Title: Lessons

Author: linda ljc

Summary: There's a steep learning curve and mistakes are sometimes made.

Characters: Dr. Rodney McKay, Colonel John Sheppard, Dr. Radek Zelenka, Dr. Elizabeth Weir, and others. O.C.'s: Corporal Andresson, Sergeant Delacroix, and others.

Author's Note: No beta so if there's something egregious let me know.

Rating: Teen, K+

Category: Angst, Drama

Warning: Gen, OC Death

Disclaimer: The characters and settings of Stargate SG-1 and Stargate: Atlantis belong to Showtime/Viacom, MGM/UA, Double Secret Productions, and Gekko Film Corporation. All other publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of Stargate: SG-1 and Stargate: Atlantis or any other media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.

This story was written by linda.ljc with the love of the show in mind.



 

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Rodney moved through the mess hall line slowly. He'd already picked up a large coffee that he was drinking as he perused the items available today. He did this most mornings, barring a crisis. This way he was always able to refill his coffee mug before he sat down.

With his choices made he turned to see if anyone from his team was there. But, no luck, not this late in the morning. None of his science crew were there either, which Rodney noted with satisfaction. They should be hard at work at this time. Rodney had run late himself because of a minor emergency, then had to be present at a meeting with the Command Staff. He was actually surprised it hadn't run longer, but they'd finally scheduled some Atlantis exploration.

He'd been urging this for months but other somethings always came up, either new trade prospects or mentions of lost outposts in the database. Exploring their own backyard always seemed to come in second or third or worse. He didn't blame anyone for the priorities, but it was frustrating not knowing what was down the next street, and not being able to even walk there without a heavy escort, because what they had already found had caused deaths.

He sighed as he sat alone at a window seat. If he didn't have anyone to talk to, then at least he could enjoy the view.

Good morning, Dr. McKay.”

Rodney glanced up. “Oh, good morning, Corporal. Andresson, right?”

Andresson grinned. He'd talked to the Doc a dozen times but he'd never remembered his name before. His team mates were with him, and they nodded to McKay. “We just got the word that we're going to do a little Atlantis exploring for a few days. Are you going to join us?”

McKay sighed hard. “I'll be available if needed. If anyone thinks they've found something interesting just call me. You're not the only team that will be working on this, so hopefully I'll be here, there, and everywhere, as needed. As usual.”

Andresson's team started to head to the door and Andresson, after a glance their way, nodded to McKay. “Well, let's hope we see you later, Doc.”

Rodney lifted his mug in salute and took a drink as the men left the mess.

...

Lt. Colonel John Sheppard was coming to hate certain missions that anyone else might think would be easy, like this one, on Atlantis, checking out uninhabited areas of the city. These missions were undertaken mostly when one or more members of a team were injured or, in Rodney's case, too busy trying to keep the infrastructure from imploding messily and with deadly results. So, Sheppard was leading two teams today; two partial teams, since Rodney was too busy, and Lorne was in the infirmary with green spots. His skin looked a little yellow, like he might have jaundice, but Beckett assured everyone that was not the case. He was the only one to succumb to a disease much like measles, except of course the spots were green. John grinned to himself, making Teyla give him a questioning glance.

John flicked his eyebrows up and down quickly and said, “I have pictures of Lorne. The spots on his forehead make a perfect Big Dipper.”

Teyla sighed in mild exasperation. “Big... Dipper... What is this Big Dipper?”

Sheppard grinned even wider and explained about the constellation known by many of the people from Earth.

Teyla couldn't help saying, “And you will use it for blackmail purposes.”

It wasn't a question but John couldn't help replying, “Are you kidding? But blackmail is a bit strong a word. I'd say it would be a good item to use to tease Lorne. He's pretty straight-laced, don't you think? He could lighten up a little.”

If you mean he is quite professional in his demeanor, then yes, I would agree.”

Well, then. We agree.” Then he grinned at Teyla for teasing her.

Teyla knew he was teasing her, so she replied quite seriously, “People on Earth must not be very imaginative when choosing and naming your constellations.”

Hey!”

Teyla turned away quickly, before Sheppard could see her smile.

...

The Marine contingents of the exploring teams arrived and were soon ready to enter the next room, and John's attention had to swing quickly back to business.

Sergeant Delacroix, whenever your team is ready. Take your time. Make it safe. We're not in a hurry today.”

Andresson had been on Atlantis almost a year. He had proven cautious enough to satisfy Sheppard. He had slightly wavy blond hair from what he could tell, it being almost crew-cut, and blue-eyes. A fresh-faced kid from North Dakota with two tours in Afghanistan under his belt already. He was as steady as they come for all his youth. Delacroix seemed his opposite physically. The sergeant was broad-shouldered, with a dark complexion, black hair – what was left of it. He wasn't a talkative guy but was already well into his military career.

Andresson glanced around him and grinned as he spoke for the rest of the team, “Ready when you are, Sarge.” Delacroix just gave a sharp nod.

Sheppard was at the control panel and initialized the circuit to open the door to the first room. All the men were armed, but arms weren't at-the-ready, just available. It was never one hundred percent safe to enter a closed section. The alien entity they'd awoken early in their stay in Atlantis, bio-hazards, and an out-of-hibernation-Wraith were only a few things that kept them cautious. And those were only the things that they knew about that gave John nightmares. He didn't like to dwell on what could still be discovered, because his imagination was too good. When nothing obvious was spotted, Andresson entered cautiously before giving the all clear. Delacroix's turn was next, and again, an all clear was given.

Then backup team members entered for a thorough vetting of the premises. It was safest when done by those without the ATA gene that allowed them to interface with the Ancient technology. Basics were checked out first, then the scientists were allowed access to assess usefulness to the Expedition. That's where Rodney's search teams came in, and Sheppard as the pinch-hitter if something needed their strongest ATA gene carrier.

Sheppard didn't mind initializing equipment ordinarily, but it made him extra attentive when he might be truly needed to turn something off with a very urgent OFF and LOCK command. It wore on his nerves a little because he never knew when he might need it instantly.

Andresson's voice sounded excited when he turned to Sheppard. “Colonel, I think we have something Dr. McKay would be interested in, Sir.”

Sheppard wasted no time to approach the man. “What have you got, Corporal?”

Andresson pointed to several words on a console in the script of the Ancient's language. “This, Colonel. I think it means Hydraulic Control.”

John flicked an eyebrow in surprise. “You can read that?”

Andresson blushed a little, then he glanced quickly at the other marines on his team. After a little silent conference among them, Joyner spoke up. “Yes, Sir. We all think that's what it would translate to. We could be wrong, but McKay should be told about it. He's been teaching us tech words in his lab. It's his way of reminding us to be on the lookout for interesting tech.”

Andresson chuckled before he added, “And to tell him first!”

Sheppard had to laugh, too, because that sounded like Rodney alright. He put in a call to McKay, and got just what he expected.

Yes, Colonel! I'm a bit busy here!”

McKay, Andresson says to tell you there might be interesting tech down here in a room we're clearing.”

Interesting tech? Andresson, what did you find?”

Andresson straightened, “Well, Sir, I have to admit I'm not one hundred percent sure, but I think this panel translates as Hydraulic Control. It sounds like it could be something we might use. But that's for you to say.”

Huh. I'll be right there.”

John tugged on his ear, and said to the team in general, “That was easy. Wait. You said McKay's been teaching you? Since when?”

Andresson said hesitantly, “Well, since before I got here anyway.”

Joyner, who had been on the original expedition added, “McKay's been leaving a new word and it's meaning on his whiteboard almost every day since we arrived. And not just tech, but hazard warnings, and the really bad ones that mean we should leave the premises immediately and lock the door behind us. When new people come on board we start them on the notes we've been keeping. Andresson caught up a while ago. He's pretty fast at it.”

Andresson grinned once again. “I've asked Dr. McKay for help a few times. He always takes the time to explain things in more detail.”

John couldn't believe he'd heard that right but didn't get time to question it as McKay arrived in the outer corridor. John shook his head and yelled, “McKay. In here.”

Of course. Andresson, show me the panel.”

And that was the beginning of a long session for McKay and the team of scientists he called in to ferret out the usefulness of the new find. Sheppard left Delacroix's team to safeguard the scientists. John would never leave McKay's team alone in the newly cleared room/lab in an unused section of the city. For one thing, it was too isolated from higher trafficked areas, and for another, there could still be a hidden surprise. The scientists could become too focused on the science, and that left the military to watch out for everything else.

He took half of the original team and continued their plan to clear the section, room by room. It was just going to take a lot longer with half a team unfortunately.

Hours later

Dr. McKay?”

Rodney didn't bother to look up. “What is it, Andresson?”

Well, I just wondered ...”

Giving a quick glance at the Corporal, Rodney snapped, “What?”

Huh, well, we, the rest of the team and me, were wondering if you think it means what we thought? And maybe if this is any help to you? To us. To the expedition, I mean.”

Rodney sighed loudly, “Yes, yes. Of course it is. Did you think I'd be wasting valuable time on this when I could be working on another project?”

Oh. Well. That's good, Sir.”

Rodney abruptly straightened and turned to Andresson, “No. That's, that's alright. I forgot for a moment that you were the one to tip off the Colonel. You did the right thing. It definitely deserves closer investigation.”

Andresson glanced over quickly to Delacroix, beaming. “Your lessons paid off then, Doc. We take them very seriously you know. We were all hoping we'd learn something that could be of help.”

Rodney's eyebrows knitted together in consternation. “But you do help. Every day. You keep us safe. I'm not a moron, you know! Why do you think I leave those words? They're things you should know to keep safe.” And he turned away and back to his work.

Andresson seemed shocked for a moment at the compliment from Dr. McKay, a man not known for bestowing words of encouragement. McKay had already looked away as a look of pride slowly came over Andresson's face. He glanced around to the Sergeant and saw the same look there as well. It seems Doc McKay felt he was doing his duty, too, to protect them in his own way. He then turned back to his position to take up his duty.

...

Sheppard was glad to find his paperwork right where he left it, except Major Lorne's had been added to it, since Evan was in quarantine. Sheppard worked on it for an hour, but when his stomach growled it didn't take much to convince himself that it was a sign to take a break.

He headed for the mess hall, and faux shepherd's pie. Yum. Not really. The meat had no relation to beef or chicken. It was vaguely grayish white, and there was really nothing to compare it to except that it had the texture of overcooked shrimp, therefore the best way to eat it was like ground beef. Sheppard's stomach rolled threateningly but he pushed his thoughts firmly away from the meal. He just had to mentally convince himself that it was as good for him as the nutritionists claimed. Of course, that counted only if he could keep it down.

Hey, Andresson. McKay let you go for the night?”

The kid grinned and shook his head, “No such luck, Sir. Snack time. The Doc needs fortification, so I was elected.”

You do know what's for supper, right?”

Andresson seemed to pale a bit, “Oh, yes, Sir. The Doc already warned me. If I can only get that Shepherd's Pie stuff, then I have to get him a sandwich. Man, that's one meal I'd stand at the end of the line for and hope they run out of it before I get there, and then I'd be glad to eat an MRE or something. Or nothing. But I have to bring something back, so I was hoping sandwiches would do whether they run out or not.”

Sheppard rolled his eyes, “I hear you, Corporal.”

Even though the hour was early, there was a considerable line ahead of them but neither of them were in a hurry. They stood patiently, since neither of them would really mind if they did run out of it.

Andresson seemed a little nervous and John thought he might have a question but didn't know how to ask. He asked quietly, “Need to say something, Andresson?”

The kid snorted softly. “How'd you know, Sir?”

Body language mostly.”

It isn't anything, Sir.”

Then shoot.”

Andresson sighed and said, “Well, Dr. McKay isn't ordinarily very friendly and I just wondered, well, why he seemed to take an interest in me? I mean, I've gone to ask him questions about the lessons he leaves for us, and tried to protect him … but that part's my job. Sometimes the guys tease me. Call me teacher's pet.” He hurried to add, “But I know they're just teasing.”

John thought for a minute. “Rodney's not easy to get to know. Not deep down. On the surface he's abrasive, impatient, rude. I do sometimes wonder how we manage to get the first contact missions. The only one on the team with the diplomacy gene is Teyla. And yet ...”

Yeah, Sir. I've heard some stories. That stuff is all surface. He hides the rest. I can't help but wonder why.”

Sheppard hesitated for a minute, but something in Andresson's eyes made him go ahead. “He probably is the smartest man in two galaxies, like he claims. But that isn't his only value as a person. I see people in all kinds of situations and McKay, he has depth just like everyone else. Someone must have made him think that it was only his mind that had any value. Did you hear about the alien entity?” At Andresson's nod Sheppard continued, “I hadn't known McKay for long, and everyone was surprised when I chose him for my team, which I never understood. How could they be surprised even when they knew what he did for the Expedition that day?”

Andresson nodded absently. “You guys have seen some sh**. Oh, sorry, Sir.”

Sheppard grinned. “Oh, you are absolutely right.” Sheppard glanced at Andresson's blonde hair and blue eyes. He wondered if he'd ever seen a picture of her. To lighten the mood a little he drawled, “You know don't you, that you look just like his sister, Jeannie? Minus the long curls, of course.”

The young Corporal started to grin, “No way!”

I swear.” And the line finally began to move.

Andresson, “Have you met her? Is she as brilliant as McKay?”

She's smart. No denying that. But she's settled down, with family.”

Tell me she doesn't act like an old curmudgeon like the Doc.”

Well, Jeannie's actually closer to your age. And what do you mean, old curmudgeon. That's a bit harsh. ”

Andresson looked at his commanding officer and smirked, “Well, from where I stand ...”

Hey, I stand with McKay on that issue. And I give you fair warning. I give out the choicest assignments.”

You wouldn't give me KP, would you, Sir?”

You seem to have little respect for my imagination, Corporal. I happen to know that Dr. Parish needs a greenhouse in Tower 3 mucked out. Or maybe when we catch another one of those big swordfish types you could lend a hand. I haven't seen one that's under 600 pounds. They're quite a job to clean up. But I'm sure something suitable will come up.”

Ooh. Talk about harsh! Did I say old? I don't know what I was thinking. He's a very handsome man. Intelligent. Quite distinguished.”

There. That's more like it. Now was that hard?”

Not at all, Sir. I can dish it out with the best of them... Sir.”

Sheppard's mock glare faded quickly as he muttered, “Kids today. What is the galaxy coming to?”

Andresson didn't even bother to hide his grin.

...

This morning's briefing broke up at the two hour mark. Not the longest they'd ever run, nor the shortest, but everyone was in a better mood today.

Lorne had been released for light duty. When he opened his laptop that morning his screen showed a lovely star filled screen showing the Big Dipper. Sheppard of course was nowhere in sight.

Sheppard was ecstatic because at least half of his pile of paperwork could be shunted back onto Lorne's desk, and he was going to get to explore Atlantis itself for a couple more days, and therefore he wouldn't have to face Lorne for a while.

Carson was relieved that no one else had contracted the green measles. McKay was hopping back and forth between labs and still enjoying his investigations here on Atlantis. Teyla was happy to have a few days to spend with the Athosians, and she took Ronon with her to do some hunting, and to keep him busy. Elizabeth was going to help with translations for files discovered in the new lab during this last week, which was a nice change of pace for her. It would get her out of her office for a while. All in all, as plans went, it sounded like a boring few days for everyone.

...

As they left the briefing Sheppard asked McKay, “How useful do you think that Hydraulic Control System will be? I know that Corporal Andresson is feeling pretty good that he spotted something you had taught them.”

Well, maybe when we find what the Hydraulic System is supposed to Control... But Andresson did good to spot it. The Ancient language isn't always straightforward in interpretation.”

Tell me about it. I have read over some of the translations coming from the linguists, and when I need to read something six different ways and the seventh is correct...”

Rodney smirked, “It's a language that's millions of years old, and all those years added complications, and twists and turns that only a native speaker has a chance of understanding. And people wonder why we haven't had better luck with mining the database. It makes me wish we had Daniel Jackson here even if linguistics is considered a science.”

Yeah, not much chance of that. Hey. Are you heading back to the new section now?”

He held up his empty mug. “As soon as I fill this again.”

Well, we'll be down on the next level. It's a huge area. It seems to be set up as an engineering space or maybe maintenance, probably both. I'm taking Andresson and Delacroix with me since they did the preliminary once-over, but call if you need anything. We won't be far.”

Sheppard started to turn away but turned back abruptly. “Those lessons on Ancient words, do you have a list? Something I can look at? I should know those things, too.”

You get the translations we're sure of. You get a report every week.”

I just didn't know it was an ongoing thing. I mean, I've noticed weird Ancient words on your whiteboard. I just didn't know it was a “thing” that you did for the men.”

Rodney snorted. “Someone's got to educate the masses.”

Sheppard shook his head. “Yeah. Rodney McKay, the great educator of the little people.”

Rodney scrunched up his face. “You make them sound like midgets. Go to work, Sheppard. And I'll send you the list of what I've posted so far.” Rodney smirked as he added, “But if you need help with that, ask for Andresson since he'll be with you today.”

When Rodney reached what was coming to be known as the Hydraulic Control Lab, he gathered his scientists to get the latest information.

Radek looked exasperated. “Rodney, you have only been gone two hours. We have not discovered the answer of life, the universe, and everything* in that little time. If we had, we would have notified you, and I would be dancing with Kusinagi and Simpson because we found it first.”

Rodney smirked. “So now, since you haven't accomplished anything while I was away, let's get back to work since you've all had a break.”

There was a general mutter of mild amusement from some and disgust from the others, but McKay seemed to be in a good mood today, so they all knew he wasn't really upset with them. Not yet anyway.

Engineering Area

Corporal Andresson stood mostly quiet, but never inattentive as the scientists muttered words, instructions, and questions to each other. Some of it was way over his head but still he listened. He knew he'd pick up bits of information from them that might be useful sometime. And sometimes the tone of their interactions warned him when something dangerous was happening.

The door slid open and Dr. Zelenka entered. Andresson shook his head as he watched him head over to what they considered the main console. The Doc was so focused on his computer that he didn't seem to be paying attention to where he was going. He had to give the man credit though, as he watched him successfully navigate his way past power cables, tool kits, and console panels all laid out on the floor in some order known only to scientists.

Sheppard came in soon after. “Andresson, are they giving you any trouble?”

The Colonel was smiling and Andresson smiled back. He whispered, “the geeks are having fun so far.”

Well, fun is allowed, up to a point.”

Sir, I'm just glad I don't have to prod them into working harder. That's Dr. McKay's job. And I think maybe he likes that part of his job too much.”

Well, he needs fun, too. And for Rodney, that never gets old.”

Sheppard walked over to Dr. Zelenka. “Any news on this, Radek? I thought you were working in the Hydraulics area. Do we know yet what this room was used for? And do you think you can you get it to work eventually?”

Radek sighed, “I planned to continue to work on the control system that was found yesterday but Dr. McKay insisted on working on that himself. I have only just arrived here, but from what I have seen here and from reports, this lab would make the engineering experts very happy.” At this he waved his hand to the high metallic beams crisscrossing the heights of the large room. “There are cables, as you can see. They can lift tremendous weights. Much heavier than a puddlejumper. They may have worked on city repair or... spaceship engines... so far, we really don't know which... or maybe both.”

Sheppard chuckled, “There's a big difference there, Doc. But you'll figure it out. If it's spaceship engines... tell me first.”

Yes. You will be first. Or should I tell Rodney first?” He looked slightly worried.

Doc, tell the boss... then make sure he comes to tell me.”

Radek looked a little relieved. “Yes, safer for me that way.” He grinned and whispered, “I am delicate you see.”

Sheppard snorted softly. “Hardly. You're one of the few people that can stand up to him.”

Radek sighed. “But seldom do I win argument.”

The Colonel nodded. “Yeah. Me, either, unless somebody's shooting at us.”

Ah. I would let you win then, too.”

The door slid open to let Dr. McKay into the lab. “Radek. What's the holdup? Standing around chit-chatting with the Colonel won't tell us what we need to know.”

Radek looked unfazed. “I was updating the Colonel on what we had discovered, which is practically nothing. We know that it was properly powered down when the Ancients left. We know it can be initialized, and it has been. We know that there is adequate power, but we are not using any mechanical systems, just the consoles so far. Dr. Morris' report mentioned that there are a lot of schematics for the city in the database here, but also for power generating systems unknown in the city. The lab in the upper level that you were working on, the Hydraulic Control, might be important in the use of these systems.”

Rodney looked interested. He gestured to the overhead tangle of cables, booms, and cranes. “This looks like a major repair facility. Did you say there were plans in the database?”

Yes, as I said, many schematics...”

Rodney interrupted, “Well, let's look at them.” He and Radek headed to where the main group of scientists were working, and Sheppard tagged along. He glanced back at Andresson, shrugged his shoulders, then joined the scientists as they all tried to add their voices to describe interesting bits of information they'd discovered.

Andresson couldn't help thinking that they sounded like kids trying to impress the teacher.

Dr. McKay seemed unimpressed though. He glanced over to Andresson. “Corporal, could you come here?”

Andresson straightened and glanced over to his partner for the day, Delacroix. The Sergeant moved to the entrance to the lab to take the Corporal's place because the exit must always be protected. Andresson wondered what the Doc wanted him for, but the fastest way to find out was to go to him.

Dr. McKay was leaning over a large control panel. He looked up when Andresson arrived. “Take a look at these symbols. I know all of their meanings, at least I hope they've all been translated correctly, but sometimes words mean more than one thing, or combined with another word it could mean something completely different. Take a look at these two. What do you think?”

Andresson gulped. He wasn't a linguist, just a Marine. “I think I know what you mean. Like the words land and mine mean totally different things, but when combined they're landmine. From one of the meanings of mine, someone might decide it's some type of explosive device, but someone else might think it's just another way of saying my-land. Or it could mean something totally different.”

Yes. That's right.”

Andresson felt terrible. He was feeling embarrassed and way out of his depth. He didn't have an answer for Dr. McKay. “I'd like to help, but this could mean anything.”

McKay actually smiled. “Yes, exactly.” He turned to the scientists now and berated them. “He gets it. You can't infer the meaning the way you have. You have no idea what the words mean in this configuration. We need to get a linguist down here. Heck, all of them. And Dr. Weir, since she's working with them today. Before we go pressing buttons we need to know, or at least have an inkling of what might happen. Have I called you morons yet today? Consider it done! Radek I'm going back to my project on the upper level. Try to keep these idiots in check.”

Andresson felt instant relief. Sheppard was grinning at him. He asked softly, “Close call there, Corporal?”

Oh, yes, sir.”

It's tough being put on the spot by the smartest man in two galaxies.”

Yes, sir. I think I'll go back to my post now, sir, if that's alright.” He turned toward the exit and he could see Delacroix give him a discreet thumb's up, and he instantly felt better.

Engineering Area

The afternoon break was welcomed by all. The lab examination crew had grown when Dr. Weir and the science team's translators arrived.

Dr. McKay had checked in to assess if any progress had been made, then he called in more of the hard science people to work with Dr. Weir, Dr. Rubens and the other two linguists. Hopefully they would arrive at a better translation.

Colonel Sheppard had left to take care of his own duties but had come back to see if Dr. McKay had made a choice of which abandoned outpost they were going to visit in two days on their next off world mission.

Andresson and Delacroix had exchanged duty sites after the break. Andresson was now on the far side of the hangar-like room. There were small groups scattered around the perimeter of the room at various consoles. The linguists and scientists had coalesced into smaller groups to see if language used on other terminals offered clues to the function of the various gantries and cranes overhead.

Their functions seemed obvious enough because of their similarity to Earth construction designs, but getting them to work seemed convoluted; the words for actions were not clear or precise. For all their experience with the language they seemed unable to come to a consensus. It seemed that each linguist had his own theory, and Dr. Weir, who had heard all the permutations, had no idea which of them was right.

Dr. McKay finally threw up his hands. “Soft science. Even when it's your domain you can't give a definitive answer. I hate when it comes down to trial and error to solve it, but we may just have to hit a button and watch the results. It certainly wouldn't be the first time.”

Dr. Weir sighed in defeat. “I wish I could advise you on that Dr. McKay. I only know that the linguists are at an impasse. Dr. Rubens, what do you suggest going forward?”

Dr. Rubens had been one of the best linguists at the SGC, but even he looked frustrated. “I can only advise this: the main index in the database lists steps to follow...”

Yes, yes, yes,” sputtered Rodney. “But how do we complete the next step? The first is to initialize the system, which we've done. We know the second step is turning on the Hydraulic Controls, which we think we did but nothing has activated/moved/switched-on or even caused an incremental increase or decrease in anything that we can detect. From the list, supposing step two was done correctly, then step three is lowering a crane to ready it for step four, which is attaching it to something to lift, and step five would be to actually lift the item to be moved. That all seems straightforward.” He gestured upward in frustration. “But it's not moving.” He sighed. “Why, is the question we need answered.”

Radek spoke up excitedly, “Maybe is safety protocol. Moving big machinery could certainly be dangerous.”

Rodney had perked up instantly. He stabbed his finger pointedly toward Radek. “Yes. What he said! We haven't checked over the programming code.”

The group of scientists had grown when the group from the Hydraulic lab reached an impasse but they all settled in to work on the coding for this area while the linguists continued to disagree among themselves on translations. McKay also called in a couple of programming specialists. They made up a small team that set up at a secondary panel in the back of the room.

Radek joined Dr. Weir and Colonel Sheppard. They chatted quietly for a moment before Sheppard headed off to talk to the newest team that was checking the coding. Radek and Elizabeth headed toward the console nearest Delacroix.

It seemed that no one wanted to walk away from this puzzle.

When the programmers found the safety protocol everyone looked relieved, especially because Rodney looked pleased.

Andresson paid close attention to the main console where Rodney had the programmers show him their work-around. The Doc seemed to have a lot of questions. He wondered how hard it was to read the Ancient's computer code and decided he had enough trouble with their written language.

Dr. McKay looked around and saw the Corporal. “Andresson, why don't you come look at this. It never hurts for another set of eyes. If you hadn't found the Hydraulic Controls, I doubt we would have gotten as far as we have today.”

Andresson looked toward the Colonel but he was at the back of the large room. He turned to Sergeant Delacroix and gestured he was moving to McKay. The Sergeant nodded his approval from over by the exit.

The Corporal couldn't help grinning as he moved close enough to read the screen. He was just keeping his fingers crossed that the equipment would eventually work. He stood off to the side near McKay. He was as excited as anybody, and he looked closely at the panel, trying to read and translate the list of instructions and warnings, trying to visualize where the Doc had instructed the crane to move since it could move in all directions unlike a simple hoist. He eye-balled the swing radius of the boom and everything looked clear. There wasn't anyone or anything within the range of motion for this central boom. There were small groups all around the room, but none were in the central area. They seemed to naturally steer clear of all the machinery overhead. Andresson could understand that feeling but he was getting used to it after being stationed here for a while.

McKay yelled for quiet and then yelled again. “I want anyone within twenty feet of this boom to move back. I want a large clear area. I don't think there'll be much for you to see since it's instructed to lower itself downward but I still want a large safety margin.”

Rodney glanced around at all the members of the crew that were present. Then he stepped over to the main console and brought up the main index, scrolling down to the third step. “Is everyone ready to get this going? Any advice? Any reason to wait?”

He looked at the linguists. “Any sudden revelation on the translation?”

He turned to his science teams and the programmers. “Any reason to delay? Colonel Sheppard, any tingling from Atlantis?”

Sheppard grinned at that. “No, Rodney. No warning tingle.”

Rodney grinned back, then sobered. “Well, here goes then: three... two... one... mark...” And he pressed the third stage control.

Andresson could see that everyone had taken the warning seriously. They'd all taken a few steps back from the central hoist. He wasn't worried, just watchful. He glanced back to the panel and saw when Dr. McKay reached for the button to initiate the move.

Andresson saw a flash on the screen. An Ancient word that McKay had entered on his whiteboard in a half dozen different variations and his breath caught in his throat. “Command Level Authorization Required.” It appeared and vanished in a moment, but before it vanished he was moving. Above them everything was in motion. He immediately shoved McKay back toward the wall with one arm, then made a flying tackle for the two men on McKay's far side.

...

McKay knew when he saw the flash, too. He'd taken a step back while he looked around to see who was nearest. Who was in danger? He didn't really get a chance for more because the action was that quick. He was jolted out of the way by Andresson's push and saw the man's flying tackle of the two other men nearby.

Sheppard may not have gotten any spidey-sense warning but something, some motion high in his peripheral vision had him moving, too, even though he had a horrible feeling he was too slow. He had wandered toward the back, near the programmers and several scientists that had clustered under one of the farthest booms. Two of them still received glancing blows but they weren't trapped.

Delacroix was still at the exit while Andresson had moved to stand near the main panel. Reactions honed in combat served them well now. Dr. Weir had been facing Radek, and Radek had been facing the exit and Sergeant Delcroix. There was just a moment when Elizabeth's face turned ashen and she reached out to grab Radek's arm. In an instant Delacroix homed in on Dr. Weir and swept her and Dr. Zelenka to the safe zone.

Dr. Rubens was not an athletic man but he had good reflexes. He was listening to the other linguists argue their points of view yet again and happened to glance up when he caught Sheppard's motion. He managed to drag the others far enough away that they suffered only minor injuries.

The other small groups were in safe zones near panels close to the walls, which was lucky for them, because what saved them was that they froze in place. Those that were still standing would soon show evidence of shock as their quick glances around the large room revealed that there were a number of injuries. And for them, it had been close.

Sheppard checked his group. Two were on the floor and were obviously injured but conscious and not trapped. Another scientist had already tried to give aid. Sheppard could feel his heart beat as fast as in any combat situation. It was adrenaline, but there was no enemy to fight, but there were injured that needed help.

Sheppard looked around and saw Rodney kneeling down and staring at the floor. He could clearly see the shock on his friend's face. He went to him as quickly as he could but he slowed as soon as he saw the reason. He went to kneel down on one knee. “Rodney?”

Rodney just shook his head. “He's dead, Sheppard.”

Are you alright?” When Rodney barely nodded Sheppard just laid a hand on his shoulder for a moment then he stood. His gaze swept the room. “Delacroix. It's Andresson. No. Stay there. There's nothing anyone can do for him.” Seeing the man's shock Sheppard reached for his own mic saying just one word. “Lorne...” He took a long shuddering breath.

Yes, Sir... Is something wrong?”

Yes. We're in the new Engineering section. There's one casualty, Corporal Andresson, and a number of injuries. We need med teams and another team for security.” He spoke more softly, “Delacroix is going to need relief.”

Yes, sir. Should I come there?”

No. I need you to take over regular duties for now. Out.”

He stepped back to Rodney, because Rodney looked devastated.

His voice was shaky. “Sheppard. We... we'll need med teams down here.” Rodney could only stare at the spreading red. He'd seen injured people before and there was no way Andresson could have survived that. But he had gone to him anyway. He was still kneeling beside him. He started to lean forward to check for a pulse but stopped. It was a useless gesture, and he knew it. He just wanted to do something. But it was too late.

He then took off his uniform shirt, then he laid it over the Corporal's head and shoulders and leaned back.

Sheppard could only stand by him. “Help is on the way, Rodney.”

The uninjured survivors were pale and shaken when the med teams started to arrive. But they had moved quickly to do what they could for the injured. It wasn't long before the uninjured found themselves with nothing to do... for the moment.

...

Corporal Andresson's flying tackle had saved three lives. But his body was almost covered by tons of metal. He had died instantly.

Beckett could see the signs of shock on every face, and he directed some of his personnel to assist the uninjured. He wasn't surprised when no one wanted to leave the scene. He knew he'd soon have to order them to the infirmary. It was a good thing they were used to medical checks after missions so it was a routine procedure for them, and they wouldn't argue with the order. Eventually they'd all be checked and released by the medical staff.

But the scientists and linguists were not idiots. They knew there was more work to do. They weren't really in good shape to do the work but there was no one else. They also knew it could be hours before they figured out what had happened; corrected it; and set about lifting everything back into place overhead. For the Marines the aftermath would be brutal because then they would have to retrieve the body.

...

Rodney poured over the corrections for the code. It looked like a redundancy had been excised. It was something that wouldn't harm anything. But when he read it through again and again, he noticed a fraction of code that seemed to end without purpose or reason. He backtracked through the corrections back to the original code. “Oh, no. No.” He clasped his hands around his aching head and bent over his laptop.

Radek looked up and turned a ghastly shade of gray. He knew Rodney had found it. And it was in the code. “What did we do?” he whispered to himself. “Ah, what did we do?”

It was just one line of code. And it made all the difference. They'd erased the stumbling block in the code but didn't know its whole significance. It wasn't necessary for day-to-day operations, only one... one special circumstance, when secure lock-down was needed when Atlantis took flight. It erased an entire step in the safety protocol. So... not a redundancy. It was a Command Level Authorization that was needed when the command was to lock-down all the cranes.

The Ancients safety protocols were riddled with redundancies in every system they'd found. But this wasn't an unnecessary request for authorization. The steps in the instructions weren't for ordinary use. The steps involved weren't the order for the crane to be lowered, but instead the order was to lower all of them. It was for a total lock-down of everything movable in the lab to ready Atlantis for flight.

It wasn't the first time something similar had occurred. Colonel Carter at the SGC had made changes to the coding on their DHD many times. No one had died as a result, although Teal'c had almost been lost because of one incident. But yesterday they hadn't been so lucky.

The device should have asked for a mental confirmation of that order before actually doing so, but that bit of safety code had been inactivated. No mental confirmation was requested or given. The only thing that saved them worse injuries or more deaths was that flash of now-silent warning on the control panel and the actions of those people that responded to the danger they saw coming.

With the protocol gone, the various cranes and cables all swung about gracefully and dropped down in seconds into the central area of the lab at the same time. They nested into place in a perfect square, to brace one against the other. They came down toward the scientists, Marine guards, and the leaders of Atlantis.

Rodney remembered that one moment of horror; that moment they began to move. He knew instantly that he may have just killed the Command Staff of Atlantis and a dozen others with that one button...

It would have been a catastrophic disaster if not for quick moves by Delacroix, Andresson, Sheppard, and Rubens.

...

Rodney wouldn't allow anyone else in the room for the final procedure that would set the hydraulics in motion again... not even Sheppard. But Sheppard watched from the doorway ready to connect mentally with the equipment to give the Command Authorization that would be needed to release the lock-down. But he would have been there anyway just to be there for Rodney.

It was hours after the accident, when the Marines were cleared to retrieve Corporal Andresson.

When they had his body ready to move, everyone stood in silence. It was a tribute to the man that the hallway leading from the area was lined with Marines at attention and many of the civilian personnel joined them, even the injured that had already been released from the infirmary. Only then did everyone finally leave.

The next afternoon Dr. Weir joined the rest of the Command Staff at a briefing about the incident. All reports were reviewed and injuries recorded. Nothing would be left out. But the people she saw sitting around the table didn't look like they were ready for incident reports and debriefing. They were subdued. The shock was still too fresh in their minds.

Rodney looked the worst of all. There was no bluster. No complaints. No long-winded explanations. Nothing. She knew he blamed himself, and she couldn't let him shoulder all of it. She'd spoken to Radek for a few minutes before the meeting. He was down to one word answers and some of them were in Czech. There were too many people involved, and everyone felt the same. Even Elizabeth did. But in truth, it was just a terrible accident.

Dr. Weir had Dr. Kate Heightmeyer's reports and would be kept updated. Atlantis was like a small town in some ways. Everyone knew everyone, or at least had passed them in the hall, eaten with them in the mess, worked in teams of various combinations, and for many activities both professional and personal.

If she were honest with herself, she was still in shock, too. How could something that terrible happen in such silence. And so swiftly. But she barely knew the young Corporal that had helped to save lives, and she felt guilty for that. And for surviving when he didn't. Kate had long ago explained survivor guilt in much detail. Elizabeth could see it on all their faces. Especially Rodney's.

She thought bleakly that the phrase “time heals all wounds” was seriously overstating the idea that with time, with distance, one gathered perspective and a dulling of the loss. But, all wounds? No. She could see that this was a scar they would bear but never show. They'd eventually learn to live with it; only dulled by time.

A memorial was held. Time did pass. The wounded healed. The scarred moved on. Atlantis continued to float on Lantia's ocean. There was still an enemy to fight.

...

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Andresson,

I've been told that you have received notice of your son's death. I am not a soldier, but I knew your son for almost a year. He was always cheerful, but he was serious about and dedicated to his service to his country. His teammates knew they could depend on him to be there for them. As a soldier, he was one of the finest I have had the honor to know.

But he was also a good and decent man. I know my own faults, yet Corporal Andresson looked past them. In fact he sometimes came to me to discuss my work and how to help, and what he could learn to further our mission. And he did help. There were several occasions when he was able to use what we had discussed.

I'm sure I don't have to tell you that he left the world a better place because he was in it. He was the kind of man that thought of others first. That makes him a hero to me. The medals will be a tangible proof of his heroism, but I just wanted you to know that his last act saved lives, both military and civilian.

I will miss him. I will miss his enthusiasm, and his sense of duty. I will miss his friendship.

My deepest sympathy,

M. Rodney McKay

Chief Science Officer

...

The letter was written. It hadn't taken long but it was perhaps the hardest condolence letter he'd ever written. Still he felt restless, like there was something still undone. He stood wearily and went to open the balcony door. Maybe his room was just stuffy. Fresh air, cooler air, was welcome but didn't help his mood.

Was there anything he could have done to prevent what had happened to Andresson? Yes. And that's what hurt the most. They hurried when they didn't need to. He should have evacuated everyone not essential to the test. He could have just let the linguists hash it out some more. But all of that didn't make the loss any less. Andresson didn't have to die. He shouldn't have died. And Rodney would take that guilt to the grave with him.

He wandered back inside but left the door open. He sat at the desk once again and started a new email.

...

Dear Jeannie,

Sometimes I wish you were here. But not right now. We've had better times on the base.

We lost a good man. I wish you could have met him. He was a young soldier. He was about your age. He was more experienced than some that arrive out here, and he was always trying to do better.

Jeannie, am I doing the right thing? I try to teach them what they'll need to know about the tech here. He caught on to my lessons quickly. He was very bright. But circumstances this time eventually led to his death.

He was brave, Jeannie. He understood what was going on because I taught him the “words” that I thought he needed, to do his job better, to be safe, and keep the base safe. He saw the words and he knew. I couldn't tell if he even hesitated, but he saved lives by his quick actions. He saved my life.

I blame myself. I missed something. I hurried. I didn't wait for others to do their job correctly. But you know, I can't blame them. It was ultimately my call. I'm Head of Science. And now he's dead. And it could have been prevented if only... If only. I never knew how horrible those two words could be.

I can't stop giving them the words they'll need, Jeannie, because they need to know these things. I can only hope that next time the sacrifice won't be so great.

Sometimes I'm glad you're not here.

Sincerely,

Rodney

..................................................



 

The End

From The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy: life, the universe, and everything*