Rodney rested his
elbows on his lab desk and his head in his hands. He was
finding it increasingly difficult to concentrate. It wasn't
that he was tired. In fact he was wired. It was always
near impossible for him to sleep until he had worn out his body to
the point where he could stop thinking. If he even tried to
sleep before then, he was restless at best or had nightmares at
worst. He usually slept best off-world or after missions, after
hiking through forests, fields, or swamps for hours.
Right now he just wanted to focus on his work, reading through his team's progress reports for their various experiments. Anything to keep his mind off of the past month. It had been a really, really, really bad month. It was like the universe was conspiring against him.
First there was the whole insubordination issue that had led to the use of his office. Nightmares he hadn't had for years had returned. Then there was the whole tank incident, which had only made the nightmares worse. It still made him shudder to think about it. 'So don't!' he chided himself. Then he was happily and successfully avoiding therapy for that for almost two weeks when lo and behold...Sheppard snagged him between meetings and said if he didn't go he'd ground the whole team and they'd all blame Rodney McKay. Like that's fair. Then that damned prison colony had forced him, FORCED him to work for them, fixing the unfixable jumper. He'd hated that more than any member of his team could possibly know or understand. On top of all that, Bobby Freeman was becoming more difficult to avoid now that he was learning his way around. That, and McKay suspected he was conspiring with Radek to know when he could be caught taking meals. Making up new stories about what his school had been like, and keeping them straight, was getting a little difficult. Not that his mind wasn't up to it. It was just that he should be devoting his intellect to worm-hole theory and zed pm's. The man was almost as impossible to blow-off as John Sheppard.
If he didn't know better he'd say it was some demented Stephen King version of Jungian Synchronicity which the universe had designed explicitly to torture Rodney McKay.
"Rodney?" Rodney jumped in his seat, before realizing it was just Radek.
"What! Are you trying to give me a heart attack!" He snapped angrily. Anger was a safe emotion, useful for smothering away other feelings.
Radek rolled his eyes, apparently not taking the likelihood of heart attack very seriously, "It is getting late. You go. I will finish up here."
The answer to that was short and snippy, "What are you, nuts? It's not even midnight!"
"Yes. But you are obviously not concentrating. You work hard. You should go get some sleep at normal hour like normal human being." The Czech folded his arms stubbornly.
"I'm not tired!" the reply came out as more petulant than anything else.
But Radek was patient and insistent, "You have been staring at same page for over half an hour. Go. You do not need to do everything yourself. This is a simple task." He punctuated his point with a gentle nudge to prod Rodney from the stool.
"Ok ok ok! You don't have to beat me!" He grumbled. Then he picked up his coffee and left without further complaint. Radek looked surprised that Rodney had given up so readily. But Rodney had somewhere else he'd like to be. He needed to let out some steam.
"Good evening Doctor Zelenka.", one of the night guards greeted Radek as he entered the darkened control room of Atlantis. Unlike most cities, Atlantis was not full of bright lights. By day the gate room, like most of Atlantis, was brightly lit by the tall stained glass windows that the Ancients had decorated most of the city with. So when night fell outside the city, it fell within as well. The dim lights of the city provided enough light to get around, but little enough that one was always reminded it was night.
Radek nodded to the guards sleepily, with his lap top under one arm and a hot mug of coffee in the other. It was two in the morning and Radek had been about to enter his quarters for the evening when he'd gotten a call from the night technician overseeing Atlantis systems, babbling incoherent apologies and swearing on his life he had followed only procedures.
As soon as the guard said his name the technician's wide-eyed head popped up from behind the control station, "I just can't figure out what I did wrong. I've triple checked the procedures and…"
Zelenka lifted a hand to silence the panicked technician. It was the young mans first day…well night, on the job, since arriving with a handful of other reinforcements from earth. Zelenka patted the young man on the shoulder. The name-tag read, Jason Fielding. "Do not worry so. You are here because you are good at what you do. It is most likely a malfunction which you have caught before it can become serious. We will see."
The young man didn't seem to take much comfort in that as his voice quavered, "You're right. I'm sorry. It's just the last thing Dr. McKay said before leaving me here was 'Don't break anything,' I guess it got to me."
Both of the night guards smirked at that. Zelenka shook his head at their obvious enjoyment of the situation before giving Fielding a reassuring pat on the shoulder. The new technician had been among the last arrivals and had the misfortune of witnessing an unusual moment of true McKay wrath. The subsequent reassigning of the subject of that wrath to the Alpha site not long after had left a lasting impression on the newcomers. In time the fear McKay had inspired would ease. In the mean-time Radek was happy to remain on call to support the newest additions to the science team.
The main screen showed a map of the city with a spectrum of colour pulsing erratically in mainly populated areas. Radek's brows furrowed and he leaned closer to the screen, "I have not seen this before". He reached forward and typed in a command that should back the systems up to the normal settings. The screen remained unchanged. "And it is as you said, it will not go back." Radek patted the technicians shoulder, "This should not be happening, you were right to call me."
The technician relaxed significantly, "Thank you sir. What should we do? Reset the whole system."
Zelenka half shrugged, "We take scientific approach first, and try to understand what this is." He motioned to the colourful areas on the map. "You see, these colours focus on populated areas. Perhaps it is heat sensors of some sort?"
"Maybe sir, but then what would be creating that much heat out there?" The technician pointed to an area far from the population that Zelenka had not noticed though its colours were more intense and active than in any other area.
"Hmph," Zelenka replied thoughtfully, "What is in that area?"
"I don't know sir. The system won't let us back up to any of the other maps."
Zelenka nodded, "Yes, of course…. Then if we cannot go back, perhaps we can go forward."
Radek pointed at the colourful area that was far from the population, "Zoom in on that tower. Perhaps we can learn more about what is there that is also elsewhere. Extrapolate answer by comparison."
The moment Radek pressed the enter key, piano music that sounded like it had popped out of the universes most bone chilling horror movie boomed into the room, causing his heart to leap from his chest. The marines on duty clutched their weapons at ready and searched for a threat in the moments it took them to calm their hearts and realize that it was only music, "Turn it off!" They yelled up to the control level where Radek and Fielding were. "Turn it off!"
The hammering in Radek's chest slowed and he suddenly became aware that he was sitting on the floor, back to back with the rookie technician.
"Uh, sir?" the technician stammered, "I don't think that was internal heat sensors."
Radek pulled himself up from the embarrassing position and helped the other man do the same, "I am inclined to agree."
The two spent a few minutes frantically pressing buttons before one of the marines joined them in the control area, "Can't you guys shut it off?"
Radek tried once more then shook his head, "Go and get Dr. McKay. Though, I would be surprised if he is not already on his way." He highly suspected that this new function was tied into the city wide comm. System.
The music built to a crescendo and slipped seamlessly into a theme that should have belonged to an American comic book super villain.
Col. John Sheppard swore under his breath and jogged toward the gate room, gun at ready. He'd tried contacting his on duty men after the music blasting through Atlantis had shot him out of bed. No doubt he couldn't be heard over the volume. Possibilities spun through his military trained mind. This could be an enemy infiltration. Taking control of the cities central communication systems in this manner could be a strategy to disorient them while interfering with communications at the same time. It could… His thought processes was interrupted by one of his men calling after him from behind. Hey, wasn't that guy supposed to be on duty in the Gate room? "Report, Lieutenant!"
"Yes sir. Dr. Zelenka is in the control room working on the problem now. They discovered a new function in the ancient systems which he has been unable to deactivate. He sent me to find Dr. McKay, sir, but he wasn't in his quarters or in any of the labs. I'm on my way back to the control room now." The marine yelled over the music.
Sheppard suddenly became acutely aware of his drawn weapon and quickly put it away and came out of his stealth double o seven pose. "Right. Good then. Let's go."
They entered the gate room to find Dr. Weir already striding up to the control level, with eyes wide and bedraggled bed-head, "What the hell is going on in here?"
Apparently, being terrified out of sleep with loud music made her grumpy. She would have hated boot camp.
Sheppard and the marine strode up the stairs to join her.
Radek's fingers worked frantically over the keyboard, "It is previously undiscovered function in ancient system. We have been trying to switch it off. Where is Dr. McKay?"
The marine shook his head, though Radek's attention was turned fully on the monitor, "Couldn't find him anywhere."
The music came to an end punctuated with…, Super-villain laughter? Not just any super villain laugher either. It was the dark gleeful cackle reserved for when he and Rodney were working alone and scheduling out the worst maintenance assignments. When he'd first met the stand-offish arrogant, yet strangely energetic, even bouncy, man he wouldn't have guessed he'd have such a playful side. But there it was. And it was one of the reasons Radek enjoyed working with Dr. McKay.
"Rodney?" Apparently Elizabeth had been privy to that side of Rodney as well.
The query was immediately answered by the crackling of a power-bar wrapper and the sound of contented munching.
Col. Sheppard flipped his radio to the command channel, "McKay, this is Col Sheppard, please respond."
There was a long pause and no answer. Sheppard sighed and clenched his teeth in annoyance. He was going to duct-tape that radio to his absent-minded scientist's hip and crazy-glue it to the on position. They needed him to get here and fix this, and the private man probably wouldn't be too happy he was being listened to by the entire city. "Can you get me his location?"
Radek was about to answer but fell silent, along with the rest of the rooms growing number of curious occupants, when a slow, simple melody floated through the sound system. A three beat, building in mesmerizing complexity. It sounded like discovery. It sounded like excitement, passion, love, the way he'd felt when he first travelled through the Star-gate to Pegasus. It sounded personal. Then he remembered that Rodney did not know he was being heard and he blushed, "Um, top level, far east tower."
Sheppard jerked out of his own reverie and nodded quietly before walking to the transporter with Dr. Weir close behind.
Rodney relished the feeling of the stress draining from him as he played. He hated to admit it but Heightmeyer had been completely right when she told him he needed an outlet – as in an interest beyond the scientific pursuits their lives all depended on. He had sworn he'd never play again when he gave it up all those years ago. But it had helped him survive his childhood so he at least knew it could be therapeutic.
Here in a far tower of Atlantis where no-one had any reason to snoop and with the city life-sign detector switched off for this location specifically, he felt safe. There was no risk of anyone else hearing. There was no one else to judge or measure his performance. No way to fail. This was just for him, and it was strangely freeing. At first he had stuck to the memorized pieces of Mozart and others he had learned a child. He concentrated on recreating each to perfection. Then he'd gotten more courageous. Now he made up his own music, expressing what he thought and how he felt about…everything.
He'd been sneaking out here now and then since they had returned from earth. He didn't know if his music was any good, or if it was too clinical, and for once he didn't care, because it was how he felt and that's all that mattered.
He played about things he never talked about. Then he made fun of the villainy that was Kavanagh, who incidentally shared a similar theme with the Wraith Sheppard named Steve. He liked the way Sheppard could laugh at things like that, the same way Rodney had joked about the overdramatic Goa'uld Anubis back at SGC. Now he played what he felt about Atlantis.
"Rodney?" Elizabeth's voice startled him into hitting a discord.
"Elizabeth?" a shock of embarrassment ran through him as he turned and he could feel the colour drain from his face when he saw both John and Elizabeth standing there. "Um… how much did you? ... I mean why are you? ... I mean…ah..." He stammered until he realized they weren't looking at him. They were looking past him.
Rodney glanced quickly between the intruders and the piano and realized that sneaking off with all those supplies might not be smiled upon, "oh… that…I can explain that."
"Did you BUILD that?" Rodney took in John's slack jawed expression and felt mildly insulted.
And he clung to that emotion because it was better than the naked vulnerability he had been feeling. He prepared an acerbic reply, "Well don't look so surprised Colonel! It's a little less complicated than the EM pulse generator you used in my lab!"
John's expression shifted from wonder to horror, "You built that!"
Rodney allowed his ire to build, "YES! I built that! I have a Masters in Engineering Sheppard! It's one of those things we engineers do. We engineer!"
"Dr McKay," Elizabeth broke him out of his rant.
He looked at her, briefly apologetic. "Uh, why are you both here, anyway?"
Sheppard began to answer but received a sharp nudge from Elizabeth. She held a finger to her lips. Ok. That was odd… Rodney was about to say as much when she walked over and began to speak quietly in his ear. She was barely audible. He strained to hear. … ancient sound system…. Uhuh … It's a newly found function? That's interesting…. Picks up sound from anywhere in the city and transmits it to everywhere else in the city … That could come in handy! … And it's currently locked on this room…. Oh God. Nonononononono.
Humiliated! He was humiliated. Everyone in the entire base had been listening. He opened his mouth to say something but changed his mind and instead stepped by his two friends and walked straight for the transporter. Everyone had heard enough. He never should have listened to Heightmeyer. This was a disaster.
John's hazel eyes were fixed in an expression of speculative concern as he stepped in line behind Rodney. His pet physicist wasn't normally the kinda guy to hide his light under a bushel. He was good. A normal Rodney should be yelling it from the rooftops. Instead the moody physicist was about as upset as John had ever seen him.
They paused outside the lift and waited for Elizabeth while she took a last look at the grand piano. John couldn't blame her. It was pretty damned impressive. The whole base of the thing looked like it was made with that weird polished clear-blue wood Lorne's team had gathered samples of from planet P3-something or other. The keys were cut fragments of the crystals that were used in the Ancient Tech all over the city. They were probably taken from the growing stock of hopelessly broken ones. When the light hit them they appeared to glow as though they were active.
Of course, McKay had chosen a pretty perfect room too. John doubted it was just for the acoustics, although the acoustics in the semi-circular room seemed pretty good. The whole ceiling was transparent, as were the walls along the circular part of the room. The flat part had the transporter and what looked like was probably another room with closed doors. The view was probably pretty amazing, but John didn't stop to check it out.
In the few minutes it took them to reach the gate-room, Sheppard watched his friends face become a stoic mask. But the mask seemed much thinner than usual.
The curious crowd that had gathered in the gate-room received a cursory glance before Rodney raised his voice and stormed across the room, "Alright! Everyone who isn't useful, get out of the way. As in find somewhere else to be."
The acid in his tone probably would have been more believable if he'd look anyone in the eye. A look from John sent any Marines not on duty away. A look from Radek sent the bulk of the science personnel following.
Rodney snapped his fingers at the night technician who had been working with Dr.Z. "You, new guy…" Rodney headed straight for another lap top and began typing in it. "Reset our interface systems ……" he let that hang as he typed in a few more commands then pointed, "Now."
John felt a bit worried when the 'new guy' started to look panicked, "It won't switch back on!"
Rodney made an annoyed sound, "Yes! I know it won't. Gimme ten seconds…right…" Something that looked like Ancient popped up on the main screen. Radek took position beside Rodney. "There we go…there's our problem." Rodney points at a particular line for the benefit of Radek.
"What is?" Elizabeth usually liked to understand what was going on with her city.
Rodney, ever the multi-tasker, continued to explain as he pushed the night technician out of the way and typed into the laptop. "Our interface programming and the ancient interface programming are having a bit of an argument. You see, we've written a user-friendly interface for the city internal comm systems to send a message from the command room to the rest of the city, or even to listen to the entire city at once. But our interface doesn't account for this new two-way function that zero's in on one location while blocking all others, or the sound scanners. It results in a kind of feed back loop of incompatible commands…which is now… fixed." No sooner had he said it than the main monitor flickered and returned to normal.
Rodney turned the lap-top back over the technician, who hesitantly wheeled his chair back over, "Now it's just a simple patch, so go easy on it. The programmers will look at it in the morning. And, before you ask, the reason we haven't seen this function before is probably because it was accidentally repaired by one of the crews we've had systematically fixing the flooded areas and along with the areas damaged by the Wraith. This is the first time the operation has been functional since the Zed PM was installed."
He paused and looked at the few remaining Atlantean's in the room, "Are we all good now? Yes? Anyone else planning on breaking anything vital before breakfast? No? Good! Then good night!" And with that he stormed out of the room.
The technician looked at the lap-top display in disbelief and back up to Radek, "SIMPLE patch? He's kidding, right?"
The young man was probably a skilled programmer himself. Radek patted him on the shoulder, "He's not. You will get used to it."
"Blimey! He seemed a mite upset." John hadn't even noticed Carson standing there before.
John shrugged casually in reply, "Oh… he probably just needs some sleep. He'll be better in the morning." But he was beginning to wonder if he really knew Rodney at all. All that time off-world, and while the rest of the team talked Rodney would usually have his nose stuck in his lap-top. When they hiked, Rodney complained. And through all their verbal sparring, John began to realize, they'd never really talked about much that wasn't directly related to events on Atlantis or to a mission. He'd picked up a few tid-bits of info by teasing Rodney into losing his temper, but they'd never really talked. He'd never had that problem with Aiden, Teyla, or even Ronon. And it was beginning to bother him about Rodney McKay.
John's thoughts were interrupted by the sound of a nearby computer chirping. He hoped they wouldn't have to call Rodney back.
Radek was investigating the offending blip in an instant, probably hoping the same thing, "It is the Daedalus. They just entered communications range. They are sending through encrypted files for the attention of Dr Beckett and Dr Heightmeyer, and another for Col Sheppard and Dr Weir… they ask that you be notified as soon as possible. A separate message is now coming through for Dr. McKay, with advice that he is to receive it only after you have read yours."
"Well that's weird…" John frowned between Carson and Elizabeth.
"Aye…" Carson looked somewhere between thoughtful and worried. Elizabeth just looked confused.
So John attempted a possible explanation, "Maybe they just know he gets grumpy so they didn't want to wake him unless they didn't absolutely have to."
Elizabeth looked doubtful and amused. Ok, so it was a bad attempt. "Maybe…since we're up anyway let's take a look now. Dr.Zelenka, would you please decrypt those, and bring them to the briefing room for us to view together? And… you better call Dr. Heightmeyer too. I doubt she's asleep now anyway."