I did this one several months ago for the "Secret Superpower" challenge on sga-flashfic, and totally forgot that I hadn't posted it anywhere else! Er ... oops. Written prior to Season 3, and no spoilers (that I can recall). Slight SG-1 crossover. Enjoy!
Whatever Can Go Wrong ...
The scientists were being too quiet.
On a normal day, it seemed that one or another of them -- Rodney, Radek, occasionally somebody else -- came running into her office every half hour, or at least radioed up to the control room. They wanted to show her the umpteenth cool thing they'd discovered; they wanted to ask if it was okay to do some small thing (such as shut off all sewer access for a few hours or attempt to turn the ocean temporarily orange); they wanted to know where Sheppard was because his gene still activated all the Ancient equipment more quickly and efficiently than anyone else's.
Elizabeth had earned spending money in high school babysitting the neighbors' kids. And she had learned that when the kids were noisy, everything was okay. When they went quiet ... that was when you knew they were up to something.
Perhaps it was time for a brief trip down to the labs.
If the fact that she'd managed to get a whole morning's worth of paperwork done without a single interruption didn't give away their game, then the silence that fell upon the lab as soon as she entered was the ultimate giveaway. Even Sheppard was here, she noted, and that couldn't be good.
"So," she said casually, "anything new?"
"There's always something new, Elizabeth." Rodney sidled quietly around the tables towards her. He appeared to be trying to shut off her view of the row of laptops all hooked up to some kind of black, glittery Ancient device.
She hadn't seen very many black objects of Ancient construction. Red, yellow, blue, silver and gold, yes. Green or purple, sometimes. Black? Not very often.
"Rodney, what's that?"
"What? That's the coffeepot. Oh, you mean behind it. That's ... some kind of Ancient training device, we think."
Elizabeth's eyes followed the cables coming from it. "Hooked up to your laptops?"
"Oh, just for a test," Rodney said casually.
Out of the corner of her vision, Elizabeth saw Sheppard's eyes roll towards the ceiling. The game was up. "What sort of test?"
"You know ... a test."
Zelenka couldn't contain himself anymore. "It is a very sophisticated holographic projection system. We have not been able to test it because it requires input data and we just now came up with a --"
"Thank you, Radek," Rodney snapped.
Elizabeth's head whipped back around to him. "Came up with a what?"
Rodney waved his hand in the air. "Oh ... well, you see, we believe that this device is capable of creating a very temporary, convincing but harmless alternate reality. Sort of like a ... a ..."
"Holodeck," Sheppard supplied cheerfully.
Rodney's face looked pained. "Yes, yes, you could put it that way. A virtual environment that affects everyone within a limited radius. We think it was used for training purposes, possibly for entertainment --"
"And you were planning to test this on Atlantis?" Elizabeth interrupted in disbelief.
Rodney spread his hands wide. "In the labs! In a very controlled environment!"
Sheppard was wearing his little-kid face, his "this is going to be so cool" face. Elizabeth didn't even want to ask, but as the leader of Atlantis, it was her responsibility to ask the hard questions. "And just what input, exactly, were you going to give it?"
"Well, if you must know..."
"Oh, believe me," Elizabeth said, narrowing her eyes dangerously. "I must."
Rodney's expression grew even more pained; he looked severely constipated. Zelenka spoke up. "You see, Dr. Morrow has a MMOR--AAARGH!" Rodney had stomped on his foot.
"A MMORPG," one of the other scientists supplied, and seeing Weir's utterly blank look, "An online RPG -- a role-playing game? Dr. Morrow runs the server from her laptop." She gestured to a very embarrassed-looking lab tech.
Elizabeth directed a narrow-eyed glare at all of them. "This doesn't affect productivity, I take it."
They all shook their heads earnestly.
Well, she could hardly fault them for playing around a little. The science division of Atlantis included some of the most hard-working people that Elizabeth had ever met; it wasn't as if they shirked their responsibilities. Who was she to tell them not to goof off every once in a while? On the other hand, hooking up untested alien technology to something of this sort seemed very unwise to her. "And what's the, er, nature of this ... RPG?"
Dead silence descended on the lab. Finally a very small voice from the back said, quietly, "Superheroes."
"I'm a Level 24 mutant with pyrokinetic powers!" Dr. Brown chirped, then shut up when everyone looked at her.
Elizabeth swiveled to look at Rodney.
"What? Look, it was this or hook it up to the Atlantis database, and I certainly didn't want to do that. As far as I can tell, it's perfectly harmless and the effects are temporary. This could be incredibly beneficial for training new people to deal with offworld field conditions, assuming we can figure out the interface -- which, let me repeat this, we can't do without input. I sure as hell don't want to feed it mission reports and have people running around Atlantis shooting at each other. So we came up with the idea of running a fantasy scenario that'll let us try out the interface while keeping the device's fantasy world completely separate from the real world."
Rodney was doing a good sales pitch, but she couldn't help noticing Sheppard bouncing quietly on his tiptoes. That didn't inspire confidence.
"It's temporary and limited," she confirmed.
Rodney nodded. Sheppard looked about ready to explode from sheer glee, which, once again, was not entirely confidence-inspiring.
"How temporary and how limited?"
"We think it'll last about an hour and be restricted to the general area of the labs."
Elizabeth took a deep breath and tapped her radio. "Control room? This is Weir. We're about to test an Ancient device in the labs. If you could please make an announcement to all personnel to avoid the lab area and remain at their duty stations or quarters until the all-clear is given, it would be most appreciated."
"I really don't think that is necessary," Rodney said stiffly, as the announcement over the citywide loudspeakers began.
Weir gave him another narrow-eyed look. "Does the word 'In-vuln-erable' ring a bell?"
"Oh please. That was ONCE."
"Can you shut it off if you have to?"
"Certainly." At Zelenka's skeptical look, Rodney cleared his throat. "Well, we think so. Obviously we've never tested it ..." Seeing Weir start to reach for her radio, he hastily added, "But if worst comes to worst, all we have to do is pull the power cord! It's not self-powered; it plugs into the wall. I'll have someone standing by, ready to do that, just in case." He pointed to a scientist at random, who hastily scuttled over to the wall socket.
Weir drew a breath, let it out. "All right. Turn it on. But at the first hint of trouble, you pull the cord."
"Of course." He drew himself up huffily, then deflated a tad as he noticed that she wasn't leaving. "Uh ... you're staying?"
"Of course," she echoed his words. "If this thing is that ... cool, why wouldn't I want to see it in action?"
Several of the scientists had equally awkward or nervous looks in their faces. Weir knew perfectly well why they didn't want her there -- it was because as soon as they powered up the thing, they had every intention of making complete and utter fools of themselves in a role-playing game come to life, and they didn't want their boss to see them. Which was, obviously, exactly why she hadn't left. If her presence kept them from accidentally blowing up the lab, at the cost of a little of their fun, it was well worth it.
Not to mention the sky-high blackmail potential ... she anticipated a group of very well-behaved scientists after this little incident.
"Right, right, right," Rodney murmured, and hit a large button on top of the device.
There was a soft humming, and a display came up, hanging in the air above the holographic projector. Ancient writing scrolled quickly across it, and then settled into a single message. Weir recognized the Ancient word that translated to downloading -- it was technically a present perfect progressive form of the verb mean "to pour water through a pipe", but somehow she doubted if anyone cared to know that. And a minute later, the Ancient letters on the display fuzzed out and then switched to English. It said DOWNLOADING ... and then COMPLETE. The display redrew itself. It now stated, in English:
PLEASE GIVE YOUR NAME AND A SUPERPOWER WILL BE RANDOMLY ASSIGNED TO YOU. WHEN ALL PLAYERS ARE READY, THE SIMULATION WILL COMMENCE.
Elizabeth looked immediately at Sheppard and McKay, expecting one of them to step forward. Instead, to her surprise, they both looked at her.
Rodney made a "go ahead" gesture. "You know you want to."
Well, honestly, as their leader, if someone was going to take the risk, it really should be her. And she was desperately curious. Elizabeth turned her attention to the device and said in a loud, firm voice, "Dr. Elizabeth Weir."
Her name came up on the display, and then below it: POWER - FLIGHT
Sheppard's mutter was barely audible: "Aw, I wanted that one."
"Can you? Can you fly?" Rodney was jittering in place.
She didn't feel any different. Elizabeth stretched her arms out, and drew them back in, feeling self-conscious. "I'm not quite sure."
"Besides, the game hasn't started yet," Dr. Morrow said. "Her powers may not work."
Sheppard gave him a look. "Good thing someone thought of that before she jumped off one of the towers."
Rodney stepped forward and rubbed his hands together briskly. "Well! Looks like it's my --"
He broke off as the lights flickered, dimmed, and then came back up.
"What was that?" Sheppard wanted to know.
As Rodney spun one of the laptops around to take a look, Weir's radio crackled. "Dr. Weir, this is the gate room. We've just had a power spike centered around the labs. Is it related to the experiment you're running?"
"Let's ask the experts, shall we?" She turned expectantly to Rodney.
"It's definitely drawing a lot of energy." He frowned at the screen. "Looks like it spiked right after you picked your, er, superpower."
"It's not going to drain our ZPM, is it?"
"No, no ... well, I doubt it ... but if it did that for you, I don't think we should have very many people in the simulation."
"Me?" Sheppard asked hopefully, and at the look that both Weir and Rodney gave him: "In the name of science, obviously!"
When the power spiked, the screen had fuzzed out entirely, but now it had gone back to displaying its earlier message about stating one's name and receiving powers. Rodney looked up at it. "Dr. Rodney McKay, chief scientist of the Atlantis Expedition." Now it was Sheppard's turn to give him a look. "What?" he demanded.
The holographic screen displayed Rodney's name and, after a moment: POWER - ATTRACTS SEAGULLS.
Rodney just stared. "What? What kind of a lame-ass power is that?"
There were several faint giggles heard around the room, silenced immediately when Rodney swept a death-glare across his staff.
"Maybe Elizabeth's cool power sucked out all the energy it would have taken to give the rest of us anything good," Sheppard suggested.
"Oh please. It doesn't work that way. At least I don't think so. And I intend to get a redraw. Hey, computer! New power. Here. Now."
The screen blurred and then brought up the question: BEGIN SIMULATION NOW?
"I am noticing, Rodney, that we did not see a similar energy spike for you as for Dr. Weir," Zelenka reported, studying the laptop screens.
"Yes, that's because the idiotic machine gave me an extremely pathetic power." Noticing Sheppard still hovering hopefully, Rodney sighed. "Yes, fine, Colonel, go get yourself a power before you strain something."
Sheppard addressed himself to the display. "Sheppard. John."
SHEPPARD, JOHN, it dutifully reported, followed by: POWER - LOSES LIMBS UNDER STRESS, LIKE LIZARD.
Sheppard frowned. "Er ... that's ... not entirely what I was hoping for."
"Morrow, why do you even have options like that in the program?" Rodney demanded.
"I didn't write it! I just play it! Those have never come up before."
Sheppard was still staring at the glowing letters on the screen. "Er, can I have another power? In addition to that one?"
"I already tried that --" Rodney began, but the letters had fuzzed out to form the words: YES. MULTIPLE POWERS ARE ALLOWED. CALCULATING NEW POWER.
"See, Rodney? You just have to ask it nicely."
SHEPPARD, JOHN. FIRST POWER - DETACHABLE LIMBS. SECOND POWER - MURPHY'S LAW.
"Isn't that already your superpower?" Rodney smirked.
"Murphy's Law?" Elizabeth said. "You mean, whatever can go wrong will go wrong? I really don't like the sound of that. I'm thinking we might want to shut this down."
"You know, there is something strange going on here." Zelenka leaned over to tap a few keys on one of the laptops, and frowned at what he saw. "I'm getting some very peculiar readings."
"Peculiar how? Out of the way." Rodney shoved Zelenka to one side, to the other scientist's obvious exasperation, and stared at the screens. "Oh, that is strange." He tapped his fingers on the top of the lab counter while typing with his other hand. "We are getting some really weird energy feedback signals. In fact, the word freakish comes to mind."
"Shut it down," Elizabeth said.
"Shut it down! Now. You can figure out what went wrong and try it again when you understand a little more about it. I'm not risking the station or any one of your lives for scientific curiosity, Rodney."
He heaved a sigh, but to her relief, didn't argue -- instead pointed at the scientist who had been assigned to power cord duty. "Ivanov? Kill it."
The scientist yanked the cord. Instantly, all the lights went out. The sudden darkness was still lit dimly by the glowing laptop screens, but everything else had gone down, including the usual flashing lights on various equipment around them.
"Er, Rodney --"
"Yes ... that wasn't supposed to happen." Rodney sounded thoughtful, and slightly concerned.
"Yes, what?" he demanded, and then saw what Weir was looking at.
Glowing letters in the air read: BEGINNING SIMULATION NOW.
Two Days Later ...
"Colonel Landry, sir?"
It was Harriman, and he sounded strangely out of breath, as if he'd been ... running? Landry raised his head from his paperwork. "Any word from Atlantis, Sergeant?"
"Yes, sir, you wanted to know immediately, and we did get a ..." His voice cut off in a strangled little squeak; then he gulped and got hold of himself. "... a report, sir. Dr. Weir apologizes for being late."
"Did she explain why they were late?"
"You'd better read the report, sir." His voice still sounded oddly tight, and Landry became aware of some kind of noise in the background. It sounded like ... laughter?
"Is everything okay down there, Harriman?"
"Fine, General. It's fine. Um, I recommend you read the Atlantis report at your earliest convenience, though."
"It'll have to wait, Sergeant, because I was just heading to a briefing with SG-1."
"You might have to wait for that, sir."
Landry frowned as he pushed back his chair. "Any particular reason for that?"
"Because they're all here, sir. Reading the report."
"That report is for my eyes first, Sergeant," Landry snapped.
"Yes, I know that, sir, but I happened to -- er, Colonel Carter noticed my reaction to -- er, you really need to read it, sir."
"Why don't I come down there, and you can all fill me in, eh?"
"Perhaps you should do that, sir."
When he arrived at the gateroom a few minutes later, it was to find SG-1 clustered around Carter's laptop, along with Harriman, Vala and a handful of soldiers. Daniel had his head down on the countertop and his shoulders shook with muffled laughter. Carter, her face bright red from laughing, was reading aloud:
"... at which point we heard a loud explosion from the hallway and discovered that Specialist Dex's newly acquired power was the ability to shoot laser beams from his eyes. This distracted me from Colonel Sheppard's attempts to -- oh God, I can't -- to beat up -- oh dear -- you read this part, I can't --" and she dissolved into helpless laughter, shoving the laptop at Mitchell.
"... attempts to beat up Rodney using his own detached left arm," Cam read, trying with only some success to keep a straight face. "Then the flock of seagulls began to -- Oh, General, hello sir!"
Landry leaned over their shoulders. "And, in a nutshell, the reason why Atlantis missed their check-in by almost 24 hours is ...?"
"They activated an Ancient device, sir," Carter explained, wiping her eyes, "and it took them that long to manage to shut it off."
Daniel raised his head long enough to say, in a tone of great satisfaction, "It's nice to know that we're not the only ones this kind of thing happens to."
I had originally planned this as a much longer story, but started to see the writing on the wall -- there was just no way I could do the story I wanted in the time allotted to the challenge. So this is how it ended up. I may yet write the full version, wherein you see what happened in those missing two days ...
Incidentally, there is an actual superhero in the DC universe called "Arm-Fall-Off Boy", whose power is exactly what you'd expect. As well as being perhaps the single greatest name ever coined for a superhero in the history of comics, it was also the original inspiration for this story.