Pairing: McKay/ Sheppard
Summary: “Rodney's been thinking about disasters lately.”
Happy Christmas to pegasusuroborus. I’m not sure if this is what you were after but I aimed for ‘plot’ and it came out like this. Hope you like it and if you don’t, well I hope you find something far nicer posted in this challenge.
Rodney sweeps his flashlight in an arc up the walls of the corridor and over the ceiling.
"Nothing, nothing, nothing,” he says. He brings it down on the other side. “And nothing.”
Further ahead Sheppard is also sweeping the ceiling with his flashlight. In some places the walls are paneled, smooth granite and marble in others. It's difficult to tell whether the design was intended to be functional or decorative. Whatever its purpose, the corridor seems to go on forever. Their instruments measure three miles so far.
"Water sports," Sheppard says, he points his flashlight at the floor, draws a line from one side of the corridor to the other.
"Sure," Rodney says, nodding. "All that ocean – you wouldn’t want to waste it." He catches up with Sheppard’s position and they move forward, bouncing light off the walls as they go.
"Scuba diving, water skiing..." Sheppard says.
"Water polo," Rodney says. "Precision, strength, balance. I bet the Ancients loved water polo. I bet they had a league."
"There’s always sailing," Sheppard says. "They probably had an annual Atlantis regatta. Big event."
Rodney tips his flashlight toward the roof again. The corridor curves to the left but the floor doesn’t slope. The previous corridor they explored sloped down until they arrived at an empty room. It was shorter than this one but just as uneventful.
Teyla and Ronon have taken the third corridor. Rodney checks their life signs on the Ancient device. They’re still shining brightly and moving steady, their corridor apparently as long and winding as John and Rodney's.
"They did seem to like snow." Rodney says. The corridor they are exploring is under forty feet of snow – much like the outpost in Antarctica; only in this case the entire planet’s surface is covered in snow. “Maybe they had a penchant for skiing.”
"What's not to like?" Sheppard says. "It's quiet, peaceful. Nobody bothers you."
Rodney brushes his fingers along the wall. There are irregular grooves in between the panels, their lack of obvious pattern suggesting function rather than decoration. Rodney concedes he may know little about Ancient aesthetics. His own decorative style consists of the prominent display of his qualifications. Hardly stylish. The walls look like they once held more than pictures.
“I appreciate a lack of distraction as much as the next person,” Rodney says. “But there’s only so much nothing one can stand.” Rodney developed a distaste for snow covered plains in Siberia. The station was populated with a small crew during the day but at night you could hear the wind blowing up a snowstorm outside. Nothing sounds lonelier than a snowstorm.
Antarctica, by comparison, was full of life but Rodney could still hear snowstorms at night, although he was never sure if they were real or imagined.
John holds his flashlight up to the wall, not far from where Rodney’s fingers are gauging the depth of the grooves between the panels. Sheppard slides his palm across the paneling, comes to rest inches below Rodney’s hand.
“I’ve never been to Siberia,” Sheppard says, like he’s reading Rodney’s mind. “I always wanted to go there.”
“It’s overrated,” Rodney says. It’s not rated at all. It’s a stupid thing to say. Sheppard’s standing too close and it makes Rodney nervous. He lowers his hand. “Do you think the Ancients did a lot of fishing? I mean, recreationally.” He starts walking down the corridor again, alternating his flashlight from wall to wall. Still nothing to see.
“Goes without saying,” John says, following close behind.
Rodney shines his flashlight straight ahead. The corridor keeps curving around. “This is ridiculous,” Rodney says. “
It’s been two weeks since Rodney blew up a solar system. He thinks he should be impressed by the magnitude of his screw-up but it's playing with his head, distracting him, making him constantly question his actions. He was once told that Major Carter blew up a sun and he was envious. He has something of a propensity toward megalomania it's true, but his belief in the extraordinariness of his abilities has been ingrained since childhood and he can't help thinking that if humans are going to fuck with the universe he should at least be there shouting advice if not manning the controls.
Irony has a profound sense of humour. When he finally does make his mark on the cosmos, he’s left thinking no one, not the Ancients, not Major Carter, and especially not him, should turn the universe into a plaything. And if that knowledge threatens to desert Rodney at any stage, there's Colonel Truth, Justice and the American Way with his look of perpetual disappointment to drive it home.
Rodney's been thinking about disasters lately. Not just the ones he's caused, although he returns to those most often, but others caused by delusions of grandeur: the Titanic, Watergate, Hiroshima, the World Bank, new formula Coke, the Star Wars prequels. He’s been comparing the size of each, weighing them up against each other, and he’s come to the conclusion that if there's a prize out there, he's not only the front runner, he sets a whole new standard of comparison.
About thirty feet in front of them the corridor comes to an abrupt end.
They stop, momentarily dumbfounded, like they actually thought they’d keep walking forever. Eventually, Rodney sweeps a flashlight across the wall blocking their way. He’s hoping for a door or a control panel, or a candelabra that opens the secret passageway a la Scooby Doo. The Ancients seemed to enjoy using secret passageways and chambers, but then they probably had maps.
"Kind of an anti-climax," Sheppard says. He shines his flashlight into the corner where the walls meet, runs his hand along the crevice.
"This can't be all there is," Rodney says. "It's too..." Annoying, frustrating, absurd. Somewhere, Rodney thinks, the Ancients are laughing their non-corporeal heads off.
"I've had cause to question the sanity of the Ancients at times, but nothing they’ve done so far suggests they were frivolous.” Rodney moves to the opposite side of the corridor, palming the wall. The paneling on the side looks the same as it has done for the last mile or so. He's not feeling optimistic.
"Except the water polo."
Rodney bangs one of the panels with the base of his flashlight. It's solid. He bangs the one next to it. "Water polo is a perfectly sensible game," Rodney says. He bangs each panel in turn, getting a dull tone in response. "Unlike football which is complete insanity - not to mention dangerous, and prone to cause brain injury. Not that you can tell, of course, because the average football place demonstrates very little..." His flashlight makes a hollow noise as it connects with a panel close to the floor. Rodney drops to his knees and bangs the panel again.
"What is it?" John is quickly on his knees next to Rodney. He knocks on the panel with his knuckles, listening. He extracts a pocketknife from his utility vest, wedges the blade into the edge of the panel. He hits the end of the knife with the base of the flashlight and the panel pops off.
The controls aren't different to anything they've seen on Atlantis - crystals and filaments in an erratic arrangement. Rodney thinks the Ancient's probably developed a pattern for their circuitry and then modified it every time they relocated. Figure out the pattern and you can hack any system on Atlantis. When that fails there's always brute force. Rodney extracts a tool from his vest and random connects the filaments, frying the circuitry.
There's a flash and they cover their eyes. The ground shakes. Rodney turns around and sees the end wall sliding open. He thinks he remembers this movie, the part where they open up the resting place of a holy relic and the revenge of the deities is wreaked upon them in the form of melting flesh.
Only the door opens smoothly and there’s nothing but a dark room with faintly glowing lights to greet them. They move forward cautiously, shining their flashlights into the room, gauging its dimensions. Once inside, the room fills with light and the ground shakes again.
"I don't like the sound of that," John says. He looks up at the ceiling.
Rodney follows his look. "We could have a structural integrity problem," he says. "It's a ten thousand year old facility under forty feet of ice. Even the Antarctic outpost had cave-ins." He looks around the corners of the room for cracks in the walls and ceiling. A creeping feeling of claustrophobia comes over him. He swallows.
"Rodney," John says. Rodney looks where John is standing next to a row of chambers along the wall. John touches a panel at the side and the chamber lights up, illuminating the body of a young man, perfectly preserved. His eyes are closed and there are wires connected to his head, chest, arms and legs.
"Wow," Rodney says.
"Yeah," John says. He looks around. "There's got to be forty of these..." He touches a panel on the chamber next to the young man. It lights up and reveals another young man who, for all appearances, is the twin of the other. They look about twenty years old.
"They're perfect," Rodney says, and he realises it's true. They're perfectly beautiful without blemish or disfigurement, their features a perfect symmetry, like china dolls.
"Are they - " John puts his hand onto the glass at eye-level to the first young man, like John’s expecting him to react. "Are they alive?"
“I don’t know,” Rodney says. He looks around for a data display. There’s a console in the centre of the room. Rodney keys in an initialising sequence and it comes alive. A data display screen drops from the ceiling and Rodney begins keying in decoding sequences. “We know the Ancients perfected a stasis chamber but you’ll notice neither of these two look ten thousand years old. Or even twenty-five for that matter.
John walks around the room, stopping at each chamber to illuminate its occupant. Every one is the same as the last. “So they’re frozen?”
“Some form of suspended animation, I expect,” Rodney says. He pulls his laptop from his backpack and connects it to the Ancient’s console. He’s installed an Ancient language translating programme in his computer. It’s rudimentary but workable. And it saves having to learn Ancient. Languages were never Rodney’s forte.
He flips through the information on his laptop just as another tremor shakes the room, this time seeming to come from all around them. Rodney’s eyes lift to the ceiling.
Teyla’s voice comes over their headsets. “Colonel Sheppard, it appears that this structure is not stable. We are abandoning our search and returning to the entrance.”
John taps his headset. “Copy that. You and Ronon get back to the ‘jumper. McKay and I will be right behind you.”
Rodney looks at John. “We can’t possibly leave. It’ll take hours to download all this information – I’ve got maybe point-five percent and that’s just the preliminary information. They have a whole library in here.” Rodney looks down at the monitor, flips through more of the information streaming onto his laptop. He doesn’t say it but his laptop isn’t going to hold more than three percent of the information on the database. Even with the compression algorithms in use, he’s already being selective.
“Those tremors are getting worse,” John says. “It would be just our luck to get here in time for an earthquake.”
“It’s not an earthquake.” Rodney blinks at the information on the screen. Reads it again.
“Oh god,” Rodney says. He wipes his hand across his brow. They’ve done it again. They should have learned by now not to rush in half-cocked when it comes to Ancient systems.
“What is it?” John is at Rodney’s shoulder.
“It’s us,” Rodney says. “We’re causing it.” He searches the database for a solution, shifting through information as fast as his minimal familiarity allows him.
“The Ancients built relatively flimsy structures but they built amazing shields. Our arrival on Atlantis drained the power to the shields and like complete idiots we’ve managed to do the same thing to this outpost.”
There’s another tremor, this time lasting a full twenty seconds. “We have to get out of here,” John says.
Rodney reads through power schematics on the database. He’s rerouted power on Atlantis before. The Ancients were innovative when it came to connecting their systems, allowing power to be shared between life support, shields, lights and machinery but also protecting each function from shortages or blowouts in the system. Bypassing the protections is easy enough, it’s just a matter of where to draw power.
Rodney looks up at the frozen faces surrounding him. Their wide-eyed, aimless stare seems accusatory, like they know what Rodney is capable of. He begins rerouting power. He tells himself it’s temporary and there should be enough residual power in the chambers to keep the occupants in suspended animation while he figures out a second option. He figures the worst that could happen is that they wake up, in which case they can all walk out of together. How bad could it be?
The walls shake and this time there’s the sound of something cracking overhead. “Rodney…” John says.
Rodney checks the schematics. The power has been rerouted. It should have worked. “Just give me one second…” He checks the readouts again.
“You don’t have one second,” John says.
There’s a thunderous crack from above and John pulls the connection from the Ancients’ console, grabs Rodney’s arm and the laptop, and in one fluid motion hurls them both at the door just as the roof comes crashing in. They land in a heap on the floor, John throwing his body over Rodney as a dust cloud of debris and snow rains on top of them.
Rodney shuts his eyes tight, waits for rumble to die down before opening them again. When he does it’s completely dark. He turns his head and realises there’s an arm across his face. “Colonel?”
John groans and rolls off Rodney. Rodney gets up on his knees, reaches into his backpack and extracts a flashlight, shining it onto the debris. The laboratory is completely caved in but the corridor looks to have remained intact.
Rodney aims the flashlight at John. “Are you okay?”
John is rubbing the back of his neck. “Rodney, when I say we need to get out now…”
“I get it,” Rodney says. “And I’m sorry, it’s just…” He suddenly remembers his laptop. He shines the flashlight on the floor. Finds the laptop a few feet away, barely scratched. He silently thanks Simpson for her instant back-up sub-routines.
Teyla’s voice comes over the headset again. “Colonel Sheppard, we’ve detected a cave-in near your position. Are you all right?”
“We’re fine,” John says. “And I don’t think we need to worry about anymore seismic activity in the area.” He looks at Rodney seeking affirmation.
Rodney nods. “I think we’ve caused as much damage as we can,” he says.
John gets to his feet. “Let’s get out of here,” he says.
Rodney follows him and they make their way back along the corridor to the entrance. Rodney turns around once more before the bend of the corridor takes the cave-in out of sight. He shines his flashlight on the debris one last time before leaving it behind him.
Reporting to Elizabeth is a lot like déjà vu all over again. Rodney admits to not thinking the situation through properly while John plays the diplomat, defending Rodney’s actions while secretly wondering just how many times Rodney’s going to barely cheat death in his mission to win the Nobel Prize. John’s a good leader and says ‘we screwed up’ rather than ‘you screwed up’ but Rodney can’t help thinking Elizabeth has learned to read between the lines.
“Is there any chance the suspension chambers survived the cave-in?” Elizabeth asks.
They’re sitting in front of Elizabeth’s desk, and Rodney feels like he’s been sent to the principal’s office. He looks at the floor. “It’s unlikely,” he says.
Elizabeth’s face falls. “We killed them?”
John and Rodney exchange looks. “It was an accident,” John says.
‘I understand,” Elizabeth says. “But the casualties from our ‘accidents’ are mounting. You say there were approximately forty chambers?”
Elizabeth counts every loss as a tragedy. The extent of the tragedy magnifies as the number increases.
Rodney feels unusually uncomfortable and wonders if he’s getting a fever. “Forty, yes,” Rodney says.
“Why forty?” Elizabeth says.
“I’m not sure,” Rodney says. “But I’ve read some of the information on the database and it would appear that the number was deemed necessary for the success of their experiment.”
“They froze them for an experiment?” Elizabeth says.
“No,” Rodney says. “Their very existence was an experiment.”
“So they were artificially created,” Elizabeth says. “Like clones?”
“I can’t be sure until Beckett has examined the data from a medical perspective,” Rodney says. “But yes, clones would be my guess.”
Elizabeth leans her chin into her hand. “Why were the Ancients creating clones?”
“Creating clones is one thing,” John says. “Putting them in suspended animation and then abandoning them is another.”
“It’s not the first time the actions of the Ancients have been questionable – to say the least.” Elizbeth rubs her chin thoughtfully. “How much data did we retrieve?”
“Two percent, maybe,” Rodney says. “Some journals and notes on the experiments. Not enough to tell us how the suspension chambers worked but we could always salvage those and take them apart.”
“Is there enough information to tell us what they were doing?” Elizabeth asks.
Not nearly enough to satisfy Rodney’s curiosity. “It will have to do,” Rodney says.
“Good,” Elizabeth says. “Let me know how it goes.”
That night, Rodney dreams of the clones. They come toward him with their hands outstretched, eyes wide, mouths fixed in perfectly straight lines. When they touch him, their fingers are icy cold. One of them puts his hand to Rodney’s forehead and Rodney feels it like a knife diving into his scull. Rodney screams, the clone screams, and Rodney wakes up in a pool of his own sweat, his entire body burning.
“You have a temperature of 100.2.” Beckett says. They’re in the infirmary. Rodney is sitting, legs dangling over the side of the hospital bed, hands resting on the edge. “There’s been a bout of twenty-four-hour flu on the Daedulus. Looks like it’s spread to base. Nothing to worry about but it begs the question, Rodney, who have you been kissing?”
Beckett is way too jovial, probably due to the success of his relationship with Lieutenant Cadman. Rodney thinks it’s plain rude for anyone getting regular sex to be so outwardly happy. It’s an affront to everyone else who’s missing out. Rodney scowls. “Just give me something for the fever,” he says. After he woke up from his dream he spent the rest of the night tossing and turning, trying to get comfortable.
“I can do that,” Beckett says. “I’m also going to advise you to get some bed rest and drink plenty of fluids for all the good it will do me.”
Beckett gives Rodney aspirin. Rodney looks at it momentarily, wonders whether to argue for something stronger. He gives up in favour of quizzing Beckett about the data from the snow planet Rodney sent him. “I was hoping you could make sense of the sections of genetic manipulation,” Rodney says. “So far the only explanation we have for the whole phenomenon reads something like Shelley’s Frankenstein. I was thinking you could do an autopsy?”
“What?” Beckett blinks. “I thought you said the bodies were buried in the cave-in?”
“They were, but in case you haven’t notice we have forty extra marines since the last Daedulus visit and those guys are really good at digging.”
Beckett scratches his chin. “I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t curious…”
“Great,” Rodney says. “I’ll arrange it with Elizabeth.”
He doesn’t wait around for Beckett’s response. In Rodney’s experience no one should be given the chance to change their mind.
Rodney tells himself he feels fine. He tells himself he doesn’t have a headache (nothing that won’t go away without an aspirin or two), his neck doesn’t hurt, he isn’t tired and his joints don’t ache. He briefly considers returning to the infirmary and talking Beckett into giving him pseudoephridine but Rodney’s already bent Beckett to his will one time today. Twice is just tempting fate.
Rodney returns to the lab. The astrophysics lab on Atlantis is always full early. Too many singular minded scientists make Atlantis a dull city. And off world missions are rationed amongst the weapons trained members of the science team, which amounts to Rodney and a handful of military trained scientists who scare the rest of the team by wearing standard issue weaponry in the labs.
Zelenka is sharing bench space with one of the new recruits just flown in on the Daedulus. They're going over the files Rodney downloaded from the snow planet. Rodney can't remember the new recruit's name or his area of expertise. He's got a feeling it's chemical engineering or nanotechnology but then it could be biochemistry for all the attention Rodney's been paying lately.
Rodney waves him out of the way and sits down next to Zelenka. Zelenka gives Rodney a 'you might not want to be so rude to people who can help you’ look but doesn't saying anything more than, "sleep well?"
"I slept fine," Rodney says. "What have you been doing for the last - " Rodney checks his watch. "Forty-five minutes and please don’t tell me you’ve been here since sunrise because I walked past the lab on my way to the infirmary and it was empty.”
“A little after sunrise, actually,” Zelenka says. “Dr Kwasi is researching the slow-release mechanism on the ZPM. He thought your data from the snow planet might contain a reference to the facility’s power supply.”
“The power supply was exhausted. Much like the power on Atlantis when we first arrived. I believe you and I wrote some fascinating reports about the incident - perhaps Dr Kwasi should start with those.” Rodney brings up the snow planet laboratory schematics on his laptop. He looks at them absently for a moment, before changing his mind and bringing up the personal journals of the scientist who created the first clones.
“I should not have to tell you that the snow planet would make a very useful comparison to the data we collected.” Zelenka pauses, looks over Rodney’s shoulder. “What are you doing?”
“It’s doubtful you’ll find anything useful.” Rodney says. “There wasn’t enough time to save everything and what I did save relates mostly to the cloning experiments and the structural design of the outpost. And if you must know, I’m reading the experiment logs. They’re very detailed, you know.”
“So you’re a geneticist now?” Zelenka says. “Surely Dr Beckett is better qualified to interpret those notes. And Dr Mellman won a Nobel Prize for her work on bioengineering…”
“And to think only last week you were telling me to embrace interdisciplinarity.” Rodney doesn’t look up from the monitor. “And if you must hover over me like that I feel it only fair to warn you that I have the flu and despite the unlikelihood that it is artificially created by the Wraith, Dr Beckett has yet to rule out the possibility.”
Zelenka leans back, shifts his position to a safe distance from Rodney. “You should be in bed. Or at least confined to quarters.”
“Am I the only one who cares that there’s a potential scientific breakthrough in these logs?” Rodney says. His voice is raised. The entire lab has turned around to stare. “The Curies worked to better understand the atom until the days their insides melted from radiation poisoning. I expect nothing less from all of you!”
He looks up from the monitor to see Zelenka’s mouth has fallen open. Rodney rubs his forehead with the heel of his hand. It’s still warm. “Could someone just – get me a coffee?” Rodney says.
Moments later, black coffee appears on the desk beside him. He doesn’t look up to see who put it there.
In four hours he’s read the entries of the first scientist and is on to the second. They appear to be related but Rodney finds it difficult to see how. There’s a generational difference between the timing of the first logs and the second, third and fourth which suggests succession, but the translation programme has settled on the imprecise term of “relative” to describe the connection and Rodney wonders if the Ancients even cared about such rudimentary concepts as mother, father, sister or brother. He remembers that not all Earth cultures follow such a simple system.
The lab is a dull buzz at the back of his head. He spends most of the day ignoring it but as the afternoon wears on it gets louder. He turns around to see who is making the noise and finds nothing more than the usual subdued conversations and keyboard activity.
“Rodney?” Zelenka is suddenly in Rodney’s face, unnaturally large and distorted.
“Yes…?” Rodney says. He feels a little dizzy.
“You don’t look so good,” Zelenka says.
Rodney’s eyes roll back into his head. “Perfect,” he says as he falls to the floor.
He is vaguely conscious as he's carried from the lab, one arm around Zelenka and the other around Kwasi. Zelenka is talking, saying something about what an idiot Rodney is and how he ought to take better care of himself. At least that's what Rodney thinks Zelenka is saying as Rodney drifts in and out of consciousness, only catching every fourth or fifth word.
Rodney smells the infirmary before he sees it. A whole Galaxy away and the infirmary smells exactly like hospitals on Earth. Rodney considers that it might be psychosomatic. Or an olfactory hallucination - he's heard of such things.
They find him a bed and seat him on the edge. Zelenka and Kwasi align him so that when he flops backward, which he does immediately, he falls along the bed rather than across. Beckett is already at his side, talking in his usual appalled tone, like he can't believe what people do to themselves.
Rodney tries to ask Beckett about olfactory hallucinations but it comes out as “old factory.”
"Crap," Beckett says. "I think he's delusional."
Rodney tries to disagree but the needle Beckett is wielding dangerously close to Rodney’s arm distracts him.
"That should do it," he hears Beckett say, and then everything goes black.
Rodney dreams. One of the clones is sitting by Rodney’s bed. They share a bowl of strawberries covered in sugar and the clone tells Rodney that he, “really doesn’t miss the snow.” The clone laughs, and the dream morphs into Rodney's parents' house, the one they lived before the divorce. Rodney is climbing up the stairs. There's no railing and the stairs just keep going up, and up, and up, into space.
Rodney gets a lecture from Beckett as soon as he’s awake to hear it. Rodney listens patiently, mostly because he can’t get a word in edgewise but also because he lacks the energy to disagree.
He acknowledges, as he feels his forehead with his palm, that he really is sick. It’s just that flu in Atlantis feels like an insult to everything the Galaxy has thrown at them so far, a reminder of Rodney’s fragility despite his survival in the face of impossible odds.
John visits Rodney in the infirmary. “You look like crap,” John says.
“Charming,” Rodney says.
Beckett joins them and informs Rodney that he is allowed to leave if he promises to return directly to his quarters without deviation.
“I’ll see he gets there safely,” John says.
Beckett agrees. “No caffeine detour,” he warns Rodney. “I’ll have one of the nurses bring you dinner.”
“Fine,” Rodney says, scowling. He looks at John. “Get me out of here.”
John looks Rodney up and down. “You want to go like that?” Rodney is wearing white hospital pyjamas and bare feet. He thought about taking a robe but he’s still got a fever and he’s feeling warm.
“Please,” Rodney says. “This is Atlantis. No one will care. The only way to make someone notice what you’re wearing around here is to carry a wraith stunner while you’re wearing it.” He walks out into the hallway. John follows close behind. “What are you doing here, anyway?” Rodney asks John.
“The ah – “ John scratches his head. The team has used Rodney’s illness as an opportunity to take some downtime. Teyla’s visiting her people on the mainland. John should be relaxing somewhere with sunshine. “The retrieval team sent a message back through the gate. They confirmed it – no survivors.”
Rodney sighs. The news is no surprise, but he was hopeful. “Are they sure?” Suspended animation doesn’t register on a life-sign detector - but John knows this, as does the retrieval team. Rodney hopes they checked. And checked again.
“The power supply was completely destroyed,” John says. “Zelenka says there was a failsafe designed to wake the clones up when the power supply cut.” He pauses, nods at a passing marine. “Which means it was probably the cave-in that killed them. “
Rodney knew this too. In fact he imagined it vividly. He still sees them when he closes his eyes at night, their mouths falling open, gasping in the shock of air, moments before the world falls down on them. If they were lucky they were killed instantaneously and not left to suffocate slowly.
“We brought them back?” Rodney says.
“They were buried pretty deep,” John says. “We only managed to retrieve six containers.”
Rodney nods. Six is probably better than he could have hoped for.
They reach Rodney’s quarters. “Thank you, Colonel,” Rodney says, overly polite. “I think I can handle myself from here.”
John shrugs. “Okay,” he says. He waves a hand and leaves, heading back in the direction they came.
The door is barely open when he hears John call out. “Wait - Rodney.” Rodney turns around and John is standing further down the hall, hands in pockets, looking unsure. “We’re good, right?” John says. “Us – I mean – we’re okay, aren’t we?”
“Why wouldn’t we be?” Rodney says, only he says it to fast. It sounds forced.
“I don’t know.” John scratches the back of his neck. “What happened back there – it was kind of profound. I wouldn’t blame you if you were a little affected.”
“Profound,” Rodney repeats. “Colonel, what happened on that planet was a tragedy. I’m trying to forget I had a part in it.” He turns around again, goes into his quarters and shuts the door behind him. He half expects a knock but it never comes. He falls onto the bed, face forward.
The sleep lasts an hour. In Rodney’s contemplation it’s not a bad effort. He doesn’t sleep much. He sleeps even less during the day when there is work to be done. He blames it on the flu, which is still making his head feel twice as large and three times as heavy.
Trying to understand the Ancients and their purpose is a mania, and ninety percent of the base are afflicted, some worse than others. Rodney falls into the latter category. Rodney wants to know. He wants to figure everything out from his mother's vacuum cleaner to dark matter and wormholes. In Rodney's experience, truth is found in science, not philosophy and the only thing that ever occurred to him whilst staring at his navel was that he had ghostly pale skin down there.
He catches sight of himself in the mirror. He sees a lot more sun in the Pegasus Galaxy than he ever did on Earth. There's a lack of colour in his cheeks but he's still faintly tanned. He's does a lot of fieldwork for an astrophysicist. How many of his kind can say that?
He remembers the unnatural pallor of the clones on the snow planet. Like Sleeping Beauty they had an ethereal appeal, too beautiful for the real world. Rodney wonder’s if that's why the Ancients kept them in suspension: some kind of macabre art exhibition. They’ve yet to discover whether the Ancients had musical or theatrical leanings. The anthropologists have been driving themselves crazy trying to figure out what the Ancients did for fun.
For once, Rodney knows what it's like to be an anthropologist because it's impossible to look at such beautiful creatures and not demand a reason for their existence; something more than experimentation for the sake of it, something meaningful.
He sits at his desk, pulls up the journals of the second scientist and starts reading.
So far the authors of the journals are somewhat prosaic, an unfortunate result of the translation programme. It isn't designed to reveal nuance.
Still, there's something a little too matter of fact about the way the scientists describe the creation process. Rodney's dubbed them Frankenstein I, II, III and IV for ease of reference. Frankenstein I has thousands and thousands of words on the isolation of genes and whether certain characteristics are attributable to environment or genetic make-up. Frankenstein II writes at least ten thousand words on Frankenstein I's work and where exactly Frankenstein I went wrong.
Even with his passing knowledge of genetics and DNA, Rodney understands little of the Frankensteins’ work. He suspects even Dr Beckett would have difficulty following their line of reason. The translation programme has trouble finding suitable equivalencies and in some cases leaves a blank where the text makes a technical reference.
The work is, however, still revealing. Rodney notes the way Frankenstein II speaks constantly of the flaws in his specimens - how each has faults which range from the wrong hair colour to dissymmetry in the facial features.
Very little is revealed about the Frankensteins themselves. Not their names, age or gender. Rodney wonders if that's a problem with the translation programme and makes a mental note to ask Elizabeth about it some time.
Five hours later and he's on to Frankenstein III. At one am he decides it’s time to go in search of coffee.
Rodney gets dressed and steps out into the hallway. It's quiet. Not even the sound of the night watch going about their nightly patrols to mar the silence. He goes barefoot, vaguely aware that his lack of footwear adds to the ‘sneak’ image of himself in his head. Irrespective of how ridiculous he feels, he pads the halls quietly, hoping not to be discovered.
He finds coffee in the cafeteria. Reasonably fresh smelling, probably brewed recently for the night shift. He pours a cup and is almost out in the hallway again when he encounters Elizabeth.
"Rodney?" she says. She looks around like she’s expecting someone else.
She's dressed, usual style and has probably been awake longer than Rodney.
"I needed coffee," Rodney says, holding up his cup. "I'm an addict. I get cravings at night."
Elizabeth looks skeptical. "And you still manage to sleep?"
"I've developed a tolerance to the stimulant effect," he says.
“Really,” Elizabeth says, clearly unconvinced. "Are you feeling any better?"
Rodney shrugs. "Sure." His head aches and his necks feels stiff and sore. He once again regrets not asking Beckett for something stronger than aspirin. "I'll probably be back at work tomorrow." He smiles. It makes his face hurt.
"No rush," Elizabeth says. It sounds like an order rather than a suggestion. "You could all use a break."
"I'm fine - really." He's about to walk away when the sudden movement causes his head to swim. He teeters a little and the coffee slops onto his hand and on the floor. "Crap," he says.
"Rodney," Elizabeth says. She shakes her head, puts her hand in her pocket and pulls out a Kleenex, handing it to Rodney. "I appreciate your dedication - I really do - but need I remind you what happened last time you were a little too dedicated?"
Like he could possibly forget. "Your concern is touching - and possibly warranted given recent events - but I'm fine. There's really nothing to worry about. I'm going back to my quarters to get some sleep." He raises his mug. "And - ah - some coffee."
Elizabeth puts a hand on his arm. "Just - try not to blow anything up. I don't want us to be the scourge of the Pegasus Galaxy - well, no more than we are already." She smiles weakly.
Rodney nods. He starts back to his quarters. "’Night," he says.
“Good night, Rodney," she says.
Back in his quarters he settles back into the chair at his desk to read the enthralling exploits of Frankenstein III. He keeps reading until his eyes droop and he finds himself inches away from resting his head on the keyboard. He crawls into his bed just as the sun is coming up over Atlantis. His fever is still raging, still making his neck ache and his forehead bead with sweat. He finds the sheets cool against his skin and the mattress feels welcoming, like it's about to swallow him whole.
He stares at the ceiling for a while, tries to process the information he's been reading. And then he's dreaming again. This time it's store dummies, hairless and naked. They're in the way as he tries to walk through them. He pushes them to the side and the fall silently, like they never hit the ground.
And then he’s lecturing to a room full of clones. He feels someone beside him touch his elbow, and it’s John, looking the same way he always does, completely out of place in this setting. John says, “Slow down. They’re not going anywhere.”
Rodney wakes up to the sound of his radio calling him. “Doctor McKay, this is Dr Beckett. If you’re feeling better you can meet me in the infirmary.”
Rodney grabs the headset from his dresser and tells Dr Beckett he’ll be on his way.
Rodney remembers that he always spoke too fast in lectures. The students complained but it was always difficult getting the words to keep up with his mind.
On to part 2