SEASON: Fourth Season
MAJOR CHARACTERS: Sheppard and McKay
DISCLAIMERS: The characters, Atlantis, etc, all belong to Sony, MGM, Gecko, Showtime, the Sci-Fi Channel. I own nothing.
NOTE 1: This is part of my series of short stories, each featuring McKay and one of the others. If you want to check out the other stories, please see "Stupid Stuff", "Weird Kid", "Strange Doings", "Odd Hours" and "Peculiar Things"
NOTE 2: This story was originally submitted for the SGA Ficathon under the title "The Repository of Knowledge" for the genre-Friendship and the prompt-paperwork/documents
SUMMARY: Rodney and Sheppard are searching for an important database and have to come to a decision when Rodney becomes ill.
DUMB BOOKS - by NotTasha
Sheppard bowed his head, ducking into his collar. The wind was sharp. The cold, like tiny daggers, slashed across his cheeks and he closed his eyes against the onslaught. Everything around him was winter white – an endless featureless plain that was so bright it hurt to keep his eyes open.
He put a shoulder into the wind, and turned his head. The gust seemed to cut through him and his inadequate clothing. He kicked through the three-or-so inches of snow -- not a substantial amount unless you're traveling through it, without winter boots, without winter clothes.
Beside him, Rodney coughed and slowed.
"Come on," John ordered. He had to raise his face out of his collar to be heard. "Keep going. We're almost there."
Another cough, and a hoarse voice shouted, "You… you said that an hour ago."
"We're closer now," Sheppard added. "Move it."
"You don't… you don't know where we are," McKay challenged as he continued to cough. "I… I just…." He came to halt, resting arms on his knees as he hacked.
Sheppard sighed, watching McKay for a moment, then glanced about them, hoping to catch sight of something familiar, the shape of the Gate maybe. Instead, he saw only endless white nothingness.
Rodney was right. He didn't know where they were.
What was he thinking? God, what a mistake. What a huge freakin' mistake. He pulled at his jacket, wishing for his winter gear, wanting a scarf, gloves, a damn hat, wanting the Gate.
The coughing lessened, leaving Rodney clutching his jacket with one hand; the other rested on his knee. His face was red. He spat, and then kicked at the snow, disgusted.
Damn, Sheppard thought, he's getting worse. "You okay?" he asked.
McKay gave him a glare. "I've got a stupid cold and we're lost. I'm freezing my ass off and we're probably still miles from the Gate! I'm fine. Peachy. Couldn't be better. "
"We have to keep moving," Sheppard reminded. "Sooner we get home, the sooner we can get warmed up."
"Fabulous thought," McKay snapped as he straightened, he fiddled with his jacket. "Why didn't I think of that? Because this weather is downright balmy. I don't know why anyone would want to get out of it."
"I'm as sick of this as you are," Sheppard grumbled.
"Not as sick as me," Rodney groused. Red-rimmed eyes looked at John from a wind-beaten face.
True, Sheppard thought, and then said, "So, let's keep moving."
"I really wish a jumper would just show up," Rodney whined. "You said they'd send one. I'm tired. I just want to sit down."
"It depends on if Ronon and Teyla made it back yet. Until then, we walk." Sheppard waited for Rodney to take the first step. "Could be they're having trouble, too. They may need us to send a jumper out after them."
"Right," Rodney said with a nod. He sniffled. "Okay." He did his best to square his shoulders. "There better be coffee waiting for me when we reach home," he declared as he moved forward, his voice a low rumble. "I'm going to drink a whole pot and I don't want to hear ANYONE complaining about me getting more than my fair share." He kept walking. "I'm just sayin'. Coffee. I get it all."
"Not if I get there first," Sheppard told him.
Rodney sneered and increased his speed, and for a while they made good time, but soon enough Rodney's attempt flagged.
They had to move. Sheppard put an arm under Rodney's and gave a tug. The scientist looked at the gesture. His haughty expression dropped to one of exasperation and mortification, but he allowed Sheppard to help him and they kept making their way through the blasted landscape. Rodney's shoulders would shake with his attempts to hold back another bout of coughing, and Sheppard kept him moving forward.
"It's too damn cold!" Rodney grumbled.
"Yeah," Sheppard responded, having nothing else worth saying.
"Watch, just watch," McKay muttered. "I'm going to freeze to death out here."
"The snow stopped," Sheppard told him. "It'll start warming up."
"And you get that impression because the sun will be going down soon?" McKay griped.
"We should be home by then," Sheppard tried.
"Right." McKay didn't sound convinced and he sniffled again. He glanced to Sheppard and stated, "I don't think I'll ever warm up."
Not that long ago, they were both warm and content, taking their fill of the local delicacies in the halls of the Carspa governing council. Outside, the weather had been brisk, but pleasant, reminding Sheppard of 'sweatshirt weather' back home. Inside, there was nothing but comfort.
They'd landed the Jumper just within the city walls in an open courtyard. They'd been greeted with graciousness, and had been assured that there'd be no trouble. The Carspas were a 'simple' people.
When would he ever learn?
The Governor's mansion was a cozy place, filled with inviting rooms and pleasant fireplaces. Everything had been bathed in a warm glow as they were served trays of preserved fruits by women wearing dresses of gauzy material.
McKay had, at first, been suspicious of both the women and the fruit, afraid to 'try' any of them. He eventually gave in to the fruit. The women proved harder to 'sample'. He'd given Sheppard an annoyed look after the final rebuff, explaining, "I have a cold. It wouldn't be… prudent."
"Yeah… prude," Sheppard had responded with a laugh, as one of the serving wenches paid him extra attention.
The Ancient database had divulged a little secret about the planet, Carspa. An Ancient by the name Akel Rees had lived near the present-day city, and had conducted experiments on Wraith prisoners. It was all very unseemly, and his laboratory was destroyed when news of his work had been released to the others. Rees was gone by that time, either ascended or run off, or dead -- and in spite of a very thorough demolition of the lab, his notes were not located.
The Ancients might have frowned upon unpleasant experimentation, but it didn't mean they'd pass up the opportunity to profit from the knowledge gained. The notes remained gallingly lost. Whatever Rees learned, was lost. If his notes could be recovered, new means of stopping the Wraith could be had.
So, when it was discovered that the notes might still be in existence, Sheppard's team paid the planet a visit, and enjoyed the comforts of the governing class.
The Carspa people were known for their fertile farmlands and abundant orchards. Less acknowledged were the inequality among the classes, the volatile political situation and unpredictable weather conditions. A coup had caught their hosts by surprise, and by the time the team from Atlantis was aware of the situation, Sheppard and McKay were cut off from the others and their jumper.
Teyla and Ronon had discovered the danger first. On the far side of the spread-out city, they'd been able to radio a warning to their teammates, but it was too late. The 'terror' had begun and the ruling class of Carspa would be routed out before the day was done.
Sheppard might have stood and fought, except he wasn't sure which side deserved such protection. The governors were rather arrogant, and the working class did appear repressed. So, in the end, he'd managed to muscle McKay from the governor's quarters and into the streets. All the while, the physicist had cried about his pack and how he needed to grab it before the left. But there was no time – when faced with a mob of stirred-up citizens armed with machetes, sometimes one simply had to flee.
They'd been ambushed at one point, thrown to the ground and roughly searched for weapons, technology, anything of use. They'd managed to break away, and escaped the city with their lives -- and counted themselves lucky.
Their attempt to double back and reach the jumper had been thwarted by a fire blazing through the street, so they walked, determined to cover the five-miles-or-so to the Gate. They'd meet up with Teyla and Ronon along the way, and return with force to reclaim their property. Their radios gone, they had to hope that their path would cross with their teammates'.
It was then that the weather took a turn for the worse, and a snowstorm swept over them.
Certainly someone in the Carspa city would see the unexpected storm as a 'sign', a signal that their cause was just, or doomed. Someone would use the gusting wind and dumping snow to their advantage, or maybe both sides would use the blizzard as an excuse to give up.
It snowed hard, and then it simply stopped.
Sheppard had used the thick weather as cover to rush McKay further from the city, to return to the Gate without taking a direct path – in case they were followed.
He hadn't accounted for the cold, the disorientation, the lack of communication, and Rodney's worsening cold. And he cursed himself for getting them into this fix.
They were lost. There was no doubt about it. Their only hope was to find the Gate – or double back and hope that tempers had calmed in the city. Doggedly, Sheppard continued, hoping that he was correct about their path, but the clouds had swallowed up the sun and he had no means of exactly judging their direction.
It was too damn cold.
Rodney halted again, coughing, sounding as if he was trying to hack his lungs out. Sheppard, unable to do anything else, slapped him on the back.
After a minute, rummy-eyed, McKay lifted his head and croaked, "We're lost." He huffed, still trying to catch his breath, and shivered, clutching his arms to himself.
"Look," Sheppard insisted, "the Gate is just over that ridge. We're almost there. If you'd just get your ass moving instead of stopping all the time, we'd be there by now. Coffee's probably waiting for us, unless, of course, your staff has finished it off already."
"Fine, fine," Rodney muttered, kicking through the layer of snow. He shuffled, putting one foot in front of the other as he moved through the frigid weather.
Sheppard sighed and turned, gazing in the direction of the city they'd abandoned. He couldn't see the smoke that had risen from the palaces. There was still no sign of Ronon or Teyla.
He hoped that they'd had better luck with returning to Atlantis.
It would be dark soon.
We should go back, Sheppard thought glumly. In the Carspa city, there is shelter. In the city, it is warm. Hopefully the victors would be accommodating and allow them entrance.
Ahead of him, McKay stumbled along, the wind blowing his hair around.
If they didn't find shelter soon, they were going to be in big trouble.
Rodney started coughing again, still stuttering forward through the blanket of snow.
Sheppard looked over his shoulder again. He could retrace their steps, at least to the point when the snow hid their tracks. From there, they could probably find the city.
"Rodney," Sheppard called softly. "We have to go back." The words were quiet, and eaten up by the wind. He watched Rodney's determined plodding, still heading in the direction that Sheppard had indicated, unaware that no one walked beside him.
His headway was slow, but constant. Rodney wasn't going to give up.
Sheppard sighed, hating this. What else could they do? There was nothing here – nothing, nothing and more nothing -- nothing but snow and wind and cold.
Rodney coughed again.
"Rodney," Sheppard said again, his voice sharper. There was no sense in continuing this march to nowhere. He scanned the landscape ahead of them – featureless except for a hill that popped up from the snowy sameness.
McKay kept going. Perhaps he didn't hear the voice calling. Perhaps he was too focused on the simple act of moving to be aware of anything else.
The hill was strange, Sheppard thought, out of place with the rest of this land. He narrowed his eyes at it and strode forward, quickening his pace.
"There you are," McKay wheezed as John passed him. "Was wonderin' where you'd… hey!"
Sheppard broke into a trot, his boots plowing through the snow as the wind whisked by him.
From behind him, McKay said, "Hey," again and tried to catch up, but another coughing fit stalled him.
Grimacing, Sheppard kept moving. He was damn cold and his face felt nearly numb. His hands ached and his feet were like lead. Yet, he ran, galumphing through the snow toward the strange shape. And he smiled tightly as he drew closer, realizing that this thing was not a natural formation.
A building –some sort of structure! Snow was piled against the nearside in a thick drift. He circled it, feeling his heart leap with excitement as he found that the lea of the building was mostly clear. A building – simple, but obviously of Ancient design. Symbols ran above the door. He squinted at them, wondering what was being said.
Stymied, he turned about and looked around the corner for Rodney, and was hit again with a face-full of wind. Great.
Rodney was still heading toward him, doing his best to catch up. He lifted his head at the colonel's reappearance.
"It's a shelter!" John shouted, waving an arm and pointing to the building for emphasis.
Rodney seemed to increase his rolling gait, looking as if he was fighting to just keep moving. Sheppard moved back to the protected side of the building, glad to be out of the wind. He glanced at the symbols, and then started his search, hoping, praying that he could find the way inside. There had to be some sort of door – he just hoped it wasn't buried.
Numb fingers ran along the cold wall, and after a moment found a groove. Grinning, he continued his hunt, locating a panel that was flush to the surface. YES! The opening mechanism must be inside! Fingers clawed and scraped, but too cold, they refused to work properly.
God, why didn't he have gloves? Damn it, damn it! He struggled, willing himself to pop open the protective cover. They couldn't be THIS close and fail to get in! Damn it!
He could hear Rodney gasping and the uneven thump-thump as he clomped through the snow toward him.
"What?" Rodney asked. "What did you… oh…"
"Yeah… 'oh'," Sheppard responded.
"The Repository of Knowledge," Rodney read, looking up at the symbols, then, in an awed voice, said, "Do you know what you've found?"
"Shelter," Sheppard decided, grimacing has his fingers refused to do anything for him.
"It's what we came here for," Rodney told him. "Who would've thought that we'd find it…"
"Son of a bitch!" Sheppard growled.
"Now, is that necessary?" McKay snapped back at him.
"I can't get this damn thing open!" Sheppard snarled in return, bashing a closed fist into the panel. "Come on, already!" and he smacked it again.
"Oh yeah, like that's going to work," Rodney mumbled, and struggled to get a hand into his pocket.
"We have to get in there, Rodney," Sheppard told him. "It's our chance to…" He stopped speaking when he noted what Rodney had retrieved -- a screwdriver.
McKay's movements were clumsy and he almost dropped it, but managed to hold it out for the colonel. "They didn't find this," he explained. "Had it hidden against the zipper."
"Good thinking," Sheppard told him.
"Always," McKay answered dryly. "Which is better than I can say for…"
His discourse was cut off as the protective cover was popped, and Sheppard immediately triggered the door. It slid open with a groan and he felt a strange rush of air as the door parted, as if the room had been vacuum sealed.
Sheppard grasped Rodney and dragged him along as he stepped into the little room. Light came in through a skylight, revealing a space that was stale smelling and cold. Two podiums stood at the center of the room and the walls were mostly featureless.
Good enough, Sheppard thought and waved a hand over the interior control. The door shut behind them.
"Oh, thank God," Rodney muttered. "Thank God." He flapped his arms and squeezed his hands and moaned uncomfortably. "Thought I'd freeze to death out there. Oh God, I'm cold." He sneezed, violently, three times, and went back to flapping his arms, as if he could beat some feeling into them.
They were out of the weather, but the room was like an icebox.
"How do we turn the heat on in this place?" Sheppard asked as he moved slowly through the mostly empty room. "Where are the controls, McKay?"
"Give me a minute," Rodney answered crankily. He coughed, trying to stifle it against his chest. "A minute, okay?" His voice little more than a squeak and he hugged his arms to his chest.
Rodney was pale except for the bright spots at his cheeks – but that could easily be explained by windburn. He breathed roughly, panting, as if he couldn't quite catch his breath, and his whole body heaved with the effort. He pulled a cloth from one pocket and coughed into it.
"Take your time," Sheppard muttered. "I'll see what I can find. Must be a control panel here somewhere to turn the heat on, right?"
Sheppard blew out curls of air as his breath condensed in the cold room. He looked for anything that would help them. The tall stands were featureless, each topped with some sort of book. There were no controls to be seen. He ran a hand through his hair, feeling little bits of snow fall loose as he searched through the room.
There were no panels or consoles, no buttons or knobs or switches. It was just a room, as far as John could tell. Just a room wasn't going to save them, he decided. He had to figure out a way to get the heat started, and he paused when he reached one of the narrower walls – Finally!
There was some sort of faceless box or console against the wall. He touched it, feeling the cold even with his numb hands, and he pulled back the hand to blow on his fingers.
Behind him, Rodney suddenly exclaimed, "Yes, this is it!"
Sheppard spun about. "You found the controls!"
"No… no… but this is definitely the database we were looking for." McKay looked up at him, his eyes bright with excitement. "A library!"
Sheppard grimaced. "Two books hardly make a library," he scoffed.
"It's a written history of all the experiments performed by Akel Rees," McKay stated, awe in his voice. "I wasn't expecting it to be written. An electronic database would be so much easier to parse, but he was a bit different, I guess. I wonder if that's why the other Ancients never found this place." He glanced around the room. "No Ancient technology present except for the door mechanism. Hmm. The Ancients who were looking for his notes never would have considered 'written' information so they shouldn't have become curious enough to come looking for this place. The natives probably couldn't get through the door, so it never really bothered them. To think the information we sought has been locked up here, in the open, for all this time."
"I don't know, McKay," Sheppard responded tiredly. "You sure this is it?"
Rodney pointed to the symbols of the book, "Do you see what this says?"
To Sheppard, the symbols looked like the drawings of children. "No," he responded.
"'My Findings, by Akel Rees,'" McKay translated. "Volume 1." And he gave Sheppard a smug look.
"Great," Sheppard sighed.
"That one is Volume 2," McKay indicated.
"Figured as much," Sheppard responded and then he thought of something. "These are ten thousand year old books? I didn't think paper could last that long. Shouldn't it be dust by now?"
"Well, Ancients would know how to make a material that would last. The room was probably sealed and undisturbed all that time. And, I doubt that this is paper as we know it. Probably something much more resilient." He grinned stupidly as he stared at the first page. "Rees was experimenting with ways to stop the Wraith. Imagine what he discovered!" His pale face seemed to light up a little at the idea, but the pleased expression soon fell as he turned away to cough again, he shuddered with the effort and seemed to sink into himself.
"Come on," Sheppard said, with a jerk of his head. "Help me get this device working. It should have controls to heat up the room, right? It's freakin' freezing in here. After that, we can look at books."
McKay straightened, his eyes darting from one book to the other. "We really need to check them out, decipher and …"
"After we turn on the heat. Sound like a plan?" Sheppard pressed.
"Huh? Heat? Oh yeah, that'd be a good place to start. I'm frozen." McKay moved stiffly where Sheppard led. "Huh," he said softly when he reached their goal.
"Some sort of control box?" Sheppard stated.
"Yeah, maybe," McKay replied, frowning. "Doesn't look like any I've come across. This cover is all one piece. Probably lifts forward."
"Help me with it," Sheppard stated, and together they worked at manhandling the cover forward and away. It scraped loudly against the floor, and the simple effort left Rodney breathless, and leaning against the wall.
Gruffly, Sheppard pressed the cover further, getting it out of the way to see what lay beneath, and was nonplussed at what was revealed. "What the hell?" he exclaimed.
Rodney checked what they'd found and frowned a little. "It's a stove."
"I can see it's a stove," Sheppard responded, leaning over it. "It just seems pretty low tech for our Ancient friends."
Rodney nodded, wrapping his arms around his chest. "It was probably designed to be low tech so that it could be easily used on this planet, and Akel Rees might not have had access to a ZPM."
"Too bad," Sheppard stated as he tinkered with the stove and discovered how to open the front hatch. The grate creaked open to reveal a space layered with ash from a long ago fire.
Behind him, Rodney shuffled about. "Can you just get it started? I'm freezing here! And what isn't frozen, hurts," he declared and promptly ran into something. He cursed, muttering, "My chest hurts, my head hurts, my eyes hurt, my bones ache, and I've been coughing up all sorts of crap, and it would really, really help if I wasn't freezing to death on top of that." With a moan, he yanked out his cloth and coughed.
Sheppard paused at the comments, not liking any of what Rodney revealed.
"I hate being sick," Rodney groaned. "God, I hate being sick."
"You're not the only one," Sheppard responded with a sigh.
"What? Is my coughing annoying you? Because it…" And he stopped mid-sentence to hack into his handkerchief. "This sucks," he proclaimed when the bout finished.
Sheppard had lifted his gaze from the stove to watch McKay, wishing he could do something, wishing that they had some supplies. "We'll get this thing going and you'll feel a lot better," Sheppard promised.
"It's just my rotten luck," McKay went on. "You, when you get a cold, you manage to save all of Atlantis because of it. Me? I get to deal with it as I freeze during a death-march through a blizzard. I slow us down and get us stuck in a hovel in the middle of nowhere." He sniffled. "Not only that, we had to run for our lives from people wielding machetes! What the hell?"
Sheppard continued his exploration of the device. "This seems fairly straightforward," he spoke. "Just a simple woodstove."
"If it's that easy, why isn't it working yet?" McKay asked bluntly.
"I need to figure out how to open the flue, and we're going to need something to burn."
Shivering, Rodney added, "And matches."
"Got it covered," Sheppard responded. "You managed to hide a screwdriver in your jacket. I have this." And he pulled something from his pocket and held it for Rodney to see – a lighter.
"Great… great… so…" McKay paused, looking about. "I don't see any firewood, and I don't remember any trees nearby." He glanced to the door, looking distraught. "We might be able to find something if we went… out again."
Night was falling, Sheppard thought. Already the light was dimming from overhead. Snow covered the ground. "Don't think it'd do much good. I didn't see anything," he stated, and then added a "Ha!" as he found a lever. There was a metallic sound as something opened. Bits of debris dribbled into the stove, and then they could hear the wind as it wailed outside. "Got the chimney open," Sheppard declared victoriously. "Now, for something to burn."
Rodney was standing over one of the books, leaning most of his weight on the podium, as he laboriously scrutinized the first page.
"Rodney," Sheppard called. "What about these tables? Burnable?"
"Not a chance," McKay answered unhappily. "They're made out of the same metal alloy that makes up half of Atlantis. Won't burn. Won't hardly melt."
Sheppard approached the other book.
"Hey!" McKay called, stumbling toward him. "Not the books!" Protectively, he threw an arm over Volume 2.
With him so near, Sheppard could easily feel the heat coming from the scientist, the flush of cheeks wasn't windburn. His skin looked clammy, too pale, and each breath rattled in his chest. Crap.
John lifted a hand to place it against Rodney's forehead.
Startled by the movement, Rodney batted the hand away and stumbled backward. "Knock it off!" he snapped, and the exclamation was enough to put him into another coughing fit. He braced himself against the wall and brought the cloth to his face again.
Damn it. Was this pneumonia – or whatever was the equivalent in the Pegasus galaxy? John cursed himself for getting Rodney stuck in this mess.
"I'm burning the book," Sheppard declared, moving to get his hands around it.
"No!" McKay jammed his handkerchief back into a pocket and came at him. "This is the information we came for. They've been lost for eons. They have…" His voice went away with a squeak. He cleared his throat and tried again, "They have the information we need to… defeat the Wraith…"
"Rodney, we need to burn something."
"These books are like… the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Rosetta Stone, the Mayan Codices, the… the…" and he grimaced, obviously wanting to say more, but was unable to come up with the information.
"We're freezing," Sheppard told him.
"Maybe we could burn our clothes first," Rodney tried, plucking at his jacket.
Sheppard shook his head in disbelief. "What part of 'we're freezing' do you not understand?"
"I'm not that cold," Rodney tried as he shivered. "And our body heat is already warming up the room, right? We're out of the cold. We're out of the snow and the wind. We'll be fine." And he smiled, trying to look convincing.
He ruined it when he turned away and started coughing again, grasping tightly to the podium to keep from falling over. Each breath was labored as he fought to draw it in. Sheppard reached out and, this time, was able to place a hand on his forehead. Rodney didn't seem to notice.
He was hot as hell.
"That's it," Sheppard declared, grabbing the nearer book.
"No… no…" Rodney wheezed out, and then… "…what about…the Wraith?"
Sheppard paused. "You think this Rees guy was onto something?"
"The others certainly thought so. Apparently… apparently… they found evidence of his… success." Rodney nodded tucking one arm around his middle. "The secret to stopping the Wraith must be here, lost for all this time. We'd be heroes if we came back with the information. Think of… how many people we could save." He tried not to cough again, pulling his lips tight for a moment as Sheppard contemplated. McKay went on, "Just… give me a few minutes with them."
When Sheppard didn't deny him, Rodney grinned slightly and leaned over the book John had tried to remove. He swayed as he stood, blinking and shivering.
With a groan, Sheppard grabbed Rodney by the elbow and pulled him away.
"Hey," McKay protested. "But you…"
With his other arm, Sheppard picked up the book, and then kicked the podium to the floor. It landed with a clatter. With a shove of his foot, he'd pressed it near the stove and then he angled McKay toward it. "Sit down," he demanded, pointing to the toppled piece of furniture.
Tentatively, McKay tried it, and found that the new orientation of the podium created a serviceable bench.
Once Rodney was seated, Sheppard dropped the book to his lap. "Start reading," he demanded. "Figure out if there is ANYTHING worthwhile in it. If it doesn't help us, it goes in the fire."
"Right," McKay responded. He opened the cover, turned the page, and drew his hands into his sleeves.
"How long?" Sheppard demanded as he walked about the room in a circle. "How long before you figure out if this book is any good?"
"It may take a while," Rodney responded glumly. He sniffled again and rubbed his nose on his sleeve. "A long while," he amended as he extended fingers from the cuff of his jacket, and flipped through the first pages. He hunched over the book, trying not to cough.