Place your bets
Chapter 4: Place your bets.
“You’re not seriously going to let her try this,” McKay nearly screeched as he stormed into Sam’s office the next morning. She’d have to be both blind and deaf to miss the incredulity in his voice and manner.
“I see you got the message regarding Willow’s plans.”
“Of course,” answered McKay. “Tell me you’re not going to let her tap into the gate system with whatever cockamamie technology she’s trying to pass off as hocus pocus.”
“Your concerns are noted, Rodney,” Sam answered, absently trying to create order from the chaos of papers scattered over her desk. “But Willow will be allowed to make the attempt.”
“Do you have any idea of the damage she could do to our systems? She could be another plant for all we know!” McKay was starting in on one of his rants, red face and failing arms included. Yep, definitely should have turned the Atlantis position down. How could she have forgotten how annoying this guy could be? Sure, he’d grown up a bit, but McKay was McKay.
“Miss Rosenburg has yet to show any malicious intent, and my orders were specific,” Sam continued with what she was trying to establish as her “final” tone. It hadn’t worked so well thus far. “Besides Rodney, her ‘kit’ consists of nothing other than lots of herbs, candles, and a bunch of small crystals. She graciously allowed the crystals to be checked. They’re all blank, only worked enough to remove the majority of impurities. And we’re going to have four technicians stationed to monitor the gate and city systems as the ‘spell’ progresses. One wrong move, and we’ll shut it down.”
“Seriously, Rodney,” Sam continued, rising from her desk and walking to the door. “I’m willing to give her the benefit of the doubt, curious even, not stupid.”
A stammering Rodney followed her from the office. “I-I wasn’t trying to imply…”
“I know, Rodney,” answered Sam. “You’ve really got to work on your delivery.”
“Jennifer’s helping,” grumbled McKay, “but it’s taking a while to undo forty years of ingrained bad habits.”
“Maybe she just needs to find a more effective method of positive reinforcement,” she answered. “Or does negative reinforcement work better with you, McKay?”
Sam allowed herself a self-satisfied smirk as she left a stunned and sputtering McKay in the dust. Atlantis had its share of headaches and not much in the way of entertainment. No one could blame her for amusing herself now and again, could they?……………………………..
Willow was just finishing the prep work for her first attempt at the mega location spell when Sam arrived with the male members of SGA-1. She double checked her work, making sure she hadn’t forgotten anything. She definitely didn’t want a repeat of that one time in Brazil.
“I thought I’d let you explain to the team,” said Sam. “I believe I caught most of it, but I thought you’d likely do a better job fielding any inevitable questions.”
“Sure,” Willow answered. “Did you bring the star chart?”
“It’s permanently stationed up on the observation deck,” answered Sam. “We’ll need to determine your range with this first attempt, so I thought it best to use the more complete map.”
“You mean that fragile looking one?” Sam nodded, and Willow fought the urge to fidget. Oh, no pressure. Just go and give me an irreplaceable ancient artifact to use instead of a bit of paper.
“Is that a problem?”
“It shouldn’t be,” Willow answered. I hope. I hope. I hope.
“But I may need to bleed off a bit of excess energy into the city’s systems if I get an unexpected jolt thanks to being on a different planet…or the only magic user on said planet for that matter.”
“Exactly what does that have to do with anything?” asked McKay.
“I have power reserves in my body I can use to power simple spells,” Willow explained. “But, I’m going to need to tap into the inherent energy of the planet to fuel a spell this large. I’m accustomed to sharing the planet’s energy with thousands of other magic users on Earth. Theoretically it will take a stronger pull to get the same amount of energy from a world where there are lots of people tapping into the system than if I’m running a monopoly.” Shepard and Ronon were giving her completely blank looks. How to explain this differently?
“Okay, think of it like this. I have a cousin who plays clarinet. It’s an instrument played by forcing air past a thin piece of wood called a reed,” she explained for Ronon’s benefit. “She told me about this one time where all her reeds got these little cracks at the ends, and she was trying to save every little scrap of money she could for a car. So, she trimmed the ends of her reeds a little and got used to playing by pushing the air just a bit harder. Eventually the reeds chipped again, and she didn’t have a choice but to buy new ones. After getting so used to playing the thicker reeds where she had to push harder to make any sound at all, she played way too loud for a few days with the new reeds until she relearned how to back off.” Wow, do I always gesticulate that much when I babble out loud?
“So, you’re afraid you’ll pull in a lot more power here than you would on Earth because the resistance is thinner,” said Ronon.
“Whatever,” interrupted McKay. “What exactly are you expecting us to believe you’re going to do?”
“The stuff you see around me is mostly used as a method of focusing will and intent as well as a bit of protection against backlash,” Willow explained. What was with Mr. Grumpypants? He seriously needed a girlfriend or something.
“I’ll be drawing energy from the planet to create a tracking spell to go out in search of Teyla using the necklace borrowed from her room as a reference for her unique essence. The gate comes in as a way to expand the range of the spell without having to pull catastrophic amounts of power I’d have no hope of ever controlling.”
“You do know we can only dial one planet at a time right?” asked Shepard.
“Well, you step in one gate and come out another, but I also know about the forwarding system, Colonel,” answered Willow. “The spell’s different in the fact that it can flow out from all the gates dialed in between, bringing back information on all those systems, instead of simply being forwarded to the terminus.”
“Come on!” groused McKay. “This is a waste of time and energy I could be putting to better use.”
“Care to put your money where you’re mouth is, Dr. McKay?”
“How?” McKay asked.
“Give me three weeks, and this isn’t precluding you all searching the old fashioned way mind you,” answered Willow. “If I successfully find Teyla with my ‘waste of time,’” she paused to think for a moment. What would be suitably embarrassing for the scientist who needed a lesson in humility and manners? She grinned as a thought occurred to her. “You have to be a contestant on Are You Smarter than a Fifth Grader.”
Shepard and Carter looked like they were fighting not to laugh at the idea while McKay became increasingly flustered, and Ronon just looked confused. Rodney composed himself after a moment and crossed his arms over his chest in what was obviously a shielding mechanism meant to be disguised as a macho gesture.
“Fine,” he answered shortly. “But if you can’t find her in three weeks, you have to be my personal assistant for a month.”
“Deal,” Willow agreed, visibly surprising the Atlantis staff. “Now, how about we get this show on the road?”
Sam nodded, and Shepard included, “You heard the lady,” as they backed away from the stargate. The technician started the dialing sequence, and Willow watched in fascination as the chevrons locked. She jumped as the famed kawoosh erupted from the gate before collapsing back into a real, live stable wormhole. Neat.
Willow walked back to her setup and lit the candles sitting at the four corners of the map while chanting the spell. She could feel her own power building before she opened herself to the planet’s energy. It was different and yet the same as that of Earth, and she reached for it, pulling tentatively at first and then with greater strength as she adjusted to the difference. She aimed the seeker at the stargate, giving it the instructions to search and return before letting it fly.
There was a surge of the purest energy she’d ever encountered the moment the seeker ball passed through the event horizon. Luckily the power gain leveled off almost instantly, or Willow was sure she would have physically exploded on the spot leaving a nice gory mess for the Atlantis crew to clean up. She was completely jazzed on the energy as it was, almost drunk with it. She had to bleed some of it off somewhere, but where? Would she fry the Atlantis systems if she tried to push it into the city? Deciding she’d better not chance it, Willow did the only thing she could think to do. She pushed the energy back through the gate system, expanding the forwarding range.
Willow was oblivious to the chaos going on behind her. Sam and SGA-1 stood amazed first at the light show building around Willow before the swirls of light coalesced into a single point of light and went zooming through the gate. Then they watched in a mixture of awe and growing horror as the redhead’s hair went snowy white from the roots to ends. Their attention was pulled away as half panicked calls of a surge in the gate system echoed in the large room.
Sam was halfway through shouting, “Shut it down,” when the ball of light returned and the gate shut down of its own accord. All eyes followed the glowing mass as it floated toward the map, progress slowing, until it splashed against the surface. It formed a glowing ring.
“What are we seeing?” asked Sam.
“It’s showing the boundaries of where it reached,” answered Willow. “As we kinda expected, Michael isn’t holding Teyla anywhere near Atlantis. That’s why we don’t see an orangey going dot, just the outline.”
“How far did it cover?” asked Shepard.
“It looks like a radius of about 4,326 lightyears,” McKay answered. His expression and tone were clearly stunned. “It’s not much in galactic terms, but…”
“Way better than searching on foot,” finished Ronon.
“So, where to next?” asked Shepard.
“We can build a search pattern using the range available and start systematically checking off regions,” answered Sam. “How quickly can you be ready to try again?” she asked Willow.
“Even with that extra push the gate system shocked me with there, I doubt I could manage more than one of those spells a day, and that’s if I don’t do any other magic at all,” Willow answered.
“Extra push?” Shepard asked.
“Yeah, as soon as the spell touched the event horizon, I got hit with a jolt of energy from the gate,” she explained. “I thought about channeling it into the city’s systems, but I was afraid I might fry them. So I sent it back through the gate to push the boundaries out a bit further.”
“So that’s why your hair did the instant bleach job thing?”
Willow felt her face heat up, and knew she was probably as red as she hoped her hair was again. “Yeah.”
“Weird,” mused Shepard.
Ronon turned to Sam. “What’s Are You Smarter than a Fifth Grader?”