Part Four: Causation
Causation: noun: the act of causing something to happen.
Chapter 1: The Strangeness Begins
Rodney awoke in his apartment after a far from restful night. Although Carson had provided him with pills to help him sleep – which he'd taken while at Jeannie's - he preferred to manage without them, afraid of developing a dependency. Of course, that left him susceptible to nightmares.
This night had been the worst he'd had for some weeks now, having woken several times. Memories of what the Olesians had done to him became mixed with other monsters: Wraith, Kolya, Replicators... whales.
So, he wasn't exactly rested, but he'd felt worse in his life than this. After all, it wasn't like he'd been awake for days on end or anything, so he could handle this.
Two strong cups of coffee and some breakfast, followed by a long hot shower helped to wake him up more, though his head was throbbing with a familiar tension headache. He'd take some Tylenol when he finished in the bathroom.
After shaving, his eyes drifted to the reflection of his chest and arms in the mirror and the scars that covered them. His legs carried similar scars, and his back was even more of a mess.
Unbidden, the memories came crashing back down on him as he gripped the edge of the sink, his breathing increasing as his heart rate sped up. It wasn't a flashback. The memories of what they had done to him were vivid, but he was aware that he wasn't back there with them, that he was in his bathroom on Earth and safe.
Even so, he could hear their voices raging at him, accusing him. Hatred and anger accompanying the pain, stirring the guilt inside of him. Calling him - calling his team - destroyers, murderers, Wraith-bringers and worse.
They hung him from a tree for hours at a time, to rest they said while laughing cruelly. If he was lucky, they'd throw him into a cold, dark dungeon. A broken laugh escaped him. Lucky to be in a dungeon? Yes, yes, because he could lie down, he could sleep in fits and starts, nightmares and pain awakening him. It was better than the tree, so much better than the tree and his aching arms and the ever present fear of gangrene setting in.
They were obsessed with maiming, which seemed strange for such an advanced society. These survivors, though, lived more simply, their technology left behind in the rush to escape. Oh, they told him all about it - their ship shot down on the island, fleeing to the gate, hiding and waiting for a dart to dial out and following it through. Losing people to the Wraith on that planet, managing to dial out by randomly entering symbols until a connection was made, managing to find a place to start again. They had told him all of that in their anger, blaming him for everything.
And they threatened to maim him, holding up one of his fingers as the light in the dim room glinted off a wicked looking knife. Oh, they hadn't actually taken it, but the threat was clear, couldn't have been clearer if they had shouted it from the rooftops. Selfishly, shamefully he was grateful, so grateful at times that it scared him. He needed his fingers. He would be lost without them. The threat of losing them was almost as bad as when they had held the blade to his cheek, just a hairsbreadth away from leaving him with scars uglier than Kolya's. But they always talked about starting with his fingers...
Shakily, he held up his hands to be sure. See. All fingers present and accounted for. Sheppard had saved him from that. Sheppard and Ronon and Teyla. It was thanks to them that he could run his still-intact-but-possibly-shaky fingers over his face, the skin unmarred by vicious scars, and he'd be forever grateful to them.
They'd probably been saving it for last. One final reminder, so that if he did survive, he could look in the mirror and always be reminded of "what he did to them". The other scars he could hide under his clothing. Granted, he'd never be able to wear short-sleeved shirts again, or swimming trunks or... well, anything like that again.
But he had his face. And his hands. That had to be worth something.
He pushed the memories down, locking them away as he slowed his breathing. He was alive; he just had to hold onto that. The rest...the rest didn't matter.
Though he couldn't help but think bitterly that if this had happened to him before his run in with the ascension device, he could have healed his physical scars, like he had for Ronon.
He pulled on his clothes, grabbed a few things he needed, and headed to the front door. He'd meant to try to improve the naquadah generator design last night, but he hadn't been able to concentrate when he'd got home, sleep pulling at him until he gave in, despite knowing the nightmares would come. Still, if he hung around the SGC there was a chance he could persuade someone to give him something to do, before the boredom drove him mad.
Only maybe it already had. As he neared the door, an image appeared before him. An image of himself.
He stopped, breath tightening in his chest. It wasn't entirely solid; he could see through it, just. It flickered from time to time, like a hologram made by a faulty projector. That had to be what it was. After all, there weren't any whales here...
It disappeared as suddenly as it had appeared and he started to breathe freely again.
He could look for the projector, but something felt wrong. Why would someone scare him like that? How would they get hold of a hologram projector anyway?
Something didn't feel right about the whole projector idea. It was like he somehow knew that it was something else. Something familiar. But he couldn't place it.
He should probably report it to Landry, but... he felt reluctant to, fearing that they would think he was losing his mind - and he really didn't feel that was the case.
Shaking himself out of his reverie, he continued out to his car.
He was halfway to Cheyenne Mountain when...whatever it was...manifested itself again, this time on the side of the road. Spooked, he swerved into the other lane briefly, grateful that there was no traffic, before pulling the car over to the side of the road. Taking deep, calming breaths, he tried to stop the shaking in his hands.
Maybe he was going crazy. Maybe some part of him wanted to crash into oncoming traffic. But no, he didn't really think that was true. Something else was going on; he just needed to work out what it was and sitting here wasn't going to do that. Now that his hands weren't shaking, he needed to get to the SGC. If he saw the image again he'd be ready for it.
Or so he thought, but as he started to drive off, the image appeared right in front of his car, causing him to slam on the brakes and curse.
It really didn't help that it looked just like him.
So, could this be some sort of freaky time travel or alternate universe thing? Though if that was the case, why the flickering projection and not the real person?
He didn't know, but there was something about all of this that was irritatingly familiar, and yet he couldn't work out what. It was beyond frustrating; it was downright annoying. Like something on the tip of his tongue, but far worse. He knew what this was, and yet he didn't, and that was just unacceptable. He was Rodney McKay, the most brilliant mind in two galaxies. This knowing yet not knowing was going to drive him brilliantly insane!
The image spoke, and instinctively, Rodney wound his window down to hear the words better.
"Asordo Leslanum. Priu intirneci Leslanum. Servus nos servus Anqueetus. Klarnaso Taushpro," the voice, his voice, intoned in Ancient.
Okay, he got a few words here and there, but he was the first to admit that although he could read Ancient reasonably well, he struggled when it was spoken. On the few occasions that he had heard Ancient - his whale friends for instance - he found that the spoken words sounded different than how he pronounced them in his head.
There was no way he could memorise this properly. It was like trying to remember the names of people; he was bound to get it mixed up. Fortunately, he had a digital recorder on him, and the... image was repeating the message over and over, so... he made sure he got a copy of it.
A few minutes later and the avatar... avatar? Where had that come from? Anyway, a few minutes later and whatever it was, had gone.
It didn't appear again on his way to the SGC, which was a relief. He needed to find Jackson. After all, who else was going to translate the message?
Arriving at the SGC, a thought suddenly occurred to him. Checking his digital recorder, he groaned as he realised the message hadn't been picked up by it. Typical. So what did he do now? He could still go see Jackson, but he could only remember about three words of the message, so that seemed kind of pointless. He supposed he could wait for the image to reappear and write it down phonetically.
And why was he so sure the image would reappear? He didn't know, but somewhere deep down he just knew that it would keep appearing until the message was understood.
Sighing in frustration, he decided to see Jackson anyway. He could at least explain what he'd seen and tell him the few words he remembered - and hope that Jackson didn't think he was crazy. Which hopefully he wouldn't. After all, SG-1 had seen more than their share of crazy things over the years, and if he remembered correctly, Jackson himself had been wrongly classified as crazy at one point. So he should give him the benefit of the doubt, right?
Right, he thought gloomily as he entered the elevator and headed down to Jackson's room, office, whatever you wanted to call it, but please, not a lab.
It took Rodney several minutes to traverse the SGC hallways and reach his destination. Knocking briefly on the door, he entered without waiting for an invitation, trying to look relaxed and not the slightest bit nervous. He suspected he wasn't entirely successful.
"Hey," Jackson greeted him. "Aren't you supposed to be relaxing somewhere other than here?"
"Yes, well, something came up."
"Yes, erm..." He paused, steeling himself before spilling everything about the image he'd seen and the Ancient it had spoken to him. To his credit, Jackson didn't look at him like he was crazy.
"That sounds... intriguing."
He rolled his eyes. "Yes, yes, very intriguing. You don't think I'm going crazy then?" he challenged.
"Somehow I doubt that. Despite the flashback you tried to pretend didn't happen yesterday."
Rodney narrowed his eyes. "What flashback?"
"The one in the corridor on the way to Sam's lab."
"I don't know what you're talking about. You must have been imagining things," he said gruffly. "And..." He stopped as the image, avatar, whatever appeared before him. "Please tell me you see that."
"Ah, yes," Jackson replied, eyes wide in surprise. "I see that."
"Asordo Leslanum. Priu intirneci Leslanum. Servus nos servus Anqueetus. Klarnaso Taushpro," the avatar said.
Jackson grabbed a pen and notebook and started jotting the words down, as the avatar helpfully repeated the same message twice before fading into nothing.
"Did you get it?" Rodney asked.
"Yeah, just give me a few minutes."
Jackson started writing again, brow furrowing in concentration, before starting to look through some of the books in his office. Rodney fidgeted, trying to be patient. But patience wasn't one of his strong points and after a few minutes, impatience finally got the better of him.
"Huh?" Jackson looked up at him as if just remembering he was there. "Oh. I've translated everything except one word." He looked down at what he'd written. "Okay, it says, 'Help Leslanum. Stop destruction Leslanum. Save us, save Ancients.' and the last bit, Klarnaso Taushpro, I believe is the phonetics for a six letter address. Fortunately comprised of the same symbols as one we've come across before, just in a different order."
"How do we save the Ancients? They're pretty much either dead or ascended."
"Perhaps that's what it means, the ascended Ancients. Look, the language used is pretty basic; it may be that it's not the first language of whoever is sending the message to us."
"And help Leslanum? What does that mean?"
"I don't know; that's the word I can't translate offhand. It might be a race or perhaps a person," Jackson shrugged. "Could be anything."
"We should contact Atlantis, have them check the database for that word. It might contain something."
Jackson nodded thoughtfully. "Yes. We'd better see Landry for authorisation."
"Fine," he answered, following Jackson out of the room. At least he wasn't going crazy.
Not that he'd really thought he was, obviously.
Landry had agreed to contact Atlantis via the gatebridge and ask for the database to be searched, but only after being assured by Jackson that he, too, had seen the strange image. Rodney, to his dismay, was ordered to the infirmary, where he scowled and complained his way through the various tests. Unfortunately, it appeared that all doctors seemed to grow a thick skin, either that, or Lam had been briefed by Carson, the traitor. Whatever, she ignored his complaints and bad attitude, though he was sure there was an evil smile on her face when she drew a blood sample. What was it about doctors and their need to drain you of blood? And why did they all seem to take such pleasure in taking his blood? It wasn't fair! Didn't they know he only had so much of it?
More disquieting was when the image appeared to him during his incarceration in Lam's dungeon and no one else there saw it. Why had Jackson seen it when Lam and her people didn't?
He was still pondering this when he was finally released and wandered down to Sam's lab to find Jackson already there. He was about to speak when the avatar appeared again, this time with a longer message. Sam didn't see it, but fell quiet as Jackson rushed to scribble down the message, clearly grateful that it was repeated twice before the image disappeared.
"So, what did it say?" he asked.
"Hmm," Jackson replied distractedly, pouring over the text he'd written.
"Give him a chance to translate it, Rodney," Sam interjected.
Sighing, Rodney started fiddling with an alien device on Sam's lab table.
"McKay," Sam said, exasperated. "Quit playing with the unknown alien technology."
"Huh? You sound like me talking Sheppard away from the shiny Ancient device that just lit up at his presence," he replied, putting the device down with a sigh. He knew better than to poke unknown and potentially dangerous items. Well, he should do by now, but he hated waiting - and how long did it take to translate something anyway? He needed a distraction. "You really didn't see or hear anything?"
"No, not a thing," Sam said.
"Hmm, that's odd. Other than me only Jackson has seen or heard it."
"Maybe it only shows itself to you and the first person with you when it manifests?"
"Maybe," he said doubtfully. What did Jackson have in common with him? Something no one else did... He snapped his fingers as an idea came to him. "Call me crazy..."
"You're crazy," Sam said quickly, clearly not wanting to miss out on his invitation.
"Oh, ha, ha," he said acerbically. "I was trying to think what Jackson and I might have in common that others wouldn't, and thinking back to yesterday's conversation only one thing comes to mind. He ascended and I nearly ascended."
"Nearly isn't the same."
"No, no." He sighed. "It's probably nothing."
"Actually," Jackson said, suddenly interrupting, "I think that might be it."
"You finished the translation?" Rodney asked.
"Yeah. It says, 'Anubis trap Leslanum. Try to use Leslanum. Fail. Ori a threat if find Leslanum. We bridge living planes. Ori use us. Destroy Ascendeds. Free Leslanum. Leave. Go home. Beyond Ori reach'." Jackson looked concerned. "I think these Leslanum, whoever they are, exist in a state similar to what Anubis did."
"Part corporeal, part ascended." Rodney nodded. "And clearly they consider the Ori to be a threat to them."
"If the Ori destroy the ascended Ancients, then we'd really be on our own," Sam said, looking concerned. "Some of them have tried to help us, despite their rules of non-interference."
"I need to bring Landry up to date," Jackson said. "It might be a good idea for you to come too, Rodney. If the avatar appears again with a new message you'll need me to translate it."
"See you later, Sam."
A few hours later found Rodney and Jackson sat at the conference table waiting for the others to arrive.
"So you left the team?" Jackson asked, to Rodney's surprise and discomfort. "It's a big step to take," he continued. "Even when I ascended I still couldn't cut myself off from my team."
Rodney remained silent, not wanting to talk about it and hoping that Jackson got the hint. But the man was like a dog with a bone, unfortunately.
"Are you sure you made the right decision?"
"It's for the best," Rodney answered with a scowl, wishing that he could get up and walk away, but with the others due soon it wasn't possible. Which, he conceded to himself, was probably why Jackson chose to talk about it now.
"Have you thought about how they will manage without you?"
"They'll be better off without me," he snapped.
"How many times has your genius saved them offworld? How will you feel the next time they come back through the gate, hurt from some Ancient tech that you could have disabled, if only you had been there?"
He hadn't really thought about that. Didn't really want to think about that.
"They'll be fine," he reiterated, ignoring the disquiet he felt inside and unable to meet Jackson's piercing gaze.
"Or what about if, one day, they didn't come back through the gate? Would you wonder if you would have been able to save them?"
"They'll be fine," Rodney repeated, but even to his own ears he sounded slightly panicked. He couldn't take anymore; he wanted to become the isolated scientist he had once been. Free from others, only relying on himself, not wanting to be a part of anything.
To escape, he went to make himself a coffee and when he returned, Jackson didn't push him any further, for which he was glad. But he knew he'd be thinking about what had been said later. Which had probably been his intention, the damned dogooder.
It was with relief he saw General Landry and the rest of SG-1 enter, and Jackson spent the next few minutes updating everyone on the translations. So far there hadn't been any more appearances by the avatar, which was a relief on one level and an annoyance on another. More information would have been useful, but being stuck with Jackson hadn't been fun. In fact, it had been downright boring, until he'd started yammering on about Rodney's team. Ex-team.
Still, he'd had chance to skim through the data Zelenka had recently sent him from Atlantis' database and was ready to share it.
"Okay, Zelenka pulled some information referring to the Leslanum, but it's in the form of a fable, a myth."
"Fictional?" Mitchell asked.
"Well, we'd assumed, no, the anthropologists assumed that the stories we found in that part of the database were fictional. They were written in poem and prose and related to a time when the Ancients had only just started to master the art of Ascension."
"So, before the split with the Ori?" Jackson asked.
"Yes. Anyway, it would seem that the stories are at least based on some fact, if not necessarily factual in themselves."
"So what do they say?" Vala interrupted, looking a little bored.
"I was getting to that," he snapped irritably. "To be honest the story is a little familiar, if also a little different. Basically, a medical doctor was trying to find the cure to a fatal illness that had affected a few of their people. She was close to the answer when she contracted it herself. She intended to ascend but then return, hoping to finish the cure, but when she reached the point of death, she didn't ascend. Instead, she whispered the final part of the formula needed for the cure before dying. Fortunately, the Ancients were able to keep her body alive long enough for the cure to be completed, and she was saved."
"Like you and the Ascension machine," Sam said, looking thoughtful. "You found the answer and Dr Beckett was able to keep you alive long enough for them to save you."
"Yes, yes, I'm very much aware of the similarity."
"So where do these Leslanum come into it?" Mitchell asked.
"A few months after, the doctor started to see an image of herself, though it spoke a language she didn't recognise. The only other people to see and hear the avatar were those who had ascended but returned, for whatever reason. Apparently at that time there were quite a few of them that did that. Anyway, over time the language barrier was overcome. It seems the Leslanum were intrigued by these beings that passed through their realm so quickly, on their way to ascension."
"Their realm?" Landry asked. "So they are like Anubis?"
"Sort of but not quite," he replied. "They don't interact with beings that have ascended and don't have the same level of knowledge or power. Their bodies are corporeal, but their minds live in both realms. Not fully ascended, not fully corporeal. Anubis wasn't fully descended, and therefore not fully corporeal."
"Does the story say any more about them?" Jackson asked.
"No, that's pretty much it."
"So we have a gate address, a possible cry for help and a vague description," Landry said, an unhappy scowl on his face. "And no way of knowing if they are trustworthy or not. This whole thing could be some sort of trap."
"Yes, but without the help of the few Ascendeds who are willing to bend the rules, we'd be in a lot more trouble where the Ori are concerned," Jackson pointed out.
"He's right, sir. If there is a chance the Ori can use the Leslanum in some way to destroy the other ascended beings, then we could find ourselves in real trouble. We have no way of knowing for sure if Merlin's weapon worked or not," Sam added.
"What about my contact?" Vala said. "He said he had information about a kassa shipment. Are we still following that up?"
"Yes," Landry said. "We need to hit the Lucien Alliance where it hurts. I want you to keep your rendezvous, but not alone."
"I will go with her," Teal'c offered.
Landry nodded. "I'm authorising the mission to the address the Leslanum provided. Doctor Jackson and Colonel Carter, I want you to be part of it."
"And me," Rodney added, despite the terror welling up at him at the thought of going offworld. "I'm the one the Leslanum are appearing to." Which was true and also extremely unfair. He really didn't want to go offworld – it was why he'd quit his team in the first place - but he didn't feel he had much choice. The fate of these Leslanum could be bound up with the fate of the galaxy, and damn it, he was really getting tired of having so many lives depending on him. This would be the last time, he told himself firmly.
"And you," Landry agreed reluctantly.
"Sam doesn't need to go in that case..."
"McKay, do you seriously think I'm going to let you have first dibs on any alien technology you find?" Sam asked, raising an eyebrow and adding, "Would you, if the situation was reversed."
"Good point," he conceded gracelessly.
"Colonel Sheppard sent a message with Doctor Zelenka's findings, expressing a wish to join any offworld mission involving Doctor McKay. I believe he said you might need someone to quell his enthusiasm if faced with new technology," Landry said.
"Oh, that's just great!" Rodney muttered sourly. He really didn't want to go offworld at all, and he certainly didn't want Sheppard there as well. It would only serve as a reminder of what he was giving up.
"He also mentioned bringing your offworld pack containing, and I quote directly, 'all of McKay's gadgets, doohickeys and his souped up PC tablet'."
Rodney's eyes lit up at that. "Oh, now that would be good." And it would be, though he wished Sheppard could have sent it through and not accompanied it.
"Where do you want me, sir?" Mitchell asked. "Do you need me to go with Teal'c and Vala?"
"We will be fine," Teal'c assured them.
"Yeah, Muscles and me can handle it. It's a nice, easy mission," Vala added with a smile.
"Your choice, Colonel," Landry said.
"I think I'll check out these Leslanum. I always like meeting new people," he said with a smirk.
"Good. Your mission is scheduled three hours from now. Teal'c, Vala, you're scheduled to leave in an hour."
With that, the meeting split up and Rodney headed to the commissary, with Jackson in tow – apparently sticking with him in case of further messages.
Great. Just so long as he didn't start talking about teams again.
Rodney waited impatiently in the gateroom for Sheppard, who had arrived a few minutes earlier via the gatebridge in a jumper, to join them. He really hated waiting, even though he didn't know what awaited them on the other side of the gate, something that terrified more than normal. In a way, he would rather know what awaited them, even if it was something bad. Which was a really messed up way of thinking, he supposed glumly.
When Sheppard finally entered the gateroom, he was carrying Rodney's offworld pack and Rodney moved to intercept him as Landry welcomed Sheppard back to Earth.
"Thank you, sir," Sheppard replied to Landry's welcome before turning to look at Rodney. "You're supposed to be on a vacation, McKay. You know - rest, relaxation, not freaky images of yourself proclaiming potential doom and gloom. Beckett's pissed."
"Like I asked for this," he huffed back, grabbing his gear and checking that everything was present. It was, and there were even some extra PowerBars, not that it stopped him from grousing, of course. "You could have brought my uniform as well."
"Oh, and the SGC's uniform isn't good enough for you?" Sheppard asked.
"Could have brought the jacket at least," he grumbled. "I like that jacket."
"You'll live," Sheppard replied cheerily, slapping him on the shoulder and nearly causing him to fall over. Damn the man! He shot a death glare at Sheppard, not that it had any effect on him anymore.
"Hi," Sheppard greeted the others. "Hope Rodney hasn't been too much trouble."
"No, not too much," Mitchell replied, grinning as he added, "Don't have any lemons on you, do you? Just to be safe?"
"Ah, no. We came to an understanding," Sheppard hedged.
"No lemons and I won't mess with the temperature of his shower."
"Yeah, doesn't do to piss off the geeks," Sheppard said, grinning at Rodney's outraged 'I'm not a geek' squawk that his comment produced.
"Especially the smart ones," Mitchell agreed, purposely not glancing at Carter or Jackson.
"So, are we going? You know, freaky alien race to save and all that," Rodney snapped impatiently.
"Yeah, yeah, keep your pants on," Mitchell replied, nodding to Walter in the control room above.
Rodney fidgeted in place as the gate began to dial, trying to keep calm. Sheppard's presence had, funnily enough, helped to calm him a little. The familiar banter somehow soothing his shattered nerves. Huh. Interesting.
And then the wormhole formed and they were on their way, for better or worse. Probably worse, he thought sourly. Meetings with unknown alien races with freaky abilities rarely ended well.