Written for Vecturist for the Secret Santa challenge, to the prompt: "a gen fic, something focusing on Sheppard and the ATA gene/chair/Atlantis and maybe the ATA gene carriers as well".
Not entirely sure about this fic… I kind struggled with it and the science storyline kind of ran away with me and, I felt, almost overshadowed the whump aspect… and it felt like I was writing a lot of dialogue and exposition… and not much else! As ever, all feedback gratefully received…
"It's not working."
"How can it not be working?!"
"I don't know, McKay! It just isn't!" John opened his eyes and the Chair powered down, the blue glow fading and the seat tilting him back into an upright position.
"That doesn't make any sense!" McKay was crouched beside the Chair platform, the epicentre of a tangle of connecting wires, tapping furiously at his datapad. "There's no reason for it not to work!"
Sheppard grimaced, pinching at the bridge of his nose; his head was starting to ache from the effort of prolonged concentration.
"Try again," Rodney ordered grumpily. "You need to think about the sensor network…"
"I've tried, McKay," John growled. "And tried and tried and tried. It's not working."
"Well, you must be doing something wrong…"
Okay, that was it. John levered himself out of the Chair, his grip tightening on the arms as his head swam for a brief moment. Whoah. Stood up too quickly. He shook it off and straightened. "If you think you can do better, McKay, you're welcome to try," he informed Rodney sweetly.
"What?" McKay looked up, apparently only now noticing that his favourite ATA slave was on the verge of departure. "Oh hey, no! Wait! You just need to…"
"Let me know when you've fixed it." John headed for the door.
"It's not broken! Everything here is working exactly as it should, there is absolutely no reason why the programme wouldn't run! This doesn't make sense…" Rodney's frustrated monologue followed John down the corridor, echoing off the metallic walls of the Ancient city.
John's head was really pounding; he'd spent over an hour in the Chair, trying to implement Rodney's latest idea to use the Chair to access and monitor, maybe even remotely repair, citywide systems. It had been an exercise in frustration, and pointless concentration, as the Chair had refused to respond to his commands. It had been unnerving too; John had never really thought too hard about his ATA ability. It was simply a part of him, something he'd never been without – from the moment he'd stepped through the gate, the city of Atlantis had responded to him. This was the first time the Ancient technology hadn't reacted to his commands; and according to McKay there was no fault, no damaged crystals, no problems with the coding of the sub-routine he'd written, nothing… He felt a vague discomfort at the thought. Using the gene, feeling that connection, was second nature to him. It disturbed him on some deep, subconscious level that it hadn't worked.
But no. McKay would fix it. There must be a fault somewhere, something small, something they hadn't found yet. McKay would find it and find a work-around and they'd try again. He smiled even as he rubbed a hand at his aching temples. Even after all this time, he knew Rodney was still at least a little jealous of John's natural gene; although he had the artificial gene, Rodney still couldn't activate Ancient technology with the same ease as John, it still required a level of concentration. John suspected that that lingering jealousy, as much as simple expediency, was part of what made him Rodney's favourite choice when he needed someone to pick something up/touch something/sit in the Chair and obey impatient commands.
He'd been planning to head for his office and catch up on some overdue paperwork but the nagging headache forced a change in tactics. It didn't seem to be getting any better so he altered course and headed for the infirmary, thinking he would beg a couple of Tylenol and maybe hit the mess for an early lunch.
Carson looked up from his desk as John walked into the infirmary, rising to his feet with a smile. "Colonel. And what can we do for you today?"
John shrugged casually; the last thing he wanted was to make a fuss. "Bit of a headache," he explained. "Rodney's had me doing my ATA thing for half the morning. Was kinda hoping I could grab a Tylenol or something."
"Okay." Carson patted a nearby exam bed. "Hop up for a moment and let me have a look at you."
John perched on the edge of the mattress resignedly; he should have known Carson wouldn't let him escape without at least a cursory exam. It was a waste of both their time - he felt fine other than a stupid tension headache - but if that's what it took to get some painkillers and get on with his day, then so be it. He sat patiently while Carson poked and prodded and ran through the standard questions, answering promptly; nope, no other symptoms, haven't hit my head, no blurred vision, no loss of consciousness. Just a headache. Carson reported that his blood pressure and temperature were both fine and shone his slim flashlight into John's eyes.
John cringed, flinching away as he screwed his eyes shut with a hiss of protest. The bright light stabbed into his eyes like a knife and the headache escalated a notch or two.
"Sorry, son." Carson's voice was full of apology, his hand on John's shoulder, and John grunted in acknowledgement, cracking his eyes open reluctantly. He squinted at Carson's concerned expression, grimacing at the renewed pounding in his skull.
"Yeah," John breathed. He could really do with those Tylenol.
"Okay. Well, you seem otherwise healthy. It most likely is just a tension headache, as you thought." Carson was moving as he spoke and John heard the jingle of keys and the rattle of a cabinet door.
"Take these with water and go get something to eat." John closed his hand around the proffered blister pack of tablets. "I'd advise you take it easy for a couple of hours, avoid any activities that require prolonged concentration. Let me know if things don't improve."
John slid off the exam bed with a murmur of thanks, only to find Carson's hands steadying him as once again he wobbled momentarily, his head spinning.
He shrugged off Carson's concern, already feeling steadier. "I'm good," he insisted. "Just stood up a little too quickly."
Carson didn't look entirely convinced but, short of confining him to the infirmary for having a headache, John knew there wasn't much else he could do. "You should try and get some rest," the doctor compromised. "And I want you straight back here if things haven't improved within a couple of hours."
"Sure thing, doc."
John did as advised and headed straight for the mess, where he grabbed a bottle of water and a sandwich and took them with him back to his room. The headache wasn't getting any better but at least it didn't seem to be getting any worse. It was bad enough though that he was willing to follow Carson's advice and forgo the paperwork for today. He left the lights low in his room, setting the water and sandwich beside him on the bed as he sat down and unlaced his boots. His head spun for a moment again as he sat back up and he grimaced as he toed the boots off, letting them topple to the floor. He dug the painkillers out of his pocket and washed them down with a good swallow of water, before digging into the sandwich. He washed it down with more water and stretched himself out on top of the neatly-made bed, trying to will his limbs to relax as he waited for the painkillers to kick in.
With his eyes closed it was harder to ignore the dull throbbing in his head and he forced himself to focus on his breathing, making his breaths deep and slow, trying to consciously relax the tension in his body. He didn't really think he'd be able to sleep with this headache but slowly, as he breathed rhythmically in and out, his eyelids began to feel heavier and the pounding in his head seemed to become muffled and a little more distant, easier to ignore. He smiled drowsily and the last conscious thought that crossed his mind was that the painkillers were working.
"McKay to Sheppard."
John felt oddly groggy when he awoke, his limbs heavy, his head feeling like it was stuffed with cotton wool. For a moment he was disoriented, blinking sleepily at the shadowed ceiling, before he remembered the headache and the Tylenol and coming back to his quarters to rest. He rolled over with a groan and reached for his earpiece.
"What is it, McKay?" he rasped.
"I need you down here."
He frowned, rubbing at his forehead. "Down where, Rodney?" He still felt half asleep, his mind struggling to catch up.
"The Chair room. Where else?" Even over the radio, McKay's exasperation was clear.
With a grunt, John pushed himself up to a sitting position, taking a moment to collect his thoughts, try and kick-start his body into action. "Mm. 5 minutes," he mumbled, looking around vaguely for his boots. They were on the floor, and he remembered kicking them off earlier.
"You sound terrible. Where are you?" McKay's voice was impatience mixed with suspicion, a combination that spoke of concern, to those that knew him well enough.
"5 minutes, McKay." John switched the radio off. His head was feeling clearer already and he rolled his head on his shoulders and stretched a little, shaking off the last vestiges of sleep. The Tylenol had worked its magic and his head was no longer pounding. He checked his watch; he'd been asleep for maybe an hour or so.
He leaned over to snag his boots and roughly pulled them on, lacing them quickly yet firmly. With a sigh he pushed to his feet, only to wobble and drop ungracefully back to his seat as vertigo sideswiped him, his arms flailing as he tried instinctively to regain his balance. Dammit. This was getting annoying now. Maybe he should see Carson. He stood up carefully, slowly, one hand on the mattress until he was sure he was steady. He'd go see what Rodney wanted and then go have a word with Carson, he decided.
He found Rodney in much the same place he'd left him; crouching beside the Chair platform, surrounded by cables and control crystals, muttering to himself as he pecked at his datapad, his fingers stabbing at the screen as though it had personally offended him. He looked up as John walked in and his frown changed from one of frustration to one of suspicion.
"Oh. You look terrible too." Rodney informed him sourly. "What's wrong with you?"
"I'm fine," John shrugged. "Had a bit of a headache. It's gone now."
"Well, you look like death warmed over." Rodney pronounced and turned back to his screen.
John strolled over to peer at the datapad over Rodney's shoulder, something he knew was guaranteed to bug his friend, and commented, a little pointedly, "Well, someone interrupted my rest to demand that I come down here to the Chair room." McKay sighed in exasperation and shifted the datapad to block it from view and John stepped back with a smile, enjoying his minor victory. "So what did you want me for, McKay?" he pressed.
McKay looked up at him blankly, his expression quickly morphing into impatience, as if John had just asked him something utterly imbecilic. He waved a hand vaguely, the gesture encompassing the Chair, the tangle of cables and crystals that surrounded him, saying, "I need you in the Chair," as if surprised at having to explain something so patently obvious.
John favoured Rodney with a long look. "Have you fixed it yet?" he asked mildly.
"What? No. There's nothing to fix!"
"Then you don't need me." John picked his way past the tangle of cables in the direction of the door.
"Sheppard, wait!" Rodney struggled to his feet to chase after him and John turned, lingering in the doorway as McKay tried breathlessly to explain. "Seriously, I've checked everything I can and there's no reason for this not to work. We just need to give it one more try – I can't do anything more without having someone in the Chair so that I can monitor the interface and…"
Sheppard gave a reluctant grimace. He'd spent over an hour doing just that this morning and the only thing it had gotten him was a pounding headache. He really wasn't looking to repeat the experience. "And the reason that someone has to be me is…?" he interrupted.
"Well, you know… you have, um…" McKay's mouth tightened a little, as though having to force out the words, "…you have the strongest gene and if we're going to get this to work, then you're… probably… our best chance of doing so." His chin lifted defiantly, as though daring John to make any kind of comment.
John sighed and manfully resisted the temptation. He looked consideringly at the Chair and thought about Carson's recommendation to avoid anything requiring prolonged concentration. Then again, the Tylenol had done the trick and his headache was gone; he felt fine. He shoved his hands in his pockets and stepped around a hopeful McKay, walking resignedly back into the room.
"You've got 10 minutes," he stated as he lowered himself into the Chair. "If it isn't working by then, it's not going to."
"Okay. Great." McKay was a bustle of activity, scurrying back to his perch beside the platform and diving straight in as though John was going to time those 10 minutes exactly and he didn't want to lose a single unnecessary second. "Just let me hook this up to… and I've got to check that.. aaaand okay. We're good to go. Power it up."
John closed his eyes and laid his hands on the arm pads of the Chair, feeling the familiar connection kick in as the Chair shifted beneath him, tilting him backwards. The active link was like a low-grade hum in the back of his mind, a feeling that was hard to describe. There was a sense of expectation to it, of the Chair waiting for his instruction. He let himself settle into the connection as Rodney's instructions came thick and fast.
"Think about the sensor network. See if you can bring up the schematic.."
He thought about it, picturing in his mind what he was looking for. Nothing. He frowned and concentrated. The connection was there; he could feel it. It just wasn't responding. He shifted a little in the chair, tension beginning to gather in his shoulders, and focused his mind, envisioning the schematic, telling the Chair what he wanted, and concentrated hard on the connection. After a minute or so the ache was beginning to build behind his eyes and he let the tension go with a gasp, opening his eyes and letting the real world intrude once again.
McKay was muttering to himself. "This can't be right… there's no reason for that to…"
"McKay?" John interrupted. "I'm getting nothing here. You?"
Rodney's voice was subdued, caught between frustration and bemusement. "This makes no sense. The connection is active…"
"I know that," John complained.
"…but nothing's happening. It's almost like something is blocking the interface, preventing the commands from getting through."
"Can you fix it?"
"Well it's not as simple as that…"
"Yes, yes." John could didn't need to turn his head to see the dismissive hand wave, he could hear it in McKay's voice. "I'll need to check the coding in the neural receptors. I need to run a diagnostic while it's active. Try and connect again."
John closed his eyes again, tried to relax his body and mind, and tried again to bring up the sensor network schematic. There was no response. The connection was there but still nothing happened and the more he tried to concentrate and force a response, the more the connection seemed to slip away from him, becoming muted and oddly dislocated. Pressure was building in his temples and his head was starting to throb again already.
He took a deep breath and focused his thoughts on the sensation of connection, the odd hum at the back of his mind that was waiting for a command. He held on to that tenuous feeling and pushed.
This time there was a response; something pushed back. And suddenly the connection flared, hot and bright, more powerful than anything he'd experienced before, a stab of white light straight into his brain, neurons firing in their millions, and he screamed as every muscle in his body tensed. For a moment time was suspended and all he was aware of was the pain and the connection, overpowering him, burning through him, washing away all sense of self, consuming him utterly. Then everything went dark.
Rodney was utterly focused on the scrolling data on his screen, trying to make sense of what he was seeing, when suddenly the readout jumped, the figures skewing wildly. He hadn't even time to form his surprise into words when a hoarse scream rent the air and he looked up in horror to see Sheppard shuddering in the Chair, his entire body rigid. Panic sliding icy cold down his spine, Rodney tossed the datapad aside and scrambled to his feet.
"Sheppard? Sheppard!" There was no response to his frantic shout; Sheppard's eyes were clenched shut, his face twisted in pain, his mouth open in a terrible agonised scream. His body was shaking, muscles trembling with tension, and yet Rodney noticed that his hands were still flat on the sensor pads of the Chair. He was still connected.
Then, with a suddenness that startled him, the awful scream cut off and Sheppard's body went limp, his head lolling to one side as his muscles relaxed. For a moment Rodney was paralysed, terrified that Sheppard was dead, almost too scared to find out for sure.
"Sheppard?" he asked faintly, uncertainty trembling in his voice.
Nothing. Sheppard was sprawled in the Chair, his long legs dangling, his eyes closed. Rodney leaned forward anxiously, relieved beyond measure to see the slow rise and fall of his chest; he was breathing. That was good. Cautiously, he reached out and pressed his fingers to Sheppard's neck; his pulse was racing, his skin cool and clammy. Rodney leaned back and was reaching for his radio when a terrible realisation hit him; throughout everything that had just happened, the Chair hadn't moved. It was still tilted into a reclined position, the blue glow showing that it was still active. He fumbled clumsily for his datapad and staggered backwards, reading the scrolling data in horror. Sheppard was still connected; even now, in unconsciousness, the ATA link was still active and Colonel Sheppard was still connected to the city's systems.
Rodney tapped a finger sharply against his earpiece and, as soon as the connection opened, shouted, "Get Carson down to the Chair room! Now!"
Carson stepped out of the transporter and immediately broke into a hasty jog, his medical bag bumping against his leg as he ran. It was a five minute walk from the nearest transporter to the Chair room; he made it in two, his chest heaving a little as he slowed to a halt beside the still glowing Chair.
"What took you so long?" snapped Rodney.
Colonel Sheppard was sprawled loosely in the reclined Chair, his hands splayed on the interface panels, his head tilted to one side. His eyes were closed and he appeared to be unconscious. Carson dumped the bag by his feet and got straight to business, questioning Rodney as he leant over the Colonel to check his pulse.
"What exactly happened?"
Rodney's face was pale and tense, his mouth pulled into an unhappy line. His eyes never left Sheppard as Carson quickly and thoroughly checked the Colonel's vitals.
"We were trying to get the program running, the one to utilise the Chair's sensor systems to…" Rodney cut himself off, shaking his head as he dismissed the details as irrelevant, "…whatever, he was trying to activate the programme but the systems weren't responding and then… then he just suddenly started screaming and kind of shaking all over and I couldn't get him to answer me and then he just fai… he passed out."
Carson spared Rodney a brief glance as he continued his assessment. His slim flashlight in hand, he gently lifted the Colonel's eyelids to check his pupil reactions. "Did anything happen that might have caused this?" he asked.
Rodney's expression was troubled. "I don't know," he admitted. "I've been having problems getting the system to respond to commands but I can't find any reason why it's not working the way it should." He grimaced. "And uh, there were some unusual readings just before Sheppard started screaming…"
Carson looked up at Rodney incredulously. "Are you saying the Chair caused this?" Carson regarded the glowing contraption with trepidation ; he'd never liked the damn thing anyway and preferred to stay well away from it.
"I don't know, Carson," Rodney repeated in frustration. "I need to check the logs and go over the data." He gestured vaguely at the datapad abandoned amongst a tangle of cabling around the Chair's base but made no move to actually pick it up.
Carson stepped back from the Chair just as his team arrived with a gurney. He zipped his bag closed decisively and nodded at his staff to bring the gurney alongside. "Well, you'd better make a start on that," he told Rodney, "while I get the Colonel to the infirmary and run some tests."
"What?" Rodney looked shocked for a moment before his expression hardened into a familiar frown of impatience. "Nonono!" he argued, "You can't move him!" He waved a hand jerkily at the glowing Chair. "Don't you understand? The Chair is still active. Colonel Sheppard is still connected. There's no telling what could happen if we try and disconnect him!" He glared angrily at the medical team who stopped their preparations, looking uncertainly to Carson for a decision.
Carson's heart sank as he realised the implication of the blue glow of the Chair's surfaces, the low hum of the active circuits. "But… how can that be?" he demanded. "The ATA requires a mental component to activate… how can it possibly be active if the Colonel is unconscious?"
"I told you Carson, I don't know yet!" Rodney snapped, bending over to pick up his datapad. He was already muttering to himself as he straightened, something about checking lines of coding and a reference to the neural receptors, when he abruptly swayed, flailing with his free arm for balance and grabbing hold of the back of the Chair.
"Rodney? Are you alright?" Carson hurried to his side, reaching out to steady him as the scientist wobbled again, his face suddenly ashen.
"Whoah. Vertigo," Rodney mumbled shakily. He blinked a couple of times and then seemed to recover, pulling out of Carson's hands as he straightened. "I'm okay," he declared. "It's gone now." He turned his attention to the datapad, ignoring Carson as he began to scroll quickly through the information.
Carson hovered for a moment, an uneasy suspicion beginning to grow in his mind, and a moment later, to his concern, Rodney winced and pressed a hand to his forehead.
"Ngh. Headache." He swayed again suddenly and Carson grabbed hold of him, turning him and guiding him down to sit on the base of the Chair.
"Sit down before you fall down, Rodney," he chided.
Rodney grunted, dropping the datapad to press the heels of his hands into his eyes. "Urgh. My head's pounding," he mumbled.
Carson didn't like the implications of that; first Colonel Sheppard and now Rodney, both of whom had been working on the malfunctioning Chair, were experiencing headaches and dizziness. He straightened up, intending to have his team bring the gurney around for Rodney, and found himself grabbing for the arm of the Chair as he also wobbled, the floor seeming to tilt beneath his feet. He hung on for a moment until the sensation passed, leaving him shaken and breathless.
"Dr Beckett?" Dr Xiu was at his side, her hand on his shoulder.
"Argh!" The cry of pain came from Rodney and Carson looked down to see him clutching at his temples, his eyes screwed shut. "My head!" he cried.
Before Carson could take a step towards Rodney, he grimaced as dull pain flared in his own head – a sensation of pressure behind the eyes, an angry pounding in his temples.
"Carl!" Xiu was quick to respond, directing one of the EMTs to Rodney's side as she took charge of Carson, guiding him to sit beside Rodney on the dias. Vertigo unbalanced him again as he lowered himself unsteadily and the throbbing in his head was increasing in intensity. He struggled to think clearly, to make sense of this – something was very wrong here and he had to figure out what.
He moaned as the pain in his head spiked angrily.
There was a sudden commotion beside him as Rodney abruptly pushed the EMT away, his face white with pain, his expression one of dawning horror. Looking around wildly, he gasped, "Oh no. Oh no!" before turning to Dr Xiu and telling her urgently, "Get Zelenka and Keller here! Now!"
Before anyone could ask for an explanation, Rodney stiffened, his mouth opening in a hoarse scream as his back arched and he toppled jerking to the floor. The room erupted in chaos as the medics ran to help. Carson clutched his head, groaning helplessly as waves of pain washed over him. Rodney's screams seemed distant, hollow, as if the world around him were receding, and then hot, white pain spiked in his head, an angry buzzing filled his ears and his muscles spasmed viciously. He wasn't aware of falling, wasn't aware of anything but the pain and the trembling of his body as his muscles jerked helplessly. He was vaguely aware of someone screaming, maybe even distantly realised that it was him, and then everything went black.
Elizabeth found the Chair room a scene of controlled chaos; medical staff were clustered around two gurneys and the Chair itself, Dr Keller moving between them, Dr Xiu at her side as she checked vitals and conferred with the teams; Dr Zelenka's team was gathered around the Chair platform, Radek himself crouched beside the open panels, his face a frown of concentration as he focused his attention on a datapad. In the centre of the confusion, looking frighteningly pale in the cold blue light, Colonel Sheppard was sprawled limply in the still-active Chair.
"Okay, let's get them to the infirmary please!" Dr Keller's voice rose above the hubbub and Elizabeth stepped to one side to make space for the gurneys that rolled by her, first Rodney, then Carson, each of them pale and still, strapped carefully into place.
"Dr Keller?" Elizabeth moved to intercept as the gurneys left and Dr Keller turned her attention back to the Chair and its unconscious occupant. "How are they?" she asked quietly.
The young doctor turned to face Elizabeth, her expression grave. "It's hard to say," she replied carefully. "I need to run some tests. For the moment, they're stable enough but we don't know what is causing this… or how to treat it." She offered Elizabeth an apologetic smile and moved back to the Chair, stepping up onto the raised platform to join the medical team gathered around the city's military commander. Elizabeth followed slowly, keeping far enough back so as not to be in the way. John looked… he looked broken, his body slumped loosely in the Chair, head tilted to one side, one long leg dangling where it had slipped off the footrest. He was white as a sheet and even in unconsciousness his face carried a faint frown.
"What happened here?" Elizabeth asked.
Dr Keller looked up from her work, running a distracted hand through her hair as she explained, "We don't know exactly. Carson attended an emergency call from Dr McKay," she gestured meaningfully at John, "and shortly after that both he and Dr McKay also fell ill…"
"They both developed the same symptoms within moments of each other, "Dr Xiu offered. Elizabeth had not had many dealings with the Xiu Lin but she knew Carson thought very highly of her. "We had responded with the gurney to Dr McKay's call," she explained, "and Dr Beckett wanted to move him to the infirmary but Dr McKay said it was dangerous to move him…"
"Dangerous?" Elizabeth murmured.
"Yes. Dangerous." Elizabeth had almost forgotten about Radek, hunched at the base of the dais, until he stood up suddenly, absently pushing his glasses further up his nose as he explained hurriedly. "The Chair is still active and somehow – we don't know how – the Colonel is still connected. It could cause untold damage to both Colonel Sheppard and the Chair's systems if we were to attempt to disconnect him forcibly," he warned.
Elizabeth grimaced. "Is there a way to shut the connection down?" she asked. "Have you any idea what caused this?"
Radek should his head regretfully. "I need to go through the data Rodney recorded from the Chair." He waved the datapad. "It could take some time. I'm sorry. I think Rodney may have found something but…" He shrugged helplessly. "He's not able to tell us anything, right now."
"Wait. Why do you think Rodney knew something?"
"He told us to get Dr Zelenka and Dr Keller," Dr Xiu answered, Radek nodding in agreement. "Right before he went into convulsions, he ordered us to get them down here straight away. A moment later, Dr Beckett also began to convulse and lost consciousness."
Elizabeth frowned. She was missing something important here; something about Keller and Zelenka and about Rodney and Carson… She looked up, her gaze falling on John. John was first. Not just Rodney and Carson but Rodney and Carson and John. Two was a coincidence, three was a pattern. A chill ran through her.
"The ATA gene!" she realised.
"What?" Radek looked up from his datapad and Elizabeth saw understanding dawn in his eyes as she explained, "Rodney, Carson and John all have the ATA gene!"
"Rodney must have realised what was happening," Radek agreed, "and he asked for me and for Dr Keller…"
"…neither of whom have the gene!" Elizabeth finished. "He knew you wouldn't be affected!"
"Yes." Radek frowned at the datapad. "But affected by what?"
"And what's it doing to them?" Elizabeth asked worriedly, her gaze drawn back once again to John's pale face. She looked at her watch; McKay's call to Carson had gone out over 25 minutes ago.
"Infirmary to Dr Keller."
Dr Keller didn't take her attention from her patient as she tapped her earpiece. "Yes, Jan. What is it?"
"We may have a problem here, Dr Keller. I've had 15 people… make that 17… report to the infirmary within the last quarter hour complaining of headaches and dizziness."
Dr Keller straightened, looking worriedly to Elizabeth.
"I heard," Elizabeth nodded. "Do any of them have the ATA gene?"
"Jan, do any of those 17 have the ATA gene?"
There was a moment's silence; long enough for Elizabeth's heart to sink in anticipation of the response.
"Yes, Doctor Keller. They all do."
To be continued...