A/N: This story is something of a departure for me, so I needed lots of reassurance. Big, big thanks to my betas: Kirsteen (aka saclateri), Laryn, and Jacqueline. They gave me great advice, so any of the remaining bad bits are completely my fault.
The picture on the screen tilted and bounced as the M.A.L.P. maneuvered over debris littering a large oval room. It had relied on its onboard lighting to illuminate the foreground, although there appeared to be little of interest in sight. Except for the stargate and DHD there seemed to be nothing else in the room.
"Okay. Aaaaand... Stop!" McKay leaned forward until his nose was practically pressed against the monitor screen on the conference room wall. "There! Do you see it?"
Sheppard exchanged a look with Weir, who appeared equally confused.
"I don't know, McKay," he said, squinting at the picture. "It just looks like another hole in the wall."
The scientist snorted derisively when he looked around and caught the looks of non-comprehension on the others' faces. "Save me," he muttered. "I would have thought at least you, Elizabeth, would have recognized this. You've read all of SG1's mission reports."
Weir tilted her head and studied the monitor again. "I'm sorry, Rodney, it still looks like a hole, or a shadow, to me."
He shook his head impatiently. "The dimensions are too regular; the color is too dark to be shadow." He cocked his thumb and pointed a forefinger at the dark blot on the screen. "That is the access to an Ancient repository."
He watched smugly as Sheppard leaned forward to stare at the picture. "That's one of those things that grabs you by the head and downloads data into your brain?" the lt.colonel asked.
"So you have read the reports."
"Of course I have. They're much more exciting reading than 'War and Peace.'"
"How would you know?" McKay snorted. "You haven't gotten past page – "
"Rodney," Weir interrupted. "Are you certain this is one of the Ancient repositories? I thought those... access ports didn't appear until someone got near them."
"Obviously there's been a lot of damage to the surrounding area. It probably engaged prematurely due to a short circuit of some kind." He bounced anxiously on the balls of his feet. "But that doesn't matter, people. No one is going to be sticking their head in that thing. There are other ways to download the data. Look," he perched on the table, "the first library SG1 came across was lost when its power source died, and the second one was blown up. Think about the information that could be in this one."
"Wouldn't it just duplicate the information in the Atlantis database?" Sheppard asked.
"No. Well... Yes, there would be some duplication, but the City's database is specific to Atlantis' needs. These repositories are supposed to contain All. The. Knowledge. Of. The. Ancients." McKay emphasized each of the last words with a happy little smile, his expressive hands punctuating the moment. "When can we go, Elizabeth?"
"Just a moment, Rodney," Elizabeth smiled, enjoying McKay's enthusiasm, but not yet ready to send out a team. "How do we know the database is still viable? There're no lights or other signs of power. It would be futile to send a team into such an unstable environment."
"One," McKay said impatiently, shooting a finger into the air, "the M.A.L.P. did pick up a second, very faint power reading, besides that of the DHD and stargate. But that was over three months ago. So, we really don't need to waste any more time getting there. Two," another finger speared up, "we don't know what caused this damage or when it occurred. It could have been a thousand years ago, but it's not going to get any safer the longer we wait."
"Rodney," Sheppard reproved gently. He turned to Weir. "I think this will make a nice, easy little mission. We'll go, look – carefully – around, let McKay do all the hard work, then come home with lots of nice, new data to add to the database. What could be easier?"
He flashed his most confident smile at the expedition leader.
She cocked a skeptical eyebrow at him and McKay. "You will be careful," she ordered. She glanced at the monitor again, and grimaced. "Okay. You have a go. When do you want to leave?"
"Now?" McKay asked hopefully.
"First thing in the morning, 0700," Sheppard said. He held up a hand when McKay started to protest. "It's already mid-afternoon. We need to brief Teyla and Ronon, and you, McKay, need to get a generator ready. And I imagine that we – meaning you – want to prep the Atlantis' database to accept the data transfer. That's going to make it too late to go through the 'gate today."
"All right," Weir said, making a notation on her pc tablet. "I'll put you on the schedule for tomorrow morning. Thank you, gentlemen. I think we're done."
With a final smile, she grabbed her tea mug and tablet, and left the conference room. Sheppard watched as McKay started gathering up his own paraphernalia.
"She didn't ask, but I'm curious, McKay. Why were you looking at old M.A.L.P. data?"
McKay shrugged impatiently. "It doesn't matter. What matters is that it was found. That's important. I just hope we're not too late. Damn lazy analysts."
"We can certainly look into having the analysts expand their parameters when reviewing the M.A.L.P. videos, but that's for later discussion. What's going on?"
McKay mumbled a reply as he bent over to pick up some cable from the floor. Sheppard's mouth twitched into a crooked grin.
"You're just making me more curious."
McKay stood up, clutching the cable. His face was bright pink now, whether from the head-down position he had been in or from embarrassment it was impossible to tell. His expression, however, was definitely defensive. "Okay. Fine. I've been hoping to find one since we got to the Pegasus galaxy. I've been reviewing all the M.A.L.P. videos since we came to Atlantis."
"All of them?" Sheppard gaped in amazement.
McKay didn't blame the man. Atlantis didn't send out nearly as many M.A.L.P. s as the SGC, but they averaged a dozen every week and each produced at least one to two hours of visual data. He had been watching a lot of grainy video.
"Well, not the orbital 'gates, or the ones where there are no power readings at all. But all the others, yes," he conceded reluctantly.
"Good grief, Rodney. Why didn't you say something before? We could have had the analysts looking for this from the beginning."
"Because it was an exercise in futility, and I always felt ridiculous doing it. It was a fluke I noticed it myself," McKay admitted gruffly, tossing the coiled cable on top of his laptop. "The two repositories that were discovered in the Milky Way were undetectable until the access ports suddenly appeared. If this one hadn't partially engaged, for whatever reason, we wouldn't have known there was one on this planet." He looked at the image on the screen, then turned to the console on the wall and started shutting down the system. "I could be wrong about this. Then I'll really look the fool."
The understanding switch finally flipped, and Sheppard grinned. "Don't worry, Rodney. I've no doubt you've found yourself a repository. And, as you say, all knowledge is good. Even if this turns out to be a dead repository, it'll be good practice for when we find a live one." He clapped a friendly hand on McKay's back and started steering the other man out of the conference room. "Want to bet on it? I've got ten chocolate chip powerbars that says it's viable."
McKay gaped at him for a moment, and then sputtered indignantly, "I'm not betting against myself."
The mission to M1Q-332 did not begin well for McKay.
He was five minutes behind the other team members going through the 'gate because his comm began to emit a harsh shrieking noise just before he was to enter the event horizon, and had to be replaced.
When he finally stepped through to the large domed room he immediately began to shine his flashlight around the walls. The stargate and DHD were located at one end of the oval. Except for dust, piles of dirt and various sized pieces of the walls and ceiling scattered about the floor, the remainder of the room was empty of furnishings. There were no windows, no doorways to be seen. The only light was from his and Ronon's flashlights. He wondered where Sheppard and Teyla had disappeared to.
Spotting the dark bulge that had originally caught his attention on the video he started across the room. A second later he stubbed his boot on a large chunk of masonry and staggered forward. The flashlight flew from his hand as he flailed his arms in an attempt to maintain his balance. He landed heavily on all fours, feeling something stab his right knee, even as the light hit the ground and went dark. Oh, sure, he thought as he rolled onto his backside and yanked up his pant leg, drop them off a hundred-foot cliff and they don't get a scratch; a three-foot fall and they die.
"You all right, McKay?" Ronon asked.
McKay threw up a hand to shield his eyes from the glare of the other man's flashlight. "Does it look like I'm okay? And are you trying to blind me with that thing?" He snapped back without thinking.
There was reply, but the light shifted slightly so that it illuminated his feet. The silence stretched as he fumbled a large band-aid out of one of his vest pockets and slapped it on his knee.
"Do you want any help?" the large man finally asked, his tone neutral.
McKay climbed to his feet, flexing his knee to get the pant leg back down and to be sure the bandage would remain in place. "Not unless you have a tetanus booster in your pocket. Or some ... Hold on. Do you see my flashlight?"
"You broke it," Ronon said, holding up the abused equipment.
McKay took it and clicked the power button several times with no result; subsequent shaking resulted in a faint sound of glass shards rattling against each other.
"Great," he muttered, "this day just keeps getting better." He limped over to the pile of supplies and began digging for a replacement light.
"You going to answer him?" Ronon asked.
"Answer who?" McKay asked absently, staring at a dozen pair of white socks. Who the hell packed this?
"Sheppard. He's starting to sound mad."
Irritated with himself – he could have sworn he had turned the new comm on before stepping through the event horizon – he slapped a hand to the left side of his head, already talking, "Colonel, I'm bus..." Confused, he stopped speaking and stared at the hand that had failed to power on his comm unit. He returned the hand to feel around his left ear, but there was no communication equipment.
Grumbling, he got back to his feet and snatched the flashlight out of Ronon's hand. "Tell Sheppard I dropped my comm. I'll be with him in a minute."
"I think you'll be able to tell him yourself," Ronon said, nodding toward the far end of the room.
A moment later McKay heard the sound of an irritated Sheppard bellowing his name, followed shortly by a dusty figure appearing around the side of a pile of rubble.
"Damn it, McKay," Sheppard slapped at the dirt covering the front of his uniform. "Why didn't you answer your comm? Is the new one acting up, too?"
"No, the thing fell off when I...This is interesting." McKay's explanation petered out as he bent over to look at something on the floor. He sat himself cross-legged on the floor and brushed at the eons old dirt, sneezing at the resulting dust storm. A mosaic pattern on the floor was slowly revealed.
He was vaguely aware of conversation going on above him, as he pulled out his pc tablet and called up the pictures taken at the first repository found by SG1. If he was right, this writing on the floor was similar to that found in the Milky Way, further proof that this was an Ancient library.
A hand appeared out of his peripheral vision and the middle finger flicked the bloodstained area on his pant leg. "Ow!" he yelped, holding a hand protectively over the damaged joint. "Why'd you do that? Since you completely missed the evidence of the blood, I injured my knee. And it hurts if you poke it."
Sheppard crouched down and shined his light on the knee. "Here's your comm; Ronon found it. That looks painful. Did you clean the wound before you slapped a band-aid on it?"
"I used one of those band-aids with the antiseptic already on it," McKay replied absently, looking back down at his tablet. He gestured toward the six-foot section he had managed to clear. "This is almost exactly like – "
"Did you bother to clean any of the grit out of it, Rodney?" Sheppard asked, then reached out to pull up the pant leg. "Why don't you let me take a look at it?"
McKay pushed the hand out of the way. "Carson can look at it after we get back. It'll make him feel needed." He shoved his tablet into his backpack and stood up. "The floor can wait. Did you trace the power source before I got here, Colonel?"
Sheppard raised a brow and nodded, a small smile quirking his lips. "Why, yes, we did. If you'd care to follow me, Doctor, I'll be happy to show you what Teyla and I discovered. Let me just talk to Ronon for a second."
McKay started toward the pile of rubble where Sheppard had emerged, but then veered off to look at the bulge of the access port on the wall. He was busy taking readings, and scribbling notes on his tablet when he sensed Sheppard moving up beside him.
"So, this is one of those head-sucking things?" Sheppard asked, leaning forward to get a better look.
McKay's arm shot out and pulled the lt.colonel back. "Have all the hair gel fumes affected your thinking?" he snapped. "Are you trying to get your brain fried? Don't stand in front of this thing and then lean toward it. In fact, with your ATA gene, don't get within five feet of it," and he tried to push the man further back.
Sheppard dug in his heels. "Calm down, McKay. I'm not getting any closer. Besides I thought this thing was dead."
McKay was about to snap back a reply, when a low rumble and creaking noise was heard, almost immediately followed by the sound of more debris hitting the floor. The floor shifted dangerously under his feet and he was thrown to his knees. He curled up in a protective ball, arms over his head, and was aware of Sheppard crouching over him, acting as an additional shield. There was another, smaller, quaking and then it was quiet again.
Well... quiet except for the sound of his own panicked gasps. He became aware that he was whispering, 'please, please, please,' and forced himself to be quiet and wait for Sheppard to move. After what he felt was a reasonable amount of time, and starting to feel a little claustrophobic, he muttered, "While I appreciate the lesson in 'Duck and Cover,' Colonel, it's a little hard to breath down here."
He tried to straighten his back and push up off of his stinging knees, but Sheppard's hand on his shoulder stopped him from standing up.
"Stay against the wall for another minute, McKay. Let's make sure nothing else is going to fall on us." The lt.colonel shifted slightly, and called over his shoulder, "Ronon, you okay?"
"Good." Sheppard keyed his mike on, "Teyla, are you all right back there?"
"I am fine, Colonel." Over the comm, they could hear her moving around. "I am afraid more of the ceiling collapsed, and another two sections of crystals have gone dark."
McKay's shoved his claustrophobia and fear of heavy, falling objects to the background. He climbed to his feet and tried to step around Sheppard. "You found the data crystals? Why didn't you tell me? You were letting me waste time gawking at this access portal, when I should have been back there finding a way to hook-up the naquadah generator. God knows how much irreplaceable information has been lost in just the last two minutes. Let me by."
"Hold on a second, McKay. Now that we know this place is unstable, I'm not sure I want you crawling around back there. I don't know how big that room was originally, but now it's only about the size of my quarters. Maybe smaller, since Teyla said more of the ceiling has collapsed."
"All the more reason for you to get out of my way and let me try to salvage what is left." McKay hugged his pack to his chest while gesturing with his left hand, thumb and forefinger rubbing together. "You know me. My personal safety comes before all else." He tried to smile confidently, but it twitched at the corner of his mouth and never materialized.
Sheppard stared at him, one eyebrow raised skeptically. "I've seen you get caught up in a project to the exclusion of all else, including your much vaunted self-preservation."
McKay flushed, Would he never live that down? He leaned forward, anxious to convince Sheppard to let him complete what he came here to do. "Please, Colonel. When you say 'leave', I'll leave. But let me try to save the remaining data. The information on how to manufacture ZPMs might still be in there. Or drones. Or, or... " his voice petered out as Sheppard raised a hand.
"Okay, okay. We'll go on back. But if there is another quake, no matter how small, we are out of here. No arguments, understood?"
"Yes, yes, yes." McKay smiled in triumph, grabbed his pack and started toward the pile of rubble partially blocking the way into the next room. "Grab the naquadah generator, why don't you?"
"Damn it, McKay, slow down and watch where you're walking," Sheppard called after him. "And wait until I get there before trying to climb over that pile of rubble."
When McKay got to the pile of rock and masonry, he found that the opening was not a regular doorway, but another hole ripped in the wall. He waited impatiently for Sheppard to get there, lugging the generator, and nodded obediently to the instructions he was given. He was anxious to get into the space behind the wall, where he could a see a dim glow. To get through he had to walk sideways, hands braced against the slope of the rubble to stay upright, nudging his pack along with his foot. He was almost all the way through when Teyla came into view. She grabbed the pack and offered him a steadying hand.
He stepped into the chamber and gaped at the dizzying array of crystals. Even in the inadequate light of two battery-powered lanterns it was an awe-inspiring sight. What was left of the ceiling was at least one hundred feet above his head. Only about twenty feet of the room was visible since the latest collapse; and it was narrow, less than ten feet between the wall shared with the 'gate room and the one covered in crystals. The feebly glowing crystals stretched from floor to ceiling on the far wall; about ten feet of the visible wall contained darkened crystals. McKay felt his heart contracting at the loss of unknown amounts of information.
"Please watch where you put your feet, Dr. McKay," Teyla murmured as she leaned his pack against the wall and turned to help Sheppard maneuver the case containing the generator through the hole. "The floor is very uneven."
"Yes, yes." He pulled the scanner from his vest and followed the power signature to a point he estimated would correspond to where the access portal emerged in the 'gate room.
There was a break in the smooth rows of crystals, with a twelve-inch section of the bottom row being replaced by an access panel. He dropped to his knees, forgetting about his injury until a bright, stinging pain jolted him back to reality. Shifting to a cross-legged position, he pried the panel open and then curled up on his side to peer into the opening.
He raised his hand and clicked his fingers for attention. "Someone hand me my flashlight."
There was a brief pause, then the requested piece of equipment was shoved into his hand.
"Is there anything else we can help you with, McKay?" Sheppard asked, a slight hint of annoyance creeping into his voice.
"Not right now. I... wait a second." McKay slid his left arm into the opening, all the way to the shoulder, as he traced the power lines. "Ah, there it is. Get the generator."
He ran his fingers over the crystal, fixing its shape in his mind. When the case thumped down next to him, he flipped open the lid with his free hand and pulled out a small box containing a series of different shaped couplers. He sorted through them, discarding several in rapid succession. Settling on one, he grabbed a cable and fit it to one end, then rolled toward the wall and tried to get his right arm as far into the opening as his left.
After several minutes of struggling, only to have the coupler continually slip off the crystal, he flopped over on his back, flushed with frustration. "Damn it."
"Want me to give it a try?" Sheppard asked, crouched by the naquadah generator.
"What makes you think you'll have anymore luck?" McKay groused, sitting up and thrusting the coupler toward the other man.
Sheppard shrugged and unclipped his P-90. "Can't hurt. If I can't get it on, you can always try again. Take a break, eat a powerbar. You can start working on getting access to the portal."
"Fine. It's the pale green, hexagonal crystal about three-quarters of the way down. Have fun." McKay grabbed the scanner and pulled a powerbar out of his vest.
He was in the process of tracing what he believed was the outline of the portal on the opposite wall when he heard a triumphant exclamation behind him. Whirling, half-eaten powerbar and scanner in one hand and sharpie pen in the other, he glared at the grinning lt.colonel.
"How did you...?"
Sheppard shrugged as he sat up. "I tried the next size up, and it slipped right on. Yes, it's a firm fit."
McKay searched for an appropriate comeback, shifting agitatedly from one foot to the other, but had to settle for, "Huh." He leaned over and turned the naquadah generator to quarter power. Immediately, the glow of the data crystals increased. "Huh," he repeated. "Very nice."
He increased the power flow to fifty percent and turned back to the opposite wall. "I've marked out where I think the access portal is. We just need to figure out a way to get in there without damaging the works."
Sheppard, still on the ground, rolled his eyes. "You're welcome, McKay," he said, and climbed to his feet to examine the wall.
"Hmm, what?" the scientist asked absently, then realizing what had been implied, he added indignantly, "I said 'very nice'."
"So you did, my apologies," Sheppard said, amused. He gestured toward the wall. "I don't think we want to risk any sort of explosives here. It looks like a rock-composite, if this other rubble is any indication, about an inch and a half thick. Don't suppose you have a circular saw in that enormous tool kit you made us drag through the 'gate?"
McKay snapped his fingers in excitement. "Yes, I do. And I think I might have the right blade, too. But that doesn't matter. Daedalus can always bring me replacement blades. This is more important." He hurried toward the hole leading to the outer chamber, already shouting Ronon's name.
An hour later Ronon cut the power on the small saw, and the resulting silence was enormous. He removed the protective glasses and shook a layer of dust from his dreadlocks. "I think that does it," he said.
He placed a finger in the middle of the three by three foot square he had just cut and pushed. The slab hitting the ground inside the remainder of the wall, and the sound of something shattering drowned out McKay's horrified shriek.
"What are you thinking? Were you thinking? What if there's... Never mind, never mind," he snatched the power tool and tried to push the former Runner toward the hole leading back to the 'gate room. "I'll just pray there was nothing broken that I'm going to need. Go away. Go wreak mayhem elsewhere." He gave one final shove to the immoveable object in his path.
Ronon remained still for several seconds, then nodded and said, "I'll let Sheppard know we're through the wall."
McKay watched the Setedan climb through the hole into the 'gate room, then turned back toward the recent excavation. "Unbelievable," he muttered. "Simply unbelievable."
He shined his light into the new hole, tracing the components and comparing them to the schematics from the first repository found by SG1. They looked identical. A small, pleased smile touched his lips as he turned to find the necessary cables to make a connection between the access portal and his tablet.
He heard someone climbing through the hole in to the crystal room, and assumed Sheppard had sent Teyla back to keep an eye on him. She was a better assistant than Ronon for this sort of work.
This was a great find, though it broke his heart knowing so much of it had been lost. The same room in the Milky Way had been nearly one hundred feet long; with the latest collapse, this room had been reduced to a quarter of that, and so many of the visible crystals were already darkened.
He shook his head ruefully, calling himself every kind of idiot to have allowed himself to get so far behind in his search for a repository. How much had been lost in the months since the M.A.L.P. was originally sent here?
McKay finished making the connections and called up the program he had designed to interface with the portal. He watched anxiously as it searched for an interface point; when it finally confirmed connection to the access portal he let out the breath he had been unaware of holding. A few clicks and it was poised to transmit a data stream. Keeping the tablet cradled in the crook of his arm, he turned, already shouting for Sheppard.
"Colonel! Eeeep!" He staggered back, crashed into the wall, and had to do some fast juggling to keep from dropping the tablet. "Are you trying to give me a heart attack, Sheppard? Don't sneak up on me like that."
"I didn't sneak," Sheppard said, rubbing at one of the ears abused by the scientist's shriek. "I made plenty of noise when I came through the hole. You were a little absorbed though."
"Try harder to announce yourself, next time," McKay snapped and pressed a hand to his chest, feeling his heart thundering away from the adrenaline rush. He reached down to take his own pulse. "Oh, God, I think I have an arrhythmia."
"You do not have an arrhythmia, McKay." Sheppard helped the other man stand back upright. "What were you calling me for?"
"How would you know?" McKay muttered, giving his chest one last encouraging pat. He glanced down at the tablet to be sure nothing had jerked loose from the earlier rough handling. He smiled and held it up for the lt.colonel to see. "I'm ready to send the data to Atlantis. Zelenka better be ready on his end."
"Already?" Sheppard asked, impressed. He reached up and keyed his comm mike. "Teyla, would you dial Atlantis, please? McKay is ready to send the information."
"One moment, Colonel."
The rushing sound of the 'gate opening a wormhole reached them a few seconds later. Sheppard indicated McKay should do the talking.
"Atlantis, this is McKay. I'm ready to transmit the data. Is Zelenka there?"
There was a brief pause, and then, "This is Zelenka. That was very fast, Rodney. Are you sure all is correct?"
McKay's head jerked back in irritation at having his work questioned, and his lips pressed tightly together. "Yes, I am certain everything has been set up correctly, Radek. Did you get that section of the database blocked off?"
"Yes, Rodney, all is as you wanted. Is there as much data as hoped?"
"No. Two thirds of the crystals have already been lost. If you're ready, I'm going to start the transfer."
McKay clicked on the transmit button, and then watched for a moment as the banana icon started peeling itself – again and again – indicating the request was being processed. "It should be coming through now, Radek. Is there – "
The floor suddenly heaved under his feet, throwing him against the wall, and then to his already abused knees. He cried out involuntarily, and was vaguely aware of Radek and then other Atlantis Control voices shouting in his headset. Hard hands grabbed his arm, hauling him to his feet and dragging him toward the hole leading to the stargate chamber. He wrenched free and stumbled back to the access panel.
"Damn it, McKay! We need to get out of here. Now!" Sheppard grabbed him again and tried to push him toward hole.
"Let me just set this down," McKay shouted, bending to place the tablet on the ground next to the wall. "It can still – "
"Later!" Sheppard started pulling him toward the opening again. "Teyla, Ronon, get through the gate!"
A horrendous crack rent the air above them. Both men looked up just as a large section of ceiling began plummeting toward them.
With a wordless shout, McKay grabbed the arm that had been tugging him and yanked Sheppard back the way they had just come. The ground heaved again, tossing both men to the ground, as a torrent of masonry wall, dirt and dust rained down on them.
Pain exploded in McKay's head and over the sound of the falling debris he heard Sheppard cry out beside him. He found himself on his back, his face inches from the tablet, watching in dazed fascination as the banana stopped peeling itself and a bite from an invisible mouth suddenly consumed half the fruit. With a sharp cracking sound the screen blacked out.
"Huh," he murmured, as his eyes drifted closed, "it's finished."
Sheppard was going to kill him. The thought echoed in his pounding head when he opened his eyes again, although he couldn't remember why he was in trouble. He lay, staring into the darkness, waiting for enlightenment.
"Colonel Sheppard, Dr. McKay, please respond."
The sound of Teyla's voice in his ear sparked his curiosity. "Teyla?"
"Dr. McKay, thank goodness. Are you and Colonel Sheppard all right?"
He could hear the relief in her voice. "What happened?" he asked. Where was Sheppard? He tried to look around, but it was so dark. The only light was a faint glow far above his head.
"There was another quake. You and the colonel were trapped in the crystal room when more of the ceiling fell and blocked the hole in the wall," she said calmly. "Ronon has gone back to Atlantis to coordinate the rescue effort. Are you all right, Rodney?"
"I think so," he murmured. He wiggled his fingers and toes. He hadn't realized his legs were partially buried under the rubble until he had to tug and jerk to get them free, losing one of his boots in the process. The movements made the pain flare in his head again, and he reached up to feel a large lump at the base of his skull, and sticky, matted hair. Nausea threatened, and he spent several seconds taking deep breaths through his nose, praying it wouldn't escalate to the next step. "Just my brains leaking out of my head."
"Nothing. I banged my head." He sat up gingerly and looked around in the darkness. Where was Sheppard? Damn the man. Finally, to his left, he spotted a slightly darker outline close to the crystal wall. "Hold on."
He scooted cautiously across the floor, brushing debris out of his path and wincing when the sharper bits cut at his hands. He reached the lump he hoped was Sheppard and sighed with relief when he touched spiky hair. He quickly moved his hand down and felt a steady pulse in the other man's neck.
"I found Sheppard. He's unconscious but he's alive." He could hear his voice shaking, like his hands. It was awfully dark and close in here, he told himself; a little worry was to be expected.
"That is good to hear, doctor."
He continued checking the lt.colonel for injuries, running his hands over the man's head, neck and shoulders, then continued down to the torso where he had to stop. Sheppard was lying partially on his side and facing the wall, the topmost arm was thrown over his head, the other laying on the ground in front of him. Rubble covered his legs from the hips down.
McKay didn't feel the ubiquitous P-90 anywhere around the man, so he couldn't abscond with its flashlight. He pulled off his vest, rolled it up and tucked it under Sheppard's head.
McKay sat back on his heels, trying to think what to do next. Sheppard was so much better at this physically heroic stuff, always rushing in, jumping in front of wraith stunners, shooting and running... He wasn't aware he was mumbling to himself until Teyla interrupted his scattered thoughts.
"I am sorry, doctor. I could not understand what you said."
"That's okay," McKay said hastily, feeling himself blushing in the dark. "Sheppard has some debris on top of him. I need some light to... to see if I can clear it off. He lost his P-90 somewhere, so I'm going to see if I can find my flashlight."
He inched his way cautiously down the room, pushing chunks of masonry and dirt out of his path as he went. When he reached the generator he paused to turn it off, and removed the power core, placing it to one side. Just to be on the safe side, he thought with a brief snort of laughter. He continued feeling along the wall, encountering more debris and shattered crystals that sliced at his fingers. The flashlight was finally recovered from where it had rolled into a corner. He picked it up, pressed the power button, and then cursed.
"Damn it, damn it, damn it. Sorry piece of – " McKay pressed his lips together, and rubbed a shaking hand over his aching head. He hadn't realized how desperately he wanted – needed – a light. He shook the flashlight, and heard the faint tinkling sound of another broken bulb.
"Rodney, has something happened?" Teyla asked sounding worried.
"Just... the flashlight is broken. One of the practically indestructible, over-priced for government purchase, flashlights – the second one today – has a broken bulb. Which means it is still dark in here," he snapped, dropping the godforsaken flashlight and crossing his arms, hugging his chest tightly. "Really, really dark. And small," he whispered.
"Rodney, Ronon and others should be here shortly. You and the colonel will be out of there soon."
McKay shook himself and started repeating his mantra in his head, Wide open spaces, lush green fields in the bright sunshine, wide open spaces..., as he started crawling back toward Sheppard. "I'm going to see if I can dig Sheppard out now."
"Be careful, Rodney."
"Yes, yes. I'm nothing if not careful," he muttered. He had to stop to fight down the nausea again.
The few feet that separated them seemed to take forever to cross, and all the rubbish he had brushed away before appeared to have made its way back onto the path. Bits of rock and grit ground into existing cuts and scrapes, and jagged or razor sharp edges happily sliced at his hands and knees.
When he reached Sheppard he crawled up the small pile of rubble, wanting to be sure there were no large blocks ready to roll downhill and crush whatever was in its path. He inched past where he calculated Sheppard's feet were and didn't feel anything larger than head sized chunks of the wall composite.
Sighing, he slid back down and began carefully shoveling rock and dirt back toward the wall leading to the 'gate chamber. He had been at it for several minutes, having cleared away rubble down to knee level when he heard/felt his unconscious companion finally waking up.
"What the... "Sheppard said, followed by a weak attempt to sit up. A harsh gasp escaped him. "Oh, jeez, that hurts."
"Teyla, he's awake," McKay reported before bending over the other man. "Colonel, where are you hurt?"
"McKay? Are you okay? What about Teyla and Ronon?" Sheppard asked, shifting restlessly.
McKay held his aching head and said impatiently, "Yes, we're all okay, mostly. Ronon has gone back to Atlantis to get help. Teyla is still in the main room. You and I are trapped in the crystal room, the site of my latest foul-up. Now that you're all caught up, why don't you tell me where you hurt?"
Teyla broke in, "The 'gate is activating. It is good to hear you are awake, Colonel. "
"It's good to be heard," Sheppard said, then, "I can't move my hand; I think there're rocks on top of it."
"Sorry," McKay said, leaning over and feeling down the length of the other mans arm. "I didn't get this far when I was checking you earlier."
Just above the wrist he encountered solid rock. Carefully tracing its outlines had him wincing. "It's about twice the size of the naquadah generator. Unless you really want it off right now, I'd suggest waiting until we get some light and more people in here."
"Colonel, Dr. McKay, this is Lorne," announced Sheppard's second-in-command. "If you could give us an idea of where you're located, we'll see about getting you out of there as quick as possible."
"We're in the last section of the crystal room, behind where the access port is located." McKay sat back down beside Sheppard and dropped his aching head onto his drawn up knees. "We already cut a hole on this side of the wall, Ronon can show you the approximate site on that side. Just be careful not to bring the rest of the wall down on us."
"Understood, Doctor. Just sit tight. "
"Sit tight, sit tight," McKay muttered to his kneecaps. Tight, enclosed spaces. Tight, enclosed, dark spaces. Oh, god.
He lost his struggle with the nausea, but managed to roll toward the outside wall before totally humiliating himself. When he was reduced to gasping moans, he shoved a pile of dirt and pebbles onto the noisome mess and scooted back to Sheppard.
"Wide open spaces, lush green – "
"Are you okay, McKay?" Sheppard asked, concerned.
"What? Oh, yes, yes, yes." McKay turned and continued to move rubble off of the lt.colonel's legs. "It's just a... just something I say to try to help when I have a little touch of, of... you know... claustrophobia."
"Oh. Well. So long as it helps," Sheppard said. There was silence, except for the sound of rocks and dirt being moved, then, "Did you just cover up your... mess over there?" He asked in an amused tone of voice.
"What are you...? Oh, shut up," McKay said as he tossed another handful of debris to one side. "I learned it from my cat. Can you pull your legs free yet?"
Before Sheppard could reply, Lorne's voice came over the comm. "Colonel, Doctor, we're about to start working on the wall. Let us know if the vibrations shake anything loose on your side."
"Will do, Major. We'll be waiting," Sheppard said.
As the sound of power-tools reached them through the wall, McKay helped the lt.colonel carefully change position. When Sheppard suddenly hissed in pain, he stuttered worriedly, "What? What happened? Did I – "
"Calm down, McKay." Sheppard said soothingly. "My hand objected to me moving. But my head and neck appreciate me taking the strain off. And it was uncomfortable laying on my P-90."
"You have your P-90?" McKay asked, perking up. "Can we use the flashlight? I only ask, 'cause it's really dark in here. And the bulb broke in my other light, and the lanterns are somewhere under a pile of rock. Did I mention it's dark in here?"
"Why yes, I think you did say something about that. Here," Sheppard said, unclipped the gun and checked that the safety was on, before passing it to the other man, "have a blast."
"It's not that it's totally black in here," McKay mumbled happily as he fumbled with the flashlight attachment, trying to find the 'on' switch by touch. "There's a little light coming through the wall up near the ceiling. But it doesn't help much down here, where it's ... you know, just really dark. If I can just find the... ah, here it is. Let there be – Damn it!"
McKay nearly howled in frustration as he flipped the power switch back and forth with no result. Holding it up close to his ear, he gave it a little shake then closed his eyes when he heard the telltale tinkling. He handed the weapon back to Sheppard in disgust.
"Three. Three in one day. The military really needs to re-think its flashlight supplier, Colonel."
He dropped his aching head into his hands. The high-pitched scree of the power-tools was causing it to pound constantly.
"Is it – " he started to ask as another tremor shook the ground.
Without thinking he threw himself over Sheppard's head and shoulders, covering his own head with his arms. He yelped involuntarily as a rock dropped onto his unprotected right foot, closely followed by one slamming into his back, but didn't move from his protective position.
The shaking had barely stopped before Sheppard started pushing at him. He sat up, but not quickly enough, as the lt.colonel shoved him back while gasping, "Move. I've got to – "
McKay listened to Sheppard retching and lost the battle to his own nausea again. Afterward he heard the other man reassuring Lorne that they were still all right, while he tossed more dirt on top of the evidence of both their weakness.
He sat again and tried to find a comfortable position. Both his knees and hands felt stiff and swollen, and now his foot and back were throbbing. He wanted to lie down and sleep, but decided Carson wouldn't approve. Wide open spaces, lush green fields...
When Sheppard finished speaking to Lorne and the power-tools had started back up, McKay asked, "You get any more injuries I should look at?"
McKay debated with himself for all of two seconds before deciding to share. "Three supposedly indestructible flashlights get busted bulbs all on the same day. I trip coming out of the 'gate and cut my knee. I get to experience three earthquakes... so far. I probably have a fractured skull, and a cracked rib or two. And, of all the places that rock could have dropped, it had to be on my foot; the foot that lost it's boot earlier when I had to yank it out from under a pile of rocks. I think it's broken. And my hands and knees are killing me." He paused for a moment, then, "I think I should have stayed home today, or at least gone back when you wanted to, after the first quake. Now that I think about it, we probably caused this series of quakes. Do you realize the amount of vibration the 'gate causes when it activates?"
There was silence for a minute, then Sheppard cleared his throat. "You know, McKay, for a man who is so arrogantly optimistic about his professional abilities, you are remarkably pessimistic about other aspects of your life. We're going to have to work on that."
"I am not pessimistic," McKay exclaimed indignantly.
"Don't start that. I hate that stupid game. And my head hurts."
"Yeah, mine too."
They were silent, listening to the annoying sound of the tools being used to cut through the wall. McKay finally sighed and looked up into the darkness. "Do you think they're going to be done soon? This is really killing my head."
"Should be soon," Sheppard said reassuringly, even as the noise stopped.
"Gentlemen, you might want to cover your ears," Lorne warned over the comm.
A moment later a section of the outer wall wobbled, then tipped over to crash on the floor of the outer room. Light, not bright, but welcome, flooded into the crystal room.
McKay looked at Sheppard and winced at the size of the chunk of masonry lying on top of the man's hand. "Ouch. That's gotta hurt. And your forehead. Ow."
"Yeah. You look like crap, too, McKay," Sheppard returned the compliment.
Their conversation was interrupted as Lorne, Ronon and an Air Force medic climbed through the hole in the wall.
While Lorne and Ronon worked to free Sheppard, the medic moved to check Rodney.
McKay tolerated the medic's inane questions. He even tolerated the penlight being shined in his eyes, the blood pressure check and hastily applied field dressings. But he refused to leave while the medic worked on Sheppard, asking the same questions and checking the same vitals. He waited with remarkable patience, Ronon and Lorne crouched at his side, as the medic gently strapped the lt.colonel's hand and forearm to a splint and put it in a sling. They were both declared fit to be moved.
Ronon helped him to his feet and over to the newest hole in the wall. He went through the hole face up, Teyla and a marine catching and supporting his weight as he pulled his legs through. As his sock covered foot cleared the ragged edge he spied the generator on the floor by the crystal wall.
"Wait, wait, wait," he said, balancing on one foot as he shoved his head back through the hole. "Ow!" as he cracked his forehead on Sheppard's splint.
"Damn it, McKay," Sheppard growled, clutching the abused limb closer to his chest.
"Sorry, " McKay said contritely. He looked over at the Setedan. "Ronon, grab the naquadah generator. And don't forget the power core."
He straightened up and turned back to Teyla. "I'm ready to go now."
A week later...
McKay stormed back into his lab, fresh from his daily torture session with the sadistic degenerates in the infirmary. They had promised to unwrap more of his fingers today. And they hadn't lied, exactly. Now, in addition to his two thumbs, he had access to his left forefinger and the tips of all the fingers on his right hand. He couldn't bend them, but he could point. How useful.
He spotted Sheppard, relaxing on the 'I'm-too-busy-to-sleep-in-my-quarters' cot, back to the wall and boots propped on an equipment case.
"Why're you still here?" He asked as he clomped over to his workbench, climbed up on his stool, and dropped his cast-covered right foot onto the extra-tall footstool he had cobbled together. Using one of his newly liberated finger-tips he dispensed with the screensaver ("Who's the Genius? I'm the Genius!" scrolling marquee) on his laptop and checked for updates.
"Radek!" he yelled in exasperation.
"I think he's hiding from you," Sheppard said in amusement. "How'd it go?" Sheppard's injured hand was in a sling with three splinted fingers peeking out, and the 'road rash' and bruising on his left temple had started to clear up. He signed the last of the reports he had been reviewing on a pc tablet, closed the file, then looked up with a smile.
McKay held up his hands in disgust. "I think they're just having fun with me now. This is ridiculous. It was just a few cuts and scrapes. Okay, there was some dirt in them, but you'd think those sadists would have picked it all out by now." He waved his hands in frustration.
"McKay, your hands – and knees – looked like raw meat when we got back from 332," Sheppard said in sympathy. "You're just going to have to be patient and let them heal."
"I don't do patient well," McKay muttered. He tried to type in a command sequence on his laptop, and growled in frustration when he 'fat-fingered' half the letters. He flipped the screen down and pushed it away from him. "I can't work like this. I'm trying to catalogue the data we got from the repository, but I can't get anything done without someone to help me."
"And Zelenka is starting to avoid you."
"Yes, can you believe it?" McKay asked, bewildered. "You'd think he'd be eager to help on such an important project. And it's not like I'm telling him he can't still work on his other projects. He can set them up to run in here, and then assist me with this cataloguing."
"You're right," Sheppard said sadly, shaking his head. "I don't know why he wouldn't jump at the chance. Wish I could help you, but... " he indicated the sling.
"You can't type even when you have the use of all your digits," McKay said with a snort.
"You've been holed up here since Carson let you out of the infirmary. Maybe you should take a break. I've got a new disc to watch. Come on. Teyla and Ronon are in charge of the snacks. And you know the guys in the mess hall love Ronon, he's bound to have got something decent."
McKay tapped the lid of the laptop, undecided. He could probably track down Zelenka; he knew all – well, most – of the places the Czech liked to hang out. He could still get in a few hours work, and then spend a quiet, futile evening in his quarters reviewing M.A.L.P. data.
"I really should track down Zelenka, and get some work done," he said reluctantly. "I shouldn't spend the afternoon watching football."
"First, this is not football," Sheppard said, getting to his feet and pulling a disc case out of his sling. "This is the hottest new form of entertainment on Atlantis. Everyone wants to view this stuff. Second, Carson has not released you to return to duty yet. He has been turning a blind eye to your coming in here everyday, but he has now decided that you are not resting enough and giving yourself time to heal. He has sent me to drag you away from all this. Come on; let's go to the lounge."
McKay resisted being pushed into the corridor. "If I can't work, I can go back to my room and review M.A.L.P. recordings. I'm really not in the mood for a movie, especially if it's one of those horror movies you like watching."
"I'm crushed you don't like my taste in movies. And you are wrong again, it's not a movie."
McKay protested, but found himself stripped of his lab coat, leaving him in the sweats and t-shirt he was wearing in deference to his inability to handle clothes fasteners. He absentmindedly followed as Sheppard exited the lab and started down the corridor.
"Not a movie. Not sports." McKay frowned as he tried to figure out what the 'treat' could be. "Surely it's not a video game. I couldn't handle the controllers right now. Although I would easily beat your skinny ass, if I could play."
"Ha! You wish. And I'm not going to comment on the fact that you seem to have been studying my ass."
McKay was left stuttering, searching for a comeback, as Sheppard entered the lounge. He hurried to catch up, finding Teyla, Ronon and Elizabeth already seated.
"All right, not sports, a movie or a video game. What is it?"
"You haven't told him yet, John?" Elizabeth asked, amused.
"I had to use something to get him here. Curiosity always works." Sheppard inserted the disc in the player, grabbed the remote and flopped down on the couch. "Everyone get his or her bets down in the pool? Don't worry, Rodney, I put you in for twenty."
McKay snatched the bowl Teyla tried to pass to the grinning Sheppard, sat down and propped his cast on the low table in front of the couch. "No popcorn for you until you tell me what this is."
"It's M.A.L.P. footage. You started something with your search for an Ancient repository," Sheppard explained cheerfully, taking a bite of an Athosian meat-roll Ronon passed him. "Everyone wants to be the one to find the next one. So people have divided into teams and put money into a pool. "
"But ... " McKay shook his head. "Remember when I told you it was a fluke I found this one? I was serious."
"But you did find it. I told you we were going to work on your pessimism. This is a start. Now say after me: 'We are going to find an Ancient repository.'"
McKay looked around at his team members, and slowly nodded his head. "Okay. We're gong to find a repository."
Sheppard grinned and pressed the play button. "Good start. Now, pass the popcorn."
~~ The End ~~
Summary: McKay believes he has found an Ancient Repository. Of course, things do not go smoothly. There is a brief mention of Trinity in Season 2. Stargate-SG1 episodes The Fifth Race and Lost City are also referenced, but this is not a crossover.