"What about this one?" Rodney said, handing John a blobby-looking thing about the size of a softball.
John fit his fingers into the five depressions on the surface, which were spaced just right to be meant for fingers.
"All we could get it to do was vibrate a little," Rodney said.
John thought on, and the blobby thing started to vibrate a little. "I think that's all it does," he said, dubiously. "I can change the speed, but that's it. Maybe it's a back massager."
Rodney snorted. "Great, Ancient vibrator. Throw it in the 'harmless' bin." He made a note in the database, and picked up another gadget from the table. This one was a short box with a clump of crystals on one end and a sort of fringed antenna on the other. John blinked. "Wow." He took the box from Rodney, turned it around until he found what seemed to be the top, and thought on at it.
Nothing whatsoever happened. He turned it around, and tried again. Then he tried thinking initialize, which sometimes worked better; nada. It felt completely inert.
"I've got nothing," he admitted. "Maybe it's just, like, an Ancient cat toy or something." He handed it back to Rodney; as it left John's hands, he felt a pulse of energy, and then there was a flash of light and a sound like zzthap!
There were, Radek thought, very many unpleasant ways to be woken up on Atlantis. Of these ways, being summoned on a private channel by a preternaturally calm Colonel Sheppard ranked fairly high, if only because it generally meant that Rodney was somehow unavailable, which generally only happened when something very dire had already occurred, and Radek was being brought in to fix it.
He arrived at the door to Lab 8 at the same time as Dr. Beckett, which was an even worse sign; for the Colonel to have called in medical, the situation must be very bad. He felt a sick dread as he tried the door, but it was locked, with the sort of software lock only one person in the city could coax forth. Radek opened a private channel.
"Colonel?" he said quietly. "Doctor Beckett and I am at the door. Is it safe for us to come inside?"
There was a pause, and then the door slid open.
"Come on in," the Colonel said absently, "but close the door behind you." He was standing in the middle of the lab, looking fixedly at the floor behind one of the lab benches. "There's been... an accident. We were going through some of the tech ID backlog, and one of the Ancient doohickeys... well." He scratched the back of his neck. "It turned McKay into a cat," he blurted.
Radek blinked, and exchanged glances with Dr. Beckett.
"That sounds disturbing, lad," Beckett said cautiously, eyeing the Colonel.
"Oh, for- I'm not hallucinating," Sheppard said, sounding annoyed and much more normal. "Look." He pointed irritably at the floor.
Radek approached cautiously; in the middle of the lab floor, one of their unidentified Ancient devices was lying on its side (or its back; they had trouble telling) next to...
Radek blinked. "It is a cat," he said, surprised. "...in a lab coat?"
The Colonel looked vaguely sheepish. "I did that," he said. "It seemed... I mean, there isn't exactly a first-aid protocol for 'turning into a cat,' and I didn't want to move him in case he was, you know, hurt."
Radek looked at the cat, which was only visible as a lump under the lab coat and a furry head poking out.
"I mean besides the cat thing," the Colonel added. "He's been unconscious ever since it happened."
"And you're sure this is Rodney?" Dr. Beckett asked, moving closer. "I mean, what if the machine merely... made him change places --"
"With the non-existent cat that the expedition is absolutely forbidden from bringing to Pegasus for ecological reasons?"
"Point," Radek murmured. He peeked under the coat. "Also, it appears that the cat is wearing Rodney's clothes." And he was; at least, there was a full Atlantis science uniform lying on the ground, and the cat was lying halfway inside the neckhole of the t-shirt.
The Colonel and Dr. Beckett blinked at him. Radek sighed. With Rodney currently... indisposed, it obviously fell to him to represent the forces of practicality in this instance.
"Perhaps it would be expedient," he suggested, "if I attempt to ascertain what has happened with the Ancient device, while Dr. Beckett examines Rodney, to make sure that he is... otherwise unharmed."
They both looked relieved, and Beckett gingerly started peeling Rodney's clothes away to look at his patient, still lying in an unconscious furry heap. Radek sighed, and crouched next to the fallen device.
"Colonel Sheppard? If you could describe for me, please, what happened," he requested. The Colonel glances over. "I can try," he said, a little dubiously. "Rodney handed me the.. thing, and I tried to turn it on, but nothing happened. It didn't feel any different than before. So I told Rodney so, and handed it back to him, but as soon as he touched it I felt this sort of... power surge, I guess, and then there was a bright flash of light and then Rodney was... there." He waved a hand at the floor in front of them, where Dr. Beckett was listening to the cat's side through a stethoscope with a helpless expression on his face.
"Hmm," Radek said. "Can you tell, is the device still active now?"
The Colonel squatted near the device and hovered a hand over it, then brushed it gently with a finger. "It doesn't seem to be," he said, "but then, it didn't seem to be that last time, either."
Radek scanned it several times, on a number of different frequencies; it seemed inert. He pulled on a pair of gloves, and packed it into one of the insulated containers they kept in the lab for storing potentially harmful tech.
"I will analyze this device," Radek said, "so that we may identify and reverse its effects. In the meantime, Doctor, I believe that any available information on..." he shot a glance at Sheppard, who looked mutinously stubborn- "Rodney's current condition would certainly be of help to us in our efforts."
"I'll do what I can," Beckett said, "but I don't know how helpful it will be. I'm not a veterinarian; I have no idea what is or isn't normal for a cat, whether or not it used to be human-- which I'm still not convinced of, by the way."
"Does he seem healthy, at least?" Radek asked, cutting Colonel Sheppard's objection off before he could make it. "Could we perhaps move him to the infirmary? Perhaps the larger equipment there will be able to shed light on the situation."
Beckett brightened. "Aye, that should be fine," he said. "He's got no physical injuries that I can tell and the unconsciousness doesn't seem to be dangerous- again, at least as far as I know. It shouldn't hurt anything to move him."
"Good," Radek said, decisively, picking up the box. "Colonel, please take Rodney. Dr. Beckett will go in front and open doors for us, and I will follow with the device in case it is needed."
The Colonel blinked at him, then shrugged. "OK," he said, and bent to pick up the cat.
"Here, lad," said Dr. Beckett, "wrap him up a bit. It'll be more comfortable for him if he wakes up in the middle."
"Also, it will reduce your chances of needing medical treatment yourself," said Radek, whose sister owned cats. "If this cat truly is somehow Rodney, I doubt he will be reluctant to fight if he wakes to find himself... in such a situation."
The Colonel looked down at Rodney, who was a big cat, strong-looking. A touch of curved claw gleamed at the tips of his toes. "Good point," he said, and helped the doctor swaddle Rodney in a thick roll of his own clothes, only his furry head emerging from one side.
They made quite an absurd procession as they wound their way though the corridors to the infirmary, which was blessedly deserted, Beckett having been on call that night. The Colonel deposited his bundle of cat on an examination table, then hovered nearby while Beckett started running scans.
An hour later, they stood around the bed, looking down at the cat who, they now knew, had a copy of Rodney's artificial ATA gene, an active brain, sharp claws (now trimmed while he was conveniently unconscious, just in case), healthy teeth, undamaged bones, and a short, plush coat. The big Ancient scanner had lit up intriguingly when they had put Rodney in, but the results it finally returned - a lengthy page in Ancient- had turned out to be a snippily-worded warning not to scan research subjects in the general facility but to confine them to their own labs' equipment. Radek was unable to determine whether the scanner's classification of Rodney as a research subject was a sign that the Ancients had often turned people into animals during experiments, or just a standard protocol for dealing with non-humanoid life forms.
They were in the middle of debating whether the fact that the hand-held scanners said Rodney's species was "undefined" because he was in some sort of odd hybrid state or because they weren't programmed to recognize cats when Rodney woke up, yawning hugely, revealing a pink mouth full of pointy white teeth.
"Um," Colonel Sheppard said.
"Er," Dr. Beckett said.
Rodney blinked at them, and flicked his ears, then stood, wriggling out from the nest of blankets they'd put him in and stretching long and luxuriously, digging his claws into the blankets. He cocked his head and looked at Radek - his eyes were a bright, startling blue - then yowled. Radek thought he sounded very Rodney-like, for a cat, then sternly reminded himself not to anthropomorphize ahead of the evidence.
"Ancient device has turned you into a cat," Radek told him; they didn't know if he could understand, but it couldn't hurt. "Yet again, I am brought in to pick up pieces. Also, Colonel Sheppard must now retake webinar on lab safety protocols."
"Hey!" The Colonel protested, and Rodney turned to look at him, tail-tip twitching, and narrowed his eyes, expression startlingly familiar. "It wasn't my fault," the Colonel said, "it was your idea!"
Radek sighed. Less than two hours awake, and he'd already had a very long day. "As no immediate solution has presented itself," he said, "perhaps we might turn our attention to practical matters."
Sheppard blinked. "More practical than fixing McKay?"
Radek pinched the bridge of his nose, beginning to feel some sympathy for the way Rodney yelled all the time. "A more... immediate need, yes." He gestured at Rodney, who had sat down with his tail wrapped around his feet like an Egyptian statue and was watching them intently. "Cats have requirements, yes? Special food, scratching posts, litter trays," and at the word "litter" both the doctor and the Colonel blanched. Radek rolled his eyes. "Do not be missish," he snapped. "You are adults; it does not amuse. If Rodney were merely unconscious, he would be cared for here; as it is, someone will need to assume responsibility for his safety until we are able to restore him."
"I'll do it," Sheppard said. "Team'll be grounded without him, anyway. Ronon and Teyla will help," and Radek nodded, relieved, because of course, Rodney's team would help.
John had worked with Zelenka before, of course, most notably the time they'd had to rescue Rodney from the sunken jumper, but somehow he had missed how... take-charge the man could be. Of course, Rodney tended to overshadow most people with sheer force of personality, and he seemed to respect Zelenka the most out of his staff, so it stood to reason the man had backbone.
Standing in the middle of the infirmary, holding a cardboard box with holes poked in that contained a cat who was also sort of his best friend, he was glad that at least someone in this mess could keep their head. He realized that he himself wasn't being the most helpful; alien invasions were one thing, but after the whole Iratus debacle he was seriously freaked out by people turning into other things, and it was interfering with his cool a bit.
"You'll need these, lad," Carson said, trying to hand him a bedpan with a bag of something sitting inside it.
John shied away. "Oh my God, is that thing used?" he said in horror, over Rodney's yowls of protest at the jostling.
"It's been sterilized," Carson said, glaring. "And it's this or he pisses in your shower."
"All right , all right," John said, shifting Rodney's box so he could take the bedpan, gingerly. "What's in the bag?"
Absorption material for chemical spills," Carson said. "Chemically inert and non-toxic. It should work well enough as a litter substitute. Also some specimen dishes you can use for food and water. Now, it's important to remember--"
He must have looked like he was about to lose it-- he certainly felt like he was-- because Zelenka intervened in what looked like the wind-up to a lecture on litterbox maintenance. "Take Rodney away, Colonel," he said briskly. "Dr. Beckett and I will discuss arrangements for food and other necessities. In the meantime, make sure he is comfortable and we will reconvene at senior staff meeting in--" he glanced at his watch and winced -- "four hours."
"I-- all right," John said, and fled. It was surprisingly tricky getting everything back to his quarters; none of it was that heavy, but it was awkwardly shaped, and Rodney kept moving around, shifting his box's center of gravity offputtingly. He decided about halfway there that he didn't like his holey box, and started howling like a siren, piercing, ululating complaints that actually attracted a security patrol.
"Everything... all right, sir?" asked one of the marines, eyeing the box, which was visibly shaking as Rodney pushed and scratched at it, warily.
"Just fine, Corporal," John said, trying to sound airy and carefree but only making it to manic and slightly crazed. "Just a little Ancient technology mishap. It'll all be cleared up soon."
"Yes, sir," the marine said, dubiously, but left him alone, and John was able to duck into his quarters without meeting anyone else. He sealed the door with a privacy lock - Rodney might be a cat now but the scans still showed an ATA gene and John wasn't taking any chances. He set Rodney's box gingerly on his bed, dumped Beckett's horrifying litter box on the floor, and opened the box, snatching his hand back out of range as soon as the lid was open.
Rodney jumped out immediately, fur standing on end, and hissed at John, who held his hands up and backed away slowly. "Hey hey, calm down, it's me!" he said, half afraid Rodney was going to maybe go for his eyes or something. "Zelenka and Beckett are working on it," he said placatingly, and maybe Rodney understood him or maybe it was just his tone, but he seemed to settle down a little, the fur along his spine smoothing out, his lashing tail quieting. When John was reasonably sure he was no longer in imminent peril of death, he left Rodney in possession of the bed and fired up his laptop.
The SOP for dealing with the physical or mental transformation of a member of senior staff-- and how fucked up was his job, that they had an SOP for that-- involved a lot of paperwork; he might as well get started.
There was an email from Zelenka at the top of the box, a huge honking priority flag on it and the subject line OPEN THIS FIRST.
He opened it.
As Rodney's current situation is technically a lab accident rather than a medical condition or a military casualty, it falls to me as acting Head of Science to prepare the briefing materials for Dr. Weir on Rodney's status.
Oh, thank God. God bless Zelenka.
However, as the only involved party currently capable of communication, you are therefore required to complete the internal incident report for the Science Department (form attached.)
If you are to function as a junior researcher, it is only fair that you be treated as such.
Dr. Beckett and I are contacting the Life Sciences division for information and/or supplies to help us care properly for Rodney during his indisposition. We will have updates at Senior Staff this morning as to our progress.
PS - I was serious about the webinar. \\atlantis\share\science\training\lab_safety_for_morons_1.html
John blinked, momentarily taking back the nice things he'd been thinking about Zelenka. Rodney was obviously a terrible influence.
He looked over at Rodney, who was sniffing John's pillow. "Don't mess anything up," he said, and Rodney didn't even look over, just flicked an ear disdainfully in his general direction.
John sighed and opened the attachment. There was no chance he'd get any sleep tonight; he was still buzzing from the adrenaline surge of Rodney just disappearing like that; for a moment he'd been horribly, sickeningly sure that he'd just been vaporized or something until he looked down at the floor. He may as well try to start working his way off Zelenka's shit list. He skimmed over the form, and snorted; it obviously wasn't one of the SGC-standard forms they'd brought with them, just a text file.
ATLANTIS LAB INCIDENT REPORT
You are filling in this form because you or someone you are responsible for are either stupid or unlucky, or possibly both. Fill out the form completely and truthfully or face Dr. McKay's wrath. Return the form to your lab supervisor within 36 hours of the incident, unless you are medically excused from typing, in which case you have 36 hours after being cleared.
- Short description of what happened (one or two sentences)
- When and where did it happen? Use Atlantis grid numbering system if required.
- Who was there at the time?
- Was anyone injured or otherwise affected? How?
- Was equipment damaged? How? Include bar code numbers for relevant equipment.
- Were any facilities or locations irradiated or otherwise contaminated? If so, with what? Include precise location.
- Longer description of what happened
- What procedures should be adopted to prevent this happening again?
Shaking his head, John scrolled to the top and began typing.
Morning, as far as Radek was concerned, arrived far too quickly. Colonel Sheppard had apparently managed to shake off his bewilderment enough to begin working on the list of tasks Radek had sent him; by the time he got back to his quarters, Radek had found a completed lab incident form in his inbox. It took him several hours to process the paperwork required for the incident; by the time he finished, the sky outside his window was beginning to lighten. He would just have time to shower and put on fresh clothes before Dr. Tharian, who was the head of Life Sciences and a notorious morning person, would likely be up. Radek hoped he could fit in a quick meeting with her before Senior Staff. Fortunately, she was also known for her taciturn disposition; he knew it was impossible to keep the rumors from flying for long, but he would at least like there to be an official announcement before speculation became too wild.
On his way to Dr. Tharian's lab, he took the time to steal Rodney's coffee rations for the next week.
John woke to the sound of his alarm and a horrific crick in his neck; he’d fallen asleep over his laptop, and the last entry in the form he was filling out consisted of about twenty pages of the letter b. For a brief, blessed moment he couldn’t remember why he wasn’t in bed; then he looked over and saw Rodney, who had curled himself into a sort of furry Moebius strip and was sleeping on top of John’s favorite pillow, squashing it and getting it all hairy, seemingly unmoved by the alarm.
Someone at the SGC had included this sign in with the lab equipment that said, in large letters, "SAFETY IS OUR #1 MISSION. This department has worked ____ days without a lost time accident." The sign was a sort of laminated plastic so that you could use a dry erase marker to write in the number of days. Over time, the scientists had annotated the sign with Sharpies and post-its so that the sign now read "lost time accident, radiation exposure, accidental intoxication, nanovirus, DNA mutation, Gate malfunction, puddlejumper crash, horrifying alien incursion, transformation into other species". He noted that the days had been reset to zero, and winced.
Going to the mess was something of a trial. Everyone seemed to like Rodney a lot more as a cat than they had when he was a physicist, practically fighting each other over who got to slip him table scraps and make him toys and scratch his head and rub his soft, furry belly. Rodney seemed to be enjoying it, licking his chops delicately, blue eyes slit with pleasure, so John clenched his fists and his jaw and didn't say anything about how practically the whole city was manhandling Rodney all the time. When he got up to leave, though, Rodney deserted his adoring fans to come over and follow him out. He was fiercely, meanly glad at that, and picked Rodney up in one arm to take with him so nobody would get any ideas.
Halfway to his office Rodney had clambered up his arm to his shoulder and was licking the hair behind his ear, purring. John let him. Rodney only purred for team- well, and for Zelenka, but he supposed that, to Rodney, Zelenka was probably team too.
"Is ascension machine," Radek said as he entered the room, voice snapping and accent thickening the way it did when he was riled.
John let his head thunk down on his desk. "The Ancients were fucking morons," he told the doodles on his desk blotter. "How could turning into a cat possibly help anyone ascend?"
"Reconnect with animal instincts, loosen grasp of worldly things, primal freedom, et cetera," Radek said pissily. "Complete bullshit. Ancients were superb engineers but theoretical underpinnings- pah! Useless. Never does it stop annoying."
"You said it, buddy," John muttered. A terrible thought struck him. "Wait, this isn't one of those Ascend-or-die Ascension machines, is it?"
"No, no," Radek said hastily. "Fortunately, it seems to have been a more preliminary step. Ancients required their own brains, such as they were, to finish the job. Process was designed to be reversible."
John eyed him warily. "What's the catch?" he asked. Knowing their luck, the reversal function was broken, or required a flooded lab or three ZPMs.
Radek sighed. "We cannot trigger the reversal ourselves," he said. "It appears to be a self-limited process."
"Please don't tell me he won't change back until he learns a valuable lesson about his deep inner nature," John said.
Radek looked horrified. "No! That would indeed be disastrous. No, it seems that the process reverses itself after a certain period of time--"
Radek frowned. "Unknown," he said. "The duration is given in terms of Ancient oratia, which we have been unable to translate with confidence. Our best estimate is approximately three weeks Atlantean Revised Standard Time."
John perked up. "It's been nearly that already," he said.
"Indeed," said Radek. "And as a side benefit, we at least will settle longstanding argument over the correct duration of the oratia, so perhaps there is some small benefit to be gained from this madness."
"When Rodney gets back, are you going to make him take the webinar, too?" John asked hopefully.
Radek scowled. "Trust me, Colonel, I will have many things to say to Rodney when he gets back; his pathetic lack of attention to lab safety protocol is only a fraction."