Dr Sally Parker kept her eyes locked on one of the monitors in the control room. Dull black hair pulled back in a limp pony tail, as always. Her plain features drew as little attention as they always did.
Dr McKay had hardly even noticed when she'd gracelessly bumped into him in the halls and slipped a small transmitter into his pocket. He'd been completely engrossed in his conversation with Colonel Sheppard, and then by seeing Cadman. Only a day after coming through the gate with a near-crippling concussion and Dr. McKay was back to work. It was so obvious that Sheppard had been told to watch over the work-a-holic.
It didn't seem right. Not when her God had given the task of watching over McKay to others, like her. And not when Sheppard was the one taking Dr. McKay to dangerous places. She was going to put him someplace safer.
That was why Sally sat waiting now, trying to look busy in case anyone actually bothered to look her way, as Dr McKay finished compressing the research data for today's transmission to earth. She knew she should feel sorrow at the impending death of so many of her colleague's, or the very least elation at this opportunity to serve her master. But instead her emotions were numbed, as they had been for so long now. Dimly she though it was fortunate that at least Dr. Zelenka and his team were off-world. They would remain safe with those children under the protection of the Ancient device.
She didn't know why her master needed Dr. McKay. All that mattered was that McKay belonged to Him, and she would giver her life to deliver Him. Sally reached into her pocket and gripped the remote that would lock onto the transmitter she'd planted on McKay, readying herself as the count-down to worm-hole activation began. He would be sent safely to a waiting ship.
Five – four – three – two
Her breath held as she moved to press the button that would spare McKay's life.
"STOP!" a panicked shout reverberated through the room and stabbed through Sally's muted emotions, freezing her hand in place. She turned and stared at McKay, as everyone else in the room now did. The panicked shout had been his. His hand was still reaching towards the dialling device as though to stop it by sheer will.
Sally watched as McKay allowed himself a sigh of relief before barking out orders, "Clear the dialling sequence and lock the dialling device. As in ten minutes ago. No one dials in or out. Move now!"
"Rodney? What on earth?!" Dr. Weir was at his side.
"The Daedalus just forwarded a transmission from earth. There's a bomb, the trigger is the gate." He took off his jacket and went down to personally examine the gate. Did he have no sense of self-preservation?
Cautiously so as not to attract notice, though all eyes were clearly on McKay, Sally removed her hand from the remote. Her orders were clear. McKay was only to be taken away the instant before Atlantis was destroyed.
'Crap.' That had been Goa'uld Caldwell's first thought when he received an unexpected call from earth, asking that he warn Atlantis of the bomb. He had made contingency plans in case Atlantis, meaning McKay, managed to find his tampering on their own. But he had expected there to be no way for Earth to contact the Daedalus and Atlantis.
He checked his watch. The Mothership was supposed to arrive any minute now to engage the Daedalus. It had been carefully arranged to take place when the Daedalus was out of contact with both Earth and Atlantis. In case of the very unlikely event that Atlantis found a way to get a message out before being destroyed. Now he was stuck in communications range with both. If the Mothership attacked now, both Atlantis and Earth would be tipped off about the presence of a Mothership near the Pegasus Galaxy. That would pretty much destroy the entire ruse.
"Colonel Caldwell," the Asgard voice grated on his already frayed nerves.
"What?" Goa'uld Caldwell snapped.
Hermiod narrowed his big black eyes and blinked, "Dr. Weir asks that we return to Atlantis immediately so that the crew may be questioned regarding the bomb."
It took effort for Goa'uld Caldwell not to smile at that. The arrogant woman had provided him with an escape. The Mother Ship would see that the Daedalus was not here and move to the delivery point.
-Earth – Cheyenne Mountain
One of the larger labs in Cheyenne Mountain had been set up to allow all available scientists to brain storm about where a bomb might be planted in Atlantis and how it could be triggered by the gate. Men and women in white lab-coats crowded around computer monitors and leaned over schematics that had been spread out on tables. Some looked thoughtful. More were bickering quietly.
Sam had set up her own lap-top at a free table and was pouring over the power distribution system schematics that McKay had sent, but her mind wasn't on it. She really didn't think that anyone here had the necessary experience with Atlantis' systems to solve this problem. As much as Sam hated to admit it, that included her.
The whole situation was just weird. For one, what could have changed to cause the Trust to suddenly switch from being so very interested in McKay, to not caring if he gets blown up? It just seemed odd for them to have suddenly lost interest in him. Could whoever planted the bomb have gotten all the information they wanted about McKay while they were there?
Actually, to plan all this they must have known about Atlantis, and that McKay was there, for quite some time.
And this supposed 'increased chatter' among the Trust hadn't come up at all in McKay's program. Also, an 'increase in chatter' just seemed sloppy. …Unless this was another manipulation and they wanted the SGC to know that Atlantis was going to be destroyed. If they wanted everyone to think McKay was dead this would be the virtually fool-proof way. Nobody would be left to suggest otherwise. Nobody would go looking for him. The Goa'uld hadn't lost interest in McKay! They wanted him so badly they were willing to blow up Atlantis to get him!
Sam stood suddenly, drawing all eyes in the room. The chatter amongst the scientists stopped as they all waited to see what brilliant solution the amazing Col. Carter had come up with. She snatched the phone off the wall and pressed the button that would connect her with General Landry. "General. The bomb is a distraction."
'You mean there isn't a bomb after-all?' Landry sounded almost hopeful.
"No. There is a bomb. But I think they're destroying Atlantis so they can get away with McKay without anyone looking for him. We have to warn Atlantis that it's a trap." Sam tried to ignore the stares of the other scientists.
General Landry sighed, 'Even if that's the case, there's nothing we can do now. The Daedalus has moved out of communications range. They've headed all the way back to Atlantis. I was about to come down to you all and tell you to call it a day.'
"Dammit! I mean, I understand Sir. Thank you." She grimaced in frustration and hung up. When she turned around, the entire room was still watching her expectantly. "The Daedalus has returned to Atlantis. There's nothing more we can do to help."
A chorus of 'oh' rippled through the room, and a few people began to gather their things.
"Uh…" One of the scientists looked confused, "Why would the Goa'uld want Dr. McKay?"
"Ya. I mean, have they MET him?" Another scientist quipped snidely.
They all looked to Sam, who shrugged clue-lessly. She hoped her nervousness didn't show. She was a terrible liar.
Dr. Lee snapped his fingers as a thought came to him, "If they're destroying Atlantis to keep the Wraith from getting to this Galaxy, then they must want Dr. McKay because of his knowledge of Wraith Technology."
"Ah!" The scientist's heads bobbed in agreement and filed out of the room, satisfied with that answer.
Sam let out a breath she hadn't realized she'd been holding. Calling General Landry in front of them had been risky, but time had been crucial. Just how crucial time had been was evidenced by the fact that she was already too late.
-Atlantis – Pegasus -
All pretence of McKay taking it easy today had gone up in smoke the moment they'd learned there was a bomb in Atlantis. He was moving with single-minded purpose. After checking the gate thoroughly, McKay had begun pouring over the city schematics.
"We should start by looking for anyplace where a bomb or bombs could be strategically placed, where it would be triggered by large amounts of power going to the gate. In short, accessible high voltage power conduits." Rodney pointed to several areas on the map and started giving detailed directions on how to get there.
Sheppard pointed to each assembled team and motioned for them to go as the areas were listed.
When only Sheppard and Ronon remained, Rodney shoved a palm-pilot into Sheppard's hand, "This is a list of the remaining areas. It's long. I've divided it into groups systematically so that each of the teams you've already sent will be in an efficient position to proceed."
"Thanks," Sheppard pocketed the palm pilot, but didn't leave. Something felt off about leaving McKay anywhere alone right now.
Rodney moved to another set of schematics, turning his back fully on Sheppard and Ronon, "Why are you still here?"
"The Trust knows about Atlantis," Ronon rumbled. "That means they know where you are. Doesn't that worry you?"
"It terrifies me," Rodney confessed. For an instant fear flashed through his eyes, before his jaw set and he glowered at Ronon, "But I'll worry about that AFTER I stop the city from blowing up."
Sheppard felt like he should probably try to say something comforting before heading out into the city, "The bright side of all this is if they're willing to blow you up with the rest of us, they must have lost interest again."
McKay faltered and gulped, "Not so bright! But thanks for trying. I think maybe I'll go to the control room, where the people are."
That made sense. It would probably be best if McKay wasn't on his own, just in case whoever planted the bomb was still around. Wait, why was McKay working alone? "Hey, wait a minute. Didn't I tell you to get Cadman to help you?"
"Yes yes," McKay grumped, "I'm sure she's somewhere doing something useful."
"McKay!" Sheppard balked, "Would you stop being freaked out by her long enough to give her a chance?"
McKay grimaced, "Yes, fine. I'll get her to meet me in the control room."
He was arrogant, and dismissive, and rude, and horrible, and Laura Cadman wanted to strangle him! Every single tiny attempt she had made at breaking some ice to make it easier to work with that man had been shot down. That's right Laura, tell Mr. Umpteen doctorate Physicist that you can tap-dance. That's sure to impress. That'll loosen him right up. You were in his head, he doesn't HAVE a loose setting.
She glared at the monitor as she scrolled through the access logs. Mr. 'So-much-smarter than everyone else you peon's couldn't possibly help' had discovered that the 'bomb' was actually a program designed to make the Z.P.M explode. So while the Ego who shall not be named worked on disabling the program, Cadman was checking the access logs whether he liked it or not. She allowed herself a moment to scowl in his direction and immediately regretted it.
They had less than fifteen minutes left before the city exploded. When the gate didn't dial to create the overload, the city had sent a signal to call the Wraith ships. Raising the shield was intended to cause an overload but he who she was still determined to stay mad at had managed to keep the power levels below overload. So when that didn't blow up the city the Star-drive had been activated. Now they were screwed. Nobody had had a chance to figure out whether it was being done by the program or by a saboteur.
But now, instead of frantically working to break the code, the big sap kept staring at the interrogation room. Kavanagh was the prime suspect. Ronon had just gone in. Rodney scratched absently at his forearm and looked terribly like he wanted to march into that room and stop Ronon.
"Rodney," Cadman reminded gently, "the code."
He jumped and quickly turned his attention back to the code, "Right."
He wasn't a bad guy. Not really. He was just strange. The short time Cadman had spent trapped in his head had been eye-opening. She couldn't read his mind or anything like he seemed to be afraid of. But she was forced to feel everything he did, which was way weird. She wouldn't have believed anyone could be so afraid all the time and still function like it was normal.
She pushed away the distracting thoughts and forced herself to focus on sifting through the data. Laura only half listened when Dr. Weir came over and started talking to Rodney. Ten minutes left, they were going to start evacuating.
All thoughts of Rodney, his ego, and the weirdness of being in his head vanished as Laura's eyes fell on Colonel Caldwell's access codes. Oh god. It was Caldwell?! "Dr Weir, Rodney! I think I found something."
He'd been fighting for so long to take control of his body, move his own hands, command his own voice, to scream. Steven Caldwell woke with the singular knowledge he'd woken with every day. He had to regain control. He had to stop the Goa'uld. He moved to take a deep breath, and amazingly his lungs filled with more air. He tried to open his eyes, and they opened. The infirmary on the Daedalus greeted him.
"Colonel Caldwell," Steven turned his head, his head actually turned when he commanded it, and was faced with an Asgard. "You should not be awake yet. I have successfully removed the Goa'uld from your body."
"Hermiod?" He couldn't think who else it would be. But the Asgard did all look alike to him. He winced at the effort of talking. His throat felt hoarse and dry.
"Yes." Hermiod answered. He seemed annoyed by the question. "My scans have already indicated that I did not remove any, significant, portions of your brain. Perhaps I should look again."
The Goa'uld was gone then. He could finally say all the things he'd been trying to. If only his voice would let him, and if he could stay awake. He could already feel his eyes drooping, "McKay's in danger."
Two alien eyes blinked back at him, "You provided the code to disarm the detonation. Atlantis, and Dr. McKay, are safe."
"No…" Caldwell shook his head and swallowed painfully.
Two alien eyes narrowed sceptically at him, "It is not uncommon for humans to be confused when awakening from an operation."
This was becoming frustrating. Steven took a deep breath and forced himself to speak through the pain. "There's a Goa'uld mother-ship in Pegasus. Destroying the city was a cover. There's more Trust operatives in the city. They're going to take McKay."
The alien eyes widened, "Crap."
Sheppard looked out over the ocean and tried to clear his head. He'd come out to the balcony to think about what he'd almost had done to Kavanagh. It had been the right decision given the situation, and Kavanagh was a jerk, but still...
'Colonel Sheppard.' Sheppard jumped and a shiver went down his spine when the naked alien Asgard's voice came out of nowhere. Oh… his radio. "Hermiod," Sheppard replied uncomfortably, "How nice, but unusual, to hear from you."
The discomfort in Sheppard's tone seemed lost on the alien. They didn't seem to have many vocal inflections where they came from. 'Colonel Caldwell is awake. I have successfully extracted the Goa'uld'
"That's good to know." Sheppard replied, making an effort to sound polite and not freaked out. If McKay were here he'd probably say that Sheppard even managed to stare through the radio. He'd be right. "Is he up to some questioning? We need to make sure that the Goa'uld didn't leave anymore surprises."
'There are indeed surprises…'
Rodney was in a pretty good mood as he strolled down the halls of Atlantis.
Not being dead was a great feeling. It sort of made Rodney appreciate the finer things in life, like not being dead. The city was saved. The Goa'uld had been captured. And they could all live happily ever after until next time.
McKay was used to being on guard around people, but having to really suspect anyone on Atlantis of being a Trust agent had been just weird. He'd even considered that Cadman might have been brain-washed into being a Trust agent. Now that it was all over, he had to admit Sheppard was probably right to think that was stupid.
Maybe he should listen to Sheppard more, and Teyla too. Ronon didn't really say very much. But the point was that the people who were on this mission were here because they were trustworthy. The clearance required was massive. So, if he couldn't stop running and hiding now, then when could he?
"Hey, Handyman!" A familiar voice called out for him.
Rodney turned to see his old school friend jogging towards him. "Hey, Bobby."
"Heya!" A big hand clapped down on Rodney's shoulder, jolting him a bit, "As long as we're in port for a bit I thought maybe we could hang out. I've got somethin' I'd like to show ya."
Rodney hesitated a moment before returning Bobby's smile, "Sure. Why not."
As they walked, Bobby talked about all the people who had lived in his old apartment building. He told Rodney who had moved, who had stayed, who in school had gone on to greater things… It was nice. Rodney was so engrossed in the conversation that he didn't even notice when they stopped passing other people.
Once again, Rodney found himself feeling guilty for not staying in touch, and for lying about why. His thoughts drifted back to all the signatures on that card. The only people who'd worried about him deserved to know something. "Uh, Bobby. About that school I told you about."
Freeman sighed and held up a hand to forestall what Rodney's confession, "It's ok Rodney. I know you didn't really change schools."
Rodney's head spun at that, "You do!?"
"Heh!" Freeman snickered, "You're a terrible liar."
Rodney didn't think he was really that readable! Was he really that readable? "I guess I can't argue with that."
"Besides," Bobby shrugged, "I knew about Phoenix."
The none-to-agile physicist stumbled in shock, "W-what?! How?"
Freeman easily caught Rodney by the arm and guided him forward.
"Don't worry about it." Freeman smiled broadly so Rodney would know he wasn't mad. "I gotta admit, it was kinda disappointing when I couldn't get ya to open up about it. Even when it seemed like everyone else you knew in Atlantis was against you. But I know how stubborn you can be."
The normally brilliant man still seemed too numb with shock to consider resisting as Bobby now guided him by the arm. "H-How did you know?"
"Relax, Handyman," Freeman soothed. "It all works out according to Gods will in the end. Today's your lucky day.
"Lucky?" Rodney chose then to realize he was being pulled along. He dug his heels into the floor.
A serene smile was frozen on Bobby's face as he drew his gun and held it against Rodney's side. "That's right. Today I'm going to introduce you to God."
The struggling scientist stilled, "When did this escalate to killing!?"
"I'm not here to kill you!" Bobby laughed like it was the funniest thing he'd ever heard, "No. You're going to serve Ba'al. He's amazing. You'll see. Oh, and give me your radio."
Elizabeth allowed herself a moment to appreciate the relative post-crisis calm. The mood in the control room was cautiously optimistic.
With the safeties re-enabled and the sabotage program disabled it was now safe to dial earth. It was almost time to let Earth know that Atlantis was still there. She'd given Rodney the rest of the day off, after-all he was supposed to be resting. But it was important that the Military Leader be there, especially since they'd be explaining their decision to torture Kavanagh. It didn't matter that it hadn't gone that far in the end. The decision had been made and, to Elizabeth, that was just as bad.
Elizabeth was waiting on the control level now, at her favourite spot overlooking the gate. She understood that Sheppard needed a few minutes to clear his head. He wouldn't be too long.
In the gate room below, Ronon was leaning casually against a wall, flipping his gun around like a cow-boy from the Wild West. He seemed to be taking it all in stride. Suddenly the casual lean was replaced by a sharp military stride towards the balcony, his gun was still drawn but looked ready to be fired.
Elizabeth took the steps down to the Gate room two at a time and jogged after Ronon, she was vaguely aware of the presence of two military behind her.
"McKay, come in. McKay!" Sheppard's half frantic voice could be heard coming off the balcony, "Turn your damn radio on and answer me now!"
Sheppard took a deep calming breath.
'Have any of you seen McKay recently?' The question blared out of the command channel on Elizabeth and Lorne's radio when they were just feet from the balcony.
"We're here, John, what's going on?" Elizabeth asked more calmly than she felt. There was clearly about to be another crisis. Hadn't they been through enough today?
Sheppard spun to face them and repeated his question, "Where's McKay right now? Does anyone know? When did anyone last see him?"
"I saw him about twenty minutes ago, sir," Cadman reported calmly, "He was going somewhere with Sergeant Freeman."
"Crap!" Sheppard's hand clenched around his side arm, "Freeman is working for the Trust, where did they go, Cadman?"
"I don't know!" Cadman searched her memory for any detail she could remember, "Freeman told him he wanted to show him something. They headed towards C-block last I saw, but…"
That was all Elizabeth needed to know. She darted back into the gate room and yelled up to the command level. "Bring up internal sensors. Focus on C-block. We're looking for two life signs that are alone."
"Yes Ma-am," the technician had it up on the main screen by the time Elizabeth was back up the stairs. Two life solitary life signs blinked, they were dangerously far from the rest of the population.
Sheppard was two steps behind her, "Lorne, gather a team quickly and quietly and meet us there. Maintain radio silence. We don't want to spook Freeman into doing whatever he's doing faster. Cadman, Ronon, you're with me."
The speed at which Rodney talked often tended to match his heart-rate. So right now, both were pretty fast. He was now painfully aware of how far from the main city he'd allowed himself to be guided. "Listen, Bobby, I know you're thinking is making a lot of sense to you right now but you've been brainwashed. This is not you. You have to fight it."
"You won't say that once you meet him." Freeman answered calmly, with a casual shrug that reminded Rodney of Sheppard, "He'll show you The Way. He's gonna end world hunger, bring world peace, make everything better. You wouldn't believe how humble he is too. He doesn't even think of himself as the God he is.
"Think about it!" Rodney squeaked with desperation, "You're not even religious! Ok fine! You want me to pull rank on you! Put the gun down now, Sergeant! This is not acceptable behaviour!"
Freeman just laughed again, that deep bellied genuine laugh of his.
Reasoning wasn't working, so Rodney wasn't too proud to beg, "Oh please let me go! What would your mother say?"
That wiped the jovial look off of Freeman's face. For a moment, Rodney thought maybe he'd gotten through, but then, "She didn't understand. She called me when I didn't visit. I tried to tell her that I was doing God's will, but she thought I'd joined a cult. She was going to call the military 'bout it. I couldn't let her do that. It would have ruined everything."
The horror on Rodney's face seemed lost on Freeman. "What did you do?"
"Don't worry Rodney." Freeman gripped his shoulder and tried to smile comfortingly, "She's in a better place."
The frantic rambling was replaced by a quiet despondent whisper, "This isn't happening."
They stopped in front of a set of doors, where-ever Freeman was talking him, they'd arrived. McKay desperately wished he'd payed closer attention to where they were going. He couldn't believe he'd been so stupid.
Amazingly, Freeman put his gun away and pulled out another hand-held device. It was definitely Goa'uld design, some sort of GPS. But more importantly this could be his only opportunity to get away.
"Are we lost?" Rodney quipped sarcastically. That's what Sheppard would do, to distract him.
Rodney prepared himself to kick and run. The doors slid open to an empty room. Rodney kicked at one of the logs that was Freeman's leg and made to dart away. Freeman just chuckled and wrapped a thick arm around Rodney's neck, cutting off his oxygen. "You're such a dork. You can outsmart me any-day, Handy man. But you ain't never gonna beat me in a fight."
Whatever Freeman had been looking for on the GPS, he'd found it in that room, "Settle down now. We're almost there." He dragged Rodney into the room with the unbreakable choke-hold.
Rodney gave up struggling for breath and instead shoved his elbow into Freeman's rock hard side. It was completely ineffectual.
The only reaction Freeman gave was a laboured sigh. "I really didn't want to have to deliver you like this. It would have been nice to have someone to talk to on the trip. But ya aren't leaving me much choice." He pocketed the Goa'uld device and produced an unmarked epi-pen, as an afterthought he let Rodney have a little oxygen.
Terror flooded through Rodney as Freeman pressed the epi to his neck and a sharp prick sent an unknown fluid into his bloodstream. Before he could register what it was doing to him, or take his second gasping breath of blessed oxygen, Freeman had the Goa'uld device back out again.
"Freeze!" Sheppard's voice shouted the command.
Sheppard aimed a wraith stunner at where Freeman's chest would be if he weren't holding McKay in the way. A quick assessment of the situation told Sheppard that McKay might not be up to a blast from a stunner. His friend was barely holding onto consciousness, and some nasty bruising was forming around his neck. He'd shoot if he had to though. Carson was close by. "Stand down, Freeman. It's over."
A creepily friendly smile spread across Freeman's face, "And risk hitting Rodney? And you call yourself his friend. Now me, I'm trying to look out for his best interests here." Rodney sagged further, and took in a ragged breath.
"Right…" Sheppard smiled back, this guy was nuts. "Of course you are. We're obviously all on the same side here so why don't you just put Rodney down and we can discuss what's best for him."
Lorne's team chose then to sneak through a back door. They had a clear shot at Freeman if he tried anything.
"Right," Freeman drawled. "Sure we are. So listen, I'm gonna do him another favour and tell you I just shot him full of some stuff. I'm not that sure of how it'll mix with a stun bolt so…" He shoved Rodney violently to the ground as he pressed a button on the Goa'uld device.
A ring dropped from the ceiling and surrounded both Freeman and McKay. Freeman's eyes widened as Sheppard and Lorne both fired. He fell forward onto the rings, and was pinned by the third as it dropped.
It all happened so fast. By the time Sheppard reached the falling rings a beam of light had snatched Rodney away, and left the top half of Freeman behind. The rings lifted, dropping Freeman's torso.
Sheppard switched his radio back on and barked into it, "There's a ship in orbit, find it and track it now!"
Carson had told him to keep and eye on McKay today. It was a stupid thing to think just then, as Freeman blinked up at him. He was alive?!
"Don't worry Colonel," Freeman rasped. "God will fix him up like new. He's going to a better place."
"Get Beckett in here," Sheppard ordered as he knelt down. "Where? I want to go to the better place too, so how about telling me where I can find this god?"
But Freeman was already dead.
"What happened here?!" Carson stared in horror at the gory site. "There's nothing I can do for him. Where's Rodney?"
But Sheppard was too busy giving out orders to respond, "Hermiod, Novak. I need you to get the Daedalus back in the air and beam us aboard now!"
'That will be quite impossible at this time.' An alien voice answered far too calmly. 'One of your scientists has quite effectively disabled our engines, a Dr. Sally Parker.'
'Colonel Sheppard, report. What is our situation?' Elizabeth's voice commanded with a calm that Sheppard was quickly losing.
"I was too late. They took McKay." Sheppard managed to answer with a level tone. "But we're getting him back"