‘I have to wonder… does he know how selfish he is? Or is he just really that unaware of anything else other than himself.’ John paced the immediate area before Elizabeth’s desk.
‘John, calm down.’
‘Calm down? Do you… Have you… You have met him right? We are talking about the same person? Calm down you say?’
‘Look, he hasn’t had your training or experience.’
‘You’re godammed right he hasn’t.’
‘Hey, you are hardly the epitome of following the rules you know.’
‘Me? You’re criticising me? I’m not the one that nearly brought a planet to war!’ Sheppard’s eyes widened in disbelief.
Elizabeth raised her eyebrows and allowed her look to express everything she did not say.
John took the look in and ran a hand through his dark hair and sat down in the seat opposite hers.
‘I can be calm. See, here I am, being calm.’
‘There are a number of things you can take away from this, John. It’s not really my place to tell you how to lead. But if you think there is a problem you are going to have to address it one way or another. It comes down to team unity. If you don’t believe in him, how can you have him on your team?’
‘I wouldn’t go that far.’
‘Wouldn’t you? Tell me, do you trust he’ll always have your back?’
John opened his mouth to say of course, but it didn’t come out. Instead he sat like an idiot with his mouth open. He shut it again. His silence said plenty.
‘John, you know I support you. Over time I’ve come to accept some of your more… idiosyncratic leadership methods.’
‘Some,’ she reaffirmed. ‘But if you feel the cons outweigh the pros or that he’s evolved in a different tangent to the rest of your team, well, you need to make some harsh choices.’
‘I don’t think I could make those sorts of choices overnight.’
‘And no-one is asking you to, John. But he has taken some outrageous risks and put you and others in peril. I’d just ask you to reassess at this stage, with no nostalgia-‘ Elizabeth paused while John snorted and rolled his eyes, ‘or emotion and see if he still fits into the team.’
‘Fit isn’t really the word I would use to describe him.’
‘I would say you have some thinking to do.’
‘I try not to do too much of that off duty.’
‘Look, if you needed to vent, you’ve done that, but if there’s more to it then consider what I’ve said.’
Elizabeth could see that the self-defensive humour mechanism John frequently used had appeared now the conversation had turned to consequences. She was happy to be Sheppard’s sounding board for the occasional rant, but those events had become more frequent. His increasing frustration with Rodney was starting to become an issue. She found it confusing. Often she’d seen John’s team eating together or working together in relative harmony, or at least their screwed up version of it. Rodney did grate on you, he was an acquired taste. His intelligence was impressive, as was his ego. Perhaps it was a simple as John needing to express frustration, after all, he rarely made an official complaint. In fact when she suggested he took it further he’d do as he did today and withdraw. If there was more to it, she’d be damned if she knew what it was. She’d have to trust John’s judgement.
Sheppard left Weir’s office knowing he needed to let off some steam. A run would probably do it. He was pissed at himself. John had nearly told Weir about the argument he and McKay had a few weeks ago. Perhaps if he’d told her after it had happened it might not have been so bad, but he’d waited. He suspected McKay might tell Weir what he’d said, but John guessed he didn’t say a thing, which was most un-McKay-like. The fact McKay had said nothing made it worse really. It had either fallen on deaf ears or… or it had hurt McKay deeply. And as much as John berated McKay, he knew the guy was sensitive. At least about himself. For weeks now John had popped in to talk about McKay, to give Elizabeth the perfect chance to say, ‘Hey, John, remember that time where you said an unforgivable thing to McKay?’ etc. But thus far, nothing.
At his quarters, Sheppard changed into running gear and stepped out to do a few loops and try to burn away that growing sense of shame he was feeling. He’d tried to justify it, McKay was insufferable, he was egocentric, and he never listened, superior, arrogant. The list was long. What he couldn’t get away from was the simple fact that as his commanding officer it was his job to help McKay improve. So he had failed to support him. Even worst he’d failed to follow it up. He sprinted to hide the feeling of let-down. He stopped at the end of the pier and looked out to the calm blue waters. John winced as he remembered McKay’s blue eyes slowly widening as he spoke. A rant he recalled that had been brewing for days after being stuck on a planet listening to McKay whinge about lack of food and heat.
‘God, will you just shut up! I’m just so disappointed in you, Rodney. I keep you around, expecting you to show some spark of decency, a moment of humanity, but it never comes. You’re like the perpetual caterpillar. Fuck you eat like one. Every now and then you withdraw and I think you are going to evolve, but you don’t. You just slither back out again, unchanged. You are just a walking brain, with no redeemable features.’
Just remembering it made his face burn. He’d been glad neither Teyla nor Ronon had seen him like that. McKay had been silent after that and they’d gotten back in one piece. But now Sheppard didn’t know how to broach the subject and McKay acted like nothing had happened. Maybe he should just let it go. He knew he’d overcompensated by being extra chummy and teasing McKay. He seriously felt like a high school kid who didn’t know how to deal with his feelings, so he just teased more. Some kind of reaction would be better than nothing. Or something.
‘Oh come on!’ Rodney’s vocal disapproval rang through the ducting and Zelenka winced withdrawing his head from the opening. ‘Is it really so difficult to reinitialise and reboot the secondary phasic panel?’
McKay crawled out backwards scraping his elbow on the way out. He rubbed it and looked at it in annoyance as if it were its fault he’d hurt it.
‘Are you ok?’ Zelenka asked.
‘No. No I am not. This completely below my paygrade.’ Rodney thrust the toolkit into Zelenka’s arms. ‘I’ve finished what everyone seemingly couldn’t do. I still don’t understand why you couldn’t do it.’
‘I told you…’
‘Yes, yes, confined spaces, blah blah.’
‘No that was…’
‘Look all that matters is I’ve done my job, yours and whoever was supposed to fix that.’
‘Yes, that is what I’m trying to tell…’
‘Zelenka, I’m going to lunch before I pass out.’
‘You’ve been in there for hours.’
McKay checked the time and his eyes widened. He’d missed lunch. He felt his stomach growl urgently. He turned and started walking in the direction of the canteen with no further words wasted on Zelenka. As he walked, he wondered how the time had passed so quickly. Had it really been more difficult than expected? Perhaps, not that he’d tell Zelenka that of course.
The canteen was busy and there was a queue. Rodney reluctantly joined the queue and glanced with agitation at anyone dithering. He didn’t bother to socialise opting rather to sit by himself and concentrate on the task of eating. Literally on the first mouthful the alarms started blaring.
‘Really?’ He shovelled in three more forkfuls before he heard Weir’s voice summoning him to the gate room.
Tapping his earpiece, he replied, ‘Understood.’ He forked in one more mouthful and picked up the apple to eat on the way.
When he entered the gate room he was already halfway through the fruit and continued to eat despite the judging look he got from Sheppard. More fool him, Rodney thought, if this is a proper emergency I’ll need the calories. Everyone seemed tense. Weir was looking at the Comms officer, waiting.
‘Anything?’ Weir looked concerned.
‘There’s no IDC, no message as yet,’ said the Comms officer.
‘Well, with no other information I’m not opening the iris.’ Elizabeth crossed her arms and looked resolutely at the gate, as if it would offer answers under her authorative glare.
Rodney crunched loudly into the apple. Everyone looked at him.
‘What? I’m hungry, I skipped lunch.’
‘Unlike you to skip meals, McKay,’ said Sheppard.
‘What’s that supposed to mean?’ snapped Rodney.
‘Nothing, just an observation.’ Sheppard smirked.
‘He means you eat too much,’ Ronon explained.
‘I know what he’s implying,’ said McKay resentfully. He looked down at his torso and crossed one arm over his middle, defensively.
‘Oh, I thought you were confused.’ Ronon didn’t look at him but Rodney knew Ronon was grinning.
The gate disconnected and powered down; everyone relaxed a little. Weir turned to the computer screen.
‘So where did the gate originate?’
Rodney looked at the map of the Pegasus galaxy and quickly worked out from the coordinates where the gate approximately came from. He pointed, with the now three quarters eaten apple, in his hand.
‘Unexplored area right on the fringes of the galaxy, we have no data on that area yet.’
Weir nodded and turned to the rest of the group, ‘Teyla? Ronon?’
‘This area is not known to me, but I might be able to find out more,’ said Teyla.
Ronon squinted at the map and shook his head.
‘Well, someone’s activating that gate. I suggest we have a team ready at a moment’s notice, for at least the next twenty-four hours,’ Sheppard suggested.
‘I agree. Teyla please use your contacts to see if we can find out more.’
‘I’d go and eat if I were you, McKay,’ Sheppard’s eyes were twinkling with unsaid taunts.
‘Oh it’s fine for you to mock. But when my blood sugar is low and I faint in a crisis, you won’t be laughing then.’
‘So it won’t be you fainting because of the sight of blood,’ added Sheppard.
‘That was one time!’
Ronon laughed, ‘I thought you were used to the sight of your own blood by now.’
‘Oh ha ha.’
Teyla patted Rodney’s arm, ‘We are all very grateful for your talents.’ She nodded and glared at Sheppard.
‘Oh yeah, dunno what I’d do without your “talents”, McKay.’ Sheppard’s smirk was emphasised with the word ‘talent’.
‘Can we focus here?’ Weir did her best school teacher look. ‘Rodney, can you search the ancient database and see if there is anything on this gate?’
‘I can, yes.’ Rodney took another bite of fruit.
‘Now, McKay.’ He scurried off and Elizabeth looked at Sheppard. A silent conversation passed between them. John looked away first and he followed Ronon and Teyla out.
The gate activated and the alarms blared exactly twenty-four hours later. And the next twenty-four and the next after that. On the fourth activation, Weir called an emergency meeting to discuss the situation. It was seriously starting to concern her.
‘Ok, McKay, did you find anything in the database?’
‘Yes and no. I found references to a settlement there but that it was secretive and unapproachable. After a relative short period of time the gate was unable to make a connection and the ancients came to think the gate the other side had been either destroyed or disabled.’ Rodney’s hands were animated and flew about as he talked.
‘So we still can’t rule out the wraith then?’ Asked Weir.
‘No, I suppose not. The gate and planet were on the ‘no-fly’ list, but they were also mentioned in some of the private entries. There were a few scientists who were very curious about the power sources the people there had. They were much more efficient than the ZPMs. But they were refused all access.’ McKay’s eyes widened as he mentioned the mysterious power source. There was an immense sense of curiosity and wonder coming off Rodney in waves.
‘Well that’s certainly interesting, but that gets us not closer to why the gate is activating.’
‘Well, a number of things might be at play. An automated system, a new settlement, whatever was blocking the gate is gone. I doubt the wraith, but can’t rule it out.’
‘Well, does anyone else have any thoughts?’
‘We have to go through,’ said Sheppard.
‘No, I can’t open the iris or allow you to take that risk just yet,’ said Weir.
‘Won’t the gate being activated interfere with other gate travel?’ Teyla asked.
‘Yes, while it is active no one else will be able to dial in or out,’ replied McKay.
‘So if it continues it could be a risk?’ asked Sheppard.
‘Yes,’ said McKay.
‘Can we block it?’ asked Weir.
‘We could try.’
‘Then that’s what we will try to do for now,’ said Weir.
Sheppard looked around at the table and saw that nobody here wanted to block the gate. Rodney was intensely curious, Teyla was concerned, hell, even he wanted to go see these alternate power sources. Ronon though, chewed his lip and looked bored.
‘What are you thinking, Ronon?’ Sheppard asked.
‘I let you guys do that, you just point me where the wraith are.’
‘You sure? You got nothing to add here?’
‘Okay then, McKay, guess you best get started.’
‘Yes,’ Ronon changed his answer.
Sheppard looked at Ronon, waiting for the addendum.
‘What if it’s none of those things.’
‘What do you mean?’ asked Weir.
‘What if it’s not the wraith or a machine or a new settlement?’
‘Well, what do you think it is?’ McKay asked with added sneer.
‘Someone asking for help.’
McKay snorted, ‘And what evidence are you basing that hypothesis on?’
‘Oh, I see. Is it one of those hunches, those gut feelings that are just always so right?’
Rodney waves his hand at Weir, as if to say: see what I have to work with?
‘Why do you think it’s someone who wants help?’ Asked Teyla.
‘Dunno, just do.’
Rodney rolls his eyes and flumps back into his chair. The movement cause Sheppard to glance at McKay and not for the first time that day, John’s eyes narrow in thought.
‘Well, Ronon, I’m not dismissing your feelings but I feel like we should err on the side of caution here. I’m still thinking we should try to find a way to block it and maybe then look into who may or may not be on the other side.’ Weir looks slightly apologetic.
‘This is why I said nothing.’
‘Well, let’s see if we can block it.’ Weir dismisses everyone and all but Sheppard leave. He lingered and nodded at Ronon, mostly to let him know Sheppard supported him. Time has shown that Ronon’s gut is pretty reliable and John felt the same pull. They needed to go to that planet. As the others file out he sees Weir look out at the gate, troubled. He totally understood why she was going to say no, but hell, he had to try anyway. She turned and wore a wry smile.
Sheppard smiled back in his lazily charming way.
‘Shall we skip the schmooze and you just lay it out,’ said Weir.
‘I think we should go. I think Ronon is right. Whoever is opening that gate is making no effort to come through.’
‘I think you are right.’
Sheppard blinked at Weir, completely taken aback. Weir grinned knowing she has Sheppard on the back foot.
‘Well… er… this is a first.’
‘If we could block gate addresses we wouldn’t need a system in place to stop people coming through, would we?’
‘True…’ said John. He narrowed his eyes and wondered where Weir was going with this.
‘If the gate keeps dialling we are at some point going to have to drop the shield and go through.’
‘Right… so we aren’t doing that because?’
‘Because I want to give McKay a chance. He works well under pressure.’
John laughed, a short derisive laugh, ‘Are you sure? Cos he whines a lot too.’
‘What I mean is, he gets results. And finding a way to block the gates would be great. However, I want you to start prepping for an away mission. I’m going to see if the gate opens again, if it does I’ll send a MALP through. Based on what we see I will tell you whether to go or not.’
‘Well, that’s better than a no.’
‘Can someone please explain to me why we are going through the gate?’ Asked McKay. He didn’t really need an answer, he just needed to verbalise his terror. The MALP they’d sent through had shown an empty room with strange equipment and a low level of light. The atmosphere was breathable and there was no environmental factors like radiation to stop them from entering. Of course, disease was the first thing that came into McKay’s mind. They’d been caught out a few times and there wasn’t much they could do to stop unknown viruses and pathogens. McKay worried that they were unprepared. His protests about there being a possible advanced civilisation on the other side of the gate were listened too, but Weir seemed to selectively ignore the fact that advancement brought a whole new set of unknown terrors upon them. Plus, Rodney couldn’t help noticing that there seemed to be a lack of people in that civilisation. That didn’t exactly inspire hope, y’know.
‘I thought this was what you wanted, McKay?’ said Sheppard, in a patronising tone.
‘It was… it is,’ Mckay blinked. ‘It is,’ he said more firmly, like he was trying to convince himself too. Just trying he supposed.
‘Ok, you are clear to go,’ said Weir.
McKay walked through and felt the all too familiar pull of the wormhole. Why no-one else found that deeply and profoundly disturbing was a testament to their lack of understanding. The feeling of solid ground was always a relief of course. As usual he tried to stay back until a sweep had been performed. But, as usual, he found it difficult not to look and touch. At first he thought the room they were in was mostly made of metal, but it looked as though it might be ceramic. Odd.
‘Looks like a bay of some kind. There are doors above so I would think they used puddle jumpers of some kind too. This material is strange. It looks metal but feels like ceramic. No interface of any kind though,’ said McKay. He continued to look around.
Ronon touched the wall and raised his eyebrows in surprise.
‘This wall is warm.’ They all reached out at this point and touched the walls. McKay’s eyes widened.
‘Perhaps we should explore a little further then?’ Sheppard asked more like an invitation to a stroll rather than an investigation into alien territory. Not for the first time, McKay envied his easy charm. Ronon and Teyla moved through the archway to the side of the stargate.
The corridor was wide and expansive, much bigger than require for a human sized person. Rodney assumed this would be for the ships to move through occasionally. Here outside of the gate room the hallways were coloured in bright distinctive lines. He noticed that they moved together and apart again. It was rather breath taking.
‘Oh…’ said Teyla, ‘It is so beautiful…’ She reached out and allowed her fingers to gently brush the surface. The wall reacted to her touch and she snatched back her had in fear. The stripes of colour lightened and danced momentarily before resuming the pattern they had before.
‘McKay, what are we looking at here?’
‘I don’t know.’
Sheppard looked at Rodney, disbelieving. ‘What… nothing? You got nothing?’
McKay shrugged, unashamed.
‘I need more info. This place is different and until I get a look at their network, I’m no good to you.’
‘Shoulda bought Jackson,’ Sheppard sniped.
‘I wish you had,’ McKay retorted.
‘Well, I for one, am glad you brought me. This place is amazing, ‘said Teyla.
They made their way through the corridor and a few side rooms. There was a suspicious absence of things. The walls continued to glow and colour. Rodney started to see that ahead the walls were dull and lifeless, but as they approached they came to life. He could see the others had noticed as well. There was a massive archway ahead with much darker material in the centre of it.
‘Is that some kind of door?’ asked Ronon.
‘I think so,’ said McKay. He reached out to touch it and slowly it lit up. The entrance rippled like water, much like the stargate itself, and receded to allow them passage into the next area. It took a moment for them to move. The area in front of them was vast. It seemed to be underground, as there was no sky. A rich tapestry of viridian green spread out in front of them. There were many walkways, bridges and paths connecting a huge network of, what Rodney assumed were buildings. It looked unlike the gate room. The organic mesh of plants and the white metal were fused and the colours from the walls pulsed through it.
Other than the stunning beauty, two things struck McKay. First, it was silent, there was no machine hum or mechanical noise. Second, there were no people or animals or creatures of any kind. The only sounds he heard was Sheppard mutter ‘Holy Fuck’ under his breath. McKay noticed the others were looking at each other with amazement. It reminded Rodney of a spider’s web, many threads leading to a central area. That, he thought, is where we need to go.
‘I have never seen anything of it’s like before,’ said Teyla.
‘I think we should make our way up to there,’ Rodney pointed, ‘it seems centralised and maybe it’s some sort of hub.’
Sheppard looked toward the hub and then at the various pathways. He frowned. Rodney could tell he was assessing for safety. They didn’t look rickety or anything, just different. Sheppard stepped forward and tested strength. McKay groaned and felt his stomach flip. Whenever Sheppard did anything that put himself at peril, even remotely, Rodney always felt queasy. Sheppard looked up and grinned.
‘Well, it seems safe.’
Then Sheppard looked Rodney in the eye and jumped up and down.
‘What d’you think, McKay? Fancy giving it a go?’
McKay’s stomach churned and he had to look away. He heard a satisfied snort. Sometimes he envied the less intelligent, they really couldn’t see multitudes of ways to die. Sheppard on the other hand, of course, knew but preferred instead to taunt McKay’s real and quite frankly normal fears. So he wasn’t a sociopath like Sheppard.
‘Come, Rodney, it’s not that bad just look ahead.’ Teyla often surprised McKay with her understanding, although she had her impatient moments too. She guided Rodney to the walkway and she was right, once you were on it, it wasn’t so bad. If you didn’t think about plunging to your death. As they walked the area in front lit up.
‘It’s a bit like Atlantis in a way, the way it reacts to the gene. Although, no way of knowing if it’s that of course,’ said Rodney.
The hub area in front was much bigger than it seemed and there was another black pond like door way. This time Teyla reached forward and touched it to open. The black receded as before. Inside all the plant vines and tendrils seemed to meet at one large point in the centre of the room. Around the vines, and some of them were tree trunk thick, was some sort of work station.
‘Aha,’ Rodney’s eyes lit up and he proceeded to the area. There was some kind of screen but it was made from organic material. He reached up to touch it.
‘McKay, should you touch that?’
‘Well what would you suggest?’
‘I’ll do it.’
‘Be my guest.’ McKay stepped back from the area to allow the overcautious flyboy access. He stepped back and rested his hand against the wall. Sheppard stepped forward.
The world for Rodney changed. It was just one moment, one silly little moment.
He couldn’t have known the screen wasn’t a screen, nor that the centralised area wasn’t a workstation at all. He heard Teyla and John’s voices but they were distant and faraway. He felt himself travelling further and further away and their voices became like whispers tickling his mind. Rodney thought if he were dying this wasn’t the worst way to go, like falling asleep. Then he felt a different… tickle? A whisper. He felt it looking for him so he reached out for it. The whisper suddenly became a scream and Rodney recoiled. He could hear John briefly but then the dark whisper came back. This time it hesitated. It slowly reached out and then waited. Rodney sensed it was excited, jubilant. Relieved. It was relieved. When it did nothing else Rodney did the only thing he knew how.
McKay sensed the surprise and then the excitement again. It didn’t speak to him but rather felt a welcoming. It was a hello he supposed.
‘My name is Rodney.’
He was thinking of every film he’d ever seen where two people who have no language in common speak. He tapped himself, but realised his perception was mental, not physical, would the weird presence know what he meant? Then he felt a sense of something he couldn’t describe, it was comforting but isolated with a whole load of sorrow mixed in. The presence the moved back a little. In Rodney’s mind’s eye he could see something he had no name for, it wasn’t human or even bipedal. It was huge and every time he tried to see the whole it hurt his head. The feeling of relief washed over him again and he saw colours swirl in front of him, they formed a face of sorts. It was in flux, constantly changing whilst keeping the expression the same. The expression was open and friendly. He felt the presence pull at him, but then wait. Rodney followed. Then it moved away again, the colours swirling excitedly. Rodney followed. It flashed lots of pink and purple and smiled. So Rodney kept moving towards it. Slowly he became aware of a massive space, a void. The presence moved into it and Rodney hesitated. He was scared. His fear must have translated to the alien because it came back and sent feelings of comfort and reassurance. Still he waited, after all what was he doing here? This time the presence reached out and tugged gently: Rodney felt it’s hope and fear. What would Sheppard do, he asked himself already knowing the answer. Sheppard would smirk in the face of danger, give a one liner and he would jump. He could feel his own ball of fear rising, and as it did he felt the aliens hope depleting. Had Ronon been right? Did this thing need help? Sheppard’s words came back to him, ‘You are just a walking brain, with no redeemable features.’ Well, we’ll see about that, he thought. Rodney stepped forward and then, jumped.