Everywhere around them it looks like dirt covering the walls, such are the hallways of this part of the city. It’s merely old age and centuries of no maintenance whatsoever due to being at the bottom of a considerable ocean for ten thousand years. Still, it doesn’t bode well. None of this bodes well.
They run. The sense of urgency increasing everyone’s pace, but it’s Kenmore’s determined outpacing of them all that catches the Colonel’s attention first. Nope, doesn’t bode well at all. She knows something and isn’t telling them until they get there and she’s making sure to get there first. Sheppard’s earpiece activates with an irritating series of beeps that even without liking or ever actually watching the series, he knows is the sound of the iconic television show’s damn communicator.
“Colonel Sheppard! John,” Carson’s radio voice screams at him.
John taps his earpiece, “We’re coming, Carson! We’re coming!”
The group continues their dead out run to the Infirmary like they’re trying to outrun the city itself. Perhaps they are.
Acting as a guide better than even the maps on the back walls of the transporters, the dirty looking walls of the hallways lead them aesthetically to Atlantis’ Infirmary and straight to the forever open geometric-shaped doorway.
Doctor Carson Beckett anxiously darts out of the stacked block silhouette hole in the Lantean wall. He looks down the hall then up.
“Where are they? Bloody hell, where are they?” He panics.
He darts back into the Infirmary. Almost instantly his bright baby blues catch sight of the second thing that caught his notice when he came to on the cold stone floor. Carson immediately snaps away on his heels and back out into the hall. He’ll pace out here, he feels better pacing out here that way he doesn’t have to look…
“Oh for the love of…,” tears sting his eyes and he chokes.
He stares down at the floor quickly disappearing over and over again underneath his feet as he paces. The sight of the tips of these stupid boots comes into his view repeatedly. Reminding him of when he first woke up. They were all dressed in Star Trek costumes. He’d never call them uniforms and he’d never in a million years call this bloody thing a lab coat. It is far too confining and constricting and just impractical to him. Where are the bloody pockets? How is he supposed to stash away tongue depressors or spare packages of gauze or pens or whatever in a tight fitting coat that has no pockets? And short sleeves. What medical professional wears short sleeves other than the nursing staff? Carson’s fingertips pull agitatedly at the stiff collar lying closer to his throat than he’s ever felt comfortable with from any shirt let alone a lab coat.
“Bloody ridiculous,” he complains, “All of this is bloody ridiculous and now it’s—“ He chokes again, sniffs. He doesn’t know what to do. They’ve got to get here. A man’s life depends on it.
Suddenly he hears multiple boot steps pounding towards him. His grief-stricken face barely holding it together greets them from the main entrance.
“Oh thank God you’re here;” his brogue sounds as though it’s relieved but the lack of change in his face or the tightness of his body beneath the semi-metallic, light blue, Star Trek Original Series doctor’s lab smock belies all of it. He hurries back inside the Infirmary and no one loses pace as they rush in after him.
Until Kenmore and Sheppard almost stagger into each other as they slam to a stop. The others ending their run single-file as they come in. At the far end of the room, Nurse Marie Ko is taking a hysterical Doctor Jennifer Keller out of the room. The large curls of her Marilyn Monroe bounce wildly as Jennifer staggers. Collapsing over and over again in Marie’s arms. Desperately trying to get her feet under her, but too far gone to actually pull it off. John stares at the disturbing display. Marie urgently whispering private comforts to Jennifer as the nurse’s arms try to get the distraught ragdoll body of her superior out of the room. It’s clear that hardcore emotion is rendering the nurse’s attempts at consolation and comfort mute. He’s not sure if Jennifer can even hear Marie over her own wailing. The all light blue outfit’s micro miniskirt swishing and flaring, her black boots slipping and scuffing, as she reaches out for God knows what. Light shining off of the golden chevron-shaped patch and its bright red embroidered cross in the middle of it.
“Christine Chapel,” Sheppard hears Kenmore breathe beside him.
They maintain silence as Marie finally manages to carry Jennifer out of the room, John’s attention shifts.
“What is it, Carson,” he asks quietly.
Tears slip out of Carson’s eyes for an answer with a sniff. John gulps hard as the Scotsman struggles to pull himself together, he gestures off to his left. John looks over at the Ancient medical scanner using the left side wall for a headboard. Systems, functions, panels and screens, and all sorts of other Ancient medical, Sheppard guesses, equipment they’ve never seen before are stationed all over the wall and around the scanners bed and… “Rodney,” John breathes.
The Canadian scientist is unconscious, lying on the waist-high, textured copper bed’s not exactly comfortably plush mattress of light grey vinyl. One of the Earth Expedition’s baby blue-grey knit blankets covering his body all the way up to his neck. There’s a white gauze pad casually laid across his forehead as though a mother put it there to calm the fever of her gently sleeping child. God, he hopes Rodney is sleeping. His face is as serene as if he’s asleep and John’s know that from personal reference from all those hours spent by his friend’s bedside when that damn parasite had given their friend a fast debilitating form of Alzheimer’s. They’d all spent as much of their ‘free time’ then with Rodney. Ate their meals here beside him. Talked to him. Read to him. Tried to hold on to the piece of Rodney McKay that was the man that they knew not the invalid the parasite was forcing him to become. John remembers when he’d taken even the slightest selfish moment to sleep an hour or two in his own bed and a terrified-out-of-his-mind Rodney had ran screaming for him through the hallways of Atlantis to John’s very door. After that, John spent every moment of sleep by Rodney’s bed, watching one of the few friends he has in life sleep and being there every time McKay’s eyes opened. Just like the last vestiges of their Rodney wanted him to be. But, but this doesn’t feel like Rodney simply sleeping to John. Jennifer wouldn’t have reacted like that if Rodney were just sleeping. Carson wouldn’t be like this if it is just sleep.
John slowly approaches the scanner bed, a vile sense of dread pulling at his gut again and churning the bile as it had when Jennifer had given them Rodney’s prognosis. Then Rodney had been asleep in one of the standard medical beds, the last time John had come up to this Ancient contraption this way, it had been for Elizabeth. In the quick blink of an eye, it all comes flooding back to him. It usually does though. His memories of Elizabeth are always so close to the surface, have been ever since… The reflection of every single light in the confined area of the medical wing bouncing off the clear plastic walls of the vinyl ‘containment’ zone around the Ancient scanner with Elizabeth lying on the bed inside of it, away from them. Dark. The room had been dark then, unlike now. But still, he’d approached then and stood guard by her side… as he’s doing now for Rodney.
“What’s wrong with him,” Richard asks grimly behind him. John senses determination in the man’s undertone, the determination to find out what the Hell is going on with his people and fix it at all costs.
“I, I,” Carson tries to begin and his throat catches again, he coughs then sniffs a second time and that seems to do the trick enough. For the moment. At least, “I don’t know how it’s possible…” Words fail him once more, but for a different reason this time as he stares down at his friend. What he wouldn’t give to hear Rodney exasperating him at this very moment, belittling him for being such a ‘baby’ about the situation and how crying isn’t going to solve a single thing so Carson can just pull himself together and get to work. Rodney, in his own way, has a strong feel for leadership, a strong gift for it, maybe not sympathy per say, but leadership nonetheless. But Carson doesn’t know where to begin in all this other than pull himself together. Okay, he’s managed that, but now what? How to explain why Rodney’s here? Carson Beckett doesn’t even understand it himself and yet every piece of medical equipment in here both Ancient and Earth-made have told him it’s true. And Carson can’t fix it. He honestly doesn’t know how to. It is literally beyond him.
Ursula Kenmore comes up past Woolsey and beside Sheppard, her eyes riveted by the bright green laser light grid band scrolling down over McKay’s head all the way to his feet then up then starting its full body scan over. Diligently making continuous scans and transmitting the constantly updating information to the displays all around it. With each step closer her entire body vibrates that much more. Her breathing quickening that much more. Shaking that much more. Eyes the color of mahogany wood stain zoned intensely in on the man on the bed. Suddenly she explodes.
“What the Hell were you thinking?!”
Sheppard pulls her away as she lunges at Rodney’s bed.
“You moron!” She roars. Fighting in Sheppard’s arms. “You idiot! How could you do this?! How dare you do this!”
“What is it? What has he done?” John shouts over her. He can feel her trembling in his arms. Seething. She strains against him. His boots slip with the fight in her to get at McKay. He readjusts his footing and holds her tighter. Clamping his arms wrapped around her chest. Pinning her to him.
Then one of her hands touches his forearm… then the other; her touch is light, gentle, considerably shaky. He can feel her body easing against him as her hands softly hold onto his forearms over her. He keeps his tight hold on her, taking into account her shaking in distress, and leans his lips next to her ear. Normally for him this would be a come on, but…
“What is it,” he asks again at regular volume.
A ragged breath shudders through her whole body, again that’d be the response he was hoping for from one of his come ons, but… “His brain is gone,” she whispers.
John’s mind blacks out for a moment. He didn’t hear that. He did not hear that. But Ursula’s transfixed by the sight of Rodney. Sheppard turns his gray-green eyes there as well. It’s worst than last time. They’ve already lost him. He didn’t slip away from them slowly over the course of days and weeks. He was stolen while they were all unconscious for—John feels it’s finally okay to let go of Kenmore, she’s not going to collapse under the strain of herself. But he might. As his arms loosen then fall lower down to his sides, the Army Lieutenant slowly walks over to Rodney McKay’s bedside.
“His brain?” Woolsey repeats astounded. He can’t believe it, but his eyes find Carson Beckett nodding at him.
“She’s right,” Carson confirms, he takes a deep breath, “Rodney’s brain has been completely removed, surgically. Every nerve ending has been neatly sealed. Nothing ripped, nothing torn, no bleeding whatsoever. This is as professional and clean a job as I could ever possibly dream of any surgical operation as advanced as this being from what I can tell.”
Teyla joins Lieutenant Kenmore by Rodney’s side, “How is he still alive,” she breathes, “If his brain is missing, then Rodney should be dead… or dying, should he not?” She swallows the words. It is not as if they have not been in these circumstances with Rodney before, but this feels much worse… more grave… much more… No, she refuses to go there. However, what remains to be true is that this situation is much more than they have ever been through with him before. They have watched him slip away from them before, moment by moment. Day by day as a parasite in his brain grew and grew and deteriorated more and more of the man they knew as Rodney McKay, as it stole their friend’s mind away from him and them as well. The possibility of Ascension genuinely did take him away from their embrace for a moment before his last thoughts transmitted to Carson saved his own life. But this time he has already left them it seems.
“It’s a bloody medical miracle he’s not,” Carson tells her.
Her attention snaps to Carson. A ‘miracle’? All of a sudden there’s a light in darkness and it’s as though she can see Rodney’s face in its blossoming glow.
“Look,” he points at the main Ancient screen embedded in a hidden alcove of wall right next to the scanner’s main unit floating above the bed, “From what I can tell, that is what that and,” he gestures at the menagerie of other Ancient screens all over the place, “all these other medical systems I’ve never seen before are doing. All of it is life-support as best as I can tell. Every single one is making sure his body is still functioning, autonomically speaking. But there is absolutely no mind there at all, nothing. And I mean that. These scans show his… his skull, but no brain. The cav…,” he has to take a breath, he’s losing it again. He closes his eyes and muscles through it, “The cavity is completely empty,” he opens his eyes, “Whoever, whatever it is that makes Rodney the man that we know is not there anymore.” There it’s said. Out loud.
John feels the tremble threaten him. Feels it hackle the thin black hairs of his arms and the back of his neck. In typical fashion, John Sheppard swallows hard.
Ronon glares at Kenmore’s back. “Who did this,” he demands.
The Lieutenant doesn’t hear him, starts whispering to herself as she looks down at Rodney’s body, “I can’t believe you. I know you, it… how could you be so stupid?”
She reaches for the bulge of blanket that she thinks is Rodney’s hand. Ronon rushes forward, yanks her around to face him. How dare she accuse McKay? Teyla reacts. Latching onto her friend’s bulging bicep.
“Ronon,” the Athosian gasps.
Now he’s the one that’s gone deaf to the voices of others. Ronon Dex seethes at Ursula Kenmore. Every fiber of his body tense and every bit the visual definition of intimidation, but he’s not getting the frightened reaction out of her he wants. He can see it in her brown eyes. Her mind is someplace else.
“The woman,” Sheppard suddenly speaks up.
Teyla looks at him, “What woman?”
“It’s, it’s in the episode,” Kenmore finally finds her voice again, finds the here and now for the moment; Sheppard’s snapped something loose in her, “She, uh,” Ursula blinks hard, trying to get more of herself back, “she, she comes aboard the Enterprise and knocks everyone out then takes Spock’s brain. When we started up the holoroom…”
Sheppard swallows hard, nodding. When they started up the holoroom and the episode started playing, Rodney took on the role of Spock. Holy crap, she’s right. This might actually be Rodney’s fault. The man’s own arrogance and absolute demand to have to be the one who pushes the button, whatever the button is, has lead him to do the dumbest thing he’s ever done in this galaxy. Instead of blowing up a solar system, Rodney McKay’s gone and taken out his own brain. Jesus Christ, Rodney.
Ronon stares at her. She’s the one who knows what’s going on. She’s the one with all the answers. A dark reflex in him clenches his grip on Kenmore without him even realizing he’s doing it, he was raised better than that by his mother and grandmother and Melena. Ursula winces and Sheppard steps in. The gold velour clad Lieutenant Colonel grips Dex’s wrist with the same swift retaliation that he had when Ronon first sparred with Teyla, got the drop on her, and literally dropped her with unadulterated ferocity onto the mat floor right in front of Sheppard. It freaked John out then, it still gets to him now. Anything like it will always get to him.
“Let her go, Ronon,” Sheppard orders.
Ronon turns the dark look at his Commander. And right now, ‘Commander’ is all he’s seeing the man as. Flickers of staring down Kell flit over Sheppard’s image in front of his eyes.
Sheppard’s face sets. The normally semi-soft lines of his face assuming a sharper edge just like his attitude, his breathing shallowing in his chest, and his eyes becoming greyer than usual. “Let her go, Ronon,” then Sheppard reluctantly adds, “She’s right, he did it to himself.”
“It was his choice!” John snaps the words he didn’t want to say. “Do you really think it makes me happy to say this! Do you really think I’d pick her over him!”
“It wouldn’t be the first time,” Ronon shouts back.
“Ronon,” Teyla hisses. She has known the thoughts and feelings that have been brewing in her Satedan friend for quite some time now and she has believed for equally as long that they needed to be dealt with between the two men, it has to be dealt with between them, but now is not the time and especially not the place. Not in front of Rodney. Not while his life may still be saved if they can simply pull together as the team that should be. Did not the Lieutenant prove how inept they have become? Did they not personally vow to prove their inadequate display during their training session an uncommon occurrence best left to the past? At least Teyla had made that personal vow.
There’s a tense standoff between the two men. The divide that’s been fissured then cracked between them showing itself to be far larger than either had suspected but felt it to be. Dark eyes versus light ones. Where do they go from here? Does the divide force one away from Atlantis or force an uncomfortable submission that will create a chasm in the team and the friendship that might never be healed? John and Ronon stand their ground in the face of each other and dare the other to make the first move.
Woolsey clears his throat, “What happens next in the episode,” he calmly asks her.
The Lieutenant wriggles in the grim Specialist’s grasp… then has to pry the Satedan’s unyielding fingers off her biceps.
“Uh, um, we, uh, we have to find her. Rodney only has twenty-four hours.”
They stare at her.
“Twenty-four,” Teyla breathes, “So short a time?” She can’t believe it. How can they possibly, possibly hope to accomplish such a task in so little time? They have nothing to lead them except a mysterious woman that only John, Ronon, and the Lieutenant saw and by their accounts the woman was a hologram, a manifestation of an illusion. A story incarnate. How can they go around chasing a figment of their imagination?
Carson nods regrettably, careful to not look at his unconscious friend, “Aye, she’s right, Teyla.”
Teyla Emmagan’s eyes return to Rodney. Such very, very grave circumstances.
“How do we find her?” John turns to Kenmore, happy to look somewhere other than Ronon and focus on something real besides the two men’s personal issues with each other. That can wait. Right now, it’s Rodney. But he sees Kenmore’s face pinch, pain, he reads the bad news in her eyes before she answers him.
“Kirk takes the Enterprise and uses the ship’s sensors to track her ship’s trail back to her home system. Back to her home planet.”
Sheppard and Woolsey shut their eyes. That explains her heartbreak and rage at McKay. The weight of the situation keeps getting heavier and heavier. “We can’t do that, there wasn’t any actual ship. There’s no ‘trail’ to follow anywhere,” John finishes the thought for her.
“And we do not have the power resources for Atlantis to lift off again let alone wander aimlessly around space to find Doctor McKay’s brain,” Richard finishes for John.
Ursula shuts her mouth, part of her teeth sneaking beneath her pursed lips to bite the lower one. Gloom settles around the group, the room doesn’t have to be as dark as it was with Elizabeth for it to be felt just as acutely. Ursula turns her head and looks back down at Rodney again. Ronon Dex’s eyes turn to his downed friend too. Old memories from Sateda rise from the shadows of his mind’s depths, Ronon’s seen that look of calm before with a bandage over a man’s head and a blanket pulled smooth up to his chin. Usually the next thing to happen is to pull the blanket the rest of the way over the man’s face and let his body find some further peace in the repose of death. They’ve almost lost McKay plenty of times before. Even though his brain is gone, they’re not going to lose him this time either. He’s lost too many friends already. He’s not pulling a blanket over Rodney’s face. He’s not and no one else is going to either. He discovered in his four years in Atlantis that there’s always room for another ‘almost’.
It’s leader time, Richard Woolsey regains both himself and command of the situation, “What do you recommend, Lieutenant?”
“You can’t defer to her,” Ronon tells him, “She knew this was going to happen and she didn’t do anything about it. You can’t—“
Richard’s eyes lock with Ronon’s, “Do you know STAR TREK’s Original Series?”
Ronon grits his teeth, hating that the man has a point.
When Richard finds a bitter and reluctant ‘No’ in the Satedan’s demeanor, Richard’s eyes return to Kenmore’s, “She does. Look at her.”
“She has the information we need. I’m not playing favorites, Ronon, I’m deferring to the only person here with any answers of any kind to any of the innumerable possible questions that might come up. Now, what do you recommend, Lieutenant Kenmore?”
She looks at the eyes looking at her, to her. Woolsey’s. Sheppard’s. Dex’s. Emmagan’s. Beckett’s… She turns her head and looks down again, McKay’s closed lids. He needs her. None of them had any clue this was going to happen. Not the foggiest. But Woolsey’s right, two of them know the episode: Rodney and Ursula. She pulls herself together and faces her Expedition Commander, “It may sound weird, but the first thing I recommend is that you get everyone in Atlantis who’s a Trekkie especially if they love this episode in Operations as quickly as possible.”
Woolsey nods, “That’s sounds like a good place to start. We’ll return to Operations as well,” Richard gestures towards the Infirmary’s entrance.
“Why there,” Sheppard asks.
“Because it’s a better place to start looking for Doctor McKay’s brain than here.”
No one makes a move of any kind for the constantly open doorway.
“And I’d rather not crowd Doctor Beckett’s efforts,” he adds.
“That’d be a blessing,” Carson nods, “I’ll stay here and keep an eye on…,” he looks over at Rodney. Everyone does. It’s so strange to be in a crisis especially one inside the city itself and not hear Rodney’s voice, for him to be silent. It’s disconcerting. Disorienting really. He never slept on the job, never took a moment down although he always threatened to and tried to occasionally, but no, not genuinely. Rodney was the go-to man and he never let it be said that someone else would save the day over him. He’s indispensable that way. “On all of this equipment and Rodney,” the tenderhearted Scotsman finishes quietly.
“I think that’s for the best, Doctor Beckett. Keep us apprised of his status.”
Carson nods and Woolsey leads Sheppard and the rest his top team out of Atlantis’s Infirmary.