So I Married A Chair
Story 9 - Infestation
The walls of Atlantis thrummed with nervous energy, vibrating dimly through the consciousness of every expedition member, although they would blame it on their own fears. John Sheppard knew better, walking through the corridors and resting his hands on each door frame in a bid to reassure the city’s entity and her consort. This sort of thing didn’t last long – there were now rumours circulating that John liked to stroke inanimate objects in a way bordering on obscene.
“What did you expect?” Rodney’s voice drifted from underneath a console, knees knocking together absently as he worked. “Leave the stroking to Carson.”
Sheppard hooked his thumbs into his belt, frowning out at the dimming sunset. There were too few sunsets between this one and the arrival of the hive ships. Already he had handed out more patrol shifts than usual in a bid to subdue the rising panic within his troops. Even those he had thought impervious to such anxiety, such as Bates, were eagerly snapping up the patrols and refusing to stand down for sleep. Sleep. Now that was something no one did right now. John cleared his throat. “Shouldn’t you get some shut eye, McKay?”
One incredulous eye appeared. “You are kidding. Or maybe you’re not. But someone has to do this.”
“Zelenka…” began John and quickly realized his mistake.
Rodney shot out from under the console and waved his PDA insistently, demanding, “And how would that vampire be able to ask Atlantis itself where something was wrong? You think I do this for kicks? You think I wouldn’t like to just shut my eyes for a few seconds? I’m the only scientist who can talk to Nena – ”
“Whoa, whoa, easy there. Maybe you should lay off the stimulants.”
“Maybe, perhaps, suggest that after two weeks, ok, Major?”
This was definitely not the best time to be hanging around Atlantis’ most notorious scientist, especially as hopped up as Rodney was right now. Shrugging in defeat, John slumped off towards the door, but turned. “Would it kill you to call me John?”
“I’ll just add it to my ‘to do’ list,” Rodney said dryly, “John.”
As he beat a hasty retreat, Major Sheppard figured it was probably a good thing the coffee had already run out. He skidded on his boots as he nearly ran into someone pacing along the corridor. About to mutter an apology, he stopped and his eyes widened. Nena was there, clasping her swollen belly and frowning deeply. John shot a few quick glances around to make sure no one was watching.
“Um…Nena?” he asked, concerned.
The chair and entity of Atlantis blinked a few times. “John. I don’t suppose you’ve seen my husband.”
“Erm, not for a few days at least.”
“Me too,” she announced.
This was news to John, who assumed that every night when most lights were dimmed as those of the expedition pretended to go to sleep that Carson vanished off to his miniature city to spend a good time with his missus. He raised his eyebrows. “Aren’t you supposed to have control of all the sensors, or something?”
Nena scrunched up her face. “Do not tell Rodney, but I used to. Since you three flew to protect the city, something has been interfering with my systems. Carson was going to take care of it.”
“I’m sure he’s had a few people in the infirmary…” John supplied, but the excuse sounded hollow to himself, so he finished lamely, “People have been dropping like flies under the stress.”
Nena wrung her hands and explained a little anxiously, “I know he hasn’t slept at all…the last position I had of him before my systems were corrupted was somewhere near one of your generators.”
That was all he needed to hear. John’s hand snapped immediately down to his pistol and he hurried away to the nearest transporter. He knew he’d hear from Bates about it later for not turning up to some meeting to decide on a list of possible Alpha sites, but he figured one half of the power of Atlantis was more important. And besides, Nena would kill him if he didn’t find Carson. Rodney had taken great pleasure in explaining that it would be all too easy for an entity to electrocute any person in any given corridor. Mrs Beckett had looked suspiciously delighted.
Perhaps Rodney and Nena should never have met. It was…scary, to say the least.
“Sir, you’ll be late,” a voice called from behind him.
John spun around, fingers twitching on the trigger, but then his shoulders relaxed. “Ford. Get the word out to Bates that I’m very sorry but this couldn’t wait.”
“Are you going to explain any of this finally?” demanded Aiden, approaching with firm footfalls. “Atlantis’ military leader shouldn’t be skulking off in dark passages.”
“And neither should someone who is assigned to patrol the other side of the city at this exact moment.”
Something in John’s uneasy stance must have given him away. Ford narrowed his eyes. “You’re on a mission. Look, sir, I’m on your team. If there’s anything you need to get done, I can help you do it. I don’t care if it makes no sense to me, although an explanation would be damn nice.”
“All in good time, Ford,” muttered John. “Keep it quiet and follow me.”
Carson Beckett was not having a good week. His head throbbed something fierce and he hadn’t been within fifty metres of any painkillers for days. Crouched beside a scorched console and fumbling over what little ammunition he had left, he cursed his foolish confidence that had landed him in this fine mess in the first place. It should have been a routine hunt for the flaw in the systems, but somehow he’d ended up stranded in a wing of the city that stank with rotting sea life – also conveniently a part of Atlantis that had randomly decided that wouldn’t connect him up to his wife. So instead of teleporting to whichever place he felt like, he was stuck and cornered in some disused laboratory, waiting for his prey, or rather predator, to appear.
“I can smell your fear,” taunted the Wraith in a hiss that echoed along the empty corridor outside.
Carson’s heart sped up painfully and he forced himself to draw a few deep breaths. The thing about flaws in the system were that they generally originated from something nasty, such as a Wraith that had managed to beam into the city just as its dart had been destroyed. Ten thousand years ago, such a grave error would never have occurred, but Atlantis was running itself ragged with the faint shield that Carson had unwisely decided to put in place. Obviously, said shield had thoughtfully collapsed without warning.
“Should have waited for a bloody ZPM, that’s what,” he growled under his breath. “Now here ye are with a failing firewall…should have listened to yer mother, never left home…talking to yerself, lad, gone a bit peculiar now?”
When was the last time he ate or slept, anyway? The faint wisps of cloth against panels snapped his head back up from his chest, where it had been threatening to settle and send him into dream land. Carson barreled to his feet and started firing steadily as the Wraith swept across the laboratory, one arm extended in a claw-like vice.
The Wraith continued forward, unperturbed by the bullets slamming into it and spitting, “Why bother, consort? Your child is as good as dead, today or the near future – peacefully or in flames, it is your choice, of course. Your powers to resist viruses are weakening. Soon I will overpower you!”
“And soon,” drawled someone from the door way, “I will give you a name that you can boast about all day long to the walls of the brig.”
“He’s not kidding you know,” a younger voice chipped in.
Carson wasn’t sure he’d ever be this pleased to see John and Ford again. He slumped against the wall, eyes rolling into the back of his head, but he wasn’t granted the bliss of passing out. Focusing on the vague images flickering in front of his eyes, he barely registered the stun blast that took out the Wraith. Mumbling just audibly, he promised, “I’ll get my lass to show ye all the games in the city computers. They’re good games, I wouldnae lie.”
“Sounds good to me,” John agreed. “Ford, does this one look like a Bob to you?”
Aiden shrugged. “Your call, sir.”
“But…Bob, is it the right name? I wouldn’t want him to be embarrassed at all.”
“Bob is fine enough!” Carson exploded, staggering to his feet.
Lurching over to rest his weight over the soldiers’ shoulders, he added a moan of pain just to remind them of the state he was in. John got the hint and tapped his radio, calling a security detail to come pick up the victim of a new name. He then commanded that Ford take Carson back to his quarters, preferably keeping out of sight, and not a word on what had happened.
Aiden hesitated. “Sir…”
“I’ll tell ye everythin’ if ye get me there in one piece,” Carson offered, too exhausted to think about any consequences.
Just as Ford was helping him stumble off, John held up a hand. “Wait, are you saying, Carson, that you came out here with just a pistol and your ammo lasted for four days?”
The doctor nodded tiredly.
“Now that’s impressive,” Ford muttered.
Lying flat on his back on blessed soft cushions, Carson supposed he’d better break his silence so sent the better part of half an hour explaining everything to the young Lieutenant. There was a torturous pause as several emotions, mostly disbelief and amusement, crossed Aiden’s face. He shook his head in amazement. “Dude. That’s just…odd. Why couldn’t you just tell us?”
“It’s not something ye can jus’ announce over gelatin, son,” Carson pointed out stoutly.
“Sure, it’d be easy. ‘So I married a chair…’”
“Followed by an awkward silence, no doubt.”
“No way, doc!” Ford corrected earnestly. “We’re all be laughing our asses off.”
“Ye should consider yerself lucky that yer arse is still intact.”
“Just wait ‘til my next physical.”
Carson rolled his eyes and propped himself up against the wall to hold eye contact. At that moment, something very solid landed where his head had been resting. Nena threw her arms around his neck and began kissing him senseless. Ford cleared his throat a couple of times before the reunited couple had the grace to separate, both with their cheeks flaming.
Aiden frowned for a moment. "Hey, you look just like that healer ghost thing I saw...oh wait." He laughed. “Hey, don’t mind me. I’ll just let myself out. I won’t tell anybody about this – or the Major would probably drop me from the team or worse…put me on laundry duty!”
“His heart is in the right place,” Nena commented once he’d left.
Carson nodded, feeling the weight on his chest lessen just a little, eased by just one more person discovering his secret. He rubbed his eyes and gave a few short comments about the failing state of the sensing systems. He paused, speaking softly, “Something is very wrong here, love. There’s a dark presence in the city, it’s been there all along – I jus’ didnae see it. There’s another Wraith, or a spy, somewhere here.”
Nena closed her eyes. “I know. But please, sleep, even if just tonight. I’ve missed you.”
Countless corridors away from that very place, Teyla Emmagan woke in a sweat, dreams disturbed with images of Wraith and a child floating in twilight…