It's three weeks in, and they're still discovering new ways in which the Pegasus Galaxy is going to kill them. John suspects they'll run out of personnel they can afford to lose long before they run out of fascinating and original ways to die.
There hasn't been an emergency in twenty-seven hours. John keeps track, part of this job he never wanted. He's never hated a boss as much as Colonel Sumner. It reminds him, when he's willing to admit it, of orphans who hate their parents for abandoning them. As if they'd had a choice. And then he thinks of Sumner as his father, flipping pancakes on a Saturday morning, and winces. Not an image he wants to linger on.
The workout room is empty, although it smells like sweat. John wonders if Teyla's been beating up on Rodney again. It does the man good, but then Teyla doesn't have to hear Rodney bitch about it for three days after every session: he reserves that for John. Lucky John.
Lucky. There's a small wooden box on Elizabeth's desk that says otherwise.
John turns his radio microphone off, and heads for the transporters.
They still haven't mapped the entire transporter network, much less the entire city; sometimes the machines deposit them in places hidden from the city sensors, or in a compartment that can't be exited. So rather than risk slow asphyxiation, John goes to the limit of what's been cleared by McKay's team, and walks from there.
His life-signs indicator -- which in quieter moments he admits is a pretty fucking cool piece of machinery -- doubles as a map. John follows its guidance for about ten minutes, strolling along empty dusty hallways where the lights flicker uncertainly, and then finds the doorway he's been looking for. He turns off the pad and sticks it in his pocket.
The stairs are, unlike most of the city, entirely utilitarian. They could be in any building in North America, except for the stained glass windows at every other landing, throwing small green, red, and gold splotches over his sneakers as he climbs.
It's a long climb. He's okay with that, actually. There were meetings this morning, and McKay had him come down to the lab and stick his hand in something that blinked a few times. That was unsettling, but nothing exploded, so John figures they're okay. This afternoon Weir is making plans with Teyla's people about agriculture, and while John likes to eat as much as the next guy, farming is not something he's got a lot of experience with.
Twenty-seven hours without an emergency, and he's bored.
John suspects this isn't a good sign. A little exercise is good, though. Most of the planets they've been to lately have been pretty flat, topography wise, and the gym, such as it is, doesn't have a stairmaster. Which means his glutes and his quads are beginning to ache as he climbs. If there were someone around who asked, he'd say that was the point. But really it's not.
There's something on the floor on the next landing. It's about the size of a loaf of bread, withered and grey-brown. It doesn't move. John pulls out the pad, but it's not alive. He squats next to it and leans sideways to get a better look.
There are bones beneath that dry and wrinkled surface. Some kind of animal. He makes a mental note to tell Beckett about it, and straightens to go. As he turns away, he sees something sparkle. A small piece of silver, embedded in the skin on what might be the creature's forehead. It's hard to tell, with the multiple eye holes.
He's not going to think about the pet, waiting and waiting for his people to come back, dying alone in the darkness. Ten thousand years, Spot has been waiting, since before the pyramids were built, or cattle were domesticated. The evidence is all around them, but it's hard to grasp such age. John shakes his head in disbelief, and starts climbing again.
Two more spins around on the winding staircase, and there's another door. John opens it cautiously: it goes outside. He steps carefully out onto the grated metal landing and checks the door twice before letting it close behind him.
It's a tiny platform, surrounded by uncomfortably low railings, with the same simple lines as the balcony railings outside his living quarters. To his left is another flight of stairs. He focuses on that, rather than the world around him: he wants to delay the moment. He start climbing again.
No more landings now, just a slow turn counter-clockwise about the spire. The pillar around which the stairway curls is silvery steel, about two feet in diameter, and etched with the same complex patterns John recognizes from the monitors in the control room. He wonders what it says. Maybe the number of steps to the top, or the answer to the ultimate riddle. "Forty-two, forty-two, forty-two," he mutters as he climbs, and allows himself a smile.
At the fiftieth or so "forty-two," John comes to the top. The stairway ends in a small platform, perhaps six feet by three. At shoulder height, the pillar narrows suddenly to a needle, spearing upwards another hundred feet, John estimates. He tilts his head back to follow it up with his eyes, and then sways, grabbing the pillar for balance.
It's a long way down.
When he's secure, John turns around, leans his back against the pillar, and looks at the world.
This is the very highest spot in the city. Towers surround him, but they're all down past his feet on the grating. The view is even better than it is from the puddlejumper, he's not sure why. Maybe because he's still, nothing moving but the world itself spinning in space, the water washing soundlessly under the piers below, and a great blue-grey seabird soaring three hundred feet beneath him.
The wind picks up, gusting in his jacket: he feels the tug, and just to keep Weir from yelling at him if he manages to get thrown off the tower, he sinks down until he's seated on the platform, resting against the pillar. He can still see everything.
The water has fine ripples in it, tiny white dots which he knows are whitecaps and huge waves cresting, still carrying the energy of the storm that passed through yesterday. John raises his eyes over the water, and stares at the edge of the world, but even from this height he can't see the mainland. There is no land, nothing but water from one horizon to another. The sky is as blue as a winter afternoon in Colorado, streaked with windblown clouds streaming east, breaking and reforming.
It's actually kind of cold up here, in the wind.
There is supposed to be a science team, accompanied by Ford, scouting the southwest pier today. John leans over and looks down, but he's far too high. Nothing, and they're probably staying inside, anyway. Hardly anyone ever goes outside, he's noticed. As if they can convince themselves they're not really in another galaxy, if they don't notice the strange color of the birds, and the unfamiliar constellations. The way the sea air smells just a little wrong, a little bitter.
John sighs. McKay. He reaches up reluctantly and turns the mic back on. "Sheppard."
"Would you mind telling me why you're sitting on top of a telephone pole? Are you trying out for the Guinness Book of Records?"
Twenty-seven hours without a catastrophe; only three without wanting to strangle McKay. "I'm exploring." It sounds pathetic, even as he says it.
"Without a team, a mapping unit, and backup?"
John rolls his eyes. "Fine. I'm taking a walk. What do you want, McKay?"
There's a pause, maybe even an uncertain one. "Uh, well, nothing, actually. I just -- I just wondered, okay? You're all alone up there, and it's really high."
"I'm aware of that, Rodney. I am a pilot, you know."
"Right, right--" Rodney tails away, and then comes back. "Well, um, don't fall, okay?"
John snorts. "I won't fall. Anything else you want, or can I go back to enjoying my downtime now?"
"No, um, I think--" There's a clatter and John hears the voice of the Czech scientist, what's his name, Zekena or something, raised suddenly. McKay swears, and then says, "Sorry, Major, I have to go save this test from the brilliance of a staff outperformed by untrained lab rats--"
The radio goes silent; after a moment, John turns off the mic again.
The tower sways gently, the clouds spin apart and reform, moving east to meet the nightfall, and the wind carries nothing with it but the smell of the ocean.
John Sheppard sits on the tallest tower in Atlantis, chilled in the wind.
Summary: Twenty-seven hours since the last emergency, and John Sheppard is bored.