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I Don't Do Floors (The Rest is Negotiable)

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"You can't spend the rest of your life sitting in your apartment reading and writing anonymous articles for journals no one has ever heard of. It's been six months. How long is it going to be until Immigration starts knocking on your door? You have to get out there and find another job, start living in the real world again."

"Jeannie...." Pacing along a narrow hallway rendered even narrower by a series of over-filled bookcases, he frowned at the cell phone in his hand before placing it back against his ear and continuing. "You haven't been listening. The real world sucks. No one wants to hire me in any of my fields. They hear my name and...."

The woman on the other end of the line wasn't accepting any excuses. "And exactly whose fault is that, Meredith Rodney McKay?"

Waving his free hand wildly and narrowly avoiding the destruction of a hanging model of the solar system, he protested, "God, you sound just like Mom!"

"And you're ignoring me just like you did her. People get tired of constantly being informed that they're idiots and morons. A little common courtesy can go a long way when it comes to job retention. Share a little of yourself, be polite. It isn't an impossible skill to pick up, even for a socially challenged genius like you."

"Hey, I should not have been fired just because I pointed out that Daniel Jackson had made an error in the Third Dynasty translation and, as a result, the entire pyramid was geographically misaligned along the magnetic line of force by half a cubit. Scale-model or not, the fact is the museum expected an exact replica complete with capstone...and didn't get it!"

"Mer, you insisted that they take it apart and reconstruct it from the ground up after five weeks of work... based on something only you considered significant."

"Yeah, well, despite the catastrophic implications, they obviously didn't listen, did they? They put the capstone on anyway, and there it sits in the middle of the museum, the only existing complete replica of the Great Pyramid...misaligned. How can they be so cavalier with the facts?"

"Then there was what happened at NASA, JPL, Dow, Northwestern, MIT...the list keeps getting longer. Something...someone needs to change, and you know who that is."

"Yeah, because the world prefers polite to right." Frustrated at the lack of sympathy, he slid down the side of one of the bookcases and let his head drop backward with a thud. The result was a cascade of precariously balanced books that scattered across the dusty floor after ricocheting off him. "Ow! Damn it!"

"Mer? What was that?"

"Just a...." Tucking the phone under his chin, he scrambled to his knees and attempted to re-stack the offending literature. "Just a little...accident...here...." An unopened envelope fluttered to the floor, catching his attention. "Hey...what's this?"

"Are you still listening to me? Mer?"

"Hunh, I don't remember ever seeing this before."

"What? What is it?"

"Just wait a second, will you?" Ripping the embossed envelope open with an impatient twist, he extracted the blank piece of cardstock and held it up, puzzled. Suddenly, a flare of cold, golden fire raced across the page, leaving gleaming black calligraphy behind.



You have been selected
to interview for a
prestigious position
with the Metropolitan Public Library


After checking the reverse side for any clues to the phenomenon, he muttered, "Some sort of thermal-activated media...possibly activated by touch or the temperature differential when I breathed on it...."

"What are you talking about now?"

"I have a job interview, and it's a lot closer geographically than my only other choice."

"That's good to hear. When I said you needed to get back out into the real world, I really wasn't encouraging you to commune with reindeer on the Russian steppes. With any luck, I won't have to clean out the spare room for you to stay in after you're deported back to Canada because you're unemployed."

"Gee, thanks for the encouraging words, Sis."

"You want some words of encouragement? All right, how's this? You can do it, Mer. You can go out there and get yourself a new job...and keep it this time. Just keep reminding yourself that the things that make life worth living aren't just stored in your head, they're also found in your heart."

"Hallmark card of the week?"

"Meredith."

"Fine, fine, you're right, words I should live by and all that. Thanks, Jeannie."

"Hey, that's what sisters are good for...a built-in support group. Listen, wear the blue suit and call me when you hear about the job."

"Yeah. Bye." Snapping the phone shut, he glared down at it for a moment, stuck out his tongue at it, and then muttered, "Sure, that's what sisters are good for. Bad poetry...and telling Mom that they saw their fifteen-year-old brother kissing the boy next door and getting him grounded for life."

%+%+%

"...never been treated so rudely in my entire career...."

"Next!"

After narrowly avoiding being knocked down the marble staircase by the preceding applicant, he straightened his shoulders and muttered, "Siberia," before striding into the interview room. The high-ceilinged room was enormous and contained only a single occupant seated behind a massive wooden desk. Despite the late-afternoon gloom of the chamber, the gleam of the brass nameplate on the desk rivaled that of the bald pate of the sixty-ish man, who was calmly scanning the contents of a manila folder.

Placing the folder on the desk, the dark-suited interviewer looked up and nodded. "Dr. Meredith R. McKay...."

Advancing to within a few feet of the desk, and assuming the nameplate belonged to the man behind it, he shrugged and dipped his head in apology as he interjected, "Actually, Mister...ah...Woolsey, I prefer Rodney...Dr. Rodney McKay."

"As you wish, Dr. McKay. Tell me. What makes you think you are qualified to be 'The Librarian'?"

The forced smile on Rodney's face faltered as he recalled the stream of rejected applicants and he struggled to find an answer that wouldn't result in his immediate dismissal. Finally, one side of his mouth twitched and he offered with a shrug, "Well, I've read a lot of books."

The frown on the other side of the desk was much more apparent. "Please don't attempt to be amusing. I've already heard that one at least a hundred times today."

Rodney winced apologetically. "I'm sorry to hear that."

"So was I. Let me repeat. What makes you think you are qualified to be 'The Librarian'?"

Clasping his hands behind his back and tilting his chin a fraction higher, Rodney listed his qualifications in an increasingly steady voice. "I'm familiar with the Dewey Decimal system as well as the Library of Congress encoding, multiple applications of research paper orthodoxy...web search algorithms. I can set up an RSS feed...."

Dark eyes narrowed behind black-rimmed glasses. "In other words, you're no different from the rest of the applicants. They're experienced librarians...and you are not. What makes you think you are qualified to be 'The Librarian'?"

Flustered at the direction of the questioning, Rodney shook his head and countered with waving hands, "Are they also geniuses who have studied in and hold multiple degrees across a broad spectrum of fields?"

"Dr. McKay, stop wasting my time. I have your resume in front of me. I need to know if you're strictly theory...or if you can apply your vast knowledge. Tell me something that no one else who has walked into this room could tell me."

"I...you...." Stepping closer, Rodney scrutinized the other man for a few moments before nodding and declaring, "Your marriage broke up two months ago, you broke your nose when you were four..and...and you live with a Yorkshire terrier. Is that what you had in mind?

Encouraged by Woolsey's look of surprise, Rodney explained his deductions. "It takes three months for an indentation on the ring finger to completely disappear. Yours is approximately two-thirds gone. Your surgeon left you with a terminus paralateral scar, which is the accepted treatment for children under the age of six. And...." He reached out to snag a hair from the black wool of Woolsey's lapel and displayed it. "Is it a male or female?"

A single eyebrow raised in brief surprise at the accuracy of the analysis. "Male...and I didn't break my nose until I was five." Folding his hands in front of him atop the folder, Woolsey recovered his aplomb, and then inquired, "What's more important than knowledge?"

Shocked at the question, Rodney blurted out, "You're joking, right?"

"I'm waiting for an answer, Dr. McKay." The lack of amusement in Woolsey's demeanor made it clear Rodney's response would determine his future at the library.

"More important than...more important...." Rodney stared down at his empty hands as if he might find the answer penned along the lines of his palms. Struck by a flash of memory, he raised his head and snapped his fingers several times, as he exclaimed. "The things that make life worth living aren't just stored in your head, they're also found in your heart!"

Inclining his head graciously and granting the hint of a smile, Woolsey reached out to thumb the intercom on his desk phone. "The interviews are over. Send the applicants home." Halting Rodney's slump-shouldered retreat by clearing his throat, Woolsey rose from his seat and offered his hand across the desk. "Congratulations, Dr. McKay, although I must inform you will be on probation for the next six months. Assuming you have fulfilled your duties adequately within that period... you will then officially be recognized as The Librarian."

Gingerly shaking Woolsey's hand, Rodney stammered, "Oh...thanks." Stepping back, he frowned for a moment and asked, "Can you...can you tell me what I said that worked so that I know for the next time?"

Woolsey walked around to the front of the desk and clapped Rodney on the shoulder. "There isn't going to be a next time, Dr. McKay. You are about to begin a wondrous adventure and your life will never be the same." Turning away, Woolsey gestured toward an ornate door at the side of the room. "Follow me. I'll show you where you'll be working."

Rodney hurried to take a position at Woolsey's side as he released a series of locks before opening the door onto a long corridor. Their footsteps echoed along the passageway as Rodney babbled in excitement. "I know I probably should have asked sooner, but what exactly are my duties? I mean, I've never worked in a library before. I have no problem with research and cataloging; I can even check in and shelve returns if necessary. However, I'm assuming you have a janitorial staff because I don't...." The stream of words faltered as they approached two armed guards stationed on either side of what appeared to be an elevator. "Isn't this a lot of security for...books?"

"This happens to be the most secure place in the world, Dr. McKay. Soon you'll see why." Woolsey silently directed the two guards to use two separate keys on either side of the entrance and unlock the elevator.

Rodney wasn't able to restrain his curiosity. "Isn't that what the Army does with nuclear weapons?"

Woolsey nodded and waved Rodney into the waiting compartment. "Where do you think the Army got the idea?" The doors closed and the elevator began to descend to its only destination based on the lack of any buttons to select. "You're about to see something that few people in the world have ever seen."

The doors swished open onto a stadium-sized room filled with row after row of wooden bookcases with glass cases and wooden tables scattered between them. Eyes wide in wonder, Rodney stepped out and immediately headed for the nearest display. His hand fluttered above the gleaming coffer and he gasped out, "It's two and a half cubits in length. Setim wood. Gold overlay. That is an exact replica of the Ark of the Covenant!" He reached out, only to have Woolsey grasp his arm and yank him back.

"It's not a replica," Woolsey admonished. "Don't touch it or you'll be electrocuted. Or, as they used to say, be 'smote down.'"

Rodney frowned and backed away, glancing at the surrounding walls in distrust. "Am I being recorded? Did someone set me up to be 'punk'ed or something?"

Shaking his head, Woolsey lead the way down the aisle between the bookcases. "Trust me, Dr. McKay, this...all this...is your destiny. You are now the guardian of all these great treasures."

Still suspicious, Rodney followed silently until he halted at a familiar-looking painting of a dark-haired woman, which mysteriously hung in mid-air. "If that is...then what's hanging in the Louvre?"

Woolsey dismissed the question with an impatient huff. "Well, you don't really think we'd let the real one hang in a public museum, do you?" They proceeded past cases containing a variety of gems, weapons, and illuminated manuscripts. "You must understand we are very careful about who we recruit to be The Librarian. There are many who would gladly kill for the treasures we store here."

The golden gleam of a small chest caught Rodney's attention and he reached out to tip the lid open, drawing back at the dark, roiling mass revealed inside. Woolsey was at his side in an instant, slamming the box shut with a rushed explanation. "This particular box once belonged to a young woman named Pandora. She opened it one day and evil controlled the land for over a thousand years." Grasping Rodney's elbow, he urged him away. "I think it's best not to repeat her mistake, don't you?"

Yanking free from Woolsey, Rodney stopped dead and protested, "All this is...is scientifically impossible. These things can't really be what you're claiming."

"Look familiar?" Woolsey displayed a small object extracted from an inner pocket of his suit jacket. "Ordinary cell phone. You talk in here and someone hundreds of miles away hears you. No wires in or out. Impossible, right? Even two hundred years ago, this would have belonged in the Library. Four hundred years ago, you would've been burned at the stake for owning it." Tucking the phone away, Woolsey pointed at the surrounding cases and continued, "Some of the items in the Library certainly appear to violate the known laws of science. But that's only because we haven't advanced enough to postulate the laws that would explain them."

Reluctantly admitting Woolsey's point, Rodney restrained himself from further objections, contenting himself with examining everything surrounding them with objective eyes. His resolve was instantly tested when he encountered an obsidian block skewered by an ornately decorated, razor-sharp blade. "Whoa, this can't be...Excalibur!"

Woolsey halted and returned to Rodney's side. "Ah, but that's where you're wrong, Dr. McKay. It is indeed just that and, just as the legend claims, only the worthy can release the sword from the stone." Woolsey smiled a little smugly and waved toward the embedded weapon. "Go ahead. Try it."

Rodney backed away, his hands raised as if to ward off the suggestion. "No, no, no. Definitely not worthy, trust me."

"How do you know if you don't try it?" Woolsey shook his head and frowned in mild disappointment at the refusal.

Waving his hands around his head, Rodney sputtered, "Because, to be perfectly honest, I'm still not exactly sure why it is that you chose me. I mean, not that I'm not a genius and all, but...."

"The selection process is quite painstaking. We scour the educational systems, both public and private, all over the world. We read essays, doctoral theses, patent applications." Woolsey rolled his eyes as he admitted, "We even read those accursed online blogs."

"So there's a system."

Woolsey nodded in agreement. "Oh, yes, there's a system for identifying candidates. When it comes down to actually selecting The Librarian...well, that often has an odd way of working itself out. Dr. McKay, you've been accumulating knowledge all your life." Woolsey gestured at the books and artifacts surrounding them. "This is why."

"I didn't want to believe all this, but if it's true...this is incredible! I can't wait to tell my sister about this. I mean, she is going to..." Rodney choked off his enthusiasm when the sword slid free from the stone block and flew through the air to hover a hairsbreadth from his throat. "Sword. Neck...help?"

Woolsey looked a trifle disgruntled at Rodney's faux pas. "Dr. McKay, I know you are intimately familiar with the concept of classified information and non-disclosure agreements. Let me just say that the secret of the Library has been kept safe for thousands of years."

"Got it. Mum's the word." Rodney slumped in relief as the sword resumed its former position.

"Excellent. I knew you would be a quick study. There's every chance you'll turn out to be a great Librarian, perhaps even as great as Eldred, the Truly Wonderful." Woolsey pointed to a large portrait hanging on the wall of a man in robes with his hand placed on what appeared to be a golden-fleeced ram.

Rodney walked along inspecting the gallery of former Librarians, noting with fleeting interest the portrait of a much younger Woolsey, and shrugged. "Well, right now, I would settle for Rodney, the Not-So-Embarrassing, although, when I thought about the future, I always saw myself as McKay, the Nobel Prize Winner."

At the final portrait, he paused and Woolsey haltingly named a tall, stern-looking man holding a scroll. "That was...uh...Harold Maybourne."

"I'm assuming he was the last Librarian?"

Rodney suddenly found himself rethinking his excitement over his new position when Woolsey intoned, "Yes. Yes, he was, poor man. God rest his soul." Recovering his aplomb, Woolsey scrubbed his hands together enthusiastically and suggested, "So. Why don't I show you where we stable the unicorn?"

%+%+%

Having arrived on time for his first day on the job, Rodney listened carefully to Woolsey's instructions as they approached the first door leading to the concealed chambers. "I'll supply you with the codes and a copy of the keys...." Woolsey halted, his face creased in consternation. "Oh, this is not good at all. This door shouldn't be unlocked."

Following Woolsey's lead, Rodney hurried down the passage toward the elevator, slightly out of breath from worry and exertion as he asked, "Is there anyone else who has access?"

"Just the guards you saw yesterday outside, but they're restricted to this level." At the sight of the open metal doors and the crumpled bodies of the guards, Woolsey groaned, "A security breach. We need to get down there right away."

The guards were just beginning to groan and sit up as Rodney and Woolsey approached the elevator, and Woolsey spared little time on them. "Are you men all right? Good. I'm going to access the security system below." The elevator doors closed before the two men could respond, and Rodney stood next to Woolsey, silently repeating 'Siberia' and waiting for a clue as to his responsibilities in the increasingly worrisome situation.

It didn't take long for Woolsey to fill him in after they entered a small room located a few yards from the elevator at the bottom. Entering a passcode, Woolsey quickly brought up the surveillance recordings revealing a group of black-clad intruders exiting the elevator and immediately heading for a display case. "Ah...see those tattoos? The Serpent Brotherhood! It appears they knew about the fail-safe and the security protocols. Based on this tape, they only had time to acquire one item...the Spear of Destiny." Woolsey frowned as he turned his attention to Rodney. "Tell me, Dr. McKay, how familiar are you with it?"

"If I'm recalling my history correctly, and of course I am, it's the spear that supposedly pierced the side of Jesus on the cross?"

Woolsey zoomed in on the artifact in question, tapping the screen to indicate details. "That's correct; an ancient talisman purported to have mystical powers. Evidence suggests that whoever controls the Spear controls the fate of the world. For thousands of years, whoever controlled the Spear, from Charlemagne to Napoleon, became the greatest conqueror in the world."

Rodney immediately pointed out the flaw in Woolsey's claim. "It makes no sense to steal that! It's clearly not the entire Spear."

Bringing up a different screen on the monitor, Woolsey rapidly began to fill in an online form as he explained the discrepancy. "The Spear was too powerful to remain intact." Hitting the Enter key, he abandoned the system and chivvied Rodney out the door and toward another room a few yards away. "But since you can never completely destroy the Spear, the Librarian who was in charge hundreds of years ago broke it into three pieces and hid those three pieces around the world."

Rodney crossed his arms and huffed, "Still, a disassembled Spear of Destiny can't be a credible threat, can it?"

Woolsey turned away from the monitor and rummaged in a nearby file cabinet. "That's where you're wrong. Hitler had only one piece." With a sound of satisfaction, he handed Rodney a heavy canvas messenger bag before opening another drawer and extracting notepads and pens. "One can only speculate how powerful all three sections could be."

Watching in bafflement as Woolsey stuffed the stationery inside the bag he was holding, Rodney asked, "So, this Serpent Brotherhood. Are these guys into D&D? World of Warcraft?"

Whirling back to the computer, Woolsey brought up an email program and hummed in satisfaction before explaining, "They were a splinter group...back when the Library was in Alexandria. Their name was taken from the serpent that brought knowledge to Adam and Eve. Although they were scholars, they fell victim to the lure of power and attempted to use the artifacts to rule. They actually incited the riot that led to the destruction of the first Library."

Backing up a step, Rodney suggested, "So, it sounds like we have a real problem on our hands. We should definitely contact the authorities as soon as possible." He waved toward the ceiling as he backed toward the door. "Why don't I go upstairs and...."

Woolsey advanced on him, a mocking smile in place. "By all means, call the police. Tell them all about the Spear of Destiny, the golden goose, the lost Ark. I hope you'll enjoy your stay in the psychiatric ward." Rolling his eyes before grabbing Rodney and shoving him out the door, Woolsey scoffed, "I understand Thorazine comes in both chocolate and vanilla now."

Preceding Rodney down the nearest aisle, Woolsey continued to make his point. "While I appreciate the value of rules and authority, no one can truly understand the complexities of the Library's traditions unless they experience them." Halting next to a long wooden table holding several stacks of books, Woolsey turned to face Rodney, his expression intent. "Dr. McKay, you are the only one who possesses the breadth of knowledge that can prevent the Serpent Brotherhood from succeeding in their quest for power."

The canvas creaked between Rodney's fingers as he twisted the bag and objected to Woolsey's contention. "There must be someone out there more qualified! I mean, look at me!"

Woolsey shook his head and began to shuffle through the books. "That's not the case, I'm afraid. You truly are the only one on Earth qualified for the task. Look at it this way...if you come back, you'll be a hero."

"Well, that sounds very...if I come back?" Rodney slowly began to back away from Woolsey while protesting, "Oh, no, no, no. Whenever I hear the words, 'if you come back,' I'm forced to subscribe to an interpretation equivalent to 'there's an excellent chance you're not coming back.' I think it's safe to say that I don't want to go wherever you're sending me if I'm not coming back."

Holding a book in the air, Woolsey chortled in triumph. "Ha! They didn't take the book, once again proving that if you want to hide something, leave it in plain sight." He handed the leather-bound volume to Rodney adding, "This book contains all the clues you'll need to locate the other two pieces of the Spear. The only thing that I personally know for certain is that...the second piece is hidden somewhere in the Amazon jungle."

Intrigued in spite of his fear, Rodney began to page through the book. "Well, good, that narrows it down to about three million square miles. Wait, is this written in the 'Language of the Birds'?"

Woolsey nodded. "Yes, yes, it is. Legend has it that it was mankind's universal language...before that little incident at the Tower of Babel."

"This has been a dead language for thousands of years." Rodney's awe was apparent as he regarded the ancient tome. "There's nobody alive that knows how to read it." Shaking his head in disbelief, Rodney attempted to hand the book back to Woolsey. "You want me to use this to find the other two pieces of the Spear? That's impossible! Even with the Rosetta stone, it took hundreds of Egyptologists seventeen years to decipher the Egyptian hieroglyphics."

Refusing to accept the book, Woolsey insisted, "While I agree that even Dr. Jackson would have found it a challenge...well...you're the one we're depending on to translate the book in considerably less time."

The book subscribed loops in the air as Rodney made his opinions clear. "I still haven't agreed to all this, you know. After all, this is my first day, and I was thinking I'd start out by checking your systems, see how efficient your search algorithms were, maybe beef up the indexing, add some feeds. I haven't even had my second cup of coffee yet and I'm supposed to defeat an evil conspiracy by myself? Seems a little unrealistic, don't you...." Rodney's eyes narrowed and his mouth twitched down in a frown. "Wait a minute. Dr. Jackson?"

Woolsey shrugged and avoided the question. "If the Serpent Brotherhood should ever get their hands on all three pieces, trust me, it would be a catastrophe of epic proportions. You don't want to go down in history as the man who allowed evil to rule the Earth, do you?" He turned and began to walk back toward the elevator.

Rodney was at his heels. "You mentioned Dr. Jackson."

"Yes."

"Daniel Jackson." Rodney hurried to plant himself in front of Woolsey, forcing him to stop.

Clasping his hands behind his back, Woolsey inclined his head in agreement. "Yes."

Rodney snapped his fingers and blustered, "That overrated linguist was your first choice for the job, wasn't he? All this buildup about how I'm supposed to save the world...and I'm the backup!"

Woolsey failed to meet Rodney's eyes as he admitted, "Dr. Jackson had already accepted a position with another multinational project."

Stuffing the book inside the canvas bag before he looped it over his shoulder, Rodney raised his chin and declared, "It so happens that you ended up with the better man after all." Wheeling about, he stomped toward the elevator grumbling, "It's bad enough Sam Carter thinks the sun rises and sets in that fool. Save the world. I'll show them!"

Woolsey followed Rodney inside the metal box, his face impassive in the wake of Rodney's furious sputtering. The only additional information he offered during their journey to the surface was a subdued, "Your flight leaves in two hours."

%+%+%

After stowing a small carryon in the overhead compartment, Rodney squeezed into his economy-class seat and attempted to make himself comfortable despite the lack of legroom. A crackling sound alerted him to the small screen on the seat in front of him, which displayed a miniature Woolsey, complete with serious expression. Woolsey's message was interspersed with bursts of static. "...McKay, one more...I forgot to...guard...book...life and...trust no one...my...shepherd."

The screen blanked out, leaving Rodney wondering what he'd missed. "Woolsey? Woolsey? Are you quoting psalms at me?" Tapping at the screen failed to recall the other man, and Rodney slumped back in his seat muttering, "What the hell was that supposed to mean?" Giving up on the unsolvable puzzle, he opened the canvas bag and extracted the book he was supposed to translate.

A soft voice intruded before he could do more than scan the first page. "Dr. McKay?"

"Yes?" Impatient at the interruption, Rodney answered brusquely as he rummaged in the bag for a pen and notepad. "What is it?"

Still polite despite Rodney's rudeness, the woman explained. "I don't have a meal preference listed for you, and I thought I'd get that cleared up before takeoff."

Still not looking up from his task, Rodney supplied the requested information. "Yes, yes, that's good. I'm deathly allergic to citrus, so if there's any possibility that the food or drink has been contaminated, then don't bother to bring it anywhere near me. Coffee. I'll take lots of coffee and any sealed cookies or muffins or even pretzels without citrus. Is that clear?"

"Yes, very clear, Dr. McKay. No citrus."

Notepad and pen finally secured, Rodney glanced up and his mouth dropped open as he caught sight of the tall blonde flight attendant still leaning over him. He stammered, "The...the golden ratio...."

Straightening back up with a supercilious smile, the attendant sighed and shook her head, "Let me guess. You're about to inform me that the ratio of 1.618-1 has been proven to be the key to everything in nature that we find beautiful and that my face is the most perfect example you've ever seen of that ratio."

Rodney blinked in surprise. "How could you possibly know that?"

The tall, dark-haired man who appeared behind the attendant supplied the answer. "Because every geek she's ever met has tried to hand her that line." He eased his way past her with a smile and pointed at Rodney, raising one brow as he stated, "My seat I believe? I happen to prefer the aisle. Long legs and a quick getaway and all that."

"Oh...uh certainly...one second." Rodney scrambled to gather up his research materials and transfer to the seat next to the window, his face flaming in embarrassment. "Sorry, sorry."

Calmly tucking a knapsack under the seat in front of him, the new passenger took his seat with another patient smile in Rodney's direction. After buckling his seatbelt, he settled back and closed his eyes without a word.

Rodney redistributed his possessions, and then recalled his sister's suggestion for improving his manners. "Believe it or not, this is actually my first trip to another continent."

His attempt at being polite fell flat, the other man not even opening his eyes as he responded in a flat tone, "How exciting for you."

Ignoring his first inclination to mock the other man's artfully disheveled hair, Rodney made another attempt, wishing Jeannie were there to appreciate his effort. "I'm actually traveling for my job. I'm a librarian, which is actually a lot more exciting than you'd expect. Of course, I've always enjoyed reading. Aristotle. Voltaire. Jung. Descartes. Books contain slices of the ultimate truth from the greatest thinkers of all time. And they speak to me."

The arched brow reappeared, even though the man's eyes remained firmly shut beneath it. "They speak to you?"

"Like nothing else."

The corner of the man's mouth twitched and he coughed a little before he asked, "Do they tell you to do bad things?" He rolled his head in Rodney's direction and squinted at him with one hazel-colored eye. "Do they tell you to set fires? Seriously, don't listen to the books if they tell you to set fires...or to hurt small animals."

Rodney stared at him, lost for an adequate retort. He was finally rescued by the flight attendant's announcements and, as soon as they were in the air, he dedicated all of his attention on the ancient book while his seatmate slept undisturbed.

%+%+%

"The vowels are Akkadian, but the consonants are both early Sumerian...and Indian...and sometimes Hebrew. The genders are Sanskrit, the phonemes are Etruscan, with certain...certain semantic features of Víteliú. Hah! Daniel Jackson, eat your heart out!" Rodney's low mutters gave way to a gurgle of self-congratulation. "I did it. I just learned the...I just learned the Language of the Birds. Didn't even have a Rosetta stone and I did it in..." Rodney checked his watch and performed a quick calculation. "...seven hours and twenty-three minutes!"

An overhead announcement interrupted Rodney's triumphant seat dance. "Ladies and gentlemen, this is the captain speaking. We're currently at 11,000 feet and starting our descent."

Physical needs suddenly intruded on Rodney's consciousness and he scrabbled all his notes together and placed them and the book inside the canvas bag. Tapping his non-companion on the shoulder, he apologized for his request. "I'm sorry to wake you, but I have to get by. I need to use the facilities."

"Yeah, sure." The other man scrubbed a hand down his sleep-creased face and stood in the aisle to let Rodney exit the row, canvas bag slung carelessly over his shoulder.

It only took a few minutes for Rodney to relieve himself and splash some water on his face, and he spotted his seatmate still standing in the aisle as he stepped out of the tiny lavatory. Trying to squeeze by the next person waiting in line, he felt fingers dig into his biceps and shove him toward the rear of the plane. He struggled to free himself, shouting, "Hey! What are you doing? Let go!" A glitter caught his eye and he began to panic at the sight of the syringe approaching his thrashing arm. "Stop!"

Suddenly he was free and stumbling backward in the same direction that he had originally been shoved. The dark-haired man who'd spent the trip sleeping next to him pushed Rodney again in spite of his continued protests. "What's going on?"

"Sorry, no time to chat." Another shove and Rodney was pinned against the bulkhead while the other man began to open the emergency exit. Shouts behind them made it clear chaos had infected the entire plane.

Rodney wrestled with the other man, trying to prevent him from engaging the dangerous bright-red lever. "Stop that, you idiot! Who the hell are you?"

The door blew out and plane began to decompress, the rush of air and shuddering metal making it difficult to make out the man's shouted, "I'm the man who's trying to save your life! Come on, we're leaving!"

Shots rang out in the main section, and Rodney unconsciously moved closer as the man shrugged on his knapsack. When he realized it was actually a parachute pack, he reversed direction. The other man grabbed his arm and yelled, "Don't tell me you're afraid of heights!"

Rodney held tight to the nearest handle-like protrusion and shook his head as he protested, "It's just that I know that the odds of an untrained guy like me surviving a jump from 10,000 feet...is seven to two against."

His hands were pried free with a yank, and the last thing Rodney heard as he was blown out the door was a sarcastic shout. "What do you think your odds are now?"

%+%+%

Bending over and propping his hands on his knees, Rodney groaned, "I think I'm going to be sick."

No commiseration was forthcoming. "I kind of expected that to happen when we were still in the air, not five minutes after we landed safely."

Rodney raised his head and glared at the wild-haired man kneeling in the center of the clearing, folding up the means of their escape. "Well, excuse me for feeling less than stellar after being rescued from certain death in mid-air by a suicidal parachutist. Who in the hell are you anyway...you...you...maniac?"

Tucking the neat folds of nylon inside his knapsack, the other man rolled his eyes and rasped, "Now, don't go getting your panties in a twist, McKay. Woolsey sent me to look after you and that book. Didn't he tell you to expect me?"

"No, Woolsey told me to trust no one...and then there was this 'something something is my shepherd' or some such nonsense. A psalm, I think." Straightening up, Rodney waved his hand in dismissal. "I couldn't catch it all because of the static. But that still means I...."

Reaching under his black t-shirt, Rodney's nemesis extracted a set of dogtags and pulled them over his head. He tossed them to Rodney, drawling, "Well, this is your lucky day. I'm John Sheppard."

The identification confirmed Sheppard's claim, as well as revealing he was...or had been a USAF major. Rodney frowned at the embossed lettering, and then clumsily tossed the tags back with a quiet, "Major?" When Sheppard frowned and shook his head, Rodney understood it was 'formerly' and that the rank would not be appreciated as a form of address. "No. Nobody told me anything. To be honest, I feel as if I have no idea what I'm doing, and it's been that way since I walked into work this morning."

A snicker greeted the confession. "Really? What a surprise." Scrambling to his feet, Sheppard slid the knapsack on his back and adjusted the long sheath hanging off his web belt.

Resettling the canvas bag on his shoulder, Rodney pointed at the oversized knife and asked, "How the hell did you get that thing on the plane? They confiscated my nail clippers." When Sheppard ignored the question to look up at the sky, Rodney slowly spun in place and inspected their surroundings. "Where the fuck are we?"

Sheppard shrugged. "I have no idea. You're the brains of the operation. Figure it out."

Crossing his arms and tilting his chin skyward, Rodney huffed, "Oh, you think I can't? I could just climb that tree right there. In a matter of seconds, I could determine exactly where we are and correlate it to the sections of the book I've translated."

"Well, I'm not stopping you." The mocking grin betrayed Sheppard's opinion of Rodney's claim.

His bluff called, Rodney pointed at the leafy giant that towered a hundred feet overhead. "That tree."

Sheppard nodded. "Yep. Need a hand?"

Shedding the canvas bag and his corduroy jacket, Rodney rolled up the sleeves of his shirt and shrugged off Sheppard's offer. "I'm fine."

Of course, he changed his mind after the second time he slipped and ended up racking himself on an inconveniently placed branch. A few more splinters and bruises later, the two men were perched in the upper branches and looking out across the forest.

"Okay, let's hear it, genius."

Mopping his forehead with an already damp sleeve, Rodney tried to catch his breath as he surveyed their surroundings. After a few moments, he nodded and began to extrapolate. "Well...that...is an extremely rare blue condor above us. They're found only within a one hundred mile radius of the Amazon's Purus tributary. The only mountain tall enough to have a snowcap at this time of year within that radius is Mount Pôrto Velho. Therefore, we are at minus 5.2 degrees latitude and minus 64.6 degrees longitude."

Sheppard's eyes widened as he reluctantly admitted, "I'm better with directions when I'm in the air."

Riding high on success, Rodney grinned and pointed. "Okay. We need to go 24.7 miles...that way."

Looking in the direction Rodney indicated, Sheppard asked, "So how'd you do that?"

"Just your basic geography, biology, botany." Rodney looked down and frowned in consternation as he contemplated their return to the distant ground. "That...and I pretty much memorized the Earth."

"You're kidding, right?" When Rodney shook his head in disagreement, Sheppard laughed. "You really need to get out more, buddy."

The suggestion irritated Rodney, who'd been feeling proud of his accomplishment. "You know, people keep telling me that. I'm currently sitting at the top of a tree in the middle of the Amazon rainforest. You can't get much farther out than that unless you want to discuss Antarctica...and let's not because it's cold and I really hate the cold."

"Fair enough. Just try not to fall on me on the way down, okay?'

%+%+%

"So, do you always travel with a machete and a parachute?"

"I try to be prepared. You know, part of my job description."

"Or you're actually a manic-depressive that likes to alternate jumping out of planes with sharp objects with an imitation of a mime. Of course, the hair could carry a conversation by itself."

"Gee, you really know how to flatter a guy, McKay."

"And that's a grand total of twenty-two words from you in the last hour or so. How many miles have we walked anyway? Five? Ten?"

"I'd estimate about...one."

"Hello. Another person here. A little consideration when it comes to branches in the face, please."

"Oh, sorry. I didn't see hear you behind me alerting everyone within five miles to our presence, including the bad guys."

"I'm not shouting here. It's just that all this is new for me. Everything up to now in my life has pretty much been all theoretical, what I've read in books or discovered in a lab, and I'm having a little trouble reconciling that to a really hot, sweaty, not to mention grimy, reality."

"Sorry, did you say something, McKay?"

"I just thought that since we're going to be spending so much time together, we might as well...get to know each other a little bit. My sister keeps insisting that's important."

"You seem like the observant type."

"I like to think so."

"Then you must've observed by now that I'm not the type who's suddenly going to open up to you."

"So how long have you worked for the Library?"

"And yet you keep trying."

"I just want to get to know the Sheppard below the surface arrogance. Peel back the layers, as it were."

"What do you think you're going to find below the surface arrogance?"

"More arrogance. And then perhaps a few delicious layers of flaky disdain...all around a creamy sweet center of homicidal rage."

"What the fuck do I have to do to get you to shut up, McKay?"

"Waving the big knife around works. Okay, I won't ask you any more questions."

"One-mississippi, two-mississippi, three-mississippi...."

"So how long have you worked for the Library, Sheppard?"

"Two years."

"Well, do these jumping-out-of-airplane-jungle-adventure things happen to you often? By the way, what happened to the last Librarian?"

"Listen, you don't need to know about me. I don't need to know about you. We just need to be able to work together."

"So, I'm assuming nothing good, then."

%+%+%

"We're going to die."

"It's the only way across, McKay."

"That is not a way, it's a death sentence. Look at it. The support beams are decomposed. The crossbeams are completely rotted through. Termites would starve if they had to live off the wood that's left. This bridge cannot structurally support our weight and we are going to fall two hundred feet into the rapids and be swept over the falls to end up as finely-ground piranha food."

"This is not open for debate. Come on."

"Sheppard!"

"Take a chance, buddy. Just don't look down."

"Oh, God. I looked down. Why? Why do I always do that?"

"Focus on something else, McKay. You must have a girlfriend, right? Big glasses, doesn't shave her legs, wears Doc Martens? Makes you watch a lot of subtitled documentaries?"

"I'm...between...girlfriends...at the moment."

"I had the feeling. Come on, you're doing great. Tell me something. Have you figured out exactly where the second piece is yet?"

"You know, most of the clues are pretty self-explanatory."

"Good. Keep going, just don't forget you can walk and talk at the same time."

"All the clues except for this one, 'To get inside you must know the time it takes a bird to become a bird again.' Any idea what that means?"

"You're the brains, I'm the brawn. We're almost halfway there, come on."

"You know, I cannot believe that I was wrong about this bridge. I really didn't think that this would support our...."

"McKay! Take my hand!"

"Sheppard!"

"Reach. Reach for my hand!"

"Don't let go!"

"Come on, that's it. Grab hold of that crosspiece. Up!"

"Just don't let go, Sheppard."

"Keep reaching. There you go."

"Well, I hope you're having fun while I'm suffering from a dislocated everything."

"Actually, I am. That wasn't so bad...uh..... Run!"

"I told you! I told you this bridge couldn't support our weight, Sheppard!"

"Less talk! More running! Jump!"

%+%+%

Rodney leaned a little closer to the small fire to read the ancient script again. "To get inside you must know the time it takes a bird to become a bird again. The time it takes a bird to become a bird again. Bird, bird, bird. That must be some sort of metaphor. Usually a bird stands for reaching some sort of unattainable height...like a mountain or...or...I don't know what the hell I'm talking about anymore. Maybe I'm just not as smart as I thought I was."

Poking at the embers with a stick, Sheppard shook his head and drawled, "Come on, we've come too far for you to give up so easily. Maybe you just need to take a little break."

Rodney tucked the book back into the bag and stood, twisting and stretching cramped muscles with a groan. "O...kay. Hey, you wouldn't happen to have any toilet paper in your pack, would you?"

"What's the matter? Didn't pack any in that bag of yours along with all the sunscreen, power bars, and water bottles?" Sheppard mocked, "Knock yourself out." He pointed to a large leaf on the ground and returned his attention to the fire.

"Gee, thanks, Great White Hunter." Rodney gingerly picked the leaf up and examined it for passengers before stepping out of the firelight. As he edged deeper into the bushes, he spotted lights and movement in the distance. Backing away slowly, he whispered, "Sheppard. Come here."

Sheppard was there instantly, responding to the urgency in Rodney's summons. "Damn it. It's the Serpent Brotherhood." He drew Rodney away from the edge of the cliff they were camped on.

"Do you think they saw us?"

Sheppard shook his head, but still kicked dirt over the fire. "No, but just to be safe...."

"Should we go on tonight, or are we staying?"

Resuming his seat on the ground, Sheppard settled back against a convenient log. "They wouldn't dare make that climb until morning." He waved toward the bushes in the opposite direction. "You can go to the bathroom now."

Rodney crumpled the leaf and slumped down next to Sheppard. "Lost the urge." He rubbed his hands along his arms, and then draped his jacket over his shoulders. "Kind of cold without that fire. You know...wind-chill factor...dew-point." He looked pointedly at Sheppard's short sleeves.

Sheppard grabbed his knapsack and extracted the parachute, offering it to Rodney. "Here, this should help."

"It'll work better if we both...." Rodney held one edge out, waiting for Sheppard to wrap the thin fabric around his back. After a brief hesitation, he did and brought it around to snug against his chest. Rodney relaxed against the crumbling wood with a sigh. As he slid a little lower, he tipped his head back to gaze up at the night sky. He raised the hand next to Sheppard to point out some constellations. "That's Sheliak and Terebellum, Cassiopeia."

"Don't tell me. You memorized the universe, too," Sheppard drawled with a chuckle.

"Well, the known universe. Genius with degree in astrophysics here." Rodney subsided for a few minutes before venturing a question. "Sheppard, what happened to the last Librarian?"

Sheppard's answered in a quiet monotone. "He died. End of story. I'm no good at remembering details."

"I highly doubt that," Rodney scoffed. "You're the type that remembers everything."

Sheppard shifted impatiently, the nylon whispering with the movement. "You don't know anything about me, McKay."

"You have an older brother and you rode horses growing up. Your favorite color is blue, although you wear black because you think it makes you look tough." Rodney paused for a moment when he felt Sheppard tensing beside him. "And you wish more than anything that you could forget half of what you've seen. But you can't."

Rodney waited for the demand for an explanation, surprised when Sheppard rasped, "Impressive. I wonder if I could do the same thing for you."

"Be my guest," Rodney shrugged, grateful that he hadn't trespassed too far.

Sheppard's analysis was succinct. "Geek."

Rodney nodded with a laugh. "Fair enough." He waited another minute, and then asked, "Tell me about the last Librarian...Harold Maybourne?"

Rodney was convinced Sheppard would refuse once again, but the other man finally sighed and began to speak. "To be honest, I spent almost two years working with Maybourne, but I'm not sure I can tell you what kind of man he really was. He was smart, tough...ambitious. He was always looking for the next best thing and, in the end, that's what killed him."

Sheppard fell silent for a moment before continuing. "We were in the Antarctic tracking down a rumor, and one night we both...fell asleep...instead of splitting the watch. When I woke up the next morning, he was gone. I tracked him down just in time to see the Serpent Brotherhood...they...they cut off his head. I ended up pretty badly injured, but I managed to get away. Maybourne's body was never recovered." Throwing off the parachute, Sheppard scrambled to his feet and paced to the edge of the small campsite. He stood there looking out into the night, his back to Rodney.

Restraining the impulse to go to him, Rodney called softly, "Sheppard?"

Sheppard's voice sounded raw. "So now you know, McKay. I had one simple assignment...protect The Librarian...and I failed."

"It wasn't your...."

Sheppard wouldn't let Rodney finish. "It's late and we have a long walk ahead of us tomorrow. Get some sleep, McKay."

Regretting his stubborn need to know, Rodney wrapped the parachute a little tighter around himself and closed his eyes. As he drifted into an exhausted sleep, he heard a harsh whisper that soothed at the same time it reminded him of the danger they were in. "I won't let it happen again, McKay. I promise."

%+%+%

"We have company, McKay."

"I don't see anybody."

"They're right behind us. Run!"

"Oh, no...we're screwed! They're gaining on us!"

"Come on, McKay, stop looking back. Move!"

"Sheppard, wait!"

"Keep up! Bad guys chasing behind us!"

"Why did you stop? Oh, shit, another cliff. Are you smiling? I don't think I like it when you smile, because that usually means you're about to do something dangerous."

"You know me so well already. Take my hand, Rodney."

"Sheppard?"

"Come on, we need a running start. One, two, three...go!"

"Ohhhhhh.....shhhhiiiitttt!"

"Rodney?"

"John! John!"

"I've got you, Rodney! Come on, swim! Just a little bit farther!"

"I think...I...I think...I hate you."

"You have to be...alive to...do that, so go right...ahead, McKay. Keep on hating me...and swim."

%+%+%

"All right, this is one of the markers the now exceedingly damp book mentioned. We're getting close. All we have to do is walk the circumference of the Earth divided by the length of the Fortress of Ollantaytambo."

"That's all, hunh? And just how the hell are we going to figure that out?"

"Simple. It's 8191 feet."

"The fifth Mersenne prime?"

"Are you sure you're just a bodyguard?"

"What? Math is not allowed, only grunting and shooting?"

"Never mind...that way. Since I know I can cover a yard with each stride, start counting by threes."

"Three, six, nine...."

%+%+%

"...Eight thousand, one hundred, ninety." Sheppard stopped counting and surveyed the surrounding jungle with a jaundiced eye. "There's nothing here. You must have gotten something wrong."

Rodney began sweeping aside layers of vines insisting, "I don't get the facts wrong. It's everything else I screw up. When the Toltecs invaded Chichén Itzá, it was rumored that a group of Mayan priests fled Mexico with their entire treasury." With a cry of triumph, he revealed a rough carving exactly where he'd expected it. He pushed past it, deeper into the underbrush, Sheppard following close behind. "As the story goes, they built a Mayan temple deep in the Amazon jungle to hide the treasure...." They broke through to a clearing and tipped their heads back in an attempt to gauge the height of the massive stone structure in front of them. "..never to be heard from again."

Sheppard led the way to the door decorated with arcane symbols. "So how do we get inside, genius?"

"Those are Mayan numbers." Rodney pointed out a series of characters carved into grid of stone tiles. "Mayan priests were obsessed with numbers."

Sheppard stood next to him, arms crossed, biting his lower lip as he examined the tiles. "You would have fit right in."

"Speak for yourself, Mr. Mersenne Prime," Rodney retorted. He began to repeat the remaining clue as he searched for the answer. "The time it takes a bird to become a bird. To get inside you must know the time it takes a bird to become a bird again." Glancing to the side, he spotted another symbol that jostled a memory free. "The procession!"

"What's that?"

"The time it takes the constellations, what Mayans called "birds of heaven"...to make a complete revolution around the galaxy, 25939 years." Rodney pressed one of the tiles and it recessed into the door with a click before returning to its staring position. "Two." He selected another tile. "Five. The Mayans were the first to discover it." He finished the last three in quick succession. "Nine. Three. Nine."

Sheppard grinned as he teased, "And it just happens to be a centered triangular prime." His eyes widened and the grin disappeared as the stone slab beneath their feet began to rumble. Neither man had time to jump free before they fell into the pit that suddenly opened.

Sheppard rolled over with a groan and looked up at Rodney, who'd already bounced to his feet and was examining the walls of the dimly lit chamber. "Where are we?'

"I am not sure...oh, no! We are in a Mayan death chamber. Escape is granted only to those who can solve the secret of the room. The only way out...is that doorway on the other side."

Sheppard crawled to the edge of the pit that occupied the space between them and escape, and grimaced at the sight of the sharpened stakes that filled it. "Oooookay, so how do we get to that door?"

Rodney rolled his eyes at the ridiculous question. "That's the secret. Basically, we have to find a way to get to that doorway on the other side before the wall pushes us into the abyss and we end up with a lot of extra holes where we don't need them."

Sheppard rose to his feet and dusted himself off. "I guess that's what makes you a genius. Any clues in that book of yours?"

"No...." A grinding noise brought Rodney's head up from the book and his eyes widened at the sight of the wall that was steadily advancing, forcing them closer and closer to the pit. "This is definitely not good."

"Just in case you haven't noticed, McKay, now would be a damn good time to come up with something brilliant." Sheppard grunted as he shoved back against the wall, his feet slipping on dust and gravel.

"Sure, Rodney, just figure it out. Fate of the world is in your hands, you just have to solve the impossible puzzle in an impossible number of seconds." Rodney's hands waved in the air as he scanned the walls for clues.

"That's why you're on the mission," Sheppard snarled. "Now quit whining and focus."

Rodney's head drooped in defeat. "I got nothing."

"Great. Choking, just like I knew you would."

"Hey!" Rodney's flash of anger transitioned to a half-hearted smile. "Oh, I get it, reverse psychology. Good idea, wish it worked."

Back against the wall, Sheppard continued to push back as hard as he could. "No, not reverse psychology. Very real anger and excessive aggravation."

Snapping fingers heralded a solution. "Okay, I got it. This is an exact replica of their Great Temple of Teotihuacán. It's three hundred quahuitls by twenty quahuitls." Tracing a faint pattern on the side wall, Rodney muttered, "That means there's a place in this chamber where all priests could receive salvation no matter what and that place would be..." Rodney whirled and pointed. "...there?"

Sheppard's jaw dropped in disbelief. "That's midair, genius."

"You trust me?" Rodney didn't wait for an answer. "Hey, you only live once...unless, of course, you believe in Buddhism or Sikhism in which case you...."

"In these all-to-fleeting final seconds of my life, I could really learn to hate you, McKay."

"Never mind that...jump!" Both men used the last remaining inches of ground to leap halfway across the pit to land in midair, their eyes wide in astonishment at their escape from certain death. Rodney tapped his foot cautiously, his voice shaking from adrenaline as he gasped, "Fascinating! It's an optical illusion. Mirrors. The Mayans were the first tribe in the Americas to use them."

Sheppard stared down at the stakes thirty feet below their dusty boots and nodded slowly. "Magic tricks are going on the list right after Ferris wheels."

"What?"

Sheppard shook off his bemusement. "Never mind. What say we get back on solid ground?"

Sliding each foot forward a few inches at a time, they felt their way across the invisible bridge to the other side, both taking deep breaths of relief when they were no longer suspended above the abyss on what appeared to be air. Through the doorway, they spied the unmistakable gleam of gold and Rodney surged forward in excitement. "There it is! There's the second piece."

"Stop!" Sheppard snagged Rodney's sleeve and yanked him backwards just as something clicked under his boot. Several somethings swished across the passageway leading to the treasure, and Rodney's eyes widened at the sight of arrows, spears, and razor-sharp pendulums slashing through the space where he would have been standing. Sheppard growled, "Booby-trapped, genius."

"Thanks." Standing in the doorway, Rodney attempted to discern a pattern to the release of the deadly array. "Well, at least it's an exact rhythm. One, two, three. One, two, three. Why does that sound so familiar?"

Sheppard's brows rose increasingly higher with each pass of the pendulums. "It's a...a waltz? You've got to be kidding. We have to dance our way to the treasure?"

"We're doomed," Rodney moaned. "I think I broke every toe of every girl that I danced with when they taught us in high school. Even my sister wouldn't dance with me at the prom."

"You took your sister to the high school...?"

Rodney grimaced at the memory, before appearing to erase it with a waving hand. "All right, all right. Don't start."

"Come on, we'll do it together." Sheppard placed one hand on Rodney's hip and drew him in close, offering his other hand for Rodney to clasp. "I remember how to do this. It's easy. It's all in the hips."

Rodney looked down at where he'd narrowly missed adding another set of toes to his lifetime totals and whispered under his breath, "One, two, three...one, two, three...one, two, three." He yelped when Sheppard began to step forward. "Wait! Not yet. Not ready yet." He returned to counting. "One, two, three...one, two, threeeeeeeeee!"

"Come on, just keep those baby blues focused on me." Dragging Rodney along with him, Sheppard had avoided the first set of arrows, and they'd paused in the narrow space before the spears. "One, two, three....one, two, three!" They were safely past the spears, and they faced the swinging pendulums. "One, two, three!"

"Oh, my God. We did it," gasped Rodney, his exclamation muffled since his head was very close to his knees. "I have to admit you have an incredible sense of timing, Sheppard." He raised his head just in time to dart forward and yank Sheppard's hand back before he could take the middle section of the Spear from its carved pedestal. "No!"

Shaking out his crushed fingers, Sheppard grumbled, "You better have a damn good reason for doing that."

Rodney urged Sheppard back a few steps, explaining, "My turn. These things are always booby-trapped." He searched the surrounding piles of golden artifacts and snatched up a faceted crystal about the size of a baseball.

Snapping his fingers impatiently, Sheppard held out his hand. "I'll do it."

Rodney's chin rose at the implication that he couldn't manage. "No, I can do it." He drew his arm back and released the crystal with a grunt, wincing as it thudded against the wall at least four feet to the side of the pedestal. Waving Sheppard back, he selected another crystal. "I just forgot to factor in...the...the slope of the floor." Ignoring Sheppard's rolling eyes, he threw again, the piece and its display stand tumbling to the floor with a clang at the direct hit.

The massive block that crashed to the floor in front of the pedestal proved Rodney's hypothesis dramatically.

%+%+%

Rodney blinked up at the sun as they emerged from the temple. "You know...it was surprisingly easy to get back out after all that. I can't help wondering when the other shoe's going to drop."

"Hey, you need to stay positive, McKay." Sheppard clapped a hand on Rodney's shoulder and grinned. "Just be glad it was a piece of cake...once floors stopped disappearing and the walls quit throwing sharp things at us."

Rodney shrugged and checked his canvas bag again. "Sorry, I guess the glass has always been half-empty as far as I'm concerned...you know...always looking for the potholes in life."

Sheppard dropped his arm and bent over to brush the dust off his used-to-be-black cargo pants, his hair flopping forward under the weight of the humid air. "I guess we're going to have to work on that negative attitude of yours...later. In the meantime, why don't you point us in the direction of civilization, buddy? Somewhere out there's a hot shower and a cold beer calling my name, and I plan to make their acquaintance before we tackle the third piece."

"Sure, give me a second...we need to head...oh, no...." Dismay flashed across Rodney's face as a half-dozen dark-clad men stepped out of the jungle, rifles at ready. A familiar tattoo coiled around more than one forearm in the group.

The tall man at the front of the dangerous-looking crowd smirked. "I believe the operative phrase is 'hands up,' Sheppard."

Rodney groaned, "And there's that other shoe."

"Maybourne?" Sheppard's choked whisper revealed his shock at the sight of the newcomer.

Smoothing back dark hair containing a hint of gray at the temples, Maybourne sneered, "I knew all I had to do was hang back and you'd bring me the piece eventually, Sheppard." Snapping his fingers, he directed one of his minions to hand him the canvas bag they'd ripped away from Rodney. Dipping his hand inside, he extracted the section of the Spear and admired it as it flashed in the sunlight. He dipped his head towards Sheppard in a parody of thanks. "I appreciate all your hard work."

"You're...you're the last Librarian," blurted Rodney. "Wait a minute. You're dead."

Maybourne's chuckle was condescending. "And yet, here I stand."

"I saw you die, Maybourne." Sheppard shook his head in disbelief, his voice rough with emotion.

"What you witnessed was an elaborate special effect, which allowed me to take my proper place as the Grand Master of the Serpent Brotherhood." Maybourne shrugged as if it should have been apparent to Sheppard all along. "I must say, though, your rage and despair was...perfect. I couldn't have planned it better myself."

Rodney's querulous voice intruded on the reunion. "I don't understand. Why go to all this trouble if you...."

Maybourne tilted his head, his eyes focused intently on Sheppard. "Absolute power is the ultimate aphrodisiac." His smile lifted at one corner with disdain. "You must remember how much I enjoyed a good aphrodisiac...John."

"I'll kill you myself, you bastard." Fists clenched in rage, Sheppard lunged, his forward momentum interrupted when a rifle butt connected with the back of his head. He dropped to his knees with a groan, as Rodney struggled unsuccessfully to reach his side. It only took a few seconds for Sheppard's hands to be secured behind his back and his machete to be removed from its sheath, leaving him helpless.

Drawing a revolver from the holster under his arm, Maybourne leveled it a few inches from Sheppard's temple. "Goodbye, Sheppard. Too bad we couldn't enjoy one last time together, but my destiny awaits."

"Stop!" Rodney shouted while throwing all his weight against the men that restrained him. "You can't kill him!"

Maybourne looked up, obviously intrigued by Rodney's vehemence. "Why not?"

Raising his chin in defiance, Rodney declared, "Because you know you need me to find the last piece...and I won't do it without him."

Maybourne snorted in dismissal. "I don't need you. I have this." Pulling the distinctly bedraggled book from the canvas bag, he flipped it open, and then yelped in protest, "The Language of the Birds! No one can read this!"

It was Rodney's turn to sneer. "No one...except the real Librarian. In plain old English, that means you're up the proverbial creek...and I happen to possess the only paddle."

Thrusting the book into Rodney's hands, Maybourne leaned forward and offered smoothly, "All right then, tell me where the last piece is...and I'll let him live."

"Don't tell him, McKay!" Sheppard shouted, twisting his hands in a futile struggle against his bonds.

Glowering at Sheppard's protests, Rodney complied with the demand. "It's in...Shangri-la."

Shifting the gun from Sheppard's temple to under Rodney's jaw, Maybourne snarled, "Don't fuck around with me. That's just another stupid legend."

Rodney's lips thinned as he gritted out details. "According to the book, Shangri-la is located at Mount Kailas. In the Himalayas."

Jerking forward in anger, Sheppard raged, "McKay!"

Straightening up as Maybourne returned the gun to his holster, Rodney retorted, "Well, excuse me for trying to save your life, Sheppard!"

"Let's move out!" Maybourne took the lead as the Brotherhood left the ruins behind, Rodney and Sheppard relegated to the center of the group, hands still tied behind their backs and of little use when it came to maintaining their balance on the uneven path.

Sheppard stumbled and slammed his shoulder into McKay's. He took advantage of the distraction to hiss, "You're an idiot, McKay. The Spear is more important than my life."

Shoving back in irritation, Rodney whispered hoarsely, "Now, who's being Mr. Negative?" Keeping his voice low, he leaned in closer as they trekked side-by-side through the rainforest. "Listen, he's not going to get anywhere near the third piece of the Spear...not unless I interpret the clues in the book. That means I just bought us some extra time to come up with a brilliant plan to get the Spear back and save the world." Turning his head toward Sheppard, he offered a tentative smile. "Look on the bright side. At least you didn't fail at your job by letting the previous Librarian get killed."

Sheppard grimaced and drawled sarcastically, "Right. He just faked his own death, using me as a reliable witness, and became the head of an evil organization trying to take over the world. Jesus, McKay, just...don't try to cheer me up anymore. I swear if my outlook gets any brighter, I'll end up running off the nearest cliff...and I left my parachute back at the temple."

%+%+%

"It's this way!" Yelling against the high winds tearing at the snowy path, Rodney pointed towards a barely visible pass. As Maybourne shoved past on the inside edge, Rodney slipped and skidded over the side to dangle at the end of the line tethering him to Sheppard.

"Rodney! No!" Sheppard dug in his heels and began to pull Rodney back up to the path, hand-over-hand. "I've got you! Hold on!" Finally, the others realized what had happened and helped Sheppard yank Rodney back onto the slippery path...and into a full-body hug.

Rodney trembled as he glanced over Sheppard's shoulders at the jagged rocks below, the only word he could manage a shaky "John," against a pointed ear.

Slapping Rodney's back briskly before releasing him, Sheppard shouted over the wind, "Come on, genius, stick close! I'm not losing you that easily!"

Furious at the delay, Maybourne stalked back to the group and raged, "You're the one that insisted we had to do this on foot instead of using the helicopter, McKay! I swear, if you're leading me on a wild-goose chase, I'll kill you myself...slowly and very painfully!"

Rodney merely shook his head at the threat and took point again, stopping in amazement as he emerged from the narrow pass onto a ledge overlooking the legendary land known as Shangri-la. The others quickly gathered behind him, eyes and mouths wide in awe. In uncharacteristic silence, he exchanged a look with Sheppard and began the long descent to the green valley containing a golden temple raised on a distant plateau...and the final piece of the Spear of Destiny.

%+%+%

"Welcome, travelers. It's long been prophesied that you would arrive today." The saffron-robed monk bowed low as he greeted them, his broad smile revealing no suspicion at the Brotherhood's armed presence.

Maybourne stepped forward with gun in hand and demanded, "Take us to the Spear."

Standing back, the monk calmly waved toward the gleaming temple. "What you seek is concealed within."

Thrusting the unresisting monks before them, the raiders stormed into the temple to halt in front of a giant gilded statue of the Lord Buddha. Ornate symbols decorated the rounded belly above folded hands, the lines of a compartment barely visible around them.

"Open it," Maybourne barked.

The abbot calmly informed the angry man, "We are merely the keepers of the temple. We do not hold the secret of the repository."

Yanking Rodney forward and silently directing one of the Brotherhood to release his hands, Maybourne replied, "Well, fortunately, he does." Shoving Rodney toward the statue, Maybourne ordered him to, "Open it..." and then thrust his gun under Sheppard's chin, finishing with, "...or I blow his brains out."

Reading the inscription at the base of the plinth, Rodney frowned and then moaned, "Oh, no. This can't be right."

Dragging his stubbornly silent prisoner with him, Maybourne approached the statue. "What is it?"

Rodney pointed at the characters, explaining haltingly, "Well, it says...that this can only be opened...with the name of...God."

Maybourne shrugged, his gun digging into the flesh of Sheppard's throat and leaving a red mark behind when Sheppard flinched back. "So?"

"So...the name of God is only the biggest secret in the world." Rodney's waving hands made it clear how impossible he believed the task to be. "For thousands of years people have tried to identify it. You expect me to do it in fifteen seconds?"

"Well, that's approximately how long he has to live if you don't." Maybourne shoved Sheppard to his knees and positioned the gun at his temple once more.

Wincing at the threat, Rodney turned back to the puzzle. "All right, all right. Just...." Snapping fingers signaled a breakthrough before Rodney leaned forward to touch two of the symbols. "M. E. Me." He turned around to share his reasoning. "Fundamental religious concept...God is within us all." He stood back as the compartment ground open revealing the final piece within.

Maybourne strode forward and bent to peer into the compartment, reaching out to grasp the prize, but halting at the last second. "No. It's too easy." Returning to where Sheppard knelt, he yanked him to his feet and freed his hands before shoving him toward the open compartment. "You do it."

Rodney lurched forward, grasping Sheppard's arm before he could reach inside. "No, John...I'll do it."

"McKay, get away from him." Maybourne waved Rodney back with his gun before reissuing his orders, "Sheppard, bring me that piece! Now!" Fumbling in his pocket, Maybourne pulled out a radio. "Collins, fly up here now. Track my signal."

Taking advantage of Maybourne's slight distraction, Sheppard darted forward and grabbed the spear head from the compartment, holding it above his head as he turned back around to face the Brotherhood. Behind him, Rodney gasped, and the entire temple began to shake as the statue began to sink into the floor. Monks and Brotherhood alike toppled to the ground as the pillars and ceiling crumbled around them.

Maybourne narrowly avoided a falling beam as he ran forward. "I want that piece, John!"

Knocking Maybourne's gun out of his hand with a kick, Sheppard shook his head. "And a man in hell wants ice water. Doesn't mean he's going to get it." Whirling, he drew his arm back and whipped it forward, the speed of the move sending Maybourne scrambling to peer through the dust, trying to locate where the spear piece had landed. Without waiting to see if Maybourne was successful, Sheppard scooped up the gun, grabbed Rodney's elbow, and dragged him toward the entrance.

Behind them, Maybourne shouted orders at his fleeing men, pointing at the rear of the collapsing temple. "Wait! Get back here! Get the Spear! Get the Spear!"

Just outside the doors, Rodney yanked his arm free and shouted, "John! Hold on! We have to get that piece!"

A gleaming spear head emerged from the sheath still attached to Sheppard's belt. "It's called misdirection. Guess I've picked up a magic trick or two myself along the way." He grinned and shoved the blade back into the sheath before pushing Rodney into a run toward the edge of the plateau. "Come on. There's the helicopter."

Distracted by the chaos in the temple, the pilot was easily disarmed and quickly deposited on the shaking ground. After scrambling into the co-pilot's seat, Rodney turned to Sheppard and asked with a worried frown, "Since you were in the Air Force, I'm assuming you know how to fly one of these things?" He jammed the earphones on his head and buckled in without waiting for an answer.

Wearing his own set of earphones, Sheppard grinned as he flipped switches and engaged the throttle. "Not a problem." The helicopter lifted a few feet from the ground and side-slipped toward the plateau's edge. "See. Easy as pie."

Rodney grabbed for the sides of his seat as the helicopter dropped over the edge, his voice rising in a panicked chant. "Horrible! Horrible! High-velocity pie of death!"

Sheppard laughed. "Settle down, McKay. I've got it under control." As the rotating blades caught an updraft, the helicopter began to rise again, clearing the surrounding mountains with a least a few feet to spare, heading for somewhere safe where Maybourne wasn't.

%+%+%

"Dr. McKay."

Woolsey's appearance on the hotel room's television set didn't surprise Rodney as much as it once might have. Dropping the towel he'd been using to dry his hair on the carpet, Rodney perched on the foot of the bed and reported, "If you're concerned, the third piece of the Spear is right..." Reaching under the mattress, he slid the spear head free and held it up for Woolsey. "...right here. Of course, Maybourne and the Serpent Brotherhood still have the other two pieces...."

"Nevertheless, good work...both of you. Despite the details Sheppard supplied in his latest report, I still finding it difficult to believe that was Maybourne all along. He was a fine Librarian." Woolsey frowned and shook his head ruefully before looking up with a renewed smile. "Thank goodness, we have a better one now. Oh, you'd better get the door." His face disappeared from the screen.

Resolving to track down the details of the technology Woolsey was using to keep tabs on him, as soon as he could find the time, Rodney sighed and shuffled tiredly to the door. He frowned in puzzlement at the waiter that wheeled in a cart holding sandwiches, glasses, and a frosted pitcher of beer. "Excuse me, but I don't remember ordering anything."

"I did." Sheppard walked out of the steam-filled bathroom with a towel around his waist, scrubbing at his spiky hair with another. "I've had my hot shower, but I'm too tired to hit the bar...so I ordered room service."

Reluctantly focusing his eyes away from the line of dark curls that began at Sheppard's chest and trailed downward to disappear beneath a loosely knotted towel, Rodney nodded. "Good idea, since it'll be another hour or so before we get our clothes back from the laundry." He selected one of the sandwiches and took a bite, chewing as he noted, "It's too bad the stores in Ulan Bator are closed this late in the day, otherwise we might have done something wild and crazy and bought new ones."

Wandering over to the bed with a sandwich in one hand and half a glass of beer in the other, Rodney sat down on the edge to rapidly dispose of both. "You know, I still can't believe it. I keep expecting to wake up with a keyboard stuck to my face. I never thought I'd end up jumping out of planes or over cliffs or swimming rivers or solving ancient puzzles. Well, maybe the ancient puzzles because...genius...but the rest...."

Ignoring the sandwiches in favor of a tall glass of beer, John chugged half of it before he sat down next to Rodney. Nudging him with a mildly bony elbow, Sheppard teased, "I have to admit, McKay, you're not the useless geek I thought you were at first."

Shoving back with a shoulder, Rodney huffed, "And you're not the suicidal psychopath I originally thought that you were. Well, actually you still are...but in a saved-my-life-more-than-once good way." Standing up to refill his glass, he wobbled as the room took a little spin. "Whoa, is it getting hot in here?"

After peering at his empty glass, Sheppard nodded. "A little bit. Maybe you should...take off...something." He dropped the glass to the carpet and flopped back on the bed.

Leaving his own glass on the cart, Rodney shuffled back to the bed and crawled across it to look down at the grinning Sheppard. "Are you feeling okay, John?" He ended up sprawled next to Sheppard when the other man reached out and yanked on the towel where it was knotted haphazardly around Rodney's waist.

"Actually, I'm feeling pretty damn good...and so do you. Soft...."

%+%+%

"Hey, you! Yeah, you at the desk! Have you seen the man who came in with me yesterday? He's about...he's about...my size...but thinner...uh...uh...brown...dark-brown hair...messy-looking....you know...rakish. God, my head is killing me. Well? What's the matter with you? Haven't you ever seen a naked guy in a sheet running around a hotel lobby before?"

"Is there something wrong, Dr. McKay?"

"Mr. Woolsey! There you are, back in the television! John is missing, and so is the Spear."

"Missing?"

"I woke up and he was...the Serpent Brotherhood may have taken him, or...."

"Or...."

"Oh. Oh, no. I think there was something in the beer.... I mean the way...he may have been in cahoots with Maybourne all along. Cahoots. I've been cahooted!"

"All right, all right, all is not lost, Dr. McKay. It took a great power to sunder the Spear. It'll take even more to fuse the pieces together again."

"Exactly how much power are we talking about?"

"Strip the mysticism aside, and you'll need a...a local electromagnetic field registering over eighteen on the...on the Schumm scale."

"Okay. Okay. That's good. The only time energy like that's been registered...was...during a peak full moon at the Great Pyramid when its capstone was in place. Since the Egyptian government refuses to replace...the...capstone.... Oh, no. The museum."

"I take it you've figured something out, Dr. McKay."

"Exactly. The next peak full moon is tomorrow night. Call in the Marines, Mr. Woolsey. I'm coming home."

"That's good to hear, Dr. McKay. However, in the interim, I'd suggest some...clothes?"

%+%+%

"Dr. McKay. It's good to see you." Rodney jerked away from the museum's service door as Woolsey approached from the shadows. He frowned as he rubbed his shoulder where it had collided with the door after he'd lost his temper with the stubborn lock. Halting a few feet away, Woolsey calmly informed him, "I've completed some reconnaissance, and we can get in through the ventilation system."

Straining his eyes to make out any additional figures in the dark alley behind Woolsey, Rodney asked, "Where are the Marines?"

"I afraid we're dealing with 'need to know.'" Woolsey dragged his shirt and tie to the left, far enough to reveal a small symbol tattooed over his heart. "Semper fi."

"Oh. You were a Marine? Good. That's...that's wonderful. Well, let's...let's get that spear back, shall we?"

%+%+%

"Serpent Brothers, a long-awaited prophecy becomes reality tonight!"

Rodney and Woolsey cautiously peered over the balcony located above the museum's atrium. A crowd of a dozen or so dark-clad worshippers was gathered in front of the pyramid's entrance, their enraptured faces illuminated by the flickering torches the museum had added to the display for authenticity. Maybourne held the three parts of the Spear above his head as he faced the Brotherhood, a dazed-looking Sheppard kneeling at his feet.

Woolsey pointed to the handcuffs binding Sheppard's arms backwards around a metal ticket stanchion. "There doesn't seem to be much cahooting going on now."

"I...I guess I made a mistake." Rodney winced as he confessed his error. "He definitely doesn't look good. Is that blood on his face?"

"We call down the power of the gods, the ancient ones!"

As they listened to the former Librarian's shouts, Rodney shook his head in disbelief. "Maybourne's really lost it, hasn't he?"

"Snake! Snake!"

The cries of the Brotherhood increased in volume and Rodney tugged at Woolsey's arm, urging him toward the stairs. "Come on. John's running out of time. We need to get down there."

"This temple...a gateway to eternal life. This weapon...consecrated with the blood of one who defied death. I claim the power of life and death!"

Rodney and Woolsey crouched behind a pillar as Maybourne declared himself a god before disappearing inside the pyramid with the spear pieces and two of the Brotherhood. Suddenly, blue light filled the atrium as the full moon reached its peak and shone down on the capstone. A high-pitched hum resonated through the air for a few moments before blood-curdling screams cut across the Brotherhood's chanting.

The Brotherhood fell silent when Maybourne emerged from the pyramid alone, the reconstructed Spear of Destiny held high. The self-declared god appeared to have shed at least ten years, his face smoother and his hair a glossy black. Rodney peeked around the marble curve of the pillar, muttering to himself. "I've finally gone insane. What made me think I could do this alone?"

Woolsey objected in a harsh whisper. "I'm here, too."

"Well, no offense, Mr. Woolsey, but..." Rodney watched wide-eyed as Woolsey whirled and dispatched a wandering Serpent Brother with a well-placed kick. "...you're a bad mother."

Woolsey straightened his tie and smirked. "Well, after all, I was The Librarian a few years back." Silently directing Rodney to circle left and come up behind Maybourne, Woolsey tiptoed toward the next set of pillars on the right.

"Oh, yes. I feel the power. The power of life...and the power of death!" Maybourne smiled down at Sheppard, who was silently struggling against the metal that bound him. "I can see now that not killing you before now was the right choice." Drawing his arm back, he appeared ready to thrust the spear through Sheppard's heart. "At last, John, with the power of the Spear...we can be one." He staggered backwards when a stone hit him in the forehead. A second one startled a cry of pain from Maybourne as blood began to flow just below his eye.

Searching for the culprit, Maybourne spotted Rodney standing twenty feet away with another stone in his hand, a pile of the museum's further attempts at authenticity at his feet. Pointing the Spear at Rodney, Maybourne ordered, "Kill him!" before retreating inside the pyramid to escape a flurry of stones.

Suddenly, Woolsey was attacking the Brotherhood from behind, confusing them as to the actual number of opponents. Rodney took advantage of the ensuing chaos and ran to Sheppard, reaching behind the stanchion and triumphantly holding up the handcuffs a few seconds later. When Sheppard scrambled to his feet, Rodney crowed, "Magic again. Houdini!"

After swiping the blood dripping from his forehead out of his eyes, Sheppard grasped Rodney's arm and rasped, "Listen, Maybourne's gone back inside to charge the Spear under the capstone. You have to get it away from him before he becomes too powerful." He shoved Rodney toward the door of the pyramid. "Go! We'll make sure the rest of them don't follow you in!" Wasting no time, Sheppard plunged into the fray, fists and feet dealing damage alongside Woolsey.

Rodney rushed inside, unsure what he could do to stop Maybourne, knowing he had no choice but to try. He skidded to a halt at the sight of Maybourne standing inside a pillar of blue moonlight, his eyes shimmering gold. Maybourne stepped out of the waning light and laughed. "You're too late, McKay. The power of the Spear is mine!" He thrust the weapon at McKay who dodged at the last moment.

Maybourne laughed again as he followed McKay around the perimeter of the pyramid, jabbing at him each time he drew close. "You're the best they could come up with?" Rodney's eyes widened when one of the misses blew a hole in the block next to him. He stumbled away, trying to get more distance between them. Maybourne sneered, "You're pathetic. You're too clumsy to even die properly."

Assessing the dimensions of the chamber, Rodney took up a position by an inner corner before taunting Maybourne. "I don't know about that. I danced pretty well with your guy."

Roaring in rage, Maybourne lunged forward again. "Goodbye, Librarian!"

Rodney dodged the Spear, the block he'd been standing in front of taking the brunt of the strike and cracking it in half. He moved back to the same spot and stood there with his arms crossed and chin raised high. "It's amazing what you can learn from books." He dodged again, and Maybourne's next thrust shifted half of the cracked block sideways.

The walls of the pyramid began to tremble, and Rodney darted away to the center of the chamber, which was no longer illuminated by the full moon. He continued his impromptu lecture. "For example, if even one of these support stones is misaligned...even by as little as an inch...the entire pyramid collapses." Rodney pointed to the shifted block. "I'd say that was out of alignment."

Eyes wild, Maybourne lunged across the crumbling chamber, the Spear passing within an inch of Rodney's shoulder as he ducked. "I will destroy you!"

Backing away and leaving Maybourne standing in the center as the walls began to cave in, Rodney shook his head. "You never will, Maybourne. Know why? Because the things that make life worth living aren't just stored in your head, they're also found..." He looked up in time to see the capstone break free and shouted, "...in your heart!"

Ears ringing from the crash, Rodney staggered forward to yank the Spear free from Maybourne's hand...the only part of his body that escaped being crushed by the capstone. Wrapping his free arm around his head, he stumbled across the rubble toward the collapsing entrance, coughing in the clouds of dust. As he emerged, the walls subsided behind him, leaving nothing that resembled a pyramid standing in place. He stood there blinking away the grit and grinned at the sight of the battered tag team of Woolsey and Sheppard swaying over the prone bodies of the Brotherhood.

Sheppard looked up and staggered toward him. "McKay!" He reached out, grasped Rodney's shoulder, and shook him gently. "You did it, Rodney." His knees suddenly buckled, and Rodney quickly stepped forward and looped Sheppard's arm around his neck to help keep him upright.

At a polite cough, Rodney glanced to the side and then handed over the Spear with a tilt of his head and a formal, "Mr. Woolsey. I believe...this...belongs to the Library."

%+%+%

"So, I guess you'll be out of here tomorrow. Bet you're tired of the nurses waking you up every hour because of the concussion. Hanging out at the library is probably looking pretty good as an alternative."

"Yeah. About that, McKay. I don't...."

"You know, I think we make a pretty good team. Granted, we hit a few rough spots, but it all worked out in the end. You brawn, me brain...."

"Listen, I've made a lot of mistakes and...."

"Of course, any successful partnership has a shakedown period. It takes time to learn how to deal with each other's...idiosyncrasies. I know I'm not an easy man to work with...and...and you've been great. I've never had anyone who was willing to...and you're good at math...what I mean to say is...."

"What you mean to say is, 'hurry up and get out of here, so I don't have to spend all day alone with Woolsey'...right?"

"I...right! Exactly! Hey, did I tell you what I found in the inventory listing? A personal jetpack! I always wanted one of those when I was a kid, but after I worked out how large the fuel cell would need to be in order to...."

Epilogue

"That's just it, Jeannie. Being a librarian is actually working out pretty well for me."

"I still don't understand how you can be happy shelving books and letting all those degrees go to waste."

"Actually, you'd be surprised at how often I get to use them."

"Fine, I'll drop it for now. Did you decide on Christmas?"

"I'm not sure what my schedule's going to be like, but I'll do my best. Just lighten up on the tofurkey...and trying to fix me up. Okay?"

"So does that mean you're still seeing this mysterious friend of yours?"

"Well...it's complicated. Hey, let me put you on hold for a second...."

"McKay, hang up the phone. We've got to hit the road. Now. The Deadly Scorpion League has found H.G. Wells' time machine."

"And only Team Sheppard can get it back. Just a second. Jeannie? Listen, I'll catch you later. Love you, too. Bye. You know, we just finished up with the Black Widows and now there's the Deadly Scorpion League. What is it with bad guys using insect names?"

"I don't know, but it sure creeps me out. I hate bugs. Here, put this on."

"This is a motorcycle helmet."

"Can't slide anything past you, genius. Let's go."

"You're smiling again. Why are you smiling?"

"There's a dozen time-traveling ninjas out to kill us...and my new bike goes over two hundred miles-an-hour."

"Suicidal maniac."

"Geek."