By Pansy Chubb
EMAIL: Pansy Chubb
The sun was shining, the birds were chirping, and Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard had a reason to be cheerful.
"So, Ronon," he called to the big man walking a few yards ahead of him, "what are you doing on your date?"
Satedan Specialist Ronon Dex turned to face his team leader, pace slowing only a little as he walked backward through the meadow. "'S'not a date," he said, but the smirk on his face betrayed him.
Sheppard smiled innocently, then raised his eyebrows at the third member of his team. "Teyla? What did you say Banks told you again?"
Teyla Emmagen picked her way through the tall grass beside John, a smile tugging at her lips. "Amelia said Ronon invited her to join him on a run, and then in some sparring practice."
John winked at the Athosian before turning back to Ronon. "For you, big guy, that is a date."
Ronon bared his teeth in a feral grin. "Yeah," he said, turning back toward the Stargate, which glinted in the sunlight a short distance away. "Guess it is."
"Well, don't let us slow you down!" John called as the runner resumed his ground-eating pace. "It's not like it's a beautiful day or anything!" He turned his gaze to the sky as Ronon began pulling away. "Great flying weather, too."
"Yes, this is a pleasant planet," Teyla agreed. "It is a shame the Valerians were not interested in trading."
"Yeah, well, maybe they'll come around." John shrugged. "At least we didn't make any enemies."
"No, the representatives were quite hospitable. I hope they will be more open to negotiation in the future."
Ahead of them, Ronon was already waiting at the DHD.
"Now, Chewie," Sheppard said lightly as Teyla began to dial, "try not to break our 'gate technician tonight." He ignored Ronon's level stare. "Stitches and cracked ribs are more of a second date thing."
Teyla laughed as the wormhole whooshed into existence. "You do not have to worry, John," she said, stepping up to join them on the Stargate's dais. "Amelia can more than take care of herself."
"Right, the kickboxing," John mused. "Maybe I should alert the infirmary that an injured and embarrassed Satedan might be visiting them tonight."
Teyla laughed again. John was still smiling innocently in the face of Ronon's glare when they stepped through to Atlantis.
"Colonel!" Richard Woolsey hurried down the 'gate room steps toward the team.
"Commander," John nodded back, "we -”
" - are three hours overdue," Woolsey interrupted.
John's smile disappeared. "What?" He looked at his watch.
"I was getting ready to send a rescue team," the bureaucrat said, frowning like a principal with a bunch of truant students. "I know protocol is to wait six hours, but considering it was your team . . ." He let the statement hang in the air.
"We are sorry," Teyla apologized, looking bewildered. "We lost track of time."
"I'll say," John said, frowning at his watch.
Ronon looked nonplussed by the proceedings.
"Well," Richard said, "I suppose you'll have a good story when you brief me in one hour, so –" He stopped short, then craned his neck to look behind John.
Sheppard had the sudden suspicion that some kind of animal had followed them through the 'gate, but saw nothing when he looked. "What?"
"Where is Doctor McKay?" Woolsey asked. "Did he stay behind?"
John frowned again. "What?"
"Where's McKay?" Richard repeated with more than a hint of irritation.
Sheppard turned to Teyla, who mirrored his confused expression and shook her head.
"If this is some sort of prank," Richard huffed at the teams' blank looks, "I can assure you that it's not funny."
John looked at Ronon, who merely shrugged.
"Colonel," Woolsey demanded, "where is Rodney?!"
John turned back to the city’s commander.
"Who," he asked, "is Rodney?"
Richard Woolsey paused outside his office, allowing his shoulders to slump ever so slightly as he gripped the railing and gazed at the ‘gate room below. The Stargate was inactive, and it was quiet apart from the usual hustle and bustle of the technicians behind him.
But there was a tension in the air that belied the seeming normalcy. It wasn’t every day that Atlantis’ flagship team came home without their chief science officer – much less any memory of the man whatsoever.
The commander sighed. Straightening, he adjusted his uniform and turned toward the conference room.
“Sir?” Banks called from her station as he walked past.
“Yes, Amelia?” Richard stopped and turned toward the ‘gate technician.
“Would you like me to inform you when Major Lorne’s team reports back?”
“Yes, immediately,” Woolsey nodded. “Good news or bad.”
“Yes sir,” Amelia responded. She paused before adding, “I hope it’s good.”
Richard gave her a small smile. “So do we all.” He took a step, then turned back, his smile growing a bit more. “Regardless, I think you’re going to have to cancel your date tonight.”
Banks flushed and dropped her gaze. A soft murmur of laughter came from the other technicians, temporarily dispelling the tension. Amelia made an exasperated noise. “Does the whole city know about that?” she asked sheepishly.
“No,” Richard shook his head. Then he added, “But just about.” He continued smiling as chuckling laughter followed him toward the conference room.
The commander schooled his expression just before the Ancient doors swung open for him. Doctor Carson Beckett, Doctor Radek Zelenka, and a woman in a medical-yellow uniform sat at the long oaken table.
“Gentlemen, and lady,” he added, nodding to the woman, “our flagship team has been in isolation for several hours now, and our chief science officer is missing.” He took his seat as the conference room doors whooshed shut behind him. “I want some answers.”
“Right.” Beckett spoke first. “Well, it’s taking some time, but we’re running every test I can think of.”
“Should I have Doctor Keller called back from P4X-278?” Woolsey asked.
“Ach, no,” the Scot replied. “I daresay those poor people need her more than I do. Besides, my team is handling the workload admirably. And in addition,” he added, nodding to the woman across the table from him, “I asked Doctor Hamri to conduct brief, one-on-one interviews with the colonel, Teyla, and Ronon as part of their post-mission medical checks.”
Richard turned to the woman on his right. “Forgive me,” he began, “but it is Doctor Fatima Hamri, correct?”
The woman nodded. “Yes. We met briefly when I arrived a few weeks ago,” she responded in a mild German accent. Her complexion was dark, her hair black and close-cropped, and the flag on her uniform jacket red with a single green star in the center.
“I remember,” Richard said. “I apologize that I’ve been too busy to get to know you properly so far.”
“It’s alright,” she said, smiling. “If the IOA forced a new base psychologist on me without so much as asking my approval, I’d be hesitant to talk to her, too.”
The bald statement left Woolsey speechless for a moment. Carson raised his eyebrows, and even Zelenka, who had been absorbed in his data pad since Richard had entered, glanced up.
“I assure you,” the bureaucrat said, clearing his throat, “that is not the case.” Hamri nodded, but didn’t quite stop smiling. “How did the interviews go?” he asked brusquely.
“As well as can be expected,” she replied. “They are understandably confused and angry.”
“I do not understand,” Teyla said, her posture one of desperate calm. Hamri noticed how the Athosian purposely, almost forcefully, kept her breathing even and relaxed. “I do not know any Doctor McKay. Why is everyone asking us about him?”
“Look, I know you’re the new shrink,” Sheppard said with disdain when she interviewed him, “and you’re supposed to be the one asking the questions, but what the hell is going on here?” He glared up at the isolation room windows before she could answer. “Why is my team in quarantine?” he demanded. “And will someone please tell me who the hell this McKay guy is?!”
As for Ronon, Fatima hadn’t been able to get anything but monosyllabic answers out of the runner for the entire interview.
“Doctor?” Woolsey interrupted her reverie.
Hamri blinked and returned her gaze to the commander. “I admit that I have not yet developed a proper doctor-patient relationship with any of them, but I do not believe that they are purposely deceiving us.” She shook her head. “Neither have they been through any trauma that could account for such a memory loss.”
“Then what do you believe?”
Hamri spoke evenly. “That the memory of Doctor McKay has simply been blocked from their minds.” She shook her head again. “That kind of mental manipulation would take days – possibly weeks – of brainwashing.”
“But they were gone less than half a day.”
“Correct,” Fatima continued. “But I have witnessed several alien technologies during my time with the SGC that are capable of such manipulation. Therefore,” she concluded, folding her hands in front of her, “it is my professional opinion that something similar was used on Colonel Sheppard and his team.”
“Aye,” Carson agreed, “and all their blood work has come back clean, so –“
“Wait wait wait,” Richard interrupted with a hand up to pause the Scot, “how can we be sure this is even our team?” He gave them all a knowing look. “The SGC has certainly dealt with parallel universe personnel before.”
“No no no,” Zelenka interjected, finally bringing his nose up out of the data pad, “that is not the case in, uh, this case.” He pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose. “My team has run every sort of diagnostic on our ‘gate and the one on Valeria. We have found nothing abnormal. Also,” the Czech added, forestalling Woolsey’s interruption, “there are no stellar phenomena in the wormhole’s path that could account for such a dimensional transition.”
“Besides,” Carson added, “we found something interesting when we put Colonel Sheppard’s team under the Ancient scanner.”
“Define ‘interesting,’” Woolsey said dryly as the physician stood and walked to a screen on the far wall.
Carson activated the display and pointed to the image that appeared. “This is Colonel Sheppard’s brain.”
Richard didn’t have the medical expertise to agree or disagree, so he simply nodded.
“What you see here,” the Scot continued, pointing to a darker spot, “is evidence of subdural hematomas. Bruising.”
“In his brain?” Woolsey asked incredulously.
“Yes, it’s the same in all of them, not unlike what you would find with a severe concussion,” Beckett explained. “The trick is that the bruises are very small, and very precise. We only found them in these specific areas.” He pointed again.
“The memory centers,” Fatima added helpfully at Richard’s blank look.
“Aye,” Carson agreed. “It holds with Doctor Hamri’s theory that an unknown technology is responsible.”
Richard sighed and sat back in his chair. “Well, at least we know that – “
“Excuse me, Commander Woolsey?” Banks interrupted over his headset.
He put a hand to his ear. “Yes?”
“Major Lorne’s team has returned.”
Richard waited a beat. When it became clear that the ‘gate tech had nothing else to relate, he sighed. “Thank you, Amelia. Send him in.”
“I’m afraid,” Woolsey said in explanation to the room at large, “that Major Lorne’s team has returned without Doctor McKay.”
Carson sighed, looking a little crestfallen. Radek muttered something in his native language and went back to working with his data pad. Doctor Hamri kept her features neutral, her eyes on Richard.
The doors to the conference room opened and Major Evan Lorne strode in, still in full field gear.
“Major,” Woolsey said, standing. “Report.”
“Sir, we got nothing,” Lorne responded with a frustrated, defeated air. “And I mean nothing. The land is empty for miles around the ‘gate. We even took the ‘jumper up and did a few scans of the planet. It’s like Valeria never had any human civilization at all.”
“But Colonel Sheppard’s team said they met with the Valerians,” Hamri said, frowning.
“Well, if there was anyone on that planet before, they’re gone now.”
“Ah,” said Zelenka, standing, “did you - ?”
“Got the last fifty addresses dialed from the Valeria DHD right here,” Lorne said, holding up a data pad of his own.
“Good,” Radek said, gathering up his things, “we will just need to - ” He was halfway to the door before he paused to look at Woolsey. “Um, if you don’t –“ He gestured vaguely.
“Go,” Richard said, waving him away. “You’re dismissed as well, Major. And thank you.”
“Sir.” Lorne nodded at him, then nodded at Beckett and Hamri, before following the fast-moving Czech out of the room.
The Ancient doors stayed open, seemingly understanding that the meeting was over.
“Doctors,” Richard said, addressing both physician and psychologist, “do you have anything else to report?”
Doctor Hamri shook her head, but Carson spoke.
“I do have a wee bit of good news,” he offered. “The bruising seems to be temporary, and is already healing.” The Scot shrugged. “It’s entirely possible that Colonel Sheppard’s team will regain their memories of Rodney. Gradually – over the next few weeks, perhaps.”
Woolsey’s smile was small and sad. “Good news, yes,” he said, “but that will probably be too late to help Doctor McKay.”
“Mister Woolsey!” Fatima called as the commander left the ‘gate room.
“Yes, Doctor?” Richard replied, pausing in the hallway just outside the door.
“May I walk with you?”
“Of course.” He continued his walk down the corridor with the psychologist at his side, nodding to the various personnel who passed.
When the doctor seemed hesitant to start the conversation, Richard ventured a topic. “I’m curious as to why you’ve chosen to wear the Moroccan flag on your uniform,” he said. “Your dossier says you were raised and educated in Germany.”
Hamri nodded. “My father was German. He met my mother in Tangiers. When I was young, he moved us to Stuttgart.”
The psychologist’s explanation ended abruptly. Woolsey sighed inwardly and tried again. “I assume there’s something you want to talk about?”
“Yes,” Fatima sighed, clasping her hands in front of her. “I apologize for my blunt words before.” When Woolsey merely looked at her, she continued. “I find that a measure of honesty about myself helps my patients to open up about themselves, and sometimes I bring that technique into situations where it is inappropriate.”
“Such as calling out the city’s commander on his actions in front of his subordinates.”
“Yes,” Hamri said with a wry smile, “exactly like that.”
Woolsey let the silence between them grow for about a dozen steps. Hamri was half a head shorter than he, and he watched her out of the corner of his eye as they walked. Finally, he spoke. “I appreciate your honesty,” he said, making eye contact to show his sincerity, “and accept your apology.”
Fatima smiled gratefully. “I just wanted you to know that I know that the circumstances surrounding my assignment were . . . not ideal.”
“And I do know how difficult it is to fit in here as a new arrival.” Richard returned the smile. “I’m sure you’ll start making friends in no time.”
“But in the meantime,” Hamri replied as they came to a transporter, “I’d like to take an active role in helping Colonel Sheppard’s team.”
Richard waved the transporter doors open. “I thought you might,” he said as they stepped inside the alcove. “In fact, that’s where I’m headed.” He punched a spot on the wall map.
“To the infirmary?”
“Now that we know Colonel Sheppard and his team aren’t a security threat,” the commander said as the doors slid shut, “I have to break the news to them.” A flash of light, and the doors opened on the medical wing. “To be honest, I would appreciate any help you could give in the matter.”
“Of course,” Fatima said as they stepped out. “I imagine Colonel Sheppard will not take the news well.”
“No,” Richard sighed as they reached the infirmary, “no, he won’t.”
“What?!” Sheppard’s bark was so loud that Fatima swore the isolation room windows rattled. “Somebody bruised our brains?!”
“Please, Colonel,” Woolsey said, raising his hands in placation, “there’s no need to shout –“
“No?” John spat back icily. “Somebody went digging through my brain and made me forget one of my team and you -”
“John,” Teyla said, her voice soft as she laid a hand on the pilot’s arm. Hamri could tell that the Athosian was seething under the calm façade, but her quiet actions somehow interrupted the soldier’s rant. Sheppard looked at her, crossed his arms, and turned to Woolsey and Hamri, stone-faced.
Fatima filed that bit of interaction away for later reference. “Can you describe your visit to Valeria?” she asked. “Did anything odd happen?”
John and Teyla looked at each other. When John just shrugged, Teyla answered, “No. I cannot think of anything strange.”
“Ronon,” Woolsey called, “what about you?”
The big runner had been pacing at the back of the room since the commander had broken the news, reminding Fatima strongly of a tiger in its cage. The Satedan paused long enough to shake his head and grunt a negative before resuming his stride.
“All right,” Hamri said patiently. “Why don’t you describe what you do remember.”
“Start at the beginning,” Richard added, “when you arrived on Valeria.”
John straightened, letting his arms fall to his sides as he subconsciously took on a pose fitting a report to a superior officer. “We arrived at Valerian dawn, about oh-eight-hundred Atlantis time. We walked three miles through the grassland surrounding the Stargate until we reached the Valerian outpost.”
“Who is ‘we’?” Hamri prompted.
“Ronon, Teyla, and myself,” John answered, a bit uncomfortably. “At least, that’s who I remember.” He fixed Woolsey with a stare. “McKay was with us too, wasn’t he?”
Richard nodded, but Fatima spoke before he could say anything. “This outpost – describe it.”
“The majority of the Valerian population lives near the forest, about twenty miles from the ‘gate,” Teyla replied. “The outpost is a small group of simple dwellings, which they use for trade negotiations. We met Cador and Emadara there.”
“Cador and Emadara?” Richard echoed.
“The Valerians’ representatives,” John said. “Cador was the leader – early thirties, maybe. Seemed a pretty average guy to me.”
“Emadara was a young woman, pretty and a little shy,” Teyla added. “Cador said he was training her in the art of negotiation.”
“Yeah,” John agreed. “Couldn’t have been more than eighteen years old.”
“All right,” Hamri conceded. “How did the negotiations proceed?”
“After we exchanged greetings, they invited us into one of the buildings to share some tea.” Teyla shrugged. “We accepted, and then began discussing trade.”
“But they weren’t interested,” John interjected. “Nice people, but obviously not looking for new trading partners.” He crossed his arms again. “So we said goodbye and headed back to the ‘gate.”
“And that’s all you remember?” Woolsey asked.
“Yeah,” Sheppard agreed. “Except that’s not all that happened, is it? Because somehow we lost a goddamn team member along the way!”
Fatima cut off the colonel’s outburst with a question. “Did they say why they didn’t want to trade?”
“What?” John furrowed his brow.
“Cador and Emadara,” Hamri elaborated. “Why didn’t they want to trade?”
Sheppard turned to Teyla, who wore her own look of confusion. “They . . . “ she began, then trailed off.
“Weren’t interested,” Ronon finished, speaking for the first time from across the room.
“Yes,” Teyla said, turning to Fatima. “They were not interested. But . . . I do not remember why.”
“Can you remember any details at all about the talks?” Hamri pressed.
Sheppard took a deep breath and put his hands on his hips. “No,” he said, then added quietly, “Damn it.” At normal volume, he said, “That’s when whatever happened . . . happened, didn’t it?”
“It certainly seems that your minds are suppressing that information for some reason.”
“So what are we gonna do about it?” Ronon growled, stalking toward the group and standing next to Teyla.
“There is some good news,” Woolsey piped up hopefully. “Doctor Beckett believes your memory loss is only temporary, and that your memories of Doctor McKay will return within a few weeks time.”
“Oh, great!” John feigned relief. “Meanwhile, I’ve got a teammate who-knows-where in Pegasus that I didn’t even know I left behind!”
Woolsey measured his words. “Major Lorne’s team searched Valeria and brought back the last fifty addresses dialed by their DHD. Doctor Zelenka is analyzing them now.”
“And how long will that take?”
“Well, we don’t have an exact timeframe for – “
“Then it’s not good enough!” John exploded, clenching his fists and beginning his own pacing about the room.
“Richard,” Teyla spoke from where she had been deep in thought, “is there no way we can recover our memories?” She looked to John and Ronon. “It may help us locate Doctor McKay.”
“I’ve already looked into requisitioning some of the alien technologies capable of memory manipulation and recovery from the SGC,” he answered, “but I’m afraid it will require an awful lot of red tape.”
John growled in frustration and ran a hand through his hair. Teyla took a deep breath, and Ronon stared at the city’s commander as if the situation were all his fault.
“Is there nothing we can do?” the Athosian asked.
“Actually,” Fatima spoke hesitantly as all eyes turned to her, “I have an idea.”
“Kate Heightmeyer used hypnosis on me,” Teyla said to Doctor Hamri as Carson set up the heart monitor next to the infirmary bed. “Will this be a similar experience?”
“In some ways,” Fatima said carefully. “She was trying to help you awaken your mental connection to the Wraith, correct?”
“Aye,” Carson piped up as he finished fiddling with the controls. “It was a successful session.”
“Carson,” Teyla said wryly, “the Wraith gained control of me and I struck you in the face.”
“Aye,” Carson said again, nonplussed. “Didn’t I just say it was a successful session?” He gave her a wink.
Fatima smiled. “We will hopefully avoid anything so drastic this time.” She looked over her shoulder. Sheppard and Lorne were discussing something quietly in the corner while Ronon leaned imposingly against the wall near them. “I think we’re about ready to begin.”
“All right then!” Beckett clapped his hands and gestured to the bed. “Teyla, lass, up you go.”
Fatima reached out a hand to block the other woman. “No, Carson, I’m sorry,” she said. “I was unclear – Teyla is not the one I will be hypnotizing today.”
The Scot furrowed his brow. “Then, who –“
“Doc,” Sheppard called, finishing his conversation and making his way toward them. Lorne disappeared out the infirmary door, but Ronon followed the colonel. “We about ready to start?”
“Yes, but –“
“Good,” John said, shifting his attention to Hamri. “I want it to be me.”
Carson and Teyla looked taken aback by the news. Ronon, however, didn’t bat an eye.
“John,” Teyla said, “are you sure – “
“Yeah,” the pilot cut her off. “My team, my missing man.” He looked her in the eye. “My responsibility.”
Carson’s face still betrayed his surprise. “All right,” he conceded. “Go on and lie down, then. I just need to make an adjustment to the sedative level.” The physician raised an eyebrow at Hamri, and she walked with him to the cupboard across the room as Teyla and Ronon helped their team leader get settled.
“Nice call,” Beckett said softly as he measured out the medication. “How did you know?”
Fatima chuckled just as softly. “I have worked with soldiers a very long time,” she said simply.
“Colonel Sheppard,” Fatima said, keeping her voice calm and level. “Tell us what happened when you arrived on Valeria. What do you see?”
The infirmary lights had been dimmed, and Ronon and Teyla stood in the shadows off to the psychologist’s side. Doctor Beckett sat beside the bed, quietly monitoring the colonel’s vitals.
Colonel Sheppard looked, for all intents and purposes, as if he were asleep. His breathing was deep and even, his eyes closed, and his limbs relaxed. It had taken Fatima quite a while to get him into this state – the soldier was not one to let his guard down easily – but with patience and the help of Beckett’s mild sedative, she had finally completed his descent into the trance.
When Sheppard spoke, his voice was as relaxed as his body. “A big meadow,” he began. “It’s early morning. No clouds. Gonna be great flying weather.” His lips quirked in a tiny smile.
“Who is with you?”
“Ronon, Teyla . . .” The smile disappeared. “And a man . . .”
“Great,” Rodney said the moment the wormhole disengaged behind him. “Look at all this grass! How far is the outpost again?”
“Just a few miles, McKay,” John said, slipping on his sunglasses. Ronon and Teyla were already walking toward the distant tree line. “No sweat.”
“Easy for you to say,” Rodney griped as he stepped off the ‘gate’s dais. “Do you have any idea how much pollen you inhale with each breath in a place like this?”
Rodney scowled. “It’s a lot, okay? More than enough to trigger an acute hay fever attack. But we couldn’t take the ‘jumper, oh no! ‘A little exercise, McKay,’ you said, as if you didn’t already make me go running with you three times a week. And mind you, that’s three times a week I could be doing something important, like improving the city’s defenses, or researching the Ancient database, or any number of other projects that Zelenka will probably blow up in my absence . . .”
“He’s really loud,” John said simply.
Fatima caught Beckett’s amused smile.
“What happened next?”
“We walked to the outpost. The Valerians met us.” Sheppard shifted slightly on the bed. “We drank tea.”
“Are you sure there’s no citrus in this?” Rodney asked as Emadara handed him a cup. “Because this will end very badly if you’re wrong.”
“It’s fine, McKay,” John said, taking a sip of his own tea. It reminded him of chamomile. He smiled at Emadara, who shyly averted her eyes as she went to the other side of the table to serve Ronon and Teyla. She was a tall girl, thin and pale, with long white-blonde hair and blue eyes.
“Just drink the damn tea, McKay,” John muttered out of the corner of his mouth.
“Fine,” Rodney huffed, sniffing experimentally at the cup. “But if I die from anaphylactic shock, I want my tombstone to say, ‘It’s Sheppard’s fault.’”
John pasted on a smile as Cador finished the pleasantries he’d been exchanging with Teyla and took his seat at the head of the table. He was about Sheppard’s height, with a ruffled mop-top of wavy brown hair that made him look younger than he was.
“Again, thank you for joining us,” the Valerian said. Emadara took her own seat quietly next to him, eyes still avoiding the Lanteans. “Tell us – what have you to trade?”
“Teyla did the negotiating, ‘cause I’m not very good at it,” John continued. Hamri sneaked a glance at the two Pegasus natives behind her, but neither was letting any emotion show. Sheppard frowned. “Cador talked a lot.”
“He keeps droning on and on.” Again, John shifted uncomfortably on the bed. “And . . .”
“Yes?” Fatima prompted. “And?”
“And . . . something’s wrong.”
Rodney’s soft snore jerked John from his reverie. He’d known that his team – excluding the ever diplomatic Teyla – had been zoning out Cador’s words, but he didn’t think the slumped scientist would actually fall asleep.
“McKay,” he hissed, turning to elbow the physicist. Instead, the room spun around him, and he had to grip the edge of the table to keep from falling out of his chair.
Cador’s droning voice stopped abruptly. Sheppard managed to focus enough on the Valerians to see that both of them were watching his team intently.
“Cador,” Teyla said, and John heard a slur in her voice, “what . . . what is . . .” The Athosian tried to stand, but Emadara put a hand on her shoulder.
“You should stay seated,” the younger Valerian said gently. Teyla’s legs buckled, and she sat heavily.
Ronon was more successful in getting to his feet, drawing his blaster as he did so. But Cador, moving with what seemed like supernatural quickness to John, knocked it out of the Satedan’s hand before the big guy could even aim.
Sheppard tried to draw his own sidearm, but it felt like his limbs were moving through molasses. Across from him, Ronon lost his balance and went crashing to the floor. John saw him try to get up once, twice, before he finally lay still.
John made it halfway to his feet, fingers still fumbling with the clasp on his holster, before vertigo hit and sent him stumbling. His shoulder hit the wall behind him, and he slid down in a slump.
The room seemed very far away now, and John watched through clouded vision as Emadara guided the limp Teyla to rest on the table, head pillowed on her arms.
“That was unacceptable, Dara!” Cador snapped suddenly. “You didn’t brew the tea nearly strong enough! This one almost shot me!” He gestured angrily at the prone Ronon.
“I – “ the girl said, clasping her hands nervously, “I’m sorry, but – “ She suddenly balled her hands into fists and dropped her arms to her sides, raising herself to her full height and looking the older Valerian in the eye. “But if you had gotten me the extra bara root I asked for, I would not have had to be so sparing with what little I did have!”
“Stop complaining,” Cador sneered. “I will get you more tomorrow,” he said, moving toward the still-snoring McKay. “The others will be here soon. Help me move him.”
The two Valerians began to lift the scientist under his lax arms, and John’s eyes slid shut, and darkness took him.
“They took him!” John shouted.
“Colonel!” Hamri called, trying to be heard over the frantic beeping of the heart monitor. “Colonel, listen to me!”
The pilot’s eyes were open, staring at nothing, as he tried to sit up. Beckett held his arm on one side, Ronon on the other.
“Bring him out,” Fatima heard Teyla’s voice at her ear. “Wake him up now!”
“No!” John shouted as he struggled.
“Colonel, I’m going to count backward from three,” Hamri said quickly. “When I get to one, you will be fully awake again, calm and rested.” She completed the countdown as fast as she dared.
John stopped struggling. His eyes focused again. He looked at Beckett and Ronon. “They took him,” he repeated, slumping backward in exhaustion. “They took him and we didn’t even know.”
Carson and Ronon let go as the pilot closed his eyes again. Fatima took a deep breath and looked at Teyla, whose breaths were coming nearly as fast as Sheppard’s.
The sudden silence was broken by a voice from the shadows near the door.
“So,” Woolsey said, stepping forward, “one mystery solved.” Everyone but John turned to the commander. “But,” he added, “where is Doctor McKay now?”
Down a white hallway, in a white room under a white light, Rodney McKay woke up. The surface under his back was hard, and his newly conscious brain briefly registered a series of straps holding him down.
“I’m sorry, Doctor McKay,” said a disembodied voice from somewhere in the room, “but we need you to be conscious for this part, to make sure the nerve endings have connected properly.”
Before he could even think about speaking, a white pain shot through him, and his scream echoed down the corridors.
When McKay woke again, he was still in a plain room with white walls and no windows, but the bed he was on was soft and he was not strapped down.
He jerked upright. Looking down, he grimaced at the sturdy brown pants and tan tunic he was wearing. Scanning the room, he saw a small table against one wall and a simple wardrobe on another with a door next to it.
“Right,” he muttered to himself, rubbing his sore wrists. “Let’s see if – what the hell?”
He looked down at his arms. Encircling each of his wrists, about two inches in width, was a silver-blue metal band. Delicate lines of light pulsed around the edges, and when he looked closer, Rodney could make out miniscule wires and crystals, glowing with energy.
“I repeat,” Rodney said, louder into the empty room, “what the hell!” He traced a finger along one of the bands, looking for a clasp of some sort.
“They do not come off easily,” said a voice from behind him.
“Yah!” Rodney jumped about two feet in the air. He leapt off the bed and whirled around.
A tall man, perhaps in his late-fifties, regarded the physicist with bemusement from a chair near the head of the bed. “They are communication devices,” he said, nodding at the metal bands, “and also capable of tracking one’s movements throughout the Reservoir.”
“Oh, really?” Rodney spat, still trying to bring his heart rate down. “’Cause they look an awful lot like shackles to me!”
The man nodded. The little hair he had left was blonde, sticking out at odd angles, but his blue-eyed gaze didn’t waver. “Yes,” he said frankly. “They are that, too. But only when necessary.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Rodney demanded, nervously holding his ground as the older man stood and approached him.
“I am Garrad,” he said, avoiding the physicist’s question. Except for the lack of metal wrist bands, he was dressed the same as Rodney, but with a large metal and crystal pendant around his neck. “Welcome to the Reservoir.”
“What have you done with my team?” McKay fired back, crossing his arms.
“Your team is fine,” Garrad said, his tone reminding Rodney of an assuring fatherly figure. “They left you with us and returned to your world some time ago.”
“What?” Rodney’s defensive stance melted a little. “Why . . . when will they be back?”
Garrad crinkled his brow. “They will not be coming back to the Reservoir.”
McKay stuck out his chin again. “You’re lying,” he said, with all the confidence he could muster. “You’re a liar and a kidnapper.”
To Rodney’s surprise, Garrad laughed. “You think so? It matters not. You are part of the Reservoir now.”
Rodney shook his head. “Okay, fine,” he said, annoyed. “I’ll bite – what’s ‘the Reservoir’?”
“It is the reason you were brought here.” Garrad smiled. “Would you like to see it?”
Rodney didn’t see that he had many options at this point. Assuming that Garrad was lying about his team (which Rodney did assume, and fervently), he was better off observing these “Reservoir” people and waiting for Atlantis to find him. Especially after Garrad turned to him casually and said, “Oh, and you should know that your control bracers will give you a severe electrical shock if I send the proper signal.” The Valerian ignored Rodney’s squeak of protest. “Trying to leave the facility would be . . . inadvisable.”
So McKay followed the older man as he led him through the corridors of the Reservoir. And before the tour was even half over, Doctor Meredith Rodney McKay, perhaps for the first time in his life, was struck speechless.
“The Reservoir is a great scientific community,” Garrad said as they walked. “All the work we do here is to one purpose – the annihilation of the Wraith.”
They passed impressive laboratories in every hallway, each brimming with strange technologies. Some McKay recognized as Ancient, but many others were foreign to him. His fingers itched at the sight.
“Scientists have been brought here from planets across the galaxy,” Garrad continued. “The best minds of their cultures, all united here toward our common goal.”
Men and women of all shapes, sizes, and colors worked in the laboratories, some conducting experiments whose purposes Rodney could only begin to guess. Many of them wore control bracers, but some wore pendants around their necks, as Garrad did.
“Thanks to the lack of interference from the outside world, the Reservoir has been able to create astounding technological devices.”
McKay stared as he glimpsed each of the labs. He saw a small, disc-shaped forcefield spring to life in a scientist’s hand; he saw a row of teleportation armbands, like the one Kiryk the runner had used, set out for inspection; he even saw what looked like an unmanned remote-controlled surveillance aircraft being cleaned.
Garrad spoke proudly as they passed all this. “We also have extremely effective cloaking fields that keep our limited surface installations hidden from both the Wraith and offworlders.”
Rodney’s face fell. Atlantis might have a harder time rescuing him than he thought. Then Garrad’s words struck him. “Wait,” he said, speaking for the first time in what seemed a long while, “we’re underground?”
“Several levels,” Garrad replied.
Before Rodney could respond, the acrid smell of burnt flesh assailed his nose. “Ugh!” he exclaimed, stepping back as two men passed by, holding what looked like an charred deer on a pole between them.
The men murmured apologies to Garrad, who nodded and gestured them onward. “The local wildlife sometimes wanders into our research experiments,” Garrad explained, turning back to Rodney with a casual air. “We usually keep our defense net on a lower setting, but today we ran a test at full power, and you have just seen the results. Impressive, no?”
“Sure,” Rodney said weakly, but the stench of burnt meat was still in his nose, and he felt a little sick. It was looking less and less like he could expect an easy rescue.
“You will find the great advantage to working at the Reservoir, Doctor McKay, is that we need not deal with any bureaucracy. Tell me,” he said, eyeing the physicist inquisitively, “how many times have your superiors dismissed one of your projects, or cut off your resources?”
Rodney snorted. This was a topic he could warm to. “Don’t even get me started!” He waved a hand through the air. “Even geniuses like myself have to go through miles of red tape, funding requests and government oversight back home.”
“Not here, Doctor McKay,” Garrad said, excitement in his eyes. “Not here.” They turned one last corner. “And now we have come to your personal lab.”
Any response Rodney might have had died on his lips as he stepped into the laboratory. It was big – much larger than his lab on Atlantis. Devices and computers lined the walls, and the itching in his fingers came back. Half a dozen lab tables were spread before him, each holding a number of gadgets. McKay even thought he saw a kitchenette in one corner, complete with what looked like a cooling unit as big as a full-sized refrigerator.
It was, in a word, beautiful.
“Doctor McKay,” said a female voice beside him. He snapped his mouth shut and turned to see Emadara looking at him with a positively gleeful expression on her face. “It is good to see you again. I am very much looking forward to working with you.”
Rodney stepped back. “What . . . ?”
“Emadara will be your partner,” Garrad explained, putting a hand on the girl’s shoulder. “She is one of our best and brightest. I look forward to what you will create together.” The pair looked at him eagerly.
Something inside Rodney snapped. “Okay, hold on!” He jabbed a finger at the two of them. “First, you kidnap me, separate me from my team, put me in shackles,” he stuck the offending bands under their noses, “and then you take me on a tour of your crazy underground science wonderland?!” He took a breath and began pacing. “And now you just assume that if you put enough – enough toys under my nose that I’ll cave in and join you in your little scientist slave colony?!” He breathed heavily. “Are you insane?!”
Garrad’s face remained impassive, but Emadara watched the tirade with wide-eyed awe.
“I thought . . .” Emadara began timidly, “I thought you would be happy to join our cause.”
“Well, you thought wrong!”
The girl turned to Garrad. “But we need him, Garrad! He has to stay!”
“I know, Dara, and he will.”
“No, he won’t!” McKay fired back.
“But all the stories,” Emadara said, turning back to Rodney. “They say you can fix anything. That you are a genius with no equal.”
“I don’t care what you’ve heard or what you – really? There are stories?”
“Don’t worry, Dara,” Garrad said. “He will come around eventually. Why don’t you set up your current project, so Doctor McKay can see your work?”
The girl nodded and left the room.
McKay crossed his arms. “So now what?” he said with only a little trepidation. “Are you gonna shock me until I . . . until I invent stuff for you?” He shook a manacled wrist at the Valerian.
Garrad sighed. “Your control bracers will act as a two-way radio, allowing you to communicate with anyone within the Reservoir.” His tone was irritatingly like that of a disappointed father. “They also act as a pass key, allowing you access to limited tools, supplies, and laboratories within the facility.” He turned to leave. “As you prove your loyalty, your privileges will be expanded.”
“Wait!” Rodney called, seething with anger.
“Your people are not coming for you,” Garrad said firmly, cutting off the physicist’s words. “You may as well get used to working here.”
“You can’t do this!”
“And may I remind you that the control bracers also contain locator beacons,” the older man said, finally stepping outside the door. “If you try to escape,” he finished ominously, “I will know.”
“Doctor Z is still working on the ‘gate addresses, sir,” Lorne reported, standing at parade rest as John paced beside the infirmary bed. “We’ll start organizing search teams as soon as he’s got something concrete.”
“Good,” Sheppard said. “And keep me informed.” He jerked his head toward the adjoining office space where Beckett and Hamri were discussing the latest brain scans. “Those two aren’t gonna be letting us out of their sight any time soon, so report directly to me.”
“Yes sir,” the major said with a half-smile. When Sheppard dismissed him, Lorne nodded to both the colonel and Woolsey before striding out of the infirmary. He passed Ronon on the way, who had taken to prowling the edges of the room.
“The truth is, Colonel,” Woolsey said bluntly, “there’s not much we can do.”
“Well, we sure as hell aren’t giving up!”
“I didn’t mean that we would,” the bureaucrat added in a placating tone. “But despite your recovered memories, we still have very limited intel.”
“Should go back,” Ronon said, his low voice carrying. “Maybe Lorne missed something.”
“It’s a possibility,” Woolsey conceded without acquiescing.
“Maybe we should do more hypnosis,” John said, running a hand through his hair. “Maybe Hamri can get something more out of me if we try again.”
“Even so, we may still have to wait for the SGC to send –“
“They drugged us with bara root,” Teyla said suddenly, staring into the middle distance. She had been sitting cross-legged on one of the infirmary beds in silent thought since the end of the hypnosis session. “That is why we cannot remember the actual memory alteration.”
“Yes,” Woolsey said grimly, “I’m afraid so. Which is why –“
“No,” Teyla interrupted, a hint of excitement in her tone. “They used bara root!” She looked at the commander. “Bara root is used to make strong sleeping draughts. It is prized for its effectiveness.”
Sheppard stared. “Yeah,” he said slowly. “We kinda figured that . . .”
“She means it’s hard to get,” Ronon said, catching on. “Expensive, too.”
“Yes!” Teyla exclaimed, jumping off the bed. “And very rare. In fact, I have only ever encountered one marketplace where it was available for purchase.”
“So if we find the bara root supplier, we might be able to trace him to the Valerians,” Sheppard concluded.
“Exactly!” Teyla exulted.
The team’s newly infused hope was palpable. “Cador said he would get some more tomorrow,” John said. “If we go to this marketplace Teyla knows, we might catch him!”
“We should leave before dawn,” Ronon added. “Get there in time to stake the place out.”
Three sets of eyes turned toward Woolsey in anticipation.
The bureaucrat took a breath. “It seems like an awful long shot to me,” he said carefully.
“Yeah,” Sheppard conceded. “But it’s one we gotta take.”
Richard held the team’s gaze a moment longer before speaking. “I agree. But,” he added hastily, “I’m sending Major Lorne’s team.”
John clenched his jaw. “With all due respect, sir, it’s my team that’s a man down, and it’s my team that’s gonna go get him.”
“And it’s also your team that’s had their memories tampered with,” Woolsey frowned. “I’m afraid I can’t let you out from under medical supervision.” He held up a hand to cut off their sounds of protest. “I’m sorry, Colonel – but your team is on stand down until further notice.”
McKay fumbled with the alien screwdriver; the position of his control bracers made it difficult to get the leverage he needed. He stuck his tongue out of the corner of his mouth as he probed for any kind of indentation where the tool might catch. Instead, the head slipped on the smooth surface, running off the metal and scraping a red line on the soft skin of his underarm. Rodney dropped the screwdriver with a yelp.
“They won’t come off,” Emadara called from across the lab. “You should stop trying or you’ll hurt yourself.”
“Hmm,” McKay mused aloud, his back to her, “should I listen to the delusional little girl who actually thinks it’s fun to live in an underground prison of scientific slave labor, or should I try to remove the shackles that will introduce me to electroshock therapy when I try to escape? And notice!” he added with a raised finger, “that I said when, not if.”
Emadara shook her head as she turned her attention back to the device she’d set up on the table in front of her. “No one here is a slave,” she said tiredly. It was obvious some of her earlier reverence for the physicist had bled away. “Some are reluctant at first, yes, but Garrad always manages to reason with them.”
“Now why does that sound so ominous?” Rodney muttered. “Just how many scientists have you kidnapped from various worlds, anyways?”
Emadara’s expression turned hard. “We do what we must. The galaxy will thank us when we have utterly destroyed the Wraith.”
Rodney snorted and looked over his shoulder at her. “That many, huh?”
“You will understand, in time,” the Valerian said heatedly. She connected a wire and Rodney watched as a crystal in the device lit up.
Despite himself, McKay was fascinated by her work. The device was circular, made up of twisting metal bands and interspersed crystal junctions, and covered in enough wires that it looked a little like a big ring of steel wool.
“What –“ Rodney found himself asking, then stopped himself. He turned abruptly away.
“What?” Emadara asked.
“Never mind,” the physicist snapped.
“Fine,” she said coolly. Then, “I was given this project specially.” Her tone was casual, and Rodney found himself edging closer. “I am one of the few at the Reservoir who can make the Ancestors’ technology work.”
“You’ve got the gene?” Rodney said in spite of himself. Then, “That doesn’t look like Ancient technology.”
“It is a blend of Ancestral crystal processors, the Reservoir’s own emitters, and,” she paused, “Wraith organics.”
“You’ve got Wraith tech?” The physicist lost his internal battle and came to inspect the device, which made Emadara smile. “How did you get your hands on that?”
“The Reservoir has several Wraith transmitters in its possession. When we need to test a new weapon or defense, we will call a ship to us.”
“What?!” McKay stared at her like she’d sprouted horns. “You call the Wraith here?!”
“We are well protected,” she answered, a bit defensively. “And how else are we to get subjects for our experiments?”
“You . . . you have actual Wraith here?” Rodney asked. “That you experiment on?”
“Yes.” Emadara narrowed her eyes. “Surely, Doctor,” she said testily, “you do not believe those monsters deserve any sympathy or . . . or mercy?”
“I’m just, uh, surprised,” Rodney said, evading the question. “And I can’t point fingers, anyway, since my people have done their fair share of experimentation on the Wraith, but . . .” He trailed off. “It never seems to end well.”
Emadara frowned and went back to work.
“Hey,” McKay said suddenly, “you’re not wearing control bracers.” She looked up to see that he had been watching her work intently.
“No,” she answered. “I have proven my loyalty to the Reservoir.” She drew herself up taller and fingered a chain around her neck before bringing out the pendant necklace Rodney had seen earlier on Garrad and a few others. “This now contains my communicator and security protocols.”
Rodney reached for the crystal, but she snatched it away before he could touch it. “Well,” he huffed, “what makes you so loyal to the Reservoir in the first place?”
“They saved me,” she said simply. “The Wraith killed my family when I was a child. Garrad brought me here and took care of me.” She smiled at the memory. “He reminds me a lot of my real father.” Then her features hardened and her tone turned cold. “Of course, I wanted revenge on the Wraith. So when I was old enough, I set out to learn everything the Reservoir had to offer.” She shrugged. “Garrad says I’m a prodigy.”
“Yeah, well, welcome to the club,” Rodney muttered. “But unlike you,” he added, “my people aren’t dead, and they will want me back. So . . .” He waved a hand at her. “Go back to your toys and leave me alone.” He spared one last glance at the Ancient-Wraith device before forcing himself to turn away.
“But I thought you would be able to help me increase power to these emitters,” Emadara said swiftly, almost desperately. When Rodney half turned, she continued quickly. “Every time I reroute the crystals’ energy, the Wraith bio-matter absorbs the charge.”
“Well of course it does,” McKay said scornfully. “That’s how Wraith tech fixes itself. If you want to get past that, you’ll have to bypass the organic receptors and create a feedback loop in the crystal processors.”
Emadara looked at the circlet of wires as the solution dawned on her. “Of course . . . “ she murmured, beginning to detach and reattach various bits and pieces.
“No no no, that’s all wrong,” Rodney said, and then his hands were brushing hers away. “Were you purposely trying to blow out the emitters? No, here, like this . . .”
Emadara watched the physicist’s sure hands work, and a smile spread over her face.
“The stories were true,” she whispered.
“What?” McKay asked, distracted.
“You really are a genius,” she said, the awe coming back into her voice. “I have been working on this project for months,” she said, almost whispering, “and you have solved it in mere minutes.”
“What?” McKay asked again, this time in alarm. He seemed to realize what he was doing and hastily dropped the wires. “Uh, no,” he said backing up, “I wasn’t – that’s not – I didn’t mean –“
“Garrad,” Emadara said, and McKay looked up to see her speaking into her pendant like a walkie-talkie. “You were right! Doctor McKay is the smartest man in the galaxy.” She grinned at him. “He has already been a tremendous help to the Reservoir.”
“No, no, that’s not true!” Rodney insisted. Then, as an afterthought, “I mean, that second part isn’t true. That is,” he babbled, “I wasn’t trying to help! She tricked me!”
But he was being ignored. “Yes,” Emadara was saying, “we’re ready to begin testing now. We’ll be up shortly.” She dropped the crystal device and beamed at him.
Rodney got a sinking feeling in his gut. “Oh crap,” he said despondently, “what did I do now?”
The image of a frowning man flashed across the laptop screen, followed by one of the same man pointing a finger at a group of frightened-looking blue-shirted scientists, which was followed by another photo of the man craning to look down at the mustard he’d just dripped onto his shirt.
Zelenka began to have second thoughts about showing Colonel Sheppard’s team a slideshow of their missing teammate.
Ronon broke the silence first. “He looks soft.”
“Uh, this is perhaps not the best sampling,” Zelenka admitted. “The engineering department has very few pictures of him where he is not scowling.” The picture changed. “Or yelling.” The picture changed again. “Or talking with his mouth full.”
“No, this was very thoughtful, Radek,” Teyla said. She paused and tilted her head at the screen, then finished carefully. “He seems an interesting character.”
“Perhaps this was a bad idea,” Radek said hastily, moving to close the laptop.
“No,” Sheppard said sharply, and Zelenka froze, only now realizing that the colonel had been watching the screen with a hawk’s intensity.
At that moment, the slide show ended and a video began playing.
“Ah,” Zelenka said, “this has been making the rounds in the science departments.” He started to say more, but stopped himself.
On screen, McKay sat slumped at a lab bench, asleep and drooling heavily on the countertop. The image shook a little as whomever was holding the camera giggled.
Teyla sat up straighter. “That is my voice,” she said.
Two men approached the sleeping scientist. Ronon grunted in surprise when his own dreadlocked figure entered the frame, but Sheppard remained perfectly still when he saw himself onscreen.
It was obvious where the video was going, and sure enough, the conspirators set off some loud noisemaker directly behind McKay, who startled awake, shouted, and promptly fell out of his chair.
They watched in silence as laughter filled the video, followed by Rodney’s cursing.
“I’ll get you back!” came the voice from the laptop. “You hear me, Sheppard?!?”
“Just a little team bonding, Rodney!” John’s own laughing voice came from the speakers.
“Cold showers for a month, I swear it! And your toilet is going to mysteriously malfunction some night! You’re going to wake up covered in –“
The recording ended abruptly.
Zelenka didn’t move. The silence in the room was tangible.
“Someone got in our brains,” Sheppard said softly, “and took a member of my team.” He scrubbed a hand over his face.
“It’s not your fault, John,” Teyla responded just as softly.
Radek swallowed, afraid to break the spell by moving.
“The hell it is!” The colonel’s sudden outburst made the engineer jump. “And I am not gonna sit on my ass when I could damn well be doing something about it!”
With that, Sheppard jumped up and stormed out of the infirmary.
Zelenka watched in awe as Ronon and Teyla also leapt to their feet. They gave each other a look – Teyla’s raised eyebrow saying I knew it wouldn’t take long while Ronon’s ferocious grin said About damn time – and followed their team leader into the hallway.
Radek pushed his glasses up on his nose. “Hodně stěstí,” he said quietly.
Fatima jumped and nearly dropped her notepad when Colonel Sheppard came storming in to Woolsey’s office.
“Colonel,” Woolsey said, standing from where he’d been examining Hamri’s notes. “What are you doing here?”
“My team is going on this mission,” the soldier replied without preamble. He put his hands on the desk and leaned toward the city commander.
Behind him, Ronon and Teyla barged into the office in a similar manner, their faces mirroring Sheppard’s look of determination. Fatima found herself backing toward a corner where she could better observe their interactions.
Woolsey frowned. “I thought I made myself clear, Colonel, that I cannot allow you to – “
“Look, it makes sense, all right?” Sheppard interrupted. “My team is the only one that knows what any of the Valerians look like.”
“We’ve got the best chance of catching them in the marketplace,” Ronon said.
“And we would call back for reinforcements as soon as we had solid intel,” Sheppard added quickly.
Woolsey shook his head. “Protocol clearly dictates –“
“Richard, you have surely learned in your time here,” Teyla interrupted, voice calm but firm, “that following protocol is not always the best course of action.”
Richard looked annoyed at being interrupted again. “I still think you all need to be under medical supervision.”
“Aye, I’ll second that!” said an irate brogue. Hamri turned to see Carson sweep into the office, red-faced and breathing hard, as if he’d run all the way from the infirmary.
“Just what do you think you’re doing?” he demanded of his nearest patient, which happened to be Ronon. The Scot didn’t seem the least bit fazed that he was lecturing a man a full head taller than him. “Back to the infirmary with the lot of you!”
“Carson,” Sheppard demanded suddenly, “there’s no physical reason we should be prevented from going on a mission, is there?”
“Oh, aye, I’ve got a list as long as my arm!”
“Carson,” Teyla pleaded, “we must go on this mission. We are Doctor McKay’s best hope.”
“And we’re all healthy,” Ronon added, as if that were argument enough.
The doctor sputtered. “You mean apart from the lingering subdural hematoma?!”
“Carson,” John said again, and this time his voice was low. “We need to do this.”
“You don’t need to do anything, lad,” Beckett fired back, crossing his arms.
Sheppard paused, and Fatima had a feeling that he was about to pull an ace from his sleeve. “I thought you, Carson,” the colonel said finally, “would understand what it’s like to be manipulated into hurting your friends.”
The silence in the room was so thick Fatima could have cut it with a knife.
The psychologist watched an interesting range of emotions play across Beckett’s face. She knew the basics to his story – that he was actually a clone of the original Carson Beckett, created by the Wraith known as Michael, who had exerted some kind of control over him – but there were deeper currents here that she couldn’t guess at.
All three members of Sheppard’s team seemed to stare at the doctor without blinking. Woolsey’s posture was tense, his back ramrod straight.
At last, Carson released a shaking breath. “There’s nothing physically wrong with them,” he said, looking at the floor. “There’s no real need to keep them in the infirmary.”
Teyla put a hand on the Scot’s arm in a mixture of sympathy and gratitude. Sheppard nodded, almost imperceptibly, and turned back to Woolsey.
“As much as it delights me to hear that,” Richard said dryly, “it’s not their physical health I’m worried about.”
And suddenly, every eye in the room was on Fatima.
“Doctor Hamri,” Woolsey said imperiously, “what is your opinion?”
She looked between the bureaucrat and the soldier, and suddenly the words were out of her mouth before she was completely conscious of her decision. “I think it would be beneficial to their mental health,” she said in a rush. “Recovering Doctor McKay in body may help them cope with losing their memories of him.” She stopped, afraid that she had overstepped her bounds.
Sheppard looked at her gratefully, then turned back to Woolsey, hope in his eyes. Teyla sent her a small, relieved smile, and Fatima even thought she saw something like respect flicker across Ronon’s impassive face. Beckett, for his part, just gave her a knowing look.
When she finally looked at Woolsey, the bureaucrat’s face was inscrutable. She held her breath – along with the rest of the room – and waited for an answer.
“You know,” Richard said wryly, leaning over the balcony railing as he and Doctor Hamri watched Sheppard’s team disappear through the rippling event horizon, “when I said you’d start making friends here, this is not what I meant.”
McKay stood in the small observation room, trying not to get jostled by Garrad, Emadara, Cador, and half a dozen Reservoir scientists he didn’t know. The Ancient-Wraith circlet device sat on a table near the room’s single window, which took up most of one wall. Rodney assumed it opened on the experimentation area, but it was dark beyond the glass.
Garrad appeared at his side and clapped him on the shoulder. “I knew you would come around,” the older man said in a jovial voice.
“Yes, well . . .” Rodney said awkwardly. “What are we testing, anyways?”
Garrad gestured to the crystal-wire device. “You are familiar with the Wraith’s ability to mentally manipulate humans?” he asked. “To make them see things, and to control them?”
“Much more than I would like,” McKay muttered.
“This device,” Garrad continued, eyes alight, “will allow us to use that power against them.”
In spite of himself, Rodney was intrigued. “Really?”
“Our only difficulty was the short range at which we could broadcast the frequency,” the Valerian said. He smiled widely at Rodney. “But that is no longer a problem.”
“Yeah, well, glad to help,” Rodney said weakly.
“I hope you are now beginning to see the great advantages of the Reservoir, Doctor McKay,” Garrad continued, waving a hand to indicate the hustle and bustle surrounding them. “As you can see, because our scientific progress is unimpeded, we have gone from theory to testing in a matter of hours.”
Rodney murmured what could have been agreement, impressed despite himself.
“Garrad!” Emadara called, face flushed with excitement. “Everything is ready.”
“Wonderful!” Garrad responded. The room fell silent as he crossed to the window to join the young woman. The rest of the scientists lined up to watch, and by simple virtue of the fact that Rodney refused to get out of their way, he ended up in front.
Garrad picked up the circlet device as Cador spoke from his seat at a console. “The subjects are in place, sir.”
Garrad smiled down at Emadara. Then, reverently, he offered her the device.
A murmur of surprise rippled through the scientists, and Emadara’s eyes went wide.
“Garrad!” Cador cried. “We expected you to perform the first test.”
“Emadara deserves this,” the older Valerian responded with affection.
“But she hasn’t worked nearly as long on this project as – as others have,” Cador said heatedly, rising from his seat.
“Sit down, Cador!” Garrad snapped. After a moment, the younger man did so, seething.
Emadara was breathless. “Thank you, Garrad,” she said, taking the device. “Thank you!”
“This is your victory, my dear,” the fatherly Valerian said. Then, more authoritatively, “Let us begin.” The lights in the room beyond the window snapped on.
Rodney jumped when he saw the Wraith, realizing a moment later that the creature was caged. Thick bars trapped it in a small space as it paced angrily, tangled white hair and tattered black coat flying.
Garrad pulled away from Emadara, giving her space. The girl took the crystal-wire device and set it on her head. It sat there like a hideous crown.
“You are about to witness the power of the Reservoir,” Garrad said, and McKay realized he was speaking for his benefit.
Rodney scoffed. “Overdramatic much, are we?” But he didn’t take his eyes off the glass.
Something else moved in the room beyond, and McKay realized for the first time that there was a person outside the creature’s cage. Rodney’s stomach turned as the figure came into the light.
It was definitely human, dressed in a plain linen shift, but its eyes . . . its eyes were dull and lifeless, staring without blinking, seeing nothing. It was completely bald, and Rodney honestly couldn’t tell if it was male or female. The worst part was the ghastly line of stitches crisscrossing its skull. It looked like someone had repeatedly taken a butcher knife to the head, then gotten a clumsy three-year-old to staple the flesh back together.
“What . . . ?” Rodney asked, but his mouth was too dry to finish the question. He glanced around, but none of the scientists near him would look away from the test.
“We call it a Whisperer,” Emadara answered, sounding as if she were speaking from far away. In the room beyond, the Whisperer’s lips moved in tandem with the Valerian’s, though Rodney could not hear if it made any sound. “To manipulate the Wraith’s telepathic waves, we had to make a human brain as close to a Wraith brain as possible.” Her wide-eyed, hungry gaze never left the window.
“But . . . but . . . you lobotomized a person!” Rodney squeaked in horror.
Garrad tore his eyes from the scene to look at Rodney. “As I have told you,” he said, “we are not bound by the arbitrary rules of various societies.”
McKay’s retort died as Emadara raised her arm to shoulder height. Beyond the glass, the Whisperer mirrored her movements, pointing at the cage. The crystals on the crown began to glow.
The Wraith, which had been snarling, suddenly fell silent. It stared at the Whisperer, then began twisting its head from side to side, growling quietly.
“Yes,” Garrad whispered. “It’s working.” Rodney felt the room tense with anticipation.
Without warning, the Wraith screamed and lunged at the blank-eyed human outside its cage. The bars rattled at the impact, but held fast. So the Wraith did it again. And again. And again.
“What’s happening?” Rodney asked shrilly.
“It’s going mad,” Emadara said, and when McKay looked at her, the pure ecstasy on her face sent a chill up his spine.
Black blood began to pour from a wound on the Wraith’s head where it had rammed itself into the cage wall. The sound of cracking bones echoed through the glass as the creature used its supernatural strength to body slam itself again and again. It began to claw at its eyes and scream.
Rodney was out and running down the white corridors before he’d fully registered that he’d left the room.
He skidded around a corner, found an unlocked, empty lab, and burst inside.
“C’mon, c’mon,” he muttered, frantically searching through the drawers and cupboards for another screwdriver. If he was lucky, he might be able to get the bracers off before Garrad even knew he was gone.
“Aha!” he crowed, producing a wrench-like tool. He leaned over one of the lab benches and began working.
Unfortunately, luck was not on his side. “Doctor McKay.” Garrad’s voice coming out of the shackles almost made Rodney drop the wrench. “Doctor McKay, what are you doing?” When Rodney didn’t answer, Garrad added, “I take it you were not impressed by the experiment.”
“No!” Rodney burst out, feeling ridiculously like a secret service agent as he spoke into his wrist. “Well, yes,” he amended, “but not in a good way! Look,” he said, tone acidic, “those ‘arbitrary rules of society’ you were talking about? Those are called ethics!”
“You still don’t understand that our work here transcends moral codes.” Garrad’s voice was insistent. “Nothing should stand in the way of scientific progress.”
“There was a time I might have agreed with you,” Rodney spat, still worrying at the metal bands with the alien wrench, “but even then I had limits! I was never a – a monster!”
“I see.” A pause. “It seems I shall have to find another way to gain your cooperation, Doctor.” McKay’s stomach dropped. “I am sorry to have to do this.”
“I deactivated the electroshock function of my bracers!” Rodney bluffed desperately.
There was a pause from the other end. Then, “You’re lying.”
“Nope,” Rodney said, “and that’s a big problem for you, isn’t it?” If he could just keep Garrad talking, maybe he could buy enough time to truly disable the shackles. “I have a theory,” he elaborated, “that the Reservoir has no security.”
“You know that we have magnificent defenses.″
“No no no,” the physicist said dismissively. “I mean security personnel. Like big, beefy guards. That’s why no one’s burst in to get me yet, isn’t it?” Rodney smiled at the silence on the other end.
“We do not need security personnel,” Garrad finally answered. “We have our defenses, and we have the bracers.”
“You don’t need security, you don’t need ethics – I bet you don’t need safety protocols, either!” McKay said with scorn. “How many of your scientists have died in lab accidents because safety guidelines would have ‘impeded’ their progress?”
Garrad’s silence confirmed Rodney’s hunch.
“Ha!” the physicist snorted. “I can’t believe I’m saying this,” he said, holding one of his wrists up to the light, “but outside oversight doesn’t seem so bad now, does it?”
There was a long silence. “Doctor McKay,” Garrad finally replied. “The beacon in your bracers has not moved for some time.”
“Huh?“ Was that a seam in the metal? If he could just get the wrench under it . . .
“I don’t think you’ve disabled the bracers at all.”
“What? No, they –“
The crystals and wires under the surface of Rodney’s shackles suddenly glowed with an energy so bright it hurt his eyes, and he cried out as he dropped the wrench.
Before the tool hit the countertop, electricity coursed through his body, stealing his breath, convulsing every muscle, and sending him to the floor in agony.
“Ah,” he heard Garrad say as darkness descended. “I thought not.”
Cador tugged the hood of his cloak closer around him to ward off the early morning chill. This planet’s sun was still near the horizon, but the earlier test at the Reservoir had made him later than he’d liked, and he was eager to get back.
“Hurry up,” he said irritably as the apothecary tied up the bag of bara root. Cador snatched the leather pouch away as soon as the old man had finished the knot.
“Bad morning?” the seller grumbled as he counted the Valerian’s gold coins for a third time.
Cador ignored the merchant and turned away sharply, adding the drug to the shoulder bag at his side, which was already full of his earlier purchases. The marketplace was bustling with a good number of traders, and Cador turned down a side alley to avoid the crowds.
He felt more than saw that someone was following him. Preferring not to be taken unawares by a common thief, he drew out a small dagger and whirled around.
He gasped as he saw the figure of Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard step forward, silhouetted in the alley’s opening.
“Drop it,” the soldier said in warning, advancing with his sidearm leveled at the Valerian.
Cador promptly turned and sprinted around the corner.
Or he tried to; instead, he came face to face with Teyla, who with a few quick moves disarmed him and left him clutching his wrist in pain.
“Please, Cador,” she said coolly, tossing the knife into the dirt, “it would be best if you cooperated.”
Cador backed up, trying to look at both of the Lanteans at once. There was still a chance he could escape, if he –
His back hit something solid. Slowly, he turned his head and looked up.
Ronon smiled. It was not a nice smile. Cador gulped.
“Now that we’ve got your attention,” Sheppard drawled, “you're gonna give us some answers.”
McKay woke up.
“Ow,” he groaned, keeping his eyes closed. He could feel the restraints on his arms, legs, and chest, and every muscle in his body felt sore.
“Good,” said Garrad’s voice from near his head. “You’re awake.”
“How perceptive of you.” Rodney reluctantly opened his eyes. He was in another white room, strapped into what looked like a dentist’s chair, surrounded by machines with blinking lights. “Oh yeah,” McKay said with a sigh, squinting at the ominous claw-like device directly over his head, “that’s not too creepy or anything.”
Garrad didn’t respond, intent on a computer screen the physicist couldn’t see.
“So?” Rodney grunted, trying and failing to shift into a more comfortable position. “Is this the part where you torture me? ‘Cause I think that would really cinch the whole ‘mad scientist’ thing you’ve got going here.”
Garrad turned to him with a small smile, still giving off ‘fatherly gentleman’ vibes, which creeped McKay out even more.
“The cognizance alteration device,” he said, nodding to the mechanism above the physicist’s head. “My own design. One of the finer accomplishments of the Reservoir, if I do say so myself.”
“Cognizance alteration?” Rodney squeaked. “Oh god – you’re gonna turn me into a Wraith-brained Night of the Living Dead reject, too, aren’t you?!”
Garrad shook his head. “No, your mind is far too valuable for that, Doctor McKay,” he said. “I’m simply going to alter your memory so that you will not be so hesitant to contribute to our work here.”
It took Rodney a moment to process the statement. “What?!“
“Yes,” Garrad said absently, returning his attention to the screen. “You are convinced your people will come for you, and as long as you hope for rescue, you will never be dedicated to the Reservoir.” The Valerian sighed. “I had hoped you would decide to join us on your own, but . . .” He shrugged. “I prefer not to wait for your stubbornness to abate.”
“You – you can’t do that!”
“It’s a rather simple process, actually,” Garrad answered, misunderstanding the physicist’s outburst. “But to make the change permanent, I will have to use the device at full power – which I rarely do, of course, because it is such a drain on the system.” He fiddled with the computer screen readouts. “Also,” he added as an afterthought, “the chances of permanent brain damage increase significantly at higher power levels.”
Rodney’s mind raced as he tried to sit up, but the straps held him tight. “But,” he said desperately, searching for an argument, “you just said my brain was too valuable.”
“I think the benefits outweigh the risks, in this case,” Garrad answered, giving McKay another fatherly smile.
“You’re insane, you know that?” Rodney spat.
The Valerian’s kind demeanor suddenly evaporated. “Men of genius are often thought so, aren’t they, Doctor?” he snapped. “And I should warn you,” he added, jabbing at a button on the console in front of him, “that at full power, the process is quite painful.”
“Hey!” Rodney looked up in trepidation as the device above him whirred to life.
Garrad’s smile was now anything but fatherly. “So you may want to brace yourself.”
“As soon as he shows us the entrance,” Sheppard said quietly to Ronon as they followed Cador through the field, “run back to the ‘gate. Tell Atlantis that the Valerians were under our damn noses the whole time.”
Ronon gave John a sharp look. Ahead of them, Teyla kept Cador moving through the grass, her P-90 more than enough incentive to keep the Valerian in check. They had left the sunrise of one planet for the sunset of another, and their shadows stretched long behind them as they walked.
“Don’t worry,” Sheppard said at Ronon’s look of protest. “There will still be plenty of bad guy ass to kick by the time you get back.”
The Satedan seemed mollified. John sped up to resume his forward position with Teyla.
“John,” Teyla said. When he looked at her, she jerked her chin at something in front of them.
Sheppard followed her gaze to what looked like a telephone pole silhouetted against the orange sky. When he looked again, he saw that it was perhaps twelve feet tall and made of dull gray metal. When he looked a third time, he realized that there were dozens of them, spaced widely in a gigantic circle around the field.
“Cador,” he said sharply, “what are those?”
“The Reservoir’s defense net,” the Valerian responded with a sullen air. Since his capture, Cador’s behavior had reminded John strongly of a sulking teenager. “It is currently inactive.”
“How come my people didn’t see it?” John demanded. They were still less than a mile from the Stargate, and there was no way Lorne would have missed the conspicuous structures on foot or from the air.
“The Reservoir’s cloak,” Cador answered, “which is obviously also inactive at the moment.”
“You know,” John said wryly as the shadow of the nearest pole reached out to meet them, “with all the great stuff you told us about this place, I expected a little more security.”
Cador shrugged. “No one knows about us. We’ve never needed it.”
“And that’s another thing,” John said, looking askance at the Valerian. “If this is such a scientific utopia, why doesn't anyone know about you?” He nodded back at the Stargate. "Why haven't you traded any of this technology?”
“The people of this galaxy would not know what to do with it," Cador sneered. "Only the Reservoir has the knowledge required, and we will use it when the time is right.”
“You said the Reservoir was created to help the people of this galaxy," Teyla countered incredulously, "and yet you hoard technologies that could offer them protection from their enemies simply because you want to emerge as heroes in the war with the Wraith?” Her anger practically vibrated in the air.
Sheppard watched Cador finger a pendant around his neck. "Rarely, we will trade something inconsequential," he replied noncommittally. The crystal inside the necklace glowed in the rays of the rapidly disappearing sunlight.
John did a double take. Was it just a reflection, or was the crystal actually . . . ?
He didn't sense the trap until it was too late. When Cador suddenly threw himself to the ground, flattening his body against the grass, Sheppard's first thought was that the Valerian had tripped. The pilot only managed a surprised "Hey!" before the tall metal pole in front of them hummed to life.
Fortunately, Ronon had more finely honed reflexes. In one smooth move, the runner sprinted forward, planted a hand on each of his teammates’ backs, and shoved.
Sheppard and Teyla went sprawling into the grass beside Cador just as a field of bluish energy burst forth from the metal pole. John felt it tickle the back of his neck, like static electricity, as it swept over them, narrowly missing the three prone figures as they pressed into the ground.
Ronon was not so lucky.
“Ronon!” Teyla screamed. The shockwave enveloped the Satedan and the big man was literally flung through the air. He landed twenty feet away, in a crumpled heap, and did not move.
The blue energy disappeared as suddenly as it had come. Teyla scrambled up and ran to her fallen teammate; John was moving to join her when the Athosian looked up. "John!" she cried, finger pointing.
Sheppard turned to see Cador racing away through the tall grass.
“Son of a bitch!" he snarled. He made to follow the Valerian, then hesitated.
“He is breathing," Teyla said, nodding to Ronon's still form. “Go!”
John had broken into a sprint before the words were completely out of her mouth.
But Cador had disappeared from view. Sheppard cursed, thinking the Valerian had activated some sort of cloak, but when he reached the spot where he'd last seen him, he instead found a large hole in the ground. Barely slowing, the lieutenant colonel leapt down a flight of narrow steps.
Sheppard raced down a short, stone-walled corridor. Cador was not slow, but he was not nearly as fit as the military man pursuing him, and John could see him standing at what looked like a pair of elevator doors at the end of the hallway.
The Valerian's pendant was glowing again. He held it near a similarly glowing control panel on the wall and the double doors slid open. Backing inside, Cador held the crystal up to his mouth. "Alert!" he cried. "Can anyone hear me?! There’s –“
His words were abruptly cut off by a well-executed flying tackle.
“I don't think so!" John grunted, grabbing at the pendant as they tussled on the floor. "You're not warning anybody!”
Cador kicked at the soldier, but Sheppard twisted out of the way. The doors closed, the floor lurched, and John had a moment's surprise when he realized that they really were in an elevator after all.
The small space did not favor the untrained Valerian. Cador took a swing at John's face - which Sheppard avoided easily - before lunging for the pendant, which was still attached to the long chain around his neck. John jerked it out of reach, and the links snapped.
Cador howled, kicking out again, catching John in the ribs and sending him into the wall. John slammed into the elevator's control panel, which sparked and crackled.
Cador lunged, a lucky elbow flail catching John's jaw. Shaking it off with a grunt, Sheppard leaned back and used the younger man's momentum against him, flipping him over onto his stomach.
“I am not," he roared, grabbing a handful of Cador's hair, "in the mood!" And with that, he slammed the Valerian's head into the floor. Cador immediately went still.
John waited a few moments, catching his breath. The smoke from the fried conduits irritated his nose. When the Valerian didn't move, he checked for a pulse and thumbed open an eyelid, which elicited a groan from the semi-conscious man.
“Right,” John said, wincing as he rubbed his jaw, "guess you're not gonna be much help to me now.”
He picked up the dropped pendant and held it up to the busted control panel, as he'd seen Cador do, but all he got for his efforts was another round of sparking.
“Teyla,” he called into his radio. "Ronon, respond. Do you read me?”
Nothing but static.
John’s stomach did a little flip as the descending motion he hadn't noticed before came to a stop. The doors in front of him opened on a white corridor. It was empty, but he could hear muffled voices echoing from somewhere.
“Okay, he breathed, hoisting his P-90 as he edged into the hallway, "where are you, McKay?”
McKay scrunched his eyes shut in feeble preparation for the cognizance altering device to fire lasers into his brain. Or maybe the mechanism worked on some kind of omega wave principle, like the device on Ionini. It might even channel the electromagnetic field of his own body to alter his brain chemistry. It was quite fascinating, really, and Rodney would have loved to study the machine at some point when his mind was capable of anything other than the constant mantra of I am so screwed.
“Garrad?” came a sudden female voice.
“Oh thank God!” Rodney said, opening his eyes and raising his head. “Emadara, you’ve got to help me!”
The young woman stood in the doorway, taking in the scene with confusion. “Garrad . . .” she repeated uncertainly.
“Dara!” Garrad responded, and was that a hint of trepidation Rodney heard? “You – you are not supposed to be here.”
“I needed to discuss . . . “ she trailed off. “What are you doing?”
“He’s frying my brain, that’s what he’s doing!” McKay yelled. “You work for a mad man!”
“Be quiet!” Garrad snapped.
Emadara furrowed her brow. “You said the cognizance altering device was just an experiment.” Her voice took on an accusing tone. “You said you would never use it on anyone!”
“Well I’d say you have overwhelming evidence now that the crazy man lied to you!”
“Dara,” Garrad said, ignoring Rodney, “you have seen how valuable Doctor McKay can be to the Reservoir.” His tone became insistent. “By altering his memory, I will ensure that he continues to contribute to our cause.”
“But,” Emadara said uncertainly, “you could damage his brain.”
“Hey,” McKay demanded skeptically, “what about the part where brainwashing people is just plain evil?”
“Sacrifices must be made in the name of science,” Garrad replied, voice hardening. “You know this. How else will we destroy the Wraith?”
“By rewriting his memories?” The girl shook her head. “That goes too far!”
“Oh, so you don’t have a problem with kidnapping scientists until brain damage becomes an issue?” Rodney said incredulously. “Trust me – we were way beyond ‘too far’ a long time ago!”
Garrad’s voice was gruff. “I will not argue with you, Dara,” he said, turning back to the console.
“But,” Emadara said, almost pleading, “Garrad, this is – is wrong.”
“Yeah, that’s a good argument,” McKay deadpanned, “‘cause, you know, he’s so big on morality.”
The young woman looked crestfallen. “This is why his companions left so easily, isn’t it?”
“Dara, it was for the greater good.”
“The greater good?” McKay snorted, slumping back. “Wow, I can’t think of any examples where that kind of thinking went wrong.” His head snapped back up. “Wait, what about my ‘companions’?!”
The Valerians ignored him. “Garrad, you – you have crossed a line,” Emadara said, voice heating.
The older Valerian looked at her. “When the Wraith are finally defeated, you will understand.”
“Hey, don’t ignore me! I asked you a question!”
“Surely you can reason with him!” Emadara said, face flushing in anger.
Garrad curled his lip. “Can’t you see that he is impossibly hardheaded?”
“I’ll take that as a compliment! And also: did you use this thing on my team?!” McKay’s voice rose into a disbelieving shriek.
Emadara stuck out her chin. “Garrad, you should not do this.”
The older Valerian broke eye contact. “I do not have time for this,” he replied, and turned back to the console.
“WHAT DID YOU DO TO MY FRIENDS?!”
“I did them a favor!” Garrad roared, and suddenly, the older man was nose to nose with the physicist. “I removed you from their memories!”
The humming of the cognizance altering device seemed very loud in the sudden silence that followed. Garrad stayed in Rodney’s face, a wild gleam in his eyes, while McKay’s mouth opened and closed like a fish as he searched for a reply.
Finally, Rodney uttered one word: “Why?”
Garrad crinkled his brow. “What?”
“Why?” Rodney repeated as the older man leaned back. “What was the purpose?”
Garrad seemed taken aback. “So they would leave peacefully,” he said finally.
“That doesn’t make sense,” McKay said scornfully. “As soon as they got home, everyone would know something was wrong and come searching.”
“It is demoralizing,” Garrad said, though his words were stilted. “It frightens people.”
“Okay, there are, like a dozen things wrong with your logic,” McKay said, “the first being that it won’t frighten my team – it’ll piss them off.” Rodney closed his eyes as if the stupidity of it all actually pained him. “And you have enough technology here to defend or keep yourselves hidden from anyone who would try to attack, so why not just kidnap your scientists outright? What’s with the ‘cognizance altering’ crap?”
Garrad stared at him. “I do not need to explain myself to you.”
“Test subjects,” Emadara said quietly. Her arms were crossed as she stared, expressionless, into the middle distance. “It’s all an experiment to him.”
Rodney let the words sink in. “Oh my god,” he said, disbelieving. “You did it just because you could?” He jerked his head at the device above him. “Because you wanted to use your toy?”
“Be quiet,” Garrad said again, and this time his tone was ice.
“He’s unstable,” Rodney said, turning to Emadara in desperation. “All the scientists you said he ‘convinced’ to work here – don’t you see what he really does?!”
“Garrad wouldn’t do that,” she replied, but her voice was uncertain and her eyes were on her mentor. “Garrad?”
Garrad didn’t meet her gaze. Instead, he touched the console, and the humming of the device rose in pitch.
“See?!” Rodney yelled, pleading as the mechanism began to glow with a sinister red light. “You didn’t really think he ‘reasoned’ with every single scientist he kidnapped, did you?!”
Emadara’s eyes were wide with shock, and she took a step back as the whirring grew even more high-pitched.
“Emadara, you’ve got to stop him!” McKay shrieked, not caring in the least that it was a very unmanly sound. “You could be next! Hell, he might have already done it to you!”
“SILENCE!” Garrad roared, and slammed his hand down on the console.
Three things happened in very quick succession.
The first was that Emadara yelled, “No!” and ran into Garrad, bodily shoving him away from the controls.
The second was that the red light began pulsing, the humming became a high-pitched whine, and McKay arched his back and screamed as the device activated.
The third was that Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard stepped through the doorway.
John already had his rifle leveled at Garrad and Emadara as he yelled, “Freeze!” When it became apparent neither was paying him any attention – the pair was too caught up in their own squabble – Sheppard swept his eyes over the rest of the room.
The man he recognized from the photos as his missing teammate twisted in agony against the restraints that held him. Deciding that this might be a good time to shoot first and ask questions later, John aimed at the red-glowing claw-like mechanism above the scientist’s head and put three successive single-shot rounds in it.
The red lights died. The whining sound cycled down into silence. McKay collapsed back to the chair, chest heaving in frantic, panting breaths.
The entire debacle had perhaps taken three seconds.
Sheppard turned the P-90 on the still-arguing Valerians as he made his way over to McKay.
“Doctor McKay,” he said quietly. “Rodney – is that you?”
McKay groaned. “Of course it is,” he said, and the snappy retort gave John relief on a level he didn’t understand.
“You okay?” Sheppard asked as he began undoing the restraints with one hand, keeping the gun aimed at the strangers.
“No,” came the sharp reply as the physicist began to sit up. “It turns out that frying one’s brain is actually quite painful!” He ran a hand over his face. “Oh, god,” he said, sitting up straighter. “What did he erase? What have I forgotten?” He turned to Sheppard, eyes wide. “Quick! You have to quiz me!”
John raised his eyebrows. “Now’s not a good time,” he said dryly. “Besides, it wasn’t on for very long.” He nodded at his handiwork.
McKay looked behind him at the bullet-ridden mechanism. “You shot it? That was your elegant solution?” he squawked. “Oh, of course it was,” he continued, grumbling. “You military types are all the same.”
Sheppard readied a sharp reply of his own. He’d dealt with enough scientists who thought all soldiers were only mindless grunts to know that the ‘geniuses’ sometimes needed to be put in their place.
“If you mean we’re always busting in to save the day,’” he instead quipped lightly, “then I’ll take that as a compliment.” John stopped. Where had that come from?
“Yeah, well, don’t strain yourself. You could have waited a whole two milliseconds more, after all.”
“I’ll remember that you like your brain over easy next time.” The banter came so naturally that John was slightly disturbed.
He must have looked confused because McKay was suddenly peering at him intently. “So is it true? You really don’t remember me?”
John shifted uncomfortably. “Beckett said it was temporary.”
“And that witch doctor still let you go on a mission?”
“Doesn’t matter,” John shrugged. “You’re on my team,” he added, as if that explained everything.
“Well of course I am,” Rodney snarked back, but John didn’t miss the way the scientist’s cheeks flushed ever so slightly. “Hey,” he added suddenly, “what’s my name?”
Sheppard furrowed his brow. “You forgot your own name?”
“No no no,” McKay said with an annoyed wave of his hand. “You tell me – what’s my name?”
John eyed the physicist warily. “Doctor Rodney McKay,” he answered slowly. “We did learn the mission basics, you know.”
“No, my first name,” McKay insisted.
John just stared.
“Huh.” Rodney looked at him in amazement.
“What are you talking about, McKay?”
“Nothing,” Rodney said, standing. He clapped his hands and rubbed them together briskly. “So,” he said before John could ask anything else, “what’s the plan?”
Sheppard decided to drop it. “Meet up with Ronon and Teyla and get the hell out of Dodge,” he answered. He gestured with his gun. “But I was hoping you could tell me what to do with our prisoners here first.”
The prisoners in question seemed to have no idea that they were being held at gunpoint, and were, in fact, still arguing.
“Hey!” Rodney said. “HEY!” John inched away as the physicist began waving his arms like a crazed air traffic controller. “SHUT UP!”
The Valerians stopped abruptly, turning warily to the Lanteans.
“As you can see,” McKay continued, “my friends did come for me.” He shot Garrad a nasty look. “So I guess your experiment failed.”
Garrad’s face was white – though whether it was with fear, anger, or shock at the destruction of the cognizance altering device, John couldn’t tell.
“Doctor McKay,” Emadara said, a pleading look on her face. “You must believe I knew nothing of this!”
Rodney shook his head. “As much as I’d like to believe that you’re innocent,” he said with a withering look, “you can’t seriously tell me that you worked with Doctor Frankenstein here” – he jerked a thumb at Garrad – “all these years and never suspected something was horribly wrong?”
Emadara looked confused. “I do not understand.”
McKay threw up his hands. “Where do I start? It could have been the whole kidnapping scientists part –“
“The Reservoir could not function without its most precious resource,” the young woman responded stubbornly.
“– or maybe it was when he started cutting into people’s brains!” McKay finished, making a haphazard chopping motion at his head.
Garrad caught on first. “The Whisperers are the Reservoir’s greatest accomplishment yet!” he interjected angrily.
“Zombies with Wraith telepathic abilities,” Rodney said in answer to John’s questioning look.
Sheppard raised an eyebrow. “And they did that on purpose?”
“You think the cognizance altering device is bad? Wait’ll you see what else they’ve done.”
“The Whisperers,” Emadara said, her tone becoming defensive, “were all criminals of the worst kind.” She drew herself up taller. “By punishing them in this way, scientific progress has been made.”
“Where I come from,” John drawled, “that’s called cruel and unusual punishment.”
“Yes, yes,” Rodney said, waving his hand dismissively, “but I just realized – she’s been living with this monster her whole life.” He gestured at Garrad. “It’s amazing she has any moral sense at all.”
“Ah!” John snapped, bringing the P-90 to bear on Garrad. The Valerian’s fingers had been inching toward his control pendant. “Hands up! I’m not falling for that again.” Reluctantly, Garrad obeyed.
Emadara looked up suddenly. “If I release Doctor McKay’s control bracers and show you safely to the surface,” she said to John, “will you promise not to seek retribution on the Reservoir?”
“Seems to me you’re capable of defending yourselves,” John said, avoiding the question.
“Your own arrival has shown me that we are fallible,” she answered simply.
“And what about all the scientists?” Rodney demanded. “All your brainwashed automatons?”
Emadara avoided his gaze. “The work of the Reservoir must continue.”
“Are you freaking –“
“So,” John said loudly, cutting off Rodney’s enraged reply, “you can get those metal bracelets off, huh?” He shot a warning look at McKay. The physicist huffed, but closed his mouth, shooting the pilot a look of his own that John instinctively understood as, Fine. I’ll play nice. For now.
Emadara nodded and turned to Garrad. The older Valerian remained perfectly still, staring straight ahead, as the girl removed his control pendant. She, in turn, refused to meet his eyes. When she had the necklace around her own neck, she activated it.
Both the pendant and the metal bands around Rodney’s wrists glowed in tandem, and then the bracers deactivated and snapped open.
“Finally,” McKay muttered, shucking the manacles to the floor. He gave them a vindictive kick across the room.
“Okay,” Sheppard said, gesturing with his gun toward Garrad. “You. In the chair. Now.”
As John and Rodney strapped him in under the now-useless cognizance altering device, the older Valerian spoke for the first time since Emadara had taken his control crystal. “I am very disappointed in you, Dara.”
The young woman stood near the door, fingering the stolen pendant around her neck. “And I in you, Garrad.”
“I thought I had taught you better than this.”
Emadara turned away. “So did I,” she whispered, stepping into the hallway.
Without warning, a wild-eyed figure leapt out and seized the girl from behind. Whirling around, he shoved her back into the room, keeping her steady with an arm around her waist and a sharp-looking knife gleaming at her throat.
“Drop your weapon!” Cador shouted. Blood trickled down his face from where John had smashed it against the elevator floor. “Do it now!” He pressed the knife against Emadara’s skin to make his point.
McKay stood frozen, still bent over the restraining clasp around Garrad’s leg.
Sheppard straightened slowly. “Okay,” he said calmly, “I’m putting my gun down.” Slowly, he unhooked the P-90 from his tac vest and lowered it to the floor.
“Kick it this way!” Cador demanded. Emadara whimpered as his grip tightened. “Now!”
John did so. “All right, now we’re unarmed,” he said, still in a placating tone. “You can put the knife down.”
“Release him,” Cador said, looking at Garrad with slightly unfocused eyes.
“Hey,” Rodney ventured nervously, “you don’t look so good. Maybe you should –″ The physicist’s words were cut off by a cry from Emadara. A drop of red appeared at her throat.
“Okay!” Sheppard said quickly. “We’re letting him go.” He began undoing the restraints.
Garrad kept his eyes locked on Cador as his bonds were loosened. John expected him to go for the discarded P-90 on the floor; instead, when he was free, the older man stood and stretched out a hand in supplication.
“You can let her go now, Cador,” he said, voice strangely hushed. “Put down the knife.”
“And let them subdue us again? No,” Cador said, shaking his head. The action seemed to make him dizzy, and he blinked a few times before focusing on Garrad again. “And she has betrayed us! She is disloyal to the Reservoir!”
“No!” Emadara gasped. “No, I –″ But she was silenced by a growl from her captor.
“That can be remedied,” Garrad said to Cador, raising his hands in a pacifying manner. “She is still important to our work.”
“You see her through clouded eyes,” Cador snapped back. “You have always favored her!”
“She has made many advances for the Reservoir.”
“Because you always give her the best assignments!”
“She is a prodigy.”
“She is a traitor!”
John and Rodney watched the proceedings in a sort of stunned silence.
“Tell me, Garrad,” Cador hissed, a dangerous look in his eyes, “what is it that makes her so important to you?” Emadara whimpered again as the knife pressed a little deeper.
Garrad’s voice was heavy. “Because,” he said, hands falling to his sides, “she’s my daughter.”
To Part II