A/N: Hi! This is my first SGA story to be published, and I'm a little nervous about it, so please please leave a review and tell me what you think! I've only recently got into this fandom, but so far I'm loving it, and hopefully I'll be writing more for it in future.
Disclaimer: Not mine. I can only dream.
NOT WITH A BANG
He tried to control his breathing in the narrow space in which he was crouched. It took focusing all of his attention on the panel he was working on to stop himself from hyperventilating.
There really wasn't enough air for that. Or time.
His hands were shaking slightly as he pulled out wires and crystals and reconnected them in different configurations. Concentrate. But when faced with his impending doom, that was very much easier said than done. Maybe he did some of his best work under pressure, but he still wasn't used to it! And he couldn't stop his attention from being partly on the radio in his ear, waiting to hear something from someone, anyone, although with his brain he knew that that was unlikely to the point of impossible. Still, the urge to speak, to hear another human voice, was almost overpowering.
He worked silently, his breaths still coming fast despite his best efforts, his muscles tensed and ready for fight or flight, although in this situation both those options were equally useless. The only option that held any hope for any of them was to continue working on this panel, to remain undiscovered, despite all the odds stacked against him.
And then, he was going to die.
Rodney gritted his teeth furiously. Dying was not something he wanted to do. Back on Earth, it was something he had hardly had the need to give more than the occasional passing thought to, but here in Pegasus it was all too real, a constant shadowy presence that had him checking over his shoulder even in the corridors of Atlantis when he should be safe. A nightmare which haunted his sleep, and couldn't be completely shaken off even in the strongest sunlight, lurking just out of the corner of his eyes, dogging his footsteps. And off world, it was even closer. He had already lost count of the number of times he had run from bullets or equivalent weapons, the number of times that tiny shards of death had sung their horrific song through the air close to him and his friends. Too close…
This wasn't what he had signed up to. He had signed up as Chief of Science; signed up to spend his days in labs studying alien artefacts unseen before, and surpassing in interest even those he had worked with at Area 51, with a team of scientists under him, and the worst case scenario being that the coffee supplies would run out before they had found another functional ZPM. But almost from the second he had set foot in Atlantis, he had been sucked into playing games of urgency and survival, games with dizzyingly exciting rewards, but lethal costs.
And to that old McKay, suicide missions would be simply unthinkable; a laughable idea. Even when he had occasionally been drafted out to the SGC and seen what SG1 seemed to do all the time, they weren't for him. He wasn't an action hero, to go in with guns blazing to save the day. No, he would watch, safe and warm, from the sidelines, and work on discoveries and inventions which would be beneficial and save lives, but not his life. He wouldn't be the one in danger.
"Dammit," he whispered to himself. "What the hell are you doing here?"
Yes, what was he doing here? It was a good question, he mused idly, his overactive mind still firing off thoughts even among the delicate task he was performing. Why was he most definitely not in his lab shouting at Zelenka, but instead wedged inside one of the tiny service ducts deep in the heart of the Daedalus?
Ah yes. Because, somehow in the intervening years, he had managed to become the one who would save the situation at the eleventh hour and fifty-ninth minute, the magician with endless white rabbits in his hat, the one who always had an answer. Notwithstanding the fact that, right now, his solution to the situation didn't seem terribly promising, carrying with it as it did the unavoidable consequences of his own death. It was still a solution, of sorts, and he would have to see it through.
Because what should have been a simple survey mission had turned lethal in an eye blink. The Wraith had laid in ambush for them, and the moment the Daedalus had dropped out of hyperspace, they had begun attacking. And it was a spectacularly well-planned attack. The weapons had been taken out almost immediately, and the sub-light engines almost simultaneously. The hyperdrive had also been targeted – not enough to permanently damage them, but more than enough to completely cripple them. The warship was drifting helplessly, dead in the depths of space.
Ironically, it was Rodney's self-preservation instinct which had ended him up in the position he now found himself. Trying to check on the damaged systems, he had been out of sight when the Wraith had marched in, and had taken the opportunity to squirm far enough into this duct to avoid detection. It had never been specifically designed to contain a person, although thankfully the designers had obviously realised that if something went wrong, people rather liked being able to get to what needed fixing. And while he had waited, shaking and trying to hold his breath in an attempt to further reduce his chance of being detected, he had heard the all-too-familiar bursts from the Wraiths' stunners, and the thud of unresisting bodies hitting the deck.
Judging from the sounds, the crew had all been dragged away. The occasional heavy tread of booted feet outside his hiding place told him that it still wasn't safe to emerge, even if he had dared, but he didn't need to. He was pretty certain he knew what they were after.
The only time he had in which to come up with and execute a plan was the time that it would take the Wraith onboard to fix the damage that they had caused. After that they would doubtless jump into some distant part of the galaxy, where the crew would be fed upon and the technology harvested for use in Hive ships.
The consequences of that were unthinkable. And the only thing which he had at his disposal to try and stop them was the panel he was now picking to pieces.
It didn't do anything spectacular, this panel. It couldn't open the doors and vent the Wraith into space, or, if it came down to it, arm the self-destruct. All it happened to be was a humble back up and override for the air filtration system. But it was infinitely better than nothing, and there was nothing in this galaxy or any other which Rodney McKay could not subvert to his own purposes.
It was just a shame that after several minutes of feverish thinking, the best that he could come up with was to cut power to the scrubbers surrounding the engines and divert the airflow, flooding the areas of the ship where the Wraith were with carbon monoxide. Shame that there wasn't a handy valve at the end of his shaft which he could seal, keeping it away from him. Shame that his plan would lead to his own certain death.
He was, at least, grateful for the obsessive way in which he couldn't help but carry around bits of tech. The life-signs detector had been in his jacket, and was now propped against the panel. As far as he could make out, or guess, the crew of the Daedalus were locked in the brig, where he had expected them to be, with two guards outside the doors. There wasn't much he could do about them, other than hope that the crew combined would be able to take them on once they realised that something was happening. Ronon would be there, which increased the odds on that significantly. And the rest of the Wraith seemed to also be where he had expected them; by the hyperdrive, the sub-light engines, and the bridge, repairing the damage they had caused to their new prize. And a few outside where he was, of course.
A final twist to a piece of wire, and, in spite of the dire circumstances, Rodney grinned broadly. All set up. The poisonous gas would mostly (he hoped) only circulate around those areas of the ship populated with Wraith, with luck leaving the crew in the brig unharmed. There shouldn't be enough carbon monoxide to fill the whole ship to dangerous levels, and he was also banking on someone turning it off before it reached that stage.
Well, it would be down to them. There wasn't anything else he could do. And if his plan failed, at least he wouldn't ever know about it. That was one consolation.
With his hand still on that last piece of wire, he paused. This was it. He had the stupid feeling that he ought to say something memorable, despite the fact that there was no one to hear it. "Oh hell," he whispered forcefully, and pushed the wire into the waiting connection.
Anti-climactically, nothing happened. Or nothing visible. He pictured the molecules of carbon monoxide being released from the scrubber and joining the recycled oxygen, seeping out of the vents. Invisible death, swirling through the air on unseen currents. Through corridors, and under artificial light, without leaving a single shadow on the harsh metal surfaces. Until it reached its targets, and seeped through the lining of their lungs into their bloodstream, displacing the life-giving oxygen as it was carried through the body, suffocating the Wraith from within. And one scared human, who was cowering like a rabbit in a burrow. Well, it would be relatively quick and painless, at least.
But once he was dead, what would happen? No one knew where he was, or was likely to search here. His body would just lie in the spot where he died until someone needed to get to the panel. Or until the smell of its decay alerted them. Or maybe he would mummify, his fossilised remains sealed inside the Daedalus for the rest of its life; a grotesque mascot that no one would ever know was there.
Get a grip, McKay…
He continued to watch the LSD, wondering how long he had. Carbon monoxide killed at ridiculously low atmospheric concentrations. It would start affecting him soon. If it worked, of course. Not the best of plans, really; he had no more control over it, or even anything conclusive yet to show him whether or not it was working.
Some of the dots had begun to move about more than they had before. Perhaps they had realised that something was wrong. Could Wraith smell carbon monoxide? That hadn't occurred to him before. He would have to ask Carson when he got home. He would also check with him whether they could be killed by it. If it turned out that they weren't, it would be a pretty stupid plan.
A headache was building at the front of his skull. Ah, yes. First symptom. At least it was working. He was quite surprised to find that he didn't feel more upset about his own slow poisoning. Slow was the word. His brain already felt sluggish.
And this was it. The end. No point in final words, but what about final thoughts? He supposed that he should probably die thinking of his sister, since she was the closest thing to a loved one he had. Even if they probably still weren't on the best of terms. After all, the last time he'd managed to see her was when she'd been kidnapped and nearly killed because of an email he'd sent her. Maybe he should have mentioned to her at the time just how guilty that had made him feel, but perhaps he could still make it up. He could go round for dinner, bringing a bottle of really nice wine, and eat that disgusting vegetarian stuff which she and her husband called 'food'. Maybe he could sneak Madison out to a restaurant and show her what she was missing…
He hadn't sent Madison a birthday present, either. He'd meant to, but it had slipped his mind. Perhaps he could buy her something from a market on a planet belonging to one of their trading partners, and see if he could smuggle it through the SGC.
No, he couldn't. Because he was going to die.
Oh. That was odd. He'd never expected to have dying regrets about missing his niece's birthday. Maybe he should regret that Atlantis would now be left in the hands of Zelenka. Damn. It probably wouldn't last a week. But then again, the Czech scientist was far cleverer and more capable than he would usually admit. And he was admitting it only to himself. It would never do to let Zelenka know. The man would walk around puffed up with pride and start contesting Rodney's orders even more than he did at the moment. So maybe he would be able to manage being the Chief of Science, after all. At least Kavanagh was no longer around to be dealt with. He would get Rodney's office. And all of his paperwork. Oh, and the secret supply of really, really good coffee which was hidden in one of his desk drawers.
Rodney frowned, although the creasing of his forehead aggravated the pain. He had been looking forward to drinking the rest of that coffee. It didn't seem fair that he wouldn't get to. Zelenka getting his hands on it only added insult to injury.
He squinted at the LSD, the display blurring. Why were the dots so small? Whoever had built it had clearly done a poor job. But as he watched, some of the dots on the bridge, where some of the main air vents led out, were flickering. And then one vanished. He grinned in delight, the lack of oxygen exacerbating the feeling of euphoria that his plan was working. Another one. And another.
The duct was beginning to spin, as if it was some strange fairground ride. Not a Ferris wheel, though. That was John's thing, not his. He closed his eyes, but that didn't help the feeling of nausea. Hopefully it wouldn't be long until the ride stopped and he could get off. It wasn't a very good ride, certainly not worth however much he had paid to go on it. And nothing to look at, other than the coloured crystals studded in rows in front of him. They probably meant something, but he couldn't quite remember what it was.
A quote drifted into his head from nowhere. This is the way the world ends; not with a bang, but with a whimper. It struck him as funny. The world was a small cuboid of metal, with him inside it, and it was greying out. Certainly no bang. That would have been – nice, though. Something to commemorate one scared, lonely astrophysicist, dying a long, long way from home, among alien stars. Smartest man in two galaxies, he had arrogantly proclaimed, and now, this was all he had left.
He closed his eyes, or they dropped closed. Certainly, he didn't really have much to do with the action.
His last thought wasn't of his sister, or any of his friends. It was about the wires in front of him, how the connections lined up, a puzzle, one that he had managed to solve. Dying looking at a puzzle. It seemed fitting, somehow.
So he didn't hear Ronon finally prising open the brig doors and attacking the two guards with the sharp edge of a panel he'd wrenched from the wall, or the blasts as the few Wraith who were still not dead or dying were taken down with their own weapons. He didn't even notice as doors in the hull were opened, the poisonous atmosphere vented out into the cold vacuum of space along with unresisting Wraith bodies.
And, when the life-support system had refilled the drained sections with breathable air, and running footsteps thudded along hard floors, he didn't hear them either, along with a multitude of voices shouting his name.
For Rodney, there was nothing at all.
And then he woke up. That was a surprise.
His mouth tasted dry and sterile, and he could feel an oxygen mask clamped over his lower face.
And his head hurt. That was what made him decide that this probably wasn't the afterlife. Well, he hoped it wasn't the afterlife, firstly because if he'd taken his headache in with him, that was just unfair, and secondly because he'd never believed in any sort of afterlife at all, and he didn't want to now have to spend an eternity with everyone rubbing it in his face that he had been wrong.
He decided that it would probably be a good idea to open his eyes and check. It was more of an effort than he'd anticipated, but eventually he managed to raise his eyelids enough to let in a rather blurry slice of vision.
John was looking down at him, and Rodney immediately added another reason to the list of why he hoped that this wasn't the afterlife; if John was here too then it meant that his suicidal plan had failed, and if that was the case then John would never let him forget it. And a Sheppard who was mortal and therefore tried not to be too aggravating while Rodney saved all their lives, and during a short period of time immediately afterwards, was bad enough, but one who had no unfortunate consequences such as death to worry about would be absolutely insufferable.
"Are you awake?" John asked.
Rodney tried to roll his eyes in a way that said, well, duh!
John leaned in. "McKay, what the hell were you thinking?! That was the stupidest plan I've ever come across!"
He would have really liked to respond to that. Something along the lines of, More stupid than taking off on a kamikaze mission involving a Jumper and a nuclear bomb?
John was clearly making the most of Rodney not being able to defend himself. "You nearly died! There was no way you could have counted on us venting the air in time, and we nearly didn't! Do you know how long you've been unconscious for? Nearly a day! Beckett says you're giving him grey hairs."
Rodney glowered, and, deciding that he wasn't really going to get anything out of this conversation, closed his eyes. And received a poke in the ribs, presumably from a very annoying colonel who couldn't get the hint that some people wanted to sleep.
"Don't go to sleep yet." His voice was lower, and Rodney, after a moment's consideration, opened his eyes again. This time it occurred to him to look around a little. A second's glance was enough to confirm that, yes, he was back on Atlantis. John was leaning closer. "You nearly died," he said quietly.
Rodney did his best to roll his eyes again. Hadn't they just established that?
"McKay, no one's expecting you to sacrifice yourself. You shouldn't have to do that sort of thing."
Of course not. And Pegasus was, as the name suggested, full of magical winged horses. And unicorns. And candy mountains.
No, it wasn't what he had signed up for, but somehow it had become part of his job, putting himself in life-threatening situations. No more than anyone else on his team would do, after all. And no less.
But when it finally came down to it – he decided that he wanted to go out with a bang. A really big bang. Not a whimper. Of course, he would still prefer not to die at all, and with a brain like his, and a team like his, he should be able to survive for, oh, years more…
Smiling slightly, he let his eyes fall closed, to the sound of John saying casually, "Oh, by the way, I may have let slip to Zelenka where you hide your coffee stash…"