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Chapter 3: Houston, We Have A Problem

McKay was muttering to himself as he puzzled over the latest roadblock in the computer program he was writing. Looking up from his laptop's screen, he leaned back in his chair and rubbed his tired eyes before checking the time on his watch. Deciding he could use a much-needed break, he rose from his seat, stretched the kinks out of his aching back, and looked around for the Power Bar he had left on his workstation tabletop.

He had been working on computer code for almost two straight hours when Sheppard had called him a second time to inquire about whether Kavanaugh had reported any possible storm damage in the northeastern pier. He was a little concerned to hear that the area appeared to have suffered some water and fire damage during the hurricane that had come close to decimating the entire city. He was even more disconcerted that Kavanaugh did not see fit to relay the problem immediately upon his return. It was typical that the arrogant scientist did not deem it necessary to inform others of potential hazardous areas that should be avoided. McKay swore he would put that egotistical, prima donna on report when he managed to track him down.

He only hoped the damage was minor and that Major Sheppard and Dr. Weir would not encounter any difficulties during their retrieval of his laptop. Still, he trusted that either one of them would notify him or Peter Grodin if they ran in any unexpected surprises. Sheppard may be the resident magnet for attracting trouble, but the man had proved to be extremely resourceful and highly competent when it came to thinking on his feet. Plus, the major had a protective streak a mile wide and would not let any member of his team, especially Elizabeth, remain in any location he considered unsafe.

McKay retrieved the misplaced Power Bar from under a cluttered pile of system diagrams that lay scattered across his desk next to his keyboard. He unwrapped the energizing snack and was about to take his first bite when Dr. Zelenka interrupted him. His frazzled-looking colleague rushed into the lab holding up a portable scanner and was uttering an incomprehensible mixture of English and Czech.

"Rodney! We have a problem. Something has happened in a section of the second level of the northeastern pier. I was checking over the scanner interface with the city schematic when I saw a sensor alert lighting up a particular sector. Let me, yes? See here." The wild-haired scientist politely pushed McKay aside, then reached over and typed a few commands on Rodney's keyboard in order to bring up the electronic map on the computer view screen.

Zelenka pointed to a flashing dot highlighting several rooms in the main corridor at the far end of the pier. "There. Readings on the panel indicate a catastrophic structural malfunction in these rooms. This is where Dr. Kavanaugh just surveyed this morning, yes?"

"What? Are you sure? Oh God, I should have known something would happen!" McKay quickly cross-referenced the area surrounded by the blinking light with the route he mapped out for Sheppard that morning. Just as he feared, the section of rooms flashing such an ominous warning on the screen was located in the very area that the major and Elizabeth were known to be in during their earlier radio call.

The astrophysicist looked up at Zelenka and asked him with a worried expression on his face. "Radek, this is important. When did you first notice the alarm lights on the schematic? Are you absolutely sure these readings indicate a structural problem in these rooms?"

The Czech scientist straightened up from where he was hunched over the keyboard and pushed in his glasses with his index finger. "I am positive. Would I be here using up your precious time, if I were not? When I saw the sensors light up about ten minutes ago, I first ran a systems diagnostic to rule out a computer chyba...er how you say, glitch. Yes, glitch. Then I asked Dr. Kavanaugh if he noticed a problem when he was out exploring the same areas."

"What did Kavanaugh have to say?" McKay inquired as he frantically searched the database for any reference to the alarm systems codes.

"Ah, he is an ill-tempered and mean-spirited man. I think his ponytail is pulled too tight, yes? Maybe it gives him a headache and makes him not nice to talk to." Zelenka cleared his throat before continuing when he saw McKay's look of impatience. "He said he did notice some trouble spots, but he was not concerned since no one was living or working in that section. He said he would put his findings in his survey report at later date after he finished a more important experiment. He was very rude when I asked. Like I said, not a nice man."

"Oh, this is not good. This is a serious, serious problem." Rodney looked up from his computer. "If I am interpreting the Ancient database files correctly, these sensor readings indicate not only a collapse of those rooms, but also possible flooding within them."

Not comprehending the look of panicked shock on McKay's face, Zelenka remarked. "Rodney, this is a bad problem, but we will just make that sector off-limits until our engineers can make repairs, yes?"

"Radek, you don't understand. Major Sheppard and Dr. Weir went to the northeastern pier to retrieve my laptop that Kavanaugh left behind." Rodney explained in horror.

McKay jumped up from his desk and rushed over to the intercom panel. Entering the frequency codes for the radio channel Sheppard had previously called him on, the physicist tried to remain calm as he attempted to contact his friends.

"Major Sheppard, come in. John, can you hear me?" A panic-stricken Rodney tried again. "Elizabeth, if you can hear me, please answer."

The only reply was the soft sound of static coming over the airwaves followed by a deathly silence.

"Oh damn! This is so not good." Exchanging worried glances with Zelenka, McKay called Peter Grodin in the control room.

"Peter, this is McKay. We have a dire emergency."

"Rodney, this is Peter. What seems to be the problem? Should I contact Dr. Weir?" Grodin answered the intercom.

"You won't be able to reach her. Unfortunately, that IS the problem. We're getting indications that the rooms located in the northeastern pier, which Major Sheppard and Elizabeth were searching, have apparently experienced a structural failure due to storm damage. If you look on your computer's schematic, you will see the area lit up brighter than a Christmas tree." McKay explained in a breathless rush.

"Have you attempted radio contact with either of them, Rodney?" Grodin inquired as he pulled up the schematic on his display and saw the flashing alarm beacons covering several rooms in the northeastern pier's main corridor.

"What part of 'you won't be able to reach her' did you not understand in my previous statement? Of course I tried contacting both the major and Elizabeth! Neither of them is answering. Call me paranoid, but I think that the combination of a room collapse and no response to radio contact cannot bode well for the safety of either of them. We have to do something now!" McKay vented his frustration and concern as he yelled into the intercom.

"Dr. McKay! Please calm down. Panicking will not help the situation. I will notify Lieutenant Ford and Sergeant Bates and have them assemble a search and rescue team. In the meantime, you contact Dr. Beckett and have him get an emergency medical team ready. You can meet us in the control room." Grodin instructed.

"Right. Okay. Sorry, you're right. I am just worried...er...not to say that you're not...but...erm. Right. I will see you in the control room in five minutes. I am calling Carson now." The astrophysicist rambled as disconnected the call to Grodin and then patched in a call to the infirmary.

The amiable Scotsman answered the summons in his usual brisk, yet cheery manner. "Medical Bay. Dr. Beckett here."

"Carson, I need you to assemble your medical team and meet me in the control room on the double." McKay spoke with more than his typical haste. Wanting to cut to the chase, he dispensed with any normal pleasantries; not that snippy scientist was in the habit of observing the rules of social etiquette in most of his conversations.

"Snappy, Rodney, very snappy. Sounds like someone is a wee bit more testy than usual. Are you sick then, lad?" The doctor asked in his customary brogue.

"No, Carson. I am not sick. We think that Major Sheppard and Dr. Weir are injured." McKay told him.

"What do you mean, you think? Don't you know for sure, son? What is the nature of their injuries?" Beckett asked in reply.

"Carson, I don't have time to go into lengthy explanations. So suffice it to say, we have discovered that there has been a recent structural collapse in a portion of the northeastern pier. Long story short, we have strong reason to believe John and Elizabeth were trapped in a cave-in of one or more of the rooms. That's all we know at this point."

"Bloody hell! Why didn't you say so?" The doctor exclaimed in surprise.

"I just did. Look, it is going to take us close to two hours just to get to that section, so we don't have time to waste chatting. Get your trauma team together and meet me in the control room as soon as you can."

"Aye, lad. I will be there right away!" Beckett promised before cutting the transmission.

McKay grabbed his radio headset, BDU vest, and a backpack he hastily stuffed with a variety of electronic devices and tools from his workbench. He motioned to Zelenka who had been monitoring the sensors on the computer and sending data to the Engineering Department.

"Radek, see if you can get the head of Engineering to join us in the control room. What's his name? Jones? Tell him we need as much detailed information on the structural design and layout of the rooms in that section as he can get us." McKay waved his hand and briskly snapped his fingers at the Czech scientist as he walked towards the doorway.

"His name is Johnson, and I already asked him to bring us the data and meet us there. I am very good at anticipating plans. And, I am coming with you. Two heads are better than one to solve a problem, yes?" Zelenka was already picking up his scanner and heading in Rodney's direction.

"Okay, good. Yes, come on then. We can use all the help we can get." McKay replied as they rushed out the door and headed to the control room.

They almost literally ran into Ford in the hallway right outside the control room entrance. The young soldier was already geared up and speaking with Bates on his headset as he jogged down the corridor. Intent on his conversation with the sergeant, the lieutenant did not immediately notice the two scientists until they practically collided.

"Dr. McKay! Dr. Zelenka! Any further news regarding Major Sheppard and Dr. Weir?" The eager young man could not hide his anxiety over the health and safety of his Commanding Officer and the head of Atlantis.

"Nothing yet. I have been keeping my radio headset on and periodically attempt contact. We can probably assume they are too badly injured to respond." McKay let the thought that the two leaders may already be dead remain unspoken. Until they had concrete evidence to prove otherwise, he was determined to stay hopeful that they would be found alive.

"Yes, Doctor. Sergeant Bates has his team ready to go. He said Dr. Beckett's team is already in the control room too." Ford said as they walked through the doors and headed for the stairs that lead to the upper floor where the rescue personnel were assembled and waiting.

"Great. Where's Teyla? She will want to join in the search." McKay asked the lieutenant.

"She's on the mainland handling a minor dispute among two families. Major Sheppard had flown her there yesterday and was planning on picking her back up later this evening. I didn't want to contact her until we had more news to report. She cannot do anything to help where she is, and I didn't want her to worry needlessly."

"Okay. Good thinking, Ford." Looking at his watch, McKay tried yet again to contact his missing colleagues as they hurried up the staircase.

"Major Sheppard, can you hear me? Elizabeth, please respond." He repeated in a futile attempt to reach his friends.

Amidst the intermittent static coming over his radio headset, McKay finally heard a familiar voice urgently call out in response to his repeated broadcasts over the radio frequency Sheppard had been using at their last contact.

"Rodney! We're trapped in the northeastern section. Notify Carson we have a medical emergency. Get down here as fast as you can. We need help now!"


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