“What asshole forgot that this was an international expedition?” Rodney groused as he walked behind John through a lower level on Atlantis. They didn’t dare go anywhere alone.
Carson had sent him and John into isolation immediately upon their arrival from their mission to visit Karas and the children of M7G-677. “I need the two of you away from this,” he ordered over the radio. It was the middle of Atlantis’ night and Carson must have worked with Lorne to get everyone else away from the Jumper Bay. John sometimes forgot that Carson’s ATA gene was relatively strong, when he was confident enough to use it, and he had somehow managed to convince the Jumper to not open.
“But we can help!” John had protested.
Carson’s look had softened as he looked at them. “At this point, since you haven’t been here, you’re the only two I know for sure that have not come in contact with Dr. Matias. I need to keep you away from everyone. I’m pulling rank on both of you – this is a major medical emergency.”
“For how long?” Rodney wearily rubbed two fingers across his forehead.
“Incubation is as long as three weeks,” Carson explained. “So four weeks, just to be safe.”
“A month!” Rodney protested. “The city will fall apart...”
“Go. Now,” Carson commanded. “Someone needs to stay safe.” He hesitated. “And... I know it will be hard, don’t listen in and don’t check the city database. It’s going to be ugly here before it gets better.”
“But we just can’t leave and not know what’s going on,” John had protested.
“Major Lorne or I will leave you a message in seven days,” Carson allowed. He looked at them seriously. “Don’t reply and don’t go looking for anything. I need you to stay safe.”
“Carson!” Rodney had begged.
“Go. Leave before someone else finds you, or this is all for naught.” Carson turned and walked out of the bay.
Fortunately, the Jumper was fully stocked with MREs and ammunition. All of the Jumpers were stocked with a minimum of a three week supply of food on board, and John sincerely hoped they wouldn’t need any ammunition.
From the Jumper control panel, John opened the roof of the landing bay and, turning on the cloak to ensure no one would see them, flew up into the sky. He circled the city for a bit before Rodney told him where to set down.
“There’s a gap in the transporter system between where we’ve been living and here,” Rodney pointed to an area on the ‘South’ pier. “The area is stable, but it’s a long walk to get here from anywhere and there are some downed buildings we’ve never needed to clean up along the way. So that’s also in the way and make it harder for anyone to find us.”
“That should be perfect,” John agreed.
They found a set of rooms at ground level with running water, even if it was only lukewarm – “Solar heat,” Rodney theorized – and close to where they landed the Jumper.
The rooms were barren, by Ancient standards. No furniture, nothing left behind to give any indication that anyone had ever lived there. They brought the bedrolls from the Jumper and settled in for the night.
By morning, after a restless night sleep, John was more than ready to go back to see what he could do to help. “I should be there,” he protested. “I’m the fucking military commander.”
“And you’ll expose yourself and you’ll be dead! Then what?” Rodney shouted. “You’re no good to anyone if you’re dead.” He took a deep breath. “And for once I’m going to be fucking selfish. You’re no good to me if you’re dead.”
John look startled at the intensity of Rodney’s statement.
“I... I don’t want to...” John stumbled.
“Then trust Carson and Lorne to take care of it,” Rodney said. Then sighed. “We really don’t have any choice.”
They treated it like any mission away from Atlantis. They stuck together, took turns checking out the surrounding space and set up a perimeter alarm. And waited. John took to climbing the stairs in the building for exercise while Rodney worked on some of his personal projects on his laptops.
A week later, a small ‘ding’ was heard from Rodney’s laptop.
“That rat-bastard!” Rodney gritted his teeth. “Zelenka must have rigged the city to send the message directly to me.”
“Open it!” John said semi-patiently.
They could see the weariness on Carson’s face. The image showed that he was in his office but nothing else.
“Hello. I do hope you’re safe. Radek was kind enough to set up this messaging system so I could send you this without going through the regular channels.” Carson looked down at something he was fiddling with.
“Every member of the expedition has tested positive at this point,” he said softly. “The city quarantine protocols have, obviously, not kicked in. We don’t know why. It may not recognize the illness.” He sighed. “Not that it would have done too much good. But it’s just as well, we can get to everyone and bring them into the infirmary and some of the nearby spaces we’ve taken over.”
“Anyway,” he continued. “I’m glad I sent you away and I truly hope you stay there. It’s even more dangerous now, and it’ll be another week before we really have a better handle on what’s going to happen. I’m putting all the records in the medical database, so it will be there.”
“I’ll send you another message in another seven days,” Carson said. “Stay safe.” He gave a wan grin as he ended the message.
“Fucking hell!” John murmured.
Rodney put a hand on John’s arm. “And you’d be sick, too, if we had stayed. We probably both would be.”
“I know, I know,” John murmured.
If John held him closer than usual that night, Rodney didn’t mention it.
The next seven days dragged endlessly. Both John and Rodney were aware that people were probably dying as they waited for word from Carson.
The ‘ding’ of the next message only ratcheted up the tension.
Lorne was the messenger this time. He looked exhausted, pale and in desperate need of a shower. “Doc asked me to contact you. All of the medical staff... the ones that are still functioning, are pretty overwhelmed. We’ve lost seventeen people so far, and there’s another dozen in critical condition. Doc thinks there’s three, four people who might be getting better, but it’s too early to be sure. Everyone else is sick to some degree, there’s only a few that are really functional. We’re struggling to keep any food service going, so we’re going through MREs pretty fast. There’s some fresh food still in refrigeration, but we’re not sure if it’s contaminated and there’s no one able to prepare it anyway. There are stores in the freezer that there’s no one to deal with and I’ve had that locked up. If there are any survivors besides you, you’re going to need food.” He took a couple of breaths, as if talking this much tired him out.
“I’ve locked up everything but side arms at this point,” Lorne went on. “I don’t want anyone who gets the bright idea to fight their way out of here the option to do too much damage. You should be able to get in, if you need.”
Lorne looked into the camera. “Knowing you’re both out there – and healthy -- keeps me going, you know. I know the Doc feels the same. So we need you to be out there and to stay away. I know you both want to be here... but there’s nothing you can do. Stay safe and we’ll update you in four days.”
“Fuck.” John said softly.
“Amen.” Rodney agreed. “Now what?”
“I guess we wait,” John sighed. “This is killing me.”
“At least it’s not literally killing you,” Rodney pointed out. “But... what if we’re the only ones left? What do we do?”
“There are disaster plans for almost any scenario,” John said. “And just about everyone dying is one of them.”
“Why am I not surprised?” Rodney replied with a small grin.
John shrugged. “Once the illness has run its course, we try to contact the SGC and work with them on the next steps. At the very least, we see if they can get us more supplies. They’ll probably want to send a cleanup team before they let us go anywhere, even if we’re not in contact with anyone that’s been ill.”
“Makes sense,” Rodney said. “Guess we’ll just hang out here some more.”
The next message was also from Lorne, who looked worse. He sported a black eye and was slumped in a chair.
“A small group tried to get out through the Gate,” Lorne reported. “They couldn’t get into the Jumper bay, so they tried to get out of the city to another planet. Fortunately, Radek had already thought of that and had pulled the crystal for the Gate. Rodney, he said you’d know where he hid it.”
“But there was a scuffle. Damn. They were just scared and tired, like everyone else. Like I am. We’ve lost fifteen more since I talked to you last. And Carson’s pretty sick himself. I don’t think he’s going to make it.”
He paused, obviously gathering his strength.
“He says you have to wait at least two more weeks before you come back,” Lorne continued heavily. “Right now is about the worst of it, evidently, and it’s still contagious. So if you came back now, you’d probably come down with this. No one’s been immune, so I’m begging you to stay where you are.”
A heavy sigh. “I’ll try to leave you another message in four days again. If you don’t hear from me, or someone, count the two weeks from then. If you can, at least find masks before you come back here. And don’t come to the infirmary at all. Carson’s pretty sure the virus will die off once there are no new victims, but the infirmary has the highest concentration of bodies.”
“We’ve had anyone who can, leave messages for their family. That’s on the common server. There are no physical letters, everything’s electronic, so it can be sent back to Earth, even if we don’t make it.”
Lorne painfully sat up straighter. “If I don’t get to say it later, it’s been an honor to serve with you.”
There was nothing left to say.
John stood and said, “I... I need to do something. I’m going to climb some stairs.”
“Okay,” Rodney replied. He knew the inaction was driving them both crazy and the physical activity would help.
There was no message on day four. They waited near the computer all day, to be sure to not miss anything.
“Okay, another two weeks,” John said as they huddled together that night.
“We need some food before then,” Rodney reminded him. “We’re running low on MREs. If we skimp, we can stretch them for the two weeks, but then there’s nothing left after that and who knows how long it will be before any help comes.”
“I know,” John said. “We take the Jumper and go to the mainland, see what we can harvest.”
“Too bad Teyla and the rest of the Athosians decided to move to Sateda to help Ronan,” Rodney replied. “They’d have some food to help us out.”
“They’d probably be sick, too,” John admitted. “So it’s just as well.”
“We can go in the morning,” Rodney decided. “We should get some sleep.”
Spending the day on the mainland, away from the city was both good and bad. Just getting away was healthy for them both. But being away meant they might miss a message that would be left for them.
They came back tired and filthy, but with edible vegetables and John had shot a deer-like creature that they had eaten before. Rodney had let John do the field dressing of the animal.
“Okay, the cold water was clean but I’d kill for a hot bath,” Rodney grumbled. The luke-warm water in their room was better than the cold stream they had used earlier, but the water had never gotten hot.
“After we cook the meat, there should be enough wood to make some hot water,” John offered. “It won’t be a bath, but it’ll be hot.”
“Nah,” Rodney said. “That’s only a tease and that’ll make it worse. I’ll live.”
“Okay,” John replied. “But we’ll probably need to go back to the mainland at least once more. Think about what we might need.”
“It’ll give me something to do, anyway,” Rodney admitted.
They waited a week before going back to the mainland again. They didn’t want to miss any possible messages, not wanting to admit aloud that there never would be another message.
The night before their two weeks were up, Rodney finally logged into the city computer system. John watched over his shoulder as he scanned the security feeds for any signs of life.
“See what there is on the infirmary servers,” John suggested.
There was a video from Carson, clearly labeled for them.
John. Rodney. Sorry. I know it’s been hard for you. If you’re seeing this, I’d died. Again. He gave a rueful grin. Not sure I’ll come back again from this. Coughing wracked his body. I’ve left my notes for you, or whoever you can give them to. He paused for a moment. I’m pretty sure we’re going to lose everyone. Which is why I sent you away. More wicked coughing that made John and Rodney wince. Try to contact Earth, if you can. Stay away from the infirmary and wait another two weeks before you try to leave Atlantis. Teyla and Ronon are probably your best option, seek them out. Godspeed.
“Fuck.” John said softly.
“I know,” Rodney agreed. “It was easier to hope.”
“Run the life signs detector through the city,” John ordered.
It didn’t take long. The scan of the city showed only two life signs. Theirs. There wasn’t much to say.
“Check the military database,” John said gently. “See if Lorne left us something.”
There wasn’t a video, but there was an extended report from Lorne. The final entry was three days after the last message he sent. There were some haphazard reports from others in the military contingent. They all spoke to the chaos but that it was declining because there were fewer people able to move about freely.
“We scout for anything we can take with us,” John decided. “Think about what tech you can take that’s portable and can be powered in uncertain circumstances.”
“We don’t have to totally abandon Atlantis!” Rodney protested. “We let things settle for a while, maybe a year, and we can come back!”
“Maybe,” John allowed. “We can talk about it.”
“Better,” Rodney grumbled. “Radek and I had a bug-out list, the same as the military. It’s harder by myself, but can be done.”
“We have time,” John admitted. “Carson said we shouldn’t leave for another two weeks, just to be sure. We’ll work together to pack a couple of Jumpers if we need.”
“Well, first we need to get the crystal so we can dial Earth,” Rodney pointed out. “I know where it’s hidden, just need to get it.”
“First thing tomorrow,” John promised.
“In the meantime, I’ll put a report together that we can send to the SGC,” Rodney decided. “It looks like it’s been over a ten days since the last check-in. They have got to be worried.”
Which is how Rodney found him and John in Atlantis’ lower level. He and Radek had found a secure storage space that would be relatively easy to get to, yet out of the way enough that it wouldn’t be obvious. But in the process of getting there, they had skirted around bodies lying in the corridors near the labs.
“Got it!” Rodney announced. Radek had wrapped the crystal in a towel before he put it in the cabinet. Rodney checked it briefly before heading back.
The control room was emptier than they had anticipated. There weren’t any bodies near the Gate, and only two bodies in the control room above.
Rodney slotted the crystal in place. He felt the system acknowledge the crystal and he closed up the control panel.
“All set,” he told John.
“Let’s dial Earth,” John said.
They watched the Gate dial the eight symbol address for Earth. Somehow, it wasn’t surprising when the final chevron wouldn’t lock.
“Fuck.” Rodney murmured.
“Okay, we’re on our own,” John said firmly. “Let’s start gathering supplies while we wait out the next two weeks.”
Inside of a week, they had to abandon the area around the control tower. The odor from the decomposing bodies had become too obnoxious to be around for any length of time. They had to dig out some breathing masks from the military supplies to be able to continue to get everything they wanted together.
The only good news was that they now had access to rooms with hot water and Rodney spent one entire evening soaking in an oversized tub of hot water. It didn’t take much to talk John into joining him.
Two weeks flew by and they finally had two Jumpers packed with supplies.
“We’ll go out to a space gate first, before going to Sateda,” John said. “Just a precaution to make sure we don’t carry anything with us.”
“As much as I hate to say it, but if we were being paranoid, we’d spend two days on P3M-736,” Rodney said. “The radiation there should kill off anything left after a trip into space.”
“You okay with that?” John asked.
Rodney shrugged. “I’m not going to let this get to me,” he said. “I can spend most of the time in the Jumper, that’ll be relatively safe.”
“Sounds like a plan,” John agreed. “Okay, you first through the Gate here, I’ll be right behind you. Then I’ll lead through to P3M-736. Stay cloaked and keep your shields up.”
“Will do,” Rodney said. As they were about to get into their respective Jumpers, Rodney said, “Wait!”
John looked back at him and frowned as Rodney moved closer.
Rodney leaned in for a brief kiss. “See you shortly.”
John grinned. “Right!” He watched Rodney get into his Jumper.
John sealed his Jumper, letting Rodney dial the Gate. He watched as Rodney flew into the event horizon and followed right behind him.