Death and the Astrophysicist
RATING: T for language.
SEASON: Third season after Phantoms but before The Return Part One.
MAJOR CHARACTERS: The boys, of course, (if you don't know who I'm talking about, you're in the wrong fic),along with Grodi, and most of the rest.
CATEGORY: a little of this, a little of that.
SUMMARY: Sometimes giving your life for Atlantis just isn't enough. PeterGrodin's POV as Atlantis is once again under siege from an old enemy. Sheppard-McKay friendship.
SPOILERS: Anything up through Season 3 is up for grabs but The Seige is hit pretty hard.
FEEDBACK: Yes, please. I thrive on it and so do the bunnies.
DISCLAIMER: I don't own them but I do miss Peter from time to time.
NOTES: This story is part of the Point of View series. It's not necessary that you read the others but things might make a little more sense if you did. The list is on my profile page if you're interested. Also, this is in response to the Halloween challenge on SGAHC. It's not really creepy but it is a ghost story that I've been trying to work out for a while now and the challenge helped spur the bunnies into action.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: Special thanks, as always, to Koschka for the betaing. And thanks to Kodiak Bear Country for the physics check.
I gave my life for Atlantis.
How long ago… honestly, I can't remember. Years maybe. Many, many months at the least. The passage of time is different for the dead. Space, time, distance, speed, all those things that had been defined by rigid mathematical equations and hard laws of physics for me in my previous form were now flexible, malleable, moldable. Oh, they were still there, the facts still held, but when your physical being ceases to exist, the loopholes start to appear. You suddenly find yourself exempt from the rules that apply to atoms and molecules. Although it had taken me a while to realize that was the reality of my new existence.
Maybe that's why I rode back to Atlantis in the jumper with McKay and Miller after the satellite I was standing in was blown to bits by the Wraith. I know that's when I finally came to terms with the truth of the matter: I was dead. The pieces of debris silently reflecting the light of an alien sun hadn't been enough to convince me, but my two companions on the mission silently reflecting on my demise were. It was a fifteen-hour flight. I remembered that much from the trip there. I remembered the flight to the satellite and Rodney blustering about the compartment of the small ship, double checking, triple checking, recalculating and triple checking again. At one point, Miller had leaned over from his spot in the pilot seat and mumbled, "Are we there yet?" with an aggrieved roll of his eyes. And I had honestly thought that nothing could be worse than fifteen hours with McKay griping the entire time.
I was wrong. Fifteen hours with McKay sitting mutely and trying to come to terms with my death he had just witnessed was by far the worse experience. "We couldn't have gone back," he had said quietly to Miller at one point. "I mean, we could have, but we'd be dead now, too. And nobility won't do Atlantis one bit of good. They need us to see this thing through to the end."
"You're right, Rodney. Peter knew it, too."
"I know I'm right. Of course I'm right." McKay had stood abruptly at Miller's words and started for the back section of the ship. "It doesn't mean that I don't feel like we let him down."
That wasn't the case. I didn't feel like they had let me down. What I felt was a certain detachment from the world around me and a sense that I should be somewhere else, that if I just looked behind me I'd see a door, or a hallway, or an elevator or something that was just waiting for me to take advantage and go to wherever it was that I was supposed to be. But Rodney had said something that struck me. We need to see this thing through to the end. And even though it shouldn't have been a concern of mine at that point, I decided that I'd come too far in this little adventure to walk out now. I wanted to see how it ended, how we survived the Wraith attack on Atlantis or how we took a final stand with bravery and faced our last days as a single, unified front.
So, I didn't look behind me, I didn't pass over into the great beyond… whatever that might be… and I didn't realize at the time that I could have just stepped through the limitations of distance and time and arrived instantly in Atlantis. Instead I rode in the jumper and then spent the next week watching as the others prepared for the arrival of the Wraith. I listened in on the strategic plans, hunched over Rodney and Radek's shoulders as they rebuilt Genii bombs, sat by as Major Sheppard failed to activate the jumper from the chair, and cheered when the plan to fake the destruction of Atlantis worked.
And through it all, I watched as others like me appeared then disappeared again, moving through the corridors as though they didn't see them and were already at their final destination. Some I knew and thought of hailing and catching up to so we could walk on together. Others were strangers, newly arrived through the stargate, dying before they ever had a chance to even see the wonders that the city held. And others still were Wraith, moving pale and noiselessly and even more eerily now that they truly were ghosts.
All except for one.
He seemed…different. More aware of his surroundings, more attuned to the humans still alive in his vicinity, more aware of me. I found myself drawn from the excitement and celebration of the expeditionary staff and watching him. Following him around a corner, I stepped out onto a balcony and he was nowhere to be seen. I should have been relieved, but instead I felt an unease that had me spinning in a circle and looking for his shimmering image. I didn't see it, and for a moment I thought, he's gone. He's gone and I should be going, as well. I'd done what I said I was going to do. I had seen it through to the end. Atlantis was safe, there was nothing left to do. But the glimmer of pale skin and long hair out of my peripheral vision changed my mind about that. He was still there and as long as he hung around, I figured I should hang around, too. At the time, it seemed like a simple enough decision. Maybe he was just lost, maybe he just refused to accept that they had lost, maybe he was at a loss as to what humans were like in their everyday life. And maybe he was up to no good.
A few days later, I decided that was the case when the cloak over the city wavered for no apparent reason. I followed Radek as he went to check on the ZPM and found my ghostly companion passing out of the room through the wall as soon as I arrived. My first thought was how the hell did he do that? My second was what was he up to in here?
Radek keyed his radio and drew my attention from the wall I was staring at. "There appears to be some fine material blocking the connections between the ZPM and main power generator. I'll clean it out and see if that is the problem."
That bloody bastard had managed to disrupt the power supply. I hadn't even figured out how to walk through solid objects and he was already manipulating them. And why? I'd stayed here out of curiosity of what was going to happen next. But he was here to do damage… a good deal of damage if he had his way about it. He was acting like he had a grudge to settle and when I just happened to follow Carson into the morgue and saw the body of the dead Wraith that was on the slab, the same one that was sticking around to do his damnedest to destroy Atlantis, I understood why.
"It's incredible," Beckett was telling Dr. Biro as she cut into the cadaver. "This one has been dead a week longer than all the others and yet there is no difference in the amount of tissue degradation that has taken place."
Pulling a slug out of his chest cavity and then another, Biro clucked. "I wish they would aim somewhere besides the chest. They always destroy all the major organs that way."
"Well, I can't exactly ask the military to shoot them somewhere else for our benefit. They're difficult enough to kill as it is and it's the best way to take them down in a combat situation."
"Major Sheppard had plenty of time to kill this one. A shot to the head would have worked just as well."
I could see the wince behind Carson's surgical mask. "I believe the Major was trying to make a point, no matter how disturbing it might have been. And then when he learned that the satellite had been destroyed…"
I didn't feel cold, mortal sensations were beyond me, but at that moment I shivered where I stood, and turned to see what had just become my arch-nemesis watching the undertakings along with me. For a split second we made eye contact and I realized we had died within mere minutes of one another, each destroyed by the vengeance of the other's people. He grinned then, that sly, superior smile that the Wraith showed even when they were facing defeat. He wasn't going to give up the fight, even in death he planned to do everything possible to see that Atlantis was destroyed. And I decided I was going to do everything within my powers to make sure he failed.
I had already given my life for Atlantis. There was no reason not to give her my death as well.
It must have been Monday. Rodney was eating the blueberry muffins instead of the bran ones from the cafeteria, Colonel Sheppard was jogging three miles this morning instead of five, Elizabeth was drinking coffee instead of Athosian tea, and Radek was wearing his simple red underwear instead of the multitude of animal prints he saved for the weekend. It was amazing the questions you could answer when you were able to pass through solid matter, even the ones you never knew you wanted the answers to. Once I had mastered that skill, had finally seen the way the atomic structure of the walls was put together and how I could simple slip between the interstitial spaces, there was nothing to stop me. And considering that I didn't sleep and wouldn't leave and couldn't be seen by anyone around me, there didn't seem much reason not to snoop around a bit.
Carson writes a letter to his mother every night. Sheppard spent three weeks trying to get through one chapter of 'War and Peace'. Elizabeth compulsively rearranges her office every week then puts it back the way it was by lunchtime the same day, and Rodney has a thing about his shoelaces being exactly even. Ronon… not nearly as impressive as most of the women speculated, but Teyla… everything and more that the men thought.
There's a certain amount of tedium involved with being a ghost. You can't spend your down time reading a book or playing a video game or watching a movie. Not unless someone else is doing it when you want to. There's no reason to jog or play golf or work out in the gym. You can't even eat to stave off the boredom. So you find yourself living vicariously through the living since you can't do the living on your own. And it was always worse after an attack. Bob… I figured if that name was good enough for Colonel Sheppard to bestow on him, it was good enough for me to use as well… had sabotaged the jumpers several months prior. The bad news was I hadn't been able to stop him in time and one man lost his life and Rodney nearly drowned at the bottom of the Atlantean sea when the jumper they were testing crashed. The good news was that it had cost Bob tremendously.
That wasn't his first attack. In fact, I had my suspicions he had been the reason Sheppard couldn't establish a link between the chair and the jumpers during the Wraith siege and had to hand deliver the nuclear bomb to the Hive ship. And I myself had been recovering from an attack he had launched against the water supply, which was why I hadn't been able to stop his sabotage of Rodney's jumper. It takes quite a bit of thermal energy to raise the temperature of thirty-thousand gallons of drinking water even a couple of degrees to set off the sensors that would automatically purge the tanks. And it had taken me weeks to recover even my sense of the physical world.
Ghosts don't dream, but we do become… lost in a moment. For me, that moment was the moment of my death. I had relived it numerous times now, each as vivid as the first time, each as devastatingly real and terrifying as that first time, each as shockingly final.
"Peter. We're having trouble docking with the satellite. Is there something you can do from your side?"
The beeping of the docking system controls only served to confirm Rodney's observation. "Oh, dear."
"Oh, dear what?" It was often difficult to tell the difference between annoyance and worry with Rodney McKay, and in reality, I seriously doubted there is much difference. I had a feeling his thought process runs along the lines of 'how dare you distract me from my other work by putting yourself in a perilous situation that causes me to fret over your well being?'
"When we re-routed power from the buffer to the weapon, it looks like we inadvertently routed power away from the docking station and the airlock. That's going to be a problem."
"All right, well, we'll do it manually like we did the first time." Worry, definitely worry, because he wasn't thinking things through the way he should.
"You had a spacesuit the first time – I don't. The airlock isn't pressurized."
"Then we'll ... Look, I'll go back and reroute the power."
"There isn't time for that. The Wraith ships are too close."
"Yeah, well I know what I'm doing now."
"Rodney. Leave me."
It's not as hard as you think it would be to say those words, because in the back of your mind, you still believe it won't come to that. That even if they leave, they'll come back and take you home and the nauseating sinking of your stomach at the sound of those words echoing in a lonely satellite will be replaced by relief and excitement and a feeling of accomplishment that you saved the day.
But some days just can't be saved.
"Well, we're not doing that," Rodney protested immediately.
"Look, get to a safe distance and then come get me once the satellite has taken care of the Wraith ships."
"It's the only option and you know it. Besides, this way I can power down the satellite until they're well within range. Then there'll be no way for the Wraith to realize we brought it back online."
I had been grasping at straws and Rodney knew it, but he also knew we didn't have much choice in the matter. "All right. We'll cloak, and come back for you after it's done."
"After it's done then."
Of course, there was nothing to come back for after it was done. I died. I died with my heart throbbing in my throat and an apology on my lips and the memory of that moment binding me to a reality that was really no longer my own but that I refused to give up. Because, when you got right down to it, they needed me. And I'd never been one to shirk my responsibilities.
I had concluded a few things over the time that I had been dead. First, as spirits, we were pretty much simply energy, a massless wave of potential, which is why I was able to pass through most substances. Second, in order to actually manipulate an object, I had to transfer that potential energy into kinetic, or thermal, or some sort of energy that would actually exert a force on the object. And considering that we were basically incorporeal batteries of power, there was only so much we could do at one time. If it wasn't for that something more… call it our essence, our being, our soul… I was fairly sure we would simply burn out in accordance with the law of energy conservation. But like I said earlier, the laws of physics were more like guidelines to our kind. And even though we transferred, eventually we transferred back. It just took a little time is all. And right then, Bob was biding his time, regaining his strength, possibly lost in his own moment and I was keeping a watch out while biding my own.
As a way to pass the time, I had started shadowing… no pun intended… various people around the city. Today I had chosen Rodney seeing as the team wasn't traveling off world and I could have a chance to see what he had planned for the power distribution problems they had run into ever since he had burned out the ZPM in order to save an alternate reality. I had been tempted to try to trap Bob in the same matter stream that had transmitted Rod from our reality back to his, but decided it wouldn't be right to curse their Atlantis with our problem. Besides, my own alternate self might be doing the same thing over there that I was here and the last thing he would need is two Bobs wreaking havoc when one was almost more than a poor specter like me could handle. On top of that, I had barely seen hide or long, wispy, phantom hair of him since the jumper incident. So things had been quiet and if it wasn't such a cliché thing for a ghost to say, I would describe it as eerily quiet, but the fact remained, Bob was overdue to show himself once again.
"McKay, explain to me again why we have to move all the naquadah generators."
Another reason to tag along with McKay is that others usually did the same. For someone who didn't really seem all that fond of other people, he sure seemed to always be around them. Radek or one of the other scientists in the lab, Carson when he was sure some he was on death's door because of some small injury or something he ate, and, most commonly, Colonel Sheppard when they were either preparing for a mission or performing work around Atlantis or just hanging out and exasperating one another.
"Because we only have eighteen generators and, now that we don't have a ZedPM, that's about half as many as we need." Rodney didn't slow his progress through the bowels of the city but the Colonel kept pace easily with his long-legged stride.
"Yes, and the Daedalus is bringing another twenty when she returns from Earth."
"Which isn't going to be for at least another fifteen days. So that means we'll be without sufficient power in the city for… oh, help me out with the math here…" Rodney started counting exaggeratedly on his fingers. "Carry the one, move the decimal point… fifteen days!"
"I'm just saying it seems like an awful lot of work for a few weeks benefit."
"Well, then, what do you suggest? We abandon the hub of the city and move out to the boonies where the generators are located?"
"Control is up and running. The infirmary and the cafeteria are both functional. So we shut down a few labs and read in our quarters by flashlight. Big deal. It'll be like being at summer camp." The Colonel grinned widely at the prospect.
"Ha! And how do you expect to keep the suddenly out of work scientists occupied? Singing Kumbaya and making lanyards?"
"You can never have too many lanyards in my opinion."
"I'm almost afraid to ask what you're using them for," Rodney mumbled as they rounded a corner.
"Okay, fine, we need the generators moved. What I don't understand is why we're doing the moving. Don't you have a bunch of chore monkeys as you so humanely refer to them at your beck and call to handle all your dirty work?"
"Yes, as a matter of fact I do, and that's the problem. The lowly minion are being rather miniony today. Tenniman is supposedly down here securing the generator, only he hasn't responded to his radio hails for the past ten minutes, so I came to find him. And you set up the rule that at least one military type was supposed to be present when we went to investigate these sorts of things. And seeing as I'm the head science officer it only seemed fitting that the ranking military officer should accompany me."
Sheppard stopped in his tracks. "Wait a minute. Let's set aside your assumption that I have nothing better to do than buy into your hierarchical organization chart for what rank of officer should accompany you on something like this. But we're going to look for a missing man?" When Rodney simply nodded his head, the Colonel shook his as he pulled his sidearm and checked it. "McKay, we're dressed in our walking around clothes. You're not even armed."
"So, what if there's a Wraith roaming around down here? Or a Genii agent or a big-ass energy being? What then?"
"Oh, I… I hadn't thought of that. I just assumed his radio wasn't working properly."
"Why do you think I established the requirement for a Marine to escort the scientists on a job like this?"
Rodney shrugged weakly. "Curiosity?"
Sheppard frowned and grabbed a fistful of McKay's shirt to jerk him out of the way. "Just stay behind me," he snapped.
The Colonel started down the hall with his gun raised in front of them, Rodney did as he was told and walked behind, even as he asked apprehensively, "Do you really think there could be a Wraith down here?"
Sheppard's short-tempered glare and silent indication of the gun he held effectively squelched any further questions the physicist had. "Do you have a life signs detector with you?"
"Then break it out," the Colonel ordered with thinning patience.
"Oh, right." McKay fumbled in his pocket for the apparatus then studied the small screen for a moment before simply saying, "Huh."
"What? What do you see?" Sheppard peered over the back of the device Rodney held in his hand while keeping an eye on their surroundings.
"There's some sort of interference. Almost like static. See, there's a small spot here by us and then one in the room down the hall where Tenniman is working. Wait, that one's gone. No, now it's back. Whatever it is could be what's interrupting his radio reception. Now it's gone again."
All thoughts that it simply was a weak com link we were dealing with disappeared as I saw what was on the screen. That static beside them was me, which meant that static down the hall could only be one other being. I moved instantly to the room where the generator on this level was housed. It was a lot like creating my own wormhole; I simply folded space as Hawking had always theorized was possible. It's really not that complicated when you can actually see gravity.
Arriving in the room, I saw Tenniman hunched over the generator, but I also saw something more. I saw Bob inside the scientist, moving his hands to set the generator to overload. "Hey!" All right, I admit, that wasn't exactly the most eloquent salutation, but I wasn't really the James Bond type. The Wraith, however, did have a certain Goldfinger flair.
"Dr. Grodin." His sickening smile cut across Tenniman's face even though I could also see it on his own as it hovered inside the man's body. And although Bob's voice held the typical gloating intonation I had become familiar with, the voice of the scientist he inhabited was monotone, flat…dead. "I've learned a new trick." Tenniman's arms rose as if he were showing off a new outfit. "Do you like it?"
"I like the fact that you must be burning a ton of energy doing that."
"Actually, it's rather amazing how much energy the human body already has stored within it." He glanced appreciatively at the flesh he wore like a suit. "Lots of little electrical synapses firing about. All I have to do is redirect them. I haven't felt this alive since I was, well, alive." I didn't have a heart to beat in my chest, but if I still had one, it would have been racing at the way Bob tilted his head in thought and David Tenniman's head tilted along with it. "Since the last time I fed, in fact."
Bob's smile only expanded until it was a wide bridge of jagged teeth with his head thrown back in demented ecstasy. Tenniman's smile, however, faded as he writhed in agony and withered in front of me. What had been a human being a few seconds before crumpled down as nothing more than an empty human body. Bob remained standing, his aura literally flickering like a bug zapper in a mosquito swarm with the energy he had taken from his victim, then he flashed brightly followed by an equally brilliant dimming. He may have taken the energy, but he obviously couldn't control it.
"I will see you next time, Grodin," he told me, then disappeared through the wall in a shower of sparks.
So wrapped up in watching Bob leave, I didn't notice that someone was standing next to me until he spoke. "Peter?"
Looking to my right, I saw David Tenniman's spirit, his spectral eyes darting between me and his dead body. I answered him distractedly as I tried to figure out how I could avoid this from happening again in the future. "Oh, hey, Dave, how've you been?"
"Obviously better," he snorted at what I now realized was a ridiculous question.
"Right. Sorry about the whole being dead thing."
"You're dead, too, correct?"
"Yeah, satellite blowing up and all."
He nodded awkwardly, unsure what to say before finally telling me, "Well, that was quite a way to go if you're going to go."
"Dead is dead, Dave."
"I can see that." He looked around the room, trying his best to avoid looking at his remains on the floor. "So, what've you been up to all this time?"
"Oh, you know, this and that…keeping busy."
We were saved from any more small talk by the arrival of Rodney and Colonel Sheppard. "I mean there are no more life signs in the room," I could hear McKay justifying in the hall. "It was there and now it's gone."
"Life signs don't just disappear, Rodney. Not unless…" The two men walked into the room and saw David's body. "Oh, shit." Keying his radio, Sheppard surveyed the room with gun at the ready. "This is Sheppard; we have a security emergency on Level 9C. Be advised we may have a Wraith in the city. We are now at Alpha Alert status."
Rodney whacked at the detector in his hand. "Colonel, I don't see any signs of a Wraith on the scanner. In fact, all I see is more static."
"Where?" Sheppard demanded.
"In the corner."
Shoving Rodney out of his line of sight, he opened fire where I stood with Dave. My newly deceased companion cowered away from the bullets that passed right through us. Rodney dove behind his friend then yelled, "What the hell, Sheppard?" when the gunfire stopped.
"Maybe that static you're seeing is a Wraith that's somehow cloaked itself."
"Well, you hit right where it's situated but it's still there."
Taking a few steps forward with his gun still raised, Sheppard used his other hand to sweep through the area where the two of us were standing. Bob was right; the human body is full of energy. And although I had never inhabited a living being since I had died, I had accidentally come in contact with them. The feeling was exhilarating, sending vibrations through my entire ghostly form.
Pulling his hand back, the Colonel studied it closely as he flexed it. "My hand's tingling."
"Then stop touching it! Look, we need to leave this room until we can figure out exactly what that is and what it did to Tenniman."
"What about the generator? That thing is practically a nuclear bomb waiting to be activated."
Oh, dear God. I had been so caught up in what Bob was doing to Tenniman that I had forgotten that he was fiddling with the naquadah generator when I first caught him.
"We'll secure it and take it with us. Let's just get out of here. This place is starting to creep me out."
Sheppard wiggled his fingers again then stared through me to the wall behind me, as if trying to discern what might be right in front of him. "Yeah, me too." With a frustrated frown he turned to help Rodney with the generator.
I started to address David again, only to see him gazing back behind us. Out of the corner of my eye, I could just see the shimmer of an entirely different type of event horizon. We ghosts had gates of our own. Only these didn't take us to other planets, they took us to whatever was waiting at the end of our journey. Our final journey. They always opened when someone died and from time to time even without a death, like a silent invitation for me to move along. I had seen them before… well, more like felt them, because I never looked directly at them. If I did, then I was pretty damn sure that I wouldn't be able to look away. And I still had important things to take care of here on Atlantis before I stepped through the ultimate stargate. So, I didn't look to the passageway that had opened, but I did watch as Dave, his attention already held by what he was seeing on the other side, walked away without a word to me and vanished from sight. Sheppard and McKay were packaging up the generator and within moments, they, too, had left the room, leaving me alone with my thoughts and a dead body that wasn't even my own.
I was sticking close to Sheppard and McKay. Not because I was looking for some way to bide my time, but because they were probably going to locate Bob before I could. Rodney was fastening up his field vest that Ronon and Teyla had delivered when they had accompanied the security team down to the room. Beside him, Colonel Sheppard was reloading his sidearm as his P90 swung in front of him.
"Colonel," Elizabeth called over the radio, "Dr. Zelenka has scanned the entire city. There are no Wraith signatures anywhere to be found."
"Fine tune it," he ordered. "Look for any sorts of interference… the static Rodney noticed."
"You still think that's a cloaked Wraith?" Rodney shook his head.
"Something killed Tenniman and it has all the markings of a Wraith. So, unless you have a better idea, McKay, that's the assumption we're going on."
"The bullets passed right through it. Just because something is cloaked, it still exists below the cloak. Matter just doesn't convert to energy for no reason." Eyes widening in realization, Rodney snapped his fingers. "But it does if it's being transported. Maybe it's the remnants of a transporter field."
"A Wraith that can transport at will around Atlantis," Ronon grumbled. "I think that might be worse than one we can't see."
"Honestly, I don't really care how he's doing it," Sheppard admitted. "I'm more concerned with why he's doing it."
"Well, I'm still picking up that one field beside us and it hasn't done anything besides just hang around."
Sheppard whipped his hand out and I moved back just out of his reach. He wiggled his fingers once again, frowning when he didn't feel anything out of the ordinary and ignoring the odd looks Ronon and Teyla were giving him. Rodney simply rolled his eyes.
"Colonel," Radek cut in across the radio, "I am detecting the interference in two locations: one weak one where you are now and one much stronger on Level 7J."
Although being described as weak wasn't exactly a complement, I wasn't going to complain. It would hopefully keep their attention off of me and where it needed to be- on a dangerously powerful Bob.
"That's the location of another generator," Rodney informed the assembled team. "They must be trying to overload one and blow up the city."
Sheppard nodded tensely in understanding before issuing an order to Major Lorne. "I want security teams deployed to the location of every generator in the city."
"No," I said, although they couldn't hear me. "If you do that, you'll give him exactly what he wants." The generators themselves were safe as long as he didn't have a person handy to manipulate them.
"Consider them deployed," Lorne assured him even as he started assigning teams.
"Ronon, Teyla, you're with me and Rodney. We're going to check out the static reading."
They started down the corridor and I prepared to transport over to Level 7J when Zelenka called once again. "Colonel Sheppard, the reading is now on Level 14A."
"Let me guess, another generator location." When Rodney affirmed the Colonel's correct assumption, he asked. "Do you think he already overloaded the one on 7J?"
"We'll know in about thirty seconds." McKay told him a little wide-eyed.
"Elizabeth, evacuate as many people as possible to the Alpha site. Now!"
Dr. Weir announced the emergency evacuation even as the team broke into an all out run toward the generator in question.
"Isn't this a bad idea to be running toward a bomb?" Ronon asked, seemingly more out of curiosity than concern.
"It won't matter, a naquadah enhanced explosion will take out the majority of the city," Rodney huffed as he jogged along. "The only way to stop it is to stop the overload."
"Colonel Sheppard, this is Lieutenant Sawyer. We just arrived on Level 7J. There's no indication that anyone has been tampering with the generator."
The team came to a screeching halt, Rodney leaning heavily against the wall gulping air. "Radek, you still there or did you push Athosian children out of the way trying to get through the gate?"
"I am still here, Rodney," came the snippy reply. "And energy reading is now on Level 3C."
"Colonel, what about the evacuation?" Dr. Weir inquired.
"Keep going. All nonessential personnel through the gate. All I want left are the security details and a skeleton crew in control." Without waiting for a response, he called to the security teams. "I need a status on the deployment. Are the teams at 14A and 3C yet?"
"This is Ponce at 14A, Sir. Everything is secure."
"Morgan reporting from Level 3C. Same here. No sign of any problems."
"Zelenka, talk to me," the Colonel ordered across the com.
"The field is holding steady on Level 3C."
"Morgan, you two see anything?" Sheppard waited for a response. When he didn't receive one, he called again. "Morgan, report."
"Colonel," Zelenka reported weakly, "I just lost the static field and one of the life signs on Level 3C."
I knew what that meant, and it didn't take long for Sheppard's team to come to the same conclusion. "Transporter," Rodney snapped urgently, even as I transported myself instantly to the room in question.
The body of one Marine lay on the floor with a bullet to his head. I ignored his spirit walking solemnly toward the far wall, careful not to look directly at the portal already open there. Besides, my attention was fixed on the second Marine, or more accurately, on the ghost possessing his body.
"This won't work, Bob. They're on their way to stop you."
Just as he always did when I called him by that nickname he growled menacingly. "They can try. But they will fail just like that one did." He held up the P90 and used it to point to the dead body on the floor.
"They'll stop you, even if it means killing the body you've taken over." All I had to do was stall for a little time and the others would be here and they would be able to stop him, hopefully without killing the man Bob was using.
"That would be a shame seeing as I was planning on having one last snack before I destroyed this city you seem to be so fond of."
"I saw you after the last feeding. You didn't look so good." Come on. Where the hell were those guys? "I think overloading may be just as damaging as draining."
"It's all a matter of balance," he informed me sagely. "I just needed to disperse a little excess energy and now, as you can see, I'm perfectly fine."
"Morgan!" Colonel Sheppard yelled from the hallway. "Show yourself!"
Well, it was about bloody time. Now it was my turn to grin smugly as Bob scowled and marched the body of the Marine toward the door and opened fire. Moving through the wall and out into the hallway, I saw the others scatter.
"Son of a bitch!" Sheppard grit out from where he and Rodney were hunkered down behind a stack of packing crates.
"Oh, Christ, you're bleeding."
"That tends to happen when you get shot, Rodney," the Colonel countered between clenched teeth in response to McKay's anxious observation of his bullet wound.
"Yes, so I remember," Rodney retorted blandly even as he started digging in his vest for a bandage.
Another barrage of bullets had them ducking further behind the crates they had taken refuge behind. "Now?" Sheppard demanded. "You're going to give me shit about accidentally shooting you now?"
"It may be my last chance," McKay justified back even as he pressed the dressing onto the wound that had nicked the Colonel just above his hip in the gap formed where his vest laced together on the side.
The Colonel squeezed his eyes closed against the pressure his friend was applying to the injury. "Pessimism from you, McKay? What a shocker."
"Sheppard, you two okay?" Ronon called quietly across the radio.
"We're fine," he assured, then hissed and slapped at Rodney's hand when the scientist pressed harder. "Take him down, Ronon. Just make sure you're set to stun. We'll draw his fire to distract him."
"Wait a minute," Rodney whispered harshly, "What do you mean we'll draw his fire?"
"Just keep your head down, McKay," Colonel Sheppard ordered before he started shooting at the possessed Marine.
Bob returned fire, stepping out into the hall far enough to give Ronon a clean shot with his gun. The Marine folded into unconsciousness, falling away from Bob's ghostly form like a discarded bath towel. With a roar of outrage only I could hear, the Wraith bent and began to feed on the energy that was left in the unconscious man. "If I can't use him… then neither can you." He didn't complete the feeding, he was already on the verge of an overload as it was, but it was enough to kill the Marine.
With the gunplay at an end, the team cautiously came out of hiding. "What just happened?" Teyla asked as they approached the dead body.
Ronon instantly recognized the signs of a Wraith feeding, switched his gun to kill and started firing randomly into the room. Bob, flickering violently, ignored the blasts and moved to the generator instead, pumping it full of the energy he had just taken from the young man on the ground.
Rodney was screaming for Ronon to stop firing, that he was going to hit the generator, but the Satedan just kept going. And Bob kept transferring energy to the system. He couldn't overload the generator to a point of criticality doing that, but he did blow the connections to the Atlantean systems it was powering. In a shower of sparks, the wall panel blew away, the lights went out, and Ronon finally stopped shooting.
Behind me I could feel the telltale signs of a portal opening, which was confirmed by Morgan walking past me without so much as an acknowledgement. "Why don't you follow him, Bob? You look like you could use a good rest….permanently."
"I'm not quite done here. In fact, I think I'm just getting started." With a condescending bow of his head, Bob backed out of the room through the back wall and was gone.
My attention was drawn back to my living companions by Rodney's griping. "Well, thank you, Ronon. We now have to fight a cloaked, transporting, killer Wraith in the dark."
"He's invisible, McKay," the large man informed him with confident logic. "Why do you need lights?"
Sheppard and Teyla clicked on the lights on their P90s to reveal a glowering Ronon narrowing his eyes at a pissed off McKay.
Rodney quickly gave up on staring down the warrior and instead turned his attention back to his bandaging job. "So I can avoid slipping in the puddles of blood Colonel Sheppard is dripping in his wake."
Ignoring the two men, the Colonel instead keyed his radio. "This is Sheppard. I want every generator in the city shutdown and secured. In fact, I want them out of the city; either through the gate or to the Mainland. Be advised the intruder can control our people, so be on the look out for suspicious behavior." He slapped again at the scientist that had become his self-appointed nursemaid, "Goddamn it, McKay, cut it out." Rodney just ignored him and kept working. "Elizabeth, how's the evacuation going?"
"Almost done." Dr. Weir reported. "Major Lorne and three other Marines are loading the Athosians and personnel to be shuttled to the mainland."
"Good. Once he arrives, have him hold there until further notice. I want another two teams of Marines to go to the Mainland with them; they're going to make up our reentry forces. And I want the crew in Control to evacuate. Rodney, stop touching me!"
"Stop bleeding." Rodney snapped inpatient fingers. "Teyla, shine your light down here so I can see since someone blew the fuse."
Teyla rolled her eyes at the order but did as asked while both Ronon and Colonel Sheppard scowled at the man totally oblivious to their reactions.
"But, Colonel," Radek protested, "who will man the gate?"
"There won't be a gate to man. We're shutting down that generator, too."
Finally finished with his first aid duties, McKay shook his head. "I'll be shutting down that generator. It took me almost a day and a half to get that thing hooked up properly with the control systems. No one's touching that puppy but me."
"Fine. McKay and I will stay behind and disconnect the last generator then rendezvous with the forces on the Mainland. I need a status on the securing of those generators." We listened as sixteen reports came in that the generators had been made safe and were being taken to the gate room. "Okay, that leaves the one here and the one in control."
"John, you should have Dr. Beckett look at that wound before he leaves the city," Teyla suggested. "Ronon and I will take care of this generator and meet you in Control."
"All right," he relented. "But watch yourselves. Zelenka, any sign of our friend now?"
"For a while he was jumping all over the city. Never staying in one place more than a few seconds at a time. But now he is just gone."
"What do you mean, he is gone?" Teyla's brow furrowed in worry.
"I mean he is not showing up on the scanners anywhere. Do you think maybe he has given up because we have secured generators?"
"I doubt we'd be that lucky," Ronon groused and Colonel Sheppard nodded in agreement.
"Let us know if he shows back up again."
"Of course, Colonel."
Rodney keyed his own radio. "Radek, prepare the control stations for shut down. Sheppard and I will be up there in just a few minutes."
"It is already underway, Rodney."
Satisfied that everything was at least temporarily under what little control he could exert, the Colonel nodded his head to his teammates. "Let's go, McKay. We'll see you two in control."
I stayed with Ronon and Teyla until they had the generator moving then moved myself, picking bits of information off the radio waves propagating through the air around me as to Bob's current location, which was still an unknown. I hopped from team to team that was moving the generators, just to keep an eye out, but he was nowhere to be seen. It was possible that he had transported out of the city and away from the sensors, but it was also possible he had found a way to hide himself. Eventually I gave up and joined the others in the control room.
Carson was applying a new dressing to Colonel Sheppard's gunshot wound. "Once again, Colonel, someone was watching over you today seeing as it was just a graze. You'll need stitches, but those can wait until you reach the Mainland. That guardian angel of yours must put in overtime."
"Who needs a guardian angel when you have me?" Rodney added as he joined the men with Radek and Elizabeth.
"You performed first aid on the Colonel, Rodney, not brain surgery."
"Yes, but it was a really good job of first aid," the astrophysicist defended.
"Aye, you tied a bonny knot in the bindings. If not for the fact that we have no way to travel quickly between Atlantis and Earth, I'm sure Johns Hopkins University would be bestowing a medical degree on you by now."
"Shouldn't you be going, Carson?" Rodney frowned. "Wouldn't want to disappoint the livestock at the Athosian settlement, now would you?"
"Yes," Dr. Weir piped in before the two men could descend into a squabble. "We all should be going."
"I'm just waiting on Ronon and Teyla to arrive with the last generator and then we'll be on our way."
At Carson's observation, the two people in question appeared along with a handful of Athosian. "We are here." Teyla provided. "It appears some families became separated in the evacuation. Lotrik is unaccounted for." A woman standing next to Teyla, evidently a relative of the missing man, appeared on the verge of tears and Teyla squeezed her shoulder. "We were sweeping through the residential section one last time to make sure no one was left behind but we found no one. It is possible that he boarded another jumper for the Mainland or perhaps went to the Alpha Site."
"I have already shut down scanners, but it will only take a few minutes to bring them back up."
At Radek's offer, Sheppard shook his head. "Rodney'll do it. If we find anyone, we'll bring them with us. The rest of you should leave now."
"Very well," Elizabeth agreed. "We'll be waiting for your all clear to return. Good luck."
They dialed the gate and for a moment I felt that I should follow them, that I needed to go through the shimmering surface but I seriously doubted I would end up at the Alpha Site if I did. The remaining personnel headed for the jumper bay, leaving only me with Sheppard and McKay, which was how I had started this little adventure in the first place. But I knew Bob was still out there and wasn't going to let this last chance pass him by.
Rodney didn't waste any time in bringing the scanners back online. "All right, you go bring a jumper down. We'll need the spotlights to see by once I turn off the generator. And I'll look for any lost Athosians, and take one last look for our assailant."
Sheppard started for the jumper bay but stopped when a voice called out, "Hello? Is anyone still here?" An Athosian man peeked through the doorway apprehensively.
"Lotrik?" the Colonel asked with a reassuring smile. When the man nodded he continued, "Just the man we were looking for. Rodney, skip the scan, start on the generator. I'll grab our ride."
Lotrik hovered behind Rodney as the scientist shut down the controls and moved to work on the generator. Glancing at the man over his shoulder in annoyance, Rodney tried to make small talk. "So, where have you been anyway? Locked in a bathroom somewhere?"
"No." The man seemed hesitant to answer before finally admitting. "Actually, I am not sure where I have been. I became disoriented and do not remember much after that. When I became aware again, everyone was gone."
"You passed out?" Rodney asked the question with less concern for the man's wellbeing and more of a way to avoid an awkward silence as he prepared to power down the generator.
"Yes, I believe so."
"Huh. Well, don't feel bad, happens to the best of us." He activated his radio. "Sheppard, what's taking so long? I can't turn the generator off until you open the bay doors."
"Coming, McKay. I was shot, you know."
"Oh, yeah. That can slow you down. I remember that from my own experience."
"Rodney…" the aggrieved response accompanied the appearance of the jumper lowering into the embarkation area.
"It's about time," the physicist grumped, completely unaware that Bob had just entered the room.
And that's when the bells and whistles finally started going off. Bob had needed a place to hide out, and he had used Lotrik to do it. That's why the man couldn't remember anything and why Radek couldn't see the static… the Athosian's life sign over rode his signal. And while Sheppard and McKay sniped back and forth, Bob settle back into his human hideout without the two men even noticing.
"Shine the lights over here," Rodney commanded, then knelt down to turn off the generator. The lights in control went dim as the last power source in Atlantis went dead. Bob skulked back into the shadows inside Lotrik, just out of Rodney's sight, and raised the Athosian's finger to his lips with a mocking shhhhhh gesture.
"Bob, it's over. I'm not going to let you do this."
"You can't stop me."
"What?" Rodney asked warily when he heard the monotone response that was meant for me but came out of Lotrik at the same time.
And that's when Bob made his move. Lotrik's body hurled toward Rodney, knocking him backwards with a force that had Rodney gasping for air and then punched him squarely in the face. Behind me, I could hear Sheppard exclaim "Oh, fuck me," through the open hatch of the jumper as he bolted toward the back. Rodney lay dazed from the attacked and Bob simply grabbed the side arm from McKay's holster before crawling off of him and toward the generator. He took a bullet in the shoulder from Sheppard's own pistol as the Colonel ordered, "Whoever you are, stand down now."
He hesitated just a few seconds before deciding he could complete his job before Sheppard killed the body he inhabited. With a quick twist, he had the generator set in the overload position and used Rodney's gun to shoot the controls so that there was no way to override it. Colonel Sheppard fired again, hitting him in the opposite shoulder and knocking him away from the generator and Rodney who had managed to make it to his hands and knees. But it was too late, the Wraith had just activated a nuclear bomb and there was only one thing I could do about it.
"Sorry, Rodney," I mumbled before I jumped into his body and lunged for the generator.
Bob had said the feeling was like being alive again and he was right. What he hadn't said was how homesick it would make me feel for my own body. I stumbled twice as I sprinted for the jumper with the generator in my arms. It had been a long time since I had controlled a human body and that had been done on an instinctual level. Now I had to tweak the synapses along like steering a remote control car and I had a very big learning curve to overcome in a very short amount of time.
"McKay! What the hell are you doing?"
I couldn't help but see the similarities between the way Sheppard had run from the chair room to deliver a bomb and how I was taking Rodney to do almost the same thing. The difference being that he had been taking the bomb to the Wraith and I was taking it away from one.
"So long, John." I spoke the words through Rodney… feeling the sensation of warm blood on his lip, tasting the salty, metallic tang on his tongue… but they were rattling around in his mind anyway. He was there, aware of me on such a subconscious level that it would seem like nothing more than a dream when I released him.
I had never flown a jumper before, but Rodney had, many times. And he seemed eager to get behind the controls again. As the ship rose up from the ground, I saw Bob feed quickly on the man lying bleeding on the ground, finishing off the job that Sheppard had started.
The Colonel looked around blindly for the intruder that had just killed the Athosian, even as he called, "Rodney, get your ass back down here, now!"
But there was no way we were going back, we had less than thirty seconds to get as far away from Atlantis as I possible could or the city would be destroyed. 'Orbit' Rodney thought and I couldn't have agreed more with his recommendation. I steered the craft straight up at full speed as Bob appeared in the back of the jumper, flickering violently and growling with a different violence on his mind.
"You will not ruin this for us, Grodin. Atlantis will fall."
"You don't seem to have control over the situation any more, Bob." Inside Rodney's head I could feel him recognizing the name, the Wraith, the implications of what had been happening. I could also hear him trying to respond to Colonel Sheppard who was still frantically trying to order us back to Atlantis.
"I can change that," the Wraith assured me then literally slammed against me and pushed me out of Rodney like I was a magnet of opposite polarity.
"You bloody son of a bitch!" My cursing only earned me a sneer across both Rodney and Bob's faces although the one on Rodney's morphed as Bob settled in and Rodney's body started convulsing. "You're killing him! His body can't handle the extra energy you sucked from Lotrick."
"He only has to stay alive for a few more seconds anyway." He was directing the jumper back down toward Atlantis. "Besides, what did you plan to do with him once you had the ship away from the city? He can't move freely as we can."
That was a good question, one I hadn't really thought through before now. My first reaction had been save Atlantis and unfortunately Rodney was the only way I could think to do it. But with Rodney's eyes rolling back in his head, I came up with an idea. I had no clue if I could do it, it would probably kill McKay in the process, but I reasoned he wouldn't be any worse off than he was going to be if I didn't do anything at all. Ramming into Bob just as he had done to me before, I retook Rodney's body. The mental message he was giving me was pretty much, 'what the fuck?' and I could feel his heart beating erratically, literally stopping then restarting as a result of the full system overload he had experienced as a result of Bob's presence. I redirected the jumper skyward until we popped out of the upper atmosphere and I started taking in the universe around me one millisecond at a time.
A single flutter of Rodney's heart beat.
The concussive force of the bomb warping the air immediately surrounding the device.
Bob's aura realigning into the opposite of my own as he prepared for another attack.
The atomic structure of Rodney's body.
The gravitational field appearing so clearly before me that I could simply mold it into the dimension I wanted and along with it Rodney as I folded space and transported us instantly back to Atlantis.
The nuclear flash followed a few seconds afterward, illuminating the dark city with its unnatural glow. And it took a few seconds more for Sheppard to blink open his eyes onto the darkness of the room. "McKay, you better goddamn answer me," he insisted hoarsely through the radio, swallowing thickly as he stared up at the ceiling, as if he could see up into the cosmos and the fate of his friend.
I was still in Rodney's body, could feel it weakening, could feel the life literally draining from it, but I did my best to comply with a moan before I left it where it lay on the floor of the embarkation room.
"McKay?" The Colonel shined the light of his P90 over to where Rodney's body lay and he literally rubbed at his eyes to make sure he was really seeing what he thought he was. Skidding to his knees beside his friend, he called to him again, his smile of relief vanishing at how pale and unresponsive the other man was. "Rodney?" A quick check for a nonexistent pulse had him unclipping his gun from his vest. "Oh, you did not just come all the way back from a nuclear blast just to die on the floor. Do you hear me?"
But Rodney was already standing next to me as we both watched Sheppard give two breathes, illuminated only by the thin shaft of light from his gun on the floor, before starting chest compressions. "So this is what it's like to be dead," Rodney observed casually. "Not nearly as exciting or as traumatic as I thought it would be."
"It is kind of a let down, isn't it?"
He shrugged as he kept watching Sheppard work on his body. "Come on, McKay, this isn't supposed to happen. We're going for pizza as soon as you get your damn gate system set up, remember?"
"Well, the actual dying was rather dramatic," Rodney admitted. "And heroic. Thanks for that, by the way. You make a habit out of taking over people's bodies?"
"No, you were my first."
"Really? I'm flattered. And for the first time in my life, I actually think I believe that statement. It probably has to do with the fact that you aren't gathering clothes from the floor as you try to back out of the door."
I snorted with a smile. "Well, it was definitely an… unusual experience."
He rocked back resignedly on his heels. "Yep, that's usually what they say, as well." Colonel Sheppard meanwhile continued to work on his dead body.
"I'm sorry, Rodney. I never meant for you to end up dead." And I hadn't. I just reacted to the situation the only way I could think how.
"I never meant that for you either. Kind of ironic that I drew the short straw and ended up living."
"Until now, anyway."
"At least Sheppard will have quite a story for Jeannie when it's all said and done. I'd like to see Rod top this one. All he did was take a trip across dimensions and play Mr. Popularity. I doubt his Sheppard would be working so hard to save his life. He is working awfully hard isn't he?"
"Yes, he is," I agreed.
Two more breathes and the Colonel was back to compressions. "You die, that means I get to pick the toppings. Anchovies and pineapples and lemon wedges and not a damn piece of Canadian Bacon to be found."
"So, Bob the Wraith has been hanging out here this whole time, huh?"
"Yeah. He tried to kill you once before by buggering up the jumper that sank."
"Son of a bitch. That means I owe Radek an apology." He seemed genuinely more upset with the fact that he would have to admit he was wrong to Radek than he did about the whole attempt on his life, then he cheered. "Oh, well, I guess that's an upside to being dead."
Behind us I felt a portal open for him and I almost asked him to stay, to help me fight Bob, to keep me company because of all the things that I had learned as I ghost, the worst was that it was lonelier than hell. Because at least in hell, there were others of your kind besides a dead Wraith to talk to. But it wasn't my place to ask him something like that. If he wanted to go, he would go, and there was nothing I could do to stop it.
"Is that for me?" he asked, referring to the portal but his attention was still fixed on Sheppard. "Jesus, he's bleeding again."
"Yeah, I think that's for you."
He nodded but didn't look back. "He's not going to stop, is he?"
"Probably not for a while."
"McKay… I know…how much… you like pizza." I could see the muscles in his shoulders twitching with each compression. "You ate…the entire thing… in Vegas."
Rodney snorted somewhat sadly, regretfully, "You got your fair share, whiny bastard," before squaring his shoulders and asking me. "Are you coming?"
"Not yet. I still have things to do." I hitched my head toward Bob's ghost that stood off to one side watching with a gleeful expression on his face.
"Can you handle him?"
With a sigh, I confessed what I had always tried to deny. "I honestly don't know."
"Can you take care of him?" This time he was referring to his best friend that was doing his best to bring him back to life.
"I'll do everything I can."
Bob grinned wider as he moved a little closer to Sheppard and looked over his shoulder. "He is suffering, is he not?"
"What do you care?" Rodney demanded angrily.
"Because I want him to suffer as much as I did, before I avenge my death."
Rodney's eyes narrowed in rage. "Oh, the hell you will," he told him confidently and sprung toward Bob.
The thing about Rodney is he's a quick study. He's like a sponge, just soaks up anything related to the physical world, and evidently the metaphysical world, as well. He had learned to change his polarity just by observing it through my ghostly form and he hit Bob with the force of a city bus, effectively pushing him away from Sheppard. His portal moved, too, blipping to life where he stood with Bob glaring and not even noticing the doorway behind him. I looked down to Sheppard, his arms weakening along with his resolve as he sunk back on his haunches. "Rodney, please…"
"See you around, Peter," Rodney called and I knew he was bearing down on Bob.
"Hopefully not," I responded, even as I bent and placed my hand within the Colonel's that was placed flat over Rodney's heart. Bob's outraged roar suddenly went silent, indicating that he had passed over into the portal. He wasn't coming back. But maybe, just maybe…
I sent a jolt into that dead heart. Not electricity, not really. It was that little something more that kept us ghosts from just being waves of massless energy floating through the cosmos. And I hoped that it would be enough to keep Rodney from passing completely through his gate.
Through Sheppard's hand I felt a thump, faint and weak but there… then another… and another. And then I watched as the ghost of Rodney McKay came flying across the room and was sucked back into his corpse the same time that same body sucked in a deep, ragged breath.
Sheppard seemed in shock… and why wouldn't he be to see his friend rise from the dead. He stared dazedly at his hand, wiggling the fingers and mumbling, "It's tingling," before letting out a choked laugh when Rodney started coughing. "McKay? Holy shit, McKay!" And he laughed happily again as he gripped the hand that moved toward the sound.
Rodney's eyes cracked at the touch and he managed to ask weakly, "Where's Peter?" before drifting back into unconsciousness.
But he was alive and Atlantis was already fading for me as the satellite where I had died was coming into view. It's amazing what can happen in a moment's time. How much of yourself you can give and how the moment can take you once again.
"C'mon, hit 'em again!" Rodney called excited from the jumper after the first Hive ship disintegrated in space.
But the alarms were sounding and the panels were shorting and I couldn't get the system to respond. "We have a problem."
"What? What problem?"
"It looks like the circuit we re-routed has overloaded. The weapon can't fire again. I'm trying to find another pathway." We were screwed. Atlantis was screwed. I was screwed. I had to find a way.
But there wasn't one.
"We're heading back in to pick you up."
"Stay exactly where you are!" I ordered and insubordination be damned. What was he going to do, fire me? I was going to die, the ultimate termination. Yes, I was going to die, no doubt about that, but they didn't have to.
"Look, we're cloaked – they won't see us," Rodney tried to reason.
"There's no time! Just get the hell out of here!" I'd failed. I'd failed them all. "I'm sorry."
Those were the last words I spoke as a mortal.
"Get us back to that satellite."
And those were the last words I heard.
Wasn't it ironic that the first words I heard when I came back to myself once again were spoken by the same person?
"Okay, we're almost ready to power up the last generator. Radek, keep an eye on the power flux on Level 9, it's been wobbling ever since we hooked up the generator on Level 2."
"Yes, I am watching, Rodney. As with last five, I am watching," the put-upon Czech responded across the radio.
"Wobbling? Is that a technical term, McKay?" The grin on Colonel Sheppard's face was teasing but genuine.
"I toned it down for your benefit." Rodney was squatting next to a wall panel, working to marry an Earth power cable with the Atlantean circuitry. "So, why are you here, anyway, Sheppard?"
"I make special arrangements to hang out here on Atlantis and help you connect the generators and all the thanks I get is, 'why are you here'? Gee, I feel so special."
"Exactly how does standing over me while I work qualify as helping?"
"Hey, who carried the damn generator down here in the first place? And who's holding the flashlight?"
"Fine. You made a wonderful substitute for a push cart and a top notch lamp post. That's hardly a reason to gush my gratitude and it's definitely not a reason to skip scouting out the last stargate we need for the bridge back to Earth."
Sheppard sat down on the floor next to where Rodney was working. "Eh, Lorne's team has that under control. I just wanted to make sure that our intruder didn't show back up now that we have the full set of generators hooked up."
"Lorne could have done that," McKay challenged as he reached as far into the panel as he could.
"Well, you are the head scientist; I didn't think you would settle for anyone other than the ranking military officer as your security detail."
The irritation in Rodney's eyes softened when he saw there was more to the statement than just a taunt. "Carson says I'm fine, Sheppard."
The Colonel shrugged uncomfortably. "One minute you were on a jumper with a bomb, the next you were somehow laying on the floor…"
"We've talked about this before, Colonel. I must have figured out how to operate the transporter technology the Wraith was using before the jumper blew."
"But you don't remember doing that." It was a challenge, not a question.
"No, but it's the only logical explanation." Rodney gave his head an exasperated shake even as he continued to dig in the panel. "Look, I don't remember anything from the time the Athosian tackled me. Carson said I bumped my head and given the… trauma my body experienced as a result of the transport, a little short term amnesia isn't uncommon." Death and the astrophysicist- leave it to a scientist to rationalize away anything that doesn't fit within the textbook definition of how the universe is supposed to work.
"By trauma you would be referring to the fact that you were clinically dead?" Sheppard's tone held a hint of blame, as if Rodney had undertaken the act of grabbing the bomb and making a run for it intentionally. And I felt a twinge of guilt at having used him like I did. But I had been inside his head and the idea was already there when I took up residence.
"Yes, yes, I was dead, my heart stopped, you restarted it, I'm eternally grateful and now I never want to think about it again. Is that too much to ask?" When Sheppard's gaze fell to his boots, Rodney sighed and pulled his arm from the panel. "Make yourself useful, would you, and see if you can reach the cabling in the wall." Dropping the subject, Colonel Sheppard reached into the panel. "Just don't touch the…"
"Goddammit it!" Sheppard's exclamation was accompanied by him yanking his hand out and shaking off the shock he had just received.
"…metal support bar," Rodney finished lamely.
"You know, you could have told me that before I reached into the damn thing, McKay."
"Sorry. I'm sorry. I'm…" Rodney scrunched his eyes closed and rubbed at his forehead. "I'm sorry."
Rodney shook his head as if to clear away the words and Sheppard's worry. "It's nothing. It's just…. I've just been thinking about Peter Grodin a lot lately."
"You asked about him, you know?" the Colonel informed him hesitantly. "When you… came back."
The physicist's eyes widened in surprise before he forced himself to recover. "Well, thinking of a dead coworker at the time of your own near demise probably isn't that unusual." The confident tone wavered. "Is it?"
"No, not unusual at all." Colonel Sheppard flexed his still tingling hand and gave a small reassuring smile… or maybe it was more of a knowing grin. "Then again, maybe Carson was right about the guardian angel watching over us. It's kind of a nice thought."
"What's so nice about the thought of having to still be responsible for the welfare of everyone even after you're dead?" Rodney's arm was already back in the wall opening. "I mean, dear God, I can't even get a full day off on my day off… not that I've figured out exactly when that is supposed to be, mind you. But I would like to think that the term rest in peace actually means just that. Finally." He pulled a bundle of wiring out of the panel. "Guess we'll just have to watch each other's backs while we're alive, because when we're dead, all bets are off."
Sheppard's lips twitched. "Yeah, maybe you're right."
"I'm exactly right. No way I'm giving up my eternal vacation just to watch over you. In fact, I doubt I'd even give you a second thought when I'm dead and gone." Rodney sniffed arrogantly and I snorted at the memory of how worried he'd been over Sheppard's well-being when he was dead. "Hand me that cable."
The Colonel couldn't hide his amusement any longer as he handed over the requested equipment. "I'm going to have to find a priest to exorcise your ass, aren't I?"
"Don't flatter yourself," Rodney grumped. "I might stay behind to watch over someone else."
"But it only makes sense that the head of science would haunt the ranking military officer… at least according to your executive pecking order."
"You are such a pain in the ass, sometimes. You know that?"
Sheppard just grinned wider. "Besides, you know what they say, no rest for the wicked."
And Rodney just frowned deeper. "I thought it was no rest for the weary."
"With you, I think it's an either/or proposition."
"Regardless, I just hope Peter is getting to rest in peace. He deserves it."
"Yeah, he does. They all do."
And maybe they were right. Maybe I finally did deserve it. Bob was gone, Atlantis was safe…at least from spectral beings… maybe it was time I left things in the hands of those that were supposed to be here. They seemed to be very capable hands, especially when Rodney connected the power and the lights came on again. But my attention was already drawn to the light of my portal opening once again.
"Radek, we're up and running," Rodney reported.
"Everything looks good from here," Radek responded back.
"Let's go, McKay. Lorne's team should be finishing up their survey of the planet any time now."
Behind me I could hear Rodney gathering up his tools. "Just think, we could be mere days away from a pizza run. A pizza run without any pineapples involved," the scientist stressed.
"I'm a man of word, Rodney, you get to choose the toppings."
They say that death isn't an ending but a new beginning. That it is just a doorway onto a new adventure. And it was time that I opened that door and started that adventure. I took my first step toward the shimmering surface, unable to stop the second that followed immediately, or the next or the next that brought me face to face with whatever my death had in store for me. Whatever it was, I was anticipating it as much as McKay and Sheppard were that first slice of pizza from Earth. With a satisfied smile that I had fulfilled my duties to this glorious city, I left her and walked through the portal to the city that awaited me.
I had given my life for Atlantis. Now I was giving Atlantis back to the living.