shows that he isn't nearly as smart as he thinks, since medicine is one of the oldest sciences. And here we have Jonathan Sheppard, in living color so to speak." He spun the monitor around so the boy could see the readout from the scan. The boy gaped at it in amazement.
"WWWOW! COOL!" the boy enthused. He listened closely as Beckett pointed out various organs and bones. He slid down off the bed and came to stand next to Beckett and McKay so he could look more closely at it. Looking at the boy standing there in too large scrubs and bare-footed, it was hard for McKay to connect this…child to the man he had come to know. Then the boy opened his mouth.
"That's like something from Star Trek. Are you like Dr. McCoy?" he asked. There was the geek factor that McKay knew so well. Sheppard tried to hide it around other people, but when they were alone, or with the team, then it all came out. The man was worse than any of his scientists. He just hid it better. The boy turned to Rodney. "And you could be Mr. Spock, he was the science officer and you're a physicist." McKay snorted.
"Do I look like a Vulcan to you?" he sneered. Beckett tsk'd at him for the tone, but McKay ignored him. The boy studied him closely.
"Okay, maybe you aren't Spock, but they didn't have a normal human guy who did the science, though Chekov filled in every now and then. You're too big for him and you aren't Russian. I guess you could be Scotty, but Dr. Beckett sounds more like him than you do, kinda." the boy allowed. Beckett snorted, drawing Sheppard's puzzled gaze.
"That wasn't an actual Scot's accent, lad. The man was as American as you are. It was just an act. MY accent is authentic." he said proudly. Sheppard seemed doubtful. Beckett went back to studying the monitor. Sheppard, with the quick change of attention that McKay had always thought typified kids, looked around the room, his eyes ending on the doors.
"They got doors that open by themselves on Star Trek. You got doors that do that, and this place doesn't look like any hospital or infirmary I ever been in. The Major was a Marine, but Dr Weir wasn't and you ain't. Where is this place, and why am I here?" He looked slightly anxious, biting his lip as he turned his eyes back to them, but his chin was raised and he didn't step away. Evidently courage in the face of the unknown was an inbred thing.
McKay and Beckett exchanged looks. Evidently the talk earlier hadn't been enough for the boy. They should have expected that from Sheppard, even a mini version. Rodney thought fast, it was after all his best skill. They could not keep the boy in the infirmary forever, and there was no telling how long it would take to figure out the device, especially since McKay couldn't work on it himself. One step outside the doors and the boy would be able to tell he wasn't in just your ordinary facility, he could already tell something was different just from the non-Earth-normal appearance of the infirmary. One look out the window, and he would know he wasn't in Kansas anymore, so to speak. He looked down into the hazel eyes and then back at Beckett with a shrug.
"I say we tell him everything." he opted. Beckett's eyes grew big.
"Are you daft, man? The lad is just out of a very shocking experience, there's no need to burden him with information he doesna need…"
"Shouldn't that be my decision?" Sheppard asked. Both adults looked at him.
"Now lad…" Beckett started.
"No!" Sheppard said firmly, and actually stomped his bare foot for emphasis. "I'm not stupid. I don't know how I got here, or where here is exactly, but you can't keep me here if I don't want to stay. I want to go back to school, now." The last demand was pure Lt. Colonel John Sheppard. The ever so slightly quivering lower lip was the 12 something year old boy that was trying hard to be brave in the face of the unknown. McKay wondered for a moment why the boy didn't demand to be sent home, but that was a question for another time. Now it was time to answer some questions. He grabbed a stool and rolled it over in front of the boy and sat down so that they were almost on eye level.
"As Dr Weir said, you are on a military base. The base is…very far away from your school." He thought it might be best to not throw in the 'another galaxy' thing for the moment. "You were affected by a device that we have been researching, and we need to study you to find out what it might have done to you." A fearful look grew in the boy's eyes and Beckett made a horrified noise and glared at McKay. A quick review of his words showed Rodney that perhaps he hadn't put that as well as he could have. "Not that you're in any danger or anything." he hastened to add. "It knocked you out, but that seems to be it, right Beckett?" The doctor hastened to reassure the boy, as McKay knew he would.
"That's right, lad. The…err…device does not seem to have caused any damage. But…" he tapped the screen of the scanner, "It looks like you have a broken left wrist. It seems to be mostly healed, but you should be wearing a cast. We'll have to take care of that." Beckett's sincerity came through, and some of the fear left Sheppard's face. He shifted his eyes back to McKay.
"I had a cast. What happened to that, and how did I get here so fast, if it's so far away? Dr. Weir said I just missed dinner is all." he asked
"We have a special way of traveling. It didn't take all that long. We really don't mean you any harm. In fact I can guarantee you that everyone here is focused on you being all right, on you being just like you were before." It was only the truth, though not all of it, and evidently it was enough for Sheppard.
"Can I go out, do I have to stay here the whole time?" he asked next. McKay noted that the hazel eyes had suddenly become the dreaded puppy dog eyes. It would have taken a stronger man than he to say no, and a quick glance at Beckett showed that that man was not going to be the Scot.
"Why don't you let Beckett take care of your arm, and then as soon as Teyla gets back with some clothes, we'll go to the mess hall and then take a tour okay? You uh…remember that Dr. Weir said that this was a classified base, right?" the boy nodded. "Well, that means that there are going to be places you can't go, and things I can't tell you about, okay?" Another nod. Beckett, relieved at not having to play the bad guy, laid a hand on the boy's shoulder and guided him back to the bed.
"Why don't you lie down while I take care of that cast? I'm sure Rodney will be happy to keep you company if you like." Sheppard nodded and crawled back up on the bed. Beckett rolled it back into the general infirmary with McKay following along behind. He wondered as he did so, exactly how he got elected baby sitter.
A half hour later the two had argued through the plots of two different 1960's science fiction series; had loudly disagreed about flux capacitors; and were on to the viability of time travel. McKay liked to think he had won that particular discussion, but the boy did not seem cowed by his advanced knowledge, simply passing it off with a 'you THINK it can't be done.' As if that were a logical response. Beckett had completed the boy's cast, wrapping it in black bandages much to the boy's delight. The doctor had simply rolled his eyes at their antics, but he was getting tired of the Dr. McCoy references, McKay could tell. They were saved from the wrath of Beckett by the arrival of Teyla with an armful of clothing.
Ten minutes later McKay and Teyla led a gaping Sheppard into the mess hall. At least the boy had not noticed the weird looks being thrown his way by just about everyone. McKay knew that an announcement had been made regarding the change, but obviously the order about acting normal had been completely ignored. He managed to scowl everyone out of their way as they went toward the food line, and Sheppard managed to drag his attention away from the huge windows long enough to serve himself some turkey, mashed potatoes and stuffing, along with a wedge of pie and a cup of chocolate pudding. Teyla raised an eyebrow at the amount of food on the boy's tray and shot a look at McKay. He shrugged at her. She would soon see just how much food a pre-teen boy could eat. Even Ronon, at his most ravenous, could be put to shame by a teenager with the munchies and access to unlimited food.
Speaking of the man mountain, Ronon was just sitting down at a table near the windows. Teyla led the way there, and Sheppard hesitantly sat down next to McKay across the table from the other two. After the others started eating he dug in. McKay noted that even though he was shoveling in the food his eyes were roving around the room, taking in everything. His eyes lingered longest on the armed military men and women that were in the room, and drifted to the strange looking weapon on Ronon's belt.
"Mr. Dex," He finally slowed down his eating enough to talk, and not surprisingly he went after the one that caused the most questions. Ronon looked up at him.
"Name's Ronon, or Dex. Don't call me 'mister'." Sheppard's eyes went a little wider at the tone, and he bit his lip, but he persevered in his question anyway.
"Are you a scientist?" McKay almost aspirated the entire roll he had been taking a bite out of at the time, and Sheppard helpfully pounded on as back as he tried to clear his airway. Ronon scowled at him, but answered the boy anyway.
"I'm a…civilian contractor." he replied, using the same excuse that he had used when they were last on Earth. Sheppard seemed to consider that for a moment then evidently decided to press on.
"Is that a gun on your belt? I haven't seen anything like it before."
"It's something new." Ronon said with a shrug. He couldn't exactly explain that it was from another planet, at least not right now. Perhaps sensing that this was one of those things that they wouldn't talk about, Sheppard turned his eyes to Teyla.
"And you, ma'am. Are you a civilian contractor too?" McKay watched as Sheppard's gaze moved over Teyla's clothes. Rodney, well used to the leather and lacing of the Athosian's regular clothing, had not given much thought to how she would look to a pre-teen male. In fact, as he watched a slight blush seemed to crawl up Sheppard's face, and the boy dropped his eyes from where they had been studying Teyla's ample décolletage. Yeah, this was John Sheppard all right, young Kirk in action.
"I am indeed, J.T." she replied, having accepted the new name with her usual aplomb. Perhaps as had been for McKay, it made it easier to separate the boy from the man. She had seen the direction of the boy's eyes, and evidently decided not to mention it. Obviously she decided to try to draw the boy out rather than avoid answering any further questions that he might have.
"I am unfamiliar with the workings of a military school as opposed to a regular school. What is the difference?" The fact that the Athosians had no formal school was something the boy would have no way of knowing.
"Well, mostly the difference is that you get yelled at a lot more." the boy said somewhat snarkily. He looked up at Teyla who gave him an encouraging smile. "Well the classes are the same, but instead of going home at the end of the day you just stay there all the time and you get taught discipline and military courtesy and following rules and all that crap. Just like if you were in the Marines or the Air Force or something. You get assigned a rank when you start and you can get promotions as you go along. I'm a private." The last was said with contempt, and McKay suspected that young Sheppard had just as much problem with rules and regulations as the older one did.
"And how long have you been going to this school?"
"A month." McKay noted that the eating had seemingly stopped for good, and now the boy was not even pretending to push it around.
"I know that you have a brother. Is he also at this military school?" If McKay hadn't been looking at the boy when Teyla asked the question, he would not have seen the expression of pure hurt that passed over the young face, the agony in the hazel eyes. Both were gone in an instant, so young to be so good at hiding so much.
"No. He's…he's at home with our father." The face was placid, but the voice told the story. The boy could not keep his pain from filling those words. Teyla heard it and reached across the table and placed a hand on the small fist that rested next to the tray with the half eaten food. Even Ronon had stopped eating, and McKay could see the anger in his face. Evidently 'distant' wasn't the best term for the relationship between Sheppard and his father. To keep one son at home and ship another off to military school, that was favoritism of the highest degree. McKay searched his mind for something, anything to say. He had nothing.
He noticed that Ronon was reaching for the pie that was on the corner of Sheppard's tray, and intercepted his hand with a fork. If anyone was going to poach off the kid's tray it was going to be him, and after all it was the chocolate silk pie. Sheppard must have caught the movement from the corner of his eyes, because he looked over at them. He quickly figured out what was going on, and a grin bloomed across his face. He pulled the pie closer and picked up his fork again. Ronon shrugged with good grace and stole Teyla's piece instead, since she allowed it McKay figured that meant she had gotten it for one of them to begin with. McKay helped himself to the pudding cup that was still on the corner of the boy's tray, seeing the flash of humor in the kid's eyes as he did so. They finished their dinner in silence. Once the trays were empty Sheppard's attention went to the balcony. He looked from one to the other of them.
"Can I go outside?" he asked, practically bouncing in his seat. Teyla nodded and he was up and away before another word could be spoken. Teyla took her tray and Sheppard's and nodded to McKay.
"Perhaps it would be best if you stayed with him."
"Why me?" Rodney whined. "Why can't you do it, or Ronon, he has the whole pushy Mary Poppins thing going on. He can be the nanny."
"He seems to relate to you, Rodney, just as the older John does. He will be more comfortable with you. Ronon and I puzzle him. We do not fit into his perception of a military base. He will ask questions that we are not able to answer without revealing more than is prudent. You can talk to him about familiar things like Star Trek and Star Wars and mathematics." Well damn it, he couldn't argue about that. He got to his feet and slid his tray toward Ronon who raised a brow. McKay started backing away from the table.
"Well you can't expect me to leave him alone for long now can you. He's probably out there pumping Kavanaugh for information, and lord knows that man is overmatched by a twelve year old." He justified as he fled. He made his escape and went out onto the balcony. Sheppard was perched on the lowest rung of the rail, hanging out over the rail his jaw dropped in awe as he looked out over the city and the sea. McKay had to smile at the pure astonishment on the young face. He remembered his first look at the city when it had surfaced, and knew what the boy was feeling.
"Pretty impressive, huh?" he asked. The boy turned wide eyes on him.
"This isn't a military base. This is a whole city. How many people are here?" he asked.
"Not as many as you might think. Most of that is empty."
"But…but this is too big to be secret, and it's right on the ocean. Everybody would see it. I don't understand."
"It's in kind of a…remote area so to speak." McKay hedged. This was getting harder and harder. As the boy had said he wasn't stupid, and the inconsistencies were easily noticeable. Even now the dark eyes were looking doubtfully from him and back to the city. He gnawed on his lower lip in thought, another habit that had made it through to adulthood.
"Can I see some more?" he asked finally. McKay had the feeling that the boy still had a lot of questions, but was smart enough to know that they were not going to be answered. He probably thought he could get more information by simply observing.
"Sure. Why don't we go down to that pier that you can see over there?" He pointed out the western pier. It was someplace they could go without using the transporters, the working of which he was not going to try to explain, and since the Daedalus was not here it was currently empty. He could point out a few unclassified areas, a few labs, the quarters, the gym. What more could the boy want?
An hour later McKay was about to pull out what remained of his hair. He had been looking for Sheppard for the last forty-five minutes. He was at the point that he was having flashbacks about Jinto in the transporter sending himself to some obscure part of the city. If Sheppard had gotten in one of them the city would have taken him anywhere he indicated. Rodney had retraced their path all the way back to the mess hall, and there were there a lot of steps in that particular process, all UP this time, but there was no sign of the boy, and no one had seen him. He was lifting his hand to key his radio and alert Lorne to turn out the Marines when Elizabeth's voice came over the intercom.
"Dr McKay please report to the puddle-jumper hanger, immediately." Oh, that was not a good sign. He hadn't heard that particular tone in Elizabeth's voice since Doranda. He rushed to the nearest transporter. If figured that Sheppard would somehow find his way to the jumper bay. The man was fascinated by anything that flew, why should the boy be different. He hurried down the corridor toward the jumper bay, mentally composing the tirade that he would unleash on the boy when he got there. Elizabeth wasn't the only one that could give a lecture.
He huffed into the hanger at full steam and ready to let loose on a certain shrimpy colonel, only to be faced by not a boy but Elizabeth and Lorne and Zelenka along with a small knot of Marines who were looking nervously at Lorne. He stumbled to a halt and looked around. No Sheppard. Before he could ask Elizabeth noticed him and turned to face him, arms crossed.
"Rodney, how long has John been missing? And why didn't you call anyone." she asked.
"Well, 'missing' may be a bit strong. I would say he's more…misplaced." He could see by her face that she wasn't buying it.
"Dr Zelenka was doing a sensor sweep with the security cameras when he caught sight of an unauthorized person here in the hanger. As you may guess we were somewhat surprised to see John wandering around in here, evidently by himself. By the time Major Lorne got here he was gone."
"Gone? What do you mean he was gone? Where did he go?" He looked around. An awful possibility came to him. "Don't tell me he took a jumper out!" he demanded. If that was the case there was no telling where the boy could end up. He could crash, or end up in space and not know how to get back, he could run into some Wraith, or…, his list of possible disasters was interrupted by Elizabeth.
"No, though there didn't really seem to be anything stopping him from taking one of them if he had realized what they were, or that he could control it. Evidently he just looked around and moved on."
"I thought that the hanger was under guard." McKay said with a glance at Lorne. The major in turn glared at the small bunch of Marines who were shifting nervously under the glare.
"There was a…slight problem with that. Two of the guards were away from their post at the time this happened. Their lives have just become incredibly miserable." It was easy to pick out which two he was speaking of as they paled noticeably. The other two still looked nervous however so it seemed that they weren't off the hook either. Lorne continued. "The other two left their posts when it was reported that the boy had come in an unattended door and tried to catch him. He heard them coming and took off, going out through the other unguarded door. Not exactly a good showing against a thirteen year old." The other two Marines paled too.
"Twelve and a half, actually, almost." McKay pointed out gleefully. At least he wasn't going to suffer alone. The kid had given two Marines the slip too. Unfortunately the expression on Elizabeth's face showed that she did not appreciate the distinction. Time to spread the guilt around some more. "Well if you were watching him on the cameras Zelenka, why don't you know where he went?" The flash of the Czech's eyes told him that he was well aware of what McKay was doing.
"He went out the east doorway, the one without the camera. The one YOU have been saying does not need a camera since it leads only into the personnel quarter area and there is plenty of coverage there. However none of those cameras have picked up the boy and now he is missing for real. Oh, I'm sorry, you say he is…misplaced" Sarcasm was not pretty with a Czech accent.
"He must have slipped down the stairway into the lower levels. The cameras are spotty down there and we don't have many patrols out right now. I'm going to send out four teams now. They'll start from the central spire and work their way out in each direction. Do you think he'll be actively hiding from us?" Lorne asked. McKay shrugged.
"Who knows what goes on in the kid's head? It is after all Sheppard we are talking about. I don't even know why he took off. I was explaining that in special relativity the concept of distance is quantified in terms of the space-time interval between two events, which occur in two locations at two times, as opposed to Euclidian geometry whereas distances are entirely spatial and always positive. I actually thought that he was beginning to understand that space-time intervals may be classified into three distinct types based on whether the temporal separation or the spatial separation is the greater of the two, but when I turned around he was gone. It's surprising how often that happens to me." Lorne's eyes were kind of glazed. Zelenka snorted in derision.
"Yeah…I can see how that would happen." Lorne finally said and looked at Elizabeth with some degree of begging. "If you don't mind, Ma'am, I'll go supervise the teams. Maybe if he sees a familiar face the kid will make this easy." At Elizabeth's nod he left, pausing only to speak to the luckless guards who all went back to their posts as if they had been whipped. This left McKay alone with Elizabeth and Zelenka who were staring at him accusingly.
"What?" He asked. Before they could speak he continued. "Yes, I know I was supposed to be watching him. Yes, I DO know all the trouble a kid can get into here. Yes, I do realize that Atlantis has no way of knowing that he's a child and doesn't understand the mental interface. And yes, I realize that somehow I will be blamed for all of this even though I should never have been put in the position of watching him to begin with. It is obvious that the job should have gone to someone much more used to dealing with recalcitrant prisoners, like maybe a prison warden or someone armed." Zelenka snorted again and threw up his hands and left, muttering in Czech. Elizabeth called after him.
"Please have Chuck continue checking the cameras. He might not have gone down below." Zelenka waved an acknowledging hand as the door closed behind him. She sighed. "Really Rodney, you are always telling us what a genius you are. Could watching one child be so hard?"
"I didn't expect him to run." he whined. "He was looking at everything, and I thought we were becoming…friends in a way. He really loved the doors opening on their own and he wanted to go swimming off the pier. He was kind of disappointed that there wasn't much surf. I think that got him thinking, about the city and where we were. He's not dumb you know Elizabeth. He isn't buying the classified military base. I think it would be best to tell him what is going on. Well most of it up to the recent stuff. And we don't need to mention a certain colonel. He won't know the difference there, and it will save someone from spilling the beans by mistake later. You know the old saying about how three people can keep a secret if two are dead, well with the people here all three would have to be dead and news would still get out. It's just a matter of time."
Elizabeth sighed and paced around for a few moments. McKay could practically follow the sequence of thoughts from the expressions on her face. It took several minutes but eventually she came to a stop in front of him and he could see she had reached a decision.
"All right. We'll tell him everything." She held up a hand to stop McKay from speaking. "A carefully-edited everything. Obviously we won't mention anything to do with the colonel or what's happened with the device. We will also not be sharing anything about Stargate Command. If, heaven forbid, he has to be returned to Earth, they can decide what to tell him, but for now it remains classified. Also, he will not be allowed free run of the facility. I want his codes pulled and I want the doors locked against him in all sensitive areas, including the gate room and the chair room. Why are you shaking your head?"
"Pulling the codes, yes, easy to do. Locking the doors, not so much." he explained. At her puzzled look he explained. "The city loves him. With his super-charged gene he can override any lock that we set on the Ancient mechanisms. All he has to do is REALLY want it and he's in. Trust me with a pre-teen it is better to explain what the places are and simply tell him why you don't want him there. If he's anything like I was, being told you can't do something only makes you want to do it more."
"No one is like you Rodney." she assured him with a twinkle in her eyes. He pretended to be offended, but he was quietly pleased. She continued "So I could lock the door to my quarters and if he wanted to, he could open them whenever he wanted?"
"With very little problem actually. The city has no concept of personal space. It doesn't see the need for protecting our privacy. It would take more effort for him to override a lock on a place like the ZPM room or the gate room, but he could do it."
"Well, that's incredibly reassuring from a security angle. It would have been nice if you had dropped that bit of information into some conversation in the last three years. What about Carson or Lorne or the rest of the natural gene carriers? Can they do the same?"
"Beckett…maybe, if he wasn't so damn afraid of it. If it were some sort of medical emergency he would probably go through almost anything as long as he didn't stop and think about it. Miko is the next strongest, and she couldn't do it. Her gene is only slightly more powerful than those with the gene therapy. As to the sharing, I've been slightly busy the last few years saving the galaxy and our asses, and not always in that order."
"I know Rodney." Elizabeth said patting his arm. He noticed that she was getting that look that so many people seemed to get when they talked to him for any length of time. That 'there must be somewhere else I can be' look. In the last three years he had found only a few people that almost never got that look when he was around. His team sprang to mind, and a certain colonel. "I'm going to go see if Zelenka or Lorne have had any luck. Perhaps you could get Teyla and Ronon and join the search. I really think that he was comfortable with you, and maybe he'll come out to you when he won't for the others." With another pat on his arm she left him standing there.
Alone, he looked around the hanger at something of a loss. Should he go help Zelenka or should he go and get the team and go searching? Technology vs. physical effort, it shouldn't be such a hard choice, but he was torn. Elizabeth was probably right. Surely a familiar face would be more reassuring to the boy than armed strangers. He stepped forward toward the east door of the hanger, intent on calling Teyla and Ronon and heading out when a voice spoke from above his head.
"The little guy with the hair could be Chekov. He's got the right accent. Major Lorne is more of a red shirt, but they never make it back to the ship. That was kind of a bummer. I guess Dr Weir will have to be T'Pau. Nothing else really fits except Spock's mom. Ms. Emmagen could be Yeoman Rand, she's got the…well she looks real nice. Can't really think of anything for Mr. Dex. Maybe Sulu since he did that thing with the sword that time when he was crazy."
McKay stumbled to a halt and looked up at the jumper that was in the storage area on the wall of the hanger. The top of the jumper was in darkness, and he could barely make out a small form huddled near the nose. The boy was sitting with his back to the wall with his knees drawn up and arms wrapped around them. The cast made it awkward, but the boy made it work. McKay thought the lights up further and the form became more distinct. The hazel eyes were regarding him solemnly. He flashed quickly from anger to relief and back to anger.
"What in the hell…" he started and then remembered that the target of his ire was not a forty something colonel, but instead was a pre-teen child. "WHAT are you doing up there, and WHY did you run off like that?" he asked in what he hoped was a reasonable tone. The boy blinked up at the lights for a moment, obviously wondering about the change in intensity, but turned back to McKay at his question.
"I didn't run off." the boy protested. "I was just looking around and when I turned around you were gone." McKay crossed his arms and glared at the boy. Sheppard bit his lip. "I may have wondered a bit away from where you were walking, but I could still hear you…for a while. Am I in trouble?
"Yes…well…I think that you could say that no one is terribly happy with you right now. You kind of gave us a scare. There are dangerous…things here." Hell, there were dangerous people here, but McKay wasn't going into that. "Now, get down from there and let's get back to the infirmary." McKay said with a scowl to reinforce his displeasure. It worked with his lab rats surely it would work with a twelve year old.
It didn't work. Instead the boy just tightened his arms around his legs, leaned his chin on top and stared at the scientist. That annoyed McKay further, probably because he had never been limber enough to use that pose himself. In any event it was obvious that the boy was not going to come down willingly.
"Okay, what is it now? And why are you up there, anyway? How did you get in here?" He waited but there was not response. Okay. He looked around and he saw the ladder leading up the wall that the boy must have used to get on top of the puddlejumper. With another look at the boy he sighed and started climbing. It was awkward moving from the ladder to the top of the ship and McKay could not help but wonder how the child had managed the jump. Evidently Sheppard the younger was as much a problem solver as the elder.
He made the jump, though he landed awkwardly on the edge and had to windmill his arms to keep himself from falling backward to the floor of the hanger twenty feet below. He regained his balance and moved toward the boy who was watching him sullenly. After looking around for some way to sit comfortably, he gave it up and simply plopped down so that he was leaning against the wall near Sheppard. They sat in silence for several minutes. McKay knew that the boy knew that there was no easy way for him to get the child down off of here by himself, and even with help it would probably be iffy if the boy did not want to go. He looked over at him. The kid was practically broadcasting 'I don't want to go' vibes. McKay sighed again.
"Okay. Let's start this over again. I come in, have a difficult conversation with my boss about how even though I have a number of advanced degrees in some very difficult subjects, most of which most people do not even understand, I have managed to lose track of a twelve year old…"
"Twelve and a half." The whispered interruption was nearly inaudible, but McKay waved it aside anyway.
"Whatever." He disregarded and moved on. "Anyway, after being castigated for my lack of child watching skills the party broke up and I was headed out to round up my team to go searching for you. Then you decided to make multiple Star Trek references about my co-workers and here we are." He concluded. They sat in silence for several minutes.
"Dr McKay, why are the stars wrong here?" Sheppard muttered with a sidelong glance at McKay. The scientist ran the statement through his mind. There was only so many ways that could be taken. He thought about how the moon had just been rising over the horizon when they had been out on the pier. The stars had been clearly visible. The stars, in their alien constellations, most of them still unnamed except by Teyla's people. He hadn't noticed the boy looking up at them with particular attention, and he certainly hadn't noticed any reaction to the oddness.
"So you're familiar with the constellations. I don't suppose you would believe me if I said that we are in the southern hemisphere and the constellations are different."
"We spent six months in Australia when I was eight. My mo…w…we spent a lot of time out at night looking at the stars. There wasn't a lot to do on the base. There's no Southern Cross, Carina, or Centaurus here. We aren't in the southern hemisphere, or the northern. Where are we at Dr. McKay? At least one of them should be visible if we are in the southern hemisphere, no matter what season it is." McKay could not keep a smile from crossing his face. He wasn't sure why he was so proud that the boy was so sharp. He had named the three constellations that were for the most part only visible from the southern half of the globe. Canapus, the second brightest star in the sky after Sirius, and Alpha Centauri, the third, were easy to find, and the boy had obviously not seen the beacons.
Well, Elizabeth had said that they could tell the boy everything, albeit a carefully edited everything, and since the cat was already out of the bag, he might as well go for it. He turned around so that he was sitting facing the boy. The child turned his head to look at him, face blank.
"Have you heard of the legend of the sinking of Atlantis, the city that was supposedly somewhere off the European mainland in the Atlantic Ocean?" he began. The boy nodded, his brow furrowing, as he no doubt tried to figure out what Atlantis had to do with being on anther planet.
"Well it turns out that Atlantis was not just a legend." He waved a hand at their surroundings. "THIS is Atlantis, and thousands of years ago it was on Earth, though not in the Atlantic Ocean it turns out, that part was a legend. The people that built Atlantis, we call them The Ancients, they were aliens who came to Earth from a long way away, and they were very advanced. But eventually they decided to leave Earth and return here to what we believe is their home planet."
"They brought the whole city? So…it's like Stratos in "The Cloud Minders", only it floats on water instead of air? Did they have like a really big ship like in Close Encounters?" McKay could only stare as the boy rambled on.
"You are such a geek. Who knew?" he said finally unable to contain his amusement. The statement broke into the boy's ramble and the hazel eyes looked at him in puzzlement. McKay waved it aside and got on with his explanation, though he filed the geek factor away for later use. "The city itself is the ship." He held up a hand. "Yes, I know that seems kind of out there, but these people were VERY advanced. Anyway, they came back here and continued to…do what it was they did. Eventually they decided that they had to leave here, and they decided to go back to Earth permanently, but this time they left the city. That was about ten thousand years ago. Just over three years ago we figured out how to get here using the same method that they used to come to Earth, and so here we are."
"They all died, after they came back to Earth?" the boy asked.
"Well…" How to explain ascension? "Most of them died, yes, but some of them…evolved into…" He was losing it there when it came to him. "Remember in that episode of Star Trek where the Lights of Zetar took over Scotty's girlfriend? Or the one where the blind woman was traveling with the thing in the box, 'Is There No Truth In Beauty?' Those were beings of pure energy. They had evolved from physical bodies, like ours into something more. Do you remember?"
"Yeah, but they were all really…kinda mean. Even if they didn't mean to be."
"Yes, well the Ancients that ascended, that is that turned into energy, they aren't all nice either, but they try to stay out of everyone's business, at least most of the time."
"You've met them? They're still around?" He looked around as if expecting some sort of monster to jump out of a shadow.
"Some. Like I said they don't really want to get involved with us." McKay suspected that the whole Ori war was probably part of the editing that Elizabeth expected.
"And how did I get here?" Sheppard asked. McKay scowled. He had really been hoping that the boy would be so caught up in the whole alien planet/flying city/energy beings thing that he would not ask that question. Elizabeth hadn't said anything about that particular hot potato. Time to fall back on the old standard.
"I'm…afraid that that is complicated. And classified."
"Classified? How can I be classified? All I was doing was playing basketball at school."
"No, that's what you remember. Believe me a lot happened after that." McKay said. 'A whole lot, say thirty years worth.' He added to himself.
"So I saw something that I don't remember and now I have to stay here? For how long?"
"We're…working on that. We'll have you back to normal as soon as possible." McKay assured him. 'Or as close to normal as you ever were.' He stood up, sensing that while the boy would probably have a lot of questions later, for now he was just about done in. He put out his hand. "Why don't we go see if there's any pie left in the mess hall? I know I could use a piece before bed." The boy considered for a moment, then reached down to stroke the metal of the craft upon which he sat.
"Can I ask another question first?"h asked. McKay stifled the urge to say 'You just did' and nodded. "Is this some sort of shuttle? Does it fly in space?" He should have known that even as a child Sheppard would be tuned into anything that could possibly fly.
"Yes, it does. We call them puddlejumpers. It flies in both atmosphere and vacuum."
"WWWOW!" McKay could not stop the smile from spreading across his face at the awe in the word. He offered his hand again and Sheppard reached out and took it to allow McKay to pull him to his feet.
They climbed down, the boy scrambling down the ladder like a monkey even with the cast, and were soon headed toward the door across the hanger. He was sure that they would be seen on the screen, and he threw a wave in the direction of the security camera behind the boy's back. He would drop a word with the first person that they passed to let everyone know that the boy had been found. He didn't want to get on the radio right now. He suspected that Elizabeth and Carson would demand that the boy be returned to the infirmary immediately. Somehow he didn't feel that that would be the best thing for the kid. As they were heading out the door he caught up with the smaller figure.
"So, exactly how did you get from where we were to where I found you without anyone seeing you?" he asked. The mischievous grin that crossed the boy's face at the question told him it was going to be an interesting story.
Two hours later he watched as Carson stepped out of one of the isolation rooms where the lights were already out. The door slid quietly closed and McKay felt the strange mental 'click' that meant that the door had been locked.
"Oh is that really necessary?" he asked. "It's not like we're talking public enemy number one here. He's just a kid." Carson was frowning at him, and Elizabeth had her serious face on.
"No, he's not just anything." she pointed out. "He's already gotten away from us once today, gotten away from you, and as you have so recently pointed out he has the potential to go wherever he wants on this base, including the gate room or the chair room. I have ordered Lorne to put guards on all sensitive areas, and he's arranged for a guard to be outside the doors here. We are not taking any chances here, Rodney." McKay threw himself into a nearby chair, huffing his discontent.
"Chances with security, or chances with John? Because it seems like everyone here is all concerned with all these things, but no one seems to care that we are dealing with a twelve year old."
"And you are an expert on 12 year olds now, Rodney?" Carson said with a scowl. "You're the one that let the boy run off by getting so involved in some esoteric math problem that you didn't even know if he was there or not. And you should be the last one to complain about Elizabeth being concerned about security. You better than anyone know what kind of damage the boy could do if he realizes that he can interact with the city. For his own safety the boy needs to be given boundaries. There are a lot of things that he could get into here that could hurt or kill him or us. Do I need to remind you about that energy creature that Jinto found? And I resent that you think that you are the only one that cares about the colonel. We are running every test we know of to see if we can determine what has happened and how to reverse it. Get off your high horse and settle." Elizabeth merely raised an eyebrow at the tirade, but McKay could see she agreed.
"Oh fine. So you all care about the Colonel. Great. We'll just continue to treat him like he was some sort of threat, keep him in the dark, and if we can't get that damned machine working, we'll merrily send him back to Earth to be raised by complete strangers or heck, even better, since he has the gene, by the government. They can turn him into the perfect little soldier; bend him any way that they want to. Hell, that way they get a born pilot that doesn't question orders and who has control of any ancient machinery they may find. I can see it now." And yes, maybe he was more than a bit paranoid when it came to the military establishment.
"It has been less than a day Rodney, I think it is a bit premature to be touting conspiracy theories about something that might never come to pass." Elizabeth said with some asperity.
"Yeah well maybe, but I think that we need to keep in mind that we are dealing with a child here, not a commodity and not an enemy. Why does he have to be locked up? Why can't he stay with me…or…or Teyla, or even Conan. We'll watch out for him. We're his team" His family. McKay suspected that Elizabeth heard what he hadn't added out loud, but she stuck to her stern line.
"He's already got away from you once, Rodney. He won't even know that he's locked in or that people are watching places in the city because of him. They only way he'll know any of it is if you make a big deal in front of him. You told him this was a classified base. He seems to understand the concept very well, and he shouldn't be surprised that certain places are off limits. As you said if we make it clear that they are off limits for a reason, and not just to him, he shouldn't be compelled to seek them out."
"And when he does figure out that we're locking him up? Because he will, you know. He may know now. You think he didn't feel that door lock? He might not know what it was, but he felt it, and he'll feel it again if you keep doing that and he'll make the connection. After that it is only a matter of time until he figures out the mental interface, the lights, the doors, hell the puddlejumpers. It is only a matter of time." He warned. Elizabeth sighed.
"I am sure that he will notice. He is John Sheppard, whatever age he might be, and I learned quite some time ago not to underestimate him in anything. But we have to be cautious Rodney. If we can't reverse the process then he will be stuck the way he is. He will have to grow up all over again, and I think it would be better if he did that without the knowledge of what he was before. It may be the only gift that we can give him. I understand that you only want what's best for him, but so do we." She took a deep breath.
"But I think we are getting ahead of ourselves. It has been less than a day and I have every confidence that Radek and the rest will be able to figure out the device and reverse it. We just need to give them a little time."
"And what do we do with Sheppard the Younger until then? I don't think we can just give him a pile of comic books and hope for the best."
"You said he was interested in the puddlejumpers. Maybe you, Teyla, and Ronon could take him over to the mainland and introduce him to the Athosians. Teyla can be sure that no one mentions anything that they shouldn't, and the children don't have to be told who John is." Beckett suggested.
"Oh yes, a skinny dark haired, hazel eyed boy with wild hair. No one will make any connections there. Tell me you couldn't pick him out as a mini Sheppard right off the bat."
"They'll have no reason to suspect anything of the kind, Rodney. You came back without the Colonel and presented us with a miniature version, it wasn't hard to make the leap. I can almost guarantee that no one else will." Beckett argued.
"All right, say no one figures it out. What about him? What about when he starts talking about his home, about his family, about himself? Do we tell him that he can't tell anyone his whole name, that he can't say anything about Earth? What about Atlantis? Can he say anything about that? I can see how he'll have a hell of a fine time. He and the Athosian kids will have so much in common that they can talk about instead."
"I think you may be over thinking this Rodney." Elizabeth put in. "Children can play without having a common language much less common experiences. I saw it all over the world. I think if we simply tell him that he shouldn't tell anyone about Atlantis, Earth or himself because if the situation, he'll do the rest."
"The situation we can't explain to him completely."
"Rodney…" Elizabeth started. McKay waved her exasperation aside.
"Never mind. Fine. We'll take the kid to the mainland while Zelenka and the rest of the monkeys blindly play with the device and hope for the best." He agreed with false enthusiasm. He rose to his feet with one last glance at the locked door. "I'll go and let Teyla and Ronon in on the fun." He left quickly. He had a feeling this was not going to turn out well.
It was of very little comfort to him 36 hours later when it had all gone to hell that he had been right. He was sitting in the control room staring at his laptop, trying to figure out how to track a pre-teen boy who appeared to have a very well developed evasion technique. Now he knew where Sheppard had gotten his skills. It hadn't been the special ops training. It was evidently an inbred talent. Of course it didn't help that the city seemed to have taken a hand, so to speak.
They had not been able to leave for the mainland until after noon that morning. There had been a series of power outages in the medical sections that McKay was forced to deal with, and Ronon had gotten hung up in the gym with a particularly vigorous work out with the new Marines.
The power outages had started somewhere around four AM and McKay had been turfed out of his bed soon after. He hadn't been there in the morning to take Sheppard to breakfast, so the boy had been handed over to Teyla. Beckett, in between haranguing Rodney for power and lights, had said that he had released the lock before the boy woke and that he seemed to be doing well, even if he seemed somewhat quiet. Of course that could just be the boy's natural personality. The older Sheppard was not exactly outgoing with anyone except those he considered friends.
Teyla had taken the boy to the mess hall where they had shared breakfast. She reported that the boy had eaten well and had been watching everyone coming and going with interest. He had been quiet at first, but as time had past he had become more talkative, asking questions about the people and the city. She had answered those that she thought wise and had demurred on those that she felt were too sensitive.
There had been only one thing that had seemed particularly odd to her. They had been walking around after breakfast and had stopped in front of a large window to look out over the city. At first the boy had done the usual touristy thing, then she noticed that his focus had seem to shift. Instead of looking at the city he was looking at his own reflection in the glass. He had run a hand through his hair and she said it was almost as if he had not recognized himself. He had stood there frowning at his reflection for several moments, running his hand over his new cast, until she had laid a hand on his arm to get his attention. He had been startled, as if he had forgotten she was there. He had blinked at her several times, but when she had asked if he was all right he had nodded. She noticed he had taken a last look at his reflection as they moved on, but he had seemed to be fine after that.
Teyla had been called away to take a radio call from the mainland, and since she had wanted to speak to Halling about what topics needed to be avoided when they got there later that day, she had decided to leave Sheppard with Beckett again. McKay suspected that the turning point had come in that interlude.
At first the boy had simply sat in the infirmary talking with Beckett about this and that. McKay was sure that the kid had been endlessly entertained by Beckett's sheep stories, not, and the advent of the results of Ronon's extended training session had no doubt been greeted with some pleasure. Since they had no power, the process of dealing with six slightly bent and broken Marines had somewhat taxed the staff. Beckett had shuffled Sheppard into his office, and in the attempt to give the boy something to do beside look at obscure genetics journals, had logged on his computer and started Minesweeper for him.
Since the boy had never seen anything like it, Beckett having forgotten that video games had been just a little past Pong on the Commodore 64 in the mid 1970's, and had been forced to give him a quick tutorial. He had then left the boy alone for almost an hour. A quick scan of the computer logs showed that it hadn't taken long for the boy's curiosity to get the best of him. After about fifteen minutes the log showed that the minesweeper program had been closed. From there it showed a series of evidently random clicks on the icons on the desktop. For the most part they were shortcuts to forms, test results, or some other stuff that had evidently held little interest. It had taken the boy about ten tries to find the file that had no doubt been a real eye opener.
Beckett had been notating Sheppard's medical file right before Teyla had shown up with the boy. He had not completed his work so he had simply minimized it and had forgotten it was there. The log indicated that John had spent almost thirty minutes reading through it, or at least hitting the high points. It was a large file, and most comprehensive, starting when Sheppard had joined the Air Force. It included several photos, including one taken after that unfortunate incident in the stargate shortly after they had come.
The focus had been on the wound on Sheppard's neck, but it had also included a very nice profile of the colonel. There was another that McKay had never seen that showed a younger-though not as young as now-Sheppard with bruising on his face and chest. It was dated in the years that he had been in Afghanistan, right after the incident that had landed him in Antarctica with a serious black mark on his record. Even beaten up there was no doubt who it was. It must have been like staring into some kind of weird mirror for the child.
The boy had had the presence of mind to shut down the file before anyone caught him looking. He had then found Minesweeper again and had played that until Beckett had come back to get him after all the wounded had been taken care of. After a firm talking too by Beckett about breaking the Marines, Ronon had taken the boy off to lunch and had brought him down to the hanger when it was time to go. The ex-runner had said the boy was quiet and seemed to be thinking about something through lunch, but since he was not exactly Mr. Chatty Cathy himself, it hadn't set off any alarms.
The trip to the mainland had gone surprisingly well, at least on the surface. Halling had coached the older children about what they could and couldn't say, and an impromptu game of football had taken away most of the awkwardness of strangers meeting strangers. That had led to some afternoon fishing in a nearby stream, an activity in which McKay had steadfastly refused to participate saying he expected his fish to be served fried with a side of chips and a beer. He had chosen instead to nap in the shade of a nearby tree.
Later they had gone back to the village and had eaten dinner with Halling and Jinto. The two boys seemed to get along okay though there was no sign of them becoming best buds right off the bat or anything like that. Jinto talked about hunting and Sheppard talked about basketball, and everyone seemed to be happy. They returned to Atlantis well after sundown, and McKay explained a little about how the puddlejumper worked to the curious boy. He did not mention the mental component. The boy had seemed to grasp most of the aerodynamics and some of the power systems.
After they landed they went to the mess hall for a nightcap of ice cream and left over ake. There had been a few more questions, most of them aimed at Teyla and Ronon as the resident "aliens". The only time that there was any tension was when the boy asked about any "really creepy alien-aliens" like the Defel. After a brief explanation about the Defel and Star Wars and the bar scene on Tatooine, and a promise to view the movie again that night, Teyla had told the boy that there were several species that they knew of that might be considered "creepy", but that there were none on Atlantis and it was doubtful that he would meet any while he was here. The boy seemed disappointed about that, but perked up at the idea of seeing Star Wars again.
Not long after that, two of the Marines on security patrol made a sweep through the room. McKay noted that the boy seemed to be staring at them, though he tried to hide it by doing it out of the corner of his eyes. He hadn't learned about 'casual' observation yet. He wasn't sure what it was about the Marines that had the boy staring, but made a mental note of it.
After the viewing, during which McKay found himself having to bite his tongue not to make references to the other films, Rodney walked the boy back to the infirmary where Beckett was waiting. The boy protested just a bit that he was not tired, but he went inside the room he had been assigned when Beckett told him too. He asked to be allowed to read for a while, taking one of the books that some of the nurses had found during the day. They had been careful not to get anything published after 1977, but had made a good haul anyway. It was surprising what people had on their bookshelves. They had even got some of the older movies so that the boy could watch them if he wanted, though the DVDs proved to be a fascinating thing to him, one that they explained away as 'alien' technology.
Dressed in the small scrubs that he was using as pajama's the boy was sitting on the bed reading as McKay and Beckett talked quietly across the infirmary. McKay shared their day. Beckett was pleased that it had gone well. For his part he shared the results of the more complicated tests that had been completed while they were gone. They had pretty much confirmed what they already knew. The genetics results were exactly what they would have expected, but without the iratus DNA that had been there since Sheppard had been infected by Elia with the retrovirus. To all intents and purposes he was a regular 12-year old boy from Earth, who just happened to have a very strong Ancient DNA component.
McKay reciprocated with the report that he had gotten from the labs. Some progress had been made on the device, but only so far as that they knew what powered it. The power source was still strong, giving some hope that the effect could be reversed, the question was would the machine work in reverse? The staff was searching the database for any information on the device or anything that had a similar effect. It had been suggested that they find out where the man who had used the device had found it, in the hopes that some specialized information could be obtained from that facility, but a quick trip back to the planet by Lorne's team had yielded only the news that the man had gotten the device from a trader. The same trader who had told him about how the Lantean's were "pretending" to be descendants of the Ancients, how they had taken over Atlantis, how they should be punished for their sacrilege. The man again told them that the trader was Genii, and that they would have to ask him for more information. That hadn't gone over very well. Beckett was just as miffed about it as everyone else.
"Will those people never leave us alone? What have we ever done to them but try to help them? Even if they had Atlantis they couldn't use it to the extent that we can, no one among them has a strong enough incidence of the gene to so much as turn on a light. If they would only stop fighting us so hard…" He stopped as McKay waved a hand.
"You are preaching to the choir here, Beckett. Even if we could find the trader, which is next to impossible, there is no way that he is going to cooperate and tell us where he got it. In fact I wouldn't believe anything the guy said. He obviously inflamed that idiot on the planet and used him to strike at us, at Sheppard. Lorne says that the idiot said that the trader specifically described Sheppard, how he was our leader, and the worst of the liars. It was a calculated attack. Either way they got what they wanted. If the guy sobered up and gave it a second thought they lost nothing. On the other hand if his paranoia and stupidity outlived the drink then they got in a hit on us with no danger to them. The perfect plan."
"They get revenge on Sheppard and there's no way we can really make a complaint to the Genii council. Clever boots they are. But they couldn't know what the machine would do. For all they knew it was some sort of vibrator or Ancient food preparer, or even, " Beckett broke off with a grin, "Some sort of Ancient sex toy." McKay scowled at his friend.
"Very funny. I thought we agreed to never mention that again."
"No, you agreed. The rest of us intend to remember it for a very long time." the doctor teased. McKay was about to make a snide comment when a voice spoke from behind them.
"I think there's something funny going on with the lights in the room, Dr McKay. They went out all by themselves then they came back on again. Maybe you have a short or that power thing you were talking about today is back." McKay and Beckett exchanged glances. The boy had probably been nodding off and the city chose to turn down the lights in response to an unvoiced desire. When the boy had woken at the strange turn of events the city had probably turned them back up. McKay patted the nearest slim shoulder.
"I'll take a look at it before I go to bed. Since you're going to be sleeping it won't matter if they're off for the night, right?" He said cheerily, steering the boy back toward the room. The boy looked up at him from the side of his eyes.
"It's kind of weird how the lights around here are always going up and down on their own. Shouldn't you be able to fix that?" he asked.
"Oh well, the place is over ten thousand years old. The systems get a little old and cranky after all that time. Something like Beckett here when he doesn't get enough sleep." Maybe I'll let you help me chase down the problem tomorrow. Doesn't that sound like fun?"
"But all that stuff is classified isn't it. You aren't supposed to show me that. Dr Weir will get mad at us."
"I think that she'll be okay with this. I'll check with her first though before we go searching. It'll give you a chance to see a little more of the city. We'll take along Teyla and Ronon, maybe a picnic." He tried to sound excited about the idea. From the boy's doubtful look he did not succeed.
"I guess." The boy bit his lip and climbed up on the bed. "Are you going to lock the door again, Dr McKay?" He asked as he pulled up the covers. He did not raise his eyes as he asked the question.
"I uh…" He had told them that Sheppard was going to figure it out, and it was just typical that he was the one put on the spot. Well, there wasn't much he could say about it, the decision had evidently been carved in stone. "I'm afraid that because of your little unauthorized walk from before that it was decided that the door should be locked. Not that we don't trust you, you understand. It's just that there are a lot of things here that can…well be dangerous, and we don't want to see you hurt. You understand that right?" He waited for several seconds, but the boy did not raise his eyes or nod. He put out a hand to pat the covered knee, but it was withdrawn and when he looked back up the boy was staring at him with that closed off look that he had had when he had first regained consciousness.
"I understand, Dr McKay." The boy said. McKay knew that he didn't, or maybe that he did, maybe too well. Unfortunately there was nothing he could do to fix it now. Maybe he would talk to Elizabeth and see if maybe they could move the kid in with him tomorrow night. After all, he was spending most of his time with the boy anyway, why not the night too? He made a vague gesture with his hands and left the room, thinking the door closed and locked. Beckett looked at him with a question in his eyes, but McKay didn't feel like talking so he simply scowled at his friend and went out, heading for his quarters. It had been a long day, and he didn't think that the next was going to be any better.
The next morning, dourly staring at his useless computer, he reflected that he had been correct in that assumption. He had been sleeping soundly when a massive pounding on his door had woken him up. He had practically fallen out of his bed, trying to stumble to the door to see what idiot was trying to knock it down. Predictably when he thought it open it was Ronon standing there with one hand raised ready to continue his pounding.
"All right! You've now woken everyone in this section of the galaxy." he growled, clutching his blankets around him. "What the hell is so important that you can't call me on the radio like civilized people?"
"You weren't answering." Ronon said calmly. McKay threw up his hands, nearly losing his blankets.
"Of course I didn't answer. I was sleeping! That is what normal people do at…" He looked around for a clock "Five AM!" He turned a worse scowl on the Satedan. He didn't often get a full night's sleep. He had to get it while he could. "WHAT is so important that you had to come and dent my door?"
"Sheppard's gone again." Ronon said simply. McKay gaped at him, blankets dropping to the floor.
"WHAT!?" He yelled. "When?"
"Don't know when. When Beckett went to check on him a while ago he was gone. Bed was cold. The gate room guy is checking the cameras now." McKay waved the bigger man inside so that the door could close and grabbed for a uniform out of his closet, pulling it on as quickly as possible. He had sat down to tie his boots when it clicked.
"Damn it, Sheppard knows that there's no cameras down in the lower levels. He heard it when we were talking in the hanger before. He probably went down there. There's no telling where he might be now." His mind was already trying to figure out how he could track the boy. Beckett had already checked on the subcutaneous chip, it was gone.
"Lorne's putting together search parties. They'll start in the occupied areas first and then move out once we get an idea how long he's been gone. Do you think he knows about the transporters?" McKay snorted.
"Oh no, I'm sure he never noticed all the people that went into the little rooms and suddenly disappeared, or that suddenly appeared in the little room who hadn't been there before. After all, he's not in any way intelligent." He finished tying his boots and headed out the door, Ronon on his heels. "Of course he knows about the transporters, Conan. He probably figured those out yesterday morning." A thought occurred. "Why was Beckett checking in on Sheppard before five in the morning?"
"SGA-4 came in hot around 0300. Three injured. There was a lot of noise in the infirmary and he thought that Sheppard might be awake. Just as well. If it had waited another few hours he would be that much further away."
"He could have snuck out anytime after Beckett turned his back last night. Evidently the Marines on the doors around here wouldn't notice if a Wraith wandered by with three Genii and a Replicator in tow. A small boy would be impossible for them to see. He obviously figured out how to work the locks, and there is no telling what else the city will let him do. Hell, I'm pretty sure the colonel hasn't told us half of what he experiences with the interface."
"So he really could be anywhere on Atlantis." Ronon concluded as they entered the gateroom. Elizabeth was there, leaning over the tech's shoulder at the security station. They were watching a video feed. She glanced briefly at him and nodded toward the screen. As they watched a small figure was making its way out of the isolation room. It scuttled from shadow to shadow. There was a lot of activity going on around one gurney, and there were a lot of people moving around the room, despite the early time stamp. It was just after 0300, and McKay assumed that these were the men from SGA4. He watched as another gurney was pushed into the room. Beckett was perched on the side of the gurney performing CPR as they came in. Just as the gurney was coming in one of the techs running along the side seemed to trip on something and went down almost in the doorway. The gurney kept going, with out a pause, but the guard on the door moved around to help the guy to his feet, and when it appeared he had hurt his leg, helped him toward a chair. At the same moment there was movement in one of the shadows near the door, and the small figure suddenly darted out the open door and ran down the hall away from the activity and the transporter.
The tech, Bob, or Bill, or maybe it was Ed - McKay could never keep the late night guys straight, switched to another camera. They watched as the boy worked his way down several sets of stairs, hiding twice as sentries passed. Oh, heads were going to be rolling in the Marine barracks when Lorne saw this. Finally, they watched as he cautiously approached one of the transporters and entered. The camera angle would not allow them to see what he punched on the screen, but the closing of the door told them that he had done so. McKay motioned one of the other techs out of his way and cued up the activity logs for the transporter for that time. In moments he knew exactly where the transporter had sent the boy. As he read out the result he sank back into the chair and sighed.
"Rodney?" Elizabeth questioned.
"He sent himself down to level thirteen about halfway across the city. We don't have any cameras down there, and he didn't use that transporter again, but that doesn't mean that he didn't just move to another one, or several other ones later."
"You can check that though, correct?"
"Yes, I can have the system compile the usage logs for any transporter outside the normally used area here, but think about the number of transporters there are in this city Elizabeth. It'll take a while and every minute means he gets further away. And that's if he even uses them. What if he just walked away from there? He's been gone two hours since then, that's a lot of time to get really, really lost."
"It gives us a place to start." She nodded at the tech who called in the location to Lorne and the search parties. Ronon, who had been standing by, grunted something about getting Teyla and heading out to search as well, went out, leaving McKay to start the algorithm to search for transporter activity. He was not optimistic.
That lack of optimism had proved correct an hour later when no other transporter showed any use. Maybe he should just go join Ronon and Teyla. He wasn't doing any good here. He was scowling at the logs when his radio chirped at him.
"Rodney, this is Teyla. Have the logs shown you anything?"
"No." he growled in frustration. "As far as the computer is concerned no one has used any of the transporters in that section for the last ten thousand years. I have it monitoring all activity in a two hour walking radius of the one we know he used, and so far nothing. Where are you at?"
"We have just transported into section 23A on level 13. Ronon feels that since Major Lorne and the Marines are searching from the transporter out, we should try searching from the outer radius in." McKay brought up the schematic of the base on his second laptop, zeroing in on the section she had mentioned. He had hooked the subcutaneous transmitter tracker in and he had the transporters showing on the display as well. He could see the two dots that represented his teammates standing near one of the green dots that represented a transporter. He was about to tell them to wait for him when something struck him.
"Wait a minute. Did you say you just transported in? To the transporter you're standing by, or have you walked in some ways?" he asked turning back to his other machine and scrolling furiously through the print out on the screen. He could hear the puzzlement in Teyla's voice as she answered.
"As I said, we just transported here. We are no more than ten feet from the transporter that we used. What is wrong? Can you not see our transmitters?" McKay found what he had been looking for as she finished speaking and let out a curse he had learned from Ronon. He could practically hear Teyla's eyebrow rising from where they were. "Rodney what is wrong?"
McKay ignored her and nudged one of the techs who had been working on the next consol aside, okay so maybe he pushed the man, but really, he was doing something here. His fingers flew over the Ancient interface, his mind flying even faster. He vaguely heard Teyla's voice in his ear, but he continued working until a much nearer voice spoke his name sharply.
"Rodney!" It was Elizabeth, frowning down at him. He scowled at her.
"The city is hiding him! At this rate he'll have grown up all over again before we can track him down. He'll end up some feral child raised by the Ancient equivalent of wolves. He'll be like Ronon."
"I do not believe that there are wolves on Atlantis, Rodney." came Teyla's calm voice over the radio. "What do you mean Atlantis is hiding him?" She beat Elizabeth to the question by moments evidently as the head of Atlantis was asking him the same question almost at the same time. He waved them both off, even though only one could see him.
"The city has stopped logging any transporter activity in the area where Sheppard is, or was. For the last two hours there is nothing showing in the logs because no data has been fed to them. A whole legion of people could have been transporting around down there and we wouldn't know it. Teyla and Ronon just transported in to section 23A, and as far as the computer is concerned, that transporter hasn't been used since some time around noon about ten millennia ago. And as an extra bonus surprise, as far as the interior scanners are concerned they don't exist."
"But how is that possible?" Elizabeth asked.
"I told you, the city loves his gene. If he wants something badly enough, he can override most of the systems in the city. As far as it is concerned we, the less genetically endowed, are the interlopers here, and he is the golden child. Obviously the city picked up on his need to hide, and it took steps to make sure that he could not be tracked, at least not this way."
"So we can't use any of the Atlantis systems to help us find John?" Elizabeth asked. "How far does this go, Rodney? Can the city actively hinder us from finding him?" He could hear the anxiety in her voice, and he felt his own rising.
"I don't know how proactive it can get. It is an artificial intelligence, but that being said, it is still a construct of its builders. The Ancients would have had no reason to build in…evasion techniques. Right now it is just responding to his needs the only way it can. He wanted his activity to be hidden, and it did that. That may be the extent of it."
"And it may not." she said. He shrugged. He really could not answer her about Atlantis' capabilities. Maybe if he hadn't had to spend the last three years running for his life he would have had time to delve more deeply into the inner workings of the system and its interface. He decided not to bring that point up for the moment. Elizabeth paced in front of the consoles. Teyla clicked off the team channel but was soon back on the command frequency so that Elizabeth could hear her.
"When Jinto was missing you were able to speak to him over the communications system and find his position from his answer. Can you not try that again with J.T?" McKay snapped his fingers at one of the techs who rolled out of the way just in time as the scientist moved to yet another console. He started pushing buttons. It had been several years since they had used the city-wide system, choosing instead to use their own Earth-based radio boosted with the Ancient technology, but in a few moments he nodded to Elizabeth who keyed her radio.
"John, I mean J.T., this is Dr Weir, I know that you can hear me, and if you speak, I can hear you. I don't know why you decided to run away from the infirmary," She scowled at McKay's snort but continued in a level tone. "I know this is very confusing for you, and we are very sorry, but we are doing the best we can under the circumstances. J.T. this city is very old, and there are many places that we have not had an opportunity to explore. They could be very dangerous. We have several search parties out looking for you, and they would like to help you get back to the safer parts of the city. If you don't want to go to them, you can use the nearest transporter to go back to the infirmary. I'm sure that you remember how to work it. You will not be punished J.T, so if you are worried about that, don't be. We just want to make sure that you are safe."
They waited several seconds but there was no response. McKay wheeled back over to the activity logs and brought up the one for the transporter near the infirmary. Nothing. He shook his head at Elizabeth. He reached up for his radio with a raised eyebrow at Weir. She nodded, though she seemed doubtful.
"J.T. this is Dr McKay, Rodney. You know that I have tried to tell you the truth, at least as far as I could what with the secret base and all. I thought that we had a pretty good understanding. I know that this is all very…confusing, even for someone as smart as you, but this is not going to get you home any faster than if you had stayed where you were, in fact it is going to make it harder for us to help you. Now I know that we weren't exactly…best buds or anything, but I thought we were at least friends. At least give us a chance to talk to you." For several more seconds he thought that he was going to have to get more demanding, and then a voice came over the comm.
"You are all lying. I saw the stuff on the computer, and this place…it's all too weird." McKay flung himself back to the communications board nearly taking out the tech who had moved back in. Would these people never get out of his way? Elizabeth decided that she would answer evidently.
"J.T. you know that there are things we cannot tell you. This is a classified base. We have told you what we can."
"No you haven't. You've told me what you want, and I was supposed to believe it because I'm just a dumb kid. Well I'm not, dumb that is. I don't know where this is, or who you are, but you are lying, and not by just what you won't say. I want to talk to my father."
"That won't be possible, J.T. Your father is not here, and since we are on another planet we can't get him here quickly. You have to understand…"
"No!" the boy yelled, cutting her off. "I don't have to understand. As far as I know this is just some kind of…movie set, or…or…you gave me some drugs or something. You say that that we're on another planet, but there are no aliens and even the ones you say are aliens look just like humans. You say we can't contact my father but you say you brought me here so quick so I didn't even miss dinner. You say that there was some kind of accident with a device and I was the only one affected but there were other people there, and they aren't here. And…and it was more time than you say, months maybe. And that file…there were pictures…" There was a pause and they could hear what almost sounded like a sob. "You're with them…I'm still there… I didn't get away…the rest was all a dream or something and you're just trying to find out what I know or make my Father give you what you want...you killed her and he still didn't do it so now…" the last bit was said almost so softly that they couldn't hear it, but Atlantis' sound reproduction was very good. Elizabeth looked at Rodney and he could see the same puzzlement in her eyes as he knew she saw in his.
"John, I don't know what exactly you are talking about, but we really are not trying to get anything out of you or your father. You have to believe us; we only want to help you."
"No." It was almost a moan. They could hear the distress in the one small word. Rodney wasn't sure what to say to sooth that distress, and so he turned back to the only thing he could control and continued to try to get a fix on the boy's position. Thankfully Teyla stepped into the silence.
"John," her voice was calm and McKay could almost feel her genuine concern in the tone. He would trust that voice, had trusted it before. He could only hope Sheppard would too. "Why do you believe that you have been lied to? Exactly what do you think we are trying to get from you?" There was a sniffle over the comm. But then an answer came.
"My hair…they cut my hair when I went to the school, shaved it off just like they do when you go in the Army or Marines. Now it's long again, like when…It hasn't been just a few days. And the cast on my arm was gone, just like it hadn't been put on." McKay suddenly remembered about Teyla saying the boy had caught sight of himself in the window and had seemed surprised or puzzled about something. Guess they knew what that was now.
"Rodney can you tell where he is?" Elizabeth asked. McKay shook his head in frustration. The city was 'helping' again. Evidently it must have figured out what they were doing as it seemed that Sheppard's voice was…echoing in some rather interesting ways. He stopped suddenly, mind going furiously. Maybe that was the way to play this…
"J.T." he said into his radio, neatly cutting of whatever Teyla was about to say. "You were telling me how the things you were seeing here were so neat, so science fiction, I want you to think about that. You know that the automatic doors, that's easy to do, those could even be faked, like on Star Trek, but think about the transporters, is that something that we could fake? Do you really think that you didn't go anywhere when you got in there and pushed a location? That we just changed a movie set? Where would we find the room to make such a big set? Look around you. Do the walls look like anything you have ever seen?" He let that idea stew for a moment and went back on the attack. He would not be defeated in logic by a twelve year old.
"And what about the city. Can you feel it in your head?" He saw Elizabeth giving him a slightly panicked look, but ignored her. "I know you felt it when we locked the door, or turned the lights up and down. But you can feel more than that can't you? Does it talk to you? Is it helping you to hide from us?" He waited, motioning imperiously at Elizabeth who seemed to want to say something. The silence seemed to stretch, and he made a note to look into time dilation theory. Finally the comm activated again.
"She wants to help but doesn't really understand." came the response. McKay let out a gust of air he hadn't realized he had been holding. His gamble had paid off. When Sheppard got back to normal he was going to lock his ass in the lab until he told everything about his interface with the city, down to the last prurient detail. She indeed!
"So you can feel it…her. You can talk to her." McKay answered.
"Yeah." Oh good, they were back to the monosone wordysyllabic answers.
"Well have you ever heard of anything like that being possible on Earth? And the other things, have you heard of them being possible? I showed you the puddlejumpers. Did you think those were fake? You rode in one to the mainland." He pressed his advantage, though it was hard not to ask for details about the interface.
"They didn't…feel…fake." The boy replied. McKay could practically hear the boy gnawing on his bottom lip as he thought. "That doesn't mean that you aren't the ones that…who…" he broke off, and when he continued his voice was more sure, more aggressive, more…Sheppard. " The timing is wrong. I wasn't just at school, but you said I was. You were lying about that. And the pictures…" Rodney exchanged glances with Elizabeth, and they managed to have a complete conversation with eyebrows and facial expressions. Elizabeth finally nodded her head. McKay kept talking.
"All right, yes, we lied about the time. We didn't take you from your school. That is a real memory, but it isn't where you were exposed to the device. That part is real, too."
"What kind of device?" Elizabeth's look practically screamed 'NO', but McKay was determined to tell the boy all the truth he wanted to hear.
'It is…very complicated, and we really don't want to talk about it over the comm. If you could trust us one more time, trust me one more time and come back, I'll explain it all to you, all of it. You will not regret it. The city will help you come back, just go into the transporter and think about going to the infirmary, and it will take you there, you won't even have to push anything." There was silence for a long time. Then…
"Do...do you have my mom here, too? Can I see her? Is this something to do with my father's project? Did his company build this device? He always says the scientists are too stupid to get anything right, that they have to do things over and over again, and they cost him money. I promise I won't make any trouble if you let me see her." The young voice was practically begging. McKay, taken completely off guard, looked at Elizabeth who shrugged. Evidently she didn't know anything more about Sheppard's mother than he did, or why the boy would think she was here. He tried to remember what he had read in Sheppard's file when he had hacked it after they had first come here, but it hadn't seemed important at the time, and he didn't recall anything about her one way or the other. Of course he hadn't known about the brother either, or the ex-wife, so what was one female parent?
"Your mother isn't here, J.T. You weren't with her when you were…affected by the device. And no, your father had nothing to do with it." There was another sound like a muffled sob. Turning Rodney saw Elizabeth was scrolling through something on one of the other laptops, as he watched she stopped scrolling and started reading. He saw her shoulders slump and knew she had found something important. She turned off her radio, and motioned for him to do the same.
"John's mother died three months after his twelfth birthday. The record doesn't say how, but at that age…" she broke off, and McKay could imagine exactly what she meant. For a woman with a twelve-year old son to die at that age it had to be either some sort of accident, a sudden fatal illness, or some sort of violence. From the things that Sheppard had said so far, he suspected the latter. Great, they weren't just dealing with a traumatized little boy who woke up in a strange place with strange people; they were dealing with a traumatized little boy who was still recovering from what was probably the worst trauma of his young life.
He had said he had been at military school for one month. Was that where his father, a grieving widower with two young boys, had decided to send the damaged son that he couldn't handle, while he kept the other more docile one at home to mold into his own image? Was what they had taken for natural reticence actually the actions of a still grieving child who had been abandoned by his only living parent? Christ, he suddenly wanted a slug of that moonshine from the still down on level twenty three that everyone pretended did not exist. He also wanted Sheppard's father to be alive so that he could figure out a way to ruin the man. He clicked his radio back on.
"J.T., I'm sorry about your mom. I uh…I don't know what happened to her, but …I can tell you that we had nothing to do with whatever it was. Can you just…"
"They said that they killed her first because she was making them give me food and water, and give us enough blankets so we could be warm. She wouldn't be quiet until they listened and it made them mad. They…they hit her, and y..yelled at her, but she wasn't afraid. They wouldn't give her anything to eat, and she wouldn't take any of mine, even when I knew she was real hungry. She kept saying that someone would come for us, that father would see to it, that he would give them what they wanted, but he didn't. They were dressed like the soldiers here. I thought I got away but…" Another stifled sob cut off the rushed words, then, "If you came for me why couldn't you come for her?"
It was a cry from the wounded soul of a young boy who had seen far too much. McKay sank back in his chair and felt his whole body just sag. God, it was worse than he had thought. So that was why Sheppard never mentioned his mother, why he left no one behind, would cheerfully throw himself away rather than see anyone else suffer and it way why Sheppard the boy couldn't even mention her. It was probably hard for him to even think of her without remembering how she had died. Survivor's guilt, it had molded a life. Elizabeth was wiping a tear from her cheek, oblivious to the new ones falling behind it. She keyed her radio.
"John, I am so sorry about your mother. I am sure that everything was done to get to you as soon as possible. Your mother sounds like a very brave woman, and I wish we could have been there to save you both, but we were not. None of the soldiers that are here now were involved in what happened to you. I know that this is so hard for you to understand, but if you will just give us the chance, we will try to explain. Will you please give us that chance?"
The silence was almost overwhelming it seemed like the entire city was holding its breath waiting for the answer. Everyone in the gateroom was still, staring at the communications console as if the child were going to appear in its place. But when it came, the answer was not what they wanted to hear.
Thirty minutes later they were in the conference room trying to formulate a plan. Teyla and Ronon had returned and Beckett had come up from the infirmary. The doctor currently had the floor, having listened in on the conversation on the radio.
"That's a lot of emotional pain and exhaustion for such a little boy, and he probably didn't get much sleep last night. The bairn won't last long out there. He'll find a place to settle soon and will probably sleep for a while. Perhaps we can locate him then." he told the anxious crowd. Teyla looked at Elizabeth.
"If we find him, what are we going to tell him? He will accept no more than the complete truth, and he seems to be as good as the colonel was at telling the difference. I do not believe that half-truths will satisfy him." Elizabeth nodded.
"He does seem to be very perceptive for his age. I agree that he would probably sense it if we held something back. Rodney what do you think?"
"I think the term you are looking for is paranoid." he said. Elizabeth, Beckett, and Teyla looked at him with disapproval. Ronon merely frowned. "What?" he snapped as he started to pace, needing the activity. "It's understandable. After the CIA took such an interest in my sixth grade science project I couldn't help but see a spy in every guy in a dark gray suit and sunglasses that walked by me. As far as he's concerned, we're just another group of kidnappers or terrorists or whoever it was that took him and his mother. And just was all that about anyway? What happened to them?"
"There's no details in his personnel file about the circumstances of his mother's death, Just a date. I would like to know more about it too, but I can't authorize a dial up to Earth for just this. Also, I don't really feel that it would be in John's best interest to get the SGC involved in this any sooner than necessary." Elizabeth said.
"I took a few moments to look more closely at his a medical file," Beckett said. "There's a note in his early files around the age of twelve when he was in the hospital for almost 3 weeks. It shows that he had a broken left wrist, various bruises and contusions, and a pretty good case of malnutrition, as well as a good case of exposure. If the John Sheppard we're seeing now is only a month removed from that time, that explains his thinness and the condition of his left wrist."
"But there's no explanation about how he got them?" Elizabeth said. She rubbed her forehead. No doubt she had as big a headache as Rodney did.
"Well, if we take what he said, and add in the injuries that are reported in his file, it seems pretty clear." Rodney began. "It seems as if Sheppard and his mother were kidnapped and held for ransom by some people who were trying to get something from his father. Does anyone know what his father did?"
"The SGC did security background check on him, after we discovered his gene in Antarctica. I know it was made quite a bit easier, because his father already had level-3 clearance. It seems that he was a defense contractor for the Army, weapons development. The family business is still a military contractor." Elizabeth said.
"So Sheppard senior was developing some sort of weapon for the Army, and somebody wanted the plans. They kidnapped his wife and son, expecting his father to trade. I think we can all figure out that the old man didn't trade. From what Sheppard the younger said it looks like some military sorts were involved, and that he got away from them somehow by himself. It didn't sound like they treated him very well, though it sounds like his mother did her best while she was alive. So we've got a boy that not only just lost his mother, but was also mistreated by the same men that killed her, and then to top it off, he was sent off to military school, by his father, within a month of getting out of the hospital. Can anyone say Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome?"
"Oh thank you, Dr. McKay. I didn't realize you were dabbling in psychiatry. I thought you viewed that as a soft science." Beckett said sarcastically. "If your suppositions are correct, the lad's had a hard time of it the last few months. Take that entire trauma and add this recent change, and we're lucky the boy isn't in a catatonic state. It's a tribute to his innate strength that he is still functioning. Most adults wouldn't have taken it so well."
"We're obviously going to have to tell him something when we find him, Carson. He read the medical file. He saw pictures of an older John Sheppard." said Elizabeth. "What do you think we should tell him about the device, and what happened to him? I don't want to supply that straw that breaks the camel's back."
"As you said, he saw the pictures Elizabeth, he read the file. He knows there is something going on beyond what we have described to him. Do you think that he's not going to want to know why there's a medical file with his name, and the pictures of a grown man? Right now it might not be in the front of his mind, but he'll remember it eventually. We have to figure out a way to explain it. We either tell the whole truth this time, or we risk him never trusting us again."
"So there's a great choice," Rodney snarked, "We can either lose his trust and just wait for him to disappear into the city some night when Beckett and the Marines are not watching, or we can tell him what is really going on and hope that it doesn't cause some kind of psychotic break and turn him into some sort of gibbering idiot." Beckett rolled his eyes.
"There you go trying to do the psychiatry again. You need to stick to physics, and leave the psychiatry to those who know what they're doing. Yes, the boy has suffered a lot of trauma in the recent months, but he's far from a psychotic break. That being said, we still need to be gentle with what we tell him. We need to take our cue from him. If it starts to become too much we will need to back off."
"How do you gently tell someone that they've regressed from being a forty something Lt Colonel in charge of a mission in a galaxy hundreds of light years from your home planet, to a twelve year old? What's more, you've lived an entire lifetime that you've completely forgotten? Riddle me that Dr Freud." McKay asked sarcastically. Before Beckett could snap back, Ronon jerked his chin toward the panel on the wall. It was one of the slim screens that they used for video feeds.
"Why is that thing blinking? I don't remember it doing that before."
"What's blinking? Why are you worried about blinking when…" McKay said as he turned in his chair to look at the panel in irritation, obviously expecting to see nothing. Instead a small light was blinking on the control panel on the wall near the view screen. McKay leaped to his feet and went to the panel. He punched a few of the controls, muttering under his breath as he worked.
"Rodney, what is it?" Elizabeth asked.
"This thing is on. According to the controls it's been sending a signal out. Everything that we've said in here has been broadcast to…somewhere."
"Somewhere? Are we talking 'somewhere' as in another planet or 'somewhere' here on Atlantis?" Her hand was raised to key her radio if McKay reported that the signal was going off planet.
"Well, that's the question isn't it?" McKay said distractedly as he worked on the controls. If he just tweaked this here.
"Rodney…" Elizabeth began, recognizing McKay in full concentration mode. But she cut off when the screen suddenly sprang to life. McKay gave a crow of triumph and stepped back with a self-satisfied smirk at his triumph over Ancient technology. The smirk faded as he saw what was on the screen.
McKay bit his lip to keep the swear word that instantly sprang into his mind from coming out, as he met the shocked hazel eyes of the boy who was on the screen. Sheppard was in a room that appeared to be about the same size as the conference room, but with considerably less furniture. In fact, the only thing in view was the chair in which the boy sat. He had drawn his feet up and had his arms wrapped around his bent knees. It was a position that only a child could achieve with any comfort, McKay reflected. And while reading body language was not one of Rodney's better skills, he was pretty sure that the boy was not exactly in a sharing mood. His good hand was clenched in a tight fist. The darkened eyes moved from face to face as if looking for some explanation of what he had obviously heard. Finally his gaze settled on back McKay. There was a pleading look in those eyes and it was with mixed emotion that the physicist realized that the boy had indeed come to trust him, and it was going to fall to him to do this. He looked around at the others who were looking from him to the boy and back again. Great. No help there. He scowled at them.
"Am I the only one that wonders how I managed to get elected to do the talking? I don't recall discussing this." he pointed out. Beckett waved his protest away.
"You're his friend, Rodney. He trusts you." the doctor prodded in a stage whisper. Rodney rolled his eyes, but Elizabeth and Teyla were nodding in concurrence. He sighed. It looked like he wasn't getting out of this. He looked over at the screen. The boy hadn't moved at all.
"John." he said finally. There was no verbal response, but the boy dropped his forehead onto his knees. "J.T. would you please look at me?" He thought he was going to have to ask again when the boy failed to respond, and he was opening his mouth to do so when the boy lifted his head, resting his chin on his knees still, but looking at McKay. As the hazel eyes met his, Rodney almost wished he had let the boy continue to hide. The changeable eyes were filled with unshed tears and an almost unbearable amount of fear. It cut McKay to the heart to see them, knowing that somehow he had helped put that fear there. He found himself blinking back a sudden surge of moisture in his own eyes, and cleared his suddenly dry throat.
"We know that you saw the medical file on Carson's, Dr. Beckett's, computer. We know that you read some of it and that you saw pictures of a man in the file. I won't insult your intelligence by making up stories about that. What you read was true, the things in that file really happened to that man. But he survived them all, because he is a very strong and…brave man. He fought hard and he didn't ever give up, no matter how hard something seemed to be. Even when he was scared, very, very scared…" McKay could not help remembering the sight of John Sheppard, tied to a chair with a gag in his mouth and the hand of a Wraith pressed to his chest sucking the very life from him. He shuddered and met the hazel eyes that were locked on him. "He never gave up. And now…now I can see where he got that. I can see that he learned how to be that man, that man that we all admire, that we all are proud to call our friend, he learned to be that man when he was twelve years old and he had to be brave not only for himself, but for his mother, who I think he loved very much, and who I know must have loved him." The hazel eyes stared at him for what seemed like an eternity before the boy spoke.
"That's me." It came out in a whisper that could hardly be heard over the connection. McKay nodded. As he had told the boy he was not going to insult his intelligence by sugar coating it. By now the boy was wary of anything that even seemed faintly like shading the truth; it would have to be everything.
"Yes, the man in the photos, the man that the file was about was, is, Jonathan Thomas Sheppard, Lt Colonel, U.S. Air Force. That man is the Military Commander of this base. He has saved the lives of everyone in this room, several times in some cases. He's saved the lives of everyone in this city at least once. He is a good man, and he is you." He couldn't put it any plainer that that. The response was quicker this time, but still quiet.
"Forty two." McKay supplied, he couldn't stop the smile that came to his face as he thought about how he would have kidded his friend about that 'old' statement had things been what passed for normal. The youngster's brow was crinkled in thought.
"Did I travel in time? Is he back there where I'm supposed to be? Did we switch places?" It was a reasonable question, and one that McKay had briefly considered when this had all began, however there hadn't been enough power in the device for such a transition. He shook his head.
"No, it didn't happen that way. As we said there was a device. A device made by the same people that built Atlantis, we call them the Ancients. We don't know what it was for: we really don't know what a lot of the things we find are until they are turned on. This one was turned on accidentally, and it affected you, the older you. When we turned it off, you were…like you are now." The boy seemed to digest the explanation for a long time. In the silence Rodney shifted nervously on his feet and Ronon kicked one of the rolling chairs in his direction, He sat down, his eyes not moving off the screen.
"Why only me? You were there too, weren't you?" Sheppard asked.
"Yes, I was there. So were Teyla and Ronon. We're your, …Colonel Sheppard's, team. The first reason is that you are the only one that came into actual contact with the device. The other reason is harder to explain. You have what is called the ATA gene. That means that you are a descendant of the people that built all this. It also means that you can turn on the Ancient machines, sometimes that isn't a good thing."
"Because you don't know what they can do." The boy said. McKay nodded. He really didn't want to get into an explanation of the mental component of the ATA gene/technology thing, but he would if he had to. He was determined to follow this through. The boy was miserable enough. He was not going to add to that by messing this up.
"Some of the rest of us have the same gene, but it is not as strong in us as it is in you. That means that sometimes the machines are…attracted to the strongest gene."
"Kinda bad luck." McKay couldn't help the small smile at that observation. If that didn't sum it up, he didn't know what did. He nodded.
"That's right. We didn't know until it was too late what that device did, and we couldn't stop it from changing you. We are trying to figure out how to change you back."
"Will…will I have to touch the…the device again?" the boy asked. McKay could hear the anxiety in the quivering voice. He wished he could tell the boy no, but there was every possibility that he would have to touch it again. The boy seemed to be watching him more closely as he considered his answer.
"If we can figure out how to reverse the effect, yes, you probably will have to touch it again. I'm sure that it won't even hurt this time." He heard three horrified gasps from behind him. Oops. He mentally reviewed his words. Oh. "I mean that we will be sure that the device will work before we let you touch it, and there is no reason to believe that it will hurt in any way. You'll be back to the way you were, and you probably will not even remember this at all." He hastily reassured the boy. He didn't want the child thinking that they were going to be doing this through trial and error. Perhaps the only thing that might be more frightening than what had already happened was the possibility of it getting worse. As to the scream of agony that he had heard from Sheppard when the device had touched him…well they would have to deal with that later.
"That's not…" the boy started and then stopped, looking around at the adults who were watching him. He seemed to be looking for something, but McKay had no idea what he was trying to see. Finally he bit his lip and closed his eyes. Moments later the lights dimmed slightly, and alarms began blaring then cut off. The door to the conference room slammed open, before slamming back closed. McKay leapt up, along with everyone else. On the screen the boy did not so much as open his eyes. McKay went to the door. He swiped his hand over the sensor, but it didn't open. He tried again. Nothing. He looked at Beckett.
"Think it open." He demanded. Beckett looked at him as if he were nuts for a moment, then his eyes widened in understanding. He stared at the door and his brow furrowed in what McKay assumed was effort. Still nothing. "Are you thinking?" he finally asked. Beckett threw up his hands and scowled at him.
"No Rodney, I was going over my list of things to do for tomorrow." Hhe snarked. "Of course I was thinking at it ya numby. It doesn't want to."
"What do you mean it doesn't want to, Carson?" Elizabeth asked. Her hand was reaching for her radio.
"It feels…different, not like it is locked. Resistant. Like a dog on a leash that doesn't want to go where you lead." the doctor explained after a moments thought. "I get the feeling that if I had more power it would open for me, but no matter how hard I push, it just doesn't move." Elizabeth had evidently heard enough. She touched her radio then touched it again when she evidently didn't get any response. She looked at McKay.
"The radio isn't working. I can't even get a channel." He reached for his own and found the same thing. He swore under his breath and stomped toward the small computer interface that was in the corner of the room. He was almost there when the lights on the panel flared and then went out. That was not a good sign. He pushed several buttons, but got no response. With a huff he got down on his knees and ripped the access panel off the side of the interface. The crystals were dark. There was no power going to the interface at all. He stood back up and looked around. The lights were still working, as was the airflow, he could feel the circulation of air from the vent. The screen was also still on. Okay, this was officially weird.
"Rodney?" Elizabeth said in that tone that indicated that she wanted answers, whether he was ready to give them to her or not. Sometimes the woman expected him to pull solutions out of thin air.
"I don't know. The lights are on, the air is moving, the screen works, but there is no power to the control panel and…" He went over to the door and pulled the panel off the wall. It was dark inside. "There's no power here either. Unless we are being attacked by some enemy that had a sudden urge to trap us in the control room, but wanted us to still be able to see, breath, and talk to Sheppard, I don't think this is an attack."
"Then what is it, some kind of contagion? Is this a medical lock down?" Beckett guessed. McKay shook his head.
"Why the power outage to the interface? What purpose could that have in the event of an infection? And in the previous lockdown the doors were locked, the power was still there. No this is something in the systems, something that the computer…" McKay broke off as his eyes fell on Sheppard, still sitting in the chair, but his head was up and he was watching McKay with an expression that could only be called trepidation. His bottom lip was tucked between his teeth. McKay moved closer, eyes locked with the suddenly defiant hazel ones of the boy. "Are you doing this?" He demanded suddenly.
"What?" Elizabeth interjected. Beckett took a step up next to McKay and watched Sheppard. Teyla and Ronon, who had been working on pulling the door open using brute force, turned to look as well. The boy seemed to shrink back into the chair and pulled himself into a tighter ball, despite the fact they weren't even in the same room. The defiance however did not leave his eyes.
"Are you doing this lad?" Beckett said in a kindly voice, his hand clamping down on McKay's arm to keep him from speaking evidently. What? Like he was going to make things worse? Sheppard switched his gaze to the doctor, then back to Rodney. McKay shook off Beckett's hand and took a step forward that put him directly in front of the screen so that he was the only one the boy would see. It wasn't as intimidating as being there in person, but it would have to do.
"What have you done to the systems? Is it citywide or just here in this room? There are things that you do not understand. Dangerous things. You have to stop interfering with the computer and our control of the systems." He shuddered to think if this was citywide and the shields were offline. What if there just happened to be a Wraith cruiser or hive in the area? Was the Stargate shield affected? Who knew who could be dialing in at this very moment: Genii, Replicators, those planet-to-planet evangelists who tried to convert everyone to their religion based on the worship of a large black rock that looked vaguely like Nelson Rockefeller located on planet PX3465. It didn't bear thinking about. He shook off the paranoid thoughts and focused on the boy who had evidently decided to talk.
"She says that you aren't helping, that you could have but you didn't. She thinks that you may be bad…like they were. That maybe you want something from me, or her, and you won't change me back till you get it. She says you don't always do what she thinks you should. What the ones before would have done."
"She? The ones before?" Elizabeth asked. Sheppard's eyes moved to her and McKay could see fear growing in them. Standing as close as he was he could see that the boy was breathing harder and seemed pale.
"The…voice, the…the…it…it says it wants to help me, that that's what its for. It says that it always talked to me before but I didn't always listen when I was big. I…I told her what happened when…before I came here. She…it…just wants to help." The boy whispered the words as if he didn't want everyone to hear. His lower lip trembled and he bit it, probably to try to keep from crying.
"All right." Elizabeth finally said in what Rodney liked to call her negotiation voice. "Let's all be calm and talk about this." She went back to the table and sat down, motioning the others to do the same, which they did, except for Rodney who moved out of the way of the video pickup. She leaned forward and looked at Sheppard. "If I understand what you are saying, Atlantis is…helping you because you and…she think that we are trying to…what?"
"I don't know. But she says that all you had to do was take me to the mat…maturation room and I would have been changed back. I've been here two days and you haven't changed me back so you must want something from me or..or maybe from her. She says that you…" He looked over at Rodney. "Maybe you know what I can make her do and you think I can be man…manip…made to do something better than the old me could." He paused. "She thinks you're almost as smart as the ones before, Dr. McKay but that you complain a lot about stuff that she doesn't understand. She also thinks that it's funny when you try to make her do stuff that she isn't supposed to or that she has better ways to do it if you would only ask." He switched his glance back to Elizabeth. "She doesn't really think much about you, Ma'am or Mr. Dex. She says you aren't complete. I don't know what that means, but she says that a lot of the people here are that way. She figures that since you came with me you're okay though. Dr. Beckett is like me, but different. She says he doesn't listen like I do, like I did. He could do all kinds of stuff if he would only listen. Ms Teyla kinda scares her. She can't tell me why, she says I wouldn't understand it, that I would if I were…normal."
"Does she talk with you like we're talking now?" McKay asked. He had always wondered about that. Sheppard never said exactly what he got from the city. He had never been sure if the man was just keeping it to himself or if it was something he just couldn't describe. McKay wasn't going to pass up the opportunity to ask, whatever the circumstances
"Nnnno." The boy drew the word out as if he wasn't quite sure that the answer was correct. "It's more like…not really pictures and not really talking but kinda like that."
Well, that was incredibly clear, not. McKay thought to himself. Time to get back on track. "Okay, methods of communications aside, why do you trust the city over us. Haven't we treated you well? I thought we were becoming friends." The boy frowned.
"You won't fix me. She says she'll fix me if I go to the place."
"This 'maturation room'?" McKay clarified. Perhaps that was why Zelenka and the rest of the monkeys were not making any progress with the machine even though it had power. It wasn't meant to reverse the process. Evidently that had to take place here on Atlantis in a certain room. Interesting. On screen the boy nodded. "We don't know anything about such a room. Remember I told you that this city is very large. We have barely begun to explore all of it. There could be all kinds of things out there that we don't know about. That doesn't mean we're hiding it from you, or trying to manipulate you, it just means we don't know it's there." He couldn't keep some of the irritation he felt at that admission out of his voice, and he saw the boy react to it. It was just that it sometimes chafed him that this was true. Here they were in another galaxy, with all kinds of fantastic scientific finds, and they couldn't so much as complete the exploration of the city in which they lived, because they were too damn busy staying alive or finding food or making nice with the natives, etc.
"So you decided to go to this room on your own?" Teyla asked. "That can be very dangerous J.T. While there are many things we do not know about the city, there is one thing of which we are sure, it can be very dangerous." McKay knew she was thinking about the Nanites and the energy sucking cloud creature. There was really no telling what the boy could run into out there.
"I think that's why she led me to this room when I got tired. She said it was safe here and I could rest. I wondered what you were doing, and if you were looking for me and she showed me the TV thing." He frowned. "I think maybe she's worried about me going any further when I'm tired. I think there's something there but she won't tell me what it is. I think she thinks I'll be scared or something, like I'm a little baby." It was clear that the boy was not happy with the fact the city was withholding information from him too. Maybe that was a way to get him to allow them to help, McKay thought.
"So maybe the city is doing what we were doing. Not telling you stuff for your own good. Maybe we and the city aren't so different after all?" he suggested. "We all want to help you J.T. We all care that you are safe. If the city knows how to fix this thing that the device did, great, but let us help you too. If the city doesn't want you to go somewhere, then there is probably a good reason. Maybe…maybe it knows that you need our help and that's why it let you watch us. But why did it lock down the room and why did it turn off the radios? Is it citywide?" The boy closed his eyes and his face took on what McKay now realized was a listening look. Evidently he was asking the city the same question. Whatever the answer was, it made the boy frown.
"She…it says that it had to close everything down because of the…whatever it is. She says it woke up when I got near and now its wants me and so she closed the doors so it can't get here and she turned off the radio so it can't call for the others." The boy was troubled by the answer, and obviously whatever imagery the city had used to reply had been disturbing. The boy continued, but in a tone that said he wasn't really talking to them, and McKay suspected he was still listening to Atlantis. "It's hungry…so hungry. It's been a long sleep." Teyla suddenly appeared at Rodney's side. Her voice was urgent, and McKay looked at her askance. It took a lot to rattle the Athosian.
"John, you said that the city was scared of me in a way. Is it scared of the other in the same way?" she asked urgently. McKay was puzzled about the question for a moment, but then it hit him. Teyla had Wraith DNA, DNA that probably made Atlantis see her as an enemy at least in part. What better description for a just-awoken-from-hibernation Wraith could there be than 'hungry thing'? He waited anxiously as the boy consulted with the city. Sheppard opened his eyes and nodded.
"She says that the hungry one yearns for the energy of its enemy more than anything, and that because I've got that gene I woke it up when I got close. She says it's been there for a long time, that she managed to hurt it when it came but it didn't die like she thought. That it's one of two, but you killed the other before."
"When the Wraith beamed itself into the city from the scout ship two years ago, it must not have been alone." Teyla said. "It has been hibernating, waiting for the time when it knew food was nearby and easily taken. Such a short time would mean nothing to it in hibernation. We must find out where John is. If the Wraith is nearby, he is in great danger. As are we all."
"It must have some kind of beacon or something, and that's why the city cut off the radio broadcasts." Rodney postulated. He thought for a moment then looked at Sheppard who was watching them quietly. He was about to speak when there was a loud bang from the speaker and the boy's head turned sharply, looking off screen. The sound was repeated and Sheppard slid down off the chair and turned to look toward whatever was making the noise.
"What's going on?" McKay demanded. He had a bad feeling about his.
"It's trying to get in, the hungry thing. The door is denting in. I think it's going to make it." The boy was a lot calmer than McKay would have been in the same circumstances, but then he hadn't seen a Wraith before and didn't know what they could do.
"Is there another door in the room?" Teyla asked. McKay noticed that Ronon was pacing in front of their door, gun in hand, chafing to be loose. When it came to the Wraith he was always ready to go hunting. The inactivity was probably killing him. On the screen the boy looked around. The sounds of pounding were coming faster and faster, and they could see the fear growing on the boy's face. He shook his head.
"What about a window. Are you on one of the levels with a window?" Elizabeth said. She had joined McKay, Beckett and Teyla in front of the screen. The boy shook his head.
"No. Maybe I can hide." he said with a hopeful look around. Teyla shook her head.
"No. The Wraith, the hungry thing can find you even if you are hidden. Are there any weapons in the room, or something with which you can block the doorway?" she asked, always calm and practical.
"There's nothing here but the chair…" The boy's eyes suddenly unfocused and McKay guessed that the city was communicating. He thought about all the times when he had caught the older Sheppard simply sitting and staring into space with that same blank look, and he determined that if his friend lived through this and got back to normal, he was going to get some answers about just how much he heard from the city.
"She says she's unlocking your door, that she'll let you come here if you can help. She says the hungry one will be in the door soon. She's sending the co-ordinates to the control panel." As he spoke there was a sudden whoosh as the door opened and the control panel in the corner lit up with a flash. McKay almost ran to it. Ronon whirled from the door.
"Where is he?" he demanded. McKay ran his fingers over the controls and a schematic showed up over the boy's image.
"Level 5, subsection 6, room 12." Almost before he finished talking, Ronon was out of the room, followed closely by Teyla. He looked from the screen to the door to Elizabeth, torn.
"Go, Rodney." Elizabeth said. He smiled slightly at her and powered out the door behind his teammates. Thankfully the city was only now opening the doors to the transporter and he slid in just as they were starting to close behind the others. He was puffing slightly, but Teyla gave him a slight smile just before Ronon hit the necessary position on the transporter pad.
Five minutes later they were creeping down a corridor that the Satedan said led to the room where the boy was. There was no sound. Had the Wraith made it through the door, or was it simply resting? The corridor turned ahead of them and Ronon cautiously approached the corner and poked his head around the corner for a quick look. Whatever he saw made him instantly move forward, gun at the ready. Teyla and Rodney followed behind. McKay couldn't stop the gasp as he saw what remained of the door. The two panels of the door were battered in, bent like they were made of some cheap aluminum instead of the sturdy composites that the Ancients had used. The Wraith had gotten in.
With a quick look at his teammates that said everything that Rodney was afraid to even think, Ronon ducked into the room. Teyla, her knife in her hand went in after him. McKay, finding himself without a weapon and with a deep need not to see the drained husk of another friend, hovered in the doorway looking nervously up and down the corridor. There were no sounds from inside the room. Then Teyla poked her head out through the hole.
"He is not here Rodney." she said immediately.
"What! I thought there wasn't any way out." He pushed in through the hole, ignoring her rolled eyes. Yes, yes he realized he was pushy; get over it already. If a room that had evidently only contained a chair and a screen could be said to be trashed, then this room was trashed. Pieces of the chair were everywhere as were pieces of the screen. Evidently the Wraith had not been a happy camper. The only things missing were the Wraith and the boy. Looking around, McKay could see no door or window or any other way that the boy could have gotten out. Had he somehow managed to avoid the Wraith when it burst in and gotten out through the door? The Wraith had obviously been highly motivated, and it seemed doubtful that it would have missed such an opportunity. "Great, a locked room mystery. Just what we needed."
"The Wraith is not nearby. I cannot feel him. Wherever he has gone, it is distant from this room." Ronon was heading for the door as Teyla spoke.
"I'll find it." he said as he slipped back out the door. "You find Sheppard." He headed down the corridor without waiting for their reply. McKay leaned out the hole.
"Oh thanks, you don't suppose that they could be in the same direction do you. It's not like we're armed and ready here you know." he shouted after the rapidly retreating figure.
"I have my knife Rodney, and I am sure that you would think of something." Teyla reassured him.
"Oh yes, I can always kill him with my brain. That always worked out really well in the past" he snarked back at her. He looked around the room again. "Could he have gotten out past the Wraith somehow, or could the Wraith have taken him for some reason?" He postulated.
"It would seem unlikely that he got away, but he is not here, so something must have happened. Perhaps the city managed to somehow distract the Wraith long enough for John to run and the Wraith pursued him after he took out his anger on the room. Or, the Wraith could have taken him hostage if he felt that he could use John to help him get off Atlantis, or to contact a hive. He would have no way of knowing John's true self, but he could sense the potency of his Ancient gene, we have seen that before. But then, why would he stop to destroy the room? Perhaps if we tried calling John on the intercom again." McKay nodded. He reached up and clicked his radio, but no channel was available. He looked around.
"Oh come on, we need the radio to reach the kid. Give us a break here." he demanded of the city. He felt somewhat silly speaking to thin air, but almost immediately his radio clicked on.
"Rodney, can you hear me?" It was Elizabeth.
"Yes, I can. It looks like the city has gotten a clue and loosened up on the controls a little. John wasn't in the room. We don't know if he got out or if the Wraith took him out. I would say from the amount of destruction that the colonel is just as sneaky as a kid as he is as an adult. Teyla suggested we try the intercom again. It seems like a good idea.
"The radio is just about the only system we have working here, we have no sensors and no transporters so we can't send any help. We'll hook you into the broadcasting system from here." There was a pause. "All right Rodney. Go ahead on the general channel." He clicked his radio to the different channel.
"John. This is Rodney er…Dr McKay. Can you hear me?" he paused. Nothing. "John, we're trying to help. The city is allowing us to do so, so that means that it is willing to trust us, so you can too. Please, we can help you against the Wraith, the hungry thing. Let us know where you are." Still no answer came. That left two possibilities. Either the boy was captive to the Wraith and couldn't answer, or he was hiding from the Wraith and wouldn't answer and give away his hiding place. The city had pinpointed the child before, why wasn't it doing the same thing now? What the hell was going on? McKay's speculation was broken by Ronon's voice coming over the radio on the command channel.
"I found a trail. Sheppard is marking the walls. They're heading down: I think he's going to that hanger where we came in that time. The Wraith is limping, but he's not too far behind Sheppard."
"And how can you tell all that?" McKay snapped. He was tired of being the only one that couldn't track anything smaller than a tank.
"There's been flooding down here. The mud is thick and it makes tracking easy. Sheppard went through first, running. The Wraith is moving fast but I can see he's putting more weight on one foot."
"And the catching up thing? Is the mud speaking to you?"
"No, the last mark that Sheppard made wasn't finished. That probably means that the Wraith was closer than he thought. He had to stop before he was done to run again." Suddenly the sound of Ronon's gun powering up was heard over the radio and then the sound of several shots. "Found 'em. We're two floors above the hanger, same section."
"We are coming." Teyla said as she took off down the corridor at a run. McKay took off after her. "Can you see John?" They could hear the distinctive sound of a Wraith stunner firing.
Teyla and McKay got to the nearest transporter and rushed inside. McKay studied the schematic and punched a destination just outside of the area where Ronon said he was. It wouldn't do to end up in the middle of the firefight. They got out and McKay looked around.
"What now?" he asked. They could hear the weapons discharging around the corner of the corridor. Teyla activated her radio.
"Ronon we are around the corner. How can we aid you?" she said. There were two more shots from Ronon's weapon before he answered.
"You'll need more than a knife." Teyla looked around. There was one of the dead trees that had been prevalent in the city when they first arrived, standing in one corner. The leaves were long dead, but the trunks were straight and about the thickness of Teyla's regular fighting sticks. In moments she had broken off two of the trunks to the appropriate size, using her knife to clean off the small branches.
"I am ready. I can feel the Wraith. I will drive him out into your fire. Be prepared." She looked at McKay. "It would be best if you stay here. Use this if necessary." She started down the corridor the opposite direction from where Ronon was. She obviously meant to circle around behind the Wraith. McKay looked from her retreating form to the knife in his hand.
"What do I do with this? Kill myself if the Wraith comes at me?" he yelled after her. Maybe he should have paid attention when Sheppard had tried to teach him how to use a knife defensively. Teyla did not answer, disappearing silently around the corner. McKay stood in the ankle deep mud of the corridor and contemplated what to do next. He could continue to stand there like a lump, knife in hand looking like an idiot until Ronon and Teyla brought down the Wraith, or he could try to find Sheppard. After all his strength lay elsewhere than his teammates. He ducked back into the transporter and accessed the hidden control panel. He flipped through the control screens until he reached the security screen.
Evidently created so that one didn't need to exit the transporter to see who was nearby, the screen gave a readout similar to the handheld scanners. Of course this time it didn't even show Teyla or Ronon who he knew were close by. Atlantis was still messing with him.
"Oh, come on. I know that they are there and I know the Wraith is there. We are trying to help. Get over it already! If I want something from you I'll figure it out for myself, I don't need to hold a child hostage. Genius here you know!" he griped to the city as he tried to adjust the scanner. There was a flicker across the screen and suddenly four dots were displayed. All right, now he was getting somewhere. The Wraith was shown as a red dot, Ronon was a plain white; Teyla was a faintly pink dot slowly moving down the corridor, evidently in keeping with her Wraith DNA. Uncomfortably near the Wraith was an unmoving golden dot that could only be Sheppard. "The golden boy indeed." McKay muttered to himself. He tried to figure out how he could get to where the boy was without getting in the way of the people who knew what they were doing, or the Wraith. The transporter suddenly activated and he squawked at the unexpected sensation.
Looking at the security screen he saw that he was now at the other end of the corridor from where the Wraith was holed up. Teyla was moving down a connecting corridor closer to the Wraith, but the gold dot that was Sheppard was now closer to McKay's position.
"Gee, thanks." he muttered. He gripped his borrowed knife tighter and slipped out of the transporter, heading down the corridor. It too was partially filled with mud, and the walls looked faintly slimy obviously the flooding had been recent. He was going to have to get Zelenka and a herd of the engineers down here and find out where the water was coming from.
He reached the room where the golden dot had been and waved a hand at the door sensor. As it was, the door was partially wedged open and as he tried the sensor, a blast of cold air came through the gap. Okay, that narrowed down the location of the breach. Maybe he wouldn't have to send Zelenka with the engineers. Maybe just a map would do. The door did not open any wider, and McKay looked at the gap grumpily. It was large if you were a skinny twelve year old, but he was not going to fit through there easily. With a sigh he wedged himself into the gap and started to wiggle through. He got an arm and a leg through and was pushing his torso after with a fair amount of painful squishing when he suddenly found that he could not move. Something was caught, and no it wasn't because he was too fat. The damn vest added another twenty pounds, and wasn't made for getting through skinny places. Okay, maybe if you were a stick man like Sheppard, but then the man was unnaturally thin even as an adult.
McKay tried to pull back out, but he found that he couldn't do that either. Reversing his motion he tried once again to wedge himself further into the room, but he didn't so much as budge. He tried rocking himself back and forth, but nothing happened, except for an increase in pressure in an area that he would really rather not have an increase in pressure. Okay, this was getting ridiculous. He flailed around with the hand that was inside the room, trying to get a purchase on something so that he could use his arm to pull himself through. There was nothing. He tried the same thing on the other side, and had similar results. Finally defeated, he sagged there in the door. Great, he was stuck. He was reaching for his radio to call for help when he heard the footsteps coming quickly his way down the corridor. He looked over his shoulder, expecting to see a faintly amused Teyla, or an outright laughing Ronon heading his way having dealt with the Wraith in short order and coming to his rescue. Unfortunately it wasn't either one. He looked around and into the hungry eyes of a Wraith.
"All right this is really so not good." was the first thought that went through McKay's head. The second was "When did I develop a habit of understatement?" He renewed his effort to push himself through the door, ignoring that uncomfortable pressure in unsuitable places. He could worry about that later, he'd rather be alive. Evidently all he had needed was the proper motivation, because he popped through the opening like a cork from a bottle of champagne. He landed sprawling in the mud, the knife he had been holding in his hand falling into the muck that cushioned his fall. He looked wildly back to the door and saw the Wraith grinning at him through the opening. Why were they always so damn jolly? As he watched the greenish hands wrapped around the doors and the Wraith pulled. He could hear the doors groaning from the force the Wraith was exerting. He scrabbled through the mud looking for the knife. Where the hell had it gone? And just where were Teyla and Ronon?
McKay gave up on the knife as he heard the doors starting to open. A frantic look around showed him little to work with, and no sign of Sheppard. He scrambled up and walked/slid over to a pile of debris. From the looks of the breach in the wall this section had taken fire from a Replicator energy weapon. He was going to have someone's head in engineering; this should have been found and repaired long ago. Did he have to do everything himself? He pulled a length of sharp metal from the pile that was about three feet long, and hoped he would be able to do something with it. He turned as the doors finally gave up their fight and the Wraith filled the doorway. He wasn't as big as the 10,000 year old Uber-Wraith had been on that damn planet, but he was close. Rodney's piece of metal suddenly seemed a little short. However it was all he had, so he held it in front of him as the Wraith approached.
The two danced around for several moments. The footing was not particularly good, and the Wraith did have a noticeable limp that seemed to make it more difficult for him to maneuver. The Wraith made several feints which McKay responded to by poking at him with the sharp end of the metal. They circled several more times. Just where in the hell were Teyla and Ronon? He was not made for this. He was the brains of the outfit, it was up to the other three to fight off the life-sucking vampire creatures. And where was Sheppard? Had the boy slipped out of the room before McKay even got there? If he was sitting somewhere warm and dry and safe…well McKay could not find it in himself to begrudge his changed friend that, even in his own circumstances. His foot slipped in the mud, and the Wraith took the opportunity to leap forward. McKay managed to get the metal between them as he fell back and the Wraith roared in pain but kept coming as McKay scrambled backward. Another swipe of the Wraith's big hand and the metal went flying. Rodney crab-walked backward faster, suddenly quite fond of the gym teacher in sixth grade that had insisted on everyone in the class doing the stupid exercise in the gym on rainy days.
The Wraith slipped and slid but found his feet and came after McKay. He loomed over the scientist who looked frantically around searching for anything that he could use to fend off the creature. Nothing. The feeding hand was heading toward his chest and he opened his mouth to scream when he saw movement behind the Wraith. Everything seemed to slow down like some bad action flick. At first he thought, "Oh good Teyla or Ronon are here. My brain will not be lost to science." But then he realized that standing on top of the pile of debris was Sheppard. The boy was covered nearly head to foot in mud, and his eyes were huge on his dirty face. In his right hand was the knife that McKay had dropped earlier. A familiar look of determination came over the small face and McKay had a sudden surge of fear for someone beside himself. Before he could yell at the boy to run Sheppard launched himself into the air and with a strength that belied his slim form, drove the knife to the hilt into the Wraith's back.
The Wraith reared back in agony, arms trying to reach around and grab the small boy that clung to his back with both hands grasping the hilt of the knife, but he could not get a grip on him. It spun, evidently trying to loosen the boy's grip, but the boy clung like a limpet. McKay, knowing how hard it was to kill the damn things grabbed at the sharp metal he had found earlier. He got to his knees and as the Wraith whirled around to face him he shoved the sharpened end into the exposed stomach. That had to hurt.
The Wraith howled and increased his spinning, finally throwing the boy off into the pile of debris where he lay unmoving. McKay looked frantically for another weapon as the Wraith tottered about, now trying to get a grip on the metal that was slippery with mud and its own ichor. It seemed to be having little success and as McKay watched, it lost its battle to remain upright. He almost laughed as it fell onto its back, driving the knife even deeper. It howled again. McKay scrambled to his feet and edged around the floundering creature toward the boy.
The small form was limp, eyes closed and face pale under the mud coating. He lifted Sheppard gently, a voice annoyingly like Beckett's chiding him for moving an injured person at all, but he was not counting on even the two wounds to keep the Wraith down long. He slipped and slid, trying desperately to keep his balance in the disturbed mud and headed for the door. He had just managed to make it through when a large form suddenly appeared before him. He almost stumbled back into the room, just barely avoiding falling onto his ass as Ronon loomed above him.
"For god's sake man! Could you try to make some damn noise? And just where the hell have you been? The kid and I had to take care of the damn Wraith on our own thank you very much." he ranted as he righted himself. As he did he noticed the bloody bandage wrapped around the Satedan's arm. He looked around. "Where's Teyla?" he asked anxiously, clutching the child tighter to his chest. Ronon gestured down the corridor with his good arm.
"Hurt her leg. She's coming as fast as she can. I came ahead to help. Where's the Wraith?"
"In there. Feel free to finish it off now that we've softened him up for you." He stepped out of the way and watched as Ronon unholstered his weapon and went into the room. Almost immediately he heard the distinctive sound of the energy weapon discharging at full power. That took care of that Wraith. Ronon popped back out of the room as casually as if he hadn't just killed another living creature. Of course as far as the Satedan was concerned, the only good Wraith was a dead one.
"Is he okay?" Ronon asked, nodding at Sheppard. McKay looked down at the unconscious face and shrugged as best he could.
"We need to get him to Beckett. The Wraith threw him around quite a bit."
"I think that we can all use a trip to the infirmary, and the shower." Teyla said as she rounded the corner. She was using the Wraiths stunner as a crutch and was liberally smeared with mud. In fact the only one of them that was even near to clean was Ronon. McKay eyed the taller man as they started toward the transporter at Teyla's pace.
"Why are you the only one that's clean?" He grumbled, shifting the boy. For a skinny kid Sheppard was heavy. Just like the adult version. Must be all muscle, or the cast. Ronon shrugged and moved aside to let McKay into the transporter after Teyla.
"It's hell to get mud out of leather."
An hour later they were clean, bandaged, and sitting on various beds in the infirmary while Beckett fussed over the boy. Teyla had a cast on her ankle. Ronon's arm had been bandaged and McKay had complained about the coldness of the salve that was applied on certain scraped body parts. Sheppard had a slight concussion but he had woken briefly and had answered Beckett's questions to the doctor's satisfaction. He had also replaced the cast that was wet and full of mud. Sheppard had immediately gone back to sleep, and Beckett was pretty sure that he would sleep for several hours at least. He had assigned one of the nurses to sit with the boy while the rest of them talked and was talking to her about what to watch for. Finally he was done and walked over to where the rest of SGA1 were waiting along with Elizabeth.
"My lass will keep an eye on John. There'll be no more going walk-about. Now, what are we going to do with the lad? Do you think this 'maturation room' exists?"
"I don't see why the city would tell him that it did if it didn't. And why would it lure him down into the lower levels if it weren't there somewhere nearby? The city could have hidden him anywhere, why a section that had been damaged? It loves him; it would have taken him somewhere nice and safe if it could." McKay said trying to shift off his left buttock without it being noticeable. Sitting was not comfortable.
"Well, I don't want to seem petty, but the city all but accused us of wanting to use John while he's in a more vulnerable situation, how do we know that the city isn't doing the same? It has an agenda; that much is clear by what John was saying before. My question is how much is it willing to manipulate the strongest gene carrier in the last 10,000 years to meet that agenda?" Elizabeth observed.
"It is an artificial intelligence, and they can be single minded in their drive to reach a set goal." Agree McKay "But then again I really don't get the impression that the city would allow John to be hurt to get there. The Ancients seem to have programmed it to protect any gene carrier to some extent, to the point of seeing non-carriers as insignificant. A little of the Ancient arrogance there I think. Taken from its perspective I guess it could appear that we are willingly keeping him from being changed back."
"Surely it understands that we don't know what everything is. If it as aware of what we are doing as it appears to be, it must know that we haven't begun to even scratch the surface of what's here."
"I was thinking about that." Teyla said. "What if the reason that it thinks that we are purposefully waiting to help John is because we do know where the room is?" The others frowned at her.
"I know that I'm somewhat busy saving our collective asses on a regular basis, but I review all the exploration logs. I would have remembered if I had seen something called a maturation room. That section was done almost a year ago, though I notice that engineering hasn't been back to do any repairs lately." Rodney snarked.
"'I know that you are often busy, Rodney." Teyla soothed. "But because of that you can not see everything yourself. Also the linguists are very busy and I am sure that they have a lot of back log for translations on things that have been found. If it did not seem urgent and if the person doing the survey did not understand the significance of a room, could it not still be waiting to be…discovered so to speak?" McKay stared at her for several minutes and then looked over at Elizabeth. She shrugged at him.
"It's certainly possible. I was working on some material from over three years ago myself just last week. It could be in the backlog on someone's computer somewhere. You know how things have a tendency to get shoved on the back burner in favor of the newest crisis. I think Teyla may be on to something here. Can we review the surveys for that area now? Maybe we can find this room and get this all over with."
"I like how you didn't say get things back to normal." Beckett said with a gentle smile. Elizabeth shook her head.
"I keep my expectations low, Carson. That way I am not disappointed. I would settle for having John back, the way he's supposed to be."
"So you can fix me now?" The voice surprised them all, and they turned to see Sheppard sitting up in the bed, the nurse fussing over him trying to get him to lie back down. He was ignoring her with a fine disregard that spoke of too much practice. The boy was still pale and his eyes were underlined by dark circles that spoke of an exhaustion well beyond what a boy his age should have, an exhaustion that was beyond physical. Beckett hurried over to the side of the bed.
"Now lad, you just lay back and try to go back to sleep. We'll be quieter as we talk. You need to rest."
"No! You need to fix me." the boy demanded. He really was just like his older self.
"John you need to listen to Carson, Dr. Beckett. There is nothing wrong with you as you are. We can take you to this 'maturation room' after you've slept and you feel better. It will give us some time to find the room and find out how to reverse the process safely." Elizabeth soothed. Sheppard stuck out his lower lip in an epic pout. McKay unsuccessfully swallowed a snort of amusement that earned him a look from both Beckett and Elizabeth.
"John…" Beckett began.
"J.T." Teyla said quietly, drawing the boy's attention to where she sat on the bed next to his. His eyes scanned over her and were drawn to the cast on her leg. The pouty lip was drawn in and bitten. When she was sure that she had his attention Teyla continued. "As you can see I was injured by the Wraith, the 'hungry one'. As I must remain here in bed until tomorrow, and I want to be present when you are transformed back to your former self, I would appreciate it very much if you would remain here with me for tonight. I have never had a broken ankle before, and it is unfamiliar to me. Could I persuade you to help me?" Sheppard stared at her for a long moment, and McKay could practically hear the gears turning in the shaggy head, but finally he nodded and settled back against his pillows. By the way his eyelids kept creeping down McKay suspected that he would not be awake for much longer even with the determination that they had seen.
In fact it was less than five minutes later when Beckett drew the curtain around the bed again. He shooed those not confined to the infirmary for the night toward the door.
"Out with you. He's had enough for the day, for the week. I suggest you find that room. There'll be no holding him back tomorrow. And if I know my Sheppards, that will mean extra early in the morning."
"Can we uh…" McKay started but then stopped but Beckett read his intent anyway. With a sigh he nodded.
"It'll free up a nurse if one of you are with him, and this way Teyla won't be staying awake to watch him. The lass needs her rest too. Get something to eat and work out a schedule between the two of you. One at a time." He warned as they headed out. "I'll not be putting up with all of you at the same time."
With a final look back at the closed curtain, and a sniff of disdain at Beckett, all the while figuring out how he could do his computer searches from his laptop as he sat near his friend, McKay followed Ronon and Elizabeth out of the infirmary.
Beckett's supposition about Sheppard's early rising proved correct. McKay felt like he had barely fallen into his bed before Ronon was on the radio, which he had forgotten to remove from his ear, saying that the boy was awake and wanting to get moving. Rodney hauled himself out of bed and into a quick shower. He detoured to the mess hall and grabbed a large coffee and a tray of donuts for which he had to mortgage his soul to the kitchen staff. It seemed that the Staff Sergeant in change of the mess was rather strict regarding the accountability of trays. He practically had to fill out a credit application to get something to carry the donuts on. As it was he had to report the exact destination of the tray and promise that someone would return it as soon as possible so as not to miss the next tally. Was everyone here but him completely mad?
As soon as he entered the infirmary with the donuts Ronon helped himself to two of them. Before he could protest, one had disappeared into the maw and the other was soon to follow. Valuing his fingers the scientist decided not to try to repossess the remaining donut. He offered one to Teyla who declined and then went toward the bed where Beckett was doing a quick exam of Sheppard. The boy's eyes lit up when he caught sight of McKay and the donuts. Rodney preferred to think he would have been just as happy to see him without the breakfast.
He ignored Beckett's tsking noises and offered the tray to the boy. Sheppard looked over the selection and took one of the jelly-filled. Beckett rolled his eyes. McKay smiled at the boy and helped himself to one of the remaining donuts, plopping down in the chair next to Sheppard's bed.
"So, is he ready to go Carson?" he asked the doctor who was trying to complete the exam while the boy stuffed as much of the donut as possible into his mouth and chewed. Jelly found its way onto his stethoscope, and a good portion of the bed sheets, and he gave the boy a stern look that earned him a set of puppy dog eyes as the boy tried to swallow his bite. Beckett, evidently not having found a defense against the eyes, gave up with a sigh and looked at McKay.
"Have you found the room then?" he asked.
"Yes. The room was surveyed last year. I'll give you one guess as to which moron was the engineer of record for that particular section. As a hint let me say that we are lucky that the Wraith didn't try to hide a hive down there or we could be in big trouble."
"Kavanaugh then." Beckett said with assurance.
"The man brings new meaning to the word 'incompetent'. I can only assume that he had a hair appointment or something the day that he was checking this room. There are two unknown machines listed. They evidently did download the database, but no one bothered to put any kind of importance to it, and it was still sitting there waiting for translation. For some reason Kavanaugh's stuff isn't top priority for anyone, no big surprise there."
"So you translated the database overnight?" Teyla asked from her bed. She was dressed in her regular clothes, but she had stayed on the bed since it was easier to keep her ankle raised.
"We did what we could. Elizabeth and the linguists busted out as much as they could, and we were able to confirm that it is the 'maturation room'. From what we can tell the whole thing, the initial device and the room, were part of some weird getting in touch with your inner child kind of gestalt thing. Supposedly it helped them to get to know themselves better or something. Sounds like another bunch of psychological bull to me, but it seems to have been relatively popular with them."
"So you're sure we can reverse this?" Beckett said.
"The machines all appear to be in working order. The room was sealed and didn't get flooded like most of that section. The schematics show it's a pretty simple machine. There should be some sort of marker in Sheppard's body that will activate it as soon as he steps into it. Evidently the process is self-completing as far as that's concerned. As far as we can tell usually they didn't spend more than a day in the child form, and while they were there they went through a series of psychological evaluations that were supposed to dig out their motivations. Like I said, a bunch of bull."
"Surely you can see the appeal, Rodney. I bet you could work out a lot of problems if you tried it out yourself."
"What? There is absolutely nothing wrong with me. I understand my motivations completely. My head does not need to be shrunk, thank you very much. There's barely room for my massive brain as there is." McKay snapped back. Sheppard was giggling at them again. McKay smiled at him and finished off his donut. He brushed off the powdered sugar and rose to his feet.
"Well if you're finished poking and prodding J.T., I think we should go ahead and go. None of us are getting any younger you know." He laughed along with Sheppard at his pun ignoring the groans of the others. The boy slid down off the bed when Beckett nodded. He was already dressed in the clothes that Teyla had found for him before.
Twenty minutes later they were in the room and Sheppard was looking doubtfully at the machine that stood in the center of the room. McKay had to admit that it didn't look very impressive. It was made up a platform slightly raised off the floor with a matching platform hanging from the ceiling directly above it. To one side was a console with about four buttons and a large lever. Since the process pretty much drove itself there was really nothing that needed to be done there, and evidently the Ancients had only put on those controls that they felt might conceivably be needed in the case of an emergency.
"They didn't have a very big development budget did they?" Sheppard suddenly asked in complete seriousness. The disappointment was obvious in his voice. McKay suspected that he had expected something along the lines of a Star Trek set, or if he had been in his fathers arms development lab, something along that line. It was somewhat anticlimactic. Even while he appreciated the simplicity of engineering that the austereness of the room reflected, he could wish for a few flashing lights and whirring wheels for the boy's sake.
He patted a thin shoulder.
"It doesn't look like much, but it will work." McKay assured him. He looked around. "Let's get to it then, shall we?" He guided Sheppard toward the platform. Beckett stopped him before the boy stepped up.
"Rodney, given the effect it had previously I think it would be best if he weren't wearing any clothes." At McKay's side the boy's face immediately turned bright red. McKay could swear that the temperature in the room rose about 10 degrees. Now that he thought about it though, Beckett was probably right though. Sheppard's clothes hadn't changed before, and while the adult Sheppard was skinny, the extra small scrubs would fit him like a sausage skin when he transformed. It really would be best if he were naked. He looked down at the boy who had ducked his head to hide his blush. McKay saw that the boy was looking out of the corner of his eyes at Teyla who was standing near the door with Ronon. Ah ha. He looked at the Athosian.
"I know you wanted to be here, Teyla, but I think it might be best if you and Ronon waited outside. Since you guys don't have the gene it might disrupt the process." he said with a look at the top of the boy's head. Teyla, perceptive woman that she was instantly grasped his meaning and turned on her crutches toward the door.
"Of course. It would be for the best. Ronon and I will wait outside the door until it is completed. We will see you in a moment John." she said to the boy and left. Ronon shot a quick grin at McKay and followed her out. McKay knew that they would indeed be waiting anxiously right outside. Elizabeth would be joining them in a little while, as soon as they finished with the last bit of the translation, and it would be best if she were outside too. Beckett held up a bag that he had carried with him.
"I brought some of your regular clothes lad, so you won't have to go wondering about in the all together after we're done here." he said with a smile. The boy gave him a small smile, the blush receding from his face. He did keep looking toward the door as if Teyla might barge back in though as he slid out of the scrubs and kicked off the slippers he had been wearing.
He soon stood before them with nothing on, his hands held modestly down. McKay was dismayed to see the bruises that must have resulted from their brush with the Wraith. There was one large one over the boys left rib cage and another spectacular green one on his left arm. The dark circles had not really faded much from below the dark eyes, and the boy was still skinny as a rail. All in all they hadn't done a really good job keeping their friend healthy. Perhaps it was just as well that none of them currently had kids.
He gently nudged the boy forward and he stepped onto the platform. For a long moment nothing happened, and Sheppard looked anxiously at McKay and Beckett.
"Settle." Beckett advised. "It might take a moment. From what Rodney was saying the system will recognize the markers in your system. I found them in the DNA after they translated the data from the computer. It should only take a minute or two for the system to initialize, something like the machines in the infirmary. It'll be all right." Almost as soon as the doctor finished speaking a light began building on the top platform. It began swirling around and moving downward. The boy looked wildly from the light to the men who moved backwards as one. McKay ached to comfort the boy with some sort of contact, but he knew he could not. He fell back on the only thing he could think of, talking.
"You know when you're back to normal I know someone who has the complete original Star Trek series on DVD. I'll intimidate it out of them and we can spend a few days making fun of Kirk's hair and the weak science. You can bring that stash of kettle corn that I know you have somewhere, and don't think that I'm not going to find out where you have that hidden. Teyla and Ronon haven't seen hardly any of the episodes yet. It'll be a blast." he babbled as the light grew thicker and lower, swirling faster. McKay could see the boy's lower lip trembling as the light came closer and closer, but he didn't move. Rodney had never been more amazed at the innate bravery of his friend than in that moment. Finally the light completely engulfed the boy. The light swirled around and around almost hypnotically for several minutes. Beckett shifted nervously looking from the column of light and back to McKay.
"How long is this going to take Rodney?" he finally asked. McKay looked at him grumpily.
"And I would know this how?" he growled, his own anxiety level rising. The device had taken half this time to transform Sheppard before.
"Well you said you read the data didn't you. Didn't it indicate some time for completion?" Beckett asked.
"Strangely enough they didn't feel the need to document that particular information, Carson. Obviously their version of Kavanaugh did the documentation. It'll be over when it is over." he snapped just as the light suddenly dissipated. The figure that had been wrapped within it slumped to the floor. Beckett beat Rodney to the platform by inches and bent over the still form, the tall form, which lay there. He gently rolled him over, and McKay let out a sigh of relief as he saw the familiar sharp features of Lt. Colonel John Sheppard in all his glory.
Beckett fussed over the man, taking his pulse and blood pressure and listening to his heart. McKay nervously shifted from foot to foot as the doctor did his work. He did take a moment to let those in the corridor that it had worked, though for Sheppard's modesty he told them to wait to come in. Finally Beckett finished and sat back on his heels. He touched his radio and called for a gurney. The medical team had been on stand-by, and it was ready to go, but they hadn't wanted to alarm the boy by having them follow them down. He then reached for the bag of clothes that he had brought and pulled out a pair of scrub bottoms.
"Lets at least get some pants on him. The poor bugger will probably be embarrassed enough as it is."
"He's going to be okay though, right?" McKay asked anxiously as he helped Beckett slide the pants on. Beckett also had a blanket that he put over the unconscious man to keep him warm. Sheppard's modesty protected, Rodney called in his teammates who came in with Elizabeth. All of them breathed a sigh of relief when they saw the pilot back as he was supposed to be.
"Is he all right, Carson?" Elizabeth asked. Beckett rolled his eyes. McKay thought that he had better get used to hearing that question for a few days.
"He's fine, at least physically. We'll have to see to the psychiatric issues later. I'll take him back to the infirmary and let him wake up naturally. I think that would be for the best."
The gurney arrived and Sheppard was loaded on. They all followed it out of the room. There were so many of them that the rest of SGA-1 and Elizabeth they had to wait for the medical team. Teyla and Elizabeth were discussing something about keeping Sheppard from being embarrassed about the whole thing, which sounded to McKay like it would only make things worse. Ronon was leaning against the wall listening quietly. McKay looked back at the door to the 'maturation room'. A collage of pictures ran through his head of the last few days: Horsil poking at Sheppard with the device; Teyla turning Sheppard over and seeing his younger self in the place of his friend; Sheppard waking in the infirmary; the arguments over Star Trek episodes; the discussion on top of the jumper; the trip to the main land; the realization that the boy had run away with the help of the city; seeing the boy on the screen and telling him the whole truth; getting stuck in that damn door; fighting the Wraith; seeing Sheppard jumping at the Wraith knife in hand; the limp form of the boy on the pile of debris; the almost painful blush in the maturation room; the quivering lip and scared eyes as the sequence started. It all ran through his head in moments as the doors to the transporter opened again.
He followed the others inside punching the screen for the destination near the infirmary. Rodney wondered if Sheppard would remember it all. He suspected that he would, otherwise why would the Ancients have bothered with the whole 'regression therapy' thing. He also wondered just how much of what had been revealed Sheppard would be willing to clarify. He was sure that the others had just as many questions as he did about just what had happened to the original 12-year old J.T. Sheppard and his mother all those years ago. He was also sure that Sheppard would be in no great hurry to satisfy that curiosity. He knew that Teyla and Elizabeth would be pushing the man to talk to Kate Heitmeyer when she returned from Earth. He was pretty sure that hell would be freezing over before that happened.
As he followed the others down the corridor toward the infirmary where they would no doubt be staying until Sheppard woke or Beckett threw them out temporarily, whichever came first, he decided that he would not push his friend for details. He would simply be available, be a ready ear if the man wanted to share, maybe over that Star Trek marathon he had mentioned, along with some of that kettle corn that Sheppard was hoarding. Yes, it was decided. He and Sheppard would be doing some male bonding over sci-fi and snacks. They would work out any issues that needed to be worked out, and everything would go back to the way they were supposed to be, with all of them firmly in denial about those things that they wanted to be in denial about, and everyone would be happy about it... and Beckett thought he didn't know anything about psychiatry.
Author's note: Yes, I could have done John's awakening and response, but I prefer to let your fertile imaginations fill in that part of the story. ;)