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Of the Phantom of the Hallway

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The faint notes of the waltz drifted through the hallway. Dr. Radek Zelenka paused at the end of that hallway. He was on duty, was supposed to head back to the lab after calibrating his latest experiment with the puddlejumpers. Instead he found himself at a supposedly abandoned hallway hallucinating.

Yes, he was hallucinating. There was no piano music drifting down from the abandoned hallway. He was not hearing a voice singing with abandon, though he could not make out the words.

Well, if he was hallucinating then it couldn't hurt to listen for a short time. He had a few minutes. Nobody contentious was scheduled for work today, not even McKay.

Zelenka followed the musical notes, drew closer to where they drifted from.

The words were... strange.

“They call it impiety and lack of propriety and quite a variety of unpleasant names. But it's not against any religion to want to dispose of a pigeon.”

Zelenka wrinkled his nose at the words of the song. And it was such a nice bouncy waltz. What kind of demented mind would sing something like this?

“So if Sunday you're free why don't you come with me and we'll poison the pigeons in the park.”

Zelenka shook his head and left the empty hallway, putting the strange song out of mind. It was just a hallucination.

“And maybe we'll do in a squirrel or two while we're poisoning pigeons in the park...”

*****

Dr. Peter Rowan lurked the empty hallways. He was searching for something but he wasn't sure what it was.

It was one of the more annoying side effects of the ATA gene therapy, the weird deja-vu sense of something just outside one's sensory experience. And of course he had to try and find it. The military had it easier, they had the curiosity trained out of them. Scientists on the other hand, no, scientists tended to be curious people. Especially SGC scientists with that pesky urge to know superseding the more common urge to publish.

Knowing what the ultimate source of the problem was did not make this any easier. He was still wandering areas of the city that were supposedly abandoned, cleared almost a year prior then left mothballed and empty. The radio signal was iffy here, almost like the city was hiding something.

But that made no sense. If the city was hiding something it wouldn't be pulling him in like a particularly stupid moth to a flame.

Then he heard something.

It was a strange something. It was...

“Oh hell no,” Pete whispered.

Off in the distance he could hear music. Somewhere, somehow, a single piano played mournfully, hauntingly, ethereally. There were no words, no structure, no idea who or what it could be. After all, the Ancients didn't have music, right? The expedition hadn't found a single musical instrument or toy or recreational area or anything, nothing but work and boredom and wow the Ancients must have been really uptight people. Pete grinned to himself at the mental image of some Ancient scowling in the corner of a dance hall while humans all around were dancing and laughing and in general not being too good to have fun.

The music sounded like it was coming from that corridor there. But there was no visible door. He still felt drawn, like there was something there unseen.

The music grew dark and loud, foreboding.

“I seen this movie,” Pete said aloud before turning around and heading back to the main city.

The music stopped mid-chord. A hidden door opened in the blank corridor, annoyed eyes glancing back and forth. Then the door closed again and the music continued.

*****

Dr. Rodney McKay walked into Dr. Weir's office unannounced. He stood before her desk, uncaring or perhaps oblivious as to what she was doing, and waited until she deigned to acknowledge him.

Elizabeth noticed him come in but didn't look up. Instead she finished reading the memo from Major Lorne and spent the time to type out a reply.

The Doranda incident was still fresh in her mind. It was fresh in everyone's mind. Two weeks ago McKay had blown up a solar system. That in and of itself was horrible but now the physicists informed her the Daedalus saw evidence of a “true vacuum-state Higgs Field”, something they described as a sphere of annihilation spreading out from the Doranda system at the speed of light. Fortunately the closest civilization had one and a half centuries before they had to begin evacuation.

Dr. McKay had even informed her it might not ever reach that far since the Standard Model wasn't exact, so it might fizzle out and the bubble collapse in on itself long before then. It didn't help his case one bit.

McKay cleared his throat.

Elizabeth glanced up at him, eyes cold, then went back to finishing her reply. She toyed with the wording a little bit while McKay shifted from foot to foot and grew annoyed. Finally she closed her laptop. “Yes?” she asked.

Finally, McKay's face plainly said. He wisely didn't say it aloud. “As per our agreement...”

Elizabeth's mouth grew thin. 'Agreement' her ass. She'd made this 'agreement' a condition of his continued presence in Atlantis.

“...and by 'agreement' I mean where I have to tell you everything I'm working on in my spare time even if it's pointless and not useful one bit, I am informing you that I have found a project to work on in my spare time.”

Elizabeth waited. Telling her he was working on something was only half of the 'agreement'. “What is it?” she asked.

“Ah,” McKay said. “I can't tell you yet. I want to make sure it's what I think it is. But I can assure you it's not a power source and has absolutely no use in fighting the Wraith.”

“Then what use is it?” she asked.

McKay looked affronted. “What are we, Genii?” he demanded. “Last ball they dragged us to didn't even have music. No music! What kind of ball or party or political function or anything doesn't have music?! We're human, we need our frivolities or we'll turn into intergalactic fascists asking random people what dogs are.”

Elizabeth waved him off to end the rant before he began. “Fine, whatever, don't blow yourself up,” she said.

McKay smiled, a sudden strange grin, then left. She watched him leave, wondering what exactly she'd unleashed and if she should be worried.

*****

Airman Roberts turned the corner to find an empty hallway. This had to be a hazing, there was nothing else. Or some sort of weird reward.

All he knew was that there were complaints of strange sounds from this area of the city. It was searched and cleared so it was a safe area but it was still abandoned. Nobody was supposed to be down here without permission from one of the department heads. That didn't stop the reports of sounds.

One report detailed Dracula's organ playing in the distance, drifting up as though from the depths of the sea. Another claimed ethereal music not quite piano or harpsichord but some strange amalgamation of both, shifting from one instrument to the other, accompanied by muffled swearing. Yet another report was annoyed at the subject matter of a voice singing, seeing nothing wrong with disembodied voices singing in an abandoned part of the city.

Roberts came to the end of the hallway and looked around. Nothing out of the ordinary here. Nobody here at all.

And then the waltz began.

The faint piano-like notes drifted from somewhere in the hallway, Roberts wasn't sure where exactly. Maybe it was one of those super-secret labs Colonel Sheppard warned him about, the hidden doors that opened into all sorts of problems and paperwork.

“Gather round while I sing you of Wernher von Braun, a man whose allegiance is ruled by expedience. Call him a Nazi, he won't even frown. 'Ha, Nazi sch-mazi,' says Wernher von Braun.”

Roberts felt along the hallway, trying to find a seam or something that might be hiding a secret door.

“Don't say that he's hypocritical, say rather that he's apolitical. 'Once the rockets are up who cares where they come down? That's not my department,' says Wernher von Braun.”

Whoever was singing had to be an expedition member. Probably a scientist. Definitely a very strange person.

“Some have harsh words for this man of renown, but some think our attitude should be one of gratitude, like the widows and cripples in old London town who owe their large pensions to Wernher von Braun.”

Roberts couldn't find any seam or evidence of a door. He headed down to the edge of the hallway, still close enough to hear the music, and tapped his radio. “Colonel Sheppard, this is Airman Roberts,” he said. “Yes, sir, they're definitely something here. Yes, I hear the singing right now. No I don't think I can repeat it. Trust me, sir, I don't think I can.”

“You too may be a big hero once you've learned to count backwards to zero. 'In German or English I know how to count down, and I'm learning Chinese,' says Wernher von Braun.”

“No, sir, I have no idea how long this might go on for,” Roberts continued. “I checked for secret doors and I don't have the gene so even if there was one there's not a whole lot I can do. Wait, I think I see something.”

There was movement out of the corner of his eye but when he looked down the hallway there was nothing there.

When the piano started up again it was something familiar.

*****

Colonel Sheppard came down the nearly empty hallway. Airman Roberts stood at the corner, watching both corridors. He gave a salute as Sheppard approached.

Sheppard ignored the show of respect, looked uncomfortable about it. There was indeed faint strings of piano music drifting from down one of the hallways.

“I think it's a scientist,” Roberts said. “I called up Dr. Zelenka since McKay's off duty and, well...”

“And?” Sheppard asked.

“The song I radioed you over was about a guy named 'Wernher von Braun' and apparently he was--”

“A captured Nazi scientist who built the moon rockets and formed NASA, I know,” Sheppard said. “Why the hell would there be songs about him?”

Roberts shrugged.

“I agree, it's a scientist,” Sheppard said. “That means we need to get McKay in on this.” He tapped his radio. “McKay. McKay, answer.”

The piano music abruptly stopped.

“What is it, Sheppard?”

Sheppard slumped against the wall and tried not to scowl as he heard McKay's voice in stereo, from his radio and from the same drifting distance as that piano music. “McKay, how did you get a piano?” he asked, deadpanned.

Roberts looked affronted. “I should have thought of that,” he whispered.

“It's not a piano and I already cleared it with Elizabeth,” McKay said.

“You told Elizabeth you were weirding people out with ghostly music in the abandoned corridors?” Sheppard drawled. “I had no idea she was an Andrew Lloyd Webber fan. You'd better not be wearing a mask.”

“Shut up.”

Roberts snorted as he figured out the reference.

“Open the door, McKay,” Sheppard said.

“Fine. Just... don't laugh.”

*****

The staff meeting was an impromptu thing flanked by the quiet anticipation and pride of both McKay and Sheppard. Elizabeth was surprised at Sheppard, she'd have thought it would take longer than this for those two to return to their normal antics.

“So what is this 'project' you've been working on?” she asked. “And don't just tell me what it isn't, I need to know what it is.”

“Yes, yes, fine,” McKay said. He took the rolled up sheet of... something... he had in his hands and unrolled it onto the conference table.

It was blank.

“What is it?” she asked.

“I think it's some sort of translation hardware,” McKay said. “Someone with the gene can think of what sounds they want to make and then they use their hands against the device like this to make it happen.” He drew one finger up the device from end to end and a piano's entire range cascaded into the room, base to treble.

“It's a roll-up piano?” Elizabeth asked.

“Among other things,” McKay admitted. “With enough concentration it could be any instrument you could think of. Or, I suppose it could be used to talk to animals or something. It's not all that useful with the gate translation program as it is. So, yes, it's a roll-up piano.”

Elizabeth looked back and forth between Sheppard and McKay, both of them grinning like fools at the possibilities. She saw Carson's distinctive fidget, his 'I was brought here for this?' look in full force. Zelenka reached out and poked the device, trying to get it to work for him. He swore under his breath when nothing happened then glared at McKay.

“Your people have a keen interest in music,” Teyla said diplomatically. “Perhaps you could play some of your songs for us?”

“So long as they're good,” Ronon said.

“It just so happens I am very good,” McKay said. “I studied for years. Why I could have been--”

“I think we're good,” Elizabeth said, cutting off the self-congratulations. “Meeting over. I have work to do.”

As everyone filed out of her office Elizabeth dropped down into her chair. This accounted for the 'haunted music' from the empty section. She hoped.