A/N Many thanks once again for all your feedback and encouragement! Finally we start to get back to reality in this installment, which features Beckett and, briefly, Weir, as well as our favourite dynamic duo -) Please review!
Sheppard got to his feet as Rodney put down the telephone and, kneeling, checked his father's pulse. His expression remained unchanged as he got to his feet and began to pace the room, occasionally glancing at his watch.
Unable to take any more of this, Sheppard scrambled up and strode across the room to confront the young man who had so calmly watched his father die.
"How could you just stand there?" the Major wondered, disbelievingly. Rodney jumped violently.
"Who the hell are you?" he demanded. "Where did you spring from?"
"He was your father, come on! Whatever he'd done, I don't believe you just…" he paused and turned to look behind him. The Id was snickering quietly to itself.
"You saw that?" Rodney demanded, stepping closer to Sheppard. He chewed his lip, and the fear in his eyes dissipated Sheppard's moral outrage somewhat. "Who are you?" the young man asked, again, almost pleadingly. "You weren't there before. I don't believe in ghosts…" he sounded as though he was trying to convince himself of that.
"My name's John Sheppard. Major Sheppard. I'm – a friend."
"Of my father's?"
"No, of yours. Listen to me, Rodney. Right now, I'm lying in a bed in the infirmary…"
"You're what? Which infirmary?"
"Never mind. I'm in a sort of coma. Beckett is going to switch off my life support if you don't get to him first and tell him I'm not dead. I'm – sort of on vacation from my body, but I'm still around, okay? When you wake up I need to be able to talk to you and explain this again. When you wake up, you will know I'm there. You got me?"
Rodney had paled alarmingly, was swaying on his feet. Sheppard – deciding his friend must always have had a propensity to faint in the face of danger – reached out to steady him. "You have to listen to me…"
"Jimmy…?" Rodney whispered.
"No, no, we've done this before. I'm not Jimmy. I'm John Sheppard. I need you to remember this. Tell Beckett he can't turn off that machine, because I'm still alive. Have you got that?"
No answer. The young man stared blankly at him. Sheppard shook him roughly by the shoulders.
"Have you got it?"
"Okay." Sheppard released him, let him stumble away, turned to the Id. It was watching with amusement.
"You will have made quite a bang in the real world, Major, trust me."
"I didn't make this happen. You did."
"Not without your assistance. How did you phrase it – 'invasive psychoanalysis'? Nice term. I must remember that. Oh, and by the way, if you were wondering about the time – it's almost eight am."
"I'd hurry if I were you."
"How the hell do I get out of here? How do I wake him up?"
The Id shrugged. "Hey, if that little episode doesn't have him screaming the place down, nothing will. Congratulations, Major – you've just traded your friend's mental health for your own ass. Not that your ass isn't charming – but I hope it was worth it."
Sheppard opened his mouth, but was unable to formulate a reply to that. Fortunately he didn't have to. The room began to swim, then whirl; Sheppard stumbled, dizzy, looked wildly around him for an escape route. The door – somehow he knew he'd be safe if he could only get to the door, get back out into that white corridor.
Staggering as the world spun around him, the Major headed in what he prayed was the right direction. Could I actually die in here? He wondered. If McKay woke up with Sheppard trapped in his unconscious mind, what effect would it have on the ethereal Major?
With a gasp of gratitude he found the exit he was seeking in front of him, and half stumbled, half crawled towards it. The door slithered around before his eyes, but he managed to grab it and shove it open as the room and everything in it imploded. His last sight was of the Id leering at him, as he shoved the door closed and leaned against the wall in the narrow, white corridor.
That too began to change, but not as violently or nauseatingly – it simply faded, leaked slowly out of existence. Sheppard closed his eyes, exhausted by his escape – when he opened them, he found himself lying on the floor of McKay's quarters, next to his bed. Rodney himself was sitting bolt upright, fists clenched, eyes wide and horrified, body shaking.
Sheppard felt a pang of sympathy that quickly became self-preservation when he saw the clock.
"McKay? Can you hear me?"
Rodney's head snapped around; he shot frightened, wild-animal looks around the room, but his eyes didn't rest on Sheppard. After a moment he ran his hands through his hair and slumped back, mumbling, "Just a dream…"
"No, it wasn't a Goddamn dream! Don't you remember anything I told you?"
McKay ignored him, turned suddenly to look at his clock.
"Yeah, seconded," Sheppard grumbled.
The scientist got quickly out of bed and to throw on his clothes.
"I don't believe this. You were my last chance, Rodney. And your subconscious lied to me. Have you any idea how much all of this sucks?"
McKay was already running out of the door. Sheppard followed him.
"Late for a meeting?" he wondered bitterly. But McKay wasn't heading for the control room – he made a beeline for the infirmary, almost knocking over Beckett as he shot through the door.
"It's all right," Beckett soothed. "I wouldn't've done it without warning you…"
"You don't understand. You can't switch off that machine!"
Sheppard, standing by, felt a sudden thrill of hope. Something had got through! If only it would be enough…
Beckett, meanwhile, was looking unhappy.
"Rodney, lad, we've been through this…"
"No, no we haven't! It's a completely different this. He's still alive, Carson. If you turn off that machine you'll be committing murder."
Beckett gave a heavy sigh, quite obviously not buying it.
"Would it make you feel better if I ran the tests again?" he suggested, calmly. "I will, if it'll help."
"I don't need you to run any tests. I know what you'll find. There's no brain activity because he isn't in there," McKay gestured expressively towards the screen behind which Sheppard's lifeless body was now hidden. "he's…out here."
The doctor tensed. "What're you talking about?"
"The Major. He's not dead, he's been – I don't know – disembodied."
A pained look came into Beckett's eyes.
"I know this must be hard for you," he said gently, "after what happened with your brother, but really…"
"Shut up! Just shut up, I'm thinking."
Beckett fell silent, biting his lip. McKay paced up and down the infirmary, went behind the screen to stare at the Major's motionless body. Sheppard followed him, was disturbed to note the pallor of his own still face, how his eyes seemed sunken into his head.
"What're you cooking up, McKay? It'd better be something good, because right now, Bones over there thinks you're crazy. If you don't do better than this, in a couple of hours I'll be dead and you'll be in a straightjacket….oh, God!"
A sudden, violent cramp ran through Sheppard, driving him to his knees with the pain. He slumped, gasping and trembling, reaching out automatically to grab at McKay's ankle, to ask him to do something, anything to help as the agony increased, crying out the scientist's name. Rodney swung around, his eyes wide with alarm. He gave a small, astonished yelp.
Beckett's head appeared round the screen.
"Are you all right?" he asked, tentatively.
"No!" McKay and Sheppard snapped, in unison.
Beckett opened his mouth to reply, but was forestalled when every light in the room suddenly winked out. Instead he exclaimed, "What the bloody hell now…?"
"Power failure. Radio!" McKay snapped. Beckett stared at him blankly before seeing what he was getting at and handing over his own.
"Elizabeth, what's going on?" McKay demanded into the device, as Beckett took out a couple of emergency battery-operated lamps, waving off an alarmed-looking nurse at the same time. Weir's voice came back, sounding tinny and puzzled.
"We don't know, Rodney. Where are you?"
"In the infirmary, with the Major…oh, crap. Carson, is the life support…"
"Aye, it's still working."
McKay sighed in relief. "Okay. I think I've figured out what's going here. I'm gonna talk to Beckett then I'll get back to you. For the moment, don't touch anything. And tell everyone else not to touch anything until I say."
There was a confused pause, then Weir replied, in a tone that said clearly, I'm trusting you on this, you'd better be right, "All right, Rodney. We're standing by."
"Okay," Beckett said, in bewildered voice, "what's going on?"
"That's what I'd like to know, too," Sheppard told McKay, staggering to his feet. The pain had receded; his mind was clearing. He felt a little embarrassed about shrieking like that.
"This is what I think is going on," McKay said, beginning to pace again, his expressive hands waving around in the air as he spoke. "when that Ancient device electrocuted Sheppard, he was expelled from – or dragged from – his body."
"I meant about the power outage…"
"I'm coming to that! Just listen, Carson. And keep your hands away from the life support switch. Sheppard wasn't killed – yes, his heart stopped from the shock, but that isn't what stopped him from coming back when you resuscitated."
"He's here, Carson."
"Where?" Beckett looked around nervously, as though expecting Sheppard's ghost to jump out of a closet and shout, 'boo!'. The doctor seemed to have forgotten his earlier scepticism; McKay was very convincing.
"Everywhere," the scientist replied, evenly. "In the city itself."
"I don't think I follow you."
McKay sighed in exasperation. "I suppose I should have expected that. Okay, I'll try to explain in words of one syllable, just for you. Listen carefully. Sheppard expelled from body by Ancient device."
"Sheppard's consciousness transferred into City."
"He's part of the City now, part of its intelligence. Or at least, he's going to be. I'm thinking that's what the Ancient device we found is meant to do – it allows someone to directly interface with the systems in Atlantis. But I don't think the process worked properly. And it's causing trouble. That power outage might've been the result of the City trying to integrate itself with the Major's consciousness, and failing. If that's the case, we could be in serious trouble here, because it's going to happen again – and get worse."
"You've lost me again. What makes you think the Major is…somewhere in the City?"
"He's been talking to me, Carson!" McKay snapped. "At first I thought it was – well, just my imagination going into overdrive, but it's real. He's been talking to me. I think – I think he might've found a way to enter my dreams. It's like he has some kind of semi-physical…no, that's not it. I know how he's doing it."
"You do?" Sheppard asked. "'Cos I don't."
"…he's communicating with me via the city itself. He's not talking to me directly; Atlantis is…relaying messages…" McKay's eyes took on that glassy look that meant he was having a 'Eureka!' moment. "I was hit by the device too. Two people have to be involved, one to integrate with the city and one to monitor him…the process failed, maybe because the device wasn't calibrated properly, or something."
"Um…" was all Beckett could manage. "So you've got some kind of telepathic link with the Major?"
"That's not quite right, but if it helps you to think of it that way…" McKay said, patronisingly. "Look, I know how crazy this sounds, but it isn't anything supernatural, it's science. It's just…weird science. But if it's science, I can deal with it. I can do something."
"You can fix it," Beckett said, with a faint smile.
"I expect so, yes. But you can't turn off that machine."
The doctor nodded slowly. "All right. This all sounds insane to me, though."
"It seems pretty whacked out to me, too. Look if I'm wrong, I promise I'll take a vacation and go into intensive psychoanalysis…"
"Fair enough, but if you're right – what can we do about it?"
McKay sighed. "That's the part I'm having a little more trouble with..."
Will the answer man figure it out this time? Tune in and find out in the next part of 'Wavelength'!