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Inconceivable!

Fortunate Journey Season Three Part Four


Chapter 31: I don’t think we can just blast our way in there


“What?” Lorne got that ‘I’m trying not to look worried but really I am’ look on his face that I usually found somewhat amusing. Sadly, not today.

“The only way to prove yourself worthy of having the Ancient gene is to Ascend,” I reiterated. “Unless we can come up with another plan I only have two ways out of this. Ascension or execution.”

“Execution how?” Lorne asked grimly.

“That’s another puzzler,” I tried to distance myself from the fact that we were actually talking about something that was possibly going to happen to me unless I could find a way out of it. “From what I can tell, the device itself is the executioner – somehow.”

“This is stupid!” Lorne got up, pacing agitatedly like he’d really love to hit something. “Why would the Ancients create a device for this kind of scenario? It makes no sense!”

“I don’t think this part of the temple was created by the Ancients,” I told him, sitting down in the spot he’d vacated. “The Ancient text is imperfect – not as precise as I’d expect. The residents carved it, perhaps as a historical record of their contact with the Ancients. It’s possible this wasn’t the reason for the device but over time the real reason has shifted. Like the Prophecy of the Great Awakening resulting in people worshipping the Wraith instead of fighting them.”

“So what was the real reason then?” Lorne asked, letting me distract him for the moment.

“I’ll have to finish translating this room but I don’t think that’ll reveal anything new,” I replied. “I need to see the fountain, and especially the text carved into the bottom of it. From what I could tell that was left by the Ancients.”

“I’ll call one of the guards,” Lorne moved towards the open doorway. “Hey, we need to talk to Philan.”

“The Chief Scholar is busy,” one of the guards turned from his position near the door.

“Then we want to see the Fontis,” Lorne told the guard. “You can stand watch over us just as well from there as from in here.”

“The tainted must stay inside the antechamber until the designated hour,” the guard calmly denied Lornes request. “There will be plenty of time to contemplate the Fontis when the Judicium begins.” Not waiting for Lorne to protest further the guard looked away again.

“This is frustrating,” Lorne kicked the doorway before turning back to me.

“I’ll get to look at the fountain later,” I said. “I need to finish translating in here anyway – why don’t you try to get some more rest - it could be a long night.”

Not saying anything, Lorne threw himself back on the bench and stretched out again. After a few minutes pause he spoke quietly “Colonel Sheppard is gonna have my head for this.”

“You’re not to blame,” I denied him any responsibility for the weird situation I found myself in. “Parker and Brown both drank the water with no problems so how could we have known the fountain wasn’t just a fountain?”

“I should have gone first,” Lorne persisted in trying to lay some blame on himself. “My ATA gene would have been detected and then we would have known there was an Ancient device in there.”

“I didn’t realise you were psychic,” I said sarcastically. “You could have saved me lots of trouble in the past if you’d revealed that a bit sooner. Now instead of wasting energy playing the blame game, how about you start thinking about what Atlantis will do in response.”

“Parker and Brown will have filled them in on the whole Wraith tainted thing but they don’t know about the Ascend or die outcome,” Lorne replied. “There’s no way Colonel Sheppard is gonna leave you here to face a trial we know nothing about. At the very least he’ll come through with his team.”

“I don’t think these people want us here,” I said worriedly. “They were very keen to get rid of you guys ... what if they’ve got some kind of defence set up at the gate?”

“You’ve got a night to work out how to not get executed and you’re worried about Colonel Sheppard getting hurt?” Lorne asked incredulously.

“There's no way I can justify that anyone else on Atlantis isn’t at least as valuable as me," I turned back to the wall so I wouldn’t have to see Lorne’s expression, "and I couldn’t live with myself if someone else died to save me.”

“What ever happened to ‘we don’t leave our people behind’?” I could almost feel Lorne’s eyes boring a hole in my back.

“A noble sentiment,” I agreed, “but it's something that’s gotten us into trouble on more than one occasion. Kolya managed to manipulate John not two weeks ago because he knew that's how we do things.”

“We all know the risks when we go on a rescue mission,” Lorne pointed out, “and we do it willingly. In that context it’s not trading one person’s life for another, it’s fighting to uphold our basic ideals.”

“I guess,” I agreed reluctantly, not willing to push my opinion any further. “So you think Doctor Weir will let John bring a team through the gate, even knowing what they know of the situation here?”

“I think Colonel Sheppard is coming through that gate in the very near future,” Lorne countered, “regardless of anything Doctor Weir might have to say about it.”

“He is gonna be majorly pissed,” I muttered, “and somehow this will end up being my fault.”

“Well you did touch the fountain,” Lorne teased. “You know what McKay says about carelessly going around touching things.”

“It’s a fountain Major,” I spelled it out slowly. “Even Rodney wouldn’t have suspected anything else!” Turning back to the last wall I quickly translated it, proving my first thought correct. There was nothing else there to further illuminate the problem I was now facing. With nothing else to occupy my mind with, I sank down on a bench, stretching out in an effort to get comfortable. Wondering how long it was until sunset I tried to relax enough to sleep but it was impossible.

We’d been in the room two hours when Lorne’s radio activated – the guards had taken anything obviously a weapon but hadn’t even paused at our radios. Unfortunately mine had been in my pack but at least we had Lornes.

“Major Lorne,” John’s voice made me jump up in relief. “What’s your position?”

“Sabina and I have been confined to a room in the temple Sir,” Lorne reported.

“How many guards?” John asked grimly.

“There are four inside the temple with us,” Lorne looked across at me, “and at least another four outside the building. To be honest Sir I have no way of knowing what level of force they could bring down on us if we attempt to break out of here.”

“I’m doing a fly by in the Jumper,” John informed us. “We’ll try and get some idea on numbers ... hang tight, I’ll get back to you in a few minutes.”

oOo

“There are a lot of people within the town, surrounding your position,” John reported shortly afterwards. “I don’t think we can just blast our way in there. Tell me more about this thing they want to do.”

“It’s a trial,” I spoke for the first time since team Sheppard had arrived, “and you’re not gonna like this so I’ll just say it really fast – they give you a night to work out how to ascend or be executed.”

“WHAT?!” John yelled into the radio.

“The device detects people with the Ancient and Wraith genes,” I tried to speak unemotionally as I reported the full situation. “I don’t know what the original purpose was but over the millennia these people have interpreted the early stories to mean that Ancients with the Wraith gene were tainted – unclean. The only way to prove differently is to Ascend – the ultimate act of Ancientness.”

“Can you disable it?” John asked, still with anger in his voice, luckily directed at the situation and not me.

“I need to get another look at it to answer that,” I replied, hesitating before continuing. “It may not matter in this case because they already know I have the Wraith gene. If I disable the device and I can’t convince them they’ve misinterpreted its purpose they could just execute me some other way.”

“Was there anything obvious on the device regarding what it’s supposed to do?” It was Rodney asking that question.

“Yes Rodney,” I borrowed a page from his book on sarcasm, “there was a big neon sign saying Wraith gene killing machine – do not touch!” Before he could splutter a response I added “there was nothing obvious to indicate the thing was dangerous. The device itself is in the centre of the fountain and it just looked like a decorative column – no markings or console access that I could see. There was Ancient writing under the water around the pedestal but I only confirmed that as I was putting my hands on the fountain – by then it was too late.”

“Did you get a chance to read any of the text on the fountain?” Rodney persisted in asking me stupid questions – now I was beginning to appreciate how he felt when people did that to him.

“The fountain’s half a metre deep Rodney,” I protested. “The distortion from the water made it impossible to get anything in the three seconds I got to look at it!”

“Did they tell you what’s gonna happen next?” John was back on the line.

“Not really but I can guess,” I offered in reply. “They said the trial begins at sundown. How long ‘till that happens?”

“An hour,” Rodney muttered quietly.

“Okay, so in about an hour I’m going to be kneeling on a really uncomfortable pedestal in front of that device. Then we have until sunrise tomorrow to figure something out or ...” I trailed off into silence.

“I’m coming down now to speak to this Philan personally,” John’s tone promised that Philan would regret putting us all on this course. “Just play along until we get there.”

oOo

The last hour of our confinement in the antechamber passed quickly – before I was ready Philan returned to the temple with two guards in tow.

“The time for the Judicium has arrived,” he announced, somewhat over dramatically in my opinion. “We will allow you a few minutes to take care of necessary personal requirements - this way.” I looked at Lorne, waiting until he nodded his agreement that we should cooperate before moving to follow Philan from the room.

Motioning for me to follow him, he turned and pointed towards another small room leading off the main chamber, letting me go in by myself but stationing the guards facing away from me at the door. Thanking whatever deity might be looking down on me I quickly took care of business before indicating that I was ready.

Philan led the way again, heading back towards the fountain. I followed apprehensively, feeling a nervous weakness in my knees not knowing what to expect.

“How many times have you done this Judicium?” I asked once we were all standing in front of the kneeling pedestal.

“Again you speak without invitation!” Philan protested heatedly.

“Just answer her question,” Lorne urged, locking glances with the man until he capitulated.

“There was a time millennia ago when the trial was performed many times,” Philan replied reluctantly, directing his answer to Lorne rather than to me. “Over the years it became rare – it has never been performed in my lifetime.”

“I guess that explains why there are so few people with both genes still around,” I muttered to Lorne under my breath.

“And there’s no right of appeal?” Lorne continued to look for some kind of out. “Can we talk to the leader of your people?”

“I have conferred at length with our Mayor,” Philan responded somewhat smugly. “He is in agreement with my actions – in any case, in matters relating to the temple and the device my word is law.”

“So no appeal then,” Lorne looked at me in frustration.

“Take your place at the Fontis,” Philan instructed, motioning for me to kneel on the pedestal. Reluctantly I dropped down with my knees on the pillow. “Place your hands here,” he gestured the appropriate spot, waiting until I complied. Pulling something from his pocket he pushed a button and intoned “Let the Judicium begin.”

I felt the flow of power from the central column immediately, surging up my arms and through my entire body. There was a faint buzzing in my head, like an ATA radio channel that wouldn’t tune in. It wasn’t painful but it was uncomfortable, even more so when I realised that I couldn’t move my hands away. I strained, unable to lift them even a millimetre – the power itself seemed to be binding me to the machine, like a forcefield where my hands were on the inside and the rest of me on the outside.

“Evan,” my voice held more than just a hint of panic now. “I ah ... I can’t move my hands.”

“It is part of the Judicium,” Philan answered my unspoken question. “You will be joined with the Fontis for the entire trial ... it is the only way for the device to pass judgement against you.”

“So part of the trial involves aching knees and a sore back then,” I muttered sarcastically under my breath, shifting slightly on the pillow but realising no position was going to be that comfortable. The flow of power was a constant niggle that I could only imagine was going to get more annoying as the night wore on.

“No more questions,” Philan ordered. “We will leave you in solitude to contemplate your worthiness.”

“Wait,” Lorne protested as two guards grabbed an arm each and began dragging him from the room. “How come I can’t stay with her?”

“The Judicium must be experienced alone so that the tainted can truly contemplate their existence,” Philan explained simply, motioning for the guards to remove Lorne forcibly from the room. I listened to the sounds of Lorne’s protests moving slowly away as Philan and all the guards removed themselves from the room.

“Okay, this is bad,” I muttered, shifting again even though I had only a limited range of movement available.

“Major Lorne, are you reading me?” John’s voice came through the earpiece Lorne had given me before we’d left the antechamber.

“Hey,” I responded, trying to sound like I was having a break in a lovely temple rather than stuck to an Ancient device that was going to kill me. “Where are you?”

“We parked the Jumper close to the gate,” John reported in a neutral tone, “and are about to arrive in town. What’s your situation?”

“The trial began a few minutes ago,” I admitted. “Philan has some kind of remote control that activates the device. There are no obvious signs of restraints but my hands are stuck to this thing and I can’t move them even a millimetre.”

“Let me speak to Major Lorne,” John requested, I guess assuming we were still together and that I was the one with the radio.

“No can do,” I told him simply. “Apparently this Judicium thing is something you have to do alone. Luckily Lorne set me up with the radio before they came to start the trial.”

“Great!” John muttered angrily. “Sit tight, I’ll get back to you once I’ve spoken with Philan.”

“What are you going to do?” I asked before he could sign off.

“I don’t know,” John admitted. “Don’t worry – there’s no way I’m letting this trial thing run its course.”

“Just be careful,” I pleaded. “Everything they’ve done so far suggests they take this very seriously. This isn’t the first time it’s been carried out either.”

“We’ll be careful,” John promised. “I’ll talk to you soon.”

Knowing John was nearby gave me mixed feelings. I was comforted that he was close and working on a solution but at the same time it was harder to keep my emotions under wraps because I really wanted John with me right then. Darkness had fallen quickly – torches lit the walls and light from the full moon beamed in from the windows, converging on the fountain much as the sunlight had.

Taking a few deep breaths to calm myself I looked into the fountain at the symbols I’d seen the first time. They shifted and shimmered in the waters distortion making it hard for me to see them clearly. I had no way to makes notes either so anything I did translate I’d have to memorise. Imagining the bottom of the fountain as a grid I focused on the top left hand corner and watched just that small area for a time until the Ancient symbol became clear. It took a few minutes just for that one small area ... this was gonna take a while.


Chapter 32: How long are the nights here?


“Sabina,” John’s voice sounded in my ear a short while later. Before he could say anything else I jumped in.

“Have you got something to write this down on?” I asked quickly, waiting a few seconds for John to give the affirmative. “The Chosen are the Wraith gene holders who gave themselves up to be tainted for the protection of Atlantis,” I recited what I’d translated and memorised so far.

“Is that it?” John asked.

“So far,” I replied. “There’s more though so don’t go wandering off before I’m done.”

“I’m staying on the line from now on,” John promised intently.

O ... kay ... that doesn’t sound good,” I looked away from the symbols as the meaning of that became clear. “They wouldn’t let you in?”

“Wouldn’t even talk to us,” John replied in annoyance. “I sent Teyla and Rodney back through the gate to talk to Elizabeth. Maybe she can meet with the Mayor about alliances and all that diplomatic ... stuff. Rodney’s searching the database for anything that sounds similar to what you’ve described. Ronon’s doing some ... reconnaissance to give us a better idea of what we’re up against in terms of numbers and fire power.”

“Oh,” I said weakly. “So we don’t really have a plan yet?”

“I’m not gonna let them hurt you,” John said with an edge to his voice that said if I believed nothing else, believe that. “How are you doing so far?”

“You know, apart from the sore knees, stiff back, and inability to scratch an itch, I’m just peachy thanks,” I decided John would appreciate sarcasm more than tears, not that I was there yet. “Did you send Major Lorne back to Atlantis too?”

“Yeah, against his almost insubordinate protests” John replied. “He argued that he should stay because he felt responsible for you being in this situation.”

“I already told him that was stupid,” I said heatedly. “It’s just a fountain – and truthfully it looked completely harmless!”

“In any case the Major is in charge on Atlantis for the duration,” John’s tone was a promise that he wasn’t going anywhere. “Let’s keep working on the translation,” John suggested. “Talk to me and I’ll help you get everything down.”

Grateful to have something to focus on, and some verbal company, I turned back to the fountain resolutely. We worked together for another hour or so before I’d completed the translation as best I could.

“Read it back to me,” I requested, rolling my shoulders to try and ease the soreness of muscles I’d held in the same position for too long.

The chosen are the Wraith gene holders who gave themselves up to be tainted for the protection of Atlantis. Use our Fontis to track them in the generations to come ... their preservation is key to the survival of our kind. Nurture the chosen who offer hope for the ultimate destruction of the Wraith throughout the galaxy. The column will turn the Ancient light to darkness when the chosen come – open the Fontis up for their enlightenment that they may understand the grand plan and their place within it. Give them the companion device so that they may learn that which is required for the dispersal of our Ancient enemy.”

“It makes sense,” I said lightly once John had finished the recitation. “The Ancients knew their plan to use the Wraith dispersal weapon wasn’t complete and that time was running out. They’d planted the seeds of themselves throughout the entire Galaxy – we know that’s true because we saw it for ourselves when we met Ortho on the tower planet. It makes sense they’d do the same with the Wraith gene holders too.”

“Why go to all the trouble of setting up this device though?” John asked curiously.

“Because they knew they wouldn’t be here to explain it,” I replied with certainty. “The things they needed to enact the plan weren’t complete but they still had hope that they’d either return or that one of their races here would evolve enough to be able to complete it for them. Only problem was - how would these chosen know what they’d been set up for with no Ancients around to tell them?”

“So there’s probably more than one of these things out there?” John made the logical connection.

“I’d guess so,” I agreed. “I can only imagine how nurturing turned into eliminating – perhaps using the word ‘tainted’ wasn’t their smartest idea. Somehow the people here found a way to turn a device that was supposed to help into something that can kill. Maybe it malfunctioned in the early days and they took that as a sign that its true purpose was to test rather than just inform. I'm guessing that was when they started carving the stuff in the antechamber too.”

“Is there anything else there?” John asked casually.

“You mean anything that tells me how to switch it off?” I cut right to the heart of what he was really asking. “Unfortunately no – what I’ve translated is all there is. Without that remote control Philan had, I don’t think I’ll be learning anything else about this device.”

“This sucks!” I heard the sound of John slamming a hand against the Jumper wall in frustration.

“We’ve still got –“ I broke off with a frown. “How long are the nights here?”

“Rodney said the darkness should last about ten hours,” John admitted grimly.

“Okay, so we’ve still got about eight hours,” I tried to sound positive, glad he couldn’t actually see my face at that point. “When are the others due back?”

“Should be any time now,” John replied. “I’ll keep you in the radio link when they get here so you can hear what’s going on.”

“How long do these batteries last?” I asked quickly. “I don’t want to get cut off just when it gets to crunch time.”

“Military issue,” John reminded me. ‘Should be good for at least twelve hours of continuous use.”

“This is gonna drive me nuts,” I tried to lighten the mood. “You know how I hate sitting around with nothing to do ... now I’m gonna have to do it for eight hours.”

“I’m not sure what I can do to entertain you,” John said sarcastically. “I’m fresh out of poetry and we both know my singing voice defies description – and not in a good way.”

“True,” I laughed at the thought of John singing to me, especially with Rodney and Doctor Weir as an audience. “Let’s save that for when I’m really desperate.”

“How about –“ John broke off as another voice came through the same channel.

“Colonel Sheppard, we’ve arrived at the gate” Teyla reported in. “Rodney is proceeding back to your position. Elizabeth and I are heading into the town to talk with Philan now.”

“Acknowledged,” John replied. “Let me know as soon as you’ve got anything that could help.”

“How's Sabina doing?” Doctor Weir asked with that concerned tone she got whenever one of her people was in trouble.

“I’m okay for now Doctor Weir,” I replied for myself. “Let me fill you in on what I’ve learnt about the device since Rodney and Teyla left.” I had John read the full translation and told them what we thought it meant.

“That makes sense,” Rodney spoke up for the first time since they’d arrived. “I found a reference to something that sounds similar to this device in the Ancient database. From what I read there is no way it should have been able to do what it’s apparently doing.”

“So it is malfunctioning?” I asked weakly.

“Looks like it,” Rodney confirmed. “I’d need to take a closer look at the smaller device you mentioned to be sure.”

“I’ll make that one of the top priorities in my discussions Rodney,” Doctor Weir promised.

“Along with getting me inside the temple,” John’s tone was just short of an order.

“Of course Colonel,” Doctor Weir said mildly, not taking offense to John’s demand.

“Ronon’s due to check in soon,” John told us. “We’ll have a better handle on a possible military solution once we’ve got his intel.”

“I’d prefer to reach some kind of agreement with these people,” Doctor Weir said firmly. “They believe they’re doing what the Ancients wanted and from the sounds of it they’re a bit more advanced than most of the races we come across.”

“I know you’ll try to convince them to end this Elizabeth,” John said reasonably. “But you should know that I will be taking action before this gets to the intended conclusion if you’re not successful.” John’s tone went from mild to quiet and deadly by the end of that statement.

“The trial ends at sunrise,” Rodney broke in to the silence John’s words had created, “but we don’t have all of that time to convince these people. We need to allow time for me to look at these devices – just in case they don't know how to turn it off.”

“Nice way to encourage Sabina, McKay,” John admonished Rodney. From the sounds of it Rodney had arrived at the Jumper and I could imagine John delivering the customary smack to the back of the head.

“It’s okay John,” I said lightly. “I’d already thought of that myself. If they don’t understand the real purpose of the device then it’s a pretty sure bet they won’t know how to turn it off early either.”

Conversation dwindled after that as everyone focussed on their assigned task. John kept to his word, leaving the radio channel connected so that I could hear everything going on in the Jumper. When Ronon returned and reported that the town was heavily guarded with weaponry similar to basic Earth weapons my spirits took a bit of a nose dive.

“I don’t want you risking anyone’s life on some foolhardy mission to save me,” I said after Ronon completed his report.

“You don’t get a say in this,” John said firmly.

“Ronon – don’t let John do anything stupid!” I tried to get at least one of them to see things from my point of view.

“I’m with him,” Ronon replied unrepentantly. “I say we storm the temple and make them give McKay that device right now.”

“Why did I think you’d be the responsible one?” I muttered under my breath. “Rodney, please tell me you’ll protect those two from themselves.”

“What do you think I can do?” Rodney complained. “They’re bigger than me and they’ve got guns!”

“You’ve got a gun too!” I reminded him, knowing I was being silly now but unable to let it go.

“There isn’t a single reality in which I’d be willing to just leave you there,” John’s voice rumbled in my ear sternly, effectively ending any further argument.

“Fine,” I grumbled worriedly. “But if you get hurt trying to get in here I’m gonna be majorly pissed at you.”

“I’ll try to keep that in mind,” John said in a more reasonable tone. “What’s your status physically?”

“My knees have gone numb which is a relief actually. I only wish my back and shoulders would go numb too because they’re killing me,” I reported. “Oh and I’m being tortured with apparently divinely pure water than I can’t drink.”

“You can’t reach it?” John asked in confusion.

“I can reach it,” I replied calmly. “I just don’t want to drink any because I’m pretty sure there aren’t any bathroom breaks during the Judicium.”

“Up to you,” John said, faintly amused. “We’ll have you out of there long before dehydration becomes an issue.”

“Any word from Doctor Weir?” I asked quietly.

“Not so far,” John admitted, “but I wouldn’t expect there to be just yet. You know diplomats – love to talk ... and talk.”

oOo

“I’m tired,” I said simply a few hours later. I’d asked at regular intervals how much time was left so I knew we were down to about four hours without any progress being made to come up with a plan.

“Try to get some rest,” John replied softly. I put my head down on the fountain wall, shifting my lower body as best I could to stretch out my back and shoulders. I tried to relax and close my eyes but as soon as I did the faint buzz of sound I’d been aware of since the trial began ramped up in intensity, making it impossible.

“I can’t rest,” I grumbled. “I can feel the energy this thing is sending through me to keep me in place – when I close my eyes I can hear it too.”

“I’ve been detecting the energy pattern since I got here,” Rodney said, stifling a yawn. “It’s similar to other Ancient devices we’ve come across meaning there’s no easy way to disrupt it from this distance.”

“You guys should try to get some rest too,” I suggested. Doing the sums, given when we’d left Atlantis and how much time had gone by since, I worked out it must be close to 3am our time.

“We’re good,” John replied. “Rodney brought coffee and –“

“Colonel Sheppard this is Weir,” Elizabeth’s voice broke into another conversation. I couldn’t tell from the tone of her voice whether she’d made progress.

“Go ahead Elizabeth,” John replied.

“After much deliberation Philan has conceded that one person be allowed to sit with Sabina,” Doctor Weir reported.

“I’m on my way,” John’s voice sounded muffled as he picked up his gear. “I’ll be there soon,” I could tell that he’d broken into a run and I was hardly able to contain my emotions at the thought that I’d be seeing him soon.

“His agreement was on the proviso that the person prove they too are descended from the Ancients,” Doctor Weir admitted, “so you'll have to prove that to Philan by putting your hands on the fountain.”

“Not a problem,” John replied. “Anything else?”

“I informed them of the true purpose of the device,” Doctor Weir said. “I’m not sure if they believed me but they agreed to consult their earliest records to determine whether there’s any validity to our claims.”

“Well I hope they don’t have a lot of records,” Rodney muttered snidely, “or that could take a while.”

“They agreed to reconvene with us within the hour Rodney,” Teyla admonished his lack of faith in their negotiating abilities.

I waited impatiently for John to cover the distance between the Jumper and the town ... some time later I heard the first sounds of something happening at the door. It creaked on its hinges as it was pushed open to admit John, Philan and his ever presence guards. I felt a rush of 'warm and fuzzy' emotions swirling inside me when I managed to turn my head enough to see John approach ... so much so that I struggled at first not to burst into tears. I mean seriously - how was that gonna help? Plus I really didn't want to give Philan the satisfaction of seeing how much the trial had gotten to me.

“This way,” Philan took the lead, stopping to my right. “Please place your hands on the fountain next to the tainted,” he instructed.

John scowled at his derogatory term but moved behind me. Leaning in he put his hands one each beside mine. The central column lit up instantly with Ancient blue light, shimmering and pulsing before flashing white and fading away. Rising but maintaining his close proximity to me, John put a hand on each of my shoulders, squeezing reassuringly.

“You are descended from the Ancestors,” Philan announced reverently. “I have never seen the Fontis light up in this manner – in truth no one in our town has witnessed such a sight.”

“So I can stay then,” John confirmed his understanding of what the agreement had been.

“Are you sure you wish to sully yourself with the presence of this ... woman?” Philan looked at me distastefully.

“I’m playing along with this charade because Doctor Weir would like to reach an alliance with your people,” John glared at Philan menacingly, “but don’t push me. Quit with the sneering and the derogatory language.”

“The Ancestors charged us with protecting the purity of their line,” Philan tried to defend his opinions. “She has the mark of the Wraith within her – she is impure.”

“Sabina is exactly what the Ancestors intended her to be,” John took a threatening step towards Philan, who cowered fearfully. “Go read those records properly and work it out for yourself.”

“I will leave you to your contemplations,” Philan conceded, turning and hurrying from the room.

“Doctor Weir won’t be happy if you offended him,” I told John, watching him sitting down next to me with his back resting against the fountain.

“He’s lucky I didn’t hit him,” John returned, doing an intent inspection of my expression. “You didn’t tell me about the headache,” he said accusingly.

“It’s the power flow,” I discounted his concern. “Anyone would have a headache after putting up with that buzz for over five hours.”

“I could feel it a bit when I touched you,” John admitted. “Do you want me to help you move into a different position?”

“Already tried them all,” I replied easily. “This is the least uncomfortable.”

“So how are you really doing?” John held my gaze intently, letting me know any pretence wasn’t going to cut it with him.

“This is possibly the cruellest and most unusual form of torture I could imagine,” I admitted. “It’s claustrophobic because I feel trapped in here. The fact that I'm restrained but there’s nothing visible to rail against is freaking me out too. And I’m scared because I have the horrible suspicion that even if we convince them they’ve been getting it wrong all these years it won’t help me because they don’t know what the hell they’re doing.”

“We’ll get you out of this,” John promised, scooting as close as possible and leaning in so he could wrap his arms around me. I laid my head against his shoulder wearily, wishing I could hug him back.

oOo

“Do you want to talk about the Ascension side of this?” My voice echoed in the quiet of the large chamber a while later.

“No point – we’re gonna be out of here soon,” John refused to even think that this would end badly.

“But what if we’re not?” I asked worriedly. “I just ... I don’t think I can even try to ascend - regardless of the fact that it might be the only way out of this.”

“Why not?” John frowned at my certainty.

“Come on ... release your burdens?” I pulled away so I could look at him incredulously. “I’ve got so many of those ten days wouldn’t be enough, let alone ten hours.”

“You can do anything you put your mind to,” John replied, reaching out to brush my hair away from my face.

“Maybe I have a deep seated objection to Ascension then because I don’t think I even want to,” I glanced at him curiously. “Would you?”

“Don’t ask me that now!” John protested. When I just raised an eyebrow at him expectantly he groaned. “Okay – maybe not – even if I could get there.”

“See – you’ve got issues with the burden’s thing too,” I said triumphantly. “I don’t think either of us are prime candidates for the Ascension club.”

“It doesn’t matter,” John said with certainty, “because it’s not gonna come to that.”

“I admire your confidence, even if I don’t completely share it,” I replied. “Just promise me that if this comes down to the wire you’ll cut the others off before they start telling me I’m worthy and that I can ascend if I want to.”

“I can do that,” John promised, pulling me back into position within his arms.

Authors Note:

I'm pretty sure that radios don't work the way I've portrayed them BUT for the purposes of this story please assume that it's possible for Sabina's earpiece to permanently be tuned into a specific channel such that she can both hear the others and talk herself - i.e. without having to keep activating it. Also I'm aware the earpieces probably don't work outside of Atlantis either, but again for this story they do. I spoke to my husband (he's an electrical and electronic systems hardware engineer) about this and even the way they portray it in the show is maybe possible but not practical from a realistic standpoint - eg being able to talk to a specific person just by saying their name, and not having anyone else wearing an earpiece listening in, etc. Hence my decision to take all that just a little further for this part of the story - I couldn't have Sabina sitting there all alone with no idea what was going on ... that would have been mean, plus boring for you! Thanks :D


Chapter 33: How much time is left?


 “Colonel Sheppard, Sabina,” Doctor Weir startled us from the mostly silent conversation we’d been engaged in. “We’re making some progress here. Philan and one of his colleagues found some very old text that might support Sabina’s translation. They’re coming into the temple now to look at the writing in the fountain.”

“Acknowledged,” John replied, making no attempt to move away from me when Philan and a man wearing similar clothing hurried through the door. This time there was no conversation as each man got as close as they dared to me and looked into the fountain, staring at the distorted symbols for some time before stepping away. They glanced at each other with clearly troubled expressions before hurrying just as silently out of the temple again.

“Did that go well?” I asked John.

“Let’s hope so,” John rubbed a hand up and down my back, trying to ease the soreness that seemed to have centred in my spine.

“How much time is left?” I asked John quietly.

“Three hours,” John admitted, glancing down at his watch.

“Still time for Rodney to figure this out,” I said bracingly. John smiled at my attempted enthusiasm but said nothing. We’d talked almost continuously for the first few hours of this ordeal and had long reached the point where silent companionship was the preferred option for both of us. In any case we didn’t have to wait long for something to happen.

The doors to the temple flew open, revealing Ronon, Teyla, Doctor Weir and Rodney as well as Philan and his colleague. John patted my shoulder before jumping up and going over to them to see what was happening. Within moments he was heading back with Rodney in tow.

“They’ve agreed to end this,” John said in relief, running a hand down my hair before resting it on my shoulder again. “Philan doesn't know how to switch off the device but he's draining the fountain so Rodney can get in there and have a look.” I looked into the fountain curiously, noting with interest that the water was dissipating even though I couldn’t hear anything to indicate how or where it was going to.

“I’ve got the remote control device,” Rodney added, holding up the object I’d seen when Philan had begun the trial. “Let’s see what this thing is doing.” Ripping his laptop off his back he stepped into the fountain without hesitation and started scanning for some kind of access port. Moments later from the other side of the column I heard sounds of satisfaction as connections were made.

“I’m not surprised you can feel the power flow,” Rodney commented a few minutes later. “This thing is putting out quite a charge ... Rodney trailed off before muttering “Oh no.”

“What?” John and I chorused together.

“I can see why there’s a time limit on this trial,” Rodney admitted, peering out at us with his ‘I wish I hadn’t worked this out’ face on. “The device is building up power at a steady rate – within a couple of hours it’s gonna overload. If there’s nowhere for the power to go it will go through you.”

“So that’s why the people here thought the device was some kind of execution machine?” I tried not to think about the prospect of being hit by a huge charge of Ancient power.

“Why would it do that?” John looked from me to Rodney expectantly.

“Because the device is obviously designed to do something,” Rodney said heatedly, “except we don’t know what. If we could channel the energy where it’s supposed to go the cycle would finish and we could all go home.”

“So find out what it’s supposed to do,” John ordered sternly.

I’m trying,” Rodney complained. “Why don’t you come over here and see how well you do!”

Still muttering under his breath Rodney continued tapping away, trying to determine how the device was supposed to work. I felt like I could actually hear the minutes ticking away as the time for the trials end drew nearer. Doctor Weir came over to speak with me, trying to rally my positivity. Teyla followed shortly after, offering her calming presence and her certainty that Rodney would figure this out with time to spare. When Ronon approached I took the offensive.

“Not you too,” I grumbled. “I’m starting to feel like a condemned prisoner being farewelled by his family.”

“I’m not saying goodbye,” Ronon replied with an amused look. “You look uncomfortable – can I help?”

“Unless you can find a way to get my hands off this device, no,” I replied simply.

“I could always cut them off,” Ronon offered, putting a hand to the sword he carried across his back.

“I'm guessing you're just joking," I looked at him uncertainly, “but if it comes down to the last minute I might take you up on that.” I don’t know what it said about me that I would rather contemplate amputation of my hands over attempting to Ascend – just another disturbing aspect of the whole ordeal I’d have to deal with later.

“No one is cutting anyone’s hands off,” John glared at Ronon as if asking what the hell he thought he was doing. “Rodney will figure this out.”

“Oh sure, put all the pressure on me,” Rodney’s voice complained from the other side of the column.

oOo

“Hurry it up McKay,” John said angrily, glancing worriedly at his watch.

“How much time?” I asked weakly.

“Enough,” John replied.

How much?” I demanded.

“Half an hour,” John admitted, glancing at me quickly before moving over to Rodney’s side of the fountain. “McKay you better switch this thing off or I’m gonna –“

“Threats won’t make this go any faster,” Rodney interrupted. He worked for a few more minutes without comment. Popping his head around the column he looked at me with a sick regretful expression. “I can’t turn it off,” he admitted weakly.

“What do you mean you can’t turn it off?” John demanded, pulling Rodney roughly to his feet. "What have you been doing for the last two hours?!"

“If I had a few days to pull out all the components, or a week to decipher the inner workings of the remote then maybe,” Rodney explained urgently. “There’s not enough time to work out a back door way of switching this off that won’t end up overloading it anyway. It was too late long before we got here – the energy had already built up and it has to go somewhere.”

“You get in there and work out how to get it to go somewhere then,” John glared at Rodney angrily.

“You’re not listening Colonel,” Rodney protested, grabbing at John’s arm to make his point. “This device is complex – I can’t even tell you how it works, let alone give it commands to do something.”

“This is downright problematic McKay,” John pulled away abruptly, turning to glare at the device itself.

“I understand your frustration,” Rodney tried to offer support beyond the science stuff.

“Oh you do, do you?” John demanded angrily. “You understand having the most important person in your life attached to a machine that’s twenty minutes away from killing them when there’s not a damn thing you can do about it?!”

“Well ... no,” Rodney admitted, “but I care about Sabina too ... if there was something I could do I’d be doing it!”

“I know,” John relented somewhat, turning back to look at the device assessingly. “Okay – we rig up a controlled explosion, try and get the energy build up out that way.”

“Why does your solution to everything involve some kind of weapon?” Rodney asked in frustration. “Any attempt to release the energy will result in some of it passing through Sabina – unprotected, even a portion of the build up will deliver a fatal jolt.”

“Then what do you suggest we do?” John demanded impatiently. “Because I gotta say – doing nothing isn’t working for me.”

“I don’t know,” Rodney admitted, hesitating before adding. “Ronon’s suggestion may not have been as stupid as it sounded.”

“What – cut her hands off?” John demanded incredulously. “You’re not serious!”

“Ascension?” Rodney suggested hesitantly, knowing John wouldn’t want to even consider that.

“I’d prefer an option that doesn’t result in Sabina going all glowy or walking away with body parts missing,” John replied grimly.

“Hey!” I called out. “How about you stop talking about me like I’m not even here?!”

“Tell me you have an idea,” John turned back look at me with eyes full of desperate emotion.

“I have an idea,” I agreed. “Something Rodney just said made me remember what Caritas told me. We need everyone to vacate the temple.”

“What’s your plan?” Rodney demanded, hurriedly packing up his equipment.

“It’ll take too long to explain,” I protested. “Just get everyone out of here.” I turned to Ronon, nodding towards the remote control device. “I need you to take that device to a safe distance as quickly as possible, and then make sure you get well clear.”

Ronon grabbed the device without a word and sprinted from the room, heading hopefully away from the town and the location of the Puddle Jumper.

“I’m staying,” John announced grimly. “Don’t try and talk me out of it either.”

“I wasn’t going to,” I replied, taking satisfaction from his surprised look. “I need you to make this work.”

I waited silently as everyone else left, each clearly wanting to say something but convinced not to by my obvious impatience. When it was just John and I he turned to me questioningly.

“What’s the plan?” he asked hopefully, glancing at his watch again. “We’ve got about ten minutes so make it quick.”

“God, I don’t know if this is even gonna work,” I had a sudden attack of uncertainty. “Maybe you should leave too – I can do this by myself.”

Make me,” John challenged grimly.

“Cruel to mock the trapped person,” I shook my head at him. “Okay, come over here and put your hands on the fountain like you did when Philan tested you.”

John knelt on the floor behind me and put an arm on either side, placing his hands next to mine. I was heartened by his warmth pressing into my back and his calm breaths wafting against my neck.

“Caritas said two things – that if I truly opened myself to Atlantis I could do much more than I realised, and that I probably had the merging gene skill meaning I could tap into another person and borrow their power too.” I couldn’t see John’s expression but his quick nod was confirmation that he understood the implications of what I was proposing.

“Ronon,” I called over the radio. “Are you clear?”

“You’re good to go,” Ronon replied.

“John - I want you to think only about helping me, just like you did that day on Atlantis when we found the Wraith weapons’ room,” I instructed, taking a few calming breaths before opening myself to the device in much the same manner as Caritas had taught me to open to the communications system back on Atlantis. Pausing to gather my confidence I asked quietly “Are you ready?”

“Do it,” John said firmly, leaning into me in support.

“Here goes,” I muttered under my breath, dropping myself into the device and attempting to access the system. I could see immediately that Rodney had been right. The power had built up beyond the failsafe point and would now have to be released in some way. The only way I could think of to do that was to transfer the power to another Ancient device, one it would be safe to overload. I didn’t think John would have been too impressed if I’d used the Puddle Jumper, which left only the remote control device. I could feel the extra power John was offering me - envisioning a protective barrier around us, I gathered together the full capability of both of us and used us as a kind of conduit between the fountain column and the remote control device. Power flowed along that conduit rapidly draining from the fountain and collecting in the remote control. Nothing happened for a few moments before a loud explosion sounded from some distance away.

I hardly noticed when my hands dropped away from the fountain as I collapsed back into John, who was only just slightly steadier in his balance than I was. He turned us both so we could lean against the fountain. We just sat there speechless for a few moments, waiting for the others to come back.

“Good plan,” John’s voice was weakened, telling me I’d drained him enough that he couldn’t bluff his way into seeming ‘fine’.

“Better than Ronon’s,” I agreed just as weakly. “Remind me never to drink from the local fountain, no matter how pure they say the water is.”

“I’ll put it in the off world guide book,” John quipped, putting his arm around me and holding me close.

oOo

It took little time to extricate ourselves from the town with the promise from Doctor Weir to return for trade negotiations. Philan hurried along beside us, apologising profusely for almost getting me executed. I couldn’t get the sight or sound of his contempt for me out of my head so I hadn’t exactly been forthcoming with any acceptance of that. John and I were both so tired that neither of us even protested when Rodney said he was flying the Jumper home.

Doctor Beckett was as dogged as usual about keeping us in the infirmary until he was convinced our systems had returned to normal. There hadn’t been too many times when John and I had ended up in the infirmary together so it was kind of strange to be keeping each other company in infirmary beds instead of at each other’s bedsides. I was so drained that I couldn’t keep myself awake enough to even talk to John about what had happened.

Doctor Beckett released us both the next morning on the promise of more bed rest in our quarters. His stern look warned us not to think we could get up to anything else in bed except resting. John laughed when I blushed in embarrassment at Carson’s meaning.

“I wasn’t really paying attention,” I admitted once we were settled on our balcony. “Did Philan say anything about me destroying his pride and joy?”

“Once he realised they’d been misinterpreting it he seemed happy to have it no longer operational,” John replied, watching me leaning over the railing from his position on our bench.

“The remote device was a necessity,” I offered, “since I was pretty sure you’d prefer that to me blowing up a Puddle Jumper. But I might have helped burning out the main part of the device along ... just a little bit.” I smiled almost wickedly; glad I’d kept a tiny bit of the power back at the end there. I’d redirected it into the column – even without being able to actually kill someone, there was no way I was leaving something behind that could still label someone as ‘tainted’. I’d felt a deep satisfaction when I’d gotten up and seen that their lovely white column was now swirling with scorched blackness.

“I’d say you were entitled,” John agreed. “You’d know more than any of us that leaving something like that around is dangerous.”

“I think the device was supposed to pass knowledge on to the chosen – not judgement,” I offered. “Hence the ATA link. Maybe if I’d had the remote control device and everything had been activated properly we could have learned something valuable ... not that we’ll ever know for sure.”

“Are you all right with what happened?” John looked at me in concern. I knew he was talking just as much about Philan’s personal reaction to me as he was about what we’d done to put an end to the ordeal but I chose just to focus on the second part.

“Not really,” I admitted reluctantly. “It freaks me out to push the boundaries of what we accept can be done with the Ancient technology ... even knowing I couldn’t have done what we did without your help.”

“We’re not really pushing the boundaries though,” John pointed out logically. “From what you’ve told me, the Ancients could do that and much more with ease.”

“I know,” I sighed despondently, “because they were Ancients. We’re not and to be quite honest I don’t want to be. My friendship with Caritas aside, most of them were arrogant and lacking in compassion for the common man – plus they littered this galaxy with their devices that always end up being too dangerous to use.”

“Having the Ancient genes saved you today,” John reminded me.

“Yeah but having their stupid mutated Wraith gene was what got me into the predicament in the first place,” I retorted angrily. “If it were possible I’d have Carson switch them all off.”

“You’d give up your connection to Atlantis?” John asked in surprise.

“No I guess not,” I replied honestly. “But I’d give up the Wraith parts in a heartbeat – even though I know it means we’d lose an advantage against their technology.”

I didn’t want to admit it to John but the reaction I’d gotten from Philan and his colleagues troubled me. I felt almost unclean and ashamed that I was walking around with Wraith genes corrupting my Ancient ones. I’d always been faintly troubled by that but having the reactions of those people in my head turned it into full blown worry.

“Let’s not talk about this anymore,” I suggested briskly, turning from the balcony and grabbing John’s hand. He let me pull him up from the bench and lead him back inside.

“You know what Carson said,” John reminded me.

“He said nothing about hugging,” I countered, “and right about now I could really use some hugs.”

“That I can do,” John smiled, lying down on the bed and pulling me down next to him. Wrapping his arms around me tightly he held me as I snuggled into his chest. “Okay?” he asked softly.

“Getting there,” I replied, determined to put my worries aside. “You’re a great hugger.”

“Let’s just keep that between us too,” John urged. “Gotta think about my reputation.”

“I don’t think you have to worry about that flyboy,” I teased. “Your secrets are safe with me.”


Chapter 34: So you’re saying you made it happen?


“Get to the gate,” Major Lorne yelled, urging us to run at top speed back towards the clearing where the Stargate was located. “Brown - as soon as you get there dial it up!”

Lieutenant Brown was running in point, opening a gap on the rest of us as he sped full pelt down the path. We got to the clearing just in time to see the kawhoosh retreating back into the vortex. Shots rang out across our path, forcing Brown to retreat into the trees. I followed Major Lorne as he took up a covered position, using the radio to get a message to Atlantis.

“Atlantis base, this is Major Lorne. We are under attack and cut off from the Gate. Request immediate back-up. Atlantis base, repeat: we are under attack and cut off from the Gate. I counted at least twenty, maybe more. Request back-up immediately.”

Breaking off the transmission the wormhole closed before any of our would be attackers could attempt to use the gate themselves. We hadn’t sent through an IDC so it would have been an abrupt end if any of them had tried to leave the planet that way.

We’d arrived on M72-656 earlier than day to follow up on an established trading agreement with the planets inhabitants. Rather than the usual friendly welcome we’d been greeted with a group of angry ruffians accusing us of depriving their people of much needed resources. Lorne had tried to talk them around but it hadn’t been too long before their behaviour had shifted from faintly disturbing to outright aggressive. He’d backed us out of there but we’d been followed. It was a long walk to the gate and before we’d gotten half way we’d realised the ruffians were tailing us. That’s when the walking had turned into running, urged on by the few shots that got fired luckily wide of our position.

Within twenty minutes the Stargate activated and a Puddle Jumper zoomed through, cloaking as soon as it was completely clear of the wormhole. Shots were fired as the Jumper passed overhead, none of them reaching their mark.

“Major Lorne, this is Sheppard. What’s your situation?”

“A group of disgruntled villagers have us pinned down Sir,” Major Lorne reported succinctly. “They have rifles and show no signs of running out of ammo any time soon. They’re currently closing in on our position.”

“Hold tight Major,” John ordered. “I’m bringing the Jumper around for another pass – see if we can map their positions with the life signs detectors.”

“Acknowledged,” Lorne confirmed, motioning for all of us to keep low. The villagers were still firing at us intermittently, presumably reminding us not to attempt to access the gate again.

“Major,” John reported back a few minutes later. “This isn’t gonna be as easy as we hoped. I count twenty four targets completely surrounding you. I’m gonna have to land the Jumper back from your position and flank them from behind.”

“Copy that,” Major Lorne replied. We heard the whoosh of the Jumper as it passed back overhead. The villagers I could see raised their guns, shouting to each other when there was nothing visible for them to fire at. Turning back they fired a few shots in our direction as if to say ‘we can still see you!’

Resigning myself to a long wait in the dirt I didn’t notice at first that the shots had ceased. I certainly noticed when the villagers jumped up and started running back through the trees though.

“What happened?” Major Lorne looked over at Lieutenant Brown.

“No idea Sir,” Brown replied, rising from his position and heading over to us.

“Colonel Sheppard, the villagers are retreating,” Major Lorne called over the radio. “They could be heading back in your direction.”

“We’re still in the Jumper,” John reported. “What happened?”

“Ah ... not sure Sir,” Lorne replied. “They stopped firing for no apparent reason – then they got up and ran away.”

“We’re heading back to your position now,” John advised. Looking up I watched with a grin as the Jumper decloaked and came to rest in front of the Stargate. The rear hatch opened and John and Rodney walked out.

“Everyone all right?” John asked, glancing around the clearing instinctively checking for anything out of place.

“We’re all good Sir,” Major Lorne reported. “That could have been a lot worse – I wonder what spooked them?”

“That was weird,” Rodney muttered, almost talking to himself. He had a disturbed look on his face that had John watching him in concern.

“You okay McKay?” John asked. Turning to me he added “Rodney tangled with an Ancient machine this morning and came off second best.”

“Hey – Carson said I was perfectly fine,” Rodney protested. “A few ... strange things have been happening admittedly but ...,” he trailed off with a worried frown.

“What was the machine for?” I asked Rodney.

“That’s just it,” Rodney complained. “We don’t know – the Ancients powered up the room and we couldn’t shut it off from the control room. I stood on the platform – big flash of light – that’s all it did.”

“Let’s pack it up,” John went into Colonel mode. “No point in hanging around waiting for the bad guys to come back.”

We were all settled in the Puddle Jumper when Rodney brought up the subject of strange things happening to him again.

“It could be a coincidence,” Rodney said, “but that seems unlikely.”

“What’s a coincidence?” John asked, powering the Jumper up and taking us in a looping flight away from the Stargate. He dialled Atlantis and entered his IDC as soon as the wormhole was established.

“I was thinking how it would be cool if all their weapons jammed at the same time,” Rodney admitted uncertainly, “and not two seconds later they’d stopped firing and were running away.”

“So you’re saying you made it happen?” John said incredulously. “Maybe that machine scrambled your brain because you’re obviously suffering from delusions of grandeur.”

Before Rodney could respond we passed through the wormhole, coming out in the Gateroom. John and Rodney were so accustomed to the whole gate travel thing that their conversation hardly paused.

“Are you saying you don’t think someone could make something happen just by thinking it?” Rodney demanded.

“I’m saying I don’t think you could do it – unless you’re suggesting that machine did do something to you,” John argued, manoeuvring the Jumper back to the Jumper Bay and parking it gently in the usual spot. John lowered the rear hatch, getting up and leading the way out with Rodney following close behind.

“What else could it be?!” Rodney protested, not deflated in any way when Ronon groaned in disbelief.

“You’re losing your mind!” John accused.

“I’m telling you, it’s a bit of a coincidence!” Rodney pointed out.

“Well, then, prove it!” John challenged, stepping out in to the Jumper Bay. I followed behind with the rest of my team, Ronon and Teyla. Doctor Weir and Radek were both waiting for us, Elizabeth looking on in curiosity at John and Rodney’s obvious argument.

“Colonel?” Doctor Weir looked at John questioningly.

“Everyone’s present and accounted for,” John reported simply.

“How bad is it and who’s been hurt?” Doctor Beckett ran in accompanied by three medics wheeling two stretchers.

“No-one, Doc,” Major Lorne reassured him. “We’re all fine ... thanks to McKay,” Lorne looked at Doctor Weir with an expression as disbelieving as John’s had been.

“So he says,” John added sarcastically.

“Rodney?” Doctor Weir looked at him expectantly.

“Well, to be honest, I’m not entirely sure,” Rodney admitted quickly. “I wasn’t even sure it was me at first, but the correlation’s impossible to ignore. I saw Lorne’s team pinned down, the bad guys closing in - I just thought, you know, wouldn’t it be great if all their weapons jammed at the same time?” By the time he’d gotten to the end of that sentence Rodney’s confident tone had become uncertain. John was clearly struggling not to laugh now – his amusement seemed to refuel Rodney’s determination as he finished his story. “Next thing I know, they’re all running away, so ...”

“So you think because you wanted it to happen, it just did?” Doctor Weir asked in a cynical tone.

“It was a little more than that,” Rodney defended his belief. When Elizabeth just nodded in a way that said she wasn’t buying it, Rodney seemed to decide more action was required. “OK. You know what? Watch this. I’ll, uh ...,” he turned to Carson and pointed at him.

We all looked on in dumbfounded disbelief as Carson was raised off the ground.

“Rodney!” Carson protested. He stared nervously down at a floor that was now several feet away. John and Elizabeth ran over to him, gazing up in amazement.

“Rodney?” Doctor Weir looked back at him uncertainly.

“Believe me, I find this as disturbing as you do,” Rodney admitted, still pointing up at Carson.

“Like bloody hell you do!” Carson said heatedly, clearly less than happy to be the subject of Rodney’s demonstration.

“Put him down,” Doctor Weir told Rodney quietly. Rodney slowly lowered his hand, watching as Carson floated gently down to the floor.

“Oh, God!” Carson sighed in relief. “Rodney – we need to get you back in the infirmary immediately.”

oOo

One of the other Doctors handled our post mission checkups and cleared us for a debriefing with Doctor Weir once she’d finished with Carson and Rodney. Since the mission had pretty much been a bust the minute we’d walked into the village the debriefing was a short one.

“I wonder what else Rodney can do?” I raised an eyebrow at Major Lorne as we headed down to the commissary for a late lunch.

“I’m not wondering,” Lorne disagreed, “I’m worrying. The man’s a disaster waiting to happen at the best of times!”

“That’s a little unfair,” I said in defence of Rodney. “He’s usually the one thrust into the role of high pressure problem solver after everything’s already gone pear shaped. Speaking of Rodney – there he is now,” I pointed across the commissary where Rodney was hoeing into a plate of deserts. Ronon sat with him watching with a look of disgust on his face.

“How’s it going Rodney?” I called out, grabbing some fruit and heading over to their table.

“He can read minds,” Ronon announced

“I think I’ll do take away today,” Lorne said quickly, grabbing a couple of items and heading rapidly back out the way he’d entered.

“Coward,” I muttered under my breath. Looking back at Rodney I shook my head at the single minded determination with which he was eating – even more so than usual. “Reading minds huh? What am I thinking now?” I held a single image in my head and cleared my mind of everything else.

“Ferris Wheel,” Rodney muttered through a mouthful of food. He swallowed quickly before adding “you really have been hanging around with Sheppard too long. Nice trick though – if you can do that all the time I might be able to handle having you around for more than five seconds.” He glanced from me to Ronon and back again. “Ronon’s mainly been thinking about how he gets to stun me if I get carried away with the power at my command,” Rodney responded to my unspoken question about how he could handle Ronon being around.

“So – reading minds, telekinesis, anything else?” I asked curiously, trying to cast a mental blanket over myself to see if that would help block random thoughts from making it over to Rodney’s head.

“Super hearing,” Rodney replied, frowning for a moment. “Now I understand what you do with the sensors,” he said excitedly. “That really is cool – I can’t hear anything from you at all – maybe I could do the same thing,” his face took on a look of extreme concentration before he smiled in delight. ”Hey it works! I can’t hear anything Ronon’s thinking – that could come in handy.”

“I’m glad I could help you out Rodney,” I said with a somewhat smug smile. “You said super hearing – do you think that’s all the machine did to you?”

“I was already pretty smart,” Rodney said immodestly, “but I can actually feel myself getting smarter. I’ve got so many ideas for things I could do – power usage improvements, systems rerouting ... I think I could even repair the dispersal weapon given enough time.”

“Perhaps you should talk to Doctor Weir about priorities then,” I suggested. “We need to get the most out of these unexpected ... powers just in case they don’t last.”

“You’re right,” Rodney jumped up straight away. “Ronon,” he gestured impatiently, “let’s go see Elizabeth – see if she’ll let me use the Control Chair to maximise the ZedPM.” Not waiting for Ronon he hurried out the door.

“I swear I’m gonna stun him before the day’s out,” Ronon growled, rising reluctantly and striding after Rodney.

I sat back and contemplated the implications of Rodney’s new capabilities. If he did retain the extra brain power in the long run there were a couple of things I could think of for him to work on. That led me back to my lab to plan out a course of action, just on the off chance I did get to utilise the new and improved McKay genius.

oOo

“It’s an Ascension machine,” John strode into my lab a few hours later, looking flustered and worried.

“The machine that zapped Rodney?” I clarified his meaning. When he nodded, impatiently running a hand through his hair, I felt my insides clench. “Don’t tell me,” I said sickly, “it’s transforming Rodney so he can Ascend.”

“Yeah,” John admitted, turning back to me impatiently. “And it can’t be reversed. If McKay doesn’t learn how to Ascend the transformation will kill him.”

“But if he’s super smart,” I protested, not wanting to even consider the possibility of losing Rodney, “then surely he can come up with the solution himself.”

“Apparently he’s not quite smart enough for that,” John dropped wearily into the chair next to me. “Have you ever come across anything about Ascension machines in your research?”

“To be honest Ascension hasn’t been at the top of my list of topics, even more so after the whole fountain incident,” I admitted. “I could start looking for something now if it’d help.”

“Doctor Weir’s probably got it covered,” John excused the need for me to do anything. “She said she’d talk with Rodney later – try to get him to consider the idea.”

“Rodney isn’t the most ... spiritual person is he?” I smiled fondly at the idea of Rodney leaving his fate up to a higher power.

“Not exactly,” John agreed. We each lapsed into silence, each probably thinking similarly unpleasant thoughts about Rodney’s current situation. “Are you done for the day?” John asked suddenly.

“I am now,” I agreed, letting John pull me to my feet.

“I need to walk,” John said, taking my hand and leading me purposefully down the corridor. We walked for some time, covering a lot of ground and greeting many of the staff both on duty and off. Eventually we ended up in the corridor outside Rodney’s lab.

“Should we ...?” I looked at John expectantly.

“I don’t know what to tell him,” John looked away in frustration. “I’m gonna go check with Radek – see if he’s made any progress. You go - talk to Rodney.” Before I could protest John had pulled away and walked rapidly back up the corridor.


Chapter 35: Isn’t that a prerequisite for Ascension?


Steeling myself determinedly I walked into the lab, stopping abruptly in the doorway as I took in the current state of the room. Rodney seemed to be simultaneously operating a number of laptops, rapidly typing into each before waiting impatiently for the words to appear on screen. He was also working on complex mathematical equations stretched over more than one white board.

“Rodney?” I called out softly, not wanting to interrupt him in the middle of something crucial.

“Sabina, come in,” Rodney invited in the kind of reasonable and warmly welcoming tone I don’t think I’d ever heard from him before.

“What are you doing?” I asked curiously.

“Inventing a new maths, working out a method to increase shield power here and on the Daedalus, writing a new book on quantum dynamics,” Rodney listed his projects in rapid succession.

“Got time for one more project?” I looked at him hopefully, deciding right there and then was as good a time as any other to broach my ideas.

“What did you have in mind?” Rodney looked at me expectantly.

“It’s just an idea and I’m not sure it’s even possible,” I began, “but I was thinking about my anti-nanite blood proteins and I wondered if there was a way to change them so that everyone could be protected.”

“I’m not a biologist or a geneticist,” Rodney pointed out, “but I can revisit the research we took from that lab where we first found the nanite virus, see what I can come up with.”

“Thanks,” I smiled gratefully. “The other idea I had might be more in your line of expertise. The anti-nanite protein is like a biological weapon against nanite viruses ... what if we could create a machine version of the same thing? We use nanite technology back on Earth right?” I waited until Rodney nodded before continuing. “Could you create your own nanites – not linked to our Pegasus nanites in any way - designed to seek out the Replicator nanites at the microscopic level, surround them individually and render them inert? I know we’d still have to come up with a way to deliver our nanites to the Replicators and that eventually they’d work out how to defend against them but it could be a way to counter the next attack.”

“Interesting idea,” Rodney looked at me thoughtfully. “Leave it with me and I’ll see what I can do.”

“You really are a genius,” I paid him what was the highest compliment in his eyes. “Don’t let my requests get in the way of figuring out how to undo this,” I gestured vaguely around the room at the evidence of his transformation.

“I already tried,” Rodney admitted. “Once the process has started it can’t be stopped. It’s either ascend or die ... I’m afraid in my case it’s more likely to be die.”

Don’t talk like that!” I said angrily. “You are not gonna die – if you’re evolved enough to ascend then you’re evolved enough to work out how not to ascend and still survive.”

“Sabina,” Rodney tried to get me to consider the possibility that this wasn’t going to have a happy ending.

“No,” I said firmly. “You work it out!” Not wanting to hear any more protests or logical arguments I turned and almost ran from the room.

John and I spoke little that night, choosing instead to take comfort in a companionable silence that was never awkward. I didn’t want to hear that Radek was no closer to finding a solution for Rodney and I didn’t want to have to tell John that Rodney appeared to have already given up on fixing the problem himself.

oOo

“Rodney’s on board with the Ascension thing,” John announced when he turned up at breakfast the next morning after an early meeting with Doctor Weir. “Elizabeth pointed out that he could always retake human form once he’s Ascended and then he was all for it.”

“That’s great,” I said unenthusiastically, “but he still has to work out how to Ascend – Rodney’s not exactly renowned for his faith in anything other than science.”

“He contacted the SGC last night,” John admitted, “had them send over a machine that’s supposed to measure how close he is to being able to Ascend.”

“You spent all that time in the Sanctuary,” I said with a frown. “Does that sound like the kind of approach that’s gonna work?”

“Not really,” John admitted. “But this is Rodney – and a super enhanced version at that. He’ll work it out.”

“I hope so,” I murmured, looking up to greet the arrival of Teyla and Ronon.

“How’s McKay?” Ronon asked, getting down to the business of eating as quickly as possible.

“He’s attempting to follow the path to Ascension,” John offered that explanation.

“Perhaps I could help him mediate to prepare himself,” Teyla arched an eyebrow at John in query.

“McKay’s not the mediating type,” Ronon shrugged a shoulder when Teyla glared at his lack of support. “What?” he protested. “I’m just saying he never switches that brain of his off – how’s he gonna meditate?”

“Ronon has a point,” I said seriously. “Rodney never stops thinking – isn’t that a prerequisite for Ascension?” I looked at John as being the most qualified of all of us to know the answer to that.

“It’s not about stopping your thoughts,” John said uncomfortably. “It’s about having the right thoughts ... releasing your burden ... contemplating your existence ... all that mumbo jumbo.”

John,” I glared at him sternly. “I know we agreed that Ascension isn’t something either of us aspires to but can’t you think of anything you learned during that six months you spent meditating that would help Rodney?”

“I didn’t meditate for six months,” John corrected me, “I spent six months sitting on my arse getting bored out of my brain. If that’s what it takes then I can understand why McKay doesn’t want to do it!”

“Didn’t Teer at least explain to you what was required?” I looked at him pleadingly.

“She tried - I spent six months wallowing in ‘the path to Ascension’ – if I didn’t understand it after that, I’m not gonna suddenly start understanding it now, and certainly not enough to instruct someone else in how to get there,” John looked at me apologetically.

“I know,” I smiled at him sadly, “I’m sorry – it's just hard to sit around and do nothing.”

“Elizabeth is well versed in the Ancient literature on Ascension,” Teyla said calmly. ‘Can she not instruct Rodney on what he must do to achieve the right state of mind?”

“She’s already spoken with him once,” John replied, “that’s how she got him to even consider the idea that he could do it.”

“Then we must trust that Rodney will be able to do what is required,” Teyla reminded us that in most matters we would have the utmost confidence in Rodney to work it out, especially under the pressure of impending death.

“I guess,” I agreed reluctantly.

oOo

It was no small irony when John told me later that Elizabeth was making him teach Rodney how to mediate in the same way the people at the Sanctuary had taught him.

“Do you even remember what they taught you?” I asked John, helping him prepare our quarters for Rodney’s first session. That included lighting a ridiculous number of candles that John seemed to think helped create the right ‘mood’.

“The general gist of it,” John prevaricated. “I can fill in the details from that.”

“Well, good luck,” I replied, going to the door when the chime sounded. “He’s all set,” I told Rodney, stepping aside to let him and his EEG monitor in. “I’ll see you both later.”

Not really having anything pressing to do I decided to head down to the Ancient lab where it had all begun and see whether Radek had made any progress.

“Doctor Zelenka?” I spoke quietly from the doorway, not wanting to startle him in the middle of a delicate operation.

“Sabina,’ Radek poked his head out from under the main console to greet me.

“I just wanted to see how you were doing,” I told him, walking over and leaning down to look at what he’d been working on, “plus ask if there’s anything I can do to help.”

“I’ve been trying various permutations for the control crystals,” Radek explained. “If I can produce a complementary pattern to the one that transformed Rodney then perhaps I can reverse the effects.”

“I can help you rearrange crystals,” I offered hopefully, smiling when Radek nodded, gesturing for me to join him. I helped for a couple of hours until Rodney turned up at the lab. Seeing straight away that he wanted to talk to Radek I made my excuses and a hasty exit from the room.

“How’d it go?” I asked John when I got back to our quarters.

“Badly,” John admitted. “Rodney kept coming up with scientific break throughs instead of calming his thoughts – plus he didn’t seem to appreciate the John Sheppard visualisation scene.”

“Ferris Wheel?” I looked at him with a faint smile.

“So I like Ferris Wheels,” John complained.

“I know ... I do too,” I said soothingly. “Is Rodney coming back for another attempt?”

“I’m sure Elizabeth won’t let this rest just yet,” John replied, lying back on the bed and closing his eyes tiredly. I walked over and lay down beside him, curling up into his side.

“Do you think Rodney can do this?” I asked quietly. “Can he work out how to Ascend in time?”

“I’d like to say yes,” John admitted, “but it’s not looking good – it’s a tough ask. I’m not sure any of us could achieve what’s required under that kind of pressure.”

“I’m scared for him,” I admitted sadly, “and for us if he doesn’t make it.”

“Me too,” John replied, hugging me closer.

oOo

“Sabina?” Rodney stood in my doorway early the next morning.

“Rodney – how are you feeling?” I asked in concern. His face was drawn and his eyes bloodshot, clear testament to the sleepless night he’d probably just endured.

“Synaptic activity is at 80 percent,” Rodney reported. “I still haven’t managed to get the EEG frequency anywhere near zero point nine – so you know – pretty good.”

“You should do another meditation session with John,” I advised. “We’ve still got the candles out and everything.”

“Yes well before I get back to that there’re a couple of other things I need to take care of first,” Rodney announced. “First – your nanite project,” he smiled weakly.

“You’ve done something already?” I asked in surprise.

“Super genius remember?” Rodney pointed to his own head mockingly. “Plus I couldn’t sleep last night and I don’t know how much time I have left.”

“Oh,” I didn’t know what to say to that one. “Did you come up with anything useful?”

“Making your blood protein work for anyone else is out of the question,” Rodney told me simply. “It’s completely dependent on the presence of both Wraith and ATA genes and I can’t see a way to uncouple that – without those the protein looks like any other foreign body, creating an immune response that destroys it before it can affect any nanites.” Rodney watched my visible disappointment regretfully. “Carson’s been researching your protein since the nanites attacked Elizabeth. He came to the same conclusion - I’ve gone over his work and it’s solid. I’m sorry I couldn’t give you a better outcome.”

“What about an Earth-nanite version?” I asked hopefully.

“Ah there I did have better luck,” Rodney reached a hand into his pocket and pulled out a flash drive. “This contains an anti-nanite program based on the same principle as your proteins – you can use the same lab the Ancients used to research that nanite virus to test it and then mass produce it. It should be safe for you in there. Have Radek take a look at this too - hopefully he’ll be able come up with an effective means of delivering it, should the need arise.”

“How does it work?” I asked curiously.

“It’s too complex to go into now,” Rodney said almost modestly, “but essentially each anti-nanite is like a link in a chain. The Replicators are just a bunch of individual nanites in complex communication – every defence we’ve come up with is about disrupting that communication. The anti-nanites are self replicating so given enough time they’ll multiply and surround each individual nanite, cutting off communication and rendering the Replicator itself inert.”

“Will the Replicators be able to crack the anti-nanites?” I looked at Rodney, hopeful he’d say no.

“Ah, that’s the beauty of these guys,” Rodney said proudly. “They’re a physical entity as well as a program so it’s not as simple as finding the right frequency ... we can use it as a defence against an individual Replicator or plug them into the Replicator systems and hit them in a mass attack. Of course, given enough time the Replicators will find a defence against them so we have to think strategically before we deploy them.”

“And they’ll be completely harmless to humans?” I looked at him apprehensively. “Doctor Weir is never gonna go for any plan to use these if there’s even a hint that it could come back and bite us.”

“I borrowed a trick from the Ancients,” Rodney said smugly, “and hard wired within the anti-nanites human recognition protocols - they’ll remain dormant in the presence of human DNA and because it’s hard wired it can’t be reprogrammed.”

“That’s great Rodney,” I tried to smile but the thought that Rodney wouldn’t be around to implement the plan himself overwhelmed me with a great sadness. “I hate this,” I said heatedly. “You just had to go and show off for Doctor Esposito didn’t you – see what happens when you don’t keep your mind on the job!”

“I wasn’t showing off,” Rodney’s voice took on that disgruntled edge I hadn’t heard since this whole thing began. Realising that he’d regressed into old behaviours he’d been trying to curb he took a moment to calm himself before changing the subject. “Look – as part of my ‘path to Ascension’ I’ve been making amends for past wrongs, and trying to give something back to ... you know, the people close to me.”

“There aren’t any wrongs between us ... and I don’t want anything,” I said quickly, taking a step back to increase the distance between us. “The nanite thing is more than enough.”

“That’s not for you,” Rodney pointed out. “I thought of something that’s only possible right now because I’ve got all these highly evolved ... powers.” Before I could back away further Rodney took both my shoulders in his hands and slammed a piercing blue glance straight into my eyes. My flimsy ‘blanket’ barrier was no match for his current mental prowess – I was held immobile as images flashed through my head too rapidly for me to register what they even were. It only took seconds – almost as soon as it began it was over and Rodney was stepping away, rummaging around on my desk for a pen and paper. Scrawling hastily for a few seconds he folded the paper and held it out to me.

“What is that?” I looked at the paper like it might attack me if I touched it.

“The names of your biological parents,” Rodney said simply, “and the address where they lived when you were born”.

What? No! How is that even possible?” I protested, making no move to take the paper.

“Even though you can’t access it, your brain retains every memory from everything that ever happened to you,” Rodney replied. “I just sifted back through yours until I found the ones with information about your birth.”

“They abandoned me Rodney,” I told him painfully, “I’ve done okay without them and I just ... I really don’t want to know.”

“Oh,” Rodney looked down at the paper in confusion. “I’ll just give this to Sheppard then,” he decided. “That way if you ever do want to know – the option will be there for you.”

“Ah – thanks I guess,” I said reluctantly.

“Sheppard really loves you,” Rodney said suddenly.

“Um ... I know?” I looked at Rodney, even more confused by his sudden change of subject.

“The forever, get married and have kids kind of love,” Rodney persisted. “He was thinking about you ... before I worked out how to shield everything ... that’s why he wasn’t bothered when you told him what Caritas said about that necklace he gave you.”

“You know about that?” I asked in a horrified tone.

“It’s not like you snuck off and had a secret wedding back on Earth,” Rodney reminded me that we were talking about the customs of a race that for all intents and purposes had died out 10,000 years ago. “Look – you won’t let me give you anything else so I just thought you should know that. Sheppard’s never gonna abandon you – in fact he’s fully determined to hold on to you forever.”

“Thanks Rodney,” I smiled, standing up and pressing a small kiss to his cheek.

“What was that for?” Rodney looked at me in puzzled surprise.

“Because it's really sweet – what you’re trying to do,” I replied. “I just wish there was a way I could help you.”

“I’ve still got time,” Rodney looked at his watch, frowning when he saw how late it was. “Sorry – I’ve gotta catch up with Elizabeth before she heads out for her first meeting.” Smiling at me awkwardly Rodney gave a half hearted wave before rushing out the door.


Chapter 36: You gonna tell me what Rodney said to you?


“Well that was freaky,” I muttered under my breath. I sat for a time pondering what Rodney had told me before deciding I had to tell John what had happened, although how I was going to work in the fact that Rodney had taken thoughts right out of John’s head I didn’t know.

“Has Rodney been to see you yet?” I radioed John to find out where he was.

“He just called me to ask for another meditation session,” John replied. “Why?”

“Because he came to see me and he was acting a little ... weird,” I said with a hint of worry in my voice. “Said he was trying to make amends – that he wanted to give something back to the people closest to him.”

“What did he give you?” John asked curiously.

“Ah ... the names of my biological parents,” I admitted softly.

What?” John’s voice was full of incredulity. “Is that even possible?”

“I asked him and apparently for someone with his super human mental powers it is,” I replied. “Rodney wrote the details down for me but ... I don’t want to know so he said he was gonna give the paper to you. Just – get rid of it okay?”

“I’ll take care of it for you,” John promised. “Anything else?”

“Not really,” I hesitated before adding, “just that Rodney knows about the meaning of the vinculum. Apparently you were thinking about it before Rodney learned how to shield himself from picking up our thoughts.”

“Oh,” John sounded uncomfortable now. “Was that all he said?”

“All that I’m going to tell you over the radio,” I replied. “Can you let me know if Rodney gets worse? I want to be there when ...” I trailed off miserably.

“I’ll let you know,” John agreed. “I gotta go – Rodney’s here.”

oOo

It seemed only moments later that John was calling me from the infirmary to tell me Rodney’s condition had deteriorated. I ran down there to find John and the others already gathered around Rodney’s bed.

“There must be something we can do,” John was saying in frustration. I moved to his side, looking at Rodney sadly – I couldn’t believe this was happening – didn’t want to believe it.

“It’s OK,” Rodney said weakly. “You know, I’m actually feeling a sense of peace ... interspersed with moments of sheer terror, of course.”

“Rodney, as far as this ascension thing goes, I know you didn’t have much success but at this point, what’ve you got to lose?” John was almost pleading with Rodney to try again. Glancing quickly at John’s face I instinctively stepped closer – his eyes were just a little shinier than usual, not something that anyone else would notice, but to me that was a red flag for how upset he was over Rodney’s condition.

“May as well go out fighting, huh?” Rodney almost smiled at the idea.

“Absolutely,” John urged quietly.

“Hook me up,” Rodney said resolutely. Doctor Beckett nodded and picked up the headband. “Carson? Thank you. Thank you for everything,” Rodney said gratefully.

“I only wish I could have done more, my friend,” Carson replied softly. He attached the headband and then activated it – we could all see the numbers showing that Rodney had work to do to get his EEG low enough.

“Clear blue skies,” Rodney muttered to himself, closing his eyes. “All my troubles, just drifting away. OK ... stop talking now.”

I had to smiled at that - Rodney being so ... Rodney even when he was on the brink of dying.

“Rodney, you’re a good person,” Doctor Weir said gently. “Know that we love you.”

“You love me?” Rodney smiled at the idea, eyes still closed. “Really? All of you?”

“In a way a friend feels about another friend,” John qualified awkwardly, flinching when I poked an elbow into his side. He raised an eyebrow as if to say ‘what did I do?’ I looked back at him, silently asking him to relax on the ‘I don’t express my feelings’ thing, now of all times. John nodded reluctantly, turning back to look at Rodney again.

“You’re just saying that because I’m gonna die,” Rodney discounted the sentiment. “Oh, God. I can’t believe I’m gonna die,” Rodney said in quiet dismay.

“Alright - just back to the blue skies,” John ordered quickly before Rodney could get caught up in a tide of panic. “Let your thoughts go. Concentrate on your breathing.”

Rodney lay still, eyes closed, giving every appearance of concentrating on John’s instructions. The monitor beeped, displaying his EEG reading at 3 Hertz ... then 2 ... then 1 – so low and yet still not enough. I'd gone a bit mentally numb at that point – I knew what was happening but I just couldn’t process what it meant. Rodney couldn’t die – we needed him and he’d always found a solution for everyone else in the past. Why couldn’t he find one for himself now?

“Oh, my God,” Carson muttered sickly, looking away.

Rodney surged up in the bed suddenly, grabbing Carson’s coat and holding on for dear life. He said nothing, just stared frantically into Carson’s eyes. Doctor Beckett gazed back in wordless shock. Rodney’s EEG reading shot up past 60 Hertz before crashing back down. I watched sickly as Rodney’s eyes rolled back in his head and he dropped down on the bed again, EEG monitor displaying the message “No reading.”

“John?” I whispered in disbelief. Wordlessly he squeezed my hand, watching intently as Carson checked Rodney’s vitals.

“He’s not breathing,” Carson moved quickly into emergency mode. “Quick, bag him. We need to get him on a ventilator.”

“Carson, he gave us strict orders ...” Doctor Weir trailed off miserably.

“You don’t understand,” Carson interrupted firmly. “He just told me how to save him.”

All I could do was get out of the way as Carson’s staff got Rodney hooked up to a ventilator. Once that was done Carson contacted Doctor Zelenka and told him what Rodney had come up with to save himself. I went down to the lab with Doctor Weir and Teyla to help Radek prepare the machine.

“We’re en route,” Carson reported, voice shifting as though he were running. “His pulse is very weak. Are you ready?”

“We will be,” Doctor Weir replied confidently. She walked over to where Radek was working rapidly on the console to see if that really was true.

“Almost,” Radek reported simply.

Seconds later Ronon rushed in carrying Rodney in his arms.

“Hurry,” Carson urged impatiently. “He can’t breathe on his own.”

Ronon ran over to the platform and put Rodney down in the right spot.

“OK, stand back,” Radek warned. He activated something on his laptop and immediately the platform was engulfed in a green glow. The glow turned into a beam that shifted down and swirled around Rodney’s body. ‑­

Seconds passed and then it stopped. The effect was immediate – Rodney sat up and looked around as if startled.

“Rodney?” Carson rushed over to him.

“It worked!” Rodney said in amazement.

“Did it?” Carson asked uncertainly.

“Well, I’m alive, aren’t I?” Rodney responded sarcastically.

“Sounds like him,” John quipped with a half smile, the tension leaving him abruptly.

“Yes, yes,” Rodney said impatiently. He glanced at us intently. “I can’t hear one of your thoughts.” Turning to Carson he gestured with his fingers as if trying to levitate him again. ”The telekinesis has gone.” Rodney got to his feet, thinking face clearly evident. “I’m still smart, I think ... Yes! Yes, I’m me! I’m my old self!”

“Are you certain?” Carson looked at him questioningly.

“Yeah, I’m alive!” Rodney confirmed excitedly. “I feel great! I feel, uh ... um ... hungry?”

“He’s fine,” John smiled at Carson in relief.

“And you said it was impossible,” Doctor Weir said to Rodney.

“Yeah, it just came to me,” Rodney admitted. “I was, I was, I was floating in this, this big black emptiness and then the answer just came out of nowhere. Look, the device was designed to manipulate your DNA. It couldn’t reverse the evolutionary advancement process because everyone’s DNA was different. It makes certain changes that cause the DNA to evolve in ways specific to your own unique physiology.”

“Yeah,” Radek nodded in understanding. “In order to manipulate the DNA back to the previous state, the programme required a precise reference point.”

“Fortunately I keep blood samples from all the Atlantis team members for baseline comparisons,” Doctor Beckett said.

“I don’t understand what any of you are talking about,” Ronon admitted freely. He walked over to Rodney and grabbed the front of his shirt.

“What - what?” Rodney looked at him with a worried uncertain expression.

“It’s good to have you back, buddy,” Ronon said simply, pulling Rodney into a hug complete with back slapping and affectionate manly growling.

“Yes, well -- it’s good to be back,” Ronon said weakly, clearly puzzled by Ronon’s unexpected show of affection.

“Yeah!” Ronon agreed, stepping back again.

“I’m glad you’re okay Rodney,” I held back until the others had expressed their relief. “You had me worried there for a moment.”

“I had me worried too,” Rodney admitted freely.

oOo

Now that everything was back to normal – as normal as it seemed to get on Atlantis anyway – my thoughts turned back to the conversation I’d had with Rodney earlier that day. It was still early afternoon and everyone had returned to duty, even Rodney, after Carson had announced he couldn't find a thing wrong with him. I’d been carrying the flash drive Rodney had given me around in my pocket and decided I might as well have a look.

Once in my lab with laptop humming away I quickly discovered that the flash drive contained a huge amount of detail. There was general information on Earth based nanite technology as well as design specifications, construction notes, and programming code. Rodney must have been granted super human typing speed along with all his other talents to have written so much in such a short time frame. It was gonna take me weeks just to wade through everything to determine if I could even implement the plans he’d created.

“Whatcha reading?” John appeared out of nowhere, leaning over my shoulder to peer at my screen.

“Don’t sneak up on me!” I protested, swivelling to glare at him as my heart raced in shock. I'd asked him many times to give up on the whole 'looking over my shoulder' thing but it amused him enough that I knew he probably never would.

“You were so absorbed you didn’t hear me come in,” John defended himself. “That’s not the same as sneaking.”

“Did you want something ... other than to scare a year off my life?” I asked sarcastically.

“Rodney’s back in his lab,” John said conversationally, “trying to make sense of half the things he invented while he was a super genius.”

“I didn’t think of that,” I admitted. “For Rodney, knowing he’d broken the boundaries of science but not being able to understand it anymore would be the ultimate in frustration.”

“At least he’s alive,” John pointed out starkly. “You gonna tell me what Rodney said to you?”

“Nothing you haven’t said yourself,” I discounted, swivelling back around to my laptop. “Do you think Rodney will keep what he ‘discovered’ about all of us a secret?”

“Elizabeth spoke to him about that,” John reassured me. “He agreed to 'forget' everything – said a lot of the detail was kind of vague now anyway.” John put his hands on my shoulders and swung me back around to face him again. “Now tell me what Rodney said to you.”

“I don’t know why this feels so embarrassing,” I complained, looking down at my hands instead of at John. “He just told me that you ah ... really love me ... and that you’d never abandon me.”

“So how did the necklace come into it?” John persisted, urging me to look up at him.

“God you just never quit do you?!” I said in a grumpy tone. “It was your thoughts Rodney heard – you must already know what you were thinking!” John just looked at me expectantly – rolling my eyes in frustration I gave in. “Okay! Rodney said your love was the forever kind - that’s why you weren’t bothered about what the necklace represented to the Ancients, because you’re fully determined to hold on to me forever. Happy now?”

“Do my feelings embarrass you?” John asked in a neutral tone. I looked up at him intently but he had his military face on so I couldn’t tell how important my answer might be to him.

“Of course not,” I said sincerely. “I’m perfectly happy for everyone here to know how you feel – just as long as I don’t have to be the one telling them about it!”

“Ah,” John nodded in understanding. “Fair enough. So what were you so absorbed in when I got here?”

“It’s probably nothing,” I admitted, “but to be honest I can’t tell at the moment. Rodney was looking for things to invent so I asked him to work on a defence against the Replicator nanites based on my anti-nanite proteins. He gave me this,” I gestured to the screen. “There’s a lot here to read before I can work out if it really is something we can use.”

“Clever,” John congratulated me. “I can’t believe we had Rodney super genius around for days and you were the only one who asked him to do something specific with that. I thought about it when we first realised what the machine had done but I didn’t follow it up.”

“Maybe that’s the upside of living such an unstructured life,” I said simply. “Always gotta be practical, no matter the situation. I’ll wait a few days – give Rodney the chance to get used to being only an ordinary genius again – before I bring this to him.”

“Okay,” John agreed. “Wanna go get some dinner?”

“Sure,” I let John pull me from my chair. Instead of walking anywhere I stood close to him and put my arms around his waist. “Thanks,” I said softly.

“For what?” John looked down at me with a puzzled expression.

“For the whole ‘hold on to me forever’ thing,” I explained. “It means a lot.”

“Too easy,” John lifted me off my feet in a bone crushing hug. Putting me back on the ground he kept an arm around me as he walked us both out the door.

John knew I had issues with the ‘marriage and kids’ thing so I didn’t feel guilty for leaving that part out of my recitation of what Rodney had borrowed from John’s head. And if my issues had gotten more layered and complex over time, well ... the very thought of trying to explain all of that was just more motivation to keep it to myself for now.


Chapter 37: You are such a child sometimes


“This makes for a nice change,” I said happily from my position in the pilot’s chair of the Puddle Jumper. “Most of our missions seem to be via Stargates located on the actual planets – this is only the third time I think I’ve been through a space based gate.”

“I think Colonel Sheppard usually likes to do those himself,” Major Lorne said with a faint teasing edge. “It’s a pilot thing – you’re lucky I’m letting you fly today.”

“Why are you letting me fly today?” I asked curiously.

“The Colonel was keen for all the Jumper pilots to get experience flying one through the Stargate,” Lorne admitted freely. “Most of the pilots have already done a flight so I had to let you take this one today.”

“Not that keen to give up the pilot’s chair yourself Major?” I raised an eyebrow at him sardonically.

“Hey I’m Air force,” Lorne said unrepentantly. “If I don’t get to fly something on a regular basis I get antsy.”

“Well then thank you even more for the chance to fly this one myself,” I said sincerely.

“Let’s head out,” Major Lorne ordered, punching in the seven symbols for M4D-058 himself. The Jumper did most of the work for the first part of the journey, guiding us out of the Jumper Bay and into position in front of the now open wormhole. Easing the stick forward I took the Jumper through the gate, emerging almost instantly into space on the other side.

“Take us closer to the planet,” Lorne requested, turning to Lieutenant Brown and adding “are you picking up anything?”

“This is odd,” Brown commented after only a moment’s pause to check the scans. “There are a series of satellites, only small, arranged in a grid over the main continent – they’re in geosynchronous orbit.”

“Was there any mention in the database about an advanced settlement here?” Lorne asked me.

“No,” I replied. “I was expecting a level of development similar to the planet we first found Lucius on.”

“Are we picking up life signs?” Lorne asked Brown.

“Yes Sir,” Brown reported. “I have multiple locations on both sides of the river.”

“Okay, let’s head for this clearing,” he pointed to a section of the map displayed on the HUD, “and we’ll hike in, check the closest settlement out.”

I landed the Puddle Jumper in a small clearing a short distance from one of the villages we’d detected, cloaking it once we’d grabbed our gear. Following Lieutenant Parker through the trees we eventually came out on a path of sorts leading to the outskirts of the settlement. There was a stone wall surrounding a collection of cottages reminiscent of pre industrial England. Motioning us to keep down, Major Lorne led us slowly until we had all taken up positions behind the wall.

Lorne carefully peered over the top of the wall, watching for a few seconds before dropping back down with a puzzled expression.

“Sabina,” he said quietly, “take a quick look, flag on the wall, opposite side of the square.”

Popping my head cautiously up over the wall I glanced in the direction Lorne had indicated. “What the?” I muttered, squinting to make sure I wasn’t seeing things. Dropping down beside Lorne again I asked “is that a flag with Rodney’s picture on it?”

“That’s what I thought,” Lorne agreed. “Question is, what’s McKay’s face doing on anything all the way out here?”

“I hope he’s not a ringer for some kind of village God,” I replied jokingly, “or we’ll never hear the end of it.”

“Atlantis is due to dial in for a progress report in two hours,” Lorne said. “Let’s skirt the village and see if we can spot anything else out of place before then.”

oOo

We conducted reconnaissance of the village, detecting nothing to suggest these people had the capability to launch satellites into space. Taking up our original position overlooking the village we settled down to await contact from Atlantis. Parker set up the camera so that we could do a video report once the Stargate had been activated.

“Major Lorne, this is Atlantis base,” Doctor Weir’s voice came through loud and clear, “what is your status?”

“We came through the space Gate and immediately noticed a bunch of small satellites in geosynchronous orbit above the planet,” Major Lorne reported.

“An advanced civilisation?” Doctor Weir asked.

“That’s what we thought,” Lorne agreed, “then we picked up life signs directly below, so we flew down, saw several villages separated by a large river and decided to check one of them out, and as you can see ... Lieutenant?” Major Lorne gestured for Lieutenant Parker to position the camera to give Atlantis a clear view of the village. ”These people don’t exactly look like they’re ready to be launching any satellites - at least not for the next five hundred years or so.”

“The Ancients probably put ‘em up there,” John suggested.

“Mmm,” Rodney didn’t commit to an opinion either way.

“We’ll send a science team to check it out,” Doctor Weir recommended.

“Uh, actually,” Lorne said with a grin, “I think Doctor McKay may wanna come check this one out for himself.”

“Why?” Rodney demanded impatiently.

“Take a look,” Lorne invited, grinning now in anticipation of Rodney’s reaction.

Lieutenant Parker directed his camera over the wall again, this time zooming in on the flag that had first caught our attention.

“Does that look familiar Rodney?” I asked pointedly, knowing he and John would instantly make the same connection I had after thinking about it for a while. I didn’t want to say more than that for fear of giving them away before they could talk to Doctor Weir themselves.

“Uh,” Rodney replied uncertainly, “maybe?”

“Major Lorne, return to Atlantis to brief Colonel Sheppard’s team,” Doctor Weir instructed.

“Acknowledged,” Lorne replied. Motioning to the rest of us to pack everything up for the hike back to the Puddle Jumper, he fell into step beside me. “Something tells me you might know what this is about,” Lorne said quietly.

“Ah,” I glanced at him before looking away, “that flag did seem familiar to me and then I remembered something John told me about a game he and Rodney were playing. I haven’t seen it myself but I know enough from John’s complaints about Rodney’s tactics to know Rodney has a flag just like that in the game. I don’t know how it’s possible but there must be some kind of connection.”

“A game?” Lorne looked intrigued. “Does Doctor Weir know about this?”

“Rodney told her about the room when they first found it,” I replied, “but I don’t think they’ve updated her on it since they started going there regularly for their game sessions.”

“They are gonna be so busted when Doctor Weir finds out,” Lorne was amused at the very thought of Elizabeth chewing Rodney and John out over something so ... juvenile.

oOo

John and Rodney met us in the Jumper Bay as soon as I’d landed it.

“Major Lorne,” John greeted us. “Doctor Weir wants us to meet in her office for a quick briefing before we head out.”

“I’ll just get rid of our gear,” Major Lorne replied, “and meet you up there in five minutes Sir.” He and the rest of the team headed out of the Jumper Bay, leaving me lingering behind with John and Rodney.

“Did you tell Elizabeth about the game?” I looked from one to the other curiously.

“Yeah,” John admitted, “and she wasn’t amused. Did you see anything to suggest there’s a connection between that planet and our game?”

“Other than the flag with Rodney’s face on it?” I asked sarcastically. When they nodded wordlessly in unison I couldn’t help but shake my head in fond amusement. “Well, let’s see ... there were depictions of Rodney on the walls too, some indications of early science beyond what would be normal for their obvious level of development ... oh and you’ll like this one Rodney – a surprising number of women with short blonde hair.”

“We are so screwed,” Rodney muttered with a sick look.

“Let’s not jump to conclusions until we’ve checked out the planet,” John tried for the optimistic approach. “We better get up to Elizabeth’s office,” John said. “Sabina, I’ll see you when we get back.”

“Good luck,” I called out after them, watching as they hurried off like two little boys who’d been caught with their hands in the cookie jar.

oOo

“Sabina this is Sheppard.”

“You’re back,” I tapped my ear piece in reply. “How’d it go?”

“Ah – not good,” John admitted reluctantly. “We’ve brought the leaders of the two settlements Rodney and I have been ... controlling back here to discuss the situation.”

“What situation would that be?” I asked pointedly. “What did you and Rodney do?”

“Nothing!” John protested. “Nothing deliberate anyway,” he qualified after a moments silence. “Turns out these people were at peace until a couple of years ago when their ‘oracles’ started communicating with them again. Now they’re at each other’s throats and potentially on the brink of a real war because of the path Rodney and I have put them on.”

“How did they take it when they found out you were just playing a game?” my tone was curious rather than judging.

“They didn’t believe it,” John replied. “That’s partly why we brought them back here – so we could prove it to them.”

“What are you going to do to fix things?” I knew, despite the competitiveness between John and Rodney, that neither would want to see innocent people hurt because of events they had set in motion.

“That’s why I called,” John admitted. “I’m taking Baden to the commissary to talk things through.”

“So you won’t be able to meet me for dinner later,” I completed his sentence. “That’s cool – I’ll just catch up with Teyla and Ronon instead – they can fill me in on what happened today.”

“Thanks,” John said gratefully. “I’ll see you back at our quarters later.”

Signing off I sat back with a sigh. It was hard to believe that a seemingly innocent pastime had resulted in yet another bizarre event to add to an ever growing collection.

oOo

“If Rodney hadn’t cheated these people wouldn’t be on the brink of war,” John complained later that night.

“I didn’t realise there were rules for manipulating a whole planet of people,” I looked at him pointedly, sitting crossed legged on the bed as I watched him pacing in agitation.

“We agreed to let our countries evolve at their own pace,” John persisted, “and then McKay started giving them scientific knowledge ... they’ve just invented steam power!”

“You do realise this isn’t a game anymore don’t you?” I asked sternly. “Did you manage to make any headway with Baden?”

“No,” John replied in frustration, “because McKay’s people have started digging into the coal reserves on our land to power their air ships!”

“It’s not your land John,” I pointed out firmly. “You and Rodney need to put aside your personal battles before they cause a real problem on that planet.”

“I know, I know,” John flopped down next to me grumpily. “Doctor Weir is meeting with Baden and Nola first thing tomorrow – without us because apparently we’re too heavily invested in the outcome.”

“You are taking this awfully personally John,” I told him, putting a hand on his shoulder. “You’ve spent a lot of time on this over the past two years.”

“This sucks ... I really loved that game!” John grumbled.

“You and Rodney will have to come up with another way to engage in ‘battle’,” I advised, smiling when he rolled his eyes over my description of the ongoing niggling between him and Rodney.

oOo

“How’s it going Doctor Weir?” I asked, having bumped into Elizabeth on her way from the meeting with Baden and Nola.

“It’s been remarkably like watching an argument between John and Rodney” Doctor Weir admitted. “Both refused to give an inch, the exact behaviour John and Rodney were guilty of the whole time they’ve been playing this game. It’s a wonder they haven’t already engaged in open warfare.”

“Do you think they will?” I looked at her in concern, knowing how guilty John and Rodney already felt about the situation between their two nations.

“I’ve requested John and Rodney do whatever’s necessary to get Nola and Baden back to the table to talk,” Elizabeth replied. “If they can’t put their differences aside and call a truce there’s little chance these people will. Then it will only be a matter of time before the situation worsens.”

“So John and Rodney are trying to convince them right now?” I asked curiously.

“I’m about to check back in with them to get a progress report,” Doctor Weir said, sitting behind her desk now we’d arrived at her office.

“I hope it’s a good one,” I smiled a farewell before leaving her to her work.

oOo

“Sabina," John's voice came through on my radio channel later that day.

“I’m here,” I replied, tapping my earpiece to make the radio connection.

“I’m on my way to the Jumper Bay - we’re heading back to M4D-058,” John told me. “Baden ordered an attack against the mine where the Geldar’s are digging – there were no casualties but Elizabeth’s worried things are gonna escalate.”

“Have you got a plan?” I asked worriedly, imagining all sorts of things that could go wrong once they’d placed themselves within the war zone.

“I’ve got some ideas,” John admitted. “We have to check out the situation first – work out the best approach.”

“And put aside your differences with Rodney,” I added. I could hear John grumbling as he walked down the hall. “You know how stubborn Rodney is John – you have to be the bigger man and put the wellbeing of those people first instead of clinging to your ownership of Hallora.”

“I will,” John agreed. “I already have – but that doesn’t mean I can’t still get in a few digs at Rodney along the way.”

“You are such a child sometimes,” I shook my head ruefully.

“It’s part of my charm,” John teased. “I’m almost at the Jumper Bay so I’ll sign off – catch up with you later once this is all resolved.”

“Okay,” I agreed. “Good luck – and be careful.”

oOo

“Did I hear correctly?” I sat down across from Lorne and Radek in the commissary a short time later. “Did you two just get reamed out by Doctor Weir for playing that game?”

“I discovered a starving village on one of the other planets,” Radek tried to explain. “There was a field suitable to plant enough vegetables to feed them all not far away but the people didn’t know of its existence.”

“So I suggested we could tell them,” Lorne admitted reluctantly. ‘Before we knew it we were doing a whole bunch of other things to try and improve their circumstances.

“This game is very ... appealing,” Radek said with a frown. “I can understand why Colonel Sheppard and Rodney spent so much time down there.”

“Yeah well now that Doctor Weir has closed off the room no one will be doing that anymore,” Lorne looked disappointed to have only been able to play the game for a short time.

“I can see now why Doctor Weir was so annoyed with you both,” I looked at each of them pointedly. “You’re still calling it a game even though we have some pretty disturbing proof that it’s affecting real people’s lives!”

“Yeah okay,” Lorne complained. “Are you finished getting your payback because I laughed at the Colonel being in trouble with Doctor Weir?”

“Payback?” I looked at him with an innocent expression. “I wouldn’t do something that ... petty.” I smiled when both men looked at me uncertainly. “I’ve gotta get back to work,” I stood up and looked down at them teasingly. “Let me know when you have your first Gamers Anonymous meetings – I’m sure you, John and Rodney will have a lot to talk about.”

Chuckling softly I turned and left them to it.

oOo

It took a while for Team Sheppard to return from M4D-058 having managed to avert an all out war with some deception and the creative use of the Daedalus transporters. Things were still tense between Hallora and Geldar but at least both leaders were now willing to enter into truce discussions with Doctor Weir mediating.

John and Rodney had given up their disappointment over losing the game and decided to concentrate on chess instead. I was looking forward to hearing about the result of the first match, especially since I knew Rodney wasn’t aware that John was an exceptional chess player.

I only knew myself because John had been trying to teach me for the past few months. It was slow going and for him probably frustrating and boring – playing against me wasn’t exactly a challenge for him! John didn’t pull his punches either – in one memorable game I’d made a stupid first move, following it up with an even stupider second move that resulted in John checkmating me in two moves. I think it took all of 20 seconds – the ‘conversation’ we had afterwards lasted longer than the actual game. I argued that if he annihilated me too quickly I’d never get the chance to learn anything – John argued that if he didn’t punish my mistakes I’d never learn anything either. I think I sulked for a good week or so before reluctantly letting John lure me back to the lessons. Needless to say I wasn’t a natural at chess and it would be some time – probably never – before I could hope to even get close to challenging John’s skills.

Hopefully Rodney would be different and John would get to exercise his chess muscles more vigorously than he’d been able to since coming to Atlantis. In any case that was as good as they were going to get for a friendly battle.

Authors Note:

Problem: How does Major Lorne dial in to report the discovery of Rodney’s flag when the Stargate is in space and they are on the planet? Everything I’ve seen suggests the range of the Puddle Jumper wouldn’t allow them to dial anything from so far away. Answer: Someone takes the Jumper back up in space, assuming someone else on his team has the ATA gene because Lorne stays on the planet. Or the Author takes the problem away by changing how it took place! Hence Atlantis dials them for a check in and that’s when they report.


Chapter 38: The moon is already skimming the atmosphere


“You need to gear up,” Major Lorne greeted me from the doorway of my lab. It had only been a couple of hours since team Sheppard had headed out on a mission to check out a man made moon orbiting a planet destroyed by the Wraith.

“Is there a problem with Colonel Sheppard’s team?” I asked in concern, following him down the corridor.

“Kinda, although it sounds like they’ve got it under control for now,” Lorne replied. “Doctor Weir will tell us more when she briefs us.”

Lorne and I grabbed our offworld gear and then met up with the other two members of team Lorne on the way up to the Control Room for Doctor Weir’s instructions.

“Colonel Sheppard’s team discovered a facility built into the moon,” Doctor Weir began. “There are survivors from the planet stored in some kind of modified Wraith transporter device. One of them was reintegrated when Rodney activated life support – for some reason he blew up a shuttle, damaging the moon base and sending it into a decaying orbit. They’ve lost the Jumper as well so the sooner we get there the better. Doctor Beckett will be going with you to assist another survivor who was injured during the explosion.”

“We're ready to go,” Major Lorne acknowledged, motioning for us to fall in behind him.

“Be careful Major,” Doctor Weir gave the go ahead for the rescue mission before looking away from Lorne to me. “Sabina – is this a mission you want to be going on?” I held back at that question while the rest of the team headed up the stairs to the Jumper Bay to meet Doctor Beckett.

“You know I’ve already had this conversation with Colonel Sheppard,” I replied in a low voice. “I’m a permanent member of Major Lorne’s team which means I’m on every mission unless there’s a good reason otherwise.”

“I know,” Doctor Weir replied. “I just don’t want to put you into a position where personal conflicts might result.”

“I can do my job objectively,” I promised. “Besides, for this one I’ll probably be piloting the Puddle Jumper which means I won’t get to set foot on the base.”

“If you’re sure,” Doctor Weir looked at me in concern.

“You know I’d much rather be there in any capacity than hanging around here waiting for news,” I admitted. “I can handle it.”

“Yes you can,” Doctor Weir smiled at me. “Good luck.”

“Thanks,” I replied, turning and running up the stairs to catch up with the rest of my team.

Major Lorne did assign me as pilot for the mission. He, Parker, Brown and Doctor Beckett were already in their spacesuits ready to navigate within the damaged moon station before we’d even taken off. We dialled the address and moments later emerged in space. I powered up the engines and took the Jumper closer to John’s position.

“Colonel Sheppard, this is Major Lorne ... we are en route, and on afterburners. We should have you out of there in no time.”

“Understood," John replied. "You’re gonna have to convert the Jumper’s cloak into a shield and extend it to the station to create a seal.”

“We’re already on it, sir,” Lorne acknowledged, turning to cast a querying glance at me. I nodded to let him know the commands had already been entered and accepted by the Jumper control system. Luckily Rodney had set something up so that wasn’t the highly technical task it had once been.

“How are my patients doin’?” Doctor Beckett asked in concern.

“Jamus could use your help,” John replied. I was relieved by that response because it meant the rest of the team were okay enough not to need Doctor Beckett’s help.

“Tell ‘em we’ll be there in a jiff,” Carson said encouragingly.

“Shields are extended,” I reported a few moments later. “We’re ready to dock.”

“Back us into the hangar,” Lorne replied. “Nice and slow Sabina.”

I was a bit nervous because I’d never docked a Puddle Jumper in space like that ... I retracted the engines and guided the Jumper into position, breathing a sigh of relief when the docking went without a hitch.

“OK, we’re in,” Major Lorne reported to those on the moon base. The four of them put their helmets on quickly. Lorne gestured for me to close the bulk head doors and seal my section. Until they’d restored the moon base I’d have to remain in that part of the Puddle Jumper.

I sat back with a sigh, expecting a long and impatient wait ... I’d briefly contemplated letting John know I was there but it seemed superfluous. He knew how hard I’d argued to be included in all missions Major Lorne’s team were assigned to so he should know that I was there in some capacity. It didn’t seem professional for me to contact him just to say hello!

It was only a few minutes later that Rodney arrived at the Jumper. I had to close and seal the rear hatch behind him so that he could divest himself of his spacesuit helmet. Once in the forward section with me I sealed us in again and reopened the rear hatch.

“Sabina,” he greeted me almost in surprise.

“Are you okay Rodney?” I asked in concern.

“I narrowly avoided being sucked out into space when the Control Room was breached,” Rodney said dramatically, “so you know ... I’m good.”

“And the others?” I looked at him expectantly. “Teyla, Ronon ... John?”

“We were separated when Captain Suicide decided to blow up his space shuttle while it was still attached to the base,” Rodney said sarcastically. “From the sounds of it they’re okay.”

“Can I do anything to help you?” I glanced at his laptop, watching as he punched in some calculations.

“Yeah ... be quiet,” Rodney gave a half smile to take the edge of that. “I need to work out how long we’ve got until this whole base burns up on the atmosphere.”

“I can do that,” I agreed, sitting back and resigning myself to feeling pretty much useless for the rest of the mission. Major Lorne must have been successful at repairing the damaged hatch because he reported in later that the station was repressurising. That allowed me to open up the Jumper instead of being sealed off from the others.

“McKay, how much time do we have?” John’s voice came through on Rodney’s radio.

“Not much,” Rodney admitted. “We’re getting dangerously close to the planet’s atmosphere. The moon won’t survive another orbit.”

“So no pressure then,” John replied, his voice giving away the fact that he was already running to get somewhere within the base.

oOo

Rodney was busily monitoring our descent into the atmosphere, muttering to himself about Colonel’s taking the scenic route and risking everybody’s lives when he saw something he obviously didn’t like.

“Oh what now?” Rodney’s voice was exasperated. Before I could ask what the problem was he was activating his radio. “Sheppard, what’s going on? I’m picking up another power surge.”

“That little weasel,” John’s voice was angry and impatient. “Rodney, we need you in the pattern storage room. Jamus activated the transporter beam on himself and Teyla.”

“I’m on my way,” Rodney replied, grabbing his laptop and running out the door without a backward glance.

I waited as long as I could without getting any kind of report from anyone. That actually started to piss me off – I mean how long would it have taken one of them just to let me know what was going on? Finally I couldn’t stand the silent waiting anymore.

“Major Lorne, what’s your status?” I opened a channel to my team.

“Sorry Sabina,” Lorne replied. “McKay is trying to work out how to get Teyla out of that device but it’s not looking good.”

“The moon is already skimming the atmosphere,” I reported. “We need to get everyone out of there sooner rather than later.”

“I’ll go and hurry the Colonel along,” Lorne acknowledged.

“Good,” I replied before he could end the conversation. “And this time could you let me know what the plan is?”

“Will do ... Lorne out.”

Even with the agreement to keep me in the loop it was still more minutes than I liked before Lorne got back to me.

“Sabina, this is Lorne. We’re heading back to the Jumper now.”

“What about Teyla?” I asked quickly.

“Colonel Sheppard has a plan,” Lorne said evasively.

“And what is it?” I asked suspiciously.

“He’s flying the shuttle out of the moon with the transporter device on board,” Rodney took on the task of letting me know.

“He’s what?” my voice rose incredulously. Without waiting for any further communications from them I switched to John’s channel. “John, are you out of your mind?” I asked angrily.

“Not now Sabina,” John’s voice was muffled by the helmet he’d had to put back on. “I’m a little busy here.”

“You’re a smart man – I’m sure you can talk and prepare for something stupid at the same time,” I retorted.

“It’s too late to talk me out of this,” John’s voice didn’t contain a scrap of apology for that.

“I guess that’s why you didn’t bother to let me in on your latest brilliantly insane idea then,” I said bitterly. “Were you gonna say anything to me at all?”

“Sure,” John said easily. “Once I’d piloted the shuttle away from the moon I was gonna tell you how cool this is. You know I’ve always wanted to pilot a space shuttle.”

“That smart arse flyboy humour might work with everyone else John,” I said seriously, “but I know you’re fully aware of how crazy this scheme of yours is.”

“Would you rather I ran to safety and left Teyla to die in that device?” John was angry and frustrated now. “Because it was that or fly this thing out of here.”

“I know - you don't have a choice,” I acknowledged softly. I could hear Rodney and the others running down the passageway towards the Jumper. Realising that my private conversation with John was almost at an end I sighed. “I really need you to land that shuttle safely John,” I pleaded, my voice filled with worry and love.

“It’ll be fine,” John promised. “As soon as the others get there, take the Jumper to a safe distance.”

“Okay,” I agreed, adding with a confidence I struggled hard to project, “talk to you on the planet.”

Rodney, Ronon, Carson and the rest of team Lorne ran into the Jumper, throwing themselves into the available seats.

“Get us out of here, Sabina,” Lorne ordered. Nodding an acknowledgement I powered up the Jumper and backed out of the dock.

”Alright,” John kept us informed of his progress. “I’ve got the device locked in place. Looks like internal power switched on automatically. Closing rear hatch now.”

Jumper disengaged, I guided us slowly away from the base.

“See you guys on the ground,” John said confidently.

“Will do, sir,” Major Lorne replied. “Good luck.”

Exiting the hangar I flew the Jumper clear of the moon, swinging us around so that we had a view of the structure from the main view screen. My heart lurched when I got my first good look at the situation from the outside. The leading edge of the moon was already burning up in the atmosphere, shaking the station and causing large sections of rock to spin loose and hurtle out into space.

“We’re clear, sir,” Lorne reported.

“The moon’s decelerating in the upper atmosphere,” Rodney said briskly. “You’ve only got a few minutes to familiarise yourself with those controls.”

“Pretty straightforward,” John said confidently.

“We’re gonna lose radio contact as you pass through the atmosphere,” Rodney advised, glancing at me with a worried look.

“I know, Rodney,” John replied impatiently.

“I’m saying that if you have anything that you’d like to say, now would be a good time to say -,” Rodney trailed off miserably.

“No, not really,” John interrupted unapologetically. “We all know how much I suck at this kind of thing.”

“You do,” I smiled ruefully, shaking my head at John’s tendency to joke, especially during the high pressure situations.

“Gettin’ some chop,” John told us moments later.

“Now would probably be a good time to disengage,” Rodney advised, calling the HUD up to check John’s position. “Hopefully the explosive bolts will throw him clear of the moon,” he told us.

“Initiating separation manoeuvre in three, two, one, mark,” John reported. There was a short pause. “Separation is negative. Switching to back-up.” Another short pause. “Disengage. Come on! Dammit! The bolts will not work. I repeat - the explosive bolts will not fire. Unable to separate ship. I don’t know if you can hear me but it looks like I’m gonna have to ride this one down.”

“Oh God,” I muttered weakly. “This is crazy.”

“What’s happening?” Ronon asked.

“He can’t separate the ship. He’s gonna burn up inside the moon,” Rodney looked sick at the prospect.


Chapter 39: Hey! What was that for?


“Can the shuttle make it through that?” I looked at Rodney hopefully.

“If the moon breaks up quickly enough the shuttle will clear the debris before being destroyed,” Rodney replied.

We watched in silence as the moon continued to descend through the atmosphere, blazing a fiery trail across the sky. There was a moment when it seemed as if everything were frozen before the moon suddenly disintegrated, spraying out pieces of rock in every direction. I froze too, praying silently as I stared fixedly at the HUD display waiting for some sign that the shuttle had gotten clear. Finally the HUD beeped and flashed up an image of the shuttle still in motion.

“There it is!” Rodney said excitedly, pointing to the display.

I tried to relax as we continued to watch the HUD tracking the shuttle on its journey. It moved rapidly in a downward path towards the planet at a much faster rate and a steeper angle of descent than I was comfortable with. “Pull it up John,” I whispered under my breath. My heart felt like it was beating from somewhere in my throat as the seconds ticked by – it was the same as the last time I’d watched John in a life threatening situation. Part of me wanted to be anywhere else but the rest of me couldn’t look away, even knowing that this would be another sequence to add to the montage nightmare reel I was storing in my head. Before I was ready the shuttle came to the end of the line, slamming to a halt on the HUD display. In my head my inner voice was alternating between repetitions of “this cannot be happening” and “he’ll be alright.”

“Get as close to the crash site as possible Sabina,” Lorne urged, putting a hand on my shoulder and squeezing reassuringly.

I nodded wordlessly, knowing there was no way I could say anything without giving away my distress, and guided the Jumper down towards the planet.

“Can you tell if he’s alive?” Carson asked Rodney the question I’d been trying not to think about.

“Not yet. Wait,” Rodney said abruptly, focusing intently on his display.

I took the Jumper through the atmosphere to a low altitude, skimming across the barren landscape towards the crash site. We waited anxiously for some sign of John’s condition. A moment later the HUD beeped. Looking at Rodney hopefully I felt my insides relax at the smile on his face.

“I’m detecting one life sign,” Rodney announced happily.

“That’s one week’s pay you owe me, Rodney,” John’s voice almost brought me to tears, weak and exhausted though it was.

“Well, technically, I didn’t take that bet,” Rodney pointed out, smiling along with the rest of us.

“Hang tight, sir,” Major Lorne advised. “We’re on our way.”

“Take your time, Major,” John replied easily. “Take your time.”

“Are ye all right lad?” Carson asked in concern.

“I’m fine Doc,” John replied reassuringly. “I’m making my way to the people storage thing now,” John paused before adding “from what I can tell it’s undamaged.”

“We’ll get Teyla out of there as soon as we can Son,” Doctor Beckett said. “You sit down and rest until we get there.”

We spotted the crashed shuttle, forward section scorched and partially melted, buried in the dirt with the evidence of a large skid across the ground trailing out behind it. Landing the Jumper beside the downed shuttle I waited impatiently for Rodney to confirm that the air was all right to breathe. Major Lorne led the way with Carson close on his heels as we trooped over to the shuttle. Lorne had to cut the access hatch off to get us inside, Carson barely waiting for the door to be clear before hurrying inside and running towards the control section. I arrived only seconds behind him, skidding to a halt when I saw him kneeling beside John already beginning his examination.

I made no sound as Carson talked softly with John, checking him over for injuries. Only when I was sure there was nothing wrong did I make my presence known.

“Is he gonna be all right Carson?” I asked, satisfied when John jerked around in surprise to hear me there.

“Aye lass,” Carson reported with a relieved smile. “He’s a bit worn out but with some rest he’ll be good as new.”

“That’s good,” I said mildly, walking up to John as he swivelled around to face me. “You jerk!” I said heatedly, whacking his upper arm in frustration.

“Hey! What was that for?” John demanded, rubbing his arm and looking at me with a wounded expression.

“For letting Rodney tell me what you were planning to do,” I looked at him angrily. “For not trusting me to understand that you had no other choice but to do it this way. For getting yourself into trouble ... again. For frightening the crap out of me. You pick!”

“This wasn’t my fault,” John protested. “We had no way of knowing that guy was gonna blow up the other shuttle like that.”

Before I could say more the rest of the team arrived, Rodney already talking about using the Jumper to power up the transporter device. Conscious of keeping my aggravation to myself I stepped back and let the others congratulate John on surviving that wild ride.

Once the excitement had died down and everyone had moved off to do what needed to be done so we could go home, John glanced over at me with a raised eyebrow, silently asking me if I was over my angst. I smiled, letting him know that we were cool, but that we’d still be talking about the whole thing later. John smiled in return, holding out a hand for me to help him up. He used my strength to pull himself up, applying a bit more pressure than was necessary and propelling me into his chest. Giving in to the inevitable, I wrapped my arms around him and hugged him tightly, letting myself finally feel relief that he was in one piece.

“I’m glad you’re okay,” I whispered into his shirt.

“Me too,” John quipped, threading a hand through my hair. We held to that for a few seconds before the subtle shifts of John’s body let me know it was time to finish it off. “Let’s go see how Rodney’s doing.”

Rodney had managed to power up the transporter device and with all the time he needed to control the use of the device he’d already begun to reintegrate the survivors of the planet we now found ourselves on. We had to wait through twenty activations before the random nature of the reintegration finally delivered Teyla back to us. Carson took charge of her straight away, getting her to the Jumper for a thorough examination.

It was a logistical exercise to work out the best approach to saving the rest of the survivors. With no viable living space and no supplies it didn’t make sense to just reintegrate everyone on the planet. In the end the decision was made to send the Daedalus which was luckily still in close proximity to set up a temporary settlement first. Supplies would be provided along with regular check ins and support to help the people return to some form of normal life. It reminded me a little of our activities with the human Wraith colony ... not a pleasant thought to be having right then.

Satisfied that the necessary actions had been set in motion we were finally able to head back to Atlantis. John was sent off to the infirmary with Carson and Teyla while I was sent out with the rest of team Lorne to deliver supplies to the people who’d already been reintegrated – to tide them over until the Daedalus arrived.

I stopped in at the infirmary on my return, happy to find that Teyla was no worse for wear after her hours inside the transporter device. John had already been released so I headed to our quarters to catch up with him there.

“I’m sorry I got angry with you,” I said, standing just on the edge of the balcony.

“Why was that again?” John held out a hand for me to sit next to him.

“It’s funny really,” I said conversationally, leaning against his shoulder as I looked out over the ocean. “There seems to be only two ways I can react when you’ve managed to survive another life threatening situation. The tears at being too close to losing you I understand. But the anger, like today ... that doesn’t make as much sense.”

“I should have told you what I had planned,” John admitted softly.

“At the time I certainly thought so,” I replied. “But then I realised what a hypocrite I was being.” When John turned to look at me in surprise I tried to explain. “There I am saying I’m a member of Lorne’s team and don’t treat me any different but at the same time I was expecting you to report something to me that another Jumper pilot wouldn’t have needed to know.”

“That’s a bit rigid,” John frowned. “I don’t think anyone would expect you to behave as though there’s no connection between us at all.”

“True,” I agreed, “but Doctor Weir even said it before I headed out for this mission – she wouldn’t want me to be in a position of personal conflict.”

“You weren’t,” John pointed out. “It’s not like you even tried to get me to do something different because of our personal relationship.”

“Just when I think I’ve gotten a handle on all the little complications of having this relationship with you something happens to challenge that,” I admitted. “It was hard not to take it personally when no one bothered to report what was going on. With you, actions always speak louder than words – the silence was like you saying I wasn’t important enough to take the time.”

“That’s not true,” John protested. “I knew at the back of my mind that you must have been in the Jumper – I guess I just assumed Major Lorne would have filled you in. Once I realised what I was gonna have to do I knew you’d be upset so I just ...” John trailed off uncertainly.

“You don’t have to justify it,” I said simply. “Me wanting that special consideration or even to have a say in your decision completely contradicts my own protests every time you get overprotective when I’m out on a mission. I don’t make sense even to myself!”

“It’s confusing sometimes,” John agreed. “But I think we’re muddling through okay, working it out as we go along. And no one’s judging us.”

“The IOA and Woolsey are judging us,” I reminded him. “Any hint of personal interests taking precedence over professional ones will raise the red flag with them.”

“Okay,” John corrected himself, “no one here is judging us.”

“I hope not,” I replied, resting my head on his chest. I listened to the sound of his heartbeat as we sat together in silence – it was my favourite sound, especially after a day like the one we’d just lived through.


Chapter 40: Nanite-based Anti-replicator Proteins


It had been a busy few weeks so I hadn’t managed to do as much work on Rodney’s anti-nanite program as I would have liked. I’d finally read through all the materials Rodney had created, as well as researching everything I could find about the Ancient nanite lab. Even though Rodney had called them anti-nanites, essentially they were just a different type of microscopic machine, so they were still nanites themselves. I was confident I could ensure the systems created Earth based nanites that wouldn’t be able to interact with the Pegasus ones, since most of the differences were in the programming. To do more I’d have to actually start working inside the nanite lab itself. I didn't want to risk testing whether John or Doctor Weir would have an issue with me working down there by asking first so I decided to just do it - the whole ‘it's easier to ask for forgiveness than permission’ philosophy. I didn’t see it as disobeying any direct orders because no one had ever told me not to go to that lab.

“You busy today?” John asked me at breakfast the day I'd decided to get started. For once we were actually enjoying a meal by ourselves – the rest of John’s team busily preparing for their next mission later that morning.

“I was just gonna follow up some more on that nanite stuff super genius Rodney did for me,” I said mildly. “If I can’t work out anything in the next few days I’ll have to cave and give it all back to Rodney.”

“I’m sure he’d enjoy the chance to remind us all of how smart he still is,” John quipped.

The rest of breakfast passed without incident and it wasn’t long before team Sheppard had left on their mission. Taking enough supplies to last me the day I set out for the remote section of the city where the nanite lab was located. One thing I did that was probably going to get me in trouble later was to block myself off the sensors. The Control Room did regular life sign sweeps of the entire city and mine would stand out like a sore thumb in such a deserted area. I didn’t want to be interrupted before I’d done enough to prove that my plan was a good one.

“Okay,” I muttered to myself once I’d arrived at the right door. Now for the next action that was also going to be a cause for reprimands later on. Rather than trust that no one would venture back to that room Doctor Weir had ordered it sealed and locked by Atlantis itself. Concentrating hard, I put my hand on the door control and sent a strong thought to the right system to release the lock. After a short pause the door slide open silently – standing at the threshold I glanced into the room curiously. It had been one of the rooms flooded when the shields had begun retracting and the evidence of that was still present. There was a faint stale water smell in the air and the walls were marked with the signs of water damage. All the consoles looked undamaged though – once I’d walked in they lit up providing further evidence that they were fully operational.

Ripping out my laptop I connected it to the main console and then brought up the research files. Most I’d already read in the main database but some were only stored in that room. Running a quick matching program I highlighted the files I didn’t already have and copied them over to my machine. Deciding I could read them later I moved on to working out how to actually physically create a nanite version of the anti-replicator protein. Super Rodney had already provided me with programs and instructions so I loaded them in first, waiting to see the result.

“Nice!” I said aloud some time later. Rodney’s programs were not only about making anti-nanites – he’d programmed an interface - a new set of commands that I could access like anything else in the lab. That made my job a hell of a lot easier because I’d been fearful I’d have to find a way to integrate Rodney’s work into the Ancient systems myself.

It was already late afternoon by that stage so reluctantly I closed everything off and headed back up into the main part of Atlantis. John would be returning within the hour and I was nervous about him radioing me while I was still in the nanite lab. In the end I decided to meet team Sheppard in the Gateroom – not my usual practice these days.

“Hey,” John looked at me in surprise once he’d stepped through the wormhole. “Were you waiting for us?”

“Don’t feel special,” I teased, aligning myself to walk beside him as he followed the rest of his team to the infirmary. “I finished up early and was looking for something to do.”

“So I’m one step up from complete boredom then?” John put on an injured expression. I laughed appreciatively but didn’t offer a comeback. “So how did you do with the nanite research?”

“Pretty good actually – good enough to keep going rather than handball it to Rodney,” I admitted freely, carefully leaving out any real details. “Nothing really concrete to report at this stage though.”

“Well don’t wait too long to fill Doctor Weir in,” John advised. I nodded an agreement, trying not to feel guilty for the very slight deception. Apart from the location, I already had John’s support to pursue the project - how angry could he get once he found out if it meant we had a viable defence against the Replicators?

That set the tone for the next couple of weeks. On days when team Lorne wasn’t off world I spent a portion of the day in the nanite research lab. I still had projects to complete for Rodney as well as all the background work I had to do to prepare for each off world mission so it was slow going.

After spending probably 20 hours of actual time in the lab I was finally ready to try and create an actual anti-nanite specimen. John was busy training some of the newer recruits and Rodney and Doctor Zelenka were arguing about the best way to implement a new power control protocol – meaning I had at least a couple of hours before anyone would be looking for me.

I spent the first hour checking and double checking my logic and all the steps I had to follow. Although I was confident that anti-nanites were the right approach I was suddenly nervous that this was about to go horribly wrong. Gathering my courage I entered the commands and sat back to wait for the result to be constructed within the containment vessel the Ancients had used to study the nanite virus.

Almost an hour later the consoles beeped, letting me know the process was finished. I powered up the Ancient equivalent of an electron microscope and waited anxiously for something to appear on screen.

Well look at that,” I breathed in amazement. Inside the containment field was a single entity that looked just like one link in a chain, appearing to be completely inert. The thrill of success swept through me ... followed quickly by the arrival of pragmatism telling me there was no real way I could test any NAPs I created without the presence of a real Replicator or some Pegasus nanites. Rodney and Carson still had some controlled samples of the nanites from the virus and the ones that had tried to take over Elizabeth but I’d have to argue strongly to get them for testing.

Realising that my independent ‘experiment’ was probably now at the going public stage the only thing left for me to do that day was to transfer my sole NAP to secure storage. Accessing the routine Rodney had written for that purpose I was caught completely by surprise when the familiar claxon alarm started.

“Ah crap!” I muttered, watching in disbelief as Atlantis began a quarantine lock down on my position. Knowing it was already too late for me to get out of the room before it closed me in I turned instead to the containment chamber to see if something had gone wrong with the experiment.

“That’s odd,” I frowned in confusion. As far as I could tell my NAP was completely contained and still inert. There should have been no reason for Atlantis to even detect it, let alone rule it as something dangerous. I’d have to own up to setting off the alarm so I released my block on the sensors and activated the radio channel that would clue Doctor Weir, John and Rodney into the situation. “Doctor Weir this is Sabina Scott,” I began. “The alarm you’re hearing was set off by a process I’m running in one of the labs.”

“Are you okay?” Doctor Weir responded immediately.

“Yes,” I replied without admitting that I was currently locked in that lab. “Did the lock down spread beyond my position?”

“Where are you Sabina?” John’s voice this time, sounding just a little bit peeved.

“Check the sensors,” I advised. “I’m in a research lab on the north west pier – one of the labs that flooded after the big storm.” I waited, knowing it would only take Rodney a few seconds to work out my specific position.

“You’re in the nanite research lab!” Rodney said incredulously. “Are you nuts?”

“Relax Rodney,” I replied mildly. “It’s perfectly safe.”

“Safe huh?” Rodney muttered sarcastically. “Then how come you set off the quarantine protocols?”

“I don’t know,” I admitted. “I haven’t had a chance to work that out yet.”

“Work it out later,” John ordered. “Get yourself back up here now.”

“Slight problem with that,” I said reluctantly. “I was on the wrong side of the door when the alarm went off.”

“You’re stuck inside the lab?” John’s tone was deceptively mild.

“It must be my month to get trapped,” I tried to joke – it hadn’t been that long since I’d had my hands stuck to a fountain after all.

“Is there any evidence of nanites?” Rodney demanded impatiently. “Active ones, not inert?”

“There aren’t any active nanites here Rodney,” I stated firmly. “I’ve been using the work you did while you were hyped up on Ascension DNA to work on our defence against the Replicators.”

“Tell me you didn’t create your own nanites,” Rodney begged sickly.

“I didn’t create any nanites,” I prevaricated. “I created a Nanite-based Anti-replicator Protein – I’m calling them NAP’s.”

“You are insane,” Rodney said heatedly. “That’s obviously what set the quarantine alarm off.”

“I don’t think so Rodney,” I denied. “You didn’t just create the programs for the NAP – you set up a whole interface to the Atlantis systems in this specific lab. Atlantis should recognise the NAP – plus it’s still in the containment cell and it’s completely inert.”

“You’ll have to check the programs I wrote,” Rodney advised, moving abruptly out of the complaint stage and into the solution stage. “Look specifically at the ones that instruct Atlantis on the properties of the protein programs. Let me know when you find them.”

“Okay,” I agreed. “Can you switch off the alarm though because I can’t concentrate with that noise?” I sighed in relief when a few seconds later the alarm stopped.

It had been a few minutes since John had said anything – I realised why that was when I heard banging on the door while I was still trying to do what Rodney had asked.

“Sabina!” I could hear John’s voice clearly, which either meant the door wasn’t as thick as I had supposed or John was so angry at me that he was yelling.

“John?” I switched to a private radio channel so that the rest of Atlantis wouldn’t overhear him telling me off.

“Move away from the door,” John instructed grimly. “I’m cutting you out of there.”

“WAIT!” I yelled. “Let’s save that for a last resort – we really need to confirm that there isn’t any danger to the rest of Atlantis before we let anything out of this room.”

“Fine,” John almost growled. “You want to tell me what the hell you were thinking?”

“I was thinking about a strong defence against the Replicators,” I replied firmly, preparing to defend my actions.

“Did you even consider the nanite virus?” John demanded heatedly. “What if you became exposed to that – didn’t you tell me the Ancient Wraith gene holders literally went nuts after getting the virus?”

“I did – but that special protein in my blood is supposed to protect me from that,” I reminded him.

“So you thought you’d just do a live test – see if it was true?” John’s voice was sarcastically angry and I cringed, glad I couldn’t see the expression on his face.

“Can we talk about this after I’ve worked out how to get out of here?” I ignored his anger, even knowing that the longer he held on to it the worse it was going to be for me.

“Sabina, what’s the hold up on that program?” Rodney broke into the private radio channel to interrupt.

“Sorry Rodney – I was distracted,” I apologised, turning back to the console to bring up the details he'd asked for. “Okay I’ve got the program you wanted up on the console.”

“Look at the section describing the general properties of Earth-based nanite technology,” Rodney instructed.

“Ah Rodney ...” I said uncertainly a few minutes later. “There doesn’t appear to be any code describing those properties.”

“Oh,” Rodney’s voice held a note of unwelcome surprise.

“You left something out didn’t you?” I asked weakly.

“I might have forgotten to distinguish the Earth-based nanites from the Pegasus ones,” Rodney admitted reluctantly.

“So Atlantis thinks the NAP is just another Pegasus nanite?” I asked incredulously. “And I suppose because the system doesn’t recognise the different structure Atlantis thinks its active? Thanks Rodney!”

“Hey - I created the whole thing in one night,” Rodney protested defensively. “Look transfer the program over to the Control Room and I’ll fix it.”

“File is transferring now,” I reported a moment later.

“I’ve got it,” Rodney acknowledged. “Ah ... you might want to get comfortable – this could take a while.” 

 

On to Part Five