Word Count: 6200-
Summary: Sheppard's lost in the ocean all alone. Slowly sinking. With no way to the surface.
Written for radioshack84 for the sheppard_hc Summer Exchange. Prompt at the end.
I wanted to thank the wonderful em_kellesvig and everybettyfor their suggestions and awesome beta!
An angry green blob swirled across the HUD, tendrils streaking out from the eye of the storm. Two hundred mph gusts slammed the jumper's stern. He white-knuckled the yoke, kept her steady in the violent winds. The odds of outracing a cyclone weren't great, but statistics could be twisted into a pretzel to suit anything.
“You just had to go out again, didn't you?” Rodney chastised him over the radio.
“I thought I had enough time, McKay,” he groused back.
“Based on what calculations? Not mine.”
“You were right. Satisfied?”
“No, not really.”
One more chance: he'd had one more opportunity to rescue those surprised by the storm in their capsized boats. Ulma was a fishing-based community and many had been caught by the suddenness of the fierce storm. He'd gone solo to transport as many people as possible. With the use of rope ladders and hoists, he'd scooped up forty-eight fishermen in the last hour, stuffing twelve sopping wet bodies on board during every trip.
Only thirteen minutes more and there would've been time for one last search, but the cyclone had gained ground even though he was flying away from it. Forced into a tactical retreat, he was in a drag race to shore. Forty miles east of landfall.
The tail end finally caught up, winds blowing toward the center of the storm.
Tropical moisture and severe thunderstorms created a constant inflow of warm air, fuel for a gigantic heat engine. And that engine produced high winds and storm clouds half a mile high. The cyclone was maybe a football stadium wide.
The jumper pitched forward and John was thrown onto the flight controls. He tried to push himself off and was tossed out of his chair when the ship got flung sideways. Slamming against the opposite wall, he wasn't able to get back to his feet. G-forces pinned him in place.
Inertial dampeners were out; the lights went next, plunging him into total darkness. John lay crumpled in the corner while Rodney screamed in his ear. He braced for the crash, but he knew nothing would protect him in a head-on collision.
His skull smacked metal and the last thing he heard was the crack of glass as the ocean leaked inside.
“Sheppard! Sheppard answer me!”
John groaned in response.
“Sheppard! John! Please, for the love of all that's holy, respond!”
“Mmmm, awake,” John mumbled, unsure what the hell was going on.
“Really? Then recite five elements from the periodic table.”
A wave of dizziness washed over him. Great. It had taken five days to get over his last concussion.
“Listen to me! I know your brains are a few cards short of a full deck, but you just crashed in the middle of a cyclone.”
That would explain why his BDUs were wet. Opening his eyes, he ignored his pounding head, transfixed by the front window. “Oh, no.”
Water leaked rapidly into the front compartment from several fissures in the windshield. Lurching to his feet, he almost tumbled over. He staggered around, eyes widening at the number of hull breaches. It might as well be raining inside. Water reached his knees and he crossed into the back of the jumper, hitting the dividing hatch.
“Stop talking to yourself and speak to the person trying to save your ass!”
“The jumper's flooding and I can't seal myself in the back.”
Violent currents bombarded the ship and he grabbed one of the safety straps for dear life. Water sprayed him in the face from the roof as the jumper continued to sink beneath the waves.
“Sheppard! There's a space suit in there! Zelenka and I never unpacked it from our mission two days ago!”
“I'm not in spa--”
“I know but it should still work!”
“You're right!” John shouted as he went in search of it.
The spacesuit had stable internal pressure. Breathable oxygen. Temperature regulation. Shielding against ultraviolet radiation, not that he'd need it. It was a white EVA suit, not the more flexible pumpkin ones, but he'd take what he could get.
Sloshing through the rushing waters, he found the suit packed away in the corner. Getting inside the clunky thing was a challenge, but the water level that splashed over his waist was enough motivation. The jumper was tossed around like a toy and a violent lurch sent John into the wall, smacking his shoulder.
Grunting, he ignored all his aches and made his way back to the spacesuit. He shoved his legs inside and wrestled his arms into the rest of the cumbersome thing.
Time had run out and the front windshield exploded from the water pressure. John threw on his helmet and ran. Then slammed his hand on the release for the rear hatch.
It was the only thing holding back the ocean.
A wall of water crashed into him. His grip on the safety straps was the only thing keeping him from being swept away. He waited until the jumper completely flooded, equalizing the pressure. Grabbing the doorframe, he pushed off it with all his might into the swirling blue.
A space suit was like an inflated balloon with bits of rubberized fabric. John still felt like the Michelin Man, covered head to toe in Neoprene-coated fibers. The buoyancy of an inflated space suit in water simulated microgravity. In a tiny testing tank. Not under tons of ocean.
He was sinking.
The chop was rough and the current dragged him around. Rushing air rose to meet the core of the cyclone's vortex. He prayed he was far enough away from the storm to keep from getting sucked into its rotating air column.
Unlike in space, he didn't have a tether and there'd been no time to attach the rocket-maneuvering device. His helmet was tinted to reflect sunlight -- not a problem down here. Luckily, it was sprayed with an anti-fog compound to resist the moisture from his panting.
Calm down, John.
He tried to slow his breathing, rein in his galloping heart.
You'll get out of this.
Moving within an inflated suit was tough. Swimming wasn't an option, although he could bend his arms and legs. His hands were like giant catcher's mitts filled with air. He looked up and didn't see the jumper, only water.
Think. You have oxygen. Turning his wrist, he glanced at the backlit display on his sleeve. Four hours. That was bad. They would be overdue in seven hours and Woolsey would send out a rescue team through the space-gate. By then, he'd be dead.
His fat, gloved hand bounced off the helmet by his ear. Right. He couldn't do that. Tilting his head, John didn't feel the com inside his ear anymore. Probably fell out during his running around. Wait. The suit had a radio and he fumbled with the controls on his wrist.
“This is Sheppard. Please respond.”
There was no reply and he swallowed down a bubble of panic. “This is Sheppard. Does anyone--?”
“Thank God! You scared the crap out of all of us!” Rodney's voice echoed loudly inside his little fishbowl. “Are you all right?”
“Under the ocean.”
“And the cyclone?”
“You tell me?”
“It's heading for landfall, so...it should have passed you. It still might be a tad bumpy.”
He wiped uselessly at his helmet; things were getting darker. His heart squeezed inside his chest. “What's the wildlife like down here? Are there sharks or giant sea monsters?”
“I...uh...don't know. But I'm sure they've all fled during the storm. You'll be fine.”
And he was protected by the suit. He wasn't bleeding or giving off any scent.
“Atlantis will send out a search team in... a little over seven hours.”
“No good. I have less than four hours of oxygen left.”
He heard an 'oh', followed by silence.
“I crashed thirty, maybe twenty miles from shore. See if you can find out how deep the ocean goes from there.”
“How will that--”
“Wasting air, McKay. Just find out. You're holed up in an Ancient weather outpost. Get me some intel.”
“You mean a mainly non-functional Ancient weather outpost. But I’ll...uh...see about getting some depth measurements.”
John's voice sounded shaky to his own ears. Looking around, he realized he was out on his own.
Aquamarine quickly morphed into dark blue.
How far down was he?
Beneath his boots, the darkness grew. Scissoring his feet accomplished nothing, propelling him only a few inches.
God, what was that noise? Rapid and heavy. Like Darth Vader after a marathon.
That's you, dummy. Calm down.
Gravity was a law of physics; panic, emotion. He could control emotion. Instead of staring down, he looked up, squinting against layers of dark.
He fumbled with the controls to the radio. “McKay! I need those depth measurements. If you're trying to stall for time, I'd rather--”
“Would you hold your horses? It's only been...jeesh, not even ten minutes.”
“What? It has to have been longer!” He glanced at the display at his wrist, blinking in surprise. “Damn.”
“Eight minutes, Sheppard. Give me a little more time. It's not like this outpost has signs or how-to instructions.”
“Right. I just...never mind.”
He kicked again. It was fruitless, but he had nothing else to do.
John searched every inch of his spacesuit. The damn thing cost thousands of dollars; certainly, it had something useful?
But even an ultra-expensive space suit had flaws, and like all others, this one was designed to endure the hazards of space. Not water pressure.
He resisted checking the time again.
Something brushed by his legs. He startled, jerking his head down and around to catch a glimpse of the creature to no avail. The world tilted; his ears popped. But this wasn't zero-gravity and he was still dropping feet first.
He resisted the urge to pinch his nose and blow real hard. Equalize the pressure. His fingers bounded off glass. Right. He couldn’t do that. Swallowing helped marginally; breathing through his nostrils didn't. He gnawed on his lip and counted backwards from a thousand.
Nine hundred ninety-nine.
Nine hundred ninety-eight.
Damn it! What was that? A tail? Everything was an inky black now. He'd known darkness, confronted it hundreds of time. Cells. Caves. Trapped inside his own mind. This whole floating endlessly thing frazzled his nerves.
He kicked with renewed energy.
John envisioned himself outside the spacesuit, thought about the box he was trapped inside. It was designed to explore space -- explore being the key word.
There was a pair of lights attached to his helmet. The urge to laugh was overwhelming. Fumbling blindly with his catcher-mitt fingers, he jabbed at the buttons by his wrist. Stupid. What if you hit the wrong control? But he couldn't see a damn thing and breathed a sigh of relief when two beams of light stabbed through the water.
For ten inches. Maybe less. And all the light accomplished was to make his world even smaller. The water was too dark to reveal anything, magnifying the bleak void of nothingness.
Maybe he should turn the lights off.
“Sheppard! Based on how fast you were traveling and where you were on the Ancient radar, which by the way I just discovered actually existed...”
“McKay!” God, it felt good to hear another voice.
“The ocean shouldn't be deeper than eight or nine thousand feet.”
John was rusty when it came to diving, but he'd been around enough marine biologists to know the basics. Besides, he lived on a city on the ocean. He ran through the calculations, but Rodney beat him to it.
“Of course, your suit's not built to withstand anything over, say, five thousand...”
“Got a plan before that happens?” John snapped, kicking out with his feet, barely able to move them. “Or am...I...just a large paperweight?”
“Stop expending your energy. You'll use up more oxygen that way.”
In other words, there was no plan.
Five thousand feet.
What was the average rate of descent through the ocean? Seventy-five feet per minute? He recalled bits of conversation with--- Had it been Dr. Ebright? Yeah. With the really long lashes and curly red hair.
“Sheppard! Are you listening to me?”
“At my rate of descent, that gives me an hour--” He glanced at the digital display, squinting at the readout. Did the math. “I've got maybe forty minutes before my brains leak out my ears.”
“First off, you're not helping. Second--”
“How about finding a hidden submarine? Asgard beam would be cool.”
“Got to conserve O2. Sheppard out.”
At this point, suffocation might be a preferable alternative.
Eight-hundred and twenty-one.
Eight-hundred and twenty.
Eight-hundred and nineteen.
If it came down to it, he could try unlocking his helmet. Reach his .45. Of course he'd drown first.
When he'd first entered the drink, his spacesuit was stiff, reminding him of plaster-covered tinfoil. Over the last few minutes, it clung to his skin, stretching too tightly over his body from the outside pressure. His lungs fought to expand. His arms could hardly bend at all anymore. Both legs felt like they were tied down by weights.
He imagined squeezing a balloon until it popped. Blood bursting out his eyes and ears. The human body was seventy percent water and all that liquid had to go somewhere.
What would it take before his visor started to crack? The ocean flooding in like it did in the jumper.
There was time, damn it. Where was he? Eight hundred and eighteen. Should he skip ahead?
His heart slammed against his ribcage.
Before he could slow it down, his feet got caught on something. Oh, God. What now?
Something slithered around his arms, and for a second, his mind screamed. Monster. He turned his head, twin light-beams illuminating long, stringy bits of plants instead of snapping jaws.
Seaweed. And seaweed meant land.
Multiple strands became a snarl and before he started ripping them away, his feet hit solid ground.
How was this possible? Shouldn't he be dead?
He could walk.
He was walking.
“Rodney! I hit the bottom.”
“What? How? It's only been thirty-six minutes!”
It'd felt like hours.
“I don't know. Maybe the charts are wrong.”
John ignored the list of reasons of how that was impossible. Each step was clumsy, heavy. It might as well have been a wind tunnel; it was that slow going. He trudged onward, battled every inch.
It hurt to breathe.
“I'm sure the charts are millions of years old. Between erosion and tectonics, the underwater landscape probably shifted.”
“That sounds about right.”
There wasn't any mention of a plan. John kept searching. For what, he didn't know. An escape, a secret base. He'd take a mermaid at this point.
There. His lights bounded off something rocky and he hurried as fast as his cement boots would allow.
“I think I found my way out of here, McKay.”
“You did? How? I mean...what?”
“I'm on a mountain summit,” he spoke, looking up. “All I have to do is scale it.”
“But you don't know how high it goes.”
He looked at his O2 display. Three hours, fifty-one minutes left.
John didn't bother calculating if he had enough time to climb back.
The mountain was made of sharp coral, great for foot and handholds. He didn't have any ropes or gear, but falling wasn't a real issue. Small updrafts spurred him onward, not enough to carry him to the surface, more like a tailwind. The mountain protected him from the really nasty currents, and probably helped slow down the storm as it went toward land.
His breathing was ragged, and adrenaline pumped through his veins. He could do this, get out of another jam. Pudgy fingers gripped whatever they could, pulled and yanked the rest of his lower body upward.
Once he got going, momentum followed through. Maybe this was the remains of a massive coral reef. It twisted upward, but not at a steep angle. Using his hands and feet made it more like a steep crawl.
It was a race. He ascended a foot every few seconds maybe, but he didn't have a way to measure his progress. How deep was he? Three or four thousand feet?
John continued climbing.
A piece of coral broke off under his palm. Panting, he held his hand in front of his domed face, checking for tears. Coral could be razor sharp and the last thing he needed was a suit breach.
Taking a second to rest, he grit his teeth against the dull pain in his shoulders. Smacking the bulkhead a few times hadn’t done his body any favors. But a time out wouldn't get him out of here any faster and so he pushed off with his boots.
Adding more hours of hiking to his exercise routine would be the first thing on his list when he got back to Atlantis. Paperwork be damned. His team depended on him to be in peak physical shape, and while he was no slacker, John wasn't getting any younger.
He couldn't take the silence anymore.
“Talk to me, McKay.”
“I thought you were conserving oxygen?”
“You talk; I'll listen.”
“I'm a little busy trying to find a way to rescue you.”
“You putting together a mini-sub out of spare parts and chewing gum?”
It felt better not knowing about any plan because John knew the odds for forming one. “How about Teyla and Ronon?”
“They're working on Option B.”
“Guess that leaves you and me then.”
“Believe it or not, I'm a bit preoccupied calculating wind velocity, ocean currents, and thermal drafts.”
“I'm sure your laptop's handling things.”
Rodney sputtered and John smiled. “You're right. I should conserve O2.”
“The Ulmans think they have something to help. They have to just...um...retrieve it properly.”
Everyone was trying; John hadn't expected any less. “Thanks, Rodney.”
His ears rang. Loudly. A sharp, piercing drone that caused all his teeth to ache in sympathy. His hands and feet obeyed his commands to keep going, but their movements were sluggish. Uncoordinated.
Ow. Ow. Ow. Ow. Ow.
It felt like a drill had burrowed through his skull. He pressed his helmet into the cliff. And swallowed again; big mistake. Bile rose up his esophagus and his ears imploded.
It was hard to distinguish up from down. Weird colors dotted his vision and John sucked in the longest, deepest breath he could muster.
“Sheppard! Come in. Answer me!”
“Not now, McKay.”
“I've been yelling your name for five minutes!”
“You didn't fall asleep, did you? Because if you have a concussion—”
“Just took a second to gain my bearings.”
John pressed his hand against the coral until pieces broke and crumbled away. Signaling the way down. Gravity was a good compass.
“How much oxygen do you have left?”
The numbers blurred and John blinked them back into focus. “Two hours and ten minutes. I've got to make better time.”
He fast-crawled over the mountain, his visibility only inches. He lifted his hand, felt it float and bob. The world swam, smears of white into black. His feet slipped out from under him; his helmet smacked and scraped the mountain.
It felt like he was falling. Flipping over, head to toe, he thrashed wildly, hands striking the coral right in front of him. Grabbing a chunk of rock, it dug into his rubber gloves. They didn't tear. He stared at his arms, breaths coming in short gasps.
The cliff was his anchor. Solid. Steady.
It led to the surface. Follow it. Keep moving.
He ran, scurrying up like the world's biggest crab. The incline gradually became steeper, harder to scale. Layers of water were dusky blue, the coral a patchwork of browns with glints of green. John huffed for air, ignored how badly his arms and legs trembled. Everything hurt. Elbows, knees, wrists, ankles. His shoulder blades throbbed, amplifying the pain in all his other joints.
His left hip locked up and he cursed, dragging along his stubborn leg. Something scaly popped out of a hole, a body of yellow and pink slinking, slithering, leaving a trail of bubbles in its wake.
John froze, wondering what other creatures were hidden inside the coral. His eyes darted from crevice to crevice in search of more surprises. He was the prey out here. Craning his neck, he studied the sky of water. Watched it shift and shimmer.
His muscles went into rictus. He searched the display on his arm, the readout a string of undecipherable dots. It didn't matter; he'd been down here for hours, trapped under an entire ocean.
He checked his watch, having forgotten that he wasn't wearing one. He found the display, the numbers random symbols. With a growl of frustration, John lashed out, banging the display against a knot of coral. Flipping it over again, he glared at the cracked, spider web of plastic.
There was no way to monitor his progress now.
John had always hated timed tests.
He'd escaped a Genii hellhole with the body of a seventy-year old. With a Wraith. He could do this.
Jaw clenched against the pain, he forced his arms and legs out of their paralysis.
In a race against himself, he struggled upward.
“Sheppard! Do you read me? Sheppard, answer me damn it!”
John shook his head at the noise in his ears.
“Sheppard! Wake up!”“Listen to me. The storm hit landfall a little while ago. You're thirty miles east of it. The waves are insane, but the Ulmans are chomping at the bit to help. They even have primitive diving suits. Think an iron lung type thing. Because of your heroics, there are at least a dozen volunteers boarding fishing boats as we speak.”
The disembodied voice certainly sounded like Rodney. No one yelled quite like him. John wasn't sure how to answer the voice. He actually wasn't sure where he really was at the moment.
“Sheppard! We can follow your sub-q transmitter, but you need to keep climbing. The Ulmans' diving contraption can't go as deep as you are.”
Right. John was on a mountain.
“Please. If you can hear me, you've got to get further up. I know you're probably confused, but keep climbing.”
Things swirled in hues of blue. They were kind of pretty. A school of speckled yellow and white fish swam by. There had to be thousands of them.
“John, please. Whatever you think you're doing, trust me.”
The fish fluttered in streaks of the rainbow. His head was too heavy for his neck and bending it hurt. Hurt really bad. But the Rodney voice said to trust him. To keep climbing.
Crushing a bit of coral, he watched bits float away, and he knew which direction to go.
Things were brighter, sharper. The blues more crystalline.
It made it easier to spot the beast in battle armor coming toward him. John tried raising his arms to defend himself, but they were cast in hard plaster. Slow and awkward.
“Sheppard. Whatever you do, don't attack. The Ulman diver is there to help!”
“What?” he yelled at the Rodney voice.
The beast was above him, and when it got within reach, John swung with a clumsy jerk of his arm. Brown leather gloves grabbed his shoulders, pulling John toward an armored chest.
He struggled, panted for air, but there was no getting out of the iron grip. Expending the last of his energy, his body went limp in the thing's grasp. John stared at his captor, all sharp angles forming straight lines and a boxy, humanoid outline.
A metallic chain mail neckpiece connected to a metal helmet with portholes. A gigantic hose dangled above and John traced where it plugged into the helmet, a stream of air bubbles escaping out of it. Recognizing that this was some type of rescue, John gave the man a small nod, swallowing back the nausea the movement triggered.
Seeming satisfied, the diver tugged on a small cable John hadn't noticed before. They started to ascend and John closed his eyes as spikes of pain drove through his sinuses.
Voices echoed around him, moving and floating in various directions. There was no keeping track of them all and it only added to his disorientation. He pressed his head into the solid surface below, and clawed at the ground with his gloved fingers. The voices grew more insistent. When he didn't respond, hands came out, touching and grabbing.
He wanted to scream for them to back the hell off. That physical contact hurt. That if he moved a single inch, the world rotated off its axis. But all protests were cut off by the violent need to puke his guts out. So he curled into himself like a turtle, staying very still.
It didn't seem to matter because he felt like a pinball bouncing around the inside of a large machine.
Suddenly there was a loud click and hiss of air. He might have bitten his tongue, but suddenly, there was noise and sound and it was just too much.
“Sheppard, it's all right. We needed to take your helmet off.”
Removing the fish bowl should have been a blessing, but it just made everything sharper, louder.
“He cannot stay as he is,” a voice spoke.
“I know. Please. He needs a few minutes to adjust.”
“No, we must give him extra air. Or he will suffer more.”
“I highly doubt that'll help much.”
“What? Don't growl at me. He needs to be back on Atlantis.”
Swallowing the burning acid creeping up his throat, John dared to open his eyes. He watched the floorboard violently leap and jump. He snapped his lids closed with a groan. “We...on...a damned boat?”
“Yes, John,” Teyla answered. “We are heading back to shore, but because of the cyclone, it is...bumpy. In the meantime, the Ulmans say they have something that can help you. ”
All John wanted was to pass out. “How long--”
“Two hours before we miss our check in. We should be back on land in twenty minutes, give or take,” Rodney answered.
“I...I don't think I can move on my own,” John admitted.
He recognized Ronon's voice. Felt Teyla's presence on his other side. John didn't risk nodding and went with a simple, “Okay.”
Standing required both feet. But the world dipped and spun, and even leaning entirely on Ronon didn't halt that about to fall over sensation. His limbs had been replaced by those of a severely arthritic old man and they were difficult to maneuver out of the spacesuit. After wrestling his arms free, it was time for his lower half.
“Can you lift up your right leg?”
It still sounded like he was still underwater, Rodney's voice a tiny din in his head. John dug his fingers into Ronon's coat when the Tilt-a-Whirl he desperately wanted off of was turned up to the max.
“I'll lift him. You pull the rest off.”
It was like nose-diving at twelve Gs. John expelled the last of his stomach contents. All over Ronon. He had to be told he'd been freed of the suit because he was never, ever opening his eyes again. Not with everything was a blur of motion.
“Floor,” John rasped.
“Ronon put you down already. We will reach land very soon.”
Even Teyla's soothing voice was lost in the upheaval of senses. John curled on his side, cupping his head with both hands.
“Here, put this breather over his mouth and nose. It will help,” a voice commanded.
“Unless you have a decompression chamber and a real oxygen tank nearby, I don't think anything you have will have any effect.”
His team argued; their debate bounced all around him.
“They had a diving suit, didn't they?”
“One that belongs in a museum.”
“It used a tank on the ship to provide air to the diver.”
“We have no idea if it's actual oxygen or not.”
“Could it hurt?”
John didn't struggle when something leathery was pushed over his face.
Millions of ants crawled over his body. Down his legs, over his chest, between his toes. He tried batting them away, but his hands wouldn't respond. His eyes flew open and John found himself flat on his back on a cot, his wrists bound together with a small length of rope.
What the hell?
“It is all right.” Teyla's worried face blurred into view. “You are safe. Do you understand?”
“Does he look like he understands?”
Every inch of John's skin burned and itched. Tiny insect legs ghosted over him and who knew if teeth would follow. All his joints grated on each other, raw bone gnashing raw bone. That's what John understood; that's what he cared about.
He yanked harder on the ropes. Ignored the growing ringing in his ears.
For all he knew, he was still under the ocean.
“We had to tie your hands; you were scratching yourself,” Teyla told him.
But her voice was drowned by the damn ringing, the concussive sound so loud he could feel his eardrums bleed. Squeezing his eyes closed only made things worse and keeping them open made the room spin. Compromising, he opened his lids to mere slits.
A swatch of dreads and leather paced out of view and John wet his lips, his voice a thin whisper. ”Ronon...if that's you, buddy...stun me. Please.”
“Why isn't he better? He's been out of the water for hours.”
“It's decompression sickness. It gets worse the longer you go without treatment.”
“Then fix it!”
“Oh, yes. I'll just magically reduce the amount of nitrogen bubbles popping through blood vessels and rippling inside his muscles. Where's my magic wand?”
“Ronon, Rodney cannot do anything. He is not a doctor. It will not be much longer before Atlantis sends a search party.”
Search party...search party. John had been trying to find the missing fishermen. Rescue them from a furious storm. Then been ensnared himself.
John reached for coral that wasn't there, in search of his compass. His wrists were jerked short, the pain agony. But he wiggled blotchy pink fingers, not mitts of white.
“McKay?” John whispered.
Maybe he wasn't entirely alone.
“Colonel Sheppard, can you open your eyes for me?”
“Colonel? Squeeze my hand if you hear me.”
John's first instinct was to answer his radio, but he couldn't while inside the suit.
“I see ya eyes fluttering, Colonel. Come on, just open them a wee bit.”
The voice wasn't in his ear, so John obeyed, taking in a stark, cramped room. Blinking away the confusion, his eyes settled on Carson. “We on a sub, Doc?”
“Close enough, lad. This is a hyperbaric chamber. Though it's small enough for a U-Boat,” Carson said with a smile.
“A hyperbaric chamber?” John rubbed the grit away from his eyes, the pull of an IV pinching his arm. Steel walls with tiny windows surrounded him. “I had the bends?”
“Type-One, thank goodness.”
It made sense. All the disorientation. All the pain.
Then his biggest mistake dawned on him.
He rolled his eyes. John had been in enough experimental high altitude aircraft to know better. “I didn't have time to prep before suiting up. Should have expected problems.”
While normal 'air' was a mixture of seventy-eight percent nitrogen, twenty-one percent oxygen, and a smattering of other gases, a space suit was designed to produce pure O2. It required pre-breathing pure oxygen for half an hour before sealing on the helmet.
Carson studied him with a sad shake of his head. “Aye, the pre-breathing regiment eliminates the nitrogen from your blood and tissues. When you weren’t able to do that, you developed nitrogen narcosis -- a very pesky anesthetic effect on your brain.”
“That would explain why my sense of time was so screwed up.”
“Every fifty feet you went down was like drinking a beer. It's why so many divers get confused calculating time and depth.”
Every fifty feet? God, he must've been wasted. John imagined wandering around in circles until his air had run out.
Stop thinking that way.
Tired of being flat on his back, he pushed up with his hands, his arms giving out.
“Take it easy, lad. Fatigue and weakness are going to be issues for a while,” Carson said, raising the bed up several degrees.
The shift in elevation tugged on tendons, scraped tender muscle on bone. John grit his teeth and bit back a groan as he sat up on the gurney. He raked his gaze across the pink marble roseola covering his arms and the parts of his chest peeking out from under his gown.
“The rash will go away,” Carson explained, stuffing his hands into his jacket. “Those nitrogen bubbles got lodged in your skin's capillaries. Not a pretty picture, but it could have been worse. Teyla bandaged up the areas you scratched up when you weren't yourself.”
“You mean I could have been that guy in 'The Abyss'?”
“Pish posh, Colonel. Maybe if you'd been down there longer. Most of your symptoms -- the joint pain, vertigo, and headache -- were in the first stage of decompression sickness.”
“Your problem was ascending, Sheppard, and I don't mean in the whole Ancient-glowy thing either,” Rodney's voice filtered through a speaker in the ceiling.
Carson rolled his eyes. “I'm treating my patient, Rodney. No eavesdropping.”
“Oh, please. Like you're not going to tell Sheppard anything I don't already know or witnessed in full Technicolor.”
“Well, I don't like shouting over a radio,” Carson groused.
“By the time I go through both airlocks, waiting for pressurization each way, I could have completed a dozen more useful things.”
“Then you can bloody well wait to talk the colonel until I'm done speaking with him,” Carson yelled before turning his attention back to John. “Rodney was right about the ascending part. The further you went down, all the extra nitrogen that had built up dissolved and accumulated in your body.
And when you ascended too quickly, the nitrogen returned to gas form while still in your blood and tissues.”
Ouch. That's why moving hurt so much.
“What about now?” John asked.
“Fluids and downtime in your new abode.” Carson ignored John's scowl. “You're breathing pure oxygen in here, which is why Rodney can't come and go as he pleases unless he takes the time to acclimate in and out of the chamber like I do. And the increased pressure of the chamber will help transport oxygen in your body and remove the nitrogen. When I see those stats decrease, I'll begin the process of reducing the pressure back to atmospheric levels.”
“So, tomorrow then?” John asked hopefully.
“Think twenty-four to forty-eight hours minimum, Colonel.”
John closed his eyes and released a long breath, grimacing when it drove nails into his temples.
“The pain will get better with time, as will the vertigo,” Carson said with a pat to his shoulder. “I'll be back in a few hours. If you need anything, the radio controls are by your left, next to some books and your laptop for when you get bored. The com is voice activated, but you can switch it off whenever you want.”
He listened to the hiss of the chamber door open as Carson exited, leaving John to lie under the dim lights.
“You knew, didn't you?” he asked out loud after a few minutes.
“That you were getting the bends? Hello, genius. I didn't want you to panic more by saying anything. You would have noticed, if you weren't, you know...getting sick.”
“Good thinking,” John mumbled.
He wasn't floating anymore, lost in the void of darkness, but he still felt very much alone. Which was ridiculous if he thought about it. But he still had a voice to keep him company. His head was still heavy, neck stiff, but John looked over his shoulder at the small window, Rodney’s face looking back.
“You know, I have a break coming up,” Rodney’s words echoed inside the metallic chamber. “Teyla and Ronon are on their way over. We could have lunch together if you wanted.”
John smiled. “That would be cool.”
Prompt:Underwater exploration in/around Atlantis, via scuba or jumper. Shep with decompression sickness, and other injuries as necessary.