Fic: Jam Every Other Day
Pairing: McKay/Sheppard pre-slash
Notes: Thanks to lady_jane for the last minute edit, many pronouns would be wrong and tenses would be slipped without her. This didn't end up quite as Wonderland-y as I had planned, but I also hadn't planned on it being 11,000 + words either. O_O That said, I hope you like it weasleysangel! Happy birthday!
Summary: ""It must come sometimes to 'jam to-day' ," objected
"It's very good jam," said the Queen.
"Well, I don't want any to-day, at any rate."
"You couldn't have it if you did want it," the Queen said.
"The rule is, jam to-morrow and jam yesterday, but never jam
"It must come sometimes to 'jam to-day'," objected
"No, it can't," said the Queen. "It's jam every other
day: to-day isn't any other day, you know."
Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking-Glass
"You can't get out that way."
He tried to stop his shoulders from stiffening—hadn't he just left this party?—and continued to methodically prod the wall. There had to be some kind of access panel somewhere, it was just a matter of time. Right?
"Seriously, did your mother drop you on your head as a child? Even if you do find it what do you think you're going to do?"
He flung his arms up in disgust and turned to face the other's corner. "You know? If, and this is a big if, I have to keep having conversations with myself? Why couldn't I have stayed with the hot blonde? Obviously my subconscious hates me. I have lived my life thus far without an Evil Twin Skippy, and I was just fine with that thanks very much. Please feel free to take your derivative self back to whatever subconscious rock you crawled out from."
He heard Teyla's voice over his head-set and she sounded much less tense now that he actually responded instead of lying around unconscious. "Dr. McKay? Are you well?"
He sighed, triggered his radio, and leaned back against the door to glare at his reflection smirking in the corner. "I'm fine. Get out of here before you get shot. Keep looking for the Colonel and Ronon." He pulled his palm computer from his vest and shot it a quick glance. "According to the life-signs detector, Ronon is about two levels up and moving towards Sheppard. God only knows how the man can tell, perhaps he's tracking the scent of hair-gel. As for Sheppard, he isn't moving—which is either a very good sign or, considering our luck, a very bad one—and if you just keep heading towards the top and center of the ship you should find him."
Teyla did not sound terribly enamored of that plan. "You are injured. We should not separate."
He tried to ignore the snickering from the peanut gallery. "It's just a light concussion. I've saved the day suffering worse afflictions. And I'd love to go with you but I seem to be locked in a tiny closet." And no, the irony of that did not escape him. "While this doesn't particularly thrill me, I'm in no immediate danger. We don't know the same about Sheppard. Keep going. If I can't get the door open, you can all come back and blow it up. I'm sure Ronon would love that."
It wasn't fair. He was always getting locked up, left behind, or both. And no one ever appreciated his selfless attempts to, pardon the phrase, soldier on regardless. "Would you get going? If we're very lucky, he's just locked in a different closet—but really, since this is him, how likely is that?"
It was interesting to note that a deliberating pause could be heard through locked metal doors. Funny how loud silence could be. "Very well. I shall continue, but I will return as soon as I can. Radio me when you free yourself."
"If not sooner, yes, yes, I know. Go. Watch your back."
He tried not to listen for her retreating footsteps, and instead concentrated on the panel he'd discovered. The purple crystals seemed to work like computer boards and if the organic vine-like bits were the connectors….
"I told you already, that's not going to work. Even you can't intuit a totally new alien technology with just the Ancient version of a GPS."
"Not helping." Who was he kidding? Obviously no one. He was doing the scientific equivalent of poking it with a stick and seeing what happened. What he really needed was some way of getting access to schematics. Even if they were labeled in some language other than Ancient, the diagrams alone might be enough to…"Hmm."
Skippy straightened out of his casual Sheppard-ian slouch, looming into his peripheral vision like a glowering moon. "Wait. What are you…? You really don't want to touch that."
The new panel that had risen from the center of the floor looked promising, multi-colored flashing lights, a screen of some kind and a place very obviously meant for a hand—or at least an appendage of some kind—to go in.
"Seriously, you have no idea what that does, you could end up trying to do up your buttons with a hook and…."
He shot a sideways accessing look and made a command decision. "You know what? Fuck this."
The last thing he heard before everything went white was Skippy's angry cursing.
Looking up at the smooth organic curve looming over them, he couldn't help but sympathize with the Colonel's sentiment. Though he would have preferred a somewhat more erudite delivery. "Yes, yes. Very impressive. But more important I think, is the fact that it is putting forth a massive energy signature."
Teyla cocked her head inquisitively, not quite touching the oddly liquid looking surface of the ship. "A ZPM? But this does not appear to have been made by the ancestors."
Ronon nodded. "That damage is from Wraith weapons. This didn't happen thousands of years ago. This ship crashed to ground recently, no more than a month ago."
Well, duh. "Oh really? I'd have never guessed, because the several hundred kilometer trench ending in a giant smoking crater really wasn't a give-a-way at all. Thanks."
"Hey kids, let's try and play nice, okay? Rodney, are there any life signs in there? Wraith or otherwise?"
Good question, because he could so totally live with not getting stalked through yet another derelict ship by pissed off alien vampires. "No, nothing. But it appears that ship systems are still fully functional: life support, artificial gravity…. It's possible the ship's sensors were damaged along with the engines."
"It doesn't realize it's not still in space?"
He rolled his eyes, not that his perfectly rational exasperation ever seemed to have any effect on the hairy man-mountain. "Well yes, in as much as an inanimate object can or can not realize something, that is correct. On a less stupidly anthropomorphic note, whoever built this thing, it's quite possible they weren't human. The atmosphere reads as breathable for us but off from standard, and the gravity is much lighter than the human-preferred average. Which is really interesting, as we've yet to encounter any non-human populations unless you count the glowing, pretended-to-send-us-back-to-Earth guys and half ascended space bimbos…."
"I'm just saying, this is the first evidence we've got of Wraith attacking non-humans. Or of there being non-humans to attack. When you consider the fact that there were at least six fairly powerful sentient species wandering around the Milky Way, to have only two in Pegasus is kind of surprising."
"The Wraith do not approve of any technology advanced enough to pose a threat. It is clear from the way they drove away the Ancestors that their reaction to such is to attack until it is destroyed."
A fair point. But this wreck occurred recently, as Ronon so superfluously pointed out, so… "They're like us. Came to explore, met the welcome wagon, didn't have a convenient
Absolutely nothing in that hypothesis deserved the Stare of Indeterminate Cause. The Colonel and his sunglasses, never shall the twain be parted. Unfair that the Colonel had something to hide behind. Hell, it wasn't like the man didn't have a fairly good poker face without them. Whereas he could really have used the help, the security of knowing at least a part of his expression wasn't cheerfully letting all and sundry know how uncomfortable he was with nothing to look at but the dual reflection of his own uncomfortable expression underneath Sheppard's' eternally surprised hair. The So-Cal drawl had an odd edge underlying the surface sarcasm. "Well, they didn't have you, did they. Are you sure there are no life signs of any kind, McKay?"
There was a time when he'd have tackled the first sentence and ignored the second as stupid and beneath him. These days? Safer to stick to business. "Considering how many times we've almost died in the past, it's not the kind of thing I take casually. Of course, considering how many times in the past a lack of life signs has in no way prevented us from almost getting eaten, it's also not the kind of thing I put a lot of faith in."
Wry smile, the default setting. "Oh come on, Rodney. It's only been twice."
And look how well those occasions ended. "Still. Caution, foreign a concept as it may be to you Colonel, just might be advisable."
Rustle of leather behind him, Ronon shifting. "Where is this energy source, exactly?"
Quick glance at the screen and, "Further up and further in. I'm guessing it's the ship's power source and, if we're really lucky, it will be something we can use. It's not a ZPM, of course, but it would take some of the power burden off the one we have."
"Well then. Plenty of reason to go in, no obvious reasons not to. Let's go exploring." P-90 up, flashlight on, and once more into the breach with nary a visible qualm. It was typical Sheppard.
Through the ruptured hull is dark, tilted, and vaguely musty smelling nothing. "Huh. It seems that systems were less damaged and more actually destroyed in this section. Good news—we have flashlights and breathable air. Bad news—considering the angle this ship is tilted at, we're going to have to do a fair bit of climbing to get into the sections with artificial gravity." They'd also have to blow whatever kind of bulk-heads may have crashed down due to the incoming vacuum. Not to mention the normal—but totally lacking in power—doors. As if he hadn't had more than enough explosions to last him this or any other lifetime.
"Well. That sounds…fun."
At least the man had the decency to sound vaguely unenthusiastic. "Hey, on the plus side, from what little of it I can actually see, this place appears to have been designed with free-fall conditions in mind. There are lots of evenly spaced hand holds. Easy as pie."
Even in the dim light of the Colonel's P-90, Ronon's grin was mirror bright and sharp. The man was like the damn Cheshire Cat. Though he has the sneaking suspicion that would cast him as either
"Yes, by all means, lets send the irreplaceable genius, who will be needed to save the day when everything is inevitably trying to explode and kill us, up the structurally damaged alien spaceship! Sounds like an excellent idea."
Ever the diplomat, Teyla coughed a gentle interruption. On the other hand, if that got ignored she wasn't above beating people with her sticks. And those things looked like they'd hurt much worse than Sheppard's exasperated head smacks. "Perhaps Dr. McKay has a point. If the hand-holds are structurally unsound it may be better if Colonel Sheppard or myself goes first. We would put less stress on the metal."
If it had been Sheppard saying that, he would know he was being insulted. With Teyla, he was never as sure. Even when he could see her expression clearly. She played the inscrutable alien—or you know, woman, it was practically the same thing really—with panache. Wait, "What do you mean 'perhaps'?"
"Okay. Here's the plan. Teyla is lightest, she tests it out. If things seem solid, I follow, then Rodney, then Ronon. Let's get going, this place kinda gives me the creeps."
Typical. A city that read his mind he was fine with, but a ship with no lights creeped him out? The man's watched 'Alien' too many times. "Yes, yes, next time we'll remember to pack you a night light, Colonel, but for now…?"
Teyla re-situated her P-90 and jumped up to get a grip on the first hand hold, letting her full weight hang from it. "It does not creak or bend, I believe that they will hold."
Light and lithe and limber, and what was with his sudden bent for poetic alliteration?, she made it to the far away door with no flailing, falling, or other unfortunate events. Which really, just increased the odds for the rest of them, now that he thought about it. And he always thought about the odds. Made the numbers dance, spun out percentages, mental graphs and charts, anything to keep from thinking about the practicalities of the situation. That this set of odds meant two of his team with the life sucked out of them, that those percentages ended in shooting a friend in the leg and then not saving him anyway, that the graphs and charts are a pretty presentation of standing in the back of a 'jumper with the water rising and no one to talk to but a dead man, an alien whale, and his own hallucinations. Sometimes he hated that he was able to see things the way he could, that he knew, without a doubt, just how doomed they were. If it wasn't this time, or the next, it would be the time after that. Odds just kept on stacking, and the end was inevitable.
Sometimes he wished he could not think about anything for a little while. But then, something would blow up, someone would get kidnapped, or his life would be threatened in some horrible but improbable way, and he'd be off again. Vacations were, like psychotic breaks, a luxury in Pegasus.
"Dr. McKay? It would be logical for all doors to seal when vacuum is introduced, correct?"
Who knew. Teyla apparently actually listened to his occasional bouts of space-related near-death induced babbling. "Yes. I'm guessing from your bringing the topic up that such is not the case?"
"As you surmised, the panel is not functioning, but the door appears to have been opened manually."
Sheppard immediately goes on alert. "Escaped crew?"
Ronon's voice from across the sprawling room—cargo bay? Docking of some sort? No ships, lots of crushed bits of things, hydroponics lab maybe—and when had he moved? "No. Not escaped."
Teyla scampered back down to join Ronon over a still, slumped figure, flicker of something brightly colored, clothing or clutter though it mostly looked like downy feathers. "It is dead. And not any creature I have ever seen in my travels. Ronon?"
Closer, it was feathers. Soft and fluffy looking, like a baby chick and a rather pretty swirl of crimson and gold in the light—black where the blasts had hit. "I'm no practitioner of Voodoo, but it was probably killed by some kind of energy beam."
Ronon shook his head. "Not Wraith. They don't waste food. Especially lately."
The Colonel was trying to keep a wary eye on their entrance and the door halfway up the wall at the same time. "Natives?"
Teyla shook her head. "No. The people of this world were lost to the cullings two cycles ago. And even before that, they did not possess the capability for such things."
His mouth moved without actually consulting first—he himself was too busy dwelling on numbers and odds and the smell of burnt feathers and was surprised to hear his own voice outside his head. "Allergies."
The pause read as 'huh' more accurately than any confused noise could have before Sheppard made a thoughtful sound that tasted of agreement. "These guys are poisonous? Like the Hoffans made themselves? Assuming any of them are actually still around, that is."
And what had happened to his life that he could now see what he'd interpreted as planet-wide proof that most people were utter morons as an understandable reaction on the part of a whole world? "It's just a theory. It would explain why they were killed instead of taken. But this is beside the point. Even if it wasn't the Wraith that killed it, there are still no life signs, and still huge energy readings."
"And power signatures wait for no man. Alright people. Let's get in and get out."
The climb, while unpleasant, wasn't the impossible ordeal it would have been two years ago. If nothing else, all the desperate hauling of heavy things while running for his life had developed his stamina and upper arm strength. And it was only a few rooms worth of climbing before they reached the bulkhead—also opened manually by the poor bastard in that lab—and slipped through to a place where suddenly the floor was the floor instead of a wall and everything was well lit.
That was about the time the alarms started going off. Never a good sign. He didn't actually understand what the computerized voice was repeating over and over, but he'd watched enough sci-fi in his life to guess at 'warning, intruders' when he heard it.
"Okay… Maybe we should retreat—"
And then the little floating balls arrived and started shooting at them. The last thing he saw clearly before whacking his head on a door jam and getting locked in a closet was Teyla diving for cover and Ronon and Sheppard scattering through opposite doorways.
It was…. White. Early 80's music video kind of white. And really, aside from the burnt-out over-exposed quality it looked a great deal like the sterile lab
"You should not be here."
He spun in a circle and noted that A) There was no one in the room with him and B) the room in question had no doors, windows, or air vents of any kind, and that was more than not reassuring. That bumped it up to panic levels, and now that he thought of it, where the hell was he in the first place? "I agree. I should be home. I don't suppose you have any thoughts on how to make that happen, because at the moment I've got nothing."
"None of you should be here. You should never have entered."
The voice was coming from all around him, pitched in an odd neutral tone that rattled in his breast-bone before dying away, and that was really starting to bug him. "Well, we did. Bad us. Do you mind actually showing yourself, because I have issues talking with disembodied voices." Maybe he was hallucinating still? Only more so? But then, at least Skippy had the decency to actually show his face, and there had been that panel. Transporter of some kind, maybe?
The center of the room warped and flickered and then
This was… Not good. Either he really was hallucinating—bad, or something was reading his mind and projecting things—also bad. "Stop that. Show me what you really are."
The bitter laughter was very non-Elizabeth and rather than helping, just made it worse. Even when that alien possession thing had her kicking ass and taking names—not to mention threatening to kill more than half the population of Atlantis—she still seemed… Elizabeth-y. Just, you know, evil. He wasn't sure what to make of this, like someone else wearing an Elizabeth costume, like Skippy, now that he thought of it, who hadn't really been acting all that much like him, and…
"I can't. I can't show you anything. I can't, can't, can't. Useless to even bother trying, and I don't want to do this again, I can't…" Shoulders shook with sobs or panicked laughter—hard to tell the difference—and its face was buried in slender hands, and even knowing this wasn't Elizabeth, the urge to do something, to try and make it better was almost overwhelming, and… "Why not? Who are you?"
Hands pulled away and it was Dumais looking up at him with wide eyes from across the room, and any minute now she'd start to scream and then she'd die, and what the hell did this thing think it was! "Oh no. We are not doing this, you are not going there…"
"Please. You should not be here, but you are, and since you are, you can, you can help." Hands reaached out desperately for contact, don't want to die, don't want to, help, and he didn't, he couldn't…. "Please, I don't want to fail again."
Oh and neither did he. But he had more to worry about than himself. "My team."
Teyla watched him with calm, quiet eyes. "They are alive. I can do that much. Open the safe places, close doors in the face of death, I can do that. For now. But it is only a matter of time. The self-defense system does not tire, does not sleep. And they refuse to stay as you did. Even if they did stay, it is only a matter of time. Time, time, time, dying by inches all of us, and I am falling, failing, lost…"
Why was it dying? And what was it? It seemed to know what was going on—surviving crew member? But there had been no life signs and even a shape shifter should register as alive…. Organic curves, liquid surface, vines and nodes and crystals and a massive energy reading in the center that throbbed like a heart-beat and this was the ship. The ship was alive, aware, and… Dying. "You know, if you want my help I have to point out that shooting at us, locking me up, mocking me, kidnapping me, and threatening my team was perhaps not the best way to get on my good side."
Ronon lifted an eyebrow and made a derisive sound that he'd never actually make in a million years due to it's total lack of masculine 'cool'. "From what I have observed, you do not have a good side. And I was not doing those things. I can not do anything anymore. I can only stall, hide, run, die. It is inevitable. It will win and I will lose. It is taking so long only because I do not wish for it to win easily. I do not wish to fail even worse than I already have. We did not know when we came here. We did not understand. And then my children were all vanishing, my shields would not work when I called them, my weapons would not shoot, my self defense systems ceased to be under my control, and my children, my children, they died. They vanished in beams or were struck down by the weapons meant to protect them and there was nothing I could do but watch it kill them. Failed, failed, failed."
It? "What happened to you, then? And more importantly what do you want from me?"
He needed to get out of here. He needed to find his team, and get them all out of here. And possibly find a way to blow the ship up. Because it had a point. And while the Wraith finding a new feeding ground somewhere else may take the pressure off Earth, it wasn't an acceptable solution. Besides, the last thing the universe needs is even more Wraith. "I repeat what do you want from me? And what do I get out of it, for that matter."
"You have interfaced my systems through one of the repair consoles. Because of this, you can do things I can not. You are not seeing the programmed environment that the normal interfaces project. You are seeing my systems interpreted by your own brain. I—and by extension it—have no control over what you see. I can no longer tell the difference between it and myself. You are able to see outside of my own perceptions, therefore it will not be able to fool you the way it can me. It can not drive you slowly mad as it does me. You can find it, you can isolate it, and you can kill it. Please, help me."
That's all well and good, and he could get behind it as an idea, but… "No. I need to rescue my team, I need to get them out of here. If there's a Wraith virus on board…"
Radek watched him with narrowed eyes, glasses glinting. "It is trying to kill your friends. Especially the loud one. It follows him, hunts him. I locked him in one of the interface rooms, but it is only a matter of time before the virus suborns my command and opens the door. And sooner or later it will kill him. And your other friends, the swift one and the one who guards. And you. And me. Time is something none of us have." Jeanie reached out with wide frightened eyes he could remember from one of his many early brushes with citrus-induced death. "I do not want to die, but more over, I do not wish to fail once again. My name means 'Protect', and I failed to do so. Please, I don't wish to fail my people. My children. The alliance. Your friends. I must protect them. Protect you. Please help me. I beg—" Eyes widen even further as the image of his sister crumpled to the ground, lost stability as the walls around him warped and distended, like hands were pushing at them from the outside, strange faces appearing and vanishing. Jeanie melted into his mother, his father, his sixth grade teacher, his advisor from college, his first girlfriend, a million other people, some he couldn't even put name to, as the ship huddled in on itself and sobbed. "Hey! Are you dying? Is that the virus attacking? Can it do anything to me like this?"
The image slowed its pained flickering through the roll-a-dex of his memories and finally settled into a very confused looking Colonel Sheppard. "That was not the virus."
What? "Are you sure?"
It shot him a cat-eyed glare of annoyance—oddly out of place on the Colonel's face. It would have looked more appropriate on Carter. Or possibly Teyla were he ever stupid enough to piss her off that much, which—genius here! "No, I'm guessing. Of course I'm sure." It sighed and slumped until its head hit the wall. "It didn't feel enough like me to be the virus. But what else would interfere with my ability to…. Oh by the alliance and the plant that spawned me! Why can't you illogical bags of fleshy water ever stay where I put you? It's like herding cats!"
The hell? "Cats. You people have cats?"
Disgusted, if rather exhaustedly limp, arm flailing. "No! I've never even seen one! We are so screwed!"
That was never good. "We? When did this become a 'we' thing? And when did you start picking up colloquial English? And random wildlife trivia? Are you draining my brain, because I kind of need that to—"
"No! I'm not doing anything to your precious ginormous brain—more the opposite, actually—so would you please just shut up for five seconds while I try and deal with the sheer monumental scope of this issue?"
If it wasn't his brain… "Someone else is interfacing with your systems." And given that the only other Earth-born member of his party was, "Colonel Sheppard. That's why you settled on that form and suddenly learned the joy of contractions."
He'd never actually seen anyone thump their head against a wall like that in real life. It looked horribly silly. He'd have to make a note to not do that. "I could live without contractions, actually, for the joy of not having yet another person trying to take over my fucking HEAD"
Since he had a strict policy of ignoring break-downs, and also was more than a little freaked out by something that looked and sounded like Sheppard using so many italics in one sentence, he was just going to move on. "So. If Sheppard is in here now, can we bring him in on this little coffee klatch? Because I'm thinking that if you want someone to hunt something down in order to exterminate it with extreme prejudice, the guy with the military training is probably the way to go."
Another glare. "Oh, well, you know, I'd love to do that but there's this little problem. He didn't use one of the repair interfaces."
Oh. So… "What does that mean, in practice?"
Pinched the bridge of its nose and actually, that is a familiar gesture and one he seems to provoke fairly often. Hell, sometimes he does it on purpose, just for the fun of it. "You're not immersed in a virtual environment. You're getting a direct feed of my system data which your brain is interpreting in whatever way is most intrinsic to you. And may I add that I hope you have some kind of psychological training, because that really helps when it comes to being an engineer on the good ship Protection. He, on the other hand, is essentially in here. With me. Which, actually, isn't the way the interfaces are supposed to work, and God only knows how he managed to do it. So what this means is that instead of having to just separate the virus from me and kill it, you now get the fun job of trying to separate it from both of us. And may I add that the odds the virus will still be trying to kill him, specifically, are very high? Or did you get that on your own, genius that you are?"
"Wait, so he's you?" Oh god, this was not good. He knew that look, he'd seen it on innumerable missions—usually the ones that had just gone very, very wrong.
"No. Not yet, anyway. But the longer he's in here, the harder it will be for me to stay separate from him. And the harder it will be for him to…not be me. And meanwhile, the virus is going to be driving both of us nuts as it kills us, so may I suggest you get cracking on the de-bugging."
Like he had a choice at this point. "What about Teyla and Ronon."
It stands up and dusts itself off brusquely. "I'll keep doing what I have been. Keeping the defense system off their tails. Try and get them to your bodies so they can haul your sorry asses out of here if it becomes necessary. You just hunt down that bug. Quickly, please, before I start craving a beer and some turkey sandwiches."
It pulled the aviator glasses out of its breast pocket, put them on with a dramatic flourish, and headed for the door which suddenly appeared in the wall. "Happy hunting, Rodney."
And should he be worried that it was calling him by name now? "What am I supposed to do with the virus once I find it?"
Careless shrug as it exited. "You're a smart guy, McKay, I'm sure you'll figure something out. Just remember, when you run out of bullets? Reload."
And then he was alone with an open door. How exactly was he supposed to do this? Okay, his brain was interpreting system data, which should mean that everything in the environment was representative of something in the ship's systems. So, logically the things that were out of place within those environments should be either the virus or Sheppard. And he knew Sheppard well enough to tell him apart from a Wraith virus, surely?
Right. Okay. He pulled out the life-signs detector and saw four blips same as before. Only this time instead of his team, it was him, Sheppard, a living ship, and an artificial Wraith bug.
Oh, was this ever going to be a long day. So he might as well get started.
He took a deep breath and walked through the door.