Long Strange Trip

Chapter 1

Lt. Colonel John Sheppard raced to the stargate control room, warning sirens ringing in his ears. On his heels were Teyla Emmagen and Ronon Dex. He nearly lost his footing as the city trembled and shifted, the structure groaning in protest at the motion.

As they entered the room, they came to a stumbling halt, slowed by the chaos around them. John hurried to Dr. Weir's side, his stomach clenching at the worried frown on her face. She acknowledged their presence with a quick nod, but her attention was immediately returned to Dr. Rodney McKay. The physicist and his second in command, Dr. Radek Zelenka, were furiously entering commands into the Atlantis computer, their fingers a blur. Rodney's face was pale and drawn, sweat beading on his brow. Around them, the lights and control systems dimmed and flickered, then momentarily brightened.

"What's going on, Elizabeth?" John asked quietly. The expedition leader turned to the Colonel, and he was shaken by the fear in her eyes.

"We were running a routine scan of the systems when we came across an unusual energy spike. Rodney started to investigate, then everything began shutting down. We only have auxiliary power right now," she replied, running a shaky hand through her hair.

John returned his attention to the scientist. Rodney was completely focused on his task, his hands flying across the controls. Radek leaned in closer to McKay, muttering something incomprehensible in the din, and Rodney gave a short nod. John could feel the tension in the room mount as the moments ticked by, the sirens blaring incessantly. Then, suddenly, silence. Above them, the lights stopped flickering, and shone steadily, while the computers hummed back to life.

McKay leaned back in his chair, closing his eyes in relief. He flexed his hands, then clenched them into fists. That had been close – too close.

"Rodney?" Elizabeth's worried voice broke his reverie and he opened his blue eyes. Tension drew his mouth into a frown.

"We're okay – for now." He stood, his eyes glued to his computer screen. He watched as Radek Zelenka typed in a few more commands, then wiped a hand across his face.

John reached over and clapped a hand on Rodney's back. "You want to tell us what happened?" he asked. Rodney nodded.

"Not here," he replied. The scientist led them to Elizabeth's office, and waited until Ronon had shut the door before explaining. Dr. Weir and Colonel Sheppard leaned against her desk, while Ronon and Teyla remained standing, Ronon's hands unconsciously hovering next to his weapons.

Rodney began pacing within the small confines of the room. "We were running a routine scan of the power draws on Atlantis. You know – life support, systems functions, all that. Anyway, we detected some kind of energy spike in a remote part of the city. When I started running a diagnostics, everything started shutting down. We nearly lost the city."

"What do you mean, Dr. McKay?" Teyla asked softly. Rodney paused in his pacing, and as he explained, he punctuated his words with sharp movements of his hands.

"The city essentially floats on the surface of the ocean; there is no real support from below. It requires an enormous amount of fine adjustment to prevent Atlantis from just drifting away on the currents, let alone accounting for the variables in wave motion…" Rodney was interrupted by John.

"Did you fix it, Rodney?" the Colonel asked, cutting to the heart of the matter.

McKay paused as Radek entered the room. The small Czech scientist had a grim look on his face, and he shook his head at Rodney.

"Apparently…no, we didn't," Rodney snapped. "I just re-routed all of our power so that it temporarily bypasses whatever is causing the power spike. But if it continues to interfere with our systems, then we will have a bigger problem."

Elizabeth stepped forward, folding her arms across her chest. "A bigger problem?"

"Before we received the new ZPM, we ran Atlantis on a shoe-string. Literally – we only had enough power for life-support, rudimentary computer systems and the stargate. With the new power supply, all kinds of systems have been coming to life. Many that we don't have a clue as to what their true function may be. With one burst, this power spike managed to take all the power from all our systems and focus it into one area."

Radek was nodding his head in agreement at Rodney's explanation. "For a moment, we had absolutely no control over Atlantis. No life support, no stargate, no shield – nothing." The scientist squirmed uncomfortably as he became the focus of everyone's gaze.

"Do you know what caused this power surge?" John asked, dismayed to see both scientists shake their heads.

"We need to investigate the area," Rodney said. He paused a long moment, then added quietly, "There is a chance that this may be an act of sabotage."

"Not one of our people?" Elizabeth asked, horrified. She had personally approved every soul on this mission, and the thought of someone intentionally destroying the city, and its current residents, was appalling.

Ronon interrupted, shaking his head. "No, the Wraith," he said. Teyla was nodding her head in agreement.

"It is possible," she said. "Perhaps they left some sort of device when they last attacked the city. I suggest we search the area where the power spike occurred."

John was already shouldering his weapon. "Agreed. Rodney?" He watched as the scientist gave a quick nod of his head, then turned to Radek and spoke quietly to the scientist. Zelenka's eyes widened, then he left the room.

"John?" The Colonel switched his gaze to Elizabeth, noting the concerned look on her face. "Keep me updated. If the city becomes unstable again, and I have to evacuate…" she trailed off.

He paused, then gave her a nod. "Let Colonel Caldwell know what's going on. We may need the Daedelus." His face grim, he turned and followed the others out of the room.


After McKay grabbed his scanning device, they set off, first taking a transporter to a remote part of the city, then walking about a kilometer through dark corridors. Their flashlights created surreal images on the metal walls, and Rodney felt a shiver run down his spine. He disliked the dark, and only the presence of his teammates kept him walking forward, into the black.

His thoughts were interrupted by Colonel Sheppard's voice. "Rodney, I thought we looked for Wraith booby-traps a while ago."

Rodney paused, his eyes on the device he held in his hands. A small blip had briefly crossed the screen. "We did. I mean, we do. I order a routine scan done once a week. Still, we need to physically search the entire city. We just don't have the time or personnel." He felt rather than saw John shake his head in agreement, then the blip reappeared on his scanner.

"Stop!" He peered at the screen, turning his body in circles to locate the energy source. He waved a hand toward the east corridor. "That way."

Teyla led the team, followed by John, positioned next to Rodney, then Ronon brought up the rear. Rodney realized that the corridor was brightening, and there was a light coming from the end of the hallway. He turned off his scanner, and unholstered his weapon. If there was a Wraith lurking about, he wanted to be ready.

They turned the corner, and were greeted by a bright glow of lights emitting from the open doors of a room.

"That's strange," Rodney said. "I told Radek to route just a small percentage of our power down here. The lights shouldn't even be on…." He trailed off as Teyla entered the room, followed closely by Sheppard. Rodney paused, peering at the strange metal that coated the inner walls of the room. He raised his scanner, playing it over the surface, then shook his head. He felt Ronon's presence behind him, and with a shrug, he entered the room, followed by the runner.

John quickly scanned the room, his green eyes sharp. It appeared to be empty. To the right was a long control panel, and Rodney headed straight for the device. Ronon and Teyla had spread out, searching the corners of the room.

"Anything?" John called softly, and scowled at Ronon's and Teyla's negative replies. "Rodney?" John crossed the room and stood next to the scientist.

McKay reached out and ran his hands across a few controls. The entry doors suddenly slid shut and John whirled, dismayed to see their only exit closing with an audible 'thunk.' The room hummed, and John heard Rodney give a satisfied grunt. The scientist dropped to his knees and pulled off a protective panel. Behind it, there was a myriad of crystals and glowing wires. Rodney leaned in and rummaged through the mess of cables.

"Well, that's weird, " John heard him mutter softly. The Colonel leaned down, nearly colliding with the emerging McKay. The scientist stood, glaring at John, then reached down to the control board.

"Okay, since we have some power, let's see what this does," Rodney said, almost to himself. He pressed two of the buttons, then looked up eagerly.

"Wait a minute, Rodney. Are you sure that it's safe to….." John's words were cut off as a glowing green light formed within the center of the room. As it began to expand, spreading out to the farthest corners of the room, the walls and ceiling seem to bow inward, then wobble. A large whining noise began to sound, increasing in intensity, and John threw his hands to his ears. Behind him, Teyla and Ronon had dropped to the floor, their faces revealing their agony as the noise grew louder. Rodney had slumped against the control board, trying frantically to shut the device down.

The four teammates were frozen in position, the room buckling around them. Through half-shut eyes, John vaguely saw another room, more like a cell. There was someone in the cell…someone familiar. The walls rippled and flexed, the screeching noise increased, and John could feel his consciousness slipping away. Pain shot through his head, and he couldn't breath. Gasping for air, wondering if he was dying, John Sheppard sagged into blackness.