Cold Race

"Let me tell you the secret that has led me to my goal: my strength lies solely in my tenacity." - Louis Pasteur

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It always helped. The burning in his legs, the cleansing feel of each deep, fast breath, the rush of blood coursing swiftly through his body, all of it pushed his stress away and with how things had been lately, he'd had more than enough stress and tension to work off.

Running had become his salvation; the quiet time when he could get off alone, to think or to just let his thoughts go. He used to run with Ronon, but somewhere along the way an unspoken agreement had been reached between them. He needed this time on his own and somehow, Ronon knew it. Leaving their normal route through the high walkways of the city, John found a new path. Quiet and secluded, the lower levels of Atlantis were deserted... and that's exactly how he liked it.

He lengthened his stride, the steady pace of his run giving way to a sprint. He felt alive, strong... free. His arms pumped vigorously, lending strength and speed to his legs. A smile touched his mouth as his breaths came faster and his heart beat quicker, but he felt invigorated, like nothing in the world could hurt him. He continued pushing his body until fatigue forced him to slow to a jog and finally a walk. Breathing heavily, John swung his arms forwards and back, as he walked along the deserted hallway.

Under the surface of the ocean, the lower levels of the city were cool. Even though they had a ZPM, there was no reason to power the whole city. Here, only basic life support kept these areas accessible but not comfortable. But, as the sweat on his skin cooled in the air, John found the atmosphere to be refreshing.

He stopped and stared out one of the many windows, his sight limited by the darkness of the deep ocean. Part of him felt slight disquiet at being so far under the water. He much preferred the high skies to the deep ocean; after all he was an Air Force pilot, not a Submariner. Yet, there was an odd beauty to the ocean that, in his two and a half years in Atlantis, he'd developed fondness for. He looked up, his eyes following one narrow stream of sunlight that scintillated down from the surface before jumping slightly as an odd looking fish swam right in front of the window. A faint twinkle caught his attention and he turned his head, his gaze narrowing.

Not far away John could see the lower levels of the East Pier and what he saw piqued his curiosity. From what he presumed was another window in the pier, he could see a dim blinking light, its pattern random. Still breathing heavily, he reached up and tapped his radio. "Control, this is Sheppard."

"Colonel?" Rodney's voice answered, "you sound out of breath."

"Running usually does that, Rodney," John quipped dryly. "Not that I'd expect you to understand."

"Au contraire!" Rodney snapped back, "Being a member of Team 'Running for Our Lives is a Daily Occurrence' Sheppard, has given me more experience than I ever asked for. Now," Rodney continued, "Is there some reason why you're bugging me?"

John rolled his eyes. "As a matter of fact, yes. Are the sensors picking up any unusual readings from the East Pier?"

"Stand by... and what do you mean by unusual?"

"Unusual as in something that would cause the faint blinking light I'm seeing?"

"Blinking light," Rodney muttered, "that is so incredibly not helpful."

"McKay." John glared at the ceiling as if he was staring at Rodney.

"Nothing," Rodney responded not missing a beat. "But, the sensors are only calibrated for a very general, high level sweep. The East Pier isn't actively inhabited or being explored right now, so, we only run an in depth sweep once a day. That was this morning and it was normal."

"So," John concluded, "you're saying there could be something going on that you're not detecting?"

"It's possible, yes." Rodney answered. "According to the log we cataloged that area of the pier six months ago. Preliminary scans showed nothing remarkable. It appeared to be just another lab."

"Well, something's going on now," John insisted. "Could it have anything to do with having a ZPM again?"

"Maybe," Rodney's voice sounded unconvinced. "It could've been some sort of power intensive research and everything was dormant because the power requirements couldn't be met without a ZPM."

"John?" For the first time, Elizabeth spoke up as she joined the conversation. "We're reading a life sign in one of the lower corridors between the control tower and the East Pier. Is that you?"

"Yeah." John nodded, "just out for a run when I spotted this light... thing." He could almost hear Elizabeth's smile. "Rodney, can you recalibrate the sensors for a more in depth reading?"

"Of course," Rodney answered confidently, "just give me a minute."

John was silent as he stared at the faint blinking light. A suspicious feeling started in his gut and spread through him. His gaze narrowed in response. "I don't like this..."

"John?" Elizabeth answered, "what is it?"

He shook his head slightly, "I don't know. Something's just... not right." He inhaled deeply and jogged down the hallway. "Since I'm here, I'm going to check it out. I'll let you know what I find."

"John?" Elizabeth reasoned. "Maybe you should wait until Rodney scans the pier."

John kept his pace. "I won't get too close until McKay's finished," he reassured. "Besides, he'll be done by the time I get there."

"Oh really?" Rodney cut in, "and what's your basis for that assumption?"

"Your ego can't resist the challenge, Rodney," John quipped. He smiled as Rodney's sigh came back over the radio.

"Very funny," Rodney groused. "Re-calibration complete. Scanning."

"See?" John's smile turned to a grin.

"Do you want to know the results or not!" Rodney snapped hotly.

"Rodney," Elizabeth interceded, "I'd like to know what you've found, please."

John stopped in front of the main bulkhead door to the East Pier, his hands on his hips as he listened intently.

"In depth sweep shows a slight power surge in section C-6," Rodney paused before continuing, "but nothing alarming. The power spike is well below anything I'd consider dangerous."

John pursed his lips for a moment. "Well, something was turned on."

"Obviously!" Rodney responded. "I didn't say nothing happened, I just said it doesn't appear to be dangerous."

"Okay," John swept his hand over the door crystal and started down the long corridor into the East Pier. "I'll take a look just to make sure..."

"Right!" Rodney interrupted, "like you'd be able to tell what you're looking at!"

"That's why," John continued, his tone slightly annoyed, "you're going to stay on the radio and get your butt down here, McKay." He softened his tone. "Elizabeth? You okay with this?"

A silent moment passed before she responded. "Yes. We need to know for sure it's nothing urgent. But," she added, "be careful please and stay in radio contact."

John smiled slightly. "Sure." He increased his speed from a walk to an easy jog, deciding to use the excursion to slowly cool his tired body. Before long he stopped in front of a closed door and tapped his radio. "I'm here. Section C-6. Reading anything else?"

This time it was Zelenka's voice that answered. "Rodney is on his way to you, Colonel. There are no changes in sensor readings."

John nodded slightly. "McKay? What's your ETA?"

"About ten minutes," Rodney responded immediately.

"Ten?" John arched his brow and smiled mischievously, "what's taking so long?"

"Oh pardon me, Mr. I Run Miles Every Day! You're a bit far off you know, and we don't have the transporters in the East Pier active since no one is supposed to be there!" Rodney snapped back.

John kept smiling. "I'm going to take a look around and no, I won't touch anything. High tail it, McKay." He passed his hand over the door crystal and stepped back as the door, slowly creaked open. He entered the lab and looked around as the city sensors detected him, brought up the lights slightly and closed the door behind him. Something caught his foot and he reached out, steadying himself on a nearby console as he regained his balance. John looked around, noting various bits of debris and overturned consoles. "Took some damage here at one time or another," he commented absently.

"That's consistent with the log," Rodney answered, "probably happened during the storm a year ago. The Engineering team signed off on the structural soundness though."

John nodded as his gaze zeroed in on the control panel in question, the bright light on its surface continuing to blink as he walked over to it. He stared down at the light as it turned to a steady amber glow. "It's not blinking anymore..."

"Colonel?" Zelenka's mildly concerned voice cut him off, "power levels are increasing."

"Well, the lights came on, is that it?" He suspected he knew the answer Zalenka would give him as his gaze narrowed at the lit console.

"No," Zelenka immediately responded, "power levels are now increasing exponentially."

John looked up as on the heels of Zelenka's statement, a hum, faint at first, but growing in intensity, reverberated around him. "I don't like this. I'm getting out of here until we know more." He turned and swiftly walked to the door. Passing his hand over the crystal, his frown deepened as nothing happened. "Okay, this is a problem."

"John?" Elizabeth immediately responded, "what is it?"

"The door's jammed," John waved his hand over the crystals again. "Not budging."

"Colonel, the power levels are reaching critical. You need to get out of there."

John grimaced at the tension he heard in Zelenka's voice. "Working on it. McKay! Where the hell are you?"

"We're just coming to the main entrance to the East Pier," Rodney immediately responded. "What did you touch?"

"Nothing!" He snapped as he again waved his hand over the door crystal. All around him the humming increased in volume as the lights brightened. "How do I hotwire the door?" he demanded.

"Pull off the cover panel. You should see three crystals, pull the second one."

John quickly removed the cover panel and paused. "Three?" he questioned, "I see... seven."

"Seven?" Rodney's voice cracked slightly. "That's not right."

John ground his teeth, flinching as the panel behind him sparked wildly. "I don't give a damn if it's right or not, that's what I'm seeing!" Cold dread crept into his gut as he felt the floor beneath his feet start to vibrate. At the same time an Ancient alarm started blaring loudly. "Oh that can't be good..." he muttered. "Rodney? Now would be a good time for you to get here!"

"Stand by we're... what the...?" Rodney's voice trailed off.

"Rodney?" Elizabeth beat John to the inquiry.

"The main door to the East Pier just closed on us," Rodney instantly responded, his tone clearly distracted. "Trying to get it open now. Stand by. Radek! Shut down power to the East Pier, now!"

"I cannot. Something is preventing me from interfering." Zelenka answered.

"Great," John groused. He turned and trotted back to the control panel. "Maybe there's an off switch here..."

"Don't touch it!" Rodney's voice immediately answered, "you have no clue what you're doing!"

"Somehow," John reflexively threw his arms in front of his face warding off a shower of sparks from a nearby console, "I don't think that's my biggest problem right now!"

"Say's the woefully uniformed!" Rodney snapped back. "Just... don't! I'll be there in a minute!"

"Not sure I got one!" John's gaze fixed on the console as the whining increased in pitch adding its tone to the blaring Ancient alarm. Dread swarmed through him, his instincts screaming their warning. "Aw, Crap..." He ducked just as the panel exploded, the force propelling him against the wall. His head hit hard and stars danced in his vision as he slumped to the floor. Pain exploded through his shoulder its effect redoubling as his legs and chest added their voices to the chorus. He faintly heard McKay shouting to him in the radio, but he swore he'd left his voice where he'd been standing. It was an odd thought, but one he didn't have a chance to ponder as blackness veiled him.