Secondary Author (2ndary_author) wrote,
Secondary Author
2ndary_author

"peripheral damage to the system"

Title: Signs of Rapture, called Apocalypse
Author: 2ndary_author
Fandom: Stargate: Atlantis
Characters: Rodney, Elizabeth, Kate Heightmeyer, (offstage: Sheppard, Beckett)
Rating: PG-13; spoilers for 'Sunday'
Notes:   The first section was written for the sga_flashfic Secret Superpowers challenge and then morphed into a Ways to Die challenge.  Also, as may become apparent, it's a sequel to  Signs Taken for Wonders and other assorted snippets (tagged as signs 'verse). Epigraph by David Gerrold.

{“There are no Earth-like planets.  There are only lazy writers.”}


The earliest description of the juridical conundrum known as "the King's Two Bodies" appears in Edmund Plowden's Reports or Commentaries, collected under the reign of Queen Elizabeth I and published in 1550. The king, Plowden writes, has both "a body natural...subject to all infirmities that come by Nature or Accident" and "a Body politic...that cannot be seen or handled...constituted for the direction of the People and the Management of the Public weal."  Thus, the Renaissance prince was both himself and the physical embodiment of his state.

Weir, E. “Symbol and Majesty in Early Modern England: Implications for Developing Nations,” in The Historical Bases of Western Statecraft, ed. Frances X. Chichele. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1984.


Rodney thinks he’s done a pretty admirable job of keeping himself together, but he very nearly loses it when Elizabeth opens the safe in her office and takes out a manila envelope with Carson’s clear, matter-of-fact handwriting: IN THE EVENT OF MY DEATH.  The envelope contains a seven-page will, a flash drive, two sealed envelopes, and the realization that Beckett had been calmly but thoroughly preparing for his own demise practically since he set food in the city. 

All of his material possessions on Earth, Beckett leaves to his mother or, should she predecease him, to be divided equally between his sister Collette and his brother Alan.  Or to their descendents, should they predecease—and trust Carson to plan things out unto the third generation.  The flash drive contain the drafts of four articles and patent applications for the pseudo-Ancient gene, a respiratory steroid made from the berries on PG-942, and some kind of Iratus anti-venom.  (Sheppard shudders visibly when Elizabeth reads that section). These are left in the care of the executor, Dr. Elizabeth Weir, with legal fees to be paid by the estate.

“I recognize that it may be some time before circumstances permit either publication or patent development,” Carson wrote in a codicil dated sometime last fall. “However, since it would be quite difficult—not to say unprincipled—to replicate the experiments detailed, I hope the research will still be of some use.”  Any profits from the patents should be used to set up an endowed scholarship fund to send schoolchildren from Drumfermlin to medical school.  The scholarships will be awarded based on the results of an essay contest—and here Rodney puts his head in his hands because, oh, Christ, Carson—with applicants writing on the subject “ethical obligations of inter-planetary civilizations.” There is a final addendum, only three months old: “should any of the Athosian children ever express an interest in advanced education on Earth, I would wish the scholarship to be available to them as well.”

The final two pages of the will contain a detailed list distributing Carson’s few possessions on Atlantis, “since I cannot imagine they will be worth returning to Earth.” He leaves his fishing tackle to Teyla and his golf clubs to Sheppard.  His surgical scalpels go to young Dr. Olufemi, whose own set is scattered throughout half the refugee camps in Africa.  The nursing staff jointly receives a sealed envelope containing Carson’s mother’s top-secret shortbread and fudge recipes and all the associated bargaining power that comes with having the exclusive concession. Zelenka receives the doctor’s stapler—since he’s already requisitioned and lost four in his lab alone—and a chess set  (“I’m afraid I have not seen the black rook since that time our game was interrupted by the Wraith attack.  It may turn up yet: you never know.  In the meantime, a spool of thread seems to work just as well.”)  The Czech finds it suddenly necessary to remove his glasses and polish them furiously on his shirttail. Ronon inherits the Clan Beckett plaid kilt that the doctor wore on formal occasions in lieu of a military uniform.  Rodney thinks this is one of Carson’s strange jokes—the kilt will never in a million years actually fit—but it turns out that Ronon has a deep, superstitious respect for the outfit, which bear a striking resemblance to Satedan ceremonial garments. (“I didn’t know that,” Rodney says. Ronon shrugs, unconcerned: “You never asked.”) Cadman gets a copy of the DSM-IV and the second sealed envelope, whose contents she never reveals.  Rodney gets a stack of lab notebooks and a souvenir coffee cup featuring the Royal Mile.  It’s not until he’s actually sitting at his desk with the books in front of him—a set of five, hardcover, grid paper, from Sherman Stationers, High Street, Glasgow—that Rodney realizes Carson Beckett is probably the best friend he’s ever had.


The lab notebooks are a running joke between them, the only sort of shared joke Rodney can remember being part of.  Carson’s lab notes are always meticulous: pages numbered, charts labeled, entries dated.  He uses the same books that he was required to buy for his very first med school anatomy class.  In contrast, Rodney takes notes in made-up shorthand on whatever is handy—business cards, napkins, those little inserts that come with CDs—and he sometimes staples them together and sometimes doesn’t. Rodney says that Carson’s notes are pedantic, Carson says that Rodney’s are impossible.  They’re both right, but neither of them really means it.

 Five notebooks: Rodney allows himself to look at one per day. Rationing is not his strong suit, but they are the last bits of Carson he will ever have and he feels suddenly nostalgic. He leaves the lab early the next day, makes a pot of coffee, and sits down at the desk in his room with the Royal Mile mug to open the first book.  It contains…notes on Ronon.  Exclusively.  Beginning with the details of the surgery to remove the tracking device and including summaries of every medical treatment since.  Rodney’s not quite sure what to make of this.  Everyone else, of course, has meticulously-kept medical files saved onto the Atlantis server, but only Ronon has a lab book devoted to him.  On the next day, the second notebook has more details, up to the most recent post-mission report. Why, Rodney thinks with annoyance, would Carson leave him books of information about Ronon? 

Rodney finds the Satedan in the mess, eating with his fingers, a strip of plaid tied around one bicep like the black armbands the Marines wore to the funeral. “Here.” He holds out the notebooks. 

“What are they?”  Ronon gathers up another fingerful of spaghetti.

“Your case history, apparently.  Medical history.  Don’t ask me.”

“I don’t have a history,” Ronon says flatly.

“You do now,” Rodney replies, because, of course, of course, he was stupid not to see what Carson was going for. “Doctor Beckett made you one.”

The third notebook is only half full.  It documents Beckett’s Hoffan vaccine in detail that makes Rodney squirm in the re-reading.  He wants to destroy this book, the meticulous documentation of the experiment gone wrong—any other evidence was dust long ago.  Still, he can’t justify getting rid of something Carson was so careful about keeping.  Rodney’s bookshelves overflow with volumes, alphabetized by secret keyword in a system that Sheppard calls “anal-retentive, yet curiously disorganized.” (What does Sheppard know, anyway?  He’s still on chapter seven of War and Peace…) He files the notebook under “D.” For Doranda.

 

The fourth notebook contains a case-study of one “A.F., 25-year-old male of Native- and African-American extraction, brought to the Pegasus Galaxy as part of the military contingent.”  It ends abruptly, in mid-sentence, and the last seventy-four pages (yes, Rodney counts) are blank.  Rodney leaves this one on his desk for two days, working around it when the pressure sensors in Sector M go on the blink.  A little surprised to find it still there on the third day, he huffs and puffs his way up to the top of Tower 4 and hurls the book as far as he can, out into the shining sea. He does not see where it lands.

The fifth notebook is not like the others. There are still pages and pages of Carson’s neat capitals—totally unlike the pharmaceutical scrawl of every other medical doctor Rodney’s ever met—but there are other notes, too: sections from the SGC environmental coordinates for the City of Atlantis, a clipping from one of Daniel Jackson’s monographs, something by Zelenka.  Mission reports, personal statements, observations, coincidences: it tells a story so long and complicated that Rodney’s not sure he would understand it if he didn’t already know the details.  He’d brought this problem to Carson, not long after the tower 3 blackouts.  The doctor had told him that he wasn’t the first to mention it, but Rodney, accustomed to being the first, the best, hadn’t really believed him.  He should have.  Carson was telling the truth: there were references to Teyla, even to Elizabeth, well before his own name appears on page 22.  He flips back to start at the very beginning: Constituents of the atmosphere, City of Atlantis, Pegasus Galaxy

*****

Rodney is already halfway to Elizabeth’s office when he radios that he’s on his way. 

“Rodney, what is thi—”

“It’s important.  I’ll tell you when I get there.” He can’t remember the people on the short list to replace Beckett—he’s terrible with names and, ok, so maybe he hasn’t wanted to think about it—but he knows there’s another geneticist: “The genetics guy…get him, too. I’ll bring Zelenka.” 

“She’s a woman,” Elizabeth says.

“Who is?”

“The genetics guy.”

“Well, good for her,” Rodney replies. He hesitates, reconsiders, finally radios Kate Heightmeyer and asks her to join them in the conference room.  This is what he’s been driven to, consorting with voodoo practitioners and would-be telepaths, but until Carson’s successor is appointed, Kate is the most-senior medical member of the expedition.  Generally, Rodney doesn’t give a damn about chain-of-command, but this is too important to get lost in some bureaucratic shuffle.  First Carson, now Sheppard, and Rodney doesn’t have that many friends to spare.

Farouqi is the doctor’s name, the geneticist, and Rodney shakes her hand and promptly forgets it.  He casts a longing look at Heightmeyer’s giant mug of coffee and starts laying out his evidence: Carson’s notebook, a stack of medical files he’s liberated from the clinic, two hundred pages worth of printouts.  He’s not a persuasive man, but he knows how to convince a hostile audience. After all, both of his dissertation committees hated his guts by the time his defense arrived and they still had to grant him summa degrees: Rodney’s facts don’t speak for themselves—they shout. 

Rodney arranges his data and announces his conclusion: “Colonel Sheppard is genetically linked to the city of Atlantis.”

Elizabeth stares at him, perplexed.  “Yes, Rodney…we know that.” She shrugs, “You are genetically linked to Atlantis, for that matter.”

Rodney wonders if it’s possible to hear your own eyes roll.  “No, I mean Sheppard has become connected to the city.  His physical welfare is influencing the actual infrastructure of the city.  And vice versa.”

Before Elizabeth’s skepticism can make it from her face to her mouth, Rodney begins to summarize the pages stacked in front of him.  The fever that coincided with that mysterious fire; the Tower Four lightning strike that channeled through Sheppard as though he were part of the structure itself; the time Sheppard tripped and the entire East Pier collapsed—or maybe the pier collapsed and Sheppard tripped, Rodney hasn’t entirely worked out the sequence there. 

“That’s not possible,” Farouqi says, interrupting Rodney’s explanation of Sheppard’s last cold and the havoc it had caused in the ventilation system (“I’m sure you all remember that unpleasant episode”).   “The city is ten thousand years old, Dr. McKay.  Accidents happen.  What you are describing?  Could not happen.”

“I’m not making this up.  The facts are all here.” Rodney manages not to actually say ‘you moron,’ but he’s pretty sure his tone is not disguising anything.  “And there are too many facts for it to be a coincidence.”

“No one is saying that you’re making anything up, Rodney,” Elizabeth says in her most diplomatic voice. “But the fact that Colonel Sheppard’s injuries coincide with damage to the city is probably due to his job, which does tend to put him in harm’s way.”

Kate Heightmeyer, who had been silent, suddenly sputtered, choking on her coffee.  “Uhm,” she said, and stopped.

“Doctor?”

“I just…”  Kate looks like she’s warning herself to keep quiet, but then defies her own advice.  “Dr. McKay’s, uh, theory would explain some of the Colonel’s more erratic behavior.”

Elizabeth does that inquisitive quirky eyebrow thing that Rodney would love to master some day.  It saves so many words!

“Colonel Sheppard has sometimes been accused of taking excessive, even suicidal, risks in the course of his job,” Kate begins.  “However, my conversations with him have never revealed anything more than a rather, uh, casual attitude toward danger, nothing that would explain the lengths to which he goes.  He certainly doesn’t consider his behavior to be more than the situations warrant.  Now, if he were somehow connected to the city, it would be…he would be protecting himself, acting in self-defense, as it were.  From a psychological standpoint, that would make his actions more—understandable.”

“It’s some kind of…Ancient symbiosis!” Rodney can barely wait for the psychiatrist to finish her sentence.  “That’s why the Ancients were so reluctant to leave the city, why they hid it so well instead of just triggering the self-destruct and abandoning it. Also why the Ancients could never replicate their technology anywhere else.  Atlantis was part of them.  And they were part of it.”

Wordlessly, Kate slides her mug across the conference table.  Rodney finds that his mouth is inexplicably dry, so he takes a gulp.  Not half bad.  The good doctor has been holding out on him.

“And you think that Colonel Sheppard has formed a similar,” Elizabeth searches for the word, finally settles on “ …dependence?” 

“Inter-dependence, actually: what Sheppard feels, the city…well, doesn’t feel, exactly.” English needs another verb, Rodney decides. “What Sheppard feels is somehow expressed physically.  In a, you know, city-ish kind of way.” 

Farouqi rubs a hand across her face, exasperated by Kate’s willingness to entertain the idea.  “If this sort of…connection…really existed, Sheppard wouldn’t have been able to tolerate the reassignment to SG-1 after the evacuation.”

He didn’t, Rodney thinks, remembering John on Earth.  He didn’t tolerate it well at all. But that’s not even the most important part. 

“The real problem,” he speaks directly to Elizabeth now, “is that the city reflects any damage done to Sheppard.  So, pardon me for fearing for my life, but that’s where the genetic mutation creates problems: survival of the fittest doesn’t work so well when the fittest is constantly getting himself shot at!” 

“Evolution on that scale takes generations,” Dr. Farouqi continues, speaking over Rodney.  “A single mutation takes a generation, gets passed on to the next generation, where it’s slightly more pronounced, slightly more defined, and that version gets passed on in turn.  But you’re talking about a significant reshaping of multiple genes…in just a few years.”  She sighs, annoyed at her inability to explain the scope of what he’s suggesting. “Have you ever heard of Lamarck, Dr. McKay?”

Rodney gestures with the coffee mug, sloshing the papers spread in front of him.  He’s a little impressed that she came up with a rebuttal so soon.  It had taken Carson a day to come up with that argument.  Of course, it’s still wrong.    “Yeah, yeah, inheritance of acquired characteristics.   Complete bunk.  I’m not saying…”

“You are!” Farouqi insists.  “You’re saying that Sheppard’s genes have changed since he’s arrived in Atlantis.  That his environment is changing his molecular makeup.  That’s not…genetics doesn’t work like that.”

“It’s alien,” Rodney yelps.  “We don’t know how it works!” He flaps Carson’s last notebook, but Elizabeth holds up a hand.

“Rodney, John is not…” Elizabeth stops, pinches the bridge of her nose, begins again.  “You’re suggesting something that has very serious implications for the security of the city.  I’m not sure it’s something I can act on without more evidence.” 

He rakes his hands through his hair, ready to start again.  Elizabeth…”

“I think we’re done for now, and I’m sure you all have things to attend to,” she says, standing, signaling to the other women that the meeting is over. 

Elizabeth—”

“Rodney,” Elizabeth says patiently, “I think we’ve all had moments when we wished we had John’s…knack with Ancient technology.   But even if what you’re saying is true—if these changes are unnatural and dangerous, reversing it would be just as bad. ”

She says it gently, not at all in the get-your-head-straight tone that she’s used with him before and Rodney would like to think it’s because she secretly knows he’s right.  Nevertheless, he finds himself sitting in front of a stack of paper, holding a coffee mug that’s not his.  And the coffee’s cold, to boot.

*****

Rodney divides his time between scheming up new ways to convince Elizabeth and vowing to do nothing and wait until his brilliance (once again) asserts itself and the nay-sayers have to throw themselves on his mercy.  Because he is not jealous of Sheppard, Johnnie the golden boy, the favorite son, the keeper of the keys to the city. 

Then comes the day when Rodney stumbles through the ‘gate, Teyla just ahead of him, to find the gateroom so smoky that only the crunching sound beneath his boots lets him know he’s walking on broken glass.

 “What the—?  Can’t I leave you people alone for two hours without you wreck the place?”  Rodney charges up the stairs, running into two separate technicians before the smoke clears enough for he to see where he’s going.  Ronon and Sheppard were about a hundred yards farther up the mountain when the natives on PR-456 got restless and it would be a pity for the wormhole to be out of commission when they arrive at the gate.  

He flaps his hands, dispersing smoke and technicians.  “What did you do?” he sighs, looking at the melted console. 

“Nothing!” the tech is wide-eyed, a nasty cut on her forehead.  “I was pulling up the weather readings for the mainland and it just….” She throws up her shaking hands to indicate the explosion. “There was a message about peripheral damage to the system, and then it just went up.”

Rodney can’t see any peripheral damage.  In fact, it looks like the circuitry to the display features may be the only thing seriously damaged.  The read-out is fried, but he grabs a datapad from someone and pulls up the underlying interface: it looks fine.

“I don’t know what you did,” he admits grudgingly, “but you got lucky: the damage looks worse than it actually is.”

Of course, no sooner are the words out of his mouth than the console to his left makes a dangerous cracking noise and spouts a turret of sparks.  And immediately after that, the gate activates and Ronon lurches through, half-carrying Sheppard who is limping and holding a field dressing to his left shoulder.

“Medical team to the ga—” Elizabeth begins automatically, and the something occurs to her.  She looks from Rodney to Sheppard and back. “Colonel? How recently were you injured?”

“Uh—wh…?  I don’t…”  Sheppard looks confused.  “Maybe… fifteen minutes ago?  The shoulder, I mean.  My ankle I just twisted right before we came through…damn ornamental grasses.  Some civilizations just don’t know how to mow their lawns,” he grumbles, trying for a joke.  The gatestaff is staring and Rodney wasn’t around, but he’s willing to bet the first console exploded about fifteen minutes ago.  He knows the second one went up right before Sheppard came through the gate. This is the security risk he was talking about: hurt John Sheppard and the city feels it, too.

“What?” Sheppard asks, an uncertain grin on his face.  “Guys…I’m fine.” Rodney holds his breath, knowing exactly what he’s going to say next. “It’s really—I’m sure it looks worse than it is.”

Elizabeth drops heavily into the nearest chair.


 

{now with added more}

Tags: "signs 'verse" (sga), "sora" (sga), fic, sga
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