"I regret it's come to this, Colonel. To be completely honest, I've always admired you…but now you've crossed a line that I simply cannot condone," Woolsey said with a tone of finality as he and Sheppard stood in front of the gate in Atlantis's control room. An active wormhole back to Earth shimmered ominously large in front of them.
"You're breaking my heart," John said sarcastically as Ronon eyed him from afar. He knew his friend was spoiling for a fight, and subtly waved him off with a downward flick of his bound wrists.
Ronon sneered in disgust, but his movements seemed to settle down. He knew there was nothing that he could do for Sheppard, but that didn't mean he wasn't willing to go down fighting for his friend.
"If there was any way to make this more pleasant for you, I would…"
"How about I punt your dishonorable ass back through the gate instead," Sheppard countered, clearly agitated.
Woolsey stiffened. "You can rest assured that will not be happening." He purposefully turned and looked at the open gate. "Once you step through that gate I doubt you'll ever lay eyes on one again. I hope it was worth it for you." Woolsey nodded to the security guards. "Send him through."
The SFs took Sheppard by the elbow and dragged him forward.
"John!" Teyla yelled out, not knowing what else to say...or do.
Sheppard dug his heels into the ground three feet from the puddle and turned to look back at her. He gave her an unconvincing smile before he was dragged into the event horizon.
"Donnor, Davis, watch the gate," Colonel Morris barked out a few minutes after SG-14 arrived on the previously unexplored world through the stargate for the second time in three days…this time with an archeology team in tow. "Stevenson, you and me are on patrol. Take the southern ruins that we didn't get to last time, I'll take the plaza then escort the egg heads around. Report anything interesting."
"Roger that," Stevenson said, turning south through the decaying remains of an Ancient city. Though mostly made up of abandoned buildings and crumbling infrastructure, a few pieces of ancient tech had been discovered on their first trip through the gate.
Nothing groundbreaking had been found, but the fact that some tech remained suggested that the planet hadn't been scavenged by the Goa'uld or others…and that meant there might still be something worthwhile lying around.
Captain Ryan Stevenson, fresh off a stint with SG-7, had been reassigned less than a week ago after personally requesting General Landry to move him to one of the teams tasked with exploring the remaining gates on the SGC's galactic list that General O'Neill had provided them with years ago. After an hour of debate, and a check of his medical records, Landry somberly granted his request and moved him into an open slot on an exploration team that a recently pregnant Lieutenant had vacated.
After half an hour of meandering through the ruins with nothing but rubble to report, Stevenson checked in on his radio and headed back to the main structure where the stargate was located. It was one of the few worlds that the Humans had explored that had the gate indoors, which suggested to the experts back in the SGC that the planet might hold a greater significance than other Ancient sites previously discovered.
There was even some scuttlebutt back in the SGC about establishing a permanent base in the ruins. While some of the buildings seemed intact to Stevenson, they weren't what he'd call livable. Most had holes of some sort in them, and the oppressive jungle surrounding the site had managed to invade every crack and crevice that it could, creating a hybrid city/forest that would require camping equipment in order to inhabit.
But that didn't really matter to him. He and his team would be moving on to the next address on the diminishing unexplored list within a few days. He hoped they'd be able to finish off the uncharted gates in the Milky Way before he was deemed unfit for duty.
Stevenson wound his way through the western edge of the ruins that he'd spied from afar earlier. There were several statues and large columns that seemed slightly out of place from the rest of the structures. They were clearly Ancient in design, but their coloration and placement suggested they weren't part of the original architecture.
As he walked down a wide corridor and past the foot of one large female statue Stevenson jerked his P-90 up in response to movement on his flank.
He lowered the weapon when he recognized the source…a section of the pedestal had jutted out towards him.
A memory from his initial SGC training clicked and he reached for his radio. General O'Neill had encountered this technology twice during his tour on SG-1.
Stevenson's finger froze over the radio's call button as another thought struck him. He felt a flicker of hope bristle through his skin before his mind quickly dismissed the illogic of it. O'Neill had nearly died both times.
Without thinking his hand retreated from his radio. He looked down at it in wonder, realizing his instincts were disagreeing with his logic. Stevenson looked up at the partially deployed Ancient Repository of Knowledge and swallowed hard.
"I'm dead anyway," he said to himself. "Million to one is better than no odds at all."
Stevenson pulled the green cap off his head and closed his eyes. He sucked in one last breath and stepped forward.
"You've really done it this time, Sheppard," Landry said from across the table in the brig.
"Done what, exactly?" Sheppard asked innocently.
"Done what?" Landry repeated for emphasis. "Well, let's start with the obvious. Disobeying orders. I specifically ordered you and your teams not to go on any further offworld missions. The I.O.A. doesn't want us to needlessly jeopardize any more of our personnel fighting the Wraith when we know that any gains made will be for naught when we pull out of Pegasus."
"So we just turn tail and run because the Wraith are proving more resilient than the Goa'uld did?" Sheppard argued loudly.
Landry leaned his elbows over the table and looked Sheppard directly in the eye. "The original purpose of the Atlantis expedition was to recover Ancient technologies and bring them back to Earth…which is exactly what we're doing now. Fighting the Ancients' millennia old war is not why you were sent there…and despite the relationships you've established with the indigenous Humans in the Pegasus galaxy, their wellbeing is ultimately not our concern. And you, Colonel Sheppard, have no right to unilaterally inject Earth into the conflict."
Sheppard leaned forward as well. "Are you referring to recent events, or the original rescue mission that woke up the Wraith?"
"Both points could be argued, but I was referring to your recent assault on the Wraith outpost."
"They were setting up a new shipyard," Sheppard argued, "one that could grow ships that could be used to attack Earth in the future."
"The I.O.A. disagrees. It feels that without the advanced, intergalactic hyperdrive technology the Wraith will stay confined to the Pegasus galaxy the same way they have been for the past 10,000 years…and I'm forced to agree with them."
"So let me get this straight," Sheppard said quizzically. "I'm being court-martialled because I disobeyed orders and succeeded in thwarting the Wraith's attempt to build more ships that could be used to attack Atlantis during the pullout? I thought that sort of thing usually led to a commendation, or at least an informal pat on the back."
Landry shook his head. "It doesn't matter how it turned out, Colonel. You're a loose cannon and the I.O.A. has had it with your independent streak…as have I. Don't think that I haven't noticed certain supplies that have been mysteriously expended at a rate far faster than previous logistical reports."
"Oh…I see you didn't realize that. You thought you were real clever, ordering ammo, and weapons, and medical supplies through channels and then slipping them out of Atlantis's inventory in small numbers that wouldn't raise any suspicion."
"One good thing I'll say about Woolsey is that he's efficient," Landry continued. "He's the one that spotted the questionable figures. Don't care much for the man myself, but you've gotta respect that kind of obsessive scrutiny when it leads to the capture of a thief."
That brought Sheppard's ire up. "I'm no thief!"
"Oh no?" Landry said, standing up suddenly. "Then who was it that cooked the books? McKay? Lorne? Or was it Teyla's idea?"
"You know…" Sheppard said, shaking his head in disgust. "I thought Earth was supposed to be the good guy. The one the galaxy…or galaxies could turn to in times of trouble. Like the way the Asgard came to our aid when the Goa'uld were set to wipe us out."
"Oh, we're still the good guys, Colonel. But sometimes the good guys have to cut their losses and look out for themselves. Even the Asgard came to the same conclusion when the Replicators were killing them off. They chose, and rightly so, to protect their own first. Fortunately it worked out for Earth and we were able to defend ourselves from the Goa'uld at that point."
"We're not under attack," Sheppard countered, "so we aren't in a position to have to make that choice. We're just leaving for…why are we leaving anyway?"
"Because, frankly, it's none of our business what happens in Pegasus. We're not going to throw away the lives of our people in a hopeless effort to defeat the Wraith."
"It's not hopeless, General. The Wraith are tough but they aren't unbeatable."
"Apparently the Ancients didn't think so, and while I'm not the kind to back down from a fight, I think we'll take their word over yours as to how dangerous the Wraith really are. By your own accounts, Atlantis has survived this far purely out of luck, with a little hard work and courage thrown into the mix. If the Wraith find Atlantis again, they'll destroy the city through sheer numbers and there's nothing that we can do to fend them off. If the Ancients couldn't beat them then what chance in hell do we have?"
"Fine," Sheppard offered. "Let's hold out long enough to evacuate the Human populations from Pegasus back into the Milky Way. The Wraith have kept their numbers low, and without a food source the Wraith will either have to find something else to eat or starve to death."
Landry held his tongue for a moment. "There at least I can sympathize. While I don't expect that we could evacuate an entire galaxy, we could at least provide refuge for some of the Humans civilizations that we've befriended. I don't like turning our backs on our allies any more than you do, Colonel, but the I.O.A. is ultimately the one in charge. And like it or not, we have to follow orders."
"Even if they're bad orders?"
"Even if they're bad ones, Colonel. You've had too much leniency in Pegasus for your own good. Being a galaxy away from command influence probably didn't help matters any. I'll be sure to bring that point up at your court-martial," Landry said as he turned to leave.
"That's it?" Sheppard asked. "You just stopped in to chat?"
"Believe it or not, Colonel, I have another disobedient soldier to deal with…or perhaps not. I doubt he'll live out the month. He's probably better off, given the circumstances."
"What happened?" Sheppard asked. "Did Ronon do something?"
"No, Colonel. He's one of mine. Seems he found an Ancient Repository and decided to use it on himself."
"What's an Ancient Repository?"
"General O'Neill refers to it as a 'head sucker'. Thing is it nearly killed him…twice. The Asgard saved his life both times, but Captain Stevenson won't have that luxury."
"Did he know it'd kill him?" Sheppard asked.
"Probably," Landry offered, "Only he knows for sure, and right now he's in a coma in sickbay. Seems he disobeyed orders and didn't report it in. His team leader found him unconscious beneath the device."
"How do you know he did it on purpose?"
"Standing up for another rogue…how touching," Landry said sarcastically. "We found his hat several meters away from the device, along with some very distinctive footprints. He didn't just walk by and it grabbed him. Apparently he took his hat off before walking straight up to it and sticking his head in. Either way I'll find out for sure when he wakes up. I've got Dr. Jackson standing by to translate."
"Translate?" Sheppard asked, confused.
"Seems the Repository rewrites your brain with Ancient knowledge. General O'Neill eventually lost the ability to speak English."
Landry opened the confinement room door. "If I were you I'd start planning your defense. Your designated council will be here in the next hour, but you're going to need as much prep time as you can get. If I weren't ticked with you I'd wish you luck, even though I know it wouldn't do you any good. You're going to be staring at the inside of a cell for most, if not all of your remaining life."
Landry shut the door behind him with a clank, leaving Sheppard sitting alone behind the spartan table with the security guard watching over him from the corner.
Sheppard turned to look over his shoulder at the female guard. "Do we get any bathroom breaks?"
"Has he said anything?" Dr. Lam asked Daniel when she returned to Stevenson's bed after taking a brief lunch.
"He woke up for about thirty seconds, complained about a headache, and passed out again."
"In English?" she asked.
"Yep," he answered, then shook his head in disbelief. "Why would he do this knowing that it was going to kill him?"
Lam looked at him quizzically. "You don't know?"
Daniel stared at her. "Know what?"
She hesitated. "I'm not exactly supposed to reveal personal information, but I guess it won't hurt in this case. You probably need to know anyway if you're going to be talking to him. He has a degenerative genetic disease. He's not expected to live more than three more years."
Daniel turned back and looked at Ryan. "I didn't know that."
"He wanted it kept a secret, and I was ethically forced to oblige as long as his illness didn't disqualify him from duty."
"How could it not?" Daniel asked.
Lam shrugged. "As long as he can handle the pain and carry out his daily tasks there's no medical reason to take him off the active duty list. His disease moves slowly, it's not like it's going to develop to a critical level during a mission. He'll slowly be subjected to more and more pain until he can't take it any longer or his superiors notice a physical inability. He said he didn't want them to know so that they wouldn't pull him off duty without reason."
"I grudgingly agreed and have waited for a medical incident to indicate he was no longer fit for duty, but so far that hasn't happened. Either his condition isn't progressing as fast as predicted or he's hiding the pain well. Either way it's a moot point. The Ancient device is going to kill him long before his disease will."
Daniel sighed. "I guess he figured he didn't have anything to lose. Maybe he'll be able to tell us something useful and make his death worth something."
"He made it clear to me he didn't want to die helpless in bed, slowly withering away," Lam confided. "At least this will be quick by comparison."
Suddenly the status monitors started wailing and Stevenson's body began to convulse. Lam reacted instantly and ordered up a cocktail of drugs. "Did this happen to O'Neill?"
"No," Daniel said confused. "His physical deterioration happened after his mental conversion."
"This isn't good," Lam said, alarmed. "His blood pressure is spiking, and his neural patterns are erratic. I don't know how long his body can take this…"
The constant tone of heart failure sounded as Stevenson's body fell still.
"Get the crash cart over here, now!" Lam yelled.
Daniel watched dejectedly as Dr. Lam worked feverishly to revive the Captain, but to no avail. Ten minutes later Lam finally gave up and deactivated the medical equipment. She morosely pulled the bed sheet up over his head and hobbled away from the dead patient.
"There was nothing you could have done," Daniel said, trying to comfort her.
"I know," she said, not happy in the least.
"We knew this would happen, we just didn't think it would be this fast."
"A patient died in my infirmary," she said icily. "I don't like that."
Daniel put a hand on her shoulder supportively. He knew there wasn't anything that he could say to make it right. Losing people was always hard.
"You really blew it this time, Sheppard," O'Neill said as he paced back and forth across the confinement room.
"With respect, sir, as much as I could use a pep talk, what I really need is an ally who can do something about these ridiculous charges," Sheppard said exasperated. The more days that passed the more he was beginning to lose his patience…and his already limited respect for authority.
Jack shook his head. "I can't get you out of this one, Sheppard. Both the President and the I.O.A. want your head. If you'd just defied the I.O.A.'s orders then maybe I could have done something, but stealing from the Air Force ticked the Commander in Chief off royally. They're going to eat you alive in the hearing tomorrow, then shuttle you off for the official beheading," O'Neill said metaphorically. "Just, tell me. Why'd you have to go and do it?"
"Because it was the right thing to do. And I'd expect you of all people to understand that, General." Sheppard said with a bit of venon in his voice. He felt like he was being betrayed by everyone he'd ever remotely respected back on Earth. He seriously wished he'd gone awol back in Pegasus when he'd had the chance.
"What good did it do?" O'Neill asked. "You've been found out and your operations stopped. Are the people of Pegasus any better off than before? The Wraith are still there and nothing you did was going to stop that. You threw your career away for nothing?"
"At least I'll have a clear conscious when I go to sleep at night. I'll know that I did everything I could to save those people," Sheppard said determinately. "Can you say the same, General?"
"Actually, I can," O'Neill countered half-heartedly. "I fought the I.O.A. on this one, Sheppard...and I fought hard. In the end it didn't change anything. Too many people see the logic in bringing back the technology we've found and destroying the Wraith's one and only route into our galaxy. They don't care about some faceless people they've never met nor ever will meet millions of light-years away…and there's nothing I can say or do that's going to change their mind."
"But you're the one that has to give the final order to destroy Atlantis," Sheppard reminded him.
O'Neill thought about saying something, then stopped and swallowed instead.
"The I.O.A. isn't doing this," Sheppard argued, "we are. They may be giving the orders but we're the ones that have to do the dirty work."
"You won't be, if that's any consolation," O'Neill pointed out.
"Whatever happened to disobeying orders when it was the right thing to do?"
"Ah, yes…the right thing to do," O'Neill said slowly, remembering back.
"I know you've been in this position before, General, and that you did the same thing as me."
"But you got caught, Sheppard!" O'Neill said, half joking, half sarcastic. "If you're going to pull a fast one you've gotta be able to get away with it. Did you really think Woolsey wouldn't notice?"
"I…didn't think about that," Sheppard admitted. "I was too busy worrying about people getting life-sucked by the Wraith to worry about the sleeping monsters among our own people."
O'Neill sighed. "I sympathize, Colonel. I really do. If it was up to me you'd be out bagging more bad guys, but the big wigs have stepped in and taken it out of my hands. And despite my best efforts to convince them to preserve Atlantis, they've decided that the remaining power in our ZPMs is too precious a commodity to waste flying the entire city back here. They'd rather strip it down to the carcass and then blow up the carcass. I'll do what I can for you at the hearing, maybe get them to go easy on the confinement request, but it doesn't look good."
O'Neill started to say something more into the silence, but thought twice about it. Neither he nor Sheppard had anything more to say so he finally, awkwardly got up to leave.
"Why is it that we shoot the bad guys on other planets," Sheppard asked, "but here on Earth they get a free pass?"
"Job security." O'Neill said deadpan as he left.
The sickbay was blissfully quiet and unoccupied while Dr. Lam wrote up the death certificate for Captain Stevenson on her computer. Suddenly one of the nurses screamed in shock.
"What is it?" Lam yelled as she darted out of her seat and around the corner…where she saw Stevenson's body convulsing again. "What the hell?" she said as she reactivated the medical sensors.
"Call the General," Lam ordered as she held down Stevenson's arm so it wouldn't knock the meds off the nearby tray. "Tell him he needs to get down here now."
Ten minutes later the General walked into the infirmary in stunned disbelief. "You said he was dead?"
"He was," Lam insisted, "for four hours. Then he just came back…I can't explain it. His vitals are stabilizing, albeit slowly. He's gone through three convulsions in the past ten minutes and each time he comes out of it a little better off than before."
"Explain," Landry demanded.
"I can't," Lam said simply.
"Will he recover?" the General asked.
"If I had to guess, I'd say yes, but I'm really not qualified to give you an answer on this one. I have no idea what's happening to him, but he seems to me to be improving…despite being dead earlier."
"Well this complicates things."
"How so?" Lam asked.
"If he lives," Landry said, stressing the 'if', "what do you think the I.O.A. is going to say about it?"
"I don't catch your meaning."
"If the Captain has the knowledge of the Ancients and lives to keep it…"
"…they'll want to turn him into their personal oracle," she finished.
"Hmmn, 'oracle' is a bit more pleasant than what I was thinking about."
Lam stared at him. "He's still an Air Force officer. They can't just treat him as a piece of property."
"I agree, but that doesn't mean they won't try. I'll have to discuss this with General O'Neill before he leaves. Maybe we can head this one off early…and there's still the matter of how this happened in the first place."
"You don't think it was an accident?" Lam asked.
"I'm guessing he did it on purpose, but anything's possible. Let me know when he's lucid…or if things take a turn for the worse."
Stevenson lay comatose in his bed, his body motionless aside from the occasional tremor. Daniel and Lam stayed with him as much as they could, waiting for a glimpse of consciousness. Days passed by with no external developments. On the inside, however, was an entirely different story.
His mind was hyper-processing a virtual reality simulation preprogrammed into the Ancient coding that had begun to rewrite his body and mind. He was living out days in a matter of minutes, facing challenge after challenge in a grueling simulation designed to test his worth.
If he failed the test he would never remember having undergone it. He would wake up with the Repository of Ancient Knowledge in his mind, but the additional data cache hidden within the confines of the Repository would self-delete in one final security measure designed to insure that the Ancients' final hope wouldn't be discovered and destroyed before it could take effect.
This, however, was not to take place. Inside the virtual testing chamber Stevenson proved his worth and accepted the mandate given to him by proxy. He knew full well the significance of what he was getting himself into, the Ancients had made sure to give him every chance to decline the burden that was about to be placed on his shoulders.
He woke on the end of a deep breath, blinked his eyes and looked around.
"You're in the infirmary, Captain," Lam said from beside him. "You've been unconscious for over a week. Don't try to move just yet."
"Can you understand us?" Daniel asked from the other side of the bed.
"Yes, Dr. Jackson. My marbles are still in my head," Stevenson said…in Ancient.
Lam and Daniel exchanged glances. "It seems a few of them have become a bit scrambled," Daniel explained to Stevenson.
"How so?" he asked.
"You're speaking in Ancient," Daniel said, making mouthing motions with his hand.
"Am I? I hadn't noticed." He worked his mouth around, thinking about something, then a frustrated expression manifested itself on his blank features. "I can understand you perfectly, but I can't for the life of me speak English."
"Yeah…well, we've seen this before with O'Neill. The Ancient Repository seems to overwrite your existing language patterns with its own. Eventually you may not even be able to understand English. In which case I'll be here to translate, so you're not completely cut off from society."
"I don't think that's going to happen to me, but thanks just the same. Talk to you later."
"Later? You have somewhere to be?" Daniel asked sarcastically just as Stevenson's eyes rolled up into his lids and he started to convulse again.
"According to Dr. Lam, Captain Stevenson's body is also changing as a result of his contact with the Ancient device," William Parson said from across the SGC's briefing room table. "From all indications his physiology is altering into a form similar to what we saw from the Anubis creation called Khalek. We squandered a unique opportunity for study then…we're not going to waste another opportunity now."
"So what does the I.O.A. suggest?" Landry asked irreverently. "Confine him to a research lab for the rest of his life? This man is one of our own. He has rights."
"Don't think that we in the I.O.A. haven't considered that angle, but each and every one of our Stargate personnel know and accept the risks involved with exploring the galaxy. Captain Stevenson has essentially been hijacked by alien programming intent on remaking him into an alien. He's not Human anymore, or at least he won't be for very long."
"That's your rational?!" Landry asked, half laughing. "That'll never fly. He's still part of the U.S. military and he's not going anywhere unless I order him to."
"That decision may ultimately not be up to you or your country," Parson said evenly. "Never the less, I'm sure some arrangement can be reached to have him examined here in the SGC. I'm sure your people are as anxious as we are to get access to the Ancient library within his mind. It's a freak of nature that he's survived to this point, and with any luck he'll hold on permanently…but if he doesn't and we've only got a limited amount of time for study, isn't it irresponsible to waste an opportunity such as this while we bicker back and forth about it here and up through the chain of command?"
"Yes, there has been a bit of bickering involved," O'Neill said from the head of the table. "I've got Jackson with him now. If he has anything important to say we'll know about it immediately. We've also got a video feed on him 24/7."
"And I've got the biomed sensor that we took from Anubis's lab hooked up and monitoring him as we speak," Lam added. "We're not missing anything from a medical standpoint."
"I'm pleased to hear that," Parson said. "It'll give us time to discuss any long-term research projects. In the mean time you will be forwarding any data gleamed from him to my office?"
"Of course," Landry said, standing up. Parson nodded to both Generals then left the conference table, briefcase in hand and posse in tow.
"Where am I?" Stevenson asked after waking up from another blackout, still speaking in Ancient.
"They've moved you into confinement," Daniel said from his side.
"A little something to do with the fact that you admitted to intentionally sticking your head in the…head sucker."
"Neural Interface," Stevenson corrected.
"Right, well it seems you and all SGC exploratory teams were given specific instructions in your indoctrination not to mess with an Ancient Repository if you ever ran across one," Daniel reminded him. "So why did you do it?"
"Certain death isn't very appealing," he said sarcastically, though Daniel didn't pick up on that intricacy. His knowledge of the Ancient language was tolerable, but Stevenson was speaking it as if he'd done so his entire life.
"You mean you'd rather take a chance on a long shot instead of waiting around to die from a genetic disease?"
Stevenson stared at him. "You know about that?"
Daniel nodded. "They only told me after they brought me in to translate. No one else knows. Actually it's really a moot point now. Dr. Lam says the physical alterations taking place inside you are changing your DNA and have wiped out your disease in the process. It seems your long shot paid off…if you survive the transformation process."
Stevenson blew out a relieved breath. "Good. I was wondering about that. You can tell Lam that I'm past the worst of it. Each time I black out I'm experiencing an upgrade that requires my body and mind to shut down temporarily."
Daniel raised an eyebrow. "You know that for a fact, or just guessing?"
"Really…what else do you know?"
"What do you mean?" Stevenson asked.
"Come on, you've got the entire Ancient library stored in your mind. Do you have access to any of the good stuff yet?"
"What about Ancient history? Can you tell me anything new?"
Stevenson started to say something then stopped short. "Maybe later, Dr. Jackson. I'm still fighting a monster migraine and it requires something of a conscious effort to hold it in check."
"Alright," Daniel said unconvinced as he stood to leave. "I'll be back to check on you later."
Stevenson waved to him as he left, but followed him with his mind. He felt him stop a few meters outside.
"His physical health is improving and his mind seems stable," Dr. Jackson said to someone in the corridor. Stevenson could feel the other mind but couldn't identify the person.
"But?" the other said. Stevenson heard the voice through Jackson's ears and knew it was familiar…Landry. It was General Landry checking up on him.
"But," Jackson continued, "I think he's holding back."
"Holding back what?" Landry asked.
"I don't know," Daniel admitted. "I'm still impressed by the fact that he's survived this long. When Merlin upgraded me he had to install a failsafe in order to prevent an overload that would eventually kill me. I have no idea how his body is going to be able to stabilize the changes that are happening to him, but he seems confident that he'll make it through."
"Oh he does, does he," Landry said. "It might turn out better for him if he doesn't."
"Meaning what?" Daniel asked.
"The I.O.A.," Landry said simply.
"Oh, not again," Daniel said exasperated.
"I'm afraid so. And there's the little fact that he disobeyed standing orders, which is what created this mess in the first place."
Stevenson released his tenuous mental link. His new abilities were intermittent and unreliable, but he'd been able to hear enough. He knew he was going to have to escape the SGC…but he wasn't ready yet. He was too weak and continuing to black out. A few more days and he might be able to risk it. He'd only get one chance before they realized what he was capable of and implemented additional security measures.
"Patience," he reminded himself.
Sheppard left the hearing demoralized and disillusioned. Good men, men he had respected and trusted in the past had, one by one, sided against him and his actions and fell in line with the I.O.A.'s assertion that what happened in Pegasus didn't matter to Earth and that he had had no right to interfere.
General O'Neill had spoken up on his behalf, suggesting that he be given some leniency since his plans to destroy the Wraith shipyard had actually succeeded and therefore aided the I.O.A.'s plans to withdraw from the Pegasus galaxy. By eliminating four partially grown ships that could have been used to attack Atlantis and hinder the evacuation ships as they hauled technology too big to fit through the stargate back to Earth, the odds of the Wraith succeeding in capturing Atlantis before the pullout had been reduced significantly.
The I.O.A. hadn't bought it and had thoroughly raked Sheppard over the coals. He had argued with them for over four hours but in the end they were going to get what they wanted regardless of the truth. He would be moved onto court martial and the far-off Atlantis command that had always been outside of their comfortable reach would be disbanded and destroyed…after they had ransacked the city for any and all valuable technology.
Sheppard was returned to his cell and dropped unceremoniously to the ground. He pulled his back up against the claustrophobic wall and cradled his head in his hands. He was screwed and he knew it. The SGC and his country were going to sacrifice him and the Pegasus galaxy to the corrupt whims of the I.O.A. for whatever deluded or twisted reasons they had.
Sheppard had dodged the bureaucratic bullet many times before, but not this time. He wasn't about to give up, but with his options being what they were, his thoughts were sliding more towards jail-break rather than the defense at his upcoming court martial.
"How are you feeling, son?" O'Neill asked Stevenson.
The Captain blinked his eyes open. "Headache."
"Don't bother talking, Stevenson," O'Neill said with a dismissive wave of his hand. "I don't speak Ancient anymore, and I don't feel like dragging Daniel in here, so just listen."
"I've deactivated the cameras so this will be a private conversation between the two of us," O'Neill said ominously, which drew a raised eyebrow from Stevenson.
"You're in hot water with the I.O.A., and I'm not sure if we'll be able to protect you. They look at you as a combination guinea pig/data file more valuable than…well, than anything they've come across to date, and in my opinion they're not going to give you up."
"I need to know if your head is as scrambled as mine was, or if you have control of the knowledge in your mind."
Stevenson raised his hands and smirked quizzically as if saying 'why.'
"If I can feed the I.O.A. some intel on my terms I can move you out of their reach to one of our more discrete offworld bases and dig my political heels in. So long as the information is flowing back to us I think I can protect you."
Stevenson shook his head 'no.'
"You don't have control?" O'Neill asked, disappointed but not really surprised. It had been a long shot idea from the beginning ten minutes ago in the commissary.
Stevenson shook his head 'yes.'
"Yes you agree with the 'no' or yes you can?" O'Neill asked confused.
Stevenson gritted his teeth then made a snap decision to trust O'Neill. He motioned for him to come closer.
O'Neill moved his chair up next to the head of his bed and leaned forward. "What?"
Stevenson reached out and touched O'Neill gently on the right temple. Stevenson's eyes glassed over and a host of images flooded into O'Neill's mind…and suddenly he understood.
Stevenson released the mental link and O'Neill sat up straight.
"Take Sheppard with you. He's in a holding cell down the hall. You've got two more days before he's taken away for court martial. Will that be long enough or do I need to buy you some more time?"
Stevenson gave him a 'thumbs up.'
O'Neill nodded and quickly left the room. He reactivated the security cameras and other recording devices then headed back to the commissary for an extra dessert. He found himself in a much better mood than before, with a hankering for banana pudding.
Sheppard was lying helplessly on his small cot behind the cell's bars when he heard a commotion outside and saw his personal guard jump out of his seat and run into the hall.
"Hey, what's going on?" he asked into the empty air.
Seemingly in response, his guard came back into the room flying through the air. He hit the far wall and slumped to the ground unconscious.
"What the hell?" Sheppard muttered.
Stevenson walked into the room wearing an oversized uniform and lifted a hand toward Sheppard's cell. The lock screeched and cracked open. The door swung free and Stevenson beckoned Sheppard forward with a simple hand motion.
"Okay…" Sheppard said slowly, not knowing what was going on but glad for the chance to get out of his cell none the less.
Stevenson pointed to the unconscious guard, then tugged on his own uniform.
"Right," Sheppard said, looking down at the orange jumpsuit that he was wearing. He knelt down next to the guard and proceeded to swap clothes with him. After he was finished he joined Stevenson at the door. "What next?"
The man muttered something in a language he couldn't understand, then, seeming to realize that fact, he drew a circle in the air then pointed through it.
Sheppard raised an eyebrow. "Stargate?"
Sheppard pointed out the door. "After you and your magic hand."
They moved quickly through the halls, with Stevenson telekinetically knocking aside a few personnel as needed. They passed by an armory and ducked inside briefly, grabbing some essential gear. Forty seconds later they were back in the hallway headed for the gateroom when the base alert siren went off.
"Let's move it," Sheppard urged, staying one step behind Stevenson.
A pair of armed guards stepped around the corner in front of them, ordering them to stand down. A split second later the guards were lifted into the air and clunked hard into the ceiling. Their weapons dropped to the ground a moment before their unconscious bodies did.
One of the Zats lying on the floor suddenly lept through the air and into Stevenson's hand. He tossed it back over his shoulder to Sheppard, who awkwardly caught it in mid-air.
When they reached the outside of the gate room Stevenson struggled for half a minute with the blast door before finally opening up a half-meter crack…just enough for the pair to slide through. He closed it behind them with a thud and swiped a bead of sweat off his forehead. He was expending a lot of his limited amount of energy…and he knew he had to get through the gate before he passed out again.
"How are we going to dial from down here?" Sheppard asked as General Landry's face appeared in the control room window.
"Colonel Sheppard, Captain Stevenson, stand down immediately. This is a direct order. We have assault teams moving on your position as we speak. If you resist they will be authorized to use force as necessary to return you to either the brig or the morgue. Your choice, Gentlemen."
"Doesn't look like I have much to lose at this point, General," Sheppard yelled back as he looked over his shoulder at Stevenson. "Please tell me you have a plan for getting out of here?"
Stevenson visibly gathered himself and set his jaw before stepping over to the side of the stargate. He reached out and touched it, then closed his eyes.
For a moment nothing happened. Then all of a sudden the computer readouts in the control room began showing erroneous feedback.
"Sir," Siler said from the control board. "We're reading a dialing sequence, but it's not originating from the control room. We're completely locked out."
"How is that possible?" Landry asked.
"I don't know, sir" Siler said apologetically.
"Pull the plug," Landry ordered.
"Too late," Siler noted.
The event horizon of the wormhole appeared, but without the customary kawoosh beforehand. Stevenson, looking exhausted, walked around and up the ramp, pulling Sheppard forward by the elbow.
He took the hint and followed him through the gate, but not before he paused, grinned, and waved a sarcastic goodbye to Landry in the control room.
Both men emerged into a clearing outside a wide, dark forest. Sheppard stopped just beyond the gate and looked around, trying to get a feel for where they were.
Stevenson, however, immediately went for the DHD. He touched the center bubble and closed his eyes. The gate shut down a few seconds later and he immediately started to dial another address.
"Smart," Sheppard said appreciatively. "They won't be able to follow us if we dial out again."
Stevenson nodded as the kawoosh from the newly formed wormhole jutted out into the blue, sunny sky.
"Come," Stevenson said awkwardly, as if he'd never spoken the word before.
"So you can talk? Sheppard asked as they stepped into the gate.
They emerged into a desert world with no one and nothing in site. Sheppard thought it looked a little familiar but he couldn't quite place the address.
"What now?" he asked, glad to be free again, but still unsure as to what was going on.
Stevenson pointed at the gate and started dialing another address.
"Again?" Sheppard asked. "They shouldn't be able to trace us this far."
Stevenson didn't answer. Instead he slowly input seven symbols…then he touched an eighth.
"DHD's can't dial another galaxy," Sheppard insisted. "They don't have enough power. Wish they could, then I could get back to Pegasus."
In response to his assertion the DHD began to light up randomly, as if it were having a motherboard meltdown. Stevenson input select symbols in response to the flashing lights for nearly a minute. Then all the symbols illuminated simultaneously and steadily. He reached up and pressed the center bubble and activated the gate.
"What the hell?" Sheppard asked.
Stevenson motioned him forward and led him through the gate...
Sheppard's jaw dropped when they emerged on the other side. They were inside a massive facility, obviously of Ancient design, but the most awe inspiring sight was the presence of four other gates sitting side by side with their own.
Sheppard stepped out and looked back up at the gate they had come through. "Holy crap…they're yellow," he said, referring to the chevron lights as Stevenson walked off into the distance.
"Hey, wait up!" he yelled as he looked back at the other gates. One had normal red crystals, while the others had blue, green, and orange chevrons.
Sheppard caught up with him just before he entered an alcove in the near wall that lead to an ascending staircase. He followed Stevenson up and through a latticework of hallways until they stopped before a thick, sealed door.
Stevenson waved a hand over a nearby panel and the 10cm-thick door slid into the wall. Sheppard followed him in and found himself in familiar surroundings. There were Ancient-style control panels, similar to those in Atlantis's gate room, ringing a center platform with a single podium on its perimeter.
Stevenson walked up to the podium and a holographic map materialized above the platform…identical in every way to its counterpart in Atlantis where he'd first seen a diagram of the Pegasus galaxy.
Sheppard frowned. The map didn't show the Pegasus galaxy, obviously, but it wasn't showing the Milky Way or any other galaxy either. He walked up alongside Stevenson's shoulder as he worked the controls, and with a closer look the significance of what he was seeing finally dawned on him.
"It's a map of the Ancients' galaxies," he said, half looking at Stevenson, but unwilling to take his eyes completely off the map. Out of the corner of his eye he saw the man nod in agreement.
"What is that, two, four, six…twenty two galaxies? That's insane! Where are we?"
Stevenson highlighted one of the central galaxies with a white hue.
"And where's Pegasus?"
Extra, colorless galaxies materialized around and within the cluster. One of these suddenly highlighted.
"What's that mean? Why isn't it part of the group?"
Stevenson worked his mouth around, then finally uttered, "New."
"New?" Sheppard asked. "That's right, Rodney said the Ancients built the Pegasus gates after they left Earth. I guess that puts the count at twenty three."
Stevenson shook his head and pressed another button.
All the little dots within the galaxies suddenly connected to each other in a mass of millions of tiny lines that blurred together into a reddish hue…except Pegasus, where there weren't even any dots, just a swirling mass of white.
"Not on the map, huh?" Sheppard speculated as another thought struck him. "Is that why we can't dial out of Pegasus without the Atlantis gate crystal?"
Stevenson rubbed his forehead and nodded. Apparently he was still feeling the fatigue from their escape.
you can update the map?" Sheppard said offhand.
Stevenson looked at him worried, then slowly nodded his head up and down, quickly followed by left to right.
"You can but you can't?" Sheppard tried to translate.
Stevenson pointed at the map and input a new command. For a long minute nothing happened, then all of a sudden a dozen or so dots appeared in Pegasus. Then a few more appeared, and more, and more until the entire galaxy was full of new stargate locations.
"Does that mean we can dial Pegasus from here?"
Stevenson pointed at the map again…more specifically at the lines interconnecting gates within and between galaxies. None traveled to Pegasus.
"Not hooked up,
huh?" Sheppard guessed. "Can you fix that?"
The Captain reached a hand up to Sheppard's chest and pushed his palm flat against it in a feeding motion.
"Don't want to let the Wraith out, I get it. Any way we can still get there? Unless you have somewhere else for us to go?"
Stevenson held up a finger, giving Sheppard the 'wait' signal. Suddenly the map zoomed in on the Milky Way galaxy alone, and for the first time he could see that the lines connecting the dots were different colors.
He glanced out the window at the different colored stargates on the platform below them and raised a curious eyebrow. "Where are we?"
Stevenson highlight and zoomed in on one small dot near the galactic core. Sheppard noticed that lines of all six colors intersected it. He frowned. There had only been five gates, and none of them purple.
"Where's the purple gate?" he asked Stevenson while pointing at the mass of thin colored lines emanating from their location to what looked like every other stargate in existence. It was hard to differentiate them all, but the colors stood out.
Stevenson pulled up a holographic diagram of them in the control room and zoomed outward through the massive complex.
"We're in space?" Sheppard realized as the diagram resolved itself into a space station with another gate floating outside.
Stevenson nodded 'yes' to his question and highlighted the gate.
"Wait a minute, how big is this station?"
Stevenson brought up a second diagram of an Atlantis-style city for comparison, which overshadowed the complex at approximately twice its size.
"If I'm reading this right, then that gate," Sheppard said, pointing to the one in space, "is a supergate?"
Stevenson nodded and highlighted all the purple dots within the galaxy. Sheppard saw a hundred or so locations strategically spread throughout various sectors.
A connection clicked in his mind. "That's why the Ancient warships didn't have fast hyperdrives. They didn't need to go very far to get to the sector gate. Probably faster to get across the galaxy this way than to travel all the way using hyperdrive…where's Earth?"
The purple dots faded back to normal and another dot further out from the galactic center brightened and enlarged. Only red lines intersected it.
"Did all that stuff you did on the DHD have anything to do with these colored lines and the different color stargates?" Sheppard hazarded a guess.
The Colonel's pulse spiked. He had a feeling he was onto something big. "Are the gates different from each other?"
He nodded again.
"Twenty questions then…do colors only connect to similar colors?
Again, a 'yes.'
"We came through a red and exited from a yellow, right?"
Stevenson nodded and pulled up a diagram of two gates and a DHD that superimposed over the galaxy map. Both gates glowed red and a red line connected them. They disappeared and reemerged as a red and a green without a connection.
"Ok, different colors don't connect. I get that. So why did we come out a yellow when there was a red a few steps away?"
The DHD suddenly showed seven symbols highlight. Stevenson tapped a button and an 8th illuminated. When it did the red gate changed colors to green and a connection formed between the two gates.
"Damn, I wish Rodney were here. Ok, so you can change the gate's color with the DHD?"
Stevenson hesitated, rolled his eyes in helplessness, then reluctantly nodded 'yes.'
"What was that look for?"
Stevenson pointed at the gates outside, then did an amicable job of forming the shape of the gate crystals with his fingers.
"The gates…colors?" Sheppard guessed.
He nodded, then pointed back to the faint dots in the galaxy map.
"I'm sorry, I don't get it."
Stevenson blew out a frustrated breath and reached a hand up to Sheppard's temple. A moment later the Colonel suddenly understood and the Captain looked even more exhausted than before.
"Neat trick," Sheppard said, a bit impressed and creeped out at the same time. "So the crystals don't actually change colors, but the gates act like they're a different color.
Stevenson nodded, relieved.
"So why didn't we come in through the red gate?"
Stevenson pointed at his chest and shook his head 'no.' He pointed away from himself and shook his head 'yes.'
Sheppard glanced back at the gates for a second before catching on. "You can dial out, but not in? Some type of security precaution?" Sheppard guessed and Stevenson confirmed with a tired nod.
"So we got here by switching colors, which you managed with the extra symbol on the DHD. I thought that was for dialing another galaxy."
Stevenson again nodded.
Sheppard frowned. "How can it do both?"
He held up nine fingers in response.
"Ninth chevron?" Sheppard said as his jaw dropped. "It moves us between different color gates?"
"But you only input eight chevrons?"
Stevenson used the DHD diagram and input the standard six symbols, then the point of origin, then the activation bubble in the center. A line connected the two stargates, both of which had been reset to red before he began.
He held up a finger to forestall another question and input the standard six symbols again, then a seventh, then the point of origin. The gates connected and a galaxy to galaxy line appeared.
"Intergalactic," Sheppard noted.
The two gates switched to one red, one green. Stevenson reinput six commands, the point of origin, then another symbol before hitting the activation bubble.
The two gates connected when the green gate turned red. Stevenson pointed to the point of origin icon in the string of eight symbols hovering just below the DHD.
"It comes after the point of origin," Sheppard said, catching on. "That's why it doesn't dial intergalactic."
Stevenson reset the diagram one more time with one red gate and one green gate. He input six icons, then belatedly a seventh, then the point of origin, then the ninth chevron before finally the activation bubble.
The green gate turned red again, but this time the intergalactic connection showed up again.
"Eight for in-galaxy gate-jump, nine for intergalactic gate-jump?" Sheppard asked, feeling like a stargate rookie getting his orientation lesson. And to think, the SGC and the IOA thought they had a complete list of every stargate within the galaxy. The Ancients had far better security than he'd ever given them credit for.
Stevenson nodded curtly, apparently satisfied, and turned back to the map. He got rid of the diagram and input some new commands. Another long pause ensued while the computer worked on something.
"What was with all the flashing symbols when you dialed?"
Stevenson held up his forearm and started tapping on his wrist, pretending he had a GDO.
Sheppard raised an eyebrow. "Some kind of access code?"
Stevenson nodded as a few of the dots on the map began to disappear.
"Dead gates?" Sheppard guessed.
He nodded regretfully. Once the system completed the update, Stevenson scrolled through a list of planets and found the one he wanted. It was listed as having a green stargate only, and suddenly the green gate outside the window flashed to life, but without the corresponding kawoosh. The event horizon just popped into place.
"We moving on?" Sheppard asked, adjusting the pack on his shoulders.
Stevenson held up the wait finger again.
A picture materialized over the galaxy map, revealing another large chamber with ancient-looking tech. This one had numerous struts extending from floor to ceiling with what looked like workstations spread around their bases.
"Are we seeing that through the gate?"
"Did you send a probe through?"
Stevenson shook his head 'no' this time. He made the stargate circle symbol with his finger.
"The stargate? Wait a minute, are you saying the stargates have a camera in them?"
Stevenson turned to look at him and nodded an ironic 'yes.'
"Why the hell didn't Rodney find that? Ah…of all the times we needed intel about what was on the other side of the gate we had the perfect tool right under our nose!"
Stevenson motioned to Sheppard to come with him as he headed for the door.
"Guess we're going."
They wound their way back through the maze of hallways and down the staircase. When they got to the green stargate it was still open and Stevenson walked through without preamble. Sheppard followed close behind, glancing up at the green crystals just before he passed through.
They both emerged on the other side into what Sheppard immediately guessed to be some factory. He didn't have any hard evidence to back that theory up, but the congestion of equipment and lack of windows gave it that feel to him.
Stevenson quickly found the control panel he wanted and suddenly the entire facility hummed to life with a restored power flow. He brought up a display screen and a list of data. He highlighted several sections and hit an overly large button on the control panel in front of him.
Sheppard glanced over his shoulder as the machinery started to activate, doing what he couldn't imagine. "What is this place?"
Stevenson motioned for him to follow, and together they worked their way through the now active facility into a storage depot on the opposite side of the complex. Inside Sheppard saw small, empty racks lining the walls and partitions.
"What are these for?" Sheppard asked.
Stevenson reached into the one and only occupied alcove in the depot and pulled out a ZPM.
"No way!" Sheppard said in utter shock.
Stevenson held up two fingers.
"Two? Where's the other one?"
Stevenson pointed out into the center of the facility.
Sheppard glanced out the door, then back to the numerous empty racks. "Does this place make the ZPMs?"
Stevenson smiled…and nodded 'yes.'
Sheppard fist-pumped the air. "Now that's what I'm talking about."
The Captain smiled and motioned for him to follow. He led him back to the gate and reactivated it. Sheppard glanced back at the active machinery. "How long is it going to take to make another?"
Stevenson made a looping motion with his outstretched finger.
"A while," Sheppard translated as he followed Stevenson back through the gate.
When they got back to the 'gate center', as Sheppard thought of it, he noticed that they'd come back through the yellow gate again, not the green gate that they'd left through. He guessed yellow had a higher security rating than green, and followed the Captain back across the open platform to the wall alcove and the stairway to the control room.
Instead of going back there Stevenson led him further into the facility and into what looked like personal quarters. They both pulled some rations out of the packs they'd grabbed from the SGC armory and stretched out on the low beds. The cushioning had long since deteriorated, but the solid slab that was left proved adequately relaxing.
Stevenson finished his rations and laid down in a meditative pose. He remained motionless for the following six hours, in which Sheppard sat with his back against the wall, relishing his regained freedom and the awesomeness of where he currently was.
After soaking it all in he finally managed to fall asleep.
When Sheppard woke up ten hours later he found Stevenson's bed empty.
"Now where did he go?"
He stood up from the low bed and grabbed at his soar back. Sleeping on a stone slab was as bad as it sounded. After stretching a bit he ventured outside the door and tried to get some sense of where Stevenson had gone.
With neither a sight nor a sound to go by, he decided to backtrack to the command center…and found Stevenson once again at the holographic controls.
"There you are…don't go wandering off like that."
Stevenson glanced over his shoulder and said something in Ancient.
"Apology accepted," Sheppard said, guessing as to the context. "What have you been up to?" he asked as he glanced out over the multi-galaxy map again. There seemed to be fewer dots amongst the other galaxies this time…but a number of interconnecting lines within Pegasus had been added, but without any extragalactic lines. There were, however, a few dots in between galaxies that he guessed were the remains of the gate bridge.
"What happened here?" he asked, pointing to Pegasus. "And what is that?" Sheppard added, noticing another new galaxy far outside the Ancients' territory. It was connected to the Milky Way by a solitary gray line.
Stevenson made the symbol for stargate with his finger.
"Stargate." Sheppard said.
Stevenson formed an 'O' with his fingers and expanded it outward.
"Bigger…you mean supergate?"
He nodded and pointed at the two ends of the gray line.
"That's the Ori galaxy?" Sheppard asked.
Stevenson gave him a thumbs up.
"You can tap into their network from here?"
The Captain held his hand up and wiggled it.
"Kind of…partially?" Sheppard guessed.
Stevenson held his fingers up and pointed at his eyes and then at the supergate connection.
"See…you can see it? You can detect it?"
Another thumbs up.
"But you can't control it?"
Stevenson shook his head 'no.'
"What about Pegasus, can you control their gates?"
Thumbs up again.
"Can you get us back there?"
He nodded and held up two fingers…then three.
"Two, three," Sheppard repeated. "Two what?"
Stevenson held his hands about a foot apart, one above the other.
"ZPM? Two ZPMs plus the one in Atlantis make three? That's what they're for?"
Another thumbs up.
"Then what? The I.O.A. and stargate command still control the city. We go there and we'll get sent back to Earth."
Stevenson shook his head 'no' and reached out to Sheppard's temple again. A moment later he released him, his eyes wide with surprise.
"That…could work," were all the words Sheppard could manage in total shock.
"Caldwell to Atlantis, we're ready to beam aboard the second shipment now," the Daedalus's commander said over the intercom in Atlantis's gateroom.
"Woolsey here. You have clearance to proceed," he said, referring to the second load of scavenged tech from the city that was too large to fit through the gate and take back to Earth the easy way.
The Daedalus activated its beaming technology and started plucking specific items from Atlantis's various wings while Woolsey continued to oversee the stacking of smaller crates on the gateroom floor in preparation for the next direct connection back to Earth.
Once they'd managed to strip the city of everything remotely useful, the Daedalus or Apollo would bring five gate-buster nukes back from the Milky Way and beam them into the city as a means of obliterating the remaining superstructure. The gate link back to Earth would be destroyed as well as what was left of Atlantis's hyperdrives, forever stranding the Wraith in the Pegasus galaxy…at which point Earth would wash its hands of the whole affair while reaping the plunder from the lost city and preserving the finite remaining power in the ZPM.
"Incoming wormhole," someone shouted from behind Woolsey.
"Who could that be? We don't have any teams off world," Atlantis's commander asked.
"We're receiving no IDC, sir."
"Keep the shield up," Woolsey warned. "It could be the Wraith…or god knows what else," he uttered just before the shield dropped, exposing the incoming wormhole.
"I said keep the shield up!" he yelled, glaring at the tech sitting at the dialing station.
"It wasn't me, sir. My controls are being overridden. I can't raise it again!"
"Security to the gateroom!" Woolsey yelled in panic as he started to backtrack from the open gate. "Find out where that override is coming from and some way to get around it."
"What's going on?" Teyla asked as she ran into the gateroom.
"We don't know and we can't raise the shield," Woolsey explained.
"John!" she suddenly exclaimed as Sheppard and Stevenson walked through the gate.
"What the hell?" Woolsey said as he darted back down the stairs. "Why did they send you back? Aren't you supposed to be awaiting court martial?"
"Sheppard!" Ronon yelled excitedly as he entered the gateroom a few seconds behind Teyla.
"Hey buddy, good to see you."
"Answer me, Colonel," Woolsey insisted as they walked up face to face in front of the gate.
Before Sheppard could smart off, Stevenson reached his hand out and the control pillar shot up from the floor. He placed his hand on it and suddenly the lockdown alarm sounded.
"What the hell is going on?!" Woolsey demanded. "Security!"
Four SF's stepped forward and raised their guns on the pair while another three started to come down the staircase.
Stevenson raised a hand and ripped the guns away from the nearest two. A split second later Sheppard pulled out his Zat and shot one of the others. Ronon got the fourth with a quick draw before the man could fire at Sheppard.
The three coming down the staircase quickly took fire from both Sheppard and Ronon while Stevenson relieved another of his weapon. Within seconds the gateroom was back in their hands.
"Thanks buddy," Sheppard said to Ronon as he trained his Zat on Woolsey.
Stevenson, meanwhile, darted up the stairs and ran to the city control board and raised the city's shields.
"Are you insane? Who is he?" Woolsey asked almost simultaneously.
"He stuck his head in an Ancient microwave and got superpowers," Sheppard said sarcastically as Woolsey's radio buzzed with static.
"Daedalus to Atlantis, why did you raise shields?" Caldwell asked, quite miffed.
"Ronon, Teyla, keep them under guard," Sheppard ordered as he bounded up the staircase.
"Move," he told the tech at the dialing station.
The man slid out of his seat while Sheppard dialed Earth.
"What's going on?" Teyla asked, very concerned.
"We're not going to let Atlantis be destroyed," he answered bluntly. "And we're not going to abandon the Pegasus galaxy either."
"And by us you mean?" Teyla asked.
"By us I mean me and my new best friend."
"And he is?" she asked, frowning.
"Captain Stevenson," Sheppard answered. "He can't talk but he can still hear us just fine."
"Wait a minute," Ronon asked, "the two of you are planning to take over Atlantis on your own?"
Sheppard glanced over at Stevenson, who gave him a nod of confirmation as he continued to work the controls. "Actually, we already have."
"Who'd you get to lower the shield for you?" Woolsey asked snobbishly. "McKay?"
"Nope, he did," he said, pointing to Stevenson.
"How?" Woolsey asked incredulously.
"None of your concern," Sheppard said as he sent Atlantis's IDC signal through the gate. He jogged back down the stairs and snatched the radio from Woolsey's shoulder, cutting off Caldwell's continued questions with a quick flick of the switch. He grabbed Woolsey by the collar and dragged him up to the gate.
"Here's the deal. I'm kicking your butt back to Earth first so you can tell them not to raise the iris the next few times we dial in. I'm going to give everyone on Atlantis a choice to stay or go. Those who want to go, and those I can't trust, will be sent back through the gate to Earth, at which point we're cutting all ties with the I.O.A. and anyone under their command."
"You're insane," Woolsey said slowly. "You'll never get away with this."
"We'll manage," Sheppard said before using the business end of his boot on Woolsey's butt, knocking him through the event horizon. "Send the guards through," Sheppard ordered Ronon and Teyla.
Ronon responded immediately, but Teyla hesitated. "Colonel, are you sure you know what you're doing?"
"Too late too turn back now if I wasn't," he said sarcastically. When she didn't move he looked her in the eye and confidently said, "Yes."
She nodded that that was good enough for her and started to drag one of the unconscious guards toward the gate.
"How are we doing?" he asked Stevenson.
The Captain pointed to the comm button.
"Alright, here goes nothing," he said, placing his hand on the panel and activating the city-wide intercom.
"Everybody listen up. This is Colonel John Sheppard, acting commander of Atlantis. I've taken control of the city and initiated a comprehensive lockdown, so just sit tight for a while, you're not going anywhere for a couple of hours."
"In my opinion both the I.O.A. and stargate command have crossed the line when they decided to abandon the Pegasus galaxy to the fate of being Wraith food…not to mention destroying Atlantis in the process, but only after stripping it down like a pack of lowly scavengers. I would like to think Earth is better than that, but recent events have shown me otherwise."
"I, however, am not going to abandon Pegasus, nor am I going to let the city be destroyed. I've already been declared an enemy of Earth, if not I will be soon, so I don't have the luxury of going back…but you do. So you have a choice to make."
"Anyone that wishes to stay here and fight the Wraith will be welcome to, but it will mean never returning home to Earth, as well as imprisonment if we were ever captured."
"I know this is a lot to throw at you all at once, but you're going to have some time to think it over as long as the lockdown is in effect, so think hard. You won't get a chance to change your mind…either way. If you choose to go back I won't hold it against you personally. I'll understand if you can't bring yourself to turn against Earth…me, with a court martial waiting back home, it's an easy choice. For you I know it won't be."
"Talk amongst yourselves, think it through. Contact the gateroom over the comm when you finally decide, or wait for us to come around room by room. Figure a couple of hours at least. Sheppard out."
Teyla and Ronon joined Sheppard on the command platform as the gate finally shut down. "I assume you two are with us?"
"We were staying behind anyway," Ronon pointed out.
"Just checking," Sheppard added. "What about the rest of you. Anyone want to turn renegade?"
The half dozen people in the control room exchanged glances and bashfully shook their heads 'no.'
"Ok," Sheppard said, expecting as much. "Redial the gate, check with the SGC to make sure the iris is down, then head on back."
"What about our personal belongings?" one of the techs asked.
Sheppard glared at him and the man held up his hands in defense. "Never mind."
"Teyla, watch over the gateroom and make sure they get back safely. We'll be sending more this way," Sheppard said as Stevenson headed for the door. "Ronon, come with us. We'll need help with security."
Ronon brandished his weapon. "Gladly."
Five and a half hours later the last wormhole to Earth was opened. Most Atlantis personnel had left without incident, but a few SF's had to be physically subdued. The last group of those not willing to stay walked through the gate, leaving Sheppard, Teyla, Ronon, and Rodney standing in front of the portal back to Earth.
"I'm sorry," McKay said for the fiftieth time.
"I understand, Rodney," Sheppard said, placing a hand on his shoulder. "You've gotta do what you've gotta do."
"It's not that I don't want to stay, but I can't live with the thought of never seeing Jennifer or my sister again. But then again I don't want to abandon you guys either…despite the fact that you have zero chance of pulling this off, and with me staying you'd at least have a small chance of staying alive…"
"Rodney," Sheppard interrupted. "It's ok. Go."
McKay wanted to say something more, but couldn't find the words. He stepped forward and hugged Sheppard, who returned the gesture without hesitation or complaint.
Teyla came forward, hugged him, and even gave him a peck on the cheek. "Goodbye Rodney."
Ronon starred down McKay when he approached him with intent to hug, then softened and dragged Mckay over, lifting him up off the ground in a giant bear-hug. "Take care."
McKay looked back at all of them, trying to find the right words. "Good luck," he said simply, stepping slowly, reluctantly through the gate.
Sheppard swiped a tear from his eye and walked back up to the control platform. He pressed one of the comm buttons. "You're a go, Stevenson."
Across the city, sitting in the Ancient control chair, Stevenson heard Sheppard's voice and leaned back, closing his eyes in concentration.
The city rumbled through the pre-flight activation of the stardrive. Sheppard, Teyla, and Ronon waited in the gateroom and watched the city lift off from the ocean effortlessly, thanks to the three ZPM's now powering its engines. The handful of other personnel that had decided to stay watched the liftoff from various points around the city, wondering silently if they'd made the right choice.
The city continued up into orbit, passing the helpless Daedalus by and entered hyperspace without incident.
"Helm," Caldwell called out on the Daedalus's bridge, "track them and lay in a pursuit course."
"Sir," the helmsman answered, "Atlantis will be out of sensor range in three minutes. They're traveling far faster than the Daedalus's engines are capable of."
"What?" Caldwell asked. "How is that possible?"
"I haven't a clue, sir. But there's no way we can follow them at these speeds."
"Plot their current trajectory at least," Caldwell insisted.
The other bridge officer consulted his control screen. "At present they're heading leads them to…intergalactic space."
"Back to Earth?" Caldwell guessed.
"No, sir. Above Pegasus's galactic plane…into the middle of nowhere."
Caldwell rubbed his chin for a moment. "Helm, set course back to Earth. We need to consult with stargate command before we proceed any further."
Atlantis sat in intergalactic space overlooking the Pegasus galaxy, its precious atmosphere safely contained within the city's shield. Sheppard, Teyla, and Ronon gathered in the mess hall, discussing the implications of what they had just done, much as everyone else on Atlantis was doing at the moment…all save one.
Stevenson was still on the move, and had been ever since he'd left the chair room. Currently he was in the holo-room going through the updates to the Ancient database that had occurred since the construction of the Repository of Knowledge. He knew far more about the Ancients than any living person, but the Pegasus Ancients were a complete mystery to him…hence he had a lot of catching up to do before he started to tackle the challenges ahead of him.
"Are you in pain?" a voice from behind him spoke in Ancient.
"Yes, but I'm managing," Stevenson said, turning around to face the ascended Ancient.
"I apologize for the discomfort that you must endure, but I could find no other way. Your body is in a constant state of flux, and will remain so for quite some time…until your advancement reaches a level where you can defend yourself from ascended beings. Once you reach that point you will have a choice: let the changes plateau or push on further."
"And if I continue on?" Stevenson asked.
The image of the Ancient man shrugged. "We don't know. No one has ever been allowed to develop that far."
"Tell me about the others. You must have learned more over the past few million years?"
The Ancient's expression tightened. "Yes...they're not all ascended beings, as we first believed. The core of the Ascended Empire is made up of a nameless race of energy-based lifeforms. They are the ones who have forced the assimilation of ascended beings into the Empire, and they are the origin of the non-interference and limited development edicts. They have a distaste for corporeals and, I think, they also don't want us interacting with our previous species."
Stevenson raised an eyebrow. "How many other species are we talking about?"
"Hundreds, if not thousands. Humans are one of the newer additions to the group. We're discouraged from information gathering, I think the Originals, that's what we refer to them as, like to keep us in the dark as much as possible. We have surmised that the Empire's domain extends through several hundred galaxies but, ironic enough, seems to end somewhere between Avalona and Destra."
"Really," Stevenson remarked, "the Ori weren't part of the Empire?"
"Oddly enough no, though they were closely monitored to determine if they would ever become a threat to the Empire. They knew that if they ventured into the Originals' domain they had to operate under their rules, but as long as they stayed outside of their territory and posed no threat to them, they were essentially free to do as they pleased."
"Interesting. Why didn't you and the others leave their domain?"
The Ancient sighed. "Once part of the Empire, forever are you bound to it. A few of us tried to leave and were tracked down by the others. Some returned...those who didn't were killed."
"Are you in danger talking to me?"
He shook his head. "The Universe is a big place, the Originals and their followers can't watch over everything. Some of the Alterra have, regrettably, assimilated into the Empire and assist them in watching us. I've been given a short window of time to meet with you while a few loyal Alterra distract them. It is doubtful I'll be able to consult with you again without drawing you unwanted attention."
Stevenson nodded. "I understand. What else do I need to know?"
"My name is Lyran. I'm the one who developed and added the secondary programming to the Repositories…with the help of a few non-ascended Alterra before they finally died of the plague. I wasn't allowed to help them ascend and was forced to watch them die helplessly. To make matters worse, I've also discovered that it was the Originals who created the plague. They deemed us too dangerous and decreed that we could not be allowed to advance any further. They are also the ones responsible for killing the Asgard by tampering with their DNA and causing their gradual deterioration…as well as their inability to ascend."
Stevenson's hands balled into fists. Blood dripped from where his fingernails were cutting into his skin. While he might not have been blood kin to the Ancients, the changes the Repository had made to his body and mind had essential turned him into one of them…and he found himself taking the news of their murder personally.
"Now you understand how far they will go to insure that no corporeal species will ever threaten them. They also have to limit the number of new ascensions for fear of us one day outnumbering them. They tolerated the few of us that ascended, but made sure that no Asgard would, given our former alliance. The Originals and their Empire are not to be trifled with. You must be very careful, and very patient. Once you show your hand we won't get a second chance at this."
Stevenson nodded slowly. "I plan to stay here and deal with the Wraith while I develop. What of the Furlings?"
Lyran shook his head. "I would not involve them so soon. They are still in Ryss and Nextor, and have yet to attract the attention of the Empire. Do not involve them until you are in a position to protect them."
"I'll keep that in mind. At least they're still alive."
"Alive, but at risk. They are currently involved in a war of their own against an enemy far more powerful than the Wraith. Don't get involved in their fight until you're ready."
"What can you tell me of the Wraith? How did they defeat the Lanteans?"
Lyran glared with contempt. "The Lantean civilization was too focused on developing to the point of ascension. They lost the war out of pure stupidity. If you use the technology available to you wisely, you should have no trouble defeating them," Lyran said, glancing over his shoulder. "I must go. Good luck, brother."
Lyran faded from view, leaving Stevenson alone in the holo-room. He wiped his bloody palms off on his pants, revealing smooth skin beneath…his cuts had already healed.
He took a moment to gather his thoughts and get his emotions back in check, then he returned to his search through the database. He couldn't afford any missteps with the Wraith out of ignorance. It could jeopardize everything.
"Excuse me for saying so," Teyla interjected from her seat in the briefing room, "but I find it hard to believe that the few of us that are left on Atlantis would have any chance of defeating the Wraith."
Sheppard glanced at Stevenson, then back at Teyla. "We do have our own Ancient now."
"Yes, I noticed," Teyla countered, "but we've lost all support from Earth. No ships, no weapons, no soldiers…and no food."
Stevenson jutted a thumb at his chest.
"I think that means he's got it covered," Ronon speculated.
Teyla raised an eyebrow. "How, exactly?"
Stevenson opened the case lying in front of him on the table. He pulled out a small vile with gray dust inside.
"Nanites!?" Teyla exclaimed.
"You mean replicators?" Sheppard asked, stunned. "That's an insanely bad idea."
Stevenson shook his head. "Toooollls," he said, not quite getting the pronunciation right.
"Wait a minute?" Ronon said, leaning forward in his seat. "Are you saying we can use those things to build whatever we need?"
"Cool," Ronon decreed. "Why didn't we think of that earlier?"
"Because replicators have a habit of not taking orders," Sheppard said. "I'm hoping these are different somehow?"
Stevenson nodded emphatically.
"I'm wondering," Teyla added, "is this how the Ancients originally built Atlantis?"
Stevenson rotated his hand side to side in front of him.
"That means 'sort of,'" Sheppard translated. "Good enough for me, as long as you know what you're doing," he said, glancing at Stevenson.
"Do you mean to involve the humans in this galaxy in our fight," Teyla asked both Sheppard and Stevenson, "or do you intend to build an army of replicators to fight for us?"
"I…had expected to bring volunteers here and begin training them," Sheppard said hesitantly. Stevenson nodded his approval. "As for using replicators, you already know where I stand on that."
"But does he?" Ronon asked.
All eyes fell on Stevenson.
He reluctantly pulled out a datapad and meticulously typed in a message. He slid it across the table in disgust at his own inability to communicate, temporary as it may be.
"What did he say?" Teyla asked when John didn't immediately say anything.
"Seems he isn't opposed to using the technology, but he doesn't like the way the Lanteans built them to fight their war for them. At the least he intends to build some to use for security in Atlantis…" Sheppard said, shaking his head. "I am not going to agree to that…unless you can 100% assure me that what happened the first time isn't going to happen again."
Stevenson motioned for the datapad back. He typed a quick message, then returned it.
"Lanteans were stupid," Sheppard read aloud for the others to hear. "They programmed them to be autonomous and aggressive. Ours will be neither."
"Forgive my bluntness," Teyla interjected, "but if you have the replicators, what do you need humans for?"
"Good point," Ronon added.
"Much," Stevenson said, almost normally.
Teyla raised an eyebrow. "Like what?"
Stevenson retrieved the datapad again. This time he slid it to Teyla when he was finished.
"He says that machines can only do what they're programmed to do. They can't think for themselves, they have no sense of right and wrong. They are only tools. Nothing more."
Teyla placed the datapad back on the table, already feeling better about Stevenson. "I agree, and my people will be willing to help as they can."
"Good to know," Sheppard said, pleased. "Ronon, how do you feel about training ourselves an army to fight the Wraith?"
The Setidan smiled. "About time."
"Alright then," Sheppard said, standing, "Stevenson, get over to the control chair. We should be exiting hyperspace soon and I don't trust myself to put the city down in one piece over land."
Stevenson stood, gave him a thumbs up, then left the room.
"This whole not talking thing is starting to get annoying," Ronon said after he'd left.
"It is a little weird," Sheppard admitted, "but he doesn't have a choice. His mind was reprogrammed to speak Ancient the same way General O'Neill's did. I'm just glad he can understand us."
"Perhaps he'll be able to relearn to speak normally again," Teyla suggested. "He has managed a few words."
"It's either that or he gets to carry a blackberry around the rest of his life," Sheppard said sarcastically as they left the briefing room.
Forty three minutes later Atlantis emerged from hyperspace back inside the Pegasus galaxy. Stevenson immediately started to bring them down from orbit over an ice world.
"This is Sheppard. Everyone hold tight, we're going in."
Stevenson slowed the city's descent rapidly, coming to a virtual stop over a rocky ridgeline jutting up through the kilometer-thick ice. Utilizing the city's engines and the power of all three ZPMs, he drifted Atlantis to the east until they passed over a vast ice field. Atlantis stopped over the smooth surface and began its final descent.
Sheppard had to catch his balance as the city shook violently as it punctured the ice sheet. The city's great weight drove the lower sections deep into the ice until they'd hollowed out a sufficiently wide cradle to support the city's weight. With one final tremor Atlantis imbedded itself into the ice field, riding slightly higher above the surface than it had in the ocean, but its orientation was still exactly parallel to the ground…a testament to Stevenson's piloting ability. Sheppard doubted he could have put her down with such accuracy, but he wasn't about to say that out loud.
It took about an hour for Stevenson to get the city tucked in and reestablish their connection to the gate network. Now that they'd switched planets and addresses, it was unlikely that Earth would be able to find them again…if they were going to look for them at all.
Sheppard wasn't sure what they would do. They had wanted out of Pegasus pretty bad, but now that he'd stolen Atlantis from them they were sure to be pissed…he just didn't know how far they'd go to come after him and the others who'd chosen to go rogue.
And he really didn't like the idea of having to throw down against their own battlecruisers, but he knew that was a distinct possibility.
At least their new location would buy them some time to get organized and regeared for their self-proclaimed war against the Wraith. Sheppard still had no idea how they were going to fight that war, but Stevenson had been adamant that they could win without assistance from Earth, and after what he'd shown Sheppard in the Milky Way, he was eager to see how this was going to play out.
To that end Stevenson brought Sheppard to an obscure wing of the city where he had been spending the past several hours since landfall. Two large, clear containers were three quarters full of dust-like nanites…with a small, steady stream of the gray particles being added to each as they looked on.
"That's…a lot of nanites," Sheppard commented. "Are those the security replicators?"
Stevenson shook his head 'no' and stepped over to a control panel where he brought up a map of their current location. It rotated until they could see both Atlantis and several kilometers beneath the surface of the planet. The Captain highlighted several deposits of naquada and neutronium in close proximity to the city.
"Mining," he said, again managing a word in English.
"Cool," Sheppard said as Stevenson stopped the inflow of new nanites. The two canisters disappeared downward into the floor.
"Where are they going?"
Stevenson brought up another schematic that showed the canisters being moved down a shaft to the underside of the city. From there they would be released into the ice and work their way down into the bedrock, building micro-conduits as they went that would funnel the raw material back up into Atlantis.
Stevenson handed Sheppard a case of viles and a datapad.
"What's this?" he asked. He looked at the screen and found it to be another translation.
Take the canisters and release the contents on the following worlds. They are preprogrammed to activate ten seconds after the seals are broken. Don't open them until you are in position.
These nanites will begin gathering other materials we need and will report back to Atlantis via subspace.
Sheppard glanced down at the two dozen addresses listed below the message and was suddenly glad for something to do other than follow Stevenson around.
"Will do," he said as he picked up the case and left Stevenson to his work. He radioed Teyla and Ronon and had them meet him in the gateroom.
"What are those?" Ronon asked.
"Our cargo. We're going to make some deliveries," Sheppard told him while signaling the sparse control room staff, made up of mostly Athosians, to dial the gate.
"About time we had a mission," Ronon remarked. "We've been sitting on our butts for too long."
"I agree," Teyla said. "It's time we got back to work."
Sheppard smiled as the kawoosh retreated back into the event horizon. "It's good to be back," he said as the three stepped through the gate together.
Brave New World
Teyla stood in the center of the primitive town, perched on top of a small wooden platform. At her request the village elders had summoned all their kin to hear her speak about the Wraith and what they could do to oppose them.
"Year upon year we have hidden from the Wraith, trying to minimize the damage they've done to our people, all the while learning to let go of those that were taken because of the indisputable fact that there was nothing that we could do to stop it."
"Yes, some of us fought back, but without success. We did it out of spite, not truly believing that we could win. We fought back to save our sanity, for we could not simply sit by and watch as loved ones were taken away to be fed upon…at the very least we would have tried, and failed, but we tried. We did something, regardless of the outcome."
"Over the years our family and friends would pressure us to stop trying, stop provoking the Wraith and just accept the losses as inevitable. And little by little we lost hope. Generation after generation that hope dwindled until it was barely equal to the flame upon a candle…but it survived, buried deep within our hearts, forbidden from rising to the surface and causing us additional despair, yet it was always there. The hope that someway, somehow the situation would change and we would be able to take back control of our lives and our own destiny."
"A few years ago I was culled by the Wraith and taken onto one of their great hive ships. I was imprisoned within a cell and waited until the hour came when they would finally take me to be fed upon. I had lost any and all hope of surviving, but I did what I could to retain my faculties and at least die with some semblance of strength, of dignity, of defiance."
"But luckily for me the impossible happened and I, along with a few others, were rescued by a group of people from a planet called Earth, which lies far outside our stars and beyond the reach of the Wraith. They didn't fear them as we did. They didn't see the hopelessness that has dominated our entire lives. They saw the Wraith for the first time and didn't react with horror, but with determination. Where we saw an implacable foe they saw weaknesses to exploit, and did so."
"I owe them my life and the life of my people, yet recently they have decided to leave our stars and return to the safety of their world, leaving us to fight the Wraith on our own. My heart filled with dread when I first heard the news. I believed that they were our one and only chance of ever being free of the Wraith…and that chance was going to abandon us to the same fate which we have lived for generation upon generation, almost as if the universe were playing a cruel joke on us, giving us our first real hope only to snatch it away once we started to truly believe."
"The people of Earth are gone, save for a handful that bravely refused to leave us behind, and were themselves left behind as a result. But in what seems like our darkest hour, when the Wraith are culling so many souls out of desperation to feed their unexpectantly awakened numbers, far more than we have ever seen in our lives or the lives of our forefathers…we have a new hope, not just for survival, but for total victory over the Wraith."
"At long last one of the Ancestors has returned to lead us to freedom from the Wraith. He has asked me to travel from village to village to gather those of you willing to fight the Wraith and take you to where he is assembling and training an army that will hunt down and destroy every last one of the monsters."
Teyla raised her right hand in caution. "But make no mistake…the Wraith will not simply lay down and die. It will be a long hard fight, and there is no guarantee that those of you who leave with me will ever return again."
"I cannot promise you any outcome. Victory is not guaranteed, but for the first time in our lives it is a possibility. I can't speak for any of you, but for myself, back when I was imprisoned and waiting to be fed upon I would have given anything just to have been able to strike back at the Wraith. Just to hurt them as they have hurt me and you for untold centuries. Now we have that chance. The question that remains is…will you take it?"
Teylaheld up her left hand for all gathered to see. "This ring he gave to me to prove to you that I speak the truth. He crafted it himself, not as a decoration, but as a defense against the Wraith."
Teyla nodded off to her right and visibly braced herself.
Three quick, whining blasts of an energy weapon tore through the silence and hit Teyla…or rather the energy shield protecting her. As the shield shimmered back to invisibility she turned her attention back to the crowd.
"Those willing to fight should assemble at the Ring of the Ancestors tomorrow at dawn. From there we travel to a place where your training will begin. For now, think upon my words and the weight they carry. Whatever choice you make, danger awaits you, and you must decide how you are going to face it."
Teyla confidently stepped down from the platform and strode out of the village, with the crowd respectfully parting for her. Ronon met her at the edge of the crowd and fell into step beside her.
"Nice speech," he said as they started walking back to the gate.
"I only hope it is successful," Teyla said cautiously.
"We'll get a few at least," Ronon said assuredly. "We might even hit fifty with this group."
"Yes, Colonel Sheppard's magic number," Teyla recounted with some skepticism. "I still do not see the wisdom in starting with so few. My people can help train a much larger number."
"Quality over quantity," Ronon reminded her. "We're not training cannon fodder. We'll have the replicators for that."
"So Stevenson says," Teyla said neutrally. "It's been six weeks and we haven't seen a single one yet. I believe he may be having more trouble than anticipated with their programming."
Trouble he was having, but not with the replicators.
While he did have access to the full technological knowledge of the Alterra, as well as the small gains made by the Lanteans, he wasn't adept at starship construction, nor naval warfare…which made designing new warships from scratch problematic at best.
Stevenson stood in an unexplored section of Atlantis, his face half contained within the shroud of a neural interface. The green glow from the face shield was the only illumination within the dark room, save for the holographic schematics floating beside him that displayed his annoying lack of progress.
Stevenson pulled back from the device and rubbed his forehead in both frustration and fatigue. The Alterra never had a great need for warships, and instead designed their starships for other purposes, adding on their advanced weaponry almost as an afterthought.
The Lanteans had designed warships in a similar manner, relying on advanced technology but having no martial design about them. Stevenson knew that wasn't going to cut it down the road, even if it might be enough to defeat the Wraith in the here and now, which meant that he had to design entirely new warships…and the learning curve was not treating him well.
Stevenson blew out a defeated breath and stepped back up to the device. The three starship schematics floating in the air disappeared over the circular pedestal. Instead, another design that he had recently finished appeared in hologram over the pedestal and quickly drifted down atop of it, shifting from hologram to materialized creation.
It was a block of nanites. Not quite as small as traditional replicator cells, but nowhere near as large as the old style block replicators. These were still microscopic, but they were a much larger, hardier version, made up mostly of naquada, trinium, and only a dash of neutronium, unlike normal replicator cells that relied primarily on the stuff.
Normally he wouldn't have used the power hungry material synthesis technology to create nanites, but the limited amount of raw materials that had been gathered were being devoted solely to the specialized factories in Atlantis's core that were busily constructing an Ancient outpost beneath the city.
Those factories, and a few specialized labs, were the only industrial infrastructure located within the city. The Alterra had relied on outside production bases on the green gate network, such as the ZPM factory, to produce most of their technology, save for small items like clothing and food that could be synthesized without too much of a power drain on their ZPMs. Materializing an entire ship would have sucked ten dry instantaneously.
Which was why they were going to have to rely on the surviving Alterran infrastructure spread throughout the galaxies that made up the Ancients' former territory. What few facilities the Lanteans had built had been constructed on the public gate network and therefore easily discovered and destroyed by the Wraith, if not by the Lanteans themselves to keep their technology from possibly falling into enemy hands.
Only two gate networks had been built in Pegasus. The public gates and a limited number of supergates for their slower starships to move through, only two of which still existed.
All of which meant that he was going to be seriously racking up his intergalactic frequent traveler miles en mass.
Stevenson pulled out a datapad and activated the block of nanites.
It slithered apart, expanding in volume into its preprogrammed shape…that of a petite human female dressed in a trim, dark grey uniform. It stepped down off the pedestal and looked questioningly at Stevenson, yet said nothing. It just batted its long eyelashes and smiled naively.
"Come with me," he ordered in Ancient.
Sheppard stood tall and impassive, sunglasses obscuring his eyes but not his stern expression as he oversaw the recruits running laps on a dirt track in the middle of a grassy field on a crystal clear day. The distant twin suns shown brightly amidst the brilliant blue sky, warming the field just a bit past comfortable. The ragged band of volunteers, some 43 strong, dragged their out of shape bodies around circuit after circuit, drenched with sweat, yet sustained by their determination.
He had overseen the last three days of training, periodically alternating with Ronon, Teyla, and an Air Force Sergeant by the name of Brand whom Ronon held in high esteem when it came to hand to hand combat. Sheppard was nearing the end of his three days in the encampment and was ready for a return to Atlantis and a decent shower. The temporary facilities they'd set up on the remote planet were adequate, and a bit of a luxury by Pegasus village standards, but he wasn't a local and had never been the 'camping' type back home.
Ronon, on the other hand, spent most of his time in the encampment. He seemed to prefer the natural setting as much as Sheppard preferred the Ancient urban, with Teyla settling somewhere in between.
Sheppard turned around at the sound of feet stomping through the grass and saw his two cohorts leading a band of thirteen Pegasus scrubs, as he thought of them, toward the training ground.
He was glad to see more new faces, but it was going to take a lot of effort to polish the ragged, undisciplined rabble into proper soldiers…assuming they even tested out of the introductory training. Optimistically he was hoping for maybe half a dozen out of this first group.
"I was wondered when you guys would get back," he said, cracking a smile for the first time that day. "They're all yours…good hunting by the way."
"Yes, the Morari settlement provided more volunteers than we had expected," Teyla confirmed, glancing back at their recently acquired recruits, then at the others in training, including four of her own people. "I take it you have had problems."
"Problems no, just an overall lack of fitness."
"We'll take care of that," Ronon declared, striding forward and waving at his new men to follow.
"Okay, then. I'm packing out," Sheppard said, turning to Teyla. "You staying or going?"
"I'll join you in a few hours. I want to make sure the new recruits get settled."
"We can swap notes when you get back," Sheppard said casually as he trudged off towards the gate on the other side of a small, adjacent ridge.
Far off in the Milky Way galaxy, Stevenson and his replicator companion returned to the "gate center" via a gate-jump directly from Atlantis to the center's high security yellow gate…the only one of the five inside the space station that would receive incoming wormholes.
As soon as they stepped out of the event horizon Stevenson turned an abrupt left and stepped over to the nearby green gate and placed a hand on the outside of the great ring. He dialed an address from memory, having visually scanned the address and determined its viability the first time he was here, yet unable to do anything about it at the time.
The green gate's event horizon snapped into place and the pair walked through even before the incoming wormhole in the yellow gate deactivated. Both gates operated with different frequencies of wormholes, which meant that both could be simultaneously activated because they couldn't detect the presence of the other.
It was in this same way that the Pegasus gates couldn't connect with those in the Milky Way, not because of some elaborate safety protocol, but because as far as the tracking systems within the Pegasus gates knew, there weren't any other stargates in existence outside of the galaxy. The original gates operated on different frequencies and were therefore outside of their connective capability.
The specialized gate crystal in Atlantis operated like the DHDs did in the Milky Way and other Ancient galaxies, temporarily altering the frequency of the gate they were connected to in order to make a connection between gate networks…the special thing about the gate crystal was that it worked not just for outgoing wormholes, but for incoming ones as well.
The Lanteans had made Atlantis's stargate accessible to other gates with the crystal by causing the Atlantis stargate to alter its frequency on an incoming wormhole if, and only if, that wormhole originated from Earth. The crystal allowed the gate to 'see' when and where other frequency gates attempted to search their coordinates for a lock, but would only reveal its presence to Earth's stargate, where it would then reset itself to the red gate frequency and allow a connection to take place.
That single crystal was the only one of its kind in the galaxy that contained the frequencies of the other gate networks and their access codes. Without it, no wormholes could leave Pegasus, and since no DHD in the rest of the Ancients' domain had been updated with Pegasus gate frequencies, it was impossible to connect to the galaxy outside of Earth…save for the using the gate center to search out and find the new Pegasus frequencies, as Stevenson had done.
That single station was the hub of the entire gate network, and the only location to contain all six network hubs…which was why it rated yellow gate security. Not only could all the stargates within the Ancients' galaxies be monitored by the gate center, they could also be controlled, activated, and deactivated by remote. Locations could be isolated, wormholes rerouted, and entire sections of the galaxy or galaxies quarantined if need be.
It was as vital an installation as they came, and out of the Ancients' ingenuity and the station's anonymity (not even the Ancients' allies knew of its existence) it had survived intact for all these millions of years.
Other installations hadn't been so lucky…such was the case of the foodstuff production plant that Stevenson had just gated into.
He stepped out of the gate onto a floor filled with rubble, the result of a large hole in the ceiling and the piece of rock lying imbedded into the floor that was apparently the source of the damage.
Stevenson walked around and over smaller pieces of debris until he found an intact terminal. He tried to access its systems, but got only random responses from the Ancient machinery…much as he'd feared.
All Ancient facilities had a small number of nanites circulating through their systems, making minute repairs to the control circuitry and other vulnerable systems. Apparently the impact had exhausted the limited supply of non-replicable nanites and significant deterioration had ensued over the millennia.
Stevenson turned to face the replicator that he'd specifically designed for repair work rather than security. "Assess system damage and viability of repair."
With only a nod of recognition, the replicator walked up to the terminal and extended its slender hand into the control board…and disintegrated into the machinery.
Stevenson walked away, knowing a full system analysis was going to take time. He made his way across the debris and into a more intact wing of the facility. Eventually he arrived two stories above, in an observation platform that had been filled with sand, blown in through a broken window.
Seeing exterior light illuminating the sand with a red glow from somewhere off to his right, Stevenson climbed over the small sand dune and worked his way around to the other side of the platform.
The windows on this side were intact, and gave him a nearly panoramic view of the planet's surface. The dull white sand looked blood red as far as his eyes could see, overcast by a bright, red giant star dominating the sky.
Below him and spreading out to the left on the sand-covered planet extended several kilometers worth of additional buildings, all attached together into one massive complex that the Ancients had used to produce foodstuffs which where then shipped out to warehouse facilities in each galaxy through the orange gate network, which had been designed to facilitate high-traffic cargo transfers that would have otherwise tied up the other gate networks.
Elsewhere in the facility, probably on the loading dock, there was an orange stargate along with an army of cargo sleds designed to fit through the gate much like the puddle jumpers did, and were shaped in a similar fashion.
Those cargo trains weren't his interest at the moment, but rather the foodstuff production facilities and the patterns stored within their synthesis machinery. While Stevenson did already possess those patterns in memory, he really didn't want to spend days programming them manually into Atlantis's mainframe.
Yes, Atlantis did already contain the patterns for some of the basic Ancient foodstuffs, which resembled solid bars, circles, and other geometric patterns, but these production facilities contained the patterns for thousands of varieties that Stevenson knew were of varying nutritional value…and he wanted them all.
And while Atlantis could materialize any amount of foodstuffs that her current population might require, eventually their population would grow and power requirements would become too vast, requiring a more conventional means of production…hence he needed to salvage this facility if at all possible.
Stevenson waited in the observation platform for a while, then belatedly decided to explore more of the facility while he waited. Three hours later the replicator tracked him down and slithered its way out of a nearby console.
"Operating systems have experienced a significant amount of decay, yet computer memory is intact. Connective circuitry needs to be refurbished and replaced in seven locations where the lines have been physically severed. I estimate 10.2 hours for repair if given sufficient repair materials…85.7 hours if I have to cannibalize secondary systems to obtain the necessary compounds."
"What production capacity will be available after repairs to the operating systems are complete?"
"I estimate twelve percent, though I won't know for certain until I get the compound's diagnostic circuitry repaired. I detected significant damage and decay to the production line, but I believe the tertiary wing is relatively intact and can be brought online immediately, barring unforeseen damage."
"Begin scavenging unrepairable systems only," Stevenson ordered. "I'll return with additional materials within the day. What exactly do you require?"
"Master Bra'tac, there is someone outside that wishes to speak with you," the Jaffa sentry reported to the elder warrior inside the pyramid complex on the planet Isidor.
"Is this the one we have been foretold about?" Bra'tac asked.
"He is. He said he's been searching for your whereabouts the past two weeks."
"Is he armed?"
"He is not."
The balding warrior nodded. "Then let him come. I am curious as to his purpose."
The sentry nodded, half bowing in the process, then left the room. A few minutes later he returned with two additional guards and a slightly shorter man draped in a simple, grey, oversized robe that disguised his features.
"I hear that you have been searching for Bra'tac of Chulak amongst the worlds controlled by the Jaffa Nation. I am the one you seek. Speak."
"I have heard much of you from the Tau'ri," the hooded man said, also speaking in Goa'uld. "They say that you are the greatest of warriors, with decades of battle experience and a respect unequalled amongst the Jaffa. They also say that above all else it is your wisdom and skill that set you apart from the rest of your brethren," he said, slowly pulling back his hood to reveal his smooth, angular face and sandy, almost white hair. "If your reputation is even half true, I have need of your skills."
"It is customary upon meeting another to give one's name," Bra'tac reproached mildly.
The man half nodded. "I would give it to you in private, for there could be repercussions if others knew that I am here."
Bra'tac's eyes narrowed as he measured up the man. "Wait outside," he ordered the sentry and guards.
All three nodded in respect then exited the room. The stone-like door slid into place and sealed the room from any eavesdropping.
"I am Stevenson, formerly of the Tau'ri," he revealed, pulling off his robe. Beneath it he wore a solid white, form-fitting uniform adorned with a bracelet, ring, and matching silver gauntlets made of a twisting metal weave.
Bra'tac seemed unphased by the name at first, then a stray connection clicked into place. "You are the one that escaped Earth, yes?"
"I am," Stevenson confirmed.
"There is no need to speak in our tongue, young one. Though I must say, I am impressed with your linguistic skills."
"I apologize, but I can no longer speak English as I once did. I learned to speak Goa'uld only recently so that there would be no need for an intermediary between us."
Bra'tac frowned slightly. "What has happened to you?"
"You weren't told?" Stevenson asked.
"Nothing more that to keep on the lookout for two fugitives from Earth should they ever cross our paths."
"What do you know of the Alterra?"
Bra'tac shook his head. "Nothing."
Stevenson smiled faintly. "My apologies, you refer to them as the Ancients."
Bra'tac hesitated for a moment as his mind started to put the pieces together. "I know of another Tau'ri who lost his ability to speak his native language when that knowledge had been overwritten by the language of the Ancients."
Stevenson nodded. Bra'tac was already proving his intellect. "O'Neill."
Bra'tac's eyes widen a bit further. "You have been changed in a similar way…yes?"
"Do you not then possess the knowledge of the Ancients?"
Bra'tac looked him up and down again, as if seeing him for the first time. "Is this why you are unwelcome on Earth?"
"It is. They wished to imprison me so that they could use my knowledge to their own ends. I could not allow that to happen."
"What is it then that you wish of me? Sanctuary?"
"No, I require your combat skills."
Bra'tac twisted his head slightly to the right. "Is there a war being waged that I am unaware of?"
"Yes, and it will come to the Jaffa in due time. In exchange for your help I will provide you with what you need to defend yourselves, that which you are currently unable to produce…new ships."
Bra'tac stared at Stevenson directly, feeling that there was something more to this than he was being told. "Explain."
Stevenson sighed. This was going to take a while, and he was going to have to be careful not to tell Bra'tac too much about his true mission. Lyran had made his mind unreadable by ascended beings but Bra'tac's was not, so he couldn't risk giving the Jaffa any information that could compromise his mission.
Stevenson waved his hand at the nearby table and chairs. "Have a seat."
After fifteen hours of illuminating discussion Bra'tac was finally convinced. It seemed the old warrior had yet one more campaign to wage before the last of his days came to an end.
"This is indeed a brave new world that we live in," he said in awe of all that had changed in so few years. "As much as I had hoped that democracy would serve the Jaffa well, I admit that I find your wisdom undeniable. If we allow ourselves to become as stagnant and corrupt as the Tau'ri we will be ill equipped to fight the coming war…and we may very well lose the essence of what it is to be a warrior. I will not let that come to pass in my final days. We have fought too long and too hard for this freedom to see it misused and replaced by another form of depredation."
Bra'tac, pacing away while he spoke, held up his hand in pause. "I will not, however, destroy the democracy that we have created. We will let it run its course, and perhaps our fears will not yet come to light."
"I will help you design your ships, along with the replacements for our H'ttak. With your help, I shall then endeavor to build up our forces here, in secret, and be ready to strike when your war spills over into this galaxy. That is the only path I see available to us," Bra'tac turned to face Stevenson once again. "Do you concur?"
Stevenson nodded. "All except that part about your final days."
Bra'tac smiled regretfully. "An undeniable part of life, I'm afraid. I've not half the strength I once had…yet my wits are still about me. Rest assured, I will not fail in my part."
"Not what I meant," Stevenson said as he walked closer to Bra'tac. He reached a hand toward his forehead, stopping a few centimeters from it. "With your permission?"
"You wish to read my mind and verify my intent?" Bra'tac guessed.
"You have my permission."
Stevenson placed his right hand on Bra'tac's right temple, then brought his left hand up and fully bracketed the man's head. His search through his mind and memories was brief…his telepathic powers had already increased to the point where he could pull some thoughts and emotions without physical contact…yet what he did next was far more lengthy and complex.
After nearly twenty minutes Stevenson withdrew his contact, nearly exhausted. Bra'tac too seemed to be mildly fatigued.
"Did you find what you were searching for?" Bra'tac asked, rubbing his forehead against a slight headache.
"I did," Stevenson said, once again sitting down in a chair. "And so too shall you, my friend."
Bra'tac frowned at him. "You did something else while you were in my mind?"
"Your old strength will return to you over time," Stevenson assured him, "and then some."
"I would not have believed it, if I had not seen it with my own eyes," Bra'tac said in awe after he stepped out of the event horizon into the gate center. "Five Chappa'ai, all of different color."
"Six," Stevenson corrected him. "There is a chappa'ko outside."
Bra'tac shook his head in dismay. "It amazes me that such a place could remain undiscovered for such a long period of time."
"We're sitting in deep space, far from any star systems," Stevenson explained as they walked toward the entrance to the control tower. "Unless you know where to look, you'll never find it by ship, and without the access codes you can't get here by chappa'ai either."
"Never the less, it is a wonder to behold," Bra'tac said, following on Stevenson's heels through the maze of tunnels that led off elsewhere inside the gigantic space station. Soon they entered the control room, with the multi-galaxy map catching Bra'tac's eye.
"So this is the extent of the Ancients' domain." he asked rhetorically.
Stevenson highlighted the network of supergates within the galaxies. "These are the chappa'ko that I spoke of, and the reason for the maximum width restriction for our ships."
"And to think, all this time they sat right under our noses. I don't suppose it would have given the Goa'uld that much of an immediate advantage…I very much doubt a Ha'tak would fit through the ring."
Stevenson brought up a diagram of one of the supergates and interposed a crude replica of a Goa'uld ha'tak from memory.
Bra'tac's eyes widened further. "It seems I am in error. A standard Ha'tak will fit through. Had the Goa'uld access to these chappa'ko, they would have been able to conquer much more of the galaxy. It is indeed fortunate that they were so well hidden."
"This is where we are going," Stevenson said, highlighting a gate in another galaxy. "The galaxy of Ida."
Outside, visible through the windows in the control room, the green gate activated in an outgoing wormhole.
"I've already sent ahead supplies for our stay. We have as much time as is required to complete the basic designs…though I will have to make an occasional absence to handle other business."
"Then let us begin," Bra'tac said, eager to see more of the Ancients' legacy.
It was on one of those occasional absences that Stevenson returned to Atlantis to check up on Sheppard's progress.
"Morning," Stevenson said amicably, waking Sheppard up in his bed.
He woke up rudely, mumbling something incoherent, then his eyes widened when he realized it was Stevenson. "Where the hell have you been? I've been looking for you for days."
"Busy," Stevenson said simply. He'd worked around the Ancient language override enough to be able to answer with some brief, odd sounding words.
"I'll bet…we need some more of your toys," Sheppard said, swinging his legs off the side of the bed and sitting up. "Ronon feels a few of our guys are ready for basic weapons training…for which we'll need basic Ancient weapons, assuming you don't want us using P-90's?"
Stevenson shook his head no, and touched the bracelet on his right wrist. "Beta, I need you to synthesize four type-B pistols with stun setting only. Deliver them to Sheppard's quarters when finished."
"Understood. I'll have them there in 6.2 minutes."
Stevenson gave Sheppard a thumbs up, then handed him a tablet with a prepared message.
Sheppard suddenly jolted wide awake. "Are you serious?"
Sheppard twisted a kink out of his neck. "I guess he'd be the man for the job, but he's back on Earth…you want to get both at the same time?"
Stevenson nodded, this time slower for emphasis.
"You know, you are certifiably crazy…when do you want to do this?"
Stevenson shook his head and waved off his question. "La…er."
"Not in a hurry, huh? That's fine with me. Just give me a heads up a day or so before you're ready."
Stevenson nodded, then pointed his thumb at his chest, then over his shoulder.
"You're off to who knows where again?"
"Ida…what, the Asgard's old galaxy. That Ida?!"
Stevenson nodded casually, not seeing a reason for Sheppard's excitement.
"I asked you to take me with you the next time you went scavenging."
Stevenson shrugged his shoulders. "Oops."
"Oops?" Sheppard repeated, raising an eyebrow. "Of all the words you don't know how to say, you remember oops.?"
Stevenson smiled and waved goodbye before turning around and leaving Sheppard's quarters.
"Wait a minute," Sheppard yelled as he hurriedly got dressed. When he finished he darted off after Stevenson, nearly running into the replicator on the outside of his quarter's door.
"Colonel, I have the requested weapons," it said, smiling coyly. "I assume they are for you?"
"Thanks," Sheppard said, grabbing the box from her and running after Stevenson, hoping to catch up to him before he reached the gate.
He got there just in time to see the event horizon vanish.
"Son of a…," he said, looking over at the Athosian sitting nearby in the control room. "Where did he go?"
The young woman shrugged. "He input the coordinates himself, along with a lot of other symbols I don't understand. I thought the maximum number was eight?"
"It is," Sheppard confirmed, "unless you're a smartelic, backstabbing, good for nothing Ancient with a nose that looks like…"
Sheppard stopped when he saw the Athosian looking at him strangely. "Never mind. Let me know the moment he gets back."
"Yes, Colonel," she said smiling as he walked off.
Stevenson arrived back at the Ancients' theoretical design and simulation center where he found Bra'tac conversing with the holo interface, which had been modeled after a very brusque ancient researcher.
"It seems your computer and I have a different of opinion, Master Stevenson."
"I told you to drop the 'Master' earlier," he reminded Bra'tac.
"And I will, once you give me another title to address you by," the old man countered.
"Titles are meaningless at this point. What's the problem?" he asked, glancing at the partial schematic floating between Bra'tac and the holographic Ancient.
"It says their beaming technology is insufficient at a range over two kilometers," Bra'tac explained.
"It is," Stevenson confirmed, "which is why we built the rings."
"Yes," Bra'tac said, glancing back at the hologram, "it has informed me of such. But I know for a fact that the Tau'ri possess beaming technology that functions at a significantly greater range. How then, can the Tau'ri possess technology greater than that of the Ancients."
"The range limitation isn't the only factor in why we developed the rings," Stevenson said in mild defense. "In the time since my brethren's demise, the Asgard have improved on the technology rather than utilize our ring transports. I don't know why they chose to do this, but it is from them that the Tau'ri obtained the technology."
"What were the other reasons," Bra'tac asked, curious. He well knew the advantages of such beaming technology and wasn't about to abandon it lightly.
"They are easy to interfere with. The ring transport system is much hardier and can be used in many situations where the beaming technology is unfeasible."
"Yet the beaming technology can pick up or deposit one anywhere on the surface of a planet, whereas the rings much have an identical set to transmit to," Bra'tac countered.
"We never had much need for that," Stevenson admitted, talking as if he'd lived those millions of years ago.
"Perhaps not," Bra'tac counseled, "but we should make use of the technology none the less, and I suggest we install both means of transport on our ships. At the very least I want the transport beams for my Jaffa vessels."
Stevenson nodded in acquiescence. "As you wish, though it will take some time to acquire the Asgard designs. I recommend we leave that piece of technology until last."
"It is settled then," Bra'tac said, turning back to the partial schematics. "I have need of you to modify the primary weapon…the yield is too low."
Stevenson raised an eyebrow. "If we increase power it will diminish fire rate. I thought that was something you wished to avoid?"
Bra'tac shook his head. "By its nature, this weapon is an ungainly one. In order to be used effectively you must line up your shot, which takes time. One will only get a few shots before the battle is decided, perhaps even only one…therefore we must assure that we make it a heavy blow. Such a weapon is not easy to use effectively, but in skilled hands it will prove its worth."
"If you say so," Stevenson said, not totally convinced. "How much do you wish to increase its yield?"
"Tenfold," Bra'tac said without hesitation.
Two months after being kicked out of Atlantis on the end of Sheppard's boot, Richard Woolsey sat at the side of the SGC's briefing room table as his IOA cohort, Ian Victor, ran through the list of reasons for going after the now rogue city of Atlantis and the criminals who'd stolen it.
"In addition, your President is in full agreement with the need to reacquire the city and bring Colonel Sheppard and Captain Stevenson to justice," the Brit reinforced. "So why are there currently no ships out hunting for the city?"
"Because it's a really bad plan," O'Neill said in muted frustration. "We have no idea where they went, let alone if they're still in Pegasus. And just for the sake of argument, what exactly do you think we could do once we found them?"
"Recover the city," Victor said patronizingly.
"I believe the General is concerned," Landry jumped in as O'Neill gently banged his forehead on the table in a gesture of futility, "with our ability to bypass Atlantis's shield and get our teams within the city."
"We have the Asgard beam weapons," Victor continued. "Use them to breach the shield and forcibly take back the city."
"Might I remind you," O'Neill said irreverently, "that this is the city of the Ancients. Our current technology, even with what the Asgard gave us, is no match for what they've got…especially now that they have someone who knows how to use it."
"So you believe," Victor countered. "That hasn't been confirmed."
"The city took off from the planet," Woolsey gingerly interjected, "and entered hyperspace at a speed that even our 304s can't match. That shouldn't be possible with only one ZPM. Either they somehow acquired more, or this Stevenson did something above and beyond our current understanding of Ancient tech."
Victor turned on his fellow IOA representative with a look of betrayal. "We must have the city back."
"I think we all here agree on that point," Woolsey offered conciliatorily.
"I don't," O'Neill said, raising his hand for emphasis.
Woolsey leaned up over the edge of the table and looked down to the far end at O'Neill. "Surely you must understand the importance of the technology within the city."
"Oh, I surely do," O'Neill said sarcastically, "but in my book I'd write this one off as karma. You all wanted to abandon Pegasus and blow up Atlantis after looting it to your hearts' content. Personally, I rather like the turn of events."
"But why?" Woolsey asked with that innocent, incredulous look he used so often.
"Because it once again gives me the chance to say…I told you so."
"General," Victor began to patronize again, "we are all aware of your misgivings over our plans for Atlantis, but how we choose to utilize the city is none of your concern."
"It is when it's our ships that'll be taking fire in the retrieval process," Landry interjected again.
Victor raised an eyebrow speculatively. "You really think they'd fire on one of their own ships?"
"I would," O'Neill stated, "if I was shot at first."
"Which is exactly what you're suggesting we do," Landry added.
"Alright then," Victor conceded, "give me another option."
The briefing room fell silent for a few moments before Landry finally said, "McKay."
Victor's eyes narrowed. "Explain."
Landry blew out a reluctant breath. "Dr. McKay has been our foremost expert on the city of Atlantis since we first discovered it. If there's any way of getting past its shield he'll be the man to find it."
"Where is McKay currently?" Victor asked.
"Area 51," O'Neill answered reluctantly.
"Then this meeting is postponed until you can recall him here."
Landry glanced down at his watch. "Give me ten minutes," he said smiling.
"No," McKay said emphatically after being beamed over to the SGC via the Odyssey in orbit. "I'm not doing it. I'll resign first."
Victor was about to say something unpleasant when Landry held up a hand to stop him. "Dr. McKay, you're the best man we have for the job."
"Best man maybe," O'Neill added from the other end of the table.
McKay turned to him. "No matter what I do, you're always going to assume that Carter knows more than me. Oh no, completely ignore the five years I spent on Atlantis compared to the one year she spent, and of course she'll be more of an expert than I am, especially given that she was pulling command duty rather than working with and analyzing the Ancient tech. During her year of tenure, it was me who she came to when she needed something done…me, because I know Atlantis's systems inside and out, far better than she could ever hope to."
"Actually," O'Neill said quietly, "I was referring to Stevenson and the fact that he isn't quite Human anymore."
"Oh," McKay said, caught offguard. "Well in that case I agree with you. That man…Ancient now, I guess…knows far more about Atlantis's systems than I ever will."
Woolsey cleared his throat. "Do you have any idea how he managed to get the city to fly that fast on one ZPM?"
"Well I, hadn't really put much thought to that," he said hesitantly, making it clear that he was holding something back.
"What do you know, Dr?" Landry said firmly.
"Who me? Nothing."
"Dr. McKay," Victor said, standing a bit straighter, "if you're intentionally withholding information you can be charged with conspiracy and put into confinement."
"Hey," McKay yelled, pointing a finger at Victor. "I came back like I was supposed to."
"Enough!" Landry yelled. "We are not going to start pointing fingers amongst ourselves. And the only people that are being charged are the ones that chose to stay in Atlantis. McKay is not at fault for wanting to shield his former teammates, but we do need to know what we're up against before we risk a confrontation," he emphasized, looking directly at McKay.
Rodney frowned. "Fine, I might as well tell you. Maybe you'll think twice before sending anyone after them. Sheppard and Stevenson brought two additional ZPMs back with them. Atlantis is fully powered now…and you don't have a prayer of getting past their shields. Take a cue from the Wraith if you don't believe me."
Woolsey stood in utter shock. "Three ZPMs! Where did find two more? He's right, there's no way we can retake the city if it's fully powered."
Victor looked to O'Neill. "Have we lost any of our ZPMs?"
O'Neill shook his head slowly. "Not that I know of…and if we had I think I would have been told."
"Then Atlantis has acquired two new ZPMs…which makes recovering the city even more of a priority now," Victor said, his eyes gleaming greedily.
"I don't think you're hearing what they're saying," Landry said irreverently. "With three ZPMs the Ancients held off the Wraith indefinitely. How are we supposed to succeed where they failed?"
"Use the Asgard knowledge in Odyssey's data core," Victor suggested, "or find some way to infiltrate Atlantis and deactivate the shield from inside. It doesn't matter how you do it, just find a way."
O'Neill suddenly stood, resting his arms on the table as he stared down all assembled. "My orders from the President are to recover Atlantis if feasible. That means if there's a quick and painless way to retake the city then we will, but if it isn't doable, or if it'll cost us a ship or more in the process then we aren't going to try."
"McKay, I need you to go with the search teams and give an honest effort to try and find a way into Atlantis. If it truly can't be done, then we'll abandon the idea."
"General…"Victor began to interrupt.
O'Neill held up a stop finger. "I'm not finished yet. Regardless of what the IOA wishes to happen, we can't ignore facts. And one fact that I certainly am not ignoring is the fact that I take orders from the President and not the IOA. I'm also not ignoring the fact that it will be US Air Force ships that will be going after Atlantis. Neither the Russian nor the Chinese 304s are anywhere near complete, so it's US assets that will be put in jeopardy, and I'm not going to risk good people on some hair-brained IOA scheme."
"So this is how we're going to play this," O'Neill continued. "McKay, I'm sending you and the Odyssey back into Pegasus to do your thing. If nothing else try and locate Atlantis. We need to at least have an idea of where it is and what they're up to. I'm sending the Daedalus and Apollo along with you to help in the search. The Phoenix will stay behind and safeguard Earth."
"Colonel Carter has recently been given command of the Odyssey and will be in charge of the overall operation. Does that suit you, McKay, or is the stargate program going to lose your valuable services to retirement?"
Rodney starred down at his feet for a moment. "I still don't like it, but I'll agree to go under those terms…and Colonel Carter's command."
"General O'Neill," Victor objected. "Do you really think it's wise to put the operation under the command of someone who has a personal connection to Atlantis?"
"Colonel Carter will do her duty," O'Neill emphasized. "Which, by the way, is to the Air Force and orders I give her, not to the whims of the IOA."
"Never the less, General," Victor said, none too happy. "On behalf of the IOA, we would like a representative to oversee the operation."
"Observe, yes," O'Neill correct him. "Oversee, no."
Victor didn't answer, he just stared at O'Neill in aggravation.
"I'll go," Woolsey offered. "My limited experience with Atlantis may prove to be of some use...if that's acceptable to all parties?"
"You're free to tag along," O'Neill agreed, "but Carter has the authority to push you out an airlock if you get in the way."
"General!?" Victor protested.
Woolsey stood, cautioning Victor. "The General is exaggerating in order to make a point." He turned to face O'Neill. "I understand that I'll have no actual authority, but this way I can give the IOA assurances that certain persons aren't deliberately compromising the mission due to personal feelings."
"If 'all parties' includes me," Rodney said passively, "then I vote no."
"I can assure you it doesn't," Woolsey said stiffly.
"Well actually," O'Neill started to say. "McKay, is there another IOA representative you'd feel more comfortable with?"
Rodney sighed. "I suppose not."
"Well then…" O'Neill said, waving at all assembled to get their asses moving.
"Are you going to beam me back to Area 51," Rodney asked irreverently, "or am I going to have to walk? I have an ongoing experiment that needs finished or deactivated before it blows up half the continent."
"I thought we stopped doing those?" O'Neill asked deadpan.
Landry turned back to O'Neill as Victor and his associates began to file from the briefing room. "How long until we need to pass McKay your way?" he asked after the IOA suits had moved out of earshot.
"Two weeks," O'Neill said, giving Stevenson and Sheppard as much lead time as he dared. He glanced over at McKay. "Well…better start packing."
Friends Long Forgotten: Part 1
The gateroom was quiet, with only a sole occupant attending the city's controls when a seldomly used panel lit up. The attendant, a former Air Force Lieutenant by the name of Devonshire, woke from her bleary-eyed stupor and turned toward the blinking yellow lights, unsure of what was happening.
She turned back to her laptop status display…only to belatedly remember that Stevenson had removed all such devices in the control room in favor of English translations input into the Ancient control terminals.
Devonshire cursed lightly then dragged up a schematical display of all functionality in the control room…a feature that she'd been relying on heavily since the trained control room staff had all returned back to Earth like good little minions.
She found that particular panel tagged as a long range communications node, and briefly reviewed the protocol for retrieval. A moment later she swung her chair across the smooth floor over to the still blinking console and brought up the message packet in hologram above her fingertips.
The message was written in Ancient, and she didn't know how to institute a translation program so she radioed for assistance. Teyla was the closest nearby and quickly arrived in the control tower.
"What have you found?" she asked as she strode up the stairs.
"I have a message, written in Ancient, but it didn't come over the subspace communications channels. It came through this console instead."
Teyla looked at both the console and the message floating above it in turn and frowned in confusion. "I don't think it's written in the language of the Ancestors."
Devonshire glanced back at the message. "Looks Ancient to me."
"No," Teyla said assuredly, looking at the small box corners and dots that made up the language's characters. "I've seen many forms of the Ancestors' language here in Atlantis…this is not one of them."
"Ok…then what do you want me to do about it?" Devonshire asked.
Teyla raised an eyebrow. "Find Stevenson."
Four hours later Stevenson returned from another of his mysterious journeys through the gate and was snagged by Devonshire before he could disappear elsewhere. She contacted Teyla over the intercom and the Athosian joined them within minutes.
"Can you read it?" Teyla asked when she arrived back in the control room.
Stevenson nodded without taking his eyes off the fairly long text.
Teyla waited patiently until he had finished. "What is it?"
"Response," Stevenson said, bypassing Teyla and going straight for the dialing chevrons.
"You sent a message?" Teyla guessed. "To whom, may I ask?"
Stevenson turned back to face her. "Nox."
Teyla shook her head unsure. "Who are the Nox?"
"Friends," Stevenson said as the wormhole activated and he headed down the stairs.
"Would you like some company?" Teyla offered.
Stevenson stopped and turned back to look at her. He smiled apologetically and shook his head no. He held up his index finger.
"One…only one?" Teyla asked.
Teyla sighed. "Well off with you then, and have fun. When you finally remember how to speak, you and I are going to have a very long conversation."
Stevenson laughed and waved goodbye as he walked off into the event horizon and back into Avalona…or as the Humans called it, the Milky Way galaxy.
Stevenson stepped out of the gate into a clearing in the forest that covered the entirety of the Nox homeworld of Leth. He walked forward a few steps into the grassy field then waited patiently, glancing around at the verdant wilderness surrounding him.
A few minutes later one of the Nox walked out of the nearby trees and greeted him in the language of the Ancients.
"Hello my friend," Stevenson said in reply, not in his own language, but that of the Nox.
"You know our language?" the short, bristly haired humanoid asked.
"I do, among many other things. I am Alterra, once ally to your ancestors."
"Indeed, as your message stated. How is it then that you still live when your kind passed on so long ago?"
Stevenson frowned. "I explained as much in my message."
"Forgive me, I was not told. Perhaps you could indulge my curiosity?"
Stevenson nodded slightly. "My brethren died off from a plague long ago. Before the last of them succumbed they created a race of lesser lifeforms to populate the galaxy in their stead, ones that would not be susceptible to the plague due to their primitive physiology. My brothers also left behind a number of devices that would alter the descendants of this lesser race into Alterra once their physiology adapted to an adequate level. I am the result of contact with such a device."
"What world did you originate from then?" the elder Nox asked.
"Known today by its inhabitants as Earth, yes?"
"Yes, it is."
"Then you are of the same people as the one called O'Neill that visited us before?"
Stevenson smiled. "I was. I am Alterra now."
"Interesting. So your transformation created a schism with your former people?"
"Out of necessity," Stevenson explained. "I cannot trust them."
"How sad," the Nox said genuinely. "Do you seek refuge among the Nox?"
"No, my friend. I wish to speak of resurrecting our former Alliance."
The Nox tilted his head. "For what purpose?"
"To undo that which time has ravaged."
"We have not heard from the Asgard nor the Furlings for much time. How fare they?"
"The Asgard are recently dead. The Furlings yet live."
"How did they die?"
"Their physical degeneration resulted in an illness that quickly spread amongst those that survived their war against the replicators. The remaining few destroyed their world to keep their knowledge and power from falling into the wrong hands."
The Nox didn't say anything, merely let his head fall, shaking it in regretful disbelief.
"I could not do anything to help them," Stevenson continued. "They died before I was transformed."
The Nox sighed. "Four there once were, bound as brothers in friendship, now only two remain, separate and isolated."
"Three now," Stevenson corrected. "Through me the Alterra have returned, and will rise once again."
The Nox stood a bit straighter. "My name is Ohper. What would you ask of the Nox, our long lost brother?"
Stevenson smiled. He had been afraid that over the generations since the Alliance had crumbled, the present day Nox might not have been willing to accept him, yet he should have known better. Nox were Nox, regardless of the time that had passed.
"First, I want you to know that I intend to honor our Alliance. If you ever have need of our assistance, do not hesitate to ask our help. I have been given the complete storehouse of Alterran knowledge during my transformation. I will gladly share any of it that may be of use to you."
"You are gracious in your offer, yet the Nox currently need for nothing. How might we be of help to you, young one?"
Stevenson stiffened. "I need to know what progress you have made with the disease that killed my people."
Ohper stared at him for a long moment. "That is not something that I can help you with. To obtain the answers you seek you must speak with the others."
Stevenson slid his ornamented gauntlets off his forearms and set them gently on the ground. "I will leave these here."
Ohper smiled. "You do indeed know the way of the Nox. Come with me," he said, waving his hand through the air. Both he and Stevenson vanished.
Ohper and Stevenson reappeared inside one of the Nox's hidden floating cities, surrounded by a sea of organic looking crystal. The floor was smooth, polished clear/blue crystal that was illuminated from a source meters below. The walls and ceiling were of an erratic design, resembling a subterranean cavern with stubby, blunt crystals extruding from any and all angles.
The corridor ahead was not linear. It meandered to and fro, branching off in random directions. Had Stevenson not already possessed a schematic of the Nox city in memory, he would have been thoroughly bewildered.
"You must speak with Olma," Ohper said as he began to slowly navigate through the caverns. "She will have the answer to your question, though it may not be the answer you seek. If memory serves, we were never able to find a cure to the plague."
"Did the Nox ever become infected?" Stevenson asked.
Ohper looked up at him as they walked. "Not to my knowledge."
"That is fortunate," Stevenson said, relieved to hear that the Originals hadn't targeted the Nox for extinction with a similar plague. Apparently the Nox's insular ways had kept them from attracting the attention of the Ascended Empire despite the fact that the Nox were as physically advanced as the Alterra had been, though different in some significant and radical ways.
As they walked, Stevenson and Ohper passed several other Nox strolling through the city, all of which looked at Stevenson with sedate curiosity. He noted both their numbers and the 'dead spot' within their minds that he couldn't touch. He knew from the knowledge imparted to him by the repository that this wasn't a lack of development of his telepathic skills. This was a well known attribute of Nox physiology.
Though they resembled Alterrans, beneath the surface they were very alien, made all the more mysterious due to their unknown origins and unquantified abilities. Pleasant and friendly as they might be, they were still an enigma to the Alterrans and had every intension of remaining so.
Without preamble, Ohper stopped walking and looked to the wall on his right. The crystal nodes extruding from the wall retracted and curved within themselves, creating a narrow, crack-like doorway into an adjacent chamber…one overflowing with plants.
Ohper lead the way, with Stevenson trailing close behind him and having to duck in order to pass through the meter and a half tall opening. A step after he was inside, the fissure resealed itself just as another opened on the opposite side of the miniature forest.
A second Nox entered through the opening. Stevenson could feel the presence moving through the greenery towards them with a light, airy, yet slow gate. A moment later she pushed aside a cluster of vines and stepped into the light.
"Hello. I am Olma. You are Stevenson, the Alterran that has risen from the ashes of the past to return to us."
"I am," Stevenson said simply, nodding his head in respect. "I would ask what you know of the plague, and if you have discovered the reason you are immune?"
"To your second question the answer is simple," she said sweetly, almost smiling yet serious at the same time. "It wasn't designed for us."
Stevenson frowned. He knew that, but it could be dangerous if they did. Lyran had made it clear that any knowledge of the Originals' sabotage of corporeals would be viewed as a threat and therefore erased from existence. "Designed?" he asked innocently.
"The plague that killed your people sought out a very specific range of cellular structures. Yours were most affected due to the complexity of your bodies. Had your physiology not been so advanced, the virus wouldn't have affected you as extremely as it did."
"That we knew," Stevenson told her. "It was why we retarded our gene pool and created a primitive race based on that genetic construct. However, we were under the impression that the plague attacked any advanced physiology."
Olma slowly shook her head. "In the beginning we thought the same, but when one of our own was exposed to the virus and did not fall ill, we sought other lines of research that revealed several Lynomal indexes that had to be matched in order for the virus to activate. The Nox lack two of the required twenty six."
"Luck was on your side," Stevenson said, lying through his teeth. "Have you learned anything new that might be of use in creating a counter-telmarse agent?"
"No," Olma said, hanging her head slightly. "The virus seems to be impervious to that type of attack."
"What of a nucleotide realignment code-locked inhibitor?"
"That attempt was also unsuccessful."
"Were you unable to enhance immuno-response?"
Olma nodded, anticipating the question. "We did make significant progress in that regard, but our insights came too late to help our research partner. Her illness had acquired too strong a grasp on her body. The upgrades proved inadequate for her, and came too late to aid the others."
"I thought you said you hadn't found a cure?" Stevenson said, glancing at Ohper.
"I would not call it a cure," Olma cautioned. "Several Alterrans were near to overcoming the virus without assistance. I believe that our augment would have given the strongest of you a fighting chance…but no guarantee of recovery."
Stevenson smiled faintly. "I understand. May I see the augmentation research?"
Olma nodded and motioned with her hands for him to follow. The slightly shorter Nox led him through a waterfall of foliage and hidden paths before they arrived in a spacious alcove that the greenery did not infringe upon. As soon as Stevenson had cleared the vines from his vision he stopped dead in his tracks.
Imbedded into the wall of the alcove was an Alterran stasis chamber…an occupied stasis chamber.
"This is your research partner?" Stevenson guessed.
Olma nodded. "She is near death, and would not survive more than a few days if revived. It was her wish that she be preserved so that we would have a living specimen to experiment on should we find a cure. We have revived her six times, each when we thought we had found a way to save her. None were successful, and lessened what little time she had left."
Stevenson walked forward and pressed his palm against the transparent cover of the stasis pod. "Is this pod the only place you store the virus?"
"Have no fear… you are not in danger of contamination. She has not walked our halls in over a thousand generations."
"When was the last time you worked on the research?" Stevenson asked, still staring at the Alterran woman's frozen face. He knew it was simply the afterimage of when she'd been put into stasis. Exterior light entering the pod could potentially damage the flesh over time, so the pod was shielded against such things. Never the less, an afterimage was included in the technology so the occupant could be 'viewed' during stasis.
"I have familiarized myself with the research of others, but have myself made no new insights. We have a virtual model of the virus if you wish to continue the research? There would be no risk to you."
"I do not believe a simulation will be sufficient. Regrettably, I must have a live sample of the virus to work on. I searched our remaining research facilities for a sample, yet I found none. Either they used samples directly from their own bodies, or the facilities with the virus have long since been destroyed."
Olma slowly shook her head. "We did not retain a living sample of the virus outside of Aeria's body. The only way to obtain one is to revive her, which would put you at risk of infection and push her further toward the threshold."
"Now is not the time," Stevenson agreed, "but that time will soon come. When it does, I will need you to revive her for an instant. Just long enough to take a sample."
"I am not sure if that is wise," Olma said hesitantly.
"I have no wish to reintroduce the virus to the galaxy. It would affect the Human populations as well as myself. However, when we devise a cure it will have to be tested on a living sample of the virus before we can try it on…Aeria?"
Olma nodded that he had got her name right. "You sound optimistic?"
"I am," he said confidently. "I have been given the full knowledge of the Alterra, far more than any single Alterran ever possessed. I may not have the knack for medicine, but I have enough knowledge to recognize a diamond in the rough. Have you ever encountered a species known as the Goa'uld?"
"Not personally, but they are known to us," Olma said quizzically. "You believe their symbiotic nature could defeat the virus?"
"I don't believe. I know," Stevenson declared. "A few years ago, another of my sisters," he said, gesturing to Aeria, "was discovered on Avalon, frozen in the ice. Somehow she managed to survive millions of years in such a condition and revived when she was dug out. She was infected with the plague and spread it to the few Humans that rescued her. Before she died, she was able to cure them of the plague…save for one. She died before she could save him."
Olma's eyes widened. "Did the virus spread?"
"No, fortunately it was contained. The man that remained infected was offered the chance to live by a sympathetic offshoot of the Goa'uld known as the Tok'ra. Once joined, the Goa'uld was able to cure him of the plague."
Olma's eyes wandered as she thought. "Interesting. It would remain to be seen whether a Goa'uld could kill the virus within an Alterra, given that it attacks your physiology on a greater degree than that of less advanced races."
"Agreed, but that's not quite what I had in mind," Stevenson said cryptically."I'm more interested in learning how they do it, so that we might be able to develop an immunity to this plague and others like it."
Olma considered that with a slight inclination of head. "Then it seems we have an invitation to extend."
"This is what I told you about," Teyla showed Sheppard as they arrived back in Atlantis's gate room from the planet where they were training their army, code-named 'Yavin' by Sheppard's order.
"Right on our doorstep, huh?" Sheppard remarked as he watched the blip on the long range sensors that Teyla had run off to warn him about. "Any idea where it's headed?"
"There are three populated systems in close proximity to us," Teyla said, pointing at the neighboring systems to the ice world they were currently inhabiting, also code-named by Sheppard as 'Hoth.'
"Do we know what the dot is yet?" Sheppard asked.
Teyla shook her head. "Not yet, but by the size I'd say we're dealing with at least one Hive ship, maybe more."
"You're sure it's Wraith?"
"The computer seems to think so," Teyla said resolutely. "We will know shortly if it is or not. The closer they get the more information the sensors can gather. We'll also know if they start periodically dropping out of hyperspace."
"But they haven't yet?" Sheppard asked.
"I only discovered the blip half an hour ago," Teyla admitted. "I had the computer running a sector by sector sweep looking for the Wraith, and this was the first hit I got. It just so happens that it was heading out way."
"What's their eta?"
"A week or two," Teyla said, unsure. "Depends how many stops they make."
"And you're sure they're coming our way?"
"Yes," Teyla reaffirmed. She pulled up a flight path diagram of the contact that she'd studied earlier. It was on a linear course that the computer predicted would come within a few light years of Atlantis.
"Any chance they're just passing through?" Sheppard asked.
"Possibly, but there isn't any system within the galaxy that lies on their current trajectory."
"Alright…what do you want to do about it?"
"We at least need to warn the planets in their path," Teyla pleaded. "I had hoped that Stevenson would have a way for us to do something more, but he hasn't returned to Atlantis in over a week."
"And we no longer have 304s to hit the Wraith with," Sheppard added. "If it was just darts or even a cruiser I'd take my chances in a puddle jumper, but we can't do anything against a Hive…unless we board it under cloak and drop off one of Stevenson's replicators."
Teyla's eyes widened. "Will that work? I thought he designed them differently."
"I didn't mean replicate and take over the ship," Sheppard corrected her, "I meant just drop the two SF's he's made inside and see how much havoc they can cause."
"As well as fire a few drones into the dart bay to slow the speed at which they are able to cull the planet."
Sheppard raised an eyebrow. "Starting to sound like a plan…assuming they're actually going to hit one of the nearby systems."
"Time will tell," Teyla said calmly, "and hopefully Stevenson will return before then."
"Where the hell is he anyway?" Sheppard asked in frustration. What good was it to have an Ancient around if he was never around?
Stevenson waited in the research alcove while Olma went to the gate to welcome their guest. Despite the hopes he had for Goa'uld physiology, part of him wanted to find a solution the old fashioned way, and with the little bit of information that Lyran had given him about the virus he was making progress where the Nox had become stonewalled.
Fortunately they had made several key insights into the function of the virus in addition to the research done by the Alterrans. Aeria had brought all their findings with her to the Nox, so Stevenson had quite a head start compared to the Alterrans when they first became infected with the Ascended Empire's plague weapon.
Also, knowing that it was indeed a weapon helped narrow the focus of his study considerably. He assumed the delivery method was direct implantation by an ascended being, so all of the research done to reduce the likelihood of infection he simply discarded. To date, there was no way to stop an ascended being from messing with your body…but devising a method of shielding yourself against their interference was one of the items at the top of his permanent 'to do' list.
Stevenson pulled away from the neural interface when he sensed three presences approaching. He turned around and waited until Olma parted the thick vines and walked into view along with a blonde-haired female Tok'ra.
"Hello," he said in Goa'uld.
She bowed slightly. "I am Anise of the Tok'ra. My host is Freya. How may we be of assistance?"
Stevenson smiled slightly. Even though she had a snake in her head, she was none the less attractive. "We believe that your healing powers may be the key to discovering a cure for the plague that wiped out the ones you refer to as Ancients."
Anise tilted Freya's head in curiosity. "Possibly, but what good would it do now. The Ancients are long since dead, are they not?"
"Not anymore," Stevenson revealed. "I am Alterra, the race that you call Ancients, along with her," he said, pointing to Aeria's stasis pod, "and a Jaffa who will become fully so within the year. There will be others soon enough, and we need to develop an immunity to the plague should we encounter it, or another like it, again."
Freya's eyes blinked. "Forgive me, but what you are saying is impossible. How can you be an Ancient?"
"He speaks the truth," Olma said. "The woman in stasis is one of the original Alterra. Stevenson has only recently become Alterra." She turned to look at him. "Yet you never mentioned a third?"
"A work in progress," Stevenson assured her.
"What proof can you offer?" Anise demanded.
Stevenson smiled and lifted his hand, and as he did Freya's body lifted in tandem. "I am not a fraud," he said, gently putting her back down. "But I do need your help."
Anise gently straightened Freya's skirt. "I would like to know more of who you are and what has transpired."
Stevenson nodded. "I can offer you such information in exchange for allowing us to study how your symbiot affects repairs to your body in general, but especially how you deal with disease."
Freya's eyes narrowed. "I can agree to that in principle, but I need to hear more before I submit myself to any examination."
"Very well," Stevenson said, pulling out a chair for both him and Anise/Freya. "I will tell you what you wish to know first…then you may decide whether or not you wish to assist us."
Anise nodded and sat Freya down. "Perhaps you can begin by explaining this plague that you say killed off the…Alterra?"
Stevenson nodded, then smiled faintly at Olma.
She smiled in return then wandered off into the foliage. This was going to take a while and there was no need for her to hear the story twice. Through her telepathy she told him that she would return when needed.
"Long ago, in a galaxy far, far away," Stevenson began, suppressing a smirk while knowing full well that Anise/Freya wouldn't catch the irony. He belatedly realized that he'd been hanging around Sheppard too much.
"You said two weeks," Sheppard reminded Teyla. "It's been four."
Teyla slowly dipped her head in acquiescence. "I admit, I may have misread the display. It now seems that the Hive ship is still two weeks away."
Sheppard raised an eyebrow. "Are you sure about that, or are you just making an educated guess?"
Teyla stood a little straighter. "Without your portable computer systems to translate, it is difficult to decipher the Ancestors' display screens. In the past I would have asked Stevenson for a translation, but since he's been away for over a month I…"
Sheppard waved a hand for her to stop. "I'm all for jumping on the blame Stevenson bandwagon, but if he doesn't show up soon we're going to have to undertake this op ourselves…and we need to know when the contact will get wherever it's going."
Teyla adjusted one of the displays in the control room for Sheppard to see. "Now that the target is closer, the computer has been able to refine its course projection."
The computer drew a new line through one of the dots on the map.
"Leos," Teyla said, pointing at one of Hoth's neighboring systems.
"You been there before?" Sheppard asked.
Teyla nodded. "Once. They are a primitive people…farmers, artisans, mill workers. Their villages number in the hundreds. I would guess there to have been several thousands of inhabitants. Even if they've been culled in recent years, there should be several thousand remaining…so long as the Wraith refrained from completely wiping them out the first time."
"That's assuming there was a first time," Sheppard pointed out.
"A planet with a population of that size would have been sure to be culled once all the Wraith awakened and found too little food to go around."
"You think they're coming back for seconds?"
Teyla shrugged. "I am merely speculating, Colonel."
Sheppard blew out a frustrated breath. "I'm tired of waiting. Forget Stevenson. Find Ronon and meet me in the jumper bay in half an hour. We're going to have a look for ourselves."
Teyla nodded, half smiling. "Full gear?"
"Full gear," Sheppard echoed as they walked out of the control room towards the nearest transporter.
"I admit, I'm at a loss for words," Anise said after Stevenson had finished telling her of the death of the Ancients, their plan for the Repository, and his subsequent transformation from Human to Alterran.
"Will you help us?" Stevenson asked.
"If I do, will you help us in exchange?" she countered.
Stevenson frowned. "How so?"
"We are a dying people. The Tok'ra cannot reproduce without a queen, and we have been without one for many centuries. Our numbers grow fewer each year, and some of us have speculated that within a thousand years our kind will be relegated to the annals of history. If the knowledge the Ancient Repository gave you contains a way to save us from extinction, both I and the Tok'ra will assist you in any way that we can in exchange."
Stevenson sat back in his seat for a moment as he considered her unusual request. There were many ways to work around infertility, but with the Tok'ra being comprised entirely of reproductiveless drones, theirs was a somewhat unusual situation.
"Does your genome contain the dormant elements of a queen?"
Anise considered his question carefully. "No. The queens pass on the genetic characteristics that they choose to their offspring. Only one chosen to be a queen will be endowed with that genome."
Stevenson chewed on his lip absentmindedly. "Can you obtain a genetic sample from an existing Goa'uld queen?"
Anise frowned in concentration. "Doubtful. The few remaining Goa'uld queens have disappeared into the backwater of the galaxy for fear of being killed by their rebellious Jaffa. I don't believe we know the current whereabouts of any. We do, however, have the genetic profile of our progenitor on file."
Stevenson considered that. "Does it contain the complete genome?"
"I believe so," Anise said hopefully.
Stevenson leaned forward and extended his hand. "If you can give me a complete genome of a Goa'uld queen, I can fix your problem. Do we have a deal?"
Anise extended Freya's fragile hand and grasped Stevenson's. "We do."
Stevenson didn't let go. "However, if you use these new offspring to take so much as one unwilling host…I will hunt you down and take back that capability."
Anise looked him straight in the eye. "We are Tok'ra. We would never do such a thing."
"Even if it means you living in a water tank without hosts?"
"Even if it means our death," she replied. "We are not the Goa'uld."
Stevenson released her hand. He had searched Freya's mind during their brief contact and was satisfied that she meant what she said. "Then we have a deal."
Ronon, Teyla, and Sheppard returned to Atlantis within eight hours, confirming both of Teyla's suspicions. Leos had indeed been culled a little over three years ago, and some eight thousand people had been sparred so as to reproduce the next generation of 'cattle' for the Wraith to feed upon.
"Has Stevenson returned yet?" Sheppard asked the control room via radio as he slowly moved the puddle jumper up out of the gateroom and into the jumper bay.
"Negative, Colonel," Lieutenant Devonshire reported. "The gate's been inactive since you left.
"Damn it," Sheppard whispered to himself as he gently landed the puddle jumper in the center of the bay. "Find Twiki and Bam Bam," Sheppard told Ronon, referring to the two security guard replicators that Stevenson had made, "and have them meet us in the conference room."
"You're really going to go through with this?" Ronon asked as they walked out the back of the jumper.
"It's either that or let our neighbors get culled by that hive ship," Sheppard argued.
"Stevenson may get back in time," Ronon offered.
"And if he does he's going to get a piece of my mind," Sheppard said angrily. "The least he could do is leave us an occasional message…or carry the Ancients' version of a cell phone."
"I'm sure whatever he's doing is important," Ronon said.
Sheppard turned and glared at him. "You're only defending him because he gave you that mini-drone launcher."
"Hey, it works," Ronon said half laughing.
"That's not the point," Sheppard argued.
"You're just sore that he didn't take you with him," Ronon jibbed, clapping Sheppard on the shoulder.
"Ow," Sheppard mouthed as Ronon jogged off ahead of him.
"I think there is some truth in what he says," Teyla added.
"Not you too," Sheppard complained.
She smiled then changed subjects. "Can we not give the replicators some type of explosive to take onboard the hive ship?"
"I thought of that," Sheppard said, back to business. "But I figure a couple drones launched into their dart bay will work just as well. If we had a nuke or two I'd reconsider, but the only ordinance of that magnitude that Earth sent us was kept on the 304s and not in Atlantis."
"Perhaps the other Replicator can make one for us in Stevenson's absence."
"I already asked," Sheppard admitted. "She said she wasn't programmed to give us access to anything larger than firearms without Stevenson's approval."
Teyla looked at him quizzically. "What did you ask for?"
"Some large explosives," he said, strait-faced.
"And?" Teyla prodded.
Sheppard cleared his throat, mangling the word as he spoke it. "Ligh…ts…aber."
"A what?" Teyla asked innocently.
"Never mind," Sheppard said quickly. "The point is the Replicators are our best bet to do some damage."
Teyla sensed he was avoiding something, but she decided to let it go. "How many refugees can we accommodate on Yavin?"
"As many as we can convince to evacuate," Sheppard said. "That Replicator bi…Beta said she can provide us with as many Ancient ration cubes as we need."
"What about shelters?"
"All the basics are covered," Sheppard said offhand. "You can ask her yourself if you like."
"I already have. Seems she isn't programmed to divulge even that much information to someone without the Ancient gene."
"Really," Sheppard said, raising an eyebrow. "I'll have to have a little chat with him about that too when he gets back."
"It's no matter," Teyla assured him, "as long as we get the supplies we need."
Sheppard stopped her in the hall. "It matters because you're a member of my team. If I can be trusted, then it's the same for you and Ronon."
"It seems he doesn't completely trust anyone," Teyla argued, inferring that it was a moot point.
"Well he's going to have to if we're all going to be living under the same roof."
"I would not press him too far," Teyla warned. "He seems to be under a great deal of stress."
"Don't worry about that…we have an understanding."
Teyla raised an eyebrow.
"It's a guy thing," Sheppard said as they started to walk. "You wouldn't understand."
Devonshire sat in the control room, half dozing off amidst the boredom that had now become commonplace in Atlantis. No longer were there teams coming and going through the gate. No longer were there periodic reports back to Earth. No longer were there other staff manning the controls to converse with. It was just her and the emptiness.
The Lieutenant woke with practiced reflexes when the gate activated with an incoming wormhole. Her hand slid over to the shield control without thinking and pressed the button that would activate the defensive barrier…and pressed it again, and again. By the fourth time she was fully awake and realized that there was a problem, now rhythmically tapping the controls in frustration.
She blew out a relieved breath when she saw Stevenson walk through the gate with a passenger in tow, literally. Devonshire saw her feet hovering above the ground and her body slack.
Stevenson stopped just inside the gate and lowered Freya's body until her feet gently touched the ground, but he didn't loosen his telekinetic grip until he swiped his fingertips across her forehead and woke her from the dreamy depths of unconsciousness.
"Welcome to Atlantis," he told her as she blinked herself awake.
"Stevenson!" Devonshire yelled to get his attention as she jogged down the stairs to meet him. "Where have you been!? There's a Hive ship on its way to cull one of the nearby systems. Teyla and Ronon took some of the troops to evacuate the planet while Sheppard took the Replicators and a puddle jumper to try and slow them down."
Before she could say anything more Stevenson ran up the stairs and into the control room faster than humanly possible. He was there within three seconds, staring at the long range sensors and the red icon tagged as a Wraith hive ship, mere minutes away from its destination.
"Stay here!" he yelled in Goa'uld at Anise before running off in a blur, deeper into the city.
Sheppard watched from the pilot's seat of his cloaked jumper as the Wraith Hive ship emerged from hyperspace in orbit over Leos. As soon as the pseudo-motion faded from the mammoth vessel, three pieces of it broke off and took up escort formation.
Sheppard toggled the puddle jumper's comm. "They're here. One Hive ship plus three cruisers," he said as he mentally brought up a targeting reticule over the main dart bay. "Get through the gate ASAP!"
"We're on our way now," Ronon said via his Ancient wrist communicator as he hurried another group of natives toward the gate. "But we're still half a klick from the gate."
"They're launching darts," Sheppard informed as he squeezed his eyes almost shut in concentration. "Hold on."
The jumper decloaked, spat out four yellow orbs, then recloaked and abruptly altered course toward the nose of the Hive ship.
The four drones twirled their way toward the dart bay as dozens of darts streamed out. The drones evaded the Wraith fighters and moved past them into the confines of the cavernous bay. They bored through the walls, looped around through nearby decks and emerged back inside the bay two, three, four times…hitting any and every vital or combustible system they could before their cutting energy expired and they detonated in one final act of destruction.
From outside Sheppard could see the bay light up from inside. The jumper's heads up display highlighted dart debris being blown out into space along with bits and pieces of the ship.
Without the computer enhancements it would have looked like the Wraith ship simply turned on and off a small light inside their hull. The Hive was so massive that even the destruction of the bay's interior made little change to the rest of the ship. The only noticeable difference was that the stream of darts flowing from the ship had stopped. The few dozen that had left prior to the blast split up, half moving down to the planet while the other half swarmed out in a defensive screen trying to find the source of the attack.
Sheppard flew the puddle jumper closer to the ship, gradually making his way to the dart bay while monitoring the damage from afar. The bay's internal temperature had spiked rapidly, but even now the cold vacuum of space was mitigating the excessive heat while the ship's biomatter reformed to cut off breaches in the interior hull that were bleeding off atmosphere thanks to the tunnels that the drones had bored through the decks.
The closer the jumper got the more data he received. Not all of the bay had been damaged, and many darts remained intact in their wall niches. It was the left side nearest the opening of the bay that had been slagged, with several huge chunks of the interior wall missing, exposing over ten decks and damaging all the surrounding dart pods.
Further back into the bay, where the renewing pocket of atmosphere was held intact by a secondary force field, more darts stirred to life. As Sheppard gingerly flew the jumper inside he could see solitary Wraith running to board the darts on the landing pads while still others boarded directly from the wall niches.
As much as Sheppard wanted to use his remaining drones to do some more redecorating, he needed stealth, not bravado, to cause the most damage he could to the Hive. "Twiki, Bam Bam…you're up."
The two replicator guards that had been sitting behind Sheppard in silence since they'd left Atlantis eight hours ago. Both nodded in unison, stood, and walked into the aft compartment of the jumper. Sheppard set the ship down on one of the landing pads under cloak and lowered the aft hatch remotely.
Twiki and Bam Bam stepped through the cloaking field and into view, then took off running toward the edge of the pad and a sealed entrance. Sheppard watched them make it off the pad, punch through the doors, and slither through the hole into the ship's corridors before he took off and headed back out of the bay and into space.
"Package delivered," Sheppard reported.
Ronon and Teyla heard Sheppard's words just before the whine of approaching darts caught their attention. They and their party were still 100 meters from the gate and running through an exposed grass field…with nowhere to hide.
"Keep going," Ronon said as he slid to a stop and unslung the large tube that he was carrying across his back.
Teyla didn't argue. Instead she sprinted on ahead of the villagers toward the DHD. When she got there she dialed Atlantis as quickly as she could…but the gate wouldn't accept her address. She tried once more, also unsuccessful, then switched to Yavin's address, cursing herself for not trying it first as well as wondering why Atlantis couldn't be dialed.
The wormhole connected just as the first of the villagers reached the DHD. She turned back to hurry them through, just in time to catch a glimpse of Ronon and the swarm of tiny lights, brighter than the overhead sun, launching out toward the incoming darts.
Stevenson had given Ronon the mini-drone launcher and the Ancient gene needed to use the weapon over a month ago, but this was the first time she'd seen him fire it. Just like their larger counterparts, the tiny lights twisted and arced their way toward the darts as they deployed their culling beams on a run that would cut across the path of the fleeing villagers.
The first two darts were swarmed by the tiny lights and shredded within seconds. The drones continued on to the next three darts as they went evasive, having to chase them high into the sky before detonating along with the Wraith craft. Two tiny lights survived and streaked toward four more incoming darts. They were all Ronon had left to mentally direct. The launcher was out of ammo.
"Ronon, come on!" Teyla yelled as the last third of the villagers arrived at the gate and began to flee through the puddle.
Ronon stood, but didn't run. He used the last two mini drones to chase, but not impact, the next few darts and succeeded in turning them away from their culling runs…all except one.
That one dove low and flew over Ronon's head, not bothering to activate its food-snatching beam. Instead it headed directly for the last few villagers and Teyla. The Leosians made it through in time, but Teyla resisted the urge to follow them, which would have meant abandoning Ronon. Instead she ducked down behind the DHD as the dart flew into the gate behind the villagers.
"Oh no," she whispered to herself before standing up to look for Ronon.
She ducked back behind the DHD just as a full sized drone dropped down from the sky and chased the dart through the wormhole.
In orbit, Sheppard tracked the movements of the Replicators within the Hive ship. He was rather pleased with their progress, not to mention his cleverness for thinking up this technique to deal with the Wraith. That was, until one of the signals was suddenly moved outside the ship.
Sheppard frowned and zeroed in on the signal. It was Bam Bam, and he was in space floating away from the Hive.
"What'd they do?" Sheppard asked. "Chuck him out an airlock?"
Before long Twiki followed on the other side of the ship.
"Well that just…wait a minute," Sheppard said, redirecting the jumper toward Bam Bam. "Two can play at this game. I'll just scoop them up and drop them off again. See how you like that!"
Two seconds later the Hive's main guns fired and Bam Bam's tracking signal vanished. Twiki's followed a moment later.
"Son of a…" Sheppard swore, getting cut off by the jumper's sensors as they detected another ship emerging from hyperspace.
The thing was the size of a Hive, and for a brief moment looked like a jelly fish until Sheppard realized that he was viewing it from the bottom up. He half jumped out of his seat when he realized what he was looking at. The mass of grey that he saw in front of him was the underside of Atlantis!
He saw several drones fired from the city immediately, a few dozen of which headed for the planet's surface to deal with the culling darts, Sheppard guessed. Six others stayed in orbit and targeted the four Wraith ships as they immediately began to make a run to hyperspace.
Three of the drones slithered under the Hive ship and took out its hyperdrive generators. The remaining three did the same on the escort cruisers. Once all of the Wraith ships were stranded in the system, Atlantis…did nothing.
"What are you waiting for?" Stevenson said to the air. "We've got more drones than that."
As if in reply to his question, the jumper's heads up display highlighted six points within Atlantis that were charging with power.
"What's he doing…" Sheppard started to ask when he belatedly remembered Rodney telling him that Atlantis had other weapons systems besides the drones…they just had never had enough power to use them before. "Well this should be good."
The Wraith ships, knowing that they were horribly outmatched, began to run away on sublight engines even as they opened fire on Atlantis. The faster cruisers quickly left the Hive behind, yet it was them that Stevenson targeted first.
On one of Atlantis's main 'piers' a thick column rose up a few dozen meters and locked into place. Crackles of orange lightning emanated from its halo and lept out towards the cruisers with only the slightest hesitation.
The energy crackled through the cruisers, destroying critical systems and creating small internal explosions, but the biomatter construction of the ships resisted combustive detonation and did not explode.
The three ships were partially shredded from the internal explosions, with trailing bits of hull spewing out from their decimated carcasses. Some Wraith onboard them may have survived, but the ships were as good as dead. All fire from them ceased the moment they were hit.
"Wow," was all Sheppard managed to utter before another location on Atlantis pinged with completion of its weapons charge. Through the jumper's viewport he could see Atlantis rotate around on its central axis and bring that highlighted point from the opposite side of the city around to the side nearest the Hive ship.
A yellow-green beam fired from the city and cut through the Hive's bow with ease. The beam didn't abate for several seconds…long enough to cut the ship in half.
Sheppard pumped his fist in silent triumph.
The Hive halves drifted apart, but not all of the weapons batteries had ceased fire. Multiple small explosions along the rift propelled the two halves further apart, but again the biomatter construction of the Wraith ships resisted detonation, and Sheppard saw the city rotate again to bring another side into range.
Another beam cut through the halves, further breaking up the ship. Four more such salvos were required before the jumper's readouts showed the Hive's systems to be completely dead. He wondered how many Wraith had survived the attack, and a slew of tiny lifeform indicators appeared on the HUD. He watched as they winked out, one or two at a time for a few minutes, then deactivated his cloak and contacted the city.
"I don't know if I should thank you or kick your ass, you arrogant, inconsiderate Ancient…but I have to say that was one hell of a show you just put on."
Stevenson's voice came back and said something pithy in Ancient. Sheppard frowned and a text translation appeared on his screen.
"Hey, I heard that!"
Back on the surface Teyla watched the other drones kill off the darts as Ronon ran toward her. He too had seen the drone pass through the gate.
Once he caught up to her they both ran through the event horizon and emerged into a nighttime version of Yavin. Several of Ronon's men were leading the villagers on the trail to the encampment while a small fire burned in the woods off to the right of the gate.
Teyla and Ronon exchanged glances. "I guess that takes care of that," Ronon said, pleased.
"Sheppard shouldn't have had that many drones," Teyla pointed out as realization dawned on her.
"What?" Ronon asked, seeing the expression on her face.
"I tried to dial Atlantis and couldn't," she explained. "Stevenson must have brought Atlantis to Leos and fired the drones from orbit."
"So they could be fighting right now?" Ronon asked.
Teyla walked over to the DHD and dialed Leos. After a brief conversation with Sheppard via comlink, she confirmed that the Wraith had been destroyed and Leos saved. Now all those villagers that they'd just evacuated had to be turned around and marched back through the gate.
A small price to pay for a world saved. Teyla had a smile on her face the rest of the day. She was really starting to like Stevenson.
Friends Long Forgotten: Part 2
After Rodney beamed aboard the Odyssey he stowed his duffle in his pathetically small excuse for personal living space and made his way up to the bridge.
"Welcome aboard, Rodney," Carter greeted him from the command chair. "We're just about ready to leave. Did you get everything you asked for?"
"For whatever good it will do," McKay complained. "I still say this is a fool's errand. There's absolutely no way we're going to get past their shields."
Carter shrugged. "Who knows, maybe we'll get lucky."
McKay snorted. "Lucky for us means Sheppard and the others end up in a cell for the rest of their lives."
Carter gritted her teeth and looked at the ground. All trace of amusement left her face. "Look, I know this isn't going to be easy for you. It isn't for me either, but we have our orders."
"Hmmn, I'm sure the Nazis captured at the end of World War Two said the same thing at their pre-execution hearings."
Carter glared at him. "That's not fair," she said firmly. "This isn't the same situation at all."
McKay stepped closer to her and lowered his voice. "Don't you ever get the feeling that we might be on the wrong side in this fight…and that Sheppard is doing the right thing that the rest of us are just plain too scared to do?"
"Which is what?" Carter asked.
"Go against the I.O.A."
"We've fought against the I.O.A. before," Carter countered.
McKay crossed his arms over his chest. "Then why are they still the ones in charge?"
"You heard me. If we've 'fought' them before why are they still giving the orders?"
"Because of the gate alliance treaty the US signed," she said patronizingly.
"So that gives them a 'get out of jail free card?'"
"What are you talking about, McKay?"
"For crying out loud, Carter, they just abandoned every last Human in Pegasus to end up as Wraith food. We've shot Goa'uld for doing less than that. You've shot Goa'uld for doing less than that."
"What would you have me do then?" Carter asked, now getting miffed.
"Something," McKay emphasized. "I at least had to have my arm twisted to get me here. All the rest of you seem quite happy following whatever orders your superiors give you. Maybe that's the curse of being a soldier and it's civilians like me that are still free to comprehend the difference between right and wrong!"
Carter glanced to her right, noticing that the bridge crew was taking keen notice of everything they said. She grabbed McKay by the arm. "Come with me."
"Where are we going?" he said as she dragged him out into the hall.
"Somewhere we can talk," she said as they angled toward a maintenance hatch. Carter opened it and slid through, pulling McKay in behind her. She wiggled past him and closed the hatch.
"You know, I'd make some flirtatious comment about the close quarters in here if I wasn't still pissed with your obtuseness," McKay said a few inches away from her face.
She jabbed him hard in the sternum with two outstretched fingers. "I don't care how much you don't like this mission, and I don't care how much you don't like how I'm dealing with it…but don't you ever do that in front of the crew again."
"Your ego, that's what you're worried about?" McKay said, exasperated. "People are getting the life sucked out of their bodies by the Wraith and you're worried about your popularity? I can't believe you of all people would be that shallow."
"McKay…stop it right now!"
"Or what? You'll leave me behind? Go ahead, it'd suit me just fine."
"Will you just shut up and think for a moment," Carter said forcefully. "If you and I don't go on this mission they'll just find someone else to do it. We can't stop it from happening, but we might be able to make it a little easier on Sheppard and his crew if we're the ones calling the shots."
"How?" McKay asked, full of sarcasm. "Are you willing to intentionally blow the mission?"
"No," Carter said emphatically. "But with our combined knowledge of the city we might be able to find a way around a confrontation. At the very least, Sheppard will talk to us, whereas he probably won't with anyone else."
"Forgive my stupidity, but Sheppard and the others still end up in prison regardless of who captures them…assuming of course we can capture them…which we can't."
"Not if they manage to escape through the gate while we're retaking the city," Carter offered slyly.
"So, you're willing to let Sheppard get away," McKay said sarcastically, "yet Pegasus still ends up doomed to be the Wraith's feeding ground while we sit blissfully unaware back in the Milky Way."
"I'll admit, it's not a perfect solution, but it's the best we can hope for given our current situation."
"Actually, I can think of one better," McKay countered. "Assuming of course that anyone back on Earth hasn't the gumption to topple the I.O.A., we can still hope that Sheppard and his Ancient can outwit the both of us."
Carter frowned at him. "We still have to give it our best effort."
"Why!" McKay all but yelled in the confined space the size of six or so phone booths. "Whatever happened to leave no man behind…stick up for the little guy…death before dishonor…and all that good guy mantra?"
"None of that has changed…"
"Oh yes it has," McKay said, his voice lowering. "Face it, Carter. Everything you and the SGC accomplished in the few years after the gate was opened is being usurped by men and women no less corrupt than the Goa'uld. The difference is, they don't have a snake in their head, and you're giving them a free pass because they're from Earth. If this was some other planet we were talking about you'd just shoot them and be done with it."
Carter tilted her head in annoyance. "That's not exactly an option we have here, Rodney."
"Why not," McKay said deadpan. "Bad guy here, bad guy there, what's the difference?"
"Because they were democratically elected," Carter countered. "If we want to remove them we have to use the system in place to do it."
"And in the mean time they get to rape and pillage to their hearts' content…all the while using us to do their dirty work for them."
"Bottom line," Carter said, trying to get hold of the conversation again. "Are you going to help on this mission or not?"
"I wouldn't be here if I didn't have to," he said, turning away and opening the door. "I just didn't expect you to take their side. I thought you were better than that," he said as he walked out on her.
Once Atlantis had finished cleaning up the Wraith debris in orbit around Leos, Stevenson took the city on a galactic scavenger hunt before returning it to Hoth to resume the delayed construction of the Ancient outpost that would be tasked with overseeing planet-wide mining operations.
Since the construction had already been interrupted, Stevenson took the opportunity to pick up a few things on his shopping list. Teyla and Ronon chose to return to Yavin for the few days that Atlantis would be off the grid, but Sheppard steadfastly refused to let Stevenson go without him.
Atlantis's first stop was in the void between galaxies, where they picked up the first of the Pegasus gates that were floating uselessly in the broken gate bridge. Stevenson would need a new gate for Hoth, and figured it would be easier to repurpose existing gates before undertaking the tedious process of making new ones…which Atlantis still retained part of the production line for. He'd have to remake the rest from scratch and at present he had more pressing needs to attend to in his limited amount of time.
Sheppard agreed with his reasoning, despite the fact that he really wanted to see how the Ancients actually made stargates. However, that curiosity faded once Atlantis completed the recovery of the Pegasus gates and proceeded to their next destination, also in the void between galaxies.
Having reviewed the Atlantis Expedition's notes encoded within Atlantis's databases, Stevenson had discovered the existence of a derelict Lantean starship sitting helplessly between the galaxies. Once Stevenson located the Tria and brought the hyperdrive-damaged ship inside the city's shield and secured it onto one of the docking piers, Sheppard was distracted enough exploring the ship not to notice Stevensons' third and final destination on their journey back to Hoth.
Another notation in the Expedition's notes was the location of a certain space gate and the unusual items that had been set adrift on the other side. Stevenson retrieved one of those items and destroyed the rest before returning Atlantis safely to Hoth.
When they arrived back over the ice planet, the partially constructed Ancient outpost was visible in a deep, crater-like depression in the thick surface ice. The crater had been hewn out of the ice in their absence by the nanites, and now allowed Atlantis to land on the bare ground around and on top of the outpost. All around the city white walls extended upward at a sharp angle, blocking out the horizon and all of the sky save for a 60 degree arc directly overhead.
Once the city was safely landed, Stevenson returned to the new lab that he had set up and continued to run Aniss/Freya through a battery of tests. Meanwhile, during his off hours, he started work on the item that he'd retrieved for Sheppard from its cold, orbital slumber.
"Cooled down a bit?" Carter asked a week later when she caught up with McKay in the mess hall as the ship traveled through hyperspace between galaxies. Up until then he'd been deliberately avoiding her.
"Not really," he said snobbishly, yet his tone was much milder this time around.
"I guess I can't really say I disagree with you," Carter said, sitting down across the table from him. She leaned forward on her elbows and partially hung her head as she talked. "I thought about what you said earlier…and I'm ashamed that there was some truth in your words."
"Oh?" McKay said, his irreverent tone gone.
"It's different when you're looking in from the outside. You see things much more clearly because you have no personal stake in what happens. But when you're an insider, and it's happening in your home, it's not so easy."
Carter folded her arms on top of the table nervously. "I know that's not an excuse, but from my point of view I don't really see that there's anything I can do to change the situation. The I.O.A. is still going to be running things at the end of the day."
"I think the bigger question isn't what will happen," McKay offered in one of his rare philosophical moments, "but what part will you play in it."
Carter bit her lip. "Meaning if we can't stop it, we should at least not add to it."
"Bingo," McKay whispered slowly.
Carter smiled disbelievingly. "A small piece of me wants to consider actually joining them…and that's the only piece that seems to be making sense."
"You really considering that?" McKay asked, amazed.
"No, of course not," she assured him. "But it would make things a lot simpler."
McKay sighed. "The rings," he said, suddenly switching topics. He didn't feel like fighting with her anymore.
"What about the rings?"
"The rings are our only chance of boarding Atlantis."
Carter frowned. "The rings won't connect to the transporters, the rooms are the wrong shape."
"But," McKay said, raising a finger for half-hearted emphasis, "the city has a set of standard rings at the base of the central tower."
"Really? How come you didn't say anything about that earlier?"
"It never came up. Besides, we used the Asgard beams for all city to ship transit. With that technology available the rings are outdated tech…except for their ability to transit through shields."
"You're saying we need to find a way to open Atlantis's shields to the rings' specific frequency rather than trying to breach the shields directly through sheer firepower."
"Exactly…even though it can't be done."
"Can't?" Carter asked, wondering why he'd brought it up.
"Can't," McKay reiterated. "The only way I agreed to come on this mission is when General O'Neill said we'd scrap the whole thing if it proved unfeasible. I figure the sooner I prove that true, the sooner we can go home."
"So why can't we find a way to puncture a frequency hole in Atlantis's shields?"
"Because I don't have a clue how to do it…and because the Ancient will probably figure a way to counter us even if we did."
"So why do you bring it up?" Carter asked, not giving up on the idea.
"Because I know of someone who might know how to do it."
Carter sat up a little straighter. "The Asgard."
"And we have their datacore onboard ship," McKay finished for her.
"Have you looked yet?"
McKay shook his head. "No. I haven't the stomach for it. I've done my part and given you the idea. Now I wash my hands of it and hope you fail miserably…no offense intended."
"None taken," Carter said as she considered his idea. He might be onto something.
"Oh, by the way. Congratulations on your promotion. I was too pissed off before to take notice."
"Thanks, but it's only a field promotion," Carter clarified. "I'm only a General for the duration of this mission."
"Why's that?" McKay asked with a 'that's stupid' look on his face.
"Chain of command gets kind of murky with three Colonels working side by side. Makes things easier when there's only one highest rank among the group."
"Regardless, it's well deserved."
Carter smiled. "I really appreciate that, Rodney."
"Comes with a nice pay raise, I'd imagine."
Carter blinked. "Actually, I never asked."
"Well when you find out let me know," McKay said as he stood up from the table with his tray. "I'd be interested to see what the price of betrayal is going for these days."
Carter blew out an
annoyed breath as he walked her off again. "It's going to be a long
mission," she whispered to herself as she headed off to the Asgard core
Stevenson held a small, clear data crystal in his hand. He stared at it closely as the significance of the tiny piece of technology weighed on him. This was the endpoint of a million+ year quest…as well as a key component in the war to come against the Ascended Empire. On this crystal was the means to make himself immune to the plague that had destroyed the Alterra…the means to counter any similar bio-weapon created by the Originals and their minions…and it was the cure that would save the last of his original sisters, Aeria, from the doom that had befallen the rest of his kind.
It had taken him two weeks to isolate the means by which Goa'uld symbiots made alterations to their host bodies, another week to record and extrapolate the strategies they used to combat disease and instigate repair, and a final three weeks to create a white blood cell-like addition to the Alterran immune system that would function in a way similar to that of a symbiot.
He'd already ran over a billion virtual simulations and counter-corrected his designs more times than he cared to remember, but in the end, when he had come up with what he thought was a suitable countermeasure to the plague, he had transmitted his research to the Nox for a second opinion.
Stevenson had just received a reply a few moments ago. It was an augmented version of his bio-correction cell that had already been tested against a sample of the plague. Both his original version and the Nox-enhanced cell had both succeeding in destroying the virus in fresh tissue samples taken from Aeria.
Olma had wanted to test the cure on Aeria without delay, but Stevenson demanded one final test first. He sent a final message saying that he would return within the month to test the virus on himself. In the mean time he had other loose ends to tie up.
Stevenson pocketed the crystal, satisfied. He'd upload the DNA alterations into his own genome later. Right now he had a promise to keep to the Tok'ra.
The Odyssey dropped out of hyperspace during the middle of the night shift, yet General Carter was wide awake…in the Asgard Core room.
"Bridge to General Carter," a slightly staticy voice blared over the room's intercom.
Or so it seemed to Carter's ears. She'd been studying Asgard shield schematics for the past five hours in complete silence. She stood up and walked over to the wall-mounted terminal.
"Carter here," she said meekly, her own voice sounding extraordinarily loud.
"We've just dropped out of hyperspace at the rendezvous point."
"Have the Daedalus and Apollo arrived yet?" she asked as her hearing returned to normal.
"Stand by. I'm on my way up."
Carter reluctantly put her research on hold and left the core room on her way to the bridge. Rodney had guessed right…the Asgard did know quite a lot about shield frequencies and how to disrupt them. More than that, they also had a number of Ancient shield schematics on file that were proving extremely useful in her ongoing computer simulations.
The plan to use the rings to bypass Atlantis's shields was feasible, except that the Odyssey didn't carry the type of weaponry that the Asgard typically had at their disposal, so it was going to be difficult to deliver the type of energy blast necessary to disrupt the city's shield in the desired fashion.
They were going to have to build an entirely new weapon for the task from scratch.
Carter arrived on the bridge just as the Apollo dropped out of hyperspace alongside them. The Daedalus was already floating off their port bow.
"Give me an open channel to both ships," she ordered.
"This is General Carter. Report on ship status."
"Daedalus is in the green," Colonel Caldwell's voice came back.
"Same goes for the Apollo, General," Colonel Ellis answered. "We're ready to deploy on your order."
"Before we begin, let me emphasize one important fact. This is a retrieval mission. Whatever your personal feelings are toward Colonel Sheppard and the other Earth personnel that commandeered Atlantis, I will not tolerate any vigilante actions under my command. At this time your orders are to search for the city…nothing more. If you locate them, or if they happen to locate you, your orders are to report back to me and take no independent action. Are we clear?"
"We are," Caldwell said.
"Understood, General," Ellis agreed.
"Be advised, we are currently working on a plan to penetrate Atlantis's shields and get a team onboard to retake the city from within. We believe that we might, and I stress 'might,' be able to use the ring transporters to penetrate the shields if we can disrupt them on a specific frequency, thereby allowing the matter stream to pass through."
"We've seen Goa'uld ships transport cargo through shields this way," Carter continued, "and we may be able to do the same with Atlantis if we're successfully able to modify our weapons to create the proper disruption effect. If our efforts on the Odyssey bear fruit, we'll have to regroup and make adjustments to the Daedalus and Apollo as well."
"What kind of adjustments?" Ellis asked.
Carter's voice hesitated for a moment. "We may have to add an entirely new weapons platform onto our ships."
"Isn't that something we should have done back at Earth?" Caldwell asked.
"We have the Asgard replication technology onboard the Odyssey and a ZPM to power it. Earth doesn't have those kind of resources at their disposal…we do. Besides, we only just figured this out in the past few days."
"I know I don't have to remind you of this, General," Ellis cautioned, "but now that we've entered the Pegasus galaxy we're sitting in the middle of enemy territory. Without a safe haven like Atlantis to set down in, I'm not sure how comfortable I am having the Apollo undergo construction within the reach of the Wraith."
"I understand your concerns, Colonel," Carter agreed. "If we have to make a jump back into intergalactic space to get some privacy we will. In the mean time we need to focus on finding Atlantis. To that end, the Apollo is hereby dispatched to begin placement of the recon satellites. I believe the first destination on your list is Setida?"
"It is," Ellis confirmed.
"You have three weeks to work through as much of your list as you can. If you haven't completed your assignments by then, break off and return here for debrief. If you encounter the Wraith you have authorization to go weapons hot at your prerogative. Any Wraith kills will be appreciated, but that's not your primary mission."
"But it is a secondary objective?" Ellis asked.
"Unofficially, yes," Carter confirmed. "If you run across them, take the bastards out…just don't go looking for trouble."
"Will do, General. Permission to get underway?"
"Granted, Apollo," she confirmed. "Good hunting."
Outside the forward viewport the Apollo rotated on her center axis and turned away from the group. A moment later she shot forward and entered hyperspace.
"Have your teams been fully briefed?"
"They have, though I was going to reemphasize a few points before I dropped them off."
"Make sure they keep a low profile when questioning the local inhabitants. Word may have got out that we intended to destroy Atlantis."
"They'll stay incognito," Caldwell assured her. "I'm not going to chance letting them leave the Daedalus unless they're fully dressed in native garb. If there's any rumors floating around about Atlantis's whereabouts we'll track them down discretely."
"Err on the side of caution, Colonel. We don't want to tip our hand this early in the game."
"Understood. I assume we're operating under the same rules of engagement concerning the Wraith?" Caldwell asked.
"And the Odyssey?"
"We'll cross that bridge when we come to it," Carter answered dubiously.
"Are you sure you don't want the Daedalus tagging along as backup?"
"We have a cloak," Carter countered, "Daedalus doesn't. We'll be alright, Colonel. See you in three weeks."
"Good luck," Caldwell offered before the Daedalus moved off and jumped into hyperspace.
"To us all," Carter whispered to herself. "Helm, set course for the nearest known Wraith outpost."
"Wraith?" the helmsman asked wide-eyed.
"If Sheppard was serious about taking the fight to the Wraith, then we might be able to find some evidence of their presence and use it as a starting point to backtrack to Atlantis."
"If you say so, General," the helmsman said, unconvinced, as he pulled up the Odyssey's galactic map and chose the closest candidate system.
Carter leaned back in the command chair as they made the jump into hyperspace. She knew searching Wraith worlds was a long shot, but she wasn't going to say that in front of the crew. The truth was, the odds of finding Atlantis were nil if they were intent on hiding. Their only chance of finding them was if they were still interacting with the locals in some form or another. O'Neill had given her a 12-month deployment window to find Atlantis…if not, then they'd turn their back on the Pegasus galaxy once and for all and give up any hope of ever reclaiming the lost city of the Ancients.
Stevenson was waiting in a specially prepared lab when Anise walked through the door. "You summoned me?"
"Yes. I need you to separate from your host."
Freya's eyes glanced at the water tank behind Stevenson. "We can't survive outside of a host for more than a short period of time," she warned.
Stevenson raised an eyebrow. "That may be what you want others to believe, but you forget…I've been scanning your physiology in depth and I know for a fact that's a lie. You may not want to live outside a host body, but you are physically able to for an indefinite amount of time."
Anise glared at him, quite miffed. "You doubt my word?"
"There is no doubt involved. I know for certain. Your transition back into an aquatic habitat may not be pleasant, but you are physiologically capable of making the transition. Regardless, I only need you to separate for a few days."
Anise didn't look convinced. "Why must I separate from my host?"
"Because I must have only one lifeform within the device at a time, otherwise it would alter the genome of the host as well."
Anise frowned. "What are your intentions?"
"I am going to transfer specific elements of the queen genome that you supplied me with into your own."
Anise blinked in surprise. "You're going to transform me into a queen?"
"Is that a problem?"
Anise hesitated. "I did not think such a thing was possible. I thought you were going to create some means for us to reproduce artificially."
"You pass on your genetic memory voluntarily, so cloning a new queen from the genome you provided would not produce a new Tok'ra, it would reproduce the genetic memory that the queen that bore your queen had given her. You would have another tyrant on your hands unless this clone chose to forsake her genetic legacy as your forbearer did, and there is no guarantee of that."
"Withholding the genetic memory," Stevenson continued, "would create an untainted symbiot with no memories whatsoever. For other species that would not be a problem, but since your kind rely on prerequisite knowledge from birth…cloning a new queen is not an option. In order to reproduce more Tok'ra, or at least those inclined to follow the ways of the Tok'ra, one of you must become a queen and pass the necessary genetic knowledge on to your offspring. If you do not want to be the one to do this, then you must supply me with another Tok'ra to transform."
"That will not be necessary," Anise said quietly. "I would be honored to bear this burden. Shall we begin now?"
Stevenson raised his hand toward the meter-square tank sitting atop an ancient genome altering device. Anise walked over to the tank, lowered Freya's head to just above the surface of the water, then slithered out of her mouth into the tank.
Freya coughed against the pain initially, then regained her composure. Stevenson could sense her discomfort and walked over to her. "Allow me," he said, placing a hand gently against the side of her neck. He concentrated for a long moment, healing the fissure that Anise had torn in the back of Freya's throat upon exit, then moved his hand up to tousle her hair sympathetically. "Better?"
"Thank you, yes. How did you know?"
"I could feel your pain, as well as your shock from being disconnected from Anise's mind."
"I imagine she must be feeling the same about now," Freya wondered aloud.
Stevenson looked at the Tok'ra symbiot swimming gently around the tank. "I don't know. My telepathy doesn't work on their species."
"But it works on me?" Freya asked as a different range of emotions flowed through her.
Her thoughts caught Stevenson off guard and he nearly blushed. "Be careful with your feelings. Being separated from Anise may be affecting you in ways you don't realize…and stay away from Sheppard for the next few days," he added belatedly.
Freya gently grasped Stevenson's right hand in her left. "Sheppard isn't the one I'm thinking about."
Stevenson didn't take her hand, nor did he push it away. Instead he turned to face her directly and raised his left hand to her temple. "There's no way for me to explain this in words. If you wish it, I will let you feel what I am feeling for an instant…but let me warn you, it will not be pleasant."
Freya frowned. "Do you not find me attractive?"
Stevenson smiled. "Quite attractive…but that's not my point. If you allow me to connect our minds you will understand."
Freya nodded, and Stevenson extended his thoughts and feelings through his telepathic connection while screening out any sensitive information that he didn't trust the Tok'ra with.
Freya jerked backward in reaction, nearly doubling over as she clutched her body in pain. A moment later Stevenson's mental image dissipated and Freya was herself once again. "How do you stand the pain?" she asked in horror.
"I have no choice," he explained. "It is a side affect of the ongoing transformation. My abilities are growing faster than naturally possible, and the resulting physiological flux is, needless to say, unpleasant."
"Is there no way I can ease your pain?" Freya asked as she sympathetically placed a hand on his shoulder. From the outside she could detect no trace of the pain he hid so well, but the moment of insight he had shared with her wasn't something that she could easily forget.
"None," Stevenson said with a touch of genuine regret.
"Might I at least stay by your side these next few days?" she asked earnestly.
Stevenson laughed lightly. "If for no other reason than to keep you away from Sheppard, yes."
"Is he dangerous?" Freya asked.
"Not in that way," he said, sensing her concern. "But the only reason he hasn't been fawning over you since the moment you entered the city was the presence of Anise within your body. Now that you're symbiot free, I suggest you keep your distance from him."
Freya smiled and wrapped her arm around his. "That won't be a problem."
He silently relented and they walked a few paces arm in arm over to the control terminal where Stevenson began inputting commands with his left hand, augmented by a few telekinetic button presses, given that Freya had a good grip on his right arm that he was reluctant to relinquish.
Her eyes widened with wonder as she saw him operate some of the controls without touch, then her mind calmed to a researcher's placid curiosity as she observed him make the numerous alterations to Anise's genome that would transform the genderless symbiot into a fertile queen that would become the future progenitor of the Tok'ra.
Stevenson took care to make sure that the genetic alterations to Anise's physiology developed according to design before he allowed her to return to Freya's body. He had been concerned about the growth of the new organs and Anise's ability to operate them, yet it seemed the genetic knowledge transferred from the queen's genome gave the symbiot all the prerequisite information she needed to operate her new bodily functions.
Anise formed a small larval sack within the tank, wanting to make sure that she was fully capable of asexual reproduction, then disconnected from it in order to blend with her host once again. When she did, Anise and Stevenson had a very long conversation about genetic technicalities that were far above Freya's understanding, but she did sense from Anise that all was well…and that the Tok'ra had indeed escaped from their inevitable doom.
Once every aspect of the alterations had been covered, Anise/Freya gated directly to the Tok'ra homeworld to begin repopulating their dwindling species. Stevenson gave them an Ancient communicator so that they could contact Atlantis independent of the gate network just in case something went wrong with the spawning cycle. The Pegasus galaxy was still off the grid as far as the Tok'ra were concerned, so he'd given them the intergalactic 'fax' machine technology that he'd used to contact the Nox, with strict instructions not to share it with others. Anise had agreed and they went their separate ways.
After cleaning up the lab, Stevenson oversaw the final construction of the planetary outpost beneath the city and initialized the five replicators tasked with expanding the mining infrastructure across the planet. They would personally construct several new factories around the outpost using the minimal resources already being drawn from the planet, then begin feeding the raw resources into those factories to begin the construction of the planet-wide infrastructure.
Meanwhile, he sent Sheppard on another cargo run to one of their auxiliary mining facilities to pick up the weekly shipments from the automated resource collectors. These machines had been constructed by the nanites that Sheppard and his team had deposited earlier and were collecting some of the rarer resources used in crystal and circuitry construction that weren't readily available on Hoth.
The Colonel hadn't started to complain about being a delivery boy yet, but Stevenson knew that conversation was coming and hoped to have a few additional hands by then to help with logistics. He didn't trust machines to handle oversight duties, and had only reluctantly assigned the five replicators to Hoth's outpost out of necessity. With the city sitting above the outpost he could intervene immediately if something went wrong, and the planet was uninhabited to begin with…but eventually he planned to replace them with an actual lifeform, and a particular one at that, if she was willing.
Stevenson returned to the cloning lab late in the night to make final preparations for the transfer of Elizabeth Weir's consciousness from her replicator body into a newly grown biological duplicate of her original organic form. It had taken a few weeks for Stevenson to hyper-grow the clone body from a blood sample he'd retrieved from the Tau'ri infirmary equipment that he'd cleared out of the medical wing and stowed away in one of Atlantis's warehouses.
He hadn't told Sheppard or anyone else what he was attempting to do, and had only recently reactivated Weir's replicator body from the power conservation mode that she'd been in when he'd retrieved her frozen form from space. The two of them had had a long conversation about the process he'd begun without her permission, but in the end Weir had been convinced and given him her blessing to continue. He found her in her Fran-style body hovering near the vertical cylinder that held her cloned body and a vast array of diagnostic gear.
"Is it time?" Weir guessed.
"It is if you're ready," he said in Ancient. He'd uploaded his language into her nanites so he wouldn't have to struggle with communication before or after Weir's transfer.
She breathed in shallowly, steadying herself. "Where do you want me?"
Stevenson pointed to the wall and a slab slid out from a hidden recess. "Lie down and relax. This shouldn't take long."
Weir walked over and gently sat down on the platform. "What will happen to this body afterwards?"
"The nanites will become inert, and I'll recycle the raw components for use in other projects…I need your head in the receptacle."
Weir glanced at the base of the platform where there was a circuitry ring recessed into the wall. "Are you sure this is going to work?" she asked again.
"It will. This isn't our first time doing something like this."
"I suppose not," she said, lying down and sliding her head into the ring. Several icons lit up around the ring once she was in position. Stevenson walked over to the clone body and affixed a similar ring across the forehead.
"Ready?" he asked, standing over a nearby control console.
Weir braced herself. "Do it."
Stevenson gently activated the controls and Weir's eyes closed on her replicator body. Four seconds later she blinked her eyes open on her biological body as Stevenson pulled off the transfer ring. "Do you feel alright?"
Weir glanced down at her flesh and blood hands. "That's it? I didn't feel a thing."
"Do you have full control of your body, your mind, your emotions?" Stevenson asked robotically.
Weir flexed her limbs and walked out of the cloning cylinder, stumbling a few steps before Stevenson caught her. "My body feels weak…exhausted even, but it feels like mine again. My mind is clear…no more code, and my emotions…are extremely grateful to you for saving me," she said, also nodding her thanks.
"Take it slow until your body adapts…it's brand new after all. It has your presets, taken from the file of your most recent body scan, but developing complete strength will take some time."
"I'll keep that in mind," Weir said, standing up straight without the need for assistance. She took a few more careful steps, getting her balance on her new/old legs.
"Come with me to the commissary. We need to get some food into you."
"I'm not sure if I'll make it all the way there just yet," she said, taking another wobbly step.
Stevenson waved a hand and suddenly Weir felt lighter. "What did you do?"
"I'm carrying some of your weight telekinetically," Stevenson explained. "You should be able to walk easier now."
Weir walked forward much easier this time, though she felt a bit like a marionette on strings. "Thank you. How long should this weakness last?"
"Days at least, but your coordination should come back much quicker. The more active you are the faster your progress will be."
"Alright then. Let's get walking. What part of the city are we in anyway?" she asked as they left the cloning lab walking side by side, with Stevenson telekinetically aiding her the entire way to the commissary, though by the time they got there Weir had regained enough strength that Stevenson was able to release some of his grip on her torso.
"When was the last time Stevenson wanted to eat lunch with us?" Sheppard asked Teyla and Ronon on their way to the commissary.
"Never," Ronon said from behind him.
"Exactly," Sheppard said emphatically. "Something's up."
"With his inability to speak to us, I can understand his reluctance to socialize," Teyla argued.
"So what, you think he's finally relearned English and wants to sit down and gossip?" Sheppard said sarcastically.
"Why don't we just wait and see," Ronon answered as they approached the refurbished commissary. "We're almost there."
"I'm just saying…be ready for a surprise," Sheppard reiterated. "He's up to something."
The three of them rounded the corner and walked into the nearly empty commissary. Only three of the Ancient style tables were occupied, two of which contained Athosians. At the other table sat Stevenson and a woman with her back to the door. He waved the trio over to them without bothering to even look in their direction as he continued his current conversation.
"What's this about?" Sheppard asked as they walked up to the table.
"He owed you one," Weir's voice said just before she turned around to face him. "That and we don't leave people behind."
"Elizabeth?" Teyla blurted out first. Sheppard couldn't find his voice for a moment.
"What's going on here," he asked wide-eyed.
"It's alright, John," Weir said placatingly. "It's really me."
"How is that possible," Sheppard asked, not allowing himself to believe it. "You should be a replicator."
"I was, but Ryan was kind enough to transfer me into a copy of my original body."
"Ryan? Oh, Stevenson. I keep forgetting you have a first name. So was it really you we stranded on the other side of the gate?"
Weir nodded, unpleasant memories flooding to mind. "It was. He retrieved me from space a few weeks ago."
Sheppard glared at Stevenson. "And you didn't bother to tell me!"
Stevenson smiled. "Surprise."
"That it is," Teyla said, genuinely enthused, "and a most welcome one at that." She walked forward and hugged Weir. "We've missed you, Elizabeth."
"Good to have you back," Ronon said, placing a hand on her shoulder.
Sheppard was at a loss for words. "What's this about you owing me one?"
"I…left…too long…" he began to explain in broken English before giving up and turning to Weir.
"Tell him that I made the mistake of leaving him without a babysitter when I should have known that he'd get himself into some kind of trouble in my absence."
Weir smiled gently and translated for Sheppard. "He says he's sorry for leaving you alone and how things almost turned out badly with the whole Hive ship thing."
Stevenson raised an eyebrow at Weir, but offered no other complaint of her generous translation.
"Wait a minute. You can understand him?" Sheppard asked.
"Yes," Weir said, enjoying the moment of superiority before explaining. "He downloaded the original Ancient language into my nanites before the transfer. The language copied along with my consciousness into this body."
"Lucky you," Sheppard said sarcastically, looking at Stevenson. "I don't suppose you could do something similar for us?"
"No need," Stevenson said. "Will not be long…learning…"
"Yeah, well, keep practicing, you'll get it someday," Sheppard mocked.
"Easy John," Weir cautioned. "Have a seat. Teyla, Ronon," she said, motioning to the other floating chairs magnetically latched to the table. They were by far the most comfortable seats Weir had ever sat in.
"Now, where's Rodney?" she asked once they'd all sat down.
Sheppard grimaced. "Back on Earth, along with most of the Atlantis expedition."
Weir leaned forward. "Ryan filled me in on the basics, but I want to know more. Tell me everything."
Sheppard leaned back in his chair, bobbing up and down slightly as it adjusted to his weight. "That could take quite a while."
Weir smiled. "It seems I have plenty of time."
Sheppard reached forward and grasped her slight hand. "I…we…thought we'd lost you. It's good to have you back, Elizabeth."
"It's good to be back," she said, squeezing his hand in return. "Now talk. I need to get caught up on what's happening."
Sheppard released her hand and cleared his voice. "Well, it all started with that weasel Woolsey…"
"What's really going on?" Elisabeth asked Stevenson as he guided her on a tour of the new outpost.
"Meaning what?" he asked, stopping in the middle of the hallway and turning to face her.
"I've had some time to think over the past few days, and something about your story doesn't quite add up. First of all, why are you having Teyla, Ronon, and Sheppard train villagers for combat when you can build an army of replicators far more suited to the task?"
"Machines are limited," Stevenson explained. "They can't be trusted to think. In combat you have to adapt to the unexpected…machines can only do what they're programmed to do."
"Then why were the replicators such threat, both here in Pegasus and the block-like ones back in the Milky Way?"
"Because they were programmed to incorporate new technologies into their own. They couldn't create something new. They could only copy what others had made and use it against them, often with more efficiency than the creators had. Your speculative notes in the database about the replicators taking the form of their creators as a homage are incorrect. They copied Lantean physiology because it was the most advanced form available to them. This is the same reason the replicators continued to copy our technology rather than create their own or improve on ours."
"So the Ancient city on Asuras was a copy of Atlantis because that was the best design they had available?"
"Why do you keep referring to the Lanteans as a separate entity from yourself? You're the same bloodline, are you not?"
"No, we're not," Stevenson said with some scorn. "The plague killed off my kind…the Alterra…completely. There were no survivors, and no one escaped infection. However, the disease did not kill us instantaneously, which gave my brothers and sisters time to construct the repository of knowledge and other projects. One of those projects was to take Atlantis into an untouched galaxy and seed it with primitive Human life as we did in Avalona, but with one ambitious difference."
"Wait," Elisabeth said, holding up her hand for Stevenson to stop. "How did you reseed life, exactly? And why seed primitive Humans across the galaxies? Why not recreate your own kind?"
"The nature of the plague," Stevenson answered simply before moving onto complexities. "The more advanced the physiology the more deadly the disease became. Only by going back and creating a very primitive version of our current physiology did we have a chance of repopulating Avalona. We used the device built on Dakara to reorganize matter on the other side of the gates into protoform cocoons that would grow into an adult form, thus creating a large-numbered species within a few months. We placed food dispensers and basic shelters onto those worlds to aid them, but they were so primitive we couldn't communicate and were forced to simply let them be."
"Avalona? That's the Milky Way, right?" she asked speculatively.
Stevenson nodded. "And Avalon is Earth…that should have been included in your language upload."
"I thought so," Elisabeth confessed. "I just wanted to be sure. So the disease attacked your advanced physiology?"
"In order for the galaxy to be repopulated, it would take many millions of years for natural adaptation to advance the seeded species back to a similar level. We knew that there would be some inevitable deviations in the process, so the repository was created with the ability to alter the individual's physiology to match Alterran norms. In the time it took to undergo this long evolutionary process, we had hoped that the plague would have been eradicated from the galaxies long before the seed species would have advanced to a point where they would be susceptible to the disease."
"Why didn't you just recreate your own kind in a secure location?"
"Because we never isolated the source of the plague. It infected all of us in a relatively short period of time…too short for it to have been spread person to person. Without knowing the method of infection we had no idea what a 'secure' location might be. None the less, we took a risk with Pegasus. We seeded the galaxy as we had done with Avalona, but we also recreated our form is a lesser state, but by no means as primitive as the seed species. The Lanteans, as they were called, were originally on the same physiological level as yourself and were tasked with taking over Atlantis and caring for the seed species when the last of us were gone…if they managed to avoid or survive infection."
"So you're saying that the Pegasus Ancients, the Lanteans, were another restarted primitive form of the Alterrans?"
Stevenson nodded while the ramifications cycled through Elisabeth's mind.
"The Ascension machine," she said, still thinking fast. "They were trying to catch up physiologically to the Alterra so they could also ascend."
"Though the database is unclear, I believe the Lanteans first observed ascension when some of their Alterran creators here in Atlantis ascended as the plague killed them off, and ever after that point their society focused on internal development toward attaining ascension and neglected outside events."
"Such as the emergence of the Wraith?" Elisabeth guessed.
Elisabeth squinted slyly. "Is there more to the database than I've seen?"
Stevenson smiled and nodded. "There are restricted files that the Lantean leaders didn't want made public. They require an access code before the database will even acknowledge their existence."
Elisabeth raised an eyebrow. "How would the repository have that code if it was made before the Lanteans developed?"
"It didn't. But it did give me enough technical knowledge to hack into the system. The lack of Asuras and the replicator experiment made me suspect there was more…and there was."
"Can I access those files?"
"No, they're still code locked."
"And you don't trust me enough to give me the code?"
"I don't know you," Stevenson said frankly.
"Yet you're offering me command of this planet…little that there is now."
"I'm willing to trust you to a point…anything beyond that you'll have to earn."
"Does that include your real plans for Atlantis?" Elisabeth challenged.
"Speak plainly," Stevenson urged. "What's on your mind?"
"You're hiding something. There's more going on here than it appears."
Stevenson chewed his lip for a moment. She was right, of course, but he couldn't tell her that. "Alright, I'll throw you a bone…on the condition that you accept this position and you keep this information to yourself, I don't want Sheppard and the others to get distracted."
"Agreed," Elisabeth said carefully.
"I'm grooming Sheppard and the others into the guardians of this galaxy. Once we defeat the Wraith they'll stay here in Atlantis while I move on to other threats. I need them, you, and the people of the Pegasus galaxy to learn to be able to defend yourselves. You were right, if my only concern was destroying the Wraith I could use other means to do so, but there is much more at stake that I have to consider."
"Our realm of influence used to extend over 22 galaxies. In our absence, those territories have grown wild and dangerous. Eventually I'm going to reassert control over them, and in order to do so I'm going to have to defeat many enemies more powerful than the Wraith. Cleaning out Pegasus is, not to put too light a point on it, merely a warm-up for the real war to come."
"Ambitious doesn't quite cover it," Elisabeth said half-joking. "Are you doing this by personal choice or because you were instructed to by the repository?"
Stevenson glanced down at the polished grey floor. "I'm to reclaim what we once had and set right all that has gone wrong in our absence. That includes dealing with the Wraith…though technically that was the Lanteans' fault."
"You don't like them much, do you?" Elisabeth guessed.
"Instead of fighting they turned tail and ran, abandoning the seed species to the Wraith and leaving me quite a mess to clean up…with the same tools they had at their disposal, mind you."
"I don't know if I like being referred to as a 'seed species.'"
"Nothing personal," Stevenson offered. "Just a description."
"Can we stick with Human, if you don't mind?"
"If you wish."
"Thank you. Human doesn't sound as much like a science experiment. By the way," Elisabeth said, suddenly remembering something, "this outpost is powered by a ZPM, right?"
"Potentia," Stevenson corrected her. Now that she spoke Ancient he wasn't going to humor their erroneous terms quite so much.
"Potentia then," Elisabeth echoed. "Exactly how easy is it for you to build them? Sheppard told me you took him to the factory that made the ones powering Atlantis."
"The Potentia are merely batteries that hold their energy in a self-contained region of subspace. Their construction is delicate, but ultimately not time consuming. The hard part is collecting the energy to charge them with. The Potentia factories are all located near abundant energy sources. The one Sheppard saw is one of only two that still exist, and the only one currently operational. It sits near a quasar and absorbs energy redirected to it from twelve satellites in orbit around the quasar. Its capacitors can hold sufficient charge for 37 Potentia when full, though they rarely are. Only because they've been sitting unused for millions of years are they now full."
"So you can make 34 more Potentia, then that's it for a while?"
"35, actually. There was one in storage in the factory that I didn't have to charge. The capacitors are recharging to replace the energy lost, but it will take over a year to replenish a single Potentia charge."
"I guess we're set for the time being then, but eventually we'll need to make more Potentia factories?"
"Which is why I need the natural resources from Hoth."
Elisabeth smiled. "You never should have let Sheppard name it that."
"I know," he admitted. "So, we have a deal then? You can ring back up to the city at will or you can keep your quarters here if you like."
"Seeing as how my tenure with the Atlantis expedition has been cancelled and that fact that I'm next to useless on the battlefield…I'll gladly accept the position and anything I can do to help defeat the Wraith and protect this galaxy."
Stevenson extended his hand. Elisabeth took it and felt a slight tingle as he held her in his grip for a few seconds. "That felt a little strange. Did you do something?"
"If you're going to run the planetary operation and command this outpost then you're going to need the activation gene. I just gave it to you."
"This is most unwise," Olma cautioned as she retrieved part of the plague sample from stasis.
"It must be done," Stevenson said, cradling the regenerator in his lap. The small cube was a potent healing device developed by the Alterra to augment their already advanced healing ability…so much so that it was dangerous to less advanced forms, such as the seed species, including the Lanteans. Today he had brought it with him as backup, just in case he needed some biological help in fighting off the plague virus that he was about to infect himself with.
"We will quarantine this room and await the outcome of your test," Olma said, looking up into his eyes with concern. "We don't want to inadvertently rerelease the virus back into the galaxy."
"I'll be fine," he assured her. "Aeria will be the difficult one to heal."
Olma handed him a small injector vile. "I will monitor your progress from another chamber. If you require our assistance don't hesitate to ask."
"Thank you," Stevenson said kindly, "but this is one fight that I need to win on my own. If my body can't quickly squash a small infection, then there is little hope to save her."
Olma glanced along his eye line at the frozen image of the Ancient researcher. "She seemed hopeful, given what little information I was able to convey to her. If this cure does indeed prove to be successful, I wish to sit down and have a proper discussion with her. Our ancestors held her in great esteem."
"You'll have to get in line," he said sarcastically. "We have much to discuss."
Olma smiled. "I suppose you do. Good luck, my friend."
Stevenson nodded to her as she left, conveying his gratitude for her help with a brief telepathic burst. After she was clear of the room he injected himself with the virus and laid the empty vile on the side table next to his chair. He still held the regenerator in his lap, yet it wasn't active. He needed to let his new Goa'uld inspired bio-correction cells do their thing while the Nox medical sensors tracked their progress, gathering data that might be needed for an alteration of the cell design if the refined prototype failed.
No more than six minutes later a green sterilization field swept across the room, followed promptly by Olma's return. Her wide smile told Stevenson everything he needed to know.
"Amazing," she said, grasping his hand and examining it. "The new cells worked flawlessly. Their response time was twice as fast as predicted."
Stevenson frowned. "What are you looking for?"
"A small portion of the virus tried to flee your body just prior to its destruction. I am searching for toxic residue within your skin cells."
Stevenson frowned. "It moved outward by design."
"Yes, it was shocking. It appears to be a reaction to a failed infection. Our research notes never hinted that the virus held such a capability."
"Must be a defense mechanism," Stevenson said, realizing the full truth. The Ascended Empire had engineered the plague to flee the body upon a defeated replication attempt in order to spread the plague to others before it was completely destroyed by the host body.
"This is a most virulent disease," Olma commented, continuing to examine his hand where the injection had taken place. "It appears to have deposited some type of inert particle on the surface of your body. The sterilization field didn't register it as a threat. I'm removing it now," she said, pulling out a small device from a hidden pocket. When finished, she took the sample and placed it in an examination slot on one of the Ancient diagnostic machines.
"It mutated into a transit spore," Stevenson commented as they reviewed the scan data. "And a non-active spore at that."
Olma shook her head disbelievingly. "I don't know how it obtained this ability, but it appears to be a deliberate evasion of the immunization process. If it can't quickly get a foothold in your tissues, it retreats before your immune system can adapt to counter it. This way a preventative cure can never be devised for an uninfected individual. Those that prove strong enough to survive the plague never become immune to it because the virus doesn't remain in the body long enough for that to happen…this is incredibly unlikely for a naturally occurring disease. There is a possibility this plague was deliberately engineered to behave in this fashion."
"That doesn't matter so long as the new cell can defeat it," Stevenson said, trying to deflect the conversation away from that line of thought. Who knew how many ascended beings could be eavesdropping on their conversation at this very moment. "Revive Aeria."
Olma visibly stirred. "Should we not study your success in more detail before we attempt to heal her?"
"She's waited long enough," he said, activating the regenerator. Small streams of bright white light emanated from tiny cracks in its ornate surface. "I'll use this to keep her alive long enough for her body to produce the new cells."
"As you wish," she said reluctantly. "But I'm staying with you this time. You may need my help to keep her alive."
"Alright, but have someone else monitoring her progress from afar. If this goes badly we need as much of a head start as possible to return her to the stasis pod."
"Leora is there. Are you ready?" she asked, standing by the Ancient stasis pod.
Stevenson touched the device and the brightness of the light doubled. "Do it."
Olma deactivated the stasis field and Stevenson telekinetically caught Aeria's body as she collapsed to the floor. He pulled her over to him through the air and placed her hand on the regenerator.
Focus sister, he said to her telepathically as he injected her with the genome update, you have little time left. Draw strength from the device and me while the cure takes effect.
He felt her mind coalesce around his words and the regenerator responded to her mental command, sustaining her cells against the debilitating affect of the festering disease encompassing every facet of her body.
Who are you? she asked wordlessly.
The last of your brothers, he said, using his own healing abilities to further sustain her quivering form. I am the product of the Repository of Knowledge.
How much time has passed?
I do not know for certain, but at least four million years.
Aeria blinked her eyes open and looked up at him, her hand still on the regenerator. Tell me what has happened. Tell me of this cure you have found.
Your body is producing a specially engineered cell patterned after a parasitical lifeform currently native to Avalona that has impressive healing abilities. It succeeded in destroying the virus in the tissue sample taken from you earlier, and was equally successful in curing the virus within me.
You were infected?
Deliberately so, just a few minutes ago.
That was foolhardy. You never should have taken the risk. The whole point of the Repository was to circumvent the plague. You jeopardized everything.
I needed to be sure it would work before we revived you again. And it did, magnificently, yet my condition was infantile compared to yours. We must take care or we may lose you yet…and after all the years you've survived it would be a shame to surrender to defeat now.
Indeed…hold me up. I am beginning to feel faint.
Stevenson cradled her head in the crevice between his shoulder and neck, making sure to keep her hand squarely on the regenerator. He wrapped her up in a tight embrace and held her to him over the next four hours. The conversed in silence, mind to mind, where not even Olma could overhear them as Aeria's body began to create more and more of the bio-correction cells and send them into battle against the invasive plague.
Aeria's body suffered from the toxic aftermath of the tiny battles. She drew heavily on the regenerator to keep her body functioning while the internal war continued to escalate. Through it all, Aeria kept her mind linked to Stevenson's, using his consciousness as an anchor and a diversion from the internal strains. They talked long and in depth about many things, save for Stevenson's true mission, which she had no knowledge of and he had no choice but to avoid for fear of exposing himself.
Never the less, Aeria and Stevenson grew close very fast, with Stevenson the better for it. Ever since his transformation he had felt empty and alone, longing for something that he had never experienced before, and did not completely understand. Now, holding her in his arms and sensing her mind he realized that which he'd been missing…brotherhood.
They were the last two Alterrans in the universe, save for those that had ascended, and he could feel the bond between them, as palatable as the gravitational pull beneath him. It meant a great deal more to be Alterran than it did to be Human, and the connections between individuals was much more intense. They didn't operate with a hive mind like the Wraith did, but the bonds between them were equally intense…without compromising their individuality in the process.
With only having known Aeria for a few brief hours, Stevenson was more fully committed to helping and protecting her than anyone he had known on Earth, his former family included. He was Alterra now, and so was she, and what that truly meant defied description.
After half a day of effort, the tide had turned in the internal war and Aeria's bio-chemistry began to creep back toward Alterran norms. She wasn't out of the woods yet, but she was passed the worse of it, and making small, yet steady progress.
Suddenly her mind slipped from Stevenson's.
What's wrong? he asked.
The others…they're calling to me.
…no, no don't do it. Don't listen to them…Stevenson said panickly.
Thank you for saving me, brother. They couldn't act until…you…goodbye…
"No!" Stevenson yelled, jolting Olma out of her speculative daze.
"What's wrong?" she asked as Aeria began to glow. Her body transformed into the pure energy of the ascended within the circle of Stevenson's arms, then rose upward, disappearing from this dimension and leaving Stevenson clutching little more than her clothing.
Anger welled up inside him as he stood and yelled violently. "You back-stabbing traitors! It was working…it was working! I was going to save her! What happened to your precious non-interference!?"
Every muscle in Stevenson's body was tense, flexing against his own strength in frustration. He slowly dropped to his knees, looking as if he was going to burst a blood vessel.
"You bastards," he whispered vehemently. "You hypocritical bastards…I needed her," he said, pounding the floor with both fists. He threw his head back, looking up at the ceiling in futility.
"I needed her!" he screamed.
Stevenson lunged forward, staff extended from a single-handed grip, and whipped the long wooden pole around in an arc low to the ground, attempting to catch his opponent's legs and drop him into the dirt.
Bra'tac nimbly jumped over the swing, coming down with an overhead shot that caught Stevenson on the left shoulder. He dropped to a knee from the force of the blow, but before he could roll clear of Bra'tac's reach he got the blunt end of the Master's staff driven into the center of his chest, knocking him backward and pinning him to the ground.
"You were not this easy to beat the last time we sparred," Bra'tac admonished. "Something troubles you, and you are distracted because of it."
Stevenson blew out a frustrated breath. "You've gotten faster since last time."
"True enough," Bra'tac said, removing the end of the training staff from Stevenson's chest and extending his hand to help him up. Stevenson took it and the old man pulled him up from the ground with ease. "But something clouds your mind, and as a result your reflexes are dulled."
Stevenson considered stonewalling him, but quickly relented and chose to seek his counsel. "I am having doubts as to whether I can accomplish my mission."
Bra'tac's eyes were locked on Stevenson's and did not waver. "What has transpired?"
"I found one of our sisters, preserved by the Nox."
The former Jaffa's eyes widened with surprise. "Alive, after all these years?"
"Yes. She was held in stasis, mere hours away from death, in the hopes that someday a cure would be found for the plague that wiped out our brethren."
"And she is still there?" Bra'tac asked, believing his consternation was tied to her existence, yet his inability to save her.
"No. With the help of the Nox and the Tok'ra, I was able to find a cure to the plague. We revived her, and I spent many hours talking to her as we fought to bring her back from the brink of death. When we had finally turned the tide and she was on the path back to health she was taken from me by the Shol'va that are our ascended brothers."
"Taken how?" Bra'tac asked in dismay.
"Ascended while I held her in my arms."
"She still lives then? Is that not something to be fortunate for? She has survived where many did not."
Stevenson glared at Bra'tac, but his anger wasn't directed at him. "They could have ascended her years ago. Instead, they left her there to rot until I saved her. They don't care what happens to her, they did it deliberately to spite me."
Bra'tac considered that for a moment. "How can you be sure of their intentions?"
"They didn't ascend her until I had succeeded in healing her. They had hours to do so after we brought her out of stasis. I don't think they would have cared if I'd failed and she'd died, they just wanted to make sure I didn't have access to her. When I succeeded and it was clear that she was going to live they ascended her to deny her to me."
"And now you are wondering whether or not they will interfere with your plans in the future?"
"They are the ones who created the repository of knowledge for this very purpose," Stevenson complained. "Why then would they deliberately work against me?"
"If my understanding is correct, a great deal of time has passed since the Alterrans first ascended to escape the plague. In my experience, I have come to see many people change over time, not all for the better." Bra'tac placed his right hand on Stevenson's shoulder and stared him in the eye. "I know very little of the ways of ascended beings. They are truly an enigma to me. But if they were once like us, then their actions can be anticipated. If they wanted you dead, you would be dead already. They have the power to kill any one of us, if my understanding is correct."
Stevenson nodded in agreement, but said nothing.
"Then their intention is something less than that of a true enemy. What their reasoning is, I cannot know, but what they have not done is as telling as what they have done. They did not stop you, they only took her from you. Now, what does this suggest?"
Stevenson considered his question carefully. "Her presence altered the balance somehow. If I have all the knowledge and abilities of the Alterra, then her presence would have been redundant, and added nothing. She must have been different somehow."
Bra'tac nodded. "They gave you the ability to transform others into Alterra, so it is not numbers they are concerned with. If it were they would have prevented my transformation. They have not done so, so we must assume that our sister was different somehow."
Stevenson shook his head in bewilderment. "I cannot see how."
"Perhaps she knew something," Bra'tac offered. "Something you were not supposed to know. Regardless, it seems they do not want to stop your actions."
"They did not stop me from talking to her," Stevenson countered. "We discussed many things."
"What was her name?" Bra'tac asked.
"Did you discuss your mission with her?"
"She already knew of it."
Bra'tac glanced down at the ground in thought. "Could she have been a threat to them somehow?"
"Not that I know of. Why do you ask?"
"If they are no longer flesh and blood, and have gained considerable power and knowledge in the transformation…could they not also have gained a disadvantage? Perhaps they ascended her, made her one of them, so that she would not pose a threat."
"Why then, would they want my mission to continue?"
"If she was a threat to them, and you are not, then they may simply not care what you do."
"How then can I continue, not knowing when I will become a threat to them and when or if they will step in to either ascend me or stop me?"
"You cannot know. Nor can you assume that is their reasoning. I merely mention it as a possibility. The more options you consider, the more likely you will be to recognize the truth if you ever come across a clue to their true motives."
"So, in the mean time I do what? Continue with my mission or forestall it looking for answers that I may never find?"
"Ultimately," Bra'tac answered with the benefit of experience, "you will encounter things you cannot control. You must then decide not the outcome, but what path you will walk, however long or short it may be."
Stevenson reached up and placed his hand on the elbow of Bra'tac's outstretched arm in a gesture of thanks. "And what advice would you have when potentially facing an invincible opponent."
"If possible, find a means of defense. No one is invincible, despite appearances to the contrary. And if you find yourself inadequate to the task…seek out a more powerful ally."
Stevenson's head came up suddenly, and Bra'tac sensed his emotions shift. "What is it?" he asked.
"Something I had overlooked," Stevenson answered cryptically.
"Is it something you must attend to now?"
"No," he answered, guessing at his meaning.
"Then might I suggest we resume your training with a clear mind. Your strength and speed as assets over weaker opponents…they will not save you against an even match. Even I, with my incomplete transformation, have bettered you every time we have sparred. You must learn technique, you must learn skill, and you must learn what it is to be a warrior."
"And the only way to do that," Stevenson answered for him, "is with time and training. Lots and lots of training."
Bra'tac smiled. "Indeed, my friend. Let us continue," he said, retrieving his weapon from the ground.
Stevenson extended a hand and his staff lept up from the ground into his grip. He quickly swung it up and around into a guard position and waited for Bra'tac to strike as he cleared his mind of all thoughts of the Ascended Empire and the Shol'va that were his ascended brothers and sisters.
"What do you mean, 'you don't feel right?'" Sheppard asked Teyla.
"Being a mother doesn't feel like I thought it would," she said in a loud whisper so that others in the commissary wouldn't hear. "I find myself putting the interests of my son over the lives of others that I could be saving from the Wraith."
"He's your kid," Sheppard emphasized, "he's gotta take priority."
"But to what point?" Teyla asked emphatically. "How many lives is a few hours with my son worth? That galaxy is still at the mercy of the Wraith, how do I justify abandoning it to spend time raising my son?"
Sheppard glanced around at the nearby tables then leaned in closer towards Teyla on the opposite side of their table. "Where is all this coming from? You've saved countless lives already. You don't owe anyone anything. Your son is going to need you by his side growing up. That's where your responsibility lies."
Teyla bit back a comment amidst a small tear fighting to form inside her left eye. "Many Athosians live sedentary lives. They are passive, rarely leaving the village or their family unit for more than a few days. I am friends with several of them, and they are good people who will fight to defend themselves and their fellow Athosians if they have to, but they are not capable of leaving their people, their village, and going off to help others. They have ties, bonds that keep them linked to their family and friends. Those bonds give them great strength and a commonality that has helped them survive beneath the constant threat of culling by the Wraith, but it has also created limitations. It forces them to live very contained, defined lives. That's not the person I am, John. And it's not the person I want to be, yet I seem to be becoming her none the less. I feel trapped…helpless. I know what I need to do, but I can't without abandoning my son, which is unacceptable."
"Whoa, hold on," Sheppard said, holding up his hand for her to stop, which she did, swiping away a few new tears at the same time. "What is it that you need to do but can't?"
"Fight the Wraith without reservation. Train day and night to strengthen myself and become as potent a weapon as possible to be used against them. I am a fighter, John. In the past we didn't stand a chance against the Wraith. Now things have changed. First when I met you, and now with the hope that Stevenson brings. I joined your team, knowing that I was serving my people best by fighting the Wraith to one day free the Athosians from the threat of culling once and for all. Many of my people disagreed with my actions, believing that I was betraying them, abandoning them. I had doubts myself, but my purpose was always clear."
"Now, I have a son to consider. And I hate myself for it. I'm compromising my integrity to meet his needs. I don't go on some missions because I don't have someone to look after him. So perhaps someone is fed upon by the Wraith that I could have saved, and I didn't because of something as unimportant as watching over a child. Torren would have lived if I had just left him alone in my room. Is his comfort really worth the life of another person?"
"Why are you thinking like this?" Sheppard pleaded with her. "This is nonsense."
"No it's not," Teyla countered. "It's true. And I'm stuck. I don't have a choice. I'm a mother and that's not something I can resign from. The part of me that won't abandon someone to their death at the hands of the Wraith is the same part that won't abandon my son. I have to choose between the two. I have to sacrifice someone, and that appalls me. I don't wish Torren ill, I love him deeply, but if I had to do it over again I would not choose to have a child."
Sheppard was left speechless, and reached out to take Teyla's hand sympathetically as he searched for the right words…any words to say. As it was, he was interrupted before he could say anything more.
"Teyla, are you alright?" Stevenson asked.
"Yes, I'm fine," she said, burying her emotion deep inside where none could see. Stevenson could sense her mood, though, with his telepathy. Out of respect for her he didn't press the issue. Instead he turned to Sheppard.
"Mission…you and you only," he said in his incomplete English.
Sheppard raised his eyebrows skeptically. "You're actually asking me to go on a mission?"
"Yes," Stevenson answered simply.
"Well, that's a first. I've had to beg and annoy twice as much as Rodney ever did to go on any mission with you. What changed?"
"I need a pilot. You are best we have."
Sheppard smiled egotistically. "Well, I can't argue with that," he said, belatedly remembering Teyla. He glanced over at her apologetically.
"Go," she said evenly. "He rarely asks. Have fun," she said, forcing a smile.
Sheppard raised an eyebrow at her, but her expression didn't budge, so he shrugged and jumped out of his seat. "Where are we going?" he asked Stevenson eagerly.
Sheppard paled. "You mean…Earth?"
Stevenson nodded. "Home."
The rings aboard the Tria activated, and deposited both Stevenson and Sheppard in the aft section of the Lantean warship, which was currently sitting off Atlantis's number 3 pylon, suspended in mid air by over a hundred small lift beams eminating from Atlantis. It had been residing there for weeks, undergoing hyperdrive repairs and modifications. To date, the original hyperdrives had been restored to working order, but the more advanced Ancient designs had yet to be completed.
The slower hyperdrives were an annoyance to Stevenson, and yet another reminder of the Lanteans' shortsightedness. Fortunately for this mission, they wouldn't be too much of a burden.
When the pair got to the bridge Stevenson slid into the pilot's seat, to Sheppard's chagrin. "I thought I was the pilot on this mission?"
Stevenson pointed to the Captain's chair. "Later."
"Fine," Sheppard said, disappointed. He slipped into the thin command chair in the center of the bridge and toggled the built in communications controls. "Tria to Atlantis. We're ready to embark. Are the shields set for us to pass through?"
"You're good to go, boss," Devonshire answered playfully from the control room. "Make sure and bring me back some Skittles."
"Skittles?" Sheppard asked, surprised. "You want me to bring you back candy?"
"And some Starbursts while you're at it," Devonshire added. "One pack each will do."
"Sure. One is enough for Stevenson to scan 'em and upload their patterns into the synthesizer."
Sheppard's eyebrows rose as he considered that…and other possibilities. "Well, if we have time I'll try and stop by a 7-11 and hook you up…do you want regular or sour?"
The Tria's engines flared to life and Sheppard felt the minute vibration of the ship's landing struts leaving the deck.
"Regular," Devonshire said with disgust. "I can't stand the sour ones."
"Me neither," Sheppard said as they passed through the city's shield and into the frigid atmosphere. Once clear of the delicate city spires Stevenson kicked the engines into higher thrust and made for space. "Oh, and while we're gone keep an eye on Teyla for me, will ya?"
"Something I should know about?" Devonshire asked.
"Not really," Sheppard said casually. "She's just seemed a little down lately."
"Will do, Colonel. Have a nice trip."
"Thank you, Lieutenant. Tria out."
Sheppard turned off the comm and looked toward Stevenson. "You can do that, right?"
Two hours later the Tria exited hyperspace in the void between star systems at a set of highly classified coordinates. There was nothing to be seen outside, save for the stars of the Pegasus galaxy, which shone brighter than normal with the lack of ambient light from nearby stars or planets.
Stevenson reached over to a side panel from the pilot's seat and touched a button above the blank, white surface. The panel retracted to reveal the dialing crystals of a DHD.
"Cool," Sheppard said, walking up to look over his shoulder. "Didn't realize these ships had those."
Stevenson quickly typed in an access code on a subpanel filled with Ancient numbers. When he entered the code with a final touch to a blue crystal, the DHD lit up…as did the giant stargate outside the ship.
"Whoa," Sheppard said as nine blue chevrons appeared outside the forward viewport. "Where did that come from?"
"Hidden," Stevenson explained.
"You mean cloaked?" Sheppard asked.
Stevenson shook his head 'no.' "Camouf…camoufl…"
"Camouflaged," Sheppard finished for him.
He nodded, visibly frustrated with his continuing linguistic difficulties.
Sheppard did a double take out the viewport and frowned. "By the way, if we're in the middle of nowhere…what's powering the supergate?"
"Potentia," he said offhand as he uploaded a temporary purple gate frequency program and dialed an address.
"Potentia?...Oh, right. ZPMs," Sheppard remembered. He still hadn't assimilated some of the Ancient terms Stevenson kept using as if they were common knowledge. "How many? Atlantis had three…"
"Tw.." Stevenson started to say, but was unable. Instead he raised two fingers, then six.
"Twenty six?!" Sheppard exclaimed.
"Needs a lot of power," Stevenson said as he finished the nine symbol address and began entering the gate jump access code in response to the flashing symbols on the DHD. Outside the supergate, each chevron had glowed brighter with their individual activation. Now, with the completion of the jump code, their brilliance was surpassed by the ambient light created as the event horizon snapped into place directly in front of them.
"Why doesn't the kawoosh happen for you?"
"Not needed," Stevenson said as he aligned the Tria with the open wormhole.
"What's it for then?" Sheppard asked.
"Make sure no obstruction," Stevenson said as the Tria settled into final position. "None here to clear out."
"Why stop it?" Sheppard asked. "Does that save power?"
"Not cool," Stevenson explained, smiling, as he thrusted the Tria forward.
"Oh, so all us simpletons have to go the redneck way while you Ancients get to travel in style."
"Yep," he said, free of any distortion.
Sheppard laughed. "Whether redneck or in style, either way, this is still cool," he said as the Tria approached the event horizon. "We are going to fit, right?"
Stevenson nodded. "Barely."
The ship, properly aligned, slid through the breadth of the gate, narrowing passing through laterally along the aft section, but fitting through with room to spare in all other dimensions.
A moment later they emerged through a purple supergate of similar, yet slightly different design.
"Back home in the Milky Way in two seconds flat," Sheppard commented. "Not bad."
"Avalona," Stevenson corrected him. "Nine hours to home."
"Nine?" Sheppard asked, scoffing. "The Daedalus is faster than that."
"I know," Stevenson said, cringing. He really disliked the Lanteans' incompetance.
The Tria emerged from hyperspace outside of Sedna's orbit…far enough away from Earth that their entry wouldn't be noticed. After a quick look at the proximity sensors, Stevenson abdicated the pilot's chair and motioned for Sheppard to sit down.
"Now you want me to fly?" he asked, taking the seat. Stevenson pointed to a specific button on the console.
"Cloak, now," he said.
Sheppard glanced at him, then the button. "I didn't think Ancient warships had cloaks," he said, tapping the button. "Though I suppose you can change anything with a shield into a cloak?"
"With right modification, yes," Stevenson confirmed. "Set course for Avalon."
"Right…" Sheppard said, looking over the controls. He tried the navigation system first and, with a little difficulty, pulled up a sensor log of the star system and isolated Earth. After that it was pretty much point and click and the Tria was on its way.
A little over an hour later the Tria quietly made Earth orbit, right under the nose of the Pheonix and the Ancient outpost in Antarctica which, if properly used, could have detected their approach in hyperspace. Given the fact that the Pheonix hadn't moved from orbit and that the outpost was still powered down, it seemed that their approach to Earth had not been detected, and now that they were under cloak, there was no way for the Humans to track them.
Stevenson walked over to a side station and did something with the ship's sensors. After a few moments he seemed satisfied and left the workstation, motioning for Sheppard to follow. Not a word was said until they were back in the ring room.
"Stay with the ship," Stevenson ordered. "Move if needed. Do not lower cloak."
"Where are you going?" Sheppard asked. "Are you boarding the Pheonix?"
Stevenson shook his head 'no.' "They can board the Tria if you do not lock out rings. I will send code when ready to come back. It will unlock." Stevenson said, hefting his wrist-mounted comm device for emphasis.
"How do I lock out the rings?"
"Bridge or here," he said, pointing to two buttons on the ring control pad. "Same time."
"Can I do it from the control chair?" Sheppard asked.
Stevenson thought for a moment. "Yes."
"You still haven't told me where you're going," Sheppard reminded him.
"Nope," he said, activating the rings around him via his comm device.
"Bus driver," Sheppard said, punching the wall. "I should have known he wouldn't let me in on the good stuff. I can't even get candy," he said as a thought came to him.
"No, that won't work. I'll never be able to find the ship again if I take the puddle jumper down. Looks like I'm stuck here until he gets back. I wonder if the ship's computer has Solitaire…or something like it."
The seldom used rings emerged in perfect sequence and deposited Stevenson in a flash of light between them. The site to site transportation devices retracted into their hidden niches, leaving him standing alone in the caverns beneath Glastonbury.
It was quiet and dark. Nothing moved. The Humans had long since exhausted their interest in the site after removing the treasure and artifacts that SG-1 had discovered. Their decision not to make use of the secure location smacked of arrogance. It was the one place on Avalona that was invisible to sensors, and provided the perfect location for a doomsday backup facility, or at the very least an offshoot of the SGC.
But the Humans hadn't possessed the forethought to recognize the value of the location…and instead had left it bare and unattended.
Stevenson looked around from his position within the ring platform. Small amounts of light were trickling in from somewhere, probably powered by the same device that allowed the rings to function. After all, it wouldn't do to have guests arriving in total darkness.
After finding nothing of immediate interest or danger, Stevenson started to walk about, with the sword in the stone being the first item to catch his eye. According to the mission files that he'd read, it was a holographic device designed to test the mettle of the user in order to open up the treasure house that Merlin had left behind.
He found it a little odd that the sword remained now that its purpose had been served. It was holographic, after all, and could easily be turned off. But for some reason Merlin hadn't programmed it that way, which furthered his hopes that something else of value might be within the Lantean's former lair.
Stevenson stared at the sword for a moment, then moved on. He searched every nook and cranny of the caverns, which were far larger than the mission report had indicated. He found two locations which he thought might contain hidden chambers…but if they did they were well secured and he could find no way to access them.
After six hours of searching Stevenson returned to the main chamber and sat down next to the sword. He cradled his head in his hands and thought hard.
Stevenson ringed back aboard the Tria frustrated, but none the less determined. There was something down there…or had been there, and he was intent on finding it.
"Where the hell have you been?" Sheppard demanded, running into the ring room.
"England," Stevenson answered as he began to pace back and forth across the room, his hands locked behind his back.
"England?" Sheppard asked. "Where in the world did you find a set of rings in England? And what the hell were you doing down there in the first place?"
"Merlin," he answered simply.
"Merlin? You mean you went to Glastonbury? Merlin's secret lair under Glastonbury? What for?"
"What did they find there?" Stevenson asked Sheppard as he continued to pace.
"The Ori," Sheppard answered, wondering where he was going with this.
Sheppard frowned. "Some old book and the intergalactic communications device. Daniel Jackson and some chick supposedly traveled to the Ori galaxy, got into a heap of trouble, and revealed our existence to the Ori. Then they sent their followers here to convert or kill us. Kind of nice being in Pegasus while all that went down, by the way."
"Why did Merlin have it?" Stevenson asked.
"Have what?" Sheppard asked, his frown deepening.
"The Mentis Transitia," he said, glanced at Sheppard's blank look, then translated with the few words available to him. "Galaxy phone."
Sheppard snickered at his choice of words, then his expression dropped all levity. "Good question…actually, that's a damn good question."
"I found nothing in the cave," Stevenson said as Sheppard continued to think.
"Who would Merlin have been talking to? It'd have to be someone in the Ori galaxy, but that doesn't make any sense."
"No," Stevenson said quickly. "The Mentis Transitia finds any other you want, but finds near…est on own."
"Wait a minute," Sheppard said, holding up his hand. "You're saying that he was talking to someone farther away than the Ori galaxy?"
Stevenson nodded. "So it would seem. Why else have a Mentis Transitia?"
"Yeah, I see your point. Who do you think he was talking to?"
Sheppard's eyebrows came up. "You don't have any idea?"
Stevenson shook his head 'no.'
Sheppard considered that. "Well, what's your next move?"
Stevenson stopped pacing as a thought came to him. He turned to look at Sheppard for the first time. "O'Neill."
Jack was standing on the back lawn of his suburban Washington D.C. home over a smoking grill and a pair of plump Ball Parks. He pulled one off the rack and slid it into a bun, then heaped a load of condiments on top before squeezing it all together and aiming it for his mouth.
"Nice dog," a voice said from behind him, nearly making him miss.
"I know that voice," O'Neill said, slowly turning around to see Sheppard standing behind him. "Strange you being here and all. Don't suppose you parked the city in orbit, or I'd have had a phone call by now."
"No, we found an alternate means of transportation," Sheppard said, eyeing the other hot dog. "You really going to eat both?"
"It was a plan," O'Neill admitted. "Who's we?"
"Stevenson," Sheppard told him.
"Of course," O'Neill said sarcastically. "The two black sheep coming back home together. How is the old boy doing, by the way?"
"Still breathing, if that's what you're asking," Sheppard said, remembering that O'Neill had had a similar encounter with an Ancient Repository. "Right now he's playing tag with the Phoenix. Something about making a copy of the Asgard tech."
"Is he now?" O'Neill asked, taking it all in stride. "And you're gracing my home with your presence because…?"
"We need to know what else you found under Glastonbury," Sheppard said evenly, then added. "Please."
"Merlin's stuff?" O'Neill asked. "What do you want that for? You've got your own Ancient and the city of Atlantis to boot."
"Yeah, well, we were kind of interested in who Merlin might have been talking to," Sheppard admitted, then added, "and we think there might be a secret chamber."
"Ah, a secret chamber," O'Neill emphasized. "Seems like there's always one of those popping up. By the way, where are you parked? Was that you that snapped off that branch about ten minutes ago?"
"Yeah, sorry about that," Sheppard said apologetically. "The puddle jumper was a tight fit between the houses."
"Why didn't you just land in the driveway?" O'Neill asked.
"Someone might pull in," Sheppard said innocently.
"True, true," O'Neill admitted. "About Merlin's stuff…I haven't a clue. Everything Ancienty went to the SGC and the gold went to the Brits. Aside from the intergalactic communications device and the out of phase thing I don't really know what we found. You'd have to ask Daniel."
"Right," Sheppard said slowly. "I don't suppose you know where he's at. It took us quite a long time to track you down."
"Why?" O'Neill asked. "I'm in the phone book."
"No, you're not," Sheppard corrected. "Your number's unlisted."
O'Neill's cell phone rang from his belt holster.
"If it was, would I keep getting interrupted at home?" he said, completely ignoring the fact that they were talking about his home phone. He listened for about 20 seconds before answering. "Understood. Keep me in the loop," he said, snapping his phone closed. "Apparently the Phoenix has an unwelcome guest onboard."
"Damn it," Sheppard said under his breath. "I thought he was going to scan it from the ship."
"With the cloak up?" O'Neill offered. "I assume your ship is cloaked or I'd have had a very different phone call."
"So what, he decides to board the ship instead?" Sheppard said, perturbed. "Have they caught him?"
"No, seems they don't know what's going on. The rings activated by themselves, then the ship's computer showed an unauthorized access. They put two and two together and figured that someone had come aboard that wasn't supposed to be there."
"Great, now how am I supposed to get back onboard if he isn't there?" Sheppard complained.
"Get back onboard what?" O'Neill asked, curious.
Sheppard's voice caught in his throat. He thought twice about it and decided it would be stupid not to trust O'Neill when they were asking him to trust them. "We salvaged the Tria."
"Good for you," he said cheerfully. "Wish we'd thought of that. Probably would have been cheaper than building a new 304. Actually, I'm surprised the I.O.A. bean counters hadn't floated that idea."
"Yeah, well, when you have a flying city to ferry it back it makes things a bit easier to retrieve."
O'Neill raised an eyebrow. "You took the whole city out to bring the ship back?"
"Well…it's not like it's that far out of the way with three zpms," Sheppard explained. "Besides, the city had already left the ground to kill the hive ship."
"Hive ship? What have you two been up to latel?"
"Quite a bit," Sheppard said, blowing out a knowing breath. "Our resident Ancient keeps us quite busy."
"Really. Anything going on that I should know about?"
"Killing more Wraith, saving more lives, situation normal, just without all the annoying paperwork," Sheppard said deadpan.
"Ah, wouldn't that be nice. No paperwork," O'Neill said, thinking about it. "Actually, I no longer have any idea what that would be like. It seems I've been assimilated into a bureaucrat, and I never even saw it coming. No, that's not true. I did see it coming, in little bits and pieces. I'm just so bad at math I didn't realize what it would all add up to. If I don't find some way to save myself soon, I may need to escape to Atlantis myself."
"You're always welcome, General," Sheppard said with sincerity. "But since Ancient Boy has already blown our cover and we're on a bit of a time table, if you could tell us…"
"Daniel's still at the SGC as far as I know," O'Neill said, anticipating his question. "Hold on a minute. I've got an idea," O'Neill said, pulling out his phone. He hit the number 2 speed dial and waited for it to connect. "This is General O'Neill. I need to talk to Dr. Daniel Jackson, if he's available. Yes, I'll hold."
"Ten bucks says he isn't there," Sheppard said into the silence.
O'Neill pointed to him. "You're on." He waited for another minute before getting a response. "Uh, huh. No, don't have him call me back. I'll get with him later. No, no message. Thank you." He glanced up apologetically at Sheppard. "He's currently off world," O'Neill said as he dug out his wallet. "How'd you know?"
"It's just been one of those missions where you can't seem to find any luck at all," he said, taking the ten dollar bill from Jack.
"I remember those. Daniel should be back within the next 10 hours or so. I'd offer to put you up until then, but you are a renegade after all."
"I understand, sir. Not a problem. I have to run to the nearest convenience store anyway," he said, hefting the ten as he turned to leave.
"Sheppard," O'Neill called him back regretfully. "You should probably know, there's a task force in the Pegasus galaxy hunting for you…and Stevenson…and Atlantis. Carter's in command."
Sheppard nodded his understanding. "Thank you, sir. We appreciate the heads up."
"Go easy on them," O'Neill insisted.
Sheppard smiled and nodded. "Will do," he said, then disappeared around the side of Jack's house.
A minute or so later O'Neill heard another crack and a second tree branch fell to the ground. He turned to face the fallen limb. "Doh."
When Sheppard made it back into orbit he activated his wrist bound communicator. "Stevenson, where are you? I'm ready to come back aboard."
"Standby," was the only reply he received.
"Tell me you're not on the Phoenix," he pleaded.
The comm was silent.
"O'Neill got a call while I was talking to him," Sheppard explained. "He said they suspected an intruder on board the Phoenix. I'm assuming that's you."
"Come on, already. I need to dock with the ship."
In the distance Sheppard saw the tiny spec that was the Phoenix highlighted by a short, straight, white line terminating into nothingness. A long moment later the glowing line was gone.
"Oh, like that didn't give your position away," Sheppard growled over the comlink as he hurried his cloaked puddle jumper toward the pair of ships. Halfway there a computer generated silhouette of the Tria popped up on his screen. It was moving away from the Phoenix to reset its anonymous position after the ring beam had revealed its whereabouts.
"Open the bay," Sheppard told him grumpily, "I'm coming in."
"Are you nuts?" Sheppard yelled at Stevenson five minutes later in the Tria's small landing bay. "Now they know we're here."
"And now I have Asgard Beams," he countered, holding up a data crystal for emphasis. "What did O'Neill tell you?"
"Not much," Sheppard said, still frustrated. "Shouldn't one of us be on the bridge playing keep away with the Phoenix?"
Stevenson stepped aside and waved Sheppard toward the bridge.
He hurriedly brushed past the Ancient. "With the way you fly I'm surprised we haven't hit the moon yet."
Stevenson followed him. "O'Neill," he repeated.
"He doesn't know what else was found in Glastonbury," Sheppard told him as he hurried back to his pilot's chair. "He thought Daniel would know, but he's off world and not due back for another ten hours."
"I'll find him when he gets back," Stevenson said as they walked onto the bridge. "There are some things I need to get from the SGC anyway."
"You're going to break into the SGC?" Sheppard asked as he slid into the pilot's chair and deactivated the autopilot program that Stevenson had running to evade the Phoenix as it ran through a gridded search pattern, scanning for any trace of the cloaked ship.
Stevenson didn't say anything. Instead he just reached to the ornamental gauntlet on his right forearm and touched a small crystal, disappearing beneath a personal cloaking field. He reappeared a moment later with a patronizing look on his face.
"That doesn't get you inside," Sheppard reminded him. "Oh yeah, by the way. O'Neill mentioned a little task force they've sent after us in Pegasus…led by Colonel Carter."
"Really?" Stevenson asked.
"Uh huh. O'Neill asked that we go easy on them when we finally meet up."
"How many vessels?"
"He didn't say, but I'm assuming at least two. One ship doesn't make for much of a task force."
"Odyssey, hopefully," Stevenson said, heading for the door. "Park us somewhere safe and sit still."
"You're going to break in now?" Sheppard asked.
"I need to be there when Daniel returns."
"What was that about Odyssey?"
"I need a copy of Asgard data core."
"Why?" Sheppard asked. "I thought Ancient tech was better."
"Most is. I want to see what they right behind."
Sheppard frowned. "Left behind."
"What did I say?" Stevenson asked.
"Right behind," Sheppard repeated.
Stevenson thunked himself on the side of the head theatrically as if he were realigning something then left the bridge and headed back to the bay for the puddle jumper.
When SG-1 returned from their off world mission, Mitchell, Vala, Jennifer, and Daniel split up to spend their off hours as they individually chose. Teal'c had once again left the stargate program and returned to the new Jaffa nation once the recently returned Colonel Carter had been permanently reassigned to 304 command duty. Colonel Mitchell had replaced the pair with the one person in the SGC rumored to be as smart as Carter…the young Captain Hailey, whom Carter had infamously crossed paths with when she had been on the brink of being kicked out of the Air Force.
The four had meshed well enough, though there had, and never would be, any real replacement for Carter and Teal'c. Daniel had been rumored to have considered leaving as well, but with Atlantis now out of Earth's hands, he didn't really have another assignment befitting him, so he had chosen to stay with SG-1 without too much arm twisting from Colonel Mitchell.
When Daniel returned to his on base quarters he found a note lying on his desk, written in Ancient.
Did you ever wonder where the Mentis Transitia came from?
Daniel looked at the note twice, wondering who would have had the linguistic skill to write it…and what a Mentis Transitia was. He glanced back at the door just in time to see it slide shut, latch, and lock on its own accord.
"Okay…I'm assuming I'm not alone here," he said cautiously.
Beside the door, but out of view of the narrow window contained within it, Stevenson appeared with a finger over his lips. "Shhhh," he said quietly.
"Hell-lo," Daniel said in muted surprise.
"We need to talk," Stevenson said quickly.
"Oh, hey, you speak English now. How did that happen?"
"Still learning," Stevenson admitted. "Did you ever think about it?"
"To answer that I'd have to know what a Mentis Transitia was?" Daniel said apologetically.
"It, ah, it's the long range, intergalactic communications device that you found in Merlin's cave and used to make contact with the Ori," Stevenson finished in his more fluent Ancient.
"Oh, that, I guess it makes sense that you'd know the original name," Daniel answered offhand. "I'd always assumed it was something the Alterrans had brought with them from the Ori galaxy."
Stevenson tilted his head in disgust and gave Daniel a none too happy eyebrow. "Merlin was Lantean," he reminded him.
"Yeah, he was," Daniel said, not seeing where he was going with this.
"Why would a Lantean have a device brought here by the Alterra millions of years before he was born?"
Daniel nodded his head slowly in thought. "That…is a good question. I guess when it mentally took Vala and me to the Ori galaxy, I assumed that was its original purpose. I suppose it wouldn't make much sense for Merlin to hang onto a device that could give away our location to the Ori, which he must have known weren't aware of our existence from his time as an ascended being. But then again, when he left the book detailing Alterran history one could assume that the…Mentis Transitia…was meant as a way for us to discover the truth about the threat of the Ori."
"I suppose there is a bit of a contradiction there," Daniel admitted. "Did you come all the way back here to ask me about that?"
"The Mentis Transitia did not connect you to the Ori because that was its purpose. It connected you to the closest device because you didn't select a specific location."
"Wh, wh, how were we supposed to do that. I didn't see any buttons or displays," Daniel asked.
Daniel sighed. "Of course." He glanced down at the floor as the significance of what Stevenson just said hit him. "If Merlin was actually using the device, who was he talking to, and how far away where they…and why didn't he put some safeguard in place so some simpletons like us couldn't accidentally reveal ourselves to the Ori?"
"I doubt he ever considered the possibility of another such device existing in the Ori galaxy. We destroyed everything we left behind, and purposely traveled far enough away so that we would never have to deal with the Ori again."
"That's right…you would know, wouldn't you? Then if he didn't intend for us to use the Mentis Transitia to discover the existence of the Ori, then why was it left for us to find?"
"Why did Merlin build one in the first place?" Stevenson added.
"Why would he necessarily have to build one?" Daniel asked. "Wasn't that sort of standard equipment in Ancient days?"
Stevenson shook his head 'no.' "After we built the stargate network, we didn't need the Mentis Transitia for communication…and Merlin was a Lantean. They were confined to a single galaxy and had no use for intergalactic communications. Merlin had to have built one of his own."
"And again, for what purpose?" Daniel asked.
"What else was found in Merlin's cave beneath Glastonbury?"
"Ok, I see where you're going with this. You think he left the Mentis Transitia behind for another purpose, and you think he might have left another clue behind."
"I found nothing in the caves," Stevenson admitted."However, I think there may be more chambers than are currently accessible."
Daniel's eyes widened. "You've been there already?"
"Well, there was the mantle that Merlin used to design his weapon in private. The power source went dead on us and we weren't able to retrieve much data from it."
"I know. What else?"
"There was the storybook, a lot of gold and jewels…and the runes," Daniel said, stepping to the side suddenly and digging through his storage bins.
"What runes?" Stevenson asked excitedly.
"These," Daniel said, finding the right bin. He pulled out three small stones. "They're unremarkable save for the Ancient writing on them. One word each."
Stevenson lifted one from Daniel's hands telekinetically and brought it up hovering in the air between them, rotating slowly. "Infinity," he read aloud in his native tongue.
"Hope and Solitude," Daniel translated as he held up the other two and Stevenson added them to the first, rotating in a rocky halo between them. "Do you know what they are?'
Stevenson reached out and grasped one in his hand. He concentrated on it for a moment, then the writing on the rune began to glow.
Daniel's eyes widened. "That never happened before. So they are a form of technology."
"Keycards," Stevenson said, floating the small stone back amongst the other two in mid air.
"We've had people with the Ancient gene handle them before," Daniel told him. "Why didn't they activate then?"
"I had to mentally turn it on," he explained. "These were not meant for Human use. Only an Alterra or advanced Lantean could activate them."
"Do you have any idea what Merlin used these keycards are for?" Daniel asked eagerly.
Stevenson nodded and pocketed the runes. "I believe so."
Daniel quickly got the impression that he intended to leave. "You have to take me with you. You're going back to Glastonbury, aren't you?"
"I'm a renegade," Stevenson warned him, once again speaking English. "You could get into trouble."
Daniel knew well that he was right. Even if the SGC let him off the hook, he knew the I.O.A. was furious with both Sheppard and Stevenson and would take it out on him if he got caught, so he made a snap decision that, in retrospect, had been a long time in coming.
"Then take me with you back to Atlantis," he said, almost pleading. "You've had the complete library of Ancient knowledge downloaded into your head and survived. You have no idea how much I've wanted to pick your brain since you escaped. I could continue studying the Ancients for years and not learn as much as I could from five minutes of talking with you."
Stevenson looked at him skeptically, not saying anything.
"You've also got Atlantis, which is where I planned on ending up anyway, if the whole Ori thing hadn't happened first…I realize that with what you know I'm not going to be of much, if any, help…but please, at least let me tag along."
Stevenson eyed him closely. "There's something else you have not mentioned. I can sense it."
Daniel blew out a reluctant breath. "Since you've been gone, things with the I.O.A. have gotten worse. Our new President seems to be in their back pocket, and they've been given more authority over stargate operations. And not dissimilar to what they tried to do to you, there's also been more shady decisions than usual. General Landry's even had to threaten them with retirement in order to get them to back down on a few things, but even he can't hold them up forever when the orders start coming down from the President."
Stevenson's eyes narrowed angrily. "Sounds like it's time for you to get out then."
Daniel's eyes lit up cautiously. "Is that a yes?"
"Yes," Stevenson confirmed. "Grab a backpack and fill it with what you need. I'll follow you out to the surface."
Daniel winced. "Technically I'm not supposed to leave the base. We've got another mission scheduled for ten hours from now."
"Leave anyway," Stevenson said. "If they stop you I'll clear your path," he said, reactivating his cloak.
"Oh," Daniel remembered. "I'll need to leave Mitchell a note, telling him not to come looking for me."
"Don't mention England," Stevenson's phantom voice advised.
"Right," Daniel said, quickly scavenging around for a pencil and paper. His heart was beating faster than he ever remembered. His life was about to take a sudden and radical change, much like it had when he'd chosen to stay behind on Abydos. Only this time, he had a feeling that things were going to be different in a more radical way.
It'd been too long since he'd been on a real adventure, and he figured that with Stevenson's knowledge of the Ancients and his turning his back on Earth…things were bound to be interesting from here on out.
After finishing his hasty goodbye note and slinging in a few essentials to a rough, old knapsack Daniel moved to the door and headed down the hall to Mitchell's quarters. The door was closed, and there was no light coming from the crack beneath it, so he assumed that Mitchell was elsewhere. Daniel leaned down and slid the folded note under the door, then casually walked away, his pulse pounding with each step as he tried to look normal as he headed toward the elevator that would take him up to the surface.
He made a few polite comments to people he passed on the way there, but encountered no difficulty. He was a regular here, after all, and the only one from the original stargate project to remain in the SGC. No one was going to question his movements. He shouldn't have been worried. Still, when he got inside the elevator and an invisible hand settled on his shoulder to signal him to push the ascent button he felt relieved.
Fifteen minutes later
and he was out of the base. Five after that, he was in space.
Stevenson and Daniel ringed down into the isolation of Merlin's bare caverns while Colonel Sheppard kept the Tria moving about in orbit to avoid the Phoenix's frantic search. They emerged into the same dull lighting that Stevenson had encountered a few hours earlier. The sword remained the only object of interest within sight. All was the same as it had been before.
This time, however, Stevenson walked off in a hurry in a specific direction.
"You know where you're going?" Daniel asked, trailing behind.
"Yes," the Alterran answered, palming the 'Solitude' rune in his hand. He turned around another unimpressive corner and stopped dead in his tracks, with Daniel almost bumping into him from behind.
Stevenson traced his fingers over a blank section of wall until he stopped on a small glyph in the upper right hand corner near the ceiling. "See?" he asked.
"I do now," Daniel said, straining his neck to see what was over his head. "I wish I'd noticed that the first time I was here."
Stevenson stepped down from his tiptoes and raised the rune up to the identical glyph telekinetically. It's glowing symbol provided the only illumination in this small corner of the caverns, but when it touched the glyph on the wall both Daniel and Stevenson were bathed in a warm green glow as the wall disappeared to reveal another chamber.
"Wow," Daniel said subtly, stepping into the small room. Stevenson followed him in, quickly taking interest in wall-mounted display screen. Daniel continued around the small room, noting an antechamber next to a low bed. He walked into the antechamber and quickly recognized it as an Ancient lavatory.
"Solitude," Daniel repeated aloud. "Merlin was the only non-ascended Ancient at the time he built these caverns…I think these might have been his personal quarters, a sanctuary of sorts, someplace he could get away from the commoners of the time."
By now Stevenson had the display screen activated and a tracking image of the Phoenix in orbit. "Planetary sensors," he said when Daniel finally took notice.
Stevenson adjusted the point of view from orbit down to the surface of the planet. He zoomed in enough to pick up individual lifeforms and could actively track their movements.
"He could keep an eye on the entire planet from this chamber?" Daniel asked, in awe.
"Yes," Stevenson confirmed. "There's more."
The screen suddenly blanked, then gridded itself into a number of smaller screens, each popping up with similar tracking data, but from different locations. Daniel recognized the name above one of them.
"Camelot? That's another planet."
"They all are," Stevenson said. "The data is being relayed here through subspace."
"These must be all the medieval civilizations that he set up across the galaxy," Daniel said quickly. "Looks like some of them didn't make it."
Stevenson highlighted one of the lifeless ones and superimposed it over the others. He zoomed out and performed some kind of search. A moment later the computer tagged and highlighted a large impact crater.
"Asteroid," he told Daniel. "Log indicates it hit 231 years ago. No survivors."
"I don't suppose any of these planets are outside the galaxy?" Daniel asked.
Stevenson shook his head. "No. We couldn't get telemetry from that far away."
Daniel sighed. "Anything else interesting?"
"This consol is only used for sensor data, nothing more. If Merlin had a personal log, it's not here."
Daniel looked at him. "You think he kept one?"
"I'm hoping," Stevenson said, deactivating the display screen. "Without the original Mentis Transitia there's no way of knowing where the other end of the line was. You destroyed it, if you remember."
"Well it's not like we had much of a choice," Daniel protested. "The Ori were forcibly sustaining the connection. If Mitchell hadn't destroyed it when he did, Vala and I would have died."
"I'm just saying it would have been easier if we had the original," Stevenson said, half serious, half teasing Daniel. "Come on, we've got two more runes to use."
"Do you know where the other glyphs are?" Daniel asked as he followed him out of the room.
"One," Stevenson answered. "We're going to have to search for the third."
"Which one is it?" Daniel asked.
Daniel kept looking at the walls and the numerous nooks and crannies that their irregular surfaces contained as he followed Stevenson to the second glyph, which read 'Infinity."
Stevenson unlocked this chamber the same way he had the first, but when the wall disappeared they discovered a much larger chamber…filled with all kinds of Ancient technology. One in particular stood out immediately, built into the opposite rocky wall.
"Am I seeing things," Daniel asked, his jaw dropped. "Or is that another stargate?"
"It is," Stevenson said casually, closing his eyes in concentration. When he opened them again he looked to Daniel. "Locked down. That's why it doesn't interfere with the SGC gate."
"What did you just do?" Daniel asked.
"Pulled a status report from the gate."
"How?" Daniel insisted.
"The gates can be controlled mentally, Dr. Jackson."
"They can?" he asked, not sure if he was saying that in jest.
Stevenson held up one of the runes. "Most of our technology is mentally controlled."
"Why build a DHD then?" Daniel asked.
"It serves several purposes," Stevenson explained. "First of all, it allows non-Alterra use of the gate, which I see Merlin didn't care about, since he didn't build a dialing interface."
Daniel looked around, now noticing the lack of a DHD. "Doesn't it also have something to do with the correlative updates?"
Stevenson pointed to the wall that the stargate was built into. Depressed into the rock inside the ring was a block of Ancient tech. "That is the control interface, without a manual dialing pad. I'm guessing that this was Merlin's private way on and off the planet."
"Can you turn it on?"
Stevenson shook his head 'no.' "Not without Merlin's access code."
"What's the rest of this stuff?" Daniel asked, walking around until he laid eyes on a familiar pedestal. "Now that looks familiar."
"This is how Merlin made all of this," Stevenson said, walking up beside Daniel. "It's a molecular synthesizer."
"I know. I've had the pleasure of using one before."
Stevenson frowned. "Your physiology isn't advanced enough to utilize the interface."
"Not now," Daniel explained. "But Merlin made a few temporary modifications so I would be able to use the device to complete his weapon."
"I thought Merlin completed the weapon," Stevenson told him, "then Adria killed him, captured you, and stole the weapon."
"No, that's not what happened," Daniel objected. "Where did you get that idea?"
"The mission files," Stevenson said.
"That can't be, we…" Daniel said, stopping as the answer suddenly popped into his mind. "The I.O.A. They must have edited them like the others."
"Oh, yeah. Forgot to mention it earlier, but one of their recent projects has been to go back over the mission files and rewrite anything that doesn't portray them in the best of light. Landry about blew a gasket when he found out. Supposedly, Jack was able to put a stop to the whole mess, but from what you're telling me it seems they're at it again."
"I'm glad I left when I did," Stevenson told Daniel. "You'll have to fill me in on the rest later. Right now I need to check some files."
"Files about what?" Daniel asked, tracing his line of sight.
"This is a genetic alteration device," Stevenson said, walking over to and powering up the console. He ran through the operational log with a few mental impulses, then turned to Daniel.
"It seems I'm not the only Ancient after all," he said cryptically. "Merlin genetically advanced fourteen Humans on this platform." He manually and mentally dug through the specifics contained within the files. "It seems that he altered their genome towards that of a Lantean of his era, plus a few modifications."
"Like what?" Daniel asked.
"Some weakened versions of my Alterran abilities," he answered quietly. "Similar to what the Ori Priors possessed."
"Weakened?" Daniel asked skeptically. "They seemed pretty impressive to me, especially Adria."
"I wasn't talking about Adria. She was closer to an Alterran…actually she was probably a recreation of the Ori physiology akin to ours, though there were probably some developmental differences that occurred over the eons."
"Does the file give any names?" Daniel asked suspiciously.
Stevenson checked. "No, only serial numbers."
"I always thought that Merlin might have helped Arthur ascend," Daniel explained. "Could the alterations he made to those 14 have resulted in ascension?"
"Probably not," Stevenson cautioned. "Not on their own."
"Can you ascend?" Daniel asked as the stray thought hit him.
"That's not what the repository was designed for," Stevenson advised him.
"No, but you didn't answer my question," Daniel urged. "Do you have the ability to ascend, here and now, if you chose, like Adria did?"
Stevenson stared at Daniel for a moment, deciding whether or not to answer him. In the end, he figured it could do no harm. "Yes."
"Then why don't you?" Daniel asked in dismay.
"That's not my mission," Stevenson answered. "I could ask you the same thing, Dr. Jackson. Why did you choose to retake Human form?"
Daniel inclined his head to the side in a 'you got me there' gesture. "Ultimately I felt that my place was here, where I could make a difference. I couldn't let go what happening in the galaxy and just sit by and watch as bad things happened."
"Do you think I could?" Stevenson asked.
Daniel considered that. "To be honest, I don't know you well enough to answer that question."
"Fair enough," Stevenson said, deactivating the Ancient device. "We'll go through the rest of this stuff later. Help me look for the third symbol."
"You don't think there's anything valuable here?" Daniel asked, following him out of the room.
"No, it all looks pretty standard," Stevenson said, motioning Daniel to the right as he went left. "Split up."
"Alright," Daniel said, trying to get the Ancient toys out of his head and focus on his task. The glyph was so small and obscure that it was going to be hard to find, but now that he knew what to look for he figured he stood half a chance. He started with the wall nearest him and began his search along the ceiling, where the other two had been.
Step by tedious step he began to search through the caverns.
Two and a half hours later Daniel and Stevenson returned to the main chamber and sat down on the floor next to the sword in the stone. They had found nothing.
"Well it's got to be here somewhere," Daniel insisted, not wanting to give up.
"We've searched everywhere," Stevenson countered. "I don't see it."
"The first rune said 'Solitudes'," Daniel reiterated, "obviously referring to Merlin's quarters as a sanctuary of sorts. The second said 'Infinity' which I'd take a guess as to meaning the synthesis machine that can make anything and everything Merlin needed. The third says 'Hope', so maybe whatever is in that room is valuable enough to warrant some extra security."
"What do you suggest?"
"I don't know, but we can't just give up," Daniel pleaded.
Stevenson leaned on the stone mount and rested his head in his hand. "I'm waiting for any bright ideas."
Daniel blew out a frustrated breath and momentarily laid his forehead down on the cool stone. When he lifted it up his eyes laid directly on the hologram.
"Did you try the sword?" he asked.
"Try it how?" Stevenson said, glancing at it.
"I don't know. Did you touch it?"
Stevenson shook his head 'no.'
Daniel was beside himself. "You mean to say you spent hours looking through this place and didn't bother to examine the one obvious artifact down here."
"We already know what it does," Stevenson countered, but he was starting to agree with Daniel none the less.
Frustrated, Daniel reached out and grabbed the hilt of the sword. It wouldn't budge. "You try…" he said as the sword suddenly recaught his attention.
"What is it?" Stevenson asked, standing up.
"I found it," Daniel said simply. He pointed to the very bottom of the sword, on the tip of the hilt, where the tiny symbol for 'Hope' was written in Ancient.
"I'm glad I brought you along," Stevenson said, pulling out the third rune. He mentally activated it, then touched it to the hilt.
Suddenly there was a bright light that flooded the cavern. Just as suddenly, it was gone…and Stevenson and Daniel found themselves standing in the center of an endless sea of white, with nothing visible, save for the sword in the stone next to them.
"Does this remind you of…"Daniel asked.
"…the Matrix. Yeah," Stevenson answered.
Before either of them could say anything else, a hologram of Merlin appeared, standing behind the sword in the stone. Only this time, he appeared dressed in Ancient garb.
"My brother, if you are seeing this, then either the Human race has advanced to a level akin to my forbearers or the Ancient Repository has finally come to fruition. I will assume the later, for if the former has occurred, what I have to tell you is for naught. Events will have already played themselves out for good or ill, and the fate of our little corner of the universe will have already been decided."
"I am leaving you this message for the simple reason that you deserve to know the truth about the civilization you have been bequeathed to restore. Not all of the original Alterra have been killed. Many have ascended, as I'm sure you are aware of by now. What you do not know, is that most of them no longer wish for their project to succeed."
"There are rules that the ascended must live by. Some of our own making. Others have been forced upon us. We were not the first to learn to ascend, and we will not be the last. Those that came before us will tolerate no threat to their continued existence. If one in the lower planes comes by such knowledge as to become a threat to the ascended, they will be killed or altered in some way as to no longer be a threat. For all their powers, the ascended are nothing more than energy based lifeforms. They, as I once did, have a number of weaknesses. Knowledge of those weaknesses is deemed an executable offense."
"Fear not, for they cannot eavesdrop on our conversation. As you will have noticed, you are no longer standing in a cave. I have temporarily shifted you into an alternate dimensional structure where ascended beings cannot follow. Guard what information I give you carefully. If you do not reveal it to others, the ascended will not force it from your minds. They care not for the thoughts of lesser beings and are forbidden to interfere save to counter threats to the collective. Do not speak of what you have heard here, and you should remain safe from their influence."
"The knowledge contained within the Repository is not deemed a threat to the others, but some of the research that the Alterra were conducting was. For this reason, some of the others do not want you to rebuild their former civilization, out of fear that they will be forced to stop you if history repeats itself. If not for the plague that ended the Alterran civilization, the other ascended beings at the time would probably have intervened at some point to stop the Alterran research from progressing."
"Now you may ask, what do they deem dangerous to them?" Merlin's hologram continued. "There are three areas that seem to concern them. The first is medical. Any research into ascension catches their eye, but it is to tangents of ascension research that they will not allow. I do not know for sure, but there may be a chance that a lower being such as ourselves could develop to the point where we could interact on the upper planes without actually ascending."
"That is speculation only. If there is a way, it is beyond my knowledge. I only know that such research is forbidden, and anyone who deliberately or accidentally follows that course of inquiry will be stopped in whatever way the others deem expedient."
"The second is a branch of physics you know of as Orilisieo. To my knowledge, neither the Alterra nor the Lantean civilizations made any considerable headway into this field, and I do not know how it would become a threat to the ascended, but it is taboo none the less. Avoid anything similar to avoid a confrontation…which you will lose, I can assure you."
"The third area is something called Precartis, which I have no knowledge of. It seems to have something to do with a region of space outside of the gate network. So long as you stick to the former territory of the Alterra, you should not have to worry about invoking the others' wrath on this account."
"There is one other matter I would make known to you, and the efforts I have taken to deal with it. They are called the Ori, and you should be familiar with our history from the knowledge placed within the repository. What you do not know is that the Ori have ascended, as we did, but they are not bound by the same rules of conduct. Within their home galaxy, they fall outside the realm controlled by the others, and so long as they do not enter our collective domain, they are free to do as they choose."
"What they have chosen to do is dominate the lower planes, using their knowledge and power to pose as gods to the recreated Human-like species that the Ori seeded in their galaxy after their ascension. These Humans worship the Ori, and through a complicated process the Ori are able to extract energy from them, strengthening their non-corporeal selves in the process."
"I believe this is part of the reason why the others choose not to bend the Ori to their will. I hope it is not the only reason, else some of my efforts will be in vain. If the Ori are let to run free because of their geographical location, then hope still remains."
"I have chosen to retake corporeal form in violation of the ascended rules in order to counter the threat of the Ori. I have done so in two ways. The first is the creation of a weapon that can kill ascended beings. My research is nearly complete, yet the fabrication will take some time. Once completed I will wait here, in Avalona, until the Ori finally discover the Human populations in this galaxy and attempt to convert them to their cause, siphoning additional energy from them, enough to strengthen themselves so that they can defy the others within their own territory long enough to attack and finally destroy the last of the Alterra and their kin, as they attempted to do so long ago, as you know well."
"However, I have taken additional measures to insure that something survives if I should fail. I have sent fourteen brave knights on a journey across the cosmos to a galaxy far beyond the vision of both the others and the Ori…I hope. I have enhanced them physically and mentally to nearly our level, insuring their longevity and ability to rebuild a second civilization in anonymity. If they are truly beyond the range of the others and the Ori, then they will be free to develop and one day ascend without interference, eventually growing in numbers sufficient to counter either the Ori or the others if they should ever encounter either one. That is my hope. And if fortune should smile upon me, it will not be in vain."
"The location I sent them to is far beyond the gate network, and I have instructed them to build their gates in a such a way as to be inaccessible to ours. They are in isolation by design, and I intend for it to stay that way. I have remained in communication with them during their long journey and their early years of development. Once they had attained a sufficient foothold I instructed them to sever all communications with this galaxy, where I would remain alone in my solitudes, awaiting the coming of the Ori. Regardless of my fate, I wished to insure that they would live on, anonymous."
"Never the less, I have kept my end of the communications link intact, fearing that they would encounter obstacles that would require my counsel. To date, they have not requested contact, which I take as a good omen."
"My purpose in telling you this, in violation of my own secrecy imperative, is to let you know that you are not alone. My knights and their kin may be out of your reach, but they are your allies, none the less. I tell you this because I know what it is to be alone, with everyone and everything seeming to work against you. Take heart, my young brother, for your task is equally important to their own. More so, considering the additional pressures you face from the others, and perhaps the Ori if I fail."
"The last thing I will say to you is this. Be wary of your ascended kin. They cannot be trusted beyond their own self interest. Mind the warnings I gave you, and regrow our civilization around them. The others should leave you be if you do, though I can make no promise of it."
"Fare well, my brother. Despite my efforts, you are still our first and best hope. May you succeed with all due haste."
Merlin's hologram faded and the hilt of the sword began to pulse…but nothing happened. Apparently they were to touch the hilt when they wished to return.
"How much of that did you get?" Stevenson asked, knowing that Daniel's Ancient wasn't nearly as good as his.
"I think I got the gist of it," Daniel said quietly. "Merlin sent Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table away to where he thought they'd be safe from the Ori and the Ancients."
"Merlin only knew part of the truth, Daniel. And even that part I must wipe from your mind."
"Why?" Daniel asked as if he were being treated unfairly.
"The others he spoke of are far more malevolent than he knows, and any knowledge of them is a danger to both you and me. My mind is shielded from them. They cannot read my thoughts. Yours, however…"
"Tell me what you know first," Daniel pleaded.
Stevenson frowned. "You won't remember any of it."
"Still, I want to know. Even if for only a few minutes."
Stevenson nodded. "Alright, I owe you that much for finding the third rune." He proceeded to tell Daniel everything, and felt much better himself for having someone to confide in. They spent over five hours talking, then Stevenson finally used his telepathy to erase all memory of their conversation from Daniel's mind before touching the sword and returning to the main chamber.
Stevenson resealed the two chambers, leaving the Ancient technology where it lay. He needed none of it, and it should be safe where it was, lying anonymous behind sealed doors that only the runes or an Ancient hacker could open…and the Humans now had neither.
With runes in hand, Stevenson and a somewhat bewildered Daniel returned to the Tria and headed back to the concealed supergate…to Daniel's genuine shock. What Daniel had been told he couldn't know about what happened under Glastonbury was quickly forgotten, surpassed by the knowledge of an alternate series of stargates and the true function of the 9th chevron.
The three of them returned to Pegasus without incident, bringing with them Stevenson's knowledge that he wasn't truly alone in the universe, Daniel's wonder and awe at the suddenly expanded gate network and Ancient knowledge now available to him, and Sheppard's small bag of goodies that he'd quietly collected while on Earth.
The Forgotten Ones
Temman dropped to the ground, helpless. His body went numb from the Wraith stun blast that had hit him dead center, and he fell backward onto a rock so that his chest lay higher than his head. His line of sight was fixed back the way the shot had come. Upside down he saw three Wraith abandon their cover in the forest and come towards him.
He wanted to yell for help, but he could not. His partner had already gone down a few seconds before he did. Her hit had prompted him to stand up from cover to see what was happening, which had got him shot. He had been stupid. Ronon had taught him better.
The Wraith passed out of view, either standing over him or moving on past. His head was set in a fixed position, and Temman couldn't so much as wiggle a finger…yet he hadn't passed out, which gave him a slight advantage. When stunned in training drills, he had discovered that if one worked constantly to fight past the numbness then it would dissipate quicker than normal. He fought with all his available concentration and hammered against the neural block.
Suddenly one of the Wraith stepped back into view and fired his weapon into the forest. Temman just made out a figure on the periphery of his vision as the Wraith adjusted his aim and fired repeatedly. The more the figure moved into line the better Temman could see him…or in this case, it.
The figure hesitated each time it was shot, but then continued on undiminished.
The combat model replicator ran forward and latched onto the Wraith's weapon, tearing it from its grip and breaking the Wraith's arm in the process. It kicked the Wraith to the side and fired several blasts over Temman's head.
Though he couldn't show it, Temman was incredibly relieved. He didn't know whose replicator it was, but it had apparently been close enough to respond to the attack and would kill or drive off the Wraith, preventing them from dragging him off helpless to be fed upon.
The replicator held position near Temman and fired off stun blast after stun blast, getting hit by several itself, but never more than momentarily affected by the incoming fire. Behind it, Temman saw more Wraith approaching, but couldn't cry out a warning. Of the new Wraith, one held out a small pistol and fired a green blast at the Replicator.
Temman saw its left shoulder disintegrate into melted droplets that fell to the ground in front of his eyes. The tiny bits smoked on the ground, falling apart as if they were nothing but burnt sand. They lay directly in front of his eyes, smoldering as they further disintegrated.
The Replicator, when hit, calmly turned around, shifting the Wraith weapon to his other arm and fired precisely into the Wraith's torso, dropping it to the ground. More blasts ensued from the damaged Replicator, keeping the Wraith away from Temman as he worked a slight sensation back into the thumb on his right hand.
The Replicator took two more stun blasts, then, without reason, abandoned Temman and ran off into the woods. If he could have screamed, or pleaded, or cried out in any fashion he would have, but he couldn't. He lied frozen in place as he saw the injured Wraith slowly rise to its feet and walk toward him.
Step by step it approached, its arm limp at its side, all the while staring at Temman through its bony faceplate. It knelt down next to him and just before it touched him Temman could see the feeding slit in its hand pass over his face.
The stun blast couldn't dull the pain that came. Temman's life drained from him as the Wraith healed its injured arm. When finished it stood up and returned to the fight, leaving Temman's withered body behind. Within a few minutes the stress of the feeding overloaded his heart and he died, frozen in place on top of a rock.
A quarter mile away from Temman, Teyla hid behind a fallen tree waiting to ambush a group of approaching Wraith. She had with her one of three 'regulars,' which they'd come to call the Pegasus recruits that they'd been training. This regular's was named Inis, and she was hunkered down behind a thick tree trunk ten meters away.
The plan was to draw the Wraith out of the forest base with a distraction further down the ridge. Sheppard and his team had drawn that duty, while Teyla's five man squad had ambush duty at the complex's south entrance.
Her three regulars were equipped with basic stun rifles similar in design to the P-90 that she still carried. With the vast array of weapons that Stevenson had made available to her, Teyla had been trying out many different varieties, but to date she hadn't found one that she liked and wasn't proficient enough for her tastes with any of the new weapons so, like Sheppard, she had decided to stick with the P-90 until she could find a suitable replacement and get in enough target practice to grow comfortable with using it.
The regulars that they'd brought with them, nine in all, had proven themselves enough to be added to the mission rosters, but they hadn't yet rated lethal weapons. All of them carried stun rifles or pistols, and would continue to do so until they proved that they could fight without their commanders worrying about friendly fire…which had been a continuing problem in training missions.
This mission, however, was not a training scenario. It was a real assault on a small Wraith production facility hidden beneath the canopy of a very high forest. The Wraith base extended underground and was thought to be a small arms factory. It had come to their attention via Stevenson and his ability to monitor all current gate travel from the gate center back in Avalona. He'd written a program to monitor and transfer all Pegasus gate data to Atlantis daily via the subspace 'fax' technology that the Ancients used to send one way text messages over great distances.
By backtracking known Wraith movements they'd discovered this small, cozy, out of the way system that had abnormally high gate traffic and was a stop off location for Wraith ships from time to time, confirmed by Atlantis's long range sensors when they'd been focused in to monitor the planet in question. Addition recon had provided all the pertinent data to add this planet to the hit list for Sheppard and his crew.
With the painfully slow Tria being the only option for transit aside from the gate network, and with this particular system lying well away from the two remaining supergates, it had been determined that they would make the strike on foot, given that the puddle jumpers, or navicula porta as Stevenson called them, couldn't maneuver through the trees that surrounded the gate.
After using the built in surveillance equipment that Stevenson had kindly showed them how to use after hooking up a standard display in Atlantis's control room so they wouldn't continuously hound him to mentally check off world status through the gate, three teams led by Teyla, Ronon, and Sheppard headed out to hit the Wraith factory, accompanied by one replicator each.
Teyla had ordered her other two regulars further back along the path they thought the Wraith would take from the south entrance to get to the disturbance that Sheppard's team was going to create. She had ordered the replicator to quietly patrol the area and make sure that the Wraith didn't sneak up on them from another direction. So far everything had been quiet, but that wasn't going to last for long.
Off in the distance she heard the gentle boom of the Wraith's forward watch tower. Apparently Sheppard had succeeded in overcoming the guards and detonating the small building…but not before letting Ronon's squad by with the big fireworks, which they would attempt to plant inside the facility while the Wraith were busy outside.
To that end, the southern entrance opened up and over a dozen Wraith flooded out, heading west southwest…and not on the well worn path that Teyla thought they'd be on. Instead, they were heading through the underbrush in a direction that would bring them directly on top of Teyla and Inis, instead of on the path through the gully directly below them.
"What now?" Inis mouthed to Teyla.
She signaled for her to stay put while she thought hard about what to do. Meanwhile the Wraith hurriedly crunched their way through the forest undergrowth, heading towards what had been their watchtower.
Teyla pointed along the ridge, ordering Inis to move down and fire on the Wraith well away from her. Once they redirected on Inis, Teyla would hit them from the side.
"Then run back," Teyla whispered, pointing to the direction of the other two regulars. Inis nodded and crawled away.
Teyla steadied herself, hidden behind the log. When she heard Inis open up, she would give it a count of three then jump out of cover and lay into the Wraith while they were distracted. Then they would both fall back and draw the survivors to the rest of her squad, as planned beforehand. The replicator would join the fight once the regulars opened fire, so as not to blow the ambush.
Teyla heard Inis's stun rifle fire three quick burst and she began counting.
She stood up behind her log and took one step forward, but stopped in her tracks. She fired on the nearest Wraith, downing it with a hail of P-90 fire. She turned to the next and downed it just the same, but by then the other Wraith had noticed her presence and began firing on her.
Teyla dropped back behind cover, cursing herself. She had planned to run and gun, but when she'd stood up she'd froze. Now she was in a bind.
"Teyla!" she heard Inis yell as she crouched behind a thin tree, surrounded by a hail of stun blasts. One of them impacted the trunk and her shoulder.
Her rifle dropped from her limp arm. "Teyla! Help!"
Teyla knew she had to do something, but she also knew that if she stood up the other Wraith would shoot her on the spot. They were approaching her position, she could feel them as hazy spots within her mind. Three of them, approaching cautiously.
She raised her gun up over the log and fired wildly, hoping to hit something. The Wraith ducked behind cover, buying a few more seconds for Teyla to do something.
Reluctantly she activated her wristband. "Achilles, recall now!" she screamed, ordering her personal replicator off patrol duty and back to her position immediately.
Teyla knew she couldn't call up her other regulars, they'd be target practice moving through the woods. They had to stay under cover if they were going to do any good. Teyla and Inis had to pull back to them.
Just then Teyla heard a faint hum and zap, and she felt one of the Wraith fall dead, with the others confused. She knew this was her chance and jumped to her feet. She fired her weapon at the other two Wraith, hitting both but not killing either.
Another tiny glowing light zipped between the trees and hit one of the Wraith. It slumped out of cover, dead.
"Thank you, Ronon," Teyla said to herself.
Off from her left several stun blasts zipped through the trees and she automatically ducked to the ground…but they weren't aimed at her. They hit the other cowering Wraith, and he too slid into sight.
Teyla ran forward and filled the stunned Wraith with bullets as her replicator sprinted towards her through the woods with inhuman speed. When it got to her it didn't need additional orders. Its programming sensed the other Wraith and responded to the threat immediately.
The replicator named Achilles ran past Teyla in a blur, firing its captured Wraith weapon with precise, yet rapid shots. Teyla ran behind it, failing to keep up. She heard the sounds of battle ahead as the replicator manhandled the Wraith, snapping limbs and necks with ease.
Teyla shot one Wraith as it tried to limp off through the underbrush, and made sure to put at least two bullets into every one lying on the ground. She caught up to Inis with the replicator pacing around the immediate area, keenly alert.
"Inis, I'm so sorry. Are you alright?"
"Can't feel my right arm," she said, clearly afraid.
"Can you walk?"
"I think so," she said, struggling to stand up.
"Achilles, take her back to the rest of the squad. Hold there and protect them. I'll lead the rest of the Wraith back to your position."
The replicator simply nodded, then began to pull Inis along by the arm. When she stumbled, it simply picked her up, swung her over its damaged shoulder, and carried her at half a run back through the woods.
Teyla turned her attention back towards the complex as she sensed more Wraith coming out…but this time they weren't coming towards her. They were headed towards what she guessed was Ronon's group, based on the direction the mini drones had come from.
Pissed off at her own incompetence, she sprinted forward toward the emerging Wraith, intent on killing as many of them as she could before they could outflank Ronon's squad.
Ronon dropped the mini drone launcher to the ground and pulled out his sidearm just in time to shoot a Wraith as it charged out of the western entrance of the complex. Its dead body fell into him, which he quickly shucked off to free his gun arm to shoot another Wraith point blank in the head.
His replicator, Ares, had been sent around to the North entrance to block any flanking maneuver by the Wraith while Ronon and Reva, his best regular, charged down their throats into the complex and planted their charges.
Twenty four Wraith lay dead at the entrance, all killed by the mini drone launcher at range. Now it was up to Ronon to take care of what he hoped would be only a few stragglers in hand to hand combat. Reva was to follow close behind him while Temman and Ella held guard duty a hundred meters to the north as backup should Ares fail to stop all the Wraith. Sheppard and his team would be joining them as backup as soon as they finished off any Wraith at the western watchtower that overlooked the clearing where the cruisers and darts would land.
Ronon stepped over the dead Wraith and moved down the sloped tunnel through the organic hallways. He jogged slowly, keeping decent pace while staying alert for more Wraith. They only needed to place the explosives fifty meters inside and the Ancient technology would create a concussive blast that would devastate the entire Wraith factory.
Ronon held up at a junction and waved a hand backward for Reva to do the same. He hunkered up against the wall as Ronon quietly drew his forearm-length blade at a reverse angle. He waited until the footsteps became unbearably loud and the first inch of blue skin appeared around the corner, then he stepped forward and slid the blade neatly into its torso.
He pulled it out just as quickly and the male Wraith dropped to the ground, his odd pistol slipping from his grip. Ronon glanced around to make sure the area was clear, then he knelt down and retrieved the weapon.
"Come on," he said to Reva as he got to his feet and began to move forward.
Outside Teyla caught up with the last two Wraith in the group and shot both in the back while on the run. She jumped over the two bodies just as three more ahead heard her gunfire and turned around, firing.
Teyla fired another burst as she ducked sideways and took cover behind another of the abnormally large trees. She felt the Wraith split up and move towards her, two on the right and one on the left. She waited until they were halfway there, then swung around the tree on the left and fired on the lone Wraith, dropping to a knee.
It got off a single blast before being riddled with bullets, which flew safely over Teyla's head. She dropped out a nearly empty clip and quickly replaced it with a fresh magazine. Before the other Wraith could get to her she darted backwards and took up position behind another tree, grabbing a quick breath.
She had three seconds to compose herself before the Wraith were on top of her again. Putting all concern for herself aside, she jumped sideways out from behind the tree, firing at the first one she saw as she flew through the air. When she hit the ground with a painful thud she switched her aim to the second and held in the on the trigger.
Both Wraith went down, but one caught her with a shot in the foot and her leg went completely numb.
She groaned more in frustration than pain and pried herself up to a sitting position and scanned the horizon. The rest of the Wraith in the group hadn't turned back and where probably even now bearing down on Ronon…and there wasn't anything more she could do to help him aside from ordering Achilles to intervene, but it was guarding Inis and her other regulars whose current condition she knew nothing of, and she couldn't risk pulling Achilles away from them if they were in trouble.
She'd done all she could to help Ronon. The best she could do now was try and drag herself back toward the others.
"Oh crap," Sheppard said, kneeling over Temman's withered corpse. They'd already found Ella's unconscious body after killing two Wraith in the area, but only now had they come across Temman. "Squad hold here," he ordered. "See to her and watch our six. Ariel, you're with me," he told his female version replicator who dropped into step eight inches off his right shoulder as Sheppard ran ahead, following the mass of tracks in the damp soil toward the complex.
They came to the western entrance just in time to see three Wraith enter. Suddenly Ariel darted off to the right, and Sheppard was about to say something rude about the nature of machines when he too spotted a group of Wraith coming up from the south.
He fired a quick burst of P-90 fire into the complex entrance, hoping to wing the Wraith disappearing within or at least stall their advance. He did neither and had to quickly make a choice…move off to engage the others with Ariel or dive on into the Lion's den, hoping that the Wraith didn't get past the replicator and shoot him in the back.
Sheppard chose to go to Ronon, and sprinted into the tunnel on the tail of the Wraith. He jumped over a couple more Wraith corpses within the organic hallway and moved forward as quickly as he dared. Up ahead he heard the telltale whine of Ronon's Traveler-built pistol and knew he was close.
Before he knew it he was on the back of the Wraith party and unloaded at point blank range, skidding to a halt as he came around a blind corner. Four Wraith stood with their backs to him, trying to get a shot off at Ronon who was out of Sheppard's vision.
Sheppard slung a line of bullets left to right, wounding but not killing all four Wraith. In their momentary pain-induced hesitation he permanently damaged three of them while an orange blast from Ronon took down the fourth.
"Charges are set," Ronon said, walking forward. "We need to pull back."
"There are more Wraith outside," Sheppard said, falling into line behind Ronon as he led the way back to the surface. "We found two from your squad down," Sheppard told him. "Temman's dead."
Ronon half stopped. "What? How?"
"I don't know," Sheppard said. "The rest of my team is standing by with Ella. Ariel took off after the Wraith."
Ronon turned and sprinted for the exit.
"Damn it," Sheppard said under his breath as he and Reva lost ground to Ronon.
When they got outside they ran smack into Ariel as the replicator entered the western exit. "Where's Ronon?" Sheppard asked.
"That way," it said, pointing directly away from the complex.
Sheppard stepped around it and trailed after Ronon. Ariel dropped into step beside him, as normal. When they eventually caught up, they found Ronon kneeling over Temman's body.
"Ares is gone. The Wraith got through from the north," Ronon growled. Sheppard glanced down at Ronon's wristband and the small red light that indicated the replicator's status.
"Find Ares, or what's left of him," Sheppard ordered Ariel. The smaller of the three replicators nodded and took off running through the woods.
"Ten meter perimeter, heads up for more Wraith," he ordered his squad, who quickly encircled them in a defensive halo.
"I found this on one of the Wraith," Ronon said, still looking at Temman. He tossed the Wraith pistol toward Sheppard's feet.
Sheppard picked it up and looked it over. "Not the standard stun pistol," he said, taking aim at a nearby tree. He fired once…a single green dart that completely obliterated the trunk on impact.
"Whoa, look out!" he yelled as the small tree toppled over. Ronon didn't move, even as it landed some two meters to his left.
"That's some firepower," Sheppard commented. "Doesn't make sense they'd build these to use against humans. It'd ruin their meal."
"Probably designed to fight the replicators," Ronon said, finally standing up. "They fought a war against them twice. We should have known they'd find some way to kill them."
"Where's Teyla's group?" Sheppard asked.
"Don't know," Ronon said, his senses alert again. "Last I knew they were fighting the Wraith down by the ridge."
"Better find them and get back to the gate before any more Wraith pop up."
"I've got point," Ronon said, leading the way.
"Carry her," Sheppard told his squad. "Leave the body."
Kelson glanced up in surprise. "Leave him behind?"
"He's dead," Sheppard said, retrieving Temman's stun rifle. "Our duty is to the living. Move out."
Teyla limped back to Atlantis through the gate, supported on one side by Ronon. The other two strike team members that had been stunned were also assisted through, while Ariel carried back the small glob of nanites that had been Ares, or what was left of him. The still functioning nanites clung to her own on command, but would revert to useless dust when she released control of them.
Ronon helped Teyla back to the mission prep room where she stowed her weapons, stumbled through a long shower, and slipped into a fresh pair of clothes. Afterwards she hobbled on down to the commissary and grabbed a tray of food which she did little more than stare at for the better part of an hour.
"Mind if I join you?" Daniel asked, sitting down across from her with a chess set.
"That's alright, I was just finishing," Teyla said, not making eye contact.
"Looks to me like you haven't started," Daniel said casually.
"I am not as hungry as I thought," Teyla said, still staring at her tray.
"I heard you took a hit?" Daniel asked.
"Yes," Teyla said, finally looking at him. "In the leg. It's mostly worn off by now."
"Look, I know I'm still the new guy around here," Daniel said, almost apologizing, "but I've seen the look on your face before…sometimes in the mirror."
"And?" Teyla said, a little challenge in her voice.
"I heard we lost a man today," Daniel said, his voice softening. "I know from experience how hard that can be."
"Not nearly as hard as it was on him," Teyla said, standing up. "If you'll excuse me."
Teyla limped off, tray in hand. Daniel watched her go as Dr. Weir entered and noticed Elizabeth's hesitation as she passed Teyla. They exchanged a few quick words then Teyla moved on.
"What was that all about with Teyla? She walked me off when I tried to talk to her" Daniel asked, setting up the chess board as Elizabeth joined him.
"I'm not sure," Elizabeth admitted. "But I know not to press the issue when she's in that kind of a mood. If she wants to talk she will. If she doesn't, then she won't."
"I think it has something to do with their last mission," Daniel offered. "I don't know if you heard, but they lost a man."
"No I hadn't," Elizabeth said, glancing back at the door where Teyla had exited. "That may have something to do with her mood, but there's been something nagging her for some time now. Knowing her its usually something that she has to work through on her own."
"If you say so," Daniel said, pulling back.
Elizabeth smiled. "You'll get your feet here quickly enough. It just takes some time to get exposed to the local culture