Title: It's a Hardware Problem

Author: Dr. Dredd

Spoilers: None

Season: Season 1

Rating: Teen (rated for Radek's swearing)

Disclaimer: Stargate Atlantis, characters, concept, etc, aren't mine. Bloody heck.

Summary: Rodney and Radek try to figure out yet another Ancient device

Miko bent diligently over her laptop. She wanted to finish these calculations this afternoon so Dr. McKay wouldn't have to wait for them tomorrow morning. Her had been very clear when he gave them to her that any delay would be very bad! And it went without saying that they had to be correct to at least three decimal places. She didn't want to disappoint him.

So Miko tried to ignore the crashing and yelling that was coming from the other side of the room.


"No! I'm telling you, that's all wrong! Repeating it over and over won't change it!"

Drs. Radek Zelenka and Leif Olafson stood across a lab bench from Dr. Rodney McKay, the source of the noise and the sarcasm. Radek was clearly used to dealing with Rodney, so he just stared back and pushed his glasses a little further up on his nose. Leif was a different story. The normally easygoing Swedish engineer looked like he was one step away from committing mayhem. "Dr. McKay, you asked for my opinion. This device, and I can't even tell you its function, was not meant to be configured like this. If you keep trying to force it, it might even explode!"

The device in question was a rectangular black box, about two feet long and one foot high. At the moment, sensors were pasted to various parts of the box and a power cord snaked from an opening in the back to a portable power supply pack. However, areas that were clearly supposed to light up remained dark, and the device appeared dead.

"Oh, please. There is no possible way this can explode. It can't even hold enough power to light a firecracker, never mind blow up on its own."

Leif threw up his hands. Facing Radek, he said, "I'm sorry, Zelenka. He will not listen. If I were you, I would leave too, while you still can." He stormed out of the lab, muttering dire Swedish curses under his breath.

"Jeez, he's as bad as Carson. You can't understand either one of them when they get worked up."

Exasperated, Radek ran a hand through his hair. "Rodney, that is the third member of the engineering staff you pissed off today. If you continue this way, no one but me will be willing to work with you." Under his breath, he muttered, "And even I am having second thoughts."

Rodney either didn't hear him or was ignoring him. The latter was more likely. He rocked back and forth on his heels for a minute. "OK, so this is obviously a hologram projector."

Radek shook his head. "Rodney, you have no way of knowing that."

"Come on! It was found in a room where one entire wall was a screen! What else could it be?"

"It could be anything! Ancient game boy, universal remote, sonic screwdriver..."

Rodney looked at his fellow scientist pityingly. "You watched Dr. Who as a kid, didn't you."

"Dr. Who?"


"Wait, exactly who is this Doctor?"

"Yes... Oh, never mind. Take a look at these crystals. They look like the ones in the console Carson found when we first got here."

"This box looks nothing like that console," Radek pointed out.

"My point is that the inner crystals are the same for both. Who cares what the outsides look like? For all I know, this is the new and improved model."

"You forget just one little thing, Rodney."

"What now?"

"It doesn't work. You've configured the crystals, you've supplied a power source. If this was hologram projector, it should be showing fourth of July fireworks by now."

Rodney rolled his eyes. "That's why I wanted you and Olafson to look at it. Something else must be broken."

"Maybe," said Radek. "But I still think you shouldn't try to connect power source to that conduit. I think it will set up feedback loop, and then it really will be broken when it goes boom!"

"Boom?" mouthed Rodney incredulously.

"Yes, boom. Is radical new Czech concept." He took a small probe and touched one of the circuit paths. It immediately snapped and sparked, giving up a small puff of smoke. "That's exactly what I mean, Rodney."

"Give me that," Rodney grabbed the probe. "Of course it's going to spark if you do that. That's a very delicate part of the machine. That's why you need to do it this way..." Radek watched over his shoulder as Rodney unplugged the power cord and reconnected it to a slightly different location. After about ten minutes of adjusting connections, Rodney stood up and dusted off his hands. "This should do it. I'm going to turn on the power pack now. Behold the wonders!"

Rodney turned on the power. For a second, nothing happened. Then there was a high-pitched whine, and an instant later the last thing they heard was, "BOOM!"


An hour after a medical team had moved the unconscious Drs. McKay and Zelenka to the infirmary, Miko finished up her work and closed her laptop. The explosion had been powerful but small, not affecting her side of the room at all. The ventilation fans quickly took care of the smoke and fumes, and she had been able to work uninterrupted. Now she was curious about the box that the other two had been working on. It looked vaguely familiar to her, like it was something she'd seen at her parents' home in Tokyo. After a minute, she realized what it had to be. Excitedly, she grabbed the box, which had remained miraculously unharmed, and ran to the infirmary. Dr. McKay would be pleased that she had solved his problem for him!


Elizabeth Weir wasn't sure what she expected when she walked into the infirmary, but it certainly wasn't the sight of her two top scientists, now fully conscious again, sitting on beds with smoke rising from their clothing. Radek's unruly hair was singed around the edges, and one of Rodney's eyebrows had been almost completely burned away. This, however, was not stopping either of them from yelling at each other.

"This is all your fault, you know. You and your boom!"

"Excuse me, my fault? You... you... Ty curaku! Blbecek! Jdi se vycpat!" ( You prick! Little idiot! Go screw yourself!)

Czech was one of the many languages Elizabeth knew. Trying to keep herself from smiling, she cleared her throat and asked, "Do you kiss your mother with that mouth?"

Immediately Rodney and Radek turned their attention from insulting each other to trying to give her their version of events. After a minute, Elizabeth put her fingers in her mouth and gave a piercing whistle. "Gentlemen! Or should I say 'boys'? Kindly shut up for a minute!" As stunned silence filled the room, she exhaled slowly. "Thank you. Now, one at a time. Radek, what happened?"

At that moment, having heard the commotion, Carson Beckett hurried over to them, looking concerned. When he realized that his patients were fine and getting chewed out, he leaned against the wall and folded his arms across his chest. They wouldn't get any help from him.

One by one, Radek and Rodney each explained their version of events. Elizabeth then turned to Carson and gave him an inquisitive look.

"I may have been able to give Rodney the ATA gene, but I haven't been able to figure out how to give either of them the common sense gene. Between them, they've had one concussion, two broken ribs, one deep laceration, and now assorted burns. And that was just this month alone! But they still can't keep their hot little hands off the Ancient gadgets."

"Give me a break, Carson," said Rodney sarcastically. "If it hadn't been for us, you wouldn't have gotten that handy little medical sensor we found. Raises medicine from voodoo to snake oil!"

Before Carson could blast Rodney back, Miko came running into the infirmary, chattering excitedly in Japanese. Rodney looked at Radek, and Radek looked at Carson. None of them knew Japanese, so all they could do was listen. Japanese, though, was another language that Elizabeth knew. As Miko spoke, Elizabeth began to smile. Her smile grew broader until it was a grin, then she burst out laughing.

"Would you like to share with the rest of us?" Rodney asked.

With a last snicker, Elizabeth said, "Miko told me that she looked at the box after you left. She said it reminded her of a new DVD player her father had bought just before she went to Antarctica. She said that you were right, Rodney. It is a hologram projector. And the power cord was in the right place the first time."

Rodney looked smug at that. Radek scowled. "So what exactly was so funny?"

Elizabeth started laughing again. "Miko said... that the reason the device didn't work... was that you failed to depress the switch at the lower left corner of the box. Because of that, the power was unable to get to the projector mechanism."

Rodney gaped. "You mean all of this was because we couldn't find the damned on/off switch?" He slapped a hand to his forehead.

Radek looked furious. "This is really all your fault! You should have inspected the box more closely before playing with it!"

"Me? I'm an astrophysicist. I deal with theories. You're an engineer. You get to deal with the hardware problems!"

That set both Elizabeth and Carson off. Miko just stood there, looking at the two well-respected scientists bickering and the expedition leader and the chief medical officer laughing hysterically. She decided that Americans, Canadians, Czechs, and Scots were all very strange. She would have to be the sane person for all of their sakes!



This was inspired by the classic joke:

Q: "How many computer programmers does it take to screw in a light bulb?"

A: "None. It's a hardware problem."