Elizabeth was once again playing a waiting game. The sub was returning, but without her chief scientist and military commander. And while her professionalism was enough to keep her in check, it did not prevent her from walking to one of the large observation windows to worry at the huge waves that suddenly rocked the lower levels of the city. She issued an alert, and allowed herself to be mesmerized by the odd circular pattern that had emerged far off in the water. Like something had been destroyed deep, deep below, with the shock wave just reaching the surface. She only had to glance at Johnson to know that he was trying to hail the sub. And that was when she received a call, of all things, of Rodney and John appearing in a storage unit. Over that came calls of lower level flooding to which she responded by evacuating personnel to the higher zones of the city. She watched anxiously, but there was no danger.
The briefing that followed was as strange as her premier team's reappearance. Talk of another underwater city, which Teyla and Ford could not find the second time around, had Weir wondering if there were any more undiscovered structures underneath them. News of the experiments made her question the nature of the Ancients, though it seemed the ascension experiments went wrong only for those that were unworthy, and were henceforth stopped. "What of this Eschu?" she asked a tired, but apparently hungry, Rodney McKay.
He swallowed his bite of turkey sandwich and took a gulp of water before answering while cramming more food into his mouth. "I fink it hafs to do with the scientific protheth they used to attain the. . ." he shook his head and waited until he could swallow to continue. Sheppard and the others seated at the table merely watched with amusement. ". . .the ability to ascend. The Eschu is a map of sorts; I believe it's the same thing Daniel Jackson liked to talk about, he found it on some Jaffa planet or something, to be honest I wasn't paying much attention at the time, but it's something that his Oma Desala apparently followed."
"She was an Ancient?" Ford asked.
Rodney winced at him. "Yes, Ford, she was an Ancient. Actually, she was the first known Ancient we've been in contact with, or rather, Dr. Jackson has been in contact with, though truthfully, whether she's actually an Ancient, or just an ascended being, I'm not clear on. Either way, this was the doctrine she used, so I assume she at least had contact with the former inhabitants. Either that or this doctrine has spread much farther than you may think."
"Meaning there may be others trying to ascend, even now," Teyla remarked.
"Yeah," Sheppard chimed in, "and if they turn out anything like our friend down there, we may have a problem." He shifted uncomfortably in his seat, the bandages on his back pulling slightly at his skin.
"Evil Ascendants. Just what we need." Rodney shook his head and slapped another bite of turkey into his mouth.
"And this station destroyed itself?" Weir asked.
Rodney nodded and chewed while gesturing to Sheppard with his sandwich still in hand, obviously not giving up his chance at vital nutrition for the perks of a good tale. John smirked and took the cue. "Our theory is that the city was devised as a laboratory, where they took those that wanted to ascend, and put them through the proper schooling and training of the Eschu, hence the scriptures on the walls. It was like a religious lab, and they were religious lab rats. Those that were able to ascend did, and those that couldn't were kept in the city. It wasn't long before the number of those unable to ascend outweighed those that could. They were unstable, and kept away from Atlantis. Obviously this pissed them off, and they vowed to rise and take back Atlantis and get their revenge."
"But that was when the Wraith started their attack," Rodney cut in, "and Atlantis was evacuated. These experiment rejects were put into a sort of stasis, I guess the Atlanteans didn't want to risk sending them to Earth, and had plans of coming back to wake them up. Obviously they didn't return, and everyone ended up dying in stasis."
"Then how is it that the city was alive?" Weir asked, and smiled as Rodney grinned in response, actually setting down his half-eaten sandwich and waggling his lecture finger.
"Ah, see, that's the interesting thing. Somehow, I don't know how, but after all these years of holding semi-ascended beings within her walls, hooked up to her mechanics, everything started to meld. Maybe it has something to do with the ascension process, I'm not sure, but every person in that city became the city. The walls were infused with a liquid that was a combination of chemical substances used to operate the city initially, and organic material. This combination was literally injected into their neuro-pathways, maybe as a way of waking when the proper time came or sequence of events occurred, I'm not sure, but eventually they were integrated, and I think this is what ultimately killed them."
"You mean when they were trying to escape?" Ford asked.
McKay frowned. "Sorry?"
"I mean, it sounds to me like they were aware of what was going on, and tried to find a way out of there the only way they could."
"Well yeah, but I – oh god." Rodney's eyes widened. "You're right. Of course, you're right."
John leaned forward. "You mean they'd been trying to get out all along, by raising the city. Only they couldn't do it."
"That's because the city," Rodney said slowly, "sucked the life from them, leaving dry husks. Their life fluids were within the walls." He paled. "Dantanunana wasn't just the projection of one that was sleeping," he shared a glance with Sheppard, "In actuality, she was a collective. She was the sleeping, all of them." The image came back, of tangled, rotting limbs, disjointed bodies in one writhing mass. He slowly sat back, his appetite gone.
Weir's face wrinkled slightly in distaste, remembering the earlier description Rodney had given of the semi-ascended creature. "What about the crystal?" she pushed.
"McKay said we had to activate this crystal to get them out," John supplied, sensing that Rodney was in no condition to talk. "Now I'm still not sure if this would have worked, but I wasn't prepared to bring them to the surface without knowing more about them. Needless to say, once we found out what they really were, or were not, there was no way in hell they were coming up." He looked at McKay, who had shoved his sandwich aside and was sitting with his head in his hands. "And there's another thing. This creature was trying its damndest to get Rodney to ascend."
"What?" Weir turned to the distraught scientist. "Rodney, is this true?"
Rodney said nothing for several moments, and it was clear that he was greatly disturbed by whatever realization he'd come to. "They couldn't ascend themselves," he said quietly into his hands, "so. . .I think they needed a piggy back." The gaze that met Elizabeth's was empty.
The sea still made him sick. Rodney sighed, leaning over the rail, wondering if he would ever conquer his discomforts, those both physical and mental. He fingered the small canister. Beckett, bless his abrasive, needle-happy Scottish soul, had managed to find five more pills. Five more. He popped the top and shook the pills into his palm. Rolled them around. Felt someone at his right shoulder.
"No more Jackson Pollocks on the pavement then, huh?" Sheppard leaned his elbows on the rail and eyed the medication.
Rodney managed a small laugh. He noticed the Major was standing a bit closer to him now, almost shoulder to shoulder, almost protective. He liked it. It felt safe. "I don't know. Truth is, they never worked that well to being with. You know, you would think with all this medical research, especially within such an advanced program, someone should at least be able to come up with an effective motion sickness pill."
John nodded. He watched as Rodney tossed them listlessly in his hand. "Did I ever tell you I'm afraid of heights?"
Rodney turned. "You're kidding."
"No, really, I am."
"You're a pilot, for god's sake! How can you possibly be afraid of heights?" That, and he was standing a few hundred feet above sea level.
"See, that's the funny thing." Sheppard turned, resting his elbow comfortably on the rail. "In the air, I'm in my element."
"You're in an element."
"Will you let me finish! I'm trying to share a moment here, give me a break!" Rodney gestured, and John continued. "It's a different element, it isn't land or water. It's not like standing on the side of a cliff. In a plane, I don't feel like I'm going to fall. I don't get vertigo. I'm in control." He shrugged and watched the waves in the distance. "Take-off was a bitch, though."
Rodney couldn't help but chuckle at the absurdity of it. "You know, I never had an interest in flying. Fast cars, sure. Fast planes? Never thought of it."
"And so you worked for the Air Force."
"I worked for the Pentagon, thank you! But they grew tired of me messing up their codes, so I was eventually transferred to the Stargate program."
He raised his chin. "It's classified."
John narrowed his eyes at the dodge, and resumed his topic. "Flying the puddlejumper doesn't bother you."
"True." He straightened. "You hungry?"
Rodney blinked at the change of conversation. "Not really, why?" What he needed was to get off that balcony. He'd only been out there for five minutes, but any longer and his stomach would start to rebel.
John pushed away from the rail. "I was just heading down for a bite to eat, and wanted some company. Purely selfish motive, seeing as how you stuffed your face earlier."
But Rodney knew better. "Oh, please, like you didn't go straight to the commissary before the meeting. The things you eat, your stomach must be lined with lead or something."
"Just for that, I won't give you my pudding cup." He eyed the pills in Rodney's hand, then glanced up, one brow raised inquisitively.
Rodney rolled the pills in his palm. Might as well face facts, the meds were gone. Better to get used to it now then suffer later. He pulled back, and with a quick snap of his arm he tossed them out to sea. Both men watched as they instantly vanished.
Sheppard nodded and clapped Rodney on the back. "You like chocolate?"
"If there is a living soul here that doesn't, point him out to me and print out his eating schedule." He started to clap Sheppard on the back, and gripped his shoulder instead.
As they walked to the door, he heard Dantanunana's threat. And like the illness that plagued him, he tried to fling it back out to sea.