Five Ancient devices they really shouldn't have initialized

by Domenika Marzione

The work is never-ending, the to-do list prioritized by "ASAP", "immediately", "before even that", "right the fuck now", and "later". It comes in varieties ranging from "what the hell?" to "but it worked in Antarctica" to "find someone with the ATA gene" to "give it to Major Sheppard" to "don't touch that -- no, really, don't touch that" to "oh that's what it does" to "oops". (Radek Zelenka)


1) "What the hell?"
"I used to have one of those," Simpson said as they watched the device bounce around on the table, bright, jewel-tone lights flashing depending on which side it landed. "My dog chased it around for hours. I used to have to buy new batteries every other week."

"Looks like a soccer ball," Major Sheppard said, head tilted as he followed the bouncing ball.

The major was accommodating with granting his time to their research, extremely so considering that he was now the second-most powerful person in Atlantis, but it was extremely inefficient to have to wait for him to arrive. Most artifacts could be activated by anyone with the gene, but a surprising -- and, Radek believed, increasing -- number of artifacts would not. It was as if the artifacts knew that Major Sheppard was there and would not suffer the touch of a lesser descendant of the Ancients. It had been only a theory in Antarctica, but now in Atlantis... most of Engineering already called the major Jesus behind his back.

"Maybe Buckminster Fuller was an Ancient." Radek had already mentally classifying it as useless-but-entertaining. He'd give it another few seconds before officially classifying it as such because it was nice to see something that both worked and worked benignly.

The ball, about the size of a grapefruit, was heading straight for the edge of the table. "Hey, come back here," Sheppard called after it, reaching out even though there was no chance that he could reach it... at least not until the ball defied pretty much every law of motion and did an abrupt about-face, heading straight for the major's outstretched hand.

"Hunh," Simpson chuffed, watching the ball bounce dutifully over to Sheppard. "Leroy would have killed for his to do that."

Not for the first time -- not for the fifth time -- Radek felt an envy at Major Sheppard's genetic fortune with a power that was not dissimilar to heartburn. To be able to do but a fraction of what Sheppard could do....

"Cool," the major murmured. "Hey, go to Doctor McKay!"

The ball executed another volte-face and bounced off the table, past Simpson's feet and across the floor to where McKay was sitting, back to everyone. It came to rest under his stool, flashed a sort of orangey-peach three times, and then there was an explosion.

Once they'd brought McKay down to the infirmary (where, after tests, Beckett had put him in a bed and Safir had almost immediately told him to get up and get lost) and the air had cleared from ATA-2, Radek retrieved the now-dark ball and labeled it.

AT-00032: Tear Gas Grenade

2) "Find someone with the ATA gene."

Aiden Ford turned at the voice. Sergeants Smith and Laganzo were running toward him with matching looks on their faces, the one Aiden had gotten used to recognizing as "minor catastrophe in the making."

"What is it, Sergeants?" He braced himself for the latest in a never-ending string of disasters both real and imagined. Major Sheppard had left him in command for the morning, taking Markham out for a flying lesson and then spending some quality time with the scientists so that Doctor McKay would get off of all of their backs.

Laganzo sighed. "Stackhouse's squad is trapped, sir."

"Again?" Aiden didn't know what sort of luck Stackhouse and his men had to have that they had required rescuing three days in a row. The first day had been while they were clearing space for living quarters -- they'd had to rule an entire floor unsafe after it had taken half a dozen engineers and nine marines to get through the two sets of doors. Yesterday had been in some basement that turned out to be flooded and they'd had to shut the power down in half of the places where they'd just gotten it up so that Stackhouse and his men could wade through the water to safety. Aiden was kind of afraid what today's adventure might bring.

"Again," Smith confirmed, the seriousness of his expression cracking for a moment to show barely controlled mirth beneath.

"Something funny about a fellow marine needing aid, Smith?" he asked harshly. He tried to sound like Colonel Sumner had when he'd gotten pissed at the men, but the colonel had had twenty years of barking at marines to get the right tone. Aiden hadn't yet had three.

"No, sir!" Smith barked back, looking straight over Aiden't right shoulder. Next to him, Laganzo was biting his lip, but also looking over his shoulder. Aiden was tempted to turn around and see what the hell they might have found so riveting, but it was too early into a long deployment to start playing wannabe DI.

"Where are they, Sergeant Laganzo?" He still hadn't quite gotten the hang of the different radio channels they used. There was one for the marines, one for Major Sheppard (the command net was reduced to two), one that got Doctor McKay and Doctor Weir....

"In the head, sir!"

It was Aiden's turn to sigh. He took his hand away from his radio. "They're trapped in the head?"

Leave it to Stackhouse to get stuck in the fucking crapper.

"They were clearing it for public use, sir, when something activated and the doors closed behind them," Laganzo went on. "They said that they were getting sprayed with something and that there was a fan or something blowing. Like a wind tunnel."

Smith was losing the battle to keep a straight face, but Aiden didn't bother calling him on it. "Markham and the Major aren't in the city. Go find someone else with the ATA gene."

AT-00134: Room Sanitizer

3) "Don't touch that -- no, really, don't touch that."
All in all, John was pretty sure that this was what taking the bad acid at a summer community theater festival would be like. Not that he had any particular desire to try such a stunt. But if he did, then it would probably look a lot like this. Cast dressed like the extras in 1776, plotline right out of a badly adapted and 'modernized' Shakespeare play (he hadn't decided yet whether it was a comedy or a tragedy; it depended on whether he and his team got home alive), and the set decoration straight out of 1960's scifi -- like the Dr. Who reruns that would be on public television at odd hours. The velvet drapes in the control room were a winning touch.

This wasn't Atlantis, but he could hear the city just the same. Her 'voice' -- the data that hummed through his head -- was weak and sickly and there was something frail and rickety about the whole place. The walls -- underneath all the candelabras and hangings and crap -- were the same as Atlantis's, but this was nothing like Atlantis. When they'd arrived from Earth, Atlantis had had about as much energy as this place did, maybe even less, and yet she had been eager to activate, eager to live again. This place felt like it was dying. John thought he could maybe smell the decay. Or maybe it was just the combination of rancid grease and old perfume.

He'd been 'escorted' (with the understanding that refusal -- polite or otherwise -- was out of the question) around the tower, partly to show off what they had and partly to see how much he recognized. Or how much recognized him. He'd been quietly, apologetically rebuffing this city's advances, shushing it like he would a jumper he wanted to cloak, ignoring the feeble grasp at the part of his mind he associated with interacting with Ancient tech. Playing dumb with the court intrigues as well as the city, all he wanted was some drone weapons and a way out. Much more of this and he'd settle for the latter.

The Chamberlain led him through a part of the tower that, in Atlantis, was off-limits to everyone but the engineers. It was a series of rooms that had proven more trouble than they were worth to investigate. Rodney and his minions had gone through it carefully and John had still had come bail them out because neither McKay nor Kusanagi could turn things off (which took effort and concentration) as well as they could activate them (which was usually an accident). They knew what the rooms were -- sort of Atlantis's version of a boiler room, a collection of nuts-and-guts that the city needed to run and were entirely too easy to disrupt. Touch the wrong crystal and you'd fry essential systems that not even Rodney knew how to fix.

The retinue of curiosity seekers -- John got the distinct impression that none of these 'nobles' got out much -- had grown as the tour had progressed. Here, in the room John didn't want to be in, the crowd was almost too big for the space. Otho gestured grandly to an illuminated crystal network, a sort of switchboard that John still remembered as having caused most of the problems back in Atlantis -- it had been one of those devices that needed the ATA gene to initialize and, once it had, it had nearly overloaded all five naquadah generators at once.

"Come look at this," Otho offered (ordered). "It is most fascinating, is it not?"

John approached slowly, focusing all of his attention on keeping the connection he had with this rotting city closed. Otho wasn't even trying to be subtle. He wanted John to touch it and activate it. And John knew that if he did, they'd never let him leave.

Off! Off! Off!, he ordered the device. Contrary to popular opinion in Little Tripoli, he did have a command voice and a damned loud one. He'd needed it to be heard over the rotors of a helicopter. He needed it here.

AT-00186: Capacitor

4) "Oh that's what it does."
"Does this have to get done now?" John asked. He'd been aiming for 'plaintive', but he knew it came out closer to 'whining.' But it was 2250, he'd been up since 0530, he still had paperwork to do, and he'd spent almost all of his patience and most of his energy in meetings because Lorne was still laid up with some allergic reaction. His XO had hives on top of hives and even Safir had taken pity on him. Lorne looked a little like the Elephant Man and a lot like a mumps patient and Safir had refused to clear him for duty.

Rodney glared at him, the sort of They Don't Make Humans That Stupid look he had pretty much avoided since Antarctica (not to be confused with the I'm Surrounded By Single Cell Organisms Posing As People look, which he still got all the time).

"As far as we can tell, this cache is probably comprised of the latest technology the Ancients developed before they left for Earth," he said, gesturing eagerly toward the crate on the counter. "For all we know, they meant to take this with them when they left and forgot it."

John raised an eyebrow skeptically.

"You know what I mean," Rodney retorted.

"Not really, no," John replied, leaning against the counter. He wanted coffee. He never wanted coffee, at least not in Atlantis where the coffee ranged from barely drinkable to not-even-as-good-as-the-powdered-shit. Colombia had spoiled him rotten.

"We've been sitting on these artifacts for two years," Rodney went on, ignoring John's peevishness in the face of his own enthusiasm. John thought that Rodney was maybe glowing a little. "And now we can finally study them."

John yawned. "So tell me again why you had to wait all this time? And why you need me to initialize them? I thought we got past the 'get Sheppard for everything' phase last year."

"These were items that we couldn't identify," Rodney said, picking up the first artifact, which was shaped kind of like a back scratcher, the kind with the crudely shaped hand at the end. "They weren't in the main database and the one item we did try to initialize exploded."

John leaned over to look in the crate. "It's not still in here, is it?"

"No," Rodney replied with annoyance. "It's locked up with the other hazards to our health."

There was too much to be said to that, none of which would put him in Rodney's good graces and thus improve his chances of getting out of here before midnight, so John said nothing.

"When we downloaded the files on Doranda, we got our first hit," Rodney began again.

"Is that really such a solid reference?" John blurted out.

"They're not from Project Arcturus," Rodney replied evenly. It was still a sore subject for him -- for them, if the situation was right (or wrong, depending on the mood). "But there was at least one scientist on that project who was either working on these or knew someone who was. From those files, we found the hidden directory in the main database where we were finally able to match up these artifacts with a description."

John knew he looked skeptical still, but he couldn't help it. Doranda had shown everyone at their worst -- Rodney, the Ancients, even himself. He didn't want to touch anything even peripherally related to that mistake. Rodney, ever looking toward the future, had no such trouble.

"This," Rodney went on, holding up the back scratcher, "is an energy sensor. It can detect fluctuations that our PDAs can't even register."

"Are you sure?" John asked, holding out his hand for it. "It looks like a back scratcher."

Rodney didn't give it over right away and John could tell by the constipated look on his face that he was trying to initialize it himself.

"Come on, Rodney. If you could have done it yourself, you wouldn't have needed me here. Which means that if you brought me here under false pretenses, I'm going to be very, very upset. And possibly vindictive."

Rodney gave him the backscratcher. "I was just trying," he muttered.

The device felt... stuck. Stubborn. Like it didn't want to turn on. John poured all of the frustrations of his very long day into the effort and he felt the initialization click like a lock opening.

The curved tip of the device started to curl and flex. Kind of like a hand. On a battery-powered back scratcher.

"Sensor, huh?" John asked, watching the gray-blue fingers move rhythmically. "It's a back scratcher, McKay."

"It's not--" Rodney cut himself off, grabbing the artifact from John's hand. He held the moving tip on his palm, then put it down on the table and scanned it with his PDA.

"Back scratcher," John repeated.

Rodney glared angrily at the readout on the PDA, then looked up at John. "You're never to speak of this again. To anyone."

"Goodnight, Rodney."

AT-01879: Medical Equipment: Palliative Care

5) "Oops."
"What do you think this place was for?"

Lorne looked around at the mostly-intact network of buildings. "I haven't got a clue," he replied, moving past Suarez to the door. "We'll let the engineers and the social sciences people run around and figure that out."

The Ancient database, as usual, had been more cryptic than informational. It had been very clear that there had once been a facility on the planet they were designating M5L-947, but what sort of facility and whether there might be anything either useful or especially dangerous... the odds were about even. That, or the entire thing would be rubble and shards.

The place wasn't rubble and shards. A little rubble, but the Ancients really did build stuff to last -- not exactly a ringing endorsement for their plan to ascend, he thought -- and ten thousand years had done remarkably little damage. The ceilings were structurally sound, the walls had only suffered water damage in spots, and apart from enough dust to set them all to sneezing, the place looked pretty good. Better than some of the buildings they'd investigated in Atlantis.

"But we can still poke around, right, sir?" Suarez asked hopefully as he followed him outside into the bright sunlight. The buildings were dark inside; either they had no power or they had a power source that wasn't responding to his artificial ATA gene. "Take some pictures, get a sense of the place, that sort of thing?"

Lorne adjusted his sunglasses and turned to Suarez. "Why are you so eager all of a sudden? I usually have to order you guys to survey a site."

"It looks interesting, sir?"

He didn't bother dignifying that with a reply, instead going to join Ortilla at the doorway to the next building. His marines were anything if not predictable. When it came to rough and dirty work, they were always raring to go. When it came to the tedious matters that made up most of the duties of an off-world team, they had an unerring nose for finding the least responsibility possible.

"Our platoon's got KP duty this month, sir," Ortilla explained with a what-did-you-expect shrug. "Reletti can at least fry an egg, but Atlantis is probably safer if Suarez ain't cooking."

Lorne shook his head and walked out from under the shade cast by the building. He should have remembered; he didn't keep track of who had what duty as a regular thing -- that was Radner's job. But he did try to keep track of Patchok's platoon so he knew how much of an interruption it would be to pull his three out of whatever the rest of their platoon was doing. When he'd planned this mission the other month, he'd done it knowing that he was taking them out of the kitchen.

"Fuck you, man," Suarez hissed behind him. "I can cook."

"You nearly gave the entire fucking city botulism, dumbass," Ortilla replied with a tired sigh. "Even Gallitan knows to double-check the dented cans."

Lorne tapped his radio, deciding he didn't want to overhear any more. "Reletti? Doc? Where'd you two get off to?"

They'd done a perimeter sweep with Ortilla and then started off on the rightmost buildings while he and Suarez had taken the leftmost.

"Doc thought he found something, sir," Reletti answered back. "It was just animal bones."

Lorne wasn't sure from Reletti's tone if he was supposed to be relieved or disappointed by that news. "Did you get the power working over there?"

"Yes, sir. Want me to flip the switch there?"

"If you would, Sergeant."

Yoni appeared first, emerging out of a doorway three over from where Ortilla and Suarez were standing. He dusted off his arms and looked crankily at the sky. The flip side of taking mercy on the marines and keeping them away from kitchen duty was that it also took Yoni away from his lab, something Yoni did not want. Something Lorne didn't want, either, because Yoni was more likely to gripe about his lost lab time than the marines were should he turn them around now and take them home.

Reletti materialized from around the side of the building at the opposite end of the compound. He trotted over, grinning.

"What were you doing all the way over there?" Lorne asked.

"Call of nature, sir."

Lorne sighed, then gestured behind him. "Go see if you can initialize the generator."

Reletti jogged over to the building, the others following behind him.

"Luuuucy, I'm hoooome," Reletti called out in an eerily accurate impersonation of Desi Arnaz. Before Lorne could even make a half-hearted attempt to beg for professional decorum, there was an audible click and then the lights came on, slowly and steadily.

It wasn't until six months later, after they'd been freed from the Genii prison, that they'd realized that the 'wanted posters' of Lorne and Reletti had come from M5L-947.

AT-01359: Portable Long-term Generator


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22 October, 2006