Daughters, Drones and Other Disasters
Dr. Rodney McKay opened his eyes on the morning.
This was a fairly regular occurrence, unless he went to bed late (or not at all) and he opened his eyes on the afternoon or evening. After five years on Atlantis, it didn't bother him anymore, although he would let everyone around him know all about his sleep schedule at the drop of a hat so people would comprehend how much effort he put into keeping the city safe.
But today, Rodney opened his eyes on the morning sun shining around his curtains, and if he concentrated very hard on waking up, he would not have to think about Rory Gilmore.
Too late. There she was, all blue eyes and long dark hair, sitting in Sam's office saying I'm your daughter
like people ripped Rodney's life apart every day.
Annoyed at his inability to keep his mind under control, Rodney kicked the sheets to the floor and sat up on his prescription mattress, wondering if he might be able to call in sick. But no, if he did that so soon after the recent destruction, Zelenka and the minions might actually find a way to blow the city up for good in his absence.
So he showered, reciting the decimals of pi as loudly as he could under the pounding water. He finished the shower before he ran out of memorized digits, so he could stomp around getting ready for the day in a somewhat better mood.
He glanced in the mirror before he left his room, only to see a tired middle-aged man staring back at him. A man who might actually be old enough to have a daughter like Rory Gilmore.
All of his carefully arranged distraction fell away as he stared in the mirror. He'd never resembled his father; Jeannie had that dubious distinction. Rodney took after his mother, with the big blue eyes and the dark hair, and it finally dawned on Rodney why Rory Gilmore had seemed so familiar when she walked through that event horizon the previous day.
She looked almost exactly like his brilliant, beautiful, distant mother.
He closed his eyes and rested his forehead against the mirror, and stayed like that until the sharp dig of the counter against his belly became too much to bear.~~~
Rodney walked into his lab at a fast clip, ready and willing for battle. He didn't know what to expect, so he was prepared for anything: Rory organizing the science department in an insurrection; Zelenka and the others voting him off the island; a total revamp of the computers. Anything.
He didn't know what a daughter of his might do.
Everything appeared normal, however. A few of the underlings started back in surprised at his sudden entrance, even though they had been there for over eight months and should know better. The girl was nowhere to be seen.
Zelenka glanced up over his screen in that enigmatic Czech way of his. "Where have you been?" he demanded. "We were planning on reworking the data flow yesterday afternoon before you disappeared. You could not have forgotten, it was your idea."
Rodney attempted to appear casual and in-charge. "Something came up," he said. He was the head of the department, he didn't have to explain himself to Radek. And yet, as the glare in Radek's eyes sharpened, Rodney found himself saying, "I wanted to re-examine the isolation of the ZPM's power flow."
The redirection worked. Zelenka nodded approvingly, no doubt remembering the months of horror they had experienced until Rodney's brilliance had succeeded in ridding the city of the invading machine drones. "Is everything working?"
"There are a few places we might want to rewire to improve efficiency," Rodney said, making his way to his work station. Still no sign of Rory Gilmore in the lab. "We can start that tomorrow."
Zelenka's gaze followed Rodney across the room. "We?" he echoed. "I thought you would want to push that menial task onto Miss Gilmore."
Rodney's chin went up, and he answered a little too fast for his own comfort. "I don't want to overwhelm her on her first day here," and it was the completely wrong thing to say. Zelenka stared at Rodney as if he had grown another head. Belatedly, Rodney remembered that he had planned to completely overwhelm Rory Gilmore when she arrived on Atlantis. There was a stack of paper on his desk ready to do just that, of tasks and jobs that she would have no clue as to how to accomplish, proving to her and everyone else that she really wasn't that smart after all.
The sight of the papers on the desk now made Rodney feel ill.
Zelenka was still staring at him. "Where is she?" Rodney snapped, hoping the other man hadn't seen his momentary lapse. "Why isn't she here working?"
"Colonel Carter wanted to speak with her regarding her thesis work on the ZPM," Zelenka said, pushing back from his work station.
That whipped Rodney's attention around. "What?" he demanded. "Without me there?"
Zelenka shrugged. "The Colonel could not find you yesterday to discuss the matter. She seemed most irritated with you."
"With me?" Rodney could not believe his ears. "Sam's irritated with me? Of all the people to be irritated with other people, I should be irritated with her!"
The conversation was beginning to attract the attention of the flunkies. Rodney reflexively tuned them out. Zelenka, on the other hand, he could not as easily be rid of. "What is wrong with you?" Zelenka asked, confused by Rodney's behavior. "You could not wait until Miss Gilmore arrived, and then yesterday you vanished as soon as she stepped through the Stargate."
"It's nothing!" Rodney said, trying to draw himself back together. The room pressed in on him, with Zelenka staring and the stack of papers sitting on his desk with which he had planned to humiliate Rory Gilmore.
With a sickening lurch in his stomach, he realized he had been doing the same thing his father used to do with him, driving him to achievement through the potential humiliation of ignorance.
He walked out of the lab without another word.~~~
For a city as vast as Atlantis, the place was too full of people. Rodney walked, trying to find a place to be alone. No one spoke to him; they'd learned their lesson early on about attempting to socialize with him. He was a busy man and didn't have time for meaningless chatter.
Finally, in desperation, he squeezed into a transport closet and punched at the wall randomly, to find himself deposited at the base of the tower. It was close enough to a yet-unrepaired section of the outside wall that he could justify his presence to anyone wandering past. Not that he ever justified his presence to anyone.
Running on automatic, he picked up an abandoned repair kit and started running a diagnostic on the power flow through the circuits. It was mindless, meaningless work, but no matter how hard he concentrated, he couldn't keep his mind on his task.
By his calculations, Rory Gilmore was twenty-five years old. That was a very long time to be alive, when one did the mathematics. Teyla's son Torren was only a few months old, and the boy already had a personality of his own. He liked bright colors such as red and yellow, he enjoyed being held up high by Ronon, and the lullabies Teyla sang, and would stare entranced at Rodney as the man explained in detail about the inner workings of a Puddlejumper.
And look at Jeannie's daughter Madison. Only five, and already a complete person, not the Jeannie clone he'd imagined for all those years. She'd been so scared when Jeannie was kidnapped, and so utterly convinced that Uncle Meredith and Uncle John would save her Mommy.
Rodney tried to imagine Rory at Madison's age, and all he could picture was Jeannie at five, rebellious and shadowing his every step, scraped knees and climbing trees and insisting her doll sit with them at the dinner table.
The tools were shaking in his hands. His blood sugar must be low because he hadn't had breakfast, he reasoned. He carefully laid the tools down and reached into his pocket for his secret power bar stash.
Rory was twenty-five years old and no one had told him that he had a daughter.
He stared blankly at the scarred metal as he chewed, not seeing the damage. He'd often given a thought to Lorelai Gilmore over the years, as anyone would do with their first lover. But he and she had only been together for a week, and then that long-haired ape jock boyfriend of hers had swept back into her life and Lorelai hadn't given Rodney another thought.
At least that's what it felt like at the time.
The power bar tasted like dirt in Rodney's mouth, but he kept chewing. He needed energy, because he was Rodney McKay and he was head of the science department in Atlantis, and he had work to do. He wasn't allowed to show weakness. The city needed him.
And maybe he hadn't been that great of a catch as a teenager, but he could not understand why Lorelai hadn't ever contacted him to tell him about Rory. There weren't that many McKays in Vancouver. His family wasn't rich but he could have paid child support. Then he would have known Rory when she was growing up, and then he wouldn't have been presented with a fully grown daughter on the floor of the Atlantis Gateroom.
He had a fully grown daughter, and he'd spent the last eight months cutting her down and trying to prove her wrong, and he didn't even know her.
Maybe she was allergic to citrus. Maybe she was musical. He didn't know. All he did know was that she was brilliant in physics.
But all the McKays were like that, so really, that told him nothing.
He sat the damaged wall thinking about the things he didn't know about Rory Gilmore as the sun rose high in the sky over Atlantis.
Under it all, there was a single, underlying fact that Rodney had been trying very hard to forget. He'd been thinking so hard about Rory that he'd managed to push away John Sheppard's betrayal.
The man had known about Rory. For three years
he had known about Rory, had known that she was born in Hartford nine months after Rodney left that city. He'd known the name and the age as soon as Rodney mentioned it the previous day and still he said nothing, only ran in the direction of the Gateroom, leaving Rodney behind.
What kind of a man would do that? What kind of a friend
If Rodney had even the remotest of suspicions that John had a kid somewhere, he'd have the common decency to mention it to the man. But then, that sort of thing could only be expected of John "I'm here to charm your womenfolk with my hair and dashing smile"
Sheppard. No one expected Rodney McKay to be fathering children all over the place.
But still. Three years. If Rory Gilmore hadn't walked through the Stargate, would John have ever told Rodney? Ever?
What sort of a best friend would hide something like that?
There was a sick churning in Rodney's stomach. It had to be the power bar, he told himself firmly as he picked up the tools again. He wasn't allowed to be ill, because he was Rodney McKay and he was head of the science department in Atlantis, and he had work to do. The city needed him.~~~
Because he was Dr. Rodney McKay, genius, the repairs took less time than he'd anticipated. The clock just ticked over four o'clock in the afternoon when Rodney could not find anything else to keep him out the lab. His paranoia was growing that in his absence, Zelenka and the others might be up to something.
Maybe Rory would still be in talking to Sam.
That particular hope was dashed as soon as Rodney blew through the lab doors. The first thing he saw was Zelenka bent over a particularly trying piece of equipment, talking animatedly to the bane of Rodney's existence.
For her part, Rory seemed absorbed in whatever nonsense Zelenka was spouting off. Rodney almost opened his mouth to tell Zelenka to go away, don't say another word that I'll have to spend a week undoing
before he caught himself. This wasn't some particularly noisome grad student he could abuse through some university-sanctioned form of indentured servitude.
This was his daughter
He stopped in his tracks for a moment to look at the girl-- no, woman. She was taller than Jeannie, with long straight dark hair and large blue eyes that came straight from Rodney's mother. The usual SGA science uniform hung loose around her shoulders, the same way it had on Elizabeth, and a sharp pain of grief stabbed through Rodney's head that had nothing at all do with Rory Gilmore and everything to do with missing Elizabeth Weir.
Then reason reasserted itself, leaving Rodney reinforcing his mental plan to kill John Sheppard for not telling him about Rory.
Zelenka's gaze finally lifted from the machine, sweeping over the room and pinning Rodney to the wall. "You're back," Zelenka said in his unerringly moronic way of stating the obvious.
"Brilliant deduction," Rodney snapped, but his heart wasn't in the retort. Ninety percent of his attention focused on Rory, with the remaining ten analyzing the room and making sure that nothing had exploded in his absence. "Hi."
Rory straightened up, her hands clutching her tablet to her chest. "Hello," she replied. With any other new person, Rodney would have launched immediately into her intellectual failings and explaining how on Atlantis, Rodney was god and knew everything so don't go messing things up, but all he could do was stare.
Looking at her straight on, with the dark circles under her eyes and the gauntness of her cheeks, Rodney was taken back to that day when he was fourteen and he'd held Jeannie's sticky hand as Mom and Dad explained that Mom had a job in another city and it would be best if the kids stayed with their father.
Rodney saw his mother only four times in the intervening years before the woman died of cancer without bothering to tell any of them she was sick.
But that was then and this was different. Rory Gilmore was someone that Rodney did not know, in any way. He knew she was smart, had read her papers, but the persona he'd constructed in his head to fit the girl's papers and background fell to the ground around him like a house of cards.
He didn't know where to begin.
Rory stepped around the desk. "I, um, met with Colonel Carter this morning," she said when Rodney didn't speak. "We talked about my thesis work and what I can do here."
"Right," Rodney said. He could do this. So no one had told him about his daughter. He could handle this. He was the smartest person in two galaxies. He'd figure out a reaction.
Any time now.
"I was explaining to Miss Gilmore about the Atlantis power systems," Zelenka chimed in, still looking at Rodney with a wary expression.
If Zelenka had done that with any other person, Rodney would have flown off on a rage. He had, in fact, done so on at least two occasions when Zelenka usurped the introduction to the lab from him.
Today, Rodney just lifted his chin and concentrated on breathing properly. "What's your background on the ZPM power systems?" he finally asked.
Rory hugged her tablet so tight her fingers turned white. "I worked on the SGC's ZPM back on Earth," she replied.
"With Bill Lee?" Rodney demanded. "That's utterly useless." He reached over to his desk and picked up the pile of papers he'd planned on using to put Rory in her place, and quickly pulled out the ones written by himself, along with the translated Ancient fix-it manual. These he shoved at Rory. "The SGC work is almost completely theoretical. You need to know this."
"It's not all theoretical--" Rory started, but Rodney brushed the interruption off.
"It's close enough to be useless here. Read these."
Rory stared at him with hurt on her face and Rodney couldn't take it anymore. He picked up the power systems repair kit from where it was supporting some random project. Without looking at Rory again, he made his escape.
"Colonel Carter needs to speak with you!" Zelenka called after Rodney.
"I have work to do!" Rodney yelled over his shoulder. He would not look back. "This city isn't going to repair itself!"
The door whooshed shut behind him, taking with it any chance that Rory might call after him. That was for the best. She had a lot of work to do to be useful on Atlantis. Her background was all theoretical and she'd only been working on the field for less than a year. She couldn't have any idea what she was doing.
Meanwhile, Rodney had work to do. It was plain that the repair crews were not bothering to do a proper job of fixing the power conduits. If any of the degraded components exploded, especially while connected to the ZPM, the whole city would blow up. If Rodney had to fix everything single-handed, fine. He'd save the city by himself. Again.
He didn't need anyone else. ~~~
Because the universe hated him, things got steadily worse.
For the next three days, Rodney couldn't escape Rory Gilmore. He'd go to the labs, she was there. He'd sneak into the cafeteria for a late-night cup of coffee, she was reading at the tables. Every time he checked his inbox, there were politely written emails asking about points of science, all of which he answered in a quick flurry of keys and sent off without even checking the spelling.
Other than that, he kept communication at a minimum. Teyla and Ronon popped up occasionally up to stare at Rodney, but he'd just go the other way and after the first few times, Teyla didn't follow and Ronon grew bored of the exercise. Zelenka would come over the comm channel to demand his presence, but he just gave the man what he wanted and went back to work. He ignored the other emails in his inbox, especially anything from Sam Carter.
Most of all, he avoided John Sheppard like the plague. Or the Wraith. Or lemons. Or a Wraith holding a plague-ridden lemon.
He worked twenty-two-hour days, sleeping only four hours a night, eating on the run, anything to avoid any spare time to think about the daughter that no one told him about. She didn't seem to want to have much to do with him, either. Although that may have had more to do with Rodney's intense campaign to avoid her than anything else.
She obviously didn't want him as a father. If she had, wouldn't she have at least tried to contact him at some point in the last twenty-five years?
Rodney's cunning plan to avoid all human contact lasted until one overcast afternoon. The lab was packed to the brim with peons he could ignore, because Rory Gilmore was somewhere else
and he was taking the opportunity to catch up on the work piling up in his absence, when Sam Carter walked in and said in a clear voice, "Everybody, out."
Rodney could only look up and blink at the alacrity with which people cleared the room. Scientists usually didn't move so fast unless there was free food involved.
When the room was down to Sam and Rodney, the woman went back to the door, closed it, sealed it, then took a knife from her pocket and pried loose the casing to remove the control crystal. They were sealed in.
Rodney'd had fantasies along a similar vein, true, when Sam had flung herself at him in the lab to proclaim her undying lust for him. Of course, in those fantasies, she usually didn't look so armed and dangerous.
The first words out of her mouth cinched it. "What the hell is the matter with you?"
"Uh," Rodney replied.
"That is a serious question, McKay." Sam crossed her arms under her breasts, something that would normally distract Rodney for two seconds, but now it only seemed ominous. "Have you had a nervous breakdown? Are you possessed? Brain damage? What?"
"I don't know what you're talking about," Rodney said, pushing away from his work station.
Sam fixed him with a steely glare. "I'm talking about Rory Gilmore."
Of course she was. Everyone was talking about Rory Gilmore. Zelenka wouldn't shut up about the girl, his inbox was full of email from her, even the other scientists could talk about nothing else. "I'm letting her work," he said, which was as much of a concession as Rodney wanted to allow.
Sam stared at him for a long minute before she straightened up, placing her hands on the table in front of her. Rodney wasn't sure he liked having her hands within striking distance of his head when she was so annoyed. "You are shirking your responsibilities as head of science," she said in slow, measured tones.
"I am not--" Rodney tried to say, but Sam put her hand up and for some reason, the words dried up in his throat.
"You are not answering your emails. You are refusing to sign off on urgent projects. No one can find you and with the city in this state of disarray, it is completely unacceptable that you're throwing a week-long temper tantrum!"
Rodney stood up too fast "I am not throwing a temper tantrum!" he exclaimed loudly. "I'm conducting repairs--"
"We have a repair team to do those!" Sam spoke over him. Her trigger finger twitched on the table top. "This may sound harsh, McKay, but you need to get over finding out about your daughter and act like a grown up!"
Her words found their target. Stung, Rodney said the only thing he could think of to re-direct Sam's anger. "Like you're at all happy she's here, someone who's decades younger and twice as smart as you are!"
Belatedly, watching the colour drain from Sam's face, Rodney wondered if he might have stepped over the line on that one.
Silence fell in the room, letting Rodney wonder if he might use this opportunity to leave. Then Sam spoke through gritted teeth. "Either you stop acting like a child and do your job, or I'm replacing you as head of the science department. Am I clear?"
Rodney couldn't believe what he was hearing. "You can't replace me!" he exclaimed. "I'm the smartest person on Atlantis, I've forgotten more about the city's systems than someone like Zelenka ever knew in the first place!"
"McKay," Sam said. He shut up, mostly because the words all crowded together in his throat and choked him. First of all, he'd learned he had a daughter who didn't have any use for him and a best friend who had been keeping things from him all these years, and now Sam was taking about taking Atlantis away from him? "You can't keep doing this. With the recent damage to the city, I need you on point at all times. You can't let Rory distract you--"
The words finally came back. "Distract me?" he exclaimed. His hands found the table for support. He couldn't lose Atlantis, Sam couldn't do this to him! "How could someone who doesn't want anything to do with me distract me?"
Sam frowned. "What are you talking about?"
Rodney threw his hands up in the air. He hadn't wanted to talk to Sam about this, not after she withheld information about Rory for a month, but she was the only one there and he found the words tumbling out of his mouth. "She's what, twenty-five? And she never contacted me to tell me? And she just shows up here and all she does is listen to Zelenka blather on and she doesn't want to talk to me--" He stopped and took a breath, then another, concentrating on staying upright.
Throughout his tirade, Sam's eyebrows had been going up and up. "Have you talked to her at all?" Sam asked. "Since she came to Atlantis?"
"I gave her some papers," Rodney recalled.
"I mean about her
, her life. Any of it?"
Reluctantly, Rodney had to admit, "I've, um, I've been busy."
Sam passed a hand over her face. "For crying out loud. You need to talk to her. Now."
"She found out about you less than a year ago," Sam interrupted flatly. "Last January. The man she thought was her father developed leukemia and she went to be tested for a transplant, and she found out that he wasn't her real father. That's how it happened."
Rodney sat down. Hard.
"She looked you up and started doing so much research onto your past papers that the SGC twigged and sent General O'Neill to find her. That was in early March of this year. McKay, she hasn't known about you for twenty-five years. It's been less than ten months. She wanted to come to Atlantis because of you."
Sam had to be mistaken. Or lying. Or mistakenly lying. "Then how did John know?" he asked, unable to wrap his head around what Sam was saying. "Three years ago, how did he know about Rory?"
"I don't know," Sam admitted. "You'll have to ask him. But you need to talk to Rory, now. Don't screw this up, or you'll regret it forever."
Rodney stared at Sam, unable to process all the new things he'd learned.
"So go find her," Sam prodded after a minute.
"Oh. Right." Rodney managed to stand. His mind spun in circles. His daughter hadn't spent her life avoiding him. She'd only just learned about him. And come all the way to Atlantis because of him. He would find her, and talk to her, like Sam suggested. He tugged on his jacket. "How do I look?"
Sam rolled her eyes as she went over to the wall console to put the crystal back into the control panel. "Like you always do, McKay."
Right. Rodney walked across the room to the lab door as it opened, to reveal a handful of bored-looking academics waiting to be allowed back into class after recess. He stood still against the resulting tidal wave, Sam's presence behind him the only thing preventing him from going with the flow back into the room.
When the path cleared and Rodney still hesitated, Sam took his shoulder and hauled him along to the nearest transport closet. "Cafeteria. Go," she ordered.
"Okay. Oh, Sam... about that thing I said." Rodney rubbed his hands together, not really wanting to apologize, but figuring it was probably for the best.
"I probably could have phrased it better--"
The door closed on Sam's murderous glare, and seconds later Rodney walked out onto the cafeteria floor, Sam Carter already forgotten.
The cafeteria was nearly empty. It was too early for the scientists to be eating dinner and too late for the Marines, who were probably out blowing things up on the east pier. A few people peppered the tables, working on something or other. The loudest sounds were the clang of pots coming from the kitchen.
Rory sat at the far end of the room, at one of the tables overlooking the ocean. Papers lay spread out before her on the table, which she referred to constantly as she typed on her tablet.
Rodney almost turned and left her to her work, but remembering the absolute certainty with which Sam threatened to take his science department away from him, he made himself put one foot in front of the other until he was at Rory's table. Since he was going to have to talk to her, he sat in the chair opposite her, making Rory almost jump out of her skin.
"Sorry. Hi," Rodney said.
Rory grabbed at the pen before it rolled off the edge of the table. "Is there something you wanted?" she asked warily.
"Yes," Rodney said, chin going up defensively. He was the smartest person in two galaxies, he could manage to have one conversation with this girl. "I wanted to know how you're settling in."
"Settling in," Rory repeated. "You've said about twenty words to me since I arrived and now you want to know how I'm settling in?"
"Well, yes," Rodney hedged. "I thought that maybe we should..." He made a vague wave between the two of them. "Talk about it."
Rory glanced out over the horizon, bitting her lip. When she finally looked back at Rodney, her eyes were glassy.
Rodney stared. Was she crying
Her voice was solid when she said, "You haven't wanted to talk to me since I got here."
"That's-- well, yes." Rodney wished the girl would just forget that part, but that intent glare was all McKay. He'd always caved when Jeannie gave him that stare over the years, and this time was no exception. "I thought..."
"Yes?" she prompted when his voice faded away.
It was Rodney's turn to look out over the sea. Atlantis was putting on quite a show today, with the winds whipping the ocean up into whitecaps in the grey afternoon. "I may have thought that you didn't want anything to do with me," he said in a rush. He couldn't bear to look at her. At his daughter. "Because you never contacted me in twenty-five years. But then Sam told me you only found out about me in January and it wasn't really twenty-five years."
He heard a scraping noise, and Rory got up from the table and walked away. His head swimming, he wondered how he'd thought it was impossible to feel any worse. He was trying
and she just walked away from him. Sam had been totally wrong, he should have know that--
Two large cups thumped onto the table as Rory reseated herself. "I haven't had nearly enough coffee for this conversation," she said. "You want to talk about this?" Rodney didn't even have time to nod before she went on, her words gathering momentum as she spoke. "I spent twenty-three years of my life thinking I was Chris Hayden's daughter, and I found out about you from the Hartford newspaper archives and whatever scientific papers you had written before you started working for the military and went underground. That's all."
"What about your mother?" Rodney asked, confused.
"What about her?"
"Why didn't you ask her about me?" His ears burned as he thought of Lorelai, who would forever be sixteen in his memory.
Rory took a fortifying swallow of coffee. "She doesn't know."
"Doesn't know what?"
"That you're my father."
For the second time in this very strange week, Rodney was struck absolutely speechless. "How could she not know?" he demanded when his voice came back.
"She thinks I'm Chris's daughter."
"And you didn't think it might be a good idea to tell her?"
"You may not have noticed, but I have some trouble dealing with this!"
"That did occur to me!"
Their rising voices were beginning to attract attention from across the cafeteria. Rodney grabbed his coffee cup and took a deep drink, feeling the caffeine going straight into his bloodstream. Rory glanced around the room, at the computer on the table, and then finally back at him. "I'm sorry." she said in a much subdued voice.
"About what?" Rodney asked when he emerged from the cup.
"About just springing this on you."
Every witty retort Rodney had been preparing on the subject wilted and died on his tongue as he took in Rory's expression, her posture, the guilt written all over her.
He didn't want her to feel bad. He felt... was it protective?
"It's all right," he heard himself saying. To his greater surprise, he found he actually meant it.
Her brilliant smile changed everything about her, wiping away all similarities to his mother or Jeannie or anyone McKay. It was a smile all her own.His daughter
Buoyed by the sudden camaraderie, Rodney gestured at the computer. "What are you working on?" he asked. He now recognized the papers as those he'd handed her to read. It must be research.
Her hands fluttered down to the tablet. "I'm putting together something that occurred to me as I was going through the Ancient database yesterday, on the ability of the city adapt to power fluctuations," she said hesitatingly.
Rodney perked right up. He had lived and breathed Atlantis's power systems for years. No doubt Rory had some naive ideas about the power systems, but it showed initiative. In light of Rodney's decisions to be an adult about the situation and interact with the girl, he would be supportive. Somehow.
He grabbed the tablet before Rory could protest and started reading the document. And he read. And he read some more.
His careful control of his mouth slipped away at the bottom of the second page. Slapping the tablet down, he exclaimed, "Footnotes?" He wondered if his rising blood pressure might cause a stroke and how fast he could summon Jennifer. "You're claiming you can effectively recharge a ZPM, and you put the proof in the footnotes
"What did footnotes ever do to you?" Rory shot back. "Did they kick your puppy? Dump you at the prom?" She leaned over the table. "Did a footnote touch you as a child?"
He ignored her. "You can't just go turning science as we know it on its head and put the proof in the footnotes!"
"It's in the footnotes because it's not the point of the paper!"
"There's more?" he demanded.
Rory reached for the tablet, but he pulled it out of her reach. There was no way he was letting this piece of science go until he could work through the proof. "Page six."
"What's on page six?"
Rory smiled grimly. "Read."
Rodney huffed and muttered, but he went back to reading the paper. The cafeteria emptied around them as he went through the paper two times, then reached for Rory's pen and did some calculations of his own on the now-useless printed introduction to the ZPM system.
Finally, he sat back, feeling tired and excited at the same time. Her reasoning was sloppy, of course, and her mathematics could use some polish, but the idea was there
"So?" Rory asked, watching his every move.
He tried to appear nonchalant as he handed the tablet back to her. "It's possible your ideas may have some merit," he said dismissively. It was either that, or jump up and down like a little girl in glee at the possibilities. Being aloof was more dignified, especially when around one's new daughter.
Rory, far from being put out, beamed at the praise.
Just then, something snapped deep in the city. Atlantis's melodic hum went dead two seconds before the lights flickered out.
"No, no, no!" Rodney shouted to the city, already on his feet and pulling on his jacket. He batted at his earpiece, connecting to the control room as the lights came back up at half power. "Command, what happened?"
Static coated Sam's voice in his ear. "Sudden power loss in the --- east wing of --- south --- copy?"
Rodney shook his head in disgust. Hadn't he warned everyone that something like this might happen? That the city's circuits remained in danger of overload after the last battle? But that thought was much preferable to the idea, hammering in the back of his brain, that it's happening all over again
"I'm going down there, Sam," he said, leaving the channel open just in case communications improved. Looking quickly around the cafeteria, he couldn't see a single person who might be able to help. The room was completely devoid of any military life, and the few scientists were from botany and medicine. Unless witchcraft would be able to help him solve this, that left...
"Come on," Rodney snapped his fingers at Rory. "I don't want the city tipping over in the winds."
"Me?" Rory squeaked. "But I've never worked with the Atlantis power systems--"
"And you're never going to learn just sitting behind a computer! You at least might have a clue as to which end of the power cables are up!"
"I need an extra set of hands! Did you come to Atlantis to just watch other people do all the hard work?" The acerbic words were out of his mouth before he thought about it, but the power was failing in his city and he didn't have time to hold anyone's hand.
Whatever Rory took from his words got her to her feet and moving after Rodney. As they spun through the halls, Rodney went back to trying to contact the tower.
In spite of the cheerful words he'd used in the cafeteria, Rodney was deeply worried. They may have cleared the city of enemy machines, but maybe, just maybe...
They rounded a corner and almost fell over Major Lorne and Staff Sergeant Herrera. The latter quickly lowered his P90. "Doc, what--"
"There's no time to explain!" Rodney shouted, barreling along. As he expected, the military men followed him. Lorne looked worried, while the staff sergeant was chaffing for excitement. Americans,
Rodney thought in disgust. "There's an unknown power loss in the south pier and communications are out," he said. "I can fix it, of course, but in light of the last seven months--"
"We'd love to help out," Lorne interrupted. "Wouldn't we, Staff Sergeant?"
"A long jog to the pier before dinner, sir?" The younger man grinned at Rodney with overly white teeth. "Just the thing to work up an appetite."
"Very funny," Rodney grumbled. He glanced at Rory over his shoulder. "Do you have anything witty to add?"
Rory shook her head, almost barreling into Lorne when the man halted suddenly to peer cautiously around a corner, gun ready. "I don't even know why I'm here," she confessed quietly.
Rodney wasn't either. As they descended towards the dangerous most dangerous spot in the city, he couldn't exactly recall what made him invite Rory along on the mission. So he wouldn't have to do it alone
seemed very useless, now. "You can carry things," he said after a minute. "Or lift heavy objects."
"Speaking of lifting," Lorne interrupted, "Where's your team?"
"How should I know?"
"Ronon's beating up the new officers," Herrera contributed "When I passed the infirmary, Teyla was distracting the medical staff with the baby."
"Is there anything you don't know, Staff Sergeant?" Lorne asked, grinning.
Herrera didn't even think before replying, "Nothing worth knowing, sir."
They had reached the stairs. If they went down eighteen flights and then hopped across one of the sky bridges, they'd be right on top of the problem. At least that's what Rodney's modified life-signs detector told him. He halted and turned to face his rag-tag team. A fly-boy Major with the ATA gene, a scruffy marine with a propensity for violence and black-market chocolate, and a young woman who was a complete enigma to Rodney.
Hadn't he been here before?
"If you two can stop flirting for five seconds," he snapped at other men, not even eliciting so much as a ruffled feather in response, "This might, and I stress might, be a simple power outage. If that's the case, we're screwed because the city's stabilizers run through the south pier junction and in these winds the city might start swaying."
"What's the best case scenario?" Lorne asked, taking a moment to readjust his P90.
"That was the best case. Worse case, we might not have found all the Trojan drones and we're looking at the impending destruction of the city."
Lorne took this in stride; after all, he'd been in the city for years. Herrera and Rory exchanged a glance, then Rory raised her hand.
"The bathroom's two flights down," Rodney said.
Rory jerked her hand down and glared at him. "I was going to say, I'd prefer it to be the first case."
"Me too," Herrera said, in the process of unbuckling his sidearm holster. He handed it to Rory. "Have you ever used one of these before?"
"I went off-world at the SGC over a dozen times," Rory said, trying to sound nonchalant. Or maybe she did sound nonchalant and Rodney was just projecting his own insecurity and quaking innards onto the others. She buckled the holster on, having to cinch the clips tight to fit around her waist.
Lorne cleared his throat. "We're going in. Staff Sergeant, you take our six and continue to try to make contact with anyone. Gilmore, let us know if you're having trouble keeping up. McKay..." Lorne met Rodney's eyes. They both knew how badly this could end. "Don't fall over."
And down they went.~~~
Things went well for the first eight flights, then Rodney's left knee started to twinge on every fourth step and Herrera's muttering became more intermittent.
"Major," Rory said over the sound of their footsteps on the metal stairs, "What might this thing be?"
"You mean the infiltration of the city?" Lorne replied. "Didn't you hear about that before you came?"
"Not much of it," Rory admitted. "Colonel Carter's story wasn't released from the Pentagon until a week before I left, and I was trying to wrap up all my work for my PhD thesis at the time."
"Ah. Well, it's simple," Lorne said, clattering down the stairs like he did this every day. Which he might have, insane Air Force personnel. "After the Wraith-Replicator war--"
"You're starting the story there?" McKay huffed, taking his attention off the life-signs detector long enough to glare at Lorne's back.
"I'm starting at the beginning," Lorne shot back.
"A very good place to start," Herrera murmured behind Rodney, and if this descended into showtunes, Rodney would not be held responsible for his actions.
"So," Lorne said, going back to his story. "As far as we can tell, during the Replicator war, the Replicators built some low-level drones that took very basic instruction and were not capable of replicating or even independent thought."
"They were very good at exploding, though," Herrera contributed.
"Unfortunately for us, the Durrae, a race of traders from one of the further reaches of the galaxy, found a stash of these drones and decided it would be a great time to attempt to take Atlantis by force, to sell it off to the highest bidder."
"Didn't the Genii try that in the expedition's first year?" Rory asked. She was beginning to sound exhausted, which Rodney in no way found to be gratifying, that he was in better shape than the twenty-five year old girl. Then his other knee twinged, and he quickly shut those thoughts down.
"The Durrae were like second-rate Genii. They tried to take the city and released the drones, but their initial assault ended badly. For them."
"But they left the drones behind, and those got into the ducts of the city like nobody's business," Herrera jumped in. "Like some motherfucking computer virus from hell. Um, ma'am."
"Took us six months to flush those buggers from the system, and they took some of the city with them," Lorne finished. "We scanned every inch of the city and thought we'd found the last of them."
"Maybe you did," Rory suggested.
They cleared the last flight of stairs and landed back on solid ground. Rodney's knees almost buckled under him, but Herrera was at his side to jerk him upright before he collapsed.
"Thanks," Rodney gasped. "I just need a minute to..." He waved his hand in what he hoped meant leave me alone, I can't breathe.
Lorne doubled back. "Come on, McKay, no time for recovery."
"Why not?" Rodney demanded, but Lorne's hand was under his arm and dragging him along.
Lorne waited until they were a few paces in front of Rory to mutter in Rodney's ear, "The city's starting to rock."~~~
Rodney's life-signs detector pointed them in the correct direction. Power was flowing from the ZPM through the walls, but it bottlenecked in the junction. On the face of it, the whole matter was a simple problem that Rodney could fix in his sleep. But under their feet, the city's sway was beginning to be noticeable even to Rodney.
It felt exactly like being on one of the ferries to the island in a storm when Rodney was a teenager, with his parents fighting in the stairway, and little Jeannie, already nauseous from her new epilepsy meds, puking into a garbage bin and Rodney wondering the boat would even be able to dock or if they'd all sink at sea in sight of the ferry terminal.
He was not
going to let Atlantis sink to the bottom of the sea during his daughter's first week in Pegasus. His ego would not be able to bear the failure.
So Rodney spent the walk examining the energy readings and reviewing the drone eradication procedures he had devised, while the city shifted under his feet and memory filled his head with the stench of vomit mixing with ferry fries and gravy, and the unforgettable helplessness he felt at holding four-year-old Jeannie's hair off her face while the purser tried in vain to find their parents.
It occurred to Rodney after a few turns in the corridor that the crushing pressure in his chest wasn't a heart attack brought on by exertion. It was panic. Panic, because he'd only just found out about his daughter, that she was his
and smart and she wanted to know him, and now they all might die because Rodney had been too distracted over the past week to bother following up on if the whole city had been swept for bugs.
Panic, because every time in the past five years when there had been a problem, Rodney had John Sheppard to help him fix it, but now John wasn't there. All Rodney had was Lorne and Herrera, both of whom were perfectly capable, but neither of them had the insane luck or the karmic get-out-of-jail-free card that John Sheppard had tattooed on his forehead.
They were all going to die.
"Way to keep positive, Doc," Lorne muttered, and Rodney realized belatedly that he must have said that last part out loud.
He drew breath to say something scathing to Lorne, to make up for his verbal gaffe, when Rory tilted her head and said wonderingly, "Is it supposed to sound like that?"
"Sound like what?" Rodney asked, but even as he spoke, he heard it, and the bottom of his stomach dropped out.
A faint, high-pitched whine, coming from the direction of the power junction.No.
"Drones," Lorne ground out, his P90 swinging up. "We need to move faster!"
From some deeply hidden part of his being, probably the I don't want to die
instinct he'd developed in Pegasus, Rodney found the energy to gallop along after Lorne. They didn't need the life-signs detector any longer; all they needed to do was head in the direction of the sound. When it was loud enough to rattle the teeth in his head, they were there.
Sure enough, it was worse than Rodney had feared.
The panels had already fallen off the walls, the power cables grotesquely swollen as tendrils of the drone wrapped themselves around the cables. As far as Rodney had ever been able to tell, the tendrils sucked the power of the surface of the cables until the drone had enough power stored up to detach itself and seek a new food source.
"This one can't have been here for more than an hour," Rodney shouted, skidding to a stop near the wall. He'd spent six months overcoming his revulsion to the sound, and still he wanted to throw up. "We still have a chance to get it out!"
"What do you need?" Lorne asked loudly, wincing as the whine pitched up another octave.
"We cut the power supply and starve it off!" Rodney swung around, following the cable schematic on his life-signs detector. "We have to hurry!"
On the other side of the corridor, Rory clenched her fists. "How can you stand that?" she asked Herrera, her voice loud.
Herrera muttered something, too soft for them to hear. "Speak up, Staff Sergeant!" Rodney shouted at the man. "You know anyone with the Ancient gene is deafened by the noise--" He looked up from his life-signs detector for a moment, something belatedly occurring to him. "You have the Ancient gene
?" he asked Rory. It was totally unfair that his daughter was smart and had the Ancient gene!
"I had the gene therapy when I got here," Rory said. "Why aren't you going deaf, Carlos?"
"I don't have the Ancient gene," the Staff Sergeant said loudly. "Um, Doc? Exploding city?"
McKay spun back around, his mind a whirl of genius and possibilities. He was Rodney McKay, the smartest person in two galaxies, and if anyone could save the city to the accolades of all, it was him.
"We'll shunt the power in corridor alpha, subsection twenty-seven, into the ground breaker!" he decided. "The power bleeds into the sea and doesn't kill anyone, and the drone will detach before it's ready and you two can shoot it dead!"
"One problem, McKay!" Lorne countered. "If I remember from last time, subsection twenty-seven is only accessible from a tiny service duct!"
"Last time I checked, there's a problem with one of us getting in there!"
Rodney reexamined his plan. Lorne was correct. The duct was two inches too small to fit Lorne's shoulders, and he was the narrowest of the men. Teyla might have been able to manage it, but she was far away.
Rodney rounded on Rory, and whatever she saw in his eyes made her shrink back. "You're narrow!" Rodney exclaimed. "Come on!"
"McKay, she's been here three days!" Lorne protested, following Rodney and Rory down the corridor.
"And wouldn't it be nice for us all if we all survived into tomorrow?" Rodney shouted, more out of habit than actual need. "Any better ideas will be entertained!"
"What about waiting for extra help?"
"I said a better
idea!" Rodney stopped at the duct that led to the power cables in subsection twenty-seven. He turned to Rory. "It's easy. Go in and left to the point in the cables that have a marker like this." He pulled a sharpie from a pocket and, grabbing Rory's arm, wrote in Ancient on her sleeve. "Then clip the blue cable and attach it to the red output."
"What happens if I accidentally cut the cable?" Rory asked.
"It's attached to the ZPM. We'll all be electrocuted and die," Rodney said. "Don't cut the cable."
Rory took the clip he shoved at her, but she didn't move. When she looked up at Rodney again, she was deathly pale. "I don't know if I can do this," she said in a tiny voice.
"Don't be stupid! You have to do this, otherwise everyone dies. You can do this. I could do this." Rodney hesitated. "Can
you do this?"
Rory took a deep breath. "I can do this," she said, standing taller. For a moment, Rodney had a twinge in his stomach that might have been pride. Or terror. They felt rather like the same thing at this point.
Lorne busied himself with removing the panel from the wall. When it was down, he aimed his little P90 flashlight into the darkness. "All clear, the drone hasn't made it this far back," he said. "You have a go, Miss Gilmore."
Rory took another breath. "All right." Suddenly, she darted forward and gave Rodney a quick hug. Rodney wasn't sure who was more surprised, him or Major Lorne. "Be right back,” Rory promised.
Momentarily shell-shocked, Lorne removed the light from his weapon and handed it to Rory. Without another word, Rory stepped into the duct and vanished.
Rodney watched her progress on his life-signs detector. It took him a few minutes to realize that Lorne was staring at him. "What?"
"She hugged you."
Rodney's ears burned. "So?"
"She hugged you
"Thank you, Major Obvious!" Rodney snapped. "Go stand with Herrera so you two can blast the drone, why don't you?"
Lorne stomped off down the corridor, leaving Rodney alone to watch the life sign of his only child inching down a duct to the power cables.
This was a bad idea. A spectacularly bad idea. So bad, in fact, that Rodney was this close to calling Rory back when he heard her voice calling, "Dr. McKay-- I mean, Rodney?"
"What's wrong?" Rodney responded immediately. Oh god, the drone had her, they were all doing to die and he'd sent his only child into death's grip--
"There's no red output."
"Then try to the green output!"
A hesitation, then, "There are four green outputs."
"Are you colour-blind?" Rodney demanded. "There can't be four green outputs--"
"There are four green and two yellow outputs!" Rory shouted back. "And if you're not colour-blind, I'm not colour-blind!"
"Genetics 101, Dr. Mendel! Which output do I use?"
Rodney fought back panic. He should be the one in there, because obviously Rory had no idea what she was doing and he was supposed to save the city and what insane feat of Ancient engineering put four green outputs in one wall? He thought and he thought, and then he thought harder. "Can you see a black output about four inches down the wall?"
A pause, and then, "Yes!"
"Use that one!"
"Is this a good idea?"
Something on his life-signs detector twitched. Rodney's previous panic was nothing compared to the blinding terror he felt as the drone's tendrils started to stretch back along the conduit towards Rory. "Do it now!" he shouted. "It's growing!"
A moment, then the distant whine stuttered and died. On the life-signs detector, the tendrils began to contract away towards the drone's main body. A clattering in the duct sounded moments before Rory toppled out, colliding with Rodney. "Did it work?" Rory demanded.
The sound of P90 fire filled the air, which was answer enough. Rodney ran towards the sound, wondering distantly how insane his life was, when his default reaction was to run towards
the hail of bullets.
He checked on his life-signs detector before rounding the last corner, because friendly fire was the third last way he wanted to go. The scene he emerged on hellishly familiar; the drone flopping about under bullet fire, its long tendrils twitching on the cold floor as Lorne and Herrera emptied their clips into the thing.
Around them, the power came back up and the sounds of the city exploded over his earpiece. As the last bullet retort echoed in his ears, he heard his name being shouted.
"McKay? Dammit, what's happening?" It was Sam.
Rodney touched his comm to activate the mouthpiece, when he realized that it was still on. The tower must have heard the P90 fire. "We got it," Rodney said. The giddiness of not dying turned his limbs to rubber. "Another drone. It's dead now."
"Are you sure about that?" Sam demanded.
Rodney let his head rest against the wall. "Of course I'm sure," he said, not able to summon the energy for an acerbic comment. "Now can we please schedule that complete scan of the city I've been asking for?"
"McKay's right, ma'am," Lorne said. "The drone has been incapacitated."
Sam's sigh of relief was audible over the channel. "Good work, people. Good work."
Rodney opened his eyes to see Rory's delighted grin. He found himself smiling back at her.
Good work, indeed.~~~
Four hours later, Sam dragged Rodney away from the Tower's scanning station and into the meeting room for a debrief. The room was overly full, with half the technicians who were supposed to have fixed this problem in the first place
, Zelenka, Sam, Lorne and Herrera, Rory, and the rest of Rodney's team, along with others who were probably only there for the sandwiches.
It was the first time in four days that Rodney had been in the same room as John Sheppard, and Rodney took particular care to avoid any interaction with the man as Lorne detailed the excursion onto the south pier. Rodney interrupted Lorne at every other sentence to correct or expand on a point. Lorne, used to this tactic by now, never offered to let Rodney tell the story in its entirety. Not that it mattered. Rodney would eventually re-write the man's report anyway.
When they got to the part about the power junctions and the duct and cables, Rodney took over, pulling up schematics and drawings and Ancient electrical plans. "The problem that Rory had in finding the grounding was that the wiring is completely
different in the south pier than in the others, and we've never run into this before because the only drone intrusions in that area were along the waste-water pipes into the sea--"
"Wait, you send Ror-- Miss Gilmore, in to rewire the circuit?" John interrupted, thereby proving that he could not follow a conversation when it wasn't about football or weapons.
"She was the only one who would fit in the duct," Rodney told him, thrown by the interruption. "So we need to re-examine all power schematics because if this happens again with any left-over drones--"
"You sent her into the wall?" John asked again.
"Did you hit your head or something?" Rodney demanded. "Of course I sent her into the wall! I wasn't exactly looking forward to dying horribly!"
"But..." John was staring at Rodney as if Rodney
had done something wrong.
It took Rodney a long moment to figure out what had John's boxers in a twist. When realization came to him, Rodney almost threw his coffee cup at John. "What else was I going to do? She was the only one of us who would fit! She's in Atlantis because she's smart enough to figure things out and I'm not going to show her any favoritism on the job just because she's my daughter!"
The resulting stillness broke Rodney out of his rant, and he looked around. Sam buried her face in her hands. Both Lorne and Zelenka looked as if they had been hit over the head with a club. Ronon, smugness exuding from every pore, held out his hand for a befuddled Teyla to press something onto his palm.
And Rory had gone red.
Oh. Maybe Rory hadn't wanted him to tell anyone about him being her father.
It was too late now.
Rodney turned back to John. "Why are you interrupting me? Were you there? No! And I'm not even talking to you!" With that off his chest, Rodney went back to his diatribe about power circuits and outputs and the proper way to avoid blowing up the city.
When the meeting was over, most everyone in the room could not escape fast enough. John lingered until Rodney's stiff refusal to speak made it clear to the man that he was not over this
, and he finally slumped out of the room.
Sam folded her hands under her chin and looked at Rodney with a strange expression on her face. "What?" Rodney asked when he couldn't take it any more.
Sam smiled. "Nothing, McKay." She stood and headed for the exit. "Welcome to the team, Miss Gilmore," she called as she went out the doors.
That left Rodney alone with Rory. She rose and smiled tentatively at him, wringing her hands. That reminded Rodney about his idea. "If you didn't want me to tell anyone about the daughter thing, you should have told me," he blurted out.
"What?" Rory asked, startled. "No, it's not that. I didn't think you would have wanted people to know."
"Oh. I don't mind if you don't mind."
"I don't mind."
"Good." He picked up his tablet. It was late and he was hungry and he had just saved the city, almost single-handed. Let the others monitor things for an hour. "I'm going for food."
"Oh, okay." Rory said, stepping back. She shoved her hands into her pockets, trying to appear casual.
"You could come with me," Rodney offered, and was surprised to see her eyes light up, just with that small offer.
"That sounds good, thanks," she said with quick acceptance. Rodney wasn't sure how to deal with this. People didn't often want to spend time with him, not even people who were related to him. Well, especially people who were related to him.
But he would take what he could get.
As they walked down the corridor, Rodney found that he could finally give voice to something that he had wanted to say for hours now. "I can't believe you put that point in the footnotes
"Oh my god!"