Disclaimer: Don't own them. Wish I did.
The song "Our Great Divide" is orginally performed by Finnish singer Tarja Turunen, and written by Anders Wollbeck/Hanne Sorvaag/Mattias Lindblom/Tarja Turunen.
Characters: Team fic, but emphasis on McKay.
A/N: This story is set somewhere in the latter half of fifth season, after "The Lost Tribe", but before "Brain Storm". General spoilers.
English is not my native tongue, so please forgive me if the language isn't flawless.
Our Great Divide
"Remind me again, why am I doing this?" Major Evan Lorne shouted across the Gateroom to John Sheppard who was coming down the stairs towards him.
One corner of the colonel's mouth twisted upwards in a teasing smile as he approached the major. "I take it the mission was a real thrill, just as we expected?" he joked.
"It's on days like this I wonder what the hell I'm doing here," Lorne said, and looked back over his shoulder as the last of his team entered through the event horizon behind him. "I was completely useless on that planet. The only thing there to protect the science team from was some rather annoying mosquito thingies. And from those there was no escape anyway." With impatient and frustrated moves, he scratched some flaming red spots on his neck.
As the Gate closed, Ronon and Teyla entered the room from one of the corridors to the right, just in time to hear the major's last comment. "You should not complain," Teyla said earnestly. "We should be thankful whenever a mission turns out to be… eventless."
"If we had found anything of interest perhaps," Lorne said with a sigh, and continued to scratch the red spots with increasing intensity. "But that place was just a complete waste of time. There was nothing there."
Behind them the science team and Lorne's marines began to unload their supplies from the MALP. Dr. Radek Zelenka came up beside the major. He too was covered with tiny red bug marks, especially on the neck and around the wrists. John looked at him and then at Lorne as he lifted one eyebrow in a teasing gesture. "Except for the mosquitoes?"
"Except those," Lorne sighed.
"And a rather interesting bird life," Zelenka added. One could always rely on the Czech to find the silver lining.
From his position on the top of the stairs, Dr. Rodney McKay snorted and rolled his eyes. Zelenka had this thing for birds he had never really been able to grasp. He heard hurried steps behind him and turned to see Richard Woolsey coming from his office. "Report, Major!" he said as he passed by Rodney and descended the stairs. Mr. Woolsey was not a man of patience.
"Nothing, sir," Lorne said. "The scientists have brought back samples of the soil and various plants, but as far as I can see the planet was no different from all the other countless worlds we have investigated lately. They are all starting to look the same." Woolsey gave him a stern look and he quickly added, "Not that I'm complaining, sir."
"Well, you're all here and as far as I can tell, you're all in one piece," the expedition leader said. "That is the important thing." He let his eyes drift across the group of newly arrived off-world team members. "I'll expect the full report from each of you on my desk later." It was of course a completely unnecessary order to give. Everyone knew the established routines. But they just nodded affirmatively, and Woolsey disappeared back up the stairs and into his office again.
"You should go to the infirmary and have those checked," Teyla said and nodded towards the red spots on Lorne and Zelenka's necks. In fact the whole off-world team was sporting the same kind of bug bites, and most of them were frantically scratching themselves.
"That won't be necessary." Rodney finally chose to make himself conspicuous. His hands behind his back, he casually strolled down the stairs. "They will itch for a day or two, but they are by no means dangerous."
"How'd you know?" Lorne asked.
"It said so in the database," Rodney answered with a conceited look upon his face. "The Ancients have provided us with at least a little information about this planet, including a quite detailed description of the habbatalus, as they call it. And its bites."
Lorne scowled as the realization hit him. "You knew this. I bet you also knew that there would be nothing of interest for us to find."
"Of course he did," Zelenka said, sending a glare in Rodney's direction. "Why else do you think we were assigned this mission?"
Rodney lifted his hands in a defensive manner. "Hey, hey, this is what you signed up for, remember? Exploration. It's what we do. Can't find something every day."
"Yeah, as the boss just said, be thankful you're not hurt… or dead," Sheppard said, sending a silent thank you to McKay for making sure that their team had stayed behind in the comforts of Atlantis. Those so-called habba-something did not sound pleasant. "And besides, Radek, you just said you found an interesting bunch of birds, right? So I guess it wasn't a complete waste."
Radek mumbled something in his native tongue – swearing, John guessed – and turned around to pick up his gear.
"Yeah, and about that, Doc," Lorne said as he turned towards the Czech, "next time you feel like trotting off to investigate some nest, I'd appreciate it if you let me know first."
"I didn't go far," Radek defended himself. "And like you said, there was nothing dangerous there I needed you to protect me from."
"That's not the point," Evan said, but seemed to realize that Zelenka wasn't going to listen to his views on the matter, so he just shook his head and looked at John. "I'm going to the infirmary nonetheless. At least they might have a salve or something to relieve this damn itch."
"You do that," John said with another teasing smile.
Zelenka looked up for a moment. "Ooh, that sounds good. I'll go with you."
"Don't be long," Rodney said. "I need you in the jumper bay."
Zelenka's head jerked upwards so fast that his glasses almost fell off his nose. "What?"
"As you know, Mr. Woolsey has been bugging me ever since he came here to convert one of the jumpers so that people without the Ancient gene can fly it as well."
"Well, now I'm on to something and I need your… assistance." Rodney lifted his eyebrows and gave a smug smile. He looked very pleased with himself. Without waiting for a reply, he turned on his heels and started to walk towards the stairs. "Jumper bay in fifteen minutes."
"But I just got back!"
Rodney stopped and partly turned his head towards the Czech for a moment. "Hm, well, yeah, you can take a shower first." And then he quickly went up the stairs and out of sight.
Radek looked like he wanted to shout something after him, but then he just closed his mouth, rolled his eyes and let out one of his trademark sighs, before he picked up his boxes and followed Lorne out of the Gateroom.
The others watched them as they turned a corner and disappeared out of sight. Ronon clicked his tongue. "I don't know how he puts up with it. I would have shot him by now."
Sheppard grinned and looked at Teyla. She smiled sympathetically and shook her head.
Of course Rodney had known that spending a day on M9H-541 would be just as interesting as spending a day watching wall paint dry. That was why he had talked Woolsey into sending the 'b-team' to explore the planet in the first place. It hadn't been easy. Just like Elizabeth Weir before him, Woolsey didn't always swallow the bait. Sam Carter had been in the palm of his hand, Rodney thought as he made his way to the jumper bay. As long as he had let her believe that she was the one in charge, she had always gone with whatever Rodney decided. But Woolsey apparently had the same strange faith in Zelenka that Elizabeth had had, and he had a way of giving the Czech's advice just as much weight as Rodney's. It was quite annoying at times.
Still, Rodney thought as he entered the jumper bay, he had gotten his way this time. In the end it had been Lorne's team that had been sent to M9H to spend a day in boredom and misery along with the habbatalus. Rodney chuckled at the thought.
He opened the hatch in the rear of his experimental jumper and as he stepped inside, he stopped for a moment to take in the sight. The interior was strewn with laptops and cables and loose conduits hanging from the ceiling. Now, if he only could get this thing to work…
Woolsey hadn't been in charge of the city for more than a week or so before he had approached Rodney with this request. Only people possessing the Ancient gene could pilot the Puddle Jumpers, and in Woolsey's world that was a problem, a problem he wanted Rodney to solve. Rodney had first tried to explain that converting the jumpers had proved impossible in the past, but when he'd thought about it, who was he to turn down a challenge like that? So over the last months he had dived into the task whenever he had the chance, but ever so often he had to spend his time doing other things, like saving the city from various forms of peril, so he hadn't made much progress.
That was, not until these last few days. Now he was definitely on to something, he thought with anticipation as he waited for Zelenka to show up. Just a few more minor adjustments now, and that's where Radek entered the picture. It had proven difficult to translate his brilliant theories into practice, and although Rodney had a hard time admitting it – so hard that the mere thought actually made him shiver – he knew that Zelenka probably had an even bigger understanding of how the Puddle Jumpers worked than he had. Not that he was ever going to tell him that.
Zelenka joined him half an hour later. He came from the infirmary where they had indeed conjured up a salve that worked like magic on the habbatalus rashes. That and a warm shower had done wonders with his mood, and even though he gave McKay a sour look when he first entered the jumper, Rodney knew that it was just a matter of time before the Czech would be enjoying himself. Zelenka loved work just as much as he did.
They didn't talk much while they were working, both men concentrating on their own task. This was the way they normally did things. No small talk, no unnecessary exchange of words. A few 'hmms' and 'ah-has' and snapping of fingers was all Rodney needed to get Radek's attention when he wanted it, and further explanation of what those 'hmms' and 'ah-has' was supposed to mean was rarely needed. In that sense Zelenka was a mind reader, and Rodney liked it. Yes, working with Zelenka could be quite comfortable at times. Not that he was going to tell him that either.
They worked tirelessly for two days, only taking breaks to get food and catch a few hours of sleep at night. Converting the jumper proved a lot more difficult than Rodney had anticipated. His equations and schematics looked good on paper, but the changes they made to the system had no effect in real life. The experimental jumper remained as before – completely dead to Radek and the likes of him, that being people without the Ancient gene. Well, truth be told, it didn't remain quite as before. By the third day it was actually dead to everyone.
In perfect sync as always, Rodney and Radek both sat back on their heels at the same time. "It's no good," Rodney said. "They can't be converted."
Radek nodded. "Not without the engines and power outputs being reconstructed from scratch."
"And if we knew how to build Puddle Jumpers we wouldn't have this problem in the first place," Rodney finished the sentence.
Frustrated and irritated and hating to be wrong, he stood up and glared at the jumper's dead panel. Behind him, Radek sat down on one of the boxes with his elbows on his knees and rested his forehead in the palms of his hands. Rodney heard him sigh and turned to look at him. "You look terrible," he said after studying him for a few moments.
Radek looked up. "Like I have been working for two days straight with hardly any rest perhaps?" Rodney didn't reply and Radek brushed his hair back and shivered slightly. "Probably a cold coming. Nothing to worry about."
"I'm not worried," Rodney said curtly. He picked up his tablet computer and looked at it with an annoyed glare. "Woolsey will be expecting a full briefing of our progress later today. And we have nothing."
"That's not true," Radek said, not unkindly. "You've made great progress. Only because this problem seems to be unsolvable at the present time, doesn't mean that it actually is. We just need to put it aside for some time and have a fresh look at it later."
"Yeah, there are more important things we should be concentrating on…" Rodney tapped at the tablet. "But we still have to tell him, that on top of the fact that we don't have any idea how to make the jumpers accessible to everyone, we also killed one of them. He won't be pleased."
"We'll fix it," Radek said. "It's only a small matter of reestablishing the original parameters. I'll have a look at it later." He rose and began walking towards the exit at the rear.
"Whoa, where you headed?" Rodney said.
"I thought I might catch some sleep."
"Oh no, you have to help me with the presentation."
Radek sighed. "Why?"
"Well, you did the brush up on some of these equations," Rodney said in a matter-of-factly tone, perfectly avoiding looking Radek directly in the eyes. "It's only fair that I let you share in our 'triumph' alongside me."
"You mean like having the honor of changing the screen pictures while you do all the talking?"
Radek let out another sigh, but after five years of working with McKay he knew how to pick his battles, so he just sat back down on the box and opened his laptop. "Right."
Colonel Sheppard and his team, as well as several other senior expedition members, joined the briefing in Woolsey's conference room later that day. John only needed a quick look at Rodney to see that the Canadian was trying hard to look more confident than he really was, and the others didn't need much time to come to the same conclusion. It was soon clear to everyone in the room that most of the things Rodney said while he pointed to the screen was unimportant nonsense, and that he was just making a rather feeble attempt to cover up the truth. The truth being that he was nowhere near a solution to the problem Woolsey had provided him with. It was also clear that Rodney was very well aware of the fact that his little performance wasn't fooling anyone, and that seemed to cost him even further annoyance. John had to cover up a smile. Watching Rodney try to pull up the ladder was always fun.
The only one in the room who seemed to take McKay seriously at this point was Richard Woolsey. He was leaning forward in his chair with his elbows resting on the conference table and his hands folded, looking sincerely interested in what his chief scientist had to say. "So, you are saying that there's absolutely no way to bypass the safety protocol?" he asked.
Rodney's face contracted in a frown for a few seconds, before he looked matter-of-factly back at the expedition leader. "Well, if we could construct a…"
"No," came a tired voice from beside him. Everyone shifted their eyes to Radek Zelenka who was slumping in his chair, tiredly rubbing his fingers against his forehead. "He means no. We cannot."
Rodney shot him a sour look, but then looked back at Woolsey. "Not as of now, no."
Woolsey frowned. "You seemed a lot more optimistic a few days ago."
"Yes," Rodney said, trying without much success to hide the displeasure in his voice. "But as you can see here on this next schematics…" He gestured towards the view screen, but nothing happened, and he turned impatiently towards Zelenka. "Radek." And when the Czech still didn't respond, he raised his voice: "Radek!"
Zelenka jumped in his seat and hurriedly pushed the button on the remote control. "Sorry."
The picture on the view screen changed, and Rodney droned on. But John wasn't paying attention anymore. He kept his gaze on Zelenka. The smaller man didn't look good. He was pale, his face appeared drawn and he was constantly rubbing his eyes behind his glasses. Maybe another migraine coming, John thought. The Czech had probably not been sleeping much since returning from his off-world mission three days earlier. No wonder he looked beaten. Yeah, that's probably it. He's just tired. I'll make sure he gets some rest when this is done. He stifled a yawn of his own. If only Rodney could admit defeat and get this pointless speech over with.
McKay was once again calling for Radek's attention. With an impatient look, he watched the Czech shuffle to his feet to pass him the tablet he'd asked for. "Thank you," he barked sarcastically as he snatched the tablet from his colleague's hand, and the next second he watched in surprise as Radek fell to the floor.
Zelenka just tilted. He knocked over a coffee cart as he fell, and a tray and six empty mugs went crashing to the floor with him. John was on his feet in a nanosecond, but Ronon was closer and even faster. He lunged forward and caught the Czech just in time to prevent his head from hitting the floor.
The room fell dead quiet for a moment, then everybody got to their feet to have a closer look. Ronon turned Radek around and cradled him in his arms, and as John stepped up beside them the Satedan looked up at him. "He's burning."
John tapped his earpiece. "Medical team to the conference room."
"It'll be faster to just bring him there," Ronon said. He scooped Zelenka up into his arms and staggered to his feet. Radek didn't even make a sound as he was carried out of the room.
John looked at McKay. The Canadian stood in the exact same position as he had before, still looking shocked and confused. His eyes were glued to the door Ronon had just disappeared through and for several moments he didn't move. Then he seemed to realize that everyone was looking at him and he pulled his eyes away from the door and let them drift across the room until they finally came to a rest at John. "I didn't…"
John just shook his head and left the room to follow Ronon. Behind him he heard Woolsey clear his throat. "Weren't you about to show us something, Doctor?"