Finally, thought Adair, we're making some headway. It had been almost a week since the saboteurs had blown themselves to pieces--literally. Repair crews now swarmed all over the ship en mass. Atlantis personnel, especially the scientists, were pitching in wherever they were needed--led by the indomitable Dr. Rodney McKay. It wasn't that they were anxious for the ship to be gone, he thought, though he had had that impression in the past. Now it was more a matter of pride to get the ship back to her former glory as soon as possible. Every day the ship was that much closer to being space worthy. Though to hear McKay rant and rave about the inefficiency of everyone around him, you'd think it would be years instead of days before the ship would be ready to return to Earth. The thought of the man and his ubiquitous coffee cup brought a grin to Adair's weatherworn face. McKay was not usually the sort of person he gravitated to--Sheppard, sure; but not a brainy, whiny, scientist-type.
And then there was Teyla. That little lady sure was easy on the eyes. The lithe Athosian was spending several hours every day in the gym doing some sort of intriguing yoga-like exercises to keep her body limber--and boy-howdy was that gal limber--while waiting for her abused lungs to heal enough to resume her stickfighting. Adair had been disappointed that he hadn't been able to watch her at that. From what Sheppard told him, it was something to behold. He briefly wondered if there was any chance Caldwell might renege on his fraternization policy, then snorted in amusement - not likely to happen in this lifetime.
He continued to hum tunelessly. At least they didn't have any more saboteurs to worry about. McKay and Zelenka had made sure of that, tracing back every instance of tampering with a single-minded intensity that ensured all the incidents on board had been linked to the people responsible. Everything they found pointed to only those three individuals working in tandem onboard the ship. A report had been sent back to the SGC detailing everything. Earth had some of their own housecleaning to do since some of the discoveries pointed towards accomplices accessing the ship's computer systems during the Daedalus's last visit home, not to mention various forged documentation that allowed them on board in the first place. Someone was going to have some heavy explaining to do back home and he would dearly love to be a fly on that wall when Caldwell cornered the people he felt were responsible for the security breach.
"Everything okay, sir?" asked Lieutenant Hardy as he entered the small room.
Adair shook off his musings and returned his attention to the job at hand - removing a stubborn control panel door that had been warped by one of the sabotage attempts.
"Maybe you could call Dr. McKay to come help?" the lieutenant suggested.
"What we need here is brawn, not brain," said Adair as he tugged vainly at the damaged panel. "Hand me that piece of rebar by the door, would you, Lieutenant? This panel's being ornery." He waved vaguely toward the entrance behind him before holding out his right hand expectantly while he continued to pull on the panel with his left. When the expected pry bar didn't appear, he turned to see what was causing the delay. Pain exploded through his head and everything went dark.
"Hey, Adair?" called Sheppard as he entered the room. He was deeply engrossed in a Daedalus manual that he balanced in one hand since his left arm was still in a sling. "Can you make sense of this diagram...?" He trailed off as he looked up from the book, taking in the captain's unconscious body on the floor and what appeared to be a Daedalus officer standing over him, holding a bloody piece of steel rebar. The man instantly dropped the rod and pulled a gun from his waistband, pointing it at Sheppard's chest.
"Oh, you've got to be freaking kidding me! How many of you mothers are there?" Sheppard threw his hands up in the air in exasperation, at least as much as he could with one of them still in a sling. "So? What? You want to blow another hole in the ship? Be my guest! What's one more?" he ranted. "Just let me get out of the way first!"
"I'm not interested in damaging the ship. I'm not some damn saboteur."
"No? Then what?" He glanced down at the unmoving body on the floor, relieved to see Adair was still breathing. "You get tired of his singing?" he goaded, sarcastically.
"Call Dr. McKay in here."
The last thing Sheppard wanted was for this man to have another hostage. He changed tactics. "I don't think you want to hurt anyone. After all, you could have killed Adair and you didn't. Look, whatever the problem is, we can work it out." He smiled encouragingly and took a step closer to the armed man, mentally calculating his odds of wresting the gun from him. Hardy narrowed his eyes and re-aimed the gun at the colonel's head. "Or not," Sheppard said, raising his arms again slightly and stepping back to his previous position.
"Call McKay," the man said coldly, cocking the hammer.
Sheppard reached for his radio.
"Wait!" said Hardy suddenly. Pulling off Adair's radio, he put it on so he could listen to both sides of the conversation then nodded for the colonel to continue. "No tricks," he warned, still pointing the gun menacingly.
Sheppard gave a half nod of acquiescence and tapped his earpiece. "Hey, Rodney. I could sure use your help on the maintenance control panel door. Wanna come in here a sec?"
"I thought Adair was going to fix that?" Rodney asked, irritated. The sound of angry Asgard muttering could be clearly heard in the background. "A one-armed monkey could do that and you want me to drop what I'm doing, which is infinitely more important by the way…"
Hardy squinted suspiciously and deliberately lowered the gun so that it pointed directly at Adair's head.
Sheppard knew that there was no chance a bullet would miss at that distance. "Yeah, I know, Rodney," he said breaking into the scientist's tirade. "But I really need your help on this," he continued, stressing the words as much as he dared and willing the scientist to get the message.
"Yes, yes, FINE. I'll be right there," Rodney huffed impatiently, clicking off his radio before the colonel could say anything more.
Sheppard tried to ignore the knot of worry in his gut and convince himself Rodney had gotten the message. McKay would put two and two together. After all, he was a genius wasn't he?
"Good job," said Hardy, nudging Adair with his foot to make sure the officer was still unconscious. "You might both live through this."
The sound of booted footsteps could soon be heard in the hallway and Sheppard groaned inwardly -- so much for being a genius. He watched as Rodney entered, completely oblivious to what he was walking into as usual. The scientist's head was tipped back and he was shaking his cup so he could down the last few precious drops of coffee. Sheppard doubted he had even noticed there was gun pointed at him yet. "Hi, Rodney. Nice of you to join us," he said, resigned.
McKay slowly lowered the cup and took in the situation with a look of almost comical surprise on his face. For a second he seemed to consider taking a step backward out of the door but Hardy waved his gun, indicating the scientist should come further into the room and stand near Sheppard.
"Why didn't you warn me?" he whispered.
"I tried!" Sheppard said through gritted teeth, glaring at him.
"I thought you and Zelenka said there were only three?"
"There were only three on board. We triple checked!" McKay turned his attention back to the man with the gun. "Hardy, is it?" he asked, peering at the man's uniform patch. "If that's your real name. What's wrong? You upset you didn't get your turn to blow up the ship?"
"I'm not an effing saboteur," Hardy spit at McKay, seething. "Radios," he demanded, snapping his fingers at them when they didn't move fast enough to suit him. Sheppard held his out to him but Hardy eyed him warily and waved the gun toward the console. "Put them over there." He waited until they had followed his instructions. "Now, both of you get over there," he said, waving towards a corner of the room with his gun. Once he had made sure the radios were off, he began to walk back and forth erratically, mumbling to himself. "Just a little she said. They couldn't trace it if you used a little bit at a time. It didn't do any good though. We'd be leaving soon, I wouldn't get another chance so I used all of it. It didn't matter if I got caught. It didn't work though. Why didn't it work?You promised it would work..."
Rodney quickly grew bored of watching the deranged man pace and glanced around the room looking for any means of escape from their current situation. "What happened to the space cowboy?" he asked quietly when his eyes fell on Adair's prone body.
"Hardy, over there, brained him with a pipe." Sheppard leaned in a little more towards the scientist. "That little alien knows where you went, right? If you don't come back soon, maybe he'll figure out something's wrong?" he whispered.
"Well what?" Sheppard asked, impatiently.
"We got into an argument, okay?" Rodney whispered back quietly, flicking a glance at their captor who was still arguing with himself about something. "I don't think he's likely to come looking for me any time soon."
"Imagine my surprise," said Sheppard sarcastically. His hopes for rescue momentarily dashed.
Rodney gave him a scowl and looked toward at their captor. A sudden a look of recognition crossed his face. "You!" exclaimed Rodney. "I bumped into you once in the hallway outside my lab…only you were dressed as an ensign then," he said, frowning as he tried to make sense of it all. "Who the hell are you anyway? NID? There's nothing left of your buddies but a greasy spot on the floor." After a moment's thought he added, "…and walls…and ceiling." He shook off the image. "Shooting us isn't going to change that."
"Screw the NID!" Hardy raged. "You think this is about politics? You killed my wife, you bastard."
"Your wife?" asked Rodney, truly confused.
"Donna. Donna Dumais."
"Isn't that the scientist who died from those nanobyte things?" Sheppard asked quietly.
"Nanites," corrected McKay automatically under his breath. "Original expedition members weren't married," he said aloud to Hardy. "It was one of the criteria for their selection since we knew the trip might be one-way."
"We were legally separated. She went back to using her maiden name." He paced around the console, agitated. "But she would have come back to me. I know she would have." He raised the gun at McKay again. "If you hadn't killed her."
"Look," said McKay. "What happened…I feel awful about it. But it was an accident."
Rodney's comments fell on deaf ears as Hardy continued to talk to himself, apparently lost in a world of his own. "I tried poisoning your coffee..."
"You tried… You WHAT?" exclaimed Rodney, looking down in horror at the empty cup in his hand.
"…but that didn't work either."
"Look," said Sheppard, trying to get a handle on the situation. "You're upset…" When Hardy spun around to look at him, he raised his hands a little and continued, "…aaand you have every right to be. But what happened was an accident. Dr. Dumais knew the expedition might be dangerous but she chose to come. No one forced her to make that decision."
Rodney was still looking down at his cup. "Uh, excuse me," he said, holding up his index finger before looking up at Hardy. "Can we go back to the part where you poisoned my coffee?"
"He put her in danger!" said Hardy, his attention focused totally on his argument with Sheppard now. "If it hadn't been for him, she would still be alive!"
"Does it suddenly seem like it's getting darker in here?" Rodney asked no one in particular, while looking around worriedly. "Because it seems darker to me."
"So you'd risk the lives of everyone on board the Daedalus just so you can have your revenge?" asked Sheppard, his voice filled with disgust and loathing.
Rodney squeezed his eyes shut several times in succession. "Do things look blurry to you?" he asked Sheppard.
"I told you, I didn't sabotage anything. I thought I'd have to make a lot more trips to Pegasus before I got my chance. I was willing to wait, for as long as it took. But fate stepped in, twice. First, I got myself posted to an opening on board the Daedalus, then the sabotage that made it possible for me to get on Atlantis almost immediately." Hardy gave a grim smile.
Rodney's voice began to grow slightly panicked as he looked around the room squinting. "Seriously, I'm having trouble focusing, here."
Sheppard glanced at him. "Relax Rodney, I brought you that cup of coffee myself, remember? It came from fresh pot." He turned full attention back to Hardy. "Okay, I see why you're upset with McKay, but why poison Beckett?"
Sheppard narrowed his eyes in disbelief but Rodney shook himself and snapped his fingers. "He took my stool remember? And we all had coffee that morning. He must have picked up my cup by mistake. It must have been in the left-over bit in my cup that didn't get spilled." He blanched and added in shocked whisper, "Oh my God! I could have died that morning."
Rolling his eyes, the colonel turned his full attention back to Hardy and tried to force the man to see reason. "It was a virus. She got sick. She died. It's sad but it happens."
"HE survived!" Hardy yelled, turning his attention and gun back on Rodney.
"You think I wanted her to die? You think I wanted any of them to die?" the scientist snapped back in frustration.
In stark contrast to the previous outburst, Hardy took a deep, calming breath, then lifted the pistol a little higher and aimed it right between Rodney's eyes. He smiled as he watched the color drain from scientist's face. "It's more satisfying this way, anyway."
"If you kill Rodney, you're going to have to kill me, too," Sheppard warned, hoping the man wasn't as bloodthirsty as he appeared.
"I'm touched," Rodney said quietly, swallowing nervously at the gun. "But maybe you'd be better off with the 'not talking thing' right now."
Hardy shrugged, his cold eyes focused only on revenge. "Whatever it takes." His finger tightened on the trigger and Rodney closed his eyes tightly, steeling himself against the inevitable as Sheppard stood helpless to prevent it.
There was a loud 'zap' and Hardy fell to his knees with an astonished look on his face before keeling over sideways, revealing Hermiod standing behind him, holding a 'zat gun.
"Way to go!" Sheppard exclaimed, looking from the Asgard to the unconscious Hardy and back again.
Rodney opened his eyes a crack, took in the scene, and opened them the rest of the way with a relieved sigh. "I thought the Asgard were pacifists--not that I'm complaining," he quickly added.
"We defend ourselves when it is necessary," replied Hermiod. "General O'Neill has taught us your Earth expression: You can conquer more enemies with a 'zat gun and a kind word, than you can with just a kind word." With that, the little alien turned and left the room.
"Remind me never to piss him off," Sheppard said to Rodney as he picked up his earpiece and called for a security detail to come take charge of their unconscious prisoner. "Or at least not more than I already have." Rodney nodded wide-eyed in reply, still shocked and surprised by the recent turn of events.
Sheppard knelt down, fingers to Adair's neck, and was relieved to find a strong pulse. He stood back up and walked over to Hardy, giving the man a not-so-gentle shove with his foot to make sure he was well and truly out.
Rodney was taking his own pulse, worriedly. "Do you think it was cumulative?"
"Do I think what was cumulative?"
"The poison, of course!" Rodney snapped. "That explains it." His voice took on a melodramatic edge. "The dizzy spells, the tiredness, the irritability."
Sheppard rolled his eyes again, secretly thinking that the last item in Rodney's list had nothing to do with any poison. "You were feeling just fine before you knew about the poison, Rodney. I'm guessing you didn't get a big enough dose for it to do any damage but why don't you go see Beckett and find out?"
"Go see Beckett," Rodney muttered, automatically parroting Sheppard's comment. He looked up suddenly and snapped his fingers. "I should go see Carson." Oblivious to Sheppard's exasperated snort, he drifted out the door and turned left into the corridor. A few seconds later, still muttering to himself, he wandered back past the door--this time headed in the correct direction.
Lorne and his men arrived to take custody of their prisoner until the Daedalus was ready to make the return trip back to Earth just as Adair began to stir. The officer groaned and Sheppard waved the major over to help him lift the woozy captain to his feet.
"I'm ready to go again, load the chute!" Adair said enthusiastically, attempting to shake off their hands. Blood dripped down into his face from where the metal bar had made contact with his head and he continued to sway dangerously even with their support. "There ain't a bull been made that I can't ride!" he insisted.
"There are no bulls here," said Sheppard, bemused. "You're on the Daedalus, Captain. Remember?"
Adair frowned, trying to concentrate. "Oh, right." He clutched his aching head. "I'm gonna be sick," he said suddenly, pulling away from them and stumbling to a far corner of the room, retching miserably. When he finished, he wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and rested his head against the cool metal of the bulkhead wall. "Sorry, girl," he apologized to the ship, patting the wall fondly.
"Come on," said Sheppard, taking hold of the captain's arm again and leading the unsteady man towards the door. "Beckett will want to have a look at you."
"Whatcha do to Hardy?" Adair asked, blinking blearily at unconscious form on the floor and craning his neck to keep the figure in sight, almost walking into the wall in the process.
Sheppard steered him a few feet to the left to avoid the collision. "Hermiod stunned him."
"Hurray for little nekkid aliens," slurred the captain cheerfully as Sheppard led him from the room.
"That bothers you, too?" Lorne heard Sheppard's disembodied voice from the hallway.
"Hell yeah! I mean, would it kill him to put on a pair of pants?"
"I've been knocked around lots worse at the rodeo plenty a'times, Doc." Adair insisted as he held a square of gauze against his bleeding head while Beckett shined the penlight in his eyes. "Just stitch me up and give me a couple of aspirin and I'll be good to go." He slid off the exam bed and firmly onto his feet in front of the doctor to prove his point.
Tucking the penlight back into his pocket with a look of resigned patience, Beckett held up his right index finger. "How many fingers?"
"One," said Adair with absolute certainty and smiling happily at the ease of the test.
Beckett waved the finger back and forth in front of the captain's face. Adair only managed to keep his focus for two passes before he lost his balance and fell back dizzily onto the bed, blinking hard and swallowing heavily against a fresh onslaught of nausea.
"Right," Beckett said crisply, turning to his nurse. "Full skull series it is then."
"Well, Captain, being hard-headed finally paid off after all," said Caldwell as he leaned gingerly on Adair's bed for support. He was now allowed short, supervised walks around the infirmary as he recovered from his injuries.
"And to think I gave up bull-riding because it was too dangerous." Adair said wryly, still looking slightly green.
"Hard head or not, I'm keeping you for twenty-four hours observation." Beckett helped the captain back onto his feet and handed him off to the nurse for a CAT scan just as a lab tech arrived and handed over a piece of paper.
"The results of the blood tests you ordered, Doctor."
"Thank you." Beckett read through the printout carefully before turning toward the bed where another of his patients sat, worrying obsessively and nervously chewing on a hangnail.
Rodney looked up from contemplating his own mortality, an expression of doom on his face, as he saw Beckett approach. "I'm dying aren't I?"
The doctor shook his head in amusement. "You're fine, Rodney. It appears you didn't receive enough of the toxin to have caused any permanent damage."
"I'm not going to die?" he asked, his voice quavering slightly. "Are you sure?"
"Positive." Beckett watched as a flurry of emotions passed over the Rodney's face. "Go get something to eat," he suggested kindly, knowing that food was often a source of comfort for the scientist.
"Eat? Right." Rodney slid off the bed with a dazed expression on his face and wandered out the infirmary door.
Beckett frowned when he saw the scientist turn the wrong way into the corridor.
"I got him, Doc," volunteered Sheppard. "I'll drop him off on my way to the brig to check on Lorne and Hardy." He pushed off the infirmary wall where he had been casually leaning and headed out to escort Rodney to the mess hall.
They came back down the hall a few seconds later and Beckett could hear the scientist's voice as he passed by the door: "He was going to shoot me, you know…"
"Don't hold that against the guy. I've been tempted to shoot you on more than one occasion myself." Sheppard's reply sparked an argument between the two men that faded away as they continued down the corridor.
"All's well that ends well?" suggested Caldwell from behind him. Beckett turned and eyed the man critically. Subtle though it was, he noticed the slight tremor in Caldwell's arm as he leaned heavily on the bed for support. "That's enough for today, Colonel," he said, taking the man's arm and leading him to his bed.
"I'm never going to build up my strength if all I do all day is lay around in bed!" he complained as Beckett settled him in.
"From what I hear, it will still be a week or more before the Daedalus is space worthy. By then, you should be well enough to be put back on light duty if you do as you're told between now and then". He cocked his head at the colonel sensing there was something more to his restlessness. "What's really bothering you?"
"I'm bored," Caldwell finally admitted a little sheepishly.
"I hear that a lot," said Beckett, sympathetically. "When Captain Adair gets back, I'll have him put in the bed next to yours and you two can talk…" he paused, smiling as he dredged up the expression he wanted, "until the cows come home."
Yeeeehaaaaaw! This was fun! Adair whumping, Hermiod's the hero of the hour, and Dr. Beckett gets the last word ("Bones" McCoy would be so proud ;-) So there it is. The end of our first collaborative fic and we didn't even kill each other (though having the entire country between us probably saved Erika's life on more than one occasion ;-) We hope you enjoyed it!
The "surprise" ending is inspired by the classic murder mysteries where the killer pops up out of the blue in the end. It might have had something to do with the fact that Erika's husband was working on a production of "Ten Little Indians", or that "Murder by Death" (which the cast quoted non-stop during rehearsal) is one of her favorite movies :-)
Thanks to those of you who left feedback along the way, we went back and incorporated some of the ideas. For the rest of you who followed the story to the bitter end and haven't commented, please consider leaving us some feedback so we can continue to improve our partnership!
"Yeah! What she said!" (nebbyJen)