Title: Exterminate them
all – the Wraith, the bugs…how much for the galaxy?Author: Kodiak bear
Rating: T (for the sheer creepy bug factor)
Warnings: if you've got bug issues, this will only add to them. Spoilers for episode 2x08, Conversion.
Summary: And you thought the Iratus bugs had chittered their last…written for the Sheppard H/C Fever!fic challenge on LJ
AN: There's a lot of medical/scientific stuff in this fic, more so than usual, so, I did do some research, but it was light because honestly, I don't have the time at hand to do in depth Q&A with experts…if there is anything impossible in this, all I can say is I tried and put on your 'it's fiction' goggles and try not to stone me to death. Thank you so much to my beta team, each offering me their own specialized help; gaffer, Linzi, mandy, tazmy, shelly and kylen!
edited to fix some confusing descriptions and typos!
ETA another change, I've had enough responses for 'why didn't you keep the beginning scene in' that I've gone ahead and re-added it as I was unhappy with the start all the way around. So, sorry for the confusion!
Exterminate them all – the wraith, the bugs…how much for the galaxy?
It never was a fun way to wake up, and when Sheppard rolled, it hurt a lot more.
He normally slept on his back, but last night, no position had been comfortable. It'd taken an hour of tossing and turning, and getting tangled in his blankets in the process, before he'd thrown them off with an irritated jerk. His jeans were crumpled in a chair across from his bed, his computer shut down for the night on the desk above. Forgoing both, Sheppard had pulled his pair of sweats out of the corner, shaken them to make sure nothing insect-like had tried to nest there since morning, and slipped them on. He'd planned on running, but ten minutes into the aforementioned run, he felt just crappy enough to switch to walking. And what was the use of walking, anyway, so Sheppard had headed for McKay's lab to see if Rodney was up for anything fun, waving cheerfully at the lone scientist he'd passed in the hall.
It'd sucked to find Rodney doing something unusual; sleeping. McKay had gone to bed early, and the caring part of him was glad, considering the mission that day had been a hard one, but the selfish part of him wanted to wake McKay and find something to do. Some Ancient device to experiment with, or they could set up a prank on some scientist that had pissed Rodney off -- anything, other than go back to his quarters and lay restless on the bed for another two hours.
In the end, he'd detoured by the mess, grabbed some tea, and headed back to his room to whittle away on War and Peace. Reading was a lot better than tossing, at least, as far as the sense of accomplishment went.
What he hadn't planned on doing was falling asleep reading, with his back curved along the wall; his knees more up than down. At some point the heavy tome had fallen to the floor, and half his upper body had slipped, too, but it hadn't been an improvement.
Waking up was hard to do.
The alarm went off for spite, and Sheppard slammed a heavy hand on the top. There were two buttons in a horizontal row; one was snooze and one was off, and he never really knew which one he hit each morning. Alarm roulette, he won when it stayed off, lost when it would blare back to life when he was already in the shower, and short of dashing through his quarters dripping in a hastily wrapped towel, he could either deal with the noise or interrupt the hot liquid version of a wake up call. He normally did both -- rushed the last part of his shower, and then rushed through his room, dripping and towel-wrapped. And it just served to piss him off that much more when his mornings started out that way.
Biting back a groan, he slipped out of bed, stumbling on unsteady legs. He thought ruefully that yesterday was catching up to him today. PX8-9S5 was supposed to be uninhabited, according to what McKay had read in the database. Problem was, the Ancients had a different dictionary. Apparently 'uninhabited' only extended to the major life forms. There weren't humans, or Wraith -- but there'd damn well been werewolf things that had really wanted to eat them. Normally, not a big deal, they'd gone up against plenty of things that wanted to eat them, but it really would've helped if these werewolves would've been hanging out closer to the gate. The 'run for their lives' part of the mission had completely sucked.
He contemplated the usual shower, but decided the effort to pay off relationship wasn't enough and besides, he had a meeting in less than an hour. Weir had called for an unscheduled department head powwow because of problems with branch co-operation. The chemistry branch was getting pissy because the medical was stealing their priority on lab equipment. The research branch was annoyed because the logistics side was taking devices without being fully cleared. Nothing new there, the military had a thing for rushing technology out of the R and D phase when the need arose, as long as the tech in question wasn't still in the 'killing or crashing more than success' stage.
The uniform from yesterday wasn't clean enough because of the running and sweating, so Sheppard had to drag out a laundered one and change over all of his gear. Rank, patches, blousing straps -- then go through the process of attaching his holster, knife, Leatherman and Mag light. Normally, he did the routine without a lot of thought or effort, but this morning it seemed to be interminable, and by the time he was done, he kind of felt like going back to bed.
Just as he walked out the door, his clock blared back to life. Apparently he'd lost alarm roulette today. Considering how things were going, he wasn't surprised.
He stopped off to grab a muffin and coffee before heading to the meeting. Already eight in the morning and he was sweating. Sheppard wished he'd left his jacket in his quarters. When he walked into the room, he saw McKay already sitting across the oval table, his laptop open. Grinning, John aimed that way and plopped into the chair beside him.
Rodney peered up long enough to notice the food and drink and lift his eyes hopefully, "Did you bring more?"
"No." Sheppard turned his body enough to pull his left arm free of his coat. "You should've called me on the comm., I could've picked you up something." When he tried to get his right free, he got the left sleeve stuck behind his back.
Rolling his eyes, McKay reached over and tugged it free.
Well, that was just embarrassing.
Until McKay snatched his coffee and smiled smugly. "Payment." He sipped it with exaggerated pleasure.
Now that was maddening.
Sheppard twisted his mouth in the 'so you're going to be that way about it', and took a bite of his muffin. The air from the ceiling blew across the perspiration on his skin, and the cooling sensation was enough of a relief that he let the coffee thing go.
"I looked for you last night," he said conversationally after swallowing his mouthful of food.
Rodney looked at him crossways. "What time?"
John considered, thinking back to the time when he'd left his quarters to go on a McKay hunt. "It might have been after midnight."
"Oh, that explains it." He set the mug on the table and typed more on his keyboard. "I was sleeping along with the rest of the normal people – odd that you weren't, for once. You should've woken me up. There's always plenty of things to use you for."
"Thought about it, but figured you could use the rest," he admitted. While McKay typed, John reached for the mug and took a drink, ignoring the irritated look. It'd been his first coffee of the morning, and there was still enough left to be useful.
"If anyone looks like they need rest, it's you." McKay stopped focusing on his computer and shifted it instead to Sheppard. "You look like crap."
"Not sleeping tends to do that," he said wryly. Truthfully, though, Sheppard felt worse than a bad night's sleep would be responsible for, and he was still sweating, hot even with his jacket off. His T-shirt felt like it was sticking to him. He'd started the morning out of sorts and nothing was really improving.
"Yes, well," Rodney turned back to his computer, "stop doing that. You need sleep or you'll start making mistakes."
Elizabeth's arrival cut-off his sarcastic reply, and John had to settle for 'the look' -- the 'you annoy me more than anyone ever has and ever will' look. The meeting kicked in as soon as she arrived, all the department heads finding plenty of reasons to claim their people weren't at fault. Problem was, everyone bore some of the blame.
Sheppard promised the military would try to give more notice with their requests to take devices off-world. Doctor Biro, filling in for Beckett, promised to set aside, barring emergencies, time for the chemistry department to have free use of the lab equipment without being bumped off for unnecessary STAT orders.
When McKay kept his arms folded, Elizabeth prompted, "Rodney, surely your department has something to offer in light of the compromises already given?"
"No," he shook his head pleasantly. "I've got nothing."
For all the resounding angry exclamations, his statement could've opened the gates of hell. Maybe a slight exaggeration, but apparently the other departments didn't agree. Sheppard thought about intervening, helping to smooth it out, because next to Carson and Elizabeth, he was the only other person on Atlantis that seemed to know how to deal with Rodney's stubbornness. The military didn't have any issues with McKay's department (probably because McKay was on his team and knew what was needed in the field), however, the sub sections of McKay's departments -- wow, they weren't happy with him. Sheppard kind of felt like he was letting Daniel face the Lions, but one look at McKay's unperturbed face reminded him that Rodney was the lion.
Besides, it was past time for this meeting to be done. He was roasting from all the body heat in the closed up room, and his muscle aches hadn't been made any better after sitting hours in a chair.
John's head whipped up. "What?"
He looked around and realized that people were filing out of the room. Elizabeth was watching him shrewdly, and McKay leaned over in his chair to stare at John's face, searching for something. "You're sick!" He said the accusation almost in surprise, already pushing away from Sheppard. "And you sat next to me, damn it, I catch everything." He stumbled out of the chair and snatched his laptop from the table. "This had better be a twenty-four hour bug, something fast and simple, because if I do come down with it, and it's a virus that makes the Spanish Flu look wimpy, I will never let you live it down."
"Rodney." Elizabeth's mouth thinned to her worried face, and she approached Sheppard warily. "John? Do you need to go to the infirmary?"
Crap, all he'd done was nod off during a meeting, and now he was getting looks like he was coming down with the Black Death. "While falling asleep during a meeting is embarrassing, last I checked, it wasn't life threatening." And God, was it really embarrassing. He forced his back to straighten and reached for his uniform jacket. He stood, and pulled the coat the rest of the way off of the chair. "Look, I'm sorry, bad night. I don't need Beckett, I'm fine. I'll just go and catch a few Z's."
Sheppard was actually thinking he'd find any place where there was a breeze to camp out in, because he was getting sick of feeling like he was back in flight school at Edwards, sitting on the tarmac waiting for the all clear. Days where the temperatures soared into the hundred and teens, and the asphalt turned to mush.
The two faces greeted him with skepticism and derision, respectively. Elizabeth didn't believe him, and McKay wanted to tell Sheppard that he wasn't fooling anyone.
The Activation klaxon sounded just then, and nobody got the time to say anything.
Thank God, Sheppard thought to himself, saved by the 'gate.
As a group, they hurried onto the command promenade and Elizabeth asked the tech, "IDC?"
Lorne's team was out, and Sheppard flipped his wrist to peek at his watch. Yeah, that was about on time. So, it wasn't a surprise when the gate tech confirmed his suspicion. The guards moved in below, SOP, standard operating procedure, and moments later the team exited the rippling event horizon. Lorne looked up at them and offered a tired salute. It wasn't till Lorne turned to leave through the side entrance, going to medical for the post-mission exam, again SOP, that Sheppard realized something was wrong.
"Do you see that?" he asked, because no one was responding. Everyone still had the same relieved smiles on their face from another safe return through the 'gate (God knows, there were few enough of them), except McKay, who just looked bored -- well, actually, no -- Rodney was studying him, but McKay needed to be studying Lorne's team -- "Elizabeth, quarantine Lorne's team!" Sheppard ordered. They'd had enough time to react and something weird was going on.
Because as Lorne had turned, John had watched a creature the size of a kitten crawl up the major's leg, around his waist, up his front torso before stopping on his shoulder and wrapping around Lorne's neck. It almost looked like it'd attached itself like the Iratus bug would do to its victims. The thing was practically transparent, but he could still see it, and so should've everyone else, but no one had so much as flinched.
She looked at him, confused. Her one arm was resting on the console where the controls were at -- one push and she could lock down the city. "Colonel, what are you talking about?"
"The bug things," Sheppard said, exasperated. McKay's forehead raised in alarm. "Come on, you had to have seen them!"
John had expected McKay to side with him, to turn to Elizabeth and tell her she had to shut things down, now, so when he moved suddenly and stuck the back of his hand against Sheppard's forehead, John jerked away from the unexpected touch fast enough that he almost fell.
"He's burning up." Rodney's eyes widened. "You should be in the infirmary -- oh, God, you probably do have something like the Spanish flu and now I've just touched you." He turned to the gate tech and snapped his fingers in rapid succession. "Quick, I know you keep some of those antibacterial wipes up here, give me one."
Glancing around at the personnel clustered in the room, Sheppard ignored McKay and asked, "Anyone -- see-through bug, crawled up Lorne's back?" When blank faces met his question he added, "Size of small kittens," already knowing he was in trouble. So either he was hallucinating…or he was hallucinating…Rodney had the gene, so that couldn't be it. Atlantis hadn't reacted –
"Colonel, I think maybe a trip to the infirmary is in order." Elizabeth said it firmly enough that Sheppard knew it for the order that it was.
Finding himself still staring at the exit where Lorne had disappeared, he nodded absently, "Yeah," he agreed. "I think so."
Even though Sheppard told McKay that he'd been capable of walking since he'd been ten months old, Rodney still dogged his steps to the infirmary, carefully maintaining the mandatory five-foot rule to prevent infection. John didn't remind him they'd been sitting a lot closer than five feet during the briefing.
When they walked into the infirmary, Beckett was handing a clipboard to his nurse and a uniform jacket to Lorne. "You're all clear, Major."
John approached warily, because even though no one else had seen it, he still wasn't convinced this was some fever playing tricks on his mind. He narrowed his eyes and kind of leaned to the right, trying to get a peek at the back of Lorne's neck.
Beckett's face canted into his view. "Colonel Sheppard? Can I do something for you, or are you here for the major?"
"He's sick, hallucinating." Rodney surreptitiously moved away from Sheppard, around his torso, and closer to Lorne. He was checking out the major's neck! After a few seconds of scrutiny, he drew his eyes away and looked at Sheppard, shaking his head. "Definitely hallucinating."
So, no joy on the bug.
"You're sick?" Carson's laid back manner evaporated, and he waved for a nurse. "Get the colonel's vitals." He stepped over to a nearby empty bed in the middle of the room and patted it warmly. "Have a seat, and let's get a look at what's going on with you."
"I already told you what's wrong with him." McKay was still keeping his distance, but he'd found a chair and plopped his superior self down, shooting Carson irritated looks at his seeming slowness. "Hallucination, sick, fever -- all bad things."
Beckett turned away from Sheppard. "Rodney, are you sick?"
"No, Carson. Like I've said, Colonel Sheppard is the sick one." Rodney's hands painted his annoyance in the air. "Seriously, have you been listening to me?"
"Aye, that I have," Beckett said, walking over to McKay's side. He tugged Rodney's arm, hard. "Major, escort Doctor McKay to his lab, if you wouldn't mind?"
"What? No!" Rodney yanked his arm free and stared at Beckett like he suddenly had pit vipers coming out of his head. "Fine, point taken. I'll sit here and shut up."
"See that you do." When Lorne waited, Beckett waved him off. "Never mind, Major." As Lorne shot a grin at Sheppard, he headed for the door, ready to make his escape. John only wished he could join him.
It wasn't till Lorne was about to step through that he saw it.
Without giving anyone warning, Sheppard jumped from the bed and closed the distance in three hurried steps, yanking on Lorne's jacket, exposing his neck.
"Sheppard, what are you --"
"What the – Colonel?" Lorne was the last one to ask aloud what the hell was going on, yet even as he asked, John was probing the man's neck, frowning at the skin.
"It's here," he swore. Letting go of the jacket, Sheppard spun Lorne around, looking at his face. "You don't feel that? Major, you've got some…creature stuck to your neck!"
Lorne tried to pull away just as Beckett, McKay and a nurse caught up to them. "Sir?"
Now John was feeling a little desperate. He let go of Lorne and looked over his shoulder and the three people watching him warily. "I'm not hallucinating, it's real, I can feel it, I can see it and I don't know why I'm the only one, but please," Sheppard dropped his voice, aiming for a steadier version, because he knew he was more than a little freaked out, "for the sake of being safe than sorry, check him out more thoroughly -- do any exams you can think that'd reveal this thing. It's attached to his neck, just like those…bugs."
Everyone knew what 'bugs' referred to. The Iratus bugs, and Sheppard had a general rule of avoiding naming them outright. It was some kind of stubborn repression that he didn't really understand, but he imagined a lot of it came from the time he'd spent enduring blinding pain, then paralyzed, on the floor of the Jumper, and he wasn't forgetting the whole 'waiting for death and doom' countdown for when the wormhole would shut down with them still stuck in it. He'd had to sit and let Ford kill him to get that damn bug off his neck, and if he had a problem saying the name, tough shit. Dying because of it gave him certain allowances.
"I don't see --" Carson began.
Sheppard knew from the expression and tone, Beckett was going to say no.
"That's why," he stressed. "You don't 'see'. It's there, I swear it." God, he hoped so, because he was really going to feel like an idiot if he was wrong and this was really a hallucination.
"Let me have a look, Major." Beckett didn't appear like he believed it anymore than he had moments ago, but at least he was willing to check it out.
Sheppard stepped to the side, and waited, feeling hot, a little out of it, but hoping like hell Carson's fingers would be able to feel the gelatinous-like texture he'd been able to touch when he'd looked to see if it was still there. It was almost the same size as the Iratus bug and the parallels were really starting to creep him out.
The wall became a support as Beckett's brow scrunched together. He pulled Lorne's jacket away and started searching. John noticed Rodney was looking blasé, so either he'd already made up his mind or…he'd already made up his mind. "I'm not imagining this," Sheppard hissed.
"Of course not. The rest of us are imagining it not being there." McKay folded his arms and kept staring at Lorne and Carson. "Everyone's hallucinating the absence of an alien creature, except the man burning up with a fever."
Well, if you put it that way – "Okay, I realize this seems a little unlikely -"
Sometimes Rodney could be a real pain in the ass. John was ready to argue more, but Beckett had smoothed Lorne's jacket back in place. "Colonel, there's nothing there. I only feel the major's skin." He walked to Sheppard's side and cupped a steering hand on his arm, "Now, let's see just how high this fever is to be causing these problems."
John knew it was high. He'd never put his jacket back on, and Beckett's hand against his own skin was tangible proof. His arm was radiating heat into the cooler palm.
But, the bug was real, fever or not, and he tugged free, ready to look again. If Carson hadn't been able to even feel it, let alone see it, then they had a bigger problem than he thought.
No one stopped him, and as he pulled Lorne around to examine his neck, the major sighed, complying with annoyance. "Colonel, there's nothing there. I think you should go with the doc and get yourself looked at."
Sheppard was staring at Lorne's neck, bewildered. "It's gone." That meant it had to be – "Doc, turn around!" Now he was really losing it. It'd been there, he'd swear it, and if it was hopping bodies…
"Colonel, I've humored you enough, get on that exam bed before I have to call security."
Doc could be steel when his concern overrode everything else in his brain. Knowing Beckett was a lost cause, and hoping he could buy time with an ally, John turned his attention to McKay. "Rodney, you know me," he began. "You trust me every time we go through that 'gate. I need you to trust me now. Something came back with Lorne's team." Seeing that McKay was still listening, he thought maybe he had a chance.
"I trust you implicitly, Sheppard." At first, it sounded promising, and he'd just begun to smile, relieved, when McKay finished. "But not when you're roasting in your own skin and clearly hallucinating past horrors – hello, the neck? Iratus bug issues, anyone? Because, I'm seeing some serious baggage."
"Those bugs weren't invisible, Rodney," grated Sheppard.
McKay looked torn between 'duh' and 'holy shit, Sheppard's losing his mind'. "That's because they were real."
"And so is this one," Sheppard insisted. Only problem, no one looking at him believed it. Could he really be losing it here? He'd had high fevers before, and John wasn't denying that he'd probably caught some Pegasus virus; the muscle aches and fever made that fact irrefutable, but he'd seen it, he knew he'd seen it, and touched it –
John realized he'd stared off in space. Beckett was looking pointedly from him back to the bed. The nurse had already returned to her place and was fiddling with the rolling cart, unfastening the blood pressure cuff. One last try, "If I'm right, then you're making a mistake in letting him walk out that door."
No one really had an answer to that, because they'd all seen enough weird shit to know that the unexpected happened…a lot. Lorne shrugged helplessly. "I'd think I'd know if a bug was stuck to my neck, Sir."
Sheppard made a face. "You'd think." But it didn't make it so.
"You said it's not there now," McKay interjected. "Logic, Sheppard, it's gone now, maybe you scared it away -- regardless, Lorne isn't in danger anymore and if it really does exist, it's loose in the city. Letting your brains bake inside that thick skull of yours isn't going to change that, so let Carson do his job, and I promise I'll issue a warning about a possible alien incursion -- maybe talk to Elizabeth about a voluntary quarantine."
It was better than he'd hoped for. He shared a long look with Rodney, then Beckett, before reluctantly agreeing. "Deal, but keep me updated."
Lorne hesitated. "Colonel?"
"Dismissed, Major." Sheppard watched as Lorne made a grateful escape, before he trudged to the exam bed. Once he was sitting down, he was kind of glad for it. The sheets felt cool through his pants. It seemed like every bit of his clothing was sticking to his skin. He found himself looking forward to the thin scrubs -- or, if he got to go to his quarters, his boxers and nothing else.
The nurse wrapped the blood pressure cuff around his arm and pulled out the digital thermometer. "Open, Colonel."
He hated this part.
Carson steered McKay back to the chair near the bed, and Sheppard asked around the probe in his mouth, "Don't you have something to do?"
"Yes, of course I do."
"Then why aren't you doing it?"
Rodney folded his arms and smiled pleasantly. "I'm waiting to see if I have to worry about epidemics, death, horrible diseases."
"Colonel, quit talking so we can get an accurate result." Carson scowled at the machine and hit the button. The numbers began to start climbing. "Rodney, you're fine."
"I am now," McKay agreed. "Incubation period, Carson, I know you've heard of it."
Beckett started to say something but the machine beeped, and instead, his face twisted into a sour, worried expression. Sheppard braced his hands on each side of the bed and leaned over to look. The display was multi-national, and displayed both Celsius and Fahrenheit temperatures, and it read 39.8/103.6 -- no wonder he felt sweaty enough to melt. That was hot.
Beckett turned away from the machine and looked at the nurse. "Let's get some scrubs and a bed ready for the colonel." He looked apologetically at Sheppard. "I'm sorry, Colonel, but it looks like you'll be my guest while we get you sorted out."
He could see it in Rodney and in Beckett – they thought he hadn't seen the bug. The reading on the machine had solidified in their mind that it was just his fever. Knowing that his life was about to degenerate into IV's, drugs and illness, he gave McKay a last, desperate look. "Rodney, don't forget. You promised."
"He won't forget, Colonel." Carson tugged him to his feet and handed him off to the nurse with the added order to start John on a cocktail of Motrin and Tylenol to lower his fever.
"Going now," Rodney agreed. He walked out with Carson, and John heard him ask sotto voice, "Not to sound self-involved, but ever since the thing with the Nanovirus…" then they'd gone too far and Sheppard couldn't hear the rest of the conversation.
McKay left the infirmary worried. Sheppard's fever had been higher than the glassy eyes and stumbling feet had made him believe, and it seemed easy to accept Sheppard had hallucinated what he'd insisted he saw on Lorne.
But Rodney never was one for accepting Occam's Razor.
He headed to his lab, ignored the tech tagging new devices, and had the interface pulling up the video feed from when Lorne's team had arrived in less than a minute. McKay unwrapped a power bar and hit play, taking a bite and watching. Lorne's team exited the wormhole, Lorne waved up at the command deck off-screen, then turned to walk out the side door to medical, but before his back was to the cameras, static distorted the picture.
McKay sat straighter, dropping the food. "What?" He rewound, and played again, same thing. The data was corrupt. What the hell?
He keyed his radio, standing. "Zelenka, where are you?"
There was a longish pause before Radek's answer filtered through. "In Jumper One, fixing the damage you and Colonel Sheppard caused last week."
"Well, I need you here."
Another pause, maybe not quite as long. "And I am your…golfer?"
McKay rolled his eyes. "Gofer, Zelenka – it's gofer 'as in 'go for'…oh, hey, so you are…now just get down here!" He tapped the comm. off and replayed the video again, as if the act alone would clear the picture.
Sheppard drifted awake reluctantly. He hurt. A lot.
The infirmary was busy, and through lidded eyes he could see the nurses checking people in for exams, treating minor injuries, and some not so minor.
He still felt hot.
Didn't they give him something for that?
Maybe he'd just go back to sleep, escape the aching in his bones, and seep away into the lassitude of fever. As he closed his eyes, a scientist was led past his bed, a nurse taking a report of symptoms.
"I've been tired," the blonde woman explained, and when the nurse raised an eyebrow, she rushed to add, "more than usual."
But that wasn't what made his eyes widen.
Stumbling out of bed, John rushed at the woman, pulling her lab coat away from her neck. Son of a bitch… "Don't you feel that?"
She yanked herself free and stared at him, startled. "Colonel Sheppard?"
"Simpson, there's a god damn bug on your neck and you're walking around like nothing is wrong!" It couldn't be a hallucination -- the same bug, when everything else looked normal. Sheppard knew he was still locked tightly in the grip of a high fever, but he was just as convinced something had come back with Lorne, and for whatever reason, no one else could see it except him. Maybe if he wasn't having such a hard time concentrating he could make the connections, but he was having difficulty just staying upright. "Look," he demanded, grabbing the nurse's hand and trying to get Simpson to turn around so he could make the nurse feel it. Maybe their eyes could be fooled by this creature, but direct sensory input…it had to work.
"It's gone." Sheppard let the nurse go, let Simpson go. He stumbled backwards. What was going on? It'd disappeared, just like it had on Lorne.
Carson hurried in, eyes scanning the room, and finding John in a stand-off with Simpson, made a beeline for them. "Colonel, you need to be in bed, you're in no condition to be standing."
"Doctor, Colonel Sheppard is hallucinating again --" the nurse began.
Simpson took another step backwards, staring carefully at John.
"I'm not hallucinating." He wasn't. But he didn't know what the hell was going on.
"I have been experiencing unusual tiredness," Simpson said, and Sheppard thought she might be talking to herself, but Beckett shook his head.
"So are three-quarters of Atlantis, Lass." Carson approached John warily, as if afraid he'd bolt or do something equally irrational, which only made Sheppard grouchy. He had a high fever, not brain damage. He knew he needed to be here, and just because he was seeing bugs on people didn't mean he was going to suddenly start killing people or becomet violent.
"I'm not dangerous, Doc."
Beckett huffed. "You're seeing invisible Iratus bugs, Colonel."
Shooting Carson a sour look, John let the nurse and Beckett lead him back to his bed. He'd ripped the IV loose when he'd jumped up and hadn't even noticed. The nurse told him to open his mouth and when he did, she stuck the probe back under his tongue. He closed automatically and waited. Carson told Simpson to go wait on exam bed four, and she left, but her look remained concerned and Sheppard wondered if maybe she was considering what he'd said. If she was here for tiredness, maybe it was caused by those things, and maybe…
"Damn," Beckett swore. "How long ago did you dose him?"
John looked away from Simpson's retreating back and saw the numbers on the display; 39.9/103.8.
"Two hours for the Motrin, four hours on the Tylenol."
"Double the doses and let's try again." He stared thoughtfully at John. "Colonel, do you have any new symptoms, anything besides the ache related to the fever?"
It was weird, because he really didn't. Sheppard had woken up feeling sore and shaky, and had chalked everything up to the tiring mission the day before. When he'd grown progressively hotter, he hadn't made the connection to a fever until he'd realized he'd drifted during a meeting. He might not hang on every word, but he generally didn't lose touch with what was happening. "Nothing." He almost added 'I feel fine', but that wasn't exactly true. His body hurt. Fevers always had made his muscles ache worse than he thought they had a right to. "Doc, I'm not imagining this, you've got to believe me."
"I don't know what you expect me to do," Beckett said. "You're the only one seeing these creatures, Colonel, and you're also the only one with this unusually high fever. I'll admit I'm not one to believe in coincidences, but you're asking me to prove a negative." The blanket had slipped to John's knees and Carson pulled it up to John's chest.
"I want you to do your job."
Shit. That had come out wrong. Seeing Carson step back, John felt a whole lot of tension riding through him. "Doc --"
"No, it's okay." He poured Sheppard a glass of water. "Thirsty?"
God was he; it felt like his fever was baking every ounce of moisture out his pores. "I'm sorry," he said anyway. "It's just -- if I'm right, and it's real, put yourself in my shoes." He was convinced something bad was happening and he was the only one that could see it. Even thinking it made him want to jump from the bed and start looking for McKay.
Rodney had promised he'd look into it, but he wanted to be there beside him, searching and getting answers instead of down here waiting, and sleeping, and baking in his skin.
"Those are big shoes to fill," joked Beckett. His frank look said a lot more, said things like it was a job Carson wouldn't know what to do with, and hoped to never have to. "Rest, Colonel. I'll check in with Rodney and see if he's found anything. Will that make you feel better?"
"Getting rid of this fever would help, but I'll take what I can get."
John felt Beckett's hand resting on his leg tighten in sympathy before Carson nodded, "Aye, I imagine you would." He patted Sheppard's leg a few absent minded times before taking the chart off John's bed, noting the change in dosages, and gave Sheppard a final look of 'it'll be okay' and 'I'll be back later' with maybe a small amount of 'don't get out of bed again', before he left.
The rest of the afternoon passed with more blood tests as the earlier ones turned up negative. Beckett hadn't been back, but he heard the nurse reporting results through the radio and taking notes down for where to go next in the steps necessary for finding a diagnosis. The fever remained, despite the upped medications, and Sheppard was getting sick of being hot, achy and lethargic. He kept telling himself if Rodney didn't report in the next twenty minutes, he'd go looking for him, regardless of what Beckett had said or implied with a look. But the twenty minutes would roll by in a hazy dream and he was never sure how much time had passed. Sheppard would reset the timer and promise again to go, only the same thing kept happening. Finally, he just slept.
"It is not working, Rodney!" Radek slammed the diagnostics box to the counter, pushing his glasses back when they slipped. "It does not matter how often you berate the machine, me, my parentage – It. Is. Not. Working."
Rodney looked at the filter equipment with a puzzled expression, saying more to the machinery than Zelenka, "That doesn't make sense." He pushed the sequence of buttons to clean the clips affected by the interference only to have it stubbornly refuse to clean. The program said it worked, but when the clip replayed, the static was still there.
"What doesn't make sense?"
McKay spun thirty degrees on the swiveling lab stool, and shouldered past Beckett. "The universe, Carson." He aimed for the wall of diagnostics machines stacked on metal racks they'd brought from Earth. "How's Sheppard?"
Beckett shared a commiserating look with Zelenka and dropped onto a chair. "Worse than expected. I'm here because of him, actually."
"Colonel Sheppard is not --" Zelenka paused and squinted at McKay.
"He's not dying," McKay snapped. He fiddled with the knob on a filter, adjusting the sensitivity. Happy enough with it, Rodney moved past Beckett and enabled the clean process again. When Carson didn't agree, McKay turned away from the status bar. "He's not, right?"
"It's a fever, Carson." The machine beeped, signaling it was done. McKay hit play, and when the static replayed, again, he let an angry sigh loose. "You're a doctor, a fever should be within your realm of capabilities," he said savagely. He was never a patient man, especially so when he believed others were not doing their jobs, and even though he realized on a rational level that Carson wasn't intentionally allowing Sheppard to get worse, the part of him that was frustrated by his inability to get the damn video to show its secret kept pushing through. Because now more than ever, he was convinced that something was going on. If it'd been a glitch, interference, it would've responded to all the tricks he'd tried.
"I know what I bloody am, Rodney."
"Perhaps I should go --" Zelenka went to stand.
"Sit," snapped McKay.
"Doctor Beckett?" The voice piped in through the radio.
Carson, still glaring at Rodney, keyed his mic. "Yes, this is Doctor Beckett."
"I thought you would like to know, another patient has arrived with similar symptoms as Colonel Sheppard."
"I'll be there in a minute, Love. Anything else?"
The nurse murmured off comm. then came back to say, "Colonel Sheppard's fever hasn't responded to the increased dosage."
The three stared at one another, silent. Then, Rodney turned back to his computer. "I'll keep trying." What else could he do? Everyone else had accepted on face value that Sheppard was hallucinating, but McKay had seen the look in Sheppard's eyes. He'd been unwaveringly convinced of what he'd seen.
"You do that, and I'll do the same." Beckett stood wearily. "Can I borrow Doctor Zelenka?"
Rodney waved his hand absently towards Radek. "Go ahead, he's been useless to me, maybe he can actually do something for you."
"McKay, you can be…insufferable!" Zelenka slipped angrily off his chair.
He snorted, watching the static begin as the captured picture of Lorne moved towards the door again. What was so wrong with insufferable?
Once he was alone, Rodney played the clip again, and again, and again. It should've responded to the filters. It was a digital feed, and it shouldn't be doing what it was, but after so many times of trying, he knew he had to admit defeat.
"The meaning of insanity," he mumbled irritably. "Repeating the same task and expecting a different outcome." He clicked on the play bar and dragged it back to restart the clip. "Either I'm insane or just very desperate."
With fever, come chills, so Sheppard knew he'd have been stupid to think the worst thing he'd feel was the heat, the aches, and the general disconnected feeling that came with a high fever. Yet, he'd still been kind of stupid, because when he started shivering he'd made the mistake of thinking it was cold.
His mind was running a little behind.
The chills racked his body like spastic contractions of time and all he wanted was to fall asleep. The problem was -- he couldn't. McKay hadn't come back, Beckett had grouched that Rodney was 'working on it' and fussed over him because this fever from hell was apparently not only impervious to pinning down a cause, but also to medication, and he'd been here for almost twelve hours and had nothing more to show for it than a pair of scrubs, a nice IV, and now a whole lot of trembling going on.
Simpson hadn't listened to him. She'd gotten a clean bill of health from Biro, and a 'you're probably working too hard' commiseration, but she'd had blood drawn and Beckett had said he'd tell John when the results came back. There had to be something for what he was seeing.
He shivered and sweated and wanted Rodney to get his ass down here.
Hours later (okay, probably minutes, but it felt like hours), a woman Sheppard knew from McKay's lab was helped in by another…what was her name, Miko? She looked rough, about as much as he felt, and her fine black hair stuck to her scalp along her hairline. It was hard to see from his bed, but that isn't what made him sit a lot straighter, despite the chills that had him wrapped in a blanket-like cocoon. "You --" Oh, crap, what was the other one's name? "Scientist." When the woman helping Miko looked over at him, surprised irritation painted all over her, Sheppard waved at her to come over.
"I'm helping her," she said.
Sheppard ground his teeth. Put him in a blanket, in an infirmary bed, and everyone thought they could walk all over him. "Hand her over to the nurse and get over here." He thought about shaking off his blanket but he didn't imagine scrubs were going to be any more intimidating of a reminder that, fever and all, he was still in charge of a lot of things; military, security, safety, which meant he was kept waiting while the unnamed woman handed off Miko slower than he liked before finally coming over to him.
"I'm sorry, Colonel, but Miko needed my help." She tucked her hands into the pockets on her white lab coat and didn't look sorry at all. "What can I do for you?"
Next time get your ass over her when I tell you to -- it's what he wanted to say, but Sheppard figured the fever was probably making him cranky. "What's your name?"
"Doctor Lees." She didn't look happy that he forgot her name, either. John wasn't winning any popularity contests today.
They say you can catch more flies with honey, so -- "Sorry," he said with his best smile. "Fevers make me a little foggy." Another tremor made his knees bang together. Damn it. Not helping, he silently swore. "Look, Doctor, I know this is going to sound weird, but -- have you been feeling…more tired, than usual?" He almost laughed at the question because you could single out anyone and ask that, and probably get a hundred percent positive with every sample. They were all more tired than usual, and had been since the city had almost imploded when the shield had begun to fail and they'd woken the Wraith. So he amended, "Even more tired than the usual unusual."
Was it just him, or was he making less sense than normal?
She actually softened. "A little," she admitted. "Why do you ask?"
"Because you've got this apparently invisible bug on your neck and I'm beginning to think it's related to the life-sucking Iratus bugs."
"That's not funny, Colonel." The softening was gone and she spun on her heels and stormed out the door.
Damn. He could've handled that better. Where was Rodney, anyway?
Beckett stared at the labs in disbelief. He paged through the reports -- what the bloody hell was going on? Colonel Sheppard's body was exhibiting all the signs of rejection, but the man hadn't had a transplant and it made no bloody sense. God, his mum would wash his mouth out with soap if he kept up at this rate.
"Doctor, I've finished admitting Miko and sent her blood off to the lab."
Carson frowned at the results again. If Miko's bloodwork came back with similar results, then they were in trouble. "What's her temperature and pulse rate, Love?"
"38.8," she read off the chart. "Pulse -- 134."
He considered the numbers. "Then the colonel's more advanced if they are suffering from the same syndrome." Sheppard's last check had his fever holding now at 39.9 degrees, but his pulse had risen to 160 and it was beginning to worry him.
What to do -- seemed like that was always the question lately. He'd done more questionable things in the past year alone than his entire life, and at least this wasn't any moral decision. It was just a puzzle, and Carson was getting very good at solving those, though he wished that he didn't believe Sheppard's life (and now Miko's) rested in the balance of doing so. And if there were two, there would probably be three and four…
"I want Colonel Sheppard monitored closely. Increase his vitals to every thirty minutes. And get me the PC Tablet that has the Ancient files that have already been identified as medical." He tapped a pen on his desk and looked at his watch. It was past time to bring Elizabeth up to date, but he never was one to go to somebody with "I don't know" if he could avoid it. He glanced up at the nurse to find her still waiting. "That's it, Lass."
She nodded, all business, and left. His nurses were a good bunch, almost read his mind before he knew what he needed or wanted, but sometimes they hovered too much, waiting for him to pull something out to fix whatever was happening before he could. He was on the right trail, he could feel it, but there were still too many questions without answers. What would cause a normally healthy individual to start exhibiting symptoms of rejection? Foreign body, parasite? Yet, his scans were clear.
Or were they? Beckett's mind flashed back to the static-laced video feed. What if something really was here, something that Sheppard had seen, and it was influencing equipment? Christ. Carson opened his drawer and pulled out his bottle of Scotch. He normally wasn't one to drink until a crisis was over, but he felt the need for one quick shot.
"Can I join you?"
Elizabeth walked the distance from his door to his desk. "I waited for an update, but then I got impatient." Her nose wrinkled with amusement. "My mother always told me patience was a virtue I sadly missed out on."
Carson smiled at her warmly and gestured at the cushioned black chair. An empty glass appeared beside his and he poured her a few centimeters. A little went a long way and as her doctor, he wasn't going to give her more than that at this hour. "I was going to call."
Her eyes twinkled. "No, you weren't." She sipped the liquor and leaned back appreciatively. "Well, maybe you were considering it, but you would've waited a little longer I think."
"Till I had an idea?" he tried.
"Or knew I wouldn't wait any longer." She leaned forward enough to set the glass back on his desk. "I talked to John; he's not feeling very well right now."
"He admitted that?" Alarmed, Carson's hand hovered over his desk.
"Not really -- he was…" She smiled ruefully, "Less talkative than usual."
She was worried, it vibrated between them, and truthfully, she had a right to be. Sheppard was deteriorating and he couldn't seem to stop it. And now, one more patient to the mix… "Elizabeth, we've got a problem."
He explained Miko's condition, his dawning suspicions, and ended with, "I'm worried we might be facing an epidemic, but as far as we know -- whatever this is -- it shouldn't be contagious. Sheppard's test results turned up nothing identifiable as a contagion."
"I've already conceded Rodney's request to do a mandatory quarantine of all non-essential personnel. Wouldn't Atlantis have instigated a lock-down if it were something dangerous, like it did with the Nanovirus?"
"Aye," Beckett agreed. "I'd think so, and the fact that it's not has me worried that this is something the Ancients had never seen. Ten thousand years can be a drop in the bucket regarding evolution for large mammals, but life forms that live and die in shorter life cycles, that's a long enough time for changes to mutate an organism into something Atlantis' systems don't recognize."
Elizabeth nodded, sober. "And if Atlantis doesn't recognize it, what are the chances that we can?"
"The same chances that Colonel Sheppard's really hallucinating."
He wasn't crazy.
Rodney stared at the clip, amazed, because contrary to what he'd actually thought, one more time (with feeling), had revealed a static free image. When something starts working after everything else had failed before, McKay got a little suspicious, which is why, for curiosity's sake, he selected the original digital file and dragged it to the player. When it ran all the way through, static free, and revealed the same disturbing image, McKay's worry escalated exponentially.
They were all in a lot of trouble.
The briefing room was packed. Elizabeth headed the table, Beckett sat to her right, while a cluster of scientists and a handful of military personnel filled the remaining space. It was standing room only, and Rodney held center stage.
"We're dealing with a potentially epidemic parasitic infection."
His declaration caused a subdued rush of startled looks amongst everyone else. Grimacing, McKay brought up the clip, displayed on the large screen viewer. "Fourteen hours ago, Major Lorne's team returned from PNX-987." He stepped aside while the image showed the wormhole establish, ripple, then first one figure, two, three and Lorne bringing the rear walked out of the event horizon into the lower level of the gate room. "At the time, everything seemed normal, until here --" Rodney pointed as Lorne waved to Elizabeth off camera, then turned. When the major did so, the static began.
"McKay, I thought you said it is fixed?" puzzled Zelenka.
Smugly, Rodney paused the image. "I did." He turned his back to the screen and faced the room. "What you need to know, if you already don't, is that Colonel Sheppard right at that time noticed an unknown creature, low opacity in appearance, and roughly the size of an Iratus bug, climb up Lorne's back and attach itself to his neck."
Most of the room had heard the rumors but the few that hadn't looked a little queasy. Sympathy for the colonel, or just the thought of something like that loose in Atlantis, McKay wasn't sure. "At the time, we made the assumption that Colonel Sheppard was hallucinating from a high fever he'd developed earlier." McKay went to the door and opened it.
"Those of you without the ATA gene, please exit stage left," he drawled theatrically.
Uncertain looks were exchanged, and most of them traveled in the direction of one person. Elizabeth frowned at McKay. "Rodney…"
He looked mildly exasperated, "Humor me, Elizabeth."
She nodded reluctantly at the others to leave, and stood herself. "I hope you have a good reason for this."
"Of course I do, it's not like I randomly dismiss over half the personnel from a briefing because I dislike the cologne they're wearing. The clip will only play static-free if all of you are outside this room, trust me."
Beckett cleared his throat. "There was that time --"
"Shut up, Carson," glowered Rodney. "That was under extenuating circumstances outside of my control." Cadman had been a negative influence when she'd shared his body.
Elizabeth was the last one out, and after she'd closed the door behind her, McKay pulled the bar slightly back on the digital file. "Now, watch."
The room full of ATA gene carriers watched as Lorne turned to leave, and an almost invisible creature emerged from the neck of a guard and leapt onto Lorne, falling short and landing on his leg, before scrambling up lightning fast, attaching to the major's neck. No one said a word, mouths gaped.
Lorne was the first to react. He stood, slapping a palm against his neck, searching, and turning. "Holy shit, get it off me!"
"You're not going to find anything, Major," Rodney said, derisively.
Carson felt sick. He felt the coolness of the table underneath a suddenly sweaty palm. Sheppard's test results made disturbing sense, and he glanced unsteadily at Rodney. "It's the gene, isn't it? Those without it have no natural defenses, but those with the gene, our bodies are rejecting the parasite."
"Not only that, but I believe Colonel Sheppard was able to see the creature because his parasite is too busy trying to stay alive to emit the masking signal -- which means, soon, those of us infected that have the gene will be seeing them." McKay wondered when he should drop what he suspected about how fast this was going to spread. Obviously if there was one inside Sheppard, and Lorne and one had come from the guard, these bugs were reproducing at an alarming rate.
"What do you mean, Doc?" Lorne's voice had an edge of hysteria. "It's...it's inside?"
"That's exactly what he means," Rodney replied. "And at this point, it's impossible to say how many people have been infected. What we do know is that it can exert some kind of electromagnetic signal, which is why I couldn't get the clip to play earlier. Before I called Zelenka to help, I had a technician in my lab, and when I checked --"
"No gene," finished Beckett.
"No gene. But is it exerting conscious control of its host?"
The remaining scientists in the room erupted finally. It took time to get order again, but the general consensus was that the creatures, whatever they might be, weren't controlling any of the expedition members, but then again, no one was really sure of just how many people were already infected, and McKay knew from Earth, that being fooled by an internal sentient parasite was an easy thing to do.
"I guess we'll find out." Lorne had removed his 9 mil from the holster. "I'll call Zelenka in here and we can confront him. If that thing is in control, we'll know."
Beckett didn't agree. "The creature might be intelligent enough to pretend."
Lorne shook his head. "I'll know, Doc."
Rodney considered reminding Lorne about how tricky the Gou'ald could be, but the fact that they knew about the parasite was only the first step. Sheppard was in the infirmary, his brain percolating, and time was wasting. They needed to get this resolved and start working on finding out what these things were and how to get rid of them.
He nodded at the major, and drew his own pistol.
Sheppard was getting pissed. He still hadn't seen Rodney, and frankly, the infirmary sucked as a place of entertainment. He'd grown bored with his PDA over an hour ago. He'd tried to sleep only to keep getting woken up by the nurses, and Miko was in the bed next to him gushing about what a great boss McKay was. If anyone was a great boss, it was him. He'd say 'way to go' not 'is that the best you could do'.
If it hadn't been for how frequently they came to check his vitals, he would've been gone a while ago. He had a fever, muscle aches; typical flu symptoms and while the flu wasn't fun, it wasn't going to kill him, and those damn bugs he was seeing might not be as kind to the people they were latching onto. The only thing -- he couldn't figure out where they were going. Simpson had come back to check on Miko and had asked John, half-worriedly, half-breezily, if the bug was still getting a free ride on her.
It wasn't, and that kind of worried him.
'Course, when the alarm klaxon began ringing, he grew a lot more worried. The nurses weren't around, Miko had subsided into a tired nap, and Sheppard needed to know what the hell was going on.
Knowing he'd hear it from Beckett, Sheppard pulled the IV out and pushed his finger against the small drop of blood. He slid off the bed and with a last look to make sure it was clear, slipped into the hallway, only to run into a solid object.
"Going somewhere, Sheppard?"
John straightened and looked at Ronon with his best 'I'm the boss' face. "As a matter of fact, I was."
Ronon stared for a beat then pulled one of his extra guns and handed it to John. "Gate room," he said.
They took off towards the transporter and Sheppard tried hard not to dwell on how stupid he looked in his scrubs and bare feet, and then he tried equally hard to ignore the ache in his limbs telling him what an idiot he was for doing this. Adrenaline was good for the body, because all of the above faded into mild annoyance, including the chills. Something was going down and he wanted to know if it had anything to do with what he was seeing -- and where the hell was McKay, anyway?
He wished Teyla hadn't left for the mainland last night. Sheppard would've felt better having all of his team here to deal with this -- whatever it was -- thing. And he hoped even more that whatever this was, she hadn't taken it with her. He hadn't seen her before she left yesterday.
The transporter door pulled open and Sheppard let Ronon go first. Not like he could've stopped the moose anyway. Sometimes there were drawbacks to having the big guy on his team.
When they got to the entrance onto the promenade above the gate room, Ronon paused, glanced over his shoulder at Sheppard and when John nodded, he activated the door controls. They ran in together, guns out, but what they found didn't make any sense at all. Lorne, McKay, two other military members and one scientist had pistols aimed at Elizabeth, Zelenka and the other military members in the room.
Sheppard flicked a look at Ronon and without talking John aimed his gun at Elizabeth's group while Ronon aimed his at McKay's. "Start talking," he grated, feeling a little breathless from the rush to get up here, and a lot of annoyance at finding his own people pointing weapons at each other. You get stuck in the infirmary for less than a day, and look what happens.
"Oh, Colonel, well, this is precipitous timing, isn't it, Carson?"
"No, it bloody is not!" Beckett glared at John. "You are supposed to be in bed."
Ronon shifted a look his way that said 'I told you so'. Sheppard was starting to get a little pissed off, and he was pretty sure the puddle he was melting into was partly to blame. That, and having a stand-off in scrubs just didn't make his day. "I was," he growled. "Until someone set off the alarm. Little hard to rest with klaxon's blaring, Doc." He locked onto McKay. "I thought I told you to look into this?"
Zelenka's pistol aimed up as he waved an arm angrily. "That is what he did, Colonel. And now we are pointing guns at one another and thinking they are taken over by parasite!"
Sheppard stared at Rodney as he tried to process Radek's heavily accented, and rapidly announced, statement. It wouldn't have been a big deal, normally, but he was a little off his game, and something was making him feel light headed. He probably should've eaten that lunch they brought him earlier. "Woah, back it up for me. McKay, you figured this out?"
"Was there ever any doubt?" Rodney's arm wavered and he changed into a two handed grip. "You saw real, honest to God parasites, and as we speak, your body is rejecting it. Seeing how I'm beginning to feel fairly hot myself, I'd say I'm about to join you, and God only knows how many of us -- them," Rodney waved the pistol causing several on the other side to jerk, "they don't have the gene, and the creatures apparently have free lunch tickets."
"They're compromised?" Sheppard suddenly stared a lot harder at Elizabeth. She didn't look like she was under an alien influence, in fact, she kind of looked pissed.
"No," she enunciated coldly. "We are not."
"Oh, right, and the Gou'ald always 'fessed up to their secret identities the second they were confronted!" McKay's pistol wavered again.
Ronon glanced at Sheppard. "I can stun 'em all," he offered helpfully.
"No!" Both sides shouted it simultaneously, and Sheppard had to grin about what it took to get agreement. The wrong end of a pistol could work miracles.
"How about everyone put their guns down." Sheppard grunted through the effort of staying on his feet. "Then," he wheezed, "we can talk about this without someone accidentally shooting anyone -- Rodney." Another grunt, as McKay's pistol dipped, and jumped back up. Christ, someone was going to get killed, and the way he was feeling right now, he'd be amazed if he didn't pass out first and miss all the fun.
"Colonel?" Beckett stepped towards Sheppard. When Ronon's gun shifted from Lorne to him, Carson stopped. "Ronon, look at Sheppard. Son -- something's wrong."
"Of course something is wrong," snapped McKay. "He's infected by some…bug." When he saw John's face twist sourly, he had the grace to look slightly apologetic. "Sorry, Sheppard, I know you have latent trauma regarding bugs --"
John huffed. "I don't have trauma. I have reasonable concerns." And one of them was that he was really starting to get tunnel vision, what the hell? "Doc…"
He started to go down, and Ronon scrambled to get his weapon back in his holster in enough time to catch him. Everyone's attention was suddenly on Sheppard, and, again with the embarrassing. He'd had enough of it to last a year in today alone. It would've mattered a lot more if he wasn't suddenly finding it a lot harder to breathe.
In the ensuing moments of chaos, and McKay shouting, "Stop! I'll shoot!" and Elizabeth rushing over to Sheppard anyway, along with Beckett and Lorne, Rodney glared across at Zelenka, looked irritably at the pistol and fumbled it back into the holster on his thigh. "Knowing my luck, it's like the Wraith, anyway, and it'd heal you by sucking your own life to do it." Then he hurried over to where Sheppard was struggling to breathe.
John figured Rodney was right and he would've told him so, if he hadn't found himself a little short on air just then.
Beckett was pulling on his wrist and pressing on his fingernails, before putting his ear on Sheppard's chest and swearing.
"Medical emergency in the gate room!"
He wasn't really that bad…just a little…hard to…breathe.
"John, hold on, help is coming." Elizabeth grabbed his hand, and he tried to hold on, but just then, a see-through bug erupted like an oil geyser from Zelenka's neck, spun around before jumping from Radek to Elizabeth's.
"Bug…" He tried to warn her.
"We know about the bugs." McKay looked at him apprehensively, and John wasn't sure whether he was holding back with a sarcastic 'is he brain damaged already' or if Rodney was going to go with the whole freaked doom and gloom 'holy shit, Sheppard's going to die' hysterics (though, in all fairness, it'd been a while since he'd done that one). But, instead of either, McKay surprised him with, "I'll figure it out, like always, right – because I've kept us alive this long. You just lay there and…breathe." He patted Sheppard awkwardly on a shoulder.
Easier said then done, apparently, thought John, as things grayed.
Whoever said "Time is a great healer" hadn't spent time hosting a parasitic life sucking creature. Because after Sheppard's collapse, Rodney had turned in time to see one of those bugs try to make Elizabeth into a home. So, that'd been what Sheppard had meant when he'd said 'bug'. McKay had worried that the colonel's experiences were turning him into an obsessive.
He'd tried to grab it, and that was purely reflex, because in his right mind, which he clearly wasn't, there's no way he would've done anything so stupid. As it happened, he missed, the bug burrowed, and Elizabeth turned and asked him peevishly, "What are you doing now, Rodney – because, holding my staff at gunpoint was certainly enough for one day."
"I was held at gunpoint!"
Carson waved the medical team over, and stood, glaring at McKay, and since when was he the only one involved?
"Everyone was held at gunpoint, now if you don't mind, we've got a bit of an emergency here, and you're in the way." Beckett pushed McKay aside and when he did so, his hands stopped, and felt upwards, getting to Rodney's face, a frown deepening. "You're burning up, Rodney!"
"I know that!" Now he was getting an idea how Sheppard had felt earlier. "One of those…things, went into Elizabeth."
Her eyes widened, and Lorne looked bored, like it was so yesterday, but Beckett frowned harder (as if that were possible), and with a quick check to see how the colonel was doing, stepped over and peered at her neck. "This is amazing," he breathed. "Not a single mark."
"Carson, everything in this city is amazing or impossible – instead of caressing her neck, help Sheppard and find a cure!" Did Rodney ever mention that when he got sick, he tended to lose hold of his usual self-restraint?
"Doctor, Colonel Sheppard's O2 sats are dropping…"
Other concerned personnel began to chorus demands for protection.
"That's enough!" Elizabeth could be loud when she needed to. She nodded to Carson, who in turn, nodded to the medical personnel by the gurney. They began to push Sheppard away.
Rodney was torn between staying here and working towards finding the answer to this latest life-threatening terror, or accompanying Carson to the infirmary to make sure Sheppard didn't die when he wasn't around to tell him that that was a completely shitty thing to do, and he better not even think about it, when Beckett grabbed him on the shoulder of his uniform and spun him around towards the exit.
Right. Infirmary, because, he was probably going to pass out in a very manly way any moment now.
Rodney snapped his fingers in rapid succession. "Zelenka, check the databa --"
"I know, McKay, go, before Doctor Beckett makes a scene." Radek waved an irritable hand as if to shoo him away.
Was the floor sweltering? Because, he could've sworn the ground was waver –
There was a bug inside of her.
There was a bug inside of her.
Elizabeth had a new-found, entirely unwelcome, appreciation for what Sheppard had endured previously.
John had seen it go for her, Rodney had tried to grab it before it could do so, and none of it had helped. The only saving grace was that these bugs were not like the Gou'ald after all; she still had complete control over her body, mind, and actions.
Lorne had muttered, "It's weird, but give it a few minutes and something new will distract you."
He hadn't been kidding. As Zelenka had quickly informed her about McKay's theories, she'd felt a little faint. There was some interaction with a non-ATA gene carrier that allowed the creatures to exude an electromagnetic force that interfered with anything threatening possible detection, allowing what was almost certainly, sentient control over camouflaging its presence. Only those with the gene, and their bodies far enough along rejecting the parasite, were able to see it, and so far that group only numbered two; McKay and Sheppard. In that respect, this…thing…whatever it may be, had to be cognizant and tied into her sensory system. And that really sent a chill down her spine all over again.
The bad news had come moments ago when she'd met with the head biologist. The theory was that the bugs were spawning at an incredible rate, enough so that it was entirely possible that within twenty-four hours, every member would be infected, and the quarantine procedures weren't going to make a difference. If they could melt through skin, they'd be able to navigate ventilation shafts to get to anyone staying in their quarters. Short of sending personnel off in a Jumper or to another world, there were no safe places that they'd discovered so far on Atlantis, and she wasn't willing to risk spreading this parasite to another world.
"Up for visitors?"
She smiled at Beckett's scruffy face. The poor man was working overtime. It was now going on -- she glanced at her watch -- eighteen hours since Sheppard became symptomatic, and Carson hadn't stopped going since then. "I see our positions are reversed," she observed, gesturing at the chair in front of her desk. "Unfortunately, I'm without any of the Scottish courage you offered earlier."
He smiled briefly. "It's probably for the best." He didn't look like he believed it, though. Taking the seat, he grimaced. "This is getting quite ugly, Elizabeth."
She hadn't expected any differently. "How bad?"
"Over two-thirds already infected. One-third of that in the beginnings of rejection syndrome, with Sheppard heading the list."
The numbers were depressingly staggering. She more fell then leaned back in her chair. They had to beat this, whatever it was. "Carson --"
He sighed. "I know. We're doing everything we can. So far, we know very little, although we've made one critical step."
"You identified it?"
"I believe so. We tried a repeat scan on the colonel after injecting him with contrast dye, and there the wee bugger was, curled up at the base of his spine."
Elizabeth hadn't missed the long face. "Isn't this good news?"
"Honestly, it doesn't help much -- surgical removal is out, even if we had enough un-infected individuals to do the operations. From what we can tell it's tapped into the central nervous system -- but beyond that, this is an evolved Iratus bug, I'm sure of it, from what we've now seen on the scans, down to its preferred form of entry and what Rodney showed me on the digital feed. Hurting the patient will only --"
"Cause it to drain more life from them," Elizabeth finished grimly.
"Aye, I'm afraid so."
"I'm really beginning to hate those --"
"Bugs, I know."
She'd never really liked bugs before, but it'd always been the kind of casual dislike. It was there, and whenever she saw one, Elizabeth would remember what it was about that particular kind of bug that she'd hated -- the careful scurrying of eight legs across a surface, or the twitching of antennas -- but here, the Iratus bug had seeded a level of hatred that was growing legions in reputation.
Bugs on Earth were nuisances more often than not (there were always exceptions), scary more because of reflex than danger, but here -- they could kill you while causing a lot of trouble in the process, and it seemed like John was constantly receiving the wrong end of an Iratus run-in. The sheer difference in how many ways that one bug could make him have a bad day was almost comical…if they got through this with everyone still alive. She didn't like remembering those eyes of his, transformed into feral slits, or the agonized screams over the radio -- her memory jogged. "Carson, before, when Sheppard was trapped on the Jumper, salt water caused it to react. Why isn't the salt in our bodies working as a repellant? I know from biology class that the human body is roughly sixty percent water."
He looked as disappointed as she felt while explaining why their natural defenses had been made useless. "This bug has shown itself to be amazingly resilient. It's adapted so that it may infect humans without the ATA gene – as you know, the prevalence has been greatly reduced over the last ten thousand years. But it's evolved into something virtually undetectable, and with amazing powers of permeance – to penetrate the dermal layer without the victim feeling anything --"
"Carson!" Sometimes he lost sight of the fact that while she was considerably well educated, she wasn't a scientist. Nor did she want to be.
He looked at her sheepishly. "I'm sorry, it's just, as a geneticist, to find this level of adaptation --" Beckett shook his head a little. "As to your original question, our bodies are comprised of one-third more salt than seawater, the mere fact that they are inside us prove that is one more hurdle they overcame."
He'd thrown it out so casually, she almost missed it.
"I'm afraid so. The fever began less than an hour ago. I confirmed it with a scan."
Elizabeth almost asked him where did they go from here, but she managed to keep that question inside, where it needed to stay. She was the one in charge, Carson her responsibility, along with John, Rodney, and everyone else in this city. But, there was some information she needed. "How long?" It reminded her uncomfortably of another conversation not so long ago.
"Hours, for those already in full-blown rejection, days for others not showing symptoms yet. For the rest, the non-ATA gene personnel, I haven't a clue, but I would venture to guess it's a gradual decline. The parasite wouldn't want the host to die quickly, and as capable as this creature seems to be, if I were a betting man, I'd say months, possibly a year or two."
Frustration welled, and she had to pinch her mouth in a tight line to keep from erupting at the life sentence he'd just handed down. Zelenka was poring through medical files, even though Carson had already skimmed them previously and found nothing mentioned, not even halfway close to what they were encountering. And, they weren't likely to find anything. If it had evolved from the Iratus bug, and hadn't been in this form when the Ancients were here ten thousand years ago -- something she had to believe, because otherwise, the city would've recognized the harmful organism and quarantined the city -- that meant searching the database wasn't doing any good.
They were looking at this all wrong. "Who was infected first?" She asked it aloud, though she was merely running thoughts through her mind.
Beckett straightened in his chair, a new breath of possibility injected into his system. "You might be on to something there, Elizabeth – if we can find what planet this creature came from, perhaps we can find something naturally toxic to it."
She nodded, satisfied. "Exactly." Now, they had a place to start that just might be promising.
The infirmary was packed – bursting at the seams. Full of panicking people, some of them with fevers, and to Sheppard's way of thinking, all of them had an understandable right. Before Beckett had left to talk to Elizabeth, he'd scolded Sheppard on the seriousness of staying down. He now had an oxygen mask to supplement his breathing troubles, a catheter, along with two new bags of IV solutions dripping into him. His kidneys were beginning to fail. He didn't need Doc to spell it out – he could feel the grim reaper hanging over him, again.
Dying from the Iratus bug for a third time really sucked.
"So you actually saw one?" he asked McKay. At the nurse's reproachful look, he shifted the mask back over his mouth. It wasn't like he could talk with the plastic over his mouth and nose.
Rodney was in a fresh pair of white scrubs and slouching in the bed next to him, laptop perched on his legs, fever 103.6 -- John had peeked when they took his stats. His hair was curling slightly at his hairline from the damp sweat, his cheeks were flushed, and he looked as miserable as Sheppard felt. Despite how sick they both were now, and how tired, considering it was approaching hour twenty of the latest crisis, neither one could sleep. The noise in the infirmary wasn't helping, but he doubted even if it were as silent as space, the outcome would be any different.
"I did." McKay paused in his typing, staring unfocused at the screen. It only lasted for a second before he shook it off and shot Sheppard a sideways glance, "Horrid, actually. You'd think opacity would be a benefit in this case but it only made it more disconcerting."
John lifted his oxygen mask and nodded sympathetically. "Tell me about it -- did you see the tail on that thing?"
"And just think, right now, it's wrapped tightly around our spinal cords." Rodney was still looking at Sheppard when he said it, then paled a little, quickly shifting his attention back to his computer screen. "That probably wasn't helpful."
Already getting short of breath, John wished he could do more than give McKay a dirty look. He'd been handling the idea of that thing inside him, although, maybe the shot Beckett had given him had something to do with that. Still, he didn't need Rodney adding to the mentally disturbing visuals he was having.
He was momentarily distracted when Carson rushed in the infirmary, murmured to a nurse, and a medical team took off at a run, including Beckett. McKay's typing stopped again, and they looked at each other.
Sheppard almost got out of bed to follow when he remembered there was something down below that he didn't want to accidentally pull on, out, or touch in anyway. God, damn it! He was going to go nuts lying in this bed waiting for other people to save their lives.
"This hero complex of yours is getting out of control."
McKay tapped his mouth with resignation.
Sighing, Sheppard lifted the mask again, and grunted, "I don't have a hero complex."
"That's why you arrived half-dead in the gate room with Conan, only in time to collapse. No, forgive me -- I must have you confused with Hercules." McKay interjected a thick dose of annoying patronization.
"That's not a hero complex, that's doing my job." Sheppard wanted to say more, but he was reduced to short sentences because of his pesky need for oxygen. He pushed the plastic against his face, inhaled, and lifted away quick enough to add, "Besides, I stopped the Mexican stand-off, didn't I?"
"By passing out!"
McKay protested, like it was cheating or something.
"I wasn't the only one," Sheppard retorted. He'd heard about everything after he'd woken up with all the new support paraphernalia on his body. How Rodney had seen the bug after all, how he'd passed out only a few steps towards the infirmary.
Instead of looking affronted over the fact that he'd passed out, Rodney was exasperated as he said, "And I did it without your help."
Sheppard squinted at McKay. "Did you just argue that you didn't need me because you can," he inhaled more oxygen, "pass out all by yourself?"
"Shut up." McKay glared at his computer. "Put that mask back on before you kill off even more important brain functions."
He did, but it wasn't because Rodney told him to.
Beckett pulled the sheet over Hamilton's face. "Scan him for the creature," he ordered the man waiting at the head of the gurney. After they wheeled the body from the room, Carson pulled a sample bag from his kit and swabbed a suspicious puddle that had been underneath Hamilton.
The man had had the ATA gene. He'd come off a mission two days ago and had today off. The poor man must've assumed he'd caught a virus and decided to sleep it off rather than visit the infirmary, which was the last poor decision he'd ever make. Yet, the proof was in the evidence, the rejection syndrome would kill Sheppard next, then Miko and McKay, followed by countless others, if they didn't find the solution soon.
Straightening, Carson sealed the bag and settled the sample. He keyed his ear piece. "Elizabeth, are Ronon and Lorne ready?"
At least now they knew the planet that was most likely the home for these new generation of Iratus bugs. Capturing one would be ideal, but also improbable, unless Lorne was far enough into rejection for his parasite's masking systems to fail. From what they'd observed, a bug wouldn't attempt to go into a body if another was already in residence there. They could sense the presence of other bugs. It was most likely why it seemed to take longer for the creatures to sink into the victim. Those with the gene were a harder 'read' for the bugs. And it seemed like some of the bugs took their time with joining a host -- in the case of Lorne -- or some went right to it, like with Elizabeth.
She responded immediately from her location in the gate room. "They are. Major Lorne estimates a few hours until they return."
He nodded to himself. A few hours wasn't ideal, but it could've been worse. At least they had something to go off of right now, some avenue to pursue, because otherwise, everything else was turning up dead ends. "Tell the major a live specimen would be ideal, but barring that, make sure he uses the MALP and logs every bit of information on atmospheric conditions, climate, mineral content --"
"He knows, Carson."
Right. Of course he did. With a final look at Hamilton's quarters, including a picture of the smiling scientist with a dark-haired child, he turned the lights off, stepped through the door, and sealed it with biohazard tape. One more death to add to the toll.
Lorne felt like shit. He stepped out of the wormhole on PN8-390, and hoped like hell they'd make this in less time then he'd estimated to Weir. Ronon was right behind him, the MALP already waiting for both of them.
He wasn't exactly at ease with the larger man, but Weir had wanted to limit exposure to anything else that this planet might be breeding, because if it was home to the super bugs, it might be home to something else a lot more deadly. At the moment, Lorne was having a hard time thinking what else aside from Wraith, but he grudgingly went along with her decision. His team had apparently been infected after arriving back from their mission that morning. If they'd stayed one more day instead of coming back early, he wouldn't be here, he wouldn't have a bug turning his own body against him, and --
"Ronon," he breathed. "Ten O'clock."
Dex had gotten the crash course on military lingo and hand signals, so he looked where Lorne indicated. "I don't see anything."
Damn. That's right, he wouldn't, and the fact that Lorne could meant he was getting a lot worse. His eyes were fixated on the lake teeming with virtually transparent bugs. So, apparently, they'd given up the cave life.
"It's them." He didn't explain further, he knew by the sneer of Ronon's lips that he understood. Lorne held out a hand for the cage they'd gotten from biology. If the damn things could ooze through layers of skin he didn't know how this was going to work, but according to the biologist, whatever that cocky son of a bitch's name was, the skin was porous and the plastisteel of the cage wasn't.
He sure as hell hoped so.
Zelenka had eked out a circle of workspace on the floor. Central to him was his laptop, and all around, were printouts from the MALP's sample analysis -- everything from atmospheric breakdowns per elements, to the salinity of the water Major Lorne had found the bugs swimming in, ironically, higher salinity than an Earth-typical ocean.
The disturbing hypothesis seemed to indicate that the bugs survived free of a human host, living off of vegetation in the lake. If survival wasn't what drove them into a human, what did? Everything had a purpose -- and if it was hibernating in them like a chrysalis, then this was very bad.
Unlike pregnant mothers, Radek had no love for the insidious thing inside of him. And he was also having scary images from Aliens forcing themselves to the front of his consciousness.
The live specimen was in the biology lab undergoing tests, Rodney and the colonel, along with Miko and now Lorne, were all in the infirmary, well into this rejection syndrome. Hamilton had been the first victim, nice man, Radek had known him well. Certainly more mild-mannered to work with than McKay. Or, he had been.
The latest analysis blinked on the screen and Radek pushed his glasses up as he leaned in to squint at the information. "Hovno!" Scrambling to his feet, sliding on paper, Zelenka tapped his comm. hastily. "Doctor Weir, I think I've got something!"
Rodney tried to ignore Zelenka's gloating. He really did. Bigger man, and all that. But inside, it maddened him. The one time having the Ancient gene was a hindrance. He'd had to stay in this bed while Zelenka got to solve the bug crisis, and the short Czech looked both relieved and pleased with himself.
And maybe, grudgingly, McKay had to admit, it was damn good timing.
Sheppard was on a hundred percent oxygen now, and wasn't taking off the mask to talk anymore. He was a step away from being ventilated, his kidneys were barely producing anything, even with the medications and catheter. The heart monitor beeped at a slower pace every now and then causing McKay's own heart to race and fear to lump in his throat.
Miko's prattling that she was sure Doctor Zelenka would find the answer had only made it more unbearable. And then she'd been right.
If he wasn't so worried about Sheppard, this all would have been utterly galling.
"The planet has a complete absence of ultra-violet rays," explained the Czech in a rush. "I had biology expose the sample and --"
Sheppard managed to rouse enough to pull of the mask and rasp, "It squealed horribly and died?" with hopefulness.
Radek smiled tightly at the colonel before saying distractedly, "Yes, Colonel, quite."
Who looked more impressed, Rodney or Carson, it was hard to say, but McKay wished he'd been there to see it, and judging from the dangerous glint in Sheppard's eyes, he figured he wasn't alone in that.
"But, of course, there is one hitch," Zelenka added.
Queasiness roiled through Rodney's stomach. "The bugs are nestled safely inside of our bodies."
"We'll have to use gamma therapy." Carson knew what line of thought they were on. UV light consisted of alpha and beta particles and gamma waves. Alpha was stopped by most barriers, like paper, beta a little harder, but still not energetic enough to penetrate the human body beyond the dermis -- gamma rays, though, weren't particles at all, they were high-frequency energy waves. "But we don't have anything like that on hand. Cancer treatment wasn't a priority when the equipment list was drawn."
Rodney had watched as Sheppard's face had grown relieved at the chance to kill the bug, then fall at the realization that they didn't have the ability to follow through on the only solution, and it pissed him off. John was lying there, dying, and he wasn't going to sit back and let him go like this, and he sure as hell wasn't going to let himself, Miko, or anyone else die, either. Which meant, "I can make one."
"McKay, what you are proposing --"
"-- is our only shot at killing this thing, so shut up, and help me!" He threw the blanket off and stood, only trembling a little. Carson made the 'I don't like it, but I don't see how we have any other choice' expression and nodded at Zelenka. They all looked at Sheppard as his heart monitor staggered, recovered, then the alarms on Sheppard's went crazy and McKay watched as his head slid loosely to the side as John lost consciousness. Nurses turned to help, and Beckett flipped the switch to stop the constant, grating howl of trouble.
"How long, Rodney?" Carson asked worriedly, reaching for a prepared hypodermic resting by Sheppard's side on a tray. They had known he was going to crash soon and had planned ahead. "I don't think the colonel has much more time."
"Longer if you keep talking to me."
McKay was already aiming himself at the doors, scrubs and bare feet, which was apparently the uniform of the day, and as he left, he heard Beckett call a nurse over with an intubation tray and radio Elizabeth that it was time for her to get down to the infirmary.
Ordinarily, constructing a gamma knife in an hour would've been an impossibility. However, this wasn't ordinary, this was Atlantis, and McKay already had an idea of where to start. The Ancients had devices that emitted the super high energy waves, which made perfect sense considering their research and technology into energy sources, including the ZPM's. They specialized in high-energy.
The hard part was constructing a frame and a focusing program. In the end, they used a Jumper, a gurney and a lot of prayers. They wouldn't be able to irradiate the entire bug because of its size. Gamma knife therapy was for small areas inside the brain; this was a larger area on the base of Sheppard's spine. One wrong move and they might paralyze him.
Rodney normally would've been confident. He was good at what he did, after all, but he felt loopy from the fever and he had to rely upon Zelenka to do the fine adjustments to their hastily rigged frame. Lorne was sitting in the front of the Jumper, keeping the systems powered on so they had lights, and Radek had been able to tie the interface directly into the Jumper's targeting program. All these steps provided the necessary means to an end, but it might not be enough.
"This will work," he declared, staring at the gamma device rigged to the ceiling.
"Optimism, Doctor McKay -- I like the new you." Lorne chuckled as he swung back to check the firing program.
Zelenka covered a smile and focused on something innocuous that didn't really need attention at all, while Rodney glared. "Wasn't Ronon watching you?" Nothing like one large Satedan to keep the sheep in line. For some reason, the runner was oddly protective of McKay, and he, for one, wasn't complaining. Not that he couldn't fight his own battles of wit – but with a fever of 40.1 (at the last check), he was allowed some leniency.
"I told him Sheppard needed him more, and trust me, thinking this will work, that's optimism."
"It's not optimism. It's fact." He tried to breathe deep and found a cough there instead. Shit. "I deal in absolutes only." And he was absolutely certain it'd be a miracle if this worked.
Lorne's snort said what he thought about that, but like it or not, they were as ready as they could be. Sheppard had already coded once and Carson had said explicitly, there wasn't time to retrieve another bug and test the theory of one precise shot. If it worked, they won, and lived another day. If it didn't, Sheppard died, soon to be followed by a lot more, including himself.
Thank God the Ancients had the portable scanning machines; they'd have to be incredibly accurate with the aim.
Looking again at the open hatch in the rear of the ship, Rodney tapped the headset he'd grabbed from Lorne. "Carson, where are you?" He could honestly say he felt every remaining moment left to Sheppard ticking by.
"We're here!" Beckett's voice came from outside the Jumper and then he was pulling the gurney up the ramp with Elizabeth, Ronon and other nurses in tow.
"What took so long?" Rodney snapped, moving aside for them to wheel the bed alongside the other.
Elizabeth aimed herself near McKay and shook her head worriedly. She should've known he wouldn't let it go at that. "Carson, what happened?" he persisted.
Snapping at his medical personnel to lift the colonel in one, two and three -- Beckett reached for the portable EKG and perched over Sheppard's chest, using his stethoscope to listen to, what? Why was Beckett listening to Sheppard's lungs, he was still clearly intubated?
"He collapsed a lung en route, the bloody pressure had to be raised so high to keep him oxygenated; I was afraid this would happen. Rodney," he turned a sweaty, frank look at McKay, "the colonel is out of time."
Anyone with a brain cell could come to that conclusion. McKay felt a little sick staring at Sheppard's swollen face, hands and feet -- all the equipment beeping and ticking. Swallowing, he pushed Ronon out of the way and wondered if anyone had bothered to warn Teyla about what was going on, before bringing up the right settings on the HUD. He settled in the chair, trying to ignore the dizziness taunting him in the background. "Is Sheppard ready?"
"Wait one moment, McKay." Zelenka dragged the connecting wires from the scanner hooked to Sheppard's gurney and fitted them to the control crystals in the drop-down panel above. The same one Rodney had spent almost thirty-eight horrible, terrible minutes working on because of another experience that involved an Iratus bug. When this was over, he was seriously going to campaign for Beckett's team to work on the largest, most powerful form of Raid, that would kill any Iratus bug, of any generation or evolution, with one shot.
But in the meantime, "Now?" he demanded.
Zelenka attached one more lead, checked the connection and nodded. "It's up."
McKay grunted instead of answering because he was really beginning to feel bad, and told the Jumper to display the scan on the HUD. The display came up, flickered, dropped.
Beeping wailed behind and Elizabeth begged, "Rodney…"
"I know, I know!" Christ, if anyone knew, it was him…come on, you stupid piece of – the picture of Sheppard's spine formed, the bug wrapped tightly around the base. "There!" he crowed breathlessly. McKay glanced over his shoulder. "You do realize this might paralyze him." Rodney knew that Carson knew, but he couldn't in all conscious hit the button without saying it aloud for a final time, because this might very well save Sheppard's life, only to leave him crippled.
And then again, it might not work at all, and Sheppard would die.
"I know, Rodney, but I don't see as we have much choice," Carson said. "Hurry up!"
Closing his eyes, McKay thought 'fire'.
Elizabeth had flattened herself as much as possible against the wall to get out of the way. The space was crowded with all the equipment, making her need to climb up on the bench in order to stay out of the way.
She shared a tense look with Ronon during Rodney and Carson's exchange, watched Sheppard flatline, again, and then watched as the improvised gamma knife activated from two locations, one above and one below. Carson had tried to explain how it'd work on the hurried trip to the Jumper, but had abandoned the attempt when Sheppard's lung collapsed. It wasn't a traditional gamma knife, but apparently, it'd do, which was good enough.
It only lasted a millisecond, a blink of an eye, then Carson was stepping close again and unwrapping the focusing mechanism they'd improvised, and waving at Ronon to help roll Sheppard up so that he could look underneath the colonel.
When the one in Hamilton had died, either before or after the scientist -- the autopsy was still pending -- it'd liquefied and seeped out Hamilton's back. When Elizabeth saw the viscous puddle of water-like gel under John's back, she knew.
She waited for the disgusted exclamation she fully expected from Rodney upon seeing the remains of the bug, and when it didn't come, looked up just in time to see Lorne lurch sideways out of his seat and catch the slumping McKay.
"Ronon," she breathed, pointing him that way. The runner moved into action with hardly a second lost.
"Zkurvysyne!" Zelenka had to jump out of Ronon's way or get run over.
The Satedan scooped McKay up in his arms. "Doc?"
"Infirmary, I'll be right behind you." Carson unhooked the rest of the restraints they'd used to hold Sheppard in place for the therapy and had his personnel transfer John to the other gurney that had been wheeled back in once Ronon was clear of the hatch with McKay.
Releasing a frustrated sigh, Elizabeth asked, "Is he okay?" Twenty-four hours since everything had started in the gate room. Twenty-four hours to go from teasing to dying. And Rodney's collapse only served to make her all ready bad tension headache thump harder.
The medical technicians began to roll the gurney away, and the only positive news Elizabeth could tell was that the wailing of monitors had stopped. Beckett paused long enough to exchange sober looks. "I don't know, Elizabeth. I imagine I won't for a little while longer, but it looks promising." He smiled wanly. "Why don't you get a bite to eat? By then, I'll know more."
She heard the insistence of her doctor within the suggestion. Knowing she'd be useless in the infirmary anyway, she nodded. "All right, I will. Let me know the moment something changes." Elizabeth raised an eyebrow at Lorne, sweating in his scrubs, and needing to return to the infirmary, but what the hell, seemed like everyone was on the loose today. "Coffee, Major?"
The major shot a questioning glance at Beckett, and he rolled his eyes and sighed, but said, "If you have any change in symptoms, report back to the infirmary, Major -- as you saw, this is nothing to play around with."
"I got it, Doc," he agreed. After Beckett hurried after Sheppard, Lorne grinned at Elizabeth. "Coffee sounds nice, Doctor Weir."
Iratus bug: 0, Colonel Sheppard: 3.
Yeah, he was just drugged enough to think that, because he'd known the only reason he was waking up again was because the Iratus bug was gone. A collapsed lung, some bruising from CPR, a sore throat from the intubation, and gamma knife surgery – all in all, the bug had gone down with a fight.
He'd been a little vague on his first foray back into awareness. Apparently he'd wiggled his toes on demand, and breathed out like he was supposed to and got rid of the ventilator, but the other medications to treat the organ failure were going to be administered a few days more until his systems stabilized.
Things were a little hazy but looking over at Rodney sleeping, he knew that McKay had collapsed after he'd been treated, and as soon as they knew it'd worked on Sheppard and hadn't caused permanent damage, they'd rushed McKay off to the Jumper – Sheppard's Jumper. They'd bastardized one of his ships into an impromptu operating room, and while he was happy for the lives being saved, he was also going to make damn sure Rodney put it back together when this was over. Jumper one – his ship! They could've used three or four (unfortunately, two had been blow up along with Markham).
Even now John knew a long procession of personnel were being treated. Those without the gene were last, and it'd be a good week of recovery for everyone. A rotating shift had been quickly organized so that anyone treated could have a day of bed rest to make sure there weren't any ill effects from the bug's demise inside their body. There had been a few to go under the scanner and turn up clean, bug free, but those were rare and everyone got a blood test to find out why the rapidly reproducing and infecting bugs hadn't made a home out of them.
"Colonel Sheppard, you are awake."
Teyla's gentle voice drifted over him and he smiled. "I am." Least, he was pretty sure he was. He rolled his head to watch her walk across the room. "When'd you get back?" he asked sleepily. It was the drugs. They were still wearing him out.
Her face was all concern as she settled into the chair. "Ronon has explained everything, so do not pretend that you did not almost die earlier."
John made a note to talk to Ronon about telling unnecessary facts.
"It wasn't that bad."
She arched an eyebrow. "Then Doctor Weir also exaggerated?"
"All right, maybe it was," he admitted. "A little." She was playing dirty using the boss card…he could try to intimidate Ronon, but he saved pissing Weir off for the important stuff. "How are the treatments working anyway, Beckett's not telling me anything."
John was beginning to suspect Carson was being intentionally obtuse when Sheppard tried to wheedle more information from him with every check-up. It'd already been two days since his treatment, and Beckett was remaining tight-lipped about anything to do with the city's operational and military status. As if he thought John was going to jump out of bed and try to run things.
"Doctor Weir has undergone her treatment, Carson and Ronon as well." Teyla noticed him staring occasionally at the glass of water, and with a knowing look, she leaned forward enough to get the glass and hand it to him. "Major Lorne is the one who retrieved me from the mainland when they came to scan for infection. Fortunately, my people were spared, though I did have to wear a haz-mat suit until I arrived outside the infirmary." She looked a little puzzled as she asked, "I do not understand why you weren't simply re-infected once the previous Iratus bug was killed by the therapy?"
"There appears to be a temporary immunity if you were lucky enough to be infected." John tried to keep his tone neutral, but he really didn't like talking about it. "Anyway, some kind of protein it releases when it dies."
"I see." She nodded solemnly. "I imagine it has been a very unpleasant experience."
"I would say you're right." He agreed wholeheartedly. He'd remembered running into Hamilton the night before when he'd been on his way to find McKay after being unable to sleep. One chance encounter and he almost died, again. Fate was a fickle friend.
The sympathetic look was back. "You should rest. Carson warned me not to stay long." Her gaze moved over him and onto Rodney. "I will visit you both later," she promised, before rising gracefully to her feet.
He watched her leave, his eyelids already drooping. Later. Like he was going to be here…
Dear Mr. and Mrs. Hamilton,
I regret to inform you of your son's death serving his country. Robert was an intelligent, caring man, well liked and respected by his colleagues, whose contribution was valued by all those who worked with him. It was my privilege to know and serve with him. Robert risked his life more than once in order to save others, and I'm sad to say, this last time, he paid the ultimate price. I wish I had more to offer you than these mere words on paper. Some way to convey through this how much he was a loved and respected member of our team, but due to the nature of his work, I cannot fully discuss why his time with us was so important, so for now, my deepest regrets will have to serve where nothing else can.
Doctor Elizabeth Weir
Doctor Elizabeth Weir
She set the pen down on the desk, and pushed the paper away. She hated these with a passion, not only for what they represented, but because she never felt she did justice to the cost. A life had ended -- someone's parents would cry, brothers and sisters, if they had a spouse, children. Thankfully most didn't, but Hamilton had come over on the Daedalus on a six month rotation, and he'd left behind a wife and son. And there was no possible way another letter like this was going to make them feel any better when they found out the terrible news.
"I came prepared." Carson raised a bottle of liquor from her doorway. His blue eyes took in the paper and pen, and the dark look on her face. "I thought you'd be needing this."
"Carson," she greeted, her smile bittersweet. "You always seem to know what I need, don't you?"
He smiled ruefully. "It's my job." He stepped in, heading for the chair, glasses clinking against each other in his hands.
"As my doctor?" she asked, teasing.
"As your friend." He set the wine glasses on their bases, and unwrapped the beige foil around the neck of the bottle. "Glenmorangie, straight from Dornoch Firth via the Daedalus -- I figured if ever a moment deserved this, now is a good time." He poured the amber liquid smoothly and smiled with anticipation. "This particular bottle came from a cask aged for eighteen years, when Colonel Sheppard and Rodney were just cutting their teeth on life, along with us. Not even Laura's had a taste of this yet."
She accepted the half-full glass and swirled the -- she peeked at the label -- Scotch single malt whisky. "I'm honored." She took a slow sip and appreciated the rich taste. Sweet and dry -- and exceptionally mellow. It pooled in her stomach and spread out in a comfortable blanket of warmth. Eyes twinkling, she returned Carson's smile with one of her own. "Very good," she praised. Elizabeth was fast beginning to treasure these moments with Carson. Friendship was like the Glenmorangie Beckett prized so dearly, it only grew better with time.
"It's always nice to share with someone able to appreciate the flavor." Beckett flipped his lab coat over his knee, leaned forward and took his own glass. Before he settled back, his eyes caught a glance at the name on the paper, and his face turned grim.
Elizabeth's gaze traveled along his and she fought back a shiver. "It was close," she said softly.
"Aye, closer than I think you even know. Another minute and you'd be writing two of those." His candor over how close they'd come to losing someone dear to both of them surprised her.
Sheppard. It hung unspoken between the two of them.
She downed the remaining drink and held the glass out for more.
McKay was on the lam. Normally, he was fine with the infirmary. The nurses had to be nice to him (mostly), the food wasn't bad, and he could whine for his laptop, but this time -- it was driving him crazy.
One, there was still a steady influx of personnel wanting to know if a sniffle meant they were dying, or if a rash meant they were dying, and one woman had even arrived questioning the arrival of a certain female monthly event, and worried since it was early, was she dying.
It'd been about then that McKay had decided that a) he was not the worst hypochondriac on Atlantis, and b) that he wasn't going to hang around and be exposed to every single thing these germ-infected people were trekking into the air around him.
The only wrench in his plan had been Carson's sneakiness. He'd made sure neither Sheppard nor himself had clothes available, which meant Rodney was sneaking through the corridors in bare feet and white scrubs. It practically screamed 'escaped prisoner'. What he wouldn't give for a life signs detector right now.
He came to the corner at the four-way intersection where the transporter waited, tantalizing him with the possible freedom just a mad dash ahead. McKay flattened against the wall, and peered around the edge, checking for anyone that would rat him out to Carson. When he saw nobody, he turned and leaned against the wall, "Thank God, this James Bond stuff is tiring."
Rodney's eyes jerked to his right.
Sheppard leaned laconically behind him, and smiled. "Couldn't take it any longer?"
"Well, I --" McKay fumbled. He sniffed and put on his best superior face. "I merely decided that I was well enough to go somewhere that a full nights' rest is possible."
Sheppard shook his head, unfolding himself to stand straight. "And you didn't take me with you?" he said, with feigned indignation. "I'm hurt, Rodney."
"I said I thought I was well enough." Rodney grimaced, knowing it was a lost cause, anyway. "I highly doubt you are."
"I'm on my feet, and in my book, that's well enough." Putting a friendly hand on McKay's shoulder, John turned them both towards the transporter and chuckled. "Uniform of the day, McKay."
Rodney knew Carson was going to kick both of their asses for this, but, what the hell. They had cheated death for another day, after all. "Uniform of the day," he agreed with a grin.
They walked side by side into the transporter.