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[ signal to noise ]
Rodney grins up at her from the bed and feels really, really good. A nice, pleasant, peaceful feeling eveloping him for once in, God, who knows how long. He feels a headache crawling through his head, creeping a little bit at a time, but it´s not one of those head splitting aches he gets in the labs late at night when he´s forgotten to eat so he´s okay with it.
He extends his hand out to Jennifer. You want my fruit cup?’
I need,’ he says, snapping his fingers at Radek. The, the--’
Yes, yes,’ Radek says, handing him the data-pad. He sees Rodney frowning. What?’
This is called ’ Rodney twists the data-pad in his hands, frowning down at it. A uh what´s it called?’
Something feels like it´s stuck in his throat, a word that he knows but he can´t grab onto it. No, no, this, this,’ Rodney says, waving the data-pad around in Radek´s face, and he knows his eyes must look a little wild as he looks at Radek because Radek steps back a bit. This computer, what is it called?’
Yes,’ Rodney says, chewing on a lip and frowning deeply at the datapad in his hands, like it is to blame. As I was saying, I need the datapad to run the--’
Are you feeling alright?’
Rodney doesn´t look at Radek and turns his back on him. Yes of course, I just need to eat something, but in the meantime I need the numbers on the--’
Right yes,’ Radek says and Rodney thinks maybe that´s it. Maybe he and Radek talk in code so much that he hasn´t needed to articulate in complete sentences for four years now and that´s the only reason he couldn´t remember.
It doesn´t slow him down though and he and Radek work seamlessly together and before he realizes it it´s four hours later and he can´t even remember what he´d forgotten in the first place.
Teyla raises her eyebrows at him, stick poised high in the air. Do you not wish to practice today?’
No, yes, fine, but,’ he says, hooking a thumb towards the corner where her baby sleeps soundly. You brought the kid?’
Teyla smiles. He is fine, Rodney. Now.’
Rodney adjusts his protective shield over his belly. Teyla is gentler than Ronon when she hits him, but only by a little.
The stick arcs through the air gracefully like it´s in slow motion as she moves towards him.
Thwap! Yep, gonna feel that in the morning.
He looks over to the swaddled baby and pities him. You´ve got a hell of a road cut out for you uh ’
He freezes. Blank. Nothing. Not even a consonant.
No, no, that´s not,’ Rodney says, dropping his stick on the floor and looking at her. Um. Teyla?’
Her mouth turns down in concern. Yes?’
I think I need to lie down,’ he says, unstrapping the board from himself and trying to hide the way his hands shake. I uh, I think my cold is mostly going away, but I still feel--’
She nods. Go, rest. You work too hard.’
He laughs shakily and points at her. And drink plenty of fluids, yes.’
Teyla nods. Torren and I will come check on you later.’
He closes his eyes. Yes, right. Torren.’ He opens his eyes to see her stepping toward him, her concern much greater. Yes, later, I´ll later!’
God, I´m starving,’ Rodney says, shoveling another spoonful of beef stew into his mouth. So good.’
When are you not,’ Ronon mumbles, mouth twitching.
Oh, shut up, I am a very healthy weight, and anyway, like you´re one to talk,’ Rodney says, gesturing to the two empty bowls and the third one that Ronon is currently consuming.
Yeah, but I exercise.’ He lifts up his shirt and pats his tightly toned, perfectly formed six-pack.
Rodney rolls his eyes as John and Teyla arrive. I work out. It´s impossible not to work out since somebody insists that I, the lead scientist, possibly the most important person on this base, continue to go on ill-advised, dangerous, possibly deadly, sometimes flooded, missions.’
John smirks at him as he slides into the chair next to him. You love it. You wouldn´t know what to do with yourself if you stopped going on missions.’
Rodney sighs, mopping up leftover stew with his bread. Ok so it´s not entirely miserable all the time.’
How are you feeling,’ Teyla asks, dropping a piece of ice into her steaming bowl of stew. You looked quite ill this afternoon.’
Much better,’ he says, snapping his fingers. In fact, I think I´ve turned the corner, and tomorrow morning I shall maybe even be able to hit you once or twice while you´re, you know, kicking the crap out of me.’
She grins. I will look forward to it.’
Rodney eyes the piece of pie on John´s plate. Mmm, looks good.’ He reaches out and scoops some onto his spoon and almost has it to his mouth when suddenly John´s slapped it right out of his hand. What the hell, Sheppard?’
It´s lemon meringue,’ John says, looking at him incredulously. Hello.’
Ok, and,’ Rodney says, reaching over to get another spoonful. It looks good.’
Sure,’ John says, watching him carefully. Until your face starts puffing up and turning red and you can´t breathe.’
Rodney looks at him. What?’
You´re allergic to citrus, McKay,’ John says, taking the spoon from him and sticking the bite in his own mouth before handing Rodney back his spoon. The hell has gotten into you?’
I I forgot.’
Forgot, you remind me every time I pack an orange for lunch to not get juice on you,’ John says, laughing. How do you forget anaphylactic shock?’
Rodney suddenly and violently needs to throw up.
Never Eat Shredded Wheat,’ Rodney mumbles to himself, staring down the hallway. That´s East. I need to go West, so--’
He whirls around to see Lorne walking his way, smiling. Major.’
What the hell are you doing down here at this time of the night?’ Lorne leans in and lowers his voice. Are you having an affair with one of the, what do you call them? Meathead jocks?’ Lorne frowns. Though, I don´t know that you´d still call the women that. What would you call the women? Meathead birds?’
What?’ Rodney shakes his head. No. I was just I can´t seem to ’
Come on Doc, out with it,’ Lorne says, walking backwards. I´m on patrol.’
I seem to be lost,’ Rodney finishes, feeling humiliated and sick to his stomach. I can´t find my way. Every way I turn I just get deeper and deeper confused. I don´t know where I´m going, I don´t know where I´ve been, I don´t remember what I intended to do or what needs to be done or who I was doing it for or--’
Woah, woah,’ Lorne says, walking back over to him and putting his hands on his shoulders. Jeez, Doc, when´s the last time you got some sleep?’
Last night,’ Rodney says, suddenly angry. He reaches up and massages his throbbing temple. Look, would you just tell me how the hell to get back to the central tower?’
Lorne grabs his elbow and starts pulling. Come on, I´ll walk you there.’
I don´t need an escort, Lorne, I just need you to point--’
Clearly you do, McKay, because you´re a mile from where you need to be and you´re out here babbling incoherently.’ Lorne gives him a look. Maybe you should go see Keller.’
I´m fine,’ he snaps, jerking his arm out of Lorne´s grasp. I just need sleep. I´m tired.’
I meant for sleeping pills,’ Lorne says, in that ‘you are trying my patience, McKay, knock it off´ tone of his, and Rodney actually does feel badly because it´s not Lorne´s fault he´s losing his mind.
Look, I´m sorry,’ he says. I have a massive headache, and I was wondering around for the better part of an hour, and this cold is draining me of my energy and my ability to think.’
Lorne pats his shoulder and gives him a sympathetic look. I need to patrol the south quarters anyway, it´s not a problem for me to walk you to your room.’
Thanks,’ Rodney says, nodding. Sorry.’
S´alright, Doc,’ Lorne says. So. Keller, huh? You ever gonna screw up the balls to ask her out?’
Rodney? Have you removed the crystal yet?’
Rodney stares at the crystals and thinks drive pod, drive pod, drive pod. Which one is the drive pod.
Wait, wait, hold on,’ Rodney says, closing his eyes and thinking really, really hard. Two from the left, three from the top. He removes the crystal. Try now.’
Yes, thank you!’
Rodney sits down on the bench and thinks this isn´t just the cold anymore.
John stops by the lab and rolls his eyes. There you are. Of course you´re here. You were supposed to meet us in the cafeteria an hour ago.’
Rodney grins. It really is so nice of you to come drag me off to lunch, Major. Have I ever told you how much I appreciate that?’
John frowns at him.
Rodney blinks. What?’
John cocks his hip against the desk. Well if you´re gonna get mad at me about it I can stop reminding you it´s feed time, you don´t have to demote me.’
I wasn´t,’ Rodney says, frowning and opening his mouth a few times before finally continuing. I´m not mad. Actually I do think it´s very thoughtful of you to check on me. Time gets away from me.’
John´s frown has turned from petulant to concerned and Rodney busies himself with cleaning up his desk so he doesn´t have to see it. Then why did you call me major?’
Rodney frowns. I didn´t.’ And then, he remembers. I ’
John laughs. What, you forgot I got promoted?’
Yes, alright, I forgot,’ Rodney says, waving a hand in the air. I´m still fighting off that cold, and my head´s feeling a bit fuzzy ok?’
His insides are churning and he can hear not the cold, not the cold, not the cold chanting inside his brain.
John laughs like it´s nothing but his eyes still look concerned. It´s just, I haven´t been a Major for about 4 years now and--’
I forgot, alright,’ Rodney yells, feeling unreasonably angry, and tired, and hungry, and worn out. Shit happens. When you retain as much knowledge as I do some meaningless shit is bound to slip by, okay, it doesn´t mean anything!’
Okay,’ John says, raising his hands in surrender. I´ll drop it, sheesh.’
You can leave now,’ Rodney says, staring intently at his computer screen so he doesn´t have to look at John. I´m not hungry.’
John backs away like he´s an angry bear about to attack. You get really cranky when you´re sick, you know that?’
You have to stop skipping meals, Rodney,’ Radek says, throwing a sandwich on the lab table in front of Rodney.
I forgot that I hadn´t eaten lunch either,’ Rodney says miserably, still feel weak kneed. Listen, don´t tell Sheppard okay?’
That you forgot to eat, once again, and then fainted and just about cracked your head open on my new microscope?’
Rodney glares at him. I´m sorry, okay? I will replace your microscope.’
You´re really starting to worry me, McKay,’ Radek says, his irritation now replaced with concern, and Rodney is really, really getting sick of seeing that look on people´s faces. You´ve been forgetting things, losing things, misplacing things.’
I found my pen, I found the stapler, and I found the stupid simulation file, okay,’ Rodney spits out, opening the sandwich. Just, go back to what you were doing. This cold is--’
You blame it on the cold, Rodney, but you have not sneezed and you do not have a fever,’ Radek says. Perhaps you are just overly tired, but I think you should see Dr. Keller.’
I´m fine,’ Rodney says, and knows it´s a lie.
No, Major,’ Rodney says, laughing. No, actually, I intended to be here this evening. And I´ve remembered why I came.’
Because Larson´s hot water is not just hot but scalding?’ Lorne raises his eyebrows. I´m glad you remembered because the kid´s been bugging me all day about scalding himself this morning.’
Rodney laughs and turns the knob to the left. There you go.’
Rodney stands and looks at him. Yes?’
Shouldn´t you turn it right?’ Lorne cringes and gestures towards the knobs. I mean, unless the Ancients did it differently, but righty-tighty, lefty-loosy right? Seems you´d want it--’
Tighter, yes, yes,’ Rodney says, quickly bending down and turning it roughly to the right. Easy fix. Could have done this yourself, really.’
They don´t pay me to turn knobs,’ Lorne says, eyeing him carefully. Get much sleep last night? You might want to take tomorrow off and try to catch up.’
Rodney avoids looking at him. Yeah. Uh. May be a good idea.’
John bursts into his room, panting. Okay, what, tell me, what, what happened?’
Rodney looks at him, eyes wide and fearful. I can´t remember.’
John takes a deep breath, hand still on the base of his gun. What?’
I can´t remember,’ Rodney says, standing and facing him, grabbing John´s shoulders. I can´t remember my password!’
John rolls his eyes, giving Rodney a nasty look. Rodney, it´s 1 in the morning and you call me telling me it´s an emergency and I have to come right now, right now, right now. Are you kidding me?’
Do I look like I´m kidding you?!’
John falters on his way to the door, turning to really look at him. You can´t remember it?’
I forgot that you weren´t Major anymore, I forgot Teyla´s son´s name which is ’ He closes his eyes and pushes his fist into his eyes. Is God damnit.’
Yes, thank you, yes,’ he says, sitting back down and ticking the points off on his finger. I keep losing things, misplacing things, forgetting things. I tried to eat lemon meringue pie and didn´t remember I was allergic to citrus even after you told me I was, I keep getting lost in the hallways, and now I can´t remember my password, my own fucking password, I can´t remember it!’
John frowns and squats down in front of him. Why are you only just now telling me this?’
Because it was humiliating,’ Rodney says, staring at his computer screen. At first I thought it was the cold, and then I thought it was just not enough sleep, but John, now I´m forgetting things I would never forget.’
John chews on his lip for a moment and Rodney begins typing again into the password block. Access denied, yet again.
John takes the laptop and his fingers fly over the keyboard and then access is granted and he hands it back to Rodney. Rodney blinks. I told you my password?’
John shrugs. You thought I´d forget it.’
No, you´re memory´s fine, apparently it´s mine that´s faulty.’ Rodney buries his head in his hands. I´m losing it, John. I´m going crazy. Dementia runs in the family doesn´t it? My Great-Great Uncle Saul was crazy, maybe it´s just my turn.’
John rolls his eyes. Rodney, everybody has a crazy uncle,’ he says, patting his shoulder. Listen, get some sleep, I´ll come with you to see Dr. Keller in the morning.’
Rodney stared at the laptop.
John paused in the doorway. Rodney?’
No, I just ’ He closes his laptop and faces John, laughing weakly. I forget why I was putting my password in to begin with.’
Really, I´m fine,’ Rodney says, laughing at them. Honestly.’
Rodney, you have not been well since we went to M44-5Y9,’ Teyla says, putting a hand on his shoulder. And for you to forget my son´s name, that is simply not like you.’
Rodney glared at John. You told her that?’
John looked away. I was worried about you, okay?’
Come on,’ Ronon says, clapping a hand to Rodney´s shoulder and propelling him forward. Doctor now, pudding later.’
Okay, but I´m going under duress,’ Rodney yelps as Ronon pushes him harder until he starts walking on his own. No bruising, caveman.’
Then don´t push back,’ Ronon growls, grinning at John.
Shouldn´t we brief Elizabeth,’ Rodney asks, digging his heels in. Before Keller starts poking needles in me Elizabeth should be apprised of the situ
Teyla looks away and Ronon´s hand drops from his back. John looks like he´s going to be sick.
Why are you all looking at me like that?’
Well it´s not lack of sleep,’ Ronon says gravely, sounding pissed off.
Teyla shakes her head and runs a hand down Rodney´s arm. No, it sounds a great deal more serious than any of us suspected.’
What are you guys talking about,’ Rodney demanded, frowning at them. I´m fine. Really.’
Elizabeth is dead,’ John says, and his voice is soft and sad and he steps forward to put his hand to Rodney´s chest. She died two years ago, buddy. You´re not fine.’
I have a tumor,’ Rodney yelled, a hand covering his mouth. John´s hand on his shoulder was meant to be comforting but it just freaked him out more. Oh my god, I´m gonna die.’
We don´t know that yet, Rodney,’ Jennifer says, smiling and sharing a look with Teyla. And I don´t think it´s a tumor. See these stalks?’
Rodney steps up closer to the image on the screen, looking at it. The spiderwebby things?’
Yes,’ Jennifer says. They´re growing at such a rate that it would be virtually unheard of for it to be a tumor. Look at the scan from three days ago when you came back from M44-5Y9. It´s there but it´s so small that I and my team missed it.’
Rodney squints at the screen and next to him John points. That speck, that tiny little nothing,’ John asks, face screwed up in concentration. That´s become ’ He points to the most recent scan. In three days?’
I believe it´s a parasite,’ Jennifer says, and grabs for Rodney´s hands as they fly to his head. Rodney, we´re going to fix it.’
I have a parasite?’ he yells, eyes widening. In my brain!’
Excuse us, guys,’ Jennifer says, smiling at John and Ronon and Teyla. I need to run a few more tests on him, I´ll call you back when we know more.’
Six hours of tests only reveals that the parasite doesn´t react to any of the conventional methods of getting rid of a parasite, and, oddly, the more Jennifer shows fear the calmer Rodney feels.
I´m not losing my mind, he thinks with immense, immense relief. The parasite´s taking it.
Jennifer,’ Rodney says. It occurs to me that I may not be the only one that´s ever been, or will be, affected by this nasty little bugger.’
Jennifer looks at him with such guilt that he almost changes his mind. She´s really beating herself up for not catching it sooner and he doesn´t want to be a constant reminder of what she feels she failed at, even if he doesn´t blame her at all.
We´re doing everything we can, Rodney. Round the clock. I´m not even going to sleep until--’
Don´t be ridiculous,’ Rodney says, waving a hand dismissively. I know you´re working hard, but you still need sleep. Need your mind,’ he says, tapping his temple, in tip top condition, so you can bring mine back to it as well.’
She nods. Still.’
Anyway,’ he says, looking away and taking a deep breath. Now, from what I understand is that its taking its time to work its way down, killing off brain cells as it goes. And it occurs to me if there were a way to track it, before it´s got its nasty little parasitic tendrils so far down in your prefrontal cortex you can´t get to it.’
Jennifer steps forward. Yes, though we haven´t determined if it´s killing the brain cells so much as blocking them. But the scanners didn´t see it. There was nothing on the scanner when you got back, remember? Just a little dot that could have been anything.’
Yes,’ he says, grinning and laughing, pointing at her. That I do remember. But ah, no, that´s not what I was ’ He clears his throat. It may do you, and others, good to have a timeline,’ he says, clearing his throat again, rubbing his hands together. A baseline to work off of, to track just how quickly this thing is growing. So that perhaps next time someone forgets that they´re mortally allergic to citrus ’
You want to document it,’ she says, and he always knew he liked her. Quick on the uptake. Yes, excellent idea, Rodney.’
He nods, snapping his fingers. Voice or video?’
She grins. You just wanna be a movie star.’
He laughs. Yes. My immortal image to be played back to the cooing fangirls whom have grown tired of the boyish charm of the Jonas Brothers or whoever it is they´re cooing over these days.’
I think it´s Justin Bieber now,’ Jennifer says.
He´s what, 12?’
She laughs. And so are his fangirls. But, yes, I do think video would be beneficial,’ walking behind her desk and bending down to dig. He attempts to not stare at her lovely, small, round ass but it´s a lost cause.
At least he has that, he thinks. The ability to still be thinking of sex even though he is quickly losing everything that makes him him.
He sits down as she lifts it up and points it towards him. It´s recording,’ she says.
He looks up. Well aren´t you supposed to say action or something?’
I´m kidding,’ he says, laughing. Ok, here we go.’
He takes a deep breath.
My name is Dr. Rodney McKay.’