The first time John sat in the chair, in Antarctica, he had no idea what the hell was going on. Suddenly, he was plugged in, senses extending in all directions, power sparking through hs veins. His heart was racing, people started shouting at him, and then there were, literally, stars in his eyes. It was why he wasn't surprised by the way Atlantis lit up when they arrived, whirring into welcome as he moved cautiously through the halls. He'd already felt the world come alive for him once.
The second time John sat in the chair, in Atlantis, it was in the middle of the Wraith assault. There wasn't enough power to deploy any of the defenses they had hoped to. He'd felt the blockages like a physical pain in his own chest, but there wasn't time to think about it. He'd peeled himself away from the chair and run for the jumper bay, not expecting ever to come back.
But he'd survived the siege, and since then, he'd felt it, on and off, when he used Ancient technology. A teasing sense of frustration and possibility. An elusive intuition that whatever he had in his hands could do more, though he couldn't explain it or demonstrate it to Rodney. He woke up at night, sometimes, thinking he'd forgotten something important, but he could never figure out what it was.
It had happened again that night. He'd found himself halfway across his quarters, flushed with an inexplicable urgency. He'd done a quick security sweep and checked on the status of the offworld teams, but he couldn't get back to sleep. Some instinct had finally brought him down to the control chamber, the deserted room that had once served as the nerve center of Atlantis.
It was a little colder there than in the rest of the city. The whole room was swathed in blue shadow, but the chair itself shone like ice in the soft glow of the screens displaying the Ancients' datapatterns.
He hesitated a minute—just turning on the chair wouldn't drain too much power, as long as he didn't start activating systems with it—then sat down. The chair reclined, but he barely noticed it as the connection flickered on. The city rose around him like a vision, shimmering. He reached out and brought up the temperature in the chamber. That wouldn't pull much juice.
As he gave the instruction, he could feel all the the dead and damaged spots in the city from thousands of years of hibernation, floods, Wraith attacks. Patches of grey and chunks of silence. It itched at his brain, and he squirmed in the chair. But already there were solutions forming in his mind, too. Diagrams and equations and schematics he didn't even understand flashing behind his eyes faster and faster, blurring into light and color and sensation, leaving him dazed and ringing.
He'd been in a virtual reality before, and this wasn't like that. Atlantis wasn't an AI. It was an incredibly complex system, a self-monitoring, self-regulating, self-repairing system. And the system...wanted to be whole.
The system wanted...He squinted against the images accelerating in his mind, everything a go, every sector of the city blazing with the blue of full power, and when he saw what was supposed to happen next, he shuddered with the shock of recognition.
The city wanted to fly.
John could practically taste how cool it would be, bringing up the whole city around him, every part working in perfect harmony. Kicking in the deep thrum of the hyperdrive thrusters, a rush to make him forget every piece of Earth junk he ever flew, make the puddlejumpers look like the kids' toys they were. Going so fast that reality just twisted and shredded away around him. He understood, he understood completely what the city wanted. Like waking up from those eleven deep-frozen months in Antarctica—every nerve in his body sympathized.
The system sensed that, too, and he could feel it adjusting for it, trying to give him the right feedback, the right thrill. When it tuned in to him, it was like being hit with a stunner, if the stun were the sweetest, sharpest feeling in the world and went on forever. It was too much. He jerked upright, and the connection broke, the chair lapsing back into darkness.
He was breathing hard, and he was turned on like crazy, and it was going to take a hell of a run to work all this energy off. But he was going to have to try it again. Soon.
The next night, Rodney woke to a shrill chirp from his comm. "Zelenka," he said, fumbling it to his ear, "this better be important."
"It is. I just noticed a large spike in our power usage."
"Maybe everyone's taking hot showers at once," he muttered.
"It's fifteen point nine percent over our normal consumption at this hour," Zelenka said grimly.
"I'll be right there." Rodney yanked on some clothes. Damn space Marines. Put a "Do not touch" sign on the dangerous explody high-tech alien device, they'd just lick it instead. He fervently hoped that the next time they just had to play with something, it turned them all into toads. He'd be willing to get out of bed to deal with that. To get video, even. But as he wiggled into his shirt, he realized it might not be another "accident"—it might be sabotage again, with the Wraith already on their way. That cleared the cobwebs out, and he arrived in the lab with such a nice case of quietly-controlled panic he didn't even need to pick up coffee first.
"Have you isolated the source?" he demanded as soon as he stepped inside.
"Yes." Zelenka held up his tablet.
"The command chair?"
"It is drawing the maximum power we thought available to it. Perhaps a little more."
"But"—he frowned—"there are only a few people on the base who even might be able to power it up to those levels." There was too much damage to the hardware in that sector. Even the idiot drone-system that Carson could activate was barely working.
"All right, I'm going down there. You stay here. I'll radio back and let you know what's going on. Get the third shift on standby."
He grabbed a toolkit and set off at a half-trot. By the time he got to the control chamber, he was already sweating a little.
He'd had a half-dozen theories, each more worrisome than the last, but he hadn't imagined what he did find: Sheppard leaning back in the chair, bathed in its white glow. Sheppard's eyelids were fluttering, his fingers twitching over the armrests; he wore an expression of concentration purer than any Rodney had ever seen on him. He apparently didn't even notice Rodney's arrival. The sight was so arresting that Rodney stared for a few seconds before remembering Zelenka.
"Cancel the crisis," he said softly into the comm. "I think."
"I'll tell you later." He took a couple of cautious steps closer. "Colonel Sheppard, what are you doing? We didn't have any plans to—"
"Rodney." Sheppard didn't open his eyes. His voice was distant, breathy. "There's an...an auxiliary power modulator beneath access hatch four. It's keeping the chair running at only about sixty percent of capacity."
A modulator? Rodney didn't even think the Ancients used modulators. And besides—"How do you know that?"
"I can feel it." He grimaced. "Like my whole arm is asleep."
Rodney's jaw dropped. "You've got the higher-order diagnostics running!" He ran around behind the chair to find the right hatch. "We've been trying to get them to work practically since we got here! How did you do that?"
"I think it likes me," Sheppard said dreamily.
Great, another one of those ridiculous gene things. At times like these, Rodney had to wonder if the Ancients had really been as wise as everybody said, considering that they had, totally unjustly, shut out the one person who could actually understand the diagnostic reports in favor of the good-looking flyboy. But at this point, he was willing to let bygones be bygones. He had to get his hands into the circuitry and see if Sheppard had it right. The back of his mind was already crowded with conjectures, queries, theories. This was going to completely change their understanding of the city's power grid; it might help them increase the efficiency of their use of their one ZPM, and...
There it was: a mysterious pyramid of circuitry and blinking lights he didn't recognize. Rodney had to clear his throat. "Okay, what do I need to do?"
"I can't...Can feel the math...can't say it. Modulation's not red enough. Find the frequency dampener—adjust it."
Rodney ran his fingers over the pyramid until he found what he thought was the appropriate control and started twiddling it. Sheppard took in a sharp breath, and the room dimmed. "Wrong way."
"Sorry, I'm not used to conducting research through your feelings," Rodney snitted, but the crankiness was automatic, really. It didn't touch his rising excitement at all. What other systems could he have Sheppard analyze, what other problems could he solve now that he had access to the data he should have had all along, if the Ancients had just put in a reasonable interface in the first place? He'd already gotten four hours that night—he didn't need to sleep, he thought, not for another two days at least, and if Sheppard thought he was getting out of that chair any time soon, he had another think coming.
"Rodney," Zelenka said through the comm, "what is happening?"
Rodney shook his head impatiently. "It's under control, Radek."
"But the power—"
"I said, don't worry about it." He turned off his comm and tossed it into the corner, then turned back to the modulator.
"Oh." Sheppard made another little gasping noise, and Rodney would have flushed if he hadn't been so intent on the device. "That's it, Rodney. Just a little more...yes."
The lights on the consoles brightened around them.
"Eighty-six percent power," Sheppard said.
Rodney glanced at his tablet. He began to correct, "Eighty-five point..."
"Seven two four five nine two percent," Sheppard finished.
All right, Rodney was man enough to admit when he was pwned. Time to move on. There were just too many choices, so he grabbed at the first thought that had occurred to him. "Listen," he said, "there's a lab in Sector 17, level five. I haven't even been able to turn anything on in there, but—"
"No." Sheppard shook his head. "Not the priority. There's a transport beam jammer in here, needs to be on. The panel next to the life-support monitors."
Rodney considered debating with him for all of a tenth of a second before he hurried to the wall. The circuit boards inside gleamed with welcome. He grabbed the minisolder and pulled one, then another and another in rapid series according to Sheppard's instructions.
As he worked, totally absorbed in Sheppard's words and all the golden possibilities they opened up, he began to feel it, more and more. A buzz, an edge. It wasn't just the giddiness of sleep deprivation, or the euphoria of the tricky bit worked out, his mind seeing the path to the solution suddenly free and clear. He'd worked for days straight on the high of inspiration before, but this energy pulsed at a lower level, too, the level of caffeine, speed, the enzyme. It was in his hands on the boards, a contradictory sense of completion and yearning for more, and it had to be...
He turned back to Sheppard, shakily. "Are you getting the—the feedback, too?"
Sheppard stirred, opening his eyes. In the white light, he looked transfigured, his eyes dark and alien and gorgeous. Rodney bit his lip. "It's the system," John said from far away. "We're part of it."
Of course. The city had always been meant to work in concert with Ancient minds. It had interfaced with John, and now he was in the center of a complex choral piece of which Rodney himself was catching only a few high, pure, heartstopping notes. He was slumped in the chair with total abandon, his hips cocked at a shameless angle, and—and not even trying to hide how hard he was. Rodney swallowed a groan when he saw that.
John's eyes had glazed over, and he was muttering things again. Rodney glanced back at the open console. It sparkled with its own possibilities, but John was a greater lure, the radiant source of the knowledge. Irresistible, and Rodney took a couple of steps towards him.
"John?" He didn't respond, and Rodney put a hand on his shoulder. The fireworks that went off in his head were part math, part physical heat, and he clutched tighter without realizing it. John twisted into his touch and slid down further in the chair, even more given up to it, but he didn't stop talking.
That voice, spilling out truths lost for ten thousand years, fragments of the deepest secrets—he was an oracle. Rodney felt dizzy with yearning, and he didn't know whether it was the system trying to make itself whole or his own raw desire to embrace the revelation even if it burned him away. He found his other hand curving greedily around John's jaw, lifting his face to him, and John's eyes focused on him again.
"Rodney," he said hoarsely, "can you see—it's so—"
And he could, so much, but not enough. There was still too much noise, too much he didn't understand, and even standing this close was too remote. He wasn't even conscious of falling to his knees. He had to have the connection, now. John blinked down at him as Rodney fumbled with his pants, but didn't pull away. Rodney leaned forward blindly and took him into his mouth, bracing his hands on the chair.
The sense of a circuit completed shuddered through him. John gasped, his hands tightening on the armrests. There was a rush of synthesthesia as the data washed over Rodney in forms he couldn't quite decipher. He closed his eyes and clung and forgot everything else but John's trembling warmth, the truth dazzling right through him. John was whispering his secrets in Ancient now, but that only made the images in Rodney's mind more vivid, his arousal more unbearably keen. As they climaxed together, Rodney caught a glimpse of the vision of the city that had transfixed John, soaring into space. It was as close as he would ever get to worship.
He didn't even know how long he knelt there with his head in John's lap before he heard the slight whining noise and saw the glow of the chair fade.
"The power," he said, sitting back, his head abruptly clearing.
John was rubbing his eyes. "Yeah," he said. "I think—"
He cut himself off, looking at Rodney with surprise and a flicker of something Rodney couldn't quite read. He was suddenly conscious of John's cock still out, of the mess he was, but it felt like moving would just draw more attention to it. His face grew hot. "Um."
John looked away. "That was...that was something, wasn't it?"
"Yes," Rodney said fervently. "Yes, it was."
It was actually sort of a relief to hear only John in John's voice as he got up and casually redid his pants. "Did you get the transport beam jammer fixed?"
Rodney glanced over his shoulder at the hatch. Its contents were in total disarray. He couldn't even tell what he had been trying to do, and the memory of his plan was fading faster than a dream. "I got a little distracted," he said defensively. "Anyway, the power consumption—" He jumped to his feet, embarrassment now completely forgotten. "Zelenka's going to have a heart attack."
"How much do you think—"
Rodney looked at his tablet where he'd let it fall to the floor. "We burned through about a month and a half's worth of reserve power there. I...can't say that's a good thing, actually."
"Uh-huh." John nodded. There was a pause. Rodney scowled at the tablet. "So what you're saying is, no more messing around with—"
"No, no," Rodney said hastily. "The value to the expedition could be incredible. It's just that we'll have to...pace ourselves."
John raised an eyebrow. "Pace ourselves."
"Yes," Rodney was scribbling, "we'll have to wait about another...forty-four days to try again."
In forty-four days, he might have started to get the motherlode of data from tonight analyzed. If he gave up on sleeping entirely.
Well, that was what Carson's pills were for. And the thrill of discovery.
"Forty-four days," John said, and clapped him on the shoulder. "It's a date."
Rodney stared at him. "A date?"
"Yeah. Um..." John met Rodney's eyes for a minute, rubbing his ear. A helpless look flashed over his face, and then he leaned in and brushed a kiss against the corner of Rodney's mouth, so quickly that Rodney almost wasn't sure it had happened. "See you."
Rodney didn't have any room left for wonder, so he just kept on staring as John left the room. Whistling.