"Okay, whoops," John said, just after Rodney turned into a dolphin. At least, he was pretty sure that the dolphin was Rodney: it was better than thinking that Rodney and the dolphin had unexpectedly switched places, and Rodney had been transported to the middle of the ocean somewhere. "Hang on," John said, frantically looking for a reverse switch or an undo button or an uninstall mechanism on the console. "Don't move!"
The dolphin was moving rather a lot, though; flapping and writhing on the thermopad where Rodney had just been standing. John was pretty sure dolphins were mammals and breathed air, so he wasn't worried about Rodney suffocating to death, but he wasn't sure how long dolphins could stay out of water. Rodney was looking pretty unhappy already. "Eeee!" the dolphin said.
"I'm looking, I'm looking!" John shot back, but there didn't seem to be a reverse or an undo or an uninstall. Probably he should run and get Zelenka, because he wasn't sure what the damn machine was for, so he wasn't sure if he should just hit the same button again. It was too much to hope that it was just a simple person-to-dolphin transformer, right?
"Eeee! Eeee!" the dolphin screeched, sounding distinctly irritated now, and John shouted, "Hey, this isn't my fault! I told you not to—" The dolphin suddenly heaved and flipped and thwacked John hard with a tail that—yow—sent John reeling, and then the dolphin was sliding towards the metal railing of the outer balcony. It took John, in his stunned state, a moment to see what was happening, and then he yelled, "No! Rodney! No!" just as the dolphin's head slid underneath, and John lunged, falling onto his belly and trying to grab on to—body, tail, something—but the dolphin's smooth, rubbery body just slipped through his hands and between the bars.
A moment later, John heard a splash, and then he was crawling to the end of the balcony, and staring down at the ocean, at the little gray head first bobbing and then disappearing beneath the waves.
John just stared for a minute, and then pulled out his radio. "Hey, Elizabeth? This is Sheppard. We have a problem."
"I told you, he said, 'Ah.' That's all he said! He stepped up to the damn console, looked at it, and said, 'Ah!' Then he pushed this button here—" and John stabbed a finger at it, but didn't touch it, "turned into a fish, and swam away!"
"Dolphins aren't—" Beckett began, but he shut up quickly when Sheppard glared at him.
"All right. Okay," and that was Elizabeth's "Everything's going to be fine" voice, her "We've faced stranger things than this and gotten through it," voice. "Radek, do we know what it is?"
Zelenka had plugged one of the laptops into the console, and was staring at the readings it was generating. "I'm not sure. Clearly it is a transformational generator, but I do not understand its matter modification settings. It is unclear how or why A is to be transformed into B."
"Can I point out that this is only half the problem?" John asked. "I mean, even if we can find a way to make that stupid thing turn a dolphin back into a person, we don't have the dolphin anymore." He turned, and waved a hand toward the endless horizon of blue ocean beyond the railing. "Rodney could be anywhere out there! How the hell are we going to find him?"
"Dolphins are said to be very intelligent," Teyla said. "We could set up a homing beacon to let him know that we are looking for him."
Elizabeth let out a little relieved sigh. "That's a great idea."
"Fine, but if they're all so smart, how do we know the dolphin that shows up is Rodney?" John asked, and really, they none of them had an answer for that.
As it worked out, it was a non-issue, because the dolphin that showed up at the south pier, three days after they set up the homing beacon, was balancing a ZPM on its nose.
It danced toward and away from Atlantis until John broke through the crowd that had gathered, and then it swam up onto the pier with a splash and tossed the thing into his hands. "Rodney! Rock on!" John yelled, grinning like a maniac.
"Eee! Eeee! Ee-ee-ee," the dolphin said.
"Where the hell did you find it? No, wait, don't answer that." John was turning the thing around and around in his hands. "Is it full?"
"EEEEE!!" and okay, the dolphin was clearly pissed off; apparently, it resented John looking a gift dolphin in the mouth. "Eeeee! Eeeee!—ee!" and then the dolphin turned and slid into the water, disappearing with a thwack of its tail that soaked John from head to foot.
"Wait!" John suddenly realized that Rodney was leaving again, and he shoved the ZPM into the hands of the nearest marine and jumped into the water. "Rodney, wait—" he said, surfacing and flipping his head to shake the hair out of his eyes. He scanned the horizon, caught a glimpse of a dorsal fin, and began swimming hard toward it. The dolphin must have stopped and turned around, because suddenly he was hard-up against a wall of blue-gray dolphin, and he stopped and flailed and started to tread water. The dolphin's head popped up beside his and looked at him inquisitively.
"Zelenka's. Working on it," John gasped. "The machine. To turn you back," and the dolphin dived down again and circled him in a graceful arc before popping up again. "So, uh—" John said, feeling suddenly lost, and tired, and kind of cold. His limbs were going numb. "Don't go—too far. Come back—soon," and the dolphin nosed him teasingly, then swam around him and practically goosed him before arching on a fin and gliding off in a shimmer of motion and speed.
Two days later, the dolphin was back, this time at a small pier very near to the science labs. One of the biologists spotted the dolphin swimming back and forth a fair distance away. Again, the dolphin waited until Sheppard arrived to swim for shore, and this time, he was dragging some sort of seaweed or something behind him. John, who had taken to wearing spandex surfing gear, just on the off-chance he'd need to dive into freezing cold water, dove into the water and found that the dolphin was bringing them a strange piece of machinery in a seaweed net.
"Eeee! Eee-eee!" the dolphin said, and then nudged him in the stomach with his head.
"Okay, hang on. We'll check it out. Don't go anywhere, okay?" John added sternly, and the dolphin sort of fell over on its back and floated in a clear gesture of frustration. "Good," John said, and dragged the seaweed net up onto the pier.
"What's that?" Elizabeth asked, looking at the dripping mess John'd pulled out of the water.
"I don't know. Rodney brought it," John said.
Zelenka was already bent over it, pulling it from the seaweed. "It's not Ancient," he said, shoving his glasses up his nose. "It seems to be made of—well, shells and coral, I think. There's some kind of metal alloy running through it. But it's like nothing I've ever seen before."
Carson tilted his head to the side. "Could it be decorative, perhaps?"
"Or some kind of cultural token," Elizabeth said dubiously.
Zelenka muttered something in Czech, and a voice floated out of the shell: "Oh, yes, or perhaps it is a gift from the mermaids to braid into our hair."
They all stared at it. Zelenka flushed a deep red and looked betrayed.
"So....it's a translator," John said, and then he walked out to the end of the pier, cupped his hands to his mouth, and yelled, "Rodney! We got it, it's a translator!" and a moment latter, chittering happily, 250 pounds of dolphin flew onto the pier and slid to a halt beside them.
"Eeee! Eeeee! Eee-ee!" the dolphin said, and the shell echoed back, "Oh my God! You people are so stupid!"
"Nice to have you back, Rodney," John said, and then added, gesturing toward the huge gray-blue bulk of him. "Well, sort of."
"No, seriously, you have no idea," the shell told them, as the dolphin went "Eee! Eee! Eee!" "Even me—I'm a moron down here. It's really very humiliating."
"I'm sorry to hear that," John said, and the dolphin sighed and waved an exhausted-looking flipper at him. "But if the other dolphins are so smart, can they tell us how to change you back?"
"Chitterchitterchitterchitterchitterchitterchitter—eee!" the dolphin said, and out of the shell came, "I asked them, but they don't seem to know what the device is. I mean, I described it to them, and they think it was really smart of the Ancients to have invented a human-to-dolphin device, but they've never seen one themselves. Their technology is—God, it makes Ancient technology look like tinkertoys. They use eeeee! to chitterchitterchitter and then they eeee! eeee! eeee! eeee!—"
John winced and covered his ears: it sounded like feedback. Around him, everyone else was doing the same. "Rodney! Whatever you're saying, we can't understand you!"
"Oh, for Christ's sake!" the dolphin said, and slid off the pier into the water.
John sighed and looked at Elizabeth, who waved her hand after him and said, "Yes, go." He dove into the water, but the dolphin was making good time away from Atlantis, and after a while, John slowed, and then stopped. He would never catch up if Rodney didn't want to be caught.
Sighing, John treaded water for a while, resting for the swim back, and craned his neck to look up at the blue blue canopy of sky. He heard the dolphin before he saw it, and when he looked down at the water, he saw a dark shadow approaching. A silvery shape shot past him, then circled round, once, twice, before floating closer and slowly surfacing a few feet away.
John raised his hand and slicked it over the dolphin's head when it drew closer. "The ZPM you brought is working great," he told the dolphin. "Zelenka plugged it in and now the whole city's online, everything, all these parts we've never seen before."
"Eee-eee!" said the dolphin.
"I'm under strict orders not to touch anything," John added glumly. "Which is kind of a bummer, but after what happened to you, they're pretty worried about what all this stuff does."
"Chitterchitterchitterchitter," the dolphin said.
John stroked affectionately down the dolphin's nose. "I can't understand you. You know that, right?"
"Eee!" said the dolphin.
"I'm figuring you found that ZPM in some sort of submarine wreck, huh? Something the Ancients built?"
"Eee!" said the dolphin.
John leaned in close and whispered, "You're not coming back, are you? You don't want to come back." The dolphin swam around him in a lazy circle, and John sighed and patted it on its broad flank. "You're a lousy liar, you know. Even as a fish you're a lousy liar."
"Eee!" said the dolphin.
"Mammal, whatever," John said, and then he added: "Are you having fun at least? Learning a lot?" and the dolphin chattered and eee!d excitedly for a few seconds before suddenly lapsing into silence again. "Yeah, sorry, didn't get a word of that. But I'm thinking it doesn't really matter." He smiled sadly at Rodney and patted his nose one last time. "Give us a lift, pal, willya?" and John grabbed hold of the dolphin's dorsal fin, held on tight, and let Rodney speed him back to shore.
Rodney came back every couple of days. He would come up to the pier, and Zelenka would ask him intense and serious scientific questions through the translator-shell. Rodney's answers got more and more impenetrable, and at one morning meeting, Zelenka had to report that not only was it exceedingly unlikely that they were ever going to figure out how to turn Rodney back into himself again, but Rodney's brain was changing. He was going native. They were losing him.
John never used the translator-shell at all; he and Rodney would usually go surfing—or rather he would surf while Rodney swam around—or sometimes he'd grab onto Rodney's dorsal fin and let Rodney drag him out into the middle of the ocean, which was terrifying, and amazing, like nothing he'd ever ever seen. He held on to the slick body and bobbed in the white-capped waves, staring at the sky. John sometimes put his arms around Rodney's neck and closed his eyes, and hurtling blindly through the water like that was almost better than flying.
And then one day, John went down to the pier and there was no Rodney. He didn't come the next day, or the next, and John began to get worried. He had Teyla set up the homing beacon, and was hopeful one morning when he saw a gray back break through the waves—but it was an entire school of dolphins just passing by, maybe doing recon or who knew what.
"Do you think he's hurt?" Elizabeth asked him, coming to join him on the pier one evening.
"I don't know," John said, lowering his binoculars. "I mean, I hope not," and he couldn't think what was worse: that or the alternative, that Rodney just wasn't coming back.
"Put me into the machine," John said grimly.
Zelenka was already shaking his head. "We don't know what it is! We don't know how it works!"
"I know," John said—and it was a stupid idea, and he couldn't prove it, but John was pretty sure he knew what the machine did. It granted wishes. Rodney wished he was smarter. "Power it up."
Zelenka turned to Elizabeth with a pleading expression, but Elizabeth was looking at John. After a moment, she nodded tersely. "All right. Do it." Zelenka groaned, but moved to reconnect the machine, which began to hum and whine as it charged up. "I hope you know what you're doing, John," Elizabeth said in a soft voice.
John's throat felt tight. "You're kidding me, right?" and then he took a deep breath and focused his mind and pushed the button he'd seen Rodney push.
Ow. Pain. He understood now why Rodney had flopped around like that: he could breathe, sure, but lying on the ground hurt his body, put pressure on his organs in weird ways. He got a glimpse of Elizabeth's shocked expression, and tried to wave a flipper at her, but he overbalanced and nearly banged his nose. Struggling, he dragged himself toward the railing, toward the blueblueblue ocean, and he'd always loved the water but not like this: this was deep and instinctual, a longing like he'd never even imagined.
He slipped underneath the lowest railing just as Elizabeth cried out: "John! Good luck!" and then he was falling, plunging toward the surface of the water and—
—submerging, diving deep, and ohmygodohmygod it was awesome, flying with no friction at all, and then he flexed and felt his muscles convulse, his tail pushing with incredible force and god, the speed, the speed, god, the speed—
It took him a minute to figure out how to best use his tail, and then he angled sharply, changed direction, and hurtled upward, following the refracted sunlight. With a burst of energy he shot out of the water and into the air, arcing upward and—naturally, instinctively—flipping over before plummeting downward again into the water in a rush of speed. He dove this time, going down and down before pulling up short and rolling, and holy god, what a rush. He went up to the surface again and bodysurfed the waves, and after a few times he managed to get up on his tail for whole seconds at a time before crashing back into the churning water. Rock. And. Roll.
He heard Rodney coming before he saw him, recognized the sound somehow. A moment later, a blue-gray shape flitted past him, then circled around and rubbed against him playfully. John writhed and rubbed back.
"Eeee! Eeee eeee! Eeee! Eeeeee!" John said, and got up on his tail. He held it for a long while this time, staggering back and forth across the waves before crashing hard.
Rodney chattered and banged his head against John's flank. John thwacked him a good one with his tail, then did a double flip in the air and bellyflopped, hard. Ow. He'd have to practice that.
Rodney swam up underneath him, floating on his back. "Chitterchitterchitter-chk!" he explained. "Chittereeee-eee!eee!eee!" and whoa, okay, that was cool.
"Ee!—chk!—Eee! Eee! Eee!" John told him, and then he followed Rodney across the waves, jumping when he jumped.
Two weeks later, Rodney skidded up onto the pier near the wish machine, startling two junior scientists who'd come outside to canoodle. They ran to radio for Weir as Rodney turned and chattered loudly at him, but John just wanted to make one last high-speed run from the south pier to the abandoned wreck halfway to chk! chk! Eee!
Finally, regretfully, John did one last half-twist semi-flip into the water and then hurled himself on to the pier, gliding another few feet on the trail of slick water Rodney'd left behind. Whee!
"Chitterchitterchitter," Rodney said. "Eee! Eee!"
"Eee! Eeee! Eeee-eee!" John shot back.
"Eeee!" but Zelenka was already running toward the pier, the coral and shell device in his hands. He was just setting it down between them when Elizabeth appeared, breathless and delighted-looking. "John! Rodney! I didn't think that you'd—"
"Eeee! Eeeee! Eee-ee!" John said, and out of the conch shell came: "Turn the power on. Get ready to press the button," and then he was nudging the other dolphin forward, toward the thermal pad. Rodney thwacked him with a flipper, and John went "Eeee!" and bit Rodney's nose.
They could barely fit onto the pad, because really, they were more than five hundred pounds of dolphin, all told. Rodney's tail was in his face and John's dorsal fin was being bent into an awkward position and finally John groaned and went limp on the pad and said, "Chitter-ck!ck!" and Zelenka swallowed hard and pushed the button.
Arms. Legs. He and McKay were a tangle of naked limbs, and John shoved McKay's foot out of his face and pushed himself into a sitting position. Rodney was lying there beside him, curled in on himself and gasping, like he'd just run a thousand miles which—hey—maybe he just had.
Elizabeth grabbed excitedly at Zelenka's arm. "Get Dr. Beckett. Hurry—" Zelenka ran toward the radio. "How do you feel? Are you all right?"
"Yeah. I feel great," John said, and shook water out of his ears. "God, that was way too much fun. Being a dolphin shouldn't be legal."
"Really?" Elizabeth asked.
"Yeah. It's just seriously fun to be a dolphin," and beside him, Rodney groaned. John frowned, then bent over him and ran an affectionate hand over Rodney's slick-wet head. "How's your head?"
"Normal," Rodney said, though he made that sound like the saddest word in the world. John bent to rub his face against Rodney's shoulder, and Rodney closed his eyes and went "ee-ee."
Finally, Rodney rubbed his face against John's before shoving his head away and sitting up. "Dolphins have bifurcated brains, did you know that?" he asked Elizabeth, gesturing to his head with a twirl of his index finger. "The two halves of the brain sleep independently, and never simultaneously. In other words, one half of the brain can keep working. Constantly. Can you possibly understand what that—?"
"Rodney." John gripped Rodney's chin, turned his head, and pressed his mouth to Rodney's.
"Okay, okay, okay, okay, okay," Rodney said breathlessly, when John pulled away. "Fine."
Elizabeth was looking sort of shocked. John shrugged. "Things got complicated," he said.
Rodney worked crazily in the labs for the next few weeks, writing things down, documenting everything he could remember, doing experiments until John had to go down there and literally drag him away to bed, reminding him that he didn't have a bifurcated brain anymore and would die without sleep. They made love with their whole bodies, every part a sexual organ, John sucking at Rodney's forearm or hip, feeling Rodney's cock rubbing along his belly.
"I want a waterbed," Rodney said, first thing one morning.
"Build one," John suggested, but Rodney was too busy trying to make miracles out of underwater salts and seaweed. One night he went down to the lab, prepared to haul Rodney upstairs to bed, and found him standing at the bench with shiny eyes and bits of broken coral in his hand.
"I can't—" Rodney was almost shaking. "I can't remember—"
"I remember," John murmured, and then he took Rodney upstairs and made love to him in the shower, rubbing together as the warm water sluiced over them. John cupped Rodney's head in his hands and drew their foreheads together, and Rodney's shoulders softened; a moment later, Rodney's hand slid up John's sleek wet thigh. John sighed happily and Rodney nuzzled his cheek, and then they were kissing and touching and licking water off each other's bodies, muttering nonsense words they both could understand.
"For instance, on the planet Earth, man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much — the wheel, New York, wars and so on — whilst all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man — for precisely the same reasons." —Douglas Adams