Pairing: Gen all the way!
Spoilers: Vague reference to "Doppelganger" so assume spoilers for any episodes before that, and parts of SG-1 season 10.
Summary: An off-world encounter with an Ancient anti-Wraith device doesn't go exactly as planned. Decidedly cracked toward the end.
Author's Note: For jadesfire2808 who listed many things she'd like. I think I covered most of them! None of the characters belong to me, nor am I making any money from them. Any references to places that are real are 100% intentional.
“Right boys and girl—ow!” Sheppard yelped, as Teyla thumped him on the shoulder passing him on her exit from the Puddle Jumper. “Okay,” he began again, “Lady and gentlemen, let’s see what MFW-459 has to offer us.”
McKay scowled at the Colonel as he joined Teyla in the small clearing where Sheppard had skillfully landed the Jumper.
“What?” Sheppard demanded.
“It better have more than MTD-749, and MPC-827, and MQB-584 had to offer us,” McKay complained. “As thrilling as the remains of a Stone Age society, a planet whose only worthwhile line of trade is a flavorless potato, and a village with a leader so boring I’d recommend him as a cure for insomnia were, I’d be really, really happy if this planet didn’t turn out to be such a colossal waste of time as our last three missions.”
“Don’t worry, Rodney,” Sheppard replied. “I consulted my Magic 8-Ball this morning and it said the outlook looks good. Besides, who’s been eating your Wheaties? I thought you’d turned over a new leaf and had a new, positive attitude towards missions?”
“Yes, well, the transplant didn’t take,” McKay responded with a glare.
“Can we go?” interrupted Ronon as he thumped his way down the ramp.
“OK fine,” said Sheppard. “Ronon take point. Teyla, I want you on our six, and Rodney–try not to sulk so much.”
“I am not sulking!” McKay argued, as Sheppard closed the Puddle Jumper hatch and engaged the cloak.
Ronon started off into the nearby woods. “If it looks like sulking and sounds like sulking…,” he called over his shoulder.
“Well, you’d know all about it!” McKay retorted.
“Look we’re on this planet because the MALP Lorne retrieved from its orbit of the space gate indicated there might be a power source down here,” Sheppard interjected, before his team members could really get into a proper argument. “It might be nothing, but it’s worth checking out.” He fell into step beside the disgruntled scientist as they followed Ronon into the cool shade of the forest.
“Which is probably volcanic in nature, and therefore of no use to us,” McKay commented sourly.
“You have no way of knowing that, seeing as there’s something interfering with the MALP and the Puddle Jumper’s sensors,” Sheppard insisted.
“And from the very little data I have from them, I conclude that there’s probably not much of worth on this planet. Who out of the two of us is more likely to know what he’s talking about with regard to sensor readings?” McKay asked. “Let me think about this for a moment… might it be…could it possibly be…perhaps the genius with two Ph.D.s who looks remarkably like me?!”
“That doesn’t mean you’re not wrong this time. You’ve been wrong before,” Sheppard fired back.
“Yes, yes it might be vaguely possible,” McKay dismissed haughtily. “But it’s not very likely. And why are we walking so far again again?”
“Because,” Teyla began in a reproving tone, “This was the closest non-arable land to the town. I am sure the people would not be inclined to help us if we had just flattened part of their crops or frightened their cattle.”
“You raise a valid point,” McKay conceded, grumbling.
“Plus,” Sheppard said, “I’d really like to know just what down here could affect both the MALP and the Jumper.”
They continued on, not speaking for the most part. McKay and Ronon got into a petty bickering match about how fast they were walking, until Teyla requested, in a tone of voice that made it clear that it was not a request, that they all remain silent and enjoy the countryside. For a while the only sound was McKay occasionally reporting that the readings on his scanner were as inconclusive as the MALP’s and Puddle Jumper’s own sensors.
Within ten minutes they arrived at the edge of the farmland surrounding the town, and, following what appeared to be a public footpath, they crossed the fields of what seemed to be wheat, low-growing squash-like vegetables and what was possibly collard greens.
The town stood on the first of a range of hills that broke up the huge plain they had flown over on their arrival. Decent-sized white-washed houses clung to the slopes, reminding Sheppard of a Spanish pueblo. They weren’t far from the town gate, and, with a glare aimed at Ronon and McKay, warning them to be on their best behavior, Sheppard took point and lead them into the town.
They’d barely taken five steps before they were noticed. Sheppard plastered on his friendliest smile and tried to look like both a force to contend with and totally non-threatening at the same time. The inhabitants paused from their daily tasks of craftsmanship, trading, or standing idly by, to gawk and whisper to each other about the strangers. Some drew back in fear, while others moved forward in curiosity. Kids’ faces appeared at windows and dogs rushed out to greet them vociferously before being called back into the houses by their owners. But no one spoke to them.
The team continued their climb up into the center of the town, following the main thoroughfare, with Sheppard and Teyla smiling politely, McKay smiling stiffly from time to time and Ronon staring back impassively.
“I’ll bet you a week’s desserts that we’re introduced to the leader, or chieftain, or doge of this place within the next two minutes,” McKay hissed under his breath as they approached the crest of the hill on which sat the largest and most ornate building in the town. Teyla rolled her eyes at him.
“No deal,” Sheppard replied, as the denizens of the town moved aside to let through a small knot of three women and two men who halted a few feet in front of them. The two groups stared at each other in silence for a few seconds before Sheppard decided to get the ball rolling.
“I’m Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard; this is Ronon Dex, Teyla Emmagen and Rodney McKay.”
“Dr Rodney McKay,” McKay interjected.
“And we’re pleased to meet you,” Sheppard continued, ignoring McKay’s correction.
Another awkward silence followed, as the townsfolk gazed at them in wonder.
“Have we come at a bad time?” Sheppard asked.
“Help me out here would you?” he hissed sideways through his teeth at his team.
“We are explorers and have come in hope that we might gain understanding and friendship with your people,” Teyla offered. An older woman standing slightly to the fore of the group smiled faintly. Encouraged, Teyla continued, “We are also interested in trading goods and labor and in sharing knowledge.”
The same woman smiled a little more, but still no one said anything.
McKay shifted uncomfortably. “Clearly these people aren’t inter—” he began, before Teyla cut him off.
“Excuse my friend,” she apologized. “But we are not familiar with your ways. If there is some custom of welcome to perform, we will gladly do so—”
“Within reason,” Sheppard cut in.
“Or if we have offended you in any way, we would like to apologize and we will leave immediately.”
The townsfolk still said nothing.
Sheppard took a deep breath before whispering, “I think leaving immediately is in the cards.”
“I knew this would be a waste of time, but did anyone listen to me?” McKay griped.
“We’ll apportion blame later. Let’s just go now, alright?”
“Fine by me,” Ronon muttered.
Sheppard nodded at Teyla, and she spoke again, “Once more we apologize for any customs or laws we may have broken unintentionally. We will leave immediately. Thank you for your patience.”
They turned and had started to walk away when the lady who had been smiling at them suddenly gasped and called after them, “Wait, please!”
Sheppard’s team turned back toward her.
“So you do speak,” Sheppard remarked.
“Yes, we do,” agreed the woman, with a pleasant smile. “But only after you have passed the test.”
“The test?” Sheppard asked cautiously
“Yes. The Ancestors said that one day people other than the Wraith would return to this land, and that we should test them with silence. It is written that if the visitors have hostile intentions they will attack, but, if they are peaceful, they will attempt to leave without provocation as you have done. We are sorry for the manner of our greeting. You are most welcome here.”
“That’s it?” sniffed McKay. “If they’re bad they’ll attack, if they’re good they’ll leave?”
“It has worked well in the past,” one of the men spoke up Our forebears tried the test, but the visitors attacked them. The visitors did not leave the town alive.”
“Well, we’re really glad we passed the test,” Sheppard smiled.
Twenty minutes later and Ronon was bored. They’d been invited into the nicely, if sparsely furnished council hall and talks had begun. The townsfolk, or rather the inhabitants of Ruthar, as they called their town, had a long and rambling oratory style that was somewhat incongruous against the backdrop of the test of silence the team had already endured. Teyla was valiantly pursuing coming to an agreement about anything at all, Sheppard was smiling gamely and nodding in what appeared to be completely random places, and McKay had given up paying attention and was fiddling with his scanner under the table. Twenty one minutes in and Ronon excused himself with the minimum of words and escaped to the council-free environment of the hallway outside. Thirty seconds later, the woman who had first spoken to them joined him.
“I’m sorry,” he apologized. “I’m not very good at sitting around talking.”
“Neither am I,” she admitted with a twinkle in her eye. “It drives me half crazy sometimes in council meetings, but I happen to think they need someone like me who will drive them to make decisions, so I stick around. I’m Mos Levane, by the way.”
“Ronon Dex,” Ronon replied, nodding in greeting.
“So,” she said, “as far as you’re concerned, why have you come to visit us here?”
Ronon paused. He knew there was an art to negotiations and that for the most part it was a mystery to him. He didn’t want to ruin whatever excruciatingly slow progress his teammates were making inside the council chamber by undermining their intentions with careless words. However, something about Mos Levane made him want to trust her. He didn’t know if it was the clarity in the expression of her eyes, or some other quality, but he found himself speaking.
“There’s a power source near here. Our machines can’t quite tell what it’s like or how it’s made but we’d like to know more.”
“So that is what your Dr. Rodney was doing under the table,” she stated. “He seemed quite cross.”
“Yeah, that’s pretty normal for him.”
“But back to the subject,” said Mos Levane “A power source, you say? And that would be in the vicinity of the hill to the east of here?” she asked.
“Yeah,” Ronon admitted with a frown.
“Don’t worry,” she grinned. “I think we may have just found a short cut out of this meeting.”
She indicated that Ronon should follow her into the hall, almost flattening McKay as he made his way out of the room.
“Oh! I was just…er…,” he mumbled, before Ronon grabbed him and shoved him back into the hall.
“They know!” Mos Levane announced to the hall.
“They know?” repeated the man, Jor Therdan.
“Yes!” she confirmed, smiling at them brightly.
Teyla frowned. “I am sorry, but what is it that we are supposed to know?”
“About the power source in the hill,” Mos Levane explained.
“The power source,” Sheppard said, glaring at Ronon. “Why does Mos Levane think that we know anything about a power source when we haven’t mentioned one?”
“I told her,” Ronon admitted.
“Oh you did, did you?” Sheppard’s glare intensified.
Ronon shrugged. “Seemed like the best thing to do.”
Sheppard’s glare turned into an outright scowl.
“No, no!” Mos Levane hurried to reassure them. “It is good!” She turned toward the town council. “What do the writings say about the visitors who would return?”
“They say that they would pass the test of silence and that they would be the only ones who would— oh!” exclaimed Jor Therdan. “Yes, yes! Of course!” He pushed back his chair and stood. “Come come!” he beckoned, before quickly disappearing out of the door, followed by the council members.
Mos Levane elbowed Ronon in the side, before whispering conspiratorially, “I told you we could move this on!” and ushering the team out of the room too.
“Would someone like to tell us what’s going on?” asked Sheppard.
“You’re the visitors the Ancestors spoke about,” explained Mos Levane, before lowering her voice to clarify. “Or at least, you’re a group of visitors like those the Ancestors spoke about. They said you’d be able to detect the power source, and that any visitors with this ability should be shown the chamber.”
“The chamber?” asked McKay, with a tremor of fear in his voice. “What kind of a chamber would that be then?”
“Our defense against the Wraith,” she explained simply.
The other council members were waiting in the hallway outside the council hall. After a quick whispered debate among the council members, Mos Levane turned to them and grinned.
“They’ve allowed me to be the one to show you the chamber,” she smiled. Leading them to a door directly across the hallway she usherd them into a twisting underground passageway that led ever downwards. They followed dutifully in her wake and despite McKay’s many questions, Mos Levane refused to tell them what the chamber was all about, but kept promising them, “You’ll see. You’ll see.”
McKay had his scanner out, and was making curious noises every few seconds.
“What is it, Rodney?” Teyla asked, after the third “Humph.”
“I’m picking up something, but it keeps disappearing,” he stated.
“You don’t think that Michael…” Teyla did not finish the thought, unable to frame the words.
“No, no. It’s nothing like that,” McKay reassured her.
Mos Levane grinned. “That would be the effect of the chamber,” she told them.
After many twists and turns, the passageway gradually began to climb. They passed the entrances to many other tunnels branching off into darkness. The tunnel suddenly straightened and, with an even wider grin on her face, Mos Levane lead them out into an astoundingly huge chamber, clearly capable of holding the entire population of the town and its environs with room to spare. Two of its enormous walls were still untouched rock, obviously the remnants of an existing natural cave, the other two being smooth where the chamber had been extended into the rock. Embedded into the cracks and crannies of the unhewn rock were various Ancient computer terminals and control panels. The entire space was lit by the ultra-efficient diffuse lighting that was so common on Atlantis. A few doors were spaced out around the edge of the chamber indicating that there were smaller rooms adjoining, possibly for kitchens and hygiene facilities.
“This is the chamber,” Mos Levane announced proudly.
Sheppard nodded appreciatively. It may not have been anywhere near the size of the huge cavern the Genii used to house the majority of their civilization, nor did it have the wow factor of containing an Aurora class warship as the hanger on Taranis had, but it was still incredibly impressive. Noting McKay’s particular interest in the Ancient consoles on the other side of the chamber, Mos Levane led them across the perfectly flat and featureless floor as the soft beeps of McKay’s scanner echoed like the melody of an almost forgotten song.
“Impressive,” Ronon remarked.
“Yes, very,” Teyla breathed.
“How are the lights powered?” asked McKay, looking up from frowning into his scanner screen.
“The writings say that they are powered by the hill itself.”
“A volcano?” Sheppard asked, wincing slightly as he remembered their previous encounter with a volcano, and not really wanting to hear that McKay had been right all along.
“No, no. They are powered by something in the rock itself.”
“McKay?!” Sheppard turned to McKay in alarm, having sudden visions of returning to Atlantis and glowing in the dark.
“Do you really think I’d be standing here if it were radioactive, Colonel?” he snarked.
“Then what is it?”
“At this point—” McKay began, “I honestly couldn’t begin to tell you.”
When they got within a few feet of the Ancient equipment, it powered up as they were accustomed to on Atlantis and in the Ancient outpost on Doranda.
“Ancestors alive!” Mos Levane exclaimed, as panels began to light up all over the bank of consoles.
She backed away looking quite alarmed.
“We are sorry if that startled you,” Teyla apologized. “Some of our people have the ability to initialize Ancestor technology.”
“So I see,” she said, slowly. “Then you are Ancestors?” Her question was cautious a note of utter awe creeping into her voice.
“Not exactly,” said McKay, tearing his attention away from the consoles and his scanner,
“Sheppard and I share certain common characteristics with them.”
“I see,” she said again thoughtfully. “We have never been able to operate these consoles, though we have ensured they remain intact and clean all these years”
“Yes, very nice,” McKay waved a hand dismissively. “So you don’t know what all of this does?”
“Not all of it,” Mos Levane admitted. “But enough.”
McKay snorted and shifted his attention back to his scans, so Mos Levane spoke no more. Ronon and Teyla decided to walk the circumference of the chamber to see if anything else of interest could be found. Sheppard chose to stay close by and help McKay if needed, but his attention was captured by a piece of equipment attached to the wall at the far end of the bank of consoles. It wasn’t like any Ancient technology he’d seen with his own eyes, but reminded him of something he couldn’t quite put his finger on. The device was round, but with a wavy edge, segregated into eight sections or slices. Undulating lines etched into its surface drew attention to the center that caved inwards and gave the whole thing an almost anemone-like appearance. The surface was a sort of organic gray but picked up the light from the consoles giving it a weird sheen of indeterminate coloring. He moved closer to get a better look. Suddenly the center of the device shot out toward him, and he barely missed being hit by it as he jumped back.
“Wow!” he exclaimed, peering at it. The device now protruded about a foot out of the wall. The near end looked like a face-sized viewfinder, reminding Sheppard of the coin-operated binoculars commonly found at tourist attractions. Within it he could just make out shifting patterns of multicolored lights.
“Hey Rodney, come have a look at this,” he called.
“Hello! Busy here!” McKay snapped.
“I really think you’re gonna want to look at this.” He tried again.
“What part of ‘busy’ don’t you understand, Colonel?” McKay responded, not looking up from the scans he was taking.
Sheppard rolled his eyes. There was no other option other than to investigate it himself. He cautiously inched forward until he had a clear view of the multicolored lights. Suddenly, the chamber shimmered and was filled with a bright light that seemed to come from everywhere, and they were standing in a grassy field.
“What the hell!”
McKay heard Sheppard exclaim, as the Colonel jumped away from the Ancient equipment. From a little way off came the sound of Ronon and Teyla cocking their guns.
McKay almost dropped his scanner in surprise as he noticed the marked change in the scenery. He frowned at the countryside but was relieved to see the Ancient consoles from the Rathura chamber still beside him, with the natural rock wall they were embedded in fading into blue sky.
“What is..?” he began, before looking up and around and catching the look on Sheppard’s face.
“What did you do?”
“I didn’t do anything!” Sheppard said.
“Do you have it?” Mos Levane demanded
“Have what?” Sheppard asked.
“The device,” she explained, beginning to look a little frantic at the blank expression on Sheppard’s face.
“It’s about this high…” she held her fingers two inches apart. “This wide…” she held her fingers an inch apart, “…and about this long” she finished, indicating a distance of about four inches. “With four large buttons.”
“I haven’t seen anything like that,” Sheppard answered with a shrug.
“Oh no!” she exclaimed before rushing over to the console. Her eyes scanned its surface and her hands scrabbled about in desperation before she turned back to them and declared, “That’s not possible!”
“What’s not possible? What’s going on?” Ronon demanded, as he and Teyla rejoined them. “Last time I looked we weren’t in the middle of a field.”
“It appears Colonel Sheppard has set off some kind of projection,” McKay stated dryly.
“No, no it is quite real,” replied Mos Levane faintly.
“You’ve seen this before?” McKay asked.
“Yes,” she said. “It is the function of the chamber.”
“Why? What does it do?” Sheppard asked.
“When the Ancestors who built this place left, they took with them everything but the equipment you see behind us. One of the things they instructed us in was the operation of a device that they said would keep us safe from the Wraith. When the Wraith are upon us, we are to retreat into this chamber and activate the device with the controller I just described. The first button appears to do nothing, but the second recreates a part of the countryside around Rathura – a great relief to my people as we cannot endure being underground for long and it makes it bearable for us.
“I’ve seen the device in operation twice. Every time the Wraith have come we have hidden thus and no harm has come to us. Then when the light here activates we know it is safe again.” She pointed to the panel she had been so interested in before “After again using the device as instructed, the countryside disappears and we are free to leave the chamber and re-build what the Wraith have destroyed.”
“So what’s the problem?” Ronon asked.
“The device is here on the console where it normally resides, but I can’t pick it up!” She made a grab for it and her hand passed right through both the device and the console.
Next to her McKay paled as well, before he too tried to pick up the device and failed. He also tried touching the rock of the chamber wall and some of the other consoles nearby.
“Can you tell me,” he said, his voice taking on an edge of dread, “just how the device protects you from the Wraith?”
“It is written that the hill here confuses the Wraith tracking devices – they are unable to use their equipment and do not realize we are here. However, there are tales of one cycle wherein a small group of Wraith did find their way into the chamber, but they were unable to see the people, and even walked right through the middle of them, as we are able to do with the wall of equipment when the device is activated. Then a bolt of lightning fell from the roof of the chamber and destroyed the Wraith, without harming even a hair on the head of anyone else in the chamber.”
“Well the lightning bit is new, but the rest of that sounds vaguely familiar,” said Sheppard.
“Yes,” said McKay before turning back to Mos Levane. “And you’re telling me that Sheppard has somehow triggered this?”
“It would appear so, but it’s not possible!” she gasped. “The only way to activate the device is with the controller.”
“And we’re now enveloped in an Ancient phase-shifting field and can’t touch anything in our original dimension, including the controller, which is as far as you know the only way of operating it. Would that be a fair summary?” McKay said grimly, not waiting for a reply.
“We are so dead.”
McKay checked his scanner for the third time.
“Yep. We’re dead,” he declared. “I can’t pick up anything outside the chamber, it’s not reading the presence of the Ancient equipment, and all it’s registering in here is the five of us. So, what did you touch?” he demanded of Sheppard.
“I didn’t touch anything!” Sheppard protested. “I just found this cool-looking device thingy, and went to have a look at it.”
“And where is this ‘cool-looking device thingy,’ as you so elegantly put it?”
“Right over there,” said Sheppard, pointing to the end of the bank of consoles.
“You touched that?” McKay asked incredulously. “You actually touched that?”
“I already said I didn’t touch it. I just looked at it and it kind of grew.”
“And you didn’t think to call me over?”
“I tried but you said you were too busy.”
“Well, maybe if you’d sounded a bit more urgent!” McKay complained. “How am I supposed to know the difference between a request to look at your untied shoe laces or one to defuse a thousand-megaton explosive device if you don’t make the urgency clear?”
“Maybe we should discuss this later,” Teyla said firmly. “You seem to recognize the device, Rodney. What is it?”
“That is an Ancient Repository of Knowledge, AKA a ‘face hugger,’” he began, doing air quotes and making it very clear just how much distain he had for the term. “You may have heard it referred to in files dealing with the early foundation of the— our expedition,” he corrected himself as he remembered that Mos Levane did not know they had come from Atlantis. “General O’Neill stuck his head in one and had the knowledge of the Ancients downloaded into his brain, thereby discovering the Ancient outpost with the mostly empty ZPM and the rest, as they say, is history.”
Sheppard looked alarmed as McKay circled his scanner around the face hugger, and then passed it through where the neck of the device would have been had they been occupying the same dimension.
“I’m not going to lose control of my body, start speaking Ancient and end up being put in a stasis chamber am I?” the Colonel asked. “Because the Asgard aren’t around any more to help get my brains back the way I like them.”
“No, no,” said McKay. “There seem to be two types of these devices. One contains the knowledge of the Ancients, the other, as Daniel Jackson discovered, is used to manipulate matter at high speed on the subatomic level.”
“And you think this is one of those?”
“Well, duh,” said McKay, waving his arms around at the countryside. “What do you think? Where else do you think all this very real grass and very real trees and that town off in the distance came from?”
“Yeah, about that,” said Sheppard. “I think I recognize this place. It looks a lot like Oxford. It’s a place on Earth” he added when he saw Teyla’s puzzled expression. “I think that there” he pointed at a long, gray building with many chimneys, “might be Merton College and that,” he pointed further off at some sandy-colored spires that seemed to be sticking up out of a clump of tall trees, “could be Magdalen College.”
“You know Oxford?” McKay asked. “I wouldn’t have thought it was quite your thing.”
“I spent a few weeks there when I was a teenager.” Sheppard explained.
“How does that help?” Ronon asked. “Problem is we can’t press the buttons on the thing that’s supposed to get us out of here. Doesn’t really matter where we are, does it?”
“Another valid point,” McKay admitted with a grimace. “So what next?”
“Okay,” said Sheppard. “What we have is everything we brought into the chamber with us and whatever the chamber has created for us here.”
“There is also dried food and a well in one of the rooms over there,” Mos Levane said, pointing in the direction of the doors they had seen on their way in. “We have always been able to reach them when the device has been active in the past.”
“Great, so we won’t starve,” commented McKay, cheering up a little.
“What we need is a way to tell the device to take us back to our dimension,” Sheppard continued. “How about a little trip into town?”
The journey into the center of fake-Oxford was a quiet one after McKay had stopped chanting “This is a bad idea” and Sheppard had stopped muttering death threats at him in return. Distant sparrows chirping and doves cooing could be heard, but other than that and the sounds of their footsteps on the old flagstones, all was serene. The town was strangely deserted. The occasional car, all models at least twenty-five years old, was parked on the side of the road, but there was no traffic, no cycling students and no groups of tourists come to stare in wonder at some of the oldest and most beautiful university buildings in the world. They were about to round a corner on to Oxford’s High Street and had just about given up on the prospect of actually seeing any living signs of civilization when Sheppard abruptly stopped, causing Mos Levane and the rest of his team to go crashing into each other.
“No way,” he intoned. “Pegasus Galaxy, aliens who can drain the life out of you with their hands, robots hell-bent on wiping out every human in existence – these things I can believe. But that…?”
“What is it John?” asked Teyla.
“Come see for yourself,” he said, swapping places with her so she could peer around the corner. She frowned for a few moments before speaking,
“There is a man. He looks very familiar, but I cannot think where I have seen him before, unless….He looks very much like the man in that movie you showed us. “Z-Men,” was it?”
“X-Men,” McKay corrected automatically, before pushing past Mos Levane to see what Teyla was looking at.
“Oh, my God!” he said, his jaw plummeting for the floor. “That’s Wolverine!”
“The guy with the knives in his hands?” Ronon questioned. “Cool,” he said, when Sheppard nodded at him in a dumb-founded fashion. “Maybe he knows how we can get out of here.”
“Are you crazy?” McKay hissed. “We can’t ask Wolverine how to get out of here. First, we’d be much better off asking Professor Xavier. Second, he’d probably prefer to fight us rather than look at us, and third, he’s a fictional character from a series of comic books, cartoons and pretty good movie blockbusters—apart from that third one—so there’s no point asking.”
“Okay, avoid the mutant with temper problems who has knives bonded on to his skeletal system.” said Sheppard. “Good advice. Now what?”
“Maybe we should go that way?” Teyla suggested, pointing opposite to the direction in which Wolverine was ambling. The street seemed deserted, so Sheppard decided this was a good idea.
They hadn’t gone too far when a tall, furry humanoid wearing a bullet belt bolted out of a narrow street on the opposite side of the road, shouting something unintelligible to an unseen enemy or companion.
“No way!” exclaimed Sheppard and McKay in unison. This was enough for the creature to notice them and start to move in their direction. Mos Levane stood transfixed as a creature who seemed to be more long, furry hair than anything else, ambled over to Ronon and started patting him on the chest in a friendly nature.
Sheppard found his tongue as the creature found Ronon’s dread locks.
“Erm, Chewie,” he said, “meet Chewie”.
“This is the guy you’ve named me after?” Ronon asked, glaring at Sheppard while Chewbacca enveloped him in a huge hug.
“Well, err, yes – a little,” Sheppard admitted.
“I can see the resemblance,” he said, with a huge grin.
The touching male bonding of man and Wookiee was interrupted when a man dressed in a white jacket and brown pants tucked into knee-high boots came running from the direction Chewbacca had made his entrance.
“What are you doing to these people?” the man demanded. “I leave you alone for five minutes and this is what happens.”
Chewbacca made loud, slightly angry noises at his companion.
“Now don’t get angry with me,” the man chided. “I’m not the one who upset that custom’s official at the space port. We gotta play it under the wire a little while we’re here. Sorry, folks.” he said to them. “Chewie can be a little enthusiastic at times. Now come on!” he said, speaking to the Wookiee once more, and they returned back the way they came.
“That was Hans Solo!” Sheppard gaped as soon as they were out of earshot. “And Chewbacca! It’s like this thing is picking recent memories out of my mind and mixing them together or something. I was just thinking about my holiday I Oxford the other day, I was reading an X-Men comic yesterday, and I caught a bit of Empire Strikes Back last week. This is seriously cool!”
Teyla rolled her eyes so hard she almost fell over.
“Okay,” said Sheppard, with excitement in his voice. “I know where we’re going next.”
Eschewing the more historical attractions of Carfax Tower, they turned up Cornmarket Street and had a slightly disturbing moment when two “Star Wars” Storm Troopers sauntered out of a nearby shop; one wearing a striped university scarf, and the other laughing his head off.
“That is both so wrong and so right.” McKay remarked, shaking his head in wonder, and the team could do nothing but agree whole heartedly.
With Sheppard’s sense of direction being as appalling as ever, they managed to end up back on the High Street where they asked directions of a thin man carrying what looked like a highly complicated screwdriver. Fifteen minutes later they were still wandering about while McKay berated Sheppard for asking a Time Lord for directions and losing them yet again. As they passed the University of Oxford Shop for the third time it was obvious even to Sheppard that the enthusiasm of Mos Levane’s initial wonderment at the new sights she was seeing was flagging.
Finally Sheppard found the street he was looking for and soon stopped in front of a fairly ordinary looking pub called The Eagle and Child. He pushed open the door and they all trooped in.
“I knew it!” exclaimed Sheppard in dumbfounded amazement.
The pub was divided into a smaller room at the front, and a large room that contained the bar and had an extension at the back. The smaller room was occupied by a tall man with a long, gray beard, flowing robes, and a pointy hat resting on the floor beside him. Opposite him sat four small, round human-like creatures, with lots of curly hair on their heads and feet, which were bare. Judging by the fits of raucous laughter, two of them had begun drinking much earlier in the day, while the fattest of the three glowered at them disapprovingly and the other just looked amused in a distant way. In the main bar area, a slender man with long, straight hair, pointy ears and a bow on his back sipping delicately on what appeared to be blackcurrant cordial, sat at a table with a red-headed dwarf, who was digging into what looked like his third round of club sandwiches, and a man so filthy it was a wonder his clothes hadn’t walked off on their own.
At the bar (as there was no space for it anywhere else) stood a creature that was half man and half horse, drinking huge draughts of Guinness. In a corner sat some giggling men, whose only strange features seemed to be small horns protruding from the tops of their heads and shirtless torsos, until one stood up, revealing that the lower half of his body was that of a deer.
Teyla and Mos Levane tried not to stare at the strange occupants of the pub.
“Was there any reason for you to drag us all the way out here other than to satisfy your need to brush shoulders with your Elvish cousins?” McKay asked. “Because may I remind you that we still don’t have a clue what to do to get ourselves out of here, and as fun as it may be for you to meet every fictional character you’ve thought about in the last month, it’s not exactly conducive to escaping the thralls of an Ancient phase-shift device”.
“Now that you mention it, I actually was thinking that it might be a good idea to ask someone for help. And I know just the man,” Sheppard retorted, before making his way back into the room at the front of the pub.
“Excuse me, sir.” he said after clearing his throat, more than a little nervous that he was addressing Gandalf, “but my friends and I are in a little trouble.”
“There are many kinds of trouble,” the wizard said after a few moments’ silence. “Which kind is it you have got yourself messed up in, young man?”
Sheppard opened his mouth, but couldn’t think of what to say. He was in a pub in England, with half the characters from The Lord of the Rings and a handful of creatures from the Narnia books thrown in, too, and yet he was also in a chamber in a hill on a planet on the far outskirts of the Pegasus Galaxy. It was a bit much to take in.
“We are lost,” Teyla stepped in. “There is a path we must take, a door we must open, and we do not know how to open it. We do not even know if it exists.”
Sheppard’s heart swelled with pride. Trust Teyla to be able to carry off a conversation with Gandalf with complete equanimity.
“Have you a map, dear lady?” Gandalf asked, continuing when she shook her head, “or a guide?”
“No,” she answered. “We have only each other and none of us knows where to go.”
“Good,” he said with a smile. “Then you will do well. Follow your heart.” Then he leaned back, closed his eyes, and drifted off to sleep between one breath and the next.
“Follow your heart?” McKay scoffed, when they were on their way again. “What kind of advice is that?”
“Very wise advice if you have nothing else to lean on,” Teyla replied, with a measure of fierceness.
Well maybe,” McKay said. “But it still doesn’t get us anywhere does it? In fact, this whole excursion is one big waste of time. It’s not as if we’re going to find a signpost saying “Back to Reality” or a white, fluffy rabbit is going to invite us to follow him down a rabbit hole.”
“I dunno,” said Sheppard. “Where does your heart say we should go, Ronon?” he asked.
“Back to that old tower.”
“Then that’s where we’ll go.”
McKay’s grumbling ceased when (led by Ronon) they arrived at Carfax Tower and he saw the huge glossy black car parked next to it. The car’s entire existence seemed to be to proclaim that the owner meant business.
“Oh, my God! Batman?!” he exclaimed.
“I will never understand your planet’s obsession with fictional superheroes,” Teyla admitted, as McKay’s face lit up like a kid at Christmas.
“Oh, it’s not the whole planet,” said Sheppard. “It’s McKay mostly. It’s a geek thing.”
“Do you not like these superheroes, too? Read and watch movies about them?.” asked Teyla.
“So what does your heart say we should do next?” Sheppard asked back, attempting to change the subject.
It turned out there was no need, as at that moment they were distracted by the emergence of a caped figure wearing black and a fitted helmet-like mask with small pointed ears on the top, from the doorway at the base of the tower.
“Now if anyone can help, there’s the guy,” declared McKay, before making his way across the road faster than any of his team had ever seen him move before. The rest of the team barely had the chance to catch up with him at the base of the tower before the Batmobile drove away in the midst of a cacophony of screeching tires and revving motor parts.
“What did he say?” Ronon asked, seeing the awestruck look on McKay’s face.
“He said, ‘Keep moving up.’”
“’Keep moving up?’ That’s kind of a dorky thing to say isn’t it?” said Sheppard. Then he noticed that the other four were all staring up at the top of Carfax Tower.
“It’s worth a shot” he said with a shrug.
Sheppard wasn’t sure whether or not he should be surprised that McKay was the first of them through the door in the base of the tower and up the stairs. However, the expression on his face was far from happy when Sheppard, the last of the group, joined him in the topmost room.
“Ok, I was right in the first place,” McKay declared. “This whole asking fictional characters to help us get out of here is totally ridiculous! There’s nothing up here but a ridiculously huge, beaten-up sofa and a TV. And it’s not even a plasma!”
“Are you saying that Batman led you astray?” said Sheppard, only half-heartedly teasing his friend. He had to admit that the fun side of being trapped in a world taken from his memory and stocked with literary and movie characters was wearing a little thin, especially as his team couldn’t leave at will.
“I’m saying that we’re going to be stuck here until the provisions Mos Levane’s people stored in the chamber run out or one of us goes completely gaga over having to interact with fictional characters all day long and puts us all out of our misery.” He flopped down on the sofa, where a worn-out Mos Levane had already taken up residence.
“It has been a tiring mission,” Teyla declared, and Sheppard had to agree. They may not have had to do anything particularly physically demanding, but just the knowledge that they couldn’t walk out of the chamber was enough to drain the energy out of everyone. Teyla and Ronon joined McKay and Mos Levane on the couch, and, after a few moments of indecision, Sheppard joined them.
As he was pushing one of McKay’s sprawled legs over to his section of the sofa, Sheppard noticed something hard wedged down the side of one of the cushions. He dug around a bit and (of course!) came up with a wieldy-looking remote control. He was about to tuck it away again, when something quite odd about it struck him. Instead of the normal rows upon rows of tiny buttons that he doubted anyone, including the product designer, knew all the functions for, there were just four large buttons.
Sheppard nudged McKay, until he stopped grumbling and opened his eyes long enough to look.
“Where did you get that?” McKay demanded, suddenly fully awake.
“It was down the side of the sofa.”
“Do you think it could really be that simple?” Teyla asked, her weariness bleeding into an almost comical expression of wonder.
“S’worth a try,” rumbled Ronon.
“Mos Levane, I believe you know the right button to press,” Sheppard said, as he handed over the remote, almost as if it were something sacred.
And then, she did.
Their return to their own dimension was a wonderful anticlimax. They’d only just missed their first mandatory check in, and the Rathurans had thought they had chosen to stay within the artificial environment in the chamber by choice. Back in Rathura, an exhausted Mos Levane took control of the council meeting and they came to the swiftest agreement ever made in that hall. A science team would return to (carefully) examine the Ancient consoles in the chamber in exchange for some of the more exotic antibiotics the expedition had to offer.
“So, Rodney,” said Sheppard, as they made the final approach to the orbiting gate. “Was that a better mission than our last few? I mean we got research access to some pretty cool Ancient technology and you got to meet Batman.”
“I’m just a bit disappointed it wasn’t Batman from the TV series,” Rodney said with a sigh, before Sheppard activated the Jumper’s autopilot and they all arrived home.