He was screaming inside. No one had the right to feel such utter terror; it went against any aspect of the mind, or human nature, to suffer to the extreme, to feel the icy chill of death grip and squeeze the life force from the body. To feel cold panic, to know that you are going to explode at any minute, and to know that there is nothing to be done. Time for regrets battles with the need for preparation. Thoughts of the past drift through, and you realize this will be the last time you remember them. The present, the now, never before seemed so stark and threatening. You are vastly aware of absolutely everything as you fight to take it all in, one last time; every sight, color, smell, feeling, memory, sensation, every breath. You want with every fiber of your being to be given the chance to hang on just a few more moments, because dammit, you can't die, you don't want to die, you refuse. And that last moment comes, when the darkness beckons, and you realize in agony that the reaper has won. . .
"McKay, whatcha got down there?"
The voice over Doctor Rodney McKay's headset sounded tiny, even though their radios were of the most advanced kind, and even though the area he was in was completely deserted of people and sound. It was practically deserted of light as well. This wasn't the first time McKay had been in the bowels of the station, it was the second. And of course the only person at liberty to accompany him was Adrienne Powers, who was short, cute, and totally unavailable, and therefore totally irritating. She was the latest victim of an unfortunate relationship boom that seemed to be robbing him of much needed overtime research assistants. It wasn't that he didn't have a life himself, like some had suggested, it was that there was a lot of work that needed to be done, and too many repairs to be made. Why the title of repair man had fallen upon his intellectual being was beyond him, but he was constantly running from one end of the station to the other, just because he understood the complexities of the alien machinery they worked with. Lately it was leaving little time for him to do his real job, never mind sleep. He gave his earpiece a quick, annoyed tap. "What I have, Major, is a dark room, an absent assistant, and little patience! Why isn't Yarborough down here? He's the tech! Why am I down here trying to reassemble a power grid?"
"Would you believe she had to go to the little girl's room?"
There was a hesitation, at which time Rodney yanked his hand away from a slight zap in the mechanism.
"I suppose that's a valid reason for leaving."
"She does it far too often." Rodney squinted at the diagnostic on his display. "She's like a little puppy running off every hour to go wet in the corner. I would have been better down here by myself, not babysitting a twenty-two year old with unusual bladder dysfunctions."
"You probably scare the piss out of her."
"If only I could be so lucky." He snapped the panel closed. "Try it now, Major."
There was another hesitation. "Yeah, that's good Rodney. What'd ya do?"
"I performed a process too infinitesimally insignificant to mention."
"You spliced a wire, didn't you?"
"Of course I spliced a wire! Good god, Karnnac's ten-year-old daughter could have done this! Why the hell I was sent here? I have very important work to do, Major, what the hell was going on in your brain to ask me to do this?"
"Actually, I wanted you to check something out for me."
"She really goes to the bathroom every hour? Even that far inside the station?"
Rodney gaped at nothing. "Are you serious? Are you fuckin' serious? You sent me down here to see if she'd. . .what the hell?"
"Well, that and the power grid needed repair."
"You could have rerouted!"
"And miss this?"
Rodney's eyes couldn't burn through Sheppard, so the angry gaze attacked a spot in the ceiling above him. "That does it! You officially suck!"
"Only if I'm lucky."
"I hate you with a passion I can hardly describe."
"That's a bit unusual for you, isn't it? Besides, blame Michaels. He put me up to it."
"What, her boyfriend?"
"Yep. He's been curious about something, apparently she's showing some signs but won't go to see our good Dr. Beckett."
"Signs of what?"
"You're the brains of the outfit. Think about it. What's a good reason for having to pee a lot?"
"Seeing you in the corridor?"
"Funny. Try again."
"I don't know. . .excessive pressure on the bladder. . ."
"Caused by. . ."
"What am I, a gynecologist?"
"She's got cravings too."
"Good for her."
"Come on, Rodney, of all people you can't be that obtuse."
Rodney rolled his eyes. "I'll take that in the spirit intended."
There was a significant pause. "Figure it out yet?"
"Oh good god, fine." The comment was a flung gauntlet, and he couldn't refuse. "Food cravings, pees like a newborn. . .oh." Rodney straightened from digging in his bag and blinked at the wall. "OH!"
"Sounds like the light just came on."
"She can't be! What the hell was she thinking? Doesn't she realize there's work to be done?"
"I'm hoping the process required little thought. Might ought to ease up on her workload."
"Oh, right, that's just great. Bring it on, people, I've got all the time in the world, I'll just do everyone's job, why don't I? Huh? Not like I have my own job to do, I swear, it's like being on a one man mission to Atlantis! It's 'Rodney this' and 'Rodney that'. That's okay. When I collapse from a nervous breakdown you'll all be sorry. You'll see. You'll weep."
"Trust me, I'm weeping now. Powers has been contacted to report back to the lab. You're done Rodney, you can get back to your important stuff."
"That'll be the day," Rodney grumbled, tapping his radio off, then stooped to gather his tools. He held the flashlight between his teeth as he worked, and when he heard the footsteps, the jerk of his head set the light in the direction of the sound. He allowed it to drop to his hand, keeping the beam on the dark corridor to his right. "Powers? I thought they contacted you. . .never mind. Grab this, will you?" He stood and held out a bag, waiting for her petite form to emerge from the shadows, but it never did. "Come on, I don't have all day. Powers? You there?" Uncertainty found his face, and he lowered the bag while once again raising his light. "Powers?" He tapped his radio. "Major?"
"Yes, Rodney?" The voice was patient.
"You detect any life signs other than mine down here?"
"Uh. . .that's a negative. What's up?"
"Are you sure? I heard something down here."
"Nothing's showing. Maybe you're just hearing things."
"Well, of course I'm hearing things, that's what I wanted you to check out!" Annoyed, he turned back to his belongings when another noise made him whip around, his eyes wide. "There, there, you hear it that time?"
"No, I just hear you, Rodney." The voice was finally showing a thread of concern. "You okay down there?"
"Run a scan again." He expected a retort, but instead there was a pause.
"Nothing. Why don't you come on back up?"
"Yeah, I think I'll do that." His light scanned the area, and found nothing. So he turned.
John Sheppard tore the radio from his ear, and just as quickly replaced it. "Rodney? Rodney, what's going on?" He looked at Johnson, who was manning the terminal next to him, but the young man shook his head. "Rodney, I'm coming, hang on!" He pointed to two nearby military personnel who were on guard, and the three of them launched through the doors while the major barked orders over his tiny microphone. With weapons drawn, they ran down the corridors and down into the lower levels of the station. He skidded to a stop as his radio clicked. "You there?"
"Major?"the voice squeaked. "Get your ass down here, and bring guns!"
"What did you see?"
"God it was. . .I've never seen anything like that. . .it reached right for me. . ." Rodney's breath was rushed.
"What's your location?"
"I'm headed towards research lab C. . ."
"That's in the new level?" John was already signaling his people to backtrack into an elevator.
"Yeah it's. . .oh god. . ."
"It's here, it followed me. . .I can feel it. . ."
"What is, what do you see?" John flew out of the elevator and ran down the hall, steadying his microphone with one hand. There was no response. "Rodney?"
". . .behind me. . ."
"Stay where you are, we're almost there!"
This time the scream didn't sound over his radio, but down the hall before him. He skidded around the corner and nearly tripped over a curled figure. He bent down.
Rodney was hunched over his knees. His wide eyes stared at Sheppard's for several moments before registering the face. "Major?" The voice was small.
John didn't know what to say to the man. He'd never seen Rodney so taken aback, so afraid, and he hated to think what real or imaginary scene drove the scientist to such a state. "Spread out," he muttered to his men, "see if you can track this thing down." He tapped his earpiece. "Johnson?"
"You get any unusual life readings?"
"Nothing here, Major, I've been scanning constantly since Dr. McKay first reported hearing something."
"Keep looking. And page Beckett down here." John set his weapon down as he knelt right in front of Rodney, his troubled eyes surveying his friend. "Hey. You with me?"
Eyes darted to him, then to a space behind him. He was searching for something. "Yeah, okay."
Sheppard almost smiled. "I can't promise that. You want to tell me what you saw?" His tone was careful, like talking to a child that just woke from a nightmare.
It was all due to the terror on Rodney's face. John had never seen such a reaction, the fear twisting Rodney's features into a grotesque mask. He had no idea how to cope with it, other than to baby the scientist until he felt more himself.
Rodney looked left and right, popping a glance over Sheppard's shoulder while wringing his hands. It was several moments more before he spoke. "You didn't see it, did you?" He frowned and looked away. "I didn't either. I mean, I sensed it. . .and it was so dark and cold and. . . brittle. God, it was awful. It scared me." He swallowed after this admission, and the fact that it came so easily worried John even more. Nothing more was said until Beckett's arrival, which consequently resulted in McKay spending the day in the infirmary under observation for shock.
"I think it's stress," was Dr. Beckett's final diagnosis.
"What do you mean, stress?" Sheppard was less than happy with this answer. "You didn't see the man's face, Carson. He looked like he jumped out of his body and left his skin behind."
"I did see him, Major, I was there. Or did you forget that already?" Carson wasn't happy with the dismissal of his diagnosis. "Look, I've run every test I know. Everything is normal, except that he needs to sleep. I doubt he's slept in days, and with what you two went through with the submarine and that underwater city, I can easily see his nightmares taking form in waking hours."
"So you're saying he dreamt this?"
"I'm saying he needs to sleep, Major. He needs to recuperate. He's on pins and needles enough with the Wraith coming, and with everything else that has happened. . .I'm about ready to drug him to sleep, and I'm ready to ask Dr. Weir's permission in doing it." He glanced back at Rodney, who was staring patiently at the ceiling, his fingers threaded across his chest, his thumbs rubbing together. "As far as I can tell, he's suffering from REM sleep deprivation. That combined with not eating properly, which affects hypoglycemia, can cause waking dreams real enough to scare your grandmother out of her grave. His body is screaming for rest, and he's not allowing it."
John nodded, glancing over Beckett's shoulder at the man who was now flagging down a nurse. "He did mention having nightmares when he tried to sleep. This was when I found him in his lab around 4am, as the earth crow flies. He dismissed it, though."
"Well, he can't dismiss it for much longer. Och, now what is the man doing?" Beckett walked to the bed and argued with the scientist for a moment, which resulted in a Rodney power-sulk. Beckett rejoined Sheppard, his amusement barely hidden. For all the annoyance, he really did like Rodney McKay. "He wants jello. Says if he has to lay there, he's entitled to some."
"Did you tell him he can have some after he wakes from his nap?"
"If Dr. Weir okays it, and I'm right willing to bet she will, I'll let him have his jello, and eat it too." Beckett smiled. "Then it's lights out."
"Will you stick the needle in his ass?"
"Can't a man hope?"
"Don't you think he's been through enough?"
Sheppard considered it. "No?"
"Outta my sight, you bannock. I'll keep you informed."