Epiphany: Part 2

1

 

"I can't believe how well organized they are," Ford said.

"I know," Sheppard said in full agreement. "Ronon's got Green Team up to U.S. Army efficiency."

"Not that that's saying much," Ford joked.

"I don't know. Even a platoon of boot camp-fresh ground pounders would make mince meat out of Blue Team."

"Now that's really not saying very much," Ford said, extending his joke to Sheppard's men.

"Well feel free to offer up any suggestions."

"I already have," Ford argued. "You rejected them."

"They were extreme…to the point of self injury," Sheppard complained. "These are common folk that we're trying to train into soldiers. You gotta allow for a bigger learning curve here compared to Earth."

"Ronon doesn't seem to have a problem pressing his men."

"Ronon is sadistic," Sheppard argued.

"My point exactly."

Sheppard stopped walking and faced Aiden. "Alright, how about this. You can play antagonist and I'll play protagonist."

"Meaning I'm the drill sergeant," Ford asked. "and you're the CO?"

"Something like that," Sheppard agreed.

Ford nodded. "That could work, but we're going to have to set this up properly."

"What do you mean?"

"I'll have to give them challenges to face…and you'll have to be the one to teach them how to get through it."

"I think I see where you're going with this," Sheppard said as they started to continue walking back to the command post from the stargate. They'd just arrived to take their command shift opposite Brand and Ronon, who were both currently back in Atlantis. Striker had been in temporary command the past few days, but Sheppard didn't feel completely comfortable with him taking the reigns of a full training cycle just yet.

"You think my concern for my men is affecting my ability to rough them up?"

"Exactly."

"So, you want to be their worst nightmare so I don't have to?"

Ford smiled. "Yep."

"Hmm," Sheppard considered. "I wonder how Ronon manages to do both?"

"I hate to say it, but I think his Setidan training was better than ours."

Sheppard smiled. "I've been thinking about that since the day we started training the regulars. Kind of a tough pill to swallow…but it does give us the opportunity to learn a few things."

"Man, I wish I could have seen them when they fought the Wraith," Ford said, thinking out loud. "A whole planet full of Ronons…that'd be nuts."

"They're not all like him," Sheppard said, remembering the other Setidans they'd come across. "But they are a tough lot. I…" he said before disappearing in a blinding light.

"What the hell?" Ford said, glancing right and left out of reflex. He looked up in the sky and listened…but there were no darts. Besides, the light hadn't been quite the same, but either way Sheppard had been transported somewhere.

Ford took off at a run back to the stargate. With his enzyme enhanced muscles he made it back within three minutes, hurriedly dialed Atlantis, sent his security code, then ran through the portal to get help.


"Hi, John," Carter said kindly, almost an apology, along with a short wave.

"Hi, Sam," Sheppard said naturally, his shock gone. He should have expected this. O'Neill had warned them that they were coming, but how in the world did they find Yavin? "I'm kind of in the middle of something right now, so would you mind beaming me back down? We can talk later, say an hour or so?" he said sarcastically.

"I'm afraid that's not going to happen," Woolsey said, stepping into the conversation. Carter shot him a short glance, but the I.O.A. representative didn't see it.

"Woolsey," Sheppard said, his voice full of venom. "I should have known you'd be a part of this," he said, looking back at Carter. "But I didn't figure you for a turncoat."

"That's not fair, John," she mildly protested despite the fact that she'd expected as much. "I'm just following orders. You put yourself in this position, not me."

"Gee, thanks," Sheppard said irreverently. "That'll make those long nights in prison all the more bearable now, won't it?"

"You stole from the Air Force," Carter argued. "What did you expect to happen?"

"What I did," he corrected her, "was use the material available to me to aid our allies in the war against the Wraith, as we've done ever since we first set foot in Atlantis and allied ourselves with the Athosians. I didn't change anything. The I.O.A. is the one that did the changing."

"Perhaps so," Woolsey said, "but your actions were still in violation of I.O.A. mandate, not to mention U.S. military regs. You would have received a fair trial…if you hadn't broken security and fled Stargate Command."

"I did the right thing," Sheppard emphasized, "and I was being punished for it. End of story. You can wrap it up in whatever propaganda you like, but that doesn't change the truth. You were going to abandon every single Human in the Pegasus galaxy to the mercy of the Wraith…and we all know where that leads back to. And don't even try to deny it," Sheppard said, pointing an accusing finger at Woolsey.

"I don't deny anything," the man said, unshaken. "Our priority lies with Earth, not the Pegasus galaxy. Your actions, along with those of Dr. Weir, drew us into a war not of our own making. That in no way makes us liable for the outcome of that war or the fate of the Pegasus galaxy. Given that we did destroy several Wraith Hive ships during our few years here, the Pegasus natives should be thankful for our assistance rather than expect us to bail them out of their perpetual troubles."

"Their 'troubles'?" Sheppard said, incredulously. "You make it sound like it's their fault?"

"Well it's certainly not ours," Woolsey continued. "We have enough problems of our own to deal with. We can't logistically or ideologically commit ourselves to the task of defeating the Wraith, and to be frank, we never should have entertained those thoughts."

"But we can commit ourselves to ransacking every bit of advanced technology that we come across, despite the negative affects it will have on others, all in the name of good old Earth?"

"I wouldn't put it that way, but if you must, then…yes," Woolsey said without any trace of guilt.

"Why you…" Sheppard muttered, taking three quick steps up to the man and punched him in the face.

Woolsey fell to the ground, his nose gushing blood as the SF's ran up to restrain Sheppard.

"Enough!" Carter yelled. Reluctantly Sheppard stopped struggling against the superior muscle. "Lieutenant Vitterman, help Mr. Woolsey to the infirmary. And you," she said, turning her ire on Sheppard.

"And me what?" he countered. "I'm on my way to a holding cell, followed by a rigged trial and a damp, dark cell somewhere on Earth for the rest of my life. You really expect me to walk into that willingly?"

Carter glared at him, but didn't say a word. "Holding cell," she ordered.

The SF's began to drag him off the bridge. "Nice to see you too, Sam."

When Sheppard was out of sight she slumped down in her command chair, cradling her head in her hand.

"General?" Major Kelson said.

"Yes," she said, not looking up.

"We have a message from the Daedalus. Dr. McKay is requesting permission to ring over."

"Perfect," Carter muttered in disgust. She thought about denying him permission, but then again this confrontation was going to happen one way or another. She might as well let him find out about Sheppard now and get it over with. "Permission granted," she said, getting up from her chair. "Put us into a stable orbit and have the other ships do likewise. I'm going to meet McKay. You have the bridge, Major."


 

2

 

 

Ford burst into the gate room at a run and continued forward up the stairs. "Sheppard's been taken!" he yelled into the empty room.

Devonshire poked her head up into view above the second tier railing. "What?"

"I said Sheppard's been taken," Ford repeated. "On Yavin. We were walking side by side, then there was a flash of light, and he was gone."

Devonshire frowned. "You mean he was beamed up?"

Ford shook his head. "It wasn't a dart."

Devonshire looked at him as if he was stupid. "I meant an Asgard beam."

Ford frowned. "Why would the Asgard take him?"

"I didn't…what is wrong with you? The transport beams that we use on our ships, like, you know, the Daedalus or the Odyssey."

"Daedalus?" Ford said, remembering. "You mean the tech the Asgard gave Earth."

"Yes," Devonshire over emphasized. "Did it look like that?"

"I've never seen it," Ford told her.

"Oh," she said apologetically. "I guess you wouldn't have. It's sort of like a bright white light that zips up and down, depending on which way you're going."

"It was a white light," Ford confirmed.

Devonshire chewed on her lip as she thought. "Stevenson said he didn't want to be disturbed unless it was an emergency, but I guess this qualifies," she said, walking over to a communications panel. She pulled up a schematic of the city and zoomed in on Stevenson's quarters. She keyed the sound for his location only.

"Control room to Stevenson. We have a situation."

There was a long pause, longer than Devonshire was comfortable with and she began to worry about having interrupted him, but eventually his calm voice responded.

"What is it?"

"Sir, Ford has just returned from Yavin. He claims Sheppard disappeared in a flash of light. We think it might have been…"

"Keep him there," Stevenson said quickly. "I'll be right up."

"Okay…" Devonshire said to herself as the comm channel cut off from Stevenson's end. "I guess that was worth waking him up for."

"Claims?" Ford repeated.

Devonshire stared him down. "If you don't know for sure what it was, then 'claims' is the appropriate term."

"You make it sound like I don't know what I'm talking about."

"I didn't mean it that way."

Ford seemed to let it go. "He was sleeping in the middle of the day?"

She shrugged. "Beats me. I'd be taking a nap right now if I wasn't on duty."

"A nap?" Ford said incredulously. "Don't you have anything better to do?"

She smiled humorlessly. "Right now, Atlantis is a pretty dull place."

"The city has over a hundred gyms," Ford countered.

"I do my workouts in the morning," she told him. "In the afternoon I'm bored to tears."

"Flight training then," Ford countered as he tried to keep his nerves in check. He didn't just like waiting around while Sheppard was who knows where. "There are plenty of simulations to get you started."

"Hmmn, I hadn't thought about that. Is training all you do for fun?"

"Nowadays, pretty much," Ford admitted. "All the 'fun' stuff I did before seems pretty pathetic now."

"Such as?" Devonshire pressed.

"Well, there was this one time…" he began as Stevenson raced into the control room.

"That was fast," Devonshire said as Stevenson brushed past her and went straight for the long range sensors. He recalibrated them in a flash and generated a grainy picture of three contacts over Yavin. It took a moment for the computer to process their likely shapes and origins, but Stevenson already knew who they were.

"Find Ronon," he told Aiden. "I'm going to need the two of you geared up in less than an hour."

"What is it?" Ford asked him pointedly.

"A taskforce from Avalon. We knew they were coming, but I'd been expecting to find them before they found us. Somehow they stumbled across Yavin…unless they backtracked the regulars."

"Where's Avalon?" Ford asked. "And how would they know to track Sheppard's men?"

"Earth," Stevenson said, using the human name for their homeworld. "And I bet they put feelers out into the local populations to try and find where we went. From there that eventually led them back to Yavin."

"So why take him and not me?" Ford asked. "We were side by side."

Stevenson frowned. "I don't know." He turned to Devonshire. "Tell Larrin we're going to need the Tria," he said before running off into the city.


Stevenson arrived in the outpost on the forest world that Teyla had entirely to herself barely twenty minutes after he'd received the news about Sheppard. He quickly searched for Teyla within the terra, but found her mind somewhat distant.

Teyla, he said telepathically, but there was no reply. Either she didn't have the skills to reply or her transformation hadn't progressed that far yet.

Stevenson got a more precise mental location fix and ran out to her location. He had to pass through over a kilometer of forest before emerging onto the beach that ringed the island that the terra was located on. Teyla was on the water's edge, moving to and fro in an elaborate dance-like flow of positions that Stevenson recognized as an Alterran flexibility regimen.

He smiled as he approached her, pleased with the skill of movement that she was displaying…and her lack of clothes. His maleness aside, he took it as a sign of progress that she was abandoning human taboos and recognizing her body for what it really was.

Teyla, he said 'louder' this time, trying to establish a telepathic link.

Right on cue she jerked to sudden awareness, then looked visibly relieved when she saw him approaching and quickly began to walk forward to meet him.

"Did you say that out loud…or in my mind?" she asked, speaking Lingara, or as the humans called it, 'Ancient.'

"Mind…I see you've progressed to at least level three," he said, referring to the neural uploads that he'd left in the terra along with a myriad of other developmental training designed to bring her up to Alterran norms.

Teyla smiled. "Comprehensive level four," she informed him, "but I've reached level 17 in the self defense subsection."

Stevenson nodded curtly. "Good. You're going to need it. I apologize for interrupting your training…I know your transformation isn't complete yet, but I need your help."

Teyla's eyes narrowed. "What's wrong?" she asked, picking up on his tension either from past experience or a sliver of her developing empathic ability.

"Sheppard's been captured," he said, wasting no time.

Teyla set her jaw, then glanced down at her nude body. "I can leave as soon as I get dressed," she said, starting to walk off the beach back toward the terra.

Stevenson grabbed her arm, stopping her. "First things first," he said, sliding a large, intricate gauntlet onto her forearm. He slid a second identical one on her opposite arm, then held up his own for comparison.

"What are these for?" Teyla asked.

"Combat," Stevenson said simply. "They respond to mental commands. Observe."

Teyla watched as both pieces of Stevenson's forearm jewelry melted from their silvery forms and spread out over his body, expanding in size far more than volume would have allowed. Within twenty seconds he was covered head to toe in dark grey body armor that looked to be little more than a thin layer of liquid.

His head covering retracted, exposing his face. "The armor is made up of nanites. They are rigid, despite their fluid appearance, but they move in conjunction with your neural impulses. They offer no resistance to movement, rather they anticipate your actions and move along with your body. Otherwise they are rock solid and can easily protect you from blades and a moderate amount of kinetic energy. They will also absorb the energy from most stun weapons."

"Amazing," Teyla said, glancing down at her own jewelry. Her mind focused and her own armor slithered coolly over her body, clothing her in nanite armor, only hers was golden brown in color. Belatedly she realized it was the same color as the sand she was standing on.

"Yes, it will match the color of your environment if you wish," Stevenson explained quickly. "It also possesses a decent personal shield and wrist-mounted weapons," he said, referencing the small bumps covering both of their wrists. "One setting is for stun, which is all I want you to use. Try it now," he said, firing a small blue orb into the sand.

Teyla concentrated again, lifting her left arm and pointing it toward a small rock near the water's edge. An equally small green orb lept from her wrist, missed the rock low by a few centimeters, and exploded the sand beneath…launching the rock high into the air where it then fell crashing into the lake.

Stevenson shook his head. "That wasn't stun. Try again."

Teyla looked around and found another small stone. She raised her forearm in its direction and thought only about putting the stone to sleep. With that thought in mind, she loosed the weapon's energy, launching the blue stun orb that crackled harmlessly across the stone's surface, quickly dissipating its energy into the rock and the sand beneath.

"Good," Stevenson said, walking off the beach. "Practice as many functions as you can on our way back. You need to get familiar with the mental interface."

"Who took Sheppard?" she asked, firing another stun blast into the sand.

"Three ships from Avalon," Stevenson said, retracting his own armor back into the elegant forearm jewelry that he almost always wore. "They beamed him up from Yavin about half an hour ago."

"They came all this way to recapture him?" Teyla asked.

"They came here to reclaim Atlantis," Stevenson said, telekinetically pushing a tree branch out of their way. "O'Neill warned us they were coming, and I've been looking for them. It seems they found us first."

Teyla retracted her armor, leaving her nude once again, then just as quickly redeployed it. "What are you planning?"

"We're going to intercept and board their ships," Stevenson told her as they continued to walk back through the forest, though their pace was gradually increasing into a slow run. "I'll take one, Ronon and Ford will take the second, along with an escort of replicators…"

"Aiden Ford?" Teyla asked, surprised.

Stevenson nodded. "Long story. You can get reacquainted on the way. I need you to take the third ship. Incapacitate everyone onboard and confine them into holding areas."

"You mean drag them into holding areas," Teyla corrected him as she stopped experimenting and accelerated into a full run.

Stevenson easily matched her speed. "Yes. Don't leave anyone conscious, even if they surrender."

"I understand," she said, remembering that these were his former people and that it was possible that he still had some friends among them.

"We can afford to be generous when we have the advantage," he said, reading her thoughts. "If that wasn't the case, then we wouldn't hold back, no matter who they were."

Teyla smiled. She should have known better than to assume a bias on his part.

Within a minute they had arrived back at the terra and Stevenson led Teyla over to the obelisk inside. She frowned.

With a simple mental command Stevenson activated the transportation device. In a flash they were standing in front of its opposite number directly opposite the stargate.

Teyla raised an eyebrow. "And you made me walk."

"It's all about the journey," Stevenson reminded her as they walked up to the gate. He didn't bother with the nearby DHD. He dialed the address mentally inside half a second and the event horizon snapped into place inside the stargate.

"You're going to have to teach me that trick sometime," Teyla said, keeping in step beside him.

"It's all in the training program," he told her as they walked through.


"Larrin?" he asked after they ringed over to the Tria, which was still docked in one of Atlantis's six slips.

The ship's captain responded by touching the small device attached to her ear. "They're aboard. Take us up," she said to her small bridge crew, all of whom were Travelers, as she led Stevenson and a fully clothed Teyla out of the ring room.

By the time they reached the bridge, the Tria had already activated its anti-grav suspension matrix and released itself from the city's tractor beams that had been holding it aloft. It passed through the city's shield into the freezing atmosphere of Hoth, then rocketed up towards orbit on its primary engines.

When they reached the bridge, Larrin slid into the control chair, utilizing her recent gene enhancement to bring up a tie-in schematic from Atlantis's long range sensors.

"They've already entered hyperspace," Larrin reported.

"Move to intercept their line of flight," Stevenson ordered.

"That's going to be tricky," Larrin warned as Teyla walked over to Ronon and Ford smiling. "Our sensors don't reach that far in hyperspace."

"Anticipate their current course and get us near them. We can reacquire the trace then."

"Ok," Larrin said, unsure of their chances. "Entering hyperspace," she said as she mentally entered her best guess at an intercept point. The ship launched into flight on cue and the telemetry data from Atlantis vanished from above the control chair.

"Estimate two and a half hours to intercept," she said as she remained in the control chair to monitor their status…and to revel in the surge of power she felt whenever she sat in the chair. Larrin liked being in control.


The door to Sheppard's cell onboard the Odyssey opened with a groan and McKay slowly walked through. He glanced back over his shoulder with a none too happy glare at the guard then walked over to the table where Sheppard sat handcuffed to his chair.

A look of disgust crossed Sheppard's face. "You too?"

"Hardly," McKay mumbled as he sat down opposite of Sheppard. "I'm as much of a prisoner as you are," he said, glancing at his friend's handcuffs. "Well, maybe not quite that much, but I am here against my will."

"Oh really?" Sheppard said sarcastically. "Because it's beginning to look a lot like 'stab your friend in the back' day to me."

"You can blame Sam for that," McKay said with a mixture of dismay and disgust. "She's the one pushing this."

Sheppard's eyes narrowed. "Why?"

McKay crossed his arms over his chest. "You'd have to ask her that. O'Neill sent us out here to fail…somehow she didn't get the message."

"O'Neill did?"

"Orders from the President," McKay explained. "Then he twisted my arm to get me to come."

"How'd he do that?" Sheppard asked.

"It was a simple choice between this mission and retirement. I would have balked, but he said we'd abandon the idea if I could prove that it couldn't be done. Ahab up on the bridge has other ideas though."

Sheppard half laughed. "She really thinks she can take Atlantis?"

"Unfortunately yes," McKay said, frowning. "By the way, how did you know? Did she tell you?"

"I managed to put the pieces together," Sheppard said carefully. It seemed O'Neill was still on their side and he didn't want to get him into any trouble. "What are you guys planning to do anyway? The whole Wraith fleet couldn't get past the city's shield…do you really expect a 304 to have better luck?"

"Three, actually," McKay corrected him, "though it makes little difference. She plans to use a new weapon to disrupt Atlantis's shields enough to get a ring transmission through. They even brought along a small army for the occasion."

Sheppard sat back in his seat and laughed. "Whose brilliant idea was that?"

McKay coughed. "Mine, actually."

Sheppard glared at him. "Wait a minute…whose side are you on here?"

"O'Neill said if we could prove it couldn't be done we'd permanently abandon any ideas of retaking Atlantis. Disrupting the shield was our one and only chance, and I pointed it out like I was supposed to. Then Sam goes berserk and has spent the last year building specialized weapons for that very task."

"And I wonder who helped her do that?" Sheppard implied.

"Hey, if I thought there was even a small possibility of success I never would have suggested the idea, but with three ZPMs powering the city and a real Ancient at the controls there's no way in hell she's going to stand a chance. I thought she was intelligent enough to eventually figure that out and abandon the mission, but it seems her blondeness has gotten the best of her…either that or her ego."

"So you're saying you deliberately offered them a plan that you knew would fail?" Sheppard asked slowly.

"Of course," McKay said, slightly offended. "Did you really think I'd side with the I.O.A.?"

Sheppard raised his eyebrows. "I saw Woolsey on the bridge. I thought you said this mission came from the President?"

"Did a bit more than saw from what I hear…anyway, there's not much difference between the two anymore. The recent 'historic' election has left us with either a 'dupe-in-chief' or a 'conspirator-in-chief.' Either way the I.O.A. is pretty much running the show these days. They're the ones that really want Atlantis back. O'Neill argued to just let it go. Oh, by the way, they seem to want Stevenson just as much, if not more than they want the city."

"Fat chance of that," Sheppard mumbled as the cell door opened and Carter burst in.

"You sandbagger!" she verbally slung at McKay. "You've been holding out on us the entire time?"

"What? You were listening?"

"It's my job, McKay," she said with steel in her voice. "Yours was to help me devise a way to retake the city."

"I told you it wouldn't work, what more do you want?" McKay yelled.

"I guess a genuine effort is out of the question," she said sarcastically before turning to Sheppard. "I need Atlantis's address."

The former Colonel pulled against his cuffs. "Why in the world would I tell you that?"

Sam raised her chin. "In exchange for your freedom."

"What?" Sheppard and McKay said in tandem.

"You heard me. Tell me where Atlantis is and after we retake the city I'll arrange for you to 'accidentally' escape. Earth won't mount a retrieval mission for one man hiding in the Pegasus galaxy, especially since I have orders to bring Atlantis back to the Milky Way."

"Why weren't they going to do that the first time?" Sheppard asked irreverently.

"The two new ZPMs changed their mind," Sam told him. "They don't want to have anything to do with this galaxy or the Wraith. Once we're gone you'll be free and clear."

"To do what," Sheppard argued, "become Wraith food?"

"Would you prefer a prison cell for the rest of your life?" Sam countered.

"I don't believe this," McKay interrupted. "We're all on the same side here."

"We were," Sam said quietly. "But as we all know, not all stories have happy endings."

Sheppard glared at her. "Since when are you against doing the right thing?"

Sam shook her head. "It's not that simple anymore."

"It never was," Sheppard countered. "That never stopped you and SG-1 from defying orders. Don't forget, I read your mission reports."

"What we did, we did to safeguard Earth."

"What I did was to safeguard Pegasus."

"Sadly, that's not good enough," Sam said with genuine emotion. "Pegasus isn't our home, so not all people care for it as much as we do."

"We?" McKay objected. "You still count yourself in that group?"

"I've done all I can to help Pegasus," Sam angrily told him. "It wasn't enough. If I could disobey orders just one more time and those actions would save the people of Pegasus from the Wraith once and for all I'd do it in a heartbeat. You know that. But really, what can I do from the position I'm in?"

"You can turn us around and go home," McKay scolded her. "O'Neill said a year, and we're long past that."

"Earth needs Atlantis," Sam argued. "And the SGC needs to be the one to bring it back. If we do, we'll have more pull within the bureaucracy. Nowadays, with the Goa'uld defeated and the Wraith a galaxy away, the power of influence is our best weapon to right the wrongs of the I.O.A. But if I go rogue like Sheppard, I lose any chance of doing that. Earth will continue to go downhill until it becomes an enemy equivalent to that of the Goa'uld."

"Believe me," she continued, "I know what evil lurks within the I.O.A. I will not stand by and let it take over my home planet. And the only way I can fight it is from the inside. And to do that, I…we need Atlantis back."

"Is that the best excuse you came up with?" McKay mocked her. "You're never going to make a difference from the inside unless you're at the top of the food chain. Take it from a civilian who's been stomped on at the bottom of that hierarchy for years. The high ups in command do not take orders from those below them."

"Well perhaps this blonde has come up with a few ideas that the great Rodney McKay hasn't," Sam said sarcastically. "And, by the way, I'm not a civilian. I'm a General now."

"Temporarily," McKay reminded her.

"Even temporarily it gives me some additional pull," she said, turning back to Sheppard. "For instance, the ability to arrange for your escape."

"What about the others on Atlantis?" Sheppard asked calmly. "You going to let them go too?"

Sam swallowed. "That'll be harder. But as long as I get the city back, I can probably swing it."

"Including Stevenson?" Sheppard asked pointedly.

"No," McKay answered for her. "The I.O.A. wants their guinea pig back."

Sam turned on him with the harshest glare she had.

"Oh, you didn't think I knew about that," McKay said, holding up amicably under that stare. "It's a small ship and word gets around. Especially when you hold your fireside chats with Woolsey in public places."

Sam ignored him. "I can't promise anything for Stevenson."

"All he did," Sheppard reminded her, "was stick his head in the Repository."

"Against standing orders," she countered.

"So demote him," he argued. "That doesn't warrant life in prison."

"I know," Sam agreed. "But it's not up to me."

Sheppard turned his head in disgust, then dropped his eyes to the floor. "Va, Jo, Fin, Sa, Ta, Ra."

"What?" Sam asked.

"That's the address for the planet Atlantis is currently on."

Sam cringed. "That doesn't really help me unless you can write it down."

McKay looked at him, wondering if he'd lost his mind too.

"What, you guys don't know how addresses work?" Sheppard said, greedily mocking them. "I'm not even a scientist and I know."

"Stevenson taught you that?" McKay asked evenly. His world was turning inside out.

"That and other things," Sheppard said. "Uncuff me and I'll write down the address for you neanderthals."

Sam nodded and walked back to the door, motioning to the guard outside who had the handcuff keys. When her back was turned, Sheppard looked at McKay and gave him a quick wink.

Inside McKay nearly jumped for joy, but he managed to keep his elation in check. He knew Sheppard wouldn't blithely give up Atlantis's location, not even to save himself. Sam should have known that too, but apparently she'd gone too far to the darkside to be able to see past the politics and self interest that was the lifeblood of the I.O.A.

"Could you hurry it up?" McKay annoying said just to add to the subterfuge. Sheppard had a plan, and Rodney needed to be ready to help him when the time came. Screw the I.O.A. and screw Earth. He'd had enough…and while he might be a whiny, insecure, self absorbed scientist he was still a man and there were some lines that he just would not cross…and betraying a friend was one of them.

As the guard unhandcuffed Sheppard and he followed the threesome out of the cell he realized that whatever was about to go down would probably kill his engagement with Jennifer…if their 15 months apart hadn't already done so.

No…if he went along with this insanity any longer then he didn't deserve her anyway. He'd find some way to get a message back to her. Right now, he concluded, a man has got to do what a man has got to do, and to hell with the consequences.

He'd find some way out of this mess later…and with a clear conscience. He was, after all, a genius.


 

3

 

 

Sam sat in the Odyssey's command chair as her taskforce moved through hyperspace toward the address John had provided. Woolsey was still indisposed and Sheppard was back in his cell, with McKay keeping him company. Aside from a few bridge staff quietly going about their work she had a moment alone with her thoughts as she stared out at the blue/white hue of hyperspace.

Something was nagging her about Sheppard. She'd expected him to take her offer after a bit of indecision, quickly followed by the realization that a lifetime in prison was his only other viable option…but something about it just didn't feel right.

Maybe she had been expecting him to hold out longer, make her sweat for a while. He'd made the only logical choice, and she knew he was a lot smarter than he usually let on, but still…

She half wondered if the address he'd given them was bogus, but then he'd still be a prisoner given that Sam had only agreed to let him go after Atlantis was retaken.

Then again, maybe she was just feeling guilty about her part in all of this.

Sam shook off the thought. She'd been through the logic of the situation many times before, each of which ended with the same scenario…Sheppard in jail, Atlantis back in Earth's hands, Stevenson in the hands of the I.O.A.

That last bit bothered her even more than the rest. Sheppard had chosen to defy orders, same as all those that stayed in Atlantis with him. Stevenson, on the other hand, had been changed by alien technology, so his actions weren't entirely his own. And to top it off, everything that he'd done warranted prison…not experimentation.

"General Carter," Captain Norris politely interrupted her introspection.

"Yes, Captain?"

"We're picking up another vessel in hyperspace directly behind us on the edge of our sensors."

Sam frowned. "What's its heading?" she asked, wondering if they'd stumbled onto the Wraith.

"It's trailing us on an identical heading," the Captain said worriedly, "and closing."

Sam stood up and looked at the hyperspace sensor screen herself. "Oh that can't be good."

"Ma'am?"

"Stay on course. The odds of us actually hitting each other in hyperspace are nil. At the speed they're going they'll pass us by long before we reach Atlantis."

"What if they follow us there?" Major Kelson asked from the opposite bridge station.

Sam shook her head. "Aside from a replicator-infested ship, every hyperdrive technology we've encountered maintains a constant speed once in hyperspace. The only way this contact could follow us is to drop out of hyperspace, then reenter at a slower speed. Actually, I think that's how the replicators managed it too, only using microsecond transitions between the two dimensions."

"Why would they do that?" Norris asked as they both continued to watch the contact 'blip' on the screen.

"They were in the process of upgrading the hyperdrive while in flight," Sam said, remembering back. "A microsecond translation back into realspace would theoretically be enough to reinitialize the hyperspace 'bubble' at a new inertial speed. Other than that, I have no idea how they managed it."

Kelson blinked twice. "I thought it took longer than that for a hyperspace bubble to fully degenerate."

"It does," Sam said, her eyes still on the contact as it got ever closer. "As I said, I don't fully understand how they did it."

"And the Wraith?" Kelson asked.

"Not from what we've seen of their technology."

"Then what are they doing?" Norris asked.

Sam cringed. "I don't know."

On the sensor screen the contact was nearly to them, but the more precise trace that Norris performed indicated that it was going to pass high above them by a few million kilometers. The blip merged on the screen with the dot that represented the three Earth ships…

Sam caught herself on the Captain's chair as the ship suddenly and violently exited hyperspace. "Report!" she said, clawing herself back into her chair.

"We're back in realspace," Norris said quickly. "So are the Daedalus and Apollo."

"What the hell happened?" Sam asked rhetorically. "I want a hyperdrive diagnostic, now."

"Contact!" Norris yelled out. "Two million klicks and closing fast!"

"Shields up," Sam ordered. "Bring us around next to the Daedalus. Open a channel to our ships."

"General," Caldwell's voice came through before she could speak, "we've suffered some type of hyperdrive malfunction. Whatever knocked us out has disabled our drive."

Sam looked to Norris. The Captain nodded in confirmation. Their hyperdrive was offline as well.

"Copy that," Sam said over the open comm between all three ships. "Colonels bring your ships into formation alongside the Odyssey. We have incoming."

"We see it, Odyssey," Ellis's voice said evenly. "What are your orders?"

"Stand by weapons, but let them make the first move," Sam said as an image enhancement popped up on Kelson's screen. The Major turned to the General with a look of fear. "It's an Ancient warship."

"What?" Sam asked aloud.

"Could it be the replicators?" Ellis asked over the still open comm.

"If it is," Caldwell interrupted, "we're more than a match for one ship."

"Let's not make any assumptions," Sam urged as the Aurora-class warship decelerated before them. "Major, try and establish communications with that ship."

"They're firing drones!" Norris warned.

"Weapons hot!" Sam ordered as the Earth ships began to move evasively. "Return fire!"

An explosion in Odyssey's aft rocked the ship, followed quickly by a second, then a third.

"Sublight is gone," Norris reported. "The drones are getting through our shields!"

"Readjust shield frequencies," Sam snapped, jumping out of her seat to do it herself.

Another explosion rocked the ship as the Odyssey returned fire with its Asgard beams. Two lances of blue impacted the Ancient ship's shields…and were completely absorbed, along with several more shots from the Daedalus and Apollo.

"Shield emitters have been destroyed!" Norris screamed panickly.

"Daedalus, Apollo," Sam yelled into the air. "If you still have engines get the hell out of here now! That's an order!"

Outside the ship half a dozen Asgard beams impacted the enemy ship, but again they were all absorbed by its shields. Carter couldn't understand how it was holding up against the barrage. The identical replicator ships they'd faced over Asuras hadn't been this strong.

"Fire every nuke we've got!" Sam yelled. "All tubes."

"Aren't we a little close for that?" Kelson asked, amidst another explosion somewhere on the ship.

"We're at minimal safe distance," Sam said, not feeling like giving explanations in the heat of battle. "Fire now!"

A dozen missile plumes shot out from the smoking Odyssey, mirroring those coming from the Apollo that had been launched only a moment earlier. They raced in toward the Ancient ship as more sporadic drones passed them by halfway between the ships.

Small golden spurts erupted from the enemy ship, picking off some of the missiles. More followed from the port side of the Aurora as it utilized its rarely used energy weapons to down the incoming missiles…but it didn't get all of them.

Four slid past the counter-fire. Three of those were taken out in the last seconds by swiftly moving drones…but the fourth hit and detonated against the forward shields.

Sam covered her eyes against the glare that the auto-darkening viewport couldn't block out. It readjusted to transparency faster than her eyes did, but when her vision had adequately returned she saw the enemy ship just as it had been. It's forward shields still absorbed the incoming Asgard beams, though there were less being fired than before.

Another shot rocked the ship.

"Port battery destroyed," Norris reported, aghast.

Sam looked at the Apollo as it made a strafing run close in on the Aurora. It fired its Asgard beams and rail guns at nearly point blank range to no avail. A single drone lept out from the ship and finished off the Apollo's already damage sublight engines. The ship listed and flipped over as its momentum carried it past the hull of the Ancient warship.

A small white beam lept between the two ships for an instant, then disappeared. A moment later another one stretched out to the Odyssey.

Norris looked up to her with wide eyes in the eerily quiet bridge. No more drones were being fired, and all weapon systems on the Odyssey had been destroyed. "The rings have been activated."

Sam immediately punched the intercom control on her command chair. "Intruder alert. All security teams to the ring room!"


"Step inside," Ronon said, standing back to back with Ford at the center of the Tria's rings. Four replicators, all male in appearance, filled the excess spaces around them in a tight cluster. Ronon nodded and Malcolm, one of Larrin's crew, typed in the sequence to activate the rings.

The circular beams sprang up from the floor around them…the was a wash of light…then the rings retracted into the floor and they found themselves standing in the Daedalus next to two of her crew wielding sidearms.

The two replicators nearest the guards silently raised their stun pistols and shot the two men, but not before the leftmost guard fired a round into and through one of the replicators. The nanites cells slowed the bullet, taking minute damage from the impact, but they did not stop it completely. It emerged from the replicator at a slower speed, then pinged off Ford's personal shield.

Aiden glanced down at the shield gauntlet that he wore on his right forearm. It was heavy as hell, but well worth it.

Ronon didn't say a word, he merely pointed to the door and his personal replicator walked forward, raised his weapon, and swung into the hallway beyond. It fired two shots before Ronon poked out behind it, covering the opposite direction.

No crew in sight, save for the one female that lay on the floor five meters from the group. Ronon waved the others out of the ring room and pointed Ford in the direction of the woman, while he went the other way. The replicators split between them.

The Setidan's group operated with Ares on point and the new replicator, which he'd named Oronat, bringing up the rear. Ronon kept to the middle, intent on being the primary shot while Ares' mission was to draw fire for him to respond to.

The tactic was called Trinary, and it required the threesome to be fast on their feet at all times. They could not stop, not delay, not separate. It was one of the earliest combat strategies taught to Setidan tactical squads and the basis for the more advanced formations they would learn in later years.

Ronon had Stevenson upgrade his personal replicator with the Trinary and other combat strategies, and for the purpose of this impromptu mission Ares was transmitting orders to Oronat whenever his default programming was lacking. Together the three moved quickly and efficiently through their section of the ship on the way to the bridge.

Their killcount was at twenty two…though technically that term was inadequate, given that none of the Daedalus's crew was actually dead…when they encountered their first real obstacle…a sealed bulkhead.

"Ares, open the door," Ronon ordered, reversing his line of sight as he backed himself up against the wall to the right of the door. That way he could cover the rear and be ready to spring into the corridor on the other side without making himself a target for whoever was waiting for them.

Ares reached a hand up to the lock and his nanites dispersed from his hand. They chewed apart the lock then returned to form his five digits, which then wrapped around the handle and pushed the door open.

A hail of bullets flew through the opening and Ares, but the replicator charged through, stunning everyone in sight. Ronon let him have five seconds to himself then pulled himself around the corner and into the line of fire. A quick glance revealed several bodies on the floor with several many more personnel down the hallway firing panickly with their P-90s.

Ronon fired two quick stun blasts as he moved through the door, his boots crunching on the damaged nanites dropping off of Ares. Oronat followed him, as per instructions, but didn't fire. He kept his attention on the corridor behind them in case they should be flanked and would only fire ahead if one of the others became incapacitated.

Between the nearly immune replicator and the shielded Setidan, the Daedalus's onboard troops didn't stand a chance. Despite the fact that they looked outfitted for ground combat, all of their armor and weaponry hadn't been enough to save them. Only Stevenson's orders to take them alive had done that.

Ronon did wonder, however, what they had been planning. The bodies he was stepping over were those of soldiers, not standard 304 crew.

He shook the thought off and focused his attention ahead. The bridge wasn't far off.


Ronon saw and heard three shots pass through Ares as he walked out of the connecting corridor and onto the bridge. More dust fell from the replicator, but his gun arm remained intact and fired quick, precise shots into whom Ronon couldn't yet see.

The traveler-made pistol that Ronon favored tracked Ares line of fire as its owner rounded the corner and had his first full view of the bridge. He saw two more bridge crew drop…as well as Colonel Caldwell fire another couple rounds through Ares from his sidearm.

Ronon's gun tracked toward the Daedalus's commander and he managed half a grin as he pulled the trigger. Had he delayed any further Ares would have got to him first, but Ronon was pleased to have been the one to knock the arrogant ass backwards over the pilot's station and onto the floor with one beautiful orange stun blast to the chest.

The grin still on his face, Ronon keyed his wrist bound communicator. "Ford?"

"Standby," Aiden's voice came back. Ronon waited a long thirty seconds before he responded again. "Engine room secured," he reported.

"We have the bridge," Ronon told him. "Leave one of your replicators to stand guard, then take the other and sweep the ship."

"Roger that," Ford said.

Ronon rekeyed his communicator. "Commander Larrin?"

"Tria here," her voice came back immediately. "What's your status?"

"Bridge and engine room secure," he reported. "We're currently sweeping the ship for stragglers."

"Good work," she said positively. "Stevenson and Teyla have already secured the other ships. I'm sending over a crate of restraints for the crew. It should be in your ring room within thirty seconds."

"Copy that. Do you want anything special done with Caldwell?"

"Who?" Larrin asked.

"The ship's captain," Ronon told her.

"No. Keep everyone onboard for now. Stevenson said he has a few things to take care of before we start transferring the crew."

Ronon raised an eyebrow. "What are we doing with the ships?"

"He didn't say, though right now they're little more than floating boxes. We had to slag most of their primary systems. By the way, check on your ship's life support."

Ronon hadn't thought about that, and did a quick systems check. He didn't understand half of what he was looking at, but with a little help from Ares he confirmed that the Daedalus's life support systems were still functional.

"We're good," Ronon said. "Any further orders?"

"None at the moment. Just keep a lid on the crew and sit tight until he tells us what he wants us to do."

"Got it," he said, cutting the comm. He pointed to the crew. "Pick them up and follow me. Two at a time if you can."

The two replicators easily scooped up two crewmembers a piece, carrying one per shoulder. Ronon dipped down and hauled Caldwell's body over his shoulders. He led the way to the mess hall and began depositing the crew there, with Oronat left behind to watch over the bunch. Minutes later when the first of the crew began to awake the replicator shot them again, and continued to do so until Ronon had cleared the ship and locked the mess hall door shut.

Oronat was then ordered to stun anyone trying to leave the room, allowing them to return to consciousness so long as they stayed put. It took two failed attempts by the crew to escape before they decided to give it up and do just that.


 

4

 

 

Outside his cell, Sheppard and Rodney could hear the sounds of battle as the ship rocked from what were obvious hits to the hull, though there were no windows around to confirm it.

"We can't be at Atlantis already," McKay said.

"No…" Sheppard said, looking up at the ceiling as if somehow he could see through it, "but I'd bet you twenty bucks I know who it is."

Another hit nearly knocked McKay out of his chair as the lights dimmed and the artificial gravity cut out for half a second. Off balanced Rodney slid out of his chair and landed hard on his butt. For a moment Sheppard was almost glad he was handcuffed to his chair…almost.

"Who?" McKay asked as he pulled himself back into this seat, briefly rubbing his behind before he sat down.

"Friends…" Sheppard told him. "And by the sound of the damage being done, I'd guess quite a few of them."

"What friends?" McKay implored him.

Another hit rocked the ship and Sheppard didn't figure he needed to hide anything anymore. "Travelers."

"Travelers? Why would they come after you? I didn't think that chick liked you that much."

Sheppard glared at him. "They signed on to Stevenson's payroll a few months ago. When I left Atlantis there were 63 of their ships in orbit."

"I thought you said we weren't at Atlantis yet?" Rodney said, stunned.

Sheppard shook his head. "That address I gave Sam wasn't for Atlantis, but its close. Close enough for the city's long range proximity sensors to pick us up long before we get there."

"You set her up?" Rodney asked, thoroughly pleased.

"Yep," Sheppard said as the explosions stopped.

"What do you suppose that means?" Rodney asked. "They won or we won?"

"Who's we?"

"Sorry. I meant Sam's guys…though technically since we're on her ship, if we get blown up then we lose too."

"I don't think that's the idea," Sheppard said, straining to hear. "I thought I just heard gunfire."

"Really?" Rodney asked, falling silent. He couldn't hear anything for maybe a minute, then the faint sounds of a firefight became undeniable…and increasing in volume.

McKay picked up his chair and moved it around behind Sheppard, then sat down again.

"What are you doing?"

"Well, if whoever is boarding the ship is looking for you they might not know that I'm on your side…and I don't want to get shot the moment they come through the door."

"So you thought you'd use me as a shield?" Sheppard said sarcastically.

"Well they're not going to shoot you, are they?"

"I hope not," he said just as a whine from an energy weapon muffled its way through the door, followed quickly by a thump.

"Was that the guard?" McKay whispered.

"I think so," Sheppard answered, a bit curious as to what was going on but happy none the less.

The door to their cell opened and a pure black figure walked into the room. Suddenly McKay felt himself lifted out of his seat by an invisible force.

"I'm with Sheppard…" he screamed in girlish fear.

"He is," John said, guessing as to who he was talking to.

"So he is," Stevenson's voice answered. The metal on Sheppard's cuffs broke in two and Rodney was released back onto his feet.

"Sweet," Sheppard said, standing up and stretching.

"Keep back," Stevenson said through his opaque faceplate. "I haven't secured the ship yet."

"Want some help?"

"No," Stevenson said, turning around and firing a blue orb from his wrist down the hallway.

"Stay here," Sheppard told Rodney as he sneaked a peak out of the cell after Stevenson was gone.

"Where are you going?"

"To find a weapon," Sheppard answered, running outside.

"Well don't leave me!" McKay whisper-yelled, following behind him.

He caught up to him two sections over, where he saw Sheppard retrieve a Zat from one of the bodies on the floor. "I told you to stay put," he scolded him.

"And that guy told you to stay put...you didn't," McKay objected.

"I know what I'm doing," Sheppard countered. "Stay behind me."

"Right," Rodney said in total agreement. "Don't I need a weapon too?" he asked as they began to sneak forward past the trail of bodies Stevenson had left.

"No…I don't want you shooting me in the back."

"I wouldn't do that."

"Not on purpose," Sheppard amended. Up ahead he heard a mechanical noise, quickly followed by the doors on an elevator shaft opening.

He fired his Zat the moment he had a shot, barely giving him enough time to notice that they were indeed Odyssey personnel and not someone Stevenson had brought along with him.

The two men and one woman crumpled to the ground inside the elevator. Sheppard covered them for a second then jogged forward cautiously. He wasn't sure if they'd all received a full hit, and he knew that two would kill them. When he finally stood over the three crewmembers he studied them for a long moment then withdrew his Zat. They were out cold.

He turned away from the elevator only to have his feet swept out from under him by one of the 'unconscious' men.

It was the woman actually, and she'd caught Sheppard completely off guard. She wrestled him into a submission hold, then was knocked over when Rodney decided to pile on…literally.

Sheppard had the wind knocked out of his lungs by the extra weight smashing down on top of him, but McKay had managed to free the Colonel's left arm. He used it to gain leverage over the woman and, with the help of McKay's bulk pinning her to the ground, he was able to get the upper hand.

He retrieved the Zat from the ground nearby and held it on her. "Stand down!" he ordered. "I don't know how much of a hit you took, but two is supposed to kill a person. Do you really want to take that chance?"

The woman gritted her teeth, but eased her hold on Sheppard's right ankle and Rodney's neck. The scientist rolled off her and dramatically savored his next few breaths of air.

Sheppard kicked himself free and stood up. He motioned for her to do likewise.

"I know you," he said, unable to place the name.

"You should," she snarled back. "I was part of Atlantis's security division before you went rogue."

"Morris…" he said, remembering. "Walk."

She did as bidden and they followed the trail of bodies all the way to the bridge. When they got there Stevenson was nowhere to be seen and all the bridge crew were unconscious…including Carter.

Sheppard pulled a sidearm off the ground and held it on Morris instead of the Zat, which he tossed to Rodney.

"Thanks," he said, holding it upside down. "Where's the trigger?"

Sheppard rolled his eyes. "Never mind. Put it down before you shoot yourself."

"What? I can do this. Just show me where the…" he said as he accidently fired the weapon sideways into one of the bridge stations, shattering the screen in a shower of sparks as the electronics overloaded. "Don't say it!"

Sheppard held his tongue, but pointed his finger at the ground. Reluctantly Rodney set it down on the floor ever so gently. A moment later Stevenson walked back onto the bridge.

"There you are," Sheppard said, relieved. "You missed a few."

Stevenson shot the woman unconscious. "So I did."

Sheppard raised an eyebrow, but didn't say anything. "What now?"

"The destabilization pulse temporarily knocked out their hyperdrives, but the primitive designs may have been damaged in the process. If they are I'll either have to repair them or have the Tria tow them back to Atlantis one at a time."

"Sounds good. What about the crew?"

"Larrin's got the cargo holds set up as detention areas. We can start transferring the crew over once the other ships are secured. You can head on over with your friend now, if you want."

Sheppard motioned toward Carter. "I'll carry Sam back."

"Fine," Stevenson said, slightly miffed at the mention of her name, "but she goes in the hold same as the others."

"Agreed," Sheppard said, lifting her up into his arms. He repositioned her head so it leaned on his shoulder instead of falling backwards at an uncomfortable angle. "Come on Rodney."

"I can stay and help you with the hyperdrive," he offered as Stevenson walked off the bridge.

"He doesn't need help," Sheppard said, carrying Sam off. "Come on."


After verifying that the other strike teams had accomplished their missions and that none of the Odyssey's crew were still at large, Stevenson made his way down to the Asgard Core room.

He activated the systems and slid his hands over the Asgard designed interface. He pulled a quick systems analysis and confirmed that the Asgard's legacy hadn't suffered any damage in the attack. He ran his fingers over the edge of the control panel slowly, getting a brief premonition from the touch. There was something important here, as he'd always suspected.

Stevenson released his touch and walked off. Precognitive abilities had been common among the Alterra…as had been the numerous misinterpretations and outright false predictions that prevented any meaningful forecasting of future events. They'd eventually tied some of the misinformation to a minute symbiosis between the minds of similar individuals in alternate realities.

Some Alterrans had become so adept, so in tune with their counterparts that they were able to see snippets of their lives, which in some cases mirrored their own. It was those that did not that led to erroneous prognostications…and the eventual development of a mental block against such interconnectivity between themselves and their counterparts.

But even with that mystery solved, there had always been a little extra intuition that popped up regularly that could never be scientifically explained. It was commonly held that such things weren't explainable simply due to the fact that the Alterran civilization hadn't advanced its understandings of the universe far enough to comprehend such things. The idea of 'magic' was non-existent, but given Stevenson's unique situation and his knowledge of such things in Earth cultures…he did get the feeling that these intuitions were more than just unexplained science.

Perhaps that's just because they were new to him, but regardless he wasn't going to ignore them…nor was he going to trust their accuracy. He considered them to be hunches, and played them as such. As for this recurring hunch, he had little doubt that it would pan out. The Asgard had entrusted the humans with the core for a reason…and he guessed there was more to that reason than they had told them.

Even so, the discovery of that secret would have to wait until he dealt with the humans. After which, he'd have plenty of time to search the depths of the database…and try to discover how exactly the Ascended Empire had managed to kill them.


"General?" Sam heard someone ask from above her.

Carter blinked her eyes again, this time clearing her vision and making out a pair of faces above her.

"General?" Caldwell repeated again, helping her to sit up slowly.

"Colonel?" she asked, her head pounding. She glanced around, shaking off the disorientation from being stunned. "Where are we?"

"On the Ancient warship would be my guess," he said, sitting down on the cargo bay floor beside her. "I woke up about ten minutes ago."

"I take it the same black warrior got you to?" Sam said, holding her hand against her forehead.

"No," Caldwell said angrily. "Ronon Dex was what got to me…and what I could have sworn was a replicator."

Sam's mind suddenly caught up to the situation. "Did you say replicator?"

"That'd be my guess. I fired several rounds straight through before Ronon stunned me."

"That's not what happened on the Odyssey," she told him, trying to stand up then thinking better of it. "A person, wearing some type of black, liquid armor took over the ship."

"Just one?"

Sam nodded, suddenly regretting the motion. "We tracked his progress from the bridge. There was just the one. He had some type of golden plasma weapon. It burned right through our security doors."

"I suppose we should be grateful they stunned us," Caldwell said unconvincingly, "but I'm getting a very bad vibe about this."

"Me too," Sam said, making a second attempt at standing. She succeeded with help from Caldwell. "Have you taken a head count?"

"Fifty two so far, but they keep bringing in more groups every few minutes."

Sam did a full 160, staring at the contents of the cargo bay. "This is too small to be the primary storage bay."

"Assuming this ship is designed to Ancient specs, I'd agree," Caldwell said as Sam leaned on his arm for support. She'd been hit twice by the stun weapon, if her memory was correct. Once in the arm, then once in abs.

"I assume the doors are locked."

"Actually they're using a force field just inside the perimeter of the walls. We don't have access to the doors, save for those," he said, pointing to the far side of the bay.

"Why those?"

"They lead to a set of restrooms, thankfully," Caldwell said sarcastically. "I already tried finding a way out through them, but didn't have any luck."

"That's a bad sign," Carter said, finally releasing his arm. Her strength was starting to come back.

"How so?"

"It means they intend to hold us here for a while."

"You're right. I hadn't thought about that."

"Have you seen anyone you recognized besides Ronon?"

"Larrin and what looked like a group of travelers brought in the last bunch."

Sam raised her eyebrows. "Really. I thought I heard their Aurora was destroyed during the incident with the Attero device."

"That's what I thought too," Caldwell said pessimistically. "None of this is making any sense."

"Whoever it was that boarded the Odyssey came for Sheppard. He freed him before he took over the bridge."

"You think it was Stevenson?"

"Possibly," Sam admitted, "but I don't see the Traveler connection."

"How did they manage to knock us out of hyperspace anyway? I thought that was impossible."

"I don't know," Sam said, concerned. "Whoever it is knows a lot more about hyperspace than we do."

"Now there's a cheery thought," Caldwell said as one of the sets of doors into the bay opened. "Speak of the devil."

Larrin led the way through, followed by six more Earth personnel on floating sleds, all unconscious, two Traveler guards…and Teyla.

"Hey Blondie," Larrin said, looking directly at Carter. "Get over here."

Sam walked toward the edge of the blue force field as it shimmered into translucence as the guards pushed the sleds through. They pulled the unconscious crewmen off and laid them on the floor as Sam slowly walked toward the edge of the shield were Larrin was standing.

"What do you want?"

"Not me," Larrin answered tersely as she touched a small crystal on her wristband. The section of shield the guards had entered and exited through shimmered once then returned to transparency. "Her."

Larrin walked away with her guards, but Teyla remained.

"Hello Colonel Carter," she said respectfully as she approached the edge of the shield and stopped barely two feet from Sam.

"Teyla, what's going on?" she asked, almost pleading.

"I could ask you the same question."

"Why we're here in Pegasus?"

Teyla nodded.

Sam sighed, glanced at the floor, then locked eyes with the Athosian. "I won't lie to you. We came here to retake Atlantis."

Teyla locked her fingers together over the trim red clothing clinging to her body like a glove and settled them over her abdomen in a patient gesture. "So that you may fulfill your plans to destroy it?"

"No, we weren't going to destroy it," Sam said quickly. "That option has been taken off the table."

"I'm pleased to hear it," Teyla said, almost sarcastically.

Sam glanced up at the invisible shield separating them. "What are we doing here?"

"You have been placed aboard this ship for transport back to Atlantis. Your ships' hyperdrives were damaged in the battle and require repairs before they too will be brought to Atlantis. You will be arriving a day or so before them."

"And then?"

"That has not yet been decided," Teyla said stiffly.

"You're angry, aren't you?"

"Should I not be? If you had succeeded in capturing Atlantis, any hope of freeing this galaxy of the Wraith would have been destroyed."

"Even with Atlantis, we couldn't stop the Wraith," Sam argued. "Yes, we did them some damage, but we didn't have the resources to win a war against the same enemy that defeated the Ancients."

"The Wraith defeated the Lanteans, not the Alterra," Teyla corrected her. "And even if Earth is unwilling to continue the fight, it has no right to deny us the chance to free ourselves. Atlantis doesn't belong to you."

"Who does it belong to, Teyla? Be honest, who would have more use for the city, our people that understand its technology or the Athosians and others like your people who can't use, let alone understand it."

"My former people's lack of technical skills is not an excuse for Earth stealing Atlantis from us."

"Your 'former' people?"

"I am no longer Athosian," Teyla said proudly. "I am now Alterran."

"Excuse me?"

"You heard correctly. I have become one of the Ancestors of the Ancestors, those that created the Lanteans before they themselves were killed from a plague. They are the ones you call Ancients from your home galaxy."

"How?" Sam said, not believing what she was hearing.

"Stevenson has been given the power to change those whom he deems worthy into Alterra. I am the second person he has gifted with this honor, and I do not believe I will be the last."

"Wait a minute," Sam said, thinking fast. "You're saying that the Repository of Knowledge that altered Stevenson did more than upload the Ancient's knowledge into his mind…it actually transformed him into one of them?"

"Yes."

"Then he had you go through the same process?"

"No, Colonel. He transformed me himself, through nothing more than the touch of skin and mind. My transformation isn't yet complete, nor is my training, but within a few more months I will be fully Alterran, in both body and mind."

"So you see," Teyla continued when Sam was at a loss for words, "we not only have the power to fight the Wraith, we now have the power to annihilate them once and for all. This is what you have attempted to deny us, and fortunately for the Pegasus galaxy you have failed."

"You're serious," Sam said, still finding it hard to believe.

"I am. I am also dismayed that you of all people would have taken part in this."

"I have my reasons."

"I'm listening."

Sam sighed. "I guess there's not really anything I can say to get you to let us out of this cell."

"No, but I would like to hear why you turned against your friends."

"I never turned against you," she said, the words catching in your throat. "You don't understand the chain of command. When Sheppard did what he did, he made himself an enemy of Earth."

"And of you?"

"Yes and no."

Teyla shook her head. "You cannot have it both ways. You are either his enemy or his friend. You have known each other too long for there to be any other option."

"Teyla, I don't see any of you as my enemy."

"Your actions speak otherwise."

"My actions aren't of my own making. I have orders that I have to follow whether I like them or not."

"There is always a choice…just perhaps not always a pleasant one."

"You're saying I should have turned rogue like Sheppard did?"

"Why not? If your superiors are as corrupt as you imply, why then would you continue to follow them?"

Sam laughed without any trace of humor. "It's nowhere near that simple."

"Yes it is," Teyla said softly. "It is a matter of whether you make decisions for yourself, or let others make those choices for you. You have allowed the latter to take place. You claim you are only following the orders of others, but somewhere along the line you had to make the choice to ignore your own intuition, your own conscious. You gave away your freedom at that moment, but not the responsibility for your actions."

Teyla turned and walked away from the force field, leaving Sam on the other side.

"Wait…don't go."

Teyla stopped and half turned back. "You have lost your way, Samantha. If you are the person I believed you to be, then you will find your way back. If not, then we shall never speak again."

Teyla left the cargo hold, her Ancient robes fluttering slightly along her legs and arms as she walked out the doors.

Caldwell walked up to Sam and put his hand on her shoulder. "That sounded rough."

"I have a feeling that's just the tip of the ice berg," she warned him. "This far away from Earth, there's no one to rescue us."

"Which leaves us at their mercy," Caldwell said ominously. "The same people we were going to haul back to Earth for courts martial or leave behind in Pegasus at the mercy of the Wraith."

"Let's hope they don't hold too much of a grudge," Sam said, trying to get her nerve back. She was the leader here. The others needed her to stay strong.

"Sheppard's not that kind of person," Caldwell assured her.

"And Stevenson?" she asked, already knowing the answer.

Caldwell shrugged. "Your guess is as good as mine. He used to be SGC…let's hope that counts for something."

"Unless we can find a way to escape this shield, hoping is all we're going to be able to do."

"You have any ideas?" Caldwell asked, a bit more positive.

"Not yet, but I'm working on it." She turned and glanced back over the portion of her crew that was assembled in this cell. "Do an inventory check on everything in our possession. Maybe someone had something useful in their pockets when they got stunned."

"Worth a try," Caldwell said, walking quietly over to the nearest crewmen. He knew better than to announce their intentions publically, and would carry out his search person to person in as ambiguous a manner as possible.

Sam meanwhile took off her jacket and began to walk the perimeter of the shield, testing for the invisible barrier with the cloth instead of her skin. Maybe they'd overlooked a weakness when the set up the shield emitters, which she could clearly see attached to the floor on the other side, or maybe there was a loose panel in the floor or in the restrooms which Caldwell had mentioned.

Either way, it was something to do. And the last thing Sam wanted was to sit and think about how she'd totally screwed up this mission.


 

5

 

 

"Let's go," Larrin told Carter and Caldwell as she pulled them out of the confinement area at gunpoint.

"Where are we going?" Caldwell asked.

"You're getting your own private rooms in Atlantis," Larrin answered as she nudged them out through the door into the corridors that spanned the length of the Tria.

"What about the rest of our people?" Sam asked.

"They're staying put for the moment," Larrin said, stopping in the middle of the hallway. "I've gotta ask…how in the blazes did you ever think you'd have a chance of retaking Atlantis?"

"As long as we're prisoners," Sam said, ignoring her question, "we don't really have to answer questions like that, now do we."

Larrin half smiled, but it wasn't a pleasant one. "Have a look," she said, pointing inside an adjacent room with her gun. Caldwell and Carter reluctantly walked inside…and were treated with an orbital view of Hoth as the Tria descended towards the surface through the mass of ships that was only a small portion of the Traveler fleet.

"Like I said…you didn't stand a chance," Larrin scoffed, nudging Caldwell in the back as the Tria started to brush against the first wisps of atmosphere.

The two Earth officers exchanged glances, then let Larrin lead them to the Tria's ring room.

"Inside," she ordered.

Caldwell and Carter stepped inside the rings, but Larrin didn't follow. Instead she walked over to the ring controls. "Look on the bright side," she said sarcastically. "At least you're making it inside the city. Had you actually gotten this far on your own, our fleet would have turned your pathetic ships into scrap."

The rings sprang up around the pair, then quickly descended back into the floor…and Caldwell and Carter found themselves staring at Ronon inside the very ring platform they'd intended to use to board the city during the assault.

"Welcome back," the Setidan said, smiling. He motioned them forward with his standard pistol, an identical match for the weapon Larrin carried.

Caldwell looked down at the gun.

"You know I'll use it," Ronon warned.

"Yeah," Caldwell said, stepping out ahead of Sam. She followed him and Ronon out of Atlantis's ring room while two men she didn't recognize took up guard positions behind them.

Both ship captains knew better than to try to escape under Ronon's watch. Caldwell stood proud under the scrutiny of the passersby that they encountered on the way to the brig, some of whom he recognized as defectors, others were Pegasus natives like Ronon, but there were many more new faces than old, which made him feel even more concerned. Whatever was taking place in Atlantis had gone well beyond an internal Earth squabble.

Sam, meanwhile, hung her head and tried to walk as quickly as possible.


"Nice digs," Dr. Jackson said as he walked into the brig.

"Daniel?" Sam said in surprise. "How did you get here?"

"I live here," he said pointedly. "The question is…what are you doing here?"

Sam sighed. "Not you too."

"Me too what?"

"Sheppard already gave me an ear full," she said bashfully. "How did you get to Atlantis?"

"Oh, let's just say I was given an invitation."

"An invitation?" Sam asked skeptically.

"Yeah…then a nice, short trip via that Ancient warship you recently had a run in with, I hear."

"Tell me about it," Sam said, sitting down on the lone chair provided in her square Atlantis cell. She dipped her head, then raised it back up with a renewed energy. "I literally don't know how they did it."

"Did what?"

"Daniel, their drones passed right through our Asgard shields."

"And you didn't think they would?"

"No."

"Why not? We've seen drones pass through a ship's shields before. We know Anubis's mothership was upgraded with at least some Ancient knowledge and even its shields couldn't protect against the drones."

"But according to the Asgard data core, their shields are supposed to block the drones. I made damn sure of that before I even considered attacking the city."

"Which brings up a whole other line of conversation," Daniel said, switching subjects.

"Why I did it?"

"Why did you do it?" Daniel asked in all seriousness. "These were your friends and colleagues for over a year. The I.O.A. did them dirty and they fought back. I can't for the life of me understand why you sided against them."

"I didn't turn against them...they turned against Earth."

"They turned against the I.O.A.," Daniel countered. "That's a big difference."

"The I.O.A. is Earth. Like it or not, that's the reality of the current situation."

"Look, I know you've been away for a while, but things with the I.O.A. have been getting worse."

Sam frowned. "How so?"

"I won't bore you with the details, but let's just say their shadier side is growing in influence and isn't afraid to see the light of day. They're doing things in the open that five years ago they'd have been imprisoned for…nowadays it's just par for the course."

"Like what?" Sam pressed.

"Alright…a month before I left General Landry stumbled onto a little side project the I.O.A. had set up on a moon called Belson. It was a medical facility that they were using to conduct illicit research that was banned on Earth. Now, even though Belson had a stargate, they didn't once use it to send their people or supplies through. Instead they hid the whole affair, using the Daedalus and the Apollo to ferry cargo to and from the moon while enroute to other locations. Neither the Captains nor the crew were told the content of the cargo they were carrying, only that they had classified drop orders given to them from time to time from the SGC."

"Wait…if it came from the SGC, then Landry should have known about it."

Daniel shook its head. "The orders were forged by an I.O.A. associate assigned to the SGC. So technically the orders were coming from the facility, but they were not originating from the US military as the Daedalus and Apollo believed."

Sam made a noise under her breath. "The gall of some people. I assume either Landry or O'Neill took care of it?"

"Jack wanted to, but the President stepped in and sanctioned their activities."

"What?!"

"I know…Jack about blew a gasket. The deal was that medical facility had to abandon the forbidden research and be subjected to official oversight…by an I.O.A. representative."

"That's insane. You said they were the ones who set it up in the first place."

"Exactly. Their corruption is being sanctioned at an official level, one that people like Landry and O'Neill can't always undo. And here I find out that you're working with them."

"No," Sam said, almost out of reflex. "My orders came from O'Neill."

"Really," Daniel said, frowning. "I find that hard to believe."

"He's the one that chose me for the assignment."

Daniel shook his head slowly. "No, there's got to be more to it than that. What were his exact orders?"

Sam swallowed. "To recover Atlantis if possible."

Daniel raised an eyebrow. "If possible?"

"He said if it couldn't be done then we'd abandon the idea entirely. I thought we could pull it off, based on the information we'd been given. I never suspected the Asgard core would contain misinformation."

"Who says it did?"

"Daniel, it said the Asgards' shields protected against the drone weapons."

"Ok, but in all fairness, the Odyssey, even with all the upgrades and the ZPM it carries, is still a far cry from an actual Asgard ship."

Sam gave him a patronizing look. "They gave us the best of what they had."

"I know, they said as much, but I've been thinking about this for a long time, both during my research through the Asgard database and more recently the files the Ancients had on the Asgard, which have provided some significant insights into their civilization and culture."

"And?"

"Why did they choose to upgrade the Odyssey and not one of their own ships? If they were really giving us everything they had, and we know they had at least a few warships left after the war with the replicators, why didn't they give us those?"

Sam blinked. "I guess I never thought about it that way."

"Well I have, and I think there was a reason behind it. By giving us the blueprints for their technology, they were insuring that we'd have to gain a basic grasp of the principles of the science before we could recreate it ourselves. They knew that would take decades, if not centuries, and we'd have to advance as a civilization in order to take full advantage of what they'd given us. Upgrading the Odyssey was a way to protect their legacy and give us a means to fight the Ori…short of simply giving us their ships."

"Wait a minute," Sam interrupted. "You're saying they gave us the bike, but with the training wheels still attached?"

"Nice metaphor," he granted. "But I think you've hit it on the head. We weren't ready for everything…but they still gave us everything. And the way in which they did ensured that we had to advance before we'd be able to use it."

"So you're saying a real Asgard ship probably could have stood up to the drones," Sam said, thinking out loud.

"They are a lot bigger than ours."

Sam laughed. "Size really isn't the issue, Daniel. It's the design of the shield that counts."

"Then how did they do it?" Daniel asked, clearly waiting for an answer.

Sam shrugged.

"And, by the way, how did you think things were going to turn out going up against a real live Ancient?" Daniel said, heavily emphasizing that last bit.

Sam turned to the side, avoiding his gaze.

"Come on, Sam. I know you. What's the unseen angle in all this?"

She turned back. "Bottom line…Earth needs Atlantis. It's too valuable an asset to let go."

"Sam, the I.O.A. was going to destroy it in the first place."

"I know," she said, nodding her head. "And I'm glad it worked out so they didn't. Thankfully, we were able to get them to change their policy on that."

Daniel shook his head slowly. "I don't believe it. You're a sell out."

"A what?" Sam protested.

"You heard me. A sell out. You were the last person in the galaxy I would have expected to succumb to their corruptive influences…but somehow they got to you. Somehow they turned you."

"Daniel!"

"No," he said, taking a half step back. "Sheppard was right. You've changed. I didn't believe it when he asked me to talk to you, but now sadly I see he was right."

"What am I supposed to say to that?" Sam bit back. "You talk to me for all of two minutes then turn your back on me like I was a stranger."

"No one is turning their back on you," Daniel said calmly, but distantly. "You used to know the difference between right and wrong, and given that you're doing things that the old you would never have done, I have to assume that you no longer possess that base function. The only other alternative is that you know the difference and have intentionally chosen the side of evil…which I flat out refuse to believe."

"What? So I'm evil now?"

"You've allied yourself to it," Daniel said, crossing his arms over his chest. "The Sam I knew would have died first…or had some incredibly brilliant plan to pull the wool over the eyes of the enemy and turn them upside down at the last moment. If that's the case please elaborate."

"Well aren't you smug today."

Daniel nodded. "I thought so," he said, quietly turning around and leaving.

Sam got up out of her chair when he went, but didn't say anything. Instead she turned around and kicked the chair into the shield bars in frustration.


Stevenson stood in the gateroom surrounded by seventy three Earth personnel seated on the floor in neat rows while replicator guards wielding stun rifles kept watch over them. The Alterra waited silently until all of this first group were settled into their cramped formations before he spoke.

"You find yourselves captives in a war not of your own making," he began, walking slowly up the column of open floor between the stargate and steps leading up to the control room. The Earth personnel were lined up on either side of that two meter wide gap.

"You came here, thinking you were going to reclaim stolen property of Earth and capture the criminals responsible. You have been lied to…and now it is time that you heard the truth."

"I am Ryan Stevenson, formerly a member of SG-14, and before that SG-7. On a mission to explore one of the remaining uncharted stargate addresses I encountered a device called the Repository of Knowledge. Some of you know of it as a 'head sucker' because that is the term Jack O'Neill labeled it with when he encountered two similar devices. He was nearly killed both times, and only survived due to the intervention of the Asgard."

"Because of the danger involved, standing orders were given never to interact with the technology if it was ever encountered again. I violated those standing orders when I discovered a third device and used it on myself."

"I did so because I was already dying from a degenerative disease that Earth's doctors could not cure. I figured what the hell, I might as well try. If I died, at least it would be a quick death, unlike the long debilitating one I had ahead of me."

"I nearly died from using the technology, but my physiology was slightly more advanced than that of O'Neill's and I survived by the barest of margins. As some of you have been told, I now possess the knowledge of the Ancients…but that in itself is another lie."

"I have not been given a mental library of their knowledge…I have been transformed into one of the original Ancients, known as the Alterra. The Repository of Knowledge was designed to transform a sufficiently advanced human into an Alterra for the express purpose of rebuilding the Ancient civilization millions of years after it was destroyed by a plague that killed every last one of them."

"The Lanteans, that inhabited this city, were like you in the beginning. They were not Alterra, they were humans, tasked with safeguarding this city and protecting the lesser humans developing within the Pegasus galaxy. It was feared that they too might encounter the plague and be killed…but they didn't, and they weren't. The Lanteans developed physically and mentally over several million years, making them far more advanced than you, but still not the equivalent of us."

"I say 'us' because I am fully Alterra now. I know not only from history but from personal experience how advanced, and how inferior the Lanteans were. They used the knowledge and technology we left them to build their own civilization in this galaxy, one that mirrored ours, but one that also fell far short of what we once had. Meanwhile, the humans in your galaxy continued to develop, and the Repository of Knowledge continued to wait while you advanced."

"The Lanteans didn't know of the Repository's existence. None were built in Pegasus, and they had been given strict orders never to leave this galaxy, for fear of them contracting the plague that killed the Alterra. This is why Pegasus stargates do not connect with those in the rest of the gate network. The Lanteans were isolated in order to protect them…and continued to be so until they lost the war against the Wraith and the few survivors fled back to Earth as a last resort."

"Could one of them have used the Repository and become Alterran? Yes, they were physiologically advanced enough at that point to have used the technology without fear of death…but they were never meant for it, and had no knowledge of it. They lived out their lives away from the Pegasus galaxy as they chose, and what happened to most of them is still a mystery. Many, I suspect, altered the course of history on Earth and are partly responsible for it being one of the more developed human worlds in the galaxy."

"Now, we come to the present. I have used the Repository. I have survived. I have become Alterra. The plans laid down by the Ancients millions of years ago are now, finally, beginning to unfold. I have begun to rebuild our civilization, and whereas I was one Alterra, now there are three. And in coming years there will be many more."

"The Return of the Ancients has begun. Races across twenty three galaxies have been waiting for this day throughout most of their recorded history. We were their friends and allies, and when we were killed it left them defenseless and alone. Our brethren, the Asgard and the Furlings, did their best to aid them, but they were ill equipped for the task. By my count, two thirds of the races that we befriended have been wiped from existence in our absence."

"I will not let the remaining third suffer their fate. We are building as fast as we can, but a civilization that spans galaxies is not an easy thing to recreate. It will take time, and I hope that our friends can survive a little bit longer until we are able to come to their aid as we once did so long ago."

"I tell you this so that you will understand that your mission to retake Atlantis was not one of capturing criminals…you were ignorantly attempting to destroy the Alterrans for a second time before we'd barely begun to rise again."

"Fortunately, you were ill equipped for the task, and have failed miserably. To those of you assembled here, I do not hold a grudge against you. Your failure has saved you from retribution. Even an ignorant action can be deadly, but your actions proved impotent. Others among you, still held within the containment cells, knew more than you did, and I will not forgive them so easily."

"In a few moments we will open a wormhole back to Earth. You are all free to go…but you go with a warning. You now know the truth. If you decide to move against us again, then you are knowingly becoming our enemy, and you will be treated accordingly."

"However, if any among you wish to stay and help us rebuild, I offer you that chance here and now. You will be welcome here, as will your skills, limited as they may be."

Stevenson ended his speech on that note and climbed the stairs into the control room.

"Dial Avalon," he told Corporal Fulton, who was manning the control room that shift.

When the wormhole opened Stevenson activated the visual communications link. "Stargate Command, this is Atlantis. I need to speak to General Landry immediately."

The voice of the control room Sergeant came back on audio only. "Ah, may I ask who you are?"

Stevenson raised an eyebrow. "Nice to see you too, Sparky."

"Ryan?" Walter asked, activating their half of the visual communications link.

"Who else?"

"Actually, we weren't expecting to hear from you…"

"I know, you were expecting to hear from General Carter saying that she'd recaptured Atlantis."

"Ah, well…I…"

"Relax, Sparky. I'm not upset with you, but I do need to talk to Landry."

"He's on his way now."

"He's here now," Landry's voice said a moment before he walked into the picture.

"General…" Stevenson said evenly.

"You'll forgive me if I don't look happy to see you."

"I need you to lower the iris."

"Really?" Landry said, smiling. "Now why would we do that?"

"So I can return your people to you," Stevenson said, not caring for his tone. "Several groups over the next few hours."

All levity drained from Landry's face. "What happened?"

"They lost," Stevenson said simply. "We took them alive, if that's any conciliation, and I don't intend on holding them here indefinitely. So if you don't mind…"

"Look here son, you know I can't just lower the iris based on your word. Not even if you trotted General Carter out and had her tell us herself."

"General, I'm asking nicely. If I have to take down your iris myself, it will be in such a way that you'll have to buy a new one afterwards…and I know how much the Air Force hates to throw good money away."

"You know I don't take well to threats," Landry warned.

"Is that a no?"

"That's a no," the General said defiantly. "However, if you really do have our people then we need to discuss…"

Stevenson didn't bother to listen to what he said next as he walked out of the control room and down to the stargate. He stood in front of the open wormhole and mentally linked to the gate. He could see the inside of stargate command as well as the exact position of the iris. He knew that in its current position matter wouldn't materialize and even the disruptive vortex couldn't manifest…but if it moved even a fraction of a millimeter distant."

Stevenson raised his left hand, palm up toward the event horizon and released a golden stream of energy into it. Through his mental link he monitored the status of the iris, which didn't move, but the inside layer of it had became less rigid, even molten in the tiny center of the baseball-sized impact point.

He let loose a slightly larger stream of destructive energy in the exact same spot and succeeded in making the opposite side glow, which threw the SGC personnel into a tizzy, but he had accomplished his goal. The point of impact from his attack had lost the thin layer of molecules of that spot. They'd been melted away into a nearly imperceptible wrinkle on the back side of the iris, but with the gate's intricate sensors he could see that he'd made just enough of a crack.

Stevenson lowered his hand and mentally ordered the gate on the terminating side to pulse its vortex. When it did, only the smallest part of it formed within that crack, which ate away a little more of the dense material that made up the iris.

Then it pulsed again, and again, and again. Each time more material was stripped away from the back side of the iris, and as the crack enlarged, more and more of the vortex was able to manifest itself.

After dozens of pulses a small hole the size of a golf ball came into view from Landry's side of the iris. The next pulse extended ten feet out through that hole and enlarged it, eating away laterally at the iris material.

"Son of a bitch," Landry said, not believing his eyes.

"General?" Walter asked.

"Security teams to the gateroom," Landry ordered.


After hundreds of pulses Stevenson finally had the iris destroyed, save for a small ring around the outside that would trip anyone coming through the gate that the vortex couldn't reach without risk of splashing up against the side walls of the gate.

Stevenson stopped the pulses and instead ordered the Pegasus gate to descend a foot further into the floor. The hydraulics beneath the massive ring lowered it slowly while the floor panels adjusted themselves around its new position.

The Alterran turned around and addressed the captives one last time. "The time to choose has come. Those wishing to return to Earth may do so now. The iris is no longer blocking the gate, but mind the bump as you step through. The other side is a bit lower now, so you'll have to step down when you come through. Bend at the knees when you go through or make a tiny hop through the event horizon and you shouldn't fall, but just in case you do we'll send you through one at a time."

"Guards, leave us and return with the second group."

The replicators moved as one and walked off into the city as the Earth personnel began to stand.

"Form a line here. I can see what happens on the other side, so if you fall I'll know to give you a few seconds to pick yourself up."

Captain Norris was the first to step into line, with most of those assembled organizing themselves behind her…but at least a dozen walked off to the corners of the room, making their intent to stay clear. Some of the Earth-bound personnel gave them dirty looks, but their fortitude didn't give out and they held their ground.

"Go," Stevenson told Norris, who opted to bend low while moving into the gate.

On the other side Stevenson saw the Captain stumble more from the guns pointed at her than the drop. He saw Landry order them to stand down and the Captain walk down the ramp.

"Next," he said patiently.


After all the groups had gone through the gate, Sheppard brought Caldwell, Ellis, Woolsey, and Carter down by themselves. They were the last four members of the botched expedition for Stevenson to deal with…but with them being the willing instigators his chat with them was going to be of a different nature.

"Before we begin," Stevenson said, crossing his arms over his chest in front of the still open gate. He still had 17 minutes left on this wormhole before the auto-close function would activate, and he didn't think this conversation would take that long. "All of your people have been sent back to Earth through the stargate or they've chosen to remain here in Atlantis."

"Chosen?" Woolsey asked, not believing it. "Why would they do that?"

"Some of them are pretty smart," Sheppard chimed in. "Present company not included."

"I don't think…" Woolsey began before Stevenson took away his ability to talk.

"Listen," he said quietly, looking at all four people before releasing his hold on Woolsey's vocal chords. "What you came here to do was not in the spirit of the stargate program that I signed up for. We were supposed to be explorers and defenders of Earth, making contact with other worlds and forming alliances with those we found that we could call friend."

"What you came here to do went well beyond that. It involved revenge, greed, arrogance, and above all else corruption. The I.O.A.," he said, looking directly at Woolsey, "is detrimental to Earth's future, both with regards to internal operations and your relationships with other worlds. They've proven to be cheats, liars, cowards, and two-faced backstabbers that no offworld representative in their right mind could ever come to trust. They will continue to corrupt the SGC and isolate Earth from potential allies and trading partners."

"As for the corruption part, you three are prime examples. They've got you doing their dirty work for them. You are Air Force officers…Colonels all. A certain level of moral fortitude is expected of all officers, but the leadership responsibilities that go along with being a Colonel require you to know when to follow orders and when to refuse them."

"The longer the I.O.A. has its tendrils into the stargate program, the more difficult it will be to refuse immoral orders without throwing your entire career away. They are using intimidation to encourage good people to keep their mouth shut when they would normally protest. When that happens, the corruption of the program begins to snowball until it becomes so embedded that it cannot be removed…or until someone comes in from the outside and cuts it out forcefully."

"I didn't expect this from the three of you," Stevenson said, looking at each captain in turn. Then he looked at Woolsey. "Such things are usually reserved for scum like him that hide their evil beneath a façade of weak civility, only to show their true colors when they believe themselves to be in a position of power."

"On your ships you are the power," Stevenson reminded them. "If you are given orders to the contrary, to let someone like him command you, you should refuse the assignment, as you should have refused this one. That error in judgment has cost you your ships, which we will be putting to more productive use."

"As for you," Stevenson said, his voice growing darker. "I had a chat with McKay before he went back to Earth. He told me you were supposed to abandon the mission after a year. Why didn't you?"

Sam ground her teeth, mentally cursing Rodney. "The mission wasn't complete."

Stevenson nodded. "The difference between you and them," he said, pointing at Caldwell and Ellis, "is that you chose this mission. They were assigned to it. You should have returned to Earth as your orders allowed when your deployment time expired. You chose to continue, which makes you as culpable as them," he said, pointing at Woolsey.

Stevenson lowered his eyes to the floor and closed them in disgust. "Go."

After a few exchanged looks, the foursome walked past Stevenson towards the still open gate.

"What was that?" Stevenson asked angrily, turning about and grabbing Woolsey in a telekinetic hold.

"I didn't say anyt…," he said as he was lifted a foot off the floor.

"No, don't hide it," Stevenson said, searching his mind. "Something about me."

Woolsey didn't, or couldn't, say anything.

"You really thought you could pull that off," Stevenson said. "That wouldn't have worked either."

Sheppard frowned, still standing on the steps. Whatever Woolsey was saying to him must have been within his mind.

"That's not the first time you've proposed that, is it?" Stevenson said, visibly constricting Woolsey's neck. "And what did you plan to do when I broke free?"

Woolsey's mind connected to another train of thought in response to that question and Stevenson quickly followed that thread into others like it, exposing a web of memories Woolsey was doing his best to hide from him.

Stevenson's eyes narrowed sharply, and from where Sam was standing it was obvious that he was furious.

The next sound anyone heard was the snap of Woolsey's neck.

"What the…" Sheppard began to say before he suddenly lost his voice…and his ability to move.

Stevenson threw Woolsey's dead body back through the gate then turned and telekinetically picked up Carter. He pulled her up off the ground a few inches and brought her up in front of him.

"Did you know?" he asked, searching her mind.

She didn't.

Suddenly Sam's mind was flooded with memories Stevenson had taken from Woolsey. They were so loud, so vivid that she couldn't block them out. For the next few moments all she could see and hear was what Woolsey had seen and heard and said. She could also feel his emotions and sense his thoughts in those brief snippets of memory.

Her stomach turned upside down in the process, made even worse by the point by point explanation from Stevenson on every misstep she had made. He even went so far as to forcefully tear away the mental blocks and rationalizations she'd been using to combat her own conscious in order to find some level of symbiosis with Earth's leadership…and in doing so exposed Carter to the full emotional effect of what she had done, and what Woolsey and the I.O.A. had planned to do.

It was too much for her to handle, but she couldn't stop it. What felt like an hour of torture took place in only ten seconds, at the end of which Sam's eyes were swollen and gushing with tears.

Stevenson pulled her within a few inches of his face. "I expected more of you."

With those five words hanging in the air and echoing in Sam's mind, Stevenson threw her backwards through the stargate to what would undoubtedly be a very hard landing on the other side.

Stevenson pulled a quick check on the minds of the other two Colonels, but they knew even less than Carter had.

"Mark my words," he said, releasing the pair from his telekinetic hold. "The I.O.A. has just declared war on the Alterra…and so long as you serve them you are on the wrong side in this fight. They are the enemy of Earth, not us."

Stevenson pointed his thumb towards the gate.

Caldwell and Ellis took the cue and walked towards the open wormhole.

"One last thing," Stevenson said, stopping both of them just before they reached the event horizon. "If anyone serving the I.O.A. enters this galaxy again…you'll find us considerably less hospitable."

"We'll deliver the message," Caldwell said stiffly before walking through the gate.

Ellis hesitated. "For whatever it's worth…I'm sorry."

He followed Caldwell through the gate, then Stevenson mentally commanded it to shut down and return to its normal height. When he did, he also released his hold on Sheppard.

"What the hell was that?" Sheppard asked angrily.

Stevenson turned and looked him in the eye. He didn't say anything, but he did mentally transmit the memories he'd taken from Woolsey into the Colonel's mind.

Sheppard's eyes narrowed. "I should have shot the bastard a long time ago."

"Feel up to a field trip?" Stevenson asked.

Sheppard tilted his head in sudden comprehension. "You going after the Repository?"

Stevenson nodded.

"I'm in," Sheppard said without hesitation.

"We'll need to grab a jumper," Stevenson said, walking off with Sheppard.

Aftermath

1

 

 

Carter came flying through the stargate head first into the SGC, tumbled over once in mid air, then fell hard to the ground at the foot of the ramp where there was an audible 'pop' that even Landry could hear as he came through the gateroom doors.

"What the hell?" he demanded at the up close sight of Woolsey's dead body, with the sentiment echoing in his mind a second time when he saw Carter's unconscious form balled up on the floor.

A Corporal knelt down next to Carter, pressed two fingers against her throat, then gave Landry a thumbs up.

"Where's that medic?" Landry yelled as Caldwell and Ellis stepped through the gate just before it shut down. "Will someone please tell me what the hell is going on?"

"Which part?" Caldwell asked half sarcastically.

"The part where Woolsey is dead," Landry said evenly, letting the Colonel know he wasn't in a mood for games.

"Stevenson killed Woolsey," Caldwell said. "We don't know why."

"That's not entirely true," Ellis interrupted. "It appeared that Woolsey had information that the rest of us didn't, and whatever that information was it was serious enough to get him killed. Stevenson asked General Carter if she knew before he sent her back."

"You mean threw her back," Caldwell objected. "If Stevenson is as advanced as it appears, then he probably has telepathic abilities, which it looked like he was using on Woolsey and Carter. We have no way of knowing what was going on between them."

"Stop right there," Landry demanded. "We'll sort this mess out later. Are all your personnel accounted for?"

"All that chose to come back," Caldwell said stiffly.

Landry frowned. "You mean more of our people defected to Atlantis?"

"Yes, sir," Ellis answered.

"For the love of God," Landry said under his breath. "We'll debrief in one hour. In the mean time try and come up with a short synopsis. I highly doubt I'll have the patience to sit through every mission detail. The I.O.A. can do that on their own time, but I for one want to hear why our taskforce returned to Earth without their ships," he said, eyeing the two Colonels as he walked over to Carter as the newly arrived medics were hauling her up onto a gurney.

"Sergeant Siler!" Landry half yelled over the din.

"Yes, sir."

"I want that new iris installed ASAP."

"As soon as it arrives, sir."

"Colonel Davenwood," Landry said, looking at the man on his left. "I want a permanent security guard in the gateroom around the clock until the iris is fixed. That bastard just left Earth open to attack, and if anything unwelcome comes through that gate it's your responsibility to make sure it doesn't get off this ramp."

Davenwood nodded. "Will do, General."

Landry looked up at the gate with its worthless iris halo ringing the inside of the device and shook his head in disgust.


"Dr. McKay…wait," Dr. Lam said, putting her arm in front of him as he tried to enter the infirmary.

"I'm here to see Colonel Carter," he explained innocently.

"I know," Lam said. "But before I let you, you need to understand a few things."

"Understand what?"

"She's not alright, despite appearances to the contrary," Lam said in a whisper.

Rodney frowned. "What do you mean?"

"She has a broken wrist, that much is easy to diagnose…but she hasn't said a single word since she woke up. I tried to talk to her, but the most I got was two seconds of eye contact. She's been crying most of the time, or trying to. She's probably out of tears by now."

"What are you saying?"

"I think there's something psychologically wrong with her," Lam said gingerly. "Something I can't diagnose…not for sure anyway. But at the very least I'd say she suffered some kind of emotional trauma. Her lack of responsiveness is probably due to a self-defense mechanism, dulling her senses to the outside world in an attempt to lock down the internal pain."

"What are you saying…she's broken?"

"I don't know. I suggest you handle her with kid gloves, but if you can get through to her, even a little, it would better help me diagnose her condition."

"Of course," Rodney said as Lam let her arm down. He walked over to Carter's bed and sat down in an adjacent chair. He reached out gently and touched her shoulder.

"Sam? It's me, Rodney. Can you hear me?"

Carter's eyes remained where they were…staring through him towards the wall, half swollen from endless crying.

"What the hell happened to you?" McKay asked in a whisper. "Last I saw you, you were fine."

Very slowly Carter's eyes focused and lifted toward Rodney with fresh tears seeping out. "You were right," she said, barely loud enough for him to hear. "I'm sorry."

"About what? The mission?" McKay said, glad to just have her look at him. "Forget about all that right now…" he said to her, but she'd already drifted off again.

Dr. Lam walked up behind him, concerned. "Did she say something?"

"A few words, then she was gone again."

"That's something at least," Lam said, jotting something down on her clipboard. "Good work."

Rodney shrugged his shoulders. "I didn't do anything."

"Sometimes the presence of a certain person elicits a response that others can't. Either way, it's a good sign."

"Do you have any idea how this could have happened?"

"You don't know?"

"No," McKay said, eyes widening. "What happened?"

"I was told it had to do with Stevenson, and the possibility of a telepathic mind link."

"That doesn't make any sense," McKay said, confused. "Why would he do something like this to her?"

The moment the words were out of his mouth he knew the answer. Sam's few words were all the proof he needed. Dr. Lam must have seen the reaction in his eyes.

"What?" she asked curiously.

"Nothing," McKay said, getting up. "Let me know if anything changes?" he asked.

"Sure," Lam said, unconvinced, but she let it go.

Rodney nodded his thanks then hurriedly walked off.


Stevenson stood at the control board of the Asgard core onboard the Odyssey as a sudden revelation hit him. The wording the Asgard had chosen in several historical records had seemed odd, and he'd just done a search along those 'odd' parameters. The correlated events on the patchwork timeline that the computer core had just compiled for him gave a coded sequence of future events…if one knew how to read them.

It wasn't something the humans could have noticed. The Asgard language was subtle, and without a full understanding of the nuances of the language the 'oddities' wouldn't stand out. That had given him the first glimmer of hope in the three days he'd spent going through the massive amount of data stored within the core, but what he'd just found floored him.

It was a detailed, yet vague, step by step process through which the Asgard race would be reborn.

He'd suspected something like this would be here. The Asgard were too advanced for mass suicide…the Alterra had taught them better than that. However, if they were going to keep their technology out of the wrong hands then they needed everyone to believe they were dead so no one would come looking for them…except someone sufficiently advanced to help them.

Stevenson didn't know if they'd expected him to be the one to come to their aid, but the clues they'd left behind seemed as if they were tailor made for him. Regardless, he did have the power to help them…he'd solved the problem of their continual genetic degeneration within two hours of gaining access to their medical records within the data core. The Asgard had already done all the ground work for him, they had just lacked a single piece of information…one that Stevenson had, thanks to Lyran.

That was, however, merely the tip of the iceberg. With this new revelation a multitude of interlocking events needed to be set in motion, and done so quickly. Time was on his side, so long as he didn't delay. With the initial confrontation with Avalon now in the history books, he could move on to other projects that would require longer periods of time away from Pegasus…projects that, up until now, he hadn't felt comfortable risking.

To that end, he ringed back into the central column of Atlantis from the pier where the Odyssey was undergoing a much needed refit and tracked down Drs Jackson and Weir. They were the first two pieces in the very large puzzle that he was about to start putting together.


 

2

 

 

"What's going on?" Mitchell asked as SG-1 came back through the gate from a mission to the Tok'ra homeworld to renegotiate their alliance.

"Sorry, sir," Sergeant Siler apologized. "We're having to install a new iris."

"What's wrong with the old one?" Haley asked as the wormhole deactivated and the construction crews got back to work.

"Had a hole in it," Siler said, excusing himself.

"A hole?" Mitchell asked as they walked off the ramp into the midst of Colonel Davenport's security guard.

"Courtesy of Atlantis," the Colonel answered. "Busted a hole right through it when we wouldn't lower the iris."

"Why?" Vala asked, stepping up next to Mitchell.

"They wanted to send back their prisoners."

"What prisoners?" Mitchell asked, concerned.

"The crew of the three ships we sent to retake the city," Davenport said. "Woolsey came back dead, followed a minute later by Colonel Carter doing a superman through the gate. I hear she's beat up pretty bad."

Mitchell exchanged glances with Teal'c and hurried out of the gateroom with the rest of SG-1 in tow. He made a beeline for the infirmary, still carrying his weapons and desert gear.

"Sam?" he asked earnestly as they walked into the infirmary.

Carter was lying flat on her back looking up at the ceiling and tilted her head forward at the sound of his voice. She closed her eyes in shame when she realized who it was and laid her head back down.

"What happened?" Mitchell asked as he stood over her.

"Go away," she said meekly.

"Yes, go away," Lam said walking up behind the Colonel and pulling at his elbow. "She needs her rest."

"I'm not going anywhere until somebody tells me what's going on."

"Allow me," General Landry said from the doorway behind them. "You blew through the gateroom so fast I wasn't able to catch you."

"What happened to the iris?" Vala asked. "I thought it was close enough to the event horizon to prevent anything from coming through."

Landry nodded. "McKay theorized that Stevenson sent an energy blast through that made a small crack in the metal, then expanded it with repetitive 'kawooshes' as he called it. Damn thing ate away at the iris until they'd opened up a large enough hole to send our people back through."

"If they wanted to send our people back," Haley asked, "why didn't you just open it?"

Landry eyed her for a moment. "In retrospect that probably would have been a good idea, but at the time we didn't know their full intentions."

As they talked, Teal'c walked over to Carter and put his hand on her shoulder, but she turned away from him as well.

"What about Earth's ships?" Vala asked.

"They kept those," Landry said irreverently. "And said they'd be even less friendly if we came after them again."

"What happened to Carter," Mitchell reiterated.

"You can thank Stevenson for that," Landry said angrily. "And for the death of Woolsey. Right now, however, I need SG-1 to redeploy...immediately."

"What's up?" Haley asked eagerly.

"I just got word from the Delta site. They were attacked by a puddle jumper that came through the gate. It destroyed the Ancient repository then left the same way it came."

Mitchell frowned. "Assuming it was someone from Atlantis, why would they do that?"

Landry half smiled. "That's what I want SG-1 to find out. Poke around the base and see what you can dig up. I highly doubt this is a coincidence."

"General…" Carter's meek voice interrupted.

"Sam…" Mitchell said, stepping back to her side.

"Colonel Carter?" Landry said questioningly.

"It's the I.O.A.," she continued, barely making eye contact. "They were…killing people…making them use the repository."

Landry frowned. "How do you know that?"

"Stevenson gave me Woolsey's memories," Carter said, starting to cry again. "They managed to backwards engineer some of the tech from the Ark…they used it to brainwash some of their people. Woolsey knew of three people that died before our mission, and they weren't planning on stopping…"

"That was a year and a half ago," Landry said, thinking out loud.

"Who knows how many more may have died since," Teal'c added somberly.

"That's why the I.O.A. wanted Sheppard back," Carter continued, regaining a bit of her composure. "It wasn't working…and he's demonstrated a compatibility with Ancient tech…"

"Son of a bitch," Mitchell said under his breath.

"Is that why Stevenson killed Woolsey?" Landry asked.

Carter nodded slightly. "It was partly his idea…as a backup if they couldn't capture Stevenson."

"What did they plan to do with him?" Vala asked in all seriousness.

"Woolsey told them they couldn't contain him indefinitely with the anti-prior device. He suggested they download what memories they could, then kill him after no more than 24 hours."

"Kill him?" Vala asked incredulously. "Do they really have the right to do that? I know Woolsey suggested that when Daniel was a prior, but under your planet's laws I thought there was some process of discovery that protected against such things."

"There's supposed to be…but I'm more concerned with them using the Ark," Mitchell said in disgust. "Like you said, they have no problem killing one of our own if they think they're a threat…but brainwashing our own people opens up a whole new can of worms."

Landry took a step closer to Carter. "I don't suppose you have any proof of this?"

Carter glared at him for a moment, then meekly shook her head 'no.'

Landry looked up at Mitchell. "Slight change of plans, Colonel. I want you at the Delta site five minutes ago…see if you can verify what she just said before the I.O.A. has a chance to clean it up."

Mitchell nodded. "Yes, sir." He turned and gave Sam's arm a squeeze. "Hang in there, Kiddo."

SG-1 hurried out of the infirmary and went straight back to the gate while Landry remained behind. He sat down on the edge of Carter's bed and looked at her sympathetically. He had no idea what was going through her mind, but at least she'd recovered enough to give them some vital intel.

"What else did Woolsey know?"


Stevenson brought Jackson and Weir to a bio-lab in one of the spires on pylon 2, far away from the inhabited sections of the city. In fact, ever since Stevenson had arrived in Atlantis certain city sectors had been off limits to the humans, quarantined through the city's central computer.

This lab resided in one of the quarantined sections and was far off the beaten path, even from the Atlantis expedition's original exploration area. As it was, Dr. Weir was getting her first look at a section of city she'd never before laid eyes on.

Stevenson leaned against the wall of the lab when they arrived, indicating they were at their destination.

"Ok," Daniel said curiously. "What's going on?"

"Yes, why couldn't you say anything in the mess hall?" Elizabeth chimed in.

"Remember that promotion I promised you?" Stevenson asked.

Elizabeth inclined her head. "If I broke 20 minutes. What does that have to do with this?"

Stevenson pointed to a device in the corner.

"I've seen one of those before," Daniel said cautiously. "If I'm not mistaken, it's some type of DNA altering device, identical to the ones Nirti and Anubis used…and Merlin."

Stevenson raised an eyebrow in Daniel's direction.

"What are you saying?" Elizabeth asked.

"You want to use this machine to…upgrade us?" Daniel asked.

Stevenson nodded. "The Alterran home galaxy was always Avalona, but even there we didn't have full control. There are far more systems without stargates than those with, and those that did were too many in number for us to keep a close watch on. We used a network of alliances to maintain our influence and keep watch over our territory, even in our primary galaxy."

"And while Pegasus is a dwarf galaxy, it still contains millions of systems…too many for anyone to keep track of. Even if I focused my entire mission on this galaxy alone, there would still be wild systems, not to mention interstellar space, where we would hold no power."

"That is why the Alterra do not seek to dominate a region of space through brute force…we act in response to threats, we do not seek to suppress them. It would be futile to try. As far as we know the universe is infinite…there will always be the unknown to deal with, therefore we developed our interstellar and intergalactic civilization along those lines."

"I think I see where you're going with this," Daniel interrupted. "The Asgard operated the same way. They had a list of planets under their protection, and they would intervene if something happened to them, but they never defended them in the traditional sense. They allowed the enemy the first move with the knowledge that they could and would inevitably bring in superior firepower to deal with the situation."

Elizabeth cringed. "That sounds a little cold to me. A lot of people could be killed before they could respond. On the other hand, if they'd placed some sort of outpost on the planet in question they could hold off the attack until reinforcements arrived."

"You're missing the point," Daniel said, glancing at Stevenson for verification. "If they put their own people on the worlds they protected, that list would be a short one. Now, if they only promised a swift and overwhelming response…"

"…they could protect more worlds," Elizabeth finished.

"A lot more," Daniel continued, "given that the Alterra established the means for instantaneous travel between galaxies, coupled with advanced hyperdrives to be able to quickly move to regions that didn't have stargates."

Elizabeth glanced at Stevenson, but he seemed content to let them work through the logic on their own. "But, if you get too big you run the risk of letting some worlds slip through the cracks."

"Which is why," Daniel said with finality, "you need a network of allies who can keep watch and inform you when something is happening."

Stevenson smiled. "Or to deal with the minor threats themselves."

Daniel glanced back at the Ancient device. "And you want us," he said, gesturing to himself and Elizabeth, "to look after Pegasus."

"Yes," Stevenson said.

Daniel frowned. "You're not thinking Adam and Eve here, are you?"

"No," Stevenson said firmly, shaking his head. "In fact, I don't want you reproducing for a while. You'll need a decent population before you can form a maturia…say, at least a thousand."

"Hold on a minute," Elizabeth said, throwing her hands in the air to get them to stop. "What are you implying?"

"Not that…" Daniel said quickly, "though that's by no means a slight against you."

Elizabeth held her head in his hand. "Ryan, why do you have to be so cryptic? Just tell me what it is you want."

Stevenson held up his hand to stop Daniel from saying anything. "I told you if you broke 20 minutes on a 5k run you would get a promotion. You did very well with your training once you got past your initial reluctance. You even started to like it, because it gave you a personal journey that only you were aware of. You didn't have to factor in other people's opinions or beliefs…it was just you and the hard truth. And you appreciated the reversal."

Elizabeth's eyes narrowed. "I thought you taught me how to block your telepathy?"

"You're not very good at it," Stevenson said, almost apologetic.

"Hard truth seems to be the Alterran way," Elizabeth said, but she wasn't upset. "What does that have to do with all of this?" she said, gesturing to the lab they were in.

"This is where you are going to get the promotion you earned…Daniel too, though we never had a formal arrangement. He's made considerable progress since he arrived here, due to some subtle nudging on my part."

"Yeah," Daniel said, "I did notice that, by the way."

"I know," Stevenson said, reminding him of his mind-reading capabilities. "Both of you stood out among your race when I first met you, and you've come even further since then. Now it's time you took the next step…and help me in the process."

Elizabeth's eyes narrowed. "How?"

Stevenson looked at Daniel, but said nothing.

Daniel took that as his cue. "He's taking a page out of Merlin's playbook. He's going to turn us into Lanteans…right?"

"Lanteans!?" Elizabeth repeated, stunned.

Stevenson nodded. "I need you to start rebuilding their civilization, and eventually become the caretakers of Pegasus while I and the Alterra move on to larger problems."

"Larger than the Wraith?" Elizabeth asked, her mind racing. Her, an Ancient?

"We'll take care of the Wraith," Stevenson assured her. "It's the aftermath I need the Lantean civilization for."

"A Lantean?" Elizabeth repeated out loud. "I never imagined…"

"Daniel?" Stevenson said, walking over and powering up the device.

"Happy to," he said, jumping up on the pedestal. "Is this going to take several treatments?"

Stevenson raised a curious eyebrow. "That depends how far along you are," he said, using the machine to map out his genome. "I'd guess at least two, based on Merlin's research."

"I wonder what happened to them," Daniel said, referring to the people Merlin had advanced. "Could they still be alive?"

"Depends on the individual," Stevenson said, remembering that he'd had to wipe the part of Daniel's memory where Merlin explained that the Knights of the Round Table had been sent off to another galaxy far, far away. "And how good of shape you get yourself into," he said, glancing at Elizabeth.

"Lesson learned," she said, stepping beside Stevenson and looking at the control board with him.

"According to this, your transformation should take a few days," Stevenson said as the device displayed Jackson's genome along with a stereotypical Lantean model and highlighted the differences. "I'll have to troubleshoot the finer points, but you should be able to get your first treatment within an hour or so."

The holographic schematics disappeared from around Daniel. "Next."

"Guess that's me," Elizabeth said eagerly, taking Daniel's place on the pedestal.

"Just for the record, I couldn't have done this without you fully assimilating your clone body. It would have caused additional problems."

She smiled. "Which was another reason for the training."

He nodded. "Which needs to continue indefinitely," he reminded her.

"I know," she said softly as her genome appeared as a twisted halo around her petite body.

Stevenson recorded her genome alongside Daniel's then shut down the scanner. "Ok, I need a few minutes to tweak the Lantean norms to fit your profiles, then we'll get you both started. You'll feel quite a bit of stress over the next few days, but you need to be as active as possible. I recommend double training sessions, Elizabeth. Morning and afternoon to help you process the changes. Same thing for you, Daniel."

"Get my ass in the gym," he said sarcastically. "Got it."

"Not quite. You need to focus on running and agility drills, not weights. Excessive motion is needed to quickly process the upgrades, or this will take weeks instead of days."

"Just for the record," Daniel mildly complained, "I'm not much of a runner."

"Neither was I," Elizabeth said ironically. "But you'll get used to it."

"I supposed we could work out together?" Daniel suggested, not entirely enthused.

"Heck no," Elizabeth said playfully. "I'm not slowing down for you."

Stevenson laughed. "Good girl. Take a cue from her, Daniel. She's got the right attitude."

"I'll do what I need to," Daniel said, determined.

"If it helps," Stevenson offered. "Most Alterra were runners."

"Really?" Daniel asked, now interested. "I always pictured them as the cerebral type."

"We are…it's called multitasking."

"Not to complain, but I don't see you in the gym."

"Check the records, you'll see my stats."

"There are records?" Daniel asked.

"I've seen him on occasion," Elizabeth told him. "Usually very early in the morning."

Daniel frowned. "By the way, how long do you sleep?"

"About three hours on average."

"That…explains a lot," Daniel said.

"Take my word for it, Daniel," Elizabeth said. "Start training, seriously, or he'll find ways to motivate you," she said knowingly.

Daniel raised an eyebrow. "Such as?" he asked, sensing some story behind her remark.

"Just take my word on this one," she half whispered, taking a seat on the edge of a table to wait on Stevenson who was even now working on their genetic profiles.

"Ok," Daniel said, sitting down next to her. He took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes, then looked at the ocular devices. "I wonder if I'll need these."

Stevenson heard his question and shook his head 'no.'

"Well then," Daniel said, tossing his glasses aside. "So much for the intellectual look."

"You have nice eyes," Elizabeth said. "No reason to hide them behind glasses."

"You think so?"

"Sure you do…besides, what does it matter what humans think of us. We're about to become Ancients."

"That we are," Daniel said, pleased.


 

3

 

 

"How are you doing?" Stevenson asked Daniel as he finished his run and walked off the gymnasium's track. Elizabeth ran by him in a blur, lapping him for the third time and giving an almost inaudible "beep beep" as she passed him.

Daniel smiled at that between heaves of air. She'd been giddy ever since her transformation.

"Sucking badly," Daniel said in Ancient, answering Stevenson's question, "but not nearly as much as last week."

"How's the burning?"

"Gone," Daniel said, referring to the hyper-processing that his body had been undergoing. He'd felt the changes as a constant burning sensation throughout his body, as if every inch of his flesh was overheating, yet his temperature remained constant.

"Good," Stevenson said succinctly. "I didn't want to take you away until your physiology had fully adapted."

"Away?" Daniel asked, finally getting his breathing under control.

Stevenson nodded. "I need your help."

"Really," Daniel said, surprised. "With what?"

"I need you to make an introduction."

"No problem," Daniel said, thinking through the list of cultures he'd encountered. "Who do you want to meet?"

"The Ori."

Daniel coughed in surprise. "The Ori?"

Stevenson nodded. "I have no knowledge of them since the Alterra left Destra. As it is, you know more about them than I do."

"You're talking about the humans, right? The ascended Ori are all dead."

"Humans and the Priors…the Doci if possible."

Daniel's eyes narrowed. "You intend to bring them into the fold."

"I intend to bring all humans into the fold. We may not have recreated those in Destra, but at this point, with the Ori dead, they could probably use my help…and I theirs."

"You want the Ori fleet to fight the Wraith?" Daniel asked.

Stevenson shook his head dismissively. "I don't need them for that. In two months the first Columnar will be finished and I can start witling them down while we build more. The Ori fleet is unnecessary."

"Then what do you have planned for them, assuming they play ball, which they very well might not given all that's happened to them. You have something specific in mind, I can tell."

Stevenson sighed. "Daniel, you're going to have to accept that there are some things I can't tell you. The stakes are too high, and some secrets I have to keep."

"What stakes?" Daniel pressed. "Why do you need to keep secrets? To everyone here, including me, it looks like you've got the power to do whatever you please. You've said your mission is to rebuild the Alterran civilization, how does that require secrecy? I mean, who can stand against you…or is there something else going on that you're not telling us?"

Stevenson considered his next words carefully. "I have the collective knowledge of the entire Alterran race…more than any single Alterra ever possessed. I will always have secrets, Daniel. And despite appearances to the contrary, our civilization was not an easy one to build the first time around…and we were threatened with annihilation several times in our history. I've shown you one already, and there are many more. I am walking a very fine line…if I screw up and attract the attention of the wrong people, then I put us in an endgame scenario that I will not be able to work my way out of."

"So you want the Ori on your side as what…backup?"

"No, Daniel. It's not that simple. Everything that I have done is part of a larger design, threads building upon threads. Pull the wrong one, and it all unravels."

"Alright, I get it," Daniel said. "There's more going on than meets the eye. You have to be careful, for some reason I still don't understand. But what I don't get, especially now that I'm an Ancient, is why you can't tell me. Where's the risk there?"

"I'm sorry, Daniel. I can't."

Daniel looked down at the ground in frustration. "What can you tell me?"

"It's been six years since anyone from Earth has had contact with the Ori. We don't know what's happened to them. I, for one, would rather have them on our side than leave them be and hope they don't become an enemy again."

"The ascended Ori are dead," Daniel reminded him.

"You're a student of human nature," Stevenson reminded him. "Take away their unifying purpose, their religion, their leadership, and the basis for their entire civilization…and you tell me what's possible."

Daniel considered that for a moment. "Any number of things. Worst case scenario they resent what we've done and seek to avenge their loss."

"I wouldn't call that the worst case scenario," Stevenson qualified, "but it's concern enough."

"I think I'm beginning to see your point. Give people freedom that they've never had before and all kinds of suppressed aspects of their psyche come to the surface."

"We need to at least find out what's happened to them," Stevenson offered.

Daniel nodded. "Alright, I'll introduce you to them…but I don't think they'll want to replace the Ori with one of their kin, even if you are flesh and blood."

"Possibly," Stevenson admitted. "But I'm willing to bet that the Priors feel differently."

"Why?"

"Same reason the Jaffa are flocking to Dakara," Stevenson prompted him.

"A return to normalcy," Daniel suddenly realized, "and a renewed sense of purpose."

"Never underestimate the power of purpose," Stevenson advised.

"No…," Daniel said, realizing that Stevenson had done the same thing with him…given him a purpose where he had none. Ever since his wife had died his purpose had been ambiguous, and he'd 'floated' from one assignment to another. Threads all, and valuable, but without an underlying motivation to guide his path. "…I won't."

"Come on," Stevenson said, monitoring his thought process. "The Tria is ready to leave. Pack what you need. We'll depart as soon as you're aboard."

"I won't be long," Daniel said as Elizabeth walked up to them. Stevenson pointed him forward, and Daniel went ahead of him while he turned to talk to the other Lantean.

"I'm taking the Tria and Daniel to the Ori galaxy. We might be gone a while."

Elizabeth frowned. "The Ori?"

Stevenson nodded. "If you don't mind the double duty, I'm putting you back in command of Atlantis…permanently."

Elizabeth's grin spread from ear to ear. "I love you," she said sarcastically.

Stevenson grinned. "You'll still have to manage Hoth…until you can train a replacement."

She lost her grin and replaced it with her working face. "It'll be a stretch, but I can handle it. Did you have someone in mind?"

"I'll let you choose. If we're not back in five days Sheppard has a mission scheduled that'll take him back to Avalon. I was going to go with him, but if I don't make it back he's still a go. Bra'tac will keep an eye on him."

"Avalon?" she asked curiously.

"You can talk to him about it. Something he arranged with McKay."

"Sounds interesting," Elizabeth said. "Any orders while you're gone?"

"Don't blow up the city," Stevenson said jokingly as he walked off.


With Daniel aboard, the Tria took off from Atlantis and made its way to the nearest of the two remaining supergates in the Pegasus galaxy. From there they dialed the Avalona purple gate nearest to the location of the Ori supergate. A few minutes in hyperspace later and they arrived at the giant ring, which was considerably bigger than its Alterran counterparts.

Stevenson dialed Destra using both his own knowledge of basic stargate technology and the dialing program that Earth had used onboard the Odyssey, which they in turn had gotten from Daniel during his time as an Ori prior. The narrow Tria passed through the gate easily with room to spare and in a few seconds traveled the entire distance that it would have taken the original Alterra 73 years to cover from Destra to Avalona had they traveled in a straight line at maximum speed.

Being such a long distance away from his own stargate network put Stevenson a little on edge knowing that this one pair of gates was his only way back within a decade. Even with the advances in hyperdrive technology that the Alterra had made in the interim, it would still take seven years to cross the gap in the Tria.

Once in Destra, Larrin jumped the Tria into hyperspace enroute to Celestis, whose location Stevenson had also derived from the Odyssey's computer. Capturing that ship had been more critical to Stevenson's efforts than Earth would ever know.

"We've got a problem," Larrin said after they'd exited hyperspace. She brought up a holographic schematic of the sensor readings that she was seeing through her mental connection to the control chair.

"It's been destroyed," Daniel said, turning to Stevenson. They exchanged glances.

"Any life signs?" Stevenson asked.

"No," Larrin confirmed. "But, there is a part of the city that my sensors aren't penetrating."

The holographic picture of the rubble of Celestis zoomed in on one subsurface area. It was a null zone…no data at all from the sensors.

"Worth a look," Stevenson said. "Rings?"

"No," Larrin said after checking for a connection.

"We'll take a jumper then," he said, walking aft. "Cloak the ship and change orbit once we're away."

"Understood," Larrin said, agreeing that they shouldn't take any chances. The damage to Celestis looked to be orbital in nature.

When they boarded the first of two jumpers in the Tria's main hangar bay Stevenson slid into the copilot's seat. "Take us down," he told Daniel.

"Alright," he said, taking the pilot's seat and powering up the tiny ship. He'd always envied Jack his ability to pilot these ships and he hadn't been wrong. The mental interface coupled with the hand controls was just…cool.

The jumper slid out of the bay as the Ancient warship disappeared behind them. Daniel cautiously landed the ship in the rubble of the Ori's holiest city, taking twice as much time as it would have taken Stevenson, but it was obvious that he needed the practice.

Stevenson didn't complain about the delay. He waited patiently until they touched down, then closed his eyes in silence for a moment. "There's someone here. A Prior, I think."

"How can you be sure?" Daniel asked.

"I can sense his mind…it's too complex to be human," he said, getting up. "I think it's best if they see you first."

"Chicken," Daniel jibbed, though in complete agreement, as he got out of the pilot's seat and lowered the aft hatch. "You staying here or just hiding behind me?"

In response Stevenson disappeared beneath his personal cloaking field. "I'll have a quiet look around the place while you make contact…just in case there are any surprises."

"Makes sense," Daniel said, heading out. Based on the jumper's sensors, the null zone was only fifty meters away to the northeast. He meandered that direction through the rubble, dressed in a simple, yet elegant Lantean semi-formal uniform. The dark blue material, cut into fine lines that held close to his body stood out in stark contrast to the chaos around him.

The towers of the city now lay in pieces, smashed beyond recognition. Deep furrows exposed underlayers of the city going down several dozens of meters, or kepps as the Ancients had called them. The measurements weren't identical, but they were close, with the kepp being slightly longer. One fissure in the ground looked to be at least fifty kepps deep down to a dark haze that Daniel couldn't see through.

Whatever had hit the city had done a thorough job of leveling it. Based on their flyover prior to landing, not one building remained standing, and most of the foundations were so disrupted that he couldn't tell where the buildings had been…the entire area looked like a dumping ground, with no correlation to the impressive city Daniel had first seen eight years ago through another man's eyes.

Daniel climbed up and over a partially intact column that lay horizontal, spanning two debris piles. When he got to the top he saw a small area that had been cleared of rubble. The smooth stones of the city surface were cracked and disheveled, but it was clear that someone had cleaned up the area surrounding a hole in the ground.

When Daniel approached, his Lantean eyes spied a stairwell inside the hole that was equally damaged, but still intact. He patiently walked over the cracks and jutting pieces of tile until he stood over the opening. Below he saw a solitary torch at the base of the stairs casting light on the curve of the stairs as they passed down to yet another level.

Taking care not to trip on the splintering stone steps, Daniel walked beneath the surface level and into the fire-lit darkness. When he arrived at the plateau with the torch he saw that the level he was on had collapsed, but the stairwell going further down was lit by yet another torch on the lower level.

By the time Daniel reached the second torch the damage to the stairs had ended, the only disruption of their usual gleaming surface was a thin layer of dust. He took a few steps off the platform into this level and saw that it remained undamaged, yet dark. Whatever was causing the sensor disruption must have also protected it from the damage, which Daniel found curious. What would the Ori have valued more than the rest of their city?

A sound from below prompted Daniel to return to the stairs. He cautiously walked down to the next level where he nearly ran into a man coming from an even lower level of the city.

"Doci?" Daniel asked, surprised. The man didn't have his ornate shoulder mantle, but Daniel recognized his face.

"Dr. Jackson," he said wearily. "Why have you returned to Celestis?"

"To find you, actually. What happened?"

"It shames me to say that we have not done well with the truth you showed us. Our civilization is in chaos. Many of those who once called themselves Priors of the Ori now seek power for themselves. In their quest for personal aggrandizement, many have died, far more than we ever killed when we followed the teachings of the Ori."

Daniel lowered his head for a moment. "I'm sorry to hear that."

"It is no fault of your own, Dr. Jackson. We are the ones to blame."

"What happened here?"

"Some of the priors sought retribution against the Ori by destroying their holy city. As you can see, only the vault of herebis survived."

"Herebis?" Daniel asked, not catching the reference.

"Come," the Doci said, turning around. "I will show you."

Daniel followed him down several levels until they were bathed in the light of many torches, enough to cast away any and all lingering traces of darkness.

"Herebis," the Doci repeated. "That which is of value, but not of the Ori."

Daniel's eyes widened with sudden understanding. In the center of the large room stood an Ori stargate. The curved prongs with the narrow gap at the top were unmistakable. He'd passed through an identical gate when first brought to the Ori's home planet, then made the rest of the journey to the exterior of Celestis via their version of the ring transporter.

The only difference with this gate was that it was pure red, and the inscription on the two prongs read:

Behold the gateway to darkness. All who step forth enter the domain of the evil ones, forsaken brothers of the Hallowed.

Daniel knew this must have been the gate through which the original Priors had entered Avalona. Beside it was what looked like an Alterran power core, similar in appearance to a ZPM only ten times larger and spherical in design. Off to the side there were also three rings that Daniel realized must have been the original stargate design shared by the Ori and Alterrans before their split. These stargates had no chevrons and no symbols. They were pure silver, dull in sheen, save for a small square patch visible on the outside of one of the rings. There were six buttons, similar to the control panel for the rings, that must have functioned as their destination controls.

The rest of the room was covered with various technologies, some of which Daniel knew to have originated from the Alterrans, but also some that looked decidedly alien. Only the Ori stargate in the center looked to be functional. Everything else was strewn about haphazardly, yet carefully preserved.

"A treasure vault," Daniel said offhand.

"Perhaps," the Doci said. "But whereas I once looked upon the herebis with disdain, I now value it above all else. It gives those few of us still loyal to the cause an insight into the lies that the Ori bound us with."

"Still loyal?" Daniel asked.

"The truth you gave us is a difficult one, Dr. Jackson. We cannot believe in the Ori, yet we cannot disregard their teachings."

"Because they lied to you with the truth," Daniel said, realizing the sticky position they were in.

"What is the truth and what is not?" the Doci asked. "This is what we have been trying to determine…and the herebis have taught us much."

"You spoke of others," Daniel said.

"They are not here," the Doci said simply. "They are amongst the people now. Trying to atone for the evil we wrought, as I am serving my penance here."

"About that," Daniel said. "There is someone that I think you should talk to. He may be able to help you sort out the truth from the lies."

"Of whom do you speak," the Doci asked without emotion, but there was a slight twitch of his body that convinced Daniel that he was indeed searching for answers.

"An Alterran. One who has shed light on many of my own misconceptions."

The Doci's eyes narrowed to squints. "Why would they help us, we who sought to destroy them?"

Daniel shook his head. "This Alterran isn't ascended. He's flesh and blood, like you and me."

"How is that possible?" the Doci asked.

"It's a long story," Daniel said with a sigh. "I'm sure he'll be happy to explain it to you. It was actually his idea for me to come here, so I could function as an intermediary and arrange a meeting."

"Is he the one responsible for the change I sense in you?" the Doci asked.

Daniel nodded. "Yes, he is."

"So be it, then," the Doci said evenly.

The sound of footsteps on the stairs behind them caught both men's attention. With his white shoes coming into view first, then his legs and wrists as he rounded the stairs Stevenson walked down onto their level. When his face became visible the Doci's eyes widened in shock. It was all he could do to keep himself from bowing out of reflex.

"Orici," he whispered.


 

4

 

 

Two days after her brief talk with Landry where she painfully recounted all of Woolsey's memories, Sam sat on the couch in her apartment staring at a blank tv screen. She'd been released from the infirmary with a cast, but Dr. Lam had declared her temporarily unfit for duty due to her mental condition. General Landry had given her a two week leave of absence to try and get her wits back before she would have to undergo an I.O.A. interrogation concerning the details of her botched mission.

Landry had also told her that he needed the time to look into a few things, and that the delay would work to his advantage.

It hadn't mattered. Sam's mind was a mess. She wanted to blame that on Stevenson but she knew the truth…she'd done things that were out of character, things that she never would have done in her right mind…the thing was, she couldn't remember having gone astray. Trying to put the pieces together and figure out where she had gone wrong consumed her every waking thought, awash in a constant sea of guilt.

Her only saving grace was that her plans had failed, and she blessed Atlantis for that. She couldn't have lived with herself if…ah, who was she kidding. She couldn't live with herself now, and had ended up in a waking, yet comatose state because of it.

And she knew it. She realized her situation, her inaction, every train of thought and backtracked it to its source. Sam was more aware now than she had ever been, yet she was still disconnected and figured she would continue to be so until she figured out where she had gone wrong. So far, her logic was circular, and she wasn't getting anywhere.

Outside her thoughts her apartment's doorbell rang. She heard it, but didn't respond for a few seconds. She sluggishly dragged herself to the door, still processing Woolsey's memories and her own in a continuous analytical nightmare, and pulled it open, not even bothering to look through the peep hole. If it was a psychotic murderer on the other side she didn't care…she probably deserved it anyway.

"Hi, Sam," O'Neill said sympathetically.

"General," she said, half waking up.

O'Neill raised an eyebrow at the 'General' part. "Can I come in?"

"Of course," Sam said, stepping aside. "Sorry about the mess."

"Ah," O'Neill said, waving it off. "Looks clean compared to mine."

"If you don't mind me asking…why are you here?"

"I heard what happened to you," he said, sitting down on the couch. She sat down next to him…leaving the middle cushion between them.

"And?" she asked, a bit rudely.

"And," he echoed.

"Come to chew me out for losing three ships," she floated.

"No," he said gently, staring into her eyes.

She looked away from him. "What do you want?" she asked, her nerves raw.

"I think I know what you're going through."

Sam scoffed at that. "No you don't."

"You're questioning your own judgment," O'Neill continued. "I've been doing that a lot lately. I don't really like who I'm seeing in the mirror anymore…and not just because of the gray."

"What do you see?" Sam asked meekly, not looking at him.

"A stuffy bureaucrat," O'Neill answered, not pulling any punches. "A pencil-pusher…desk jockey…memo-writing paper monkey."

Sam couldn't help but smile, but it was short lived. "That doesn't sound so bad."

"The point is it's not me. I've been aware of it for some time. I don't think you did…and it's just now catching up with you."

"How could I have been so stupid," Sam said, her walls breaking down followed by another wave of tears.

"Well, let's start with why you didn't take the out I gave you," O'Neill said slowly.

"I thought we needed Atlantis."

"Who's 'we?'"

"The SGC…so it would give us some more political weight to throw around."

"To use against the I.O.A.?" O'Neill guessed.

Sam nodded.

"Been there," O'Neill said candidly. "About a year ago a proposal came across the monstrosity I like to call a desk detailing a way for the SGC to generate some extra revenue. Revenue that would be used as backup if we ever needed to ditch the funds coming from the I.O.A. The plan was to open up an interstellar Wal-Mart using items and resources that we had at our disposal…all off world, of course."

"The Ian Proposal," Sam said, remembering. "It got axed."

"It got axed before I had a look at the details," O'Neill said stiffly. "The base proposal was sound, including the summary that crossed my desk. I was convinced it was a good thing…a great thing, actually. About a week later I remembered that our luck is never that good and had my people do some digging."

"What did they find?" Sam asked, curious despite her continuing despair.

"A rat's nest. How they planned to acquire a lot of these 'items' involved stepping on the toes of the 'minor' civilizations we've come across. A lot of the help we've been giving them for free was going to start carrying a price tag…a small one, they reasoned, to offset the large number of supplies we were dishing out without any return on our investment. It even sounded somewhat reasonable the way they spelled it out."

Sam looked at him. "What happened?"

"I took a long hard look at why we needed 'compensation' for helping people, and I started to realize I had my priorities all screwed up. Earth isn't the only planet in the galaxy, and we can't place our problems with the I.O.A. on other people's heads."

Sam squeezed her eyes shut in shame. "You're right."

"I usually am," O'Neill said sarcastically. "But I also know how to lose."

Sam looked up at him.

"Carter, you're just too stubborn to give up," he said louder. "You got it stuck in your head that the I.O.A. has to be fought…true enough. But there comes a time you've got to give up…when fighting them means you've got to go to the darkside in order to win. And when that happens, you don't win. You become the I.O.A."

Sam leaned forward and put her head in her hands with her chin resting on the edge of her cast. "You're right…you're exactly right."

O'Neill stood up and scooted closer. He sat down and put his arm over her shoulders, giving her a light squeeze. "No matter what you do, you're never going to convince me you're one of the bad guys. You might get your head screwed up from time to time, but on the inside I know you'll always be you. You just forgot for a while."

"That doesn't excuse what I did," Sam argued.

"No…but it explains it. And now that you know the score, I'm not worried."

"That makes one of us."

"You'll find your feet," O'Neill said. "And to that end, your leave has been canceled."

"What?" Sam asked, looking at him.

"I'm reassigning you," O'Neill said, standing up and walking toward the door.

"Where?"

"SG-1," he said, walking out the door with a wry smile on his face.


Daniel looked between the Doci and Stevenson in confusion. Had he heard him right? Did he just call Stevenson the Orici?

Daniel stared at his friend warily, wondering whose side he was really on.

Stevenson gave him a 'don't be stupid' look as he approached the Doci, who was frozen stiff in awe. "Why did you call me Orici?"

"Your face is known to all Priors," he said shakily. "It was burned into our memory the moment of our transformation. You are the Orici spoken of in the book of Origin."

Daniel saw Stevenson frown, and by the look on the Doci's face he was clearly conflicted. "What does the passage say?"

The Doci didn't take his eyes off Stevenson. "It is said that in the darkest of days, when evil has wrought great destruction and the fires of Celestis are no more, the Orici will appear to guide us back unto the path. He will relight the fire of the Gods, caste away the darkness, and share the knowledge and power of the universe with all those who join him on his quest to vanquish the evil ones in the far lands and bring the light to those who have known nothing but darkness."

This time it was Stevenson's eyes that widened in surprise, and Daniel could tell from his expression that the Doci's words rang true.

"What the hell is going on?" Daniel demanded. "Are you Alterran or Ori?"

"It seems I am both," Stevenson said dismissively. "How long have you been a prior?"

"Longer than I can recount," the Doci said. "Many centuries."

"Then you were given the memory of my face before I was born," Stevenson told him, not understanding it himself.

"That does not surprise me," the Doci said evenly. "Much of the Ori continues to defy reason. I do wonder, though, how the Orici can be one of those the Ori deemed evil. Do you know nothing of this?"

"No," Stevenson said.

"Why then, have you come to us? Daniel Jackson has said it was to aid us, to show us the error of our ways and show us the true path."

"Those weren't my exact words," Daniel protested.

"It is true that much of what the Ori told you has been lies, and though I have no knowledge of how this prophecy came into being…it is not one of them."

"What?!" Daniel asked.

Stevenson glanced at him. "More of that stuff I can't tell you."

"Well you'd better now," Daniel yelled at him. "Because from all appearances it looks like you're going to start a war with the ascended Ancients!"

"I can't," he said in a bickering voice. "Because even though this is far away from their domain, one of them might have followed me through the supergate and could be watching us even now."

"So you are their enemy," he accused him.

"They are my kin," Stevenson reminded him. "I am not their enemy. But they've made it clear that they have ulterior motives that run counter to my own. So I can't run the chance of them not liking what I have planned and move to stop me before I even get started."

"How have they made it clear?" Daniel asked as the Doci simply watched.

Stevenson frowned reluctantly. "Before you came to Atlantis I discovered a survivor of the plague. She was an Alterran, held in stasis, much like the one you discovered in Antarctica. I cured her of the plague, and not two minutes later they ascended her. They let her rot in stasis for millions of years and only bothered to 'help' her so that they could deny her to me. Now, does that sound like the actions of an ally to you?"

Daniel frowned as he thought. "You could have told me."

"There was no need to…until now."

"Why would they do that? It's their civilization you're attempting to rebuild."

"As I said, they have ulterior motives, whatever they are. I'm on my own, and I have to consider the possibility of them acting against me again at some point. And while I'd never turn against my own brothers and sisters, I can't assume the same for them. I should be able to, but who knows how being ascended for millions of years could have changed them. It's possible that they've become so disconnected from the corporeal realm that they don't see me as one of them and they no longer care about rebuilding our civilization."

"Again, why didn't you tell me?" Daniel said. "From my own experiences I'd have to say that's a distinct possibility. They were willing to let Anubis wipe out all life in the galaxy to appease their vaunted rules or who knows what else. I understand, and I want to help. I just don't see why you think you can't trust me. You can read my mind, so…"

Stevenson sighed. "It's not a matter of trust, Daniel. It's a matter of security. I can block the ascended from reading my mind."

"How?" Daniel said, frowning.

"Yet another thing I don't want them to know by picking your brain."

Daniel considered that and realized the nature of the situation Stevenson was in. As he did, Stevenson sifted through the possible ways that the Ori could have known about him. First off was some type of precognition, then there was time travel, or knowledge from an alternate reality similar to their own.

Another question was why would they want an Alterran to lead their people after they were gone…

Stevenson realized they must have foreseen their own death, which may well have been a factor in their war against the ascended Ancients. Perhaps it was in part a preemptive attack…their attempt to circumvent the future they foresaw by destroying the Ancients before they could destroy them.

But then there was the entire Ascended Empire to deal with. It occurred to Stevenson that perhaps the Ori didn't know the full extent of the Empire. It would have been suicide for them to have attempted to defeat it, no matter how much energy they sapped from their followers. But, if they didn't know its true size or power, or perhaps didn't know that it extended beyond the Alterrans, Lanteans, and a few others in the local area…

Lyran had said that information gathering was discouraged within the Empire. If that was true, then knowledge of the Empire on the outside had to be even scarcer. The Ori probably had no clue what they were up against…or maybe the Ascended Empire would have let the Ori kill off the Ancients, wearing themselves down in the process, then finish off what's left of the Ori and eliminate them as a possible threat.

There were too many possibilities and too little data to work from. Stevenson couldn't be sure of anything, but he was getting the distinct impression that the Ori didn't think it would be a cake walk. The prophecy that they'd gone so far as to include in the book of Origin and ingrain into the very memory of the priors may have been a backup in case they failed and their foretold doom came to pass.

If that was the case, then they may have known of the coming conflict between Stevenson and the ascended Ancients/Ascended Empire and sought to aid him simply out of spite for their enemies. It didn't matter that he'd tell the Ori followers the truth about their existence and reshape their civilization based on an Alterran model…they wanted revenge against those that killed them, or would kill them, and they saw him as the perfect, if not only way to do it.

The prophecy said as much, vague as it was. The relighting of the fires bit didn't quite fit...unless…

"Doci," Stevenson said a few seconds later. "The Ori told you part of the truth, I am here to complete that truth and show you way the into the full light. You will have to unlearn much of what you hold to be true, and I have no doubt it will be difficult for you, but if you can find the fortitude within you to endure the battle of wills to come, then I offer you the chance to walk the true path."

"You offer?" the Doci asked. "You do not command it?"

Stevenson shook his head. "True enlightenment cannot be forced."

"Is enlightenment even possible, or was that one of the Ori's lies?"

Stevenson nodded. "I have the power to ascend at any time I choose. I have not for several reasons. One is that my work is here. Another is that anyone who ascends will fall under the dominion of the others. The combined might of the Ori was insufficient to oppose them. We must remain flesh and blood, whereby they claim they have no right to interfere, in order to take the reigns of our own destiny. If that should ever change, then ascension is still a possibility that I can guarantee…should you prove yourselves worthy."

"We have done anything but that," the Doci said regretfully. "But I, for one, welcome a chance at redemption."

"That still leaves the question," Daniel interrupted, "of why would the Ori would want anything to do with an Alterran? There has to be a reason."

Stevenson was about to answer that with a half truth, but the Doci beat him to it.

"You spoke of a schism between yourself and the ascended ones," he said, looking at Stevenson for verification. "There is another passage from the book of Origin that answers your question, Daniel Jackson. 'He who is opposed, often seeks friends in the strangest of places.'"

"Enemy of my enemy is my friend," Daniel echoed.

"What is the current state of the people?" Stevenson asked.

"Many still believe in the teachings of Origin," the Doci said, regretfully, "despite what we have told them. Those that do have been exploited by a small group of Priors that seek power for themselves. They still proclaim the Ori are gods, despite the truth they were shown. The people who serve them do so now as they always have."

"Wait a minute," Daniel interrupted. "Are you saying the people don't know the truth? I thought the Ark…" he said, cutting himself off as he realized their mistake. "The Ark only affected the Priors."

The Doci nodded. "And through us, we relayed to them the truth. Many could not accept it. Fighting arose, which we in turn attempted to quell using our powers and knowledge. We were successful for a time, until a rift formed between those that sought to return to the teachings of Origin and those that did not. Celestis was destroyed by the later, and even now the fighting continues."

Daniel glanced at Stevenson. "Looks like you're the only way to stop it…which the Ori probably also foresaw."

"How many ships remain?" Stevenson asked.

"To my knowledge, there are thirty four…but even now more are being built by both factions. Those of us still loyal to the book of Origin, yet refuse to close our eyes to the truth have retained four ships. They await your command, Orici."

"Summon them," Stevenson said, standing a bit straighter. "All of them. Has the stargate on this world also been destroyed?"

"No. It remains in the forest on the edge of the plains that surround Celestis."

Stevenson nodded. "Then summon all priors to come here immediately, whether by gate or my ship…but see to it that the ships loyal to you arrive here first."

The Doci bowed slightly, with a serene expression on his face. "Yes, Orici…and thank you."

"For the record," he added. "My name is Stevenson. You may address me as such in private."

The Doci almost cracked a smile, but didn't say a word. He nodded in respect then walked toward the stairs, leaving Daniel and Stevenson alone in the vault of herebis.

"Are you nuts?" Daniel whispered. "You're going to bring all of them here?"

"The Orici commands, Daniel. He does not ask. I have to be forceful. It's what they expect."

"They may very well kill each other once they get here," he argued.

"I know, but I suspect most of them are as desperate as the Doci. They need someone to command them. It's been ingrained into them. And if my face is known to all Priors as the Orici from the book of Origin, then that should solve half the problem right there."

"Because one side still believes in Origin," Daniel said, catching on, "and you figure you can reason with the others."

Stevenson nodded. "I am Alterra. That will never change. And with the Doci supporting me, I expect a lot of the others will automatically fall into line once the chain of command is reestablished."

"Sounds a bit optimistic," Daniel said, "but I guess it's worth a shot."

"If it wouldn't work, then the Ori wouldn't have gone to the trouble to set this up."

Daniel tilted his head in thought. "Good point."

Stevenson raised an eyebrow. "Now, for you. I need a favor."

"What?" Daniel asked, curious.

"I need you to leave…now."

Daniel thought for a moment. "Because we're not part of the Ori."

Stevenson nodded. "And I need you to run an errand for me."

"An errand?"

"I need you to build me a high security stargate and bring it back here."

"A yellow gate?" he asked, shocked. "How am I supposed to do that?"

Stevenson reached forward and touched his fingers to Daniel's forehead. Two seconds later he released the connection.

Daniel blinked his eyes. "Oh…I can do that."


 

5

 

 

Within an hour several priors had arrived through the Ori stargate and walked across the marshy plains to the ruins of Celestis. Stevenson let the Doci handle them, and instead chose to remain inside the vault of herebis. The Ori had quite a collection of unique items, some of which originated from neither the Alterrans nor the shared technology of the two before the split.

Stevenson slid his hand over the smooth red prong of the Ori stargate inside the vault. It was smaller than the Alterran version, which meant that this route back to Avalona was one way only. A small gate could connect to a larger one, but not the reverse for obvious compatibility issues. He could use this gate as a means of escape if the supergate were ever destroyed…but he'd never be able to get back here and the five trillion humans in Destra would be out of his reach.

That was why he'd sent Daniel and the Tria back to the Alterran network to manufacture a yellow gate for use in Destra. It would allow him instantaneous travel back and forth on foot, and provide a backup in case the supergate was ever destroyed.

He would have to find an applicable power source, but he didn't think that would be too much of a problem considering that the Ori had demonstrated power generation capabilities far superior to the Alterra. He'd spoken with the Doci about what they used to power the supergate over such a great distance…and for the first time since his transformation he was surprised…in a technological way.

The Ori were using a black hole tap to power the gates on either end. The Alterra had never experimented with such things, given the difficulties in actually reaching the surface of a grav sphere of that magnitude. He'd found the Ori method ingeniously simple.

In a black hole, the gravity of the body is sufficient enough to retain all energy emitted as opposed to a star that expels such energy as radiation. The energy produced in a black hole can't achieve escape velocities and is instead contained inside the event horizon. This means that all the luminous energy of 10 stars expelled over thousands, if not millions of years is pooled beneath the event horizon just waiting to be tapped.

The first trick is getting a tap in place without it being crushed into oblivion. The Ori designed multiple shield layers augmented with massive inertial dampeners all powered by the energy the tap absorbs from the environment…so as long as the tap has sufficient power to reach the surface it will forever be able to sustain itself once in place.

The second trick is getting the power back out. The Ori used a micro-wormhole the size of Stevenson's finger to transmit the processed energy to the nearby supergate. Whenever the supergate's capacitors ran low or an outgoing wormhole needed to be established the micro-wormhole would connect first and supply all the power the supergate would need in real time for as long a time as necessary.

Setting up such a system was quite an endeavor, but the payoffs were huge. Whenever he had the time he was going to look into using the Ori designs to create a new potentia factory…one that could potentially charge 1000 of the devices in the time it normally took to charge one.

He wasn't going to rely entirely on the technology for potential production, that would be shortsighted. Stevenson would maintain and expand the number of traditional potentia energy collectors and augment them with a black hole tap. The more options they had available the more powerful they would become. Being pigeonholed into one type of technology was foolhardy and a rookie mistake he wasn't going to make, but he also wasn't going to pass up an opportunity like this.

Stevenson had also asked the Doci a few other questions, including their population estimates and how they'd managed to create their technology if most of the population was living a primitive rural/agricultural existence.

The answer this time wasn't as surprising, but it was still innovative. The Doci told him that select worlds held what the Ori called 'wells of wisdom.' The devices were administered by the Priors and required one of their followers to merely drink from the water of the well and they would be imbued with knowledge far beyond their understanding.

That knowledge would last less than a day, but it allowed the Ori to assemble a skilled workforce for whatever task they required while maintaining the primitive ignorance they deemed of their followers. It was an ingenious system, which some of the Priors were even now using to create more ships to fight amongst themselves.

The last thing he had asked of the Doci was for a copy of the book of Origin. He'd given Stevenson his own copy and the Alterran had spent a good twenty minutes absorbing and processing the words. To his surprise, very little of it was false. However, it had been worded in such a way as to suffer many interpretations. The vagueness of the text was evidence upon first glance, but there was subtle wisdom in the pages if one knew how to read between the lines.

In fact, most of the book of Origin had been paraphrased from texts predating the Ori/Alterran split. They'd obviously rewrote the passages to their design, but the basics were the same. This more than anything else told Stevenson how to proceed.

Four hours after the Doci had sent his summons, the first of their massive ships arrived. Stevenson instructed him to land them on the plains surrounding the city. One to the north, one to the south, one to the east, and one to the west…all facing in. The rest of the ships would settle down in between them forming a great circle where all the Priors would gather.

During the time it took for the rest of the ships to arrive Stevenson did not allow himself to be seen. Apparently the Doci commanded enough respect to keep the factions subdued…enhanced by the fact that he had not issued a single order since his encounter with the Ark. When he had summoned all Priors and ships to Celestis in the name of the Orici, they had responded instinctively…but Stevenson could sense the tension boiling beneath the calmness.

He waited a full three days before choosing to reveal himself. At that point most of the Priors and ships had arrived, but not all. Stevenson couldn't wait for the others. He could feel the Doci's calm hold over the thousands of assembled Priors slipping and he knew it was time.

The Doci called for all Priors to assemble on the plain just north of the ruined city. They did as bidden and stood elbow to elbow, some visibly sneering at one another, but no physical disputes arose. They were all curious to hear what was happening.

There was a small empty space radiating around the Doci, who had his back to the rubble. He activated his mantelpiece, the central jewel glowed, and a ring of fire traced itself in a circle a few meters wide from the Doci…but it wasn't centered on him. Instead it was centered on the emptiness to his right. The fires burned brighter and higher, culminating in a two meter high blaze that obscured him from view.

When the flames diminished there were two individuals standing within the ring of fire…with Stevenson at the center.

He could both see and feel the reaction of the Priors when they saw his face. The Doci had been right, they all knew him on sight.

Nearly a third of all the Priors assembled fell to their knees in reverence. The others stood their ground…but completely at a loss. They didn't know what to do…or what to make of him.

"Rise," Stevenson said, amplifying his voice. When his order was followed he brought forth the book of Origin, opened it to the first page, and began to read.

"Hallowed are the Ori, for it is through their divine intent that man should be conceived and spread forth amongst the stars."

"Hallowed are they who offer their divine knowledge to those that would caste off the evil that seeks to corrupt them and walk the path of the righteous."

"Hallowed are they who offer their blessing to those who are righteous and faithful, and give forth their promise that all such believers shall join them in the fires of everlasting enlightenment."

Stevenson paused after those lines, then explained the meaning of them. He told them of their actual creation by the Ori and briefly explained the concept of 'ascension' before he continued onto the next bit of text.

He read and explained the first part of the book of Origin for the next eight hours. Not one of the Priors moved during that time. Not one of them spoke. They had questions, many questions, but they dared not ask…so Stevenson simply took them from their minds and answered as he went along. By the time Stevenson dismissed them for the rest of the day with instructions to eat, rest, and return in the morning not a one of them wanted to leave, but they did as bidden and dispersed to the assembled ships.

"Your wisdom is truly great, Orici," the Doci praised him. "Is there anything you require?"

"A room aboard one of the ships…and five hours of uninterrupted meditation."

"Come," he said, making sure to walk beside the Orici and not in front of him. Out beyond the ruins where the northernmost ship sat, a ring platform now rested on the ground. The Doci and Orici used it to enter the ship, where Stevenson was afforded every courtesy befitting his position.

"We will begin again at the rising of the sun," Stevenson told him from inside his chambers.

The Doci bowed. "We will be waiting," he said before telekinetically closing the doors.

Stevenson dropped onto the bed and flopped onto his back. The Priors had wanted to hear more of the real truth that the book of Origin held, and had been willing to remain for hours more but Stevenson couldn't. The Priors might have been accustomed to standing for hours on end, but the Alterran's physiology was still in flux and he'd felt his internal instability growing by the hour. He had to stop before it reached critical levels and threatened his cellular integrity.

The new Orici pulled his feet up off the floor and sat in a cross-legged position on the end of the bed, taking on a meditative pose. Objects from around the room, the heavier the better, flew up into a circling halo that split into three rotating circles that spun on radically different orbits. He reversed one and intersected the other two…then set about maintaining the manipulation, the more complex the better, as it slowly allowed his body to drain off the building stress and allow his forced evolutionary development to streamline into the efficiency required to sustain his life.


"What's going on?" Larrin asked when Daniel returned to the Tria without Stevenson.

"We have a new mission," Daniel told her.

"Great…what is it?" she asked spunkily.

"Back to Atlantis to pick up some supplies first, then to a secure facility in Avalona where Stevenson wants us to build him a new stargate then bring it back here."

"If you say so," she said, powering up the hyperspace engines. "Can you dial the supergate?"

"Yes," Daniel answered quickly.

Larrin closed her eyes. "Jumping to hyperspace."


The rings in the gate center activated and deposited Jackson in the darkness. As soon as the facility detected his Ancient gene the lights came on and the five stargates became visible in front of him. He turned around and saw the control tower less than two meters behind him.

"Ok…" Daniel said, mentally reviewing the steps Stevenson had given him to follow.

He turned and walked to his left. He quickly found the access door that led to the innards of the facility and the control tower above him. He ascended the stairs and accessed a specific terminal.

"Larrin, you should have tie-in control now."

"Got it," she said over the comm. "Transporting now."

Outside on the main floor a number of crates materialized from the Ancient's form of short range transport beams. Among the crates a number of figures started to move…replicators that Weir had sent along to handle the raw materials.

Now that they were here, Daniel went down to the lower levels of the facility. Level 13 specifically. It was here that the individual supplies were being fed into the machinery that would process them into the components of a new stargate…which one depended on his input in the control room.

This one was slightly smaller than the control tower lookout and was segmented into five areas. Daniel slid into the third station and activated the console. He scrolled through the diagnostics and watched as the necessary components were loaded into coffers. The increase in supply was monitored by three dozen bars that denoted the amount of available supplies. Apparently some material had already been present in the coffers, including some rare components that his list for Elizabeth hadn't contained.

While that happened Daniel pulled up the template for a high security yellow gate. The controls allowed for any number of modifications to the gate designs…all of which was well beyond Daniel's expertise. Fortunately, he didn't have to design a new gate, just copy an existing design. He input the standard yellow gate schematics into the machine and cued it to begin fabrication once sufficient material was available.

That happened some fifteen minutes later when the replicators were only half finished loading the supplies. Status boards throughout the control room glowed to life along with the manufacturing equipment that had built the original gate network.

Daniel found it odd that he should be here. The mystery of the origin of the stargates had been a constant throughout his time at the SGC…and now he was here, building one himself.

The estimated time of completion for the single gate was noted on his console…seven jolunes, which translated into about three hours. With time to spare Daniel thought he'd take the opportunity to explore the gate center…then thought better of it. Stevenson's instructions had provided him with the route to get to the control room on this level, but not anywhere else in the facility that was half the size of Atlantis. If he wasn't careful he could easily get lost, and since he didn't know the function of any of the equipment except that which he required to carry out this mission, Daniel decided to explore this level only and see the gate fabrication process up close.

He left the control room and walked out on the main floor. There were pathways constructed throughout the level in an erratic, web-like pattern that meandered between large, sealed machines on the inside of which most of the magic was happening.

Daniel heard the his of a force field activate behind him and he turned to see a small component float from one machine to another across the bluish/green energy conduit. A few moments later another followed in its path.

Intrigued, Daniel waited while the components did whatever they needed to do inside and looked for their exit from the device. As he was waiting another two such force fields activated between other machines and additional components were passed on, these looking like crystals and rods, whereas the first had resembled the grayish material that covered Avalona style stargates.

Of course it would be Avalona style, Daniel thought to himself. The Pegasus gates hadn't been built here.

Daniel followed the flow of components for a while, then noticed the first intersection of pieces. When they came out as one, they rode a slightly larger force field conduit and moved onto even larger processing machines. Slowly over the course of the three hours hundreds of different initial components were combined and augmented into what finally resembled a curved beam.

Nine pieces of this beam entered the largest processing station Daniel had seen yet, along with a number of other components from other directions…Daniel hadn't been able to follow them all, there were far too many. He sincerely hoped that everything was functioning as it should, because Stevenson hadn't given him the knowledge to troubleshoot any problems.

The nine beams that had entered the latest machine emerged in a large, lateral force field conduit, having been connected together into a large blank ring. For the first time Daniel could see the stargate taking shape as it slid into yet another large device.

When it exited this one the yellow chevrons had been added. The next added the inner ring of symbols. The following station didn't change anything as far as Daniel could see, so he assumed it was some internal modification. Two more such stations ended the fabrication process.

The finished gate floated out of the machine and into a vertical storage slot, held aloft entirely by energy fields. Daniel knew this was his cue, made ever more obvious by the entire line of machinery powering down.

He walked over to a wall-mounted control pad near the storage racks and input a select sequence. The gate tipped over and floated on a river-like suspension field that led to a vertical shaft of shimmering bluish/green light. When the gate reached this point it was carried upward through the levels where it would arrive on the main floor.

Daniel took the long route back up and met the hovering gate eye to eye in the center of the vast expanse of emptiness on which the five functioning stargates and the control tower rested. He wondered why there was such an abundance of space for a moment, then decided it was yet another mystery he'd discover later.

He walked up to the new gate, unaffected by the force field, and put his hand up against the metal…it was still warm, but not painfully so. He glanced up above the horizontal ring and saw yet another transport pylon hanging from the ceiling.

Daniel nodded to himself and hiked back up to the control tower. He signaled Larrin to stand ready to receive the transfer, then used the control room interface to transport the gate directly to the Tria's cargo hold. He followed a couple minutes later via the rings.

Once aboard, they ducked through the purple gate outside the gate center and took a short cut back to the supergate, where Daniel once again dialed the Ori device as Stevenson had instructed him. They slipped through without incident and set course back to Celestis.


"Ok," Daniel said as he looked over the Tria's sensor data. "I guess he really did get their attention."

"What do you want to do?" Larrin asked as they hid beneath the ship's cloaking device in geosynchronous orbit over the 27 grounded Ori motherships on the surface.

"He has a communicator with him, right?" Daniel asked.

Larrin nodded beside him, having abandoned the control chair. "He should."

"Wait a minute," Daniel said, thinking. "Send a text message via the intergalactic communicator saying that we're here. We don't want to interrupt him if he's in the middle of something."

"Good thinking," Larrin said, nodding to her bridge crew. "I hope he knows what he's doing. That's an awful lot of firepower down there."

"Yeah," Daniel said, mirroring her thoughts. "But as you well know, he can be very persuasive when he wants to be."

Larrin raised an eyebrow. "Is that some crack about the Travelers?"

Daniel looked at her calmly. "No, I don't think he uses his abilities to manipulate people into doing what he wants…well, not in a bad way, exactly. I think he uses his talents to clear a person's mind rather than bending it to his will."

"He can do that?" Larrin asked, concerned.

"Adria could," Daniel commented, then realized she had no idea what he was talking about. "The other Orici who led the Ori in their invasion of Avalona had similar abilities to Stevenson…one of them was the ability to warp a person's mind into doing whatever she wanted them to. I think Stevenson has the same type of telepathic ability, but he doesn't use it in the same way."

"But he could," Larrin pressed.

"I imagine he could do a lot of things if he wanted to," Daniel said evenly. "Just be thankful he's one of the good guys."

Larrin looked miffed. "I don't like people messing with my mind…or having that kind of power."

"I wouldn't worry about it too much," Daniel said sympathetically. "If he was the domineering type he wouldn't be giving us the ability to counteract his powers."

Larrin frowned. "What do you mean?"

Daniel looked directly at her. "When he transformed me into a Lantean he undercut his ability to affect my mind. I'm much stronger now that I used to be, both physically and mentally. I have no doubt he's stronger still, but if he was intent on brainwashing us to do his bidding he's going about it all the wrong way."

"That's assuming he hasn't already messed with your head," Larrin argued, but she saw his point.

"No, he hasn't. I'm more cleared headed now than I've ever been."

"Good for you, but that doesn't help me much. Suppose he gets a little lonely and wants some companionship for the night…not that I'd really mind, he's cute enough…but I don't like the idea that he can compel me to do whatever he wants on a whim."

"I'm not sure it works that way," Daniel argued. "From my experience this type of mental manipulation convinces you to voluntarily comply, sort of like an amped up version of peer pressure. He can't take direct control over you…" Daniel said as a stray thought struck him. The intergalactic communication device that the old Alterrans used had functioned in just that way. Could that have been an extension of their natural abilities? Daniel would have to ask him about that later.

"So he can only entice you…" Larrin said thoughtfully. "Hmmn, that seems fair enough."

"It does?" Daniel asked, surprised she would say that.

She raised a playful eyebrow. "I'm somewhat familiar with the concept of enticement."

"Right…" Daniel said, catching her meaning as the Tria received a response to their message.

"Larrin, he says to bring the ship down to the surface and deposit the gate inside the ruins of the city," her second in command read from his terminal.

The Captain of the Tria nodded then returned to the control chair. "With your permission?" she asked Daniel.

"Granted," he said, not realizing that she needed his permission. Then again, with him being a Lantean that probably put him higher up in the chain of command by default. "Lower the cloak," he ordered, not wanting to spook any of the Ori ships on the surface.

The Lantean ship broke through the heavy cloud cover directly over the city, exchanging its shadow for those of the clouds. In the center of the debris a large circle had been cleared away.

"Down there, I'd guess," Daniel said. "How low do we have to be to use the beams?"

"Very," she answered. "Right in front of those Ori guns."

"We'll be fine," Daniel reassured her. "Deposit the gate in the clearing. I'm taking a jumped down, unless I can go down on the beams?"

"You can, but I'm detecting several ring platforms…one for each ship, actually."

"I don't want to ring down inside a ship unannounced."

"No, I mean a ring platform outside each ship. I wasn't counting the ones inside."

"Outside? Really." Daniel commented. "Put me down nearest to the city."


Stevenson met up with Daniel on the ground as the Tria floated lazily overhead. No Priors, or any other people for that matter, were in sight. It was just the two of them on the plains.

"How's it going?" Daniel asked.

"It's done," Stevenson said. "I'm in charge now."

Daniel's jaw dropped. "That was fast."

"Any problems?"

Daniel shook his head. "Nope. Came off without a hitch…assuming that it actually works."

"It should once we get a power source hooked up. Now that the gate's here you're free to return to Atlantis. I, however, am going to have to spend most of my time here in the coming days."

"I understand," Daniel said warily, thinking that Stevenson might have bitten off more than he could chew.

"I'm going to need you and Elizabeth to keep things together until Teyla is ready."

"We'll do our best," Daniel assured him. "What about Sheppard? I thought he was your right hand man?"

"He will be, someday. But not yet. He still has some growing up to do."

"How so?" Daniel asked, curious.

"He still clings to others' impressions of himself. His father's, particularly. He treated Sheppard like a loser, and until he can clear his head of that nonsense he's not ready for an upgrade."

"He needs to release his burden," Daniel said, understanding. He'd had to face a similar situation with his wife after she'd died.

"I wouldn't put it in those words," Stevenson mildly corrected him, "but you're essentially correct."

Daniel glanced over his shoulder toward the spot where they'd deposited the gate. "How long until we hear from you?"

"I'll check in when we hook up the gate to the network. Probably no more than two weeks. After that I'll be able to travel back and forth when needed…and remember, the long range communications device won't work this far away. You'll have to send all messages through the gate."

"Got it. Any modifications we need to make on our end? Does Atlantis have enough power?"

"With a potentia and a gate of this size, yes. There are a few dialing modifications I'll need to make on Atlantis's end, but let me worry about that when I get back."

"Alright then," Daniel said, sensing it was time to go. "Good luck."

"And to you," Stevenson said, extending his hand. "Thanks."

"Whatever you need," Daniel said, walking back to the ring platform.

Stevenson let him go and walked toward his new stargate. He had a lot of work to do here in Destra before he could move on to phase two of his plan, but for now, at least, he was one step closer to rescuing the Asgard.


 

Vengeance

1

 

 

"Are you sure that goes straight to Dakara?" Sheppard asked as the gate in Atlantis's control room activated after the standard kawoosh.

Elizabeth smiled. "I'm sure. Stevenson modified the control crystal to allow any outgoing connection between galaxies…but you're still going to have to come back through the gate center."

"Right," Sheppard said, glancing at Ford. "You ready?"

"I was waiting on you," he said deadpan.

Sheppard smirked and looked back up off the gateroom floor to where Elizabeth was standing on the landing. "Be back in a few days."

"I hope so," Elizabeth snided. "I wouldn't want to have to bring Atlantis all the way to Earth to bust your ass out of jail."

Sheppard did a double take. "Be careful…I got it," he said, nudging Ford through the event horizon. He gave Elizabeth a small wave then followed him through.


They stepped out of the opposite gate looking into the barrels of half a dozen staff weapons and two fixed turrets.

"As you were," one of the guards said. The rest of the Jaffa lowered their weapons.

The Jaffa that spoke walked out from behind the gate guards and stood before Sheppard and Ford. "I bid you greetings on behalf of Lord Bra'tac."

Sheppard nodded. "Hello to you too."

"Hey," Ford quipped, "no tattoo?"

To his surprise the Jaffa smiled. "None that you may see, but it is there."

"Invisible tattoo..." Ford asked, "what's the point?"

"Excuse my friend," Sheppard said, jumping in, "he doesn't get out much. Now, I assume Bra'tac left word that we were coming?"

"He did, indeed," the Jaffa said. "He awaits you at the shipyard."

"Shipyard…sweet," Sheppard said, raising a hand. "Lead on."

The Jaffa nodded and swept his cape around in a long turn. "Follow me."

When he wasn't looking Sheppard elbowed Ford in the ribs. His friend gave him a 'what's that for' look then let it go. Both of them dropped into step behind the quickly moving Jaffa as he led them along a dirt path through the rubble-strewn landscape. After half a kilometer they came to a set of rings seemingly out of place from any nearby habitation.

The threesome stepped inside and the Jaffa pressed a sequence of buttons on his forearm gauntlet. The rings flashed up around them as usual, then deposited them in the middle of what looked like an Ancient city.

Small, but Ancient-style structures surrounded the three of them as the Jaffa continued his rapid pace away from the rings and along the smooth, almost polished meter-wide tiles that lined the city's streets. Ford and Sheppard had to jog a few steps to catch up.

"Wow," Ford said under his breath. "Kind of reminds me of Atlantis."

Sheppard cringed. "Not quite the Lantean architecture, but close."

"I thought the Alterra built Atlantis," Ford pointed out.

"True, but I imagine the Lanteans did at least some redecorating."

"Makes sense," Ford said as they passed a small contingent of guards being led by another tattoo-less Jaffa. "How long did you say this has been here?"

"Less than two years," Sheppard said, thoroughly impressed. "Ancients build fast."

As they turned a corner Ford's eyes went wide. "No kidding."

"You said it," Sheppard echoed as the buildings ended a few rows down and a vast plateau stretched out before them with six large, half constructed ships cradled in a mess of support struts and what looked like cranes…only they had glowy patches on them.

"Shipyard I guess," Ford said as the Jaffa turned around when he heard their footsteps stop.

"It is an impressive sight, even for those of us that see it every day," he said in agreement with their awe. "None the less, Lord Bra'tac must not be kept waiting. Come."

Sheppard and Ford kept up with him this time as he guided them down onto the plateau. As they came closer, they realized there were several smaller ships under construction alongside the larger ones…and off to the side was a promenade that two complete vessels were parked on.

"Are those our ride?" Ford asked.

The Jaffa nodded. "The first of the new Alket design. Only these two are complete, but as you can see many more are being built."

"And the big ones?" Sheppard asked.

"H'tel," the Jaffa answered. "Similar to the Goa'uld motherships of past days…only far more powerful."

"I'll bet," Sheppard said as they stopped outside a small spire on the edge of the promenade.

"Colonel Sheppard," a voice called out from the shadows of the spire. "Good. You have arrived," Bra'tac said, striding out to meet them.

"That we have," Sheppard said, taken slightly aback by the bold red tunic that the man wore. It stood out in stark contrast to his surroundings and the dress of the other Jaffa. Sheppard also noted the man's forearm jewelry…which was eerily similar to the style Stevenson wore.

"From what I was told, we are retrieving some of Atlantis's former crew, yes?"

Sheppard nodded. "A few more than planned actually. Dr. Weir has been given command of Atlantis and she added a few names to the list."

"How many?" Bra'tac demanded.

"Seven total," Sheppard told him.

Bra'tac nodded. "Do you know the location of said individuals on the planet?"

"Just one, but he should be able to help us find the rest."

"Very well," Bra'tac said, satisfied. "If nothing else, it should be an adequate test of the Alket's stealth abilities."

Sheppard raised an eyebrow. "You haven't tested it yet?"

"Through trials, yes. But this will be the first mission for the prototype."

"Sounds fun," Ford chimed in.

Sheppard glanced at him. "We're ready when you are."

"The crew is already aboard," Bra'tac said, walking forward. "We shall leave immediately."

"Sorry if we kept you waiting," Sheppard said, trying to keep in step with the energetic man.

"You did not," he said forcefully. "There is still much work to be done on the H'tels. Time was not wasted."

"Good to hear," Sheppard offered, struggling slightly to keep up with Bra'tac's pace.

"I hear you recently defeated three ships of the Tau'ri?" the Alterra asked.

Sheppard nodded slowly. "More Stevenson than us, but yeah."

"The Tria is a mighty warship," Bra'tac agreed. "I studied the design with great interest before designing the H'tel. It gives me great comfort to know that a single vessel can outmatch three of the upgraded Human vessels."

"A single Ancient ship?" Ford asked. "Or a single…H'tel?"

Bra'tac smiled. "Both," he said as they finally arrived on the deep paving stones of the promenade. When they did, a small gantry was extended from the side of the nearest Alket.

"Come," Bra'tac said, almost running up the narrow ramp.

Sheppard and Ford followed him inside, albeit a few seconds later.


"Time to arrival?" Nella asked.

Her fellow Aschen in the control chamber lightly tapped three buttons on the workstation before him.

"The bio-pods will arrive in 18 hours, 54 minutes," the second of the two mission commanders stated lethargically. "The command ship and elementals will arrive 23 and 27 minutes later, respectively."

"Any vessels within detection range?" Neela asked.

"None," Jarro reported. "It seems strange for the Earthers not to have at least some detection net set up around their world."

"By all recollection, they are a primitive race," Neela commented.

"A race which succeeded in destroying an entire star system," Jarro argued.

"A heavy price to pay, for sure," Neela countered calmly, "but the knowledge of the gate system unlocked serves as recompense."

"The two million Aschen who died would argue otherwise."

"As would I," Neela agreed, "but the past cannot be undone. Only the future preserved."

"But it can be avenged…"

Neela turned on him. "You have doubts?"

"I believe we are acting in haste. Sufficient thought has not been given to the matter."

"Normally I would agree, but these Earthers have escaped our grasp once. We cannot let them persist. Their continued existence would only serve to poison others."

"Two years is not sufficient time," Jarro continued to argue. "From all indications the Earthers have defeated a powerful enemy in the interim. They could not have done so with the technology they possessed at our last encounter. I fear we may be underestimating them."

"We shall soon see," Neela said, leaving the control chamber.

2

 

 

"Well, Honey, I don't really see anything."

McKay rolled his head back then turned to Jennifer. "For the millionth time will you please stop calling me that. It's embarrassing."

"Why?" she asked playfully. "I like calling you that."

"Well, for starters, there's no rational connection between the word 'honey,' me, and the bee juice."

Jennifer put her nose up against Rodney's cheek. "You're as sweet as honey…Honey."

"No, I'm not," he complained loudly, then lowered his voice. There were other people in the park.

"I'll admit, you are a bit sour at times…but you still have your golden moments."

"No," Rodney said, shaking his head sarcastically. "Now you, you're worthy of the name Honey. You even resemble the actress, can't think of her name."

"Actress?" Jennifer asked, confused.

"The Bond chick, in the first of the series. The good ones with Sean Connery, not the crappy knockoffs nowadays."

Jennifer eyed him. "So I'm a 'Bond girl' huh?"

"Every bit," Rodney mocked, squeezing her hand tighter. "Now. It should be around here somewhere."

"I don't see a bent tree," Jennifer remarked, once again serious.

"Maybe it's on the other side of the creek," Rodney suggested. "There's a bridge over there."

"Okay," Jennifer said, walking hand in hand with him while holding the strap of her backpack across her shoulder with the other.

"Ah, see. I told you," Rodney said, pointing to a particular tree. "He said he'd meet us here."

"Must be early," Jennifer said, stopping on the bridge.

"No, no, we had a deal," Rodney said, letting go of her hand and continuing to walk forward. He looked right and left, behind some bushes, and then across a low wall. "He said 2:17 pm."

Jennifer frowned. "Why 2:17 and not 2:20…or 2:30?"

"That way," Sheppard said, standing up from his sitting position on the opposite side of the tree, "you get here at 2:17 exactly to find out why."

"John," Jennifer said, smiling. "It's good to see you."

"Likewise," he said, shaking hands with McKay. "You both coming?"

"Yeah," Rodney said, "I finally talked her into it."

"Really? I didn't think techno-babble worked on her," he said sarcastically.

"Actually, he was very convincing," Jennifer said, once again taking Rodney's hand. "And we made something of a deal out of it."

"What kind of a deal?" Sheppard asked, looking at McKay.

Rodney smiled and held up his other hand…with a ring on it.

Sheppard's jaw dropped. "How did a geek like you ever get a blonde like her to marry you?"

"Hey," McKay protested. "I do have feelings, you know?"

Jennifer squeezed his hand again. "He's just teasing. We all know you do…Honey."

McKay squeezed his eyes shut for a moment. "Is everything set?"

Sheppard nodded. "Just one small snag."

"What kind of snag?" McKay asked.

"Elizabeth has been given command of Atlantis and she wanted me to track down a few other people while I'm here..."

"And you need me to help you find them," Rodney guessed.

Sheppard shrugged. "You're the computer geek."

"Enough with the 'geek' thing already. Who's on your list?"

Sheppard smiled and pulled out a piece of paper and handed it to McKay. He read through the six names and visibly slumped.

"You've got to be kidding me."

Sheppard's smile widened. "Nope. That's who she wants."

"Ah, alright. Let me get to a computer with network access and I'll track'em down. I hope you have a way of getting to them?"

"Not a problem. Where do you need to go for the computer?"

"Area 51. It's about an hour drive by car…then figure twenty minutes to get through security, another five to find the whereabouts of the…individuals on your list, then another fifteen on the way out."

"I think we can do better than that," Sheppard said, glancing around. He pulled his sleeve up and touched a button on the wristband he wore. "Three to beam up."

McKay frowned. "Since when do Ancient ships have beaming…"

Three white flashes later and they were in orbit.


"You're serious?" Zelenka said after Sheppard explained his mission.

"Completely," John said, leaning against the door of Zelenka's university office.

"Well, I can't just abandon my work on the drop of a hat. I have ongoing research projects…"

"None that compare to Atlantis," Sheppard interrupted. "That was your research project until you got yanked off it by the I.O.A….just think of it as resuming your work."

Zelenka smiled appreciatively. "I think it's a bit more complex than that, Colonel…or, whatever your rank is now."

"Colonel's fine."

"Well, Colonel, what you're asking me to do is…frankly, illegal."

Sheppard considered that. "Maybe here on Earth…but that's not really saying much in the grand scheme of things, is it?"

"True, the Ancients did build Atlantis," Zelenka offered, "and from a certain point of view their retaking it isn't illegal so much as reclaiming their property…especially considering this isn't the first time it's happened…but the fact remains that I'd never be able to return to Earth as anything other than a criminal. While that might not mean anything in Pegasus, I still consider myself to be an Earthling. I don't want to be a rebel."

"How important can a planet be when they don't even have a proper name for themselves," Sheppard argued. "Earthling is so…1920s"

"You may have a point there, and as much as I appreciate Dr. Weir's confidence in me…not to overlook that fact that she's still alive and I would much like to see her again…I'm sorry, I can't accept your offer."

Sheppard nodded, a bit sarcastically. "I understand. Lorne said the same thing. I appreciate your honesty…and I want you to know, that given your loyalties to Earth, this is actually for your benefit and nothing personal on my part."

Zelenka frowned. "What is?"

"This," Sheppard said, pulling out an Ancient stunner. He shot Zelenka at point blank range and caught his body before it could fall to the floor.

"Three down, three to go."


Laura was sitting in her apartment, sucking down a pint of mint chocolate chip ice cream while watching 'Dancing with the Stars' when her door buzzer rang.

"Who is it?" she asked, setting down her snack and walking to the door.

She looked through the peep hole and did a double take. No way.

She pulled open the door to the sight of Sheppard standing outside. "Hello, Lieutenant."

"Colonel Sheppard? What are you doing here? I heard you'd been sent to prison."

"Almost," he said, glancing around. "Mind if I come in."

"Sure," Cadman said warily. "You're not in some kind of trouble. Are you?"

"Only if I'm caught," Sheppard joked. "No, actually I'm here to offer you a ticket back to Atlantis."

"Come again?"

"How about you start with what you know," Sheppard said, sitting down on her couch.

"I.O.A. pulled the plug on the expedition," she said, plopping down next to him. "You went merc and they arrested you."

"That it?"

"Yeah."

"Long story short…that head sucker thing O'Neill ran into, twice, worked on a guy named Ryan Stevenson and turned him into an Ancient."

Cadman shook her head. "Don't know him. Wait a minute, you said it turned him into an Ancient?"

"Oh yeah, and he's been busy ever since."

"Doing what?"

"Rebuilding their civilization."

Cadman blinked twice. "Is this a joke?"

"Nope."

"An Ancient…a real, live, Ancient is rebuilding their civilization."

Sheppard nodded slowly. "We're based out of Atlantis, but he already has ops going on in several galaxies. Point is, we need good people to join us. Dr. Weir recommended you and…"

"I thought Weir was dead?" she interrupted.

"Well, she did have something of a rough spell, being turned into a replicator and all, but she's back in a human body now. Another long story."

"I'll bet," Cadman said, taking it all in. "And she wants me?"

"You were on her short list, yes."

"What about this Ancient…isn't he in charge."

Sheppard cringed. "Technically they're both Ancients…Stevenson transformed Weir into a Lantean not too long ago."

Cadman looked at him coyly. "This just keeps getting better."

"I know it's confusing, but it all makes sense…eventually."

"Hypothetically speaking, if I said yes, how would we get there. I doubt they're going to let you use the stargate, seeing as how you're a criminal and all."

"We don't need the gate. We have a ship in orbit."

"A ship?"

"A cloaked ship…with beaming technology. Say the word and we can be up there in ten seconds."

"Well, looks like you've got all your bases covered."

"What do you say, Lieutenant? Care to blow this joint?"

Cadman smiled. "Actually it's Major now…and what the hell, I've been bored ever since I got back."

Sheppard smiled widely. "I had a feeling…"

"What…that I'm as much of an adrenaline junky as you?"

"Something like that."

"Should I pack first?"

"If you have any sentimental items sure, but Atlantis can supply you with whatever else you need when you get there."

"Cool," she said, grabbing a book off her kitchen counter. "I'm good."

Sheppard smiled/laughed. "Nice to have a kindred spirit," he said, keying his comm again. "Two this time," he said, quickly followed by a blur of white.

Cadman looked around the inside of the Alket, caught a glance of McKay and gave him a small wave.

"Oh goodie," Rodney said under his breath as he went back to work on the laptop he'd brought with him.


"You did what?" Carson complained.

"Don't look surprised."

"I know I shouldn't be," Dr. Beckett said, leaning back in his desk chair. "But you'll forgive me if I have a hard time imagining Earth as the enemy."

"I don't like it much either," Sheppard said, sitting in a chair across Beckett's desk, "but the fact is, Earth is going darkside."

"Are you sure there isn't some mistake?" Carson pleaded. "Brainwashing and killing people while attempting to gain access to the knowledge of the Ancients is…"

"Evil," Sheppard offered.

"Aye," Carson said reluctantly. "Hasn't General O'Neill done anything about it?"

Sheppard shrugged. "Don't know if he even knows, but the fact is they were doing it until we stopped them, and planned on using me if they ever caught me."

"To be perfectly honest, I have heard some…unsavory…rumors coming out of the SGC, but I didn't give them serious thought. It's a proven fact that people have a knack for distorting the truth through gossip. I didn't imagine the rumors would have understated the situation."

"So, bottom line," Sheppard said, leaning forward, "can you live with the knowledge that you're helping the bad guys?"

"Actually, most of my work is in this private practice, Colonel. Only on occasion do I do any work for the SGC."

"You didn't answer my question, Carson."

Dr. Beckett sighed. "If I did, I wouldn't be much of a doctor then, would I?"

"Then you'll come?"

"Aye. It'll be good to see the others again, especially Elizabeth. I just need to wrap up a few things here."

"How long?" Sheppard asked.

"Oh, it shouldn't take too long. Two weeks, tops."

Sheppard laughed. "I can give you two hours…"

Carson frowned. "What's the rush?"

"The longer we're here the greater the risk of us being found out…especially when key personnel start disappearing."

"Well, I suppose I could leave a list of instructions for Dr. Herreman. That would cover most of my patients…"

"Good. Start typing," Sheppard said, standing up.

"Hold on a minute. It's not that simple. I'm due in surgery in five hours. I can't skip that."

Sheppard chewed his lip. "Tell you what. I'll get the other people on my list then come back for you after the surgery tonight."

Carson nodded. "That could work. Where do you want to meet?"

"Right here."

"Alright. It'll be a bit of a juggling act, but I think I can pull it off."

"Be back around…eight tonight?" Sheppard asked.

Carson nodded. "That'll work."

Sheppard smiled. "Good to have you back."

Carson returned the smile. "Aye. Now get going. I have a lot of work to do before tonight."

Sheppard turned to walk out, then hesitated. "You're not going to call the SGC on me, are you?"

"Perish the thought," Carson joked.

"Just checking," Sheppard said, almost convinced. He'd be careful, just in case. "See you at eight."


"We have a problem," McKay told Sheppard once he was back onboard the Alket.

"What?"

"Novak is currently serving aboard the Phoenix."

"I thought you said she was at the SGC?"

"Yeah, well I did some double checking with the data link Bra'tac set up and she's been assigned to the ship for a four day systems diagnostic."

"Great," Sheppard complained. "Don't suppose the ship's sensors can detect hiccups?"

"Hiccups?" Rodney asked.

"Novak has persistent hiccups," Sheppard explained.

Rodney snapped his fingers three times. "You've just given me an idea."


There were three of them in the engine room, pulling a manual diagnostic of the hyperspace engines while running multiple simulations on the ship's computer. They were trying to identify any flaws that might have allowed the Lantean ship to disable the hyperdrives on all three of their 304s. According to the mission reports, the hyperdrives had not only been disengaged while in flight, but they had been damaged in the process.

If the rebels in Atlantis had this capability, then it was likely that another confrontation would yield similar results…hence this recent project to identify the means by which they had disabled the engines and create a defense against it.

Novak sat at her terminal running through lines of diagnostic code when the officer next to her disappeared in a flash of light.

"What was that?" Major Brigson asked.

"I don't know," Novak said, frowning. Suddenly the Captain reappeared…then the Major vanished.

"What the hell?" she swore.

A moment later the Major reappeared, then Novak disappeared in a wash of white light and suddenly found herself in another room.

"Finally," Sheppard said.

"Uh…what just happened?" Novak asked, looking around.

"We're kidnapping you," Sheppard explained pithily.

Novak's eyes went wide. "Kidnapping me?"

"Relax," Sheppard assured her. "Worst case scenario you end up with a two week vacation to the Pegasus galaxy."

"And the best case scenario?" Novak asked cautiously.

Sheppard smiled. "One hell of a promotion."

"I don't understand," Novak said, shaking her head.

Sheppard waved her off. "Just go along for the ride. You'll catch on." He turned to the Jaffa at the beaming controls. "Next."


Five hours later, after 'retrieving' Simpson from the UK, Sheppard beamed back onboard with Carson and three suitcases.

"For crying out loud, Carson," McKay complained, "what did you pack?"

"Just a few essentials," Carson said. "Nice to see you too, by the way."

"Hello, Carson," Jennifer said from Rodney's side.

"Dr. Keller. I didn't expect to see you here?"

"Actually," Jennifer said, smiling, "it's Dr. McKay now."

"Really," Carson said, smiling. "Congratulations you two."

"Thanks," Rodney said amicably.

"Don't get too excited," Sheppard interrupted. "Once we reach Pegasus your marriage is null and void."

"What?" Jennifer asked, horrified.

"What are you talking about?" Rodney echoed.

Sheppard stepped forward and clapped Rodney on the shoulder. "The Ancients don't recognize marriage."

Rodney's eyes went wide. "They don't?"

"So," Sheppard continued. "Enjoy your few remaining hours of wedded bliss," he said, winking at Keller before walking off.

Both Rodney and Jennifer exchanged glances, stunned.

"Was he serious?" she asked.

"Beats me," Rodney said. "Just my luck…I finally get the perfect girl, future is looking good, then the other shoe drops."

Jennifer grabbed his arm tightly. "You're not losing me."

"Who am I kidding," Rodney whined. "Marriage was my only hope of keeping you. Eventually I'll annoy you to frustration and you'll move on to someone less irritating."

Jennifer frowned. "So, you were planning on keeping me prisoner?"

"Pretty much," Rodney admitted.

She smiled seductively. "Kinky."

Rodney had to laugh at that. "Stop. My side. You're killing me."

"Marriage or not," Jennifer said seriously. "We'll beat the odds."

"You think?"

"Definitely," she said, kissing him on the cheek.

"Hmmm," Rodney said, thinking. "Maybe Sheppard was joking. He does that you know."

"Doesn't matter," Jennifer said, kissing him again.

"Doesn't matter," Rodney echoed.


"Ok," Sheppard said, walking onto the bridge of the Alket. "Everyone's aboard. We can leave now."

Bra'tac nodded. "Helm, set course for Dakara."

The Jaffa at the controls frowned as his console began to light up. "My Lord, sensors have detected a ship entering the system."

Bra'tac frowned. All three of the Tau'ri ships were currently in orbit.

"Show me," he ordered.

A holographic map of Earth, Luna, and their orbital paths materialized in front of Bra'tac's command chair. Outside of Luna's orbit a new contact had emerged…one of unfamiliar design.

"What's that?" Sheppard asked.

Bra'tac slowly shook his head. "I know not," he said as multiple contacts splintered off from the ship and headed rapidly toward the planet.

"Sensor focus," Bra'tac ordered quickly.

The Jaffa knew what he meant and did an in-depth sensor scan on one of the objects. A small obloid shape materialized in a fuzzy hologram.

"Is that the best you can do?" Sheppard asked.

"We would have to drop our cloak for better results," the Jaffa answered him in English.

"Do so," Bra'tac said, standing. "And move us on an intercept course with those objects."

"What?" Sheppard asked seriously.

"A hunch," the Alterra answered as the fuzzy image clarified.

"My Lord, sensors indicate…"

"…biological weapons," Bra'tac finished, reading the Ancient script attached to the hologram. "Full speed. We must intercept those weapons before they reach the planet's atmosphere."

Sheppard frowned. "Are Earth's ships moving?"

"No," the Jaffa answered as he accelerated the Alket on a new heading.

"Open communications with the Tau'ri ships," Bra'tac ordered.

The Jaffa touched a few controls then nodded.

"Vessels of the Tau'ri," Bra'tac said quickly, but formally. "A number of biological weapons approach your planet. You must destroy them…now!"


 

3

 

 

"The weapons are diverging," the Jaffa at the helm controls noted, unsure which to pursue.

"There," Bra'tac declared, pointing at the farthest of them. "Move us to intercept this one. We will then circle around and target these," he said, pointing at a cluster of four others.

The Jaffa nodded his understanding and realigned their trajectory.

"Power all weapons," Bra'tac ordered.

Another Jaffa who had been sitting silently off to the side stepped forward and touched a small symbol on a pedestal in the center of the bridge, directly in front of Bra'tac's command chair.

A targeting station rose from within the floor and the Jaffa took position behind it, alongside the pilot. Meanwhile Bra'tac used his chair controls to manipulate the hologram before him so he could better appraise the situation. The nearest of the Tau'ri ships was slowly moving to intercept range, but the other had yet to move.

Bra'tac utilized the mental interface built into the chair and had the ship's computer extrapolate the weapons' targets…apparently they had been designed to track towards land, for their trajectories had them all missing the planet's massive oceans and tracking directly for the seven continents.


The Sun Tzu decelerated and held its ground against the first of the projectiles…one that was tracking directly towards Southeast Asia. A hail of rail gun fire blossomed from the 304 at extreme range and continued as the yellow projectiles missed badly for nearly thirty seconds before the bio weapon closed within two and a half kilometers. The heavy rounds shattered the central casing, spilling the apparently liquid weapon into the cold of space.

It froze instantly in a malformed glob…until another metallic round shattered the deadly ice into a multitude of fragments along with shards of the weapon's casing. As soon as it was destroyed, the Sun Tzu accelerated at maximum thrust to intercept the path of the next closest projectile, but it already had a significant lead on the Chinese ship.


Meanwhile the Kerensky opted for a head first charge toward a cluster of three of the weapons. The Russian ship didn't opt to wait in low orbit and give the weapons free distance towards Earth. It opened up with its beam weapons at range and succeeded in destroying one of the weapons after two dozen attempts.

The other two weapons closed fast, and the Kerensky added its rail guns to the beam weapons, as well as deploying a pair of 302s that fell back from the rapidly accelerating ship, then dropped even closer towards the planet as a second line of defense.

The two remaining bio weapons altered course and split widely, obviously some type of preprogrammed defensive maneuver, and the Russians had to make a quick choice which to follow…and failed to do so. By the time they chose a weapon to track they were too far behind and had to settle for a long loop that brought them around on a pursuit course towards Earth…with their excess weapons fire headed down to the planet's surface.

A small missile impacted the side of one of the weapons as they neared the atmosphere, courtesy of the 302s, and knocked it off course. The tiny fighters pounced on it with more missile and their pathetic energy weapons, but they did finally succeed in breaking the case that held the weapon and destroyed its guidance systems. With any luck the now ballistic debris would burn up upon reentry…which would begin in twenty seconds.

The third projectile was out of range of the Russians' weapons though many rail gun rounds flashed by, their targeting system useless at this range. The bio weapon dropped into the upper atmosphere and a reentry shield activated in front of the rectangular device. It was powered by the heat of friction, and grew stronger the deeper it delved into the thick atmosphere on its way down towards Greenland.


The Phoenix chose a similar attack profile to the Russians…they headed out at full speed to intercept the weapons before they could get too close to Earth…but the delay they'd suffered in recognizing the weapons for what they were put them in position to destroy only a handful of them. Fortunately the unidentified ship that had sent them the warning had got a good jump on weapons and had intercepted them further out where they had been clustered closer together.

Five projectiles approached the Americas...the Phoenix targeted two that were still relatively close together as it wheeled around and moved against their future position laterally rather than wait for them to pass by and force them to play catch up later. Rail guns fired like an oversized version of a chain gun across the path of the weapons as the ship also launched a dozen missiles, hoping that they would be able to overtake the speed of the bio weapons…they could not, and lagged behind uselessly as the pair of projectiles sped past at amazing speed.

The Phoenix dropped in behind them and fought to catch up. The weapons appeared to be ballistic and not accelerating, so the American ship still had a chance. It reached out with its beam weapons towards the leftmost of the two, firing frantically to hit the tiny dot on their forward screens. They fired round after round, with the missed lances penetrating the upper atmosphere and landing who knows where…if the beam cohesion held. Hopefully it wouldn't.

A luck strike took out the targeted weapon and the Phoenix angled towards the second as it quickly gained ground…but the weapon slipped into the upper atmosphere and began its fiery descent towards Canada.

As if angered to the point of madness, the 304 slammed into the atmosphere, punching such a wide hole into the gaseous layers around the planet that for a moment it appeared as if there was a second sun in the sky overhead. The fireball was so intense preceding the forward shields of the ship that none of her weapons could fire forward…but fortunately they didn't have to. The ship/meteor passed within 300 meters of the bio weapon halfway through its descent and vaporized it in the inferno mushrooming around the Phoenix.

The American craft then redirected its course through a painful upward loop, bottoming out less than 10 kilometers above Hudson Bay before pulling back spaceward with negligible shield strength remaining. It quickly confirmed an additional kill by their 302s, launched at the outset of the engagement, but the other two weapons had made it to the surface.


"Where did they hit?" Sheppard asked as he stood beside Bra'tac. They'd managed to destroy twenty seven of the weapons…but four had slipped past Earth's lethargic defenders. Had they been on the ball they could have stopped them all.

A hologram of the planet appeared with four points of impact marked… Antarctica…Greenland…Mexico…Brazil.

"I'd better get Beckett up here," Sheppard said, running off the bridge.

"Where is the launching device?" Bra'tac asked snappily. He did not appreciate failure.

A sensor image of the now empty launcher drifted outside of Luna's orbit with no signs of activity.

"Take us there," Bra'tac said, once again sitting down. "Perhaps it will give us a clue as to the identity of the attackers."

"Yes, my Lord," the pilot said softly. He too realized the price of failure. The Tau'ri homeworld was now contaminated. With what they didn't know, but they all knew the symbiot-less humans would have little defense against a biological weapon.


"What the hell is going on up there?" Rodney demanded as Sheppard ran into view. "That sounded like weapons fire."

"It was," Sheppard said, settling down. "Carson, we need your help…you too, Jennifer."

"What is it?" Beckett asked.

"Earth was just attacked with dozens of bio weapons…four got through our defenses."

"Dear god," Carson said under his breath as he walked toward Sheppard and the door that led to the bridge.

"Who was it?" Rodney said, jogging to catch up with them. Jennifer lagged behind him a step, followed by a silent Ford. Novak stayed behind with the unconscious personnel, hiccups evident.

"They didn't exactly leave a calling card, Rodney," Sheppard said, irritated. "This ship…thing just dropped out of hyperspace and launched missiles at the planet."

"What are we going to do?" Rodney asked panickly.

Sheppard just shook his head and hurried after Carson.


Bra'tac stared at the inert bio launcher drifting lazily 100 meters ahead of the Alket. The technology was unfamiliar to him and there seemed to be no bridge or control facility on the craft to board. It was merely a hyperdrive-equipped weapons platform.

"You still say it is unfamiliar to you?" Bra'tac asked Sheppard and the other humans with him.

"You've already asked me that twice," Sheppard protested. "What makes you think I'll change my mind?"

"Because," Bra'tac said as he stood up almost within the hologram of Luna, "whoever they are, they are an enemy of the Tau'ri. It reasons that you must have come into contact with them somewhere."

"He's right," Ford interrupted. "Nobody comes all this way to kill a planet full of strangers. They must have some beef with us. Think."

Sheppard threw up his hands in disgust. "Rodney?"

"Why do I always get to be answer man?" he said, getting glares in response. "Ok, let's start with the obvious. The Goa'uld."

Bra'tac shook his head. "This weapon is not of Goa'uld design…nor is it of the Jaffa."

"Ok, scratch the most obvious two," Rodney said, thinking. "Is it some form of Ancient tech?"

"No," Bra'tac said firmly.

Rodney nodded. "Ok…Ori?"

"I thought we were friends now?" Jennifer interrupted.

"My Lord, a vessel of the Tau'ri approaches…it hails us."

"Allow them communication," Bra'tac said, turning to a wall display on his left. A flat hologram appeared an inch off the wall.

"Unidentified vessel," Colonel Ronson's image demanded, "please state your purpose here and any information you have concerning this attack."

"I am Bra'tac of the Alterra, first System Lord of the Jaffa. We came here on private business with individuals from your planet. Our presence here is coincidental with this attack. We know nothing of it, save for that which both of us saw."

"Your mission here aside," Ronson continued, "you have our thanks. Had you not been here we would have been caught unawares."

"Four weapons penetrated our combined defenses," Bra'tac said stiffly. "Had you moved more quickly, they all could have been intercepted."

Ronson's chin came up slightly. "Your warning occurred before our sensors detected the weapons. We could not have moved faster than we did. As it is, I do not know how you knew before we did."

Bra'tac nodded his head in reluctant understanding. "This vessel has been constructed of Ancient technology, including the craft's sensors…but still, we know nothing of this weapon's origin. Is the design familiar to you?"

Ronson nodded. "We've got our people mulling over the sensor data. Right now we don't have a lead on where it came from, but I'm confident we'll come up with something."

"Very well," Bra'tac said, unconvinced. "What of the devices that struck your planet."

Ronson's jaw flexed. "We don't know anything yet, but any assistance the Jaffa could provide would be welcomed."

"A sample of the weapon would be useful."

"You're referring to the pathogen itself?"

"Yes," Bra'tac confirmed as his pilot stirred again. "What is it?" he asked, turning away from Colonel Ronson's image.

"A ship has appeared on the extreme edge of the star system…beyond the orbit of 17th planet."

"Stand by," Bra'tac said to Ronson as he adjusted the hologram. A small sensor image enlarged to show a large vessel, half again the size of a 304. It, like the bio launcher, was adorned with smooth blue/white aesthetics.


The base alarm sounded in the middle of breakfast in the commissary for SG-1…followed quickly by Landry's voice over the base-wide intercom. "Colonel Carter, report to the gateroom ASAP. We have a situation."

Sam frowned. "I wonder what's going on," she said, getting up from her tray.

"One way to find out," Mitchell said, jumping out of his seat a step ahead of her. The rest of SG-1 followed on their heels.


"What's going on, sir?" Sam asked as she ran up the steps into the control room.

"Earth is under attack," Landry stated calmly, pointing at the numerous displays around the control room. Most of them showed relayed images of the bio weapons, the launcher, and the ship sitting on the edge of the system. "They snuck four of these bio weapons past our defenses. Our 304s and a Jaffa vessel destroyed the rest…then this beastie showed up."

"Who are they?" Mitchell asked.

"We don't know," Landry said, looking at the static images and then Carter. "By any chance are these things Pegasus related?"

Sam looked quizzically at the images, then a thought struck her. She turned to Teal'c and found a similar expression on his face…one of grave concern. He nodded once.

"No, sir," Sam answered as a chill ran through her bones, "but we have encountered them before. They call themselves the Aschen."


"My Lord, another vessel has dropped out of hyperspace," the pilot announced, displaying a visual of a large block less than 1,000 kilometers away. "It is…breaking apart."

Bra'tac glanced between the visual at the front of the bridge and the tactical display before him. The 'block' was pulling itself apart into flat segments…some 180 total. Each piece was showing shields, engines, and a single weapon mount.

"Colonel," Bra'tac said, glancing to his left. "I suggest you prepare for battle."

"Can we count on your support?" Ronson asked.

"You can."

"Much appreciated," the Colonel said before breaking communications.

"What are they?" Sheppard asked.

"Fighters?" Ford asked.

Bra'tac shook his head. "No, they are too large…and there are no lifeform readings."

"Well whatever they are," Rodney interrupted, "they're coming right for us!"

"Move us away from the Tau'ri," Bra'tac ordered. "Lateral acceleration, then sweep back across their path. Use our speed against them."

The view of the approaching 'slices' disappeared as the Jaffa wheeled the Alket to starboard and accelerated at full thrust.


 

4

 

 

"The elementals have engaged the enemy," Jarro reported needlessly. The hologram showed the battle in great detail.

A blue lance lept out from one of the Earth vessels, impacted the flat side of one of the elementals…and utterly destroyed it.

Nella blinked in surprise. "Their weaponry is impressive," she said as more of the block-like elementals swarmed around the four alien ships. Most were moving too fast to target accurately, but the Aschen commander saw two more winged by the blue plasma and subsequently explode.

"As are their shields," Jarro added, studying the telemetry the elementals were relaying back to their command ship. "Their shield matrix is quite complex, far more so that whatever they have powering it."

"Pull back," Nella ordered.

Jarro typed a quick series of commands into his console and the elementals responded immediately, breaking free of the engagement and fleeing Earth orbit towards a rendezvous position near to the second planet's orbital zone.

"What have you got?" Nella asked.

"The computer estimates that five elementals are necessary to defend against their primary weapons…two for their lesser."

"Maneuverability?"

"We will retain the advantage over their three larger ships, but we will be at a disadvantage to their fourth. Smaller as it may be, it appears to be constructed of more advanced technology. We have little data on its shields, the elementals had a hard time targeting it."

"Countermeasures?"

Jarro inclined his head in thought. "Possibly, but a simpler explanation would be its narrow profile coupled with mobile attack patterns."

"Similar to our own," Nella said. "How do its weapons compare?"

"Inferior in power to the others, but with a much higher firing rate. It is possible that we are looking at a prototype craft…or an ally."

"That complicates things. How many elementals do we have left?"

"One hundred sixty four from the first wave," Jarro reported.

"Engage twenty clusters of five. The remainder will remain in singles to keep their smaller ship occupied. All ships will maintain mobile attack patterns."

"What of the others?"

"Patience, Jarro. We need a complete assessment of their capabilities before we commit the bulk of our forces."

"I agree, but have you considered the possibility that they might have summoned reinforcements from elsewhere?"

"That is always a possibility," Nella reprimanded him. "Regardless, we will proceed according to protocol. Once the elementals reconfigure have them execute a micro jump into attack position."

Jarro nodded and began imputing the necessary commands.


"This is weird," Sheppard said as the attackers retreated just as the battle began.

"I agree," Bra'tac said, rubbing his chin. "Be on guard. I do not believe they have given up yet."

"What are those things?" Ford asked.

"Whatever they are," Rodney answered, "the Asgard beam weapons on the 304s cut them to ribbons."

"You think that's why they pulled back?" Ford asked.

"Not that I'm a military strategist," Rodney said irreverently, "but yeah, I'd say that's a distinct possibility."

"You know, I think I liked it better when you were a galaxy away," Ford told him.

"Oh yeah, then why'd you come?"

"To see my Grandma and Grandpa," Ford told him.

"Really? You didn't strike me as the sentimental type."

Ford shook his head dismissively. "I was crazy for not shooting you when I had an excuse."

"Enough!" Sheppard interrupted. "We've got bigger things to worry about."

"Indeed," Bra'tac echoed as he pointed at a specific point on the hologram. During the battle a number of vessels had appeared alongside the command ship outside the system…there were 26 of them, and they appeared to have the same dimensions as the original block that split up into the pieces that had attacked them."

"Oh, that's not good," Rodney said quietly.

"Aye," Carson echoed, "but you're forgetting the bio weapons already on the planet. Unless you get me…us, to some sort of medical facility, we're not going to be of any use up here."

"That will have to wait," Bra'tac said as the blocks disappeared from Venus orbit and suddenly were upon them again. The pilot of the Alket accelerated the ship to attack speed.

"Here we go again," Sheppard said, putting one hand on a bulkhead for support. The forward viewport swung around on the tail of what looked like several blocks stuck together. Four golden globs of plasma lept out from the Jaffa ship and impacted its rear shields just as an Asgard beam struck it from the other side.

The blocks' shields held…and their five beams targeted the Kerensky simultaneously in response.

Likewise the Asgard shields on the 304 held, which began a brief slugging match between the two ships. Two more, nearly simultaneous beams from the Kerensky succeeded in destroying the multi-craft, but the Russian ship was under attack from seven more of them plus several of the individual units.

Two quick blasts hit the Alket's shields as the Jaffa vessel swung around behind the Kerensky and targeted one of the multi-crafts attacking the Phoenix. As they did, a dozen more individuals tracked toward the Alket, lighting up the Ancient shields and the space around them with their brief, yet elongated energy blasts.

"They have adapted their attack," Bra'tac commented as the pilot swung the ship to and fro, trying to shake off their pursuit. "That first engagement was merely a test of our abilities."

"If we can just keep from getting blown out of the sky," Sheppard said, grabbing Jennifer by the arm as she started to fall due to an extreme turn to port, "the 304s look like they can handle them."

Bra'tac inquired the Alket's battle computer for the status of the allied vessels and received holographic stats around the ships. A thin bar above each ship indicated their shield strength…all of them were below 50%."

Another of the multi-craft exploded under the Phoenix's guns and Bra'tac did a quick assessment of the battlefield. There were 16 of the multi-craft left, 54 of the singles, and rapidly depleting shields on the Tau'ri ships. Even the Alket's shields had been diminished by 25%, and given the kill rate they were managing it was going to be a close call as to who was going to come out of this conflict as the victor.

Three of the multi-craft coordinated their attack on the Sun Tzu and fired their enhanced beams at a single point on the 304s shields. The Asgard designed matrix absorbed most of the energy, but the beams lasted long enough to overload that particular square meter of the energy field and allowed the last wisp of their weapons to hit the hull.

A small explosion mushroomed out from the port side of the ship as the hole in the shields resealed itself almost instantaneously. Two crewmen, however, were in that particular section of the ship and died from decompression before emergency bulkheads snapped into place behind them, preserving the rest of the ship's internal atmosphere.

Bra'tac took note of the damage and the alarming fact that by combining their craft together they had increased the power of their shields and weapons beyond the expected cumulative effect. He suspected it had to do with the internal blocks being retasked to 'generator mode' while the outer ones used the energy provided to enhance their shields and weapons.

If that were true, then any more combinations of blocks would result in even more firepower and tougher shields. In the pit of his stomach he got the feeling that whoever this enemy was, they were playing with the Tau'ri and had yet to show their true strength.

Another momentary shield breach occurred on the Phoenix just before a swarm of yellow lights flowed past its hull and slammed into the enemy blocks…

"Yes!" Sheppard said, fist pumping the air as the drones passed right through the enemy shields and tore the blocks to shreds.

Bra'tac settled back into his seat, letting out a sigh of relief. The Tau'ri had activated the Ancient weapons platform in Antarctica…but how many of the pesqua did they have left?

Concerned, Bra'tac used his knowledge of Ancient systems and queried the outpost below for their current weapon count.

589 remained.

As the last of the enemy craft exploded Bra'tac's eyes lept to the ships sitting just outside the star system. None of them moved. Perhaps they were rethinking their strategy. That was good, for it might give them the time they needed.

"Hail the Tau'ri," Bra'tac ordered, standing up.

Colonel Ronson's image appeared again. "Yes?"

"I need to speak with stargate command immediately."

"May I ask why?"

"There are many more ships on the edge of the system. I believe this attack has been nothing more than a probe into your defenses."

"More ships?" Ronson asked, clearly worried. He rechecked with his crew. "Our sensors are clear."

"They are massed at the very edge of the system," Bra'tac said, relaying their sensor data to the Phoenix. "Time is short. I must use your stargate immediately if I am to rally reinforcements."

"Patching you through now," Ronson said after looking at the sensor data. A moment later General Landry's image appeared.

Bra'tac nodded in greeting. "I need to use your stargate to summon reinforcements, and time is short."

"That can be arranged," Landry said, also clearly concerned. "I hear from Colonel Ronson that you've also requested a sample of the bio weapon?"

"Yes, but that will have to wait. Your world is due for another attack, and I must leave at once if we are to return in time."

"Very well," Landry agreed.

"Dial Chulak immediately," Bra'tac told him. "We will be in your gateroom within sixty seconds."

Bra'tac severed communications then turned to his crew. "Aid the Tau'ri as you are able, but do not stand toe to toe with this enemy. Flee if you must, for you do neither them nor me any good dead. Hit and run. Become a nuisance. Survive to inflict more damage later."

The assembled Jaffa nodded. "Understood my Lord," the pilot said.

Bra'tac put his hand on his shoulder. "This is the Tau'ri's world. They may defend it to their deaths. You will not. Fight bravely, but more important, fight wisely."

He turned to the Atlantis crew. "Any of you that possess the Ancient gene will come with me. All others will travel to Atlantis via the stargate."

"Lorne has the gene," Sheppard said, "but he's still unconscious."

"Come," Bra'tac said, walking swiftly off the bridge. The others fell into step behind him.

When they got to where Novak and the unconscious crew were Bra'tac knelt over Lorne and placed his hand on his forehead.

"What the…?" he said, waking up with a start.

"Be still," Bra'tac said evenly. "Your world is under assault. We require your assistance."

"Okay," Lorne said, not sure what was going on.

Bra'tac stood up and moved behind a control console. "I will follow you shortly," he said, activating the Asgard beaming technology.


Sheppard and the others suddenly found themselves beneath the window of the SGC command center staring into the kawoosh of the activating wormhole. It settled into a stable event horizon and Bra'tac beamed down in front of it at the foot of the ramp.

"What are they doing here?" Landry's voice asked over the speakers.

"They are coming with me," Bra'tac said, waving them forward.

"Security!" Landry said quickly, with the assembled armed guards snapping to attention.

Bra'tac looked up at the control room angrily. "Your world is under attack. We have no time for games!"

"Colonel Sheppard is under arrest," Landry said evenly, "and the others aren't supposed to be here either."

"There is no time for this!" Bra'tac yelled. "Order your guards to stand down or I will take them by force," Bra'tac said, his forearm jewelry melting and covering him head to toe in armor. He slowly raised his forearm towards one of the nervous guards pointing a weapon at him…

"Stop," Landry yelled. "Security teams stand down."

Bra'tac's armor retracted and he waved Sheppard forward. "Go," he said, nudging him through the gate.

"I should stay," Carson said as the others went through.

"Me too," Jennifer added after pushing Rodney through and stepping back down the ramp.

"I require you as a gunner," he said to Carson, then turned to Jennifer. "And you will have better luck with the medical equipment in Atlantis once the Tau'ri have provided us with a sample of the weapon. Now come, time is short," he said, glancing back at Landry once, then gently pushed the two doctors through the gate.


They emerged through the opposite gate and met the others in the cold forest environment of Chulak.

"What are we doing here?" Sheppard said, shivering.

Bra'tac said nothing. Instead he immediately went for the DHD and dialed an eight chevron jump address, imputing the security code to the bewilderment of the others…especially Rodney.

As soon as the gate activated Bra'tac stepped through and the others hurried to join him. The group arrived in the gate center and Bra'tac took off at a run for the control tower, yelling back at Sheppard.

"Those who do not possess the gene will go through first. The rest of you stay here."

"Alright, that's Cadman, Keller, Simpson, Zelenka, and Novak," Sheppard said, organizing them. "Everyone else sit tight. I don't know exactly what Bra'tac has planned, but I'm willing to bet it's something good."

"Where's he going, and what is this place?" Rodney asked, looking at the multiple gates.

"Long story," Sheppard said as the red gate suddenly activated. "Keller, take Zelenka. Cadman, you've got Simpson."

"Jennifer, when you get there…" Carson began to say.

She nodded. "I know where to start," she said, dragging Zelenka's unconscious body into the event horizon.

"Colonel," Novak asked as Cadman dragged Zelenka through. "What in the world is going on?"

"I promise we'll explain everything later. You can talk to Dr. Weir in a moment."

"Alright," she said, hesitantly walking through the stargate.

"What the hell is going on?" Lorne asked, looking around the place.

Off to the side the green stargate activated. McKay glanced back and forth between the two. "Ok, that's impossible."

"Rookies," Sheppard said sarcastically as Bra'tac ran back from the control tower to join them. "Move!" he ordered.

"Let's go," Sheppard yelled, stepping through the gate.


On the other side he nearly lost his breath. Standing before them was a gigantic ship in a breathtakingly huge construction slip. "Is that…"

"The Columnar," Bra'tac said, attracting the attention of a nearby replicator. He had a brief conversation with it in Ancient then walked quickly toward a nearby ring platform.

"Is that the reinforcements?" McKay asked.

"Yes. I require your assistance as gunners," Bra'tac said, motioning for them to step inside the rings. All did so and the Alterra joined them after keying the activation sequence.

"I didn't think it was ready?" Sheppard asked after they were transported inside.

"The primary weapon and most of the armor has yet to be completed," Bra'tac said, hurrying towards the bridge. "The rest of the systems should be operational."

"Drones?" Sheppard asked.

Bra'tac shook his head. "There are no pesqua aboard. Nor are there any auxiliary craft. Such things are added after final construction."

"What do we have to fight with then?"

"To my knowledge the plasma cannons and lox generators are fully operational, as are the shields and hyperdrive. Fortunately, the potentia has already been installed, lest we be delayed further."

"Cool," Ford muttered.

Bra'tac opened the door to a 'transporter' big enough for three people. He, Sheppard, and McKay stepped inside. "Follow us," Bra'tac ordered, sealing the door. The three of them were transported to the terminal at the far end of the bridge, a long high ceilinged corridor that looked very drab. At the far end a solitary control chair sat.

"Ship?" Bra'tac called out into the emptiness as he walked toward the chair.

A hologram of an Ancient woman half materialized walking beside them. "Yes?" she asked.

"Prepare for emergency launch," Bra'tac ordered. "We must go into battle immediately."

It blinked. "Construction crews have already evacuated the slip. It will take 4.2 minutes to open the primary hatch…and I would remind you that not all weapons systems are currently operational."

"What's that?" McKay whispered to Sheppard.

"You've got me," he said.

"Plot course for the nearest ship gate," he told the hologram as he slipped into the control chair. It and nearly everything else on the bridge lit up brilliantly. Off on the far end Carson, Lorne, and Ford stepped out of transporter.

"Sit," Bra'tac said. Along the wall three smaller versions of the control chair rose up out of the floor, along with two more on the opposite side.

"Now that's what I'm talking about," Sheppard said, sliding into the small seat and connecting with the ship. He pulled up as much information as he could, some of which appeared as a hologram in front of him, including the ship's name…Nieruie.

"Nieruie?" Sheppard said aloud.

"Yes," the hologram answered.

"Ah…what are you?"

"I am the ship's computer."

"What's with the name, Bra'tac?"

"It means 'exceptional strength,'" the Alterra answered.

"In Ancient?" Sheppard asked.

"Of course."

"Can she…it control the weapons?"

"I can," Nieruie answered.

"Why then do I need you?" Bra'tac said, sensing his question. "The computer is faster and more accurate than a person, but it lacks the wisdom in target choice. I cannot control all the weapons myself. Each of you will take as many as you can, the ship will utilize the rest for point defense."

"How many are there?" Ford asked.

"Ninety nine plasma cannons and four lox generators, which I will man."

"Lox?" Carson asked.

"Lightning," Bra'tac translated as there was a sudden shudder felt throughout the ship.

"What was that?" Lorne asked.

"The moon is opening," Sheppard said, getting a sensor feed through his chair.

"Indeed," Bra'tac said, still impressed by the sight of it. "This shipyard is encased within a hollow moon. I believe that is the sole reason why it has survived to this day."

"Ship…system diagnostic. Are we ready to launch?"

The hologram hesitated a few seconds. "All completed systems are operating at 100%."

Bra'tac closed his eyes in the control chair and the ship's engines hummed to life.

"Here we go," Carson said warily.

"Whoever is attacking Earth," Sheppard said eagerly, "is about to get a big surprise."

"How far away are we?" Lorne asked. In response a hologram appeared over his chair showing Avalona and the distance between it and Kestardra. "We're in another galaxy?"

"Looks like it," Sheppard said as the ship slowly lifted out of its berth.

"Well what kind of a bloody plan is this," Carson complained. "It'll take days, if not weeks, for us to get back to Earth."

"Bra'tac knows a shortcut," Sheppard said sarcastically. "Nieruie, can you give me a weapons simulation for practice?"

"Yes," it said as a targeting proficiency program activated through Sheppard's neural link. Some holographic elements also manifested themselves.

"Me too!" McKay said quickly.

"Me three," Lorne said, less enthusiastic. "Who are we fighting anyway?"

"Don't know," Sheppard said, fighting phantom enemies as he spoke. "They came out of nowhere and attacked Earth with some type of bio weapon, then followed it up with a bunch of legos."

"Legos?" McKay complained. "Seriously…"

"You have a better name, Rodney?"

"Well, now that you mention it…"

"Meaning what?" Lorne interrupted.

"They can fight individually," Sheppard explained, "or they can hook together to increase their strength…at least, that's how it looked."

"You are correct," Bra'tac interrupted. "They did indeed increase their power when connected. I fear their combined might if they number in the hundreds…"

"Ouch," Sheppard said, "I hadn't thought about that."

"That's one big door," Ford said, watching their exit in hologram. They were hovering over several dozen slips…all with partially constructed Columnars in the rib stage of fabrication, but far above them a large oval was peeling up into space. Small bits of debris and dust fell inward and sparkled as they passed through the atmospheric shield that kept the moon's interior from venting into space.

Bra'tac tipped the long ship up into a nearly vertical position and accelerated rapidly out of the facility. Once outside, Ford and Carson both stared back at a barren, char-colored sphere while the other crew members worked through their weapons simulations.

"What's this shortcut?" Carson asked, his jaw still slack from what he was seeing.

"You will see shortly," Bra'tac said as the Columnar launched into hyperspace.


 

5

 

 

Moments before the Nieruie exited hyperspace Bra'tac knew things were bad. What limited sensor readings were possible from hyperspace showed only two ships in Earth orbit, and the former Jaffa Master realigned their exit point to get them as close as possible to them on reversion.

The massive Columnar slid back into realspace between the Phoenix and Earth, just above the atmosphere. The Kerensky shadowed the American ship, but there was no sign of the Sun Tzu…and there was a thin wisp of smoke rising from Antarctica.

"That's not good," Sheppard said quietly.

A transmission from the Phoenix appeared in hologram across the forward wall of the bridge, as well as above each individual chair. Colonel Ronson's distraught face appeared.

"What has transpired?" Bra'tac asked, checking on the position of the enemy fleet. They were sitting right where they had been…minus one of their ships.

"A number of their smaller ships engaged us in battle again, this time as a diversion. As soon as the Antarctic outpost launched their drones another group of enemy ships pulled a hyperspace jump into the upper atmosphere and took it out. The drones in flight dropped dead before they hit their targets. We managed to destroy the diversionary force, but when the second group joined the battle we lost the Sun Tzu.

"What of the ship I left behind?" Bra'tac asked.

Ronson shook his head. "I don't know. We lost track of them."

The Alterra nodded. "The enemy has made no further move?"

"No…I can't understand it. By now they have to know they have more than enough firepower to take us out…at least they did. I hope that's no longer the case, judging by the looks of your ship. Please tell me I'm right?"

Bra'tac nodded. "Pull back and disengage. We will take it from here."

"Not to sound ungrateful," Ronson said, "but this is our world. We will defend it."

"Your deaths will not serve your world. Only your continued life can. If the enemy persists the battle will grow beyond your capabilities. You will be more of a hindrance than an asset. Pull back and see to your repairs."

"I can't do that," Ronson argued. "I have my orders."

"You have new orders now," Bra'tac said stiffly. "Issued by the battlefield commander, which I have now become."

Ronson visibly stiffened. "Not to belabor the point, but where can we go? I doubt I could land the ship in one piece, and if we jumped into hyperspace there's no guarantee the enemy wouldn't follow us."

"You could bring them onboard," Ford offered. "The main bay looks big enough."

"A prudent suggestion," Bra'tac said with approval. "Do your ships still have maneuvering capability?"

"I believe so," Ronson answered.

"Then you will land inside our ship and begin your repairs. Both of your ships."

Ronson's eyes went wide. "Did you say inside your ship?"

"I am opening the primary bay now," Bra'tac said, stopping the Columnar near the Phoenix. "Get your ship close and the bay's tractor beams will guide you the rest of the way."

"I'm not sure I like this," Ronson said, wavering.

"If you cannot land, and cannot flee, you have no other alternative."

"Very well," Ronson said reluctantly. "I'll instruct the Kerensky to follow us…assuming both ships will fit inside."

Bra'tac did a third check of the sizes. "They will."

Ronson nodded. "Thank you. We'll try and expedite repairs as best we can."

The Phoenix turned on maneuvering thrusters and edged around the back of the Columnar where a thin layer of replicator armor was peeling back from the center section of the ship revealing a pair of massive hangar bay doors. Once the armor blocks had reformed elsewhere the bay opened slowly revealing a hangar deeper than it was wide.

The Phoenix closed to within a couple kilometers then the ship was gripped by a translucent blue beam…and she lost all maneuvering control.

"Shut down all engines," Ronson ordered as they were smoothly pulled forward into the bay.

"My god," he whispered as the ceiling whipped across the forward viewport and subdued yellow lighting cast a soothing glow across the bridge. The Phoenix was dragged forward to nearly the end of the bay where it stopped and very slowly descended to the floor.

"Landing protocols," he ordered quickly. "Let's not make a mess on their deck."

The Phoenix's heavy landing gear emerged from the underside of the ship and transferred the weight of the 304 to the deck until the tractor beams finally released them with a gentle thud.

"Aft cameras," Ronson said, standing up.

Behind them the Kerensky was just entering the tractor beams, but it quickly obscured most of the visible stars and loomed ominously larger as the seconds passed by. For a moment the Colonel feared a collision, but just a few dozen meters shy of his ship the Kerensky stopped its forward momentum and, like the Phoenix, began to very slowly drift downwards.

Ronson also noted that behind them the hangar bay doors were resealing. Before the Kerensky had even touched down the visible stars were gone and the only exterior light came from row upon row of the bay's yellow illumination bars, each probably the width of the 302.

"Alright people, let's get to work. The faster we repair this damage the sooner we can get back in this fight!"


"Now that's just cool," Sheppard said, monitoring the boarding ships.

"You can say that again," Ford echoed.

"What are they doing?" Lorne asked, looking at a hologram of the enemy ships as they broke apart.

"They are reconfiguring," Bra'tac said, beginning to understand their tactics. "They estimate it will take a larger configuration to engage this ship…they are preparing to attack."

"Why don't we hit them first?" McKay asked. "If this ship really is as bad ass as you say…"

"If they attack us with a smaller force, it is to our advantage to wipe it out, thus diminishing their available numbers to throw at us once they realize how significant a threat we are."

"Patience is the way of the Jedi," Sheppard explained sarcastically.

"As you well know…" McKay reminded him, "I'm not the most patient of souls. Right now I'm ready to sling some lead!"

"Darth McKay it is," Ford said jokingly.

"Heavens no," Carson chimed in.

"Yeah, well just be glad I no longer have the power to Force choke you to death," McKay snarled at Ford.

Aiden laughed. "When was that?"

"Humans…" Bra'tac growled under his breath as the tactical hologram shifted. The moving blocks had stopped reconfiguring, settling on a flat, angular design. "Stand ready!"

The Atlantis crew immediately stopped their bickering and snapped to attention as Bra'tac powered up the ship's weapons. In each gunner's station all weapon systems were 'visible' to the neural interface, giving them the choice of which weapon/weapons to control.

A moment after Bra'tac gave them the word, 99 plasma cannons shifted from mental black dots to green, active batteries alongside the other blacked out weapons systems. Sheppard reached out and 'grabbed' a dozen along the port side of the ship. That was the most he'd been proficient at controlling in the simulations and now wasn't the time to overestimate his abilities.

Other green dots turned red as his compatriots selected cannons to control. Through his connection, Sheppard felt McKay pick up 50 or more of them.

"Rodney, you get five, no more."

"What! Why?" he demanded.

"You can't control fifty," Sheppard said rudely. "I'm maxed out at twelve, now stop playing around."

"Alright," McKay grumbled, releasing all but five.

"Ship," Bra'tac said, "retain twenty batteries for point defense."

The holographic Alterran nodded and twenty green dots spaced evenly around the hull turned red.

"What about the rest?" Carson asked.

"I will use them as I am able," Bra'tac said as the enemy ships disappeared from sensors. "But my primary focus will be on the lox generators."

Outside the ship seventeen clusters appeared from their microjump. The angular ships, vaguely resembling the form of a Wraith mothership, thrusted around on an intercept course with the Nieruie as Bra'tac commanded the ship to open its weapon pods and deploy the lox pillars.

A half segment of the cylinder-like ship bisected along the upper aft hull and split laterally revealing an empty pesqua launcher beneath as the two pods drifted away from the hull. Halfway through their deployment two more pods split in the lower fore section of the hull, revealing a second empty pesqua launcher and the flat sides of the pods.

From the flat side of all four pods a small circular column rose 'up' from the center and deployed its flaps spreading out like a flower petal. The front pods had their lox generators covering the forward and dorsal arcs, while the back pods with their generators pointing 'down' covered the ventral and aft arcs.

Mental counters appeared over Bra'tac's chair beginning at 32 seconds…the time it would take for the generators to charge and recharge. The plasma cannons had a much faster recharge rate, though they didn't wield as much destructive force.

Bra'tac grabbed twenty seven of the unused plasma cannons and fired as many that were in range at the approaching ships, which in turn fired linked combos of short bursts from all available weapon points on their blocks.

Inside the Columnar the impacts were not felt, but the computer displays made up for the lack of tactile sensation as the ship's computer generated a huge central hologram depicting the ship and all weapon impacts. As expected, the 40-some cluster ships couldn't penetrate the Alterran ship's shields, but it wasn't from lack of trying. Their onslaught of weapon's fire never ceased, but for each amount of shield energy drained, the emitters pulled equal amounts of energy from the ZPM to replace it.

In this way, the shields would never be downed, so long as the ZPM still had energy…unless the enemy could pinpoint stress a particular spot faster than the reserve energy could be distributed to the matrix. However, right now that wasn't the case…which meant that the battle quickly became little more than target practice for the crew.

All across the Columnar the plasma cannons fired gulps of bluish/green energy at two second intervals. Many missed the quickly moving cluster ships, but still many more impacted their combined shields, draining them of energy faster than their small power generators could replenish it.

Bra'tac fired off the most accurate shots as he waited for the lox generators to come online, utilizing the computer's targeting skills while he merely pointed them in the right direction. The others were less effective, trying to manually target the weapons, which resulted mostly in misses, save for the ships that came extremely close on strafing runs.

Those ships also drew the attention of the point defense system under command of the ship's computer. From the 20 batteries it controlled a nearly constant stutter stream of plasma fired into the quickly moving strafers as they passed by.

One such ship suffered massive damage from the point defenses after being tagged by both Bra'tac's and Sheppard's port batteries, lowering its shields enough for the computer to rack up the kill…or nearly so. The undamaged blocks disconnected from the dead ones and flew apart, where they then either began to assault the ship individually or pull off to reform with others into new cluster ships.

Sheppard frowned as he saw the point defense batteries firing quickly…with his twelve suffering through a two second recharge penalty. He wondered why his couldn't fire quicker, then all of a sudden his batteries changed aspects and the recharge lag dropped to one second…with the plasma bolts being weakened in compensation.

"I get it," he whispered to himself, mentally commanding all but two of his batteries to chop the recharge down to one third of a second…with the other two moving up to their maximum of four seconds.

He used his 'pulsers,' as he thought of them, to stitch the quicker ships while he used the 'mega guns' to pound the slower moving foursome lurking in front of the ship.

All of a sudden two of those four detonated in massive fireballs, with flicks of orange electricity arcing to their neighbors and being caught on their shields.

"Whooohoo," Ford yelled out. "Give it to 'em Bra'tac."

The Alterra had to smile at that, though the others couldn't see. The Columnar's firepower was indeed impressive, and the enemy was posing no match for them…yet he was still concerned. The other enemy ships remained still, content to watch the battle while they blasted their ships apart. Something else was afoot…he was sure of it.


"That is an example of why we follow protocol," Neela said unemotionally. "Had we rushed into battle, this new development could have severely crippled our fleet before we had a chance to account for it."

"I concede the point," Jarro said, studying the data they were gathering. "This new ship is far superior to our current technology. I have no doubt it is an ally of Earth, summoned to their defense."

"I concur. We must ascertain their true strength, then report back what we have learned. That is now our primary mission."

Jarro turned to his companion. "Securing this world is no longer an objective?"

"No," Neela said calmly as she watched the holograph of the battle. "Whoever this new race is, they have not made themselves known to those we have encountered. They are an unknown variable. If unchecked, the Aschen Confederation could be at risk. I will not allow that."

"Neither will I," Jarro agreed completely. "Shall we escalate the battle?"

Neela glanced at his console. "Do you have enough data to configure the remaining elementals?"

"Not for victory," he cautioned, "but enough to insure they last long enough to gather sufficient data."

"Send them all, save for five individuals…in case their smaller ship returns to harass us again."

"Reconfiguring now," he said, watching the remaining cubes disintegrate into a maelstrom of tiny pieces. Slowly they began to coalesce into one gigantic ship.


Over the ice of Antarctica a helicopter from McMurdo base skirted over a small ridgeline then dropped to the ground and settled its landing struts into the snow pack. Half a dozen people in hazmat suits climbed off the chopper as two more could be heard coming in the distance. The six over dressed scientists waddled their way across the gap to the downed bio weapon lying on the ice.

They could clearly see the central section had been depleted of its contents, sprayed throughout the atmosphere during its corkscrew descent no doubt, but there should still have been trace amounts of the weapon for them to sample…

One of the scientists slid his gloved hand over the clear, empty container looking for an access panel, yet found none. They continued to look for several minutes before calling it quits and signaling for the cargo carrier.

A frame-like helicopter moved into position over top the car-sized device and lowered straps from its midsection. The scientists secured them in a weave-like pattern around the container, fastening more than two dozen interlocks. When they finished they retreated to their chopper as the entire assembly was lifted off the ice and up into the open underbelly of the cargo chopper. Together, they returned to McMurdo base where a temporary facility was being constructed to analyze the device and get a sample of its weapon for the medical teams to start picking apart and hopefully device some type of antidote.

That said, no one knew yet what the contagion was supposed to…


"That's one big ship," McKay commented as they watched the sensors readings from the edge of the system.

"You can say that again," Lorne echoed.

"We are going to be able to handle that," Sheppard asked, "right?"

"Let us hope so," Bra'tac answered, reviewing the limited data they had gathered on the 'blocks.' He was somewhat familiar with the concept, both from his experience fighting against the replicators and the technology downloads Stevenson had given to him. As impressive as the modular design was, it should have its limitations.

If the technology was functioning as Bra'tac believed, then interior blocks were being utilized as power generators to enhance the abilities of the outer blocks…yet that power had to travel through the conduits of the individual blocks, and there was always a limit to how much power a conduit could transmit.

The Columnar had massive conduits, designed to channel the power from a potentia, but even they had limits. These enemy blocks were much smaller, and as such their conduits, not to mention their weapons and shield emitters, had to have a limit as to how much power they could use at any one time. Given the size of the attack craft being constructed Bra'tac wondered if it wasn't too big…or if he had underestimated their technology.

He didn't have to wait long to find out. As soon as the craft was assembled, the knife-like design jumped into attack position. Bra'tac awaited the first concerted blast, which came from hundreds of individual points across the 'edge' of the blade. All of them intersected on a small patch of shield, trying to penetrate it without taking down the entire matrix.

As the rest of the crew fired their plasma cannons at will, Bra'tac monitored the shield controls closely. That first attack had point stressed the shield down to 20%, then the adjacent shield matrix had flooded energy into the gap within a second after the weapons' fire had ceased, closing the near breach. Had their weapons been slightly more powerful, or their beams longer in duration, they would have succeeded in penetrating the Columnar's shields and impacting the extremely thin layer of armor covering the ship.

Bra'tac hoped they had hit them with their best shot, for if it was, they now owned them. The massive cluster ship fired again with similar results, but it was just shy of being able to penetrate the shield.

Two orange lightning bolts lept out and struck the ship…but they didn't penetrate the shields. Bra'tac's sensors indicated that they had weakened them by 27%, with a recharge rate manifesting itself at about a percent per second.

27% damage, 32 seconds of recharge…they were going to have to do better than that.

As the plasma cannons began to rack up an addition percent or two of depleted shields Bra'tac swung the Columnar around, exposing the aft turrets to the enemy. Two more lox bolts lept out at the cluster ship and impacted its shields, but they still held as more combined attacks tried to poke holes in the Nieruie's defenses.

The ship swung around again, so that when the forward lox generators recharged the enemy ship would be within their sights.

Enemy shield strength was now down 46%, with their recharge rate eating heavily into the damage the Alterran ship was dishing out, but if they maintained their rate of fire they would eventually win the war of attrition and breach their shields.

Another round of lox bolts from both fore and aft turrets nearly depleted the enemy shields, but it took a third shot from the forward turrets to finally do the job. Dozens of blocks disintegrated in a pair of massive explosions, throwing debris and intact blocks in all directions…but the continued plasma cannon fire suddenly found itself impacting against renewed shields.

Bra'tac frowned. These new shields were within the boundaries of the ship's former hull…and he suddenly understood. The cluster ship was so big that some of the central blocks couldn't extend their shields to the outer perimeter. A weakness on their part, but it also meant that once they had managed in destroying part of the ship, those central shield generators now had a chance to manifest themselves…and since they hadn't yet been drained of power, they now deployed at 100% capacity.

"Be patient," Bra'tac told his gunners. "We maintain the advantage, but this enemy is resilient. We have to wear it down. Maintain you rate of fire and it will fall."

"We're on it," Sheppard said, firing the most massive blasts his weapons were capable of. The enemy ship was essentially sitting still and as such, easy to target. Sheppard even dared to pull an addition two cannons under his control and was successful in keeping his group of 14 under linked fire, enough so that he thought about taking a few more on, but those that weren't being used didn't have firing arcs on the one massive ship, so there was little more that he could do besides hold in on the mental trigger and rack up as many block kills as he could.

Then suddenly he saw several small blocks flash by on strafing runs…pieces of the ship, no doubt, that had been flung off during the explosions. For a moment he considered retasking his current batteries to track them, but as one exploded into a ball of debris from the point defense fire coming from the ship's computer he thought better of it and maintained as much fire as he could against the main target.

After a while the Columnar was able to breach the second shield and destroy dozens of more blocks…but a third shield materialized where those had been and the process had to be repeated again and again…but after the fourth time the new shields being deployed started to have less and less power at their disposal, hastening their downfall.

Still, it was going to take at least another half hour before the ship would finally be destroyed.


Outside the control ship lights flashed against the shields as the Alket made a surprise strafing run, dropping out of cloak directly in front of the ship. The five guardian blocks pursued it immediately, as programmed, but the command ship's guns were slow to react and couldn't track the Jaffa ship as it made a quick pass.

"Persistent," Jarro noted as the ship once against disappeared from sensors, "but fruitless."

Neela nodded her agreement as she watched the main battle hologram. "I think we've gathered enough data. It's time to go."

Jarro looked at her. "It will be some time before the elementals are eliminated."

"They are making no headway…and as soon as they are destroyed we will be their next target. Plot a hyperspace jump away from Confederation territory. We will take an indirect route back, lest they follow us."

"Jump plotted," Jarro said, quickly working the controls of his console. He also dispatched the five guardian elementals to join the main battle, hopeless as it was.

"Commence," Nella ordered, turning away and walking off the bridge.

Jarro activated the hyperdrive and the command ship silently slipped into the other dimension. He correlated the data they had gathered into six electronic files, one for each ship plus the ground installation. He routed them into primary computer storage that would automatically be uploaded into the Aschen computer network upon their return home.

After filing a brief report on the encounter and the dispersal sites of the bio weapon, Jarro too left the bridge and returned to his personal quarters. It would be another ten hours before the next leg of their hyperspace journey, and until then neither of them would be needed on the bridge.


All in all, the battle lasted 43 minutes and would have gone on longer if the individual blocks hadn't continued to attack the ship directly and instead spread out across the system or gone down to the planet's surface. Apparently that hadn't been the point of the battle, or so Bra'tac deduced afterwards. The ship at the edge of the system had disappeared from sensors, and from the Alterra's point of view the battle for Avalon had concluded, though there were no guarantees of if or when the enemy might return.

He figured that wasn't likely to happen any time soon. The arrival of the Columnar had probably spooked them, and while they might return some day it would have to be in far greater numbers. With that knowledge in mind, Bra'tac had released the 304s and left Avalon within the day, returning through the ship gates to Atlantis…with a sample of the bio weapon.


"Dear god," Carson said as he got his first preliminary look at the composition of the disease.

"I know," Jennifer said, looking at the same data. "This isn't a virus, nor is it a bacteria or any other form of microscopic organism I know of, yet it has elements of both."

"It can replicate independent of the host body," Carson continued, "yet it can affect it on a genetic level akin to a virus…oh, this can't be right."

"What?" Jennifer asked.

"Here," he said, pointing at one section of the computer analysis.

Jennifer raised an eyebrow. "Eight day termination sequence?"

"Aye, that's what I read it as. This little bugger is going to expand at an exponential rate then deactivate after eight days."

"Why?" Jennifer asked. "It can't possibly spread over the entire planet in eight days."

"You're missing the point, Love. It's not supposed to. It kills anything and everything biological in sight, then deactivates after a preprogrammed period of time, leaving the area uncontaminated for the enemy to then occupy."

Jennifer blanched. "You mean they meant to take over Earth?"

Carson nodded. "Looks that way. And if all the bio weapons had hit their targets, there'd be bloody little left on the planet to trouble them…plant or animal."

"Oh my god," she said, covering her cheeks with her hands. "What are we going to do? We've only got six more days before it stops itself, which means we need a cure now."

"I know. This beast is probably ravaging the infected areas as we speak. We need to work fast."

"I don't even know where to begin," Jennifer complained. "I've never seen anything like this before."

"Neither have I, but I know someone who can help with that," Carson said, walking over to the intercom. "Dr. Weir?"

"I'm here Carson," her voice answered. "Any progress?"

"Not yet. Is Bra'tac still here?"

"He went back to his ship, but it hasn't left orbit. I think he intends to stay here until you find a cure or until Stevenson comes back."

"Well get him down here, we need his help."

"Ok," Weir said cautiously, "but I wasn't aware he was a doctor."

"I don't think he is either, but he has access to Atlantis that we don't have."

"What are you getting at, Carson."

"I need him to authorize a medical knowledge download, like you said Stevenson gave to you."

Weir hesitated. "I'll ask."

"Hurry," Carson insisted. "If we don't have a cure within a few days it's not going to matter."


"Very well," Bra'tac said as Carson explained the situation. "But it will only be a temporary transfer. Your mind is too primitive for a full, permanent download."

"I understand," Carson said bravely.

Bra'tac nodded, then accessed the neural interface himself. A moment later he withdrew. "Look inside."

Carson rubbed his hands together. "Ok, here goes," he said, stepping up to the device. He pressed his forehead against the outer rim and a multitude of lights flooded into his eyes…and mind.

He reflexively closed his eyes, he couldn't help it, but the light didn't diminish. It was inside his head. Carson made sure not to move, and kept his head securely where it was…then it was over as quickly as it began.

"Nothing happened," he said after stepping back from the device. "Oh, boy…" he said, fainting.

"Carson," Jennifer said, half-catching him as he fell.

"That is to be expected," Bra'tac told her. "It will take a few minutes for his mind to process the knowledge."

"Why couldn't you have done this?" she asked, clearly concerned for Beckett.

"I could have," Bra'tac admitted. "But I do not have the aptitude for such things. There is more to wisdom than knowledge alone."

"Still," Jennifer complained as Carson blinked wearily.

"What happened?" he asked, trying to sit up…and quickly falling back down.

"Easy there," she said, putting her hand behind his head so it wouldn't hit the floor. "Take your time."

"On all that's holy…"he muttered to himself, "Why didn't I see it before?"

"See what, Carson?"

"This plague isn't at all hard to beat," he said, trying to sit up again. "We only need to deliver a chronologic recalibrator via a pseudovirus and it'll stop the buggar cold."

"What are you talking about?" Jennifer asked.

"No time…no time," he said, pulling himself to his feet. "Bra'tac…does your ship have an aerosol delivery system?"

Bra'tac nodded slowly. "I believe that was one of the secondary systems Stevenson added to the design."

"Then we might have a chance at this," Carson said, rubbing his forehead. "Get me back to the lab," he told Jennifer.

"Ok," she said, taking him by the arm.

"If you can provide the design, the ship can replicate the rest of the cure en mass," Bra'tac told him.

"Good," Carson said, getting his feet back under him. "Be ready to launch within the hour."

Bra'tac smiled and nodded, but said nothing more as he walked out of the room.

"Let's go," Carson said, almost dragging Jennifer forward.

"Slow down a bit," she argued. "You need to let yourself adjust."

"If I do that more people die, now help me," he said, trying to walk faster.


Later that day the Nieruie returned to Earth, but instead of making orbit it plunged into the atmosphere over South America. Bra'tac contacted the SGC and got an updated map of the infection area…though it was clear from above just where the plague was.

Large sections of the Amazon now lay brown and dead, visible even from orbit. Bra'tac leveled out the ship a couple of miles above the surface and began dispersing the counter agent that would deactivate the disease on contact. He flew a large ring around the infected area, hoping to stem the spread of the ever increasing contagion.

That said, the SGC had already given him a number of other spots around the planet that the plague had been transmitted to. He would pull a flyby of those as soon as he covered the majority of the two major areas.

Antarctica and Greenland would keep, given their lack of vegetation and inhabitation, but it was the infestation in central and South American that required the most immediate attention. He used up nearly 40% of his reserves on South America alone before flying northwest into Mexico. There he dispersed some 36% as the ship continued to produce more cure as they continued, grabbing biomass from the planet for conversion on their way thanks to the Asgard beams that Bra'tac had insisted on including in the design.

A few hours later the ring around the Mexican infection area was complete. Bra'tac then spread as much cure to the interior areas of both circles as he could before traveling to the minor infestations around the planet. He stayed on Earth, spreading the cure until the 8 day cycle on the bio weapon ran out, deactivating all remaining infections that Bra'tac had been unable to find and counteract.

With nothing left to do, the Columnar left orbit after snagging a few pieces of the enemy ships for study, leaving planetary defense in the hands of the remaining two 304s. The Alket had since been ordered back to Dakara and the Atlantis crew had all been safely delivered into Weir's care. He alone piloted the Nieruie, and set course to the nearest ship gate.

The prototype had proved itself well in battle, despite having only two of its four weapons systems operational. Now it was time to complete its construction, where it would gain its real 'teeth.'

Bra'tac returned the ship to Kestardra then returned to Dakara through the stargate, picking up where he had left off. Though they weren't the equal of the Columnar, his H'tel were the next strongest ships in the galaxy…and their completion and testing were his next tasks.


A week later on Earth, the news accounts of the killer plague and the 'miraculous' object seen flying over hundreds of cities and supposedly putting an end to the disease were the subject of world-wide debate. Many rejected the claims, while others were immensely grateful to still be alive. The pictures coming out of central and South America were undeniable…and many people floated their own version of what had 'actually' happened.

The belief in extra-terrestrials increased dramatically, but was eventually downplayed by a link to an ancient prophecy…thanks to some intergovernmental pushing. Had the Aschen attack not occurred at a convenient time, it was theorized among the I.O.A. upper echelon, there may have been no choice but to reveal the existence of the stargate in order to avoid an even larger panic over the undeniable 'alien visitation' that so many people had witnessed.

But that wasn't to be the case. Forever after, there would be unanswered questions and an increased interest in space travel and exploration…but the bulk of the populous would eventually be taken in by the Ancient prophecy that happened to coincide with the current year…

2012


 

Multiplication

1

 

 

The stargate on resource outpost 13 opened with the standard kawoosh illuminating the nighttime forest. It quickly retracted into the subtle fluctuations of the event horizon, dimming the ambient glow on the thick vegetation that engulfed the gate in all directions save one.

In front of the gate set on a perfectly perpendicular angle a long, narrow clearing had been sheered through the forest. Even the ground had been scorched clean of any vegetation and only now had thin sprouts of grass begun to reintroduce themselves to the hard packed dirt trail that stretched ahead for kilometers.

Out of the event horizon stepped a solitary Wraith, eyes covered in some type of tracking goggles. It spied the artificial clearing and hissed with a mix of satisfaction and wrath before blending into the vegetation and traveling parallel to the path to avoid detection.

It moved off barely half a kilometer before it came to a small clearing adjacent to the main line. Nothing was present, but the dusty ground bore angular lines…some type of buried structure lay here unused and the forest had begun to cover it over.

The Wraith cocked its head in consideration then moved on, making sure not to cross into the open. It traveled farther up the long corridor until it widened out into a 400 meter wide clearing…with three other corridors exiting at various angles.

Anger building, the Wraith continued on, taking the leftmost of the tracks and followed it to where it dead-ended in a wide open valley with several structures of Lantean design arrayed in neat rows, some of which extended up several dozens of meters into the air.

Several small craft sat adjacent to one of the buildings, attached end to end, and appeared to be the approximate width of the forest corridors. Off in the distance several dozen individuals could be seen moving in and out of multiple buildings with robotic precision.

The Wraith had seen enough. It backtracked slowly to the stargate, then waited patiently for several minutes to make sure it hadn't been followed. When no activity resulted, it pulled back the vegetation from the unused dialing device and activated the stargate.

With the wormhole established and no enemy in sight, the Wraith smoothly detached from the forest and slid back through the gate…

The Wraith emerged on the outskirts of one of their surface bases and immediately felt his connection with his brethren return. He communicated what he had found with a few simple thoughts, allowing them to see what he had seen.

A chill ran through him as he felt the queen's mind connect with his. She drew from him all of his memories and issued new orders… all within a handful of seconds.

The Wraith turned about and redialed the stargate to the world it had just scouted. Seven more Wraith emerged from the shadows and joined it, all 'males' and all scouts. They returned through the stargate and dispersed…


"That is not possible," Rodney protested to Stevenson in one of Atlantis's many scientific labs. This one Ryan had set up to assist in the retraining of acquired personnel.

Stevenson lifted an eyebrow patiently. "Why not?"

"Well, for starters, half of everything I know about space/time comes from his postulates…and more than that I've seen evidence of it firsthand."

"Really?" Stevenson asked curious, yet he knew for a fact that he was completely wrong.

"Yes, really," Rodney replied indignantly. "Einstein's theory of relativity is a proven fact. Nothing can exceed the speed of light in our dimension and will experience time dilation the closer it approaches that barrier. The only way you can achieve FTL is through transition to an alternate dimensional state that allows you to bypass the relativistic effects."

Stevenson leaned a bit closer. "For a self-proclaimed genius, you are rather gullible."

"Gullible?!" Rodney complained loudly.

"A universal speed limit is nonsense. The very definition of relative means you can have no absolutes."

"That's what one would think," Rodney said, raising a knowing finger for emphasis, "but when you do the math you find an undisputable escalating power ratio required to reach light speed…and even with your nifty Zed Pee Ems you can't produce enough power to breach that barrier, because infinite is rather…unreachable."

Stevenson rolled his eyes. Even with the basic neural download he'd given him, McKay wasn't about to drop this nonsense. The man HAD to be right, even when he was wrong.

"What was this evidence you were referring to?"

"As you're doubtlessly familiar with the Tria, that shouldn't be a great leap of logic...considering you're an ancient and all."

"What about it?" Ryan humored him with infinite patience.

"What about it? The ship's hyperdrive was damaged, so it had to use thruster-based technology to leave the Pegasus galaxy. They suffered from time dilation effects due to relativity as a result, which was the only reason why they survived 10,000 years and made our meeting them possible."

"Have you heard of stasis technology, McKay?" Stevenson asked sarcastically.

"So, what, they tucked themselves into stasis for the entire 10,000 year trip? We saw what kind of degradation that led to on the Aurora. No matter how advanced you are you can't cheat old age, not even with your fancy stasis tech. The only way they could have survived that long was due to time dilation, which was the result of their velocity approaching the speed of light. The faster they went, the more they slowed down."

"Do you have any idea how ridiculous that sounds? You just contradicted yourself."

Rodney held up his hands. "I know it may look that way to the untrained eye, but if you do the calculations it all adds up."

"Before you ramble on any more, it might be helpful for you to know that I've read the Tria's logs."

"If that's so, then why are we even having this conversation?"

"First off, the stasis technology that the Lanteans' used was designed for Alterra. That's why the crew you found on the Aurora decayed."

Rodney frowned. "Why?"

"Because Alterra have a higher regenerative ability than Lanteans do, and way more than Humans."

"Slight offense taken at that, but go on."

"Some minor degradation occurs during stasis…think of it as freezer burn. Our physiology can heal itself as it happens, the Lanteans couldn't, not completely. The only way it works for them is to take breaks in between bouts of stasis to allow their bodies to rejuvenate. This is what the crew of the Tria did. They rotated in and out every two years or so for a three day interval."

"Ok, so for the crew of the Aurora that wasn't a possibility because the ship was damaged and the decks depressurized. Mystery solved there. But that doesn't have anything to do with the Tria's time dilation."

"There was none."

"Not possible," Rodney said, determined.

"Ok, genius. The logs show that you contacted the Tria while it was still at near light speed."

"True."

"Was it a text message, or real time audio?"

"As I recall, they used a real time holographic image of the ship's captain," Rodney said, proud to show off his detailed memory.

"Then answer me this…how could the Tria's captain communicate with you in real time if she was, as you say, experiencing time dilation at the moment of communication? It would have taken several of your months for her to utter a single word, given the differences between the timeframes."

"Well…" Rodney said, catching himself. "Actually, I…"

"See," Stevenson said, patting McKay on the back, "simple logic."

"What…" Rodney said to himself as he tried to reconcile the disparate data. "Wait a minute…if that's true, and I'm not saying it is, then why were they only traveling at near light speed?"

"Dark route paradox," Stevenson explained. "Everything within a galaxy is moving at approximately the same speed due to the velocities required to maintain galactic orbit."

Rodney nodded. "Anything remarkably faster would spin out of the galaxy and anything remarkably slower would fall to the center."

"Correct. This creates a relative medium through which a ship must travel. This medium is comprised of all matter within the galaxy, whether it be a planet, a cloud of dust…or a rock the size of your thumb."

Rodney glanced down at his digit, trying to comprehend. "Impact velocities."

Stevenson nodded. "Since everything else is moving at about the same speed, if you accelerate yourself multiple times light speed you run the risk of impacting the debris from the galactic medium…assuming, of course, that you can navigate your way around the big stuff. Now, a rock the size of your thumb floating in space as you hit it at ten times the speed of light is equivalent to a projectile fired at you at a velocity of ten times the speed of light. Do the calculations and you will see the kinetic force that has to be absorbed by the ship. In the Tria's case, by her shields."

"You're saying the Tria couldn't go faster than light speed anyway?"

"No, I'm saying that the faster you go, the more you risk destroying your ship. With a potentia enhancing their shields, they could absorb debris velocities around 1.3-1.4 times the speed of light. That number drops as the debris gets larger. They could have gambled that they wouldn't run into anything in the intergalactic void and accelerated much faster, say 1000 times light speed, but doing so means even smaller objects will kill the ship…or at least put holes in it, and possibly the crew inside. And when you get to such great velocities that a few molecules are enough to cause damage…well, it isn't worth the risk. The Tria kept her speed within range of what the crew knew was a safe speed, given their shield strength. Anything else, given how long the trip would be, was deemed too hazardous to try."

Rodney considered that. "Why not just use sensors to spot and avoid incoming debris?" he asked, realizing his own error. "Wait, wait…the sensors would be limited due to the relative incoming speeds."

"And the small size of the debris. The Tria's sensors can't detect a marble at 100,000 kilometers."

"But all our…Earth's…hyperdrive designs are based around the theory of relativity, plus I don't know how many other technologies, and those technologies work. If his theories weren't correct we'd…"

"Just remember this simple formula and you should be alright," Stevenson offered. "E = M."

"Energy equals mass?" Rodney asked, more confused.

"No…Einstein equals moron."

Rodney sneered. "Very funny."

"I'm serious. Just disregard everything he said and it'll make understanding things a lot easier."

"Even his first postulate?" Rodney asked amicably, his defiance gone.

"Scientists don't get credit for stating the obvious," Stevenson said, leaving. "I'll be back in two hours. Hopefully by then you'll have your wits about you and we can continue from where we left off."

"Where are you going?"

"Zelenka needs help with a project."

"What! You've already given him work to do?"

Stevenson waved goodbye, leaving Rodney to stew. A dozen steps down the hallway Sheppard caught him.

"We have a problem."

"What?"

"Somehow the Wraith found one of your mining sites. We just got an automated distress signal and a bit of telemetry. Looks like they blasted it to hell."


 

2

 

 

Teyla made her way through the dense jungle under cloak until she came to the edge of a small pool, but unlike the hundreds of others she'd maneuvered around in her surface search, this one was special. Her armor's telemetry was detecting residual trace elements in the water and the bank of the pool where the tiny waves had floated the material and stranded it on the shore. To her heads up display the pool was slightly aglow, with a brighter ring around the edge.

Looking up, around, and down, Teyla made sure she was alone, then stepped into the pool. The displaced water was obvious around her invisible form, but she waited until her head was beneath the surface before she disengaged her cloaking device.

However, the color of her armor shifted to a murky green, similar in color to the haze in the water. The visible camouflage made her almost undetectable just a meter below the surface as she slid down the steep bank. A few steps in and the bottom dropped out completely.

She let herself fall through the dark water, but her heads up display showed her a bright diagram of the shaft's walls, the surface above, and the expanding tunnel below as she quickly sank. Her armor was quite heavy, and she used that to her advantage.

Fifty meters below the surface the tunnel/funnel ended and a large underwater cavern appeared. She continued to sink through it for a hundred more meters until her limited sensors tagged a large structure coming up beneath her. Her feet touched the surface of the Wraith facility and reestablished her equilibrium as she dropped down into a crouch. She glanced to the right and left, getting her bearings via the computer image of the darkness.

Content that she hadn't been noticed, Teyla slowly walked through the thick waters over the surface of the biological structure looking for an entry hatch. If she had to make one herself she could, but that would then flood the facility. The Wraith were coming and going by ship, so there had to be a way in.

It took two hours of searching before Teyla discovered an indented alcove in the 'roof' by accident. Her sensors said it was flat, but when she stepped onto a particular section of the facility her foot passed through a force field and she nearly fell in. The newly minted Alterra caught her balance, teetering on her other foot and slashing at the water with cupped hands to move her backward.

She slowly tipped toward safety and steadied herself. She manually adjusted her sensors through a virtual pull down menu and reconfigured them sufficiently enough to discern the field from the hull.

She had to give the Wraith credit for their ingenuity. Beneath the field was air, with the water suspended above. Several darts and a lowly lit hangar bay revealed itself when Teyla poked her head through the field, but here wasn't the place to drop down.

Teyla pulled herself back up into the water and swam across to the other side and settled on the edge. She lay down on her side and slid her feet down through the energy barrier.

With a sudden movement, Teyla was sucked through by gravity as her buoyancy was lost. She landed in a crouch between the wall and a parked dart. She stayed there, motionless, for several seconds while she surveyed the area. Neither her armor's sensors nor her eyes and ears could detect anything. The bay was empty.

Teyla stood up and sleuthed around the perimeter of the large bay, glancing upward at the powerful force field holding up so much water. Yes, the Wraith were clever, but they still had to die…all of them. And the sooner the better.

The headpiece of her armor retracted, opening her biological senses to the environment. The room smelled of must and the odd, familiar scent of Wraith biotech. Teyla walked over to the only door and pressed her ear against it. With her Wraith genetics gone, she could no longer sense their presence and didn't fully trust her armor's lifeform detector. Twice it had failed her in previous missions due to some unforeseen anomaly with Wraith biotech…and she'd decided to take a step backward and not use it unless absolutely necessary.

She felt more at ease relying on her skills than technology anyway, which had only been heightened by her transformation. Her hearing had become exceptionally acute, and while the Wraith weren't the noisiest of species they were heavy breathers.

Detecting nothing, she opened the door, standing out of view as she did so. She listened again…all clear.

Moving through the interior of the Wraith facility section by section Teyla reached out with her limited telepathic ability, searching for Human minds. After nearly half an hour of searching empty corridors she caught a wisp of sensation.

Figuring she'd pushed her luck enough, she redonned her hood and activated her cloaking device in concert with her lifeform scanner. To her chagrin, no Wraith lifesigns were showing. That worried her even as the crude map displayed several dozen Humans arrayed in neat rows…probably in cocoons.

Teyla deactivated both technologies and proceeded by ear. The Wraith weren't big on internal security, but there should have been at least a few walking around. And while prudence would have suggested staying cloaked, the field interfered with her vision slightly and dampened sounds by more than 30%. That wasn't good enough for Teyla, so she decided once again on the 'old school' methods that had served her well over her many years on Athos and then her stint on Colonel Sheppard's team in Atlantis.

The Alterra patiently made her way to the Humans without encountering any resistance…but where she had expected cocoons she found only one, along with liquid filled pods.

Teyla glanced around again, making sure she was alone, then pulled back a mass of tentacles revealing a translucent skin. Visible within was a small humanoid form which could have been Wraith as easily as it could have been Human, but Teyla was sensing a trace of a Human mind…in fact, it was the same trace as all of them.

Her eyes widened and she looked back at the man in the cocoon. He was unconscious, but his mind was more 'visible' to her than the others. Still, she wanted to be sure so she retracted the 'glove' on her right hand and pressed her fingertips to the man's forehead.

His mind and essence poured into her senses, giving Teyla an ethereal 'fingerprint' which she then compared to the others. She couldn't touch them, nor did they seem fully developed, but the faint presences she felt were eerily similar.

Teyla pressed her head against the pliable pod, getting in as close physical proximity as possible to boost her telepathy. She checked and rechecked the 'fingerprint' a dozen times, but in the end she still wasn't sure if it was the same, but she knew it definitely wasn't Wraith.

That said, her logic filled in the rest. Wraith captured Humans to feed on. These Humans weren't fully developed and in pods rather than cocoons. Children weren't culled and captives weren't bred. She knew this from her own experience and the files the Lanteans left behind, though how they knew for sure was beyond her.

Her gut instinct told her she was right, which implied either a shift in strategy or a complete lack of understanding of the Wraith. Either way, they were cloning Humans, possibly as a runaround to the Hoffan plague or as a means to supplement their food supply.

Had they always been able to do this, was it a new technology, was it power hungry and therefore not previously used? Many questions ran through Teyla's mind, questions she couldn't answer. But whatever the answers, this wasn't good.

Teyla decided to move on. Her mission was to rescue any captured Humans, but she had no idea how many there were. If this was the only man, her task would be relatively easy, but if he wasn't, pulling him out now might jeopardize any others in the facility. She needed to do some additional recon before she acted…and record data.

To that end she engaged the data recorders in her armor and scanned the pods before moving on. Using a mix of her own senses and her armor's systems she located another set of cloning chambers…and a single woman in a cocoon. It was an identical chamber with 38 pods. Teyla marked the location in her armor's navigation system and moved on.

She found three more cloning chambers before she crossed her first Wraith. Actually it was three of them, two warriors and one male. The male led the way while the warriors pulled a struggling Human screaming behind them.

Teyla steadied her nerves and clamped down on her urge to kill them immediately and free the Human. Instead she shadowed them. They led her to an as yet unused cloning chamber where they sedated and secured the Human in the cocoon.

Where the man had come from was of primary importance, so she backtracked to where she'd discovered them then attempted to divine their route prior to their encounter. It took a little work, and a lot of dead ends, but she eventually came to a level filled with holding cells…a third of which held conscious Human captives.

Teyla crouched down out of sight. This was it. This was what she had come for…but there were so many of them, and she only had 84 tags. They'd have to double up.

First things first.

Off in the distance she saw a pair of Wraith guards and heard at least four more in various directions. She relented and used her lifeform detector to get more accurate numbers and discovered twelve in total, assuming none were being shielded by irregularities in the walls.

Slipping beneath her cloaking device, Teyla snuck up behind and followed one of the Wraith moving through the halls until it was alone and out of earshot. She reached her wrist up to the back of its neck and shot it three times, the third of which hit its head as it fell to the ground. Not sure if she'd been heard, she ran off under cloak and tracked down the next nearest Wraith and disposed of it.

Teyla went on a Ronon-esk tear, killing ten of the Wraith before an alarm finally sounded.

"You're on the clock," she reminded herself as the final two Wraith came toward her position, unaware of her cloaking device. She caught them both in the neck with punch/shots directly into their throats. She decloaked and fired several more green bolts into their skulls to make sure they were truly down.

Knowing that there were probably more on the way, Teyla hurried to the first cell and pried open the spindle doors with her armored hands and several strategically placed energy blasts.

"Help us, please!" a woman shouted amidst an array of barely audible chatter coming from this cell and the others when they saw her wall-blue armor and exposed head.

Teyla knew better than to argue with panicky people, so she didn't bother to respond. Instead, she slipped a small adhesive disk out of her pocket beneath her armor and stuck it to the woman's forehead. A small blue light started to blink in the center of the tag as the woman reflexively reached up to touch it.

Before she could she disappeared in a flash of white light and Teyla grabbed two teenage girls, ordered them to hold onto each other, and tagged one on the arm. A moment later they both flashed away…and loud footsteps boomed from the left.

Teyla stepped out and fired several blasts down the hallway, killing two Wraith as she ducked under a stun blast. Several more quick shots killed the third Wraith and she returned to tagging the people in the cell she'd opened.

One of which she had to run down as he fled aimlessly away from the holding cells. She grabbed him angrily and smashed the tag into his exposed sternum, then left him and retreated to the next nearest cell. He vanished behind her.

She repeated the process for two more cells, killing isolated Wraith in the interim, before the heavy waves of reinforcements began. She didn't know where they were coming from, but they were coming in the dozens…which meant she had to stop tagging captives and fight.

Moving with the speed and agility that only an Alterran could achieve, Teyla ducked in and out of cover, sprinted up and down hallways, crawled above doorways, across ceilings, and over biological equipment as she evaded, separated, and thinned their numbers until she could fight them head on. She did this for nearly twenty minutes until the Wraith had either quit trying, or had run out of reinforcements to send.

Stepping over dead bodies left and right, she policed the corpses, firing additional shots to make sure they wouldn't spring back to life and take her off guard. Teyla proceeded to the other cells where she freed and tagged the remaining survivors, some 63 people total, then she went back and carefully extricated the captives in the cocoons.

Finally she got back to the first man she had found. He was the last Human to rescue, and she only had two tags left…but that would be enough.

He awoke with a gasp and Teyla caught him before he could hit the floor.

"Easy…I'm going to get you out of here," she said reassuringly.

"My…wife," he said stoically as he shook uncontrollably.

"I got the others out already," Teyla told him. "You're the last person left."

"Thank…the Ancestors," the man said, nearly fainting.

"You're welcome," Teyla said as he wavered in and out of consciousness. She placed a tag on his forehead and held him in a tight embrace, glancing at the cloning pods. They weren't fully formed yet…if she pulled them out now it would kill them.

She didn't like it, but there was nothing she could do for them.

With a flash of bright light the dim confines of the Wraith base disappeared, quickly replaced by the dull interior of the Daedalus's ring room.

Two of the crew took the man from Teyla and dragged him off to the med bay. She retracted her armor into her innocuous forearm jewelry, revealing neat, trim blue garments that clung to her body in a flattering, yet formal design where the armor had been. She flicked a bit of Wraith blood out of her hair and headed for the bridge.

"Quite a haul," Ford said from the command chair.

"Yes it was," she said, sitting down on the edge of the holographic ring that had replaced the archaic vertical navigational board behind the control stations.

"We all done here?" he asked.

Teyla nodded.

"Good, because we've been recalled," Ford said as his lieutenant began to break orbit under the anonymity of their cloaking device and the shadow of four Wraith cruisers.

"For what purpose?" Teyla asked. Stevenson had given her a crew and ship along with permission to rescue as many captives as she wanted. Over the last two months she'd accumulated a total of 104, plus those saved today. Such missions were time critical and she knew that any delay would probably prove to be lethal for someone, somewhere.

"A little recon," Ford said as they passed under the last of the orbiting cruisers. "Apparently the Wraith hit one of Stevenson's replicator worlds. It's less than half an hour away and he asked us to check it out."

"Very well," Teyla said. "Bring us out of hyperspace in high orbit, just to be on the safe side."

Ford turned to his lieutenant. "Hear that, Chuck?"

"Got it," the only other crewman on the bridge said.

"I'll be back in fifteen," Teyla said, walking off.

"If you're going to get some food, bring me back a red bar."

"If you must know, I'm going to wash my hair, but now that you mention it I'm a little hungry too. Do you want anything?"

"I'm good," Chuck said as the ship entered hyperspace. "Nice work down there, by the way."

Teyla smiled faintly. "It's still not enough."

"You can't do everything yourself, Teyla," Ford consoled her.

"No…but I'm working on it," she said in a mixture of sarcasm and defiance as she left.

Chuck laughed after she was gone and Ford turned to him, shaking his head in awe. "Just be glad she's on our side."


 

3

 

 

"It looks like you pissed them off," Elizabeth said as she, Stevenson, and Sheppard stood around the holographic sensor data being relayed to Atlantis via the Daedalus.

"What?" Sheppard complained. "One hive ship and some ground troops. We've taken out more than that before."

"They've never reacted like that," Elizabeth said, pointing at the hundred plus Wraith ships, "before. At least not while I was here."

"Maybe they finally got tired of fighting each other," Sheppard offered.

"They're goading us," Stevenson declared.

Sheppard and Weir both turned to look at him. "Come again?" Elizabeth said.

"They managed to find one of our outposts…now they're trying to draw us out into the open and assess our strength."

Sheppard glanced back at the hologram. "Son of a bitch."

"What do you want to do?" Elizabeth asked.

"Teyla," Stevenson said into the air. "Can you give us a multi-spectrum scan?"

"One moment," her disembodied voice said. Shortly thereafter the hologram altered into a kaleidoscope of color. Stevenson input a variety of commands into the holoprojector and sifted through the data. After thirty seconds the distinctive hulls of the Wraith ships reappeared with nearly all of the cruisers twinkling as if they were coated with sparkles.

"The biomass construction of their hulls," Stevenson explained when Sheppard gave him a funny look, "ages over time, slightly altering its composition. New growth contains a few extra compounds that fade away after a couple years."

"New growth," Elizabeth repeated, looking at the fleet of cruisers. "You're saying most of these ships are brand new?"

Stevenson nodded.

Sheppard cringed. "I guess using Atlantis in a space battle kind of gave us away."

"Probably," Stevenson agreed. "Now they're gearing up for a second war."

"Which they won last time through superior numbers," Elizabeth added.

"This time with a backup food supply," Sheppard said, referring to Teyla's recent report.

"Teyla," Stevenson said again, "can you confirm the gate was destroyed?"

"It's gone," she said, subdued.

Stevenson nodded. "We're going to write this one off as a loss. Withdraw from the system and continue your previous mission."

"Understood. Daedalus out."

The hologram of the Wraith fleet disappeared and Stevenson began to leave the control room.

"That's it?" Elizabeth asked.

"For now, yes," he said, turning around.

Sheppard looked shocked. "We're just going to let them get away with this?"

"What would you suggest?"

"Well, what about the Columnar? It, plus the Tria, Daedalus, Apollo, and Odyssey should be able to take out those cruisers…right?"

Stevenson raised an eyebrow. "Do you really think they pulled out all those ships just so we could destroy them?"

"You think they've got something hidden up their sleeve?" Elizabeth asked.

"They wouldn't go to those lengths unless they had something to gain," Stevenson said pithily. "We're not ready to take the fight to them yet. We need to resist the urge to act impulsively. The loss of that outpost will have an effect on our supply chain, yes, but it hardly cripples us. We have more sites coming online every month, and with the expansion rate of current installations we'll overcome this deficit within the week."

"So it didn't really hurt us," Elizabeth summed up.

"Just the ego," Stevenson said. "Which it was meant to."

"I still don't see why we shouldn't destroy some of their ships when we have the chance," Sheppard argued.

"If it was me," Stevenson told him, "I'd have another fleet or two waiting just outside the system to tip the scales."

"An ambush?" Elizabeth asked.

"I don't know for sure…but it's not worth the risk. At least, not until we have some backup."

"Well then," Elizabeth said, moving on, "I guess that's that."

Stevenson left the control room, but Sheppard stayed behind with Weir.

"Is it just me, or did he give up a little too easy?"

"He was upset," Elizabeth told him. "He just wasn't showing it."

Sheppard frowned. "You sure?"

Elizabeth nodded. "Yep…more so than you, believe it or not."

"Really," Sheppard said, reconsidering.

"By the way," Elizabeth said, changing subjects. "You've got chair duty when we move the city next week."

Sheppard looked shocked. "Stevenson going back to the Ori?"

Elizabeth nodded. "He said you could handle it."

"Hmm…about time," Sheppard complained. "Where are we going anyway?"

"Some desert planet rich in neutronium…uninhabited of course."

"Of course," Sheppard echoed. "Sand's not as soft as water, is it?"

"Worried?" she teased him.

"Nah, piece of cake. See you at lunch," he said, leaving the control room. "How the hell do I land in sand," he whispered to himself.


"This is not what I signed up for," Rodney complained when he returned to his quarters.

"What isn't?" Jennifer asked, putting down the book she was reading.

"Forget the seven newbie projects I've been assigned, the humiliation of Zelenka getting priority status in the assignment roster, and having one of the scientists I respect the most being debunked like a 1st year grad student…but now Weir's given me an ultimatum that I'm never going to be able to meet."

"I got one too," Jennifer said, rubbing his shoulders. "I'll admit what she's given me is difficult, but I figured you'd be up to the challenge…especially if it means a chance of becoming an Ancient."

"Normally yes, I would, but this is totally unfair," Rodney continued to complain.

"What's unfair," Jennifer reiterated.

Rodney cupped his head in his hands. "Physical training."

Jennifer tried to suppress a laugh, but didn't completely succeed.

"Oh, what? You think that's funny," he said, standing up. "You think I'm flabby, don't you?"

"I never said that…but working out a little couldn't hurt."

"A little! She said I have to run."

"Run?"

"Run…the same time that Stevenson gave her to meet. 19:59 for five kilometers."

Jennifer shrugged. "Is that fast?"

"Way fast," he said. "Faster than I'll ever be able to make."

"And you don't like that sort of thing…"

"What's your point?" Rodney asked, pacing back and forth in frustration.

"She gave me something I didn't like either."

"Like what?"

"It's…personal."

"I'm your husband."

"It's very personal…frankly, I don't even know how she found out."

"What is it?" Rodney persisted.

Jennifer glared at him. "I told you it's personal."

"And you can't trust me?"

"It's not about trust…it's just something I have to confront on my own. You can't help me with it, and I'd prefer if you didn't ask me about it again."

"Is it something bad?"

"Rodney…"

"Ok, ok…if you want to keep secrets from me, that's fine."

"Don't take it that way."

"No, no. I'm ok with it."

"I know you're not…but it has to be this way."

"Are you going to be able to do it, whatever it is?"

Jennifer stiffened. "Honestly, I don't know if I even want to try."

"Why the hell not?"

"I don't like the idea that I'm somehow not good enough to do my job because I'm Human. I'm a darn good doctor, and I don't have to be upgraded to help people."

"Well that's just stupid," Rodney complained. "Of course you're good enough. But I for one would like to have you around for several hundred years, and to do that you're either going to have to become an Ancient, or I'll have to mummify your body…"

"Eew. That's gross."

"Yeah, I don't know why I just said that."

"Your eccentricity aside, I want to have you around as long as possible too."

"Well, then," Rodney said optimistically, "you're going to have to do whatever it is you don't want to tell me about."

"That works both ways," she said, eyeing him.

"What do you mean?"

"19:59."

Rodney slumped. "You did that on purpose, didn't you?"

"Maybe," she said playfully.

Rodney sat down next to her on their bed. "I really don't think I can."

"You can try," Jennifer prodded. "You didn't become a brilliant scientist overnight."

"True."

She grabbed his hand. "I'll take a swing at it, if you will."

Rodney sighed. "I'm going to regret this."

"Besides…you don't want Cadman becoming an Ancient before you, right?"

"Oh, god, you had to bring that up, didn't you."

"You work best under pressure," she kidded him as she slid up and onto his lap with her arms around his neck. "And the more pressure the better," she said, kissing him as she leaned him backward, smashing his body between the cushions and hers.


In one of Atlantis's restricted sections, Stevenson worked on a holographic model of DNA, reconfiguring base sequences to return some previous functionality that had been lost over the millennia. Given the mental development of the species, returning to a previous form wasn't possible…their biological hard drives simply weren't large enough to service a full consciousness, and he didn't want to revive them in a limited state.

He activated the computer modeling program with his most recent changes playing out. The holographic model expanded to a humanoid figure that grew 3% taller as a result. The mental capability statistics alongside the hologram also indicated an increase in brain functions in seven key areas…but a reduction in two others.

Stevenson highlighted the compromised areas and dug into the DNA strands responsible and continued to troubleshoot the differences between the genetic profile that he had implanted in his memory and the profile retrieved from the Odyssey.

A few minutes later he updated his model again, resulting in an improvement in one of the affected areas and a slight decrease in four others.

Undaunted, he continued methodically…and the holographic model of the Asgard body continued to subtly shift with each update.


 

4

 

 

Technician Ana Nordman stood watch in Atlantis's gateroom, a replacement for the recently promoted Devonshire, when the stargate activated. The blonde woman, barely out of her teens, frowned slightly as she looked for an identification code. All of Atlantis's teams were on site…maybe it was someone from the training center on Yavin.

The shield over the stargate disengaged without a code being transmitted and Ana's eyes went wide. The only person known to do that was Stevenson…and he was already on base.

She reached for the city's communication panel just as a woman walked through the gate and the wormhole shut down behind her. She stood tall and motionless a few feet beyond where the kawoosh would have materialized and said nothing. She simply stood there, still as a statue.

"Dr. Weir," Ana whispered into the link to her nearby office. "We have an unknown visitor."

Elizabeth stood up and dropped her datapad on her desk. "On my way," she said, stepping out of her office. When she did she got her first look at the visitor. The woman was tall and thin, dressed in an unusual robe that looked to be partially sheer. When Elizabeth made the full circuit around and down the steps she realized the garment wasn't fully solid. It was a mass of beads woven together in a complicated web-like pattern…and she could see her nude outline through the gaps.

"Hello," Elizabeth said cautiously. "Who are you and how did you get through our shield?"

The woman didn't answer. Her eyes were closed and she looked to be concentrating on something.

Elizabeth exchanged glances with the two security guards flanking the steps behind her and their replicator counterparts. The Humans shrugged. They didn't have a clue what was going on either.

"Ok…" Elizabeth said to herself, crossing her arms over her chest as she thought. A moment later the woman's eyes finally opened.

"Hi," Elizabeth said kindly, with a hint of sarcasm mixed in.

"I am Andara," she said in Ancient.

"My apologies. I shouldn't have assumed you spoke English," Elizabeth said quickly. "How did you get past our shield?"

"Manually," she said, still not moving from her statuesque pose.

"I see," Elizabeth said, wondering what exactly she meant by 'manually.' "Well, what brings you to Atlantis?"

"I must speak with Stevenson."

Elizabeth's eyes widened, then she nodded. "That can be arranged."

"He is already on his way."

Now Elizabeth frowned. "You were talking to him telepathically a moment ago, weren't you?"

"Yes."

"May I ask how you know him?"

Andara smiled slightly. "He is my brother."

"Your brother?" Elizabeth said, surprised. "I'd hazard a guess that you're not from Earth…are you…Alterra?"

Andara nodded politely, then her attention was caught by Stevenson coming down the stairs behind Elizabeth.

Weir gave him a 'why didn't you tell me' look, but Stevenson brushed her off.

"Later," he told Elizabeth as he walked by her and took Andara's hand in his in a greeting Weir wasn't familiar with. They appeared to have some type of silent conversation, then they walked off into Atlantis to who knew where.

Elizabeth, a bit flabbergasted, silently watched them go, noticing for the first time that Andara was barefoot…and had some intricate piece of jewelry woven into the back of her braided hair.

"What was that about?" one of the guards asked her.

"Beats me," she said, a little miffed. She was going to have a very long conversation with Stevenson after he'd seen to his guest.


"How bad is it?" Stevenson asked telepathically as they walked through the city.

"Two more planets have been infected," Andara told him evenly. "Our fleet can't stop their runners from getting through to the surface."

"Have the drones been effective?"

"Yes, we tested them on Jcora. They successfully intercepted two attempts by single runners…but then they started throwing multiple ships at us at once."

"I was afraid of that," Stevenson said as they stepped into one of Atlantis's transporters.

"We either need to widen the picket line or increase the concentration of drones…either way we need more of them. A lot more."

"The drones are neutronium heavy technology…as it is our supply of that element is extremely limited. I've been using most of it to create the replicators, which, in lieu of a traditional workforce are our only current means of fielding a sufficiently large logistics network."

The doors parted and they walked on. "I understand, but if we don't do something quickly the Feriorla infrastructure is going to implode due to lack of available personnel as more become infected and incapacitated."

"In a month we should have sufficient neutronium reserves to start fielding a larger number of defensive drones. In three days Atlantis will transfer to another planet, one rich in neutronium, and establish a resource collection hub such as we have here on Hoth. Given that we have available supplies to work with from the beginning this time, it shouldn't take very long to establish the subsurface mining conduits. As soon as the infrastructure starts to produce I'll route the majority of the neutronium to Dracona."

Andara shook her head. "That's not enough. We need you there to help us. I can't do it alone…at least, not good enough to stem the tide. If we don't do something soon our defenses are going to be reduced to such a state that will literally beg for invasion."

"I know," Stevenson said slowly as they crossed into one of the Alterra-only sections of the city. "I didn't want to do this originally, but given the lack of adequate candidates there's only one way for me to be in several places at once."

Andara frowned. "What do you mean?"

Stevenson directed her into a nearby lab…and once she was inside she understood. "How long?"

"Fifteen days…but I have to return to Destra tomorrow. I will be back here in ten days to overseen the final stages."

"Do you need a female template?"

Stevenson shook his head. "Not now. Ask me again in a hundred years or so."

Andara slowly took his meaning. "You don't expect to find many others?"

"I'm not counting on it," Stevenson cautioned, "but I haven't given up hope entirely."

The female Alterra sighed. "A month then?"

"At the most."

She nodded. "I should return then, and do what I can in the interim."