Rodney inserted the flash drive into the computer that he had swiped from his lab on the way to the evolution-accelerometer. It took only a few minutes to upload Sheppard's genetic code into the Ancient device and a few more keystrokes to set it as default. The machine accepted the code which surprised him slightly. Maybe this would work after all and they could all stop worrying about Sheppard's super powers, send Shep home, and go back to their normally abnormal lives.
"This better work. I don't think I can stand you being more amazing than you already are. I think it's gone to your head. Your usual heroic stunts seem to be multiplying." Rodney was pulling up holographic images over the console of the ancient device. He was running an internal dialogue, and since John was listening he wasn't bothering to speak out loud.
"It'll work – what do you mean 'crap'? What's wrong?"
"You did break it!" This sentence was verbal. "It's not accepting your sequence. I knew I should have tried this earlier. I would have had more time to fix it when it inevitably didn't work."
"Just relax. You can fix it"
"Of course I can. I just need to-" Rodney finished the thought in his head.
"You know the worst part of reading other people's minds?"
"Hearing how much everyone hates you? Oh wait, that's just me."
"Still having to hear your technobabble even when you've stopped talking. How did you manage to turn this off?" He sank onto the ground leaning on a wall opposite the device.
McKay smirked remembering how he had figured out that if he imagined people were crickets suddenly all the voices started sounding like chirps and then eventually faded into the background.
"Crickets?" There was humor in John's voice.
The military man was quiet as Rodney worked as he attempted to pretend that Rodney was a cricket. This thought path usually just led to him imagining he was stepping on a cricket with McKay's head though and wasn't very useful. Eventually he decided that McKay must have forgotten about his presence because his thoughts wandered onto a more intimate subject. If John had been less nosy he may not have asked his next question.
"How long have you been in love with Dr. Keller?"
Rodney spluttered. Avoiding the question he said. "Well that was apropos of nothing."
"How long?" John wasn't going to give this up, not when he may very well die sometime in the next few days. Besides, he wanted to how he hadn't noticed it before. Rodney wasn't a very subtle person and usually when he liked someone, everyone knew it. The fact that he hadn't been hitting on the doctor all day and night suggested that what the scientist was feeling was stronger than simple lust.
"I'm not in love with her."
"Your thoughts say differently."
"Stay out of my head."
"I was trying." That was true, he just hadn't been trying very hard.
"I'm not in love." McKay repeated, as if saying it again would make it true. "I just have a crush. She's a remarkable woman."
"No denying that." Sheppard placated. "You should go for it. She actually seems to like you."
"Sure. And when she laughs at your jokes I'm pretty sure it's because she thinks they are funny and not because she's laughing at you."
"I need to run a diagnostic."
"Before you talk to Keller?" He knew that Rodney was a geek, but a diagnostic - really?
"On the machine. I'm not going to know what's completely wrong with it until tomorrow. And I need some sleep."
"Yeah, let's call it a night." John jumped to his feet from his place on the floor. "And I really do think you should give it a chance with Jennifer. She'd be good for you. She's kind, intelligent… and modest. You can balance each other out."
"Haha." McKay mock laughed. He pressed a couple buttons on the device until it made a whirring noise.
"When's it gonna be done?" John nodded towards the machine not trying to hide the fact that he was anxious to know. Honestly, he was too tired at the moment.
"Nine hours. Give or take. You didn't read that out of my head?"
Sheppard attempted to look sheepish. "I did. Thought it would be more polite to ask. Maybe give you an example of how well mannered human beings act."
Rodney pulled a face. "You are just full of useful advice tonight." He paused and then added, "I'll let you know what I find as soon as possible. Are you headed back to the infirmary?"
"Yeah." He grinned morosely. "My two hours are up."
"Sleep tight, McKay."
His bed had gotten more comfortable while he was away. Snuggling his face closer to the pillow, Rodney felt sleep sneaking up on him. Its enticing tendrils were just enclosing him into a warm cocoon when a sharp noise viciously pulled him back to reality.
"This better be good." He growled into his radio.
"Have you seen Colonel Sheppard recently?" Keller asked. The concern in her voice slowly made in impression on Rodney's fogged mind.
"Not since he left to go see you." He pushed himself into a sitting position with one hand. "You mean he never made it to the infirmary?"
"Yes, and no one seems to know where he is."
"And he's not answering his radio? No, don't answer that, obviously not or you wouldn't be talking to me. I'll go find him." He cut the transmission and pulled back on his pants that were lying at the foot of his bed. Why couldn't someone else on base go look for him?
The first place he thought to look was the pathway between the mess hall and the infirmary, but wouldn't someone already have checked that? Sheppard must be somewhere else. The gym? Even John wasn't enough of a masochist to work out after such a long day. The observation deck near the control room? There was no way someone wouldn't already have spotted him. He imagined the dark haired man leaning against the railing, passing out, and then falling over into the icy ocean far below. McKay instantly quashed the mental image.
The colonel's quarters were close so he went there first. He knocked then picked the lock when there was no response. It didn't look like the man had been there in awhile. For some reason Rodney then thought of the ancient evolution accelerometer.
The transporter, associated corridors, and the room housing the device were also all annoyingly devoid of the colonel. He stood in the isolated room trying to think of where he would go, had gone, when he'd been in Sheppard's position. Mostly he had spent his time in the lab writing as much of his new knowledge down as possible. But John wasn't a scientist, he was a soldier. Then it hit him.
Sheppard was hunched over a deconstructed P90, fiddling with its firing mechanism when Rodney walked into the armory. "Everyone is looking for you."
"Yeah, but I just had this idea of how to increase gun accuracy and I had to come see if I could put it into practice before I- before I forget."
McKay had the sick feeling that he'd been about to say "before I die". He nodded his head in understanding, he'd been there before.
"Trust me it's not worth it. Soon you'll have so many ideas in your head, really world-changing ideas, so many you won't be able to write one down before the next one comes and then you'll start that one and then something even better will occur to you and you'll try to get that one down. And then when you're back to normal none of it will make any sense and you'll drive yourself crazy trying to figure out what was so important in the first place. I've been there. It's not a fun place to be."
"I've been ignoring all the math theorems that keeping popping into my head so far." John smiled one of his natural John smiles which somehow made Rodney feel better.
"Just don't tell Shep. He might be offended that you are depriving the scientific community of your genius. Why didn't you go see the doctor?"
"There's nothing Keller can do. I didn't feel like being the elephant in the zoo right now."
McKay tried to quell the animosity he felt knowing he could be asleep right now if Sheppard had just let himself be examined. "I was able to bring myself back with Carson's help. Jennifer can help you too."
John looked up at him and quipped, "I'm not as smart as you are."
"Obviously, but who is?"
"Thanks McKay." Sheppard stood up from where he was seated on the bench and clapped Rodney on the shoulder.
"For being insufferable."
"Any day. Now let's go to see the doctor." Rodney felt oddly like a parent with an unruly child as he led Sheppard out the door and down the hall.
When they reached the infirmary, Dr. Keller ran towards them and began scolding Sheppard for avoiding her. She wasted no time and shone a penlight in the man's eyes, making him draw back. "Geez doc, calm down. I'm fine."
"Let me be the judge of that, please." Though Jennifer was only five-foot-six and maybe 120 pounds, she seemed to be occupying a lot more space as she examined Sheppard. Rodney waited until she had finished before asking how he was.
"His cerebral activity is already at 55% above normal. From reading Carson's notes when you were in this position, I think that it will not be long before he starts to experience headaches and occasional loss of consciousness."
"Followed by spasms and eventual death. Yeah I know. What's plan B?" He sounded like his usual cheery self, but Rodney could tell that he wasn't as at ease as he seemed.
Keller answered him, "Colonel, I believe that you should begin meditating in an attempt to reach ascension. Since we do not know if the ancient device can be fixed, I think that ascending is your best chance at living through this."
"Ascending isn't exactly living." Sheppard said wryly.
"Neither is dying Colonel." She shot back, causing Rodney to laugh.
"Well, I did spend six months with a bunch of wannabe ascendees. I must have picked up something useful in that time. Besides, even Rodney had been near ascension when he'd reached 96% synaptic activity." Sheppard paused to glare at the aforementioned scientist who was thinking how unlikely it was that Sheppard would be able to ascend. "Stop that! I'll probably have an easier time releasing my burden than you did McKay."
"Hey I didn't say anything!"
"Right." Rodney glared back at him. "I'm trying to tune you guys out, but I'm not having a lot of luck."
Rodney didn't even bother to speak, but just thought at him, 'It gets easier over time.'
"If you guys don't mind I'd like to be alone right now."
"Sure I have a date with my bed anyway. Goodnight!" As Rodney headed for the door he heard the colonel attempting to sweet talk his way into sleeping in his own bed that night. He wished the man luck, Jennifer seemed all soft and squishy on the outside, but when it came to her patient's wellbeing Rodney knew she could be as unyielding as steel.
John didn't sleep that night. Despite what he had told the doctor about sleeping in his own bed he simply didn't feel like being watched anymore. The past two days had been full of discreet concerned glances and less discreet observations as if everyone on base was waiting for him to pass out face first into his oatmeal. And while he appreciated that his friends were worried, he had more serious problems than drowning in his breakfast.
He took McKay's advice to heart and didn't resume tinkering with the military equipment. Any more advances in military technology were going to have to come from a less evolved brain than his. Instead he focused on trying to ascend. It sounded so ridiculous at first he laughed at himself. He was the last person who should be trying to reach a higher plane of existence. If only it was physical rather than metaphorical he could just fly up a Jumper and say hello to the Ancients on their higher "plane".
Yet here he was sitting cross-legged on the floor of his room imaging he was on a Ferris wheel. It was too bad the last time he'd been on that particular fair ride the well endowed Margie Hooper had been sitting across from him and his mind kept replaying the few exciting moments he'd shared with her at the top of the ride. She had shoulder length blonde curls that shone in the multicolored fair lights, casting playful shadows across her petite nose and softly curving lips. The baby blue sweater she'd been wearing was just tight enough to hint at the sumptuous curves encased in its caressing grip.
Sheppard's eyes snapped open. This was never going to work. What were the wannabe ascendees always saying? Release your burden. He closed his eyes again, feeling around for all the grief, sadness, and morally questionable ethics he could find, packaging them all into a box, tied a balloon to it and imagined it floating up into the air.
"Burden consider yourself released."
Now he knew he was crazy.
Perhaps a walk would make him feel better. Slipping on the boots he'd discarded a few hours earlier he left his room, allowing his feet to decide his path for him. Not surprisingly he ended up in front of the commissary. Having a super evolving brain required a lot of calories. The mess wasn't as deserted as he would have expected for the time approaching four in the morning but, Atlantis was never completely asleep. John nodded to a couple scientists and some newly arrived marines before snagging a couple of energy packed snack bars and making a beeline towards the door. Even with so few people around, the noise level from thoughts alone was unbearable. He was too tired to attempt tuning them out and breathed a sigh of relief as he retreated into the relative quiet of the corridor.
Tearing open the snack bar he tried to decide which direction to head. The control room was his first thought, but as such a vital part of Atlantis it was bound to be crowded with quick, loud thinking scientists even at this hour. Spinning on his heel, another thought occurred to him. As he'd made his way from his own quarters to the mess, the corridors hadn't been as quiet as they should have been. Blaming his over taxed brain and lack of sleep on not paying attention to that fact earlier, he headed back towards his own room. When he passed the first occupied room he stopped and cocked an ear towards the door. No sound was passing through the metal, but all the same he could "hear" a woman's voice. It wasn't clear enough for him to pick up any words, but he got the impression that she was frightened. John fought the urge to pound on the door and demand what was going on. Clearly everything he was hearing was mental and since there was only one voice, the woman was alone. Could it be he was eavesdropping on a nightmare? He didn't remember Rodney ever mentioning being able to hear the thoughts of people who were asleep. Maybe he had never had the time to notice or he hadn't thought it was important. Sheppard moved to the next door.
"Come on Dylan, it's time to go home."
"Aw dad, it ain't even lunch time yet. Can I go down the slide one more time? Pleeease?"
Two voices? Straining to catch more, he caught yet another voice, a woman.
"Dylan, do as your father says."
John stared at the door, perplexed. How could there be three voices? And one was definitely a child. There were no children on Atlantis. He stood back, orienting himself, and realized he was in front of Bob Master's door. He knew the man had a son and a wife back in Georgia, he must be dreaming about his family. The thought made John smile. Bob's brain must be imitating the voices of his family in the dream, making it appear as if there were three people in the room.
Sheppard moved on down the hall, trying not to listen any further into the dreams of the sleeping. But there was one person whose thoughts he was very interested in. The door to the guest quarters on base looked just like all the others, but the man sleeping behind it might just give John the answers to his questions. He concentrated; willing himself to hear the thoughts within his double's sleeping brain. There was only silence.
Perhaps the man was not dreaming. Hadn't he heard somewhere that there were times during sleep when the brain produced no discernible thoughts?
John imagined his mind reaching into the dark room, hovering over his own form, snatching the thoughts that were flowing on little bubbles out of his double's ears. Not surprisingly this technique did not yield any better results.
I can wait for morning. He can't be in any hurry to harm Atlantis or he would have done it already. Another few hours won't make a difference. He consoled himself by imaging the look of shock on Rodney's smug face when he finally had proof that Shep was not the kind, bearded, geek he had everyone else believe.