How Many Astrophysicists...
I really should have been paying attention, John told himself as he sat on a cracked Ancient console, gun on his lap, watching the foot-high water lap at the soles of his boots. His predicament was all the more disturbing when he took the time to reason out just how far away from the control tower he really was--it had taken three transporters and a hell of a lot of steps to get down to this place, whatever 'this place' was. The hologram that had appeared in the chamber leading to this one had been extremely unhelpful, elevating the whole 'obscure Ancient' routine to the level of fine art. It also hadn't helped that the thing had been flaky, flickering in and out of view like a dying light bulb. It had been this thought, this inane and utterly mundane thought that had distracted him--not like the droning monotone of the stuttering image hadn't been bad enough.
No, it wasn't a Wraith Super-Queen or a Replicator nanovirus that was going to take down John Sheppard--it was boredom. Boredom and a short attention span. God, what were the odds? John shut his eyes, tamping down the part of his brain that was busily calculating the size of the leak based on the current water volume and time elapsed. He tried to focus on the few words and phrases from the Ancient projection that might have stuck in his mind, but all he could remember was wondering how long it would take for Rodney to fix it. That had turned into, 'How many astrophysicists does it take to change an Ancient hologram device?' and it was all downhill from there. He reached up and tapped his radio for the fifteenth time.
"Sheppard to McKay, please respond." Silence.
It figured that the only bit he was sure he could recall correctly was something about shielding and communications. Well, okay, that wasn't true--he'd belatedly remembered the part where the Ancient had blandly said the words 'doorway,' 'escape,' and 'severe penalty' in the same tone as those stupid countdowns on TV--all 'twenty seconds until self-destruct' and 'auto-self-destruct aborted' with no emotion whatsoever. He was used to Rodney's approach to certain death--when in doubt, assume the worst in the most vocal and flaily way possible. At this point in his life, John was so used to overreaction that this calm warning had resulted in utter disbelief and a stun blast from the door he had been trying to hotwire with his hands when thinking 'Open!' hadn't worked. At least the lights worked--well, half of them--leaving columns of dim glow that ended up looking less comforting than creepy, reminding him that he was almost certainly below the waterline.
John rubbed at his left hand, wondering if the feeling would return just in time to feel the full glory of being submerged in ridiculously cold water. He guessed it could have been worse--if he had been standing directly in front of the console, his whole body would be paralyzed, numb, and probably underwater by now. He shivered. The room was definitely getting colder, and it was a good thing his boots were waterproof, since the slowly rising water was now licking around his heels. John tapped his earpiece again.
"McKay, now would be a really good time to be able to hear me." More silence.
When Rodney had started waving his hands and walking off by himself, John had told himself that someone should stay behind in case something went wrong--so he'd waved Ronon and Teyla ahead, had told them he'd be fine. Instead of staying back to watch their six, however, he'd managed to locked up in some Ancient unheated jacuzzi. What was it with the Ancients and death traps? John refused to feel grateful that there was some semblance of a warning sign blocking this one, because for one thing, it had done a crappy job, and for another... well, he probably would have come in here no matter what the hologram had said. So much for exploring the bowels of the city as a team-building exercise. John wondered if he could use this situation to persuade Elizabeth to cut back on her mandatory 'no Gate travel' days--should he manage to get rescued, of course.
Sighing, John traced the light from his P-90 around the seams of the room again, trying to illuminate the parts of the room the weak interior lights couldn't reach, and ignoring the protest in his backside as his movements threatened the integrity of his balance. Wait--there.
The circle of light had caught the end of a symbol he hadn't seen before. His eyes widened as he traced the line of images. This wasn't Ancient, it was pictographic--and one of the symbols looked suspiciously like the outline of a--
God. A puddlejumper. John was so surprised, he tried to get up on his knees on the console to get a better look and ended up nearly falling off, dousing his left leg to the knee in the freezing water when his hand didn't work the way it was supposed to. The cold shocked his system, the adrenaline pumping his blood faster to make up for the sudden temperature change, and he swept his light more slowly through the room, looking for more symbols.
There were some on every wall, and either the cold was making his thinking clearer or they made a fuzzy sort of sense to him even though he wasn't a real Ancient. The puddlejumper ideogram repeated a few more times, along with many symbols he couldn't figure out at all, and some he thought he might, given enough time. Time was the one thing he probably didn't have, and patience was a definite no.
"Rodney, unless you want to give me pointers on how to survive a near-drowning experience, I would appreciate it if you would get me out of this room at your earliest convenience," John growled into his radio, knowing it was useless but needing to say something anyway. It wasn't like the radio was going to somehow spontaneously work after forty-five minutes, after all.
Because this was Atlantis, where nothing ever went as expected, not even life-threatening Ancient cryptology labs of Watery Doom, Rodney's voice in his ear caused John to jump in surprise, hands scrabbling for purchase on his island console.
"Finally!" Rodney's voice held none of the panic John would have felt appropriate, given his current situation, which didn't seem quite fair. "Colonel, do we need to have yet another talk about the wisdom of wandering away from one's team unannounced? This might be Atlantis, but--"
Not fair at all.
"You wandered away from me!" John protested hotly, ignoring the rush of relief at hearing that voice in favor of interrupting Rodney before the other man wasted more precious rescue time berating him. "You scurried off looking for energy readings or whatever with Ronon and Teyla as bodyguards--"
"Yes, yes--clearly our assumption that you couldn't get yourself into any trouble standing by yourself in a hallway was deeply misguided," McKay said with heavy sarcasm.
"It wasn't a hallway, it was a room, and all I did was take one step up onto a--"
"John, am I correct in presuming you are trapped somewhere near to where we left you?" Teyla's voice broke in, refocusing them as usual to the crisis at hand.
"Yes. Thank you," John said, jumping slightly when he looked down and remembered just how precarious his position really was. The water was now mere inches from his perch on the freestanding center console.
"Why didn't you say anything?" Rodney's voice blasted through the radio, harsh, angry, and a little incredulous.
"I have been saying something--for forty-five minutes, to be exact," John said, going for casual and mostly succeeding.
"Oh," came the gratifyingly surprised response. "Well, okay, that must mean that whatever it is that is dampening your radio signal must lessen with proximity. Start banging on the door, we'll come find you."
"Okay, first of all," John said, giving up on the idea of kneeling on an uneven surface that was going to get slippery very soon and wobbling to his feet. "I'm offended that you would assume I didn't already think of that. Second of all--" John debated the merits of keeping his gun on hand in case the room had any more surprises (or in case he lost all patience with Rodney) but decided against it, pulling off the flashlight and setting the gun down beside him in a series of movements so clumsy and unbalanced that he was momentarily glad that he was locked up somewhere where no one could see him. He coughed, starting over. "Second of all, I don't particularly feel like swimming over to the door and getting hypothermia just so you can--"
"What?!" John couldn't help but feel a little mollified by the hint of panic that mixed with the disbelief and shock in Rodney's voice. It almost made up for the fact that the man seemed incapable of allowing him to finish sentences.
"Oh, I didn't mention that part?" John said, grinning even as the water spilling over the lowest edge of the instrument panel started to nudge his gun out of place. Now that his team was nearby, he wasn't worried.
"No, Colonel, you didn't mention that part!"
"How high is the water?" Ronon's voice rumbled through the radio, sounding just as unconcerned as he was. John could almost see the exasperated look Rodney had almost certainly shot the other man. Somewhere, out in the rooms beyond, he could hear thumping sounds--it was probably Ronon, body-slamming every wall in sight.
"Oh, just under halfway up," John replied, voice steady as he could manage with his arms swinging out for balance. "Running out of dry places to stand, though." There was a long period of radio silence punctuated by more thumping sounds, and John took out his flashlight to peer at the strange images on the walls some more. That spiky shape really looked a lot like one of Atlantis's spires... the radio crackled, and John told himself that he hadn't almost lost his grip on his flashlight by being startled.
"Only you would be able to find a way to drown in a floating city," Rodney groused, and John could almost hear the clicking sounds of his fingers on the tablet computer that would invariably be in his hands. "Colonel, I'm not seeing a door here."
THUMP! John tapped his radio, needing to respond quickly before they moved on to another section of wall.
"Yes, right there, Rodney," he said urgently, interrupting whatever complaint or admonition Rodney had started up with again. An odd silence followed, and John held his breath, feeling like he'd said something wrong, though he couldn't figure out what. Rodney must have thought there was something a little off, too, because the next thing out of his radio was very un-Rodney-like.
"It's just a wall, Colonel." His voice was uncharacteristically bland. 'Come on,' John found himself thinking. 'You're smarter than that.' More silence. John pictured Ronon off somewhere looking for something with which to blow up the wall or pry it apart, and Teyla carefully running her hands along the not-door, looking for a way in. The silence was getting on his nerves, though. Without Rodney to argue with, it was easier to focus on how cold his feet were getting, and the splashy sounds they made when he turned in a careful circle, trying to pinpoint the correct wall panel.
"Is there a crack in it?" he finally said, borrowing his tone of voice from the R. McKay collection of 'Are you stupid,' Volume VI.
"I don't know, Sheppard--I wasn't there when you took your misguided little stroll. Did the panels slide open laterally when you walked in or did the door slide up into the ceiling?" Rodney snapped irritably.
He hadn't thought of that. He wanted to protest that no, of course it hadn't, no doors in Atlantis did that--but as far as he had known an hour ago, no Ancient laboratories trapped people in rooms and filled them with water for no apparent reason, either. Trust McKay to literally think outside of the box. John decided to change the subject a little.
"You know, this room is actually really interesting--it would be great if you could get me out of here--or oh, I don't know, fix the leak before it completely floods and no one can see all these symbols on the walls anymore," he said conversationally. There was a pregnant pause, and John thought to himself that he might have been able start appreciating silence as a bizarre form of language if there wasn't water pouring into the tops of his boots.
"This is fun for you, isn't it?" Rodney said caustically over the glorious sounds of metal scraping metal from the other side of what John was sure was the hidden door. "You're sitting there--"
"Standing, actually," John interrupted briskly. "About to be treading water, even."
"--doling out important pieces of information like you're not about to be--Oh! Okay, that's cold. Moving away, now."
John's P-90, which had been floating in front of him almost resentfully, suddenly started to slide away from him toward the source of the metallic grating sounds. There was a thin slice of light glowing dimly through the crack in the camouflaged door panels, and he could see a solid figure that had to be Ronon working away at it, prying it farther open. He could hear Rodney, his voice tinny in his ear and distant through the crack, both congratulating and chastising Ronon for letting out the water. John couldn't help but be impressed--his toes were already numb from a mere five minutes of soaking in what now washed over the Satedan in frigid waves, and still his friend hacked away at the doors until there was enough space for John to slip between them. He hesitated momentarily, trying to judge when to jump down and follow the water out to the antechamber. His wet socks squelched uncomfortably in his boots as he shifted his weight, and John thought, 'Oh, the hell with it,' and jumped down in a satisfying splash, heading toward the door. He clasped Ronon in a wet hug and looked around for Teyla and Rodney, finally spotting the latter peering down at him from a ledge a level above him, away from the now-receding water. John bent to retrieve his weapon, watching with interest as the bulk of the water released when the doors gave way drained back through them and out of sight.
"The leak is tied to the door mechanism," McKay called down to him, voice disembodied as he crossed behind a wall on the way back down to ground level. John busied himself with trying to look as casual about being a little cold and wet as Ronon was looking at being soaked and undoubtedly freezing. As Rodney turned the corner and walked over to him, shoes squeaking a little on the wet floor, John took off a boot and dumped it out unceremoniously.
"Teyla went to update Elizabeth on what's going on," Rodney said, thumb pointing behind him in the direction he'd come from.
"What is going on?"
"The Ancient database has this section marked for 'training,'" the scientist said, brows furrowing as he peered at the readout on his computer.
"So help me, Rodney, if this thing is another Ancient Ascension device..." John told himself his anger wasn't irrational, not after so many of the expedition had been hurt after coming across another of the Ancients' 'experiments.' However, Rodney just shook his head, eyes narrowing into a familiar mocking disbelief.
"What--face inevitable death by drowning, suddenly develop the ability to raise yourself to a higher plane of existence?" he said, his lips twisting into smug incredulity. "Don't you think if it were that easy, we'd all be glowing balls of energy right about now?"
He had a point, but John was wet, annoyed, and not in the mood for belittlement just then. To change the subject, he pulled off his other boot, made a show of hopping around a bit to get his balance, and then dumped out the water right at Rodney's feet. He absolutely did not find the way McKay immediately jumped back and frowned the least bit endearing.
"Oh very mature, Colonel--now my socks are going to get wet!" Rodney glowered at the puddle he was now standing in.
"Oh, give it up, Rodney. Like I don't know those boots are waterproof by now," John reminded him as he settled for mostly dry and set off toward the room he'd just left, catching McKay's red-faced stammer out of the corner of his eye. It made a weird sort of sense when Ronon moved out from in front of him to let him pass, and Rodney sprinted, half-sliding on the wet floor from behind him to block his path.
"Are you insane? Do you want to drown?" John was just about to respond with a casual, 'like either of you would let me' when his radio crackled to life again.
"John?" It was Teyla, and in front of him, John saw Rodney perk up, heard him mumble something like, 'oh, finally the radios are working again,' before she spoke again. "Elizabeth wishes you to know that it is not necessary to construct dangerous scenarios to pass the time on days when the Stargate is shut down." John heard the smile in her voice, could imagine the indulgent look on her face as she teased him.
"Duly noted," he said as contritely as he could manage with Rodney muttering in a strangely Zelenka-like fashion and grimacing at his tablet computer. His thoughts must have shown on his face, because after five seconds of looking at McKay and wondering what the hell he was doing, Rodney told him.
"I'm nipping your stupid, suicidal impulse in the bud," he said, fingers flying over the keys so fast John's hands started to ache. "Ok, go on in."
John just stared at him, blankly, earning him a long-suffering sigh from the astrophysicist.
"I cut off the power to the door," Rodney said, sounding a little defensive and making a vague gesture that looked like it meant 'trust me.' "The Guardian hologram was clear about the test being a sequence of events put in motion by the door shutting behind anyone entering the room. Without power--"
"Wait, you could understand that thing?" John interrupted, gesturing behind them at the podium that activated the hologram.
"Well, yes, yes, of course. Once I'd re-established the power flow to the--" Rodney was saying, his hands speaking for him again, mimicking the actions he'd taken.
"Well, that answers that question," John said cheerfully, pushing past his two friends to head back into the still-dripping hidden room.
"What question?" Rodney asked, brows furrowed as he gingerly stepped through the disabled doorway to follow him. John rocked back on his heels, facing him, unable to prevent the grin that spread across his face in anticipation of McKay's outrage. He caught Ronon's eye as the Satedan nodded at him and turned away, whole sentences of 'You're welcome,' and 'Glad I could help,' and 'Anytime, Sheppard' contained in that single look.
"How many astrophysicists does it take to change a lightbulb?" he said, grinning broadly.