Episode Ten- The Games People Play- Chapter Nine

 Chapter Nine

Almost right on cue, he’s running five minutes plus late, Doctor Radek Zelenka runs onto the embarkation floor from one of the passageways leading into the Gateroom from the rest of the city. John Sheppard stops pacing in front of the reactivated Stargate to confront the man.

“’Bout damn time, Radek,” he snaps.

“I’m sorry, Colonel, but it could not be helped.”

“Helping? Is that what you were doing? You sure about that?”

“Trust me, Colonel Sheppard, you will see.”

“You’re expecting a lot of trust, Doctor.”

“Please, John, we do not have the time. Let us discuss this on the other side.”

John’s frown deepens. His short fuse only mildly blown and still in the dark about so many things, he nods, “Come on. Let’s go.” Better to explode off-world so to speak than in the middle of the room in front of everybody. If John has to be Captain Kirk, he’s got to hold himself in. If John’s John, he’s got to hold himself in. Bite someone’s head off, sure. He’s done that before. Rodney for reawakening the nannites in Elizabeth’s body to save her life. Teyla for being pregnant for so long without telling John about it when they kept going out on dangerous mission after dangerous mission… and for not mentioning earlier that she had a boyfriend of any sort and he was pretty much out of contention or at least barking up a tree that was already spoken for in that regards. Bates… well, Bates for being Bates. John Sheppard’s snapped at people in front of others plenty of times here, but he’s never ripped into anybody in public before. And now is not the time. However, after this might just be the right time to actually sit down and watch some Star Trek. He’d never thought that’d ever happen. The closest to sci-fi he’s ever liked has been the Alien series of movies. Who would have guessed that living in another galaxy for over six years would get him seriously considering watching sci-fi that didn’t feature Sigourney Weaver as Ripley in it?

Lorne and Ronon and one of the Gateroom marines, Sheppard’d requisitioned the man to be the second security officer of their group twenty minutes ago on the off chance that Radek was overstating his time allowance and would be joining them in front of the waiting Stargate any moment then, head through the reactivated gate.

All under the watchful eyes of Richard Woolsey standing on the Operation’s main balcony. Like usual.

It wasn’t necessarily an unusual ride through the wormhole. The somewhat typical sequence, but instead of the winding journey zipping past stars and other worlds, whole solar systems with a strange buzzing sound, it was a loop. Like one extraterrestrial lap around a racecar circuit that was completely empty and dark. Only a single flash of starlight that zipped past, most likely the sun of their planet’s solar system. No other lights though. Nothing like the usual ride. And the exit—

— is extremely unusual too. Instead of walking out of the Stargate, although they feel like they have, they just appear on the planet’s surface with a fine sheen of ice crystals on their bodies and the lingering feelings of a tingling sensation still coursing through their remolecularized physiques. The tingling’s the unusual part and the ice crystals too really. It’s been a long time since the icy feeling of Stargate travel’s gotten to any of them. For some it’s been since they first started with the Stargate Program and for one of them it’s been since he was a small child with his family. All four men brush themselves off as they look around, the movement working out the disconcerting tingling as well. Their scouting eyes catch another anomaly: no Stargate. Environment. That’s it. Landscape and atmosphere. They don’t even get the pleasure of seeing the holoroom’s doorway.

They’re the only ones here. Pure and simple.

“Is it just me or was that—“

“It is the city’s attempt to mimic the feeling of the Enterprise’s transporters utilizing what it can of the Stargate’s wormhole physics, Colonel. I believe that the Stargate’s looping connection only served to increase our velocity inside the wormhole, making us colder and the tingling feeling of the transporter effect even more pronounced when we were demolecularized.”

He knows that it was meant to, but that doesn’t make John feel any better, “I’ve never actually felt the chill of gate travel before. Except that first time.”

“You have gotten used to it over the years, I would suppose,” Zelenka comments. He does not have that particular problem, his field experience has been very limited with the Expedition. Only recently has that matter begun to be changed. Beginning with that ‘training exercise’ with the Colonel’s team, Radek has begun to receive field training in order to be able to assist Major Lorne’s team on their missions more often.

The others nod as they continue looking around. John turns to get a better three-sixty of their environment and sees one of the most beautiful mountain landscapes stately presiding not too distantly behind them. Really, the Alps have nothing on this. He remembers them as a child when his family went on a skiing trip there for Christmas. Being out there, even on the bunny slopes, the mountain range embedded itself in his mind and stayed there. His personal vacations to Aspen don’t even begin to compare either. Now both memories have been replaced by some hologram image that Atlantis is showing them for Rodney and Kenmore’s playing enjoyment. Before his mind starts wandering too much into maybe commandeering this part of playtime for some really incredible snowboarding, his mind registers that they’ve landed in some sort of valley in between two of the mountainous region’s converging ranges… and that he’s never brought his snowboard with him to Atlantis. Damn. His eyes start analyzing the rust colored dirt underneath the group’s feet and following it right up to the foot of the mountains and huge craggy rock formations their heights or less all around with random drifts of snow from the higher elevations still clinging in the shadows here and there. There’s scraggily twigs trying to pass themselves off for trees sticking up here and there; they’re all present and accounted for like he remembers them being when he’d seen them through the holoroom’s doorway. He starts to open his mouth and ask Rodney what he’s getting on the lifesigns detector… but stops himself, Rodney is why they’re here.

“Radek, what do you know about this place?” John gets down to the business at hand.

“There should be scattered life-form readings. They are humanoid, large builds, primitive and aggressive. I should tell you, Cap—,” he gets a sharp, frowning look but goes on talking, “Colonel,” he corrects himself of the near gaff; how could he not make it, it’s STAR TREK The Original Series and, well, it is John Sheppard after all, “Sheppard, that they are called the Morg. There are also no structures above ground, what we are looking for is below ground. Extensively so.”

“Can you remember anything else about this place, Radek? Come on, I mean if you really try hard.” John smiles, knowing the sarcastic teasing well. Rodney would too.

Radek smiles back, “There is a group of five Morg hiding behind those rocks over there. They have come to investigate us due to our unexpected arrival.”

“Armed?”

“Yes, but only with clubs and rocks that they can throw.”

“Anything else,” Ronon asks, looking like he’s itching for a fight even if it’s going to be an unfair one.

“Yes, there will be a cave entrance five hundred meters that way,” Radek points past the rocks he knows the Morg are hiding behind. A wide and tall formation several yards away and, judging by the grey it is, the same rock composition as the mountains rather than the soil. It’s a remarkable dichotomy worthy of further exploration when they find Rodney again. Radek has no problem believing that quite a few people from the Geology Department would absolutely love to get in here and start researching. He’s surprised Major Lorne isn’t showing any signs of itching to get a closer, hands-on look at the rocks around him, considering his geology background. The Major did start out as a geologist on a gate team at Stargate Command back in Cheyenne Mountain.

“Which means in order to get to the cave, we have to get past the Morg first,” Lorne remarks.

“Yes,” Radek confirms, slipping a side glance at Evan. Apparently he’s come quite a long way since his first days in that Mountain. Less scientist now and more soldier. Still, he does have a tendency to spend his lunchtimes in some geology lab or other in the city. Handling alien geodes… and trying to hit on any of the more attractive female scientists in the room with his knowledge of their area of expertise as well as his with that boyish smile that’s just as apparently enticing to the fairer sex as Colonel Sheppard’s but perhaps a little more boy-next-door than the Colonel’s.

Sheppard pulls his phaser off his waistband/belt and feels ridiculous as he does it. How old is he and he’s playing with cheap, tacky, science-fiction toys he thought were ridiculous even when he was a kid? Thankfully only a few people are here to see it and he’s commanding officer to most of them so there won’t be any teasing. Well, at least not to his face and even if it is behind his back, there’s definitely a shortlist of who he’s going to dress down. So there’s a good chance that his hopes of burning this entire day out of his mind forever after they get Rodney back will pan out… but not those mountains. Slopes, like surf, are forever. “Okay, let’s go then. It’s not like we haven’t taken on guys like this before.”

“Uh, Colonel,” Radek holds the group up again, “you’ll want to set that to stun. We all have to set,” he smiles, trying to contain the laugh, “our phasers to stun.”

Lorne stifles the giggles, and a snort, as John Sheppard stares at Radek Zelenka. Oh no. No, no, no. God, do I really… he looks down at the gun in his hand and ‘gun’ is putting it really, really nicely. It’s a, it’s a, it’s a toy! There’s nothing about this thing that says ‘gun’ to him and everything that says ‘ridiculous’. Okay, so the basic shape is roughly that of a firearm, but the rest. It’s too… too… pretty. Guns are not meant to be pretty or look aesthetically pleasing, they’re practical. What says practical about blue (*whatever the blue components are) and (*whatever the silver components are)? John rolls his eyes. Forget burn, he’s going to sear this day out of his memory. He huffs a sigh.

“Radek…,” he can’t believe he’s doing this, really can’t believe he’s doing this, “how do I set this thing for… Nope, I’m not saying it,” he resolves, “Not gonna happen. No.”

Radek Zelenka nods with a smile that is obviously fighting off a torrent of laughter on his face, he understands. Zelenka walks up to Sheppard and takes the phaser out of the Colonel’s hand. Is that pity he sees in the Czech scientists eyes?… Deftly, Radek handles the small handheld weapon that he’s had numerous toy copies of since he could get his hands on them. His eyes marvel at the Type II phaser with the black and antimony palm-sized Type I nestled snugly in it the pistol’s top. His amazed eyes trace quickly from the tip of the beam shield, surrounding the beam emitter, past the photon accelerator and the dilithium crystal cell and over the Type I to the force setting dial. He cannot believe that he is actually holding one of these for real—well, somewhat real. More real than perhaps if he was holding the genuine prop from the Original Series. Radek pinches the small black nob between his thumb and pointer fingers and twists till the black marked antimony of the saucer section of the dial is set to the number ‘3’, stun. After all these years, his parents were enthusiastic that he became a scientist because of his love for this series; he wonders now how they would feel to think that his adoration for this television show was proving more useful than a successful job with the American government? He hands the device in all its blue-gray, antimony, and glossy black glory back to Sheppard, who nods his thanks. Ronon Dex steps forward and holds out his weapon to the knowledgeable Czech scientist without hesitation.

“Hey, Radek, could you set it for me too,” the formidable alien warrior asks.

Radek nods and does the same thing for Dex. Then the other Red Shirt marines come up to him and Radek does the same for them too without question. He had expected on having to do so. It is the same all over Earth, for the most part ‘jocks’ as their called aren’t necessarily familiar with Star Trek, some are, but for the most part, there is no familiarity with the program whatsoever. Major Lorne walks over too and Zelenka instinctively holds out his hand for the Major’s phaser. But Lorne doesn’t hand over his new weapon to Radek. Instead he holds it up and points at the force setting knob himself.

“Okay, uh, Urs tried showing me this once, but I wasn’t really paying attention because, well, you know, it’s dorky,” Evan smiles, Radek understands, smiling back; like before, for the most part unfamiliarity. “Is this what I turn to set it,” the Major asks.

Radek nods, “Yes, Major, just turn it to the number three.”

Lorne nods as he does so and Radek follows suit with his own phaser pistol. Now the whole group’s ready to go. Finally, finally, Sheppard starts for the rocks with Zelenka at his side and the rest at his back.

“You need only stun the first one, Colonel. He’s the leader. Once he goes down, the others will run away out of fear.”

John nods. That sounds good to him. He hoped this fight wasn’t going to take up too much of their time. In the quiet of their march, Radek falls a step back to give John the sense of control he’s been sorely in need of since this thing first started. John hadn’t realized that his edginess was starting to let slip through his sense of powerlessness. He’s never really liked that in himself, but it’s a part of his rebellion against his father’s dominance. Or so that’s what the shrink said in her report on him given during his court martial hearing for his disobedient actions that ended his tour of duty in Afghanistan and began his duties at McMurdo. Yeah, that was a lovely time. In the very moment of one of his greatest humiliations, the kind of which his father just loved to rub in his face about how John should have led the life his father planned out for him rather than join the military and become a pilot like John wanted to do, his father gets mentioned. Oh, and not just mentioned, used as an example of John’s issues with authority figures like incompetent Generals leaving their subordinates out there to die forsakenly in the desert weren’t a better and more applicable to the situation examples of his issues with authority figures.

Sheppard flexes his grip around the handle of his unusual weapon as he leads them cautiously past the rocks and… right on cue, he supposes, the weirdly and cheaply dressed mountain men that actually only look big because of their clothes not because of any actual physical bulk pop up from behind the stone outcroppings. Every single one of them looking like Grizzly Adams auditions rejects. They roar. Not even scarily, just—yeah, John isn’t sure what the hell they’re thinking they’re accomplishing sounding like that. He’s heard better coming from villagers that have tried to jump them on different planets all over the Pegasus for years now. He’s heard better in D-movies, not even ‘B’. Now that’s some terrible acting. Truly hammy. And then they throw rocks and fake-looking wooden clubs at the team. The Lanteans duck the ballistic onslaught easily. What types of throws are that? Even the littlest kids on the Children’s planet could lob things better than that.

Sheppard grits his teeth. Okay, he hasn’t got time for this. The Colonel aims his phaser and pulls the trigger. It feels awkward beneath his finger. A weird screeching sound fills the chilly air. There’s a wide flash of green with a central point that finds its mark squarely on the center of the nearest animal hide-covered chest. The mountain man goes down and his four buddies immediately turn tail and run. Leaving their fallen man behind. They’re not here to do that, John’s not here to leave his man behind. He takes his cue from Radek’s information and starts his group moving again. Past the rocks and the unconscious man.

“Leave him, he’s fine,” John orders. Since Radek already knows where to go, they don’t really have to ask this Morg guy anything about the place or even if he knows what they’re looking for.

Radek opens his mouth and sputteringly tries to suggest that they go to the man. John turns on him.

“Radek, is he going to tell us anything that I can’t already get from you?”

“Well, no.”

“Then leave him. He’s fine.”

“But, Colonel—“

“What, Radek?” John snaps sharply.

The whole stopped group watches the tense exchange.

“What if Atlantis does not know how to adapt if we skip large parts of the episode?”

That catches him. Okay, okay, that is a good point. Radek’s got him there. Sheppard’s eyes go back to the rocks… then back the way he was leading them. He looks back at Zelenka.

“Would the city hurt Rodney’s brain if we do,” Sheppard tentatively asks him.

“That is exactly my point, Colonel. I do not know.”

John feels the tick of the clock inside his brain. Inside his mind. He closes his eyes and can practically hear it in that weird echoing way that television shows and movies do for dramatic or comic effect depending on the mood of the show. It’s dramatic. Pounding in his head. Distinctly not his heart. There’s nothing funny about this. He growls his irritation as he opens his eyes. Sheppard charges past Zelenka back to the rocks where’d they left the downed Clan of the Cave Bear leader. He walks back around the rock and—

“Where is he,” John looks around. They all do. Eyes scanning the landscape for a groggy man limping his way back to wherever it is he came from, but nothing. No movements of any sort anywhere.

“That is impossible. He should still be here,” Radek complains.

“Good,” Sheppard nods, “Apparently the city doesn’t have a problem with us skipping some things. Good to know. Let’s go.”

Radek nods, not sure he feels safe about that, as Sheppard leads them back the way they were headed in the first place. Good. With every step he takes, he feels good. By skipping past some things they can get some time back from how long it took Radek to help Carson do whatever to Rodney’s body. He has no idea how much they just got back by skipping that conversation with the cave guy, but it is some time. Even seconds count. He starts to jog… then run. Seconds can turn to minutes if I do this right, and Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard is going to be damned if he or anyone else is going to waste that.

It doesn’t take any time at all to find the cave entrance Zelenka told them about. It’s so obvious. A big gaping hole in the side of the base of a mountain. Just the right size for an average height man. John starts to head in, but Radek grabs his arm. Again.

“What Radek?!”

“We cannot go in. It is a trap.”

“But you said—“

“Yes, I know what I said, Colonel. It is how we get down to the facility, but we cannot trigger the trap yet. We need Carson… and we need Rodney to come with us first.”

John stares at him. We need Rodney? Why do we—How?

Zelenka soberly and solemnly gestures down at Sheppard’s belt, “Use the communicator to contact Teyla. It is alright, Colonel… John, Carson and Lieutenant Kenmore are already expecting it. Everything should be in place by now.”

In place? What the hell is about to happen? What the hell has already happened that I don’t know about? Sheppard eyes him for a moment more before drawing the handheld communications device and flipping it open with an easy flick of his wrist. For once in all this he actually feels sort of suave doing something dorky like that. The communicator does that familiar chirping/beeping thing and he pushes the transmit button.

“Teyla, it’s us,” he says into the speaker, “You can tell Carson we’re ready for him… and Rodney.”

“Rodney,” Teyla breathes the name. She looks over at Woolsey. Lieutenant Kenmore standing beside him. “What does he mean,” the stunned Athosian asks.

Without being prompted, the faux-hawked technician signals the Infirmary, “It’s alright. He’s been standing by since the landing party left.”

Woolsey turns to Kenmore, “Radek put them on standby? Or should I say you, perhaps?”

The Lieutenant shakes her head, “No, Radek must have before he came up here after helping Doctor Beckett. It’s all part of the story so if you know the story…”

As she trails off, Richard starts nodding, somewhat regretting his not so subtle accusation, “You know what to do next before it even happens first.”

Ursula nods.

“So what is going to happen next?” He asks.

Ursula slowly turns and takes a few steps towards the overlook of the Gateroom. Woolsey follows her. Teyla looks over at the Technician and he nods her on. The Athosian abandons her station, keeping her odd earpiece with her and goes to stand beside Richard as he and Kenmore look down upon the embarkation floor.

From the forward right side entrance to the Gateroom enters the body of Doctor Rodney McKay… with some sort of mechanical device on his head. A single wide metal band crowns his head. Holding it in place are rectangular-like shapes of more metal on either side of his head. The silvery naquadah gleams dully in the light of the Gateroom and the amber and oceanic teals of the lights on either side of seem to flare with life. The life of Rodney McKay’s brainless body. Teyla gasps as Rodney steps onto the rust-colored marble floor with slow, stiff mechanical movements. Like some horrific version of Frankenstein’s Monster stalking across the floor towards the Stargate followed a few steps behind by Doctor Carson Beckett with a controller device in his hand, guiding Rodney— no, he corrects himself, guiding his dear friend’s body like one of Rodney’s or John’s RC cars. Try as he might, Carson’s eyes and thoughts wander to the godforsaken item in his grasp. To a non-analytical eye, it would appear to be a lifesigns detector. Same shape, same general appearance, except that this thing does not register lifesigns. Radek had Carson and everyone else in Atlantis’ medical ward search for the thing. He knew, the man knew he couldn’t build something like that out of thin air or any of the Earth equipment around him, there had to be something Ancient that he was meant to find and do something with that would help them. It took hours, precious time before Carson Beckett’s own hand passed over a panel of wall, just an ordinary panel of wall that he had never thought anything of, and a small piece of it slid open and this thing was sitting inside it. Neat as you please. The same way the detectors in the puddle jumper do. Radek set upon the hidden treasure like a fiend and quickly went about activating it, with Carson’s touch of course, then figuring out every part of it he needed. Radek had put a single fingertip against the glassy surface of the ‘detector’ and the scanner suddenly descended over Rodney’s prone form. Strange bright green lights projected from it. Not the usually grid but more like laser beams. Each laser reaching a different point on Rodney’s head then tracing around it. Literally creating or beaming? the awkward and unsettling headpiece that now served as a surrogate mind for the tragically brilliant man standing in front of him in the olive drab jumpsuit that they managed to scrounge up for Rodney to wear right onto his head. In minutes the process had ben complete. After the stun of what they’d witnessed wore off, Radek Zelenka had quickly shoved this thing into Carson’s hands, gave him a quick verbal tutorial on how to operate it, then dashed to the Gateroom to join Colonel Sheppard wherever it was the man had gone off to. Carson hopes even from a distance that everyone can see the patented disassociation of a doctor operating on a friend. That incredible need and desire to not think about what he’s doing at all cost, what he can’t think about it. If he thinks about all the many ways things can go wrong, he’ll lose his friend’s life. So Carson Beckett operates. Without looking up. Focusing on the task at hand. Being how a physician is during a personal crisis. Capable.

Richard Woolsey blindly gestures over at Chuck, but the young Canadian man isn’t paying attention to him. Richard looks over and he takes a moment’s pause to allow Chuck Campbell the instant of open mouthed disturbed grief and shock as he stares down at the embarkation floor below before Richard clears his throat loudly. The sharp, gruff noise sounding like a canon blast shattering the silence causes many around him to jump including Teyla and Ursula. Chuck’s eyes immediately snap to Woolsey.

“Dial the Stargate, Mister Campbell,” Woolsey orders. Ursula can definitely hear why the city picked him as the administrative side of Captain James Tiberius Kirk in the tone of his voice, something she hadn’t ever really expected. Woolsey sounds like he could snap someone out of themselves with a quick stern dressing down in front of everyone on the Bridge. Has done so before, Ursula remembers facing the brunt of that force when Anubis entered the city. Yep, he can definitely be the distinctive commander. She wonders when he found that in himself… and when the city began to assess that potential in the man.

Chuck shuts his mouth with a nod and retakes the seat he’d partially risen from. Quickly his fingers find the requisite buttons he’d committed instantly to memory thanks to Colonel Sheppard’s help before. The Stargate flares to life then settles and Carson says a silent prayer that he doesn’t have to halt Rodney’s body and its progress as he guides it through the Stargate’s event horizon… then follows behind his friend. All under the intent, watchful gazes of the Gateroom’s personnel.

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