Another story written for the SGA Genficathon on LiveJournal, because I'm on a roll!
Title: Wit's End
Word Count: 19,600 (thereabouts)
Rating: skirting the edge of PG-13
Warnings: Without spoiling anything... due to the nature of the story, I can only assure you that nothing is permanent, and everything is returned to its proper place at the end.
Spoilers: None that I can think of, although in my mind it's set close to the end of Season 3, so there might be creeping background ones.
Beta: Gayle, Gayle, the wonderful Gayle, who sayed up late with me Sunday and Monday night as I furiously typed out those final scenes.
Special Thanks: Water Soter, for hand holding and demanding to see each scene after its completion, and for hand holding above and beyond the call of duty. My buddy, Muzz, for letting me use up his cell phone minutes as I worked through the particulars, for helping me come up with the villain's name, and of course, the disturbing image of John Sheppard in a high school cheerleader's outfit. And a big thanks to X-Parrot for writing "Games of Chance", which had a hand in the inspiration of this monstrosity.
Summary: "Trust me, Colonel, when I do finally snap – in the far flung future after one of those idiots known as my staff sets the city's self-destruct for the googolnth time – I assure you, it's not going to be a pretty sight."
A bead of sweat trickled its way down Rodney's neck even as the gun dug further between his shoulder blades. Out of the corner of his eye he could see his teammates bristle as they received a similar treatment from their captors.
Ronon practically trembled with rage, the blood trickling from the cut near his temple only adding to his feral image. Teyla's position was stiff, but he could see anger radiating from her small form as she eyed the pacing figure. Sheppard's jaw clenched tighter as the figure halted his pacing and knelt in front of Rodney.
Rodney stiffened, the movement causing the thug to push the barrel of the primitive gun further into his spine. He forced himself to look at the man in front of him, and still wasn't sure if he should be spitting fire like his teammates or sobbing with laughter.
"You will tell me how to operate this machine." The ridiculously overdressed villager waved his hand at the console in the center of the platform. "Or else."
"Or else what?" Rodney rolled his eyes. "You'll kill me with your melodramatic gestures?"
The hand flailed helplessly in outrage at the lack of fear he was instilling in his victim. "I am not melodramatic!"
"You just finished a monologue worthy of a James Bond villain, complete with ridiculous plans for galactic conquest!"
"Rodney," Sheppard's sotto voice cautioned.
"Like I can take anyone wearing a fur cape seriously!"
"Hey!" The villain clutched at said cape.
"It's like thirty degrees Celsius out here. Why the hell are you wearing fur?"
"It's the only material that befits my royal status—"
"Royal?" Rodney barked a laugh. "Are you king of the clichés now?"
His adversary's face morphed into one of disgust and he snapped his fingers as he stood. The gun digging into Rodney's back disappeared, but before relief could overtake him a strong pair of hands dragged him to his feet.
"Ow! Watch it!"
Out of the corner of his eye he could see Sheppard lunge forward, only to be clubbed over the head for his efforts.
Rodney's cry of "Hey!" was almost drowned out by Ronon's deep-throated growl and Teyla's angry protest.
With a melodramatic flick of the wrist from his employer, Sheppard's guard raised the butt of his shotgun for another blow.
"Stop it!" Rodney shouted, twisting in the grip dragging him away from his team. "I'll—I'll do it... just stop."
He honestly had no idea what he was supposed to do, but as he watched Sheppard's form slump forward, he realized that he would at least have to pretend. Ronon was being held at bay by two thugs now, although he suspected it was Teyla's hand on his forearm that was staying his action rather than the double-guard.
"Excellent." Steepled fingers tapped together as the villain stopped in front of the large console sitting in the center of the ruins.
Rodney shrugged the hands off him as he stumbled forward, catching himself on the machine. An angry growl emanated from behind him, and Rodney just hoped that Ronon could reign in his temper long enough for the scientist to figure a way out of this situation. He grabbed the tablet that had been left on top of the station, frowning at the display.
"That's not right," he muttered softly and scrolled through the various graphs detailing the power usage.
Rodney had only brought the system online, giving it just enough power so he could run a few tests to figure out its function within the ruins. According to the program interface, it had been brought to full operations, which concerned him, but not nearly as much as the flashing error message. The translation software kept giving him garbled results, which was also wrong. It was like someone had just started randomly pressing buttons.
The uncomfortable feeling of fur brushing against his arm told Rodney that the leader of their merry band of kidnappers had come up next to him. "Do not mutter."
"I'm not muttering." Rodney speared him with a look, because some habits die hard. "What the hell did you do?"
"Do?" The other man sputtered. "I was trying to make it work!"
"Well, congratulations, it didn't work!"
The tablet was wrenched from his hands as the stranger frowned at the alien display. "I don't understand."
"Well, maybe you would if your brain wasn't the size of peanut!"
Pain exploded in the side of his head almost the same time that Rodney found himself reeling and blindly grabbing for something to break his fall. The sound of scuffling forced him to open his eyes. Ronon and Teyla were in the process of beating the thugs holding them to a bloody pulp, and Sheppard, who apparently had been faking the severity of his injury, was currently wrestling with his own guard for control of the local, primitive version of a rifle.
A fisted grip tugged at his shoulder, and indicated the cracked display of the tablet. "Fix it!"
His head pounded as he stared at the figures beneath the cracked, blood-stained plastic. A quick, shaky touch to his temple came away sticky and wet and rewarded him with a hot jolt of pain at the site of injury. That certainly explained the angry pounding – but he wasn't sure if it was responsible for what he was seeing on the damaged screen.
Underneath the fractured display, a graph illustrated an energy level rising to a dramatic spike. "Oh, that's really not good."
The other man shook him roughly, and Rodney fumbled for control on the console. Something depressed under his groping hand, and a sick feeling settled in his stomach. "Oh, crap."
Energy crackled around the console, racing up his arms and down his spine. He barely heard the dim, alarmed cry of his name before the entire world disappeared in a flash of white. He was enveloped by something impossibly hot and cold, and the world faded back in.
Rodney stood next to the console, tablet clutched in his hands. He tried to blink away the disorientation – should have been blinking away dark spots from the flash of light – but his vision was clear. In fact, his head was free of the pounding and when he reached up a hand to his temple, smooth, unbroken skin met his touch.
"Maybe you're just out of practice."
Rodney looked up from the tablet display that was looping crazily to see a bright, mischievous grin from Sheppard.
Past a suddenly dry throat, Rodney just stared. "What?"
"I just said, maybe you're out of practice."
Rodney shook his head. "This is... this isn't right."
The grin dimmed slightly as Sheppard seemed to recognize his genuine confusion. "Hey, you all right?"
Rodney's eyes drifted to the tablet in his hands, the energy on the graph having leveled out, but garbled figures still cycling through on one corner of the screen. He looked around wildly, seeing Teyla standing at the edge of the ruins while Ronon prowled the perimeter impatiently. It was just them, all alone. He turned back to stare at Sheppard in confusion.
"What just happened?"
Sheppard frowned. "What do you mean?"
"I mean where the hell are they?"
"Who... the Dr. Evil reject who just ambushed us!"
The frown deepened and Rodney found a hand resting lightly on his shoulder as the pilot squinted, leaning uncomfortably close into Rodney's face, as if he was trying to figure out something. "Did you hit your head?"
"No I—" Rodney trailed off, "actually, I did."
"Your pupils aren't dilated."
Rodney's eyes drifted down to the hand still resting casually on his shoulder, freezing as he spied Sheppard's watch. "What the hell?"
A soft, almost aggrieved sigh met his complaint. "What now?"
"Your watch is off."
"No, it's not."
Rodney shrugged off the hand, dropping the tablet roughly on the console as he brought his own watch to bear, finding the same time. "Oh crap."
"You're starting to worry me."
"Oh crap, oh crap, oh crap," Rodney chanted, grabbing the tablet so he could check the time on bottom, right-hand side of the computer screen.
"Impossible, this has to be impossible."
"Hey, McKay," the hand returned to his shoulder and Rodney was forced to look Sheppard in the eye, "mind letting me in on the big secret?"
"This is going to sound a little crazy, but I think..."
"I think," Rodney gulped, "I just got sent back in time."
"All right, that's it." The hand gripping his shoulder steered him over to the steps. "You need to sit while we pack up."
"No, I'm serious, I—"
"Teyla," Sheppard caught her eye, "go get Ronon and gather our gear. We need to get McKay back to Atlantis."
She flashed him a concerned glance and Rodney tried to rise, but was pushed firmly back to a sitting position. "You don't understand—"
Sheppard gave her an imploring look, and she silently withdrew.
"I'm fine!" Rodney insisted, but the hand holding him down didn't budge.
"You just admitted you hit your head."
"Well, technically that hasn't happened yet."
"Because you were sent back in time?"
"Don't patronize me!" Rodney pulled his shoulder free from the grasp and shoved himself back to his feet. "That stupid excuse for a megalomaniac bashed me over the head with the tablet."
"And why would this mystery man do that?"
"Because I insulted him."
"Well, it's what you do."
"Gee, thanks," Rodney sneered, making his way back towards the console in the center of the platform. "I think I accidentally pressed something when we were scrabbling for control."
"Well I could have had a minor concussion from being beaten with my own computer."
"But now you don't have one."
"Exactly, because it hasn't happened yet."
"And when is our mystery villain going to show up to heap all of this abuse on you?"
"Oh," Rodney consulted his watch, eyes widening, "right about now."
"Are you serious?" Sheppard's voice dropped to a low note as he raised his gun and glanced around the clearing.
"Oh, yes," Rodney tittered and tapped his earpiece. "Uh, Ronon. You may want to be on the lookout for some brutish thugs wielding shotguns."
Silence met his request. Sheppard's eyes narrowed as he tapped his own earpiece. "Ronon, Teyla, come back."
He exchanged a wary look with Rodney as their hails remained unanswered. "I don't like this."
"That's what you said last time."
"Then I'm sure like last time, you'll stay here while I go to check this out."
But he was already gone, P-90 hefted high. Indecision warred within Rodney before he set the tablet down and raced after Sheppard. Last time he had actually listened, and all that had gotten him was a shotgun buried between his shoulders as his teammates were forced to surrender their fight. He was not going to play hostage scientist this round.
"Wait up!" He called to the retreating form, making it as far as the edge of the platform before a beefy hand closed around the back of his tac-vest and yanked him back.
He gulped. "I don't suppose that's you, Ronon."
The distinct uncomfortable sensation of an arm pressing into his windpipe confirmed that, no, it was not Ronon.
"Damn it, Rodney I told you to—" Sheppard's annoyed rant died off as he snapped his P-90 up. "Let him go."
"Put your gun down."
The tip of the P-90 didn't waver. "Aren't you supposed to see this coming, time traveler?"
"Oh, shut up!" Rodney gasped past the pressure around his throat.
He could see Sheppard's hands gripping the P-90 tighter as his eyes narrowed. "I'm not going to warn you again."
The arm tightened its grip, and Rodney's vision swam as he tried to desperately suck in air. He clawed at the arm around his throat, but he couldn't seem to get a good grip. Darkness started to edge in at the corners of his vision before the pressure was released. He didn't realize he was stumbling until two hands latched onto his shoulders, keeping him from falling.
"A little warning next time might help." Sheppard's fingers dug into his uniform, bringing him back to reality.
"I gave you warning," Rodney gulped in precious lungfuls of air, "you just thought I was crazy."
"No," Sheppard's grip steadied him as they were marched back to the platform. "I thought you had a head injury."
"I did, well, I didn't. Not yet."
"You can see why I might be a little confused."
They were shoved onto their knees again, and the all-too familiar pressure of a shotgun barrel dug into his back.
"Déjà vu," Rodney muttered.
"I suppose this also happened last time," Sheppard grumbled as he found himself on the wrong end of his own gun.
The grating crackle made Rodney cringe as their badly dressed foe ambled onto the platform. "Well, well, well. We meet again."
"Who—oh, it's you." Sheppard's face fell as he recognized the crazed villager from earlier in the day. Well, earlier earlier, before the whole kidnapping and time travel thing, when the man had been a little too eager to get Rodney alone "for a chat". After Ronon had scared the little man off, they had been assured by their guide that he was mostly harmless; the spoiled, slightly off-kilter son of the wealthiest man in town. The guide had failed to mention that wealth could also buy a band of muscled henchmen.
"Yes, it is I—"
"Please don't get him started again," Rodney sighed heavily. "He spent five minutes last time boring us to death with plans for galactic domination."
"Domination?" Sheppard eyed the skinny, fur-draped man before him. "Really?"
"I plan to harness the power of this machine—"
"Become unstoppable, yes, we've heard it all before!"
"I haven't," Sheppard shrugged.
"Well, I have, and once was enough!" Rodney snapped.
"I'm having a hard time believing we've been captured by this guy twice now."
"Well, um," Rodney looked away guiltily, "you weren't quite captured per se last time."
"You had the upper-hand, er, before I got taken hostage."
"Good job avoiding that this time around."
"I swear that guy wasn't there before!"
"Are you sure your non-head injury didn't just confuse you?"
"You know what? I'm not speaking to you."
"Is that supposed to upset me?"
Rodney just stared ahead blankly.
"What part of not speaking don't you understand, Colonel?"
"The part where you just spoke to me."
"I didn—oh, never mind!" Rodney started to rise but the barrel dug further into his back. "Okay, you know what? That's kind of annoying."
"I just can't see why they tried to bludgeon you last round." Sheppard rolled his eyes.
Their fur-decked foe clapped his hands together, effectively gaining their attention. "Are you done yet?"
"Oh, is it time for the empty high-handed threats now?"
"Hey, McKay, try not to antagonize the men with guns."
"Oh, like you're any help," Rodney sneered. "Look, Liberachi—"
"Lupin," he corrected, annoyed.
"Whatever. We've been through this whole schtick, and like I told you last time, before you broke the machine, it doesn't work like that."
"I do not break things, Dr. Macaw!"
Lupin shrugged, ambling back over to the console and the tablet.
"Hey, you mind not touching that. I only say that because last time—ow!"
The thwap to the back of his head hadn't actually been hard enough to cause any real injury, but Rodney received the message clear enough and stopped talking. Sheppard had tensed up, but at least this time around had enough sense to not get himself clobbered. Perhaps he was just waiting for Ronon and Teyla to make a move, and Rodney didn't have the heart to tell him that help probably wasn't coming, if previous experience was anything to go by.
"You," Lupin snapped his fingers at Rodney as he studied the tablet, "explain this to me."
"I don't think so." Rodney lifted his chin indignantly. "Last time I tried that you decided to break it over my skull."
"Rodney," Sheppard's voice had taken that cautioning tone again, and he was struck again with a sense of déjà vu. He shook it off, because, well, that warning happened about once a mission.
"Fine," he relented, and the pressure at the base of his spine eased some. "However, he's not going to like what I have to say."
"And that is?"
"This machine doesn't 'grant powers' like he thinks, it was designed as part of this observatory."
"And what is it supposed to do?" Lupin had paced back in front of them.
"Uh, I hadn't figured that part out yet." Rodney shrugged helplessly. "You have really awful timing."
Lupin's brow twitched. "Perhaps it is you who has the bad timing, Dr. Matté."
"What am I? French? It's McKay!"
He heard Sheppard curse softly, and turned from his verbal sparring match to see Teyla and Ronon being marched from the woods lining the ruins, hands on their heads.
"As you can see, I have all of your friends." A manicured finger tapped Rodney's forehead, and he had to suppress the rising urge to bite it. "Now if you would just stop being so stubborn, we might avoid some of this unpleasantness."
Rodney pressed his lips into a thin line. The last thing he wanted was for his team to get hurt because he hadn't been paying attention. Again.
"Okay, okay. Just let them go."
"After you make the machine work."
He shot Sheppard a desperate look, knowing the man's penchant for heroics. "Don't do anything stupid."
He was hauled to his feet in an all-too familiar fashion. This time he didn't protest, and out of the corner of his eye saw Ronon and Teyla roughly shoved to their knees next to Sheppard. Biting his lip, he tried to ignore the rising panic as he took the tablet that Lupin held out to him.
Rodney studied the display, the figures still cycling through crazy loops. "That's strange."
"Last time it looked like it was building to an overload," he scowled briefly at the other man, but left off the accusation. "It's like it's stuck."
"I don't know, you just gave me the damn thing!" He stole a glance back at his teammates to see that they were all tense, prepared for action. Remembering what happened last time he quieted his voice. "I mean, I need more time."
Lupin impatiently smoothed the fur on the collar of his cape. "I have all the time in the world."
Rodney grit his teeth together and focused back on the tablet, hoping for some sort of answer to pop out at him. Minutes ticked by and his frustration grew, as he couldn't seem to get it to respond to him.
"I am not stalling!" Rodney snapped. "The stupid thing is broken!"
"Perhaps you just need some motivation," Lupin said, stepping forward to take one of the pilfered P-90s from one of his guards.
Rodney's eyes widened. "No, no, I'll make it work!"
"You've already promised me that."
He hefted the P-90 to bear, taking aim at Sheppard. Rodney's shouted "No!" was drowned out by the world whiting out again.
"Maybe you're just out of practice."
The world faded back on Sheppard's grin, and Rodney's grip on the tablet went lax.
"Not again," he groaned.
"Don't worry; it happens to the best of us."
"No, no, no!" Rodney cursed, bringing his watch to bear. "That's just not even funny."
"O-kay." The grin faltered at Rodney's agitation. "I take it back."
"Not you!" Rodney snapped, then paused. "Although, yes, you too."
"You all right?"
"I'm fine!" Rodney snatched the tablet up. "And no, I didn't hit my head."
"How did you—"
"Been there, done this. Third time around, try to keep up."
"What are you talking about?"
"Do you remember reading about SG-1's mission to P4X-639."
"It had a device on it that kept looping the same six hours over and over again."
"What does that have to do with anything?"
"Behold," Rodney waved a hand at the console, "apparently the Pegasus Galaxy variant. Except instead of six hours we get a whole seventeen minutes."
"That's a little arbitrary."
"Yes, well, so is life."
"Are you sure you didn't hit your head?"
"Yes I am, and no, don't send Teyla and Ronon to pack our things. We're about to have company."
"Remember the little fruit from this morning?"
Sheppard grimaced. "Unfortunately."
"Well, he's about to spring an ambush on us. And it's going to end badly for us—especially if you go gallivanting off in the woods."
"I don't really think—"
Rodney smacked the call button on his radio. "Ronon, Teyla, this is McKay. Fall back to the ruins."
"McKay?" Ronon's returning call was caught somewhere between surprise and amusement. "Isn't Sheppard the one to give those orders?"
"Yes, well he's a little slow on the uptake right now. Ambush imminent, let's circle the wagons, shall we?"
"What is he talking about?" It was apparent that the question was directed as Sheppard.
"Do what he says." Sheppard eyed the scientist warily. "Come on back."
Rodney's shoulders relaxed somewhat. "Thank you."
"I hope you know that you sound a bit..."
"Crazy? Yes, you said that last time."
"I was still thinking along the lines of a head injury."
"Oh, yeah," he hummed softly, "that's right."
"You didn't think crazy last time. Thanks for that."
Rodney tapped at the tablet several times, but it was still unresponsive. He sighed heavily and placed it back on the console. "This is so not good."
"What is not good?" Teyla stepped up on the platform, looking between the two.
"This thing is locked up."
"Have you tried control, alt, delete?" Sheppard asked, only half joking.
"Yes, because the Ancients used Windows hotkeys!"
Sheppard shrugged, tilting his head in greeting to Ronon. "Okay, we're all here. Now what?"
Rodney blinked and stared at them. "I don't know."
"You don't know?"
"I was too busy being held hostage to figure out strategies."
"Do you at least know when they're supposed to make their move?"
Rodney checked his watch. "Soon."
"This isn't exactly an ideal place to hold off an ambush."
"Next time loop we're caught in I'll make sure it meets your military standards!"
Sheppard sighed heavily. "Fine, you keep working on that machine. We'll see if we can't provide some cover."
Rodney pursed his lips. "Okay, um... okay."
Sheppard gave him a wary look and signaled for Teyla and Ronon to try and take cover behind some of the crumbled walls.
Without (much) further complaint, Rodney crawled under the console, determined to find a way to manually shut off power to the machine. It was dark, cramped, but he could still trace the wiring to the panel he had pried loose to bridge his computer with the machine. Energy crackled at the bridged connection, and he stilled his hand.
"You okay down there?" Sheppard's voice drifted to him.
"Yeah," Rodney breathed, eyeing the sparking wires, "just ran into a tiny little problem."
"Electrocution tiny," Rodney stared at the sizzling wires, trying to remember if he had brought any insulted gloves with him. Something tugged at his pant leg. "What?"
The tug insisted harder. With an annoyed huff he slid back out to face Sheppard. "What?"
Rodney swallowed. "Oh, right."
Sheppard's lips were pressed into a thin line. "Don't come out until I give you an all-clear."
"And if you don't?" Fear gripped him, remembering what Lupin had been about to do on the last loop.
That earned him a trademark smirk. "Ye of little faith."
"We'll be fine. You do your fixing thing."
Rodney nodded and disappeared back under the console. Sparks continued to fly from the panel, and his mind ran the gamut of options on how he could fix it without becoming a human Christmas tree. The sputter of P-90 fire echoed, sending his heart to his throat. He started to move back out, but a quick kick to his shin sent him further into protection of the console.
He huddled in the corner, arcing his body away from the angry, sparking panel until the gunfire disappeared in a blaze of white.
"Maybe you're just out of practice."
Rodney groaned and wilted to the ground.
Oh, those crazy time loop shenanigans. What could possibly happen next? Whump... what?