angw- nah, you're not being presumptuous- it's a normal tranquilizer. (:
red- thanks so much! Glad you liked the 'switcheroo' ;P
cybersyd42- aahgg… sorry sorry! Happy you liked the update, though. :D
Miran Anders- thank you! I was actually worried about how the switching perspectives came across (if it actually felt like Sheppard rather then just McKay again with Sheppard's name on it), and I'm very glad you thought it was in-character! (:
Greywolf Lupous- Yeah… yeah. Can't say much, but uh. Yeah. :P Thanks for the review.
nightpheonix- Thanks! And we're sticking with Sheppard for awhile. We might go back to McKay, but, at the moment, it's not written.
Silverthreads- thanks! (:
drufan- you got it. :P
Elisa- Pretty much, yeah. Thanks so much for the review.

Whoo! Okay, here we go.

(14)


.

I calmly asked Delon if I could perhaps, maybe see that object? Much more calmly then I felt. A ZPM, right here, right now, being handed to me.

Ford hadn't noticed, leaning his head back on the wall with his eyes closed; but Teyla stared over at me in wide-eyed amazement.

I gave her a quick and furtive shake of the head, not wanting to let the Brewins in on just how precious this object was if they didn't already know. I glanced up and saw Yolee picking some dirt out of her nails. Going out on a limb, I'd say they didn't realize what they had here.

I still couldn't believe it, even as I carefully turned the sizeable ZPM around in my hands. Why hadn't it shown up on McKay's scans of the planet? Was it totally depleted and worthless, or did the Brewins have some sort of power-barriers we didn't know about?

"So," I started as casually as I could manage, looking up at Yolee again and asking a totally not casual question, "does your planet have any shields or buffers to protect you from the Wraith?"

She was taken aback, giving me a suspicious look. "Why do you want to know?"

I swallowed nervously, telling myself to play it cool. It was hard though, with the answer to most of our problems resting in my hands. "Well, I was just thinking, if you had valuable shield powers, we might be interested in trading for that sort of thing."

She looked happily surprised now. "Really? Even with the Rif'Ta?"

Of course not, but I wasn't going to tell her that. I shrugged, "Well, yeah. Shielding ourselves from the Wraith is more important then some silly little test."

Yolee frowned at my irreverent description of the Rif'Ta, but told me anyway, "We have only one shield. It doesn't cover much, and we traded for it long ago."

"Really? Where's the shield generator? 'Cause I'd love to see it."

Ford opened one eye now, giving me a weird look.

"It is located under this very building, shielding us even as we speak. We decided to use it to protect the Brewin's most important possessions."

What? Did she know? She certainly wasn't acting like I was holding her people's most important possession

"The Life Reviewers." she finished.

"Oh!" I said, with a relieved laugh. The shield had been blocking the ZPM's existence from McKay's scanner! No doubt if I took the ZPM outside it would light up his scanner like a Christmas tree. "They're in here, then?"

Yolee tilted her head slightly to the side, saying, "Yes." She glanced down at the ZPM resting in my hands, asking warily, "Why so interested in that?"

I saw Ford lean forward to see what she was talking about, catching sight and looking up at me in shock. Although he had enough sense not to say anything, the damage was done. Yolee noticed his reaction, and in turn, her eyes narrowed suspiciously.

"Delon," she called to the other Brewin who was working on something across the room, "just what is this object?"

He looked over, saw her pointing at the ZPM, then returned to his work, saying uninterestedly, "Useless piece of trill. It has been in here longer then I can remember. Taking up space."
"I just thought it looked interesting." I told her, trying to sound indifferent and hoping the Brewin word of 'trill' was the equivalent of Earth's 'junk.'

They had a ZPM and didn't even know it, just like back on the Lord of the Flies planet-- but this time their society wasn't depending on the ZPM for survival. This time we could take it, they weren't even using it.

Now if only McKay would wake up so we could get the hell out of here.

Yolee still looked troubled, telling me, "You do know you cannot take that with you when you leave?"

I blinked, my happy thoughts coming to an abrupt halt. Obviously this was going to be harder then I'd first anticipated. "Why not? Like Devon said, it's a useless piece of, uh, trill." I shrugged, even tossing the ZPM lightly into the air, something that would've caused an hour long lecture from McKay if he'd been awake to see it. "I thought it'd look cool in my room."

She came forward and took the ZPM from me. I didn't offer any resistance, not wanting to seem like I cared. Something I'd regret only a moment later. "Trill or not-- we do not trade anything without first completing Rif'Ta."

And, just like that, she disappeared out the door, clutching the ZPM against her stomach.

I repeat: she left with the ZPM.

We couldn't let this chance go. "Teyla," I called frantically to the Athosian poised by the door while I climbed off the cot, "follow her!"

She nodded, already half-way out the door before she turned back and asked hesitantly, "Should I… take the ZPM by force?"

I was over by McKay now, grabbing one of his arms and hauling him up into a sitting position. "If necessary." I answered after a moment of thought, "Just get the ZPM and go. We'll meet you by the Jumper."

Ford was up and beside me, helping me to get McKay onto his feet and slinging his arms over our shoulders once again.

Devon suddenly noticed something was up, turning around and asking in a puzzled tone, "Where is Yolee? What is going on?

"I don't know." I grunted, Ford and I already next to the door. "She left. We're going to go home now."

"Wasn't their another one of you?" he wondered.

We didn't answer, leaving the medical house behind and trying to make our way through the crowd of Brewins in the Town Square.

It was slow going, both of us panting from the exertion after only a few minutes. And we still hadn't even passed that damn fountain.

"Major!" Teyla's voice came over the radio then, sounding anxious. Which was saying something right there. "I have been… detained."

I clenched my teeth in frustration, adjusting McKay's limp arm while I asked, "Where are you?"
"I'm at the city limits." she replied quickly, "The ZPM is gone, and--"

Static.

"Change course for the city-limits." I told Ford blandly. I'd known, ever since I saw the ZPM, that it wouldn't be that easy. It could never be easy for us. Apparently, God, or the fates, or whatever, wouldn't allow it.

Now what do we do? I wondered, hobbling along slowly and feeling sweat begin to trickle down from my hairline. We couldn't run, because there was no way I would leave McKay or Teyla behind. We wouldn't make it to the Jumper because the Brewins were blocking the path that led out. It's not like we could maneuver in that scarce forest with an unconscious man. They had Teyla, and now the ZPM was gone.

Options were limited.

We needed the ZPM, that much was clear. The Wraith were coming, and at the moment, Atlantis had no defenses and very limited power. So basically, we could: 1) Ignore the fact that the Brewins even had a ZPM; just apologize for trying to swipe it and leave. 2) Wage a war with the Brewins and steal the ZPM, or 3) Let one man go through some crazy test in order to peacefully gain a ZPM and consecutively save a city.

Choice one was out of the question. We couldn't just ignore a ZPM that wasn't even being used! With the Wraith on their way, and Atlantis quickly using up what little power we had left -- we'd need it sooner rather then later.

Choice two, though… No, I realized with a sigh, releasing McKay's arm for a moment so I could swipe at my damp brow. I suppose we couldn't do that either. Rif'Ta was part of the Brewin's culture and it wasn't our place to force them to change just for our needs. No matter how important those needs were.

Either we opt for choice one or we end up at choice three…

I looked down at the back of Rodney's head, which was lolling forward against his chest. "So. How do you feel about taking that Rif'Ta McKay?" I asked the oblivious scientist. "'Cause if you don't want to… you just let me know."

Ford stared at me. "Um. He's unconscious."

I sighed. "I know that, Lieutenant. Just trying to feel a little less guilty right now."

It was obvious he wanted to ask more questions, probably about the Rif'Ta, or Life Review, or whatever the fuck they called it- but after a moments hesitation, he just said, "Right." and focused on walking again.

We finally passed the Town Square, spotting Teyla at the edge of the path leading out, being held between two large Brewins with Yolee standing off to the side, holding the Athosian's radio and looking pissed.

The ZPM was nowhere to be found.

"Major Sheppard!" Yolee called irritably upon seeing us, pointing a finger at me as if she was an angry mother chastising her son. "You and your teammates are no longer welcome--"

"We need to talk." I interrupted as Ford and I reached the group. "About possibly participating in Rif'Ta."

Teyla's eyes bugged out, and Yolee's mouth clamped shut in surprise. She began to look suspicious. "Really?"

"Yes."

"Major--" Teyla started incredulously, eyes narrowed and tilting her head slightly to one side.

I cut her off more angrily then I should've, "Not now!" I was already feeling the intense guilt and I knew that whatever she was going to say wouldn't help me feel any better about any of this.

She fell silent, jaw twitching furiously.

Yolee watched the exchange, apparently coming to the conclusion that I was serious, because she smiled brightly again. She waved off the two Brewins holding Teyla, with a distracted, "Release her." before saying to me, "We have many things to discuss."

"Yeah," I agreed, adjusting my grip on McKay's waist. "we do."


.

Vivid hallucinations, sleep deprivation, confusion, nausea, forgetfulness, lack of an appetite…

Just some of the effects the Life Reviewer might inflict on McKay, Orin and Yolee had told Teyla and I, back in the Meeting's House. Of course, he could be one of the lucky few who have no reaction to it at all, though they told me that was extremely doubtful.

Ford was with McKay, back in the Brewin hospital with the scientist sedated once again.

Trying to push the immense feeling of guilt that solicited out of my mind, I'd asked them how long the thing would have to be attached to him. Orin had answered with something like, until we determine if you have a worthy people. Then, much more clearly after a some-what threat from me, no more then a week.

How, exactly, would making a man have vivid hallucinations, sleep deprivation, confusion, nausea, forgetfulness and lack of an appetite, help you decide if we're a worthy people, I'd inquired- and I believe I might have sounded a tad sarcastic.

Orin was prepared with a rather disturbing answer.

"Those are just side-effects to what Yolee will be doing once she is connected with Dr. McKay." he said in a sage-like voice that I'm sure he'd had to practice very hard to get.

I put a hand up against my forehead, rubbing tiredly. I was in no mood for new surprises like this. "Connected?" I repeated after a moment.

"Yes. Yolee will be connected to your scientist through her own Life Reviewer, effectively evaluating Dr. McKay's life up to this point. Her examinations will cause the hallucinations and confusion. As advanced as the Reviewer is technologically, our ancestors were unable to totally block the effects from the Rif'Ta participant."

I blanched at this new information. Although, really, what had I been expecting with a thing called a Life Reviewer implanted in him? "Evaluating his... life."

"Major, you can not do this." Teyla insisted forcefully, eyes blazing with barely contained anger as she stepped in front of me, "This Rif'Ta," she spat out the word as if she couldn't stand even saying it, "is an atrocious and disgusting practice." She spun around and told Orin heatedly, "We will not participate in this!"

"Teyla!" I said in surprise, grabbing her arm and pulling her away from the shocked Brewins and over to the side of the room so we could talk privately. "We don't have a choice in this! We need that ZPM, and you know it!" I told her in a low voice, releasing her arm.

She pursed her lips, shaking her head and whispering back, "I… can not believe you are even considering this, Major."

"Look." I sighed, staring down at the floor and trying to gather my thoughts. Her unusual showing of this much emotion had me feeling off-kilter. How could I defend myself, when even I didn't know if I was making the right choice here? I glanced up, meeting Teyla's eyes. "If you had the choice to possibly -- no, probably save Atlantis, you'd take it, wouldn't you?"

"Not at the expense of one of my friends." she said softly, looking away.

I clenched my jaw in frustration. "Don't you think McKay would choose to do this if he had the choice?" I demanded, though I didn't even know for sure about that "He wants a ZPM as much as the rest of us!"

"We do not know what the doctor would choose! And that is not the point!"

I clenched my fists in frustration, asking, "Just what is the point, then?"

She threw up her hands in disgust, pushing past me.

"Where are you going?" I asked angrily, not even turning around.

"I will be waiting with Aiden." Teyla replied stoically.

She opened the door slowly; obviously waiting for me to say something. But, apparently, I waited too long, because she stormed out.

"Keep your radio on!" I finally yelled as the door slammed shut.

The room was filled with awkward silence.

I closed my eyes, trying to think. Teyla's clear opposition to the Rif'Ta had left me with some serious doubts.

Orin cleared his throat loudly, asking, "Are you ready to continue Major?"

"Uh…" I shook my head, glancing over at the old man, and deciding to bring up something I'd been putting off, "Before we go any further, I need to go back to Atlantis and clear this whole thing with Weir."

He looked confused.

"My, uh, boss."

Yolee and Orin exchanged a look.

I decided to press my luck, "And, I'm not trying to be rude, but I also need our doctor to check out your… Life Reviewer thing. Show him the procedures and the schematics. Make sure it's safe."

Orin and Yolee both looked hesitant and began whispering to each other conspiratorially for a minute or so, leaving me to bring out my water canteen and take a long and satisfying drink. They pulled away from each other and Yolee finally announced, "You are allowed passage back to Atlantis, and your doctor can review the books and may speak to Devon about the procedure."

I gave them a wane smile, twisting the lid back on. "Great."


.

"What do you think, John?" Elizabeth asked after I'd finished explaining the eventful trip to MG7-855, poised on the edge of her desk with arms crossed over her chest.

I shook my head in irritation, seated in the chair in front of her. "No, no. That's what I came here to ask you. Not the other way around."

Elizabeth sighed, pushing herself from the desk and walking to the other side, letting a hand play idly with her hair as she gazed out the large window. "Well. Let's be truthful here. We need a ZPM."

"Right." I agreed, "And they're willing to give it to us."

"Yes," Weir nodded, "in exchange for raping one of our colleagues minds." she finished, suddenly furious. Dropping her hand and turning away from the spectacular view of the ocean at sunset, she looked back at me. "What the hell kind of test is this? 'Rif'Ta?' 'Life Reviewer?' I mean, come on, how demented can it get out here?"

I nodded, lifting a hand in understanding. "I know. It's insane."

She pursed her lips, looking back out the window; the frustration she was feeling obvious in her bunched up shoulders.

The back of her head faced me as Elizabeth asked once again, "What do you think John?"

She wasn't going to let me escape the question, was she? I leaned forward in my chair, elbows on my knees and clasping my hands together while resting my chin atop. I answered cautiously, "I think… we need a ZPM."

"So, you want to do it?"

"Of course I don't want to!" I snapped, the tension and stress of the situation getting the better of me. I took a breath, ordering myself to calm down. "But, do we have any other choice?"

She turned around, arms crossed once again as she admitted, "Not that I can see." She suddenly bit her bottom lip, glaring down at the floor and saying softly, "John. You know Rodney even better then I do."

I quirked a surprised eyebrow, allowing a vague, "Okay…" waiting to see where she was going with this.

"If he knew the choices… if he knew that we had to do this to get a ZPM…" She met my eyes now, asking with an intense look, "Do you think he would choose to do it?"

I lifted my chin, decidedly uncomfortable with the question, knowing that my answer would pretty much decide McKay's fate.

"Do I think he would choose to do it?" I repeated unnecessarily.

She nodded lightly.

If she'd asked me that three months ago… No. I would've been sure with that answer. No way he'd sacrifice that much for us. For anyone. But now that I really knew the man… I rubbed my hands together thoughtfully, remembering the scientist's bravery during the storm with the Genii. Just one of the many flashes of heroism McKay seemed to have. He'd actually stepped in front of a gun for Weir.

Not possible, I would've thought three months ago. If someone had come up to me and said, "Hey, you know that guy McKay? Yeah, well he just stepped in front of a gun for someone." I'd answer, "No, no, you've gotta' be confusing him with someone else. Maybe that Czech dude?" Which was my fault really. Because three months of being at Atlantis hadn't changed him. Three months at Atlantis had allowed him to be who he really was, and I'd only caught on now.

Damn, way back when we first came here even, he'd saved us all by stepping into that energy creature thing and tossing the Naquadah through the Stargate to send it on it's way. Granted, he'd been invulnerable at the time, but something like that took bravery and courage not all people possess.

Nobody had even asked him to do it. He just did. The egotistical, self-preserving scientist had done that all by himself.

Wistfully, I realized that I actually did know the man now. Knew from weekly poker games just how bad of a liar he was, or how he rambled and mixed his words together when he was excited… or how he actually backs up that fantastic ego with that equally fantastic brain of his.

He wasn't all talk, that guy. Sure he talked a lot, and most of it wasn't all that relevant, but he backed it up. That's what it's all about, really. The follow-through. The saying, 'I can fix this incredibly complicated object, and I'll even make fun of you while I do it.' and then, damn it, he did it. Every time.

I dropped my arms, sitting up straight in the chair, "Yeah." I answered Weir finally; but now without a doubt. "He'd complain about it, but, eventually, he'd do it."

She smiled slightly during the last part, saying, "Yeah, I think so too."

I rose from the chair then, asking uncertainly, "So, we're doing this?"

Elizabeth's arms flexed unconsciously as she glared down at her desk, mulling it over.

"Yeah." She glanced up, "We're doing it." She paused, letting us both realize the severity of the decision.

But she didn't wait long before giving me quick orders, "Take Carson with you. Have him go over everything. If he thinks that there's any way this 'Life Reviewer' may harm Rodney permanently… or if he thinks it's not worth it -- we'll just back out."

"Just back out. No problem."

"Right."

---


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tbc