Disclaimer: I own nothing
Summary: Sometimes, wishes do come true. That's not always a good thing.
Sparks shot out, Rodney shouted something unintelligible, and Teyla lept away from the device as the bitter smell of burnt plastic filled the small space. Shielding his face with one hand, John reached up with the other. He winced as sparks hit his skin, but managed to reach the wire and yank it out of its socket.
"That didn't go quite as well as I'd hoped," Rodney said sheepishly. He waved a hand to clear the smoke, eyes still on the device they'd found here in the room. "At least the place doesn't smell like old socks any more."
No, now it smelt like old socks and burnt wiring. John wiped the back of his hand against his pants to ease the sting, then began wrapping the cord around the thing. "Next time it might be better to wait before you activate a device you've found on an alien planet."
"But the plug was right there," Rodney said, and John could tell from his tone how ridiculous he knew that sounded. The scientist had known there was still power flowing through the complex. Which John supposed was why he'd plugged the device in.
John raised a brow and looked wryly at Teyla. "I expect more from you at least."
"Sorry, I did not realize I was supposed to be babysitting," Teyla said, her attention having already gone back to the room around her. "Next time, I will ignore the pictographs on the walls, and instead focus on keeping Rodney out of trouble."
John's own gaze moved to the symbols she'd mentioned. If he himself hadn't been so engrossed, he'd likely have noticed Rodney's actions. Still, Rodney should have known better. But John could understand Rodney's inattention. They'd all been exhausted lately, what with the loss of Ford, and all they'd gone through on that one. He still didn't like to think about it.
"Do you think the device is something useful?" Teyla asked, bringing the discussion back to its focus.
Rodney shrugged. "Actually, I think it's a toaster."
"This is a kitchen," Teyla said. "Or... I believe it is, based on what these symbols seem to be saying."
John looked around, the purpose of some of the items in the room becoming clearer with that knowledge. Over against the wall looked to be something that may have once contained a grill of some sort. There were counters nearby, shelves, but Rodney had found the only actual device so far.
John could tell that the place hadn't been used in some time - dust covered every surface, and part of one faded wall was beginning to crumble. He wondered why it had been abandoned. Where had the people gone? Why had they left? Wraith, or something else? The very thought put him on edge. "I'm going to check outside."
John stepped out onto the empty plaza, his footfalls echoing against the walls of the buildings that surrounded him. When he stopped, a silence fell heavily, so dense it was eerie. He'd never experienced what a complete lack of animal and plant life could do to a planet, but other than his own breathing, there was literally not a sound. He inhaled. The placed smelled... odd. Hardly a scientific observation, but it just didn't smell right. Scuffing his boot against the dusty stone beneath him, he traced a small curve in the powder, sending up soft clouds of the stuff. He was probably the first living being to set foot on this place in what? A hundred years? A thousand? Remarkable, that these buildings were still standing; that there were actually still energy signatures - faint, but present - in some of the buildings, after all this time. He let his gaze move up, past the buildings, to the bright blue sky above them.
"I want to check the next room," Rodney said, coming up behind him, Teyla in tow.
John nodded, and lead the team as they went in through the next opening. As they entered, he heard the hiss and pop of old tech powering up after long rest, activated by his ATA gene or something else, and he had to smother a smile.
Lights came up around them, and the room gave an immediate impression of long disuse. Dust motes floated in the air, puffs of dust rising from where their feet disturbed the ground, equipment lying, undisturbed but for their presence, on every surface.
He could tell that Rodney was pretty excited about the tech. Any time they ran into stuff like this - lots of things with buttons, knobs, and so on - Rodney was like a puppy in a candy store. Or something. And sure enough, Rodney let out an, "Ooh, cool," as he stepped forward, eager to touch/feel/play. John held up a hand, stopping him. He did a quick visual recon of the place - nothing seemed imminently about to explode, so he set Rodney free with a, "Be careful, McKay."
As Rodney approached the nearest table, actually rubbing his hands in anticipation, John met Teyla's gaze, and she nodded. Knowing that she'd keep an eye on their enthusiastic scientist, John used his scanner to read - sort of - the text on the devices. Rodney had told him that the language used on the stuff here seemed to be an old form of Ancient. All John knew was that their computers were having some trouble with it, as the device in front of him seemed to say that it was for "The redness of that within one," which while poetic, was not particularly useful.
As Rodney began to prattle on about this device and that, John explored the space around them. This room might be a lab, or a library, or hell, could be the processing room for a museum, for all he knew. Still, Rodney seemed pleased - obviously, as his excited discourse would indicate. Even if none of this ended up being useful, it was nice to see Rodney so animated, after all they'd been through with Ford. But still, sometimes, he had to admit that he wished he could just explore some of these places in silence, rather than having to hear Rodney going on and on about six million things. Not that he didn't like the man - he did - it was just that sometimes, every once in a while, just this once, he wouldn't mind if Rodney just... well... shut up.
John looked up sharply when he heard Rodney say, "That's different." Different, in this universe, had never been good, so he stepped forward quickly, placing himself between Rodney and the thing the scientist had been looking at. The device, if that's what it was, was almost like an open shoebox with a dark, shiny interior bottom. Nothing more - actually, it was very simple in design, sleek, not at all like the rest of the stuff they'd found so far. Nothing gothic and Ancienty about it - it was far more modern looking, in its way, but certainly old.
John peered into the box, careful not to touch. The shiny surface at the bottom should have been reflective, but was not - he couldn't see his reflection in it. Some sort of screen with extreme anti-reflective coating?
John looked at the readings on his scanner, brow wrinkled. No power readings at all. Looking at the thing again, he saw something flash across screen. "Did you see that?" he asked.
Rodney had already moved on, and was fiddling with another device on the table. "See what?" Teyla simply shook her head.
John frowned and looked back at the box. "Maybe nothing."
"If it looks interesting, grab it," Rodney said, playing with yet another item on the table. "We'll take it back to Atlantis and figure it out there."
John reached out to take the device. His hand fell on it, and -
Falling. It felt like falling. Then he was gone.
Blinking against the sudden sense of vertigo, John steadied himself with a hand against the table. He looked up, and immediately went still. They were gone. Rodney, Teyla. Heart pounding in his chest, he called out, "Rodney?" Nothing. "Teyla?" Nothing. Okay. Right. Okay, maybe they went outside. Unlikely, but...
John stepped quickly back onto the plaza, and immediately, alarms started screaming around him. He turned. John didn't even have time to raise his weapon, or to wonder at the sudden sound of alarms on this long abandoned planet when he felt a sharp pain in his neck, and he was down. His last thought as he hit the floor - where the hell was his team?
John woke to find himself on floor of the room he'd just come out of. Wait, just? How long had he been...? He looked toward the doorway, noting that the sun was now lower in the sky; setting. So not "just". A couple of hours had passed.
He pushed himself to sitting, dust clouds rising around him as his head spun. Nothing wrong with him, other than a slight pain in his neck from whatever had happened and one hell of a headache. He rubbed the spot on his neck, feeling a small swelling. He could see drag marks in the dust - one man, dragging himself; he must have dragged himself inside this room, but he didn't remember... He stilled himself - no sounds. No sirens. WTF was going on here?
Standing, hand against the table for balance, he noticed that the device he'd touched was still there on the table. He called out - no answer, not that he'd expected one. Checked his weapon - still there. Scanner - still there, showing mild power readings.
He had a choice - either go back to the gate alone, leaving his team who knows what or where, or.. or try this again. John took a deep breath, then reached a tentative hand to the device.
As he fell to the ground, he thought, "Same damn thing, all over again."
Rodney reached his hand out to the device, saying something John didn't quite catch. John took a full step back, nearly stumbling. Oh, thank God, John thought, heart in his throat. Rodney and Teyla were right there. Why, how, he had no idea; not sure he cared, but they were there, and... and... He sent a panicked glance out the doorway. The sun was bright in the sky again, not setting, like... Wait. Wait. He felt... Something was... Wait.
Rodney reached his hand out to the device. Right. He couldn't... No. John pushed Rodney's hand away with a sharp, "Not that, McKay."
Rodney looked over at him, clearly confused. He said something. And all of a sudden, John realized that he had no idea what Rodney was saying.
Oh, Jesus. That thing. What had it -
Rodney said something else, words coming out a garbled mess, and John tensed. Heart beating, hands clenched in fists, headache at full roar, he tried again, "Do you understand me?" No response. He could see Teyla shift into a guarded posture, knowing something was wrong. All right; they couldn't understand him. Focus. Recon. Room the same - dusty. And there, where it lay on table, was that box-like device that started all this. "Like no time has passed at all," John murmured. And maybe it hadn't. Maybe all that, there, had been an illusion. A hallucination. Or maybe this, maybe this was the illusion. He heaved a breath, trying to gain some semblence of control.
Rodney lifted a hand, as if keeping John in place. With the other, he contacted Atlantis, his calm tone in direct contrast with the urgency that John could see in his eyes. Weir's voice came through the device, but like Rodney's, her words were unintelligible to John, although Rodney seemed to understand them just fine. Teyla nodded at Rodney, and waved John forward. All John could do was follow, hopefully back to Atlantis where they could figure all this out.
As they made to leave, Rodney reached out to grab the device. John gasped, and he shouted, diving and knocking Rodney away from the thing, the device going sliding across the table and onto the floor.
Teyla grabbed him, restraining him from behind, as Rodney looked up in alarm from where he sprawled on the floor. After a moment, John held both palms up, trying to show them that he wasn't going to resist. Teyla let him go, keeping a wary eye on him as she gave Rodney a hand up. With a concerned look at John, she waved Rodney in front of her.
Rodney gave him a look as he passed. Scared.
And John could understand that. He was scared himself, and he could only imagine what Rodney was seeing: his friend fine one moment, the next babbling what he assumed had been nonsense, unable to understand what was being said around him, suddenly attacking unprovoked. Must think he'd gone nuts.
Wasn't so sure he hadn't.
John lay back on the bed, eyes closed, listening to the blur of unintelligible conversations around him. He heard Rodney's voice, Teyla's. Probably explaining what they'd thought had happened.
He had always hated being sick. The infirmary, despite Carson's calming presence, had always been his least favorite place to be - too many bad memories. Too much pain. As Carson buzzed around him, checking this and that, he counted a litany of his times in this particular infirmary, then of how he was feeling this time: sore neck, headache blazing, and exhausted. About right for the kind of day he'd had. Worse, the device was back on the planet, and he had no way to explain what had happened, what was wrong. The likelihood of Carson being able to fix this without that device...
Carson said something, and John felt a soft hiss as the doctor injected something into his arm. If he was lucky, it'd make him sleep, make the headache fade, make him forget this, and that, and everything; the device, the Wraith, Ford...
When John woke whenever later, the headache was still there, and so, he was surprised to see, was Rodney. The man was sitting beside his bed, out of uniform, tapping away at a tablet computer. "McKay," he said, knowing that Rodney probably wouldn't understand him, but hoping this time might be different. When Rodney looked up, John mimed writing on a piece of paper. "I could use something to write on."
Looking around in vain, Rodney finally handed John his computer. John looked at its surface, the words there meaningless, the letters not letters at all - he just knew they were letters from past experience. Shrugging, he handed the thing back to Rodney, then mimed the pencil and paper again. Rodney finally stood, disappeared for a few minutes, then returned with a pad and pen.
John said, "Thanks," then tried writing on the paper, the words coming out clear to him, but when he gave it to Rodney, it was obvious they were meaningless. "Right," John said. "I'm open to ideas, McKay." When he got nothing, he added, "It's really unusual for you not to be talking. Kind of freaking me out, actually." So he started talking himself; why not? He missed hearing a voice he could actually understand. "Maybe you can help me with this. There was this box, this device. I touched it, and went... I don't know, actually. Time maybe changed; shifted. Or at least, it seemed as if it did." Seeing Rodney's look of incomprehension, he gave up. "None of that matters, anyway. It all started with that stupid device. I just need to get you to understand... Let me try something." Grabbing the pad again, he started drawing. Too exhausted to even finish, he pushed the drawing toward Rodney, tapping it with a finger as he did so. "That thing," he said as he let his eyes slide shut, hoping Rodney would understand, and too tired to go any further.
He felt Rodney's hand on his arm, briefly, then away.
"John?" Carson's voice. "Colonel Sheppard?
"Yeah" John muttered. He cracked his eyes open to reveal Carson, Teyla, and Rodney in full Technicolor glory, all hovering over his bed. "Wow. Hey," he said in surprised greeting.
"Hello, John," Teyla said, smiling.
"Woah; hey," John said, realizing he could understand.
"Nice to have you back," Carson added, raising the head of his bed, then shining a light into his eyes.
John winced. Teyla asked, "How are you feeling?"
"Wiped." He rephrased. "Tired."
"That's understandable," said Carson, who'd moved on to checking John's vital signs. "You'd been injected with something, in your neck; didn't quite agree with you."
Rodney jumped in. "It was some sort of automated defense, we're thinking. And that thing, that box, it wasn't until you drew it that I made the connection between it and the messed-up-talking-thing, and I developed this hypothesis that we thought, well, maybe it scrambled the electrics in your brain? I admit that Radek did help, and Carson, and -"
"Perhaps later, Rodney," Teyla said, interrupting. To John, she said, "We should leave and let you sleep."
"Wait," John said, grabbing the nearest arm - Teyla's. "You guys figured it out?"
"With the help of your drawing, yes," Teyla said.
John was too tired to even ask the details. He wasn't sure he realy wanted to know. "So, what do we do with that thing?"
"The device?" At John's nod, Rodney said, "I was thinking we should put it back right where we found it." He gave John a pointed look. "Goes to show, you shouldn't just go touching some of the things we find before we can -"
"I...?" John sputtered. "I shouldn't touch? You're the one I'm constantly having to restrain..."
Carson broke in. "That's enough for tonight. You can see him again tomorrow, if you'd like."
As Rodney left, John and Teyla exchanged a look. Smiling, she patted him on the leg. "I know you had wished you could understand us again, yes?" She asked. As John nodded in reply, she added, with a glance toward Rodney's retreating back, "Be careful what you wish for."
At his surprised laugh, she said, "Rest, John."
And since all was, again, right with his world; he did.