Title: The Unfinished Project
Word count: ~3600
Characters: Rodney, John, Teyla, Ronon
Disclaimer: I don't own them. More's the pity.
Spoilers: Spoilers through The Prodigal
Summary: A missing village and an unexpected find leaves the team trapped and injured. Rodney must risk everything to save them.
A/N: Thanks to kristen999 for the beta. All faults mine.
Prompt: When technology gets angry.
Rodney followed Sheppard off the dais on autopilot, quickly tuning out Teyla’s prattle about the inhabitants of this…yes, as he suspected – another pre-industrial society. He frowned at the scanner, bounced off Ronon’s shoulder, retuned the settings then pulled out the life signs detector.
“Keep up, McKay,” Sheppard called.
“Aren’t there supposed to be people on this planet?” Rodney expanded the range and sensitivity of his LSD. “I wasn’t paying much attention, but I’m sure I heard that at the briefing.”
“The Geadorl live in several settlements over a large area, but the closest one is beyond the slope of the forest,” Teyla answered, gesturing toward a clump of the scraggliest excuses for trees he’d ever seen. Bent and gnarled, they reminded Rodney of the babushkas in Siberia standing in line to buy bread. Except for the blue needles that showered the ground at every puff of wind. Then again, some of those old women-
He jerked guiltily. “What?”
Sheppard was giving him that irritating ‘get your head out of your ass’ look. “Life signs?”
“I already said there weren’t any.”
Teyla’s eyes moistened. “None?”
“Um…” His heart twisted at her expression. “I-” He wasn’t good with grief, not his own or anyone else’s. “No. I’m not reading any life signs.” He reached out automatically when her head dropped, then pulled back, exchanging awkward glances with Sheppard while Ronon squeezed her shoulder gently.
“They were a kind and gracious people,” she whispered. “I spent many happy days here as a child, playing in the summer sun while my mother negotiated for seed and cloth.” She drew in a deep breath and stood straight. “I would like to inspect the village. If there were survivors, perhaps they left an indication of where they were going.”
“Maybe they went to the mountains,” Ronon suggested. “Moved to one of the other villages.”
“The other settlements are not far. Rodney should be able to detect them if anyone were still here.”
“A culling?” Sheppard asked.
“Perhaps.” She sighed. “Though I sense no Wraith presence. If it was a culling, they have long since left.”
“At least we can rule out Replicators and Michael.” Sheppard slid on his shades and stepped onto the trail that led toward the settlement. “That isn’t as comforting as I thought it would be.”
“No kidding,” Rodney muttered. “I hate to think about what might have taken their place in the grand scheme of galactic domination.”
“Wild animals or something might have attacked,” Ronon called from the back. “Seen it before.”
Teyla shook her head. “The predators on this planet are located in the mountainous regions not the plains.”
Rodney buried his nose in his scanner, scowling to hide his relief. Animals that could wipe out entire villages were not on his list of Things to See in Pegasus. He trudged behind his soldiery teammates, trusting them to protect him as they headed toward the forest. Needles crunched under his shoes, releasing a putrid odor that was simply never going to come out of his uniform. The scanner refused to yield any significant energy readings, and despite his best efforts, no other life signs appeared on his LSD.
A hand wrapped around his jacket collar, yanking him back onto the path.
“Pay attention, McKay,” Sheppard said. “With your sense of direction, you could end up in the mountains with those wild animals.”
“You’re one to talk,” he shot back. “I’m not the one who got us lost in the Genii forest.”
“Once. Five years ago. And you’re the one who wanted to check out the strange energy readings.”
“And you wanted to investigate the secret underground bunker. It was secret for a reason.”
“Saved our asses a couple of times though.”
“Are you delusional? Have you forgotten them trying to take over the city? Or maybe when they tried to steal the ZPM on Allina’s planet. And there was that delightful time when they kidnapped us for our ATA gene. That’s not counting all the times they tried to kidnap me because I’m, well, you know, way smarter than all of them put together.”
“You talk more than all of them put together.”
He shot a death glare at Sheppard, preparing to verbally eviscerate the man when he glimpsed Teyla ducking her head to hide a grin. A vivid memory struck Rodney: Teyla in a beautiful green gown standing with him near a waterfall. He didn’t remember much after the initial diagnosis of a brain parasite, only random images and feelings, but he remembered his team being willing to risk their lives to spend one last day with him. The real him, not the childlike shell he’d become. Sacrifice wasn’t a foreign concept to Rodney, but to extend it past his life to other things was. Things like ego.
“I can’t help it. Words just fly out on their own. I’ve been thinking of asking Ronon for lessons on how to keep my mouth shut.”
He caught Ronon’s smirk right before the slap landed on the back of his head. More of a tap, really. Much lighter than usual.
“Ow.” Rodney grinned at Ronon. “Sheppard, he hit me.”
“You’re lucky I didn’t shoot you.”
“Don’t make me send Teyla back there,” Sheppard warned.
Teyla turned, arching a mischievous brow. “I have several new bantos techniques that I have been eager to try. Who would like to be first?”
Rodney pointed at Ronon who slapped his hand away and pointed back.
“Him,” they answered.
Sheppard’s snort of laughter was cut short as his P-90 whipped to his shoulder when they cleared the forest. Teyla gasped, and Ronon brought his blaster to bear. All Rodney could do was gape. A Wraith cruiser was parked at the bottom of the gentle downward slope. He fumbled for the scanner, whacking the side when the energy readings were negligible.
“McKay!” Sheppard hissed. “How did you miss this?”
“I didn’t. It’s not showing up on my scanner.”
“Life signs?” Ronon asked.
Rodney glanced at the LSD. “None.”
“They don’t register when they hibernate,” Sheppard reminded them.
“I still do not sense any Wraith.” Teyla stepped forward with a frown. “Where is the village?”
Sheppard’s brows shot up. “It’s supposed to be right here?”
“Yes. There should be several dozen huts.”
“Maybe they’re under the ship,” Ronon offered.
“I don’t think so,” Sheppard replied. “If the ship landed on them, there should be debris scattered around the perimeter.” He studied the edge of the forest and the rolling hills that stretched behind the ship. “You got anything, McKay?”
Rodney had run through every setting on his scanner. “Nothing. Maybe this ship was infected like Todd’s. Maybe they managed to land better than we did.”
“I seriously doubt that. Besides, it still doesn’t answer what happened to the village.”
He knew what was coming.
“We should check it out.”
Rodney closed his eyes. Sometimes he hated being right all the time. “Do you remember what happened the last time we investigated a derelict Wraith ship?”
“What is with you and the stroll down memory lane today?”
“I’m just saying…”
“A lot has changed since then, Rodney.” Something flickered behind Sheppard’s eyes. “This isn’t going to turn out like last time.”
Sometimes that gunshot woke Rodney from the nightmare. Other times he was trapped, staring at what was left of Gaul’s face. He blinked away the image and lifted his chin. “No splitting up this time.”
“No splitting up,” Sheppard agreed. “We go in, check for Wraith, hack the database-”
“Hack the database? What-”
“-and get out. If the ship is truly abandoned, we’ll send a science team and a squad of marines back. Keep your eye on that scanner in the meantime.”
“Fine,” Rodney huffed, his right hand curling tightly around the stock of his P-90.
They crept forward quickly and silently, skirting the pristine hull of the cruiser as they searched for an open hatch. The readings on his scanner never varied. Twenty minutes later, they were back where they started.
“Ideas?” Sheppard asked.
Ronon tapped on the hull with his blaster. “C-4?”
Rodney rolled his eyes. “Have you ever met anything you didn’t want to blow up?”
“Not yet,” Ronon answered with a grin.
Teyla walked slowly down the side again, pausing in front of a sealed entryway. “There must be a way to open it.”
Rodney’s scanner went nuts when she trailed her fingers over the hatch. “Stop!”
She jerked her hand away at his shout. The door creaked, hissed, popped out and rose gradually, revealing the pink organic webbing that the Wraith were so fond of.
Sheppard strode forward, sighting down the barrel of his P-90. “McKay?”
“The ship is still powering up. No life signs.”
“Eyes open, people. Let’s go. Ronon, take our six.”
Rodney’s heart thumped in his ears as he followed Sheppard onboard. They twisted and turned through the body of the ship, heading aft. “The hibernation pods? Are you insane?”
“Are you reading any life signs?”
“Then they are either hibernating or the ship is empty. This is the quickest way to find out.”
“This is the quickest way to die.”
“No one is dying today, Rodney.” Sheppard stopped at the chamber entrance. “Open it.”
“Oh, God,” Rodney moaned, activating the door panel.
The doors swished open.
Sheppard ducked through then straightened, lowering his weapon. “Nobody home.”
“Really?” Rodney followed Teyla in. Row after row of dormant pods stood open, waiting for occupants.
Ronon hovered in the doorway behind them. “I don’t get it. Why land it here and leave?”
Rodney’s brain spun as the conversation buzzed around him. He’d spent the majority of his adult life around the military and a good portion of the past five years battling the Wraith. He’d seen F-302s, battle cruisers, puddle jumpers, Aurora-class warships, transports, cruisers, hives, even Atlantis herself in action. The one thing they all had in common was wear and tear – scorch marks, dents, scratches, scraped paint. The hull of this ship was unmarred. A wispy tendril of an thought floated in the back of his mind, just out of reach.
They wandered through various sections, and the thought began to grow, take shape. They found no Wraith and no evidence of Wraith – no cocoons, no death stench, no human remains, no dust or grime or trash.
“What is it, McKay?” Sheppard asked.
“I don’t…” He hurried out, heading for the nearest transporter.
“Rodney, where are you going?”
“Bridge,” he shouted over his shoulder.
Sheppard jogged up beside him. “Want to share with the rest of the class?”
“Think about it. We’ve got a brand new Wraith cruiser in the middle of a missing settlement.”
“So?” Ronon demanded.
“When was the last time you saw a new Wraith ship?”
Sheppard’s face drained of color. “In the isolation room.”
Ronon followed them into the transporter. “So the village-” They stepped out and crossed to the bridge section. “-got sucked up by the ship?”
“The village became the ship.” Rodney keyed the door controls and barged in. “It converted the buildings and any other materials into,” he waved a hand, “this.”
Teyla drew back in horror. “The Geadorl…”
Rodney shrugged. “They might have gotten out.”
“One of them didn’t,” Sheppard murmured. “Why are we here?”
“To confirm the databanks are empty.”
“What would that prove?”
“That the Wraith haven’t been here yet. They might not know about it.”
Sheppard nodded thoughtfully. “One of Michael’s labs.”
Ronon’s eyes darkened. “Or an experiment.”
“Amshilq,” Teyla spat.
Rodney glanced at her in surprise. Teyla rarely cursed, even in Athosian, much less something that vile. Not that he didn’t agree. Michael had been nothing but a disaster. Though, without him, they wouldn’t have Carson. How crazy was it to be thankful to a monster for giving your best friend back to you?
He shook off the thought and connected his tablet to the nearest workstation while his team wandered around the bridge. He brought up the Wraith translation program and scrolled through in search of the commands he needed.
The concern in Sheppard’s voice brought Rodney’s head up. Teyla had both hands on the main console, her expression vacant and her eyes unblinking. His tablet beeped, showing information flooding into the database.
What the hell? His tablet barely had any data on it. The download couldn’t be coming from it. What could possibly-
“Shit! Sheppard, get her away from there!”
Sheppard and Ronon leapt for her while Rodney pounded on his tablet, trying to stop the process.
“I can’t get her free! It’s like her hands are glued to the damned thing.”
Teyla’s eyes rolled back in her head, and a conduit behind her broke away from the wall. Blue energy arced, slamming into Sheppard’s chest. He flew across the room and crashed into a bulkhead, slumping to the floor. Ronon reached for his blaster but was hit with the same bolt before his weapon cleared the holster. He smacked into a console and crumpled.
“Oh, no, no, no.” Rodney’s fingers danced over the tablet. “Come on!”
Rodney froze then peeked over the edge of the console. Teyla was staring at a point near him, her eyes not quite focused. The voice sounded like hers but…not.
Her face crinkled then went slack. “I have no designation.” The flat, low not-Teyla tone creeped him out. “Cease your activities.”
Rodney cautiously stood, laying his tablet on the console, and raised his hands. He was not panicking. Sheppard and Ronon were down and Teyla had been possessed by a Wraith ship. What was there to panic about?
“Okay. I’ve, um, ceased.” He glanced at his fallen teammates. “What did you do to them?”
“Eliminated their interference.”
Not panicking. Not panicking. “Are they dead?” His heart stuttered at the thought. Carson was his best friend, but these people were his family. He wasn’t sure he could survive losing them.
A grimace of pain crossed her face, but she didn’t answer. Rodney kept an eye on her as he pressed fingertips to Sheppard’s neck, sinking to the floor when a steady heartbeat thrummed against them.
“Don’t you ever do that to me again,” he whispered.
He scurried next to Ronon, relieved to find an equally steady pulse. “You either, damn it.”
Sweat beaded on Teyla’s forehead. “I need more information. My programming requires it.”
“What kind of information?”
“I need…” Her eyes squeezed shut then flew open, focusing on him. “Rodney?”
“Teyla? What’s going on?”
“I-” Her head tipped back as her body shuddered. When she stilled, the creepy voice growled, “You are responsible.”
His mouth became a desert. “Responsible for what?”
“You have destroyed my creator.” A snarl twisted her features. “I see it in her mind.”
“We, uh, we didn’t-”
The loose conduit behind Teyla swished. Energy crackled, a thin bolt lancing toward Rodney. His teeth rattled when it speared his shoulder and sizzled through him. Muscles and tendons seized, nerve endings on fire. A scream lodged in his throat as he convulsed. His lungs wouldn’t work. Tears squeezed from the corners of his eyes. His vision grayed. Oh, God, he was going to die.
Suddenly, the energy dissipated. He curled on his side and sucked in painful, ragged breaths then gagged when the stench of burnt cloth and singed flesh filled his nostrils. A few dry heaves later, he pressed his forehead to the floor, too spent to move.
“You will finish what he began,” not-Teyla hissed. “Or I will kill them.”
Rodney pushed up with a groan, swallowing thickly. “What do you think I can do?”
“Share your knowledge so that I may function”
“Connect as this one has.”
“What? Are you nuts? I can’t-” Slight movement caught Rodney’s attention. Ronon’s fingers were twitching. Stall, he needed to stall. “I mean, um, there’s so much to share. There’s basic physics and spatial coordinates, hyperdrive functionality. Oh, and no Wraith ship could be complete without the unabridged edition of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Now, I don’t have it with me, but-”
“Enough!” she snapped. “You will begin the sharing.”
“Seriously, I don’t-”
Sparks flew as a bolt shot from the conduit and impacted centimeters from Sheppard’s head.
“Okay! Okay. Just, um, let me…see how much, ah, memory you have.” He grabbed his tablet and typed furiously. “Right. Now,” he dropped the tablet at Ronon’s feet as he went by, “your databanks need a little bit of work. I could-”
“You will begin now.”
“Can you really connect with me? I mean, I know the Wraith can get in our heads, but you’re a ship. Does it work the same? You’re not going to delete anything, are you? Because, seriously, I already did that this year.”
The conduit wriggled. Rodney’s breath hitched as he reached for the console. Depending on others was not his strong suit. So much could go wrong – Ronon might not wake up in time or he might not look at the tablet, Rodney might not be able to distract the ship long enough for Ronon to get out, the plan might not work, the ship might kill them before the plan was complete. He would be completely vulnerable, opening his mind to…what? A mind like a queen? A combination of Wraith tech and a villager or one of Michael’s hybrids? Would there be anything left of him afterward?
He took a deep breath and blew it out. His team had risked everything to save him. Now, it was his turn.
As soon as his palms touched the console, a force gripped him, racing up his arms and slamming into his brain. Teyla collapsed beside him. A thousand daggers stabbed at him, ripping at his memories, shredding his mind. He struggled, resisted, hid what was important beneath the history of Batman and six years of piano lessons. His skull constricted, trying to squish his brain out his ears. Pain danced down his spine. No wonder Sheppard dropped to his knees every time a queen commanded it.
Information was pulled out, pieced together, accepted, rejected. He fought against it, redirecting the search down paths cluttered with movie quotes, song lyrics, his mother’s brownie recipe. The ship raged, ramming spikes of pain into delicate areas of his mind. Rodney shuddered. He was weakening. He couldn’t pull away. Hurry, Ronon.
An agonized screech filled his mind. The ship clawed at him, flailed, thrashed as its life drained out, dragging Rodney down with it. Then something heavy crashed into him, and all consciousness fled.
Tap, tap, tap.
Rodney twitched, sniffed.
Tap, tap, tap.
He only knew one person that inept with a stylus. “Do you mind?” He blinked film from his eyes, squinting into the dim light. “I’m trying to sleep.”
Sheppard glanced up, a grin splitting his face. “You’ve been asleep for most of the past two days. It’s about time you woke up.” The grin faded. “The doc will be back in a minute. How do you feel?”
“If you’re asking if all my brain cells are still functioning, the answer is yes. The rest of me hurts like hell.” He rubbed at the gauze on his shoulder. “Damn thing hit me with a bolt of lightning.”
“Me, too.” Sheppard reached for his chest, pulled his hand back. “Rodney, what you-”
“I know what you’re going to say. ‘How could you be so stupid?’” Rodney sighed. “It was going to kill you, and I couldn’t… Ronon was waking up. I just needed to buy a little time.”
Sheppard leaned forward, elbows on his knees. “I was going to say that what you did took a lot of guts. Good job, McKay.”
“Really?” His face flushed even as a pleased grin broke out. Genuine compliments embarrassed him. “I mean, yeah, sure.” He cleared his throat. “I’m just glad Ronon bothered to stop to check the tablet before he blasted everything in sight.”
“I’m glad you typed it.” Ronon slouched in the doorway, meal tray in hand. “Can’t read your handwriting.” He strode in and placed the tray on the rolling table. “Hungry?”
Rodney’s mouth watered as he perused the tray. “No dessert?”
Teyla pressed her forehead to his. “I am pleased to see you awake.” She dropped a pudding cup in his lap. “Don’t tell Ronon,” she whispered. “He thinks it’s for Torren.”
Rodney slid the cup under the sheet. “You okay?”
“I am fine. The last thing I remember is entering the bridge. I woke up in the jumper.”
“Lorne came looking for us when we were overdue,” Sheppard explained.
“And the cruiser?”
“I found the host origin area and blew it up,” Ronon said. “I might have used a little more C-4 than you recommended.”
Rodney rolled his eyes. “I’m shocked to hear that.”
“There was pink gunk everywhere.” Sheppard shoved his PDA in his pocket and snatched a few chips from Rodney’s tray. “It was disgusting.”
“It was cool.” Ronon kicked up a chair and sat down, a sandwich in each hand. “Took forever to get out of my hair, though.”
Rodney grabbed a sandwich before Ronon ate them all. The nightmares might linger for a while, but he would live through them as he had all the others. His team had gotten him out like he knew they would. He settled back as their laughter and conversation washed over him, easing the tightness in his chest. They were alive and relatively unscathed. That was all he really needed.
That and a Nobel Prize.