NOTES: Thank you, everyone, who left reviews or favorited other stories in this series. I'm so happy y'all are enjoying these stories. :)
Events in this story rely heavily on what happened in Part 6 of this series, Gauntlet. (And to a lesser extent Part 4 Mark of a Warrior.) If you haven't read those yet, you really should read them first, especially Gauntlet. Otherwise, a lot of what happens in this story will be very confusing.
This story takes place between The Eye and The Defiant One.
I may have mentioned to a few of you Sergeant Thompson would have a much larger presence in this story if everything went to plan. Yeah. Things didn't go to plan. Have no fear, however, the idea is still there, and will be used in another story.
Special thanks to Lyn for all of the beta help!
Rodney groaned as the alarm clock started beeping, and he slowly crawled out of bed to shut it off. Since coming to Atlantis, he'd decided there just weren't enough hours in the day; considering the days on the planet were about four hours longer than on Earth, that actually said something. Over the course of several months, everyone in the expedition had adjusted to the change, but an early morning meeting was still an early morning meeting, especially when he was up later than usual the night before finalising plans for upgrades to the power grid.
Standing in the small bathroom after a quick shower, he caught a glimpse of his right arm in the mirror as he shaved; Carson had removed the last of the bandages a week ago. The scars still looked red, but Beckett was happy with how he'd healed and assured him they would fade with time. He hoped so, he wasn't sure how much longer he could stand wearing long-sleeved shirts to hide the damage.
He dressed and headed out for the meeting with Corrigan's anthropology team to hear their latest theory on some ruins found on M4J-772. He didn't think there was much cause for excitement, but they were convinced there was some sort of underground complex at the site that warranted further investigation.
Rodney sat with his arms crossed through the thirty-minute presentation by Corrigan and Jenson, trying to keep his growing annoyance under control. "And?" he asked impatiently once Corrigan was finished.
Corrigan frowned. "And?" he parroted. "We need to go back. This could be a chance to study how people thousands of years ago worked and lived, their systems of government, how they -"
"Was this an Ancient settlement?"
"Umm, no," Corrigan replied, slightly confused. "As I said before -"
"So," Rodney interrupted again, "there's no chance of a Zed-PM, or Ancient research, or any information on how to defeat the Wraith."
"We can't just focus on that one thing -"
"If we want to survive here, then yes we can," Rodney told him forcefully and stood to leave. "Unless you can show there's a reason, tied to our ability to survive in this galaxy, your request is denied. Move on to the next site survey."
"But, Doctor McKay," Corrigan started, but Rodney was already out the door, no longer listening.
That was worth getting up at dawn? he wondered and shook his head as he went back to his lab. He had a couple of hours before he needed to meet John and the others for breakfast, may as well try to get some of his own work done. He turned on the light over the desk, leaving the rest of the lab in darkness as he sat down and sorted through the files and papers.
Even without the need for grants, committee oversight, or peer-reviewed publication, it still amazed him how much paperwork the science half of the expedition generated. He had work rotations to set up for the near-constant repairs needed or tweaks to ten-thousand-year-old systems, research projects to approve or, as was more often the case, deny. Reports on completed research needed to be read and signed off on, hazardous experiments needed to be carefully reviewed and safe areas set up where they could be performed, and several areas flooded during the storm last month still needed to be surveyed and cleared.
He rubbed his eyes as he finished another report and glanced at the clock in the corner of his computer, did the calculation for Atlantean time, and got to his feet. He'd lost track of time and was running late meeting the team for breakfast.
John, Teyla, and Ford were already seated by the time Rodney arrived. John watched him enter and Rodney nodded as he headed for the food line.
"Morning," he said in greeting as he sat next to Sheppard. He noticed the others were mostly done eating, but sipped at cups or glasses, obviously waiting for him to join them.
"As I was saying," John said with a glance at Rodney, "we may have a mission. Stackhouse's team found what looks like an abandoned town, looks like there's a good chance for Ancient tech. We sent a MALP, so if it all looks good, we'll head out tomorrow or the next day."
"Make it the next day," Rodney said as he put down his coffee cup. "If everything checks out, we're starting on the power upgrades tomorrow."
When the expedition had first arrived in Atlantis, the power systems were jury-rigged quickly to get critical systems working as soon as possible. Now that they were a bit more settled and had a better idea of how the systems worked, they could finally work on setting the system up correctly and hopefully put an end to the near-constant grid issues as well as opening up new areas of the city for exploration and possible habitation.
"This could be important," John said. "Most of the buildings look to be intact."
"So's this," Rodney retorted. "If we can get these upgrades done, we'll have more power which will make all of our lives, never mind our possible survival, better."
"And these upgrades can be done in a day?" John asked, skepticism clear in his tone.
"Are you kidding?" Rodney snorted. "It's going to take days, maybe a week to get this done. I need to be here to make sure everything is going the way we expect. After that, I can leave them alone with it for a few hours to check out a planet."
John frowned, then nodded. "All right, I'll talk to Elizabeth about waiting an extra day." He looked over at Rodney, "Just one day. After that, we need to go."
"Fine," Rodney said and went back to his reconstituted eggs.
"I spoke to Halling yesterday," Teyla said a few minutes later. When she didn't continue, Rodney glanced up at her. "Several of the parents in the village would like to speak to you, Doctor McKay," she told him, and he could see a bit of humor in her expression.
"Umm, why?" he asked and glanced at John to try to figure out why parents would want to talk to him. He did his best to avoid children and hadn't been to the mainland since their trip right after the storm. He rubbed absently at his arm and tried not to look guilty.
Her smile widened. "It seems Jinto and the other boys are neglecting their chores and staying up too late as a result of the telegraph machines they built when we were there last."
John laughed and Ford grinned. Rodney scowled. How was this his fault? he wondered as the others shared in the joke.
"I told you so," John added as he looked at Rodney. "It's the noise. My parents couldn't stand the constant clacking as David and I sent messages back and forth to each other."
Teyla's smile widened. "These parents would seem to agree, Major."
Rodney ignored the humor as he looked at his watch and hurried through the rest of his breakfast.
"Hot date?" John asked as Rodney finished the last of his toast.
Rodney shook his head. "Meeting with the head of the Earth Sciences team … we really need to think of a new name for them." He paused for a moment, lost in thought, then looked back at John. "Kavanagh and the chemists want access to some rock samples the geologists say they still need for their own research. I may actually have to agree with Kavanagh about something. It won't be pleasant."
"Do not forget we have a lesson today," Teyla said as Rodney stood.
"Lesson. Right." Rodney frowned.
"No, you aren't ditching it," John told him before he could say anything. "You've missed too many lately."
"Fine," Rodney said with a huff. "I'll be there." He cleared his dishes and trash then headed back down to the labs.
Rodney found Kavanagh already in a heated argument with Volkov when he arrived at the door to the Geology lab. Several people in the hallways were giving the open door a wide berth and disgruntled looks.
"You two do know you sound like a couple of kids fighting on a playground, right?" Rodney sneered as he walked into the room. Both men stood over a work table, a sample case on the table between them.
Kavanagh turned to glare at Rodney while Volkov glared at both of them.
"These samples are priceless," Volkov said, one hand on the case. "It's not like we can easily go back to P9X-565 and get more."
"And if you want to know anything of value," Kavanagh retorted, tugging the case closer to his side of the table, "we have to be able to break them down." He tried to pick up the case, but Volkov gripped it tighter.
"You break them down, and we have nothing left to study or confirm your results," Volkov snapped, pulling the case back to the middle of the table.
"Oh, enough, the pair of you," Rodney said in disgust. "Volkov, give him the samples. We need to know the chemical composition before we can do anything else."
As Kavanagh smirked, Rodney added, "Do not use all of the material. Volkov is right, it won't do us any good if there's nothing left afterward."
"I know how to do my job. Unlike some people," Kavanagh replied snidely as he waited for Volkov to let go of the precious vials.
Rodney didn't bite on the obvious attempt to bait him and left the lab in disgust. No wonder the military half of the expedition thought so little of the scientists, he thought. He scratched absently at his right arm and went back to his own lab to get some work done before his defence lesson with Teyla.
Two hours later he stood on a workout mat, his hands held awkwardly in front of him as Teyla showed him how to block various punches.
"You must keep your balance centered," she told him as she knocked him back several paces. "If you do not, your opponent will control the engagement and you will not have sufficient power in your own attack."
Rodney sighed as he moved back into position. Teyla had been telling him the same thing for months. He could understand the physics of what she was saying, but he couldn't manage to get his body to do what she described.
He waited for her to attack again and this time managed to block almost half of her hits before she again knocked him off balance.
"That was … better," she said. "Now, you try to attack me. Remember to use all of your upper body, not just your arms and shoulders."
This was the part of the lesson Rodney really hated; he'd been taught from a very young age not to hit girls, but when he'd tried to explain that to Teyla, she'd just rolled her eyes and kicked his feet out from under him. He knew Teyla was more than capable of fending off whatever he attempted, but it still made him feel uncomfortable.
He ducked his head for a moment, then put his hands back up and went through the series of drills Teyla had been patiently teaching him over the last few months. Teyla made him repeat the sequence of punches and counterpunches several times before she called an end to the lesson.
"You are doing much better, Doctor McKay," she told him as he rubbed a towel over his sweaty face.
He didn't really believe her but smiled gamely as they headed for the door.
"I will see you at the same time the day after tomorrow?" she asked as they left the workout room. "Assuming, of course, we are not visiting the planet Major Sheppard mentioned at breakfast."
"Day after tomorrow," Rodney replied resignedly as he headed back to his quarters to shower again.
A hurried lunch and he was back at work in his lab reviewing all of the reports for rerouting the power systems for the upgrades. There was a meeting scheduled in an hour with the rest of the scientists working on the rerouting project to ensure everyone was on the same page regarding the scheduled outages and what each group was responsible for, whether it was monitoring systems or rewiring the transformers and generators.
"So, we're agreed then?" Rodney asked the group of scientists grouped at the table in front of him three hours later. "We'll take the system down piece by piece and reroute the power through here and here." Rodney pointed to the graphic on the screen behind him. "That should increase the efficiency by at least twenty percent."
"And then we can open up more areas of city," Zelenka added.
"Well, yes, obviously," Rodney replied sarcastically. "Once we know the system is stable."
"Yes, yes, but once we know that -"
"Then we can open up more of the city," Rodney agreed. "Maybe find some living quarters that have more space. I could go for something with a balcony," he mused with a faraway look before focusing on the men and women in front of him again. "So, I'll let Elizabeth know we're ready to go. She can alert everyone to expect power outages and take whatever steps are necessary. Is the infirmary and control room set up with temporary generators?"
Zelenka nodded. "Yes, Grodin and Beckett know what to expect."
"Fine. We can get started in the morning."
Rodney watched as the scientists stood, gathered computers and notes, and headed out of the conference room. He glanced at his watch, picked up the file with the rerouting information, and headed for Elizabeth's office.
He knocked on the door and entered without waiting for her to acknowledge him.
"Rodney," Elizabeth greeted as she looked up from her computer. "Something you needed?"
"No. I'm here to update you on the power systems." He dropped the file on her desk and sat in one of the chairs. "We're set to start making the changes in the morning," he added.
Elizabeth glanced through the file, then looked up. "How long do you estimate each section of the city will be without power?"
"It depends," Rodney replied. "We're going to start in a non-critical area, one of the lesser populated sections of crew quarters and see what we're dealing with."
She gave him a startled look as she closed the file. "You don't know what the system looks like?"
Rodney huffed impatiently. "We know how we have the naquadah generators hooked into the Ancient systems. We have a good idea of how those Ancient systems are interconnected to share power." He picked up the file. "But until we actually start tearing one apart, no, we don't know if there are secondary systems that will need to be shut down or if the reroute will still supply enough power to an area. That's why we're starting with crew quarters and not, say, the stargate. Once we get one section done, the others should go faster."
"But you think this power rerouting will work?"
He could tell Elizabeth was still skeptical of the plan, even though his department had been working on the idea for weeks. He tried to keep the impatience out of his voice as he explained, again, why they needed to get the project moving.
"Yes. If we can get the systems wired more efficiently, we open up the possibility of better defences in case, oh say, there's another monster storm or the Wraith come calling. We may be able to open up some new areas of the city, as well. Abrams and some of the others have been doing some research into the outlying areas of the city, there are some interesting buildings out there that might hold some useful technology."
Elizabeth frowned. He must not have masked his frustration as well as he'd hoped, he decided.
"All right, I'll send out information to everyone to prepare for power outages of indeterminate length," she finally replied.
"Good," Rodney said shortly and stood to leave.
"Rodney?" Elizabeth's call stopped him before he reached the door.
He turned back around, his mind already working on alternative scenarios in case they ran into any snags.
"You are aware Major Sheppard has a mission planned for the day after tomorrow? Will you have enough of the rerouting done by then?"
Rodney rubbed a hand over his face. "As I said to Sheppard this morning, if we get enough done tomorrow, it shouldn't be a problem taking a day to investigate the planet."
Weir nodded and he left.
Back in his lab, Rodney sat at his work table and started on an analysis of several items found in one of the flooded labs under the north pier. He had one of the larger devices in pieces and was studying its inner workings to figure out what it did when John came into the lab carrying a tray with two plates and two cups of coffee.
"You missed dinner," he said as he set the tray on Rodney's desk.
Rodney looked up from the mass of crystals and wiring and glanced at his watch. Somehow several hours had gone by while he'd worked.
"Oh," Rodney said as he put down a screwdriver and scooted the stool he was sitting on over to the desk. "Thanks." He picked up one of the plates on the tray.
"You're welcome," John replied as he sat in the desk chair and took the other plate. "What's so fascinating it could make you miss a meal, anyway?"
Rodney glanced at the work table. "Tsao and some of the others found another cache." He pointed at the work table with his fork. "It looks like the room they found was used as some sort of design lab. Those devices look like prototypes."
"Prototypes of what?"
"All sorts of things," Rodney said and swallowed some coffee. He rolled back over to the work table and picked up a smallish box with a pronged holder in the middle. "I'm hoping this might be some sort of recharger for the personal shield device." He turned the box over in his hands a few times before putting it back on the table. "Not sure yet, though."
He pushed himself back to the desk. "One of the others," he waved a hand at the domed glass object sitting on the shelf behind the work table, "could be a sort of recording device. If I can get it to work, it might have information on the others. Notes, plans, that sort of thing."
John nodded as he finished his dinner. "Got time to play tonight?"
Rodney grinned behind his coffee cup. "You sure you want to? My settlement was on the verge of a major breakthrough the last time we played."
John scoffed. "Your settlement is so resource-poor, all I need to do is out wait you. Your people will come crawling to mine just to eat."
Rodney humphed and put his plate back on the tray. "We'll just have to wait to find out. I can't tonight. I have to get everything set up for the power grid work tomorrow."
"Just don't forget to sleep at some point," John admonished gently as he gathered up the tray.
Rodney waved as John left the lab. He hadn't meant to spend so much time on the Ancient devices, he was behind on what he needed to do for the power project the next day and pulled up the schematics for the area where they were starting the next morning and ran one last check of all the systems.
~*~*~*~ SGA ~*~*~*~
Rodney hurried into the mess hall the next morning, grabbing a cup of coffee and his usual eggs and toast before heading over to the rest of the team. He stifled a yawn as he sat down next to John.
"Morning," he mumbled to the others before starting to wolf down his breakfast.
"Did you sleep at all last night?" John asked quietly.
Rodney glanced up at him. "A few hours. I found an odd power fluctuation in the section we're starting with today. Had to run it down and make sure it wasn't going to cause any problems."
He felt John's steady look and glared back. "What?" He swallowed half of his coffee and hoped the caffeine kicked in soon. He wanted to get at least three sections of the rerouting done today.
"Nothing," John said with a sigh. He waited a beat, then changed the subject. "Grodin contacted the MALP on P2J-338 an hour ago. For once it looks like the 'gate is in the town as opposed to out in the middle of nowhere. No indications of life signs and the town looks abandoned. So it looks like we have a go for tomorrow, assuming Rodney's science project goes to plan."
"I can fix it so you're reading by candlelight," Rodney threatened casually as he ate.
"And I can make running laps part of your daily routine," John replied with a smirk.
Rodney glared at John's smirk but said nothing as he continued to eat.
"Do we know who lived there?" Ford asked.
"I do not know of many places where a stargate is situated in the middle of a town or village," Teyla said. "It is not safe to build near the stargates."
"So this might be a place that dates back to the Ancients?" Ford asked and his eyes widened. "Like an Ancient city?"
Teyla shrugged. "I would need to see the images to be certain, but it is possible the town belonged to the Ancestors at one time. They would not have had the same fears concerning the Wraith that we do today. There may have even been defences in place near the stargate in case they ever were attacked."
"You don't say," John drawled and Rodney saw his eyes light up.
"It is possible," Teyla replied, seemingly oblivious to Sheppard's eagerness.
"In that case, Rodney, you better get a move on," John said. "P2J-338 just got a lot more interesting."
Rodney finished his coffee with a nod. "I'll see you guys later," he said as he cleared his tray and left the mess hall.
Rodney entered his lab to find Zelenka, Tsao, Kavanagh, and a few others all waiting for him.
"Tsao, you and Kavanagh take your teams and start in generator room three, be ready to go with the new cables once the crew section is powered down," Rodney ordered as he started gathering tools. "I'll take Wagner and start shutting down the transformers. Once we have the section offline, we can start rerouting the conduits. If all goes to plan, we should have the section done in a couple of hours."
"Were you able to determine what caused the fluctuations last night?" Zelenka asked him as everyone stood to leave.
Rodney shrugged. "Probably something left over from the surge last month," he replied. "I adjusted some of the levels and it seemed to work. That's why we're doing this, so we don't have to keep tweaking the grid."
"True," Radek agreed as they left the lab. "I will set up in the control room with Peter to monitor the power levels," he added and headed for the transporter.
"Come on." Rodney waved at Wagner to follow him down a different hallway.
"Rodney," Zelenka called over the radio a few minutes later. "We are ready to cut the power in the crew section.
"Go ahead," Rodney ordered, clicking on his flashlight when the power went out. Except where light from the stained-glass windows filtered through the halls, the section was completely dark. "Looks like we found all of the emergency fail-safes," Rodney reported as he and Wagner walked down one of the hallways. "No emergency lighting is on."
"Confirmed," Radek replied. "The section is completely powered down."
Rodney led the way through the quiet crew section, the beams from their large flashlights dancing along the wall. The area had been the one used by the Athosians and there were still a few candles or bits of fabric decorating the hallways.
"There are four maintenance rooms in this section," Rodney said as he stopped at a junction, looking at the map on his laptop. "One there." He nodded to a door halfway down the hall. "Another, in that direction." He jerked his head toward the hallway to his left. "And two more on the other side."
He caught Wagner's eye-roll but chose to ignore it for the moment.
"You take this room," he ordered Wagner. "I'll get the other one. If you start getting any strange readings, stop what you're doing and come find me."
"Yeah, I know," Wagner said impatiently and started for his assigned room.
Rodney heard him muttering but chose not to listen as he headed for his self-appointed room.
The maintenance room was dominated by a transparent central pillar of crystals that, as far as the expedition could tell, acted as a transformer. A control panel sat in front of the pillar while cables went from the top of the pillar into the ceiling.
Rodney entered the room and set his flashlight on the end of the console. He glanced up when he thought he saw some of the crystals in the pillar started to glow slightly. He double-checked the console then looked back up at the pillar.
"Zelenka, you getting any odd readings?"
"There was a strange anomaly for just a brief moment," Radek reported after a few seconds. "There is nothing there now." He paused for a moment. "Tsao confirms generator three is completely offline. It should be safe to proceed."
"Oh, your confidence is so reassuring," Rodney replied with all the sarcasm he could muster.
Rodney gave the pillar another suspicious look, and when it remained dark, he went to work. He hooked his laptop into the console, verified the console was powered down, then started disconnecting the old cable from the transformer, keeping half an ear on the conversation by Tsao's team as they rewired the naquadah generator.
Twenty minutes later he was done and called Zelenka back. "The first transformer is ready," he reported as he left the maintenance room.
"Mine is done, too," Wagner added.
"Confirmed, both transformers read as offline," Zelenka replied. "Once you have the transformers on the other side disconnected, we should be ready to run the new cables."
"You heard the man, Wagner. Let's get to the other side of the section." Rodney led the way around the dim crew section and pointed out the third room to Wagner. He watched as Wagner started to dismantle the old cables for the transformer, then headed for the last maintenance room.
"Rodney?" Zelenka called over the radio. "Are you doing anything?"
Rodney stopped outside the door for the last maintenance room. "No. Why?"
"The anomaly is back," Radek said. "You are sure the problem last night was fixed?"
Rodney shook his head. "It wasn't anything major," he said as he reached for the door control. "There was a fluctuation in the power levels, nothing we haven't seen a hundred times since we got here. That's why we're doing all this work."
"Yes, yes, I know, but …"
Rodney sighed and rubbed his head as he triggered the door to open. As soon as he stepped into the room, he knew he was in trouble. Unlike the transformer in the other room, this one was glowing a bright white.
"Rodney!" Zelenka yelled over the comm. "There is a huge spike occurring."
"Yeah, thanks, I got that," Rodney snapped as he hurried to the console in front of the transformer. "I thought you said the power was shut down in this section! Where's the excess coming from?"
"I don't know," Zelenka replied and Rodney could hear Radek and Grodin talking to other technicians as they searched for the cause of the spike. He plugged his laptop into the console and started a diagnostic.
Rodney double-checked the data on his laptop and swallowed. "It's more than a spike," he said over the radio with surprising calm. "We've got something down here drawing a huge amount of power from generator two and it's all getting routed through this transformer. It's nearing an overload." Whatever was happening, he had to get it shut down before the transformer blew, taking who knew how much of the section with it.
"Rodney, you need to get out of there," Radek said and Rodney heard the worry and fear in Zelenka's voice.
"I can't do that and you know it," Rodney snapped. "I have to get some of this excess energy bled off or when it goes, it could take out this whole section of the tower."
Rodney's hands flew over the console as he tried to reroute power back through already overstressed systems.
"Doctor McKay? What's happening?" Wagner called from the doorway.
"Get out of here," Rodney ordered. He glanced up to see Wagner still standing just inside the maintenance room. "Go! I've got this."
Rodney turned back to the transformer as an ominous buzzing sound started and the light from the pillar intensified. He knew he was out of time and was struggling to unplug the laptop when the buzzing suddenly increased. He glanced at the transformer in fear as he took a few hurried steps backward. Before he had a chance to turn away or flee the room, there was a bright flash of light as the transformer blew up.