Chapter 41: I told you what I was working on!
“I was afraid of that,” I muttered, hating to wait but grateful that at least Rodney was working to fix the problem. Realising I couldn’t avoid a conversation with John any longer and hoping the separation of the lab door might provide some protection from his anger I reluctantly reinitiated contact with him. “John – you still there?” I asked meekly.
“Where else would I be?” John's voice was mild but his mood was anything but. “Any progress?”
“Yeah - it turns out super Rodney wasn’t quite so super after all!” I said sarcastically. “He forgot to add in protocols for the interface to Atlantis so that Atlantis would recognise the Earth based nanites as being separate from our Pegasus ones. The system doesn’t recognise the structure so it thinks the NAP is an active Pegasus nanite.”
“I assume Rodney’s doing something to fix that omission?” John’s voice was still a lot more businesslike than I was happy with.
“He is,” I agreed. “Said it might take a while though – you don’t have to hang around out there.”
“Oh but I do,” John said silkily. “That way I can ream you out and you’ve got no way to avoid it.”
“I told you what I was working on!” I tried to justify my ending up in a quarantined lab.
“You told me just enough to think you could get away with that argument when you got caught,” John countered in aggravation. “Don’t think I haven’t noticed that you very cleverly told me everything except that you would be doing the work down here.”
“Creating a viable nanite defence would have taken much longer to achieve if I hadn’t used this lab!” I retorted. “The Ancients designed the lab for a very similar purpose – something super Rodney knew which is why he set up the programs the way he did.”
“If that’s the case why didn’t you just say that?” John was getting frustrated at my continued attempts to admit no error in how I’d approached this.
“I didn’t think you’d mind if I did the first bit by myself,” I argued. “The programs might not have worked so it could all have just been a big waste of time.”
“You wouldn’t have blocked yourself off the sensors if you truly thought we wouldn’t mind what you were doing!” John countered, his voice full of frustration.
“Okay I shouldn’t have done that,” I admitted reluctantly. “I knew my life sign would show up straight away - I just wanted the chance to prove that this could work before it got talked down as being insane. And if it didn’t work then I wouldn’t have looked like a complete idiot.”
“So after all this time you still don’t trust that your ideas will be seen as having merit?” John’s voice was exasperated and irritated all at the same time.
“I know I’ve had a couple of goes at large scale weapons or defences,” I tried to explain my thinking, “but they were all based on almost fully formed projects created by the Ancients. And I still stuffed them both up ... so forgive me if I wasn’t exactly confident that something I came up with entirely on my own would have any hope of working! It’s only got a chance now because Rodney got himself super geniused enough to write some extremely complex programs I never could have written myself.”
“Is this about what happened on Earth?” John asked uncertainly, putting his anger aside for the moment.
“I don’t know,” I muttered miserably. “Probably ... I guess.”
“We said we were gonna do something about that,” John reminded me.
“Well short of me getting a degree good enough to impress even General Landry I don’t see what we can do,” I replied snidely.
“Then I guess that’s what we’ll have to do,” John said matter of factly. “I’ll talk to Rodney about it – set something up.”
“If I’d wanted to study I would have done it back on Earth,” I complained. “It's not the learning things - it's all those exams and memorising stuff, and -”
“Too bad,” John interrupted unsympathetically. “We need to fix your thinking on this because you are never using it as an excuse to cut me out of the loop ever again.” John’s voice was stern and heading up to angry again by the time he’d finished that statement.
“So it'd be like punishment then?” I asked softly.
“If it helps you to think of it like that,” John agreed.
We sat in silence for a few minutes; me slumped against the wall next to the door, John probably sitting in a similar position on the other side.
“I’m sorry I didn’t tell you I was coming down here,” I broke the silence to apologise meekly. “Would you have let me if I’d been completely up front about why?”
“I’d like to think so,” John replied thoughtfully, “but since you didn’t give me the chance we’ll never know.”
“Oh now I feel really guilty,” I complained miserably, not surprised that John wasn’t willing to concede any ground on this.
“I hope you do,” John was unrepentant. “Maybe the next time you’re faced with a similar choice you’ll remember this and make the right one.”
“How long are you gonna be mad?” my voice was just a little bit pathetic by then. “Because being stuck in here is starting to freak me out and I don’t think I can take it if you keep talking like that.”
“Did I get the message across?” John asked sternly.
“Yes,” I replied miserably.
“Then I guess I’m done being mad,” John finally relented. “Can you –“
“Sorry to break into your private chat,” Rodney's voice cut into our private radio channel yet again, “but I thought Sabina might actually want to get out of there now.”
“You fixed the program?” I asked hopefully, jumping up from where I’d been sitting against the wall.
“I’m transferring it back to you now,” Rodney confirmed. “When you get it just overwrite the old one.”
“Okay,” I said, punching a few keys to do what he’d suggested. “Program is in place.”
“I assume you were trying to transfer your ... NAP – remind me to talk to you later about what a stupid name that is – to safe storage when the alarm went off?” Rodney asked.
“Yeah I was,” I agreed. “Should I try again now?”
“That would be my first suggestion yes,” Rodney had the ‘shouldn’t that have been obvious?’ tone in his voice now.
“Okay,” I called up the transfer command and launched it, fingers crossed hopefully. “Transfer command has been entered ... it’s thinking ... okay something’s happening now.” The welcome sound of the door whooshing open had me reporting happily “it worked Rodney – I knew you could do it.”
“Never in doubt,” Rodney said smugly. “I’ll let you finish your ... conversation with Sheppard. When you’re done come up to the Control Room and we’ll talk about what might be possible now you’ve proven we can create an anti-replicator protein for the Replicators.”
Rodney's tone made it clear he'd overheard some of our conversation when he'd cut into the channel which didn't sit well with me - not that there was anything I could do about it. Turning away from the console I spotted John standing in the doorway looking at me with his arms folded across his chest. I walked hesitantly towards him, putting a hand on his arm and looking up at him hopefully.
“I thought you said you were done being mad?” I reminded him.
“I am,” John agreed, “but I’m still disappointed. I thought we’d got it together enough that you wouldn’t keep big secrets like this from me anymore.”
“Please don’t do the disappointed thing,” I begged, unexpectedly feeling tears gathering behind my eyes. Turning away so he wouldn’t see I said “I can take the anger but ... it really matters to me not to disappoint you.”
“I’m sure every couple has times when they feel disappointed over something the other person did,” John attempted to make light of the situation.
“One - I don’t care about every couple, only us,” I retorted, “and two – it’s not both of us, it’s just me disappointing you. Sure you’ve done things that made me angry but since we’ve been together for real I don’t recall you ever doing anything that made me feel disappointed in you as a person.”
“Sabina,” John protested. “Sure I'm disappointed but you know you've made me proud too." John put a hand on my shoulder, squeezing firmly in reassurance. "Anger ... disappointment ... isn't it all about wanting the other person to do better the next time something similar crops up?”
“Well I guess today just shows that I haven't quite learned that lesson yet,” I quipped, wiping a hand discretely across the tears I’d been unable to completely hold in.
“Tears?” John turned me towards him in surprise.
“It’s been a tough month,” I excused, looking down defensively. “Shouldn’t we head up to the Control Room now? I know at the very least Rodney's waiting for me, and I’m sure Doctor Weir will have a few choice words to say as well.”
“In a minute,” John put a hand under my chin to raise my eyes back to his. “I just want to be sure we’re both on the same page here,” he said, looking at me intently. “I'm not trying to change you ... even with the whole going off and creating a nanite program without telling anyone. I just want things to feel easier for you ... that won't happen until you start trusting yourself and everyone else more.”
“I trust you,” I promised, meeting his eyes intently so he’d know how serious I was about that. “You were the only person I told about the whole nanite thing – that’s gotta count for something.”
“It does,” John agreed, finally pulling me in towards him and hugging me close. I closed my eyes and rested myself against him, breathing in the scent that was uniquely John and letting his heat warm me where I hadn’t even realised I was cold. “This one is done now, okay?” he voice rumbled through my ear, giving me a nice little tingle.
“I am all for that,” I replied, reluctantly pulling away. “So – Control Room?”
“Control Room,” John agreed, urging me through the door and following close behind.
Doctor Weir did have a few words to say but in the end the fact that my actions had resulted in the first hint of something we could use against the Replicators overrode everything else. Rather than remove me from the project she charged me with the task of assisting Rodney in turning my one NAP specimen into an actual implementable plan to defend ourselves against the Replicators.
“It is often easier to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission.” Grace Murray Hopper – from thinkexist dot com (although there were also a few instances of very similar words that weren’t sourced to a specific person so I can’t be confident the words were first said by Grace Murray Hopper.) I heard them recently in an episode of NCIS I think.
I know that calling the anti-nanites NAPs is kinda silly but I always thought the Replicators freezing like they did in Progeny was as close as they'd get to sleeping so ... naps!
Chapter 42: Did you plan anything?
“Did you remember that tomorrow is the mandatory day off?” John asked, watching as I slumped tiredly down on the bed beside him. “Because you really look like you could use some rest.”
“That’s tomorrow?” I asked in confusion. “I forgot ... too busy trying to work out how we’d get the NAP’s into the Replicators because Rodney said there’s no point in making any more until we figure that out.”
“You’ll give it a rest for tomorrow,” John practically ordered, still looking concerned at my less than stellar appearance.
“Yeah, sure,” I mumbled tiredly. “Did you plan anything?”
“Just teaching Ronon and Teyla about golf,” John replied. “Did you want to do something later in the day? I could get Elizabeth to clear a Puddle Jumper.”
“That’d be nice,” I smiled my agreement. “I’ll just sleep in and you can wake me when you’re ready.”
Despite my plan to sleep for most of the morning I only managed an extra couple of hours beyond my usual early rising time. Considering and then discarding the idea of just lounging around in bed I got up and headed to the commissary instead. Looking around the room I was happy to see Major Lorne sitting at a table by himself.
“Did you sleep in too?” I asked, holding a tray and nodding towards the seat across from him in silent question.
“Yeah,” Lorne said easily. “Grab a seat.”
“What else you got planned for your day off?” I looked at him curiously. “More painting?”
“What’s wrong with painting?” Lorne frowned at my question.
“Nothing,” I said breezily. “Just that ... you’re not gonna have much success with the ladies if you hide on the balcony in your spare time.”
“And who said I wanted to have some ‘success’ in that area?” Lorne looked a bit uncomfortable at the turn in the conversation.
“What – you want to spend your life alone?” I had been teasing but I looked at him seriously when I realised there was something there to discover.
“I didn’t come to another galaxy to hook up with someone,” Lorne tried to put me off.
“But there is someone you’re interested in, isn’t there?” I almost crowed in delight. “No – don’t deny it Major – I have a nose for these things.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Lorne denied, looking carefully anywhere but directly at me.
“Who is it?” I looked around the commissary like the object of his affections might be sitting there with a big sign on her forehead. “I promise I won’t tell.”
“There isn’t anyone,” Lorne said stubbornly.
“Oh come on,” I pleaded. “You know personal stuff about me that not many other people know – it’s only fair that you return the favour. Do it for a friend.”
“You’re incorrigible,” Lorne smiled ruefully at my persistence.
“I’ll just start guessing,” I threatened, already running some likely candidates through my head. When he continued to maintain his silence I started with the first on my list, assessing him carefully for any kind of reaction.
“Is it Elizabeth?” His expression said ‘not even close’.
“Heightmeyer?” ‘God no’ came back as loudly as if he’d said it.
“Dr Esposito?” ‘Not even warm’ his face was complacent now.
“Rodney?” This time Lorne’s expression almost made me laugh, being a combination of ‘what the f--?’ and ‘I can’t think of anything worse’.
“Teyla?” The mask of very careful nothingness gave him away as far as I was concerned.
“Ah ha!” I smiled happily. “It’s Teyla isn’t it? You like her.”
“Shut up,” Lorne looked around to see if anyone could overhear us. “And no, it’s not Teyla.”
“Too late Major,” I told him cheerfully. “Like I said I’ve got a nose for this and my nose is telling me that all those hours you’ve spent learning stick fighting with Teyla have resulted in more than just some bitchin’ sparring moves.”
“Whatever,” Lorne waved his hand as if to say I was free to believe what I wanted but he knew the truth.
“Why haven’t you asked her out?” I looked at him curiously.
“Assuming there was someone I was interested in, which I’m not admitting to,” Lorne looked at me seriously, “I meant it when I said I didn’t come here to hook up with anyone. This is a dangerous place ... my job is dangerous. I don’t want anyone left behind if a mission goes horribly wrong.”
“All the more reason to make the most of what we have when we can,” I said, completely serious now. “Don’t you think you deserve a little happiness?”
“What about you then?” Lorne tried to turn the tables.
“Hey, I’m completely hooked up,” I pointed out the obvious.
“Yeah, and when are you getting married?” Lorne smiled at the sudden drop in my facial expression. “Or having the requisite two point whatever kids?”
“John and I haven’t been together long enough for that,” it was my turn to try to put him off now.
“Really? You think - what is it, almost two years - isn’t long enough?” Lorne looked incredulous now. “I know people who did the deed after only a couple of months!”
“You know that John’s been married before right?” I looked at Lorne to see him nodding. “Would you be keen to line up for that a second time?” I felt bad misleading Lorne like that, since I knew from the conversation after Rodney’s sister visited that John felt quite comfortable with the idea in general. If I’d admitted it though I’d never hear the end of it and I so didn’t want endless repetitions of the ‘when are you getting married’ question – once was more than enough.
“The fact that he got married once means he’s not opposed to the institution,” Lorne persisted. “And I bet he knew his ex wife for less than two years before they tied the knot.”
“You’re just trying to spoil my day off aren’t you?” I traced a finger over the pattern on the table rather than look at him.
“If you concede that I’m perfectly fine keeping my emotions to myself then I’ll concede you’re just as fine without the marriage and kids deal,” Lorne offered.
“See that sounds like a good offer,” I looked at him with a frown, “but if I agree to that then I’m saying it’s fine for you to deny yourself something that could make you really happy – what kind of friend would that make me?”
“In a roundabout way that’s possibly the nicest thing anyone’s said to me in longer than I care to admit,” Lorne smiled at me fondly. “Thanks.”
“You’re welcome,” I said with a disgruntled look. “Now go – paint.”
“Yes Ma’am,” Lorne stood up, put a hand on my shoulder fondly, and hurried out the door.
I lingered for a time eating a leisurely late breakfast and watching people coming and going through the commissary, some of them hardly recognisable out of uniform. There was certainly a lot of interesting stuff going on too. I witnessed Doctor Weir arriving with a nice looking man I didn’t recognise. The way he was looking at her made it clear he was interested in more than just the early lunch they were collecting. I saw Rodney and Carson having a conversation over the packed sandwiches, Rodney waving his arms around as he convinced Carson of something, Carson smiling to hide the fact that whatever Rodney had said had disappointed him in some way. Rodney hurried off in one direction and Carson in the other. Jumping up I hurried after Carson, not sure why but wondering if I could maybe do something to brighten him up again.
“Hey Carson,” I called after him, almost running down the hall to catch up.
“Hello Sabina,” he greeted me with his usual cheerful smile. “Enjoying your day off?”
“All I’ve done is sleep and eat so far,” I said airily, “so yeah – I’m enjoying it. What about you?”
“I’m going fishing this afternoon,” Carson said eagerly.
“Rodney was supposed to go with you wasn’t he, but he pulled out?” I smiled when Carson looked at me, incredulous that I could know that. “I saw you talking in the commissary,” I explained.
“Aye,” he admitted. “Rodney begged off to spend the afternoon with Katie Brown – who I am to stand in the way of young love?”
“That was nice of you Carson,” I said fondly. “Do you have anyone else to go fishing with?”
“I’m about to do the rounds now,” Carson replied. “Hopefully someone will still be free to tag along.”
“John and Ronon are on the driving range balcony,” I offered. “Maybe Ronon might want to go.”
“I’ll try them first,” Carson agreed, turning to head in that direction.
“Hey Carson,” I called out again before he’d gotten a few steps. “If you don’t have any luck John and I are taking a Puddle Jumper out this afternoon – we could keep you company.”
“Thank you lass,” Carson’s smile turned up a notch at the offer, blue eyes twinkling with affection. “I’ll keep that in mind.”
“Good luck,” I called, watching him walk jauntily away. I turned back in the direction of the commissary, wondering what I should do next. Looking at my watch I realised John would be golfing with Teyla and Ronon for a while yet. Stifling a sudden yawn I decided I might as well just go back to bed, even though I’d only been up a couple of hours.
Half way to our quarters I stumbled across Teyla and her friend Dr Emma Hewston on their way to the gym.
“Hi Teyla – golf finished?” I asked curiously.
“I did not play golf,” Teyla gave a faint inflection to the unfamiliar word. “I had already made plans to meet with Doctor Weir for lunch.”
“I just saw her walking into the commissary with some guy,” I shared the news with a smile.
“Yes,” Teyla clearly already knew about Elizabeth’s lunch date. “Mike Branton. I told her I did not mind if she had lunch with someone else instead.”
“Ooh,” I raised an eyebrow at that juicy piece of gossip. “Well I hope she enjoys the attention.”
“As do I,” Teyla agreed with a smile. “Emma and I were about to do some sparring – would you like to join us?”
“Thanks,” I glanced from her to Emma and back again, “but I think I’ll pass. Sounds too much like work to me ... I was just heading back for some more sleep.”
“You do look like you could use the rest,” Teyla agreed diplomatically.
“I’ll see you later,” I called, continuing on my way back to bed. Finally arriving at our door a short time later I put a hand on the sensor to open it.
“When are you getting married?” I walked in just as Ronon dropped that bombshell on John. What was with everyone today?! Both men were immediately aware of my entrance, each glancing up at me with varied expressions. Ronon’s was comfortable with me overhearing their private conversation, presumably because he’d have asked the question whether I was there or not. John’s was shuttered, not giving anything away as he tried to judge what my own expression meant.
“Sorry to barge in,” I apologised. “I didn’t realise you were here. Golf finished?”
“Ronon was a natural,” John replied. “Didn’t need me to teach him anything.”
“You look like you’ve settled in for some male bonding,” I said teasingly. “I’ll just leave you to it.” Turning I headed back to the door, cursing in my head over my poor timing while wondering how John would have answered that question if I hadn’t walked in. Not waiting for any kind of protest I walked briskly from the room, heading back down the corridor even though I had nowhere to go.
I’d only gone a few steps when a distant explosion reverberated through the city. John and Ronon burst from the room and ran down the corridor, John already talking on his radio to find out where the explosion had occurred.
“Sabina, stay here until we find out what’s going on,” he ordered, running past before I could offer any kind of protest. Knowing I’d probably be in the way if I followed them, I did what he’d asked and returned to our quarters, hoping that if anyone had been hurt they’d be okay.
About an hour later another explosion shook the city. Thinking about who I could call to find out what was going on without interrupting crucial duties I decided to try Teyla first. Her radio was off so I tried Ronon next.
“Ronon do you copy?” I called.
“Sabina,” Ronon’s voice was even more gravelly than normal.
“Is everything all right,” I asked in concern. “I just heard the second explosion.”
“We’re right in the middle of something here,” Ronon replied after a short pause, not answering my question directly. “Sheppard said to stay put – he’ll fill you in when he gets there.”
“Okay,” I acknowledged, “thanks.”
I made up the first name for Dr Hewston because I couldn't find one for her and I thought she deserved one ... also the timing of when people were doing what may be a little off because it was difficult to determine from all the snippets used in the episode.
Chapter 43: There was nothing any of us could have done
Sitting back on the bed I couldn’t help the nervous flutters that settled in my stomach. Something was wrong – really wrong. Ronon had carefully not given me any information but I could tell he had been bothered by something. Relaxing proved impossible and in the end I paced back and forth worrying the entire time it took for John to turn up.
“I heard the explosion,” I ran to John the instant he walked wearily through the door, feeling my nerves rachet up another level when I took in his hagged appearance. “What happened?”
“Sit down,” John put his arm around me and drew me down to the couch with him.
“Is it Teyla?” I asked weakly. “I tried to call her but she didn’t answer.”
“Teyla was injured in the first explosion but she’d gonna be fine,” John replied.
I looked into his eyes, blank and numb and braced myself for bad news. “Who then?” I demanded.
“Two of McKay’s scientists turned on a machine last night,” John explained. “Beckett checked them out and they seemed fine only they weren’t. The machine created explosive tumours in both of them. After the first one went off McKay was able to work out what had happened.”
“Who were they?” I asked in confusion, thinking maybe I’d known one of them and that was why John was hesitating.
“The Doc insisted on operating on the other victim,” John’s voice had gotten low enough that I had to lean in to hear him clearly. “Saved the guy too ... he locked us out – Rodney tried to override it but he couldn’t.”
“John,” my breath started to hitch as I worked out what he was building up to. “Not Carson – please tell me nothing happened to Carson.”
“Beckett got the tumour to the containment team,” John went on as though I hadn’t spoken, like he had to get the whole story out in one go or he wouldn't be able to do it at all. “He was almost clear when it exploded ... he wasn’t wearing protective gear. Dr Cole said it was instant – that he wouldn’t have known what was happening. There was nothing any of us could have done.”
Tears welled up in my eyes and travelled down my face, followed quickly by more and more. I didn’t make a sound as I tried to comprehend what John had told me. Carson, the most generous soul I’d ever known, someone who’d always made time for me, no matter how silly some of my concerns had been, was dead? How could that be?
John silently gathered me in his arms, holding me close and rocking me as I continued to cry.
The next few hours passed in a blur. John had his emotions reigned in so tight it was only the slight sheen of his eyes when Carson was mentioned that let me see how hard he was finding this. I’d cried myself into numbness after that first rush of emotion and was thankful that for now I could talk to everyone without the threat of more tears. They were all being so stoic and I didn’t want to let anyone down by being too emotional or God forbid setting anyone else off. I’d found in the past when confronted with someone else’s tears that it was even harder to reign in my own emotions - I didn’t want to do that to someone else, especially not now.
John was drawn away to talk about 'arrangements' - a word I didn't even want to think about let alone hear discussed in reference to Carson. I used that time to visit Teyla and reassure myself that she was indeed all right. Eventually night fell and John and I were once again sitting in our quarters trying in our own way to deal with such an unexpected and upsetting loss.
“What’s gonna happen now?” I asked John numbly, both of us sitting on the couch even though it was well past the hour when we should have been sleeping.
“Rodney and I talked about it,” John replied. “The two of us plus Ronon, Dr Cole, Major Lorne and Radek are gonna act as pallbearers after the memorial service tomorrow.” He glanced at me hopefully. “Elizabeth asked if you could represent her at the funeral back on Earth ... she didn’t get clearance for both leaders to be absent.”
“I was going to insist on going with you anyway,” I said softly. “Carson talked about his family often ... he was so proud of them.”
“I know,” John said gruffly. “This is going to be difficult for all of us.”
"How is Rodney taking it?" I frowned, knowing how close the two had been, despite the obvious differences in their respective personalities.
"He's blaming himself," John replied. "Convinced that if he'd only gone fishing like they'd planned then Carson would still be ..." John trailed off without completing that sentence.
“Rodney's not gonna let himself off the hook for that any time soon - regardless of whether we all tell him how stupid that is,” I shook my head sadly at that thought. Glancing back up at John I asked the question I'd been thinking for hours. “What about you? How are you doing? And don’t tell me you're fine.”
“I’m ... blank,” John admitted. “Got it all closed off up here,” he pointed ruefully at his head. “I’ll take it out when all the hard stuff is over; maybe even wallow in it – I owe Carson at least that much after all the trouble I put him to.”
"He never thought you were trouble," I smiled fondly at the idea. "Disaster prone? Maybe. Too impatient to get out of the infirmary? Definitely!"
"I'm gonna miss that," John said softly, rubbing a hand over his eyes with a weariness that seemed bone deep.
“You’re tired,” I motioned for John to stretch out on the couch until he could rest his head in my lap. Everyone had felt close to Carson because we'd all relied on him in some way or other ... I knew that his loss would hit John differently than it would me. There really was no right way I could behave, no perfect thing I could say that would make those feelings go away - just as there was nothing John could say in return that would turn off the loss and hurt I was feeling. In the end the only comfort I could offer was just to be there ... and to accept his way of dealing with the tragedy.
We ended up catching a few hours of sleep on the couch. By unspoken agreement we’d decided we didn’t want to do something as normal as going to bed and sleeping like it was any other night. The next morning we dressed for the memorial, John in his dress uniform and me in dark pants and jacket.
John took my hand and walked us solemnly down the corridors of Atlantis. Loss seemed to hang in the air and I wondered for one crazy moment if the city itself was mourning the loss of one of her descendants. We stopped off in the infirmary to see Teyla which was painful in itself. Carson was always there, ready to help – only today he wasn’t, and it suddeny hit me that he never would be again.
Holding on tightly to John’s arm I tried to breath calmly as we walked towards Teyla’s bedside. She was clearly attempting to get up even though her wound was causing her considerable pain. “You talk to her,” I whispered softly to John. “I’ll go find Ronon and meet you in the Gateroom.”
John squeezed my hand gratefully before walking slowly to Teyla’s bedside. I watched them talk for a moment before turning to leave. I had already spoken to Teyla the day before – John needed the time to talk to her by himself too.
Before I was ready I found myself standing next to John, facing a coffin draped in the Scottish flag. We’d already listened to memorial services for the others lost in the two explosions - now it was Carson’s turn to be farewelled. The custom of getting up to speak at such an event had always somewhat puzzled me. While I understood the desire to honour the life of the lost it troubled me that the people closest to that loss were the ones forced to hold it together long enough to deliver the words that would do so.
It heightened my grief to witness first John and then Rodney get up and tell us all what we already knew – that Carson had been the kind of doctor who never let any patient get away with behaviour that threatened their recovery. That he’d been unwilling to give up on anyone who needed his medical help, the very behaviour that had resulted in his death. I swallowed my imminent tears when Rodney tearfully told of Carson’s friendship that had never wavered no matter how cantankerous and rude Rodney had gotten and of how Carson had gotten under his skin and become the best friend he’d ever had. How he wished he’d appreciated that more ... told Carson what that had meant ... when he’d had the chance. When Rodney returned to his place beside me I took his hand and squeezed it in silent approval before letting him go.
And then it was Elizabeth’s turn to speak.
“We’ve said goodbye to a lot of friends today. Our mission is a dangerous one. We lose people -- a fact we’re all painfully aware of. But Carson was ...” her voice broke off as she struggled to find the words. “I can’t remember anyone coming to me with a complaint against him - ever. He was a kind soul. He was ... he was a healer. And he will be very deeply missed. George Fabricius said ‘Death comes to us all, but great achievements, they build a monument which shall endure until the sun grows cold.’” Elizabeth’s voice cracked with emotion before she completed what she’d wanted to say. “Every single life Carson saved is a monument to him. And that gives me great comfort.”
I didn’t so much as glance at John the whole time Elizabeth spoke but still I knew that his eyes would carry the hint of tears suppressed and that he’d be fighting the hardest he’d had to so far not to give in to his emotions. There was a moment of silence before Elizabeth looked up at the Control Room, signalling that the gate be dialled. The bagpipes sounded mournfully from the balcony, reminding us of how proud Carson had been of his homeland. I stood in place as John squeezed my hand before taking his position as one of the pallbearers. Elizabeth returned to her place beside Teyla, offering us both a sad tearful smile. Six people shared a silent communication as we all looked on, before gracefully lifting the coffin and walking slowly forward. The bagpipes reached a crescendo as they entered the event horizon and disappeared from sight. Elizabeth nodded to me and I hurried forward to join the others back on Earth.
That was only the beginning of a very difficult few days. Staff at the SGC expedited the transport of us and Carson’s body back to Scotland. We waited in the front room of Carson’s mother’s house while Rodney broke the news to her that her beloved son had been taken from her, made worse because he couldn’t share the full details of what Carson had been doing so brilliantly for the past three years. He did tell her that Carson had died bravely saving a life and said afterwards that she seemed to take comfort from that.
Two days later we found ourselves in a packed church that spoke more eloquently than words could have of Carson’s impact on the community and of how well liked and well respected he had been. We listened to people we’d never met tell stories of Carson’s bravery and brilliance that didn’t surprise but somehow comforted. Rodney braced himself to once again speak for Carson’s last three years, telling his family and friends of how truly brave and selfless Carson had been and of how sorely missed he was going to be by everyone who had worked with him. Rodney even managed to convey something of Carson’s medical genius without giving anything away about how truly amazing that had been.
“Carson was faced with challenges that would have sent a lesser man running for cover,” Rodney said in a voice that shook slightly. “He’d always offer some comment about wishing he could be anywhere else while at the same time stepping into the fray and doing exactly what was needed to save someone. He was a true gentleman ... a true friend.” Rodney trailed off, glancing at John and I. John nodded wordlessly, calling Rodney back to us and telling him that he’d made us (and Carson if he could have heard) proud.
Back on Atlantis, life went on much as it always had. We all went back to work, each dealing with grief in our own way. I don’t think I was the only one who avoided the infirmary, the loss still too fresh to handle such an obvious reminder of Carson’s absence. John had yet to take his grief out of the cast iron box he’d welded it into and I’d taken to keeping my little crying bouts to the balcony and the quietest hours of the night. It was there John found me a week after we’d returned - I'd finished the tearful part and moved on to thoughful staring out at the ocean as it moved and shifted in the moonlight.
“You okay?” he asked softly, turning me sideways so he could sit behind me and pull me back to rest against his chest. He rested his chin on my hair, waiting patiently for me to speak.
“I wouldn’t have thought I’d have so many tears inside,” I said softly. “They’re for Carson because I really, really liked him ... but also ...” I broke off, trying to work out what I wanted to say. “At the funeral I found myself thinking about all the other funerals I’d been to. For Caritas and the other Ancients, for all the people we’ve lost here, even for a girl I knew who died while I was in high school. And then in the end there was only one - the funerals for my parents. Carson's service brought it all back to me like it happened yesterday - details I’d forgotten, the emotions, feeling so lost and alone. It just ... magnifies what I feel about Carson. Is that what it’s like for everyone?”
“I can’t speak for anyone else,” John said, “but I did some of the same kind of thinking. None of them as life altering as yours but so many it makes me sick to even think about it.”
“Will you cry?” I asked casually, no pressure implied or intended with that question.
“Do you want me to?” John put the question back on me.
“I don’t know if it would help you, or me for that matter,” I replied thoughtfully. “If there are no tears inside you then of course no – but if there are tears you’re just holding in as some form of misplaced bravery then I’d want you to let them out. I guess what I should have said is if you wanted to cry I’d keep you company without judgement, without record.”
John said nothing but I could feel him swallow hard, could feel his breathing quicken as he reacted to what I’d said. He didn’t need permission from anyone to express or repress his emotions however he liked ... maybe it was just the nighttime silence or my own tears that finally made him feel comfortable enough to open that box.
Turning to face him I felt the resurgence of my own emotions as I saw the torment on his face. The brown had completely leeched from his eyes, leaving only the green ... quickly brimming with unshed tears. Cradling his head in my hands I pulled him forward, pressing a tearful kiss on his lips. He kissed me back just as tearfully – when that ended I held him in my arms, letting him cry and keeping him company just as I’d promised.
The next morning neither of us spoke of the events of the previous night, nor acknowledged that we felt lighter inside for having done what needed to be done. I still felt the loss of Carson and knew it was a feeling that would be there is some capacity from then on. Sometimes it would be there more sharply than others ... when I had to go to the infirmary after a mission, when I wanted to ask a dumb question about my DNA, when John was injured off world and I desperately wanted Carson there to save him. It wasn’t a matter of forgetting it or getting over it but of getting used to the feeling of loss being there in the place of Carson himself.
Chapter 44: Still think it was a good idea to come along?
“No,” John remained firm in his decision not to let me go on the mission to find the underwater drilling platform. I’d been chipping away at him for half of our morning run already but he didn’t show any signs of caving.
“It’s an Ancient facility,” I reminded John. “You might need someone else with a strong ATA gene to activate things – unless you want to be at Rodney’s beck and call the whole time you’re down there.”
“Good argument,“ John congratulated me, picking up the speed a little in the hopes he could stop my persistence by using up my energy on trying to keep up with him.
“So can I go?” I glanced across at him hopefully, managing to keep up and still have air for talking.
“No,” John replied without further explanation.
“You’ve got seven scientists, some of them very inexperienced at being away from the city, plus your own team going,” I pointed out in frustration. “If it’s safe for them then surely it’s safe to add another person!”
“We don’t know the condition of the platform,” John reminded me, “nor the life support systems. I’m not happy with having so many people going as it is but Elizabeth and McKay believe the benefits will far outweigh the risks.”
“Is there anything I could say to convince you?” I wasn’t giving up just yet.
“Why do you want to go so much?” John asked curiously.
“It’s an unexplored Ancient facility,” I said like that should be reason enough. “Besides, you owe me an underwater Jumper ride,” I reminded John that my first had ended in blacking out from a massive headache.
“And that’s it?” John persisted. “Just simple curiosity?”
“I could really use some extended time away from the city,” I admitted weakly. “It’s been a tough couple of months - and don’t say I could just go over to the mainland. I don’t want a break from you and if it all goes well you’ll be down there for at least a week.”
“So it’s personal?” John smiled now. I looked at him suspiciously, stopping abruptly when I finally worked out what he’d been doing. John stopped too, turning to look at me expectantly.
“You wanted me to admit that?” I asked incredulously. “To ask for something from you purely for my own personal reasons?”
“I get approached all the time with requests that have a personal element,” John told me, “and wherever possible I try to accommodate them. The only person who never asks, apart from the people who have enough position to not need my intervention, is you.”
“You know that I’ve never wanted to gain an advantage just because I’m hooked up with you,” I said freely. "We talked about that ages ago."
“We did but I didn't think it meant you were never gonna ask for anything!” John replied in exasperation.
"I've asked you to go on missions before," I reminded him. "What about the Aurora?"
"You've asked Elizabeth to go on missions," John retorted. “The Aurora doesn't count - you were always going on that mission for obvious reasons. Look - I know it's not something that's gonna come up too often but ... it bothers me that you won't ask me for things ... so if you want to go on this drilling platform mission, you’re gonna have to make it a personal request.”
“Fine,” I grated out, rolling my eyes at him but in the end not that reluctant if it meant he'd feel better about it. “John, I’d really appreciate it if you’d let me go on the mission because I don’t think I can go a whole week without free access to your body. Happy now?”
“Not quite the reasoning I was expecting,” John said, amused rather than affronted by my sarcasm. “But since you asked so nicely – yes you can come on the mission. I could use your ATA gene skills, not to mention your experience searching unexplored Ancient facilities. Besides, I do owe you an underwater Jumper ride.”
“See – I knew they were compelling arguments!” I shook my head at him before taking advantage of his momentary inattention to dash back into running pace. For the first time ever I managed to make it back to our room moments before John. I grinned triumphantly, even though I’d had to cheat to make it happen.
“You’re cleared to proceed Colonel,” Doctor Weir spoke to us from the Control Room. “Good luck.”
The inside of the Jumper was crowded with the science staff, including Radek and a number of other people I wasn’t particularly familiar with, all of whom were huddled together in the rear section. I’d quickly nabbed the co-pilot’s seat over Rodney’s protests, claiming piloting skills that Rodney couldn’t match. John had smiled in amusement over our little power struggle from his customary pilots seat. Ronon sat behind me with Rodney behind John – Teyla took a seat with the science teams, reminding Rodney that she would expect to swap spots with him during the journey down to the drilling platform.
“Acknowledged,” John replied, quickly powering the Jumper up and taking us out the roof and down into the water. Conversation flowed freely for the first couple of hours, slowly dwindling to nothing as the journey extended beyond three hours without us locating the platform.
By the time we hit four hours I was ready to pull my hair out in frustration over the snide remarks and complaints that were coming from the back section, especially after Rodney reluctantly traded places with Teyla.
“Still think it was a good idea to come along?” John asked me half seriously.
“Well it would have been better if we could have left the peanut gallery behind,” I quipped, “but if the drilling platform turns out to be the power source Rodney thinks it is, it’ll be worth it.”
“Shouldn’t take us much longer,” John activated the HUD and pointed to some of the readings. “We just passed the thermal layer and I’m getting some readings a couple of hundred feet ahead.”
“Finally,” I let out a sigh of relief.
“OK, kids, we’re here,” John announced.
Rodney and Radek were the first to stand and crowd the front section, eager to get their first view of the platform. The other scientists crowded behind them.
“Hopefully it won’t take too much longer to power up the station,” John added.
He flew the Jumper closer to the drilling platform ... once we were close enough to be detected the outside lights began switching on automatically.
“It’s times like these I’m glad of the ATA gene,” I looked a John with a smile.
“Now all I’ve gotta do is dock this thing and we can find out what this place is all about,” John replied.
The science teams were quick to action once released into the Control Room. Laptops were connected and systems were called up to allow Rodney to assess the condition and status of the drilling platform.
“Where do you want me?” I asked John, happy to be anywhere in the facility.
“It’ll be a while before McKay can work out what he wants activated or translated,” John said thoughtfully. “We need to do a walkthrough of the base so you can tag along with me until McKay needs you.”
“Cool,” I smiled, excited by the chance to explore the facility, even more so since it was the first time I could recall doing anything like that as a part of John's team. “Let’s go.”
“Have we not been down this hallway before?” Teyla asked. We’d been walking for about half an hour, having seen nothing much of interest so far.
“Every corridor looks the same,” Ronon complained.
“Don’t worry,” John replied. “I have an uncanny sense of direction.”
“You do?” I pretended surprise. “That’s not what I heard after your mission to M4F-423.”
“Whatever McKay told you was all lies,” John retorted. “You should stop asking him for the mission gossip.”
“I think Teyla’s right,” Ronon broke in. “We’ve been down this way before.”
“That’s impossible,” John explained. “We took a left, and a left, and then a right.”
“Hey, look, all I’m saying is ...” Ronon stopped abruptly when Teyla gasped, standing fixed in the corridor. “What?” he demanded.
“I am sensing a Wraith presence nearby,” Teyla said in a serious, disturbed tone.
“Are you sure?” John questioned. “We’re pretty deep underwater.”
“I cannot be certain,” Teyla admitted, “but I believe it is onboard the drilling platform.”
“What about you Sabina?” John turned to me. “Are you picking up anything?”
“Ah ...,” I paused, looking for that familiar feeling inside, before turning to Teyla apologetically. “No - but Teyla is much more experienced with this sort of thing that I am.”
John stood for a moment, thinking about the possibilities and the probable consequences of the options available to him, before activating his radio.
“This is Sheppard. Everyone drop what you’re doing; get back to the Control Room immediately.”
Once back at the Control Room I watched as Rodney did another check of the life signs registering on the base – all of them were explained by our presence alone. Teyla held fast to her determination that her sense was correct, supported by Ronon, despite what the machines were telling us.
“There is a way for me to be sure,” Teyla said slowly. “If I can reach out with my mind and establish a link ...”
“Whoa,” John interrupted her suggestion. “That sounds a little reckless, don’t you think?”
“If there is no Wraith, then there will be no mind for me to link with, and therefore no risk. But if there is a Wraith nearby ...” Teyla trailed off as we all filled in the blanks for ourselves.
“Do you have to establish an actual link to confirm there's a Wraith on the base?” John asked, unwilling to give his approval without knowing more about the risks.
“The briefest contact will determine whether or not I’m right,” Teyla reassured him.
“Okay,” John finally agreed. “But Ronon stuns you the second there’s a problem.”
“I would expect no less,” Teyla acknowledged. “I will need silence to concentrate so I suggest we use the crew quarters.”
“I should probably stay here,” I offered uncertainly. “If there is a Wraith on the base I wouldn’t want my close proximity to Teyla to cause her any unexpected problems.”
“Could that happen?” John looked at me in concern.
“It’s probably pretty unlikely,” I replied, “but the risk, however slight, is there.”
“Okay,” John nodded his agreement. “You stay and help Rodney for now. I’ll let you know when Teyla's finished doing her thing.”
I only had to wait ten minutes or so before John radioed me that Teyla had been mistaken about the Wraith. I frowned, unable to ever recall that happening before.
“Is Teyla okay?” I asked in concern.
“She seems fine,” John replied. “We're continuing the walk through but we’ve split up to cover the ground faster – Ronon and Teyla have already taken off. Head towards the crew quarters we checked before and I’ll meet you on the way.”
“I’m on my way,” I responded, striding quickly to get there as fast as possible.
“Hey,” I spotted John turning the corner in front of me.
“Hey yourself,” John replied. Motioning for me to fall in beside him, he led us further away from the Control Room.
“Do you think Teyla could be experiencing pressure effects so soon after getting here?” I asked, remembering what Rodney had said about the much higher pressure so far under the ocean.
“Maybe,” John’s words didn’t match his tone which clearly said he thought it was unlikely. “I can’t think of another explanation though so ...”
We walked on in silence for a while, peering into more crew quarters, finding nothing of specific interest. We were turning the corner to complete a walk around the first search grid when the lights went out abruptly.
“Rodney,” John radioed in. “What’s going on?”
“What do you mean, what’s going on?” Rodney tone was puzzled – obviously they still had lights in the Control Room.
“We just lost the lights,” John reported.
“What?” Rodney asked, caught by surprise. There was a brief pause before he spoke again. “Huh. You’re right.”
“We know Rodney,” I said sarcastically. “We’re the ones standing in the dark!”
“We just lost power to forty percent of the station,” Rodney added. “Sensors are currently offline. Zelenka, what are you doing?”
“Uh, what do you mean, what am I doing?” Radek asked in confusion from somewhere else in the base.
“Have you lost power where you are?” Rodney clarified his question.
“No. Have you?” Radek replied.
“No,” Rodney retorted.
“We have,” John reminded him sarcastically. “I wanna know what’s going on.”
“You know, this station has been lying idle down here for a few millennia,” Rodney pointed out. “We’re bound to blow a few fuses. Look, I’ll have power back online in a minute. Just hang tight.”
“Ronon, Teyla? Report your position.” John waited a few moments but there was no response. “Ronon, Teyla? Come in.”
“That can’t be good,” I muttered in response to John’s suspicious look. “The lack of power wouldn’t affect our radios.”
“Ronon. Teyla,” John tried for a third time. “Rodney, we’ve lost contact with Ronon and Teyla. Can you work out their position?”
“No, negative,” Rodney said briskly. “Internal sensors are out, but I have determined the location where the power went down. It’s an auxiliary control area, search grid six. It’s the deck that Ronon and Teyla were exploring.”
“We’ll meet you there,” John replied. We walked briskly back up the corridor, John cautiously shining the light from his P90 around every corner before motioning me to continue. We spotted Rodney before he knew we were there – he jumped before sighing in relief when he realised it was us.
“There you are,” he said, still looking a little nervous.
We continued along the corridor heading for Ronon and Teyla’s last known position. Before we got there the sound of gunshots echoed from ahead of us.
“Nine mil,” John said. “This way,” he ordered, turning and running down the corridor towards the source. I hurried to keep up, feeling uncharacteristically tired all of a sudden, and just a touch fuzzy headed as well. Hoping I wasn’t about to become affected by the pressure too, I pressed on.
“Ronon, Teyla, come in,” John tried again to make contact. We turned another corner, hearing Ronon’s groan before we saw him stretched out on the floor.
“Ronon,” I called, standing beside John who’d dropped down to help Ronon up, “are you okay?”
“No!” Ronon retorted angrily.
“Who did this?” John demanded, sure that Ronon would have put up some kind of fight before being rendered unconscious.
“It was Teyla,” Ronon gave the one answer none of us were expecting.
“What?! Why?” Rodney demanded.
“Until we find out we need to know where everyone is,” John replied, activating his radio. “This is Sheppard – everyone fall back to the Control Room immediately.”
“This is Zelenka. Someone has just activated emergency force fields throughout the station.”
“Can you make it back to the Control Room?” John asked in concern.
“Yes, I think so,” Radek replied.
“Do it,” John ordered.
“That doesn’t make any sense. What’s she doing?” Rodney made the obvious assumption that Teyla’s odd behaviour and the force fields activating were connected.
“You and Sabina go back to the Control Room,” John made that one sound like an order too. “Ronon and I are gonna check up on Teyla.”
“You'll be careful?” I asked, knowing that going after a friend, even a potentially dangerous one, wasn't the same as going after an enemy.
“What do you think?!” Ronon had obviously been learning sarcasm from Rodney. Drawing his blaster in preparation he ran down the corridor with John, leaving Rodney and I standing there worriedly watching them disappear.
So I guess you noticed I went completely off canon right from the start with this one. It just struck me as ridiculous that Elizabeth would have gone on this supposedly risky mission for no apparent reason. Would you really send both the leader and the military leader on that type of mission where they were expecting to be on the drilling platform for at least a few days and so cut off from Atlantis? In the episode she came in handy in dealing with the Wraith Queen but it’s not like they knew they were gonna find one before they made up the mission teams! The change I made meant of course I had to change the dialogue as well – I've kept as much as I could that still seemed to fit and just let the characters muddle along as I imagined they would have if Doctor Weir wasn’t there.
Chapter 45: I too am not fond of this inactivity
I followed Rodney back to the Control Room, watching as he hurried from console to console trying to work out the extent of the damage.
“How bad is it?” I asked when it appeared he’d ground to a halt.
“Teyla shut down some key systems and then scrambled the operating codes so we can’t fix them easily,” Rodney said irritably. “We can’t contact Atlantis because she blew the control crystals. We’re down to half power and cut off from the Jumper by the emergency force fields. I don't understand how she even managed to do that much damage so quickly!”
“So, pretty bad then,” I summarised. “What are you –“
“This is Sheppard. We’ve got Teyla.” John’s radio communication interrupted my next question to Rodney.
“And?” Rodney demanded.
“And nothing,” John reported. “She has no memory of anything that happened the last hour. We’re on our way to Crew Quarters.”
“Do you want me to come down there?” I asked, thinking Teyla might want me to be there.
“Yeah, we’ll meet you there,” John replied, closing off the channel.
“Should I fill John in on the damage Teyla did?” I looked at Rodney expectantly.
“Yeah, let him know I’m concentrating on getting internal sensors back on line," Rodney decided, “as well as disabling those force fields around the Jumper.”
Teyla had already begun to tell John and Ronon what had happened from her point of view by the time I got to Crew Quarters.
“When I tried to seek out a Wraith presence I encountered a most powerful mind,” she said. “I tried to shut her out but ...,” Teyla trailed off guiltily.
“Her?” John glanced at Teyla sharply.
“Yes. I believe this Wraith is a Queen,” Teyla confirmed.
“I hate Queens,” John winced at the thought of confronting another vindictive female.
“In the brief moment before I blanked out, I sensed great power; the experiences of many centuries; hunger ... and then nothing,” Teyla’s face was still sickened and disturbed by the experience she couldn’t remember. “My next memory is of Colonel Sheppard and Ronon aiming their weapons towards me.”
“There’s definitely a Wraith on the base,” I said firmly. “I’m sorry Teyla ... I’ve been feeling a bit fuzzy headed since you went off with Ronon – I thought it might be pressure effects but it wasn’t. I just didn’t realise what it was until now.”
“What I don’t understand is why’d she use Teyla to do all that damage, and why didn’t the life signs detector pick up a signal?” John glanced at each of us in turn, looking for some suggestions to explain that.
“Doesn’t matter,” Ronon said calmly. “If she’s here, I’ll find her.”
“We’ll find her,” John corrected.
“I would like to help,” Teyla offered insistently.
“Until we know the Wraith can’t take you over again it’s too risky,” John turned her down apologetically. “Ronon and I will check out the situation first.”
“Yes, of course. I understand,” Teyla’s expression was saddened. John looked at me meaningfully, silently asking me to stay with Teyla. I gave my agreement and urged him to be careful, all without saying a word.
Tossing us a casual wave, John and Ronon turned and headed out on a Wraith hunt.
“Don’t feel bad about what happened,” I said softly to Teyla after a few minutes of silence. “Wraith Queens are very powerful but I know how controlled your mind is too. If she hadn’t caught you unawares ...” I trailed off, hoping my words had eased some of the guilt she was feeling.
“I am troubled that my actions while under her control caused damage that may still threaten everyone on this base,” Teyla frowned in concern.
“But if you hadn’t sensed her, tried to confirm her presence, then we’d be sitting blind,” I pointed out. “I know John would prefer to know what he’s up against rather than be ambushed.”
“I am sure that if I were to attempt to connect to her again she would not be able to control me,” Teyla was clearly thinking about helping in the search, despite what John had told her.
“John has had a lot – too much – experience with Wraith Queens,” I reasoned. “And Ronon did more than just survive as a runner for seven years – he took out more Wraith than he can probably count. Between the two of them, John and Ronon are more than capable of dealing with this. We should let them.”
“Are you not tempted to link to the Wraith yourself to help the Colonel?” Teyla looked at me quizzically.
“After seeing what happened to you,” I offered sincerely, “I’d prefer finding some other way to help than to tap into that Queens mind. Even with the experience I’ve had I don’t know if I could take down a Queen strong enough to control you and leave not even a memory of the events.”
“Perhaps you are right,” Teyla gave a little ground, “but if the need arises I would still prefer the chance to try again.”
“If the need arises,” I replied confidently, ”I’m sure that John will avail himself of whatever resources he has to fix the problem, including your special skills.”
We continued our anxious wait in that room, Teyla up and pacing around in an agitated manner not like her. When she grabbed her head as if in pain, I too felt the stab of something in my head that said “Wraith!”
“The Wraith presence is even stronger than before. She is aboard this station. You must warn them,” Teyla gasped out urgently.
“John,” I tried to contact him on the radio. “Teyla’s certain the Wraith is aboard the station. I’m feeling it much worse now too – this Wraith is strong.”
“Understood,” John acknowledged.
“God I hate waiting,” I said, taking over the pacing when Teyla sat wearily on one of the beds.
“I too am not fond of this inactivity,” Teyla admitted, putting a hand to her head and grimacing at the continued pain of sensing the Wraith.
Lapsing into silence I tried to relax while Teyla tried to rest, neither of us being overly successful in our endeavours.
“We have the Queen,” John reported to us a short while later.
“Are you and Ronon okay?” I asked in concern.
“Ronon shot out the front view screen on the Jumper,” John admitted. “I got a good soaking before Radek raised the force field.”
“Why would Ronon shoot at the Jumper?” my voice was suspicious at John’s overly brief explanation.
“Because the Queen was about to make me fly her out of here,” John said reluctantly. “That water took us all out – luckily we recovered before she did.”
“What are you going to do now?” I asked, quickly realising the implications of having lost the Jumper.
“Dr Cole rigged up a sedative drip,” John replied, “and we’ve got the Queen restrained. We’re gonna try and get her to help us get out of here. I’ll get back to you when we know more.”
“Great,” I muttered under my breath. “More waiting.”
“We know where the Wraith came from,” John, true to his word, had turned up with Ronon only moments before. “There’s a crashed Wraith Cruiser about a kilometre from our position – from the looks of it it’s been there a long time. We tried to question her but she was less than cooperative.”
“And there are no other Wraith on board the Cruiser?” Teyla asked.
“No way to know for sure,” John replied. “Our prisoner isn’t talking, other than her declaration that we're 'all about to die’.”
“Which may or may not be an empty threat,” Ronon added.
“Then you have no way of knowing?” Teyla said with a disturbed look.
“Well, she said it with a lot of confidence,” John quipped, making me smile slightly even given the tense circumstances.
“There is a way to find out,” Teyla looked at John expectantly.
“We’ve already been down that road,” John pointed out, reluctant to put Teyla in that position again.
“I think I should give it a shot this time,” I suggested. “Not that I’m saying Teyla isn’t just as capable but the Queen knows her now, has the mental advantage of having beaten her once before. I’m an unknown quantity.”
“And what’s to stop her exerting control over you?” John demanded.
“She’s sedated so she’ll be weaker,” I said easily. “And it’s not like I haven’t faced a Queen or two in my time.”
“Sabina,” Teyla protested my attempts to take over something that she had started. “This Queen is like no other I have come across before.”
“I know,” I replied serenely, “but the sedative levels out the playing field a bit and I won’t underestimate her.”
“Okay,” John said abruptly. “But Ronon is going to be standing ready to finish it if there’s any sign she’s getting on top of you.”
“Let’s get this over with then,” I said confidently. “What do we want to know the most?”
“Whether her threat is a bluff or not,” John replied immediately, “and how she got over here.”
“Okay,” I concentrated on calming my nerves as we walked to the room where the Queen was restrained. The Queen looked on with disinterest when John and Ronon escorted me in. That changed when she began to sense the Wraith DNA in me.
“Another one,” she sneered at John. “You must be desperate if you think to challenge me with these defective humans – possessing some of our genetic makeup does not make you strong.”
“We’ll see,” I replied, taking a step closer.
“Your fate is sealed,” the Queen said with satisfaction.
“If there’s any doubt at all that she’s gotten to me,” I looked at Ronon calmly, “stun me – don’t hesitate okay?”
“I won’t,” Ronon promised.
Sinking myself into the Wraith mind was a familiar feeling, even though it had been almost a year since I’d last had cause to do so. Putting up my usual mental blocks and projecting out the noise of random miscellaneous thoughts I sank myself deeper, looking for something to indicate what threat the Queen posed to us.
“Are you getting anything?” John asked impatiently, wanting this to be over before it had even begun.
“She’s a bit ... loopy because of the sedatives,” I said softly, concentrating on making sense of what I was seeing. “She was one of the Queens that led the attack on Atlantis but her ship was damaged. It crashed into the sea and sank too deeply for her to swim back to the surface.”
I could feel the Queen trying to push me out, trying to break through my mental barriers as she writhed on the table.
“What else?” John urged me to get as much as I could as quickly as I could.
“She did whatever it took to survive,” I continued, sickened at the images of the Queen feeding on her own kind that were filtering through my own head. “Hibernated for long stretches, fed on her crew, until she was alone. We woke her up when we came down here and she saw us as her only chance to escape.”
“How did she get over here?” John asked.
“She swam,” I said incredulously. “The pressure was almost too much even for her but she made it. She wanted to fly the Puddle Jumper but she couldn’t make it work.”
“She used Dickenson to call for me,” John realised.
“Yes,” I agreed. The Queen knew I was getting close to the information she wanted to keep secret and she redoubled her efforts to stop me. Groaning at the sudden pain in the centre of my head I lurched back a step before pushing firmly forward again.
“Sabina?” John’s voice was concerned now.
“I’m okay,” I replied firmly. “I’m getting to the good bit and she doesn’t like it. She activated the self-destruct on the Wraith Cruiser. We have two hours before it detonates.”
Letting go of my hold on the Queen I took a step back, grimacing at the sight of those ugly, pointy Wraith teeth grinning towards John.
“So - not an empty threat,” John confirmed, looking across at Ronon grimly.
“Unfortunately not,” I replied, rubbing at my face tiredly, before following the two men from the room.
“You need to rest,” John turned his attentions back to me.
“I’ll rest for a few minutes,” I offered, “but then I want to help figure out what we’re gonna do about this.”
“Fifteen minutes,” John ordered. “I’ll just send you away if you come back to the Control Room before that.”
“Fine,” I grumbled, heading for the closest Crew Quarters to the Control Room. I set my watch alarm to go off exactly fifteen minutes later and then lay down wearily. I hadn’t wanted to admit it to John but I was feeling a little shaky on my feet. That Queen had been strong, even with the sedative ... things were not looking good.
Chapter 46: That was too close
I wouldn’t have thought it possible but I actually did fall asleep, snapping awake fifteen minutes later when my alarm went off. Jumping up too quickly I had to steady myself against the wall before I could walk out of the room. John was talking with Rodney and Radek when I walked into the Control Room.
“We’re way behind schedule,” John was saying. “They’re gonna send a rescue Jumper any minute now.”
“Even if they’ve left already - I mean the moment we were overdue ...” Rodney trailed off.
“No, they won’t make it in time,” Radek confirmed what Rodney had been trying to say.
“Can we get over to the Cruiser somehow?” I asked, walking up to John and smiling when he looked at his watch before acknowledging me.
“How far is the cruiser?” John asked.
“Um, a little less than a kilometre,” Radek reported.
“She swam that far?! What is she?!” John asked incredulously.
“A formidable enemy,” Radek replied.
“I have an idea,” Rodney announced.
I followed along with Rodney and John as he led us to one of the rooms we hadn’t seen in our walk through. It looked similar to all the moon pool rooms I’d seen in countless movies. Rodney led us over to a collection of weird looking space suits.
“I found these in the database when we first got here,” Rodney explained. “They were used primarily to make repairs to the exterior of the station.”
“Very cool!” John smiled at the idea of walking around under pressures he wouldn’t be able to survive normally.
“Yeah. You should be able to traverse the distance between here and the cruiser,” Rodney offered.
“You mean we,” John corrected him pointedly.
“Um, yes, of course ...we,” Rodney agreed reluctantly.
“I’m coming too,” I said firmly.
“No you’re not,” John’s denial was instantaneous.
“If you have any trouble working out how to turn off the self destruct you’ll need a wraith gene holder over there with you,” I said reasonably. “We won’t have time for you to send for me later.”
“McKay will be able to shut off the self destruct,” John said insistently, “won’t you Rodney?”
“Ah actually ...,” Rodney looked at John miserably. “It depends on how the Queen set it up – we could need a Wraith gene to make it work.”
“Okay – fine!” John said angrily. “Let’s get suited up.”
“Right,“ Rodney looked down into the water with dread.
I suited up with Ronon’s help, aware of John’s silent annoyance that he’d had to concede I was needed on the Wraith Cruiser. John put aside his frustration to give me some quick pointers on manoeuvring and breathing in the cumbersome suit. Now that I'd gotten myself onto this part of the mission I almost began to regret it ... the suits were heavy and very enclosing ... and I couldn't help but focus on how long it'd take to get out of mine if I really, really wanted to. Trying to put aside my nerves and pretending I wasn't at all scared pretty much took up all of my attention while John and Rodney prepared what we needed, and made sure they knew the fastest route to the Cruiser.
"Okay?" John put his hands on my shoulders, the look in his eyes letting me know he was well aware of my fears. "It's not too late to change your mind."
"I'm fine," I said determinedly. "I can do this."
"I know you can," John replied. "I'm just saying you don't have to."
"Yes I do," I looked up at him seriously. "You don't have to worry about me."
"Can't help it," John smiled ruefully, before turning away to check on Rodney's status. "Okay, let's do this."
Lowering ourselves into the moon pool we sank slowly to the ocean floor and set out across the sand towards the Cruiser. As I walked through the water and adjusted to the environment my nerves began to settle, enough for me to look around ... it really was remarkable to be traversing the bottom of the ocean under my own steam.
“This actually is kind of cool,” I offered, puffing only slightly at the exertion required to move as fast as we needed to.
“We’re not out on a bush walk,” Rodney said sarcastically, his voice echoing inside my helmet. Clearly he wasn't enjoying the unaccustomed activity or the claustrophobic feeling within the suits - especially given his prior experience down at this level.
“You’re breathing too hard McKay,” John said helpfully.
“Oh, forgive me for being aware of exactly how much pressure is being exerted on this suit right now,” Rodney said snidely.
“Just think of it as a walk on the beach - a beach that’s about to explode,” John offered that incentive, causing some amusement - for me anyway.
“That’s supposed to make me feel better?!” Rodney protested.
“No, it’s supposed to make you walk faster,” John said firmly. “We’re on the clock here.”
“This is Zelenka. How close are you?”
“Almost there, but we’re runnin’ out of time,” John reported. “We may need Teyla to do her Wraith communication thing again.”
“I’m walking as fast as I can,” Rodney complained irritably.
Finally we were in the ship and out of our high pressure suits. Rodney ripped out his Ancient scanner and started looking for the location of the self destruct device.
“That took too long,” John commented, hovering near Rodney as he waited to find out where we were headed.
“Yeah, well, there’s no guarantee we can disarm the self-destruct in time, so we’re really not in a rush,” Rodney said despondently.
“Why don’t we find it first, and then you can be negative?” John suggested.
Rodney filled in the moments it took him to work out where the self destruct was talking about the amazing condition of the Cruiser – if he could have found a way to power it up there was every chance it could actually be salvaged. I don’t think an Earth based ship left in the same circumstances would have lasted a tenth of that time and it was a chilling testament to the power of Wraith technology.
“This way,” Rodney pointed out the course we’d have to take to get to the Bridge. We walked there in silence – the console flashing a red light countdown stood out like a sore thumb as soon as we got there.
Rodney consulted his scanner before uttering a sound I could only translate as a satisfied ‘would you look at that?’
“I’m pretty sure this is the device, and I’m pretty sure it says we have less than half an hour,” Rodney confirmed.
“Okay Sabina, you’re on,” John moved aside to let me stand in front of the console. “Turn it off.”
Grabbing the controls I accessed the neural interface and attempted to switch the self destruct off. When nothing happened, I tried again, applying more mental pressure than before. Frowning in confusion, I glanced worriedly at John and Rodney. “I can’t switch it off,” I admitted reluctantly.
“Why not?” John demanded.
“I guess their self destruct is more like ours than we would have guessed,” I replied. “The Queen entered a command code to stop anyone else from turning this off. If we don’t get the code, I can’t turn it off.”
“Can you figure it out?” John turned to Rodney expectantly.
“Yes, well, command codes are usually quite simple, like the number one or the letter A, like, in Wraith, which would be, umm ...,” Rodney trailed off after that expulsion of sarcasm.
“Can you figure out the code or not?” John demanded impatiently.
“No!” Rodney exclaimed. “Not if I stood here and tried for a million years, and we have,” he made a parody of consulting his watch before continuing, “just under a million years less than that!”
Turning away in exasperation, John activated the radio and contacted Doctor Zelenka. “Radek, you there?”
“Have you managed to switch off the self destruct Colonel?” Radek asked hopefully.
“Negative,” John replied solemnly. “If we don’t get the command code in less than thirty minutes, we’re dead.”
“I will let Teyla know,” Radek replied.
This was the crucial phase in John’s back up plan. He’d decided that if we couldn’t switch off the self destruct he would use Teyla’s connection to the Queen to lure her back to the Cruiser. To that end Teyla, John and I had participated in a scene the Queen could take from Teyla’s mind where John reported that Rodney had fixed the power generation problems and that John was going to fly the Cruiser to a safe distance. Teyla’s job was to convince the Queen that she was under her control when in fact she wasn’t. Teyla would then have to fool the Queen by ‘hiding’ our faked scene and then letting the Queen think she’d found it. Hopefully that would be enough to make the Queen swim back over here and put in her command code to stop the self destruct herself.
“You ready?” John looked from Rodney to me. Our job was to disable the Queen after she’d turned off the self destruct, before she could injure John in any way. I was nervous having his well being in my hands, even shared with Rodney.
“We’re ready,” Rodney sounded as nervously confident as I was feeling. We took up our positions hiding in the wings of the Bridge, waiting for the Queen to appear. I briefly considered the fact that if our plan wasn’t successful we were all about to die in a massive explosion that would take out Atlantis as well. Firmly putting that out of my mind I concentrated only on listening for the Queens arrival. We still had about five minutes left when I felt the unmistakable presence of the Wraith Queen on board.
Peering out of my hiding spot I saw John standing in front of the console, his back to the room. He must have sensed when the Queen was behind him because he turned as soon as she entered the Bridge.
“Well, you’re a hell of a swimmer, I’ll give you that,” he said conversationally.
“You have restored power?” the Queen spoke in her gravelly Wraith voice.
“It’ll fly,” John replied, stepping carefully away from the console to give her room to do what we needed her to do.
The Queen did the Wraith equivalent of crowing in delight, stalking across to the console and punching in her code. The red light countdown stopped immediately.
“You shall be rewarded,” the Queen turned to John with a hungry look, “with a quick death.”
Not waiting for Rodney's signal I jumped out from my hiding spot, aimed at the Queen’s chest and then fired a series of short bursts from the P90. The Queen convulsed with each bullets impact – snarling she turned in our direction, intent on getting rid of us first.
“She’s not dying according to plan here!” Rodney complained nervously, also firing repeatedly to no real effect.
John drew his pistol and fired eight more bullets into the Queens back, finally taking her down. Still he walked cautiously towards her to make sure she really was dead.
"That was too close," I said weakly, frozen in place as I looked over at the Queen.
“It was," John agreed, walking over and squeezing my hand in reassurance before turning back to Rodney accusingly. "What took you so long?"
"We had to wait for her to disable the device," Rodney admitted. "Hey, just be thankful she didn’t feed on you before she entered the command code.”
“Oh, that’s why you didn’t wanna be bait!” John looked at Rodney suspiciously.
“No-no-no-no,” Rodney protested. “You had to be bait because she was expecting you to be the one trying to fly the ship.”
“Let’s get outta here,” John deliberately didn’t acknowledge Rodney’s excuses. We walked through the Cruiser heading for the same access point we’d come in through.
“You looked pretty relaxed facing the Queen,” I said by way of congratulating John.
“Practice,” John replied. “You looked pretty relaxed yourself when you were shooting at her.”
“Well, when you’ve taken out a whole hive ship,” I said loftily, “what’s one Queen?”
“True,” John smiled at my jest, “although this Queen wasn’t like the run of the mill ones we’ve come across before. That was a lot of bullets you guys put into her and she still kept coming.”
“Which makes Teyla’s successful trickery all the more impressive,” I pointed out.
“I’m not looking forward to the walk back,” Rodney complained from behind us, “but at least we can go slower this time.”
“You can go slower Rodney,” John offered. “Sabina and I will be going at the same pace ... I’m not all that sure how much air those suits have left.” John and I shared an amused look when Rodney gulped and then muttered that he was good for another mad dash across the ocean floor.
Back in Crew Quarters, I sank wearily down on one of the bunks, barely listening to the conversation going on around me. The trip to and from the Cruiser coupled with my session on the Wraith Queen had tired me out. I stretched out on the bed and zoned out for a bit, only focusing when Rodney arrived with a status report.
“Well, Zelenka’s finally got communications back up,” Rodney offered. “Turns out Atlantis had sent another Jumper. Should be here within the hour.”
“That’s good news!” Teyla said in relief.
“Yeah, no kiddin’,” Ronon’s voice was muffled by the fact that he was lying face down on the bunk across from me. “I can’t wait to see the sun.”
“What? No-no-no -- we haven’t finished what we came here for,” Rodney protested. “Doctor Weir approved us to continue the mission as planned. The Wraith’s gone - we’ve got a ton of research to do. In fact, I’m pretty sure we should be able to come up with a way to get auxiliary power online in a couple of days.” Not giving any of us the chance to overrule him, Rodney hurried from the room to get started, his complaints about being tired - the ones that John and I had been forced to listen to the whole way back from the Wraith Cruiser - forgotten in the excitement of potential scientific discovery.
“Is he serious?” Ronon looked at John almost pleading.
“Yeah. He is,” John confirmed. “Elizabeth approved it so we’re stuck here for the next week at least.”
“Well, I for one intend to spend the next little while resting,” Teyla offered, using her jacket as a pillow and reclining on her bunk.
“Same here,” Ronon agreed, closing his eyes to get on with it.
“You okay?” John looked over at me quizzically from his position on the bunk next to mine.
“Just tired,” I admitted, turning to look at him. “You?”
“Same,” John returned. “You still glad you came along?”
“Wouldn’t have missed it for the world,” I smiled contentedly.
“I think I still owe you an underwater Puddle Jumper ride after this one,” John said sleepily.
“Sheppard,” Ronon growled warningly. “I’m trying to sleep here.”
“Sorry,” John’s expression was faintly the naughty boy caught doing something wrong. It was so endearing that I couldn’t resist blowing him a kiss – it made him laugh and Ronon grumble a bit more.
Chapter 47: This won’t be the last we see of him
Most of the missions where Team Sheppard got themselves into trouble we’d find out about it pretty much as soon as they failed to check in on time. But every now and then there’d be a mission where everything would seem as it should and we’d only find out when Team Sheppard got back that they’d barely escaped with their lives. Their mission to check up on the new Taranan settlement was one of the latter.
I was trying to progress the NAP project and had been granted permission to use the nanite research lab under lock down protocols, which basically meant that I had to isolate the lab from all the other Atlantis systems. Since I’d already organised to see John back at our quarters before dinner there wasn’t any need for me to contact him sooner. So I just went about my business, completing the tasks I’d assigned myself for that session before closing everything down securely.
“John?” I called out when I arrived in our room.
“Out here!” John called back from the balcony.
“How did it go?” I asked, walking up behind him and leaning down to kiss him in greeting.
“About as bad as it could,” John’s voice was full of regret and something else I couldn’t immediately identify.
“What happened?” I dropped down beside him, putting a hand on his leg in concern.
“Michael happened,” John admitted grimly. “He created a research base on the planet – used the Taranan’s as ... bug food to create his own army of super bug people.” John paused to wait for my reaction but I was too stunned that Michael was still alive to do more than just gape at him in shook. “What, no ‘I told you so’?”
“That hardly seems appropriate now,” I admonished, finding my voice at last.
“Didn’t stop Ronon,” John muttered. “He reminded me he’d said it was a bad idea from the start but no one listened to him.”
“What’s done is done,” I replied. “Did you at least get rid of Michael this time?”
“No,” John said starkly. “Not only did he kill all the Taranan’s and a team of Marines, but Rodney’s since discovered that Michael created at least a hundred of those creatures, with who knows how many more on three other planets. I diverted the Daedalus to intercept him but he’d already cleared everything out.”
“So ... it's as bad as it can get,” I restated what he’d said initially.
“Yeah,” John lapsed into silence, still grim faced over the result of a seemingly innocent mission.
“He’s angry with us,” I stated what we both knew was a fact.
“This won’t be the last we see of him,” John agreed. Rousing himself he stood quickly and reached down a hand for me. “Enough introspection,” he announced. “Let’s meet up with Teyla and the others ... they can tell you all the details I left out.”
“You mean practically everything then,” I said, taking his hand and letting him pull me up beside him.
Two weeks later Rodney and I were ready to report to Doctor Weir and the others on our progress with the NAP project.
“The Nanite-based Anti-replicator Proteins are like individual links in a chain,” Rodney explained. “When detecting even just one Pegasus Replicator nanite they split and then completely surround it. The links join to create an unbreakable fence, rendering the nanite inert. It’s the same way the proteins in Sabina’s blood operated to destroy the nanites from Niam. In fact we used samples of those nanites, under controlled conditions of course, to test them and they are 100 percent effective.”
“Can they infect humans like the Replicator nanites can?” Doctor Weir asked in concern.
“That’s the beauty of my design,” Rodney said proudly. “They’re hard coded to recognise human DNA and designed in such a way that they’re identified as a foreign body just like a virus, creating an immune response. And there is literally no way for them to be reprogrammed. It really is a brilliant idea.”
“Sabina’s idea,” John reminded Rodney.
“Yes, yes, of course,” Rodney agreed. “And if Sabina hadn’t asked me to work on this when I was suffering the effects of the Ascension machine none of this would have even been possible.”
“Can we turn this into some kind of defence or attack against the Replicators?” Doctor Weir asked.
“We’re able to create as many of them as we need using the Ancients nanite research lab,” I said. “The challenge comes in trying to device a method for delivering them to the Replicators.”
“The usual,” John drawled. “Same problem, different enemy.”
“I’m assuming you have an idea about that,” Doctor Weir looked from me to Rodney expectantly.
“We have a couple of ideas,” I agreed, looking at Rodney for him to explain.
“The best way would be if we can connect directly to the Replicator core,” Rodney took over. “We set up a device with the anti-replicator proteins primed to go and use a simple program to deliver them. Because they’re a program as well as a physical entity they could spread throughout the entire system and infect every Replicator who uses any system, or touches any other infected Replicator. I can’t say for sure but my estimates based on the tests suggest the spread would be rapid enough that the Replicators wouldn’t be able to come up with a defence fast enough.”
“That’s a terrible plan McKay,” John complained. “How are we going to get close enough to the Asuras core to make that happen?”
“I know, I know,” Rodney grimaced in agreement. “It’s unlikely. There is one other way, even more out there than the core idea, but you’re not gonna like that one either.”
“What is it?” John demanded, looking suspiciously at me like he knew it had been my suggestion. I decided to jump in rather than make Rodney tell it.
“We can inject the NAPs directly into a Replicator,” I said simply. “The spread would be much slower that way – we're not sure how long it would take for the NAP’s to multiply enough to cause any noticeable effect – but it would be plenty of time for the victim to spread them into the Replicator systems. The end result would then be the same.”
“But no-one can get close to a Replicator without the risk of being infected with a nanite virus,” Doctor Weir pointed out in confusion.
“That’s true,” I agreed, “for everyone who doesn’t possess the real anti-replicator protein that is, especially given the immune response to a mind probe.” It only took a few seconds for John to work out what that meant.
“No way!” he half rose from his seat to glare across at me. “We are not using you as some kind of Replicator BAIT!”
“John,” Doctor Weir said firmly, silently asking him to calm down. “Are there any other options?”
“None that we can think of,” Rodney admitted. “We can’t use any kind of remote delivery because the NAPs would be destroyed in the impact. It’s a very ... personal weapon that requires personal delivery – in the same way the Replicators require direct contact to infect us.”
“Then I agree with John,” Doctor Weir announced. “The risks are too great to attempt direct contact with the Replicators. I’m sorry Rodney, Sabina – unless you can come to me with a different plan, this project is shelved.”
“Could we at least prepare some of the devices Rodney mentioned?” I asked before she could leave. “We could put one in each Jumper as a back up ... just in case the Replicators come looking for us.”
“Do it,” Doctor Weir agreed after thinking for a few moments.
I smiled a thank you as she and Rodney left the meeting room. John had lingered behind, waiting until we were alone to speak his mind.
“Why is it that all your plans seem to involve personal risk to you?” John asked almost conversationally.
“Because I’m the freak with the ‘enhanced’ blood?” I suggested sarcastically. Before he could protest that description I added “I didn’t say I thought we should use me that way – I just offered it up as an option. Who knows – we might be desperate enough to need it.”
“We’re never gonna be desperate enough to offer anyone up as bait to the Replicators,” John said, showing some of his anger now.
“Aren’t you disappointed all the work I’ve done over the past few months resulted in practically nothing?” I looked at him impatiently.
“Of course,” John replied grimly. “But I’d prefer it if we just accepted that instead of trying to make something out of it with another harebrained scheme.”
“Okay, I think you’ve made your point,” I said meekly. “At least we’ll have the NAP delivery devices Rodney designed in the Jumpers, so that’s something.” I looked away as silence grew between us, at a loss for what to say next. “I guess I should –.”
“What did you mean when you said ‘enhanced’ blood like that?” John interrupted me to ask.
“You know what I meant,” I protested, turning away from him. “I think we’ve got enough examples now to show that my particular combination of DNA and proteins isn’t exactly a positive.”
“How is it not a positive?” John pulled me back around to look at him. “We’ve been able to do things with Ancient and Wraith technology we couldn’t have done without you.”
“NONE of them ever worked out!” I almost snarled that reminder, fuelled by the frustration of yet another failure. “We got a momentary advantage but in the end they were all useless as a long term solution – just like this anti-replicator thing.”
“Don’t,” John got right in my face with that order - I knew he was really saying 'stop dismissing your efforts' but I was too worked up to listen. I looked at him mutely for a few seconds before pulling away and leaving the room. He didn’t try to stop me.
John gave me a couple of hours to calm down before seeking me out. I knew he’d be able to find me anywhere on Atlantis so I didn’t bother trying to hide, choosing to sit on our balcony instead.
“Are you ready to be reasonable? John leant in the doorway, looking at me calmly.
“Truth is in the eye of the beholder,” I said reasonably, subtlety telling him that I’d completely believed everything I’d said.
“Maybe,” John said, pushing off and taking a step towards me. “Do you want to tell me what the real problem is?”
“I’m just disappointed that another thing I thought would be an advantage turned out to be useless,” I told him seriously. “If I get the bad side of all this blood stuff then I deserve to get the good side too!”
“Explain the bad side to me,” John was only a step away now.
“Having a whole town of people wanting to kill me because I’m tainted,” I offered, “or getting my brain almost scrambled by the whales because of being too open to mental communication. Even being the only one who could wipe out those hive ships isn’t exactly a good thing.”
“I would list just as many positives if I thought it would do any good,” John finally sat down next to me. Putting his arm around me he hugged me bracingly. “I think it’s time you stopped distinguishing the Ancient and Wraith parts of you as being separated from the rest and just accepted that Ancient, Wraith or Human it doesn’t matter. It’s all just you.”
John gave me time to consider that, content to just sit beside me as I thought.
“How were you going to answer Ronon’s question?” I looked out over the ocean rather than at John when I asked that.
“Huh?” John sounded confused. “What question?”
“That day ... he asked when you were going to get married,” I reminded him. “I interrupted before you could answer.”
“Ah,” John tightened his arm around me as he tried to work out where this was going. “I don’t know – probably something along the lines of ‘when Sabina’s ready’,” he admitted freely.
“Oh,” my stomach clenched in sudden nervousness. Pulling away from him I got up and stood at the railing.
“What?” John got up too, coming over to stand next to me.
“And ah ... children,” I almost whispered, keeping my eyes trained away from him. “Is that part of your ‘when Sabina’s ready’ plan too?”
“Is it a problem if it is?” John carefully didn’t answer my question.
“I can’t pass on my weird mix of genes John,” I told him with certainty ringing in my voice. “It wouldn’t be fair.”
“There’s no guarantee either of us would pass on anything to our children,” John pointed out.
“There is actually,” I corrected. “Caritas told me any child of ours would almost certainly have the ATA gene as well as a better than average chance of getting all the other genes too.”
“You asked her about it?” John’s voice was incredulous.
“Not exactly,” I replied, “it came up when we were talking about the anti-nanite protein being linked to the Wraith gene.”
“You’ve had all those characteristics for your entire life,” John pointed out. “If you’d never come here you would have married, had kids and never known any different.”
“Maybe,” I said, thinking that the path I’d been on made that unlikely. “But I did come here and I do know.”
“There’s no reason for us to be talking about any of this right now,” John said firmly, trying to shut the conversation down before it took us somewhere neither of us was ready to go. “It’s not like we’re gonna do anything about it in the short term.”
“I know,” I agreed. “But given that I feel so strongly about it I thought I should tell you now. You might need to rethink our ... your future and I owe you as much time as possible to do that.”
“I’m not rethinking anything,” John forced me to look into his frustrated eyes, “and you’re being ridiculous about this!” His voice was angry enough that I didn’t call him up on labelling me as ridiculous. “We’ll shelve this for the time being ... but you might want to take a moment sooner rather than later to look at those pictures Rod gave us ... they might just make you rethink your future.” Before I could say anything in response he turned and left the balcony.
“Is it my imagination or is the atmosphere between you and Sheppard a bit strained today?” Rodney asked the next day as we walked from the commissary together. We’d decided to begin production of the delivery devices straight away and were heading back to the lab after a quick break.
“John was less than impressed with my suggestion about being a human delivery system for the NAPs,” I told part of the truth, hoping that would head Rodney off. “He just hasn’t forgiven me yet.”
“Yeah but he’s been angry at your wacky plans before,” Rodney persisted. “He’s really taking this one personally.”
“Wacky?” I mocked. “Is that like the technical term?”
“Ha ha,” Rodney said sarcastically. “If you don’t want to answer my question just say so.”
“I don’t want to answer your question Rodney,” I parroted back at him.
“Fine,” Rodney muttered, hesitating before adding “but could you not let this one escalate like your last big argument when we were on the Wraith Hive ship? Sheppard is a pain in the arse at the best of times but he’s ten times worse when he’s at odds with you. You’re not the one who has to go off world with him.”
“I’ll try to arrange my personal life just to suit you Rodney,” I said sarcastically. “Anything else?”
“No,” Rodney replied, “just ah ... don’t stuff this up, okay?”
“How come you’re not telling John not to stuff it up?” I was insulted that Rodney thought I’d be the one to wreck something between John and me.
“I’ve seen inside Sheppard’s head remember?” Rodney reminded me. “I already know he’s not gonna sabotage the two of you.”
“Okay – fine,” I growled. “I promise I won’t stuff anything up – now can we get back to work?”
Rodney picked up the pace in answer to that question, leading us down to the nanite research lab. I thought about what he’d said and about how John had seemed that morning. It wasn’t like we were avoiding each other, or not talking to each other. In fact we’d done the same things we did most mornings – jogged, showered, had breakfast, and then headed off to our separate work destinations. Even the previous night when I’d finally come in from the balcony John had been reading in bed and had seemed to welcome me beside him. But I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t seen something, a hint of diminished spirit that said John wasn’t happy. I felt guilty for causing that and nervous that I wouldn’t be able to fix it.
Chapter 48: I would never take that for granted
John and I did our usual trick and buried the tension between us so that on the surface it seemed we were as united as always. John seemed happy with that so I could only assume he'd decided to give me time to think about what he'd said. I knew it wasn't the end of the discussion but I was happy for the reprieve.
“You’re not gonna get away with that,” I commented lightly, sitting cross legged on the bed a couple of weeks later watching as John raced through his year-end employee reviews. “You can’t just mark everyone with the same rating.”
“I’m not - I’m using ‘Excellent’ and ‘Above Average’,” John looked at me with a smug expression.
“Don’t you think those people deserve to hear what you really think of their progress?” I asked him seriously.
“Do you know how many of these things I have to do?” John complained. “There isn’t enough time in the day for me to write something different for each of them.”
“Well, you can try it the way you’re doing,” I offered with a slight smile, “but I don’t think Elizabeth will fall for it.”
“We’ll see,” John replied confidently, bending back over his data pad industriously.
The Atlantis grapevine was quick to report that the new Earth space vessel, Apollo had arrived ahead of schedule with a plan to conduct a pre-emptive strike on the Replicator home planet.
"Colonel Ellis asked me to join the mission," John told me a couple of hours into the Apollo’s visit.
"Doing what?" I looked at him in concern.
"He wants me to stay behind in a cloaked Jumper and assess the damage after they launch the warheads," John replied. "The Replicators won't be able to detect the Jumper so it should be a piece of cake."
"Do you think we should be doing this?" I asked him curiously. "I heard that Elizabeth was against it, that she even tried to get General O'Neill and Woolsey to call it off."
"She did," John agreed, running a hand across his face tiredly. "Look, I'm not happy with heading out on a mission Elizabeth doesn't approve of ... but I saw the pictures. They’re building ships - not to come here - they want Earth and because of us they know where it is."
"And we can't let that happen," I acknowledged. "I understand ... I just hope these weapons are destructive enough to not leave anything behind to retaliate. Have you got the NAP delivery device on board the Jumper yet?"
"Yeah, Rodney showed me what to do if the opportunity presents itself," John agreed. "It won't though because we're not gonna be getting anywhere near enough to that planet."
"It never hurts to be prepared," I reminded him. "Are you going now?"
"In a few minutes," John stepped closer and raised a hand to toy with my hair. "We should be back in about twelve hours."
"I'll be here," I quipped, hesitating as I looked at him intently. "You’re not still angry with me ... are you?" It was the best I could do without getting into something we didn't have time for and that I wasn't ready for either.
"I’m not ... if angry is even the right word to use," John said resolutely. "You should know by now that your crazy notions won't change how I feel."
"I would never take that for granted," I leant my forehead against his chest, wondering what I'd ever done to deserve him. "Maybe next time you could be the one with the worries and I could be the complacently confident one."
"That would be a change," John smiled at the image that brought to both our heads. He held me close while I absorbed the comfort of his presence ... too soon it was time for him to leave.
"Be careful," I squeezed hard before reluctantly letting him go.
"Always am," he replied with a smile, turning to head for the door. At the threshold he paused, then came back, leaning down to press a hard kiss to my lips. We shared a wordless moment gazing into each other’s eyes before he kissed me again and then quickly left.
Since John and Rodney were both absent Teyla convinced me to let her and Ronon keep me company ... it was a bit disturbing to realise that everyone knew how much I worried about John when he was on a mission. At the same time their presence did give me something else to focus on for what seemed like much more than the twelve hours the Apollo was gone. We were most of the way through dinner when we heard the Apollo had returned. I couldn't help but rush up to the control room with Ronon and Teyla following closely behind to find out how everything went ... we arrived to find John filling Elizabeth in.
"How was the mission? Was it a success?" I asked quickly.
"We did get all the ships," John confirmed with a small smile of satisfaction.
"I wish I could’ve been there to see it," Ronon said with a grin.
"Well, space battles are always a lot more exciting on TV than they are in real life," John joked.
"Doctor Weir?" We were interrupted by Chuck calling for Elizabeth's attention. "You’re gonna wanna see this. We’ve got a contact. Just came out of hyperspace."
Walking with the others I stood to the side as everyone looked at Chuck's display.
"Wraith?" Ronon suggested with interest.
"Naah," Chuck's tone was mostly confident that was the case. "It’s very small. I doubt it."
"Raise the shield," Doctor Weir ordered quickly.
"It’s taking up a geosynchronous orbit above the city," Chuck announced.
"What is it?" Teyla asked in concern.
"Maybe we should have the Apollo check it out,' John suggested grimly.
"Tell the Colonel he needs to get back to his ship," Doctor Weir ordered.
We waited the few minutes it took Colonel Ellis to report from Apollo in silence, no one willing to speculate until we knew more.
"OK, I’ve got a visual," Colonel Ellis reported. "Looks like a satellite of some sort." There was a short pause before Ellis added "It’s a Stargate!"
"A Stargate?" John glanced at Rodney with an expression that asked ‘how is that possible?’.
"That’s right," Ellis confirmed.
"I thought you said it was a satellite," John reminded him.
"It’s both," Ellis replied. "It’s a satellite, but in the middle there’s a ... Stargate."
"What could be the purpose of that?" Doctor Weir asked Rodney.
"I have no idea," Rodney admitted weakly.
"It just activated," Ellis said in an urgent tone.
"The Gate?!" John looked at Doctor Weir in concern.
We watched intently, waiting to see what would happen next. The display screen showed a beam lancing out of the active gate, heading for the planet.
"It’s hitting the planet,” Chuck reported a few seconds later
The beam travelled across the ocean heading straight for Atlantis. As it touched the edge of the shield the city began to shake violently.
"It’s a sustained beam," Chuck offered that piece of bad news emotionlessly.
"That is bad for a dozen different reasons," Rodney told us sickly.
"It’s protected by a shield," Ellis reported after we watched the three missiles he'd sent crash harmlessly against the gate satellite. "Give me some options, McKay."
"The shield’s taking its power from the beam," Rodney said impatiently. "Look, I registered a slight drop in output when you fired on it."
"Could I get a nuke past its shield?" Ellis asked.
"No, probably not," Rodney said grimly.
"I’ll get in the Chair and give it everything we’ve got," John suggested. "Maybe that’ll collapse the shield." He turned to do exactly that but Rodney's words halted him abruptly.
"I said “slight” - as in point zero zero two," Rodney said sarcastically. "Look, I doubt any amount of firepower is gonna collapse it while that beam is active."
"Then what do we do?" Ellis demanded.
"We stand down and let me think, is what we do," Rodney said firmly. "Just give me five minutes to get my bearings. I’ll brief you." He turned towards a different console, turning back to us when Ronon called his name.
"McKay, it’s shooting at us," he pointed out the obvious problem with not having a plan.
"Yes, and the shields are holding," Rodney had that wild eyed look that said he didn't have any ideas and was about to panic ... because he didn't have any ideas. "Look, we’ve got plenty of time - just give me five minutes."
Ignoring the rest of us, Rodney turned back to his console and started tapping away furiously.
"The shields appear to be holding," Chuck told Doctor Weir.
"At least we've got that then,' Doctor Weir replied, watching Rodney with concern before turning to head for her office. She glanced at John, clearly wanting him to follow her so they could talk about the situation. John threw me a confident smile before heading off after her.
"We're not gonna find out anything else now," I murmured to Ronon. "When John gets out of there, tell him I went to the gym."
I spent the 38 minutes a Stargate could theroetically stay open working out, trying to clear my mind of all the worrying scenarios I couldn’t help but come up with. When I didn’t hear anything after those 38 minutes were up I knew that the first hope for resolution of the crisis had failed to deliver. Slumping down on one of the benches I stretched my legs out in front of me, thinking about how we were gonna get out of this one. I was still thinking when John caught up with me twenty minutes later.
“Hey,” he greeted, coming in and sitting down beside me.
“Hey yourself,” I replied, shooting a sidelong glance at him. “Stargate still open?”
“Yeah,” John admitted grimly. “Rodney’s got a plan though ... it’s only a delaying one but it’ll give us time to come up with something more permanent.”
“Submerging the city?” I guessed, smiling when John shot me a surprised look. “I’ve been sitting here the last twenty minutes trying to come up with something – that was the only idea I had because the higher density of the water should dissipate the beam somewhat. Wasn’t that why the Ancients sank the city in the first place?”
“Very good,” John congratulated me. “Yes that is the current plan. Rodney said he needed about an hour to get ready. You’ll need to secure everything in your lab and then head to one of the safe areas – it could be a bumpy ride down.”
“Okay,” I got up slowly, holding out a hand to pull him up beside me. “What did you think of Colonel Ellis?”
“Strange situation,” John stayed where he was to maintain the private location of our conversation. “He said he knows there are some back on Earth who don’t like my methods but that he thought I’d done a good job here.”
“That’s not strange,” I frowned at him, “you have done a good job.”
“Ah but that’s not all,” John held up a hand to stop me from saying more. “He then went on to say that I should be running Atlantis – not Elizabeth.”
“Really?” I asked in confusion. “Why would he say that? How’d you respond?”
“I have no idea what kind of political power plays are going on back on Earth,” John assumed the comment was motivated by that rather than a complement to his skills. “I don’t want to end up in the middle of them though so I made a joke about wanting to rage against ‘The Man’ rather than be the man.”
“Do you think they’re trying to remove Elizabeth?” I asked worriedly.
“I don’t know,” John gnawed at his bottom lip, a sure sign he was particularly worried about something. “I should probably warn her anyway.”
“Given the way Colonel Ellis stormed in here with a plan none of us knew anything about I think Doctor Weir will already be on her guard,” I said, knowing that Elizabeth was a master at negotiating and understanding the subtext.
“Probably,” John agreed, finally moving to leave the room. “Go get started on your lab – radio me when you get done and I’ll let you know which safe area I’m at.”
“Will do,” I replied, heading in one direction while John went in the other.
I packed up my lab as best I could, not really sure what I should actually do to ‘secure’ it. The most important things were my laptop and a portable storage device I’d been using as a data backup. I decided to take them with me and just put everything else into transport containers which I then packed in the nearest storage closet. Looking at my watch I decided I had just enough time to run over to the nanite research lab and do the same thing. My primary objective was the NAP delivery devices we’d completed – two for the Jumpers and another minature version I’d just completed a few days ago. Putting the small one in my jacket pocket I packed the others into the special transport containment case Rodney had come up with. I draped the case strap over my shoulder with my other gear, deciding I was ready to head out.
“John,” I radioed him as promised. “I’m done here – where shall I meet you?”
“Sabina,” John replied immediately. “I’m stationed in that big meeting room just off the Gateroom.”
“I’m on my way,” I replied, hurrying down the corridor to get there as fast as possible. Walking in the door I deposited my gear in the corner before going to let John know I was there.
“Everything secured?” John asked, marking me off on his data pad as part of the whole ‘keep track of everyone’ deal.
“I guess,” I said uncertainly. “I’m not sure I really know what securing a lab actually involves.”
“I’m sure you did fine,” John smiled, glancing down at his watch. “Rodney and Radek should be almost ready to get this show on the road.”
“Attention all personnel,” Doctor Weir spoke over the citywide intercom. “We are about to attempt to submerge the city. From what I understand, it could get a little bumpy, so this is your last chance to secure equipment and get to the designated safe areas.”
Keeping close to John I braced myself when the city shook and vibrated with the power required to sink something the size of Atlantis. I could actually feel the downward force as the city sank slowly beneath the ocean, coming to a bumpy rest on the bottom only moments later.
“Let’s go find out how it went,” John suggested, calling out to the others in the room to remain there until they heard from the Control Room.
Following John up to the Control Room we saw from Rodney’s expression of dejection that hope number two for resolving the current problem had also become a bust.
“It didn’t work?” John looked at Radek first, and then at Rodney, waiting for some kind of explanation.
“It bought us a little time,” Rodney defended, “but no, it didn’t work. At this rate the shields will fail within 24 hours.”
“Come up with some more ideas,” John’s voice was closer to ordering than suggesting. Rodney rolled his eyes but I could see he appreciated the push to let the failure of the last idea go. Gesturing for Radek to follow him the two retired to their lab to brain storm.
“What now?” I looked at John expectantly.
“I’m gonna search out Teyla and Ronon,” John replied. “Wanna come?”
“Nah,” I said simply. “I need to retrieve the gear I brought down to the safe room and there are a couple of things I want to check in our quarters. Will you radio me when you know what the next idea is?”
“Sure,” John agreed, ruffling my hair before turning away, tapping his headset as he contacted one of his team.
I went to our quarters first, thinking about what the likely outcomes might be. We wouldn’t be getting out of here through the gate because the other gate was too close, but evacuation on the Apollo was probably an option if things got really bad.
Once inside our room I headed straight for the wall safe, waving my hand over it to open it. There was only one item inside – the envelope with the alternate reality photos. I held it in my hand for a while, tempted for the first time to actually look at them. Realising it was probably not the best time to be thinking about personal issues, I stuffed the envelope roughly in my jacket pocket for later.
Looking around to see if there was anything else I’d regret losing if I didn’t get a chance to come back here my eyes settled on the only photo I had of John and I – Doctor Weir had presented it to me after the last Christmas party. It was one of those candid shots – I was sitting beside John, who had one arm around me and the other extended like he’d been telling a joke or story when the shot was taken. I loved that photo because we were both smiling and the scene seemed imbued with the contentment and happiness we found in each other. Tracing a finger over John’s photo smile I felt something indefinable relax within me – John knew me better than anyone ever had. It wasn’t like I’d deliberately hidden the less appealing aspects of myself from him – in fact most of the time I’d practically hit him over the head with them. I knew John in the same way and I trusted him as I’d never trusted anyone else. He saw a future for us beyond what we were now and I realised as I’d admired that photo that I could put my trust in that. Wrapping the frame carefully in a spare t-shirt I tucked it under my arm to be packed in my bag later. My stomach grumbling loudly broke me out of my reverie – realising it had been ages since I’d eaten I hurriedly left the room, stopping off to grab the bags I’d left in the safe area on the way.
Chapter 49: You want to try for that ATA boost?
“Okay we’ve got a plan,” John dropped into the chair across from me only moments after I’d sat down to eat. “And it’s big!”
“You’re flying the city out of here,” I smiled when John’s face fell. “Sorry – did you want to make that more dramatic?”
“Ha ha,” John leant forward to steal something from my plate, moving swiftly out of range when I tried to smack his hand away. “And the plan is bigger than just flying the ship. First we have to get enough power which we’re gonna do by tapping into the drilling platform.”
“Nice!” I exclaimed, feeling an extra thrill over that because I’d actively helped to make the platform viable. “Lucky we got that up and running then.”
“It is,” John agreed, “but they can’t give us everything we need, so Lorne and a team of F302 pilots are heading out to grapple a large asteroid and tow it towards the beam. When it intercepts it’ll reduce the load on the shields and buy us enough power to make it out of the atmosphere.”
“You came up with that one didn’t you?” I grinned proudly at his continuing ingenuity.
“Saw it in a movie once,” John quipped modestly. “This is gonna take a while – you should probably take the chance to get some rest now before everything gets frantic again.”
“What about you?” I looked at him in concern.
“I’ve got a couple of things to take care of and then I’ll join you,” John promised, standing up and looking down at me curiously. “You seem pretty relaxed all of a sudden – are you feeling all right?”
“Epiphany and all that,” I waved a hand cryptically in the space between us. “Ask me about it when we’re out of this.”
“Sure,” John seemed torn between wanting to stay and make me tell him now and his duties. “Later,” he agreed, running a hand down my hair before turning and strolling casually out the door.
I finished dinner by myself quickly ... I had a couple of things I still wanted to do too before settling for the night. One of them was to stow my gear somewhere portable and convenient – the only place I could think of that made sense was Jumper One. Having done that I radioed my next target, hoping he hadn’t headed out yet.
“Major Lorne,” I called, “what’s your position?”
“Hey Sabina,” Lorne replied. “I’m up in the Control Room with Rodney.”
“I’ll be there in a sec,” I said, ducking out the back of the Jumper and down the stairs to the Control Room to see him. “When are you heading out?”
“You heard about the plan already?” Lorne asked in surprise.
“In with the boss, remember?” I smiled smugly. “You’d be happy – getting to take a 302 out for a spin.”
“It'll be more like flying a really big brick,” Lorne pointed out. “I’m just waiting for McKay to identify an asteroid of sufficient mass and then I’ll be beaming up to the Apollo.”
“I’m glad I caught you before you left then,” I said.
“You’re not coming up on the Apollo?” Lorne looked at me questioningly.
“Didn’t know it was an option,” I admitted, wondering why John hadn’t mentioned it. “Makes sense to minimise the number of people left in the city though.”
“But you won’t be leaving,” Lorne stated it like it was a given.
“Course not,” I replied with a smile. “I’m surprised John didn’t try to get me to leave this time.”
“Major?” Rodney called Lorne’s attention away from me.
“Good luck with the brick,” Lorne smiled at my flippant remark. Raising a hand as a good bye and good luck in return, he turned and gave his attention to Rodney.
Stifling a yawn I turned tiredly in the direction of bed, slumping down on the mattress face first as soon as I got there.
The next thing I knew it was early morning and John had already left. Hurrying through my morning rituals I ran up to the Control Room, stopping in a corridor on the way to listen as Doctor Weir made another city wide announcement.
“May I have your attention? As you all know, we have found ourselves in a spot of trouble. The reality is that no matter where we try to hide on this planet, the Replicator satellite will be able to track us. Therefore, Doctor McKay and Colonel Sheppard have come up with a rather ingenious way for us to escape the satellite’s range altogether. In the next few hours, we will fire the city’s star drive and head into space,” Elizabeth’s voice was tinged with the excitement of making that happen. “Atlantis is leaving this planet.”
Continuing on I arrived at the Control Room only moments later. John and Rodney were hunched over one of the display screens, Rodney pointing something out that was hopefully not another problem.
“I had an idea about how I could help,” I stood behind them, clearing my throat first in case they hadn’t noticed I was there.
“Morning,” John greeted me. “What idea?”
“It’s gonna take a lot out of you to control the star drive,” I pointed out. “If I’m down there with you I could try and lend you a bit of extra ATA juice – like the reverse of what you’ve done for me in the past.”
“Is that possible?” John narrowed his eyes in thought. “I thought it only worked the one way.”
“Maybe, maybe not,” I countered. “It’s worth having me down there just in case.”
“Okay,” John agreed. “It’s still gonna be a couple of hours before Lorne has the asteroid in place. Go grab something to eat and then head down to the Chair Room - I'll see you there.”
“Sure,” I nodded, standing where I was just looking at him. Sensing the stare John turned back to me in confusion.
“What?” he looked at me curiously.
“I’m just kind of surprised that you didn’t insist I go to the Apollo with all the other non essential personnel,” I admitted.
“I guess you’ve graduated from non essential to essential then,” John replied simply, keenly watching as a huge grin spread over my face.
Not caring that he was on duty and Rodney was right there I threw my arms around him and hugged him tight. “That’s the nicest thing you’ve said to me in like ... a week!” I said. Seeing Rodney rolling his eyes dramatically I added “All right Rodney – I’m going. I just need to do this,” I added as I pulled John down and kissed him exuberantly. “See you in the Chair Room,” I called, turning and heading rapidly back down the stairs.
“Well, I guess it’s show time,” John said, walking into the Chair Room a couple of hours later with Rodney in tow. I’d taken up a position at one of the side consoles and waved a greeting when he arrived.
“You sure you can do this?” Rodney asked.
“Fly the city?” John asked in confusion, probably wondering why Rodney would be asking that now.
“What else could I possibly be talking about?” Rodney said impatiently.
“I flew a V22 Osprey once,” John offered like we should all know how that was related to operating the star drive on Atlantis.
“Was it as big as a city?” Rodney’s voice dripped sarcasm.
“Well, you had to use your hands and feet with that one,” John explained the complexity. “This one, you just have to sit down and think ... ‘Fly’.”
“OK, why don’t you just get in the Chair and start your pre-flight?” Rodney suggested, realising he wasn’t going to get anything else from John.
John sat down in the chair which lit up immediately as usual. Rodney walked around the chair towards the door, pausing when he got there to look at John uncertainly.
“Oh, I’m gonna head up to the Control Room, and Zelenka will monitor output from the ZedPM Room,” he told John stuff he already knew instead of what he really wanted to say. Hesitating awkwardly Rodney added “And, uh, good luck.”
“You too,” John returned. Rodney left, leaving John sitting a little uncertainly in the chair.
“You’re always telling me how you can fly anything,” I reminded him. “You can do this.”
Rather than respond with words John purposefully pushed back in the chair, reclining it into action position. Closing his eyes he ran mentally through all the pre-flight checks, preparing himself for the mammoth task ahead. Watching him silently I tried to calm myself so I’d be ready to help him if he needed it.
“Are you ready, Sheppard?” Rodney spoke over the radio from his position in the Control Room.
“Ready as I’ll ever be,” John responded.
The city shook as the engines fired, pushing Atlantis up from the ocean floor. Moments later the feeling of motion ended, leaving Atlantis floating once more.
“We’re on the surface,” Rodney confirmed. “Fire the star drive.”
John’s face took on a look of intense concentration as he activated the star drive. The shaking of the city returned – John’s face became strained as the city broke clear of the ocean, struggling to reach the required height.
“We’re not flying high enough,” Rodney said urgently. “It’s stalling out!”
“Something's not right Rodney," I spoke from my position monitoring the chair output.
“What are you doing wrong?” Rodney demanded.
John snapped open his eyes and raised his head. “Sure, blame me,” he complained. “We don’t have enough power.”
“Oh, sure, blame me!” Rodney returned the complaint.
“It’s not working,” John reminded him. “What other reasons could there be?”
“I have no more power to give you!” Rodney’s voice was tinged with a hint of panic now.
“Shut it off,” Elizabeth offered, obviously keeping an eye on things from Rodney’s position.
“What?” Rodney demanded.
“Lower the shield,” Doctor Weir reiterated.
“We’re about to go into space!” Rodney protested. “If you plan on breathing, we’re gonna need the shield.”
“Turn it back on at eighteen thousand feet,” John suggested. “We just need the boost to get started, no?”
“That might work,” Rodney said in a more reasonable tone. After a short pause he came back. “OK, I did it. Give it all you’ve got.”
“Sabina,” John turned to me with a raised eyebrow.
“You want to try for that ATA boost?” I jumped up and stood beside him, putting my hand on his shoulder when he nodded wordlessly. I kept my eyes on his face as he closed his eyes and lay back again, concentrating all my focus on thinking ‘help John’. I felt the energy rush out of me as John pushed the star drive to the limit, finally breaking the city clear of the hold the planet had on her.
“That’s it!” Rodney said excitedly. “We’re flying!”
John concentrated on controlling the star drive and all its related functions – I continued to offer him help in the form of extra ATA energy. Time seemed to have slowed to a crawl and I was painfully aware of every minor detail ... the creaking and groaning sounds of the city in flight, the look of almost pain on John's face as he struggled to control everything, and the increasing weakness I was feeling as both our energy was consumed in operating the Ancient systems.
“That’s it,” Rodney spoke after seemingly endless seconds of shieldless flight. “Time’s up. Raising the shield.”
“Taking us into hyperspace,” John reported seconds later. I felt the unmistakeable motion of hyperspace travel as John deactivated the Chair and sat up.
“We did it!” he said, covering the hand I still had on his shoulder and squeezing it in relief. ”McKay! Elizabeth!” John called over the radio, keen for a progress report from their end.
“I need a medical team to the Control Room, stat! Multiple injuries!” Rodney’s panicked voice echoed ominously over the radio channel.
Without a word John jumped up and ran from the Chair Room, with me hot on his heels.
The scene we arrived into looked like the aftermath of an explosion. The huge glass windows across from the control room stairs had been blasted through the Gate and Control rooms in a million lethal pieces. Injured people were sitting or lying where they’d dropped, each sporting a number of small cuts on exposed skin in addition to more serious injuries. Even more worrying was the sight of Elizabeth being lifted onto a stretcher – she was unconscious, head wrapped in a large bandage and neck braced, with an oxygen mask over her face.
“Keller, what happened?” John demanded, looking worriedly at Elizabeth.
“Apparently the beam grazed the tower and blew out the ... “ Doctor Keller broke off and turned to one of the medics wrapping a bandage around a man’s arm. “Adams, that guy just has a cut. Tell him to put pressure on it and move on. There’re a lot of people worse off upstairs.”
“Elizabeth?” John asked hesitantly, walking closer to the gurney. “Is she gonna be OK?”
“I don’t know yet,” Doctor Keller admitted. “She took quite a fall and her pupils are sluggish. I’m gonna have to get her under a scanner. I’ll know more in a bit.”
Doctor Keller followed the medic wheeling Doctor Weir from the room. I stood looking after them for a moment before heading up the stairs after John. Stifling a curse I took in the mess. Glass covered every flat surface, consoles sparked, and damaged equipment littered the floor. There were injured people up there too, with medics attending to the worst hit.
“Ronon,” I exclaimed, rushing over to drop down on a knee beside him, looking in sick concern at the large piece of jagged glass sticking out of one shoulder.
John was already bent down next to Ronon, with a hand on one of his shoulders.
“Oh, God,” John muttered, looking at Ronon’s wound nervously.
“It's okay ... I’ve had worse,” Ronon said bravely although I didn’t believe that for a second.
“How come no-one’s helping you?” John asked.
“I told them I didn’t need any help. Other people need more,” Ronon replied hoarsely.
“I doubt that,” John disagreed with Ronon’s self diagnosis. “Get this man to the Infirmary,” he called out to Adams.
I waited next to Ronon until he’d been made ready for transport, promising to come and see him as soon as we’d assessed the situation. John was talking with Rodney and Teyla, both of whom were sporting thankfully only minor cuts on their faces.
“What happened?” John demanded.
“The beam grazed the side of the tower before the shield was completely closed,” Rodney admitted.
“Damage?” John looked at Rodney expectantly.
“Minimal - I think,” Rodney replied. “Look, I was able to get the shield up fairly quickly. It took the brunt of the blow.” An alarm sounded, causing a sick look to cross over Rodney’s face. “Oh, what now?” he muttered plaintively, as the room began to shake.
“What is happening?” Teyla asked worriedly.
“We just dropped out of hyperspace,” Rodney’s face was stunned.
“Have we already reached M12-578?” Teyla demanded.
“No. There’s no way,” Rodney denied. “It should have taken at least another few hours. The hyperdrive just shut down.”
“Why?” John asked heatedly.
“I don’t know,” Rodney complained.
“Get it back up,” John ordered sternly.
“I just said I don’t know what’s wrong,” Rodney said angrily. “I can’t get it back up if I don’t know what happened!”
“Can you tell where we are?” I tried to make my tone reasonable, knowing how much pressure Rodney would be feeling right then.
“In the middle of nowhere,” Rodney got that pained look on his face that said things had just gotten really bad. “There are no planets, no moons, no Stargates.”
“How much power do we have?” John asked the question I’d been thinking myself.
“This can’t be right,” Rodney muttered under his breath as he checked the readings on his console.
“How much?” John demanded an answer.
“At current consumption, we’ve got twenty-four hours of power left,” Rodney said in horror. “After that, there’s no shield. No shield, no atmosphere. No atmosphere, we’re ...”
“Can we use the Stargate?” Teyla interrupted his doom filled recital.
“In order to dial a Gate, it needs to be calibrated to a specific location,” Rodney lectured. “We're lost. Look, we dropped out of hyperspace way too soon. I have no idea where we are.”
Chapter 50: The shield's collapsing!
“This is bad,” I muttered. “This is really, really bad.”
“Thank you Ms Obvious!” Rodney retorted. “Look, I need to start getting some of these systems back on line.”
Rodney continued to move from one console to another as he worked out what the status of the various systems was. He seemed oblivious to the numerous cuts scattered across his face, a sure sign that our circumstances were indeed dire. I stood beside John and Teyla trying not to get in his way ... trying not to think about Elizabeth and how badly injured she might be.
"Here we go," Rodney announced. "Here we go."
"Got city-wide sensors back online?" John asked hopefully.
"Not fully," Rodney admitted. "Slowly re-booting up right now."
"Can we contact the Apollo?" Teyla got in first with the most important question.
"Not yet, no," Rodney replied, still paying more attention to his console than to us.
"Why not?" Teyla persisted.
"Because sub-space communications are down," Rodney said, in that tone he used to signal we should have already known the answer. "Don’t worry - I’ve got Chuck working on it."
With perfect timing Chuck chose that moment to activate part of the wall panel where he was working. Something short circuited, sending sparks flying all around him.
"Well, maybe you should be working on it," John suggested pointedly.
"I’ve got bigger fish to fry," Rodney countered that suggestion.
"What could be more important than contacting the Apollo?" Teyla asked in confusion.
Ignoring that question Rodney continued to focus on his computer tablet. His eyes widened in alarm. "This can’t be right."
"What’s wrong?" John demanded.
"Power," Rodney said in dismay. "We’re losing massive amounts of power."
"Why?" John looked at Rodney expectantly.
"I don't know," Rodney admitted. "Look, if you stop asking me questions I might be able to work it out." Turning away again he tapped his earpiece to contact Doctor Zelenka down in the power room. "Radek, are you reading the same massive power usage we've got up here?"
"Yes Rodney," Radek replied quickly. "I don’t think the problem is on this end."
"I don’t care where the problem is," Rodney said irritably. "I wanna know what the problem is."
There was a pause before Radek came back on the line, this time his voice was as dismayed as Rodney's had been. "It’s in the conduits." Rodney groaned as Radek continued. "It looks like several of the main conduits were affected by the brush with the beam."
"Alright, that means we’ll need to, uh ..." Rodney began.
"Yes, yes, yes. You-you should get the ...," Radek interrupted, already knowing what Rodney was going to say.
"I will, as soon as I’ve shut down all of the ...," Rodney continued their verbal half conversation, confusing the hell out of the rest of us.
"Yes, yes, yes. I will do the same thing," Radek agreed.
"Wait, wait, wait," John held up a hand to get Rodney's attention. "What’s going on here?"
"Every second I waste, we’re draining more power," Rodney replied, rushing from one console to another. "Just trust me, we’re doing the right thing here."
"Tell me what’s going on, Rodney!" John demanded. Looking at his frustrated and worried face made me suddenly realise an important detail. With Elizabeth injured, John was effectively in charge of the whole city and everyone in it. His entire demeanour since we'd come up from the Chair Room and discovered how bad things had gotten was grimly determined - he wasn't happy to have been forced into that position but he'd do what had to be done to keep everyone safe.
"Long story short, there are a bunch of systems on right now that don’t need to be, and given our current situation, they are draining the life out of the city," Rodney finally explained.
"Can you not just shut them off?" Teyla asked the obvious question.
"Just ... wait ... uh ...," Rodney said, thinking hard. "Maybe, yeah." Moving to yet another console, he started typing in commands at a rapid rate. "Oh, come on," his voice took on a whining tone as he discovered something he felt was there just to annoy him.
"What?" John demanded again.
"Nothing!" Rodney exclaimed. "Well, the control grid’s all out of whack. I can’t shut the systems down from here. We’re bleeding out!"
"We can shut down the systems manually, right?" John asked.
"I don’t think we have the time," Rodney said negatively.
"Anything we can do would help, wouldn't it?" I asked, raising an eyebrow at Rodney expectantly.
"OK, you’re right," Rodney agreed. Activating his headset, he contacted the Power Room again. "Zelenka, we’re gonna need to deploy some teams."
I listened as they worked out what systems had to be shut down and where they were. Radek released all the people he had down with him, sending them off to positions in the northern part of the city. John moved to the side of the room to speak to some of his men, assigning them to escort Rodney's teams in case they needed help.
"Rodney," I put a hand on his arm to draw his attention to me. "I can help with that too." Pointing to a spot on the city schematic near the East Pier I added, "I know this area really well - I could get there just as quickly as anyone else and shut off the labs down in that area."
"Okay, yes," Rodney agreed.
Turning to leave I literally walked straight into John who'd obviously heard the tail end of my offer. The look on his face said he wasn't thrilled with me. "Wait until Barnes gets here," John ordered. "He'll escort you down there."
"That's a waste of manpower John," I denied the need. "It's one of the closest locations for the teams - I'll be there and back inside of twenty minutes."
Frowning in frustration John thought for a moment before reluctantly nodding an agreement. With a fair number of personal located on the Apollo we were short staffed and needed to be efficient in how we utilised the people we did have.
Not waiting for further protests I shot John a confident smile before running down the stairs and across the Gateroom towards the nearest transporter. Coming out in the corridor leading to the right section I sprinted to the access panel, quickly pulling it off and looking inside. Pulling the right crystals I was rewarded with the faint hum of power systems shutting down.
"Rodney," I contacted him on the radio. "I've cut off the power here - are there any other locations close by?"
"Ah hang on," Rodney muttered. I waited impatiently for a few seconds before he replied. "Okay, there's a research lab two levels down that's still drawing power." He gave me the exact location and I took off, making it there quickly and again removing the right crystals. We repeated that same process several more times, with Rodney giving me locations that drew me further and further away from the central tower.
"Any more?" I asked Rodney.
"That's it," Rodney replied. Turning to head back to the tower I heard the alarm sounding in the Control Room through the still open radio channel.
"What's going on?" I demanded, picking up my pace as I wondered what could possibly have gone wrong now. "Rodney?" I called again when he didn't get back to me straight away.
"Sabina," John's voice came on the line - the urgency in it had me sprinting before he'd even said anything else. "Fall back to the tower - run!"
"Already on it," I panted, racing down the corridor as fast as I could. "What's happening?"
"The shield's collapsing," John said grimly.
"Crap," I muttered, putting on a burst of speed as I glanced over my shoulder.
"You need to move faster," John urged in a tone that had a edge of panic to it.
I could hear the doors behind me slamming shut as I ran - the main door to the tower section was only a few metres away now. "Almost there," I reported, launching myself at the opening when I was still a few paces away. In mid air the gravity suddenly shut down, causing my leap to turn into a longer flight than I could have managed by myself. My momentum carried me through the doorway just before the door slammed shut behind me. I crashed to the floor with the sudden return of gravity, winding myself with the drop. Struggling to take a breath I heard nothing on the radio for a few moments before John's voice calling to me came through loud and clear.
"Sabina?" he said quietly. "Are you okay?" I tried to say something but my vocal chords were strangled by the lack of air in my lungs. "Sabina!" John demanded. "Please respond!"
"I'm fine," I finally choked out, still struggling to take a proper breath. "Just ... winded myself ... when I hit ... the floor."
"Don't do that to me again," John admonished in a shaky voice. "That was too close."
"Wasn't by choice," I replied, finally getting a full breath in. "What about the other teams - were any of them affected?"
"We lost Matthews plus two of Rodney's scientists," John admitted grimly.
"Damn!" I muttered angrily, dragging myself off the floor and towards the transporter. "Did we get enough systems shut down?"
"It definitely bought us more time," John replied, carefully not stating the obvious fact that we were still in dire trouble.
"Okay ... ah ... ," I asked uncertainly, "have you heard anything about Elizabeth yet?"
"She's still in the OR," John replied.
"Do you need me for anything up there?" I asked, not waiting for his reply before I continued. "I want to check in with Ronon - see how he's doing."
"There's nothing we can do for the moment," John said. "Go see Ronon - I'll come down a bit later."
"Okay," I agreed, wishing I could do something or say something that would help him feel better about the situation. "I'll see you later."
Taking the stairs down to the infirmary I looked around, spotting Ronon immediately. He was lying on one of the infirmary beds, as usual making the bed look ridiculously small. His shoulder was heavily bandaged and he had a drip attached to one arm but overall he looked pretty good.
"Hey Ronon," I greeted him softly as I approached his bed.
"Sabina," Ronon greeted me in return.
"How's the shoulder?" I gestured vaguely towards his injury.
"Glass is all gone," Ronon replied. "I should be out of here soon."
"Any word on Doctor Weir?" I asked hesitantly.
"The medic said her brain was swelling," Ronon frowned in concern. "Said something about cutting a piece of her skull out to make room?"
"Oh God," I muttered, realising that Elizabeth's condition was much more critical than any of us had realised.
Lapsing into silence I sat with Ronon, trying not to think about the likely outcomes for Elizabeth. I hated the thought but I knew a brain injury meant possible brain damage - maybe even permanent damage. I'd been sitting there a while when John arrived. Putting a hand on my shoulder in greeting he looked at Ronon carefully before speaking.
"You OK?" he asked Ronon.
"Yeah, I’m fine," Ronon said casually, like he hadn't had a big chunk of glass sticking out of his shoulder only hours before.
"Good," John said simply.
"You need me somewhere?" Ronon asked almost hopefully.
"Right here, getting better," John dashed Ronon's hopes of a quick exit from the infirmary.
"Alright. Well, I’m good to go," Ronon replied.
Before John could say any more about that, Doctor Keller appeared from the doorway of the OR, frowning when she saw John standing beside Ronon.
"Colonel?" she called him over to her.
John's expression was reluctance and dread ... hesitantly he walked over to her. Doctor Keller put her hand on his shoulder and steered him further away from us. I couldn't hear what they were saying but I had a bird’s eye view of John's expression and that was enough to tell me that Doctor Keller was giving him bad news about Doctor Weir.
John asked a couple of questions but most of the conversation was Doctor Keller telling him things. At the end John was mutely nodding, his eyes conveying how tightly he was holding on to his emotions. Doctor Keller left him silently. He stood there for a few seconds before turning and walking quickly from the infirmary without a word to either Ronon or me.
Glancing hesitantly as Ronon my eyes asked him for some guidance on what to do.
"Go," he said firmly. Nodding quickly, I squeezed his hand before jumping up and following John from the room.
John was just disappearing around the corner and I ran to catch up with him. "John?" my voice drew him to a sudden halt. Keeping his back to me he waited silently. Putting my hand on his back I frowned when I registered how tense he was. "Is Elizabeth ...?" I began, not sure what to ask.
"She's not doing well," John grated out.
Walking around him I grabbed his hand and waited for him to look at me. When he did and I saw his eyes, glazed with shock, worry and grief I felt my own eyes begin to water. "How bad is it?" I asked weakly.
"As bad as it can get," John admitted. "Doctor Keller said her chances of survival aren't good - even if she does she won't be the same Elizabeth," his voice cracked faintly on the last bit.
"Um ...," I kept my eyes on his, trying to pull in the emotions and be as strong as I knew he needed me to be. Our situation was still grim - much as I wanted to break down and cry, John's expression was telling me that now wasn't the time. "Okay ... what can I do to help you?"
John pulled me wordlessly into his arms, dropping his head down to my shoulder as he hugged me close. We stood like that for a few moments - drawing strength from each other.
"Colonel Sheppard, Doctor McKay," Chuck's voice came through the general intercom. "Please report to the Control Room immediately."
Squeezing me tightly for another moment John reluctantly let me go. "I better go see what he wants," John said briskly.
"Can I tag along?" I asked, falling into step beside him when he nodded.