“Don’t get me wrong, Colonel, but it’s like Carson’s darning an old sock at this point… Do you smell that?” Rodney paused in the long corridor and wrinkled his nose at the musty odor.
Sheppard stopped beside him, looking around. “This sector flooded more than once, between the storm and the…”
“Other things we’d rather not think about, yes.” Rodney shuddered at flash-memories of both the Genii and Wraith incursions before focusing in on the horrible new possibilities presented by alien mold and mildew. “Let’s send the environmental team through again.”
“Better safe than sorry,” Sheppard agreed, scanning the corridor one last time before returning to Rodney with a scowl. “Old sock?”
A good two inches of medical tape were visible below the left sleeve of Sheppard’s black T-shirt, standing out crisply white against tanned skin. Not a serious injury this time, but there had been a rough handprint of blood left on Rodney’s arm when Sheppard hauled him through the gate from M5G-477 two days ago—a place now cataloged in Rodney’s brain as “the planet of cave-dwelling troglodytes with no sense of humor about themselves whatsoever (and surprisingly effective flaked-stone weaponry).”
Rodney chose not to look at the bandage that now wrapped Sheppard’s left triceps, looking down instead to consult his tablet. He led the way toward another corridor, this one blessedly free of any damp odor.
“Now, according to Major Lorne’s report, the control panel in question should be right in here…” He stopped in front of the appropriate door and waved it open.
“And Lorne wasn’t able to do anything with it?” Sheppard asked as they stepped inside.
“Not really. Apparently it’s somewhat like the chair. Major Lorne was able to turn it on, but he couldn’t really figure out what it’s supposed to do.”
Rodney didn’t bother to add that if Major Lorne couldn’t make it work properly, Rodney probably wouldn’t be able to do much with it, either. Instead he just said, “Which, of course, is why I brought you,” with a thin smile he hoped adequately disguised any lingering envy.
“And here I thought you wanted my charming company,” Sheppard said, returning an equally insincere smile. “What is this, some kind of classroom?” he asked, looking around.
“Hm, that occurred to me as well.” Rodney lowered the tablet to his side and considered the room, which was really more like a miniature amphitheater, with a dozen long, typically spare Ancient-design benches rising in graduated rows from a central dais. “It reminds me of a lecture hall.”
Sheppard nodded, tipping his head back to take in the vaulted ceiling. “I suddenly feel like I haven’t done the reading.”
“Isn’t that your natural state?” Rodney snorted, circling around to the back of the lectern-like structure in the center of the dais where Lorne had reported finding the control panel.
“In this galaxy?” Sheppard raised an eyebrow. “Pretty much, yeah.”
“Let’s see about this controller, shall we?”
Sheppard came around to stand beside him, and together they looked at the deceptively simple panel. The mental component of Ancient technology afforded their devices an elegance that made the button-and-switch-choked interfaces of what Rodney once thought of as some pretty up-to-date Earth electronics seem like a hopelessly brutal kluge. The down side, though, was how difficult it could be to discern just what any given Ancient gizmo actually did just from looking at it.
“You want me to, um?” Sheppard made a vague gesture toward the panel.
“Yes,” Rodney sighed, moving aside to let Sheppard stand in front of the lectern-thing.
Sheppard slid his hands onto the smooth metal of the panel and closed his eyes for a moment. Nothing seemed to happen at first, and then the lights in the room dimmed low and a brilliant model of the Pegasus galaxy filled the vaulted ceiling above them—much larger and finer than any of the holographic representations they’d found in other areas of the city thus far.
The optical effect was truly startling. Rodney felt his jaw drop open, and he didn’t care—he was too busy taking in the impossible level of detail.
“Whoa. So, a…planetarium?” Sheppard asked uncertainly, peeking up through one squinted eye.
Rodney lowered his gaze and felt his normal rationality reassert itself once he was no longer dazzled by the illusion of actually being among the stars.
“Don’t get your hopes up, Colonel, I doubt there’s a Pink Floyd laser show at midnight. I also doubt a control panel requiring advanced user status would be put in place here for a simple planetarium.”
Sheppard narrowed his eyes at the Pink Floyd crack but went back to concentrating on the controls. Suddenly, a tiny square section of the image brightened, then enlarged, blooming out to replace the galaxy with a zoomed-in model of their current solar system—circa ten thousand years ago. Rodney winced as an image of the desert planet where Abrams and Gaul had died flew overhead to settle against the far wall, and the satellite-based weapons platforms, like the one that exploded with Peter Grodin aboard, winked into view.
“There’s some kind of graphical interface with the database here. You can call up…” Rodney watched as a translucent screen popped up to float alongside one of the satellites. Data scrolled by in Ancient, and a series of subscreens containing schematics sprouted open.
“Wow.” Rodney was back to drop-jawed excitement. “Anything else?”
More screens appeared, dozens of them, filled with information and specs for ships, weapons, and outposts.
“I think…it’s a tactical operations center. A war room,” Sheppard said slowly.
Rodney wondered why there was none of the usual Pavlovian aura of excitement he would have expected from him at a discovery like this. “What’s wrong?”
“Maybe this was just a prototype they didn’t actually use. I mean, it looks like a catalog of the Ancients’ complete arsenal before the war kicked into high gear.”
Sheppard met Rodney’s gaze with an expression that was almost completely flat, and Rodney realized before was the operative word there. He glanced up at the image of the desert planet, with its LaGrange point satellite still in orbit.
This wasn’t as visceral as the full-scale virtual environment they’d experienced with the crew of the Aurora, but Rodney had to agree there was something unsettling about being presented with all these long-gone hopes in such pristine graphical detail.
“I guess we should probably call Elizabeth,” Rodney said, feeling a little subdued himself. Weird to think this would have been more fun if it had been just a planetarium after all.
“Yeah, let’s go.” Sheppard shut the model down and scrubbed a hand across his face. Rodney noticed, but didn’t mention, a reddish-brown spot beginning to seep through the bandage on his arm.
The briefing went a long way toward restoring Rodney’s spirits. As the meeting went on, he found himself genuinely surprised that he had actually come into the conference room feeling somewhat glum about their new discovery. What the hell was that all about?
The model they’d found meant that they now possessed a potentially powerful new way to access the Ancient database. Maybe they could even shed a little light on how the Ancients had integrated their systems—anything had to beat their current “stumble across it” method. This was all good.
Rodney snuck a surreptitious glance across the table at Sheppard, but got no read on his mood. Sheppard was good at that. He seemed normal enough, though, as he answered questions about what he’d sensed inside the interface. He nodded and smiled at Elizabeth’s evident excitement, repeated things when Zelenka needed him to, and contributed his usual measure of no-longer-surprisingly incisive comments about things they should look for the next time they powered up the model.
When the briefing was over, Rodney felt a weird urge to seek Sheppard out, to make sure he was…okay. But Zelenka still had more questions, and Rodney found himself being led back to the labs, keeping up his end of an argument with one part of his brain, while another part monitored Sheppard separating from Teyla and Ronon and walking away from the conference room, alone.
It wasn’t until later that night, after supper, that he spotted Sheppard again, heading out onto the balcony off the mess hall. On an impulse, Rodney followed him.
“Hey,” Sheppard said quietly. He was leaning forward against the railing, gazing up at the starry sky over the shimmering dark of the ocean. He seemed better, freshly showered and shaved, and it looked as though he’d even paid a visit to the infirmary to have the dressing on his arm changed. To all outward appearances, he was back to his usual self—but Rodney knew him better than that by now.
“We’ve got time.“ Rodney conspicuously consulted his watch. “Zelenka can handle the lasers, and somebody around here has to have some Pink Floyd.”
A small smile tugged at the corner of Sheppard’s mouth before fading again. They remained in companionable silence for another moment before Sheppard spoke.
“It’s still a little strange.”
“Were you planning on explaining that, or am I just supposed to guess?”
“Even after two years, not looking up and seeing, I don’t know…the Big Dipper.”
“No offense, Colonel, but as an astrophysicist, I doubt I see quite the same things you do in the sky—regardless of the galaxy we’re in.”
“No offense taken,” Sheppard said with a laugh. Then he glanced around, as though checking to see that they were really alone. “I made some up, for Pegasus.”
“Constellations. You know, so it’d seem more like home.”
“You can’t just make up constellations.”
Sheppard straightened, and his smile widened into the challenging grin that let Rodney know he was about to say something irritating.
“Come on, McKay, you think the Greeks had special qualifications?” He waved toward the horizon. “There was probably just some farmer out in his fields, and one night he looked up and went, ‘Hey, it’s a crab!’”
“Hey, it’s a crab. Yes, I’m certain that’s an incredibly accurate historical portrait,” Rodney huffed. He was able to wait roughly twelve seconds longer before heaving an aggrieved sigh. “Oh, all right, what have you got?”
Sheppard cast him a sidelong glance before pointing up at an indistinct mass of stars directly overhead. “Your friend, Lassie.”
Rodney tipped his head back and tried to follow along. He felt mildly foolish, but it wasn’t quite enough to overcome his curiosity. “I don’t see it. Where?”
Sheppard leaned in closer and pointed again, drawing a slower and more deliberate line through the air. “There…the long arc of his back, then up to the left for the dorsal fin, and…”
And then Rodney did see it—connect-the-dots in the sky, oddly familiar even though he had never seen it quite that way before in the thousands of hours he’d spent studying this galaxy. Without even realizing what he was doing, he found that his own hand had shot up into the air, finger tracing along excitedly.
“The forked tail,” Rodney murmured, sounding a little breathless to his own ears. Catching himself, he pulled his hand back down and crossed his arms firmly against his chest. Then he took a half step back from Sheppard just for good measure. “Thank you, by the way, for paying tribute to the horrible leviathan that almost ate me. Are there…more?”
“Well,” Sheppard seemed to consider for a moment before pointing out another cluster of stars. “There’s the T. rex thing from M1M-316. Those two bright ones there are his eyes, and then you come down to make the zigzag for his jaws and teeth, but…you weren’t there for that one, so you’ll just have to take my word for it.”
“So let’s see, we’ve got a sea monster, a giant carnivorous lizard…” Rodney eyed Sheppard curiously. “Am I sensing a theme, here?”
“The Pegasus galaxy’s greatest hits.” Sheppard shot him an inscrutable smile. “Wanna see the Wraith queen?”
“You’re deranged, you do know that?”
“Well, I’m still here.”
A warm onshore breeze carried the mineral scent of the ocean. Sheppard shifted, wincing a little as he eased weight off his injured arm. Rodney glanced over at him, then tapped the railing and concentrated his gaze back on the night sky.
“I don’t know, I’d say we still have some pretty good ‘hits’ of our own,” Rodney said after a moment. “First and foremost, of course...well, you do have some of the finest minds of our galaxy here—actually, some might say the finest mind...”
“Rodney,” Sheppard warned in what sounded like an amused growl.
“There’s also this…” Rodney reached out over the railing, pointing his finger and preparing to draw. “Um, start at BN7 422...over to just the beginning of the Torizo Nebula”
“Showoff,” Sheppard muttered, but he leaned in to follow along as Rodney continued to sketch invisible lines in the sky. Finally, he shook his head. “Okay, I give. What is that?”
Rodney stepped back as though admiring his handiwork. “That, Colonel, is an Ancient warship. Still intact, I might add, in fighting trim, and running quite nicely thanks to, well…yours truly.”
“The Orion,” Sheppard said quietly. He glanced back over his shoulder at Rodney. “I never would’ve pegged you for such an optimist.”
“Oh, please.” Rodney rolled his eyes. “And remind me to confiscate your copy of Stargazing for Dummies, before you really hurt yourself. Can we go get some coffee now?”
Requests: b. An ordinary day in the life on Atlantis. John/Rodney would be good, but not required. c. Exploring the city of Atlantis. John/Rodney. (I guess this might be somewhere between the two. *g*)