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A method for introducing heuristics

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It's laughable, now, how they never noticed she was an interloper. Lots of people looked unfamiliar. She was just one more woman on the science team, fitting right in, with her knack for coding and her ease with firearms. Her intimate, intuitive work with the Ancient systems. They had all just assumed that she had the gene. She was on all of the rosters, had a username, medical records, service records. It's laughable how they never noticed that those all appeared overnight, at the same time she did.

It's really not funny, though.

It might be if she were the only one dead.

Well, it's Pegasus - the sense of humor is a little different, here.

Sheppard's humming, and it takes a moment to figure it out. Oasis. Not accurate, but yes, funny. She's Electric - but that wasn't it at all; if she had been, they'd have a different set of problems. Maybe. It makes Rodney grin a little in acknowledgement, though it's too dark to be seen.

They probably won't ever figure out what she was, what she was doing, or why. Some agenda not their own, that's all that's certain.

Rodney doesn't realize he's seeing her for the first time when he sees her for the first time. He takes her for Esposito, for all that she's taller, and her hair is pulled into a smooth twist where Esposito is all curls. She has a different look to her, too - a readiness, like she's assessing potential threats, constructing strategy at the unlikeliest times. Steel in her shoulders and spine. It's an oddly military look. That's not quite the way to put it - not oddly military, but military in an odd way. Like Sheppard, never acting like a soldier until it suits him, but always a soldier nonetheless. In any case, the first time he sees her, she's up to her elbows in one of the access panels in corridor 27. Rodney's mind leaps from puzzlement to dark-haired mechanical engineer to full-blown tirade against unauthorized tinkering in well under a second. He figures it's to his credit that he doesn't so much as flinch when she turns to face him and isn't who he expected.

She straightens and waits, calm, polite, and attentive. That she doesn't try to interrupt is a point in her favor. That she doesn't smile when she explains that she did, in fact, have authorization helps, too. That she doesn't smirk when she points out the authorization was from him - and respectfully points out the workorder on the servers logged under his codes, well - actually that doesn't help her at all. No one likes being made a fool of. Rodney's self-aware enough to know that he's both the agent and the object in this case, though, so he yields as gracefully as he can and continues on his way.

He doesn't remember filling out the order, even when he looks it up again later. But there it is. Ticket #627j: repair data conduits, examine junctions in lab level 4, c27 - auth rmckay. clmd hgitelman. He's a busy man, and it's been years since he slept more than a few hours at a stretch. He's logged problems and assigned work on autopilot before.

He has to admit that she's competent. He goes back to check the work, then watches her do another repair a few days later. She gets that unfocused look that all the gene carriers have when they work closely enough with the tech, like they can interface with it directly.

She's good enough that he stops watching. It isn't until she's dead that he realizes the workorder was a fake.

It really depends on how closely you pay attention, how quickly you notice the first signs: cold fingertips, numb toes. It still isn't long enough to put your affairs in order - just the difference between six minutes and ten. On the outside, a forty percent increase in the time you spend dying and aware of it.

Here's how it starts: circulation starts to fail at the extremities as capillaries dissolve. Most people get nosebleeds, too. Not dramatically - blood pressure is dropping too fast for that. The dramatic thing is the blood from the eyes. Most people are crying by that time anyway. There's no shame in it, but it looks gruesome. The skin goes soft and dark, blooming bruises as the blood flows free under the skin and the larger veins lose cohesion.

Rodney doesn't know if it's the blood filling up people's lungs or the cessation of circulation to the brain that kills people. It isn't that they haven't been able to determine cause of death; it's that he hasn't read the reports. It isn't pertinent right now. Anyway, he doesn't want to.

He watched Doctor Gitelman die. Hana. When you've held someone's hand through her last gasps, listened to her heels drumming against the floor while waiting for the medics, that's first-name basis stuff. Rodney knows he hasn't learned all the lessons Pegasus wants to teach him, but he's got that one down pat. Finally.

Here's how it starts, really: there's a ship entering their solar system on course for Atlantis. The city systems recognize it as a surveillance and recon drone, ten thousand years overdue. They aren't morons, though, so they intercept it with a jumper and deactivate it. They've brought enough Trojan horses home in the past for a whole Trojan rodeo. Maybe just a Trojan steeplechase. The point stands: they've learned.

They spend weeks analyzing it in situ, floating between planets. Then they take it apart, examine the components, and download the data. It turns out to be interesting from an astronomical point of view, but too old to be of strategic use.

In the end, they take it back to the city; they can't find a reason not to. It was too late by then, anyway - the jumpers they'd been using were already infected.

It was still a Trojan horse. The Greeks were just too small to notice.

The drone was real, and really old. The data was even real. Whoever had sent the nanovirus had covered their tracks. When Rodney hits the right balance of paranoid and arrogant, he's sure he didn't miss anything, is sure that the virus is an Ancient creation. Just another sick surprise from the Ancestors; a final poison pill. But most of the time he blames the Wraith. It's just more comfortable.

At first it's just a few systems being buggy, and that's nothing new. The way that the earliest breakdowns are grouped around the jumper bay raises a few eyebrows. Rodney thinks: Corrosion? Vibrations? Slapdash Ancient electricians? Rodney doesn't think: a nanovirus is attacking and destroying the city.

They're all working long hours, trying to keep up with cascading systems failures. This time Rodney really has assigned Gitelman to a task. He's sure because he just hollered across the room at her to pull apart the conduits upstream of the ones he's working on, to isolate the faults that are creeping from crystal to data node to interface to data node to crystal. She's fast, sticking a knife blade under the next panel, twisting so it flips out of the way, getting her hands into the wiring. It isn't really wiring, as such, but close enough. She frowns, her brows drawing together.

"It's already - it's infected."

That's not what Rodney expected her to say at all. To be fair, he hadn't expected her to say anything. "It's what?"

"Infected." She looks at him, then back at the conduits, and her eyes go focused and unfocused at the same time.

Rodney's priorities change fast as it falls into place. She's figured something out, even if she isn't ready to explain it yet. He trusts his people - maybe not always, but at times like this. So he lets her keep frowning at the space behind the wall and starts re-deploying his teams to get far out past the problems, to disconnect the parts of the city that haven't yet been infected from those that are.

It would have worked, too.

The city's containment protocols triggered, but Atlantis herself had been the first to fall ill. Not that it would have helped, once things started escalating. Lifeboats might have saved some of them, if the city had lifeboats. If the city had lifeboats made of wood.

There aren't many places in the city that aren't technologically alive. A few storerooms with manual doors, that's about it. Even the material of the walls is responsive. It's amazing.

Being as far away as possible from active Ancient technological systems is the only safety they have. They're grasping at straws.

Straws are nice when you don't have anything else.

"Okay, explain." Rodney's done all he can without more data. If she's had some kind of eureka moment, he needs in on it.

She doesn't look up. "I'm not sure. It's communicating electronically, but like...ants, perhaps? Like a hive of tiny things."

"Replicators?" It's a nightmare. It was only that the Asurans were so focused on inheriting the city as birthright that had saved them before.

Gitelman looks confused for a moment, then stares off again. When she looks back, she's decisive. "No. Less intelligent. More viral."

And Rodney thinks: crap. And: okay, that's all we need. Another nanovirus. At least this time it isn't killing people.

And then Gitelman fumbles her pliers.

It's a closet, really. But it isn't powered, so it's the safest place they've got, barring a leap into the ocean. Not that they can make it to any of the balconies, since the parts of the containment protocols that did work have cut them off from the outer sections pretty thoroughly.

Desperate last minute plans are their stock in trade, him and Sheppard. Pity they haven't managed to come up with any. Not without touching the Ancient tech, and certainly not without the laptops and radios, all of which have been modified to interface with the Ancient tech. All potentially contagious.

They've got nothing. So they sit in the dark, and Sheppard's still humming, now and again.

She looks surprised, and tries to pick the pliers back up off the floor, but she winds up sitting down instead, opening and closing her hands, looking appalled.

She's too agitated to really explain what she's figured out in the time she has left, but data streams onto Rodney's laptop. Whatever the connection is, however she's managing to interface directly, it works. It also spreads the infection to the laptop, but that takes a little longer to die than she does.

It's like a disease jumping species, but bigger, somehow, more like a disease jumping isn't the right taxonomy.

However she was doing it, she was interacting with the diseased technology when the nanovirus chanced upon the right mutation to move into her. And from her, back into the next conduit. And after a few halcyon hours of further mutation inside the walls, like wildfire through the rest of the population.

Rodney's kind of pissed that he never figured out how to stop the original nanovirus, or what exactly it was doing to wreak havoc in the systems. It was something analogous to the strange, specific way that it dissolved vein walls inside the human body, probably. But he'll never be sure.

They'll wait it out, though. Like waiting out any virus, letting it fall dormant, in the absence of a fever to burn it away. Or an EMP.

They're shoulder to shoulder, he and Sheppard. Rodney's lost all track of time, since he stripped off his watch in a fit of better-safe-than-sorry.

Sheppard's not humming anymore, but his breathing isn't regular enough for sleep. Sleep's probably a good idea, though. It's been a long few days, and there isn't much else that's likely to help them.

It's easy, then, to turn to Sheppard, to tuck his cold fingers into John's palms, to twist together and to tuck John's damp face down against his shoulder. This is good. This is a good way to spend a few minutes, at least.