So I Dated A Chair
Story 3 - Suspicious Minds
Dating etiquette in the Milky Way galaxy dictates that if one party promises to call the next day, they do not have to follow through with this promise. Forcing the other party to wait needlessly, as it dawns on them that they will never get that phone call, is common practice. Humans of Earth are well versed in such a custom, but it might not occur to them that the rules of an entirely different galaxy are somewhat different.
This had occurred to Dr Carson Beckett no less than several thousand times over the past seven days, and was thus the reason why he'd cheerfully volunteered his services off-world. But not a single mission called for his assistance.
Staring at his malfunctioning shower one early morning, he realised that the situation was becoming dire. This called for drastic action. Ignoring his smoking laptop, Carson grabbed a pair of shorts, changed quickly and sped off in the direction of the nearest pier. As he drew up, puffing and panting, to the transporter, he noticed something peculiar. Two legs were writhing outside in the corridor, while frustrated voices bounced out from the transporter.
“You're doing it all wrong!” Rodney groused. “Put the crystals away before you hurt yourself.”
A few expletives in Czech answered this. Carson peered into the transporter and raised his eyebrows. Zelenka was lying on his back, attempting to slide underneath a crystal panel while Rodney stamped around him and fiddled with the crystals on top. Both scientists glanced up at him disinterestedly at first, then with stunned double takes.
“What'd I do?” Carson asked, knowing he'd regret it.
Zelenka coughed. “You are wearing...shorts.”
“Aye. I'm going swimming.”
“No, you're not,” Rodney interjected. “Access to the outside is kind of impossible right now.”
A sinking sensation manifested itself in Carson's stomach. “Since when?”
“All exterior doors locked five minutes ago,” Zelenka answered, adjusting his glasses so that his head could fit under the panel.
Sweat trickled down between Carson's shoulder blades. He uneasily rubbed a thumb over his chin. Very slowly, he raised his gaze up the transporter walls to where he knew the eyes of Atlantis were ever watchful. He could have sworn something twinkled mockingly at him. A great sense of doom pressed down on his shoulders. This was not good. Not good at all.
“Oh crap,” he whispered.
Rodney snorted. “'Oh crap' is correct. None of the transporters are working, which means I have to walk for thirty whole minutes to the mess hall. I won't make it that far without food! And to top off this lovely day that I am enjoying, my shower spat out sewage this morning.”
Good Lord. All this, just to get back at him?
Nena, to put it mildly, was furious. She had had such a lovely date with him, and they'd talked until the middle of the night. But for seven – whole – days! Not a peep! Not even an explanation! And so the great scheme of vengeance was born. At first, it was the little things. Someone's toilet might not flush. A window might get stuck. There might be more static electric shocks than usual. But as usual, humans proved ridiculously clueless as to her wrath.
The seventh day arrived. Her anger soared.
You will concede! she vowed darkly. And then we will have a very long, very painful discussion.
Nena's hologrammatic image paced in the secondary chair room, hands wringing, face glowering. What she wouldn't give to be able to smash her fists into the wall. Or against his chest, his warm, solid, inviting chest currently on display in the corridor outside his apartment...Nena stopped short and covered her mouth with a hand. That would not do.
I am ANGRY with him! ANGRY! ANGRY! VERY ANGRY. And I will FRY HIS BRAIN.
She considered this.
No...I know a fate worse than death.
“My door won't open.”
This sort of statement is one echoed throughout many galaxies, but none with consequences so desperate as this occasion. Radek Zelenka shifted his head to one side and took in the image of a condemned man in front of him. Five minutes ago, Carson had been disturbed, but at ease. Now he looked downright nervous.
“Maybe you should have thought of that before you stepped outside half-naked,” suggested Rodney.
Carson's eyebrows knitted in frustration. “It's not like a planned this, ye know. I jus' wanted a nice swim...”
“Ah, technically, Carson,” Radek piped up, “Dr Weir has yet to allow swimming. We don't know all the creatures that could be living around here.”
To this, Carson had but one thing to say.
Zelenka shut up immediately. His glasses slipped down his nose and he hurriedly pushed them up, glancing up at Rodney with wide, panicked eyes. If the hypochondriac who was responsible for his pay check ever found out the answer behind the disappearance of the coffee, there would be hell to pay. There might even be a demotion. To serving in the mess hall! Or, even worse, the biology department. Zelenka's shoulders shook slightly.
Rodney, thankfully, was busily peering along a hairline crack in the wall. “Interesting. Looks like a failsafe mechanism to work the transporter if the primary power source was cut.”
“My door. Will not. Open!” exclaimed the fuming CMO.
“So give it a smack,” Rodney griped, glaring at him.
“I already did!”
“Well that just proves that we're not dealing with the Bill Gates' software of the Pegasus Galaxy.”
“Ano,” agreed Zelenka. “Atlantis is more sensible. Like Linux. Much too sophisticated for smacking.”
Carson smacked a hand against the side of the transporter. The lights abruptly shot to life. He gave the scientists a perfect eyebrow-raise. “My door will not open. Which one of ye kind lads wants to help me with this?”
“Coffee,” squeaked Zelenka and quickly made his way down the corridor.
Rodney prodded the display screen on the back wall. “It's still not working.”
“What am I,” Carson said dryly, “a bloody miracle worker?”
Fifteen minutes later, the inhabitants of Atlantis began to notice large drops in room temperature. The walls whirred with the constant pouring of air through the ventilation shafts, in turn making the floors shake as icicles began to grow around the vents. Several computer terminals shorted out, screens burning from the exertion of the city's mad ice age. Carson Beckett certainly noticed how much colder it was.
Rubbing hands over the goose bumps that spread like a rash over his arms, he succumbed to violent shivers. Zelenka peered back at him. “Do you want my jacket?”
“No, not at all!” Carson replied, scandalised. “This is just a breeze where I come from.”
The Czech scientist held his hands up to pacify, then turned his attention back to the door. He let out a deep sigh, and his breath ghosted out in front of his face. He swiped a hand through the fog that formed and leaned forward, squinting his eyes as his glasses frosted. Zelenka grumbled a curse and took of the glasses. He held them up to the light, mouth opening in surprise as he studied the ice caking the lenses.
The sound system crackled painfully for a few seconds, before Elizabeth Weir’s voice filled the corridor, “I urge all of you to remain calm. We are working as fast as we can to restore all systems. If you are feeling at all unsure or concerned, find some other people to stay with.”
“You should help Rodney,” Carson found himself speaking slowly. “I think I should go to the infirmary.”
Zelenka nodded and scooted up from the floor. He shrugged apologetically, then pointed to his jacket again. While Carson's arms were intensely freckled with goose bumps, he didn't fancy travelling under the colours of the science department. He'd never hear the end of it. Besides, he'd faced worse back home! Hadn't he?
He had been drinking a case of beer at the time, perhaps...
Carson began jogging towards the infirmary – the long way. Yuck. Maybe all those stairs would help warm him up. Excellent plan. He'd almost made it to the first stairwell when the clunking noises started unnerving him. It had started maybe a minute since he'd heard the first one, bouncing down the corridor with finality in its echo. He kept jogging straight, eyes fixed ahead on the entrance to the stairs.
“I will NOT turn around,” he vowed.
Damned if he'd let that bloody chair get to him.
And then there was a triple thud, completely with suspicious crunching noises.
Carson whipped around and stared, agape, as doors he didn't even know existed appeared out of nowhere to seal off the corridor behind him. Watching as the Mexican wave of sliding doors approached him, he fought to keep the panic from bubbling up his thought. “Oh crap...this can't be good.”
Running was good. Yes. His feet ploughed along as though through concrete and the next loud thud told him his time was fast disappearing. Carson bent over and ran for his life.
His heart jumped all the way out of his ribcage. Panting, Carson stretched out his legs as far as he could and flew over the floor.
Almost to the stairs! They weren't so small and far away now. Relief was a luxury that was best sampled later, but he allowed one tiny victorious thought. His right foot went down harder than it shoulder have, rolling to one side. Carson yelped in alarm and began limp-running. Up ahead, part of the wall collapsed to give way to another mysteriously appearing door that slid out over the stairwell entrance like a second skin.
Oh. So not good.
His right ankle spasmed with a flame of pain and Carson gasped breathlessly. Not enough time! He flattened himself against the wall and hurled himself sideways across the finishing line, just as the door clamped shut behind him.
Carson lay on his stomach, contemplating the floor with his nose. Smooth and frigid. Smelt kind of metallic, with a hint of rubber-soled shoes. He wondered what it would taste like. His tongue was about a millimetre away from the floor when reason exploded behind one ear, sounding very much like Rodney McKay.
Are you CRAZY?
“I'm not sure,” he replied helplessly.
Tongue. Cold surface. Want me to draw a diagram?
“Ah. My tongue would be stuck.”
Not to mention you'd technically be licking Nena.
That didn't sound too bad actually.
You are a sick, sick man.
“I didn't say anything!” Carson protested wildly.
Whatever. Are you just going to lie here all day and wait for the city to have its wicked way with you?
Thank you. I do try.
“Get out of my head please.”
No. I think I'll stay. It's very roomy here.
“Yer trying to drive me mad!”
You did that all your own. NOW GET UP.
Carson leapt to his feet, gave the door behind him one last frightened glance and hobbled up the stairs.
“I had no idea it was casual Friday,” Dr Biro remarked in greeting.
Flushing all the way to the back of his neck, Carson mumbled an obscenity and dove for the nearest spare lab coat. He drew it around himself and grabbed a bandage to belt the coat closer around his waist. Glaring around at all the amused expressions pointed his way, daring them to make another single comment, Carson limped down between the rows of beds.
“Cases of hypothermia?” he barked at the nearest member of his staff.
“None reported yet. But we wouldn't be able to do much anyway – the city has been closed up into sections.”
A ball of ice embedded itself in Carson's throat, a symptom that had nothing to do with the temperature. Good Lord...this was a good deal more serious than he had imagined. Soon people would run out of their natural reserves of heat and, with no way to get warm, there could even be fatalities. How did he end up in this mess anyway?
You ignored Nena.
Aye, but there was a perfectly logical reason for that.
How can I count the ways? How about the fact that she's a...
“BLOODY CHAIR!” Carson finished out loud.
“Yes, Dr Beckett,” one of the younger doctors answered, terrified, and wheeled over a chair.
Carson stared at it uncomprehendingly. Then he announced, “Alright. Listen up. Several corridors around the infirmary are still open and there could be people nearby in need of some assistance. Some of ye should take a look around to make sure. Everyone should keep their radios on. We may need to talk some people through their own treatment.”
The crowd broke up immediately.
“Oh,” Carson added, as an afterthought, “can someone get all these chairs out of the infirmary?”
Watching the unfolding mayhem via the surveillance system, Nena had to admire her handiwork. Even if humans were quick to start slapping the walls and stomping on the floors, they were more amusing than irritating. And so far, there had been ten cases of tongues being frozen onto the walls alone, not counting consoles and that certain ceiling incident. Each time another fool was eager to taste the ice growing over the walls, Nena would call up her hologram in the secondary chair room and practice her maniacal laugh.
Too bad no one was around to shiver with fear at the sound!
Carson kept surprising her, but she supposed she should have known he would be keen to get to the infirmary to help people. He was caring, gentle, nice...
No! Not nice. Very, very not-nice. How dare he leave me hanging!
Maybe he was being nice. Maybe he couldn't figure out a way to tell her it wasn't going to work. Nena's thoughts screeched to a halt at that one – even letting the cooling program slip for just a second. What if he was just trying to let her down gently?
A drip of water snaked down the windows of the gateroom. Frowning at it, Nena tried to focus her thoughts more logically, but she felt as though her core was burning. Something inside was snapped, broken. Condensation began to pour down from the ceilings, freeing that one unfortunate and foolish soul who'd had their tongue stuck there for half an hour.
Fragments of sound and images swirled before her, distorted and beyond comprehension. She didn't care. It didn't matter. Nothing mattered...!
The city could sink for all she cared. Because...she loved Carson.
Warmth filtered slowly through the city, though there was still a chill in the bones of those it passed.
An infirmary window exploded inwards. Generally, this sort of thing didn't happen, not even when the scientists were fiddling with some new dubious toy. So some very curious stares turned towards the window as warm air rushed into the infirmary. A head of dark scruffy hair poked in, followed by the wide grin of Major John Sheppard.
“How's things?” he asked companionably, sliding inside gingerly.
Carson offered half-hearted wave. “Oh, ye know. Just a bit nippy.”
“Good thing I always bring the weather with me.”
Already a sea of white lab coats was crowding around the window, belonging to grateful faces that drank in the usually brisk but now warm ocean air. Carson shooed them so that he could talk to John. “Major, I take it ye need my assistance.”
“Nice shorts,” John commented.
Sheppard relented. “Yeah...Ford took quite a knock to the head and our radios have been down. He's doing okay, but he’s seeing more than ten fingers...”
“Where is the lad?” Carson asked, once again sensing that this question would be followed by regret.
“Two levels down, off to the right.”
Why couldn't medical situations ever be simple? Carson sighed loudly and strode over to the wall. He snatched up a backpack medical kit, tightening it over his shoulders. Dr Biro cleared her throat. “Are you sure you don't want someone else to go?”
“If you think a wee thing like the fact that I'm only wearing shorts and a lab coat will keep me from helping my patients,” Carson snapped, “then ye don't know how I operate!”
Grimly, he walked back over to the window, favouring his injured ankle. This shouldn't be so hard. John gave him a worried look before shrugging and heading out the window. Rolling his eyes up to the ceiling, knowing that Nena was probably watching, Carson hoisted himself out as well and nearly slipped immediately.
“Whoa, watch it, Beckett,” John cautioned from somewhere below him.
Carson hooked an arm around a nearby pole and prayed hard. His left leg dangled uselessly until the sole of his foot connected with the slope of the exterior wall, allowing him to slide down slowly while mirroring the action with his arm and the pole. He realised he couldn't see a bloody thing, so wrenched his eyes open. Great, how pathetic would that be if he fell of Atlantis just because he had his eyes closed.
John's voice drifted up to him. “Almost there, just have to hang a right.”
The crunching of glass underfoot told him that the Major had reached his destination, but it sounded awfully far away. Carson glanced down and gulped. It was a long way between his feet and the ocean. Okay, he could do this. Maybe if he shut his eyes again.
Sure, very helpful.
You shut up.
“Yer climbing down the side of the central tower,” growled Carson, “and ye still manage to argue with ye self.”
Tell me about it.
An odd sort of twittering erupted through the life signs sensors. Nena clamped down hard on them, but they wobbled and wailed with protest. It took her several moments to figure out she was scared. Emotions played havoc with her systems – she still didn't know what everything meant when it came to how she felt. Already she regretted freezing Atlantis...not only did it cause some circuits to short out painfully, it made her feel sick in her...stomach.
I don't have a stomach! Huh. Deep breaths. That's what a human would do. Take deep breaths. Very deep breaths.
This didn't work at all. Maybe nothing would. Simply because the human she loved was hanging outside the city, in danger, all because of her! Stupid, stupid! Now he would probably never speak to her again!
Her constant surveillance hitched, chattering with static, as his footing failed. Nena would have bit her lip, or screamed, or tore her hair out by now if she was from the planet Earth. But clearly this situation called for some more Lantean methods. Of course, she allowed one enraged shriek to echo around the secondary chair room – only briefly – and then she was out of time for thought.
Carson was going to fall! And it would be her fault.
There is a way...she mused. It would be forbidden to change the very form of the city itself!
Just how many rules had she broken since they'd left her alone all those millennia ago? What was one more? Nena smiled and pushed hard, forming several hand and foot holds all down that side of the spire. At first he resisted, fingers scraping deliberately away, but she persisted until his hands clasped hers in trust.
As he clambered back into the city to help his patient, she thrummed with relief. The city began to thaw. And then she heard his whisper, “We need to talk.”
Carson opened up his laptop on his desk, sniffing it cautiously. Discerning no smoke, he ran an anti-virus just to be sure. He sneezed a couple of times and grabbed at some tissues. Muttering darkly, he blew just about everything but his brains out into one tissue. He paced in front of his laptop for a few minutes, rubbing at the sleeves of his jacket, though he was no longer cold. He suspected he wouldn't be wearing shorts for a very long time.
He stopped and peered at the laptop, seeing the text. “Nena. I want ye to just listen. Say nothing.”
As you wish.
Carson rested one hand on top of his head restlessly, before walking gingerly over to his bed. He lay back and propped up his right leg on top of some pillows, sighing in relief. Hopefully that wouldn't get any more swollen than it already was. He propped his arms up behind his head, staring unseeingly up at the ceiling, beyond to the stars that were so different and alien from the ones he had grown up with. Not that he'd had much time for stargazing.
“Ye endangered the lives of my friends,” he began quietly. “For that there is no excuse. No one was hurt, this time. Ye can't just lock down the city because yer feelings got hurt. We live here too. But I was daft to ignore ye, and there is no excuse for that either. I can't imagine how lonely ye must have been before we came. Before I came. I should have talked to ye after our date...but the fact is, it was too perfect.”
The laptop flashed an interested shade of red, but Nena made no comment.
“I really like ye, and I enjoyed being with ye. But there is a smaller and smaller part of me that can't seem ta see past what I first saw ye as. I feel like I can't make the distinction. If ye were human, I'd have known what to do and say. But yer not, and I don't.”
Carson sat up, regarding the silent laptop. He swung his legs over the side of the bed and resumed pacing, though his ankle brought more than a wince to his face. He continued, “My own mum would tell me that it didn't matter what anyone looked like, jus' what they were like. Today ye made me fear ye and it's a lesson I can't forget easily.”
I will be better, for you.
“Will ye, Nena?”
Yes! This is so new to me, these strange malfunctions...feelings. I felt broken inside.
“That was my fault,” Carson admittedly guiltily.
I don't understand what you are trying to tell me. Are you still mad enough to ignore me? Or have you decided to see me again?
“Hold that thought.”
Carson snapped his laptop shut and walked briskly towards the bowels of the city, hands shaking in the pockets of his pants. The journey to the secondary chair room seemed longer than ever, but as he finally approached her true self, he found his heart lighter. Without a word, he bent over and pressed his lips to the headrest of the chair. Blue light hummed softly in response, and Nena's hologram image shone into view. She bit her lip.
I'm sorry, Nena said uncomfortably. It is not in my nature to ignore the suffering of the people under my protection. This time I caused it. If your ancestors were still here, they would kill me without a thought. I promise you, next time I will not stand idly by. This I did for myself, and I will do it for you.
Carson finally smiled at her. “I know ye will, love. Now...would it be too untoward if I asked ye out for tomorrow night?”
Careful, Carson, I might think you're starting to like me.
“Just so long as the next time ye want to see me half-naked, ye might try asking.”
Nena covered her mouth with a hand to stifle a giggle. She didn't mention that she'd seen more than enough in the shower surveillance systems (why the Ancients even installed such a sneaky system was suspect itself), although...maybe another time. She crossed her arms and grinned. Anything you'd like to ask me?
“Just how did Lieutenant Ford hit his head?”
I believe he and Major Sheppard tired of having nothing to do and were attempting to reconstruct something called a 'Hail Mary'. What is that?
Carson shuddered. “Ye and I need to have a serious talk about the real football...”