All Art By Lily
Betaed by Annie
~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~
Rodney swept his gaze around the crowded Mess Hall, looking overly put out and rather bored. He decided to try to focus on fragments of other peoples’ conversations going on around him, sighing heavily as Sheppard continued his tale. The strong smell of coffee wafting from the huge metal urns next to the bain-maries nearby stole his attention yet again and Teyla watched him as she listened to John‘s story and grinned as Rodney seemed to struggle with boredom. Morning was definitely not his favorite time of the day.
This morning was certainly no different. The only saving grace for him was the enormous scope of the event as Atlantis made its recent and most spectacular splash down in San Francisco bay, which in itself was an end play Rodney never could have predicted. Nope, he hated mornings and this morning’s angst-fest was definitely culminating on John Sheppard’s repeated and wholly over-exaggerated telling of yet another mind-numbing war tale.
“So there we were,” John was finishing up his story, with Ronon sitting across from him and Teyla sitting beside him listening with interest. They each wore smiles as they listened, but Rodney’s body language announced openly that he wasn’t buying a word of Sheppard’s yarn. He bobbed his head as if totally disinterested or disbelieving and picked at his breakfast as Sheppard finished his story, “… riding into battle, to save the day, atop four huge camels.”
The punch line was delivered with Sheppard barely containing his own laughter, which he let loose once the line was finished. His was quickly joined by a round of guffaws from Ronon and Teyla who seemed quite amused by John Sheppard’s storytelling skills. Rodney, however, looked totally non-amused by the entire tale, which only made the other three laugh harder.
The city’s public address system suddenly squawked to life to interrupt their good time. “Colonel Sheppard and Dr. McKay, report to the Control Room. Colonel Sheppard and Dr. McKay please report to the Control Room.”
“Saved by the perpetual and unerringly consistent predictability of Chuck’s disembodied voice calling an all-hands alert to the newest emerging catastrophe no doubt,” Rodney stated as he gathered up his notepad and prepared to leave the table. Teyla grinned as if conspiring to drive Rodney mentally around the bend and tossed Ronon a glance as John slid his chair back and stood up. Ronon just chuckled.
“Oh, come on, Rodney, the story wasn’t that bad,” John argued with a grin.
“It was beyond my scope to understand the entertainment value of that particular story.”
“Aw, come on, Rodney… that was a good story,” John stated as they headed toward the exit side by side. “It had action and suspense --”
“Not so much.”
“And travel to far away lands…” John continued.
“It was crude in its delivery and a bit boorish in that it showed great insensitivity to the understanding of other cultures,” Rodney began to point out and John just grinned as he walked along beside him. “Not to mention that I grew weary in the dullness of your otherwise sharp and stinging wit ---”
just upset because you never get to do anything that exciting,”
John tossed back lightly.
“Not true,” Rodney countered. “My life is exciting enough --”
“Sure, sure,” John agreed openly, “If you count blowing up three quarters of a solar system…”
five sixths, thank you very much, and must you keep reminding me of that fact?”
“I remind you of that fact??” Sheppard asked a bit astonished. “How can you forget that you blew up an entire solar system?”
“I don’t forget!” Rodney forced back. “I just don’t need you reminding me of it all the time!”
They continued a few paces in silence as John considered that and then he repeated, simply to satisfy himself, “It was a good story.”
“Maybe,” McKay agreed with a rather patronizing tone as if he didn’t really agree at all. “But camels?” he pointed out and John chuckled. “That is not a true story!” he insisted.
“Yes it iiiiiiis!” John defended his tall tale as they disappeared out the door. Ronon and Teyla watched with amusement until their teammates disappeared then they turned to each other and shook their heads.
~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~
Their conversation ended as they climbed the main staircase toward the Control Room and saw Mr. Woolsey looking over the rail from the terrace. He waited for them to reach the landing and step up into the command center before beginning his briefing. “We’ve received a communiqué through Stargate Command from the research post in Antarctica,” he stated and John crooked a brow at him.
“McMurdo?” he asked with a frown.
“I’m sorry,” Woolsey offered and then recanted that opening statement. “From the researchers we have at the Ancient Outpost in the Antarctic.”
Sheppard nodded at the correction.
“What have they found?” McKay asked with barely reined in excitement and John looked to him in question before looking back at Mr. Woolsey.
“Have they found something?” Sheppard asked to be sure.
“They have, but they don’t know what it is. It’s an unknown piece of technology that they discovered over six months ago and have been unable to ascertain what it is or… what it does. However… it apparently became active the moment Atlantis entered Earth’s atmosphere a month ago.”
“A month ago??” Rodney clutched his notepad tighter to his chest as he cradled it in one arm. Pursing his lips together he tried to calm his initial and most natural reaction, which would be to scream and holler over being left out of that type of information relay. “Why wasn’t I told about this?” he asked.
“You’re being told about it now,” Woolsey stated.
“So what’s going on there?” John asked.
“Well, this machine, for lack of a better word, has been displaying an audible alert as well as a visual signal that coincides with the… sound… it’s making. It started off slowly and nearly inaudible at all,” he added quickly as if trying to stave off a McKay rant which at this moment in time Woolsey wasn’t entirely uncertain would be unjustified. Even Colonel Sheppard was now looking at him with an intense gaze as his face shifted into a concerned scowl.
“What kind of audible alert?” he asked in tone that clearly showed he wasn’t sure he wanted to hear this.
“They think it’s a…” Woolsey looked between the two men as he paused, “… a countdown.”
Sheppard’s chin raised up high as he seemed to look down the length of his nose at him. He clenched his jaw so tight that the muscles flexed beneath the skin and his nose flared as he took in a slow deep breath. Meanwhile standing beside him, Dr. McKay was beginning to huff as if he was having an asthma attack.
“Rodney,” Sheppard stated as if the one word was his warning to calm down. He looked back at Woolsey evenly and asked too calmly, “What kind of a count down?”
“That’s the problem… we don’t know.” He turned and nodded to Chuck who had obviously been waiting patiently at his console. He nodded back and pressed a few buttons which brought the large view screen behind Richard to life.
On the monitor was General Jack O’Neill who looked up as he came into focus. “Ahh, Richard. It’s about time,” he quipped at the former IOA representative.
“Sorry, General,” Woolsey returned.
“Have they been briefed?” Jack asked.
“They have. With the little bit we have to go on.”
“Well, it might just be me,” Jack said with a patronizing tone and expression, “but it would seem to me that the return of Atlantis to Earth is a primary reason this… thing… has started beeping and blipping and pitching a fit. The researchers at the outpost believe that the Ancients had indeed set it up for some reason to alert them when the City returned to Earth and for whatever reason doesn’t seem happy about its return.”
John and Rodney spared each other a glance.
“Sheppard!” Jack snapped to get John to look back at the screen.
“Yes, Sir!” he replied respectfully as he turned back to listen.
“I want you and your team to check this out.”
“Yes, Sir. Right away,” Sheppard concurred and Rodney immediately turned on his heel to head off to get ready. All three commanders watched him leave and when Sheppard turned back he met Woolsey’s wry grin and then looked to the general.
“Get on it, Sheppard. Dismissed,” Jack told him, letting him go and John gave a brisk nod. He turned and ran straight up the stairs to the Jumper Bay to get Jumper One ready for launch.
~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~
Dark blue water slowly gave way to washes of lighter blue, tinged with green, as the Puddle Jumper banked right and crossed the icy threshold that marked Ross Island and McMurdo Sound. Sighing softly, John drank in the stark vista, leaning forward to get a better view of the rapidly changing landscape as the virgin white snow of the flat plains quickly gave way to the majestic shape of the snow encrusted mountains.
“I miss this.”
Distracted, Rodney turned his attention away from the pad on his lap and took in the view. “Hmph! Kidding right? Couldn’t wait to get out of the place, myself.”
“Ehh, McKay, you never saw Antarctica the way I did though,” John defended the icy, lifeless continent.
“White, stark, cold, and infinitely boring. Well… the ancient outpost aside, and even that failed to live up to expectations most of the time.”
Arching a brow at the scientist, John snorted. “I doubt there’s anything out there that would live up to your expectations.”
“Yes, well, I’m not easily impressed.”
“Really, Rodney,” Teyla mused from the seat behind McKay. “You would have thought that after all this time we might have come to that realization ourselves.”
Rodney swiveled on his seat to face her, searching her face quizzically, only to receive a patronizing grin from the Athosian before she turned back to the forward view screen. “Yes… I… suppose you might have,” he conceded.
“Heads up, people,” John announced, slowing the forward momentum of the Jumper to almost a stop as it cleared a range of mountains. “There she is.”
Leaning forward over John’s shoulder, Ronon shrugged and snorted, “Is that it?”
“The Ancient Outpost, yeah,” John confirmed as Jumper One now hovered above the massive steel-lattice dome. Light from the sun glinted off its metal beams and cast an aura across the surrounding snowscape.
“It’s a dome.”
“Nice one, Conan,” Rodney quipped. “The outpost itself is actually situated a mile under the ice. The dome is there to protect the entrance and contains barracks and science labs.”
“Oh. Well, why didn’t you say that, McKay?”
Rodney balked and tried not to look perplexed. “I-”
“Ladies and gentlemen,” Sheppard interceded, “please make sure your seat belts are fastened and return your tray-tops to their upright positions. Air Atlantis is on final approach.”
Sliding his gaze sideways at Ronon, Rodney jutted his chin out and tipped his head back. “That mean’s we’re coming in to land.”
“Yeah,” Ronon said, deadpan. “I got that.”
~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~
As Jumper One descended into the Ancient Outpost’s newly unearthed Jumper Bay, a female technician was waiting near a console used as their version of Flight Traffic Control for the team’s arrival. The need for such a console and its associated technicians seemed a bit unnecessary since there rarely was more than one Jumper in the skies over Earth’s surface at any time… but it was a nice thought, Sheppard noted to himself as they made their way from the hatch toward the woman with the clipboard.
“Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard,” he introduced himself and then gestured toward the team standing behind him, “Dr. Rodney McKay, Teyla Emmagen, Ronon Dex…”
The technician nodded to them with a brief, but cordial smile. “I am Dr. Felicia Redding. Thank you for coming, ” she said and then turned her attention immediately to Sheppard. “This way, Colonel,” she invited and led them out of the bay and down a few winding, frigid corridors.
Teyla and Ronon had never witnessed such a thing as an entire community residing under enormous depths of snow and ice. The fact that it wasn’t brutally cold, even surrounded by so much frozen water, did not escape their wonder of the place.
For McKay, well, he’d barely forgotten his time spent here the years before the expedition to Pegasus and didn’t appear to be fazed by the return one bit. But, for John Sheppard, the place held a wonder all its own. It was here, after all, this very location, when his life had taken a drastic turn and launched him on the greatest adventure humankind had ever known. At least the humankind from planet Earth.
“So what can you tell us, so far, Doctor?” John asked and Dr. Redding offered him the clipboard she held. John barely had it in his hand long enough to spin it facing the right way so he could look at whatever was on it before McKay snatched it away from him.
Sheppard let the rude snatch-n-grab go without comment because even he realized that he would’ve just shrugged and handed it to Rodney anyway. Dr. Redding was already spouting the information before he got his attention back on track, but he was sure he hadn’t missed anything new since she was just getting to the part about the alarms that were sending out a countdown-like alert.
“We’ve also, in just the past half hour, discovered a curious power signature building up in the North Pole,” she added and John snapped his head around with a furrowed brow.
“The North Pole…” he reiterated to be sure he’d heard correctly.
“Yes, Colonel,” she nodded as they walked.
“Yes, that would be the opposite of the South Pole,” Rodney muttered sarcastically towards Sheppard as he scoured the information on the clipboard readouts and implemented them into his own electronic notepad for recording.
“I know where the North Pole is, Rodney,” Sheppard growled back under his breath.
“You detected this power build up from here?” Rodney asked as he quickened his stride to come up even with Sheppard just behind the doctor’s left shoulder.
“No, actually. Our global defense platform now in geo-synchronous orbit and focusing on the Arctic Circle picked it up and alerted NORAD… who informed the President, who then contacted the SGC, who then contacted you… well, you get the picture…”
“Clearly,” Rodney replied.
“What we were originally hoping for, was to have Dr. McKay assist us in finding out what the original bells and whistles were for ---”
“Assist you --?” Rodney repeated looking totally put off by the suggestion that he would merely be assisting when he knew damned well it’d all be dumped into his lap moments after he was shown the equipment in question. He was silenced by a glare from Sheppard and met his scowl with narrowed eyes in return.
“Well, we were hoping to use Atlantis’ sensors to identify the power build-up ---”
“Not online yet ---” McKay interjected.
“… but…” Redding tossed him a hard glance, “with the City’s sensors still in disrepair… and no ships presently in orbit to take a closer look at it for us….”
“You want us to jump to the North Pole to take a closer look…” Sheppard finished with a nod and then sighed.
“Yes, Colonel.” Redding nodded as they entered the lab housing the equipment in question.
McKay moved around the doctor and headed for the beeping machine with the little red blinking lights on it. He was already barking at the lab technicians who quickly offered up answers or reports as needed even as John turned to regard Dr. Redding.
“What are we talking here, Doctor?” he asked with a tilt of his head.
Dr. Redding leaned her head back and took a deep breath then looked him in the eye. “We’re not entirely sure, Colonel. But if this piece of equipment is what we believe it is ---”
“It’s a communication device,” Rodney called back.
“That’s what we believe it to be as well,” Redding looked to McKay, as he continued to inspect the console, but kept her voice level as she continued to speak between her and Sheppard.
“And what or who is it communicating with?” John asked, his gears already spinning and trying to connect the two recent discoveries.
“My guess is,” Rodney offered from where he was poking around inside an open compartment full of control crystals and fibre-optic wires and cables, “it’s trying to communicate with something Ancient and it’s not getting an answer… which might be the cause of the power build up in the North…” Rodney ground out between clenched teeth as he over-reached for something way in the back of the console’s inner workings.
John and Dr. Redding considered Rodney’s thoughts on it and Sheppard stepped up closer to Rodney. “Why isn’t it getting an answer?” he asked.
Rodney suddenly stopped what he was doing and deflated a bit as he turned toward John. “Gee, I don’t know yet,” he answered sarcastically. “If it was answering I could identify where the incoming signal is coming from… but since it’s not getting an answer I can’t do that, now can I?”
Dr. Redding frowned and slid her eyes to the colonel, taken aback at Dr. McKay’s obvious intolerance toward his team leader’s question.
simply shook his head in dismay and stepped up closer to Rodney, copping his own
“Well, do you think that whatever is powering itself up in the Arctic Circle
might have anything at all to do with this thing either trying to communicate
with it… Is successfully communicating with it…. Or is sending out an SOS
because whatever it’s
supposed to be actually communicating with isn’t
answering, like you said…
So maybe it’s
calling for help from the North Pole??”
John set up the details of his own theories for Rodney to weigh in on.
“Hmm,” McKay hummed as he stopped working again for a moment to consider John’s questions. “That’s a good theory…”
“Which?” Sheppard growled.
“The S.O.S. one,” Rodney pinpointed and stood up. “The Ancients are well-known for setting up so many redundant failsafe systems within their technology that almost nothing can happen due to human error or, most of the time, due to environment or eons going by before they’re powered up again.”
“Okay,” John replied.
“But what if, after ten thousand years, whatever function this particular piece of equipment was set up for… What if its partner no longer exists?”
John’s brow furrowed and his eyes darted about. “Well, that doesn’t sound good,” he stated.
“Well, no, it wouldn’t be, I shouldn't think,” Rodney agreed.
“So what’s powering up on Santa’s Island?” John asked with a bit of a curl in his lip.
“Got me,” Rodney shrugged openly, holding John’s gaze evenly before he grinned with excitement and asked, “How about we go find out?”
Sheppard simply blinked at him for a few seconds as Teyla and Ronon watched from a few feet away. John licked his bottom lip and finally said, “Why don’t we?”
“Great,” Rodney stated and scooped up his notebook and pack and headed back out the way they’d originally come in, heading back to the Jumper. John gave Redding a slow nod and turned to follow Rodney. Noting the smiles on Ronon and Teyla’s faces, he deadpanned at them as he passed by, “Let’s go," and his other two teammates took up his six.
“When you’ve see one frozen vista, you’ve seen them all.” Rodney looked disinterestedly out the view screen at yet another ice locked land mass, the second in as many hours, and muttered under his breath, “I’ll never get the fascination.”
“Are you kidding me, Rodney? Look at it!” Sheppard barked with a big smile, gesturing at the gleaming sun-drenched snow continent outside the main viewport.
Teyla couldn’t help but smile at John’s enthusiasm for the pristine wilderness and, as they flew over the open tundras, they saw the Earth’s strange polar icecap inhabitants: caribou and polar bears and even a small pack of arctic wolves. The small spaceship was able to cover hundreds of miles of air space in a matter of seconds so within a few minutes time, the crew on board Jumper One were able to see much more of the north pole’s vanishing wildlife than most people ever would in a lifetime of ground searching.
“You picking up anything,
McKay?” Sheppard asked from the left pilot’s chair.
“Actually?” Rodney replied, swinging his chair around a bit from the monitor screen he had set up behind Sheppard’s chair. “Quite a bit.”
Teyla was sitting in the co-pilot’s seat to the right of John with Ronon behind her. As Rodney turned toward them with bright eyes shaded with a slight wariness, she turned toward him to listen.
“You gonna keep it a secret?” Sheppard asked.
“I’m picking up an energy field…” Rodney told them.
“Like a force field?” John asked with a frown.
“Well… it’s an electro-magnetic field… and all EM fields are, by their very essence, force fields since they do carry energy over a distance…"
“Yeah, but we’re at the North Pole, Rodney. Isn’t this where the Earth’s magnetic field is the strongest anyway?”
“Yes,” Rodney stated with a bit of a grin then held one finger up in front of him. “But! - this isn’t just a magnetic energy signature. This also contains an electrical energy signature.”
“Something down there is building up a huge electrical magnetic field.”
“Why?” Sheppard asked.
“Now how am I supposed to know?” Rodney asked with a bit of an attitude.
“What’s the difference between an electrical field and an electrical magnetic field?” Ronon asked from his seat beside Rodney.
“Voltage,” Rodney answered.
Ronon blinked and shared a glance with Teyla before looking back at Rodney with a questioning cocked eyebrow.
“Okay, it goes something like this,” Rodney began. “Both types of fields exist around us almost all the time, since they are present wherever electricity is found. An electro-magnetic field consists of both waves and particles… and power lines or conduits, like wiring or light fixtures and appliances have both electric and magnetic fields. It’s the voltage in the wires that produces the electrical field… but only when the current is actually flowing through the wires is an electro-magnetic field generated. See?”
“No,” Ronon replied, pulling a face at McKay’s techno-babble so Rodney sighed and thought for a moment.
glanced at John who was visually scanning the white land mass outside the main
viewport as he listened. He seemed to be taking it all in without great
difficulty and she assumed the subject of magnetic fields probably wasn’t
new ground for a pilot. She turned her attention back to McKay just as he began
his dumbed-downed version to try to help Ronon, and her, to understand.
“If you plug in a lamp, it automatically produces an electrical field, even though it isn’t turned on. It’s being supplied with the energy it needs to light up, but the energy is in a dormant state. When the lamp is turned on, or the appliance or whatever it is, is turned on, both the electrical field along with an electro-magnetic field will be produced.
“Magnetic fields are produced when electrical currents actually are flowing through a conduit. It’s created by spinning electrons around an atomic nuclei in the iron material in a magnet head or core. In order for them to actually act as a magnet, the atoms have to line up in the same direction so that their individual magnetic fields combine to produce ---”
“One honking big magnetic field….” Sheppard interjected.
“Right,” Rodney said as he blinked at the back of John’s head.
“So that’s how Atlantis’ shield is created?” Ronon asked and Rodney looked at him.
“Yes, actually,” McKay confirmed and raised his hands in front of him to gesture as he continued. “When the electrical current flows through the wires, the movement of those electrons produces a similar field in space… air space, not necessarily space-space,” he said, indicating the outer orbit as he gestured toward the ceiling of the spacecraft. “That particular field though is oriented around the wires producing it.
“Now if the current is a DC or direct current, the magnetic field will remain steady and stationary. The strength of that magnetic field will depend upon the amount of current flowing through the system - the more current there is, the stronger the magnetic field will be.”
“Okay,” Ronon acknowledged.
“If that current fluctuates, then the magnetic field will reflect those same fluctuations,” Rodney explained and then his electronic notebook chirped away with a triple note alert, bringing his attention back to the screen. He tapped a few keys and the screen flickered to a new page of information. His eyes scanned the page haphazardly and then scowled. “Oh no.”
“What?” John asked, his tone holding a note of dismay. He hated it when
Rodney said ‘oh no’ and then made
him ask in order to get the information from him.
“The levels are definitely rising. Whatever is down there is generating enormous electrical currents…”
“Why?” John demanded to know.
“Again - how should I know?” Rodney shot back.
“I don’t know!” he shouted back and spun his chair around so he was sitting back-to-back with Sheppard. His fingers were busy flying over the keys and the screens flickered past like frames on a movie projector. “We need to get down there.”
“Where?” Sheppard asked. Before McKay was able to reply, Jumper One brought up the H.U.D. in response to her master’s voiced inquiry. She showed John precisely what he wanted to know just as Rodney’s screen also showed him the answer. He turned around slowly and let his eyes move to the heads-up display. He swallowed thickly as his fears were confirmed.
“Under the ocean’s surface…..”
Sheppard adjusted his heading to line the ship up with the signal they were receiving. Rodney was muttering under his breath from behind him about how much he hated being in these ships when they had to go under the water.
“Come on, Rodney,” John tried to assuage his fears, “you’ve been in one of these underwater about five or six times now. They’re as safe under water as they are in outer space.”
“Ummm, that’s not entirely true,” Rodney argued with a slight shake in his voice. “Outer space doesn’t have crush depths.”
John gave a facial shrug, but didn’t turn around to let Rodney see. He simply changed the pitch of his descent and adjusted the thrusters to make a nice gentle entry into the ice cold depths of the northern Pacific. The internal heaters within the cabin kicked up instantly as the Jumper detected the sudden change in hull temperature surrounding its passengers. The soft hiss from the heat and ventilation systems was rather comforting as they all watched the sub-freezing waters engulf the small ship as it submerged. Sheppard moved a couple of switches and the cloaking device switched off and turned its own energy into a deflective shield to protect the ship and its occupants against the great weight of the ocean’s water pressure.
As the Jumper’s pilot kept an eye on the H.U.D. and the small red blip it was showing him, Sheppard continued to adjust his course as he followed the signal. He steered the ship slowly through the dark waters, having left the sunlight behind them at around two hundred feet. The water density now allowed only the blue waves of light to penetrate the sea water as it absorbed the reds, oranges and yellows, removing them from the spectrum and turning their surroundings a deep midnight blue.
“Descending through twelve hundred feet,”
Sheppard announced. His voice was soft and reflected the silence in their new
and alien environment. It was dark and murky and the Jumper’s
headlamps barely cut through the gloom a few meters
in front of them.
“Twelve hundred…?” Rodney whined and turned to look out the front view port.
“We’re okay, Rodney,” John assured him.
“How deep is this thing?” McKay asked and Sheppard looked at the H.U.D. as if reading the ancient text on the holographic screen.
“Looks like it’s sitting at about 850 meters.”
“We can’t go that deep,” Rodney chirped. “Crush depth for a submarine is like… what? 700 meters?”
“A Seawolf submarine can go 730 meters, Rodney. That’s twenty-four hundred feet, twice the depth we’re at right now…. And, I might add, this isn’t a submarine, it’s a spaceship.”
“That’s right! It’s a spaceship! It’s not even intended to be under water!” Rodney argued, getting a bit forceful in his behavior.
Ronon turned his seat toward him in
order to jump on McKay if he had to. He’d heard of
people going temporarily insane in the depths of space - space dementia, it was
called - maybe the same thing could happen in the pressure changes beneath the
“The few times we’ve taken a Jumper underwater, it’s never had an issue with the external pressures being put on it, not with shields up,” John reminded him calmly. “I’m not going to let anything happen to you, Rodney. I’m not going to let anything happen to any of us, so trust me just a little bit. Okay?” Sheppard pointed out.
Rodney checked himself and settled down. He took a deep breath and nodded and John reached back to give him a pat on the shoulder in support. Teyla and Ronon were both watching him carefully now. They understood his fear and knew it was due to a real life event that had kept him stranded below the sea, alone, and with the imminent threat of drowning. They didn’t fault him this phobia at all, but they were remaining alert for his irrationality to become dangerous to them all.
A few moments later, Sheppard checked their position and swung the Jumper slightly to starboard about three degrees. Nobody inside the ship felt the slight yaw as the rear of the Jumper slid portside. The inertial dampeners gave the trip a surreal feeling as if they were actually sitting in an amphitheater watching an I-Max film on the view screen in front of them.
“Approaching twenty six hundred feet,” Sheppard informed his crew in soft voice. “We should be seeing it soon.”
“What is it we are looking for?” Teyla asked, sitting forward slightly in her seat to peer out the front port.
“I don’t know, but I’m sure we’ll know it when we see it. If we can even see it down here,” Sheppard replied. The Jumper’s headlights barely cut through the the darkness and floating bits of debris at this depth.
Behind them, Rodney’s monitor screen flipped and, at the same time, the Heads Up Display did the same thing. They all looked at it in wonder as it appeared to be some kind of…
“It’s a building,” John stated.
“Actually,” Rodney slowly turned his seat so he was facing forward like everyone else, “it’s an underwater lab, of sorts. The layout and specs I’m picking up by the outboard sensors show it to be clearly of Ancient design.”
“You’re kidding,” John remarked in awe as the silhouette of the structure slowly came into view.
“Afraid not,” McKay countered, “It’s clearly of Ancient design and technology. What’s the depth?”
John checked his instrument gauge and checked that against the HUD’s information to be sure there wasn’t any drastic difference in the calculations before answering. “It’s sitting at 850 meters… twenty seven hundred and ninety feet to be precise. A smidgen over 850 meters.”
“A smidgen?” Rodney echoed. “Is that a technical term?”
“As a matter of fact, it is,” Sheppard replied sardonically and Teyla smiled at their bickering.
“Can you fly around it so we can get a good look at it?” McKay requested and Sheppard nodded as he immediately steered the small Ancient craft around, above and below the submerged structure.
“How is it just hanging there like that?” Ronon asked from his seat behind Teyla.
“Yes, there seems to be nothing anchoring it to the bottom, nor holding it beneath the surface. It is as if it is simply hovering there,” Teyla concurred.
“It’s Archimedes’ principal of buoyancy,” Rodney explained bluntly. When there was no further comment, he looked up from his laptop to see Ronon and Teyla looking at him in query. He twisted slightly to look over his shoulder to see Sheppard giving him the same look over his right shoulder. McKay sighed and gestured with his hands to simulate a set of balance scales. “If the weight of an object… in this case, this submerged station or lab or whatever it may be, is less than the weight of the fluid that it’s displaced when fully submerged, that means it has an average density that is less than the fluid surrounding it. Which would indicate that it has a buoyancy that is greater than its own weight.”
“Meaning?” John asked as he looked at the submerged building floating in front of his submerged Jumper. He understood the theory, but asked Rodney to expound for Ronon’s sake since he was still giving McKay a look of oblivion.
“Meaning… the object… or building, lab, whatever, will remain floating at a level where it displaces the same weight of the water equal to the weight of the object. Obviously this lab was designed precisely in order to float at a specific depth; a depth calculated by its very design. It doesn’t need floatation devices or anchors because its own weight and the density of its own mass will ensure that it neither rises or sinks from this depth… as long as the ocean’s depth and density remains constant, that is,” Rodney explained and then added, “which it isn’t.”
“Global warming,” John surmised with a nod.
“Right. Because of the ever-changing rates of water density and volume caused by the influx of fresh water into the heavier salt water due to the melting of the glacial ice…”
“The depth of the station is fluctuating as well and…”
“… allowed the outpost in the South Pole to pick up its locator beacon. It literally is sending out a mayday of sorts.”
“So that’s what the Antarctic station picked up?”
“Yes… but that’s not all,” Rodney replied, with a sly grin, “I’m picking up another energy signature that looks unsettlingly familiar… and not at all friendly, if memory serves,” Rodney informed them.
“What sort of energy signature?” John asked, sitting up a bit straighter in the pilot’s seat.
“I’m not sure. Are we going to dock this thing?”
“Yes, Rodney, we are,” Sheppard replied as he swung Jumper One around the station again to the cylindrical docking ports he’d noted on their first go around. He spun the ship around and backed it carefully into the designated docking cone. He triggered a couple of levers and waited for the loud hiss of the airlock which actually made his ears pop inside the small ship.
“McKay?” he asked, just as the light on his control panel lit up to indicate that they were clear to open the rear hatch.
“We’re clear. The station appears to be intact and pressurized to comparable human levels. Life support is up and running… there’s oxygen, nitrogen, hydrogen… We’re good to go.”
“Okay, then,” John said, sliding his chair back and standing up. He went to the cargo bay and dressed out with his P-90 and double checked his sidearm. “Let’s go take a look.” He smiled at the others as they gathered in the rear compartment with him.
He palmed the hatch plate and the ramp slowly descended, giving them their first peek at the inside of the airlock. It was almost blinding white in the contrasting darkness of the ocean. John had to blink a few times against the sensation of ‘snow blindness’ that poked at his retinas.
Descending the ramp with the team following behind, he studied the control plate for a few seconds and then pushed the large horizontal button at the bottom of the pad. A series of blinking lights flashed through the keypad as ancient symbols flickered in front of them on a small screen. A loud thud shook the floor under their feet, making them all reach out as if to maintain their balance.
“Okay, that was unsettling,” Rodney commented.
“You’re telling me,” John agreed, his eyes intense as he looked at Rodney, pondering whether to order them all back to the ship for safety sake when a loud hiss caught their attention and the inside door slid open, inviting them into the station.
John took a deep breath and stepped forward. The corridor was dark and a bit cool from the surrounding ocean temperatures, but as he took a second step into the narrow chamber, the lights came on just as they had done the first time he’d stepped into Atlantis.
He paused a few yards down the corridor, taking note that it branched off in three directions a short distance down from where they stood. Rodney came up alongside him with a meter in his hands, studying it intently.
“That way,” he pointed.
“Do we know what it is yet?” Sheppard asked him before moving forward.
“Not yet, but I’m sure we’re safe,” Rodney told him.
“Yeah? You want to go first?” John asked pointedly and Rodney shrank a bit standing beside him.
“Well…. No, not really.”
“Mmmm, didn’t think so,” Sheppard remarked sarcastically.
“What? Okay, I’ll go. You want me to go first?” Rodney shot back as he tried to recover from his own natural tendency to take the coward’s way out first.
“Nooooo, that’s okay. I got it,” John returned casually, knowing that would just fluster McKay all the more. “Just watch your readings and point me in the right direction.”
“Okay, okay,” Rodney replied as they made it to the next juncture. “In there.” He pointed at a door that seemed to loom in front of them.
John paused for a moment and turned toward Rodney while keeping his eyes on the door. “Life signs?”
Rodney answered. John’s brows rose toward the top of
his head and he spun on his toes to glare at Rodney. When he realized Sheppard
hadn’t moved forward, McKay looked up to see him
staring at him. “What? Hey, there’s
only so much I can calculate on this thing.”
“Okay, okay,” John replied and turned toward the door. He stepped up to it carefully and swiped his hand over the controller. It slid open and he brought his weapon up to bear on the interior of the room. It was dark, but there were a few consoles inside with colored lights flashing and blinking and some that held steady.
When no hidden automated weapons fired at him, John stepped forward and the entire room came to life. The lights came on and turbos whined to life behind the walls somewhere. So many things began to chirp and whine and blink that Rodney didn’t know where to start as he raced from one table to the next taking readings and perusing the consoles and the writings embedded in the designs.
“This is definitely the central core of the complex,” he stated as the rest of the team milled about looking but not touching.
“Oh really,” Sheppard quipped sarcastically from the other side of the console.
McKay came up on the console that John had been giving his own visual scan and bumped him aside. “Excuse me,” he stated and John stepped back, not really having a choice. “How did you know it was this console?” Rodney asked him as he chose to take a seat at this one.
“What?” John asked, not understanding.
“How did you know it was this console emitting the energy signature we were looking for?” he asked again, comparing the readings on his own laptop with that of the console’s.
“I didn’t,” John told him. “Lucky guess?”
“Mmmm,” Rodney hummed, not always believing the answers he got from Sheppard. Sometimes he felt that his team leader didn’t always tell him everything he could sense through his ATA gene. Perhaps John kept those things to himself knowing that Rodney McKay was a jealous man who’d always envied those born with the gene even though he’d never admit it aloud.
Twenty minutes passed as the team waited for Rodney to finish his analysis of the console, its data, and the power anomaly it seemed to be generating. Ronon was roaming the corridors outside the core systems laboratory, but he didn’t go too far, just in case. Teyla remained leaning in the doorway watching him appear and disappear down the different adjacent corridors. John wandered around inside the lab, looking curiously at some of the different lights and levels and toggle switches that decorated a wall console to Rodney’s left.
“Don’t touch anything,” McKay muttered again and John’s shoulders rolled forward a bit as he let out a sigh.
“I’m not going to touch anything. All right?” he stated yet again.
Teyla grinned a bit and then turned her head to look back down the corridor for Ronon. She could just make out his shadow being cast on the wall near a junction to her right, when she picked up a bit of static from her earpiece. She watched his shadow stop and straighten as he too picked up the interference as Woolsey’s voice tried to break through.
Sheppard stopped his wanderings and tapped his radio transmitter at his ear. “This is Colonel Sheppard, repeat your transmission. I did not copy,” he advised.
“Atl--is, calling J--per One. Come -- pl---se. Colonel Shep--- do you ---y?” Mr. Woolsey’s voice broke through intermittently.
“What’s causing the interference?” Sheppard asked McKay.
Rodney sighed heavily and stopped what he was doing to slide his chair to another console. Obviously he’d identified this one as a communications console, John surmised, since he flipped a few buttons and toggles and then pointed at him. John blinked at him, taken aback at how quickly he’d fixed the problem and tried again.
“Atlantis, this is Sheppard. Do you copy?”
“Yes, Colonel. Thank God.” Woolsey’s voice came back to him much more clearly. In fact, it sounded like he was standing in the same room with him.
“What’s wrong?” Sheppard asked.
“Nothing. Nothing! We were just getting concerned. We were under the impression that you were at the outpost in the Antarctic, but when we contacted them to get a progress report, they informed us that you’d gone on to the Arctic Circle,” Woolsey told him and John cringed a bit comically, realizing he’d forgotten to inform them of the change in plans.
“Sorry about that. Just figured it was a short jaunt --”
“A short jaunt? You’re on the complete opposite side of the planet. Next time inform me of the change, Colonel.”
John shared a look with Rodney and then Teyla, both of them were giving him a bemused grin, but where hers was humored, the other was inherently snide. “Well, it’s a short jaunt in comparison to being on the opposite side of the galaxy,” he offered back. He could hear a sigh come from his earpiece and then Woolsey’s voice softened a bit.
“Of course. From your perspective… yes,” Woolsey said with a tone of understanding. After a brief pause he changed tack. “So how are things going?”
“Well, McKay thinks…” Sheppard checked up and considered that phrase then looked to Rodney who then looked up at him.
“What?” he asked.
“What do you think?” John now thought to ask.
“I don’t know,” Rodney answered, sounding a bit exasperated then tapped his ear to open his own link into the conversation. Now the others could hear both him and Sheppard as they conversed with the City’s commander. “It seems to be some sort of communications platform. Why it’s been sunk into the ocean depths is beyond my understanding, unless it was done simply to keep it hidden.”
“From whom?” Woolsey asked.
“From… whomever would’ve been looking for it or whomever wouldn’t have appreciated it if they’d simply found it by stumbling upon it. I don’t know,” Rodney answered then changed his tone to be more instructional before continuing. “We know that they originally broke away from their original people, hence the Origin title, and came to Earth to escape their self-appointed God complex and the oppression they tried to heap upon the masses. Maybe it was put there to guard against an Ori invasion or, if not the Ori, then whomever they were running from had the means to follow them here or maybe they feared the Ori would follow eventually…”
“So how does this place alleviate that threat?” Sheppard asked and, back on Atlantis, Mr.
Woolsey nodded silently.
“Well, it wouldn’t really,” Rodney admitted. “At least not by what I’ve discovered so far. There’s a huge control area in this room - we’ve found the central control core, I believe, of this outpost - and a vast majority of the consoles and equipment in here is dedicated to communications.”
“Communications for what? Or to whom?” Woolsey asked with interest.
“That - I still don’t know,” Rodney told all who were listening. Now Ronon stepped back into the room and waited by the door with Teyla. “Give me… four hours,” Rodney requested.
“You have two,” Woolsey countered. “I want to hear what progress you’ve made in two hours then we’ll decide whether it’s even worth continuing to study.”
Rodney gave Sheppard a sickened expression and John raised his eyebrows with a slight shrug. “Okay, two hours, fine,” McKay agreed reluctantly.
“We’ll call you back,” John remarked lightly and then cut the link. “Two hours, Rodney. Make it count.”
“Right,” he replied evenly and turned back to his work.
~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~
As his teammates milled around the station, being particularly careful to not touch anything at all, McKay worked diligently at the control consoles in what appeared to be a massive communications laboratory. What he couldn’t figure out though was why the Ancients had chosen, and specifically designed the outpost, to hide it beneath the ocean surface.
He’d moved from one console to another over the past hour and a half and Sheppard watched him casually as he worked. Teyla and Ronon were off somewhere exploring the station with standing orders to report anything that seemed unusual or important. Of course that meant “more unusual than the unusual we usually see on a usual day”. They would know it if they were to see it, that’s what mattered.
“Half an hour, Rodney,” John informed him, checking his watch.
“Yes, yes,” McKay replied a bit forcefully even as he leaned closer to the screen he was now studying. He narrowed his eyes at the data that flipped every few seconds on its own accord. He tapped at a key several times to stop the program and rewind it so he could pause the screen to get a good look at it.
The screen blinked as it was paused, as if it wasn’t a condition of operation it was used to performing. It was an automated system so, of course, suddenly being manually paused and rewound seemed to make the device hiccup and try to reconfigure itself. Once it settled itself down Rodney was able to extrapolate all the information it’d been scrolling and his eyes widened as his jaw dropped a bit.
“Oh no,” he remarked softly.
John looked over at him and then rolled his eyes a bit. ‘Here we go again,’ he thought. “What?” he asked, curious, but with a slightly perturbed tone. He stepped toward Rodney and when his teammate didn’t answer, he said loudly. “McKay!”
As Rodney allowed the system to catch up to its own real time projection of data, he simply watched as the ancient writings and mathematical calculations raced across the screen. An image of the Ancient City flashed on the screen and John noted it.
“Was that Atlantis?” he asked, knowing full well it was.
“It’s a weapons communications outpost,” Rodney turned in his chair to look at Sheppard. His gaze was piercing and intense and was sending John’s adrenaline skyrocketing.
“What is? Atlantis??” he asked, confused.
“No...” Rodney drew out the word that showed Sheppard he’d been totally unnerved by whatever he’d learned. “This place. It’s a communications outpost for a weapons system platform. An orbital weapons system platform,” Rodney explained.
John looked a bit confused and pulled a face in disbelief. “You saying there’s a weapons platform in orbit?” he asked and then added, to try to point out the absurdity of that theory. “Over Earth…”
“Yes,” Rodney confirmed, still looking at him as if terrified. “Well, it’s not actually in orbit. It’s positioned at a LaGrangian Point between Earth and the sun. Position L4 to be exact.
“Why was Atlantis on that screen?” John waved a finger at the monitor near McKay’s elbow.
“It’s identified Atlantis as a threat. This outpost is sending a signal to Atlantis in order to confirm its identity as a friendly and it’s not receiving an answer. It believes Atlantis is a hostile,” Rodney told him then spun around toward the consoles again. “The signal being received by the Antarctic outpost is a countdown!”
“This station is going to fire on Atlantis?” Sheppard asked, now wearing the same intense expression as McKay.
“Well, not this station, the satellite will when it receives its orders from this station. Yes, I’d say that’s a good bet… once the countdown reaches an end,” Rodney confirmed.
“What do we do, McKay?” John demanded to know.
“I don’t know! Give me a minute!” Rodney shot back and didn’t wait for John to acknowledge. He vaulted from the chair and began to buzz around the lab hitting buttons and keys and pausing to read data given to him.
John tapped his ear to open a channel. “Teyla, Ronon… I need you back at the lab now.”
“Received,” Teyla replied.
To Part 2