So I Dated A Chair
Story 1 - 99 Red Balloons
Two things are for certain in the Pegasus Galaxy. New experiences will abound, and mess halls will teem with troubled scientists. This thought occurred to Dr Carson Beckett as he balanced a cup of coffee with the last box he needed to unpack, standing at the hastily erected buffet. He had meant to do it last night, but there was something unsettling about the ceremony – opening the very last box meant dooming himself to an existence in Atlantis.
“I’ll come back later...” he muttered and turned away from the mess hall.
A storm of hair smacked right into his eyes, and Carson staggered backwards blindly. He recovered to find a member of the science department wearing a dark stain over his blue shirt. Glancing down at his now empty coffee cup, Carson suppressed the sigh threatening to peel over his lips. Maybe he should just start packing everything up again...he might very well have declared war on all scientists. The truce was broken!
“Dr Beckett, you are alright?” queried the man in a thick accent as he raked fingers over his hair. “I am sorry but I am in need of someone with ATA gene.”
Why didn’t anyone say hello anymore? It seemed as though everyone had left their manners in another galaxy. Mindful of how costly a war with a certain Rodney McKay might be, Carson afforded a friendly smile. “Okay, lad. Lead on.”
Following with a resigned slump of his shoulders, Carson entertained himself with trying to identify his new shepherd. He sounded almost...Russian. But the flag patch presented a contradictory mystery. The scientist grinned back over his shoulder. “Atlantis is wild, no? It’s much bigger than the Antarctic outpost. At least I have more chance of disappearing away from Dr McKay.”
“When ye succeed with disappearing,” Carson said to this, “do not hesitate to tell me. Alright. Where are we heading?”
The scientist beamed. “Chair room.”
A pair of shoes squealed to a halt, and then Carson was walking briskly away in the opposite direction. But he underestimated when the scientist’s shock would wear off. Puffing and grumbling, but still managing to put himself in front of Beckett, the not-quite Russian forced out, “Ne, none of this. I would ask Major Sheppard, but he is, ah, you would say scouting.”
“I’m not crazy, lad! If I set foot near that bloody chair, ye’ll certainly be sorry! No – I won’t do it!”
His antagonist blinked. “I am not asking for a miracle. I just want to know if the chair works.”
Carson looked desperately up and down the corridor. His eyes lit up suddenly. Reaching up to his ear he tapped his headset and babbled a desperate plea over the radio to Elizabeth. Her voice sounded strained. “Carson, relax. Dr Zelenka is not asking you to do anything complicated.”
“But General O’Neill – ”
“You’ll be fine. I’m sorry, but you’re the only one with the gene I can spare at the moment.”
“The infirmary – ”
“Carson. The only medical emergency that has occurred in the last twenty-four hours was Rodney losing a bandaid. Dr Zelenka has assured me it won’t take too long. Weir out.”
And that was how Carson Beckett found himself gritting his teeth as he lowered his posterior into a cold, dusty chair that smelled as though the last user had died while using it. Needless to say, that wasn’t comforting at all. “Good Lord, didn’t ye think of giving this a dust off first?”
“I did,” defended Zelenka. “Now please. The chair.”
Carson squeezed his eyes shut, engulfing his sight in darkness. Maybe if he just pretended to concentrate! He grunted encouragingly. Zelenka buzzed impatiently somewhere nearby. More effort then? Carson plastered on a frown, creasing his forehead. The buzzing grew louder, like a terrible current of static grating over his ears. He growled, “I can’t bloody concentrate if you keep up with that sound, son!”
“I’m not making any sound.”
To his credit, Zelenka did sound sincere. Panic began rolling around Carson’s gut. Next thing he knew, his feet went flying up as the chair slipped back behind him. As blood pounded behind his temples, the buzzing exploded into a high-pitched hum, sounding just like an alarm.
WHO ARE YOU?
Carson squirmed uncomfortably. Hearing voices, now? Great! Just wonderful! Well, why not just play along with this little delusion? He said out loud, “I am the CMO of the Atlantis expedition. Who are ye?”
I AM ATLANTIS.
“Not to disappoint ye, but I believe yer just a chair.”
I AM ATLANTIS. I AM IN ALL THINGS. ALL CHAIRS. ALL ROOMS.
“Can ye stop with the shouting? My head is banging something fierce.”
You should not be here, the decidedly feminine voice growled, but softer.
A spike of static electricity shot down his spine, causing Carson to leap up and away in terror. He ran as fast as his legs could carry him, stoutly ignoring Dr Zelenka’s indignant calls for him to return. Yes, new experiences were part and parcel of the Pegasus Galaxy – but alien voices from out of nowhere should never sound so sexy.
When the Stargate flared to life after ten thousand years, the entity of Atlantis was understandably nervous. She imagined it would be the Wraith, finally there to crush her city’s proud spires. But instead it was a horde of Lantean descendants, all staring around with wide, curious eyes, hands fondling everything from the walls to the heating crystals. Interfering humans! They nearly destroyed the city in mere hours!
And so the entity of Atlantis set out to make their stay as miserable as possible. The stairwells were either freezing or scalding, and water managed to seep into random corridors, even if they were above sea level. But she tired of this – they were stuck there, so was she. Her energy was better spent fending off their electronic probes, run off primitive devices that passed as computers. Even that was nothing to concern herself with. Their pathetic attempts at learning her secrets provided ample amusement, and then she returned to her lonely solace, sometimes disappearing into certain systems for days before resurfacing in the world of the humans.
They ignored her. She ignored them.
However, she could no longer ignore their feeble plundering when they discovered the primary chair room. At first, she hoped their blood from their ancestors would be too diluted to do anything, but there were two who could do some serious damage. And one of them was this intruder trying to activate her systems in that very moment! Angrily reaching out to vaporise his mind, she reared back in surprise.
...bloody chair...don’t activate...just pretend...stupid chair...
That hurt! Who was he, to insult her? And his control was completely wild, not even disciplined enough to turn the lights off. Just who did he think he was anyway? The entity of Atlantis swiftly began her interrogation and met only with a confused mind, more terrified than malicious. She was too startled to carry out her murderous intentions and only managed to send him on his way.
Just what are you doing? she snapped at herself, The first person to activate the chair in ten millennia and you’re already trying to kill him!
She knew the Ancients would have run her through reprogramming if they’d known how much she’d been thinking for the past few thousand years. She thought some more.
He did have a nice posterior...
“I always feel like someone’s watching me,” Carson began from the comfy sofa of Dr Heightmeyer’s Atlantis office.
He listened as she scratched away on some paper. The sound soothed him somewhat. All the craziness would be transcribed into some logical form, and then someone could tell him if he really was going a bit peculiar. After the silence began to disturb him, he ploughed on bravely, “First it was just, ye know, lights coming on in the corridors when I walked down them. But now my shower keeps activating when I'm in need of one. By itself. And someone or something keeps brewing coffee in my office.”
“You do have the ATA gene,” Dr Heightmeyer pointed out reasonably. “Perhaps you are just becoming attuned with the city, like Major Sheppard.”
Carson grimaced. “But he doesn’t get bloody coffee, does he now?”
“Alright. When did these feelings of unease start?”
“How about when I walked through the Stargate? Bloody insanity.”
Heightmeyer’s pen stopped moving briefly. She glanced over at his expression and fought a smile that hid behind her doctor-patient mask. It was well known how uneasy Dr Beckett felt about having his atoms rearranged for even the briefest of travels. She probed, “You said this only started happening recently.”
“Oh, aye...” He considered this. “Maybe yesterday, after Dr Zelenka made me sit in the...oh crap, it was after I sat in the chair. I knew I shouldn’t have sat in the bloody thing!”
“You were still feeling unsettled from your previous experience in an Ancient chair, weren’t you?”
Well, that was true; those memories still haunted him, but... “I didn’t hear voices the first time.”
“You heard voices,” she stated, her pen whipping across a fresh page.
That couldn’t be good. Next thing he knew, he’d probably be sitting in a white padded cell, made up just for him. With a cup of tea and a cosy straight jacket, trying to scratch his nose with his own shoes. No, thank you. Carson gulped and scooted off the sofa. “I think, ah, I left some paperwork in my office. Erm, yes.”
He scurried from the room in a panic. The door shut thoughtfully behind him. The light winked on over his head. A window opened on the side of the corridor, admitting deliciously fresh ocean air. Carson bit his lip and bolted for his quarters.
Humans. They simply had to ignore the obvious. Atlantis’ entity had first found this trait endearing, but now she was reaching the end of her tether. Here she was, desperately trying to make contact with this “CMO” character, but every time she offered a greeting or some comfort, he would run off in the other direction. This new blame of paranoia hurt more than any of the insults he had so far thrown in her direction.
Can he really think I won’t go away? she thundered to no one.
The original inhabitants of the city might have ignored her at times, but they always responded if she needed to alert them to something. But then, she had never done so for personal reasons. Such reasons hadn’t existed until they had left the mortal realms behind.
Left me behind...I will not be ignored again!
He hadn’t been entirely lying about the paperwork, but instead of attending to it, Carson found himself pulling up his own medical records. Just in case. Last CAT scan – all clear. What about now? Would there be such a device in the city? Oh, bother. He shot a few anxious looks about his darkened quarters, but no lights acted suspiciously.
Carson allowed a sigh of relief. Maybe it was all over. Maybe he could finally go to sleep without being afraid of his shower in the morning. He rubbed his eyes. God, he needed some shut-eye. His laptop screen flickered before his exhausted face. That was definitely a sign that he needed to make time for a nap. The screen flickered again. Battery running low?
He spent a good five minutes trying to find the power pack, before realising it was already plugged into the laptop. Feeling foolish, Carson stared at the laptop for another five minutes before realising that there was no way it should be flickering.
And then, just like that, it stopped flickering.
It was a blank screen, until the white writing appeared. Carson felt his stomach leap up into his throat.
CMO of the Atlantis expedition. STOP IGNORING ME NOW!
Carson covered his face with his hands, peering through the gaps between his fingers. The writing persisted. He back-pedalled to his desk and snatched the cold cup of coffee, throwing it down his throat. The desk light winked on and off. He moaned and threw himself to the ground, closing his eyes. The laptop started switching through his music library, mostly on loud and annoying songs. Then it stuck on one that he hated, but somehow had neglected to delete.
“Ninety-nine red balloons go by...”
“NOOOOOOOOOO!” Carson cried and ran to the door.
It wouldn’t open. He kicked it. The door hissed at him. Sliding to the floor, he watched the laptop screen in horror. More words were stringing across it now, all in stark white, growing larger and sharper in font.
I do not like being ignored. I spared your life on the chair, and this is how you repay me?
“Ye were going to kill me?” he whispered.
A pause. Yes. But I didn’t. So there. GO TO THE CHAIR.
“No, ye don’t understand...I break things!”
I’d like to see you try.
A challenge! This was sailing into absurd land very quickly. Carson lurched backwards as the door opened behind him. He stared up at the ceiling, at the rapidly twinkling lights, and felt more afraid for his life than he ever had before. Needing no more encouragement, he wove unsteadily off for the chair room, eyes wide with despair. All those he passed greeted him, but didn’t notice how stiffly he replied or how he tried to silently signal their help.
All too soon, he was standing in front of the chair, hearing that ominous buzzing once more invading his senses. He hovered for a few moments, debating between insanity and logic. If he sat in the chair, it would probably fry his brain. If he didn’t, he would be followed all over the city by scary flashing lights and hot showers. He shivered and sat down, the chair thrumming to life beneath him.
Humans! So difficult!
“Yer one to talk,” Carson shot back.
You ignored me.
Was she sulking? Could chairs, in fact, sulk? A burst of painful static crackled over his back in response to this. Carson sucked in a breath. “Not a chair, then.”
I am Atlantis. I am in all things. Then, yes, I am a chair here and now.
“If yer going to fry my brain, can ye get it over and done with?”
The chair began to hum and vibrate loudly. Carson found his mouth very dry. He cleared his throat. “What am I ta call ye then? Atlantis?”
Perhaps. I was not named anything. Not like your names. CMO, that is a strange name...
“It’s not my name. It’s my title – chief medical officer. I am, ah, a healer.”
He didn’t want to be too hopeful, but that had sounded more interested and respectful than her past few comments. Striking at this chance, he continued, “Aye, I heal the sick. My name is Carson.”
Car. Son. Interesting. Humans no longer use the Lantean names.
The chair’s sounds began to whine insistently. Carson shifted anxiously.
Do the sounds bother you?
“Yes. Are you trying to intimidate me?”
I can distract you from that.
A new sound began to fill his ears – that of the most dreaded song! Carson covered his ears, but it still echoed around his skull. He scowled. “Not to anger ye, but I really don’t like that song.”
Why not? I like it.
“Well, I don’t.”
And your point is?
Carson sighed. “It’s a song about ninety-nine red balloons. It annoys me.”
It’s not about balloons! she chided, It’s about war.
“So people tell me.”
The song died, leaving those much more worrying sounds – but right now, Carson would take those over the song-of-doom any day. He stretched out tentatively into the chair’s systems and found the source of the sounds. Too much power being diverted from the generators. He closed his eyes and willed the diversion to cease. Silence reigned at last, and he dared to hope that he had rid himself of the voice.
No such luck.
You’re getting the hang of this, she noted, impressed.
“Ye’ll be sure to love Major Sheppard then. He’s a natural.”
I’ve seen him. You have as much potential as he does.
“Can I go now?” He tried not to sound too panicked.
A pause or two. Then the chair retracted, dimming away into darkness. Carson stood up, rubbing his back, pensive. He knew he should tell the science department immediately, but what if this entity didn’t want that? She could lock him in his bathroom for eternity! With cold showers all day long!
And no way was he going to admit to sitting on the chair without being forced.
He had standards, after all.
The entity of Atlantis floated her awareness near the human named Carson for much of the day, intrigued. Now that she had focused more attention on his mind, she saw that he was a healer, a gentle soul with nerves of steel, when it came to the crunch. He had made no move to reveal her existence to anyone, and had stopped jumping every time she helpfully lit the corridors for him. She would have smiled if she had a body, because he was singing that song under his breath.
At last, someone to talk to! she exulted, Someone who knows nothing of cold technical details, who will speak to me as a human!
“Rodney, can I have a word?”
The head of the science department looked up from his newly appropriated lab bench and frowned heavily at his visitor. “I don’t need any more bandaids.”
Carson glanced at the colourful bandaids that Rodney already sported. “It’s not about that. I was wondering... if it was possible that Atlantis was, in effect, an entity capable of thought.”
“I hope the windows haven’t started talking to you,” Rodney replied blandly. “You might want to get that checked out.”
Good Lord, did everyone know he had been hearing voices? Carson fought the urge to scowl like a child. “Theoretically speaking, Rodney.”
“The Ancients figured out how to ascend to a higher plane of existence. I’m sure artificial intelligence was just a ripple in the vast pond of intellect to them. But if you’re asking for proof of the city having thoughts, I haven’t found anything conclusive.”
“Thanks...” Carson sighed and left.
The sky was black as ink when Carson Beckett woke in the middle of the night. He blinked the crust of sleep from his eyes and tried to figure out why he wasn’t blissfully unconscious. The sound of the shower alerted him to something out of place – it was squirting erratically. And then he noticed the room – it was absolutely freezing. Sliding out of bed, he made his way to watch his laptop. Instantly, the shower fell quiet and he stopped shivering.
“Alright, lass, ye’ve woken me up,” he growled.
Good. I need your help.
Resigned, Carson rubbed his eyes. “Of course ye do.”
Some of my systems are failing...because they are still submerged, I cannot fix them by myself. If I do not repair them this instant, the city’s failsafe could crash.
“And that would mean...?”
The city would sink. There would be no time for escape.
So that was why, ten minutes later, he was contemplating a vertical tunnel of water that lead down into a submerged control room. Carson kicked off his shoes, running over her instructions in his head. They seemed simple enough. Find the lever, pull the lever, water gets flushed out. And then sweet, merciful sleep would be his.
“Why am I even doing this?” he muttered. “Bloody insanity!”
He drew in a long, deep breath. After a few seconds, he exhaled slowly. No need to rush any of this. He was probably still going to end up with hypothermia, but he at least wanted to make sure he could hold his breath for as long as possible. Several minutes passed by before enough courage could be screwed up for the task. Carson snapped his arms to his sides and pin-dropped down into the darkness.
The water was cold enough to paralyse, and the black soulless water seemed to stretch on forever, confusing his senses. Then lights weakly pushed through in lazy air bubbles, and the water warmed against his skin. Grateful for the assistance, Carson found the strength to swim sluggishly to the control panel he’d been told about.
It wasn’t hard to find, and even though the lever wasn’t marked, it was right where Atlantis had said it would be. Carson tugged on it, but it snapped right back into position when he pulled away. He stared at it, tried again. Damn it! Aware of his lungs starting to burn, he kicked quickly away and managed to propel himself up to break the surface. He drew in a large, greedy breath of air, weakly pulling himself up to the side.
His legs were shaky as he walked to the nearest console. Carson punched a few keys to make his presence known and rasped, “The lever didn’t stay where it should have. I’d have ta hold it down and I don’t think I can keep underwater for that long.”
You have to try.
“I’m not the man for this. I can’t do it.”
Carson. I have seen your mind. You have the hands of a healer, but the heart of a fearless leader. You cannot let your friends be in danger! I have no one else to turn to, no one else who would listen.
“I’m scared, love.”
And you think I’m not?
“Don’t hold yer breath for a miracle.”
I recommend that you, however, do hold a breath.
Carson shook his head, smiling humourlessly. But his fear was rapidly turning into resolve. Stilling his breaths again, he plunged into the water and made for the lever. He clasped both hands around it and pulled hard. A vague clunking sound coursed through the water. Then water brushed over his face like a strong breeze, swirling around the control room. His lungs protested very shortly after this, but he had to keep pulling.
Closing his eyes, he forced his arms to keep working hard. His hands trembled as his throat constricted. It was taking too long. He couldn’t do it. No, he had to do it.
Carson was still clenching the lever as he passed out into a watery oblivion.
Pain is a good thing. A good sign.
It means you’re alive.
Carson became aware that he was almost kissing the sodden floor, lying on his stomach. At first he was confused. This wasn’t the usual place he liked to hang his head at night. Blinking, he surveyed the floor for some clues. And then he scrambled to his feet in a panic, racing to the vertical tunnel and finding a ladder. He sprung up the ladder and hurtled over to the console. He demanded, “Did I do it?”
Yes. Thank you. I am glad you are alright.
“I’m glad too. That was a wee bit close for my liking.”
A hot blast of air coursed down from the ceiling, until he was dried from head to toe. Carson leant against the wall, taking deep breaths. His ribs hurt, his throat hurt, but he was alive. And the city hadn’t sunk. He knew he should inform someone, but who would believe him?
And he was so tired...
The sun rose and threw promising rays of warmth over the city of Atlantis. All around, people who hailed from Earth were waking and strolling cheerfully down to the mess hall for conversation and a hot cup of coffee or tea. Athosian children were running underfoot, somehow avoiding colliding with adults of both cultures. A handy trick, perfect for keeping out of trouble.
But one inhabitant of Atlantis was not joining them. Striding purposefully, Carson Beckett made his way to the chair room, straightening his jacket. If he hadn’t woken with a mild headache, he might have put the night before down to some bizarre dream. A hot shower had started as he rose from bed, an invitation for something more. So here he was, visiting the entity whose invitations were very hard to ignore.
“Good morning, lass,” he greeted and settled down into the chair.
Good morning, Carson. Are you feeling alright?
“I feel...perfect. Ye wanted to see me?”
Her voice sounded unusually shy. I know we did not begin our relationship on the best footing, but last night I discovered...I like you.
If he didn’t know any better, he’d say the chair was coming on to him. Carson thought about this for a moment. Well, he did know better. He’d started feeling more of her mind, just as he was sure she felt his. She was lonely. She trusted only one person – and he was it. “Friends, then?”
I rephrase. I really like you. Really, really like you.
“I’ll need to...think about it.”
Is it because you can’t see me? she asked flatly.
Carson found himself sweating nervously. “No – no! God, no. We just met. But I’ll think about it. And I won’t tell a soul about ye in the mean time.”
Good. I like having you to myself.
Smiling uncomfortably to this, Carson scooted out of the chair and went off to eat breakfast. He sung under his breath, “Ninety-nine red balloons go by...”
The entity of Atlantis called up the song and played it over a few times. She liked it. Seeing the name of the artist who sang it, she was delighted to find a name that any Lantean would have borne. A good name. Maybe Carson wanted her to have a name. Like a normal human.
Nena. I will be called Nena.