In The Nick Of Time
Woolsey walked through the 'gate, handed his case to Bates with the briefest of instructions, then made his way to the infirmary.
Richard couldn't believe it. He was well aware the status quo on Atlantis could change in a heart beat. He was even getting used to expecting the unexpected. However this was pushing the boundaries. In yesterday's report from Major Lorne there had been nothing of note. Colonel Sheppard was making a good recovery from the flu, and the city was not facing any imminent danger. Wryly he contemplated the difference a day could make. Now not only was his military commander at death's door, but the cause was even more astonishing. This was the first he'd heard of a library in Atlantis.
He was nursing a headache. Granted it was his own fault - too much hospitality from the night before. But who said no to the President? In any case, he had been going to take some personal time before returning. At least that was the plan.
When he'd left the SGC it had been early evening. In Atlantis, dawn was fast approaching. Already the rosy glow from the early morning light was filtering into the infirmary, but Richard wasted no time admiring its beauty, he made straight for the ICU. There was only one patient in the unit. Sheppard. The man was hidden from sight by the presence of Beckett who was quietly checking the machines around his bed. When the medic moved away, Richard could hardly believe his eyes.
Sheppard looked like a mummy that had been exhumed and left out for display. His swollen face, neck and arms were covered in ointment. His leg swathed in heavy bandages and lifted up from the rest of his body by a support. Even his wrists were covered in dressings. His chest hadn't gone unscathed either. It was red and blotchy – sunburned. Stunned, he stopped in his tracks.
"I don't know what I expected," he said quietly, "but I didn't think it would be this bad."
Carson turned round. The man looked shattered. Richard wondered if he'd slept at all during the last twenty-four hours.
"Aye…he's in quite a state, but the burns look worse than they are." Carson marked something on the chart, before hanging it on the end of the bed.
Richard came forward to stand beside him. "How is he, Carson?"
The Scot's expression became guarded. "Like I said, the burns should heal without scarring. His leg caused us a wee bit of a headache, but between us Doctor Keller and I managed to put it back together. Although, the colonel will be off his feet for a while…It's the infection that's got me most concerned. We've been loading him with the strongest antibiotics we have, but so far it's not making much of an impression. Besides tearing his leg to shreds, the nasty bugger that bit him has left quite the indelible calling card."
"And it's not something we've encountered before?" Richard asked, although as soon as the words left his mouth, he realized how stupid they were. He'd read all the mission reports before arriving in Atlantis. While the 'gate teams had come up against all sorts of creatures, this was the first reptilian they'd encountered. Carson, give him his due, didn't make the obvious comment. The medic merely shook his head.
"No…not even close." He said sadly. "There were traces of saliva in the wound, so I've give a sample to the lab. The biochemists are trying to come up with something…but the Colonel is very weak. Truthfully, I don't know how much more he can take."
"He'll make it….Sheppard's strong."
The two men turned to see Ronon in the entrance. The Satedan's face was a mask of suppressed anger.
"I never said he wouldn't, Ronon." Carson countered, unfazed by the big man's attitude. "I just meant he had a fight on his hands. I'm certainly not going to give up."
"Neither will he." Ronon stormed past them both and sat on the chair by Sheppard's bed.
The tension in the small area was palpable. For a moment Richard wondered if he should do anything, then decided against it. He was still relatively new here, but would have stepped in if necessary. In any case, Carson was more than capable of handling Ronon. The Scot had known the Satedan from when he'd been a runner. Still, Richard could understand Ronon's feelings. His loyalty to Sheppard was not only steadfast but touching. It was just regrettable that his manner was some what intimidating. "Thank you, Carson…please keep me apprised of developments."
The Scot nodded. "I will."
Richard put a hand on his shoulder. "And, Carson…take some rest yourself. I don't want to receive the next patients report and find your name on it."
Without looking around Ronon called over. "I'm here…get some sleep, Doc."
Carson gave Richard a sly wink. "Thanks, lad…I'll be in my office catching twenty winks, if you need me."
"Carson…just the man I needed to speak to." Rodney barrelled into the room.
Carson rolled his eyes, and sighed. "Would you keep the noise down, Rodney."
Doctor McKay was so worked up, he was practically dancing on the spot. Richard appreciated the man's genius, but his impatient sometime abrasive manner was another matter. "Doctor McKay…can't whatever it is wait until later? Doctor Beckett is worn out, he needs to get some sleep," Richard coolly told the irate scientist.
McKay's face twisted as he locked eyes with him. "No…no actually it can't. I've discovered something about the library which if I'm right, could be a potential threat to every Ancient gene carrier on the base."
"Look, Rodney, you're tired," Carson drawled, in his rough brogue. "We're all tired. Maybe it's the lack of sleep getting to you but we were all down there, lad. Colonel Sheppard was the only one to be affected by the room."
Rodney narrowed his eyes, and drew him a look. "Tell me something I don't know…I'll have nightmares for years after what I saw. But to answer your question, the only reason why we weren't affected was because Sheppard had already activated the room. If you or had have gone there first. Well let's just say it would have been one of us lying there on that bed."
"Okay…I'll bite…sorry – that was inappropriate." Carson got a little flustered as he went scarlet. "Look, son…just tell me what it is you want."
"A list of scientists who don't carry the Ancient gene." Rodney pronounced with a tight smile. "If I'm right, they are the only ones who can work safely in the library."
Richard coughed, deliberately drawing attention to himself. "Tell me, Doctor McKay, if this library is so dangerous then why don't we just seal it up? We have barely scratched the surface on the database as it is. Researching that alone will keep us busy for the foreseeable future."
Rodney snorted and drew him a disparaging look. "Excuse me…are you serious? The wealth of knowledge the library contains would be invaluable. Not to mention the fact we've found another form of transportation. What happened to Sheppard was...well I don't even want to go there. But the console had malfunctioned. If we repair it, and learn how to use it properly..."Rodney's eyes dulled as he glanced at the man lying on the bed. "Look, I don't think Sheppard would want us to stop researching it because of what happened. "
"Uhm…very well. I will consider your request and discuss it with the IOA. In the meantime this information can wait until you both get some rest." Richard glared at the scientist through his spectacles. "As a precaution I will arrange for security to be posted outside. No one…and I repeat no one, Dr McKay, will be allowed access until a decision has been made on this matter."
"No buts, Doctor, McKay…" Richard said, straightening up to his full height. "In case you have forgotten I am the one in charge here, and I will not risk anyone else ending up like Colonel Sheppard."
Richard turned on his heel and left a furious McKay behind him. He didn't care. Regardless of what the good doctor thought of him, it was his job to protect the scientist from himself. McKay was a genius, but not infallible. Of course, he was well aware he was only postponing the inevitable. Once the IOA got wind of the library's potential, it would be a fait accompli. He wished he'd asked for some Tylenol...
Someone was singing. John smiled. His mom used to sing to him when he was sick, but this wasn't one of the tunes she'd liked. In fact it wasn't even her voice. His smile faded when he remembered she was long gone.
"John…are you awake?"
Was he? An image of a beach flashed into his mind. Mom had been there. He recalled the sweet smell of lavender lingering on her skin as she dried his hair. Now all he could smell was disinfectant. A different kind of sand replaced the image. There had been searing heat. At one point he'd thought he was being burned alive, then came the beast from Slither and excruciating pain. An alien had started to help him, but then for some reason her attitude changed. There was something strange about her. She had the weirdest eyes…Her kindness quickly turned to persecution. Her treatment more inhuman than the creature who'd hurt him. Its attack was instinctive. She on the other hand had known exactly what she was doing.
He was still too warm, his damp clothes sticking to him, but the raging heat of before was gone. He was also still in pain. It wasn't the unbearable agony of before but he still hurt all over. A dull ache ran from his head right through his body. His left leg really hurt like a bitch. The deep pulsating throb, seemed to thump in time with the beat of his heart.
"John, it is Teyla…please open your eyes."
They were so gritty and sore that for a moment he didn't know if he could. It took more effort than he expected to drag them apart. Teyla was sitting by his bed, smiling at him. Her eyes were overly bright. Had she been crying? "It is good to see you finally awake. We have all been very worried about you. I will call Carson. He will be pleased to see you are back with us."
A small smile crossed his lips. He was home. Back in Atlantis. For a while there he thought he wasn't going to make the return journey.
"How are you feeling, Colonel? And I want the truth."
"Hot, sore…my leg hurts." John croaked and started coughing. Carson took a cup from the cabinet and put a straw to his lips. The cool water hit the spot.
Carson withdrew it after only a few sips. "Aye, I don't doubt it. Apart from nearly ripping off your leg, the nasty bugger that bit you left behind a virulent infection. It took a while to get it under control, but at least we're on top of it now. You still have a low grade fever, but a couple of days ago you had us all concerned. If this had happened anywhere else than Atlantis, you wouldn't have survived."
"If I'd been anywhere else…this wouldn't have happened, Carson." John mumbled in a wry tone. "How's the leg…will I be able to use it again?" He asked, trying not to sound as anxious as he felt.
Carson's gave him a reassuring smile. "Don't worry. I'll admit it gave us a few problems, but with physical therapy you should regain full mobility. You're a lucky man, Colonel. I really thought I'd lost you this time, son." Carson told him solemnly.
John's bleary eyes locked with his. "There are worse things than dying, Carson…but it appears this wasn't my time." He said wistfully. The beach where he'd met mom wouldn't be a bad place to end up. John became aware of Carson giving him a strange look. He realized how ungrateful his comment must have sounded. "I'm sorry…I didn't meant it like that. Thank's for saving my life…again."
He moaned softly as he tried to wriggle up the bed, yelping as a spike of fiery pain ripped through his leg. John gasped, struggling to catch his breath as he panted against the pain. He was vaguely aware of a mask being put on his face. It's cool sweet air flooding into his lungs and taking away the tightness in his chest.
"No more talking. Rest is what you need – lots of it."
"Rodney…Ronon…Lorne, they okay?"
John guessed his mumble must have sounded incoherent through the mask, but Carson understood. "Daft bugger…Everyone is fine, except you." The Scot shook his head, and shared a smile with Teyla. "They all want to visit, but that can wait until you're stronger."
His hands, arms and face were burning, and the pain in his leg was bringing tears to his eyes, so John didn't argue. When he felt the ice cold sensation of morphine run into his veins, he began to relax as his collective aches started to ease.
John sensed rather than saw Teyla's return to his side as he closed his eyes. Her sweet lyrical humming, gradually lulling him into a dreamless sleep.
"Are you eating that?" Rodney made a move on the chocolate pudding, but John nudged it away with his gloved hand. The burned skin had started to itch, and it was driving him crazy. He'd promised Carson he wouldn't scratch, and he didn't. Well not really, at least not while he was awake. That was why he was now the proud owner of a pair of cotton mittens.
"Leave John's lunch alone, Rodney," Teyla chided.
"Yeah…" Ronon prodded the scientist belly, "besides, I think you've had enough."
Rodney rounded on the Satedan. "Are you saying I'm fat? I'll have you know this is all muscle…at least most of it. Anyway, I'm hypoglycaemic. I need to eat."
"Not all the time." Ronon snorted, mumbling under his breath.
John gave Rodney a tight smile as he slipped a mouthful of the dessert into his mouth. He held it there for a second, before he made a show of swallowing. The expression on Rodney's face was priceless, but he felt a little mean. John decided to change the conversation onto Rodney's favorite subject. "So…have you found out any more about the library?"
"Not as much as I'd like...we are seriously behind because Woolsey stalled the research." Rodney made a face. "I tried to tell him the IOA wouldn't let a potential gold mine like that slip through their fingers. Oh…and it was you that set it off. Nicky…Doctor Kozlov has confirmed our theory that it is the Ancient gene that activates the portal, but her team are still working their way through the Ancient text. It would appear most of the books they've translated so far are for recreation, so it's possible they used the portal as a sort of holodeck. Except instead of fake settings, they would travel to real planets."
"Seriously? Like going on vacation?" John raised an eyebrow.
"However, Rodney, the one John was pulled into was far from pleasant." Teyla reminded them. John flinched. That was one incident he didn't need to be reminded of.
"Yes…well, Colonel Calamity here had to touch some research papers. From what Nicky has been able to find out," Rodney told him, "The Ancients had gone there to carry out experiments on the indigenous population. I'm guessing they were trying to find a way to destroy the Wraith."
John closed his eyes, and sighed. "No wonder that woman hated me."
"Still didn't give her the right…" Ronon grunted. A flash of anger flew across his face.
"No…it didn't." John agreed. "Personally I like to give someone a trial, before I pass sentence. I understand her reaction," His face clouded over, "but I would never have left someone out there to die. Have you found where this planet is yet?"
Rodney shrugged. "We don't know, Nicky is still tying to find out. There are millions of books down there. Matching them up with our database could take years. I'm guessing the Ancients created this portal for easy access to some of the planets with space gates. It's the only thing that makes any sense, but I won't know anything for sure until I get down there. I also want to take that console apart and find out why you where sucked in against your will, but none of the gene carriers are allowed near the place."
"I am not a scientist, Rodney, but what would be the point of that? We already have the Ring of the Ancestors." Teyla asked, puzzled.
"Maybe ease of access for the scientists carrying out research?" Rodney's said, with a cynical expression. "Like I said before, Teyla, we have more questions than answers. But on the bright side, I think I've worked out how they got in an out of the portals at their convenience. There were slim, silver colored metallic bracelets hidden in a compartment under the console. Nicky was kind enough to bring them up to the lab. It looks as if it will be simple enough device to figure out. There is a round button set into the symbol of an eye. As for how it works, I'm guessing this allows the wearer to active the portal at will. In theory, this should make getting going through the portal less haphazard, and hopefully prevent any more accidents. "
"Nicky, huh? You mention her name a lot…" John went to nudge Rodney, but winced as the action hurt his arm. Rodney's embarrassment made up for it.
"Nic…Doctor Kozlov, had been very helpful." Rodney protested, getting redder.
"Yeah…she's also cute." Ronon smirked.
"Have you managed to get them to operate, Rodney?" Teyla asked, after giving him an exasperated glare.
"I'm working on it, but so far I haven't even been able to get them to open." He stole a sideways glance at Sheppard. "I'm hoping when you get out of here your magic gene will do the trick."
"Well that's not going to be for quite a while…is it, Colonel?" Carson appeared and drew him a look.
John colored under his gaze. "I've been here for two weeks, Carson. I know I have a long spell of physical therapy in front of me, but if you let me go to my quarters, I'll just sit there, doing nothing…apart from my prescribed exercises of course." He gave him his most sincere smile.
"Just like you did last time?" Carson shook his head. "No, Colonel, I'm not taking that chance. You'll stay right where you are until that leg is fully healed."
John threw down his spoon. "Aw, c'mon…that's not going to be for weeks."
The Scot stood with his arms crossed. "You should have thought of that before you started roaming all over the city, nearly getting yourself killed."
Carson turned and winked at Teyla. She smiled and took his lead. "Doctor Beckett…If one of us promises to keep him out of mischief until he is back on active duty, would that make a difference?"
The Scot scratched his chin and went silent for a moment. "I tell you what, Colonel. I'll give it some thought. If I relent, you'll still be my guest until the end of the week. After that…we'll see."
"Thanks, Carson…and I promise -"
Carson put up his hand. "Look, lad, I don't expect you to promise anything. Like I said once before, I just want you to get well. Give yourself a chance to heal before you start putting yourself in harm's way…okay?"
"Agreed…and I am sorry." John said with remorse. "I never intended that to happen the last time."
Carson smiled as he patted his shoulder. "I know…you never do, son."
Rodney waited until Carson was out of earshot. "Okay…so when are you coming down to the lab to try out those bracelets?"
John finished the last of his pudding and put the empty container on the tray. "You heard the man, Rodney. There's plenty of time. The library has been lying hidden for thousands of years. I reckon a few more weeks aren't going to matter."
His nerves were jangling, but it wasn't the same sensation as before. John hoped nobody noticed him nervously rolling the bracelet around his wrist, or the fact he was quieter than usual. Fear was something he normally used to good effect. Today, he just felt frightened. He hated feeling this way and needed to put his demons behind him. With a nod to Ronon, the two men stepped into the library. The rows of books seemed to crowd in on him. He felt his breathing become fast and shallow, as he kept his arms close to his sides. John was about to turn around and leave, when Dr Kozlov came round the corner.
"Colonel Sheppard! It is so good to see you back on your feet."
John had only met Nicky Kozlov once before. He'd still been in the infirmary and had wanted to thank the woman who'd helped save his life. She was prettier than he'd remembered. The flush on her cheeks only served to make her blue eyes sparkle. "Hi, Doc, I just wanted…" Suddenly his mind went a blank. He couldn't think of a good reason why he should be there.
"To learn more about the Kamerans?" Nicky interrupted, "Doctor Beckett said you might come."
"He did?" Puzzled, John searched Ronon's face for answers. The big guy's looked impassive, smug even.
"Please…come over and have a seat." Nicky lead him over to a section of the library that she'd cleared and made into a small open plan office. She noticed the thin silver band slip down his wrist. "May I?" John lifted his wrist and allowed her to examine it. Her eyes lit up. "This is an impressive piece of technology, and a very sensible precaution, even if Doctor Zelenka has de-activated the console for the time being."
John didn't know what to say to that. He knew how it worked in theory, but the portal hadn't been tested yet. It just made him feel less vulnerable having it on. Nicky didn't seem to expect a reply as she immediate started rummaging in her desk.
"Ah…here it is! I still have been unable to link the planet you were on with the database, but I can tell you more about what the Ancients did there." She frowned, and her voice became clipped with suppressed anger. "How they stumbled up the Kamerans we will never know, but according to the data contained in the file the Ancestors first befriended the race with offers of help to deal with the gizarri, and to improve irrigation within their villages. Once they had their trust, they also offered medic help. Surgeries were set up, including an immunisation programme against the Resuna virus. It was a ruse. There was no such virus. Before the Kamerans realized what was happening, their biochemistry had started to change. This is a picture of what they looked like before."
Nicky showed him a picture of a tall lizard-like creature standing on two claw-like feet. It had a protruding jaw, and green scaly features. Nothing like the pale, almost human face of the woman he'd met.
"The research papers tell me that many of the population became sick and died. That was when the Ancients became complacent. They foolishly believed they had convinced the Kamerans it was the virus at fault for the changes. That they had merely tried to help, but unfortunately the vaccinations had come too late to be effective. The Ancients underestimated them. The last party who went to the planet, never returned. There were no further entries after that."
John stared at the picture and grew angry. When he had first heard about the Ancients, they were hailed as saviors...People of intellect who'd led a great race that had tried to destroy the scourge of the Pegasus Galaxy, the Wraith. Instead, the more he learned about them the less he liked. Sure, they were smart. He would even admit their technology was neat, especially the jumpers. Bottom line, they had been an arrogant, selfish people who thought it acceptable to do whatever they wanted to secure their own survival. He was sickened by what he'd just heard. It still didn't justify what that woman had done to him, but at least he now understood why she'd loathed him on sight.
"I'm guessing the Ancients have removed the planet from the database." John said quietly.
The young Russian nodded. "I think that is a distinct possibility, Colonel."
There was silence for a moment. Nicky broke it by once again as she started muttering while looking for something on her desk. She lifted up a data pad. "We still have a great deal of work to do, but have managed to identify a few books that do correspond with planets on the database. All have atmospheres suitable for human life, and according to what we've managed to find out, there doesn't appear to be any obvious dangers." She looked a little uncertain as she handed it to him. "Last time you were not prepared, and none of us knew the dangers. This time we do. Perhaps you might want to consider one of these if you want to try again?"
He looked at it for longer than he liked to admit before he reluctantly took it from her. "Thank's…My leg's still healing, but it's certainly something to think about."
John winced slightly as he got to his feet. What he'd told Nicky was only partly an excuse. His leg still stiffened up when he'd been sitting for a while, like now. It was healing well though. He'd made it down here with only the cane he'd left outside the door.
"Thank you, Doctor Kozlov…and thanks again for your part in saving my life. I owe you."
"I was more than happy to be of service, Colonel. I am just glad you are fit and well again." Nicky flushed to the roots of her glossy black hair. She really was a good looking woman. He wondered if she and Rodney did have something going. If he wasn't stepping on his friend's toes, he might make a move.
Back out in the corridor John felt himself start to relax.
"What are you going to do?" Ronon asked, pointing to the pad. John had forgotten he was holding it.
John shrugged. "Honestly…I don't know."
The Satedan patted him on the back. "You'll do the right thing. You always do."
He wasn't so sure about that. He'd screwed up so much in his life, yet some good people like Ronon, Teyla and even Rodney believed in him. John stowed the pad in his pocket. It was a big decision for another day. In the meantime it wouldn't do any harm to look. When he'd first seen the wall there had been an image with a cool beach and awesome waves. Now there would be a place worth visiting...
THE END...or is it?
Well it is for this story!
I hope you enjoyed it, and I want to say a big thank you for the wonderful reviews, and the great support you've given me. If you've followed the story to its conclusion, please let me know what you thought!
I also want to say a huge thanks to my pal and beta Sterenyk Strey. You did a great job as always pet.
And of course many happy returns again to the birthday girl - shepsgirl . I hope you enjoyed your special day hon!