A Habit of Force

G.E. Waldo

WARNING!: This story is Rodney-mpreg, Rodney/Kolya, Rodney/Ronan-Sheppard-Beckett. Angst, violence. Adult!

Character death of all females!

Beat your fists upon Death, and rage in His ear your song. No spirit so enduring as mortal mans, should swift to the mound pass along. G.E Waldo

SGASGASGASGASGASGASGA

Weir took up his offered hand in hers, not so easy with her weakness and the awkward rubber barrier between his fingers and hers.

John Sheppard, sweating inside the suit so his hair stuck to his forehead, his face obscured by the oxygen mask, squeezed back. Her hands were little more than bones now and he could hardly see for the tears he refused to shed. The last thing he wanted was Elizabeth to die seeing his face twisted in grief instead of the reassuring calm he thought would maintain her...wherever she may be going. As a military man Sheppard had never let himself dwell too much on what might be coming...after, but if anyone deserved a heavenly city made of gold and jewels surrounded by shimmering sights and high white clouds, it was her.

After all, a beautiful city under another the sky was where she had lived in this life.

Elizabeth spoke, her voice thin like a reed in the wind. "I want you to take care of everyone here, John. These people trust you, they...they love you." She rolled her head back and forth as though reliving memories she could hardly believe had happened because life went by so fast, so fast, and when death came it was there at the door like the long shadow of evening, cold and un-shifting until the dark took you away. Being the powerful woman she was, however, she still fought against it with every breath because there was still so much to say and do if her body would have let her.

But all that was free in her now was words. "I knew you were the right choice, the right man for the job, the minute I met you, back on Earth...I just knew it. Do you remember that first day, when all of this was still new and exciting? How thrilled we all were? That first step through the Gate, the first breaths we took in Atlantis...how beautiful it was."

Calm assurance, never letting her hand go, not even once. "I remember." How could he forget? A whole other world, one beyond his own, had opened up to him that day. The Stargate, Atlantis, other planets, other peoples, Rodney McKay...and then the Wraith and more death and struggle than he had ever faced at home. But still worth it, every minute, every sacrifice, all worth it.

All except for this. If he could turn back the clock and never send Lorne's team to that world...

"I love these people," she whispered. Then urgently "Promise me, John." Weir said, shaking his hand just a little. She could only move so much now. Too much movement and she would be gasping for air. "Promise me you'll take care of them."

Everyone...take care of everyone. Fewer than before but still so many... Sheppard stared down into the fading sight of one the people he respected most in the universe. "I promise."

Cut off from Earth to prevent the contagion from making it home, Atlantis was all his now. He so did not feel up to it. Almost half, that is what they were swiftly losing, almost half their population - all the women. Not one had been spared, not even the children. Not even Teyla and when she had become ill it had been the lowest blow to their spirits. Teyla, so strong and everyone confident of her staying power; had turned out to be as vulnerable as the rest.

But this woman...Sheppard railed against it as though Fate itself was standing on their shoulders, laughing a deep belly laugh at the pathetic weakling humans who thought they could conquer a galaxy not their own. So many deaths now that he would have sacrificed almost anything to prevent them. But to see this woman fall ill was almost doing him in, and so he gripped her fingers trying to drive the sickness away through sheer force of will because it was impossible that they should be losing this woman. Not Elizabeth - Christ, Pegasus, Brahma, Karma - who-ever – not her! Don't take this one, please...

But today it was Elizabeth and she had already admitted it to herself though she knew John was yet there beside her. Time was short now so she hurried to speak to him of those under her, though her voice scratchy and small it was filled with warmth as though she were speaking of her own children.

"These people of mine...make sure Chuck knows where the files are for the Athosians and the other colonies, and thank Carson for all his work – make sure he understands that none of this was his fault - none of it - and make sure to tell Ronan how glad I am that he decided to stay and help us, how much we still need him and that this is his home and tell Rodney -" she bit her lip. Always she had kept a soft spot for her most brilliant, and most frustrating, scientist. "Tell Rodney how much I'll miss him and that we love him...and take care of him, John. He's not like you and me, you know. He so smart it's scary but he doesn't stand well on his own...especially after...after Jennifer..."

Jennifer had been among the first to die and John had watched his best friend, the smartest guy in two galaxies, the man who used sarcasm as a fine instrument, as a shield and sword against all odds –

Fall apart.

"He still needs our help..." Still she spoke as though she were going to be around to lend it. Still, as terribly sick as she was, Elizabeth fought against the inevitable. How were they ever going to continue without her at the helm? "He needs us, John, even if he doesn't know it. Rodney needs us...y-you."

Sheppard nodded, not trusting himself to speak without his voice betraying how much this was cutting him in half. I need you he desperately wanted to tell her, knowing it would be unfair to place such a burden on her thin shoulders, especially now. Why hadn't he told her years ago how much she meant to him? Why had he never done that?

He wished he could now. He wished he could be stronger. "Yes," Sheppard finally managed to say. "Yes, I will."

"And -" but another seizure took her away from him and her body shook and jerked as though it wanted to fly apart. And then she was still.

Sheppard waited but her chest did not begin to rise again. He screamed into his ear bug and other suited people entered the room via the decontamination unit, too slow, all of them too slow. They shocked her heart and applied pure oxygen but still her chest did not rise.

Never again.

XXX

Once SGC had become aware of the seriousness of the illness, they sent through the Stargate as many supplies as could be gathered for anything Atlantis might need, and then shut the address to Atlantis down.

On the control room's main screen John nodded to Landry, the old man's face a grave mask of concern. "You have our deepest condolences on the loss of Doctor Weir, Colonel. And we regret this decision but we must now make any passage to Earth forbidden until this illness can be contained. Any spread of the infection to Earth would be catastrophic."

Sheppard nodded. It was all looking at him now, all the responsibility, all the people, all the faces left behind, all the hope that not any more would follow Elizabeth to the incinerator. "I understand General."

"One way shipments only, Colonel, if or when you need any further assistance, and the highest containment measures will remain in effect indefinitely when using the Gate from our end. We can't afford to allow even a single cell of this contagion to cross into the Milky Way."

"I agree with the precautions General. Thank you."

Landry dropped the formalities. "John, our scientists realise what this could mean to the expedition, indeed to any planet in the Pegasus galaxy should this infection spread beyond it. All I can say is take care of yourselves and keep us updated."

"I will General. Atlantis out."

XXX

Sheppard retreated to Weir's – his – office and, somewhat reluctantly, sat down in the well padded swivel chair behind the kidney-shaped desk. Her things still sat on it as he had not had the heart to remove them yet. There was no need really; Elizabeth had never been a clutter-bug.

Although the door was open, there was a knock and when Sheppard looked up Beckett stepped into the room. "Just thought you'd want to know – Dora Malierous died this morning. About an hour ago."

Sheppard nodded. That was four since only last night. That left exactly nine women left in all of Atlantis and on the mainland who were sick but had not yet succumbed. "Any progress on what this might be?"

Carson sat heavily in the chair. When he had heard of Jennifer Keller's death, he had volunteered to return to Atlantis to help. What he had not counted on was being marooned here because of the illness itself which had thus far left the male population unscathed though the risk that they might be carriers made any return to Earth impossible.

Beckett rubbed at his face. "Only that it responds to nothing. I've never seen anything like this. I've never seen anything work the way this contagion works: starving the cells, killing its host so effectively. Antibiotics don't even begin to touch it. Er - I'm sorry I couldn't attend the service."

Sheppard understood. Beckett's infirmary was full to bursting with the sick. He had no spare minutes to waste mourning the dead, even Elizabeth, when there were sick people to try and save. "What about those on the mainland?"

"They won't come to Atlantis. Most of the leader's think this is something we brought from Earth, that it's our fault, or maybe something the Replicators engineered."

If it were true, it was a brilliant way to wipe out an enemy: make it impossible for that enemy to reproduce itself and then sit back as the remainder died of old age. "I don't know about the Replicators but it certainly wasn't the Wraith." The Wraith would never attempt to wipe out their only food source.

"By the way, Rodney hasn't been by to see me in a couple of days to get his pill."

Sheppard heaved himself to sore feet. The last thing they needed was an even more depressed lead scientist. "I'll talk to him."

Beckett stood. "Thank you, Colonel. I hate to bring it to you, but I think over time the medication will help him. It's just a bugger making the lad take it."

Rodney was no more a lad than any of them anymore, but he still sometimes acted like a child. No one wanted to be thought of as vulnerable during such a crisis, and even though McKay might see himself as some sort of scientific super-genius, he was no different than anyone else. "He'll take it."

XXX

"You didn't come to the service." Sheppard said as he stepped into the room, and then slouched against the door, crossing his arms. Not all the way into the room. Keeping his distance. "You've got to stop hiding away in here, Rodney."

At the mention of Elizabeth's funeral service, Rodney wiped away the few angry tears that had already begun to leak. "I'm not hiding away. Some of us have work to do."

"Elizabeth was your friend."

"Elizabeth was everybody's friend." But his face said he knew. God how he knew that another of the people he most respected and cared for was now dead. Uselessly. McKay turned his face to the wall. That was what he did now, instead of his wit or his biting remarks he would simply shut down and look elsewhere. Sheppard had begun to fear that losing them all, especially Jennifer and now perhaps even more critically, Elizabeth's death had taken an irreplaceable toll out of Rodney, that he might be this time unfixable.

Rodney had never dealt well with death. The man gave his friendship and trust to people with trepidation, but once established became emotionally tethered to them, tied in, devoted. And unbreakably loyal.

Sheppard's military training had spared him the worst of the grief he now observed pouring out of others. In some a trickle, in others a broken main but in Rodney...in Rodney he feared the damn might have crumbled.

Sheppard dug in his pocket, holding out Carson's little pill of happiness on his palm. "You forgot to take this - again."

McKay glanced at it and then turned his nose up. "I don't need those anymore. I'm fine. Besides they cloud my thinking and make it harder for me to do my job."

Sheppard didn't think it would be that easy. "Right – fine. Hiding away in your lab pretending that..." He walked over and stole a look at Rodney's computer screen, "re-routing the desalinated water into the secondary pipes for the scrubbers" is a terribly important job right now."

"Yeah, it is - unless you're into salty showers."

"Look, Rodney..." Sheppard placed a hand on Rodney's shoulder which he immediately shook off.

McKay snarled "Stop trying to coddle me, I'm not a child."

"Then stop acting like one." Sheppard slammed the pill down on the table in front of the stubborn scientist. "Look you are not the only one hurting here." No family for him had been lost but losing Teyla...Teyla's death had been bad enough but now Elizabeth...

Elizabeth.

Gone!

He could still feel her hand in his, still hear her kind words, feel her soft breath on his face. To think he'll never see her again, never share a moment of laughter, a passing joke about McKay or Zelenka, never again seek each other's support...it seemed unreal. She had slipped into his soul so easily, fitting him like a glove. Perhaps because she had been the diplomatic equivalent of him; a leader, independent without being aloof, reliable, one who loved her work and fought tooth and nail for those under her if she thought the cause was worthy. Sheppard felt like ripping into anyone whom he thought could tolerate it, which meant no-one.

In that moment staring at Rodney's very obvious grief, he wasn't positive he could do it. He didn't want to have to go on without Elizabeth having his back. He was going to miss her like a cat misses its corner of the couch. She had nourished them - all of them. He couldn't even quit because there was no way to go home anymore, the SGC didn't want a group of Typhoid Mary's infecting Earth. They were all stuck with Pegasus and cursed with Atlantis. "Everybody's lost someone, so for once stop thinking about yourself and take your damn pill."

Sheppard stormed out of the room, hardly keeping his hands from physically lashing out. As bad a shape as the scientist was in, he wasn't doing so hot either and had no strength to try and gather up the broken pieces of McKay.

Not right now.

XXX

Sheppard, his fists driving into the heavy bag like hammers, unrelenting abuse, unstopping, and still the anger, the betrayal of Pegasus weighed in. It had been days and days since Elizabeth's service and still he was suffocating, knowing what lay ahead. They were on their own and the people of Atlantis, those left alive, all knew it too. What they didn't know was their leader didn't feel capable of leading them.

His hands hurt like hell and still he punched the padded leather, not caring. The pain was a distraction at least.

"Colonel Sheppard."

Sheppard ignored the voice for a moment. Beckett's voice over his ear bug, the doctor probably needing he-didn't-give-a-fuck.

"Colonel Sheppard, we have a situation."

Sheppard landed one final blow to the punching bag, sending it hard over and back. Letting his hands drop for a moment, he blew air a few times and then tapped his ear bug, wishing he'd left the damn thing in his quarters. "What?" Fuck pleasantness too.

"I've had several men report to the infirmary in the last hour, all showing similar symptoms."

Oh Jesus. "Similar to...?"

"So far, yes, flu-like but I don't wanta' say anything more over the comm."

Sheppard grabbed a towel and wiped his face and neck as he left the gym for Beckett's domain. "On my way."

XXX

Sheppard didn't bother greeting any of Beckett's now short-staffed male nurses and the doctor saved him the trouble of actively looking through all the rooms by appearing almost immediately from behind a curtain. "Colonel Sheppard." Beckett lifted his chin for Sheppard to follow him a few steps away from any patient.

With sweat drying n his skin and making him itch, Sheppard just let the physician talk.

"Four men have been admitted with symptoms very similar to the infection that killed the women." Whispering, Beckett showed Sheppard a small chart. "High fever, abdominal pain, weakness, lethargy and mental confusion."

"Are you sure this is the same infection."

"While I'd like to say for certain that it is not but it's too early to tell. While I wait for the cultures, I'll keep you informed but if it was it really should have hit us all by now; we ought to have been dying off along with the female population."

Sheppard nodded. His thoughts too. "So what could it be if it's not that?"

"That I don't know yet but if whatever it is it is most likely airborne, so we've all been exposed."

He nodded, keeping his eyes on the meaningless scribbles on the chart. With nothing to offer in the way of suggestions or encouragement Sheppard said "Keep me informed." Insert Useless Standby Phrase Here. Whatever happened in the infirmary it would be Beckett at the helm to deal with it, not him. He was of no use here.

XXX

Beckett entered Sheppard's office and noted the absence of Elizabeth's Weir's things. It was two weeks since her death and Colonel Sheppard had finally gotten the point that she was not coming back. Removing her personal items was only a healthy choice as far as his opinion went, which was probably not beyond the chair he sat down in. "The lab has come back with some startling results from the blood and tissue tests on the virus, the one that killed the women that is, not this most recent illness affecting the men." He looked up from his notes. "You're not going to like what I have to tell you."

Sheppard asked a strange casualness to his tone "Are we all dead?"

Beckett supposed it was part of command to expect the worst. No point in preparing for the best of things. The best of anything hardly ever showed its face in Atlantis. "Er - no. But the virus that infected and killed all the women in Atlantis, the main-land and as far as we can tell, many of the worlds we have encountered during our time here, shows signs of nanite energy meaning this virus is not a naturally occurring one."

Sheppard sat up straighter and his tone changed rapidly. "Are you saying...?"

"Yes, this was manufactured, probably by the Replicators and probably as a method of ridding themselves of us by preventing natural human reproduction."

It was brilliant. All the Replicating pricks had to invest really was time. "Kill the women, kill the species."

"Yes."

"What about the sick men?"

"It's not that virus, of that we're sure now, but what it is...we haven't been able to narrow down...a virus, infection, parasite...we've no idea. Not yet. Some of them are feeling a site better, though others are still fevered and have the abdominal pain. I've ordered a series of comprehensive scans to try and pinpoint the cause of their discomfort. Hopefully that'll tell us more."

Sheppard nodded. "Okay." Then he figured it was time to find out about one man on his staff who had become a bit of a hermit of late and more so since his outburst. "Rodney?" He knew Beckett would know what he was talking about.

"He's still coming in regularly for his medication and seems...perhaps a bit better. It's hard to tell with him, he used to be so in your face with every thought that popped into his head but now..."

Yes, now.

Now McKay hardly spoke a word and when he did it was the bare minimum to his staff and hardly another soul. Profound depression the city's psychologist had labeled it. The only treatment: medication and time. Sheppard knew it was unfair of him to have expected McKay to self repair faster than he currently was. The man had survived Wraith, Genii, Replicators, drowning, disease and the loss of his reputation at one time or another. As a mathematician sitting in a lab he had suffered more than his fair share of what the Pegasus galaxy had thrown at them, and come back from them all as strong as ever.

It was unsettling to know that Rodney McKay could be broken emotionally from the death of a woman he had dated for all of six months.

As though reading his thoughts Beckett said "The lad doesn't give of himself lightly, Colonel, you are aware of that – aren't ye'?"

Sheppard knew it of course. When Rodney had an idea he obsessed and ran with it until he either proved it or it nearly killed him. When he fell in love, Sheppard supposed he should not be surprised that it was no different. When McKay set his heart on something or someone, really set his heart on it, he didn't turn back. The Arcturus project had proved that pretty clearly as had the scientists' run-in with the lethal Kolya and a half dozen other dire situations that had called for extreme measures.

"Rodney will be all right." Sheppard said it to help make it a truth he could believe in. "He always is." He had to be all right. Sheppard was feeling the sting of isolation. He missed his friend.

"It wouldn't hurt him to have a friend I don't imagine and you know he...can't be the one to reach out." Rodney was almost as buried in denial as was his Colonel, Beckett thought not for the first time.

Sheppard knew it. Basically he had an apology to make. "I think I'll check on him, thanks Carson. Let me know about the men."

"As soon as I know anything."

XXX

But Rodney was not in his quarters. Poking his head in through the door to McKay's lab he noticed Zelenka was the sole occupant. "Have you seen Rodney?"

Zelenka looked up from his work, quick to let out a sigh of relief that it was the colonel and not his moody boss. "He left about an hour ago, said he wasn't feeling well. I assume he went to his quarters."

Sheppard shook his head. "I was just there. If you see him tell him I'm looking for him."

"I will do that Colonel."

XXX

Beckett was surprised to find Rodney at his door. "Carson do you have something you can give me for a headache?"

Carson turned from the CT images on the light panel and opened a small cupboard with a key on a chain, one he kept tucked inside his doctor's coat. "Tylenol is about all I can give you for that but are you experiencing any other discomfort? Pain, weakness, dizziness...?"

Rodney shook his head and lied "No." He did not want to be stuck beneath Carson's medieval probes for the afternoon. If he got worse he'd come back, if he didn't so much the better. His stomach felt tender, that was all. Probably the result from the tossing and turning he'd done all night. His rooms were too damn hot and the next thing he was going to do was speak to Zelenka about it. Couldn't his team keep even the simplest systems from going wacky without his constant supervision?

"Are you sure? You look a little flushed."

But Rodney, palming the pills, was already backing away, out of the reach of Beckett and his needles and other pokey things. "Nope, I'm fine. Thanks Carson."

When he was gone, one of Beckett's two lab assistants, Sy Peters, his most accomplished chemist, approached him and handed him a folder. "I think you need to read this Doctor."

Beckett eased his tied body into his desk chair and opened the file. After reading for a few minutes he sat back like a man who'd just read his own obituary. He radioed Sheppard.

XXX

Rodney curled up on his bed, clutching at his abdomen, the pain was intense and now that he understood he was sick he knew there'd be hell to pay by keeping it from Carson. If he could just get to sleep for a while it would pass. He had no fever so he was sure he wasn't ill like the other men, certain it was just something he'd eaten or too much work and worry. Tension - that was it. Too much tension and bad food.

If Jennifer were here, she'd rub his back and help him sleep. He missed having her in his bed so much but angrily blinked away the tears that threatened to form whenever he let his mind wander to memories of her pretty face. Finally, after a while, the pain eased and then disappeared altogether. Rodney fell into a light sleep.

XXX

Beckett showed the results to Sheppard but explained knowing the Colonel wasn't privy to medical lingo and chemist equations. "There's something happening to these men and it's a bit weird. All of them are showing elevated levels of progesterone, that's a reproductive hormone, and the scans I just finished examining suggest something is going on inside them, in their lower abdomen, but it's too soon to tell just what. Growths, unusual blood vessels, small masses of what we don't yet know."

"Are we talking cancer?"

Beckett shook his head, frustrated by his own lack of progress on any sort of definitive diagnosis. He rubbed his hair "We just don't know yet. It's possible although none of the men are showing elevated white count which is one of the first indicators of a sarcoma or a blood disorder. Until we can get some better pictures of what's happening inside them we won't know. I'll need one of the men to volunteer to undergo a biopsy so we can get a sample."

"How many men so far?"

"Still holding at nineteen. No new cases and that's another thing that tells me it's not viral or any infectious agent. These men are from all professions and work in different parts of Atlantis. If this was some sort of mutated version of what killed all the women more of us would be ill by now. It doesn't mean it couldn't be a different virus, an unknown one, but their symptoms are not typical of any influenza or rhinovirus. In some of them their fevers are gone, in others it persists, some are experiencing less pain as the hours go by, others are holding steady. None of it makes sense."

Sheppard knew that four of those men were from among his teams. "How is Stackhouse doing?"

"Much like the others."

"I'd like to see him."

"Of course, no one is in isolation now – there's no point at this stage. Whatever this is, whoever it was going to infect, it seems to me that has already infected. He's back here." Beckett led Sheppard to one of many beds lined up in the sick ward. Some men were sleeping, others looked flushed.

Stackhouse was a youngish looking fellow, small of stature and as blonde as they came. Sheppard, keeping his voice strong like a Colonel's asked "How are you doing?"

Stackhouse, who was looking better than most, acknowledged his commander with a small nod of his head, a sort of fingerless salute. "Fine, sir. Feeling better all the time."

"Good, that's good. Listen, Lieutenant, Doctor Beckett tells me he needs to do a biopsy to figure out what this is, so he needs a patient who feels up to it. This is voluntary only, so you don't-"

"No problem, sir. I'll do it."

Sheppard stopped mid-sentence, resisting the urge to pat his stoic young soldier on the back. What outstanding men he had under him. "We really appreciate it, Paul, and we wouldn't ask but any help we can give the doc'..."

"Then let's do it, Colonel, I'm sick of this damn bed and the food sucks."

Sheppard smiled. He nodded, making sure his approval of the young man was clear on his features. "Thanks, Lieutenant, I'll tell the doc' the good news."

XXX

Beckett knocked on Sheppard's office door and entered once the door swung wide on Sheppard's mental command.

He sat opposite him at the desk. There were no files in his hand. "We're going to need to do an abdominal exploratory on Stackhouse or one of the other men."

"What about the biopsy?"

"Done, but the results are telling me something that quite frankly I can't accept, not without seeing for myself."

"Seeing what?"

"It's simpler if I just do the exploratory and absolutely necessary by the way. I'm going to need to do it eventually, but the sooner I can the less invasive it'll be for the patient."

Sheppard could read between the lines. Beckett wasn't beating around the bush on this one. "I'll talk to Stackhouse."

XXX

Several hours later Beckett was back in his office. "You know what this is." Sheppard correctly guessed at Beckett's sober expression.

Beckett nodded. "Yes, I do, and despite the facts I find it hard to believe my own eyes. What's happening to these men is...it's frankly incredible." He rubbed his face and looked at the Colonel, taking a breath. "There is a reproductive change that's taking place inside them, an alteration if you will in their abdominal region, the area just below the transverse intestine." Beckett shook his head. "There appears to be a pouch forming, lined with thick blood vessels linked to the spinal column and the lower part of the stomach. Lots of blood vessels. The interior of the pouches, and these pouches are very small at this stage, are also lined with more tiny blood vessels – many hundreds...and as difficult as this may be to accept, these proto-organs are I believe the equivalent of, um, uteruses."

Sheppard stared as though Beckett had just sprouted a second pair of ears. "Are you saying my men are turning into women?"

"No, not exactly, they're still men with all the correct male – er – equipment but they are growing a second set of non-male reproductive organs inside their bodies, not exactly like the human uterus but close enough that the resemblance is unmistakable. The pouch is connected to the anus via a new a specialized duct and there is a smaller organ connected to the bottom of the pouch that would appear to be possibly...a gametes facilitator – an ovary - of some type."

"All of them are showing these changes?"

"Yes."

Sheppard swallowed. "Have you told any of them what's happening to them?"

"Not yet. I haven't been able to figure out a way that won't shock. I don't think there is one though."

Right. Not an easy report to make to a group of toughened men hardened by years in the unforgiving Pegasus galaxy. By the way, the good news is you don't have the flu' but the bad news - you now can be knocked-up. Sheppard stood and walked the length of his desk. "And exactly how does one of these men supposed to get pregnant?" When did he ever imagine in his earlier career ever needing to ask that question? "Does it work the same way? Does some, does another guy have to, you know...in his...?"

Beckett nodded. "It would appear so."

Sheppard sat down again. "Holy crap." He rubbed his own face. "How in the hell – why in the hell did this happen anyway? Is this some sort of Replicator-engineered joke?" He knew it wasn't. This was something beyond their enemies. As their main food source in the Pegasus galaxy the Wraith wanted humans to breed like bunnies. The Replicators wanted to see them all dead not making babies.

"I was looking for Rodney so I could brainstorm with him; try to find out why this is happening at all although I suspect it has something to do with Atlantis herself. Her computers are the highest order of AI and even Rodney himself has speculated that the city might be to some degree almost sentient. However so far he's not answering his radio."

"But he's only made those speculations when he's drunk or in your infirmary high on pain-killers."

"Never-the-less, I can't think of any other reason this would be happening. This city does work in conjunction with our genes and I certainly am incapable of biologically engineering anything on this scale or complexity, and neither is anyone on Earth. This is an unprecedented alteration of human physiology, physiology that's been developing for millions of years. This kind of evolution does not happen by accident, but evolution is influenced by the environment and our new environment is without any females at all. Maybe Atlantis sensed that and decided to very rapidly come to the rescue of her resident humans?"

It did make some sense. "Okay, we need to find Rodney."

Rodney answered their door knock and was delighted to crawl from his bed feeling much better.

It was Sheppard and Beckett. "Where've you been?" Sheppard asked as he pushed his way inside.

McKay frowned at both his intruders. "Right here taking a nap."

Beckett nodded. "Sorry for the rude intrusion, Rodney but we need you. Something incredible has happened."

XXX

Rodney walked from the infirmary, leaving Beckett and Sheppard to deal with how to tell nineteen buck-strong males that twenty percent of their nether-regions were now very, very female. His steps were urgent and anyone who passed him in the corridors gave him a wide berth not because they recognised the deep frown on his face as a McKay-typical unspoken message to stay away. It was their chief scientist on a mission to do what they did not know but something obviously very important.

The frown, visible to observers, was none-the-less not directed outward to the current situation in the infirmary, but inward to his body's abdominal soreness now reasserting itself with a vengeance. Beckett had explained symptoms and causes and Rodney had nodded his head and offered his own theory as to why this was happening, one that paralleled Beckett's. This had to be Atlantis herself saving her new assortment of Ancient descendants who called themselves humans. There was simply no other possibility.

So if it was Atlantis doing it, getting away from her might be the cure, and Rodney knew he had little time. His fever had already abated and the soreness, still acute, was fading fast. If he could get away from whatever parts of Atlantis's ancient and largely little-understood energies or AI-activated influence, whatever those were, he might be able to save himself from any further physiological changes.

What other course of action was there? Suddenly his beloved city was now his enemy and escape seemed his only option. The Jumper was just ahead. He had only his laptop, his backpack stuffed with power bars and water, and his radio. Of course they would be calling him, but he would not allow them to find him until he was sure the alterations happening inside his body had been stopped.

This was his hope. He would fly away from Atlantis and out over open water, putting as much distance between himself and the city as possible. All he needed a safe place to hold up for a while. A beach somewhere maybe.

Suddenly the pain doubled him over. Luckily no one was around to observe his sudden groans and the sweat that broke out across his forehead. Seems the pain was not done yet. Rodney tried to straighten up but it proved difficult. Almost stumbling he found a small dark corner, an alcove that at one time no doubt displayed a work of ancient art, but which sole purpose now was collecting dust. However it was narrow and dark and he could hide here away from curious eyes until the spasms passed by as they always did.

XXX

Sheppard heard the call along with everyone on Atlantis. One of Zelenka's life-signs detectors had finally located an unmoving figure, huddled on his side in the dark, sweating and unconscious.

Ronan was the one who reached him first and picked McKay up, ferrying him to the infirmary more swiftly than waiting for the nursing team with their gurney.

Beckett did a quick examination, taking temperature, blood pressure and other vitals and turned to Sheppard, who waited anxiously some steps away from the hurried hands of the nurses who began cutting Rodney's clothing away.

Beckett nodded to Sheppard. "I've mildly sedated him for now but I'm afraid the same thing that is happening to the others is happening to Rodney as well. I'm not sure why this thing has singled out the men it did but part of it might be natural body fat levels and other physiological similarities, things that would facilitate the growth of the pouches and secondary organs in their bodies as opposed to others. Most of these men are on the small side and that could also be part of it. In human evolution, the stronger individuals, most often the males were free to hunt while the smaller ones, the females, were the reproducers of the species but that's just some loose guess work."

Sheppard looked down at the sleeping Rodney. "He knew, didn't he?"

"Yes. He had a bag with him and his laptop. They him found just outside the Jumper Bay. I think his idea was to leave Atlantis. Maybe he thought if he could get away from the city he would be spared the change."

No such luck, Sheppard thought. Knowing that it was happening to Stackhouse was bad enough, and his other troops, but now that it was happening to Rodney, all of it against his will, was worse. Sheppard couldn't help but wonder how this was going to affect his friend? Undoubtedly for the worse as Rodney had already been riding the thin edge of a nervous break-down. He pressed his mouth into a thin line, feeling the sheen of sweat across his upper lip. "Let me know when he comes to."

XXX

Part 2 soon.