ShaViva's Stargate Fan ... Stuff


Fortunate Journey Season Two Part Three

Chapter 25: Now see, that’s gonna stain

Waking this time on a very hard floor I at first had no idea where I was. I opened my eyes slowly and looked up at the ceiling. Okay – still on the Wraith ship – that was bad. But not back in a cocoon – was that bad or good? Before I could decide two guards arrived and opened my cell door. They each grabbed an arm and dragged me down the corridor. I was still feeling the effects of the stun and couldn’t completely carry my own weight as I stumbled along between them.

“Where are we going?” I gasped out, feeling the panic starting to spiral out of control again. How did John handle this? I could barely think, let along keep my head enough to work out a plan of attack.

We’d arrived at a large chamber with a very high ceiling and what could only be described as a throne at the far end. Along the walls yellow pin pricks of light emerged from the floor and travelled in the air almost to the ceiling. The guards halted a few steps into the chamber and stood with heads bowed. I had been looking around curiously but my gaze was quickly drawn towards the throne when a slight sound alerted me to the presence of someone else.

“You escaped our storage cell,” the Wraith Queen rasped in a weird echoing voice. She was draped over the throne and fulfilled every description I’d ever heard from John. Her hair was long and black streaked with silver ... down her neck to her chest were black tattoos in a pattern that probably meant something. She was attractive in a grey, waxy, inherently evil way ... if you could get over the teeth which I so couldn’t.

“Yeah well I find it really hard to sleep anywhere other than my own bed,” I quipped somewhat nervously, deciding to take a page out of the John Sheppard book on Wraith Queen interrogations. “Not that your hospitality wasn’t lovely and all.”

“You do not belong on the planet we culled - where are you from?” the Queen demanded, getting up and walking slowly towards me.

“I come from a land down under,” I half sang. “You wouldn’t like it though – very hot.”

“Do not mock me!” The Queen invaded my personal space, baring her teeth as she hissed in fury. She raised her hands beside my head and glared at me intensely ... I felt the force of her mind slamming into my own ... I could hear her voice in my head commanding for me to yield. It was more powerful than anything I’d experienced previously but not unfamiliar. It was that fact that enabled me to resist her initial attack. She was trying to bring me to my knees and although I could feel my knees shaking I held strong and managed to remain standing.

The Queen roared in fury, slapping my face before stepping back and pacing in front of me.

“Hey!” I protested, raising a hand to wipe at my lip and discovering she’d actually drawn blood.

“You will tell me what I wish to know,” she promised menacingly.

“You’d have to treat me a lot better than this before I’d even tell you the time,” I smiled mockingly. From some unknown place deep inside I drew the strength to not only resist panicking but also to give the impression that I wasn’t even scared. I was though. Scared that is – I was really scared.

“Insolence!” she roared, slapping me again. Not to state the obvious but that really hurt! Blood from my broken lip ran down into the neckline of my white t-shirt.

“Now see, that’s gonna stain,” I complained in an annoying whining tone. I don’t know what was driving me ... all I knew was that John’s smart arse tactics with the Wraith Queens had always worked well for him in the past. Perhaps the Wraith were so used to a lack of resistance after so many centuries they lacked the ability to control their reactions. That certainly seemed to be the case with this Queen – her eyes were almost bulging out of their sockets and if her teeth weren’t so pointy I’m sure she’d have been grinding them right about then.

Again she slammed the force of her mind towards me ... expecting exactly that I had decided on a different tactic. Any wall, no matter how well braced, would fall if enough power was thrown against it. But if you couldn’t see the wall ... well that would make it all the more difficult. So I filled my mind with a constant stream of ‘noise’ – song words, book outlines, maths equations, and computer programs – anything I could use to confuse her.

We struggled like that for a few seconds before the Queen again broke off her attack. Screaming in frustration she strode away, motioning for the guards to take me back to my cell.

I was all set to try escaping with the blade I still had in my boot but my plan was thwarted because as soon as they pushed me inside one of the guards stunned me again.


I woke up much as before although this time I knew immediately where I was. Trying to shake off the effects of the Wraith stun I rolled onto my hands and knees, dropping my head to the floor when the room started spinning. I was glad I didn’t have a mirror handy because from the way my face was feeling I would not be a pretty sight.

After a few moments I was able to pull myself slowly to my feet and stumble over to the cell door. I thought maybe I could use what I’d learned about Wraith telepathy from Teyla to activate the door controls. After all, I was already experienced in controlling technology with my mind. I tried using a similar technique to that required by the Ancient technology but had no success in the time it took for the guards to come and get me again.

As the guards escorted me back to the Queens chamber I wondered how long I’d been on the Wraith ship and whether there was any chance that Atlantis had mounted a rescue mission. I would just be deluding myself if I relied on that though, because I knew they’d have no way of knowing where I was – hell I was there and I had no idea where there was!

“Are you ready to cooperate?” the Queen had obviously calmed down since our last encounter.

“Not really,” I said making a big production out of looking around the chamber. “I like the whole ... disco thing you’ve got going here by the way,” I told her. “Kinda reminds me of Saturday Night Fever – but without the tight pants.” I turned and looked her up and down mockingly, “Wait a minute – there they are!”

“You’re insolence will not provoke me this time,” she almost grinned, showing me more of those teeth than I really wanted to see up close.

“You can’t blame a girl for trying,” I excused my behaviour, wondering what tact she was going to take this time.

“I can be ... generous to those who give me what I want,” the Queen offered, with a cunning look on her face. Okay – so bribery was the next card on the table.

“You have nothing to offer that I could possibly want!” I laughed at the very thought.

“How about the lives of your friends?” the queen suggested smugly.

“What friends?” I asked with an obviously confused look on my face.

“The ones who were with you on that planet,” she explained. I looked closely at her expression but the waxy skin and protruding teeth left little room for interpretation of subtle emotion. The best I’d been able to work out so far was when the Queen was angry or really happy about something.

“I’ll tell you what,” I offered reasonably. “If you can describe even one of these friends you say you have then I’ll consider it.” When she turned away in angry frustration I breathed a silent sigh of relief. “I didn’t think so,” I said smugly.

“But you can’t be sure,” the Queen turned back to me in calculation. “Are you really willing to risk the lives of others?”

“I’m gonna have to go with yes,” I replied simply.

The Queen moved faster than I’d expected, slamming a knee up into my stomach. While I was doubled over in pain she launched her mental attack. I was hurting and not completely ready but again was able to slam my own forces back at her. We engaged in a silent battle for a few seconds even though it was clearly a stalemate – kind of like sword fights in old movies when the protagonists crossed swords but neither could break the others hold.

“You are strong,” the Queen acknowledged, breaking off her attack. My initial resistance had angered her but now she seemed intrigued ... for some reason that made me a hell of a lot more nervous than her anger had.

‘You might as well just let me go,” I instructed helpfully. “Ask any of my friends ... I’m really a lot of trouble most of the time.”

“If you won’t tell me what I want to know there is no point in keeping you alive,” the Queen leered at me. “I will end this by draining your life – your defiance will satisfy my hunger in a way it hasn’t been satisfied in many years.”

“I wouldn’t recommend that ... I’d probably give you indigestion,” I warned nervously. Inside I was quaking at the very thought ... I’d never seen the Wraith feed and John had carefully edited his accounts to remove any kind of description of what happened beyond the whole hand thing.

“We shall see,” the Wraith queen promised.

Rather than waiting to see what she’d do next, I slammed my mind at hers just as she raised her hand over my chest. My only goal was to prevent her hand from connecting and I applied my full force to that alone. I knew from previous experience that the Wraith mind was dark and ugly and driven primarily by hunger. The Queen was different – the overriding hunger was still there but with it came calculation and deception and a keen intelligence.

I was surprised the Queen didn’t push me out immediately ... I didn’t pause to think about why that might be. Instead I held that block on her hand while trying to see anything else that might be useful. The Queen was concentrating just as intently on me ... I could only hope that she wasn’t picking anything useful up from behind the noise I continued to project out in all directions.

When it looked like the Queen was actually beginning to shake with the effort of holding me off I took the opportunity to move the conflict to the physical level. I knew the Wraith were both stronger and faster than I could ever hope to be. But this Wraith was distracted and weakened by the mental effort she’d already expended. The element of surprise allowed me one free shot and I tried to make the most of it. I leaped at her, going for the jugular and slamming a hard chop across her neck. Hoping that would take her out as it would a human opponent I still followed up quickly with an elbow to her nose.

The Queen howled in rage, clawing at her throat for air as disgusting Wraith blood spurted from her nose. The two guards who’d remained in the room ran towards me, pointing their stun guns but unwilling to use them because my close proximity to their Queen might mean they’d hit her instead of me. One of the guards rushed me with a Wraith knife - I pushed the Queen straight at him but he still slashed at me as he fumbled to keep the Queen upright. Ducking around his other side I grabbed the stun gun and got off a quick shot. Spinning I fired two quick blasts at the other guard before turning back and blasting multiple stun shots in the direction of the queen.

When I was sure they were all down for the count I ran over to the Queens console, put my hands on the control and used what I’d gleaned from her mind to access the Hive ship schematics. Their systems were different from the Ancient technology ... there the technology itself did most of the work – you just had to be open to the connection and focussed in terms of mental control so the machines would do what you wanted them to. The Wraith technology seemed to require a much more intense mental effort – you had to force your way into the neural interface, force it to register the presence of the Wraith gene, and then impose enormous control to command whatever action was required. Maybe in time I could get just as good at that as I was with the Ancient stuff but for now it was all I could do to focus enough to find out where the Dart Bay was.

Taking the stun guns with me I ran out of the Queens chamber, sprinting down the corridor. When I say ran I mean limped – I hadn’t been quite quick enough and the guard had managed to slice my thigh. It stung like hell and I could feel the blood beginning to soak my pants but I didn’t risk stopping to see how bad it was. There were surprisingly few guards throughout the ship – I guess the Wraith weren’t used to their food fighting back. I only had to stun a couple of them to reach the Dart Bay. I said a silent thank you to Rodney who had continued to give me all the intel on the Wraith language, including what he’d learned about Wraith Darts while working with Lieutenant Ford.

I knew the Dart would go on automatic pilot to exit the Hive ship once I’d activated it – once clear of the ship I’d have to fly the Dart somewhere and contact Atlantis from there. It was John’s instructions on flying a Puddle Jumper as well as what I’d learnt about flying in general that saved me. Still, flying a Wraith Dart was much more difficult than I would have expected. My head was pounding only a few minutes into the flight as I struggled to keep control and fly in a straight line.

My first bit of good fortune in days was the discovery that the Hive ship was in orbit over a planet with a space gate ... relying on the Puddle Jumper to provide me with the crucial 7th symbol I’d need to dial a gate address I breathed a sigh of relief when the dialling sequence to M7G 677 (the only address I could remember off the top of my head) completed and the wormhole opened. Somehow I managed to fly the Dart through the gate, arriving to a sunny day on the planet with all the kids.

Knowing I couldn’t fly the ship near their settlement I instead dialled M6B 373 immediately and ended up back on the planet I’d started the mission from. Knowing the Wraith had completed their cull and were long gone I thought it the safest place to hide – surely that would be the last place they’d look.

The headache the Queens attack had caused was getting steadily worse as I grappled to control the Dart. I didn’t think I’d be able to land so I flew it into orbit instead and deactivated all the systems. The pain from my ribs coupled with the loss of blood from my thigh wound was making me light headed. “I’ll just have a little rest,” I thought, “then I’ll try landing the Dart on the planet.

Authors Note:

“I come from a land down under” is taken from the song of the same name by Men at Work – being an Aussie and all I just couldn’t resist! chevron7 - I hope you liked the Aus reference too!!

I don't know if a Puddle Jumper can provide the 7th symbol for a stargate address but I'm assuming it can - especially for space gates how would they know the return address to Atlantis unless the Jumper can work it out??

Chapter 26: Do you want to tell me the whole thing?

That was my last thought for some time. When I awoke I was still sitting in the Wraith Dart surrounded by silence. My headache was still intense and I felt almost as dizzy as I had before I’d lost consciousness. The temptation to just close my eyes and go back to sleep was intense. But I was nothing if not stubborn and I was determined to make it back to Atlantis.

The question was, how? I’d initially thought to just travel back to Atlantis from M6B 373 but I was pretty sure the Dart wouldn’t fit in the Gateroom so that wasn’t an option. I was also hesitant to make contact with Atlantis at that point because it just seemed that my escape from the Hive ship had been too easy. Lieutenant Ford had escaped from one too but he was a trained soldier hyped up on the Wraith enzyme. Because I was determined not to do anything to alert the Wraith that Atlantis still stood, that left me with very few options.

I was kind of drifting as I tried to think up some kind of out of the box solution when I noticed something coming towards me. As it got closer I realised it was a Puddle Jumper. Even though I couldn’t see I was sure that John was piloting the Jumper – I felt better because he always had a clever idea for fixing things that needed fixing.

“Sabina?” John tapped into the Darts communication system somehow.

“John!” I slurred my words slightly as I grinned at his Puddle Jumper. I was so far out of it that I didn’t even wonder how he’d known to come back to the planet for me.

“Are you fit to fly that Dart back to Atlantis?” John’s voice was sharper than before.

“What?” I said distractedly, drifting for a moment. “John? You found me!”

“Sabina!” John’s voice took on that command edge that always made me snap to attention. I shook my head which aggravated my intense headache but also seemed to bring the world back into focus.

“I’m injured a little but I should be able to make it,” I said more clearly.

“Okay,” John said in relief. “We’re gonna fly through the gate to the planet Rodney and I found that stranded Wraith on – it’s only 15 hours back to Atlantis from there.

“I don’t think I can stay conscious for 15 hours,” I admitted uneasily. “I’m really struggling with fatigue and flying this thing’s giving me an excruciating headache.”

“You won’t have to,” John promised. “The Daedalus is waiting for us there – they’ll beam you straight to the infirmary and the Dart to the F302 bay.”

“Okay,” I agreed. “I’m ready.”

I followed him back down to the planet and through the wormhole. The sight of the Daedalus hanging in space was a welcome relief – knowing I was finally safe I let go of my control and blacked out.

When I woke up I found my situation had finally improved – I was in the Atlantis infirmary.

“You’re awake,” John’s voice came from behind me. I turned my head slowly and saw him occupying a chair beside my bed, palm unit in one hand like he’d been working while waiting for me to wake up.

“Looks like it,” I replied lightly. “How long was I out?”

“Nearly 24 hours,” John stood up and sat down on the bed beside me. “You’ve got a cracked rib and you lost a lot of blood from that cut on your thigh - ten stitches Carson said. Plus you’re partially dehydrated and your systems a bit out of whack from the Wraith stun, and I suspect you’ve got the mother of all headaches.”

“Oh,” I didn’t know what to say. “Was I gone long ... it only seemed like a day or so to me but they stunned me a couple of times so ...?”

“Three days,” John said starkly. “The most frustrating three days of my life ... I didn’t know where you were and we had no clues we could follow.”

“I’m sorry,” I said miserably. “It wasn’t my fault ... I ran as fast as I could.”

“Lorne said as much,” John admitted. “When the rest of the team came through the gate without you they all reported the same thing ... that you were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

“Hey – story of my life!” I quipped, trying to ease the tension between us.

“Well you didn’t have to go to such lengths to show me what it’s like to be the one waiting around for news,” John accused with as good of a smile as I was likely to get under the circumstances.

“When do I get out of here?” I was impatient to return to my usual routine as soon as possible.

“Carson wants to keep you another 24 hours and then you’ll be able to recuperate in your quarters,” John reached out a hand and turned my face up towards him. “You’ve got a pretty nice shiner there Scotty,” he teased. “Not to mention a split lip.”

“That bitch slapped me!” I said indignantly.

“Been there,” John shook his head ruefully. “What’d you say to her?”

“Nothing much,” I looked away guiltily. I didn’t think John would be impressed that I’d deliberately tried to provoke the Queen.

“Sabina?” John said warningly.

“Oh all right,” I muttered, turning back to look at him. “I just took a page from the John Sheppard book on Wraith interrogations. Apparently they liked that just a much coming from me as they did when it came from you.”

“Do you want to tell me the whole thing?” John asked quietly.

“I do,” I promised, “just ... can we do it when I’m out of here?”

“Sure,” John agreed. I wanted to talk to him some more but I couldn’t hold the yawn in – apparently being unconscious for hours didn’t actually count as sleep because I was still really tired. “I’ll let you get some sleep,” John said, rising to stand beside my bed. He leaned down and kissed the uninjured side of my mouth gently, ruffling a hand through my hair. “I’m glad you’re all right,” John leant his forehead against mine for another moment before turning and leaving the room.

I had quite a few visitors the next day, including all the members of my team who kept apologising for not being the ones taken in the Wraith beam. Teyla, Ronan and Rodney also visited.

“I hear you’ve joined the stunner club,” Rodney greeted me enthusiastically.

“I didn’t know there was a club,” I commented. “What are the perks?”

“Ah ...,” Rodney stammered, momentarily at a loss for words.

“Thanks for the rescue,” I said sincerely while he was still trying to think of something.

“Sheppard was the one who knew where to retrieve you – he also worked out how to get you and the Dart back here,” Rodney pointed out.

“Yeah, and you were the one that gave me all that stuff on Wraith Darts,” I said. “Not to mention getting the communications working between the Puddle Jumper and the Dart.”

“You’re ... ah ... you’re welcome,” Rodney acknowledged.

“We are very glad to see you back on Atlantis,” Teyla said. “We were all very concerned when Major Lorne’s team returned without you.”

“Thanks Teyla,” I said, smiling. I turned to look at Ronan, who’d been silent the whole time. “What about you?” I asked.

“I had no doubt you’d find a way to escape,” Ronan stated, paying me the greatest compliment I could hope to get from him.

“Nice,” I looked at him with the sheen of tears in my eyes.

Chapter 27: How come you didn’t come visit me today?

Finally Doctor Beckett cleared me to return to my quarters to recover. He’d given me permission to do light duty as long as I checked in with him once a day. The only thing that had bothered me about my last day in the infirmary was that John didn’t visit. In fact I didn’t hear from him at all. So instead of going to my quarters I decided to go to his instead.

“John?” I called when I got there, all ready to confront him regarding his absence from the infirmary. My mood deflated when I realised he wasn’t there. I stretched out on his bed and waited for him to return.

I was asleep when John got there a few hours later ... slowly I made my way back to consciousness and opened my eyes to find him watching me.

“Hey,” my voice was croaky with sleep. “You’re back.”

“Obviously you can sleep quite easily in my room when I’m not here,” John’s comment came completely out of the blue, “so it must just be when I’m here too that you have a problem!”

“Huh?” I sat up and rubbed a confused hand over my face. “Can you repeat that because I didn’t get a word of it?”

“Nothing,” John muttered, turning away tiredly.

No,” I didn’t let him get away with pretending nothing was wrong. “Clearly it was something ... talk to me.”

“If you can’t figure it out for yourself there’s no point,” John persisted. “Besides, you just got back from being captive to the Wraith for three days ... now isn’t the time to talk about it.”

“Okay,” I agreed uneasily, frowning as thoughts zinged through my mind at lightning speed. “How come you didn’t come visit me today?” I decided to change the subject.

“Got a lot on my mind,” John excused lamely.

“Can you tell me about it?” I asked, suddenly nervous that our relationship was wounded and I was the only one who didn’t understand how.

“Tell me what happened to you first,” John said quietly. He was still standing a few steps away from me and the distance between us felt ... uncomfortable.

“Can you put aside whatever’s bothering you?” I asked hesitantly. “Because I need you over here ... with me ...”

Without a word John crossed the room and sat down on the bed, resting his back against the wall. He pulled me into him so that I could rest my back against his chest, and put his chin down on my hair. “Tell me,” he invited.

It took me a while to work through the whole sequence of events – John hardly said a word during my recitation and remained silent once my explanation had drawn to a close.

“You know how I said that Teer had an Ancient gift – that she could see thoughts and people?” John asked a question that seemed unrelated to what I’d just been saying. When I nodded he continued. “Well what I didn’t tell you is that she could also see future events. She claimed to have seen my face since she was a girl. Teer knew you were coming with the rescue team too – I didn’t think that was gonna happen because you knew how I felt about you going off world. I thought she was full of crap until you guys turned up to rescue me and you were there too.”

“Is that why you were angry with me at first?” I asked hesitantly.

“Partly,” John admitted. “But more because of other things Teer told me would happen that were still in the future at that time. If she was right about you being there then she could be right about everything else and I really didn’t like what she’d told me.”

“She said something about me being captured by the Wraith, didn’t she?” I asked but I already knew the answer.

“What she actually said was that it was necessary for you to come before a Queen,” Jon quoted. “She said you’d return to the place where you were lost and that I had to be there when you did; otherwise you’d never return to Atlantis.”

“That’s how you knew to go back to M6B 373? And why you gave me those knives before the mission?” I asked. “That’s why you taught me how to fly?”

“Yeah,” John admitted. “Although I was gonna teach you how to fly the Puddle Jumpers eventually – Teer just sped up the timetable.”

“So you arranged for me to be part of Major Lorne’s team?” I asked, feeling slightly sick. “You knew what was going to happen and you said nothing?!” I jumped away from him and stood angrily in front of the bed looking down at him.

“I knew you’d react like this,” John said nothing to excuse his behaviour. “I don’t think there’s anything I can say to make this all right for you ... when everything else Teer said came true I knew what she’d said about you would come true too regardless of what I did to stop it. I didn’t want to risk making it worse – what if I’d warned you and then you hesitated when you would have acted if you didn’t know what was going to happen?”

“I don’t see how it could have gotten much worse!” I was still feeling very angry.

“You could have not returned at all,” John’s comment silenced us both. My anger dwindled away as I realised he was right. I could have changed any one of my actions and ended up as Wraith food instead of escaping with a Dart.

“You’re right,” I admitted. “That must have been hard,” I walked back to the bed and sat down beside him again. “Waiting for something bad to happen and knowing you couldn’t do anything to stop it.”

“I wracked my brain for days trying to find a way around it,” John admitted. “In the end the best I could come up with was to make sure you had weapons to help you and that you knew how to fly something should the opportunity present itself.”

“And it’s a good thing you did,” I acknowledged. “I couldn’t have escaped from the storage pod without the knives – we both know what would have happened then. As for the Dart – it was hard enough with all the flying lessons – it would have been impossible without them. How did you know it was going to be that particular mission?” I asked curiously.

“Teer also said that I’d know it was time when we both went to a Spire of Atlantis where none should exist. She told me that you had to travel to the Spire with me or else be lost forever.’

“Did you memorize all that?” I asked incredulously.

“Didn’t have to – she must have done something to make sure I wouldn’t forget,” John admitted.

“So is there anything else you haven’t told me?” I held on to his hand. “Apart from whatever it is you didn’t want to tell me before?”

“Nah,” John said easily. “That’s it.”

“Good!,” I flopped down on the bed and pulled him on top of me. I grinned up at his startled expression.

“Aren’t you injured?” John asked.

“Yeah but I’m sure you can ... get around that somehow,” I looked at him hopefully.

“I’ll see what I can do,” John said with a smile.

Chapter 28: Who else is gonna do this?

 “So let me get this right?” I asked John. “Doctor Weir wants you to voluntarily let yourself get imprinted with another consciousness?”

“Yeah,” John admitted uneasily. We had come down to the commissary for dinner and John seemed to find the tabletop vastly interesting as he avoided my gaze.

“Someone she believes is this Phebus’s husband?” I delved further.

“Yeah,” John flicked a glance at me before looking away uncomfortably.

“And you said yes?!” I said incredulously.

“Elizabeth asked me as a personal favour,” John tried to excuse himself. “What was I gonna say?”

“How about No?” I shook my head in irritation. “How do we even know it was Doctor Weir doing the asking?”

“We don’t,” John admitted. “It’s a difficult situation. If it is Doctor Weir then she’s asking for something knowing it’s difficult so it must be important to her – I don’t want to ignore that ‘cause she doesn’t ask for things for herself very often,” John explained.

“And if it isn’t Doctor Weir?” I asked seriously.

“Then I can’t ask anyone else to do it – maybe from the inside I can find a way to control the outcome,” John said. “Look, Carson assured me the imprinting would only last a few hours, a day at most.”

“Are you asking for my blessing?” I waited until he looked me in the eye before continuing. “Because if you are, I’m not sure I can give it.”

“Who else is gonna do this?” John changed tact.

“I don’t know,” I said in frustration, “but that doesn’t mean it has to be you!”

“Sabina,” John looked at me with a hint of pleading in his eyes. I read the expression on his face and groaned grumpily.

“Okay,” I said reluctantly. “Go do it ... but if it all goes wrong I get to say I told you so.”

“Do you want to come down with me?” John stood up to leave, pausing as it occurred to him that I might want to be there.

“God no,” I denied hastily. “I don’t want to see you cozying up to Doctor Weir if that guy does turn out to be Phebus’s husband! I know, I know – it won’t be you. Just make sure Rodney and Doctor Beckett are both there, okay?”

“They’ll be there,” John promised, leaning down to kiss me in farewell.

Although it was late I knew I’d find it hard to relax ... the possibility of sleep was out of the question until I knew John was okay. I had begun my analysis of the second weapons research inventory device I’d taken from the Tower planet. I headed off to my lab, hoping work would be enough to take my mind off what was happening with John and Doctor Weir.

“This is Doctor Weir. Attention all personnel. Colonel Sheppard is not - I repeat, not - who he pretends to be.” Doctor Weir’s address came clearly through my earpiece when I’d only just arrived at the lab. “If you find him, secure the area and contact me immediately. I'll deal with him myself.”

“What the hell?” I said aloud. How had it gone so quickly from a husband and wife wanting one last goodbye to Doctor Weir warning everyone that John was dangerous? Doing an about face I headed for the Control Room to find out what was going on.

When I got to the Control Room, Rodney was strangely absent. The reason for that became apparent a few minutes later when he and Colonel Caldwell arrived with Doctor Beckett in tow and announced that something had gone wrong with the imprinting. The entities were in complete control and they were not very happy with each other.

“We may be able to track their progress using the life signs detectors,” Rodney suggestion.

“How?” Carson asked. “They'll read as human. We won't be able to differentiate.”

“Security teams travel in groups of two or more,” Caldwell pointed out. “They'll be the only individual signals travelling through the city.”

“I might be able to identify which signal is Colonel Sheppard’s,” I offered.

“Do it!” Caldwell ordered. He turned to Rodney, and said in an impatient voice “what are you waiting for?”

While Rodney and Caldwell argued about who should actually be in charge during the current crisis I tapped into the sensor system and used my familiarity with John’s signal to locate him.

“This one,” I pointed to the map. Rodney had just reluctantly agreed that Caldwell was in charge. Looking at where I was pointing he frowned.

“Where is he headed?” Rodney muttered.

“Sir,” one of the Control Room technicians called out. “I'm picking up some chatter I think you'll want to hear.”

“Put it on speaker,” Caldwell ordered.

“You're the one that likes to run,” John’s voice echoed from the Control Room speakers. It was him but at the same time there was an inflection of speech that was not like John at all. “My ship ran out of fuel before I could even get a clean shot.”

“That was my plan,” Doctor Weir said in a calculating tone. As with John her voice had a strange cadence that made it sound just slightly off.

A sick feeling came over me as it hit home that John and Doctor Weir really were gone for the moment, leaving this Phebus and Thalen in their place.

“You didn't have a plan,” Thalen retorted. “You just wanted me dead.”

“Still do,” Phebus admitted without any hint of apology. “As a matter of fact, I can't wait to see that look of defeat on your face, just one last time.”

“You mean the look on my face when you rammed my fighter, making sure neither one of us would win?” Thalen antagonised. “That was hatred, not defeat, Phebus.”

“Is that any way to talk to your wife?!” Phebus chided. “Thalen?” she paused waiting for a reply but none came. “Run all you like. The moment I find you, you die.”

“Well ... they're headin' straight for divorce,” Carson quipped.

“That whole thing was a ruse,” Caldwell stated what was obvious to all of us. “In fact, I doubt very much if we were ever speaking with Doctor Weir.”

“It was a remarkable impression,” Rodney offered. “I'll give you that.”

“From the sound of it,” Caldwell stated, “we have two fighter pilots who don't know that their war is over.”

“It's much worse than that,” Rodney said in that ill voice he used when pointing out a disaster that no one else had worked out yet. “They know everything about this city -- the layout, defensive systems, how to access weapons.”

“We just need to find a way to stop them without unduly harming the hosts.” Caldwell said it very matter of factly but I didn’t miss the implication.

"Unduly?” I asked quickly. “What does that mean?”

“Well, obviously, some force may be necessary.” Caldwell said simply, before walking away.

“This is just great,” I muttered to Rodney, trying to keep my sensor awareness of John’s position. “I told John this was a stupid idea!” Rodney was just about to make a reply when I held up a hand for him to remain silent.

Crap,” I said. “He’s heading for the power room – is anyone guarding that?”

The lights in the Control Room all went out together, followed quickly by all the display screens. Every console was completely dead. “I guess not,” I answered my own question.

It was not reassuring to find out that Caldwell had put guards at the power room. John – no Thalen – had taken them out and destroyed the secondary power systems at the same time. Rodney was less than impressed when Caldwell insisted vehemently that he had to go down there and fix it so we could get power back.

I didn’t really know what I should do. Part of me knew that John was not in control because he’d never hurt one of his own men. I wondered, if I could just talk to this Thalen, whether I could help John regain control somehow. The Control Room was in darkness so it wouldn’t be hard for me to slip out. I could even get a torch because Carson had left his behind when he’d followed Rodney and the marines down to the power room.

Sneaking silently away from the Control Room I turned on the torch and set off in the general direction of the power room. What Thalen did would be based in part on what he gleaned from John so what would John do in this situation? John had rendered the city into darkness - having night vision goggles would be a definite advantage so my guess was he’d head for the armoury to grab a pair. I was a fair way from there and even though it’d be unlikely that I’d get there in time to intercept him I didn’t really have any other ideas so I headed there anyway.

“Damn,” I whispered once I’d made it to the armoury – there was no sign of Thalen. I waited for a few minutes without result – either Thalen had already been there, or he wasn’t coming.

“Medical team to the south fork Cargo Hold,” John’s Thalen voice came through on the general radio channel. “You have a man down.” The south fork Cargo Hold wasn’t that far from my position – if I hurried I might still be able to catch him.

When I arrived in the Cargo Hold I spotted Ronan lying on the floor immediately. “Colonel Caldwell this is Sabina Scott,” I radioed the Control Room as I ran to Ronan’s side. “I’m here at the Cargo Hold Thalen mentioned – Ronan has a stomach wound and appears to be unconscious. Have you sent the medical team?”

“It’s on its way,” Caldwell acknowledged. “What are you doing there?”

“I just thought I might be able to get through to John if I could talk to Thalen,” I admitted.

“That’s unlikely,” Caldwell stated. “Please return –“

“Can’t talk now, Colonel,” I interrupted before he could issue an order I’d have to obey. “Scott out.” Turning back to Ronan I rolled up my jacket and placed it under his head. Ronan returned to consciousness, groaning in pain. I put a hand on his shoulder to draw his attention to me.

“Hang in there,” I commanded. “Carson’s on his way.”

“Sheppard tricked me,” Ronan rasped painfully.

“Did he ...?” I gestured to Ronan’s wound.

“No,” Ronan winced in pain. “It was Doctor Weir. You’re going after him?”

“I was thinking about it,” I admitted, knowing he wouldn’t try to dissuade me.

“Don’t trust anything he says,” Ronan said heatedly. “Sheppard isn’t in control.”

“I know,” I replied. “I’ll be careful.”

Ronan relaxed a bit and seemed to lapse back into unconsciousness. I was looking around for something to use to apply pressure to the wound when Carson and his team arrived.

“Oh thank god,” I sat back with a relieved sigh. Carson got quickly to work and I was able to slip away again.

I was pretty much stumbling about in the semi darkness for a while just hoping I’d stumble across Thalen before things had gone too much further. When the power came back on suddenly I immediately tapped into the sensor system again. When I did I discovered that John was somewhere in the central tower.

I ran there as quickly as I could, skidding around a corner and slamming into another body. The force of the collision knocked me on my backside. I looked up quickly and was greeted with the sight of John Sheppard looking down at me almost distastefully.

“John,” I slowly got to my feet, keeping my eyes on him the whole time.

“Thalen,” John’s voice contradicted.

“John,” I persisted. “You’re strong – you can fight this!”

“He’s certainly trying,” Thalen shared with an amused grin. “He is screaming in here like you wouldn’t believe.” The weirdness of talking to someone else in John’s body struck me then, fuelling my anger.

“I am so gonna kick your arse when this is over,” I promised, hoping that John really could hear me.

“Your display of touching emotion is really inspiring Sheppard,” Thalen said. “He has doubts about the strength of your feelings you know ... doubts eating at his confidence ... his strength.” Thalen tormented me.

“That’s not true!” I denied angrily. “John knows exactly how I feel. He would never doubt me!”

“Wouldn’t he?” Thalen laughed at my frustrated groan.

“You don’t need to do this!” I said harshly. “Your war is long over – there’s nothing left to fight for anymore.”

“But if I defeat Phebus then my people will have won,” Thalen contradicted. “That is worth fighting for.”

“Don’t you care about the innocent lives you’re using?” I asked harshly. “John isn’t part of your war. And there’s a much bigger war being waged right now against the Wraith – we need him!”

“Interesting,” Thalen spoke slowly. “You’re very important to him ... he’s actually trying to push me out ... and I can’t have that!”

“JOHN,” I yelled, registering that Thalen had raised Ronan’s weapon in my direction.

“Don’t worry,” Thalen’s voice was anything but reassuring. “It won’t hurt a bit.”

“JO-“ my words were halted by the red blast of the stunner.

That’s all I knew until I woke up some time later to the now familiar sight of the infirmary ceiling. Raising a shaky hand to my head I was unhappy to discover that Ronan’s stun had the unpleasant side effect of an aching head.

I turned my head to the side – both John and Doctor Weir were sleeping in adjacent beds across the room.

“Doctor Beckett,’ I called softly.

“Ah, you’re awake,” Carson greeted me. “Feeling okay?”

“Apart from the headache, yeah,” I replied. “Are they okay?” I gestured across to his other patients.

“Colonel Sheppard has been free of the imprint for about an hour.” Carson smiled reassuringly at me. “Phebus is still hanging in there but it’ll only be another hour or so before she has to let go.”

“And Ronan,” I asked quietly.

“Also fine,” Carson replied with a smile. “He’s recovering in post op right now in fact.”

“Can I get out of here?” I looked across at John before turning back to Doctor Beckett.

“’Course you can lass,” Carson replied. “Don’t you want to hang around?”

“They’ll need ... a moment I think, when they wake up,” I got up off the bed, looking around for my jacket before remembering I’d used it as a pillow for Ronan. “Better they do that without me sitting here as a witness. I think I’ll go visit Ronan and then head back to my quarters.”

I slept until mid morning, and, judging that to have been sufficient time for John and Doctor Weir to air any issues they might have because of their experience, headed straight for the infirmary.

Finally,” John complained when he caught sight of my entrance. “Where have you been?”

I walked over to him without replying and whacked his uninjured upper arm - hard.

“OUCH,” John yelled, putting his other hand over the spot. “What was that for?”

“I told you this was a bad idea,” I said heatedly. “The next time you volunteer yourself for something that stupid I’m gonna stun you with Ronan’s gun until you come to your senses.”

“Oh you are, are you?” John challenged, an amused light appearing in his eyes.

“Yes I am,” I confirmed. “You clearly need someone to take care of you because you really suck at taking care of yourself!”

“I’m sorry,” John said regretfully.

“If that’s an apology for willingly letting some other consciousness take you over than I forgive you,” I replied. “If it’s an apology for stunning me, there’s no need. It was my fault anyway – I shouldn’t have been so arrogant as to think that I could influence you like that.”

“I did almost get free,” John offered me some reassurance. “That’s why he stunned you.”

“Was it true?” I asked, not sure I really wanted to know the answer.

“Was what true?” John played it innocent.

“What he said about you doubting me,” I persisted. “Was it true?”

“No!” John denied. “I’ve never-“ he broke off with a groan before admitting reluctantly. “Okay, technically there’s an element of truth there but Thalen took it completely out of context!”

“So you do doubt me?” I asked in a faintly horrified voice.

“NO,” John denied again. “Thalen took one minor detail and used it out of context. I don’t doubt your feelings, okay?!”

“What was the one minor detail then?” I stubbornly refused to let the matter drop.

“Trust me when I say that you really don’t want to be having this conversation here,” John avoided the question. As if to prove him right Doctor Beckett approached to take some readings from John’s monitor.

“Your levels have all returned to normal,” Carson announced. “You’re free to go.”

“Thanks Doc,” John replied, still looking at me.

“You promise it’s not important?” I asked once Carson had moved away again.

“I promise it’s not important right now,” John agreed. “Is that good enough?”

“I guess,” I said, sulking just a little bit.

“Good,” John smiled in relief. “Bring me my clothes will you – I want to get out of here.”

Chapter 29: And Major Lorne?

"Sabina?" I looked up from my work to see John standing in the doorway. I knew immediately that something was very wrong. Since the rest of my team were out on a routine mission to escort Doctor Lindsay to 177 my first thought was for them.

"What happened?" I asked in concern. “Is it Major Lorne?”

"Doctor Lindsay reported that there was a problem during the mission," John admitted. "When we got there the building they were in had been torched to the ground."

"Parker? Brown?" I swallowed hard, already knowing the answer.

"Dead," John put a hand on my shoulder.

"And Evan?" I whispered.

"I'm sorry Sabina," John said softly.

"But they were just here," I protested in disbelief.

"I found Major Lorne’s dog tags in the ashes ... they're gone." John killed the hope I'd been trying to generate.

"But ..." I broke off my protest, tears brimming in my eyes. "Why?" I asked tearfully.

"I don't know but I sent Ronan and Teyla back there and we will find out," John promised, anger still faintly present in his voice.

"What are you going to be doing?" Major Lorne was one of John's men - usually he wouldn't have stopped until he'd punished the person who'd done this.

"Ladon Radim just contacted us," John replied. "Says he's got a ZPM to give us - Doctor Weir wants me around to deal with him."

"I should have been there," I said sickly. John knew immediately that I was talking about the fact that I'd opted out of the routine mission in favour of progressing research on project Imperium.

"There was nothing you could have done," John denied. "We will get to the bottom of this." I could see he didn't want to say it but we were both feeling equal parts relief that I hadn't been there and guilt for being glad about anything when the rest of my team was gone.

"I want to help," I said fiercely.

"Ronan and Teyla have already left," John said. "If they need help when they return I'll let you know." I nodded and silence descended between us. John was watching me carefully, probably waiting for me to break down in tears - I was a little surprised myself that I hadn't already. Maybe all the times John had been in danger had made me more resilient in situations like this ... more probably it just hadn't hit me yet.

"You okay?" he asked in concern.

"No," I said starkly. "But I will be once we've punished the people who did this."

"I have to get back to the Control Room - we're sending a MALP through before we let anyone go search Ladon." John said. "Call me if you need me ... okay?" I nodded silently, watching numbly as John walked away.

Turning back to my laptop I tried very hard to lose myself in my work but my mind was spinning at a 100 miles an hour. Why would someone want to kill Evan and the others? It just didn’t make sense! Realising I would get nothing further done that afternoon I headed instead to the gym. Hitting the punching bag for a bit should get rid of some of the frustration I was feeling.

I was still there when Doctor Beckett came down to see me.

“I thought you’d be here,” Carson said. “I wanted to tell you straight away - it’s not them. I don’t know who those people are but it’s not Major Lorne or the other members of your team.”

“It’s not?” I said in confusion. “Why would someone want to trick us into thinking they were dead?”

“I don’t know lass,” Carson admitted uneasily.

“So Lorne, Parker and Brown could all be alive somewhere,” I realised, feeling almost weak with relief. “What are we doing to find them?”

“Teyla and Ronan have gone back to 177 to investigate,” Carson said. “I’m going to perform a full autopsy on the bodies – maybe they can shed some light on the situation too.”

“Good ... thanks for letting me know Carson.” I said gratefully.

“They’re your team,” Carson pointed out. “I knew you’d be upset and I thought you should know as soon as possible.”

“Have you told Colonel Sheppard?” I asked curiously.

“No lass,” Doctor Beckett admitted. “He’s busy with Ladon Radim – they’re up in Doctor Weir’s office right now actually.”

“Better not interrupt them then,” I decided. “I’ll wait until Teyla and Ronan get back.”

Doctor Beckett and I went our separate ways. Now that my mood had improved with the news that there was still hope the rest of my team were still alive I felt able to return to my work.

“Sabina, this is Sheppard,” John called me over the radio.

“Hey,” I replied immediately. “What’s happening?”

“I just wanted to let you know Rodney and I are heading to the Genii home world,” John said. “Elizabeth wants us to alert them to Ladon’s plan as a show of good faith for our truce. I’ll catch up with you when we get back.”

“Okay,” I said. “Good luck.” It was only after John had signed off that I realised I hadn’t told him the bodies in the infirmary weren’t Lorne and the others. Doctor Weir would surely have told him though so I didn’t think on it again.

Only a short time later John contacted me by radio again to tell me he was back from the Genii home world but that he was heading out again to M6R 867. That was the planet where Ladon had hidden the ZPM and John and a strike team were going in to raid the warehouse. John made it sound like a relatively easy mission and I wished him good luck as always.

When the Gateroom alarm sounded I headed down, hoping it was Teyla and Ronan. Instead a group of Genii soldiers came through the gate ... although they all looked very weak and tired. I found it hard to believe any of these people were actually soldiers. I stood off to the side as Doctor Weir went to greet them.

“Doctor Weir,” a young blood woman said in greeting.

“That's right,” Doctor Weir confirmed.

“I am Dahlia Radim,” the woman replied, offering a hand to Doctor Weir.

“Radim?” Doctor Weir questioned, shaking Dahlia’s hand.

“Yes,” Dahlia confirmed. “I am Ladon's sister.” She looked around before continuing. “Where are our supplies?”

“Where is our ZPM?” Doctor Weir countered.

“Ladon will send it through once we have returned to our world safely,” Dahlia said tiredly.

“I thought you might say that,” Doctor Weir replied. She turned to nod at the marines surrounding the Genii group. The sound of rifles being primed echoed through the gate room ... the marines aimed at the Genii who all looked around as if startled by their changed circumstances.

“What's going on?” Dahlia asked in confusion.

“I'm sorry, but you're being temporarily detained,” Doctor Weir informed her, turning aside and activating her headset radio. “Colonel?”

“Go ahead,” John’s voice came through, indicating that he was somewhere on the other side of the wormhole.

“You have a go,” Doctor Weir said

“Understood,” John confirmed before closing the connection.

Doctor Weir turned back to the group of Genii and suggested they all find a spot to wait.

“Doctor Weir,” I approached her quietly. “These people ... they’re not soldiers. Look at them – some of them can barely stand!”

“Ladon admitted his forces were few and not part of the elite guard,” Doctor Weir said with a worried frown. “There’s nothing we can do until Colonel Sheppard returns.”

It seemed that as soon as the gate had shut down it was opening again ... this time it was Ronan and Teyla.

“How did it go?” Doctor Weir asked as she walked over to them.

“What did we miss?” Ronan asked, looking curiously around the Gateroom.

“We have some guests,” Doctor Weir said simply.

“Yeah, I can see that,” Ronan pointed out the obvious.

“Doctor Weir,” Teyla broke into the conversation. “There is something you need to see.” Teyla glanced at me and added “you should see this too Sabina.”

“Let's go to my office,” Doctor Weir suggested, turning and leading the way up the steps.

Once seated at Doctor Weir’s desk Ronon wordlessly laid out a number of photographs of various members of Atlantis off world teams.

“What's all this?” Doctor Weir asked with a frown.

“It's a wanted list,” Ronan said. “We figure it's on as many worlds as there are languages on the photos.”

“Who would do that?” Doctor Weir questioned.

“We are not sure, but the planet where Lorne's team disappeared is quite poor,” Teyla offered. “It is conceivable they gave up Lorne and his men for some sort of reward.”

“To who?” Doctor Weir asked.

“And why aren't we on it?” Ronan added.

“Excuse me?” Doctor Weir raised an eyebrow at Ronan.

“Sheppard's on the list; McKay is on the list,” Ronan pointed to each picture. “Why aren't Teyla and me?”

“What, you're feeling left out?!” Doctor Weir asked incredulously.

“I just wanna know who thinks I'm not a threat and give 'em a chance to change their mind,” Ronan smiled in a predatory fashion.

“The gene,” I said, looking carefully at all the photographs. “Everyone in these pictures has the gene.”

“The gene of the Ancestors?” Teyla asked.

“Yes.” I agreed. “Naturally or not, all these men possess the ATA gene.”

“But why would someone want people simply because they possess a certain kind of gene?” Teyla asked with a puzzled expression.

“Maybe they think it will hurt our ability to operate the city,” Doctor Weir suggested.

“Why only the men then?” I asked. “There are women on off world teams who have the gene too – myself included. None of our pictures are here.”

“That does not make sense,” Teyla agreed. She turned to Doctor Weir and said “I suggest you call these men back if they are off world.”

“Unfortunately most of these guys are on an operation with Sheppard right now,” Doctor Weir admitted. “We’re raiding Ladon's warehouse and stealing back the ZPM. We detained most of his team when they came here to pick up the weapons we offered them. Once Sheppard and the team get back, I will suspend all their off world activity until we can get to the bottom of this.”

“Doctor Weir, please report to the Infirmary,” Doctor Beckett contacted Doctor Weir over the radio.

“On my way, Carson,” Doctor Weir stood up immediately. Glancing at Teyla and Ronon she said “this is probably about the bodies. You two should come along.”

Happy to leave them to whatever gruesome discovery Doctor Beckett had made in his autopsy I went back down to the Gateroom to see if I could find out more from the Genii.

“You’re not a soldier are you?” I questioned the young woman, Dahlia.

“No,” she admitted reluctantly. “I’m a scientist, like my brother.”

“Why did you come here posing as a soldier then?” I looked at her closely, noticing again how weak and tired she seemed.

“I am ... unwell,” Dahlia admitted. “Our doctors can do nothing ... this was something I could do for my people before I am gone.”

“This is a suicide mission?” I asked, horrified.

“We are all dying, yes,” Dahlia confirmed.

“And your brother let you do this?” my tone was openly disbelieving.

“He wasn’t happy,” Dahlia admitted. “But in the end it was my decision.”

“We have medical facilities here,” I offered. “Perhaps there’s something we can do.”

Dahlia shook her head tiredly, clearly long past the point of retaining any hope that her situation could be improved. I turned away and tapped my headset radio.

“Doctor Weir, this is Sabina,” I said quietly.

“Go ahead,” Doctor Weir responded.

“I’ve been speaking with Dahlia Radim,” I said quickly. “These people aren’t Genii soldiers – they’re sick ... they all came here to die.”

“Doctor Beckett just worked out the corpses were dead before they were burned,” Doctor Weir admitted. “They all died of radiation related ailments.”

“Can we have Doctor Beckett look at Dahlia and the others?” I asked.

“Of course,” Doctor Weir agreed. “Can you see them escorted to the infirmary?”

“Okay,” I agreed before signing off. I motioned for one of the marines to assist me in rounding up the Genii into a group and leading them down to the infirmary. It took a while to get them all settled in – I stayed with Dahlia until Doctor Beckett had examined her, leaving when it was clear that Carson wanted to speak to her privately.

I made it back up to the Control Room in time to hear the last part of Doctor Weir’s conversation with someone on the other side of the open wormhole. Standing beside Ronan I listened to the words that told me John was in trouble – again!

“Why are you doing this Cowen?” Doctor Weir demanded angrily.

“The Genii people need the Lantean ships you call Jumpers,” an arrogant male voice responded. “I believe you have ten of them. You have one hour to bring them all here.”

“And if I don't?” Doctor Weir asked quietly.

“We will kill one of your team every fifteen minutes until our demands are met,” Cowan said in a voice that very convincingly said he would follow through on his threat. “Oh, and we will be starting with Colonel Sheppard.”

The connection was severed, leaving an unhappy silence in the Control Room. I looked across at Doctor Weir and felt my heart sink at her troubled expression.

“We’re not giving them any Jumpers are we?” I asked in a small voice so that only Ronan would hear.

“Won’t do any good,” Ronan pointed out. “They’re not planning on letting anyone out of there.”

“I’m gonna go get some air,” I told Ronan, not wanting to hang around and be the focus of everyone's concern. “I’ll be back in an hour.”

After walking aimlessly around the city I made it back to the Control Room to find that the Genii had already made contact. Doctor Weir was speaking to Cowan, clearly already frustrated with the direction the conversation had taken.

“I don't think you understand,” Doctor Weir said. “Most of your people can be cured, including Ladon's sister.” She said it like it was a gift they should be grateful to receive.

“Oh, I understand,” Cowan said lightly. “What you need to understand is, I don't care.”

“What?” Doctor Weir said disbelievingly.

“I think you're playing for time, Doctor Weir.” Cowan replied.

“Your people can be cured,” Doctor Weir tried to reason with him again. “Now let me return them to you and let them live out the rest of their lives with their families on their home world.”

“The Genii need those Jumpers,” Cowan ignored her statement completely. “Until you are prepared to part with them, this conversation is over.”

“You kill one of my people and we are in a state of war,” Doctor Weir threatened harshly.

“Oh, yes, yes!” Cowan actually had the audacity to laugh. “I - well, I don't quite know how I'll live with myself,” he said sarcastically.

Everyone in the Control Room was silent as we realised the great plan to swap their people for ours was dead in the water. Before anyone could say anything Cowan spoke again.

“I will contact you again in fifteen minutes, so you can decide whether you would like Doctor McKay to live,” Cowan said grimly. “In the meantime, you have forfeited the life of Colonel Sheppard.”

“NO!” I yelled, at the same time that Doctor Weir was yelling “Cowen, wait!”

We were both too late though because Cowan had already turned his radio off. The wormhole did not disengage, meaning that radio frequencies were still being transmitted ... just nothing that meant anything to all of us waiting to hear more.

Conscious of everyone looking at me I turned and quickly left the Control Room. I didn’t want to go far from the gate just in case ... I don’t know what ... I just felt better staying near the open wormhole. John was still alive on the other side until I heard otherwise. I didn’t even notice when the shield was lowered ... the first I realised that the situation had changed was when Doctor Weir came running down the stairs. I jumped up and followed her down the last few steps. A group of marines, including my missing team walked through the gate with the Genii soldiers first, followed closely by Rodney who waved reassuringly at Doctor Weir.

“Rodney!” Doctor Weir exclaimed happily.

“It's Ladon,” Rodney explained. “He's letting us go in exchange for his people.”

“Ladon's in charge?!” Doctor Weir asked in confusion.

“Yeah, he's about to be.” Rodney confirmed.

“He really was planning a coup.” Doctor Weir made the revelation.

“Apparently we're a part of the plan,” Rodney pointed out.

“And John?” I asked Rodney hesitantly.

“Alive and on his way back as we speak,” Rodney said happily.

“That’s ... good,” I said lamely. “I just need to ...” I broke off, fighting my emotions. Looking miserably at both of them I turned and walked quickly from the Gateroom. I didn’t pause when Major Lorne touched my arm in greeting – I just smiled my relief that he was okay as I walked past.

I’d used up most of my tears by the time John finally found me. Usually he had no trouble working out which of our favourite spots I’d retreated to but this time I’d picked the Wraith weapons room as the least likely place to look. I’d also blocked myself off from the sensors and switched my radio off too.

“You’re a hard woman to track down,” John said lightly, lowering himself to sit beside me, back resting against the wall.

“Maybe because I didn’t want to be tracked down,” I said in a quiet serious voice.

“It wasn’t as bad as it sounded,” John didn’t pretend to not know why I’d felt the need to retreat for a while.

“Obviously,” I said with a bit of heat. “It sounded like you were dead.”

“Ladon was never gonna shoot me,” John protested. ‘It was all a ruse to lure Cowen to that planet.”

“It would have been nice if he’d shared that with us,” I said sarcastically. “I could have saved myself ten minutes of planning your memorial service!”

Sabina,” John chided me.

“NO!” I yelled suddenly, jumping up and striding away from him. “You’re not gonna charm your way out of it this time! Do you know how many times you’ve almost been killed since I’ve known you?”

“Is this necessary?” John tried to side track me. He got to his feet and reached out a hand to me but I ignored it, and his comment.

“DO YOU?!” I yelled.

“No but I’m pretty sure you’re about to tell me,” John muttered uncomfortably.

“FIFTEEN TIMES!” I yelled again. “Fifteen.”

“I didn’t realise it was so many,” John admitted reluctantly.

“That’s because you’re not the one waiting here while someone you love is in mortal danger,” I retorted in an angry voice. “And okay some of those happened before we were together but just in the time since we got back from Earth it’s been like seven times when you could have gotten killed.”

Could have,” John pointed out. “I’m perfectly okay!”

“Yeah ... now,” I agreed. “But what about next time, or the time after that? What if your luck runs out?”

“Some of those times weren’t as bad as they must have seemed from this side of the gate,” John tried to excuse his actions.

“Being three seconds away from Teyla shooting the Thalen version of you,” I retorted. “Flying too close to the corona sphere in an F302; practically turning into an iratus bug,” my chin wobbled at that last one. “Those are the ones I was there for and they all were as bad as they seemed!”

“Do you want me to give up my job?” John frowned in confusion.

“Of course not,” I denied irritably. “Your job defines you ... I’d never ask you to give that up.”

“Then what are you trying to say?” John asked with a bit of heat in his voice.

“I don’t want to do this anymore,” I said wearily, turning away and holding a tired hand across my forehead.

“You don’t want to do what anymore?” John demanded angrily. “Us? – You don’t want to do ‘us’ anymore?”

“I DON’T KNOW,” I yelled, looking back at him. “I don’t know,” I said again in that same sad voice I’d started the conversation with. The silence stretched between us uncomfortably. My heart was actually beating faster as though I was preparing myself for some kind of battle. John surprised me when he sighed quietly before closing the distance between us until we were only a step apart.

“You love me, right?” John asked almost hesitantly.

“Of course I do,” I agreed. “But I don’t know ... is that enough?”

“Do you think you’d have felt better today if we weren’t together?” John questioned, cutting right to the illogical side of what I was saying.

“No,’ I admitted reluctantly. “And if we’d never been together I’d probably be feeling worse for all the missed opportunities,” I added honestly.

“Before you were captured by the Wraith I would have just discounted your concerns,” John admitted. “But I know what it’s like to worry about you ... I can put myself in your shoes and see how much it cuts you up to go through that kind of emotion.”

“It’s not just that,” I said. “It’s the frustration ... being powerless to do anything but fight the burning urge to put my fist through a wall or yell at Doctor Weir for letting you go out there!”

“I was a wreck when you were on that Hive ship,” John admitted reluctantly. “Snapped at Rodney, picked a fight with Ronan, anything to get rid of the anger.”

“You never said,” I told him.

“Didn’t want you to feel bad,” John pointed out. “Wasn’t your fault you got captured.”

“Okay I get that,” I looked at him pointedly. “Nice way to point out that it wasn’t your fault you got captured today either.”

“I’m sorry I worried you today,” John said sincerely. “I’m sorry that my job puts so much pressure on you to keep being strong no matter how bad things seem.” My eyes brimmed with tears at his words and I looked at him in misery before revealing the heart of my emotions.

“I don’t want to lose you,” I admitted, tears tracking silently down my cheeks.

“I can’t promise you won’t” John replied honestly, reaching out to stroke a tear from my cheek. “What I can promise is that you loving me is enough ... it’s enough for me to be stubborn and brave, to think creatively, to do anything necessary to make sure I come home to you.”

I know,” I sobbed. John gathered me into his arms and let me cry into his shirt until the last of my tears were gone.

“Don’t scare me like that again,” John muttered, leaning down to kiss me ardently.

“You’re a tough guy flyboy,” I teased. “Nothing scares you!”

“We’re the worst,” John countered between kisses. “Strong emotions,” more kisses, “deep ... passions,” more kisses, “all hidden beneath the surface.”

“Sounds ... intriguing,” I responded with some heated kisses of my own.

“Let’s take this somewhere more comfortable,” John suggested. He turned with an arm around my shoulders, then paused to look down at me questioningly. “Are we okay now?”

“I can’t pretend it doesn’t bother me to be so close to losing you,” I looked at him seriously. “If it didn’t bother me, we shouldn’t be doing this.”

“Is that a yes?” John quipped.

Yes,” I replied, grabbing his hand and pulling him from the room.

Chapter 30: So you're gonna go out with Ronan and Teyla tomorrow and catch a lab rat?

"Why do I always find myself pointing out to you that something is a bad idea?" I asked in irritation.

"Tell me why it's a bad idea," John challenged again, sitting across from the work table in my lab.

"Because you're not all going in to it with the same agenda," I pointed out. "I know you - you're seeing this retrovirus as the ultimate biological weapon ... a way to render the Wraith vulnerable and therefore easily destroyed. Do you think Doctor Weir and Doctor Beckett are looking at it that way?"

"I'm willing to consider other outcomes," John insisted.

"Doctor Beckett wants to save the Wraith from themselves," I said. "He can't do that unless they can be integrated back into the community."

"Ah!" I said triumphantly when John didn't reply.

"I didn't say anything!" John protested.

"You didn't have to," I pointed out. "That look of distaste on your face said it all. No matter how human Doctor Beckett's drug can make the Wraith, a lot of people are never gonna see them as anything else. I can't begin to imagine how Ronan reacted when he heard the plan."

"He said a Wraith's a Wraith no matter how it looks on the outside," John admitted.

"And that may well be true, but equally it might not," I replied. "What are we going to do with these human Wraith if this experiment does succeed?"

"I don't know - maybe we can find a nice planet for them to live on," John suggested.

"Sounds like apartheid – the kind of segregation the human race has done on Earth in the past ... it's wrong and it never works," I said with a very serious tone. "I think you're so caught up in the very idea that you can make a Wraith not a Wraith you haven't considered what you're actually going to do with the result."

"I know it's a risk," John admitted. "And to be honest I'm not that keen on some parts of the plan myself ... ultimately its Doctor Weir's call and she’s set on this course of action."

"So you're gonna go out with Ronan and Teyla tomorrow and catch a lab rat?" I shook my head at the very thought.

"Pretty much," John acknowledged. "I know you're not happy about this ... you don't have to have any part in the project, if that makes you feel better."

"Not really," I replied. "You've got a part in the project ... indirectly so do I."

"We're not gonna take any chances," John promised.

"You say that now but somehow everything gets screwed up anyway," I reminded him. "It's the Murphy's law of the Pegasus galaxy ... if it's a team Sheppard mission it'll end in disaster!"

"Not all our missions end up that way," John looked faintly insulted.

"Okay, not all of them," I placated him. "Just the ones like this that are clearly crazy to start with."

"We're just gonna have to agree to disagree on this one," John got up and came over to my side of the table. "Are we still on for movie night?"

"Yeah ... maybe we should watch ‘The Power of One’", I suggested sarcastically.

"You're not gonna keep making snide remarks the whole time this experiment's in operation are you?" John put a hand on my shoulder and I looked up at him with a raised eyebrow.

"That was my last one," I promised. It wasn't his fault this experiment had been approved ... since I couldn't take my frustration out on Doctor Weir I'd been directing it at John which wasn't exactly fair. "See you at dinner."


"That's interesting," I said under my breath a few hours later. I was wading through the information on the Tower inventory device looking for anything on project Imperium. The Tower device was different from ours in one key way - at the front of the device was a slot to insert something ... I was guessing a key device. Probably each project had a specific key and you'd just slot it in to bring up that project. Unfortunately there'd been nothing like that in the room on the Tower planet. I'd looked through the archive of Ancient devices we'd collected on Atlantis so far and had turned up empty handed there as well. Luckily Rodney had worked out a way to hook up my laptop directly to the device - I had access to the contents but it was like trying to find a specific piece of hay in a really, really, large hay stack.

So I had to go through a long and boring process of looking at each segment before crossing it off and moving on to the next one. I'd been at it for weeks to the point that I was really beginning to hate that device. The only thing that saved my sanity was the regular off world missions I was still doing as part of Major Lorne's team. Anyway, an hour or so before I was due to meet John for dinner I'd come across the word Imperium in a file on an Ancient ship called the Hippaforalkus. I delved some more and felt a sense of elation at last. "Yes!" I punched a fist into the air. My elation was short lived though as I read further and realised there was a big problem. I tapped my earpiece. "Doctor Weir, Colonel Sheppard? This is Sabina."

"Go ahead Sabina," Doctor Weir said.

"There's something I wanted to ask you," I replied. "Are you in your office?"

"Yes," Doctor Weir acknowledged. "Colonel Sheppard and Doctor McKay are here also."

"I'll be there in a few minutes," I made my way to the nearest transporter, practising in my head how I was going to present myself.

"I know where the device is," I announced as soon as I walked in the door.

"The device?" Doctor Weir frowned in confusion - we called everything a 'device' so I couldn't blame her for being confused.

"The one the Ancients created on Doranda," I reminded her. "The one that's supposed to take advantage of Wraith telepathy."

"Where is it?" John asked curiously.

"A ship called the Hippaforalkus was on a mission to pick it up from somewhere and bring it back to Atlantis," I smiled when John grimaced in distaste at the name. "I looked it up on the Ancient database - Hippaforalkus was an Ancient general."

"Where's the ship now?" John didn't seem as excited as I was.

"I don't know," I admitted, "but there's no evidence that it ever returned to Atlantis so it could still be out there!"

"And that helps us how?" Rodney asked impatiently.

"Because now we have something concrete to look for," I pointed out.

"The ship may never have made it to the planet the device was on," Rodney pointed out. "Finding it doesn't guarantee you'll find the device."

"That's true," I admitted, feeling my excitement deflating rapidly at the lack of enthusiasm in the room.

"Do we have any idea where this planet is?" Doctor Weir asked.

"No, there's no record in the Tower inventory - I looked the ship up on the Atlantis inventory and there was no record there either. The best I could find was that the Hippaforalkus covered one sector of the galaxy - it's pretty large but it does narrow it down somewhat."

"The Ancients really didn't want anyone to find this device did they?" John complained.

"Look I know it's still going to be just luck if we stumble across it," I admitted. "I just wanted to request that you inform all the off world teams to keep their ears open for any mention of Ancient ships, legends, stories, that kind of thing."

"Certainly we can do that," Doctor Weir agreed easily.

"It's a long shot," John pointed out the obvious.

"I know," I agreed. "But it's better than no shot at all."

It took three weeks for the entire experiment with the Wraith John dubbed Michael to play itself out. Needless to say it went about as well as I'd been expecting. I'd been kind of hoping that Doctor Beckett would have devoted his research time to designing the biotic virus we'd talked about months ago but instead his focus had been squarely on the retrovirus since well before John had come into contact with Ellia. He had created a vulnerability in the Wraith the Ancients could never have predicted ... but deep down I still felt attacking the technology itself was a better plan. I'd kept myself well clear of Michael during the whole time, spending most of my waking hours in my lab.

It wasn't a surprise when Michael escaped with Teyla as hostage, necessitating a swift pursuit from Ronan and John. The only piece of luck we did get was the ease with which they all escaped the Wraith infested planet Michael had chosen to retreat to. John did get his potential biological weapon ... if we could ever bring ourselves to implement it.

Authors Note:

The Michael episode bothered me on a number of levels, not the least of which was how Michael knew what a DVD was or how to put one in a computer and watch it. With no memories, inherent skills only should have been retained - his inherent skills would make him able to operate Wraith technology but ours is much different so he should have been completely lost. Also how did he know how to read English - that's how he knew his name was made up? He should be able to read Wraith but not English! Anyway, the end result of all these issues I had was that I didn't want to do more than just a minor protest from Sabina, even though the whole thing takes place on Atlantis. She doesn't agree with the experiment so it makes sense she'd avoid the result as much as possible.

Chapter 31: We found the ship!

Some weeks later I was still doggedly finishing my thorough search of the Tower inventory even though I didn't expect to find anything else. When that proved to be the case I happily relegated it to the back of the cupboard and moved on to some of the devices Rodney had wanted me to investigate. I really wanted to find the Imperium device but until someone came back from a mission with some intel on the Ancient ship, my project was pretty much dead in the water. I took every opportunity during my own off world missions to ask anyone I came across if they knew any stories of a great Ancient warship. There were some legends, but none that fit the profile of the Hippaforalkus.

"Sabina, can you meet me in Doctor Weir's office," John requested over the radio a couple of weeks after the whole Michael incident had been put to rest.

"On my way," I acknowledged. It took a few minutes for me to get there ... John and Elizabeth were chuckling about something when I arrived.

"Sabina," John got to his feet with a visible air of excitement.

"What happened?" I asked quickly.

"We found the ship!" John announced. "The Hippaforalkus - we found her. She's in a hanger on Taranis."

"Nice," I complimented him. "Can I go to back with you and take a look?"

"I knew that'd be the first thing you asked," John smiled. "Grab your stuff - Rodney suggested a mini generator too. Meet me at the gate in five."

"Wait," Doctor Weir rose from her chair. "I should head back with you and begin negotiations with the Taranan leader."

The trip through the gate was uneventful and within an hour John and I were making our way down to the Ancient ship.

"Norina is very attractive isn't she?" I mentioned casually. John had introduced me to the lead scientist as well as to Chancellor Lycus who'd given us permission to look at the ship.

"I didn't really notice," John said distractedly. We'd taken the elevator deep into the facility and he was leading the way down a long corridor back to the hangar. "Although Rodney seemed to think so."

"She certainly noticed you," I couldn't stop myself from adding. I glanced across at John quickly, almost groaning aloud when I saw the amused smirk on his face. "What?" I demanded.

"You're jealous!" John seemed to be enjoying himself at my expense.

"No I'm not," I denied. "I just find the sight of every blonde bimbo we come across throwing themselves at you ... nauseating."

"Nah," John disagreed, still smiling. "You're jealous."

"Yeah well," I said uncomfortably. "I'm glad you find it more amusing than I would."

"If it makes you feel any better," John offered, "the next time we see Norina you can stake your claim so she knows I'm off limits."

"That might just make me feel better," I accepted the offer, laughing at the look of sudden apprehension on his face. "Don't worry Colonel," I teased. "It'll be ... relatively painless."

"I'll look forward to it," John promised in a tone that made me realise perhaps I shouldn't have teased him. We'd arrived at the hanger doors and I caught my first sight of the Hippaforalkus - her size dwarfed the Daedalus and on the surface she seemed relatively unharmed.

"Let's go take a look inside," John motioned for me to follow him around the balcony towards some stairs leading down towards the ship. I shifted my heavy pack to the other shoulder and strode briskly after him. Knowing there wouldn't be any power on the ship Rodney had sent instructions for what to bring back from Atlantis. It would have been easier if he could have just come with us to get the ship powered up but John didn't want the Taranans to know how important the ship might actually be.

"You know," John drew my attention back to him, "we can't keep calling the ship the Hippaforalkus - it's too much of a mouthful."

"What do you suggest then," I asked.

"I’ll tell you one thing - we're not naming it the Enterprise." John said with a grin.

"Rodney will be so disappointed," I quipped.

“This is the sister ship of the Aurora,” John reminded me. “She deserves a name that embodies the same spirit ... like the Orion!”

“The Orion?” I tested its sound. “Nice ... much better than Hippaforalkus ... no offence to the General of the same name, of course.”

“Of course,” John agreed, looking quite pleased with himself.

We made our way cautiously inside - shining my torch around the room I located some text on the wall indicating the direction of the Control Room.

"This way," I pointed to a corridor heading into the ship. Proceeding at that same cautious pace we arrived at the Control Room a short time later. I set my pack down and immediately began pulling things out. Sitting on the floor near one of the consoles I leaned under and located the access panel. Pulling it off and handing it over to John I shone my torch in to assess what I'd have to do next. Realising this one would be simple enough that I'd be able to rig up the portable generator without having to bother Rodney I set to work.

A few minutes later I was rewarded with the pleasing sight of power returning to the consoles around the room.

"Good work," John congratulated me.

"Thank Rodney," I countered. "He's been giving me a crash course on Ancient technology power ups - he said I had the uncanny knack of finding myself in situations where I needed more power so I might as well learn how to do it myself."

"Go Rodney," John drawled. "What now?"

"I need to search the ships database to see what they did with the device," I said. "You don't have to hang around ... this could take a while."

"I'm staying," John said in a tone that told me not to bother arguing. "Rodney's okay for now and I'm not leaving you on the ship by yourself."

"All right," I agreed. "Just don't distract me okay." Hooking my laptop into the ships systems I brought up my search programs and began looking for any information on the Imperium project.

"Okay this is interesting," I motioned John over from where he'd been standing guard. "They were coming here to pick up the Imperium device."

"So where is it?" John looked at my screen curiously.

"Still in the facility," I said. "The Orion sustained some damage on the trip here - that explains why she's in the hangar. Before they could repair her they got the call from Atlantis that they'd sunk the city and were retreating back to Earth. The crew and all the residents were evacuated directly through the gate ... abandoning the ship and the Imperium project."

"Does that say where in the facility the device is located?" John asked with a hopeful expression.

"Of course not," I chided him. "Since when was anything we wanted from the Ancients that easy to find?!"

"So I guess now you want to go back to the facility and start searching their database?" John grumbled.

"Yes please," I smiled winningly up at him, turning to gather up all my equipment. Without the mini generator the room was plunged back into darkness - we made the journey out of the ship by torchlight as we had the trip in.

John led me back to where Rodney was still working with Norina. Remembering my threat to 'stake my claim' on John I grabbed his hand just before we entered the room. John raised an eyebrow at me but I studiously avoided looking at him. Out of sight of Rodney and Norina John ran his hand down my back and past my waist until he'd reached a spot ripe for pinching.

"Hey!" I protested as I jumped away from his hand. I blushed furiously as John laughed before pulling me back into him and kissing the side of my neck.

"Do you really need to do that everywhere we go?" Rodney asked condescendingly.

"I never really thought about it before," John answered lightly, "but yes we do." He made a point of kissing me again before turning back to see Rodney trying to maintain his irritated look. He'd never admit it but Rodney enjoyed the banter he shared with John, more so since they'd repaired the rift between them after Doranda. I didn’t think it bothered him as much as he made out whenever he had to witness a public display of affection between John and me.

"Just ignore them," Rodney instructed Norina, who was looking on with what I liked to think was a disappointed look. "They do this all the time."

"So there!" I thought uncharitably.

"How goes it, Rodney?" John asked, back into business mode.

"Uh, I was just, uh, still running diagnostics," Rodney stammered. I looked over at Norina and smiled slightly when I realised Rodney was just a little smitten with the lovely scientist.

"Still?" John goaded Rodney, also well aware that Rodney found Norina distractingly attractive. "Thought you would have had that fixed by now. If you want, I can call Doctor Zelenka. I'm sure he could, uh ..."

"I can handle it, thank you!" Rodney said angrily. "In fact I was just about to, uh, show Norina the generator log which, uh, shows that, uh ..." Rodney picked up his computer tablet nervously and looked at it quickly. His expression turned from uncomfortable to sickened in a heartbeat as he finished his sentence "... you've been running the shield continuously for over a year now."

"Yes. When the device was activated," Norina clearly had no idea what the problem was, "you told me what it was called ..."

"The long range scanners," Rodney prompted. "What about them?"

"When they indicated a sudden rise in Wraith activity last year," Norina continued, "Chancellor Lycus ordered me to increase the strength of the shield."

"Well, that's unfortunate," Rodney said with worry evident on his face.

"Why?" Norina frowned as she looked over at Rodney.

"Because the Ancients didn't design these things to run continuously at maximum capacity," Rodney informed her. He picked up another laptop and took it to one of the other consoles. "Look, shields are for emergencies only, Norina. When you shut down the alarms, you overrode the failsafes and that means that we're ..." Rodney paused to activate the laptop. As before his expression went from faintly troubled to horrified as he registered what the laptop was showing him. "Oh, no," he said sickly.

"What it is?" Norina demanded. The three of us walked over to Rodney to see what he was looking at.

"The reason the Ancients chose to power this facility on geothermal energy is because we're sitting right smack in the caldera of a dormant super volcano ... or should I say formerly dormant, because drawing all of this energy from the magma chamber has made it extremely active." Rodney said rapidly.

"So ... things are gonna get worse," John cut to the chase.

"I think we can safely say that things are gonna get ... ," Rodney responded, pausing as if searching for a better word, "... worse. Yes."

Realising that time was once again against me I pulled John to the side and whispered "I need to look at the schematics for this facility right now."

"Do it," John agreed. "Just be discrete about why you're doing it."

"Norina?" I turned back to where she was still standing by Rodney. "Would it be possible for me to look through the database here? I work with the Ancient language and technology back on our planet ... having the chance to explore your data would be invaluable to my research."

"Of course Sabina," Norina instantly agreed. She indicated one of the other consoles "this console in linked into the main database ... you should find something of interest there."

Thanking her quickly I moved over to the console and made a show of looking through the index before picking something at random. Norina watched me for a few moments before turning away when Rodney asked her a question. Once her attention was away from me connected my laptop and pulled up the facility schematics. I scanned them looking for something to jump out at me - I didn't expect a big neon sign flashing "secret research" and was surprised when I discovered one of the rooms had actually been labelled Project Imperium.

While I'd been accessing their data John had reported in to Doctor Weir. She and Chancellor Lycus arrived before I could report my find to John so I moved over to join them, bidding my time until they'd been made aware of the current problem.

"I don't see any volcano," Doctor Weir turned away from the window where the flat plains stretching out in the distance were clearly displayed.

"Because you're standing inside it right now," Rodney told her. "Look, when you think of regular volcanoes, you think Mount St Helens," Rodney held his fingers in a steeple to demonstrate the shape most commonly associated with volcanos.

"And super volcano?" Doctor Weir asked.

"Yellowstone National Park," Rodney said, "with a caldera over fifty miles wide and a massive sea of molten rock just beneath the surface."

"So the Ancients built the facility here in order to tap into all that geothermal energy," Doctor Weir questioned.

"Right," Rodney confirmed. "And these things don't erupt very often. Thousands, oftentimes hundreds of thousands of years go by between blasts."

"So the Ancients thought what the hell, plenty of energy down there to run the shield?" John quizzed.

"Yeah," Rodney said irritably, "but not continuously."

"By doing so," Norina informed Lycus, "we've increased the pressure of the magma chamber."

"It's expanded to over forty miles now, and increasing." Rodney said like that should illustrate the magnitude of the problem to the rest of us.

"Can it be stopped?" Doctor Weir asked.

"No. The damage is already done," Rodney admitted unhappily. "Look, a significant hotspot rift has opened. The pressure will keep building as magma continues pouring in directly beneath us."

"Is there anything we can do to relieve the pressure somewhere else?" John thought for a second. "Uh, maybe we can fire a drone down into the crust on the other side of the caldera."

"Every problem has a military solution in your world, doesn't it?" Rodney complained heatedly. "Look, when this baby goes, the whole thing goes."

"Then we need to evacuate your people," John announced, turning to Chancellor Lycus.

"Is there anywhere on this planet we can help relocate you to?" Doctor Weir asked the Chancellor.

"Look, you're still not getting it," Rodney said heatedly. "Listen to me, all of you. When this thing erupts, the force of the explosion will be over ten thousand times greater than the blast that destroyed Mount St Helens. It will obliterate half of this continent."

"There must be other continents," Doctor Weir insisted.

"The dust cloud will envelop the planet within weeks, blocking out enough sunlight to kill every living thing," Rodney took away any hope that the planet would remain liveable. "We are talking about an Extinction Level Event." He turned to Chancellor Lycus and tried to appeal to him directly. "Look, the only option you've got is to evacuate your people to another planet -- and I would advise doing it sooner rather than later."

"Excuse me," Lycus looked at us all for a moment before turning and leaving the room. On his way out he turned to a guard and ordered quietly "Watch them carefully."

"Oh, I'm sorry," Rodney said dramatically, "was my volume turned right down?!" He looked at us and added "Did he not hear me?!"

As Doctor Weir hurried after the Chancellor I pulled John back to my console.

"Look," I pointed to the schematic display. "This room is marked Project Imperium, and it's only a few levels below us. I could be there and back inside half an hour."

"You heard Rodney," John whispered back. "The volcano could blow at any time."

"I know," I whispered heatedly. "Which is why I need to go right now. It'll take a while to get everyone organised for an evacuation, won't it?"

"I suppose," John agreed reluctantly.

"So I can use that time to go to this room," I pointed out. "They won't even notice I'm gone."

John sighed in frustration, turning away and running a hand through his hair as he thought about the risks. Turning back to me he nodded. “Okay ... but only until we've got these people ready for evacuation."

"I'll be as quick as I can," I promised. I turned to make my escape right away but John pulled me back to look at him.

"When I say it's finished, you'll drop what you're doing and make your way straight back to me," John ordered harshly. "Are we clear?"

"Yes," I looked into his eyes, registering the worry and doubt there. He was letting me go against his better judgement and my heart sang that he trusted me that much. "The second I get the word that we're evacuating, I'm out of there," I promised.

"Good," John let me go. He looked around to see that everyone in the room was occupied. The guards were still standing at the door and John ordered loudly "Make your way back to the gate and let Atlantis know our situation."

"Yes Sir," I replied seriously, nodding at him before turning and moving confidently to the door. The guards stepped aside and let me through with no protest. Only when I was sure they were no longer watching me did I veer off and head for the elevators. Rushing inside I pushed the button to get the lift moving, fingers crossed there'd be no one around down there.

Chapter 32: You're stuck up there!

"Okay," I whispered once I'd stepped from the elevator. "Which way?" I looked at my laptop and traced a path from my present location. According to the schematics the Imperium room was accessible via an isolated lift which lead only to that section. Having only one way into and out of the room made sense if the Ancients were trying to protect the project from discovery by the Wraith. Turning to my right I hurried down the corridor as quietly as I could. The facility looked very Ancient in design, although more aster than Atlantis. Rodney believed it had been built during the height of the war which supported the theory of Project Imperium being conducted there.

The ground shook a few times during my journey, urging me to go faster. Taking the second lift and then walking down a narrow corridor I eventually reached the right room a few minutes later. I wasn't surprised to find the door sealed shut with an Ancient access panel nearby.

"Please let this work," I muttered, reaching out a hand and swiping it across the panel. "Damn!" I complained when it didn't open. I stood back from the door and thought for a moment. The Wraith weapon room on Atlantis had required both the ATA gene and the Wraith gene because the weapon had required both for its activation. Maybe this room was similar - except this project required not just the Wraith gene but Wraith telepathy too. Remembering how the Wraith technology had required a more aggressive approach to accessing systems I placed my hand on the panel and concentrated hard, pushing my mind forcefully at the system as I'd learnt during my journey in the Wraith Dart. The panel lit up and the door slid open silently.

"Sabina, report?" John requested before I'd set foot inside the room.

"I've made it to my destination," I reported cryptically. "I'm about to proceed through."

"Acknowledged," John replied. "Doctor Weir convinced the Chancellor to evacuate to Atlantis ... I'm heading outside to organise the groups from this end."

"Okay," I acknowledged. "Be careful."

"You too ... Sheppard out."

I turned back to the room and shone my torch inside. Hoping the lights would come on once I was inside I cautiously stepped through.

The room was quite small, even for an Ancient lab. In the centre of the room on a circular dais was hopefully the device I'd come looking for. I walked up to the dais, dropping my pack on the floor as I leant closer to get a better look. It wasn't as big as I'd imagined it would be ... smaller even than the inventory devices. This one was also circular, but instead of being a cone with the top flattened off, it was a flat disc about 2 inches thick. Around the outside were the usual Ancient markings as well as thin slots through which the insides of the device could be seen. I was careful in picking it up not to accidentally power it up. Glad the device had turned out to be something I could easily carry, I took off my jacket and squatted down to carefully wrap it up before putting it in my already overloaded pack. Standing back up I looked around the room and noticed for the first time an access console in the far corner. The ground shook violently, knocking me to the floor - that one felt much worse than all the previous tremors. Pulling myself back up again I tried to make contact with the others.

"John," I tapped my earpiece and called.

"Sabina," John sounded like he was running. "The Stargate has been swallowed up by the magma ... "

"Crap!" I said irritably. "What's the plan then?"

"Elizabeth will send the Daedalus once she's worked out what happened," John said. "In the mean time we're headed to the Ancient ship to see if Rodney can get it working. What's your status?"

"I have the device," I told him. "There's an access console here too that I need to check out before I head back."

"Why?" John demanded.

"Because it strikes me as odd that it's here when the device looks completed," I retorted. "I don't want another Doranda - who knows what else was on that database if I'd only taken the time to search a bit deeper. I only need a few minutes to connect and do a quick search."

There was silence for a few moments before John replied.

"Rodney says it will take a while to assess the status of the ship - he could use your help but he said another ten minutes won't make a difference."

"Okay, I'll be quick," I acknowledged.

I put my hand on the access console and did the whole Wraith aggressive bit ... my effort was rewarded when the console activated. Connecting my laptop I searched quickly through the contents - the database was small enough for me to be able to copy it straight to my laptop. A few minutes later I was finished and packed up.

"John," I contacted the others again.

"Go ahead," John replied.

"I have everything I need," I reported, "and I'm headed back to you."

"See you in a few," John responded.

Running down the corridor I'd made it to the isolated life when the whole complex shook violently. Once again I found myself on the floor as an ominous creaking sound issued from within the elevator shaft. Jumping up I hurriedly swiped the access panel and shifted from foot to foot impatiently as I waited for the lift to arrive. The ominous creaking sound echoed again, followed by the even more ominous sound of something rushing past my floor. Holding my breath I winced as a few moments later a loud crashed echoed back up the shaft, bringing with it dust that made its way out from under the closed doors.

Coughing slightly I looked at the elevator in horror. "Crap!" I yelled. Somehow I just knew that John was gonna make this my fault ... because I hadn't gotten out when he'd first asked.

I tapped my earpiece and said hesitantly "Ah John, I have a ... slight problem up here."

"What is it?" John demanded.

"That last tremor shook things pretty badly up here," I said. "The, ah ... the elevator must have come free from its tether ... it's currently in a mangled heap at the bottom of the shaft."

"You're stuck up there?!" John accused heatedly.

"I'm stuck up here," I confirmed.

"Hang tight," John ordered. "I'm coming up to get you."

"Negative!" I cried. "I have the city schematics ... I'll find another way to the hangar."

"I said I'm coming to get you," John growled.

"Look you said it yourself ... that volcano could blow any time," I reminded him. "It'll be quicker if I head out now instead of waiting around for you."

There was a pause ... when I didn't hear anything I called again "John?"

"I've got the schematics here," John said grimly. "There's an access shaft south west from your position – it leads straight down to the hangar level but you're gonna have to crawl through a narrow tunnel to get to it and it looks pretty small."

"Acknowledged," my voice trembled slightly at his words.

"Just take it slow ... you've got plenty of time," John encouraged me. "Call me when you get to the access shaft."

"Okay, I'm on my way," I took off down the corridor, heading in the direction he'd indicated. The access panel was clearly evident and I quickly pried it open, sticking my head inside to see what I was in for. John had been right - it was small – there was no way that John would have fit. Pulling some rope from my pack I tied one end to the pack and the other to my ankle. I looked into the tunnel and realised that light was also going to be a problem. I rummaged around in my pack again and came up with some duct tape which I used to strap my torch to the inside of my wrist. As ready as I was gonna get I took a couple of deep breaths and then I squeezed myself into the tunnel on my stomach. The torch on my arm provided plenty of reflective light even though its direction followed my arms movements instead of pointing straight ahead. I wriggled my way forward, dragging my pack behind me. It took a long time to make progress and I was feeling a pretty hefty load of claustrophobia and anxiety before I finally spied an entrance ahead of me.

When I’d wriggled far enough I pointed my torch arm down the shaft. Ah hell - that was a long way down! Closing my eyes I forced myself to breathe deeply and focus on the first phase ... getting the rest of the way out of that tunnel was going to be difficult. The ladder was only a step to the side of the opening – I turned carefully onto my back so I was looking up the shaft and edged out a bit more. Reaching up for the highest rung I could manage I pulled my upper body out of the tunnel slowly – I had to move my grip up the ladder a few more rungs before I was out of the tunnel enough to move on to phase two.

I wrapped my arms tightly around the ladder rung and then swung my legs out of the tunnel. The sudden addition of my body weight and the weight of my pack pulled me down sharply and I grunted with the effort to maintain my position while I scrambled to gain my footing. Panting at the exertion I stood for a few moments to regain my breath. The pack was pulling down hard on my leg so I carefully leant to the side of the ladder, holding on with one hand. Lifting my foot slowly I got my ankle up high enough to grab the rope. I pulled the pack up carefully and looped one arm through the strap. Putting both feet back on the ladder I swapped hands so I could swing the pack up and get the other arm through a strap as well. Luckily the rope was long enough that I could just leave it tied on at both ends.

"John," I called in to report my progress. "I'm at the access shaft and about to start climbing down."

"Acknowledged," John responded. "Remember - slow and steady."

"Okay," I replied, trying to sound more confident than I felt. I rested my forehead on the nearest rung for a few moments, breathing slowly and evenly.

“All right,” I psyched myself up. “Time to start climbing ... you can do this – just don’t look down.” The torch arm idea had worked well up until that point but now my torch was pointing up when I really needed it to point down. There wasn’t any way I could correct that because I’d put enough tape around the torch that I was gonna have to cut it off once I’d finished with it. I’d just have to grin and bear it ... a tough ask because I could feel the darkness pressing down on me and I hadn’t even started yet.

Step by careful step I made my way down the ladder, counting the levels to take my mind off the fact that it was a long way to fall.

“How’re you doing Sabina?” John’s voice comforted me in the darkness of the access shaft.

“I’m half way down the shaft,” I puffed, my voice shaking slightly. “It’s pretty dark in here John.”

“You’re okay,” John reassured me. “Keep going ... I’m waiting for you at the bottom.”

“Talk to me,” I kept stepping down one rung at a time.

“What about?” John asked.

“I don’t know,” I said irritably. “I’m a little occupied here – you think of something! And make it good because I’ve still got a long way to go and this place is starting to freak me out.”

John cleared his throat before beginning to speak. After the first few words I realised that he was reciting something ... his voice rumbled through my ear and made me shiver as though his lips were there, connected to me. Moving in a steady rhythm I let his words carry me down the ladder in the darkness.

“Come live with me and be my love,
And we will all the pleasures prove
That valleys, groves, hills, and fields,
Woods, or steepy mountain yields.

And we will sit upon the rocks,
Seeing the shepherds feed their flocks,
By shallow rivers to whose falls
Melodious birds sing madrigals.

And I will make thee beds of roses
And a thousand fragrant posies,
A cap of flowers, and a kirtle
Embroider'd all with leaves of myrtle;

A gown made of the finest wool
Which from our pretty lambs we pull;
Fair lined slippers for the cold,
With buckles of the purest gold;

A belt of straw and ivy buds,
With coral clasps and amber studs:
And if these pleasures may thee move,
Come live with me, and be my love.

The shepherds’ swains shall dance and sing
For thy delight each May morning:
If these delights thy mind may move,
Then live with me ... and be my love.”

John’s voice trailed off and I took the few remaining steps to the bottom of the shaft in silence. I took a couple of deep breaths before turning towards the opening to the shaft – it was another tunnel like the one I’d wriggled through at the top. Removing my pack as before I made my way into the tunnel.

“Christopher Marlowe?” I asked John in a muffled voice as I moved forward.

“The Passionate Shepherd to his Love,” John admitted. “Kind of appropriate on a number of levels don’t you think?”

“It was beautiful,” I complimented him. “The poem and the delivery.” When John said nothing in response I added “I thought I was the only one obsessed with literature.”

“English double major in college,” John said, sounding much closer now.

“And yet you’ve been reading War and Peace for over a year,” I pulled myself forward and finally spotted the exit just ahead of me.

“I only had room for one book,” John reminded me. “I’m following a strict daily quota on pages.”

John reached into the tunnel, grabbed my arms and pulled me the rest of the way out. I threw myself into his arms and held on really tight.

“You did good,” John said into my hair. He let me rest there for a few minutes before pulling back. “We have to get back to the ship ... I don’t know how much time we’ve got left.” I looked at my watch and realised I’d been gone for over three hours. That trip down the ladder had been long and my knees trembled slightly with fatigue.

John dropped me off with Rodney before heading back to the Control Room with Norina to make sure all her staff were evacuating too. I noticed that Rodney had gotten main power back on line so that all the sections of the Control Room were powered. He assigned me the task of checking the power systems for breaks. We’d been working silently for a fair while when John checked in.

“Rodney, come in,” John said.

“Go ahead,” Rodney replied.

“Looks like there's a lot of new vents opening up - a lot of ash going into the air,” John reported. “They're headed towards the settlement. We don't have time to wait for the Daedalus. How are those engines coming?”

“I'm not even close,” Rodney scoffed.

“Well, then, I guess we're all gonna die,” John informed him matter of factly.

“Oh, you're doin' that on purpose!” Rodney protested heatedly.

“What?” John said nonchalantly.

“You're creating an impossible task that my ego will force me to overcome,” Rodney explained indignantly.

“Oh, yes, yes, that's exactly what I'm doing,” John replied in a tone that said he meant the opposite. “It has nothing at all to do with saving the lives of these people. It's all about you.” John’s voice turned angry as he ordered “Now get your ass back to work and fix those damn engines!”

Muttering to himself about arrogant Colonels who had never appreciated his value, Rodney turned back to the control crystals he was checking and kept working. I turned my face away so he wouldn’t notice my silent laughter.

“Sabina,” Rodney called briskly. “I need you to go down to Engineering ... when you get there I’ll relay what I want you to do.”

“No problem,” I agreed, checking the ships schematic to work out the best way down there. “I’m here Rodney,” I reported in about five minutes later.

Rodney talked me through the various checks he needed done – it was a little creepy being down in Engineering by myself and I was grateful when Rodney said he had enough and for me to head back up to the Control Room. The earthquakes were getting more violent – the last one shook the ship enough to send me careening into the wall.

“John?” I tapped my headset but only got static.

Running into the Control Room I called out to Rodney “I can’t raise Colonel Sheppard on the radio.”

“As I was just explaining to these two,” he gestured to Doctor Beckett and Norina who had arrived while I’d been elsewhere, “there's too much interference. Look, the atmosphere is heavily charged with electromagnetic energy. This baby's ready to blow.”

“The Taranan people are all on board except for the last group that Colonel Sheppard was escorting,” Doctor Beckett said.

“Teyla and Ronon?” Rodney asked reluctantly.

“We've lost contact with them as well,” Carson admitted.

“Right,” Rodney said hesitantly. He turned back to the wall panel he’d been working at before I’d interrupted him. Knowing there was nothing else I could do to help, I found a spot out of the way to sit quietly and worry about John.

“Alright,” Rodney announced, closing the last wall panel. “Tell the people to get on the floor and secure themselves.”

“What about the others?” I asked quickly. “We can’t do anything until they get here!”

“We don’t have time to wait,” Rodney said impatiently. “I think the eruption is imminent. We're ... just about ready.”

“Ready for what?” John’s voice came from the doorway. I jumped up and ran over to greet him, smiling delightedly. John touched a hand to my cheek before urging me to walk back into the room with him.

“Oh, thank God!” Carson said in relief.

“What took you so long?!” Rodney smiled happily.

“Just about ready for what?” John repeated the question he’d just asked.

“To activate the shields,” Rodney said like it was obvious.

“You said the blast from the eruption would wipe out half the continent,” John pointed out.

“It will,” Rodney agreed lightly, “and after four point one seconds of those extreme temperatures and pressures, our shields will be depleted.”

“Well, as much as I'm all for living for another four seconds ...” John drawled sarcastically.

“That's not very much time for anything, Rodney,” Carson pointed out.

“It's plenty of time to open a hyperspace window,” Rodney spread his arms out and grinned, like a magician pulling the rabbit out of a hat. When everyone just stared at him blankly, Rodney blinked in bewilderment. “What?” Rodney demanded. “That's my plan. Didn't I tell you about that?”

“No,” Carson said pointedly.

“No, you didn't,” John’s tone was less than forgiving.

“Well, you were too busy running around looking for people,” Rodney said in agitation.

“Well, tell us the damn plan!” John demanded heatedly.

It was a classic Rodney plan – bold and risky and so completely outside the square I don’t think anyone else would have ever thought of it. While Rodney went about finalising what was needed to implement it, I stood quietly with John and tried to think positively.

“We’re good to go,” Rodney finally announced. “Let’s head to the Bridge,” he added, turning and hurrying out the door.

“Where's the P.A.?” John asked when we got there.

Rodney pointed to the Captain's chair in the middle of the Bridge. “Arm of the chair,” he said, taking a seat at another console.

John sat down in the Captain's chair and activated the P.A.

“Alright, folks, all chairs and seat backs into your upright and locked positions,” he said jokingly. I took the seat closest to his, fighting the nervous desire to laugh.

“Don't hold your breath,” Rodney advised. “It could happen any time in the next half an hour.”

The ship started to vibrate while we sat as calmly as we could manage. I noticed that both Carson and Norina had their eyes closed and Rodney was hanging on to his console grimly. I turned to John and saw that he was looking at me.

“If this doesn’t work,” I looked at him with love in my eyes, “I have no regrets.”

“This will work,” John said firmly, “but back at you.”

“Oh please,” Rodney muttered.

“Shut up Rodney!” we turned in unison and glared at him.

“What!” Rodney demanded. “No passionate kiss?”

“You’re just jealous Rodney,” John drawled.

“May-“ Rodney began before holding up a hand. “Something’s happening – hold on!”

We felt the floor of the hangar explode and the ship shake violently as the pressure underneath the hangar built up – the force of the explosion shot the ship upwards hundreds of metres into the air. I don’t think any of us realised the hyperspace window had activated until everything suddenly became still. Ahead of us the large view screen revealed a wonderful sight – we have arrived safely in space.

“It worked!” Doctor Becket exclaimed.

I stood with John admiring the view of stars and the welcome sight of the Daedalus hovering in space nearby.

“I told you it would work,” John nudged my shoulder and smiled when I looked up at him.

“You did,” I agreed, turning back to the view and leaning my head against his chest.

“You really are a genius,” Norina smiled over at Rodney. Rodney was strangely quiet, still clinging to his console and staring fixedly at nothing. “Rodney?” Norina called.

“I'm good,” Rodney said quietly.

It was a relief to be beamed aboard the Daedalus for the six hour trip back to Atlantis, even more so when we were greeted with pleasure by Ronan and Teyla. I was so tired but none of us could relax – the adrenalin of coming so close to death ... again ... was still affecting all of us.

Back on Atlantis Dr Weir filled us in on the bad news – in our absence a Wraith Hive ship had been detected on long range sensors. Doctor Zelenka believed it would get to Atlantis within three weeks. I briefly filled Doctor Weir in on what I’d found ... I’d need to do a lot more investigation before I could report on whether any of it was useful.

Doctor Weir finally finished up the debriefing ... I followed John wearily to his quarters and fell on the bed face down.

“Just leave me here,” I muttered into the pillow.

“Come on,” John pulled me up and helped me into the bathroom. Even a shared shower wasn’t enough to get my system moving – the long day plus all the exertion of getting to and then climbing down that access shaft had taken almost everything I had.

John guided me back towards the sleeping area and sat me down on the bed. “You okay?” he asked in concern, squatting down in front of me.

“Yeah,” I slurred. “Tired ...” I leant forward and put my head on his chest. “You’re warm ...” I muttered, rubbing my nose into his shirt. “Feel ... safe with you ... gonna sleep now, ‘kay?” I nestled into his chest and let myself relax.

“Okay,” John agreed with a fondly amused smile.

Chapter 33: A good defensive plan would be just as valuable

"Sabina?" the sound of John's voice roused me from sleep the next morning.

"Mmm?" I murmured

"I'm heading out to the planet Elizabeth found for the Taranans," John told me, sitting on the bed next to me and moving my hair away from my face.

"Mmm," I cracked open an eye and looked up at him. "What time is it?"

"Ten," John replied.

"What?" I sat up suddenly, rubbing a hand over my face. "Why'd you let me sleep so long?!"

"Because you needed it," John pointed out. "You look better."

"I need to get started on the telepathy device," I countered grumpily. "I don't have time to lie around sleeping - that Hive ship will be here in three weeks."

"All the more reason to get some sleep while you can," John moved out of the way when I pushed him aside looking for my uniform.

"Damn," I said heatedly. "I don't have any clean stuff -"

"You can have one of my shirts," John grabbed a clean one and held it out to me, raising an eyebrow when I practically snatched it out of his hands. "Are you sure you're okay?" he asked casually.

"Yes!" I shot back. "Why?"

"Because you're kinda ... grumpy," John admitted.

I looked up at him quickly, realising that he was right.

"See I told you!" I complained. "Annoying habits! I get grumpy in the morning when I oversleep."

"You're cute when you're angry," John teased, "so I don't mind."

"Go take your disgustingly cheerful self somewhere else," I ordered, throwing a pillow at him.

"I'm going," John laughed as he easily side stepped to avoid being hit. "Good luck with the device."

Realising that he'd cheered me out of my grumpy mood easily, I shook my head with a smile. I didn't think anyone would complain about waking up to the sight of John Sheppard grinning at them.

It took me a while to get back to my quarters, change, grab food and then get myself down to my lab. I kept John's shirt on though, wondering when I'd gotten so soppy that a borrowed shirt was such a comfort to me.

I really wanted to just put my hand on the telepathy device and see what happened but that was hardly scientific - plus John and Rodney would have my head if something went wrong as a result. Leaving the device in the middle of my work table I accessed the files I'd copied to my laptop and settled down to read through them all first. We did have a translation program of sorts to convert Ancient symbols into English but the results were usually unreliable. It wasn't as simple as this symbol means that - some changed meaning depending on how they were placed and the order was also important. Translating was as much art as it was a science because instinct and interpretation were just as important as an understanding of the many symbols used. I much preferred just reading the text directly.

Halfway through the first day I'd discovered enough to do a preliminary report to Doctor Weir. I was about to radio her to find out when she was free when I heard a throat being cleared in the doorway.

"Doctor Weir!" I greeted her in surprise.

"Sabina," Doctor Weir greeted me. "I felt like a walk to clear my head so I thought I'd see how you're doing."

"I was just about to contact you actually," I admitted, motioning for her to take a seat.

"What have you got?" Doctor Weir asked hopefully.

"The files I copied are a complete record of the research the Ancients were undertaking," I began. "They were looking into Wraith telepathy just as we suspected. When Rodney said it wouldn't help because none of us were proficient in Wraith telepathy he was right ... the Ancients had the same problem."

"But weren't some of them telepathic?" Elizabeth looked at me curiously.

"They were," I agreed, "but it's like comparing apples and oranges. Take the Ancient technology for example. The Ancients designed many systems so that only someone with the Ancient gene could operate them. The Wraith technology works on a similar principle - you need the Wraith gene to tap into their neural network. But they don't translate ... even if you know how, in your mind, to make the Ancient systems work that doesn't mean you'd be able to get the Wraith systems working, even with the Wraith gene."

"But didn't you get the Wraith Dart to fly?" Doctor Weir questioned with a frown.

"I did," I admitted. "When I was first captured I tried to open the cell door and I couldn't because I was trying to do it like I'd open an Ancient door. It was only after I'd been mentally linked with the Queen that I was able to understand why that didn't work. It’s a little hard to describe the difference but part of it is that the Wraith technology requires much more aggression - I had to ... force my way mentally into the systems and 'make' them do what I wanted. That's very different from the Ancient technology which does everything for you as long as you maintain a tight focus on what you actually want."

"Surely the Ancients would have had enough mental strength to do what you've described," Doctor Weir pointed out.

"I don't think so," I countered. "I know from my own experience that linking to that Wraith Dart even for the short time I did was incredibly uncomfortable. I could barely function by the time John found me and that wasn't all the headache from the Queens attack. With practice I think I could improve on that but the gap between us and the Wraith in terms of how our brains work is probably not as great as it was between the Ancients and the Wraith of 10,000 years ago."

"Didn't Colonel Sheppard fly a Dart when Lieutenant Ford captured his team?" Elizabeth asked the obvious question.

"Good question - yes he did, and without the Wraith gene," I agreed. "But that was because Rodney really is brilliant - he jury rigged connections direct to the neural network for the small set of functions John would need and used the laptop as the interface. That only worked because Rodney had almost two weeks to set it up - it's a one off situation that won't help us in any big way."

"So what did the Ancients do about the problem?" Doctor Weir asked.

"I haven't confirmed all the details but drawing some connections I've worked out what the general plan was. First you have to get yourself a fleet of Jumpers, each having one of these devices,' I gestured towards my work table. "Then train up a bunch of pilots to operate them. Wake up all the Wraith at once and lure them to some predetermined location. Deploy your fleet to strategic points to surround that location and wait for the Hives to get there. Use the devices to send out some kind of telepathic command - I'm thinking something like pause on a remote control. Deliver the biotic weapon to all the Hives and then hit the play button. The Wraith wouldn't even know anything had happened - they'd search but not find anything and head on their way ... some time later the Hive ships would be destroyed by the virus and they'd be lying dead in space ... implying goodbye Wraith. Even if they don't all come at once you could repeat the same sequence any number of times, until the Wraith numbers have been so depleted they'd be easy to wipe out with other methods."

"That's a very ambitious plan,' Doctor Weir pointed out. "Any one of those steps could fail and result in annihilation by the Wraith."

"They were desperate," I explained. "And they'd left it until their numbers and resources were seriously depleted. They just ran out of time before they could complete all the stages. It's a pity they didn't develop the biotic virus first, instead of the telepathic device. From our point of view it'd be much more useful at this point in time."

"Is there anything there that we can use?" Doctor Weir asked hopefully.

"We've only got the one device," I pointed out, "but on a smaller scale we may be able to achieve something. Even if we could work out how to stop the Hive ship approaching us now from attacking that would be helpful. Every plan doesn't have to be about destroying the Wraith ... a good defensive plan would be just as valuable."

"You're right," Doctor Weir agreed, "although I'm sure Colonel Sheppard would much prefer something that wipes them out."

"John still hasn't given up hope of finding a really big space gun," I said with a smile. "But he still appreciates the benefits of a great defence."

"What do you need to do next?" Doctor Weir returned the conversation to a serious note.

"I need to finish reading all the files," I answered, "and then I need to find a way to practice using this device to see if it's even possible for us to do so."

"Okay, keep at it," Doctor Weir acknowledged, taking her leave to return back to the Control Room.

John was gone with the Taranans for two days ... during that time I completed my reading and came up with a couple of possible strategies for how we might make use of the device. I pounced on John as soon as he'd stepped through the gate to talk about my ideas.

"I need to talk to you about strategy for the telepathy device," I greeted him as he walked across the Gateroom floor towards me.

"Hello to you too," John replied sarcastically. "Yes my trip was successful - thanks for asking!"

"Sorry - Hello John," I smiled up at him apologetically. "Did you get the Taranan's settled okay?"

"I had to be diplomatic whenever someone wanted something stupid," John complained. "It was tiring."

"Sorry," I knew how much he hated those sorts of missions. "Are you finished with them?"

"I am," John vowed. "Elizabeth can send another team to provide back up support. Now what did you want to tell me?"

"I'll follow you down to the infirmary," I said, "I can talk while Doctor Beckett does your post mission check."

We'd made it to the corridor just outside the infirmary before John turned to me and said simply "I missed you."

"I was much too busy to miss you," I teased, pleased to see some of the tension leave him when he smiled at my usual response. Before I knew it he had me backed into the wall with an intent expression that made me breathless. "What are you doing?" I asked, glancing from side to side to see if anyone was around to notice.

"Making you ... rethink that answer," John replied, crowding me with his heat as much as his physical presence. He leaned in close so that his lips were only a breath from mine and whispered "did you miss me?"

"Did you go somewhere?" I asked coyly, waiting to see what he'd do next.

I didn't have to wait long ... John raised an eyebrow at my provocative response before closing the distance between our lips. Things got heated pretty quickly before John broke away and looked down with a pleased grin at my dazed expression.

"Did that jog your memory?" he asked smugly.

"Uh ... ah yeah, pretty much," I blinked a couple of times and then blushed when I saw Carson standing beside us smiling fondly.

"Unhand the lass Colonel," Carson ordered in amusement. "You're due a post mission check."

"Of course Doc," John let me go reluctantly and followed Carson into the infirmary.

While Carson was doing the usual checks I filled John in on what I'd already told Elizabeth. We moved the conversation to John's office, a room he seldom used which made it a good place to talk uninterrupted.

"Something defensive that doesn't rely on a ZPM would be handy," John agreed. "What did you want to talk to me about?"

"I wanted to talk to you about how the TED can help us," I began.

"Ted?" John queried. "You named the device Ted? What kind of name is that?!"

"Telepathic Expansion Device - it's what the Ancients called it," I told him. "If you want to name it something else, go ahead."

"Nah," John said nonchalantly. "Ted's good ... sounds friendly."

"The Ancients were looking at using TED to control the Wraith themselves - because they wanted to deliver the biotic weapon to all the ships at once and have it spread to the cruisers and Darts too. We can't do that because we only have one TED and we don't have enough Jumpers."

"So what did you want to do?" John asked curiously.

“I could still work out how to use TED to control a Wraith like they do us,” I admitted. “It’d be worth making sure we had that as an option because it could prove useful at some point.”

“You wouldn’t be able to control a whole Hive though,” John pointed out.

"To be honest I don’t really know – but TED could also be used to directly control the Wraith technology itself," I pointed out, "because all of it relies on Wraith telepathy too through the neural network. If I can learn how to use it in time, I could conceivably stop the Hive ship - maybe even create enough damage for it to retreat."

"Wouldn't you have to be close to the Hive ship to make that possible?" John frowned as he thought about all the pros and cons of my suggestion.

"Again I don’t know – if I did we could take a cloaked Jumper up and they'd never know we were there." I said it quickly, knowing he'd probably not be that keen on the idea.

"Can anyone use the TED?" John asked a question that surprised me.

"Ah ... maybe?" I replied hesitantly. "I was assuming Wraith telepathy was a prerequisite but it doesn't specifically say only an Ancient with the Wraith gene would be able to use the device. I suppose anyone with the potential could be trained ..." I frowned in thought. "I don't see the point in training anyone other than me though," I said heatedly.

"Why?" John made me justify my thinking.

"Because I have the ATA gene which TED requires and I have experience with Wraith telepathy in general. Plus I'm the only person who's actually controlled some Wraith technology," I replied. "And I only worked out what was required because I stole the information from the Wraith Queens mind when she was trying to squash me."

"Couldn't you tell someone else how to do it?" John persisted.

"Is there some reason you don't think I should do it?" I asked, trying to keep my voice sounding reasonable, "a professional reason that is?"

"No," John replied. "I just think we'd be stupid to rely solely on you if we can train someone to be a back up ... just in case."

"I'm not sure whether two and half weeks will be enough time for me to become effective in using TED," I admitted, "let alone train anyone else to be. Besides, I wasn't really thinking of this as the front line plan - there's only one ship and they may just be doing a routine fly by so the cloak might be enough."

"Okay," John agreed. "As a defensive strategy it makes sense."

"Really?" I asked in surprise, pleased that John thought I'd come up with something workable.

"Yes," John replied, "so long as we can work out a way to make sure neither you nor the device can fall into Wraith hands."

"My first problem is how to get skilled in using the device," I admitted. “On the controlling technology front we’ve got the Dart – if the Daedalus can beam it down here I can practice on that. Although I’m thinking we should pick a spot somewhere on the mainland – just in case the Wraith scan us and somehow pick up a piece of their own technology on the planet.”

“Okay,” John agreed. “I’ll talk with Colonel Caldwell and we’ll pick a suitable location. Your team can go over to the mainland together whenever you want to work on the Dart. I’m sure Major Lorne won’t mind guard duty.”

“I don’t think I need a guard,” I argued. “Wouldn’t Major Lorne be more useful somewhere else?”

“You worry about learning how to control the Dart,” John told me, “and I’ll worry about security. Anything else?”

"The second bit is the telepathic control angle – the only way I can think of to test that is to actually try and use TED to impose my will on someone else. I’m not sure how comfortable I am even thinking about doing that and I’d only attempt it if I had some willing subjects to help me test it - who's gonna agree to open themselves up that much?"

"Some of my men will volunteer," John assured me. "I'll get back to you with some names so you can organise a few sessions."

"Okay," I said a bit apprehensively.

"What?" John frowned at my obvious nervousness.

"It's just that I'm gonna be starting out blind," I admitted. "I don't want to look like an idiot with your guys."

"I don't think that'll be a problem," John reassured me.

"You say that now," I countered, "but if I look like an idiot then it'll reflect badly on you too - as the partner of an idiot!"

"Relax," John advised, clearly trying not to laugh at my concerns. "Your accomplishments are a bit of a legend on Atlantis - a fact I know you're completely blind to. They'll be lining up to help you out - trust me!"

"Get out," I blushed at his words, sincerely hoping he was just joking. I wasn't unfriendly but my nature didn't make me Miss Popularity either - most of my time was either spent obsessing over my current project or being with John and his team, so I really had no idea what people thought of me. "If anyone's a legend it's you Colonel ‘I was three seconds from death but somehow I survived’ Sheppard!"

"I'll pick someone easy for your first guinea pig," John offered, ignoring what I'd said. "Does that make you feel better?"

"Yes it does thank you," I replied primly.

“All right,” John stood up and motioned for me to precede him through his office door. “Before I do anything I need food ... wanna join me?”

“I could eat,” I said amicably.

“I know we’ve got our little ‘I missed you’ routine going,” I told him as we walked to the commissary, “but in all seriousness it’s good to have you back. I like talking to you about my projects ... makes me think of stuff I might not have considered.”

“Could’ve been –“ John began.

Mensa – I know!” I cut him off. “Are you ever gonna get sick of that?”

“Probably not,” John admitted.

Chapter 34: I don’t know what the hell I’m doing!

With the usual military precision and organisation, John had a site picked out for my wraith Dart and a list of volunteers for my telepathy trials within a day. I’d used the time to review all the information I’d copied over on how to actually use TED ... it was all theory though which would only make sense once I actually tried to do something. So far I hadn’t even activated TED and I didn’t know what to expect. For that reason it made sense to try the technology control angle first, even though TED hadn’t actually been designed specifically for that purpose.

“I know you assigned Major Lorne and the team to work with me on the mainland,” I told John the next morning when I was ready to proceed, “but for this first trial could you take me over to the mainland instead?”

“Worried about your image?” John teased me.

“No,” I protested. “I’m worried about only getting partial control and crashing the Dart into someone.”

“So you’d rather put me at risk?” John pretended to be offended. When I opened my mouth to make some kind of response John held his hand up. “Relax, I was just joking. I can take you over if you prefer.”

“Thanks,” I said gratefully.

“Let’s go,” John led the way to the Jumper bay, with a brief stop off in my lab to pick up TED, my laptop and some necessary supplies.

Colonel Caldwell had beamed the Wraith Dart down in a wide clearing a safe distance away from the Athosian settlement. John landed the Jumper about a ten minute hike from there – just in case I did actually stuff this up.

I set TED up on the small dais we’d brought with us, connected the laptop and powered up some monitoring programs Rodney had designed. I stepped back, glancing across at John.

“Go on then,” he waved a hand in the air like I was about to perform some kind of magic trick. With his dark sunglasses on I couldn’t see his eyes to tell what he was thinking.

“Just ... be ready to get out of the way,” I advised nervously.

Taking a couple of deep breaths I slowly lowered my hand onto the device ... TED lit up immediately with a faint hum. As with all Ancient technology the mental connection presented me with a range of actions I could perform. With a Jumper you got all the functions available to do with flying and instrumentation – but that connection wasn’t going to make you instantly a qualified pilot. You had to understand what was being offered to you before you could control it and make use of it.

TED was the same – I was being presented with a whole host of information, most of which made no sense to me at all. I closed my eyes and concentrated harder, trying to find something, anything, that was familiar.

“Ah ... Sabina?” I heard John’s voice as if from a great distance ... it was surprisingly difficult to pull my mind away from TED and back to my surroundings.

“What?” I turned back to John and found him holding a hand to his head as though in pain. “What’s wrong?” I ran over and put a hand on his shoulder.

“I’m okay,” John grumbled, “it’s better now.”

“What happened?” I asked with dread in my voice.

“Instant headache,” John admitted. “I don’t know what you were trying to do but the longer you were connected to that thing the worse it got.”

“Oh God,” I muttered sickly, “I’m so sorry ... I didn’t mean to do anything – I wasn’t even thinking about you.”

“It’s okay,” John excused. “It wasn’t that bad.”

“Define ‘that bad’?” I demanded, pacing in front of him. “On the pain scale where was it?”

“I think you’re overreacting Sabina,” John grabbed my arm and pulled me to a stop. “On my pain scale it barely even registered.”

“This was a bad idea,” I looked down at the ground, tugging at my arm until John reluctantly let me go. I went back to TED and started packing up.

“You’re not gonna try again?” John asked, walking over to my position.

I don’t know what the hell I’m doing!” I pointed out heatedly. “I mean, who do I think I am ... trying to remote control a Wraith Dart when I can barely even control-“

“Stop it!” John interrupted me harshly. “You are brilliant at what you do, with the Ancient technology and now with all this Wraith stuff,” John looked at me intently. “So your first attempt had an unexpected side effect – let’s deal with it and use it.”

“Are you sure you’re all right?” I asked softly.

Yes,” John said impatiently. “I think you should try again.”

“You know how when you connect to the Jumper you get access to the whole Jumper all at once?” I asked. When John nodded, I continued. “If you didn’t know anything at all about flying or navigation or instrumentation would you know what it was you had access to?”

“I guess not,” John admitted. “Is that what it was like?”

“Yeah, except I couldn’t even tell you that much about what I was getting,” I said in disappointed. “All I was doing when you got the headache was looking for something familiar. I don’t think there’s any point in trying again today – I need to think about what sorts of information an Ancient would consider necessary to expand someone’s telepathic ability.”

“Talk to Doctor Heightmeyer,” John suggested.

“Good idea,” I said. “Let’s get out of here – I want Doctor Beckett to check you out.”

John rolled his eyes in frustration. “That’s not –“.

“It’ll make me feel better,” I interrupted.

“Then I guess it’ll be worth it,” John grumbled, helping me put all the gear back in my pack.

Of course John was right – he was fine and Doctor Beckett didn’t think there could possibly be any hidden damage that we didn’t know about yet.

I called Doctor Heighmeyer for an appointment as soon as we were done with Doctor Beckett. To be honest I was a bit apprehensive about talking to a psychiatrist, even in a non professional capacity ... all that ‘what do you think it means?’ stuff really annoyed me. So when it was time to head down to Doctor Heightmeyer’s office I had to forcibly suppress my nervousness.

“Thanks for seeing me Doctor Heightmeyer,” I said in greeting.

“Kate, please,” she replied, gesturing for me to take a seat. “What can I do for you?”

“I’m working on the telepathic expansion device we found on Taranis,” I told her. “I can activate it but the mass of information I get presented with is just incomprehensible to me. I need to understand more about how telepathic ability works so I can determine what information the Ancients would have thought useful to expand it.”

“Telepathy is an interesting dilemma,” Kate admitted. “Scientifically using classic methods like card guessing games, there’s really been nothing conclusive to prove it even exists.”

“But clearly it does exist,” I pointed out. “I’m pretty sure if we could get two Wraith to participate in the card game they’d get a perfect score.”

“Certainly what we’ve seen here in the Pegasus galaxy defies what we know from research back on Earth,” Kate agreed. “Although to be fair we don’t know how different the Wraith brain is from a human brain – perhaps we should instead be saying human telepathy doesn’t exist.”

“I’ve experienced it myself,” I said quietly. “Admittedly that’s because of the Wraith gene I possess – are you saying that makes my brain less human?”

“Of course not,” Kate replied earnestly. “I do know there are a lot of theories to explain telepathy in the non classic sense – via reference to quantum physics actually. I don’t know more than that – perhaps Doctor McKay would be able to help you from that side.”

“If I wanted to quantify my brain activity in some way,” I asked, moving away from the specific topic of telepathy, “how would I do that?”

“The major neuroimaging techniques used back on Earth are PET scans, MRI’s and EEGs,” Kate said. “The first two even produce pictures of the brain at work so we can understand how the brain processes information or reacts to stimuli.”

“Can you link me to something on the database to explain how they all work?” I asked.

“Of course,” Kate agreed. “Although you should check with Doctor Beckett too – the Ancients probably had different techniques to ours.” She turned to her laptop and after a few moments searching found some useful links to send me.

“Thanks Doctor Heightmeyer,” I said, keen to finish off the conversation so I could pursue the avenues she’d suggested.

“I heard about your capture by the Wraith – how are you feeling now that some time has passed?” Kate asked curiously.

“I’m good,” I replied, frowning in confusion at why she’d ask the question.

“I ask because it wouldn’t be unusual to have lingering effects from such an experience,” Kate offered.

“No lingering effects,” I said lightly. “I had heard a lot about Wraith captures from Colonel Sheppard before it happened ... maybe that helped.”

“Ah yes ... Colonel Sheppard does have a knack for putting himself through difficult experiences,” Kate looked at me as if judging my reaction to that.

“He does,” I agreed, offering nothing further.

“Does that bother you?” Kate asked. “If I were in that kind of relationship I’d find it hard to continually be faced with the threat of loss.”

“It wouldn’t say much for my feelings if it didn’t bother me,” I pointed out in a slightly annoyed tone. “Look I don’t know where you’re going with all these questions, but if you’ve got something to say just spit it out instead of dancing around it.”

“I’m sorry,” Kate said, surprised at my response. “Of course it would bother you ... I really just wanted to offer you a sympathetic ear if you ever feel the need for help in handling those situations.”

“I appreciate the offer,” I said, rising to my feet, “but I don’t think I’ll be taking you up on it. If I want to talk about something I talk to John – which is only fair since it’s usually something he did that gave me the need. We work it out together.”

“That’s good,” Kate rose to her feet to escort me from the room. “I hope you find what you need from the material I sent you.”

“I hope so too,” I replied. “Thanks again.” Giving a casual wave I headed in the direction of the infirmary.

I had a similar conversation with Doctor Beckett, without the annoying psychological questioning of course. The Ancient techniques were similar to ours but using different processes and displays to deliver the information. With what Kate had given me I thought I had enough to recognise anything in TED that had to do with brain measurement in general but I was still lacking information about telepathy. Kate had mentioned quantum physics – the only place to go on Atlantis for that was Rodney but unfortunately he was on the Orion. In fact anyone who’d know about quantum physics was on the Orion.

Rodney and a large contingent of Atlantis scientists were trying to get her flight worthy before the Hive ship arrived. The first hurdle had been to get the sub light engines on line so they could bring the ship back to Atlantis. The good news for me was that Rodney was now only a short Jumper trip away ... if I could convince John to take me out there.

“Colonel Sheppard,” I tapped my headset, “what’s your position?”

“I’m about five steps away from a turkey sandwich,” John drawled. “Want one?”

“Of course,” I laughed. “I’ll be there in a few ... don’t even think about touching my sandwich!”

“How’d it go?” John asked once we’d finished off our late lunch. I leant back in my chair and looked across at him.

“Have you ever spoken with Doctor Heightmeyer?” I asked curiously.

“Not in a professional capacity,” John replied, “why?”

“She said you had a knack for getting yourself into trouble,” I told him, “and offered to help me during those ‘difficult times’.”

“Is she still in one piece?” John joked.

“Hey, I was nice,” I protested, “even when I said there was no way I’d be talking to her about you.”

“She was just trying to help,” John pointed out. “It is her job and the people who need that aren’t always the ones who voluntarily seek it.”

“I guess,” I frowned. “I just don’t see how it helps talking to some stranger about situations they haven’t been in and couldn’t possibly understand. I’d much rather just talk to you ... it’s usually your fault anyway so you should be the one to cop the flack!”

“Yeah well not everyone is as free with expressing their frustrations as you are,” John pointed out. “Did you get anything useful from Kate?”

“Yeah – general stuff about how to measure brain activity,” I replied, “which brings me to the reason I called you when I did.”

“You mean it wasn’t just to enjoy my charming personality?” John put on a disgruntled look.

“That was just a bonus,” I laughed. “I wanted to ask you if I could go up to the Orion – apparently quantum physics might explain Wraith telepathy. There’s no one who isn’t on the Orion who can explain that to me.”

“Quantum physics?” John asked. “Isn’t that Rodney’s favourite subject?”

“One of them,” I agreed. “So can we go?”

“I was gonna check in with them later anyway,” John said. “You can come along.”

“Cool,” I smiled happily. “Give me a yell when it’s time.”

Chapter 35: I need you to explain the quantum physics of telepathy

 “I know you’re really busy,” I interrupted Rodney. We were on the Orion and I’d been standing watching him reconfiguring some crystal control modules for a few minutes before I realised he just wasn’t going to stop. Rodney did nothing more than glance briefly up at me.

“I need you to explain the quantum physics of telepathy to me,” I told him, hoping that might spark his interest.

“What makes you think the two are related?” Rodney stopped what he was doing and glanced at me curiously.

“Because Doctor Heightmeyer said they were,” I replied, “and because the telepathic expansion device showed me some really confusing images that would only make sense if some kind of scientific theory was attached to them.”

“Look, reality is made up of two different worlds,” Rodney got up and tapped out some instructions on his computer while talking to me. “The classic physical world where things like Newton’s laws can accurately and logically predict the behaviour of objects ... and the quantum world where sub-atomic particles behave in bizarre and paradoxical ways that defy those laws.”

“How is that related to telepathy?” I asked, intrigued.

“There are a few different theories,” Rodney explained, “based around the quantum principles of superposition and nonlocal quantum entanglement.” Seeing my blank look Rodney tried to expand on what he was saying. “Experiments have been done to prove that at the sub-atomic level two or more particles can exist in the same place or state simultaneously. The multiverse theory suggests that there’s a universe for every possible state and mechanisms so that the states can interact and be influenced by the others. Nonlocal quantum entanglement - "spooky action at a distance" - suggests that particles separated in time and distance are actually intimately connected.”

“So what you’re saying is that telepathy works because all states exist together, interact, and can be influenced and that they’re all intimately connected no matter how far apart they are?” I summarised what I’d understood from his lecture.

“Something like that, although it’s much more complex.” Rodney thought for a minute and then clicked his fingers as an idea came to him. “Think of a specific Wraith you want to connect to. In the classic world you’d have to find him first and then travel the distance necessary to get to him and when you got there he might already have gone somewhere else or just not be willing to talk to you. Telepathy wouldn’t exist because you’d have to pick up the Wraith thoughts over a huge distance, travelling through walls, water, planets – the classic laws of physics say that’s just impossible. In the quantum world the two of you exist simultaneously in states that can access each other directly – even separated by distance and time the quantum connection between you would allow you to instantaneously communicate.”

“Wouldn’t that mean the Wraith telepathy should be more than the short range we know it is?” I asked curiously.

“As a matter of fact it would,” Rodney seemed almost pleased that I’d asked something that meant I actually understood what he’s told me.

“So why isn’t it?” I persisted.

“I don’t know,” Rodney complained. “Maybe it is and they just don’t know it – after all you have to believe the connection is there. Perhaps the Wraith aren’t capable of that level of absolute belief.”

“If the Ancients were trying to measure or access the quantum connections what would it look like on one of these?” I gestured to the Orion display screens.

“I can show you a few different ways to test for or depict things in quantum physics,” Rodney offered.

“Do you have time to do something quick right now?” I looked at him with a pleading look.

“I suppose,” Rodney said grudgingly, “but if the Orion isn’t finished on time you can tell Elizabeth you wasted some time on quantum mechanics.”

“Thanks Rodney,” I said gratefully, watching intently as he brought up various displays and explained what they were showing. My brain felt severely taxed by the time he’d shown me what he could and I wearily made contact with John to get a lift back to Atlantis.

It was pretty late in the day but I thought perhaps there’d be enough time to make one more attempt at using TED that day. On the way back to Atlantis I turned to John and asked “Can we go back to the Dart for just a bit?”

“Do you want to try again?” John asked.

“I’m not going to try controlling the Dart,” I replied. “I just want to access TED and see if I can record some displays relating to the Dart – I had my laptop hooked up last time but because I didn’t know what I was looking at, what I recorded was all garbled and useless. If I can get a good record I can study it and see where I went wrong.”

“Okay,” John agreed, “but only for a short stay.”

When we got close to the Darts location I said “You can just drop me off here.”

“You’re not gonna hurt me,” John protested.

“Better to be safe than sorry,” I retorted. “Look, you don’t have to abandon me here – can’t you hover in this thing?”

John thought for a moment before nodding “Okay.”

I set everything up as before, trying to calm my breathing and my mind before putting my hand on the device. This time the displays I was seeing were familiar, especially the ones on brain activity I’d seen already that day with Doctor Beckett. The information was still a bit overwhelming but it wasn’t drawing me under like before.

Focussing sharply I thought only about Wraith technology and was rewarded when TED displayed a series of charts and text via the laptop link. There were commands there I could have executed but I decided just getting the information was enough for one day. I stepped back from the device and waved up at John to come and get me.

“No headaches,” John announced when he opened the hatch for me.

“That’s a relief,” I said wearily. “I’m just gonna stretch out back here ... wake me when we get back to Atlantis.”

The short rest in the Jumper revived me enough to take what I’d recorded on my laptop back down to my lab and start analysing it. I could see John wanted to protest that it was late but thought better of it when I narrowed my eyes ready to argue.

“I’ll just spend a couple of hours looking at this stuff,” I promised.

“Make sure it's not more than that,” John ordered sternly.

Back in my lab I called up the information I’d gathered and settled in to try and work out what I had. If I was reading the information correctly, the device might actually be easier to operate than I’d originally thought. Sure, there was a lot of information – once activated TED seemed to be monitoring everything it was possible to monitor about the operator. There were also many displays dealing with the quantum mechanics Rodney had briefly explained to me. I wasn’t a physicist though, and unlikely to become one any time in the next century ... hopefully what I was reading about the device meant that I didn’t have to understand that aspect in order to make use of it.

When a big cracking yawn overtook me I realised I’d been at it well beyond the time I’d promised. Quickly shutting everything off I almost sprinted from the lab heading up to John’s quarters.

“Hey,” I greeted him breathlessly.

“You’re late,” John pointed out. From the way he was stretched out on the bed with his book it was clear he’d been there a while.

“True,” I agreed, “but compared to my usual performance in that department I’m actually early. So you should be congratulating me.” I smiled winningly.

“Sadly, I can’t argue with that,” John laughed, reaching out to pull me down to him. “Solved the mysteries of existence yet?”

“Almost,” I joked. “My brain hurts ... seriously I can feel the stuff I tried to learn today burrowing in like a drill. And before you say it,” I held up a hand to hold off the words I knew he was going to say, ”I don’t need anything from Doctor Beckett – I just need rest.”

“I can help with that,” John patted the spot next to him.

“I’ll just lie here for a few minutes,” I agreed, stretching out next to him so that he was spooned behind me. Closing my eyes I sighed – it was relaxing to listen to John breathing as he continued reading his book. I fell asleep before he’d reached his daily page quota.

Authors Note:

The idea that telepathy could be explained via quantum physics came from a range of sources including an article by Dr. Stephen Juan in the Canadian National Post; physicsworld dot com; and science dot howstuffworks dot com. My physics knowledge is basic first year uni from some time ago so apologies for any errors/inaccuracies that made it into this chapter.

Chapter 36: How hard did you try to resist?

 “What have you got to report?” I was meeting with Doctor Weir early the next morning to fill her in on my progress. John was sitting in as well since I’d been too tired to tell him much the day before.

“Partially good news I think,” I began. “If I’m right then TED might not be as hard to operate as my first attempt yesterday suggested. It’s an amazing device – it’s literally measuring reality. Trying to present that in a way the human brain can understand is difficult ... that’s why it overloaded me yesterday. I don’t think I did anything except get bombarded with all that information.”

“John mentioned the headache side effect,” Doctor Weir said. “How do you explain that?”

“I’ve got a theory about that,” I said hesitantly. “It’s no secret that John and I have a ... connection through the ATA gene. I believe that even though he wasn’t touching the device directly I provided a link to it for him. John has shown some ability in the past to resist Wraith telepathy which I think is because he probably has the potential in general.”

“And here I was thinking it was my charm and good looks that the Wraith queens couldn’t resist,” John quipped.

“I’m sure that didn’t hurt,” I smirked and Doctor Weir laughed at John’s faintly disgusted expression. The idea that a Wraith had found him attractive really wasn’t something to brag about.

“What else can you tell me about the TED?” Doctor Weir got us back on topic.

“The best I can tell,” I explained, “TED uses the quantum nature of the universe to create a kind of telepathic pool that exists in all states and times simultaneously. According to Rodney, nonlocal quantum entanglement means that all states are instantaneously accessible regardless of distance. The device created a way for the Ancients to access that directly to expand their telepathic ability – both range and strength.”

“Is it safe for a human to use it?” John asked.

“TED monitors everything possible about the operator’s brain and then uses that to facilitate connections to as many Wraith in the telepathic pool as it thinks the operator can handle.” I said. “So presumably if an Ancient brain was capable of handling more than my human brain, I won’t be able to perceive as many connections as they would have. There’re some optimising commands which must be about the grid the Ancients were going to create around a specific location. Since we’ve only got one TED we don’t have to worry about that, although the optimizing will ensure the closest physical connections get priority.”

“It sounds worth pursuing,” Doctor Weir commented. “Do what you can to progress your use of the device and report back to me in a few days.”

“I’m already thinking of ways to overcome the information overload,” I said. “I’ll keep going with that and we’ll see what’s possible. I was going to follow up controlling the Wraith Dart as the first priority but given what I’ve since learnt I think it’ll be easier if I try direct mind control first because that was the primary purpose of the device.”

“Sounds like a plan,” Doctor Weir acknowledged, rising from her chair to bring our meeting to a close.

“So you’re gonna start testing with my volunteers?” John asked as we walked away from Doctor Weir’s office.

“To be honest I don’t really want to,” I admitted, “but I think TED is complex enough that I need to get something working as intended before I start pushing the limits on what it was designed for.”

“Private Baines was my first choice to get you going,” John said. “He’s keen to learn and pretty easy going.”

“Good ... I guess ... could you get him to report to my lab in an hour?” I asked. John nodded and we parted ways, me down to the lab to prepare myself for my first test experiment.

Private Baines reported dead on time and I could see immediately why John had chosen him. Clearly he was military and since he’d been assigned to Atlantis he would be highly skilled at his job. Baines was still young enough though that he hadn’t acquired that scary military facade most of John’s men had.

“Thanks for volunteering to help,” I smiled at Baines and was rewarded with an easy smile in return.

“I was curious to see what goes on down here,” Baines admitted, “so when the Colonel asked for volunteers, I thought why not?”

“I have to tell you that you’re my first test subject,” I informed him. “I’ve worked out an experimental protocol – initially I’m just going to create a telepathic connection between myself and the device through to you. If that’s successful, I’ll try to issue an instruction to you – it’ll be your job to resist that instruction. Does that sound okay?”

“I’m ready,” Baines said confidently.

“Okay then,” I took a deep breath, “here goes ...”

Before touching TED I focussed my mind on the single request to access the telepathic pool for a connection between myself and Baines. Keeping that thought central I placed a hand on the device and was rewarded with the usual lights and faint hum. My mind presented the pool to me as a silvery shimmering circle, kind of like an open wormhole in the Stargate. All the information from the day before was kind of hovering around in the background, readily accessible but easily ignored. I dipped into the pool and perceived a multitude of possible connections, presumably for everyone close by in Atlantis and on the mainland. Holding my mind at the edge of the pool I identified a specific frequency that I somehow knew belonged to Private Baines. Grabbing that frequency I was rewarded with a fragile silvery thread leading away from the pool directly to Baines.

“Step one complete,” I said faintly, concentrating on maintaining the connection.

I’d thought hard about what instruction to send and decided on something simple that would be obvious to me if I was successful.

Raise your right arm,” I send the thought softly along the thread. When Baines remained with hands folded in his lap I repeated the thought, a bit stronger this time. It took three attempts before Baines slowly raised his arm, a slight frown marring his face. Breathing out I carefully returned the thread back into the pool and broke the connection.

“You did it,” Baines actually seemed happy that I’d been able to control him telepathically.

“Looks like it,” I smiled. “You were a good subject ... how hard did you try to resist?”

“Pretty hard,” Baines admitted. “I could actually hear your command in my head – even though I had no reason to raise my arm I was doing it before I could stop.”

“Was there any discomfort?” I asked reluctantly, hoping the answer would be no.

“Not really,” Baines replied. “Just the slightest sensation of pressure and maybe now just a slight headache.”

“Okay, that’s good,” I stood up and held out a hand. “I really appreciate your help,” I said as Private Baines shook my hand amiably.

“It was interesting,” Baines said. “I’ll make sure and tell the other guys it was all good.”

“Thanks,” I replied. “But don’t tell them what command I’m giving – wouldn’t want to prime them too much!”

Baines laughed before exiting the lab.

I kept up a steady pace of trials for the rest of the day, before finally calling it quits just before dinner. All the mental exertion had made me really hunger so my first stop was the commissary. I put in a call to John on the way, hoping he’d be able to join me.

“How’d it go?” John asked, sitting down with a tray of his own.

“Unbelievably good,” I replied glumly.

“So you managed to control all your volunteers and that makes you unhappy?” John looked at me in confusion.

“It was too good,” I explained. “I didn’t even have to push that hard so either your guys are all really weak minded or they were taking it easy on me.”

“Or you’re a lot stronger mentally than you realise,” John pointed out another option I hadn’t considered.

“It doesn’t really matter which it is,” I pointed out, “because the end result is that I can’t assess the full capability of TED. I need to find someone really difficult who’s willing to let me push hard.”

“Any ideas?” John asked curiously.

“I thought of Teyla,” I frowned, “but I’d really rather not ask her – given her history with the Wraith ... it just doesn’t seem appropriate to experiment on her.”

“I’ll do it,” John offered quietly. I looked at him open mouthed. “What?” he demanded. “Aren’t I stubborn enough for you?”

“Oh you’re plenty stubborn enough,” I replied. “And I did consider asking you, only ...” I broke off, looking intently at him.

“It’s a little too personal?” John questioned.

“Don’t you think so?” I turned the question back to him.

“So let me get this straight,” John said. “You were willing to delve into the minds of strangers but you’re hesitating to do the same with me even though you know me intimately and we frequently get as personal as two people can?”

“When you put it like that it sounds really stupid,” I complained.

“That’s because it is stupid,” John said smugly.

“Aren’t you worried I’ll pick up something from you that you didn’t want to share with me?” I asked curiously.

“No,” John replied with certainty. “Maybe you’re worried that I’ll pick up something from you!”

“Ha, in your dreams,” I retorted. “You’ll be lucky if you can resist me!”

“We both know that on occasion I do find it hard to resist you,” John looked me up and down mock suggestively and I couldn’t help but laugh. “But I think I’ll be able to mount a sufficient defence ... I have held off more than one Wraith Queen you know.”

“And that’s the only reason I’m agreeing to this,” I replied. “First thing tomorrow then?”

“You’re on,” John accepted my challenge.

 On to Part Four

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