Déjà vu: Part 3
With a firm grip on her neck, the Goa'uld dragged Vala's naked body down the corridor and into a nearby elevator. She struggled against his iron hold while trying to keep her balance as the man hurriedly walked her into the concealed booth. When the doors slid shut he pinned her against the wall with one hand on her neck and used the other to punch the level 19 button.
"Where…are… you…taking…me?" Vala struggled to ask.
"Be silent if you want to remain conscious," the man said, his voice once again Human, but lacking the Chinese accent. He applied additional pressure to her trachea to reinforce the point and Vala had little choice but to comply as the elevator slowly rose upward.
With the little oxygen getting to her brain, Vala still had enough wherewithal to mentally curse the Goa'uld for pressing her bare butt up against the cold metal wall as well as come to the conclusion that she was in real trouble this time. If the Goa'uld had a hand in the problems on Earth, then her recognizing the infiltrator for who he was meant that she had to die, else their secret would get out…assuming there was more than one of them.
As she pondered that thought the elevator finally arrived at its destination and the Chinese man dragged her into another long hallway…this one with four guards stationed nearby.
"Take her," he ordered them in the bizarre Tauri language.
The four men cautiously stepped forward and grabbed both her arms as she finally gave up struggling, happy just to be able to breathe freely. They pulled her into a large room on the left and strapped her down onto what Vala recognized as an interrogation table.
"Make sure they're tight," the Chinese/Goa'uld ordered. "She's a slippery one."
"Ow!" Vala protested as they cut off part of the circulation in her right wrist, then moved onto her left before tying down her legs and finishing with an abdominal clamp.
When the guards finished, one of them tested the bonds and nodded to confirm their quality.
"Alert medical to see to the two idiots in her cell," he ordered, signaling for them to leave. "And tell them they're removed from active duty until I determine an adequate punishment."
"Yes, sir," the highest ranking guard said, bowing his head as he stepped by his superior. He turned about after the others had exited and shut the door on his way out.
"So what now?" Vala asked. "You going to pump me for information?" she said tongue in cheek.
"Who were you host to?" he asked without preamble, his voice once against tinged with the Goa'uld ambiance.
Vala laid her head back down on the table and looked at the ceiling. "Do you really need to know?"
He raised an eyebrow and began to pace slowly around the table on which Vala was restrained. "I suppose it's trivial information at that, but one does not easily escape the grasp of their master. Do you have the Tok'ra to thank, or the perhaps the Asgard?"
"The Tok'ra, if you must know," Vala offered.
The Goa'uld nodded slowly. "I was aware that your companion was once blended with a Tok'ra, and had taken precautions to avoid any interaction…but I was not informed that you also possessed the latent detection ability."
"Well don't feel too badly," Vala responded pithily, "peons aren't supposed to know everything."
"It's an oversight that shouldn't have been made," he said, ignoring both her insult and her pathetic ploy to gather information as to their numbers, "and it puts me in an awkward position."
"Sorry to be an inconvenience."
"Oh, I'm afraid it's more serious than that, my dear," he said, running a finger down the length of her right leg. "I can't let you return to the Tauri as I'd planned."
"Planned?" Vala asked, a bit surprised.
"Your team is a valued asset of ours, one which we are hesitant to waste…though present events seem to have made the decision for us."
"What are you waiting for then? Or do you plan to have some fun with me first?"
"I suppose it's not a total loss. Teal'c will still survive, wherever he is, though his allegiance to the Tauri may waver if SG-1 is killed. Where is he, by the way?"
"You tell me," Vala countered, covering her surprise. She'd assumed he'd been captured too. "If we're really working for you, then you must know what mission Teal'c was sent on…or are you over exaggerating your level of influence on Earth?" she said, tilting her head to the side to glare at him.
"We're kept well informed, as you would suspect, but given the remote location of this facility I'm not always kept in the loop with regards to the most recent intel."
"What are you doing out here anyway?" Vala asked loudly, switching her tone from scorn to curious. "I know you're trying to set up a Chinese Empire, but what does it gain you? The United States is clearly the power broker in the whole international arrangement."
"And they have the most effective anti-symbiot detection systems," he countered. "The Chinese, however, are not so diligent."
"The proverbial weak link," Vala said, exasperated.
"Them and others…" the Goa'uld commented, beginning to boast a little. "Any direct takeover, however, would still be discovered and is therefore out of the question. Our predecessors failed to realize that all species must, at some point, adapt in order to survive…the Goa'uld are not exempt from this fact. Those that refused to change were killed either in the Jaffa revolt or later by the Tok'ra hunters," he said with ample disgust. "The rest of us have learned to take a…lesser approach to dealing with the Tauri."
"Backroom manipulation…," Vala said, understanding.
The Goa'uld shook his head. "Not even that. The Tauri have proven to be of a similar disposition to ourselves on the whole…though exceedingly amateuristic to say the least. Their deviousness is to be admired in that it makes manipulating them all the easier. We needn't make radical changes to their planet, only a few carefully placed minor corrections here and there as the need arises. For the time being we can sit back, relax, and let your planet take all the risks."
"How convenient for you," Vala said, her stomach lurching as she realized how right he was. There were good people on Earth, she wouldn't have allied with them if there weren't…unless they had something valuable to steal…but a lot of the sniveling, suit-wearing cowards that ran the governments of Earth's nations did in fact mirror the Goa'uld, though in a slightly less intimidating fashion.
In particular the I.O.A. matched up eerily well. They gave orders and sat back in safety as they watched others carry them out, often with disastrous results. The whole mission to the Ori galaxy and the replicator debacle rose to mind easy enough.
They also blamed others for their own failure, often preying on those who did the dirty work in a sacrificial offering to save their own asses. Earth's nations were also constantly bickering and sometimes even fighting each other, much as the Goa'uld had before the Jaffa rebellion and the recent incident with the Ark of Truth had "Goa'uld" written all over it.
The more Vala thought through her short history on Earth the more she regrettably agreed with the snakehead.
"So what's the end goal?" she asked. "Galactic domination all over again? Same old, same old?"
"Not quite," the Goa'uld said as he paced around the table where she was restrained. "But we're getting ahead of ourselves…the question at the moment is what to do with you, my dear."
"I vote for letting me go," Vala said sarcastically.
"Democracy is so pathetic," the Goa'uld said, stopping his walk near the door. "However, sometimes it is necessary to…consult with others."
He opened the latch on the heavy metal door but refrained from pulling it open. He turned back to look at Vala. "Now, be a good girl and stay put while I'm gone. I promise I won't be long," he said with a wry smile before opening the door and stepping out. He said a few words in Chinese to the guards and the door closed with a clank, leaving Vala alone, restrained, and nude in the interrogation room.
"Ok…now how am I going to get my sorry ass out of this one," she said aloud as she considered her options.
Jack walked out of the event horizon into a small clearing of dirt surrounded by woods. A pile of melted stone stood several meters out from the gate, but nothing else was visible save for trees, trees, and more trees.
"Ok," O'Neill said as the stargate shut down behind him as his boots dug into the soft, dark dirt, "smart money says to dial another address so they can't follow…but that's what they'll expect me to do. They send some four-eyes to dig through the DHD and find the planet I gated to…so I need to gate out again three, four, maybe five times to lose my trail for good."
Jack cringed. He wasn't actually sure how well they could track him, nor how many times it would take before he truly lost them.
"Or…I can lay low here and see if anyone comes after me. They'll think I was smart and gated somewhere else," he said with a nod. "Sounds like a plan," he said, clapping and rubbing his hands together in anticipation. "Time for a nap."
Jack looked around and picked a direction. He walked into the forest and found sufficient cover to shield himself from view of the stargate but not so far as to not be able to hear an incoming wormhole. He spied a thick, toppled tree trunk and climbed over to the opposite side.
"This will do," he said, sitting down and unpacking some of his supplies. He didn't know how long he'd be here, or out here in general, so he'd packed away as many foodstuffs as he could fit into his backpack. One thing was sure…he couldn't go back to Earth for supplies anytime soon, and frankly he didn't know if he'd even want to if things changed back home. Of all the times he and SG-1 had saved their assess…
He didn't know where they were or how to find them and felt a pang of guilt for not being able to let them know what was going on…or even to say goodbye. Daniel, he knew, was on Atlantis. Maybe he'd find his way there eventually, but for right now he just needed to rest and clear his head. The stress and confusion that he'd endured ever since being promoted to General felt like a railroad spike had been pounded into his skull…and now it was painfully starting to pull free.
He wondered where he'd gone wrong. Maybe he never should have accepted promotion, but then again they'd have probably ended up with some scrub replacing Hammond and Jack would have had to go into retirement just to stay sane…either that or end up court-martialed. No, he had to take the job…but did it really have to end up like this?
"That's the last 'yes, sir'
they'll be getting out of me," Jack mumbled as he laid down next to the
log, resting his head on his pack. Within a couple of minutes he was out cold,
getting a long overdue rest.
Jack woke with a start. The sounds of activating chevrons on the stargate stood out amongst the subtle din of forest sounds. The calm air made the sound stand out even more, loud and clear enough to wake Jack from his hazy nap. His mind caught up with reality just before the gate activated and he heard the kawoosh as he blinked his eyes open. He swiped a thread of drool out of the corner of his mouth and stared at it for a moment as he got his bearings, then wiped it off on his pant leg.
He sat up behind the log and twisted a stiff neck in the direction of the sound…
Suddenly he was fully awake as he saw the gate suspended horizontal in the air above a mechanical arm stretching up from the ground.
"Where the hell did you send me, Walter?" Jack mumbled as he pulled on his pack and fingered his P-90.
A few seconds later a faint rumble/whine drifted over the treetops from what Jack guessed was the west, based on the direction of the planet's sun. It grew in volume until a rectangular ship appeared over the gap in the forest surrounding the gate.
It took up position over the event horizon and opened a concealed bay on the underside of the ship. A moment later a long, thick stream of grain poured out into the puddle, emptying the hold of the Aschen harvester.
"Oh, crap," Jack said aloud as he looked around the area to make sure he was alone. "I gotta get out of here."
The grain falling from the harvester shown a golden brown in the heavy sunlight, but Jack saw blue highlights intermittently and frowned.
As the last bits fell through the stargate, Jack noticed the same blue highlights reflecting off the ship…coming somewhere from above. He couldn't see anything above him, save for tree leaves, but the pattern of flashing resembled weapons fire.
Was someone fighting the Aschen? he wondered.
The stargate deactivated as the harvester drifted off back to whatever field it had come from and the giant mechanical arm pulled the ring back into its usual standing position. The arm disappeared somewhere beneath the gate and all appeared as it had been before. The DHD was beside the gate and easily accessible.
Wait, Jack cautioned himself. He needed to let the harvester get farther away…and he needed to find another address to dial.
Jack slipped his pack off and dug out the full list of stargate addresses that Walter had given him.
"Let's see what we've got here," he said as he scanned through the alphanumerical numbering system. Fortunately there was another column off to the right side of the list with the formal planet names and/or descriptions.
"Ah," he said, spying an old address, "haven't seen her in a while. Couldn't hurt to stop in for a visit, share some laughs, get a fresh cooked meal…and figure out what the hell I'm going to do with myself."
Jack folded the paper back so his designated address and a few others were the only ones showing. He palmed the paper in his left hand while his right feathered the trigger of his weapon. He didn't think anyone was around, but he was feeling jittery, and if that really was weapons fire…
Jack got up from cover and made it three steps past the log when a large sonic boom shook him to the bone. He glanced up out of reflex but still couldn't see through the forest canopy. He glanced around the perimeter quickly, then jogged out into the clearing around the gate and looked up.
Hundreds of small dots smothered the sky around four large ships of some sort. They all looked black against the pale blue sky, but he could have swore he saw a blue bolt pass between two of them.
Silently one of the large black dots exploded into a debris cloud. A few long seconds later and a loud bang shook the forest for a second time.
"That's some firepower," Jack said in awe, squinting to see better.
He stood transfixed for several minutes, watching the battle overhead. Despite the danger of the situation, Jack wanted to see what happened. The Aschen had nearly destroyed every living thing on Earth…and it looked like someone was kicking their ass.
When there was only one large ship remaining the swarm of small dots began to thin. Whoever this was, was mopping up the little guys before they did whatever it was they were here to do.
Jack figured it was his time to leave.
He walked casually over to the DHD and began to dial the address he held in his palm. He got through half the symbols before a large shadow covered the clearing. The light source reappeared immediately as the remaining ship passed between O'Neill and the sun.
Jack paused and looked up. The black blot was getting bigger, which meant it was coming closer to the surface…but not quite towards him. Never the less, it was beginning to take shape. After a long minute the hammerhead silhouette disappeared beneath the horizon off to the west.
"No way," Jack said breathlessly.
"Colonel Mitchell," a voice echoed through Cam's cell.
"Teal'c?" Cam asked, setting up on the floor. He didn't see anyone.
"I am here," the Jaffa's voice said from outside the cell bars.
"Am I glad to see…hear you," Cam said, jumping to his feet. "Don't suppose you have the key?"
"I have my staff weapon, but firing it will alert the guards further down the hall. I have spotted at least three on this level."
"How did you get away?" Cam asked, grabbing the bars to lean on.
"I was rendered unconscious with the rest of you…but I remained cloaked. I was fortunate they did not discover me."
"Or trip over you," Cam added. "So…what's the plan," he whispered.
"I can free you," Teal'c offered, "but I have yet to locate the others. This facility appears to be quite large with many levels. I have searched five. You are the first I have found."
"I haven't seen or heard from anyone since I passed out," Cam told the invisible Jaffa. "Do you have any idea what's going on?"
"Alright...," Cam said reluctantly. "Leave me here and find the others."
"I will return as quickly as possible, Colonel Mitchell."
"And be careful. If you get caught we're screwed."
Nobody answered him. Apparently Teal'c had already left.
"Wastes no time," Cam said to himself, approving. "Typical Teal'c."
The Goa'uld left the interrogation chamber and traveled down to the bottom of the elevator shaft and exited on level 56, buried deep within the planet's bedrock. He walked down a short, empty hallway and opened a door onto a maintenance catwalk that spanned a large, pipe-filled room that accommodated the facility's sewage and water recycling systems, geothermal power tap, and air conditioning system.
The door swung shut with a click and left him alone in the monstrous level. No one ever came down here except when something malfunctioned…and with the modifications the Goa'uld had surreptitiously made to the design blueprints such malfunctions were few and far between, making it a suitable place to hide the entrance to the secret chamber.
The Goa'uld entered a code into a simple numerical keypad on the access panel of one of the power transfer control boxes and received an error tone for an incorrect sequence.
On the opposite wall a bare section of concrete slid out and aside, revealing a narrow passage which the Goa'uld quickly entered, tapping an interior 'close' button as he passed through. The thick panel retracted and resealed with the seam all but disappearing into the white concrete grain pattern.
A few steps later and the passage opened into a high, octagonal room. On the left was a staircase rising up around the circumference to a pair of higher levels with offshoots into the bedrock. On the bottom floor was a Goa'uld-style control console set below a large display screen.
The Goa'uld walked across to the platform and placed his hand into the glowing niche. He felt the rudimentary mental link establish and called up the recent status reports from offworld.
"Hmmn," he mumbled as he read through the report on the relocation of the Tauri stargate. "That went smoother than I expected…though they managed to alienate O'Neill in the process. Sloppy," he said disapprovingly.
O'Neill's influence with Bra'tac and his Ancient-enhanced Jaffa was a key element in their efforts to escape retribution for current and future actions, ostensibly on the part of Earth's natural inhabitants. Losing him would mean they'd have to tread more carefully, lest they risk a reprisal. Moreover, if O'Neill relayed information of the events on Earth to Bra'tac personally, then they could be looking at a Jaffa invasion to restore order to the planet, which would set back their efforts considerably.
"Never give a Human a task that requires intelligence," he grumbled.
Still, if somehow they were able to lay low and avoid immediate retribution then the relocation of the stargate to their facility in Egypt would be a significant boon to their efforts to set up a Tauri empire across the worlds that were once held by the Goa'uld. If they were very lucky, then this blunder could work to their advantage.
The Goa'uld rubbed the stubble on his chin thoughtfully. If the new SGC had gone online, then SG-1's value had to be reevaluated. It was questionable whether or not they would cooperate, retire, or act as a burr against their efforts. Perhaps it would be better if they just disappeared anonymously…
With a few select thoughts the Goa'uld activated the long range communication system. A large globe rose up from the floor on his left and he turned to face it. A few moments delay followed before a woman's face and torso appeared.
"Yes?" she asked passively. Her voice resonated in typical Goa'uld fashion.
"SG-1 managed to track down the Chinese facility. They were captured upon entry, unharmed, but the dark-haired female identified me. No one told me she was a former Host."
The female Goa'uld frowned angrily. "You know we cannot allow even the slightest breach," she admonished him. "Kill them immediately."
"I have them isolated from each other," he told her. "Only the dark-haired one knows. Do we really want to squander the entire team if not necessary?"
"They are obsolete," she said with finality. "Now that we control the Chappa'ai, we need to remove the dissentious elements and replace them with the ignorant…you know the method."
"I do, but I would caution against wasting valuable resources. Their personal ties to Bra'tac may be of use as a shield against retaliation. Not to mention this new Ancient if he truly originated from Earth."
"You overestimate their worth. Their absence is far more valuable to future operations. Dispose of them at once."
The male Goa'uld bowed his head. "Yes, my queen."
The transmission cut off from the other end and the sphere retracted back into the floor.
The Goa'uld stood there for a long time afterwards, thinking.
A thought shook Jack out of his reverie and he fingered the radio attached to his vest.
"This is General Jack O'Neill of Earth calling the Asgard ship above the planet. Please respond…"
He looked around as he waited for a reply, noticing his half finished address on the dialing device. He punched in the last few symbols but refrained from touching the activation sphere.
"Repeating…this is Jack O'Neill, personal friend of Supreme Commander Thor, calling the Asgard ship that just butt-checked the Aschen fleet. I would really like to talk to you guys if you can spare a minute…"
Jack let go of the transmit button and waited. It was possible they were already out of range and that the only ones hearing him were in the nearby harvester. He didn't like making himself a sitting duck, and was ready to jump through the gate on a moment's notice…well, two moments or he'd be vaporized by the kawoosh…but the reappearance of the Asgard was HUGE news and worth the danger, in O'Neill's opinion. The Asgard were supposed to have all died in another galaxy a few years back.
Suicide had never seemed like the little grey guys' style to begin with, and to tell the truth O'Neill had never been able to fully comprehend them giving up like that, but their being here, now felt totally right to Jack's gut.
The galaxy had gone to pieces in recent years, but just seeing that hammerhead shape streak across the sky made him feel like a Colonel again, with Thor and the other Asgard looking out for the pathetic, yet plucky Humans.
Someway, somehow the galaxy had just squared itself away, and Jack couldn't help but crack a smile.
"This is Jack O'Neill trying to reach the Asgard. Can anyone hear me?"
Jack glanced around, expecting to find the bad guys closing in on him, when his line of sight fell on the melted piled of stones in front of the gate. He frowned as his mind finally processed enough of his surroundings to wonder why they were there. He walked over to the mess of rock and took a closer look…
There were mostly melted blobs of solidified goo, but a few edges remained. Jack knelt down and ran his finger over one of them.
"Son of a…" he said as an epiphany hit him amidst a burst of white light.
"…bitch," he finished inside an empty chamber onboard the Asgard ship, but no one was around to greet him. He stood up and looked around.
"Oh yeah," he said, noticing the familiar architecture. "They're back."
Jack turned around, noticing a large viewing window behind him. Apparently this was some version of an Asgard observation deck. He walked up to the wide window and whistled…
Below the countryside, full of trees and square fields, was being rearranged by Asgard beams, plucking out the Aschen architecture with ease. Jack wondered where exactly all the stuff was going.
Small footfalls echoed in the silence of the ship's interior as a tall Asgard walked around the corner of the doorway and into view just inside the high ceiling arch.
"Greetings," it offered, looking up at O'Neill from across the room.
"Hey…nice to see you guys back from the dead," Jack said like they were best buddies. "By the way, love the work you're doing outside. A+ for butt-whipping."
"It is regrettable, but necessary," the Asgard stated evenly.
"Yeah…what planet are we on anyway? It's one of yours, isn't it?"
"Einherja is one of the oldest Asgard-protected worlds in the galaxy, second only to Earth in population. We originally relocated many human civilizations here for their mutual protection, however, the treaty we signed with the Goa'uld prevented us from continuing this practice."
"Which is why Walter thought it'd be safe…" O'Neill half said to himself. "Anyway, I'm Jack O'Neill…"
"Yes, we have met before," the Asgard said.
Jack frowned. "Oh?"
"I am Freyr."
"Freyr, huh…" Jack said evenly, remembering their last conversation. "You've grown."
"You noticed," the Asgard said sarcastically.
"Kind of hard to miss," Jack countered.
"Indeed. I and the other Asgard transferred our consciousnesses into new clone bodies that the Ancients provided for us. Thanks to our recently returned allies, our degenerative condition has been cured and the Asgard civilization is once again on the rise."
"Great to hear," Jack said, clapping his hands together once. "I don't suppose Thor is around by any chance?"
"Commander Thor is currently preoccupied on the bridge…he sent me to deal with you until he is free from his duties."
"Deal with me?" Jack asked, raising an eyebrow in protest.
"We are wondering why you were on the planet's surface?" Freyr asked, ignoring his complaint. "As far as we know, Earth has no ties to this world."
"If you're accusing us of working with the Aschen, you can forget it," Jack said, slashing the air in front of him with his hand for emphasis. "They attacked Earth not too long ago. I'm here on my own, as it were."
"For what purpose?" Freyr asked, blinking.
"Running away," Jack said candidly.
Freyr didn't say anything in response.
"You know, I'd love to fill you in on everything that's been going on, but it's a rather long story and I don't want to have to repeat myself twice when I meet Thor, so…"
"Our conversation is being recorded by the ship's computer," Freyr informed him. "Whatever you tell me, Thor will also know upon review of the ship's log."
"Of course," Jack said, slightly disappointed. "Alright…don't suppose we could sit down somewhere?"
Freyr raised his hand towards the right side of the room and two heavy throne-like chairs materialized facing each other parallel to the viewport.
"Nice," Jack said, plopping down into the nearest seat.
Freyr took a bit more time and gingerly settled his still fragile body into the opposite chair. "Has something transpired on Earth?"
"Oh yeah," Jack emphasized.
"Well, for starters the stargate has been taken out of Cheyenne Mountain and moved back to Egypt."
Freyr's eyelids raised a fraction. "Who now has possession of the stargate?"
"The I.O.A. stole it from us," Jack said bluntly. "I tried to stop them and ended up having to go rogue. Either that or end up in a prison cell for the rest of my life."
"You have been labeled a renegade?" Freyr asked, a mixture of concern and irony in his nearly emotionless voice.
"Afraid so," Jack said, without any hint of levity.
"Please tell us what has transpired, with as much detail as you can recall, starting with the beginning of the trouble on Earth."
Jack blew out a long breath. "Well, to be honest it started a few years back when…"
"…then I find myself on this planet without knowing where the hell I was," Jack continued after nearly an hour of venting. "I'd planned on gating somewhere else right away, but decided to take a nap first. Then you guys show up and here we are."
"Your news is indeed troubling, but ultimately no longer our concern," Freyr commented.
"I'm not asking you guys to fix Earth," Jack told him resolutely. "I've washed my hands of the whole mess. The whole freaking planet can blow up for all I care."
"Forgive me," Freyr said acutely, "but I doubt your sincerity. You cannot have fought the number of battles you did to save your world on many occasions and not retain some emotional ties to it."
"No…" O'Neill disagreed, nodding his head in facetious certainty, "I'm pretty sure I couldn't give a rat's ass right about now."
"As you wish," Freyr relented. "What do you wish from us?"
"Well…" O'Neill said, uncertain. "For starters I was wondering how you guys were still alive. I was told you blew your own planet up…with you on it."
"Our deaths were merely a ruse," Freyr revealed. "We couldn't take the chance of our technology falling into the wrong hands if and when we did finally succumb to our previous condition. We decided to fake our deaths, with your people as witnesses, in order to deter future scavengers. If they believed all we had was destroyed, then there would be nothing left for them to look for. This tactic allowed us to slip away unnoticed, where we hid until the Ancients returned and offered us a cure."
"How devious of you," Jack offered, mildly impressed. "So, what's the beef between you and the Aschen?"
"During our brief absence the Aschen took possession of Einherja. We demanded that they relinquish control and leave the planet…they refused."
"Was that one of Thor's hammers near the gate?"
Freyr hesitated at O'Neill's description. "Yes."
"Why'd they trash it?" he asked.
"They destroyed all Asgard technology on the planet's surface," Freyr informed him.
"But it was just an anti-Goa'uld thing, right?"
"Two thirds of the planet's population was killed when they refused to accept Aschen control. It seems they tolerate no resistance to their rule. Visible reminders of the Asgard would presumably undermine their authority in the eyes of the remaining indigenous population."
Jack cringed. "Nasty little buggars."
"Indeed," Freyr agreed.
"I assume there are at least some Aschen on the planet?"
"What are you going to do with them?" Jack wondered.
"They will be released through the stargate when we have finished removing their infrastructure."
"Just like that?" O'Neill said, gesturing with open hands.
"Along with subdermal transponders," Freyr added, "that will allow us to track their movements, revealing their other worlds should the conflict escalate beyond this one battle."
"Ah…well that sounds more like it," Jack said. "For a moment there I thought you were going to let them off the hook."
"Hardly," Freyr said menacingly as the sound of foot strikes grew louder from the hallway outside…except these didn't sound like the soft padding of bare Asgard feet. They sounded like bootstrikes.
"Hey," Sheppard said loudly as he appeared in the open archway, "I hear someone needs a lift?"
Vala didn't know how long she'd been left alone in the interrogation room. It must have been a few hours at least, and she was getting quite tired of looking at the drab ceiling…she was also getting quite the draft as her skin was plush with goose bumps from the slight chill in the air. Her restraints held her firmly to the table, no matter how much she tried to wiggle free…and she'd had quite a while to try.
The metal door opened with a loud clank that resounded in Vala's ears amidst what had been complete silence.
"About time you got back," Vala toyed with him. "I was beginning to get lonely."
The distinctive snap click of a pistol chambering a round brought Vala's head up. The Goa'uld had a small sidearm in his left hand as he approached the table.
"I don't really see a reason for that…" she said desperately. "Your boys did a very good job of tying me down."
When the Goa'uld was three meters away he raised his gun arm toward Vala's bound and naked body.
"No, no…" she argued quickly, "we're not done talking yet. I still have valuable secrets to give up, remember? Besides, don't you want to ride me at least once before…"
The first gunshot pierced Vala's heart with sound echoing throughout the room. Before the bang dissipated another shot was fired, hitting her sternum. A third and final shot split the distance between the first two, also impacting her heart.
The Goa'uld watched her convulse and fall silent, making sure his shots had hit the intended mark as she continued to bleed out onto the table.
"What a waste," he whispered to himself in Goa'uld, then turned around to address the guards that had stepped into the open doorway when they heard the shots.
"Kill the others, then dispose of the bodies. They were never here, understood?"
"Yes, sir," the pair said in tandem.
The Goa'uld waved them on ahead of
him, then casually walked out of the chamber and down the corridor to deal with
other business. He hoped Hera's impulsiveness wouldn't doom their efforts to
eventual failure, and that the Queen did indeed know what she was doing…but he
couldn't shake the feeling that she'd just made a grave miscalculation.
Teal'c paused on the inside door of the stairwell as he had numerous times before, waiting for any sound of nearby activity. When he found none the invisible Jaffa opened the hinge door onto level 19 and slipped into the long hallway that ran up the spine of each level.
According to the mental map he'd been compiling, the facility was nearly five times as long as it was wide. Teal'c had searched levels 27-20, finding Colonel Mitchell on 26, Colonel Carter on 24, and Major Hailey on 21. He'd yet to find Vala, and it looked like every level held a small number of detention cells along the central spine. If the pattern held, Vala should either be in the next few levels above, or back down on the levels below Mitchell.
Either way, Teal'c needed to keep searching for not only Vala but a secondary exit from the facility. The rings through which they'd entered level 27 were protected by the security system that had captured them in the first place. They'd need to either find another way out or find a way to disable the system in order to use the rings. Teal'c guessed that Carter could access one of the many computer terminals he'd come across during his reconnoiter, perhaps best in what he believed was some sort of control station that'd he'd found on level 25 under armed guard…but he couldn't spring Sam until he'd located Vala.
Teal'c headed down the central spine towards what he assumed would be additional holding cells when he smelled blood in the air. He followed the scent a few doors down the hallway until he came across an open door on the right where the stench blossomed and he saw Vala's bloody, naked body restrained on some sort of interrogation table.
"Vala Mal Doran," he said in a hushed voice as he rushed beside her.
She didn't answer, and as soon as Teal'c reached her he knew she was dead. He doubled checked by pressing an invisible hand against her neck…cold and no pulse. The pit of Teal'c's stomach clenched into a knot of hate and vengeance for a brief moment before another emotion surged to preeminence.
If they'd killed Vala, then the others were also in danger. He had to get to them now…Hailey was the closest two levels down.
Teal'c rushed out of the room in a rage and ran back to the stairs, staff weapon held ready to kill anyone that got in his way.
Teal'c burst out of the stairwell door on Hailey's level, spotting three guards at the other end of the hall. He ran towards them and the Major's closer cell, catching the scent of blood once again, just as the men entered the elevator at the far end of the hall. Three doors down and Teal'c came to level 21's holding cells.
The door to the center of the three cells was open…and Jennifer Hailey lay dead on the floor in a pool of blood.
Teal'c wanted to check to make sure she was dead, though he had no real hope otherwise, but he couldn't waste the seconds it would take. He bolted back down the hallway to the stairs, his fury rising a notch more. If those guards were the ones that had killed both Vala and Hailey then they were most likely on their way down to Colonel Carter…and they had a head start on him.
Sam sat with her back against the cell wall, staring at the bare bars when she heard the noise of a door opening, quickly followed by footsteps. Two people at least, which meant it wasn't Teal'c.
She stood up, brushing her trousers off and steadied herself. Her captors hadn't revealed themselves since she'd woke up, hours ago, though she didn't know how long it'd actually been. They'd taken her wristwatch along with all the rest of her gear.
The Colonel stayed back from the bars and waited till the three guards appeared in front of the cell. One of them produced a key as Carter offered a sarcastic greeting.
"Hi, guys. Guess my bail came through, huh?"
The guards ignored her jest, not that they understood it. None of them spoke more than a few words of English. The one with the keys unlocked the cell and pulled the door out into the hallway as a second guard brandished his sidearm.
Sam thought he was just going to cover her as they transferred her somewhere else, but the man held his arm out straight, bracing against the recoil in a firing position that she immediately recognized.
"Wait, wait," she urged, hands up as she tried to sidestep away from his line of fire, putting the wall bars between her and the gun.
The guard took a step into the cell to clear his line of fire and Sam jumped back into the center of the cell as the gun went off.
The shot caught her in the left side, spinning her about with a yell. She landed on her back as the guard readjusted his aim just as his countryman in the hallway behind him exploded.
His body was knocked into the third guard, who managed to stay standing as the fresh corpse slipped to the floor against his leg. Two more orange blasts whipped down the hallway, missing wide and high.
A fourth shot hit the guard in the leg as he was fumbling for his sidearm. He went down onto his right knee and caught himself against the cell bars as the guard that shot Sam stepped into the hallway firing at…nothing.
A long range blast hit the guard square in the face, killing him instantly and tipping him back on top of the injured guard that was struggling to get a grip on the situation. His leg was scorched and screaming in pain, not allowing him to put any weight on it. He squirmed around for some leverage and managed to push his way free of his dead compatriots and raise his head up along with his left hand, grasped his weapon shakily.
He looked down the hallway but saw nothing.
With the pain throbbing in his leg, the guard almost missed the telltale sound of foot strikes approaching. He recognized them for what they were just before an orange blast appeared out of nowhere…
Teal'c fired three more shots, one for each body, to insure that the men were truly dead as he rushed into the cell.
"Colonel Carter," Teal'c said, deactivating his cloak and kneeling next to her.
"Good timing," Sam said through clenched teeth. "Could have been a few seconds earlier though."
"Vala Mal Doran and Jennifer Hailey are dead," Teal'c told her. "Can you walk?"
"What!" Carter cried, pinning her right hand against the flesh wound on the side of her chest.
"I have yet to reach Colonel Mitchell," Teal'c continued as he pulled a bandage out of a pocket on his vest. "He is on a lower level. We much reach him a soon as possible."
"Ow…" Sam yelled as she pulled her hand away and allowed him to inspect the wound. Blood flowed freely.
"The bullet passed through," Teal'c said, pressing the small bandage against the entry point…but it was too short to stretch to the exit point three inches away. Teal'c looped the long ties around her chest and tied them off. He pulled out a second bandage and secured the exit wound in the same fashion.
"Help me up," Sam demanded, grimacing in pain.
Teal'c grabbed her arm and strongly pulled her to her feet. She leaned heavily against his side, barely able to stand.
"The rings are guarded by a security system," Teal'c said as she gathered her strength. "But there are several computer terminals on each level, with a main control room one level down."
"To find another way out," Sam said, pushing off of Teal'c's chest. "If it's in Chinese I'll need Cam to help translate."
Teal'c reached down outside the cell and retrieved one of the dead guards' sidearms.
"Thanks," Sam said when he handed it to her. She pulled out the clip, finding it half empty.
Teal'c grabbed the other weapons, found one with a full clip and handed it to Carter as a base-wide alarm sounded.
"We must hurry," Teal'c urged, pulling Carter by the elbow. "The stairs are at the far end of the hall."
"Where's…Cam at?" she asked between heavy breaths.
"Two levels down," Teal'c said as one of the side doors ahead of them opened up and what looked like a scientist stepped out. Teal'c shot him dead as soon as he cleared the door.
"Check that room," Sam said as they got to the dead body.
Teal'c swung his staff weapon inside, but found it empty.
"Clear," he reported.
"Leave me here. Get Cam. Then come back."
"I cannot do that, Colonel Carter," Teal'c insisted as he shot another person emerging in the hallway behind them. Again, not a guard.
"I'll slow you down too much…go…the sooner you leave…the sooner you can come back."
Teal'c hesitated, then nodded his agreement with her logic.
Sam hobbled into the room and Teal'c shut the door behind her. She heard the telltale sound of his Sodan cloak activating as she locked the door from the inside. It wasn't more than a simple handle lock, and wouldn't stand up against a firm kick, but it was better than nothing.
Spying a rolling desk chair, Sam walked over and painfully sat down, her side contracting in the process. She blinked away fresh tears and saw that the scientist's laptop computer was still active.
Using her right hand only, she began to sift through the Chinese version of Windows.
Teal'c ran down the stairs with abandon and came out firing on Cam's level. He killed four people in the hallway, including one guard that emerged from the elevator on the opposite end. When the hallway was clear he approached the cell where he'd left Mitchell.
The Colonel was still there, standing up close to the bars.
"Stand back," Teal'c's voice sounded from nowhere.
"About time," Cam said, jumping back from the bars just before the lock exploded from a staff blast.
Teal'c decloaked and started to backtrack the way he'd come, with Mitchell falling in behind him. "Did you find the others?"
"Colonel Carter is two levels above us, wounded. The others are dead."
"Dead!" Cam yelled, then ducked down against the wall as Teal'c suddenly turned around and fired behind them. Two guards coming out of the elevator fell dead in a furry of staff blasts.
"Executed," Teal'c said, returning to a run back toward the stairs.
"Do you have another weapon?" Cam said, combat mode overriding his emotions.
"I do not," the Jaffa said as he pulled open the stairwell door. He darted inside and ran up the stairs three at a time. Cam had a hard time keeping up, only able to climb two at a time.
The Colonel heard more staff blasts as he climbed up the second flight toward Carter's level. Teal'c was already busy clearing out the hallway.
Cam slowed and peeked out the door to make sure it was clear. All he saw was Teal'c's backside as he ran in a hurry back to wherever Carter was. Cam stepped out and followed him.
"Colonel Carter!" Teal'c yelled through the locked door.
"Hold on," her muted voice came back. A few seconds later the lock clicked and she opened the door.
"Sam!" Mitchell yelled in concern after he hurried into the room, seeing the blood soaking her left side halfway down her pants.
Teal'c pulled off his equipment pack and handed it to Mitchell, then disappeared from view beneath his cloak. The door seemed to pull itself shut as he posted himself on guard duty outside.
"Damn it," Cam said, rifling through Teal'c's pack for the small med kit that should be there. "You're bleeding out."
"I…know," she said, sitting back down in the chair. "Vala…"
"Teal'c told me," Cam said, focusing his thoughts solely on Sam. "Pull that bandage off," he told her, pulling out a small bottle from the med kit.
"Some help here," she said, not able to untie Teal'c's knots.
Cam slipped a small knife out of the kit and cut the flimsy bandages free. He pointed the spray bottle at the entry wound and gave it two squirts.
"Ahhh!" Sam yelled as she felt her flesh scrunch up. The bleeding began to slow as a result.
"Sorry," Cam said, also spraying the exit wound with the bio-sealer…a product of offworld technology and Human ingenuity. He resprayed the wounds a minute later, cutting off the bleeding entirely.
"That won't hold," Sam warned.
"We have to find somewhere to go first," Cam said, catching her point as they heard a pair of muffled, distant staff blasts. Apparently Teal'c wasn't just standing outside the door.
"I've managed to pull up a schematic of the facility," Sam said, looking at the laptop.
"Where are we?" Cam asked, seeing the 3d map covered with Chinese symbols.
"Level 24…the rings we came through are three levels down," she said, grimacing. "Assuming they're still guarded with force shields and gas…"
"We can't go back that way," Cam finished for her, seeing how out of breath she was. "Can you disable them?"
"I can't read any of this. And even if I could, we don't have their security codes."
"Are these the rings?" Cam asked, pointing to their entry point.
"I don't know. Why?"
"I think this means 'exit,'" Cam said, pointing at a symbol. "And if it is…then there's another one here…and here."
"Probably all guarded," Sam pointed out.
"I don't see how we have a choice," Cam lightly argued.
Suddenly the door opened and Cam jerked around…to see a pistol tossed at him through the air.
"Colonel Mitchell," Teal'c's voice accompanied it.
"Thanks," Cam said, catching it two handed. The door closed again.
"What's this?" Carter asked, pointing at the screen.
"Make that four exits," Cam recounted.
"Are these all rings?"
Cam cringed. His knowledge of Chinese was limited. "Zoom in."
Carter toggled the map controls and enhanced one of the other points. It showed a long shaft rising to the surface.
"Not rings I take it," Cam noted.
"No," Carter said, checking the other exits. "They're all shafts to the surface."
"Question is…how far away from the gate are we?"
"Good question," Sam said, blinking. The blood loss was making her groggy.
"Wait a second," Cam stopped her. "Try this."
Sam adjusted the viewing angle of the map, rotating the structure around until a large room appeared near the surface.
"Hangar bay," Cam declared.
"Are you sure?"
"Yep. And if they're true to form, they'll have rip-off Goa'uld cargo ships, maybe even some 302s."
"That's a long way up," Sam worried.
"We'll get you there," he promised her.
"We'll loose our Jaffa," Cam said, jumping towards the door and pulling it open. "Teal'c!"
A few seconds later an invisible hand pushed Mitchell back inside the room. Once inside Teal'c decloaked. When he saw the Sam was still sitting upright and appeared to be no worse for wear he reconsidered the reason he'd been called.
"Have you discovered a means of escape?"
"Hangar bay," Cam said, pointing at the screen. "Think you can empty the halls for us?"
Teal'c grunted and reactivated his cloak. "Remain here until I return."
The door closed again and Mitchell walked over and locked it.
"Here," Sam said, having pulled up another map.
"Damn, that's a long way," he said, referring to the distance back to the gate.
"Too long on foot," Sam said, grimacing. "It's either the cargo bay or we take our chances with the rings. If we can't find a ship Teal'c will have to take out the personnel in the control room."
"So they can't activate the ring defenses."
"That's the only way," Sam reiterated. "But this place is huge. There's no telling how many soldiers they have."
"Teal'c can handle it," Cam reassured her. "He has the Sodan cloak…and ample motivation."
Sam dipped her head. "I can't believe they're dead."
"Hey," Cam said, tipping her chin back up. "We can go through that later. Shove it in the closet until we get out of here."
"You're right," Sam said, grimacing again.
"Try and sit still for now," Cam said, rummaging through Teal'c's med kit again, looking for a pain killer. He found four pills that looked like Tylenol. He hoped they were stronger than that.
"Take this," he said, putting the pill in her mouth. He grabbed Teal'c's canteen and took the lid off, then put it up against her lips. She sucked in a bit of water and swallowed.
"Hey," she said as he pulled the canteen back.
"Sorry," he said, giving her more water. Come to think of it he was a bit dehydrated too. Their captors hadn't given him any food or water, and the same was probably true for Carter.
Sam grabbed the canteen from him as she sucked down a few tentative gulps, cringing against each one. Cam took it back when she was finished and sucked down a few himself.
O'Neill got a quizzical look on his face. "Sheppard? Where the hell did you come from?"
"The Asgard called," he said, standing relaxed with his hands on his hips.
"Really?" Jack asked, glancing at Freyr.
"You have somewhere better to go than Atlantis?" Sheppard asked sarcastically.
Jack eyed him warily. "You know what happened on Earth?"
"Yeah, the Asgard gave us the quick version. You wanna go or not?"
"Thinking," O'Neill insisted, holding up a 'wait' finger. "How did you get here so quick anyway?"
"Short trip by stargate," Sheppard explained. "Then they beamed me up to the ship."
"Wait a second," O'Neill said, an obvious thought striking him. "How are we supposed to get back? Don't you need a ZPM to power the gate?"
Freyr looked up at O'Neill. "Our ship can provide the necessary power, so long as the Atlantis stargate will accept a connection from this planet."
"Thanks," Sheppard said dismissively, "but we've got it covered."
Freyr's head twisted to look at Sheppard. "Would you care to elaborate?"
"Yes, please do," O'Neill added, for once in his life in complete agreement with Freyr.
"Come on," Sheppard said sheepishly, "we built the stargates for crying out loud. You don't think we still have a few tricks up our sleeves."
"Indeed," Freyr said unsatisfied, but let it go.
"We?" O'Neill asked, thoroughly confused.
Sheppard smiled broadly. "Yeah, well a few things have changed since last we met. I'm a full-blooded Ancient now…or will be once my transformation finishes in a couple months."
"Excuse me…" O'Neill added.
"Long story, I'll explain on the way back," Sheppard said, stopping any further questions. "Are we finished here? There are a couple of Wraith cruisers sniffing around and I'd like to be there when we blow them out of the sky."
"Sure," O'Neill said slowly. "Why not." He turned to look down at Freyr. "Give Thor my best."
"Your best what?" the Asgard mocked deadpan.
O'Neill frowned. "You know what I mean." He looked up at Sheppard. "Ready when you are."
Sheppard glanced up slightly. "Thor?" he said into the air.
A moment later he and Jack were standing on the planet in front of the stargate.
"That was quick," he commented.
"The Asgard are like that," Sheppard told him as he walked over to the DHD.
"Yes…they are," O'Neill mused. "Mind filling me in on what the hell is going on?"
"You first," Sheppard said, dialing an address. "The President really wanted you to steal the stargate?"
"That he did."
"And you can't go back?"
"Not unless I want to sit inside a jail cell for the rest of my life," O'Neill said flatly.
"I know what you mean."
O'Neill took a second look at him. "I guess you would."
"Thanks, by the way," Sheppard said as he activated the stargate.
"Telling Ryan to take me with him."
"He told you that?"
"He might have mentioned it," Sheppard said as they stepped through the stargate.
"I guess you could say this makes us..." O'Neill said as he stepped into the event horizon.
"…even," he finished as they walked out into another forest encroached planet. "Maybe you've done some redecorating since the last time I visited, but this doesn't look very much like the gateroom I remember."
Sheppard shrugged. "Needed some privacy dialing. There are still a few secrets we keep from the Asgard, and this one is a biggie."
"The Ancients, you mean?"
"That's what I said," Sheppard reiterated as he dialed an eight chevron address.
"Yet you're showing me," O'Neill noted. "I'm touched."
Sheppard waved a hand dismissively. "You're membership in Club Ancient has already been preapproved."
"Really?" O'Neill asked, a bit more surprised.
"Ryan told me so," Sheppard said as he began inputting the gate jump access code. "Just so you know, we're jumping from one gate network to another. The color of the crystals on the stargate tells you which network you're on. We're going from red to yellow and it takes a special security code."
"I assume that's what you're doing now?" O'Neill asked, thoroughly intrigued.
"Uh huh," Sheppard said as his hands wizzed around the DHD, pressing more button combinations than O'Neill could keep up with.
"That's why Pegasus gates are blue?"
"Sort of," Sheppard allowed. "They're special."
"Of course they are," O'Neill said sarcastically as if he understood. "Each galaxy has its own color, I take it?"
"No," Sheppard said, finishing the code. All the symbols on the DHD lit up in response. "This is in the same galaxy."
"You're saying there are more gates in the Milky Way than we know about?" O'Neill said, now very interested.
"A lot more," Sheppard said, touching the activation button. The Kawoosh jutted out from the gate, then settled back into the normal event horizon. "You'll see in a moment."
"After you," O'Neill said theatrically, motioning Sheppard forward. He let him get a step ahead then blew out a long breath as he stepped into the glowing puddle.
He stepped out into a large facility of some sort, clearly Ancient in design, and saw Sheppard smile.
"Welcome to the hub of the stargate network."
O'Neill looked around and did a double take when he noticed the other four gates. He glanced back at the one they'd come through and saw that it did in fact have yellow chevrons. Turning his head back he noted the others gates had red, blue, green and orange chevrons, none of which were lit, but clearly visible in the facility's bright lights that seemed to emit from nowhere in particular.
"Very cool," O'Neill commented, not understanding a bit of it, but loving every moment.
"And to think, General. All this time you were searching for Ancient technology, you were looking through the wrong colored gates. The green and yellow networks have all the really cool toys."
The irony of Sheppard's statement didn't escape O'Neill. He glanced back at the newly minted Ancient. "Call me Jack."
The Chinese Goa'uld was coming out of the central elevator on level 6 enroute to the science labs when the base-wide alarm sounded. He did a double take, then pulled back his sleeve to reveal a wrist bound radio.
"Report!" he demanded.
"We have an intruder in the base," the control room technician reported. "At least three men down. According to surveillance footage, we believe the intruder is in the vicinity of level 24 and possesses some sort of cloaking device."
"How were the men killed…what weapon?" the Goa'uld asked, a sinking feeling in his stomach.
"Some sort of energy weapon…we're now getting reports from level 26. More men down."
"Teal'c," the Goa'uld muttered to himself. What had he been up to all this time?
"Lock down all but the central elevator," he ordered. "Dispatch guards to the stairwells on levels 20 and 30, then have the ones moving through the elevator converge on the intruder. Drive them to the guards waiting on the stairwells."
"Sir, with a cloaking device the guards won't be able to spot the enemy."
"He's freeing the prisoners. They won't be cloaked. Tell the guards on the stairwells to deploy smoke grenades. They'll be able to detect movement on the stairs."
"What shall I tell the assault teams?" the technician asked bluntly, aware of the difficulties of the situation.
"Cloaked or not, he can still be hit. Tell them to fire rounds down every open hallway they come to. And make sure they're equipped with riot shields. If they take a hit, fire in the approximate location of the source."
"Yes, sir. The men are gearing up now."
"And lock down the rings," he added before cutting the transmission. He backtracked down the hallway and inserted his personal ID into the elevator shaft call panel. It overrode any other requests for the car and brought it back up to him.
He slipped inside and keyed for level 56. The elevator doors closed and he began to descend through the levels of the facility, past the danger zone, and on down to his private hideout. Despite his confidence on the radio he knew that the guards would never be able to stop Teal'c. He was a former First Prime, skilled in combat and experienced in all manner of warfare. Coupled with a cloaking device and an energy weapon, the Chinese didn't stand a chance.
But at least they could slow him down, and hopefully contain them long enough for him to trigger the base's self destruct…
Sam pulled back from the laptop and leaned forward slowly.
"I don't feel so good," she muttered, squinting against the pain.
"Hold on a little longer," Cam urged her. "Teal'c should be back any minute now."
"You said that…ten minutes ago," she mildly argued. "Do it now."
"Sam…there's only one. If this takes too long…"
"Cam…please," she said, nearly falling out of her chair.
Mitchell caught her shoulder and pushed her back up. "Alright," he said, retrieving the adrenaline needle from the medpack. He'd hoped to wait until Teal'c got back, but Sam was fading too fast. He briefly checked her bandaged side...it was still clean. The spray must still be holding her flesh together, but she'd lost an awful lot of blood already.
"Colonel Mitchell!" Teal'c's voice yelled from outside.
"Finally," Cam said, jumping up to unlock the door. He pulled it aside in a hurry. "What the hell took so long?"
"The enemy had a large number of guards," he said, walking past Cam and kneeling down next to Sam. "They attempted an ambush on the stairs. Colonel Carter, are you still conscious."
"Barely," Sam said, meekly raising her head.
"The path is clear. I have a cargo ship standing by, and one of the elevators appears to be operational."
"Thank God," Sam said gratefully, but didn't move.
"What happened to the guards?" Cam asked, fingering the needle and finding a good place to inject Sam in the arm.
"They are dead."
"You made it all the way to the cargo bay?" Mitchell asked, impressed.
"Indeed. I attempted to access the rings, but they appear to have been deactivated."
"What about the…ahhhh!" Sam yelled as Cam injected her with the small dose of adrenaline.
"Sorry," he apologized, helping her to her feet.
"…the bay doors?" Sam finished.
"Open," Teal'c said.
"Alright," Cam told Sam, "now the hard part."
"Right," Sam said warily, sounding more awake.
She gave Cam her right hand, and he grabbed her wrist with his left. He ducked his head down across her stomach and wrapped his right arm around her legs.
"Here we go," he said, lifting her up in a fireman's carry.
The pain in her side exploded, but not as bad as she'd thought it would be. Most of the pressure was on the opposite side of her chest…still, the movement was breaking open her wound.
"Let's move," Cam insisted. Teal'c didn't hesitate and lead the way outside.
The trio stopped outside the doors that led into the hangar. Sam still hung across Mitchell's shoulders and was bleeding down the back of Cam's shirt. It felt to him like he'd been splattered with a water balloon. He didn't figure she had much time left.
Teal'c cloaked and moved inside the hangar.
"Clear," his voice came back confidently.
"Not far, Sam," Mitchell said, trying to encourage her. Teal'c reappeared ahead of them and led the way up to one of five replica Goa'uld cargo ships with the cockpit door already open. The Jaffa took up guard beside the opening, checking first the inside, then the path behind them. When the others arrived he ducked in in front of them and ran to the pilot's seat.
"Hurry," Mitchell insisted as he lowered Sam to the floor as gently as he could. He sat down behind her, holding her torso up.
"Sam…Sam?" he said, looking into her face. She'd already slipped into unconsciousness. He checked her pulse…weak, but still there.
Teal'c wasted no time once he slipped into the pilot's seat. He remotely closed the outer door and powered up the lift coils in one fluid motion of his hands over the control panel. He moved his hands up onto the spherical steering control and lifted the ship up off the deck and spun it around to face the exit. He punched the engines and jetted them out of the Chinese facility into the atmosphere above the densely forested planet. He scanned for the stargate and realigned their heading. They'd be there in just under two minutes.
When the Goa'uld arrived back inside his hidden chamber he brought up the surveillance footage and checked on the progress of the guards while he thought through all the ramifications of Teal'c's presence.
Hera would be most displeased if he allowed them to escape, and she'd be only slightly less upset with the destruction of the facility…but at this point he had no choice. It was the only way to keep them from escaping, and based on the number of dead bodies he was seeing on the security cameras, he didn't have much time to enact his plan.
He brought up the program for the self destruct and input a five minute timer…but he hesitated before activating it.
This situation hadn't been his fault. He'd followed procedure and carried out Hera's orders. Teal'c's presence was an unknown factor…but as he thought about it, he realized Hera wouldn't see it that way. From her point of view he'd screwed up, and she'd deal with him one way or another…which meant he had precious few days left ahead of him, whether that meant his death or his reassignment to pointless, punitive assignments…either of which was unacceptable.
In his opinion Hera was jeopardizing the Earth operation with her lack of caution regarding the offworld relations with the Tau'ri's former allies…perhaps it was better if he cut ties now, rather than get dragged into what could become a very messy situation.
He checked a series of additional security cameras as he formulated his new plan. He smirked at the cruel irony of the situation. The Goa'uld had reluctantly concluded that they had to work together in order to survive. Hera herself had underscored this point a year after the Jaffa Rebellion had seen the destruction of the more prominent System Lords…and yet it seemed she couldn't break with the old habits. She'd want his head for this loss, instead of analyzing the situation for what it was and determining that there was no fault on anyone's part, just bad luck.
Everything Hera did was ego-based…and when there was a failure, she had to blame someone. Her plans were so perfect, in her mind, that only someone else could cause them to fail. She didn't realize that the universe didn't play favorites, and no matter how much effort you put into it, there was always the possibility of unknown variables worming their way into the best laid plans.
Fortunately, he'd already learned his new humility, as well as when to walk away from a situation…even if it meant going with a bruised ego.
And walk away he must…completely. Hera wouldn't let something like this pass, nor could he simply 'quit' the operation. That would be even more of an affront to the old queen. No, he was going to have to disappear…which meant that the self destruct was going to come in handy after all.
He left the program on standby and headed back to the elevator. There was one item he needed to retrieve before the big bang…and if Teal'c managed to escape with the others, oh well. It would just annoy Hera that much more. Besides, they needed SG-1 whether they wanted to admit it or not. He'd consider this to be his last team contribution before he turned tail and ran as fast and as far as he could.
"We have arrived at the stargate," Teal'c said as a small clearing appeared with the great ring perched inside. There wasn't enough room to land the ship and avoid the kawoosh, so Teal'c swung the ship around parallel to the width of the gate and crunched his way down through the treetops until he hit bottom with the cockpit door facing the gate.
The vibration of the landing shook Sam in Mitchell's arms and he heard a faint sigh of breath leave her lungs.
"Sam?" he said, checking for a pulse. He found none.
"Teal'c!" he yelled, laying her down and starting CPR. "Dial the gate!" he said after giving her two quick breaths and starting chest compressions.
Teal'c caught his meaning instantly, but his feet froze in place. He saw the pale look on Carter's face and recognized it as the sign of severe blood loss. No amount of resuscitation on the Colonel's part would revive her…nor could anyone in the SGC.
"No…" Teal'c growled to himself. He walked over to Mitchell and pushed him off Carter and into the wall.
"What the…?" Cam exploded in frustration as he saw Teal'c rip Carter's body off the ground and slung her over his shoulder like a sack of grain. "Hey!" he said, scrambling to his feet.
Even carrying Carter, Teal'c moved faster than Mitchell could and ran over to the DHD, inputting an address as fast as he could. Cam caught up with him just in time to realize he'd forgotten the GDO back in the ship. The stargate activated, temporarily blocking his path back to the door, when Teal'c none too gently nudged him out of the way and ran into the event horizon just as the unstable vortex dissipated.
"Teal'c!" Cam yelled. Without sending the GDO code first, Teal'c had just killed both of them…
But Teal'c wasn't that stupid. Mitchell knew that. He looked at the DHD and noted with relief that it wasn't showing Earth's address just as a huge explosion rattled the jungle.
"What the hell?" he said, running onto the far side of the clearing to get a better look.
He was knocked onto his face by a blast of wind that rocked the trees, then dissipated as quickly as it began. Mitchell got up and looked back the way the wind had come.
He didn't see anything at first, then saw a small plume of smoke rising in the distance. After a few seconds it began to take on the traditional mushroom shape.
"What the hell?" he complained, running after Teal'c to wherever he'd gone with Sam.
Cam came out of the event horizon just in time to see Teal'c and a quartet of Jaffa break into a run down the dirt path ahead of them. Mitchell slide to a stop, noticing another six Jaffa still standing guard over the stargate. Off in the distance was the Ancient-designed city of Dakara.
"Genius," Cam declared, feeling his heart swell with hope for Carter, as he took off in a dead sprint to follow the others.
"Welcome to Atlantis, General," Weir said from the balcony over the gateroom as Sheppard and O'Neill walked out of the stargate.
Jack did a double take and looked at Sheppard. "Is she still a replicator?"
"Lantean now," he said deadpan. "Almost as bad."
O'Neill frowned as Weir's voice yelled back. "I heard that."
"What's the status on the cruisers?" Sheppard asked.
"They just dropped out of hyperspace," she reported as the two men walked up the stairs to the control platform.
"What are they doing?" Sheppard asked.
"Keeping their distance, for the most part. Well out of weapons' range."
"Are they now," Sheppard said, taking a look for himself at the city's sensors. "Scan for lifeforms," he told the Asgard sitting at the terminal.
"What type of lifeforms are we looking for?" the diminutive alien asked.
"Human," Sheppard said, noticing a dozen or so blips light up in each cruiser. All Wraith.
"Increase the sensitivity," he ordered. "If they're cocooned there won't be much to detect."
The Asgard toggled the controls, but the same number of blips remained.
"None," it reported.
"Alright," Sheppard said, letting it go. "We leave them be for now."
"And if they come within weapons' range?" Elizabeth asked.
"Need you ask," Sheppard replied.
"Just checking," she said, extending her hand to O'Neill. "Good to see you again, despite the circumstances."
O'Neill shook her hand. "Thank you, Dr.," he said, looking warily at his hand.
Weir smiled. "No nanites to worry about," she assured him. "Just a few cooties."
"Sorry," he said, wiping his hand on his pant leg. "Last I heard you were floating in space."
"They picked me up," Elizabeth said, inclining her head towards Sheppard, "gave me a new body. You know the drill, I'm sure."
"Right," O'Neill said, sensing her sarcasm. "Seems I'm in for the same, Ancientization and all."
"That'll have to wait a bit," Sheppard interjected. "Ryan's busy with the Ori and won't be back for a few more days."
"Ori?" Jack said with mild alarm.
"Yeah, there's a lot to fill you in on," Sheppard said. "Might want a change of clothes first."
Jack glanced down at his field gear and P-90 still clipped to his vest. "I might…yes."
"This way," Sheppard said, leading him back down the stairs and into the city.
"Don't suppose we could stop for a bite to eat on the way," Weir heard O'Neill say as they disappeared from view.
"Sure," Sheppard said as their voices began to fade out. "The Ancient food cubes are actually pretty good."
"It was good that you came here, Teal'c" Bra'tac said as he attended to Carter in one of the Jaffa's medical wings. "The Tau'ri could not have revived her."
"Is she going to be alright?" Cam interrupted. Carter floated before them naked, encased in some sort of healing tube, glowing with energy and surrounded by a forcefield. Beside them on the floor lay her bloody clothing.
"With time," Bra'tac cautioned. "Her body was weak before she was injured. Was she a Jaffa, the equipment could heal her more rapidly. As it is she will require several days of treatment."
"Why the delay?" Teal'c asked, almost arguing. "I've seen a sarcophagus heal Humans in a matter of hours who were far more injured."
Bra'tac nodded. "True, the sarcophagus can heal physical injuries with ease, as can this device, but the mind is much more delicate. Your friend lost so much blood that her brain suffered considerable damage before her heart stopped beating. Had her brain functions stopped at the same time, the damage would have been less severe and easier to restore."
Cam turned his head away from Sam and looked at Bra'tac. "Like running a racecar on a broken engine. If you stop immediately you've got a small repair. Keep running it and the bits and pieces flopping around will eventually cause the whole thing to frag."
"If I take your meaning correctly, yes," Bra'tac said, having to pull a bit of telepathic explanation from his mind before responding. "The repairs being made to her mind are delicate. A sarcophagus would repair the damage more quickly, but the memories would be lost when new tissue is grown to replace that which was damaged. Here, we are repairing the existing tissue in order to keep the memories intact."
"But it'll work?" Cam asked.
Bra'tac nodded. "I believe so. Had you been delayed another hour, I believe the damage would have been too great."
"Why did we have to take her clothes off again?" the Colonel asked.
"They were soaked with blood," Teal'c said, choosing to respond in place of Bra'tac. "You believe we should have left them on her for modesty's sake?"
"Don't get me wrong," Cam clarified, "I'm enjoying the view, but I don't think she'll be thrilled to wake up with us looking at her naked.
Teal'c frowned/growled at the Colonel. "Then the alternative is simple. Do not look at her until she is dressed again."
Cam rolled his eyes. "Yeah, thanks, that helps a lot."
"We will provide her with fresh clothing when she wakes," Bra'tac said, interjecting his calming voice. "And while it is not necessary to remove the clothing before entry, it provides less distraction for the mechanism as it scans and repairs her body."
"Ok," Cam said, holding up his hands in surrender. "As long as there's a reason."
"Perhaps you would prefer to rest while you wait," Bra'tac offered. "I can assign you quarters three levels below for as long as you require."
"Thank you," Cam said, "but right now I'm staying here. Maybe in a few hours."
The System Lord nodded. "As you wish," he said, locking eyes with Teal'c.
The Jaffa returned his stare…but eventually the hardness left it. Bra'tac's visage may have been missing the age lines and scars, but the youthful face that stared back at him still had the same eyes…the eyes of the man who had taught him everything about being a Jaffa. The man who had exposed the false gods to him, risking his own life in the process. He was the same Jaffa that had saved his life on many occasions, and who, in turn, Teal'c had done the same for.
Young as he had become, it was still the same old man that he'd grown up implicitly trusting.
"If you will," Bra'tac finally spoke. "I would like to finish our prior conversation."
"As would I," Teal'c agreed.
Bra'tac motioned gestured forward with his hand and the two old friends walked off together, away from Mitchell and the other Jaffa, where they would eventually come to terms over Bra'tac's direction for the Jaffa Nation.
As it had been in many past arguments between the two, the old man's wisdom shown through in the end, hastened no doubt, by the deaths of Jennifer Hailey and Vala Mal Doran. They had been killed by part of the Tauri democracy, which Teal'c knew would result in no serious reprisals for their deaths. The incident would be swept away in favor of stability and the fear of war, and they would continue to do so into the future, no matter how many injustices they had to stomach. Such was the way of democracy…
Teal'c found himself glad to be back in a land that valued honor and accountability, where one shot the enemy on sight...rather than trading verbal barbs across a conference table.
Such it was, Bra'tac and Teal'c reunited, becoming Master and Apprentice once again. Bra'tac the System Lord and Teal'c as his First Prime, starting his long path towards one day earning the privilege of joining the Alterra and taking his place beside Bra'tac as another of the Jaffa System Lords.
Just prior to the detonation of the nuclear device that destroyed the Chinese facility, a cloaked cargo ship took off from the planet's surface out of a small, camouflaged landing bay three miles away at the other end of a dedicated rings link from the Goa'uld's secret lair. The ship rose up out of the atmosphere as the mushroom cloud expanded and briefly decloaked just before jumping into hyperspace.
Three hours later, while still in hyperspace en route to a backwater part of the galaxy too worthless for all but the most pathetic Goa'ulds to have ever bothered conquering, the Chinese man suddenly woke up from his long nightmare in the cargo bay, staggering backward as his throat burned with pain and he tasted blood on his lips…but they were his lips once again, and his hands, and his feet.
He looked down at the floor as he staggered, trying to remember how to walk, when he heard the scrap of metal on metal. He looked up and saw a long, gold box that he recognized as a sarcophagus and a very attractive woman, sitting topless inside, running her ornamented hand over the edge before raising her glowing palm towards him.
"It's been a pleasure," she said in a distorted voice, just before knocking the man back against the wall by an invisible force. She heard his bones crack obligingly, and stretched the arms of her new body high above her head.
"I so prefer females," she said, standing up and stepping out of the sarcophagus. She walked over to the crumpled man and finished him off with a second invisible wave that crushed his body against the floor.
The naked woman walked over to one of the cargo canisters and opened it, appropriating some new clothes. Fortunately she'd kept samples of both male and female clothing around.
The Goa'uld pulled a slinky, gold tunic onto her new body, finding it fit reasonably well when one of her host's memories moved into the foreground.
"Ah…Qetesh," she said, pausing for a moment. "Didn't know her, but she had an impeccably good taste in hosts…even if this one did get a little soft in recent years, but that's easy enough to fix…though this hair has got to go," she said, looking at Vala's image in a hand mirror that had accompanied the clothes.
"Yes, I think blonde will suit
Ryan Stevenson stood in Atlantis's holographic chamber monitoring the growing armada of Wraith ships surrounding the planet. They were clustered about in groups in far orbit around Lantea, outside of Atlantis's weapons' range, but still close enough to intercept any ships coming and going from the city with their crude hyperdrive destabilizers reaching out and blanketing the planet from somewhere deep within the Wraith Hive ships.
Their biological generators were inefficient, and took quite a long while to cycle up to full power, but they effectively cut off all hyperspace travel by preventing ships from forming a hyperspace window, while simultaneously pulling ships out of hyperspace that passed within range of the destabilizers. The Alterran version of the device was much more efficient, and could be used while in flight within hyperspace to track down moving ships, such as the Tria had done with the Earth fleet, but even with their inferior technology the Wraith had successfully bottled up the planet once again.
Ryan had expected nothing less. Atlantis couldn't leave the system without physically running past the blockade and getting in the clear to activate its stardrive and jump to hyperspace…which it probably could if handled right, but that wasn't the objective. The Alterra wanted the city right where it was and the Wraith gathering overhead.
There were over 500 ships now, with more still on the way according to the city's long range sensors. Most of the fleet was made up of cruisers with skeleton crews, supporting 28 of their enormous Hive ships, as well as a scattering of other Wraith designs. Most of the cruisers were newly constructed, and Ryan figured the lack of crew was due to the lack of food within the galaxy. Not enough food meant the Wraith population couldn't explode upward as they had the potential to do…but ship production didn't require feeding on Humans, so in that regard, at least, they were living up to their reputation.
It'd been two and a half months since Atlantis had been visited by the first pair of cruisers, and with the Wraith's inferior hyperdrives their reinforcements had been dribbling in at a slow, but fairly constant rate. As it was the ships still on approach would take another two weeks to arrive, but it looked as though the flow was beginning to thin…and once it had settled out into whatever number of ships the Wraith deemed necessary to contain them, that was the time when the Alterra would introduce their version of warfare to the Wraith first hand.
Starring at the holographic map, Ryan felt the telepathic summons of one of his brothers. Matt wanted to see him.
On my way, he mentally replied. When he stepped off the control pedestal the glowing map disappeared and he headed off for a lower level of the main tower.
"What have you got?" Ryan asked Matt, his red-headed twin when he arrived in the primary med lab.
Matt activated a holographic display in the open area at the center of the room and walked up to it from the opposite side of Ryan. "I've been studying the Wraith biotech and genetics in depth and have made some significant discoveries."
"Such as that weakness the Aurora's Captain referred to?"
"No," Matt said matter-of-factly. "But I did discover several inaccuracies in the Lantean files."
"Such as?" Ryan asked curiously.
"The feeding process," Matt said, highlighting several points in the Wraith genetic structure floating in the air between the twins, "is not their only source of nourishment."
Ryan crossed his arms over his chest and frowned. "I wondered about that. A six month feeding cycle didn't seem to cover the mass conversion during that time."
"No, not by a long shot. According to my research model, the Wraith absorb trace amounts of nutrients through physical contact with their environment. They also recycle carbon lost during respiration by absorbing carbon dioxide through the skin. That wouldn't factor into a planetary atmosphere, but…"
"…it would onboard the confined atmosphere within their ships," Ryan finished for him.
"Yes, and the Wraith should be able to absorb a lot of other compounds which, according to the Lantean reports, are present in both the atmosphere and structure of their ships."
"Present or produced?" Ryan wondered.
"Produced and secreted through the walls and floor," Matt informed him. "At a very slow rate that isn't easily detectable. I ran some tests on the Wraith debris you recovered and confirmed the theory. The interior living spaces of their ships are designed to gradually nourish the Wraith through direct contact, which is the quicker method, or by aerial absorption as the compounds build up and eventually form a thin fog within the atmosphere."
"Which was noted in several Lantean reports," Ryan remembered.
Matt nodded. "They concluded it was water vapor produced by altered atmospheric settings within the craft, but that appears not to be the case. There is water vapor present, which the Wraith also absorb through the skin, but there are also the trace nutrients present."
"Meaning that Wraith in the field need to feed more often than those living inside their ships," Ryan surmised.
"Probably," Matt agreed. "However, that's not the gist of the matter. When I started analyzing the array of nutrients I began to notice a pattern…look," he said, altering the hologram. "Do you see it?"
Ryan studied the compounds closely and tried to find the pattern. "No, I don't."
"It took me a while too," Matt admitted. "See if this helps."
He highlighted 18 out of the 26.
Suddenly Ryan got it. "Not from the seed species."
"Bingo," Matt said, taking slight pleasure in being one step ahead of his progenitor.
"The Lanteans determined that the Wraith evolved from an accidental mixing of a native creature on Ijara and the seed species that they placed there," Ryan recalled. "These compounds are required by that species, I take it?"
"All of them are," Matt clarified. "The seed species just happens to share 8 of them."
Ryan tilted his head to the side in thought. "I take it that's significant?"
"I thought it might be, but I couldn't quite put my finger on it, so I asked Andara to take a look, now that the Feriorla situation has stabilized. She is as brilliant as she is beautiful."
"I know," Ryan reminded him. He was the one that'd recruited her after all.
"No, no," Matt admonished him. "You don't know the half of it. Look at this…"
The hologram shifted again, this time showing a translucent image of a Wraith body with extraneous diagrams floating around in bunches describing the feeding process.
"Andara pinpointed the crucial element that I'd been searching for, then helped me through the permutations. The Lanteans were wrong about the origins of the Wraith."
"Big surprise," Ryan said sarcastically.
"According to their records, Ijara was seeded with the base species, then left alone for 120,000 years before the Lanteans did a comprehensive survey of all seeded worlds in the galaxy, at which time they found a large population of primitives advancing at the expected rate. They left them alone to continue developing for another 120,000 years before repeating the process."
"And continued on for well over two million years, I know," Ryan said, unnecessarily reminding Matt that the two of them shared nearly identical memories, including the Lantean files that Ryan had read before he'd cloned himself.
"But…" Matt continued, "the inhabitants of Ijara, when questioned after the Wraith first emerged, told the Lanteans stories of creatures in the forests of the dark side of the planet that had fed upon those foolish enough to venture into the dark areas. Their entire recorded history, short as it was, contained these stories and the Lanteans suspected, based on their research of Wraith physiology, that these creatures must have begun feeding upon the inhabitants within the first 120,000 year period in order to evolve their combined genetic structure into that of present day Wraith."
"Unfounded speculation," Ryan agreed," but not categorically wrong."
"With the planet's marginal rotation," Matt reminded him, "and only moonlight to sustain the forests, the intermediary forms of the evolving Wraith were never seen, or so the Lanteans assumed to make their theory fit, but a more comprehensive analysis of their genetic structure indicates that the synthesis of the seed species genetic code with the native creatures' is considerably faster than they estimated."
Ryan's chin rose a hair. "So it happened more recently than they suspected?"
Matt shook his head. "We don't think it happened at all."
"What did Andara find?"
"This," Matt highlighted a small component in the feeding process.
Ryan's eyes widened. "Adaptive genetics?"
"Not quite," Matt said ominously. "This is something entirely new to us."
Ryan didn't say anything for a moment and let that sink in. The Alterra had been around for a very long time, and even given the infinite diversity of the universe it was rare when they encountered something altogether new.
"Go on," Ryan urged, looking closely at the data.
"We think Ijara is a red herring," Matt stated flatly. "The Lanteans may have first encountered the Wraith there, and there may have been a native lifeform that fed off the seed species in a similar fashion to the Wraith, but they're not related, at least not as the Lanteans believed. The Wraith homeworld must be somewhere else, and they traveled to Ijara."
Ryan frowned. That potentially put a kink in their battle plans. The Wraith had defended Ijara almost religiously, never allowing the Lanteans to get close to the planet after first contact.
"Any ideas where they came from?"
"Not through the gate network," Matt said categorically. "So it should be somewhere within the region around the Ijara system, but that isn't the big problem."
"Problem?" Ryan asked.
"According to our research, the Wraith absorbed the seed species genetic code within a year…perhaps sooner."
The intense, relaxed look drained from Ryan's face. "What?"
"I know. I reacted the same way," Matt said, adjusting the hologram again. "These elements, we think, belong to the actual Wraith species," he said, bringing up segments of their genetic code. "They appear to incorporate other species' genetics into their own through the feeding process, absorbing their physical attributes, intelligence…and Andara believes some of their memories, though I haven't figured that one out yet."
Ryan stared at the wall for a moment, then summed the situation up pithily. "They are what they eat."
"Seems so," Matt confirmed. "They Wraith became their current incarnation when they fed upon the seed species, but the transformation was almost instantaneous. It wasn't a matter of evolution."
"And when they fed on the Lanteans…" Ryan added.
"…they grew even stronger, and more intelligent, and if Andara is right…"
"…absorbed their technical knowledge," Ryan finished as a lot of loose threads began to connect. "The Wraith plasma canons. They didn't develop them on their own, or reverse engineer them from captured ships…they absorbed the knowledge from their victims and incorporated it into their biotech."
"Ingenious sons of bitches, aren't they?" Matt noted.
"Do they have to feed?" Ryan asked.
Matt shook his head. "No. Our initial assumption was correct. With their knowledge of biology, they could easily reactivate the latent digestive systems they obtained from the seed species' genetics."
"The one called Michael did just that, according to Weir's log."
"He went farther than that," Matt added. "He stripped away his ability to feed off lifeforms, thus locking his genetic code in place. Now, his base Wraith code was still there, dormant and able to be reactivated in the future, but it was relatively inaccessible."
Matt shook his head appreciatively. "From what Andara told me, their genetic code is extremely aggressive. It cannot be stripped away or altered, it will always regenerate. Michael just locked it down, I'd guess."
"By Wraith, you mean their core genetics?" Ryan asked. "They can still change forms if they feed off different species?"
Matt nodded. "We assume they got stronger when they fed off the Lanteans…and smarter. Probably a lot smarter than they are now."
"When they ran out of Lanteans they reformed to the Human genetic code?"
"Not with a single feeding, but yes," Matt confirmed. "They are what they eat. The more advanced the species, the stronger they get…the more primitive, the weaker and dumber they get…while maintaining some characteristics from their core attributes."
"Then the Wraith Sheppard found marooned…"
"…had been eating Lanteans as well as Humans," Matt continued. "It's also possible that they gain a boost from cannibalism. Another of Andara's theories. You remember Weir's report on Teyla?"
Ryan raised an eyebrow. "The Wraith experiments?"
Matt nodded. "She thinks that Wraith was trying to upgrade the Humans with a touch of their own genetic code, making them more advanced, which would in turn make the Wraith more advanced when they fed off them."
"To make up for the lack of Lanteans," Ryan guessed.
Ryan nodded as he made another connection. "That's why the Wraith don't eat anything other than Humans. It would downgrade them even further."
"We don't know that for a fact," Matt argued. "There may be other forms of Wraith out there."
"I meant what Sheppard told me about his Wraith prisoners," Ryan explained. "He tried to feed them other lifeforms, but the Wraith wouldn't touch them."
Matt's eyes narrowed. "Sheppard tried to feed him lifeforms?"
"Yeah, I wasn't too keen on that myself," Ryan acknowledged. "We had a chat about that and I think he's squared away now."
"He was Human then, with his transformation ongoing I've noticed his eyes opening to a lot of things. I don't think he'll be inclined to sacrifice living beings again."
"Anyway," Matt said, waving the tangent off, "if Andara is right, and the Wraith do absorb at least some knowledge from their victims, they could know quite a bit about our technology…at least as much as the Lanteans did. And it explains why their language is a derivative of Lingara...and how they also know the old common tongue."
"Wait a minute," Ryan said as another thought struck him. "You're saying that the Wraith absorbed the Lanteans' telepathic and telekinetic abilities?"
"That's what worries me," Matt said, getting to the main point. "We know that most of the Lanteans didn't possess strong Edeva skills on the whole, but individual Wraith may have assimilated those abilities from select individuals…though they would have lost them after several feedings on Humans."
"I see the problem now," Ryan declared. 'Edeva' was an Ancient term that didn't have an English translation, but it referred to their energy-based 'super powers' including telekinesis, telepathy, charge redistribution, exterior healing, etc…and the Alterra had far more Edeva skills than the Lanteans could ever dream of.
"If the Wraith feed off us, or another more advanced species," Matt said aloud, "they'll become even more dangerous."
"I don't suppose they fed off the Vanir?" Ryan worried.
"Now there's an ugly thought…" Matt agreed, "though they wouldn't be a threat in the physical sense. Still, I wouldn't want to see what kind of biotech they'd come up with given Asgard level intelligence."
"Nor do I," Ryan concurred. "How much memory transfer does Andara theorize?"
"Random, with significant volume," Matt said evenly. "She doesn't think they can target specific memories, fortunately, but with subsequent feedings of individuals with equal knowledge, they're bound to accumulate a significant amount."
"And they retain these memories after feeding on other species?" Ryan asked.
"She thinks so," Matt said, unsure. "But with diminished intelligence there's no way of knowing if they'll be able to use it."
"Their biotech is semi-independent, isn't it?" Ryan said.
Matt's eyes widened. "You're right. I should have seen that. Coupled with a database they can maintain and pass on the knowledge even if they're incapable of fully understanding it."
"What have you discovered with regards to their telepathic connections?"
"Base attribute," Matt said with certainty. "Probably altered by the feedings to give them the ability to influence Human minds."
"I figured that," Ryan said, putting his hands on his hips. "Any other useful insights?"
"No, but I'd just like to underscore the danger of the Wraith feeding on us. They could become our bane…in ways I don't even care to speculate."
"Well that's not going to happen," Ryan said firmly, "for no other reason than there aren't enough of us to go around."
"Still," Matt cautioned, "one of us given to a queen could reproduce hundreds of Wraith before she'd need to feed again. And then add in their cloning ability…"
"Point taken," Ryan noted.
"We have to make certain we wipe all of them out," Matt insisted. "Including their progenitors, or this could happen all over again."
Ryan bit his lip. "Possibly. We'll have to assess the progenitors when we find them. The present incarnation of the Wraith are smart enough to fix their feeding problem and haven't…we can't make the same assumption of the others if their intelligence is considerably lower."
Matt tilted his head thoughtfully. "Hadn't considered that. Either way their feeding ability has to go."
"Agreed," Ryan said, nodding his complete agreement.
Sam climbed the spiral staircase up to the briefing room in the now deserted Cheyenne Mountain complex. With the stargate gone, the SGC had been temporarily disbanded until appropriate terms were reached with the I.O.A. to use their 'neutral' facility in Egypt. On top of that, there were still many ruffled feathers over how the I.O.A. had acquired the stargate.
Carter and Mitchell had returned to Earth and relayed their tale to the temporary U.S. representative in Egypt, who had listened intently, made no promises as to repercussions against the Chinese government, then quickly arranged them transportation back to the States. Both Colonels had been given temporary leave until their positions in the new offworld operation was determined.
Cam and Sam had spent the first week together, discussing their future and mourning their friends. Teal'c had remained on Dakara, assuming his new duties as First Prime. He was given a new symbiot and had his golden emblem of Apophis removed in a quick ceremony, with Mitchell and Carter in attendance, before they had to return to Earth. Teal'c wished them both well, adding that given current circumstances he didn't think he'd be visiting Earth again. Apparently he was taking Hailey and Vala's deaths hard, and in typical Jaffa fashion he placed blame squarely on the Chinese, and by extension all those who enabled their misdeeds…
After their week on Earth together, Cam went off to visit his family while Carter lost herself on the road, taking an extended vacation across the country, hopping from one national park to another, hotel to hotel, and in some cases campsite to campsite. She didn't feel like staying put for very long, as if moving from place to place would help her escape her emotions. Not only had they lost their teammates, but Jack had also disappeared offworld…and she had no way of finding him.
Truth be told, if she knew where he was she'd run off with him at the drop of a hat. She was as disgusted and disillusioned with her fellow Earthlings as Teal'c was. Cam still seemed optimistically hopeful, but she knew part of his demeanor was just for show. He was still simmering too, but he wasn't going to dwell on it.
Carter however was. She'd been around the block too many times to just pass this off. She'd always been fervently loyal to her country and her planet, but the harsh truth was that Earth, whom she'd fought and bled for on god knows how many times, had gone to the darkside.
Up until now she'd never let herself believe that. Sure, there were bound to be rotten eggs in every chicken coop, but lately it seemed everything that Earth did had some political, self-centered agenda to it. Gone were the days where they went out into the galaxy to explore and help people…now it was Earth that was victimizing others.
And she'd been a part of it. That's what galled her the most. She'd become one of them…up until Captain Stevenson had ran her head through the wood chipper. He'd inadvertently done her a favor, painful as it had been, and it sickened Sam at the very thought of where she'd be right now if he hadn't shoved her rationalizations back in her face.
And now she was stuck. She couldn't run off looking for O'Neill. She couldn't redeem herself within a stargate program that no longer existed. She couldn't do anything but play civy and wait for her hair to turn gray.
Two months into her cross country road trip, however, she did receive a phone call from her superiors. They hadn't said what for, but she'd been recalled from her leave and ordered to report to the old SGC for further orders.
When she arrived a lone guard stood waiting for her at the entrance. He escorted her into the base up until he got around to telling her where she was going, at which point she dismissed the Sergeant. She knew her way around the base better than anyone.
When Sam reached the top of the stairwell she noticed a large group of uniformed officers seated around the briefing room table…all of whom turned to look at her.
She cleared her voice. "Colonel Samantha Carter, reporting as ordered," she said, coming to a stop and saluting.
"Colonel," a tall man wearing a civilian suit said as he stood, acknowledging her salute with one of his own. "Welcome back," he said, pointing to the table's only empty chair.
Sam nodded, recognizing the man, but a bit confused by the salute. "Thank you, Mr. Vice President."
The VP continued standing until she'd seated herself, then lowered himself back into his chair at the opposite end of the table.
"Two weeks ago," he began without preamble, "the Beta site reported a contagion affecting all of their personnel. The planet was quarantined. Three days later, when we finally got a med team through the stargate," he said with frustration, "they were all dead."
Sam's eyes widened.
One of the Generals on her left tilted his head in her direction. "It was the Aschen."
"The Aschen?" Carter asked, blinking.
"We retrieved the small probe that delivered the bioweapon," the General continued. "It was the same type as used against Earth."
"Did they take the planet?" Sam asked.
"No, they didn't," the Vice President said. "Once the contagion ran its course, we reclaimed the Beta site. There's been no further sign of the Aschen."
Carter frowned, thinking. "Did they take anything?"
The Vice President looked at his Generals and raised an eyebrow.
"Not that we've found," General Higgins said grumpily.
Carter considered that, then nodded her head as she came to a conclusion. "It was a shark bump," she said meekly.
"I'm sorry," the Vice President said, "I'm not familiar with that terminology."
"Umm…it's sort of like prodding us for a reaction," Carter awkwardly explained. "They hit us then study our response, usually as a prelude to future action. Sharks have been known to do that before they attack divers."
"A shark bump…ok, I get it. So they'll hit us again? That's your conclusion, Colonel?"
"More of a guess, Mr. Vice President," Carter hedged. "But I'd say so."
"You can address him as 'sir,' Colonel," General Howard told her. "He's now the Commander in Chief of the military."
"Excuse me?" Carter asked, her jaw dropping.
The Vice President raised his hand to stop and further conversation. "In the event that the President is removed from office, the Vice President assumes the Presidency. The Congress can't remove Cornwallis without telling the public why, which would require revealing the stargate program. That's not something we're prepared to do, but we're not going to let treason go either. Unofficially I've taken control of the Presidential powers. Cornwallis will remain a figurehead, but with no decision making ability whatsoever."
Carter's eyes widened a bit further. "And he agreed to this?"
"Congress didn't give him a choice," the Vice President told her. "The military supported them, as did I. With no one following his orders, Cornwallis lost all control. Eventually he relented and agreed to play the role in order to maintain national security, but he's completely out of the loop."
"Wow…" Carter commented.
"So as far as we're concerned," Howard said, pointing at the VP, "he is the President."
Carter nodded. "Yes, sir."
"In light of this recent attack," the unofficial President continued, "the Congress and I have unanimously decided on a new course of action regarding offworld affairs…at least the portion of Congress with security clearance. That's why you're here."
Sam nodded, but didn't say anything.
"As of three days ago, we declared war on the Aschen."
Carter's breath caught in her throat. "Really?"
The CIC nodded. "The other nations reluctantly agreed on principle, but are only committed to the defense of Earth and their individual colonies. We, however, aren't just going to sit around waiting to get hit again. We're going on the offensive…when we're able to down the road. Normally a declaration of war by the congress would result in a massive shift of our country's economy towards war production…but that's not possible without breaking national security."
"To that end," he continued, "our military buildup is going to commence offworld. Since we no longer have exclusive control of the stargate, our offworld operations are going to be run out of a new Stargate Command located offworld. All transit to Earth, according to a recent I.O.A. edict, will come directly from one of Earth's colonies for security reasons. All offworld teams will have to gate to friendly territory before being allowed to return to Earth."
General Pervis leaned over towards Sam. "Since they've got the gate, the I.O.A. has been giving orders on everything."
"Yes they have," the VP said. "And we're not standing for it anymore. We're cutting all but the most basic ties with the I.O.A. We are no longer producing technology for them, nor supplying them with personnel. They will allow us limited travel through the stargate in order to prevent us from trying to bring another gate here, which I've been told is inadvisable because it wouldn't work anyway."
"It would override their gate because of the DHD," Carter offered. "But there's nothing to stop them from doing the same thing, at which point it becomes a programming war for dominance."
"Thus," the VP continued after a nod, "we are preparing to run all our offworld operations without the benefit of a planetary gate. We'll travel by ship if we have to, but we're finished with the I.O.A."
"Surprised?" Higgins asked when some of the color seemed to drain from Sam's face.
"Well…to be honest, yes, I am."
"You disapprove?" the General pressed.
"No…not at all. I just didn't expect it to happen given the political situation."
The VP leaned forward, putting his elbows on the table and starred Carter down. "We're done playing politics with the security of Earth. I know what it's like out there, Colonel. I know how vulnerable we really are and how stupidly we've handled past situations. We'd all be dead ten times over if not for you and your teammates…and most recently the intervention of the Jaffa."
Carter nodded. "Thank you, sir."
"No," the VP shook his head. "Thank you. You and the others at Stargate Command have been the voice of reason ever since the program was founded. It's been idiotic politicians and blowhard military brass that have caused most of the trouble," he said, catching a few glares from his current military brass. "We're done playing games. As of now, you are in full command of all our offworld operations."
"Me?" Carter asked, stunned.
The VP nodded. "With an immediate promotion to a Five Star General."
"What?" Sam gasped.
"We're at war," the VP insisted. "You're the most experienced officer we have. I would have liked to bring O'Neill back, but we haven't been able to track him down and we can't wait. You are in command of our war effort, General. As it is, you're also the only person remaining on Earth that has had personal contact with the Aschen. You saw them launch the first bioweapon at us through the stargate with no provocation whatsoever. You know what we're up against, and short of O'Neill I can't think of anyone better to protect our planet, and our country, from our offworld enemies."
"Are you sure?" Sam asked again, thinking she'd not heard right.
The VP smiled. "You don't remember me, do you?"
"Sir?" she asked, not catching his meaning.
"During the first year of operation here," he said, indicating the SGC. "There was a skirmish offworld. SG-5 was under Goa'uld attack and SG-1 and SG-3 was sent in as relief. You rescued a Major Kerry who'd received a staff blast in the chest," he said, pointing to the spot on his upper right pectoral muscle.
Carter's eyes widened again. "That was you?"
"Yes," Kerry said. "I never returned to active duty, and eventually made my way into politics because I knew how serious the threat we faced was, and how we couldn't trust the politicians to do anything right. Now that I'm the one calling the shots, with the congress in agreement out of fear of the Aschen, I'm giving you free reign to do what's needed, in your own way, with no interference from the I.O.A. or our own government."
Carter stared at him for a moment. "You've got to be joking."
"No, I'm dead serious," Kerry said, leaning back in his chair. "But there's more than just the threat the Aschen pose. We also have to consider the possibility of WWIII here on Earth…or more likely, out amongst our colonies."
"What do you mean?" Carter asked.
"Since we lost possession of the stargate, the other nations have become almost giddy with the promise of new lands to colonize. It's as if the clock was turned back to 1492 when the Americas were discovered and Europe set loose on a colonizing binge. The same thing is happening now, and I can see no way for us to stop it. When we had possession of the stargate they had to go behind our back to do it…now, there's no restrictions on them at all, and the I.O.A. is intent on playing kingpin and riding rough shot over everyone. A few of the rules they've set up include treating Earth as neutral ground, which everyone is honor-bound to protect, but they're 'giving' free passes to the individual countries to do whatever they want on their own colonies, which are being parceled out by the I.O.A. Any confrontations between nations are the business of no one else, so long as they keep their disputes away from Earth."
Carter's jaw dropped the lowest it'd go. "They're anticipating civil war?"
"So it would seem. Their focal point is on preserving Earth. As for everything else it's a free for all…with the one exception being they're forbidding claiming of worlds with indigenous populations. They don't want another incident with the Jaffa. Also, every nation has to petition the I.O.A. to be granted the rights to establish new colonies, as well as declare all offworld bases for public knowledge."
"How do they plan to enforce that?" Carter asked, thinking through the ramifications.
"Setting us at each other's throats," Kerry said candidly. "We've already denounced the I.O.A. treaty and made our intentions clear. We've sort of settled on a mutual disagreement while acknowledging that Earth needs to be protected. We have, however, pulled out of all 304 contracts with the other nations. They'll have to make their own spaceships from now on."
"So…" Carter said carefully. "You're telling me that since we can't stop this colonization push, our only option is to get out in front of it?"
"Bingo," he said, pointing a finger at her in congratulations.
"All the while fighting the Aschen and who knows who else?"
"I'm sure you see the intricacies of the problem we face…and the urgent need for genuine leadership," he underscored.
Sam nodded slowly, taking it all in. "I'll want Colonel Mitchell as my second in command."
"You needn't ask, Carter," Kerry said with some familiarity. "You're in command. You can have whoever you want. We'll supply you with as much equipment and resources as we can from Earth, but down the road you're going to have to rely on offworld resources."
"Meaning the establishment of more mining sites and setting up offworld factories and shipyards," Sam said, catching on quickly.
Kerry nodded, smiling. "I trust you can take it from here?"
"Yes, sir," she said formally.
Kerry pointed at the assembled staff. "These officers are at your disposal. They'll help you set up everything you need. Oh…one small side note, Carter. Is there any chance of getting Teal'c back?"
Sam cringed. "He's already been accepted as Bra'tac's First Prime. Knowing Teal'c he won't go back on that commitment."
"Our loss," Kerry said as he stood. "Cheyenne Mountain is yours until we can get an offworld SGC up and running. The Phoenix and Icarus are our only two operational warships. We have to leave at least one of them here at all times until the British 304 is ready for operation, which we're keeping, by the way. But you know as well as I do, that even if we had all four ships here in defense of Earth, that won't be enough against another Aschen assault."
"Assuming the Russians keep theirs here," Carter added, nodding. "The 304s will be more effective offworld until we can establish a proper defense of Earth."
"Yes, I forgot to mention that," Kerry added. "We're discussing the establishment of a network of defense satellites with the I.O.A., but even if they refuse to play ball we're going to work on the defenses ourselves. That will not be one of your responsibilities."
Carter nodded. She was getting everything away from Earth. Home defense would be allotted to someone else. While she hoped they got someone competent for the job, not having to defend Earth directly was a huge load off her shoulders…not that the job she'd just been given was going to be that easy. She was being given the front lines, while Earth would eventually, hopefully, become safe territory.
Kerry walked around the table and stopped next to Carter, who stood to meet him. He shook her hand. "You have no idea how much safer I feel knowing that you'll be out there watching over our asses. Good luck. If there's anything that they can't get for you, feel free to call me, day or night."
"Thank you," Carter said as he released her hand.
"Have at it," Kerry said, waving them back to the table as he left the room. A pair of secret service guards stepped out of what used to be Landry's office to escort him back to the surface.
"Ok," Carter said, sitting back down and taking a long, deep breath. "Let's start with the basics. Do we have a proposed site for the new SGC?"
"Dr. Weir," one of the Asgard at the control consoles calmly called out to her, "the city's sensors are detecting a wave of incoming objects."
Elizabeth walked over behind the small alien. "What kind of objects?"
"Asteroids," it said evenly. "Some of which are quite large."
"How long?" she asked.
"Twelve minutes, thirty two seconds."
"Alert the Alterra. We need someone in the control chair."
"Done," another Asgard said, having already sent the message.
"Start powering up the city's weapons," Elizabeth ordered. "And sound general quarters."
One of the other six Asgard in the control room activated the city's general warning klaxon, tinged with slightly altered harmonics to indicate the general quarters status.
Out on Atlantis's number three pylon Sheppard and O'Neill were lazily hitting golf balls out into the ocean when the city's shield suddenly rose up over their heads. Below them the water receded as it was pushed down by the ventral shields as they too extended. Atlantis bobbed a bit with the increased buoyancy as a loud, four tone warning sounded on the city's exterior hull…the signal to return indoors.
"What's up?" O'Neill asked as Sheppard closed his eyes and concentrated.
"Come on," Sheppard said a moment later, grabbing their stash of golf balls and clubs. "They need us in the control chairs."
"Wraith I assume," O'Neill asked as he ran behind Sheppard, carrying his own set of clubs.
"They decided to hit a few balls our way," John said as they approached the nearest door to the city's interior. "We've got to knock them down before they get here."
"Tell me where to go," O'Neill said, completely serious for once in his life.
"I'll show you," Sheppard
said as they darted inside.
John and Jack left their clubs and bucket of balls in the hallway just inside the entrance and jogged their way to the nearest transporter. From there they made their way to the closest of the four chair rooms.
"Sit down," John said from the doorway, "plug in, and wait for instructions. You can talk to Ryan through the chair's systems."
"Alright," Jack said as Sheppard ran off. The next closest chair was in another building. The Alterra had added the three extras in different locations just in case the city was damaged and the primary chair was lost, which meant it would take a couple more minutes for Sheppard t o 'plug in.'
Jack spun the blue/white chair around and sat down. He concentrated and the chair reclined…
Suddenly he was aware of Atlantis's weapons systems powering up, her deployed shields, and numerous subsystems all at his disposal, yet shared with another control chair. Matt Stevenson was already active in the system.
What now? Jack thought.
In response Ryan's 'voice' transmitted through the chair interface.
"Get the drones moving," he told him as O'Neill noticed targeting information continuing to pop up on the incoming asteroids. Ryan was tagging targets from the 'war room.' "Keep them out of the line of fire and ready to pick up the pieces. Matt's got the big guns, and Sheppard will stand by with the Pesqua if we need them."
Got it, O'Neill mentally replied as he searched for the Alterran drones. He found clusters stacked on the surface of Atlantis's three primary pylon/piers.
"Wakey, wakey," Jack said aloud as the sheets of 4.5 meter square cubes activated. In his mental HUD all the little cubes turned green.
"Up," he said, and the top rows of the stacks started to drift towards the city's shield.
"I'm in," Sheppard's voice announced. "Pesqua standing by."
"Whatever makes it to the atmosphere is yours," Ryan said.
The silver cubes passed through the city's shields as three long streams of them formed, heading up to space. Jack picked a rendezvous spot in orbit and they scurried up to it, unfolding into what looked like mechanical 'spike balls' in the process. O'Neill started their capacitors charging as the first yellow/green beam shot up from one the city's four primary Joktala, or beam cannons.
O'Neill watched through the city's sensors as the thin beam reached high above the atmosphere and impacted the largest of the 100+ asteroids at a range of 196 dekmas, or 512 miles in the Ancient measurement. It took and caught the beam for a moment, then the energy weapon burst out the back side of the asteroid, shattering it into several dozen pieces before the beam abated.
"Whoa," O'Neill commented.
"You ain't seen nothing yet," Sheppard commented to the mental part of that exclamation that got transmitted through the chair.
The asteroid debris began to expand outwards like a halo and suddenly Jack had deployment points appearing in his HUD, courtesy of Ryan.
O'Neill concentrated and split up his 160 drones into five groups and moved them around the firing conduit to their deployment points, which were moving parallel to the incoming asteroids. He accelerated them even further to catch up in time before the rocks hit the atmosphere.
Another two Joktala lances cracked the next biggest asteroids. A few seconds later the fourth fired, then there was a few seconds delay while the first cannon recharged. Matt worked through the asteroids, largest to smallest at range while O'Neill's drones moved into position.
"Have at it fellas," Jack said when he gave the drones their attack command.
The semi-autonomous computers in the drones began their attack, firing single spheres of red energy at the pieces of rock flying towards Atlantis, which were spreading out into a large cone from the detonations. The drones, essentially unmanned fighters, busted up the bigger pieces with the concentrated blasts, then waited to recharge, fired, and waited again.
When the pieces began to shrink in size, O'Neill ordered the drones to pull less charge. As a result the spheres they were firing shrank, but their firing rate increased. They chewed up most of the asteroids, but some large pieces still managed to make their way into the atmosphere…where the drones broke off.
Sheppard sat, waiting and watching as his fellow Alterra made short work of the Wraith asteroids, but some of the debris was getting through…which meant they were his responsibility now.
The city's pesqua holds opened up and several long, but thin streams of the glowy remote-controlled missiles rose up out of the city, then fanned out as John sent them towards individual targets. Atlantis could probably survive some hits from the smaller pieces, but at the speed they were entering the atmosphere they were carrying a significant amount of kinetic energy. Too much would breach the shields, but even if they missed the city they'd create devastating waves in the ocean, and Sheppard didn't feel like having the city flipped over by the impact concussion.
Not to mention there were other lifeforms on Lantea besides the Ancients and their seed species. A brief glance at the sensors confirmed that there were many of the 'talking whales' that had previously warned them of dangerous solar activity. If the asteroids hit the ocean around Atlantis, hundreds of them would be killed within the 200 mile radius.
Not going to happen on John's watch. Besides, Atlantis owed them.
The few hundred pesqua zipped up, boring through their targets then quickly curling around and passing through others, putting holes in the remaining pieces that the atmospheric friction clawed at, further chewing them up. After several dozen passes the drones finally detonated within some of the remaining pieces, but by now there were thousands of small fragments that were going to hit the ocean's surface. They were no longer a threat to Atlantis, but they were going to make one hell of a meteor shower.
Sheppard, now free of controlling the pesqua, tracked the debris a few dekmas above the city, meaning less than thirty seconds to impact. He mentally grabbed control of the city's shields and disconnected the upper shield from the lower shield.
The bottom edge of the top hemisphere of the shield expanded out over the ocean, lifting up to an almost flat angle and spreading out…and out…and out…
The asteroid debris impacted all over the shield, small bits here and there, making quite the fireworks display for the Wraith observing from high orbit, but very little was visible from inside the city. Only a few tiny pieces came down on top of Atlantis…the rest were widely spread out over the ocean.
"Nice," Ryan said through the link. "Bring the drones back down and pack them up."
On it, Jack replied.
"Ryan, take a look at this," Matt said, highlighting several of the Wraith ships.
They were gathering more asteroids.
"They think they're going to have better luck with more?" Sheppard asked.
"No," Ryan advised. "They accomplished their mission."
Which was what? Jack asked as he monitored the returning drones.
"To make us expend ammo," Matt answered.
"The pesqua," John said, understanding.
"Jack, I'll make sure the drones get tucked back in," Matt said. "You and Sheppard can go back to whatever you were doing."
Thanks, O'Neill thought back. How long until the next round?
"At least a day," Ryan answered. "We may have to suffer another round or two before the rest of the Wraith ships get here. Then we'll be ready to make our move."
"Call us when you need us," Sheppard said. "Meet you back on the pier."
O'Neill felt John disconnect, so he did as well. The chair powered down and sat him back up. He stretched his arms up over his head. "Well, that was fun."
Two days later the last of the approaching Wraith ships finally arrived, bringing the count to 718, including 37 Hive ships. They had clustered together into 18 battle groups spaced around the planet, with small groups of cruisers moving about in between, ready to pounce on any ship attempting to run the blockade.
In Atlantis's gateroom Ryan waited patiently for the last piece of the puzzle to arrive, which came in the form of an incoming wormhole from Dracona.
Once the event horizon formed, Andara and Phil stepped through arm in arm, and Ryan walked out to meet them.
"Is everything set?" Phil asked his twin.
"We're ready when you are," Ryan said, nodding at Andara. "We need you in one of the control chairs."
She nodded back and walked past Ryan, placing a friendly hand on his shoulder as she headed off to her assignment.
Phil turned around and mentally deactivated the still open stargate, then started dialing a new 9 symbol address. There was a short pause after all nine were activated, during which he mentally entered the access code, then the new wormhole opened. Without another word he walked back through…
…and into the gate hub. He headed over to the control room and pulled up the map of Pegasus. Thousands of small blue holographic lights marked the planets with stargates. Some had thin blue lines between them, indicating active connections. Phil pulled up a second diagram and input some quick commands.
All of the dots in the galaxy winked out, save for six.
Those remaining few were the ones with active wormholes. Phil waited patiently for whoever was in transit to finish their journey, then when the connections ceased he deactivated those gates as well. When all the stargates in Pegasus were deactivated, including Atlantis's, Phil sent a brief text message to Janus:
Gates deactivated. You're good to go.
"Incoming message," McKay announced from the control room of the Terra.
"Just a moment," Janus replied as he made some final modifications. Both the Terra and the facility it contained were brand new, on an uninhabited planet in the Pegasus galaxy. Both he and Rodney had been sent to make sure it was operational before Atlantis needed it.
"Let's see what we've got," Janus said, walking over to the control panel and bringing up the message. "Hmmm, that was quicker than I expected."
"Now I know my Ancient isn't that good," Rodney mentioned, "but I assume that's the go signal."
"It is," Janus confirmed. "Begin power up."
McKay clapped his hands together and rubbed them in anticipation. "Oh yeah, time for some payback," he said as he diverted power from the Terra's potentia into the device constructed beneath it. He watched as the power flowed into the startup matrix, bringing it up to critical levels.
"Ready," he announced when the level was to his liking.
"Activating," Janus said from a nearby console. Without a hitch the device came online, and the Alterran scientist ramped up the coverage to maximum level. "How do we look?"
"Power flow is steady," McKay reported.
"Any anomalies," Janus asked, making certain all was well.
"None," McKay confirmed.
Janus walked over to the communications terminal and typed out another message, which he then sent on to Atlantis:
Attero device activated.
Ryan received Janus's message in the holographic chamber, which was presently converted into their war room, then opened a comm channel to the control room.
"Elizabeth, everything is set. Call in the fleet."
"Alright," she answered hesitantly. "I hope you know what you're doing."
Ryan glanced at the Wraith fleet icons encircling the planet. "We do."
A few minutes later the Nieruie and ten other brand new Columnar-class Alterran warships exited hyperspace on the edge of the Wraith jamming fields. They exited in four pairs and one threesome, spread out at separate points around the planet where the bulk of the Wraith fleets were massed. Still somewhat distant, the Columnars accelerated towards the fleets besieging Atlantis as they received targeting orders from Stevenson.
The four weapons pods on each of the Columnars opened silently, deploying their lox generator towers and revealing their two pesqua holds inside the main hull…one top and one bottom. All over the gray/white surface of the ships, small bumps rose up through the replicator block armor, pushing them aside like sand. The ninety nine plasma cannons deployed just high enough to open their lines of fire, but most of the batteries were still concealed within the moving armor.
The main weapons of the ships had been fully charged prior to arrival, but none of them fired, though they were already within range. Instead, all 11 ships launched two fast moving, yellow plumes of pesqua at the Wraith ships redeploying to engage them.
All the Columnars emptied their pesqua holds in one massive preemptive attack before they closed to plasma cannon range.
"Alright Matt," Ryan said through the chair communications system. "Get us moving. Our ships won't last long against that amount of firepower."
"Here we go," Matt announced to command group, including Andara, Sheppard, and O'Neill who were manning the other chairs. With a gentle rumble, Atlantis lifted off the ocean's surface and passed through the thick cloud layer overhead. When it emerged on the other side the city of the Ancients climbed with reckless abandon toward the developing battle overhead…and the largest cluster of Wraith ships besieging Lantea.
Inside the Nieruie, Bra'tac watched as Paul Stevenson fired their entire complement of pesqua at the 97 ship fleet growing larger ahead of them as both the Alterran threesome of Columnars and the Wraith ships moved towards each other aggressively. This particular subgroup of the Wraith siege fleet contained four Hive ships, 88 cruisers, two supply ships, and three of the rare Wraith battleships, each about half the length of a Hive ship and tapered into a long, pointed needle of a profile.
Bra'tac held the lox generators ready as he sat in the Captain's chair and waited for the Wraith ships to come within range. The lightning field generators were a medium distance weapon, capable of delivering a large punch with a 32 second recharge time, but limited to a range of only a few dekmas. The generators had to have a target to transfer the charge to, which meant there had to be a temporary connection between the two ships, unlike the directed energy weapon housed along the ship's central spine.
Paul would have control of that weapon, as soon as the pesqua reached their targets, but Bra'tac could have fired it already over the ever decreasing gap between ships, effectively sniping them from afar…however, the targeting data coming from Atlantis had given specific orders regarding each and every one of the 718 ships besieging Atlantis. Many of them had been tagged as 'no-kills.'
Bra'tac knew that meant the Wraith had Human captives aboard. Those ships were to be disabled, not destroyed, which meant specifically targeting engines and weapons without hitting anything critical. Fortunately, the pesqua had been designed for just such a task.
Bra'tac saw both their pesqua swarms, as well as those from their two sister ships, quickly jump across the gap and begin to swirl around a third of the Wraith vessels as the enemy fired their blue plasma cannons in an attempt to shoot the glowing yellow missiles down...and partially succeeded.
However, there were so many being fired that the Wraith couldn't shield themselves from the onslaught. Their biological armor caused the pesqua to use up an extra ordinate amount of energy to cut through, but their speed of penetration didn't diminish. They looped about through the cruisers, puncturing energy conduits and exposing the inner hull to space before their energy reserves neared depletion and they detonated inside, causing further damage. The targeted cruisers didn't explode in the fireball typical of metal built ships…instead they burned from the inside, turning into bright silhouettes of destruction against the blackness of space.
Thirty four of the cruisers were killed by the pesqua wave within the fleet Bra'tac was engaging. The four Hive ships had been hit too, but only their hyperdrives and some of their weapons batteries had been targeted, as well as some of their thrust-based engines. They were damaged, but not destroyed, and definitely not out of the fight. The supply ships had only their hyperdrives targeted, while the four battleships had been split two and two. Two destroyed, two wounded, based on which had Humans aboard and which did not.
With one quick blow, the 97 ship fleet had been pared down to 61, two of which really weren't combat ships at all. That left 59 Wraith ships against three Columnars…now without even a single pesqua in reserve.
"Stand ready," Bra'tac announced to his crew as they closed to within plasma cannon range. In addition to his Master Builder, he had Lorne, Zelenka, and Cadman along with six other Lanteans that had come from the Pegasus galaxy. A few Humans were also manning the secondary control chairs on the bridge, bringing the ship's command compliment to 17. Bra'tac had spent the past three days running them through battle simulations against the ship's computer, and though they were far from skilled gunners, they had gelled sufficiently to coordinate their strikes and learned where and when to shoot…something that the ship's computer alone couldn't do as well. Still, it had been given control of shield and armor adjustments, which it would make automatically in response to battle conditions.
"Mind your targets," Paul reminded them as they closed to within range.
"Fire at will," Bra'tac said, releasing everyone with a clear shot to fire.
The Nieruie had her two sister ships trailing behind her in a single file line, so as to maximize their fields of fire as they dove into the sea of the Wraith ships. Their forward arcs were momentarily obscured, but Bra'tac's ship wasn't. The few plasma cannons on the front of the ship opened fire on the swiftly moving cruisers that had jumped out ahead of the limping Hive ships while Paul fired the ship's main weapon.
On the relatively flat front end of the Columnar was a small, half sphere in the center of the circular silhouette. It crackled with energy before spitting out a thin beam of brilliant green energy at one of the approaching cruisers. The beam was about the width of a puddle jumper and lasted .73 seconds, which accounted for only 11% of the weapon's charge. Two seconds after firing, the emitter sphere crackled with energy again as Paul readied the ship to fire another low power shot.
The first green lance hit the prow of the targeted cruiser and cored a shaft the entire length of the ship, then impacted a second cruiser behind it in the aft quarter, also cutting through its dense armor and exiting out the far side, where it winged a third cruiser behind it.
Meanwhile, the Kilosei, on the Nieruie's starboard side, fired her main weapon at full power…not at the fleet in front of them, but at the secondary fleet of 32 ships approaching from their flank.
The Kilosei's emitter crackled with small arcs of green lightning before firing off an identical cutting beam at the lone battleship in the second fleet…one that had been tagged as a 'kill' by Atlantis, meaning no humans onboard.
The beam continued to fire for more than a second…which stretched into two seconds, then two and a half. At 2.7 seconds the beam didn't abate…instead a large pulse of equally green energy blasted out from the columnar and traveled along the beam, which continued to fire for a total duration of 4.8 seconds. Designed as a shield penetrating weapon capable of pinpoint overloading uber-strong shields in order to get some amount of destructive energy through, the weapon worked equally well against the shield-less Wraith ships, even though it was a bit of overkill.
The battleship took the cutting mean on the port side, approximately halfway down her length, but at an angle. It cut into the ship and exited through her stern, running almost parallel to her length. When the pulse hit the ship it was already nearly cut in half, which resulted in the massive amount of energy entering through the long slash and burning/exploding away the formidable ship's interior.
This time the bio-matter construction DID explode, in a massive debris cloud that threw bits and pieces of the ship into the single Hive ship it had been escorting. The Hive lost several plasma cannons to the ballistic debris, but continued to rush forward at full speed to reinforce the fleet Bra'tac's Columnars were engaging.
Bra'tac noted the destruction of the battleship, along with the approach of two other smaller Wraith fleets. The combined ship count was about to crest 150…which meant the slugging match was about to begin.
Paul continued to spear Wraith cruisers with powered down shots from the Nieruie's primary weapon until he'd completely depleted the capacitor. As it began its 10 minute 17 second recharge period Paul grabbed control of a number of plasma cannons from the computer and began racking up hits on the nearest Hive ship's weapon batteries, which had just begun to pound the Columnar's shields.
Finally the Wraith ships, now all firing an insane mass of blue plasma at the three diverging Alterran vessels, came within range of the lox generators. Bra'tac targeted two cruisers with the forward pair and unleashed two simultaneous orange lightning strikes against the ships.
The lightning jumped from one of the two targets into a second Wraith cruiser, bringing the hit count to three as the cruisers suffered small internal explosions and began to list out of control, unpowered. He noted with pride as his gunners threw their own wave of blue/green plasma into the damaged ships, targeting the holes in their armor and breaking them apart into debris fragments, completing the kills.
With his forward lox generators recharging, Bra'tac waited until the Nieruie passed into the Wraith formation and his aft pair saw fresh targets. He knocked down two more of the pesky cruisers as he kept a close eye on the ship's shield status.
What had been fully charged shields when they entered the fight was now quickly draining down past 50%, with the ship's potentia pouring as much energy as it could back into the shields to recharge them. Despite the Alterra's superior technology, the sheer number of plasma cannons firing on the Columnars was too much for them to handle…yet every minute that passed by saw more and more of those enemy plasma cannons destroyed, thus decreasing the damage the enemy could throw their way.
But Bra'tac could do the math as easily as their computer. It wasn't a hard calculation to make…
The shields were going to go down, and go down soon. Perhaps within the next minute.
"Paul, launch the drones," the only Alterra with any real battle experience ordered.
"They won't last long against that," his brother noted.
"They will buy time," Bra'tac said, unloading the forward lox generators again.
Paul released his plasma cannons back into the computer's control and focused on the drones in the hangar bays. He activated the silvery cubes as the armor over the ship's aft face flowed toward the edges like waves in a pond, exposing several bay doors beneath. Three of them, including those of the main hangar, opened beneath the protection of the rapidly diminishing shields and released a swarm of the tiny cubes.
54 drones transformed as they left the ship under Paul's direction and headed for one of the three battleships pounding on the Columnar with its tightly packed cluster of forward plasma cannons, two of which had already been knocked out. Paul ordered them to attack those cannons then returned his attention to the ship's weapons, grabbing control of his own batteries back from the computer and targeting the rapidly diminishing number of cruisers. They were the easiest to kill and most of them had no humans onboard. Also, they were everywhere you looked. The Nieruie was engulfed in the Wraith fleet, with even her sister ships nearly obscured from view by the motley blue ships.
The combat drones, with their targets clearly declared, headed straight towards the Wraith battleship and launched their small red orbs towards the ship's 26 forward plasma cannons, four of which had now been disabled. Smaller in size than those on a hive ship by about 40%, the sheer number of them in the same firing arc made for an extremely dangerous torrent of plasma within a small area of impact. Though these ships were rare within the Wraith fleet, their battle prowess had resulted in the capture of several Lantean warships 10,000 years ago that had underestimated how much concentrated firepower they could deliver on target…and right now they were wreaking havoc with the Columnars shields.
Those forward plasma cannons were shielded by armor, with their destructive blue energy traveling down an interior conduit before it was released into space…which meant the only direct path to the cannons themselves was down the barrel of their weapons.
The drones couldn't target from that direction, so instead they began chewing into the armor over the cannons, along with sporadic fire from the Columnar's much stronger plasma cannons. The damage the drones added was minor, but not insignificant…which apparently the Wraith took note of. They didn't redirect any of their ship to ship weapons against the drones. No, they needed those to pound down the weakening shields of the Columnars. Their technology could read enemy shield strength well enough, and they knew that despite the grievous losses they were suffering they were about to get through their enemy's shields, so instead of wasting their big guns against the drones the now 7 Hive ships engaged in the fight opened their operational hangar bays and loosed a swarm of darts into the mix.
The darts headed away from the battle in a big arc around the circumference of the fur ball in order to avoid the mass of plasma fire being exchanged between the big ships, which had been the reason they weren't launched earlier. Once they found a relatively clear opening, they poured through it and in towards the battleship under attack, as well as a trio of cruisers that the drones from another Columnar were attacking.
The Wraith darts opened fire on the slowly circling drones a few seconds before the Nieruie's shields collapsed.
When Atlantis took off from Lantea's surface it had a choice to make. There were 18 Wraith fleets spaced around the planet and 5 groups of friendly ships engaging them at different places. The Wraith fleets were converging, and very soon the number of enemy ships was going to overpower the Columnars. There were three enemy fleets closest overhead, but the largest fleet was just a bit farther off westward, which was being engaged by the lone threesome of Alterran Columnars.
However, just as Atlantis passed out of the planet's atmosphere, it became clear that the major hot zone was not Bra'tac's battle, but Bret and Teyla's escalating battle as four smaller Wraith fleets combined into a 253 ship swarm…which was quickly pared down to 211 by the pesqua attack, but that still left the two Columnars more outgunned than the rest of the fleet, so Atlantis veered west and moved to join the battle just heating up some distance away.
Fortunately, they didn't have to wait to get inside Wraith weapons range before attacking. The city's Joktala were able to open fire two minutes prior to their arrival and began sniping Wraith ships from range, starting with a lone battleship that fortunately didn't have any humans aboard.
Unfortunately the 9 Hive ships did, and they couldn't be taken out so easily, nor could their cannons or hyperdrives be targeted from this range. Matt did his best to take out as many cruisers as he could, in addition to the one battleship kill, as Atlantis rushed towards the battle.
Unfortunately Bret's Columnar, the Ransaa, lost shields just before Atlantis came within lox range, which Andara promptly put to use against the nearest Wraith cruisers. Meanwhile Sheppard launched small waves of Pesqua, targeting the hyperdrives on the 'no-kill' targets that had been missed in the initial attack, as well as the big batteries on the Hive ships.
That accounted for the bulk of Atlantis's weaponry, but there were still a small number of point defense weapons spaced around Atlantis's many towers and the edges of the pylons, which fell to O'Neill's control. Not as powerful as the plasma cannons on the Columnars, these neutron beams were in fact particle weapons that chucked a slurry of energy and particles in short spurts at targets with similar range limitations to the lox generators…yet the recharge time on the neutron beams was nil, which meant O'Neill had some very fast firing 'squirt guns' at his disposal…with pinpoint accuracy.
As the Ransaa's replicator armor began to blow away like dirt from numerous small plasma impacts, it fired the last of its primary weapon's charge and holed a nearby cruiser, cutting all return fire from it. The Columnar maneuvered up alongside the cruiser to gain some cover, but seeing as how the Alterran ship was nearly half the length of a Hive ship, the cruiser didn't provide much in the way of a barrier…that was, until the Ransaa's tractor beams snagged another half/dead cruiser and moved it and several more pieces of debris into blocking positions around the ship.
The Wraith fired between the gaps though, but several of their favorite targets became obscured, allowing the ship's computer some time to shift replicator cells from the top layers of other portions of the ship across the surface of the hull to the heavily damaged areas of the armor and reinforce them. The 'sand' that was being blown away from the ship was refilling itself in the craters as the overall thickness of the ship's armor was gradually decreasing.
After twenty seconds of pounding, the Ransaa's shields came back up, minimally recharged within the ship and redeploying over the surface. The replicator armor smoothed out beneath them just in time to see the shields go down again, and the Wraith began to pot mark the now thinner sand-like armor all over again.
All across space a flurry of action raged out of control. There were too many ships and too much weapons fire to keep track of, and within minutes nearly half the Wraith fleet was destroyed, but all of the Columnars' shields had gone down and they were taking damage to their armor, but as of yet none of the enemy's weapons had managed to touch the true hull beneath the replicator blocks…though some shots had come dangerously close.
Three of the 18 Wraith fleets positioned at odd points along the perimeter of their siege line, and a long way from the Alterran ships, had time to study the battle before they could close the distance and join the fight…and in those few minutes they watched with horror as the battle unfolded.
Despite losing shields, the Ancient ships just wouldn't die, and they were tearing up their fellow Wraith with alarming efficiency. They calculated that once they joined the battle they would have enough firepower to finish off the elongated enemy ships, but only at great cost to themselves.
However, they noted Atlantis's rise to orbit and knew that with the loss of so many ships and the spread out nature of the battlefield that they wouldn't have the necessary firepower to contend with the flying city's shields, not to mention it's formidable firepower. Seeing the writing on the wall, so to speak, the three outlying fleets began to slow their approach and power down their siege generators.
In Atlantis's war room Ryan watched the battle unfold with a critical eye. He knew they were pressing close to the limits of the Columnars, but if they could hold out just a little longer the Wraith's numerical edge would diminish enough that they could sustain renewed shields…at which time any hope the Wraith had for victory would be over.
When the three groups of Wraith ships began to break off, Ryan tagged the location of the ships with humans onboard as priority one targets notified Sheppard.
"I see them," John said after the new targeting data got to him. They were a long ways away, but they couldn't jump to hyperspace just yet. They had to power down their own jamming fields, as well as get beyond the range of the other Hive ships' generators, who as of yet hadn't bothered to power them down.
Sheppard launched another batch of pesqua, which split into three smaller groups and jetted off towards the fleeing Wraith. He let them go on their merry way while he launched more against closer targets. When the traveling pesqua got closer he'd reassume control, but for right now there were two Columnars that needed assistance in a bad way…one of which was about to be rammed by a cruiser…
"Jereior, deflect that ship!" Teyla yelled at her ship's computer as she adjusted the helm controls to try and create a more favorable angle of impact when the kamikaze Wraith cruiser hit their ship. It was approaching at considerable speed from the outside of the Wraith formation, and without their shields it could do a significant amount of damage if it made contact. At the least they had to slow its momentum down.
"Tractor beam generators 2 and 3 disabled," the ship's male persona said dispassionately. "Assuming attitude control to bring 5 and 6 into range," it said as Teyla's control was queried for release.
She mentally relinquished helm control and fired the closest plasma cannons at the approaching ship, chewing away at its otherwise undamaged exterior. Those cannons quickly passed out of site as the Columnar rolled over on its side to bring the starboard and less damaged side of the ship into view.
Three tractor beams pushed out at the Wraith cruiser and deflected its course slightly as the Columnar moved as well to avoid the impact…but was not wholly successful. The cruiser passed by quickly, clipping the starboard/aft weapons pod, sheering half of it off as the Wraith ship disintegrated upon impact. The Jereior started to spin about from the impact, but the computer quickly nulled the list and began to pull replicator blocks from other parts of the ship over the surface to the partial weapons pod, covering it with a thin layer of protection so the Wraith didn't have too obvious of a target to tear into. Regardless, the lox generator in that pod had been destroyed by the impact, leaving the ship with only three remaining.
Those three had secondary shields covering them, which had yet to be breached, though with the main shields down and the armor thinning, several hull impacts had been scored by the Wraith, destroying 12 plasma cannons in addition to the two tractor beam generators.
The ship's main weapon was also under fire, and its secondary protective shield failed shortly after the kamikaze impact. Subsequent Wraith plasma fire destroyed the emitter, but thanks to the ship's design didn't cause a catastrophic feedback of power. The weapon's capacitor was sealed safely inside the ship's interior, and couldn't be reached without deep penetration into the hull.
The ship's shields came back up briefly for a third time, buying the ship four seconds of coverage and allowing a little more armor redistribution before failing again as Atlantis's bulk rose up from below and blocked Teyla's Columnar from a third of the remaining Wraith fleet, absorbing a good portion of their weapons fire in the process.
Inside the ship the shields began to recharge, even as two of the shield generators were destroyed as the armor protecting them was blow away by a pair of plasma cannons on a nearby Hive ship that had had all the rest of its weaponry disabled. However, even with two generators destroyed, the other 14 generators were sufficient to shield the ship, though at a slightly less efficient rate of power distribution.
Thank Bra'tac for insisting on redundancy in the Columnar design.
Forty seconds later, after taking half a dozen more hull penetrations, the Jereior redeployed its shields for the last time. The Wraith fleet was thinned enough that the power flow from the ship's potentia was now equal to the rapidly diminishing plasma fire coming from the surviving Wraith ships. With its remaining weapon systems, it helped Atlantis and its sister ship clean up the rest of the enemy ships as the three disengaged Wraith fleets made their jump to hyperspace…
Sheppard's pesqua reached the first of the three fleets just before they were clear to jump to hyperspace and knocked out the Hive ship's hyperdrive, as well as the single supply ship in the group and two cruisers that were displaying priority 'no-kill' tags. The few extra pesqua he had after accomplishing that task he used to 'poke out' two plasma cannons on the Hive. The rest of the cruiser hoard he didn't care about. They weren't going anywhere.
The second group of pesqua reached one of two Hive ships, knocking out its hyperdrive just as its twin, less than four dekmas away jumped to hyperspace along with its 35 cruiser escort…
…and disintegrated all 36 ships as they tried to enter unstable hyperspace windows, courtesy of Janus's Attero device.
Half of the cruisers of the first group broke ranks and made the fatal jump to hyperspace a few seconds earlier, leaving their wounded Hive ship behind with those ships loyal enough to their queen to face death alongside her. Ironically it was the traitors who died first, splashing their ships' debris across space in an almost pretty spray of blue sparks.
The third group detected the destruction of their fellow Wraith ships just in time to abort their own attempted escape. They held place, not knowing what to do as John's third group of pesqua reached them and disabled their Hive ships' hyperdrives, along with three cruisers and another supply ship. Quickly deducing their limited options, they burned for high orbit, hoping to run away elsewhere in the system…though they had nowhere to go.
When the revelation of the reactivated Attero device crossed over the Wraith hive mind to all their ships, they reacted in one of two ways.
Some scattered, running away from the planet in random directions, no two ships on the same heading…while the rest turned on the remaining Columnars and began making suicide runs. The Hive ships that hadn't released their darts did so now and added them to the kamikaze groups.
Four Columnars took hits, the worst of them being the Nieruie. Two cruisers hit her prow, tearing off the front end of the ship where her tractor beam 'buffers,' designed specifically to counter this type of attack, had been knocked out. Her primary weapon was destroyed, and the first of the two cruisers imbedded itself in the Columnar's hull. The forward third of the cruiser disappeared inside, with the back half sticking out at an ugly angle.
The other cruiser deflected off the front end, tearing a wicked gash in the top edge of the prow. It careened out of control for a few seconds before an orange lightning bolt finished it off from one of the Nieruie's sister ships. All the other suicide runs were successfully deflected, either by the targeted ship or with help from their escorts. Bra'tac's suggestion for pairing the ships up had paid off in several ways during the battle. Ryan was truly glad to have his battle experience added to the Alterra's talent pool. In fact, he was probably the most knowledgeable battlefield commander that the Alterra had had since the Qizzic wars.
Still in the war room, Ryan watched the Wraith ships scatter away from Lantea and the butt-whipping they'd just given them, but the battle was far from over, and he didn't just mean the disabled ships still showing weapons fire that even now Atlantis and the Columnars were 'declawing.' No, a whole other angle to this battle was about to begin. To that end he chose one of the Hive ships that had her realspace engines disabled as well as her hyperdrive.
Ryan contacted his ships and got status reports on their damage. All of them were still mobile and partially operational, even the Nieruie, which meant the next part of their battle plan could begin.
With a look at the holographic map of the rapidly expanding battlefield Ryan mentally tagged the chosen hive ship and assigned one of the less damaged Columnars to watch over it and make sure that it didn't regrow its damaged systems as the Alterra and their allies boarded the ship to rescue the Wraith's food stores...
A cloaked puddle jumper flew into the cavernous hangar bay of the 1st Wraith Hive ship that'd been targeted for boarding. Fortunately the Wraith ship didn't have doors obstructing entry, instead they had an atmospheric containment field partway through the maze of twists and turns separating their hangar from the cold of space.
Mike Stevenson piloted the navicula porta through the entry corridor with ease, then hovered in place for a moment while he searched for the best landing zone. Off on the side were several doors leading to the interior of the Hive with dart niches in the walls above them. On the other side was a much larger landing platform, with the interior doors farther away. Two of the Wraith's small transports were sitting side by side in the center, but the platform could easily have held a dozen more along with a slew of darts.
Mike chose one of the empty smaller platforms and flew towards it. When he arrived he tilted the jumper's nose up until he was looking at the 'ceiling' above him, with numerous darts nestled against the walls. He watched his distance reading closely and lowered the jumper aft-first towards the ground.
When he was within a meter he detached the special add-on and felt the jumper lighten as well as heard a muffled 'thump' as it hit the deck. He leveled out the jumper and landed beside what looked like the bottle half of a broken beer bottle. The base was circular, but on one side there was a bit of a rim rising up, which matched the angular cut on the back of the puddle jumper. This provided a small bit of cover along the back side of the mobile ring platform that was now visible outside the jumper's cloaking device.
The back door of the jumper lowered and three Alterrans walked out wearing personal cloaking devices of their own. Once clear, Mike lifted off again and moved away to provide support should any darts redirect themselves to the platform. He had a dozen pesqua and a small energy weapon in the front of the jumper to work with, as well as the element of surprise so long as he stayed cloaked.
All of the Alterrans lugged a heavy backpack beneath their cloaks as they spread out, two of them to flank the entrance and catwalks, and the third to the rings where he deposited his pack on the ground and began to rearrange its components. Nate Stevenson unpacked the mobile shield from its compact form and attached it to the matching niche in the ring platform. It slid into place smoothly, then activated with a thin bubble-like shield covering both the ring platform and a few meters of perimeter around it.
Nate looked up as he heard the telltale sound of pesqua firing just in time to see a Wraith dart explode as it crossed the massive hangar bay towards them. A moment after the explosion he saw two other darts redirecting as well as dozens more powering up as a buzz-like Wraith alarm sounded throughout the ship.
Nate, still cloaked, keyed his wrist-bound communicator as the other two flying darts ate pesqua as well. "We've got darts moving, but the rings are secure. Start sending them over."
The words were barely out of his mouth when the ring platform activated and the concentric bars leapt up from the ground and materialized five tightly packed soldiers hoisting heavy weapons. The men stepped off the platform and took a knee around the edges, but still within the cover of the shield, as they brought their mini-pesqua launchers to their shoulders in preparation for more incoming darts.
The rings activated again and deposited a fully armored Ronon, Kiryk, and three other runners that the Setidan had rescued and recruited. They stepped off the platform and moved outside the shield, where they waited for the rest of what the ground troops had come to call the 'bad-ass squad' to ring in. Three more rescued runners materialized along with Ford, who had temporarily joined the elite squad in lieu of his more recent captaining duties. Ronon's personal replicator Ares materialized as well, and the five additional troops quickly joined up with the others, leaving the rings clear for more of the 'conventional' troops to arrive.
"Ares, get the door," Ronon ordered as the group jogged across the pad towards the interior entrance. The replicator sprinted ahead of them and inserted its 'hand' into the door controls, using its nanite construction to hack the biological mechanism.
The doors split apart, revealing an empty hall with the sound of approaching foot strikes echoing through the slightly misty interior. Ronon motioned Kiryk forward.
The man nodded and led the way inside, Ancient-designed shotgun in hand. He held close to one side of the wall as his previously tan camouflaged armor slowly adjusted its tint towards the motley bluish color of the Hive's interior. He and the rest of the strike force had flexible, yet full armor covering their bodies, including a force field faceplate on their helmets. If the Wraith managed to chuck them out an airlock the same way they'd dealt with Sheppard's replicators three years ago, they'd be able to survive in the vacuum of space for a short period of time…hopefully long enough to be picked up by jumper or beamed in, assuming they were outside the range of the Wraith's beaming countermeasures.
Ronon worked his way up the other side of the hall as he heard more of his troops ringing in behind them. The Commander of the Lantean troops kept close to the wall to give those behind him a clear shot when the approaching Wraith came within view in what should be only a few more steps…
Ronon fired his heavy pistol as the first Wraith shadow appeared, catching the soldier-class bug in the shoulder, spinning it around and down to the ground. Beside him Kiryk fired a much bigger red energy blast into the chest of the second Wraith to appear, lifting it off its feet and propelling it backwards into the large group of Wraith that were beginning to cluster around the corner. The rest that had come within view took shots from Ronon's men, but the Wraith hesitated from charging forward and instead ducked back behind the cover of the curving corridor, popping out sporadically to return fire with their stunners.
One of Ronon's men took a hit, but his armor's shield absorbed the blast easily. Behind him, Ford readied himself and waited for Ronon's wrist-flick signaling him forward. Aiden took off running towards the Wraith and literally threw himself at them…
Ronon heard weapons fire as he jogged in formation behind the seemingly kamikaze Ford, but he knew the man's armor and shields would protect him from several stunner shots before he went down, and even then his enzyme would insulate him from one or two more.
Kiryk shot one of the downed Wraith that had regenerated and was beginning to rise again in the head with another very powerful 'shotgun' blast, splattering the wall with blue brains as Ronon pulled around the corner and began taking very careful shots over Ford's head as he fought the Wraith hand to hand. There were easily thirty of the suckers packed into the narrow hall, most of whom didn't have a clear shot at Ford.
Tenacious, Ronon thought of Ford as he shot another one that Aiden knocked back towards them. It seems as if he was going to hand them back to the rest of the bad-ass squad one by one when Ford took a hit to his shields that wasn't a stunner.
One of the Wraith held a small pistol that'd fired a green bolt of energy. Ronon had seen this weapon before, and knew it was a potent killer designed to take down replicators. Ford's shields couldn't hold up against much of that.
Apparently Aiden realized that as well, and took the weapon out of the Wraith's hands, breaking its wrist in the process.
"Down!" Ronon yelled.
Ford dropped to his knees.
Ronon and his men peppered the Wraith with their varied weapons, mowing them down row by row with some sporadic weapons fire returning their way. Ronon took one of the green bolts to the shoulder, but his shields held and he kept on firing as his earpiece activated.
"Pull back!" Ryan's voice ordered, being relaying to each and every member of the assault team via an override command. "The Hive ship's power cores are overloading. The ship will blow in less than two minutes. Evac now!"
"Go!" Ronon groaned as his men began to retreat. He covered Ford as he scampered back, shieldless as his armor took a stun blast, with part of it soaking through. Aiden shrugged it off and passed back through Ronon and Kiryk's line. They fired a few more volleys into the mass of approaching Wraith as they climbed over the stack of corpses…some of which were getting up on their own…then retreated back to the ring platform with the rest of their men.
When they got there, there was a small line waiting for transit as well as a decloaking jumper landing beside them as the mini-pesqua launchers spat wave after wave of small glowing missiles at the Wraith darts massing in the hangar that were peppering the protective shields over both the rings and the decloaked jumper.
"Get inside the jumper," Ronon heard Teyla's voice say, seemingly from nowhere as he received an invisible push from behind towards the lowering ramp of the ship.
"Sixty seconds to detonation," Ryan's voice noted in all of their earpieces.
Just as Ronon was about to run up into the jumper he saw a wave of normal-sized pesqua enter the hangar bay from the entry corridor and swarm about inside. He heard the darts explode and fall from inside the jumper as he grabbed a seat, smashing his armored bulk up against the wall to try and make room for everyone else. The cockpit was already full of other runners and Ford, while Kiryk and the rest squeezed into the back along with three Alterrans in liquid armor appearing out of nowhere.
The ship began to lift off even as the hatch was closing and Mike moved them out of the hangar bay at breakneck speed. Behind them the last of the troops, the mini-pesqua launchers, ringed out of the Hive back to the safety of Atlantis sitting a few kilometers away.
The Hive ship's generators detonated before the jumper was past the atmospheric shield, but fortunately there was plenty of hull between them and the explosion, which delayed the wave of destructive plasma long enough for them to build up speed and zip out of the entry conduit before the blast overwhelmed them.
Ronon bucked in his seat as part of the explosion rocked the jumper as it caught up with them, but its shields held up to the quickly dissipating explosion. Those in the cockpit could see both Atlantis's shields and those of the flanking Columnar light up with impacts of both debris and plasma without incident.
"What now?" Ronon asked Teyla, who was squeezed against his chest.
Her facial armor, which looked like a liquid mask of silver, retracted and she pulled her chin away from his now grayish armor, looking up at his helmet with fire in her eyes.
"It seems we're going to have to disable their self-destruct before we board the next Hive."
"How do we do that?"
"We'll come up with something," Teyla said confidently.
"Well, anyone have any bright ideas?" Sheppard asked the small group of Alterrans in Atlantis's war room.
"We have to disable their ability to self detonate before they detect us," Matt pointed out in English, for O'Neill's sake. He'd only just begun the most basic of neural downloads.
"Can we not board the Hive ships under cloak and disable the devices from the inside?" Teyla asked.
"That might be possible," Andara commented. "But there won't be a clear access route from the hangars to the power core. That's where you have to disable their command interface so they can't overload their generators."
"So they don't actually have a self destruct onboard?" Sheppard clarified.
"No," Andara confirmed.
"Why can't we just shoot them out?" O'Neill commented, shrugging. He wasn't really sure if he was supposed to speak or not.
"Then we would run the risk of detonating the power core ourselves," Andara explained sweetly.
Sheppard's eyes suddenly widened with an idea. "How about we shoot something else?"
Andara tilted her head to the side in consideration. "Meaning what?"
"They don't have to be at the core to detonate it, right?" Sheppard asked.
"I don't think so," Andara said, frowning. "They can probably do so from any priority control interface. Most likely on the bridge or the Queen's chamber."
"Cut the command lines," Ryan interrupted as he sensed Sheppard's line of thought.
"There's more than just one," Andara reminded them. "And they're easy to regrow. Even if we took them all out, it'd only buy us a few minutes."
Matt rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "We need to pirate the control clusters…take control of the ship's operating system rather than destroy the command lines."
"We would still have to be on the inside, correct?" Teyla asked.
"Yeah, but I think we can pull off a stealth infiltration," Matt answered. "Andara, do you think we can find a way to jam their ship to ship communications?"
"Not unless you can spare a few months," she responded. "Telepathic communications are notoriously difficult to interfere with…unless you have the same transmitting capability."
"Use theirs," O'Neill suggested.
Sheppard nodded his agreement. "Take one of their ships, then use their own equipment to jam the others." He glanced at Andara. "Could you do that?"
She chewed on her lip, thinking hard. "The Wraith use boosters to connect their natural telepathic network over distances. I should be able to work with that, but not the individual abilities of each Wraith. We would have to keep the ships apart from each other."
"Fortunately they already are," Matt added. "And getting farther apart by the hour. Before long our fleet is going to have trouble keeping their critical systems from regenerating."
"Would a cruiser be sufficient?" Teyla asked Andara.
"It should be," the slightly taller Alterra answered.
"Yeah, but the cruiser's hangar bays have sealed doors," Matt disagreed. "You can't just fly inside. And if we blow the doors they'll be onto us."
"Docking hatch?" O'Neill asked, getting a bit more confident within the group.
"We'd still have to cut through," Matt said.
O'Neill got a quizzical look on his face. "Do you think one dro… pesqua would be enough for them to blow themselves up over?"
"Probably not," Ryan commented.
"Use its hole," O'Neill offered.
Ryan and Matt, the only two Stevensons in the room, looked at each other with almost perfect synchronicity.
"Big enough for a person?" Teyla asked.
"The hole would reseal," Andara warned, "but not immediately with armor. Just a thin layer to regain atmospheric integrity."
Ryan smiled at something he was mentally discussing with his clone. "I think we have a plan…" he announced to the others.
47 Wraith cruisers had survived the initial battle, 42 of which were hunted down and destroyed by the Columnars, leaving 5 remaining due to the fact that they had Humans onboard. One of those five had limped away from Lantea on partially regrown engines and was a good three hours away from the planet when one of the Columnars made a brief hyperspace jump to close the distance.
The armor on the back end of the Columnar moved aside, revealing the hangar bays. Three jumpers flew out, one of which immediately cloaked, and headed for the still somewhat distant cruiser. When they got halfway there the cruiser began firing a single plasma cannon in their general direction…all others on the ship had been destroy and as of yet not fully regrown.
The cruiser would have released darts to intercept the jumpers, had it had any to begin with. Operating on only a skeleton crew, most cruisers in the Wraith fleet were essentially empty, including their dart bays. Still, their choosing to fire back at the approaching enemy ships was a good sign…meaning they weren't ready to blow themselves up just yet.
The two visible jumpers veered away from each other and approached the cruiser from different angles. Each of them fired a single pesqua…a last minute addition to the plan.
One of the glowy missiles hit the operational plasma cannon but didn't immediately explode. It looped up once through the ship and came back down on the cannon, then detonated inside of it. The other pesqua hit the cruiser's remaining operational engine, completely disabling its movement. With those two targets destroyed, the pair of jumpers peeled off and headed back to the Columnar, seemingly content with further disabling the cruiser.
However, the third cloaked jumper moved up alongside one of the extra holes in the cruiser and deposited three small packages on the hull. Each of them had their own small cloaking devices so the cruiser's sensors wouldn't immediately detect their presence. The small, spider-like replicators walked across the surface of the ship and scurried down into the recently bored holes.
Still cloaked, they cut/pushed their way through the thin film already beginning to regenerate over the entry points as the cruiser's atmosphere began to replenish in the affected areas. The small damage done to the regenerating ship's tissue was written off as battle damage, given the mere seconds of time elapsed between the two occurrences and the myriad of power and control lines that had been severed by the pesqua and would continue to cause minor damage before they too resealed.
Now on the inside of the ship, the small cloaked spiders walked off to carry out their assigned tasks.
Mike and Teyla waited inside the cloaked jumper outside the Wraith cruiser's hangar bay door patiently. They knew it would take some time for the three crudely cloaked modified replicators to seize control of the ship's systems and block access to the power core. If at least one of them managed to accomplish that mission priority, the next step would be to open the hangar for the boarding party.
Right on cue the double doors covering the hangar pulled apart revealing a pocketed alcove within the Wraith ship. Mike moved the jumper through quickly, not knowing how long the replicators could maintain control. Once they passed through the opening the two Alterrans knew they now had the advantage…even if the replicators were now destroyed.
The cloaked jumper landed on a small pad next to an access door that led up the spine of the ship. Mike stayed in the cockpit and brought up a lifesigns display of the ship's interior. He modified the sensors and three small square blips were added…with most of the Wraith nearby.
"Get going," Mike told her. "I'll direct you from here," he said as one of the replicator signals vanished. The Wraith around it dispersed and the hangar bay doors began to close, sealing them in.
Teyla saw it too and powered up her liquid armor. The forearm gauntlets she wore melted and spread the silvery barrier across her entire body. Her face was obscured with a liquid sheen, but from the inside she could still see clearly. She walked to the back of the ship as Mike lowered the access hatch. Teyla disappeared beneath her own cloak just before she walked out of the ship.
Mike turned back to the display and saw another blip activate…Teyla's secure homing beacon. The Wraith didn't have the technology to pick up the elusive signal, so the Alterrans felt secure using it to coordinate their stealthed infiltration teams. He watched as she quickly crossed the pad and went to work on the door controls. Either hacking the controls with one of the other gadgets she was carrying or prying them open by force, Teyla got through the door within 20 seconds and moved through the ship's interior at a very fast run.
"Left," Mike told her through their comlink. "Three doors down. Four Wraith inside," he said as another replicator signal vanished.
The four Wraith split up, with two leaving the room just as Teyla got to them. On the display screen in front of him he saw Teyla's signal intensify just before the two Wraith icons winked out. A few seconds later the two inside were gone as well.
"Nine to go," Mike informed her. "Next closest is two levels above you. There should be an access shaft at the end of the hall on the right."
After the cruiser had been secured and the one surviving replicator was retrieved, Andara ringed over to the mobile platform they'd landed in the hangar bay. She immediately went to work on the ship's systems, and within three hours had reengineered the cruiser's telepathic communications' booster to produce the equivalent of 'white noise,' effectively jamming their inter-ship communications everywhere within the star system.
With their inability to inform each other of what was happening onboard their ships, Mike flew Teyla, Sheppard, and three other Stevensons onto the next targeted Hive ship and slipped them aboard unnoticed. The 5 cloaked Alterrans split up after breaching the door to the interior, each of them carrying a heavy backpack, as they quietly made their way to key control clusters that relayed ships' commands and provided autonomic functions for the 'living' ship.
When Sheppard reached his first cluster he placed a small block of replicator nanites on the door controls. They absorbed into the material, then created a small bump on the exterior. John pressed the bump and the door opened.
He glanced around, making sure no Wraith were in sight, then pressed a small side ridge, commanding the block to release from the door. He stepped through into the cluster chamber and reattached the block on the opposite side. When the bump reappeared he pressed it, closing the door and sealing it off from any other commands, which the replicator nanites would block.
Sheppard decloaked and pulled off his backpack. Inside it were four large cubes of black material. Three had identical symbols engraved onto the surface, but the fourth had a separate design of the same carvings.
John pulled out the oddball and activated the dormant replicator.
The nanite cube expanded in volume until it resolved into the form of a thin female, equal in height with Sheppard.
"Awaiting instructions," it said, standing perfectly still.
"Interface with the control cluster and disable any new commands. Keep the ship operating as is. And see if you can tap into their power control systems from here. Priority goes to keeping the reactor from overloading," Sheppard ordered in Lingara.
The replicator engineer didn't ask any questions or respond in any way. It simply walked over to the biological node suspended between floor and ceiling and reached its hand into it, distributing nanites throughout the cluster. Sheppard saw her already petite form lose density as the replicator had to redistribute its limited supply of nanites up and into the node, but it retained its female persona and dimensions.
"Standing by," it announced a few seconds later. "No reactor access from this location."
John pulled out the other three cubes and activated the combat model replicators. Three more females materialized wearing trim black uniforms.
"Stay here and guard this cluster at all costs," Sheppard ordered as he moved back towards the door. He cloaked, then pressed the button to open it.
"Keep the door closed until otherwise ordered," he said from outside the cluster chamber. The nearest of the female guards walked over and sealed the door behind him.
"Cluster secure," Sheppard reported over his comlink.
After all five of the targeted clusters were locked down another jumper returned with a ring platform and the Lantean army began boarding the Hive ship with Ronon's bad-ass squad leading the way. Meanwhile the five Alterrans already onboard ship began loosing their own carnage within the ship.
Sheppard headed back to the hangar bay to help Ronon by attacking the Wraith from behind as they attempted to repel the superiorly armed and armored intruders. Teyla, however, made her way through the ship under cloak, not attacking any of the Wraith she passed by until she got to the Queen's chamber.
She quickly killed the two guards outside with headshots from her wristbound energy weapons. Two more shots on each for good measure and she began working on the door controls. With no more easy open replicator blocks she proceeded to cut the command lines between the door controls and the retraction mechanism… then she forced the door open by hand.
Her personal shields took two hits by stunners when the doors cracked open, prompting her to jump back out of the way. She heard more footsteps approaching the Queen's chamber from outside and quickly reactivated her cloaking device. She squeezed her way through the door in the face of four Wraith guards waiting a few meters back from the door. Once through she circled around behind them and shot two of them in the back of the head, one from each wrist.
When she did that her cloak automatically dropped, and the other two Wraith turned on her silvery form. They raised their stun rifles at her, but she batted one away with her right arm and absorbed the blast from the second with her shields.
She grabbed the second weapon and turned it away from her as she kicked the first Wraith in the gut and knocked it to the floor.
From behind she got hit with one of the potent non-stun Wraith pistols and saw her personal shield indicator drop by 27%. In response she spun around behind the one still standing Wraith and used its bulk to block any further shots.
That Wraith dropped dead to the ground as the male appearing from the shadows fired through the soldier. Teyla jumped to the side and fired a volley of green blasts back at him. He went down hard as more Wraith poured through the door, along with the one Wraith already in the room, standing back up from the kick Teyla gave it.
Using her enhanced Alterran muscles, she leapt up two meters into the air, firing wildly at the doorway as she arced towards the Wraith hoard at an angle. She dropped to the ground three meters in front of them and fired into their legs. Four of them stumbled and Teyla ran into the bunch, taking more stunner blasts on her shields…dropping them dangerously low.
Now forcing them to fight hand to hand, Teyla punched, kicked, and fired her wrist weapons at point blank range, whereas the Wraith's stun rifles weren't built for this close of combat. Teyla methodically fought her way through the Wraith guards, eventually ending up as 'king of the hill' on top a pile of dead bodies.
Some of those bodies began to stir again, so Teyla went around shooting those that were regenerating as she felt a subtle telepathic touch. It was so weak she didn't recognize it at first, but quickly realized it was the Queen attempting to access her mind.
Teyla fired two more blasts into the bodies on the floor then turned her attention to the blue-haired Wraith hiding in the shadows. Her mental domination would have been successful had one of the Lantean boarding parties reached her first, but to Teyla's much stronger Alterran mind the attempt to freeze her in place was almost laughable.
"That won't work on me," Teyla said in the common tongue as she corned the Queen.
The female Wraith snarled at her silvery image. "What are you?" she demanded.
"Your death," Teyla said, shooting her several times with only her right wrist weapon.
The Queen fell to the ground, but wasn't completely disabled. From somewhere on her body she pulled out a small version of the anti-replicator pistol and aimed it at Teyla.
Teyla's left hand rose up…and suddenly the Queen's arm froze in place, a few inches shy of reaching her line of fire. With her right hand Teyla fired several more blasts, including two to the head.
The Queen gasped one last time and fell dead at Teyla's feet.
The Alterran stood there for a moment, steadying her emotions, then she reactivated her cloaking device and left the Queen's chamber to help the boarding party clear out the rest of the ship.
It took over three weeks to board and capture the remaining Wraith ships scattered across the system. Ronon's bad-ass squad led the attack against every Hive ship, but he rotated the rest of his men, insuring that they didn't make mistakes due to fatigue. Of his 40,000 available troops, only 6,000 did he deem ready for heavy combat, and it was from those 6,000 he drew from to fill out his 500 man boarding parties.
Casualties had been light. Those few that died had done so mostly from their own mistakes. Those that stuck with Ronon's battle plan and didn't wander off alone into the Hive Ships in search of personal glory had fought well, putting their technological advantage to good use. En mass, the Wraith stood no chance against Ronon's heavily armored troops. Those that went down from stun blasts still had armor covering most of their bodies, making it difficult for the Wraith to feed on them even if they did have the chance during the melee. Most of those who'd died had fallen to the anti-replicator weapons that seemed to be scattered amongst the Wraith crew. The Lantean armor had protected them against a few shots, but eventually the powerful Wraith energy weapon would break through. Those teams that rotated properly and gave their shields a chance to recharge hadn't been affected. All in all Ronon's Lantean army had quite the victory to boast about.
Over 10,000 Humans had been rescued from the Wraith…included a few Wraith worshipers that had to be separated out and secured in different section of Atlantis. They'd undergo a Lantean review period where hopefully some of them could be 'deprogrammed' and integrated back into the Human communities. Those that didn't would eventually be exiled from Atlantis and all allied worlds…where they would have to deal with the rest of the Wraith in the galaxy when they came to cull them.
Once the battles were over the Alterrans split up again, each going back to their previous tasks. Andara stayed behind to study the captured Wraith ships that had been towed into orbit around Lantea for closer study. Each of them now had a ring platform aboard, so transit to and from Atlantis was convenient enough for her ongoing projects concerning Wraith technology. She was convinced that there was more to the Wraith than had previously been discovered, and she was intent on breaking down their technology and physiology until all had been revealed. The corpses of the Queens had taken her immediate interest, including two juveniles, which she felt might hold the key to part of the mystery. The Alterran biologist would be busy with work for months to come.
Phil, meanwhile, returned to Dracona and the Feriorla with Andara's absence. The race of Humans had become a steady ally in the galaxy and needed the leadership of the Alterra in much the same way that the Jaffa were benefitting from Bra'tac's leadership in Avalona. Though not as militant as the Jaffa, the Feriorla did boast an impressive population along with decent technical knowledge and skills. One day, Ryan hoped, they'd become a powerful, calming presence within that tumultuous galaxy…but for now they still needed a lot of help.
Teyla had left to assist the Traveler fleet in tracking down the remaining Wraith ships and installations within the galaxy. There had already been 11 located Hive Ships that had not participated in the siege of Atlantis, but they expected there to be many more hidden away within Pegasus. Based off of the numbers in the original Lantean/Wraith war, it was conceivable that the Wraith could have as many as 100 Hives still out there, not to mention their easy to construct cruisers and other auxiliary ships. Ryan knew that the Wraith wouldn't be suckered into another massive battle where they could be concentrated and destroyed, so now they'd have to hunt them down one by one, and with only 11 Columnars, some badly damaged at the moment, that was not going to be a quick endeavor…assuming of course they could actually find the Wraith ships.
After the battle at Lantea, Ryan had ordered Janus to deactivate the Attero device and had all the Pegasus gates reactivated. There were too many worlds out there that relied on stargate travel to survive...and he wasn't about to consign them to starvation in order to neutralize Wraith movements. Besides, with their ability to remote control the gates at will, it would be more of an advantage to the Alterrans/Lanteans/Humans to leave them turned on in the long run. To which end Ryan had summoned Ronon back from Yavin a week after the battle had ended.
"You wanted to see me?" Ronon asked as he stepped into the hologram room, which Ryan was still using to coordinate galaxy-wide operations against the Wraith. The locations of allied ships, mostly Travelers, were displayed on the hologram in the center of the room.
Ryan stepped down from the pedestal, but left the hologram turned on. He walked around the perimeter to meet Ronon who was standing just inside the doorway.
"I understand you've given Elizabeth a list of a thousand or so troops to be considered for promotion to Lantean based on their battle performance."
"Yeah," Ronon answered lazily. "Is there a problem with that?"
Ryan crossed his arms over his chest. "Why isn't your name on the list?"
"I've already been offered it."
"And declined," Ryan reminded him. "Why?"
Ronon shrugged. "Don't need it."
"But your men do?" Ryan countered.
"Look, I don't mean to brag, but I'm already as strong as the Lanteans, if not stronger. Most of my men aren't. They could use a bit more strength."
"It's more a matter of efficiency than strength," Ryan noted, "but on that note, don't you want to get stronger too?"
"I can do that with training," Ronon countered.
Ryan inclined his head, conceding the point. "You could, if you knew how."
Ronon's eyes narrowed. "Are you saying I don't know how to train?"
"Not for the big improvements, no," Ryan said evenly, sensing a bit of anger from the Setidan.
"Such as?" Ronon said, now crossing his arms over his chest.
"The more time you have to train, the stronger you can grow," Ryan explained. "One of the big improvements is giving yourself more time. For that, you need to train for efficiency…something you don't know how to do."
"And you know that exactly how?" Ronon said, his voice rising.
Ryan held up a hand. "Do you know why the Wraith made you a runner?"
Ronon's emotions seemed to pause. "Becket said my body had something in it that stopped the Wraith from feeding."
"Yes. There's a protein that blocks a key element in their feeding process. That's why I gave your men that inoculation, those that could tolerate it anyway. Lantean and Alterran physiologies are incompatible with the protein, and the more developed Humans can't take it either."
"All the more reason not to become Lantean," Ronon argued.
"Yes, you would lose that immunity," Ryan granted. "But that wasn't the only reason the Wraith made you a runner…or so I think. When you rescued the other runners, I had Matt run a comparison of your physiologies. You do all possess the protein, but you have something else as well."
"Like what?" Ronon asked, his curiosity quelling his rising ire.
"When we made your ancestors," Ryan began to explain as simply as he could, "it was with the intention that they'd develop the way we did, and over time become like us. When they got far enough along, the Repositories of Knowledge would take them the rest of the way to where we are now."
"You mean the head sucker?" Ronon asked.
Ryan smiled. "Yes, the head sucker. You heard about that from O'Neill?"
"Yeah, we were swapping war stories," Ronon said with a bit of respect. "He's been in a lot of battles."
"That he has," Ryan agreed. "Anyway, the whole idea was for you to become like us after we got killed by the plague. If we hadn't made you, none of us would exist. I started out the same as you, so did all the other Alterrans…even Janus started out as a Lantean."
"That's all good, but what does it have to do with me and the Wraith?" Ronon complained.
"You and the other runners are…let's just say you're an offshoot of the developmental path that my kind came through. You're evolving in a slightly different way, ahead of the other Humans. You're stronger, faster, and braver than the rest. I think that's why the Wraith hunted you when they couldn't feed on you. You provided them more of a challenge…more so than even the original Lanteans."
"Really," Ronon muttered.
"The transformation that I underwent changed me into an old-style Alterran in every way. The transformations into Lanteans only upgrade where you're at now, they don't change who you are. They won't take this…uniqueness…of yours and destroy it. They'll only enhance it."
"If we're already better than the Ancestors…" Ronon argued.
"In some ways," Ryan cautioned. "In a few ways, but you don't live as long because you're not very efficient."
Ronon shrugged. "Everyone dies sometime."
Ryan shook his head firmly. "No."
"No?" Ronon asked disbelievingly.
"No," Ryan confirmed. "What you call growing old is a myth. Your body breaks down because you're inefficient…which means inside you aren't very strong. You might have strong arms and legs, but the rest of you is weak. The training you do," Ryan emphasized by pointing at Ronon's large chest, "trains your arms and legs, not the inside."
"You're saying that if I trained my 'inside' I'd live forever?"
"Possibly," Ryan said lightly, "but you're at a serious disadvantage. Becoming a Lantean would stack the odds in your favor."
"But it's possible without the changes, right?" Ronon said, a bit of eagerness creeping into his voice.
"I wouldn't wager on it," Ryan cautioned, "but yes, it's possible."
"Then tell me how to train my inside," Ronon insisted, staring down at the shorter man.
Ryan was silent for a moment. "Wanna do things the hard way? Alright, I'll make you a deal. I'll give you the knowledge you need so you have at least a spitting chance of success, but when you fail you'll undergo the transformation to Lantean without complaint."
"If I fail," Ronon underscored.
"If," Ryan echoed. "Agreed?"
"Agreed," Ronon said, shaking Ryan's hand.
"Alright, now that that's out of the way," Ryan said, turning back to the hologram. "I need your men to set up garrison units on a number of planets. We'll fix the stargates so they can only dial out, that way the Wraith can't come through on foot or in darts. They'll have to come by ship."
"And my men will signal for a warship when they come," Ronon said, anticipating the next part of the strategy.
Ryan nodded. "We'll have a Columnar there within half an hour. Your men will have to hold off any landing parties and darts until reinforcements arrive. Eventually we'll set up some small pesqua launchers on the surface, which the Lanteans in your army will have to man."
Ronon rubbed his goatee thoughtfully. "We're going to start taking away their feeding ground?"
Ryan smiled vindictively. "One world at a time."
McKay sprinted around the last turn of Atlantis's gym track, his legs burning, arms pumping, breath heaving and practically fell over the finish line, half tripping over his own feet as he did so. He stumbled for a few steps then let himself roll to the ground in exhaustion for a moment, then forced himself to sit up and look at his time…
"Oh for the love of…I am never going to get this," he said, thinking about standing up, then deciding to just crawl off the track before an approaching Cadman ran him over.
"Good job, Rodney. Personal best, isn't it?" she asked snobbishly as she zoomed on by.
"Yes, wonderful isn't it," McKay moaned as he laid out on his back just outside the track. "Ow."
He stayed there, unmoving for a full ten minutes before finding the strength to pull himself up and into the gym's 'shower room.' The Ancient version was more of a bath that reminded Rodney of a toilet bowl every time he used one…mainly due to the fact that they both used the same green cleansing fluid.
McKay was tempted to slip into the green pool in the floor fully clothed and let the fluid eat the clothes off him, but he didn't want to waste a perfectly good pair of workout clothes. He slowly stripped off his sweat-soaked garments and slid them into a rectangular niche in the wall. He closed the compartment and hit the activation switch. A purging energy field cleaned the clothing within seconds, then the garments were shifted automatically into an adjacent chamber where they were folded, stacked, and secured within a small, flexible carrying case which popped out on a stubby table for McKay to retrieve before he left…or to put back on again if he wanted.
The 'shower' that existed within the rejuvenation station, which the Alterrans simply referred to as the 'juvie,' sat on the floor next to a short bench at the foot of this individual compartment's wall. The entry door to the compartment looked like frosted glass, but opaque enough to provide an adequate level of privacy.
McKay, now fully naked, walked over to the bench and pulled up the center section of it, revealing a wide, shallow depression with a deep center section. Rodney hefted his tired body up onto the bench and sat his bare butt down into the bowl containing the same green liquid as the 'shower' hole in the floor two meters in front of him.
His butt snuggled against the shallow portion of the bowl, with the green liquid rising up above his hip bones. He released a full bladder's worth of urine and a bit of exercise-induced diarrhea into the Ancient version of a toilet and felt the liquid begin to flow around his body as the waste material was 'tagged' by the green particles then pulled down into the deep section of the depression where they were collected. McKay sat there for a quarter of an hour as his mind wondered over many things, most notably his time trial failure.
21:04 was a long way from 19:59.
Eventually Rodney pried himself out of the depression, his butt sparkling clean, and walked over to the double-pool on the floor. He walked down the shallow staircase that let him ease into the 2-meter wide pool, whose floor height adjusted down an additional 6 inches to accommodate his height. More green liquid flowed in and out to accommodate for the changes in volume as McKay walked down neck deep into the pool.
Wisps of red appeared around his body as the grime and sweat he'd accumulated throughout the day, and most recently his run, was tagged by the green liquid. When it attached to a particle that wasn't part of his body, it shifted color to red as it broke down the excess material and was whisked away through the floor as more green liquid moved in to replace it. Had McKay stepped in with his clothes on, the liquid would have dissolved them into tiny particles over the next half hour, insuring that no large pieces of waste material would be left in the chamber. If McKay had been in a hurry he could have even 'relieved' himself in the shower, but he hadn't done that in a long time…
Rodney dipped his head beneath the surface and felt the slightly cloying liquid pull across his scalp, scrapping grime from it. He rose back to the surface then dipped in a few more times to get most of the material off his head before he submerged one more time and walked under the small, submerged arch separating this circular pool from the identical one on the other side. As he passed underneath a sticky energy field caught any residual 'red' particles and squeegeed them off his body. He had to hold his breath and push fairly hard, but he arrived on the other side completely clean.
McKay walked up another submerged staircase as small red nodules dissolved in the other pool then gradually disappeared to the collection tray beneath the 'shower.' As Rodney came up out of the second pool another energy field wicked the remaining green material off his body, keeping it in the proper place and essentially 'drying' him as a similar field in the bench depression had done to his butt.
He retrieved a set of generic Ancient 'pajamas,' as he thought of them, from another wall niche and dressed in fresh clothes, slipping on a pair of generic shoes in the process. Both the shoes and the clothes were completely white, with small light grey patches and clasps.
McKay retrieved his bundled workout clothes and picked up his specially designed running shoes from the floor, then headed back to his quarters.
"How'd it go?" Jennifer asked when McKay got back to their quarters an hour after his run.
"Why are you here?" McKay said, frowning.
"I live her," Jennifer said, taken slightly aback but used to such things coming out of Rodney's mouth. "Unless you're wanting to change that arrangement?"
"Of course not," he said, retracting slightly. "I meant I thought you were still offworld."
Keller shrugged. "There really wasn't much need for me."
"Well I sincerely doubt that," McKay differed. "The Debreyans have been living under the ground for who knows how many centuries…that's bound to come with a plethora of health problems."
"A few," Keller admitted, "but their medical science is ahead of Earth's. I was only able to offer them a few treatments from the Lantean database."
"Yes, well," McKay said, content that she'd finally started using the correct term. Most of Atlantis's database…which he'd previously had access to…had since been restricted to only the Alterra, who had deemed it too advanced for their lesser cousins…at least until they got a better handle on the fundamentals. "I'm sure you were of more use than you're letting on."
"Less actually," Jennifer said, sitting down on the end of their bed. "Despite hiding from the Wraith all these years, they're done pretty well for themselves. If it hadn't been for Dr. Weir's encounter with them when she was an ascended replicator, they could have kept going like they are indefinitely."
"Wait a second," McKay said, raised a hand for her to pause. "I thought you were sent there to plug some holes in their medical databases."
"Yes and no," Keller wavered. "The biggest problems come from them living on a planet with 1.6 gravity. I was able to give them a few things to help offset the difference, but their physiology has already adapted to the conditions for the most part. The gravity dampeners Teyla brought them for their infirmary were more useful than anything I did…and don't think I didn't notice you changing the subject, sweetheart."
"Yes, thank you for noticing," McKay said, sitting down next to her. He leaned over and put his head on her shoulder. "I can't do this."
"Rodney…" she pleaded.
"No, I'm serious this time," he said, pulling his head up and looking at her with sullen eyes. "It's been two years. I've tried…I really have. More so than I ever thought I could."
"I know you have," she said, stroking the side of his head. "But you can't give up."
McKay dipped his head. "I promised myself I'd do this, if for no other reason to be with you…and I really bared down this past month. I've run faster, and harder, and farther than I've ever done before. In a way I'm proud of myself. I never thought I'd be where I am now, I mean look at me," he said, standing up and pulling up his shirt. "I'm skinny. Would you believe that."
"I noticed," Jennifer said with a little smile.
"But I've gone as far as I can physically go," McKay said mournfully. "Maybe if I was twenty years younger I'd have a chance, but Jennifer… I'm in my forties. This isn't a fair test."
"I have faith in you," she nudged.
"Don't," he said, defeated. "Just don't. I'm toast and I know it. If Weir doesn't change the test I'll just have to live out the rest of my life as a Human," he said, sitting back down next to his Lantean wife. "My very short life."
"You're serious about this, aren't you," she said, sensing that this was more than just his normal complaining.
"I wish I wasn't," he said, leaning on her shoulder again. "I'm finally getting used to the Ancient science, now that I've got all that PHD mumbo jumbo out of my head. Janus actually asked for my help on the black hole tap project he's starting up next month…can you believe that?"
"I thought you said he couldn't stand you?"
"Well, things have changed," McKay said, also taking her hand in his. "I guess I'm just going to have to contribute as I am."
"Are you going to quit running altogether?"
Rodney glanced up at her nose from his vantage point on her shoulder. "Worried about me getting flabby again? Don't…I've been a lot more clear headed since I got in shape. Helped increase my calculating speed by at least 30%. I'll keep doing some small workouts, but racer McKay is going into retirement."
"Well, you can always try again later, if you change your mind…as long as you stay in shape."
"I suppose so," he said groggily. "I don't know about you, but I need a nap."
"Sounds good," she said, leaning him back on the bed and kissing his forehead. "Rest."
"Hmmn," McKay miffed as he quickly drifted off to sleep.
Keller laid next to him, looking at the ceiling, but she didn't sleep. She was concerned that he may be right. Maybe he couldn't do it. Maybe Weir had given him something above his head.
Maybe she should have a talk with Elizabeth. Jennifer knew she didn't want McKay to fail, so maybe there was a way to work around this. There had to be.
In another skyscraper on the other side of the city, Ryan Stevenson sat alone in his quarters, levitating a number of objects in fast moving halos about his head. He'd begun to include specially designed weights to increase the difficulty and had five of the 50lb cubes in orbit along with most of his quarters' possessions.
Inside he felt the constant instability that resulted from his forced development, but unlike usual it didn't dissipate as it should have from the telekinesis. Instead it gradually swelled in spite of his exertions. He knew he'd been working a bit longer than he should have ever since his forces had begun hunting down the Wraith and beginning to put Pegasus back together, but even that indulgence shouldn't have had him feeling like this. He should have had to work a little harder and longer for the exertion to pull back the instability, hence he'd added another weight into the mix.
This was different though. The instability wasn't quite the same. It was cascading along with an abundance of energy…energy that he wasn't able to bleed off. Before long he was going to lose control of his cellular structure if he didn't do something, and he knew damn well that could be fatal.
Ryan stopped resisting the instability, knowing that his only hope was to move with the flow rather than try and stop it. He released all the objects in the room, some of them flying into the walls and breaking on impact, others skidded to a stop against the floor or hit his small bed platform on which he sat cross-legged.
Suddenly Ryan leaned back, arms going wide and legs uncrossing. His back arched as his body crackled with what looked like rainbow-colored electricity as he let out a silent scream…
"Dr. Weir," an Asgard voice said through her headset as she sat on the balcony outside her quarters atop one of the medium-sized spires, sunbathing.
"Yes?" she replied into the air.
"I am detecting anomalous energy readings within the city."
"Where?" Elizabeth said, sitting up.
"I believe they are emanating from the tertiary residential tower. I am attempting to pinpoint the source."
"There aren't any power generators in that tower, are there?" she asked, getting to her bare feet and walking back into her quarters.
"There are not," the Asgard in the control room replied pithily.
"Then what could be generating the energy?" she asked as she started to get dressed. She had a gut feeling that whatever this was, it was going to be a problem.
"I do not know," the Asgard admitted, "but the energy readings are increasing, and beginning to interfere with the power distribution systems on levels 56 through 72.
"Fifty six," Elizabeth said, trying to remember what was in that vicinity. There were so many towers within the city, but only a few purely residential sections. She knew it wasn't the Alterran section of the city, nor was it the Asgard wing. It should have been Human/Lantean personnel quarters.
"By any chance is it coming from level 61?" Elizabeth asked, realizing who else had quarters in that tower.
"The anomalous energy spikes make it impossible to pinpoint the source," the Asgard reported. "What is on level 61?"
"Ryan's quarters," she said, pulling on a pink, short-sleeved shirt.
"I cannot be for certain," the Asgard reported, "however the power disruption is beginning to spread both above and below that level."
"Evacuate the tower," she said, hastily pulling on some shoes. "I'm on my way."
Arcs of energy leapt out from Ryan's body and impacted the walls, ceiling, and floor at random points. Inside he could feel himself painfully shift through another round of hyper-alteration, but this one was far worse than any he'd had before. When the energy began leaving his body the pressure didn't lessen much…and more and more bio-energy was being forcefully pumped out through his extremities as his internal reserves exceeded the saturation point.
His bed caught on fire, but he didn't even notice the flames. He was in so much internal agony he couldn't focus on anything other than the flow of energy. Ryan needed it out of him, but even as it left it seemed to drag up more with it…and fry him in the process.
He didn't know how much time had passed since the overload began, but suddenly he was looking up into a familiar face as Matt stared down at him. The air was smoky, and his own vision hadn't settled yet, but he could still hear Matt's voice inside his head.
Ryan, wake up!
I'm here, he answered back telepathically.
You have burns over most of your body. Lie still while I heal them, he said as Ryan began to feel a faint pressure.
Burns from what?
You lit your room on fire, Matt said matter-of-factly.
Oh, Ryan said, trying to raise his head.
I said hold still, Matt complained, telekinetically pushing his forehead back down. Doesn't it hurt you to move?
I don't feel anything…I must be numb, Ryan said, trying to bring his senses back around.
Well stay put, I have to focus to make this work, Matt said as he held his left hand against Ryan's shoulder and his right on his opposite forearm. Both had lost nearly all the skin on them. Ryan lay on the charred rubble of his bed cushions, a black and red burnt monstrosity. His natural healing ability hadn't kicked in yet…or it was busy with internal damage. Matt couldn't be sure what was going or not going to happen, so he set himself to healing his twin's skin using his own natural healing power. He didn't want to risk moving him yet, nor did he want to take the time to retrieve a regenerator.
Was anyone else hurt? Ryan asked.
A few people in the nearby rooms, nothing serious. I have Carson working on them now. What happened to you?
Not entirely sure. I think I lost control…but for some reason I'm still alive.
I don't know how badly damaged you are on the inside, but you're a mess on the outside. Better not look until I get your skin regrown.
That bad? Ryan asked, not realizing how damaged he was.
You're breathing up smoke, Matt pointed out as Ryan's left arm began to regrow its skin amidst a gentle glow.
My room's trashed too, I take it?
Pretty much, Matt said as the skin growth began to spread up to Ryan's shoulder and then his neck. Are you sure you did this to yourself?
You mean one of the Ascended?
Yeah, that was the thought.
No…afraid I kicked my own butt this time.
Ironic, Matt noted as the regrowth began to pick up speed. You're so strong the only threat to you is yourself.
You know that's not true…but still funny.
A lot funnier for us.
I suppose so. Is that you I feel in my chest?
IN your chest…no.
Ryan searched within him, pushing his numbed senses for the tingling pressure on the right side of his chest, low enough to probably be his secata organ…
Watch out! Ryan warned his brother as another rainbow colored lance of energy arced out of his chest, down the length of his right arm, and leapt into the wall opposite Matt.
Sorry, Ryan said, getting his first look at his unhealed right arm. Ugh.
Told you not to look, Matt reminded him as he gently pushed his head back down. Bit of residual charge?
I think so. I'm still numb on the inside, so I really don't know what's going on.
As soon as I get the skin back on you, we'll go down to the med bay and check you out.
How long with that take?
Should have you shinny again in a few minutes.
You're one to talk.
Matt glanced down at his own skin, which he'd lightened in the DNA resequencer. Point.
Ryan stretched his senses, which felt like he was reaching for nothing, but was rewarded with a dull headache forming.
Easy, Matt cautioned, sensing his struggle. Let your senses reset on their own. You don't want to feel this anyway.
Yes, I do, Ryan argued. I can't self-heal if I can't feel the damage.
I've got you covered, Matt said as the last of the skin on Ryan's feet reformed. Try sitting up.
Ryan ordered his muscles to move and suddenly he was looking at Matt next to him and down on his naked, ash covered body…but he still didn't feel it there.
Matt raised an eyebrow.
You could punch me and I probably couldn't feel it.
Matt let a smile slip as he got a telekinetic hold of Ryan and helped him to his feet. Come on, he said, reinforcing Ryan's awkward balance. We'll figure this out.
The two Stevensons walked to the nearest transporter and headed back to Matt's lair, catching all kinds of looks from the Humans and Lanteans they passed in the hallways. Eventually they made it to the med bay and Matt nudged Ryan towards the analysis table.
"Ow," Ryan said out loud.
I think my head just started to unnumb, he thought back to him as he laid down under the scanner, still totally naked but not caring.
Let's see what we've got, Matt said as he activated the scanner. As the initial results began to show Matt's face slackened.
Ryan sensed his dismay. That bad?
Your nervous system is in disarray, you've got significant damage to your lungs, half of your internal tissues are partially fried…but more than that your secata is rating a 14.2 despite only a quarter of it being active.
Ryan twisted his head so he could look at Matt. "That's not supposed to be possible," he said aloud.
The other three quarters appear to have overloaded and fragged themselves, but they're showing a modest rate of regeneration, Matt said, continuing their telepathic conversation.
Matt, I couldn't bleed it off through telekinesis, Ryan said as Elizabeth walked into the room with a stack of clothes and pair of shoes in hand.
"Oh, hello," she said when she saw him lying naked on the analysis table. He slid his legs off and sat up, but refrained from standing due to the persistent numbness.
"Those for me?" he asked.
"Ah, yes. Matt asked me to bring them," she said, just standing there.
"Something wrong?" Ryan asked.
"Matt said you'd been burned."
"I was able to regenerate his skin," Matt explained, sensing her reluctance to give him his clothes. He imagined that from her perspective this was quite a rare moment. "However, he's rather busted up inside."
"I can imagine," Elizabeth continued. "There were power fluctuations all throughout the tower."
"Sorry about that," Ryan said, dipping his head a bit. He really hadn't expected this to happen…not like this anyway.
"I've already got repair crews on the job, and the injuries were light. I saw Beckett on the way in and he said everyone was patching up fine."
Ryan looked at the wall in the direction of the other portion of the med bay and did a mental check on the wounded. He found six individuals along with Beckett, but only one of them was in pain, and that pain was receding quickly. He figured Carson was using one of the handheld regeneration units in lieu of the more powerful regenerator cubes, but if the injuries were truly light then the small units would be more than adequate for the task.
Ryan mentally thanked Beckett then turned his attention back to Elizabeth. "To answer your unspoken question…I'm not sure what happened. I lost control and my instability skyrocketed. I don't remember much after that."
"You said telekinesis didn't work?" Matt interrupted.
"It didn't bleed off the energy this time," Ryan tried to explain. "I felt, different. It was still instability, but not the same kind. I can't articulate it."
"Not much I could do about it anyway," Matt added, referring to the fact that any significant alteration could interfere with the Repository's transitional programming…which neither of them understood, medically speaking. "But if that happens again, a little more powerful next time…"
"I'm toast, I know," Ryan said, tilting his neck to the side. His headache was getting worse.
"Is there nothing you can do for him?" Elizabeth asked Matt.
Matt shrugged. "I can patch him up, but I don't know enough about the problem to try and fix it. That's something he has to figure out."
"Was this supposed to happen?" she asked.
"No," Ryan said flatly. "I screwed up…I just don't know how."
"Do you want me to move everyone else out of the tower, in case this happens again?"
"No, I need to get out of the city," Ryan said, attempting to stand. He wobbled a bit, not being able to feel his legs, but with a hand on the analysis table he managed to stay upright. "Do something about this numbness, please."
Matt frowned. "It'd be better if you let it come back naturally."
"Not if I overload again because I can't feel it coming," Ryan argued.
"True," Matt relented as he walked off to retrieve another piece of equipment.
"I have to admit," Elizabeth said, walking a couple of steps closer to him, "I'm worried about you."
"Me too," Ryan said, flexing his fingers without being able to feel them. He balled his right hand into a fist and punched the side of the table. Still, he felt nothing.
"Are you trying to hurt yourself again?" she pointed out.
"I can't feel anything except a headache," he told her, "and that's only recent."
"Really," Elizabeth repeated. "Nothing at all."
"No," he said, looking down at his clothes in her hands and then back up at her eyes, letting her know that he knew that she was intentionally stalling.
She smiled slightly. "Well, if you can't feel anything. Do you need some help dressing?" she asked playfully.
"Thank you," he said, saying the opposite of what she'd expected just as Matt walked back in. "Put a hold on that," he changed his mind as Matt came over and started running the device up and down his spine from behind him.
"Ow," Ryan said as some feeling began to creep back into his chest.
"It's going to get a lot worse," Matt said, pausing. "Are you sure you want me to do this?"
"I need my senses back," Ryan reiterated.
"This will delay a full comeback by more than a day," Matt pointed out.
Ryan sighed. "A little more then, at least enough to keep my balance."
"Alright," Matt said reservedly as he moved the device up and down his arms and legs, then treated his spine once more. "Done."
"How do you feel?" Elizabeth asked, eyes narrowing.
"Like I got run over by a Ha'tak," he said, referencing an SGC cliché. "Hand me my pants."
Elizabeth pulled them out of the stack along with some shorts that looked like a skin-tight swimsuit. "Don't you want these first?" she said, holding them up tantalizingly in front of him.
"Flirt," he said sarcastically as he grabbed them from her and bent over to put them on…tipping to the side as he did.
"Whoa there," Elizabeth said, catching him by the shoulder.
Ryan pulled the 'shorts' up and on then got his balance back. "Thanks," he said, sitting back down on the table. "I thought you were going to give me my balance back?"
"I did," Matt said evenly. "But I imagine the pain is taking priority."
Ryan gave him a 'you should have gone farther' glare and put his hand up in front of Elizabeth for his pants. She held onto his shoulder to steady him as she gave him the trim, white-colored generic clothing. He pulled them on with less hassle and asked for his shirt, which he sat down on the table in order to pull on. Still, he almost lost his balance and fell forward when the shirt went over his head and he lost his visual reference.
Elizabeth caught him again with a hand to the chest as Matt looked on, smiling. He could have telekinetically stabilized Ryan, but if he was going to be stubborn about his condition then he was on his own as far as balance was concerned…and Elizabeth seemed to be enjoying the moment too much for him to spoil it.
Ryan finally got the shirt over his still numb shoulders, then pulled it down curtly over his recently regenerated chest and took a moment to steady himself. "Could you help me with the shoes?"
"My pleasure," Elizabeth teased as she stooped down and lifted up his left leg. She pulled on his shoes and fastened the straps for him, then stood up and theatrically rubbed her hands together. "Anything else I can help you with?"
"How are you with massages?" he asked, just to see her reaction…which was a wide-eyed flinch. He laughed it off and changed subjects. "Tell Sheppard I need to see him whenever he's able, preferably within the day. I can't stay here any longer. I'm putting you all at risk."
"I'm sure we can work up some kind of containment room," she said quickly, looking at Matt who nodded 'yes.'
"That's possible," he confirmed aloud.
Ryan wasn't convinced. "No. I need to get away and deal with this myself. I'm due back in Destra next week anyway. I'll head out there and find a nice quiet planet where I won't fry anyone if I lose control again."
"Someone should go with you," Elizabeth pointed out. "If Matt hadn't gotten to you when he did, you could have burned to death without realizing it."
"I'll take precautions," Ryan assured them. "But I have a feeling this is something that you guys aren't going to be able to help me with."
Rodney nearly jumped out of his workstation's seat, jamming his hands down on the keyboard in the process. The Ancient computer responded with a rude sounding beep as McKay turned around to see Sheppard behind him.
"What the…" Rodney began to say when the computer's tone belatedly hit home. He turned back around quickly and undid the damage his errant keystrokes had done before the auxiliary generator that he'd been realigning overloaded.
"When's the last time you ran?" Sheppard demanded.
McKay slumped back in his seat. "Not you too."
"Three days ago," Rodney said unenthusiastically.
"And how many days have you skipped since your last time trial?" Sheppard asked pointedly, already knowing the answer.
"A lot," McKay answered. "Not that it matters anymore."
Sheppard rolled his eyes. "Get off the sob story, Rodney. This is too important."
"Says the super-ancient."
"You think this is hard…you should have seen what I had to go through."
"What, you had to go a week without your comb," McKay mocked him.
Sheppard pointed a warning finger at his friend. "Up until now you've been doing a good job. I've kept tabs on your progress and I know you're ready to pass the test. You've already done all the hard work, so why the hell are you giving up now?"
Rodney glared at him. "What have you been smoking? I'm more than a minute off the mark."
Sheppard shook his head. "I've seen your workout data. You're where you need to be, you just need to push yourself harder when you race. You've got a lot more in you than you realize."
"Believe me, I've tried that," McKay said, his tone drifting between defensive and wishing Sheppard was right. "I set the pacer to exactly the time I needed to pass the test and I couldn't keep up. I tried five times before chucking it and just trying to lower my personal best. I'm nowhere near where I need to be, and it's already been two years."
"For the sake of argument only," John clarified, "what's wrong with three years? Seriously, who said you have to pass the test right away? If you're having trouble summoning the guts to race your way into Lantean-ville now, keep training for another year and by then you should be able to make the mark with a half-assed effort."
McKay laughed. "Are you joking? For the life of me I don't know how I've made it this far. I've been doing things I never thought I could before…I mean I didn't even think I could run a mile straight, let alone five. I'm proud of what I've accomplished, but 19:59 is beyond me. It's better I realize that now than to keep beating my brains in for the next few years and come up empty handed anyway."
Sheppard rolled his eyes. "Rodney, you are the dumbest smart person I've ever met."
McKay frowned, not completely understanding that statement. "Meaning what?"
"Meaning you're going to throw away everything you've gained by quitting now. Don't slide back to the way you were before."
"You mean pudgy?"
"For starters," Sheppard said indignantly.
"I'm still working out…a little," McKay hedged.
"That's not enough and you know it."
"What, you're poking around my head now? Don't you have any sense of privacy," Rodney said, standing up angrily and walking over to the other side of the small, empty lab.
"Not when my friend is kicking himself in the balls," Sheppard said, walking towards him.
"That…" McKay started to say, then got hung up on how that would be physically possible.
"You see, right there," Sheppard yelled, pointing at him. "That's your problem. You analyze everything. You've got to learn to live in the moment and face the unknown."
McKay looked at him incredulously. "I'm a scientist. It's what we do for a living," he said, then considered the fact that he wasn't actually getting paid, nor needed to anymore, so maybe 'for a living' wasn't quite accurate.
"Give me a break," Sheppard said irreverently. "You scientists work out of your nifty little rulebook. Everything is drawn and mapped out for you. You don't face the unknown, you hide from it behind your theories and protocols."
"Wanting to understand how the universe works is not hiding from it," McKay argued.
"But you don't find out. That would require tying when the outcome is uncertain. You only act if you think you know what will happen. That's why you're not running fast enough, you won't put it on the line because you're afraid you'll run out of gas. You want to preplan every aspect of it, but you can't analyze it like a science experiment. This is biology, not technology. And above that we're lifeforms, and that adds a whole other dimension."
"So what," McKay said, crossing his arms over his chest. He was beginning to get frustrated with his highly evolved friend. "You're saying I'm too smart for my own good."
"No, I'm saying you're too stupid for your own good. You're not the scientist watching the lab rat run through the maze this time. You're the rat, so stop trying to analyze the maze and determine the point of the experiment and just chase the damn cheese!"
"Ha, ha, very funny," Rodney said slowly, looking up at the ceiling with disgust. "Mock me all you want, but science is the key to unlocking the universe, not physical training…and I don't need to be upgraded to continue my work so, thanks for your concern, but Rodney McKay is sticking with the Human race."
"I don't believe this," John said, beginning to pace back and forth angrily. "You're already there, the hard part's over! You're just too blind to see it…and you never learned how to work in the dark."
"Why would I work in the dark?"
"Metaphorically speaking," Sheppard emphasized. "If you're dropped into a situation where you have no prior knowledge or experience, how well do you handle it?"
"About as well as anybody else, I suppose," McKay said, salving some of his ego.
"You suck at it," John told him. "And you avoid situations that would put you into the unknown…but when you're forced into it you find a way through, so I know you're not hopeless. You've admitted you do your best work under threat of imminent death..."
"True," Rodney confirmed.
"Because that's when your mind let's you roam free of your self-imposed boundaries. Normally you're too afraid of the unknown to try anything that you don't already know will work, but if you know you're going to die anyway you loosen up and take risks."
"And that is related to running how?" McKay said sarcastically.
"You're afraid to try and fail," Sheppard said flatly.
McKay took a step towards him. "Then how did I get this far?"
Sheppard took a step closer to him. "I said you'd been doing a good job. Don't stop now when you're one step away from the finish line."
"Maybe an Alterra can leap mount Everest with a single step, but not Rodney McKay," he said defiantly, then his tone dropped the animosity. "I wish you were right. I really do, but this is as far as I can go. I was going to keep training," he said, dropping his head, "but without a reason it just isn't the same. I'll try and run enough to stay thin, but right now I'm burnt out. I've tried and failed so many times that I can't summon the courage to try again."
Sheppard blew out a frustrated breath, but he could sense that McKay really was done and not just being lazy.
"Look, I appreciate the kick in the pants you're trying to give me," McKay said uncharacteristically, "but I'm afraid I need more than motivation to make this work…actually I don't know what I need to make this work. Guess you're right. I don't deal with the unknown very well," he said, sitting back down at his workstation. "I need at least some thread to pull on, some pattern to follow. When things seem to defy any and every set of rules conceivable I don't know how to handle it."
"Rodney, it's just so frustrating to see you at the precipice and then turn back," Sheppard said sympathetically. "You may not be able to understand where you're at or how much further you have to go, but I can. Even if you're not gutsy enough to do it now, just keep doing what you've been doing and in a year or two you'll pass the test in your workouts…you won't even have to race."
McKay slowly shook his head. "You make the workouts sound easy."
"A lot easier than dealing with a failing body forty years down the road and not even having the strength to get out of bed and work on your computer," Sheppard warned him. "Take up the fight now or you'll find yourself in a real no-win scenario."
"You're probably right," McKay admitted, "but I'm not there yet. And without being able to feel the threat of impending doom I can't work up the courage anymore."
"Chickenshit," Sheppard whispered.
Rodney nodded. "Probably true."
Sheppard blew out a breath and began to walk out. McKay turned back to his workstation and began punching keys, getting himself reacquainted with the reactor he'd been working on.
"No," Sheppard said loudly, stopping just inside the door.
"No?" Rodney echoed, swiveling back around.
"You heard me. I said no. You're not going down like this you arrogant, self-deluded momma's boy. You've already done the hard work, now you're going to finish it."
"What?" McKay laughed. "You going to threaten to shove a lemon down my throat again?"
"Get dressed to run and meet me at my quarters," Sheppard said, turning around to leave. "There's something I need to do first."
"I'm busy," McKay pointed out.
Sheppard pointed the finger at him again. "Just do it…or I'll break out the citrus squirt gun."
All levity dropped out of McKay's face. "That wasn't funny the first time."
"Be there," Sheppard said as he disappeared out the door, "or I'll come get you."
McKay slumped back in his seat. "Wonderful."
Ryan and the Doci walked out of the stargate onto a lifeless desert planet with a small structure rising up above the horizon a short distance before them. The structure was to be Stevenson's personal retreat while he sorted out his developmental problem and had been ordered, constructed, and stocked with supplies all within the past 15 hours.
The two men walked inside the ornate oasis and Ryan looked around.
"I trust all is satisfactory?" the Doci asked.
"I believe so. Thank you."
"You need not thank us," the Doci said, bowing slightly. "We are yours to command, Orici."
Ryan half smiled at that. "I'll return to Celestis as soon as I am able."
"Do not concern yourself with us," the Doci cautioned. "Your well being is our primary concern. If there is anything else you require, ask and it shall be done."
With that the Doci turned and left.
Ryan snatched a set of weights deposited along the side of the main room and set them swirling about around his head. He sat down on the smooth, polished floor cross-legged in a meditative pose. While his earlier attempt to diffuse the instability through telekinesis had not proven totally successful, it had relieved some of the pressure. Ryan had a feeling that if he refined his senses enough he'd be able to detect two different instabilities within him…one that the telekinesis resolved and one that it did not. If he was correct, then he needed to relieve the first so that he could more clearly deal with the second.
If the previous pattern held, he should have two more days before he reached critical overload again. This time, however, he was going to spend every hour of the day working towards solving the problem. Atlantis and the rest of the galaxies were going to have to wait.
McKay was waiting outside Sheppard's quarters dressed in his workout attire when John appeared in the hallway.
"About time," McKay complained. "I've been waiting here for half an hour. If you're going to torture me the least you can do is be prompt about it."
"Inside," Sheppard said walking through his opening door. He hadn't bothered to touch the activation panel, but still the door opened.
McKay followed him inside wearily and the door closed behind him.
"You have to promise not to say a word about this to anyone…ever," Sheppard said emphatically.
"Not to say a word about what?" McKay asked, frowning.
"No one means Keller too."
"About what?" McKay pressed.
"Promise," Sheppard urged.
"Alright, fine. I promise. Now what's this all about?"
"I'm going to run your test for you," Sheppard told him.
"What!" McKay exclaimed.
"You heard me. Since you don't have the guts I'm going to have to bail your sorry ass out…again."
"What do you mean again...no, never mind, what's this about you doing it for me?"
"Just what I said, I'm going to run it for you," Sheppard said, holding up a small silver device in the palm of his hand. "This is what took me so long. I had to synthesize it from blueprints in the database."
"A hologram?" McKay guessed, knowing that all the training sessions were recorded for playback by the user, or in this case Elizabeth who had to verify that he actually passed the test.
"No, I'm not going to do it in place of you. Your body is going to run it, but I'll be in control."
"I'm going to superimpose my consciousness over yours," Sheppard explained. "Use my mind to control your body."
"With that?" McKay said, pointing to the small object in Sheppard's hand.
"No, this is just a booster. All Alterra have the ability."
"You do?" McKay said, not believing it.
"Well, I don't have the ability yet. I'm not old enough. Later on, when my telepathy gets stronger I'll be able to do this on my own, but for now I need a power and range boost, which this will give me," John said, attaching the device to his forehead.
"You can take control of people's minds," Rodney repeated.
"Which is why you can't tell anyone," Sheppard reminded him. "They'd freak out if they knew."
"I'm freaking out right now," McKay complained.
"Kind of status quo for you," Sheppard said, mentally connecting with the device.
"Can you do that with each other?" McKay asked, the scientist in him showing through.
"Not unless we let the other one in. Humans don't have the mental defenses to keep us out."
"And Lanteans?" McKay asked, wondering about his wife.
"I imagine they'd put up a bit more resistance, but they're more like Humans than us."
"You done this before?" McKay asked, creeping himself out with all kind of permutations flowing through his head.
"No, why?" John said matter-of-factly.
"Why? It's like a huge invasion of privacy, that's why!"
"Only if we used it that way," Sheppard said, catching some of the 'permutations' from his Rodney's surface thoughts. "Which we don't."
"But you could…" McKay repeated.
"We can do lots of things," Sheppard reminded him. "Which is why we're very careful who we let become Alterra."
"Maybe, but what about Ryan? Nobody checked him out."
"You don't have to worry about him," Sheppard said, waving off the concern. "You could have a total asshole use the Repository and they'd come out alright."
"Meaning what?" McKay said, frowning.
"Meaning it rewrites your behavioral trends to that of Alterran standard to get rid of all previous bad habits."
"It brainwashes you?"
"In a good way," Sheppard clarified. "If it doesn't work the knowledge self-deletes."
"Some sort of quality control test so you don't end up creating an uber bad guy."
"Now there's a pretty picture."
"You have no idea," Sheppard said, sitting down on his bed and assuming a meditative pose. "You ready?"
"Not just yet," McKay said, holding up a hand. "You're saying our fearless leader and all of his mini-mes are pre-packaged Alterrans?"
McKay nodded. "No wonder they don't have much personality."
Sheppard tilted his head in consideration. "Probably, but I think they'll grow out of it. They're not that bad once you get to know them."
"I'll take your word for it," McKay said, glancing down at his hands. "Are you sure about this?"
"Sure I'm sure. You're already in good enough shape, you just don't know how to squeeze the speed out of yourself."
"Not sure I like the sound of that," McKay grumbled. "Ok, let's get this over with."
"It's not like you haven't been in this situation before," Sheppard jibbed.
McKay glared at him. "You had to remind me?"
"Yep," Sheppard said, beginning to concentrate. He reached out for Rodney's mind and got a feel for it. Once he got his bearings he reached out with intent to override, but as expected lacked sufficient power and experience. Tapping into the device he felt McKay's mind softened and he was able to assert control fairly easily.
"Oh this is gross," John said, looking back at his stationary body through McKay's eyes. He'd been an Alterran long enough to forget how sluggish his original Human body had been…and to make matters worse this was Rodney, which meant take the sluggish factor x3.
"You owe me for this one, buddy," John said in Rodney's voice as he plodded out of his quarters and into the hallway enroute to the gym.
McKay blinked several times, trying to get his bearings. "Wha…" he tried to said, but found his throat dry. He worked his mouth around to get some moisture in it as he stared at the ceiling of the gym…a view he'd become extremely familiar with over the past 2 years. He tried to lift himself up into a seated position.
"Owwwww!" he cried, laying back down. His entire body hurt, and now that he was becoming more aware he noticed that every ounce of energy his body had must have been sucked dry. His legs felt like lead.
"Oh, you son of a bitch," he said into the air, laying his head back down.
Quit your complaining you big baby, Sheppard's voice said inside his head, and sit up and look at your time. You passed.
"I did," he said, enthusiasm overriding pain for the moment as he lurched up into a sitting position. He glanced around to figure out where he was, then found the scoreboard.
"What!" he whispered to himself so the few other people in the gym couldn't hear.
Told you you were in good enough shape.
"Ow," McKay groaned again as he reached around to hold his lower back. "You didn't have to go that fast…what, were you trying to kill me?"
You're welcome, now get your lazy butt back to the showers. I'm not doing that for you.
"I don't suppose you could send for a stretcher?"
Sheppard reasserted control of McKay and stood him up.
"What the…" Rodney said when he regained consciousness with every muscle in his body screaming.
Get going. The more time you spend moaning the less likely it is anyone will believe you did that on your own.
"Good point," McKay said beginning to walk very slowly. "Ow…cramp…cramp" he said, hopping up and down on his right leg as he hobbled off the track.
"Alright, McKay, you're up," Matt said, standing at the controls of Atlantis's genome altering device.
Rodney popped up out of his seat and jumped up onto the platform as a former Genii woman walked down. Carson, Jennifer, Elizabeth, and Zelenka were all waiting around the lab for Rodney's sake along with two more Pegasus natives that were also due to get their 'promotions.'
"I'm not going to feel anything, right?" McKay asked.
"No, you won't" Matt said as the holographic DNA strands appeared superimposed over Rodney's body. He copied McKay's genetic code to the console's workstation and aligned it with the Lantean template. Numerous discrepancies highlighted themselves and Matt raised an eyebrow.
"What?" McKay asked, overly eager.
"You can step down now."
Rodney didn't move. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing. I have to calibrate the changes and that will take a while. You're free to stand there if you like."
"Thank you, I think I will."
"Suit yourself," Matt said as he began making alterations. McKay's genome was going to take some extra tweaking.
"Don't suppose you could do something about my hair?" McKay asked barely ten seconds later.
"You want the color changed?"
"You can do that?"
"I can genetically tattoo each strand if I wanted to."
"Oh, well I just meant the part about it thinning…"
"That's covered in the standard package," Matt told him.
McKay nodded then remained silent for a few seconds.
"And the whole citrus allergy thing too?"
"I'll take care of it," Matt said, having forgot about that one. He knew of it because Ryan had heard it mentioned, but he'd forgotten until McKay said it. He shifted down through the genome to fix the allergy problem and noticed a lot of other allergies and conditions that needed to be eliminated as well.
This was going to take quite a while.
"And I don't suppose you could add an inch to my height, could you?" McKay pressed.
Matt stopped and looked up at him. "I could give you a new superpower?"
"Really!" McKay said, his voice climbing in pitch. "What's it do?"
"It gives you the ability to shut up and let me work…I've got 26 other people to get through today and the more you talk the longer this takes."
"Point taken," McKay said submissively and pointed towards where Jennifer was standing. "I'll wait over there."
Matt nodded his agreement and went back to working on the loudmouth's conversion template.
"Too bad that power isn't real," Carson commented under his breath.
Elizabeth looked at the Doctor but didn't outwardly disagree. "Just be patient Rodney. You wouldn't want him getting distracted and messing something up."
"No…I wouldn't," McKay admitted, leaning against one of the solid, stone-like tables.
"I still can't believe you ran that fast," Zelenka commented.
"Yeah," Keller said, glancing once at Zelenka then turning her eyes to Rodney. "You impressed all of us."
"And I'm paying for it now," McKay complained, stretching his right arm.
"Still sore," Jennifer sympathized.
"Very," McKay confirmed.
"What got into you anyway?" Elizabeth said.
"Meaning what?" Rodney asked, a touch of concern in his voice.
"Well I know Sheppard stopped by to have a chat with you. What'd he say that got you fired up enough to run that fast?"
"Probably left a basket of lemons on his doorstep," Carson said sarcastically.
"If you must know, there was threat of citrus involved."
Elizabeth smiled. "I guess he knows how to get inside your head after all these years."
McKay cleared his throat. "He does at that."
"Alright McKay," Matt interrupted. "Step back up."
"That was quick," McKay acknowledged as he leapt back up to the pedestal.
"I made all the adjustments for the first treatment," the Alterran explained. "I'll finish the others later."
"It'll take four treatments in total, spread over two weeks."
"Four?" he complained. "Nobody I've talked to has had more than three."
He heard Carson snicker from the background and tossed a sneer his way.
"It all depends on the individual," Matt explained. "Ready."
"Yes. Let's do this."
"Just hold still for a few minutes. You shouldn't feel a thing."
Rodney set himself into what he thought was a stoic pose, tilting his chin slightly into the air and trying not to get dizzy from all the holographic pieces spinning around him.
One small adjustment for an Alterran, he thought to himself. One giant leap for Rodney McKay.
Looking down at the console Matt rolled his eyes.
Ryan knelt down on the hard-packed sand a little over half a dekmas away from his temporary home as he felt the instability inside him building to overload again. He didn't want to take the risk of wrecking the place or burning himself again, so he'd put enough space between him, the structure, and the nearby stargate to insure that the only thing he could damage was the sandy ground beneath his knees. As far as he could see, in every direction, was nothing but flat desert. There wasn't even enough loose sand to form dunes. It was as dead of a planet as one could get, but at least the atmosphere was breathable.
He'd been successful in bleeding off the normal instability and isolating this new variety, but no matter what he tried he couldn't dissipate it…and he'd tried everything he knew of. He could feel the energy welling up inside his secata organ, buried deep inside his chest. It was one of three internal structures that Alterrans possessed that Humans and most Lanteans did not, and was responsible for the production of external energy…or rather the energy that could be expended outside the body.
Knowing that, Ryan had tried releasing energy blasts from his hands in order to drain the energy, but it hadn't worked either. Somehow the charge building up inside him was different from the bio-plasma that also originated from his secata, nor was it linked to his telekinesis, which originated from a small auxiliary tennatis nodule inside his brain…more of an extension than a separate organ, but it was one of the three that Humans didn't possess.
He knew of other physical abilities that he'd yet to develop, but those still in the queue didn't match up to what he was experiencing now…and Ryan was beginning to get worried.
"Just go with the flow," he reminded himself, stretching his arms wide in order to better attenuate the power if it did rip from his body once again. He still wasn't fully healed from the first ordeal, and if this one got worse he could very well kill himself.
He felt the moment of saturation approaching and decided to head it off. He mentally reached down inside for the instable energy and tried to push it out through his exterior…but it felt like trying to blow a full breath through a coffee straw. Small ripples of energy began to form around his silhouette, but the flow inside him continued to build up to overload. He managed to buy himself an extra minute or two, but the cascade occurred just the same as it had the first time.
The rainbow lightning forced its way through his body, frying him internally and leapt out through his fingertips…but did little to relieve the internal pressure. Inside Ryan's mind he searched and searched for some way to divert the flow, but it had nowhere to go. He could feel his body being damaged and frustration overrode his fear. He was going to die, not because he screwed up or because someone had attacked him, he was going to do it to himself out of pure ignorance. That angered him more than the thought of failure and he turned his aggression inward. He stopped 'going with the flow' and started fighting…trying to force it into submission with every ounce of strength he had.
The lightning arcs passing through his arms ceased, but a horrible pressure built inside of him. He fought with it, but it continued to grow. The energy had to go somewhere.
Just as he was about to lose control he threw back his head and yelled in frustration and anger, letting his rage press inward just a bit more than before…
Suddenly he felt a crack open in his mind and the pent up energy flowed through it…and flowed out so fast that before it had completely dissipated he blacked out and fell to the ground.
A quarter of the way across the galaxy, in one of the small Ori villages that was undergoing reconstruction, a man walking the streets suddenly stopped and turned to his left.
"Now what is that?" he asked.
He stared in the same direction for several seconds before turning around and walking in a hurry back towards the stargate…passing directly through the wall of one stone building like a ghost, but no one in the village saw him, nor had ever seen him.
When he got to the stargate he activated it mentally and sucked in a deep 'breath.' He could only survive completely outside of Alfleheym for a few seconds, but it would be long enough to pass through the portal. His human persona disappeared and a green glow replaced it. The ascended being passed into the stargate, enroute to the planet where Ryan was.
"Wake up," Ryan heard someone say as his mind wheeled about and his vision slowly cleared. He found himself looking up at the orange sky. "I know I shouldn't be, but I'm very surprised to find you here, Orici."
Ryan sat up amidst a wash of disorientation, but as he did so he noted the presence of a man in what looked like a green military uniform standing next to him.
"Hi," Ryan said awkwardly as he tried to dispel the stars from his vision.
"I would recommend you stay seated until your mind recovers," the man said forcefully. "You're kind isn't accustomed to such power."
"My kind?" Ryan asked, wondering who this man was. He clearly wasn't a Prior.
"Alterrans," the man said with disdain.
That brought Ryan's head up. "Who are you?"
"Have you ever done that before?" the man asked, ignoring his question.
"I don't know. What'd I do?"
"You broke through the dimensional barrier," the man said, just a hint of respect in his tone, "and released a small amount of biological energy into our realm. Such things don't go unnoticed, so I will ask you again, have you done this before?"
Ryan thought back over what happened. "I don't think so…last time I couldn't relieve the pressure and it discharged physically."
The man nodded. "I can sense your previous wounds, but not your thoughts."
Ryan hesitantly stood up. "That's to keep ascended beings from snooping around," he said, glaring at the man.
The man nodded. "You are fortunate you did so here. Had you been inside the Empire's territory you would be as good as dead."
Ryan's eyes narrowed. "Who are you?"
The man crossed his arms over his chest. "I am Rivera, but a long, long time ago I was once one of your Gods."
Ryan's head came up. "You're Ori?"
"Not anymore," he said, pointing up at the sky. "I left after a disagreement and joined the Rivera, far from here. We had heard the Ori had been destroyed, so they sent me to determine what happened. I had assumed the Empire had annexed this galaxy, but they curiously have not. It is completely dead. Not even the lower lifeforms have survived. I have been here for well over a year and have not encountered a single ascended being, which is fortunate for you."
Ryan walked up to the man and lightly touched a finger to his chest…which was solid.
"Are you descended?"
"No, but we can take physical form at any time without letting go of our energy matrix."
Ryan nodded amicably, then in a blur of motion drove a stiffened elbow into the man's face, knocking him back a good two meters onto the ground.
"That!" Ryan shouted emotionally, "Is 46 million years long overdue!"
The former Ori sat on the ground, staring at Ryan in surprise for his overly stupid impudence…then he laughed once, shaking his head. "It seems you have some backbone after all."
The man stood up, seemingly unhurt. "Perhaps all those years in another galaxy burnt the cowardice out of you…but not your stupidity. I can squash you like a bug at any time of my choosing."
Ryan acknowledged that fact with a nod. "But then I wouldn't be able to avenge the Ori if you did."
The man smiled cruelly. "Not so reckless after all. Good. There is hope for you yet."
"So what do I owe the pleasure of this visit?" Ryan asked sarcastically.
"As I said, that energy spurt you gave off was visible for half a galaxy. Luckily I'm the only one here to see it or you would have been in a world of hurt."
"The incursion you made into our dimension is extraordinarily rare, so much so that I can't remember the last time it's happened. The amount of energy you emitted was negligible, but the type stands out like a beacon. Bio-energy doesn't exist in our realm, so the only possible source is a crossover from this dimension. It's what alerted me to your presence. I come to see what's happening and what do I find...the foretold Orici that would arise if we ever fell. Which apparently happened, from what information I've been able to gather from the Priors."
"You spoke with them?"
The man glared at him. "Please. I simply accessed their minds. I would do the same with you, but somehow you've created a block that I can't bypass."
"Handy, isn't it?"
"Quite," the former Ori said, beginning to pace in a circle around Ryan. "However it does draw suspicion."
"Can't be helped. If the Ascended Empire knew what I know, they'd kill me on the spot."
The man raised an eyebrow. "You've heard of them, then?"
"Now you see, that's exactly one of those things that would get me killed, so you'll forgive me if I don't mention it to you."
"You think I'd tell the Empire?" he said, almost laughing.
"I take it that's a no?"
"Despite the fact that your kind joined with them, we hate the Empire for all sorts of other reasons."
"The Ori, or the Rivera?"
Ryan put his hands on his hips. "Do you know how the Ori died?"
"Not completely…do you?"
"Yes, I do. So how about an information swap?"
The man smiled again, but not in a comforting way. "Oh, I am beginning to like you…and since I want to see you do as much damage to the Empire as you can before you die, I'll fill you in on what you need to know."
"First things first," the man cautioned. "I had expected the Empire to take control of this galaxy, worthless as it is. I need to know why they haven't, and I suspect the answer to that question will come from the way in which the Ori died."
"They were killed by a group of Humans," Ryan explained, rubbing that fact in, "using a weapon designed to kill ascended beings. They sent it through the Ori stargate and it detonated in this galaxy, killing all within it."
The man frowned heavily and Ryan sensed anger rising within him. "Where did they get the weapon?"
"A former ascended being descended in order to build the device in secret. He was worried about the threat the Ori posed and the lack of action on the part of the Empire, so he took matters into his own hands. He was stopped and the weapon destroyed, but arrangements were made to preserve him, and therefore the knowledge. The Humans discovered him by following clues that an ascended Morgan Le Fay left for them to follow. They revived him from stasis and he built the weapon again for them."
"The Empire would not have allowed that to happen under their noses," the man said. "Therefore I assume they intended for the Humans to use it all along. Where is the weapon now?"
"I believe it was a one shot only device. It hasn't been heard of since it was used, though the first Orici should have had access to its remains."
"There are two of you?"
"The other was created to lead the Ori armies in a crusade to convert the Humans of Avalona in order to give the Ori enough energy to kill my ascended ex-brothers."
The man looked even more confused for a moment, but then it all began to come together. "Interesting. We'd heard rumors about the Empire pulling back from the border galaxies, leaving them vulnerable. That's very uncharacteristic of them, but now I think I see their purpose. They fained weakness in order to draw the Ori in, then surreptitiously used the Humans to deliver the fatal blow. All the Ori are dead, and they didn't have to fight a single battle."
The man held his head in his hand. "Never underestimate their cunning, Orici. They are the most ruthlessly intelligent group of ascended beings we've ever known."
"We being the Ori or the Rivera?"
"The Rivera are far older than the Ori. They've had dealings with the Empire far back in history, but due to the distances involved, they've never come into close contact, however the Empire continues to slowly expand. Over the past 100,000 years they've annexed three more galaxies. Not much in the grand scheme of things, but it adds up over time. That's why we assumed they'd taken this galaxy."
"How close are we to their territory?" Ryan asked. "I know the line goes somewhere between here and Avalona?"
The man raised an eyebrow again. "You have an insider feeding you information?"
"Not much, I'm afraid," Ryan said, trusting him enough to admit that much.
"There are many galaxies in between, but none heavily populated by ascended beings or natives. This galaxy was the major threat along this portion of their border. With the Ori gone they can focus their attention elsewhere, for there isn't another credible threat in this area."
"How many galaxies do they have?"
The man inclined his head. "The Rivera have been able to map around the backside of their territory, and our best guess is that they have feelers into upwards of 1,000 galaxies and hold as many as 26 nexuses."
"A thousand?" Ryan said, stunned. "That's just great."
"Like I said, you don't stand a chance."
"We'll see," Ryan deflected. "What's a nexus?"
"Nectar of the Gods."
"Ascended super-juice?" Ryan mocked.
"Call it what you like. The nexuses are wellsprings located within certain rare galaxies. Destra has none, which makes it of low priority. The Rivera control two, which makes them a powerhouse in their region."
"And you said the Empire has 26?" Ryan said, starting to get a sense of the balance of power.
"That we suspect. We can't get our scouts inside their borders to be sure."
Ryan thought for a moment. "Do our galaxies transition into your dimension?"
"There is a crossover, yes. In our realm they provide what you would think of as terrain. The distances separating the galaxies are more or less barren."
"Which is why the Ori were all in one galaxy at one time?"
"Other than this nectar and sapping power from worshipers, what do you eat?"
"There are many ways of absorbing power. Our dimension is filled with one type that we must have in small amounts on a moment by moment basis. That is why we cannot completely leave this dimension for yours. A part of us is always linked to it, unless we choose to retake our previous form."
"Does that happen often?"
"No. We are much superior to your kind…save perhaps you, or rather what you are transforming into. I may not be able to search your memories, but I can see the flux within your body. You are forcing your development somehow."
"Do you know how the Alterra ascended?"
"No, just that we ascended first, but the Empire wouldn't allow us in their territory when we came looking for you."
"To kill us."
"Of course," the man said as if it needn't be said.
"We were dying from a plague, one that we couldn't cure. Those few that escaped learned to ascend while the rest died out. A plan was put in place during those final years to recreate our species on a lower level, one that wouldn't be affected by the plague, so that in the distant future we could be reborn. Repositories of Knowledge were scattered throughout our galaxies for the time when the seed species would become advanced enough to use them. I am the first to successfully make the transformation."
"Galaxies, huh? Why then is your physiology continuing to advance?"
"A few loyal ascended Alterra discovered that it was the Empire that created the plague to kill us. They altered the programming of the Repository to continue to press my advancement until I reached the point where I could affect events in your dimension."
The former-Ori whistled appreciatively. "That's very interesting. When did you expect these extra-dimensional powers to develop?"
"Not for several hundred years," Ryan said, confused. "But if I did break the dimensional barrier, then I am far ahead of schedule…and I don't know why."
The man shook his head. "Typical Alterra science. The universe doesn't obey your rules, nor is it predictable. Just because you expect your development to follow a pre-determined pattern doesn't mean it will. The energy I feel building within you now, along with the internal damage you've sustained comes from an inability to control your Kadarva energy."
Now it was Ryan that raised an eyebrow. "I'm not familiar with that term."
"I suppose not. We didn't develop the power until long after your kind ran away. It is the power that allows you to create displacementary defenses around your body."
"Ovartka?" Ryan asked. "That's a level 4 edeva skill. I've only begun to develop level 2."
"As I said, the universe isn't predictable. Just because it's a higher level skill, doesn't mean you have to develop the lower levels first."
Ryan got a perturbed look on his face. "If the universe isn't predictable, how did the Ori know I'd be here?"
The man smiled ironically. "We didn't. If the Ori had been successful, you never would have existed, but if we failed and were beaten by the Empire, then you might emerge as foreseen. If you didn't, then the prophecy in the Book of Origin would appear to be referring to something else in the distant future."
"You hedged your bets."
"I can't argue with the results," Ryan admitted. "Being recognized by the Priors was quite helpful."
"As it was intended to be. If we couldn't beat the Empire, we intended to give you the best chance you had at revenge."
"I thought you said I couldn't win?"
"You can't, but if all goes extremely well, you might be able to bloody their nose…something that hasn't happened in a very, very long time."
"How many factions of ascended beings are there?"
"Several dozen that the Rivera are aware of, but the universe is seemingly infinite. If you travel far enough you will probably find more."
"Are the Rivera all ascended?"
"About half," the former Ori admitted. "The others are native to the dimension."
"Like the Originals," Ryan commented.
The man's head came up. "I assume you're referring to the leaders of the Empire?"
"Yes, I was told that's what the ascended beings call them."
"We never see them. They lie buried deep within their borders, probably gorging themselves on the nexuses. The original Rivera have, though, a long time ago. They witnessed a battle between a rival faction and the Empire when it was still young. These "Originals" as you call them are vicious, powerful monsters, far greater than any being I have ever encountered. They dwarf our power, our size, and our longevity. They are Ancient, and as close to all powerful as you can get. Fortunately the Rivera are too far away for them to bother with."
"Until the Empire's border eventually expands in your direction," Ryan guessed.
"That won't be any time soon, but it is a distant concern."
"Can the Rivera, the native ones…can they take power from Humans like the Ori did?"
"No, they can't access your dimension. Only the ascended can."
"Really," Ryan said, taking valuable insight from that.
"All native species are the same, as far as we can tell," the man told him, "but the Empire has a vast number of ascended beings in its ranks that can wipe you out on a whim."
"I was thinking about the non-interference edict. I assume that isn't standard operating procedure for everyone else?"
"The Rivera don't exploit beings in this dimension as we did, but only because they have no reason to. They prefer to stay in the shadows and watch, rather than try to control. It has served them well, but they don't have any stipulations on us acting within this dimension, though we rarely do."
"No point in it?"
"Not really. The Ori did only because of a lack of Nexuses and other food sources within this galaxy. It's pretty much worthless, and can't sustain a large population without augmentation. And now with all the lower lifeforms gone, we can't even feed off of them."
Ryan bristled at that, but didn't voice his dissention. "Are there other wellsprings aside from nexuses?"
"It'd be pointless to try and explain, given your lack of vision…however, now that you've broken through the dimensional barrier I can help expand your abilities."
The man gave him a 'come on' look of disgust.
"Can you do so without affecting my programming? It's my only chance of growing strong enough to fight the Empire directly."
"Don't worry, I…" he said, pausing suddenly and turning his head.
"What's wrong?" Ryan asked.
"It seems I misspoke earlier," the man said, glaring off at the horizon. "There are two ascended beings coming this way in a hurry."
"How far?" Ryan asked
"Halfway across the galaxy," the man said direly. "They're moving so fast, and expending so much energy, I can see them from this far away."
"Any idea who they are?"
"How do you know for sure?"
"We alter our energy signature to identify our allegiance. Theirs is clearly visible."
Ryan didn't say anything for a moment. "They're coming after me?"
"Nothing else here to attract their attention."
"What about you?"
"They can't see me from this far away."
"What about when you were traveling?"
"I came through the stargate. My energy expenditure was minimal."
"What do you think they want?"
"All ascended beings fear the Juntar, but the Empire is the most fanatical about it."
"I'm becoming a Juntar?" Ryan guessed.
"Someone in this dimension capable of affecting ours naturally."
"And the Originals can't do anything about it, making them even more fearful?"
"Like I said, they have their weapons and do well enough by them."
"So they're coming here to kill me?" Ryan asked.
"Don't worry," the man said dismissively. "I'm not going to let our vengeance be spoiled so lightly."
"Can you take them?"
The man's smile twisted sardonically as his body dissipated into a green aura, then it changed over into the orange flames characteristic of the Ori.
"How long until they get here?" Ryan asked the former Ori.
"I'd guess just under half an hour."
Ryan considered his options. "Can they track me?"
The flaming image of the man shook his head. "No. You're not expending any more energy into our dimension."
"So we could escape through the stargate?"
"They won't stop looking until they've found the source. These two have to die, unless you want them to bring back hundreds more to continue the search."
"Point taken," Ryan relented. "Is there some way I can use my energy to recharge you?"
"Not enough to matter. If these two are what I think they are, I shouldn't have a problem."
"And what do you think they are?"
"The Empire doesn't allow individuals to leave its territory or roam around freely within it. They exist in groups with chaperones, so that they can insure their rules are followed. Only the Empire's most trusted agents are allowed to move about unchecked, but even then there are always two or more together."
"And if I'm right, I'm going to have the pleasure of killing a couple of Alterra today."
"What makes you think they're not from another species?"
"Hmmm," he considered. "Maybe it's just wishful thinking on my part, but these two are sprinting so hard to get here it belies their inexperience…and the Alterra are still relatively new additions to the Empire."
"Why are they in such a hurry anyway?"
"Like I said, they can't track you unless you're expending energy. They want to get to this region before the trail grows cold."
"They don't know exactly where I am, do they?"
"No, just the approximate location. I had to guess based on my familiarity with this galaxy's stargate network. Luckily you were right beside the portal."
"Wait," Ryan said as a stray memory clicked into place. "Back up a second. You said the Empire's agents always travel in groups of two or more?"
"After the Ori were killed, the first Orici ascended in Avalona and returned here to take their place. One of the Ascended helped a group of Humans cut off her power base and then fought her."
The man nodded. "So I gathered from the Doci."
"This ascended being said she was an exile…and apparently alone."
"More subterfuge I would guess. Even if someone is ostracized they wouldn't be left unchecked, nor would they be allowed to leave the Empire. This person you speak of was ostensibly working with them to kill off the last of the Ori."
"I was also told that the Empire didn't allow members to kill each other."
"To do so would weaken the Empire from within, though I imagine they'll excuse the occasional transgression if it benefits the Empire."
Ryan shook his head appreciatively. In war there are no rules, he reminded himself.
"Is there no way I can assist you?"
The man laughed. "This fight will take place in our dimension. Even if you could access it at will, you'd be overwhelmed by our power levels. As it is, you won't even be able to see the battle."
"If you hide, what do you think they will do when they get here?"
He considered that. "If and when they finally get here, they'll investigate. Since you're the only lifeform on this planet, it shouldn't take long for even your dumb kin to figure out you're the source…especially with that mental block you have in place."
"I meant will they attack immediately?"
"They'll need to make sure you're the source before they obliterate you."
"Would getting the jump on them be of any advantage?"
He shook his head. "When they get close enough they'll detect me. I'd have to move off, and in the few seconds it would take me to cross the gap the element of surprise would be negated."
Ryan considered for a moment. "Could you hide inside me?"
The former Ori looked at him as if he'd just come up with something useful. "I can't hide my connection to our dimension at close proximity, but if we could get them to think it was you then they wouldn't realize I was here."
"Ok, so how do we do that?"
"We make some upgrades," the ascended being said, transforming into a glowing fireball and diving inside Ryan's chest.
The 'upgrades' he spoke of hurt…a lot, but the small crack he'd felt within his mind opened up until he was able to perceive the other's dimension.
It felt like he was opening his eyes for the first time, blinded by overwhelming light, but with the augmentations that were being made to his body and physical components of his mind, the jumbled mess of perceptions began to resolve themselves into recognizable 'shapes' for lack of a better word.
All around him, but more so beneath him, was a web of interconnecting strands, partially solid to his mental touch. They catacombed their way to and from everywhere, but seemed to thin above him. He suddenly realized that the strands were more heavily present in the gravity well beneath him and stretched out to connect to the other planets nearby.
He 'turned around' and looked in the direction of the system's star and saw a tight knob of webs around it, but also stretching out beyond. Everywhere he looked were fibrous elements, with the only clear space being between them, located in an erratic pattern.
Suddenly another augmentation adjusted his vision and the strands disappeared. All he saw was thin filaments at a great distance, resolving themselves into a great disc with a bulge at what must have been galactic center. Off to the side was a long, thin sweeping arm that matched up with those of the galaxy in his dimension, where his body still remained. It felt odd being able to look beneath his 'feet' and see nothing. He couldn't even perceive himself, he was just an omniscient viewpoint with no substance, rooted in one place.
He looked around in every direction, noticing two small lights in the distance. He could barely make them out, but they appeared to be oscillating slightly whereas everything else was static. If they hadn't been slightly winking he wouldn't have noticed them at all.
He was back in his dimension as a sudden lurch inside his body broke his connection. He felt his secata organ and nervous system catch on fire and burn continuously. He rode out the pain as best he could, knowing that it was a 'good' pain, yet he imagined the Ori was pleased to have been causing him so much discomfort.
Bleed off your energy again, he felt the Ori speak to his mind. They are veering off course.
Don't you want a few more minutes? he spoke again through his mind. Though his mental block kept the Ori out of his memories and prevented him from taking control of his mind, Ryan's telepathy wasn't restricted, though it was awkward connecting with an energy-based lifeform.
Alright, Ryan thought, concentrating. His energy wasn't erratic anymore, and there was more of it than there had been before. In fact he felt two sources of energy.
Use your Kadarva energy. We don't want to alert them to your upgrades.
Ryan pulled the original energy, what he guessed was Ovartka, and pushed it through the now easier to create breach between the dimensions. It was heavy and awkward, not meant for the transition, but Ryan managed a small spurt that immediately got the attention of the ascended beings. He could see them adjust their line slightly amidst a small 'vibration' within their visible signatures.
Almost finished, the man said as Ryan was suddenly in pain again, this time from portions of his body that he couldn't identify, and eventually lost his connection with his senses…
Ryan woke again, standing on the planet's surface. He blinked his eyes a few times, feeling very weird.
The former Ori stood beside him again, awash in flame. "They will be here within minutes. All I need you to do is distract them, and draw them in close. Even with the adjustments I've made to your physiology, you haven't the energy to challenge them. I've taken your development as far as I can, and retained your internal flux so you can continue to grow stronger over time. You shouldn't have to worry about inadvertently throwing off energy the Empire can detect. I stabilized your Kadarva energy, but with your mental block I wasn't able to give you the knowledge you need to use it. That, you will have to learn on your own."
"I understand," Ryan said, seeing the two agents approaching overlapped onto his 'real' vision.
"If you hadn't lost control of you Kadarva energy," the man lectured him, "you wouldn't have found yourself in a position where you needed to bleed it off. Because you were in such jeopardy, you found a way to break the dimensional barrier in order to save yourself. Remember that in the future when you revert back to your science. Power develops from need, not desire, and not from a preprogrammed template. The weak shall remain weak…and the strong will grow stronger."
"You're saying I caused myself to accelerate my development?"
"Accelerate what? It's not predetermined."
"That's a matter of debate," Ryan argued, thinking about the other versions of himself in the alternate realities Janus had told him about. Ovartka energy should have been 50 years away, and breaking the dimensional barrier centuries after that.
"Yet you stand here now, a product of something your science cannot predict. That is the nature of the universe. Embrace it, learn from it, and harness its power. Those who believe in rules and procedures blind themselves to the universal truth, thus denying them access to true power."
"And what's universal truth for an Ori?"
The man's visage smiled. "There are no rules."
Ryan had to smile at that. "No rules?"
The man shook his head. "Only that which you can do, and that which you can't do. Embrace the challenges of the universe, confront them, push your apparent limits and attempt the impossible. Only then will you know what you are truly capable of."
Ryan, oddly, found those words ringing true. "I suppose that's how you learned to ascend first?"
"We did not learn, we attained."
"I guess that's the difference with us. We learned it was possible through science, studied our physiology, simulated the permutations, then created an environment where the likely transformation would be most easily attained through training and meditation."
"And still, by your own admission, only a few of your people achieved the transformation."
"I didn't say it was easy."
"And yet I feel that you disapprove of your own people's ways."
Ryan stared at him for a moment. "Despite my technical knowledge, I'm not much of a scientist."
"You would prefer earning the power yourself?"
"Given my circumstances I have to," Ryan argued. "Like you said, it's a matter of need."
"So you don't fault your scientists?"
"No, why would I?"
"They do not seek the truth of the universe, and are weak because of it."
"Yet one of them, a Lantean no less, did manage to create a device to wipe out all the ascended beings in this galaxy in a matter of seconds. On the power scale, I'd say Merlin did rather well as a scientist."
"Only because we allow your kind to exist."
"Not to argue, but why haven't the ascended wiped out everyone in this dimension?"
"Not worth the bother," he said dismissively. "It's much easier to pluck the weed than incinerate the forest…for the forest will eventually grow back."
"It's been done before?" Ryan asked, alarmed.
"Somehow new lifeforms arise over time. Another mystery of the universe that your science can't explain."
"We noticed," Ryan said, beginning to make out more detail of the approaching ascended beings. They appeared white in hue, whereas his protector had originally appeared green, then switched to flame orange. "Is white the signature color of the Ascended Empire?"
"As your eyes see it, yes."
"Well the two approaching look white as well."
"They won't once they arrive. You'll notice the difference then. Flush your dimensional energy through your body. It should obscure my presence. Do not connect to our dimension while I am inside you. We need them to think my connection is yours. Two would be obvious."
Ryan reached inside him for the second, newer type of energy available and distributed small amounts throughout his body. "Ready."
"Watch through my eyes until the time is right," the Ori said, reverting back into a fireball and entering Stevenson's body. He sent his vision through Ryan's nervous system and into his mind.
Suddenly the 'sight' Ryan previously had improved greatly. Not only could he see the galaxy around him, he could see others off in the distance. Dozens, actually, as if they were just out of reach rather than hundreds of thousands of light years away.
How fast can you move? Ryan mentally asked the presence within his body.
Faster than any of your hyperdrives.
How long would it take you to travel from here to Avalona?
Four or five days, if I was in a hurry.
Ryan stifled his surprise. It would take seven years with the Alterra's more advanced hyperdrives.
We can move faster than you using the stargates then?
Yes, that's one advantage you have over the Empire…assuming they don't use them as well.
How do you react with hyperspace?
Your ships are beyond their reach while in transit, he said, guessing his intent.
Good to know, Ryan mentally cataloged for future reference. How do you go through the stargates then?
We can withdraw from our dimension for a handful of seconds. That's long enough for the transition.
How about long range communications?
Courier only, unless we utilize technology in your dimension.
Does the Empire?
Word spreads fast, but we have little knowledge of the inner workings of the Empire.
Ever known them to have slaves in my dimension.
No…but if you like you can ask them yourself, he said as the two ascended beings came within range enough to detect 'Ryan's' connection to their dimension.
The energy Ryan was exuding leaked through the Ori's connection, essentially blurring his presence enough for the others to think that this was typical of a juntar…especially since they'd never encountered one before. The two ascended beings traveled quickly to the planet then hovered nearby, studying him.
One of them eventually approached, and to both of their surprise she appeared to Ryan in his dimension, glowing in white robes.
"Hello," she said, appearing before him.
"Hello," Ryan echoed. "Lost?"
The woman frowned. "Lost?"
"Yeah lost," Ryan repeated. "That's just a polite way of asking what you're doing here."
"I was wondering the same of you," she said evenly. "I take it you know what I am?"
"Ascended? Yeah, I figured that much out."
"You accessed our dimension, and have a presence there even now."
"Sorry…did I trip you or something?"
"Your physiology shouldn't be advanced enough to break the barrier," she continued, ignoring his jibes. "How have you managed this?"
"You're asking? Not just raiding my mind for the information?"
"I'm asking," she said, almost politely.
Ryan nodded. "Bumped my head."
"You bumped your head?" she repeated, clearly not taking him seriously.
"Yeah," Ryan said, rubbing his temple. "Can't feel anything anymore."
"I find that unlikely," she said. "However, your mind is currently inaccessible. Perhaps you have been damaged."
"I thought you said you weren't in my head…or was that your friend?"
The woman's eyes widened. "You can see into our dimension."
"Na, just a lucky guess," Ryan said, almost believably.
"Wait," the woman said, holding up her hand and looking to the side. Ryan could see her companion move towards him slowly and begin to build up some sort of charge…
All of a sudden he lost connection with the other realm as the Ori leapt out of him. He reconnected on his own with his incredibly diminished vision and saw the two of them locked in battle, swirling about each other and breaking through the 'web threads' which quickly reformed, some of which branched off into new connections.
The woman he'd been talking with, however, didn't move. She stood by, retreated in fact, just a bright, glowing energy blob in Ryan's vision drifting off to the side watching the other two fight.
Ryan felt a sting to his mind as bits and pieces of ascended being washed over his vantage point in the other dimension. The two were tearing into each other, releasing what looked like tiny shards of glass whenever one of them took damage. Most of the 'glass' shards appeared etched white, with a pattern that Ryan couldn't articulate, but what the Ori had mentioned was the designator of the Ascended Empire. The Ori bits and pieces felt orange, but had more ornate structure, almost artistic whereas the Empire's was rigid and complex.
And there was many more Empire shards being thrown off than there were Ori.
Yet still the other didn't intervene. Ryan stretched out to her with his mind.
"What are your intentions?" he asked her, trying to not be distracted by the awe-inspiring battle taking place virtually on top of him.
"I am not your enemy," she said, retreating back a bit further. Ryan could sense her apprehension…and fear.
Suddenly there was an overwhelming shower of Empire shards as the Ori broke the other ascended being apart in a spherical explosion of debris. The tiny bits and pieces fizzled, releasing pent up energy like smoky streamers as they spread out away from the blast.
Energy refocused within the Ori and its exterior damage disappeared, but its overall 'size,' for lack of a better term, diminished slightly.
The two ascended beings remaining stared each other down, but neither moved.
"Talk to me," Ryan insisted.
Suddenly he felt both of them diminish, and his normal senses saw two figures appear on the sands beside his body. Ryan pulled back as well, completely disengaging from Alfleheym.
"Please…I mean you no harm," the woman said quickly. "I would have aided Herram if I did."
"It would not have changed the outcome, coward," the Ori said coldly.
"I thought Adria was the last of the Ori," the woman said meekly.
"She was," Ryan said forcefully. "I'm Alterra."
Her eyes widened. "How?"
"What species were you?" Ryan asked, guessing the answer.
"They're both Alterra," the Ori all but spat.
"Then you should know the answer already," Ryan insisted.
"You were Human?" she asked.
"From what planet?"
"Avalon," he said, the name catching her attention.
"Then you've successfully used the Repository of Knowledge…and received the special programming within."
Ryan glanced at the Ori, who stood passive.
"If you know of it, then tell me who created that special programming?"
"I was told it was Lyran," she said softly.
"By whom?" Ryan asked.
"He told me."
Ryan held up a hand towards the Ori. "Seems this one is on my side."
"You won't live to realize your mistake if you're wrong," he warned.
"Only those loyal would know of the secondary programming," Ryan explained. "It's what's forcing my advancement, and if even one of them had turned Empire all of the Repositories would have been destroyed."
"Who are you?" the Ori demanded.
"My name is Morgan Le Fay."
The Ori turned to Ryan. "Is she the one you said killed the first Orici?"
"First?" Morgan echoed, then looked at Ryan.
"If you've been in this galaxy for a while you should have noticed by now?"
"I knew the Ori followers had been reorganized, but our mission here had no connection with your realm. As a result I haven't kept informed of corporeal matters."
"And what was your mission?" the man asked.
"To fully survey and monitor this galaxy."
"As a prelude to annexation?" he demanded, still a bit hot under the collar from the battle.
"No," she said slowly, trying not to antagonize him. "We were to determine the possible threat level should others take the place of the Ori."
"And what did you determine?" he asked.
"Our survey was only partially complete, but we both believed this galaxy could not sustain more than a hundred inhabitants based on resource extrapolations. There is little here to survive on."
"But enough for you two to remain as scouts?" Ryan asked.
Morgan nodded. "Yes. Such was my assignment…and punishment."
"Jackson said you'd been exiled," Ryan pointed out.
"You know of Daniel Jackson?"
"Answer the question," the Ori demanded.
She looked at him briefly. "I was exiled, but I was left unattended. I tested my bounds and I discovered I was allowed to leave the Empire. I followed the Humans through their stargate and, with their assistance, was able to defeat the last of the Ori," she said, looking at the man. "Or so I believed."
"How did you pick up your friend?" Ryan asked.
"After defeating Adria, I was located and forced to return to the Empire. As reward for ending the Ori threat, my exile was ended. Subsequently I was tasked with scouting this galaxy along with Herram."
"You didn't have a choice?"
"None of us do," she said, anxiety in her voice.
"And now?" Ryan guessed.
"I do not know," she answered honestly, then looked at Ryan's companion. "How is it the Ori still live?"
Ryan and the Ori exchanged glances.
"What do you intend to do about me?" Ryan asked.
"As I said, I mean you no harm," she repeated.
"But if you return to the Empire, what will you tell them?"
"I don't know," she repeated.
"Can you run away, with your chaperone gone?"
"If they found me I would surely die."
"The universe is infinite," Ryan reminded her. "If you run in one direction and don't turn back, how can they catch you, with the lead you have by being here."
"The Empire has its ways," the Ori reprimanded Ryan. "Otherwise more would have run by now."
"Indeed," Morgan agreed.
"What options do you have?"
"Very little," she said regretfully.
"Can you descend?" Ryan suggested.
Morgan looked between the two of them.
"The Empire would still want answers," the Ori declared.
"Can you retake physical form in a way that they wouldn't recognize?"
"I can only reassume my previous form," Morgan told him. "I can't change it."
"How did Merlin?" Ryan pressed.
Morgan glanced at him, then realized that he must have spoken with Daniel at length. "Merlin reassumed his form, taking with him some advancements, but he was still very much himself."
Ryan looked to the Ori. "I can change her looks with genetic alteration. What else would have to be done to conceal her identity?"
"Her memories, obviously," he said, not wanting to get involved, but knowing that the Orici needed all the help he could get…and he liked the idea of the Alterran woman losing her powers. "Unless you can shield her mind the way yours is…though that too would raise suspicion."
"I don't know how…but I might know someone who does. Give me an hour," Ryan said, walking towards the distant stargate. "Assuming of course you two can play nice while I'm gone."
"She's not going anywhere," the Ori said menacingly. "I can assure you of that."
"I will remain here until you return," Morgan said agreeably.
Ryan nodded, then gated back to Celestis…
Forty seven minutes later Ryan returned to the wasteland planet along with his number one scientist, whose trim, bright Alterran clothes stood out in stark contrast to his surroundings, making him 'glow' almost as much as Morgan was.
"Janus?" she said, recognizing him instantly.
"Hello, Ganos…it's been a long time."
"We thought we'd lost you," she said, hardly believing he was still alive after all these years.
"You can save the reunion for later," the Ori interrupted.
"Yes, I understand from what he has told me that the Ascended Empire will eventually come looking for you," Janus began almost rhythmically. "If you can retake corporeal form and be altered enough so that the others won't recognize you, I can shield your mind against ascended influence, the way ours are."
See, Ryan told the Ori telepathically so only he could hear, science has its uses.
"Otherwise," Janus continued, "the only other option is a total wipe of all identifying memories…including your years in the Pegasus galaxy."
"That would be best," the Ori suggested. "Then there would be no possible way of her presence being discovered. A mental block will still draw suspicion."
"We both have mental blocks," Ryan argued. "Which means we're already under suspicion. One more won't make much of a difference."
"But it will make me someone of note," Morgan said, siding with the Ori. "If I have no memories then I will be of no consequence to them. I will make the sacrifice if I must."
"No," Ryan said firmly. "You're not. Besides, we have another idea."
Behind the two of them was a small floating sled carrying a piece of Alterran technology.
"If you're not going to try to make a run for it in their dimension," Ryan said, not precluding that possibility, "then this should alter your appearance and body enough to disguise you. He can check out the changes and make any extra alterations required to insure security," Ryan said, referring to the Ori.
"And I can subsequently make the alterations necessary to shield your mind," Janus added.
"If you're sure you want to do this," Ryan asked.
The Ori looked at her, raising an 'eyebrow' as if taunting her.
Morgan nodded. "So be it."
Her glow brightened, then suddenly dimmed for a moment as her body reformed. Her last bits of energy matrix resettled into her corporeal form, transferring her core energy from one dimension to the other. The 'clothes' that she wore disappeared in a wash of light as her control of the energy matrix that they were made of relinquished. Her small, petite Lantean body was all that remained, standing on the dirty, desert planet.
"Oh, how the mighty have fallen," the Ori said, enjoying the moment.
Morgan walked up to Ryan and Janus, having to look up at them.
Ryan turned around and telekinetically elevated the Repository of Knowledge. He'd recently had Janus retrieve all of the surviving devices and return them to Atlantis to insure that no one else died attempting the conversion, now that the end result had already come to fruition. They'd dismantled most of them, but saved a few in storage.
Morgan took a final step forward and the device leapt out and grabbed her head. A few seconds later it was finished.
The nude Lantean didn't fall unconscious, but she did stagger backwards a bit, disoriented. Inside her body and mind the transfer from Lantean to Alterran began, along with a shift in body structure to match the Alterran female template…which would change her looks from head to toe.
"Well?" Ryan asked the Ori.
The ascended being's image crossed its arms over its chest. "Pretty good, assuming her change of appearance, but she retains a small amount of energy. It may dissipate over time, but it's best if I remove it now."
He waved his hand, but nothing else visible happened. Ryan sensed a quick connection between him and Morgan, but he couldn't detect the energy that he'd mentioned.
"You're going to need a new name," Janus told her. "And a back story."
"Her name is Liona," Ryan said, already having thought through that part of the plan. "She is from Destra, formerly one of the anti-Ori underground. She has proved her worthiness and is joining the ranks of the Alterra."
"Close to the truth," the Ori grumbled.
"Thank you…" Morgan/Liona said. "I'm sorry. I don't even know your name."
"Two names?" she asked.
"I kept it from Avalon."
"I see," she said, suffering from a mild headache.
"Come inside," Ryan said, gesturing towards his private retreat. "I'll have the Priors bring you some proper clothes. I assume you're not going anywhere in a hurry?" he asked the Ori.
"I have a few other tasks to handle for the Rivera before I return to them," he said, catching Morgan/Liona's eyes at the mention of the other ascended beings. "After which I'll be returning home. You're on your own after I leave."
"Then I suggest the four of us have a very long conversation considering all things ascended…to maximize the chances of our mutual revenge."
The Ori seemed to settle on that last caveat. "One last thing."
"I saved your life."
"Yes, you did," Ryan agreed.
"Then you owe me the pleasure of hearing it at least once."
Ryan frowned. "Hear what?"
The Ori just looked at him, letting him fill in the blanks.
Eventually it came to Ryan, who rolled his eyes. He did owe him.
"Hallowed are the Ori," he said, keeping his disgust out of his voice.
The Ori smiled. "Now you're a proper Orici."
Morgan/Liona raised an eyebrow in Ryan's direction.
"Long story," he said, putting a hand on her bare shoulder and nudging her forward.
"Your report, Commander?" the High Kleeson asked.
Neela nodded her head with respect to the 7-member council. "We have ascertained the identity of the ship that came to the defense of Earth…they call themselves the Alterra."
The seven Kleesons exchanged glances.
"However, we do have some knowledge of them, we just didn't realize it," Neela continued. "They are the builders of the stargates."
Eyes on the Aschen leadership council widened. "Are you sure?" one of the junior members asked.
Neela nodded ominously. "However, they are not as powerful now as they once were. According to information recently acquired from an alien captured trying to infiltrate Remasse, these Alterra were wiped out long ago by some disease and only recently have been reborn through a feat of technology and biology. It seems we are also Alterra, degenerated to primitive status in some way to avoid the disease that killed them. When combined with some sort of transformative database, a Human becomes Alterra with all their knowledge and skills."
"Surely you jest?" another Kleeson argued. "Our origins are Tremarste. Archeology has confirmed it."
"I do not dispute our previous findings," Neela said cautiously, "however they may be incomplete. Perhaps our ancestors were placed on our homeworld by the original Alterra."
"Repeat what you said about this database?" the High Kleeson instructed.
"It seems they left a number of devices throughout the galaxy for Humans to find and use, once they physically advanced far enough to become compatible with the technology. The Tok'ra told me that most Humans are still incompatible and would die from its attempted use. All it took was one success and the Alterra were reborn."
The High Kleeson nodded. "Continue, Commander."
"We believe these new Alterra are few in number, but their technology, needless to say, is far beyond ours. If you dispute that premise, you need only study the intricacies of the stargates. However, to supplement their numbers they have allied themselves with the Jaffa and are supplying them with some of their technology."
"Some?" another Kleeson asked.
"Based off of scans of the ship that defended Earth and the Jaffa vessels we've encountered, there appears to be a significant technological diminishment from one to the other. Though similar, it would seem that these Alterra aren't giving the Jaffa the best that they have available."
One of the silent Kleesons leaned forward with keen interest. "Presumably in order to assure they don't turn the technology back against them, if they are as small in number as you suggest."
"We believe so," Neela confirmed. "Also, it seems these Alterra are not present within this galaxy…at least not yet."
"Explain that, Commander," the High Kleeson demanded.
"According to the Tok'ra, their queen was altered in an Alterran city in another galaxy. We believe the Jaffa are their source of power here, for the time being."
"What of the ship you encountered?"
"It has not been seen since," Neela offered, none too happy with the partial answer. "We believe it is not based here…or else the Alterra have a world unknown to the rest of the galaxy…or at least the portion of it we've met."
"That is a very large assumption, Commander," the High Kleeson warned.
Neela bowed her head. "Forgive me, I realize as much. My team and I believe that we have a narrow window of opportunity for success and not enough time to thoroughly investigate the matter."
"How so?" the Aschen leader inquired.
"We cannot match these Alterra technologically, but their limited numbers do offer us an opportunity. Though inferior, our technology is effective. Battle data supports this. Given sufficient numbers of elementals we can overpower their ships…"
"But give them enough time," another Kleeson interrupted, "and the odds of us gaining numerical superiority over their fleet drops precipitously."
The Kleesons conferred amongst themselves, off mic. Neela waited before them for several minutes before they returned their attention to her.
"What is your analysis team's suggestion?"
Neela steadied herself. "We believe the only way we can achieve the numerical superiority necessary to overcome the Alterra and their allies is to abandon current protocol and forcefully seize any and all assets within this galaxy necessary for the production of elementals. Concurrently, we expand reconnaissance efforts tenfold in order to locate Alterran installations, or those of their allies, within this galaxy. We must find them and strike quickly, before they grow into an enemy we cannot contain."
"Subsequently," Neela continued, "we need to plan for failure and begin heavy reinforcement of Tremarste and the establishment of battle stations in orbit over our primary worlds in preparation for an Alterran counterattack. We also must push the limits of our technology towards battle hardware and weapons development. Any minor upgrade in the elementals will result in a cumulative net advantage when fielded in large numbers, as we believe they must be."
"We also have prepared a full report on secondary projects to coincide with this new offensive. We must be multi-dimensional in our approach and prepare for all type of eventualities," Neela said, walking up and handing a small data chip to the High Kleeson.
"Do you know what you're suggesting?" he asked her as if she were a little child.
"We do," she answered humbly.
"This is not the way of the Aschen," he reminded her. "Are you sure we have no other options?"
"Establishing diplomatic relations will be difficult, given that we've already opposed the Alterra in battle, but it is not without possibility. However, any such attempt would give the Alterra and their allies the necessary time to grow beyond our reach. Unfortunately, time is not on our side."
"Leave us," the High Kleeson said with finality.
Neela bowed and walked backwards for a few steps, then turned and exited the council chamber. Jarro and Ilsa were waiting for her outside.
"How did it go?" Jarro asked.
"I'm not sure," she said, walking with them.
"Did they reject the premise?" Ilsa asked.
"Did they argue the lack of time?" Jarro inquired.
Both of Neela's assistants exchanged glances.
"Typical procedure," Neela added, "is to study the matter in private for a minimum of two weeks. We will simply have to wait for their course of action and then do what we can to further it."
"Meanwhile the enemy grows stronger," Jarro added.
"That cannot be helped," Neela said as they exited the building and walked over to a transport pad. All three of them stood close together and transported up to their research station in orbit.
"What do you wish us to do in the interim?" Ilsa asked.
"Continue consolidating intelligence reports," Neela told her, "and once you're satisfied that we've received all pertinent data from the Tok'ra, have her terminated."
Ilsa nodded and walked off in another direction.
"I don't like this," Jarro whispered so only Neela could hear.
"Neither do I," she answered honestly. "But what choice do we have?"
"Wait, watch, and learn," Jarro repeated the old Aschen mantra.
"At which point our fate will rest entirely in our enemy's hands."
"There are too many," Jarro argued. "The Asgard have reappeared, and given the Kleeson's reluctance to relinquish Einherja we have already soiled any potential relations there. We cannot risk making new enemies that have technology superior to our own."
"There comes a time," Neela said, "when all great peoples must stand up and assert themselves over the lessers. Until now, we have held the advantage when we did so. Now, it seems, our mettle will be tested in doing so."
Jarro grabbed Neela by the arm, gently, but it was still a wildly rash action for an Aschen. "But if what the Tok'ra said is true, and these Alterra are an advanced form of Aschen, we might be the lessers in this situation."
"I suggest you keep that kind of talk to yourself," Neela warned, lightly extricating herself from his grip. "These Alterra were wiped out by a disease. How superior could they truly be? Technology alone does not indicate superiority. Our intelligence and patience will see us through."
"Even if we're forced into haste?" Jarro argued.
"While some act, others will watch and study," Neela reminded him. "They will have all the time they need to insure we are on the correct path, and if need be, to instruct us how to adjust it. Now, if you have no more objections, see to the next shipment."
"Very well," Jarros relented and walked away.
Neela let him go a few meters then headed out to the observation platform. She was alone on the large deck with a panoramic view of Tremarste. There was still a large visible chunk of the planet missing where the material had been sucked through the active stargate into a black hole, but that depression was slowly diminishing as new rock was continuously being shipped in from offworld and deposited within the wound. After enough time the pressure would build and the planet's internal heat would liquefy the material, at which time the smooth lines of the Aschen homeworld would return and they could go about fixing the missing portion of crust. As it was now, their reconstruction project was 28% complete.
At least the orbit and rotation had been stabilized enough to return to the surface. Violent temperature swings and unbelievably chaotic weather patterns had wrecked the Aschen infrastructure along with a continuous chain of earthquakes. Those had been stabilized with the core adjustment project, followed by a debris collection effort, after which the reconstruction of the primary cities had begun and the first of the planet's evacuated population was able to slowly start returning.
Logistically it would have been easier to settle a new world, but giving up on Tremarste would have been acknowledging the victory of the Earthers. The Aschen would do no such thing, and would denote as many resources and years as it would take to rebuild the planet…literally speaking.
Many of those resources were coming from recently acquired star systems, thus expediting the recovery efforts. The more worlds they laid claim to, the faster Tremarste would heal. Neela thought that appropriate, given what the galaxy had done to them. Her only regret was that they couldn't exact vengeance on Earth and carve up the planet's bedrock to repair theirs. Despite the disappointment, that battle had woken the Aschen up to the dangers within the galaxy.
Up until that point they had assumed technological superiority, or at least co-dominance with other species such as the Asgard, whom they believed held the technological bellwether within the galaxy…but the emergence, or reemergence, of the stargate builders changed all that, and Neela believed that meant the Aschen also had to change, else they be destroyed.
She looked down on the surface of their homeworld as the damaged section rotated out of view as the research/recovery station crossed over into the night side and several large cities became reassuring beacons of civilization beneath her.
She sucked in a slow, deep breath, resettling her nerves and drawing strength from the visible symbol of the Aschen's strength of will. They would find a way to succeed and bring this galaxy under their total control…they must in order to survive.
One Year Later…
"Jaffa!" Kerret shouted.
As one, the thirteen warriors opened fire on the floating orb with their staff weapons, pummeling it with golden energy. The large glowing sphere absorbed their shots into its blue shields and returned fire with a solid blue beam.
The Jaffa next to Kerret was impaled through the heart, the beam clearly visible as it exited through his lower back and bored a hole into the moist dirt beneath their feet. The white orb rotated slightly, then fired on a second Jaffa, killing him with equally lethal precision before its shields began to buckle. A wave of ripples spread over the sphere before it finally gave way and the remaining staff blasts blew small craters into its surface. It took more than thirty additional shots, but eventually the cursed creation went down.
Kerret carefully walked toward the device, keeping his staff lowered and primed to fire. He looked over the smoldering wreck and touched it with the tip of his weapon. When nothing happened he raised his staff beside him and angrily kicked the dead Aschen anti-personnel drone.
"Listen!" another Jaffa insisted. All dropped quiet as a high pitched, oscillating whine began to grow louder…another of the weapons was nearing them.
"Retreat!" Kerret yelled as he turned and ran back towards the city of Mullser. "We must get to the rings!"
The remaining Jaffa followed him without complaint. Ever since the enemy had emerged through the stargate half an hour before, their defense forces had been on the run as the devices systematically killed all the inhabitants of Renesset that they came across. Women, children, the elderly…no Jaffa was spared.
A warning had been relayed to the neighboring cities, and Kerret and his warriors had heeded the call to arms, only to find death and destruction before them. Out of his original 50 warriors, he was down to eleven counting himself. Any hope of defeating this enemy on the ground was gone…and as of yet they had not received any Death Glider aerial support, which worried him even more.
Renesset was one of several strongholds of the gradually diminishing Jaffa Nation, and as such was protected by a pair of Ha'tak in orbit. They only way they could reach the ships was by using the rings in one of the cities, and right now Degrada was overrun with the alien devices.
Kerret had heard of other worlds falling to an unfamiliar foe just days ago, but he had not counted on an enemy as formidable and cowardly as this. The swine didn't have the nerve to even show their face!
Behind them not one, but two of the orbs appeared as the Jaffa cleared the woods and entered the edge of the city. A guard turret at the entrance rose out of the ground and fired on the nearest of the two. Its larger version of the staff weapon blasted the enemy target with a shot the size of Kerret's head, but the orb's shields held. The turret's gunner continued firing as the orb rotated and took aim…but the Aschen shields collapsed and the orb exploded before it could return fire.
The turret tracked the second orb and Kerret slid to a stop and fired back with his staff blast. If he could distract it long enough…
But no, it connected its long, thin blue line with the turret and punctured both the weapon and gunner, then rotated its small surface grooves towards the fleeing Jaffa.
Kerret didn't wait past the destruction of the tower. He ran sideways and darted behind the nearest building then cut back and headed further into town. The probe followed him and gently rose up over the building and came bobbing back down onto the surface streets taking aim.
The Jaffa scattered amongst the inhabitants of the city as the orb went about its ruthless murder. Kerret brushed past a screaming woman as he ran at full speed towards the central square where the mutilated statue of Chronos stood alongside a hidden ring platform.
"Hurry!" he yelled as he saw two other Jaffa ahead of him.
The first one arrived at the fountain and pulled back the head of a bowing woman, revealing the ring's control console. He pressed the button sequence needed to reach orbit, but held off the last one until his fellow Jaffa stepped inside.
Four of them inside the rings, the Jaffa touched the last button and stepped in alongside them…but nothing happened.
"Try again!" Kerret demanded.
The Jaffa stepped back out of the perimeter and dialed again, this time trying to reach any ship in orbit, not just the nearest.
Again, no connection.
Kerret knew that meant either the ships had their shields raised and not calibrated to receive ring transport…or there were no ships left in orbit.
Given that they weren't receiving Death Glider support that seemed the most likely possibility.
"Gadarva!" he yelled as the sound of orb weapon's fire and the screams of more Jaffa broke into the square.
The Jaffa input the sequence of buttons to search for a specific set of rings on the surface of the planet…this time successfully.
The circular beams rose up and in a flash the city disappeared, replaced by thick forest and rock walls.
"Quickly, to the ships."
A few strides away a small crack in the rocky bluff appeared and the Jaffa disappeared inside. They ran through the narrow passage and emerged into a small, carved out hangar with several craft left unattended.
Kerret ran to one of the four Death Gliders and jumped inside while the other Jaffa did the same, with one heading toward the door controls. Within a minute they were powered up and lifting off from the deck. Kerret was the first one out and into the sky, headed back towards the battle some fifty miles away.
"Form up," he relayed to the three Gliders emerging behind him. He kept his speed moderate to allow them to catch him. "We need coordinated fire to take them down quickly."
Once they'd caught up, the foursome accelerated to maximum speed and reached the first of the seven cities within two minutes. Berelet looked to have yet to be reached by the small devices, but he noticed several blue flashed in nearby Mullser where they had just been.
Swooping low over the city to give himself cover, Kerret made a strafing run against the orb sitting in the middle of the square mowing down his fellow Jaffa one by one. He saw a few staff blasts in response just before he unleashed his Glider's cannons on the enemy.
He got two shots off before he was flashing past it and beginning his swivel turn. He hoped his fellow pilots had killed the device as he saw a blue beam rise up and puncture the wing of one of the other Gliders. It didn't drop out of the sky, but it did begin to leave a trail of smoke behind.
Kerret dropped back down, approaching the square when he noticed both the source of the attack on the Gliders as well as the slagged remains of the orb in the city square. With that threat neutralized he turned to port and fired on the second orb.
One of his fellow Gliders got to it first, and Kerret had the pleasure of finishing the device off in a satisfying spray of debris as his sensors began flashing with approaching targets from above.
"Incoming fighters!" he yelled, knowing damn well that they weren't friendlies. "Pull them away from the city!"
He took his own advice and flew out over the forest, then turned and corkscrewed up into the sky. A number of the enemy craft split off to chase him and the others, taking aim on the slower, wounded Glider first.
A single yellowish beam shot forth from the block-like fighter and killed the Glider on impact. Little was left of the craft to fall to ground…the Jaffa piloting the craft had been killed instantly, which only further fueled Kerret's rage.
He took aim and attacked the craft, ignoring how many others there were closing on his position. He fired three times into its shields, but failed to penetrate them.
Another Glider was shot down, then one of the blocks exploded amidst a blue beam from overhead. Two more quickly followed as a large ship descended above them and Kerret's communication system activated.
"This is the Earth vessel Revere. All Jaffa craft board immediately. We will evacuate as many people as we can from the surface, but this planet is lost. The enemy has a massive fleet in orbit. Either come with us and live to fight another day, or stay here to die pointlessly."
Kerret cringed at the mild rebuke in the Tau'ri's words, but given the number of contacts growing on his sensors he saw he had little choice. He turned toward the Human warship's open hangar bay as it continued to shoot down the enemy craft. He took note of them briefly lowering the shields over the bay to allow him and the other remaining Death glider to land, along with a pair of cargo ships that had emerged from somewhere within the city.
Kerret was barely inside the ship and landed before he felt the pull of acceleration as the Tau'ri broke for orbit. Their hangar bay doors were still open, and he got a glimpse of the enemy fleet in space above the atmosphere…
Their tiny ships nearly blocked the view of the sun and stars, there were so many of them filling a long band across the sky…then the blackness of space and the white specs of the enemy ships disappeared into the blue of hyperspace. Beside his Death Glider a Human raised an orange ladder up to the cockpit.
Kerret grunted and keyed for exit, lowering both himself and the chair portion of his cockpit out from beneath the ship, bound by a cradle-like apparatus. He stepped out and looked up at the bewildered Human.
"Right," the man said, pulling the ladder back.
"I would speak with your Captain, Human," Kerret said stiffly.
"I'm sure that can be arranged," the tech said hesitantly. "Right now we're supposed to gather you all together and take a head count."
Kerret nodded and said nothing further. He followed the man towards a side door, where another Human escorted him into an interior room where Jaffa from the city were packed together, elbow to elbow. He was told to wait here and did so without complaint as he began searching through the crowd for familiar faces…and found several.
"Irras," he said in greeting, nudging his way through the crowd.
"Kerret," the elder Jaffa offered, bowing slightly. "I am glad you survived. We have lost so many this day."
"Indeed. Do you know who this enemy is that strikes us without showing his face?"
"I do not," Irras admitted, "but I know we are not alone. Many worlds have fallen. The council was receiving intelligence reports of three more Jaffa worlds under attack just as the Chappa'ai activated."
"They coordinated the surface attack to coincide with the arrival of their ships?"
"It seems so. They took us completely by surprise."
"Destroyed within minutes," he said, shaking his head as another Human entered the room along with two more Jaffa women.
"Listen up!" the man said loudly. "I know this isn't the best time, but we have reports of simultaneous attacks across more than a dozen worlds, including two of our own. Any information you can provide on the enemy would be helpful, especially those Kenobi remotes that came through the stargate. Any of you that feel like talking, there's a man down the hallway that wants to hear every detail of the attack. Even something small may be of value."
"Human!" Kerret responded before any of the others could. He began walking through the crowd back towards the door. "Where are you taking us?"
"Not sure yet, we're just getting some distance between us and the bad guys. We can drop you off on a planet with a stargate later and we can go our separate ways."
"Do you know who this enemy is?" Kerret asked forcefully.
Mitchell nodded. "Yep. I'm afraid I do. They tried to destroy Earth three years ago. They're called the Aschen, and they're one mean bunch of paper pushers."
"Speak plainly, Human! I am in no mood for your antics!"
Mitchell walked up to Kerret and looked the Jaffa in the eye. "What I meant was, they're physically weak, cowardly, reportedly boring…and in possession of some very advanced technology."
Kerret raised his chin. "They do not even have the courage to face us in combat."
"Nope, but they still get the job done…no offense."
"How are you here?"
"We were in the area, picked up your distress call. One of our mining sites was hit two days ago, not far from here. Probably the same fleet."
"You lost your world?" Kerret asked.
"Yeah," Mitchell said sheepishly. "Lost a lot of good people down there."
"As have we," Kerret acknowledged. "I will tell you of the battle if you will take us to Dakara."
"Looking to hook up with Bra'tac?"
"If he truly has access to Ancient technology, his forces may be the only ones capable of opposing these Aasheen."
"Aschen," Mitchell corrected him. "We can arrange something…I assume you want to keep your ships."
"They are of little use to us now," Kerret argued. "Get us to Dakara as soon as possible. If I know Bra'tac he will respond to this attack swiftly. I intend to join in the battle."
"No hesitation," Mitchell commented. "I like that. Go with the Major and tell him everything you can about the attack. I'll send a message to Dakara while I have the Captain find the nearest stargate."
"You are not the Captain?"
"No, I'm the General. General Cam Mitchell, second in command to General Carter," he said, extending his hand.
Kerret looked down at it, and Mitchell finally put it down. "Ok then. On to business," he said, heading back to the bridge.
"All yours," he whispered to the Major as he passed him in the hallway.
Above the orange skies of Deortas as mass of Aschen Elementals spread out in a wide sphere that engulfed three orbital stations, each the size of a small moon, yet stretched out into fat needle-like shapes. The defense stations orbited above the solitary ocean on the planet's surface, home to a vast underwater civilization, and were the first targets of the invasion force numbering in excess of 5,000 elementals.
The defense stations's clear shields rippled from multiple weapon impacts…like the sting of a thousand ants, but no response was evident. After a long minute of ineffective assaults, the elementals linked fire and attacked specific points in the shields to overwhelm a tiny portion of the defensive matrix. Soon small, temporary gaps were created, allowing a portion of the Aschen energy beams to pass through and damage the exterior of the massive stations…yet still there was no return fire.
"Puzzling," Orotoss said almost disinterestedly. "Our scans indicate the presence of defensive weaponry."
The second in command of the Aschen control ship squinted at the control console's readings. "Minimal only. There would be little point in firing back, given the numbers are heavily in our favor."
Orotoss glanced at Armud. "What kind of a defense station doesn't defend against assault?"
The junior officer shrugged. "Perhaps that is not their true function. Our intelligence reports were less than thorough. There is a great deal about the internal structure that has yet to be ascertained. They could be habitats for all we know."
"And yet they stand in triangular defense position above the surface settlements," Orotoss argued patronizingly.
"We will discover their function, no doubt, when we survey the debris," Armud said with mock finality. His lack of field experience was of continual amusement to Orotoss, thus he let his counterpart entertain certain…delusions about his position within Aschen society.
"Our first priority after we secure the planet," Orotoss reminded him, "is to open the crust to the deep mineral deposits so that the collectors can begin their work with the minimum delay. Our materiel reserves run low, and we must maintain a steady supply of elementals if we are to win this war."
"Of course," Armud deferred as he watched as a large explosion on the surface of one of the defense stations coincided with the fall of its shields.
A small tone caught Orotoss's attention as a new schematic was superimposed over the holographic display of all three stations.
Armud frowned. He didn't recognize the protocol. "What is it?"
"It appears to be the activation of internal components of all three stations simultaneously," the Aschen field commander stated as he calmly studied the sensor readings. "They are powering up."
"I thought they already were powered up," Armud said, curious but not concerned. "What are they powering?"
"I do not know," Orotoss said, more concerned than his counterpart. "The computer can't identify the technology."
Armud grunted softly. Information was vital to the Aschen way of life. Unknown variables were therefore…unseemly.
More weapons fire from the elementals continued to damage the long needle-like stations, but they were so massive it would take hours to fully destroy them.
A halo around each station formed on the holographic display, with the Aschen text translation "Distortion Forming" tagging the anomalies.
In space, large wispy energy bands became visible around the central bulge in the needle stations and began to grow in size. Soon they leapt out and connected the three stations together with long, thin filaments forming a perfect triangle. One of the elementals flew into the wisps and was pulverized on impact. The battle computer onboard the Aschen command ship instantly recognized the danger and tagged the energy bands as 'no fly' zones for the elemental swarm that was continuing to chew into the command stations, chunk by exploding chunk.
The wisps continued to grow in volume and intensity. Soon the bands connecting the stations glowed a fiery aqua color that was clearly visible from the planet below. Simultaneously, thin defense shields appeared above the roughly circular ocean, ending several miles beyond the shore where they touched down on the desert sands that covered the other 3/4ths of the planet.
Orotoss's demeanor hadn't visibly changed, but internally he was no longer confident in the battle's outcome. Whatever was happening below them was beyond his, and more importantly, the computer's ability to identify. What he did know was that all three defense shields were down, and his elementals were continuing to damage the structures. This suggested patience, and allowing time to work in their advantage, which was why Orotoss did not order a retreat. Neither he nor the other Aschen had ever encountered this type of technology before…which, to be fair, wasn't saying much, given the Aschen's conservative and withdrawn nature. Their knowledge of the galaxy was limited to a very small, very isolated corner of it up to a handful of years ago…and they were about to get a lesson in galactic warfare that their arrogantly wielded technological advantage had not previously afforded them.
DON'T POKE THE TIGER
A full 27 minutes after the initial attack began, the blinding triangular halo of light connecting the three orbital stations released and expanded outward like an ocean wave. Three such waves extended from the stations, passing around and sparing each other, but destroying on contact anything and everything else that stood in their way. Soon the tri-lobed expanding distortion pushed through the elemental swarms, through the atmosphere, and impacted the surface of the planet, washing over it and the limited number of ground forces the Aschen had landed on the far side of the planet. The wave covered the entire planet within minutes and continued to spread outward.
The planet was completely obscured from view as the distant Aschen command ship jumped back into hyperspace before it too was destroyed. The invasion of the Oannes' homeworld was to be one of the few defeats the Aschen would suffer during their first year of aggressive expansion, which the Jaffa came to call the Tel'nour Le'ma. This, as in all things, the Aschen would learn from…
The United States' one and only 5-star General looked up as footsteps sounded outside her office. "Please tell me you have some good news?"
"Sorry, Sam," Mitchell said as he slumped down in the plush chair on the other side of her long, rectangular desk. The adjustable chair still held his settings, so he sat down and it absorbed his weight perfectly, keeping him upright as he reached out and touched an icon on the top of her desk.
The touch screen altered into a map of the Tau'ri holdings, expanding in a large ellipse centered on Earth and extending outward from the center of the galaxy. On the coreward side, a number of Jaffa worlds had blocked expansion, limiting the radius of Earth's power in that direction, but the more backwater outer rim star systems had offered less obstructions. Thus most of Earth's controlled territory ebbed outward, leaving a sufficiently thick 'buffer zone' around Earth, but saw most of the fledgling infrastructure placed rimward, including Carter's base of operations far out on the rim, now the most heavily populated Tau'ri colony known affectionately as Springfield…but to most space-faring Earthers it was also referred to as Earth 2 and served as the stronghold that anchored the more distant colonies at the far end of the trade routes branching out amongst Earth's territory…routes that had to be monitored and protected, not only against Aschen raids, but from pirates, rogue Jaffa, and a host of other concerns from a vast and diverse galaxy of threats. Setting up an interstellar empire was not without its challenges.
"The Russians lost PVR-327," Mitchell said, highlighting the small red dot on the map. With a few quick taps the Russian red switched over to Aschen blue.
"Damn it!" Carter said, thumping her fist down on the desktop…where there were no icons to be pressed. "We told them this was coming…"
"Every country for themselves," Mitchell repeated the growing sentiments within Earth politics. Aside from a mutual dedication to protecting the homeworld, the various nations treated their interstellar territories with a completely greedy and almost Goa'uld-like lust for power and possessions. Fortunately, this meant that for every system lost to the Aschen, four more were being colonized to replace them. Thus the race was on for resources in a 'land grab' unseen since Columbus reported back that he'd found a quick route to India.
Mitchell would have laughed at that blunder…had not Earth been keeping the secret of all things extra-terra from the masses. The planet was at war, but that fact was being kept from the planet. How deliciously ironic. So much so it almost made him sick…but such things weren't up to him, and Cam actually preferred being away from Earth. He and Sam were essentially in charge of their own Empire out here, on behalf of the United States, and far away from the bull shit that flowed like the sweat in a college dormitory back home. They didn't have to play games out here…they couldn't afford to, and Vice President Kerry knew it…fortunately.
Carter shook her head. "Any word from the Chinese?"
"Not that I've heard," Mitchell said, adjusting the map. "They're still ignoring us. We don't even know how many worlds they've lost."
"Or acquired," Carter added.
Sam frowned. "What have you got?"
"Remember that memo you sent a while back on resource collecting?"
"I send a lot of memos these days, Cam…"
"Well, when we were on our last patrol, the Revere picked up some interesting readings on P3X-998. Might be a source of neutronium. Think you need to send a proper survey team.
"Why didn't you pull a survey when you were there?"
"Picked up a Jaffa distress signal…again."
Cam shook his head. "Not this time."
Sam blew out a long breath.
"We're not exactly winning, are we?" Cam asked.
"Not yet," Sam said, not giving up. "I just don't know why they're not hitting us harder."
"I'm sure they'll get around to it eventually," Cam said, leaning back in his oversized chair.
"We've about got the Washington spaceworthy, but we had to pull a lot of equipment from other projects. The shipyard being one of them."
"How is it that we can build ships without a shipyard anyway?"
"Spit and duct tape, mostly."
Cam laughed once. "Whatever works. Who's getting her?"
"Well, we could certainly use another ship on patrol. We're spread out too much as it is anyway."
"I know," Sam said, leaning back in her chair too. "I know…"
"You hear back from the Asgard?"
Cam frowned. "No help, huh?"
"Aside from protecting their protected planets, they're too busy to get involved in a major campaign against the Aschen."
"Busy with what?"
"They wouldn't say," Sam mumbled.
"We've run plum out of allies, haven't we?" Cam asked.
Sam laughed in spite of herself. "Certainly feels that way…"
"Well…guess we're going to have to pull up our own britches for once and get to work," Cam said, trying to be funny. "Looks like it's going to be good old human ingenuity that's going to save the planet this time around."
Sam raised her eyebrow. "And it wasn't the first 10 times?"
"No slight against old school SG-1, but I don't recall a time where there wasn't some level of 'help' involved from our allies."
"Come to think of it, you're right," Sam said, thinking back. O'Neill flashed to mind and she quickly regretted the indulgence. "Looks like we're really on our own in this one…times two if you count the present situation on Earth."
"Well, it was Americans that saved the planet in WW1 and WW2…why not go for the trifecta?"
"Like we have a choice?" Sam joked, then shook her head. "We've really got our work cut out for us this time."
Cam frowned. "Am I detecting a hint of quitter talk?"
Sam looked mock surprised. "From me? Never…"
"We'll find a way," Cam said, more serious.
"We don't have the resources," Sam reminded him.
"I know…" he said, then
Jonas Quinn sat in his office at the Langaran ministry of unity…a sham of an organization put together in the wake of the Ori withdrawal back to their own galaxy. With most of the planet's infrastructure in disrepair from the initial Ori invasion, and the subsequent lack of Ori supplies and repair units that had begun reshaping the planet according to their designs…what was left of Kelowna, Terrania, and the Andari Federation resembled a junk yard. A few key buildings had been refurbished by the Ori occupation, but the planet's industrial and agricultural powerbase lay wasted. Many people had starved to death during the first 6 months after the Ori withdrawal…and that number would have been considerably higher if the invasion hadn't reduced the population of the planet by 2/3rds. They had fought hard and futilely against the Ori, and without their advanced, nearly magical technology the planet and its remaining inhabitants had been reduced to a daily struggle for self sufficiency.
With the old grudges overridden by the plight of the entire planet, and most of the most ardent holdouts to planetary unification having died during the invasion, the few remaining leaders left in the wake of the Ori's departure had hastily put together a 'global governmental task force' to begin to return the planet to its previous prosperity. Jonas had been unanimously picked to head the organization…which was underfunded, undermanned, and little more than a publicity stunt to instill some measure of order amongst the populace before barbarism and hopelessness gripped the people and destroyed what shreds of civilization remained.
Despite the ludicrous position he had been given, Jonas took the challenge upon himself to make the sham a reality, and used what pathetic resources he was given to start recovering the lost technology that would be necessary to revive the planet's infrastructure. With strict rationing amongst the population, his lunch plate was actually a banquet by current Langaran standards. Two pieces of bread, some vegetables, and a pittance of meat. Most people in the city, or what remained of Kelowna's former capitol, were existing off of communal pots of stew, with what little food they had being stretched to fill as many mouths as possible.
Jonas picked up a small notebook from the shelf behind his desk. He pulled out a pencil and began to tally the morning's results. Two electrical generators had been recovered from the industrial district…both damaged and currently inoperative. A shipment of 7 bags of Iloria beans had been procured from trade with the planet P4S-237 for skilled labor to help dig out a new water well, and had been split between the communal food stores and Jonas's indoor agricultural project that would, if successful, yield crops year round. He had based it off the hydroponic technology he'd studied back on Earth, and so far it was producing a steady, yet small supply of grains and vegetables. Finding structures to house the equipment…and finding/creating the equipment necessary had been and was continuing to be one of his major headaches, but at least he knew his 9 person staff wouldn't starve to death. He couldn't say the same for the rest of the people in the city.
Some chemical supplies had also been salvaged from the city's northern district. Excavation of the ministry of science was ongoing, and was yielding a few essential supplies…as well as radiological, biological, and chemical hazards. Cleanup wasn't possible at the time, so they had to resort to protected search parties searching through the rubble and the lower levels that had escaped total destruction. One container of Goa'uld artifacts had been reclaimed as well, including a hand-held healing device. He hoped that given enough time Kianna might be able to use the device to assist with what was passing for their local hospital these days. He knew she should possess the latent ability to use Goa'uld technology after being host to a symbiot…but he also knew it took a great deal of skill to utilize the device and at best would take weeks if not months of practice to master…but it was something to put in the positive category today.
The list of negatives was much longer. Failed projects, tainted supplies, casualty lists, and a reneged deal with a trading partner offworld who failed to deliver the correct quantities of Benzite…he'd been lacing the compound with fillers, and when confronted with that fact he'd disappeared without sending the final shipment. That'd set Jonas's Gamma 7 project back by months…and he had no idea where he would find another supplier…
He was about halfway through the morning's tally when an explosion rattled the building he was in, kicking up dust from the ceiling cracks that rained down in little waterfalls.
"What the…" Jonas mumbled, standing up as another large explosion shook his balance. He ran over to the window and looked out at the ruins of the city as one of the few intact buildings off to the west was hit by some type of projectile from the sky. The building disintegrated on impact and the concussion wave rocked Jonas back on his heels.
"Not good," he said to himself as he headed for the stairway. He plodded down the wooden planks until he came to the bottom floor three flights below…
"Kianna?" he yelled.
"I have no idea, Jonas."
"Baker?" Jonas asked.
"Nothing…" his primary aide said, cursing under his breath. "Communications are gone."
"There has to be some…." Jonas began saying, then stopped as muffled screams were heard outside.
"I don't like this…" Kianna said ominously.
Jonas looked around, his eyes darting this way and that…then he snapped into action, grabbing a small satchel in his right hand and Kianna with his left. "Let's go."
"Go where?" Baker demanded.
"To the stargate," he said, already half out the door. Outside the screams were more audible, and were rising in volume…along with a decidedly unwelcome sound of weapons fire.
"Jonas," Kianna said, pulling him to a stop. "What are you…"
"We can't handle…whatever this is," he said, exasperated. "I watched too many good people die fighting the Ori hopelessly…not again. Let's go."
He pulled her by the arm and Baker followed a step behind as they jogged through the streets, unsure of what was going on. They made it through two city blocks before a long thin blue beam cut across the street in front of them and impaled the wall to the right. More screams came from the direction the beam originated from around the corner.
"Back…" Jonas warned as they turned around and backtracked.
Not soon after a floating orb moved around the corner and into view on their street. After a moment's hesitation to reorient itself, it shot out its thin cutting beam directly into the back of Baker's torso and exited through his chest, traveling several meters ahead of the trio before it impacted the ground.
Kianna screamed and Jonas's face went white with horror. Pulling Kianna by the arm they sprinted and rounded the corner onto a side street, temporarily out of the line of fire.
"Jo…nas," Kianna said, scared and out of breath.
"Don't stop," he yelled, pulling on her ever more so as his mind raced. He spotted several familiar buildings, noted which of them had their doors open, mentally reviewing the options that cover afforded…if these things had sensor packages then nowhere might be safe to hide…
"Here!" he said, sliding to a stop as Kianna ran into the back of him, almost knocking both of them down. Jonas pulled her inside an open doorway into the bottom half of what used to be a textile factory. His mind focused on the floor plans and he darted off down a side hallway, around two chicanes, and down a ratty flight of stone stairs, half of which were broken.
Kianna didn't say a word, but was panting heavily and quickly behind him when they ran inside a pitch black room. Jonas closed the door behind them and all light was gone. She heard the clank of a barricade lock falling over the door. "Jonas…"
A small handheld light illuminated his face and torso as he closed the lid on his satchel. "This room has the heaviest shielding in the city…hopefully they can't track us here," he said, poking around the room.
"No…we're running," he said as he pulled open a closet and started throwing out the contents.
"What are you doing?" Kianna asked, still panic stricken.
"The city was built with a number of interconnecting tunnels between random buildings, unknown to the general public, to be used in times of invasion to move troops around beneath and behind enemy lines. And this…" he said, pulling up a concealed handle in the corner of the closet, "is one of them."
The back panel slid up revealing a ladder going down a narrow shaft.
Kianna quickly heeded Jonas's hand signal to move inside. He handed her the light and pulled the closet door closed behind them, then nodded.
She pulled the light down by her feet then gingerly started stepping down the metal ladder rungs. Jonas followed just above her.
After several dozen meters she stepped into a shallow puddle of water and moved clear to let Jonas down. The light didn't travel far, but it was clear that they were in some kind of large tunnel, the width of one of their street cars. The puddle they were standing in rippled with another impact tremor.
"Where now?" Kianna asked, her calm barely returning, but Jonas could tell that she had kept her wits about her.
Jonas pointed off to the right. "This way…"
Jonas's head popped up out of a hole in the floor of a small, dark room. He looked around silently, with only a small slit of light coming in beneath the exiting door. The floor tile that he'd lifted off the concealed shaft lay to the right, partially covering the opening. Jonas twisted his head around like a periscope and saw that the rest of the room was clear.
His head ducked down and one of his hands came back up and shoved the tile the rest of the way off the shaft, then pulled his torso up and over the edge. He got his knees on the hard tile floor and reached back to help Kianna up.
She grabbed his hand and let herself be pulled up out of the cramped tunnel, killing the handheld light as she came. Jonas put a hand on her shoulder…his way of silently telling her to stay put.
Kianna took a step back while Jonas crossed in front of the narrow band of light coming from the door crack. She heard his slowly pull the door latch around and cringed when the hinges on the door squeaked. Jonas stopped moving entirely, and waited…
Jonas pulled the door open a crack, with another loud squeak and a bright ray of light coming into the room…which they could now see was a kitchen pantry. Kianna, thinking on her feet, grabbed some of the packaged foodstuffs and slipped them into Jonas's satchel that she now carried. Why the room's contents hadn't been gathered already she didn't know, but she wasn't about to pass them over. It'd already been four hours since the attack began, and it's not like their stomachs had been full to begin with.
"Kianna," Jonas's voice said as he pulled the door open all the way, squeaking loudly.
"What is it?" she whispered.
"We're in the wrong place…this is the damaged section of the Ministry of War."
"Well that explains the food at least…" she noted as she walked out into a half collapsed kitchen. Two of the three exits were blocked, with the third having it's doorframe twisted and the swivel door ejected onto the floor nearby. "Did we take a wrong turn?"
"No…"Jonas said, his mind wandering. "The plans we were given must have been inaccurate."
"What now?" Kianna asked, her trust in Jonas evident in her voice.
"The stargate is in this building…but this half is blocked off by damage," he said, walking over the fallen door and looking around outside the kitchen.
More random rays of light punctured the ceiling of the cross hallway that the kitchen opened into…the same mottled illumination that was coming from the kitchen's structure. The upper two levels had to have been pulverized in order to let that much light in…no windows were present in the building, for security reasons, and no electrical power remained in this section of the city.
"Wait a minute," Jonas said, sensing something was odd. He walked down the hallway to the left and stopped just shy of a large pile of debris that had completely blocked off the corridor. On the right was a door, intact, with a much brighter ray of light coming from the typical crack at the bottom of the door.
Jonas tested the handle, and to his surprise it was fully functional. He slowly pulled the door open, pushing aside some floor debris…
Daylight shown down into his face from a huge, sky-visible opening above. Debris was strewn everywhere, and Jonas couldn't walk but a few steps out into what looked for all the world like an impact crater.
"This building must have been hit too," Kianna suggested.
"I think you're right," Jonas commented as he spotted an access hallway on the far side. He pointed. "That's where we have to go."
They began climbing over debris, constantly on the lookout for more of the killer orbs, but for the moment they were in the center of the building, at the bottom of a giant 'bowl' with no access to the outside streets. Jonas had a feeling, however, that this crater had been one or more of the orbs landing sites, and was pretty sure they could just float up and over the rim of the crater at any time…which meant they had to hurry.
Eight minutes later they made it to the other side, with a dozen new scrapes as souvenirs. Jonas wedged himself through a partially collapsed doorway into a more intact corridor. He helped Kianna through then they both walked out into the intact portion of the Ministry of War. They moved slowly, being as silent as they could…but part of the caution was also fatigue. They were both exhausted, with adrenaline the only thing keeping them going.
Jonas held up a hand, signaling for them to stop and be silent. A few seconds later Kianna heard a faint hum and a tiny floating ball emerged from a side hallway and spotted them. All of a sudden she felt herself being dragged forward by Jonas's iron grip and she willed her feet to follow. They ran through the corridors, dodging the odd piece of debris, until they came to the main foyer where the stargate had been relocated after the Ori invasion to keep it secure from the panicked public in the wake of their withdrawal.
They ran into the foyer and found the stargate sitting quietly, beautifully silent in the center of the room. A large set of open doors in front of the gate lead to the city streets, but for the moment there were no signs of activity nearby.
Jonas ran to the DHD and dialed the first friendly address that came to mind…a small desert planet with a trading outpost that they did business with on a regular basis. His hands whirled around the ancient device, touching the large key plates in the correct order, then he smashed his palm down on the activation sphere.
The stargate sprang to life, the event horizon formed behind the disruptive vortex that filled nearly half the room and glowed with a quiet blue hue and the promise of freedom.
"Go!" Jonas yelled. Kianna was closer and had hesitated, waiting for Jonas. She nodded and turned, running up the small steps and disappeared into the glowing puddle with Jonas a few seconds behind her. He was nearly there when a large whoosh sounded and he found himself frozen in place, mere inches from the fluctuating event horizon. He was held there, unable to move, until the stargate deactivated before him and his heart sank, knowing he was about to die. At least Kianna had made it out…
The bonds holding him released and he nearly fell to the ground. He turned around to see the shape of a large killer orb at the street entrance, filling the entryway. Why it wasn't firing at him finally registered to Jonas and his despair lifted slightly.
A hologram of a human formed crudely at the base of the orb then resolved into picture perfect clarity.
"Jonas Quinn, I believe," the man's image said in a patronizingly dispassionate tone.
Jonas took an uneasy step forward. "Yes…"
"Please step onto the transport pad," the Aschen said evenly as the under-section of the orb transformed and a small extension reached down and forward, unfurling into a flat platform inches above the floor. "You and I have a great deal to discuss…"
The recently elected President Kerry walked up the aisle on the floor of Congress, accepting handshakes, good will, and other meaningless platitudes typical of the annual State of the Union address. He passed through the lines of onlookers and eventually made his way to the podium, with the new Vice President and returning Speaker of the House standing above and behind him on a slightly raised bench. Kerry cleared his throat calmly…he needed to keep his demeanor positive and in control.
"My fellow Americans," he began. "Once every year, the President is ordered by a stipulation within the Constitution to give a status report to Congress on the condition of our nation and our nation's affairs. Adhering to this protocol, I stand before you now to tell you that the state of the union…is in jeopardy."
A few hushed words were all that answered his statement. This was not the typical, "everything is good and well" speech. Quizzical looks crossed between several onlookers who had no clue what this was about. Kerry wasn't using the prepared and leaked speech that the press was expecting.
"Though it is unknown to the public and most of our government, the lives of every single American are currently at stake in a conflict beyond your knowledge. Indeed, perhaps beyond your belief as well. The United States is currently at war with a people called the Aschen…a people that are not of this planet."
More hubbub sounded, but it was still suppressed. Most wondered what sort of metaphor this was…no one in the chamber took the President at his word, save for those already in on the secret.
"A number of years ago, an alien transportation device was discovered on Earth, and granted us access to other planets without having to rely on conventional space travel. One would literally walk through a large ring-like device, called a stargate, and be transported in a matter of seconds to any of a thousand worlds across this galaxy. We used the stargate to explore and chart these new worlds…and to make contact with the descendants of our ancestors, transported off of Earth as slaves by an alien race known as the Goa'uld. Yes, I did indeed say alien race. We've met many, befriended some, and made enemies of others. The Aschen are Human, but they are decidedly committed to our destruction. In 2012 they attacked Earth with a bioweapon, the results of which were seen on several continents. They attempted to follow up this cowardly attack with an invasion, which we and our generous allies managed to thwart. Since that day, they have not attacked Earth again…but are currently engaged in a massive campaign across the galaxy, seizing hundreds of worlds, some of which were formerly in our possession."
Several laughs from the gallery stopped Kerry and he held up a patient hand. "Forgive me, I know this is a lot to take in, but we have no time. We are losing the war, and if we do not commit our full resources soon, Earth may come under attack yet again. The full story of the history of the Stargate Program and our interactions with the Aschen, Jaffa, Asgard and other peoples among the stars are being released at the conclusion of this speech, but to discuss the current threat in more detail I give you General Carter, Supreme Commander of our spaceborn forces and one of, if not the most, experienced people on this planet with offworld affairs.
Kerry stepped to the side and a white light shown behind the podium as Sam beamed down onto the Congressional chamber.
This time the assembled onlookers either went half crazy or were stunned into complete silence. Sam stood there and let them go through their antics while the ones in the know tried to calm everyone down. After a few moments she had the floor.
"My name is Samantha Carter, Commanding General of all American assets currently offworld. Those assets are few, considering the great lengths we have gone to keep you unaware of the current state of affairs. Many will argue the wisdom in that decision, but at this point it no longer matters. This planet has escaped ruin on multiple occasions, the most recent of which the President just mentioned. We, the United States, along with many other nations are currently fighting a war against a technologically advanced enemy known as the Aschen. They utilize a mechanized fleet and ground forces in battle, preferring not to fight themselves. Physically they are timid, peaceful, harmless…but as a civilization they are ruthless and intend to bend the galaxy to their will. Those they cannot conquer through peaceable means, they overrun by force. To date, 1,374 Americans have been killed in offworld combat by the Aschen. We believe the total number of deaths to be upward of 7,000 for all Earth personnel. Not a single Aschen has died…only their machines, which are considerably more advanced than the forces we have here on Earth. We do have technology capable of standing up against the Aschen, most of which we've acquired from offworld allies, some of which is even more powerful than the enemy wields…but given that we had to hide all knowledge of it from the public, we haven't been able to field a large defensive force."
"We currently possess 4 warships, one of which is barely operational, so new that the paint literally hasn't dried in all the corridors. The enemy has been seen to field an equivalent force of 12,000 warships in total, spread out in a massive campaign to seize worlds. We cannot safeguard Earth with so few ships…and we only survived the last attack because of the intervention of some very powerful allies…allies that are keeping the bulk of the Aschen fleet busy, else we would have already been overrun. These allies are known as the Jaffa, a proud warrior race of altered Humans. We cannot rely on them to protect us again…even now they are losing worlds to the enemy by the dozens. At present, the United States possesses 56 worlds…most of which have a population of 10 or so personnel. They are primitive and undeveloped, for the most part…we've already lost 13 to the Aschen, and the numbers are even larger for our counterparts. Russia, China, France, and the other nations with planetary possessions are also being hit hard, though to what extend we can't be sure, given that there is no unity amongst us…save for a desire to protect Earth. But I can assure you that the losses are significant, even though we face only a small portion of the Aschen forces."
"I stand here tonight, to call upon any and all volunteers to join our ranks and fight back against this enemy out there," Sam said, pointing up at the ceiling, "before they come here, on our doorstep," she finished, pointing at the floor. "We need personnel, we need supplies, we need everything including the kitchen sink for us to throw at the enemy. I'm not only calling upon individual citizens, but corporations, businesses, and organizations to voluntarily offer up any and all support. There will NOT be any conscription, or raised taxes, or any other shady measures to drum up resources. We are asking for your help to defend the planet. The government is currently shifting all available assets towards our offworld bases, over which I am in command…but it won't be enough. We need all available help we can muster…and that includes the other nations and people of Earth. I am asking you as a Tau'ri…that's what we're called by offworlders….I'm asking you to join with us, support us, in this fight. If we lose this war, we lose the planet. And that last time the Aschen attacked, they did so with a bioweapon capable of wiping out every living being on Earth. They mean to annihilate us, not conquer us. If we lose, it's all over…our history, our future, our ambitions, family, and friends. We have to win this war…and to do that we need to band together and fight tooth and nail with every asset we possess."
"The Washington is currently in orbit, picking up a load of supplies. It is due to finish within minutes, then I must return to the front. As of now, we are opening up all recruiting stations to what is being called the Earth Defense Forces, or EDF for short. Sorry about the name, we'll come up with something better later. Right now we need to get as many people into training as quickly as we can. You can sign up today if you choose, but the recruitment centers also have a full library of data on the galaxy as we know it. Study up, learn what we face, and the friends we've made, before you make your decision. I hope to see many of you out there. Training will commence offworld on a planet code-named Reach. And yes, we're sticking with that name," she joked, trying to instill some sense of control amidst the doomsday speech.
Her wristbound communicator beeped…the signal that the Washington was ready to leave. Her part in the State of the Union address had been adlibbed some 15 minutes ago.
"I have to go now. The fighting continues as I speak. One last thing though…I do believe this war is winnable. Not quite sure how we're going to accomplish that, but we've faced and overcome worse before…just nothing quite on this scale. It's going to be a challenge, one that we may very well lose…I won't kid you about that. But we are not out of our league here. We have a legitimate chance to survive…and if we can survive long enough, future projects will come online that will enable us to take the fight back to the enemy. Time is crucial…else we would have broken the news in a less abrupt fashion," she turned to face Kerry. "Sir," she said, then tapped the transport disc that she was holding in her left palm. A moment later she vanished in the same awe-inspiring white blur.
Kerry retook the podium. "That woman…is a hero to this country. One that you'll learn quite a great deal about in coming days. I have complete faith in her abilities to fight and win this war…but as she said, there are no guarantees. Now…I know it's not customary for this proceeding, but then again, nothing today is going to follow custom, so…let me have your questions."
The floor erupted into chaos, but eventually it was thinned down into a line of press reporters and for the next 4 hours the President answered their questions, after which point they had to call an end to the address to deal with other matters.
The other nations of Earth were none too happy with the unilateral reveal of their mutually held secret, and they intended for there to be political hell to pay…but as Kerry and Carter had agreed earlier, what could they do to the United States that would be worse than the Aschen?
The Traveler ship came out of hyperspace in high orbit around the third planet in yet another uncharted system within the Pegasus galaxy. The Alterrans had originally charted 14 planets in the system, but only 7 had survived to present day. The Captain of the Ilssa casually brought up the orbital charts, mentally did the math and saw that the remaining planets were showing diminishing orbits and concluded that the other 7 had previously fallen into the star's gravity well and been destroyed. Additional mass at system center would have then added to the pull on the outer planets, which would explain their slow inward trek toward the star, but according to the original data, admittedly millions of years old, 12 of the 14 planets had been on slightly escalating orbits. What had caused the shift inward was a mystery that would have to be left for the ages. Captain Morinn wasn't here for a sightseeing tour…he was hunting Wraith.
Another Traveler ship had attached a locator beacon to a Wraith cruiser that had disappeared in this section of the galaxy. Apparently the suckers had managed to locate and deactivate the beacon, but the Travelers still had some idea of where to look and had assigned the Ilssa and Captain Morinn 37 systems to scout while an additional 6 Traveler ships took the remainder of the long list. In total, the galaxy-wide survey was only 6% complete, so wherever they suspected they would find Wraith, they diverted to those locations immediately.
The third planet in the system was the largest…a blue/white gas giant. Around it circled 26 moons. The Ilssa's crew began scanning and cataloging planetoid data as soon as they exited hyperspace and it took them only 13 minutes to hit paydirt.
"Captain!" one of the three bridge officers said with an eager voice. "We have surface structures on one of the moons…"
"Make that two of the moons," a female navigator said while checking a side console. "No, now make that three."
"What kind of structures?" Morinn asked, his eyes narrowing.
The first officer checked over the shoulder of the navigator and confirmed her findings, then he looked up at the Captain. "Wraith, boss."
"Any sign of ships in the area?" Morinn asked.
"None yet," the navigator reported.
The Captain chewed on his lip. "Continue scans. Let's see what we've got before we call it in."
"Now four moons…" the navigator updated.
"What's down there?" Morinn demanded.
"Not sure…too far away for a clean scan," the navigator reported. "But they're everywhere. All four moons are covered with them."
"With what exactly?" Morinn asked, his voice a mixture of curiosity and worry. "Wraith don't make a habit of building homes, they live on their ships. Are we looking at some sort of shipyard?"
"I…don't think so. They're not reading like ships," the other bridge officer said. "I'm pretty sure they're surface structures, but we'll have to make a closer pass to get more detail."
"No..." Morinn decided quickly. "We don't know what we're dealing with here, and we could easily be getting in over our head. We've confirmed a substantial Wraith presence, and that's enough. Take us on a lazy lap around the system, I want to confirm the number of planetoids with Wraith on them before we call this in. After that, we're out of here."
"Ah…" the navigator complained. "We're not gonna stick around for the fireworks this time?"