"You should take the lead." Static on the radio made Sheppard's voice gravely.
"Me?" Rodney asked. Sheppard was the better pilot. Rodney didn't have any delusions about that.
"I'll keep those fighters off your ass."
There wasn't any way Rodney could keep the fighters off of Sheppard's ass, he knew that. He just hoped he was good enough to get the torpedoes into a two meter wide hole.
If only he'd shot womp rats from his T-sixteen back home.
As soon as they stepped through the gate, Elizabeth began looking around. Travel to another planet was still rare enough to be novel, at least for her. Beside her Dr. Peate was looking around as well. She fell into step beside Teyla, Dr. Peate and Radek following.
"The outpost is not far from the gate, about a twenty minute walk," Teyla said.
Elizabeth nodded. She was anxious to get there. Having two members of her expedition team unconscious and surrounded by a strange force field was bad enough, having those two members be her chief military officer and chief scientist made the situation that much more urgent.
"Just head straight for the target," Sheppard said. "Don't think about anything else."
An explosion from one of the turret guns on the side of the trench rocked Rodney's fighter. Straight and fast, ignore everything else. Rodney tightened his hands on the controls. He could do that.
With his eye on the targeting computer, Rodney floored it, metaphorically speaking.
The first room they entered had high pale tan walls that reminded Elizabeth of the entrance to a concert hall, except she'd never been in a concert hall as bland as this. But the feeling of expectation was the same. It was an odd feeling, mixed in with concern for John and Rodney, and the tiniest bit of trepidation.
Teyla led the way down a small ramp and off to the left into a room lined with screens of varying sizes and what appeared to be controls. John and Rodney were lying on the floor about ten feet apart, not moving.
Ronon was squatting between them, and he stood as they entered.
Dr. Peate went immediately to Colonel Sheppard, squatting down to feel his pulse. The pale pink light surrounding him shimmered as she reached through it. "Have there been any changes since they fell unconscious?" she asked.
Ronon shook his head.
"Teyla, would show me where Rodney was working when this happened?" Radek asked.
Trust the Force.
Rodney looked around him. He was alone in the cockpit.
"No," Rodney said. Why would he trust the Force when he had a perfectly reliable targeting computer? The lines on the targeting computer came together and Rodney waited another second before pushing the button on the x-wing's joystick releasing the torpedoes.
Dr. Peate stood from where she was examining Rodney. "Their respiration and heart rates are fine. But they are not responding to outside stimulation. It's as though they don't feel it."
"Like a coma?" Elizabeth asked.
"Not precisely but close."
"Can you tell if they're being harmed in any way?"
The doctor shook her head. "Not for certain, if they were in pain their heart rates and breathing should be accelerated, which they aren't. But with alien technology..." She lifted her shoulders in a small shrug. "I'd like to attach them to the portable EEG, but I'm concerned how it might interact with the energy field."
Resting a hand on her forearm, Elizabeth said, "Keep an eye on them for now. If things change and you feel the EEG is necessary then we'll try it."
"Dr. Weir," Radek said and Elizabeth went to stand beside him. "Can you read this?"
Eyes moving across the words on the screen, Elizabeth shook her head. "No."
"Teyla says this looks like the screen Rodney was looking at when the light came out of the wall."
"Where did it come from?"
"Over here," Teyla said, from about two feet away. "It shot out in a thin line, connected with Dr. McKay and then Colonel Sheppard. They both dropped to the ground, and the line vanished, leaving behind the light surrounding them."
Elizabeth looked back at Radek. "There is a mechanism embedded in the wall. I have only had time for a cursory examination."
"Well then, I guess we should both get to work."
Rodney turned to see John striding toward him from across the hangar. "Colonel," he yelled back and John broke into a run. Rodney started toward him.
"Knew you'd make it," he said, hugging John tightly, even though he hadn't known and the fear of John not making it had been a knot in his stomach the entire fight.
John loosened his hold and Rodney leaned back a little his hands still on John's sides. "Did you see that? I took out the Death Star."
"I saw." John's smile was so wide Rodney thought he might stretch his face. "Although you didn’t do it alone, you know."
"Well, you did do a nice job of keeping those fighters off my ass."
"Nice job blowing up the Death Star," John said, still smiling.
"I blew up the Death Star." It bore repeating.
John laughed and with an arm around Rodney's shoulders guided him out of the hangar.
"Are you making any progress?" Teyla asked, handing Elizabeth a canteen.
Elizabeth took a long drink. She hadn't realized she was thirsty until Teyla had offered her a drink. "No. It's gibberish. At least it feels like gibberish." Elizabeth rubbed her eyes with one hand. "The words look like Ancient when you glance at them, but as soon as focus you realize none of the usual letter patterns are there."
"I am sure you will figure it out," Teyla said. "Perhaps I should investigate the rest of the outpost."
"You are all needed here."
"What about Ronon?"
"Major Lorne would not approve of us leaving you unprotected. He would be right."
Elizabeth considered the situation, trying to evaluate the possible benefits of what might be found with further exploration against the possible benefits of translating the information on the screen in front of her. Unfortunately, her chances of starting, let alone finishing, the translation in a timely manner seemed slim. "I'll go with you. I'm not making any progress here, and we might find another source of information."
Rodney stood in the middle of the temple waiting for the ceremony to begin. Tugging at his collar--did they have to wear so many clothes in the jungle--Rodney began to wonder what the hell they were doing. Last time he'd checked the Death Star had been fictional. He glanced at Sheppard, standing beside him all tall and heroic. He looked really good in Han Solo's clothes.
Which made Rodney Luke.
Princess Leia nodded at them from the far side of the temple and they started walking.
She was investigating an alien outpost. That one thought kept circulating through her mind as she followed Teyla down broad hallways, peeking into empty rooms, searching for something that might help.
There were moments when everything seemed very human, but the scale wasn't quite right, like everything was out of proportion. Walls too high and tables too low.
It was, as John would say, cool.
"Does this seem a little weird to you?" Rodney asked, tugging on John's sleeve and pulling him to the side. He was pretty sure everyone present had slapped them on the back at least once. Rodney wouldn't be surprised if he was starting to bruise.
"Well, you did blow up the Death Star, that's pretty weird."
Rodney glared at him.
"So," John said, nudging Rodney's arm with his elbow, "Leia looks pretty good, don’t you think?"
Rodney's glare intensified.
"Meesa want to say thank you for blowing up Darth Vader."
Rodney turned to find himself looking at a tall floppy-eared alien. It slapped him on the back. "Thank you."
Rodney's eyes met John's. "Maybe it's a little weird," John conceded with a shrug.
It was a good thing that exploring an alien outpost was so exciting, and that she had a good reason to focus on the exploration. Otherwise, she might have noticed things she wasn't supposed to.
Like the fit of Teyla's pants as she walked ahead, every movement from the shift of her curved shoulders to her easy strides full of grace. She was beautiful.
And members of Elizabeth's expedition team were lying on the floor unconscious.
"Jar-Jar," Rodney said, closing the door behind them. "Jar-Jar wasn't in Star Wars."
"Neither were we," John pointed out.
Rodney ignored him. "There has to be an explanation. Why are we here? How did we get here?"
"Virtual reality," John said, sitting on the edge of Rodney's bed, "like the Aurora."
"Obviously, but why Star Wars?"
"It's something we both remember."
"There are a lot of things we both remember," Rodney said.
"But they're recent," John said.
It was a valid point. "Maybe it's some form of psychological testing." It would explain why a childhood memory had been chosen.
"Maybe," John agreed. "I want to know who is doing it and why."
"And where are our bodies? We could starve to death." Virtual fear felt remarkably like real fear.
Rodney made a face. Of course it was likely. That's the way his luck worked.
"If someone is performing tests on us, they have to keep us alive in order to get results," John said. Rodney opened his mouth to argue, but John continued, "If we're dead, knowing about Star Wars isn't going to do them much good is it?"
"What if we got caught up in some defunct program and no one is watching us at all?" Rodney pointed out, since they had been in an apparently empty building before ending up in the VR program.
"In that case Ronon and Teyla will watch out for us and if they can't, Atlantis will. Elizabeth will send someone after us as soon as we're late."
Rodney scowled. He hated it when John was logical. "What about Jar-Jar?" If John was so good at explaining things, let him explain that.
"I think he was my fault. I was thinking about him."
"Jar-Jar. You thought about Jar-Jar. No Chewbacca, no Millennium Falcon, and you think about Jar-Jar."
John shrugged. "Sorry."
Rodney waved off his apology. It didn't sound very genuine anyway. "That means it responds to our thoughts."
John closed his eyes and everything shimmered. A moment later they were standing on a fairground. The wonderful smell of popcorn and cotton candy mixed with diesel fumes and sweat was unmistakable.
"So," John said, grinning, "you want to ride the ferris wheel?"
"Dr. Weir," Teyla said, and Elizabeth turned from the doorway of yet another empty room to look at Teyla on the other side of the hall. "I may have found something."
Finally. Hoping it would be a useful something, Elizabeth jogged across the hall.
Rodney hadn't wanted to ride the ferris wheel, yet he ended up dozens of meters in the air anyway, hanging from what was undoubtedly poorly bolted pieces of metal. It was that damn grin. Watching other people fall for it was annoying enough, but when John used it on him Rodney got really annoyed.
Especially since it worked.
"Relax, Rodney, we aren't going to plummet to our deaths."
"I am not tense," Rodney said, hands tightening on the bar across their seat, "I'm annoyed."
"Annoyed, huh? Tell you what, you can pick the next ride."
Rodney glared at him. He didn't want to pick the next ride. He wanted to pick the next reality.
As they rounded the top of the ferris wheel, John leaned forward, looking out at the grounds. "This is fun. I'm glad you figured out we could change things."
Rodney felt his glare soften. It softened even further when John leaned back, stretching his arm along the back of the seat, leaving Rodney pressed lightly against his side.
The room closely resembled the one they had left. The monitors on the wall looked similar, but this one had two beds, one coming from each of the side walls. Elizabeth moved to enter, but Teyla placed her arm in front of Elizabeth.
"I should go first."
Her pride made Elizabeth want to argue the point, but her common sense prevailed, and she waited for Teyla to go first.
They'd taken fewer than twenty steps when a beam of light shot out of the wall, striking Teyla and then Elizabeth.
"We should be picking up women," Rodney said stopping partway across the mid-way.
John finished stuffing a big piece of cotton candy into his mouth. "What?"
"Think about it. Virtual reality. We can do whatever we want. And I want to have sex." Rodney couldn't think of anything he wanted more.
"With yourself," John said, licking his fingers.
"What do you mean myself?"
"It's a fantasy, Rodney. Whoever you imagine won't be real."
Just like Colonel Carter. This was always happening to him. Kissing Carter had been pretty believable and imaginary sex was better than no sex, which was what he was getting now. "I can live with that."
John didn't say anything for a long moment. He simply looked at Rodney with the oddest expression, a little like the one he'd gotten whenever Norina was around. "Fine."
Rodney closed his eyes and everything shimmered.
Elizabeth leaned against the railing and lifted her face to the sun, letting its warmth and the gentle roll of the ocean relax her. She hadn't much cared for the ocean before Atlantis, but now the idea of sailing had a definite appeal.
"This isn't real," Teyla said, and Elizabeth turned toward her. Teyla was wearing a gown that went all the way to the floor, with a brocade bodice and a full skirt. Her hair was swept up on top of her head. She looked like she belonged on a nineteenth century sailing ship, an honored passenger.
Elizabeth was wearing form fitting black pants and knee high leather boots, with a white poet's shirt whose sleeves billowed around her arms. She rather liked it. "No," she said regretfully, "it isn't."
"A luau," Rodney answered, smiling and looking around.
"There were women at the fair," John said, but he was looking around, too.
"Here it's warm. There's good food, decent alcohol, and it smells better. Plus," Rodney's eyes locked onto a group of dancing women, "grass skirts."
"Do you have ships such as this on Earth?"
Elizabeth looked up at the rectangular sails. "We used to."
"So we are not on an imaginary Earth," Teyla said, "at least not in the present."
"It reminds me of a novel I once read, maybe a dream." A fantasy. Elizabeth kept that option to herself. "I think we're in a virtual reality."
Teyla nodded. "Which is most likely where Colonel Sheppard and Dr. McKay are as well. Perhaps we should try to contact them."
"They are probably in their own world." Elizabeth hoped so. This wasn't a part of her mind she wanted to share with John and Rodney.
"Maybe it is possible to travel between them," Teyla suggested.
"We should explore. See if we can find a way to reach them."
Elizabeth shook her head. "I think that this was all drawn from my mind."
"Perhaps we can find something that doesn't make sense to you."
"Okay, but this time I'm leading."
John wasn't having any fun. He wasn't even trying to have fun. He was just sitting there, on a log near the fire like some kind of bump, barely looking at the pretty women all around them.
"What is wrong with you?" Rodney whispered, not wanting to offend any of the pretty women.
"Beautiful women and you're just ignoring them." Rodney waved, indicating all of the beautiful women John was ignoring.
"I am not ignoring them. Besides--" John smiled at the woman giving out drinks and murmured "thank you" as she handed him one, waiting until she was out of earshot to add, "they aren't real."
"Do you have to keep pointing that out?"
"Yes. Face it, Rodney, sex with any of them would just be masturbation."
"I like masturbation," Rodney said crossing his arms defiantly.
"So do I, but I like sex more."
"This will feel like sex," Rodney insisted. The women were dancing again and they were just so…
"But you'll know it isn't."
Rodney hung his head. He just couldn't win.
"Sorry, Rodney." John gave Rodney's shoulder a squeeze. "I'd like to have sex, too, you know."
John preferred his partners real. Rodney got that. He felt the same way, but not everyone was an intergalactic Lothario. Some people had to use their brains for more than keeping their cute ears apart. He knew that wasn't quite fair, but he didn't care. He wanted to have sex and the only person who wasn't a figment of his imagination was John.
Whose hand was still on Rodney's shoulder.
"We can have sex," Rodney said, almost to himself. "Neither of us is imaginary."
"We could," John said slowly, as though thinking it over.
"It's not like this is real," Rodney said.
"Where do you think you're going?" A man built distressingly like Colonel Caldwell, except with thick, dark hair and an unkempt beard blocked their path.
"I am escorting the lady to her quarters," Elizabeth replied stiffly.
"Yeah?" He looked from Teyla to Elizabeth and back. "Maybe I should escort both of you."
Elizabeth grimaced; except for the bad teeth and worse breath, he could have been any number of men she'd had to negotiate with over the years. "That won't be necessary."
His eyes moved over Elizabeth's body, a deliberate provocation. "Escorting is a man's job." He rested a hand on his belly, positioned in a way that left no doubt which parts he felt were essential for 'escorting.'
Elizabeth had been dealing with men like him her entire life, men who thought that just because you possessed a body part into which they could insert their dicks that made you inferior. The truly infuriating thing was that it didn't matter what she did, she'd never prove them wrong. She could be smarter and tougher, could rack up one achievement after another, and their attitudes never changed. Balling her hand into a fist, she punched, pivoting from her hips and putting her whole body into it.
He dropped to his knees.
Elizabeth smiled. Virtual reality could be very satisfying.
There was a giant champagne glass in front of him.
"It's a bathtub," John said.
"With a ladder," Rodney added. Clearly looks did not bring good taste.
John nudged Rodney's shoulder with his own. "Pretty great, huh?"
Looking around the rest of the room, Rodney's eyes settled on the king-sized bed, with an equally king-sized mirror above it. "Where are we?"
Teyla's cabin was small, with a bed that extended between two walls and a traveling chest. Teyla sat on the edge of the bed. "I have been thinking. The purpose of virtual reality is to allow us to experience a reality different from our own."
Elizabeth sat next to her, extending her legs in front of her and crossing them at her leather-clad ankles. She really liked this outfit. "Yes."
"It creates these realities by drawing upon images in our minds. You said you thought that this boat had come from your mind."
Elizabeth nodded. She could see where Teyla was going with this. "So we should have the ability to turn it off."
"Hey!" John protested.
"I am not having sex underneath a mirror, or in a bathtub shaped like a champagne glass." Rodney surveyed his handiwork. This was much more like it, a dignified four-poster bed, a real bathtub.
"I like mirrored ceilings."
Rodney snorted. "You would."
Elizabeth opened her eyes to find Dr. Peate leaning over her.
"How are you feeling?" she asked.
"Fine." Elizabeth sat up. Ronon was kneeling a couple of feet away with his back to her, Teyla stretched out beside him. "Teyla?"
"I am fine as well."
"When you stopped answering your radio we came looking for you," Ronon said.
"We were in a virtual reality," Teyla explained, sitting up. "Like on the Aurora."
"How did you get out?"
"I clicked my heels three times," Elizabeth said, and Ronon turned to look at her. She smiled at his confused expression. "We thought about leaving, and a moment later we woke up here."
Ronon nodded. "Think Sheppard and McKay will be smart enough to try that?"
Toes sinking into soft sand, Rodney sighed. John could be incredibly predictable. "We are not having sex on a beach." Ignoring John's pout, Rodney closed his eyes.
Arms folded across his chest, Ronon leaned his back against the wall. "I think we should just turn off the power."
Radek pushed his glasses up his nose. "That would be an option, if I had found the power system, but I haven't yet."
"We can't be certain abruptly disconnecting them won't have a detrimental affect. In order to create a false reality the machine has to connect directly into their brains, and, according to what Dr. Weir described, it is also drawing information from their minds to create that reality. That's a pretty complex relationship," Dr. Peate said.
"Perhaps if we give them enough time they will figure out how to exit on their own, just as Dr. Weir and I did."
Elizabeth nodded; Teyla's suggestion made a great deal of sense. "Unfortunately we don't know who built these machines, for what purpose. Nor do we know if there are dangers associated with long term use. Dr. Zelenka, I want you to keep studying the machine, see if you can find controls that we might be able to use to bring them out. Dr. Peate will continue to monitor their physical condition."
"Eventually, McKay is going to want to eat," Ronon said.
"Unless the food in the virtual reality fools him into thinking he has eaten," Teyla said.
Elizabeth rubbed her eyes and wished she'd gotten to beat up a few more men before they'd left.
"Acceptable?" Rodney asked. They were in a cozy cabin complete with fireplace and luxurious rug.
"You're such a romantic."
"Is it acceptable?"
John smiled. "Yes."
Elizabeth knelt next to Dr. Peate who had a stethoscope pressed to Rodney's chest.
"His heart rate is accelerating."
Turning, Elizabeth pressed her fingers to John's neck. "So is Colonel Sheppard's."
If Rodney had realized how well John kissed he'd have started making out with him on the damn ferris wheel, or maybe the tilt-a-whirl.
John's hand slid up his side, skin against skin. He touched as well as he kissed.
Teasing one of those cute lobes with his teeth, Rodney edged a hand under John's shirt and onto the small of his back.
"Are they in danger?" Elizabeth asked.
Dr. Peate shook her head. "I don't know. They could be. Or they could just be getting some brisk exercise."
"McKay doesn't exercise voluntarily," Ronon said.
"I have located the power supply, at least I think I have."
Elizabeth turned toward Radek. "We don't know if turning it off will hurt them."
"We don't know if leaving it on will hurt them," Radek answered.
"Are you sure it's the power supply?"
Radek shook his head. "Not 100%. 98%, maybe 95."
"Turn it off."
His nipples had never been this sensitive in the real reality. Rodney was sure of it. But in this one every time John sucked a bolt of pure pleasure went straight to his cock.
Arching, Rodney tried to slide his hands between them. He wanted to touch John's cock, wanted to feel it in his hands.
John must have sensed his intention, because he lifted just slightly and Rodney's hand closed around the hard, hot length of him.
"Welcome back," Elizabeth said, resting a hand on Rodney's shoulder.
He blinked up at her, his expression shifting from confusion to fear. "John?"
"Over here," John called and Rodney sat up to look at him. John lifted himself onto his elbows. "You okay?"
For some reason, Rodney flushed. "Fine."
"Knew you'd find a way to get us out," John said.
"Dr. Weir and Teyla were trapped, too," Radek said, coming to stand near Rodney. "They thought their way out."
"Very clever of them," Rodney said, his flush deepening.
Radek smiled. "I thought so."
"We should have thought of it," Rodney said.
"Well we should have."
"We had other things to think about," John said, sliding one hand up the outside of Rodney's arm. "Besides, I bet they didn’t have as much fun as we did."
"The luau was fun."
"Not as much fun as the champagne tub would have been," John said mournfully.
Sliding one leg between both of John's, Rodney settled more comfortably against him. He wasn't about to admit it, but he really liked the feel of a relaxed and naked John. "I don't know, we managed to have quite a bit of fun right here."
Enough fun to make Radek's not-so-subtle barbs endurable.
Elizabeth turned at the sound of Teyla's voice and stopped, waiting for Teyla to catch up to her before resuming the walk to her office.
"I wished to tell you that I enjoyed the reality you created with your mind."
"I did too, especially the punching part." Elizabeth smiled, warmed when Teyla smiled back, a slightly mischievous twist to her lips.
"I could teach you to punch."
"My technique wasn't very good, huh?"
"It needs work," Teyla said, her tone tactful as always.
"Then I shall have to work on it."
"Good." They walked a few steps in silence, then Teyla added, "I liked the dress. It was lovely."
"You looked lovely in it."
"Thank you." Teyla had colored slightly. It was nowhere near a full on Rodney blush, but it was very attractive.
"When shall we begin my lessons?" Elizabeth asked as they reached her office, stopping in front of the door.
"I shall see you then," Teyla said, turning to go.
Placing a hand on Teyla's forearm, Elizabeth stopped her. "Perhaps we could have dinner tonight and you can tell me what to expect."
Teyla brightened, lighting up in a way Elizabeth hadn't seen before. "I would like that."
There was something to be said for real reality, Elizabeth decided. "Me, too."