President Hayes had known Michael Kerry since they were kids. Michael was one of the most trusted advisors on his cabinet. He was a good and trust-worthy man. He'd always trusted his intentions and advice completely, until now.
The complete transformation in the man sitting with him in his private study was shocking. He suddenly felt like he didn't know the man any more. No, not suddenly. It had been coming to this gradually. He just hadn't wanted to see it. He still didn't want to see it, or hear it. Could fear change a man so completely?
"Mr. President, Henry, there is more at stake here than the life or freedoms of one man, one scientist. No matter how well he's served the cabinet in the past… and he hardly did it with a smile… but that aside there's a bigger picture here. In war there are casualties. The fate of the world could be at stake here. Heck, the universe!" His old friend leant forward in the plush chair, speaking earnestly.
The President calmly set down his drink and considered the other man before answering, "It's inhumane. It's illegal. It's wrong. Michael, I can't believe you're even suggesting it."
"Yes!" The other man spat vehemently and stood, "Yes I'm suggesting it! Someone has to. How can the law even apply to a top secret program like the Stargate? Do you think hostile aliens care about our laws? This is bigger than Geneva! It's bigger than the United Nations. It's bigger than Earth!"
"No! Michael, I've listened to enough of this. I agreed with you that we should at least look into the feasibility. Now you're going to have to accept that it isn't feasible. Humane issues aside, and make no mistake those are the most important issues here, we are not going to sacrifice Earths greatest minds to a process that may or may not give them super-human powers. Based on what SG-1 has learned so far, I won't even take volunteers! Let alone force someone!" All of his other advisors had been quick to agree with this stance. Still Michael had insisted on reviewing the information privately and trying to change his mind.
"It wouldn't be a sacrifice if they were guaranteed to survive. We already have one that did survive. We can try it on him and use the data to…"
"Stop right there," Hayes glowered darkly. He'd heard enough.
"No. What has happened to you? You were always the pragmatist, a balance to my idealist… but this is… This is not you speaking any more. It's fear. It's fear and it's stress."
"Go. Now. Take a long vacation Michael. Don't come back to this office until you understand what is so very wrong with the advice you've offered me today."
For a moment, Michael glowered back at the President before turning and storming out of the office. He was aware of the night guards and staff watching him as he stormed by them, but he didn't care. He headed straight for his car. Michael paused to calm down before starting his car.
The fool wouldn't listen. He'd been so sure he'd been careful to ease the human leader into the idea of using McKay. Humans and their petty ideals would be the downfall of the galaxy, were they left to their own devices. They were too primitive, too young, to understand that survival is the ultimate ideal, at all costs.
The plan to leak the information that the Trust was seeking McKay so that the humans would launch their own investigation had been ingenious. His role had been to convince them to restart the research on their own.
No matter. It only means that the Trust will need to take a more direct hand in the research, rather than allowing the human government to do the work for them. Plans would be set in motion. Caldwell would have to be contacted once he returned to Earth. Then, in a matter of perhaps a month and a half, McKay would be theirs.
Humanity would once again bow to the Goa'uld once they saw the power of their god's defeating the Prior's. He intended to be among the first to take one of these specially prepared, super-human hosts.
He took a moment to look in his rear mirror and allowed his eyes to glow; a brief reminder of his superiority, before driving away from the White-House.
President Hayes stood at a window and watched his friend drive away. He felt sorrow, but no regret. Shaking his head, he turned back into the study and went to the phone, "Get me General Landry."
Bleary eyed and cradling coffee mugs, Sg-1 once again sat around the conference table in Cheyenne Mountain. Mitchell couldn't help but feel it was way too early for a debriefing. Even Dr. Lam was on her second cup of coffee and holding it like it was the elixir of life.
"Where's General O'Neill?" Mitchell asked when it looked like General Landry was getting ready to begin.
General Landry looked unsurprised at the question, but mildly bemused at the answer, "He asked to be sent a memo when we've finished. He said it was 'General's Perogative.'"
Sam leaned over and whispered further explanation to Mitchell, "He's not a morning person."
Landry rolled his eyes, "Shall we get started then? Dr. Lam, if you would?"
Dr. Lam took a moment to glare at her father, General Landry, for being the one to call the meeting, before rising to begin. "Based on what Dr. Jackson and Col. Carter have learned at the prison I am now working from the assumption that the experiment was a success and that Dr McKay, at least at one point, displayed Prior-like abilities. It's still impossible for me to say whether there are any residual effects. But I would be surprised if there wasn't. Despite what you may have seen in cartoons, the human mind is not like a light-bulb that can be switched on and off."
Sam seemed more than a little reluctant to believe that, "What does Dr. Beckett think?"
The mens eye-brows all lift at the somewhat unsubtle request for a second opinion. Though, to be fair, there ought to have been some kind-of update from Atlantis' medical staff by now.
Dr. Lam took a breath before answering politely but with clear annoyance, "Dr. Beckett has declined our request for assistance. He believes it would be a conflict of interests and wishes to maintain an atmosphere of Doctor/Patient confidentiality in this matter."
"That is admirable," Teal'c would be the only man in the room brave enough to praise Doctor Beckett's decision in the face of Dr. Lam's obvious annoyance at the situation.
Daniel scrunched his brows thoughtfully, "Maybe. But could there be more to it? Could it also be that he doesn't like the idea that whatever he gives us could potentially be used in our own weapon research? And by our own I mean American. And he's Scottish. I mean, that's partly what we're investigating, isn't it? The viability of our own program?" It was easy to tell from his tone that Daniel didn't quite agree with the idea either.
Dr. Lam frowned thoughtfully at this, "That is probably a factor, yes."
"Actually," Mitchell spoke up, "Now that I've learned a bit more about it, that doesn't quite sit right with me either."
Landry felt that now was a good time to contribute his update from the President, "Then you'll be relieved to learn, the consensus in the White House is that pursuit of this experimentation for the purposes of developing our own human weapons is not viable, and will never be viable. The President is of the view that it would be immoral, inhumane, and illegal. However, the Trust has no such qualms."
The mood in the room seemed to lighten at the news. Sg-1 was ready to press on with a bit more enthusiasm.
The meeting was quickly refocused with Teal'c's next question, "Has the Trust not been seeking out Dr. McKay?"
"That's what started all this." Mitchell nodded and turned to Landry, "But why. Why now? Surely if they could have done this before, they would have by now. Why him again? Wouldn't it be easier to use someone that hasn't been working in some of the world's most secure government facilities for the past, I don't even know how many years?"
It was Dr. Lam who answered, "Technology and medicine has advanced a great deal; particularly since we began bringing new technology back through the Star-gate. If the Trust were able to examine the results of the Phoenix experiment on a successful patient I have no doubt they would be able to find a way to reproduce the effects, possibly even without the aid of drugs. It would simply be a matter of identifying the correct area's of the brain and artificially stimulating them.
"Why start from scratch when they can get a-hold of a prototype?" Sam added grimly.
Daniel sighed, "Particularly considering the death-rate for the unsuccessful test-subjects… and that the test subjects would basically be earth's most potentially brilliant minds.
"Indeed." Teal'c agreed stoically, "It would be foolish to waste such a resource unnecessarily."
Mitchell took a moment to consider that while staring into his coffee. "That's really disturbing."
Sam couldn't help but smile at how easily Mitchell summed it up for all of them, "Fortunately, as long as he's in another Galaxy the Trust has no way of getting to him. They don't even know where he is."
It was then that Dr. Lam cleared her throat to regain their attention, "It would still be worth-while to, for lack of a better term, to study Dr. McKay."
SG-1 looked more than a little surprise at the apparently insensitive statement.
Landry looked surprised as well, but before anyone could jump to conclusions he asked, "Why?"
Dr. Lam seemed well aware of their reactions and frowned at it. What is it with people assuming the worst of Doctors? "Well, for one there would be concerns about his long-term health which must be explored and considered. But those concerns aside, understanding exactly how the experiment worked in him could provide key insights into what the Prior's are, and how to stop them, or even cure them. I'd like to suggest it to Dr. Beckett."
Landry nodded his understanding, "You may. It seems Dr. McKay has become more co-operative."
"He has?" Those who had met Dr McKay had to smirk at the surprise in Sam's voice. He could be pretty disagreeable. "I thought he wasn't being questioned until after the research on Doranda was complete."
"Yes. The Arcturus experiment failed." Landry supplied in explanation.
"How?" She sounded doubtful. Surely it was far too early in the research for it to become completely un-pursuable.
"From what I understand it went out of control and a member of the science team was killed." He knew this was a rabbit-trail, but Landry tried to be understanding of the inquisitive nature of his top minds.
Sam kept looking at him for further explanation, "And then what…?"
Landry looked at her a moment, "That's it."
She looked stunned, "He gave up that easily!" Instantly she felt all eyes on the room staring at her, "I mean, yes, it's a tragedy… but science can be dangerous. Developing a new power-source is about as dangerous as it gets. Harry K. Daglian died of radiation poisoning when working on the Manhattan Project… Even when he was dieing he didn't give up. And the research didn't end after him."
Catching a bit of her passion, Mitchell couldn't help but add, "And when scientists were learning about electricity didn't they get zapped through kite's on strings?" All eyes turned on him as though he'd just suggested the earth was flat, "You know… the lightning would hit the kite and travel down the string and the scientist was… never mind."
Landry seemed to feel it was time to get back on track at this point, "Be that as it may, Atlantis has a limited supply of personnel. The decision was Dr. Weir's and I can certainly understand why she made it. Either way, with the end of the experiment Col. Caldwell has resumed his and Mr Woolsey's end of the investigation. Woolsey was able to get some information from Dr. McKay which I think you may find helpful."
"It makes sense, yes, at first glance! At first glance your calculations seem sound but you did them in one night, while tired. And even if these calculations are theoretically sound why would the Ancients not have thought of this too. It may be it does not work any way and we just need more time to see why. You must not rush this. We will take more time to explore the possibilities before trying again." Radek could hear his accent thickening but was unable to stop it amidst his growing frustration.
"Don't be ridiculous Radek! You know full well that Arcturus has progressed well beyond the point where working on computer models is going to help. It needs to be tested properly. The only way we'll know if it works, and it WILL work, is by trial and error." Rodney's tone was short and clipped, his shoulders squared.
Radek could almost see the invisible wall that was suddenly up between him and his colleague, thicker than ever before. This was not McKay's normal enthusiasm or stubbornness. This was something else. Radek had no idea what it was that was driving McKay, but it felt off.
"I think you are not thinking clearly. I think you must slow down and take a step back before someone else gets hurt." Radek winced. That was definitely the wrong thing to say.
For a moment, the wall failed and the Radek could clearly see the pain and guilt of Collin's loss. "Rodney, I am not…"
"Out of my way, Radek. Clearly this work is beyond your capabilities or understanding." Rodney snatched his lap-top back out of Radek's hands and stormed away while Radek was still searching for the words to take back what he had unintentionally said.
Rodney could think of only one other person Elizabeth was likely to listen to, Sheppard. So he headed in the direction of the Colonel's room.
"Posrat", Radek cursed at himself and the situation. For a moment he considered going after McKay, but then remembered the look in his friend's eyes and knew that McKay would not listen unless he had more than a bad feeling to show him. Radek checked his watch. He had until morning to find some evidence that would give McKay a reason to slow down.
Goa'uld Caldwell lounged in the Command throne of the Daedalus, while fuming inwardly at the outrage of his temporary banishment from Atlantis. Dr. Weir had thought his presence was making McKay uncomfortable, and that they might have more success if he and Mr. Woolsey left. The taste of failure was bitter, and it wasn't something he was willing to accept just yet.
"Colonel Caldwell," Hermiod's voice grated on the Goa'uld's nerves, "We are now approaching Doranda."
"Good. Keep me posted," Goa'uld Caldwell barely managed to keep the annoyance from his tone, and sound casual. It was just as well that Weir had given him a reason to leave Atlantis. It freed him to at least supervise the well-being of two potentially valuably Goa'uld resources – Arcturus, and Dr. McKay.
"Colonel Caldwell." The Asgard spoke again, "I am reading what I believe to be a dangerous spike in power levels, originating at the location of the ancient lab."
Goa'uld Caldwell turned and looked at the Asgard in surprise. Surely his instincts and timing couldn't be that accurate. "Are you sure?"
Hermiod looked at him blandly and blinked an expression that resembled annoyance, "Yes. I am certain…" The Asgard looked backed at the controls, "Power levels continue to rise… I am detecting weapons fire."
Caldwell turned back to the main screen in time to see large balls of light flying from the planet, "Evasive maneuvers!"
"Colonel Sheppard's and Dr. McKay's jumper is now fleeing from the surface," Hermiod announced in that same, too calm, Asgard voice.
Goa'uld Caldwell leaned forward in his command throne and continued to bark orders, "Prepare to provide cover fire. Open a channel to the jumper."
All Atlantis' personnel gave Dr. McKay a wide berth as he stormed down the halls towards his quarters. If he went to the labs he knew he wouldn't be able to stop himself from doing the one thing Elizabeth had ordered him not to do; work on Arcturus. He was sure the whole galaxy had heard her reaction when he'd proposed building a smaller version of Arcturus on another planet, to continue the research. He had even less support now from everyone than he did after the first failure, his first failure. He still couldn't see why it had happenned. He couldn't see what had gone wrong, and it stung. He itched to learn why, any way he could.
He heaved a sigh of relief as he entered his quarters and flopped face first onto his bed. There were so many discoveries, so many things yet to be understood in Atlantis, in the ancient data-base. Why couldn't he just shift his focus to one of the many ancient devices they had yet to find the purpose of?
Not that it would matter even if he could. He doubted he'd have time to himself for long. With Arcturus gone for good now, there was nothing to distract Caldwell and Woolsey from grilling him, and the medical staff… Beckett… from poking and prodding and… no need to dwell further on that. He could run… but where? Where do you go when you're already in a whole other galaxy?
The desire to distract them wasn't what had been driving him. It was a bonus. But a small one compared to the potential benefits to humanity such a power-source could have offered. That was a bigger bonus.
Everyone else was afraid. They were too afraid of what they couldn't possibly understand. Even Zelenka. McKay was afraid too. But his fear drove him towards it. He was sure he could understand Arcturus, he had too. But he was being held back.
McKay let out a deep sigh as he drifted to a fitful sleep, trying and failing to think of anything but Arcturus.
The darkness was overwhelmingly thick. So thick it was tangable, suffocating. Though the gas had long since cleared the chamber the boy still struggled to breathe in short, quick gasps. His head throbbed painfully from the strain of implanting a suggestion in so many minds at once. The pain threatened to break his control. This was bad.
The blackness engulfed. How long had it been? So quiet… only the sounds of his own breathing echoed, filled the silence and became nothingness… His ears strained desperately for any other sound, like drowning lungs grasping for air. Starved eyes begged to see anything at all. Focus. Must focus.
The drugs coursing through his system beckoned his mind inward. Senses he shouldn't even have reached outward of their own accord – to see, hear, touch. NO! Focus!
He struggled to stay alert, to hear only his own breathing. But it drew, pulled. He needed to get out. He should focus on the door – move the lock with his mind. But he couldn't. The throbbing headache distracted, took his control.
With no outward goal, his mind drifted inward. Blood pumped loudly through organs. Cells formed organs. Tiny packages housing genes… Not tiny. Huge compared to the molecules that formed them. Particles of energy floating, interacting, pulling repelling, like planetary bodies in a vast micro-verse. The space between – so vast. Empty. Not empty. Something there, but not. Too far too see… Not quite in this dimension. He was aware of its existence without seeing it, and understood that to see it would bring it here. He struggled to draw his mind away, to 'look' away. He knew without seeing that this must be what the others had seen, before they burned. The very act of looking had destroyed them. His mind struggled to look further and he fought against it… but he was so tired. He had no control left…
Then there was sound… and light, "There's someone inside this one.
"What? Let me see… Get him out of there…. Gently."
"It's a kid."
"What the hell was going on here?"
"Sir! It's the missing agent. The kid that was helping with all those cases."
"The one that built the atom bomb for school?"
"What the hell did they do to him?"
Gentle hands pried open his eyes, it was so bright, "He's been drugged." His eyes drifted closed again.
"What are you all standing around staring for? Someone call an ambulance!"
Dr.McKay opened his eyes and rolled over to stare at the ceiling. Unwanted memories, combining with his sense of failure, stung sharply.
Collin's wasn't the only death that would have been brought meaning if McKay had been able to be the one to understand the power of Arcturus, the beyond sub-dimensional energy.
What universal irony, that the opportunity to finally understand, to finally grasp that elusive energy, came and slipped through his fingers at exactly the same time that Phoenix itself came out of his past to haunt him. It was so unfair. Synchronicity sucked. He didn't want to think about it… but he couldn't stop himself anymore.
The memories wouldn't be pushed away…
As he was loaded into the ambulance, snippets of the intentions and emotions of those surrounding him drifted in. Hospital. Tests… Blood tests. No! No more! He didn't want anymore tests. He struggled to sit up but found he was strapped down.
"He's waking up." He stopped struggling. "What's his name?" It was a new voice.
"Rodney." One of the voices from earlier said.
"Rodney? Can you hear me? I need you to try and respond."… "Can you tell us if it hurts anywhere?"
Rodney ignored it and focussed on the one from earlier. What were his intentions? The effort made him wince and cry out in pain as searing daggers seemed to shoot through his brain. The man was planning ahead. He caught snippets of safe-houses… families. No thank you! Been there done that. His own family had been a nightmare. He shuddered to think what strangers would be like. He was better off on his own.
So he had waited and pretended to be unconscious until they reached the hospital… then he slipped away before they could make him go through any tests.
Dr. McKay forced himself to turn away from the ceiling, from the invasive memories, to his wall of successes. He'd done it all himself. He'd done without any unwanted, un-needed, support or approval from anyone. His expression of muted sorrow shifted to confusion as he noticed something out of place.
There was a package on his dresser. He stood and walked to the dresser. There was a card attached.
'Hey Handyman. Mom's been holding onto this for you for a long time. When I told her I was going to try to hook up with you during the mission I couldn't tell her about she insisted I bring it. Sorry I didn't get a chance to give it to you in person, but I had to report to the Daedalus, and you're pretty elusive when you wanna be. Anyway, it's from everyone.'
It was puzzling to say the least; almost as puzzling as the fact that his old would-be bully continued to insist on pursuing his company. It wasn't as though McKay had anything useful to offer him now. Not like before.
He smirked grimly at the memory of how they'd met. He had stayed gratuitously late after school to finish up some research, again. It was an excellent way to get some work done undisturbed. He'd also learned from a young age that it was an even better way to avoid the after-school bullies. They all had far too short attention spans to hang around the school long enough to catch him. Or so he had thought…
"Hey, dweeb!" a much larger boy was leaning against Rodney's locker, waiting for him. Bobby Freeman. He was the Alpha Bully. As in the bully the other bullies all listened too. "You shouldn't work so late, freak, it gives people the impression you're avoiding them.
The smaller boys eyes widened, but fear quickly turned to a sarcastic scowl, "Dweeb? Oh very original. It took you how long to come up with that while waiting for me here?"
Rodney considered his options. Behind him was the class room. Ahead was the exit. But between him and the exit was the older, much larger, must faster, much stronger boy. He could try calling for help… but the teachers lounge was on the other side of the school. And even if they heard him, it would just make him a vengeance target for every other bully in the whole school. Sealing his decision, a couple of Bobby's friends appeared at the end of the hall.
Bobby smiled triumphantly and made a sweeping arm gesture towards one of the open lockers, while he dangled a key in his free hand.
Grudgingly, Rodney rolled his eyes and walked towards the locker. He was an easy fit. "Don't you have anything better to do than hang around and torment me? Like, I dunno, fry your brain in front of the television?" The question came out more sulky than he intended.
Which seemed to amuse the larger boy. Maybe that's why he took the time to casually answer before closing the door, "It's broken."
"So… if I fixed it would you leave me alone?" The door opened again.
"Get serious, geek." The older boy scowled now, but also looked curious.
"I am serious." Rodney scowled back. "I can fix anything."
The older boy considered him a long time, "Ok. You fix the T.V, I'll make sure you get left alone by everyone."
Rodney did fix the T.V, and in exchange the bullies layed off. If ever he was walking alone in a dark alley and found himself surrounded by a gang of young thugs, one of them would inevitably pipe up and say, "Hey, that's Freeman's geek. We better steer clear."
No sooner had he fixed the television though, than the freezer broke down.
"Don't worry Mom," Freeman had said to his Mother when she couldn't afford a repair-man, "Rod can fix it! Can't you?"
Rodney agreed to fix it in exchange for a couple of home-cooked meals. His own mother never bothered. It was always take-away or tv dinners.
More stuff broke down. Rodney fixed it. It became someplace other than home where he could be. Especially on the weekends. His parents never asked or cared where he was going, or noticed when he was out all night.
It was a positive symbiotic relationship. Nothing more.
McKay forced his mind back to the present, and the puzzle at hand; the brown box. It was moderately sized, and wrapped in brown parcel paper. He unwrapped it and opened it… to reveal another box. But the box within was decorated with a white paper coated in cartoon owls wearing academic caps. His mouth quirked at the silliness.
Gingerly he peeled the tape from the sides and unfolded the paper… then opened the box that had been sealed within. He nearly dropped it with shock, but barely managed to get a handle on it before setting the open box back down on the table. He took out a large plush owl, wearing an academic hat, like those on the wrapping paper. It held numbers quoting the year 1981. It was the year of his High School graduation… and when the nightmare had begun.
Underneath the owl was a picture frame. It was a picture of the old apartment building with all the tenants standing in front and waving. He lifted it carefully… and found a large card underneath.
Setting the frame on his dresser he reached into the box for the card, and opened it. Everyone had signed it. More than signed it, there were dozens of little notes. Thank-you's for his work… Positive observations about his character… invitations to return anytime…
McKay stubbornly swallowed the lump forming in his throat.
Before he'd learned to walk, he'd learned that crying was pointless. His parents would just ignore it, or worse, turn up their noses in disgust.
He could deny the tears… but there was something deeper that he couldn't deny. He'd been wrong. He hadn't been half as alone as he'd thought. That profound realization gave way to another. He did need his colleagues, the people here on Atlantis. He needed the working relationships he'd probably completely destroyed. Maybe he even needed more but he wasn't ready to consider that yet. He did know that rejecting their professional support when the advice had been unwanted had been a mistake. He needed them to trust his abilities, to believe in him. He didn't want to be alone here. He just hoped it wasn't too late to fix his mistakes. Would they accept his apology?