Earlier parts here.
Entanglement Theory II 3/m
(McKay, Sheppard, Carter) PG-13
Six AM in Colorado is six in the morning anywhere in the world--it's indecently early and always populated by far too many horrifyingly cheerful morning people.
And it would stand to reason that Sam would be one of them. "Why are you even here?" he asks as she follows him down to the locker rooms. Pausing, Rodney stares at the indicated door. "Wait, were these moved?"
"No," she says patiently. "You've just never been here before. Your locker is 114A, and I requisitioned you a uniform. Nelson issues weapons." She gives him an amused look. "See you in a bit."
The uniform is too small on the shoulders and too large around the waist, foreign against his skin, a reminder that this isn't Atlantis and he's not on a gate team anymore. The boots and the holster are his own, though, because some equipment doesn't transfer between personnel and Sheppard had always made sure they had enough not to share. Nelson gives him a gun, looking a little bemused as Rodney checked it from habit, but Nelson probably never went through Sheppard's idea of team boot camp and doesn't know that sixteen days of sheer unmitigated hell had led to being able to identify his weapons by touch and the surprisingly useful ability to load it in his sleep.
Sliding it into the holster, he walks toward the door, past smirking gate teams, amused team leaders, hideously aware of the badly fitting uniform, their too-fit bodies, the place he doesn't have here, and then he thinks of home.
He remembers their locker room, light from the stained glass windows coloring the floor at their feet, a small group of Marines and scientists and Athosians who knew each other's scars and stories, the shared history of exploration and isolation and wartime that bound them together.
And he thinks of Sheppard here, dressing with placid indifference, the way he wore his skin like armor that nothing could ever pierce. The way he must have walked out, slouched and bored. Sheppard knew who he was, and Rodney realized he does, too
Here, in this room, surrounded by these oblivious people who have no idea who he is, what he is, Rodney smirks, because Jesus, they may be SGC gate teams but they know jack shit.
When he comes out, Sam's waiting, and for a second, he can't quite figure out why she's in uniform.
"McKay--" she says, voice placating, but honestly, he just doesn't want to hear it, because if he'd thought about it, of course they'd assign someone to lead this. Of course.
Rodney lets out a breath. "Right." Moving past her, he hitches his bag over his shoulder, because it's close again, real again--this isn't home, will never be. "You're better than the alternatives, I guess. Short straw?"
"I asked for it," she says, hand closing over his arm, pulling him around. He always forgets how strong she is. "I *asked*. I asked and then I argued, and then I begged. I wanted this one, Rodney." The blue eyes stare into his, willing him to understand. "Rodney. I wanted it."
He stares back at her. "Why?"
Her hand drops. "I know what it means to lose a teammate," she says. There's something very old in her eyes, memories formed long before they met, something that stops him short. She does know. "And I know what it takes to get them back."
"And I know *you*." Arms crossing, her eyes flicker to the gun on his thigh, the bag in his hand. "Of everyone here, do you really think I wouldn't understand?"
Rodney licks his lips. "I can't--I can't lose--"
"I *know*." And maybe she does. "I know. And you won't. I promise."
Hand tightening on his bag, Rodney takes a deep breath. "I'm holding you to that."
"I wouldn't expect anything less," she says, mouth curving in a quick smile. "Come on. We have a colonel to rescue."
Rodney's opinion of Sheppard's team drops significantly the second they emerge on the innocently beautiful, pastoral planet, filled with emerald green hills, golden waves of corn, and a sky so flawlessly blue that Rodney's absolutely certain that nothing but pure evil could survive here. How anyone could miss it is beyond him.
Rubbing his arm from the antihistamines Carson injected him with only an hour before, Rodney remembers the man's tight grip on his wrist, the look of quiet hope, a moment of silence in the busy, impersonal room of oblivious personnel. "You'll find him, Rodney," Carson says, and he's sure enough for an entire battalion of doubting Landries.
"Rodney?" Sam says, but Rodney's already got his scanner out, studying the readings with half his mind on the distance lump of village. "Found anything?"
"Something," he says, extending the range. "The temple was at least partially some kind of Ancient installation; the readings are all over the place and--huh."
Sam's reading over his shoulder before he has time to form the comment. "Huh. Where are they getting all that power?"
Rodney can think of one way, and how ironic, their holy grail could be here, and if that's not the funniest thing he's heard this week, he's not sure what could have beat it. "More importantly, what do they want to use it for?" Snapping the scanner closed, Rodney puts it back in his vest, watching the village thoughtfully. "From the reports, none of the equipment catalogued needed anything close to this. You, Perky," Perky obediently looks up, "when you arrived, you went straight to the village?"
Perky nods uncomfortably, then turns longing eyes back to the distant temple, as if by will alone he can summon Sheppard to convert them to sun-worship or whatever insanity that Sheppard's been tricked into. The other two look suitably useless behind him, and Rodney has a horrified suspicion that Perky may be the brightest of the bunch.
Which makes Rodney wonder if Sheppard decided to go insane as an alternative to continuing to deal with these three, and honestly, Rodney can't even blame him.
"We'll go to the village first," Sam says, giving him a sideways glance for confirmation. At his nod, she turns toward the team. "I want to know everyone who talked to you, looked at you, or walked in your general direction. Got it?" From the look on Sam's face, she's beginning to get how *horrifyingly incompetent* these three are.
Despite the easy visibility, it's still a fairly long hike, and Rodney's vividly reminded he's been living on coffee and Hostess Twinkies for weeks now, with brief intermissions for Chinese and pizza when he feels inspired enough to dial the phone. Sheppard will kill me, he thinks, trying to look cool and calm and not like he'll fall over and die if they continue at this pace much longer. God, he'll send Ronan to kill me. If Ronan was here. Which, by the way, he is not, because we'd be having far fewer problems if he was. For one thing? Sheppard *would not have been lost*.
"McKay," Sam says, glancing back, looking attractively competent and sure with a hand hovering over her gun. Rodney thinks of her team, seeing her off in the gate room with wary glances between Rodney and the terrible threesome, like it was *Rodney's* fault they were in this mess. Stepping up his pace, he comes up beside her, trying to look more like a member of Atlantis' alpha team and less like someone who wanted a splint and a long massage.
"It could be a ZPM," he admits at her curious look as they come up on the edge of the village. "And using a lot of power. Atlantis-running power. Though why in the name of God an Ancient would be here--"
"I don't think she's an Ancient," Sam says thoughtfully. Rodney opens his mouth, but Sam's known him way too long. "No, listen. None of this stuff was working until Sheppard arrived. And from what his team says--"
"Oh, there's a reliable bunch--"
"They were *surprised* when he activated their equipment. It stands to reason that they want him for that. The question is what they did to him to make him go along with it."
"That doesn't narrow down the possibilities," Rodney snaps back. Sam sighs ruefully in agreement. "And--Jesus."
Sam's gun is already out, pushing in front of him, Sheppard's team surrounding him like a curtain, arms trained on the quiet, lifeless village and the bodies sprinkled like confetti through the streets. Rodney feels his own gun, cold and smooth in his hand, as he stares over Sam's shoulder, his eyes refusing to comprehend what he's seeing.
"You two," Sam says softly, one hand making arcane, Sheppard-like gestures. "Take the north side, check for survivors. You, stay with Dr. McKay. I'm--"
"I'm going with you." Sam frowns, then shakes her head as the other two start walking up the streets, conspicuously avoiding the bodies lying this way and that. Walking to the closest one, she kneels, down, reaching uselessly for a pulse, then gently pushing him over, leaving a dried red-black stain in the pale ground where he had been. Grey-white hair flops backward, revealing the ghost of a smile on his tanned, wrinkled face. "Did he--" Kneeling beside her, Rodney stares at the hand that had once held the knife that falls to the ground with a soft plop. "Did he kill himself?"
Sam's mouth tightens as she stands up. "Check everyone," she says shortly.
Rodney follows her, body to body, same wounds, same smile, body after body after body, left to rot where they fell.
Body after body after body, streets and houses, at the dinner table, in the pasture, in the stables, an overturned feed bucket beside one smiling old man, a plate of cookies tumbled by an older woman, a man with one arm, a pale, scarred woman in bed, a pattern that makes so little sense that Rodney's mind gives up trying to work it out, counting one two three ten fifteen fifty, seventy, seventy-five--
"Eighty," Sam says tiredly as the other men return. Both have the professionally calm look of experienced soldiers, but the shock vibrating beneath it is Rodney's own. He's seen bodies culled and killed, left for dead in more ways than any one person should ever see, but nothing like this.
Nothing even close.
"Seventy-two." Shifting, the taller one looks around. "All suicide."
"Or something like it," Sam corrects grimly. "None of them under fifty."
Rodney thinks about a few of the bodies, glancing at Perky. "Not just that," he says, and Sam's eyes flicker back to him as he takes in the village again. "The old and the infirm, or--"
"Disabled," Sam says, sounding hoarse. Shaking herself, she reaches for her radio. "And in the last day. Something's happened since the last team investigated. We need to make a report."
And they'll be pulled off this so fast that Rodney's head will still be spinning next week. Grabbing for her arm, Rodney pulls her aside, away from Sheppard's team. "Sam. No."
Sam blinks. "Rodney--"
"We need more information," he says, trying to think of excuses that don't sound like *don't send me back*, and *we need more time*, but everything he says is just that. "Look, let's check the temple first, all right? It's not far, and it'll give us a better idea of what happened--" He stops short at the look on her face. "Look, obviously, something's wrong, and reports are good. But we need to see what's up there first. For all we know, this has nothing to do with," Sheppard going insane. "what happened to Sheppard." It's a total lie, but he almost believes it, almost buys that he's just that persuasive, because Sam's thoughtful and silent, eyes on the temple for a full minute before she looks at him again.
She doesn’t buy it, not for a second, but she does smile, small and understanding. "Okay. We'll check out the temple first." Glancing at Sheppard's team, her smile fades as she takes in the village again. "All right. Let's go."
The temple's deserted, but someone forgot to turn out the lights and turn off the oven, or whatever passes for that in Pegasus. A flat, block-like building of heavy, dark stone that on sight looks like a perfect square, none of the usual Ancient taste for airy design and light colors, no aesthetics at all. It works for intimidation, though, and Rodney admits what it lacks in attractiveness it makes up for in sheer mass.
Trusting to Sam's gun and attention, Rodney takes readings, following them like a bloodhound through the cavernous main room of the temple, colorful mosaic tile with a giant sun in the center, stylized planets circling in a completely unscientific and physically painful proximity that drops Rodney's opinion of these people another few notches, and it wasn't all that high *before*. The lights come on around him wherever he goes, illuminating what looks like fingerpainting in obscure languages that would probably send Daniel Jackson straight into orgasm, no outside agency required, smaller rooms for whoever lived here.
Lives here, Rodney corrects. The small, shelf like beds are neatly made, but personal effects, plants remain in place. Wherever they had gone, they were definitely coming back.
Which begged the question why the temple didn't have better security. Turning around, he opens his mouth to tell Sam just that when he sees her stroking one hand down solid stone, frowning in concentration, and the wall make a protesting sound before slowly opening up.
Coming up beside her, Rodney stares at his scanner. "I think we have our source," he tells her, trying to decipher the screen. "It's Ancient--"
"Yeah," she says distractedly. "Rodney, you've been working on this stuff--am I reading this correctly?" Her finger ghosts over a series of symbols that are familiar in that way that tells Rodney he's seen them before, though not necessarily in this order. Frowning, he looks back down, trying to adjust the settings, then gives up, opening his bag and pulling out his laptop. Sitting it on the edge of the recess, he hooks in the interface cables, feeling Sam's attention flick between him and the screen. "Rodney--"
"I'm trying! This is some ungodly mix of--you know, I don't even want to know what they've done to these systems." There's definitely a secondary tech at work, though he can't quite figure out why, layered over the Ancient systems in a series of what looks like patches. Shortcuts, like they used--had used--in Atlantis to get to certain key systems faster, or access some parts while leaving others alone. Power routed from life support--life support in a *temple* for God's sake--so badly and inexpertly done that Rodney wants to meet the idiot who did this and make them strangle themselves with their own mouse cord. "Security," Rodney says, finally pulling up some kind of menu. Still unreadable, but he knows enough Ancient to interpret. "Okay, so they completely massacred security protocols that don't even belong in a temple--air supply, quarantine, lockdowns, weapons--rerouting everything--somewhere."
"Can you tell where?" She could probably figure it out herself, and Rodney appreciates the courtesy. Leaning against the wall beside him, she touches her radio . "Okay, any sign where everyone went?"
Rodney frowns, following the messy, inefficient routing--going here and there, losing power with every change and conversion, confusing and annoying and *stupid*. Like someone who'd only watched the process before, who understood the theory better than the mechanics, like someone working off explanations, not experience--and old theory at that. It reminded him, come to think, of their first days on Atlantis, when they'd been desperate and still unfamiliar with the city, doing whatever was necessary to keep the lights and the water on. Better protocols were available now.
Typing in a command, Rodney brings up the power grid and blinks. "Sam--"
"Lieutenant?" Sam's saying, voice rising, and Rodney gropes for his gun. "Lieutenant, report."
"Sam," Rodney says again, mouth dry. "Sam, I know where that power is going."
"That's not unexpected," a voice behind them states, far too close, and Rodney jerks his gun up against his belly, beneath the edge of the laptop. "Though regrettable."
Sam's gun is trained on whoever's behind them, but Rodney can read in the slim, straight body exactly how badly they're outnumbered.
"Please close your computer, Dr. McKay. And lower your weapon." There's a clicking sound that Rodney recognizes, and slowly, he closes the top, even more slowly kneeling to lay both computer and gun in easy sight. Hands up, he turns around, looking at the cluster of seeming farmers that are better armed than the average battalion.
"Lower your weapon, Colonel Carter," the leader says, and Sam, after a second, obeys. "Good. We were told you were not stupid."
"We're looking for someone," Sam says. "A member of one of our gate teams was reported missing--"
"Please do not speak," the man says, his gun never moving. "Please come with us. Your presence is requested. Your attendance is--mandatory."
Rodney glances at Sam, whose eyes never leave the gun. "Others will come after us," she says with admirable composure.
"And we will not keep you long," the leader says. Rodney doesn't like how he smiles. "You will be, of course, returned to your homeworld."
The man bows, but the gun doesn't change direction. "My word. Please. Come with me."
Sam gives him a sideways glance loaded with meaning, but hell if Rodney can decipher what it is before two of the men break off, coming to herd them toward the door. The leader turns once they're covered, and Rodney finds himself following along, Carter almost close enough to touch.
"I'll lay odds on who requested our presence," Rodney murmurs. The corner of Sam's mouth quirks in acknowledgement. Coming back out into the main room of the temple, Rodney's breath catches at the number of people crowding it to capacity, drawing the huge cavern into something smaller, hotter, more breathless.
Or maybe it's the people, priest-robes and work clothes, what looks like well-to-do townspeople and people in the ragged clothes of the lower classes, men, women and children, not one above the age of fifty.
But Rodney doesn't care. Focusing on the chair now located at the head of the room, raised on the once-empty dais, Rodney moves in between the masses parting like an ocean for them, the lean body slouched in the chair, one leg over the arm, looking bored and amused and more alien than anyone human should ever be.
Rodney hears Sam's soft exhale--not surprise, not really, but that doesn't change the shock of seeing him, messy hair and the messy remains of his uniform. Looking over their shoulders, he makes a short gesture, and faster than Rodney thought possible, the room clears of everyone, leaving them alone with a man that's everything John Sheppard would never have been.
With a grin, he leans on one elbow, looking at them with lazy attention. "Rodney. Colonel Carter--"
"What did you do to him?" Rodney says, hearing the raw anger in his voice, unable to stop it. Hands clenched, he takes a step toward the dais, but the man who'd retrieved him from the lab is already there, and one thing leads to another.
A second later, Rodney pushes himself off the floor with both hands, cheek aching, tasting blood on his tongue, Sam's angry shouts reverberating in his aching head. Staring at the dais, Rodney deliberately spits blood onto the floor.
The man with the gun steps forward again, but he's waved back. "You know," the other man says, watching Rodney like a bug on a slide. "Somehow, considering circumstances, I thought you'd be happier to see me." Gesturing lazily, the man grins. "Let the others go back to their world. These two, I think, we'll keep."