So I Married A Chair
Story 10 A Less-Than-Awesome Time Part 1
2005-2008 - this chapter was the first to be written in 2008
The corridor stretched into a shimmering distance, filled with the constant dribbling of water worming its way from cracks in the walls to pool around her ankles. Warily keeping her strides short, and her knees bent to lower her centre of gravity, Teyla Emmagan pressed on through the water, avoiding any glimpses of her wavering reflection. When the corridor began to narrow, she let one hand trail along the slimy wall, as if trying to grasp the meaning why she had been drawn here.
She had passed many doorways, but none enticed her, save for the one that seemed to sing out from the forgotten subterranean levels that held together the entire city in their anonymity. The air stirred uneasily before her, passing over her bare arms but leaving no goose bumps. The water thickened, and its turbidity worsened. Each step was taken by dragging her feet through rough silt that led a grudging path to the door.
Teyla at last stood before it, straightening her posture so that she faced it with the outward courage expected of a leader – the brief pang of what she had lost by parting from her people was dealt with quickly, shuffled into the recesses of her mind occupied with unwanted emotions. But harder to quiet was the cold stone that grew in her stomach, throwing out frigid lines up into her chest, until her heart constricted.
“Wraith!” she breathed, unsettled.
It was a feeling she knew so well, one that had overwhelmed her with more frequency, until some nights it was like a crescendo howling in her ears. Every time she awoke, she would call out her father’s name, momentarily transported to the first time the feeling had seized her. Sometimes she could associate the feeling with the impending arrival of Wraith, but she often tried to put it down to general paranoia. Déjà vu. But she was delaying action with her wandering thoughts, a lapse in judgment that she would never have made on Athos.
Teyla touched the glowing panel beside the door, eyes fortified for any sight. Though she had prepared herself, it was not enough. Briefly, she was sure she glimpsed another Atlantean chair further beyond the door. But that was not important. Freed from the room, the Wraith hissed across its tongue and advanced, even as she backpedaled. Panic now escaped from its prison in Teyla’s mind.
She turned and bolted.
This time the water let her pass through it easily, lapping violently at her boots, echoing behind her from the Wraith’s own footfalls. Teyla threw herself in a hard right at the first intersection she came upon, and flattened herself against the wall. Silence descended on the corridor, too loud against her ears. The cold feeling in her chest began to squeeze tightly.
Teyla turned to look down the new passageway, and felt her entire being freeze. Another Wraith advanced on her now, but the shadows parted to reveal its face.
The Wraith had her face.
As Teyla woke from her nightmare, other parts of Atlantis were waking. Rodney McKay lifted his throbbing cheek from his laptop keyboard and groggily fumbled for the coffee mug balanced on the edge of his desk. His fingers twitched uncontrollably, and he felt the mug slip off the desk. Wincing, he waited for the crash.
Okay, not exactly what he was expecting to hear. Maybe it was some sort of audio time travel, induced by massive amounts of hyperactivity mixed with Ancient technology. That could be it. Even Superman couldn’t do that! The logic of this sunk in after a second or two.
“I fell asleep,” the scientist said, scandalized. “How could I fall asleep! Zelenka is asleep, so I can’t be asleep!”
There it was again, but sounding more exasperated. More…broguish.
“Broguish isn’t a word,” Rodney rejoined.
Carson’s voice washed over him. “No, it’s not. But a bit of sleep can do ye a lot of good, especially now. I have enough patients suffering nervous breakdowns without ye adding to it.”
The scientist blinked as his vision came into focus. Scowling, he reached out and snatched the mug from his friend’s hands, setting it far away from his laptop in revenge for its betrayal. Rodney surveyed the CMO for a moment, and felt somewhat smug that even the king of Atlantis could look disheveled at the thought of impending doom. Either a hair gel shortage had finally occurred (how that stuff could outlast coffee was beyond Rodney, the rate personnel seemed to use it), or Carson had forgotten to groom himself for the past couple of days.
“I suppose I could sleep with all my free time,” Rodney responded bluntly. “Maybe I should let your mice work this out. I’m sure they would know what to do.”
The doctor shook his head. “Please, Rodney. This is important. I didn’t want to wake Nena, but jus’ a few minutes ago I felt…a Wraith presence.”
“Aye, I wouldn’t have troubled ye, but some of my systems are not responding. And not jus’ that. The Wraith…got into those systems.”
Now Rodney was all ears. His brow was troubled at this particular news. He probably relied too much on the intel that Nena and Carson gave him, but it did put him several steps ahead of the other scientists. The thought of knowing only as much as Zelenka about what was happening in the city was even more troubling.
“Is there anything you can still do?” Rodney remarked, disgruntled. “Apart from blocking my light, anyway. Would you mind moving to the left a bit?”
Carson’s eyebrows raised a little, but he didn’t move. A glowing light suddenly emerged from a patch of the desk next to Rodney’s laptop. Rodney’s scowl returned. After a minute of his fingers flying over the keys of his laptop, he tapped soundly twice, and scooted back to show Beckett, even though it occurred to him as he did so that his friend probably didn’t even need to see the screen.
The king of Atlantis was frowning at the screen, as though not actually seeing it. “The life signs detector isn’t damaged. I don’t understand.”
“Maybe you need some stimulants,” Rodney suggested gruffly.
Carson smiled. “No, I’ll get by fine on the computer systems…and a wee bit of luck.”
His form shimmered out. Rodney shouted, “You’re not Irish, you know!”
Major Sheppard ignored the strange looks he got as he sauntered towards the Puddlejumper bay, addressing thin air. Sure enough, as he rounded one corner, Dr Beckett appeared – looking more than a little frazzled as he pulled a comb through his hair. John dug into his pocket and produced a small tub of hair gel, sympathetically handing it over.
“You running solo?” Sheppard asked, concerned. “Where’s the missus?”
Carson’s lips thinned. “I told her to take some rest. My lass is spending a lot of her energy on our daughter.”
They fell into step along the passageway, even as it opened out into the bay. Carson noticed Teyla waiting beside one Puddlejumper, so slowed his pace a little. Sensing this, the Major followed suit and spoke out of the corner of his mouth, “Take it easy, Carson. We won’t be gone that long – just enough to check out the armada and shake a few hands.”
“I’m not certain Atlantis is safe now,” Beckett blurted quickly.
John nodded sharply. “As I said, we won’t be gone long. If there’s any trouble, get Ford to help you out. He’ll cover for you.”
They conversation ended abruptly as they reached Teyla, whose face reflected how troubled everyone was feeling at the moment. She registered their arrival politely. “Dr Beckett, you look as though you share my anxiety.”
“Yours doesn’t show, love,” Carson returned warmly.
He stepped back a little, watching as Teyla and John boarded the Puddlejumper. Preparing to leave, Carson stopped short as a wave of cold air drifted over him. He stiffened, stretching out with the systems. He could feel it again, the Wraith was there in the room! Uneasily, Carson scanned the other Puddlejumper bays but found nothing. He looked back to John, but the Major was clearly intent on floating down to the gateroom.
As the sound of the engines faded away, the king of Atlantis kept very still. He had stayed that way for five minutes before Nena appeared at his side. She murmured, “I feel it also.”
“What are ye doing out here?” Carson demanded.
“I’m saying goodbye,” Nena explained softly. “For a little while. In a few minutes, I’m shutting down my hologram image – it’s drawing too much power, especially now that I can touch all material objects. I need to focus on helping you.”
Anxiety thrummed through her words, and it felt to Carson as though there was more to it than the approaching hive ships. He looked to her trembling face and realized. Reaching over to brush her chin with his fingers, he promised, “I won’t love ye any less. I don’t care if yer a chair, I fell in love with ye before I could see ye.”
Her features brightened and she curled her fingers around his hand, lifting it to her lips where she dropped a kiss on his palm. After she had disappeared from his touch, Carson sighed and closed his eyes. He too disappeared, but off in the direction of the conference room.
“I don’t see the point in sending my own message,” Rodney explained. “If they truly valued my input, they will take the effort to come here and rescue my brilliant mind. Alright, Carson, how’s that?”
Seating on the other side of the desk in Rodney’s lab, Beckett frowned. “It’s a dangerous move, lad.”
“Bad dangerous, or brilliant dangerous?”
“We’ll see, won’t we?”
Rodney stabbed victoriously at his laptop and shouted in triumph. The glowing token on his screen shifted across several octagonal shapes, becoming a deep red when it had stopped moving. Carson muttered something in Gaelic under his breath and narrowed his eyes. Another glowing spectre appeared on Rodney’s screen, stopping beside the red octagon. It glowed blue, until the existing red shape exploded into several small pieces.
“Stop that!” Rodney howled. “That’s cheating!”
“I told ye this was more difficult than Solitaire.”
The door to the lab slid open, admitting Aiden Ford who wore an exited grin on his face, and a camera tripod down his front. He hurried over to them and set up the camera up so fast that Rodney didn’t have time to voice an objection. Ford gestured energetically. “Come on, guys, haven’t you got something to say to the people back home?”
“They already know how much they need me,” Rodney pointed out, eyes trained on the screen as he tried to figure out how Carson beat him at the Ancient game.
Ford looked to the CMO. “Doc? You have some pretty good stuff to put on camera.”
“Nothing that would keep people from giving me some strange looks, don’t ye think?”
“I could record one for you,” Ford began, grin becoming slowly devious. “Sort of like…‘and Dr Beckett wants it put on record that he is no longer single, having settled down with a chair.’”
“Don’t ye bloody dare!”
“Well, come on. There must be someone you want to tell you’re alive.”
Carson considered this, and sighed. “My mother.”
“That works for me!” Aiden agreed.
Rodney poorly disguised his snort with a quick cough into his empty coffee mug. No one was particularly fooled by this, but it made for a nice distraction for Rodney, from thoughts of having his life sucked out of his chest. Paling as that thought resurfaced, drowning out any other snide comments for the time being, the scientists dove behind the lab bench and fiddled.
Carson pulled over a stool in front of the camera and perched on it nervously. He wished Nena was able to materialize, to lay her hands on his shoulders and sooth away his troubles. Already his eyes felt moist, and his throat started to constrict. What if the Wraith destroyed the city, his body, and this was his last message home? But what if he survived, and returned home to try to explain who exactly he was married to?
“What shall I say?” he asked softly.
Aiden looked over the camera at him. “You could start by saying you miss her. Or what an awesome time you’re having here.”
“Awesome?” Carson echoed uncertainly. “How is any of this awesome? Son, I don’t suppose ye’ve noticed that very shortly we’ll all be having a less-than-awesome time…and I don’t want to lie to my mother, but I don’t want to worry her either. She can’t handle this sort of thing…”
He stopped, unable to say anything more. A hot trickle from the corner of one eye made its way down his face. Carson pressed his hand to his cheek and looked at the floor. Two eyes appeared behind the bench as Rodney viewed the scene incredulously. Ford rolled his own eyes. “Dude. Can you stop complaining? Do you know how lucky you are that you have Nena?”
“Yes, I’ll bet the only girl you’ve kissed is your cousin,” Rodney shot at Ford, smiling lecherously.
“Shut up, McKay. I bet you’ve only ever kissed your reflection.”
Rodney stood up suddenly, looking furiously smug. “No, as a matter of fact I kissed a girl in Algebra Club one time. I got mono for my efforts, but it’s more than you’ve ever got, I’ll bet.”
“Yeah, that’s probably true,” Ford responded calmly. “All I got at school was a kiss. I didn’t have to come down with mono to get it.”
Carson cleared his throat loudly, swallowing the lump that had taken up residence there. Thankfully, this broke up the squabble quickly heating up, and Ford adjusted the camera unnecessarily. Rodney sneered one last time before dropping out of sight again. After a few more seconds in which no one was motivated to say anything, Aiden supplied, “On the count of three, then?”
“Aye, that sounds fine,” Carson assented, trying to compose himself.
Ford then flicked three of his fingers silently towards his victim. Facing down the camera was a lot harder than a Wraith, Carson reflected as he watched the blinking red light. But he thought of the hidden rooms, where his wife waited, watching over their child. A warmth pooled in his stomach. He smiled.
“Hullo, Mum. A lot has changed since we last spoke, a lot more than yer petunias – which I trust are blooming by now. I’ve met a lass, you’ll be pleased to know, and it’s…it’s serious. I hope one day I can bring her home to ye, but it’s complicated. When I do come back, I hope I’ll find ye keeping up with yer walks and…I know I don’t say it enough but…I…love you.”
As Carson hid his face in his hands, Rodney appeared again and said in disgust, “How can you get a girl without mono if you’re crying all the time? It’s pathetic.”
“Fancy another game?” Carson turned to threaten him.
Rodney paled even further.
Being trapped in place while the agonizing waves of coldness flooded her senses was almost too much for Teyla. But even though it bothered her greatly, she could not turn her back on Orin and his family. They had given their word. Watching the beams of light trailing around below Wraith darts sickened her even further, and she had to turn away. If she could not master her fear, then she had to distract herself.
“There is something you still refuse to tell me,” Teyla said seriously. “I had discussed this with Lieutenant Ford, but now I find even he has closed himself to me. Major, how am I part of your team if you do not trust me?”
John shifted. “I trust you, Teyla, but it’s not my secret to tell.”
Their eyes met, and he saw the steely strength that he admired about her, as well as the pained reluctance to admit that it cost her something to be kept in the dark. Sheppard relented, conceding, “I didn’t mean for it to happen this way. I trust you Teyla, but I wasn’t even supposed to find out. But you know, I’m glad I did. It’s to do with Carson.”
“I thought as much.”
“There’s a second chair on Atlantis,” John continued, slowly. “It’s the entity of city, and it’s a she. Apart from being able to control the other chair, she takes care of all the systems. A bit like an Ancient, only…actually useful.”
Teyla managed to smile at that. “I see. What does this have to do with Carson?”
“He’s kind of…married to her.”
John winced a little as he said it, and felt a swelling of even more sympathy for the CMO. It would have been terrible for Carson before he could talk to people about his situation. He watched Teyla’s expression carefully. The Athosian let out a breath. “This is hard to believe, but I have noticed such strange behaviour that it could only be something like that. Atlantis has felt…alive, catering more to our needs. The ancestors would have wanted it to be more difficult for others to occupy their city.”
“You can imagine how hard it’s been on Carson…” John muttered.
“And you, for keeping his confidence. I am not angry, and now I will trust you with my own words.”
Startled, Major Sheppard also turned away from the front window the ‘Jumper. He settled easily against the chair, trying to open up his body language for her. Teyla confided, “I have been experiencing…nightmares. I…am often a Wraith, but sometimes I find myself opening the door to a room. I have never seen this place on Atlantis, but I know it is part of the city. I see a control chair, and I am overcome with the feeling that I must destroy it. But I do not know why.”
The second chair, John thought.
“And then I feel it. It is a feeling I always get when the Wraith are near. I thought perhaps it was only my fear, but lately I have thought…that I might be able to sense the Wraith, and what they want.”
Sheppard hesitated. “What do they want?”
“They want…” Teyla looked away. “They want to destroy more than your people. There is something in Atlantis that they will take great pleasure in destroying. And I’m sure that the only way for us to know what it is, is to find the room from my dreams.”
Lying back in the chair that held the entity of Atlantis, Carson gently stroked his fingers down the arm rests. The chair hummed beneath him in response, pulsing with warmth. He turned his head to lay a gentle kiss on the side of the chair. Nena’s relief washed over him.
“I told ye it doesn’t matter to me,” Carson assured. “Whatever shape ye are, I’ll love ye still, my dear.”
His radio bit into the moment, crackling anxiously. After a few moments, the distortion cleared enough for Aiden Ford’s voice to come through. “Doc. We’ve got a problem.”
“What is it, Lieutenant? I’m…busy.”
Or you’re about to be very busy soon, you naughty boy.
Nena! Can’t ye see I’m talking to someone?
Don’t keep me waiting.
“There’s something going on,” Ford ploughed on. “Zelenka just hurried in with Bates. They’re both in Weir’s office. And I thought I heard them say something about…power being drained in that area.”
Carson’s eyes widened. Within an instant, he found himself shimmering into being just behind Ford up in the control room. Seeing the same scene, he spoke just loud enough for Aiden to hear. “Oh Lord. I need your help, son.”
Aiden jumped about an inch. He turned his head back a little. “Can you never do that again? Please? And hey, I swore to the Major that I’d help you out however I could. But it’s gotta be something good, if we’re going to shake off Bates. He can smell a rat from millions of light years away.”
“An idea is coming to me,” Beckett murmured.
This was not usually the sort of argument that presented itself to Doctor Weir, so naturally it snatched her attention almost immediately. Looking past Zelenka and Bates, she found Lieutenant Ford hurrying inside. Or, she thought it must be him. From head to toe, he was absolutely drenched in a murky sludge. Some of the muck went flying onto the windows of her office as Ford executed a sloppy wave, or perhaps a salute, at them.
“Jezis…” Zelenka breathed. “What is the smell?”
Then the staggering scent reached Elizabeth’s nose. Her lips floundered uselessly for a moment, torn between supplying her with odorless air and saying something. The latter won. She commanded, “What is going on?”
“Slight sewage problem,” Ford reported.
“Slight, Lieutenant?” Bates repeated dubiously.
Aiden’s face might have sported a grin at this, but it was lost under the slime of…excrement, apparently. His torso writhed for a moment, until he produced one of the electronic tablets favoured by the Ancients for carrying information. He offered it at Weir, who pursed her lips. Ford laughed nervously and wiped a hand over the smeared surface. Some of the screen appeared, displaying schematics for some lower parts of the city.
“I was scouting on Major Sheppard’s orders,” he explained. “Some of the lower levels are still a bit dodgy from the storm. Anyway, the water is like knee deep and gets a bit dirty. I didn’t think much of it, but then this tidal wave of…of…”
He gestured at himself. Zelenka muttered Czech exclamations under his breath. Ford nodded at him and continued, “You get the gist. So as soon as I got out of there, the whole area locked down. I don’t think I’ll be heading out that way again.”
Weir was frowning now. The schematics looked disturbingly alike the ones she had just pulled up on her PDA on the behest of Sergeant Bates. She looked up at Zelenka. “Is it possible the city is trying to protect that area?”
“It’s Atlantis.” Radek shrugged. “Anything is possible.”
Aiden become distinctly aware of a hard stare coming from Bates’ direction. He glanced out of the corner of his eye, seeing the classic suspicious Bates expression. The Sergeant opened his mouth to probe further, but his nostrils flared. He thought better of it. Instead, Bates addressed Weir. “There’s got to be another way in. Even if I have to take some C4 down with me.”
“Excuse me, I know this might some dumb,” Ford interjected, “but aren’t there ventilation shafts? Or something?”
It was interesting to see the cogs working behind their three faces, Ford noted. He waved some more slop towards them, and left the office. On his way, he passed the grim-faced Dr Beckett and shot just audibly, “You’re on, doc.”
“Can you quit with the loud breathing, doctor?” Bates snapped, wincing as his hands slapped on a particularly rough set of rungs.
Further up the ladder, taking the rungs slower, Zelenka grumbled something that was definitely not English, then added, “If you stop talking.”
“How much further until we find the crawlway we’re looking for?”
“You should see now.”
Somewhat relieved, Sergeant Bates eased himself into the much smaller space and scuttled forward on his hands and knees. The banging and scraping sounds behind him told him that the scientist was trying his best to keep up. But the next bang was especially loud and sounded almost ominous. Bates paused. “What was that?”
“Spit it out.”
“A door or something, sealed us in. I can’t get it to open.”
Then Bates heard it. A distant repetitious clanging, becoming steadily louder, sending stronger vibrations through his fingers and knees. It was coming straight for them. And then he saw it. All the panels down his line of vision were falling away, becoming sloped and leading deep into the city. Bates shouted, “You might want to hold onto something!”
Both scientist and sergeant began sliding down the crawlway. Radek moaned something that sounded like a prayer. As they continued to accelerate, Bates could have sworn he heard twin sets of maniacal laughter…