Title
Imago: The Tao of John
Prompt
Big Bang 2008.   Forks in the Road: Tao of Rodney - John's the one accidentally caught in the machine.
Summary
Imago: a creature in its final stage of development. John receives a gift that might be used to destroy the Wraith. It might also kill him. Can his team convince him that the cost is too high? Team plus Carson and Elizabeth.
Pairing
Gen
Rating
PG-13
Word Count
49759 words
Notes
I want to thank my wonderful betas Wildcat81 and everybetty for their wonderful suggestions and swift ,amazing beta skills! You guys rock!

Special thanks to greyias for all those write offs in the middle of the night and timely geek talk. Also applause to D1 for the most incredible cheer leading and feedback!

Note: I do not have a huge science background. I did a ton of research until I understood most things, but I'm sure there are mistakes and they are my own.
Companion Artwork
  • Imago: The Tao of John (I) by slodwick
  • Imago: The Tao of John (II) by slodwick

The lower levels of Atlantis were their version of catacombs, one unmapped corridor after another, swallowed up by darkness. The air reeked of mold and their boots sloshed through an inch of standing water from previous flooding. John felt in tune with the city, exploring its depths during morning runs or hiding out in corners to think. Her piers were extravagant invitations to the ocean and her towers, observation decks to the sky. For all the beauty and mystery of their surroundings, no one truly understood the scope that was hidden from them.

Sub-levels were off-limits to most personnel because they lacked the resources or manpower to secure the areas. Hidden treasures lurked in the sleeping corridors, and it only took one bumble to remind them of the many dangers. He trained his P-90 in a clockwise circle, the light illuminating the dents and damage in the hall. He regretted not snagging a pair of night-vision goggles; it would make detecting something stolen from Star Wars easier.

"How big is the thing you lost again?"

"It escaped," McKay corrected.

John graphed every inch of empty space with his eyes. "Golf ball? Tennis ball?"

"I'm not sure. I was too busy making a tactical evasion to pull out my measuring tape," McKay snipped.

"You mean a tactical retreat?" John mocked with a smile.

"Actually, he ducked behind the nearest console," Zelenka spoke up. "I estimate the diameter to be around a half-meter. Closer to a cantaloupe."

"Because your knowledge of produce is so extensive that you can rattle measurements off the top of your head. Did you work as a grocer to pay for candles during those long winters as a kid?" McKay said.

Zelenka peered up from his scanner. "I picked up fresh food from the local market for my mother every day for dinner. You are just sore because you activated the thing."

"I did no such thing. I think you were the one who---"

"Could we tone it down until we find the floating ball that's programmed to avoid detection, open doors, and oh... happens to shoot lasers?" John groused.

The problem with playing hide-and-go-seek with scary alien tech was the unpredictability factor. There were no guarantees that it wasn't hunting back. The bowels of Atlantis were a fun time on a day off, an adventure of labyrinths inside Tron. The city fluttered like a weak pulse inside his mind; he could really lose himself down here.

John signaled two of the Marines to flank the sides of an unexplored room; this was the tenth one today. On a silent count of three, he palmed the sensor and the door slid open.

Corporal Ramirez and Sergeant Timms burst through with John right behind them. Three beams of light crisscrossed the empty void, clearing the area.

After the sweep he tapped his radio. "Lorne, this is Sheppard. We've just swept Sector 163-C. Moving towards 163-D. No sign of the bogie."

"Copy that, Colonel. We've just covered Sector 186-A through F with no luck. I'll relay to the other teams."

"Keep me updated," John replied, blocking McKay's beeline inside. "There's no time to inspect every room we come across. We have a lot more ground to cover."

"You have no idea what could be lurking inside. Who knows what---"

"It was nothing. No equipment, no cool gadgets. We can backtrack later."

McKay geared up for a long-winded retort -finger in the air, long inhale of oxygen-but John didn't give him a chance to unload. "Only scientists who don't let UFOs loose in the city are allowed to argue."

"It wasn't a spaceship," McKay huffed, boots trudging after him.

"But it was an unidentified flying object," John deadpanned.

It was fast approaching hour four of their search and he was getting bored. His uniform top and T-shirt underneath were damp from the moisture in the air, the temperature chilling his skin. "On the last trip from Earth, I grabbed Spiderman 3," he mentioned to break the monotony.

"I'd rather do an inventory of my lab," McKay sniped.

"It couldn't be that bad."

"Might be in the top ten worst comic book adaptations, I've been told."

"Like X-Men 3, bad?"

"More like The Hulk."

"What's wrong with The Hulk?"

"It was boring. Not to mention that whoever they got to play Bruce Banner was totally horrible," McKay commented, walking beside him.

"We did get those Hulk foam hands out of the deal," John said, enjoying the snort of contempt.

"Only you would think those things were cool, Colonel." McKay's light bounced in uncoordinated jerky motions over the walls. "Ang Lee directed it; that's all I'm saying."

"You don't like cowboy movies?" John held up his hand, blocking the beam that blinded his face. "Do you mind?"

McKay shifted his P-90 back toward the hall. "I meant that Mr. Crouching Tiger's kung-fu movies don't qualify him to tackle one of the biggest Marvel heroes ever."

"I dunno; I'm thinking Steel with Shaq was pretty awful."

"Who?"

"Shaquille O'Neal, great basketball player."

"Oh." McKay panned his weapon along the ground. "I bet this place is a breeding ground for rats. Polluted water, dark, creepy tunnels."

"There is nothing for rats to eat down here," Zelenka pointed out.

John scanned the ceiling, searching for holes or any other defects after millennia of disrepair. He wondered if Manhattan would look like this if ever abandoned. "Batman Returns," he offered to halt the bickering behind him about rodents and sewers.

"Wrong, once again. Batman and Robin was way worse," McKay said adamantly. "Codpieces, Colonel."

"Right," John admitted before taking over point.

Damn it, where was this thing? His stomach growled, the soggy waffles from earlier now a distant memory.

"Superman IV was dreadful."

McKay spun around to regard his fellow geek. "No one asked your opinion, Zelenka."

"He's right," John defended. "Nuclear Man sucked."

"Fine, fine. Catwoman. Worst comic book movie ever," McKay declared.

Everyone had a good chuckle, and Corporal Ramirez turned to his CO. "We're entering 163-D, sir."

"Okay, let's stay on our toes," John replied.

The lower levels of the city were gridded in order to map the place for exploration later on. They were following a single long hallway, clearing rooms as they came upon them. Teyla, Ronon, and Major Lorne were leading three other teams and exploring parallel halls to cover more ground. There was the possibility that what they were tracking would double back, but they had no intel on the thing's programming.

John held up his hand; a set of large double doors loomed ahead.

In Atlantis, large rooms equaled science labs.

Labs produced weapons, nanites, viruses, and alarmingly elusive drones.

He signaled Timms and Ramirez to take their positions with McKay and Zelenka holding in the rear. John nodded his head, and for the eleventh time today, his finger curled around the trigger, waiting for a blur of motion that could kill them.

The three of them swooped in, dividing up the room, rubber soles clomping over the slate floor.

"Clear."

"Clear."

It was a cool looking lab with rows of consoles and a large screen that hung in the middle. There was enough equipment to keep a science team busy for days. John stood in the middle, squinting from the lack of light while his heart slowed from a wild gallop. "Looks like a--"

"Oh, wow! This is awesome." McKay's voice was awed behind him.

Zelenka hurried past him with a kid-in-a-candy-shop expression of glee. "This definitely looks promising."

"Guys," John warned. It didn't matter; McKay was already powering up his laptop. "Seriously, we can't hang around here."

His two geeks were too absorbed with the playground they'd stumbled upon to heed his warning. McKay blew a layer of dust from a panel, fingers adjusting and fiddling with sensors and buttons. "I think this is the main one here," he announced, searching for a port to insert his computer.

Zelenka hovered over his own set of controls with several dormant monitor displays as he tapped a finger to his chin. "I am not sure, but I think this is what powers everything."

John never dropped his guard, eyes alert for unexpected motion, right hand still gripping his weapon. Both Marines floated about cautiously, staying away from the equipment that began to hum to life.

John walked over to where his teammate was preoccupied. "Rodney, we have a mission to complete."

A gigantic screen much like the ones in the gate room glowed with scrolling, unreadable Ancient text. He watched the green lettering zip along in a very Matrix-like manner, thousands of lines of streaming code flashing over the two by three meter display.

"What is this?"

"I have no idea," McKay answered.

John spun around from the screen. "Isn't this how you released our roaming ball of fun? A thing we still haven't found yet?"

McKay waved his hand in the air. "It activated when I got near it. I didn't even touch the damn thing, unlike the hundreds of devices you've happened to turn on just by looking at them."

"We can't stay here," John urged.

"It only fired at me when I pointed my weapon at it, and the scorch marks left behind were minimal."

"Was this before or after you jumped behind a console?"

The scientist glared at him. "Before. It perceived me as a threat. It's probably a defensive weapon."

"And for the past ten hours it has eluded all our teams, and we have no idea if it's adapting to our tactics or gathering intel to attack us. So until then, we unplug all our toys and keep looking for it," John ordered.

"Ten minutes. Just give us ten minutes to figure out what type of lab this was so we know who to bring along to examine it," McKay asked.

"I dunno, Rodney."

"Consider it a break. We still earn those you know. Even while hunting... Jedi training spheres."

John exhaled, thinking it over. They'd been slumming in the dank, cold underbelly of the city for hours without stopping. Chilling out for a few might recharge the batteries. "Fine."

McKay's eyes lit up at the prospect of attacking a new puzzle; it had been a while since they had discovered anything promising.

"Teams Two, Three, and Four, this is Sheppard," he said into his comm. "We're taking ten. You guys might want to do the same."

The other groups checked in, taking the rest to keep them all searching in the same zones. John pulled out a power bar and unwrapped it. "With all their advancements, I wonder why the Ancients never learned to make signs. Simple things. Bathrooms. Laundry rooms. Bioweapons labs."

Timms and Ramirez covered the door, each leaning against a wall while the geeks drooled over equipment that powered on all around them. John strolled toward a standalone console, gazing at the large platform that jutted out from under it. There were panels with multicolored crystals in shades of blue to purple and a small oval screen above it.

Nibbling on his oatmeal raisin bar, he studied controls that reminded him of an old church organ. Only there was a second shelf containing a computer keyboard with three times the normal number of buttons.

"I bet this is the most complicated scale known to man," he said under his breath, nudging the metal platform with the toe of his boot.

"Rodney, I'm picking up a surge in power," Zelenka warned. "What are you doing over there?"

"I'm trying to reroute these energy readings. Give me a moment," McKay said over his clicking keypad.

"Maybe we should just shut everything down. We only have a few minutes left."

"I know what I'm doing, Radek."

John shook his head; it looked like the children couldn't play nice during recess. "Kids."

A charge of static electricity sizzled through the air; the hair along his arms and the back of his neck stood on end.

"Rodney, do you feel something?" he asked.

"Busy here," McKay snapped.

The panel behind John started humming, lighting up like a Christmas tree with a sudden jolt of power.

"I think you activated this," John announced.

"Colonel," Zelenka cautioned.

An energy pulse shot out of the machine, and warm sensations of current swirled around and through John's body. Every inch of skin tingled, his eyes filling with each color of the rainbow, but in a single heartbeat it was over.

A collection of voices assailed his ears, and it took a moment to recognize his name.

"Whoa," he said, swaying. "That was strange."

Hands clutched at his arms and shoulders until the head rush was over. "I'm fine," he said, brushing away the help.

John glanced around at the now dark, silent room. His Marines were on alert, chattering into their comms, and McKay's anxious face hovered only inches away. "Rodney," he growled.

The man didn't budge, eyes nearly bulging out in panic. "You're going to sit down. A med team's on its way."

"I feel fine."

"Are you kidding me? You just got zapped by an unidentified Ancient machine, and you're going to get examined before you....."

"... before I what?" John demanded, not liking the implication.

McKay's face fell, and the words caught in the scientist's throat at suggesting the very real, very scary, possibility that he'd been exposed to something. John swallowed a lump, mind filling with a million possible outcomes from another freaking hidden lab with experimental technology. He cataloged every part of his body, searching for weird anomalies, calming his breathing that had him doing an impersonation of a marathon runner.

There was no time for overreacting; he had to get a grip for the sake of the people around him. "Okay, cancel the med team though. I'll walk to the infirmary."

He flexed his hands; nothing unusual there. His feet worked just fine, holding his weight as he moved. "Make sure to turn everything off," he ordered.

McKay was glued to his side, face twitching in nervousness as Zelenka powered down machines they had been in such a hurry to activate. His Marines escorted him out into the hall, extra attentive to their surroundings with a strange Ancient object still presenting a threat.

He really did feel all right, but his earlier paranoia didn't taper off. Almost turning into a bug could really change a guy.


Atlantis' bounty included state of the art medical technology that the best hospitals on Earth would kill for. The Ancient scanner started at John's boots, the green laser etching patterns across his body. The procedure was harmless; it never hurt or tickled. That didn't stop a slight quiver inside, the part of him not on display for all to witness. He laid there, the perfect embodiment of cool and relaxed.

He felt like they had spun a roulette wheel with a fifty-fifty chance that the results would come back red instead of black.

Carson handled the examination personally, all smooth smiles and honest eyes. He tapped a few buttons and returned the scanner to the corner. "There we go. All done."

John sat up immediately. "How long?"

"Always cutting to the chase?"

"Was never much for prologues."

"Aye, bet you skipped right to the last page of a book." Carson would make a great politician, always making the unknown sound fine. He slipped his PDA into a lab pocket, folding his hands in front of him. "I studied the initial readings, and everything looks right as rain. Your blood work should be back any minute, and I'll have an analysis of the data from this in a jiffy."

John only feared relapses of blue scales and insect eyes. "I'm not worried, Doc."

Carson patted his knee. "Just relax."

The gesture was meant to be comforting. If things were dicey the Scotsman went for the shoulder.

McKay wasted no time storming over, his emotions erupting in a flurry of energy. "What's the verdict?"

John dangled his legs over the table. "Nothing yet. Heard anything from the search teams?" he asked, changing the subject.

"What? No, I haven't been paying attention. Elizabeth won't let me take a team back over to study the device until we know if it's safe. For all we know you could have been exposed to radiation or gamma waves or--"

"Green kryptonite."

Humor worked for John, distracting the attention away from him. It broke the ice, defusing emotional situations that threatened to overwhelm all those around. McKay diverted worked-up adrenaline into verbal rants, spewing anxiety like a geyser.

It took a moment to notice the finger snapping.

"Have you been paying me any attention at all?"

"No," John replied.

It was amazing the different shades of red and purple McKay's complexion flushed when he let go of all that steam. "I'm glad that you find this a laugh a minute, Colonel. Some of us are actually wasting our precious time worrying over what that energy thing did to you. Not to mention any side-effects for those who might have been exposed by default."

His teammate took a seat on the bed opposite of John to catch his breath, his hair frazzled in all directions. "I think I'm feeling the first signs of whatever you radiated me with."

That was the Rodney that he knew and loved. "If we both morph into Wolverine, think of all the cool things we could do."

"Oh, please not that. I don't want hair all over my body; your whole permanent five o'clock shadow thing is enough."

"Women dig a little scruff," he said, rubbing along his rough jaw line.

"I'd prefer a mutant a little less ruthless. Like Spiderman or Superman."

He resisted checking the scar on the inside of his arm. "Done the whole bug-man thing already," John said, clenching his jaw. "Plus, Superman got all his power from our orange sun; that doesn't count."

The awkward silence was exactly why he hated these situations. People avoided eye contact out of a fumbling sense of concern, only intensifying the spotlight on the possible problem. Thankfully, the sounds of approaching footsteps signaled an interruption. Relief turned to uneasiness; Elizabeth added an unknown to the equation, her presence both a comfort and a wrench to the precarious balance he had on things. "Hey," he said, jumping off the exam bed.

"John, I came as soon as I could."

"There was no need to," he replied hastily. "Carson didn't see anything weird during the first set of tests."

"That's good news. I'm glad I took the extra time to finish a few emails then." She smiled, improving on her bedside manner by acting casual.

"There's more where that came from," Carson's cheery voice echoed loudly.

Knots he didn't know were there loosened between John's shoulder blades. "Good news?"

"Every x-ray, scan and, blood test came back normal. The machine did nothing to ya." Carson beamed, waving a PDA around like the Holy Grail. "You're cleared to resume your normal duties."

The sounds of the infirmary came all rushing in; his surroundings had been nothing but a blanket of white noise before. John broke into a goofy grin, the hidden weights disappearing. "Awesome. Told ya it was nothing."

"Oh, thank goodness." McKay sagged in alleviation.

Elizabeth beamed at a disaster averted. "I'll inform Major Lorne that'll you'll help out the search in the morning so he can adjust the duty roster."

John grabbed his jacket, slipping into the sleeves. "I can go back and help now."

"No, it's getting late, and we already have teams out there. You can start fresh in the morning if it's not caught tonight," Elizabeth said in a tone that quartered no argument.

He knew that determined expression. "Maybe I'll check in with them later," John tossed casually, walking away.

"They'll be fine on their own. Let's not push our luck today."

Still on a stressed-induced high, McKay interrupted John's retort. "Does this mean I can go back and take a look at that room now that we know the machine's not dangerous? Good, I'll go track down Zelenka, and we'll begin working on it."

John was guided out of the infirmary in a rush, McKay whispering to him the entire time. "Quickly! If we're out of earshot then we're not disobeying orders."

He quickened his pace, tagging along with Rodney to get back in range to track down the stupid alien device that had begun this whole ordeal.

"We need to stop by my lab first."

"Then the armory," John replied.

"Whatever. As long as you don't shoot the stuff we're trying to analyze."

Some days John had the most exciting job in the world.


Trying to wrangle a scientist away from a white board, surrounded by the brain trust of Atlantis was an unenviable task. Add a series of complex math equations and geek talk, and you had a recipe for massive hand waving in between shouting matches. McKay entered the lab to fetch Zelenka, instantly getting embroiled in their discussion. He spent most of his time ridiculing the others until the rest of the geeks left in clouds of smoke. John hooked his boot around a stool leg and yanked it close enough to watch the verbal tennis match before him.

"Do I need to remind you that there are no known particles that have negative mass? That's the problem. We can't reproduce the acceleration at zero energy with the necessary repulsive force of negative inertia," McKay fumed. "It makes all this gibberish theoretical," he said, jabbing a finger at the board.

"That is why finding dark matter is the key to--"

"Dark matter? You want to go grocery shopping in a black hole and scoop up some negative energy?"

McKay began pacing, the vein on right temple beating madly.

Zelenka closed his eyes, mouthing, 'One... two... three,' and took a long breath. "Stop interrupting me."

John wondered how many times McKay rolled his eyes at other people, if one day they would just get stuck in their sockets. "It's not interrupting if I'm saving your breath by not allowing you to waste it on nonsense."

"Nonsense?" Zelenka literally vibrated in his shoes. "Big Bang nucleosynthesis models propose that there has to be equal amounts of positive and negative energy when the universe was created."

"Fine. If that's true then why can't we find some?"

McKay's face flashed triumphant in the wake of Zelenka's inability to retort quickly. John raised his hand. "Did I miss the part where Atlantis requires some negative energy soon?"

"Exotic matter with negative energy density is required for a wormhole," McKay said, looking at him like he was a complete moron.

"Quantum mechanics of the Casimir effect can be used to produce a locally mass-negative region of space-time. The negative stabilizes the wormhole to allow faster-than-light speed," Zelenka explained more patiently.

There wasn't very much white space between all the dry-erase marker equations. He recognized calculations for wave vectors and regulators to make infinite expressions. John skipped most of the scribbling, pausing at things that determined energy per unit. "You're trying to dissect a ZPM?"

"No, trying to make one," McKay corrected. "I'm impressed you figured that out."

"What else could solve all our problems?" John shrugged. He patted down his vest for another power bar. "You're talking about a force between objects. Acceleration of an atomic reaction inside a vacuum to produce endless energy. But the negative energy needed to do it--"

"We don't have," Zelenka finished for him, deflated.

"And it's produced in a ZPM. Creating power from vacuum energy, derived from sub-space time. Yadda yadda, yadda. I'm so glad we could have a refresher class on Ancient power sources." McKay glared at his fellow geek as if Radek was responsible for stealing the vital piece of data and hiding it.

"What we need is something we have plenty of."

John's stomach growled loudly, reminding him that he was starving, but something Radek said clicked. "Water."

There were no snide comments, making him think he hit the light bulb moment; however the two sets of eyes staring at him said differently. "Don't look at me like that. We're surrounded by an ocean," he defended.

"Oh yes, of course. Sail power. We'll just race boats out there," McKay snarked.

Zelenka busied himself at the board, erasing and correcting parts of the calculation, sheepishly looking over his shoulder. "I'm sure if we could use the ocean we would."

Being ridiculed didn't bother John one bit; it was par for the course. The odd thing was, the more he thought about the simplicity of creating energy, the more sense it made. "I'm not talking about actually using water. I'm talking about dumbing it down. Produce the energy we need with what we have."

"I see; I'll just go to my quarters and create a mini-universe with a few spare parts and tap it with my magic wand." McKay peered at the equation in front of him, snagging a marker. "The integer is in the wrong place."

John watched the two scientists bicker over the equations. "We've split the atom, right? We've also combined them together. Smashing two large nuclei together makes things unstable, and that releases energy, too."

"Congratulations. You just passed high school Chemistry 101." McKay furiously erased a segment of numbers. "I said that was wrong, Radek."

Zelenka stepped away, crossing his arms in irritation and turned to John. "You're talking about fusion, but it takes a lot of energy for it to work. Two nuclei normally repel each other. It takes massive amounts of kinetic energy from particle accelerators to make them merge even for the seconds needed. We're talking about gigantic structures that reach millions of degrees."

Something didn't feel right; John couldn't put his finger on it. "I know that. We get crap like radiation. But what about all those theories that you can create the same thing at room temperature?"

"Are you nuts? Cold fusion, Colonel? Did that beam fry your brain? Maybe Carson should x-ray your head, see if anything's missing."

"Just a few minutes ago you were bitching about trying to find matter out of a black hole. Even I know that sounds pretty impossible. How difficult would it be for the smartest people in the galaxy to try something that doesn't sound so... so crazy?"

John found himself on his feet, eyes darting at the puzzle before him.

Photobucket

He took the dry-erase marker and added two missing parts despite the protests. "You forgot to consider the hbar is half when used with the constant."

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The words slipped off his tongue before he thought of what he was saying. John enjoyed watching his friend work himself into a lather, mocking his work until he realized the equation was correct. Zelenka pushed up his glasses, fingers cupping his chin.

John's belly took the moment of astonishment to make its hunger known again, growling loudly. "Okay, I'm going to grab a quick dinner before going after the drone You coming, Rodney?"


The idea of Brunswick stew and baked chicken was a combination he couldn't resist. Normally the chow line was a choose-your-own-adventure. Meals were a mix of traded foodstuffs overly spiced to cover up the real taste and frozen commodities from Earth. Tonight he scooped a mound of pinto beans next to a stack of carrots, soggy canned corn, and some Athosian vegetable, then carried his heavily laden tray over to the table already occupied by his teammates.

Teyla arched an amused eyebrow at the high pile of grub, and Ronon tried to snag one of his brownies.

John slapped his fingers away. "Back off, buddy."

"You have two of 'em."

"I haven't eaten since breakfast this morning," John whined, cutting up the stew with surgical precision. "I heard the search ended in a bust."

Ronon dipped his bread into his gravy, soaking it all up. "Didn't find a thing. Captain Rhodes relieved us, and his people are looking."

"Between all our teams we covered fifty sectors and nothing. It is like a needle in hay," Teyla said, folding her napkin. "Major Lorne's team thought they sighted it in sector 221, but it was too quick."

"Did any of them actually see it?" John asked, mulling over a way to flush it out.

"No, it was a blur. We tried coordinating our teams to cut it off, but there was no sign of it."

He looked over at Teyla, noticing the weariness in her face, the exhaustion of running around the damp city for over ten hours. "We'll find it. We've got both those levels blocked off to keep it from escaping." John didn't relish how much manpower it was going to take to cover five-hundred sectors; the corridors were the size of city blocks down there.

"If it's that fast, might get by our guys," Ronon added. "Small flying things are hard to track."

"Has Dr. McKay not found a reason for its programming? Maybe if we know what it is doing, we could predict where it would go."

John started in on the chicken. "Thought of that," he chewed, answering Teyla. "We know it's some kind of drone. Used for scouting."

"Or it's a first strike object. It has weapons."

"True, but only when McKay aimed his P-90 at it," John muttered as he shoveled in the dumplings. "I'm betting its primary focus is to gather intel; speed and agility are our problems." He mapped out the sub-levels in his head, wondering how the search would affect its movements. Would it continue to evade? Or would its objective change and try to seek out people?

His eyes wandered the mess hall, groups of soldiers and civilians enjoying their time off. Bursts of laughter, moments of private interchange, and bouts of rowdy debate. The room thrummed with life, emotion of all types reflected in the many faces. John dragged his attention away, spotting Rodney's rush to get in line for dinner.

"Someone's late," Ronon chuckled.

"I think he was preoccupied," John grinned.

It didn't take long for McKay to wind his way over to the table, glaring at him as he sat. "I spent the last half hour rechecking that equation."

He looked up innocently, fork scraping his tray for the last of the beans. "Yeah?"

"It was a simple oversight from hours of slopping through rat infested waters, depriving me of sleep. When did you learn about polar coordinates?" McKay stopped long enough to poke at his stew. "Some jerk took the last of the chicken, the freaking nerve."

John honestly didn't know what polar coordinates were or what Rodney was fussing about. It just seemed right to add the fraction. The hbar function must have been in the back of his mind, collecting dust. He was about to joke about Rodney getting slow when a tiny blur out of the corner of his eye caught his attention.

His chair tipped over, and he was five steps away from the table, gun drawn, before he noticed his friends rushing to join him moments later.

Ronon was beside him, weapon at ready. Teyla at his flank.

"What the hell are you doing?" McKay squawked instantly behind him.

Marines were on their feet, and everyone else stared at John slightly panicked.

There was a streak of motion, over ninety miles an hour, the speed of a Major League fastball, dashing across the horizon.

People screamed.

The sphere rotated, crossing the room again even faster.

"There it is!"

Ronon discharged his weapon, red blasts hitting the wall where the sphere had been a second before.

"Everyone down. Take cover!" John shouted.

The sphere reacted, firing at the scattering the crowd.

Two-point-three seconds later, it took off like a shot to the eastern corner of the room.

Guns aimed at it. The object zipped over their heads a moment later.

"It won't stay still long enough," Teyla hissed.

Ronon fired again, energy blasts missing, the drone off like a dart.

Two-point-two seconds that time.

A sergeant trained his Bernetta in the air, and the sphere did a fly-by.

"Get down, Milsap!" John fired a half second ahead of time, causing the object to adjust course to avoid being hit, lasers missing the Marine by inches.

The weaponized ball rotated at John's four o'clock and one-point-seven seconds later, hovered at his eight o'clock. John narrowed his eyes, fired six meters opposite of the device, the sphere nearly running into his hail of bullets.

He smiled.

"Ronon, Teyla. On my mark, fire where I tell you."

There were no questions, only the movement of bodies getting into position.

The sphere zigzagged overhead.

One-point-three seconds.

"Ready."

"Two o'clock!"

They shot at empty space. John aimed three meters away, striking the sphere as it ran into his line of fire and knocking it down.

Ronon slapped him on the back of his shoulder. "Nice shot."

"How the hell did you do that?" McKay stared at him wide-eyed. "I mean, you really didn't anticipate its next move, did you?"

Teyla joined the circle surrounding the downed drone. "That was very clever, Colonel. It was so fast."

John holstered his gun. "Just picked up on a pattern," he said, ignoring McKay's skeptical expression. "I want to know why it entered the mess hall and more importantly, how."

"No one with the gene should touch it. I'll radio my lab. This means you," McKay pointed at John. "Back away. Don't even breathe on it."

A science team in protective gear entered and secured the device, McKay following the group out of the mess hall. John had a long report to write up on this and decided to get a head start. He ignored McKay's demand that he explain how he shot the thing down; his mind was already buzzing with other things.

He was inside his quarters before he realized how he got there.

John powered on his laptop, typing up notes on today's long search for the missing piece of Ancient tech. He really needed to formulate a more efficient template for mission reports, and before he knew it, he was constructing one in Excel. He didn't know the time; the light from the moon told him it was after midnight yet he was too wired to go to sleep.

Sighing, he picked up his copy of Golf Digest and noticed a pad of paper next to it. He wasn't in the mood to read and, for whatever reason, followed the impulse to begin writing. It never occurred to him to stop to think about what he was scribbling; things just began pouring out of his fingers.

What accounts for the absence of particles that are familiar in ordinary hot fusion, such as the neutrons D + --> n + 3He and the high energy y-ray of D + D--> y + 4He?

The HD reaction p + d --> 3He does not have an accompanying y-ray; the excess energy is taken up by the metallic lattice of Pd alloyed with D. Concerning the oft repeated demand for a control experiment using H20, one should note the possibility of a converse effect of the HD reaction: Through the natural presence of D20 in ordinary water, such control experiments might produce an otherwise puzzling amount of heat.

John blinked at his chicken scratch perplexed, but it made a weird kind of sense to him, and he continued to write.


The Ancients really knew how to design showers; they gushed out heavy streams of soothing water at intense temperatures before the safety features kicked in. He needed a powerful force to ease the knots after waking up with a crick in his neck at his desk. John toweled and changed, glancing at the spiral-bound notebook filled with ten pages of stuff he didn't recall writing. No wonder he felt so wrung out; his mind could never rest if it was too absorbed in something.

It was odd; applied psychics had never been his thing despite a BA in Aeronautical Engineering. He dismissed the peculiar thought and stepped into the hall with Ronon who was already warming up for their daily run.

"What route today?"

"Let's go to the West Pier," John suggested.

His friend only grunted in response before taking off. Normally they headed toward the more isolated areas to avoid others. Today he wanted a shorter trek, a simple five miles to shake off the lethargy from lack of sleep. The cool thing about these early morning runs was the feeling of freedom. Ronon always pushed him to his limits but never really broke the mood with too much talking.

John kept his strides long and loose, allowing his muscles to stretch. The human body was a graceful set of aerodynamics. It was all about rhythm: legs, arms, heart and lungs syncing into place while the city buzzed around him. Sometime into the second mile, he hit a perfect balance, his mind and body separating until he wasn't conscious of his feet hitting the ground.

This was the sweet spot, a warmth flowing throughout his limbs, burning away excess stress. He savored the peace and tranquility of being in perfect harmony with his outside environment. The peak of the runner's high began hitting him. It was funny how endorphins--

Endorphins are any group of opiate proteins with pain-relieving properties that are found naturally in the brain. The word "endorphin" comes from endogenous, meaning "produced within the body," and morphine, a chemical substance derived from opium that elevates mood and reduces pain. Endorphins in turn are neurotransmitters that are chemically similar to morphine.

"Whoa." John stopped and almost stumbled.

"You okay?"

He gave his head a shake, clearing the words out of his head. "Yeah, just...." John looked into the perplexed face of his friend. "Nothing. One of those weird moments."

Ronon seemed satisfied he wasn't bleeding or had sprained an ankle. "Are we going to have to jog now?"

"No, smartass," John snorted. He took off like a shot past his friend.

It took about three seconds before he was eating Ronon's dust, an evil grin tugging on the other man's lips. After being reminded that his running partner was over ten years younger and in better shape, things evened out as his teammate slowed his pace alongside him.

"I'm glad we're not looking for that thing anymore," Ronon said, his breathing even and steady.

"Yeah, it was a pain in the ass."

"It smelled bad down there."

The idea that Ronon was put off by foul odors made John chuckle on the inside. "It did reek."

"Don't put me on Reynolds' team anymore."

It wasn't often that Ronon complained about duty rosters. "No? Why not?"

"He's careless. He jumps signal counts," Ronon growled then increased his speed. "If there'd been an enemy, his timing would have killed people."

The selection process used for duty assignment to Atlantis was rigorous; it was annoying to run into a situation like this. "I'll talk to his Marine captain, see if we can work that out," John huffed, lengthening his stride. They couldn't afford screw-ups in basic sweep and clear procedures. One soldier could ruin a cohesive unit.

"Already mentioned something to him."

"Did it involve a wall?"

Very few people ever witnessed the way those eyes could light up with mischief. "Maybe." Ronon feigned innocence.

They hit the third mile, a long path over large overarching catwalks. John heard the rubber-soled boots of an approaching platoon. Atlantis was a twenty-four seven beacon of activity, the military up at dawn, the geeks burning midnight oil.

"I told ya I got the latest issue, and she was smokin'. All long legs and natural blonde hair."

"Whatever, Perkins. I prefer that new vid that Gunny has on his laptop. Who gives a rat's ass about Hustler?"

"Will you two shut the fuck up? I don't care about your smuggled porn. A few of us are hitting the real thing."

"Screw you, Polanski. No one wants to hear about your conquests. All I know is I saw that new LT arrive the other day."

John rolled his eyes, knowing exactly which lieutenant the jarheads were jabbering about. It always happened when any new female officers or civilians arrived. The ratio of males to females on the expedition was close to eight to one. He came to an intersection, looking both ways to see which direction the group was jogging from, only to find both halls empty.

He ran in place, keeping his legs nimble, wondering where the hell they were.

"Sheppard?"

He ignored his buddy. The clomping drew closer, the cadence nearly on top of him yet there were no Marines in sight.

"What's the matter?" Ronon's voice was alert.

John brushed his fingers over the butt of his Beretta. Ronon was antsy, blaster drawn, head pivoting in search of danger.

The small unit appeared out of the east corridor, a flurry of legs and bouncing shaved heads. John tapped Ronon's hand to put his weapon away. His friend holstered it, glancing between the Marines and his CO suspiciously. The soldiers noticed John's presence right away, nodding as they went by.

They marched away, leaving him and Ronon standing in the middle of the hall.

"Was that another moment?"

John rubbed at the bottom of his neck then scrubbed his hand through his hair. "Just forget it."

The big guy wasn't Rodney; he studied John a second, shrugged and stretched out his legs to keep them from cramping up. "We gonna finish this?"

"Yeah," John replied, one eye on the green camo backs disappearing around a corner.

"You know after that shit in the mess, I bet we'll all being doing dry-fire drills soon," one of the Marines complained.

John took off down the hall, Ronon keeping an eye on him from behind.

"It was a lucky shot, Griggs."

"That's bull, and you know it. The Colonel knows how to handle a piece."

It was difficult for John to keep from stealing glances over his shoulder, the clomping over the hard floor still echoing loudly.

"Stuff it, Perkins. The guy's a bad ass in the field. Got something to do with his genes, I bet."

"Come on. Special ops pilots know how to fire a gun."

Their voices faded long after this bodies, and John was back to controlling his breathing and trying to keep up with Ronon. Tonight he might hit his bunk early; he needed to catch up on his Zs. He regained his earlier rhythm and pushed onward.

"You really think we'll find anything useful in the rest of the city?" Ronon asked.

The question caught him off guard. "Maybe."

"You think they'd have some big weapons to shoot down a hive or something."

"Or another fleet of jumpers," John breathed out. "With cooler guns."

The two laughed, rounding into a large open platform near the pier used to unload cargo from ships in the docking area. They approached the scenic view of their trek, staying under the overhangs, close enough to catch a breeze from the ocean below.

"Still don't know how they did it," Ronon said, awed.

Ronon was smarter than people gave him credit for; he was often judged only on his rugged exterior. John felt honored to have glimpsed the true person inside. Very few knew of the classes the ex-runner had taken in chemistry and other subjects on Atlantis to educate himself further since his days in the Satedan military.

John could relate to snap judgments, superiors who only saw the inside of his service record. He gave Ronon a quizzical look. "How they did what?"

"Made a city float."

It was a question for an engineer or for McKay. John opened his mouth to suggest asking Rodney the next time they ate but found himself answering. "The ballast tanks in the city control the center of gravity and allow for draft."

Ronon slowed down, squinching up his forehead.

"Has to do with positive and negative buoyancy and ballast force and...." John fumbled. "Uh, I'll show you a computer diagram one day," he added.

"You've been hanging out with McKay too much," Ronon said, shaking his head. "Need to get you to the gym or firing range more."

"Maybe you're right."

They entered the last leg of their run, and he could feel his energy levels dipping. He imagined mounds of pancakes, maple syrup, and sausage patties, knowing that chow would consist of scrambled eggs and biscuits. His stomach let him know that a powdered breakfast would suit it just fine.

"You gonna join me in the mess hall?"

"Can't today. Got a class," Ronon replied.

He forgot it was Thursday; Ronon taught an advanced defense course to pupils who adapted well to his fighting techniques. "Good thing I picked the route then."

The gym was around the next corner, and John slowed down despite Ronon's disapproval. Perspiration plastered his hair; tiny beads ran down the back of his neck. Hitting the shower again before breakfast could be seen as a waste of water, but he was sure his teammates would appreciate it. He noticed his running pal had barely broken a sweat.

'Kids', he thought.

"See ya later," Ronon excused himself.

John waved, knowing they all had a mission later in the day. He still needed to go over his notes before the briefing with Elizabeth.

"Mr. Dex, sir. I was wondering if you could show us that takedown technique you used with Teyla the other day."

"That requires you to master the one-handed supku-maneuver."

"One-handed?"

"That a problem?"

"No, sir."

The conversation carried through the air like the acoustics of an amphitheater. John knew the doors to the gym were closed, and the distance widened the more he ran. The voices soon faded, and a sudden ravenous appetite grabbed his full attention.

"God, I'm turning into McKay. Okay, we'll eat very soon," he patted his stomach while another growl ripped through it.


John entered the jumper bay, startled by men perched high on the catwalks, sparks raining down from their soldering irons. The engineering team yelled orders at one another, signaling to the crane operator which direction to steer a massive steel beam. He made a large circle around the work crew and sought out the nearest hardhat, tapping on the back of it.

"What the hell!" Hardhat guy snapped, turning around to reveal a feminine face and short locks of red hair. "Oh, Colonel Sheppard."

John covered his surprise, smiling. "Hey, um...."

"Sanders, sir. Sergeant Sanders," she replied.

"Well, Sergeant, I'm curious as to what's going on around here," he pointed to the scaffolding and the large equipment.

Brown eyes squinted in confusion from behind safety goggles. "This is a work zone, sir."

"I can see that."

"You didn't get the memo? This was approved weeks ago. We're repairing structural weakness in the hangar bay. The overhead beams are rusted and the rivet joints are stripped. They both need to be replaced or repaired."

John studied the project, nodding. "Very well. Guess I missed it on the weekly maintenance logs."

"Or maybe you didn't read your email," Elizabeth's voice came from behind him.

The sergeant smirked at his 'oh shit' expression. "I'll just get back to work," she said, looking over her shoulder a few times before returning to work.

"I've had a few busy days," John defended, turning around to face his boss.

Elizabeth quirked an eyebrow, obviously not buying his excuse. "Yes, you have. However, we talked about this a couple of weeks ago during our meeting on city infrastructure."

"Was that discussed in hour two or four?"

"It was a very dry and long meeting. Maybe you should record them next time, might help your memory," she teased.

John matched her smile. "I'll be sure to play them whenever I can't fall asleep."

Elizabeth normally didn't see his team off on missions, especially after a briefing. They both opened their mouths to speak at the same time, their words drowned out by a jackhammering sound. After a horrendously long minute of grinding steel on metal, the bay grew quiet again, save for the hollering between workers.

"I was going over your report on the mess hall shooting and recovery of that rogue... what are we calling it?"

"Rogue sphere."

"Rogue sphere," she said, amused.

"Yeah, what about it?" John asked, well aware she was digging for something.

"It lacked some detail I thought." She waited on him, continuing when he had nothing to say. "Sergeant Milsap's report took great pains in documenting your ability in taking it out. It was very...." she chuckled. "Let's say filled with a bit of hero worship. The situation sounded very risky, and he went to great lengths to credit you for saving everyone under impossible circumstances."

"I just typed up what happened," he answered.

"On the off-chance something that dangerous occurs again, I want you to focus on getting everyone out before taking on the super-technologically-advanced... sphere," Elizabeth warned.

"I knew I could handle it," John said automatically. He cleared his throat at her dubious expression. "I promise to be more careful."

"Good to hear. We need to be extra cautious around Ancient technology. I find two encounters with mysterious machines in the same week to be a bit too close for comfort." Elizabeth watched an engineer push a cart stacked with rebar towards the construction set. "You still feeling all right?"

Elizabeth was an expert diplomat, a firm leader, but when it came to nonchalance, her voice gave her concern away. John used his best charming smile. "I'm fine."

"Good. Radek downloaded an entire flash-drive's worth of data from that machine. It's all in Ancient, and I've only scratched the surface translating it."

"Cool, let me know if it has any good golf games on it."

He almost missed the evil look she gave him. John noticed his team enter the bay, all three of them sporting similarly bewildered looks.

"Shouldn't there be a safety area? Where are our hard hats?" Rodney asked, eyes scanning for danger and ducking at a sudden clanking noise.

Teyla and Ronon merely ignored him, walking over.

"Is the mission still on?" Teyla asked, spotting Elizabeth.

"Yes, it is. You guys enjoy working out our new trade agreement terms with the RaKuf. Don't let them strong-arm you on the medical supplies," Elizabeth said, waving goodbye.

"Oh, please. Who cares about how much antiseptic they want? It's worth it to get more of those mineral ores," Rodney snorted, keeping his eyes up high as another shower of sparks filtered down. "A warning next time you try to set us on fire!" he yelled at the construction worker.

John urged him towards the jumper. "Come on, McKay. We don't want to be late."

"How the hell did they get a crane in here anyway?" Rodney wondered.

"Piece by piece," Sergeant Sanders answered, walking by.

John felt a grin tug at his features.

"Please flirt on your own time," Rodney grumbled.

Only McKay could ruin the unexpected flare of giddiness he felt. "Let's go people," John said.


The RaKuf had been hard bargainers in the past; any sign of a fair trade was seen as a weakness. There was little wiggle room once the first offer was made, even if medicines trumped their tasty fruit. Atlantis offered simple solutions to the spread of disease with alcohol, disinfectants, and antibiotics. In return the team secured fresh sources of vegetables, fruits, and an ore that supplied power like supercharged batteries. Alternate sources of fuel or energy were always highly prized. Trading with them was often a chore even though there was no reason for the RaKuf to be so disagreeable. It wasn't as if they often had a chance to trade with people with their gate being orbital.

The jumper exited the wormhole.

Too bad there wasn't a way to detect a culling in progress until it was too late.

"There's a Wraith cruiser in low orbit!" Rodney shouted.

John had already initiated a quick one-eighty turn, heading back toward the gate and engaging the cloak.

A swarm of darts surrounded the orbital ring, firing blindly at their location.

"Look---"

John thrust the shuttle into an almost vertical dip.

"---out... Oh, my God. We're going to die!" McKay yelled.

The tiny craft shook as it dove, missing most of the volley, but a lucky shot hit part of the invisible jumper.

"We just lost the cloak!" McKay hollered unnecessarily.

The way home was blocked by a throng of enemy fighters, forcing John to think, run and shoot at the same time.

A set of four darts chased them; a half dozen more exited the cruiser to join in the fray.

"What are we going to do?"

"Shut up McKay. Let Sheppard fight!" Ronon snapped.

'Come on. You can do this,' John thought. Forget the fact that there were six bogies heading right for them. Find a way.

It hit him all at once.

There were six focal points. Six weapon blasts of energy to avoid.

A three-dimensional grid of vector points flashed before John's eyes. He weaved the jumper in between the blue streaks, firing his own weapons at the two closest targets.

Both bogies exploded.

Eight were left.

Time and distance caught up to them, and the jumper and the other darts barely missed colliding into each other

Teyla gasped.

The ones on their tail opened fire now that there was no danger of hitting their pals. John sent the jumper upwards and hit the braking thrusters, halting it. All four darts whizzed right past them.

He engaged the targeting system, shooting four drones and mentally guiding the projectiles while the rest of the darts came after them from all directions.

Algorithms of target tracks appeared on the HUD with multiple line trajectories. Weapons fire became pulses to avoid. He plotted optimal solutions and flew in and out of the darts shooting at them. He broke left, broke right. The puddle jumper responded instantaneously to his thoughts.

"The drones hit all four darts!" Rodney gasped in disbelief.

That left the four he was evading.

"More are coming from the Hive!" Ronon shouted.

"Activate the gate, Rodney!" John commanded.

He envisioned a full three-sixty view of all incoming targets. Bearings, altitudes, and range. The darts became dotted lines of motion.

"They've dialed the gate! We can't dial out!"

"Not what I wanted to hear, Rodney," John hissed.

His hands were on the yokes out of habit; his brain triggered their course before the jumper was physically capable. "I'm heading toward the planet!" he yelled.

There were twenty darts now, some of them beating him to the atmosphere.

The HUD responded, flashing twenty lines across the screen. All gibberish at first. Then he put together the optimal planar trajectories, understanding the connecting points of field. He saw beyond mere numbers.

Paths intersected at: twelve, thirty-one, forty-five, fifty-three and sixty-eight degrees.

John sent the jumper in an isochronous rendezvous with the darts in front of them while a cluster followed behind. It was tricky, maintaining this path, engaging in impossible maneuvers to avoid being hit from the rear.

"What are you doing, Sheppard? There are darts right in front of us!"

"I know, Rodney," John breathed.

Then he slowed his speed, allowing the darts on their six to get even closer.

"Colonel?" Teyla's nervous voice floated toward him.

All he needed to do was find a trajectory minimizing the flight time between the two positions.

They headed straight toward the five bogies in front of them.

"Hold on!" he yelled.

John threaded the needle, flying three degrees higher over the group. He skimmed right above the first enemy targets, but the darts behind him couldn't adjust fast enough, slamming into their buddies.

Multiple explosions rocked the jumper.

"You made them crash into each other!" Teyla said in awe.

Still ten left.

John fired five drones at once - something he'd never done before—and sent them towards the closest targets. Controlling the projectiles and evading the bogies was an incredible strain.

"Now what?"

"Multitasking here, Rodney," John growled.

"Help him out, McKay! Sheppard can't keep flying like this!" Ronon shouted.

"I'm trying to keep systems functioning while he flies all kamikaze on us!" Rodney hollered back at Ronon.

John dove down, using speed as an advantage, and the jumper shuddered.

The jumper shook again; there were just too many of them. John guided the drones and sought the foothills for cover.

"That one was close!" Rodney shouted.

John lashed out, forcing the drones at unheard of speed, smashing them into four of their five targets. There were still six left, all firing at them. He sent the jumper into a corkscrew, but a shot clipped their engine pod. "I've got to land!"

"There are more darts in the sky," Teyla warned.

"They're probably from the hive that's still trying to cull," Ronon shouted.

The jumper leered right, one side too heavy, and John used all his will and might to guide her down without killing them. They struck the ground hard, the tiny craft skidding across the terrain. The jumper jolted, finally coming to a stop.

John sucked in a breath, mind spinning, hands shaking slightly. "Everyone in one piece?"

"I think I'm going to puke," Rodney moaned. "How the hell did you maneuver like that?"

"I followed what the HUD showed me," John said, clipping his weapon to his vest.

"What are you talking about? There was nothing but zooming dots on the screen," McKay huffed.

"No time to talk. Those darts are going to land, and we're going to have company," Ronon barked.

"Okay, everyone out. Grab what you need; we're going on the run," John ordered, lurching to his feet.

All four of them exited the craft with an unknown number of Wraith converging on them.


"What do we have?" John demanded.

"I can't tell. All the RaKuf signs are blending in with the Wraith!"

"The RaKuf would be running from their villages toward us, Rodney. The Wraith would be the ones in pursuit," Teyla explained briskly.

"Which ones? We've got mass chaos. Can you tell me who is who on this thing?" Rodney held out the life signs detector for all to see.

Ronon crouched by a nearby boulder. He was eagle-eyed, blaster at ready. "Doesn't matter. We've got to find cover."

Teyla took up position opposite the Satedan, scanning the brush for any sign of pursuers. "They are coming," she cautioned.

Where? What direction? John concentrated, searching for a solution.

He was assaulted by thumping sounds, shocked to hear them coming from his team. He chewed on his bottom lip and forced them to go away. As soon as they stopped he noticed even more. Twenty-five-beats per minute, seven heart muscles too slow and alien to be human. "The Wraith are the ones at our eight-o'clock," he announced.

McKay peered at the detector. "How do you know?"

"Get ready," John ordered, dragging Rodney by the tac vest behind a protruding rock. "On my mark, open fire."

Teyla and Ronon hesitated for a second, trading glances, and hunkered down. The thudding drew closer. McKay's cheeks turned rosy; sweat dotted his brow, his eyes buried in the scanner, busy monitoring the Wraith whose approach beat loudly in John's head.

"Now!"

Three of them opened fire, spraying the woods with ammunition. Several Wraith burst through, and Ronon took them down with his weapon. Rodney's eyes flicked to the detector to locate his target, his P-90 vibrating between his hands as he fired.

John just knew where to aim, showering his targets.

"There are two left!" Rodney shouted next to him.

The Wraith knew only to charge ahead, creating fodder for Ronon and Teyla's pinpoint shots. But the victory was short-lived as the sky filled with darts, heading toward the village to finish culling.

John heard the first wave of fleeing RaKuf, their frantic heartbeats nearly drowning out his own thoughts. "We've got civilians coming."

"Yeah? Which dots are those?"

It was like multiple war drums thundering in his head. John tried to filter them out, wincing with the effort. "Those," he pointed at the blips to the south. "Let's not kill them."

Rodney glared at him. "Are you psychic now?"

"Trust me," John growled, forcing the thundering sounds to the back of his mind.

Rodney was in his face all worried and flushed. "What's wrong with you?"

John closed his eyes.

Focus on the threat. Focus on defensive measures and evasive maneuvers. Do whatever it takes.

The terrified pulses of the RaKuf faded only to be replaced physically by the natives themselves.

Teyla was next to him, breathing heavily. "Colonel, we have company."

Villagers charged through the woods, frantic and dirty. Their devastated eyes flickered with the last vestiges of their annihilated homes.

"Please help us!"

"No, we must retreat!"

"What are we to do?"

A hand clawed at John's shoulder. "You are 'Lantean. You can save us!"

Ronon jerked the panicked man away. "Step back!" he growled as he looked to John. "We need a plan."

Four women huddled near Teyla, one of them clutching a child. John turned to the man Ronon guarded. "Do you guys have defense plans for a culling?"

"Hate to rush you, but we have more signals heading this way." Rodney announced as he joined the group, gripping his detector. "I have no way of knowing which--"

"A dozen Wraith. All coming from the west. Probably from the outskirts of the closest village," John interrupted. He'd picked out their slower heart rates seconds before.

"Do you have a magic eight ball or something?" Rodney hissed.

John spun around to face the RaKuf. "What are your escape measures?"

"We hide in the caves. They're filled with endless tunnels; the Wraith never follow. But you have flying machines, you could--"

"Our jumper crashed. Run to your caves. We'll provide cover and follow after the culling is over," John ordered as he pushed the guy forward. "Go! Don't look back."

"Now we're guards for the Alamo?" Rodney shouted, readying his weapon. "And you still haven't explained your recent spidey-sense to me."

The RaKuf disappeared over the foothills, and John signaled his team for another stand off. "We'll take care of this next wave and then go spelunking with the natives."

Rodney's voice rose an octave. "The Wraith are splitting up!"

"They're trying to flank us." John signaled Ronon and Teyla to handle the ones to the south. "Rodney, I want you to lay down cover fire. I'll see about getting our group caught in a crossfire."

"What? You're going to leave me?"

No, he was moving ahead to draw attention away from McKay's position. He tried to ignore the thought of all those darts attacking the defenseless town. Or that their only means of sending a distress call was tied up by the Wraith using the gate. Flicking his watch, he knew they had another twenty minutes before they could try dialing again.

That was if they didn't get overrun.

Branches broke a hundred feet away, and, if he lived to see past this battle, John was going to get his ears checked. The clumsy approach was at his four o'clock, and he began rounding behind them. He swore he could hear Rodney's frightened 'where are you going?'.

Six targets marched right past him while Rodney began firing. One of the Wraith went down; the others forged onward. He could hear Teyla and Ronon's firefight rage in the distance. McKay was still raining down a hail of bullets, and John prayed he wouldn't get hit.

He counted a beat and stalked behind his prey, squatted and fired.

Another three went down, confusing the remaining Wraith about who to go after. John strafed right, squeezing the trigger and gave them their answer.

He could still hear Ronon's weapon and Teyla's P-90, but McKay wasn't firing anymore. John sprang to his feet to go after the Wraith still on them. Killing the bastards would be complicated since they had fed recently.

Two of the drones jumped up, firing their stunners. One got John in the shoulder; his left arm went numb immediately, and the force sent him to the ground. His right hand wasn't compromised so he played possum until both Wraith peered over him.

Then he fired into their masks, dropping them.

"McKay!" he yelled, fighting to get up and regain his balance. The pinpricks assailed his bad limb like a million fire ants.

He wavered on his feet, shooting two other Wraith in the head to make sure they were dead.

"Sheppard!"

Ronon and Rodney came toward him, allowing him to breathe a sigh of relief. "Where's Teyla?"

"Right, here, Colonel," she responded, stepping out from behind the big Satedan.

A sudden low heartbeat thumped in his head, and John raised his P-90 in time, eyes laser-sighting on the Wraith a few degrees behind her. "Down!"

John shot the Wraith before Teyla could even react. The rest of the team turned one second too late, all aiming at empty air. He stormed over, face red. "Why did you quit shooting, McKay?"

Rodney looked at him dumbstruck. "I didn't want to risk hitting you. Jeesh, Sheppard. How did you notice that drone?"

There wasn't time to answer; the air above them filled with dozens of darts. John was incredulous. How much more shit did they have to deal with? He glared at the aircraft, channeling all his anger at their pointy little noses.

"Damn it! Why don't you just all fall out of the sky!"

No one was prepared when all the darts jerked as if hit by a massive power surge. They lost all momentum, and gravity yanked them down. It was surreal, like some bizarre cartoon.

Teyla's eyes grew large, and Ronon's eyebrows drew together in confusion.

"You... you didn't just do that!" Rodney accused, pointing his finger at him.

John's brow furrowed; his mouth hung wide open. "I'm not sure."

"Maybe we should try getting a transmission to Atlantis before all those Wraith exit their ships and come looking for us," Teyla suggested.

They had five more minutes, but the darts were at least a klick away. John nodded. Ronon looked at him with an impressed if not somewhat bewildered expression before dragging Rodney away.

Teyla laid a hand on his shoulder. "Are you okay?"

John knew she wasn't asking how he brought down a fleet of darts. Her eyes shone with pure worry; her fingers took his trembling right hand. He hadn't noticed it twitching.

"Just the effects of the stun," he offered. John felt the rest of him shaking but knew there wasn't time to relax. "Let's go grab the others and wait for rescue in the caves."

"If you are sure," Teyla said, but she never let go.

The truth be told, John had no idea how the hell he was feeling, clearly evident since he allowed Teyla to keep gripping his fingers and lead him away.


It was a pressure cooker; hiding under a mountain and being forced to sit in the dark only added to the tension. They didn't speak to avoid Wraith detection, and it took an obvious toll on Rodney who was ready to burst at the seams about what had happened. So he instead spent his time glued to the life signs detector and kept tabs on their 'friends' outside. The wait for rescue lasted only half an hour; apparently the Wraith were just as confused by the sudden loss of control of their darts. They didn't give chase, probably concerned that they were up against some unknown weapon.

Once inside the jumper, Mount McKay erupted with a million questions, never taking a breath to allow John to answer. He didn't reply because he didn't have any to give.

"Why don't we wait until we get back to Atlantis?" Teyla said in a tone that brokered no debate.

Ronon glared at Rodney who folded his arms petulantly. "Of course. Let's not ask Sheppard how he brought down all those darts. No, it happens every day."

"We're ready to dock, sir." Lorne announced.

At least the major knew better than to take part in the insanity, his face clearly showing how perplexed he was by all the ranting and raving madness. The only thing that sounded crazy was McKay's non-stop jabber; even the Marines kept a wary eye on him. The rest of his team said nothing, probably still mulling things over.

John followed the strike force out of the shuttle, Teyla close behind. The other jumper landed in its designated slot; the men from the other half of the rescue operation disembarked. Elizabeth was waiting anxiously nearby.

She approached the bedraggled team. "Is everyone all right?"

"We are fine," Teyla answered, stepping forward.

Elizabeth knew something was up; nothing got past her. "You radioed that there was a culling in progress. What is the status of the RaKuf town? And--"

"The town is toast," Rodney cut her off, practically vibrating in his boots. "What you should be asking is how exactly we were able to get past, what was it? Twenty or thirty darts? Doing aerial aerobatics that I don't think were humanly possible. But wait," he waved a finger in the air, his boisterous voice attracting a crowd. "Let's not forget---

"Rodney," Elizabeth warned.

"No!" McKay's complexion was slightly pink from lack of oxygen and rampant enthusiasm. "Haven't even mentioned the good part yet," he said turning to face John. "Care to tell us how you magically brought down all those darts by yelling at them to fall out of the sky?"

All eyes were on John, many convinced that Dr. McKay had finally lost it. However there was no dispelling the truth, whatever that was. Teyla and Ronon stood quietly, patiently. There was curiosity and a little bit of wonderment there. Yeah, they wanted to know too but were far too polite to push.

John found it hard to formulate the right words. The jumper bay was crowded. Too many anxious expressions, too much white noise. The crane was busy moving another beam across the open air toward the catwalk. Work crews buzzed around like insects, their voices joining into the chaos of sound.

"John?" Elizabeth stepped closer.

"Sorry, just feel a little wiped out," John said.

That wasn't quite a lie. He felt heavy, and his head ached, a deep kind of hurt. Annoying, like a hangover.

"Of course you're tired! You took down a bunch of darts with your mind!" Rodney snapped.

"I don't know what I did, McKay! I was a little busy trying to keep everyone alive," John growled.

"Wait. So, what Rodney is saying is true?" Elizabeth asked.

John heard it. His eyes caught the movement; his ears the crack. The workers above yelled out but were too late. The cable attached to the crane snapped, and the girder it carried fell.

People gasped, the Marines scattered, but the heavy strut hung mid-air. John was poised like some grand wizard, hands out and, for all practicable purposes, halting the descent of the beam with the gesture.

"Oh, my God," Elizabeth mumbled.

The Marines were rooted in shock, gaping at the suspended girder.

"You guys might want to move," John commented, still amazed and quickly getting freaked out by what he was doing.

The soldiers ran out of the way; the bay was washed in silence, everyone focused on him. He swallowed, lowering the beam to the ground, not even sure if the hand gesture was necessary. He turned to face the crowd, Rodney was oddly silent. Teyla and Ronon both looked unnerved yet amazed at what had just happened. He wanted the ground to open up and swallow him whole. All the attention was becoming unbearable, making even twitchier.

Elizabeth came to his side, eyes intense but mostly worried. "Maybe we should go to the infirmary."

There was no maybe about it. John found enough moisture to speak, his voice wobbly. "I think you're right."

He took marginal comfort in the way his team surrounded and went with him. John shoved shaky hands into his pockets and tried to draw strength from his friends, thinking about the last time he'd demonstrated freaky abilities.


John thought back to the first time he sat in the control chair on Antarctica and the terror when it shimmered to life. Instinct told him to bolt; his gut forced him to stay. The sensation was a rush, triggering a hidden cache inside his mind that led to a new life. Fear became curiosity, and disbelief morphed into something pretty damn awesome. Accepting a one-way ticket to another galaxy meant hours in the chair, then days and days of tests in a laboratory with one Dr. Rodney McKay.

Here he was, the little gerbil all over again, waiting on news about gene mutations, DNA reversals, or some other Pegasus magic trick. A pretty nurse smiled cheerily at him, pumping a BP cuff for the millionth time. It was hour four, and his anxiety levels kept climbing with each new examination. His team had been ushered away, and the bloodletting and barrage of tests had commenced immediately.

Every machine distracted him with electrical noise, and the high volume of activity increased the pounding of his headache. Schematics of devices including circuit boards, power supplies, and computer chips came to him in a rush. Even the Ancient scanner was weird; the harmonics of its automated language pulsated loudly when it passed over him.

"Okay, Colonel. It's time to get inside the MRI machine," Pretty Nurse said.

Pretty Nurse was five foot-three, weighed one-hundred and thirty pounds. He could break down the perfume she wore into a thousand different compounds without even knowing her name.

"I need you to keep your arms to your side, sir," the nurse told him.

John wondered what the MRI machine was supposed to detect that Ancient technology couldn't. Beckett was really pulling out all the stops this time.

"This should only take a few minutes," a voice over the intercom announced.

John closed his eyes to the hum of the machine. Images popped beneath his eyelids; he could see the nuclear magnetization of the hydrogen atoms in the water of his body. Radio frequencies blinked bright blue, and he watched the light illuminate hydrogen nuclei into a rotating magnetic field. It was all silver laser beams as the scanner above him manipulated the incoming information.

"Stop!" John yelled.

The signals bounced around, reconstructing the images of his body.

"Stop the test!" he yelled, banging on the inside of the machine.

"Calm down, Colonel."

The machine roared and clanked and chattered around him.

"Get me out of this damn thing!"

"Stopping the test, sir. We're removing you now."

John bolted away from the bed, breathing hard, and ready to get the hell away. Carson hurried over with another nurse in tow. "Easy, lad. Just take it easy."

"Are you done? Because I'm feeling pretty damn cagey at the moment," he growled, his eyes seeking out all the exits.

"I think we're good for now," Carson said soothingly, hand gripping John's wrist. "Your pulse is racing. Why don't you just take a moment to get your bearings?"

He took a shuddering breath. "What's wrong with me, doc?"

Carson looked to his nurse. "Jana, darling. Would you please go do what I discussed earlier?" The physician watched her leave then smiled at him. "I think I know, but I just need you to do a few things for me."

John nodded, scrubbing his face. "Okay, but... can I get an aspirin?"

The penlight came out. "Got a headache?" Carson asked, flicking it into each pupil.

"Yeah," John said, waving it away. "You pointed that thing at me earlier."

"Could be stress or lingering effects from the stunner. You just survived a culling, son." Carson shoved his hands in his pockets. "I don't want to see you in pain, but if it's not too bad, could we wait a little longer? I don't want to have to rerun some of these tests. I can give you some extra strength Tylenol and anything else you want when we're done"

"And lunch?" John asked hopefully.

The doc chuckled. "No problem," he said, guiding him toward the middle of the infirmary.

The first thing John noticed was less hustle and bustle. It had a calming effect, and he followed Carson.

"I want you to stand still a moment and close your eyes."

That seemed easy enough. John obeyed, feeling the cold tile beneath his bare feet.

"Now, lad. I asked Jana to read from a book nearby. I want you to listen for her voice and tell me what she is saying."

"Carson," John said doubtfully. "Why do--"

"Just humor me."

There was a lot of white noise, machines, voices, footsteps, but John discarded conversations and searched for a pattern. Over the surface of all the chaotic sound was the rhythmic tone of a single speaker.

John repeated the words he heard. "Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter, in there stepped a stately raven, of the saintly days of yore. Not the--"

"Okay, that's enough, lad." Carson gestured for him to turn around and face in the other direction. "This is an unobstructed view from one end of the infirmary to the other. Took a while to move things around, but the staff was very helpful," he smiled.

John chewed on his bottom lip. "Was that Poe? You know, The Raven?"

"Yes, it was. Just bear with me a little longer. I want you to read the lettering on the poster on the far end there." The physician chuckled at John's disbelieving expression. "Please, Colonel."

"If this is to determine how good I'd be at darts, I can think of better ways," John joked at the unusual request. To lighten the mood he covered his left eye with his hand and squinted with his right. He stared at a tiny square blob hundreds of feet away. "It's a giant post-it note."

"Focus on it. Try to read what is there," Carson instructed him.

To be a pilot, vision was essential, and he hated to break it to Beckett, but he couldn't read that far away. "Look, Doc I...." But something happened; black letters took shape over the white backdrop. It was like seeing down the scope of a sniper. "If you are reading this, Colonel Sheppard, then you're going to be here a wee bit longer."

His jaw dropped, and he stared at Carson whose expression was ecstatic. "Doc?" Carson wasn't doing his 'everything is going to be all right' charade. In fact, his eyes sparkled with the 'I just discovered a new toy' type of giddiness that scientists got. "Is the note right?"

The physician was decent enough to rein in his enthusiasm. "I'm afraid so, but not for the reasons you think."

"I don't know; I'm thinking pretty damn hard about a million impossibilities," John fired back.

"I can give you some theories, Colonel. But let me try to get more concrete answers. I have something set up over here that should confirm what I think is going on with you." Carson led him toward another bed with a lot more equipment than normally hung around examination tables.

He didn't fidget when Carson placed the electrodes on his forehead or complain at how the sticky pads itched. Carson Beckett was behaving more like Rodney McKay after a great discovery, fiddling with the machine to his left before bringing over a table with a stack of objects. "Colonel, I want you to focus on the ball point pen."

John knew what Carson wanted him to do before he asked it out loud.

"I want you... oh, Lordy... I want you to try to lift it without touching. You understand?"

Bingo. Go collect two-hundred dollars. John looked at it, calculating the mass and dimensions instantly. He focused on the pen's center of gravity and thought up.

"Oh my," Carson oohed and ahhed.

The pen floated before them; the simplicity of keeping it in the air was effortless.

"Can you try the other objects?"

It didn't take much- a tiny nudge. John juggled the pen, an apple, a watch, and a comm link with ease. In that moment his headache was forgotten, lost in the euphoria of doing something that shouldn't be possible.

This was cooler than the time he engaged in a dogfight with a Russian Su-Flanker or when he sat in the cockpit of his first spy plane.

This was even cooler than the control chair.


The broom handle was one-hundred centimeters long and weighed four-hundred and fifty grams. It was amusing to sweep it around the floor like Fantasia. Controlling it was different then launching a drone or flying the jumper. There was no force involved, and his head still hurt, but the pain wasn't from making the broom to do anything.

"This is so typical. You've developed superior abilities so you've decided to become a janitor. Did your I.Q. fall after you got zapped by the machine?" Rodney entered the curtained area, voice shrill but with eyes that gleamed brightly. "My God, you ... you really are moving it?"

John swooshed the broom towards Rodney. "Got tired of playing with all the medical instruments plus messing with them annoyed Beckett," he replied with a grin.

"Hey! Watch it." Rodney squawked as the broom dusted off his boots before making a beeline for the corner where it came to rest against the wall. "I still can't believe it!"

"Neither can I," John beamed, letting his feet dangle from the bed. "It's kind of weird."

"Weird? This is way past weird and into the planes of amazing and momentous!" Rodney pulled a PDA out of his pocket, pecking away with the stylus. "The synaptic interactions in your thalamus, motor cortex, and cerebellum, not to mention the basal ganglia have gone up astronomically."

"Explains the increases in my visual, auditory, and voluntary muscle movement," John thought out loud.

"Yes, in fact-" Rodney paused mid-excitement. "How do you know that? It's not like biology is your strong suit beyond the birds and the bees."

John ignored the insult. "Better question is how do you know what's in my medical file before me?" Avoiding eye contact and shuffling feet were the only clues he needed. "You hacked into Beckett's computer!"

"Of course! After all your parlor tricks today? Does Carson allow us to come in with you? No! Do any of the quacks around here tell us how you're doing? No!" Rodney paced back and forth, working himself up into a bigger and bigger tirade. "People forget I'm a genius. I can put two and two together. You got zapped by an Ancient machine the other day, and now you have super powers!"

"You might want to take a deep breath, McKay. Your pulse is way over one-fifty," John warned.

Rodney's fingers went to the side of his neck, his eyes big and his hands twitchy. "Really? You think?" He pushed his way over and sat next to him on the bed. "That's not too high, well at least not for me." Then he glared at him suspiciously. "Wait. How can you tell?"

Feeling sheepish, John ducked his head. "I could hear it pounding away." Then he looked up nervously. "Did you read anything else? I mean this," he waved his hand over himself, " isn't exactly normal."

It was impossible for Rodney McKay to hide his emotions with eyes that glowed like a neon-colored mood rings and hands that gestured their feelings. When his friend smiled like a child unable to keep a secret, any hidden anxiety melted away. "What about super powers do you not understand? I'm talking real-life comic book kind of stuff. Not that you needed anything else to become more heroic."

It had never really dawned on John, the ramifications of being able to see and hear at great distances or the whole telekinesis thing. Any time a person was genetically altered in this galaxy, it never turned out well. "Super powers, huh?"

Rodney's eyes sparkled like a kid in a candy store. "Yes! Is there anything else you can do? Can you turn invisible? Or wait... are you super strong now?"

Was he? John wasn't sure. "I don't know. What I wish I could do was make a large steak appear. I'm starving."

"Rodney! What the blazes are you doing here?" Carson entered the cubicle, clutching a handheld computer with Elizabeth close at his heels.

"I was... you know." Rodney hopped off the bed. "Here for moral support."

"We were talking about jumping tall buildings in a single bound," John replied in his flippant tone.

"I should've known you wouldn't be able to stay back and let me handle things," Carson sighed exasperatedly. "Don't try denying anything either. However, since I'm the one with the medical degree, I think I'll be the one to discuss my patient's condition."

"I think having Rodney here might prove useful based on your preliminary results." Elizabeth stepped up to defuse the situation. She turned to John. "How are you feeling, John?"

"Considering what happened the last time my DNA was altered, not bad." He looked up at Carson. "Rodney told me about some of the changes going on because of that machine. At least I'm not turning into a bug this time."

Carson always looked so guilty whenever that incident was brought up. "No, you're not, thank goodness. As you know, the brain's made up of different systems that receive and respond to stimuli. There's a complex network that delivers signals to the brain controlling our muscles, interpreting sensory information, and transferring all that data to a neural network. The spinal cord or other parts of the brain for example. Under all that circuitry is what we think makes up the human consciousness."

"Any day now. Some of us have plans for tomorrow," Rodney snarked.

"Go on, Carson. I don't mind a little brush up on this," Elizabeth encouraged, her eyes studying John's.

"Aye, I'll try to get to the point," the Scot compromised. "Synaptic connections are what allow our brains to parallel process all of these things. Kind of like a computer. And your synaptic interactions, Colonel, have increased tenfold. Including your cognitive function, but I'm guessing you already know that."

All eyes were on him, and John felt a mixture of scrutiny. "I honestly didn't put much of it together until now."

"How long have you known?" Elizabeth asked.

"I've felt different, but nothing I could put my finger on." John rubbed at his tired eyes wishing for a nap. "I could hear things, people talking from far away."

"Aye, Jana read that poem from the other end of the infirmary," Carson said, sounding fascinated.

Rodney snapped his fingers. "Is that how you detected the Wraith today? You heard them talking?"

His stomach rumbled, and John looked up in embarrassment. "I heard their heart rates. They were slower than ours."

Elizabeth touched his arm. "This must be overwhelming. How can you cope with so many voices and sounds?"

"It's okay." John defended. Carson was getting that panicked look, and he wanted to prevent him from turning off every machine in the vicinity out of fear. "If I concentrate, I can fade out everything that I don't want to listen to. And if there's something I want to hear, I focus on it, kind of like a radio. I can adjust the volume."

"What about sudden noise? Things you don't expect?" Carson asked worriedly, taking notes.

"I'm still working on that part." John shrugged. "Same goes for the vision thing. I can control stuff like a camera."

"Sounds like a pretty big burden just to keep your senses normal."

"I'm fine, Elizabeth," he said, trying to reassure her. "A lot of stuff is automatic reflex." John tried to put into words what felt more visceral than tangible. How could he explain the sudden confidence when he had been as freaked out or even more so than any of them only a few hours ago? "If my brain is working faster then I'll learn to cope with the increases."

"You didn't feel any pain holding up that girder?" she asked.

"No, I didn't."

"When you were pulling off those maneuvers in the jumper," Rodney said, the gears turning in his head. "That was signs of increased reaction times. You plotted out those points in your head, didn't you?"

"Something like that."

"That makes sense. If the synaptic function has increased in all parts of your brain then who knows how that could affect the frontal lobe. You might be as smart as me now." Rodney got one of his very far away expressions when he was hard at work on a problem.

"What about the headache?" Carson rested a hip against the bed, eyes glued to his computer. "Is it any worse?"

"Not really, but I'm famished," John admitted to the chagrined expression of Rodney and Elizabeth.

"I bet you are, Colonel. In fact that's a concern of mine as is the headache." The physician turned his computer over displaying an Excel sheet next to a chart of metabolic rates. "The energy consumption for the brain to simply survive is 0.1 calories per minute. And doing basic activities like doing a crossword puzzle, it is around 1.5 calories per minute which is where we get the average diet of two thousand calories a day."

"That explains why so I'm hungry."

"It's not that simple," Rodney butted in. "When you go on your insane runs you burn fourteen calories a minute. When I'm working on something in my lab for hours on end, I'm burning two hundred and forty a minute which is why I need to eat so much. But you...." He shook his head, brow furrowed in a worried scowl. "Dropping darts from the sky or lifting heavy objects- who knows the massive amounts of energy you'll burn with your brain all hyperactive."

"It would explain your headache, and I'm guessing you're pretty tired. For right now I'm going to start you on six small meals a day. Increase your intake to at least eight thousand calories; monitor the rate and see how that goes. You're made up of lean muscle, lad, so I don't want ya losing any of it or exhausting yourself." Carson gave him a squeeze to the arm. "I'll get a tray brought over right away," he said, dashing out.

"Doesn't sound like I'm leaving any time soon," John grumbled. Having lunch was a big plus, but he had been thinking the mess hall.

"Rodney, I want you to join Zelenka in studying that machine. I want to know everything about it. Why it was created. What the results were. And I'd like it to be your top priority," Elizabeth ordered.

"But I wanted to hang out and try...." Rodney shoved his PDA in his pocket. "Fine. I'll get right on it."

The scientist bounced on the tips of his toes. "We'll get together later on and maybe try out some of your new tricks. Maybe even compare notes on a couple theories I've been working lately," he said excitedly.

John gave a half smile, thinking back to the early days of exploring the city and how much time he spent turning things on in McKay's lab. Elizabeth was still there, her presence a beacon of strength and genuine concern. It was nice to have such a great support system that was sadly still a foreign concept to him. He closed his eyes, letting everything from the past few hours to sink in.

Security.

He looked up at her with a quizzical expression. "Did you say something?"

"No, I didn't. Are you hearing someone close by?" Elizabeth studied him closely. "I'll ask Carson if one of his staff is around. I'm sure they are."

"Don't worry about it," he said. John gave her one of his charming grins, but deep inside he felt it again. An emotion like fingers through his head.

"You know, while it's just the two of us, we might want to talk about the procedure for something like this." He gave a half-smile, watching the way her facial muscles twitched.

"I don't think we have anything to worry about."

"When I'm released though," he pressed.

Elizabeth looked thoughtful for a moment, and the odd feeling of unease slipped away with her words. "Well, it might be a good idea to have one of your team members around. Nothing too formal. Just in case you experience something unexpected."

"I think that's a good idea. Can't be too careful."

"I trust you, John. I just don't want you to be alone. We're dealing with severe biochemical changes, and I won't risk your health."

The paranoia slipped away when he saw Carson and a nurse return with a huge tray of food. "Thank goodness," he said happily, prepared to finally eat.

Food eased his headache and quieted his belly; unfortunately the short reprieve led to more tests. Carson suckered him into wearing the most ridiculous swimmer's cap with wires that stuck out like Medusa. It took forever to attach it with his unruly hair, making him glad to be alone with just the doc and a nurse.

Then Beckett lied to him, saying something about trying out a few 'video games' while he studied his brainwaves.

That had turned into two hours of playing the craziest computer puzzles known to man.

Enough was enough. With a lot of complaining about being a hamster on some endless wheel, he was allowed to go to his room.

"I'm going to bed now," he informed Carson over the radio.

"You let me know the second you feel even the slightest bit differently," the Scot informed him in that worried physician's voice.

"You'll be the first to know. Sheppard out," he said, tossing the comm on an end table.

The bed was so inviting; his muscles felt like old taffy from the crazy day. While his body was sore and achy, the exhaustion was purely physical. The rest of him was jittery, like five cups of coffee type of awake. Ideas and thoughts bounced around in scattered pieces, but none of them stayed long enough for him to remember anything.

The blank computer screen drew him to his desk only to have his notebook from last night steal his attention. As soon as he laid eyes on the pages, he was instantly assaulted by theorems and theories. "Intrinsic parities of protons and deuterons are both positive," John said out loud. "That's why electric dipole radiation requires a parity change," he muttered to himself, reaching for a pen.

Out of the corner of his eye he saw the open Sudoku book with an unfinished grid and much like flipping channels on TV, the need to solve the number game sucked him in. He grabbed the elusive pen and sat on the floor to attack the book. It took no time to fill in countless grids, and after six pages, his attention waned, and he glanced around his room as if ravenous for something else to occupy his time.

"This is stupid, John. You should be sleeping," he growled. Then he saw his guitar tucked away in the corner and brought it over. He sat cross-legged, using the side of the bed to lean against. "Yeah, this will do."

Closing his eyes, his fingers strummed rhythms and chords. The more he played, the more complex the music became. He closed his eyes, getting lost in the sounds and finding a peaceful harmony in a room that endlessly distracted him.


It was disorienting to wake up, sprawled on the floor, a guitar next to his legs and with a massive crick in his neck. John groaned rubbing at the knotted muscles and looked up at the clock. Early dawn peeked through his curtains, but he distinctly recalled seeing four AM in red numbers only moments before. Beckett would have his head for only catching two hours sleep.

Showering woke him up, the billowing heat loosening some of the tension from falling asleep in a pretzel position. His stomach growled loudly in its demands for food as he toweled off and folded the fabric around his waist. Water droplets left wet trails down his chest, and his spiky hair was still damp as hell, but he felt compelled to go to his door and open it.

"Hey, Ronon," he said. "Let me get dressed."

The big guy walked in with a tray and slid it on his desk. "You hear me outside?"

"Yeah," John said absently, not knowing how he knew Ronon was there. "What you'd bring?" he asked, snagging boxers, a pair of sweats, and a clean t-shirt.

Inside his bathroom he quickly changed into his morning running clothes, wiping at the steam-covered mirror. He would shave later.

"I ran into Beckett in the mess hall. He knew I was coming over here and said you should eat this," Ronon's voice drifted over.

John walked over to the tray. "That's a lot of food," he said, pulling out a chair.

"He said you needed to finish it all. Something about energy. I dunno." Ronon leaned against the wall eying him with an amused grin. "They say you've got powers or something."

John nearly choked on his eggs. "Not... powers... I'm not sure... what I have," he said between mouthfuls.

"You think you can outrun me now?" his friend asked with a challenging grin.

"Don't think it works like that," John said, wolfing down a whole stack of pancakes. "Whatever that machine did... it enhanced my senses. Don't think I'll be faster than a speeding bullet."

Ronon looked at him like he was idiot for suggesting such a thing. "Then what can you do?"

He thought about it a moment, mulling over all the possibilities. "I don't know." John looked over at him with a glint in his eyes. "Wanna find out?"

That earned him and even wickeder smile. "Yeah."

John began devouring his bacon. "Cool."

"I'm not in a rush, you know."

It took effort to slow down the speed with which he was swallowing his breakfast. "Um... yeah. Just kind of hungry."

In less than five minutes he finished a meal that even McKay wouldn't have been able to then waited enough time to let it settle before exercising. "Let's go."

Ronon pushed off the wall and pointed at his feet. "You might want to wear some shoes."

Oh yeah, higher brainpower his ass.


Running lost its appeal after a mile, the freedom and quiet an open doorway to a growing low-level hum permeating all around. John swore the wires and circuits in the walls called out to him. They stopped near an overhang when a mischievous idea came to him, beating back all the other clutter in his head.

"Peel back that panel, wouldja?" John asked, mapping out the size of the hallway.

Ronon yanked on the section of wall that wasn't intact, laying the metal piece on the ground. The size was too large and clumsy. John bent down, feeling out a narrow section and grunted as he pried it apart, breaking it down into something smaller. "There, perfect surfboard size," he said, grinning.

It took only a minute to convince his fearless friend to walk up the catwalk with the metal board and place the object on the top rail. "Okay, now what?" Ronon asked.

"Drop it," John ordered.

Ronon didn't waste time with silly questions, just gave the 'board' a slight shove. Catching it with his mind was easy, and the metal plate hovered in the air. "This is so cool."

The 'board' coasted in the air, gliding whichever direction he nudged it, requiring the same effort to walk or talk. John sent it to the ground by his feet, and he jumped on top of the panel, testing to see if it could support his weight. He looked up at Ronon, half expecting to see the Satedan give him a 'you're insane' look, but received an encouraging nod instead. John wet his lips and thought fly, whooping loudly as he rose high above the floor.

John kept his knees bent, arms outstretched to keep his balance and floated to the top of the ceiling. The view was electrifying, and for a second he thought of trying it over one of the piers. He breathed deeply, realized the staggering height, and cascaded back down in a long, slow swoop.

"That was awesome!" he shouted with a goofy smirk.

"You gonna share?" Ronon yelled from above.

John sent the metal panel back up to the catwalk for his teammate to grab. Ronon stepped on the 'board', bounced around on top of it and looked over. "I'm ready."

He took his time with his friend's safety at stake and slowly lifted the object with Ronon buzzing with excitement on top of it.

"Come on!" Ronon shouted, eager to play

"Maintain your balance," John called back. Then he sent his friend in a low orbit, swinging Ronon in a lazy arch across the empty space.

"Faster!"

John did as requested and sent Ronon sailing, his dreads whipping in the wind. He kept the ride smooth and straight, like navigating gigantic surf swells. "Hold on," John warned, turning the board around to bring it back.

Ronon and the board skidded to a halt, and he jumped off, clapping him on the back. "That was fun."

Feeling positively giddy, John jumped back on and shot up at a steeper incline. He forced his feet in place so no matter the maneuver, it was impossible to fall. He did loops and coasted right up the walls. This was the ultimate wave off Maui or the highest ramp in the skate park. It was like the Silver Surfer.

Ronon craned his neck, watching his every move. It was obvious he would try to catch him if he fell, no matter how badly that wouldn't work.

Don't worry.

"I'm not," John shouted back.

"What?" Ronon asked puzzled.

"Never mind," he said and leaped.

He swore the city sighed sadly when he headed toward the floor.

The big guy waited for him when he finally returned to the ground and took a moment to collect himself. Ronon was good at giving him space, patting him on the shoulder after a while to get him moving.

"Let's go to the gym," Ronon said. John followed, still lost in the air.


John favored the bench over a sweat-drenched sparring session with Teyla. She smiled upon their arrival, left arm arching one of her banto rods in a graceful swipe. It was considered impolite to interrupt one of her routines unless it was an emergency. Her exercises were as much ritual as they were training. Grace of movement and fluidity of the body.

It was feet, arms, hands, eyes, mind, soul, all interacting, reacting. It never really synced together the way it did now. John tried to be a good student, learning by repetition and practice. But there was more to it- with parts ballet and something like Earth yoga no doubt.

Ronon practiced by himself in the corner, waiting for her to complete her solo workout. His style was more aggressive, based more on pure strength and quicker take downs. John watched both teammates, recognizing the familiar patterns that they shared.

Teyla bowed to Ronon, and their sticks clashed together at dizzying speeds. Attack, counter attack. Anticipation of the opponent. Within the frenzied action were lines and geometric configurations. A nagging ache gnawed in his stomach, but he was still in a t-shirt and sweats, no pockets to stash a power bar.

For whatever reason, he felt compelled to walk over to the mat where his friends traded blows. Teyla ducked her head away from one of Ronon's swings and spun around behind him in a familiar move, banto rod under the Satedan's chin. "Yield," she commanded.

Ronon knew when he was beat, bowing to her and grabbing a towel to dry off.

"How are you feeling, John? When I was finally allowed to visit, I was told you were in your quarters, resting."

"I'm fine. Don't worry," he said studying the sticks. "In fact, I thought I might go a round."

Teyla looked to Ronon, who shrugged, and dragged her gaze back to critically look at him. "Is that wise?"

"I'm not injured," he replied, taking the sticks offered to him by Ronon. "I feel the need to stay active."

It wasn't a total lie. John burned with untapped energy which was really weird since he lacked so much sleep. He wanted to get rid of the sudden urge to try and experience everything ping-ponging in his head. It took a lot to keep his hands still; they were restless to imitate the moves he'd just processed. John felt like he had in his room earlier—antsy and in need of an outlet. He wondered where his lazy desire to sit and watch had evaporated to.

I am not sure about this.

"I promise it's all good," he smiled.

"Very well," Teyla said.

I will take it easy.

John squinted at lips that never moved. He loosened up his wrists, testing the balance of each rod.

Whack!

The sticks met in alternating angles, low to the ground, twirling to clank together at head level. Back and forth, parry and reverse.

Teyla backed up, feet shifting weight to her front toes. John knew exactly what pattern of attack she would use, predicting when the rods came slashing towards him.

Sixty, forty-five, thirty degrees.

Thwack, thwack, thwack. Counter.

John knocked the left rod out of her hands with a hard tap to her wrist and shifted his body like a reed in the wind to avoid her rebound. Then he dodged left, her stick missing his torso. He bobbed forward, clacking Teyla's other wrist, causing her to drop the other one.

He stopped, breathing heavily. The last time he had one-upped her so single-handedly, the sparring had ended in a dark moment so he froze, letting her know this was not a repeat performance.

"Oh, for Pete's sake. Do you have nothing better to do?"

John turned at the voice, and Teyla lunged, her foot sweeping his legs out from under him, pinning him to the ground with her knee. "Don't ever let your guard down," she breathed over him.

He lay flat on his back, matching her heavy inhalations. "Yeah, forgot that part."

She stood up, giving him a hand. "It would seem you've applied your... what are we calling it? Abilities to improve your coordination."

"I think. I--it was like I predicted what you would do next," John admitted. "My body reacted a lot faster."

"I could tell. You got all that by just watching me for a few minutes?" she asked curiously.

"Yeah." He wiped at his brow and turned to face McKay. "Thanks for ruining my focus."

Rodney huffed, and Ronon smirked. "Nice moves. If you keep this up you could even learn advanced Terkia techniques."

"Please," Rodney said rolling his eyes. "What Shepard needs to do is apply that brain to intellectual pursuits."

Like solving the Riemann Hypothesis so I can win my bet.

"What's the Riemann Hypothesis?" John asked, still catching his breath.

"Huh?" Rodney gazed at him. "What do you mean?"

"You wondered if I could solve it. So, what is it?" John grumbled, seeking something to quench his thirst

His friend was getting that crazed look again. "Did I say anything?" Rodney asked his teammates.

Teyla grabbed a bottle of water from her bag. "When?"

"Just now," Rodney snapped. "Did I say anything about the Riemann Hypothesis?"

"I do not believe so," she replied, handing John the Fiji container.

He read my mind?

John faced him confused. "I did?"

It still amazed him how quickly Rodney McKay could flush red. "I can't believe it. Look at me," the scientist commanded.

John glanced at Ronon and Teyla who looked equally perplexed. He wasn't really up for this, not with another headache descending on him from out of nowhere. "What?" He glared at Rodney, ignoring the tension in his temples.

Photobucket

He rolled his eyes. "What is it with you and prime numbers? And you're thinking group theory." John stared at Rodney.

Photobucket

"It's about nontrivial zeros?"

"You can read my mind!" Rodney gasped, eyes shining.

"Number theory, McKay?" John was suddenly hit with one of those holy shit moments. "Fuck."

The room suddenly became a tilt-a-twirl, his equilibrium taking a vacation.

"John!"

"Colonel!"

Hands steadied him while he tried to figure out which way was up, the lights in the gym magnifying to a factor of ten. "I'm good," John mumbled, finding himself sitting on the floor, head bent over his knees.

"I'm calling Dr. Beckett," Teyla said above him.

"No... wait," John swallowed. "Just got a little dizzy," he said, lifting his head.

"Oh, you've got to be kidding me. When was the last time you ate? You're supposed to be eating six meals a day," Rodney's outrage pierced the fog around his brain.

"I had breakfast," John whined.

"How long ago?"

"I brought him food around six," Ronon answered McKay's annoyed tone.

"And since then you've been sparring and running around the city, no doubt," the same irritated voice snapped. "It's nine now."

"Actually we flew around one of the catwalks." Ronon was such a tattletale.

"You two did what!" Rodney exclaimed, tearing open an oatmeal bar.

"It was more like surfing." John took a breath. "On air."

"You're an idiot." Rodney slapped the snack in his hand "Now eat that."

John took three large bites, devouring everything but the wrapper.

"Did you get a black hole in that ever-expanding mind of yours? Or just conveniently ignored the lecture about caloric intake and energy?"

"I'll go to the mess hall and eat a pre-lunch, okay?" John stood up, Ronon grabbing an elbow.

I didn't know want we did this morning was bad.

He blinked at the Satedan's remorseful thoughts. "It was an accident. No one's at fault."

Ronon looked confused by his remark, and Teyla laid a hand on his shoulder. "Maybe you should go see Carson first."

"Look, I'll go to the infirmary after I eat. You can even watch me, but I'm supposed to report to Beckett this morning anyway." John waved off any more support.

He started toward the exit, his team following close behind. There was no need for an escort, but right now he was too busy trying to come to terms with the whole hearing people's thoughts thing - this was getting out of hand.

I should ask him about the mind reading ability. Should I ask now or after he eats? No, maybe during lunch. Got to do it before Carson gets his greedy little hands on him. Don't know how I should bring it up. Or maybe he's reading my mind right now. Oh, God. What if he is? What if he can read all my thoughts? What if--

"McKay!" John whirled around at him. "Please, enough."

Rodney startled backwards almost into Ronon who sidestepped him. Teyla was really giving him that whole worried vibe.

"Look, I'm sorry. Its just you're so... so loud," John apologized, walking a little faster in the hall.

Focus. He wasn't bombarded by Teyla's or Ronon's thoughts. Maybe it was based on the intensity of the emotion.

Oh shit, it's the Colonel. I still don't have my mission report finished.

Sergeant O' Riley nodded, fake smile in place. "Good morning, sir."

John nodded, feet hustling down the hall.

God, she's so hot. I wonder if she's as good in bed as she is in the gym.

He glared at the Marine who passed them, noting which officer he was for later. He would tell Teyla not to hold back on him during the next training.

I just want to take a long hot shower and sleep all week. I'm not sure how much longer I can take working with Dermenski.

Why won't Joesph ever listen to me? He's so closed of; we never talk anymore. It's like I'm dating a stranger.

I'm so sick of alien biscuits. How hard is it to keep a supply of flour around here?

John couldn't match faces with the random thoughts, searching eyes and expressions that didn't resemble what he heard.

Oh no, there's Colonel Sheppard. I'm not even wearing eye make-up. Not that'd he'd ever notice someone like me.

John gave the red-head a small smile, her cheeks blushing in response.

Sheppard's acting twitchy. What's going on in that brain of his now? God, he's probably listening to me. Quiet, Rodney. Just think of white walls and counting tiles. One, two, three, four....

Something's wrong. Still don't get what's happening with him.

Ronon even broadcasted in a low, heavy rumble. John felt a flare of pain surge behind his eyes. Food, food seemed to help the last time. Okay the mess hall was up ahead. At least his team wasn't badgering him with questions; even McKay was trying to keep quiet.

"John, are you alright?"

Was that Teyla? Did she ask him out loud or think the question? John turned to her to answer; the doors to the mess only meters away.

"Did you say something?" John asked, ignoring a collective murmuring in his ears.

Rodney bristled past him, holding the door open for the rest of them in what had to be a misguided attempt to keep from thinking too much.

Thank goodness. I was running out of tiles to count.

Why is the line always so damn slow!

Oh, why can't I eat in peace without Perkins babbling constantly at me?

Did I forget to turn the burner in the lab off?

John froze. His head felt dunked under water, voices and noise rushing his ears.

John?
Is he okay?
Sheppard? Oh no, what's wrong now?

"I think...." God, this hurt. Talking and chattering. Wave after wave. Layer after layer. He couldn't tell who was saying what.

"Colonel?"

Is that Colonel Sheppard? What's wrong with him?
I'm going to tell Dr. Fredrick that I think I like him. Oh that's so lame.
Is someone hurt?
God, this isn't another outbreak is it? Is that the Colonel?
Lewis really needs to take a shower.
Oh no, what's going on over there?
I wonder if I should radio security.
Is that Dr McKay? I am in no mood to deal with his rants today.
Should someone call the infirmary?

Loud. Too loud. "Rodney?" John gasped. He cradled his head, or he thought he was. Hands were touching him again, but it didn't matter. Noise. Everywhere. John groaned. Falling, he was falling.

Someone do something! Are we being attacked? I better secure things. I should contact security, or maybe Major Lorne. All I wanted was a second helping of those potato things. That can't be good. Did I miss something? Where the hell is Patterson? The colonel is down. Fuck! Hold on, John. Help is coming. Everyone out. Clear out. What? Why? Who's in charge? I hope Sheppard's okay. We need him on his feet. Wait till Anderson hears about this. Should we stick around? Where the hell is Lorne? Medical's on the way. Why are these idiots all standing around? Do they not understand to get the hell out? Maybe I should tell Ronon to stun them. This is bad; this is so bad. Please John, try to clear your mind. Get out of here! Where is that quack!

John felt things snapping and cutting in and out. White. All white. Too much white.

Then finally there was nothing but heavenly, silent blackness.


He floated in a warm and soothing sea. Without chaos. Without noise. John uncoiled from a tight, huddled place in his mind, blindly reaching out for something to latch on to. Cautiously he connected back within himself and was instantly assaulted.

There were too many sounds, and, before things spiraled out of control, he untangled them one by one.

A beeping assailed his ears, loud and sharp, like a... heart monitor. John turned down the annoying machine to more manageable levels.

Then a deeper, familiar thudding sound was next. No, two thumpings, each in a different beat.

Heartbeats. His and someone else's. He slowly faded them out, too.

That left an unintelligible whirring hum flickering in and out like a transistor radio. Now that all the other sound was gone, the drone grated over his nerves like the edges of a cheese grater.

So much dissonance.

Hidden in the layers of static, a whisper coaxed him closer.

John. Listen to my voice.

He wanted to follow it, but he didn't know how. Adding to the confusion, his head felt tangled up, trapped.

John. I want you to focus on the sound of my voice. Trust it.

He did. The voice was calm and honest.

John awoke to shadows and something comfortable under his back. A bed or mattress. The walls were awash in a golden glow, the air filled with perfume. He wiped the grit out of his eyes, tugging at a wire attached to his index finger in the process.

"Where?" he asked groggily, looking at the pulse ox clip and feeling a band tighten around his head. "What?"

The burring noise continued, echoing out of the walls, the ceiling, the floor.

Look at me, the whisper urged.

John squinted in the darkness and found Teyla sitting next to him, eyes locked with his. It's me, John. Hone in on my voice. Shed everything else.

Teyla was a sweet honey voiced hush in his head.

Scattered sticks of wax bathed them in natural light. John's eyes adjusted to the low levels while he fought with everything else.

My voice. Listen to the cadence. There is nothing but my words. Relax, John. Block the rest.

John tried filtering all the background noise, but the city fought back.

I'm going to take your hand. Hold onto it, concentrate.

Teyla slipped her warm fingers into his. He licked dry lips, allowing the heat to leach into him.

You told Dr. Beckett that you could adjust what you hear. Turn down all noise. Make everything else fade away. You control your senses, John. They obey your commands.

Battling Atlantis' collective was tougher; she hummed louder and resisted his effort to shut her out. He rubbed at his temple, fingers snagging on a lead.

"There is some monitoring equipment around your head. It is like a crown according to Dr. Beckett," she explained.

John traced a band encircling his skull under his hair. "Better than the swimmer's cap. IV, too?" he asked, holding up his arm.

"Carson is very worried about dehydration and your diet." She rose from her chair and picked up a plastic container, popping a straw in it. "This is a protein shake."

He accepted the container as the walls buzzed louder.

"You have to maintain focus, John."

"And I thought I was the mind reader," he joked, cradling his head.

"You showed signs of distress," she said and sat back down. "Always know that you are in control."

This was so screwed up. "How did you--" John's voice trailed off. "Your gift? Was it overwhelming when you first felt it?"

Teyla brushed back layers of her hair. "Yes, it was difficult to have voices, thoughts of other people, invade your mind without warning. At first it was an assault, a violation that I could not fight." The flickering candlelight added to the shadows of her face. "I was afraid of it and allowed the fear to rule me. It took time to understand what was happening."

John watched a laptop glow blue, recording his brain's output, and knew exactly how she felt. He didn't want to hear what was going on inside everyone else's head. Their thoughts had been like daggers.

"I'm not you, Teyla. I'm not sure I can handle so many voices." It hurt to make that admission, but the idea of all those personalities forcing their way inside scared the hell out of him.

She took his hand again. "I am going to help you control these new powers. I cannot imagine what it must be like, but you adapted with your hearing and eyesight. This is just another thing to learn."

He finished the chocolate shake, the straw making that annoying noise when you reached the bottom. John checked out the darkened room; the mattress on the ground and equipment were the only things around. "Where are we?"

"This is one of the sub-levels in Section L2 on Level One. Dr. Beckett and Rodney felt you needed to be far away from the inhabited areas of the city."

He bowed his head, closing his eyes tightly. Is that what his life had been reduced to? Abandoned corners of Atlantis?

"Do not give into fear, Colonel. You have faced greater enemies, and you have fought back against your body before," Teyla encouraged him.

She was right; he could not give into weakness. John felt foolish for wallowing in self pity and allowing fear to break him down. He gazed at the walls knowing he was stronger than the inner workings of machinery. Atlantis had its own artificial biochemistry; billions of interchanges created their own synthetic world. Under all the electronic pulses of the city's systems was a language reaching out to him.

"John?"

"Sorry, got lost for a second."

"What are you feeling?"

Could he risk saying it out loud? John closed his eyes. "I can hear Atlantis' nervous system all around us. How she breathes, how she connects. It's... it's...."

"A distraction that you must ignore, like the humming of the air conditioning or the footsteps in the hall outside your door. Make Atlantis the silent backdrop in your head. Do not get lured by it."

The walls crackled with electricity. Energy had life that burned and died before him.

"Push it away," Teyla said in his head.

If he could ignore a Rodney McKay lecture and still retain the few nuggets of relevant knowledge then he could ignore noise that even dogs and cats were immune to. John thought of McKay's loud voice, rambling on in a high-pitched whine, never stopping for breath. He focused on tuning out the annoying tone and listening to other things or thinking about something else to occupy his thoughts.

He felt something click. Like the first time he was able to hold his breath for over three minutes in training, pushing back those psychological barriers of panic and overcoming the knee-jerk reaction to breathe in air.

Keeping your lungs from sucking in oxygen took time and willpower. Mind over matter. It wasn't like opening or closing his eyes, but he was able to suppress the city and all its noise along with it.

"It's quiet," he sighed deeply. John looked at Teyla, waiting to see if the sounds would pop back up when he wasn't concentrating. "Nothing," he said, wanting to curl up on his side for a week.

Teyla made him drink another one of those protein shakes while she talked to Carson on the radio. Part of him was curious about all the gizmos he was hooked up to since according to the doc his vitals were good. Nothing was said about the other tests—because who were they kidding? This was another experiment, and every blip of his mind was being studied. He could see the Technicolor image of his brain on the screen, noting that the bright orange areas were larger then before.

"How are you feeling?" Teyla asked.

"Not bad; headache's going away." John wanted to rip the stupid crown of wires from his skull but knew the importance of leaving it alone. He looked at Teyla. "Thanks... for this. For helping."

"I'm glad I'm able to in some way." She rested a hand on his knee. "You should know that I've been focusing on my emotions and thoughts. I've suppressed them so that you do not pick up on them."

He arched his eyebrows. "Oh. I didn't even.... That makes sense."

"I want to try a few exercises. I'm going to release some strong emotions on you. I do not know any other way to help you deal with an onslaught. I do not want to cause you pain, but--"

"It's okay. If this helps teach me how to control all this then we should do it."

She squeezed his hand.

John braced himself, his body tensing for something physical. Teyla bowed her head as if in meditation. He wanted to ask what to expect but was assaulted by a feeling of sadness and dark regret. He flinched at the unrestrained sorrow; his chest filled with a heavy, longing ache.

"You need to block how you are feeling. These are not your emotions; they do not belong in your head," she instructed.

"I don't know how." How stupid was that? He was the king of pushing away the stuff that hurt. Locking it away and processing it for another time.

"I know you protect yourself from these types of feelings, Colonel. They are painful and open you up in a way that is private. You must do the same here. Push back, John."

Teyla's voice strained for control, each word carefully spoken was riddled with grief. Her face was held tight; her jaw clamped shut. Her pain was powerful. How the hell could he just shut it out?

"Teyla?" John breathed.

Darkness and loss. Emptiness like a gaping hole. He didn't want this! He couldn't deal with his own shit half the time.

"Please, John, I know this is difficult. You cannot think of other things. Happy thoughts will not make this go away. These are my private emotions; you must drive them away."

His chest tightened with an enormous force, weighing and pressing him down. Go away! John fought. Ghosts treaded over his soul, and his heart hammered against his ribs.

"Feelings are raw; they are the ultimate things out of your control. If you can handle such powerful forces then you will be able to block out other people's thoughts. Emotions are always the cornerstone of what we think each day. They drive our minds."

She was right. The mess hall had been a storm of words, but it had been everything else behind them that had overwhelmed him. Anger, jealously, fear, anxiety. It had been the sheer number of feelings, attacking him without warning.

One side of Teyla's face twitched. She was sharing with him these experiences, raw and unfiltered. Reliving them for him. He couldn't watch her face such pain, and he battled them like an invader.

Wraith Queens had tried to get inside his head as had Replicators with hands that pushed through layers of his brain. If he could resist their attempts to rip the thoughts out of his mind then he could use the same technique.

John fought back, separated his emotions from hers. He imagined a white wall swallowing up all the grays, blacks, and blues of despair. Feelings were brain chemicals. Noradrenaline and serotonin behind depression. Dopamine and adrenaline levels keys to happiness, love, and affection.

They were only interactions between nerve impulses. He controlled the release of them all.

These were not his feelings; they were emotions without hormonal reasons. If he could tag them, tag any outside influence as 'other' then he could shut them out automatically as he did to an enemy. Make it a defensive reflex.

John gasped. He went from the bottom of the ocean to cascading towards the top, floating alone in his own head space. Colors dulled; throbbing aches diminished. He reached out and clasped her hand. "They're gone. It's okay."

She raised her head, her eyes moist from the flood within herself before she reasserted control. "What do you feel?"

John could tell that Teyla still broadcasted loudly. His brain didn't register her emotions, repelling the invasion. "I'm... I'm fine, Teyla. You can stop."

She exhaled deeply, her features relaxing. Teyla stared at him, and it was unnerving to be under her scrutiny.

"What?" he asked.

"You don't hear me?" Teyla asked. He shook his head, and she smiled. "I spoke in your mind."

John sagged in relief, resting his back against the wall. Part of him knew how and why this was happening. In fact, he understood the exact part of his brain that learned how to act as a filter.

Left frontal lobe. Broca's area.

"Is there something wrong?" Teyla asked.

John shook his head, not needing to explain anything. "I'm good." It was getting pretty scary how fast answers to questions he shouldn't even know just came to him. The really frightening thing was he understood it down to the molecular level.

They spent the next few hours repeating various exercises. Teyla switched things up, using both emotions and thoughts to see if he could block out both combinations. It was incredible the speed in which he went from keeping them at bay to controlling things fully. John could turn 'on' his ability to read her mind and shut it off any time he wanted.

"Are you ready for someone else to come here?" Teyla inquired after finishing another radio check-in with Carson.

What he wanted to do was eat again. "Yeah," John answered.

It was odd waiting for his mystery guest; normal sounding footsteps echoed in the darkness, and Elizabeth entered from the shadows.

"Hey, John," Elizabeth said, approaching the bed, one eye on him and the other on Teyla, looking for a hidden signal.

"Guess you always wanted to see the scenic side of the city," he joked.

Elizabeth let her eyes wander their surroundings, arching an eyebrow. "I think it needs a little redecorating." She stood there, hands clasped in front. "Does having two people here at the same time bother you?"

"No, I knew someone was coming. I've been able to train my reactions into reflexes somehow." He didn't elaborate how; the fact that it seemed like such a simple matter excited, yet worried, him.

"So, you can't hear what I'm thinking?" Elizabeth stepped closer.

"No." If he wanted to was a different story.

She paused, thinking about her words. "And you've been able to control it?"

"Yes, I can... at least in this setting."

Elizabeth moved over, eying the computer and monitoring equipment with disdain. "The goal is so you don't have to be in this type of environment."

"Agreed." John looked between them. "I'm fine now. No more attacks. In fact, I want you to think of something. A number or color," he said, wanting to prove things were fine.

"O-kay."

John smirked. "Twenty-one. Purple, and you're thinking that this might come in handy when meeting new, potentially bad guys."

"Yes, it would," Elizabeth admitted.

"And I won't use this to pry into anyone without permission," John said before the topic was brought up. "I'm a gentleman."

"I don't know about that," Elizabeth teased back.

John felt his earlier anxiety dissipate; this was familiar and what he really needed.

Elizabeth turned to Teyla. "What do you propose as the next step?"


Walking down the halls had a circus sideshow feel to it. Obviously the rumor mill was running full swing so he'd expected the curious expressions or a few surprised looks from people. It wasn't every day that the military commander of Atlantis freaked out and collapsed in the mess hall. They took the less traveled corridors where he still bumped into random people for practice.

For the most part things were calm; occasionally a random stranger's thoughts popped in his head before it was silenced. Emotions felt stronger, like walking through cold and warm spots of air as each person passed by them. Tingling sensations or butterflies vanished as quickly as they sprung in the back of his head.

Teyla and Elizabeth followed him, observing his reactions and keeping attentive eyes on the people in the halls. They were getting closer to the more populated areas of the city.

--how are we ever going to---

Why is it---there has to be---I---

-------stupid-----

It was all about fine tuning things, his brain doing most of it automatically. "So far, so good," he told his silent entourage.

They were on their way to his quarters for a Beckett house call. Carson didn't want to risk having him go to the infirmary with all the white noise that it emitted. The physician waited for them outside John's room, laptop in one hand, medical bag slung over his other shoulder.

"Colonel," Carson greeted.

John didn't need to read minds to pick up on the physician's anxiety. "Relax, doc. I'm fine." He turned to Teyla. "Thanks to some guidance."

She returned his warm grin. "I'm glad to be of some help. I know you are in good hands, and I will let the three of you talk in private." Teyla nodded at Carson and Elizabeth.

The 'in private' comment got his attention, and it was annoying the amount of silent communication going back and forth between everyone. This was one of those moments where he felt compelled to 'listen in' but refrained as he walked into his quarters.

"Why don't you have a seat," Carson instructed him.

Elizabeth hovered nearby, arms crossed tightly in front. It didn't take an astute observer to recognize another serious situation. "You have some news?" John asked. That you've been keeping, he thought.

"I've been working on the translations from the machine," Elizabeth began. "There is a lot of information. It's going to take days to even breach the surface, but from what I can tell, the main function is to mutate DNA."

Carson froze upon the word; John mentally cringed. "We already knew that, though. Right?" he asked, looking at the physician.

"We knew that your brain was demonstrating increased neural function, aye. But we weren't sure why- if it was a side effect or the true intention of the machine."

"The machine is programmed to help people ascend, John," Elizabeth cut to the chase.

John nodded. "Makes sense. The Ancients were always looking for shortcuts. Now we know the reason for it. Explains my abilities."

"Your brain is showing increasing signs of advancements even more than the initial scans."

"Yeah, started in the temporal and occipital areas. That's why my senses are all jacked up. Now you're seeing changes in my cerebrum and frontal lobes. All my higher brain functions are increasing. I can feel it," John finished for him.

Carson stared, mouth hung open before closing it to nibble his bottom lip. "Aye, you have fifteen times the number of neurotransmitters than any other human. The changes within those chemicals are responsible for your advancements." He pointed at the laptop. "These flashing dots are all your neurons. The receptors inside them are changing and altering the properties of your synapses. That's what's enhancing your brain."

"It's not just super abilities, John. You're really becoming superhuman," Elizabeth said, her voice awed.

The joke about getting a cape died on his lips. This was serious. "There has to be a way we can use this to help the city." John noticed their shocked expressions. "Don't you see? We need to find as many uses as possible. I need to test out what I can do, how we can make this," he waved his hand in the air, "more useful."

"You're doing no such thing until we fully understand what is happening to you and Rodney and Zelenka finish examining that machine. I'm not going to allow you to go around testing things in some unorthodox matter without having all the facts," Elizabeth interjected.

"I agree. We still have no idea what this is doing to you." Carson grabbed his medical bag, pulling out a stethoscope with vigor.

"And we can't let this opportunity slip through our fingers. Who knows what I'm capable of and what I can do."

"Oh, please, you're not Captain America," Rodney huffed, walking inside. "I hit the chime, but I think all of you were too busy debating on what color shield Sheppard wants for his costume."

Carson sighed. "Please, Rodney, not now." He turned to John. "Come on, I want a vitals check."

Elizabeth opened her mouth to argue more but tapped her comm when it chirped and walked to a corner to have a conversation. John didn't fidget during the brief exam; his brain was busy working on a priority list of needs for the city.

"John, I have to go. I need to deal with an urgent diplomatic dispute that Captain Haskins has reported." She looked at the group, clearly upset at being dragged away at a critical moment. "I think it would be a good idea if---"

"---someone stuck around?" John finished.

"Just to be on the safe side," she replied, looking at McKay.

Rodney rolled his eyes. "Fine. I'll babysit."

John knocked him on the back of the head.

"Ow!"

"Stay out of trouble, both of you," she warned. "And John? We'll finish this conversation later."

Be cool. Stay cool. One theory at a time. We'll let him start off easy.

Rodney's frazzled trains of thought were more tedious to block; there was no rhyme or reason to the ideas bustling in his head like heated popcorn. It took longer, but John put up a wall, and his mind was absent of outside noise again except for the increasing output of ideas demanding his attention.

The volume and speed of his internal thoughts were harder to ignore. He needed to focus on something before the restlessness drove him crazy.

"You feeling alright, lad? Your pulse has just jumped up."

John smoothed down his shirt after Carson finished listening to his heart. "It's nothing, just thinking."

"I've got you a brown bag lunch," Carson said, rummaging though his knapsack. "There are three sandwiches- all made with enriched bread, roast beef, turkey, and ham with everything on it. Bacon, tomato, lettuce, dressings, and mayonnaise for extra calories. There's also a bag of mixed nuts, and I want you to drink lots of milk and juice," he explained, pulling out the drinks.

Rodney's eye grew large. "Jeesh, why not bring the kitchen sink."

"I want you to eat again in three hours, Colonel. Ask Mandy in the mess hall; she's going to have specially prepared meals."

Carson stood there awkwardly after the examination finished. There was a fine line they hadn't crossed yet. John knew he was a rare find; their expedition was created for the search of knowledge, and he was a walking, talking Nobel Prize. He wasn't a machine to be taken apart and tinkered with to see how he worked. He could be studied, though, and he knew some of the geeks were wrestling over how to do it without sticking him under a microscope.

He shuddered, knowing his body would have been dissected if the retrovirus had killed him. Carson must have sensed what was going through his mind.

A pat to the shoulder, a few more instructions, and it was just him and Rodney. "What?" John demanded. McKay was bouncing ball of energy.

"You up for some cool equations?"

John plopped down on his bed and unwrapped the first of his sandwiches. "Let's see 'em."

Maybe doing complex math could alleviate the growing feeling of antsyness. The roast beef appeased his stomach's desire, but his mind was starving.

They debated the Thurston conjecture which led to arguing over the Poincare conjecture. They tossed words like three-dimensional manifolds and three-dimensional spheres. Rodney paced back and forth, going over the boundaries of the four-dimensional ball.

John grabbed a sheet of paper, scribbling the equation like he would his name.

S^3={x in R^4 : ||x||=1}.

"No, compact basically means closed and bounded," he argued.

The tangent turned towards Mersenne Prime numbers, and no, he wasn't going to try to calculate any new ones, thank you. "It took a computer forty-seven days to spit out the last one, and I'm not going to even try," he said, rolling his eyes.

"I bet you don't know the largest perfect number," Rodney challenged.

John knew the formula; it flashed in his mind without even trying. "Wouldn't you like to know," he teased.

His brain wanted more, needed more like some kind of drug. He baited his friend with controversial topics in theoretical physics and tearing apart Einstein's theory of relativity. John was about to draw a diagram to demonstrate his latest point when he realized Rodney was staring at him.

"What?"

Rodney was never good with subtle. "How smart are you now?"

"Very," John replied, and he felt conflicted saying so. It was a large, shiny spotlight in his eyes. He wanted to avert it and shy away to the corner, but the burden of the stuff spinning in his head was heavy. "I need your help. We can use this to our advantage. I think I can solve things that Atlantis desperately needs.

Rodney opened his mouth, but his radio silenced his reply. "What!" he said, slapping his comm.

Listening to a one sided, heated exchange wasn't a satisfying way to pass the time. John contented himself by finishing his last sandwich, licking his fingers after Rodney was done roasting one of his minions.

"This whole place would fall apart if it wasn't for me," Rodney grumbled.

"What now?"

"The idiots screwed up a very simple program; now the code is corrupting internal communication protocols."

"I didn't know you were updating those areas," John commented, throwing his thrash away.

"I wasn't! Dr. Zercho was trying to implement a search engine for the Ancient database, and now some random line of code is screwing everything up!"

"You guys were trying to install Google?"

"Oh, har, har. This is serious. I need to get down there and fix this mess before the program interferes with more important systems." Rodney snatched the bag of nuts and stuffed a handful in one of his pockets. "Brain food. You don't need it." He rocked on the back of his heels. "What you were saying... I mean before I was rudely interrupted?"

"We'll talk about it when you get back." John smiled.

"Maybe I should get Ronon or someone. Elizabeth didn't want you to be by yourself."

"I'll be fine."

"Oh. Okay, sure. Then I'm going... to you know...." Rodney jerked his head towards the door. "Leaving now."

The door closed, and John was alone with his roaring thoughts, numbers leaking out of his ears and the property behind light sounding as simple as the workings of a coffee machine. He should have explained things to McKay, Carson... hell anyone! The need to work on things was incredible, and before he knew it, he was in front of his laptop, and the damn thing couldn't keep up.

He was out the door, notebook in hand even though most of its contents were memorized. John needed a lab. It didn't matter which one as long as there was space, multiple computers, and a white board.

None of the scientists asked why the military commander of Atlantis had taken over a workbench. He knew that the city's biggest problem was the lack of enough ZPMs to power everything sufficiently. The search had led them astray too many times, and, yes, making one was impossible. They couldn't go down to the market to buy some negative energy.

The problem with producing great amounts of energy was the byproducts. There was no known way to release fusion energy as heat instead of radiation. The laws of relativity got in the way.

John needed to rewrite those. Yeah, piece of cake... except the stuff spilling out of his head contradicted that doubt.


He began working out the complexities involved with overcoming a nucleus' natural repulsion and tried thinking of ways to fuse them together. However, that created more complex theories to solve the problem. His thoughts kept fracturing onto other topics as entire realms of science were cracked open for him to explore.

John worked out the quantum mechanics and special relativity involved in understanding cold fusion with one computer. When ideas regarding super-string theory kept butting in, he grabbed another computer with his left hand and began typing up solutions with that one.

"Um... Colonel?

Colonel Sheppard?"

He looked up for the first time in hours to spot Zelenka standing nervously near him. "What's up, Radek?"

"I was curious about what you were working on," the smaller man inquired, peering over at both laptops.

"Trying to fix our energy problem without finding another ZPM," John replied.

"Oh. Well... that's very adventitious," Zelenka said, clearing his throat.

"If we didn't have to worry about ZPMs, we could power the city's shields, weapons, the star drive." John's thoughts drifted. "Think of the ships we could power... or how we could help other planets with cloaks or defenses."

"Yes, that would be phenomenal, but---"

"---The hyper-drive!" John jumped up. "I know... I think I understand how the Asgard use it."

He needed an additional computer... something to download the data streaming through his mind. There was another laptop on the opposite table, and, before he knew it, the thing floated over and landed in front of him.

"Oh, my," Zelenka breathed.

John wasn't sure what the Czech was impressed by; he had already zoned out with the new flux of information. He followed the man's line of sight, watching the buttons on the third laptop type out all his thoughts.

"That's helpful," John muttered.

He didn't freak out over being linked to the third device telepathically, not when he was having a breakthrough about the transference of energy in his hypothesis.

Zelenka hovered nearby, going from computer to computer and staring at the screens. "You're inputting things too fast; the processors cannot keep up with amount of equations you are loading into them."

John noticed the backlog, the screen flashing information that he'd typed over five minutes ago.

"You've crashed the left computer twice and have rebooted it. Were you aware that you did that?"

"No... I mean. I must have." John glanced at the Power Mac, frowning. "I need something that can keep up. We got anything faster?"

"What you are working on can handle five million operations per second," Zelenka explained. "We do have a few supercomputers that do more."

John got up and packed his stuff. "Show me."


"What the hell is going on?"

"He has been doing this for the last hour."

"And nobody bothered to inform me that you two were going to drain a significant amount of power by linking all... are you kidding me? That's all five of our Blue Genes!"

Rodney argued with Zelenka before stomping over and yanking the keyboard away from John's fingertips. "Stop it! What the hell are you doing? Each one of these very, very expensive, and very powerful, machines can do 35 trillion calculations per second! Per second, Colonel!"

"They're still too slow."

"What could you possibly be working on that requires all of this?" Rodney gazed at the screens. "Will you stop typing for just a second? You're going to give me a seizure."

John rested his hands in his lap, but all five keyboards still clacked away.

"Oh, for Pete's sake, just chill out. You're going to burn up your brain," McKay snapped.

Zelenka read over Rodney's shoulder, scratching his head from time to time. The two geeks huddled together, taking John away from his needed distraction. Even though he had mastered the ability to ignore most outside noise, there had been an insistent droning sound prickling at his senses. It was hard to pinpoint the exact nature of the noise; there was a pattern to the distraction. It was so incredibly fast, putting all of Atlantis' supercomputers to shame in the speed of its chatter.

"You're really making headway on low fusion theory. It'd take some time to read all these equations but...."

"A while, Rodney? It could take months if not years to go over all these. And that's if any of us can follow it all," Zelenka interrupted.

"The math, yes. Maybe. I mean I'm sure with some time and...."

"He's leapfrogged past all the latest research," Zelenka cut off his fellow geek again. The smaller man turned to John after transferring some of the information onto a laptop and read it out loud. "The concepts of source and quantum action principles are used to produce the Green's function appropriate for an initial phonon vacuum state. An application to the Mössbauer effect is presented."

Rodney snapped his fingers. "You're screwing with the Mössbauer effect?"

John nodded, his answer automatic. "The absence in the g-ray energy field within the red-shift causes recoiled energy to--"

"Yeah, yeah. I get it," Rodney stared at John. "But do you, really? Is it just all a bunch of words, or is everything... I dunno. Does it all make sense to you?"

It took a moment; he had to slow down everything. When John focused on how to make all the stuff in his head sound reasonable, the weird white noise doubled, and he tried to ignore it.

"It's all inside. Everything. It's natural like chewing gum or thinking about the schematics of a Black Hawk." John rubbed at his temple. "It's a cracking dam; every time I stick a finger in a hole, a leak springs from five others."

John began pacing; the keyboards to all the computers began typing away the things running through his head. "And it's stuff I've never known about. How we can use beaming technology more efficiently and at longer distances. Or the easiest way to modify the jumpers with hyper-drives."

A hand gripped his shoulder, and he stared at a set of wild blue eyes. "It's okay... I mean I think it will be. Just take a moment to get a grip," Rodney pleaded. "Supersmart or not, I think even your brain deserves a rest."

"It's not that easy. If I think about a car, every engine of every model vehicle begins filling my head. Then it jumps from car engines to jets then space propulsion. I started thinking about Dustin Hoffman in Rainman, and now I think I know the exact genetic defect that causes Autism. The genome just...." John scrubbed at his face. "Little helixes came to me out of nowhere." John started wearing away a strip in the floor and stopped to stare at both of them. "And everything's perfectly clear. It just gets really complicated when I try to take it from here," he tapped his head, "to paper, so to speak."

Zelenka looked thoughtful, McKay only pained.

"Maybe you could learn meditation," Radek offered.

Rodney was less than enthused by the idea. "Can't you just think off?"

John laughed and shook his head. "I wish."

The undercurrent of noise in the background of his mind peaked into a sharp-pained whine. John winced, temporarily unable to keep it at bay.

"What's wrong?" Rodney was instantly next to him.

John shook his head; the sound becoming a high-pitched shrill. "It's.... It's...."

"Oh, what now!" Rodney tapped his comm. "I'm busy; this is going to have to... what? Are you sure? Oh, crap!"

The sounds, the noise- it all came to him. "It's Atlantis. Something's wrong."

"Yes, well aware of that. Stupid shell program is screwing things up majorly. Move out of the way; I need to get to a console." Rodney shoved things, almost knocking stuff to the floor. He logged in and looked up as if John's words just dawned on him. "And how did you know that the city was in trouble?"

"What's going on?" John asked, ignoring the question.

"I already told you; that stupid search engine had a line of corrupted code, and now it's affecting programs it has no business interacting with."

"And that means?" John demanded. He looked over to Zelenka who was also connected to the mainframe on the other side of the room.

"It means.... damn it! The main transformer in section B thirty-eight is overloading!" Rodney was frantic, tapping his comm and issuing a warning.

John gripped the table with white knuckles, the whirring noise of the city screeching in his head. The noise was like a billion electronic screams. Whatever was happening, it was too late.

"We've got an explosion!" Zelenka shouted. "It looks as if the transformer became unstable from a massive power surge."

"That's not the only problem; the fire safety protocols are not working. There's no Halon gas to put out the fire!" Rodney shouted and relayed the emergency to Elizabeth over his radio.

"I can't override anything. Nothing is responding to my commands!" Zelenka yelled.

John looked back and forth between both men and grabbed Rodney by the shoulders and bodily moved him out of the way. "I know what to do!"

"What the hell? This isn't a time for heroics, genius or not. You can't fix a spiraling corruption error!" Rodney seethed, trying to get back to the console.

"Yes, I can," John explained. He closed his eyes, opened up his mind and touched two of the ports to the console right in front of him.


John moved in between commands, seeking out a way to turn on the Halon gas but encountered the same thing Rodney was slamming his head against.

//..[Safety Protocols]
{Off line}
<!--ERROR--Loading (882.333.22464.) Access is denied--!>
<!--ERROR--Reloading (882.333.22464.) Access is denied--!>
<!--{REDIRECTING}--(site 235.543.835.)--!>
<!--ERROR--(redirect failure)--!>

This wasn't the way; he needed to get past normal coding.

//..[Recognize new program]
<!--{INITALIZING Direct Connection}--(Site 317.846.021)--!>
<Matching to Database>
<!--{RECOGNIZE ENITY. Human. Ancient John John}--!>
01001010011011110110100001101110001000000101001101101000011001010111000001110000011000010111001001100100
--(Confirm Atlantis Subroutine)--
<Open Communication Window>

01001000011001010110110001110000001000010010000001000101011011100110001101101111
01110101011011100111010001100101011100100110100101101110011001110010000001100101
01110010011100100110111101110010001000000110001101101111011001000110010101110011
00101110001000000101001101111001011100110111010001100101011011010010000001100110
01100001011010010110110001110101011100100110010100100000011010010110111000100000
01110011011000010110011001100101011101000111100100100000011100000111001001101111
01110100011011110110001101101111011011000111001100101110001000000101001101111001
01110011011101000110010101101101001000000110010101110010011100100110111101110010
00100000011010010110111000100000011100000111001001101001011011010110000101110010
01111001001000000111000001110010011011110110011101110010011000010110110101110011
00101110001000000100011001100001011010010110110001110101011100100110010100100000
01101001011011010110110101100101011001000110100101100001011101000110010100101110
00100000010100000110111101110111011001010111001000100000011011110111011001100101
01110010001000000110110001101111011000010110010001110011001000000110100101101101
01101101011001010110010001101001011000010111010001100101001011100000110100001010
00001101000010100100010101110010011100100110111101110010001011100000110100001010
0000110100001010010001010111001001110010011011110111001000101110

John was flooded with Atlantis' screams for help. He interrupted the binary numbers that directed him towards all the corrupted files. He filtered line after line of information in search of tiny pieces of bad code. The city kept downloading programs with errors, and he tried tracing it back to the original problem.

The data dump was a tidal wave, and it took every bit of effort to keep from drowning in it. John forced things to slow down as he searched for the breakdown in safety protocols. He needed to put out the fire before anything could be done to repair the widespread corruption caused by the search engine.

//..[Safety Protocols]
{Off line}
<!--ERROR--Loading (882.333.22464.) Access is denied!>

John forced his way in.

<!--ERROR--!>
<!--ERROR--!>
<!--ERROR--!>
<!--ERROR--!>
<!--ERROR--!>

<!--{MASSIVE FAILURE}--!>
--(error code)-1826472.987237.9765202.976639.7622.34344.2321.5762325.23216.1312.45233.83
8468.231.1826472.987237.9765202.976639.7622.34344.2321.5762325.23216.1312.45233.838468.2
31.1826472.987237.9765202.976639.7622.34344.2321.5762325.23216.1312.45233.838468.231.182
6472.987237.9765202.976639.7622.34344.2321.5762325.23216.1312.45233.838468.231.

John could feel the corruption; acid and metal filled his mouth. A sensation of heat and sickness invaded his body. His joints ached; his stomach churned. He found the specific protocol and switched it back on.

//..[Safety Protocols]
{On line}

There was chatter in the background, a flurry of feet and voices.

"The Halon gas is working!" Rodney shouted. "Colonel, um… can you... maybe... ohhh. You are."

John shut down all power transformers and cleansed the bad programming then started them back up. Zelenka was talking to someone, sounded like he was on the radio with Elizabeth to let her know what was going on.

There was no way to avoid the infection in all of the city's programs, and he attacked them one section at a time. Manually rewriting code was exhausting, and he got lost in between all the numbers. Beneath the complexity of Atlantis, John could make out her voice talking to him. It was a myriad of beeps and pulses, but this time he could understand each sound as the very binary numbers he was using to fix her.

01000011011100100110010101100001011101000110010100100000011000010010000001101110
01100101011101110010000001110000011100100110111101100111011100100110000101101101
00101110001000000101000001110101011100100110011101100101001000000111010001101000
01100101001000000110011001100001011010010110110001110101011100100110010100101110

Of course. John could create a new program to purge the rest out. Soon he was working with Atlantis to fight back the disease that had damaged so many systems. The city had fought hard; McKay's patches from earlier had been barely enough to keep the sickness as bay.

"He's repairing all the bad coding. It's amazing; the search engine we put in has been wiped away and reinstalled," Zelenka spoke next to him.

His body melted in the office chair, and his head felt fuzzy. The assault on his body was gone, and all that white noise now sung in a beautiful harmony. He followed the voice through billions of energy signatures and color.

Atlantis was blue like the sea that surrounded her. The city was a perfect balance of machine and intelligence. Flying through her, John felt a sense of belonging and contentment. At every turn there was sound and light.

"John, you can disconnect."

He recognized McKay's voice, but it was off in the distance.

"Any time now."

Tiny, that voice was so tiny, swallowed by the massive chorus directing him further away.

"This... this isn't good. We need to do something."

"Maybe disconnect him?"

"He's not plugged in, Radek!"

"It could be a new type of bio-interface. Just move his hands."

"Okay, okay."

"Sheppard! Come on, don't do this!"

There were more errors in power consumption and output. He could help repair that. John connected to the main power core and analyzed the way the ZPM was being used. There was also a problem with lag in the command tower.

//..[Request Permanent Link]

Of course, he could do that. It would make things easier.

"This does not look good, Rodney."

"Cut off the power to this console. Now!"

"It is not working!"

"Damn it! Sheppard! Sheppard, wake up!"

He felt a shaking, warmth and sorrow. It was strange; there was no feeling where he was, but there was a strong urgency to return to his origin point.

"Sheppard! Disconnect yourself now! Or I'll have Ronon kick your ass!"

There it was again. Warm spots where every other part of him was cold. John began drifting back and opened his eyes. He saw row upon row of numbers. The coding seemed upset... no, that wasn't right. Programming didn't experience emotion.

"There you go; look at me."

"He does not appear to be really seeing you, Rodney."

"Shut up, Radek. Sheppard, come back. Can you feel me squeeze your arm here? I know Atlantis must be a very fascinating place, but you belong here with us. And if I have to start shutting down parts of the city then I'll do it!"

He finally made out what he was seeing.

Photobucket

It was Rodney in ones and zeros. How weird. Atlantis called back to him, but John was drawn to the heat of emotion and shook away the strongly inviting connection.

John slumped sideways, nauseated. Someone caught him and prevented him from falling to the floor.

"It's okay. Hold on."

He blinked and moved his heavy hand towards his face to wipe at his clammy skin. "God... this sucks," John groaned. His arms were trembling; his whole body quivered. "What's going on?"

Rodney sighed in relief which was strange since he wasn't the one shaking like a leaf. "Zelenka, grab one of the candy bars stashed somewhere in here!"

"On it."

John took a long breath, trying to keep his stomach from rebelling.

"I think you're experiencing a crash like a diabetic. You need some glucose, and you'll be fine," Rodney reassured him. "Just eat one of my chocolate bars; you'll feel better. I'm sure Carson's on his way with like a whole buffet for you."

Zelenka was next them, and John realized he was sitting on the floor with a piece of candy shoved into his right hand. He started chewing it. "Everyone okay?"

Rodney seemed to cave in on himself. "Yes, yes. Fire's under control. There were only minor injuries. While you played Hal 9000, you fixed the corruption and I bet even made the search engine work."

John nodded, feeling incredible drained. "Good."

"You're an idiot, you know that?"

He looked up to his friend's angry face. "Yeah." John munched on the rest of the Hershey bar and took a long shuddering breath. "But I'll never forget it."


John found walking on the walls--actually up them-- beat a trip in the transporter. He could still go to any level fast, and it was way cooler. He didn't need to cling to anything with his hands, already being one up on a certain web-slinger. Pacing upside down on the ceiling had its fun moments, but he decided to stop giving gravity the middle finger and act like a normal person. The irony being that he wasn't one anymore.

Thus the reason you're up at three in the morning instead of resting in your quarters, John thought.

If Elizabeth or Carson found out he wasn't sleeping they would have his head on a platter. The whole getting lost in Atlantis thing hadn't gone over well and telling them it had felt like an out-of- body experience only made matters worse.

Sleep. Sleep wasn't happening. Not if he didn't want to freak out about these expanding powers. Things like talking to a city could affect one's ability to lie down and turn 'off' for a while. His brain wasn't slowing down. It was hard enough to ignore the desire to stop what he was doing and write things on the floor that were circulating in his head. The gym was off-limits and going to the firing range would blow his cover. He flexed his sore arm; Carson had gone overboard with the blood donations.

"You gonna hang out in the shadows all day?" John asked Ronon.

The big guy didn't make a sound as he came out from where he'd been following. "Wasn't sure what you were up to."

The million dollar question. John pulled out the object that started his whole stroll through the city in the middle of the night. "You know how hard it is to find superglue in a lab where there isn't some night owl up working on something?"

"What'cha need glue for?"

"For this." John brought out one of the model planes that usually sat on his desk. "The wing broke off after it fell."

Ronon grabbed the intricate toy, turning it to study the repaired section. "And it just fell?"

He was so busted. "Actually, I flung a few things off my desk," John admitted. "It became a victim of friendly fire."

"Hitting things is easier." Ronon shrugged, handing it back.

"Yeah." John exhaled heavily. "Guess it was the closest thing."

"Any reason why you wanted to break your stuff?" Ronon asked as they kept walking down the halls.

"Got frustrated after Elizabeth confiscated my laptop and all my notebooks for a required period of sleep then left. She didn't want me to be distracted." He shook his head. "I've read all the latest mission reports the past couple of weeks and been noticing an increase in Wraith activity around a few specific solar systems. There have been more Hive ships and cullings on those planets. Almost double the amount."

"Do you have a theory?"

"No, not yet. I was trying to explain my case when I was reminded that I was supposed to behave like a good little boy and take my nap." He stopped once they got outside. They were near the western pier; maybe this is where he'd wanted to go all along. "I know I'm not the only one having a tough time dealing with the whole powers thing, and I know Elizabeth is just looking out for me after the Ghost in the Machine incident." John smiled at Ronon's look. "Really weird Japanese animation movie about computers and spirits."

"What was it like?"

"It felt... felt like I was one with a million voices." John felt a tingle go down his spine, a longing ghost over his skin. His eyes closed for a second, but he blinked furiously, resisting the whispers in his head.

Ronon rested his arms over the balcony railing. "You okay?"

"Fine. Not even hungry," John laughed. "I think I must have drunk a whole gallon of orange juice and ate a steak that the chefs have been hiding for a special occasion. Carson's worried I'm overdoing things."

He fiddled with his toy plane. "This is a replica of an F-15 I used to fly. It could climb ten-thousand feet in sixty seconds." He grinned at the memory. "I could make the craziest turns without losing air speed." John floated the model over the ocean, guiding it with the simplest of ease. "The beauty was what this bird could do."

Ronon watched the air show as John demonstrated maneuvers and aerial feats. "Used this to get past a couple Russian SU-fighters when I was jamming their ground radar. This would be easier if... here we go."

There were a few random golf balls around since this was the same pier he confiscated to drive them into the ocean. John used two of the balls as his 'bogies' and sent them after his model plane.

"Those are very menacing," Ronon chuckled.

"Hey, it's all I got," John laughed with him. He sent the golf balls after his plane, both of them gaining speed. "I slowed down just a bit." Both 'enemies' were nearly on top of him. "See, they can't use missiles, only guns. And when they targeted me, I simply shifted my plane sideways, slowed my thrust, and let them pass."

The model plane flipped ninety degrees, both balls flew by, and he rolled the F-15 away.

"You retreated."

"Didn't want to shoot them down. It would've doubled my paperwork."

The model F-15 made a large swooping arc upwards into a loop.

"What're you thinking about?" Ronon asked.

John shook his head. "I need to find another lab. Just had an idea about light speed travel. Instead of using wormholes to connect one end of space to another, why not surround a ship with a field that could just cut through?"

"Don't know about that stuff."

"Yeah, neither did I a few days ago. Doesn't mean I shouldn't work on it." John felt his fingers tighten around the railing. "The Wraith took out a whole town on PXM-262 yesterday according to the latest intelligence. We need an edge."

"And we'll find one."

"The Daedalus is only a few days away. I want to have something for Colonel Caldwell when he arrives."

He flew the tiny model plane overhead, landing it in his hand. John admired the simplicity of the craft, fond memories of being in the cockpit and flying by the seat of his pants still fresh. The superglue was holding, the fissure crack barely visible near the body of the plane. It belonged on a stand yet it represented something that should be free.

"If you're going to create battle plans, you need to sleep," Ronon said. He not-so-subtly guided John's elbow away from the sea. "Let's go."


Breakfast was early; John didn't want to take any chances of dealing with an overly crowded mess hall. He managed an hour nap after going over the schematics for every fixed-wing and helicopter design to keep his brain occupied before lying down became unbearable.

In order to stay focused on normal day-to-day activities John actually worked on the next Mersenne Prime number that he scoffed at McKay about the other day.

There were only forty-four known ones.

Calculating the next one would take the fastest computer weeks, and he hoped it would preoccupy his brain for a while.

Two minutes after getting in line for his special mile high plate of food, his teammates got in behind him, and they grabbed a table in the corner to sit down.

Rodney aimlessly buttered his toast; his eyes were red-rimmed, and he was quiet which was very unusual.

"You okay there, McKay?"

"If you call staring at readouts from that machine for ten hours straight an activity that a sane man should deal with- then yes," he sniped, overly grumpy even for him.

"Why not take a break from it?" John asked, pouring maple syrup over everything on his plate. "You can't think if you're exhausted."

"Pot!" Rodney stabbed a finger in his direction. "Don't talk to this kettle."

Teyla chewed on a muffin, sharing an oh children expression with Ronon. "John is right, even if he doesn't take his own advice." She raised an eyebrow. "Working nonstop will not be helpful if you are too tired and make a mistake."

"If the Colonel here would stop doing his Tron impression maybe I'd take my time," Rodney snarled, not looking up from his bacon.

"Hey! That was an accident," John defended.

"And there's no way to put children's safety devices all over the city for any more of your accidents." Rodney jabbed his fork at his eggs. "Doesn't matter until Elizabeth catches up on the translations, and before you say it... she can handle that just fine. Last thing we need is for you to download Ancient into that swelling brain of yours."

"Colonel Sheppard. Please report with your team to the control room," Chuck's voice squawked over the city-wide radio.

Ronon was on his feet, napkin thrown down, and Teyla rose with him. John swallowed the last of his omelet and grabbed two biscuits. Rodney was still seated, looking at the rest of them in annoyance. "This is the first time I've had a chance to eat."

Ronon began pulling the scientist's chair out from under him, McKay bitching the entire time. The four of them hurried to a transporter and arrived in the Gate Room, Elizabeth gesturing them to run up the stairs.

"We just got this message form Major Lorne's team." She gestured at Chuck to replay it.

"This is Lorne. There is a major culling...Wraith... heavy casualties... cut off from the gate... back up... detected...."

John's eyes grew large, and he tapped into the console. "That's PMX-642. We just helped out with a new irrigation system to drain their crop fields."

"The town has a population close to four hundred people," Elizabeth said softly.

"We'll gear up and go down there," John stated, turning to run back down the stairs.

"John, I'm not sure you should go. Get another team--"

"Dr. Weir, we're getting another staticy message," Chuck reported.

"...Lorne... Wraith Cruiser in orbit... launching...."

John had heard enough. "We're going. I'll grab Lt. Rodriguez's team for back up."

"We don't know about your powers. John, they could--"

"This is exactly what they're needed for. Don't you understand, Elizabeth? I might be able to do something." John felt the endorphins flood his system, his heart rate going from sixty to ninety beats per minute. He could smell the sweat of fear on people's skin, hear the rapid increases in breathing, and feel the collective anxiety of the entire Gate Room. "Let me do this," he implored.

"Okay. But take Dr. Beckett with you. I'll tell him to meet you guys in the jumper bay," Elizabeth ordered, tapping her comm to alert the physician.

John nodded, the rest of his team already rushing down the stairs, heading to the armory. Even Rodney's exhaustion was pushed back for later, taking two steps at a time with a renewed sense of energy.


They exited the wormhole and immediately had to scatter. Wraith drones were covering the gate, and both groups dove on their bellies to avoid stunner blasts.

"Rodriguez! Lay down fire!" John ordered from behind a moss-covered stone. "Sergeant Phelps! Target the group of drones about twenty meters out at your one-o'clock and hit 'em with stun grenades."

Rodriguez's team crawled toward any rock or stone structure around the gate for cover. Thirty seconds later all six of them showered the trees with suppression fire.

Phelps, a burly man, unloaded the sonic grenades from his pack and tossed them as instructed. Between the heavy stream of P-90 fire and the stun explosions, John's team could maneuver out of their pinned-down positions.

"Carson, stay behind us!" John ordered.

The physician kept with Rodney. Beretta out. "Bloody hell! Why did I come here?"

Ronon and Teyla took point, leading them down a path towards the town.

Rodriguez's team continued to rain down ammunition on the Wraith in the tree line, keeping their distance so the enemy didn't double back. About a klick away, the sky overhead was filled with darts, their culling rays crisscrossing the ground. There was a heavy cloud of smoke above the battle with several buildings on fire.

The few remaining Wraith that tried to block the area near the ring were taken care of by Ronon's blaster. Teyla caught a few who got back up after the first initial hits.

John listened for the Wraith's slower heartbeats, finding none near by. "I want two men to stay here. We need to keep an escape route clear," he ordered into his comm.

"I'll leave Hicks and Tenski behind with an M2 heavy gun to keep things open," Rodriguez radioed back.

"Lorne, this is Sheppard. Do you read?"

McKay gave him a nervous look and tried his radio to no avail.

"Let's double time it," John commanded.

"How are we going to avoid the darts, Colonel?" Carson asked, breathing heavily from carrying his kit.

John didn't reply, using his senses to pinpoint roaming ground forces and the patterns to the culling process. The closer they got the louder the screams of the townspeople pierced the air. Men and women ran, some of them ushering children towards shelters that led underground.

There must have been no warning if everyone was still caught out in the open.

The field of vision was clouded over by gray smoke, several homes were destroyed, and a large fire at the center of town spread the destruction to all the neighboring buildings. People cried out from inside the burning homes with no hope of rescue.

The chaos and panic made for easy pickings; the Wraith foot soldiers corralled terrorized people towards the darts' beams.

"This is mass hysteria!" Rodney gasped. "What the hell is the plan?"

John heard another wave of darts enter the atmosphere before they became visible.

"Get people to safety," John said, trying to sound in control. "We'll provide a way towards their shelters. The tunnels are on the east side of town. All the drones are blocking their escape, pushing people towards open ground to be picked up by the darts."

"How are we doing that?" Rodney yelled.

"You guys concentrate on the ground, keep the Wraith occupied. I'll take care of the air."

"And what do you think you're gonna do?" Carson accused.

"What I can, doc," John replied.

The next round of darts swooped in from the west, but he'd been waiting. John heard the high-pitched whine of their engines, focusing on the power used for propulsion. He could feel the low-powered fission reactor of each enemy ship.

He honed in on the small nuclear reactions, atoms splitting, waves of energy being released. Neutrons and protons. John seized on the reactions, upping an odd number of the nuclei, causing things to run too hot and too fast.

Things became unstable, and the first dart exploded. Then the second. Explosion after explosion filled the sky with balls of fire.

Ronon and Teyla coordinated with Rodriguez's team, battling the Wraith on the ground. The entire town was a war zone, blue bolts of stunner blasts zipping from one building to another. Streams of lead bullets cut the air, destroying and ripping apart what was left of the infrastructure of the town.

The stone building where John crouched in the entryway was one of the few places not being demolished by fire.

"The ground forces know we are here!" Teyla yelled.

"Can you hold them off?" John hollered over the volley of P-90 fire.

"We will!" Ronon bellowed, firing.

"There are casualties, Colonel," Carson shouted, spotting bodies on the ground.

"Wait 'til we're clear," John ordered. He glared at Rodney to make sure he kept the doc out of trouble.

Rodriguez and his men led groups of civilians towards their location, Teyla, Ronon, and Rodney providing cover fire.

John sought out more and more enemy ships, blowing up two and three at a time. His breaths were coming in rapid gasps, but he thought only of unstable chain reactions. About half the darts in the sky were eliminated, and some of them began retreating.

Carson stayed huddled nearby, firing at any Wraith that looked like it might take a shot at them. It was like a damn Steven Spielberg movie only without the dramatic music. John's ears managed to filter out most of the firefight, but he was sure some of the others might be temporarily deaf from the sheer amount of ordnance being used.

"There are too many, John!" Teyla called, trying to provide enough cover for the next wave of refugees that the Marines were running with.

"The fires are merging!" Rodney yelled. "If we don't get out of here, we'll be trapped. Most of the structures are made of wood!"

Phelps came careening around a corner. "Sir! The Wraith are converging near the escape tunnels, blocking them off! We got a lot of people there, but there are still tons of folks stranded in between buildings who are too afraid to come out while others are burning up in the fires."

"John! I see Lorne and his men!" Teyla shouted from her position a few meters away, using the side of a burning building for cover.

"The darts that retreated beamed down more Wraith!" Ronon yelled in between blaster shots.

Think, think, think!

John spotted Lorne and his team dragging each other over, the Marines showering bullets on the Wraith that began giving chase.

"Cover them! And Teyla, move away from that damn building!" John shouted, adding his P-90 to the fray.

The smoke and flames had created a screen, making it too difficult for his people to see where to aim. The air was becoming thick with fumes, and the heat of the all fires was beginning to affect them.

"We have to get out of here!" Rodney yelled, firing.

Ronon ran towards Lorne's team; John tried to keep him covered with his weapon. "When Lorne and his men get here, retreat to the gate!" he yelled.

"Carson, help them out!" John got up, ran over to shoulder a wounded man and bring the rest of his guys over.

"Thank... thanks, Sir," Lorne breathed, bearing the weight of an injured corporal.

"Let's get back to the gate! We'll bring all the civilians with us and take 'em to the Alpha site!" John took point, trying to clear the way.

He looked back, horrified at the number of townspeople they had to escort. Half his men would be preoccupied with helping the wounded move and unable to shoot.

"Sir, this is Tenski. We've got Wraith headed towards the gate. We're trying to hold them off, but we think they're trying to cut you off," the sergeant bellowed in his comm.

Think, John! Where are all those super powers?

Then it hit him, and John pumped his legs, getting ahead of the group.

"Sheppard! What are you doing!" Ronon yelled.

"Stay back! Help the others! That's an order!" John hollered over his shoulder.

He sought out the Wraith in front of him, focused on their brainwaves, their thoughts. The patterns were more simplistic. Hive minded. John connected to their minds, following the synaptic optical nerves.

Then he walked out in the open, honing in on each one and shooting them in the face. Every drone he encountered never lifted a stunner, never fired, and he simply put a bullet through them.

One by one he hunted them. Sought each soldier out and fired.

"What's going on, Sheppard? There's nothing but Wraith corpses everywhere," Rodney's frightened voice asked in his ear.

"Clearing the way," John radioed.

"Bloody hell, Colonel! How?" Carson asked, huffing.

"They don't know I'm here," he replied.

There was no need to answer the next barrage of questions. All he needed to do was take out the rest of the bad guys. He wiped himself off their radar. They didn't see him; they couldn't sense him. It was giving John one hell of a migraine, but he focused on mental blocking and firing.

Twenty minutes later, the ring was within sight. Hicks radioed to say they'd spotted him; the Marine's voice left little doubt that they had seen what he'd been doing.

"Sir! Someone's dialing the gate!" Hicks' voice screamed in his ear.

No, no, no!

"Nothing's coming out of it, sir!"

The damn Wraith cruiser was dialing in to keep them trapped.

"Probably pissed that all their buddies are dead", he mumbled. In fact, the cruiser took great offense to the screwed-up culling and entered the atmosphere.

Fuck.

The teams were catching up to him with all the wounded and civilians. John watched the large cruiser rip through the clouds and fly towards their escape.

He heard Ronon and Teyla run to meet up with him. "Colonel! What are we going to do?" Teyla asked, chest heaving.

There was no choice; the gigantic ship had to go before it opened fired or cleared the way for the Hive nearby to send more darts and troops after them.

The warship used hyper-drive engines, making jumps to protect the Hive. Locating the powerful generators was easy; it was like a lightning rod. The heavy mineral was a contained bomb, and he focused on the unstable properties.

In the background he heard the rest of the teams and townspeople catch up. The Marines held them back as Rodney ran over. "What the hell is going on!"

"Quiet; Sheppard's doing something," Ronon hushed.

"Colonel! Colonel, don't you dare! Are you freaking nuts! Carson!!"

All he had to do was stir things up, turn protons into neutrons, excite them into an overload on a grand scale. He could feel the vein at his temple pulsate under the skin and a band of tension tighten around his skull.

People began crying and yelling. "It's getting closer!"

The cruiser was well within firing rage, but it paused.

Probably experiencing technical difficulties, John thought. "Everyone get down!"

He swore there was a zap, followed by the most agonizing crackling sound, like aluminum foil inside a microwave.

The explosion rocked the ground, knocking people down, including John. Good thing distances were deceiving or the falling debris from the ship could have killed some people.

It felt wonderful to be on the cool grass; he didn't feel like standing up for a while.

"Colonel!"

"I'm alright, Carson. Just enjoying a little downtime."

"Like hell ye are!"

John felt fingers at his wrist, hands on his face, touching his head and slipping through his hair. "Said I was fine," he mumbled. "Just a slight headache."

The remains of the cruiser rained over the land, the burning parts like a meteor shower. They needed to get the townspeople to one of the Alpha sites, set up emergency shelters until what was left of their homes were cleared and secured.

"Carson! Carson! Get over here!"

"What is it, Rodney? I'm busy checking on Colonel--"

"Hurry!"

The frantic tone in McKay's voice was enough for John to roll over onto his side and watch the physician's retreating back. It was hard to tell what was going on; people crowded around, keeping him from seeing anything.

He didn't want to move, his head was spinning and his legs were pretty rubbery, but things died down to a tense hush. John forced himself up, wincing at the head rush, and made his way towards the growing cries of 'please do something'.

Carson was pumping a boy's chest, and Phelps was breathing into the child's mouth. A devastated mother was being held back by two men who could barely contain her.

"Come on, son. Come on!" Carson muttered.

Rodney looked on in horror. Teyla and Ronon stood back in eerie silence.

No one moved. The battle for this single life represented the last vestiges of a town in ruins. People kneeled in prayer while fresh smoke rose from their charred homes. They had left the dead and dying, but it didn't matter at this point.

Tears streamed down the grieving mother's face as she watched, helpless. Carson thrust on the poor kid's chest, the child's eyes still open and vacant.

"Damn it!" Carson cursed, hands pumping but his eyes reflecting the truth.

Something drew John over. He fumbled, losing his footing, but dropped to the ground next to the lifeless child.

"Don't," he whispered.

"I have to keep trying," the physician huffed.

"No. You don't," John told him.

He moved the Scot's hands away and placed his own on the still-warm body.

One life. It was always about saving one more.

He could feel a tingle beneath his fingertips. Energy transferred from one cell to another, synthesizing proteins and rebuilding RNA. Enzymes regenerated, sparking life. John marveled at all the biological catalysts and guided the processes, each using the tiniest bit of his own.

Billions upon billions of tiny factories were jumpstarted until the boy's body took over automatically. It was heat. Under his skin, pulses down his veins, and a light fuzzy feeling in his head.

Then movement. The boy's chest, rising and falling.

"Oh, my God!"

Rodney's voice.

"Dear Lord."

Carson's.

Then there was nothing. No energy; no desire. The world collapsed, and John got lost in the tailspin. He was hot and cold, shivering and motionless.

Voices shouted and screamed inside and outside of his head.

All he knew was falling.

Falling and floating in a sea of blackness, unaware of where he was. Neither asleep nor fully awake.

John felt himself being moved, lifted. Carried. There was a fast and steady heartbeat that wasn't his own. Concern, worry, determination wrapped around his body in physical arms.

Waves of panic crashed into him from one direction, and softer, calmer ones gently cushioned him from another. In between was the beating of confidence.

The ocean dipped, and he experienced the vacuum of pure energy before arriving into the familiar caress of Atlantis. She was softer than normal, sweet and soothing voices all singing quietly.

He must have dozed off at some point. The next thing he knew there were artificial chemicals flowing inside him.

"I think he's coming around."

"Easy does it. Make sure the area is clear; we don't know how sensitive he'll be upon wakin' up.... Colonel? John? Can you hear me?"

John opened up his eyes, all the lights and sounds rushing in. "Hmmmmmm."

"Are you doing all right? Aside from feeling' like you've been chewed up and spat out?" Carson asked.

"Really tired," John breathed.

"I bet. Go to sleep. I've given you a little something to help with that. Just wanted to see you awake for a moment first. Rest. We'll talk later."

John wasn't sure if he could remember what real sleep felt like, but he drifted away, and his mind allowed him to go freely.


"That's very interesting, Dr. Orishio. But could you please sit still? It's hard to stitch when you're moving your arm so much."

"Sorry... I... I don't like needles."

"Don't worry. The lidocaine made things numb."

"But... it... I swear...."

"So, tell me more about these um... locusts."

"They are not locusts; those belong to the order Orthoptera. These are cicadas, and they are amazing."

"Fascinating."

"When they emerge it's on a massive scale. Up to 1.5 million per acre. Their survival mechanism is to overwhelm their predators by sheer numbers."

John awoke slowly to the prattling, the room spinning and the lights too bright for his eyes. He slammed down his lids, waiting for them to adjust from their sensitive levels.

"My aunt lived in New York; she hated the things. Scared the hell outa her kids. Glad they don't wreak havoc very often. Why do they only come out every seventeen years?"

"Some of us think it's an avoidance strategy to eliminate the possibility of potential predators receiving periodic population boosts by synchronizing their own generations to coincide with them. In fact, they even switch up the years based on prime numbers! Isn't that cool?"

"You're moving again. Just lie still, please."

God, he was stuck in bed while one of the bug guys went on about their creepy-crawly pals. That was just awesome. John turned his head, but there wasn't anyone nearby. The nurse and her annoying patient had to be elsewhere. He forced the voices away to clear his pounding head, noticing the scrubs and an IV. Again.

Waking up in a different place than his last memory was becoming an annoying habit until said memories came rushing back to him in every, loving detail.

John shoved away the sheets, fingers wrapped around the catheter in his vein, ready to tear it out when an angry voice made him freeze.

"Don't you dare remove that IV, Colonel! What do you think you're doing?" Carson was a thunderstorm over him, slapping his hand away. "You're not going anywhere."

Wraith and darts. Burning buildings and terrified people. John could smell the smoke and gun oil, feel the aftereffects of too much adrenaline. His fingers ached from squeezing the trigger too hard.

Carson hands were on his shoulders. "Easy, lad. Deep breaths."

"There was a Hive ship!"

"What? I dunno know about that. It could have been in orbit. But that doesn't matter because we're back on Atlantis."

There had been a Hive just out of reach. It took a moment to realize all the data left to be processed. "The kid?"

This time Beckett regarded him with that 'I'm really ticked off at you but don't want to yell' expression. "The boy's fine. Thanks to you. I- I don't know how you did it, Colonel."

"I... I had to."

"No. You didn't."

John looked over in shock. "What do you mean? He was dying. I was able to save him."

"He was dead. And you did save him. Brought him back from the brink. But when will it stop? I'm a bloody doctor! I live to save lives not choose between them!"

"I don't understand."

"You can't keep doing this to yourself!"

Carson took a long breath, bowing his head, embarrassed. "I'm sorry, Colonel. I probably would've done the same thing. I can't imagine what it must be like to have these abilities, but this has to stop."

John knew deep inside that there was something wrong; something was worn out. "How serious are things?"

"You're using up energy you don't have," Carson sighed, scrubbing a hand over his face. "Your body can't keep feeding your increased brain capacity."

"This is about me not eating enough?"

"It's more than that, Colonel. You have insufficient glucose levels to meet these increased metabolic demands. You know about the Krebs cycle?"

No, he didn't, but much like a computer searching for a file, he soon realized the answer. "The chemical process in which cells burn energy," John replied as if reading from a book.

"Exactly. Except your body doesn't have enough fuel. Anytime you use one of your powers excessively, you're zapping your body of energy it doesn't have."

"I take it a power bar won't help."

"This isn't funny! Your body is reacting as if it's starving whenever you do some bloody miracle. You've lost four pounds since your last examination."

John automatically squeezed his arms and patted his stomach. "Doesn't feel like it."

"Aye, you're not in danger of suddenly becoming the incredible shrinking man. You're doing things in leaps and bounds. You won't even lose weight like most people; you'll just react as if you're doing a fast. Your body will revert to crisis mode."

"That doesn't sound good."

"It's not, Colonel. I've got you on a glucose drip with your IV to try to restore things. Your physiology's a right mess. If you keep bringing down Wraith ships and healing people, you're gonna literally burn yourself out."

Carson gripped John's arm, his demeanor relaxing slightly. "We can manage this. The increased diet I have you on seemed to be doin' the trick even when you were killing Wraith like Robocop. It's all these bloody non-stop late night marathon sessions trying to solve the universe's problems or leaping buildings while arm-wrestling Godzilla."

He raised an eyebrow. "Godzilla?"

"You know what I mean."

"So, you're saying to take it easy?" John ballparked it.

"I'm saying don't be looking for a new uniform. No tights or leather pants." Carson smiled, the two of them sharing a laugh. Then the physician sobered. "Seriously, John. No matter how much you feel like you are... you're not Superman. The kryptonite isn't a green meteorite; it's inside your own body."

"This really sucks." John didn't know how else to respond. How could he? It wasn't like he could fight off his natural instincts to react to danger. He sure as hell couldn't turn off his mind. He'd been trying to do that since this whole thing happened.

Carson checked the computer at the side of his bed, writing into his PDA as both of them watched Elizabeth and Rodney approach forebodingly.

The fear and despondency filled his mouth with an overwhelming bitter flavor; it hit so fast that he grabbed the nearby cup and spat into it. His stomach attempted to revolt, and his gag reflex kicked in.

Carson was beside him. "What's wrong?"

John could feel his cheeks tinge green as the rest of his face paled. "What is it?" he demanded in a rough voice.

Elizabeth and Rodney couldn't meet his eyes, and it was nearly impossible to silence their inner voices. "I said I wouldn't read anyone's thoughts without permission, but you better spill it." He gulped for air to ease the nausea from such fiercely unpleasant emotions.

"I've made progress on my translations," Elizabeth spoke. She straightened to full height, bracing for her next sentence. "I was right about the machine. It was meant to help the Ancients ascend."

"Yeah?" But John didn't need to read her mind. "It's going to make me anyway."

Rodney was oddly silent, face drawn in defeat.

"The genetic mutations are not just evolving your mind to become super-human. They are preparing you for ascension." Elizabeth looked him right in the eye, her face composed but unable to keep away the hitch in her throat. "You... you have no choice but to ascend, or you'll die."

"Are you sure?" Carson asked, speaking before anyone else.

"Yes, I am. The process is irreversible. I... I've looked and—"

"Zelenka and I have tripled checked all the data... but... I mean...." Rodney couldn't say it. He looked away sharply, finding somewhere on the wall to stare.

John didn't know what to say either, just speaking what came to mind. "It's not every day you learn you're going to die with this kind of notice." He swallowed thickly.

"I'm not buying it!" Carson growled. "You read my report, right? If we get his metabolic rate under control maybe that'll---"

"Carson," Elizabeth touched his shoulder, "when we ascend we don't need our bodies. They just," she fought hard to keep her voice even, "they just die." Her hand fell. "From what I understand, this recent setback is due to John exceeding his limits in a relatively short amount of time." She looked pointedly at him. "But eventually the rest of his body will fail."

"I'll... I'll keep looking. See if there's an override," Rodney said in a very unnaturally soft voice.

The three of them talked about what-if scenarios, and for once it was easy to ignore everything around him. He was going to die. Soon, sooner than soon. In days.

"I need to go," John blurted. He pulled the IV line out with a startled curse. "I'm leaving now."

"What the blazes?"

"John?"

John shook his head, bare feet already on the floor. "I'll grab clothes from my quarters."

Rodney took a step to block his path and jumped to the side quickly at the glare he received. "Where... I mean... what do you think you're doing?"

"I need to be alone," John said in all honesty. He looked at them all. "Let me deal with this."

No one wanted him to go, but all three sets of eyes said they understood his need to bolt and hide for a little while.

"I'll send out a search team if you don't report back in two hours," Elizabeth said. He could tell she wanted to offer him something--anything--but knew platitudes wouldn't do any good right now.

Rodney fumbled for words and ended up saying what he needed to by leaving. Probably to go examine the machine again.

Carson fretted before grabbing a pair of slippers. John thanked him in silence, put them on, and then slipped away.


Facing the barrel of a gun, going out during a firefight, hell- flying a suicide mission down the throat of a Wraith ship. They were all spur of the moment, the heat of battle. No time to think or dwell- just act. Or react.

John stared at his hands; calluses marred the areas that gripped flight yolks and too many weapons. His skin had been stained blue and aged beyond his years. To know he was going to blink one second and not open his eyes the next scared him. Despite rumors, he did not have a death wish nor did he put himself in harm's way for the fun of it.

He wondered how his mother had handled her cancer diagnosis so stoically, knowing the death sentence it became.

Live fast; die young.

What a load of crap.

Sitting inside the jumper, surrounded by the very things he was brought to the expedition to activate, John contemplated things he tried very hard to avoid.

He balled up his fists, preferring a bullet to this.

The tiny craft hummed, speaking to him through the console, from inside the armrests. He listened to what it had to tell him, all the secrets and memories that it once carried. He caressed the flight controls, leaned back in the pilot's chair, and really understood.

John jumped out of his seat, opened the hatch, ran out of the jumper—-and nearly collided with Ronon.

"Hey. Um... got to go," he stammered.

The big guy matched his step. "I heard what happened."

"Yeah."

Ronon grabbed his shoulder. "Where are you going?"

"I don't have a lot of time. I... I've got to do something," John said pulling away.

"Like what?"

Since Ronon wasn't going to allow him to get much done until he talked, John stopped his brisk walk and faced him. "I don't know about you. But I refuse to go down without a fight."

"Didn't think you would. You gonna go see Beckett?"

"Huh? Oh, no. I mean... maybe. I'm gonna track down someone."

Ronon furrowed his brow. "I thought Beckett was our best doctor?"

It took a moment to realize what his buddy was talking about. "He is... but that has nothing to do with it." John nearly bumped into the big guy again when Ronon blocked his path. "Look. I'm dying. There's nothing that can be done about that, but I do have these powers, and I might as well put them to use."

He could tell that wasn't exactly what Ronon expected to hear him say. "What are you going to do?"

John couldn't stop thinking about the complexity of what he had planned. It was so damn clear, so freaking ironic. Kind of a way to balance things out in one of those twisted karma things.

"I'm gonna talk to a guy about locusts. See about making all the Wraith go back to sleep. Since I'm the one who woke most of them up to begin with."


Atlantis spoke to John louder, clearer, the walls shimmering as he walked down corridors. She beamed brightly around him, her draw and connection ever stronger. Tiny halos of light that he had never seen before refracted around the city. He felt compelled to trace his fingers down the hall but knew better to avoid temptation.

Focus.

He knew his quarry was in the entomology lab, a place he'd made it a point to visit as little as possible. Dr. Orishio talked faster than Rodney which was an impressive feat in and of itself. John couldn't tell if the man was incredibly nervous or just ecstatic that the military commander of Atlantis had sought him out to discuss his fascination with the cicada.

The good doctor was shorter than Zelenka with even thicker glasses and less hair. He spoke with a slight Asian accent tamed by growing up in America. The scientist tapped away on his computer, displaying images of insects on the large LCD screen above.

"They are very harmless. They don't bite or sting. They're not even venomous nor do they damage crops," Dr. Orishio said excitedly.

"What do they do?" Ronon asked.

The tiny man floundered for words, obviously intimidated by the hulking man. "They... um... well... you see...."

"Tell me more about their life cycles, Doc," John asked, kneading the side of his temple.

"Yes, of course. They live for a very long time. Anywhere from thirteen to seventeen years."

"But they're not out buzzing around all that time, right?"

"No, Colonel. They hibernate underground. Though their adult life is very short. Living only a few weeks to reproduce. There are over three thousand types, and none of them emerge at the same time."

"In order to conserve the food supply," John said.

Ronon's face twitched, the only sign he knew what John was after.

"I want to know everything about them," John stated.

"Everything?"

"Yeah. I want data on life cycles. Biological, chemical, whatever."

"That could take days, even weeks to--" Dr. Orishio's eyes grew big behind his lenses. "Of course... I heard about... you know... um." The keyboard clicked and clattered. "Here is the entomological database on them. I'm not sure what you want with it. I mean, if I could be of some help I could--"

John grabbed a seat, practically shoving the entomologist out of the way. "Thanks, I think I got it."

He arrowed down, reading the report, but after a few minutes, the screen was flashing at lightening speed. To anyone else it was a blur, his fingers not even touching the keyboard.

"Sheppard."

Ronon crowded him, grabbing his shoulder. "You're not supposed to be doing this."

"Doing what?" John asked, not looking up. "Not researching a possible way to kill the Wraith?"

"You're not supposed to do your superpower thing."

"Why? It doesn't really matter now," John muttered, closing the door on the subject.

The big guy took a chair, resting his legs on another desk, eyes directly on him. John ignored his teammate just as he blocked out the rest of his surroundings in order to focus. Minute-by-minute his thoughts drifted away, distracted by the increasing need to keep his mind occupied.

It wanted more, a starving sponge seeking things to soak up. At this rate, he would have the next Mersenne Prime solved by the end of the day.

Bugs. Think about bugs.

He typed "Iratus" into the Ancient database, scrolling through all the notes about the evolutionary process connected to the Wraith themselves. Most of the written records and studies were focused on feeding methods and ways to change or alter them. He hacked Carson's notes next, but they were centered on the retrovirus research and his attempts to strip the insect DNA from the Wraith.

No, that wasn't the direction John wanted to go. He split the screen, going back and forth between the cicada and Wraith studies. He wanted similarities, and he narrowed things down to the waking-up periods of their life cycles.

"The cicadas emerge from their burrows based on soil temperature?"

"Um... yes."

"Is that why bears and other animals come out of hibernation?"

Orishio inched closer, rubbing at his bandaged arm anxiously. "That is still a matter of debate. And the technical term is torpor." At John's sour look, the doctor cleared his throat. "I thought since we were having a scientific discussion... I mean... that you'd want to keep to formal definitions of.... Anyway, torpor is a metabolic change in animals like mice and arctic squirrels. Their body temperature, heart rate, and blood pressure drop significantly, allowing them to sleep for long periods of time. You can still wake up bears so they are not technically a true hibernator. "

"Yeah, I understand," John mumbled. It wasn't like he had a large untapped encyclopedic knowledge on everything in the universe. He wasn't a microbiologist, but the more raw facts he was told, the faster his brain processed things.

"Humans can't enter torpor because the lack of blood flow and oxygen would destroy organs and tissues," Orishio continued. "There have been medical studies to see if we could achieve it for the military in order to treat combat injuries or for long term space travel... but you can see why budgets have been cut."

John shook his head. "Yeah, but why? What causes them to enter this torpor thing?" he asked, looking up.

"I don't know. That's not my field of expertise."

Annoyed, John searched for the elusive answer, knowing it was the key. He needed to immerse himself in every study and experiment on all types of hibernators. He could repay his debt to this galaxy. If he didn't... no, he couldn't stop to think about that.

He was a walking battlefield casualty, which was fine; not every soldier had a chance to make an impact on the war he was fighting.

But could he do more than this?

What if he couldn't kill all the Wraith? What then? His concentration waned.

Defenses and offenses. Yeah, that would work, he thought. John brought another computer online from across the room; it wasn't like he needed to be physically in front of it.

He thought of the Aurora, about her mission and the secret that was lost with the ship. What Wraith weakness had they been working on? The Ancient warship's schematics raced through his head based on his memories. How could he merge that technology to that of the Daedalus?

"Sheppard."

Of course he still hadn't put all the pieces together on the city's energy problem, but he could improve things. Starting with the shields.

"Sheppard, you've got to stop this."

There was a small double redundancy in the breach containment system that maybe, if the power was shunted over elsewhere, could reduce drain on....

His computer went dead.

"What the hell?"

Dr. Orishio was at a console, the Satedan looming over him. "Sorry, Colonel. He made me."

"Ronon. I was in the middle of--"

"No, you're not. Let's go."

"You don't understand," John growled, returning power to the work station mentally.

A hand grabbed his arm, hauling him out of his seat. "You're going back to the infirmary."

It was reflex. John twisted Ronon's wrist clockwise. His teammate retaliated, reversing it. He ducked under their locked limbs, jerking Ronon's arm behind his back. But before John could pin it between his pal's shoulder blades, the bigger man hooked a leg behind John's ankle and tried knocking him off balance.

He matched Ronon's move, trying to trip back. Both spun out of each other's space at the same time, their defensive hand positions mirroring each other.

"That was impressive," Ronon grunted in admiration, dropping his arms.

John slowed his huffing for air, returning to a normal stance. "Sorry... I don't know why that happened," he said sincerely, weirded out by his reaction and how he managed to keep up.

"You've got a lot on your mind," Ronon said simply. "I startled you; you reacted. Still means we're going to the infirmary. Weir and Carson radioed. You told them you'd be back in a couple of hours."

Before John could protest being bullied away, Ronon was escorting him out.

"Fine, but I want McKay there."


John sucked on a peppermint candy he'd snagged from his quarters to combat the sour and bitter tastes in his mouth. He'd been prepared for the newest reaction to the physiological states of his friends.

Carson stood with his arms crossed. Elizabeth was perched against one of the examination beds, and Rodney hadn't stopped shaking his head.

"What are you going on about? Don't you know I have more important things to do, like tearing apart that machine?"

John looked to his left; both Ronon and Teyla seem perplexed by his argument, and it was frustrating. He didn't have enough-- there wasn't enough time to screw around.

"Look, I know you don't understand it all; just give me space to work."

"It's not that, John. Your theory sounds...."

"Insane?"

Elizabeth glared at McKay. "No, it's very interesting, but right now we should be focusing on your health and--"

"There are no ands, Elizabeth. You don't think I took time to try to come up with a solution about the whole ascension thing?"

"You were only gone for a few hours. That's not nearly enough time to even come to terms with what you're going through, let alone think of a cure."

He felt his jaw tighten. "I'm not here to discuss that. Don't you see what I'm proposing?"

"You want the Wraith to all go find some caves and sleep for the winter?" Rodney scoffed.

"We do not know what makes the Wraith go into hibernation," Teyla spoke up. "If John thinks he knows what causes them to, why not allow him to talk?"

Carson seemed ready to argue, but the scientist part, the researcher in his genes, gave him away.

John faced him when he spoke. "A Japanese study traced a hormonal change in Siberian chipmunks...."

Rodney burst out laughing, rolling his eyes but waved his hand to continue.

"As I was saying.... They blocked this hormone from creating a specific set of proteins that kept the animals from going into hibernation."

"I read about that study. There was another one where mice subjected to total darkness had a large increase of a specific compound in their blood. Researchers synthesized the compound and injected it in other mice. Within an hour their body temperatures plunged, and they became inactive," Carson said thoughtfully.

"It was adenosine monophosphate," John supplied helpfully.

"We don't have time to study the method involved in sending animals into hibernation, let alone isolate it. If by some miracle we can re-create it, and only if, then what? Hope it works on the Wraith?" Rodney snapped.

McKay's anger and helplessness were making John feel edgy; the muscles in his neck spasmed in correlation to his sensitivity of his environment. It was difficult enough to keep his own emotions at bay and even harder with the walking radar tower of panic.

"Mice, bears, squirrels, even the cicada all have different forms of this torpor. Each species contains something that makes them to go to sleep in varying degrees. But they all have a process triggered by a gene or some chemically induced change."

"And you want to turn it on in the Wraith?" Elizabeth asked, voice unsure.

"Exactly."

"How?" Ronon asked.

"The Wraith are descended from the Iratus bugs and humans. Their behavior is still primal and insect-like. They have hives, cocoons, a hierarchy of males, but they all obey the Queen. They're like modern-day bees.

The keeper woke up the rest of the Wraith when I killed her. She died and her connection died with her," John explained. Then he turned to Teyla. "I think the Wraith Queens are the ones that wake up their hives and put them into hibernation. They control everything else."

"That's quite the leap, lad."

"But very possible," Teyla replied, her face reflective in thought.

Even Rodney was silent, forehead wrinkled, going over possible variables and outcomes.

"Where does that leave us though?" Elizabeth brought the group full circle. "If the Queen has that type of control and it's the type she can manipulate at will. That still begs the question of how we could use it to our advantage."

"Doesn't matter if it's something she does as part of some biologic clock or because she just feels like it. She has a mental link that turns on the mechanism of the Wraith under her command, forcing them to enter hibernation," John pressed his case.

His taste buds filled with the flavor of sweet tarts. He wanted to spit but resisted as his stomach stirred once again.

"I need to find out how she flips the switch and sends her hive to bed."

Teyla got an astonished expression, her eyebrows rising into sharp curves. "John, you're not thinking of...."

"I need a Wraith. I want to see if I can trigger that metabolic change."

"The machine has really fried your brain. Carson, get the restraints out," McKay ranted.

Beckett gaped at him in shock. "We're not going to let you try to connect to a bloody Wraith. Hell, we don't even know if you can... and... and if you could...." He shook his head. "We don't even know if the Wraith work like that. Not to mention, you're not going to do anything but rest and relax."

Elizabeth was having none of it; John couldn't keep her arguments from penetrating his mental wall. "I want to test out my theory. I need to figure out if changing something on a genetic level is even possible."

"No," she said. "First off, I'm not allowing such an experiment to take place. Secondly...."

"I'm dying already, Elizabeth. It can't kill me, and if it does cause me harm...." He swallowed. "Still isn't going to change the outcome."

McKay looked like he was going to lose his dinner. Teyla hid her pain just a little better than Ronon. Their emotions were daggers.

"We haven't talked about ascension, John. There are still options to discuss," Elizabeth said, mustering her command voice.

"I'm not ascending. There's no point in talking about it," he said, cutting off any more attempts about the subject.

"Well, you're not goin' on any foolish missions. You're staying here so I can—-"

"What?" he shouted at Beckett. "So I can die surrounded by machines? While you conduct more tests to watch my brain patterns?"

Carson's eyes went from round to fiery to flat. "That's... not what I want." His accent thickened. "I want to help you... I...." He faced McKay. "Isn't there anything you've got from that blasted machine?"

"I can't pull miracles out of thin air. And I can't study something when I'm goose-stepped away from my analysis by Conan so I can stand around listening to the ranting of a mad man!"

The two brains argued. Ronon stared. Teyla and Elizabeth did their impersonations of diplomats, concealing what was brimming over on the surface.

John did his best at imagining a barrier to prevent all the jabs and blows from the collective outpouring of negative energy.

He wondered if there would be time to take a jumper out again. Or if he'd be able to sit down for a meal with everyone one last time. His chest tightened, wondering who would look after these people after he was gone.

He saw a vision of his mother, attacking the weeds in her garden the morning after a treatment or badgering his father and brother to the dinner table to eat together. It made his gut clench. She hadn't allowed herself to be ruled by her illness and neither would he.

Focus.

"I've been going over the patterns of the most recent Wraith attacks. I think I can predict with eighty percent accuracy where we might find them and capture a drone." John said, steering the conversation back to things he could control.

He almost let out a sob of relief when his voice broke up the growing ball of volatile emotions in the room. His head was killing him, and his body's fatigue was letting itself be known.

"I'm not sure I can allow this course of action to proceed," Elizabeth said. It was taking great strength to circumvent his desires.

"I'll write you a risk analysis." It wasn't mean to be cocky, but he needed her to review this with an impartial eye like any other proposal. "Think of the benefits."

"Look how many times we've rushed on things because of the desired end result. I can't do that again, John. I can't take a chance with your health or the safety to the expedition to authorize risky operations."

"I'm talking about grabbing one Wraith. Off-world. If it works then we'll go to the next step. If it doesn't then I'll drop it." It wasn't fair. John felt her falter, knew she needed a logical reason to say yes. He felt dirty, sensing this and using it to his advantage. "If it does work... I won't have a lot of time to get the rest done."

There, he felt a crack.

"My body is going to fail me. Let me do something with this big brain of mine. Let me make a difference."

"You haven't even looked into ascension, John."

He stepped closer to her. "I don't need to. I had a chance once before and turned it down. I wasn't ready then. I'm not now."

"Don't take this away from me.... Please."

The silence was deafening.

The dam burst. Elizabeth bowed her head, probably regretting her next words.

"It's a one time deal. You can try your experiment on one Wraith. That's it. If you can't turn on this gene or whatever, you're coming right back here to the infirmary, and you're going to consider all the options," Elizabeth relented, pinning him with a stare.

John didn't trust his voice. He settled for a soft 'thank you.' His shoulders slumped downward, and his knees felt weak, but the strain was gone.

"I'll expect that risk analysis in a few hours and a thorough outline of the rest of your plan," Elizabeth said in a tightly controlled voice.

John nodded, turning to Teyla. "I'll need your help."

She hesitated. "Of course. We'll go out on the West pier where it's quieter."

Rodney was already halfway out of ear shot, grumbling about taking another look at the device before wasting his time on a fool's errand.

Ronon... was hard to read at the moment. He simply left.

"You and I are going to set some ground rules, Colonel, before this mission," Carson said, hell-bent on not taking 'no' for an answer. "And I'm coming with you. Again."

John didn't know what to say, but he followed Teyla out the door.

"Be sure to stop by the mess hall and make your meeting a picnic," Carson yelled.

Now that sounded nice. Too bad the topic of conversation wasn't going to make for a leisurely meal.


"Why are you doing this?.....John?"

"What? I mean...." John had drifted off again. The allure of the ocean, the inviting sky, the beckoning spires. They all had translucent glows about them.

Teyla touched his forearm. "Are you with me?"

At any other time that would be the dumbest question, but it was an appropriate one now. He'd been half a world away; that was impossible to explain. The auras glimmered, and if he listened closely they sung.

"I'm doing it for all of this," he said, waving his hand all around. "And for you. And Elizabeth. Ronon. McKay. Everyone."

"How many times have we come against impossible odds only to win? You could fight this," Teyla pleaded.

Her golden hair radiated out here, strands glistening in the sunlight. He shook his head; it was amazing how much beauty he'd been blind to, only to see things in other ways. "I am fighting. I know you'd do the same if you were in my shoes."

"John...."

"I'm going to try to get inside the mind of a Wraith. I did it before. Kind of. Saw through their eyes, blocked their sense of me. This time I have to dig around into parts that they are not even aware of. Find deeply rooted commands on a genetic level."

It was a scary thing. He knew it; so did she.

"I think you will be able to manipulate them. I doubt any drone will have an influence on you. But, I'm not sure how such a connection will give you the answer that you seek. I've only felt or manipulated thoughts. What you want to do...." Teyla trailed off, looking out over the pier. "It's unheard of."

John grinned. "Yeah, well, I've had flight instructors say the same thing before. I like proving people wrong."

He stuffed more pasta in his mouth from their 'picnic' to keep from having to go on. The spaghetti was hearty, filled with sausage and meatballs. He chomped down on the sweet breads with gusto despite the fact his stomach had felt off the last hour.

Teyla wanted to say more but didn't. He wished for the clumsiness of verbal communication; reading people, seeing their naked vulnerabilities, was unsettling.

"We should get going," he said, wiping his mouth with a napkin.

"Don't you have to send Dr. Weir some type of report?" Teyla rose, gathering the disregarded plates.

"I already did." John grabbed a plastic bag to stuff the garbage in. Teyla raised an eyebrow. They had been together since leaving the infirmary. "I sent an email a few minutes ago."

Teyla chuckled, shaking her head. When she wasn't looking he grimaced as pain shot through his skull and down his spine. After a moment he was fine and escorted her back without a word.


They couldn't prevent cullings; it was a fact of life in this galaxy. A hive orbited outside MPX-262, but it hadn't launched an attack; it just hung out. Waiting.

"I wonder why there has been such a focus in this solar system." Rodney pondered, observing the HUD. "It's not like any of the planets here are very interesting or the societies advanced."

"Could be impulse or past history," Carson suggested.

John's team looked to him, and he did a double take. "What? I don't have a clue."

"Oh, well, since you're all-knowing now, we thought maybe you had an answer," Rodney said, shrugging his shoulders. "Does your magic eight ball say when anything is going to happen? We've been waiting over an hour."

"I can't predict the future, McKay." John guided the cloaked jumper near the outer atmosphere. The jumper was reaching out to him again, and it took willpower not to lose himself in the pilot's seat.

The magical allure of Ancient tech was transcending mere physical contact. Deep breathing alleviated things; so did counting perfect squares.

970=940900
971=942841
972=944784

"There!" Ronon pointed.

John jerked his head, noting the dart skimming the planet. "Scout," he said, chasing after it.

"Should I remind anyone that this is a really bad idea?" Rodney clutched the console. "I mean, hello. Wraith Hive ship. Just over there." He pointed at the screen. "How long before more come after this dart when we... what are we doing?"

"Acting as bait."

"What!"

John grinned when he flew along side the dart, matching its pace and hitting the thrusters.

"Disengaging the cloak," he reported.

"Colonel?" Carson squawked.

"Hold on. It's gonna get bumpy," John announced.

The dart fired, and he easily outmaneuvered each blue streak, knowing where the shots were going. He dodged and danced for appearance sake then waited, timing things perfectly.

He anticipated the next shot and adjusted the jumper by a degree. "We're going down rough!"

John let the tiny craft drop as if hit and lowered the jumper into a controlled skid that looked like a bad landing from above. Things came to a stop, and he hopped out of the seat.

"Everyone stay put," he ordered.

"You are insane!" Rodney hollered, chasing after him, the rest of the team following.

There was little time before more darts would join the scout, and John ran down the open hatch. "I told you guys to stay back," he hissed at the footsteps behind him.

Ronon answered by pulling his blaster out, eying the terrain. John honed in on the drone's heartbeat, locating him twenty yards away and closing. He held out his hand, signaling the proximity of the Wraith.

They couldn't shoot the drone, but the Wraith marched out of the woods without fear. It raised its stunner, firing several times. John had his target in his sights and mentally jerked the weapon out of the Wraith's hands where it landed meters away.

"Good Lord," Carson whispered from behind.

The Wraith froze, studying its empty hands. It cocked its head and peered at John. Its mind was open and unlike the other day when he simply blocked his presence, John had to dissect this time.

He felt ravenous hunger; the sensation of fire ripped through him. He was burning alive with need and want. It took a minute to work through all the desire and demand for food. He held onto those primal instincts, following the trail of impulses to what commanded them.

Food. Water. Life. Obedience.

Food. Water. Life. Obedience.

Synapses. Nerve functions. He followed billions of them. Firing, colliding. There in the frontal lobe, waves and waves of thoughts and behaviors. He entered inside.

There was self-awareness regulating in feedback loops. Everything was on the molecular level. Enzymes and hormones.

"Colonel?"

He didn't know what to do. How do you find a single trigger in a haystack of billions of biochemicals?

John's lips moved. "Sleep. Go to sleep."

Sleep. Conserve. Store.

Sleep. Conserve. Store.

There it was. The 'off' switch.

Slowly the world became fuzzy. Cold chills wracked his body which had become suddenly very lethargic.

"What's the Wraith doing?"

"John, are you okay?"

"Sheppard, snap out of it!"

Rodney's sharp command jerked him aware. John blinked, watching the Wraith sway.

"How long is it supposed to take?" Ronon asked, weapon leveled on the drone.

"Don't know," John said woozily, watching in fascination.

"Yeah, lowering the metabolic rate takes time." Rodney inched closer.

The Wraith seemed dazed, wavering on its feet, and soon it slumped down.

Carson approached the drone. Teyla gripped the physician's shoulder, obviously unsure about letting him too close. John followed closely, reworking his muscles and feeling out the Wraith's thoughts.

The drone's mind was slow and muddled.

"Careful, Doc," John said, still not trusting things. He covered the Wraith with his P-90, sensing brain waves and thought processes slowing down.

"I'm picking up readings," Rodney alerted them. "I think the Hive launched more darts."

Beckett leaned over the sprawled form of their enemy, Ronon and John aiming guns at the Wraith. The physician took a syringe and carefully drew up a large blood sample.

It worked. He knew on every level.

The Wraith lay there unresponsive, its awareness fading.

"We need to go," Ronon urged him, listening to the darts overhead.

John nudged the Wraith with his boot. "Okay. Let's go home."


Tzzzzzzzzzzz.Tzzzzzzzzzzz.Tzzzzzzzzzzzz.

The room buzzed with chatter. Mindless, relentless, arguing. Geeks had their own brand of verbal sparring, trading insults and cutting each other off worse than children.

John was already in an irritable mood after being poked, prodded, scanned, and 'topped off' during his post mission checkup turned sixty minute ordeal. The images of his brain only confirmed his fear of running out of time as did Carson's prattling of elevated and irregular physiological levels.

He dragged his eyes across those bickering away about the report on his experiment. A thirty page analysis with charts, tables, graphs, and every other type of tool wasn't enough evidence for the Atlantis brain trust to agree upon.

"It could be that he simply made the Wraith go to sleep."

"By lowering its metabolism."

"No, by manually slowing down organ function. Doesn't mean that a gene or chemical response caused it."

"Maybe it did. According to the report he isolated the dormant gene that—-"

"Excuse me? And how exactly do we know that for sure?"

John snapped his lids shut, rubbing at the tension in his temples again. He went over elements in the periodic tablet backwards by atomic number.

"I think you are being so argumentative because you don't know how to read the analysis."

"Aye, there was definitely an increase in an unknown chemical compound in the Wraith's blood. This could be the protein released after entering a state of hibernation."

"I have to agree with Lockston. This isn't conclusive proof. We need more tests... we... need---"

"Enough!" John yelled.

"Colonel." Elizabeth rose from her seat. "We agreed to discuss this once you got back--"

"I've wasted three thousand, seven hundred and eighty seconds for Carson to confirm I'm not doin' too hot. Then I got dragged to a second lunch. Only to sit here for the last five thousand five hundred and twenty seconds listening to people argue about things they can't possibly comprehend." He took a deep breath to calm a spinning sensation. "It worked. All of you can debate things, but I'm going to go figure out the rest."

He was out the door and into the hall, Elizabeth hot on his trail. "John... John, wait. Colonel Sheppard!"

Responding to being addressed that way was habit, and he spun around to face her. Elizabeth took five long strides and faced him with the same tenaciousness that he felt. "I have no idea what's going on inside of you. I can't possibly know. I do know you can run laps around the scientists in there, but we need perspective. We need discussion and evaluations."

"I can't just sit there," he admitted, rubbing viciously at his head.

"You could contribute to the discussion. I'm sure it takes great patience to talk at their level."

John scrubbed a hand over his face. "It's not that, Elizabeth. I can't... I... I can't be idle. It's too much. Things get...." He licked his lips, thinking how to phrase things. "It's shaking up a soda bottle and opening it up and trying to prevent it from exploding. I'm all that fizz, thousands of bubbles under pressure, going in multiple directions and trying to escape any way possible."

The scary thing was this was closer to the truth than he wanted to let on. There had been a growing pressure in his head for a while now.

Elizabeth was going to touch his left arm; she laid her hand there, and he did his best to give her one of his confident smiles. "Let me work on things my own way."

"I'm not sure if that's wise," she said honestly.

"I won't be alone. I'm going to drag McKay away from that machine. Don't worry."

He didn't miss her eye roll.


"Did you not see me under a console? I was knee deep in the crystal and circuit guts of a machine that at any moment could transform me into a ball of energy," McKay snapped, pacing his lab after scattering his minions.

"You'll have time later to do that," John explained, setting up two laptops.

Rodney bored a hole through him with his glare. His hair was frazzled, the dark smudges under his eyes reminiscent of the grease worn by weekend warriors on the football field. "Don't joke about this."

"I'm not being funny. You can screw with that thing later."

"It's quite apparent I'm the only rational person left in this city. Obviously you've used that oversized superego of yours to make them do your bidding." McKay huffed, releasing all his hot air and dropping down in the seat. "What am I staring at?"

"I've mapped out the probable flight patterns of all the known hives in this galaxy."

Rodney's jaw dropped at the trajectory map on the laptop, each hive a green dot scattered among millions of miles. "How exactly did you calculate this?'

"I fixed your search engine of the Ancient database and brought up every recorded instance of Hive activity going back ten thousand years. Including our own tracking of the last three," he said, walking back and forth, tapping the table as he paced.

"You did what?" Rodney rose from the stool. "First off, you fixed the search engine? The one that almost brought the city to its knees?" He snapped his fingers. "Of course you did; you slapped a Linux repair to it or something and 'poof'."

"If you look at the screen, you can see that each Hive stays within a certain distance of the other, even light years apart. We know there are rival groups and that many don't communicate with the other, but I think there's a behavioral pattern ingrained in them to stay within a certain range of one another."

McKay was shaking his head, flipping screens and enlarging the map to the overheard display. "I wouldn't call this 'within' range of one another. And I hate to point out to you but the distance between them all radically varies. And... and who cares?"

Focus. Focus. One thing at a time. An ice pick was digging a hole in John's left eye. "Because according to the database, the Ancients believed that the Queen has the ability to send out a type of siren distress call in rare emergencies."

"Since when? We've never seen a Hive come to another's aid," McKay stared at him. "Um...." He swallowed. "Sheppard?"

It took a second to realize he was staring off into space, his legs moving on automatic. He was rubbing at the side of his head again, causing the hair there to stick out in even more directions. "It's a theory the Ancients had. But I think it's true."

"Based on a four minute stroll down one Wraith's memory lane?"

"I was connected to a dormant instinct on a subconscious level."

"Riiiight."

"I'd say below that even. I mean, evolutionary theory states we hold pieces of behavior carried over for millions of years. Biological needs that no longer have a function like the appendix."

Rodney flapped his hands. "Okay, whatever. So, you found Hive ships that may or may not fly around close enough for a Wraith psychic emergency call. What part of your harebrained idea does this pertain to?"

"Because I need to connect to a Queen and trigger the gene that'll send her Hive into hibernation."

"Are you off your freaking rocker? Do you know how highly preposterous and unlikely... and... and... jeesh. That's insane! Even for you!"

John wiped away the dribble on his chin; McKay was red-faced and looked heat-stroked. "I can't put every Wraith drone to sleep single-handedly. It would take too long even if I wasn't going to--" He couldn't say it. Yeah, he was really prepared for all of this.

Rodney backed down, body shaking.

"The Queen controls the Hive. We already talked about this." John leaned on the console for support.

McKay made a circuit around his lab, and John took a precious second to regroup. His head was buzzing, and his fingertips tingled, forcing him to remove his hand from the console. "If I can control a Queen then I might be able to send the signal out as a massive shockwave, affecting other Queens and spreading it like a network."

"No, that'll never work. There are way too many variables."

It had to.

"Think of it as a carrier signal. I might be able to force it through. Radar towers pick up stray transmissions all the time. Unless you know to block them then theoretically it should work. I'll broadcast simultaneously."

Now it was McKay's turn to use something for support; hours of nonstop analysis of the machine and putting up with John's antics were taking a toll.

"Maybe you need a break," John proposed.

"Please. If anyone needs to take it easy it's you. Have you seen yourself in the mirror lately?" He began digging through his pant's pockets. "Here." Rodney handed him a rumpled and squished oatmeal bar.

John took it, the snack mushing in his grip. "Already nice and warm."

Rodney's sheepish expression eroded. "You connected to a lowly worker bee. What makes you think you can handle a Queen?"

"Teyla can. She'll help prepare me. I'm not saying I have her gift or her gene, but my mind has evolved generations ahead of her talents. I can do it. I know I can." He ran out of steam for arguing and took a bite out of the power bar.

"Sheppard... John. It's...." Rodney glanced at the map and all the patterns and telemetries. He shook his head. "I think this is even beyond your accelerated abilities. I just don't think even this close to ascension, you'd be powerful enough to pull this off. Even attempting to will probably sizzle your brain and kill--"

Silence hung in the air between them, inviting every form of external and internal stimuli to have a go at him. John clawed at the console, realizing why all those hippie people meditated so much.

"I'm getting Carson."

John grabbed McKay's shirtsleeve. "No! Please.... I just need to work on something."

"And you say I'm too high strung to relax."

He heard Rodney, but he was too engulfed calculating the odds for success of his plan. It only took up a minuscule amount of his attention.

"Have you ever thought of slowing down your own mind? Blood pressure, pulse. All that? Being a walking, talking advertisement for Yoga and the Pure Moods soundtrack isn't healthy."

John actually chuckled. "Says the human panic attack."

"I'm sure Carson could give you something."

"No sedatives." He'd have plenty of time to sleep soon. "Doesn't matter. I need to double check all my calculations."

"Why?"

"Because I want to make sure they're accurate and--"

"No. I mean... why are you really doing this? Why not help me tear apart the thing that did this to you? Together we might find a way to reverse it."

"Can you restart my brain, Rodney?"

McKay wanted to say something snarky because it would hide the truth. Once something was sent in motion there wasn't a way to change the course.

Rodney began revving up for another full-blown theory-buster. His eyes always did that inward thinking thing. "If you can control genes, why not your own? You're evolutionarily advanced; that was triggered by something."

"It's not a genetic trait to ascend. My brain chemistry was altered and accelerated. I've tried to control it, but it's... it's just one of those things."

His friend was like a dog with a bone, not willing to give it up. "You're not trying hard enough. Super-genius my ass. If you can't even heal yourself, what's the point of having the power to?"

John shrugged. "I don't think the Ancients ever thought of a return policy."

"But...."

"I've finished my calculations. If I can locate a Hive and control the Queen, I should be able to relay the signal to most of the other ships. Oh, and I've figured out the next Mersenne Prime," John brought up the answer on the view screen. "You can have the reward money. Maybe give it to your sister."

"Don't say that. You're not going to...."

With nothing running in the background of John's mind, it was hard to concentrate with a living, breathing city all around him. It was like a dozen radio stations and cable channels blaring at once with Rodney's voice just a distant hum, swallowed up by all the sound.

"Sheppard?.....Colonel!"

"I know why protons are unstable. I mean in order for the grand unified theory of the universe to work," John started babbling until he felt two hands shaking his shoulders. He looked into two bloodshot eyes. "What?"

"For once, I don't care about learning about the answers to the universe. You need to pay attention," McKay snapped.

Answers to the universe. Oh, that opened it all up. John pinched the bridge of his nose, rubbing his eyes. "I don't believe that the cosmological constant is zero. The universe isn't expanding in a symmetrical way. In fact, it's erratic, sometimes growing and expanding...."

"Are you listening to yourself? What about Batman and Ironman? Or about that new babe that arrived last week? Lt Ellsmere. Elston?"

"Ellsworth. And she really is hot," John grinned. Then his body short-circuited, fires igniting and tracing the pathways of his nervous system.

"Sheppard!"

John grabbed the console for dear life, riding out a full fledged electric shock to the muscles and pain receptors of his body. His vision went stark white- then it was over as quickly as it had begun.

He gasped. Rodney kept him from falling to the floor. Nothing obeyed his commands; his arms and legs were jelly.

"Oh no, oh no, oh no!"

"S'okay," John slurred. Whatever had snapped, tripped, or misfired left him like spun taffy. "Giimme... give me a second."

"I've got a cot right over here," McKay huffed while dragging him towards something soft.

The room stopped doing a tilt-a-whirl, and John sagged down on the flimsy bed. "Thanks. Not sure... what that was."

"Black hole in your brain. The flux capacitor eating the rest of your mind. The answer to what forms reality taking up a vacancy inside your skull."

John stared up at the ceiling, holding on to that snippy tone. He was actually going to miss it.

"I'll radio Carson; my comm got knocked away. Don't be talking to computers or cities for the two seconds it'll take to grab it."

"Don't."

"Don't what?"

Rodney was searching the floor, groaning about his back. John didn't want to spend more time in the infirmary. Not with it running out. "Don't call."

"Got it. And your eyes just rolled into the back of you head. Do I need to remind you?" McKay stood, one hand bracing his hip, finger tapping. "What? It's not working... what the... you're doing this!"

"Just want to lie here for a while."

A shadow crossed over John, and even the silhouette looked grumpy. "You really should.... I mean. Carson might be able to do something."

"He can't," John sighed. This wasn't working. His body was ready; his brain wasn't. "I just want a quick ten minute nap. Then I can get back to things."

Rodney's footsteps drifted away, and John was left alone again. He was so tired. It was amazing how quickly things spiraled out of control. McKay was back, bumbling around, dimming the lights in the lab.

Why didn't he think of that?

"This should help," Rodney's spoke quietly.

John furrowed his brow when the room filled with the soft sounds of music. Piano, keyboards, synthesizer. Harp?

"You really do have a Pure Moods soundtrack?" he asked in the darkness.

"It's a special CD Jeannie got me. The music was composed using mathematics and was constructed to synch with the neuronal patterns in higher brain function. I think there's enough going on within the composition to keep your brain occupied just enough to allow you to relax."

McKay was right. The notes, the rhythm, the symmetry. It was pure geometry.

Yet, it was soothing, and John felt his eyelids drift close, exhaustion pulling him down into a state in between. He wouldn't truly fall asleep, but he wouldn't be awake either, and he'd take what he could get.

He managed a 'Thanks, Rodney,' before drifting away.


Carson didn't say much during the examination; small talk was not one of John's strengths, and the whole dying thing made things all kinds of complicated. He'd slept/rested his brain for three hours on McKay's cot, but that had been the other day. Colonel Caldwell was due to arrive later on, and his messages had been eager and cautiously weary about the project.

Elizabeth's footsteps gave her away, and John moved his arm to uncover his eyes. No one knocked anymore when they entered his quarters. There wasn't any need to; he knew everyone who came to his door before they arrived.

"Does the quiet help?"

"Not really. Silence is just as problematic as the loudness of the infirmary. But my bed's more comfortable than an examination table." He allowed his lips to curve. "Don't think Carson likes making house calls."

"He doesn't like lugging all the equipment around."

"His stuff has wheels. It's not that big," he joked. "And you can tell him I've been lying down like a good boy."

"You should. I saw the latest tests, John." Elizabeth sat down on the edge of the bed, waiting for him to respond.

John sat up, wishing he had taken a shower to wash and shave. His body ached to the very marrow of his bones. "Carson ran another glucose drip." He held out bruised arm, a band-aid still covering the hole. "He also gave me some other stuff to try to equalize my blood chemistry."

They both knew the truth. Elizabeth had been briefed about his deterioration. He was anemic, suffered from vitamin deficiencies and dangerous rises in his insulin levels, and he was showing signs of organ damage in his liver and kidneys.

And that only explained half the reason why he felt like crap. The other pains were still a mystery, but John guessed it was the result of his brain overloading and trying to compensate in other ways.

"I know why you're here," he blurted, to distract himself.

Elizabeth laughed. "I suppose you would."

McKay's music was playing softly in the background from his computer. After the tiny bit of success from earlier, his friend went on a downloading spree, locating all the projects ever put out by the company.

"It takes time and energy to ascend, Elizabeth. I can't divert my focus. The rules to ascension say it's a total requirement kind of deal."

She leaned closer, her shampoo and soap still fresh on her skin. "Ascension can save you."

"There are too many rules. You know how I've gotten used to being in charge of a lot of stuff," he tried for light.

"You have one of the strongest ATA genes, John. You're closer to the Ancients than any of us. If anyone can conquer ascension, it's you and—"

"It's not living," John cut her off sharply. He cleared his throat, lowering his voice. "I've always been more practical than spiritual. You know that."

"This is practical, John. It's a way to beat this."

"Beat it how?" He looked at her, trying to make her understand. "It's death... whatever version you subscribe to. It's a concept. A reality maybe and not one I'm really interested in. Astral planes and energy clouds aren't my thing."

"You don't know that. Why risk giving up on a chance to live in a way you've never experienced? May be even more fulfilling? That's one of the reasons why you came here, right? Curiosity. The unknown. You've never been afraid of that before."

"I'm not afraid. It's about priorities. I have only so much time and juice left. And I'm choosing what I want to do with it," he defended.

John pushed aside the covers and stood up. He'd obeyed Carson and stayed in bed, even if it was just an hour.

Elizabeth got to her feet too, not backing down. It was one of the things he'd always admired in her except when that sheer determination was aimed at him. "So, this is your flying a cloaked jumper into a hive ship with a nuke again?"

That stung, and he could tell Elizabeth regretted the words but not the analogy. "Maybe it is another suicide mission. But I chose it. And if my death means it could save lives.... hell, save one life? Then I'll take it. Death has no value. Please don't question my decision to make mine have some."

Elizabeth's face softened, his words getting through. Her bluster vanished and what remained was the worry and grief for a friend.

John felt part of himself sag with the fight, but he didn't want to leave things like this. "Look, I know what you're trying to do and I... I... you know... appreciate it," he said softly.

She grinned. "I guess superpowers can't improve everything."

He chuckled, knowing his interpersonal skills still sucked.

"Colonel Caldwell will be here soon. I have a briefing to prep for." Elizabeth gave his shoulder a squeeze. "Maybe we can have one of your meals in my office later today."

"Maybe."

She started for the door when he stopped her, a devilish smile creeping at his lips. He was glad he'd completed what he'd wanted to do while they talked. "By the way, there's a long email waiting for you."

"Yeah? Should I be worried about what's in it?"

"No. I sent you the Voynich Manuscript. Um...translated."

"John," she said astonished. "That's considered the most unreadable book in the world."

"I know."

She stood there, gawking. "It's not written in any known language, and the illustrations make no sense. People have been trying to decipher it since 1912. I thought it might even be made up."

John's grin grew. "It's not. It was only two hundred and fifty pages. Didn't take long.... And you'll be surprised what it is about," he said with a twinkle in his eyes.


John knew Colonel Caldwell never held high hopes so he would never be disappointed or caught off guard. The man was a risk taker, but his actions were always below the radar. He sat there listening with one ear excited with anticipation while the other filtered out problems. His face stayed impassive, asking questions, clarifying facts.

This time John used a simple set of diagrams, explaining each step of his plan. Even a novice understood how radar and radio signals worked. He used that to demonstrate how manipulating a Wraith Queen in her own Hive and transmitting her command to others could force the rest of the Hives into sleep mode.

"And these Queens? Do they go to sleep, too?" Caldwell asked.

"Yes. The signal carries the command to turn on the gene in the Hive, and in the process, it activates in her own mind," he explained.

"How do you know? You were successful with one male drone. We have no idea how long they'll sleep," Caldwell pointed out.

"The Wraith hibernate until they are awakened. We've seen them in states of forced sleep before within Hives to conserve how many are awake," Teyla addressed him.

"Again, you tried this on a drone. What if the Queen doesn't go into hibernation afterwards and wakes the Hive back up?" Caldwell questioned.

"I don't think that would happen. I'll stay connected after she sends out the trigger and will force the same in her if I have to," John conceded.

"That's a lot of ifs, Colonel." Caldwell let out a deep breath. "Do you have a follow-through plan? I'll be the first to say that if most Hive ships are dormant, even for a little while, it will be a big help. But we only have the Daedalus; the Apollo is still being test flown."

"What about the Odyssey?" McKay inquired.

"We can't leave Earth undefended," Caldwell explained. He looked to John. "If this works, it'll take three weeks to get another ship to help."

"Isn't three weeks long enough to destroy a bunch of floating ghost ships?" Ronon asked.

It felt good to see his team all here, backing him up. John knew most of them wanted the Wraith dead, but his death weighed heavy on their minds.

"Sixty something Hives across an entire galaxy is quite the feat."

"Fifty-one. Minus the ones we destroyed and a couple newly built," John corrected. It was habit, and Caldwell was giving him one of his 'I don't like being talked down to' expressions. He added a hasty, "Sir," to alleviate the tension.

"Colonel Sheppard, I appreciate what you're trying to do. It's a remarkable plan, but there are too many things that could go wrong," Caldwell said.

But I want it to work, he heard in Caldwell's head.

"If it doesn't, we can jump into hyperspace. I've located the perfect target, one of the Hives that's been terrorizing a nearby solar system. All your questions will be answered. If it works... then we've got a way to knock out their military for a while. If the carrier signal doesn't affect any of the other enemy ships... then it's one less Hive to worry about," John declared.

They talked amongst themselves which was annoying. If he had an audience to speak to, he could narrow all concentration into a single tunnel. When people stopped interacting with him, the rest of the world vied for his attention.

The constant loop of MP3s in his quarters had influenced a recent obsession with music theory. He started tapping his fingers in a complex rhythm, his mind composing keys and tones to go along with the beat.

He jerked at the touch to his shoulder. "We've been trying to get your attention," Elizabeth explained.

His cheeks burned from being caught again off in another void. "Sorry."

"You've convinced me to give this a try. I want to contact Stargate Command and brief them about our plans," Caldwell announced.

"Thank you, sir," John said.

"It should be me thanking you, Colonel. This is one hell of a mission, and I understand you're undergoing a great sacrifice to see it through."

John had never seen the respect in Caldwell's eyes directed at him in such a way before. "Just doing my job."

The other colonel didn't stand on speeches, simply nodding. The room emptied out at a trickle, his team all stalling but at a loss at what to say. The taste was bitter almond. He grimaced, reaching for a hard candy from his pocket and dropping it in his mouth.

Teyla lingered until everyone else filed out. "Are you ready to discuss what you're about to undertake?" Her voice betrayed the boiling emotions underneath.

"I've got to stop by the infirmary for some vitamin shot concoction," John said, his fingers tapping the inside of his palm.

She eyed his foot bouncing in a staccato cadence against the floor, and he peered down, embarrassed. He'd gone from largo to prestissimo while his head filled in the pitch.

"You are nervous," she said.

"Not exactly," he replied, eyes dancing around the room, the dimensions creating and supplying the next algorithm of musical notes.

Teyla studied his pale, drawn face that a shower did little to improve. His skin burned hot even though he wasn't running a fever.

"I'll go with you to see Dr. Beckett. Maybe you could tell me more about how a Ferris wheel works," she offered.

She slipped an arm around his, guiding him out. His mind switched from music to the physics of wheel rotations. Headaches had taken roost hours ago, and he sighed out loud, the constant tonal modulation in his ears finally quieting.

Teyla was a godsend.


"Your brain has reached eighty percent output."

"You've lost another five pounds."

"You have a heart arrhythmia from muscle deterioration."

"There are signs of edema."

John leaned against the railing, using controlled breaths to steady himself. The wind blew across his face, salty and cool. The heat from under his flesh had peeked through his pores into an actual low-grade fever.

"John."

"Hey, Teyla," he said softly. The Athosian had never left him during his examination. "You don't have to stay."

"I want to," she said, standing next to him. "It is a beautiful night."

"Yeah, calm wind, low ionization, great visibility.... Just show me that horizon."

"Captain Jack was quite a pirate," she commented.

"That he was."

"He commanded the sea and you the air." Teyla gazed wistfully. "You are both driven by freedom and how you control it."

She had a point; he stared across the lapping waves, the sky endless. "I keep thinking."

Teyla smirked. "About what?"

"About how we live only once. I have these powers yet...." He trailed off, thinking what the hell. "You trust me?"

"Always," Teyla said immediately.

John moved to stand behind her. "May I?" he asked, wrapping his arms around her waist.

Quirking an eyebrow but curious, she nodded. He held her firmly but not too much, his head over her left shoulder. "Here we go."

They rose off the ground, Teyla gripping his forearms, breath catching as they lifted.

"Don't worry, just relax," he said.

The ascent was slow as they went up, curving at an angle and circled one of the empty spires.

Atlantis sparkled, millions of lights singing out, flashing to awe and inspire. The deep blue ocean accented the majesty of the floating wonder. They moved above both city and sea, pure air filling their lungs, feet dangling hundreds of feet high.

This was freedom, and John glowed in the awesomeness of flight and the joy from Teyla. She didn't speak; there was no need to. Her heart fluttered in her chest, the wonder leaching through her skin into his.

For the minutes they glided towards the tip of the city, he wasn't Colonel Sheppard.

He was simply alive. Breathing, moving, feeling.

Teyla's squeezed his arms, resting the side of her face against his neck. "John," she whispered. "This is...."

"I know," he breathed, taking them to a platform and landing. "From up here, the view is--"

"Amazing."

He kept them from toppling over, the winds rocking them back and forth at the higher altitude. The two of them stared slack jawed and wide-eyed. "We really are very small," he spoke softly.

"Mere points among giants," Teyla added.

He chuckled, the vibration shared between them. "Yeah, that too."

This was worth the sacrifice, John thought.

"We should get back," he said, after reveling in the moment. He couldn't risk experiencing a spasm of pain and allowing either of them to fall.

He took his time, coasting back down, allowing the air to whip at his hair. They landed a few feet from 'take off', both of them exhaling heavily.

John dropped his hands, and Teyla spun around, grabbing his elbow. "Please do not go through with your plan."

Her urgency ripped through his tranquil state. "Teyla."

"It is not worth it."

"Listen to yourself."

"I do not care. There is no need to gamble like this. You must fight it."

Teyla never begged, not ever. John's hands were shaking, and he balled up his fists to stop it. "I have to."

"No. Elizabeth says that if you ascend that you could survive."

He closed his eyes. "I can't talk about this. Not again. Please, Teyla. Please understand."

"I will not."

John opened his mouth but she put her arms around his shoulders and drew him close. He didn't know how to respond, rubbing her arm with one hand. Teyla pulled away, her face moist.

He'd just made her cry.

"Teyla, I...."

His chest tightened. Then a sharp pain laced through it; his heartbeat doubled. Then skipped few times. She grabbed him by the biceps while he took rapid, raspy breaths.

"John!"

His heart returned to normal, and he rested his forehead on her shoulder. "I'm better. Carson... Carson said I might experience pain like this."

"We should go to the infirmary."

"The mission is in a few hours. He can't do anything, Teyla. You and I both know that."

John pulled away but almost didn't comprehend what he saw.

Atlantis was billions of ones and zeros. He blinked, and it was endless clouds of fluffy blue, glowing orbs, making up the walls and stretching into the ocean.

"John!"

John wiped at his eyes, the towers and building returning to normal metal and alloys.

"I need to go now. We're going to have to start the mission early."


Things became all go, go, go. It didn't take much convincing to move up the time table. The city bustled with activity; people moved and talked on fast-forward, and time kept jumping around on him.

John was in the mess hall, shoveling a fork load of food into his mouth one moment and standing in his quarters changing into a fresh uniform the next. He blinked, staring at his Gerber knife and sliding it into place, still trying to remember how he got here.

"The Queen is more powerful. She will fight you, John," Teyla warned.

When had that conversation taken place?

He waved his hand over the control panel and collided right into Ronon. "Whoa, buddy. Didn't expect you haunting my door."

"You're not going."

John wondered if he missed the part when the mission had been scrapped. "What?" he asked dumbly.

"If I have to stun you, I will."

The Satedan stood there, using his whole body to block John's path. His eyes said it all- he wasn't budging.

John powered down the man's weapon. "Not if your blaster battery's dead."

Ronon stared at the weapon on his hip then back up at him. "I can knock you out another way."

"I'm sure you could but not today," John said, standing his ground. "I need you to move outa the way."

His friend crossed his arms across his hulking chest.

John growled low in his throat. "Don't force me to make it an order," he threatened, but that line was often ignored.

Arguing didn't work on the big guy, and, yeah, John could maybe best him in a fight by using his new Jet Li fast moves, but his body really wasn't up for it. This was Ronon; this was loyalty in its purest form. But he knew what was eating up his friend the most, and it was vastly different than from the rest of his team.

"I was reading... the other day about that bad ass guy, Mocut... in the library." John saw the slight questioning look. "I kinda picked up a little Satedan when I was crawling out of my mind." In truth he'd learned the whole language and begun reading the history of Ronon's people that Elizabeth had asked him to begin recording.

"He led a lot of men and made some crazy choices."

"He's one of our most revered warriors," Ronon defended.

"Yeah, he was. And his decisions helped form the Satedan warrior's code. One that all task masters teach and follow."

"We live and breathe Mocut's way. He founded our military," Ronon stated.

"He did. And many men died willingly with him in the heat of battle. It was the greatest of honors to go down with your task master, defending him, dying side by side." John straightened. "In all the battles and all the wars, your capital city was forged out of the blood of Satedans. But the rivers flowed with the blood of your enemies."

Ronon stood tall and proud.

"But in the final battle, Mocut sent his army to defend the capital, and he went out alone to finish off a small Puta'tal raiding group that was sneaking in through a tiny pass in the mountains. He held them off by himself while the Satedan military defeated the greater army at the entry gates. He knew there wasn't a warrior to spare to fight two fronts."

John could see the pain flicker behind Ronon's eyes.

"The Puta'tal were wiped off the map, ushering in the golden days of Sateda. Mocut won, but he died on the battlefield alone." John held onto his teammate's eyes. "You can't follow me... I'm sorry."

Ronon's face twitched, not moving an inch. Then he clenched his jaw and stepped aside.


"Once we jump out of hyperspace, we'll stay out of sensor range," Caldwell briefed them on the command bridge.

John knew that was his cue, but he'd been misjudging time the last couple of hours and looked over to see Teyla confirm he wasn't spacing out again. "McKay will...." What was he saying? He panicked, searching for his train of thought. "He'll... he'll pilot the cloaked jumper at a reasonably safe distance. Then I'll seek out the Queen."

There was no need to go into the rest of the plan. They all knew it was up to him, and John was getting lightheaded and too lethargic to talk. He felt mesmerized by the stars in the view screen, drawn to their harmony.

"If things don't end in any number of disasters and we get confirmation that this whack job idea worked, we'll radio for you to fire, while we get out of the way, of course," Rodney delivered in his typical unenthusiastic fashion.

"Stargate Command will be on stand by. The Apollo is on its way. Just in case something goes wrong this will still give her a good work out." Caldwell peered at the group. "But I have a good feeling," he added quickly.

All eyes were on John. He glanced up, wondering again if he missed something. "Then let's do this," he said hastily.

"I get twenty minutes to run in a small bag of glucose and give you a nice vitamin shot, Colonel." Carson scurried over. "My stuff is in the infirmary, and you're not going anywhere until I'm done."

The physician stood next to him, blue eyes flickering. "Colonel. Um... this way," he urged.

Is he really up for this?

I heard he was dying.

If anyone can do this it's Colonel Sheppard.

There's a betting pool on the odds of this mission.

John glanced back, only noting the command crew at their stations and having no idea whose thoughts he'd heard. His team waited for him in the hall, and Ronon walked over to gently guide him away.


John splashed water on his face, the mirror reflecting a haggard, sickly figure. The circles under his eyes made them seem sunken in; his dark hair only contrasted his pale completion.

He touched the sleek, polished mirror, watching curved lines and three dimensional graphs of space-time whoosh across the surface. Add in the strange humming, and he waited to be sucked into the looking glass. The property of light began bending around him, and he wondered how long before he lost his lunch in the toilet.

The walls stopped shifting, and John took a long breath to gain his bearings. It was now or never.

The door unlocked with a thought, and he came out. The others didn't try hiding in the shadows and followed him into the launch bay.

Rodney walked beside him, giving him long looks. "You know it's not too late to change your mind. We can be back in Atlantis in two minutes." McKay waited for a reply that never came. "Maybe your mind's not trying to ascend; maybe you just finally cracked and are psychotic, and we're all sharing in your psychosis. Of course that means we're all in need of electroshock treatment," he mumbled. "That's it; we're all stuck in some Tarantino movie or—"

"Rodney," he drawled. "It's... I know."

McKay swallowed, unable to really say how he was feeling, but they didn't communicate in any other way. They were at the jumper, in the red zone, during the last two minutes of the fourth quarter.


The Hive thrummed in waves, the vibration rattling his eardrums and needling the back of his eyes. John gripped both armrests, indenting the soft leather, and closed his lids.

"Colonel, lad?"

John brushed Beckett's hand away but didn't bother standing. "We're close enough, McKay."

"Is there... anything we should do? Chat or hum?"

Ronon glared at Rodney, and Teyla sat down across from John. "We will be here for you. Quietly," she emphasized.

"If you start experiencing pain, Colonel, I want you to stop."

"Don't do anything unless I tell you. No matter what happens." John stared at Carson. "I mean it. This isn't going to be a walk in the park."

"We won't," Ronon stated.

John looked to them all and took several deep breaths. "Okay. Here it goes."


Eyes. Hundreds of eyes. He saw through them, into halls, room chambers, cocoons.

Where was she? John sensed her, lurking, influencing her flock, and he followed the power source into the Queen's mind.

It was like hitting the sound barrier; his mind whiplashed from the impact. He was stunned momentarily and fought his way through a furious wind tunnel, stumbling and falling down against the forces.

I feel you, human.

Not a good sign, but John wouldn't allow the voice to distract him.

You are very strong. Who are you?

This was vastly different than the male drone; power and control were a crushing vice.

You feel Atlantean.

The Queen was distracting, spinning him around in the web of her mind. Her thought processes were vastly layered, multiple wavelengths pulsating into thick barriers.

Where are you going, human?

He didn't have time for this. John focused and barreled through the mental blocks, shattering his way in. The Queen screamed, shrieking loudly in his head.

How dare you! she hissed, her voice shrilling the more he fought. I'll rip you to shreds.

John cried out, pain lashing through his brain. He panted; his body dripped with sweat. People in the jumper shouted, but they were far, far away.

I'm not screwing around, you bitch! John came back swinging, strong-arming through a dizzying swirl of thoughts. He latched on to her commands, following them back to her cognitive function.

Her neural pathways were frenzied, twenty times more active than the drone's, sweeping him away.

I will crush you out of my mind.

PAIN! Searing nerves, invading electrical signals down his spinal column, shooting out through his limbs.

Laughter. Have you been the one messing with our plans? Do you like playing with things that bite back?

John was blinded, spasming in his chair. His teammates were yelling, screaming. But he couldn't stop. He might have told them to wait; he wasn't sure, lost between her mind and his.

"John, you're stronger than her," someone said. "You're more powerful. Do not allow her to confuse you."

The voice was right. His mind was reaching ascension; he should be able to easily overpower a single Wraith Queen.

Think! John sent out a burst of raw anger, overloading the Queen's neurotransmitters, shocking her system. She wailed in response.

Neurons carried messages, and he followed the signals to her frontal lobe while she was too immobilized to react.

Beliefs, desires, perceptions. He had to dig deeper. There- ;bright flashing lights, billions of firing synapses. Survival. Behavior.

It was harder to focus. Things were closing in. His breathing came in rapid bursts.

There, the command center. He was overwhelmed by all her links to the other Wraith. Each member of her Hive was connected mentally, accepting her orders. It was a gigantic neural network of multicolored strands. John took over; all the thoughts of the Hive became part of his mind.

He kept himself hidden, seeking the ultimate emergency switch. John smiled. He found the attack, control, and procreate instructions.

He kept moving, discovering fight and flight responses.

Then, finally, the mass sleep order.

He'd found it.

Did you really think you could make me submit? You wanted access to all the other Hives, human?

Would you like a taste of all the Wraith?

John flipped the switch, sending out the hibernation command.

NO! the Queen screamed.

John sent out a signal from his mind as a massive pulse was transmitted into his.

Dozens of Wraith Queens and tens of thousands of drone voices ripped through him, and his head exploded.


There was yelling and screaming, most of it John's.

"It's okay, lad. Promise. You're safe." He thought he heard Carson's voice.

A laser beam stabbed in John's left eye and then his right. His head had been split open by a sledgehammer, his brains leaking out from the shattered remains.

Hands were around his skull, touching his neck, his face. Cold metal over his heart.

John's stomach was wrung inside out. "Gonna... be...."

Two more strong hands helped him to his side where he lost breakfast, lunch, and dinner. His body wouldn't stop shaking; daggers dug deep trenches in his head. Pain, so much pain.

"I repeat, we're coming back. And no, I don't know what happened! There's something wrong with Sheppard! No... wait, hold on," Rodney was yelling. "The life signs are definitely abnormal.... I don't know. Why don't you come out here and see? If the Hive fires then you'll have your answer!"

The memory of the Wraith voices were still screaming and tearing him up inside. John couldn't make them go away and started thrashing even more.

"Hold his head, Teyla.... Colonel... please...."

Carson was telling him something, but John couldn't hear the words as he slipped away.


Feelings of fury and hate.

Constant pain and torment.

He was being torn apart one cell at a time with fire and acid. Evil chased him into the recesses of his mind until he was so lost- so far gone that there was no way to climb back out. John remained curled tightly in a little ball, rocking back and forth to keep the demons at bay.

When things had reached a boiling point of despair, he was ready to let go.

Then light crept in; the vicious attacks disappeared, and the feeling of burning alive went with it.

He was drained to the point of nothing, but a soothing warmth filled in the void, and familiar, softer voices coaxed him back. John floated at the surface, drifting for a long time until things quieted to....

Johnny Cash? That was very weird, but it was like an old friend by his side, escorting him home.

John opened sticky, dried lids to find a dimly lit area with The Man in Black crooning in his left ear. A grin tugged at his lips.

"Oh, thank goodness. You're awake!"

Rodney McKay's words were loud, but there was relief in hearing them.

"If... you... call this... awake," John rasped, throat bone dry. And upon awareness, he felt like pure hell. "I'm... I'm..." He licked parched lips. "...still here."

"Yeah, barely." As soon as the words left Rodney's lips, his face looked stricken. "I mean... it's better than what you were earlier."

After the Wraith.

"Did it... I mean... I don't think...." John couldn't string his thoughts together. "The plan?" he blurted.

Rodney's face fell even further. "It kind of worked."

He was so exhausted. "What happened?" John grit out.

McKay sat heavily down in a chair by his bed. "We're not sure. We thought you could tell us. The Wraith on that Hive did go into hibernation. There were no signs of activity on board, and they didn't even resist when The Daedalus attacked. But the rest... the emergency beacon failed." Rodney looked heartbroken for them both. "The rest of the Hives were unaffected."

John slumped further. "Damn." He'd been so close. "The Queen. She was... a bitch. Was... a lot harder-" He stopped, breathing heavily on his oxygen cannula. "She was a lot harder to fight.... Used the emergency signal against me. Reversed it."

"My God... you mean... like your head was hit with thousands of Wraith minds?" McKay's eyes nearly bulged out their sockets. "No wonder your brain waves were so erratic. You gave Carson kittens. You were in this crazy catatonic state. Your EKG was off the chart, but it was inverted or upside down or.... I don't know. The voodoo priest kicked us all out. Thought maybe too many of our thoughts would make things worse. It was my turn to you know... well... I mean... I was dropping by."

It took a lot of effort to turn his head; the boom box sat on the little table. "You... bring that?"

"Maybe. I thought something you enjoyed could reach out to that zombiefied brain." Rodney started shifting in his seat. "Not that your music collection is in any kind of order. Your play list isn't even alphabetical. I thought the default settings did that. Though there was a really cool guitar file on your laptop. Really emotional, kind of bluesy, but I couldn't find the artist."

The infirmary had a dreamy quality about it; things were glowing and fuzzy. It was difficult to pay attention to McKay. "I... did that... the other night." John tried shrugging, barely shifting his shoulders.

"Really? It was very good. Thought that guitar on the floor was just for show; of course, I'm sure you'd be Mozart on the piano," McKay nervously chuckled.

The longer he was awake, the more pain whittled its way into his body. John could barely move. His muscles were tied ropes, and his chest had a fifty pound weight on top; each drawn breath was a struggle.

Staring at McKay was weird. There was an aura around him, deep blues with red tinges that made violet where the two colors met. "So, what's... the verdict?"

"Maybe I should get Carson." Rodney said, rising to his feet.

"Tell me," he wheezed, never breaking eye contact.

His friend couldn't hold his gaze, drifting back down. "I'm not the expert."

"Please."

"You're in multi-organ failure." Rodney swallowed. "Your brain capacity has reached 94% and um... well... that's the gist of things."

This was it. The end. John took stock of himself, noticing IVs in both arms with several bags of stuff hanging on the pole, tiny electrodes attached to his chest and head. He was nothing but wires and tubes.

"I... I... I tried everything I could on that machine. Stayed up for the past two days, even made Carson give me stimulants." Rodney chuckled half-heartedly. "That brought back bad memories." His pale blue eyes stared down at him. "Nothing worked. I've tried everything. I'm... I'm sorry," he said, the last word garbled.

Rodney's words knocked him for a loop; John shifted his eyes, noting his teammate was gazing at the floor, unable to look up.

His mouth filled with saltiness. "Don't.... There was nothing you could have done."

"That's not true. I'm the genius, or I was before...." McKay shook his head. "It's a machine. Made up of crystals and circuit boards and wires. And I can't figure it out."

John knew exactly what it was constructed of. "It's a bit more than that." Or was it? Seemed so simple now. The device was just a large 'off/on' switch.

A pain radiated from his head into his back, causing him to gasp.

"I should--"

"Wait!" John forced out, panting until the pain dissipated. He opened moistened eyes. The infirmary was filled with hundreds of white orbs. "There's... there's a flash drive in my desk drawer. Your name's on it." He drew on his O2. "Has my progress on cold fusion and other things that... might... might help. My... my comic book collection. I want you to...."

"Don't!"

The sharp pitch of voice dragged John's attention back to his teammate. Rodney looked pissed. His friend gripped the railing, glaring down at him. "You can do something about this! There's still time."

"McKay."

"Don't McKay me! You can't stop your body from quitting, but your mind is still there. Of course it's mutated beyond belief, but it works. You can still ascend. You don't have to die."

His mouth was overcome by hot peppers. John didn't have the energy to reach for a cup. He mentally lifted the tiny pitcher from the table, water spilling out from its jerky movements.

"Oh, for crying out...." Rodney took it, grabbed a plastic glass and poured. Then he held the cup to John's lips.

It was the best tasting liquid ever, all the river rapids of the Colorado and the waves of Maui. "Thank you."

"Please try. What could it hurt?"

John looked up at the ceiling; it swarmed with beautiful faces. All peaceful and radiant. He'd never believed in angels before. "I... I...." He couldn't admit the real reason for not trying.

"If you won't do it for yourself, do it for me." McKay coughed softly. "I mean... well so... so I don't feel so guilty. You know, about not being able to save you."

That was the McKay he knew. "You... want me to ascend... because you're selfish?"

"If he is, lad, then that makes five of us. And I bet the rest of the city, too," Carson said, walking over.

Elizabeth, Teyla, and Ronon followed close behind.

"I saw your EKG change a while ago but thought Rodney might want to talk with you a bit," Beckett explained, checking the computer by John's head.

Elizabeth stood by his right side all yellow and orange. Teyla was more golden, the halos around her body glistening. Ronon walked over next to Rodney with crimson and dark amber trails.

Carson adjusted one of the IVs, beaming emerald with shades of mint green.

"John, you did what you could against the Wraith. You tried. Now, try again. For all of us," Elizabeth asked.

The room swelled with waves of comfort; peace rippled over him. His team, his friends' auras magnified into streams of affection. He'd never felt so wanted before in his life.

They all stood around him, begging with their eyes. How could he say no to them?

"Okay," he coughed, feeling his chest tighten even more. "I'll... I'll try."

Ronon pulled out something silver from the folds of his jacket and placed it in John's left hand, curling his weakened fingers around it. "This was given only to the best warriors on the eve of battle. It belonged to my father and his father's father. I want you to have it."

John was at a loss for words, gripping the aged handle with all his might. Ronon squeezed his bicep for a long time.

Teyla bent down, placing hands at each side of his face and bowed her head to his, whispering to him in Athosian, probably not realizing he understood every single word.

Elizabeth leaned over and brushed away the sweat drenched hair plastered to his forehead. "You have an amazing heart, John. It has touched us all. Always know that we feel the same about you."

John couldn't move anymore; his limbs were too weak to even twitch. His eyes expressed it all, his breath hitching, not from lack of oxygen but something more powerful.

"I... brought you your... uh... favorite CD." Rodney struggled with all the earlier physical displays of fondness. Then his lower jaw shook. "I've never been so challenged, working with someone before."

John grinned from ear to ear. "Thanks, McKay," he rasped.

Carson fretted over one of the machines, face betraying what he was trying to keep at bay. "You've reached 96% brain capacity."

Memories from John's childhood started channeling through him. Moments of a misspent youth. Years of flying every craft known to man. Days in Atlantis and the various worlds he'd stepped on.

He stopped resisting the voices, the city, the draw of energy. John could feel layers separate- emotion, logic, desire, instinct.

Strong, ingrained behavior.

He'd never quit a thing in his life.

John shot up in bed, grabbed Carson's shoulders. "The off switch," he whispered. Then he mentally connected to the physician, sending him the data on how to fix everything.


His heart skipped beats, all four chambers pumping wildly.

"What happened? What did he say?"

He imagined Rodney's flushed face, spittle hanging from his lips.

Noises. Foot steps, voices.

John's body was dying; his mind was disconnecting but still hung on. Still fired.

"Bloody hell! He told me how to reverse the process!"

"Then do it!" Ronon's voice was angry. Desperate.

It was weird to still see through dying eyes, his friends fading away while the city nearly blinded him with light. Billions of lines of code twisted and spiraled outwards, reaching out for him.

"It'll take hours! I can't stop his brain from evolving any more. Let alone keep his body alive long enough!"

"But you know how?"

Teyla's voice was so small.

"Aye!"

Carson had gotten his instructions, but it was too late. Any moment now there would be no turning back.

"All you need is time?"

"Aye, Rodney, but I'd don't know how to slow--"

Snapping sounds.

"Send him into a hypothermic coma!"

"Are you daft?"

"Stop questioning me and get your sheep loving hands in motion!"

A powerful energy storm grew overhead, building with a static charge.

There was shouting and confusion. Squeaky wheels of a cart being pushed towards the bed.

"Get fans, ice packs and wet blankets. We'll use those to start with...Jana, darling, grab Dr. Lockton, we need a cooling catheter here, stat!"

Cold! All over his body. Ice over his skin.

Sounds dissolved. Answers to everything ever known came pouring into John's subconscious. Pure numbers, pure language.

"Injecting Demerol and Desflurane. Come on, lad. Hold on, hold on."

He was thrown into an icy river! Blood flow slowed through his arteries. His lungs inflated shallowly, and the oxygen level in his cells depleted.

All the theorems and words became garbled.

An oxygen mask was placed over his nose and mouth.

"Everyone give me room, I have to insert this into a main vein."

The pretty clouds were vanishing into puffs of smoke, and everything turned into a vacuum of freezing black.


"Do you have enough blankets over him?" Rodney's voice was frail and exhausted, but it was lighter.

"We have to warm him up slowly; I don't want to risk any further complications."

"How can anything be more risky than re-writing his DNA?"

John opened his gritty lids; his entire team was in chairs or standing around his bed.

"Hey," Ronon spoke.

Five sets of eyes stared at him, but it took a long time to collect his thoughts.

"You probably gave his brain frostbite!" Rodney blurted.

"Keep i' down, McKay.... Gotta horrible headache," John complained, but smiled as he snuggled under the mounds of fuzzy warmth. "Looks like 'm all here.... I mean," he looked over at Carson, "'m okay. Right?"

"Aye. Your body is a bit angry at ya for trying to shut down, but you're bouncing back. The organ failure reversed itself once your brain told things to work again. And it doesn't look like you have any permanent damage, but you're gonna be my guest for some time." Carson adjusted an IV line that didn't need to be fussed with.

"What about your powers, John? Can you still feel them?" Elizabeth asked, gripping his side rail.

His head felt like cotton candy, but John focused on his team clearing away the cobwebs. "Nothing. Can't hear any thoughts." He tried to lift Carson's stethoscope from around his neck. "I think everything's back t' normal."

Teyla smiled, grabbing his hand and rubbing it. "I still do not understand. How did you figure out the cure?"

He cleared his throat, blinked a few times as he tried to sort it out. "I...I was making things too complicated. The machine activated stuff that normally wasn't on in my head. All I needed to do was think of a way to...turn it back off." John looked to Carson for help for a better explanation.

The physician fumbled a second with the spotlight suddenly on him. "Genetic sequences are like big circuits. A primary sequence gets switched on then this sequence gets read and makes a protein. The protein acts like a signal and can stimulate cells to produce hormones, neurotransmitters and so on."

They all looked at Carson with varying degrees of confusion. John could follow it, but not to the precision he had before the machine. It was a good feeling and he found himself rubbing subconsciously at his chest under the blankets.

"What I'm trying to say is Colonel Sheppard sent me the exact coding needed to create an enzyme that broke down what bound together the mutated DNA. It effectively killed the altered sequences responsible for all the problems. Then he sent me a second code that reversed the mutations in his brain."

"Like the retrovirus?" Elizabeth asked.

"Aye. The only way to introduce the changes directly into the cells was through a virus. An animal virus to be exact. One that could withstand the cold," Carson finished.

John recalled feeling like the abominable snowman. "The cold?"

"He medically induced you into hypothermia," Rodney interrupted. "My idea by the way," he grinned. "It was the only way to slow down your brain enough to keep you from ascending. And by putting you on ice...literally," he grinned again. "kept your body from dying, too."

"Like suspended animation," John said.

"Aye, I used a heat exchange catheter in a vein close to your heart. Cool device actually...no pun intended."

Rodney rolled his eyes at the physician. "We made you into a Popsicle, Carson created the genetic switch and um...turned off all your annoying advanced DNA." McKay smiled smugly again. "Simple really."

"Yeah, then why didn't you think of it?" John accused.

"What? You were supposedly the smart one. Why did you have to wait 'til your deathbed to come up with it?" Rodney snapped back.

John rubbed at his temples.

"Alright, that's enough. We're gonna let the colonel get some much needed rest. He still needs constant monitoring," Beckett ordered everyone out with shooing motions.

"What about...."

"And lunch," Carson interrupted.

"Sounds like a plan," John sighed, snuggling back against his pillows.

Elizabeth squeezed his knee. Teyla bent down to kiss his forehead. John opened his eyes and watched them leave.

Rodney snorted. "Now that you're not taking up all my time, I've got work to do," he said, waving goodbye.

Ronon, who had been mainly silent, moved a few items around his bedside table and placed the knife from earlier there. "I want you to keep this. You still have a long journey ahead and you'll need it."

"Wow.... Thanks, big guy."

He thought Ronon was going to say something more, but the Satedan reached over, grabbed him in a big bear hug, squeezed hard, and walked away before John caught his breath.

Then he was alone with the sounds of the infirmary, sounds that didn't rattle his ears but lulled him to sleep instead. The few times he woke up, there was always someone nearby in the chair, and he rested more deeply for the remainder of the day.


John nodded at people in the halls without distraction. Noise from the firing lane didn't try to pierce his eardrums, and random physics equations didn't pop into his head to explain how the bullets ripped through the target.

Teyla wouldn't spar with him just yet, but he enjoyed watching her kick butt against every opponent without dissecting the moves for instant analysis. A few of her maneuvers were too quick for his eye to catch, and he sat back, observing for an hour.

"Would you like to meditate with me later?" Teyla asked when she was done.

"Don't think so. Gonna give my mind a break from reaching new levels for a while," he replied.

"If you like. Though I think it might be beneficial after what you've been through."

John shook his head. "Thanks for the offer."

He found himself out on the pier later, hitting golf balls into the ocean below. Even when one of his shots went wide of his imaginary hole, there was no manipulating the ball.

"You miss it?"

Ronon's voice came out of nowhere, and John turned to face him. "A little. I'll miss having that extra something on the battlefield. The speed and agility came in handy."

"I'll increase your exercise routine. That'll make you faster."

"That'll make me sore, no thanks. I'll stick to running around the city," John smirked.

"You don't need super powers," Ronon stated, slapping him on the back. Then his teammate stood there for an hour, watching him send golf balls into the ocean.

John watched Ronon leave and simply enjoyed staring at the towers of the city without them trying to talk back.

Later that night, John was in one of the labs he'd spent too many hours in, scrolling through one of the computers. He furrowed his brow in confusion at thousands of complex math equations.

"Oh, you found them," Rodney said, walking in with a cup of coffee.

"It's all gibberish," John sighed.

"Yeah, scribblings of a mad man. I understand a few here and there, but yeah. Kind of like reading Klingon."

John scowled at him. "My notebook is the same way. I can't even follow the stuff written in English."

"You should try that flash drive you gave me. Even Zelenka threw up his hands in disgust," McKay said, but there was amusement in his voice.

"You don't seem to be too upset. Thought you'd be running everything through one of your programs," John sighed, rubbing his hand through his hair.

"There's only room for one genius around here, and that's me," Rodney said, smirking, but then took a seat, his expression serious. "The keys to the universe are meant to be puzzled through and pieced together. Not handed over on a silver platter. Kind of takes the fun out of things. Of course, that being said, a few of the answers would have been really helpful. But don't worry- yours truly will solve them one day. The old fashioned way," he said, cracking his knuckles. "Oh, by the way, the Ancient Google thing crashed again but don't worry about that either. I'll repair it."

John clicked off the computer and stretched lazily in his chair. "Think I might take a ride around the city in one of the jumpers."

"That's a complete waste of time but have fun."

"I have the new Batman Begins. Got it from someone off the Daedalus," John said offhandedly.

Rodney was like a kid in the candy store. "Already? Screw you flying around in the jumper; let's go watch it."

John chuckled. "We'll use your stash of popcorn. And call Ronon and Teyla to join us," he said, standing up.

"We used my popcorn last time, Sheppard!"

"My bootleg copy. You provide the snacks," he said. John ignored the rant behind him, content that things might actually be back to normal.

He stood silently, eyes closed, thoughts free-flowing. But they were his thoughts; his mind. John brushed his fingers along the console, felt the tiny tingle under the skin and smiled to himself.

The End
Notes
I wanted to thank indigo_wolf13 for helping me create the image of Rodney used in the story.