Title: Idle Hands
Author: ga unicorn
Spoilers: Not really
Summary: Sheppard and McKay, by themselves, in an Ancient's lab in Atlantis. A recipe for disaster.
A/N: This was written for the SheppardH/C Challenge #7. The prompts were: 1) "Where the hell are you going with that, Colonel?"; 2) element: fire; 3) theme: blood and broken bones. I think I covered it all.
As always, many thanks to Ashanome, the bestest beta ever.
It constantly amazed Sheppard how much gun oil they went through in a three-month period. The requisition form signed, he saved the file and forwarded it to be included in the next data burst to Earth. He scratched at the fiberglass cast covering his left forearm while he waited for the next file to load.
After a few moments he clicked on the 'Next' button again. Nothing happened. He clicked on his in-box and was stunned to find that it was empty.
He was caught up on all of his paperwork.
There must be a mistake. He checked his email, hoping that something new had come in while he was working on the other files. No new mail. He was caught up on all the after action reports, the fitness reviews, the requisition requests, the disciplinary matters.
His head dropped onto his desk and he groaned. It wasn't mid-day yet and he had run out of things to do.
There was another two to four weeks of light duty stretching in front of him. He had been budgeting his time carefully. He exercised as much as Beckett allowed, including a daily ten-klick run. He spent some time on the firing range and then cleaned his weapons. Twice a week he met with the officers and team leaders to go over the latest SGC directives, discuss any concerns and hand out assignments for the next week. After that he'd come to his office to tackle paperwork.
He had paced himself, reading as slowly as possible, pausing to stare out his office window, play a game or two of trashcan basketball or just scratch at the blasted cast, hoping to calm the infernal itching underneath. But he had reached the end. He couldn't even ask Lorne if he could handle some of the major's paperwork because it had been the major's paperwork he'd just finished.
If Teyla was here he could probably talk her into a lesson with the sticks; she was teaching him a modified style using a single stick. Beckett had okayed the exercise, apparently not realizing how often Sheppard ended up flat on the mats. But she had taken a few days to visit her people on the new Athosian homeworld.
Sparring with Ronon had been flat out forbidden, but even if it hadn't been the Satedan was not in the City either. He had taken advantage of the team's down time to visit the settlement of the Satedan refugees. Some sort of harvest festival. He had invited the rest of the team to come along, but Sheppard was never going to another harvest festival in the Pegasus galaxy ever again. Ever.
He sat back in his chair, thinking furiously. It was still 'business' hours; he should do something at least vaguely work related. As he reviewed possibilities he absently picked up the stylus from his data-pad and started rapping the cast with it. The vibrations eased the itching momentarily, but it returned with a vengeance as soon as he stopped.
Grumbling, he tossed the stylus back on his desk and shutdown his computer. He'd grab some lunch for himself and McKay and head to the labs. If he couldn't think of anything else, one of the scientists always needed someone with the ATA gene to turn stuff on.
Twenty minutes later he turned into McKay's lab, balancing a tray loaded with sandwiches, fruit and bottled water. He had even been in time to snag a couple of fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies before the ravening lunchtime hordes took them all.
"Hey, McKay. Look what I have." He stopped, unsurprised but disappointed to find the lab empty. Considering how quiet of the usually bustling lab area, the Chief Science Officer had probably called a meeting.
The tray thumped onto a workbench and he started to claw at the cast again. Exasperated and desperate, he looked around for something to help lessen the itching. He spied the pegboard covered in hand tools at the far end of the room and grinned.
He had promised Beckett that he wouldn't stick anything inside the cast to relieve the itching. And he understood intellectually that the itching indicated either healing or dry skin, neither of which would be 'cured' by digging around with a coat hanger or pencil. But, damn it, it felt as if something was boring into his wrist.
A quick perusal and he grabbed a screwdriver with a long, slender shaft. Clutching his prize, he was turning to go back to the lunch tray when McKay came through the door connecting his and Zelenka's labs.
"Where the hell are you going with that, Colonel?" McKay snapped. He slammed down the case he was carrying. "I am tired of people wandering off with my personal tools. I swear I am going to spot-weld a transmitter to every single one. What do you need a screwdriver for?"
Sheppard stood there guiltily. For some reason he could not come up with a reasonable lie. "I wasn't going to take it out of the lab. I just need it for something… uh, personal."
"All of the tool thieves say they didn't mean to leave the lab with whatever they took. They have no idea how it ended up in their pocket. What were you going to use it on?" McKay asked, looking around for something requiring a screwdriver. He spied the lunch tray. "Unless you're planning to use it on the water bottles, I don't –. Oh, my God, you're going to use on your cast! Are you out of your mind? Carson'll kill you. And if he finds out you used my screwdriver, I… I'll be screwed! Give it back." Rapid fingers snaps ended with a hand thrust out impatiently.
Sheppard, who had started nervously tapping the tool against his cast, scowled and held it out of McKay's reach.
"He'll never know. Unless someone tells him."
"Of course he'll know. He always knows. Give it to me."
"The itching is driving me insane."
"I feel your pain. Seriously. Now give me the screwdriver."
He wavered, but knew McKay was right. Beckett had superhuman abilities when it came to knowing when patients weren't following medical instructions.
He slapped the handle of the screwdriver into McKay's palm and started scratching at the cast again. At this rate he was going to have worn his fingers down to nubs by the time the cast came off.
McKay replaced the tool on the pegboard and then stopped at the tray of food. The cookies were wrapped in a napkin and slid into a pocket, followed by an apple. He grabbed a sandwich and a bottle of water that he dropped in his case before picking it up and heading for the door.
"Did you want something or were you just lonely?" McKay asked around the large bite of meat, cheese and bread he had stuffed into his mouth.
Sheppard grabbed the remaining sandwich and water bottle and followed.
"I've caught up with all my paperwork so I thought I'd come share lunch with you before starting another project." He took a bite of his sandwich: crall meat, almost as good as turkey. "Why is it so quiet in the labs? I thought maybe you were having a meeting or something."
"Party out on one the balconies. I dropped off my gift and left," McKay grunted in disapproval. "Grissom is pregnant and wants to have the baby back on Earth; so they're throwing her a baby shower slash bon voyage party."
"What about the father? Is he going back to Earth, too?"
McKay rolled his eyes. He stepped into a transporter and slapped at a location on the map. "The rumor is the father was a one night stand while on an off-world mission. No one on staff is taking credit for it and she's not saying. That's the rumor anyway; I didn't ask."
He exited the transporter and started down a long, dimly lit hallway. From the feel of it they were on one of the floors below sea level.
Sheppard's eyes were twinkling as he finished the last of his sandwich. "You know, McKay, I have to give my men – and women – the lecture about fraternizing with the natives. And pregnancy. And alien STDs. You think maybe you need to add it to your orientation speech?"
They entered a stairwell and started down.
"I don't care if they all come down with some kind of alien clap that turns their noses blue and causes their asses to fall off. I'm not lecturing a bunch of scientists on where babies – and STDs – come from." McKay led the way out of the stairwell. Obviously tired of that subject he added, "So you ran out of work to do and you're bored. You can activate things for me this afternoon. This is actually Zelenka's project and I was going to be the gene wielder, but he's probably going to be at that party for the rest of the day. He was in charge of the punch. None of them are going to be good for anything after the punch. He might not care for kids, but Radek loves a party."
"Yeah, I've had some of his punch," Sheppard agreed with a chuckle. "I hope Grissom knows to stay away from it. So, what are we going to be working on?"
"Zelenka found a lab that had been working to improve the jumpers' power cell. From what we've been able to ascertain from the logs, the new cell would allow a jumper to run at top speed, continually, for several months. It's a marked improvement over the current one which has to be recharged after one hundred or so hours of usage."
"I'll say. And this is something you can reverse engineer?"
"From the sparse data that Zelenka's been able to find, it appears that the Ancient working on the project just made some adjustments to the existing power sources. So, if he completed his work before the City was abandoned – and it looks as if he had – then we can at least – probably, hopefully – upgrade the cells currently in our jumpers. Ah. Here we are."
McKay stopped in front of the last door in the corridor, about thirty meters from the airlock at the very end. McKay and Zelenka had determined early in the expedition's time in Atlantis that these airlocks were used to access the escape pods and the jumpers when the City was acting as a spaceship.
Sheppard wandered over to peer through the small window set in the airlock door. It was dark inside. If he squinted he thought he could just make out the corresponding window on the outer door and the lighter glow of the ocean beyond it.
There were dozens of these airlocks all over the City. He wondered what had become of all the jumpers that should have been attached to them. Had they all been destroyed in the fight against the Wraith? Had the Ancients taken some back to Earth when they fled, leaving only the few that had been found in the jumper bay?
"Stop scratching. You know it doesn't help and that noise is getting to be like fingernails on a blackboard."
Sheppard cursed under his breath and stuffed his right hand in his pocket. This was getting ridiculous.
McKay was working on the door. The control panel had been removed. He picked up a crystal from a box that had been left by the door and used it to bridge two crystals within the controls. The door hesitated, almost shuddering in its tracks, and then slid open. The two men entered and the lights in the room came on automatically.
It looked like any of a number of other Atlantis labs that McKay and his crew were trying to decipher. Consoles lined the walls. A lone pedestal station occupied the middle of the room. Cover panels had been removed from several of the stations and stacked in a corner. Wires and adaptors spilled out, connected to diagnostic equipment cluttering the floor. At the far end of the room was what looked like another airlock door, or maybe a vault, but there was no control panel.
McKay moved immediately to the pedestal. He sat on the floor next to an open panel and removed some of the attached adaptors. Opening the box he was carrying, he removed the water bottle, absentmindedly taking a drink while looking between the pedestal and the box. After a few moments he started making new connections between the Ancient equipment and the expedition's diagnostic tools.
Sheppard watched for a few minutes, realizing that he had been forgotten for the time being. He looked around but there was, as usual, no place to sit down. He dropped down on the floor, opened his own water bottle, and waited to be remembered.
McKay made a final adjustment and grabbed his data-pad. "All right, Sheppard, this is where you come in. The guy who set up this lab was extremely paranoid. I've known scientists who were convinced everyone wanted to steal their work, but this guy beat them all. I know they were on a war footing because of the Wraith, but did he really think his fellow Ancients were going to abscond with his work? Anyway… While the ATA gene is needed to initialize most things in Atlantis, this guy programmed everything – except basic lights, life support, etc – in this lab to respond only to his DNA. Zelenka and I have spent the last week getting it to the point where it will respond – in most cases – to the usual gene imperative. But it has to be a constant contact. You can't just think it on and leave."
"So you need me to sit here, touch the pedestal and think happy 'on' thoughts?" Sheppard asked, thinking that staying in his office and watching dust bunnies form would have been just as exciting.
"That's basically it," McKay confirmed. He made some adjustments to the information streaming across the data-pad's screen. "Just don't let go or stop thinking until I tell you it's okay. You let go too soon and we have to start over. Got it?"
"Don't worry. If this is the connection we need I should have it opened in half an hour. An hour tops."
Sheppard made himself as comfortable as possible, leaning a shoulder against the pedestal base for the physical connection. Thinking 'on' at the station, he was surprised at the sluggish response. He could feel a resistance to the command and pushed a little harder. He was used to things popping on willingly, almost eagerly, when he requested it. The station powered on slowly.
"What exactly are you trying to do here, McKay? This thing is really resisting. It feels weird."
McKay was leaning over the control pad on the pedestal, making adjustments and then checking the results on the data-pad tucked in the crook of his arm. "Hmmm? Oh, we – Zelenka and I – have been trying to get the vault open. That's where the upgraded power cell is. And I'm not surprised you're having problems. I've been acting as the gene initiator all week and I've practically had to put myself in a trance to get it to respond to me. I thought you'd have an easier time of it."
"Thanks for the warning," Sheppard shifted on the hard floor and scratched at his cast. "And you think this Ancient scientist had completed his work? If he had, why weren't the power cells on the jumpers updated?"
"From what we've translated from his personal journal – which was an adventure in itself – we think he did. Why wasn't the upgrade implemented? Who knows? Maybe the Council hadn't approved it yet. Maybe more field tests were necessary. Maybe they abandoned Atlantis before the change could be implemented. We haven't found any mention of the research except for the Council's original approval of the project and this guy's journal. We haven't even found his research notes."
"You don't think that's strange?"
"No, not really. Scientists are notoriously paranoid about protecting their projects. And the research really hadn't been going on for very long; a few months at most. Probably he hadn't been required to give a progress report yet. Now, shut up for a few minutes. I need to concentrate. And so do you."
So Sheppard sat on the floor, one corner of his brain engaged in coaxing the systems in the lab to remain active. He watched as McKay worked on the pedestal, occasionally darting over to adjust something on one of the other stations. Muttered bursts of vitriol reached his ears occasionally.
An hour and a half later Sheppard sighed and rolled his head back and forth, trying to ease some of the tension in his neck.
"Are you almost done?" he asked, striving not to whine. If he had known he was going to spend the afternoon exercising his gene he would have brought a laptop or his book or something.
"You said 'almost' thirty minutes ago. Are you actually any closer? 'Cause my backside is going numb."
McKay made an impatient noise, but kept his eyes firmly locked on his data-pad. He made minute adjustments to the settings on the pedestal console.
"Well, you and your backside are just going to… Ha! I've got it! That's it!" McKay was practically dancing in place as he chortled, "Take that you paranoid bastard! You should be feeling a change, Colonel."
The subtle resistance Sheppard had been pushing back against suddenly ceased. He was surprised to feel himself relaxing, slumping against the pedestal base.
"Yeah, that seems to have done the trick. Does this mean I can get up?" he asked hopefully.
"Wait. Just let me…" McKay depressed three keys, eyes monitoring the data scrolling across his data-pad's screen. After a moment his fist shot into the air in triumph. "Yes! And yes, Colonel, this means you can get off the floor."
"Thank God," Sheppard groaned as he climbed to his feet. He stretched, arching his back, trying to work out some of the stiffness. He eyed the vault door, surprised to see it still closed. "I thought you said you'd gotten the door open?"
"What? Oh, no, not the door. I just got the security system to accept the usual ATA gene protocol. I can open the vault anytime now."
"Well, what are you waiting for? Don't you – ? What is that noise?" Sheppard turned to stare at the vault. There was a faint humming noise. Before McKay could answer the City's klaxon sounded and the door to the lab slid shut.
Expecting to hear one of the Control techs announcing an unscheduled incoming wormhole, he was surprised when his comm remained silent. He started toward the door while reaching up to key his mike. Behind him he was aware that McKay was suddenly very busy.
"Control, this is Sheppard. What's going on?"
"Colonel, we were just about to ask you the same thing," Elizabeth Weir's calm voice replied. "The City's sensors are indicating that there is an alien presence in the area where you and Dr. McKay are. Care to explain?"
Rolling his eyes in exasperation, Sheppard turned toward the scientist.
"You want to explain to Elizabeth what's going – ?" he started, then stopped when he saw the stricken look McKay threw him. "What's the matter, McKay?"
"Colonel, Doctor, the security system is now announcing that it is about to eject the power core." Weir, her voice not so calm now, broke through the annoying siren sound. "Please tell me it's not talking about our ZPM."
"McKay?" Sheppard barked.
"Busy now," McKay shot back, working frantically with his data-pad. "Damned paranoid son-of-a-bitch."
"No, it's not the ZPM, Elizabeth." Sheppard circled around McKay, giving him a wide berth. He cautiously approached the vault door. The humming was definitely louder now. "I think McKay is about to lose the upgraded jumper power cell that he and Zelenka have been trying to access. I'm sure –."
"No, damn it!"
McKay's agonized shout was almost lost in the continuing clamor of the klaxon. He looked up from his equipment, frustration and anger and regret competing for supremacy on his face. Groaning in self-disgust, he leaned tiredly against the nearest console and keyed his mike.
"Elizabeth, the power cell has been shot out into the ocean. The alarms should cut off any second now." As if on cue the harsh, blaring tones stopped. McKay snorted in disgust. "That lunatic Ancient had the system rigged to get rid of the upgrade if anyone managed to get through his safeguards."
"I'm sorry, Rodney, I know you and Radek have been working on this for a while," Weir said consolingly. "Would it be possible to send someone after it in a jumper? It hasn't been very long; it can't have sunk too far."
"It's already too late," he grumbled. "It's set to overload. It's going to blow up. We should feel the shockwave anytime now."
"A shockwave from an explosion? Is there something we should be doing to protect the City? Should we activate the shield?"
"There isn't time to do that. But there shouldn't be any damage to Atlantis," McKay said, staring around the clutter of the lab.
He had barely finished speaking when the nerve-jangling sound of the klaxon started again. A few moments later the floor under their feet vibrated briefly. A laptop perched too near the corner of a counter jiggled its way to the edge and crashed to the tiles below. McKay groaned, dropping his chin to his chest in defeat.
"And that's that. Unless we can figure out where this guy hid his research notes we'll never know how to boost the capacity of the jumpers' power cells."
Sheppard stared uneasily at the wall where the humming noise continued to grow in intensity.
"Hey, McKay," he said. "If the power cell is gone and there's no chance of it falling into the Wraiths' hands, shouldn't the noise have stopped?"
"What noise?" McKay looked up from examining the pieces of the damaged laptop.
"What noise?" Weir demanded at the same time.
"There's a humming noise coming from the wall near the vault. I noticed it about the same time the klaxon first came on. I thought it had something to do with protecting the power cell, but it hasn't stopped."
McKay stood up and came over to the wall. He ran his hand along the surface, stopping at one point and then running his other hand in a rough circle around the first. He looked puzzled, shook his head before heading back to the pedestal and snatching up his data-pad.
The hum was becoming more of a high-pitched whine now, almost painful to the ear.
The scientist ignored them both. His forehead was creased in confusion as he looked at the wall again and then back at the data-pad. "This doesn't make sense. That area's approximately where some of the mechanics of the vault are located: the means for moving the cell and ejecting it. It should have stopped working when the cell was gone."
"I'm sure it's nothing you've done, Rodney," Weir said, "but are you sure it's not another booby-trap?
"Or it's just old, McKay. Old things break, even things made by Ancients." Sheppard added his own opinion, hands pressed over his ears now. "Can you get it to stop?"
"Do you think I haven't been trying?" McKay snapped, fingers dancing above the data-pad's screen.
"I think we need to get out of here."
McKay ignored him, continuing to work the data. Sheppard grunted in exasperation and started back across the room.
"McKay, listen to it. It's about to cut loose." He had to practically shout to be heard above the noise. "I don't know if it'll be contained by the wall or not, but I'd prefer to be as far from it as possible when it blows."
He was just reaching for McKay when the wall behind them exploded.
The force of the blast picked them up and tossed them toward the outer door. Sheppard heard McKay cry out somewhere nearby and then he slammed into something hard and immovable. He slid to the floor, dazed.
He lay on his back staring blearily at the ceiling, wondering what had happened this time.
It was several minutes before he roused himself enough to be aware of all the aches of his body. The main problem seemed to be his left leg and arm. Pulling in a deep breath he sat up slowly, cautiously, using his right arm as a prop when the room tilted drunkenly. He winced from what felt like dozens of bee stings on his back and shoulders.
He looked around for McKay, having to squint through dust and debris still drifting in the dim emergency lighting. Far away he could still hear the City's klaxon sounding. He reached awkwardly across his body with his right hand to make sure his mike was in the on position.
"Control, this is Sheppard," he announced himself hoarsely, coughing in the dust-laden air. Spotting McKay in the corner near the doorway, half hidden behind what looked like the remains of the pedestal, he pulled himself to his feet. Pain stabbed through his calf, but when he looked down he couldn't see anything. "Control, do you read me?"
There was no answer. Great. He limped across the room, cradling his throbbing left arm against his chest.
When he reached McKay he had to drag the pedestal away to get to the unconscious man. It took several frustrating minutes, using only one hand and with his leg protesting every time it was moved. He was finally able to kneel next to McKay who was slumped against the wall. There was blood on his face from a cut somewhere above his wispy hairline and a suspicious looking lump on his right forearm. Sheppard reached out, pressed two fingers against the other man's carotid and sighed with relief when he felt a strong pulse.
He fumbled with McKay's comm and managed to get it in his own ear.
"Control," he called huskily.
A raspy cough caught him by surprise, his throat and lungs irritated by the harsh air. He was wiping at the sweat dripping off of his face when he realized that it was not just dust moving through the air. It was smoke.
There was a fire.
He looked back at the gaping hole in the far wall. There were no flames that he could see. But the smoke and increase in heat were not encouraging signs; it must be trapped in the walls for now. And this area of the City was outside of the halon fire suppressant system the expedition had installed.
He needed to get them out of the immediate area, but he was reluctant to move McKay until he had made sure there was no spinal injury.
"Time to wake up," he said loudly and rubbed a knuckle against McKay's breastbone.
The scientist moaned, rolling his head from side to side but keeping his eyes closed. He started to raise his right hand to brush away the painful irritant, but stopped with an agonized groan. His eyes flickered open, looking around dazedly while his left hand came up to cradle his right.
"Sheppard," he whispered, "what happened?"
"Short story: something went boom. We went flying. You've got a nasty cut on your head and what looks like a broken arm. Now there's a fire somewhere nearby judging by the smoke, which, by the way, is getting thicker. So we need to get out of here. Can you move?" While he was speaking Sheppard inched closer on his knees, pulled a bandana from his back pocket and did his best to bandage the cut on McKay's head. It was difficult to keep the improvised dressing in place and tie a knot with only one fully functional hand. He was able to move only the thumb and first two fingers on his left hand, and doing that caused the whole hand and forearm to ache.
"Don't want to." Bruised-looking eyes gazed up at him pitiably.
"I know you hurt, Rodney, but we've got to go." He scooted backward, doing his best to ignore the jabbing pain in his leg and the whole burning misery that was his back. Patting McKay's leg, he said, "Can you move your legs for me?"
Wiggling his feet proved to be no problem, but when McKay tried to bend his knees a pained hiss escaped from between gritted teeth.
"Ow, ow, ow. Oh, damn it, that hurts," he moaned. When Sheppard looked askance, he added, "Right knee."
A quick exploration revealed that the joint was already significantly swollen.
"And it didn't hurt before you tried to bend it?"
"No more than the whole of the rest of my body," McKay snapped, starting to get back some of his usual cantankerousness. "In other words, everything hurts."
"But it's probably not broken. If you lean on me and keep as much pressure off of it as possible, can you walk on it? Or do I need to carry you?" Sheppard reached for a nearby counter and used it as leverage to get to his feet. He carefully leaned more and more of his weight onto his left leg, relieved when it didn't buckle.
McKay didn't reply, just held up his left hand. Sheppard stooped, got a shoulder under the arm and stood up, taking the scientist with him. They leaned against each other for a moment, getting their equilibrium back. McKay remained uncharacteristically quiet, audibly catching back a gasp of pain as he reached his feet. It turned into a cough that ended on a low moan of pain.
"Sorry," Sheppard muttered, shifting his arm to a firmer grip around the other's waist. It earned him another groan. "Ribs?"
"Yes," McKay gritted between clenched teeth. "Can we just go?"
The lab door had frozen partially open when the power cut off. They had to edge sideways through it to reach the corridor. It was equally dark there, the emergency lighting glowing through the swirling dust and smoke-laden air.
They headed toward the stairwell, limping and coughing. Neither spoke, although McKay was able to clearly express his pain and displeasure with a host of non-verbal sounds: grunts, moans and hisses.
They had only gone twenty meters or so when they found the corridor blocked. A wall now barricaded the way. They stared at it with equal measures of exasperation and dismay.
"Oh, crap," McKay muttered, "this is not good. And so typical. Their fire suppression system doesn't work reliably, but the damned blast shields do. We're so screwed."
"Stop giving up so quickly," Sheppard snapped back. "Can't you override the controls and get the wall back up?"
"And where would you suggest I do that, Mr. Eternal Optimist?" McKay demanded, using his injured arm to indicate the walls. There were none of the usual door control panels. "This isn't a doorway. This is a shield, being used to isolate this section from the rest of the City. It's controlled by the City. I'd have to be in Control to have any hope of overriding it. And you know what sort of luck we've had with that in the past. I repeat: we're screwed."
There was a rumbling crash from the lab and a wave of heat rolled out into the hallway, along with more smoke and dust.
"Okay, okay, I get it. But I'm not ready to give up yet."
Sheppard looked back up the corridor, past the lab. Without saying anything else he started walking, pulling McKay with him.
"Hey, where are we going? I don't want to go back to the lab."
"Not the lab. The airlock. What level are we on? How many floors below water level?"
Flames could now be seen as they passed the lab.
"The airlock? That's almost brilliant of you, Sheppard. A jumper can come and get us."
McKay leaned forward, trying to see the airlock through the smoke. He stumbled and they bounced off a wall before righting themselves.
"Careful, Rodney. Those walls are hot. And I don't know that we want to wait to see if a jumper comes. What level are we on?"
Luckily the airlocks were connected to the emergency system. The door slid open easily and they limped in.
"This is sublevel three. Why? What are you planning?" McKay demanded nervously as the door closed behind them.
"So that's… what? Fifteen, eighteen meters below water level? We can do that, easy."
"Do what 'easy'? You want to swim out of here? Oh, God, you do."
The chamber they were in was shaped like the interior of a jumper, the walls curved too much to lean against. And the outer door was angled to allow one of the craft to dock there. They limped/shuffled their way over to the controls for the outer door.
"Okay, I recognize that one," Sheppard muttered, depressing one of the keys. "Open."
There was a hissing noise, but nothing else happened. McKay half-wished that it was broken, but knew that it would take a while for the atmosphere to balance and the door to open. Water started flowing into the chamber.
He watched in resignation as Sheppard struggled, one-handed, to unlace combat boots which hadn't been laced up properly to begin with. The fiberglass cast that had been such a bother earlier appeared to be cracked. He'd offer to help, but he needed his good hand to brace himself against the curving wall. Besides, he didn't want to do this.
"I don't want to do this," McKay announced, wanting to be sure Sheppard understood his feelings about this harebrained scheme.
"It's not my first choice, either," Sheppard acknowledged. "But the fire's not slowing down any."
He nodded toward the inner door. McKay looked back and saw that the fire had broken through the walls into the corridor.
"Our locator chips will show us going out the airlock. They'll send a jumper for us. If not, we'll just swim to where we can climb out on our own. Easy." Giving up on the wet knots, Sheppard pulled the knife off of his belt and sliced through the laces.
"Easy, he says. The closest place we could climb out is about two kilometers away, if I remember correctly."
"Like I said: easy," Sheppard smiled cheerfully in an effort to keep McKay focused on his irritation rather than his fear. "Start taking deep breaths. Don't hold 'em in, just let 'em out again."
Sheppard knelt and started working on McKay's boots. They were completely underwater, and he didn't even try to untie the doubled knots. The laces were cut and the boot removed within a few seconds. McKay barely noticed, gaping in shock at the shredded shirt barely covering the other man's back.
"Christ, Sheppard, what did you do to your back? It's a bloody mess."
The lt. colonel climbed back to his feet, hopping briefly on one leg before getting both planted. The water was knee high now and rising rapidly. He popped the catches on his holster. It hit the knee-deep water with a splash and he toed it over toward the wall.
"I think it was shrapnel from the explosion. It hurts. Empty your pockets. You don't want anything weighing you down."
He checked his own pockets, but came up empty except for a little lint. There was an advantage to living someplace where you didn't need to carry around a wallet full of identification or pocketfuls of change. He smiled with amusement as McKay pulled out handfuls of detritus: paperclips, powerbar wrappers, lint, a broken stylus, a half-eaten Snickers bar, wadded up pieces of paper and more lint. Sheppard watched sadly as the napkin-wrapped chocolate chip cookies, reduced to crumbs by now, floated away.
The water was at waist level.
He looked at McKay, easily reading the dread in the other man's eyes. He plastered a big grin on his face.
"You know, McKay, when I came down to the lab today I was looking for something to keep me busy for the rest of the afternoon. You have succeeded beyond my wildest imagination."
As he had hoped the dread was replaced with irritation.
"Don't thank me. You can thank the long-dead, or – God help us – ascended Ancient who set up this lab. He brought paranoia to heretofore unseen heights."
"The man took pride in his work," Sheppard said. The water had reached their chests. "Okay. You need to stand on my left. I know it's going to hurt, but you need to hold on to me as tight as you can with your right arm. When the door opens, we swim as hard as we can for the surface. Kick as hard as you can and use your left arm to pull yourself up. Release a little air every few meters. Understand?"
McKay nodded, shivering in the cool water.
Sheppard got them lined up to one side of the door. He gripped McKay's belt with his left hand, grimacing as he forced swollen fingers to wrap around the leather. He felt McKay doing the same with his own belt.
The water was up to his shoulders.
McKay nodded again and they both sucked in a deep breath. Sheppard hit the door release.
The hatch started to lower and water rushed in, pushing them back slightly and immediately covering their heads. As soon as there was a large enough gap, he picked up his feet and pushed off against the wall. He could feel McKay trying to do the same. They weren't quite in sync so the push-off did not take them as far as he would have liked, but it was enough to get them out of the airlock. A couple of hard kicks and they were clear of the side of the City. He thanked God that they hadn't been on a lower level where the swim to get out from under the structure would have been much longer.
They started stroking toward the lighter ceiling above them. Sheppard could see that the surface was only about twenty meters over their heads. He tried to keep his pace as even as possible, but McKay struggled with it. McKay lost the grip on his belt and tried to reestablish it, forgetting to kick and stroke. Sheppard wasted precious moments getting the other man's attention and signaling the need to keep swimming.
Still, they were doing well until about five meters from the surface. McKay had been dragging, only able to use the one arm and leg well, but he began to move a little quicker as the pressure in his lungs became more painful. He started to thrash, panicked, when he realized he could hold his breath no longer.
Sheppard had been prepared for this and released his hold on McKay's belt. Before McKay could hit him with the frenzied flailing or move too far away he managed to get his arm under the other man's chin. He pulled the frantic McKay in tight to his chest and kicked for all he was worth for the surface.
They broke the surface in a rush and each pulled in a large, gasping breaths. Sheppard slowed his kicking to an easier pace, just enough to keep them afloat, and eased his grip on McKay's neck. They both spent several moments breathing deeply, with McKay coughing out the water that he had involuntarily breathed in.
"See, that wasn't so bad," Sheppard gasped cheerily after a few seconds.
McKay tossed water over his shoulder into Sheppard's laughing face and continued pulling in deep breaths.
The walls of the southeastern pier rose over their heads, looming almost claustrophobically. There were no water-level entrances on this pier, at least none that could be accessed from the outside. Sheppard knew they would have to work their way over to the northeastern pier to be able to climb out of the water on their own. He hoped a jumper would show up soon. Swimming almost two klicks in the ocean just didn't appeal to him at the moment. The water was too cool, hovering on the brink of cold, to be comfortable.
He gave McKay a couple more minutes to catch his breath and then got them both situated as before: injured sides together, his swollen hand gripping McKay's belt. It took them a few tries to get their strokes synchronized, but they were moving.
"I can't believe," McKay huffed and spit water when a wave washed over his face, "that you are so goddamned cheerful about all of this." His left arm flailed over his head, plopped into the water and stroked back down to his side before repeating the motion.
"We're alive, Rodney, that makes me darned happy," Sheppard said mildly. His own swimming style was smoother and he was able to add a fairly strong kick to help things along.
Another small wave broke over their heads. He breathed out as his face was covered and managed not to inhale any water. McKay was not so lucky and spent the next few moments coughing and sputtering.
"Alive, so far," he finally gasped. "And no thanks to that unhinged whacko who called himself an Ancient."
"Uh, Rodney, I don't think – "
"You know what I mean. I cannot believe that he booby-trapped that lab to explode. Surely he didn't think the Wraith were going to invade the City. I've worked with paranoid people before but he takes the –." More coughing and sputtering erupted. The swimming duo came to a halt as McKay struggled to get upright in the water, wanting to keep his face turned away from any more waves until he could breathe properly again.
Sheppard had to turn his own face away, both to hide his expression and to keep from being splashed as McKay thrashed around in the water.
"Maybe we should just concentrate on swimming for now," he suggested when they were ready to start moving again. "The water's pretty choppy today."
McKay wanted to speak, to air his grievances against lunatic Ancients and lt. colonels who found enjoyment in being blown up and almost burned to death and nearly drowning. He settled into a quiet sulk instead.
Sheppard stopped a couple times to be sure they were still headed in the right direction. He figured they had gone nearly two hundred meters when he heard the familiar high-pitched hum of a jumper's engines. They stopped swimming and tread water, watching as the small craft sped toward them.
"Finally," grumped McKay and spat out another mouthful of water.
One Month Later
Sheppard and McKay sat in McKay's lab, staring at the clean workbench and scratching at their casts. A chessboard was set up for a game, but was ignored.
"I can't believe Carson won't tell Elizabeth that we're fit for mapping duty," the scientist groused. He briefly transferred his scratching to the kneecap peeking out of the leg brace and then switched back to his arm. "It's just walking around, looking in rooms and entering information on a data-pad. How strenuous could that be?"
"I don't think Carson wants you walking so much," Sheppard offered. He flexed the leg that had been skewered by a pencil thin, four-inch shard of crystal. It still ached a little, but wasn't really an impediment. At least he didn't think so.
"I said I would use a wheelchair. You wouldn't mind pushing me around, would you?"
Sheppard cleared his throat. It was a sign of how annoyed McKay was, how bored, that he had handed Sheppard that straight line without hesitation. "Nope, wouldn't mind at all," he said, ignoring the opportunity as only a friend would.
"And Teyla and Ronon could go with us."
"I mentioned that to Elizabeth," Sheppard said gloomily. He reached around to scratch at the few remaining shrapnel wounds on his back. They were almost completely healed, but still had a tendency to itch. "She said that'd never stopped us before."
"What'd she mean by that?" McKay rubbed at the patch of new hair growth on his head. Sheppard had warned him about insulting nurses wielding razors, but he had ignored the advice. The patch vaguely resembled South America.
"I think she's bought into Beckett's theory that we're trouble magnets. I wouldn't have thought she'd be the superstitious type."
"Me neither. She won't let me work on any of my projects until the cast comes off. Zelenka has taken over anything that can't wait. All my paperwork is up-to-date. I've never been up-to-date before."
"I know what you mean."
It was quiet again except for the sound of fingernails rasping on fiberglass.
After a few moments, McKay sighed and nudged the game board. "We could play chess. Again."
Sheppard eyed it with distaste. "You ready to lose? Again?"
"No." McKay sighed in resignation. He swung his leg off of the stool he had propped it on and stood up. "I guess I'll go stare over my vassal's shoulders and ask cogent questions about their projects. Meet me for dinner at 1800?"
"Sure," Sheppard got to his feet and stretched, yawning. "I think I'll go inspect the Marines' barracks. It's been awhile since I did that. See if I can spot where they've hidden the still this time."
"Sounds exciting," McKay commented as he limped toward the door at the far end of the lab.
Sheppard's eyes narrowed suspiciously when McKay plucked a screwdriver off of the pegboard as he went through the door.
"Where the hell are you going with that, McKay?"