Warnings: part three of #28 in the Ancient!John 'Verse (see part 1, 2); "The Return, Part 1," thru SG1 s10e9 "Company of Thieves" for safety).
Summary: Rodney is on Earth. Atlantis is not. This causes more than a few problems. Mostly for Rodney
Notes: This is killer, and not where I wanted to end, and it's either post this or delete the whole thing. And, oh, BTW, this is turning out to be a very "Sunday" or "Tabla Rasa"-like story, so pay attention to the dates posted at the top of each section. This one occurs both before and after pars dua and before pars una. Confusing, I know.
An Ancient!John Story
17 November, 2006 / 14 Days After The Second Exodus - Area 51, Terra, Avalon
Rodney closes his eyes and let's his head fall heavily against the wall behind him. He's half-sitting on, half-sprawled across the inexplicable couch his office's previous occupant had seen fit to cram into the space behind the desk. He's balancing a laptop on one knee, but he's ignored it for so long that the battery's run out, leaving the room as dark as only a tiny, windowless space carved out of the warren of tunnels beneath a secret research facility can be.
The darkness is welcome.
The silence is not.
Maybe silence is the wrong word. His lab is never quiet, not during the day at least, when his minions do nothing but go on and on about the most ridiculous things (the latest celebrity power couple and Malcolm Tunney's newest paper being two of their favourite topics this week). Even at night, when the sycophants are gone and he should be as well, the lab is full of machine noises. But it's just not the same. It's not music. It's not alive.
The absence of Atlantis' perpetual song is more than just unfortunate side effect of the Expedition's return to Earth: it's a physical pain. His head hurts worse than any caffeine headache he's ever had, almost to the point where he's unable to concentrate on anything else but the music's absence. Rodney's found that acetaminophen helps somewhat, as does a vast iTunes library, but neither solution is perfect, even in combination. At the rate he's going, he's going to give himself liver failure before much longer - that is, if the sleep deprivation doesn't get him first.
He feels pathetic. He's Rodney McKay, Ph.D., Ph.D.; the smartest person in a two galaxies. He found a way to recharge ZPMs out of three lines scribbled into the margin's of an Ancient's notebook and built the device to do so out of ten-thousand-year-old scraps. Every Naquadah-enhanced warhead in Earth's arsenal (until the Mark VIII) has been built from his designs. When the Stargate Program goes public, he's going to win so many Nobels he's going to have to use them as bookends just to have places for them all. But he does, and it's becoming something that's starting to to attract his sycophants' notice.
Rodney doesn't even have the energy to be annoyed about it. His head 'hurts' and he's not slept in 'days' and all he wants is for this to be 'over' so he can go 'home'.
Damn John and his insistence that he 'needs' him here, on Earth, where he'll be able to go through 'Tria's' databanks and find out what the others are hiding without interference from Helia and her crew. John's plan - for Lorne to use Rory to bring 'Tria' to him on Earth, where he can work in peace and, eventually, take Rodney and everyone else who wants to return to Atlantis back - had made sense at the time, but he'd somehow failed to take into account just how 'long' everything would take.
How many months will it take for Lorne to be able to bring 'Aurora' to Earth without attracted unwanted suspicion from the Ancients? Would the city's new military commander, Danelia Ival Helia Navarcha, even allow him to remain in command of the ship? If she stripped him of that post, it could take 'years' for the Major to earn her trust enough to regain the position and even longer before he'd be able to take Rory out of Pegasus.
Rodney doesn't think he has that long. He gives himself six months before his work starts to suffer, less than that if someone in power becomes suspicious.
If they become suspicious, they'll pull him out of Area 51.
If they pull him out of Area 51, chances skyrocket that they'll find the lacuna he's written into Oracle, the one that would allow spaceships with certain specific shield frequencies to pass deep inside Earth's defense network.
If they find the blind spot he's written into the satellite surveillance system, they'll know that he's planning for the arrival of an Ancient warship; if they know that much, they'll be ready for Rory and 'Tria' when they come. A direct confrontation between the Pegasus and Earth is the last thing either side needs right now - to say nothing of the alternative, which has the words 'alien invasion' written all over it in big, black, one-inch newsprint.
Or maybe not. Maybe the drugs are already messing with him and his logic is as addled as his brain. It's only acetaminophen - well, that and the occasional diazepam from the stash Carson had given him last time he'd visited, claiming it would help with the 'agoraphobia' that was keeping him holed up in his lab. (Apparently it's actually an issue for some of the longer-serving members of the Expedition. He can understand it too - Earth is almost unbearably crowded after a place like Atlantis - but it's not the reason he stays.)
Maybe Rodney can find a different way to take the edge off, one that doesn't involve copious amounts of pills and concerned looks from pimply-faced teenagers with the ink still wet on the sheepskins they'd managed bribe budget cut-stricken universities into giving them. He's a genius, so it shouldn't be hard, even if the headaches and the exhaustion and the constant sense of 'emptiness' make it hard to concentrate somethings.
Or maybe he just needs to sleep. Sleep is good. It's the best, really, even if lately it only brings nightmares of a silence so complete he wakes up clawing at his ears, that is, when he manages to sleep at all. The insomnia's terrible, despite his exhaustion, and it's a rare night that he actually manages to fall asleep...
18 November, 2006 / 15 Days After The Second Exodus
The next morning, calls himself every kind of idiot in the book (and a few that he invents just for the occasion). Then Rodney queues up a playlist of songs that all sound almost, but not quite like Atlantis. With the music piping through the smallest of the laboratory spaces they've given him and a pot of strong black coffee brewing in the corner, he can almost pretend he's back where he belongs instead of the windowless cavern in the tunnels beneath Area 51 the IOA has stuck him in, the one one that's always cold and dark despite the Nevada sun beating down overhead and which reminds him far too much of the Genii's underground warrens for comfort.
Rodney doesn't know much about the nanoids that make communication with AI's possible. John, for whatever reason, won't let him study them. But he 'does' know that the neural network that had existed between 'Aurora's' crew while they were in stasis had operated on a similar frequency to whatever the nanoids used to talk to the city, and he has plenty of information about that. It might not be a city's song, but it might be enough to keep Rodney from losing his mind in the years it takes him to make his way home.
6 December, 2006 / 33 Days After The Second Exodus
The first thing Rodney tries is a frequency generator. Which works - but only if he's within five feet of the thing, and only then if he boosts the signal strength to the point where it starts interfering with the computers, neither of which is actually conducive to making his life 'better' in any way. Though it does help him to manage a couple of hours of sleep when all other options fail him.
He tinkers with the idea of building a portable generator for a while but scraps the idea before he can even get into the prototype phase, largely because anything he might build, however small, would have the same problem, and since he spends half his life writing computer code and a good portion of the rest wrist-deep in someone else's, it's just not feasible. Not unless he wants to go teach and do the whole chalkboard-filled lecture hall thing for the foreseeable future, and Rodney hasn't fallen quite that low yet.
Still, there has to be a solution, even if it doesn't exist on Earth - yet. Both John and Lorne have spent considerable amounts of time away from Atlantis since becoming 'pastores' and neither of them have gone the kind of complete, pill-popping mental Rodney has, so there must be a way.
Then again, both John and Lorne are 'pastores,' which means they have the benefit of thousands of tiny nanoids in their brains, belting out the appropriate frequencies wherever they go, regardless of whether or not there's an AI around to listen. Rodney's only a 'custodia'. All he's got are receiving privileges, and right now there's not a hell of a lot for him to receive on Earth.
Maybe he should just build an AI. That would definitely solve all his problems and, considering all the walls he's running into, probably less difficult as well.
Then again, maybe the problem is that the music is supposed to be 'inside' his head. His frequency generator and ever-expanding iTunes library help somewhat, but they're external, so maybe the only real solution is to find a way to pipe the stuff directly into his head and hope it doesn't liquify his brains - or worse.
The idea of putting something directly into his brain, however, makes Rodney very nervous. If it didn't, he'd have asked to help him become a 'pastor' ages ago. But the thought of millions of nanoids crawling beneath his skin, digging into his brain; altering him on a fundamental, irrevocable level makes him uncomfortable in a way Rodney doesn't have words for. There are no guarantees that putting something into his brain won't change everything. Sure, Lorne's been through the procedure and seems to be the same, but Lorne's not like him. Lorne's, well, pretty smart for a military grunt, but he's not Rodney. For all he knows, sticking something in his brain could take away whatever it is that makes 'him' and not Samantha Carter the smartest person in two galaxies.
But it wouldn't be nanoids. It would be something he built himself, something he can 'take out' if he ever wants (needs) to. Maybe that would be better.
That's what Rodney's hoping, anyway, as he holds at the culmination of all his work over the last three weeks up to eye level: It looks like a flattened pushpin with a very long pin, or maybe a quarter someone's stuck a sewing needle to. At it's most basic level, it's a modified Tok'ra memory recall device. He's stripped out all the memory recall functions and replaced them with a mobile wifi hotspot and a direct link to the most fire-walled, secured computer he could build. All that's left of the original mechanism is its neural interface, which should allow harmless white noise to be piped directly into his brain at the same frequency as an Ancient city's song.
"Well, here goes nothing," he says before pushing the device through the mastoid skin behind his right ear.
He's unconscious before he hits the ground.