ShaViva's Stargate Fan ... Stuff

Inconceivable!

Fortunate Journey Season Three Part Three


Chapter 21: Because I need to move on


Going home to Earth to live felt a lot different to going back for a visit, and for me not in a good way. Everything moved pretty fast once we’d arrived. They’d given us guest quarters until something more permanent could be arranged which I saw as a positive. At least I didn’t have to adjust to living in an actual house with John on top of everything else that was going on.

Assignments for everyone also proceeded with seeming haste. Within a week John and Major Lorne had been assigned their own SG teams, Doctor Beckett had taken up a surgery position in the infirmary and Rodney had been shipped off to Area 51 to head up his own lab. Only Doctor Weir seemed to have disappeared off the radar as far as jobs related to the SGC went.

As for myself, I’d been offered a job of sorts at the SGC but had yet to take it up. Instead of retaining my position as a member of team Lorne, General Landry had suggested that perhaps I might like to assist Doctor Jackson with his work researching the Ancients. He wasn’t condescending in any way but I felt that I was being condescended to. I had been so surprised by the turn of events that I hadn’t even tried to argue for my old position, and had to watch a research scientist being assigned to my team instead.

“This sucks,” I told John the night before he was due to head out on his first SGC mission. “I earned a spot on Major Lorne’s team and instead of ... of honouring that they offer me a cubby hole to putter around with stuff that can only loosely be described as Ancient!”

“I talked to General Landry,” John reminded me. “He made his position clear – that he won’t put you in a military position on a team because you’re not military. The General didn’t discount you getting a research position on one of the teams – just that the positions are decided on merit and there aren’t any places available at the moment.”

“Merit,” I said somewhat bitterly. “Translation – there are a million candidates more qualified than me.”

“I’m sorry,” John said softly, watching me pace around the room from his position sitting on the bed. When I lapped too close, he grabbed my hand and pulled me down beside him. “Couldn’t you start out with the job they’ve offered you – build a little credibility here and see where that leads?”

“I don’t know,” I fell backwards on the bed and put an arm over my face to block the light. “That cubby hole isn’t going anywhere so there’s no hurry is there?”

“So you’re on a kind of holiday then,” John dropped down beside me, turning to look at me.

“Yeah that’s it – a holiday,” I smiled at the description before turning serious again. “So what do I do while you’re off on this two day mission?”

“I arranged for a car,” John admitted. “I thought you might like to get out of the mountain for a while.”

“Sounds good,” I tried to put on a happy mood, not wanting him to go off the next day worried about me.

“And you’ll think about the job – actually think about it and not just pretend you are?” John leaned over and looked at me intently.

“I’ll think about the job,” I agreed reluctantly, happy I’d done so when I saw the relief reflected in John’s eyes. I knew he was worried about me, worried about how to make his promise to look after me into reality but I didn’t know what to do to reassure him. For the moment I let him distract me further with kisses and movement and intimacy, glad of the chance to turn my mind off for a while.

oOo

“Major Lorne?” I called, catching sight of him further down the corridor.

“Hey Sabina,” Lorne slowed but didn’t completely stop to let me catch up.

“Sorry I haven’t caught up with you since we’ve been back,” I said hurriedly, walking with him to the mess hall.

“That’s okay,” Lorne replied in a reasonable tone. “I’ve been running some drills with the team so I’ve been pretty busy too.”

“That’s actually what I wanted to talk to you about,” I said, watching him grab items from the server and then following him to a table. I sat down and waited for him to react.

“I didn’t get a say in team placements,” the Major looked up at me with his usual open expression.

“Did you even try to keep the team together?” I asked with a bit of heat in my voice.

“General Landry was looking for a different team mix,” Lorne replied, keeping an even tone of voice. “The challenges here are a lot different than in the Pegasus galaxy.”

“So you agree with General Landry that I don’t belong on an SG team?” I looked at him in disbelief. “I thought I’d convinced you that I had what it took.”

“You know nothing about the Ori,” Major Lorne said with a bit more heat, carefully not answering my question.

“And Doctor Cooper does?” I looked at him in disbelief.

“Yes he does,” Lorne said patiently. “The General asked me about each of my team members and I gave him a fair assessment of your skills.”

“So it doesn’t matter that Doctor Cooper is useless with anything defensive and you’ll have to watch him like a hawk to make sure he doesn’t hurt himself?” I asked bitingly.

“That’s a bit harsh,” Major Lorne rebuked me. “Landry wanted a team with both military and research skills.”

“I have research skills!” I looked at him in frustration. “Sure I don’t know about the Ori yet – I didn’t know about the Wraith either but I still managed to work out a lot of useful stuff.”

“You did,” Lorne rubbed a hand over his forehead like I was giving him a headache. “I don’t know what to tell you Sabina.”

“Did you at least try to argue for me?” I asked wearily, standing up and looking down at him sadly. “No wait, don’t answer that ... I don’t really want to know.”

“They did offer you a job didn’t they?” Major Lorne was almost pleading with me to understand now. I knew he wouldn't have had any real say in things and that it was unfair to blame him ... but my frustration had to go somewhere.

“If you call assisting someone who’s hardy ever here a job, then yeah,” I said sarcastically. “I get it okay – I’m not military so all the work I did to pass your tests on Atlantis doesn’t count. I’m not a Doctor of whatever so the Ancient translations don’t count. A heap of people have the ATA gene which is a heap too many because there’s nothing Ancient to activate here so that doesn’t count either.”

“You’ve got useful skills Sabina,” Lorne tried to convince me. "Just give the people here a chance to get to know you!"

“I don't think they're interested,” I waved a hand to dismiss his argument. “You know what, forget it - I don’t even care anymore!”

“You do care – that’s the problem,” Lorne protested.

“Yeah – but clearly it’s my problem,” I shook my head in disappointment. “I’d say ‘see you around’ but we both know that’s not likely, so ... be careful out there.” Before Lorne could protest any further I turned and walked quickly from the room.

oOo

“I found a place,” I told John about a week later. I still hadn’t accepted the SGC job offer and had been spending my days learning about the area, driving around for hours on days when John was on a mission.

“A place?” John frowned at me in confusion.

“I want to leave the mountain,” I told him, “not just for the day – to live.”

“Ah,” John was clearly unsure how to handle this. “So you haven’t taken the job here and now you want to cut all ties with the SGC?”

“Well obviously not all ties since I’m hoping you’re gonna move off base with me,” I looked away, suddenly nervous about the whole conversation. “Assuming you consider living on Earth in a house together the same as living in the five star room on Atlantis,” I paused for a few seconds waiting for John to say something, “which maybe you don’t.”

“I’m happy to live wherever you want,” John replied in a tone that made it clear he thought I was being just a tad silly. “I’m just not sure why you want to live off base.”

“These quarters are only temporary,” I reminded him. “Eventually I’ll have to move on - even if they assign you permanent quarters on base – why wait?”

“Why hurry?” John countered.

“Because I need to move on,” I said heatedly. “There’s nothing here for me except you – instead of pretending otherwise I need to find something useful to do!”

“So you’re ready to give up on ever getting back to Atlantis?” John asked the difficult question.

“I’m ready to face reality,” I swallowed hard. “Even if the Ancients allow some people to move back to the city sometime in the future I won’t be among them. I have barely enough credence to get any kind of position at the SGC – I’d be at the bottom of a very long list.”

“What about your ATA gene?” John reminded me.

“You mean the gene that almost half of us can now acquire?” I discounted that as my claim to fame.

“Acquire but not use as proficiently as you do,” John replied. “And the Ancient translations?”

“I think the lack of real consideration for my skills is a clear message about the importance of that,” I looked at him sadly. “Look, I’m not asking you to prop up my ego or do anything to change something we both know can’t be changed.”

“You’re selling yourself short,” John said angrily.

I’m not,” I denied. “Can we just get back to my original question? Can I make arrangements for us to move into the place I found?”

“Sure – fine,” John replied, looking at me in frustration.

“At least money won’t be an issue,” I tried to joke. “Apparently they’ve been paying me a salary for over a year – we’re flush!”

“Of course they have,” John said seriously. “You’re a full member of the Atlantis Expedition.” He moved towards me, putting a hand on my arm to draw my gaze back to his. “Are you sure you wanna do this?”

“I’ll be okay,” I tried to reassure him. “I just need time to find ... something that seems worthwhile to do.”

“Have you told General Landry you’re not taking the job?” John asked curiously.

“Not yet,” I admitted. “It’s been over two weeks so I think he’d have already worked that one out for himself.”

“All right, do what you have to do,” John replied, hugging me tightly. I leant against him, knowing that life was about to change again but not knowing how to make it all stop. Rather than be a victim to that it was time for me to take control.

oOo

John continued to go on missions with a team that had already changed a couple of times. He wouldn’t admit it but John was struggling to come to terms with the natural changes to his role too. I took as much delight as I could generate in the process of setting up our new home, hardly believing I’d gone from being glad it was one less issue I had to deal with to devoting my every waking hour to it. By the time the four week mark being back on Earth was approaching we were settled in and trying to pretend it all felt perfectly normal, trusting that eventually the pretence would be a reality.

Of course I couldn’t forget completely the life I’d left behind. I came home from another long drive one afternoon when John was off world to a strange message from the SGC.

“Ms Scott, this is General Landry. I’d appreciate it if you could return my call at your earliest convenience.”

Worried something had happened to John I placed a call to the number Doctor Beckett had given me before I’d left the SGC for the last time. The switchboard patched me through and a second later I was talking with Carson.

“Is everything all right with John?” I asked quickly.

“As far as I know lass,” Carson replied. “Why do you ask?”

“I had a message from General Landry,” I told him. “John’s off world so I just thought maybe ...”

“John’s team isn’t due to report in for a few hours yet,” Carson reminded me. “I’m sure he’s fine.”

“Okay, thanks Carson,” I said in relief. “I wonder what the General wanted.”

“Why don’t you call him back and find out?” Carson said with amused impatience.

“I guess I could do that,” I admitted. “You’re still coming for dinner when John gets back?”

“Wouldn’t miss it” Carson promised.

I ended the call, still frowning over what General Landry might have wanted to speak to me about. It was petty and probably a bit silly but I decided I wouldn’t call him back until I could talk to John first.

When I heard a vehicle pull up the following evening I thought it was John returning. Rushing to the door I stopped short at the sight of an official looking car I didn’t recognise idling in the driveway. When I saw the passenger getting out I groaned in disbelief.

“Oh great,” I said aloud, glancing at the clock and realising it could be another hour before John arrived. Putting on a gracious face I slowly opened the door when an insistent knock sounded.

“Ms Scott,” General Landry greeted me pleasantly. “Are you going to invite me in?”

“John’s not due back for another hour or so,” I said, hoping that maybe the General was there to see him.

“I’m not here to see Colonel Sheppard,” the General looked at me pointedly. Reluctantly stepping aside I turned wordlessly and led him into the lounge area. “You’ve done a nice job on the place,” he commented easily.

“I’m sure you’re not here to comment on my homemaking skills either,” I took a seat across from the one he’d chosen and looked at him expectantly.

“No,” Landry agreed. “We’ve had a request from Atlantis and since we’re trying to build a rapport with the Ancients I agreed that we’d do our best to meet it. I’m sorry to stop by unannounced but when you didn’t return my call you left me no choice.”

“Yes, well my earliest convenience was going to be some time after John got back,” I admitted freely. “I’m assuming since you’re here that the Ancient’s request had something to do with me?”

“Yes,” Landry seemed perfectly comfortable with that so I wasn’t expecting his next statement. “They’d like you to return to Atlantis to assist them restore the Dakara weapon to active use.”

“What do they need me for?” I asked in surprise.

“The weapon on Atlantis needs both the ATA and Wraith genes doesn’t it?” Landry waited for me to nod before continuing. “It turns out that none of the surviving Ancients have the Wraith gene. Apparently merging Ancient and Wraith DNA as they did 10,000 years ago is a long and complex process. Captain Helia doesn’t believe the effort is worthwhile unless they can first establish that the weapon can be repaired. That’s where you come in.”

“And this is a request,” I checked my understanding. “I can say no?”

“You could,” Landry agreed, “but I’m hoping you won’t.”

“Just me?” I looked at him hopefully.

“At this stage they’re only authorising one person for this,” Landry almost smiled when my shoulders slumped in disappointment.

“And how long would I be there – if I did say yes?” I asked curiously.

“Captain Helia promised two weeks – no more,” Landry replied, making me feel uncomfortable that he’d known up front I wouldn’t want to be away from John for too long. “So what’s it gonna be?”

“I’m trying to move on from Atlantis,” I told General Landry earnestly. “From Wraith DNA and ATA genes and all of that. The Ancients kicked us out with barely a ‘thanks for saving our city’ – they weren’t worried about their ‘rapport’ with us. If I go back there, even for such a short time, it’ll be a big step backward from everything I’m trying to do here. I’m sorry but I don’t think I can go.”

“I’d ask you to take a bit more time,” Landry requested, “talk it over with Colonel Sheppard, before you make your final decision.”

“I can do that,” I agreed, “but I don’t think I’m going to change my mind.”

“I hope you’re not making this decision based on any ... ill feeling you might have towards the SGC,” the General persisted.

“Now why would I have ill feeling?” I asked with a slight edge to my voice. “Because I was replaced on my team by someone I could wipe the floor with and not even break a sweat? Or because none of my skills were recognised because I’m not military, nor someone with a million letters after my name? Why would I be angry about that?!”

“I’m sorry if you feel you’ve been treated unfairly,” General Landry said sincerely.

“You mean you’re sorry I feel that way now that you want something from me,” I got up and turned my back on him, looking out the window with the hope I’d see John’s car pulling up so he could stop me from putting my foot in my mouth any further.

“Perhaps I should go, give you time to think about all the implications of this request,” General Landry replied, making it clear that he wasn’t offended by my attitude.

“I’ll try,” I turned back to Landry, hoping he’d see that I was trying to be objective. I watched as General Landry gave a firm nod before turning and seeing himself out.


Chapter 22: See you in two weeks


I waited until John and I were settled in bed later that night before telling him what had happened.

“So let me get this straight,” John leaned up on one arm to look at me incredulously. “You were given the chance to return to Atlantis and you said no?”

“I was given the chance to be used by the Ancients like some kind of machine,” I corrected angrily, sitting up and crossing my arms over my chest. “And asked by the man who couldn’t see any use for my skills until somebody else wanted them!”

“You have an opportunity here,” John pointed out. “They’ve given you leverage because now they want something.”

“So?” I looked at him in confusion.

“So use that,” John said insistently. “Work out what you want in exchange.”

“That would be part of the problem,” I told him miserably. “I don’t know what I want anymore!”

“That’s not true,” John wouldn’t let me off the hook. “Do you want to go back to Atlantis?”

“Well yeah – but not just for two weeks and I don’t think they’re gonna agree to forever,” I admitted. “Plus I don’t want to go back there without you and General Landry was clear that they’re only authorising me to go.”

“What about at the SGC?” John persisted.

“Is there any chance I could be on your team?” I looked at him hopefully even though I knew what the answer would be. When he just looked at me sternly I relented. “Okay - what do you think the chances are they'll assign me to another SG team?”

"That's a tough one," John admitted reluctantly. "You are very capable Sabina, but most of what you've built up over the past two years is very specific to the Pegasus galaxy." When I turned away mutinously John grabbed my shoulders and pulled me back to face him. "Don't turn away because you don't like what I'm saying! Look at it from General Landry's perspective. You have flight skills but only Puddle Jumpers and Wraith darts - not a lot of those in the Milky Way. You can kick arse with the fighting sticks but the Ori and the Goa'uld don't fight that way - they'd shoot you down before you could get close enough. Your technological skills are impressive too but again it's all Ancient and Wraith technology and there just isn't a call for that here. Hell even the mission strategies we use in Pegasus wouldn't work against our enemies here!"

As John continued talking I felt as though he were stripping away my illusions about myself and my place on Earth ... and the worst of it was that I couldn't lie to myself any more - he was completely right. "So what do you think I should ask for then?" I looked at him miserably, feeling more lost than the first day I'd arrived on Atlantis.

"You want to be on an offworld team here right?" John paused for my nod before continuing. "Then ask General Landry for the chance to train for that."

"But I still won't be military," I pointed out. "Do you really think they'd be interested?"

"Yes," John replied confidently. "Of course you're gonna have to go on this mission first, show the SGC that you're a team player."

"I knew you would say that," I complained. "I hate this!"

“You'll be fine,” John put an arm around me companionably, allowing me to sulk for a bit before summing things up. “So if General Landry agrees to give you a shot at an SG team position in the future, you’d be happy to go to Atlantis as requested?”

“I wouldn’t say happy to,” I replied, leaning my head against his chest. “But I’ll do it, so long as it really is just for two weeks.”

“Good - I’ll take you into the SGC tomorrow and you can present your request to General Landry,” John closed off the conversation, slouching back into bed and pulling me along with him.

I lay awake long into the night, worrying about going back to the SGC the next day as well as about the feeling deep inside that said this was a really, really bad idea.

oOo

Although General Landry seemed amused more than insulted by my bargaining for something before agreeing to meet the Ancient’s request, he did agree to my request. Things moved fast after that - only a few hours later I found myself ready to board the Puddle Jumper the Ancients had sent for the half hour ride through the intergalactic gate bridge back to Atlantis.

“Be careful,” John told me, “and pay attention to what General O’Neill tells you.”

“I can’t believe I’m voluntarily subjecting myself to Richard Woolsey,” I muttered, “and General O’Neill who I last saw trying to deceive Elizabeth inside her nanite reality.” I suddenly felt very nervous at the prospect of having to handle all of that without John’s calming presence.

“You’ll be fine,” John reassured me. “You can trust the General.”

“I hope they’re not expecting me to pretend I like the Ancients,” I told John worriedly, “because I’m not sure if I’m that good an actress.”

“Just do what you’re there for,” John said with an amused grin, “and don’t worry about the rest. You ready to go?”

“No,” I said, throwing myself into his arms and not caring about the various SGC personnel who were nearby to witness it. “I’m missing you already and I haven’t even left yet!”

“I’ll be here for the weekly check in,” John reminded me that General Landry had promised that particular carrot to sweeten the deal. “If you need to, you can come back at any time.”

“I know,” I replied, pulling him down and kissing him with enough feeling he’d have no doubts that I loved him. He kissed me back just as fervently before reluctantly letting me go.

“See you in two weeks,” John said with a confident smile.

“See you in two weeks,” I replied sadly, turning and making my way into the Puddle Jumper. The rear hatch closed and my Ancient pilot flew us into position in front of the gate. Half an hour later we emerged in the Gateroom on Atlantis.

My Ancient pilot silently escorted me from the Jumper Bay to the main conference room. I was disconcerted to find it already full of people waiting for me - Captain Helia plus two other Ancients I vaguely recognised but hadn’t met, along with Richard Woolsey and the man I knew as General O’Neill, even though I hadn’t personally met him previously either.

“Ms Scott,” General O’Neill greeted me. “Welcome back to Atlantis,” he held out a hand to me in greeting. I took it without thinking, starting just slightly at that familiar jolt, stronger than I was used to but not as much of a blast as I'd gotten the first time I'd shaken hands with John. I’d forgotten that O’Neill had the ATA gene too and wondered what Captain Helia had made of that.

“Thank you General,” I replied, pulling my hand away quickly and looking around at the other occupants of the room. “Please call me Sabina.”

“Thank you for agreeing to come here on such short notice,” Richard Woolsey imposed himself on the conversation. One look at his face and I knew he liked me as little now as he had the first time he’d come to Atlantis. When he held out a hand in greeting I hesitated, not sure I wanted to get that friendly with him. Glancing from him to General O’Neill, whose expression told me it’d be a good idea to play along, I reluctantly shook Woolsey’s hand.

“General Landry made me an offer I couldn’t refuse,” I quipped, looking back to O’Neill expectantly to see what was going to happen next.

“You remember Captain Helia,” the General gestured towards her.

“I hope your journey back was not too difficult,” Helia said graciously. When I nodded wordlessly she turned to her companions. “This is Caritas, my second in command,” she indicated a dark haired woman of a similar height to herself. Caritas held out her hand and I sighed inwardly as I shook it quickly, bracing myself for the super jolt of an actual Ancient. I’d barely recovered from that one when Helia continued “and this is Ricus, my weapons expert.” I completed that hand shake just as quickly, making a note to tell General O’Neill that I wasn’t available for any more hand shaking in the future.

“You’ll be working with Ricus to assess the Wraith dispersal weapon,” Woolsey drew my attention back to him.

“Why is there so much urgency to get the weapon operational?” I looked at Captain Helia curiously.

“We are eager to continue the work of our brothers and sisters,” Helia replied. “Our people battled against the Wraith for hundreds of years ... the dispersal weapon was our last hope for defeating all the Wraith simultaneously.”

“You mean apart from project imperium and let’s not forget your greatest plan – self replicating nanites?” I raised an eyebrow at her, waiting for a reaction.

“As a race we did not believe in relying solely on one project to achieve our aims,” Helia said vaguely, frowning at the depth of knowledge I had about their other failed attempts to defeat the Wraith.

“I’m sure our hosts don’t need to hear a history of their efforts against the Wraith from you Ms Scott,” Woolsey broke in before I could add anything else. Looking over at General O’Neill I was heartened to see the almost approving smirk on his face. Perhaps I did have a supporter here on Atlantis after all.

“So when do we get started?” I ignored Woolsey’s reprimand, smiling innocently at Helia.

“If you will accompany me now,” Ricus spoke up, “I would be interested in hearing how you activated the weapon the first time.” Glancing at General O’Neill, I waited for a nod of agreement to that plan before getting up and following Ricus from the room.

We walked to the Wraith weapons room in silence; me because I couldn’t think of anything to say and Ricus probably because he thought talking to me in the social context was beneath him. I glanced over at him as we walked, noting with delight that I was at least as tall as he was. He wore the standard Ancient uniform, and looked the image of what I’d expect from a weapons expert – fit in a slightly muscled way, blonde hair kept short and neat, blue eyes serious in a stern looking face.

“So you guys never activated the weapon?” I asked curiously once we’d arrived. Ricus looked on with interest as I ran my hand over the door plate.

“The weapon was still in the pretest phase when the Tria was sent on its last mission,” Ricus said simply, stepping into the room and straight to the wall beside the device. I watched with interest as he accessed a console I didn’t even know was there, calling up system and power status.

“Can you tell if it’s broken?” I cringed internally, hoping he wasn’t going to say I’d burned it out beyond repair.

“Some conduits have been compromised,” Ricus reported emotionlessly, “and the power relay system needs improvement. I won’t be able to assess whether the weapon can do what we intend until after those changes have been made.”

“So it’s not broken?” I cut to the chase.

“No,” Ricus replied. Had that been a slight smile I’d seen on his otherwise serious face?

“Well, that’s a relief,” I smiled across at him, “because you have no idea how much teasing I had to endure over that.”

oOo

“How do you put up with that guy?” I stormed into Doctor Weir’s office angrily three days later. I still called it Elizabeth’s office even though General O’Neill was the one currently occupying it.

“I assume you’re talking about Woolsey?” O’Neill looked at me quizzically.

Yes,” I confirmed in a heated tone. “He hovers around constantly reminding me that the IOA want me out of here as soon as possible. It hasn't even been a week but I swear if I have to hear him tell me one more time that I’m only here because of my Wraith gene – said with a sneer mind you – I’m gonna have to hit him.”

“And that will convince the IOA to trust you how?” the General asked. When I shrugged impatiently he continued. “It’s only for another week and a half – I’m sure you can manage to contain your ... impulses around Woolsey for that long.”

“Helia said two weeks but they don’t seem in that much of a hurry to me,” I said in all seriousness. “Ricus has been working on those power relay system changes but they don’t really need me for that. He hasn’t even gotten to the bit where they decide if the weapon will do what they want. I’ve spent more time talking to Caritas about my background and what a ‘miracle’ it is that the Wraith and ATA gene connection they created made it through 10,000 years than I have working on the weapon.”

“They do seem fond of talking,” O’Neill said with a long suffering expression. He struck me as a man of action so I wasn’t surprised he was impatient with the pace of the proceedings. I knew that he and Woolsey spent many hours each day talking about an alliance between Atlantis and Earth and about what involvement we might eventually have in the city. “Listen, it’s nearly time for the weekly check in with the SGC. I assume you want to stick around for that?” he said with a knowing look.

“There might be people I could catch up with,” I replied casually, ignoring the smirk he threw my way.

I followed the General into the control room and waited impatiently as he ordered the Ancient stationed at Chuck’s old spot to dial Earth. I stood with O’Neill in front of the view screen as the wormhole kawhooshed – static filled the screen for a few seconds before being replaced with the sight of General Landry. I couldn’t help the huge grin that appeared on my face when I saw John standing just behind him.

“General!” O’Neill greeted them.

“General,” Landry replied.

“Colonel Sheppard, how’s your new team?” O’Neill asked casually.

“Still a work in progress Sir,” John replied, looking at me and asking “how goes things at your end?”

“I’ve got an almost fatal case of impatience,” I replied when O’Neill nudged me to take that one, “but apart from that it’s all good.” I smiled when John chuckled at that, knowing he’d understand exactly how I was feeling.

“Any progress on the Wraith weapon?” Landry asked me.

“They’ve repaired the conduits I ah ... melted,” I reported. “Ricus is currently working on the improvements to the power relay system which he says will be complete in a few days.”

“So you’ll be finished on time?” John asked hopefully.

“Assuming Ricus is good on his word and the tests go well, yeah,” I trailed off, happy to just look at John. Since he seemed just as happy to look at me the conversation dwindled to silence.

“Anything else to report?” Landry asked O’Neill, both of them obviously amused at our behaviour.

“Talks between us and Captain Helia are moving ... slowly,” O’Neill replied. “At this rate sometime in the next century we should come to an agreement about Earth involvement on Atlantis.”

“Patience Jack,” Landry said with a chuckle.

“You and I both know that patience isn’t my strong suit,” O’Neill admitted easily. “Think we’ve given these two enough time to stare at each other?”

I laughed when John’s face actually got a little red at that comment. I’d gotten to know General O’Neill enough in the past few days to appreciate his teasing sense of humour and general unwillingness to openly take anything too seriously.

“I don’t know - Colonel?” General Landry glanced at John expectantly.

“We appreciate the chance to ah ... catch up,” John admitted, “thank you Sir.”

“Okay, check in same time next week?” General Landry asked O’Neill.

“Same time next week,” O’Neill confirmed. “Atlantis out,” I waved at John as the wormhole disconnected. Sighing at the static now filling the screen, I turned away reluctantly.

“I wouldn’t worry,” the General said to me softly. “You’ll be back on Earth before you know it.”

“Thank you Sir,” I replied.

“You don’t have to Sir me,” O’Neill reminded me, “in fact you don’t even have to ‘General’ me. Call me Jack.”

“I might just do that,” I said with a cheeky grin, “just to see the look on Woolsey’s face at the familiarity.”

General O’Neill chuckled, shaking his head as he returned to his office.

oOo

In general, working with the Ancients was frustrating but also as illuminating as Rodney would have hoped. Some things they clearly wanted to remain incomprehensible to us, but others they were happy to explain. They seemed to have some kind of code that said if we’d already made some progress in the right direction ourselves then it was okay to take us further, but if we’d shown no understanding whatsoever then they weren’t going to put us on the right path. A good example of that was the Wraith dispersal weapon – Ricus was happy to use my Wraith gene to test things but seemed reluctant to explain anything to me about how the weapon worked. That meant I had no idea what he was doing to the weapon to make it work properly, or if indeed it was as much a given as he was making out that it even would work.

I tried to follow up on subjects I thought Elizabeth and the others would want to know first, usually resulting in long conversations with Caritas, whom I’d begun to consider a friend amongst all the Ancients I’d been introduced to.

“You wear the vinculum?” Caritas asked in a surprised tone, a couple of days after my first Earth check in.

“The what?” I looked at her in confusion.

“Your necklace,” Caritas gestured to the pendant John had given me for my birthday. I usually carried it somewhere on my person and since leaving him behind on Earth I’d been wearing it every day. Usually it was tucked out of sight under my t-shirt and I realised I’d forgotten to do that before leaving my room that morning. “We call it the vinculum. Did you find it in that form?”

“Ah ... no – I got the individual pieces as a gift,” I admitted, feeling a little uncomfortable at the personal turn in the conversation.

“Then you and Colonel Sheppard are joined,” Caritas said it like a statement of fact and not a question.

“How’d you know it was the Colonel who gave me this?” I frowned in confusion, pretty sure I’d never mentioned anything about my relationships back on Earth.

“It requires two people with what you call the Ancient gene to perform the perficio vincula ritual,” Caritas explained. “Captain Helia was most interested in those of you who had the gene – from what she has told me only yourself and the Colonel possess the gene in sufficient purity to achieve something of that nature.”

“You said joined - what did you mean by that?” I flushed slightly at the ‘aren’t they sweet’ expression on her face.

“Colonel Sheppard didn’t explain the meaning behind the joining of the seven pieces into one?” Caritas asked in surprise.

“He told me that the tangram was a kind of courtship ritual amongst your people and that once activated the pieces could never be separated again,” I told her, wondering what else there could be to the puzzle.

“That is true,” Caritas agreed, “but there was more to the ritual than just the creation of the pendant. The pieces represent the different parts of each of us that together make up the whole. It is easy to coexist having things in common. In forming a successful joining two people must also merge their differences to make them work in concert. Couples who performed the perficio vincula were testing the strength of that merging and therefore the likely success of their connection. If the pieces did not join permanently then it indicated that the couple were either ill matched or not ready to be joined as one.”

“So because John and I were able to form a single shape it means we’re well matched?” I asked, thinking that was actually kind of nice.

“More than that,” Caritas offered, watching me closely. “It means that you have faced your differences and worked through them together. As far as my people are concerned, the completed vinculum represents that you and Colonel Sheppard are ... I believe you would call it ... married.”

What?” I looked at her in shock.

“You do not wish to be married to Colonel Sheppard?” Caritas asked in confusion.

“No!” I reacted instantly, thought for a second and corrected “Yes!” thought again and finally settled on “I don’t know!” Taking a moment to calm myself I added “I’m not ready for anything like that yet!”

“The completed vinculum says differently,” Caritas intoned wisely.

“Yeah, well the vinculum is wrong,” I muttered grumpily, not overly consoled that we were talking about 10,000 year old custom and not something of current relevance.

“In the thousands of years that my people employed the ritual it was never found to be in error,” Caritas persisted.

“Did you ever ...” I broke off, wondering if that was too personal a question to be asking.

“... participate in the perficio vincula ritual?” Caritas finished. When I nodded, she smiled sadly. “I did ... we had only a few years together before the war separated us. Tomas’ ship was destroyed in a Wraith battle a few days before the Tria headed out for the last time.”

“I’m sorry,” I said softly, regretting bringing up what was clearly a difficult subject.

“Don’t be,” Caritas looked at me fondly. “It is only in remembering that we truly honour those we have lost.”

“I never thought that many of you would have left loved ones behind,” I admitted.

“It is a comfort to see something of our people in their distant descendants,” Caritas smiled, before bringing the subject back to where it began. “Colonel Sheppard must have had some knowledge of the purpose behind the pendant to be able to set up the pieces with a key phrase.”

“And I’ll be talking to him about that just as soon as I see him,” I replied in a tone that said John had better have a very good explanation.

Caritas smiled in understanding, wisely dropping the subject. I couldn’t believe that John would have known the full meaning behind the tangram and not told me about it ... I had to put it out of my mind though because there was no way I was going to ask him about that during the weekly check in. General O’Neill was already too amused by my obvious discomfort at being separated from John and I didn’t want to give him any more ammunition for teasing me.

Authors Note:

The pendant bit comes from my story 'Birthday Surprises Sheppard Style". Don't worry if you haven't read that - the minor references here tell you all you need to know. The last chapter of that story has the ceremony they did so you could just read that if you were particularly curious.


Chapter 23: How long until it gets here?


I’d noticed only a couple of days into my stay that communications on Atlantis with real Ancients in attendance defied description. General announcements, either city or section wide, were done over the intercom system we’d made use of ourselves. Person to person communications were a mystery to me because they didn’t seem to be running a radio system like we’d had. I noticed it particularly when I was down in the Wraith weapon room with Ricus. He’d look up intently, pause, and then announce that he had to report to someone or other and hurry out.

Finally I couldn’t stand the mystery anymore and decided to question Caritas about it, even though it wasn’t on my list of priority topics.

“Can you tell me how your communications system works?” I asked after another session where most of the talk was about the things we'd done while on Atlantis.

“We use the city systems to relay messages direct to the recipients mind,” Caritas revealed easily. “If you open yourself to Atlantis there are many things you could accomplish.”

“Oh,” I replied in surprise. “I’ve tapped into the sensor systems to do things like hide life sign signals – I kind of stumbled on that by accident. I experimented a bit on other stuff without success and just assumed the sensors were the only things I could affect like that. I never thought of doing something with communications.”

“Direct communication only works between those who have the activation gene and it takes practice to be able to correctly identify an individual within the system,” Caritas cautioned. “Perhaps you could try sending a brief message to General O’Neill since his signal should stand out amongst my people.”

“I’ll try,” I agreed hesitantly. Caritas guided me through the process of looking through the communications system – since it was very similar to what I’d been doing for some time with the sensor system it wasn’t that difficult to make the adjustment. After a few minutes of searching I was able to distinguish a specific ‘signal’ that felt different from the rest. Hoping it was in fact General O’Neill I sent a simple message. “Apologies for the interruption General – Caritas and I are just doing a test of the communications system – can you confirm that you got this message?

“Were you successful?” Caritas looked at me expectantly.

“We’ll find out in a moment,” I replied, waiting to see whether the General would contact me. My radio beeped a second later.

“Sabina?” General O’Neill’s voice came through loud and clear. “Either you just sent a message straight into my head or I’ve been here too long and I’m starting to imagine things.”

“The former,” I smiled at my early success. “Apologies for the lack of warning General.”

“O-kay,” General O’Neill said in a faintly disturbed tone. “Ah – you won’t be doing that again in the future will you?”

“Of course not,” I glanced at Caritas, surprised to see an amused look on her face. Or maybe not – General O’Neill had an easy way about him that seemed very popular with the Ancients.

“Good,” O’Neill replied. “While I’ve got you, can you come up to my office? There’s a situation I need to fill you in on.”

“Okay,” I replied, looking across at Caritas curiously. Nothing in her expression gave away whether she knew what was going on or not.

oOo

“Long range sensors have detected an Asuran Replicator ship heading for Atlantis,” General O’Neill told me once I’d sat down across from him.

“How long until it gets here?” I asked with a sinking feeling.

“It’ll be here inside a week,” O’Neill replied. He had such a great game face that I really couldn’t tell how bad the situation was.

“What’s the plan?” I frowned worriedly, hoping the Ancients would have something that could defeat the Asurans.

“Helia’s been somewhat ... vague on the details,” O’Neill admitted. “They seem confident the Asurans will turn back once they realise the city is under Lantean control again.”

“Well, I’ve met the Asurans and I can tell you they hate the Ancients,” I looked at O’Neill intently. “They were motivated to come here and destroy this city when it was just us living here – when they realise real Ancients are in control it will only motivate them more.”

“Helia said it would be impossible for them to attack,” the General said.

“Of course,” I smacked my forehead lightly as it occurred to me. “The directive in their base code – the Ancients made sure their creations couldn’t turn against them.”

“So we are safe then?” General O’Neill looked confused now.

“I don’t know,” I admitted. “If they’re allowed inside the city then it won’t be safe for us non Ancients to remain here.”

“Okay, so no evacuating until after the Replicators get invited for dinner,” the General quipped.

“Sounds like a plan,” I agreed, trying to take something from the fact that he seemed completely calm about the whole thing.

oOo

Now that the subject of the Replicators had come up I felt justified in bringing up the subject of the nanite virus. Caritas was fond of strolling along the East pier in the hour before sunset so I made my way there to walk with her.

“Good evening Sabina,” Caritas looked at me with a welcoming smile.

“Looks like it’s gonna be a nice one tonight,” I gestured towards the horizon where pinks and oranges swirled in the late afternoon sky. We stood silently for a time before I brought up my reason for seeking her out. “General O’Neill told me about the Replicators approaching the city.”

“They will not harm us,” Caritas said complacently.

“I wish I could just believe that,” I replied, “but I’ve run into them a lot more recently than you have ... they have a deep seated hatred for your race.”

“We should not have pursued the nanite project,” Caritas shook her head sadly. “It is unfortunate that we could not resolve the problems inherent in their programming.”

“I wanted to ask you about their nanovirus,” I said hopefully.

“Perhaps you can tell me what you already know,” Caritas countered. Realising she wasn’t going to offer anything unless I could demonstrate I was already partially on the way to understanding it by myself I paused to collect my thoughts.

“So far what I’ve worked out is that the Replicators created the nanovirus as some kind of weapon against their creators – it looked like it was intended to kill humans but that was just the hook to get you interested in looking for a cure," I watched her carefully, looking for some kind of reaction but her face remained impassive. “They were angry that you were going to abandon them as a project but they couldn’t retaliate in any obvious way because of the failsafe in their programming that makes it impossible for them to harm you. So they came up with a back door way to try and change that ... I’m guessing that somehow the virus was designed so that rewriting it to make it ineffective and introducing the new version into the population would spread it back to the Replicators and allow them to make other changes to their own programming.”

“We researched the nanovirus extensively when it began to affect our people,” Caritas admitted. “Even though it didn’t cause death, the disturbed vision and hallucinations were unsettling. As well, any contact between us and the humans on our trading planets resulted in infection and death.”

“We found the lab where you did that research,” I told her. “It was pretty obvious that you knew everything about the nanovirus so the lack of a cure was puzzling – unless creating the cure was exactly what the Replicators had intended. From what we found I can only conclude that you worked it out before reprogramming the nanites, meaning that the Replicator plan failed.”

“Yes,” Caritas said simply. “In conducting tests on the nanites we discovered the possible side effect from reprogramming. Our scientists determined that the nanite virus contained a portion of their elemental base code within it. The only way to cure the virus was to rewrite the nanite programming – including the part that was base code. The resulting nanite, if assimilated back into the Replicators, would merge with the other nanites. In essence the new Replicator would have rewritten base code within it – opening the door for further rewrites to take place,” Caritas paused with an almost unhappy sigh. “It was difficult to believe that our creations had that level of malicious deviousness within them ... discovering it to be true was what convinced their remaining supporters that the project had to be stopped.”

“I’m guessing here but I think the Replicators made themselves the delivery system, carrying the nanovirus within them. By conscious effort they could pass it on to anyone they touched. And not only that - the nanovirus we found here wasn't the only version of nanites they could transfer. We know that’s true because they passed nanites, not the nanovirus, directly to Doctor Weir when we came across them recently. That made them very dangerous ... more than just the aggression and the failure as a weapon against the Wraith that was the reason you decided to terminate the project so conclusively.”

“There is some truth in your words,” Caritas admitted. I couldn’t help the inner amusement I felt when I realised she wasn’t going to confirm or deny anything specific in what I’d offered. “What more do you wish to know?”

“When Doctor Weir was infected with Niam’s nanites I was also infected,” I watched as her face went still in surprise. “Unlike Doctor Weir though, Doctor Beckett discovered that in my system a specific blood protein multiplied and attacked the nanites as soon as my immune system detected them. I want to know how that’s possible.”

“Of course,” Caritas nodded understandingly. When I raised an eyebrow waiting for her to enlighten me, she smiled. “The Wraith telepathic expansion project was being undertaken at the same time we were winding down the nanite project. One of our Wraith gene carriers became infected with the nanovirus and the affects were much more extreme than for anyone else. The part of the brain affected by the nanovirus was closely linked with the part employed to connect to the Wraith neural interface. The victim was driven mad with intense visions and audible hallucinations. To protect that project our scientists devised the blood protein link to the Wraith gene so that, should the nanovirus break out in the future, the relatively few Wraith gene carriers would be protected. The intention was for that protection to be maintained in subsequent generations - I am heartened to realise this has been proven in you.”

“Can the blood protein be altered so that it can protect everyone, not just me?” I asked hopefully.

“To be honest I don’t know,” Caritas admitted. “Our scientists were reluctant even to create the blood protein link because they were worried any attempts to neutralise the nanovirus would result in exactly what the Replicators had intended. They only did as much as was absolutely necessary to ensure our final plan to defeat the Wraith would survive.”

“So you left all the humans in this galaxy vulnerable to a nanovirus you could have easily cured?” I asked incredulously.

“I don’t expect you to understand our motivations,” Caritas stated firmly. “We had reached a level of desperation that eventually saw us abandon this entire galaxy.”

“Yeah, well now we have Replicators on our doorstep,” I looked at her with a shake of the head. “Having a defence against their nanites would have come in handy right about now.”

“Our people have a very different way of looking at things,” Caritas said curiously. “It will be interesting to see how an agreement between our races works in practice.”

“I know,” I said with a smile. “Look, thanks for filling me in on the protein thing ... I appreciate it.”

“You are welcome Sabina,” Caritas put a friendly hand on my shoulder and I didn’t even mind the jolt. Feeling that familiar sensation reminded me there was something else I’d been meaning to ask her.

“When I shook hands with Captain Helia back on the Daedalus,” I began slowly, “she knew I had the ATA gene. How?”

“What you call the Ancient gene is just part of the genetic material that makes us who we are,” Caritas replied. “The gene that allows activation of our technology is sometimes coupled with other genes that allow a deeper connection to Atlantis, or in Helia’s case the ability to determine whether others have some of our genetic material.”

“But not everyone can do that?” I persisted curiously.

“At any one time Atlantis was home to people with a range of complementary skills,” Caritas smiled at my obvious interest in the topic. “Some you know of – the power to heal, move objects mentally, see events that haven’t taken place yet. Some were not so obvious as they did not come into play on a regular basis.”

“Like what?” I felt the anticipation of being close to finally understanding something about myself that had always troubled me.

“Telepathy without Atlantis as the intermediary,” Caritas offered, “also one we saw only rarely was the ability to harness the power of other ancients to enhance and expand the use of ancient technology beyond what even the strongest individual was capable of.” She paused, looking at me curiously. “Is there a particular skill you’re interested in?”

“What are the chances that someone would have more that one of those ... skills?” I asked weakly, feeling that all too familiar wash of panic rising up within me.

“It depends on which branch of our people you are descended from,” Caritas replied. “Genetics dictated that gene skills would be passed down through families – if parents had different gene skills there was a good chance their children would carry the potential for all of them. If both had the same gene skill, the children would too - that is why we all had what you call the ATA gene.”

“How come the gene skills are so rare now – aren’t we direct descendants?” I looked across at Caritas to see her watching me intently.

“Over the course of 10,000 years, procreation between descendants and those who were not descendants diluted the gene skills, to the point that it is no longer as certain that a child will carry any of the gene skills of either parent,” she said lightly.

“So ah ... if I were to have children they probably wouldn’t have the ATA gene?” I asked almost hopefully.

“You are very strong in the ATA gene,” Caritas replied. “The chance for passing that on is greater than for someone with a weaker gene. If you and Colonel Sheppard were to produce offspring it is almost certain that the child would possess the ATA gene as well since Colonel Sheppard’s gene is just as strong as yours.”

“Oh,” I frowned, thinking about the ramifications of that. “What about the Wraith gene – would I pass that on too?”

“Your gene skills are linked with the Wraith gene and the blood protein,” Caritas offered. “I cannot say for sure but I believe this would mean that your children would most likely possess these traits as well.”

“And any of the other gene skills I might have,” I finished, feeling sick inside at what Caritas had revealed.

“Yes,” Caritas agreed simply. “Do you possess other gene skills besides the ability to use our technology?”

“Possibly,” I admitted. “I get a sort of electric jolt when I touch someone with the ATA gene – with you guys it’s more like an electric tidal wave so I can tell not just whether someone has the gene but how strong it is.” I hesitated before going further. “I ah ... might also have just a bit of that other one you were talking about – the tapping into someone’s genes one.”

“You have been able to merge with another and access the Atlantis systems?” Caritas looked very interested now.

“I’m not sure but there have been a couple of times where something happened that maybe could have been due to that,” I told her uncertainly. “The first time it happened was when I was searching for the Wraith dispersal weapon – I was having trouble getting the systems to help me. I got ah ... angry and Colonel Sheppard put his hand on my shoulder. I felt a huge wave of power flow from him through me into the system and Atlantis showed me a map with the room clearly marked. As soon as John removed his hand from my shoulder the map disappeared. I never actively tried to do something like that again so I don’t know if it was just a coincidence.”

“That sounds like a manifestation of that particular gene skill,” Caritas said almost excitedly. “We could test you to determine if you do possess the genes that determine that skill ... the fact that you have the detection gene lends more weight to the possibility because those with the merging gene always had the detection gene too – presumably to allow them to quickly determine whether an individual was able to provide the power required to make a merge of genes possible.”

“Can you give me the reference materials so Carson can test me when I get back to Earth?” I asked hesitantly. I liked Caritas but that didn’t mean I was keen to have some Ancient performing medical tests on me. It wasn’t like those genes were going anywhere so there was no rush to do the tests right there and then.

“Of course,” Caritas agreed easily. “I understand that you are eager to complete your work on the dispersal weapon in order to return quickly to Earth."

“Thanks,” I replied gratefully. We sat in companionable silence, a quiet time marred somewhat by the impending arrival of the Replicators. I had so many worries swirling around in my head I felt almost dizzy ... in the end none of them could be resolved until I'd completed my task and returned to Earth so I did my best to push them to the back of my mind.


Chapter 24: I'm fine, thanks for asking!


At the next scheduled check-in General O’Neill reported the situation to the SGC, including the fact that the Ancients themselves seemed less than concerned. I could see that John was bothered by that as much as the fact that nothing had been said about any of us returning to Earth before the replicators arrived.

Things in the city went on as usual for the next few days, almost as if the Replicators weren't on their way. Work on the Wraith weapon had slowed to a crawl, taking me past my two week deadline, leaving me wondering if it was even the real reason Captain Helia had wanted me to return to Atlantis. I spent every waking moment down there unsuccessfully trying to hurry things along.

That’s where I was when the Asuran ship arrived – so far down in the city we barely felt the tremors of the first shots getting around the shields. I only knew something was off when Ricus got a strange ‘I’m communicating in my head with my colleagues’ look on his face, before rushing from the room while telling me to stay where I was.

Since I was relatively safe for the moment I decided to stay there and wait to hear something. I could have tried mental communication with the General but it was only one way which seemed kinda useless at that point. I had my radio but was too nervous to initiate contact - what if I did and gave away the General's position to the Replicators? It took an hour of impatient pacing before my radio finally beeped.

“Sabina, what’s your position?” General O’Neill almost whispered.

“Ah ... still in the Wraith weapons room,” I replied just as quietly.

“Is anyone there with you?” O’Neill continued.

“Ricus ran out of here over an hour ago General,” I reported, “so it’s just me. What’s going on?”

“The Replicators attacked the city,” O’Neill said grimly. “Apparently they found a way to override that directive in their base code. The Lantean’s weren’t prepared – couldn’t even get their shield fully up in time. They’ve already lost most of the city to the Replicators.”

“Are you and Woolsey okay?” I asked, trying to tamp down the panic I could feel bubbling up inside me.

“For the moment,” O’Neill reassured me. “Look I managed to get a data burst through to Earth to let them know what’s happening here but ...” he trailed off.

“By the time they get here the Replicators will have full control,” I finished numbly.

“That being the case my standing order to destroy the city will take precedence,” the General informed me in a tone that didn’t match with the seriousness of that statement.

“What about the Ancients – Helia, Ricus ... Caritas?” I asked hopefully.

“It’s not looking good,” O’Neill admitted. “The attack was ... violent. These Replicators don’t strike me as the merciful type.”

“So – no time for false hope then?” I quipped nervously, trying not to think about the fate of my friend.

“Ah ... no,” O’Neill agreed. “I don’t have a plan at the moment other than avoiding capture by the Replicators. We’re too far from your position to have any hope of getting to you while the fighting’s still going on so for the time being I want you to just stay put.”

“Stay in the isolated creepy room by myself while Replicators stalk the city?” I reacted in disbelief. “What sort of plan is that?!”

“I said I didn’t have a plan, remember,” O'Neill said easily. “When I get one I’ll let you know – for now maintain radio silence.”

“Okay,” I said reluctantly. “Please be careful because I really don’t want to end up here completely by myself.”

“We’ll do our best. O’Neill out.”

I sat back against the wall in numb disbelief ... I’d tried to put on my best voice for General O’Neill but now that I was alone in that room knowing that no one was coming for me I could feel the panic starting to overwhelm me. I’d been in situations before where things were bad and there was nothing I personally could do to fix them but this was different. In the end I put my head on my knees, tried to remember what Teyla had taught me about calming myself, and kept the chant in my head. “It’ll be all right, it’ll be all right ... please, please, please let it be all right.

oOo

If I’d had to maintain that level of anxiety and panic indefinitely I would have exhausted myself within a day. Luckily the human brain is obviously not designed to work like that – even given the seriousness of my situation I found myself acquiring a level of ... acceptance within a couple of hours and with that came enough calm for me to start thinking logically.

O’Neill had said the SGC knew about the Replicators which meant that John would know the situation too. He’d be worried about me and angry when he found out the General’s standing orders meant no rescue mission would be mounted. Could I hold out hope that somehow John would string together a rescue mission of his own? Even though that seemed unlikely, would it really hurt for me to think so if it helped me get through the hours or days it would take for the Daedalus to get there and drop a nuke on the city? I wracked my brain trying to recall where the Daedalus might be on its rolling journey to and from the Milky Way ... some snippet of remembered information told me it was more on the side of days than weeks before she could make it back here.

Hope of any kind, even hope of something practically inconceivable, was just what I needed so I decided to go with that. If John was coming for me then I needed to make sure I was free to act. So I had to avoid detection which meant resorting to my old trick of blocking myself from the sensors. Hopefully the Replicators were still engaged in battle with the Lantean’s and hadn’t already employed the life signs detectors for a city wide sweep.

Next on my list was supplies ... if I was going to survive a few days I'd need food and water. Crossing my fingers that anything I did on the system wouldn't be detectable up in the Control Room I used the console to access city schematics looking for a likely place close by. Crew quarters, with the aid of transporters, weren’t that far - surely someone would have left something behind. Only problem with that was that transporter activity would be detected in the Control Room. There was a path that didn’t travel through any major areas that might be guarded by replicators but it would take more time than I liked to get there and back. I briefly considered finding somewhere else to hide or even whether I could get off the city entirely but quickly discarded that idea - General O'Neill knew where I was and it seemed important for that to remain the case.

Luck was with me as I made my way silently through remote corridors until I’d arrived in the section that housed most of the crew. I already had one particular room in mind – standing outside Rodney’s door I swiped a hand over the access pad, almost pleading with Atlantis itself to let me in. The doors opened and I rushed inside, looking around trying to decide where Rodney would keep the stash of power bars I knew he had. I was hoping in the haste of packing that’d he’d have forgotten to unearth them ... when I found a hardback copy of Quantum Electrodynamics by Walter Greiner under the bottom drawer of his bedside unit my hopes were rewarded. Rodney had hollowed out the inside and filled it with his favourite power bars – I guess he thought he’d be the only one on Atlantis interested in that topic! Stuffing them in my pockets I looked around for anything else useful, but Rodney had cleaned up pretty well and there was nothing of any value. Making my way just a silently back down to my old hiding spot I only relaxed when I was once again propped up against the wall. Getting as comfortable as I could I closed my eyes and drifted into an exhausted sleep.

The next day turned into more of the same - pacing the room as I fought the overwhelming desire to contact O’Neill and find out what the hell they were doing and why I hadn’t heard from them yet. I almost jumped out of my skin when the radio activated.

“Authentication code Alpha Six Delta Charlie Niner. General O’Neill - do you copy?” John’s voice echoed loudly in the room. Yes! Now I’d get some action on getting out of here!

“Sheppard? Is that you?” General O’Neill responded.

“Yes, sir,” John confirmed. “Are all members of your ... team accounted for?”

“Yes they are,” O’Neill replied, deliberately leaving out the bit about us being separated.

“I need to know if you’re anywhere near Stargate Operations.” John continued.

“No, we’re not,” the General reported, which still didn’t give me any indicator of where they actually were ... not that I'd intended to go find them or anything.

“That’s good,” John said purposefully. “Can’t talk right now, sir. I’ll get back to you in a couple of hours. Sheppard out.”

That was it? No Hi Sabina? No glad you're still alive? I didn't know whether to be hurt by that or angry ... anger was winning before I determinedly pulled myself up short. John obviously had some kind of plan and talking on the radio any longer than necessary might have put that at jeaopardy. It was just another example where personal concerns had to be put to the background, something I should have been used to by now!

The faint sounds of explosives trembling through the city interrupted my thoughts. After a short pause my radio beeped.

‘Sabina, did you catch that?” General O’Neill finally radioed me.

“Yeah - nice to hear from you by the way,” I said sarcastically, “oh and yes I'm fine, thanks for asking!”

“From what I hear you can take care of yourself,” O’Neill replied without any remorse.

“That’s beside the point,” I sighed, knowing he was doing the best he could and that Woolsey was probably driving him nuts complaining or asking stupid questions. “I’m sorry ... it’s just a little frustrating not knowing what’s going on.”

“For me too,” he pointed out something I should have worked out for myself. “Colonel Sheppard clearly has a plan ... Woolsey and I are holed up in the damaged section in the northern arm of the city ... can you make your way over here?”

“It’ll take me a while but I think I can get there,” I said confidently.

“Head out now,” General O’Neill ordered, “and keep your radio silent – don’t want to alert any Replicators to your position.”

“Acknowledged,” I replied, closing the channel and turning my radio off.

I’d almost made it to O’Neill’s position when the city shook again, this time it sounded like multiple shots had impacted. Hoping that was part of John’s plan I continued cautiously through deserted corridors. Footsteps echoed in the corridor ahead of me and I quickly ducked into a disused lab praying they hadn't seen me and would just walk past. It had been almost two hours since John had first made contact so I decided to pause where I was and await further contact before continuing. Taking out my radio I turned it back on and sat back in the far corner to wait for more news.

“They went in here,” a voice issued from the doorway. Glancing up I bit back a groan as two Asurans, dressed in a manner and with a demeanour I’d become accustomed to seeing on the Ancients over the past two weeks, came into the room. It took them only a few seconds to locate me in the darkened room.

“Come with us,” one of them ordered, reaching down and pulling me roughly up off the floor. Dragging me down the corridor a bit more harshly than was really necessary it only took a few minutes before I was ensconced in the Atlantis brig.

“There were others,” one of my captors said. “Where are they?”

“Don’t blame me if you’re under attack from someone,” I replied casually. “I had nothing to do with it.”

“We don’t need your cooperation to find the information we need,” the other reminded me, raising his hand menacingly towards my forehead.

“Well I hope you’re wrong about that,” I winced at the horrible tingling sensation in my forehead, not sure exactly how to resist but hoping that concentrating really hard on one thing would do it.

My reality shifted and I found myself sitting in a passenger gondola of an old fashioned Ferris wheel. Sitting next to me was the Replicator trying to probe my mind. Our gondola was suspended right at the top, and it swayed somewhat vigorously in the stiff breeze that was blowing around us. I was a little freaked out myself because the Ferris wheel was all I’d been able to conjure up so we were floating in a blue sky with nothing above or below us.

“What is this?” the Replicator looked around with as close to a disturbed expression as I supposed they ever got.

“Ferris wheel,” I replied, like everyone would know. “Isn’t this what you wanted to know?”

“Why are you in the city?” the Replicator persisted determinedly.

“Strangely I feel no compulsion to answer that,” I said, looking at him intently. “Are you sure you’re doing this right?”

“Who are your companions?” I could hear a hint of desperation now, which made me smile grimly.

“Do you guys really have a plan to defeat the Wraith or was that all just hot air?” I asked, ignoring his question entirely.

“We ... do,” the Replicator looked almost surprised to have answered that.

“Is it something to do with nanite viruses?” I persisted, not really expecting an answer this time.

“Partly ... we can ... tailor nanites to achieve many ... aims,” the Replicator said in a broken, forced voice.

“Okay – so not something we could duplicate – but still good to know,” I said lightly. “Are we about done here?”

“You are doing ... something ... to my hand,” the replicator frowned in confusion and what I’d describe as almost pain.

“No I’m not,” I denied, sure he was just disconcerted by the fact that I had been able to take control of the mind probe even in a small way.

“Something is not right,” the replicator looked at me angrily before everything pulsed and I opened my eyes to find myself kneeling on the floor in the brig.

The other replicator shared a glance with the one who’d probed me that I couldn’t decipher, before they both turned without another word and left me there.

Putting a hand to my head I rubbed at the skin that still tingled strangely. Even stranger was the fact that, unlike the other time I’d been probed, this time I didn’t even have a headache. I thought about trying the message straight into the head trick to contact the General, but really - did he need to know right then that I'd been captured? It's not like he could do anything about it. Sitting in the corner of the cell I leaned back and waited to see what would happen next, hoping I’d see John and the others coming to rescue me.

Instead the force field around my cell flashed as it disengaged and the doors slid open. “Great,” I muttered as two Replicators I hadn’t seen before hustled General O’Neill and Richard Woolsey into the cell. Another two Replicators stood ready to assist. Both men were shoved down onto the bench as the replicators released them. They made a curious sight – O’Neill sopping wet, minus his BDU jacket, and Woolsey still in his suit, minus his tie.

“Ow!” O’Neill protested the Replicators rough treatment. He looked at me carefully and asked “you okay?” I nodded wordlessly.

“Where are the others?” Replicator One asked.

“What others?” O’Neill asked , exchanging a confused glance with Woolsey.

“What were you doing in the flooded sections of the city?” Replicator Two persisted.

“The backstroke ... I think,” O’Neill quipped.

“What are you planning?” Replicator One demanded.

“Well, I was planning to retire,” O’Neill said with a laugh. “... but, man, is that over-rated. I mean, it’s not like I’m a workaholic or anything, but, you know, I like to stay active ... with the community. It’s ... it’s a health maintenance sort of thing ... you know?” I smiled in admiration that he could joke, knowing what was probably coming next. When the Replicators glanced at each other in silent communication before turning back to the two men, O’Neill added “I don’t like where this is going.”

The Replicators who hadn’t spoken yet had been standing behind the General and Woolsey the whole time. Now they stepped up and put their hands down firmly on each mans shoulders. Replicator One and Two advanced towards them and I knew what was about to happen.

“What are they doing?” Woolsey looked worried and just a bit sick.

I’d never actually seen the mind probe thing from this side – it was one of the more disturbing sights I’d seen to watch as a Replicator hand sank partially inside each man’s forehead. The grimaces of pain on each face were testament to how difficult a mind probe was to endure. It only seemed to take seconds before the Replicators had what they wanted and withdrew their hands.

“That was the worst thing I’ve ever experienced,” Woolsey put his head in his hands, shuddering weakly.

“It gets worse,” O’Neill warned, laying a hand on Woolsey’s shoulder. Woolsey looked up at him in dread, not reassured when O’Neill just smiled sympathetically and patted his shoulder.

The Replicators left the cell without a word, leaving us to our own devices. I don't know about the others but my thoughts were fully engaged with praying that John's plan would still work now we'd be captured.


Chapter 25: Did ah ... did any of the Ancients survive?


We remained alone in the cell for some time with a Replicator guard stationed outside. General O’Neill and I conducted a whispered conversation where I updated him on how I'd ended up in the brig and he filled me in on John’s actions so far as well as the reason why he’d turned up in the cell soaking wet. He then urged us to try and get some rest – Woolsey and I took positions in opposite corners while the General stretched out on the one bench in the middle of the room.

Of course there was no way I could relax while John and the others were somewhere in the city and still in danger of being caught. The General's explanation made me think the plan had something to do with Niam which filled me with nervous dread. I'd long gotten over my anger at the lack of personal contact by the time a noise at the door alerted me to a change in our circumstances. My spirits lifted when John ran in and fired a weapon at the Replicator guard, disintegrating him into a pile of silver slivers. Another guard ran in and met a similar fate before John and Rodney approached our cell.

"Well, it’s about time!" O’Neill said sarcastically.

"Oh, thank God!" Woolsey said in relief.

"Hey guys – nice of you to drop by," was my smart arse contribution.

"You all right?" John looked in turn at the General and Woolsey before resting his gaze on me.

"Apart from the fact that we’re stuck in here you mean?" I smiled to let him know things were as good as they could be.

"Alright," John turned to Rodney, "get ‘em out of here. I’ll stand guard."

John headed back to the doorway and Rodney came over to the access panel for the cell, taking out a small data pad and tapping away with a frown.

I watched in disbelief as Rodney fumbled his way through the hacking job that should have only taken seconds. My confusion grew as I listened to him talking about the failure of the Niam plan and how they now intended to destroy the shield capabilities of the city by planting C4 at all the emitters. When the shield was raised the C4 would detonate and the Daedalus would be able to complete it's mission to drop a nuke on the city. O'Neill and Woolsey reacted less than favourably to that plan, prompting Rodney to get all defensive as he continued to struggle with the door controls.

"The Daedalus is gonna blow up the city and you're happy about it?" I looked at Rodney pointedly.

"Not happy, no," Rodney stuttered. "But we can't let the Replicators keep the city can we?" He looked up suddenly, something in his eyes urging me to drop it right there.

Before I could say anything else John rushed back into the room with the hurried announcement that the Replicators were coming and they'd have to come back for us. Rodney spluttered in protest that we all knew too much about their plan ... John glared at him in annoyance before delivering an exasperated smack to the back on his head. I almost smiled at that one, so typical of their interactions no matter what dire circumstance they found themselves in.

"You're just leaving?" I looked from Rodney to John somewhat nervously.

"We'll be back," John promised intently. He paused for a few seconds, the expression in his eyes begging me to trust him.

I nodded wordlessly ... convinced now that they were setting something up - even though I didn't know what it was. Hopefully my part in it, if I had one, would come naturally to me!

We didn’t have to wait long for something to happen ... the same two Replicators I’d watched probe the General and Woolsey hurried into the room minutes after John and Rodney had exited. This time they didn’t even bother asking any questions – pushing the two men to their knees and doing the hand in the forehead thing without warning. Only moments later the Replicators pulled their hands free and left O’Neill and Woolsey groaning and clutching their heads in pain.

"We need to get to the shield emitter stations. Remove the C4 explosive you find there," Replicator Two said emotionlessly.

"Way to resist" O’Neill told Woolsey sarcastically.

"I said I wasn’t good at this," Woolsey replied angrily.

"How come they didn’t probe me?" I asked once they’d left us alone again.

"What – you volunteering?" the General looked at me in disbelief.

"No," I replied firmly. "I just find it ... strange that they didn’t even try."

oOo

Replicator One came back for us an hour or so later. This time he and his two companions urged us from the cell and herded us towards a different section within the Brig. When we’d walked through the main door I had another 'Oh Great!' moment when we discovered our entire rescue party was already there.

The Replicators lowered the force field and opened the door, marching General O’Neill, Woolsey and me through to join everyone else. John stood in a kind of lead position within the group, eyes trained intently on the Replictors. I chose a spot off to the side next to where Ronon was sitting - out of the way but still within view of the five Replicators now confronting us. Replicator One, backed up by his two buddies stood framed in front of John, looking as triumphant as a Replicator could look.

"Did you really think you’d be able to stop us?" he asked calmly.

"Well, of course we did. Why else would we be here?" John replied sarcastically.

"Colonel? Am I gonna have to fire you?" General O’Neill quipped.

"No, sir. I think you’ll have that to look forward to when we get back," John kept his eyes firmly on Replicator One.

"I’m afraid your plan has been discovered, Colonel Sheppard. It is over," Replicator One informed us.

"He put his hand in my forehead," Woolsey protested as everyone turned to look accusingly at him. "How can you resist that?"

"Well, I like to close my eyes and think of England," O’Neill continued with the smart arse comments.

"Mr Woolsey informed us of everything we need to know," Replicator One confirmed. "All of your C4 has been removed from the emitters." He opened the bag he carried and pulled out a block of C4 so that John could see his claim was not a bluff. "I’m afraid they won’t be destroyed when the Daedalus arrives - which should be in any moment. Your plan has failed."

"Talus," the voice of Replicator Two came from the Control Room. "The Daedalus is approaching the planet."

"As expected," Replicator One replied, glancing at John to see how he was taking that news. "Activate the shield."

There was a pause of a few seconds before a visible energy wave came from the ceiling and swept to the floor. As it passed through the Replicators they disintegrated into piles of tiny silver pieces.

"Ha! It worked! I can’t believe it worked!" Rodney said with satisfaction.

"Rodney – amazing," Doctor Weir complimented.

"Well, it was a group effort," Rodney excused the brilliance of his plan, not his usual practice so he really must have thought the plan had little chance of success.

"Good old Plan D - works every time," John agreed with Elizabeth’s assessment, tossing the C4 to Rodney. He looked at me with a raised eyebrow, smiling when I grinned in relief. "Ronan and I'll make sure we got them all - you guys stay here a sec."

"Excuse me, but what just happened?" Woolsey asked in confusion, looking from Rodney to Teyla and Carson for some kind of explanation.

"We turned the shield into a giant Replicator weapon," Rodney told Woolsey proudly.

"I knew that!" O’Neill exclaimed.

"You knew?" Woolsey asked in surprise.

"Well, I’ve seen Carter crack enough codes to know that McKay was faking the door thing," O’Neill explained the reason for his suspicion.

"He was?" Woolsey frowned. He turned to me and asked "what about you – did you know too?"

"Rodney's much better at overriding the Ancient systems than he was making out," I revealed simply. "I was pretty sure something was going on, although I didn’t work out exactly what it was."

"I bought it completely," Woolsey looked put out at the thought.

"I believe that was the point," Teyla said graciously.

"Wait a minute - you ... you used me?" Woolsey’s tone was insulted now that he knew he’d been deliberately chosen to feed misinformation to the Replicators.

"You’re alive," Carson said firmly, "and you’re welcome."

"Hey, we’re clear," Ronon came back in to report.

"OK, we’ve gotta get to the Control Room and contact the Daedalus," Doctor Weir urged everyone to get moving.

I walked at a slower pace that the others, quickly being overtaken by the General and Woolsey as they made their way up to the Control Room. Now that the danger had passed (and I was confident it had because Colonel Caldwell was independent enough to check before blindly following a standing order of that magnitude) I felt a bit numb. To John and the others the Ancient survivors from the Tria were mostly faceless people who’d kicked us out of the city. I’d believed that too until I’d come back and worked with them. I’d never warmed to Captain Helia but I had liked Caritas, and even Ricus. And suddenly I felt sad – for those I’d formed some attachment to and for the very idea that the Ancients really had now passed from our plain of existence. There were probably hundreds of things I could have asked them while I’d been there but I’d thought we’d have plenty of time ... and now there was none.

There only seemed one place to go – the East Pier. I was still standing there waiting for the sunset when John found me an hour or so later.

"Hey," John’s voice startled me from introspection. "You disappeared before I could even say hello."

"Sorry," I replied, keeping my gaze fixed on the ocean as John silently approached.

"You okay?" John asked hesitantly, putting a hand on my shoulder.

"Did ah ... did any of the Ancients survive?" I asked softly.

"No," John said simply, squeezing my shoulder in comfort. I put my hand over his and nodded wordlessly, feeling the tears brimming over and doing nothing to stop them from falling. John stood silently behind me, waiting as tears tracked down my face, both of us looking out at the sun slowly setting. When the light finally faded, I turned and pressed myself into John’s arms, hugging him tightly.

"Do you remember that one Ancient I mentioned?" I mumbled into his chest. "Caritas - she liked to watch the sunset. She was a ... friend."

"I’m sorry," John murmured, rubbing a comforting hand down my back.

"Me too," I whispered, resting my head against him and taking strength from him being there. "Thanks for the rescue."

"Never in doubt." John hugged me reassuringly.

"So what happens now?" I pulled away slightly to look up at him. "General O’Neill wasn’t serious about firing you was he?"

"To be honest I’m not really sure," John admitted. "We’re hoping the fact that we saved his life, not to mention Woolsey’s, will carry some weight with him and the IOA."

"So we just stay until we hear something?" I persisted.

"Doctor Weir’s talking to General O’Neill now so we won’t have to wait long," John turned me away from the balcony. "You ready to say hello to everyone else?"

Putting my arms around his neck I pulled him down and kissed him fervently up to the point where it started to get out of hand. Pulling away I grabbed his hand and started walking.

"I am now," I said, smiling at the dazed look on his face. There were other things to tell him - other things to ask him – but now wasn’t the time.

oOo

"You wanted to see me General?" I poked my head in the doorway of what was soon to be again Doctor Weir’s office.

"Sabina," O’Neill greeted me almost fondly. "Woolsey and I are heading out in a few minutes – you all set here?"

"Does it bother you?" I asked softly, stepping fully into the room. "The Ancients being gone I mean?"

"Sure it does," the General agreed in an easy tone, "but you have to put it away so you can do your job."

"I’m trying," I looked at him curiously. "Got any tips for that?"

"Ah ..." he paused, looking at me thoughtfully, "somehow I don’t think the ‘bury and forget’ strategy will work as well for you as it does for me."

"Probably not," I agreed. "Well General, it’s been a pleasure working with you," I smiled impishly. "Can I escort you to the gate?"

"Sure," O’Neill grabbed a bag and gestured for me to precede him from the room. We walked down the steps to the Gateroom in silence. Doctor Weir was already there, talking with John and a fully suited and polished Richard Woolsey.

"Dial it up," Doctor Weir called up to Rodney in the Control Room. Turning back to Woolsey she added "Richard - thank you for agreeing to put in a good word for us with the IOA."

"It’s the least I can do since you all risked your careers to come and save us," Woolsey said in an actually friendly tone. I raised an eyebrow at General O’Neill, and smiled when he shrugged in reply.

"General O’Neill," Doctor Weir greeted our arrival. "Are you ready for that hot toddy?"

"Indeed," O’Neill said with a smirk. The wormhole kawhooshed behind us, settling into the familiar sparkling puddle.

"Thanks for not firing me Sir," John said irreverently.

"You came back to rescue me so ...," General O’Neill trailed off without finishing that sentence.

"I hope your next visit to Atlantis is more restful than this one Jack," I said companionably, catching the startled choking look on Woolsey’s face at my apparent ‘first name basis’ relationship with General O’Neill.

"You and me both Sabina," O’Neill said with a smile that told me he knew exactly what I was up to. He had previously invited me to call him Jack so I didn’t think he’d mind if I took him up on the offer, however belatedly.

Gesturing for Woolsey to go first, General O’Neill flipped us a half wave before stepping youthfully through the Stargate.

"Jack?" John looked at me questioningly.

"He invited me to call him that," I said innocently. "And watching Woolsey almost swallow his tongue at the lack of respect implied had nothing to do with my taking him up on it."

"No wonder Woolsey doesn’t like you," John muttered under his breath.

"He doesn’t like me?" I manufactured a surprised expression. John laughed, swinging a casual arm around my shoulder and steering me away from the gate.

Authors Note for all chapters pertaining to "The Return":

Caritas in written Latin is Charity in spoken English – it took my fancy to call one of the Ancients that, given they were less than charitable in their dealings with the team. I liked the idea that at least one of the Ancients would have become friends with someone, if given the chance. I also wanted to include some aspect of grief because it seemed a shame all the Ancients perished with barely any acknowledgement. Ricus is Rhys which means ‘enthusiasm’ – another tongue in cheek name because the Ancients are portrayed in this episode as completely lacking in anything remotely like excitement etc. The source for the latin names was freereg dot rootsweb dot com fslash howto fslash ; the source for the meaning of Rhys was behindthename dot com.

Perficio vinculum means ‘perfect bonding’ – I did my usual ‘let’s pretend these Latin words have been altered to be Ancient’ trick from transxp dot com so as usual no promises on the ultimate accuracy of the translation.

Quantum Electrodynamics (Greiner, Walter) is a real book – I picked it because if does come in hardcover and it’s pretty big, almost 500 pages (according to Amazon dot com). Should be big enough to hide at least a few power bars which I think Rodney would totally do!

I ignored the "jumper ride back to the SGC" reference made by Jack at the end of the episode because we find out in the next episode that they have three ZPMs – definitely no need for Jack to take a Jumper!


Chapter 26: Do you think this is funny?


Atlantis was like a ghost town for the three weeks it took for the Daedalus to travel back to Earth with two of three ZPM’s we’d scored from the Replicators – the SGC would ‘borrow’ one of the ZPMs to power the Stargate so that everyone who wanted to could return.

After the excitement of defeating the Replicators and finding out we could stay in Atlantis had passed I found myself conflicted on a number of levels. Since John was at the source of some of that conflict and because there was no one else available for me to take my frustrations out on I bottled it all up inside rather than talking about it, getting more and more silent as each day passed. I’d fall asleep early each night, hardly registering when John joined me. I’d wake in the early hours of the morning, thoughts swirling through my mind too fast to get a handle on, and steal from the room to a secluded spot until it was time for the day to begin.

At first I think John just thought I was grieving for Caritas and the other Ancients I’d gotten to know – I’d shake my head when he asked if I wanted to talk and he let me get away with it. After a couple of days he stopped asking, watching me silently with a thoughtful look on his face.

John let me wander around like a ghost for a week before he finally called me up on it. Most of the time I was either out on the East Pier thinking or down in the Wraith weapons room trying to work out if Ricus had done anything to make the weapon useable so it wasn’t that hard for him to find me.

"It’s time we had that talk," John’s voice came from behind me as I sat on the edge of the Pier looking out over the ocean.

"About what?" I replied without looking back at him.

"You’ve hardly said two words since Woolsey and General O’Neill left," John said, walking over and sitting down next to me, "so talking about anything would be an improvement."

"My head is too full," I said wearily. ‘I’ve got so much stuff swirling around I just can’t make sense of."

"Well sitting around thinking about it obviously isn’t helping," John pointed out a little impatiently.

"I don’t want to do this right now," I jumped up and turned towards the city. Before I’d gone two paces John was there in front of me.

"You might not want to," he said grimly, "but I’m not letting you get away with it this time!"

"You’re not letting me?" I said angrily. "Who the hell are you to tell me what to do?!"

"The man who loves you," John replied simply. Rather than be touched by that it just infuriated me more. He knew that part of my anger was directed at him and I couldn't help but think he was using those emotions to push me over the edge so I'd admit it. Not that he never said how he felt, just not like that.

"Don’t play the ‘love’ card to get what you want Colonel," I practically yelled, trying to sidestep around him. John grabbed my shoulders and dragged me back in front of him.

"I’m not playing anything," John bit back angrily. "You have to let out some of whatever it is you’ve got bottled up before you explode."

"I don’t know how," I yelled back, hitting his chest in frustration. "Why couldn’t you just let me deal with this my own way?"

"Because you’re not dealing with it," John said grimly, capturing my hands and holding them tight against his chest. I struggled silently to free myself for a few seconds before realising the futility of that. All the fight just drained out of me and I sagged under John’s hold, dropping my head down to rest on my clenched fists. Both of us were breathing deeply, struggling to get emotions back under wraps before one of us said something we’d regret. After a minute or so John sighed, letting go of my hands and putting an arm around me to steer me back to my seat on the edge of the pier. He took a seat next to me again, sitting close but not touching me. "Just start somewhere ... tell me one thing that’s bothering you."

"I already did," I said somewhat sullenly. "It bothers me – Caritas, Ricus, and the others being killed – not just because I knew them but because I realised after that they were the last of the Ancients. I witnessed the final end of an entire race of people ... sorry if I find that hard to get over in a week!"

"The last of the Ancients who didn’t Ascend," John pointed out, "and even that’s not a certainty."

"I suppose," I said reluctantly, knowing he was right. "Towards the end, before the Replicators came, I was starting to feel suspicious about their motives."

"How so?" John asked in surprise.

"They got me here to work on that weapon and yet we hardly made any progress," I pointed out. "Plus Caritas asked me a lot of questions about everything I've done here - she was particularly interested in anything to do with the Ancient and Wraith genes. I meant to ask her about it but ... I never got the chance."

"Maybe it was just as simple as her wanting to get to know you," John suggested. "Not everything has to be about ulterior motives."

"When did I get so jaded that my first instinct is to suspect deception?" I said sadly, not expecting John to actually answer that. "I feel bad about that now, worse because of what happened to Caritas. I really liked her and yet I didn't trust her, even though I said she was a friend," my voice shook a little as I felt again the loss of something I'd never gotten the chance to appreciate. "I feel ... sad about that," I reiterated.

"I’m not telling you how long to grieve for the friends you made here," John said simply. "You know if that was all it was I’d let you wander the city for as long as you needed but we both know it’s more than that. How about you tell me what else is bothering you."

"What’s gonna happen to our house?" I looked down at my hands with a frown.

"Our house?" I could hear the confusion in John’s voice.

"I guess someone will just go there and pack up all our stuff," I continued lightly, "and you know – that really bothers me too. How come I wasn’t good enough for an SGC team but now we’re back in the Pegasus galaxy it’s all ‘yes of course you can stay – just pretend we never discounted your skills’?"

"You want to go back to Earth and live in that house?" John’s voice made it clear that he really had no idea what the right response was for that.

"No," I said irritably. "I never said my concerns were logical you know!"

"I liked the house," John said after a pause of silence.

"Me too," I agreed softly. "I can’t believe I’m gonna say this but I liked picking out things and making it look like a home."

"I won’t tell anyone," John joked, wincing a little when I glared rather than smiled at that.

"You knew that was gonna happen - that I wouldn't get to be on an offworld team - didn't you?" I looked at him accusingly, starting to feel my anger at him resurface. "Why didn't you warn me?!"

"I didn't know for sure," John defended himself, "and you were so upset about leaving Atlantis I didn't want to overload you with anything else to worry about."

"So you thought it would be better for me to come over as unreasonable asking for something I wasn't qualified for?" I asked incredulously.

"Of course not!" John denied. "And it wasn't unreasonable to expect the chance to train for a position similar to the one you held here."

"I don't know why I feel so angry still," I admitted, calming down as suddenly as I'd gotten angry. "I truly do understand the issues the SGC had with me. It's stupid because it’s not like I’m gonna snub my nose at them now we’re back here."

"You’ve angry with yourself just as much as anyone else," John cut straight to the heart of me with that remark.

"It's entirely my fault I don't have the kind of background I needed for an SG team position - too many years stuffing around instead of taking responsibilty for something," I agreed reluctantly, directing my gaze out over the ocean. "I guess it was easier to be angry at you than admit it ... I'm sorry about that."

"You would have found your way," John said confidently, putting a comforting arm around my shoulders. "If we’d stayed back on Earth I mean."

"What if something like this happens again?" I turned to look at him. "Would I get relegated into the background again?"

"I can’t tell you for sure," John admitted, "but if nothing else changes then it's entirely likely."

"Then I need to come up with something they can’t discount," I said softly.

"We’ll come up with something," John corrected, reminding me again that he’d tried to help me find my place back on Earth. "Anything else you want to get off your chest?"

"Actually, I’ve got a bone to pick with you," I looked at him accusingly.

"What?" John held up his hands with a ‘whatever it is I’m innocent’ expression.

"Do you know what the Ancients called this," I pulled my pendant from under my t-shirt and held it out so he could see it.

"Ah ... not really, no," John looked at me curiously. "Does it matter?"

"It’s called a vinculum," I said bitingly, "after the ritual that created it which is called the perficio vincula – would you like to guess what that means?"

"When I was trying to work out what the puzzle pieces were supposed to do I might have read something about a ... bonding ceremony," John shifted uncomfortably.

"So you did know!" I got up and stood glaring down at him. "How could you get me to participate in a ritual I knew nothing about!"

"I did tell you about it," John denied my accusation. He got up, standing right up within my personal space. "I just didn’t call it a bonding ceremony because I knew you’d put too serious a connotation on it – just like you’re doing now!"

"So you told me everything about this ritual then, did you?" I raised an eyebrow at him, waiting to see what he’d say. John rolled his eyes in frustration before pinning me with a serious gaze.

"The only thing I didn’t tell you was that there was some chance the bonding wouldn’t work," John admitted, "that the pieces wouldn’t merge. I didn’t want to put any doubts in your head because if it didn’t work then my brilliant birthday gift would have turned into a disaster."

"And that’s all?" I persisted, ignoring the look he was giving me that clearly said he’d expected me to already have started yelling at him for the deception.

"Yes," he almost growled. "Why aren’t you angrier that I left that part out?"

"Because," I almost took delight in enlightening him, "the bonding part of the ritual name isn’t referring to the pieces merging together – it’s referring to the merging of two people in a relationship. If it doesn’t merge then it means the people aren’t suited or not ready for a deeper connection."

"Oh," John looked down at the ground for a second before looking at me with a smug grin. "So according to the Ancients we’re a good match!"

"See, that was my initial reaction too," I smiled evilly, almost looking forward to his reaction when I got to the punch line, "before Caritas told me that as far as the Ancients were concerned, us joining this vinculum together means we’re married."

"Huh?" John looked at me dumbfounded.

"We’re married," I repeated clearly, "at least according to 10,000 year old Ancient custom."

"Oh," John’s mouth twitched and he kept his gaze away from mine.

"Do you think this is funny?" I poked a finger hard into his chest.

"Come on," John looked at me with laughter dancing in his eyes, "it is kinda funny. Man I wish I could have seen the look on your face when Caritas told you!"

"Ha ha," I tried not to smile but when John started laughing outright I couldn’t maintain my stern demeanour. "I’m glad you’re entertained," I said lightly. "But if you ever tell anyone else about this I will find some way to make you pay."

"It’ll be our secret Mrs Sheppard," John quipped, still laughing even after I’d whacked his shoulder in annoyance that he wasn’t taking this seriously. Avoiding another attempted hit, he pulled me into him and hugged me tightly, pressing a hot breathed kiss to the side of my neck. I shivered at the contact, leaning in closer. I hadn't exactly been ... welcoming since John had returned to Atlantis and right then I wanted nothing more than to get as close to him as possible. "Have you got any other ... issues ... that need airing?" his voice rumbled in my ear.

"Remind me to tell you what Caritas said about the anti-nanite protein," I murmured, pressing kisses along his jaw line, "later ... much later."

"Okay," John agreed, probably not even registering exactly what I’d said. "You know ... the city is practically deserted," he raised an eyebrow suggestively, backing us towards one of the benches running the length of the pier. Sitting he pulled me down to straddle him. The sun sparkled across the water and reflected in his eyes making them look more green that hazel against the blue surrounding us.

"Our room is a long way," I agreed, leaning down to kiss him with serious intent. John smiled into the kiss before taking us quickly into passionate territory. We met up with the others only a short time later ... and if our clothes were a little rumpled no one said anything about it.

It was kind of touchy feely but I couldn't help admitting, even if just to myself, that after the talk and the more intimate reunion with John I did actually feel much better ... and like I'd finally found home again.

oOo

The remaining two weeks waiting for Atlantis to be returned to full staff passed easily. We’d split into teams and cleaned up the mess of disintegrated Replicators and damage to the main areas not already repaired. I also took the time to fill everyone in on what Caritas had told me about the anti-nanite protein in my blood. I’d been thinking about the Replicator who’d tried to probe my mind ... and how he’d thought I was doing something to his hand. When I mentioned it to Rodney and the others, Carson speculated that perhaps the proteins had detected the presence of nanites and immediately acted to neutralise them. My immune response would be much faster than last time because I’d already been exposed to the nanites.

I think we all knew how relieved I was that having that protein wasn’t another weird coincidence – that it came as a package deal with the Wraith DNA. It still made me feel like a bit of a freak even in the Pegasus galaxy where others also had the Wraith gene but not as much of one as I’d been fearing. I also mentioned briefly that there was a complimentary ATA gene responsible for my detection abilities, leaving out the bit about the merging gene. It wasn't a certainty and I didn’t want to add further fuel to the mutant DNA tag I’d given myself.

Soon after teams started arriving back in the city - pretty much everyone who had left made the decision to return. Resupply was a combination of essentials coming through the gate and the rest coming back on the Daedalus return journey. It only took days to start feeling like we’d never been away – which would have been bad if we’d just returned from a wonderful vacation, but which instead was fantastic given the circumstances that had gotten us to where we were.


Chapter 27: It’s just a quick trip to look at a really big fish


They say that every strength is a two edged sword ... the strike that shows our talent offset by the return stroke that’s what we pay for having that talent. That was never more the case for me than when Rodney’s ‘whales’ came for a visit to Atlantis. He’d told me about his Puddle Jumper adventure under the water and how a whale like creature had circled his position which in turn led John and Radek to find him. Rodney called the whale Sam and seemed very excited to have spotted him swimming close to Atlantis, followed soon after by a much larger version Rodney had decided was Sam’s mother.

“Sabina,” John's radio call came through while I was sitting on the balcony in our quarters, reading some of the information Ricus had left about the Wraith dispersal weapon. I was pretty sure Ricus had not done as much as he’d led me to believe to get the weapon operational ... Rodney would need to look at the files too but it seemed unlikely to me that we could complete the work sufficiently to have the weapon available as an option in the future.

“Hi,” I tapped my ear piece in response. “What’s happening?”

“I’m taking Rodney down to get a closer look at his whale friend,” John told me with just a hint of excitement in his voice. “Wanna come along?”

I knew that John was still worried about me, even after our little talk. I had been feeling ... I guess ‘sad’ is the best word to describe it since we’d cleared the air which was a step up from angry and confused. It had been some time since I’d known anyone who’d died – I wouldn’t say I was struggling to overcome my feelings about it but it hardly seemed a tribute to Caritas if I could go happily about my business only a few short weeks after her death. I considered it a not inappropriate level of grief to be feeling over the loss of a friend – I just needed to convince everyone else of that so they’d stop asking me if I was all right.

“Really?” I asked in surprise. The offer of an underwater Jumper ride was probably just another one of his attempts to cheer me up but since I’d never been under the ocean in a Jumper I was willing to go along with it. I’d been feeling off all day with a nagging ache at the back of my eyes, another reason to get out and clear my head a bit.

“Sure,” John replied easily. “It’s just a quick trip to look at a really big fish ... should only take half an hour, tops.”

“Okay – I’ll meet you in the Jumper Bay,” I agreed, grabbing my jacket and hurrying from the room.

Ten minutes later I was sitting in the chair behind Rodney eagerly looking through the forward view screen as John dropped the Jumper down gently on the surface of the water. We sank slowly for a few metres before John fully activated the engines and guided us through the water.

“Wow,” I murmured, mesmerised by the very idea of ‘flying’ through the ocean.

Rodney seemed to be less relaxed about the whole thing, glancing nervously up at the Jumpers roof. John looked at him, frowning when he noticed Rodney’s anxiety.

“You alright?” he asked Rodney.

“Yeah, I’m fine,” Rodney grimaced. “I just never feel safe in these things underwater.”

“In space you’re OK?” John tried to point out the illogical nature of those two facts but Rodney wasn’t seeing it.

“Yeah, of course I am. Why wouldn’t I be?” He looked at John quizzically.

“Sabina, how’re you doing?” John turned to look at me, smiling when he saw the delighted grin I knew I was wearing.

“You were right,” I said softly. “This really is cool.”

John nodded in agreement, before turning back to his console to report in with Doctor Zelenka.

“Zelenka, you there?”

“I’m here. Hello!” Radek responded from the Control Room. I could imagine him huddled over his screens, glasses falling down his nose. “Uh, the whales are deeper now, less than a kilometre from you in your two o’clock position.”

“There they are,” Rodney pointed to the HUD image of two whales swimming nearby. “Should have a visual on them any moment now.”

I leant forward eagerly awaiting sight of Rodney’s friend. There was nothing for a few seconds and then a grey shape became visible in the distance.

“There’s Sam,” Rodney pointed happily. When a much larger shape became visible only seconds later, he added “and there’s Mum.”

“We need to get a closer look,” John spoke into the silence that followed that first sighting. Taking the Jumper even deeper we chased the whales down into the ocean. With still no sight of them after a few moments, Rodney started to get nervous again.

“Alright, not too close now, OK? We still have no idea what these things eat,” he said in his classic Rodney ‘I’m pretending not to be concerned right now but I really am’ voice.

As soon as we’d begun to go deeper that ache had begun to feel more like a strange pressure behind my eyes. As the moments ticked by the pressure got more and more intense, going beyond a mere headache. Not wanting to complain and spoil John’s enjoyment of the rare chance for an underwater trip I bit back my groan of pain. I hardly noticed John putting a hand over his eyes until Rodney called him up on it.

“What? What is it?” he demanded, looking at John in concern.

“Nothing,” John denied any kind of problem existed. “Just got a headache all of a sudden.”

“Ah ...,” I hesitated before admitting, “me too, except I kinda had one before we started out, only now it’s worse.”

“Oh,” Rodney looked from John to me and then back again. “Bad?”

“It’s just a headache Rodney,” John discounted the need for concern. When he looked to me for confirmation I just went with a confident nod, even though the pressure in my head was already greater than any headache I could remember having. And with all my meddling in Ancient and Wraith mind controlled devices that all seemed to generate a headache of some kind, that was saying something.

The Jumper slowed and we all looked through the front view screen, searching for our whale visitors.

“Where’d they go?” Rodney asked in confusion.

“I don’t know,” John looked through the screen again while Rodney reached out to reactivate the HUD. Before he could complete the command the water shifted in front of us and a huge fish eye appeared right in front of us. I jumped back at the suddenness of their close proximity, wincing at the corresponding increase in pain behind my eyes.

“Oh!” Zelenka’s voice came over the radio. “They’re right in front of you.”

“Yeah!” John replied impatiently. “We were aware of that!”

“John ...” I said faintly. He glanced at me quickly, distracted by Rodney grimacing in pain as he put a hand over his eyes.

“What’s wrong?” John’s voice was tinged with real concern now.

“Now my head’s hurting too,” Rodney admitted sickly.

“That’s not a coincidence,” John said, looking back to check on me. “Sabina?”

“I don’t know about you guys,” I said weakly, “but my headache’s at the excruciating stage.” I raised a hand to my eyes and noticed with detached curiosity that my hand was shaking.

“I’m pulling back,” John said firmly. “Just hang on okay.”

“Perhaps it’s the whales’ echo location mechanism,” Zelenka commented from the Control Room with scientific curiosity. “It’s creating uncomfortable vibrations which are ...”

“Yes, Radek,” Rodney interrupted impatiently. “We're moving away. Try to keep up, OK?!”

“Oh my,” Radek’s worried awed voice came through clearly.

“Oh my, what?” John demanded.

“Uh, uh, uh, I’m detecting several more whales,” Zelenka reported hurriedly.

“How many more?” Rodney questioned sickly.

“Uh, dozens more,” Zelenka said reluctantly. “They’re still several kilometres away from you, but they’re heading towards you.”

There was a buzzing in my ears and when I looked at John instead of one outline there were four. Squeezing my eyes shut and then opening them wide didn’t correct the problem. Rubbing them with my knuckles didn’t help either but that was when I realised my nose was bleeding.

“John?” my voice held an edge of ‘I’m scared’ that got John’s attention right away. I heard him cursing “Crap!” as I lost my balance and fell sideways from my chair.

oOo

I must have been unconscious before I hit the floor of the Jumper because my next conscious moment was when I woke up in an infirmary bed some time later.

“Hey, you’re awake,” John’s louder than normal voice drew my attention to my left. Expecting to see him sitting beside my bed I was surprised to see instead that he was occupying the bed next to mine.

“What happened to you?” I asked in concern, scanning him but not finding any visible reason for him to be in the infirmary.

“Huh?” John said loudly. “My hearing’s still coming back so you’ll have to talk louder.”

“What happened?” I almost yelled this time.

“The whales have some kind of vibration thing,” John said easily. “Caused all our headaches, nosebleeds, and perforated mine and Rodney’s ear drums.”

“That doesn’t sound good,” I glanced around and realised that Rodney was in the bed on the other side of John.

“Nothing to worry about – apparently ear drums heal pretty quickly,” John reassured me. “My hearing has already improved.

“So this was all caused by Rodney’s whale friends?” I frowned at him in confusion as he nodded the affirmative. “Then how come my head’s still throbbing?” I asked, looking around the room, surprised to see the infirmary was unusually busy. “And why are there so many people here?”

“There are hundreds of whales now – they’re surrounding the city,” John told me in his loud voice. “Ask Carson for some more pain killers.”

“Okay, I’ll do –“ I broke off as my eyes were drawn across the infirmary. A bed was surrounded by medical staff in white uniforms with weird looking hoods over their heads. They were restraining a patient who was writhing and moaning in pain. I gasped, horrified at the blackened and blistered appearance of the man’s body.

“Sabina?” John called out loudly, drawing my attention back to him.

“What happened to him?” I gestured back to the bed, frowning in confusion when I realised it was now empty. There was no sign of the burn victim nor any of the staff who’d been attending him. “Where is he? Did you see ...?” I looked back to John to see a worried look in his eyes.

“All I saw was you staring at an empty bed,” John admitted.

“This headache must really be messing with my head,” I muttered weakly, slumping back in the bed. ‘I could have sworn there was a patient over there ... never mind.” I closed my eyes, pressing my fingers against my temples at the pressure I could still feel inside my head.

“Doc,” I heard John calling out loudly.

“There’s no need to yell Colonel,” Doctor Beckett appeared at the foot of John’s bed.

“Sorry,” John said loudly, gesturing for Carson to look at me. “Sabina needs more pain medication.”

“Headache still there lass?” Carson asked in his concerned doctor voice.

“Yeah,” I admitted weakly. “Especially behind the eyes.”

“I’ll get you some pain killers,’ Carson patted my arm reassuringly before going off to get them. I took them gratefully when he returned which was a big clue to John that I was feeling very ordinary since usually I’d argue before giving in and taking medications. “Just try to get some rest Sabina,” Carson ordered, turning and looking across at John. “Let her sleep Colonel – no more yelling.”

I closed my eyes tiredly, hoping those tablets would kick in soon.

oOo

When I awoke the infirmary was still a hive of activity not lessened by the fact that John and Rodney’s beds had both been vacated. Wondering how I could have slept through John’s departure I looked around, hoping to catch sight of Doctor Beckett. Instead I saw that same scene as before – white clad medical staff attending a burned man clearly in agony, this time accompanied by weird muffled talking that I couldn’t understand. I rubbed at my eyes, blinking a few times to clear my vision. When I looked back just like before the scene was gone. I was less than thrilled to realise too that rather than curing my headache the time I’d spent sleeping only seemed to have exacerbated the pressure.

“Doctor Beckett,” I called out, catching a glimpse of him standing with another patient.

“How’s the head?” Carson asked as soon as he’d arrived at my bedside.

“No different,” I admitted. “Is that Teyla I just saw being brought in? Is she okay?”

“Aye,” Carson admitted reluctantly. “More and more people are falling ill with the same symptoms – headaches, nosebleeds. At this stage the only thing I can do is hand out painkillers.”

“Where did John and Rodney disappear to?” I looked at him questioningly.

“Rodney found the bio-lab where the Ancients were researching his whale friend,” Carson informed me, “so he and the Colonel went to check it out – hopefully to work out how to tell the whales to leave.”

“Can I –“ I broke off at Carson’s stern expression. “I guess I’ll just stay here for a while,” I said instead.

“You will,” Carson ordered. “Let me know if the pain gets any worse.”

Realising I was stuck there I decided a small trip across the infirmary to visit with Teyla would not be something Carson could object to. My head spun a little when I first sat up and the pressure I hadn’t gotten used to stabbed at my eyes. Pausing to allow my head to get used to the new elevation I finally felt able to walk over to Teyla.

“Teyla,” I said softly, watching as she slowly opened her eyes.

“Sabina,” she smiled a greeting. “How are you feeling?”

“Like my eyes are gonna explode out of my head,” I said simply. “You?”

“My headache is also quite troubling,” Teyla understated her condition, lines of pain evident on her face.

“Well John and Rodney have gone off to a bio-lab where the Ancients were researching the whales,” I told her hopefully. “Shouldn’t be too long now before we hear something.”

“Have you seen ...” Teyla broke off, looking behind her grimly at something I knew wasn’t there.

“The burned man being treated?” I looked at her curiously, waiting until she nodded in confirmation. “Yeah – he comes and goes.”

“Should you be out of bed?” Teyla did that whole motherly but at the same time stern look she was so good at.

“Carson didn’t tell me I had to stay in bed,” I avoided directly answering her question. “I just wanted to see how you were.”

“I appreciate your concern but perhaps you should return to your bed now,” Teyla looked at me in concern, watching as I struggled to maintain the balance I’d suddenly lost. “Sabina?”

“I’m ... ah ...” I put a hand to my head, wanting to scream at the sudden increase in pain that seemed to be radiating over my entire head now. “You were right,” I mumbled, dropping down to sit on the floor, “I should have stayed in bed.” Struggling to hold my head up I listed to the side until gravity pulled me down to lie fully on the floor.

“Doctor Beckett,” I heard Teyla calling out urgently.

“Sabina?” I snapped back to reality probably only seconds later to see Carson kneeling down beside me.

“Sorry,” I mumbled thickly. “Carson – you gotta do something about this headache ... before it drives me insane.”

“I’ll give you something stronger for the pain,” Carson replied, gesturing for two nurses to assist him in lifting me off the floor and back over to my bed. The infirmary was swimming in and out of focus and I hardly felt the injection in my arm before the oblivion of really good pain meds kicked in.

oOo

“Sabina,” I heard John’s voice calling me back to reality.

“Hey,” I squinted my eyes open, wincing at the pain of light slamming into my already pressure filled head. “Whales still camped out I see.”

“Yeah,” John admitted, putting a comforting hand across my forehead.

“I can tell from your face that I’m not looking my best,” I joked weakly.

“Just a bit pale,” John replied. “The Daedalus is here and Elizabeth is keen for the worse hit patients to be transferred up there.” When I frowned at that news John shook his head firmly. “Don’t bother arguing – you’re already on the list for the first beam up and you will be going up there.”

“Fine,” I muttered, feeling guilty that I got to get away from the whales effects while everyone else still had to put up with it.

“If it makes you feel better,” John offered quietly, “Carson says you’re feeling the effects much more severely that everyone else because your mind is much more open to ... alternative forms of communication.”

“Oh,” I looked at him in surprise. “Because of the Wraith gene thing?”

“That and all the work you did with TED,” John confirmed. “So don’t feel bad you get to escape.”

“How about you?” I asked curiously. “Any effects?”

“Not really,” John replied. “Just the headache which I can live with. My hearing is pretty much back to normal too.”

“Is there a plan for what to do about the whales?” I looked at him hopefully.

“Rodney and I found something in the bio-lab,” John explained. “We’ve been searching for something called Adaris – I just came down to see you quickly before you go to the Daedalus.”

“Go,” I urged him to get back to work. “Help Rodney fix this. I’ll be fine.”

“Okay,” John leant down to kiss my forehead, ruffling my hair affectionately. “See you later.”

oOo

After an hour away from close proximity to the whales my head finally began to feel a little better. I still had a massive headache but I no longer felt like my head would actually explode. I knew John and Rodney finally had a plan when John arrived on the Daedalus, stopping in very briefly to tell me what was going on.

“The whales were trying to warn us about the sun – there was a coronal mass ejection big enough to take out the entire planet about 15,000 years ago and it’s about to happen again,” John reported grimly.

“But you have a plan,” I looked at him expectantly.

“A good plan,” John continued. “We’ve supplemented the Daedalus shields with the ZPM so we can use the ship to deflect the radiation before it fans out – like an umbrella.”

“Clever,” I complemented him. “And the shields can take that kind of heat?”

“Rodney wasn’t exactly ... brimming with confidence about that,” John admitted, “but it’s the only plan we’ve got.”

“It’ll work,” I told him. “I’m glad I’m here.”

“I’m not,” John countered, “but there’s no time to beam anyone back to Atlantis.” John frowned in concern before adding “look – it’s probably gonna get hot inside the ship ... just stay here until it’s over.”

“You’ll be on the Bridge?” I asked, knowing he’d want to be right at the forefront of whatever was going to happen.

“Yeah,” John replied. “This could happen any time so ... I guess I better get up there.” He squeezed my hand before turning and walking quickly away.

An hour later, after a very tense and extremely hot few minutes the coronal mass ejection had spent itself and the danger had passed. Another John Sheppard out of the box solution had saved the day. The Daedalus did sustain minor damage and we’d lost one of John’s men, Sergeant Bell, to a fatal aneurysm. Given the scale of what could have happened though we were lucky to have gotten off that lightly.

Doctor Beckett had released me straight from the Daedalus infirmary to my room, assuring me the latest dose of headache medication I'd taken would actually help my head get back to normal. I was dosing lightly when John turned up after handling all the loose ends.

“The whales are all gone,” John said, sitting on the bed to kick off his boots. “Except for Rodney’s little friend Sam ... he hung around for a bit to ‘say goodbye’ as Rodney put it.”

“Yeah – my headache is finally starting to disappear,” I watched as he ran a tired hand through his hair. “Nice plan by the way.”

“I was starting to worry when Rodney said the emission could last hours,” John admitted, lying back on top of the covers next to me. “I’m glad that’s over and apparently we won’t have to worry about another coronal mass ejection for another 15,000 years.”

“Good to know,” I murmured sleepily. “You tired?”

“Yeah, I’ll just clean up ... you sleep.” John leaned over to kiss me quickly before dragging himself up again. I tried to wait for him to return but my almost headache free head was just too keen to switch off.

Authors Note:

“We are double-edged blades, and every time we whet our virtue the return stroke straps our vice” Henry David Thoreau. My source as usual was thinkexist dot com.


Chapter 28: I’m pretty sure I’m not worth anything


It was about a week after the whole whale thing and my first off world mission back with team Lorne was scheduled for the following day. Realising that I had some bridges to mend beforehand I reluctantly checked in with Lieutenant Parker to get the whereabouts of Major Lorne. Finding out he was on one of the balconies near by I decided there was no time like the present to get an unpleasant task over with.

“Major Lorne?” I stepped hesitantly out onto the balcony, watching in surprise as Lorne dabbed a brush onto a paint palette before transferring some of his chosen colour onto an incomplete picture of the city. When he didn’t respond I took a few more steps and tried again. “Major ... have you got a few minutes?”

“Sabina – sorry I didn’t hear you,” Lorne wiped his brush, turning to look at me curiously. “What can I do for you?”

“Listen to my long overdue apology,” I said bluntly, not wasting time beating around the bush.

“You don’t have anything to apologise for,” Lorne countered.

“Yes I do,” I looked at him pointedly, watching as he turned back to his painting. “I ah ... took some of my anger at General Landry out on you when you didn’t deserve it. It was disrespectful and ungrateful ... and I’m sorry.”

“Apology accepted,” Lorne said easily, looking at me curiously.

“Just like that?” I asked in surprise. “Aren’t you gonna make me work at it a bit?”

“No,” Lorne shifted away from the easel to face me, leaning back against the balcony railing. “I’m not so sure your anger was undeserved. I did put your name forward with General Landry, told him you’d qualified for the team based on every test I could think of to put you through. But I didn’t argue when it became clear the General wasn’t going to put you on my team.”

“Are you allowed to argue with your commanding officer these days?” I raised my eyebrow in disbelief, smiling slightly when Lorne gave a small chuckle.

“Not the last time I checked, no,” Lorne admitted, looking at me questioningly. “We’re friends right?”

“I hope so,” I replied, moving to stand next to him, resting my arms on the railing so I could look out over the ocean.

“It was hard for you back on Earth and I kind of abandoned you,” Lorne glanced at me before looking away again. “Friends don’t do that.”

“We weren’t there long enough for you to work out what you might have done in the long run,” I excused any guilt he might have been feeling. “You’re only thinking that way because I was so ... blatant in trying to throw blame anywhere but at myself.”

“How are you to blame?” Lorne frowned in confusion.

“I don’t have any qualifications because I spent too many years flittering from one thing to another,” I admitted. “You wouldn’t know it now but before I came here I really sucked at committing to anything. Hard to cast blame on General Landry for having doubts about me given my history.”

“If that’s true then you should be even prouder for what you’ve accomplished here,” Lorne smiled when I flushed at the compliment.

“Thanks,” I grinned at him, happy to see him smiling back easily. “So we’re good? Because I’d hate to go on the mission tomorrow with any awkwardness lingering.”

“We were always good,” Lorne replied, putting a hand on my shoulder.

“I’ll let you get back to your painting then,” I turned away from the railing, glancing at the picture he’d started. "This is what you do in your free time?"

"My Mum taught art," Lorne offered that explanation. "It's been a while but ... I kinda missed this place and now seemed like a good time to get back to it."

"Well keep it up because you've got talent," I smiled when Lorne looked almost embarrased by that. “And about my apology ... thanks for listening.”

“No problem,” Lorne replied, picking up his brush and palette again. “See you tomorrow – 0800 sharp.”

Nodding I walked away feeling much happier than I had in a while, glad I hadn’t done any permanent damage to one of the few true friendships I’d managed to make on Atlantis.

oOo

“You sleeping in today?” I looked at John curiously the next morning, surprised to see him lounging around in bed when he was usually urging us both to get up long before I was ready.

“Nah,” John sat up, watching me getting ready for the mission. “I thought I’d hang around until you had to head out – since it’s your first mission back and all.”

“That’s ... sweet,” I smiled at his usual reaction to being attributed with that particular motive. “When’s your team heading out?”

“Ten,” John replied. “I’m looking forward to checking out this rumoured superhero.”

“Sounds more fun than checking out another supposed Ancient ruin that will probably end up being a pile of carved stone slabs,” I told him. “Not that I’m complaining because we both know how much I like carved anything.”

“True,” John laughed, grabbing my hand when I reached for my watch and pulling me down to sit on the bed. “Are you cool about being back on the team?” he asked seriously.

“Now that I’ve spoken to Major Lorne yeah,” I replied. “I’d just be cutting off my own nose to spite my face if I did anything other than go back to business as usual.”

“Good,” John smiled, stretching his arms up high and giving me the overwhelming urge to tickle. Seeing the look in my eyes he quickly lowered his arms. “Don’t even think about it,” he warned.

“What?” I asked innocently. When he shook his head at my poor attempt at innocence I laughed. “Well can you blame me? Showing off all that skin gives me ideas!”

“I’m all in favour of your ideas ... just not the tickling ones,” John looked at me suggestively.

“Much as I’d like to dally with you,” I told him, “I’ve gotta go or I’m gonna be late. I do have time for one kiss though – but make it quick.”

“Yes Ma’am,” John drawled, grabbing my hand and pulling me down on top of him. I was still laughing when he kissed me, taking advantage and driving us straight into a heated embrace. He had me tangled in the sheets beneath him before he broke things off. “Is that quick enough?”

“Mmm?” I blinked distractedly. “Oh ... yeah. That’ll do for now ... just remember where we were up to okay?”

“I’ll look forward to it,” John promised, letting me escape and smiling with a satisfied expression at having distracted me so completely. “Be careful out there.”

“I will,” I said with complete seriousness. “You be careful too.”

“I’m always careful,” John completed our goodbye routine with a fond smile.

Realising I was now going to be late I still took the time to press one more kiss on him before running out the door.

oOo

“Nice of you to join us,” Major Lorne greeted me sternly as I ran into the Gateroom five minutes after I should have been there.

“Sorry Major,” I said. “I got ... distracted.”

“I don’t want to hear any more,” Lorne held up a hand to stop me from saying anything too personal. Even though he knew I did that deliberately to put him off he still let me get away with it.

“Ready for the first mission back,” Lieutenant Brown asked, standing at a safe distance as the wormhole kawhooshed in front of us.

“More than,” I said excitedly. “I don’t even care if these ruins turn out to be the usual bust for Ancient significance.”

“Let’s head out,” Major Lorne ordered, taking point and gesturing for Lieutenant Parker to bring up the rear.

The planet we gated to looked much like all the others we’d been to – Stargate located in a small clearing surrounded by trees, long path leading to a settlement some distance away. It was a little on the cool side and the clouds overhead advertised the high potential for us to get drenched sometime before the mission was over.

We took our usual formation for the hike into the village – Brown taking point, Lorne and I in the middle and then Parker watching our six. After the mission where we’d been surprised by the Wraith conversation on our walks from the gate was usually kept to a minimum. It felt so great to be off world; I could feel the last of the weight I didn’t realise I’d been carrying around inside drain away at the freedom and purpose I felt to be back where I felt I belonged. It took an hour or so of walking before something became visible through the trees in front of us.

“Sir, village is about 100 metres ahead,” Brown reported.

“Let’s proceed,” Major Lorne ordered, “keep your eyes open.”

We’d walked a few metres down a street of simple stone buildings that put me in mind of county England before someone from the village approached us in greeting. A number of people were engaged in their usual daily activities and spared us a brief glance before continuing their work.

“I am Hortas,” the villager addressed us in a friendly tone, “welcome.” She was of average height with dark colouring and exotic, attractive features dressed in clothing similar to what the Athosians usually wore.

“Major Lorne,” Lorne introduced himself before gesturing to each of us in turn, “Sabina Scott, Lieutenant’s Alex Brown and Colin Parker." Hortas smiled a welcome as the Major said each of our names. "A mutual friend, Teyla Emmagen, told us of some Ancient ruins near here," Lorne continued. "Would you mind if we took a look?”

“Of course not,” Hortas agreed, “as long as you agree to respect the sacred nature of the ruins and leave everything as it is currently placed.”

“No problem,” Lorne promised. “Would you be able to point us in the right direction?”

“I will do better than that,” Hortas motioned for another villager to approach. Given her attire and general appearance she could only be related in some way to Hortas. “My sister Ambria will take you there. Ambria – take these friends of Teyla’s to the stones of the Ancestors.”

“This way,” Ambria said in a gentle voice, leading us onwards through the main street. I looked to either side as we walked, noticing the villagers noticing us as we passed by. Catching sight of what looked like a uniform of some sort that stood out against the villagers casual and varied attire I dropped back beside Major Lorne.

“Is that a uniform – three o’clock, red stone building?” I whispered.

Major Lorne glanced discretely at where I’d indicated, nodding silently in confirmation.

“Do you get many visitors?” Lorne asked Ambria casually.

“Sometimes,” Ambria replied with no hint of having something to hide. “At the moment we have yourselves and a company of soldiers from a neighbouring settlement visiting.”

“Soldiers?” Major Lorne persisted, trying not to raise undue suspicion because of his interest.

“So they said,” Ambria said agreeably. “They were interested in trading for supplies. Hortas was the one who spoke with them – she’ll be able to tell you more.”

We walked on in silence for some time before coming to the end of the path we’d been following. My attention was completely captured by the series of stone pillars arranged in an apparently random pattern that made up their Ancient ruins. Taking out my camera I looked at Ambria questioningly. “Is it okay if I take pictures?” When she looked confused by my request I held up my camera and explained. “This device lets me record what I see without having to touch the stones – it won’t damage them in any way.”

“Proceed,” Ambria agreed, watching in interest as I took pictures of the pillars at various angles.

“This is gonna take a while,” I told Lorne. “I’d like to get a diagram of the placement of each pillar so I can match the pictures once we’re back on Atlantis.”

“You’ve got two hours,” Lorne replied in a tone that told me I’d get not a minute more than that. He and my two team mates patrolled the area while Ambria stayed close by me. I tried to explain what I was doing as I made my sketch and then systematically took additional pictures to make sure I could reconstruct the placement and location of each side of each pillar. I could translate enough right there to know that the ruins were some kind of story of the planet, detailing when the Ancients first arrived, as well as recording each Wraith culling and what was done to recover during the hibernation periods. Nothing I could translate suggested there was anything more to it than that but there was enough text that I couldn’t be confident something more useful wasn’t mentioned somewhere.

Still with a few minutes to spare I finished everything I could think of to record the ruins.

“All done,” I said, walking over to Major Lorne’s position.

“Let’s head back to the gate,” Major Lorne decided. We still had a few hours before we were even due to check in but I could see Lorne was worried about something so I didn’t argue for more time to question the villagers.

Ambria led us back to the village - Hortas was most gracious and indicated she would welcome any subsequent visits we might make in the future. She seemed particularly interested in my translation of the ruins and I promised to come back to tell the story of the stones once I’d finished translating. Ambria and Hortas escorted us as far as the edge of the village before we continued on alone.

“Nice people,” Lieutenant Parker commented.

“Yeah,” Major Lorne agreed. “Those soldiers were a bit of a worry though – no need to invite trouble, especially not for our first mission back in Pegasus.”

We walked on in silence for the remainder of the journey back to the gate. Brown dialled the coordinates as usual and Parker sent through our IDC. We approached the wormhole in our usual formation, Brown and Parker up front and Lorne and I bringing up the rear. My foot was one step away from passing through the event horizon when I felt the impact of the harpoon and then the wrench as I was yanked backwards off my feet. Lying flat on my back I watched helplessly as the rest of my team passed through the wormhole – a few seconds later the gate shut down, leaving me cut off on the other side.

Dragging myself to my feet I looked on warily as a group of four men approached me from amongst the trees. They wore the uniforms I’d spotted in the village - a dull greenish colour with yellow trim and buttons down the cross over front which looked much more familiar now I was seeing it up close. I guessed I was about to find out who they worked for – their method of capture had sent tingles of déjà vu through my entire body and I wasn’t looking forward to the answer.

“Ms Scott,” the leader approached with a satisfied look on his face. They were all tall and lean, with a hardened soldiers lack of real expression. With the stubble and general air of dishabille I was guessing they were displaced and working for themselves. The leaders next comment pretty much confirmed that. “You’re worth a considerable sum ... it’d be best if you accompanied us quietly because I wouldn’t want to put any marks on our valuable merchandise.”

“Are you sure you’ve got the right person?” I looked at them in confusion. “I’m pretty sure I’m not worth anything.”

“In your own right – no,” the leader agreed pleasantly, “but as bait?”

Saying nothing else he gestured for one of his men to dial the gate. Rather than stepping through he simply reported that he had something of great value to bring in. The person at the other end of the wormhole gave him a different gate address and suggested he might want to take me there. It was all pretty cryptic but I had a fair idea, after the bait comment, where this was all going to end.

The gate was redialled and this time I was ushered through, stepping out into a clearing surrounded by trees. More worrying was the fact that the gate was being guarded by another group of soldiers – same uniforms but much neater begging the interpretation that these men were in active service to someone.

One of the men gestured to a path leading through the trees and my captor steered me wordlessly in that direction. I was dragged down the path and through the deserted village until we reached the main square.

“Commander?” the leader called as we approached a man standing with his back to the path, talking with two other soldiers.

“Ah, Jorgess,” the man turned, revealing a face that was all too familiar.

“Commander Kolya,” Jorgess greeted him somewhat nervously. “We were on Ganis looking for recruits when a team from Atlantis arrived to look at the ruins. I recognised this one from the description you sent around,” he pulled me roughly around so that Kolya could see me clearly. “We captured her as her team were stepping through the wormhole – just as you instructed.”

“You are Sabina Scott,” Kolya asked in his ‘I’m really a nice guy so long as you don’t piss me off’ voice.

“That depends,” I prevaricated, trying to pull my arm from Jorgess’ grip, “on who it is you’re trying to bait.”

“I recognise the voice,” Kolya looked at Jorgess with a sneering smile. “Well done – perhaps there is a permanent place within my forces for a man with your ... skills.”

“Thank you Sir,” Jorgess almost preened at the compliment.

“Unfortunately for you the value of Ms Scott just went down,” Kolya added. “I already have a trap set – within minutes I’ll have Colonel Sheppard within my grasp.”

“All this is about capturing Colonel Sheppard?” I asked incredulously. “You ought to learn from your mistakes Kolya.”

Without warning Kolya turned and backhanded me across the face. “And you should learn some respect for your betters Ms Scott,” he glared at me threateningly. Putting a hand to my aching cheek I looked at him defiantly but decided it was probably wise not to aggravate him further until I’d seen what he intended.

“Take her in there,” Kolya ordered, gesturing to a doorway across the square. Jorgess herded me in that direction, pushing me through the door and across to a table and chairs. Pushing me down forcefully he pulled out some rope and tied me firmly to the chair.

I hadn't even completed one mission back in the Pegasus galaxy and I was already in trouble ... John was not gonna be happy with me.


Chapter 29: It’s you he wants!


From my restrained position tied to the chair I could see out the window which meant I got to see the drama unfolding right in front of me.

Within moments a small explosion erupted from a nearby building. I could hardly believe it when none other than Lucius Luvin came stumbling out of the rubble, trailing a cloud of dust and coughing painfully. Even more worrying was the sight of Doctor Beckett, Ronon, Rodney and Teyla all being led to the centre of the square where Kolya was seemingly enjoying his work.

“What, are you crazy?! You could have killed me!” Lucius complained, brushing dust from his clothes.

“That shield of yours impresses me more and more,” Kolya said with amusement. “You did your part, Lucius. You get to live another day.”

I watched as Lucius turned a glare on Kolya that was met with sneering distain – grumbling under his breath, Lucius turned and walked away.

“Sheppard?” Kolya questioned one of his men. I held my breath, praying that John hadn’t been captured.

“He got away,” the man admitted reluctantly. 'Yes!' I thought gleefully - 'take that Kolya!'

“That’s unfortunate,” Kolya said with no emotion. Without pause he raised his pistol and aimed straight at the other man’s heart. The gun clicked but didn’t fire – the man looked at Kolya with wide-eyed disbelief before slumping in relief.

“Thanks for sparing me, sir,” he said gratefully.

“Don’t disappoint me again,” Kolya warned. As the man turned away Kolya turned to another solider, handing off his weapon and saying “get this fixed" - so, unintentional sparing then!

“Secure the prisoners,” he called to his men. “I was going to use them as bait but it turns out I’ve acquired something more ... suited to Sheppard’s tastes.”

Teyla and the others were led away, each glancing around as though trying to work out what Kolya could have meant by that remark. Kolya didn’t give them a second glance as he walked purposefully towards the building where I was waiting.

“I don’t know why you think Colonel Sheppard would pay any more attention to me as a captive than the rest of his team,” I spoke grimly as soon as he’d closed the door behind him.

“There’s no point in trying to dissuade me Ms Scott,” Kolya said in a reasonable tone. “My spies have informed me of how ... taken Colonel Sheppard is with you but even without that I would know your value as bait to lure the Colonel here. I was there to hear your heartfelt cries of love as the Wraith fed upon him,” his tone mocked me now, “and I saw the look on Sheppard’s face as he listened to your words.”

I tugged angrily as my restraints when he reminded me of just one of the reasons why I hated him so much. Kolya laughed as he watched me struggling. “I see the reminder of what I did to Sheppard in an effort to take my rightful place as leader of the Genii angers you.”

“Did Colonel Sheppard ever tell you that you’re a real sicko?” I asked in a biting tone, “because if not he’s really been remiss in his duties.” I turned my head with the blow as Kolya hit me for the second time that day. “Is that always your response to anyone who tells you truths you don’t want to hear?”

“I’m beginning to see why Sheppard finds you so attractive,” Kolya looked at me in amusement. “Or perhaps some of his ... charm has worn off on you.”

“You’ll underestimate Colonel Sheppard again if you allow yourself to believe emotion will motivate him to do something that logic tells him is senseless,” I warned in a calm voice. “And you know I more than anyone would like to believe otherwise.”

“We shall see Ms Scott,” Kolya promised. “I think you will find that it is you who underestimates your value to the Colonel.”

“He’ll be heading to the gate already,” I told Kolya smugly. “There’ll be Marines swarming this place before you can get away – and we all know how good you are at retreating.” I wasn’t worried about him retaliating for my smart arsed attitude because I knew until he’d got what he wanted he couldn’t afford to harm me.

“I warn you Ms Scott,” Kolya leant down menacingly, “you would be wise not to push me too far – while you live you can still be bait for Sheppard even if we ... damage you somewhat.”

“You hurt me and I can guarantee there won’t be a hole deep enough for you to hide in,” I promised with grim confidence, “and it won’t just be Colonel Sheppard hunting you.”

“So you do admit the Colonel will come back for you?” Kolya looked at me smugly.

“Eventually, just like he would for anyone,” I said simply. “We don’t leave anyone behind – no matter who they are.”

“That’s what I’m counting on,” Kolya smiled smugly. “Your noble predictability. And as for Sheppard getting reinforcements through the gate – I can guarantee that’s not going to happen.” Turning away he took out one of the radios he’d obviously stolen from John’s team and activated it.

“Colonel Sheppard?” he said seriously. “I’m going to assume you can hear me. I’m also going to assume that if you haven’t reached the Gate by now, you soon will, so I wanna save you some trouble. My men have secured the Gate. There’s no way you’re getting through. Come back and face me, Colonel ... or I’ll kill your girlfriend,” Kolya paused to smile smugly at me. “And if you’re thinking I couldn’t possibly follow through on that threat let me prove that you’re mistaken.”

Raising his pistol he aimed it at me threateningly. “Say something,” he growled, holding the radio out towards me. I raised an eyebrow at him mockingly, keeping my lips pressed firmly together. The anger I'd felt for him for months was driving me now, fueling my defiance to the point I didn't even feel that nervous about my situation. Without hesitation he pointed his pistol to my right and fired into the wall behind me at head height, raising a small hail of shrapnel that hit my shoulders and the back of my neck. “Say something!” he commanded, pointing the gun back at me.

I looked at him mutely, determined not to give him anything he wanted, sure that he couldn't afford to follow through on the implied threat. He looked at me assessingly before getting right up in my personal space and pressing the gun to my forehead.

"If you don't speak then you're useless to me," Kolya threatened grimly. "Now say hello to the Colonel ... or I will kill you."

“Don’t come back here,” I yelled to John, suddenly convinced Kolya meant to do exactly what he said. “It’s you he wants!”

“She’s right,” Kolya laughed evilly. “It is you I want Colonel ... give yourself up and I’ll let her go.”

There was a short pause during which I imagined John was cursing Kolya for all his past wrongs as well as for the current situation.

“Kolya, this is Sheppard. I’m comin’ back.”

“I thought you might - don’t keep me waiting,” Kolya advised, killing the radio before I could shout anything else.

“So you’re just gonna let me go are you?” I looked at him in disbelief. “You’re not gonna try and scam Doctor Weir for something first?”

“That’s what I have the rest of Sheppard’s team for,” Kolya replied, turning without another word and leaving me in the building alone. Groaning I tugged at the restraint, trying to loosen them but it was no use. Resigning myself to let this play out according to Kolya’s plan I prayed that John came up with a really good plan this time. It seemed only a few minutes later that one of Kolya’s men arrived to untie me and drag me out of the room back into the town square. My spirits lifted when I saw armed men surrounding the rest of team Sheppard, even though the heavy guard meant there was little chance for an escape.

Sabina?” Rodney looked at me in disbelief as I was dragged over to stand next to him. “Now it makes sense – you’re the bait to lure Sheppard in!”

“One of Kolya’s spies pulled the same trick they used when they kidnapped John,” I told him softly. “I think it was just a coincidence Kolya was already running this little operation with you guys.”

“Are you okay lass?” Doctor Beckett asked, gesturing to my face where I’m sure I had some lovely bruises developing nicely.

“Yeah,” I dismissed the injuries as minor. “Kolya took offense to some ... home truths,” I admitted.

“You get more and more like Sheppard every day,” Rodney muttered snidely, adding when I smiled delightedly, “that wasn’t a compliment!”

“Colonel Sheppard?” Kolya activated his radio impatient for John to appear.

“Maybe he changed his mind,” one of his men offered.

“You’re out of time, Colonel,” Kolya said grimly, tossing the radio away. Drawing his pistol he walked straight at me, grabbing my arm and dragging me in front of the others.

“I wouldn’t do that,” Ronon growled threateningly, trying to pull his arm away from the guards restraining him.

“Would you like me to shoot you first?” Kolya moved the gun away from me and pointed it straight at Ronon.

“If that’s what it takes,” Ronon agreed with a ferrel grin.

“As moved as I am by that,” Kolya said sarcastically, “I’ll get to you later. For now I promised Sheppard a certain outcome for failing to turn up and I mean to deliver.” Resting the gun against my forehead again Kolya primed the trigger. I felt a sick wave of panic and adrenalin sweep over my entire body - holy crap, he was actually going to shoot me and there was nothing I could do to stop it ...

Kolya!” John’s voice shouting from the trees froze everything.

Kolya turned – looking in the same direction I saw John standing on the other side of the square. Rather than reassure me that only made me feel more nervous. John was just standing out there in the open – he didn’t appear aware of the fact that even though Kolya had holstered his pistol the rest of Kolya’s men were still heavily armed.

“I should have killed you when we first met, Colonel,” Kolya said almost conversationally. “It would have saved me a lot of trouble.”

“The feeling’s mutual,” John replied, glaring at Kolya menacingly.

“Goodbye, Sheppard,” Kolya motioned to his men. Before I could even blink Kolya’s soldiers opened fire on him. My heart lurched before I realised the bullets were bouncing off John harmlessly, pinging a green glow over him as he smiled smugly. The soldiers continued to fire uselessly until they were all clicking empty weapons.

“Well, now that you’ve got that out of your system ...,“ John said casually, unzipping his vest to reveal some kind of device I could only assume was the shield Kolya had mentioned. John laughed at Kolya’s pained expression – that is until the shield started flashing green before flickering in and out. “Oh, crap!” John muttered, looking down at the now useless shield.

“Reload!” Kolya yelled at his men.

“Don’t bother,” Lucius advised, walking into view followed by many of the townspeople.

“You should have left town when you had the chance,” Kolya told him threateningly.

“I’m sure you’re thinking the same thing right about now,” Lucius said with a smile as all around the square the townspeople burst out, carrying whatever implements they could find to use as weapons. They quickly surrounded all the soldiers, forcing them to lower their weapons.

“If I gave you the opportunity to surrender,” John spoke only to Kolya, “I don’t suppose you’d take it?”

Kolya smiled, then chuckled at the very thought.

“I didn’t think so,” John replied almost conversationally.

Ronon put a hand on my shoulder as I realised what John intended. Knowing it was too late for me to influence his decision I nodded to Ronon so he’d know I understood. Not sure I really wanted to watch what was about to unfold I found that I couldn’t look away.

It was like a scene from an old western, minus the cowboy hats and cheap saloon. John and Kolya locked gazes, each trying to second guess when the other would make his move. Hands were hovering over guns – I didn’t detect the move that signalled Kolya was about to shoot but John obviously did. Kolya went for his gun but John beat him in the draw, shooting a single shot straight through Kolya’s heart. Kolya fell backwards with a groan and was still.

“Put down your weapons,” John looked at the now leaderless soldiers. They all did without hesitation, leaving Lucius clapping his hands in delight.

Pulling away from Ronon and the others I walked over to John who was standing staring down at Kolya’s body.

“You okay?” I asked softly. John started – he’d been so involved in his thoughts that he hadn’t even realised I was beside him.

“What?” John frowned in confusion. Recovering quickly he pulled me towards him and hugged me in relief. “How the hell did you get involved in this?” he pulled away to glare at me.

“Hey it wasn’t my fault,” I replied heatedly. “One of Kolya’s spies pulled the harpoon trick on me – there was nothing I could do! What were you doing coming back here instead of taking out those men at the gate and bringing in reinforcements?”

“Saving your life,” John said simply. “He would have killed you if I hadn’t turned up ... and then Rodney, Teyla, everyone.”

“What ever happened to not giving in to terrorist demands?” I reminded him angrily that he hadn’t allowed us to do anything when Kolya had him captive.

“This was different,” John protested. “He wasn’t demanding anything other than my presence – would you have preferred I let him shoot you?”

“Of course not,” I replied vehemently. “I just didn’t appreciate the heart stop you gave me when you stood there apparently waiting for someone to gun you down!”

“Kolya was a millisecond away from pulling the trigger,” John said heatedly. “You want to talk about heart stops – put yourself on the other side of that equation! I had the shield and the plan with Lucius to involve the townspeople – I knew what I was doing.”

“I suppose you did,” I relented, “depleted shield notwithstanding.”

“How did Kolya even know to grab you?” John looked at me intently.

“Ah,“ I looked away uneasily. “I guess you could say that was my fault – apparently I gave away the connection when I spoke to you that last time with the Wraith.”

“That bastard,” John looked down at Kolya’s dead body grimly like he wished he could shoot him again.

“Is it bad that I’m really glad you shot him?” I asked uncertainly. John laughed, pulling me back into his side and guiding me away from the scene.

“No,” John reassured me. “I’m really glad I shot him too.”

“We should get back to Atlantis,” I suggested, keen to put the whole thing behind me. “Major Lorne will be beyond aggravated by now and Doctor Weir’s probably pacing the Gateroom because your team is late.”

“Rodney, Ronon,” John called to the others, “let’s pack it up and head back to the gate.”

“You’re leaving?” Lucius rushed over to us. “Stay for a bit – there’s gonna be a party ... it’ll be great.”

“Sorry Lucius,” John said without a hint of apology in his voice. “We have to get back.”

“You sure you guys can’t stay for some schnitzel?” Lucius pleaded again. “I mean, this is a party for you guys as much as anybody, right?”

“You guys have a good time,” John said, all of us continuing our walk through the village. “We’re overdue.”

“Well, thanks for everything,” Lucius said agreeably.

“Just remember: stay out of trouble or we’ll be back,” John warned him with a friendly look.

“Oh, Colonel Sheppard?” Lucius called out, waiting until John turned back to face him. “Aren’t you forgetting something?”

“Oh, yeah! I did say I’d give that back to you, didn’t I?” John reached into his vest pocket and took out the shield device.

“Yes, you did,” Lucius agreed, smiling happily when John stuck the device onto his shirt. “You’re a good man. You’re an honest man, and you made me a better man myself, you know that, don’t you?”

“Good. Bye, Lucius,” John said pointedly. With a smug grin he turned away, resuming the walk out of the village with the rest of us following close behind.

“I thought you said that personal shield was depleted,” Rodney asked in confusion.

“Oh, yeah,” John agreed.

“Then it is worthless?” Teyla asked.

“Pretty much,” John’s voice said he was very comfortable with the interpretation of that.

“You’re not gonna tell Lucius?” Doctor Beckett asked in disbelief.

“No ...,” John replied. Behind us we could still hear what was going on in the village square. Lucius was urging someone to kick him as hard as they could. A few seconds later we heard Lucius screech in pain. John grinned, adding “He’ll figure it out.”

“That was ... great,” I congratulated, smiling when John laughed at my deliberate choice of words.

oOo

Back on Atlantis it took some time to explain to Doctor Weir and Major Lorne how I’d ended up on the same planet as John’s team. John was up front about his taking out Kolya – the rest of us equally clear that he’d had no choice. Given that none of the villagers were harmed it seemed that overall the day had turned out to be a win. I was relieved when finally I could relax on our balcony with John after a very long day.

“How’s the face?” John put a hand under my chin and turned my face up to the light.

“Hurts a little,” I admitted, “but I’d take worse than that for the outcome of Kolya being gone for good.”

“I wanted to shoot him when we first realised he was in the village,” John admitted. “If I’d known then that he had you I would have.”

“We couldn’t have predicted that something like that would happen,” I looked at him in concern. “You’re not gonna go all protective on me because Kolya tried to use me as bait are you?”

“I’ll try not to,” John replied with a pained expression. “I considered the possibility of someone using you to get to me before you were assigned to Lorne’s team but discounted it as unlikely.”

“I don’t think the personal affairs of people on Atlantis are general knowledge all over the Pegasus galaxy,” I said. “I gave Kolya that weapon against you when I couldn’t resist shooting my mouth off during the whole Wraith thing.”

“It’s not your fault,” John put a comforting arm around my shoulders. “And if that had ended the way it looked like it was going to you’d have been kicking yourself if you hadn’t said anything.”

“True,” I agreed, resting my head against his shoulder companionably. We sat in silence for a time - I hesitated somewhat nervously before admitting something I hadn’t told him previously. “I’ve been carrying a lot of anger around towards Kolya,” I said softly. “I can’t tell you how many hours I’ve spent beating the crap out of a punching bag imagining it was Kolya’s face.”

“You never said,” John looked at me with a frown.

“No,” I agreed. “You had enough to deal with coming to terms with what he did. You didn’t need the added burden of my stupid emotions.”

“Not stupid,” John shook me gently. “Next time talk to me ... maybe it would have helped both of us.”

“Okay,” I agreed. “I know you’re gonna disagree but I’m glad I was there to see you take him down. I think I’ll start sleeping much better from now on.”

“I never realised you were so blood thirsty,” John smiled when I looked faintly insulted at that. “Let’s agree to put the Kolya topic to rest for now. We’ve got unfinished business.”

“We do?” I looked at him curiously. Rather than explain John hauled me up and into his arms, carrying me inside and dumping me on the bed. A second later he was stretched out on top of me, lips millimetres away from mine.

“Is this reminding you?” he whispered, feathering light kisses over my bruised cheek.

“Kind of,” I pretended confusion. “You might have to do more to fully remind me.”

Laughing, John pressed heated kisses to my lips, rocking us both in a parody of greater intimacy. “How about now?”

“What was the question again?” I asked distractedly.

“Never mind,” John whispered, taking us swiftly down the path to oblivion.


Chapter 30: Purest water I’ve ever had


“Why are we here again?” I asked Major Lorne, looking around the town square with interest. It was actually pretty high up on my personal ‘civilised’ scale with a smattering of larger buildings amongst solid stone cottages, paved roads, and signs of profitable commerce. Having said that though, there was no sign of the hive of business activity that we’d been expecting.

“This was supposed to be a thriving market place,” Lorne replied, looking around with an expression that was as puzzled as my own. “Let’s find someone who looks friendly,” he suggested, motioning for Parker and Brown to follow along behind us.

“What about him?” I pointed to a tall man dressed in an ornate tunic that fell to just below his knees. The amulet around his neck, funny square hat perched on his head, and general air of self importance had me thinking he was probably some kind of official.

“Excuse me,” Lorne approached the man slowly. “My name is Major Evan Lorne,” he introduced, turning to gesture to the rest of us. “Sabina Scott. Lieutenant Colin Parker, and Lieutenant Alex Brown.”

“I am Philan, chief scholar of Aprost,” the man replied in a lofty tone. “How may I be of assistance?”

“We’re visitors,” Lorne said in his casual easygoing way, “interested in trading for supplies. We were told there was a large market here.”

“Ah yes,” Philan replied with a knowledgeable nod. “The market which you speak of is only conducted twice in each planetary cycle. It will be many moons before travellers begin returning to the town for the next gathering.”

“Well, we’re sorry to have missed it,” Lorne said disappointedly. “We’ll have to come back in a few months.”

“You said you are visitors,” Philan spoke before we could turn away to end the conversation. “Where have you travelled from?”

“We’re not local,” Lorne prevaricated. “Had to travel a long way to get here.”

“Your clothes are not familiar to me,” Philan persisted, his expression now a mixture of curiosity and suspicion. “Is it possible that you have travelled through the ring of the Ancestors?”

“That’s correct,” Lorne agreed casually. “Do you get many visitors through the Stargate?”

“Some, but very rarely,” Philan suddenly seemed much more impressed with us than he’d been at first. “As new visitors it would be my honour if you would stay for the midday meal ... so that we might share knowledge about our different cultures.”

“Sure,” Lorne agreed after glancing at each of us to see if anyone had ‘bad feelings’ or other negative vibes about the place.

“Come, I will show you to a place where you can refresh yourselves before lunch is served,” Philan turned and led the way through the village towards a large structure that seemed to be at the termination of the main street.

It was reminiscent of a library but also had the feel of a church or temple. Philan walked up the steps and we followed behind, looking carefully around for anything that shouted ‘problem’. Inside the building was just as impressive with white stone walls carved with intricate designs and columns flanking down the centre of the room. Narrow windows let just enough sunlight in to illuminate the floor. As we walked to the centre of the large main room I noticed that the beams of light from all the windows seemed to converge in that one spot, as if designed that way. The centre of the room was dominated by a large circular fountain, formed by a knee high stone wall. In the middle of the fountain was a circular dais about head height that seemed very plain in comparison with the decoration evident in the rest of the chamber. Philan led us straight to the fountain, indicating a pedestal only a few inches off the floor with a padded cushion on top.

“Please, kneel and refresh yourself,” he invited as though bestowing a great privilege on us. “The legends say that the water’s source was blessed by the Ancestors to always be pure.”

“Thank you,” Lorne replied, motioning for Lieutenant Parker to go first. He knelt on the pedestal, using one hand to brace himself against the edge before leaning in and cautiously putting the other hand in the water. The expression on his face went from wary to amazed in a second and he raised a cupped hand to his mouth without hesitation.

“This is fantastic,” Parker smiled in pleasure. “You should try this Sir.”

“Does it taste like it should?” Lorne asked impatiently.

“Purest water I’ve ever had,” Parker replied, taking another small drink before standing up again and brushing his hands over his chest.

Major Lorne indicated for Brown to go next. He repeated the same process, with a similar reaction. Philan looked on benevolently, seeming to take delight in our enjoyment of their fountain.

“Sabina, your turn,” Lorne said, indicating for me to get on with it. It probably wasn’t essential for all of us to undertake this little ritual Philan had going but there didn’t seem any reason not to, and I was curious to taste the water Parker and Brown had raved over.

Kneeling carefully I leant forward so I could look into the fountain. The water was crystal clear and rippled gently for no apparent reason – I could see that the bottom had symbols carved on it also, symbols that looked vaguely familiar even given the distortion of looking at them through half a metre of water. Frowning slightly I leant forward some more, putting my hands on the enclosing wall to brace myself. Immediately the central column lit up with an intense blue light that engulfed me. I was so stunned that I froze in place, hands still on the wall. The blue light shifted and swirled before flashing darkly, turning the previously white column an ominous black. As soon as that happened, the lights disappeared completely, returning the column to its previously plain appearance.

Jumping up quickly I spun around in time to see Philan running from the room, calling out in a loud angry voice.

“I don’t know what that was,” I looked at Lorne worriedly, “but something is telling me we should get out of here right now.”

“I agree,” Lorne said urgently. We all ran back across the chamber towards the doors. Bursting out into bright sunlight our eyes took a moment to adjust. When they did the sight they revealed was not reassuring. Philan was standing in front of us, flanked by eight very big and imposing uniformed men.

“You and your men are free to go, but she,” Philan pointed at me accusingly, “must stay and face the Judicium.”

“If we offended any of your customs then we apologise,” Lorne said reasonably, “but we’re not gonna leave here without Sabina.”

“She descends from the Ancestors but has been tainted,” Philan said angrily with a disgusted expression that made me feel lower than something you’d scrape off your shoe. “The Fontis revealed the mark of the Wraith upon her. She must endure the Judicium to determine her fate.”

“That’s not gonna happen,” Lorne said with a bit more heat in his voice. He took a step forward – the guards responded immediately by raising their weapons and moving to surround our group. Holding up a placating hand Lorne tried to smile non threateningly. “We weren’t aware of your customs or this ... Fontis? Can you tell us what it means ... maybe we can explain why it reacted as it did.”

“The Fontis was left by the Ancestors along with the sacred mission to protect their line from the taint of the Wraith,” Philan said in a tone of wonder and extreme belief. “It shows us visitors who descend from the Ancestors.”

“The flashing blue light?” I asked quietly.

“You will not speak, tainted one!” Philan speared me with an angry look. Swallowing hard at the emotions his distain evoked in me I glanced at Lorne, nodding an acknowledgement of his unspoken order to do what Philan said.

“So the Fontis shows you people who carry the Ancestors gene,” Lorne continued. “What does that have to do with the Wraith?”

“When the blue light turned black,” Philan looked at me almost accusingly, like I’d somehow made that happen deliberately, “it was a signal that the person has been tainted by the Wraith deep inside where it cannot be seen otherwise. The Ancestors charged us with the mission of finding those individuals and eliminating them.”

“Eliminating?” Lorne asked grimly.

“Yes,” Philan agreed easily, like he was talking about slapping me on the wrist. “This ... woman,” he sneered, “will endure the Judicium to determine how that will take place.”

“What’s the Judicium?” Lorne was clearly just keeping the conversation going now while he tried to think up a way to get us out of this. It had become clear to me that the device in the centre of the fountain was some kind of gene detector that had determined I had both Ancient and Wraith genes. What puzzled me was that the device was clearly Ancient – why would they have left something like that on this planet when it was their own doing to incorporate Wraith DNA into their own?

“The Judicium takes place during the nightly darkness,” Philan explained. “The person tested has that time to prove themselves worthy of the Ancestors line. If they do so, the proof itself will set them free. If not the Fontis will pass the final judgement with the rising of the sun.”

“Sabina isn’t tainted by the Wraith,” Lorne tried to argue.

“The Fontis is a gift of the Ancestors – it is never wrong,” Philan intoned. “You will leave now,” he gestured for the guards to make that happen.

“Wait a minute,” Lorne yelled, as two guards situated themselves beside each of my team mates. The remaining two moved to stand behind me, each grabbing one of my arms in a strong grasp. “Surely she deserves the right to have companions present during this Judicium.”

“The rules on this matter are clear,” Philan said thoughtfully. “You may stay – for the moment,” he pointed at Lorne, “but your companions will return from whence you came. When instructed you will also leave immediately.”

“Thank you,” Lorne replied, shrugging away from the guards flanking him. “Parker, Brown – head back through the gate and report the situation to Colonel Sheppard.”

“Yes Sir,” they said reluctantly, looking at me with concern before turning and heading briskly back to the Stargate.

“Your trial begins at sundown,” Philan looked at me sternly. “Until then you will sit in the Fontis antechamber and contemplate your existence. Your companion may assist you in this endeavour.” Philan motioned for the guards to escort us back into the building.

I walked on automatic pilot, hardly paying attention this time as my thoughts zoomed at a rapid rate. We were led to a small room I hadn’t noticed before, situated to the right of the fountain. Inside were benches along each wall – walls that were also carved with symbols. My heart leapt with a faint hope when I realised these ones were fully recognisable as Ancient. The guards relieved us of our packs and weapons and then left us, presumably stationing themselves outside to deter any escape plans we might have. Wordlessly I sank down on one of the benches, leaning my elbows on my knees and my head in my hands.

“You okay?” Lorne asked hesitantly, sitting on the bench across from me.

“I’m being executed in the morning,” I pointed out sarcastically, “so I’m gonna have to go with No! I knew having that Wraith DNA was gonna come back and bite me one day, although I wasn’t expecting it to be like this.”

“We’ll figure something out,” Lorne tried to reassure me. “The guy said you had to prove yourself worthy of the Ancestors line – let’s focus on that.”

“He was being needlessly cryptic,” I pointed out, “which suggests to me that he doesn’t know how one goes about doing that. Either it’s been a long time since anyone did this Judicuim, or no one proves themselves ‘worthy’.”

“Nice positive attitude,” Lorne said, giving me a slightly frustrated look. “Was there anything on the fountain itself that could clue us in on what you have to do?”

“There’s Ancient text carved into the bottom,” I offered. “I was trying to make it out through all that water which is why I put my hands down.” Gesturing to the walls of our little ‘cell’ I continued. “These walls are covered in Ancient too.”

“Can you translate them?” Lorne asked impatiently, obviously wondering why I hadn’t pointed that out as soon as we stepped foot in there.

“If you’ll shut up for a few minutes then yeah,” I grumbled cheekily, happy for the moment to focus on that one task instead of the overwhelming fear I could feel bubbling away on the edge of my mind. Lorne looked at me pointedly before lying down and making himself comfortable enough for a long wait.

“Have you got any paper, pencil, anything like that?” I asked. Without sitting up, Lorne ripped open a pocket in his vest and pulled out a small notebook and pencil, holding them up for me to take. “Thanks.”

Starting at the top of one wall I spent the next hour methodically translating each symbol, jotting down the jist of the meaning. I’d gotten three quarters of the way around when one particular word jumped out at me.

“Oh crap!” I muttered sickly.

“What?” Lorne sat up abruptly and looked over at me.

“I think I just worked out how to prove myself worthy of the Ancestors line,” I revealed faintly.

“That’s good isn’t it?” Lorne looked at me in confusion.

“You’d think so but ... no, not really,” I replied, eyes scanning the wall on the off chance that I’d been wrong. When I realised I hadn’t made any errors I turned back to Lorne’s expectant expression. “Ascension.” I revealed starkly. "The only way out of this is to Ascend."

 On to Part Four