9th September 2004
"Exploring is fun, isn't it?" Ford looked cheerfully around at the rest of the team.
Teyla smiled back at him. Sheppard nodded agreement. McKay grunted. Everyone knew he would much rather remain working in his lab, but Weir had ordered him to join the rest of the team. "You're working too hard, Rodney," had been her exact words. Sheppard cast a sideways look at his scowling teammate and suppressed a grin.
"Well, this looks more to your liking, Rodney," observed Teyla as they entered the next room along the corridor.
"Hmm, let's take a look." The scientist looked round him. "Looks like some sort of a lab. We've seen many like this. I wonder what this particular one has to offer."
He took a few steps inside, then stopped suddenly. "That's strange."
"Strange? How?" Sheppard had seen a few labs in his time, and they all looked very similar. Big, strange-looking equipment lying around, screens with Ancient writing displayed, or sitting blankly waiting to be activated.
"Oh, nothing. Just a feeling of deja vu. I guess it's just the old synapses firing prematurely again." McKay shook his head, as if to shake thoughts loose, and turned to the nearest bit of equipment. It stood about the height of a desk, and looked vaguely like a personal computer desk, with keys on the surface and a screen set into the top. He slipped off his backpack, pulled his data tablet out of it and began trying to interface the two pieces of equipment.
"Okay, team, time for lunch," Sheppard announced around half an hour later. Ford eagerly grabbed some rations out of his bag and started munching. Teyla turned from the window she had been staring out of and sat down more elegantly, searching in her bag for food. Sheppard lowered himself to the floor next to the others. Only McKay remained apart, still standing fiddling with the equipment.
"Come on, McKay," Sheppard said at last. "It's not like you to be told twice it's time to eat."
"Oh, yes yes yes, I'll be there shortly," McKay threw over his shoulder. "It just needs... - there."
He turned round in satisfaction, looked out of the window at the view of the city and opened his mouth as if to say something. Then he shook his head and sat down with the others. He still made no move to get his food out though, and Sheppard was torn between curiosity to know what was bugging his friend and the feeling that he should enjoy the peace while it lasted.
In the end McKay could not keep quiet any more. "I've been here," he said suddenly.
"You can't have, Rodney," Sheppard said patiently. "We only started exploring this section this week, remember?" He grinned at Ford, who grinned back.
"No," McKay insisted. "I don't mean recently. I mean a long time ago. I remember it."
"It's possible, I suppose." Sheppard chewed thoughtfully on his food. "We've always sent teams out exploring. There's nothing on record to say we explored in this area, but…" he shrugged and took another large bite.
"No." McKay was firm. "Not recently. Not even last year. I was just a kid. I mean – I must have dreamt it, obviously… I s'pose. It's the deja vu again. It just feel so strong." He stopped talking and shrugged, appearing embarrassed.
"And you were there, and you were there…" said John teasingly, referring to the Wizard of Oz. He was shocked by McKay's expression as he started suddenly straight at him.
"Actually, now you come to mention it, I guess…" McKay's voice trailed off and he stared out of the window at the vast expanse of choppy sea and the far-off horizon. His thoughts seemed as far away, right at this minute. "I thought it was a dream. A really long, rational dream, but nothing more. I'd forgotten all about it. Except for the effect it had, of course. Without that, I wouldn't be here."
Sheppard sighed. Obviously they would get no more work done until McKay had told his story. To tell the truth, his interest had now been piqued, and he was curious to know how a dream had had such an effect.
"Go on, then," he said grudgingly. "Tell us what you dreamed about this place."
McKay thought for a moment. All the emotions of the event came rushing back, more so than the conscious memory of the event, which was fuzzy at best. "I was twelve years old," he started. He noted Ford's grin. "Yes, Lieutenant, I was twelve years old once."
He searched for the right way to explain to them what he remembered. At the time he had dismissed the memory completely, but the more he thought about it, and the more disjointed memories that came back, the more certain he became that this was no dream; that somehow, it was important. Very important.
He found himself inwardly acknowledging the strength of his emotional response to the memories. "I always wanted to be a concert pianist."
He stopped again, watching the faces of his companions. Ford looked disbelieving, Teyla looked interested but unsure. Sheppard – McKay gave up trying to decipher the expression on the Major's face. He plunged on with his story.
"I practiced the piano every day. I had lessons once a week. But on this particular day…"
"Just give it up, Rodney. There's no point in this. You're just wasting your time and mine." Rodney looked at his teacher in shock. "You're a fine clinical pianist, Rodney, but you have no sense of the art whatsoever." His teacher looked out of the window, refusing to look directly at him. "Pack your things and go."
Rodney nodded, packed his things up and left. He walked slowly home, his music case swinging from his arm. His head was down, and he was thinking of nothing in particular, but he could feel the hurt mounting behind his eyes, and when he got home he headed straight for his room, slung his case violently into the far corner and threw himself on his bed, sobbing as if his heart was broken.
"…on this particular day," McKay repeated. He swallowed determinedly. "My teacher told me he felt I'd learnt as much as he could teach me, that I was not cut out to be a concert pianist. I was good, but not good enough…" He cleared his throat, gave himself time to gather his thoughts. That moment still stung bitterly, even all these years later. Even considering what it had led to.
He went on at last, "I was pretty upset. I went home and lay on my bed, thinking. I hadn't a clue what I was going to do. Music was my life until that point. I had nothing else."
"Not science?" asked Sheppard, curious in spite of himself.
"Nope. I had a particularly boring science teacher. He made the subject all but incomprehensible. Anyway, what did I want with science? I was going to be a musician." He shook off the interruption with a gesture of irritation. "Anyway, I decided later I must have dropped off to sleep, because suddenly I found myself in this huge room." He gestured around him. "This huge room, in fact. There was all this weird stuff I didn't understand, all round me. I don't remember much about what happened, it's like trying to remember a dream, and this dream happened a long time ago. But the more I think about it, the more I start to vaguely remember impressions of people I met there – there was a big, scary man with a gun who turned out more friendly than he looked, a doctor with a funny accent, a woman who was in charge of everyone, and someone I always thought of as a typical mad scientist. He had wild hair and glasses, and was always muttering under his breath in some strange language."
Sheppard's eyes widened, as he realised McKay had just given a perfect description of the rest of the team and of Dr Zelenka, who was apt to break into Czech when concentrating hard on work.
McKay met his eyes and nodded. "I really can't remember much else, except for vague impressions. But I do remember that I was fascinated by the scientist and by what he was doing, and for the first time I figured that maybe I could be interested by it. Suddenly it not only made better sense but was also important and relevant."
"So that's when you started studying science?" Ford asked.
McKay nodded. "Not straightaway," he admitted. "When I woke up I discovered I'd lost a couple of days. I mean, I just couldn't remember them, I'd done all sorts of weird things. I was sort of ill for a while, but when I did get back to school I sat in the science class and realised I understood the subject. Not only did I understand it, but I could explain it better than the teacher could. I took to reading around the subject, was given a scholarship for science and pretty soon I was doing well. The rest – as they say – is history."
The group sat silently for a while, then Sheppard jumped to his feet. "Alright children, playtime's over," he said cheerfully. "Let's check this place out, figure what it's here for."
McKay sat for a moment, thinking about what he'd just been talking about. It gave him a strange feeling, just thinking about it. He looked over at Sheppard, and saw that Sheppard felt the same way. The Major put his hand on the scientist's shoulder. "Come on, Rodney," he said cheerfully. "We've got work to do. Especially you. Glad you made the switch to science?"
McKay nodded. "Major…"
"Come on, Rodney," Sheppard interrupted him. "Let's worry about what we're doing right here and right now. The rest we can figure out later."
"I just thought it might be important…"
"Yeah, I'll bear it in mind. Give me something to think about while you're fiddling with all the machinery. Now work!"