ShaViva's Stargate Fan ... Stuff

Inconceivable!

Fortunate Journey Season Three Part Six


Chapter 51: What about the ones that got past us?


You’re gonna want to look at this," Chen, one of the Control Room technicians, said when we walked in just behind Rodney. Pointing to his screen, he drew our attention to a diagram showing a series of objects in a circular formation.

"What is that?" John asked.

"An asteroid belt?" Rodney offered.

"This just keeps getting better and better, doesn't it?" I commented grimly, hardly able to believe we were facing yet another problem.

"Are the sub-lights still offline?" John looked at Chen expectantly. When he confirmed they were, meaning we wouldn't be able to alter our course, John turned to Rodney. "We’re gonna need to expand the shield."

"We don’t have enough power!" Rodney said irritably.

"How long ‘til we get there," John asked Chen, "and how long ‘til we get through it?"

"About ten minutes ‘til we get there. After that, maybe two minutes to get through," Chen replied.

"Two minutes to get through an asteroid field?" John asked in surprise. I was more concerned with the ten minutes to get there thing myself ... that hardly seemed enough time to implement a plan, let alone come up with one in the first place.

"Well, we’re not passing all the way through; we’re just gonna skim the edge," Chen adjusted the view on his screen to show us how our path was going to cross the top layer of the asteroid belt.

"You can’t even give me two minutes of full shield?" John asked Rodney incredulously.

"Don’t take it personally," Rodney said sarcastically. "I’d like them up as much as you would, but we just can’t afford the power."

"Rodney!" John gestured to the screen, reminding him of the situation.

"Look, Zelenka needs forty-five minutes to complete the repairs to the power conduits," Rodney explained. "If we raise the shield even for one minute, it’ll eat up all his time. We can’t do it."

"OK," John relented, staring intently at the screen, thinking hard. "How big are they?"

"Well, we’re in the middle of a pretty big solar system right now, and the asteroid belt’s probably made up of remnants of early failed planets, so ... you know ... building size and larger?" Rodney offered hesitantly.

"I can get in the Chair, fire drones and clear a path to travel through,' John suggested.

"In principle, a good idea," Rodney agreed, "but the Chair Room is outside the shield right now and we’d never get to it. Look, we could, um ... ah, that’s not gonna work. Uh, we could ..." Rodney trailed off, unable to think of anything else to suggest.

"How many people on the base have the Ancient gene?" John asked when Rodney stopped talking.

"Twenty or so," he replied. I knew immediately what John was thinking - using the Jumpers to fire drones at the asteroids was a brilliant plan. Rodney had also worked out what John had in mind and was less than thrilled with the idea. "Look, no, no, no-no-no-no. That is a bad idea," he complained.

"It would work Rodney," I urged him to think beyond his own nervousness at having to be one of the people flying a Jumper.

"Okay - do you have a better idea?" John demanded, looking at Rodney expectantly.

"Not yet," Rodney admitted, pointing a finger at John as he thought. "I just, I just need some time. If you, er ..."

Taking that as answer enough, John walked away, giving instructions to Chen as he went. "Contact everyone on the base who has the Ancient gene; tell them to meet me up in the Jumper Bay asap."

I headed up the stairs with John, followed soon after by a reluctant Rodney. It only took a few minutes to get everyone gathered in the Jumper Bay. I stood off to one side of the group, watching as John looked around at his collection of mostly inexperienced and non military Jumper pilots.

"Atlantis is about to skim the edge of an asteroid belt," John began his explanation. "Doctor Zelenka and his team are repairing the damaged conduits so that we can get the hyperdrive back on line. They need another 45 minutes to complete their work which will use up most of the buffer we have to still make a hyperspace jump possible ... which means we can’t raise the shield because we don’t have enough power. And we can't change our course because the sublight engines are offline too. If we don’t clear a path for the city, it’ll get ripped apart. So we’re gonna take every last Jumper we have and we’re gonna clear a path through the belt by firing our drones."

John's words caused nervous shuffling and the exchange of worried glances. One of the medics, Adams, raised his hand hesitantly.

"Excuse me," he said nervously. "I’ve really only flown a Jumper twice and I’ve never actually fired a live drone, so ..."

"You’ve done it in simulations, right?" John said lightly.

"Well, yeah, but ...," Adams replied, still not confident.

"Basically the same thing," John tried to offer a reason to be confident. "If McKay can do it, you can do it."

"Yes, look, about that, actually, I ..." Rodney began.

"Look, I know it’s dangerous," John talked over the top of Rodney, not needing the most senior of the non military present giving anyone reason to be doubtful. "I know a lot of you haven’t logged a lot of hours in these things, but right now it’s the only viable option we have, or, um ...," he trailed off, not sure how to put it.

"Or die," Rodney finished the statement of how bad things were going to be if we weren't successful.

"Let’s get moving," John ordered. "You ready?" he turned to look at me questioningly.

"Piece of cake," I smiled confidently, waving before I moved to my designated Jumper.

"Alright, I’ve loaded a flight formation for all of you," John instructed once everyone was installed in a Jumper. "Stay in your designated positions; take out anything that’s in your path. You’ve got a full load of drones, so ammo shouldn’t be a problem." John gave everyone a moment to make sure we understood what to do. "Alright, everyone, let’s go. Open the Jumper Bay doors."

Powering up my systems I flew the Jumper out of the city, through the shield and then out into space. The asteroid belt was clearly visible in the distance ... looking at the HUD I saw my position in the line flashing - manoeuvring carefully I eased the Jumper into the correct position. John had arranged the line so that the more experienced Jumper pilots were spaced out between the less experienced ones. He had me towards the middle of the line with four of Rodney's less experienced staff on either side of me - I smiled because without saying anything he'd sent a clear message of his confidence in my abilities.

"Come on, guys, stay in formation," John ordered. "We can’t afford any gaps."

I watched the HUD as the stragglers brought their Jumpers into position so that the line looked almost straight.

"Yeah, there you go," John congratulated everyone. "See? Not so hard."

"Jumpers, you should be in range in three ... two ... one," Teyla reported from the Control Room.

"Fire at will," John ordered.

Concentrating firmly on the task I sent two drones towards the closest rocks, waiting as they blew apart and cleared before acquiring two more targets. Around me the others were doing the same and space was a confusion of flying drones and blasted rock.

"Nice shooting, people," John encouraged.

"There’s too many of them," Rodney said over the open channel. "They’re coming in too fast. We’re not gonna get them all."

"Alright, double up. Fire four apiece," John ordered.

"I can’t control four drones at the same time!" Rodney said what I'm sure a lot of the pilots were thinking.

"Just concentrate," John advised bracingly.

Sinking myself mentally even further into the Jumpers systems I acquired four targets and sent drones to take them out. Now it was a matter of firing and dodging as the rocks came too fast for me to get them all.

"What about the ones that got past us?" I asked John worriedly as I continued to fire drones.

"On my mark, you, Bolton and Levine are gonna break formation and head back to the city - take out anything that we missed," John said confidently.

"Are you sure I should be -" I began, worried that one of the military pilots would be better placed to take on that important role.

"Break!" John ordered, ignoring my momentary protest.

I swung the Jumper up and around, heading back towards the city. The path we'd cleared through the asteroid belt was clearly visible, along with the few remaining asteroids we hadn't been able to get. Firing off two drones I increased speed to get to the furthermost rocks before they got too close to the city.

"Sabina - there's a big one on your left," Levine pointed out.

"I'm on it,' I reported, altering my path to intercept it.

I powered towards a large asteroid that was on a path to hit the lower part of the central tower. Firing a set of two drones I waited impatiently to be sure they'd reduced the rock to small enough parts before pulling the Jumper upwards in a steep climb skimming the side of the tower.

Clearing the city I scanned space, looking for any other rocks close to the city. Levine and Bolton had done a good job of clearing the others - we formed our own small line heading back out into space, intercepting the main line as they doubled back to pick up any remaining asteroids.

"Okay people, looks like we got them all," John congratulated everyone on the success of the plan. "Atlantis is clear of the asteroid belt ... head back to the Jumper Bay."

Each pilot brought their Jumper in to land in the Bay and soon the room was filled with light hearted voices still excited over the success. I walked towards John, joining him as he walked out the back of his Jumper.

"Nice shooting," I said with a smile.

"Back at you," John replied. Spotting Rodney we headed over to him - he too was almost bouncing with excitement over his success.

"I can’t believe that actually worked!" he exclaimed. "That was amazing!"

"You did good, Rodney," John offered that praise with an easy expression.

"Yeah!" Rodney agreed smugly. "So Zelenka and his team should have the conduits repaired by now, so I think we’re finally out of the woods!"

The happy smile on his face dropped as the intercom activated.

"Colonel Sheppard, Doctor McKay. Please report to the Control Room immediately."

"Oh, come on!" Rodney said indignantly.

John and Rodney hurried towards the Control Room - having nothing else to do I followed after them.

"What the hell happened?" John asked Teyla. Doctor Zelenka had come up from the Power Room and was sitting at one of the consoles checking something.

"The hyperdrive is offline," Teyla reported simply.

"I thought it was good to go," John frowned in confusion.

"It was," Radek agreed, "but a few large pieces of rock impacted the city and one of the control arrays was damaged. We can’t jump until we fix it."

"Damn," I muttered, feeling responsible for the missed asteroids because I'd been part of the group who were supposed to have taken them out.

"Probably came off the bigger rocks," John excused. "We were never gonna break up every asteroid enough to avoid some damage to the city." Turning to Radek he asked "how do we fix it?"

"I will explain as we walk," Radek offered, motioning for John and Rodney to follow him down the stairs.

Knowing I'd be little help I stayed behind, realising that I'd hardly said anything to Teyla since the whole ordeal had begun.

"How are you holding up?" I asked softly, knowing she'd taken on the role of maintaining a command presence in the Control Room.

"I am fine," Teyla said graciously. "Do you have any new information on Ronon or Elizabeth's condition?"

"Ronon's good - already eager to get out of the infirmary," I started with the easy one, happy to see Teyla smile in relief. "Doctor Weir was still in the OR when I went down there," I hesitated wondering how much to tell her. "Elizabeth's head took the brunt of the fall - her condition is critical but Doctor Keller hasn't given up hope," I offered. Teyla's face fell at the less than positive news.

"Is Colonel Sheppard aware of her condition?" Teyla asked, her voice subdued.

"Doctor Keller spoke to him personally," I replied, looking at Teyla and seeing her nod as she correctly interpreted the expression in my eyes.

"I will keep my thoughts positive," Teyla said firmly.

"Me too," I agreed, taking a seat at one of the consoles and wondering what I should do next.

Radek had left the map showing the location of the asteroid damage up on screen and I realised for the first time that he and John would have to do a space walk in order to get there and fix the problem. "I'm just gonna run down and see how John's doing," I told Teyla, jumping up and hurrying from the Control Room before she could respond. John was already suited up when I got there and just about to head into the transporter.

"John," I used the radio to call out urgently, relieved when he turned back towards me. "I just came down to wish you luck," I put a confident smile on my face, despite the fact that my insides were a mess of nervous butterflies. John had done space manoeuvres before and I knew he was more than capable but ... things hadn't exactly been going our way lately and I felt like nothing could be taken for granted.

"Piece of cake," John returned my words from earlier with a teasing smile. "I'll see you back in the Control Room when we're done."

"Okay ... be careful," I watched as they stepped into the transporter, waiting until the flash of light signalled their departure before heading back up to Teyla.

oOo

I'd expected Rodney to be up in the Control Room when I got back - since he wasn't with John and Radek when I'd seen them - but he appeared to be missing in action.

"Where's Rodney?" I asked Teyla with a puzzled frown.

"He did not return after assisting Colonel Sheppard and Doctor Zelenka," Teyla replied.

"That's odd," I said in concern. "Rodney, this is Sabina. Teyla and I were wondering where you are."

"Sorry," Rodney returned. "Doctor Keller wanted to see me ... actually I could do with a second set of eyes. Come down to the main lab," he broke off the connection before I could ask him anything about what he was up to.

I sat back even more confused, looking at Teyla with a raised eyebrow.

"Go," she urged. "I will remain here to monitor Colonel Sheppard and Doctor Zelenka's progress."

oOo

"Rodney?" I stopped in the doorway, watching as Rodney worked simultaneously on two laptops he had set up side by side. When I realised what I was seeing on those screens I walked quickly across to his position. "What are you doing?"

"Doctor Keller suggested using the dormant nanites in Elizabeth's system to help repair the damage,' Rodney said quickly. "I can get the nanites to replace the damaged cells but the instant they're deactivated Elizabeth will be in the same predicament."

"Does John know about this?" I asked with a frown.

"Yes!" Rodney protested. When I looked at him pointedly he relented. "Okay, he knows we wanted to use the nanites like this but he ah ... he said we can't do it unless we can guarantee the nanites won't bring the Replicators down on us."

"And can you guarantee that?" I quizzed him.

"I've reprogrammed the nanites so they'll never harm Elizabeth and shut down their ability to contact the Replicators via sub-space," Rodney replied.

"If you can reprogram them like that, couldn't the Replicators do their own reprogramming?" I asked the obvious question.

"Technically yes," Rodney admitted. "But to do that they'd have to have more than just passing contact with Elizabeth. As long as we keep her away from them we should be fine."

"John's not gonna go for that Rodney," I told him sadly. "And you know how much he wants to save Elizabeth."

"I know," Rodney said reluctantly. "That's why I'm still working - to try and come up with a way to get the nanites to repair her own cells so they can be switched off like before."

"Okay, how can I help?" I offered.

"If you could check this program," he pointed to one of the laptops, "see if there's anything I missed ..."

"I can do that," I agreed, glad of all the time I'd spent looking at the NAP programs.

We worked in silence for a time - I was focussed on the task but part of my mind was occupied worrying about John and Radek out in the outer section of the city. Rodney had mentioned micro asteroids - bullet sized pieces of rock still bombarding the city - which only served to heighten my nervousness. We hadn't heard anything which I decided could only be a good thing.

"Doctor McKay?" Doctor Keller contacted Rodney over his headset.

"What is it, Keller?" Rodney questioned with some annoyance.

"Elizabeth’s crashing," Doctor Keller said simply. "If we’re gonna do this thing, we need to do it now."

"I need more time," Rodney’s face paled as he protested.

"We don’t have more time," Doctor Keller denied him. "I can’t keep her blood pressure up and if her I.C.P. continues to climb, there’s no bringing her back."

"OK, I’m transferring the programme to you now," he sighed, turning to his machine and tapping out a few commands. Standing up with computer tablet in hand he added "I’m on my way."

"Rodney," the stern tone in my voice halted his progress.

"What?" he turned back to look at me defensively.

"You haven't managed to get the nanites to repair the damage," I stated what we both knew. "You can't do this without John's approval."

"Well he's not available right now," Rodney excused. "In his absence the decision is mine."

"You could radio him and you know it," I discounted the whole John's not available excuse.

"There's no time to explain everything," Rodney disagreed. "You heard Keller - we need to do this right now ... or not at all."

"I want to save Doctor Weir too but ... this could cause a whole host of problems we won't be able to fix easily," I pointed out.

"I'll deal with them when they crop up," Rodney said confidently.

"Rodney!" I protested again but he ignored me, walking away quickly before I could say anything more. I briefly considered contacting John myself but in the end decided against it - he was involved in a delicate and dangerous endeavour and the last thing he needed was me telling him about something he wouldn't be able to address. By the time John made it back to the main part of the city it would be too late for him to stop Rodney.

I sat there staring into space for a while contemplating the dilemma the whole situation presented. None of us wanted to lose Elizabeth, but did we want to keep her around by making her part replicator? Would she want that? Would she thank Rodney for doing that to her? As it stood now, if she didn't survive hopefully she wouldn't have been aware of her impending demise before it happened. This way, if things went bad she would know, she might even have to be the one to tell us to terminate her. Sighing heavily I dragged myself up and off to the infirmary.


Chapter 52: What's the last thing you remember?


Ronon was still in the infirmary when I got there, sitting on the side of his bed as he observed what was going on.

"Did Rodney come down here?" I asked hesitantly.

"He went in to the OR with Doctor Keller a few minutes ago," Ronon replied. "What's going on?"

"Ah - " I broke off when a couple of medics wheeled Radek into the infirmary, followed closely by John. "What happened to Radek?" I asked in concern, discretely doing the once over to make sure John himself didn't have any visible injuries.

"He got hit with one of those asteroid bullets - managed to finish the job though," John replied.

"Is he gonna be OK?" Ronon asked.

"I think so," John reassured us. "It didn’t hit any major arteries."

"Lucky," Ronon pointed out.

"I wouldn’t say that," John countered. "He’s still stuck here just like the rest of us."

"So it’s true?" Ronon asked. I frowned at each of them, wondering what they were talking about. I'd been out of the communications loop the whole time I'd been in Rodney's lab and had clearly missed out on some important news.

"We finally fixed the hyperdrive, now we don’t have enough juice to go anywhere," John said grimly. "We’ve only got twenty-eight hours before the shields fail."

"Well, so what’s the plan?" Ronon asked, confident there actually was a plan.

"I don’t know," John admitted. "I’ve gotta find McKay."

"He’s in there," Ronon offered, pointing towards the OR.

"What?!" John exclaimed. I could see the wheels turning in his head, putting two and two together and coming up with an answer he was less than happy with. When Rodney and Doctor Keller came out of the OR John took a step towards them.

"Hey!" John drew Rodney's attention. If he hadn't already suspected something the look of guilt on Rodney's face would have clued him in, even given the poor job Rodney did to try and act innocent.

"I heard we didn’t get the array fixed in time, but-but ..." Rodney trailed off, looking away nervously.

"What were you doing in there?" John demanded.

"Look, she was dying, OK?" Rodney said nervously.

"Rodney?" John leaned in, stern expression telling Rodney to just admit what he'd done.

"Look, her heart was weak, her nervous system was fried ..." Rodney looked at John miserably.

"What did you do?" John was losing patience with Rodney's stalling. Rodney turned to Doctor Keller as if seeking support from that quarter before resolutely turning back to John.

"I reactivated the nanites," he admitted firmly.

"DAMMIT, McKay!" John reacted furiously.

"Look, you were busy!" Rodney tried to excuse his decision. "It was life or death! If I didn’t act ..." he trailed off, knowing we’d all hear the unspoken words at the end of that sentence.

"Yes, she would have died, I know!" John said in exasperation.

"OK, I know what you’re thinking, but helping Elizabeth is not putting us at risk," Rodney said defensively.

"You just reactivated the Replicator nanites," John said in a tone that suggested even a child could have figured out the problem with that.

"They’re harmless!" Rodney protested. "Look, I am a hundred percent certain they’re not gonna try to take her over or contact the others."

"No, no, you can’t know that for sure," John denied.

"Yes. Yes I can," Rodney countered. Unfortunately his nervous glance away from John spoke of his uncertainty more loudly than his actual words .

"Shut it down," John ordered sternly.

"But ... that would kill her," Rodney said unhappily.

"What do you think Elizabeth would want?" John asked a bit more gently. "D’you think she’d want ..."

"Yes, she would!" Rodney interrupted before John could finish that sentence. "She’d sure as hell do the same for you!"

"Well, you obviously didn’t know her very well," John grated out.

"Oh, maybe not, but d’you know what? Give it some time, you can ask her yourself," Rodney suggested.

"NO! It’s too dangerous," John glared at Rodney. "Shut it down. Right now."

"No," Rodney folded his arms defiantly across his chest. "No, I’m not going to."

John took a step closer, glaring into Rodney's eyes. Rodney nervously maintained his gaze, obviously thinking that without his agreement John wouldn't be able to do anything to alter the course Rodney had put us on. After a few moments of grim staring standoff John activated his headset.

"Myers, bring an E.M.P. generator to the OR," he ordered resolutely.

"Will you please just listen to me?" Rodney protested, still not willing to give up.

"Doctor Keller!" a nurse from the OR interrupted the tense situation. The doors of the OR were open and we all walked across to stand in front of them.

I gasped in disbelief - Elizabeth was sitting up in the bed with no sign of being critically injured. She put a shaky hand up and pulled the bandage from her head to reveal a full head of hair - that just hours before had been shaved for the operation she'd undergone.

"John?" Elizabeth said in confusion. "Rodney? What’s going on?"

John reacted instantly, calling for a quarantine to be raised around the OR. He put in a call to Teyla too, as Elizabeth's closest friend in the city, to come and talk to Elizabeth. Action was immediate - the infirmary bustled as John's orders were followed to the letter.

"John?" I put a hand on his arm hesitantly, feeling muscles bunched under his sleeve as he held in his anger at the situation. "I can speak to her now ... the nanites can't hurt me remember?"

John hesitated before nodding wordlessly.

Taking a moment to calm my nerves I walked back into the OR. Elizabeth was sitting on the bed, legs drawn up and face shuttered.

"Sabina, what's going on?" Elizabeth's voice was shaky and uncertain.

"What's the last thing you remember?" I asked gently.

"Ah ... telling Rodney to lower the shield, looking at the city flying," Elizabeth said uncertainly. "An explosion?" she asked with a frown.

"The beam grazed the side of the tower before the shield was fully up," I said simply. "It caused some damage to the Control Room and the Gateroom - you were caught in the shock wave when the force of the explosion blew out the windows," Elizabeth listening almost emotionlessly to my recital. "Ah ... you ah ... you got thrown a long way, got banged up pretty bad. Especially your head ... there was damage ... a lot of damage. Doctor Keller was losing you - she was desperate to save you. That's when she remembered the nanites that were still dormant in your system. Rodney reprogrammed them to replace your damaged cells."

"Oh my God," Elizabeth uttered sickly.

"Don't worry," I tried to reassure her. "Rodney said the nanites are harmless - they can't hurt you and they can't communicate with the Replicators over subspace either."

"This is crazy," Elizabeth raised a shaking hand to her forehead in confusion. "What was John thinking to let Rodney do this?"

"Um ... John was busy," I said diplomatically. "Rodney had to make the decision on his own ... he only did what he thought was best for everyone."

"Have they raised a quarantine?" Elizabeth sounded a bit more like the old Doctor Weir for a moment.

"In progress," I reassured her. "John let me come talk to you because I wouldn't be at risk ... not that I think anyone would be at risk. If Rodney says the nanites are harmless then I believe him."

"You've been infected with nanites," Elizabeth said softly. "You know how disturbing ... how cruel things can seem if they try to take over. I'm not sure I could win if I had to go through that again and we can't afford for the Replicators to have access to my knowledge."

"Rodney was sure he'd reprogrammed the nanites so they wouldn't try to hurt you," I reassured her. "The risk right now really is minimal."

"Right now," Elizabeth agreed sadly. "But what about down the track? What about when the Replicators come looking for us again?"

"Ah ... I don't know ... I'm sorry," I looked at her with a pained expression, unable to lie to her given that I'd asked Rodney something similar before he'd even done this.

Doctor Keller and Teyla arrived at that moment suited up in Hazmat suits, Teyla to talk to Elizabeth and Doctor Keller to assess whether the nanites were actually 'infectious' or not.

I glanced questioningly at Teyla and she nodded reassuringly, letting me know that she'd look after Elizabeth from then on. I smiled gratefully, putting a consoling hand on Elizabeth's shoulder before turning to leave the room. Looking around I saw John standing in front of the view screen watching mutely. Rodney was off to the side, still tapping at his computer ... I wondered for a moment if he was still looking for something to convince John that he'd been right.

"John," I stood next to him, watching the screen as Teyla approached Elizabeth slowly.

"Did you help Rodney with this?" John shot a stern glance my way before turning back to the screen.

"No!" I denied heatedly, thought for a minute and then groaned. "Okay, technically I did help but only in trying to get the nanites to repair the damaged cells rather than just replace them so we could switch them off again. When we ran out of time to do that I tried to convince Rodney not to go down this path."

"You should have tried harder!" John said angrily.

"You know Rodney," I tried not to take offence that he seemed angry at me personally as well as at the situation. "Short of knocking him over the head I wasn't gonna stop him once he'd made up his mind - with the full support of Doctor Keller I might add."

"Yeah well now we're faced with potentially having to turn off an awake and apparently unchanged Elizabeth!" John said grimly. "Maybe you should have knocked Rodney over the head."

"You've been in plenty of situations with Rodney in the past," I said lightly. "And yet you've never taken things that far."

"I just ...," John looked at me with a hint of torment in his eyes now. "Rodney's not in charge - he doesn't have to make the tough decisions ..."

"And he doesn't have to live with them afterwards," I finished his thought. "I understand what you're saying. But what if Rodney turns out to be completely right? Wouldn't you have said yes to this if you could have known that up front?"

"Maybe," John admitted. "I'm just not sure we'll ever be able to say with 100 percent certainty that those nanites will always be harmless."

"The IOA will have a field day with this," I said worriedly, suddenly thinking about the broader ramifications. "They'll turn Elizabeth into a scientific curiosity."

"They won't trust her," John agreed, "no matter what Rodney tells them about the safety of those nanites."

"Crap," I muttered under my breath, realising that regardless of what happened next, Elizabeth's role as leader of Atlantis was over.

"Yeah," John agreed with the sentiment.

Rodney finished whatever he'd been doing and hesitantly walked over to our position.

"The quarantine is unnecessary," he offered.

"Well, you’ll excuse me if I wait for a second opinion," John kept his eyes away from Rodney and his tone still angry.

"OK, this is stupid," Rodney protested.

"What is?" John demanded.

"Us fighting," Rodney said. "I know you’re not happy with me - and you may have some cause - but it’s not gonna matter much if we don’t figure a way out of this, right?" When John still refused to look at him Rodney sighed, trying to come up with some way to get through to John. "Look, we have to work together, so ... so, I’m sorry."

"Apology accepted," John finally relented, glancing at Rodney with a more easy expression.

"Right," Rodney visibly relaxed. Both of them looked at the screen, watching as Doctor Keller continued to scan Elizabeth.

"Someone should talk to her," Rodney suggested.

"Sabina already did," John replied. "Plus Teyla’s in there now."

"Alright," Rodney agreed. Without another word he turned and walked away.

"I need to check in with the Control Room," John said after a few minutes of silence. "Will you hang around down here ... keep an eye on things?"

"Of course," I agreed, smiling when he looked at me gratefully. "Just keep me in the loop - let me know when you've got a plan."

"That I can do," John ruffled my hair lightly before turning and walking away.

Watching him go I sighed ... he'd tried for the usual carefree flyboy approach but I could see the burden of being in charge weighing him down enough that he couldn't pull it off successfully. Glancing around the infirmary I saw Ronon had returned to his bed.

"What do you think of all this?" I asked him.

"Doctor Weir is important to Atlantis," Ronon replied simply, giving his implicit approval to any plan that kept her alive. "If the Replicators come, we'll deal with them."

"I wish I had your confidence," I said sadly. "It's a lot for Elizabeth to adjust to as well. How would you feel if you woke up and someone told you that you were no longer yourself - that you were part ... Wraith say?"

"Angry," Ronon admitted.

"Yeah - angry," I nodded. "Not to mention freaked out."

"Doctor Weir is strong," Ronon pointed out. "She'll deal with it."

"I hope so," I replied, deciding not to try explaining Earth politics to him and the impact that would have on Elizabeth's role, no matter how good a job she did adjusting.

"Sabina?" John contacted me a short time later. "Come up to the Control Room - we've got a plan."


Chapter 53: We can kill two birds with one stone


“We're gonna steal a ZPM from the Replicators?" I asked incredulously. Finally a plan I couldn’t have guessed beforehand!

"In a Puddle Jumper with hyperdrive," John added smugly, "yeah."

"How?" I looked at John expectantly.

"Still working on the details," John replied. "McKay and Zelenka are finishing up Rodney's work on the experimental Jumper right now. Assuming they get it working Ronon, Rodney and I'll take the jumper to M7R-227 - the rest we'll just have to make up as we go along. I'm sure Rodney will have some thoughts about that."

"And where will I be during this little joy ride of yours?" I asked sarcastically.

"I need you to stay here," John began. I knew it! Rather than jump in though I let him continue with his arguements. "Zelenka's people are searching for a liveable planet we could get to with the time we have left. If this mission goes badly they’ll need all the Ancient gene holders they can get to fly people off the city in the Jumpers."

"There are other people here with the ATA gene who could do that," I countered, "but no one else who could go to the Replicator planet and not be at risk of infection from their nanites - not to mention the ability to resist the mind probes. I should be on this mission with you."

"I knew you were gonna say that," John grumbled, running a frustrated hand through his hair.

"Have you thought about what else we could do if we're going to Asuras?" I asked curiously. "We could take the opportunity to implement the NAPs - it might be the only time we could justify the risk."

"And I knew you were gonna say that too!" John looked at me irritably. "Look, there's no guarantee the hyperdrive will even work ... we could end up stranded in space."

"I hate to harp on about the same theme since you already know how I feel but ...," I hesitated before continuing, "... the chances of Atlantis surviving this without a ZPM are just as small as your chances on this mission. If it's just about keeping me safe I'd rather be where you are."

"You sure you'd rather be stranded on a Puddle Jumper with McKay in attendance?" John tried to jest. I smiled at the effort, knowing I'd convinced him. The fact that he'd anticipated every argument I'd used before I'd said a word told me that he'd already considered having me on the mission. John sighed in resignation. "You're right - it might be handy having someone immune to the Replicator nanites on the mission. Get together what you need and go help Rodney in the Jumper Bay. Ronon and I will be along shortly."

"What about Teyla?" I asked curiously.

"The city will need leadership," John replied firmly. "Teyla will understand ... she's the best placed to provide that if things go wrong for us."

"Do you want me to go speak to Ronon instead?" I offered, knowing John would need to speak to his men about what they should do if we didn't return.

"Yeah - that'd help," John said gratefully. "Do that first and then head to the Jumper - I'll see you there."

Nodding I watched him walk away before turning towards the infirmary to fill Ronon in on the newest plan. Ronon wanted to rip out his own drip and get started right away - it was only Doctor Keller's firm hand on his chest that stopped him, along with her threat to sedate him if he didn't allow her to check his wound first before agreeing to release him from the infirmary. I smiled at the sight of Ronon literally grinding his teeth as he waited impatiently for Doctor Keller to proceed. Leaving them to it I headed to the Jumper Bay, walking in on the tail end of a conversation between Rodney and John.

"Even if I do get it working, there are still a thousand things that could go terribly, terribly wrong," Rodney said in his usual doom and gloom voice.

"I get it: it’s difficult; million to one odds, blah, blah, blah," John retorted a bit childishly, nodding to me in greeting before turning back to Rodney.

"Was there something else you needed, or were you here merely to prod and belittle?" Rodney asked sarcastically.

"No, no. Not merely," John quipped. "There’s another problem we need to be thinking about, such as: what do we do when we get there? Getting this thing to jump into hyperspace may be the easy part; infiltrating the city, stealing the ZPM and getting out - well, I think that’s a little dicey."

"I’ve been thinking about that," Rodney admitted.

"And?" John asked expectantly.

"And I think that if we stand any chance of succeeding, we’re gonna need some help," Rodney offered hesitantly.

"From who?" John frowned in confusion.

"From Elizabeth," Rodney said quickly. "If we get close enough I'll be able to use her nanites to remotely hack into their system - she'll be able to find us a ZPM, tell us if there are Replicators nearby."

"At that close proximity won't the Replicators be able to take control of her nanites?" I asked worriedly. "Maybe even reprogram them?"

"It's a possibility," Rodney admitted. "I'd have to monitor Elizabeth closely and block off any attempts by them to do that."

"You need to write a kill-switch into the nanites' code," John said grimly, not protesting the idea because we could all see it was our best and probably only chance to succeed. "That way if they do try to take control we can deactivate them."

"And kill Elizabeth?" I asked hesitantly.

"We won't be doing this without her agreement," John replied. "If Elizabeth's worried about that we'll come up with a different plan."

"She'll do it," I said quietly.

"Okay - Sabina, load us up with whatever supplies you think we'll need," John ordered, "and whatever else you need to implement the NAP plan. Rodney and I'll pick up Teyla and Ronon and go talk to Elizabeth."

"Okay," I agreed, relieved I wouldn't have to be a part of that difficult conversation!

"We're taking the NAP?' Rodney asked curiously.

"Might as well," John replied lightly. "It's the closest we're likely to get to the Replicator mainframe - we can kill two birds with one stone."

"Sure, sure," Rodney agreed quickly.

"Let's go," John urged Rodney along, throwing me a quick wave before almost dragging Rodney up the steps. Doctor Zelenka had been silent in the forward section during the whole exchange. Turning to him I asked "is this experimental Jumper thing going to work?"

"You'll get at least one successful jump," Radek said simply. "Beyond that it is hard to tell."

"So ... be positive then?" I offered. He nodded before turning back to his work.

It didn't take long to gather together some MRE's, water and other basic supplies ... all that remained was for me to transfer over from Jumper One all the stuff I'd already packed, including the NAP equipment. I was finished before Radek had completed his final adjustments – there was nothing I could do to help him so I took the opportunity to run up to the Control Room.

"Teyla?" I spoke hesitantly, watching her stiff posture as she stood with Chuck in front of one of the consoles – that alone confirmed that John had already spoken to her.

"Sabina," she smiled graciously. "You are ready to head out?"

"Yeah," I agreed, taking a few steps towards her. "I ah ... I just wanted to say ... just in case this doesn't go well ... ah thanks for your friendship over the past three years."

"There is no need for thanks between friends," Teyla closed the distance and put a hand against my shoulder. "I wish you well on this mission."

"You too," I smiled hopefully. "Look after Atlantis."

"I will do my best," Teyla replied in her usual calm and confident manner.

“Sheppard, Sabina, we’re ready,” Ronon said over the radio.

Raising a hand in farewell I turned and headed back up the stairs to the Jumper Bay.

Rodney was still tinkering with the hyperdrive systems in the back of the jumper when John and Elizabeth arrived. They were escorted by a large group of armed marines which seemed a bit like overkill to me – after all we would be in the back of the Jumper alone with Elizabeth. What did John think was gonna happen in the corridors of Atlantis that couldn’t happen in the back of a Puddle Jumper? I shook my head in amusement ... gotta love the military!

Elizabeth nodded wordlessly to each of us before taking the seat behind the co-pilot’s position. John ran through the usual pre-flight checks before contacting the Control Room.

“Alright, Teyla, we’re ready to launch,” he confirmed.

“Understood,” Teyla replied. The Jumper Bay doors began to open above us a moment later.

“Remember - no wild parties while we’re gone,” John quipped, earning a laugh from Teyla.

“We will try to restrain ourselves,” she replied in amusement. “Good luck.”

“Alright, here we go,” John said bracingly, taking the Jumper up smoothly and flying through the shield and into space. “Rodney? You ready?”

“Did I mention that this might not work,” Rodney said nervously, “and that we could either drop out of hyperspace prematurely and end up stranded in the middle of deep space, or quite possibly be vaporised the moment I touch that ...”

“Just answer the damned question!” Ronon interrupted to demand.

“Yeah, I’m ready,” Rodney replied.

“Good,” John replied confidently. “Sit down.” Rodney moved forward and took the co-pilots chair, calling up the hyperdrive systems ready to engage.

“Here goes,” John announced, giving the command for the Jumper to proceed.

“OK,” Rodney confirmed the command had gone through. “Opening hyperspace window in three ... two ... one.”

Space distorted in front of us as the hyperspace window appeared. Giving no sign of hesitation, John sent the Jumper through.

“So what’s the plan?” I asked, watching the front view screen and the familiar purple swirly pattern that signified travel through hyperspace.

“Rodney will link Elizabeth into the Replicators network,” John replied. “Assuming that works Elizabeth can guide us to the nearest ZPM. Ronon and I’ll go get it and bring it back to the Jumper.”

“What about the NAP?” I asked, frowning at the plan which so far seemed to involve me just staying in the Jumper. “Instead of hanging around in the Jumper I could use that time to do something with that.”

“The ZPM has to be the first priority,” John glanced at me over his shoulder. “If that goes well and if we haven’t been detected then we’ll think about deploying the NAP.”

“I guess,” I nodded reluctantly, knowing he was right. It would take more time to do each part of the mission in sequence but I couldn’t live with myself if my actions resulted in us failing to get a ZPM back to Atlantis.

The hyperspace trip was over all too soon ... I was still thinking about how I could increase the chances of the NAP delivery being successful when the Jumper burst out of hyperspace close to Asuras and cloaked immediately. I listened with half an ear as Rodney discovered that the jump had used up more power than he’d expected. Now we needed the ZPM not only for Atlantis but for the Jumper itself. Rather than worry about that too much Rodney moved quickly into the plan to initiate a link between Elizabeth and the Replicator network. We waited a few seconds before Elizabeth confirmed that she now had access to the entire city. John flew the Jumper in low, weaving around towers as Elizabeth searched for an easily accessible ZPM.

“The ZPM,” Elizabeth said. “Fourth quadrant, top level - easy access. There’s hardly anyone around.”

“Works for me,” John agreed, taking the Jumper to the correct position and landing it on the roof. “Alright, we’re down. Sabina, Rodney, stay here with Elizabeth, keep sifting through the intel. You guys can guide us through by radio.”

“Twenty metres to the left behind the Jumper, there’s an access door,” Elizabeth instructed. “Down one flight of stairs, you’ll enter Auxiliary Corridor Seven,” she turned to look at them. “Go now - it’s clear.”

“Good luck,” I said softly, watching them hurry quickly from the Jumper. Moving slowly to the front section I sat in John’s vacant chair.

“Are there any access points to the core nearby?” I asked Elizabeth curiously.

“No,” Elizabeth said after a moments pause. “The central data core contains everything needed to regenerate any of the Replicators. They only have the one access point in the centre of the city.”

“Makes sense,” I replied, disappointed there wasn’t a way to do something from our present location. Elizabeth continued to give John and Ronon instructions, guiding them to the ZPM. Everything went very smoothly and a few minutes later they returned triumphantly, ZPM in its special case in hand.

“Hook up the ZPM,” John instructed Rodney. “Make sure we can get out of here. Sabina, work out with Elizabeth the best place to deploy the NAP.”

“We already have,” I replied. “The central data core – it’s like the backup file for every Replicator – is the only place we can do it. Only problem is it’s right in the centre of the city.”

“Wait, wait, wait,” Rodney muttered, still tapping away at his console. “Since Elizabeth’s been connected I’ve had access to the Replicators’ base code. I found it!”

“Found what?” John demanded impatiently.

“The Holy Grail,” Rodney said almost reverently. “I mean, it’s their whole reason for being. It’s a command code that directs them to attack the Wraith.”

“Yeah, but they don’t attack the Wraith,” John reminded him. “They’ve been sitting on their nanite asses for ten thousand years.”

“Well, that’s because it’s been deactivated,” Rodney said like it should have been obvious.

“And how did that happen?” Elizabeth asked curiously.

“Well, I have no idea,” Rodney admitted. “Maybe the Ancients did it when they realised they couldn’t control them.”

“You’re just noticing this now, huh?” John said somewhat sarcastically.

“This is just one in millions of commands in the base code,” Rodney protested. “Look, I always had a hunch that something like this might be in there, but-but believe me, it was not easy to find.”

“Can you reactivate it?” Elizabeth asked.

“If we can get to the core I can upload the reactivated attack command directly into that ... it wouldn’t take effect until the next merge – hopefully we’ll be halfway back to Atlantis by then.”

“That sounds promising,” John said thoughtfully.

“It’s a bad idea,” I offered my own opinion starkly. “In the same way that turning the Wraith into humans to feed other Wraith was a bad idea.”

“How so?” John looked at me expectantly, the others silently watching our exchange.

“Because these Replicators remained secular for thousands of years – they didn’t go out and conquer Pegasus even though they could have so it must have been our arrival here that brought out their attack instincts,” I pointed out. “And look how good they already are – do we really want to teach them any more about making war on another race?”

“They’re more capable of defeating the Wraith than we are,” John argued.

“Yeah, and completely invulnerable to feeding,” I agreed. “Sounds pretty attractive ... until you get to the end with a race that’s more deadly and more indestructible than the Wraith could ever be. Then what? Why was that directive switched off in the first place? It doesn’t make any sense to me and I’d really want to know the why of it before we turn it back on. We have a tested plan we could put in place right now ... before things get out of hand. I say we continue with what we came here to do instead of changing course mid stream without the time to really consider the impact.”

“What do you think?” John looked around at the others. I suspected he’d already made up his mind but still wanted to hear what everyone else thought.

“If it results in more dead Wraith I say do it,” Ronon said with a ferrel smile. I nodded, not surprised. Ronon’s first priority was to kill every Wraith in the galaxy – he’d worry about new enemies when they emerged.

“Rodney?” John raised an eyebrow enquiringly.

“The Replicators will be completely focused on the Wraith,” Rodney glanced at me apologetically. “We’re talking millions ... billions even of Wraith they’d have to take down before they could consider that directive completed. By then we should have developed a whole host of defences against them.”

“Elizabeth?” John saved the most important opinion for last.

“At this point in time the Replicators coming after Atlantis is the biggest threat,” Elizabeth said. “Anything we can do to shift that focus elsewhere can only be a good thing.”

“You never said what your opinion was?” I looked at John expectantly.

“I won’t deny that your arguments have merit,” John replied, looking at me intently. “There are instances in Earth history where one race has empowered another to make war on a common enemy ... and ended up being a worse enemy as a result. But we have an opportunity to impact on the balance in this galaxy right now and save a lot of people from being culled in the process. I can’t ignore that.” Turning to Rodney he added “set up what you need to make this happen.”


Chapter 54: You’re the flyboy here


I said nothing as Rodney started the usual tapping away at his computer tablet. I could have argued some more but I knew there'd be no point – it was uncomfortable being on the wrong side of a four to one argument but I still stood by my opinion.

“There is one problem,” Rodney said weakly. “The core being in the middle of the city means it’s unlikely we’re gonna get to it without being detected.

“I’m sure you have a solution for that,” John said confidently.

“Why do you always assume I have an idea for every situation?” Rodney complained.

“Don’t you?” John raised an eyebrow expectantly.

“Well ... yes but one day I might not,” Rodney said irritably.

“What’s your idea?” John ignored Rodney’s complaints.

“We turn the cloak into an anti-Replicator field using the control crystal from one of the ARG’s,” Rodney said triumphantly.

“That’s brilliant Rodney,” I congratulated him. “Kind of like what you did with the shield when Atlantis was overrun.”

“Exactly,” Rodney nodded excitedly. “The only question is how far I can widen the field.” Without waiting for the final okay Rodney headed to the back of the Jumper, quickly making the adjustments needed to enact his plan. A few minutes later he turned back to the John. “Go ahead and fly us as close to the centre of the city as possible.”

“There,” Elizabeth pointed John in the right direction.

“If you’re using the cloak won’t that mean we’re visible?” Ronon asked, watching Rodney at work in the back of the Jumper.

“Yes, it does,” Rodney agreed. “Look, the anti-Replicator field will protect us - that is assuming that I can extend the field wide enough to encompass not only the Jumper but also the core room; and also assuming that we can run fast enough to get there, input the command and get back before the Replicators figure out how to override the field and-and ... you know, slaughter us.”

“Don’t worry about it,” John said simply. “You’re not coming with us. It’ll be just Ronon and me.”

“I’m sorry, what?” Rodney said in confusion.

“You guys can guide us through by radio like you did last time,” John looked at Rodney pointedly. I could see the necessity for someone to stay in the Jumper with Elizabeth but ...

“Wait a minute,” Rodney protested. “If I’m not there, how are we supposed to input the command?”

“Put it on a tablet,” John suggested. “I’ll plug it into the core and upload it myself.”

“Oh, Plug and Play, huh?” Rodney said sarcastically. “What, you think it’s that simple?!”

“Well, it will be because you’re gonna make it that simple,” John said lightly.

“But ...,” Rodney continued to protest.

“I need you to stay here, Rodney,” John said insistently.

“Why?!” Rodney demanded.

“Rodney!” John’s voice was frustrated that Rodney wasn’t getting the bigger picture.

“To keep an eye on me,” Elizabeth turned to Rodney and said emotionlessly. “You may need to activate the kill-switch on the nanites. You’ll be able to keep a closer eye on me if we both stay here in the Jumper.”

“Alright,” Rodney agreed meekly, after a few seconds pause where John glared at Rodney for making Elizabeth have to spell out the obvious.

Silence descended in the Jumper as Rodney finished the adjustments to the ARG field and programmed a computer tablet. I’d moved out of Rodney’s way and now sat in the seat behind Elizabeth.

“You okay with this?” John glanced across at me curiously.

“Doesn’t matter if I’m not, does it?” I replied in an easy tone.

“Just look at it this way,” John offered. “If you turn out to be right you get exclusive ‘I told you so’ rights.”

“That won’t be much comfort if we’re overrun by Replicators at the time!” I replied with a bit of bite in my voice. “It’s fine – I understand the need to do it this way – but I’m coming with you.”

“There’s no reason you should now we’re not going with the NAP plan,” John denied my request.

“But I’m still the least vulnerable to a nanite attack and the most able to resist a mind probe,” I pointed out seriously. “If something happens to you before you get this done ...," my insides clenched at the thought of that but I resolutely pushed on, "maybe I'd still be able to complete the mission.”

“She should go,” Ronon surprised me by offering his opinion without being asked. I smiled across at him grateful that he could see the merit in me going with them.

“Besides,” I added, “if something goes wrong with Rodney’s program who’s gonna fix it if I’m not there? You two are hopeless at that stuff!”

“Hey I’m not completely hopeless!” John protested. He took a few moments, frowning in thought before he spoke again. “Okay, it makes sense for you to come along but you stay close to Ronon and you do exactly what we tell you.”

“I can do that,” I agreed readily.

John continued to fly the Jumper towards the centre of the city in silence, no one willing to comment on what we were about to do now the tough decisions had been made.

“The core is beneath that platform,” Elizabeth spoke, pointing to a spot just in front of us.

“How far beneath?” John questioned.

“Nine levels,” Elizabeth admitted.

“Piece of cake,” John smiled confidently.

John landed the Jumper on the platform and decloaked. Rodney moved quickly to raise the anti-Replicator field around the Jumper and then further, pushing the shield downwards towards the Core Room.

“It’s working,” Elizabeth reported, her expression showing that she was looking internally, tapping into the Replicator network.

“Damn right it’s working!” Rodney said smugly. “It’s encompassed the Core Room. You’re good to go.” When John glanced at Elizabeth, waiting for her nod, Rodney practically huffed at the insult. “What? You don’t believe me, but you believe her?”

“No offence,” John replied easily.

“Offence taken!” Rodney retorted.

“Straight down, nine levels, then a short run down a corridor to the core,” Elizabeth instructed.

Rodney gave us a whole host of information about the computer tablet he’s set up, none of which was essential to us being able to operate it. Handing off the computer tablet to me, John turned back to Elizabeth.

“Just do what you did last time,” he said. “We’ll be back before you know it.” Looking at Ronon and me he added “Let’s go.”

Following along with John and Ronon, Elizabeth guided us through the tower. At one point three Replicators headed straight for us – stepping through an invisible barrier they disintegrated into the now familiar pile of shiny metal slivers. Continuing on we came to a set of doors. Behind them was a room with a very high ceiling, much larger than seemed necessary for the circular device and control panel it contained.

“Alright, we’re here,” John reported. “Assuming the big glowy thing is the core ...”

“Indeed it is,” Rodney confirmed. “OK, there should be an open slot in the control panel that you can plug the cable into.”

Motioning for me to get started John and Ronon paced around the room, maintaining contact with the Jumper and just generally looming around menacingly. Quickly pulling out the adaptor Rodney had rigged up I plugged it into the socket.

“Rodney, I’ve plugged the tablet in,” I reported.

“I’m not reading anything,” Rodney replied. “Can you check the connection?”

I took out the adaptor, checked that it looked good, glanced into the socket which also looked as it should, before plugging it back in. “It all checks out Rodney – have you got anything now?”

“Hurry, John,” Elizabeth said urgently. “They’re coming -- and there’s hundreds of them.”

“Won’t the field protect us?” Ronon asked in confusion.

“As long as you hurry,” Rodney replied. “Sabina - I've still got nothing here - try plugging it in again.”

“I already did that Rodney,” I said impatiently. “I don’t think doing it again is gonna have any effect. What do I have to do to check the interface?”

“They keep attacking the field,” Elizabeth continued to monitor the Replicators. “They’re deliberately sacrificing themselves.”

“Why would they do that?” Ronon asked.

“The more they attack the field, the quicker they can figure out how to override it,” Elizabeth said in a worried tone.

“Then we need to get the hell out of here” Ronon replied.

“Rodney, why isn't this working?” John demanded, coming over to stand beside me. My brain was going a mile a minute and a sudden idea occurred to me.

“Rodney, is it possible to reactivate the Wraith directive by directly accessing the core?” I spoke rapidly, impatiently waiting for his reply.

“If you were a Replicator,” Rodney said sarcastically, “which none of you are.”

“I know,” I said irritably. “Look, the city and everything in it is made from real materials. The Replicators were so keen to show up their creators they made their systems identical ... including making them responsive to the Ancient gene.”

“It would take too long for you to sift through all the lines of code,” Rodney tried to veto the idea.

“You’ve got it up there,” I pointed out. “Just tell me what’s around it and I can search for it in the system.”

“That might actually work,” Rodney said. “It’s gonna take intense mental effort on your part though, especially if you’re gonna do this as fast as you need to.”

“If I need it John can help me,” I said confidently, looking at him expectantly and smiling when he nodded wordlessly.

“You have to get them out of there now,” Elizabeth said urgently.

“We’re not done,” Rodney protested.

“There’s no more time!” Elizabeth exclaimed. “The Replicators have breached the field! They’ve figured out how to override it.”

Ronon picked up his ARG and walked to stand shielded behind a partition facing the door, ready to take on the Replicators when they appeared.

In an urgent voice Rodney quickly explained what to look for in the Replicator base code. Putting my hands on the console I felt relief that it responded just like any console on Atlantis. Sinking myself deeply into the system I quickly accessed the Replicator base code and started searching. I was only vaguely aware of what was going on around me, even less so the further into the code I went. I made myself connect through the Ancient gene and actively use it more than I ever had before.

“Sabina,” John put a hand on my arm to draw my attention back to him. “We’re running out of time here – Elizabeth left the Jumper and the kill switch didn’t work.”

“Crap,” I muttered. “And the Replicators?”

“Closing in,” John admitted, looking at me intently.

“We can still do this,” I said confidently. “I’m almost there ... just give me a few more minutes.”

“We might not have a few more minutes,” John said urgently.

“Okay, then you’re gonna have to help,” I replied, grabbing his hand and pulling him next to me. “Put your hands on top of mine.”

John stood behind me and placed his hand over mine. “What now?”

“I’m not sure how to do this one,” I admitted uncertainly. “You’re the flyboy here ... try thinking about the fastest you’ve ever gone and then ... send it to me somehow.”

“You’re not exactly inspiring me with confidence here,” John muttered, leaning his head down over my shoulder.

“You’re the one with the most experience with the whole ATA gene lending thing,” I complained. “I usually just receive what you send out and redirect it!”

“Guys,” Ronon turned away from the door to growl at us. “More action, less arguing!”

“Right,” John took a deep breath and let it out slowly, breathing hot air down my neck. “Here goes.”

Putting myself back into the base code I waited for John to do his thing ... a second later I felt a rush of that Ancient power tingling through me stronger than I’d ever felt it before. I struggled to redirect the rush in the right direction at first but within seconds I was zooming through the base code many times faster than I had been before. It took longer than I was comfortable with and I could feel myself tiring, even with the extra push John was giving me. Drawing deeply on that well of ‘Ancientness’ inside me I held on, grimly determined to do what I'd promised I could. I saw the flash of code in the distance before it hit me – screaming my search to a halt I accessed the commands and reactivated them.

“Okay,” I whispered, withdrawing myself from the system slowly, releasing John’s connection as well. John took a step back and I was caught by surprise at how weak my legs were. “I guess that took more out of me than I thought,” I admitted before I sat down abruptly on the floor. “Whoa ...”

“Sabina?” John knelt down beside me, propping me up before I fell flat on the floor.

Before he could say anything else the doors to the Core Room opened and a large group of Replicators walked in. Ronon ducked behind a column and John jumped up to grab his ARG from the top of the console before dropping back down beside me. Looking at me intently John’s eyes conveyed the message that I should keep quiet and stay still. Surging up from behind the console with grim purpose he aimed his weapon towards the door ... but didn’t fire.

“What the hell just happened?” John demanded.

“The Replicators have all frozen,” Rodney reported in disbelief.

“I can see that, but who did it?” John retorted.

“Well, it wasn’t me,” Rodney denied. “It might have been Elizabeth.”

“Can she do that?” Ronon asked.

“I don’t know,” Rodney said uncertainly. “I mean, she’d have to link directly with the Replicator collective, which means the chances they’ll be able to take over her nanites have just increased exponentially.”

“How long before they come back to life?” John asked.

“Your guess is as good as mine, but I would err on the side of less time rather than more,” Rodney said cautiously.

“Can we go?” Ronon demanded impatiently.

“Rodney, can you confirm the Wraith directive has been reactivated?” John held up a hand to hold Ronon off before he stormed out the door.

“Hang on,” Rodney replied.

John came back to me, looking at me closely. “Are you okay to get out of here?” he asked softly.

“Yeah ... but I might need a lift to get me up off the floor,” I admitted, holding out a hand for assistance.

“Sheppard,” Rodney’s voice came back over the radio. “The directive has been reactivated – you’re good to go.”

“Acknowledged,” John replied, reaching down and pulling me to my feet. I wobbled for a moment before steadying myself and nodding confidently at John even though I felt very shaky inside. “Ronon, cover us,” he ordered, striding from the room as briskly as he could manage while supporting me.

John kept one arm around my shoulders and took some of my weight as we ran down the corridor. We dodged past a scary number of frozen Replicators, John trying to find out from Rodney where Elizabeth was. Rounding the next corner we were confronted with the unexpected and frankly disturbing sight of Elizabeth standing in the corridor with her hand in Oberoth’s forehead.

“Elizabeth,” John drew her attention to the fact that we were standing behind her.

“Get to the Jumper,” Elizabeth said firmly, not looking at us. Oberoth glanced our way but otherwise seemed completely under her control.

“You’re coming with us,” John said insistently. Ronon fired at Oberoth but the blast appeared to have no effect on him.

“I can’t keep them frozen much longer!” Elizabeth said urgently, tension and stress evident in her voice.

“We’re not leaving you behind!” John countered angrily. I could feel the tension and frustration fairly pulsing off him ... Elizabeth's expression was determined and resolute and I knew with sudden clarity that he wasn't going to be changing her mind about this.

“John,” Elizabeth pleaded. “Sabina, Rodney and all the others ... they need for you to make it out of here. If you don’t leave right now it will be too late, so go.” Turning her head slightly she barked “THAT’S AN ORDER!”.

Her moment of distraction must have weakened her hold on the Replicators. One of them fired at Ronon, just missing him.

“Come on!” Ronon demanded, getting ready to fire again.

“Elizabeth!” John called her attention back to him, loosening his hold on me. I felt a huge burst of nervous adrenalin rush through me as I made the decision to act. Breaking away from John I ran straight for Oberoth, activating the NAP mini-delivery device I’d been carrying in my pocket for days into his upper arm. He glanced down at me with an expression of mild interest as I backed slowly away. The reaction wouldn’t be immediate and Oberoth must have thought I was the lesser of two threats because he turned his attention back to Elizabeth immediately.

“Go!” Elizabeth yelled again, as more Replicators arrived behind them. John grabbed my arm and dragged me away.

No,” I tried to protest, pulling at my arm in agitation. “Just give the NAPs time – they don’t have to fully infect him, just slow him down a bit – we can still save her!”

“We don’t have any more time!” John yelled, propelling me down the corridor.

I tried to catch another glimpse of Elizabeth before we ran around the corner but she was surrounded by Replicators ... and then she was gone.

The energy I'd felt while confronted with Oberoth was suddenly gone, leaving me feeling numb and shaky. I stumbled weakly on unsteady legs, leaning heavily into John's support ... his expression of concern notched up another level when he glanced down at me worriedly. Rather than say anything he paused to scoop me up into his arms before continuing to run down the corridor. I didn't even protest - my mind stuck on that last scene with Elizabeth as I held on to his shoulders tightly.

We managed to get back to the Jumper without being confronted with any more Replicator resistance, much to Rodney's evident relief. John lowered me gently to one of seats in the back section of the Jumper before quickly powering up the systems and taking us up into the sky.

“I can’t believe we just left her,” I said sickly, pulling myself up weakly to standing ... I don't know what I was thinking I could do - just that I had to do something. “We should have waited ... given the NAPs a chance to take effect.”

“Our position was being overrun,” John said in frustration. “There was nothing we could do.”

“We have to ... to go back ...,” my vision blurred as a wave of weird feeling swept over me - my heart felt like it was beating too fast and too slow all at the same time. I stumbled, trying to remember what I was going to say, trying to pull myself back from the brink. “John?” my voice was almost puzzled as I looked over at him – I felt myself falling as the second stronger wave of dizzy weakness made everything black.


Chapter 55: Well actually five but only two you can see with the naked eye


When I woke up I was in the infirmary on Atlantis. Breathing a sigh of relief I realised that somehow the guys had gotten the ZPM back in time. The rest of what happened came rushing back, overtaking my relief and leaving only guilt over what had happened to Elizabeth behind. Turning my face to the pillow I tried to shut off my thoughts, flinching in surprise when a hand came down on my shoulder and squeezed bracingly.

“God – don’t scare me like that!” I complained, swinging around to look up at John. Frowning in confusion I demanded “touch me again.”

John put a hand to the side of my face, brushing away the tears I hadn’t realised I’d shed.

“I must have seriously depleted myself,” I murmured in surprise. “I’m not picking up your ATA gene like I usually do.” Even though I'd experienced that once before it was still disconcerting - sensing John's ATA presence was so second nature now that I hardly ever consciously noticed it.

“Doctor Cole said you’d pushed yourself close to the point of no return,” John replied seriously. “Your blood pressure had practically bottomed out before we got you to the infirmary on the Apollo – that’s why you lost it. I thought we agreed you weren't gonna scare me like that again?”

“I didn’t do it deliberately!” I said defensively. “I had no idea it was possible to go too far with the ATA gene."

“Well - no permanent damage done - all you need is rest and some good meals,” John offered with relief clearly evident in his eyes. "Doctor Keller said you’ll be back to normal in a couple of days.”

“Where are we?” I asked curiously, noticing for the first time that natural sunlight was coming through the windows.

“M35-177,” John replied. “Nice little planet, two moons - well actually five but only two you can see with the naked eye - and a really large ocean.”

“You landed the city?” I asked curiously.

“Yeah,” John agreed almost proudly. “It was a rough ride but I didn’t bang the old girl up too badly.”

“And Elizabeth?” I almost whispered.

“We tried as soon as the Apollo located us,” John said simply. “No signal ... but we haven’t given up hope. If there’s a chance she’s still alive, we’ll find her.”

“She sacrificed herself for us,” I said weakly. “I’m not sure how to deal with that.”

“Elizabeth gave us the time we needed to get the ZPM back to Atlantis and save everyone,” John corrected me. “We had no choice but to follow her orders.”

“I know,” I almost whined. “And I’m glad everyone survived ... but at such a high cost?”

“We’ll find a way to go back and search for her,” John promised.

“So we behave as though she’s still alive ... somewhere on that planet?” I asked in confusion.

"For now," John dismissed, the easy going expression dropping off his face abruptly. "Wanna tell me what the hell that last bit was with Oberoth? You said 'give the NAPs time' - what NAPs?"

"Um ...," I looked away reluctantly before meeting his eyes again, "I ah ... I hit Oberoth with a mini NAP delivery device."

"A what?" John asked incredulously.

"A minature version of the NAP delivery devices we created for the Jumpers," I explained. "I finished it only a day or so before the Replicator attack."

"I assume the intended effect is the same as for the main NAP device?" John's expression was strangely subdued ... I couldn't tell what he thought about the whole thing.

"Kind of," I agreed. "The effect would have been a lot slower so it's unlikely Oberoth didn't notice the effects before there were enough NAPs to take him out completely."

"Doesn't that mean the Replicators will have plenty of time to come up with a defence?" John frowned in confusion, I'm sure wondering why I'd deploy the NAP plan on such a small scale.

"It would have," I replied, "if I hadn't made one important change. The NAPs have a priority list of command directives - for the main device the priority was to expand rapidly and infiltrate as many Replicators and systems as quickly as possible, using their communication methods against them to spread even faster. Once done, they'd then surround and neutralise all the nanite capablities at once. For the mini device I made the prime directive to cut off the Replicator ability to communicate first - it shouldn't take surrounding all the nanites to seriously affect their abilities in that area but I can't tell you how quickly Oberoth would have been rendered silent. There's another trade off with that method too - the spread is much slower."

"So Oberoth may have been able to understand what the NAPs were doing to him but not be able to tell the others?" John looked at me in surprise.

"Essentially, yes," I smiled as he nodded in understanding. "The idea was just to create a way to take out a single Replicator - like a single bullet from a gun - purely for self defence. Hopefully it's something we can use again and again without them being able to defend against it."

"That's a really good idea," John frowned again. "How come you didn't tell us about it?”

“It was a spur of the moment idea and I never got the chance to test it," I explained. "I only had the device in the first place because I put it in my pocket the day the whole thing started – I forgot I had it until the end there."

"How did you think it was gonna help Elizabeth?" John asked.

"If it took effect within a few minutes it would have given her a chance to break free of Oberoth - especially because he wouldn't be able to control her nanites anymore,” I explained. “But there were a lot of Replicators surrounding her – maybe too many for her to handle. Besides ...” I broke off reluctantly as another thought hit me.

“What?” John kept his eyes on mine and I looked at him with a pained expression.

“Ah ...,” I hesitated before jumping in. “I just realised that there’s a slight chance the NAPs could infect Elizabeth as well - because she was physically connected to Oberoth when I injected him. If that happens ...”

“The nanites keeping her alive will eventually shut down,” John finished my sentence. When I nodded miserably, John put a hand to my face again, holding my gaze when I wanted to look away guiltily. “Don’t start assigning blame when we have no idea of the true situation. You gave Elizabeth options she wouldn’t have had otherwise. I for one would have been glad for that in the same situation.”

“Okay,” I tried to smile, hiding my face in John’s shoulder when he pulled me up for a hug. Clinging to him for a few moments I drew in as much comfort as I could from his warmth and closeness before letting go. “So it’s business as usual?” I asked curiously.

“Pretty much,” John said with a look that said there was still something he hadn’t told me. “The only exception being that the Wraith are probably gonna be a little busy for the next while.”

“The 'attack the Wraith' directive worked?” I asked incredulously.

‘Sure did,” John agreed. “Rodney tracked a whole fleet of Replicator vessels heading for a Wraith planet.”

“Well that’s something then,” I said lightly, trying to stifle the huge yawn that overtook me.

“You need to get more rest,” John got up and stood beside my bed. “I’ll check in on you later.”

“Hey,” I called to him before he’d gotten more than a couple of paces. “Who’s in charge then?”

“I am,” John admitted reluctantly, “but just until the SGC come up with someone else.” Without waiting for an acknowledgement he continued out the door.

oOo

The next time I woke up the infirmary was quiet and dark. Rather than announce myself to the few staff that were on duty I lay back and took the time to think.

Something was bothering me but it was a while before it hit me. John had been too optimistic, too positive and too deliberate in revealing nothing about his own feelings over leaving Elizabeth behind. He'd said all the right things but ... the feeling just hadn't been there like it should have been. He’d set out deliberately to reassure me so I wouldn’t blame myself! He had to be feeling just as guilty as the rest of us and the fact he’d said nothing made me realise he’d gone further than that. John had decided to lay the blame squarely on himself. There was nothing I could do until I got out of the infirmary ... I'd have to do exactly what the Doctors told me so I could make that as fast as possible.

oOo

“It wasn’t your fault,” I spoke firmly when I was a few metres away, having tracked John down to one of his thinking spots up in the rafters less than an hour after Dr Keller had cleared me for release.

“I don’t want to talk about this right now,” John’s less than welcoming tone was designed to put me off.

“Bad luck,” I insisted firmly. “I’m sorry I insisted on going with you to the Core Room – maybe if I hadn’t been there weighing you down you’d have been able to rescue Elizabeth before the rest of the Replicators showed up.”

“If you hadn’t been in the Core Room we wouldn’t have reactivated the Wraith directive,” John said emotionlessly. “Risking Elizabeth would have been for nothing then.”

“What do you think you could have done differently?” I tried to tread lightly, not really sure what arguments John was using in his own head to make this all his responsibility.

“I should have ordered us to leave once we had the ZPM,” John replied firmly. “My gut was telling me it was a bad idea ... but I let my desire to stop the cullings blind me because I was responsible for waking the Wraith in the first place.”

“Elizabeth herself was fully behind the plan,” I reminded him. “Are you saying she didn’t know what she was doing?”

“I don’t know!” John turned away angrily. “But I agreed to take her on that mission ... to use her ... and as a result we lost her.”

“You’re always the one forcing the home truths on me,” I took a few steps closer and grabbed his arm, pulling him around to face me. “This time it’s my turn. We’d already lost Elizabeth long before she set foot on that Jumper.”

“No,” John denied. “She was herself again ... Doctor Keller and Rodney fixed her.”

“No they didn’t,” I said insistently, hardly able to believe how much he’d turned this around in his head. “And you knew it – you were all set to shut down those nanites yourself because you believed they were a danger.”

“That was before Elizabeth woke up and showed us that she was okay,” John defended his point of view.

“She wasn’t – even she knew that!” I denied heatedly. “If Elizabeth hadn’t been infected by Niam there would have been nothing Doctor Keller could have done. Elizabeth would have died in the OR - and the rest of us would probably be dead now too. If it were possible, would you have held yourself responsible for that?”

“It was my idea to fly the city off that planet,” John persisted.

“And Elizabeth’s idea to lower the shield,” I countered grimly. “Based on that logic she killed herself!”

“Don’t!” John turned to me with an angry look. “None of this was Elizabeth’s fault!”

“You can’t credit Elizabeth with being herself and then not give her the free will to make her own decisions,” I protested. “Did you two even talk about who was in charge before the mission? Because it seemed to me at the end there that Elizabeth was the one very much in control.”

“That mission was a military operation,” John stated firmly. “It was my responsibility to look after everyone. It’s on me that things went so wrong – I didn’t just lose Elizabeth, I gave the Replicators a potentially deadly source of intel.”

“That might be – but if you want to get down to it, lay the blame where it belongs,” I said simply, “then the Replicators are responsible for all of this. But they also gave Elizabeth the nanites that made it possible for us to be with her again and for her to make her death something meaningful rather than just the result of a stupid accident.”

She’s not dead,” John protested angrily.

“Maybe not,” I agreed hopefully, “but you and I both know that even if we find her, she isn’t the Elizabeth we knew and she never will be. That Elizabeth is gone, and nothing you can do, nothing you could have done the whole time we were on Asuras, was gonna change that.”

John kicked angrily at the railings, refusing to say anything to acknowledge the logic of what I’d said. I waited for him to offer something but when the silence had continued for more than a few minutes I realised he wasn’t going to.

“I guess I’ll ... leave you to it,” I said sadly, turning and walking away, hoping he’d call me back but knowing he wouldn’t.

oOo

John was quiet when he finally returned to our quarters that night ... in fact his silence continued on into the days that followed and I couldn’t help but feel that he was punishing me for telling him things he didn’t want to hear. I tried to give him space, tried not to take it personally but the strain was starting to take its toll on my mood as well. Things came to a head one morning from an unexpected source. We were both getting ready for the day and I was pulling on my jacket when I noticed something in the pocket. I realised immediately what it was – the envelope I’d taken from the safe, the one with the alternate reality photos in it.

Slumping down on the bed I stared at the envelope mutely, wondering what I should do with it.

“Did you look in that?” John asked quietly, knowing immediately what I held.

“Ah ... no,” I admitted. “I was going to – that day before we ...,” I trailed off miserably.

“Probably good that you didn’t,” John’s words caused a sick feeling to well up inside me.

“Why is that?” I looked over at him reluctantly.

“Things are different now,” John replied simply, carefully not meeting my eyes. “The last couple of weeks have shown how dangerous the Pegasus galaxy is. No place for ...,” it was his turn to leave a sentence unfinished.

“Oh,” I tried to ignore the clenching of my insides as I frowned in confusion. “So you’ve rethought your future after all?”

“Don’t try to pretend you wanted any of that anyway,” John said almost bitterly. “You’ve had that envelope for months and you never even opened it!”

“I wasn’t ready,” I excused weakly, quickly stuffing the envelope back in my pocket. “I thought you understood that.”

“Well now you don’t have to be ready,” John’s tone made it seem like he was giving me something rather than taking something away.

“What, so because we lost Elizabeth, suddenly our future is completely different?” I demanded angrily. “Is giving me the silent treatment for a week not enough punishment?”

“This isn’t about you,” John glared at me in frustration. “I can’t justify putting my personal desires ahead of the mission.”

“Yeah, good one, gotta put the job ahead of everything else,” I said sarcastically. “So let me get this clear – you’re saying we no longer have a future here?”

“Weren’t you the one who said you liked things the way they were?” John tried to put it back on me.

“The way you’re talking it wouldn’t be the same as before,” I said accusingly, “because it’s not the arrangement, it’s the attitude – and yours is telling me you’re not looking at this the same way anymore.”

“I never said that!” John growled. “I just ... I don’t know what I’m saying,” he turned away, running a hand through his hair in frustration.

“I’m trying to be supportive,” I spoke softly, “trying to understand why you think this is only your fault but ... it’s starting to feel like me being here is making things worse for you.” I waited, hoping John would tell me not to be silly but he didn’t. Taking a shaky breath I smiled ruefully. “The fact that you’re not denying that is answer enough. I’m gonna clear out of here for a while ... I’m sure you’ll be able to find me when ... if you want to.”

He said nothing ... forcing me to follow through ... I walked slowly from the room. Outside the closed door I put a shaking hand to my forehead, eyes watering and breathe hitching. Not wanting to be caught crying outside our quarters I took off for the first destination that occurred to me.

Five minutes later I was safely ensconced in the same room I’d hidden in almost three years before when I first arrived in Atlantis. I wasn’t sure what to think ... had John and I just broken up? Everything he’d said to me that morning was so completely out of character for John and I was confused and frustrated and angry too. Was there even anything I could do to fix it or was I just going to have to trust John to work through this by himself? And why did that feel so much like abandoning him?

The strain of the last couple of days on top of the fact that I wasn’t fully recovered yet settled a weariness on me there was no point in fighting. I’d been assigned to one of the clean up and repair crews – getting Atlantis fully back in action was the primary goal for everyone – but they would have to do without me for one morning. Throwing myself face down on the bed I was happier than usual to let sleep take me away from the real world for a while.


Chapter 56: I’d fix things if I could


“Where have you been?” Rodney demanded impatiently when I turned up in his section late that afternoon.

“Sleeping,” I replied emotionlessly, so unlike my usual self that even Rodney noticed the difference.

“Okay, what happened?” Rodney asked irritably. “And don’t say nothing because Sheppard’s been storming around all morning like a thundercloud and now you turn up looking like death. What did you do?”

“Nothing!” I barked harshly. “One thing I can tell you though – those Ancient powers of yours weren’t infallible.”

“Huh?” Rodney looked taken aback at my anger and confused about how he came into it.

“You said you saw into John’s head – that he would never abandon me,” I whispered harshly. “Either you were wrong or John’s been lying to everyone including himself because it feels like he just did.”

“I wasn’t wrong!” Rodney protested. “And Sheppard doesn’t lie." Rodney frowned in confusion, clearly thinking back to when he'd been super-gened. "They weren’t his conscious deliberate thoughts ... I don’t think it’s even possible to fake those!”

“I don’t know what to tell you Rodney,” I sighed wearily. “Look just give me something to do okay.”

Muttering under his breath Rodney accessed his list of tasks and sent me off to help Radek repair some control panels in the labs. I worked hard the rest of the day, determinedly keeping my mind away from everything else. Skipping dinner with its prerequisite visit to the commissary I headed back to my old room, falling tiredly on the bed for the second time that day and dropping into a restless sleep.

I woke up suddenly in the middle of the night, knowing straight away that I’d had all the sleep I was going to get ... John and I had been at odds for less than a day and yet if already felt as though a huge chasm had opened up between us. Dragging myself off the bed I pulled my jacket back on and went to sit out on the balcony. The two moons hanging low in the sky said more than anything else that we were no longer on our familiar planet. I gazed up at the stars, noticing all the new arrangements – trying to avoid unwanted thoughts was practically impossible in that environment. Feeling full of restless energy I jumped up impatiently and went to the gym instead.

Beating the crap out of a punching bag never solved any problems but it sure was satisfying. I was fully into my rhythm before I realised I wasn’t alone.

“Whose face are you imagining that is tonight?” Major Lorne's voice interrupted me.

“Does it matter?” I puffed impatiently, continuing to punch rapidly. “What are you doing up so late?”

“Pulled a double shift up on the Apollo and then back here,” Lorne admitted. “Couldn’t sleep until I wound down a little.”

“Well don’t let me keep you,” I said dismissively.

“You should be talking to Colonel Sheppard instead of spending your time in here,” Lorne ignored my unspoken request for solitude.

“Who made you the relationships expert?” I asked sarcastically. “And why is my personal business suddenly of so much interest to everyone?”

“You think anything can happen on Atlantis and not be common knowledge,” Lorne asked incredulously, “even without Colonel Sheppard biting the heads off anyone who gets too close?”

“I’d fix things if I could,” I said wearily, “but I don’t know how.”

“You know Colonel Sheppard,” Lorne corrected. “Think about it.”

“Do you think we were wrong to take Doctor Weir with us to Asuras?” I asked hesitantly, giving the bag one last decisive punch before turning to face him.

“The way I heard it, Doctor Weir being there was the difference between getting a ZPM and everyone dying,” Lorne said simply. “I also heard she went voluntarily and that she ordered you to leave.”

“All true,” I agreed. “This whole thing really sucks!”

“We ended up on a new planet with the city intact and with very few casualties,” Lorne offered quietly. “Things could easily have gone a lot worse than that.”

“Tell that to the people who didn’t make it,” I said bitterly.

“You’re not gonna fix things with the Colonel until you let go of your own guilty feelings,” Lorne said wisely.

Knowing he was right I nodded wordlessly, grabbing a towel and draping it over my shoulders before sitting down on one of the benches. “Thanks Evan,” I said simply. Lorne put a hand on my shoulder before leaving me to my thoughts.

I knew Major Lorne was right – John and I were bouncing off each other negatively, him because he felt responsible for the outcome and me because I felt my presence had been the one thing that had stopped him from saving Elizabeth. It was time to start listening to my own words. I'd believed it when I told John that the Elizabeth we’d known was gone the instant the beam had touched the tower. Maybe the guilt was even a way to avoid the grief that knowledge caused. Once I let that go I felt the loss rising up inside me in its place ... I hadn’t been as close to Elizabeth as John and the others, hadn’t known her as well, but I had admired her as a leader, as a strong woman. And it really sucked to have lost her, especially so soon after losing Carson. It hurt a whole lot more to have been there to witness it too. I sat in the darkened gym, thinking morose and depressing thoughts as I shed a few tears for the Elizabeth I’d known.

The sun was just beginning to cast a little light on Atlantis when I roused myself, grabbing my jacket and shrugging it on. When I put my hands in my pockets I heard a crinkling sound and felt paper. Dropping back down on the bench I took out that troublesome envelope again, holding it in my hands and gazing at it sightlessly. Maybe whatever was in there would help me regain the positive view I’d always had of the future - before I’d started putting up boundaries based on my insecurities.

Opening the envelope slowly I took out the photos inside. The top one made me smile immediately ... the alternate John and Sabina were dressed up and the photographer had caught them mid dance, John swooping her low to the ground as they both laughed. Turning the photo over I noticed Rod had written “John and Sabina engagement March 2006” on the back.

Putting that one to the back I looked down at the second photo expectantly. What I saw there made me sit up in shock. “What the f--?” I whispered to myself, hardly able to reconcile what I saw with what I knew of myself. But there it was in vivid colour ... the alternate me sitting in an infirmary bed holding a cloth wrapped bundle that could only be a baby. The alternate John was sitting with his arm around her and they were both smiling delightedly. I knew they were alternate versions of us but these people looked exactly like us so it was like I was seeing a vision of the future. No wonder John had started thinking about the marriage and kids stuff when he’d seen these. On the back of this one were the words “I’m a godfather again! – Ryan John Sheppard – January 6, 2005

Looking at the photo intently for a few more moments I reluctantly put it to the back of the set and looked at the final photo. This one was obviously a year or so after the baby one – in it my alternate self was tickling a little boy who was laughing delightedly. He was the spitting image of John too – down to the messy hair and hazel eyes. And he was seriously cute ... still more baby than toddler. “Wow,” I murmured with a silly smile on my face. I could have guessed the words Rod had written on the back – “Ryan’s first birthday January 2006”. I stared at that little boy for ages, running a finger over his face, detailing everything about him. It was only the sound of footsteps in the corridor that woke me from my trance. Stuffing the photos quickly back in the envelope I jumped up and walked from the room.

Accessing the city’s sensor system I used an old trick to find out where John was, relieved to locate him still in our quarters. It had occurred to me that every time in the past when I’d cast doubts on our future it had been John who’d argued for us, who’d never stopped until he’d convinced me we should be together. The tables had turned and now that was my job – I’d made a poor start giving up so easily the day before but I was determined now to stick with it no matter what John said.

“Hey,” I said softly, standing in the doorway between our sleeping area and the balcony. John had his back to me, sitting on the bench gazing out over the sea.

“Hey,” he replied in a low voice, keeping his face away from mine, not welcoming but not telling me to go away either.

Walking across to him I didn’t stop until I’d placed myself between him and the view he found so fascinating. I winced when I got a good look at his face. He obviously hadn’t shaved and his eyes were red rimmed and blood shot – his expression had been sad but he blanked that out almost immediately.

“Did you get any sleep?” I asked in concern, squatting down in front of him.

“Not really,” John admitted reluctantly.

“I was this close,” I held up a hand, two fingers barely apart, “to believing that you were abandoning this relationship – abandoning me. Subconsciously you must have known if you pushed me hard enough that’s what I’d think.” When John went to say something I put a hand across his mouth, holding it there until he nodded that he understood it was my turn to speak. “Don’t interrupt me,” I practically ordered. “We both know I’m crap at this kind of thing so you better let me get it all out while I’ve got it organised in my head.” Waiting for some response, I was relieved when he nodded again.

“I was feeling guilty about my part in us losing Elizabeth,” I admitted, “and I didn’t hear what you were saying under the surface. You weren’t punishing me ... you were punishing yourself. Did you think that cheating yourself of a future would make up for all the other lives that were cut off before they could have theirs?” I paused for a moment before continuing. “That’s a rhetorical question because we both know that nothing ever makes up for the people we lose. The only thing we can do is ensure that if they sacrificed, it wasn’t in vain – that we made the very best of what they’d accomplished as we could. I’m not saying we just forget about Elizabeth and move on ... but feeling guilty about how it happened doesn’t leave any room for grief. She could still be out there but ... regardless I think she was important enough for us to be feeling a lot of grief – for her and for ourselves because things aren’t going to be the same around here without her.”

I knelt down in front of John so I could reach into my pocket. “It’s easy to lay the blame and second guess every decision we made ... it’s a lot harder to accept and then make something of what’s left.”

Pulling out the photos I held out the first one for John to see. “This one made me smile ... I’d look forward to a dance like that being in our future.” Not sure if I was getting through to John I pressed on, holding out the second photo. “This one frankly scared the crap out of me,” I admitted with a nervous laugh. “But she looks happy even though she’s obviously just pushed out a baby ... I don’t understand how that’s possible but again ... happiness like that would be something to look forward to.” Almost reverently turning to the last photo I smiled fondly, holding it out for John to see. “Now this photo ... this is the one that puts everything into perspective. Seeing this little guy makes it clear why you started thinking down the happily ever after track in the first place. I would give everything ... fight anyone ... and never ever give up if I could have someone like him in my future.” I glanced up from my fond inspection of the photo to see John gazing at it intently. “Look at him John," I urged. "He’s a little you. I can’t tell you what to feel – be it regret, guilt, anger, whatever. But do you really want to give the future him up ... for any reason?”

Running out of words I sat back on my heels and waited for his reaction. John took the photos from me, running a finger over the little boy’s familiar face much as I’d done earlier. I was relieved when I saw the fond smile appear on his face. John looked at me, for once not trying to hide the emotions in his eyes – pain and guilt over the loss of Elizabeth, remorse that his behaviour had hurt me, but also hope for the future. And at the back of all that I saw what I'd feared had been lost - the deep seated love and commitment he had for me.

“I’m a fool,” he muttered, pulling me up into his arms and burying his head in my shoulder. He held on to me really tight - I hugged him just as tight in return, hardly realising that I was crying.

“You are,” I agreed tearfully, smiling when he laughed ruefully. “I forgot to say one thing,” I pulled away to look at him urgently. “I love you – the ‘forever, get married, and have kids' kind of love.” John smiled at my returning the words he’d thought back to him. “I’m sorry if it felt like I was abandoning you when I left yesterday.”

“I love you too,” John urged me back to him and kissed me fervently. “You didn't abandon me - I cut you out. I didn’t give you the chance to do anything else.”

"Why?" I hesitated to bring up the difficult stuff but at the same time didn't want to give him the chance to bury something if it really needed to be said.

"I don't know," John set me down beside him again, looking away. He returned his eyes to mine when I put a hand on his arm insistently. "Okay, okay ... at the end there something Elizabeth said made me think about choices. It almost seemed at the end there that I could either save her or save you but not both. That's really been weighing on my mind ... not just for what happened on Asuras but for the future as well."

"Do you regret choosing me over her?" I asked softly.

"No," John put a hand to my face, looking at me intently. "That's just it - it wasn't a choice! You and Ronon and I were free - Elizabeth wasn't. I have to accept that in the end there was no way I could have saved her. Elizabeth used that argument deliberately to give me incentive to leave. She knew that if I ever was in a situation where I had to choose I'd do anything to save you ... over everything ... everyone else."

"Oh," I wasn't quite sure what to say about that.

"Yeah - Oh," John agreed. He paused for a time before speaking again. "I wasn't pushing you away deliberately ... I just needed some space to think objectively, to decide whether that kind of thinking and being in charge can exist ... should exist together."

"You are a wonderful leader John," I said resolutely. "You belong in charge here and at the end of the day everyone knows you'd risk yourself to save any one of us - it's that kind of thinking that makes who you are and I wouldn't change that for anything."

"Well I'm gonna have to make it all work somehow because you made me realise there's no way I can give any of this up," he held up the photos and smiled a genuine, relaxed smile.

"We'll make it work," I corrected.

Returning to the hugging part I didn’t resist when John pulled me into his lap and held me close to him. We sat together for a time like that ... not moving, not talking, just ... wallowing in being together. I’d been up so early and John was so warm and comforting that I eventually felt myself beginning to drop off. John must have been feeling the same way because he stood up abruptly, me still in his arms, and walked us into the sleeping area. Dropping me down on the bed he took the time to arrange the photos on his bedside table before dropping down beside me and pulling me in close.

I knew it wouldn’t be as simple as that – John would still have to work through his feelings over the final mission with Elizabeth, resolve in his own mind that he couldn’t have acted any differently so he could get to the accepting stage. I knew he would never give up on rescuing her either, unless irrefutable evidence was presented that proved Elizabeth was lost to us for good. There were enough unknown’s out there for anything to be possible. For now it was enough to have reconnected and reaffirmed our commitment to each other. Without another word, we drifted off into a healing sleep.

oOo

 “Did you call in sick?” I joked when John woke me up with kisses when the sun was high in the sky.

“I turned the radio off,” John admitted. “Teyla’s smart enough to work it out ... since no-one’s come banging down the door I think they got the message.”

“Okay,” I smiled, leaning over him with the invitation clearly stamped on my face. “What should we do then?”

“I’ve got a couple of ideas,” John smiled in return, rolling us over and kissing me with single minded purpose. I threw myself into it completely, determined to show John in every way possible how committed I was to him, how much I truly loved him. I guess he had the same motives in mind because things got heated and intense very quickly, even for us. Neither of us seemed inclined to slow it down either ... that quick reconnection exactly what we both needed to reassure ourselves we really were okay together. There’d be time later for finesse and tenderness and all the other warm and fuzzy stuff we’d glossed over.

oOo

 “Did Rod tell you how it came to be that our alternate selves ended up as parents?” I asked curiously, lying with my head on John’s chest and letting the sound of his steady heart beat comfort me.

“I asked,” John admitted. “He said his Sabina mentioned something about a storage room that first year on Atlantis.”

“Wow,” I sat up in surprise, remembering the incident with sudden clarity. “I guess in that reality Teyla didn’t need to go to the mainland.”

“Guess not,” John agreed uncomfortably.

“Are you disappointed?” I asked curiously. “I mean – they got the whole deal by accident, didn’t have to think too hard or agonise over it.”

“They didn’t get to choose either,” John pointed out. “This way is better.”

“It is,” I agreed. “And just so you know, I’d already decided to say damn the defective genes before I looked at those photos.”

“Really?” John asked in surprise. When I nodded sincerely, John smiled. “That’s funny because I’d already decided I wanted everything with you before Rod showed me those photos too.”

“You did not!” I looked at him in confusion. “What would have given you an idea like that?”

“You’re kidding right?” John looked at me in exasperation. “Don’t you think it’s the natural progression for a relationship, if it’s one that’s going to last?”

“Yeah, back on Earth where life sucking aliens aren’t lurking behind every bush!” I said sarcastically. “Even though I’ve agreed to the whole deal in the future I still can’t see how to make it happen in practise.”

“I’m pretty sure people in the Pegasus galaxy get joined or married or whatever the hell they call it on a regular basis,” John was doing the sarcastic thing now, “and the fact that there are humans on almost every planet we gate to means they’ve been doing the whole kid thing for a few years too.”

“Fine, be sarcastic,” I grumbled. “You can be the one to tell General Landry and the IOA our plans – since you’ve already worked out so many compelling arguments.”

“I’m not saying it’ll be easy,” John turned serious. “Just that it’s doable ... when we’re ready.”

“I’m glad you added that last bit,” I admitted, glad to give a subtle reminder that I wasn’t looking to run out and get knocked up tomorrow, “since we’re being all open and up front.”

Having exhausted the topic for the moment we both lapsed into silence. I rearranged myself back against John's side, thinking about all the other times when we’d had a ‘should we be doing this’ crisis.

“I guess it’s finally my turn to ask,” I said suddenly, leaning over him.

“Ask what?” John frowned in confusion.

“Are we all right?” I smiled in delight. “Whenever we've done the whole ‘should we be together thing’ in the past that was always your line ... this time I get to say it. So are we? Alright that is?”

“Yeah,” John laughed at my obvious pleasure in finally not being the instigator or perpetrator of angst between us.

“You really scared me,” I admitted. “It took me too long to remember my trust in you ... in us ... and even then it was something Rodney said that reminded me.”

“Then we’ll make sure he gets to be in the wedding,” John quipped.

“So we’re really gonna get married?” I asked with more than a hint of nervous wonder in my voice. We’d agreed to be on that track but John using the ‘w’ word made it seem much too immediate.

“You asking?” John raised an eyebrow expectantly.

“No!” I denied quickly. “You’re not cheating me out of that buddy ... I expect the whole box and dice ... you know – in the future.”

“I’ll see what I can do,” John laughed, pulling me back to him and kissing me in such a way as to remove all coherent thought. Clearly that was a conversation for another day.

Authors note:

First off I went through exhaustive and complex mathematical calculations to come up with a date for the alternate Ryan Sheppard's birthday ... well not really ... I just assumed each season is a year to place that scene from FJS1 and then with the whole nine months thing that gave me January as a likely month. I chose the 6th because that was the date my twins were actually due (different year though) even though they ended up being born in December. I know Joe's birthday is the 5th but that's just a coincidence.


Chapter 57: Epilogue


“I’m being stonewalled,” John strode into our quarters with his anger hanging like a cloud around him.

“General Landry won’t go back on his orders about a mission to Asuras?” my spirits dropped when John nodded confirmation. “What about the IOA?”

“They’re stalling too, only in a different way,” John explained. “They said decisions about missions to look for Elizabeth will be the responsibility of the new leader ... only thing is they still haven’t chosen one.”

“I can’t believe, after everything Elizabeth did for this expedition, that they won’t let us take a cloaked jumper back to Asuras,” I complained. “We could do a sweep of the city looking for human life signs without the Replicators being any the wiser. Where’s the risk in that?”

“But if we find a human life sign down there the IOA know we wouldn't just walk away without trying to rescue Elizabeth. They don’t want to do anything that might draw Replicator attention back to Atlantis,” John explained. “The IOA think its more guilt than anything else driving us to pursue this mission. To a certain extent I understand their reasoning ... even though I think it’s wrong. Elizabeth has information we really don’t want the Replicators getting. The longer we wait the more chance there is they’ll start using her for that – if they haven't already.”

“This sucks!” my usual eloquence failed me in the face of my frustration.

“It does,” John agreed, coming over and sitting beside me on the bed. “That’s why I was thinking maybe we should put in for some leave ... go back to Earth for a bit.”

“Would they agree to that?” I frowned in confusion. “I mean, who’d be in charge then?”

“The Daedalus is due back in a few days,” John reminded me. “Colonel Caldwell can take over for a week or so. If I’m back on Earth I can talk to the IOA and General Landry directly ... and it might even speed up their decision regarding the new leader.”

“It’s worth a try I suppose,” I agreed. “And I wouldn’t say no to a little R&R.”

“All right, I’ll put in the request first thing,” John promised, making a move to get up again.

“John,” I put a hand on his arm and drew his attention back to me. “There was something else I wanted to talk to you about.” I hesitated, unsure how to phrase it.

“Just spit it out already,” John urged after he’d watched me agonise in my head for a few moments.

“All right,” I steeled myself to just blurt out the rest. “I think we should hold some kind of ... ceremony for Doctor Weir. And before you protest I’m not saying a memorial service like we did for the others who didn’t make it here – just something to honour Elizabeth’s contribution as leader for the three years she was here. People need that ... it would help us all start accepting that even if we find Elizabeth alive and well she won’t be returning to her old job.”

John sat silently, thinking it over ... I couldn’t tell from his expression whether he liked the suggestion or not.

“That’s actually a good idea,” he finally agreed. “We do need something everyone can attend. I know there are rumours going around the city right now ... we could set the record straight and let everyone know all at once what’s going to happen next.”

“Should I talk to Teyla about it tomorrow?” I knew that, even though he probably should have more than just a passing role in whatever was done, John would be uncomfortable with the whole thing.

“If you could,” John agreed with a rueful smile. “We both know Teyla will have a better idea on what Elizabeth would approve of than I will.”

“You being a male and therefore pretty much useless when it comes to stuff like this?” I raised an eyebrow at him teasingly.

“Exactly,” John smiled at my efforts to lighten the mood. “So I can leave this up to you and Teyla?”

“You can,” I agreed confidently. “Don’t worry – we won’t do anything you wouldn’t like.”

oOo

“Doctor Weir was a strong leader,” Teyla concluded her speech about that final mission and Elizabeth’s role in it ... the attention of everyone on the base held in thrall to her words. “She sacrificed her freedom to ensure the safety of each and every one of us. Without that Colonel Sheppard and his team would have been unable to return to Atlantis with a new ZPM in time to save the city. For this act, as well as for three years of dedicated service to this galaxy, we gather to honour her today.” Teyla looked across at John, nodding for him to pick up where she’d left off.

“Doctor Weir is missing in action,” John spoke firmly. “Understandably we’re operating in an environment of change right now but as soon as vital decisions about the continuing leadership of the city are made we will be going out there to find Elizabeth. I know I speak for many of you when I say we won’t rest until we know with complete certainty what happened to her.”

There were nods and murmurs of approval as well as genuine smiles from all around the Gateroom as it registered with everyone that the basic tenant of their military leaders command had not been broken. We might have been forced to escape with the ZPM before we could rescue Elizabeth but we would not be leaving her behind.

“And now,” Teyla smiled graciously, “we invite you to help us celebrate Doctor Weir’s accomplishments by joining us for refreshments in the commissary.”

People broke away in small groups, walking down the corridor slowly as they reacted to what had been said. It was early days but I could see already that the atmosphere had relaxed just a little bit. The future was still uncertain but the present was feeling just a little bit calmer than it had for some time.

oOo

“I got a reply back from General Landry,” John came over to where I was standing watching people enjoying Elizabeth’s party.

“And?” I asked expectantly.

“Pack your bags,” John said with a smile. “We’re heading back to Earth in the morning.” 

The End! 

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