“Zim to Doctor McKay.”
“McKay here. Found the problem yet?”
“Afraid I have. Unfortunately…” Alarms began to blare as the tower locked down, trapping the unsurprised scientist inside. Alone.
“What the hell is that?!” McKay barked. “Zim! Why’re the lockdown protocols going into effect in your sector?!”
“It’s what I was trying to tell you. If I get out of this alive, I’m killing the botanists. Slowly. Actually, exposing them to vacuum is sounding really good right now.”
“How about less with the murder and more with the explanations?”
“Right. Found primordial stew in the clogged pipe, boss, alongside a few broken test tubes with the botany department seal on them. You know, I think this thing might’ve become sentient.” She eyed the gelatinous mass warily, wondering if bullets would have any effect other than spreading the gunk around even more.
“Jesus, that’s the last thing we need – intelligent slime,” McKay grit out. “Now, where’s your team?”
She winced as her team’s comm. signal activated, and tapped her earpiece to close the secondary connection. “They’re locked out of the tower. Didn’t want them to get caught up in this, so I had them fall back to the tower’s base to set up a perimeter. You’ll want to have a med team in haz-mat gear check them out for exposure.”
“Yes, yes, I’m aware of the protocols, since I helped write them,” McKay growled. “What I want to know is what the hell you think you’re doing in there alone.”
“Had to make sure the toxins were contained,” she explained calmly. “And I didn’t have a lot of time to explain to the others. The less exposure the better, and you know how teammates can get all protective and stubborn about leaving you behind.”
McKay’s snort spoke volumes.
“Not only that, but I needed them out of the way when I hooked the sensors back up in this area.” She automatically lowered her voice, even though there was no one else around to hear. “Boss, we’ve got a more serious problem than primordial goo.”
“I really didn’t want to hear that,” McKay sounded grim. “You’re telling me this was sabotage.”
“Yeah.” Zim felt a hollow pit in her stomach. “The sensors for this area were deliberately shut down, by someone who knew what they were doing. Whatever this thing is, I don’t think it was supposed to’ve been found yet.” She tried to breathe shallowly, but the fumes coming from the open panel on the far side of the room were already making her dizzy. And there were no windows to open. Not that she’d do that and risk spreading whatever it was.
“All right. Medical’s on the way to triage your team. How’re you feeling?”
“Not so hot. Fumes from this stuff are pretty fierce, and I’m as far away from them as I can be. Doesn’t matter, though, since I shut down air circulation on this floor.” She slid down the wall and rested her aching head on her knees.
“Don’t worry, we’ll get you out of there soon,” McKay tried to soothe. But the uneven little hitch in his voice belied his words. Zim knew the odds were almost nonexistent that she’d escape the room alive.
“Thanks for the lie, boss,” she smiled. “Just hope I was able to contain this before anyone else’s affected.” She snagged her laptop and accessed the environmental controls. “I’ve blocked access to the tower and its controls to everyone but you. Password’s yirgacheffe.”
“You still owe me a pound from last week’s chess game.”
Zim grinned. “I ordered some specially for you. It’s coming on the next Daedalus shipment.”
“You’ll deliver it to me personally, Doctor, or I’ll make sure your next review mentions your sloppy soldering skills.”
She chuckled weakly, which turned into a coughing fit. “Crap. Swear this’s getting stronger.”
“We’re monitoring air quality on your level,” he replied quietly. “Since you shut down the vents, you’re not getting any fresh air, either. Oxygen levels are decreasing. I hope you’re sitting down and moving as little as possible.”
“One step …ahead of you, there. But that’s… only delaying… the inevitable.”
“Shut up and stop sounding like me,” McKay shot back irritably. “Only I get to be the doomsayer around here.”
“And don’t sass me, either.”
“Wouldn’t dream… of it, boss,” she replied with a wry twist to her lips. “Has the… med team reached… my guys yet? Are… they okay?”
“Keller’s working on them now. Looks like they got minimal exposure.” He paused for a few moments before continuing. “Colonel Sheppard and one of the botanists are coming in to get a sample. They’ll also evac you down the hall to a medic and get you checked out, all right?"
“Sounds good. Think I’m… getting a little… claustrophobic in here.” Her eyes darted around the room, taking in the innocuous-looking access panel to the section of clogged sewage pipe that she’d originally been sent to fix. “Of all the things to find… stuck in the drain; just had to be from… homicidal chemist’s… wet dream.” The burning in her throat increased, causing her gut to cramp painfully as another coughing fit took over. Zim felt herself tilting over until she was lying on her side, curled up into fetal position on the floor.
Dimly, she thought she heard someone calling to her over the loud buzzing in her ears.
“They’re almost in, just hang in there,” the voice pleaded.
Her eyes were starting to play tricks on her; she could swear that there were colored lights streaming all around the room. Quite pretty, actually. She absently wondered where they were coming from, and if she’d be able to touch them.
The doors to the room reluctantly inched open, as if they were being forced manually. Zim just lay where she was, too tired to get up and see who was there.
Two red-suited people came into the room, the lights on their helmets garishly lighting up their grim faces. Zim smiled and weakly waved a hand at them.
“Hiya! Do you… come in peace?” she whispered. “I’d take you… to m’leader, ‘cept he’s a bit… grouchy… coffee… placates him, though.” The giggle turned into more coughing, and she was surprised to see red on her hand. “Ooo, that can’t… be good.”
One of the suits knelt down and rested a hand on her shoulder. “Don’t worry, doc. We’re getting you out of here right now. Can you walk?”
She blinked up at concerned hazel-green eyes. “Um. No?” she replied. She rolled her head a little, and realized that she’d forgotten about the rest of her body. “Wow, ‘ve got legs.”
A sharp, worried voice echoed in her ringing ears. “For god’s sake, Sheppard, get her the hell out of there before those fumes kill any more of her brain cells. She’s one of the few competent engineers I’ve got.”
Zim giggled some more. “I like you… too, boss. Damn gorgeous… eyes.”
Oh, and speaking of eyes, hers were really, really burning. So she let them close.
The world spun crazily for a moment before she was lifted upright, which made her seriously nauseous. “C’mon Zim, stay with me here,” Sheppard pleaded.
“’m not sleepin’,” Zim murmured. “Eyes burn. Yours sexy, too.”
“Thanks, I think,” he replied wryly, and then the swaying started again, only this time going from side to side. “We’re on our way out now.”
“About damned time,” McKay snarked. “Tolson, did you get the sample?”
The other suited figure stomped along behind Zim and Sheppard. “Yes, and Zim was right – this is nasty,” came the muffled response. “The entire tube is blocked, and whatever this is, it’s growing.”
“We’ll figure it out later. Right now I’m worried about containment and keeping everyone alive.”
“Wait,” Zim grunted, weakly beginning to struggle in Sheppard’s arms. “Laptop.”
His grip on her tightened. “Don’t worry, I’ve got it,” he reassured her. “I’ll hand it over to your people as soon as you’re taken care of, okay?”
She tried to open her eyes, but they were now burning too fiercely. She felt wetness on her face, and couldn’t tell if it was blood or tears. “No. McKay… only,” she protested weakly, and would’ve said more if the words hadn’t caught in her raw throat, causing another violent coughing fit.
The world grayed out as she felt her throat swelling shut, and she fell into a long, black tunnel with the voices of Sheppard and McKay vainly chasing after her.
Consciousness returned quite slowly. It was a lot like those fade-in segues on TV shows and movies, except slowed down to an inchworm’s crawl. Sensation was the first to make a comeback, followed by smell and then hearing.
Comfy, firm bed with crisp sheets barely keeping her warm: check. All sorts of wires and tubes over, in, and through her body: check. The quiet clicking of someone typing rapidly on a keyboard.
There were voices now, too.
“She gonna be okay, doc?” Sheppard’s distinctive drawl spoke quietly somewhere past her feet.
“So far she’s remained stable, and I think we’ll be able to take her off the ventilator later today,” Dr. Keller responded just as softly.
“You need to spend less time around my scientists, Colonel,” McKay wearily bitched off to Zim’s right. “They’re starting to take on your depressingly heroic tendencies.”
“Hey,” Sheppard protested. “You’re the one she’s got a crush on. And you heard her; she knew what she was doing the whole time.”
McKay spluttered for a moment, which seemed to give Dr. Keller a chance to interject, “Dr. Zim will be spending at least a week or two in the infirmary, since I don’t feel comfortable moving her for a trip back to Earth. You’re cleared to visit, but I expect you two to be quiet and not disturb her, all right? She needs her rest.”
The two men remained silent for a moment, and Zim wondered if they were sharing the same recalcitrant look.
“Good,” Keller continued. “I’m off to check on my other patients. You’ve got ten more minutes, gentlemen, and then I expect you to escort Dr. McKay to his quarters for a good night’s sleep, Colonel.” She spoke over McKay’s demurring, “You’ve been heading the investigation and clean up of that toxic mess for three days straight, Rodney. I refuse to give you any stimulants, and you’re plainly exhausted. I’m removing you from duty for two days…"
“For TWO DAYS,” she again spoke firmly over McKay’s protesting. “And I expect you to sleep for a good part of those two days. Well, other than for eating and, well… you know,” she finished a little sheepishly. But then the steel came right back into her voice. “And since Colonel Sheppard has had the wisdom to sleep when he needed it, I’m trusting him to make sure you get your rest, too.”
“I don’t need a babysitter,” McKay grit out mulishly.
“Obviously you do, Rodney, since you’re about ready to drop,” Sheppard interjected. “C’mon, listen to the nice doctor or she’ll do something you really wouldn’t like.”
“Like confine you to quarters,” Keller replied. “Or even better, confine you to the infirmary in a nice comfy bed, sedate you, and stick you with an IV so I’m sure your blood sugar levels stay in the black.”
“I’ll make sure he gets some sleep, doc,” Sheppard reassured the physician, and Zim heard Keller’s footsteps fade away into another part of the infirmary.
“Look, Rodney, you’re worn out, and there’s nothing you can do right now for Zim,” the colonel continued softly. “She’s got the best people taking care of her, and as long as you follow Keller’s orders, you’ll be able to check in on Zim whenever you want.”
“She really is one of my best engineers,” McKay replied, sounding defeated. “I can’t afford to lose her. She even calls me ‘Boss’. You know how hard it is to get any respect from the Minions?”
“I know, buddy. C’mon, let’s get you to bed. I’ll even give you a backrub.”
McKay sighed heavily as the two men began to walk away. “I’m not in any shape for that.”
“Sometimes a backrub’s just a backrub, Rodney,” Sheppard sounded fond.
They continued talking softly as they left the infirmary, and Zim thought to herself, ‘Ha, I so knew it,’ right before she fell back into the soft cotton of the Good Drugs.
The next time Zim woke, it was to the sound of a keyboard clattering. Again.
She fought to pry her gummy eyelids open, and was greeted with the sight of Radek Zelenka’s unruly hair on her right side. He was sitting in a chair, working on his laptop, only the top of his head visible to the groggy woman.
She tried to say “Hey,” but instead it came out as a weird rasp that caught in her raw throat. Which caused a violent coughing fit that startled Dr. Zelenka nearly out of his seat.
Zim curled up around her aching abdomen as she tried to ride out the coughing jag, but her vision grew black around the edges as the roaring in her ears all but drowned out the sounds of people rushing to her bedside. Hands gently grasped her shoulders and eased her back to the bed, while others straightened out the various tubing that’d gotten snarled, and someone refit an oxygen mask over her face that had gotten knocked askew with her coughing fit.
It felt like too long when she was finally able to draw in a shaky breath without trying to hack up a lung, and she felt all the taut, tense muscles in her body slowly unclenching.
“There now. Better?” Zim recognized Dr. Keller’s soft voice on her left, and she opened aching eyes as she nodded. The cool oxygen hissing through the mask was damp, and she realized that the doctor must’ve had it hooked up to some sort of humidification. The moisture felt wonderful on her raw throat.
“I’d give you an ice chip, but your throat’s just not ready for that yet,” Keller winced in sympathy. “Those fumes really did a number on your throat and lungs, and I’ll be keeping you on the humidified oxygen for a few more days,” she explained. “It’s not just water though; I’ve got medicine in there that should help speed up healing. How are you feeling otherwise? Thumb up or thumb down, please,” she raised a hand, warning Zim against speaking.
Zim stuck out a thumb like she was hitchhiking, and waggled it up and down.
“Okay. Of course you know you’re in the infirmary,” Keller smiled, and nodded to someone out of Zim’s line of sight. “You’ve been here a few days, and things were pretty tricky going there for a while. It looks like you’ll make a full recovery, though it’s going to take some time. I’d recommend that you try not to talk for the next few days as well, to give your throat and lungs a better chance to heal, okay?”
Zim scrunched her eyebrows together, hoping she was showing just how frustrating that “suggestion” would be.
“Here, I have brought you laptop,” Dr. Zelenka commented, and Zim slowly rolled her head to see him standing back on her right side. She smiled; she held a lot of admiration for the Science Division’s second-in-command. He was one of a very small group of people who could not only tolerate Dr. McKay’s at-times deplorable behavior and attitude, but the Czech scientist also counted the Canadian as his friend. “It is loaded with speaking software. Just open window in this program, and it will vocalize for you.”
Zim smiled brightly at him and accepted the laptop. She felt incredibly weak, but she was determined to find out about…
How is my team? she typed. Are they all right?
Zelenka nodded and pushed his glasses further up his nose. “They only had minimal exposure. Though Lieutenant Jenkins wants a few words with you on reckless behavior.” He glowered at Zim, clearly wanting to give her his thoughts on how she’d handled the whole situation.
She huffed a little, not enough to set off the vicious tickle in her throat, and typed some more. Did you find out who set that lovely experiment off?
“Yes,” Zelenka nodded grimly. “You were right; it was one of the botanists. She refuses to tell us why, or if she was working with anyone else. We sent her through Gate back to Earth this morning.”
The poisons are contained? she asked, and Zelenka nodded.
“Yes, and when you’re feeling better, Dr. McKay will speak with you about your quick thinking. As well as stupid heroics.”
Not stupid, she protested. Necessary risk in this galaxy. You’d have done the same. As would the boss.
“Hm, but you…” Zelenka cut himself off and shook his head. “This can wait until you are feeling better, ne´? Yes, yes, you rest and we will speak tomorrow.” He turned and gathered his things, turned yet again and awkwardly patted Zim’s hand resting on the covers. “I am glad you will be okay. We have few enough competent engineers here. I would hate to lose my best one.” And with that, Zelenka left the infirmary.
Zim rolled her head toward Keller at the doctor’s soft chuckle. “He was quite worried about you,” Keller commented. “We all were.”
Wasn’t exactly thrilled with the circumstances myself, doctor, Zim typed with a wry grin. I wonder, would this earn me an early vacation?
“Absolutely. Doctor’s orders,” Keller grinned back. “Now, rest and I’ll check on you in an hour.” She rested a soothing hand on Zim’s shoulder and squeezed before heading to the other side of the infirmary.
Zim set the laptop to sleep and leaned her head back into the soft pillow, following the computer into somnolescence.
~ Fin ~