Chapter 13: This is bad, isn't it?
I stood over with Doctor Weir as John was scanned with Doctor Beckett and one of his staff in attendance. As soon as they were finished Doctor Beckett made his way over to us.
"The retrovirus isn't breaking down in his system like we hoped it would," Doctor Beckett said softly.
"You're positive?" Doctor Weir spoke while I stood frozen, gazing at John lying on the infirmary bed.
"Yes," Doctor Beckett confirmed. "In fact, it's beginning to alter his DNA. If this is allowed to continue, he'll devolve into a creature similar to what Ellia became."
Doctor Beckett sat down at his desk, rubbing a tired hand over his face. I tore my glance away from John and asked "How long does he have?"
"I'm not sure exactly," Carson admitted.
"Ballpark! Months, weeks?," I demanded in a low, sharp voice.
"Days," Carson said very softly. "We have days." My insides clenched at the news and I hastily looked back at John. He appeared to be oblivious to our presence but I wondered if he could hear any of what we were saying.
"OK," Doctor Weir said briskly. "What's the plan?"
"I've injected him with a viral inhibitor," Doctor Beckett offered. "It should slow down the retrovirus as far as his cognitive abilities are concerned, but I'm afraid that's it so far. We're exploring various treatments that may or may not be effective, so ..."
"John doesn't have time for you to explore!" I said heatedly. "Isn't there something in the Ancient database that can help you find a treatment," I demanded impatiently.
"We're doing our best!" Doctor Beckett pointed out. "Anything we do is going to take time."
"I'm sorry, I know," I said apologetically, trying to calm down. "Of course you are." I watched John lying there, apparently starring up at the ceiling.
"You should talk to him," Doctor Beckett said to me. "He's hiding it very well, but if I was him? I'd be scared to death."
Before I could respond John sat up suddenly on the bed, looking toward us with that strange intent expression I'd already seen that day.
"How'm I doin'?" he asked from across the room.
I exchanged an apprehensive glance with Doctor Beckett before walking slowly over to John's bed. I stood there frozen as he looked me up and down, clearly waiting for me to say something.
"Anything that has you speechless has me concerned," John quipped in a voice that lacked that intense edge he'd had earlier.
"You'll be fine," I said bracingly, trying for a reassuring smile.
"Wow," John exclaimed. "That's dead man talk."
"It is not!" I denied hotly.
"Remember this?” John turned his right arm so that I could see the scaly patch had grown and changed to a disgusting spiky looking thing.
"Doctor Beckett will work something out," I insisted.
"I think I already have," John said lightly. "You know who I'm starting to feel like?" He paused for a moment before answering his own question. "Ford."
"What happened to Aiden was completely different," I said firmly.
"I know, I know," John agreed. "Still, I can feel it. I mean, I can feel it changing me inside ... like he did."
"It's just that you're worried,' I offered that as a reason he'd be feeling that way.
"No, no. No, it's ... .uh ...," John paused to think for a moment before continuing. "One of the best weeks of my life was when I got my wisdom teeth out. I was on codeine for a full seven days. This is kinda the same. I know I should be in pain, or at the very least freaked out by this, but hey! I'm not ... and that freaks me out more than anything."
"We're gonna get through this," I sat on the side of his bed and put a hand on his shoulder.
"We're gonna get through this? Doctor Beckett will work something out? You'll be fine?" John repeated all the lame phrases I'd already used in our short conversation. "You really suck at the whole bedside manner thing."
"I do," I agreed in embarrassment.
"But I appreciate the effort," John put a hand over mine and squeezed gently. I smiled genuinely for the first time that day. Settling down at his bedside I resigned myself to letting the experts do their jobs, praying silently that they'd find a solution before it was too late.
Things only got tenser as the day wore on. It hadn't take John long to get frustrated at lying around in an infirmary bed and I had not improved my performance as bedside cheerer upper. Doctor Beckett's nursing staff continually monitored John, checking to see how lucid he was. I wasn't heartened by the realisation that they were continually upping his dose of the inhibitor to keep him at the same level of awareness.
My mind became just slightly easier when Doctor Beckett came back to the infirmary some hours later and hurriedly began packing some things into his kit.
"What's happening?" I moved away from John's bedside to quiz Carson.
"Major Lorne is leading the rest of the Colonel's team to the iratus bug planet,' Carson glanced over at John before speaking very quietly to me. "If we can get some iratus bug stem cells from their eggs we can trick his system into repairing his mutated cells."
"Aren’t these bugs really dangerous?" I frowned worriedly.
"Aye," Carson admitted. "We're taking extra backup ... don't worry lass, it's be fine." He patted me on the shoulder before heading to the store room for more supplies.
"Did I hear right?" John asked when I returned to his bed. "Carson's got an idea for how to fix this," he gestured with distaste to his right side.
John kept insisting that physically he was fine ... if you discounted the fact that his appearance was gradually taking on more and more iratus bug characteristics. His right arm was especially obvious - it was completely covered in wrinkly, pimpled bluey coloured scaly skin – even his nails had transformed. The effect now covered his whole right arm, shoulder and up the side of his neck.
"They need to harvest some iratus bug eggs," I couldn't see the point in keeping him in the dark. "Major Lorne is leading the mission."
John nodded thoughtfully but didn't say anything else. When Carson returned to the room John motioned him over.
"Can I get out of here for a while Doc?" he asked in a reasonable tone. "You can assign me an escort ... I've got all this energy pent up and I really need to stretch my legs for a bit."
"I don't see why not,' Doctor Beckett agreed readily. "As long as you take it easy and come back here as soon as you're done."
"Thanks Doc," John sprang up from the bed, motioning for a passing Marine to accompany him out of the infirmary.
He was gone before I realised he hadn't even acknowledged my presence, let alone said goodbye. That set off alarms in my head and after wishing Doctor Beckett good luck for the mission I hurriedly followed John out the door.
It took me just long enough to work out John was headed for Doctor Weir's office to miss the main event. The sound of breaking glass resounded down the corridor and I broke into a run, bursting into the corridor outside Doctor Weir's door in time to see John's Marine escort pointing his weapon straight at John.
"It's OK!," Doctor Weir held up a hand toward the Marine. "Put it down."
The Marine lowered his sidearm as everyone from the Control Room reluctantly went back to their work.
"I'm betting that didn't sell you?" John said softly, unaware that I was standing just outside the door.
"No. No, not really." Doctor Weir agreed.
"I should go back to the infirmary," John put his affected hand back into his pocket.
"Yes," Doctor Weir nodded firmly.
John turned back to the door and noticed me standing there. He looked at the ground shamefully before walking around me and heading off down the corridor, Marine guard still in attendance.
"This is bad, isn't it?" I said to Doctor Weir softly.
"Yes it is," Doctor Weir agreed. "John wanted to go on the mission."
"I thought as much," I replied. "Maybe you should have let him. Physically he's stronger, faster - maybe they'd have a better chance of succeeding if ..."
"He could compromise the mission if his condition changes too rapidly," Dr Weir stated firmly. "It would be irresponsible of me to let him go."
"It's gonna frustrate the hell out of him to sit around waiting while someone else takes all the risks," I pointed out.
"I know," Dr Weir admitted. "We'll just have to make the best out of a bad situation. How're you doing - are you okay?"
"Don't," I held up a hand to stop her, feeling myself skating the edge of tears at her concern. "I don't think I can take any sympathy right now ... gotta be strong for John."
"I understand," Doctor Weir acknowledged. "I hope you know you can talk to me ... if you need to."
I thanked her before turning and quietly leaving the room. I returned to the infirmary only to find that John wasn't there. When I asked one of the nurses where he was she said he'd decided to wait it out in his quarters - under guard of course. Sure that John probably wanted some time alone but worried that he might feel we were abandoning him I left it only an hour or so before heading down to his quarters. I was surprised to find two armed guards outside his door when I arrived.
"Doctor Weir has ordered that no one gets in there," one of the guards informed me.
"But," I thought about arguing but decided instead to talk to Doctor Weir directly.
"Doctor Weir,' I requested her acknowledgement after tapping my earpiece. "This is Sabina."
"Yes Sabina," Doctor Weir replied immediately.
"The guards outside John's room won't let me in," I said. "Can you tell them it’s okay for me to go in there?"
"I'm not sure that's wise," Doctor Weir hesitated. "Colonel Sheppard himself ordered the extra guard."
"John needs to know I haven't abandoned him," I pleaded. "The guards are here ... John won't hurt me."
"Okay," Doctor Weir agreed reluctantly. "But only for a few minutes."
"Thank you," I looked over at the guards to make sure they'd heard Doctor Weir. One of them nodded and stepped back so I could go inside.
The room was in darkness and at first I couldn't work out where John was. I moved over to the light.
"Leave it," John's voice echoed harshly in the darkness.
"John?" I called out softly, turning to look for him again. Finally I noticed him sitting on the floor beside his desk.
"It’s not safe for you to be here," John had his head turned away from me.
"You wouldn't hurt me," I insisted, walking over to his position.
"I already did," John reminded me of what had happened in the gym earlier that day.
"No you didn't," I denied. I knelt on the floor in front of him and put a hesitant hand on his knee. "How bad is it?"
"I'm turning into a bug!" John jumped up suddenly, knocking me backwards as he strode away. "What do you think?!"
"Are you in pain?" I ignored his outburst. "Do you need anything?"
"You should leave," John insisted again. I got up off the floor and slowly walked towards him. He turned away again and I realised he didn't want me to see him like that.
"I'm not going anywhere," I vowed, trying to pull him to face me.
He jerked away from my hand before rounding on me and getting right up into my face. I didn't flinch, calmly facing him down as I finally got a good look at his appearance. The transformation had travelled as far as his cheekbone and taken on a more Wraith like appearance. His right eye was also now transformed, looking yellow and catlike, again similar to the Wraith.
"It's not that bad,' I lied shamelessly.
"Ha,' John laughed harshly. "You never were very good at lying."
"I know," I agreed. We looked at each other in silence for a few moments.
"Is Beckett back yet?" John finally broke the silence to ask.
"No," I admitted. "The cave is a fair way from the gate so it might take a while."
"If they're not successful I need you to promise me something," John was suddenly much more lucid and I knew he was exerting tremendous control on himself.
"What?" I asked reluctantly, sickly suspecting I knew where this was going.
"I don't want to be a Wraith," John stated the obvious. "If this gets to the stage where Beckett can't find any of the old John Sheppard left, I want you to do the mercy kill." He said it calmly, like he was asking me to go to the shops for some bread.
"NO!" I turned away, feeling the tears I'd been holding at bay brimming in my eyes. "John," I turned back to plead with him. "Don't make me do this ... I don't think I can do this!"
"I don't want you to do it yourself," John put his still somewhat human left hand on my shoulder. "Ronan will do it if you ask ... but you gotta make him understand if the time comes that it's what I want ... promise me!"
I looked at him in torment, stubbornly refusing to answer.
"PROMISE ME!" John yelled, shaking me slightly.
"I promise," I cried, tears streaming down my face. John pulled me into his arms and squeezed me tight. Before I was ready to let go he pushed me away from him.
"Go," he growled.
"I want to stay with you," I sniffed, wiping the tears from my cheeks.
"DON'T ARGUE WITH ME!" John yelled. "I can't control this for much longer - DO WHAT I SAY!"
"ALL RIGHT!" I yelled back. He was still my John so I walked up to him, put my hands on either side of his head and pulled him down for a kiss. He kissed me back fiercely and then pushed me away again, urging me to leave before he lost it.
On the other side of the door I paused, at a loss for what to do next. Hardly aware of the guards I stumbled off towards my quarters to wait for John's team to return.
Chapter 14: You're okay with that?
I threw myself fully dressed onto my bed and lay staring up at the ceiling. My mind was racing with an ever more frightening array of scenarios for how this could end. I felt numb and at a loss, wanting to do something but unable to even keep John company, let alone go out and find him a cure.
Jerked awake only a short time later by the sound of my radio beeping I squinted in the darkness, momentarily wondering where I was. It all came back to me in a sickening rush and I jumped up quickly. Grabbing my earpiece I hastily put it on before tapping it to make contact with Doctor Beckett.
"You're back!" I exclaimed.
"Sabina," Carson said in a serious tone. "You need to get down to the infirmary."
"Okay," I didn't ask why, running as fast as I was able down the corridor.
"Doctor Beckett?" I called as I burst through the infirmary doors.
"Over here," he replied, gesturing me towards a bed that was closed off from the rest of the infirmary. John was lying there completely still, his wrists both covered with the restraints holding him to the bed. His transformation had progressed rapidly since my last sight of him, covering his whole face up to his forehead. When I glanced in question at Doctor Beckett he nodded his permission for me to go in.
"Oh God, John," my hand shook as I hesitantly touched the hair that was still classic John Sheppard. "You didn't get the eggs?" I turned back to Carson with dread.
"No lass," Carson admitted. "The nest was too heavily guarded. And we lost two men in the attempt."
"Oh No," I muttered sickly, knowing that if ... no when ... John came through this the knowledge that his illness had cost two of his men their lives would sit very heavily on his heart.
"I've put the Colonel into a medically induced coma," Dr Beckett continued. "He escaped from his room and Ronan had to stun him to bring him down."
"How long?" I whispered, gazing down at John as I stroked his hair absently.
"Less than 24 hours," Doctor Beckett admitted. "If we don't do something by then, the John Sheppard we know will be gone."
I nodded, unable to bring myself to say anything. Feeling my control slipping and knowing John would hate for me to break down in front of Carson, I turned my face away.
"I ah ... need a moment," I said faintly. "I'm gonna ... walk for a bit. I'll be back soon but call me if ..." I walked away from that unfinished sentence.
Hardly knowing where I was going I ended up at the gym where John and I worked out. I walked inside and spotting the punching bag hanging from the ceiling, decided some physical exertion was exactly what I needed. I slammed that bag so hard I broke the skin on my knuckles but I still kept going. The litany of "no no no" in my head was accompanied by the fast rhythm of punches I dealt out. I was punching erratically in tiredness before I finally gave up. Putting my head against the bag and holding on tight I let loose, harsh wails of despair coupled with a flood of tears. God it was so unfair! My whole life I'd had no one and now, when I'd finally found a place in someone’s heart, they were being ripped away from me. My tears were almost spent before I realised I was no longer alone.
"Sheppard wouldn't want you to do this," Ronan said quietly, standing just inside the doorway.
"How long have you been there?" my voice was rough and gravelly from my extended bout of crying.
"Long enough," Ronan stated simply. He moved into the room silently, putting himself just behind me as I stubbornly clung to the punching bag. When he placed a hand on my shoulder I flinched.
"Don't," I ordered, letting go of the bag and putting some distance between us. Ronan stood in the middle of the room, watching me absently touching the equipment as I paced around.
"He wants me to do the mercy kill," I slammed that one into the silence. "Well, actually he wants you to - he wants me to make sure you do it."
"I wondered," Ronan admitted.
"You're okay with that?" I turned to look at him incredulously.
"No," Ronan said simply. "But he's a friend ... he'd do the same for me."
"I don't think I can do this," I finally admitted my weakness. "I don't think I can watch him die like this."
"You can," Ronan contradicted me. "Sheppard loves you ... he needs you to be there."
I started to cry again, leaning my head tiredly against the wall. Ronan approached me slowly, again putting a hand on my shoulder. When I didn't flinch away like before he gently pulled me toward him – slowly my head dropped until I was crying into his chest.
“You’re really good at this,” I muttered into his shirt when my tears had finally run out.
“Melina, my wife I guess you’d call her, was a nurse,” Ronan said softly. “It upset her to lose patients.”
“She’s the reason you’re so driven to defeat the Wraith?” I looked at him in time to see the anguish before he put in back behind his mask.
“Partly,” Ronan admitted.
“Then her death wasn’t in vain,” I leant my head against his shoulder and we remained in companionable silence for a while.
"This is so unfair," my voice echoed harshly in the quiet room.
"It is," Ronan agreed simply. I stepped away from him and dried my face. "Ready?" he asked.
"No," I said, "but I'll do it just the same."
“McKay and Teyla are waiting in the commissary," Ronan put a hand on my elbow to guide me in the right direction. Not sure I really wanted company but feeling too weak to make an issue of it I let Ronan drag me along with him.
Teyla and Rodney were sitting at one of the tables on the balcony surrounding the commissary. Wordlessly I sat next to Teyla, hardly listening as she greeted Ronan and me.
"What did you do to your hands?" Rodney asked in a slightly horrified tone.
I looked down and realised my knuckles were a mess of bruises and drying blood. "Nothing," I said, quickly putting them on my lap under the table.
"You should have Doctor Beckett look at them," Teyla said calmly.
"Of course," I exclaimed angrily, “because a couple of bleeding knuckles are my biggest problem right now!"
Teyla and Rodney exchanged worried glances at my outburst. Before they could say anything else I got up - I'd only been there a few minutes but I just couldn't stand to be around them. "Sorry," I apologised. "I'm not fit company right now ... I'll just -" I broke off and strode from the table before anyone could stop me. I passed Doctor Weir on my way down the corridor but I didn't stop or even acknowledge her.
Realising there was only one place for me to be I made my way back to the infirmary. Doctor Beckett wasn't there so I took my place next to John's bed. I put a hand on his chest, comforted by the feel of his heart beating strongly.
"Sabina," Doctor Beckett ran into the room a few minutes later, followed closely by Doctor Weir. "We've got a plan."
"What is it?" I asked, still keeping one hand on John.
"The Colonel's sweat glands are producing trace amounts of the iratus bug signature pheromone," Carson said. "He should be able to walk right into the cave and collect the eggs we need himself."
"He's not exactly ... up to it anymore," I pointed out.
"True," Beckett agreed. "But I believe if we give him a massive dose of the viral inhibitor, he may be clear-headed enough to complete the mission before we lose him completely."
"Is that safe?" I asked worriedly.
“It's a definite possibility that such a massive dose could kill him,” Doctor Beckett admitted. “Even if I knew it would for certain, I'd still be tempted to offer him one last hour of lucidity.”
“Do you need my agreement?” I asked Doctor Beckett calmly.
“Not exactly,” Doctor Beckett replied. “But you are the closest thing to the Colonel’s family and you know better than anyone what he’d want to do.”
“He’d want the chance to go out fighting,” I was confident that John would have agreed if Doctor Beckett could have asked him directly. “Do it.”
Doctor Beckett nodded and went off to get the inhibitor drug ready. He administered it and then stepped back to await John’s reaction. John’s eyes snapped open suddenly. He looked around him with an expression that made me think he was horrified to find himself still alive and still half Wraith.
“John?” I called for him to look at me. “You’re in the infirmary.”
“Sorry about the headache,” Doctor Beckett said ruefully. “It's a side effect of the inhibitor.”
“Did I hurt anyone?” John asked in concern.
“No, not seriously,” Doctor Weir reassured him.
“Did Ronon shoot me?” John looked at me in disbelief.
“You had it coming!” I smiled to see that he appeared to be like the John Sheppard we knew.
“Look, we don't have a lot of time,” Doctor Weir explained. “This dose of the inhibitor drug will only last about an hour. How would you like to go on a mission?”
John nodded and Doctor Beckett quickly explained about the pheromones protecting him from the bugs in the egg cave. Within minutes John was draped in a hooded cloak ready to be escorted down to the Gateroom. I made to follow but John stopped short and looked at me intently.
“I’m coming with you,” I said firmly.
“You’re not,” John disagreed.
“Please?” I almost begged. “I need to be there ... if ...” I broke off and looked away.
“The drug will wear off,” John’s voice pleaded for me to understand what he needed. “There’s every chance Ronan will have to ... I don’t want you ... seeing that.” Before I could respond John turned and continued walking down the corridor.
I just stood there watching him walk away from me, wondering if I’d ever see him again. Turning back to see Doctor Weir standing nearby I completely lost it.
“This is insane!” I said harshly, glaring at her. “John is almost beyond help and now you think it’s safe for him to go on a mission? If you’d just let him go in the first place when he wanted to he’d be on his way to getting better instead of ...” I trailed off, panting as though I’d sprinted the 100 metres.
“Sabina!” Doctor Weir protested.
“Forget I said that,” I mumbled tiredly. “I’ll just ...” I gestured vaguely down the corridor.
“I’ll let you know as soon as they get back” Doctor Weir promised. I nodded slowly, before turning and walking away. Not knowing where else to go I found myself standing outside John’s door. Letting myself in, I walked slowly around the room, lightly touching the things that John held most dear – his surfboard, his skateboard, his Johnny Cash poster – I laughed softly at the thought of what a big kid John was inside. Finally I stretched out on John’s bed, rubbing my face into his pillow. But I didn’t sleep.
The inhibitor Doctor Beckett had given John was only going to last for around an hour. That hour came and went with no word ... I was just about to storm down to Doctor Weir’s office to demand she send another team when John’s door chime rang. Jumping off the bed I almost ran to answer the door – standing on the other side was Ronan Dex. I looked at him questioningly, sighing with relief at his silent nod.
“Doctor Beckett said you should come down,” Ronan said. I followed him down to the infirmary – it was a bit crowded in there with Colonel Caldwell and Doctor Weir, as well as the rest of team Sheppard in attendance.
“It's not gonna happen overnight -- you can bet on that,” Doctor Beckett came out of the screened off area where John was lying unconscious, “but the transformation has begun to reverse itself.”
My relief was overwhelming – I caught Carson’s eye and smiled my thanks. He put a hand on my shoulder and nodded happily.
“So eventually he'll be back in uniform?” Caldwell asked.
“Eventually,” Doctor Beckett confirmed.
“Well done, Carson,” Rodney complemented, “for once again elevating medicine to actual science.”
“Well, thank you, Rodney!” Carson said with a hint of sarcasm.
“We'll all finally be able to get some sleep,” Doctor Weir said in relief. “Keep me posted.”
“Aye,” Carson agreed, as Doctor Weir and Colonel Caldwell left the room.
“Can I sit with him?” I asked Carson hopefully. I looked over at the others and realised they didn’t want to leave either.
“We might, uh ...,” Ronan began.
“... stay a while too,” Teyla finished.
“Well, if that's alright,” Rodney asked, looking at Doctor Beckett hopefully.
“Of course,” Carson said easily, before walking away.
It was two weeks before John was cleared to leave the infirmary, although he would have to wait a bit longer before he could return to duty. I had spent plenty of time with him in the infirmary, just sitting quietly in the early days of his recovery and later trying my best to entertain him when boredom threatened to drive him nuts. Both of us had studiously avoided talking about anything that had happened while he’d been sick with the retrovirus.
Once John was released I returned to my usual daily routine. The information about project Imperium was still waiting for me and I was keen to finish translating and analysing the files I’d copied over. I was happily tapping away one afternoon when I sensed his presence. Looking up I saw John leaning in the doorway, watching me.
“You okay?” I asked in greeting.
“Yeah,” John said distractedly. “Listen, I spent a lot of time thinking about what happened while I was sick ... I don’t remember everything but there are a couple of things I should apologise for.”
“There’s no need,” I said quickly, not wanting to talk about it.
“Sabina, please,” John took a few steps until he was standing in front of my chair. Crouching down beside me, he spun my chair around and put a hand on each of the chair arms, boxing me in.
“I’m sorry for what happened in the gym,” John said softly.
“You weren’t yourself,” I excused his uncharacteristic behaviour. “As soon as I knew you were infected by the retrovirus I knew that ... I wouldn’t have come to see you in your room if I’d believed that it was really you.”
“Thank you,” John said. He reached out a hand and lightly traced across my knuckles where the evidence of my attack on the punching bag had all but faded. “Ronan told me what happened,” John admitted.
“I would have done what you asked,” I said, feeling the tears rising to the surface again – it seemed I had not yet done quite enough crying over the incident. ‘I would have cursed you the whole time and hated you forever for making me do it, but I would have followed through.” I gave a watery laugh. I reached up to wipe the tears from my face but John beat me to it – putting his hands on either side of my face in a parody of how he’d held me during that aggressive kiss he drew his thumbs under my eyes softly, before leaning in and kissing me tenderly.
“I’m sorry I asked so much of you,” John apologised, leaning his forehead against my own. “It was unfair ... I don’t know if I’d been in my right mind under similar circumstances whether I would have asked you to go that far.”
“No,” I disagreed. “It wasn’t unfair. I would have done anything to save you ... but I couldn’t have stood by and watched you suffer. You have to know that I would always respect your wishes even if it meant ... you know ...” I trailed off, looking away as I tried to reign in my emotions again.
“I do love you,” John’s voice rang with sincerity. “You’re smart and honest, not to mention pretty damn sexy,” John smiled before adding “... but most of all you’re strong, deep down where it counts.”
“Yeah, well I’d expect you to do the same for me,” I shifted uneasily, not exactly comfortable with the highly emotional tone of the conversation.
“You wanna go for a walk,” John asked, rising and holding his hand out to me.
“Sure,” I put my hand in his and let him draw me from my chair. John put an arm around me as we walked to the door – just before we stepped through the doorway I pulled him to a halt. “I ... ah ... love you too,” I said, realising that it was the first time I’d said those words since I’d yelled them at him after the Wraith siege.
“I know,” John grinned smugly. He drew me back to his side, hugging me close as we continued our walk. That was when I relaxed inside, when I finally believed that John really was back.
Chapter 15: Just let me grab my ... stuff
"John, wait up," I'd caught sight of him heading down the corridor and took off after him.
"Sabina," John looked over his shoulder with a smile. "I've gotta go get ready for a mission," John said, walking rapidly with me running to keep up.
"Is it true?" I asked breathlessly.
"Is what true?" John looked down at me, slowing his pace just slightly as I almost jogged to keep up with him.
"That Rodney found an Ancient warship - is it true?" I answered excitedly.
"Yeah, it's true," John drawled nonchalantly. He couldn't fool me though - he was seriously stoked at the find.
"Can I come?" I asked hopefully. "It's an Ancient ship - you could really use my skills ... please?"
"We have no way of knowing what condition the ship's gonna be in," John explained. "It may not be safe for any of us to board her."
"I understand that," I agreed. "But if I were on the Daedalus and the Ancient ship does prove to be safe then I'll be around if you do need me."
We'd arrived at John's quarters and I followed him in, watching as he grabbed his jacket and a couple of items for his pack. Not wanting to push him too much I waited silently for him to comment. When it seemed he was just going to put on his jacket and leave I felt my hopes dwindling. Since we were talking about a 'warship' I didn't think Doctor Weir would overrule him so if I couldn't get John to agree then I'd miss the opportunity.
"Aren't you gonna ... you know ... fix your hair?" I teased.
"Very funny," John came over and ruffled my hair instead. I squirmed away and looked at him expectantly.
"Well?" I asked hopefully, trying to put on my best pleading face.
"If Rodney has any say in it we'll be bringing the Aurora back to Atlantis," John said. "You'll get to look at her then."
"You and I both know there's little chance that ship will make it back here," I contradicted him hotly. "Will you please just think about this for a minute? The Daedalus will be right there - I'll only get to go over to the ship if it's perfectly safe and I promise I'll abide by whatever decision you make at the time."
When John remained silent, looking out his window as he thought about what I'd said, I walked over and hesitantly put my hand on his arm.
"Please John," I said simply.
John turned back to me with apparent reluctance. "Okay," he agreed. "You can come with us on the Daedalus - any decisions beyond that will be made once my team has assessed the situation."
"Thank you!" I went to hug him, looking up to catch a glimpse of amusement in his eyes. "Wait a minute," I said suspiciously. I narrowed my eyes at him, raising an eyebrow when he refused to look me in the eye. "You ... bastard! You were gonna let me come on the Daedalus the whole time weren't you?!"
"Maybe," John admitted. "But I really enjoyed the whole pleading act."
"Ooohh!" I almost stomped my foot in frustration before giving in to the urge to whack his shoulder.
"Ouch," John held up a hand to hold off another assault. "You don't get to hit your commanding officer," he grinned, reminding me that I'd have to take orders from him for the entire mission. Not that I minded - I trusted his judgement and I was going to see an Ancient warship!
It was very exciting to break out of hyperspace and see the Aurora floating in space, even severely damaged as she was. My enthusiasm was only dimmed slightly by the presence of a Wraith scout ship, easily destroyed by two missiles from the Daedalus. It was hard to be patient as I watched team Sheppard gear up in their evac suits ... crossing my fingers that Rodney would actually get the life support systems on line, I remained on the Bridge trying not to draw attention to myself.
“Sabina ... this is Sheppard,” John’s voice issued from my radio, startling me from a daydream where I singlehandedly flew the Aurora back to Atlantis – very unlikely I know but that’s what daydreams are for!.
“John?” I jumped up, praying that he was about to tell me I could beam over.
“Rodney’s just fixed the life support system,” John said. “There’s not a lot of power over here so it’s a bit dark, but otherwise I can see no reason why you can’t beam over now.”
“I’ll just go grab my gear and then I’ll be right there,” I said eagerly.
“See you when you get here ... Sheppard out.”
I grabbed my laptop and my pack, making sure my torch was still there, before running down to Engineering.
"I will beam you over to Colonel Sheppard's position," Hermiod said. I waited a few seconds as he moved his controls, closing my eyes and opening them a moment later to the sight of John standing in front of me.
"Hi," I said with a huge grin. I looked around eagerly, taking in the familiar Ancient decor – based on what I’d seen of Ancient designs in the database I deduced that we were standing in Engineering. "This is amazing!"
"It is," John agreed. "Rodney's checking out the stasis pods more closely - he said the terminal here in Engineering would be the best place for you to access the ships database."
"Okay," I pulled out my laptop and knelt down in front of the terminal, looking for the right place to connect it. Looking up I realised John was still standing there. "You don't have to stay," I pointed out. "I'll be fine here ... Hermiod can beam me out at the first sign of trouble ... besides Rodney needs you down with the stasis pods."
"Don't do anything I wouldn't do," John frowned sternly down at me.
"That gives me plenty of leeway,' I said cheekily. "If it's something crazy, you're usually the first person lining up to do it!"
John laughed reluctantly before reaching down and stroking my hair fondly. "Be careful," he ordered. "And keep your radio on."
"Yes Sir," I snapped a cocky salute
"Sabina," John scolded. "Be serious!"
"I am," I said seriously. "I'll be careful."
"Good," John turned to leave me to it.
"Hey, you be careful too!" I called out. The only response I got was a wave as he disappeared out the door.
The database on the Aurora was structured in a similar fashion to the one at the Ancient outpost on Doranda. I'd come prepared this time with some generic search programs I could use to target specific information. I tried to find something on Project Imperium first , not really exepecting to find anything and therefore not surprised when my search program returned no results.
Turning instead to general weapons information I was disheartened by what I found. The Aurora was an older vessel, not even equipped with intergalactic hyperdrive engines. According to the database the crew had been attempting to upgrade the engines but the ship was too heavily damaged and the decision had been made to put everyone in stasis in the hopes that Atlantis would send rescue. Disappointed that my first mission as an "Ancient" expert might end up with nothing useful, I expanded my search parameters to include any mention of Wraith defences or technologies. Realising the search would take some time I decided to take a break.
Standing up to stretch my back I glanced at my watch and frowned in concern. I'd been there in Engineering for a couple of hours without hearing a word from the rest of the team. Usually John would have checked in with me at least every hour.
"Colonel Sheppard?" I tapped my earpiece, waiting a few seconds for a response. When none came I tried again. "John, do you read?" Starting to get worried now I tapped my earpiece again "Doctor McKay, do you read?"
"Sabina?" Rodney's voice echoed in the emptiness of the bridge.
"What's going on?" I asked. "I tried to contact John but didn't get a response."
"I discovered that the Ancients on board are connected through a neural feedback loop. Sheppard linked into the virtual environment to try and communicate with them."
"What?" I exclaimed.
"It's perfectly safe - Sheppard can get out any time he wants," Rodney insisted. "I was even going to do it myself."
"Oh," I sat back in relief. "So everything's all right?"
"Yes," Rodney insisted impatiently. "Have you found anything useful?"
"Not really," I admitted. "The Aurora was an older ship - the systems and records on Atlantis are more advanced."
"Well, look for anything to do with a secret communiqué about a weakness in Wraith technology," Rodney instructed. "Sheppard said the Captain was carrying it back to Atlantis when the ship fell under attack."
"All right," I agreed, before signing off.
Once my previous search was completed I copied over all the resulting documents to my laptop without looking at them further. Moving on to Rodney's request, after a thorough search I discovered that if there had been a secret communiqué it was no longer in the main database. That puzzled me ... presumably the Captain in the virtual environment was an accurate representation of the real Captain. Why would he tell John there was a secret communiqué if there wasn't? And if there was a secret communiqué then why was it no longer there? All the crew were in stasis so who could have deleted it? Thinking back to the Wraith ship we'd destroyed when we arrived a sick feeling came over me.
"Rodney," I said quietly into my radio.
"What?" Rodney responded impatiently.
"Are you sure there's no one else on board?" I asked reluctantly.
"Oh course I'm sure," Rodney answered immediately. "Why?"
"The secret communiqué was deleted Rodney," I told him. "All the crew are in stasis ... so who deleted it?"
"Maybe they deleted it before they went into stasis," Rodney's tone said he didn't really believe that. "Look Caldwell just let me know we have two Hive ships inbound. You better finish up there and make your way to my position."
"Doctor McKay?" Teyla's voice issued from the radio.
"Still here," Rodney responded sarcastically.
"There is something you need to see," the tone in Teyla's voice made me immediately nervous. "We are two decks directly below you."
"Can't it wait?" Rodney complained impatiently.
"No," Teyla responded harshly.
"I'm on my way," Rodney voice huffed slightly as though he were already moving. "Sabina, you should stay in Engineering for now."
Sitting back on my heels I thought for a moment about where else I might search for the communiqué. If the Aurora was like the Daedalus then there'd be back ups and systems that were separate to avoid a complete failure.
If this were Star Trek then the Captain would have a small room just off the Bridge where he'd hang out when not in active command. Since the Bridge was inaccessible I sincerely hoped that wasn’t the case here as that would have been the most likely place to look for copies of the communiqué. Pulling up the ships schematics I scanned through the layout maps, looking for some inspiration. Stopping the scroll abruptly I looked more closely at the screen. "Yes," I thought, "the Captains quarters." Tracing out the route I'd have to take from Engineering to get there, I quickly unplugged my equipment and closed off all my programs. Tucking my laptop under my arm I raced out of the room.
The Captains quarters were one level down - Rodney hadn't been able to increase the power levels in the ship so it was a dim journey down an access ladder and through creepily deserted corridors to get there. Swiping my hand over the controls I wasn't surprised that the door remained closed. Concentrating hard I tried to tap into the Aurora systems much as I was able to do on Atlantis ... still nothing. Obviously the power levels were just too low in this section of the ship. Luckily Rodney had shown me how to override the door controls - pulling out my knife I went to work and a few seconds later was rewarded with the grating sound of a door opening that had been closed for 10,000 years.
It was very dark in the room and it remained so even after I entered. I pulled out my torch and shone it around the room. The Captain's quarters were much as I would have expected, with a spacious living room and a separate doorway that presumably led to his sleeping area. I felt a bit like a thief as I walked around, looking for any signs of separate database access – something similar to what Doctor Weir had in her office on Atlantis.
Finally noticing a glass-like screen mounted on the wall in front of a small sitting area I went over to investigate. Connecting my laptop again I tapped a few keys - yes! The Captains system was separate from the main database. There'd be periodic updates to synchronise his system with the ships but with any luck that hadn't happened since the communiqué was deleted.
I was just about to search the database when I was contacted by the Daedalus.
"What's your status Sabina?" Colonel Caldwell asked briskly.
"I'm searching the Captain's personnel database for the secret communiqué," I said distractedly.
"Two Wraith Hive ships are on their way," Colonel Caldwell informed me. "We need to beam you out of there right now."
"Where's Colonel Sheppard?" I asked.
"He and Doctor McKay are still in the stasis pods," Caldwell said impatiently. "Ronan and Teyla are with them, ready to get them out on my command."
"That communiqué could be the most important thing we’ve found since we got to this galaxy - I need a few more minutes," I insisted. "Can you beam me out with everyone else?" I requested.
"You have ten minutes,' Caldwell conceded grudgingly. "When that's up, regardless of whether you're finished, I'm beaming you out."
"Acknowledged," I agreed, thinking quickly. The search of the main database had taken more than ten minutes ... I raked my brain trying to think of a way around that. "What would John do in this situation?" I thought. Remembering how he'd physically taken out the transmitter on the Daedalus when it began broadcasting the distress signal on our way back from Earth I smiled. Yes - I could physically remove the database unit and hopefully Rodney would be able to reconnect it back on Atlantis.
As quickly as I could I pulled the access panels from the wall surrounding the screen, looking for the equivalent of an Ancient hard drive. There! Praying that Rodney would forgive me for the lack of finesse I unplugged what I could, and cut with my knife what I couldn't before carefully lifting the unit from the wall. There were also a multitude of crystal control modules ... looking around desperately for something to transport them in I found a carved box on the Captain’s desk. After so many years whatever it had contained had turned to dusk – I cleaned it out as best I could and then carefully pulled modules from the wall, placing them gently in the box. I'd done about thirty of them when my radio beeped again.
“Colonel Sheppard,” Caldwell said. “We're reading two life signs. I hope that means what I think it means.”
“Give me one more minute,” John requested.
“We're out of time, Sheppard,” Caldwell protested. “The Wraith ships are almost here.”
“One damned minute and I can take care of that problem,” John insisted abruptly. “Is Sabina off the ship?"
"I'm in the Captain's quarters," I reported directly to John.
"Colonel Caldwell, beam Sabina off the ship right now," John ordered.
"Wait," I yelled. "Just let me grab my ... stuff.” I ripped the remaining modules from the wall and hastily packed them into the box, loading my arms up with hard drive, box and laptop. “Okay ... ready!"
I was beamed straight to the Bridge of the Daedalus, clutching my treasures from the Aurora tightly to my chest.
“Wraith cruisers just dropped out of hyperspace, sir,” the weapons officer reported. “They're aware of us.”
“Battle stations!” Caldwell commanded. “Looks like we're gonna have to fight these guys ... bring main rail guns online.
“Daedalus, this is Sheppard. We're ready.”
“Beam them directly onto the Bridge,” Caldwell ordered the pilot.
A moment later John and Rodney appeared on the Bridge, looking unharmed.
“Targets are in range,” the weapons officer called.
“Sir,” John looked towards Colonel Caldwell. ‘We need to get outta here.”
“No, we need to eliminate those cruisers,” Caldwell insisted. “The information ...”
“No-no-no,” Rodney interrupted, using his ‘something bad is about to happen’ voice. “We need to get far away.”
“What?” Colonel Caldwell demanded impatiently.
“The Captain gave me the Aurora's self destruct code,” John spoke quickly. “He assures me that it'll take care of the Wraith ships too, but we need to get clear.”
“Bring sublight engines to military thrust,” Caldwell ordered.
“Military thrust,” the pilot acknowledged. The engines fired up and the Daedalus moved away from the Aurora and the approaching Hive ships. A few moments later the Aurora exploded in a blaze of fire ... the resulting shock wave quickly overcame the Hive ships and both were destroyed.
Once we were back in hyperspace John and Rodney turned to look at me.
"What did you do?" Rodney looked horrified at the mess of cables hanging out of my Ancient hard drive.
"I was a little short of time," I pointed out heatedly. "This is the Captain’s personal database unit."
"And?" Rodney demanded impatiently.
"And he kept his system separate," I grinned triumphantly. "I don't know for sure but there’s a chance that communiqué is on his unit."
"Nice!" John complimented me.
"Maybe," Rodney said sarcastically, looking at John. "That is if the Aurora butcher over there hasn't permanently damaged it by ripping it clumsily out of the wall!"
"You'll fix it," I said confidently. "You can fix anything!" I fluttered my eyelashes and looked at him adoringly.
"Of course I'll fix it," Rodney preened, before catching the look on my face. "Oh I see,” he said in that complaining voice he used all too often. “You’ve been studying with Zelenka for over a year – you can try fixing it first!” Rodney gave every appearance of being insulted by my teasing. “You‘ll apologise when you inevitably need my help.”
“Rodney,” I protested, laughing slightly. “I was just joking!” Rodney walked off the Bridge, holding up his arm as if to stop me from saying anything else.
“Leave him be,” John said when I made to follow. “He’s just given you a cool Ancient toy – when he realises that he’s gonna be majorly pissed. If I were you I’d take that unit and run.”
Like I always said, John was a lot smarter than he made out. I high tailed it out of there, making sure to avoid Rodney until after we were back on Atlantis and I’d gotten Doctor Weir’s approval to work on the Ancient hard drive myself.
Chapter 16: Hardly noticed you were gone
“No!” I argued with Doctor Zelenka. “We need to put that control module there,” I pointed to the left of where he wanted to put it, “to compensate for the overload we introduced by using inadequate cabling for the main board.”
We’d been working on the Ancient hard drive for a couple of days and were so close to getting it working. It turned out that I had ‘butchered’ as Rodney put it a couple of connections that were pretty crucial to the hard drive being powered at an appropriate level. The control modules helped, but because we were using our own fibre optic cable as a replacement for Ancient cabling, there was a danger the power would overload the drive if we didn’t get it exactly right.
“Yes, yes, I see what you are saying,” Doctor Zelenka squinted into the hard drive, muttering a few more words in Czech under his breath – I’d worked with him many times and wasn’t bothered because he did that a lot.
Zelenka made a few more adjustments and then sat back with a satisfied grin. “I think we’re ready for a controlled test,” he said.
“Okay,” I agreed apprehensively. “You do the honours ... I’m too nervous.”
“Powering up ... now,” Zelenka pushed a couple of buttons on his laptop and we both leant forward in anticipation. The drive lit up for a few seconds before fading out.
“Perhaps if we ...” Zelenka made an adjustment to one of the connections. The drive lit up again but this time it held steady.
“You did it!” I exclaimed, clapping him on the shoulder in thanks.
“No,” Doctor Zelenka denied, pushing his glasses back up on his face. “We did it.”
“Okay,” I agreed. “We did it ... let’s download the files before these connections burn themselves out.”
I felt as though a huge weight had been lifted once all the Aurora files were safely transferred to the Atlantis systems. Rubbing a hand tiredly at the back of my neck I looked over at Doctor Zelenka. “Thank you Radek,” I said sincerely. “I really appreciate you helping me with this ... Rodney was being ... difficult and it would have been painful to have asked for his help.”
“You know Rodney,” Radek acknowledged. “He likes to be centre stage – plus he was not happy that you thought of something that he did not. You’ve learnt much about the Ancient systems – I would be happy to have your help in the future.”
“Really?” I smiled delightedly - that was high praise from Radek. “Thanks! I guess I better start searching all those files ... I’d hate to have done all that work only to find the secret communiqué isn’t there.”
I got up to leave before realising I hadn’t cleaned up the Ancient hard drive. “What should we do with this?” I asked, pointing at the mess of wires and control modules.
“Leave it here,” Radek said. “We may need to access the drive again.”
I nodded, hoping that wouldn’t be the case, before leaving to head back to my own lab. Getting the search program started I leant back in my seat, realising this was going to take a while. John was due back from a mission following up a lead on a ZPM so I headed down to the Gateroom to meet him.
It was almost a surprise to find that team Sheppard hadn’t returned and were three hours late already. Things had been going well since the retrovirus and I’d been lulled into a false sense of security. Doctor Weir sent Major Lorne to check on them and the news was not good. There was no sign of them on the planet and after Doctor Zelenka had been there to retrieve gate addresses we had a list of fifty addresses dialled from that gate. It could conceivably take months to search them all.
Several days had passed with still no word ... every off world team was being used to conduct the search but so far there had been no clues to point to John’s location. Things were going dismally on all fronts because I hadn’t been able to find the secret communiqué in the Aurora files and had resorted to going back to the hard drive itself looking for sections of deleted material that hadn’t made it on to my download. Even the files on Wraith defences I’d downloaded from the Aurora had so far yielded nothing that seemed significant. There was quite a bit of information about Wraith telepathy but it was mostly information we already knew from Teyla’s experiences.
I can’t begin to describe how frustrating it was to wait for word of John, knowing there was literally nothing I could do. Doctor Weir wouldn’t let me go with any of the search teams either – she said it wasn’t worth John’s anger when he got back for me to do something I wasn’t especially skilled in. I didn’t know whether to be insulted by that or happy that she was behaving as if it were only a matter of time before John’s team turned up again.
I worked each day until I was exhausted but slept poorly ... at the back of my mind the constant litany of ‘what if’ was running at mega speed accompanied by my positive inner self repeatedly telling me that John would be all right. I didn’t want to give voice to my concerns for fear that would somehow make them come true, and I refused to listen to anyone else even hinting that I should prepare for the worst. After two weeks of that I wasn’t fit company for anyone – snappy and short and bad tempered with anyone who attempted to get near me.
Finally progress was made, although from an unlikely source and in a completely unbelievable way. I heard pretty quickly that Doctor McKay had made it back to Atlantis. I ran down to the gate room and got there just in time to see Rodney bouncing around as if he were on drugs.
“Rodney, focus,” Doctor Weir was saying sternly. “Where is Colonel Sheppard?”
“No, no, no, I had to take the enzyme because, because I had to take out the guards!” Rodney was pacing back and forth, speaking rapidly. Clearly he actually was on drugs! “But that's not the point -- the point is we don't have enough time. We need to stop the ship from getting to where the ship is going,” Rodney ground to a halt, looking around in confusion.
“Come on,” Doctor Weir urged, putting an arm around Rodney to guide him away from the gate. “Let's take a walk to the Infirmary, alright?”
“Whoa-whoa-whoa, what are you doing?” Rodney glared at her suspiciously, pulling himself away from her hold. ”No-no-no-no, I don't wanna go to the Infirmary. I wanna go to the, to the, uh ... the, um ...” Rodney gestured vaguely away from the Gateroom. Before he could complete his sentence his eyes rolled back and he fell to the floor. A couple of guards rushed to pick him up, dragging him towards the infirmary.
“Doctor Beckett,” Doctor Weir spoke into her headset. “We have an emergency. We're headed to you.”
I hung around near the Control Room until Doctor Weir returned from the infirmary, hoping she’d fill me in on what had happened. My face fell when she admitted Rodney was in no state to tell us anything and that we’d have to wait until he’d gone through withdrawal from the enzyme.
Once again I found myself needing to wait it out in John’s quarters – there was something about being surrounded by his things that comforted me. I couldn’t sleep and ended up working on the Aurora files through the night. Rodney was finally able to tell Doctor Weir what had happened ... I’d always liked Lieutenant Ford but when I heard that he was the one who’d abducted John and his team I wondered how much of the old Ford was left in the man he’d become. Rodney and Major Lorne left on the Daedalus to try to intercept the Hive ship where the rest of team Sheppard were believed to be and I returned to my lab to work and worry.
I didn’t realise it had gotten so late ... it was almost 19:30 when Dr Weir radioed to tell me John, Teyla and Ronan were safely returned. They were all in the infirmary being checked out by Doctor Beckett – I ran down the corridors, skidding to a halt just inside the infirmary doors when I caught sight of John obviously completely unharmed.
“Hey,” John noticed me right away and strode over to pick me up in a tight hug. I grinned madly, not caring how unprofessional I looked to the others. “I take it you missed me?” John said smugly.
“Hardly noticed you were gone,” I quipped, contradicting those words by how tightly I was still holding on to him. Finally I released him and took a step back to get a good look at him. “Are you okay?” I asked.
“We’re all okay,” John gestured to the others. John looked over at Doctor Beckett and Doctor Weir and grinned when they both nodded that he was free to go. “Let’s go,” he said, pulling me towards the door. “I’ll tell you all about it and you can tell me what you’ve been doing.”
“You know what the most disturbing thing was?” John asked after filling me in on everything that had happened while he was gone. “Those Wraith worshippers ... going on about the ‘Great Awakening’ like it was a good thing there are too many Wraith and not enough humans to feed them.”
“The Great Awakening?” I frowned, certain I’d heard that term somewhere before.
“Yeah,” John looked across at me. “Don’t ask me what it means though.”
“I’ve heard that term before,” I said, thinking hard. “No, not heard – read! In the Aurora files ... um ...,” I made a move towards my laptop but John pulled me back.
“Zelenka said you’ve hardly slept for days,” John shook his head. “There’ll be plenty of time to look it up tomorrow.”
I nodded reluctantly, content for the moment to just sit and enjoy John’s presence.
“Do you think Aiden’s alive?” I asked after a few minutes of silence.
“I hope so,” John admitted. “He set us up and almost got us all killed ... but he also sacrificed himself to save us.”
“You still hold hope that you can save him,” I stated it as a fact, not a question.
“Maybe,” John admitted. “Now,” he turned and looked at me suggestively. “How about you show me how much you missed me?”
“Did I say I missed you?” I teased, keeping my distance.
“Okay, then I’ll show you how much I missed you!” John lunged forward and I let myself be captured. Another life threatening mission had been resolved successfully. Unable to sleep despite being beyond tired, I lay awake into the night, worrying about how long it would be before John’s luck ran out.
Chapter 17: It doesn’t make it better
Two weeks later I found myself in the strange position of needing to call a meeting to report on my progress with the Dorandan and Aurora files. I looked around almost nervously as Doctor Weir, Carson, Major Lorne, Doctor Zelenka, John and the rest of team Sheppard sat down expectantly.
“At the moment I’ve got a lot of pieces of the puzzle,” I started out. “It may be just wishful thinking but the pattern I see emerging suggests the Ancients were working on a way to neutralise the Wraith from within.”
“How so?” Doctor Weir asked.
“The secret communiqué the Captain of the Aurora told Colonel Sheppard about was deleted from the Captain’s data unit too,” I said. “But Doctor Zelenka and I were able to access the deleted sectors on the hard drive and we found enough incomplete files to form an idea on what was in the communiqué.”
“We can’t be completely sure,” Doctor Zelenka interjected, “but we think the communiqué contained information about the organic nature of the wraith Hive ships.”
“The implication being that the weakness has something to do with the fact that their technology is a mixture of machine and biological components.” I continued.
“Did you find out anything about why that was a weakness?” Doctor Beckett asked.
“No,” I admitted. “The files were too badly damaged to rebuild them completely.”
“You said there were other pieces to the puzzle,” Doctor Weir reminded me. “Did you find something else?”
“I also copied a number of files off the Aurora database dealing with Wraith telepathy ... most of it was information we already know because of Teyla’s skills and Colonel Sheppard’s previous run ins with Wraith Queens, but it got me thinking.” I said, knowing I was about to get into the realm of instinct and guess work. “The thing is there was a lot more information on Wraith Hive ship operations than I would have expected even a war ship to be carrying. That struck me as strange.” I waited to see if anyone was going to comment – Doctor Weir gestured for me to continue.
“We know that the Wraith control their ships by using telepathy through their neural network,” I looked at John to see him nodding. “And not just the initiation and main functions like we do with the Ancient technology. From what Colonel Sheppard said even minor functions like opening a cell door are all done via mental commands.”
“We saw that on the Hive ship Ford wanted us to destroy,” John gestured to himself, Teyla and Ronan. “The first time the guards came to take me for a chat with the Queen, one of them just looked at the door controls and they activated.”
“That’s all very interesting,” Rodney said impatiently. “But we don’t have anyone here competent in Wraith telepathy,” Rodney glanced over at Teyla in apology but she just smiled her agreement of that statement.
“As you know,” I looked across at Doctor Weir, ignoring for the moment Rodney’s valid protest, “I found information in the Dorandan database about a project called Imperium. I’ve translated everything I got off the database. I don’t know if there was more because I didn’t get the chance to fine tune my search before the database was destroyed,” I studiously avoided looking at Rodney as I said that. “Imperium was a project looking at Wraith telepathy – the Ancients on Doranda were exploring ways they could exploit Wraith mind control and use it against them.”
“Yeah, but some of the Ancients were telepathic,” Rodney pointed out. “That still won’t do us much good since none of us are.”
“I know that Rodney,” I agreed. “But Project Imperium is also mentioned on the weapons research inventory device – in there the Ancients documented an actual device to be used ... somehow ... to overcome that.”
“Where is this device?” John spoke for the first time, asking the question that cut to the heart of the situation.
“That’s the problem,’ I admitted. “There’s a chance it was located somewhere on Doranda.”
“And I destroyed not just the whole planet but most of the solar system too,” Rodney said sickly.
“It might not mean anything,” I reassured him. “If they’d actually perfected a device why did they move on to the space-time vacuum energy project? We all know the Ancients were poor at documenting things but I’m beginning to think there was a real reason for that.”
“To protect it,” John stated simply.
“Yeah,” I agreed. “In the case of Project Imperium it seems that information was deliberately separated. The initial research and testing was done on Doranda, but they wiped the database of anything practical about the design of the device. Our weapons research inventory mentions the device but doesn’t contain anything about where it is or how to use it. I believe the Aurora’s last mission was also indirectly about the project too. Maybe whatever they planned to do that involved Wraith telepathy was only part of the plan – maybe they sent the Aurora to find out more. If so then the Aurora’s last destination – the source of that secret communiqué - could be where the end result of the project was kept.”
“So the project wasn’t complete?” John interpreted all the connections I was trying to draw easily.
“I don’t think so,” I agreed. “I think the Ancients here on Atlantis had a suspicion about the weakness in the Wraith technology - they were just waiting for the Aurora to confirm it so they could complete their plan.”
“That’s a lot of maybes and I thinks,’ Doctor Weir pointed out sceptically. “While I agree that there seem to be some similarities in what you found from the Aurora and Dorandan data any number of conclusions could be drawn from that.”
“True,” I admitted freely. “There’s one final thing I found that really struck me. Colonel Sheppard told me Neera said that the prophecy of The Great Awakening had come to pass. There was a reference to the Great Awakening in the Aurora database – only it wasn’t a prophecy ... it was part of the plan. The Ancients planned to do deliberately what Colonel Sheppard did by accident.”
“What?” John leant forward in his chair and looked at me intently.
“They planned to awaken all of the Wraith at once,” I reiterated. “After all, you can’t wipe them all out if they’re in stasis pods – we know they don’t appear on sensors as life signs when they’re hibernating and I’m pretty sure they don’t communicate telepathically either. Any plan that relies on telepathy would need all the Wraith to be awake.”
“Not bad,” Doctor Weir acknowledged. “What do you want to do next?”
“That’s just it,” I said reluctantly. “I don’t know what to do next. If the device was still on Doranda then none of this matters unless we can find an independent way to exploit what they learned.” I looked across at Doctor Beckett. “That’s where you come in,” I said. “Is there any chance you could design a biotic virus – one that could hit the Wraith systems and spread through both the organic and mechanical components?”
“That’s an intriguing question,” Carson frowned as he thought it over. “I’d have to do a fair bit of research before I can even give you an answer, let alone design something that would be effective. Our resources are stretched with the ongoing work we’re doing to perfect the iratus bug retrovirus.”
“And then there’s the additional problem of how we get it on the Hive ships,” Rodney pointed out.
“Clearly that’s a long term project,” Doctor Weir stated. “Carson, can you assign some staff to work on that.” Carson nodded and Doctor Weir turned back to me. “You said if the device was still on Doranda – is there any chance it wasn’t?”
“There’s every chance,” I said. “The outpost at Doranda was a major research site for the Ancients over many years – the database contained references to lots of projects they conducted there. We didn’t do a thorough search of the whole facility but there wasn’t any evidence that any other projects were active except the space-time vacuum energy project.”
“They moved it somewhere else,” John said.
“I think so,” I agreed.
“But where?” Doctor Weir asked.
“That’s the question,” I acknowledged. “At this stage I don’t have any answer ... but the fact remains that Neera’s people knew about the Great Awakening. I’m betting there’s a planet somewhere with more clues. Sometime in the last 10,000 years whatever was documented there has moved from fact and become prophesy. Neera’s ancestors knew something – they just misinterpreted it to mean that they should serve the Wraith as the only way to salvation.”
“And isn’t that a revolting thought,” Rodney muttered grimly.
“Probably should have saved her then,” John admitted reluctantly. “Seeing as her world was culled to extinction and the only survivors were on the Hive ships that got destroyed.”
“It’s unlikely she would have known anything,” I excused. “And I think it’s also unlikely Neera would have volunteered the gate address for her home world just because you asked her nicely.”
“I don’t know,” John put on his charming face. “I can be pretty ... persuasive.”
“So what’s the next step?” Doctor Weir cut in before I could respond to John’s provocative statement.
“The database here is enormous,” I reminded her, “and we’ve only just scratched the surface – I’ll keep searching and maybe something will twig a clue.”
“Okay,” Doctor Weir agreed. “Make that your priority for the time being. Good work Sabina,” Doctor Weir congratulated me, rising from her chair to bring the meeting to a close. I waited as everyone left the room, leaving only myself and John behind.
“Good deductive work,” John said, looking somewhat subdued. We were both frozen in silence for a few moments before John spoke again. “It doesn’t make it better,” he looked at me intently. We both understood he was talking about being responsible for waking the Wraith ... leading to the mass culling going on all over the galaxy.
“I know,” I stood and put a hand on his shoulder. “But can’t you take some comfort from the fact that the Ancients were prepared to go at least that far to destroy the Wraith?”
“Maybe,” John admitted. He seemed to shake himself out of the reflective mood he’d fallen into – looking at me he smiled. “I bet you were really good at jigsaw puzzles when you were a kid.”
“I was a master,” I smiled back, letting him get away with relegating the issue into the background once again. “All that talking has made me hungry – let’s go get some lunch!” I grabbed his hand and dragged him reluctantly from the room.
Chapter 18: Never thought I'd see any of you again
It was chance that had me in the Control Room when Rodney flew the Jumper back alone only hours after he’d left with team Sheppard for a routine mission. If Rodney was flying the Jumper then that meant John was in trouble. Even though I usually tried not to impose myself on high level talks just because of my position with John, this time I felt the need to stick around and find out what was going on. Rodney was shooting out instructions and requests for supplies at a speed that was fast, even for him, as he gathered together a whole host of items to take back to the planet.
“Colonel Sheppard was pulled into the portal despite Ronan and Teyla’s best efforts to hold him back,” Rodney said abruptly. “I have no way of predicting what the effect on him might have been.”
“What, you have no idea whether he's injured?” Doctor Beckett protested.
“The excruciating pain he was experiencing was a result of the temporal differential.” Rodney spoke with that ‘am I talking to an idiot?’ tone that usually grated on the recipient.
“And what is that, exactly?” Carson ignored Rodney’s impatience. I remained silent, willing Rodney to explain what had happened so that I could understand how bad the situation was.
“OK,” Rodney conceded the need to explain in more detail. “The-the-the portal must somehow dampen the extreme tidal forces that would normally occur in the event horizon of a time dilation field, and we were keeping him from passing through it.”
“So part of his body was experiencing time at a different pace than the other?” Doctor Beckett quizzed. “Who knows what that could do to him?”
“I have no idea,” Rodney said sarcastically, “but I suspect he could use a doctor.”
“So you don't know if he's even alive?” Doctor Weir frowned.
“The Ancient writing on the portal said something about welcome and ascension,” Rodney said. “The most time-efficient approach was to assume that Sheppard was alive but stranded.”
“And why not assume that he'll make his own way back through the portal?” Doctor Weir raised an eyebrow at Rodney.
“Because,” Rodney was losing patience now, “Colonel Sheppard would have already had hours to try to make it back through the portal in the time I wasted explaining the situation to Conan and Xena!”
“Now, Rodney, that's not very ...” Doctor Beckett scolded.
“No. No, I suppose it isn't,” Rodney admitted in a more reasonable tone. “Look, I need someone to translate the writing around the portal.” He looked at Doctor Weir expectantly.
“I’ll do it,” Doctor Weir offered.
“Actually,” Rodney said uncomfortably, "I was thinking Sabina – she’s just as proficient in Ancient as you are Elizabeth. And with Sheppard on the other side of that portal Sabina’s the strongest gene carrier we have ... that could be important.”
“You’re right,” Doctor Weir nodded, smiling over at me. “I’m assuming I don’t even have to ask,” she said.
“I’m ready,” I agreed, moving to Rodney's side to illustrate my desire to get moving as soon as possible.
“This is McKay,” Rodney said into his radio. “Supplies been loaded aboard yet?”
“Almost there, sir,” a voice I didn’t recognise responded. “Just a few more cases.”
“Alright,” Rodney acknowledged. “When you're done with that, make sure you assist Zelenka in securing the descent probe into the launch compartment.”
Rodney picked up a large bag and tossed it to Doctor Beckett. “Let's move,” he ordered, briskly leaving the room. Doctor Beckett and I glanced at each other before running to catch up with him.
“We’ve loaded weeks of supplies and everything I could think of,” Rodney said as we almost ran toward the Jumper bay, Doctor Weir accompanying us.
“What're we not thinking of?” Doctor Beckett demanded.
“Now take a minute, and be certain,” Doctor Weir suggested intently. “If your theory is correct, you won't be able to make many of these trips.”
“I am painfully aware of that.” Rodney said sickly.
“I remind you only because from what you've told me, rushing is what got Sheppard into trouble in the first place.” Doctor Weir put a hand on Rodney’s arm to halt his mad dash to the Jumper.
“This was not his fault - it was mine,” Rodney admitted sadly. “I should have looked more closely at the video. The clues were there before he even stepped through. Look, all I can hope to do now is fix this within his lifetime.”
“His lifetime?” I asked in horror.
“If it takes us more than a couple of weeks to fix this, then it won't matter, because he will probably have died of old age,” Rodney looked at me apologetically before quickly looking away.
“Crap!” I muttered angrily.
“Yeah, hence the rushing. Now, you ready?” Rodney looked at me and then across at Doctor Beckett. “You don't look ready.”
“I'm ready,” Carson said confidently.
“I need to pick up a couple of my books – just in case I need help with the translation,” I said.
“Well, we'll pick ‘em up on the way,” Rodney offered. Turning to Doctor Weir he added “I hope you've got us a real Jumper pilot because I don't trust Carson and I can't fly the damned thing in a straight line.”
Once on the planet, Rodney directed the Jumper towards a circulate mountain range surrounding a crater. Rodney had high hopes that the probe he and Zelenka had devised would give him evidence to support flying the Jumper through the dilation field. The probe’s destruction proved the tidal forces at the event horizon were too strong for the Jumper, but Rodney did manage to get enough telemetry to determine the location of the power source inside the field. He was confident that once he’d found the generator he’d be able to turn the time dilation field off.
“You sure it was three seconds?” We had met up with Teyla and Ronan at the portal entrance and Rodney was checking in with Teyla about the rate of the time dilation.
“Yes,” Teyla confirmed.
“And there's fifty minutes of video,” Rodney asked.
“Yes,” Teyla confirmed again.
“Alright,’ Rodney said briskly. “So it's a ratio of about, uh ...”
“One thousand to one,” Teyla said simply, smiling slightly when Rodney stared at her in surprise.
“I sent my watch through,” Teyla explained, showing Rodney a branch with a watch taped to it, “along with a letter to Colonel Sheppard telling him we are doing our best to rescue him.” Rodney just stood there staring at the branch, clearly flabbergasted that Teyla had come up with such a clever idea. “If you would like to check again, then ...” Teyla offered.
“No, that's good, that's good, that's good,” Rodney stuttered. “Uh, good thinking.”
“Just out of curiosity,” Doctor Beckett asked the question I’d been thinking myself, “what does that mean for Colonel Sheppard in terms of, uh, days?”
“We're already talking months,” Rodney said miserably.
“I can’t believe this,” I muttered, rushing to my pack and grabbing my books before running back to the wall beside the portal. “Can anyone tell me why John is always the one this kind of thing happens to?”
“He volunteered!” Rodney protested. “Hopefully he’s looking on this as a nice long ... vacation ...” Rodney’s voice trailed off miserably at my heated glare.
“More likely he’s wondering why the hell we’ve abandoned him,” I retorted. I turned to the inscribed wall and set to work translating as quickly as I could, always aware at the back of my mind that every minute I took was over 16 hours for John. But no pressure!
“Okay,” I announced a few minutes later. “The time dilation field was designed to provide the Ancients with a sanctuary from the Wraith - a place they could travel to and hopefully ascend without fear of attack.”
“Oh, of course,” Rodney explained. “They could potentially spend entire lifetimes inside the field before the Wraith even discovered the place.”
“And if they ever attacked,” Doctor Beckett added, “their ships would get torn apart just as the probe did.”
“This writing here,” I pointed at a section of the wall, “serves as both a welcome and a warning for any of the humans under the Ancient’s protection looking for sanctuary. It’s an invitation to anyone seeking the path to ascension on their own.
“And what's the warning?” Ronan asked.
“Not really a surprise,” I pointed out, “given what we know of John’s situation. If you cross the threshold, there's no return.”
“That is,” Rodney announced smugly, “unless you have the exact location of the power source and the expertise to turn it off.”
Rodney’s words prompted a flurry of activity as we all gathered together what we’d need once inside the field. Rodney briefly tried to dissuade me from going through but I insisted. Since Rodney couldn’t be sure the generator wasn’t going to be covered in Ancient instructions he reluctantly gave in. We were all a bit worried about the actual trip through the portal because John had clearly been in distress when he went through. Rodney suggested we do it as quickly as we could to reduce the effects of the temporal differential.
Turns out he was right, the trip through the portal was ... uncomfortable but not excruciating. I went through straight after Rodney and had to put up with another half an hour of waiting before everyone else made it through to the other side.
We set off in the direction of the arrow John had left us as it corresponded with where Rodney believed the generator would be. We’d been walking for a while through the trees before we came to a field full of tall grass topped with bright yellow flowers. Rodney, Carson and Ronan were talking behind me but I wasn’t really listening ... I felt a bit more relaxed now that I was existing at the same time rate as John but I was still worried about how long it might take us to find him.
Teyla had taken the lead position – before we’d travelled far into the field she dropped the case she was carrying and raised her fist above her head.
“What?” Rodney looked around nervously. “What is it?”
We waited a few seconds before the sound of an angry animal echoed from the distance. Teyla turned and aimed her P90 into the woods where the sound seemed to be coming from
“I'm not detecting anything,” Rodney reported after checking the life signs detector.
“Doesn't mean it isn't there,” Ronan said grimly. Turning to Teyla he asked “Can you see anything?”
“No,” Teyla admitted calmly. “But I sense something is close.”
“Maybe we should try another way,” Rodney suggested in a voice shaking with nerves.
The roaring sound came to us again, this time much closer than before. To my ears it sounded not unlike an angry elephant.
“Won't make any difference,” Ronan answered Rodney’s query. “It's stalking us.”
The roaring sounded again, this time from another direction.
“Sounds like it's more than one,” Carson said apprehensively.
“Yeah,” Rodney agreed, aiming his 9mm towards the woods. “More than one what?”
“I do not know,” Teyla admitted, looking skyward as though trying to sense what was out there.
Before anyone could even blink a large, strangely transparent apparition appeared directly in front of Ronan. The outline of the beast shifted in and out of focus as though the real beast were hidden by a faulty cloaking device. Ronan fired his blaster right into it but the beast didn’t even flinch, somehow knocking Ronan a few feet away from its position. Teyla backed away slightly and fired a quick succession of bullets into the beast. Rodney and Carson were also firing their pistols directly into the beast but none of our weapons seemed to have any effect. Ronan had regained his feet and drawn his sword – as he approached the beast the others ceased firing. Ronan slashed at the beast but each time it seemed the beast faded out of existence to avoid the strike before reappearing again. The beast swiped at Ronan again, landing him in almost the same position as before. Teyla returned to the fray, pulling her knife and running towards the beast with a cry of rage. The beast was not deterred – it struck out at her and knocked her away ... her body came to rest close by Ronan.
Since I was unarmed, Rodney and Carson had stepped in front of me with some misguided belief that they could protect me. If Ronan and Teyla had been unable to even made a dent in the beast I didn’t see what their pistols would do. Still I was grateful to have their comforting presence as the beast turned towards us.
At that moment John came running out of the woods at full speed, hurling himself onto the beast’s back. The beast shifted out of existence completely and John crashed to the ground. Rodney and Carson ran to check on Teyla and Ronan the second John had appeared. He pulled himself to his feet and turned to glare at us.
“What the hell took you so long?!” He growled angrily, not even acknowledging my presence.
“Believe it or not,” Rodney tried to placate him, “you were only gone a few hours.”
“Try six months!” John half yelled. He rubbed a hand across his face where he was now sporting a full beard. That more than anything brought home to me how long it had been from his point of view.
“You don't understand,” Rodney protested. “You've been trapped in a time dilation field.”
“What?!” John demanded harshly.
“What was that bloody thing?” Doctor Beckett asked, talking over John.
“I don't know,” John admitted to Carson before turning back to Rodney. “What's a time dilation field?”
“It’s a –“ Rodney broke off when John turned away and speared me with an angry glance.
“And what the hell are you doing here?” John demanded, giving me every indication that he was just as pissed at me as everyone else.
“Rescuing you,” I stated the obvious, trying not to be hurt that he didn’t seem that happy to see me. “Nice beard,” I gestured to his face with a faint smile. John raised a hand to his cheek as though he’d forgotten the addition was even there.
“We should move this somewhere safer,” Ronan advised before John could say anything further.
“No,” Teyla contradicted, gazing skyward again. “It is still close.”
As though the beast had actually heard her, another roar sounded from no specific direction. Everyone looked around the field nervously – for a few moments there was nothing and then the beast shifted back into existence. This time it was immensely tall. I couldn’t see how there was any way we could beat it but John still walked cautiously forward, holding his knife out in front of him. Ronan retrieved his sword and joined him.
“Stay back,” John ordered the rest of us as the two of them approached the beast.
“You've fought this thing before?” Roan asked incredulously.
“Twice,” John said grimly.
“How did you beat it?” Ronan quizzed.
“Still haven't figured that out,” John admitted.
“Now'd be a good time,” Ronan urged him to work it out quickly.
“Yeah, well,” John drawled, “what'd you say we just fight it and see what happens?”
“John?” Teyla called, noticing a group of people arriving out of the woods. “Do you know these people?”
“They’re from the village I’ve been staying in,” John said.
“We've come to stand with you, whatever happens,” a young male vowed, looking directly at John.
“No - we've come to fight,” a pretty young woman corrected. “And we are not afraid of you,” she said, turning to look up at the beast. “The Beast is of our own creation, and it is long past time we sent it away.”
The villagers formed a circle around the beast, who continued to make that angry elephant sound. When the circle was complete the beast raised its claws above its head, trumpeted harshly, and then just disappeared. The young woman walked towards John, joined by the young man who’d first spoken and a little girl.
“That's it?!” John said incredulously. “That's all it took?!”
“You were right, John,” the young woman admitted simply. “We were afraid. The Beast was the final burden we had to shed, manifest from our own fears. You gave us the courage to face it.”
Behind her, a white glow had begun to envelop the rest of the villagers. The woman held out a hand to John. “You can still come with us.”
“I'm not ready for that yet,” John glanced back to where I was standing. “I'm not sure I'll ever be.”
“She is the one,” the woman looked towards me with a gentle expression.
“Yeah,” John said easily, motioning for me to join him. “Sabina, this is Teer, Avrid and Hedda,” he gestured to each of them in turn.
I smiled suddenly shy in the presence of people who were as close to Ancients as I was ever likely to get. My head was buzzing with all the questions I would have loved to ask but before I could even begin to form them, Teer turned away to look at Rodney.
“There'll be no need to destroy the Sanctuary, Doctor McKay,” she said firmly.
“What? No-no-no-no-no,” Rodney denied unconvincingly. “I wasn't thinking that, I was ...” he broke off awkwardly. Behind Teer the villagers had all but disappeared, leaving only a glowing light that slowly began to rise into the sky.
“We will keep the portal open for you until you are gone,” Teer promised.
“At which point the ZedPM which undoubtedly powers this beautiful place will be ...” Rodney looked sick at the thought of another ZPM gone begging.
“Sanctuary was left by those who came before us,” Teer advised him sternly, “for those who may seek it out and follow the path. And it will continue to remain after you are gone.”
“Yeah, but ... ,” Rodney turned to look at John pleadingly.
“Rodney,” John said in a warning voice, before turning back to Teer. “Absolutely,” he promised.
The rest of Teer’s people were already hovering as glowing lights high in the sky. Teer, Avrid and Hedda began to glow too and slowly the three of them also began to ascend. Within moments the light had disappeared and we were left alone in the field.
I was still looking disbelievingly at the spot where they’d stood when John pulled me into his arms and kissed me like there was no tomorrow. Obviously he was very glad to see me and I was as surprised by the intensity of this greeting as I had been by the anger John had shown when he first realised I was there. It’s not that we’d ever hidden our relationship from the others – in fact John seemed quite fond of the casual caress, hug or hand hold. This kiss was way, way, way, outside of that – he was practically consuming me and I was an eager participant. I’d completely forgotten the others were even there as John deepened the kiss even further, moulding me so closely against him that he lifted my feet off the ground.
“Hey,” Rodney’s yell broke through our passion clouded haze, giving the impression that wasn’t the first time he’d tried to get our attention. “Still standing right here!”
John reluctantly ended the kiss and I buried my head in his chest in embarrassment as he turned back to Rodney.
“Lighten up Rodney,” he said, urging me to walk with him back towards where the others were waiting.
“Never thought I'd see any of you again,” John said, looking first at Teyla and Ronan before glancing at Rodney and Carson. “Kind of even ... missed you a little.”
“Yeah, well, it was only a few hours for us, so ...” Ronan teased with an amused twinkle in his eyes.
“Ronon,” Teyla scolded sternly. “We were all quite worried about you,” she assured John.
“Of course we were,” Doctor Beckett agreed bracingly.
“We're just sorry we didn't get here sooner,” Rodney admitted.
Reminded again of how long it had been since he’d seen me John glanced down as if to reassure himself I was still there. It seemed he was unable to resist my charms as he lowered his head and kissed me again.
"Okay Romeo, wanna save that for later?" Rodney complained. When we broke apart Rodney looked at me and shook his head.
“Him I can understand,” Rodney excused, gesturing towards John. “It's been six months. But you,” Rodney turned back to me with an incredulous expression. “You only saw him this morning – what’s your excuse?!”
“Ah, it felt like months?” I excused my behaviour with an embarrassed smile. Everyone laughed as I smiled ruefully. Rodney had teased me like always and I was actually happy about it because it meant he’d finally forgiven me for taking the Ancient hard drive project from him.
“Let's get outta here!” John urged, keeping an arm around my shoulders.
“Yeah - let’s go home,” I agreed happily.
Once back on Atlantis and fully checked out by Doctor Beckett, John was released to his quarters. I sat quietly, watching him shave off six months of beard, as he talked about what had happened on the planet.
"I was starting to think you guys had given up on me," John admitted reluctantly, meeting my gaze through the mirror.
"I would never ever give up on you," I vowed. "No matter how much time had gone by."
"I thought I knew that," John said, "but then I kept going back to the cave and there was no word from anyone and I couldn't think of a reason for that."
"I'm sorry you had to wait so long," I put my arms around John's chest from behind and laid my head against his back. "You were angry to see me there, weren't you?"
"That beast thing was dangerous," John wiped his face before turning me around and looking down at me. "If Hedda hadn't healed me ... twice ... well I wouldn't be standing here now."
"When Rodney told us how much time was going by for you I felt so helpless," I admitted. "I will never give up on you but ... I'm stuck here on Atlantis and sometimes that's the most frustrating thing because I want to help you and I can't!"
"I'm sorry," John hugged me tightly and we stood for a time enjoyed the others closeness. I welcomed him home emotionally and physically ... the six month absence from John's perspective added a desperate, impatient mood to our intimacy. It only seemed that after, as I held John close, he finally relaxed and settled himself to being home.
I changed the time dilation ratio to 1000 – big maths warning ahead so if you’re not interested in why then you can proceed to the next chapter!
If the time dilation ratio really was 250 to 1 then 6 months inside the field at roughly 30 days per month equals 180 days x 24 hours per day equals 4320 hours / 250 (to convert it into time outside the field) equals 17.28 hours. Ronan clearly states that it was only a couple of hours for them outside the field – let’s assume 4 hours to be conservative. To get Sheppard’s 4320 hours to equal 4 hours would mean a time dilation ratio 4320 / 4 which equals 1080. Of course it could be 6 months for whatever planet they were on which might have less than 24 hours in a day ... for 6 months of roughly 30 days per month to equal 4 hours outside the field the days would need to be 5 or 6 hours long which sounds ridiculous. If it were 20 days per month instead then each day would need to be 8 hours long, 15 days per month would mean 11 hour days; 10 days per month would mean 17 hour days. That is if the concept of a month even means something on that planet – and if Rodney did the conversion in his head from our months to the planets months – he’s smart but that seems unlikely! So to cut this very long Authors note short, I used a time dilation ratio of 1000 instead of 250! If you’d like to explain to me why my calculations are wrong, I’d be happy to hear it ...
Chapter 19: You don’t need my permission
It was about a week later when I walked into the commissary to find John and Rodney finishing up lunch and what sounded like a very interesting conversation.
“So what is it with you and ascended women?” Rodney asked.
“Yes John, do tell,” I walked up behind him and laid a hand on his shoulder. I already knew there was nothing to Teer’s invitation for John to ascend with them and the relieved look he got at my arrival only strengthened that belief.
“It wasn’t like that Rodney,” John pulled me into the seat next to him as he answered Rodney’s question. “In fact, Teer seemed more interested in Sabina that in me.”
“What?” Rodney and I both reacted together.
“Teer had one of those Ancient gifts,” John explained. “She could see images in her mind ... places and people that she didn’t know herself.”
“What does that have to do with me?” I asked curiously.
“A few months into my stay Teer came to see me one morning,” John said almost uncomfortably. “She ... ah ...” he broke off, clearly unsure how to explain.
“She was interested in you?” I asked easily.
“Yeah,” John admitted, almost bashful. “I didn’t have to say anything about you though ... she kinda froze in my doorway like she was in some kind of trance. When she returned to herself she smiled at me and said she understood. And then she described you,” John looked straight at me, “in vivid detail ... and not just your appearance either. She knew about the Ancient gene and the Wraith gene, and of course she seemed to know a lot about our relationship.”
“Did she say anything else about me?” I asked curiously, forgetting for a moment that Rodney was listening avidly to the entire conversation.
“She said that you had unique talents that would be needed in the fight against the Wraith,” John traced an idle finger over the back of my hand, “and that you needed me in order to be able to do what you would have to do.”
“Oh,” I frowned in confusion. “Surely you didn’t leave it at that?”
“I was gonna quiz her more,” John admitted, “but she started talking about our ‘great love’ and how we were ‘meant to be’. It freaked me out a bit so I just thanked her and practically pushed her out the door.”
“Did you find out anything useful about the Ancients who set up the sanctuary?” Rodney reminded us he was still there.
“Not really,” John admitted. “The villagers spent their whole day meditating – whenever I tried to break into that to question one of them they got all cryptic on me.”
“Wait a minute ... you meditated?” Rodney asked incredulously.
“Hey - I can be deep,” John put a hand on his chest and a soulful expression on his face. He couldn’t hold it though and the conversation ended with the three of us laughing.
“Doctor Weir offered me a spot on Major Lorne’s team,” I said to John a few days later.
“She said,” John acknowledged.
“I didn’t give her an answer because I wanted to talk to you about it first,” I told him, somewhat puzzled by the lack of reaction I’d gotten from him.
“You don’t need my permission,” John reminded me that team assignments of non military personnel were Doctor Weir’s responsibility.
“I know,” I responded, “but I was kinda hoping I’d get your approval anyway.”
“You’ve been off world a few times now,” John pointed out, looking at me intently. “You’ve handled yourself well, followed orders, and made a valuable contribution.” My face reddened at his praise. “Don’t you think you’ve earned a place on a team?”
“I guess,” I said hesitantly. “I didn’t think about it that way because you were always so adamant that I could only go on missions if it was absolutely necessary. Being on Major Lorne’s team doesn’t really fit into that.”
“Yeah, well I had six months to think about you,” John looked away uncomfortably. “And I realised that I was doing you a disservice ... you’ve worked hard to make yourself valuable on a number of fronts. Major Lorne would be lucky to have someone with your skill set on his team.”
“Oh ...” I was speechless. I could actually feel my brain scrambling for words but finding none that seemed adequate after that statement.
“Oh?” John turned back to me and grinned. “You’ve mastered both Ancient and Wraith and ‘Oh” is the best you can do?”
“You surprised me,” I admitted, finding my voice again.
“I’m sorry,” John looked at me apologetically. When I raised an eyebrow in query he explained “I obviously haven’t been doing a good enough job of passing on feedback if praise that you’ve rightfully earned is such a surprise to you.”
“It doesn’t matter,” I said happily. “I’m gonna be on an off world team!” I laughed in excitement, throwing myself into his lap and hugging him tight.
“Yes you are,” John agreed seriously. I met his eyes and saw the worry there.
“It’ll be fine” I said confidently.
“It had better be,” John grumbled.
I let Doctor Weir know that I was keen to join Major Lorne’s team and just a few short days later found myself stepping through the gate for the first time without John there to watch over me. One of Teyla’s contacts had reported that the planet we’d gated to was the site of an Ancient ruin – we didn’t usually check out every ruin we discovered but these were supposedly quite extensive and Doctor Weir believed some study of them would be worthwhile. It sounded like an easy first mission for me and I wondered if some of Doctor Weir’s enthusiasm was about that more than the actual ruins.
Still it was a glorious day and I found myself enjoying the long walk from the gate to the ruins. Teyla’s contact had been right – the site was extensive. Unfortunately there were no signs of any Ancient technology or power sources left behind. I wouldn’t know more about its purpose without spending at least a couple of days translating and exploring so Major Lorne reported in and requested an extended stay.
Two days later we returned to Atlantis on schedule, me loaded down with a full camera and a stack of things to finish translating. When we stepped through the gate I was surprised to find John standing at the bottom of the steps waiting for me.
“This is a surprise Colonel,” Major Lorne said innocently.
“I’m not here for you,” John drawled without any hint of embarrassment. Major Lorne laughed and continued with the rest of the team up the stairs to the infirmary.
“Are you waiting for me?” I asked, trying to hold off my grin.
“No I’m waiting for somebody else ... yes I’m waiting for you,” John said irritably. “Who else would I be waiting around for?!”
“That’s sweet,” I said, grinning when I saw John’s grimace of distaste at my describing anything he did as ‘sweet’.
“Yeah well,” he excused his behaviour. “It’s only because it was your first mission without me ... don’t let it go to your head.”
“I won’t,” I couldn’t resist grabbing his hand, pulling him down for a quick kiss on the cheek. John made the pretence of not reacting but I could see that he was pleased I’d made even that much of a personal greeting.
“How’d it go?” John asked as he walked with me down to the infirmary.
“The ruin used to be an Ancient ... university is the closest word to describe it,” I said. “It was pretty old, maybe even predating much of the war with the Wraith. It makes me sad to think what Pegasus must have been like before the Wraith evolved and ruined it all. The ruin proves that at the very least there was free travel between planets and sharing of education and ...” I trailed off when I saw John was grinning at me again.
“I was getting carried away again, wasn’t I?” I smiled ruefully when John nodded. By that stage we’d arrived at the infirmary.
“Doctor Beckett awaits,” John gestured for me to get my post mission check up over with.
“Hey,” I turned back to him. “You didn’t tell me what happened around here while I was gone.”
“We had a bomb on Atlantis, only it wasn’t a bomb at all,” John stated in a matter of fact tone. “The ZPM failsafes were rewritten – it we’d dialled Earth it would have caused a catastrophic overload. Rodney disabled the DHD to stop that from happening but then a distress beacon was activated that drew the notice of two nearby Wraith cruisers. We were forced to reconnect the ZPM to power the cities cloak – once the ZPM was back on line the inertial dampener system was activated to cause the overload. Luckily Lieutenant Cadman worked out who it was and we got the codes we needed to turn it off just in time to stop the ZPM from exploding.”
“So, business pretty much as usual,” I joked.
“Pretty much,” John agreed. “Zelenka had to wait it out on M7G-677 with the kids – you should have seen him when he came back.”
“I’m sorry I missed it,” I could hardly imagine how Radek had survived for a couple of hours, let alone a couple of days – he was no more fond of children than Rodney. “Who was it?” I asked curiously, suddenly realising that John had left that out of his explanation.
“Colonel Caldwell,” John said, watching me almost gape in shock. “He was taken by a Goa’uld on his last trip to Earth.”
“That’s just creepy,” I shuddered. “I’m kind of glad I was off world to be honest.”
“Me too,” John agreed. “Hermiod managed to beam the Goa’uld out of Colonel Caldwell – with a bit of time he’ll make a full recovery.”
“Well, he’s not exactly my favourite person,” I admitted. “But I’m glad Caldwell’s going to be okay.”
“Yeah,” John nodded. He gestured again for me to proceed into the infirmary. “Meet me down in the commissary when you get done here.”
“Will do,” I had turned away when John called out to me.
“Yeah?” I looked at him curiously.
“Well done on your first solo mission,” John said simply.
“Thanks,” I smiled gratefully. I’d wondered if John was really as relaxed about me going off world without him as he’d made out. I didn’t understand how it had happened, but John really did seem resigned to my new role ... I just hoped that wasn’t going to come back and bite me in the future.
Chapter 20: John put you up to this, didn’t he?
"Now that you've got a regular spot on an off world team I think it'd be a good idea to teach you how to fly a Puddle Jumper," John suggested one morning at breakfast.
"Really?" I asked excitedly. "You're gonna teach me how to fly a Jumper?"
"It'd be good back up for Major Lorne," John pointed out. "And hopefully you'll be a lot better than Rodney and Carson."
"When do we start?" I was eager to do it right there and then. Flying a Jumper had been one of my secret dreams since I'd first seen them but I'd always hesitated to ask John about it - that whole don't abuse my position as girlfriend of the military leader thing. John had shown me some basic stuff about the Jumpers ages ago, but I'd never gotten up the nerve to pursue it further.
"I'm dropping off Teyla and some supplies to the mainland this morning," John said. "You can tag along and then on the way back I'll give you your first lesson."
"Cool!" I smiled gleefully, so much so that John couldn't help but laugh.
"Remember, flying is a serious business," he warned me.
"I know, I know," I agreed, still grinning madly. "And when the time comes I'll be super serious, I promise."
"Okay," John’s expression said he'd believe it when he saw it for himself. "I'll see you in the Jumper bay in an hour."
I had calmed down sufficiently by the time we'd dropped Teyla and the supplies off at the Athosian settlement for John to begin my instruction. Rather than just show me how the controls worked John insisted on explaining some of the general theory behind flying and navigation of an aircraft.
"Is all this theory necessary," I asked after we'd been sitting in the Jumper not going anywhere for almost thirty minutes.
"If you want to understand what you're doing, not to mention get yourself out of trouble if something goes wrong, then yes!" John insisted.
"Did you make Rodney and Carson learn this?" I asked suspiciously.
"No," John admitted, "which probably explains why neither of them are any good at flying!"
"Good point," I turned back to the HUD he'd brought up to explain how navigation on Atlantis worked.
"The Puddle Jumpers have a compass receiver," John instructed. "Atlantis sends out pulses at a specific frequency and based on the strength of what we receive here we can determine where Atlantis is." John looked up to see me gazing at him with a fond smile. "What?"
“I was just wondering why none of my teachers were ever as hot as you," I replied, even more endeared of him when his face flushed at the compliment.
"Um ...," John frowned before remembering where he was up to and continuing my lesson.
"What we do most of the time in the Jumper is essentially instrument flying," John pointed out a few minutes later, "being able to fly by reference to the cockpit instruments only when visual flight by reference to a natural horizon isn't possible."
"Like when you're in space?" I asked, intrigued.
"Exactly," John smiled at me, "which means you have to understand what every display the Jumper is capable of presenting is about."
"Do I have to understand them all before I get to fly anywhere?" I looked at him hopefully.
"I think I've loaded up your brain with enough new concepts for today," John answered. "I'll take the Jumper up and then we'll see how you do."
John set a course over the ocean before turning to me "Ready to take control?" he asked.
"Yes?" I almost asked hesitantly.
"Just remember this is as much about mental control as it is about understanding how flight works," John reassured me. "You've demonstrated very strong control of other Ancient systems ... so long as you focus on what you want the Jumper to do, you shouldn't have a problem."
"Okay," I said more confidently. "I'm ready."
"Transferring control to you ... now," John took his hands off the controls, leaving the co-pilot controls I was holding in command.
The Jumper was just like the other Atlantis systems ... through my mental connection I was aware of the capability that was available to me. I wouldn't admit it to John but I was glad he'd taken the time to explain the concepts to me else I'd have been hard pressed to understand most of what I was now connected to.
"Good," John encouraged me. "Just keep it nice and steady for the moment."
I did as instructed, gradually feeling myself relax - I looked out the front window at the blue surrounding us, both sky and sea, and smiled in wonder.
"I'm flying," I told John reverently.
"Yes you are," John agreed, looking at me with a fond smile.
"This is so cool!" I laughed happily. "I think I understand why you're so keen on this sort of thing now!"
"It's not the same as flying an F16," John admitted. "I kind of miss pulling G's and relying solely on manual command of the systems. But the inertial dampeners are a small price to pay for the absolute responsiveness of the Jumpers - it takes a microsecond from thinking something to seeing it happen."
"Weren't you flying helicopters in Antarctica?" I looked at him in confusion.
"Ah," John's face lit up. "Don't get me started on helicopters ... there's no comparison really - flying one of those is hard."
"I'll take your word for it," I said. "I think I'll just stick to the Puddle Jumpers for now."
"Let's take the Jumper in a loop around Atlantis," John went back into instructor mode. He made me fly a basic rectangular pattern around Atlantis before he was satisfied that I had been sufficiently familiarised with the flight area and the basic operations of the Jumper. Taking control again he flew us back to Atlantis, promising that he'd continue my lessons on a regular basis. I surprised even myself when I voluntarily asked John to link me into any reference materials on the theory so I could study a bit before the next lesson.
"You're a gem," John said fondly, ruffling my hair in affection.
"Don't get all soppy," I ducked away in embarrassment.
"I've gotta get to a briefing," John looked regretful. "I'll catch up with you later."
"Okay," I agreed. He'd taken a few steps away from me before I remembered to thank him. "Thanks for the lesson!” I called out.
"You're welcome," he called back over his shoulder.
A couple of days later I was working in my lab when Rodney came in to see me.
"Hey Rodney," I greeted. "Any progress on those shield improvements?"
"They're fine," Rodney said distractedly, looking at the various things I had strewn over the large work table.
"Can I do something for you?" I asked in confusion when he continued to hover without saying anything.
"Um, no ... I mean yes ..." Rodney broke off with a pained expression.
"Which is it?" I frowned as he continued to look very uncomfortable. "Is something wrong?"
"No no," Rodney said quickly, making eye contact before looking away again. "I ah I was talking to ah ... Zelenka the other day and he mentioned it was his... birthday and I just realised that you hadn't had one." Rodney said the last bit rapidly.
"One what?" I struggled to make sense of what Rodney was trying to tell me.
"Birthday," Rodney pointed out. "We've been here over a year and you haven't had a birthday."
"So?" I turned back to my laptop and pretended I was indifferent to where the conversation seemed to be going.
"It's just that ... we’ve celebrated Sheppard’s and mine - even Elizabeth’s," Rodney pointed out. "But not yours."
"I'm just not in to birthdays," I said dismissively. I could almost feel Rodney's eyes drilling holes in my back as he scoffed. "What?" I demanded, turning around to look at him again.
"I looked it up," Rodney admitted.
"Oh," I muttered, looking away again.
"Yeah," Rodney's voice took on that tone he got when he was trying to solve a puzzle. "How can your birthday be recorded as unknown?"
"What's this really about Rodney?" I asked, "because forgive me for saying this but you don't strike me as the type to be concerned about whether someone celebrates their birthday or not!"
"That's not fair!" Rodney protested, but the guilty look on his face gave him away.
"John put you up to this didn't he?" I demanded.
"No!" Rodney protested. "He just asked me to hack into Doctor Weirs files ...” Rodney's voice trailed off when he saw the angry look on my face.
"He did what?" I got up abruptly, making Rodney back away a step. "Why didn't he just ask me?!"
"He wanted to surprise you," Rodney admitted miserably. "I said I could find out but when the file said unknown I ah -"
"You didn't want to admit you couldn't get the information." I finished his sentence.
"It's not John's fault," Rodney insisted. "I'm sure he would have just asked you if I hadn't taken it upon myself to ..."
"It's okay Rodney," I let him off the hook, sinking back down on my chair. "I'll talk to John about it later, okay?"
"So you're not gonna tell me why you didn't put a birthday in your file?" Rodney complained.
"Goodbye Rodney," I urged him out the door without answering. I smiled in amusement as I heard him still muttering to himself halfway down the corridor.
"Rodney came down to see me this afternoon," I told John that evening.
"Doesn't he do that from time to time?" John asked, obviously wondering why I was bothering sharing such an insignificant fact.
"Yeah, but usually it's because he wants to complain about some incompetent underling," I replied. "Guess what he wanted to talk about this time?" I almost saw the light bulb go on in his head as he looked at me curiously.
"Ah ... your birthday?" John offered trying to charm me with his little boy look.
"My birthday," I confirmed, making it clear that I was less than impressed.
"He wasn't supposed to tell you!" John protested.
"So it's all right as long as I don't find out?!" I exclaimed.
"No!" John retorted. "Look, it's been a rough year for you and I just thought a birthday surprise ... thing ... might be ... nice."
"It was a nice thought," I let him off easily. Who could protest when someone wanted to give them something special like that? It really had been sweet of him to consider it.
"So when is your birthday?" John asked.
"I told you I was abandoned when I was a baby didn't I?" I asked in exasperation. When John nodded I continued "well what did you think that meant? I'm pretty sure most people who abandon a baby don't leave a birth certificate!"
"I know," John rubbed a hand over his face. "I thought they'd have given you a birthday when they found you."
"They did," I admitted, realising that if I was going to explain this I’d have to reveal something I’d glossed over the last time we’d talked about my family. “When I told you about my background I wasn’t exactly ... honest,” I admitted, looking at John to see that I’d surprised him with that comment. “I said that no one had wanted me enough to adopt me which was true from the time I was ten ... but before that I ah ... I did have an adopted family.”
“Why didn’t you mention it when I asked?” John asked curiously.
“It's just really hard to talk about," I excused my reticence.
“Can you talk about it now?” John invited softly. He was sitting on the bed and arranging himself so that I could sit with my back resting against his chest. I felt surrounded by his warmth ... safe ... and that made it easier to begin.
“After being found at the hospital I was taken in by Gwen and Roger Scott,” I began. “They must have seen ... something in me because from that moment on I was theirs – they adopted me as soon as they could put the paperwork through. They always made a big deal about my made up birthday ... one of my earliest memories is my fourth birthday party. Gwen was very artistic and she’d created a fairy tale castle in the backyard complete with a matching cake. I think she was trying to make up for the fact that we didn’t really know when my birthday was ... and making sure that I never doubted that although my biological parents hadn’t wanted me, Gwen and Roger did.”
“What happened?” John encouraged me to continue.
“The day of my tenth birthday Gwen had planned the usual party. I was really into ponies and she’d set up the back yard with play stables, big pony dolls to sit on ... she even had a real pony for everyone to ride. About an hour before the party was going to start Gwen discovered she and Roger had mixed up who was going to pick up the cake ... I always looked forward to the birthday cake best of all. They went out to get it, leaving me with my best friend and her Mother. They never came back ... drunk driver missed a stop sign and just ploughed right into them. Everyone was killed instantly.”
“I’m so sorry Sabina,” John hugged me tight, pressing a kiss into my hair.
“I remember sitting in the backyard with all the party guests there, waiting eagerly for Gwen to step through the door with the cake ... instead the police came and ... someone cleared all the guests out and they told me Gwen and Roger weren’t coming back. If I hadn’t been so keen on that stupid pony cake maybe it wouldn’t have happened.”
“You know that’s not true,” John told me. “You were just a kid ... Gwen sounds like the type who would have wanted to make everything perfect for you, regardless of what you said.”
“She was,” I smiled at fond memories I hadn’t allowed myself to examine in years. “Anyway, there was no one else to take me in so I went back into the system. Foster families – none of whom were looking for a sad and angry ten year old to adopt. Birthdays became something to dread – by me anyway – usually the foster parents seemed disinclined to observe the day. Eventually I decided I wasn’t going to have my birthday on some made up day anymore. If I can't do it on the actual day, which I obviously can't, then I don't want to do it at all."
"That seems a little ... extreme," John pointed out.
"Yeah well, you know me and stubbornness," I didn't try to excuse the fact that most people wouldn't understand my position. We sat together in silence for a few minutes before John asked another question.
"Even when you were out on your own - you didn't have parties ... presents ... stuff like that?" John kept at me.
"What do you want from me?" I said angrily, getting up and stalking over to the window. "From the time I was ten my childhood sucked - I never wanted another birthday party and I can't remember the last time I got a present." John opened his mouth to make some comment but I cut him off "and before you go getting all sympathetic, since I was sixteen that was entirely my own doing. I'm not the party type and I don't want people feeling like they have to give me stuff."
"See now that just bothers me," John admitted. "I love presents."
"That's because you're just a big kid," I said. "I haven’t been a kid since I was ten. Look this is gonna start depressing me in a minute so can we just give it a rest?"
"Just one more question," John promised. "How do you keep track of how old you are?" he asked curiously.
"I just add a year to my age every New Years," I admitted. "Easy!"
"So can we make New Years your birthday then?" John looked at me with a hopeful look.
"Do you promise not to go overboard?" I asked, quickly adding "and not to rope anyone else in either?"
"But what if they ask me?" John protested. "How about I just promise not to volunteer any information about your birthday?"
"I don't know," I shifted uncomfortably, "I don't have any experience with this sort of thing - I'm bound to be really bad at it."
"I won't do anything you wouldn't be comfortable with," John promised.
"Will you drop it if I say yes?" I asked, reluctantly amused at his persistence.
"Yep," John agreed happily.
"All right then," I agreed uneasily. "But you're making up some excuse to explain this to Rodney," I added. "I don't want to hear anything else about it."
"I'll fix it with Rodney," John pulled me into an enthusiastic hug. "I'll even get him to hack your record so no one will have any reason to ask about it in the future."
"You do that," I ended the conversation. While all the talk about birthdays had been uncomfortable I was kind of glad I'd talked to John about my past ... maybe next time I over reacted about something he'd have a better chance of understanding why.
Chapter 21: I’m afraid it’s too late for that
“I feel kinda bad,” John admitted, as he gathered together the few remaining things he’d need for his mission to rescue Rodney from a crashed Puddle Jumper. “Rodney’s stuck in a sinking Jumper and I’m excited about the prospect of using a Puddle Jumper as a submersible.”
“It was your idea to combine the magnetic grapple for the F302’s with Moore and McNab’s cable and winch,” I pointed out. “There wouldn’t even be a mission if not for that.”
“Yeah, well hopefully Zelenka can locate them before they get too deep,” John turned to take his leave. “Remember, once we get down past 1000 feet we’ll lose contact with Atlantis. I’ll radio in once we’ve got Griffin and McKay safely aboard.”
“Okay,” I said slowly. “Good luck.”
A nervous couple of hours later Rodney was safely tucked away in the infirmary and John was coming down from the high of having taken the first Puddle Jumper submarine ‘flight’.
"I'm sorry about Griffin," I told John when he caught up with me a few hours later.
"He was a good man," John replied. "Rodney said Griffin sacrficed himself to save him - it's not much consolation to his family but at least we'll be able to tell them that much."
"What was it like down there?" I asked curiously.
“Now that I know Rodney’s gonna be okay, I can say that it was cool being down that far,” John admitted.
“You are such a big kid,” I teased.
“Oh like you don’t go all giddy at the thought of new Ancient devices to play with,” John retorted.
“Ah,” I held up a finger in triumph, “but I’m not the illustrious military leader!”
“Well being the leader ought to come with some perks,” John insisted. “Getting to fly all the cool stuff is just one of them.”
In the early hours of the morning disturbing dreams startled me awake – strangely they all seemed to have something to do with being at the mercy of a Wraith Queen and having to fight off her mental attacks. John’s descriptions of his own encounters with Hive Queens must have gotten to me more than I’d realised at the time.
Checking the time I realised I’d slept more deeply than I usually did in John’s bed. Frowning at my cramped position I decided I might as well go back to my own quarters. I started to shift in preparation of getting up when John’s arm tightened around me and I realised he was awake.
“You were jerking around in your sleep,” John answered my unspoken question regarding why he was awake. “Bad dreams?”
“You could say that,” I admitted. “I’ve never met a Wraith, let alone a Queen but more and more lately I find myself dreaming about them – very vivid and detailed.”
“Maybe you picked up more than you realised when you were linked with them through the Wraith weapon,” John suggested, raising himself on an elbow and looking down at me.
“Maybe,” I agreed, attempting once more to vacate the bed.
“Don’t,” John kept a hold on my upper arm to keep me with him. “Just this once can you not run away back to your room?” I was surprised to realise his tone was both pleading and irritated.
“I didn’t realise it bothered you so much,” I frowned at him in confusion.
“Well it does,” John insisted.
“I guess I’ll stay then,” I conceded. “Just for tonight.”
“Good,” John slumped back on the bed, pulling me with him. I’d expected a kiss at the very least but instead I was treated to the contented sigh of Colonel John Sheppard as he nuzzled his face against my shoulder and dropped back into sleep.
“Sabina,” Doctor Weir’s voice issued from my radio then next morning. “Can you come down to the Control Room?”
“On my way,” I acknowledged.
“Do you think this Eldred is telling the truth?” Doctor Weir was asking someone when I arrived.
“There's no reason for him to lie,” John’s voice came through loud and clear.
“And you say the Tower looks a lot like Lantean architecture?” Doctor Weir motioned for me to join her.
“It was overgrown by vegetation,” John said, “but otherwise there was definitely something familiar about it!”
“So the people in the Tower could be Ancients,” Doctor Weir said almost hopefully.
“I don't know,” John admitted. “A feudal society doesn't fit the profile. Why would the Ancients wanna lord over a bunch of simple farmers?”
“I don't know,” Doctor Weir’s expression suggested she thought it unlikely they would. “Either way, we should talk with them.”
“Agreed,” John acknowledged.
“I have Sabina with me,” Doctor Weir announced.
“I need you to pack whatever you think you’ll need to assist Rodney,” John directed at me, his voice almost grim. “I’ll meet you at the gate.”
“Okay,” I agreed, looking across at Doctor Weir with a puzzled expression. She shrugged to indicate she too had no idea why John wanted me there.
“See you in a few ... Sheppard out,” John said, and a moment later the gate shut down.
“I wonder what that was all about,” I commented to Doctor Weir.
“Colonel Sheppard may be more relaxed about you going off world these days,” Doctor Weir pointed out, “but that doesn’t mean he’s not going to worry.”
“I suppose,” I frowned, feeling there was more to it than that.
“You better get ready,” Doctor Weir urged. “Don’t want to keep Rodney waiting.”
John met me at the gate and we walked together back to the village. Teyla and Ronan were there standing in the dusty village square.
“Where’s McKay?” John demanded.
“He went with Eldred’s son Baldric to scan the base of the Tower,” Teyla admitted. “He said he’d be back very soon.”
“Okay then where’s Eldred?” John was clearly annoyed with the way things were progressing so far.
“He is over there,” Teyla gestured across the dusty square to where a man was being intimidated by four men dressed in uniform.
“Who are those guys?” John frowned at the scene taking place in front of us.
“Soldiers from the Tower,” Ronan replied. When the leader of the soldiers violently backhanded Eldred, knocking him to the ground it was too much for John. He rushed towards the scene with Teyla and Ronan not far behind. Not knowing what to do I hung back a few steps, ready to step in if it seemed necessary.
“Whoa, take it easy!” John called out.
“Who are you?” The lead soldier turned to face John, appearing unimpressed with what he saw.
“Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard,” John replied. “Who are you?”
“I am a Constable of the Lord Protector’s guard, and this village scum dared to defy me.” Eldred cowered on the ground, groaning at the Constables words. “It’s clear we’re going to have to make an example.” He took a whip from his belt, and unravelled it in preparation for using it to strike at Eldred.
“I don’t think so,” John drawled menacingly.
“Please, Colonel,” Eldred begged. “It’s my fault.” The punishments here must have been extreme if the villagers would rather be whipped than have someone stand up for them.
“If you think I’m gonna sit here and let you whip an innocent man,” John warned the Constable, “you’re sorely mistaken.”
I had noticed another man approaching the scene. He was bald and dressed in garb that reminded me of how actors were always decked out in every Robin Hood movie I’d ever seen. Judging by the squalor and hardship these people were living in, a Robin Hood was exactly what they needed.
“Constable,” he said in a posh accent like I’d not heard from anyone else in the village. At his words John, Ronan and Teyla all aimed their weapons so that each was covering a position. “You may stand down,” the man said. I was surprised when the guards did exactly that, without any protest.
“You are the strangers who requested an audience, are you not?” the stranger asked John, pulling a couple of small devices from his pocket. He held them out so that John could see they did not appear dangerous.
“That’s us,” John confirmed, still holding his gun at the ready.
“My name is Otho,” the man announced. He walked past my position towards John and the others. Glancing briefly at me he motioned for me to join them. I looked at John and he nodded. Once we were all standing together Otho held his two devices out to Teyla as though he were scanning her in some way. “I have the honour to be Chamberlain to the Lord Protector.” He glanced down at one of his devices that looked a bit like a life signs detector only smaller, before moving on and scanning Ronan. “And you would never be allowed in his presence so armed.”
“Well, I guess we’ll have to be on our way, then.” John drawled in a relaxed tone.
Otho said nothing as he pointed the scanner at John. Immediately an audible beeping sound issued from the other device. Otho looked faintly surprised. He pointed the scanner at me – when the same beeping sound occurred I had a pretty good idea what he’d been scanning for.
“I’m afraid it’s too late for that.” Otho announced almost sadly. He stepped back and turned to the guards. “Take these two,” he ordered, pointing at John and me.
Ronan aimed his gun at the guards, while Teyla raised her P90 in readiness.
“Please, Colonel, don’t resist,” Eldred begged from his position on the ground. “The Lord Protector sees all.”
“He does, you know,” Otho agreed as though that thought made him very happy. When John made no move to go along with Otho’s plans, Otho added “But I suppose you’re going to need a demonstration.” I heard a faint and strangely familiar whooshing sound coming towards us from the Tower. “And here it comes.”
We all turned to look where Otho was looking. A bright light was speeding steadily towards us – once it was close enough it was easily identifiable as a drone. It slammed into the village, exploding on impact. Luckily it didn’t appear to have hit anything major, although the villagers were still calling out and crying in fear.
“Now please,” Otho turned back to address us. “Turn over your weapons. Some of the people here may not survive the next strike.”
“Colonel,” Eldred said pleadingly. John looked around at the cowering villagers and reluctantly lowered his gun. He nodded at Ronan and Teyla to do the same with their weapons.
“Come this way,” Otho commanded John and I to follow him.
Chapter 22: I am not wearing that ... thing!
“What’s a Chamberlain?” John whispered to me. We were in the back of a horse drawn cart that presumably was taking us to the Tower.
“In olden England a chamberlain was an officer who managed the household of a king or nobleman,” I said. “He doesn’t have the ATA gene,” I added. “When he held my hand to assist me into the cart I didn’t get anything from him.”
“Yeah I noticed it too,” John murmured close to my ear, “that he wasn’t interested in us until after he scanned us with that device.”
“Doctor Beckett could sure use one of those,” I joked. “He’s stuck doing blood tests that take hours to get results from.”
“I’ll be sure to put it on my wish list if we get out of this,” John drawled. “Look, when we get to the Tower I want you to step back and let me do the talking.”
“Okay,” I agreed easily. John was the experienced officer, he was in charge and in any case he was much better at adlibbing than I was – it was a no brainer.
“Just go along with whatever I say,” John instructed as the cart pulled up outside an entrance to the Tower. “Show time.”
The Tower may have looked vaguely like Atlantis from the outside but on the inside the resemblance was uncanny. It I didn’t know better I’d have said we were standing in the Gateroom of Atlantis itself ... well apart from the gaudy and overabundant decor the place sported.
“This just gets weirder and weirder,” I muttered to John.
“I’m gonna try and contact Rodney,” John said quietly. He took a few steps away from me and tapped his radio. His conversation was too quiet for me to hear – John was obviously trying to speak softly enough that the two guards surrounding him wouldn’t hear.
“McKay said the structure extends far underground and it’s exactly like Atlantis,” John muttered as he stepped back to my side.
“Are they all okay?” I asked with concern.
“They’re fine,” John reassured me. “It’s us I’m worried about!”
One of the side doors opened at that point and an elderly man came forward, followed by what could only be described as an entourage. This was the Lord Protector? This feeble old man who was clearly almost too weak to walk unaided?
The old man ignored the two of us, walking over to a very familiar looking chair – he sat down and the floor of the dais as well as the back of the chair lit up immediately. This guy clearly had the ATA gene – my initial suspicion that they needed us to power some Ancient device was blown out of the water by that detail.
“You there,” the Lord Protector beckoned John over. “Approach.”
“Lieutenant Colonel John Shep-“ John walked closer and tried to introduce himself in a friendly manner.
“I know who you are. I saw you in the village,” the Lord Protector said with a deliberately cryptic air.
“You did?” John asked, surprised.
“I see all that I need to see within my domain,” the Lord Protector intoned. He put his hands on the control pads and made an image of the village appear on a holographic screen above his head. Zeroing in on Rodney, Teyla and Ronan he commented “your friends ... they are concerned about you.”
“Well, um,” John admitted self depreciatingly, “to be perfectly honest, I’m a little concerned about us too. I mean ... we are prisoners, right?” John looked across at me and smiled reassuringly.
“A show of force was necessary for the benefit of the villagers,” the Lord Protector stated, taking his hands off the control pads so that the chair rose back to the upright position. “It keeps them from getting ideas. But for the moment I would prefer it if you thought of yourselves as guests.”
“Father, I must protest” a young foppish man called out, looking both of us up and down with evident distaste. “This man should be punished. He challenged one of our constables.”
“One of our constables?” the Lord Protector asked quietly. Obviously all was not affection and support in the royal family.
“Forgive me,” the young man apologised. “One of your constables.”
“Lieutenant Colonel,” the Lord Protector turned back to John. “It would be my pleasure that you and your lovely companion dine with us this evening.”
John looked across at me before nodding somewhat nervously at the Lord Protector.
“Come,” Otho appeared beside us. “I will show you to some guest quarters where you can refresh yourselves before we dine.”
Otho clearly wanted to place us in separate quarters but John scotched that one instantly.
“Sabina and I will share a room,” he stated firmly, pulling me into his side with a strong arm around my shoulders.
“Are you married?” Otho asked. To me it looked like the prospect that we were bothered him a lot more than it should have and that sent alarm bells ringing in my head.
“Newly wedded actually,” John lied without a qualm. “You can understand why we wouldn’t want to be separated. We’re kinda still on our honeymoon.” He turned to me with an affectionate smile and added “isn’t that right honey?”
Remembering what he’d said about playing along I smiled lovingly in return and said “Yes it is ... darling.”
“I see,” Otho said. Clearly distracted by unpleasant thoughts, Otho pointed out our quarters and took his leave.
I felt a huge sense of relief that John and I were finally alone in the guest quarters. The walls were covered in gaudy scarlet drapes – the bed was covered in rich fabric almost buried under the weight of too many pillows. There were also candelabras all around the room. Where our Atlantis was an elegant well dressed lady this city was a little girl playing dress up in her mother’s clothes and makeup.
John had checked in with Rodney and the others and confirmed that the Tower and its underground were in fact exactly the same as Atlantis. John had reported on our situation, especially the fact that these people weren’t Ancients and didn’t seem to have command of many devices apart from the control chair. John’s team wanted to come and get us out immediately but John ordered then to do nothing but keep a low profile.
“Married huh?” I questioned curiously.
“He was too interested in separating us,” John excused. “Any ideas about what’s going on here?” John came over to the bed and sat down next to me.
“Yeah,” I admitted uneasily. “And if I’m right we are potentially in a really awkward position here.”
“Okay, tell me,” John said reluctantly.
“The fact that they only took us means they’re interested in the gene,” I said. “Initially I thought they wanted us to activate some kind of Ancient technology but clearly that’s wrong because the Lord Protector and at the very least his children all have the gene. Otho got a lot less friendly once you made it clear we were together,” I pointed out. “I think they’re looking for breeding stock.”
“What!” John exclaimed, with a faintly sickened look on his face.
“They’re a small group of nobles who’ve lived in this city for 10,000 years,” I pointed out. “Over that length of time without the introduction of new blood the ATA gene would have become diluted ... perhaps to the point where they have trouble operating the Ancient technology as well as their ancestors did. That would explain why most of the city is inoperative.”
“And they want us because ...” John broke off, looking uncomfortable.
“Because you and I both have the gene ... and probably a lot stronger than they’ve seen in a number of generations. The gene is clearly important because it gives them the means to defend the planet against the Wraith,” I pointed out, “but it’s also important because it gives the person in the command chair supreme power over everyone else.”
“Okay, that makes sense,” John admitted.
“That’s the simple interpretation,” I said reluctantly. “The situation here is probably highly political and it might not be as simple as that. We need to be on our toes and we can’t trust anyone.”
“That’s not a problem,” John promised. “I’m always on my toes and I never trust anyone who arrests me.”
“Good policy,” I teased. Before we could continue our conversation any further a knock sounded beside the drapes that were supposed to act like a door. John raised an eyebrow at me before getting up and pulling the drape aside. A servant stood on the other side, holding a dress in a similar style to that worn by the ladies we’d seen in the gate room. She smiled shyly and gestured towards me. John took the dress and smiled a thank you.
“What is that?” I asked uneasily.
“Apparently your attire isn’t appropriate for a lady dining with the royal court,” John was highly amused by my horrified expression.
“No way!” I protested. “I am not wearing that ... thing!”
“Oh but you are,” John gave no consideration to my discomfort. “We need to get these people to open up to us and the best way to do that is to try to fit in.”
“How come you don’t have to dress in the local attire?” I complained, staring at the dress sickly.
“Just lucky I guess,” John smirked. “It’s not that bad.”
“I hate dresses,” I said darkly. “You are gonna owe me so big after this.”
Grumbling the whole time I snatched up the dress and made my way into the adjoining bathroom. The dress was made from a dark red satin with a low neckline edged in gold filigree. The skirt consisted of a large amount of fabric clearly designed to flare out and down to the floor. Reluctantly I freshened myself before stepping into the dress. It fit perfectly ... damn it! I was hoping it would be too big so I wouldn’t have to wear it. Deciding I might as well go all in I pinned my hair on top of my head, leaving much of the back as well as a few strands at the front loose. I couldn’t do anything about my boots – they hadn’t thought to provide me with footwear but the dress was long enough to cover my feet. I stood there looking in the mirror at a person I hardly recognised ... I couldn’t remember the last time I’d dressed up to this degree. I was stalling so I wasn’t surprised when John banged on the door and yelled for me to hurry it up. Taking a deep breath I turned away from the mirror to present myself to John.
“Well?” I asked after a few seconds with no reaction, looking at the ground rather than at him.
“Sorry - didn’t I say something?” John asked distractedly. He looked me up and down again before his eyes came to rest on my very low cut neckline. “You look ... amazing,” he admitted, “although I’m not sure if I like every male here being able to see that much of you,” he gestured vaguely at my chest.
“This is what all the Stargate teams will be wearing this summer,” I joked. “Complete with combat boots of course,” I lifted the dress a few inches so he could see I still had my boots on.
“Nice,” John laughed, standing close behind me and running a finger down my exposed neck. “When we get out of here we’ll have to ask if we can keep the dress,” he whispered in a serious, seductive tone, leaning down to breathe hotly on my neck.
“Yes, and I’ll wear it every time you wear your dress blues,” I countered.
“Seeing you in this dress might just be worth the strangulation,” John said, not entirely joking.
“Okay, shall we do this thing?” I stepped away from him and took his arm.
Chapter 23: You were supposed to be back hours ago!
I have to say that sharing dinner with the nobles of that planet was possibly the most disgusting display of decadence and ... well poor table manners that I’d ever seen. The villagers clearly lacked a sufficient diet and I was outraged at the appalling waste I could see before me. I was seated beside the Lord Protector’s son Tavius and John was sitting opposite me beside his daughter Mara. That was in line with what I’d discussed with John earlier which just made me feel all the more apprehensive. Interestingly, although Otho was present, he did not sit at the table with the royal court. The division of classes on the planet was blatantly clear, between the villagers and those who lived in the Tower but also within the Tower itself.
“I've never heard of anyone called Lieutenant Colonel before,” Mara flirted outrageously with John even though she knew he was unavailable. “What does it mean?”
“It's not his name, you simpleton. It's his rank,” Tavius said derogatively. Tavius gave no outward sign that he was interested in anything about me.
“My apologies,” Mara said in embarrassment.
“That's alright,” John excused. “Don't usually stand on ceremony anyway. How about you just call me John?” John looked across at me with an expression that clearly begged for me to get him out of there. I shrugged in response – he was the one who’d thought we should try to blend in.
“Alright, John,” Mara smiled again. She was so ... sweet it was making me sick. I glared across at her but she seemed oblivious to my mood – perhaps Mara wasn’t quite as dumb as she was making out.
“It's obvious to anyone with eyes to see that you're a military man,” Tavius said with an air of distaste. “I find it ... odd that you would bring your wife on what is clearly a military assignment.”
“I’m not just his wife,” I replied on my own behalf. “I could demonstrate ... if you don’t mind being beaten by a woman.” I smiled fiercely, amused when Tavius looked horrified at the idea. He turned back to John, clearly still wanting to get across whatever point he was trying to make.
“You being military makes me wonder,” Tavius said condescendingly. “Why is it you question the actions of my father's soldiers? Do you not agree that discipline is necessary?”
“I guess I just don't think whipping people is a good motivator,” John drawled, appearing unaffected when a few people around the table laughed.
“The villagers are mindless brutes,” Tavius stated. “They understand nothing else.”
“Maybe 'cause they've never known anything else,” John pointed out.
“I don't think that any of us would deny that the peasants can be difficult,” the Lord Protector spoke for the first time. “But how much worse would it be if they fell victim to the Wraith?”
“You protect 'em with these, uh, lights,” John took the opportunity to find out more about their command of the cities defence systems. “Like the one that hit the village today?”
“Of course,” the Lord Protector replied.
“Where do they come from?” John asked him curiously.
“The Lord Protector calls them forth with his mind,” Tavius bragged mysteriously.
“But from where?” John persisted. “I mean, they rise up from the ground, but has anybody bothered to go down there and check it out?”
“You mean the catacombs?” Mara asked distastefully.
“Yeah,” John turned back to look at her. “Whatever you call them.”
“They're dark and filthy,” Mara protested with a grimace. “Why would anyone want to go down there?”
The Lord Protector suddenly grasped his stomach, gasping and groaning in pain. Otho hurried to him and assisted him to his feet - Mara also jumped up from the table and ran around to her father. Only Tavius seemed unaffected by his fathers’ plight.
Otho ordered the servants to take the Lord Protector to his quarters, despite his protests that it was nothing. John walked over to Otho and they watched the Lord Protector leave the room.
“What's wrong with him?” John asked in apparent concern.
“He will be alright,” Otho carefully neglected to actually answer the question. “It isn't the first time this has happened.” Otho then turned and followed the Lord Protector out of the room.
Back in our room, I threw myself onto my stomach tiredly across the bed. “That was the most ... disgusting display I ever hope to see,” I said hotly. “Did you see all that food ... and the villagers practically starving to death! It’s a disgrace!”
“It is,” John agreed. “And there’s nothing we can do about it right now.”
“I know,” I rolled over onto my back and stared up at the ceiling. “What now?” I looked over at John.
John approached the bed and leant across me with his weight on his palms. He kissed first one side of my lips and then the other before moving down and stringing kisses across the cleavage revealed by my dress.
“Much as I’d like to let you enjoy this dress for a bit longer,” I said breathlessly, “there’s no way I’m doing anything remotely like this here. The door is made out of fabric and they could be watching us.”
“True,” John threw himself onto his back next to me. “In which case it’ll look strange if we don’t ... you know.”
“Good point,” I agreed, turning my head just in time to see the surprised look on his face. “So we should pretend we’re all snuggled down here and when it seems everyone has gone to bed I can sneak out and search the lower levels of the city.”
“No way,” John sat up abruptly and looked down at me. “You are not searching the city alone.”
“This is an Ancient city,” I pointed out the obvious, “as big as Atlantis. I haven’t come across anything new on the Wraith telepathy project in weeks and now here I am in a place that could very well hold the clues we’re looking for. I can’t pass up that opportunity!”
“Why do I always find myself doing this?” John asked tiredly, watching me get up and start unlacing my boots.
“Because you know I’m right and you just don’t want to admit it,” I replied. “You have to stay here anyway because I have no doubt Mara is gonna be coming to the door in a short while to proposition you.”
“Doesn’t that bother you?” John asked curiously.
“Do you have any inclination to take her up on the offer?” I looked at him seriously.
“God no!” John shuddered in distaste.
“Then no, it doesn’t bother me,” I replied. “Although I have to admit I’m a little insulted that Tavius had absolutely no interest in me or my ATA genes.”
“Ah well,” John admitted innocently. “That might have had something to do with the fact that I threatened him with bodily harm if he so much as breathed on you.”
“You didn’t,” I laughed when John nodded almost proudly. “I wish I’d thought of that! I guess you’ll just have to tell Mara we had a fight or something and I went somewhere else to sleep. And if you can find out something about what they’re really up to bringing us here before you throw her out that’d be good.”
“Yes Ma’am,” John drawled, amused at my commanding tone.
“Now get me out of this dress,” I turned and presented the back zippered section to him.
“Words I live to hear,” he joked.
We had settled ourselves together on the bed for an hour before I judged it safe to leave the room. After kissing John quickly in farewell I made a production out of storming from the room with an angry expression. Once I’d made it past the main sections they seemed to occupy I targeted the same location where Rodney had found our weapon’s research inventory and headed off. I was unhappy to discover that the transporters were not powered. Without them it was going to be a long walk.
The layout of this city was exactly the same as Atlantis – once I’d arrived at the right lab I attempted to use the gene to gain access but I wasn’t surprised when it remained closed. There was no power getting to this section of the city either but it had been worth a try. I pulled my pack off my back and took out the portable power generator I’d been bringing to Rodney. Prying open the door control cover I changed the positions of two control crystals and then connected the power cables to each. I then used the third control to cross the other two and was rewarded when the door powered up and grated open.
Taking out my torch I shone it into the room from the open doorway.
“Damn,” I thought in frustration. It was empty. Okay, time for plan B which was to look for the room where the Wraith weapon had been on Atlantis. I didn’t expect to find another one of those here but hopefully some other equally powerful research project had been conducted from that room. Quickly packing up my gear I headed out for an even longer journey down to the depths of the city.
I’d jogged most of the way but it still took me over an hour to get there. If I didn’t hurry it would be morning before I made it back to John.
I tried the same technique to open the door but this time it didn’t work. I tried a few other things before realising that I needed some help from Rodney. I also realised that it was morning and I wasn’t going to make it back to John in time.
“John,” I whispered into my radio.
“Sabina, where are you?” John demanded harshly. “You were supposed to be back hours ago!”
“None of the transporters had power,” I explained. “I had to hike down here and it’s a long way.”
“Get your arse back up here right now,” John ordered.
“I need more time,” I said. “I’m here now so it’s pointless for me to return without actually getting into the room.”
“You didn’t even get in yet?” John asked incredulously.
“This is the second location I tried,” I excused. “Besides, I’d like to see you come down here and open these doors when there’s no power!”
“What do you need?” John asked briskly.
“I need Rodney” I requested. “Do you know where he is?”
“He’s on his way to the city via an outside entrance,” John reported. “If you hurry you should be able to get him on the radio before he gets too far.”
“Okay,” I said thankfully. “Do you think you can stall until I can make it back up there?”
“I’ll have to, won’t I?” John said grimly. “Just be careful and check in with me in an hour.”
“Rodney,” I called on the radio. “Do you read?”
“Sabina,” Rodney said impatiently. “Where are you, cause I could really use those things I asked for right about now?”
“I’m in the city, standing outside the door that on Atlantis hid the Wraith weapon,” I said quickly. “I could really use your help.”
“Couldn’t everyone,” Rodney complained. “I don’t think I can make it to your location from here – what do you need?”
“I powered up the door and manipulated the crystals just like you showed me,” I explained, “but the door just won’t open.”
“Okay, tell me what else you see inside the door control panel,” Rodney demanded.
I described them as best I could, enough for Rodney to be able to talk me through a different method for getting in. It still didn’t work but then I thought of putting my hand on the sensor pad too – the door opened right away after that.
“Thanks Rodney,” I said happily.
“If there’s nothing else I’ve got to lower myself into a dark hole now, hoping that an earthquake doesn’t bury me alive,” Rodney complained.
“Good luck with that,” I called out before signing off. I shone my torch inside this room and gasped when I realised it was exactly the same as the one on Atlantis, complete with giant wall puzzle.
“Ah crap!” I said aloud. I was much more proficient in Ancient now, to the point that I could read most of the writing without having to pour over a bunch of books. This would still take me at least an hour though so I radioed back to John early to let him know.
“You’ve got a bit of time,” John said. “Beckett’s coming to look at the Lord Protector. Don’t touch anything that looks anything like that Wraith weapon,” John ordered.
“I won’t,” I agreed fervently.
An hour later I had a translation written out and I’d decided which symbols needed to be turned. It was a lot harder to do by myself but eventually I turned the last circle into position and was rewarded by the sound of the wall sliding open.
Torch at the ready I cautiously looked inside, relieved that the room didn’t contain another wraith weapon. There was a long table in the middle of the room that was empty save a familiar circular device.
“Yes!” I punched the air happily. Pulling out the second empty pack I’d brought along just in case I carefully packed the device inside. Tidying up the rest of my gear I shouldered both packs and pulled out my radio to report in to John.
“John? ... John do you read? ... Colonel Sheppard do you copy?” Feeling worried that John hadn’t responded I tried next to contact Rodney. Also no response. What was going on?
Running out of the room I started the long journey back up to the main level of the city. “Ronan, Teyla, do you copy?” I called as I continued running.
“Sabina,” Teyla acknowledged immediately. “Are you with Colonel Sheppard?”
“No,” I replied. “I was hoping you were in contact with him.”
“No,” Teyla replied. “We lost contact some minutes ago and have been unable to raise Doctor McKay either.”
“I’m on my way back up to the Gateroom level,” I said. “I’ll let you know if I find out anything.”
Realising that John had somehow gotten himself into trouble again, I increased the pace as much as I was able, clutching my radio in my hand. I’d made it back to the populated area and was surprised that no one seemed to be around.
Since I hadn’t been able to talk to John I wasn’t sure whether he’d been able to find out what was really going on with the ATA gene. So when I saw the room full of scrolls and books I decided it was worth a quick look around. Many of the scrolls were about genealogy – they’d traced back the royal family twenty generations and documented the presence and strength of the ATA gene as well as all the matches that had been made to ensure the gene survived.
On scroll in particular caught my attention. It was a copy of an earlier text when the Ancients had only just deserted the city to rejoin Atlantis at the height of the war. One of the Ancients had documented the successful integration of the gene into the general population. Before I could read any more John’s voice finally came through my radio – he was trying to contact Rodney. I hadn’t realised how tense I’d been about his situation until I felt myself relax when it sounded like he was okay.
“Rodney, come in,” John requested.
“Sheppard,” Rodney said in surprised delight. “Are you alright?”
“I'm fine,” John dismissed the concern. “Listen, I need you to pull the ZPM and cut the power right away or Ronon and Teyla are dead.”
“I already know all that,” Rodney replied. “Look, unfortunately I'm cut off from the ZedPM.”
“There's gotta be something you can do,” John insisted.
“Yeah, I'm workin' on it!” Rodney protested.
“Well, work faster!” John demanded impatiently.
“John?” I broke into the conversation to report in.
“Sabina, what’s your position?” John asked briskly.
“I’m in Otho’s office, near the Control Room,” I replied. “What do you want me to do?”
“Get as close to the Control Room as you can without being detected,” John instructed. “I’ll meet up with you once I’ve done one more thing.”
“Acknowledged,” I said, reluctantly turning off my radio just in case it gave away my position. I thought about just reading the rest of the scroll first but I wasn’t sure how long John would be and he tended to get ... grumpy when it was obvious I’d done what he asked only after I’d finished what I’d been doing. Instead I rolled the scroll back up and stuck it in my pack to read back on Atlantis ... I could always return it later if we established a trade agreement with the royal family.
I peaked around the corner and discovered that the corridor leading to the Control Room was just as deserted as the rest of the populated area had been. I made my way cautiously forward until I could spy the room without being seen. As luck would have it something was going on in the throne room below and no one was in the Control Room either.
I crept to the edge and looked down to see Otho reclined in the command chair with his eyes closed. What the hell had John been thinking giving that guy the ATA gene therapy?! The room began to shake and I wondered exactly what plan John and Rodney had come up with. Otho was still concentrating on something when the power cut out and the chair returned to its upright position. He looked around in bewilderment just as John, Carson and Mara walked in.
“You,” Otho accused. “This is your doing.” He turned to the guards and yelled “Seize them!”
“You're only Lord Protector if you can control the Chair,” John reminded everyone in the room as he walked towards Otho. “You said it yourself. It's over.” John turned to the members of the court and added “you don't have to bow down to this man, or Tavius, or anyone else.”
I watched in disbelief as behind John’s back Otho pulled a knife from his belt.
“John!,” I jumped up and yelled. “Behind you!”
Otho ran towards John with the knife extended. John turned just in time and ducked away. Otho turned and slashed at Johns middle but John jumped backwards to avoid the blow. Otho tried again but this time John grabbed his wrist with one hand and ripped the knife out of Otho’s hand, slashing Otho across the palm in the process. Otho cried out in pain as John stood ready to defend the next attack. Otho looked down at the blood rapidly appearing on his palm and then up at John.
“Tavius was right about one thing,” he smiled at John. “I do have a fair knowledge of poisons.” His knees buckled and he collapsed to the floor, obviously dead.
It was easy after that to extradite ourselves out of the royal court and reunite with the rest of team Sheppard. Mara and Tavius stepped forward to provide some leadership until the long term governing of the city and surrounding villages could be agreed on. John managed to secure a deal for drones and Jumpers in exchange for medicine and the promise of future help.
We’d packed everything into the Jumper and were all set to head off for Atlantis before anyone remembered to ask me whether I’d been successful.
“Did you find anything?” Rodney asked curiously.
“Not much,” I said unhappily, pausing before continuing with a grin. “Only another weapons research inventory device!”
“Well done,” Teyla congratulated me.
“Well let’s hope it’s got something different on it than the one we’ve already got,” I replied.
“Did I tell you I got drones and Jumpers?” John tried to brag to Rodney, part of their ongoing battle for supremacy.
“Yes you did,” Rodney said snidely, “about twenty times already.”
“I got the throne too,” John teased. “Turned it down of course.”
“And what about the girl, did you get her too?” Rodney forgot himself, flushing red when he saw the look I was directing at him. “I mean ...” he trailed off miserably.
“Already got one of those,” John beamed at Rodney happily, enjoying his discomfort. “Did I tell you about the dress?”
“Yes!” we all chorused, just as John flew the Jumper through the Stargate.
Chapter 24: I want you to take these
Prior to my trip to the Tower with John I’d been on a few missions with my team. I was already beginning to feel an old hand at stepping through the gate. Contrary to what John said that first day, he did always manage to be somewhere in the gate room when we returned which always resulted in a low key public hello. Goodbyes however were always said in private so I was confused on my first mission after our trip to the Tower when John followed me to the Gateroom.
“John?” I raised an eyebrow in query.
“I want you to take these,” John requested, holding up a couple of dangerous looking blades complete with scarabs. “Hide one in your boot and the other up your sleeve.”
“Okay,” I said with a puzzled frown, taking them and putting them carefully where he’d suggested, making sure they wouldn’t cut me if I jumped around too much. “Why?”
“You never know when you might need some extra ... protection,” John said simply. Before I could comment John pulled me into a fierce hug. I was so surprised at that, given we were both on duty, that I didn’t offer any resistance.
“Are you okay?” I pulled back a little and looked up at him in concern. There was a look in his eyes I hadn’t seen before that had me a little worried.
“Not really,” John admitted, still maintaining his hold on me like he really didn’t want to let me go.
“Do you want me to ...” my voice dwindled off as I looked at him, unsure what to say.
“You have to go,” John replied. “It’ll be fine.”
“You’re not convincing me here,” I protested, still trying to figure out what was going on. We stood staring at each other for a few moments before our reverie was interrupted by Major Lorne requesting the dial up of the gate.
“I have to go,” I almost whispered.
“You do,” John looked at me intently, seemingly struggling with himself. “Ah hell,” he muttered before swooping down and kissing me passionately. There was a hint of desperation in John’s behaviour that drove the kiss into dangerous territory for such a public display. I had certainly forgotten where I was and only came back to myself when the gate kawoosh roared out behind me.
“Um,” I pulled away distractedly,”... I better ... um ...”
“Be careful,” John ordered, running a hand down my hair before urging me towards the gate. I nodded without response, then turned and followed Major Lorne through the event horizon.
“What was that all about?” Major Lorne asked once I’d emerged from the gate onto M6B-373.
“I guess Colonel Sheppard just wanted to ... say goodbye,” I replied, still dazed and a bit shaky on my feet.
“That was one hell of a goodbye!” Major Lorne teased.
“Yeah,” I blushed slightly. “Which way are we headed?”
“Teyla’s contact said the village was a few miles away in that direction,” Major Lorne pointed through the trees to the left of the gate. “Lieutenant Brown, you take point, Parker, you watch our six. Sabina, you’re with me. Let’s move out.”
The walk to the village was going to take over an hour. Major Lorne took his job seriously but was also friendly and personable. I counted myself lucky to be on his team ... although I suspected that it was John rather than luck that had got me that particular spot.
“This is really nice,” I commented, gesturing to the majestic trees that towered above us. It was a very sunny day and the trees were sparse enough that sunlight made its way easily to the ground.
“Looks just like every other planet we’ve gated to,” Major Lorne pointed out.
“You’re as jaded as Colonel Sheppard,” I said without any real complaint. Major Lorne looked almost pleased to be compared with John, even in a not exactly positive way.
“Do you think the villagers will agree to trade with us?” I asked the Major when we’d been walking for about half an hour.
“Teyla was confident they would appreciate the chance to acquire new medicines,” Major Lorne replied.
“She told me not to approach them about the ruins until after we’d struck a trade deal,” I said. “They believe the ruins to be sacred – Teyla thought they might let me look at them if they felt they could trust us.”
“I’m sure –“ Major Lorne stopped abruptly when Lieutenant Brown raised a hand out in front of us. We all stopped, looking around to see what Brown had detected.
“DART!” Brown yelled.
“HEAD BACK TO THE GATE!” Major Lorne ordered, grabbing my arm and pulling me around, urging me to run back the way we’d come.
Never gladder of all the morning runs I’d done in the last year I easily kept up with the others as we sprinted back through the trees. What had taken us half an hour to walk took only minutes at a dead run and we burst through the trees to the welcome sight of the Stargate. Lieutenant Brown veered off to the DHD to dial Atlantis while the rest of us took up defensive positions near the tree line. The event horizon settled into place and the IDC was sent through.
“GO!” yelled Major Lorne, pushing me forward before turning to make sure Lieutenant Parker was also moving. It happened in the blink of an eye. The Wraith Dart screamed overhead, collection beam skimming the ground. It passed across our path to the gate and ...
... I opened my eyes to find myself encased in a Wraith cocoon.
“Ah Crap!” I said, feeling the panic rise and spread throughout my entire body.
“You’re okay, you’re okay,” I reassured myself shakily. “You’ve just become the Wraith version of a packed lunch ... but you’re okay.”
This was seriously bad ... I could barely stop myself from flying into a mad frenzy in an effort to escape. This was so not the time for me to discover that I really didn’t like being enclosed and unable to move my limbs.
“Okay, think,” I ordered myself. “What would John do?” John! That was it! My arms were trapped at my sides but if I was careful I should be able to get to one of the knives I’d hidden and use it to cut my way free.
Grimacing in discomfort I contorted my position enough to get some movement around my arm. I had the knife positioned between my shirt and jacket sleeves, handle down. By bending my hand forward over my palm as far as I could I managed to get a finger on the edge of the handle and pull down. It was a slow process but eventually I’d moved the blade out of the scarab enough that I could shake it into my palm.
“Okay, now we’re cooking,” I muttered as I set to work hacking at the thick weblike structure that covered the entrance to the cocoon. Every now and then I paused, listening hard, but heard no other movement nearby.
Finally I managed to cut through enough of the structure that I was able to push myself out into a long corridor stretching off in either direction. I was covered in a sticky mess that made my skin crawl – I had to pause to remove as much of it as I could. There were cocoons on either side of me but none of them were occupied – I took that as a good sign that the rest of my team had not been culled.
Picking a direction at random I moved as silently as I could down the corridor, wishing I had a weapon besides the knives. The Wraith had taken my gear but clearly hadn’t bothered to search me thoroughly. Lucky for me. I have to say that a Wraith ship was creepy on a level beyond anything I’d ever experienced. It was dim and cold and the fact that it was organic as well as mechanical made me feel like I was walking through something’s insides ... the fact that there was a decidedly unpleasant scent in the air and weird sounds of movement from inside the walls made me think of all the more ... disgusting parts of an animal I could be walking through.
I really had no idea where I was going ... I was counting on recognising something useful if I were lucky enough to stumble upon it. Unfortunately my luck that day seemed to be weighed very heavily on the bad side and instead of finding inspiration for escape I found two Wraith guards patrolling the corridor.
They saw me straight away and moved menacingly towards me – stunners pointed in my direction. Knowing it was futile I still turned and attempted to run back down the corridor. I say attempted because they hit me with a stun shot almost immediately. I had just enough time to appreciate how excruciating a Wraith stun blast was before I passed out.
I made the gate address for the planet (M6B 373) up – if by some weird freaky chance that turns out to be a real gate address it was completely unintentional!