Fic: Opportunity Knocks
Title: Opportunity Knocks
Author: Quasar (quasar273)
Date written: June/July, 2008
Length: ~10000 words
Spoilers: Set mid 4th season, sometime after Quarantine and before Kindred
Summary: A disgruntled minion hands Rodney an opportunity in disguise.
Author's notes: Tried to do something short and fluffy and plotless. Maybe I succeeded at fluffy.
Rodney thought he could be forgiven for not recognizing it as an opportunity right away. What with Major Lorne nearly shooting him, Colonel Sheppard really shooting him and then throwing him in the brig, and Colonel Carter interrogating him as if he were the enemy, he took it as a pretty negative development at first.
It started when Radek walked into Rodney's lab one morning and dropped his coffee mug and yelled "Who are you? What are you doing here?"
But actually, in some ways it started long before that, in their first year on Atlantis when they learned the Wraith were coming and they would be caught with no ZPM. They were scared and desperate and trying to hide those facts from their subordinates, and they'd both been recently rejected by beautiful women who seemed initially receptive, so it seemed almost natural at the time for John and Rodney to fall into bed together. Or at least to have frantic, toe-curling sex -- beds optional -- when they had a few minutes between attempting impossible tasks.
Then, incredibly, they survived, and everything changed. John changed. At first he was just distant, and Rodney thought it was because of the shock of surviving, being sent back to Earth, visiting Ford's cousin, being promoted. But John didn't change back when they returned to Atlantis. He sent Rodney off with other officers, criticized him more sharply, yelled at him more seriously. His teasing took on a nasty edge if Rodney tried to close the distance between them. He never showed any sign of jealousy over Rodney's dinner date. Even before Doranda, it was seeming like John didn't really want to be friends, much less anything else.
After Doranda, Rodney gave up. He tried to pretend that thing between them had never happened in the first place. He tried to be a team player and make jokes about saving each other's lives. He tried not to show his reaction every time John smiled or did math or offered to play Ancient Civilization. He tried to make himself want sweet, forgiving Katie Brown.
For nearly two years he succeeded reasonably well at all those things. But eventually it turned out even Katie couldn't put up with Rodney in close quarters, in a tense situation. No one could put up with him for very long, it seemed. It was probably just as well John had stopped before things went too far between them, because a real breakup from a real relationship would have been even worse.
And then one morning Radek yelled "Who are you?" and called for security to Lab One, and minutes later Major Lorne was holding a gun pointed at Rodney's head while two Marines pinned him to the wall and searched his pockets.
"It's me, Rodney McKay!" he yelled back at them. "Your boss?" he yelled at Radek. "Sheppard, tell them who I am!" he yelled when John came in the doorway.
John just gave him the cold gaze he usually aimed at Wraith or Replicators and said "I've never seen you before in my life." And shot him.
Rodney woke up in the brig with a stunner headache and needle marks in the crook of his elbow.
Before the pins and needles had passed he was pacing back and forth, trying to figure out what had happened. He grouped the possibilities into categories according to scale of effect. Theoretically it should be easier to change things on a small scale rather than a large one, but in Pegasus the theory sometimes didn't mean so much.
Category 1: The world had been altered.
1a: Rodney was in a parallel dimension. Disproved by the fact he'd awakened in his own quarters this morning, and he'd been working in his lab on his computer with his handwriting all over the damn whiteboard when Radek walked in.
1b: Rodney was in a virtual environment. This was hard to disprove, but it was made unlikely by the very real quality of the environment and the fact that Rodney couldn't summon a cup of coffee just by wishing for it.
Category 2: Everyone else had been altered.
2a: Everyone's memory had been wiped of Rodney's name, face, and existence. But how, and why?
2b: Everyone perceived Rodney as someone or something else. How and why? And just altering vision wouldn't explain all of it -- had they heard different words when he yelled that he was Rodney McKay?
Category 3: Rodney had been altered.
3a: Rodney's memories of four years in Atlantis were implanted somehow. But he was was here now, and Atlantis certainly seemed real, so that possibility required more explanation.
3a.i: His current situation was part of an ongoing delusion -- but if everyone was part of the delusion, why did they suddenly change?
3a.ii: After the memories were implanted, Rodney was transported to the real Atlantis. How and why? And if someone could do that, why wouldn't they also implant memories of Rodney in everyone else?
3b: Rodney had been altered to look like someone else. Similar to 2B only affecting Rodney himself. He spent a while patting his face and hair, turning his hands back and forth, and finding no differences.
He started to break the sub-sub-categories down by Roman numerals, but too many possibilities ended in "how and why?" At last, the door slid open. Rodney hurried to the bars, remembering at the last minute not to lean his elbows on them. (He wasn't sure whether to be flattered or annoyed -- they hadn't used the forcefield on Lucius, but they used it on him?)
Sam walked up to the cage, her eyes calculating. John stood just behind her shoulder, his face blank and cold.
"Who are you?" Sam demanded. "How did you get into the city?"
"I'm Rodney McKay," he said at once, trying to project earnestness. "Dr. Rodney McKay. I work here."
"You were hacking into a program to re-modulate the city's shields. Why?"
"I wasn't hacking, I was working on it! I wrote that program!"
"You claim to know us, so why is it that no one here remembers you?"
Rodney threw up his hands. "I have no idea! Look, let me ask you some questions, okay?"
"We're asking the questions here," John growled.
"No, seriously, this will help. Who's the head of the science division?"
Carter looked puzzled for a moment. "I'm the leader of this expedition."
"Yes, but who's in charge of the scientists specifically?"
"Zelenka makes a lot of the decisions," John offered.
"No, he doesn't. He does what he's told. Who tells him?"
Carter's gaze flickered to the side, checking John's reaction.
"Okay -- Colonel Sheppard, how many people are on your offworld team?"
"Four. Me, Teyla, Ronon, and... Lieutenant Ford."
"Ford's been gone over two years -- Ronon replaced him! So who else is on your team?"
John just stared blankly.
"Me, that's who! Rodney McKay! Check your mission reports. Check the science division reports -- I sign off on them." Rodney gulped. "If those have been altered, check with the SGC, for god's sake! They know who I am."
They were starting to look a little doubtful. And then the door opened again and Dr. Keller came in.
"Keller, tell them I am who I say I am!" Rodney called.
She glanced at him nervously, but didn't answer, turning instead to Carter. "He appears human on all scans. No nanites."
"Did you check for nish'ta or anything similar?" Carter asked.
Keller nodded. "First thing. No unusual substances detected." She hesitated. "There's something else."
"What is it?"
"I ran a genetic comparison, so I could tell if he's from Earth or one of the planets of the Pegasus Galaxy. I found a perfect match, one hundred percent, with a member of this expedition."
Keller looked at the computer cradled in her arm. "A Dr. Rodney McKay."
"See!" he yelled.
"We have complete files on him going back to before the expedition left Earth."
"I told you! I am a member of this expedition! A very important member!"
Carter leveled a glare at him. "All this proves is that you had time to plant files in the system before we caught you."
"Did I also have time to furnish my quarters? Building K-south, level 41, apartment 5. There are photos in there -- me with the rest of Sheppard's team, with others from the expedition. Oh, and Teyla has some pictures with me in them, too. You think I crept into her quarters in the middle of the night to plant those?"
Sheppard had a hand at his ear, talking quickly into his radio.
From there, the situation improved rapidly -- up to a point. They looked at files and file backups and double-backups on isolated servers. On top of the digital evidence, they found photos with Rodney in them in half a dozen people's rooms or offices (he was relieved when everyone agreed that Rodney was the man in the pictures, so he could scratch categories 2B and 3B off the list).
They listened to Zelenka admit that the work on the whiteboard in Rodney's lab wasn't his and was, in fact, beyond him (Rodney didn't mention that he had been altered by an Ascension device when he wrote those notes). They called the Daedalus -- departed several hours ago, but still within subspace range -- and got confirmation that Rodney existed and belonged in Atlantis and had been there for years. Carter even delivered a very prettily-worded apology for the way he'd been treated, which soon had him agreeing with her that it was the only thing they could have done.
But there the progress stopped. They had converged on explanation 2A, but they were stuck on the How and Why parts -- and they hadn't even begun to get to How To Fix It. And while everyone now agreed that Rodney belonged here, no one knew him. They all looked nervous and a little bit guilty about it, except for Ronon who looked like he thought it was an elaborate hoax and they would all be better off if he shot Rodney.
"Could it be a virus?" Carter asked. "Like the last time?"
Keller shrugged. "I'm running scans on everyone's blood to look for anything anomalous. But really, I don't see how a virus could be targeted to affect specific memories like that."
"And how come I'm not affected?" Rodney said. "I mean, I still remember me. Usually I pick up every bug going around -- I have a delicate constitution."
No one rolled their eyes at that; they all seemed to take the statement at face value. But none of them had any answers, either.
Finally John said they were getting nowhere and needed a break, so he went with Rodney to the mess hall for lunch. Looking across the table assessingly, he said, "So, tell me about Rodney McKay. What sort of man are you?"
Rodney opened his mouth to explain that he was the smartest person in two galaxies, then froze. It was the plain truth, but when he said that to people he'd just met, they tended to conclude he was egotistical rather than brilliant. He always ended up having to prove his intelligence anyway.
John arched an eyebrow. "Dr. McKay? Are you all right?"
"Yes. Um, I just -- I'm not quite sure what to say." Maybe he should try being modest. That seemed to make a good first impression.
And that was when he realized it -- first impression. He knew these people, but they were essentially meeting him for the first time. Maybe he could avoid some of the mistakes he'd made in the past. Maybe he could make them actually like him, where they had only tolerated him before.
Except he didn't really know how to do it. He should have the edge here since he already knew Sheppard, but he was as much at a loss as ever to make someone like him. He could try the modesty idea, but he'd never understood how humility was supposed to work. Wasn't it a kind of lie, to pretend you weren't as smart and capable as you knew you were?
"I'm sorry," Rodney said, realizing John had just said something. "I, uh -- what was that?"
"You're on my team, right?" John repeated. "So how do we work together? Where do you fit in?"
"In the middle, usually," Rodney said, but that probably wasn't what John meant. "Uh, I'm a physicist. I detect things and analyze them and fix what's broken and operate it after it's fixed." He restrained himself from describing just how good he was at all those tasks. Then he remembered that modesty included admitting things you weren't good at. "I guess, ah, I'm not so great when it comes to fighting. I can handle a gun, but, you know -- hand to hand and all those things, I leave that to the rest of the team."
"So that's why you're usually in the middle?" John's mouth was quirking -- amusement was a good sign, right?
"Yes, exactly." Rodney ducked his head, thinking frantically. Everyone had seemed to like Rod pretty well -- could he act like that? Except Rod wasn't exactly modest. And Rodney couldn't pretend to be good at something like golf when he simply wasn't. He couldn't pretend to be cool when he wasn't.
"From what Zelenka said about your work, you must be pretty good at it. All that detecting and fixing and stuff."
"Well, yes, I'm --" Rodney managed to swallow the words 'the foremost expert on' and edited them to, "-- familiar with Ancient and Wraith and Replicator technologies." Also Goa'uld and Asgard, but maybe that would be boasting too much?
"And inventing a completely new kind of math to describe things," John prompted.
Unaccountably, Rodney felt his face heat up. He was proud of that particular accomplishment no matter how he'd come by it, but somehow hearing the words from John made his insides squirm. "I had some help with that," he admitted. "My brain was enhanced, temporarily. I'm still trying to catch up to where I was." He coughed and pushed his chair back before he completely messed this up. "I'm going to get some, ah --" he waved at the dessert table.
One of the cooks was at the table just setting out pastries, with several people in a ragged line waiting to grab them when she was done. Rodney used his usual excuse to cut to the front of the line and ask, "Could you just confirm for me that these have no citrus in them?" Then he realized she wouldn't know about his allergy and started to muster up an explanation.
Before he could get going, she said in bored tones, "Yes, Dr. McKay, I checked. Aside from the lemon tarts which are labeled clearly and kept separate, all of these are safe for you."
"Good, I -- wait." He looked at her suspiciously. "You remember me? You know who I am?"
"Is that a trick question, sir?"
"No -- yes -- come with me!"
It took a little while to find out exactly how many people still remembered Rodney, because it turned out a city-wide announcement of "Would anyone who remembers Dr. McKay please report to the control room" was assumed to be a joke by anyone not suffering from amnesia. But eventually they had a small crowd assembled: a doctor, two nurses, two cooks, six marines, a technician, and two scientists -- a biologist and a geologist, neither of whom had worked closely with Rodney. In fact, none of these people were really close to Rodney at all. Was it too much to ask that one member of his team, or at least the senior staff, would remember him?
"They work the night shift," Sam concluded after a few questions. "They were all on duty last night."
"I'm not," and "I wasn't," said the two scientists in chorus.
Then the biologist frowned. "I did have some trouble sleeping last night," she admitted. "I got up and spent a couple of hours compiling data on a project, but I was still in my room."
"What time was that?" Sam asked.
"From about three until five or so?"
"The cooks started their shift at four," Sam mused. "So I'm thinking whatever happened must have occurred somewhere in the window between oh-three-thirty to oh-four-thirty, and affected everyone who was asleep at that time."
"But I was asleep then!" the geologist objected. "I slept all night."
Rodney snapped his fingers in realization. "Wait, wait -- I see you around a lot. Your quarters are just down the hall from mine, aren't they?"
"Yeah, around the corner and two doors down," said the geologist.
"And I slept all night, too!" said Rodney triumphantly. "So there you are."
Sam frowned adorably. "I don't see your point, Dr. McKay."
"I was unaffected too -- I didn't wake up with amnesia this morning. So in addition to those who were awake, we have two people who were asleep during the suspect window who weren't affected, and it turns out our quarters are close together."
"Good point," said Sam. "If one area was affected differently, it suggests the effect was localized rather than city-wide."
"And that whoever or whatever did this deliberately kept it away from my quarters." Rodney frowned. "Which says something about the motive. I'm not sure what." He shivered at the thought that he might have awakened with no memory of himself and no one who knew him. Once was more than enough for that.
"Good observation, Dr. McKay," said Sam, as if she thought he needed encouragement. It was odd having everyone address him as a stranger, but odder still when they tried to treat him just like a regular person.
"Colonel, take a look at this." John jerked his head toward one of the hanging screens. "We don't have video surveillance in residential areas, but I asked Sergeant Campbell to check recordings for critical areas during that time window. Here's the hallway outside the infirmary, 4:14 am." The picture showed a man pushing a cart along the hallway. "Same thing in three other parts of the central tower between four and four-thirty in the morning."
"Who is that?" said Rodney, squinting at the fuzzy picture.
"That's Dr. Brouchard," Chuck volunteered. "He left on the Daedalus this morning, returning to the SGC."
"Oh, right, he couldn't hack it here," Rodney remembered. "But what's he got on that cart? I don't recognize it." The device was about a foot tall, angular, with arms or antennae stretching outward and several lights glowing in the central body. The picture wasn't good enough to make out any writing or details of the controls.
"I do," said the biologist. "At least, I think so. It was in one of the Don't-Touch-This storerooms; I saw it when I was putting away that bio-scanner we found which turned out to induce mutations, remember?"
"No," said Rodney. "That is, I remember the scanner, but not this thing."
"But you must have known about it," she insisted. "There was a sign with your handwriting on it, I think."
"What did the sign say?" Sam asked.
"Oh, the usual: 'Don't touch this on pain of death,' something like that," said the biologist airily.
"I don't remember that. I don't remember anything like that." Rodney gulped. "Does that mean I have amnesia after all?"
Sam crossed her arms. "I think we should contact the Daedalus and ask them to interview Dr. Brouchard for us."
"You think he opted for a little personal sabotage before leaving?" John asked.
"Something like that." Sam smiled tightly at Rodney. "Don't worry, Dr. McKay; we should have some answers fairly soon."
Rodney shook his head. "We might find out what happened and why, but if that device came out of the Don't-Touch stores, the effects aren't going to be easy to reverse."
After the unaffected people had been dismissed and the message had been sent to the Daedalus, Rodney took the opportunity to knock on the doorframe of Carter's office. "Ah, Colonel, could I have just a moment?"
She looked up from her computer. "Of course, Dr. McKay. I realize you're in a difficult situation here, but we'll do our best to resolve it quickly."
"Right, right. I just, uh..." Rodney tried to muster his words. Gracious, that was the impression he was aiming for. "I just wanted to thank you for, for being so pro-active in dealing with this."
"I'm sure we'll come up with something," she said. "Give it time."
"Oh, yes, I'm not doubting... that is, I just wanted to say..." Rodney moistened his lips. "You and I, uh, we've always had a sort of --" adversarial "-- complementary working relationship. I've always hoped that it could be more than, uh, that is to say that I've always admired you... your work, and --"
"Dr. McKay." She stood up from her desk, and the expression on her face was only too familiar, as if she smelled something unpleasant. "I think I should inform you that I keep a personal journal. And I've taken the time today to check it for references to you."
"Wait -- you wrote about me in your diary?"
She crossed her arms. "So, if you're trying to lead me to believe that our relationship is anything but professional --"
"Oh, no, no! Nonononono. Nothing like that." Okay, so possibly the idea had crossed his mind very briefly. In brilliant Technicolor and Surround Sound. "I'm just trying to -- I thought this could be an opportunity to, to turn over a new leaf, so to speak. Start over again with some people who might not have gotten the best impression of me the first time around. That's all." He smiled at her and hoped it didn't look as stupid as it felt.
Her smiles were never stupid, but right now her expression had a making-the-best-of-a-bad-situation quality to it. "That's very admirable of you, Dr. McKay. But you might want to keep in mind that we are hoping to reverse the effects of the amnesia. If we're successful, everyone will get back their original impressions of you." The glint in her eyes suggested that she didn't pull any punches in that journal of hers.
"Right. I was just trying to, uh, build some bridges. Mend some fences. Sow some seeds of... well, I'd better be, uh..." Rodney swallowed and pointed out the door.
Sam nodded and kept her sharp gaze on him until he was gone.
As he walked back toward his lab, Rodney considered Sam's words. If he tried to make people perceive him differently, would they feel deceived when (if) they got their memories back? Would they go back to treating the same way they always did, like the comic relief on their team, the clueless bumpkin who was useful in a crisis but ignored or ridiculed the rest of the time?
The guy who was an okay lay if you were expecting to die in a week or two, but not worth the effort of an actual relationship?
Rodney's resolve hardened. He had make something out of this opportunity. As long as he didn't actually lie to anyone, it wouldn't be deception. But first impressions could be very powerful. All he had to do was figure out how to use that fact to make a lasting difference in the way people saw him.
The problem was, of course, that he really didn't understand people. He had always thought he should be able to tell the truth and everyone would believe him, and that was how it should work. But instead, he told people he was brilliant and they thought he was a conceited jerk. He told people he had life-threatening medical conditions and they thought he was a cowardly wimp.
So maybe he should try reverse psychology. Would pretending to be stupid make people look more closely at his intelligence? But that smacked too much of lying, and anyway he wasn't that good an actor. Especially in the case of the medical conditions; acting like he wasn't worried about lemons could get him killed.
What he really needed was to get them to see him as a person instead of a cardboard character. Somehow. Talking about his feelings should get people to acknowledge they were real and meaningful, but it never actually worked that way.
He turned the problem around in his mind several times, wishing Kate Heightmeyer were still around to act as a sounding board. Psychology wasn't his gift, but even so he was a genius, and after a while he hit on the answer.
He had to reverse the psychology not by lying about himself, but by turning it towards other people. Show people you care about them and they will start to care about you -- Rodney thought maybe his mother had said something like that once, but he hadn't really been paying attention at the time. Now, how could he make people believe he cared?
Rodney thought about it off and on during the afternoon, while he was reviewing current projects with Radek and looking for anything in the Ancient database or his own notes about the amnesia device. He also tried to remember his resolution to be nicer to people, but it wasn't easy when they kept saying the most moronic things. Fortunately, Radek was as imperturbable as ever even though he didn't remember that Rodney was always like this. He actually looked a little bit awed when Rodney called Dr. Aufthalle Dr. "Off-The-Wall" and told him to keep his mouth shut until his brain was in gear.
But mostly Rodney was nice. He thanked Radek for handing him a cup of coffee and actually complimented two scientists on their work. He thought that was pretty good evidence that he was really trying, but no one seemed greatly impressed by his efforts.
When dinnertime rolled around, Rodney was well prepared. "Oh, good, you're all here," he said quickly when he found his teammates halfway through their meal. "I have some things I wanted to -- what?"
"What, what?" said John.
"You're all looking at me."
"Because... you're talking to us," said John slowly.
"Wait, were you talking about me?" Rodney blinked. "Should I go away and, uh --?" He never knew what to do in these kinds of situations. Oh, right, pretend you hadn't noticed they were talking about you. Too late for that.
"Please sit with us, Dr. McKay," said Teyla, smoothing over the awkwardness. "We were discussing the amnesia. It is rather... unsettling for us, but I imagine it must be even more so for you."
"Yes, well, that's why I, uh," Rodney nodded. "I brought some things to help us, um, get to know each other better. Or, to help you get to know me. That sort of thing." He reached into his pocket. "Ronon."
Ronon arched an eyebrow.
"I actually made this a while ago, for... another occasion. But then I realized it wouldn't be ready in time so I went with a different, um, plan. But it occurred to me maybe you would like it anyway. Here." He dropped the little globe into Ronon's hand.
John squinted. "You made him a marble?"
"Actually, it's a crystalline scale model of --"
"Sateda," said Ronon in surprise, tracing the continents with one finger.
"Yes, right. I got the, um, basic map from the records of when the Daedalus visited there last year. I had to put all the clouds in as well because they obscured some of the coastlines, you see. And we never did get a look at the area around the north pole so I just put a big cloud there. And of course the colors aren't exact..."
"This must have taken a long time to make," Ronon said.
"Yes, well -- no, not really, just a few days. It was just a matter of programming the pictures into the Ancient visualization device, but it still took longer than I had available at the, um, at the time." When he found the completed globe on his desk a few days after his brish with Ascension, Rodney had gotten cold feet and thought maybe Ronon wouldn't want such a reminder. So it had sat in a drawer in his lab for months.
"We have a device that can make programmed shapes?" John said, craning over at the object.
"Only from one particular material, but yes. Some of the scientists call it a three-D printer," Rodney snorted.
Ronon was still turning the little globe over in his palm.
"If, ah, if you don't like it I could program something else into --"
Ronon's fist closed. "I like it." Then he looked up. "Can this thing make knives?"
"Well, yes, but only in crystal, as I said --"
"Will it hold an edge?"
Rodney blinked. "I'm not sure. It's virtually unbreakable so I guess it should work. But you would have to program the edge into the shape, not try to sharpen it after the fact. Oh, and I'm not sure about the balance. That's important to you, right?"
"For throwing, yeah."
"Well, do you have any spare knives I could examine? Especially any that are made all of a single material?"
"Bring them by my lab tomorrow and we can discuss the design, then."
"Okay." Ronon squinted in what passed for a smile with him in most occasions not involving the deaths of many Wraith. "Thanks, McKay."
"Yes, well, uh. You're welcome." Rodney cleared his throat. "Teyla."
"Yes, Dr. McKay?"
He gulped. "Rodney. You call me Rodney. Usually. Well, sometimes. I, uh, I've been preparing a gift for your, your --" He waved at her abdomen.
"Baby," she prompted gently.
"Yes. Your... baby. But that one isn't ready yet. My sister Jeannie --" had thought Rodney's gift idea was a spectacularly bad one. "She said every mother's needs are individual, so she sent this along. It's a catalog of maternity and baby products. If you see something you think would be useful, we can order it to be sent from Earth. See, Jeannie circled some items that she thought were particularly good."
Teyla leafed through the catalog in wonder. "This is very thoughtful, Dr. -- Rodney."
"Yes, well, actually it was Jeannie's idea."
"Wait a second," said Sheppard. "Jeannie? Jeannie Miller?"
"Yes, my sister." Rodney looked up. "You remember her?"
"Sure, but I thought she was..." John rubbed his temple. "Somebody else's sister. Colonel Carter's? No, um..."
"Mine. She's my sister." Rodney considered. "It seems you can all remember various events and people associated with me even though you can't remember me in particular. I wonder if that would give us a starting place to... hmmm." He filed the thought away for later. "Sheppard."
John shook his head. "You don't need to give me any presents."
"Oh. Well, that's good, since I don't have anything to give you. But I did get a new game I thought you might like to try later ton--"
John was wincing. "Look, McKay -- Rodney. You're my friend, right? We're all friends?"
Rodney glanced at the others. "Sure. Yes. Right."
"Fine. So just quit acting like you need to buy our affections, all right?" With that, John stood and cleared away his tray.
Teyla looked at Rodney sympathetically. "I'm sure he did not mean that as it sounds."
"Want me to talk to him?" Ronon offered.
"No, no, it's fine. We're good." Rodney looked down at his suddenly unappealing food. "I just, uh, thought of something I should check out. In the lab." He left the dining hall quickly.
Sam came to the lab a couple of hours later. "We got word back from the Daedalus about Dr. Brouchard," she said. "They sent us a record of the interview." She handed over a thumb drive.
"So what did he say?" Rodney glanced up and did a double-take when he saw Sheppard lounging behind Carter's shoulder.
"Just what we suspected. He used the device to make people forget about you before he left here. When he was in the area around your quarters he just thought about making you forget the device itself."
"Of course, he never even considered the security cameras," Rodney scoffed. "And they wonder why I call them idiots!"
Sheppard put in, "He'll face charges back on Earth, but that doesn't really help us fix the problem here."
Sam shrugged. "He said he got the device from the hazardous storage, and he believed it had been found a few months ago. He didn't know much about it except that it only affects people sleeping within a limited range. He doesn't know of a way to reverse the effects, but he did tell us where he's stashed the device. I sent a couple of Marines -- people without the ATA gene -- to pick it up and bring it here for further study."
"I'm not sure we need to study it much more," said Rodney. "I found our notes on the initial analysis. Apparently it's some kind of Ancient psychotherapy voodoo thing. The operator can make a sleeping person forget about a particular topic. We discovered this when Dr. Coleman dozed off while it was being tested and forgot about the existence of coffee, because apparently the, er, person testing the device was thinking about coffee at the time." Rodney coughed. "Dr. Coleman has since recovered her memories related to coffee -- all of them, she thinks -- but she's not sure exactly when that happened."
Sam brightened. "That sounds promising. So we should all be back to normal within a few months, maybe sooner."
"Right." Rodney glanced at John and looked away.
"Did Dr. Brouchard say anything about why he did it?" John asked, still slouching in the doorway.
Sam grimaced. "Actually, yeah. He had a lot to say about that. It's all in the recording there. The gist of it was that he wanted Dr. McKay to experience what it's like to be 'forgettable.'"
"Yes, well, thank you, Colonel Carter. This information is very, um --" Rodney couldn't exactly say 'helpful' since he'd figured it all out beforehand. "Good to know," he finished lamely.
"You're welcome." Sam smiled. "Don't work too late -- senior staff meeting tomorrow at oh-seven-hundred." She paused. "You are a part of that, right?"
Rodney sighed. "Yes, I'll be there."
Her footsteps retreated, but after a moment Rodney realized it was only the one set. He looked up to find Sheppard stepping forward from the doorway, hands in his pockets and a sheepish look on his face.
"So, uh, Teyla thinks I was kinda hard on you at dinner --"
"Oh, stop it," said Rodney wearily.
"Don't even try to apologize. You're terrible at it, and besides, you were right. You want to know why I'm trying to buy your affections?" Rodney waved the thumb drive Carter had given him. "This says it all. I'm terrible with people. I forget their names, I don't care about their petty concerns, I tell them when they're being idiots -- and they hate me for it."
"I'm sure it's not that bad --"
"No, it is. It's exactly that bad. I'm lucky if I can bribe people to like me -- sometimes even that doesn't work." Rodney sighed and dropped the thumb drive on the lab bench. "It's not like I didn't know this already. It's nothing new. This incident just brought it home in new and unexpected ways, that's all."
John shifted uncomfortably from foot to foot. "Come on, you said we're friends, right? We play video games together?"
"Sometimes," Rodney admitted.
"Yeah, I remember playing that Ancient Sims game with -- someone. Someone I can't put a face to. That was probably you, wasn't it?"
Rodney swallowed and nodded.
"So we're buddies."
"More than," Rodney muttered.
"We were more than friends. A lot more." And I blew it, Rodney thought bitterly. He saw John's eyes flicking up and down his body, checking him out, so he ducked his head and waited to hear how ridiculous the very idea was.
John whuffed out a breath. "Okay. I can see where you'd be pretty upset that I forgot something important like that."
Rodney flapped a hand. "No, it's, it's not important, it --"
"It is important." And suddenly John was right there, in Rodney's space, resting a hand on his arm. "This is exactly what Brouchard wanted, to mess up all your relationships with other people. Let's not give him that." And his mouth descended on Rodney's.
With all the hot and wet and tongue and wow, it took Rodney a few seconds to process what was going on and where it was going to lead. And where it would go after that, which wasn't as appealing. "Whoa, wait, wait!" he said, pulling back even though it felt almost physically painful. "Not like that. We weren't like that."
John's face went still and began to congeal towards anger. "You just said --"
"It was! We were. But it was over. A while ago." And the truth was they had never really kissed -- at least, not on the mouth. Belatedly Rodney wondered if he should have just played along, because that had been really nice. He licked his lips for the last taste of John.
Sheppard stepped back. "Bad breakup, huh?"
"Not exactly a breakup at all. We just sort of fizzled." Rodney wondered how bad it would look if he reached down to adjust himself right now.
"And you figured you could use this opportunity to get me back?" Sheppard's eyes were glittering now.
"Huh? No!" Okay, so maybe the idea had occurred to him, and maybe it had even more appeal than pulling the same trick on Sam, but Rodney hadn't acted on the temptation and that made the accusation all the more unjust.
"You lied to me."
"I did not! You just misunderstood! If I had been lying, would I have corrected your mistaken assumption two seconds later?"
Sheppard hesitated, his eyes still narrowed in suspicion.
That was when the city-wide intercom came alive. "Colonel Carter, Colonel Sheppard, Dr. Zelenka to the gate room."
Rodney grabbed up his laptop and collided with John in the doorway.
"He didn't call for you," John growled, sprinting for the stairs.
"That's because he's forgotten I exist!" Rodney retorted, trying to keep up. "If they need Zelenka, they definitely need me."
When they arrived, they found Major Lorne on the control level talking to Carter. "Spherical, about a foot and a half in diameter, hovers so it must have some kind of anti-gravity. I thought it was just a probe, until it fired at me," he said. "Scorched a big hole in the wall." He was feeling his reddened cheek gingerly, and the odor of burnt hair was unmistakable as they approached.
Carter nodded sharply at Sheppard. "Pearce and Gonsalves found something when they went to pick up the amnesia device."
"Wait, you mean Brouchard booby-trapped it?" yelped Rodney.
No one paid attention to him.
Sheppard turned to Lorne. "Casualties?"
He shook his head. "Apparently it scanned Pearce and Gonsalves when it activated, and after that it ignored them. Seems to have a grudge against people with the ATA gene." He felt his ear and winced. "Bullets don't slow it down. Neither did a Wraith stunner."
"I am tracking the probe," said Zelenka from one of the consoles. "It appears to be heading for the central tower."
"Heading here," said Sheppard grimly.
"It is likely, yes."
Rodney looked over Zelenka's shoulder. "What's that signal it's emitting?"
"Carrier wave for its scanner, I think. I am trying to analyze it to find the origin of --"
"That's nanite code," Rodney breathed in horror. "Replicator technology!" He went to another terminal and started typing rapidly. "This is no booby trap from Brouchard, it must be left over from when the Replicators were here!"
Carter stiffened. "Is it broadcasting on subspace frequencies?"
Zelenka shook his head. "Short-range signal only. This is probably why it is heading for the gate."
"Not like there's anyone left for it to send a signal to," said Sheppard, but his expression was worried.
"So far as we know," said Carter. "Even so, I'd rather not advertize our position."
"Even if it can't phone home, it could do a hell of a lot of damage if it gets here," Lorne pointed out.
"Right. First priority is to stop it before it reaches the control tower," Carter said.
Sheppard snapped his fingers. "If it's nanites, how about an EMP?"
"That won't work," Rodney returned.
"Good thinking," said Carter as if Rodney hadn't spoken. "We'll try that."
"It won't work!" Rodney protested. "This thing was made by nanites, not made of nanites. Same way this control room was rebuilt after we blew it up. You think an EMP will dissolve the whole control room? Just no!"
But no one was listening to him. Sheppard was talking to Lorne about trying to get to the armory for an anti-replicator gun, Zelenka was setting up the EMP, Carter was about to go on the city-wide and tell people about what was going on.
Growling in frustration, Rodney slammed his laptop shut, grabbed a toolbox from the recess under the console, and headed out. The Marines guarding the control room doors were slow to move out of his way, as if they didn't trust him or didn't realize what he was doing was important.
Rodney had planned to get one of the Marines to accompany him, but he saw Ronon looming by the door, in workout clothes with a towel over his shoulder and holding one of those wooden swords -- Rodney was always mixing up the Japanese and Satedan names for the things so he couldn't remember what they were called. "You, come with me," he snapped.
Ronon's eyebrow went up. "What for?"
"You want to stop this thing?"
"Was thinking I'd like to see what my gun will do to it," Ronon admitted.
It won't work was on Rodney's lips, but he changed it to "Here's your chance to try."
As they clattered down the tower's interminable stairs, Carter came over the city-wide ordering people to stay out of the hallways and turn off all electrical devices in preparation for a EMP. Rodney snorted.
On their headsets, chatter among Lorne, Zelenka, and some Marines provided information on where the probe was -- cutting through a door with a laser, apparently. Rodney stopped Ronon two doors short of its position and started digging through the toolbox.
"What are we waiting for?" Ronon growled.
"For me to be ready." Rodney hastily programmed a life-signs detector to translate the signal he needed and send it to his laptop. "Here's the plan. I have to attach these --" He held up a pair of alligator clips and a dangling transmitter "-- to the probe, and then I need to analyze its control code and figure out how to send the signal to shut it down. That's going to take me a couple of minutes, so in the mean time your job is to keep it from shooting me."
Ronon grinned. "What if I stop it before you do?"
"Then you win, and I'll show you where Sheppard keeps his secret beer stash."
"Fair enough," Ronon grunted. "You ready?"
"After the EMP."
They waited until the chatter over the radio indicated the EMP had had no effect, then went through the door just as the probe finished cutting into the next section of hallway. Ronon stepped in front of Rodney and fired point-blank at the bobbing sphere.
A force field flashed golden around it, and it merely slipped back a few inches as it absorbed the energy of the blast. Rodney, with some knowledge of the technology that protected it, was impressed it had reacted that much.
The probe rotated and whirred as it focused on Ronon, scanning him. Rodney took the opportunity to dart in close to the probe and attach his alligator clips. It took him a moment to get them securely fixed on the metal ridges that traces across the probe's surface. By that time it had decided Ronon was uninteresting and was trying to turn its scanner on Rodney. He backed away hastily, but not before it got a good look and discovered his ATA gene.
Fortunately, another shot from Ronon made the probe slip again and its laser blast missed Rodney by nearly a foot.
The next few minutes were a hectic nightmare of trying to analyze and alter an alien program while dodging, running, ducking, and darting around corners. Ronon found out that a good hit from his wooden sword would displace the probe more than a shot from his blaster, so he whaled away on it every time it tried to go after Rodney. The two Marines who'd been following the probe's progress showed up and tried to help. They tried throwing a jacket over the probe to wrestle it down, but it just lasered the fabric into shreds. It zipped up near the ceiling where only the tip of Ronon's sword could reach it. After a certain amount of interference, it was starting to pay attention to Ronon and the Marines, sending nasty little shocks their way, but its worst weapons were reserved for Rodney.
"Get in one of those rooms and shut the door!" Ronon yelled when another blast narrowly missed frying Rodney.
"I can't!" Rodney yelled back. "The signal isn't strong enough, I need to be close to it!"
He was making progress with the code -- which was pretty amazing, under the circumstances -- but it wasn't fast enough. He was dimly aware of Sheppard arriving with an ARG, which did nothing, but Sheppard's gene did distract the probe from its pursuit of Rodney. Just when Rodney had found the syntax for the shutdown code, Ronon tackled him around a corner and the laptop went flying.
"Get off me!" Rodney yelled. "It better not be broken." He wasn't sure if he meant his laptop or his elbow, which had cracked hard on the floor.
"Oh, no, are you hit?" Rodney tried to be a little more gentle as he rolled the heavy body away. Ronon's workout singlet was scorched and blackened along the ribs, and bright red was starting to seep through.
There was the sound of another laser blast, and a moment later Sheppard pelted around the corner and helped drag Ronon into a room. Rodney retrieved his laptop and tried to find his place in the code again.
"How bad is it?" said Sheppard, crouching by the closed door with his useless ARG.
"Fortunately these laptops are impact-resistant," said Rodney, typing frantically.
"I meant Ronon."
"'M okay," said Ronon, heaving himself up to sit. "Just a little burn."
"I've got it! I've got the code ready to transmit," Rodney announced. "I just have to get close to the probe one more time --"
"Sir!" said voice over the radio. "The probe is heading for the door to --"
They could all hear the sound of Ancient glasslike polymer shattering, over the radio and through the door of the room.
"-- the balcony," the Marine finished. "It's outside now."
Sheppard leapt to his feet. "It's going to head straight for the control room."
"I can stop it, I can stop it!" Rodney insisted. "I just have to get the signal out. If I can broadcast -- no, that will take too long. Oh wait, I know!" He bent his head and worked even faster, opening new windows and cursing the computer's slow response.
Carter's voice came over the radio. "I'm removing the dialing crystal from the DHD. Even if it gets here, it can't dial out."
"It's here," Lorne's voice interjected. "Not going to take it long to get through that window."
More glass shattered. Gunfire sounded. Zelenka was yelling something frantic.
And then it stopped.
"Colonel Carter?" Sheppard said sharply. "What's going on? Status!"
"We're fine," said Sam, sounding a little out of breath. "It broke through the window and then it just -- stopped. Fell to the floor. It's like it ran out of power or something."
John blinked. "I guess it was using a lot, with the lasers and the force field and everything..." he stopped, looking at Rodney curiously.
Rodney just closed his laptop and stood, the aftermath of adrenaline making his hands shake. "Now that's over, I think I'm overdue for some rest." Belatedly, he remembered his injured teammate. "After we get Ronon to the infirmary, I mean." So much for his attempt to portray a kinder, gentler McKay.
Trailing behind the medical team, he decided it was time to give up on his plans. It seemed like what he'd taken for an opportunity was really just a trap.
"You took over Rodek's laptop, didn't you?" said Sam a few minutes later, arriving in in the infirmary. "He said he had to reboot to get control back."
Rodney winced. "Sorry about that. I didn't have time to be nice about it." He glanced up and saw Sheppard listening nearby, then ducked his head again and contemplated the roaw of blisters across the back of his left hand.
"So you hacked into the probe, analyzed the programming while you were under fire, found the command to shut it down, and then you took control of Radek's laptop to send the command?" Sam pursed her lips. "Pretty impressive work there, Dr. McKay."
Rodney's face heated. "Oh, uh... thanks."
"Why didn't you say something?" John asked.
Rodney rolled his eyes. "As I recall, no one seemed to be listening."
"I mean afterward -- why didn't you tell us what you'd done?"
"Oh, well, by that time we were heading here. Injuries," he added for Sam's benefit, and held out his hand in demonstration. Then he frowned as Ronon walked walked up. "Speaking of injuries, are you supposed to be here?"
Ronon's shirt had been cut off, revealing his impressive physique and golden skin nicely set off by the white bandages on his ribs. He shrugged the shoulder opposite the bandages and pulled an IV pole forward. "I'll live."
"Probably," Dr. Keller filled in. "If we watch out for infection. And that's why you're staying here tonight. No arguments." She picked up Rodney's hand and looked at the blisters.
"Probe got you?" said Ronon.
"Just a little," said Rodney. "I didn't even notice it right away. Ow!" He added as Keller sprayed it with antiseptic.
"Sorry," she said. "I'm sure it must be painful."
"Well..." Rodney glanced at Ronon's array of bandaging, and Sheppard and Carter looking on. "It's not that bad. Just... stings a little."
"Hands are sensitive," she said sympathetically. "I'll get you some painkillers in a minute, just hang on." She placed a gauze square and started to wrap it lightly but securely.
"I'm concerned that the amnesia situation may be affecting our performance," Sam said grimly. "In retrospect, we could have dealt with that probe a lot more sensibly."
John squinted at her. "You think we've forgotten more than we realized?"
"How would we know?" Rodney asked, trying to remember if there was anything he couldn't remember. It was sort of like trying to see your own eyeballs without a mirror.
Sam shook her head. "Even if we only forgot the two things we're already aware of -- Dr. McKay himself and the previous research on the amnesia device -- that still led to us overlooking Dr. McKay's contributions in fighting the probe."
Rodney tilted his chin up in vindication, then winced as Keller tucked in the corner of his bandage.
"Your team is benched anyway," Sam said with a nod toward Ronon.
"I'm good to go," he said at once.
"No, you're not," replied Keller. "You'll be ready for light duty in three days if there's no infection. Probably at least a week until you're cleared for light exercise, two weeks before you're ready for missions. Minimum."
Ronon scowled at her but she didn't back down.
Sam continued, "we can all use this time to reassess, review mission reports, look for any other gaps in our memory. Perhaps Radek -- and Dr. McKay -- can find a way to speed up recovery from the amnesia." She nodded to John. "Colonel, I'd like your team to take this chance to get reacquainted, make sure you can work together smoothly and know each other's capabilities. If Ronon is up to it, maybe you can try some simple exercises or review threat scenarios, that sort of thing."
Sheppard looked sour but didn't say anything, which left Rodney to groan, "Wonderful. I love fake, cheesy team-building exercises."
"It'll be good for you. For all of us," said John, but he still had his shoulders hunched. Even Ronon looked doubtful.
"All done!" said Keller brightly, patting Rodney's arm. "Here are those painkillers, Dr. McKay. They might make you drowsy, so take one before bed, and no alcohol while you're taking these. Ronon, back to bed." She pointed firmly.
"I'll make sure McKay gets back to his quarters," John said, taking Rodney by the elbow as he hopped down from the gurney.
"Do you even know where my quarters are?" Rodney muttered as they got out into the hallway.
"Sure. You told me this morning. Look, McKay -- we should talk."
"Oh, no," Rodney groaned. "Can't it wait for tomorrow? This has been a really crappy day, you know?"
"Yeah, and I'm sorry about that -- I know some of it was me. But you need to speak up for yourself, okay?"
"I mean, I get that you have some self-esteem problems --"
Rodney came to a stop just outside the transporter. "Self-esteem? Are you joking? Everyone knows I have the biggest ego in the entire city!"
John's eyes flicked downward and he moistened his lips. "Is that a euphemism?"
"What? No! Where did you come up with this idea, anyway?"
John propelled him into the transporter with a hand in the small of his back. "You seemed kind of... uncertain of yourself."
"Lunchtime, dinnertime, when we talked in your lab, when we were discussing the probe in the control room, when it was all over and you let us think the thing just ran out of juice..."
Rodney jabbed a finger at the transport map and then whirled out into a new hallway. "Okay, first of all? I was trying to be nice. And frankly, I'm not very good at it, so that would be why I seemed uncertain."
John nodded. "Low self-esteem."
"No, I -- okay, fine, believe what you want. But when we were in the control room, that was different; I just realized it would be faster to do it than to talk about it. And afterward, what was the point? I knew Zelenka would figure out what I'd done anyway." And he was tired of never getting the admiration he deserved -- why keep beating his head against that wall?
"Is it because of me? Because I don't remember you? What we... were?" They were almost to Rodney's door and the corridor was empty, but John lowered his voice anyway.
"No, it's..." Rodney sighed and rubbed at his face. "It's everything, I guess. Everyone. No one remembers me, or reacts the way I expect. I thought it was a good thing, I thought this was a chance to make everything better, but it's not working out the way I thought it would." Rodney waved at the sensor on his door.
John followed him in and stood silent until the door closed behind them. "It was before the Wraith attack, wasn't it?"
"What? Oh... yes." Rodney gulped. "Are you remembering?"
"Not really. I've been trying to think... I remember something. Someone, but I can't remember who. So I figure that must have been you."
"Right. It was a stress thing, I suppose. Nothing... nothing that was meant to last." Rodney turned toward his desk, but sleep seemed more appealing than work just now, so he changed his mind and sat at the foot of the bed.
"McKay, look, I may not remember all the details, but I'm pretty sure it was my fault it didn't work."
Rodney laughed bitterly. "Right. It's not me, it's you, and sure, I'd be delighted to just be friends. There -- we've had the breakup talk, two and a half years late. Can we go to bed now?" His face heated. "I mean, beds, not bed. Separate beds. Me in my bed, you in yours. To sleep."
John shifted back and forth on his feet, still standing near the door. "It wasn't the sex, was it? I mean, the sex was good, right? I think I remember that."
Rodney groaned and flopped back onto the bed. He was really not up to having this conversation right now. "The sex was fantastic. At least for me. And I think for you -- you never complained, anyway." Not that they'd talked about it much at all; afterward, they would sleep for fifteen minutes or an hour until one of them got a call on the radio and they had to go back to frantically preparing for the attack.
"So... maybe we should try again?"
Rodney lifted the arm he'd flung across his eyes. "What?"
"We could try the, you know, relationship thing again."
Rodney stared. John's ears were pink and he looked almost sheepish. "Are you nuts? There was no relationship, it was just sex. Any relationship between the two of us would be doomed. As proved by the fact that it didn't last. None of my relationships last," he finished with a sigh. He hadn't really meant to say that last part, but he was tired.
"Mine either. So maybe we should, like, try it with each other."
Rodney gave that a thought and found it didn't add up. "You don't even remember what it was like the first time. You don't remember why it ended."
"And you never knew why it ended in the first place, did you? I think that makes us about even in the not-knowing department."
"Dooooomed," Rodney repeated.
"So no pressure, then. Anything's better than nothing, right? Can't do any worse the second time around."
"Why are you doing this? You don't even like me!"
"Sure I do. I like you just fine when you're being yourself and not all --" John flapped a hand. "Fake and nice, that sort of thing."
"But you don't remember me."
"I thought that might be an advantage, actually. Fresh start, clean slate, all that."
"I thought so, too," said Rodney in a small voice. "Except... I still remember. So not really so fresh and clean after all."
John sighed heavily and rubbed the back of his neck. "Fine, okay. You're probably right. Bad idea." He shifted nervously. "So... good night, then?"
"Wait." Rodney sat up, took a moment to wonder if he was making a huge mistake, and took the step anyway. "What if we try it the other way around?"
"What other way?"
"Like, start with friendship, relationship stuff first, add the sex in later if it seems like it might work. Because the sex was never the problem, it was the personal stuff that tripped us up." Or so Rodney had always assumed. He didn't really know what had happened; John was right about that part.
John stepped closer, perched on the edge of the bed. "Obviously, my memory is suspect, but from what I do recall it was other stuff that got in the way." He waved a hand at the world beyond Rodney's room. "Outside stuff."
Rodney gulped. "That was part of it, I guess."
"So maybe this would a good time to try again. Start over."
"Other way around, friendship first," Rodney reiterated.
"Right. Friendship." John looked around the room. "So, uh... you said something about a new game?"
They stayed up too late playing games and arguing about classic science fiction. John fell asleep first, sprawled across Rodney's covers. They woke in the morning still wearing yesterday's clothes, and they kissed in defiance of morning breath. And when they headed out to face the new day, Rodney realized he'd been right: it was an opportunity after all.