Radek had left his radio tuned to the control room's frequency, and so he heard the incoming wormhole alarm before anyone even called for him. He still didn't entirely trust the transporters after the fiasco with Jinto, though taking the stairs ate up precious time. "What's happening?" he asked Campbell as he entered the balcony.
The Canadian shook his head. "Incoming wormhole, sir, but we haven't received an IDC yet. The shield is up and gate room security is in position."
Radek stared into the event horizon. There was only one group of people off world at the moment, only one group who knew the city's address, unless it had already been disclosed to the Wraith. He'd wanted to lead the recon to the Wraith base himself, but practicality dictated that he delegate at least occasionally, and that he give infantry missions to his highly-trained infantry troops. It was a show of trust in Bates to send him in command, and a test of his ability to work with Teyla as well.
It was wracking his nerves in ways he was entirely unused to, and not just because of the superior strength of the Wraith. Now they were back extraordinarily earlyif it was themand he couldn't decided if that should be taken as a good sign or a bad one.
The technician at the dialing console suddenly looked up. "Receiving an IDC. It's Lieutenant Bates."
"Lower the shield," Radek said immediately.
The gate room radios crackled to life. "Atlantis base, this is Bates. Gateship One is inbound with a medical emergency. Please respond.
"We hear you, Lieutenant," Radek said. "What's the situation?"
"Ran into hostiles on the surface, sir. Dr. Sheppard is...injured, and Corpsman Ford is requesting a surgical team in level one quarantine gear to meet us in the gateship bay."
Radek didn't miss the pause in the description, and the quarantine request set his teeth on edge. "What exactly is the problem, Lieutenant?"
"He...sir, to be perfectly honest, he's got the tick from hell sucking on his neck."
"A large insectsir, that's the reason for the quarantine, we can't get it off him, and he's in a lot of pain."
Radek rubbed his forehead. "I see. The biohazard team will meet you in the gateship bay, Lieutenant. You are not being pursued?"
"Negative, sir. No sign of those dart ships."
Thank God for small favors. "Understood. Atlantis out."
"Atlantis, this is Gateship One on final approach."
"What's taking them so long?" Weir asked quietly.
"If Doctor Sheppard is injured, Sergeant Markham must be piloting," Radek said. "He has not exactly taken to the gateships with the same facility." It was the only reason he'd permitted Sheppard on this mission, in factperhaps because of the strength of his gene, Sheppard had an almost instinctual control of the gateships, and could fly circles around even the best of the ATA-positive Marines for the time being. It was a performance gap they'd have to close, and soon, for the safety of the expedition, but for the time being Radek had to accept that their most competent pilot was a slightly mad mathematician, not a soldier.
Campbell reappeared in the control room and nodded to Weir. "Surgical team is in place, sir, and Dr. Beckett is on his way. All biohazard protocols are in effect and a security perimeter has been establishedno funky space bugs are getting out of that bay."
"Thank you, Sergeant," Radek said. He'd chosen Campbell to oversee city security precisely because of his tendency to overreact; better safe than sorry, though, especially in this galaxy, and both Bates and Miller had approved of the decision.
Before them, the alarms on the gate continued to wail. The event horizon shimmered. The entire control room seemed to hold its breath.
After a moment, Elizabeth asked, "Where are they?"
The technician checked the board in front of him. "I don't know. The gate's still active...all indications are that they should be through by now."
Elizabeth crossed back to the board and keyed the radio. "Gateship One, this is Weir, what's your status?"
A moment later, the radio connected. "Hi, Elizabeth," Rod's voice came through the speakers, high and weak. "Good to hear your voice, very good...uh, as for status, well, we're still here, but the front half of the gateship...is not, unfortunately. It's, ah, it's crossed the event horizon."
"Say again?" Weir asked.
"We...we're lodged in the gate somehow, I think it was the drive podslook, the point is, I'm in the rear compartment with Corpsman Ford, Dr. Sheppard and Teyla, but Lieutenant Bates and Sergeant Markham were in the cockpit and they've crossed into the wormhole. They're dematerialized."
"How is this possible?" Radek asked.
"We took some fireis that the right expression, taking fire?the Wraith shot at us while we were taking off. I think one or both of the engine pods was damaged and failed to retract, thus with the not fitting through the gate."
"What's Dr. Sheppard's situation?" Weir asked.
Ford's voice took over. "He's stunnedhe must've hit his head when we lodged. The parasite's still attached and there's no change in his vitals for now."
"And the entire forward section has passed beyond the event horizon?" Radek asked. "You can access no controls?"
"Not a one," Rod confirmed. "Which is going to make this a very interesting little conundrum for the next, oh, thirty-five minutes or so."
"Why only thirty-five minutes?" Elizabeth asked.
Rod's voice was eerily calm, almost causal. "Because after that, this wormhole collapses, and we're all dead."
Radek followed Elizabeth into the briefing room, feeling a bit like a fifth wheel. After taking the team's recon report (mountain-sized space ships, vicious insects, what would this galaxy give them next...?) he had very little to do; this was not the military's problem to solve, and aside from standing down the quarantine team he had no task to take his mind off the people in the gateship and the clocks ticking away around them.
"All right, you've all been briefed; we have less than half an hour," Elizabeth announced. Grodin, Simpson and Kusinagi had spread out their things on one side of the room, while Beckett loitered on the other, looking as helpless as Radek felt. "What are our options?"
"Depends on what we've got time for," Simpson muttered.
Beckett raised his hand. "I'm just the medical doctor here, so forgive me if this is a stupid questionbut if they just step through the event horizon, wouldn't they come through with the front part of the ship when the gate shuts down?"
Grodin sighed. "The stargate only transmits matter in discrete units. The front half of the ship can't rematerialize until the whole ship has passed into the event horizon. The gate's essentially waiting for the contiguous components to enter completely before it can transmit them."
"The gate only passes things in one piece," Radek translated for him. "If the wormhole shuts down with the gateship lodged inside, the forward section will simply disappearyes?"
"And the people in the rear will be exposed to hard vacuum," Grodin finished.
Everyone grimaced at that thought. Simpson, however, prodded a hard copy of some gateship schematics. "The event horizon is still within the forward section. What if they closed the bulkhead door?"
"The rear cabin would remain pressured, like a sort of lifeboat..." Elizabeth murmured.
"It'd leak atmosphere like a sieve," Grodin pointed out.
"It'd buy us some time," Simpson replied. "We could send a second ship."
Radek shook his head. "Noif the ship is severed, the rear portion will be directly in front of the gate. The unstable vortex of an incoming wormhole would blast it apart."
Everyone stared at him for a moment.
"What?" Radek asked.
"I didn't think of that," Simpson muttered.
"I didn't expect you to know that," Grodin said.
Radek shrugged. "Rod talks. Occasionally I listen."
"Make the recommendation anyway," Elizabeth said morosely. "We may yet think of something else, and where there's life, there's hope."
As Grodin followed Elizabeth into the gate room, Kusinagi spoke up. "If the problem is truly the drive pods, they must be retracted. How can that be done from the rear?"
Simpson flipped through the schematics. "The control crystals are accessible from the rear, but Rod would have to directly activate the right circuit, and finding that could take hours...and if he hits the wrong one, he might damage the ship worse."
"Like disarming a bomb if all the wires are the same color," Radek muttered.
"More or less," Simpson said.
"You've got gateships here, though," Beckett said. "Why not take one of them apart and find the right circuit?"
"There's not enough time," Simpson said, raking her hands through her hair. "Even if Rod started at one end and we started at the other, the number of crystals and the time it'll take to test all of them...it's a one in a million chance we'd find the right one before the gate shuts down. We've got better odds focusing on something else."
One in a million odds. Radek looked out the windows at the sunny weather outside, thinking of the cramped interior of the gateships, the six people on board, the racing clock. And there was nothing he himself could do but hurry up and wait, like all military men; wait for what, he did not know, which was even worse. To sit in the control room watching, with idle hands...free hands..."Doctor," he asked, " may I borrow a copy of these schematics?"
Simpson looked at him like he was growing horns. "Why?"
Radek shrugged. "One in a million is still better than nothing."
Simpson still looked skeptical, but Kusinagi passed him a memory stick. "Everything we have learned is here, Major. What do you plan to do?"
"Hurry up and wait," Radek said. Then he switched his radio over to the main military channel. "Sergeant Kavenaugh, will you meet me in the gateship bay?"
Radek glanced over his shoulder and found Elizabeth standing at the hatch of the gateship, watching him with her brows knit. "Apologies, Dr. Weir," he said. "I did not mean to disappear on you, but we all know time is short."
"Not to slow you down," she said slowly, "but what exactly are you doing?"
He slid the probe between the crystals and watched the numbers on the data pad change. "I am a combat engineer, yes? Since there is a lack of combat, I thought I would try some engineering."
"He's trying to isolate the command pathways that would retract the drive pods manually," Kavenaugh added. "By the way, sir, nothing."
Radek sighed and went to the next circuit; the plastic crate he stood on shifted alarmingly as he moved. Elizabeth looked from him to Kavenaugh with little change in her expression. "How long do you think it'll take?"
"Too long, unless we are spectacularly lucky," Radek admitted. "But it frees the scientists for more productive work, and at this point anything is worth trying." And it prevented him from going mad, which was almost as important.
Kavenaugh made another discontented noise over his computer. Radek had been steadily ignoring these, but Weir glanced at him. "Is there a problem, Sergeant?"
"No, ma'am," Kavenaugh said.
"Because we are not going to give up on those people," Elizabeth added.
Kavenaugh hesitated, then said, "Major, permission to speak freely about a superior officer?"
Radek sighed, and tried another crystal, crate warping under his weight. "Go on."
"We're wasting our time here," Kavenaugh said. "I was at the SGC for years, and I know more about stargate technology than some of the doctorates on this expedition. The gateship's not moving, the wormhole is about to collapse and there's no way to force the gate to transmit buffered matter without blowing up our DHD. We might as well accept that the recon team is a loss."
"Loss of an officer," Radek said, "two of our best scientists, one of our only corpsmen, a pilot and our best source of intelligence on the Wraith. Yes, sergeant, that is an easy loss to write off. Anything?"
"No, sir. And if McKay is poking around like this, he could overload the drive manifold," Kavenaugh continued, "and then we'll have the debris of the gateship flying through our stargate like a bomb."
Weir scowled at him. "Sergeant, that's a risk we're going to have to take in order to get them home."
"With all due respect, ma'am, it's a stupid one."
Radek dropped the probe and stepped off his crate to shift it to the side. "Sergeant, go to Dr. Simpson and ask if she has schematics for the drive manifold's power supply. That will perhaps tell us what not to touch."
"That was not a suggestion, Sergeant."
As Kavenaugh slunk out of the gateship bay, Elizabeth said, "What are the odds of an overload happening?"
"No idea," Radek confessed. "You will have to ask Dr. Simpson."
"So Kavenaugh could be right?"
"I do believe he would be so...forceful...if he were not at least occasionally correct," Radek said, rubbing his eyes; he'd misplaced his glasses somewhere. "He has been lecturingwhat is his nameHalling? On the futility of a rescue."
"If he's got such experience with stargates, though, he might be able to help the team upstairs." Elizabeth murmured.
"By all means, keep him," Radek said. "Though I would like him back in one piece and in good working order." He prodded another crystal, but the numbers on the data pad didn't change. "Ah, damn it...Dr. Weir, could you tell me what the numbers on that laptop say?"
She glanced at it. "I have no idea."
"That makes two of us."
Radek drafted Sergeant Stackhouse from the now-idle quarantine team to help with the computer workhe was incompetent, of course, but that really made two of them. Rod's helpful PowerPoint on Ancient Technology for Dummies had given Radek enough knowledge not to damage the crystals, but otherwise he had only the buggy diagnostic software Sheppard's research team had written to tell him what he was actually doing. There was something soothing about the methodical and repetitive nature of the work, though, and it was reassuring to lose a bit of himself in the intricacies of Ancient circuits, to occupy his mind and hands with something constructive, or at the very least tedious.
Not all of himself, though; he left his radio turned to the gateship's channel, just in case, though at the moment it was mainly eavesdropping on a steady stream of medical babble between Beckett and Ford. As a result, Stackhouse had to be the one to say, "Major Zelenka, sir? There's a problem in the control room. Sergeant Campbell wants to speak to you."
"Huh?" He switched his radio over to that channel. "Sergeant Campbell, I am listening."
"Sir, We've got about a dozen unhappy Athosians occupying in the gate room."
"What do you mean, occupying?"
"They say they want to do some kind of death ritual for Teyla," Campbell said skeptically. "Dr. Weir turned them down, but Tagan's pretty upset and now it looks like they're staging a sit-in in front of the gate."
There were times when Radek was quite glad he could swear in a language so few understood. Ignoring for the moment the question of where Athosians had learned passive resistance, he asked, "Have you warned them about the danger of a drive manifold overload?"
"Dr. Simpson says it's negligible, sir, and they don't seem worried.
"Are they disrupting anything?"
"Well...no, sir. But it's a security risk and a safety hazard." Faint noise began to build in the background. "Ah, sir, cancel that, they've started singing."
"And singing is disruption?" Radek asked.
"If you could just talk to them, sir..."
He sighed. The search had been futile to begin with, of course, but he'd rather hoped he'd find something, or at least be able to work until the last moment. "Tell them I am on my way," he said. Then another noise began to rise in background, drowning out the singing. "Sergeant, what is that?"
"Ah...that would be Sergeant Kavenaugh, sir, and Dr. Simpson. Discussing something. Loudly."
"Bozhe muj." He glanced over his shoulder to Stackhouse. "Put away this equipment and shut the ship down. I'm needed in the control room." He pulled the probe out of the array of crystals and tucked it back into the pad. "And be certain to let Dr. Simpson know"
"Sir," Stackhouse said, "sorry, permission to interrupt, sir, butwhat was that?"
Radek blinked. "What was what?"
"Something just did something."
Radek looked at the array he had just been examining. Slowly, he reinserted the probe exactly as it had been. "I see nothing on the pad..."
"You said when the numbers turn green, right?"
"Yes..." Just as slowly, he drew the probe out again. Nothing. But if he had bumped a crystal along the way...
"There it is again!" Stackhouse said.
Radek stared at the display on the data pad, hardly believing his own eyes for a moment. Then he remembered that it was moment they didn't have. He switched his radio over to the science channel. "Major Zelenka to control room. I think I have something..."
The sound of Sheppard screaming echoed through the gate room, rebounding with heartbreaking clarity through the Ancient speakers. The Athosians, relocated to the steps but no less discontented, covered their ears or bowed their heads, all but Taganhe continued to stare into the event horizon as if it might bring his daughter back again. Even activity in the briefing room stopped momentarily, Kusinagi poking her head out to grimace at the sound.
Radek shook the technician's shoulder. "For god's sake, take it off the overhead speakers."
The flick of a switch sent the room silent. In Radek's ear, the screaming continued.
Ford's voice was almost inaudible under the noise. "John, are youcan youDoc, the creature's squeezing tighter, and he's experiencing physical tremorsTeyla, hold himJohn, hey, John" Then there was a crash, and yelp, and a moment of heart-stopping silence.
"What's happening?" Elizabeth called out after a moment.
It took far too long for Ford to respond. "The, uh, it reacted to either the salt or the water."
"Probably a combination of both," Beckett opined from the infirmary. "Has it loosened its hold on Dr. Sheppard at all?"
"If anything, it has dug in more," Teyla said grimly.
Sheppard's hoarse voice was almost unintelligible over the radio. "Let's not try that one again, okay?"
"We won't, John, I promise."
Radek heard Rod's voice over the background noise, but the physicist must've left his headset switched off, because it was a moment before anything intelligible came over the channel. When it did, it was Rod, finally showing the strain of the preceding twenty-one minutes with a hoarse and creaky report. "Atlantis, the rear compartment is breached."
"What?" Radek asked.
"When Ford fell, I must've crossed a circuit or something," Rod said dully. "The engines fired, and we've slid further into the gate. The event horizon has breached the bulkhead doors, and now when the wormhole collapses every molecule of air is going to go rushing out of the hole"
"Let's not be too hasty about that, Rod," Weir tried to say, but Rod cut her off.
"No, Elizabeth, this is important! Even with the command pathways narrowed down, I can't retract the drive pods in the next fifteen minutes. It's impossible. I..." His voice broke for a minute. "I'd like to say something, you know, while I still can."
"Don't!" Elizabeth blurted fiercely. "You're all going to get through this."
"No, we're not, that's what I'm trying to tell you!" Rod snapped. "And I want to saywait, what was that?"
It took Radek a moment to make out what Sheppard was saying, radio distortion compounding whatever the creature was doing to his voice. "Binary search."
"Binary what?" Elizabeth asked.
"A method for locating an item in an organized sequence," Grodin quickly explained. "You divide the search range in half, determine which half the target item is in, then halve that range, and so forth."
"Yes, except these circuits aren't organized like a...a phone book!" Rod said. "They're not organized like anything!"
"Yes, they are," Sheppard insisted. "Ancients were smart, not crazy. Just have to figure out what the pattern is."
"And we don't have time"
"It is faster than testing every circuit, yes?" Radek said. "And perhaps we can help you here, working on Gateship Two. The equipment is still there, and so are all the data from my earlier tests."
"It could work," Grodin admitted. "I'll need a hand with the equipment, though..."
"Kavenaugh!" Radek looked to the control station where the sergeant had exiled himself. "You will help Dr. Grodin with the tests on Gateship Two. You will not make any further unflattering comparisons to the SGC or I will have you confined for insubordination."
"We don't have a prison here, sir," Kavenaugh said.
"Then I will build one."
Grodin cleared his throat. "Major, would you assist me as well? I may need an extra hand with certain things."
He meant Kavenaugh, of course. He probably meant Kavenaugh. It didn't stop Radek from feeling just a bit flattered. "Of course, Doctor. Sergeant, with us."
"What about Doctor Sheppard?" he heard Ford ask as they headed for the gateship bay. "He could go into respiratory paralysis if we leave that thing attached much longer."
"Thanks for sharing," Sheppard wheezed.
The last thing Radek heard before switching his headset to the military channel was Beckett saying, "I think it may be time for extreme measures, Corpsman. Where's that defibrillator?"
"Time?" Radek asked.
"Two minutes twenty," Stackhouse said. He seemed to have become fond of the computers, even if Kavenaugh was obviously not fond of him.
"Rod, try circuit two-six-four-A-C-nine," Grodin said urgently. "Major, two crystals to the left and start from the top."
"We don't have time for this," Rod said urgently. "We've only ruled out half the total options and I'm not entirely sure we haven't overlooked something...Teyla, you might want to go through the event horizon, it can't be any worse than explosive decompression."
"Careful, Rod, you will get a reputation as a cynic," Radek said. "Sergeant, anything?"
"Nothing," Kavenaugh said.
"Nothing on this end...Teyla, I'm serious, I'm going to keep trying till the end, but you should go..."
Grodin tugged on the edge of Radek's pants. "Major, try the next crystal over, sixth circuit down....all right...Rod, circuit zero-seven-K-one-Z-one-nine, try that one."
"All right...wait a minute...wait..."
"...I think we did it."
Radek dropped the probe and pad and leapt off the crate, racing out past the quarantine teams to where the bay doors would open onto the gate room. There was no sign of an inbound ship. "Rod, what is wrong?"
"We're not moving...oh no..."
Grodin stepped out behind Radek, still clutching the laptop with the schematic model. "When they collided with the gate, it absorbed all their forward momentum...the gate and ship are orbiting at the same velocity, in the same direction, it's as good as if they're both standing still."
"I thought the final approach to the orbital gates was automated?" Radek asked.
Grodin shrugged. "Yes, but with no signal from the ship's DHD, it's up to the gate to identify it as an inbound traveler, and if it's not moving..."
"Yet the gate will not transmit the cockpit until the rear is dematerialized," Radek growled. "What kind of failsafe systems are these?"
"I don't think this is the sort of accident the Ancients could've anticipated," Grodin said.
"And for that our people will pay the price in..." Radek glanced at his watch. "One minute and thirty seconds."
"Yes, Major, we know the time!"
Grodin headed back for the ship. "We have to find the command for activating the engines, he's done it once before..."
Kavenaugh piped up. "Permission to open my mouth, sir?"
"Only if you have something constructive to say, Sergeant," Radek said, following Grodin.
"Open the rear hatch."
Radek blinked at him. "Excuse me?"
Kavenaugh kicked the hatch of Gateship Two for emphasis. "If McKay opens the rear hatch, the force of the displaced atmosphere should be enough to accelerate the ship incrementally into the wormhole. That will trigger the automated approach and the gate will pull it through the rest of the way."
"That's insane," Grodin said. "They'd expose themselves to hard vacuum."
"Only for a few seconds, until the entire ship enters the wormhole," Radek said.
"They could be sucked out with the atmosphere!"
Radek turned away from Grodin. "Rod, do you hear all of this?"
"Yes, yesTeyla, I'm serious this time, get in the event horizon. The only way to open the hatch from here is a handle in the very rear of the compartment, I don't know if I can hold onTeyla, what are you doing?wait"
There was a blast of static, then silence. "Rod?" Radek asked warily.
"Thirty seconds," Stackhouse called helpfully.
Teyla's voice over the radio was grave. "Opening the rear hatch."
Radek watched Sheppard's body jump once, twice, not daring to count up how many minutes his brain had been deprived of oxygen. On the third shock the heart monitor suddenly began to pulse, a few weak and erratic beeps that slowly fell into a regular rhythm. Elizabeth and Rod both exhaled audibly. "All right, pulse is stabilizing...let's get him downstairs," Beckett called out. "Corpsman, you bring Teyla right behind us, do you hear?"
Teyla tried to push her oxygen mask aside; Tagan pushed it back into position. "I am fine," she said, or at least tried to say.
"You will do as the doctor says," Tagan said sternly, gripping her hand in his. "You should have let Dr. McKay open the hatch as he wished."
"Yes," Rod said, though there wasn't much ire in it. "I mean, you know, thank you for sparing me from the explosive decompression and all, but the blow to the head was a little extreme."
"I am stronger than you," Teyla said slowly and distinctly. "I held on."
Bates, who had been watching all this with a bewildered expression, stood up from the copilot's seat. "Major," he said, "may I ask what exactly is going on?"
"A funny thing happened on the way to Atlantis," Rod muttered, not looking at all perturbed to admit he'd been beaten up by a five-foot-tall woman. He helped Tagan steer Teyla's stretcher out of the gateship, Ford pulling from the other end, and Beckett's team carried Sheppard out after them.
"I promise, all will be made clear at the debriefing," Radek told Bates, checking his watch. "Which, under the circumstances, I think will be postponed until after supper, no?"
"I think we could all use a break," Elizabeth agreed. "Welcome home, Lieutenant, Sergeant."
Bates and Markham looked at one another, then at Radek. "Uh...well, it's good to be here..."
There was housekeeping to do after the debriefing, of course, but once it became clear that Sheppard would recover fully, nothing could quite dampen Rod's good mood, and when Rod McKay was in a good mood, he would always make certain that everyone else was, too.
"One drink," he said.
"This is a dry expedition, Doctor."
"Athosian beer is like, half proof. It's worse than American. Just one."
"I have paperwork to finish."
Rod suddenly pushed Radek's laptop shut. "Major. We almost died today. Again. I think a little affirmation of life is in order."
Radek sighed, and said, "If we are to celebrate every near-death experience in Atlantis, we will drink the Athosians dry," but he followed Rod down to the infirmary anyway. Some things were best accepted as fait accompli.
They met Teyla, Ford and Weir at Sheppard's bedside. Sheppard lay pale and quiet with a large bandage on his neck, and burns from the defribrillator visible under the deep V collar of his scrubs. The scrubs seemed to emphasize his skinny frame, and his glasses were gone, making him seem somehow frail, life-sized, even more human. Until he opened his eyes, at least, and rasped out, "Major. Coming over to the dark side, I hear?"
"Excuse me?" Radek asked.
"Science," Sheppard said ominously, and waggled his eyebrows. "This is how it starts. Soon you'll be wearing a pocket protector and sniffing erasable markers. Turn back while you still can."
Rod turned to Ford. "Are you sure he hasn't got brain damage?"
"Nothing but the hickey from hell," Ford said. "I give my patients back in the same condition I found them."
Elizabeth was smiling wider than Radek had seen in quite a while. "I think increasing cooperation between the civilian and military arms of the expedition is all for the good, myself. Major Zelenka made a vital contribution today."
"So did Sergeant Kavenaugh," Sheppard said with a little smirk. "You gonna invite him over for cookies and milk, too?"
That wiped the smile from Elizabeth's face, mostly, and her eyes flicked over to Radek for a moment. He sighed, thinking back to the argument he'd tried to break up in the briefing room. I got myself reassed from the SGC because I was tired of the civilians condescending at me, Kavenaugh had said.
Then why did you join a civilian expedition? Radek had asked.
Because I thought Colonel Sumner would keep them in line, Kavenaugh had said, and leaned over Radek, deliberately trying to rattle him. I didn't realize he'd get killed by his own XO twenty-four hours into the expedition.
You are dangerously out of line, Sergeant, Radek had said.
What are you going to do, Major? Kavenaugh had dared ask. I'm US Air Force.
And I am in command, Radek had said.
The argument was neither won nor lost; Radek didn't believe for a minute that Kavenaugh wasn't willing to challenge him again, helpful suggestions or no. Kavenaugh was almost universally unpopular in the city, but that didn't mean there weren't others thinking the same thoughts, holding their tongues only because the other commissioned officers had accepted his command. Was that enough to make him a real commander? How long until it became a problem?
"Sergeant Kavenaugh has crawled back into his little hole," he said aloud, because they were all waiting for him to say something. "With any luck, he will be able to stay there for some time."
"Well, I agree," Rod said. "About Kavenaugh, of course, but also about the increasing cooperation thing. It obviously didn't break the expedition for Major Zelenka to lend a hand to the engineering department, the corpsmen already pick up shifts under Carsonperhaps we could try putting more civilians on gate teams next?"
"I don't know," Sheppard said. "You get military and civilians cooperating, what next? The dead rising from the grave, dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria..."
Rod just rolled his eyes. "Why am I not surprised you can quote that movie?"
"We should get going, let John get some rest," Elizabeth declared.
"No, you should bring me food," Sheppard said. "I'm starving here."
"Maybe we'll get you a doggy bag from the party," Ford suggested.
There was a bit of a scrum as they passed through the doors, and Radek took the chance to grab Rod's shoulder and pull him to the back of the group. "Still lobbying for your own gate team, Doctor?"
Rod turned on the big, innocent eyes again. "Major, I was just making a general comment"
"Of course you were," Radek said. "Though I must admit, the four of you did work well today."
"We did, didn't we?" Rod said warmly. "Just like I said we would. Sheppard did the flying and occasional brilliant insight bit, Ford did the saving-Sheppard-from-himself bit, Teyla did the, uh, blunt labor, and I, uh...well. I think we did well."
Radek wasn't about to let that one slide. "You shortchange yourself, Rod."
Rod snorted and dipped his head. "Yeah, well. I just...I'm not, uh, not exactly proud of some of the things I did today. Some of my reactions."
"You were under tremendous stress," Radek pointed out.
"So was everyone. Sheppard, I mean, god, the man was dying and he was still thinking more clearly than I was."
"The man never ceases to surprise me," Radek admitted.
Rod scratched at the back of his head. "I guess what I'm saying is, there's some, some aspects of my personality I usually try to keep under tighter wraps...they have a way of making things difficult. In fact, last time I loosed that particular beast I ended up exiled in Russia, and while that managed to work out for the betterI mean, you're here, aren't you?I don't...I'm the only one today who didn't go above and beyond the call of duty, so to speak."
Was Rod looking for absolution? For what? Radek almost tried offer more excuses, but the look on Rod's face wasn't so much upset as disappointment. Of course. Lack of perfection is the functional equivalent of failure. "Rod," Radek said slowly, "I do not think anyone will remember your outburst earlier today for long. What they will remember is what you told Teyla."
"What I what? Huh?"
The stepped into a transporter, just behind the other three, and Radek was not at all ashamed to hold his breath until they stepped out again. "In the end. You told Teyla to enter the event horizon, but that you would keep trying to save her. Even at the risk of an ugly death. That is the sort of man people know you to beand the man they will remember."
"I suppose you're right..." Rod said, but he was still frowning
"Then I may still consider your request for a gate team to be on the table?" Radek asked.
That stirred him; he looked almost indignant about the question. "Of course!"
The Athosians were hosting the party, again, and despite Radek's protestations, a bowl of beer ended up in his hands anyway. Rod made a beeline for Teyla and Tagan, but Radek held him back. "One more question, Doctor, if you please."
"Of course, Major."
"What were you going to say earlier?" When Rod just blinked at him, Radek clarified, "When the bulkhead door was breached, you wanted to say something before Sheppard interrupted you. I admit I am curious."
"I, uh, well, I" Rod suddenly pasted on a smile. "I was going to say it had been a pleasure working with you all."
"Of course you were," Radek said slowly.
"I was! And it has. Excuse me, Major, I see something citrus-free and grilled in a general, ah, that-way direction..."
As Rod was swallowed by the revelers, Radek reflected that perhaps Sheppard wasn't the only one who had proven to be full of surprises.