Spoilers: None; vaguely early season 3
Summary: Most scientists on Earth still believed that objects separated by distance could not have any direct influence on one another. Rodney knew better. If only he could prove it.
(Friendshipper asked for plotty team, preferably with a focus on Pegasus culture. Unfortunately Einstein hijacked the plot, but he's big on team too, so that was okay. )
Teyla crouched low over John, fingers searching though hair matted dark with blood. The gash wasn't as bad as she'd feared, but it was bad enough. She wiped the blood on her pants before resting her palm against the P-90 at her chest. John wouldn't want killing if they could avoid it. She rocked back on her heels and quelled Rodney's imminent questions with a shake of her head and gestured for Ronon to join them. He abandoned his post by the broad, sappy evergreen and silently knelt beside them. "They're catching up," he reported. Rodney shook the life signs detector in his direction, earning a scowl from his teammate.
The men looked to Teyla, who had spent the last few moments coming to a decision she knew they wouldn't like. "He requires stitches and should be checked for a concussion." She placed a hand on Rodney's knee as he opened his mouth. "That is all I can tell, Rodney. He appears otherwise uninjured." Rodney let out a huff of relief, and she continued quickly, "We must separate. I will draw the men chasing us away from you, and you must get John to the Jumper. I will meet you there as soon as I am able."
Ronon's and Rodney's voices overlapped in quick objections. Teyla shook her head. "I cannot carry John up the mountain to the Jumper," she directed at Ronon, "and I can avoid the men following us much more efficiently than you, Rodney."
Ronon grimaced, but acknowledged her logic with a dip of his head. She received a huff of annoyance from Rodney this time, followed by, "Well, yes, I suppose what with the running through the woods and the dodging of actual, actual rocks..." He transferred his worried gaze back down to John, whose steady but shallow breathing was interrupted by a low moan. As Teyla rose, Rodney shook the life signs detector again and gestured with it back toward the trees. "When we get back to Atlantis, I'm going to reverse engineer one of these so it doesn't require the gene."
Teyla smiled, oddly touched by the gesture. "The idea is for all of the men to follow me, in which case I will know exactly where they are. But if a few of them pick up your trail, you will need to know of it. You would need to keep the device either way."
One side of Rodney's mouth curled up in an almost-smile. "But I have Ronon." He tucked the detector into his vest pocket and looked away, fingers curling into crevices in the bark of the tree next to him. Teyla wondered if the scent of pine sap would always remind her of injuries and running as she hurriedly checked her supplies.
"Well, I guess we should--" Rodney tentatively grabbed at John's sleeve, but Ronon simply scooped their injured friend into his arms and stood. The three shared a silent farewell, having said the words enough times before that they were now simply understood: see you again in no time, meet you at the Jumper, take care, be safe.
Teyla let her teammates get a head start up the narrow game trail that headed toward the small plateau where they had left the Jumper. The band of men who had attacked them had been barely half a mile behind when Rodney had last checked the scanner. The forest in this higher elevation was thinner than it had been at the base of the mountain, though, and they'd be moving faster now. The men would near her position soon. She took a moment to scatter pine needles where John had lain minutes before, telling herself it was only to cover the exposed dirt, not to conceal the drops of blood from her own sight. Then she worked her way around the mountain, crossing the main footpath they had walked down only that morning, finding cover in the trees on the other side. Murmuring a prayer for her teammates, Teyla sat on a boulder and waited for the search party from the village.
She heard them well before she saw them. The men were shouting to each other in short, efficient relays, keeping pace in a line as they trotted uphill on either side of the gravel footpath. Only one of them needed to see her for the ruse to work. As the first head came into view, Teyla stood, and, feigning a limp, headed up the slope. The expected outcry came seconds later. Teyla made sure that the man noticed her feigned injury, then shouted, "John! I am right behind you! Keep going!" The man's outcry became a roar of many voices, but she didn't pause to untangle the jumble of shouts from below. She had no need to know what they were saying.
It was a matter of timing from then on. Teyla needed to lag behind often enough to ensure that the men followed her without letting them get close enough to use their slings with any accuracy. She'd seen such weapons before, usually wielded by boys learning to hunt. These were larger and threw stones the size of her fist; their power and range were impressive. Or rather would be impressive, had their first encounter with them not ended with John unconscious and bleeding.
The small game trail she'd been following headed downhill again. Teyla knew that it was near time to lose her pursuers for good. It wouldn't help matters to appear at the Jumper with a few dozen men trailing after and slinging stones. She'd had a good look at the landscape from the plateau earlier. The forest was thicker on this side of the mountain, and it would be easier to get lost in the undergrowth. Though she could still hear the men behind her, and she had no doubt that they were following the tracks she hadn't tried to hide, it had been several minutes since she'd last let herself be seen. A patch of silvery leaves to her right caught her attention, and she allowed herself a moment's rest as her escape plan fell into place.
Though Teyla loved her Athosian clothing, there was something to be said for Earth-made military garb. Such as how it protected one from the thick thorns of the thoka vine, for example. This was a particularly lush and tangled bramble, spreading as far as she could see in all directions. It would slow the men down considerably, if not stop them entirely. By the time she was too far in to consider going back, she realized she'd underestimated her own vulnerability and was sporting a few long scores on her calves and arms, but the cost was well worth leaving her pursuers behind. They might even decide she wasn't worth the effort and turn back. Most of them had been wearing thin woven garments, appropriate for the heat and working in fields. If they followed, they'd have to move at a quarter of her speed if they meant to emerge without looking like they'd been in a knife fight with Ronon.
Halfway through the thicket of brambles, Teyla noticed the porri leaves intertwined through the vines, barely noticeable in the riot of growth. Porri plants were one of the first things she'd taught her teammates not to touch. The juice was harmless on contact, and tended to dry on the skin with no indication of stumbling through a patch. Left alone, though, and exposed to a few hours of sunlight, any skin that had had contact with it erupted into furious purple blisters. Rodney had been horrified that such a thing even existed. Part of her hoped that the men did decide to follow her trail and got a generous dose of scratches and blisters for their trouble.
And then she was through, and with little time to spare. The wind was with her, and she could hear the men in the lead shouting that they'd found another boot print. They would be at the far edge of the thicket in seconds. She sprinted up the slope, curving a wide arc that took her back around to the plateau. In minutes she was cresting the top, running toward an empty space that, a moment later, wasn't empty as Rodney turned off the Jumper's cloak and lowered the ramp. And there they were, all of them-- John, murmuring now in the back, not quite awake but not quite unconscious; Ronon looming over him and pretending not to worry; Rodney sparing a glance to make sure she was in one piece before powering up the Jumper to head back to the Stargate and back to Atlantis.
Ronon slouched into a seat in the conference room, eying Elizabeth Weir and wondering if this was going to be a short meeting or a long meeting. Sheppard was awake and recovering in the infirmary--mild concussion, eleven stitches--and chances were she'd want to wait for his presence before trying to get the full story. So. Short meeting, probably, which was good, because Ronon hadn't managed to eat since they'd gotten back, and their friendly lunch with the villagers (and wasn't that weird since they'd tried to kill them later) had been hours and hours ago.
"Alright, I know you all want to get back down to the infirmary," Weir said from the head of the conference table, "but I'd like to know how a simple mission to explore Ancient ruins ended up with John in the infirmary in the first place." She turned to McKay. "I thought you had permission to enter the ruins?"
"So did we!" McKay spluttered, hands waving. "Well, it's not like the village elders were exactly verbose on the subject one way or the other. It was more like we talked and they stared at us, but they never said we couldn't go into the ruins." McKay and the village elders had been about as opposite as could be. Ronon figured they'd never seen another human being talk so much in their entire lives. But McKay had a point--they had never said that the ruins were off-limits. They had simply nodded or smiled or stared or offered food every time McKay asked a question about the crumbling buildings.
McKay's hands finally landed on the table and started to tap, obviously wanting to be at a keyboard. He'd talked equations and probabilities in the jumper all the way back to Atlantis, in between asking after Sheppard. Ronon thought that at least half of his brain was still working on the math or physics of whatever he'd found in the ruins while the rest of it was answering Weir's questions. Leaning back in his chair and rolling his shoulders a little, Ronon listened as his teammates gave a short account of their exploration of the ruins. He nodded to show he was paying attention whenever Weir looked his way, but she knew by now that he'd only add details if they were important.
Holding up a hand to interrupt McKay's description of a crumbling, open-air chamber that was getting a little too detailed, Weir asked, "These people gave you no indication whatsoever that they didn't want you in their ruins?"
Teyla spoke up, wincing a little as she leaned on an arm with a fresh bandage covering the evidence of her escape through the thorns. "I believe they did not expect us activate the Ancient devices in the ruins," she suggested. "We were there for several minutes and explored many rooms without incident. It was only when Rodney turned on the main console that we heard bells tolling in the village." She gave Weir a wry smile. "Unfortunately we assumed it had nothing to do with us."
"Okay, one: we should know better by now," McKay said, "And two: this is so not my fault."
"No one is blaming you, Rodney," Weir said with a mix of patience and exasperation. "It sounds like you had no way of knowing that turning on the ancient console would violate their taboos, or whatever the problem was."
"Yes, well, if they're not going to speak, they could have put up signs," McKay complained. "'Do not touch this or you will be stoned to death,' for example." He leaned forward, gaining momentum. "And seriously? Who slings rocks at peoples' heads from behind trees?"
Weir sighed and rubbed her temples. "So they attacked you. What happened, exactly?"
That was a tricky question. Ronon met Teyla's eyes from across the table. They hadn't discussed it, but it was apparent that she'd seen Sheppard get hit. Teyla's raised eyebrow was asking him how much she should say. He gave her a nearly invisible shrug. She was the diplomat and the better speaker. She set her shoulders and took a deep breath. "We heard the first stones hit the trees and pillars near our location," she began. "The men must have been assessing the range, for the second volley cleared the fallen sections of wall around us, which is when we realized we were under attack."
It was also when Sheppard had hollered for Teyla and Ronon to get up against the walls and figure out what was going on, and for McKay to stop what he was doing so they could get under cover. "Rodney was very nearly finished downloading information from the console," Teyla continued, "and so Ronon and I fired warning shots into the trees." And Sheppard had stood there as McKay typed furiously, blocking the exposed scientist from the next barrage of stones that had come from the trees. "Colonel Sheppard was hit..." Teyla paused, glancing at Ronon again before continuing, "just as Rodney completed his work."
If McKay understood the implications, he didn't show it. He certainly hadn't at the time; he'd been buried in Ancient crystals and wires from his laptop, and had nearly tripped over Sheppard when he'd finally backed away from the console. Ronon and Teyla had fired in earnest then, giving them enough time to carry Sheppard partway up the mountain and eventually back to Atlantis.
Weir nodded, possibly understanding the unspoken aspects of Teyla's version of events. She cleared her throat and asked McKay, "So, did you find anything useful?"
"Yes, actually. I think I found a reference to an Ancient research facility. If I'm right, Zalenka's going to owe me fifty bucks and part of his chocolate stash." McKay rubbed his hands together, throwing a not very subtle glance toward the doorway.
"You can go," Weir said with a smile. "Keep me appraised of anything interesting, Rodney. And tell John I'll be down to see him later."
McKay shot out of his chair and headed for the exit, but Ronon caught the back of his jacket and pulled him to a stop. "Mess hall first, then the infirmary," he said. "The other stuff can wait."
Sheppard looked better than he should for a guy who'd been unconscious for several hours. They crowded around his infirmary bed, producing pilfered snacks from the mess that he accepted with a grin. "You do realize I'm not actually on a restricted diet?" he asked, peeling back the top of a butterscotch pudding cup. "I only got stitches." He took a huge spoonful and added, "But I do appreciate it."
McKay pulled a chair over and grabbed a fruit cup, ignoring Teyla's frown. "That's good. When can we go offworld again?"
Sheppard looked at Ronon and raised his eyebrows. Ronon shrugged in response. McKay had babbled excitedly for the last half hour in the mess and Ronon still had no idea what he'd been talking about. "You found something in the ruin's database, Rodney?" Sheppard asked, leaning forward eagerly.
"Maybe, maybe." McKay's hands were on the move again and his smile was just short of smug. "I have to check with Zalenka--the math will probably be over his head, but he can confirm the theoretical possibility--and of course I'll have to cross reference the address in the database, make sure the Wraith haven't destroyed it..."
"McKay!" Sheppard barked. McKay's head snapped around and his hands stilled. "What did you find? Theoretical possibility of what? A weapon?"
"What? Oh, There's no point in telling you about it yet. You'd just get all excited, and if it turns out to be nothing, you'd only end up disappointed." He opened the fruit cup and started to eat it.
"He has been like this all afternoon," Teyla said, sounding like even her patience was wearing thin. "But he has been going on at great length about an Ancient research facility."
"I thought we decided abandoned labs were a bad idea." Sheppard reached out to poke McKay on the shoulder.
"It's not abandoned! Well, it is now, obviously-- I mean it wasn't, then. Not because they gave up on the research, anyway. Probably." Rodney spooned the last of the fruit into his mouth and stood.
"Probably?" Sheppard asked.
"Definitely, maybe, probably?" McKay shrugged. "Look, I want answers, you want answers, we all want answers. Give me, say...ten hours, and I'll have them." He snatched the other fruit cup from Sheppard's bedside table on the way out.
Sheppard watched him leave, a small frown creasing his brow. Then he cleared his throat, looking down and plucking at the bedsheets. Ronon guessed that he was about to start giving an awkward "thank you for saving me" speech to the both of them, even though it was mostly Teyla who deserved the credit. Not to mention he'd only been injured because he'd taken a rock to the head for McKay, who didn't even realize it. "Hey, Sheppard," Ronon started. He wasn't great at this either, but he could save Sheppard some discomfort. "We're good."
Beside him Teyla nodded. "Yes, John. It is long past time when we should stop counting debts owed and weighing our obligations to one another. We are all home safely." Leave it to Teyla to make it sound like poetry, even if it did turn the tips of Sheppard's ears pink and make him mumble something Ronon didn't quite catch.
Then Sheppard cleared his throat again and gingerly touched the patch of bandage covering a few square inches of scalp. "Okay, well. So we're good. That's good." He gave them a sheepish grin.
Then Teyla was saying that John looked tired, and Ronon got the hint, nodding goodnight and telling Sheppard he'd look for him in the gym the next day. As they turned to leave John asked, "Will one of you keep an eye on Rodney? He seemed a little too excited about this mystery project of his."
Ronon didn't mind scientist-sitting duty. The labs were generally quiet when the scientists were engrossed in a project-- or rather, everyone tended to make the same amount of noise; the resultant voices combined with humming machinery and computers was almost pleasant.
It was late enough now that the labs were fairly empty, though, and the only noise came from the energetic bickering of McKay and Zalenka. They'd been at it for well over two hours. Ronon had gone for an evening run, taken a shower, and come back, only to find them in nearly the exact same positions in front of the white board. Ronon had halfheartedly tried to pay attention for a while, but all of the scientific jargon ran together, and when Zalenka noticed his interest, he was subjected to a twenty minute lecture about how particles can become entangled and affect each other later, no matter the distance that separates them.
It was an apt description of their team, he thought, watching McKay scrawl numbers and symbols across the board. He knew he was getting tired when he was tempted to make the observation out loud. Instead he reminded McKay to eat, and headed to bed as the two scientists started up an argument about someone-or-other's paradox.
John was released from the infirmary the next morning, with a strict warning not to spar, fight, box, brawl, wrangle, wrestle, run, jog, sprint, gallop, or trot for at least a week. John thought it was unfair that Carson felt he had to use that many synonyms, but also noted that he had not explicitly said that John could not lope or tussle. He sighed and headed to the mess for breakfast. "Tussle" was really scraping the bottom of the barrel, and he supposed he ought to give his head at least a couple of days before he resumed his usual activities, especially activities that involved getting hit with sticks.
Rodney was at a table right next to the door, gulping down food at an alarming pace, which meant that his research was going well and he was only leaving the lab for as long as was absolutely necessary. John grabbed coffee and a danish, meeting up with Rodney as he stood to return his empty tray. "Hey, Rodney. Ready to tell me about your amazing discovery?" Sheppard asked, following behind.
"Oh, Sheppard, you're out and about. How's the, uh..." Rodney gestured to his head.
"Like a bad hangover, but it's getting better." He ate the danish as they headed through the halls of Atlantis, taking every shortcut they knew back to the science section. Rodney promised he would finally, finally tell him what the big secret was, and when they walked into the lab, there was so much writing on the boards that John knew neither Rodney nor Radek had slept a wink the night before.
He gave a cursory glance to the equations, but it was mostly physics and well beyond his scope. There were no helpful drawings or schematics of guns or ships, either, so he couldn't take a guess and be right just to annoy Rodney. But he didn't get a chance, anyway, because Radek started talking the moment Rodney reached his desk.
"I translated more of the entry in the database," he began, "and there is a reference here to the 'silent caretakers.' Did you not say that the elders of the village did not talk?" He adjusted his glasses and turned his computer screen toward Rodney.
"Yes, yes, yes, yes," Rodney answered. "That's it. That's gotta be it." He leaned in and started to read.
John tapped Radek on the shoulder. "So. What's 'it'?"
"Oh. Hello!" Radek smiled. "Well, you see, we needed to confirm that the address Rodney found in the Ancient console referred to the lab that is described in our database."
"Uh huh," John nodded. "Only I'm a little farther behind than that. Want to start at the beginning?"
Rodney straightened and crossed his arms, leaning a hip on Radek's desk. "We could very soon be the proud new owners of a quantum interstellar drive," he said, voice quick with excitement. Radek broke into a wide grin and nodded in agreement.
"And that's good, because...?" John set down his now empty coffee cup, adding to a group of them on one of the lab benches. The rest of the space was cluttered with wrappers and empty food containers.
"It's instantaneous, like the Asgard beaming technology," Radek started, but Rodney overrode him with, "We could travel to Earth and back like that--!" He snapped his fingers.
"Okay, yeah, that's pretty awesome," John agreed. And it was, but it begged a question or several. "But the Asgard had beaming technology this whole time, so why didn't they use it for interstellar travel?"
"The Asgard never got that far," Radek answered. "This is a completely new technology."
"But you just said--" John started.
Rodney cut him off with a hand flap, picking up his tablet from the desk and drawing two little circles connected by a line. "The Asgard technology sends demolecularized objects in a beam, so it's limited in distance. Stargates do the same thing, but they get around the distance problem by connecting through a wormhole from one set location to another."
John gestured for him to get on with it, and Rodney wiped the screen, drawing the two dots again but with no connecting line. "This drive uses particles that have been entangled in a quantum state and then separated to instantaneously send huge quantities of data. While an Asgard beam demolecularizes matter and sends it as energy, this technology reads the molecular configuration of an object as it takes it apart and sends the molecules into subspace, while at the other end, a second piece of the drive--call it a docking port--reads the data and takes a different set of identical molecules out of subspace, rebuilding the ship and all of its contents simultaneously."
John leaned back against the nearest table and thought about how cool it would be to arrive at Earth the second he left Atlantis, but then his brain caught up with everything Rodney had said. "Wait a minute. The ship's original molecules would be sent into subspace? What happens to them?"
Of course Rodney didn't think anyone would have a problem with this. He was staring at John as if he'd refused a slice of chocolate cake. "Well, they're...you know, gone. Look, it doesn't matter. It happens instantaneously, have I mentioned that? There's not even the few microseconds of lag time spent traveling in a stream like when we're beamed aboard the Daedalus. One second you're in orbit around Atlantis, and at the exact same moment you leave, your ship is already in orbit around Earth."
John sighed and rubbed his eyes. His head still hurt too much to be having this conversation. "Alright. So you think the plans for this drive are in a lab somewhere, and the address for the lab was in that console we found in the ruins?"
"Oh, no, you don't understand," Radek answered, leaning forward eagerly. "It would take us decades just to build the equipment to build the drive. We think the drive and several docking ports are already built. The drive is just sitting there, waiting for us to--" he mimed a plucking motion with his fingers, "--take it."
Stopping himself just short of running his fingers through his hair--he couldn't wait for the bandage to come off--John asked, "If it's been sitting there for ten thousand years, why hasn't it been found by the Wraith? They'd be itching to get their creepy little hands on something like that." And it made finding the facility a priority regardless of the practical applications for their own ships.
Something on one of the computers beeped, and Rodney turned it off without even looking at it. "On the positive side, the Wraith would still have to get to Earth and install the reintegration half of the drive in order to travel back and forth." He turned around and tapped a few keys at a console and continued, "And the Ancients really, really kept the lid tight on this project. I mean, seriously, talk about paranoid..."
Radek swiveled his computer screen back around, called up an entry in the database, and nudged the screen back toward him. "The research itself is mentioned in our database, but not a facility, and of course nothing was ever found here. We thought perhaps the drive was only theoretical. In fact, we've had a wager..." He narrowed his eyes at Rodney and continued. "Anyway. As I was saying. The address must have been stored in a separate location for security purposes. The entry I was just translating referred to a society of 'silent caretakers--' your village elders, we think."
John took a moment to process that thought. The village elders, who maybe not-so-coincidentally didn't speak to outsiders, if at all, had obviously known about the ruins. They would have thought the address, locked in a console requiring the gene, was safe--which explained why they had sent a mob of armed men when the console had been activated. He wondered, though, if the elders also kept knowledge of the address among themselves as a sort of extra back-up. Why else would they refuse to speak? It did seem like something the Ancients might have done, to set up an entire society sworn to silence just to protect the location of a research facility. John ran a finger along the edge of his bandage. "Well, they really need to work on their rhetoric."
"I suspect their doctrine might have gotten a little...mmmm...warped over the years?" Rodney finally sat down and both men turned to stare at John. When Rodney started to frown and Radek adjusted his glasses yet again, he realized they were waiting for him.
He lifted a finger. "Assuming it's somewhere relatively safe and Elizabeth approves, we'll go check it out as soon as Beckett gives me clearance to go offworld."
It took the entire week to secure both Carson's and Elizabeth's permission. It might have been a day or two sooner, but John was caught "loping" through the halls with Ronon one morning, and Carson had nearly had a fit. He felt fine though, which made him restless, especially once the stitches were gone and he could wash his hair properly again.
Rodney had done all the research he could do without having the quantum drive in front of him, and he was as restless as John, if not more. It helped that they were all together, at least; Teyla could have spent a few days with the Athosians, but said that she appreciated the rest. They caught up on gossip, movies, and paperwork, helped clean out an extra store room, and listened to Rodney daydream about winning the Nobel Prize.
On the final evening of their forced down-time, John left the infirmary, having passed his medical examination with Carson, and headed to the mess to see if there was any cake left over from dinner. Rodney was sitting by himself on the balcony, hunched over a coffee and looking dejected. John grabbed an empty cup and a fresh carafe of coffee and headed over. "Hey, buddy, I thought you'd be all excited. We're going to go get your drive tomorrow. What's up?" He refilled Rodney's cup and sat down.
It was chilly on the balcony, and Rodney looked like he'd been out here for a while. He wrapped his fingers around his warm cup, and when he finally looked up, John could see that his cheeks were pink from the cold. "I talked to Teyla earlier. I didn't know..." He trailed off and looked out over the water again.
"Didn't know what?" John took a gulp of his own coffee, grateful for the heat. It never got truly cold on Atlantis, but on some evenings the breeze off the ocean held a scent of faraway ice that reminded him of Antarctica.
"That you..." Rodney took a deep breath. "I was working so hard on getting information out of the Ancient console, I wasn't paying attention to you. You told me to stop, but I was almost done, and--" he paused, finally turning to look John square in the eyes. "Teyla told me what happened. Why you got hit, I mean. I--"
John smiled and huffed a small laugh; Rodney hadn't been there when he'd tried to give the same speech to Ronon and Teyla. What had Teyla said? "Rodney, we don't have to go around weighing our debts and, uh, obligations with each other." Not quite right, but close enough. "Look, what I mean is--we're good." He leaned over and gave Rodney's arm a squeeze.
Rodney smiled back, and they finished the carafe of coffee debating whether Rodney would have to share his Nobel Prize with Zalenka.
Rodney hitched the strap of his backpack a little higher and looked down at the scanner again. The energy reading was still coming from up ahead, and if they didn't find the source soon he was going to expire from heat exhaustion. The thought of a Nobel Prize winning quantum drive somewhere up ahead kept him on his feet. That, and the occasional prod from Sheppard as they worked their way through what could only be called a jungle. Ronon was a few steps ahead, and Teyla followed just behind.
"You'd think the cold would be worse for the Wraith," Sheppard said conversationally, sounding not at all winded.
Playing back the last few sentences of conversation in his head, Rodney confirmed that this was, indeed, a non sequitur. "What?"
"The Ancients went all-out to protect their research, right? So it stands to reason that they'd put the lab on a planet that's both uninhabited and inhospitable." He paused to wipe sweat from his forehead and take a drink from his canteen. "But it's hot. You'd think with all the weird organic stuff that the Wraith would like the heat."
"Hive ships are always a little cold," Ronon argued, pulling a vine aside so that Rodney could duck underneath. Rodney appreciated the distracting chatter, and he suspected that Sheppard was keeping it up to stop Rodney from thinking too much about poisonous snakes, spiders, and anything else that might be out to get him.
They'd been on the planet for almost two hours, and though they'd been getting a steady energy reading from the moment they walked through the Stargate, there had so far been no evidence of anything even remotely resembling a research facility. If they didn't find something soon, that would be that. The Stargate had opened into dense vegetation, with no room to maneuver a Jumper. It was likely that when the facility had been built thousands of years ago there had been plenty of room to fly and land ships, but certainly there wasn't now. If they did find the drive, the Daedalus would have to beam it on board from orbit.
The scanner's blinking subtly changed, and Rodney stopped suddenly enough that Sheppard stepped on his heels. He raised a hand to point, turned to the left, and hoped that if he kept his eyes on the scanner, the others would keep their eyes on the jungle. The blinking changed again. It was barely noticeable, but it was there. Rodney paused again, glancing up into the trees. "If there's anything at all, it's somewhere right around here."
Ronon took off and was back within minutes. "There's an entrance to a cave just on the other side of the trees," he reported. Rodney's heart did a double beat and he wiped his hands one by one on his pants. They might just find this drive after all.
The cave looked as dark and terrifying as he could have expected. Sheppard lit a flare and threw it inside, and Rodney scooted to the side, fully expecting a swarm of Iratus bugs or at the very least, bats. When neither appeared and the flare started to sputter, Sheppard said, "Alright, single file. If anything comes out at you, just duck and run, okay?"
Rodney agreed wholeheartedly. He kept one eye on the scanner and the other on the ground, not quite willing to unhunch his shoulders enough to look around. The passage was narrow and he was comfortably filed between Sheppard and Teyla, though, so there wasn't much of a chance that something could surprise him. Then at fifty meters, the cave was no longer a cave. It was very obviously a hallway. An Ancient hallway. "Jackpot," he breathed.
"Nobody touch anything," Sheppard cautioned. "And that especially means you, Rodney." They continued along the hallway, and although the lights did not turn on, the energy reading remained the same, which meant that there was power somewhere ahead.
The first room was some kind of security chamber; Rodney could see the double seals on the three doors, the way the crystal control panels were made of thicker than usual metal, and that the single console at the center of the space had only one feature: a glass panel with an embossed hand print. Sheppard's fingers locked around his wrist as he was reaching for it. "Rodney, are you sure that's a good idea?"
"Oh, well, no, I just thought we'd spend a few hours having a nice stroll through a bug-infested jungle, take a peek at the entryway here, and then turn around and go back," he answered, trying not to snap. It was somewhat cooler in the facility, if a little musty, but he'd like to get the systems up and running so that they could have fresh air, and maybe even air-conditioning. And, of course, open the doors.
Sheppard released his arm with a look obviously intended to mean "don't do anything rash" but Rodney's hand was on the panel before it even registered. The console made the familiar "blonk" noise particular to Ancient technology turning on, the room lit up, and fresh air started to blow in from vents near the ceiling. Rodney gave Sheppard a smug smile just because he could and turned to examine the doors.
The energy readings had spiked, and it was now almost impossible to choose a direction based on the scanner. "One door is as good as another," he said, choosing the one on the far left. The panels were, amazingly, intact and in working order. The door opened with a puff of stale air and the vents beyond hissed into action as they stepped through. "Well, I guess the Ancients' paranoid security measures paid off after all," Rodney conceded, noting that there was hardly even any dust on the floor.
"And yet it did them no good," Teyla commented. "All this work. If they completed building this drive, surely they could have put it on board one of their ships?" She ran a hand along the wall, set with small decorative tiles in shades of blue and green.
"They never got the other parts set up," Ronon answered from the front. Rodney looked up from the scanner in surprise. Apparently he'd taken in more of Zalenka's lecture than Rodney had realized.
"He's right." Rodney shared a quick smile with Teyla. "It was meant to be a network, sort of like the Stargates. Without setting up the connecting ports in various locations first, the drive is useless." The hallway ended in another door that turned out to hold living quarters. They retraced their steps and tried the middle door.
That hallway led to a science section, a series of labs that housed computers and holographic interfaces, but nothing large enough to construct the drive itself. "Which leaves door number three," Sheppard said, sounding almost as excited as Rodney felt.
As soon as the door opened, Rodney knew something was wrong. The air wasn't stale like it had been in the other corridors. Instead it was warm and humid; the same as outside the cave. "No, no, no," Rodney mumbled. "The area's been breached somewhere. Who can say what kind of damage all this moisture has done over the years?"
Sheppard stepped in front of him, and they resumed their "on guard" positions, guns at the ready. "Some kind of cave-in, do you think?" he asked, eying the algae on the tiles.
"Maybe," Rodney answered morosely. At least the lights had come on when they opened the door. This section still had power, and it was possible that the area housing the drive might be sealed off and only a portion of the area had been exposed to the elements.
But it soon became apparent that that wasn't the case. The first door was wide open. "Looks like it was forced," Ronon said, placing a palm against the surface. The door was more moss and rust than metal and out of context Rodney would have been hard pressed to even call it a door, but Ronon was usually right about such things. "Couldn't have been that long ago, though," he added. "Couple hundred years, maybe?"
"Oookay," Sheppard drawled. "So maybe the Wraith found this facility after all."
"And didn't immediately destroy it?" Rodney snorted. He gestured for them to continue. "Well? There's only one way to find out."
They remained cautious, though it was obvious that whatever damage had been done had happened decades ago. As they progressed deeper into the facility, they began to see more plant life--mostly vines and creepers, though a few small trees had sent roots cracking through the tiles. The jungle was moving in, albeit slowly.
When the hallway branched ahead, Rodney took one look and vehemently cursed every Ancient who had had a hand in building the facility. "And I hope you're ascended right now and hanging around listening," he added.
"I do not understand, Rodney," Teyla said, looking down the perpendicular corridor. "Why is that hallway 'the most idiotic design ever thought up by idiots?'"
"It's the emergency exit," He explained. "They put the emergency exit right next to the most important part of their entire facility." He leaned against the wall and slid to the floor, taking out a power bar and his canteen.
"Seems like a logical place to put an emergency exit," Sheppard argued. "You know, right next to the most likely place that things could blow up."
Rodney waved a hand feebly, swallowing the first half of power bar. "Yes, you'd think so. But I've seen this sort of thing before. They come up with the most brilliant design for the most secure, most amazingly secret facility that anyone's ever seen. And then they get three-quarters of the way through building it, and some bureaucrat sends an inspector by, and he says, 'Oh, dear, this won't do. That's not up to code. You need an emergency exit.' And so they slap one on somewhere, and all of a sudden your secure facility has an extra hallway that wasn't in the original design so it doesn't quite fit and--oops! Ten thousand years later the Wraith come by and tap on the door and it just falls over." He shoved the other half of the power bar into his mouth and chewed furiously.
Sheppard nudged a vine with his foot and peered down the hallway. "No tile on the wall. Different flooring." He looked at Ronon and raised his eyebrows. Ronon gave a typical shrug. "Okay, Rodney. Maybe you have a point. Ronon and I will go check it out. We'll be back in five minutes."
Teyla slid elegantly into a cross-legged seat on the floor opposite him. "Your drive may still be intact," she said, trying to sound encouraging.
"Maybe." Chances were the Wraith had either taken it or destroyed it. Although the computers here would yield a wealth of information about the drive, there was no way that another one could be built in his lifetime, not if the rest of this section was as decayed as he suspected. Even the Asgard hadn't developed technology that could handle its construction, and humans--most humans--hadn't even agreed upon the theoretical rules regarding the hypothetical possibility of its existence. Most scientists still believed that objects separated by any distance could not have direct influence on one another. Rodney knew better. If only he could prove it.
Sheppard and Ronon returned and reported that the corridor ended in an open door that led to the jungle. "No surprise there," Sheppard commented. "Well, we've come this far, might as well see what's left of the rest of this place."
They found one other series of labs connected by another square security room. They were all open to the invasion of the jungle, though there wasn't enough sunlight for anything other than algae to have grown in the intervening years. The lights and vents turned on in each room as they entered and Rodney stopped looking at the scanner.
He held his breath as they crossed what had to be one of the final rooms. There was an observation window on the opposite wall, giving just enough of a view of the space beyond to raise his hopes. He quickened his pace, almost running now. It was warm, but it was only a little moist, so it was possible. Possible that if anti-Wraith security measures had kicked in decades ago...
The drive was there. Rodney could see the edge of it through the doorway. He was well ahead of the others, through the door and kneeling in front of it, glancing over the smooth lines and, he now saw, pitted surface. It was large, but not as large as he'd expected; only about one meter high and perhaps two wide. A few panels here and there had fallen to the floor, exposing cracked crystals underneath. His heart sank. It couldn't possibly be in working condition. Maybe--maybe--with a few months of hard effort and a lot of luck--
Teyla cried out behind him, and Rodney sprang to his feet, whirling around. She was doubled over, clutching her head, and Sheppard was there, looking bewildered and grabbing her shoulders. Ronon appeared at her other side, and they were both asking her what was wrong, and for a moment she didn't speak, and Rodney took a step forward, though he had no idea what to do.
Then Teyla hissed from between clenched teeth, "The noise! Can you not hear it?"
Sheppard looked to Rodney, desperate, but Rodney was already moving, taking out the scanner and waving it around wildly. The only thing he heard was the sound of air coming from the vents, and there was so much energy everywhere that the scanner was useless.
"McKay!" Ronon motioned for him to follow, and Rodney stepped carefully around Teyla and Sheppard. He was trying to get her to sit down, but it seemed that she couldn't move. Rodney backed into the previous room, nearly jumping out of his skin when Ronon grabbed his jacket and spun him around.
There were three skeletons on the floor. Wraith, by the looks of them. Rodney shuddered. He'd walked right by them earlier and hadn't even seen them in his haste to get to the drive. "Anti-wraith security measures," Rodney said, thinking furiously. "It must be broadcasting a signal that messes with their psychic network. We need to get Teyla out of here!"
Even as he said it, he realized that if the Wraith had been trapped--he looked up, and sure enough, the far door had closed, and Ronon was already trying to force it open. John half-carried Teyla into the room as Rodney tore the panel from the door controls, rearranging the crystals. His breath whuffed out all at once when it opened, and they made it through the other three labs relatively quickly.
Rodney couldn't get the far security door open. "Yes, lock us in! What a stupid, stupid security system," he yelled, trying pattern after pattern of crystal arrangements. He finally stopped and turned back to look at the others. John was fully supporting Teyla now; she was grimacing in pain and had her hands over her ears.
"What's it doing, Rodney?" John asked. "And how do we get out?"
The only thing that made sense was the conclusion he'd come to earlier. "It's a defense. Something that affects the part of the brain the Wraith use to communicate," he said. "Like when a soprano hits a high note and breaks a wine glass, only using psychic waves instead of sound." He scanned the consoles in this part of the lab; nothing useful, probably. If the door wouldn't open for them, chances were that there weren't overrides there, either. He sat down at a station, anyway. "And I'm not sure we can get out. Not until the facility resets, or, or--I don't know!"
"Well I'd prefer that her mind didn't break!" Sheppard growled. He maneuvered Teyla into another chair and stood behind Rodney. "Make it stop."
"Trying!" Rodney brought up all the information he could about the facility and scrolled through it as fast as he could read. Drive schematics, duty rosters, facility layout...nothing useful.
"Why'd it turn on when it did?" Ronon stopped pulling at the door, sweat pouring down his arms. He put a hand on his blaster, but there wasn't much chance of shooting their way out. Unlike the doors that sectioned off the corridors, these were built to withstand an attack.
"Nearly everything the Ancients built can sense the Ancient gene," Sheppard suggested. "Maybe they added a Wraith gene detector to this place."
"That makes sense," Rodney agreed. "But only in the room with the drive," he said, still reading. "It started when she walked in." Which meant....He tapped the screen and an overlay appeared, showing wiring, plumbing, and crystal arrays. He clenched his jaw and looked over his shoulder at Teyla. Ronon was at her side, and she leaned against him, eyes shut and every muscle taut.
The quickest solution would cost him his quantum drive.
Rodney sighed and pointed to a section of the screen. Sheppard leaned in, and Rodney said, "Right there. In the ceiling above the room housing the drive. All the wiring for that section runs through there, including the sensor telling the facility there's a Wraith here. If you hit it with C4, the whole section will shut down and the security measures should turn off."
Sheppard gave him a quick pat on the shoulder and took off at a dead run.
In the end, they lost more than the drive, though as Sheppard pointed out, they all got home safely. The blast warped the drive beyond all repair as well as whatever had been broadcasting its anti-Wraith noise. That would have been nice to take home, and maybe the Wraith sensor while they were at it. At least they knew it was theoretically possible, and it was something Rodney could have Zalenka look into. They'd be sending a science team back to copy as much of the facility's data as possible in the hopes of getting the plans to one or both.
The debriefing was short and included the word "paranoid" well over a dozen times. Elizabeth simply appeared happy to have them all back in one piece and ordered them to take it easy for another few days.
They visited Teyla in the infirmary, though Carson was only keeping her overnight "just in case." The pain had stopped the moment the device had been destroyed. She'd described it as not unlike the feeling of being controlled by a Wraith, but one that was screaming in her head and squeezing it at the same time. Rodney wasn't sure how long it took to actually kill a Wraith, or even if it would have been fatal for Teyla, but seeing her in the infirmary, smiling as they walked in...well. Why wonder? They brought popcorn and chocolate, this time--Rodney had won the bet with Zalenka; even though he hadn't actually returned with the quantum drive, it did exist.
"I wanted to thank you, Rodney," Teyla said, holding his gaze. "I know that drive meant a lot to you, and yet you gave it up without a thought to save me." She made it sound so easy, Rodney thought. Sheppard and Ronon looked at each other and laughed, and a moment later Teyla joined in.
"I thought we weren't, ah, what was it? 'Counting debts?'" Sheppard said with a smirk.
Teyla took a handful of popcorn and ate it, chewing slowly as if to give herself time to think. Finally she simply smiled and said, "That is true, but sometimes it is all right to acknowledge that they exist."