Title: Finagle's Quake
Author: Perri Smith
Feedback: keeps the roof from falling in
Category: Gen; Worst Case Scenario challenge response
Rating: PG-13 for language
Spoilers: Through Trinity; huge honkin' (albeit elliptical) spoilers for that episode
Disclaimers: Stargate Atlantis and all related elements © Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc., MGM Television Entertainment Inc., MGM Global Holdings Inc. and NBC Universal in association with Sony Pictures Television. They are used here for entertainment purposes only.
Distribution: Please do not archive or distribute without permission.
Author's Note: It's been pointed out that I apparently like trapping my characters in weird situations and odd combinations, then abusing them. To which I can only respond... well, yeah. I mean, seriously, who doesn't? Now, if I could just figure out how to stop doing it from the POV of the hardest characters, that'd be good... This is set sometime before "Aurora", because it amused me unduly the first time Teyla called McKay "Rodney", and the first four parts were written long before I saw "Grace Under Pressure", which freaked me out just a little.
Acknowledgements: Thanks to Dad for the support and for catching the seismic screw-up; Bruce or having faith and telling me so (in the middle of moving! Cookie!); Martha for giving in to (only semi-intentional) emotional blackmail and reinforcing my nerve; the Horsechicks for tolerating me while I was obsessing on the loss of my Daedalus ex machina (and doing so loudly because I really like saying Daedalus ex machina); Sheila for coming through with the last-second grammar beta just because she's amazingly cool; and, as always, to Kiki for betaing, checking the science, forcibly inserting periods, and contributing the occasional really beautiful wisecrack. What would I do without you? (Besides, you know, write significantly crappier fic.)
"Anything that can go wrong, will." -- Finagle's Law of Dynamic Negatives (as used by Larry Niven)
"And he probably had saved the world a few times, but it had generally happened accidentally, while he was trying to do something else. So you almost certainly didn't actually get any karmic points for that. It probably only counted if you started out by thinking in a loud way, 'By criminy, it's jolly well time to save the world, and no two ways about it!' instead of 'Oh, shit, this time I'm really going to die.'" -- Terry Pratchett, "Interesting Times"
Part 1: Welcome to My Life
It would be the height of irony, Rodney thinks, to survive crossing galaxies (three times), attempted murder by lunatic city-states (four if he counts all three times the Genii tried), explosions and jumper crashes and Wraith attacks (more than he wants to count of all of them), only to die at the hands of a Mother Nature that isn't even his!
Because he's reasonably certain that it wasn't a bomb or a missile that just brought the roof down on his head, and he's more than reasonably certain that he owes Dr. Edwards on Atlantis an apology for completely ignoring him during the briefing for this planet. It's irritating that he's going to have to be marginally more open-minded about the applicability of tectonic theory and seismic instability in the future.
If, of course, there is a future once they're dug out of the Ancient ruins that are a good bit more ruined than they were a few minutes (hours? days?) ago.
Teyla moves and coughs beneath him, and Rodney tries to shift to the side a little more. But there wasn't really enough room under the theoretically-stable archway for the two of them when it was still standing; now that it's collapsed around them, movement is limited to centimetres and even that hurts. A lot.
Teyla coughs again and her eyes flutter open, squinting against the brightness of her flashlight. (Rodney's flashlight, like their headsets, is in many small pieces in the rubble around them.) "Doctor McKay?" she says groggily and he tries to work up a reassuring smile down at her. Teyla immediately frowns, but then, he's never been particularly good at being reassuring.
"What happened?" she asks, slightly more alert.
"An earthquake happened," Rodney answers. "At least a 5.0, although it's possible it was stronger and we're merely further from the epicentre; there's really no way to tell without a seismograph. And how annoying is it that this outpost managed to survive 10,000 years of seismic instability, and decides to collapse on the very day that we come for a visit, hmm? The odds against it really are mind-boggling high..."
His voice trails off as he tries to actually calculate those odds, and he wishes Sheppard were in here to bounce the math off of. Of course, if Sheppard were in here, he wouldn't be out there, presumably trying to rescue Rodney and Teyla. (Or lying trapped or dead with Ronon under their own pile of rubble, with no one to call Atlantis for help, but Rodney is taking those endless lectures from Sheppard and Elizabeth on cautious optimism to heart and honestly trying not to think about that possibility--)
"Doctor McKay!" Rodney blinks and looks back down at Teyla, who is wearing the look that means she's repeated his name several times, and even her legendary patience is wearing thin. He usually doesn't push Teyla when she has that expression, any more than he usually pushes Elizabeth; contrary to popular belief (and evidence of recent events), he does know when he should back down. He just doesn't always do it.
"Where are Colonel Sheppard and Ronon?" Teyla asks tightly, if groggily. "And why are you lying on top of me?"
"Ah. Yes." Teyla isn't actively pissed off, not yet, and there's a definite limit to the amount of damage she can inflict on Rodney at the moment. But he's seen her fight (notably against Ronon, who is twice her size and still only wins by cheating) and he has no intention of taking stupid chances. Explanations quickly, then. "When the quake hit, the Colonel and Ronon were on the other side of the room, by the entrance. You and I got under the archway where I was working, which is what you're supposed to do in an earthquake, I distinctly remember being told that at Area 51. Unfortunately, the archway collapsed, severely limiting its value as shelter."
He flicks the flashlight around as best he can; there really isn't much to see. The wall the archway had been incorporated into (which he's certain is actually a door, even if he couldn't make it open despite an hour of systematic effort) is still standing, forming a hard, cold barrier that Teyla's shoulder is pressed tightly against. The rest of the area is filled with a few large sheets of metal, some heavy metal bars, and lots of little chunks of the Ancient concrete equivalent that had presumably been the ceiling and are now pinning their legs in place, all wedged in and around the remnants of the archway a few centimetres above their heads.
"However," he concludes, "since it seems to have saved our lives, I'll let the flaws in the overall architectural design pass this time."
Teyla nods agreement and winces at the motion; Rodney moves the flashlight back to her face. "Open your eyes."
"I am fine."
"You were unconscious, and you didn't wake up when I was yelling. Open your eyes." She obeys reluctantly, and Rodney feels a little guilty shining the flashlight into her eyes (unlike Carson, who always enjoys inflicting torture on his helpless and unsuspecting patients). Teyla's pupils seem to be responding normally, and although she hisses when he works his hand under the back of her head to check the lump, she doesn't seem to be bleeding any more. So she's probably not going to die in the next ten minutes, but as he's not a practitioner of medical voodoo, he can only hope for the best.
Which, of course, goes against every fibre of his being.
"I'm sure you're fine," he tells her cheerfully, and is grateful the flashlight is tucked under his arm and therefore not shining on his face while he's doing it.
"As I said," she agrees. She shifts beneath him uncomfortably and Rodney tries not to notice. He's currently in closer proximity to Teyla than he's been to any woman in well over a year (not counting the date with Katie, because Cadman was driving during the parts that involved physical contact, not that he's bitter at all), and he's sure Teyla doesn't appreciate that. Fortunately (or unfortunately), two adult humans wearing Kevlar vests covered with various hard and pointy objects do not make ideal companions in small (tiny, claustrophobic) spaces, especially when varying levels of severe pain are involved. Rodney is not even remotely enjoying himself.
"How long have we been trapped here?" Teyla asks.
"I haven't been able to check, but now that you're awake..." He holds the flashlight where she can take it with her free hand; that is, the hand that isn't trapped under him. She accepts it with a questioning look, and he nods towards his right arm, extended above and past her head -- and buried underneath something that looks vaguely like a girder, as well as a large metal plate that might very well have chopped his arm off if the girder-equivalent hadn't stopped it. Rodney's been trying not to picture the gushing blood and severed flesh, and thinks he's doing quite well, considering.
He wiggles his fingers against the weight pinning them down to reassure himself he still can, and wiggles his toes for good measure. The right ones move. The left ones still don't, and it still hurts quite a bit to try. He manfully stifles his cry of pain, but it leaks out around the edges anyway. And possibly echoes a bit.
Teyla's eyes widen as she fully comprehends their situation for the first time. Then she presses her lips together and holds the flashlight so that it shines on his left wrist, finally allowing Rodney to read his watch.
Unfortunately, it means absolutely nothing to him, since when the earthquake started he was too busy, oh, shielding Teyla with his own body to be checking the time, not that he's going to mention that, of course.
"Well, that's... interesting," Rodney says, biting down his second panic attack of the day. Thinking back to the last time he'd checked his watch, he works out that it's probably been about 20 minutes (or 12 hours 20 minutes or more) since the quake. It would take even Ancient technology longer than that to excavate them, assuming Sheppard and Ronon went for help immediately (or that Ronon won't simply dig them out with his bare hands; he does have that whole Incredible Hulk thing working for him). No problem, they can wait.
He takes a deep breath and closes his eyes and tries not to hyperventilate again. There can't be that much air in here... and oh, that was a bad thought to have right now. "Oh god."
"Oh god. Humans require approximately 0.04 kilograms of oxygen per hour. The oxygen to air ratio on M2X-998 is about is about 22 percent, slightly higher than Earth normal, but probably not high enough to matter."
His lungs aren't working; he's breathing in huge gulps of air but his chest is too tight to accept any of it. "We exhale 0.8 litres of carbon dioxide for every litre of oxygen that we breathe, increasing the CO2 concentration in the air and inhibiting the inhalation of oxygen into the lungs. A CO2 concentration of 1 or higher can cause carbon dioxide poisoning, leading to hallucinations, headaches, dizziness and possible brain damage, or just skip the fun stuff and go directly into asphyxiation and death!"
The tiny area is getting tinier, pushing in around him, darkness moving over his eyes, into his head... "So, considering that we're two adults trapped in a space that's about 1.5 metres by 1 metre by 1 metre, we should be suffocating and dying, oh, any time now!"
Teyla's hand cracks against his face and he freezes, his eyes locking on her and his breath coming in short, desperate pants that simply aren't reaching his lungs. She looks back at him with determined calm that's fraying around the edges. "If we have limited air, then should we not conserve it as much as possible, while we wait for Colonel Sheppard and Ronon to free us?"
Rodney still can't get his breathing to even out, but Teyla's calmness helps. A little. "Right," he gasps. "Yes. You're right. I just... I can't..."
"I know." Her hand returns to his cheek, more gently this time, forcing him to look at her. Her eyes are steady on his, pools of endless, serene strength Rodney has always vaguely envied, when he isn't busy yelling at stupid people. "I am also afraid, and in pain. But we must remain calm and do whatever we can to help ourselves until the others reach us."
"Right. Yes. Calm." Rodney takes a few more deep breaths and they come a bit more easily with Teyla watching him. His right arm hurts more than it did, and he realizes he was yanking it unconsciously, trying to escape. "Okay. I can do this. Calm."
"You're doing very well," she praises him, as she's taken to doing since the siege. Part of him resents being treated like a backwards six-year-old in need of positive reinforcement; the rest of him knows that Teyla rarely lies and therefore sincerely means her compliments when she makes them. He's started to appreciate that lately.
"Okay," he says again after a minute, and this time he means it. He's still cold and sweating, but he's breathing almost normally and his brain has started focusing on things other than the multitude of horrible ways in which they're probably going to die.
"Very good. Now, have you been able to contact Colonel Sheppard?"
"No. Our radios are broken and I couldn't fix them with only one hand."
"Well, now we have two hands," she waves her free hand in demonstration as much as the cramped space allows, "and perhaps we should try again."
"Ah. Yes. Good idea."
It takes some creative manoeuvring (hers), a lot of pained swearing (his), and a very loud groan from the wreckage, freezing both of them in place for long minutes, before they finally acknowledge that Rodney is not going to be able to move enough to allow Teyla to get her left arm out from under his torso, or her face out of the general vicinity of his right armpit. It's like some insane adult variant of Twister, only there's no alcohol involved and no actual fun, just fear and pain. Teyla claims she can still feel her legs, trapped under the rubble and Rodney's legs, but she doesn't quite meet Rodney's eyes when she says it.
Teyla lies rarely. Not never.
So they settle for squirming enough to reach the pockets in each other's tac vests, Rodney assuring Teyla frequently that he is honestly not trying to feel her up, and Teyla rolling her eyes and enduring. The vests probably saved their lives, if not their ribs (Rodney's scream with every movement), but were tough on the equipment caught between them; Rodney's scanner is in pieces, and the base unit of his radio isn't much healthier. Teyla's radio looks intact, but stubbornly refuses to come to life. Rodney sets his jaw even more stubbornly and directs Teyla to the small screwdriver set in his front right pocket.
"How long will it take you to repair the radio?" Teyla asks, holding it steady as he awkwardly tries to unscrew the backing left-handed.
"I have no idea." He stops to take a breath; it's not his imagination, the air is getting closer in here. "Hopefully, the problem is just some loose wires."
"And if it is not?"
"Then the radio needs replacement parts, and we are deeply, fantastically screwed."
"Positive thinking," Teyla reminds him tensely, sounding eerily like Elizabeth.
"Right. Positive thinker, that's me." The back of the case comes off suddenly and Rodney scrambles to catch the tiny screws before they can drop into the no man's land between Teyla's body and the floor. He accidentally gropes Teyla again in the process, but she barely notices by now -- which would be pretty insulting under other circumstances, actually.
Teyla helps him wedge the flashlight awkwardly between his right cheek and shoulder, leaving his hand somewhat free to poke around in the guts of the radio as she holds it. Nothing comes falling out in tiny shattered pieces, always a good sign, and he mutters past the flashlight as he checks connections.
"Ah hah!" he yells triumphantly as he locates the power supply wire that has popped free of its solder. Teyla flinches and he realizes he yelled next to her ear, which is possibly not the kindest thing to do to someone with a head injury. "Sorry, sorry," he says more quietly, and remembers the pillbox of Tylenol in his vest that he couldn't get at before. A little more squirming and Teyla manages to pull it out, dry swallowing three of the caplets after they fumble the box open. Rodney takes a few for himself, and tells himself that his leg and back will stop throbbing in tearing agony any minute now.
The much-vaunted power of positive thinking seems to be failing in the pain management area. He makes a mental note to inform Elizabeth and Sheppard of that shortcoming the next chance he gets.
Sticking the wire back in place on its connection is the next challenge; Rodney briefly bemoans the fact that he's never liked chewing gum, which would be very useful at the moment, and Teyla fishes his small, flat emergency roll of duct tape from the same pocket that holds his screwdrivers. Tearing off a small enough piece involves teeth and trying not to drool, since neither of them can reach any of their knives, then more muttering as he gets it positioned. But finally, the wire is in place, the case is back on, albeit loosely, and Rodney and Teyla look at each other grimly before Teyla flicks the radio on.
"--know you're there, damn it, I can see you on the life signs detector! McKay, Teyla, respond!"
Teyla's grimy face breaks into her most beautiful smile, and Rodney returns a triumphant grin as she presses the talk button. "We're here, Colonel," Rodney says, "so you can stop yelling and do something constructive, like dig us out! Teyla has a headache and, actually, so do I." He runs his hand over his hair and finds a knot on the back of his head he hadn't noticed before, what with the panicking and the rest of the pain. "Ow."
There's a long, crackling pause, and Rodney has just enough time to regret not being there to see Sheppard caught totally speechless. "McKay? Teyla?"
"We are here," Teyla confirms before Rodney runs over her to demand, "Where are you and why are you standing around yelling instead of, as I said, digging us out?"
"I can do both at once," Sheppard points out, and there's the sarcasm, almost hiding the relief. Nothing keeps Sheppard quiet for long -- it's one of the things Rodney respects about him. "I'm about 15 feet from where you two are trapped, and how the hell did you manage to survive that?"
He doesn't stop for the answer Rodney would be more than happy to give him. "Never mind, tell me later, we've got a little problem now."
Crap. Teyla and Rodney exchange unhappy glances, before Rodney clarifies, "You mean, in addition to the 'little problem' in which two of your teammates are buried alive and trying to remain that way? Alive, that is."
"...Yeah. Plus that."
"Oh god." Rodney lets his forehead fall against the top of Teyla's head for just a second. Earthquakes and being buried alive would fill anyone else's schedule, but not Rodney McKay's, oh no. Maybe he should have just stayed on Earth after all. No one there truly appreciated his genius, but at least they usually weren't actively trying to murder him in slow, lingering, painful ways. Well, except for that one grad student, but that was an isolated incident. "What could possibly be going wrong now? The Wraith are attacking? Commander Kolya's decided to be infinitely stupid and try to kill us again? Giant squid are dropping from the sky?"
"No Wraith yet, don't even think about Kolya, and giant squid? Just how hard did you hit your head?"
Rodney rotates his hand and the radio in a 'hurry up' motion that he realizes belatedly Sheppard can't see. "Never mind, Colonel. What's the problem, and in what way is it more important than getting us the hell out of here?"
Another long pause, never a good sign. Neither are the Ancient alarms that Rodney discovers he can hear in the background. "Uh, in the way that I'm pretty sure that big-ass generator we found is thinking about overloading pretty soon here, and if it does, we're probably not going to be able to get you out. Ever."