torch, flambeau@strangeplaces.net
June 18-19, 2006

Disclaimer: it's more like they own me, really. Written for muj. Beta by Arduinna and Mary Crawford. Do not archive without permission.

Over the hills and far away

The door finally released him, and he stepped through.

"—another round of screening."

"'Bout time. None of us feel comfortable the way things are now, if it turns out we've been, you know."

Rodney cleared his throat, and Nurse Ayakanwe and Private Jones jumped apart and turned to face him. "Dr. McKay!"

"Where's Carson?" Rodney tugged at his pants, which hung a little precariously on his hips after two weeks of approved-list-only foods. "What's this about another screening? I was the only one who was exposed to the virus, and Atlantis just declared me healthy, or at least non-contagious."

"You'd better talk to Dr. Weir," Ayakanwe said.

Rodney scowled. "I don't want to talk to Elizabeth. I'm going to go to the mess hall and see if they're still serving what passes for curly fries on what passes for Thursdays, as soon as Carson — where is Carson?"

"He's with Dr. Weir," Jones said. "I'll escort you there, sir."

Elizabeth and Carson were leaning on opposite ends of her desk, looking down at something in the middle with worried faces. Elizabeth turned her head when Rodney came in, giving him a half-nod, then turned back to the desk again.

"Hello, Rodney, how are you," Rodney said. "It's wonderful to see that you weren't struck down by an alien flesh-eating virus. Welcome back from your two weeks of enforced captivity!"

"We have a bit of a problem," Elizabeth said. She straightened up and rubbed the small of her back. "While you were in quarantine, the Daedalus brought us some new phylogenetic scans, and Dr. Novak and Hermiod and Dr. Zelenka integrated them into the Atlantis systems."

"Without me?" Rodney sniffed. "You could have let me have my laptop. I shudder to think what kind of a mess those three have made."

"The scans showed a presence here in Atlantis that we hadn't been aware of before." Carson looked even more grave than Elizabeth. "One of, you know. One of them is here, Rodney."

Rodney froze. "Are you sure? You can't be sure. I, I mean, Zelenka, Hermiod, ten thousand year old systems interfaces, hiccups — that's quite a margin of error."

"We ran the scans three times." Elizabeth gestured to her desk, the graphs on the laptop screen, the printouts. "But so far, Dr. Zelenka hasn't been able to get the scans to line up perfectly with the lifesigns monitoring. We could only get an approximate location."

"So you don't know who it is," Rodney said, making his legs move again. He went up to the desk. "Obviously the simplest solution is to send back all the new personnel and tell Stargate Command to screen more carefully in the future." He tapped his fingers on the printouts. "Although honestly, I don't see — yes, admittedly, I know our funding is contingent on saying yes to an arbitrary demand or fifteen, but I don't see what harm it would do. There's no real evidence that, that they wreak any more havoc than, for instance, any of the more egregiously stupid of the latest selection of science department candidates."

Carson looked up. "And how can you say that? Have you ever had to treat anyone struck down by—"

"Invisible arrows? No, because there is no such thing!"

"We can't take the risk of bringing them to a whole new galaxy full of people they might prey on. There are so many things that might go wrong. You know how they're said to be with children," Elizabeth said slowly, "befriending them and luring them—"

"With music," Rodney said, stopped short, and rushed on, "so are you saying you suspect Teyla, because I haven't heard anyone else here singing that I'd like to hear ever again. And by the way, Carson, that includes you humming The Unquiet Grave when you're examining me."

"Don't be ridiculous, Rodney." Elizabeth cleared her throat. "Teyla belongs in this galaxy. And it doesn't have to be music."

"With stories and gifts," Carson said, "and their fair faces."

"Yes, well, that's clearly so much better, let's just send away all the pretty people. I'm sure you'll be cleared to come back in no time, Elizabeth."

"Thank you, I think. But no, we haven't been quite that inefficient. There were only a few people in the area indicated by the scan, and only one who fits the, who has any obvious signs that he might be one of them."

"That would be obvious signs like shooting invisible arrows at people? And while we're talking about popular urban legends, they're also said to have pointy— Oh, no, seriously." Rodney flung his arm out and nearly swept the laptop off the desk. "You think Colonel Sheppard is, is one of them? That's why he's not here? Come on, you've seen the pictures if nothing else, you know the ears are not a particularly reliable indicator."

"I'm not happy about this," Elizabeth said. She looked tired. "But you have to understand, we can't risk the expedition, or risk ruining the potential goodwill of all the other peoples in this galaxy. I realize there is a measure of prejudice in our treatment of them, but then, they haven't shown themselves to be very reliable, have they?"

"A measure of prejudice," Rodney said. "Elizabeth, we — we make them live in camps. The ones we know about."

"And the ones we don't know about are infiltrating us for God knows what purpose," Carson said. "Surely even you have to see that's not acceptable, Rodney."

Rodney reached for the laptop on the desk. "Setting aside the issue of isolation camps, which for the record I don't support, I still don't believe the new scans could have been properly calibrated and adjusted for all the quirks in the Atlantis system. I'll just run them again."

Elizabeth intercepted him. "If you want," she said, "I'll run the scan again, while we wait for Colonel Sheppard to join us. Not that I think you'd walk away with my laptop and keep it for a week, not again, but I'd rather not take any chances." She pushed her hair back behind one ear as she bent over the screen. "There hasn't been any — we haven't found any evidence of actual wrongdoing, beyond the issues of deceiving the US military and the leaders of this expedition. I think he deserves to hear it from me." She pressed a key on the laptop.

"I'd say that's a very great deal of wrongdoing," Carson said. "The sheer effort, the long-term planning — he couldn't have done it all by himself."

"Which is another good reason to think he hasn't done it at all." Rodney kept a wary eye on the laptop. "Not to disparage the colonel's better qualities, but has he ever struck either one of you as an evil, strategizing mastermind?" He cracked his knuckles. "And if he really is, if, is your idea of dealing with it to call him in here and just accuse him?"

"Of course not," Elizabeth said. "Rodney, all your objections — you can't think we haven't made them ourselves, over and over. It will have to be confirmed by screening, of course."

"Of course," Rodney said hollowly. "So how long does this scan take?"

"It's very fast," Carson said. "Dr. Novak explained it all to us, ah, she told us how it worked, though I have to confess I had trouble making out her exact words from time to time."

The laptop beeped. "That fast?" Rodney tried to look over Elizabeth's shoulder.

"Yes," she said. "Oh. Oh, this isn't possible. This scan says there are two of them."

"That's surely not possible," Carson said. "The gate hasn't opened, has it?"

"No. No, there's been no gate activation, and even if someone had beamed down from the Daedalus, Dr. Novak assured me that the entire ship and its staff has already been scanned. I don't understand how this is possible."

"Oh, please," Rodney said. "That's the only thing I've heard since I came out of quarantine that's easy to explain. Obviously the new scans aren't working as well with the Atlantis systems as Zelenka would have you think. Probably Novak hiccupped at a critical moment and entered some piece of data backwards." He pushed forward enough to see the screen. "I assume, despite your recent exercise in illogical thinking, you agree with me that it doesn't matter how advanced these new phylogenetic scans are if they can't even count."

"Rodney, if you want me to agree with you—"

The office door opened. "Sorry I'm a little late," Sheppard said. "What's up?"

Carson coughed. "Ah, that is—"

"Rampant insanity," Rodney said. "I'm never leaving Zelenka unsupervised again. Elizabeth, I'm taking your laptop. You can have one of mine, but if this is the machine where the original installation and connection was made, I need it."

Elizabeth stood up and turned to Sheppard, smiling at him with what looked like guilty relief. "Colonel. John. We wanted, Carson and I wanted to discuss setting up a new round of personnel screening based on the latest phylogenetic scans, but apparently that was premature." She turned to Rodney. "Do you think you can fix it?"

"Of course I can fix it." Rodney closed the laptop and tucked it securely under his arm. "I'll give it my full attention, I promise."

"And talk to Dr. Zelenka," Elizabeth added. "If nothing else, he can tell you how it was supposed to work."

"Yes, yes, all right. I'll talk to him, and Novak, and even Hermiod if I have to, and I promise you the scans will be a lot more useful to the continued survival and well-being of this mission by the time I'm done. Honestly, if I had known the levels of disturbing idiocy that would be caused by my absence for two weeks, I would have sent Martinez first into that abandoned lab."

"Try not to let your humanitarian impulses get the better of you next time," Elizabeth said dryly.

Rodney sniffed. "All I'm saying is, in terms of our relative importance— Ow, Carson, that was uncalled for." He rubbed his shoulder.

"It's good to have you back, Rodney," Carson said. "I'd like to be able to keep that thought in mind for at least the first hour."

"You were gone?" Sheppard grinned. "I thought things were kinda quiet round here." He looked at Elizabeth. "I'll just get back to my requisitions, then, if we're not setting up any screening right now?"

"Yes, of course, I'm sorry I interrupted you. We'll talk about setting up screening later on, if the scans suggest it after Rodney's fixed them."

"And I'll get started on that right now," Rodney said. "Where by 'right now' I mean 'after I see if there are any curly fries left.'"

Sheppard fell into step beside him as they left Elizabeth's office. "So. Phylogenetic scans?"

"Grossly malfunctioning," Rodney said, "and apparently unable to count. They warned for one presence, they warned for two — I suppose I should be relieved I was in time to fix this before they started warning for a whole platoon."

"Oh, I don't think that's likely," Sheppard drawled. "How was quarantine? I would have come to see you, but you were, you know. In quarantine."

"Yes, the complete and utter isolation was a clue." Rodney slowed down enough to let Sheppard bump his shoulder with his own, though. "Do you have any idea how bored I was? I didn't even have access to Freecell. I'm amazed the city let me have any food."

"Aw, poor Rodney." Sheppard turned when Rodney did, instead of continuing straight ahead. "I think I could use some curly fries, too. Or maybe just some coffee."

"I thought you were hard at work on requisitions."

"Like I said, coffee." Sheppard grinned. "Plus, I've been going through old mission reports, thinking about what we should do next. A lot of loose threads there."

"Yes?" Rodney tipped his head back. "What did you have in mind?"

"I thought M76-677 at first — all those nice kids, it's about time we went back to say hi."

Rodney nodded. "I think that's an excellent idea." He paused just outside the messhall. "They'd probably like some chocolate."

"Among other things," Sheppard said and pushed the door open. Rodney could smell the fries. "I'm sure they'll be glad to see us again."

"Bringing a bit of excitement into their short lives," Rodney said virtuously, and elbowed Sheppard out of the way so he'd get to the food first. "After all, it's nice to feel welcome somewhere, for a change."

* * *

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