Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard stepped out of his quarters and walked casually down the corridor. It was early morning and half the expedition was still fast asleep, but for him, this was the best part of the day. His jogging route took him to several of the most beautiful parts of the city, inside and out, and at this time of day the outside was a breath of fresh air the likes of which he'd never experienced before.
He had also carefully planned his route so he could take his one and only break on a high balcony from which he could see the whole of Atlantis, well almost the whole of it anyway. He turned into the stairwell and ran up to the floor above where he took the transporter to his starting location.
Normally he had company. Ronon tended to be here before him ready to run him ragged. But his companion was off trying to negotiate some needed supplies from some very old friends. Stepping out of the transporter, John paused to stretch and prepare himself before starting off on his trek.
A few weeks previous, one of the scientists had asked him why he bothered to run anymore. They had been convinced he got enough exercise from the missions and sparring with the other officers. John had simply replied that you could never get too much exercise when you needed to be on full alert most of the day. But this wasn't the whole truth. Like him, most people who ran had more than one reason for doing so, other than physical fitness. John had several additional reasons for his jogging mornings.
One such reason, other than the obvious physical fitness, was the freedom, the open air outside the walls of the city and undisturbed time. Another was the opportunity to run over new personnel duties in his head; things that needed to be done when the Daedalus was due, or schedules that were rearranged due to the loss of an expedition member or team. But his main reason, and one he would never be able to admit to anyone, was the time to think about his relationship with one Doctor Elizabeth Weir.
He'd known Elizabeth for almost three years now, since he met her on, what he called, a fortunate day back on Earth. For two years they were just friends, close friends who tended to flirt with each other, but still just friends; until recently. It had been a few months since their encounter with the Asurans and Elizabeth's brush with death – or in her case, a mental institute – and things between them had been slowly building. He had only intended to check on her after her nightmare. Released from the infirmary Carson had ordered her to take a week of rest but no one had seen her for the first day. John had paid her a visit with dinner in hand and found her sitting curled on her bed staring into space. It had scared him more than anything he'd seen since moving to Atlantis. The last thing anyone needed was for Elizabeth to really end up in a hospital. Luckily she'd only been afraid to close her eyes and her week of rest had quickly turned into a week with Doctor Heightmeyer.
John had spent every night with her since then and left early to go get his running gear and start his morning jog. It worked perfectly for them, Elizabeth didn't sleep long, never really had, and as they were lying in a bed built to give enough space to one body and not two, it became tricky not to fall off the bed and the more comfortable they became sleeping close.
He vividly remembered falling feeling during his first few nights with her. He had jerked awake and jostled Elizabeth then quickly reached out to catch her before she toppled off the edge of her bed. A sigh of relief had quickly followed as he sank back onto the pillow without thinking, wanting to lie on his back, and dropped off the side to hit the floor.
He stopped his jog along the outer corridor, his eyes fixed on the corner he had been approaching. For a second he thought he'd seen something or someone there, but the space was empty. John walked forward a few steps and paused again. His feet on the metal surface hadn't been the only sound and he waited to see if his ears and eyes were playing tricks on him. The sound came again, a giggle as if from a small child. John moved instantly, his feet carrying him to the next corridor and he turned to see a young girl skip to the end and turn down another hallway.
His brow creased, John followed. He thought this was over; the whale-thingies Rodney seemed to like had left over a week ago, though the city was still recovering from its effects. When he turned the corner again he found her standing on the threshold of the transporter. She smiled brightly at him, her small hands resting against her pale blue dress and her innocent face alight with joy before she turned, entered the confined space and stretched her small frame up to touch a location.
John stepped into the transporter and studied the area where her small fingers had touched. The lower section of the outer pier, or so he thought. He let his finger hover there for a moment deciding if he should follow her before he changed his mind and tapped the control tower. He turned out of the transporter and jogged up the stairs to the control room; he nodded to the person heading for the stairs and moved to stop at the sensor screen.
The Ancient text on the long range scanners was scrolling lazily down the screen and he creased his brow before muttering 'wrong view' and turned to the room.
"Hello," Elizabeth said suddenly making him jump; she'd moved from her office in the time he'd been standing there and stopped extremely close to him. "Not your usual daily attire," she noted making a point to look him up and down a few times.
"Funny," he said with a sly grin. "Chuck, can you change this to internal and surroundings?"
Chuck nodded and John turned back to the screen to watch it flicker over to the city layout. He felt Elizabeth step up beside him as his eyes scanned the new sensor information. There were only two specks on one of the piers, but it was on the other side of the city from where the girl had gone. Other than that, only the inhabitants were in view; not a single sea creature in sight.
He considered just telling her, saying that he'd seen another Ancient running around the city; skipping actually. But he couldn't bring himself to do it, there were no whales in the area making him see things, so there was no rational explanation for what he'd seen. Maybe he was just going crazy.
"No," he said moving away from the screen and towards the stairs, "just tired I guess."
"John," Elizabeth said following him. He knew she wouldn't buy it; he had just spent the night with her after all.
"I need to change before our meeting," he shouted over his shoulder running down the stairs as the Stargate activated behind him. Maybe it was nothing, an after effect of the whales that had so recently lived under the protection of the Atlantis shields.
Elizabeth was caught for just a second between following him and seeing to the incoming wormhole. Only Major Lorne's team was off world, and they weren't due back for several hours yet. It was the call for medical attention that finally pulled her decision away from John and back to the control room, she could always deal with him after the meeting.
"Err, Doctor Weir..." Chuck said and she turned into the main room and crossed behind Chuck as the shield dropped, she trusted her control room personnel to know when to use the shield, and jogged down the stairs.
Before she reached the bottom of the stairs Evan Lorne stepped through the gate supporting Doctor Parrish. He moved quickly to one side, lowering the Botanist to the ground; Elizabeth moved across the room towards them. The remaining two members of the team backed through the gate side by side and Sergeant Cole shouted for the gate shield to be activated.
"What happened?" Elizabeth demanded as she turned back to Lorne.
"They had a very big problem with the fact that we were all men," he said, then looking up at last he quickly added, "ma'am."
"They wouldn't talk to us at first, just ignored us," Lieutenant Miller said. "Something we did must have really ticked them off; they turned aggressive towards us and pushed us back to the gate," Elizabeth quirked a brow at this as the medical team rushed into the room.
"And Doctor Parrish?"
"Had to start running at one point. Parrish missed his footing, stumbled and went down the side of a ditch awkwardly. Sounded like he broke his leg," Evan explained.
Wonderful, another world they couldn't ally with. She was starting think there were no other places in the galaxy that would help them or even become allies with them. Just once she'd like to send a team off world to get the response 'sure, we'll be your friends'.
She gave a sigh; this morning was turning out to be just another bad day, just like the rest of them usually were. It had started so well, waking up in bed next to John and finding the correct reports in her inbox. Then John's bad mood and whatever it was he was hiding. Now another world scrubbed off the list. It couldn't really get worse, could it?
"Get down to the infirmary," she said with a nod and turned to head back up to her office.
John had showered and changed quickly that morning and returned to Elizabeth's office to give a feeble apology for how he had acted. Truth was, he just didn't know what to make of the girl and the very last thing he wanted was to mess up the relationship he had with Elizabeth. He'd grown too used to sharing her small bed at night and it had unsettled him several weeks back when he'd spent the night alone while she was off world.
He had run through the possibilities and always came back to the one. It was just a lingering effect from the whales. Though he couldn't really explain how that was still happening a week later. And why was he the only one still suffering?
The meeting had been about supplies and, with the Daedalus being delayed this trip, they would have to ration a little more than normal. John counted every minute as an extra point he could award himself later when he admitted to Elizabeth he'd wanted to fall asleep or yawn several times. He could be playful and smug as he told her he'd managed to go 98 minutes without yawning.
He caught up with Lorne after the meeting, got a quick rundown of events that had happened on his trip and then the added extra that Parrish had returned with a broken leg. Evan had been disheartened when he added that the doctor had been considering requesting a transfer to somewhere safer for quite a while now.
After that, he spent an agonisingly slow day reading reports and writing up ones that were overdue. There was a plus side to Ronon being off on his own mission, it gave him time to catch up on things; but there was also a downside other than the fact that they didn't get to go explore some random planet; he had time to catch up on things.
Elizabeth seemed to be having a bad day. When he met her for lunch she had told him to come back later when she'd finished pulling every hair out of Rodney's head with a pair of tweezers. John tracked down the scientist to find out what was going on and found he'd been messing with the ZPM's power unit to see if he could extend the life span. In the process of this unauthorised activity he'd managed to cut out power to half the personnel tower, leaving half the inhabitants with no hot water, controlled air or electricity.
Now he was sitting in Elizabeth's room in his t-shirt and boxers watching the flickering candle on her bedside. The balcony door a little way down the wall was open to let the cool air in and stifle the perfumed scent of the candles smoke. It wasn't an unpleasant smell, but after a while it began to add to Elizabeth's headache so he'd opened the door.
Elizabeth was down the corridor. Two doors away Radek had a fully functioning room and she'd talked him into letting her use the bathroom to wash up before heading to bed. John could just picture the uncomfortable doctor trying not to look at her as she passed through his room in her shorts, camisole and robe, barefoot and fresh faced. It made him smile to think that Radek would try to avoid conversation and probably jump out of his skin when she thanked him. It also made John wonder how he and Elizabeth managed to spend every night together without having sex.
He didn't really need that extra contact, not with Elizabeth. He was comfortable with her, that was all that mattered and when she was ready to go that extra step she would let him know.
The door opened and Elizabeth stepped in and brushed her hand over the control panel to close and lock the door. His eyes followed her in the dim light as she moved across to the sofa, dropped her things on it and slipped out of her robe. She was beautiful, a sight he could dream good things about, not overly skinny and just shapely enough to attract attention; especially dressed in the matching pale green camisole and shorts.
"What?" she asked and his eyes shot up to her face.
"Just admiring the view," he said with a smirk he doubted she could see. She adjusted her stance, one hip cantered to the side and her hand resting on it.
"Careful John; or I might never let you see what's under the material."
"Hey," he said in mock protest, "I've been good; survived that meeting this morning without yawning once."
"You did not," she said, "I saw you stifle at least three."
He pouted, giving a childish whimper to make sure she got the idea and then turned as she rounded the bed to get in. He waited for her to settle, knowing she would fidget and fiddle with the pillows for a moment, before he climbed in behind her and pressed himself against her back. He tucked his arm under the pillow, and under her head, and rested his other hand on her hip.
"Are you going to tell me?" she asked when he had stilled.
"Tell you what?"
"What happened this morning," she explained and he bit his lower lip as he carefully considered his answer.
"It was nothing," he said placing a kiss on her bare shoulder beside the thin strap of her camisole. "Just my mind playing tricks on me," he yawned and settled closer to her letting his arm slip down over her waist. He felt her relax against him, her back pressed to his chest and gave a deep sigh. Moments later she was asleep. The only sound in the room was her soft and steady breathing. It was a few more minutes of flickering candle light before John drifted off.
When he opened his eyes again he found himself looking around a dark room. The candle on the bedside opposite him had gone out and the room was thick with the night air. Still asleep and wrapped in his arms, Elizabeth gave a deep sigh and shifted slightly and he felt her bared legs brush softly against his.
He creased his brow, lifted his hand to her hip and looking around as best he could in the darkened room trying vainly to work out what had woken him, or why. There was nothing, not a thing to indicate the sudden wave of insomnia that seemed to have taken hold of him. Giving it up as just one of those things, John let his hand drop down over Elizabeth's stomach and he tightened his grip on her before snuggling in against the back of her neck and closed his eyes.
John's eyes snapped open. Standing on the other side of the bed, dressed in a pale pink dress was the girl he saw that morning. She smiled at him and he watched her bright eyes flick to Elizabeth before she looked back at him.
"She's sleeping," she breathed and then giggled, bringing her hand up to stifle the sound. She turned and walked around the bed and John followed her, turning his head to watch her walk through the door. He started for a second and Elizabeth groaned at being jostled. The door hadn't opened for the girl as the transporter had, or had it still been open from someone else using it?
As quickly and carefully as he could, John separated himself from Elizabeth, taking extra care with the arm under her pillow. He pulled his pants on as he walked to the door and almost over balanced as he tried to walk, pull on his clothes and open the door at the same time.
Outside, he looked both ways down the corridor and only just managed to catch a glance of the long dress as it whipped around the corner. He took off at a jog and rounded the corner to find a member of the expedition pinned to the wall watching as she danced her way passed him with a small wave. He followed her at a quick walk and paused at the wide eyed scientist only to pat his shoulder and confirm that someone else had seen her. He followed her for a few more turns before he realised she would soon wander full circle around the tower.
"Hey," he said and she stopped and turned to face him. For a moment she turned and examined the doors nearby.
"We should wake Rodney," she said and John's brow creased even more. She knew Rodney? How did she know him and where he slept and for that matter, how many more people did she know? "It'll be fun to annoy him," she said with a small childish laugh. All her innocence seemed to fade for that moment of misbehaviour and John watched in disbelief as she took a step towards McKay's room.
"Who are you?" he asked, stopping her actions.
"Don't you want to play, while we can?"
The innocent statement made John even more confused, 'while we can'. What did that mean? He considered it and her for a short time until his mind wandered back to the comfortable warm bed where he'd left Elizabeth.
"It's the middle of the night," he said, "and I don't even know your name."
Her face fell and she slowly lowered her head. For a fleeting moment panic set in, he was good with kids, playing with them, keeping them happy. He didn't know how to deal with a crying one or one who wouldn't go to bed. He licked his lips and shifted his feet uncomfortably before thinking of something to say that would brighten her mood.
"We can tease Rodney in the morning," he tried and her whole body seemed to fill with energy at the thought.
"Okay," she said and turned to run off down the corridor. John was too slow at following her and calling out and when he turned the corner behind her, she had vanished completely.
His mind buzzing, John returned to Elizabeth's room, making sure to check no one saw him go in before he quickly entered and closed the door behind him. She was still fast asleep, though she had turned in the bed and he had to nudge her over so he could climb in and settled with her leaning against his chest.
"Just once," Rodney spat, stretching his back as he tinkered inside the console." Just once, I'd like to find something new that's in working order."
"I agree," Radek said and Rodney nodded to himself even though he was out of view. They had gotten up early specifically to look at this new piece of technology. They had been working for over an hour so far and this was the fourth time Rodney had been forced back under the device. Radek had offered to do the fixing several times, but there was no way Rodney McKay would let anyone else do the work; they tended to make things worse and there was no one in the city better than he was at making things functional.
"I'm starting to believe," Rodney started from under the new console, "that they broke everything before they left, just to see if we were ready. A sort of, 'if you can fix it, you earn the right to use it'."
"That's not what happened."
Rodney sat up quickly; the extra voice was sudden and vastly unexpected as was the underside of the console. He swore and pulled quickly out from under the device to see Radek smirking at him and a small girl standing a few steps beyond him.
"You said a bad word," she said innocently and Rodney glared at her.
"What do you know about what happened?" Rodney asked and watched Radek's face turn from fun to questioning.
"What are you on about?" Radek asked.
"The Wraith did it," the girl told him as Rodney looked between her and Radek.
"Are you feeling alright?" Radek tried.
"Yes, fine," Rodney said to Radek with a wave and turned to the girl. "The Wraith didn't get into the city to pull crystals," he said.
"Who are you talking to?" Radek questioned turning to look behind him.
"The stupid little kid behind you," Rodney said waving his hand in her direction before ducking back under the console. "Who can leave now that's she's given me just that extra bit of useless information."
"There was Wraith in the city, I was told not to leave my room and then the floor shook and I watched the water come up and swallow us. I wouldn't do that," she added and Rodney swore as he got a short electric shock.
"I think you should see Carson," Radek said.
"No," he said to Radek pulling back out, "and no," he added to the girl. "There is no proof the Wraith were in Atlantis before we arrived, so take your stupid little voice and go bug someone else."
"He's smarter than you are," she said, pointing to Radek.
"Oh yes and a three year old would know that," Rodney spat sarcastically.
"I'm five," she said.
"Doctor Beckett, please report to Lab Seven," Radek said into his radio.
"Three," Rodney spat before rounding on Radek. "I do not need a doctor."
"You're talking to yourself," Radek said bluntly.
"He can't see me," the girl said rubbing at her nose as if she had an itch. "John can."
"Good," Rodney spat, "then go bug John."
"I like John, he's going to play with me later," she said. "I don't like you."
"Well I didn't invite you in so you can just leave."
"I don't want to."
"Fine," Rodney spat and climbed to his feet, "then I will."
He brushed past her and moved in to the corridor well aware that Radek was watching his every move. He followed the corridor around before he looked back and found the girl following him.
"What do you want?" he asked. She didn't answer, instead she just followed him. He walked the corridor for a while, darting into transporters in an attempt to get rid of her, but she seemed to always catch up with him. He would have to talk to Teyla about the Athosian kids wandering off from their parents while in the city. He turned the corner and stopped outside John's room. If she wouldn't leave him alone, then he was going to make sure John kept her away from him. He rang the chime and waited.
"He's not in there," she said fiddling with her dress. "He's with her."
"Her, who?" Rodney said turning curiously to the girl. It was five in the morning, and John was with a woman? A coy smile broke on her innocent face and Rodney knew she had the answer to the question. "Her, who?" he repeated.
"I'm not telling you."
"Sheppard," Rodney said loudly into his radio and waited. No one answered and he knew it was a stupid attempt. "Wait, its five am, isn't it past your bedtime?"
"I don't have a bedtime anymore."
Rodney snorted and moved away from her and headed back to the lab, he'd just have to ignore her and wait for John or Teyla to get up so he could fob her off on them. With any luck she'd fall asleep and he could leave her in the lab.
Elizabeth looked up to see one of the newest recruits standing nervously in her door way. She smiled politely at the man and beckoned him in. He took only a single step before stopping again and fiddling with his jacket.
"Doctor Smith," she said politely, "what can I help you with?"
"I was," he stuttered and then paused to swallow, "I was wondering about the," he took another moment to stutter before he could continue, "about the little girl."
She had known when she hired him that he stuttered a lot when he spoke. It didn't affect his work and it didn't bother her in the slightest. On any other day she would have been very polite in her answer and done so with a reassuring smile, but his question was just as strange as the conversations she'd picked up on this morning.
"What little girl?" she asked dropping the smile and creasing her brows.
"She was seen with," he paused to think of the name, "Colonel Sheppard a little," he paused again stumbling over the word, "a little while ago and Doctor Zelenka was," another pause to collect his words, "saying about Doctor McKay seeing things in one of the labs earlier this morning."
She took a moment to gather her thoughts, remembering that John had hidden something from her the previous day. He'd checked the scanner for something.
"Thank you," she said and wondered if he would dare ask what she knew about it all again; she hadn't answered him as it was. He turned quickly and left without hesitation. Elizabeth waited just a moment for him to vanish down the stairs before she got up and headed for the scanner monitor. "Chuck," she said turning her head to look at him over her shoulder, "put this back on internal."
"Yes ma'am," he said and seconds later the screen flickered over to the city layout. She knew without turning that the technician had joined her, standing a pace behind her and just slightly to one side. "Is something wrong?" he asked quietly.
She didn't answer him straight away, her eyes picking out all the individuals in the city before she settled on a dot down near the west pier.
"No," she said locating the nearest transporter to the dot's position. "I'll be back in a little while," she said and turned towards the stairs. She passed Teyla on her way up and wasn't completely surprised when the woman turned and followed her back down.
"Good Morning, Elizabeth," she said.
"Morning, Teyla. You've come to ask about the little girl," she said being a little bit too short with her friend.
"Yes," Teyla said following her around the corridor to stop in front of the transporter. "Rodney was," she paused to think of an appropriate and kind word, "adamant that a young girl had followed him around for the majority of the morning. He demanded rather rudely that I tell all Athosian parents to keep a closer eye on their off-spring, but there are no Athosian's in Atlantis."
Elizabeth couldn't help the smug look on her face as she started to wonder if Rodney was going crazy after the whales had affected the city. It would have been just one more amusing thing about the scientist. After stifling the smug thoughts she reached out and placed a hand on Teyla's arm.
"I'll deal with Rodney when I know exactly what's going on," she said. "Apparently he's not the only one to have seen this girl."
"It is only the fact that he would not listen when I explained there were none of my people in the city that concerns me."
"It's Rodney," she said playfully, "you expect him to listen any other time?" Teyla gave a small laugh at this and smiled apologetically at Elizabeth.
"I will delay you no further," she said.
"See you at lunch," Elizabeth put in as she stepped into the transport and tapped the screen.
The corridor she stepped out onto was empty. The west pier was on the least used side of the city and this was the first time she'd been down to any of the unexplored sections alone. She wasn't ashamed to admit that it was a little freaky. She took a deep breath and turned out of the transporter to follow the corridor around to where she'd last seen the lone dot on the sensors.
It didn't shock her that John was closer to her location than she had previously seen, but his actions were very questionable. She leaned to her right, resting her right hand on her hip as she watched him. His back was to her and he was crouched low, he backed up towards her stopping at the next door and flicked the control to open it. He vanished inside and she quirked an eyebrow as she waited to see if he would step back out. Moments later, he returned to the corridor and snuck across to the opposite door, he hadn't spotted her as he flicked at the control and vanished into the room. If she didn't know him better she would have seriously considered he was losing his mind, or had some serous back problems that needed to be checked.
"You can't hide from me," he said stepping back into the corridor and turning towards her. He stopped dead only a few steps ahead of her and she watched in amusement as he slowly righted himself and met her questioning eyes. "Hi," he said.
"John," she said simply and waited for his inevitable explanation.
"This isn't what it looks like," he said with a smug smile.
"And what does it look like?" she questioned with a quirked brow and she wondered just how nervous she was making him at this moment in time.
He licked his lips and not for the first time she wished she'd kissed them by now. She pushed the thought aside as he repeated the move and reached up to rub at the back of his neck. He clearly didn't have an answer to the question and he was being adorable with his small quirks as he attempted to come up with something to say.
"Yesterday," she started stepping towards him and shortening the space between them, "you came up to the control room, looking very cute I might add, in your jogging outfit and changed the scanners. What were you looking for?" She made sure her words were dangerously low to get across the fact that despite how amused she'd been a moment ago and adorable he'd looked the previous day, she wanted answers now.
"A life sign down here," he said.
"Did you find one?"
"No," he admitted and licked his lips again.
Elizabeth took another step; putting herself so close to him she could feel his breath on her face and smell his aftershave and deodorant. She knew at this distance even he would be intimidated by her and as she tilted her head up to give the impression she'd kiss him for good behaviour, she asked another question.
"Where did you go last night?"
"She was in your room," he said and licked his lips again only this time adding a quick swallow. "I followed her out and talked to her."
"She's making me guess her name," he said.
"Why didn't you tell me about her?"
"I figured it was just an after effect of the Whales," he said leaning just slightly so his lips brushed very close to hers. She wasn't going to let him get away with it though and she drew back enough to make sure he understood.
"Briefing room," she said quietly, then in a much stronger voice added: "Now."
She turned abruptly, her hand brushing his stomach as she moved off down the corridor and back into the transporter. She didn't like people keeping secrets from her. Most of all she hated it from her senior staff. This was going to stop and she was going to work out who this girl was.
John, Rodney, Radek and Carson were in the conference room with Teyla and Ronon standing just outside the door. She hadn't invited them to this, but she wasn't about to send them away or close the door on them. Carson wasn't here to be yelled at and as a result he stood off to one side waiting for his orders.
"After what just happened and the threat everyone in this city went through, how could neither of you tell me you were seeing things again?"
She left no room for argument and waited patiently as the silence turned into a dare for one of them to step up and explain themselves - if they could risk it. For Radek though, she had learned he hadn't seen a thing and had called Carson in the early hours to get him to see to Rodney, who had turned him away as soon as the doctor arrived. Just when she thought it was safe to carry on Rodney interrupted.
"Who's seeing things?" he snapped, "she was an annoying Athosian kid who wandered off in the middle of the night."
"Firstly, Rodney, I haven't even begun to touch on your conversation with Teyla this morning," she caught Ronon's raised brow as he turned to look at the Athosian. "Secondly, there haven't been any Athosian's, other than Teyla, in Atlantis for three weeks," she moved a few steps away and traded a look with Carson before turning back to them.
"You two," she said continuing to exempt Radek from this, "are among the highest ranked members of this expedition, you report only to me and when you show this much distrust in my abilities to deal with more mirages created by alien sea creatures, you show the rest of the people here that I'm a push over. Now tell me about this girl."
"She was about three," Rodney started.
"She's five," John cut in sounding indignant, "won't tell me her name, like I said, she's making me guess. She's Ancient, not Athosian and keeps asking me to play with her 'while we have time,' but won't tell me why time is short."
"And you're the only two who have seen her?" Carson asked.
"No," John said a little high pitched. "I followed her last night, she passed Doctor Johnson and he could see her."
"Doctor Smith told me this morning she'd been seen with John," Elizabeth said. "He didn't say who by," she added seeing something click in Carson's mind. "I want them both examined, Carson. Make sure this isn't a lasting effect from the whales."
She turned back to John and Rodney and eyed them. She had the urge to order them confined to the infirmary until Carson said otherwise, but she couldn't honestly do that. She needed Rodney to fix his last mess up so she could use her own bathroom tonight. Not to mention John had late reports he needed to complete.
"Rodney, when you're done in the infirmary you will go back to undoing your ZPM enhances. John," she paused considering his order then a small, very useful idea came to mind. "I want to see you when you're done. Dismissed."
John and Rodney left quickly; Carson gave her a look before following them from the room. She watched the door, her eyes not focused on anything in particular as Teyla and Ronon joined her and Radek inside the room.
"You called Carson, but didn't stop Rodney from leaving?"
"I," Radek started and shifted. "I don't know why I let him walk out; I was too stunned watching him talk to the air."
Elizabeth smiled. She probably would have reacted the same. She knew they had been up early to work on the new console on their own time and she wasn't about to punish Radek for something so trivial. At least he hadn't seen the girl and snapped at Teyla.
"Could you follow him next time?" she asked and smiled as he nodded. "Rodney can fix the ZPMs alone today; you can carry on with your new toy."
Radek practically beamed at her, thanked her several times and almost bounced out of the room. When he was gone, she flicked the control to close the conference room doors and crossed to the coffee machine at the back while Ronon eyed the sliding panels. When they were completely alone she turned to them with her cup in hand.
"I need to know about this girl," she started. "So far, only people with the gene have been able to see her. I need this confirmed."
"You want one of us to find her?" Ronon asked.
"Close," she said with a smile. "When John gets back, I'm going to let him return to his game of hide and seek. I'd appreciate it if one or both of you would go with him."
"You want us to play with an invisible girl?" Ronon's quirked brow never failed to make her smile; he always found things so simple.
"If you can't see her, then you don't have to stay," she said giving him a coy look. "If you can see her, then play with her, help John find out who she is and why she's here, why now?"
"Why not when we were seeing the other Ancients?" Ronon asked.
"She had several opportunities to appear over the last two and a half years," Teyla said hitting closer to home on what Elizabeth was thinking. "I have promised Halling that I would..."
"Of course, I forgot about that, you're visiting after lunch."
"I'll do it," Ronon said shifting his weight. "Give me another reason to poke fun at Sheppard if I can't see her," he added with a smirk.
"I won't deprive you of that fun," she said heading for the door, "ever," she added with a grin.
"Penny? Molly? Louise? Tina? Sue?" John said turning the corner back down at the west pier. "Amy?" he tried again.
"What are you doing?" Ronon asked stopping to look into one of the open rooms.
"She wants me to guess her name," John said continuing down the corridor. "So I'm guessing. Chloe? Carla? Debbie? Victoria?" He peered into one room before moving further along the hallway. "Rebecca? Terri? Emma? Emily? Gemma? Charlotte? Christina? Natalie?"
"I'm trying random names here; you wanna learn Earth names or help?"
"She's not gonna have an Earth name," Ronon said and John stopped, his brow raised and he slowly turned to look at his friend.
"I knew that," he said and stepped up to another open door. "Nora?" he said pointing into the room at the little girl. "I've been looking for you," he said to her, stopping for a second to remember that was the point of the game. She was up out of her seat quicker than he could anticipate and ran the distance to wrap her arms around his legs.
"I know Elizabeth had a good reason for stopping the game," she said looking up at him, but not releasing him. "I knew you'd come back for me."
"Yeah," John said placing his hand on her arm and feeling the warmth of her skin. He could touch her and it was like touching another living person. "And I brought a friend to play with us."
"Is he like you?" she asked and John thought about it for a moment.
"He's a big, mean, fighting machine," John said and she let go of him and took a step backwards, "should make him easy to find."
"But it's your turn to hide," she moved away from him and over to the window and he watched her cover her eyes before she started to count.
"Why don't we play another game," John said licking his lips. He watched her drop her hands and turn to him with a smile.
"We're already playing two. You still haven't guessed my name."
"I was thinking of changing hide and seek," he said feeling Ronon step into the room behind him. "Maybe we can play tag."
"What's that?" she asked looking confused.
"One person is 'it'; they have to catch one of the other players. When they do they shout 'tag' and the person who got tagged takes over and tries to catch someone else. Not so fun if there are only two people, but three people isn't so bad."
"I can't 'tag' someone I can't see," Ronon said looking around the room. "I'm going back to Weir."
"Okay," John said, "guess tag's out of the question."
"Amanda?" John tried hopefully as he placed his palms together, the tips of his fingers rested against the tips of the very small hands of his companion. She moved quickly, her left hand pulling away from the other and she slapped the back of his right hand.
"Nope," she offered as he let out a short and playful 'ouch,' to tease her about her strength.
"Kate?" John tried again and took a swipe at her fingers, but she was far too fast for him. "Amelia? Elizabeth? Tanya? Sophie? Monica? Denise? Abigail? Isabel? Ouch!"
She'd taken a whack at him while he was distracted with a list of names and managed to hit just right, so that his hand actually stung. He bet her palm hurt just as much as she giggled at him and put her fingers back in place. He took a swipe at her and missed and she instantly reciprocated and struck him in the same place.
He could never win this game against kids; they always had much faster reflexes than he did. Jinto and the other Athosian children had taken great joy in beating him, yet for some reason he still taught them games he couldn't beat them at. Rock, Paper, Scissors was another one he had managed to lose to her and after half an hour he'd decided this would be better. How wrong could he get?
"Nope," she said smugly.
"Am I even close?" he asked hopefully.
"I'm not telling you," she said avoiding his hit again. "If I answered that you'd focus on the name and it would take you less guesses to get it right."
"So I am close?"
"Rachel, Teyla, Toni, Laura, Patricia, Jennifer, Pat, Paula, Lucy..."
"You're just naming people in the city," she laughed and John dodged her hit with a triumphant shout of joy.
"Yeah," he said eventually, "and I'm running out of women to name," he said managing a light smack on the back of her hand.
"Hang on," John said to her as he pulled his hands away just in time and reached up to activate his radio. "Sheppard," he said shortly and said quietly "Janet? Julie or Jamima?" She shook her head at him.
"Sir, there's another fight in the mess," Chuck said, "Lorne's heading to intervene, but suggested you should go and sort this one out."
"Let me guess," he said screwing up his nose, "Tipson and Lambert?"
"I'm on my way," John said and smiled apologetically to his new friend. "I have to go back to work," he said. "Stop a fight and find out why they can't get along with the rest of the universe."
The girl stiffened and John eyed her curiously. He watched as she got out of her seat and searched the room. When she looked back at him, her mouth was moving in silent recollection and her brow creased as she seemed desperately to remember something.
"Elizabeth," she breathed, he caught the shape of the name more than he heard the syllables as they left her mouth and then she looked up to meet his eye. "I have to go."
Elizabeth sat at her desk with her eyes fixed on the screen. Her concentration wasn't at its peak with all the fuss about the girl in the city, but at least she was making it slowly through Carson's report. She didn't really need to read it; John and Rodney were in perfect health. Well, for Rodney that was questionable with the amount of food he ate every meal. But Carson had gone on to detail his theory about the girl only appearing for ATA Gene carriers.
This was something she already knew. Ronon had only been gone for twenty minutes before he stepped back into her office and dropped down onto her sofa.
'He found her,' was all he had said. She had waited for more, but eventually she'd been forced to ask him for more detailed information before he added to his statement. 'I couldn't see anyone in the room.'
A five year old Ancient girl wandering around Atlantis was a little daunting. If she'd been sent to do some task, why had she not started to follow her order and played with John after? Likewise, if she'd been sent, why hadn't the others sent someone a little more mature?
But this wasn't the most terrifying question Elizabeth could think of. The Ancients, for all their extensive technology and advanced thinking, had always stayed clear of people on the lower plane of existence. For them to send someone, anyone, to Atlantis must mean something was heading their way, and it must be bad enough for them to risk the interference. She pushed these ideas away hoping against all hope that she was simply here out of boredom.
There was movement in the control room and Elizabeth looked up over the top of her monitor and watched as one of the control room staff hurriedly tried to clean a console of the spilt coffee.
She let her mind wander to last night. She'd turned over in bed and woken instantly. It was unusual for her to be able to just roll over and not end up pressed against John's warm body. She'd looked around the room before settling back into a comfortable position and waited. She'd pretended to be asleep when he returned and had fallen asleep in his arms before she could even contemplate asking where he'd been.
The fact that he'd got up to follow this girl was an additional worry. Would her presence become addictive? Was she there to trick them? Was she Ancient or some other race?
Elizabeth jerked her head to her left as a small hand came to rest on her arm. Her eyes settled on the innocent face of a five year old. Confused, Elizabeth creased her brow and opened her mouth to ask a question, any question, but the girl spoke first.
"Evil is coming."
Elizabeth froze. She couldn't believe what she was seeing. The small hand on her bare arm was warm and the large eyes in the small face were filled with fear. Her skin was fair and her long brown curls seemed to make her look even more youthful. It reminded her of Rodney's statement earlier in the day about her being three years old and then something else struck her.
Slowly she got up, backing away from the child though never letting her eyes move from her delicate features until she reached the door. It didn't shock her that as she turned, so did the girl and she could hear the soft pad of her shoes as she followed Elizabeth to the control room.
Picking her location carefully, Elizabeth moved to stand on the small balcony overlooking the Stargate. But unlike every other time she'd stood here, she faced into the control room and watched out the corner of her eye as Chuck eyed her with suspicion. It gave her half an answer. The child had followed her completely and at the railing of the balcony her head ducked a little to see between the bars. Chuck's confusion was aimed at Elizabeth, not the small girl in a pretty red dress at her side.
"Is something wrong, Doctor Weir?" He asked daringly.
"No," she gave the white lie too convincingly and waited to see if he'd call her on it. He said nothing and returned to his work. Chuck didn't have the ATA gene, but then again neither did she. Yet somehow, she could see the small girl who had given up looking down on the gate room and tugged at the hip of Elizabeth's pants.
She looked down at the girl as she ran quickly over the staff in the control room. Not one of the current personnel there had the gene and suddenly, without provocation, Elizabeth felt very strange acknowledging a girl who only she could see. And the reason she could see her was... a mystery at best.
"Can I stay with you?" she asked and took a step closer to Elizabeth as though afraid someone or something would try to steal her away. Elizabeth smiled at her before looking up and caught the confused look that one of the technicians was giving her.
"I need to see Carson," Elizabeth said as she moved from the balcony and passed Chuck. The girl followed and slipped her hand quickly into Elizabeth's. It was strange. The feel of her warm fingers and her presence at her side as though she suddenly had a daughter. She let her fingers wrap around the tiny hand as she moved down the stairs and to the transporter, thankful that the small girl's short legs didn't slow her down on the steps.
Elizabeth let her mind wander back to the beginning of the expedition, back even to when she'd first met Carson and he'd shown her how he tested people for the ATA Gene. He'd done that test on her and she remembered clearly feeling a slight pang of disappointment that she didn't naturally have this separation from everyone else. She'd then been tested again with everyone else as their personnel files were put together for the SGC and Elizabeth's use. Again there had been nothing to explain how she could see a girl usually only sighted by members with the gene. Three or four months into their trip here, Carson had given her the gene therapy, and a week later her test still told her that her eyes were now lying to her.
Stepping into the infirmary, Elizabeth nodded to the nurse who turned to her before crossing the room to Carson's desk. She waited for him to finish his work and turn around to talk to her, or at least she would have if the girl hadn't spoken up before he could complete the task.
"What are you doing?"
Carson jumped and Elizabeth had to fight off the urge to laugh as he swung around and looked first at the girl before turning his eyes on her.
"You scared the life out of me," he said and the small hand tightened around Elizabeth's fingers as she gave a short laugh. "I was just finishing the reports on Colonel Sheppard and Doctor McKay. Is this the girl who is only seen by gene carriers?"
"Yes," It was all Elizabeth could bring herself to say and she couldn't hold back from counting the seconds until he realised the fundamental flaw in the statement.
"I only wanted to be seen by John," she said a little touch of sulkiness in her voice. "But they wouldn't let me," she edged closer to Elizabeth and that was the point at which Carson realised something was... odd.
"You can only be seen by people with the Ancient Gene?" he confirmed and the girl nodded. "Elizabeth doesn't have the gene."
Elizabeth watched as she turned to look up at her in confusion, something obviously didn't add up to her. It didn't add up to them either and there had to be a perfectly reasonable explanation for what was going on. They just had to work out what it was.
"Yes she does."
"I did the test…" Carson started, but Elizabeth held up her hand to stop a childish argument breaking out between them.
"All our tests show I don't have the same gene as Carson and John," Elizabeth said calmly. "What makes you say I have?"
"It's not the same," she said. "My mommy did the test when you were asleep. She said you had the Navo Gene."
"When I was…" Elizabeth's brow creased as she considered the statement. Ancients couldn't come in and take DNA while she was fast asleep in the middle of night. Then she realised what the girl had actually said. Her mother had done a test while she was asleep – children could see everything as sleep; death, unconsciousness and sleep itself. "When you were alive?" The girl nodded with a smile on her face as Elizabeth finally understood.
"The other me, who went back in time and stayed in the city to save us," she said before turning and crouching down to the girl's level. "You've met me before," she said simply.
"Mommy was pleased that you had the gene," the girl said. "She told me that there were only five people who had it. She'd been working on giving it to more people for years."
"How do we test for this gene?" Carson asked and as the girl shrugged. Elizabeth gave him a look over her shoulder. "What?"
"She's five, Carson, not a biologist."
"Right," Carson agreed. "Then I guess I need to start searching the database."
Elizabeth hummed at him in response and looked back at the girl. It suddenly occurred to her that she didn't know the child's name. No one did. John had told her he was being forced to guess, but guessing the name of a girl who lived more than 10,000 years ago was going to be one hell of a trick.
"What's your name?" she asked her, thinking it would be best to have a name to call her and refer to her by. She smiled at her friend and wondered for a moment if she would make her guess like she did with John. "I'm no good with guessing games."
"Samara," she said, "but I like Mara."
"Mara," Elizabeth repeated, "that's a beautiful name. Mara, why don't we leave Carson to do his research and go find somewhere quiet to sit and you can tell me all about the evil that you said is coming, okay?"
Mara nodded and Elizabeth stood up and offered her hand. She knew it was going to be strange walking the corridors to a conference room when only about half the personnel could see the child.
"So," John started looking between the two Marine officers standing to attention in front of him. "Which of you is going to tell me what's going on between you?" he asked sitting back in his chair and propping his feet up on the table.
Silence followed. Neither of the men moved and John couldn't help but quirk his brow at them. He didn't speak though; giving them a moment to debate what was going on and occupied himself with the big purple bruise on Lambert's left jaw. Marines were meant to have this 'comrades in arms' thing going; the few he'd known in the past were always like brothers. But these two seem to be the complete opposite to this.
"We're on an advanced city, thousands of light years from home," John said sitting forward dangerously. "What possible reason is there for you two to add to my problems?"
Silence again and John was beginning to get impatient. He'd talk to them separately if he had to. Though he didn't want to, he would also confine them to their rooms until he could find a solution. What he couldn't have was two men at each other throats. They'd been here for only ten weeks and they were ready to kill each other. He hadn't gotten that urge until Rodney became very annoying about half way through their first year here.
"Very well," he said, standing up and picking up his palm computer as he did so. "You'll report to your respective rooms, under guard, until such time as you feel telling me and sorting this out would be in your best interest. In the meantime, I'll make sure that the persons covering your shifts know that you're responsible for their extra work. Dismissed."
They saluted sharply, turned and walked out. John watched the small scuffle at the door and rolled his eyes before following them out to find men for the guard duty. This was turning out to be a long day; he'd been more happy playing games with his mystery girl than he had dealing with two silent children.
"Major Lorne," Doctor Weir called, stopping him in his tracks just a few steps past her. He turned with a smile and let his eyes drop to the girl at Doctor Weir's side before returning his eyes to her face.
"Ma'am?" he questioned.
"What's this I hear about Doctor Parrish wanting a transfer Earth side?"
"I was hoping you hadn't heard that yet," he said a little defeated. He had hoped he'd have a chance to talk the man out of his wish, but it would seem someone had taken the idea back to the highest authority. "I think he feels a little threatened out here," he gave a laugh. They all did. "I know he doesn't like the off world duty anymore; too many run-ins with the Wraith."
"I see," she said turning fully to look at him and making the girl at her side take a few steps to keep hold of her hand. "I reinstate his duties here without a problem, so why hasn't he asked for that before?"
"No idea, ma'am, I told him I'd talk to you about that if he wanted, but he seems fixed on returning home. I was going to go have a chat with him, see if he was absolutely sure."
"Okay," she said. "Keep me informed," he nodded at her and she turned to walk away.
"Doctor Weir," he said stopping her and he had to lick his lips as he dared himself to ask. "Who's your friend?" he asked indicating the girl.
"Mara," she said simply and looked down at the kid.
"Ah, she's the one driving Colonel Sheppard crazy," he said and Mara gave a laugh that made him think she was doing it on purpose.
"That would be Mara," Elizabeth offered with a grin. "Let me know how Doctor Parrish is when you've had your chat," she requested before turning and leaving.
Evan turned too, returning to his trip to the infirmary. He didn't really know what he'd do if Parrish was serious about leaving the city. He'd have to find, train and break in a new team member. That wasn't the kind of thing he did easily. Starting out with a new team was best, as everyone was in the same position, but changing one person meant one person felt singled out.
He shook away the horrible possibility and focused on what he could say to talk his fourth member into staying in the city, even if he didn't go on missions anymore.
"That has to be the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard."
Radek looked over his glasses to the noticeably annoyed astrophysicist who had his head in a laptop. For a moment he merely regarded the man before silently sighing.
"It was a perfectly reasonable search, Rodney."
Rodney scoffed behind the screen of his computer before looking up at the other scientist.
"Are you kidding me? Did you really think that typing in 'Navo Gene' would get you anywhere in a database like this?" He gestured dramatically to the screen before him. "You might as well have just typed in 'the meaning of life' while you're at it and see if you get anything."
"Well I don't see you coming up with any better ideas," Radek turned back to his computer and stared at the abundance of Ancient text in disbelief. It would take years to go through everything manually and they weren't even sure if the information they were looking for was in there.
"Actually," the chubby index finger of the Canadian scientist appeared over the laptop, "while you have been mindlessly inputting random searches, I have been writing a new sub-routine that should significantly narrow the search parameters."
Radek's eyes perked up as he swivelled back around. He opened his mouth to say something, but was cut off by the other.
"I know what you're thinking: 'It would take days to write such a comprehensive sub-routine' and normally, you'd be right. Thankfully you have me," Rodney offered a smug smile.
"Even so, Rodney, it would take more than –"
"Yes, if you were to write the program for the entire database," Rodney continued. This brought about a confused look on Zelenka's face and Rodney continued. "I figure if the gene is mentioned at all, it would be in the medical or science logs which significantly narrows the search already."
"And writing a sub-routine for a small section of the database is simpler."
Radek had to admit that he was impressed that Rodney thought of such a solution, especially since he had been opposed to helping with the search in the first place. Rodney had really wanted to be back at the new console trying to get it to work.
"Got anything yet?" The Scottish accent wafted into the room as Carson turned the corner and entered the lab. He looked at the two scientists expectantly.
"Nothing about the Navo Gene," Radek adjusted his glasses.
"Not yet," Rodney countered.
"Rodney thinks he can narrow down the search to just the medical and science-related material in the database," Radek said turning to look at Doctor Beckett.
"Can he really do that?"
Radek shrugged before McKay's voice sounded proudly behind his computer.
"He just did."
Radek swivelled around to his own monitor while Carson leaned in to watch as the Ancient text began to fly across the screen and Rodney's program initiated. Moments later there were a handful of files on the screen as opposed to the copious amount there were before.
"You did it Rodney."
Radek clicked on the first file and the three silently began to read what it contained. It was Carson who piped in first, his hand touching the screen.
"It says here the Navo Gene first appeared in one of the last generations of the Ancients."
"That makes sense. Navo means new in Ancient," Radek said leaning back in his seat.
"Yes, well thank you Mr. Translator, but that doesn't help us understand what the gene is."
Radek rolled his eyes at Rodney's dry remark and clicked on the second file. Carson seemed to lean in interestedly as the text scrolled down.
"Wait!" Carson put his hand on Radek's shoulder to stop him from continuing down the file. Carson re-read the text on the screen.
"It says here that this scientist who discovered the gene thought it to be the next evolution of their race."
"I thought we were the next evolution."
Carson shook his head gently to Radek.
"Actually, we are the second generation to go through the evolutionary steps as the Ancients once did. You see, we are the descendents of the Ancients which is why only a small number of the population still carries the ATA Gene."
"So that would make Elizabeth?"
"Higher in the evolutionary chain than you or I, yes."
The room became silent as the ramifications of the new information settled on the trio. It was broken by the crackling of the radio.
"Doctor McKay to the control room."
"What now?" Rodney muttered with a roll of his eyes.
John ducked as a wooden stick skimmed the top of his hair and countered the attacking stick with his own. Using his weight, he pushed back his opponent and took a moment to regain his breath.
"But why now? Why show up after we've been in the city for so long?"
John wiped a bead of sweat that formed on the crown of his hair as he watched Teyla, who remained nimble in front of him. Having caught his breath, he began his own assault, swinging the sticks towards Teyla's abdomen, but the attack was quickly averted by the Athosian. John tried again, swinging low this time, but Teyla jumped and executed a round-house kick which caught Sheppard in the back and sent him stumbling.
"Perhaps she was only recently allowed to appear to us."
It was Teyla's turn to perform a series of assaults which John struggled to block but ultimately managed. Teyla backed off and gave John a moment to breathe. John began to circle to the left.
"To do what though? It's not like she's a wealth of information."
Not that John was holding it against her – she was five after all – but it didn't make sense to him that the ascended beings would let a child come warn them instead of sending someone older.
"You have mentioned that these, ascended beings, have rules against interfering with our lives. Would it not be prudent then to warn us through a child?"
"You mean like a loop-hole? They knew the kid could give us the right information, but we'd have to fill in a lot of the holes ourselves?" From what John had read about the Ancients back home, it didn't sound entirely inaccurate. It was like the ascended beings had nothing better to do than to play games with the lower plains. John deadpanned. "Great."
The two were back at it. The click-clacking of the wooden sticks as they smacked together sounded in the spacious gym as the two continued to spar against each other. For a moment, John thought he had the upper hand as he noticed Teyla had left her right arm exposed. He moved in to grapple her arm, but Teyla was ready. She swung her forearm out and sent John flying backwards to the ground. In one single motion she was on top of him with her sticks crossed, one on each side of his neck. They remained like that for a moment before John conceded defeat and Teyla helped him up.
"Even if that's the case, we need a little more to go on than 'evil is coming'."
Elizabeth had radioed him just as he had left Tipson and Lambert in his office. He had thought it to be a very cryptic message then and he still did now.
Teyla handed him a towel before she reached for one and dabbed herself off from the workout. Finally she looked up.
"There used to be an old story my father would tell me when I was a child. It is regarded as merely a legend among my people, but with recent events…"
John had known Teyla long enough to know that it usually proved helpful to listen to her when she remembered things like this. From his experience, most legends came from some sort of truth, and he was willing to take any ideas over the abundance of nothing he had now.
"What's the story about?"
"It has been a long time since I have heard the story told," Teyla placed the sticks on the shelf. "The story speaks of a time before the Wraith, of a time before the ancestors, when there was peace. It is said that a 'darkness' slept in the farthest reaches of the galaxy, a darkness no one could see, and it was awoken when the ancestors arrived."
"Doesn't that sound familiar," John muttered as he took a seat on one of the benches and reached for a bottle of water. "So what happened?"
"The story says that the darkness approached the ancestors under the veil of air and that only the ancestors could see them. The darkness almost defeated the ancestors, but that they managed to defend themselves in the end."
John looked at Teyla. "That's it?"
"The story was meant to keep us from venturing into the ruins on our planet in fear that we would awaken the darkness again," Teyla offered a sympathetic smile.
"Right. No reason to go into detail as long as you can keep the children in line."
Teyla dipped her head.
"Colonel Sheppard," Chuck's voice rang over the radio.
John exchanged glances with Teyla before pressing the button on his radio. "Go ahead."
"Your presence is required in the Control Room, sir."
"I'll be right there."
John stood up and motioned Teyla to follow him.
"No! Absolutely not!" Doctor Parrish was sitting in a wheelchair in the middle of the botany lab surrounded by lush flora with Major Lorne standing across from him behind a counter. Parrish crossed his arms to further his statement.
Lorne took a deep breath and reminded himself that he needed this guy on his team.
"Come on Doc, it was an accident. It could have happened to anyone."
"But it happened to me, Major. Me! And this isn't the first time either. There was that time when I sprained my wrist on M4X-337 –"
"That could have happened to anyone. No one saw the crevice until it was too late. It was an honest mistake."
Parrish rolled his eyes. "What about the time I fell down the cliff or when I almost drowned in the river? I suppose those were just flukes as well."
Lorne shifted his weight. "So you've had some bad luck."
Parrish let out a scornful laugh. "Bad luck. Face it, Major, I'm just not cut out for off world exploration. I never was and I never will be."
Lorne crossed his arms. "You're a valuable member of my team. I need you on it."
Parrish rolled his eyes. "All you need is a scientist on your team. I'm easily replaceable," Lorne opened his mouth, but Parrish cut him off. "I'm sorry, Major, but my mind is made up."
Doctor Parrish didn't leave much room for argument as he swivelled somewhat awkwardly in his wheelchair and made his way towards the doors. Lorne watched as the scientist ran into a young woman, mumbled something about watching where one walked to her, and continued irritated down the corridor.
Once Parrish was out of sight, Lorne let out a loud exhale and leaned on the nearby counter. He didn't know what he was going to do. He knew he needed to find someone to replace Parrish, but who? His eyes fell on the young red-haired woman who had run into Doctor Parrish as he left. She was currently attending to some plant that reminded Lorne of sunflowers back home, though these were smaller and red. It took him a moment to recollect her name.
"Doctor Brown, right?"
Katie looked up from the flowers and over at the military officer.
Lorne took another moment to recollect some information before he spoke again.
"You're head of botany, right?"
Katie pulled back a strand of her hair and tucked it behind her ear while she nodded.
"Yes," she offered him a meek smile to which Lorne countered with a warm smile of his own.
Anyone looking at Lorne could tell that the wheels in his head were turning. He needed a fourth member of his team and it was preferable that the fourth member was not only a scientist, but a botanist. It's what made his team different from the others on base and he wanted to keep that edge.
"Ever go off world before?"
Katie blinked at him and turned around fully to face him. She didn't speak to a lot of the military officers on the base except for a few, one of them being Lieutenant Cadman. It was rare for them to start a conversation with her. She was speechless for a moment, but recovered.
"Not really, no."
Lorne widened his smile and his charm. "Ever want to?"
"Oh well, I don't know. I mean, I suppose it would be interesting to travel to different worlds, but –"
"Great! You can join my team then."
"Oh. But I –"
"I won't take no for an answer Doc. Trust me, you'll love it," Lorne offered another smile.
"Are you sure I'm the right person for the job?"
"Major Lorne, please report to the gate room," Colonel Sheppard's voice sounded over the radio before Lorne had a chance to respond.
"On my way, sir," Lorne offered a 'what can you do' shrug to Katie as he pushed off the counter and began to exit the lab.
"What if I can't do it?" Katie yelled after him.
"It's a piece of cake!" And then he was gone.
"What's going on?" Elizabeth demanded, moving from the conference room to the control room. She'd been sitting talking with Mara, though they'd talked about anything except what she wanted and even played a few games. It had been Rodney's sarcastic tone that had pulled her from the girl and back to the rest of the city.
John and Rodney exchanged a look before turning back to her, but neither of them said a word. She watched them, narrowing her eyes at the way they shifted uncomfortably until John caught sight of Mara standing in the conference room doorway. Instantly he reached out a hand, grabbed her arm and pulled her closer to him and further away from the girl. For a moment she thought he was going to kiss her, but he turned as he pulled on her sleeve and she found herself moved over to stand near Ronon. She raised a quick brow at the Satedan, he'd been standing in that very spot when she'd returned from the infirmary, and it looked as though he hadn't moved a muscle.
"I think I know what 'evil' is," he said drawing her attention back to him. "There's a Wraith ship heading our away."
"A Wraith ship?" she asked. "As in one?"
"Yeah," John offered with a grin, "we were just debating if we had enough power to cloak us for long enough so they think we're still gone."
"Well, I could have told you the answer to that," she offered. "If all they want to do is confirm we're not here anymore then we're fine, evil averted."
"Did you find anything out?" John asked and she could see the sceptical look in his eyes. It made her think for a moment. A single Wraith hive ship wasn't really that much of a problem. Sure, it would expend a little bit of their power supply, but one Wraith ship sent to check on them was nothing.
"I know she's good at avoiding the question," Elizabeth watched Ronon move to stand closer. "And she likes games," she said. She considered telling John her name or leaving Mara to have her fun at guessing.
"You know her name, don't you," he asked with a sly grin.
"Why can't everyone see her?" Ronon asked stopping Elizabeth from gloating about the fact that she did know the girl's name.
"I haven't managed to find out anything other than the games she likes to play and why she's so comfortable with me."
"So, do I just stand here looking pretty or are you going to give me something to do?" Rodney said cutting off Elizabeth's answer. Elizabeth turned back to the monitor and studied the display. It seemed pointless to send someone, even a little girl to warn them about a single Wraith hive ship; there was something bigger at play here and this hive ship was just the beginning of it.
"Start switching over from shield to cloak, be ready for them when they get close," she ordered and listened as Rodney muttered about time wasting and moved out of the room. She turned, looking between John, Teyla and Ronon for a moment and considering her options. "John, get Major Lorne up here to join us. I think it's time we had a little chat with Mara."
She turned, heading for the small girl still standing in the doorway of the conference room. As she stepped into the room she heard the comm. call for Major Lorne and smiled at Mara. She knew this would be hard. The girl had obviously spent many years without anyone to really play with and here on Atlantis she was presented with a friendly environment and John, who was a big kid all of his own.
"Come on Mara," she said holding out her hand, "time to get some work done."
Mara took her hand and followed her across to her office. John and Teyla were sitting comfortably in the chairs on the other side of her desk and Ronon was leaning against the door. She could start without Lorne. All she needed was for him to do a little recon and see if there were more hive ships following the first.
She moved around her desk and took her seat very aware that only John could see the girl trailing behind her. It didn't seem to faze either Teyla or Ronon that she lifted something invisible onto her lap before she started considering where to start.
"Mara," John said pointing his finger at her knowingly. Mara stuck her tongue out at him and smiled.
"Elizabeth told you," she said struggling just slightly on the 'z' in her name.
"Excuse me, Elizabeth," Teyla said shifting forward in the seat. "Ronon and I cannot see or hear... Mara, perhaps we should be excused from this meeting."
"Yeah," John said then creased his brow. "Why can only people with the gene see you?" he asked Mara.
"So that you'll be ready," Mara said innocently reaching for Elizabeth's silver watch. She sat back against Elizabeth's chest as she tinkered with the object and managed to open it and look at the clock face before she added. "Only those with our gene or the Navo Gene can see the evil people."
Elizabeth turned to Teyla and Ronon, who both had an arched brow watching the object linger in the air. She nodded at them and Teyla moved quickly, her expression betraying for a split second that she found the sight eerie. Ronon seemed completely amused at the sight and had to be dragged from the room by Teyla.
"You mean that half the city won't be able to fight them?" Mara nodded at John's question and flipped the watch shut. "Doesn't sound like the Wraith," John added and Elizabeth couldn't help but look at him with an expression that said only too clearly that she'd worked that much out.
"The drones can stop the Wraith if they don't come in too many ships," Mara said simply.
"Ma'am?" Lorne asked while stepping into the office.
"Major," Elizabeth greeted with a gesture to the empty chair next to John. "I need you to do a little recon."
Lorne nodded and she watched his eyes follow Mara's hand as she placed a statuette back on its podium. She reached for something else, but Elizabeth stopped her from taking it and pulled her back against her chest. She leaned back taking Elizabeth's hand with hers and started to fiddle with the long fingers examining each of Elizabeth's nails.
"Need you to take a Jumper to a location near the hive ship that's heading our way and make sure it's all alone out there," John said with a raised brow and Elizabeth knew he was watching her; her attention had been drawn by the child on her lap.
"How far away is the nearest gate, sir?"
"About half hour Jumper ride," John said and Elizabeth pried her fingers free long enough to pick up her father's watch and give it to Mara.
"No heroics, Major," Elizabeth put in now that she could put her full attention back into the current situation. "Just take a look and see what's out there and then come back."
"Yes ma'am, we'll be ready to go in twenty," Lorne said and left his chair and the office quickly.
Elizabeth's hands were pushed aside quickly as Mara got up. She quirked a brow noting that her watch had left with the little girl and wondered for just a second if she'd be able to find it later. She was drawn shortly after the girl vanished from view by the smirk on John's face.
"What?" she asked him with a grin.
He didn't answer. Instead he stood up and moved around to stand between her and the door out to the stairs. His smile grew and he simply jerked his head towards the door. She followed him out and down the stairs in silence. He looked back once to make sure she was following and turned into an empty meeting room as soon as the corridor was clear.
"Will you forgive me?" John asked stopping her from asking any questions.
"This," he said and took a step towards her and drew her up into a passionate kiss. Their first, she realised as she let herself melt against him. Six months together, sharing a bed and letting him be in the room while she changed. He'd kept his hands to himself, told her he respected her and would wait a lifetime for her and here he was taking the next step in their relationship.
All she could think of was a single, simple question. Why did we wait so long? John pulled back somewhat reluctant to see her response and for a moment he didn't look her in the eye.
"I will," she said, raising her hand to brush against his cheek and feeling his stubble scratching at her palm. "If you do it again."
He smiled before he leaned in and kissed her again, this time more gently. The looming doom of an enemy stopped her from lowering her hand to his chest to find the zipper of his jacket; now was far from a good time to take a step back from her celibacy. But soon, he'd waited long enough.
"John," she whispered, keeping herself close to him, but breaking the kiss. He dropped his head and drew a line of kisses down her neck. "What brought this on?"
"Natural mother," he said simply, "could make any man's heart melt watching you with Mara," he continued. His hands slipped around her waist and pulled her closer and she finally realised where he wanted this to go.
"John," she said again. "Not here, not now," Elizabeth added. She placed a hand on his chest to push him back and moved just a step back. His hands stayed on her hips as he looked up at her.
"I always found you more irresistible during and after a crisis," he offered with a sly grin. She took his hands and dropped them back at his sides before leaning in and giving him a short kiss on the lips.
"Then come find me after this one," she said and turned before he could stop her.
Lorne finished the quick check of the Jumper's supplies and controls before turning to check the other two members of his team. Cole was sitting in the co-pilot's seat. He'd been quick to call shotgun when he'd realised Doctor Parrish wasn't going with them. Miller was checking his gun in the rear of the Jumper. Sitting right behind Cole though was his youngest recruit ever. Five years old, long brown curls and bright green eyes. She smiled up at him ever watchful of his movements and he knew he'd have to tell her eventually that she couldn't go with them.
He swallowed, kids were great. He loved them to death, so long as he could give them back at the end of the day. Only problem with this one was there was no one she really belonged to. Despite the fact that she'd been completely relaxed with Doctor Weir, he couldn't very well send the girl back to her; she was busy enough without a child to deal with. She had McKay and Zelenka to fill that role.
"Who do you wanna stay with while we go see some old friends?" he asked her as she gave a yawn.
"I can't go with you?" she asked innocently. Lorne shook his head hoping she wouldn't start crying or throwing a tantrum and let out a sigh of relief when she got up and headed out the rear of the Jumper.
He'd let her follow him around the city as he gathered his men, got their equipment and made their way here. He'd known where she was at all times and he wasn't going to let a five year old girl out of his sight until he knew someone else could keep an eye on her. She made her way out the Jumper Bay and started down the stairs. When she reached the bottom of the first set and turned the corner he scooped her up and carried her down the next – it was just quicker this way.
He set her back on her feet at the bottom and followed as she took off at a run across the corridor and into the control room. She paused, looked around and darted off to one side and Lorne stepped into the room in time to see Colonel Sheppard get strangled by her arms.
"Sir," Lorne said stopping nearby.
"Major," John said and then smiled. "How'd the babysitting job go?"
"Just great, sir. Didn't bore her to tears or get any tantrums, though she did want to go with us."
"Sorry sweetie," John said poking at her sides to make her laugh. She groaned and rubbed her eyes before settling her head on his shoulder. "You're stuck here with me and Elizabeth."
"I like Elizabeth," she said sleepily and turned to grin at the Major.
"Whenever you're ready, Major," he said and Lorne gave a half salute before turning and heading back to the bay.
"What you said half an hour ago," Elizabeth said in a hushed tone as she pointed to Mara asleep on John's shoulder. "That goes both ways you know. I think she's adopted you."
"Us," John corrected matching her volume, "she likes you too."
"You could lay her on my sofa, you know."
"Nah," John said adjusting the sleeping weight in his arm, "she's not that heavy and it's good practice."
"Practice?" She said her voice a little higher and louder than before.
A moment's panic washed over John as he realised a little too late that he'd stepped into grounds unknown. He knew Elizabeth well enough to know what she liked and disliked, her favourite colour and food and how she dealt with stress, discomfort and sadness. But what he didn't know, was whether or not she wanted children. He could very well have struck a nerve with that comment.
"Practice for what?" Rodney said stepping up to them; his face lowered to his PDA and Zelenka a step behind him.
"My own kids," he said. "If the woman I find wants them," he added giving Elizabeth an apologetic look.
"That reminds me," Rodney said finally looking up at him with a pointed finger. "I went looking for you this morning and you weren't in your quarters. She," he said somewhat venomously indicating Mara, "said you were with 'her'."
"Her who?" Radek asked.
"She wouldn't say," he spat. "So who did you spend the night with?"
"That's a rather personal question, Rodney," Elizabeth interjected before John could finish licking his lips.
"Erm," Radek said trying to add his own interjection to the conversation.
"You're not at all worried that he might be Kirking the whole female population?"
"Doctor Weir," Radek tried.
"I don't have a Kirk complex," John put in feeling only slightly offended and more worried about how Elizabeth would respond to that particular comment. "If you must know," he said and paused to wet his lips again, "I've shared a bed with the same beautiful woman every night for the last six months," he didn't dare look directly at Elizabeth, but he could see the brow quirk out of the corner of his eye.
"What?" Rodney shouted rounding on the other scientist. Mara shifted in John's arms and he watched as Elizabeth turned to see what Radek was pointing at.
He followed the line of the man's arm and finger to the sensor screen. The long range scanners had been back on for most of the day and he could see the familiar dot that indicated a Puddle Jumper and nothing else. The hive ship was gone, just vanished off the screen as if it had found a wormhole and been transported backwards. He quickly scanned the rest of the monitor, it was really gone.
"Where'd the hive ship go?" Rodney asked dumbly.
"That's a very good question, Rodney," Elizabeth said eyeing the screen.
The Puddle Jumper flew out of the orbiting Stargate and quickly cloaked after it cleared the area of the gate. Major Lorne glanced down at the unfamiliar planet that the gate was hovering beside and secretly wondered if there were allies down there that could help them with the Wraith. However, that wasn't the mission. The mission was a half-hour away in the middle of space and Lorne pushed the Jumper in the right direction going as fast as the ship could go.
"Think they're heading for Atlantis?" Cole looked up from what he was doing and posed the question to the other two men in the Jumper. Half an hour was a long time to remain quiet.
"I don't see why. The Wraith think Atlantis was destroyed," Lorne kept his eyes forward, but continued to participate in the discussion anyways. Miller had his head down examining something on his gun.
"Maybe they're going there to see if they can scavenge anything."
"Or maybe they're not going there at all," Cole rebutted.
Miller shook his head. "There's nothing from here to there of any interest for them."
"Oh, and I suppose you're a Wraith expert now."
Lorne pressed a few buttons on the dash and read the information streaming down the HUD as the two officers began to argue over Wraith tactics. Finally he decided that the bickering had gone on long enough.
"It doesn't matter," he glanced back at the two from the corner of his eye, "our orders are to go check it out and that's what we're doing."
The two of them looked at each other silently for a moment and then uttered in unison, "Yessir."
For the rest of the ride the conversation turned to more mundane topics like sports and the mess hall menu for next week. The conversation had remained rather steady until Major Lorne fell silent and stared intently out through the window. Lieutenant Miller was the first to notice and he looked at the team leader whose brow was now furrowed.
It took a moment for the question to register and then Lorne simply replied with.
Cole noted the furrowed brow on Lorne's face as well. "What's wrong, sir?"
Lorne gestured to the window of the Jumper. "Notice anything missing?"
The two men leaned forward in their seats and peered outside the large window at the dark space in front of the ship. After a moment, Cole was the one to pipe up again. "There's nothing there."
"Exactly," Lorne pressed his lips together in contemplation and then hit the long-range communication button. "Atlantis, this is Major Lorne."
"This is Atlantis. Go ahead, Major Lorne."
"We've arrived at the designated coordinates and there's, uh, nothing here."
There was silence for a moment and then Colonel Sheppard's voice sounded on the other end, "Ya, we saw that."
"Did they jump into hyperspace before we got here?"
"Negative. They were just there one minute and gone the next. We thought the deep-space sensors were malfunctioning." The comm. cut out just as Doctor McKay's irritated voice said something in protest. There was a pause and then Sheppard was back. "What can you see, Major?"
Lorne was now frowning. "Nothing, sir."
"Look harder, Major," Rodney's voice cut in unceremoniously. "The hive ship couldn't just disappear. There has to be something."
"Doc, I think I'd be able to spot a Wraith Hive Ship –"
The Puddle Jumper lurched to one side causing Lorne and the other officers to grab onto whatever was in front of them in order to remain in their seats. Miller looked expectantly at Lorne who was pressing various buttons trying to get a reading. "What the heck was that?"
"Major Lorne?" It was Colonel Sheppard again.
"Something seems to have hit us, sir."
"What is it?"
"I don't know, sir. That's what I'm trying to figure out."
Something hit the Jumper again, this time from the left and caused Miller to fall out of his chair and onto the floor. He muttered something about next time calling shotgun as Lorne recovered from the initial shock and began to manoeuvre the ship. The Jumper was hit again as Lorne turned. It felt like they were under attack, only the sensors weren't picking up any energy readings.
Miller climbed back into his chair just in time to join the other two men who were staring at a large metallic object floating a few feet in front of them. The darkness of space made it hard to make out. Miller squinted. "What is that?"
Lorne frowned. "It looks like a part of a ship."
Miller raised his eyebrows and Cole read the scrolling text on the side of the screen, "The sensors are picking up traces of Wraith energy signatures."
Lorne pressed the comm. link again, "Colonel Sheppard. I think we found the Hive ship, sir."
"What's its status, Major?"
"Gone, sir. It looks like it was completely torn apart."
"What?" McKay's shrill voice came over the radio, then there was static and Colonel Sheppard's voice came back. "Any signs of how it happened?"
Lorne pressed a few more buttons on the dashboard and read the readings from the sensors. He shook his head and replied.
"If you're asking if I see an Ancient weapon we could use, the answer is no, sir."
"That's too bad. Is there anything salvageable?"
"No sir. It looks like we're right in the middle of the debris field. It's going to be one hell of a bumpy ride out."
"Alright. Head back to the gate –"
"Wait," Lorne re-read the new information on the screen. "It looks like the sensors are picking up a faint energy reading."
"Check it out, Major."
Lorne carefully manoeuvred the ship to the right, bumping into some debris in the process, and slowly flew the Jumper towards the faint reading. It was like navigating through a mine-field. Whenever Lorne scraped or bumped into a piece of rubble, the Jumper would groan or rock in protest. Suddenly Lorne felt himself wishing that Doctor McKay was here in case the Jumper got damaged – and that was saying a lot for Lorne.
"It should be right ahead," Cole pointed on the map displayed on the HUD for the benefit of Miller and they all began to concentrate on the space debris in front of them. A faint light flashed on and off from a floating mass of metal.
"What is that?" Miller asked as he got off his chair and leaned over Cole's shoulder for a better view.
Cole shrugged. "Some sort of beacon? Maybe a distress signal."
Lorne frowned again. If it was a distress signal that meant that more Wraith ships were on their way. "Let's get a closer look."
The Jumper inched forward slowly until the piece of metal drew close enough for the men to discern parts of it. The blinking came at calculated intervals and with every passing minute one of the solid lights would disappear. Ten lights, then nine, eight, seven. Lorne tensed as he heard Miller's breath catch. "We need to get out of here."
Lorne backed up the Jumper hastily. The Jumper lurched and sent Miller flying back onto the floor with a groan. There was no time to see if he was alright. Lorne navigated the ship, weaving it in and out of large pieces of Wraith ship as best as he could.
"Major Lorne," Colonel Sheppard's voice was on the radio again. "What's your status?"
"The Wraith activated their self-destruct sir. We're trying to get away from the blast radius before it – shit! Hold on!"
The radio crackled.
"Major Lorne? Major Lorne, come in!"
Elizabeth watched John shift Mara in his arms and turn sharply towards Chuck. His eyes scanned the laptop screen quickly taking in the same information she had – the communication was still open. He turned again, this time to face her, moved forwards and forced the child into her arms.
"I'm going to get them," he said and turned to walk away.
"John, no," she said stopping him as she shifted Mara.
"No?" he questioned rounding on her. "You want me to just let them die?"
"And if you go out there and end up dead? Then what?"
"She has a point," Rodney put in and John gave him a look to shut him up.
"John, the comm. channel is still open, that means the Jumper is still in one piece. They may make it home and just can't send messages. You'll just have to wait."
"Elizabeth," Carson called, taking the stairs two at a time with Radek close behind him. They both paused at the top. "I need you to come in for some tests."
"I can't just sit by and wait while three of my men die, Elizabeth," John said ignoring Carson.
"You don't know what's out there. Something just made a Wraith hive ship vanish," Rodney said his voice rising in pitch.
"We found something," Radek said.
"I don't care what's out there, those are my men," John said fuming at Rodney.
"The database has masses of information about the gene, your gene," Carson stated.
"Right," Rodney returned sarcastically, "and who is going save us when the big bad wolf comes for us?"
"Enough!" Elizabeth shouted, jarring Mara awake and quickly placing her back on her feet. "John, you're not going anywhere. You can keep trying to contact the Major and his team, but I can't let you go out there until we know more about what happened. Rodney, Radek, I need you to run whatever scans you can to find out what's out there and fast."
Elizabeth turned to Carson, gave him an apologetic look and turned to crouch in front of Mara. She waited as the girl rubbed at her eyes looking as though she wanted to cry for being so rudely woken. With a soft smile and forceful voice Elizabeth made it clear what she needed.
"Mara," she said. "I need to know everything about this 'evil' and why they sent you to warn us."
"My mom discovered the gene," she said, "but they said I was a good choice because I didn't know enough about it."
"Charming," Carson said. "Send the one who can't give us too much detail."
"And these people who are coming?" she asked. "They're not Wraith?"
"No," Mara said stepping into Elizabeth's frame as though she wanted to be picked up again. "They're the Xe-ne," she said. "A long time ago they were our friends," she continued, resting her head on Elizabeth's thigh.
Elizabeth wrapped her arm back around Mara's tiny waist and lifted the child back into her arms before turning to Carson. She nodded her head to indicate they could head for the infirmary before starting down the stairs.
"Do you know what happened?" Carson asked Mara as they reached the bottom of the stairs.
Mara shook her head. "Mommy said they didn't agree with us and said we should be killed for not agreeing with them."
"Doesn't sound like a good reason to kill people," Carson said and rounded the corner with Elizabeth and the child close behind him.
"Which means we're dealing with another unreasonable enemy," Elizabeth said and entered the infirmary shortly after Carson and sat Mara down in Carson's big chair. She looked a little disappointed that she had been set down, but Carson was quick to walk over to Mara with a stethoscope and let her play with it. It seemed to do the trick.
"Obviously they didn't succeed in destroying Atlantis," Carson mused as Elizabeth hopped up onto one of the beds and held out her arm to Carson who began to prep it for a blood test. Elizabeth's attention wandered over to Mara who had the stethoscope on her chest.
"Mara, how close did they get to Atlantis?" Elizabeth questioned.
A brief moment of confusion crossed the child's face before she looked up at Elizabeth and Carson.
"They got into the city. It was a big surprise. No one was ready."
"So they know the city pretty well," Elizabeth said with a sigh as Carson checked the mark he'd made on her arm. "That gives them a slight advantage to start with. Assuming in the last ten thousand years they haven't come up with a way to just blow the planet up with a push of a button," she gave a nervous laugh before something occurred to her. "Mara," she asked, watching the girl try the end of the stethoscope on her arm. "How did your people defeat them?"
"Can I listen to your heart?" Mara asked, plucking the stethoscope from her ears. Carson moved over to pick her up and placed her on the bed beside Elizabeth.
"Mara," Elizabeth said as the end of the listening device touched her chest. Mara laughed as she heard the sound of Elizabeth's voice reverberate through her ears. "How did your people defeat them?"
"There was a device," she said as Elizabeth moved the end of the stethoscope to her mouth to blow gently into the end. Mara laughed again before yawning.
"Like a weapon?" Carson asked.
"It sent them away, far away. Like the transporters do, but not to another place in the city."
"Do you know where it is?" Carson asked. Mara nodded.
"Down under the main part of the city," she said. "But they had to take it apart."
Elizabeth's heart sank with the last sentence, their only hope was in pieces and chances were their five year-old friend didn't know how to put it back together. An age-old enemy, with knowledge of the city and who were more advanced were heading their way and there was no way to stop them.
"So," she said, "all we have to do is find out where they stored the parts and put it back together."
"Easy," Carson said with a touch too much sarcasm.
"The crystals are on other planets," Mara said sliding back onto the bed behind Elizabeth and getting comfortable. She reached into her pocket and pulled out a slip of paper and held it out to Elizabeth. "They've been there since the last war."
"Four crystals?" Ronon asked with a raised brow. "On four worlds?"
"Yes," Elizabeth said and John turned to study her haggard expression. "Mara gave me this," she produced the piece of paper which held a single word on it and handed it to Rodney. "I think it's a search word, it translates as 'lucror'."
Rodney looked at the paper and flipped it over. John knew he expected more and wondered just how long he'd be able to hold his tongue while the sarcastic comment rose in his throat. It was a moment before the paper was placed on the desk at arm's length from Rodney and he huffed in disappointment before turning to his computer.
"Well?" John asked after several minutes of listening to Rodney's fingers tapping at the keyboard.
"Well what?" Rodney asked looking up from the screen.
"The search," John said pointing at the paper.
"I'll get to it," he said.
"Get to it now," John walked over to where Rodney was sitting. "What are you looking at?" He turned the monitor over to one side for a better view. He read what was on the screen and his face sunk in disbelief. "You're looking up information on the Navo Gene?"
Rodney looked up at John, then to Elizabeth and the others who were giving him an odd look. "What?" he turned the monitor back hastily.
John rubbed his forehead. "Don't you think looking up information on the weapon is more important than looking up a rare gene that only Elizabeth has?"
"You've got to be kidding me"
"What?" Rodney looked at him with indignation.
"You're trying to figure out if there is a way to use gene therapy with this new gene, aren't you?"
Rodney feigned a shocked and hurt expression. "Of course not," John was obviously not buying it. Rodney threw his hands up in the air. "Excuse me, I figured if Elizabeth is so much more advanced than maybe it would be in all of our best interests to help the process along in, you know, the rest of us."
"You mean in you," John pointed out.
"Yes. I mean, no. I mean, of course I should get the gene therapy because I'm a highly valued member of your team and there may be times where I am needed to activate things…"
John rolled his eyes. "I can't believe this."
"There is an enemy coming to the City, Rodney," Teyla interjected calmly.
"I know that."
"He won't have to worry about them," John said leaning closer the scientist, "I'll have killed him first."
"What did I do?" Rodney's voice pitch was high.
"You won't even look up the damned word!"
"Why can't Zelenka do it?"
"Stop," Elizabeth had her arms crossed looking at the two men who were acting more like children than leaders in their field. "We don't have time for this."
"But –" Rodney started.
"End of discussion," Elizabeth interjected Rodney's protest. "Look up the word Rodney. I want a full report in an hour."
Elizabeth stood, rounded the table and left the room.
Radek looked up as Rodney entered the lab muttering under his breath. He couldn't hear what was being said, but he caught the words "high-o-mighty" and "queen" and wondered who had just placed herself on a pedestal in front of Rodney McKay. It baffled him for a few seconds as he knew the meeting the man had just been in only had Elizabeth and Teyla in it and neither of them would be crazy enough to make him feel inferior. Then it occurred to him, he was referring to Elizabeth and her gene.
He was stopped in his thoughts as Rodney shoved a piece of paper under his nose and sat back down.
"What's this for?" Radek asked.
"It's a search word," Rodney said sarcastically. "You look it up."
Radek raised an eyebrow wondering just what had gone on in the meeting to annoy Rodney this much. As he watched, Rodney returned to the computer screen and began to read for a moment before he looked back at Radek.
"What? You need written instructions or something?"
Radek swung around before he could say anything back that he would regret or be made to pay for later and started typing in the search parameter.
"Elizabeth wants a report off me in an hour for that," Rodney muttered.
"Then why am I doing it?"
"Because I'm busy," Rodney snapped.
"I'm busy as well," Radek said and before Rodney could say something sarcastic about his current job Radek added: "and I wouldn't submit my work in your name."
"Whatever," Rodney muttered not taking his eyes off the screen.
John stopped in the corridor to think this through. After Elizabeth had left the meeting she hadn't returned to her office and before he could follow her, she'd vanished completely. He'd checked the obvious place first, the balcony, only to find it empty, and asked Chuck if he knew where she went. Chuck just shrugged and pointed to the back stairwell.
Since then, he'd gone to the infirmary to see if she'd gone back to Mara, but the girl was still asleep curled up on one of the infirmary beds and Carson hadn't seen the missing leader since he'd taken blood and run some tests before their meeting. Perplexed, he had looked in the mess hall, her room and the gym for her and no one seemed to have seen her. He knew Rodney's attitude had gotten to her. She didn't like feeling superior because she was in charge let alone because of a gene she had.
"Hey," Ronon said stopping in front of him, "I have a question I never thought I'd ask," he said. John quirked a brow thinking this would be a question that wasn't meant for the corridor of a busy city.
"Okay," he said slowly.
"Why did Weir go into your room?"
His eyes widened and both brows rose to his hairline. He hadn't thought to look in his room, as they always spent their nights in her room. Then again, trying to stay away from everyone required her to be somewhere unexpected and lucky for John someone had seen her go in.
"Hiding place," he said patting Ronon on the chest sharply before darting off down the hallway.
He jogged down stairs and corridors to his room and patted the control to let him in and stepped into surprising darkness. Looking around in the half light he couldn't see any sign that someone was there, yet he reached behind him and closed the door.
"I'm here," she said from the corner of his room and he squinted in her direction to see her leaning against the wall beside his window. "I just needed somewhere quiet."
"You alright?" he asked sitting down on the end of the bed.
She hummed to indicated she was, but he didn't completely believe her and he wasn't about to push her to tell the truth. So he waited in the silence for her to say something or for something of a different topic to come to him, but all he could think to say was that he loved her and now was far from the right time to announce that.
"I used to spend hours trying to work out which would drive me crazy first," she said eventually. "The worry about the teams I send on missions, or Rodney's ego," she sighed. "Now I spend hours wondering if I can lock us in a room for a day until I get my sanity back from dealing with him."
John gave a small laugh. He knew what she meant. Rodney was a handful sometimes and today he seemed to be purposely trying to push her temperament.
"He's jealous," John said. "He's wanted to be better than everyone since he was born. Now you've beaten him to the punch and he's probably brooding over the fact that it took him six months more than the rest of his class to learn to tie his own shoes."
"Really?" she asked, her voice pitch rising in amusement and shock. He stood up and moved to stand with her, leaning his shoulder against the wall next to her and smiling as he nodded.
"I teased him for a week and he just kept telling me that 'his brain didn't want to deal with such a mundane task'. But that didn't stop me."
"I don't want this," she said, turning into him and wrapping her arms around his waist. Her head came to rest on his chest before she gave a deep sigh and continued. "I want things to be easy for once. Normal and relaxing instead of always having to find a way to power the shields or save our necks from some random alien race who doesn't like us for whatever reason," she continued. John wrapped his arms around her in return and placed a kiss on her forehead.
"I wanna take Rodney's brain out and see how he does as a dunce."
She chuckled and then couldn't stop herself and it developed into a full laugh. He didn't release her. Instead he enjoyed the feel her body vibrating from the fit of giggles she was battling. When she managed to control them at last she turned her face up to him and he watched as she pulled her lower lip into her mouth for a moment before reaching up to kiss him.
He let it linger, enjoying the feeling of something they had only so recently enjoyed. He honestly didn't want it to end and would even thank any god that listened if it moved on to something even more enjoyable. But he knew his chances were slim at this moment in time, evil race on the way to kill them and all.
But Elizabeth took a step back, forcing him to release his hold on her and place his hands on her hips. He couldn't quite make out her expression. The darkening sky and shadowed room making it impossible, but he soon got the idea when she moved away from him completely and pulled him over to the bed.
'This had better not be last chance sex,' he thought as she sat down on the edge and pulled him down as she rested back. He'd be damned if he was going to let this be rushed and the one and only time he'd get to see Elizabeth naked. Not to mention he wanted to put some light on that situation before he died.
"Elizabeth," he protested, keeping his body a good few centimetres off hers and paused for a moment to mentally scold himself for something he really wanted. "Why now?"
"It's time," she said simply and stretched up enough to kiss him. "Its okay, John," she promised him, "no one knows I'm here."
"Ronon does," he said, "how do you think I found you?"
"And I thought I was careful enough not to be seen all the way here," she gave a small pout before she broke into laughter. He'd give anything to be himself with her anywhere in this city, not just their rooms and he knew she'd like to have that freedom too.
He chuckled as he leaned down to kiss her and slowly lowered his body weight over her. This was too good to be true, and it was all his, though knowing his luck he'd be woken up in a few minutes by his mom banging on the door for him to get up and go to school. Either that or a Wraith, Genii or Rodney would show up and spoil it while forcing them to come up with some excuse about why Elizabeth was in his room with him and in the dark.
He moved away from her lips, slowly trailing kisses down her neck to her shoulder and the red v-neck that blocked his path. His hands moved from beside her on the bed, resting up on his elbows so he could tug the cloth down on one side and reach her collar bone. That was when it happened. The intercom clicked on and the immortal words of something happening reached their ears.
"Doctor Weir to the control room, please."
Damn the bad timing of what or whoever was causing problems now. If it was Rodney he was seriously going to kill the man and let Radek have his glory and place on his team. Maybe he'd just break his legs and watch him suffer for a while.
"What is it?"
Doctor Weir rounded the corner of the control room and was followed by Colonel Sheppard a few paces behind. Chuck looked up from the monitor with a slightly worried expression. "It's an incoming wormhole."
Elizabeth glanced over the balcony towards the active Stargate and noticed that the shield was still up. She looked back at Chuck. "Who is it?"
"We don't know, ma'am. Haven't received an IDC yet."
This brought a small frown to the corners of Elizabeth's lips as she glanced over at John. There were no teams currently off world. None except for –
"I'm getting Major Lorne's identification code."
"Get Doctor Beckett down here," Elizabeth ordered. John had already started off down the stairs to the gate room and she followed close behind him. The shield dropped and moments later Lorne and his team came walking through the gate looking a little worn out.
"Major?" John eyed the man's wound on his forehead.
"It's nothing sir; bumped my head landing the Jumper."
"What happened? Where's the Jumper?"
Lorne dropped his pack as a team of paramedics rushed in from one side of the gate room and began to examine his men. One of the nurses hovered nearby. She wanted to take a look at Major Lorne's cut, but remained out of the way for him to give his initial report.
"We couldn't clear the blast zone in time; caught the tail end of the explosion and knocked out our communications and weapons. Damaged the engines too. We basically crawled back to the planet."
"Where's the Jumper now?" Elizabeth had made sure Cole and Miller were alright and now came to stand beside John.
"Still on the planet, ma'am. The damage to the Jumper was so bad that it didn't take too well to re-entry. It was a bumpy ride."
Elizabeth nodded. "We'll send a team to see if they can get it working again. In the mean time, you and your team should report to the infirmary."
"What could take out a Wraith hive ship like that?" Elizabeth asked turning to John with a worried expression written on her face.
John didn't have an answer for her. It was obvious that if the Wraith activated their self-destruct that they had been backed into a corner and felt it was their last resort. It wasn't a comforting thought. He opened his mouth to reply –
John looked perplexed. That wasn't the sound of his voice. He shut his mouth and turned around in time to see Zelenka rushing up the stairs from the other side of the gate room. The Czech looked like he was in a hurry. Radek scrambled up the stairs and stopped in front of them. He took a moment to catch his breath and push his glasses back in place.
"What is it, Radek?" Elizabeth folded her arms and leaned in a little bit trying to calm the scientist down.
"It's the weapon. I did the search for the word you gave Rodney. I think you need to see it for yourself."
Minutes later Elizabeth, John, and Radek were in Elizabeth's office staring at the text on the computer screen. There were times and dates and calculations that meant little to John or Elizabeth. John was the first to look up at Radek. "What exactly are we looking at?"
Zelenka secured his glasses again before gesturing at the text on the screen. "They're calculations that predict planetary shift."
John raised an eyebrow. "And?"
"Remember the reports from when the Stargate program first started and we could only get a lock on Abydos?"
Elizabeth nodded. "That's because we didn't have a DHD and we didn't take into consideration planetary shift."
Radek nodded. "Exactly."
Elizabeth shook her head. "But we don't have that problem. The Atlantis computers compensate for us."
"Yes, but unlike the computers at Stargate Command, the Atlantis computer has a lot more safety protocols that prevent us from dialling planets for various reasons."
John looked up again. "And this affects us how?"
Radek pressed his lips together. "Currently the four planets that Mara has provided for us are accessible, but according to my calculations, in just a few days they will be inaccessible for another twenty years."
Elizabeth frowned. "We don't have that much time to wait."
John glanced at Elizabeth for a minute and then back to Radek. "Can't you just override the protocols?"
"Unfortunately, no," Radek could see the 'why not' question written on Colonel Sheppard's face so he continued. "It would be easy if it was just a matter of recalculating planetary shift. However, by the look of the planets' orbits, it places the planet directly behind their suns. Even if we could override the protocols here to be able to gate there, there is no guarantee that we could program the DHD to send us back."
"And we'd be stuck on a planet for twenty years."
Radek nodded at John. "Precisely."
John looked at Elizabeth. "We need to talk to Mara again."
"Mara," Carson said gently, trying to rouse the girl from her sleep. It had been a few hours since Elizabeth left and though he would have loved to leave her there, Elizabeth had asked him to wake her up and bring her to her office. "Come on sweetheart," he urged as she slowly opened her eyes and blinked up at him. "Elizabeth wants you in her office."
She stretched out on the bed and her eyes closed again. Carson chuckled before taking her hand and drawing her into a sitting position. She groaned in protest before jumping from the bed and started to leave. Carson followed, taking her hand as she offered it to him along the way.
Mara yawned as they started up the stairs to the control room and Carson started to listen to any conversations coming his way. There was nothing of interest, just the usual comments of those at work, but as he neared Elizabeth's office he picked up the end of the conversation.
"Sounds easy enough," John said.
"Easy?" Elizabeth said as Carson stopped in the door way. "Last time we tried to take something off another planet they called the Genii," she added. Mara let go of his hand and moved into the room. She faltered for a minute choosing between Elizabeth and John before moving around the desk to climb on Elizabeth's lap.
"I think we've been adopted," John joked having watched her make her choice. Elizabeth gave him a knowing grin before turning her attention to Mara.
"Hey," she said with a smile as the girl rested her head on Elizabeth's shoulder. "Can you tell me anything about the planets the crystals are on?"
"The elephants," was all she said.
"Elephants?" John asked with a quirked brow as Carson moved to take a seat on the sofa.
"The crystals are four parts of the five elephants," she said giving another yawn.
"Elements," Elizabeth corrected.
"The planets they are on represent them."
"So what are the elements?" Carson asked, "I can only think of four."
"Fire, Water, Air and Earth," Mara offered. "Life is the fifth one and it needs the Navo Gene and the Ancient Gene."
"So," John said thinking this over carefully, "we can expect to get burned, soaked, buried and go flying?"
"You have to be able to survive on these planets, right?" Radek asked studying the crystal on Elizabeth's large monitor while avoiding the unusual way she sat holding an invisible girl.
"Aye," Carson interrupted, "so you won't get burned. Just extremely hot in all likelihood."
"I'll do that one just to annoy Rodney," John said with a grin and Mara grinned back and gave a short laugh.
"I'll let Major Lorne pick his planet when he's released from the infirmary and then you can fight over the last two," Elizabeth said. "Go get your teams ready," she ordered giving John a quick smirk.
"All ready?" Elizabeth asked and John turned to smile at her.
Mara was again in her arms and he couldn't help but think she'd be a wonderful mother one day. Sooner rather than later he added to his mental picture, otherwise they'd either miss their opportunity or feel too old to have kids all together. Then again, with yet another race of aliens attempting to kill them, it was probably better that they waited for... who was he kidding? There was no safe time to have children.
"Yep," he replied. "Out of curiosity, what planet did Lorne pick?"
"Earth," she said, "he wants to give Katie her first off world experience somewhere she should feel relatively comfortable."
"Katie?" Rodney asked picking that moment to join them. "As in Doctor Brown?"
"Yes," Elizabeth said, "Major Lorne talked her into joining his team."
"Good for her," John put in tickling Mara's neck.
"No," Rodney said indignantly, "not good for her, she'll get hurt, or killed or... something."
"Relax, Rodney, I've already told the Major to keep a close eye on her and make sure she comes back the same way she went out."
"You think he's going to listen to that?" Rodney said, his voice pitch rising.
"I expect him to listen to me, yes," she said before turning to John. "I told him if she came back injured I'd let you assign his team member. He seemed to think you'd give him the most annoying person available."
"Nah," John said. "Rodney's already on a team."
"Hey!" Rodney said loudly while Mara laughed. "Where are we going anyway?"
Elizabeth turned back to John, her eyebrow raised in curiosity and John felt his throat tighten a little. In preparing his team, John should have told them all where they were going but he hadn't. Even through her amusement he knew she'd be angry that he'd, avoided telling one of this own team.
"You didn't tell him," she said at length and it was hard to tell from her tone if she was more annoyed or amused.
"I told him it was P6X-887," John said defensively. "I just forgot to mention the rest," he added slyly and turned to look at Teyla and Ronon who were standing ready behind him. Teyla quickly tucked a sun tanning cream into her pack and turned to Ronon to avoid joining or being involved in the discussion.
"You're looking for the fire crystal," Mara said.
"What!? She's kidding right?" Rodney yelled and John shook his head. "You expect me to go to a planet hotter than hell and look for some stupid crystal?"
"Yes," John said firmly and slightly high pitched. "If you want to live to see tomorrow."
"Oh, yes, I'm so afraid of the big bad Air Force colonel."
"It's not just me threatening you, McKay," John said stepping up and intimidating into Rodney's space. "Consider an enemy that we can't detect who can take down a hive ship in the blink of an eye. An enemy we've been told only half the population will be able to see."
"I could be doing better things with my time than getting burned. Like fixing systems."
"Systems that won't help us, Rodney," Elizabeth said. "Why is it you're the only person who can't see that there is something out there that's far more dangerous than anything we've had to deal with in the past?"
"Because you're listening to a three year old midget," he argued angrily.
"I'm five," Mara spat.
John turned at that point and indicated for Chuck to start dialling. He wasn't willing to let McKay go on with his pointless protest or waste time getting more 'required items'. They were going now. He pushed Rodney away, thinking that distance between him and Elizabeth might curb that jealous streak he was on. Instead he got a string of complaints about the heat on the world they hadn't even stepped onto and a threat every so often about coming back with burn marks or radiation poisoning.
He was extremely thankful when the gate activated and Ronon stepped forward, grabbed Rodney by the scruff of the neck and stepped through the gate. Teyla gave him a look of interest before she followed the others through.
"You going?" Elizabeth asked watching him as he bounced on his feet for a moment.
"Giving Ronon a moment to threaten him into silence," he said and she quirked a brow. "What? What I don't know I don't have to deal with," he grinned at her as she chuckled and then he set off with a lazy salute.
In a small clearing, in the middle of a dense forest, the Stargate stood erect. Its massive size was dwarfed by large tropical trees with various brightly coloured flowers on them. The pungent pollen smell was what first greeted a traveller to the planet; the second being the thick, hot, and humid air that caused your clothes to cling almost instantly to your body. Major Lorne watched as Katie Brown took her first few steps down from the Stargate. Her eyes were wide and filled with the same fascination that Parrish had had on him when they initially arrived. He smiled.
"See, Doc? I know you had your doubts, but isn't it worth it?"
Actually, Lorne didn't much care for plants the way he figured Katie or Parrish did, but he appreciated them on a merely aesthetic quality. Katie, on the other hand, took a few moments with her eyes poised upwards at the tree tops before addressing Lorne's question.
"This is amazing. There has to be a least a half dozen tropical plants all co-existing at once."
Lorne glanced upwards, but could only differentiate some of them because some had orange flowers while others had blue, yellow, pink, red, or white. "And that's unusual?"
Katie nodded. "These trees are very similar to ones back on Earth, but many of them only grow on particular continents," she said and pointed to a tree with violet trumpet flowers and then to a tree with orange flowers. "This one is only found in Brazil whereas this one is indigenous to India, but here they are side by side."
Lorne smiled. "If you like this, then you'll love the rest of the planet. Come on."
The team ducked under a low-hanging branch and began to walk single-file down a narrow path. While it was clear that nature dominated the area, the path was well travelled. Katie couldn't picture the kind of people living in such thick brush, but Lorne had assured her that there was an entire village a few miles from the Stargate.
A mile into the hike Katie's legs were beginning to burn. Her body wasn't meant for hiking. It was meant for sitting over a microscope and analyzing plant samples. Be that as it may, she continued to push herself, but was glad when Lorne and his men seemed to slow their pace. She felt bad for slowing them down – they were under time restraints after all.
After a mile and a half, they had to take a break. It was Lorne who suggested it, but there was no question that the men could have made it the extra one and a half miles to the village. Lorne noticed the defeated expression on Katie's face and took a seat next to her.
"It's harder to hike in uneven terrain."
"Thanks," Katie looked up with a smile. "I feel bad for slowing you down."
Lorne shrugged. "You'll get used to it," he grinned. "If McKay can do it, anyone can."
Lorne got up and went to talk to Lieutenant Miller while Katie took a few more minutes to breath. She let her eyes wander over the different specimens again and fell upon an interesting blue five-petal flower partially hidden beneath a rock. She leaned closer. Out of all the flora on the planet, this was the first one that wasn't something familiar from Earth. She reached out and ran her fingers over the petal and then under the stem, studying it carefully.
Sergeant Cole's voice caught her off guard and she jerked her hand hard enough to snap the flower from its stem. Katie frowned a little at the flower in her hand – it would die now.
Katie shook her head as she carefully pocketed the flower so she could dry it when they got back to Atlantis for her collection.
"It's alright. I'm ready."
The rest had been enough to get the team to the village. It wasn't what Katie expected. There were no huts or houses or anything remotely resembling a civilized village. Instead, the area was home to large trees with some of the largest trunks any of them had ever seen before. If you hadn't known there was a village, you would walk right by, for the villagers lived within the tree trunks and were quiet.
Katie glanced over to Lorne curiously. He nodded and pointed to a large stump in what was considered the middle of the village.
"I'd walk with you, Doc, but the folks here seem to respond better to your gender than mine."
She took a deep breath and stepped slowly towards the center. As she passed by the large trunks, she tried to peek inside as casually as she could, but there was nothing to see from her vantage point. Katie was starting to think that no one was here or that this was some sort of hazing ritual for new team members when a tall, attractive woman with wavy auburn hair emerged from one of the trunks.
They spoke a few words, but Lorne couldn't make out what was being said. He was thankful that she hadn't turned around and started running like Parrish had. In fact, it looked like the two women were getting along. He smiled, but it was brief as he watched Katie be led somewhere inside one of the trunks. His posture stiffened – he could hear Doctor Weir's voice reminding him that he was supposed to keep Katie Brown safe.
By the time there was movement in the village, the three men had taken positions resting on the ground. Miller was leaning against a trunk with his chin on his chest and his eyes closed while Cole and Lorne were finishing up an MRE each. It was only when the auburn-haired woman approached them did they react and clamour to their feet in a hurry.
The woman towered over the men with a few inches on any one of them. Her broad shoulders and intense emerald eyes only served to remind Lorne that these women were different from the ones back home. There was something wilder, more mystical about them. Her eyes passed over the men before she spoke.
"The one with the eyes of water may join us."
It took a moment for Lorne to decipher that meant him. He gave a couple of standing orders to Cole and Miller before plastering on what charming smile he could for the woman and asked her to lead the way. He couldn't help think that when he got back Colonel Sheppard was going to have a remark or two about how he got one of the better planets. Rumour had it that Sheppard had chosen the fire planet and Lorne was secretly thankful he hadn't drawn that stick. As much as he loved hot weather, the planet did not seem very appealing.
When Major Lorne walked into what looked like a council chamber, it took him a moment to collect himself. While the outside appeared to be a tree trunk, the inside was large and home to comfortable décor. Pillows laden the ground for people to rest on and various fruits and vegetables were set in the middle on a low-rise table. Katie sat at the head of the table on one side while a woman with short, fiery hair sat on the other end.
The red-head pointed at a seat near Katie and waited with unmoving eyes. Lorne would have been lying if he said he didn't feel a little intimidated. Several other women sat around the table while others stood around the room with what he considered were judgemental stares. He took a breath and sat.
Katie introduced him as Major Evan Lorne and the woman, whose eyes matched her hair, was named Avani. Avani regarded Lorne quietly before speaking in a resonating tone.
"Lady Brown informs us you seek Ceras' gift."
Lorne looked over to Katie who leaned in and whispered. "I think Ceras is similar to the Roman goddess Ceres back on Earth. She was considered to be like Mother Nature."
Of course it did Lorne thought before nodding to Avani. "Yes, Ma'am. We need it to save our people."
Avani was a hard woman to read. She sat rigid with her knees folded under her and her hands on her thighs. Lorne was pretty sure this woman could give Teyla a run for her money with her banto sticks.
"It has been many generations since travellers have come seeking Ceras' gift. Our people only know of it by legend."
The auburn-haired woman, later discovered to be named Sage, spoke up across the table from him. Her voice was somewhat gentler.
"The legend is that many generations ago the children of Ceras came to our planet with her gift and entrusted it to our people. They hid the gift within the Tree of Life."
"Any chance you know where the Tree of Life is?" He thought it was worth a shot.
Sage offered a look of consolation. "Unfortunately, its location has been lost to us for a long time. However, you may find your answers in the sacred caves."
Avani's eyes flicked to Katie who stiffened and looked sheepishly to Lorne.
"There's a cave at the base of a mountain that they said was where the, um, children of Ceras entered and never came out of again. It's a place they don't go into out of respect."
"Ah," Lorne nodded, "but it'll be okay if we do, right?" He wasn't quite sure who to pose the question to, so he left it there in the middle of the table. It was Sage who answered.
"We have granted Lady Brown and her protectors passage."
Lorne glanced over to Katie who flushed. He couldn't help but smile subtly.
"Be forewarned," Avani cast her eyes specifically at Lorne. "The gift is protected by the gnomes and only those they deem worthy of their trust will find it."
The difference between the cool controlled air of Atlantis and this planet's hot suns was instant and it took Teyla completely by surprise. She had to stand by the gate and take a few gulps of air before she could settle her heart rate and breathing. Across the other side of the gate Rodney and Ronon were having similar trouble and Teyla turned just as John stepped through.
Her hands grabbed his arm quickly as he staggered and she pulled him forward to stop him tumbling backwards into the still open wormhole. She kept him steady for a moment before he reached for his water canteen and unscrewed the cap. He took a long draft before capping it and pulling the Ancient scanner out of his pocket.
"V3, South," he said. "I think I finally understand what V3 means," he said looking around at the terrain.
"What are you on about?" Rodney husked before tipping his canteen up and tipping it over his face with an opened mouth.
"I spy, with my little eye, something beginning with 'V'," John said sarcastically.
"Volcano," Ronon said lazily.
"Oh how clever of you," Rodney said straightening and looking into his now empty water bottle. "Give the caveman a prize."
"He'll be helping himself to your other water canteen if you don't shut up and start walking," John snapped and Ronon turned to give Rodney a menacing smile. If the heat hadn't been so intense, Teyla would have laughed at how Rodney suddenly took a firm hold on the water container.
"Tell me someone has sun block," Rodney said after only a few minutes of walking. "Preferably high factor, somewhere in the three-thousand range."
Teyla reached back to her back and pulled the bottle out. She'd borrowed it from one of the nurses and if Rodney used it all she would have to find some way to replace it. Considering for a moment, she handed it over.
"Thirty?" he asked indignantly checking the sunburn protection factor. "That's not going to do much."
The walk to the third volcano was a long one; Teyla constantly wished she'd brought ever-lasting ice with her. The heat was frustrating enough on its own, but Rodney's constant complaining about useless sunscreen and the heat didn't help in the slightest. John kept the pace fast throughout the whole trip. At first she believed it was to get this task over and done with until he rounded on Rodney after their fourth hour and told him in a low tone that if he didn't stop complaining he'd give him something to complain about and leave him between the first and second volcano.
Two hours later and they passed the second volcano to see a smaller one extremely close by. However, what she did see was less than inviting. Small as it was, there was still quite a climb and the smoke billowing from the top made her worry that it would soon erupt. That thought was doubly fearful when the ground rumbled beneath her feet.
"Oh great," Rodney said.
"How long did it take us to get here?" John asked in a slight tone of worry.
"Six hours," Teyla said.
"What do you think?" John said after a moment, "an hour to the top, hour back and six hours home."
"Less if we can ride the magma flow," Rodney said with false jocularity.
"You're assuming the crystal will be sitting at the top waiting for us after ten thousand years," Ronon put in ignoring Rodney.
Ronon had a point and she saw that point dawn on both John and Rodney's face. John turned and looked up the volcano; she could see his brain ticking over the possibilities. The possibility that the crystal would be easy to get once they were up there, the possibility that it wasn't up there at all, but somewhere down here or even in the volcano and the possibility that this particular volcano would explode any minute. She wondered if the possibility of it triggering the other volcanoes even occurred to him as she watched him look around the base of the mountain.
"Guess we should go find out," he said.
"I am not going up an active volcano," Rodney spat, "especially not to find that it isn't even up there. This is a new mountain," he said. "It probably didn't even exist ten thousand years ago, for all we know the one we want could be that one," he pointed to the next volcano a good three hours walk in the distance.
"Fine," John said calmly, "you go check out that one, I'll go up this one and Teyla and Ronon can walk the base to see if there are any clues down here before they come up and join me."
"What? Are you insane?"
"We need the crystal, Rodney," John spat his temper quickly abating. "Either you help us or you head back to the gate and wait by the DHD so you can dial in quickly."
Teyla turned to watch the scientist, his face covered in sweat from the heat and his eyes searching the top of the mountain. She could see him weighing the chances of survival in his head. He wouldn't walk away. He was just as curious as she was about this and he didn't want to go back to Atlantis to die at the hands of another alien race.
Or so she thought.
Rodney grumbled something about wanting to stay healthy and turned his back on the team to start walking back to the gate. Teyla's brow rose. She knew he never liked putting himself at risk, but she never thought he would value his life that much more than the expedition. She had hoped he realised by now that without this weapon, they'd only have a bigger problem than an erupting volcano six hours from the gate.
"So these children of Ceras… Ancients, right?"
Katie nodded to Lorne as they followed Sage through a less-travelled path in the forest.
"Yes. At least, that's the first people who come to mind."
"Think there really are gnomes protecting it?" Miller piped up behind Major Lorne.
Cole rolled his eyes. "Ya, and we have to ride on dragonflies to get there. Come on Miller, it's probably some Ancient tech, if anything at all."
"Whatever it is, we need to stay alert." Lorne ordered. "I estimate we only have about six hours left of light and I'd like to be back to base before nightfall."
Cole and Miller responded with their standard 'yessir' and the rest of the hike remained relatively quiet until they reached the cave. The mouth of the cave was over eight feet high and loomed over them like an entity. Lorne noticed Katie's quick inhale of breath and placed a steadying hand on her shoulder.
Sage turned to face them. "I can take you no further."
"That's fine," Major Lorne smiled, "we can take it from here. Thanks."
Sage nodded. "We will leave someone at the entrance for one day in case you return."
Lorne watched as the woman started back towards the village. When she was out of sight he returned his gaze to the cave.
"Well, this isn't ominous at all," he cast a reassuring smile to Doctor Brown before lifting his P-90 in the ready position and took point.
The entrance of the cave was large, but as they ventured further into the orifice, the walls slowly began to enclose in on them until they were forced to walk single file. Even then it was getting a little cramped.
"Shouldn't have had that second piece of pie."
Lorne smiled at Cole's smart-ass remark and reminded Katie to watch her step as they inched forward. The light from the outside had disappeared and now they relied on the light from their guns for visibility; light which proved pretty much useless.
"I can't see a damn thing," Lorne muttered as he reached out in front of him. He didn't like the fact that he had to feel his way in front. It left them open to surprises - especially when his face hit solid rock. He muttered something about caves under his breath and felt around.
"Looks like we're crawling."
He wasn't exactly too thrilled about the thought either, but if this was what it took to get the crystal, then he was left with no choice. Miller grumbled about a wild goose chase as he dropped to his hands and knees behind Katie and followed the line.
"How you doing, Doc?"
Lorne would have looked back if he could, but he could only rely on her word at this point. Her laboured breathing indicated that she was, at the very least, struggling to keep up.
"Fine," Katie breathed. "I just haven't crawled since I was a teenager."
It wasn't like the rocky ground was particularly accommodating either. In fact, he was sure Doctor Beckett was going to scold them all when they got back to Atlantis about putting this much pressure on their knees.
A slight breezed washed over Lorne's face. "I think I see an opening," he said. Evan couldn't actually see the opening as much as feel it, but Lorne wasn't going to let semantics get in the way. As they continued to crawl, light slowly began to filter back into the stone conclave until –
Lorne halted abruptly causing a domino effect with Katie running into his backside and Miller doing the same to her. Cole grumbled at the end of the line. Lorne apologized and poked his head out of the hole.
"What is it?"
Katie's question caused Lorne to grimace. "A way out," he said, "but you're not going to like it."
The small crawl-space opened up to a one and a half foot ledge that overlooked a considerably farther drop down the mountain. It looked as if they had climbed the mountain from the inside, even though it hadn't felt like they had been going up an incline.
"Maybe we should go back?" Lorne offered, but Katie refused.
"We need to get the crystal. I'll be alright, really."
Lorne took a few minutes to mull it over and decided he'd deal with Doctor Weir's lecture when they got back to base.
"Alright, but stay close to me."
Getting up from the hole proved to be difficult on such a small ledge, but walking on it was harder. At such a high altitude, the power of the wind was enough to knock you off your feet if you weren't careful. Lorne took the lead with a hand out in front of him holding onto the side of a mountain while his other hand was holding onto Doctor Brown. Miller and Cole were in similar stances as they inched along.
Katie's heart was racing as her feet shuffled timidly forward. When she woke up that morning, she did not picture herself scaling a mountain on another planet. Her right hand grasped firmly onto Major Lorne's vest and she tried desperately not to look below them. Suddenly Lorne lurched forward. Katie gasped as she felt her body tilt forward, her eyes wide with panic. And then, nothing. She opened her eyes to find Major Lorne steadying himself in front of her. Lieutenant Miller had grabbed a hold of her vest and pulled her back upright. She exhaled.
Lorne pressed his lips firmly together. "Come on," he wanted to get the hell off this mountain.
"You have got to be kidding me."
Major Lorne and his team stood on a large clearing on the side of a mountain facing the tops of the tallest trees in history. The trees were surrounded by a maze of wooden platforms that circled the trunks with various bridges varying from wood to rope connected them. The only problem was that there were about 120 yards between them and the trees.
Lorne sighed and rubbed his palms into his eyes before looking at the situation anew. There was no line from the mountain to the trees and no visible signs of any possible way of transportation.
"Sir," he turned around to see Sergeant Cole inspecting something on the side of the mountain. Major Lorne approached the wall.
"What is that? A triangle?"
Cole ran his finger over the grooved rock. "An upside down triangle in stone."
"Weird," Miller said. Lorne had to agree. It was weird. He exhaled loudly and turned around to face the trees again.
"Okay, so, assuming we're on the right path, how do we get from here," Lorne pointed towards the treetops, "to there?"
"It's not a button," Cole offered as he pushed the triangle again just in case.
Lorne frowned. He hated puzzles, but he was good at noticing people and right now he noticed Katie's thoughtful stare at the symbol on the wall.
"What is it?"
Katie's brow furrowed. "It looks familiar."
She bit her lip. "I don't know."
Lorne checked his watch, three more hours until sundown. He suppressed his natural instincts and instead went with a smile. "Its okay, Doc, take your time," he said and glanced at his watch. "Plenty of time…"
A couple of minutes passed and Lorne was about to order everyone back to the caves when Katie broke the silence.
"It's missing something."
Lorne looked at her and then the wall. For a triangle, it wasn't missing anything. She must have noticed the perplexed expression on his face.
"I think," she bit her lip again. "Well, I think it's supposed to be an alchemy symbol."
"Let me guess, for earth, right?" Katie nodded to Lorne who rolled his eyes.
"Okay, so what does the symbol look like?"
Katie demonstrated by drawing a line across the bottom point. Cole pulled out his knife and carefully chiselled what he could from the rock surface and created a line across the bottom. They waited and nothing happened.
"I'm sorry," Katie frowned, but she had spoken too soon.
Something darted out of the wall and flew to the other side and attached itself to something over there. Lorne glanced up. It was a zip line. For him and his men, this would be fine, but for Katie… Lorne watched her eye the cable cautiously.
"This is going to be a walk in the park, Doc. I promise."
Even though the words were meant to be comforting, it was easy to tell that Katie was still frazzled. This was supposed to be a simple mission, something to wet Katie's nose for off world missions in the future. That's why he had chosen the earth planet – it seemed like it would be easy. Now he secretly wondered if the fire planet would have been better.
"Miller, you go first. Doctor Brown, you're with me. Cole, you follow us. Got it?"
That got a round of 'yessir' before Miller attached a carabineer to the cable and zipped across. Lorne attached Katie's carabineer to the cable and then did the same with his. When he pushed off, he made sure to hold onto Katie the entire way down. It had been a ride for sure and when Katie reached the platform at the bottom her knuckles were white and she was shaking a little. Lorne decided he'd call for a rest at that point.
John turned shortly after Rodney left. He knew picking this planet was a bad idea, but it needed to be someone's job and he wasn't about to fob it off on Lorne's team. Rodney's attitude towards Elizabeth was annoying enough as it was, but the current 'I know what's needed right now' one was getting him to the point where he would pick the water planet next and drown the man. He started up the hill as the ground started to shake again and stopped to look back at Teyla and Ronon.
"Follow me half way up, then one of you can do the round trip unless we see signs that the crystal is likely to be up there."
They nodded at him and he started up the side of the volcano. He took in his surroundings the higher he went, his eyes picking up the distant volcanoes and a plume of smoke coming a long way off to the west. Whenever the tremors started, John's mind snapped to the wrong place, namely back in Atlantis, the cool climate, the lack of humidity, clean clothes, chairs and beds to rest in and Elizabeth. For some reason though, he always pictured her holding a baby, not a five year old Mara, but a new born with a cute button nose and unruly black hair.
"I'll go," he heard Ronon and turned to see him start off at a jog in one direction around the edge of the mountain. He checked his watch, it had only been twenty minutes and he looked up to find them closer to the top than expected.
"Wait, Ronon," he called out, stopping the man as he dug through his vest for his binoculars. He raised them to his eyes and peeked at the top of the mountain to see if there was a need for Ronon to walk the edge.
He saw the bridge instantly, wooden and looking very old, some of the ropes had come loose and was dangling off the poll at the end. Something glinted in his view and John scanned along the bridge to find something dangling low over the volcano mouth. His heart skipped. It was the crystal, but it was hanging off the side of the bridge that wasn't secured.
"The crystal's up there," John said and Ronon turned to walk back to them. "It's hanging off the middle of a very unstable looking bridge," he explained and he started up the mountain again.
"Should have made McKay come," Ronon said. "Could have sent him out to get it."
"Then we'd never get it," John protested, adding a bit more speed to the climb.
"What's with him anyway?" Ronon asked. "He was rude to Weir in the meeting, doesn't seem to care that we're soon to be under attack and has an even shorter temper than normal."
"That time of month," John said and received a glare from Teyla. "He's jealous that Elizabeth's got a more advanced gene than him. So he's decided he'll do what he wants instead of what Elizabeth tells him to do. He gave that search to Radek. Elizabeth cornered him in the lab for half an hour shouting at him about following orders instead of delegating to others because he can't be bothered."
"It is not Elizabeth's fault that there is a higher gene, or that she has it," Teyla offered.
"She doesn't even want it," John said. "Said there was poetic justice in the leader of Atlantis not having any Ancient Genes."
"Was that why she was in your room?" Ronon asked.
"No," he said, thinking fast for another reason to explain her actions. "She'd been shouting at McKay, wanted a break somewhere no one would find her."
"And she chose your room?" Teyla asked disbelievingly.
"Is there something going on between you two?" Ronon asked with a grin on his face that made John think he knew something.
"What makes you think that?" He asked just a little too calmly.
"Zelenka told me you went into her room the other night without knocking," Ronon said taking a step closer to John. "He also said he didn't remember you leaving."
"He stood in the corridor for an hour and a half?" John asked.
John picked up the pace. They were near the top now and in a few minutes he could change the conversation. 'The sooner the better,' he thought stumbling on a few loose rocks.
"No," Ronon said, catching him. "He fell asleep watching the sensors."
John stopped; Ronon on one side and Teyla on the other. The bridge was out of one of those suspense movies where they had to cross to survive and they only had a limited amount of time to do it in. 'Why would they build a bridge out of wood?' John questioned. The Ancients were an advanced race they could easily make a bridge that would hold up under the strain of an erupting volcano.
"This thing hasn't gone off in a while," Ronon said leaning forward to look down the mouth of the volcano. "Or that bridge wouldn't be standing."
"And the crystal long since swallowed," Teyla added.
"Okay then," John said unzipping his vest. "Ronon you hold one rope, Teyla the other and I'll go get the crystal so we can get out of this excessive heat."
"I believe I should go," Teyla said placing a hand on his shoulder. "I am lighter than the both of you; I will cause less damage to the bridge."
"It's already damaged," Ronon said, "but she's right, it'll be easier for us to catch her and pull her up fast if the bridge collapses."
"Absolutely not," John said firmly. "I won't risk your lives like that."
"John," she said placing a hand on his arm to stop him from removing his vest. "You know I can be faster out there than you," she reasoned and he knew she was right. He just didn't like it. He considered it for a moment, his eyes checking on the bubbling lava below and the swaying bridge that crossed the opening.
"Fine," he said. "But you're to be extremely careful and keep a tight hold of the rope at all times, if that thing gives way it's going to be the only thing we can use to pull you back."
"Better hope the rope doesn't snap first then," Ronon said.
"That's not helping," John snapped.
"Don't touch that!"
Miller slapped Cole on the back of his head who cried out in protest.
"Whatcha do that for?"
Miller pointed at the apple Cole was about to reach for. "Forbidden Fruit, idiot."
"Whatever," Cole rolled his eyes and went for it again, but Major Lorne stopped him before he had a chance to pluck it. Miller smiled smugly which got yet another eye-roll. It wasn't that Lorne particularly believed that picking the apple would bring about bad luck or anything; there was just no time for them to stop for a snack.
His eyes wandered over to Katie Brown who had been particularly quiet since they took the zip line to the trees. He couldn't blame her. Since then they had to scale a rope ladder, swing from one tree to another by a rope, and crawl through a narrow hole in the trunk of a tree. It was a lot of work to get a crystal, but Lorne was secretly grateful he didn't have to deal with things like flying arrows or rolling boulders.
The maze-like structure led them to a tree with various Ancient writings carved into the bark. Lorne frowned a little.
"Any of you read Ancient?"
He knew the answer of course. No one did fluently. Parrish had known, but he wasn't here and he wasn't about to point that out to Doctor Brown either. Sergeant Cole moved over to the bark and began to inspect it.
Katie shook her head reluctantly at Major Lorne who sighed.
"Alright," his eyes focused on the writing. "There's got to be something, right?"
Lorne approached the tree and looked it over from top to bottom and side to side. It looked like a normal tree, but you could never be too sure with the Ancients. His next move was to reach out and examine it with his hands the way Cole had previously.
"Well, I'll be damned," The moment Lorne's hand touched the bark, the Ancient lettering glowed a bright blue, Ancient tech. They backed away from the glowing words as a humming sound slowly began to get louder. The lights flashed, the tree shook slightly, and then the lettering disappeared and was replaced by a dark hole. Flicking on his flashlight, Lorne peered into the hole.
"It's a slide," his voice echoed. "Okay," Lorne stood up and looked at his team, "let's go."
The slide had not been what he expected. Lorne had expected twists and turns like those you saw in the movies, but instead, it was just a straight drop. The only thing this slide had in common with those in the movies was the rough landing. By the time everyone was at the bottom, they had all fallen on their backs.
"You okay?" Lorne asked helping Katie up from the ground and made sure she wasn't bleeding before turning his attention to the area. It was just a clearing in the middle of the woods. This worried him. Had they missed the crystal and already finished the gauntlet without retrieving it? He didn't want to go through all that again.
"That's it?" Cole was the one to speak what Lorne was thinking.
Lorne glanced around again. "There has to be something. Spread out and look for… something."
Upon further inspection, it revealed that there was no way out of the clearing. Large trees grew side by side and left no sizable gap to squeeze between, which told Lorne they were missing something. He glanced at his watch, 45 minutes or so before sundown. He was not going to enjoy having to camp out in this place.
Suddenly Katie's voice yelled out and the three men's heads swivelled to look at the woman who was waist deep in –
"Quicksand?" Lorne shouted as he and his men started to jog towards it. Miller had gotten there first and was trying to reach out and grab her. His arms weren't long enough and Katie's desperate reach for his arm caused her to sink further into the ground. This is not good, he thought as his eyes frantically looked around the area for something they could use. There was nothing.
Then Major Lorne's face calmed down.
"Wait," he had his hand on Miller, pulling him back. Miller and Cole shot him a questioning glance while Katie's frantic eyes pleaded at him. He swallowed, his mouth suddenly dry. "Don't fight it. Just let it happen," Lorne spoke to Katie as calming as he could.
"Sir?" Miller's posture was rigid. He wanted to be back down there reaching out for her, doing something.
"Stand down, Lieutenant."
Katie's eyes locked onto Major Lorne. He looked so confident, so controlled, but she was panicking. The sandy water beneath her was cold, grainy and it felt like it was swallowing her up alive. She wasn't in control and there was nothing she could do. She blinked back tears.
"Major Lorne?" She called out meekly, pleadingly. Did he really expect her to just give up? Just let go. She sniffled as she cried out for help again, but there was no response. Katie would have tried again, but her mouth was now below the sand. She kicked, kicked hard to reach the surface, but it was useless. Her chest heaved as she closed her eyes and her head went under.
Teyla quickly deposited her jacket, parted with a few knives about her person and set a careful foot on the first wooden board of the bridge. She took hold of the ropes on either side before putting the whole of her weight onto the wood. It held and she started forwards along the bridge.
John kept a tight hold of the good rope, his eyes fixed on Teyla's progress and distance to the crystal and his mind once again wandering back to the comforts of Atlantis. He wondered just how many other people had seen him go into Elizabeth's room at night. Ronon had seen her go to his, and the rumours about them had picked up a few weeks ago, but from what he'd heard, they didn't include any night time visits.
He checked his watch every now and again as well as the bubbling pit beneath Teyla for any signs that it would blow anytime soon. Nothing changed for the twenty minutes it took her to reach the middle and John caught the movement as Ronon tightened his grip on the loosened rope.
Teyla carefully took her hand off the rope John was holding and turned towards the crystal. John moved, following her movements with his eyes as he shifted to stand beside Ronon and add to the grip. Her back straight, she crouched and took hold of the rope attached to the crystal and began pulling it up. The ground trembled below them and John watched the lava level rise as Teyla jarred forward and released the crystal in favour of holding the rope.
"That thing's gonna go soon," John said, watching as Teyla took hold of the smaller rope again and this time managed to collect the crystal. "I think we should either walk fast or run back to the gate," he said as she tucked it into a pocket and turned to them.
John returned to his own rope as Teyla once again moved back towards them, a hand on either side of the bridge. Half way back the ground shook again, harder than the previous times and Ronon tightened the rope. He pulled it too far and it snapped. The bridge tilted dangerously on one side and Teyla wrapped both arms around the only remaining support. She quickly regained her feet on the now crooked bridge and started back. She was in arms length when another tremor started; the lava level rose again and just when John was ready to relax the bridge broke and Teyla lunged forward to grab Ronon's extended arm.
"Let's go before that thing does," John shouted grabbing Teyla's vest and knives.
They sprinted down the side of the volcano, stumbling at the bottom as the ground shook violently and Ronon had to catch Teyla to stop her hitting the ground half way through putting on her vest.
"Keep to a slow pace," John called over the rumbling. "We need to keep our strength in case that thing actually goes."
"It's going," Ronon said looking over his shoulder. John swung around to see the thick smoke and the slow seep of lava over the top of the creator.
"Crap," he said and activated the radio. "Rodney, dial the gate, find out how far away the Daedalus is. We need an emergency pick up."
"You are sure the Daedalus is in the area?" Teyla asked as she turned to start running with them.
"I made sure of it," John said. "I didn't want to take the chance that we'd run out of water and end up dehydrating to death or severely burnt."
"I'm not back at the gate yet," Rodney said, "It's only been an hour or so. What's going on?"
"Mount Vesuvius is heading for Pompeii," John panted, his chest tight around him and he spotted a few other volcanoes smoking and spitting lava. "And it's taking some friends with it."
"Should have left McKay at the gate," Ronon said and John turned to glare at him for the obviously late thinking.
"Everyone start praying for the Daedalus for the first time ever," John said sarcastically as he broke into a run.
John couldn't help but notice how much closer the lava had gotten in the last twenty minutes or so. He checked his watch, wondering if Rodney was close to the gate by now or if they'd catch up to him. Assuming they could pass the lava flow quickly. Ahead of him, Teyla and Ronon were keeping up their pace and John found himself wishing he had a little more stamina. He'd have to run himself ragged after this was over until he could keep up with them for more than ten minutes.
Then they stopped and as John approached he realised they were in a much worse situation than he hoped. The lava had cut across their path, the wide river stretched over the only way ahead and to turn back now would slow down their progress. Not to mention trap them there through the big event.
"Rodney," John said a moment later. "Tell me you're near the gate," A panting sound came back for several minutes before Rodney, completely out of breath, replied.
"No," he said. "Got at least another hour."
The ground rumbled again and John stumbled forward towards the lava river and was instantly thankful Ronon had good reflexes.
"We don't have an hour," he said.
"John," Teyla said, drawing his attention and he turned to find the way back blocked. The ground rumbled again and John's eyes settled on a flow of hot red and orange that was slithering their way.
"We don't have a minute," John corrected, pulling Teyla a step back as he felt the cool air sink over him. A bright light covered his vision and when it cleared he found himself looking through the view screen of the Daedalus and out into space. He swung around to quirk a brow at Caldwell.
"Colonel," he said with a curt nod. "Could have waited a second longer for the lava to reach us."
"I considered it," the colonel said. "Go get yourselves checked out; it's a couple of hours to Atlantis."
"Thanks," he said, checking that Rodney was amongst them before heading out the door.
Katie gasped for air as she awoke on her back in darkness. Was she dead? She sat up quickly, the blood rushing from her head and causing a slight ache in the back of her skull. She groaned. Her clothes were dry, her body was dry. Just as her eyes tried to focus on the darkness, a solitary light flashed on in front of her. In the middle of the spot light was a round pedestal.
After climbing to her feet, Katie cautiously ventured toward the stone column. The pedestal came up just above her waist. Its surface was flat with an engraving that, at first, made little sense to the botanist. The engraving was a circle with five subtle bumps along the perimeter and a single line reaching down from it. She bit her lip in thought. The engraving looked familiar.
A flower. It was an outline of a flower.
Her eyes searched the bare room for other hints, but came up empty. That was until she remembered what was in her vest pocket. Pulling back the Velcro, Katie carefully pulled out the strange blue five-petal flower. She held it up to the light before lowering it onto the pedestal inside the grooves. It fit.
The column rumbled and shook, causing Katie to step back from it. It descended slowly into the ground and became part of the solid mass that made the cave she was in. It was silent for a minute before an emerald crystal appeared on the ground where the pedestal had been.
Katie smiled and reached out to grab the crystal.
Lorne was watching the now solid ground with a furrowed brow. He thought he had made the right call, but now he wasn't sure. Miller and Cole had the same look, even though they tried to hide it.
A branch cracking drew their attention away from the ground and to Sage who was standing off in the direction of the village. "Lady Brown was successful in procuring Ceras' gift. She awaits you at our village."
Sage gestured for them to follow. It took them a minute to actually respond to the woman.
"How'd you know, sir?"
Lorne looked up at Cole silently for a minute. "The clue was trust, Sergeant," but secretly, he hadn't been sure of anything.
"Has Lorne come back yet?" John asked stepping into Elizabeth's office and taking in the sight of Elizabeth sitting on the couch hovering over Mara. The girl was on her back, a blanket tucked snugly over her and her eyes fighting to stay open.
"Yes," Elizabeth said as she rubbed at the cover over the child. She didn't elaborate on that and it made him wonder if he'd done something wrong between leaving and stepping into her office.
"Did he get the crystal?"
"Yes," Elizabeth said. Mara yawned and her eyes drifted shut for a moment before she forced them open again. "Go to sleep," Elizabeth said soothingly.
"I'm not tired," Mara protested sleepily.
"It's late, Mara, and you are tired. You can't even keep your eyes open."
"Yes, I can," she said, attempting to stifle a yawn. Elizabeth didn't reply for a moment, continuing to rub the girl's chest and John watched as her small eyes closed and sleep overtook.
"You're gonna make a wonderful mother one day," John said. He knew he had a stupid grin on his face when she turned to glare at him. "Okay," he said dropping the smirk. "What did I do?"
"Let's see," she said moving to stand in front of him and closing the door in a swift move as she got up. "You knew the walk would be long, and didn't leave someone at the gate. You didn't tell Rodney where you were heading and that the database said high possibility of volcanoes. If you had, he could have taken equipment to tell you how long you had before a possible eruption," she paused and moved to sit behind her desk. "You let Teyla risk her life going half way across an unstable bridge to get the crystal…"
"We need that crystal and Teyla volunteered. She even made a good argument about being lighter than us," he spat, his voice sounding twice as loud as hers.
"Keep your voice down," she hissed. "You let Rodney walk back alone," she continued, "and you almost got burned to death."
A flash of fear that crossed her face clued John into the real problem. He'd come close to death again, putting himself and his team in danger and it frightened her. It frightened him to put her through it, but he hadn't expected the world to be that dangerous. Aware that people were watching them from the control room, John shifted and wet his lips.
"I didn't expect it to be that bad," he said. "I should have left Rodney at the gate in case we needed backup," he gave her what he hoped was a comforting smile. "I'm sorry."
"You can't just brush this off, John," she said, heading for the other door and down the stairs outside it. John gave Mara a quick look and turned on his heels to follow. "Your reckless behaviour will one day come back to haunt you and get you or one of your team killed."
He didn't answer. Instead, he just followed her through the corridor waiting for her to step into somewhere private so he could apologise without people watching. He listened as she recited the medical report of his team: Teyla's strained wrist from when they pulled her back sharply, a burn on Rodney's arm that John suspected had come from something stupid he did on his way back. Not to mention the sunburn they all had despite the suntan lotion Teyla had managed to borrow.
Eventually she turned into a small meeting room and swung around to look at him. The look she gave him told him she didn't believe he'd listened to any of it and unconsciously, he quirked a brow.
"You scare the life out of me every time you put yourself in danger," she said, her voice dropping to a whisper. He stepped forward without thinking and wrapped his arms around her, pulling her against him. He still said nothing. He waited, just waited, letting her calm down for a moment so that when he did speak she wouldn't cut him off or glare at him.
"I'm sorry," he said again, his hand rubbing slow circles on her back to soothe her. "It's not like I do it on purpose," he added. "Besides, would you rather send Lorne on that mission with a new team member?"
"You could have waited for the Daedalus."
"I know, but we didn't know how long that walk would be. I figured they could drop by and pick us up," John said. He drew back to give her a smile. "They always have such good timing," he teased. She gave him a playful slap on the arm and stepped away just as the door opened.
"Doctor," Lorne greeted. "Colonel."
"Major," John said, thankful that Elizabeth had moved away when she did.
"Not your usual meeting place," Lorne commented, "but I was told there's a sleeping beauty in your office."
"I expected you earlier, Major," Elizabeth said, leaning against the table.
"I know," he said looking apologetic. "Doctor McKay cornered me and demanded to know how I could 'do that to Katie'," he said with air quotes around Rodney's comment.
"What did you do?" John asked.
"Nothing, sir," he said defensively. "She came back exactly how she went, just a little shaken."
"You let her sink in quicksand," Elizabeth said with a raised brow and John swung around to face him in shocked horror.
"I knew it wouldn't hurt her," he explained. "You said yourself, Doctor Weir, 'Trust comes in many forms and often where we least expect it'."
"I was talking about her trusting you, but I have to give you credit for interpretation."
Lorne grinned at his slight and unusual praise and silence fell for a moment. He watched Elizabeth as she moved from the table to look out the window. They were still quite high up the tower and from where he stood he couldn't see any other part of Atlantis. He suspected she could though, as she strained her neck to look at something.
"So, what's next?" Lorne asked a moment later, drawing Elizabeth from the window and John from his musing.
"Well," John asked. "Do you wanna go flying or swimming?"
"John," Elizabeth warned.
"I'm giving him the option."
"You're hoping he'll take the water world," she knew him far too well. "You're both pilots, you want the same thing."
"She has a point," Lorne said, turning to face John.
"Alright," John said. "Well, I'm not entirely sure Ronon or Teyla can swim."
"Teyla can't," Elizabeth said, none too helpfully.
"And Katie can't," Lorne added.
Elizabeth moved back to lean against the table. Her arms folded over her chest and her brow rose as she watched the team leaders in front of her. John could see from the look on her face that she knew how this would turn out and he wasn't going to give her that satisfaction.
"You choose," John said suddenly turning to her. "Which of us gets the flying session?"
"Oh no," she said hands up defensively. "I told you both before, this is between you."
John swallowed and looked back at Lorne. The man's brow quirked as if to say let's get this over with. John sighed and stole a glance at Elizabeth and turned to fully face the Major.
"Ready?" John asked as they both made fists. He had the crazy urge to just hit him and say 'I out rank you, we're going to the air world'. It would have looked manlier for Elizabeth than Rock, Paper, Scissors. "One, Two, Three," he said and turned his fist to show rock. "Damn," he said, realising Lorne had flattened his hand out.
"Looks like I get to choose," Lorne said. "We're going flying."
"Best of three?" John tried.
"Sorry, sir," Lorne said with a grin. "Ma'am," he nodded to Elizabeth and left. Elizabeth pushed off the table and chuckled as she wrapped her arms around his middle.
"I always pick Rock," John said with a small laugh as he kissed the top of her head.
"Maybe that's why you lost."
"I think I'm getting sick of mountains," Sergeant Cole groaned as the Puddle Jumper materialized on the other side of the event horizon and flew out of the gate. Below them was a large expanse of mountainous terrain. "Who puts their Stargate on top of a mountain anyways?"
Lorne was in the driver's seat pressing a few buttons to bring out navigation. He was also trying not to smirk.
"Think of it this way, Cole. At least we're flying this time."
Lorne almost felt bad for having won against Colonel Sheppard. Sheppard was his commanding officer and could have just pulled rank, but that was why so many of the military personnel on Atlantis respected the Colonel. He wasn't a tight-ass.
"You're flying, sir," Cole pointed out from behind him. "We're just along for the ride."
The smirk still hung on Major Lorne's face as they flew over some more mountains. The information for this planet was a set of coordinates which looked like they were taking them to a plateau on the other side of a tall mountain. So far the mission had been rather easy and he was thankful for that. Katie had been a little shaken from her first mission and he wanted to show her what a routine mission was like. Unfortunately, it didn't look like that was about to happen.
Turbulence. Even with the inertial dampeners the Puddle Jumper was shaking and buckling. Lorne's hand tightened on the handle of the Jumper as he tried to stay in control.
"What's wrong?" Katie asked from her position behind Lieutenant Miller sitting shot-gun.
Lorne pulled up some sensor readings and frowned. "It's just a little windier than we expected," he said. It was actually a lot windier than they expected. According to the sensor readings, the wind speed was 250 miles an hour and it was picking up speed.
"Are we slowing down?" Miller asked and leaned forward, reading the information on the Heads-Up Display.
"No," Lorne said between tight lips. "Our speed hasn't changed."
"I think we're slowing down," Miller glanced at Lorne and added, "Sir," the moment he caught the unpleasant expression on his CO's face.
The Jumper lurched downwards, but Lorne held steady on the controls and evened it out. The shaking was growing more violent, causing the rest of the occupants to hold onto something. Then the Jumper's alarm sounded.
"Shit," Lorne cursed, his lips pressed together as he felt himself lose complete control of the helm. "Hold on tight!"
When flying a puddle Jumper, it was hard to realize just how heavy they were. They handled and flew like a dream. But when they began plummeting to the ground, one became uniquely aware of how hard a landing there was going to be. The best thing Lorne could do was to keep the ship from falling in a vertical nosedive. Instead, they were falling in a diagonal line towards the plateau. His eyes narrowed in concentration as the rocky ground grew closer.
When the Jumper hit the ground, it hit hard. Cole went flying out of his seat and onto the ground. Katie almost followed, but her grip was strong enough to keep her in her seat. The spaceship skidded sideways across the terrain, emanating a loud scraping sound over the slate rock. Finally the friction was enough to slow the metal chassis down to a complete stop.
Lorne let out a loud exhale and sat back in his chair. It wasn't his smoothest landing, but it hadn't been the roughest either. He glanced back to Cole on the ground and then to Katie and Miller. "Everyone alright?"
Cole slowly climbed to his feet and checked his swollen lip. There was a little blood. "I'll live," he muttered. Katie and Miller confirmed that they were both 'fine' as well. At least none of them were badly hurt. As far as missions went, this was still ranked pretty high on the 'good' side according to Lorne.
That is, of course, until Miller shifted to grab a piece of debris and Lorne felt the entire Jumper tilt forwards a little. "Whoa, whoa, whoa! Everybody freeze."
Lorne was back to holding his breath and Miller remained in the bent-over position he had been in. Something was wrong and Lorne was getting that familiar sinking feeling. After a minute of no one moving, Lorne shifted his eyes to Cole. "Sergeant, I need you to slip into the back. Carefully."
Cole slowly stood up and shuffled into the rear compartment. When Cole reached the far back of the cabin the Jumper hit back onto the ground under Cole's weight. Lorne let out an exasperated sigh. "This isn't good."
Miller, who had faithfully been maintaining his bent position, couldn't maintain it any longer and moved to sit up. Cole let out a small shout of surprise when the rear of the Jumper lifted again.
Lorne's white-knuckled hands were out as if to help balance himself in the ship. "Okay. Doctor Brown, I need you to get up –slowly- and join Sergeant Cole."
Lorne didn't want to risk looking back at her to see if she was complying, but he didn't need too. The Jumper lurched forward a little as she stood, but Lorne told her to continue and after a brief pause she did. She let out a sigh of relief when she reached Cole at the back of the ship. However, while the Jumper tilted back towards the ground, it didn't touch it.
The new angle must have thrown off the weight distribution. Great. Lorne glanced at Miller who was also holding his breath and tried to think of a solution. After a moment he spoke to Cole at the back of the ship. "On my mark I want you to release the ramp. Got it, Sergeant?"
Lorne received a confident 'yessir' before he turned his attention to Miller. Miller nodded in silent understanding. "Alright. On the count of three. One. Two. Three –"
Cole hastily pressed the release button as Miller and Lorne were off their feet and hurrying towards the back. The Jumper lurched again and began to slide forward. Cole grabbed onto the back of Katie's vest and the four hauled ass out of the Jumper. Only a moment after Lorne's feet left the metallic ramp did the ramp leap up and the Puddle Jumper went over the edge of the cliff. A not-so-pleasant sound echoed from below as the ship hit another ledge.
Major Lorne took a moment to catch his breath before peering over the cliff to assess the damage. It was intact. The only problem was it was upside down. He wondered silently to himself if Jumpers could fly upside down and made a mental note to ask McKay or Zelenka when they got back to Atlantis.
"Where are we?"
Miller was up on a protruding rock scouting out the surroundings. The plateau seemed to be made entirely of rock and nothing was overtly visible. Lorne flicked open the cover on his watch and took a look at the compass.
"We're only a few clicks away from the designated coordinates," Lorne gestured to the north. "We should be able to get there within an hour."
"See?" John said looking around. "There is land on this planet."
Rodney huffed from behind and Ronon turned to give the pair a grin. They were standing on a long thin island large enough to hold the Stargate and the Dial Home Device. Though, Ronon noted, whoever dialled would get their feet wet standing in the small puddle of water that brushed against the land like a wave over a beach.
Rodney huffed in displeasure and started to mumble about going from hot to cold water. Ronon watched Teyla move to the end of the island before he moved to stand on the opposite end from the Stargate, which looked out over the vast expanse of ocean. At least in the city, he knew there was land somewhere on the horizon.
"And just what are we supposed to do now?" Rodney spat and Ronon turned to catch the thoughtful look on Sheppard's face. Instead, he noticed something else; something that could cause them a problem or two on their return.
"Sheppard," he said and indicated the DHD he stood almost directly in front of. John moved forward, stepping around the device and Ronon only just caught the 'Oh crap', he breathed.
"Rodney," John said, looking up at the scientist. "You can stay by the gate."
"Why?" McKay said, moving towards him, looking ready to start screaming about anything remotely resembling a problem. "What did you do? Oh, that's just peachy."
Ronon couldn't hold back his grin at the last sentence; it was just what he expected Rodney to say when he discovered the damaged device. Rodney pushed John to the side and started checking the crystals. Ronon watched for a moment before his eyes caught movement from Teyla. She had backed away from the edge of the island, her eyes fixed on the water below.
Something made her jump and she took a quick step back before she tripped and landed hard on her backside. Ronon moved, thinking he would only need to help her back on her feet, but as he passed John, something reached out of the water, wrapped around Teyla's ankle and pulled her quickly into the water.
He lunged, hitting the ground hard and feeling something dig in against his stomach, but he ignored it. He took hold of Teyla's arm and tried to pull her back, but the creature from the water was stronger than him and pulled them both along.
They were pulled quickly over the land and off the edge and Ronon only had a second to take a lung full of air before he vanished under the water.
"You know," Cole came up behind the rest who were staring at the mouth of a cave. "I'm starting to think these Ancients had no imagination."
Lorne suppressed a smirk as he took another glance at the compass. "It should be just beyond this cave."
"Right," Cole muttered. "And up a mountain and across a large gulley."
Lorne couldn't keep the smirk from surfacing this time as he motioned for the team to follow him into the cave with their P-90s in hand. The moment they stepped into the darkness was the same moment they stepped out into a meadow of waist-high grass.
Miller glanced back at Cole. "Guess they still have some tricks up their sleeves."
Katie, who had been relatively quiet since they had entered the gate, was the first to ask a troubling question. "This didn't show up on the sensors, did it?"
Major Lorne frowned. "No. No, it didn't."
Katie was also the one to ask the second troubling question. "Where's the cave?"
The three men turned around and were met with more meadow. As far as they could see, there were no mountains. There didn't even seem to be much of any hills.
"Yep. Tricks," Miller shot at Cole, who rolled his eyes.
"Alright," Lorne exhaled. "Let's keep heading north and see where that gets us. As far as I can tell we should be right where the coordinates that Mara gave us indicated."
"Right, because a six year old is a master navigator."
Lorne looked back to Cole. "She's five."
Walking through the long, dappled grass proved easier than the uneven terrain of the forest from their last mission. The ground was soft and even and there was a constant breeze that took the heat off of the overhanging sun. However, there seemed to be nothing but grass for as long as the eye could see. That is, of course, until the meadow dipped and suddenly the team was presented with a monster fleet of large, old-fashion Dutch windmills.
"Reminds me of Don Quixote."
"Who?" Cole looked at Katie.
"Don Quixote. He's a character from a self titled book that fought an army of giants who turned out to be windmills."
"Ah," Cole said and gave a look over to Miller who smirked as the foursome continued to move forward.
"Why didn't we bring a Jumper?" Rodney shouted from the middle of the island. John had moved quickly, though not quickly enough, trying to grab hold of Ronon and Teyla before they were submerged in the ocean. "Why the hell didn't we bring a Jumper? We could have been floating in the air right now."
"And what if we needed to land?" John spat back, spotting a light gleaming from below the surface. It was hard to tell how far down it was, but there was definitely something there. Behind him, Rodney hadn't answered the question, but simply stood right in the middle of the small island looking at the edge as though it was dangerous.
John had to do something. He couldn't just stand there and wait to see if Ronon and Teyla resurfaced and hope they were still breathing. He couldn't very well go back to Atlantis, get a Jumper and submerge it to see where the light was coming from. With the DHD broken and time running out he had only one choice and that was going in after them.
"I'm sorry, Elizabeth," he breathed as he unzipped his vest.
"What are you doing? You can't seriously be thinking of going in there. It's probably freezing and they're probably miles away by now."
"Rodney," John snapped, rounding on the scientist and taking in his wide eyes. "I can't just leave them," he added. He sighed and moved closer to his friend. "I need to go. You need to fix the gate. Quickly."
"Right," Rodney said. "Right. Fix the gate."
John watched as Rodney's eyes flicked to the DHD and then back to him. He knew Rodney was thinking about what he'd just seen and how closer the device was to the edge of the island and that was something he didn't need the man to think of right now.
"Rodney," John snapped drawing his attention again. "Fix the gate, get a Jumper and... come look for us," he said, trying hard not to say 'rescue' or 'see if we're alive'.
He turned back and took a deep breath before toeing off his boots. He dropped his jacket to the ground before stepping to the edge and looking down. He fixed his gaze on the light below and readied himself for a moment before he dove off the edge.
The water felt strange on his skin, almost like a gel or a mix of gel and water. John held his breath as he manoeuvred along the surface placing himself directly above the light before he surfaced. It was a second before he breached the top of the ocean that his lungs gave out and he took a sharp breath. But the water didn't flood his lungs or throat. It just lingered like he had taken a deep breath of fresh air.
He looked back towards the island, now a fair distance from him. He couldn't see McKay or any movement and hoped the man hadn't been dragged off while he was checking out his location. Swallowing, John moved his arm along the water; it shifted like normal water despite not feeling remotely the same. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly before pulling himself under the water. He waited, just a moment, and daringly took another breath still submerged in the liquid. Again it felt like air being added to his chest and experimentally he tried it again before surfacing slowly.
He looked around for the island and creased his brow when he found it. The distance between him and it had increased in the last few seconds and he wondered if he'd drifted from the spot he had selected.
"Don't worry," a voice said from behind him and John's arms flung out to force his body to turn. He saw a girl with bright green eyes and long hair that vanished into the water below her shoulders. "It will come back," she said. They studied each other until she smiled and asked, "Are you Altera?"
"Erm," John hesitated, not sure if answering either way was a good idea. It would only be half a lie; he was Atlantean, just not of the original Alteras.
"You can control the city of Atlantis?"
"Yeah," John answered; this was a much easier question.
"Then you are Altera. Follow me."
She ducked below the water, bending almost double and he caught sight of her legs and feet before they followed her. He turned back to the island to find it now gone completely from his view and frowned. He wanted to go and find it, but before he could move something wrapped around his ankle and pulled him down.
Under the water again, the girl motioned for him to follow before turning and diving down towards the light. John tried to follow, but she was much faster than him. That and he spent a lot of his time checking out the underwater structure. Several large bubbles, for lack of a better word, created an underwater city. They curved neatly and seemed to overlap in places, making him think of a time he blew bubbles for a group of kids on his street and some of them stuck together.
The girl appeared in his view as he approached and she beckoned him over to one of the globes. He searched for a door only half considering that such a thing would be ridiculous underwater. The city would become flooded. He came to a stop beside her and watched momentarily bewildered as she forced her foot to the small platform and effectively stepped through the bubble and into the city.
John blinked before he copied her, first one foot, then the other on the small ledge and then he took a step forward. For some reason, he expected the bubble to burst and closed his eyes as he moved from water to air. It was an even stranger feeling than entering the water. His skin tingled and he was soaked to the skin while feeling completely dry. He turned back to look at his way in and creased his brow as his brain conjured up images of how new born babies felt when they first hit the new and unusual air. Shuddering, John turned back to his smiling young host.
"I am Pax," she said.
"John," he replied and licked his lips. "Listen, I had some friends with me. They were sort of dragged into the...," he motioned back out the way he came and wondered if the substance out there could be called water.
"They are safe," she said. "They needed to be brought down, or they would not have lived through the journey."
"Why not?" John asked.
"They are not Altera," she said and he picked up the slight anger in her voice as if she found the idea repulsive. "I will show you to them, they are in the council chambers waiting for you."
Elizabeth looked up from her desk and over to Carson while giving him the universal 'shh' signal and standing. Mara was still sleeping over on the couch by the wall and she didn't want to wake the child if it was possible.
"What is it, Carson?" her voice was hushed as she ushered the doctor onto the small connecting bridge that linked her office to the control room.
Carson offered an apologetic smile and looked back at the sleeping babe on the couch.
"She's still asleep then?"
"Yes," Elizabeth nodded, but she was more interested in the computer tablet Doctor Beckett was holding under his arm. She gestured to it with a small smile. "Bring me something?"
"What? Oh, yes," Carson rested the portable computer on the railing and hit a few buttons with his fingers. "I figured out how we missed the gene until now."
Elizabeth quirked an eyebrow. "I thought it was because we just never looked for it."
"Aye, but when you know where to look for it, it sticks out like a sore thumb."
Elizabeth urged Carson to continue with a small smile as she leaned over to look at the diagrams on the screen. There were three-dimensional representations of cells and what looked like a DNA strand.
"You know how the ATA Gene is always active, instructing various cells in the body to produce a series of proteins and enzymes that interact with the skin, the nervous system and the brain, thus enabling the gene carriers to operate Ancient technology?"
Elizabeth nodded and Carson pressed another button.
"Well, the Navo Gene works the same way on a basic level, but in a much more complicated way."
"More complicated, you say?" Elizabeth had a wry smile which produced a tiny laugh from Carson.
"Aye. You see, we still don't understand the human genome completely, but we have been able to map 3 billion base pairs and about 20,000 to 25,000 genes so far within the DNA and RNA strands."
"Ribonucleic acid. It's similar to DNA except their strand of information is only single while DNA has double strands"
"Of course," Elizabeth leaned on the railing. "Go on."
"A gene is a union of genomic sequences encoding a coherent set of potentially overlapping functional products, right? Well, in cells, genes consist of a long strand of DNA that contains a promoter, which controls the activity of a gene. The coding sequence determines what the gene produces, while non-coding sequence can regulate the conditions of gene expression. When a gene is active, the coding and non-coding sequence is copied in a process called transcription, producing an RNA copy of the gene's information. This RNA can then direct the synthesis of proteins via the genetic code."
"Carson," Elizabeth ran a hand over her face, "the simplified version, please."
"The Navo Gene is hidden in an RNA strand," a small voice responded.
Carson and Elizabeth looked at each other for a moment before turning to look at the tiny child who had spoken. Mara yawned and rubbed her eyes. Elizabeth looked at Carson who nodded. "She's right."
"How did you know that?" Elizabeth looked down at Mara who had walked over and taken hold of her hand.
"Mom said it once."
Elizabeth smiled at Mara and looked to Carson. "How does it work?"
Carson shook his head. "We haven't figured that out yet. I'd like you to come to the lab for some tests. I have a theory."
Elizabeth quirked another eyebrow, but nodded.
Teyla's eyes took in every crook of the luxurious room. Everything from the detail on the tapestries and the embroidered cloth hanging down the walls, to the simple design of the chair where Ronon sat. She had no idea how long they had been here. She barely remembered how they got here. Neither of them did. They had arrived on a small island and she had been checking the surrounding area when she had been pulled under.
The door opened on the far side of the room and a short, snide-looking man appeared clad in home-spun weaved clothing that was neither familiar to Ronon nor to Teyla. He remained at the other end of the room as he spoke to them.
"My apologies for keeping you waiting so long."
"Where's Sheppard?" Ronon was already up on his feet before Teyla could react, but she was able to stop him from charging the little man.
Ronon slid a weary glance to Teyla and sat back on his heels. His arms crossed over his broad chest as he stared expectantly at the strange man. Teyla silently sighed and turned back to face the man.
"We were with two others when we arrived."
"Yes," the man said ignoring Ronon. "One has remained on the surface and the other is also here in the city."
A bit of relief washed over Teyla. "May we see him?"
The man merely nodded and gestured for them to follow him. As Teyla and Ronon stepped out of the room, they were accompanied by four burly men who were no doubt security operatives judging by their girth and the weapons on their hips.
They were led down a series of corridors plastered with rich paintings and expensive looking furniture. It was as if the room they had been in expanded throughout the labyrinth of hallways. Teyla paused as they passed a large pane of glass. Her hand reached out to touch the glass.
"We are under water?"
"Yes," the man curtly replied and continued walking. "The entire city is under the water."
Teyla remained where she was, looking out into the vast water, until she was nudged by one of the large men. From what she had seen, the city was not like Atlantis. While she knew very little about the technology of the ancestors, she could recognize that the city was stationary, unlike the Lantean city.
They were ushered into a large, bright room that was painted in rich tones, but lacked many of the excessive additions like the rest of the rooms they had seen. Colonel Sheppard was sitting on a black, straight-backed chair and was leaning forward with his elbows on his knees. When Teyla and Ronon entered, he stood and walked briskly over to them.
"You guys alright?"
Teyla glanced up to the clearly irritated Ronon and then back to John with a small smile.
"We are fine."
"You okay?" John asked looking up to the grumpy-looking Satedan and gave a little smile of his own.
"Fine," Ronon answered.
John looked over to the woman who had brought him to the city. "Pax here was just telling me some of their local history. Seems they were good friends with the Ancients."
"The Altera and our people were great allies," Pax added.
Ronon grunted. "Where were they when the Wraith showed up?"
The snide-looking man scowled. "Enough talk." He nodded to the security men who started herding Teyla and Ronon towards one side of the room where a large mirror stood flat against the wall.
John, having been pushed out of the way, raised a not-so-amused eyebrow and followed closely behind. It wasn't until one of the larger men turned around and stopped him that John Sheppard started to get an uneasy feeling about the whole situation. Ronon and Teyla cast a questioning look over to John. They were clearly tensing up.
"Hey, wait a minute."
Pax lifted off her chair and made her way over to John. Placing a reassuring hand on his shoulder, she smiled.
"Do not worry, John."
"It's hard not to when you have my people surrounded," John argued. He was trying to control his irritation, but he was doing a poor job of it.
"You wish to possess the crystal of Arnemetia, do you not?"
John looked at Pax. "Yeah, so?"
"The high council will only give audience to those deemed worthy."
John tried hard not to roll his eyes and was pretty successful. He sighed and ran a hand down his face.
"Okay," he said. "How do we prove we're worthy?"
"You do not have to prove anything," the little man practically spat out. "They, however, must."
The little man looked over to John indignantly. "They are not Altera. They did not pass the tests of old."
John's hands clenched into fists as he looked at the man who reminded him a lot of Woolsey. He was about to start shouting when Pax's hand was back on his shoulder. He turned to look at her.
"Long ago, when the Altera met our ancestors, they had to prove themselves trustworthy. They passed. And when they asked us to protect the crystal for them, we took an oath to only allow those whom we trust to take it."
"Alright, so what do you want us to do?" John asked. If McKay were here, John was pretty sure he'd hear some grumbling right now. As it was, he hoped Rodney had fixed the DHD and was already in Atlantis getting a Puddle Jumper.
"You don't do anything," the Woolsey mini-me sniffed. "They must," he signalled to the security men who grabbed a hold of Ronon and Teyla. Ronon instinctively threw back his arms, sending a man sprawling to the ground while Teyla took up a defensive stance. Yet there were too many of them to handle at once – others coming in to help with the situation – and before Colonel Sheppard had time to reach Teyla and Ronon, they were tossed into the mirror. The mirror seemed to flicker for a moment and they were sucked into it and disappeared.
John's gun was out of its holster and rose to face the group of men. He was clearly outnumbered, but he felt better with his weapon drawn.
"What the hell just happened?"
The man lifted his nose at John. "They must pass the trials like the Alterans did long ago."
Colonel Sheppard's eyes narrowed as he holstered his gun and started walking to the mirror.
"Then I'm going too."
"John, no. You have already proven you can be trusted."
John turned on his heel and looked over to Pax.
"They're my team. I'm not leaving them. So either I'm going or you get them back."
Pax shook her head hesitantly. "Once you've entered the Cloister of Trials there is no turning back."
He tried to control his voice as best as he could. "Then I'm going too."
"They look like regular windmills, sir."
"They have to be powering something, Lieutenant."
Sergeant Cole glanced up from inspecting the base of one of the mills. "Maybe they're here for aesthetic purposes."
Miller shot him a wry grin. "Yeah, just like Cole's an aesthetic member of our team."
Cole opened his mouth to retort when Katie interrupted to say she'd found something. She was standing at the base of one of the larger windmills amongst the particular group they had decided to investigate. Her hand was running over the engraved lettering on the side of the brick monster. Lorne took one glance at the lettering and rolled his eyes in a silent sigh.
"You know, I've been meaning to talk to Doctor Weir about getting someone on my team who can read Ancient."
"I can read Ancient."
Miller shot a glance to Cole.
"He means can read Ancient good."
"Well, I can't read Ancient well," Cole countered before they both closed their mouth with a quick, yet stern glance from the Major. Cole ducked his head and moved forward to the wall, studying it in silence.
"Anything?" Lorne asked after given him a few minutes to mull the Ancient text over, but they didn't have all the time in the world. They were racing the clock.
Cole took a step back with his eyes still on the words and shrugged. "I think it says something about grains."
"Oats," Lorne repeated and frowned. "That doesn't help us."
"Maybe it's a riddle," Katie offered with a small smile.
"On how to make bread?" Miller grinned, but his face quickly turned back to the standard military expression when Lorne looked at him. "Sorry."
Lorne paced away from the windmill, turned, and looked up at the large blades moving in a clockwise motion.
"Oats," He repeated as his hands went to his hips and continued gazing upwards.
Ronon called out in the empty cavern he found himself thrust into. The heat of his breath condensed into white smoke and floated through the cool air. If it wasn't for the adrenaline coursing through the Satedan's veins, Ronon would be freezing.
The cavern that was mysteriously illuminated by a soft light was covered with white haze. His leather boots crunched softly in the undisturbed snow as he turned around in a circle to get his bearings. It was empty and completely enclosed by snow-covered walls in a large circle.
Convinced there had to be a way out, Ronon began to inspect the walls with his hand. The snow was soft, but compacted and seemed to stick against the solid rock walls of his prison. The temperature of the snow was beginning to numb his hand when his hand disappeared into the snow even further. He paused and pushed his hand in deeper and deeper until the snow was to his shoulder and then – air. There was a way out.
"What exactly are we looking for again?" Cole's eyes glanced over the cluster of windmills. By his count, this was the ninth grouping of windmills they had explored and each grouping had ten to twenty windmills in them. If he never had to see another windmill again, he would be happy.
"We're looking for one with a door. Or one with more writing," Miller offered, eyeing the one closest to him.
Lorne finished walking the perimeter of a windmill and approached the two men. "Doc Brown thinks that maybe there's a working mill that grounds oats."
Cole frowned. "Does she realize how many windmills there seems to be?"
Major Lorne rubbed the top of his head. "It's the only lead we have. And unless you can find that cave we went through, I suggest we keep looking for something. Anything."
It took another three groupings before they found a windmill with a round wooden door. Compared to most of the mills, this one was relatively small and it possessed an extra panel on its fan. The sound emanating from behind the solid door was mechanical. The door itself wasn't locked and the team entered without much of a challenge. However, once they were inside, they found themselves clueless once again.
"Any more ideas?" Lorne looked over to Katie Brown with a playful smile. The inside of the mill revealed an old-fashioned granary station. It was completely automated. The oats were crushed by the wind-propelled blades and slid down a chute that was too long to see far down.
Before Katie could answer, Cole spoke up. "There's a trap door."
They gathered around a small square door in the ground. There was a ladder leading down into the darkness. Major Lorne volunteered to go first. He lowered himself carefully down until his feet hit solid ground. Turning on the light from his P-90, Lorne tried to get his bearings. It looked like a small, empty room until a gust of wind rushed passed him, almost knocking him over, and a corridor of torches suddenly came to life.
"All clear. Come on down, guys," Lorne shouted upwards as he began to walk towards the wall at the end of the corridor. Soon Cole, Miller, and Katie joined him, staring at a jewel in the middle of the wall he had discovered.
"Doesn't this look like—"
"Yeah, yeah it does," Lorne nodded to Miller.
"But I thought the Asgard –"
"Yeah, me too."
Katie was the only one who looked confused as Lorne ran his hands through his hair. He gave her a smile.
"A couple of years ago SG-1 went to a planet protected under the Asgard treaty. They had to go through this trial thing and they described a jewel in a wall just like this one," Katie suddenly halted and she looked at the wall again.
"The Asgard never mentioned they came to this galaxy before, did they?"
Lorne shook his head. "We haven't found any evidence of them either."
"Until now," Cole said and reached out to touch it.
"Whoa, whoa, whoa!" Lorne caught the man's hand. "If we're right, this thing takes us somewhere else, and that's the good scenario."
"Do we have any other choice, sir?"
Lorne took a moment and sighed. They didn't. Instead of Cole touching it, Lorne stretched out his hand and grazed the smooth jewel with his fingertips. It glowed for a moment, but nothing happened. He tried again, but this time the jewel didn't even glow. He frowned.
"I think I broke it," he turned to Miller. "Can you fix it?"
"I'm not McKay, sir."
"Thank God for that," Cole snickered.
They tried the jewel a few more times before Lorne ordered everyone back up the ladder and out of the mill. It was starting to feel like a dead end when he glanced up to the sky and paused.
A floating city. Lush, green vegetation was the most visible trait to the island in the sky. It looked as if it had been pulled right out of the ground. From where they stood, they could make out a large structure towering over the trees. The only question they all had was how they were supposed to get there. As if on cue, a white beam of light appeared from the centre of the windmill. They were enveloped in it and disappeared.
Teyla rasped in the hot air of the narrow cave she found herself in. However she had gotten there, it was clear there was no way back. Sweat was already beading on her dark skin from the intense moisture in the air. She pulled her fingers through her dampening hair as she took a step forward through the narrowing rock. The rocks themselves were warm to the touch as she was forced to turn and shimmy through the small space.
She called out again, coughing at the heat in the air as she was forced to a crawl. Sucking in her stomach she inched forward and finally emerged into an open space. Several feet away the opening broke off into three different tunnels.
Teyla stood, eyes scanning each passageway for some sign, some indication as to which one would lead to an exit. It was useless. They all looked the same. Movement caught her eye and Teyla turned to look as a little boy disappeared into the far tunnel.
"Wait!" She frowned as she started after him down the left tunnel. She could see the boy running up in front of her. "Wait. I do not mean you any harm!"
The child veered right and Teyla turned the corner shortly after him. She found him huddled in the corner on the dirt ground. His hands were around his knees and it sounded as if he were crying. She took a step towards him
"Please don't hurt me!"
Teyla froze at his cry and her frown deepened. After a moment of consideration she bent to meet him at eye level.
"Everything is alright. I do not wish to hurt you. I am a friend."
The boy didn't respond to her. He continued to remain in a tight ball on the ground, sniffling quietly. Teyla took a deep breath and tried again.
"My name is Teyla. I am looking for a friend of mine. Have you seen him?"
The boy peeked over his arms to her and watched her for a moment before he shook his head. Teyla offered the child a smile and held out her hand. He seemed to hesitate for only a moment before he untangled himself and reached out for her hand.
"My name is Paiden."
Teyla continued to smile at the sniffling child. "It is very nice to meet you, Paiden. Do you know where we are?"
The little boy shook his head, frowning. Teyla put a hand on his shoulder and opened her mouth to reassure the child when she felt an unfamiliar pang rush through her body. She faltered for a moment, blinked, and the smile returned to her lips.
"That is alright. We will find our way out."
But the child was staring now. Staring at Teyla whose gaze had left the boy's face and was focused on his chest. Teyla felt another pang. It was strong, fierce - made her shift her weight anxiously and lick her lips. She could sense the life essence of the boy flowing through him. At such a young age, the energy was sweet like Athos berries.
She frowned, blinking back the thought as her eyes focussed on her hand which had found its way to the boy's chest. The boy was trembling, looking at her as if she were a monster. Her brow furrowed in confusion. What had been those thoughts? The carnality of it had been frightening. And yet, Teyla could not move her palm from the boy's heart.
"Get away from him!"
The shrill voice of a woman sounded behind Teyla. Her hand released quickly and she turned to find a woman and a man standing behind her. The man had a gun in his hand and it was pointed directly at Teyla. She stood slowly, hands up in a non-threatening gesture, as the boy scrambled to his feet and over to the adults.
"I did not harm him."
The man with the gun narrowed his eyes at her. "Your kind is not welcome here."
Teyla watched as the man slowly retreated with the others behind him. It was only when he disappeared out of sight did she let go of the breath she had been holding in and considered his words. Her kind?
"Looks like no one's been here for years."
Katie was walking next to Lorne down a cobblestone street while Miller and Cole were up ahead knocking on doors and looking through windows of the quaint Dutch-like village. The village was surrounded by large trees that offered a constant rustling sound from the wind that swayed its bows. If it hadn't been for the absence of people, it would have been peaceful.
"Ten thousand years is a long time to survive, for any race," Lorne offered as he motioned for Miller and Cole to regroup. "Alright," he said as they came to a halt in front of him. "I'm going to take a wild guess and say no one lives here anymore. I'm also willing to bet that what we're looking for is going to be found there." He pointed at the towering building at the end of the street.
There were two things that brought a concerned expression on Lorne's face. The first one was that the tower was a lot taller than it appeared to be. As they stood directly in front of it and craned their necks skyward, they couldn't quite make out the top of the structure. The other concerning factor was that the stairs to climb the tower were located on the outside of the building and there were no railings. Cole muttered something about mountains as they started to ascend the structure.
The first few loops around the building were easy. The steps were even and solid and they kept their pace at an easy climb. But as they started getting higher, the conditions of the steps began to deteriorate fast. At first it was just chips in the stone steps. Then they began to slope away from the tower.
"Try and keep as close to the wall as you can."
It was easier said than done. Some steps had whole chunks missing out of them and then Lorne came to a stop. "Great."
Cole, who was at the back of the line, went on his tip-toes to try and see what the Major was looking at. Even on the tips of his toes he couldn't get a visual. "What's wrong, sir?"
"There's a couple of steps missing."
"It looks like a chuck of the stairs fell off."
"You know," Miller shook his head, "remind me if I ever meet an Ancient to tell them their upkeep sucks."
"I think we can jump it," Lorne said eyeing the other side of the ledge carefully. He decided it was worth the risk and ushered the group back a few steps. Bracing himself, he took a few quick steps and landed on the other side. Letting out a silent exhale, Lorne turned around and held out a hand to Katie. "Okay, your turn, Doc."
Katie wasn't as confident as Major Lorne, but there was little room to shimmy around the men and retreat and the more she looked at the gap, the more she told herself that it didn't look as far as it was. She took a deep breath and jumped forward. Lorne's hand caught her vest and pulled her up to him and away from the ledge.
"See, Doc? Easy as pie."
Miller jumped next and then it was Cole's turn. Cole braced himself and took the leap, only to jump short by an inch. His eyes met Miller's just before his feet slipped from the edge of the stone step and his body fell vertical.
Cole grunted as his hands held tightly to the crumbing piece of stone. His legs were dangling five and a half stories above the ground. "I'm fine," he spoke through his teeth as he tried to pull himself up. There wasn't enough grip to pull himself up and Cole could feel the stone crumbling away beneath his fingers. "A little help?"
It took a few minutes for everyone to get into position before Miller had his hands securely around Cole's wrists and was pulling him up. A little elbow grease and some struggling and the sergeant was pulled up onto the steps.
"Missed a few days at the gym?"
Cole shot Miller a 'very funny' smile as he made sure he had all his equipment.
Ronon's hands were raw from the cold snow he had dug through to get out of the enclosed room. The cold was starting to creep its way into his bones as he moved through the large ice tunnels. There were no signs that the place had been travelled in for a while. Wherever he was, he figured it had been a while since it had seen human traffic.
The quiet of Ronon's surroundings unnerved him a little. He was alone again with only his thoughts to preoccupy him. It had been a while since he had been in a position to listen to his thoughts for more than a few minutes. Ever since he had come to Atlantis, there hadn't been a lot of free time. It was one of the things he liked about being in the city. Seven years on his own had been long enough with his thoughts. But now there was this.
His silent prayers were answered. The telltale sound of a Wraith stunner sounded through the chilly tunnels. It flew past his right and into the snow-covered wall causing a mini avalanche. Ronon glanced back long enough to recognize a Wraith hunter before he was off at a sprint with the hunter close behind him.
Ronon ducked, another blast flying closer to his head this time. The adrenaline that was pumping in his veins again warmed the Satedan as he went into survival mode. He darted off to the right, disappearing in front of the Wraith who turned the corner and was met briefly with an energy blast to the head. The hunter dropped, dead.
The Satedan stepped over to the body to make sure the Wraith wasn't going to get up. When Ronon was satisfied, he let out a silent exhale and looked down the corridor he had run through. His thoughts were on Teyla and Sheppard. If the Wraith were here, they were probably in danger.
His thoughts were cut short when another stunner blast erupted the snowy mound above his head. Ronon looked back through the falling snow to see two more hunters down the end of the hall. His eyes narrowed and he let out a slow, throaty growl as he shot back at them, but he only wounded one in the shoulder.
Ronon was sprinting away from the pursuing Wraith, zigzagging to avoid the shots of the stunners as he veered left. He shot back at them as the Wraith turned. He killed one, but the wounded one still pursued. A frustrated growl escaped the man's lips as he disappeared down another narrow corridor of ice. He was running with little sense of direction.
By the time he realized the Wraith was no longer behind him, he was standing in the entrance of a large cavern. Large, pointed icicles that looked longer and thicker than Ronon hung from the ceiling and jutted up from the floor. Ronon leaned on one of them to catch his breath. The Wraith hadn't been soldiers, they had been hunters. If this was a simple Wraith attack, the hunters wouldn't have been dispatched to deal with the humans. It wasn't their way.
The soft crunch of snow to the right caught his attention. It was the wounded Wraith. Ronon frowned; he thought he had lost him. The feeling was disturbingly familiar. Ronon inched around the large ice column out of view of his pursuer. His hand snaked behind to his back and over his scars. His breath caught for second as he felt a bump that hadn't been there for three years.
He didn't have time to think as a blast hit the ice column and set shards of ice scattering over him. Ronon pushed off the column, shooting arbitrarily behind him. The Wraith was joined with four others and they began their pursuit. Their shots moved from Ronon to the ceiling, aiming for the base of the icicles.
Ronon glanced up just in time to see the first mammoth ice tower fall from the ceiling. He growled, veered left, and was knocked to the ground by the concussive force. His heart was racing, tension building in his chest as his muscles corded. A way out. His instincts were to find a way out. There were too many of them. They were gaining ground, circling around him. There was no escape and his gun was low on ammo.
"So you have a theory?"
"Aye," Carson nodded to Elizabeth and finished placing the last sensor on her chest. "When I drew your blood sample the first time, there was no evidence of the Navo Gene at all, but then I decided to test a sample of blood I already had in the lab and there were traces of the activated enzymes."
"How is that possible?"
"That is what I'm trying to figure out."
Doctor Beckett moved over to the counter and retrieved a machine that was connected to what looked like an IV needle.
"This is going to monitor the enzymes in your blood," he told her and took her wrist in his hands and carefully slid the needle into the appropriate vein. "Has Colonel Sheppard checked in yet?"
Elizabeth winced only slightly when the needle went in and suppressed the sigh that urged to come out.
"Not yet. They aren't overdue for another hour or so."
Carson noticed the familiar strain in his friend's voice and gave her a smile.
"I'm sure they're alright, Elizabeth."
The machine began beeping.
"What?" Elizabeth craned her neck to look at the monitoring machine, but couldn't understand the information written on it.
"The enzymes are already active."
"They are? What did I do?"
"I don't know," Carson pressed a few buttons on the machine thoughtfully and then looked to Elizabeth. "Do you trust me?"
Elizabeth eyed the doctor suspiciously. "Yes."
Carson reached out and pinched Elizabeth's arm, which prompted in the woman crying out both in surprise and in pain. "Carson!"
Carson's eyes were focused on the monitors. Finally, he pulled away to look at Doctor Weir. "I'm sorry. I was testing a theory."
The initial ache subsided, but Elizabeth continued to rub the spot anyways. "And?"
"And I think I figured it out," Carson said and paused, but saw the familiar 'continue' expression on Doctor Weir's face. "Emotions. The higher stressed you are, the more the gene seems to work. I imagine it does the same with other emotions as well."
"But the previous blood sample…"
"Was from right after the siege by the Wraith."
It seemed longer than a half an hour had passed as Teyla wandered through the damp, heated tunnels before she came to a dead end. The only way left was up. Rocks jutted out of the wall sporadically enough for her to pull herself up. The top of the vertical climb revealed a crawl space which forced Teyla onto her hands and knees. The ground was warm to the touch and as she continued through the low hanging, she began to notice various pin-sized holes dotted the surface. It was only when the first erupted, a blast of heavily heated steam shooting through the hole and darkening the ceiling, did she realize what it was.
Her pace picked up, trying her best to evade the seemingly random bursts of hot condensation. Soon the crawl space was tall enough for a crouch and Teyla used her new position to move faster as the geysers continued to spray. She cried out as her arm grazed to side of a blast and turned to spot an opening several metres away. Biting back the aching pain, Teyla pressed on towards the exit, but as she approached the tunnel three large men appeared and blocked her way.
She opened her mouth to ask for assistance, but all that came out was a rough cough and a weak, but urgent, "please!"
The men didn't move. Their gaze was passive, but judgemental as they stood with their arms across their chests. Another blast of steam shot up beside her, causing her to fall backwards. The fall gave her a glimpse of another exit across the room. Crawling again, Teyla scurried towards it, only to be met with three more stone-faced people.
"Please!" She coughed. "Let me through."
There was no answer and Teyla was forced to turn and look for an alternate route again. But there was no other way out. Teyla dodged another geyser as she ran back to the first blocked tunnel, but was met with the same barrier.
She collapsed onto her knees. The heat from the steam was too great. It was making it hard for her to breath. Heaving, Teyla was able to gasp out a "Why?" to the cruel men blocking her path.
"Your kind is not welcome."
Teyla shook her head as she tried to catch her breath.
"What," she swallowed hard, "kind?"
"Wraith!" another one spat.
She looked aghast, head shaking emphatically.
"I am," she shouted harshly, "no Wraith."
Teyla's eyes shot up to the man and for a brief, but powerful moment she felt the urge to grab him and take his life. She blinked, her hands going to her head as she shut her eyes.
"No!" She shouted, shaking her head furiously as she held it. "I am no Wraith."
"But you hunger the same as them!"
Teyla shut her eyes tighter as the same sickening feeling started boiling in the depth of her belly.
"No!" She doubled over, arms out to brace herself. "I am not! No!"
The floor below her gave way and she fell, landing unconscious on her side.
One hour and three more gap-leaps later and they were nearing the top. The higher they got, the harder the wind began to blow. By the time they reached the top, the Atlantis team was inching up the steps with their backs against the wall. The top of the tower was completely flat with no railings or pillars or anything to hold onto and the strength of the wind was enough to send even the heaviest man falling over.
Lorne took the last few steps up onto the platform and almost flew off as a gust of wind hit him. He braced himself in time, leaning forward in a crouch and crept towards the middle. Intricate shapes and lines decorated the stone surface and seemed to point towards the centre.
When Lorne reached the centre, he saw it: the crystal. It was tucked into the stone surface and was in so tight he couldn't pry it out with his fingers. He had to resort to taking out his combat knife and chipping away at the stone until he could jimmy it out. Major Lorne had it tucked away in his vest pocket when the wind stopped suddenly and the entire island began to shake. You have got to be kidding me.
He scrambled back to the stairs. "We need to get out of here fast."
His team didn't have to be told twice. They made their way down the tower as quickly as humanly possible and were back in the city by the time the top of the tower was crumbling down.
"What's happening?" Miller was bent over taking a moment to catch his breath.
"The city." Lorne said with his eyes on the windmills below. "It's falling."
"From the sky?"
Major Lorne was right. The floating mass of land was slowly descending towards the planet's surface. He had a feeling they didn't still want to be on the rock when it landed.
"We need a way off this thing."
"Anyone have any umbrellas?" Cole asked, but promptly shut his mouth from the glare Lorne shot at him.
"What about there?" Katie was pointing at a small mill tucked away between two houses. It was worth a shot. By the time they got to the mill the buildings around them were losing their structural integrity. Various debris was falling everywhere as they yanked the door to the mill open and scampered inside.
The inside of the mill was different from the one on the planet's surface. There were no pulleys or oats. There wasn't even wood. Instead, the entire interior was sand-yellow stone and in the middle was an obelisk with a jewel in the middle. Lorne and his team approached it and Lorne good-naturally reached out and touched it. There was a flash of light.
John's voice carried over the still grotto with little hope of actually getting an answer. From what he could see, there was only a small rocky platform that led to a still pool of water that was illuminated from the bottom. The shadows from the pool danced along the jagged ceiling and over his body, giving him a false sense of serenity. Colonel Sheppard would have been put at ease if it wasn't for the sinking feeling he was getting. His attention was on the wall behind him. It had been a mirror a minute ago, but there was no sign of possible re-entry. He frowned to himself before checking his watch. They were running out of time.
The hushed, soft sound of water dripping caused him to turn. His eyes widened slightly as he caught a glimpse of a familiar-looking brunette dive under water.
"Elizabeth?" He practically whispered as he slowly stepped towards the pool of water.
It was hard to see beneath the water's surface, but he was able to spot a hint of red moving around at the bottom of the pool. His brow furrowed as he considered what it all meant. Could it be Elizabeth? It had been her, hadn't it? There were just too many uncertainties to ignore. If Elizabeth was here, he wanted to make sure she was safe and once she was safe, he would have some words with her about following them to the planet.
John quickly removed his boots, his guns, his vest, and anything else that could possibly drag him down into the water. Tossing his jacket into the pile, John slowly lowered himself into the pool as if disturbing the water was dangerous. When he could no longer hold himself up above water, John began to kick gently until he was far enough away from the shore to dive under.
Opening his eyes under water proved easier than he thought. The water was fresh, not salty, but unlike the water on the surface of the planet, he couldn't breathe in it. His eyes quickly surveyed the surrounding area and he was able to catch sight of standard issue expedition boots disappearing behind a rock.
He pushed on, his chest only mildly beginning to burn as he turned and tried not to lose the air he held. It was Elizabeth. He would recognize the figure any day. She turned under the water and seemed to smile at him before beckoning for John to follow with a gesture. He had little choice but to obey. He was running out of air and hoped Elizabeth knew where she was going.
As John turned another corner, Elizabeth had disappeared again. He frowned, but saw a faint light a few metres away. At least there was a surface. He pushed himself towards the surface. The moment his head broke the water, John Sheppard was gasping for air. His lungs burned and his throat ached, but his military training kicked in and he calmed himself within a few minutes.
He turned in the water, completing a full circle before heading towards the only side with a shore. It was a lot like the grotto he had left, but his equipment wasn't where he had left it and the last room hadn't had the abundance of ice mirrors like this one had. It felt as though he were walking through a fun house.
Movement to the left caught his eye - the red uniform again. John pursued slowly, cautiously. If it really was Elizabeth, why hadn't she just talked to him? The ice was like a maze. When he caught Elizabeth running to the left, he would move and run into an ice wall. The cat and mouse game seemed to continue for a while before John finally emerged in a round room.
Elizabeth stood, back facing him, standing over the husks of two corpses which looked as if they had been fed on by the Wraith. His brow furrowed in concern as he heard the faint sounds of whimpering. Was Elizabeth Weir crying?
"Elizabeth?" John called out softly and watched as her back stiffened and her whimper stopped.
"Go away!" Her voice was shaky, but there was no question that it was, in fact, Elizabeth. She sounded frightened and it made John's heart tighten.
"Elizabeth, what's wrong?"
Elizabeth shook her head and seemed to suppress a sob. His eyes moved to the two dead bodies and the line on his forehead deepened. He recognized the clothes. Athosian and Satedan – could the bodies be Ronon and Teyla? There was little question once John's eyes fell on Ronon's familiar gun.
"What happened? Are you alright?" John was slowly advancing on Elizabeth as quietly as he could. He didn't want to startle her, but he couldn't stay away. He needed to see her, hold her, and make sure she was alright. When he got close enough to her, he reached out, but she pulled away.
"Get away from me!"
John's expression fell as he struggled to hide the hurt that lingered in his eyes. Why wouldn't she let him help her?
"Elizabeth…" he pleaded.
She turned and it was John's military instincts that swept down and grabbed Ronon's gun and pointed it to her. Her once white and fair skin was blue and scaly. She was turning into an iratus bug, just like he had before. He felt like his heart was being crushed by a hand as he stared at her in disbelief. "Elizabeth?"
"I did this, John!" She gestured frantically to the bodies and had tears in her eyes. "I can't stop myself."
John faltered for a moment and tried desperately to collect his thoughts.
"We'll work this out."
She shook her head. "I can't stop myself. I'm a monster."
John's lips pressed together. "We fixed this before, we can fix it again."
Elizabeth shook her head again. "No, John. Not this time."
"Why not?" His stubborn expression mixed with the fear that was in his heart and hardened on his face. Elizabeth took a step towards him.
"Even now, John, I hunger. I need to feed, John."
"You can fight it, Elizabeth."
"No, John, I can't!" Her eyes seemed to cloud. He recognized that look. He had had it when he was turning – animalistic and wild. Elizabeth was fading and the creature was taking over. She took a threatening step forward.
"Shoot me, John!"
"You have to!"
"It's the only way."
"There's always another way."
"But I'll kill you!"
She lunged out at him with a carnal cry and he didn't think. Colonel John Sheppard pulled the gun on Elizabeth Weir. She lurched and then sunk forward into his arms. John couldn't breathe. His heart was racing and his mind was on overdrive.
As he turned her over, he sank to the ground as if the air had been knocked out of him. There was no scales, no yellow eyes, no nothing. She was perfect. She was human. What had just happened?
"Elizabeth?" He cradled her lifeless body in his arms. His head buried into her hair. He could smell her shampoo and he bit back a sob of his own. What did I just do?
"Boy, is Doctor Weir going to be mad with you," Cole joked. Lorne glared at him, and he added with a small smile, "Sir."
"It's not my fault," Lorne sighed as they climbed the steep path up.
"Still one heck of a record, sir," Miller offered while helping Katie over a large boulder. "Two Jumpers in under a week. That has to be a record or something."
"I think we should go for three."
Lorne looked at Cole and Miller. "Ha, ha. Very funny guys," he had a smile on his face as they reached the top of the path and were faced with a DHD and the Stargate.
"Okay sergeant, dial it up."
I'm done running. I'm going to stand and fight.
I am not the same as a Wraith. I am different. I do not hunger. I can overcome.
I had to. It was the only way.
Suddenly Teyla, Ronon, and John found themselves back in the elaborate room with Pax and the snide-looking man. Pax had a smile on her lips and a sapphire crystal in a box in her hands. It was easy to tell how shaken the three of them were. John, especially, was looking down at his empty hands in disbelief.
"John?" Teyla asked softly.
John's eyes remained focused on his hands. "Elizabeth…" He muttered under his breath before looking up to Teyla and Ronon with an almost panicked concern. "Did either of you see Elizabeth?"
Teyla's brow furrowed in confusion. She opened her mouth to reply when she was interrupted.
"Congratulations," Pax slowly stepped towards them as they climbed to their feet. "You all have proven yourself worthy. Here is the crystal of Arnemetia."
John was stunned, but held out his hands for the box regardless.
"What the hell was –"
"A test," the snide man curtly replied. "Of your greatest fears. Now you must hurry. You are running out of time."
John looked at his watch. The man was right. He pressed the comm. button on his radio. "Rodney, come in."
There was a moment's pause before a frantic sounding scientist was on the air waves.
"Sheppard! We have a problem!"
"What is it?"
"Let's just say I've been treading water for the last twenty minutes and I'm getting tired!"
There are things in Elizabeth's life she regrets, things she wishes she could go back and change. For example, telling her mother where she is regardless to the security protocol. It won't be a pleasant day for her only parent when she finds out her daughter has been killed and no one can tell her how, why or even where. Along with this, Elizabeth wishes she hadn't spent the first year here thinking Simon would wait for her. She should have known better. She regrets this wasted time that she could have spent with John Sheppard. They could have two years of history between them by now instead of six months.
She's fallen in love with him and for the life of her right now, standing in front of the sensors screen looking at the vast amount of space, she can't deny it. She's fallen in love with a man who's waited six long and arduous months for her. She can't even begin to contemplate how sexually frustrated he must be right now. He was so patient and understanding and she couldn't ignore how much she loved him for it. Can't ignore that he's spent every night of the last god knows how long in her bed fully clothed.
Yet at the same time she's afraid of their relationship. She wants so much, wants to be known as Doctor Elizabeth Sheppard; though she doubts she'll actually take his name. Wants to have children with him, grow old with him and so much more. The only problem is she has absolutely no idea if he wants any of that. Mara has brought most of this into perspective for her. She's grown attached to the girl and now somehow she finds herself feeling like a mother and all those times women say their uterus skipped a beat finally makes sense to her.
And now it could be too late.
Fear has been plaguing her for the last nine hours. She never expected John and Lorne to return within the day; she'd be a fool to believe it was that easy to get out there, find the crystal and get back. This morning though, she stepped into the control room and Chuck had tentatively approached to tell her neither team had returned. They'd tried contact of course, but the radios just returned static.
The gate behind her began to dial and she checked her watch. On the hour, every hour Chuck dialled and attempted to contact the teams. Nine times so far they had received nothing and she'd stood standing at the sensors the whole time. That was another fear in itself and this time it was paired with frustration as the empty looking space continued to deny her knowledge of the approaching doom.
This made her feel helpless as well. How did you prepare to fight an enemy you didn't know anything about and couldn't see?
She was responsible for every person in this city. There were 137 expedition members under her command and a further 48 Athosians who had chosen Atlantis's mainland over their new settlement. Of course Elizabeth couldn't blame them, a choice between fend for and defend yourself or fend for yourself and aid your allies wasn't much of a choice at all, especially against the Wraith. Right now, the only thing Elizabeth was grateful for was the fact that the Wraith thought Atlantis was destroyed.
Regret, love, need, fear, frustration, helplessness and responsibility; it was amazing that Elizabeth had managed to keep her sanity for as long as she had. She could hear Chuck behind her, updating her on the lack of contact with their off world teams, but she couldn't respond. She leaned forward on the console that stood in front of her and closed her eyes as the need to scream, kick and cry washed over her. It was all too much. Why couldn't something go right just for once? Why couldn't they just get that extra bit of help from all their knowledge and advanced gene therapy to tell them how far away these people were?
"Doctor Weir?" Chuck said and she felt his hand on her shoulder. Her heart pounded in her chest, her head ready to explode with the overwhelming emotion and she was bleakly aware of the beeping from a nearby computer as something flickered on the sensor screen before everything turned black in her vision. She was still there, standing and thinking for several minutes. She could hear the voices of the people around her. The sounds of the machines and tapping of fingers on keyboards before her head swam and her knees buckled. She felt the strong arms around her for a bare minute before there was nothing.
Radek sighed. He'd been staring at the computer screen for hours without a break and he could feel the dull ache behind his eyes increasing with time. Since Carson's request for information on the gene he had been doing research, but now he had two things to look for. The gene had been put aside slightly. Carson had the files they'd found on his own computer while Radek spent most of him looking for the weapon.
He knew the doctor was making some progress. He'd passed Elizabeth several times throughout the day as she headed to or from the infirmary and on one break he'd walked with her and stood for a moment as Carson did another test. He knew from that one time that she'd become quickly annoyed with this whole situation. She didn't want to have this unknown gene and she didn't really want to know what it did or how to use it. She'd told him, however, that Carson had been insistent the first time she'd tried to avoid the trip, putting on a hefty guilt trip about the progress of medical science and how they knew of no one else who possessed the gene.
Radek had suggested she order Carson to test the city for it and then as they stepped into the infirmary had wondered aloud if someone could posses both the Ancient and the Navo Gene. Carson had loved that idea and had taken Radek's blood before turning to several of his nurses, selecting those with the gene and drawing blood from them too. Elizabeth had given him a smile of thanks as he escaped the room.
"Lucror," he muttered again to himself as he spotted the word in yet another file. Problem was he was seeing it out of the context he required. The file he was currently scanning used it for winning a bet made between two factions of the city. It made him wondered just how alike the Ancients were to them, separating the city into regions and sectors almost like gangs.
A previous file had been a personal file that had used it in a `win the girl' context that Radek had found sickening. The person who had written it had seemed to think the girl was a prize or piece of land to be owned. He hadn't made it all the way through that file, getting sick of the man's attitude before he'd closed it down and marked it worthless so no one else would bother looking. The current file was explaining the profit one woman had earned against her competitor when she'd secured a deal with another company of the same type.
Radek signed again and closed the file, marking it the same as the last two and clicked lazily on the next. For a moment, and not for the first time, Radek hated Rodney McKay. It had after all been him who'd dumped this job on Radek. If Rodney had done his own work, Radek could still be working on the newest piece of equipment.
He flicked through file after file; not really concentrating on what he was opening and making them to be ignored as he went. He was considering dinner when he opened another file and froze. The diagrams flicked through like a gallery in front of him. The design, like most other ancient tech, was detailed and marked with each component. However it wasn't the fact that he'd come across a diagram that shocked him. It was what he was looking at. At the top of the schematic, the words translated to 'Transport Weapon' and in brackets it said 'Lucror'.
Radek yanked the laptop off its base and darted out the door. He needed to check this out. He knew this piece of equipment, knew where it was and what it looked liked. He'd been working on it at 4am the previous morning with Rodney, just before Mara showed up.
He rounded the corner and ran straight into one of the technicians and apologised hastily and moved into the room he was heading for. It was still there, standing in the middle of the room with his tools scattered around it as if it were ceremonial by nature. He moved around to stand in front of it and looked down over the control panel.
"So," he said, eyeing the buttons. "What do you do?"
Carson felt a little trapped. When he'd received the call to the control room he'd thought the worst, that the aliens had arrived and attacked someone. He felt relieved only to find Elizabeth had passed out and thankful that Chuck had been quick enough to catch her. But that was the wrong way to feel - especially for a doctor.
He'd determined that she wasn't in any danger while listening to the conversation going on around him. The sensors had come alive, displaying an unknown vessel on the scanner and every living thing in range. Though they weren't just shown, they were marked clearly. Even a Wraith ship was marked `Wraith Hive'. He made sure Elizabeth was secure on gurney and gave the medics a few quick orders before turning to Chuck.
"I don't know. She's been standing there looking at the sensors most of the morning. I dialled to try and contact Lorne and Sheppard's teams and gave her the update and she sort of just passed out as the sensors went crazy."
"She didn't say anything?"
"Hasn't said anything for hours," Chuck offered. Carson nodded and turned to walk away. "Doc, I don't think she's had anything to eat or drink all morning," Chuck said, Carson thanked him and quickly made his way back to the infirmary.
He was barely through the door before he ordered a nurse to take a blood sample from Elizabeth. He paused near another nurse and quietly asked her to bring lunch and a bottle of water back for Elizabeth before he moved on to get a report from the medic.
He took a seat next to her bed, watching as blood was taken and another nurse set up the standard monitors and asked if she should start a drip. He understood that Elizabeth was under a lot of pressure when something like this happened and every time they came up against a new foe he found himself caught between taking her food and talking her into walking away for a few minutes to eat.
This time though, he suspected there was a completely different reason for her current state of unconsciousness. Late teams, enemy on the way and a city of people who were wound tight on nerves; her emotions must have sky rocketed. Chuck's comments about the sensors were sparking his curiosity to new heights. If Rodney were in the city, he would contacted him to ask if it was possible there was more than one level to Ancient technology, a sub level of more complex circuitry that only reacted to their recently discovered gene.
The nurse returned and place a sandwich, an apple and a bottle of water on the bed side table. He nodded to her and quickly checked over Elizabeth's vitals. There was no reason for her to still be unconscious and he was only going to give her a few more minutes before he used other methods of waking her.
Before he'd been called, Carson had been studying a sample of blood he'd taken from her the day before. He had just compared it to the first sample he took, noting that it had intensified since the time he'd taken it and that it had also taken on a few new properties. He did want to go back to that now, but he also couldn't turn away from his patient, at least not until she was conscious and eating.
"Carson," Elizabeth's voice made him jump and he turned his face to look down at her. "What happened?"
"You fainted, love," he said and turned as another doctor approached with a computer. "Though I have my suspicions as to why."
He accepted the computer from his colleague and scanned the blood results. As he suspected, the Navo Gene was running wild in her sample and again the unusual property he had seen earlier was present. It was familiar; he had seen it before but he just couldn't remember where.
"What would that be?" she asked, picking up the bottle of water.
"Well," he said, getting up and pulling the divider curtains in place. "What were you thinking about while staring at the sensors?" He didn't know why he expected her to answer, but he picked up the sandwich and apple all the same and placed them on her lap as she sat up.
"Everything," was all she could manage.
"Aye, I imagine your mother came to mind. All the people in the city. Your currently absent teams," he said picking up the computer again and opened a blood comparison chart. "The fact is, Elizabeth, your Navo Gene strength has been growing over the last few days. The closer to danger we've become the more powerful it sparks on your blood tests. What I don't understand is why I didn't discover it when the Wraith attacked."
Elizabeth's head dropped her chest. He could see the cogs working and he wondered if there was anything different now than there was back then. In their first year, before the Wraith had attacked, Carson had learned that Elizabeth had left someone behind when she agreed to the expedition. He also knew that that relationship had ended shortly after their initial return, and he'd only found out then because she'd been in every night for a sleeping pill.
"What's changed in the last year, Elizabeth?"
She peeled her sandwich open and peeked at the cheese and tomato content for a moment. He wondered if she'd actually take a bite from it or if she'd just pick it apart like he'd seen her do so many times before. Elizabeth raised it to her mouth, hesitated, then took a bite from the corner of the triangle cut. Carson sat back and waited, considering changing his question or getting up to move onto something else.
"After the nanite incident," she took a breath. "John came to make sure I was alright. I think I scared him, sitting on my bed staring at the wall without answering. I was tired," she looked up at him, "but I was afraid to sleep in case I woke up back there; back on Earth in that same mental hospital."
"I knew he was the one to call Doctor Heightmeyer. I read that report."
"It didn't help much," she said with a shy smile, "at least not the first day. I still wouldn't sleep. I was afraid to even blink at that point. John refused to leave, threatened to sit in my chair all night if that's what it took for me to get some rest."
Carson gave a small laugh. He would have done the same if he'd seen her in that state, though back then the only people with access to her room were John Sheppard and Kate Heightmeyer. Carson had kept his distance knowing that if medical intervention was needed then he'd be the first point of contact.
"He did," she offered. "He sat there all night. Neither of us slept. And then he was back the next night, and the night after that," she sighed. "Until I asked him why."
"He cares a great deal about you," Carson said. Elizabeth nodded and picked a small chunk of her sandwich off to pop into her mouth.
"He still comes," she said quietly, almost at a whisper. "Only now it's not for the comfort or to make sure I sleep. I can't honestly say that watching him step through the gate doesn't feel different now. I used to just hope he'd come back alive and with all his team..." she trailed off.
She looked up, her eyes meeting his and he was taken aback by the amount of emotion he could see in them. For the first time since he'd met her she was showing her feelings for what they really were. And he could see quite clearly that she'd fallen in love with John.
"I pray every time."
Carson let out a sigh and looked back down at the screen. He'd give her a few minutes to compose herself. Mostly because he needed them to catch his breath over what he'd just found out, but also because he respected her enough not to push or remind her that a part of her job was sending Colonel Sheppard out without knowing what he'd face.
"The gene is being intensified by these emotions," he said after a few minutes. "They've taken on a property I've only seen in one other place. It took me by surprise and I just had to go back to Ronon's DNA to check, but in the same location in both your DNAs is a strand that I suspected saved him and his people from being fed on by the Wraith."
"I have the same DNA marker that stops the Wraith feeding on Ronon?"
"Aye," he said with a nod, still not meeting her eye. "It's only in the strongest of emotions but I suspect face to face with any Wraith will bring that out," she chuckled and he looked up with a smile. "You should also know that before you collapsed you activated a few new sensors. Seems things are popping up on the monitor we never saw before."
"Finally some advantages," she said with a weak smile. Carson smiled back before patting her leg.
"Finish your lunch," he said more as an order than a suggestion. "Then you can go and find out about your new sensors," he stood up and moved away.
"Carson," she stopped him and waited for him to turn back to her. "Thank you."
"'Lure forth' must be connected to `assist'. The thigh bone's connected to the hip bone," Radek muttered, reading the instructions he had found for the weapon. The last part wasn't there, but it was just a list of parts that were collected together. Not that any of it made any sense.
He sighed, staring at the instructions with a creased brow. What were `Lure forth' and `assist'? They were very confusing words in the sentence. But then again, he was translating from Ancient to English; maybe he should leave the words as they were.
"'Prolixi' must be connected to `Subvenio'. And the neck bone's connected to the back bone," he added, thinking this was more like a body diagram for a weapon than anything else he'd ever seen. This connected to that, which connected to something and then something else. Though from what he understood, they all connected to a centre two panels - those two, `Prolixi' and `Subvenio'. Now he just had to work out what they were. He knew that the one he was leaning on was one of the named parts of the weapon, but he didn't know which and more daunting was that he didn't know where the rest of them where.
He wondered if Carson was having this much trouble with his files or if Elizabeth had accidentally used her gene to activate some console they had long since abandoned. He quirked a brow at the thought. If she could switch on panels and controls that no one with the ATA Gene could, that could explain a lot about the technology. It made sense that finding a new gene would be important to city's control. They could lock any number of things with a gene very few of the population possessed.
Like a weapon.
"D... Doctor Weir," he said, fumbling to activate his radio and waited impatiently for a reply. For several moments, in which Radek rescued his laptop from hitting the floor, there was no answer. He dropped his computer on the desk behind him and rushed out the door. He ran to the transporter and from there to the control room. Out of breath, he pointed into Elizabeth's empty office in a question to the nearest technician for her whereabouts.
"I think she was summoned back to the infirmary," Chuck said and Radek knew he used the word `summoned' correctly. Sighing, he took off back down the stairs and followed the well walked route to the medical bay. He was vastly out of breath when he stepped into the room and he spotted Elizabeth's red shirt quickly as she stepped out of the scanner room.
"Radek?" she asked, approaching him with her radio in hand and concern on her face.
"I," he said, pausing to take a deep breath. "You need," he took another breath and smiled at Carson as he joined them. "Tell me you have progress," he said quickly.
"Some," Carson offered. "Still not sure how the Ancients made use of the gene or even if they did."
"I think they did," Radek said. "I think that's why Mara told you about it. The console we've been working on is part of the weapon," he explained, watching Elizabeth straighten her back at that piece of information. "'Prolixi' and `Subvenio"' he repeated. "I think it takes two people to run, one with the ATA and one with the Navo Gene."
"Which would be which?" Carson asked.
"I think Prolixi would be for the new gene, `lure forth'. And the ATA would be Supvenio, `assist'."
"Makes it sound like the ATA took a step back when they discovered the Navo," Elizabeth said and Radek could feel the contempt in the statement. He was starting to get a new idea about the people they were trying to learn about and it wasn't looking all that much different from them. He moved on quickly.
"I think the console hasn't been working because it's locked to the Navo Gene," he explained. "The only way to find out..."
"Is for Elizabeth to try and activate it."
"I don't have time for this," she said. "I left Mara in the control room and no one's seen her for a few hours, not to mention I have reports to write and..."
"Elizabeth, none of that is gonna help if we can't protect ourselves," Carson said and Radek watched the moment of weakness that forced Elizabeth to drop her head and stare at the floor.
"Alright," she said, "I'll be along shortly."
Lorne stepped back into Atlantis a little ahead of his team. He'd left Cole to take up the rear before leaving their windy planet and dead jumper behind him. He knew he'd have to explain the jumper and couldn't help but think their lives and the crystal were the more important aspects of the mission, at least right now.
"Doctor Weir," he said with a short nod as she approached him.
"Major, everything alright?"
"Sure," he said with a smile. "We love climbing millions of stairs on the outside of a building in a force nine gale. But we're back and in record time I might add."
Weirs brow raised and he knew she didn't agree. He had hoped to beat Sheppard's team back but apparently he wasn't that lucky.
"How long is record time?" she asked and his brow creased.
"Eleven hours and seventeen minutes," Katie put in, checking her watch. "It was a long walk without the jumper and then finding the right windmill and all those stairs."
Lorne shifted uncomfortably. "How long have we been gone, ma'am?"
"Just over thirty three hours."
"What?" Cole spat. "That's impossible."
"We weren't there more than a day," Miller added.
"We don't know how long we were there," Lorne pointed out. "When we stepped into that cave and out the other side the sun was in a different place," he gave Doctor Weir an apologetic look. "Any ideas how long until our new friends arrive?"
"Two hours," she said. "I need you all through your post mission medical ASAP. Major, you, Cole and Miller need to report to Lieutenant Simard to take over the preparations for the attack. Doctor Brown, civilian personnel are being moved to sub levels. I recommend you take only what you can carry. Last minute evacuations are a possibility."
"Ma'am," Lorne said, stopping her from turning away. "Colonel Sheppard's team?"
"They're not back yet. Contact with both your team and theirs has been impossible."
She turned and walked back to the stairs and Evan turned back to his team to dismiss them before he was stopped.
"Major, what happened to the jumper?"
"We, erm, had a bit of a rough landing and it, erm," he scratched at his chin idly for a moment. "We lost it over a cliff. It's sitting on a ledge about thirty feet below gate level."
"Any chance it can be recovered?"
"Well," he said licking his lips. "We have twenty years to think of a way around the wind shear and cliff side drop."
She hummed at him in contemplation before starting up the stairs. He turned to follow his team out of the gate room and ran his hand idly through his hair for the first time since they left. It was a complete mess, sticking up in all directions. Somehow he wished he had it shaved like Cole to avoid looking like Sheppard.
"This isn't working," Elizabeth complained an hour later.
"Maybe we're missing something?" Carson suggested looking down at the schematics Radek had open on his computer. He wasn't likely to understand them, but maybe there was something they'd overlooked.
"Like the rest of the weapon?" Elizabeth said with a touch of sarcasm. For a whole hour they'd stood there trying to work out why it didn't work. They'd tried various ways of evoking emotion in Elizabeth one of which nearly had her walking out the door. Carson was pretty sure he'd never again ask her if her mother was worried about her; not knowing where her daughter was for most of the year and only seeing her once.
Carson looked up at her with a curious expression, his brows raised. His brain was running through the possibility that she was right, or that the machine was powered by the most intense emotion they could muster.
"You've grown quite attached to Mara," Carson said daringly and watched as her stance changed to something slightly protective. She knew this game of his by now. "Does it worry you that no one's seen her for a few hours?"
"She's a five year old girl with no parents, Carson. Of course it worries me."
Nothing happened with the console and Carson almost let out a sigh of frustration before something occurred to him. When he'd been testing his theory on an emotion driven gene, he'd mentioned John again and the readings had spiked to the highest he'd seen. If Colonel Sheppard was in the city, he'd call him down here, but he was still off world so he'd have to settle for a mention.
"Someone mentioned it looked like you'd become a second mother to her," he said and Elizabeth's brow rose. "And Colonel Sheppard had become her second father."
Her other brow rose and her cheeks coloured. She quickly averted her eyes and he could see the idea working its way over her face just as the console flickered to life under her hands. Carson exchanged a look with Radek before the scientist started to work at his computer.
"How long have they been there?" Lorne asked, stopping in front of the sensor screen.
Elizabeth checked her watch before turning her attention back to the white blip on the screen labelled `Xe-ne'. When Carson said she had activated a few new sensors she figured one or two new things had shown up. Instead she had come back to the control room and felt as though she was looking at the whole galaxy and every life in it. It had been Chuck who pointed out the one important thing amongst the craze of new beings.
"About half an hour," she answered the major and checked her watch again.
"Maybe they're deciding the best way to kill us," Miller offered. Elizabeth quirked her brow and turned her head to look at him. "Sorry," he muttered.
"Maybe they're just scanning us, seeing how many people are in the city and what weapons we have active."
"How many of us are Human, Ancient and Navo," Elizabeth added, saying the last word as though it was a dirty one.
"Or perhaps their wondering if negotiations would work," Chuck offered.
"Wonderful," Elizabeth spat a little too sarcastically. "Just what we need is another race telling us we don't belong here and we should leave before they kill us all," she said before turning and heading back to her office. "Let me know if something changes."
She stepped into her office, rounded her desk and dropped into her chair. Today was turning into one of the worst days of her life, though she had yet to decide if it was better or worse than the Wraith siege. She opened her email and browsed through the subjects looking for something interesting to occupy her mind. Not finding anything to distract her, she opened an old message from John. It wasn't work related and even with him still off world she knew it would make her smile.
She managed only a few lines before her attention was drawn. She looked up as Lorne's gun was raised, she heard the click of the safety being switched off and her eyes settled on a thin, pale blue form standing in her office. Elizabeth rose to her feet and caught a glimpse of several others along the bridge and in the control room before she turned her attention back to the person standing almost directly in front of her.
Its skin was so pale it could have been white and there were no scars to show there had been any conflict somewhere along the line. The only broken skin was on the forehead where four small pointed horns protruded and curved upwards to the hairline. Beyond that they were perfectly smooth as if they were made of ice.
Eyes of pure white stared at Elizabeth, giving her an uneasy feeling of being looked through or at least as far through her skull as if to read her thoughts. It was as though they were cleansing her soul while looking as thought they weren't seeing a thing. His face held dark blue lips, formed in a straight line and entirely un-amused.
Atop their heads, their hair was cut short, just shy of shoulder length. The roots black and the tips blue-white like water and equally as transparent. Ram's horns curled from the head following the same tint of the hair as it shaded from black to white. She couldn't help take in the masculine build of the man, and for the first time Elizabeth wondered if it was male or female. Scales littered the skin she could see, curling around the beings side as though they were tentacles from their origin. They were shaped like jewels and glittered with each breath it took.
Elizabeth swallowed, wondering if she should address it first and at a lost for how. A mix of male and female features confused the being's gender. She licked her lips, stealing a glance over its' shoulder at Lorne, who was still standing at arms' length with an alien in a similar stance.
"You should not be here," he said. She decided it was male from the tone of its voice.
"I disagree. You shouldn't be here. This city belonged to the Ancients and most of my people carry their genes. You can't say the same, can you?"
"Are you as arrogant as they?"
"I like to think we're learning from their mistakes," she offered in hopes that showing a weakness would go in their favour. "We've read their logs and visited old friends... in hopes that we can rebuild what they once had."
"They were misguided, deluded and it led to the destruction of so much and the deaths of so many. What makes you think you will not make the same mistakes?"
"I can't assume we won't make mistakes. I can only hope ours won't be as deadly and that we can correct them," she told him. His eyes narrowed on her briefly and she suppressed a shudder as he studied her from head to toe. "We're not the people you once knew. We are their decadence and we are only just learning what they built for themselves."
"That makes you more irresponsible and reckless."
"We're careful with our experiments."
"Are you careful with other cultures when you visit new planets?" he asked, taking a step forward. "Are you careful in your dealings with the Wraith?"
"My people have used the gate for over a decade to visit other worlds and we try to help other cultures as often as we can without interfering with the natural course of their development," she said, catching sight of Lorne moving into her office. "And in regards to the Wraith, we have fought off several hive ships and prevented the destruction of this city. We try to help the people of this galaxy who are victims of the Wraith."
Lorne stiffened as he moved around to the side of her desk with his gun now pointed at the intruder in Elizabeth's office.
"You do not belong here," the alien repeated.
"And you do?" Lorne asked quickly.
Their visitor's eyes narrowed again and Elizabeth looked past him quickly to see several other armed soldiers moving around the control room. Several of them moved to the bridge and took up their places to protect her.
"If you think you're better than the Ancients," Lorne continued, "why don't you go stop the Wraith instead of wasting your time here?"
Elizabeth's hand came up before he finished the sentence, but he didn't stop talking. She wondered just how long she could get away with waiting before the Xe-ne stewed a little too long. Eventually giving in she opened her mouth to apologise, but he spoke first.
"You have one hour to leave this city or you will be destroyed along with it."
With that he was gone. Elizabeth relaxed and took a deep breath before turning to Lorne.
"Next time, leave the negotiations to the professionals, Major."
"Sorry," he said, "but you know I'm right."
"That's not the point."
A slew of Czech strung out of the frazzled man as Radek clamoured to his feet from under the console and sat warily on the chair. Propping his elbows on the metal station, he ran his fingers through his hair before resting his head in his hands.
Radek looked up at one of the female scientists assigned to help him fix the machine. She was looking at him like a confused child. He offered her a tired smile that was meant to be reassuring, but probably wasn't. If he had been Rodney, he would have rolled his eyes and gave her a snarky response. As it was, the thought brought unsettling feelings up. He pushed his glasses back to the top of the bridge of his nose.
"Has Colonel Sheppard's team gotten back yet?"
The woman shook her head reluctantly. "I'm afraid not," she opened her mouth and seemed to hesitate before continuing. "Is something wrong, Doctor Zelenka?"
He let out a long exhale and sat back in the chair. "We've fixed it," he gestured to the console and when he saw the confused expression on the scientist's face, he added. "If this is really the weapon, there should be..." his hands waved in a vague expression, "more."
The man nodded. "Yes. From all the information we have, the weapon should have at least four places for the crystals to go. As it is there isn't even a place for one."
He shook his head in frustration. The radio headset crackled.
"Doctor Zelenka?" It was Chuck.
"We're picking up a life sign two levels down from you. Did you send one of your team members down there?"
Radek's brow furrowed a little in confusion. "No."
There was a pause at the other end before Chuck spoke again. "We're sending a security detail to that location. Try to stay put."
Radek nodded into the headset and he intended to stay put, but as he sat there in silence looking at the console uselessly, his curiosity got the best of him. Pushing off the chair, he told the others to continue working while he ventured out into the hall.
The stairs to the next several levels were close by enough that he was on the lower level in minutes. The security detail would probably be another ten minutes or so, but Radek pushed forward anyways. A lot of the rooms where empty, shells of former science labs long ago out of use. He was at the end of the corridor with one room left to check and he still hadn't found a single sign of life.
Passing his hand over the sensors, the doors slid open and Radek cautiously poked his head inside.
His eyes scanned the room slowly from his position in the threshold. A hand reached out and grabbed at Radek's shoulder.
Radek jumped and turned around to see Major Lorne and his security detail. His heart raced and it took him a moment for him to calm down.
Lorne grinned a little. "Sorry Doc didn't mean to startle you," he nodded his head into the room. "I see you found our life sign."
Zelenka peered back into the room in confusion. "I have?" There seemed to be no one there.
Major Lorne look into the room at the tiny brunette child twirling around the room humming a slightly familiar tune and then back to Zelenka. He forgot the Czech couldn't see her. Handing his gun to Miller, Lorne stepped into the room and casually crossed his arms over his chest.
"Hey there, Mara," he said, smiling at the girl. She stopped twirling and smiled up at Lorne who got down on one knee so he was eye level with her.
"This isn't exactly the safest place for you to be playing."
Mara's attention was on a strand of her curls which she was tugging at with her fingers. "I came back to help."
"Major?" Radek looked at him oddly and then eyed the empty space in front of him.
Major Lorne sighed silently.
"Look, Mara. Is there any way you can let Doctor Zelenka here see you? He's been working really hard and I think he'd like to meet you."
Mara tilted her head upwards for a moment and was silent for a little while before she nodded. "Okay, Mommy."
Lorne looked over to Radek and could tell from the gasp and the look on his face that he could now see the child. "Pretty little thing, ain't she, Doc?" He smiled as a soft giggled escaped the girl.
Radek, who had never really been good around children, felt a little flustered as he took a step forward and knelt like Major Lorne.
Mara beamed. "Hi."
The scientist pushed his glasses back up his nose and offered a sheepish smile. He stumbled over his words for a moment until he got the nerve to ask the question. "We're missing a piece of the device. You wouldn't happen to know where it is, would you?"
She nodded and looked to the ground. "Underneath us."
"Underneath us?" Radek seemed to study the ground, perplexed.
Major Lorne continued to look at the girl. "You mean like on the next level?"
She nodded. "But it's awfully cold."
Elizabeth stepped through the doors to find Radek bent over, seemingly talking to Mara. It resulted in a slight eyebrow raise as Major Lorne walked over with a smile.
"Seems everyone can see her now."
"Really?" Elizabeth's gaze moved back to Mara for a brief moment before she stepped forward towards Zelenka. "What's the problem?"
Radek looked up from Mara and climbed to his feet. "I finished the repairs on the first console, but something was bothering me about it. It seemed," he searched for the right word, "incomplete. Like it needed something more."
A worried expression crossed over Doctor Weir's face. "We don't have time to go searching for more parts of the weapon."
"No need, ma'am," Major Lorne smiled. "Mara here's told us where the rest of it is."
Lorne tapped the ground with his boot. "Right underneath us."
"And completely submerged in water," Radek added as he fidgeted with his glasses.
Elizabeth frowned. "Can we get to it?"
Radek took off his glasses and began wiping them with his shirt. "Possibly." With his glasses back on, he picked up a portable computer tablet and brought up the city schematics. "I can reroute the city's ventilation systems to drain the water out of the room." He paused for a moment, "The only problem is it would result in temporary flooding other parts of the city. Mainly the geodesy and botany labs."
She took it in slowly. "We don't have time to move all the research from those labs."
Zelenka nodded. "I know, but there should be time to move as much of the extremely important stuff. I'll need to re-write some of the city's safety protocols before I can initiate the program."
Elizabeth was quiet for a long minute. They had little choice in the matter. They needed to get to the weapon or else they faced something worse than a couple of lost experiments.
She nodded. "Alright," she said, her eyes moving to Radek poignantly. "Just hurry."
"Doctor Weir to the control room"
Chuck only had time to blink before Doctor Elizabeth Weir came up the stairs and was looking expectantly at him. She looked tired and frazzled. She opened her mouth to ask what the situation was when the final chevron glowed and the gate activated. Her lips pressed together pensively.
"Who is it?"
Chuck looked at the monitor and shook his head. "No identification code yet, ma'am."
Elizabeth walked to the side of the balcony and peered at the gate. The shield was up, protecting them if it was the enemy on the other end. But glancing at her watch, she found herself hoping it was John and his team. They were nearing the cut of time and if they didn't get back in time not only would the enemy be here, but John and his team would be stuck on that planet for a long time.
"Receiving Colonel Sheppard's IDC code."
"Lower the shield," Elizabeth was off and starting down the steps when the shield was lowered, but she jumped back as gallons of water rushed through the gate. The moment she spotted four bodies, she shouted for the shield to be raised once again and the gate was quickly shut off.
John, Rodney, Teyla, and Ronon heaved and coughed as the waters filtered quickly through the various vents of the city. They were soaked to the bone and struggled to catch their bearings.
"Medical team to the gate room!"
Elizabeth stepped quickly down the steps and over to them in the middle of the gate room. Her brow furrowed and lips set as she tried to keep the panic from her face. The medical team rushed towards them from the side of the room. John shrugged them off and pointed them to Rodney who was clearly more exhausted than the rest of them.
John was up and on his feet, eyes searching for Elizabeth. When his eyes fell on her frame his heart leaped for a minute before he took long, poignant strides and put his hands on her shoulder.
"John?" His expression sent a small spark of panic through her. He took a deep breath and offered her a small smile as his hands left her.
"Nothing. It's alright," he mentally gave a sigh of relief as he dug into his pocket and retrieved the crystal.
"Did you have a nice swim?" she asked, seeing him relax a little. His eyes flicked up to her face and her smile quickly faded from the look he gave her.
"Can we..." he trailed off and took a deep breath, "talk somewhere private for a minute?"
"Sure," she said and took a look around at the others. "How about one of the small meeting rooms on the way to the infirmary?"
John nodded and they turned to follow the others out and down the corridor. She handed the crystal to an airman and instructed him to take it to Radek quickly before leading John into the first meeting room they came to. Elizabeth caught Carson's glance before he passed the door and she closed it.
She didn't get the chance to finish the sentence; John had crossed the distance between them, pressed her against the door and kissed her. She could feel the wet of his clothing seep in through her own and shivered slightly at the cold. When he pulled back she didn't know what to ask first.
"You alright?" she asked, settling on that question. John's fingers trailed down her cheek before he answered with a deep swallow.
"They had these trials, to prove you were worthy to own the crystal. In mine, you were changing, into one of those Iratus bugs and begging me to kill you," he almost choked on the end of the sentence. Composing himself he continued. "I did it," he said. "I killed you but then you weren't the bug, you were you and I had killed you," he sped up until Elizabeth raised a hand to cover his lips and stop the outpour.
"I wasn't there," she said soothingly. "I won't become one of them and I won't ever ask you to do that."
He smiled weakly at her before kissing her fingers still over his lips. His eyes travelled down her front before he looked back at her with a smirk.
"You're all wet."
"You can talk," she teased before opening the door and pushing him out.
Radek stepped out of the transporter with Lorne and his team. His eyes took in the ominous surroundings of the dank and grimy lower level. Below them there was only one other floor before Atlantis dropped off into the sea. Along with the other scientists, he had thought that this section of the city was the star drive, but instead the rooms he passed looked like labs with console's and beds similar to the infirmary.
The water from this level had only been vented a few moments ago and Radek had quickly added Doctor Brown to his list of people to avoid. Katie's botany lab had been one of the fatalities required to clearing this floor and he was thankful that for the time being, she had been separated from the rest of her team.
"This way," Mara said, interrupting his dip into things he regretted. She was pointing down a corridor and Radek checked the schematics before nodding to the Major.
"Spooky down here," Miller said, following his team leader down a musky, fish smelling hallway.
"Kinda reminds me of your room," Cole retorted from the rear and Mara giggled.
"Play nice now, boys," Lorne put in, glancing down at the little girl holding tight to his vets. "Wouldn't want to start fighting with only half an hour on the clock."
"Not to mention you set a bad example for children," Cole said. "Then again, you do that anyway."
"You're a funny man, Cole," Miller said, rounding the bend close to Lorne.
Radek stopped short as he stepped around the corner and had to stifle a laugh as Miller, still intent on insulting Cole walked right into Lorne. Ahead of them, by only a foot was a wall. Radek looked on either side of it for a door or panel and found nothing.
"Did we go wrong somewhere?" Radek asked, looking back over his shoulder.
"No," Mara said, stepping forward and pulling Lorne with her. She was almost against the wall when it slid to the side.
Radek stepped up to where the wall had been and peered into the room. It was large, the biggest he'd seen in the city and even more massive than the Jumper Bay. Around the edge of the room there were chairs lining the walls, but the water had left them floating slight away from their position and on one side they were pushed up against the glass panel that drew a circle in the middle.
He crossed the room to the glass and placed a hand on it. Like the conference room doors, they twisted in unison to let him into the middle. A stream of water flushed out over his feet and he spared a moment to listen to the squelch of his shoes before he moved into the middle of the room. It was a slight step up onto the floor, another layer of the metal that made up the rest of the city and Radek looked up to see a glass ceiling shining a few inches below the real one. A small gap in the ceiling caught his attention and he checked their location in the city schematics. Right now, where they stood was just under one of the piers, and it looked as though this room had been converted from a Jumper Bay into its current use.
Inside the device, Radek took in the five consoles. There was one in the centre that looked exactly like the one he'd been tinkering with all day, and four smaller ones placed at points around the edge. He stepped over to a slightly green tinted one and examined it. The shape was like nothing he'd seen in the city before, it curved instead of being the straight lines and corners that made up most of the city and as he stole a glance at one of the others he noticed its colour was unique. A slot in the top was the right size and shape for one of the control crystals that had been recovered from another planet. His brow quirked.
"Major," he called and waited for Lorne to approach. "The crystal you brought back from the windy planet, what colour was it?"
"Yellow," Lorne said, "why?"
Radek turned from the current pedestal and looked across the room to the blue stand then to his right at a red one before turning to his left and approaching the yellow.
"It goes in here," he said and looked at Lorne who raised a questioning brow. "The one you brought back from the plant world was green, yes?"
"It goes there," he said, pointing back to the stand he'd just left. "And the two Colonel Sheppard retrieved belong in those two," he added pointing at the others.
"What goes here?"
"People," Mara said. "John and Elizabeth," she corrected and turned to Radek and Evan. "They have to be the strongest of the two genes to make it work."
"I'm not sure Doctor Weir will agree to that," Miller said. "She's spent most of her life fighting the use of weaponry. It'll probably be scary as hell to actually be the one using it."
"It doesn't kill though, right?" Lorne asked Mara and she shook her head. "Just have to play that up when she starts questioning the reasons and see if we can't change her mind on this one."
The room shook as Lorne finished speaking and Radek checked his watch. Twenty minutes to the end of their departure time. He looked around as everyone else did and wondered if some experiment had been tested or if they'd set something off in here that could cause the quake. As if on cue the room shook again. Mara screamed and wrapped her arms around Miller, who happened to be closest, and the comm. crackled to life.
"All military personnel to their stations. All military personnel to their stations."
"Doc, you better get to work," Cole shouted before he followed Lorne out of the room. Radek turned in time to see Miller pry Mara off him before she turned and ran the distance to him. She wrapped him in a hug just as the room shook again and they were knocked to their feet.
The attack had begun.
John followed Ronon from the armoury to the control room at a run. There was nothing stopping their path and for a few corners he wondered if the call to places had been 'just in case'. That was, until he rounded the final bend and took the two steps up to the main gate room and found himself face to face with a very tall ice statue. He halted sharply and blinked up at the face. It stared back unmoving, unblinking, as though it were made of pure ice waiting to melt in the natural temperature of the room.
His eyes darted to the side, where three more of them stood, and then up to the control room. Every civilian who had to stay in the main areas of the city had been given a weapon, something John now found himself thankful for as he caught sight of Chuck standing a step ahead of Elizabeth with his gun drawn. He could see it shake slightly as the tech tried desperately to look as though he would do anything to protect himself and his leader. John knew that Chuck liked firing a weapon about as much as Elizabeth liked seeing them.
For some reason his brain decided now was a good time to start wondering why Elizabeth would even flirt with him, let alone let him share her bed and hopefully more one day. She didn't like weapons or military, yet here she was on a front line base showing everyone that it was possible to get along.
John's eyes drifted to the Alien facing Elizabeth and his brow creased. The Xe-ne's eyes were fixed on Elizabeth and he seemed very aware of the man standing just off to the left of him, another gun pointed his way. If you could call the Xe-ne 'him'. John took another look at the one in front of him, the alien's brow quirked and the horns on his forehead wrinkled along one side. It reminded him of the little crease Elizabeth got above her brow when she made the same move and quickly banished the thought that it was cute before looking back up at the control room.
His eyes drifted across the room. Elizabeth, just at the end of the bridge standing inside the control room. Chuck ready to protect her. It was another technician who stood to the Xe-ne's left and two airmen behind him. Ronon shifted up the stairs without interruption. The two other aliens standing in the gate room seemed to see right through him or not consider him a threat, which John found somewhat amusing.
Ronon passed right in front of one and stopped to lean in and take a close look at the detail on its blue skin before he moved to the top of the stairs. He shifted through the room easily, the airmen moving just slightly to let him slip through and again he passed extremely close to the Xe-ne before stepping around to approach Elizabeth. There was a small exchange between them that John couldn't hear before a slight move caught his attention.
John shifted his eyes back to the aliens' left to see the technician who shifted uncomfortably. The Xe-ne had caught this action and turned sharply towards her. Before John could even take in what was going on, a piercing cry sounded from the Xe-ne as he took a step back, a glow of white running up his body like a ripple before a white substance like smoke shifted out through his face and passed through the tech. It lifted up over Penny's head and shot sickeningly fast back at the alien as though his soul had briefly left his body and sharply returned. The tech was stunned, frozen solid for a moment before she crumpled to the ground.
"No!" Elizabeth cried out and she tried to move towards the woman before Ronon seized her arm to stop her.
The Xe-ne turned back to face her and moved forwards as though he neither saw nor cared that Chuck was there. He halted when the gun shot rang out and John saw the bullet pass cleanly through the monster's shoulder from Chuck's gun. He watched the recognition on the alien's face as he turned to study the sudden wound. John swallowed as the alien's eyes flicked to him before he turned slowly back to Elizabeth and took another step.
"Get down!" one of the airmen shouted and John had the brief sight of Ronon forcing Elizabeth down before the gunfire rang out.
Movement from his left turned him back to his alien friend and he turned just in time to see him step back and the shrill piecing sound start to vibrate through his head. Not wanting to know if this thing killed this way or not, John dived to the side, rolled along the floor and pushed up at the edge of the stairs and darted out of the room.
He turned the corner and headed for the stairs up to the control room and found another alien standing at the bottom. He instantly raised his gun and fired several rounds into the Xe-ne's chest just as he heard Ronon's sharp 'move' from above. The alien he had shot turned back to him. His chest was still littered with the shots of John's gun but he still moved on. John spared a brief thought on the possibility that their anatomy was different before he fired again. This time, he didn't aim for one place, his eyes vigilant on which bullets hurt most. There seemed to be no places more sensitive than the others and he was thankful when Elizabeth and Chuck made it to the bottom of the stairs and passed him. Ronon followed a few seconds later firing quickly at a slowly following Xe-ne.
"They don't die," he growled at John.
"I can see that," he said, emptying his clip into the one ahead of him. It faltered and John paused to watch as it took a steadying breath to compose itself. A stunner blast passed close by and struck the alien and John watched it freeze in place. His heart was beating loudly for a few moments and there was almost deafening silence around him before another stunner shot rang slowly through the air. John didn't look to see who was firing or even at whom. He stared in shock at the still frozen alien in front of him. It didn't last though. The white glow that killed the tech woman rose over his body but this time, instead of seeing the expected smoke, the Xe-ne came back to life and took a step forward. Another stunner blast put him back to his frozen place and John finally returned to reality as Lorne grabbed his arm.
"Come on!" Evan yelled and darted around the corner.
He led John into one of the small meeting rooms and closed the door before ripping one of the crystals from the panel. John noted he shoved it into his pocket before he turned and realised Elizabeth and Chuck were already in the room along with Miller, Cole and Teyla.
All non-essential personnel had been ordered to designated areas, but Rodney McKay was still in the infirmary waiting for muscle relaxants. He had been treading water for a long time and his muscles were starting to cramp. Which was why when he washed back the two large pills with water and Chuck's nervous voice came on the radio he felt a sudden sense of dread.
Rodney rolled his eyes a little and pressed the button to respond.
"Doctor Weir suggests that you hurry to assemble the machine. Doctor Zelenka is on his way to the –"
"Radek can handle it."
"Rodney," Elizabeth's voice cut in. It was stern and filled with urgency. "They're in the city. Hurry."
Rodney stammered out an affirmative and pushed off of the bed he had been sitting on. He left the infirmary against the protest of the nurse who was saying something about side effects.
The infirmary was on the other side of the city from where the console was. He turned the corner and was met by a walking statue of ice. His eyes lit up like a deer in headlights. "Oh boy…" He scurried backwards, turning the corner, and went on a full-on run down the hall. Glancing back, he saw that the creature was chasing him. Why me?
Rodney was panicking. His eyes were wide and darted back and forth from room to room looking for some way to escape. It was only when he rounded the corner and his eyes set on a transporter did his heart flip-flop and he felt a brief moment of hope. Scrambling into the tiny room, Rodney pressed the appropriate button and turned in time to see the creature reach out and almost touch the door.
When the doors opened, he was met with a gun barrel to his forehead. His hands went up wildly in the air as he cowered backwards.
"Don't shoot! Don't shoot! I surrender!" his eyes were shut tight and he'd never admit it, but his teeth were chattering a little. He felt the metallic barrel leave his forehead, but he didn't open his eyes until he heard a human voice.
Rodney opened his eyes and stared at a stern-faced Marine whose name he didn't know. The Marine stood back and lowered his gun. Behind the Marine were three ice statues of a scientist and two soldiers Rodney vaguely recognised. The Marine held out his hand in order to snap McKay out of his daze.
"I'm Captain Lambert," he said gesturing at the gun. "Sorry about that. Those things are everywhere."
"You've seen them too?" Rodney's eyes were open now and wide with alert. The tall, blonde-haired Marine nodded.
"They took out the rest of your escort team."
"What?" Rodney looked at the icicles and then back at the man with an incredulous look. A beat passed before his hands flew up. "Great! The city's being invaded and I have one person to help me to get a heavy piece of delicate equipment half way across the city! Perfect!"
"Lambert, you there?" the radio crackled and a male voice was on the radio.
Lambert pressed the radio talk button. "Yeah, Tipson. What is it?"
"We located Doctor Zelenka. We're three levels above the console room."
Lambert seemed to take in the information before he responded. "We're three levels below it. We'll rendezvous in the target room."
"Affirmative. Tipson out."
"Wait a minute! Wait a minute!" Doctor McKay was out of the transporter now and pacing a little. "If those things did this to them why aren't you a human Popsicle too?"
Lambert's only reply was a gesture with his P-90 towards a translucent blue gel puddle that seemed to be solidifying slowly over time. He then began to make his way down the hallway. Rodney looked at the puddle with a stunned expression.
"That was one of those things?" he glanced up to where Lambert was a moment ago and noticed him down the hall. "Captain!" he started after the Marine. Rodney wasn't going to get left behind. "How did you kill that thing?"
Lambert glanced over to the doctor as they neared the stairs. "I got lucky."
He shrugged. "I couldn't actually see it, but everyone else seemed to be able to. They were shouting and shooting."
"Wait. You killed it and you didn't even know where it was?"
That earned another shrug out of the Marine as they started up the stairs. "Just shot in the same direction. I hit it between the eyes and I saw it appear. Fell onto the ground and just sort of..." he paused as if to think of the right verb, "melted."
Rodney opened his mouth to retort, but ducked down a few steps so he was hidden from the next level. "Hey!" He whispered harshly. "What are you doing? Hide!"
The Marine glanced down at the cowering man. "From what?"
Doctor McKay gave him an incredulous expression. "You've got to be kidding me!" his whisper was straining into a yell. "Can't you see them? There are three of them! Standing in the middle of the hallway!"
The military man peered out into the hallway and seemed to think about shooting. After a moment of standing there, he started spraying the hallway blindly with bullets. He paused after a few bursts and waited. Nothing appeared. Suddenly something pointed and jagged appeared out of thin air and flew passed the Marine and into the wall, shattering into glass-like pieces. Once the pieces hit the floor, they began to melt like the body had.
"What are they doing now?" The Marine whispered to McKay who had his hands over his head.
McKay grumbled a protest about having to be the one to look as he slowly crept forward and inched his eyes over the lip of the last step. It only took him a moment to take in the situation before he ducked back down.
"Great!" He rasped. "Their friends have arrived!"
Lambert did the math. That made seven. Seven was a hard number to evade. "They still can't see me, right?"
Rodney shrugged a bit dramatically. "I don't know! They look like they're still trying to figure out what the hell is going on."
Lambert pressed his lips together and nodded after a moment. "Alright. Doctor McKay, the lab is two more flights up this way. I'm going to draw their fire and I want you to run."
"What?" It was a phrase Rodney had become accustomed to saying recently. "You can't be serious," he said. But from the look on the Captain's face, it was easy to tell that he was. "But you'll get shot at or something."
"The priority is your safety, Doctor."
Lambert didn't give Rodney any time to protest. He was already making his way down the hallway cautiously with his gun up and ready. Once he was on the other side of the hall, he began to strafe. McKay counted to five in his head before he scrambled up onto his unsteady feet and began barrelling up the stairs. His chest was tight, his heart was beating and the last thing he heard was Lambert cry out. A similar pointed object had hit him in the middle of his chest, piercing it as if it were sharp. Slowly the man began to crystallize from the entry wound outward until all his outer extremities were affected as well.
Elizabeth sat at one of the small tables in the room, her head in her hands and her eyes closed. She couldn't believe this was happening and she couldn't believe they had quickly resorted to hiding. She had already brushed off the idea that they simply wanted her out of the way. If that had been the case they wouldn't have locked them all inside, some of them would have left. It had however, only been a matter of minutes since they'd stepped into the room and she knew there were these rooms positioned all over the city that people could duck into to take a breather. That had been one of Lorne's best ideas.
"So," John said and she looked up to see him watching her. "Do we know if they have a goal in mind or just general terror?"
"They want Doctor Weir," Chuck said his hand still clutching tight to the gun he'd fired earlier. "That's what they said. She'd go with them and everyone else would be killed if they got in the way of the city being destroyed."
"Lovely," Lorne said sarcastically.
"Wait," John said, "you can see them?"
"No," Chuck replied. "I was just aiming where everyone else was, and I had to ask what was going on."
"So you can't hear them either?"
Chuck shook his head. "Doctor Weir replied that she wouldn't go anywhere with them and there was no way anyone would let them destroy the city."
Silence fell for a moment. Elizabeth lifted her head and looked around her team. They were thinking hard, looking for anything they could use to win this war.
"We need an advantage," Cole said.
"Stunners," Lorne said. "Pulled mine by accident when I ran out of bullets and discovered it shocks them for a second before they glow and then carry on."
"That is an escape route at best," Teyla pointed out.
"They didn't see me," Ronon said, dropping down into the seat opposite Elizabeth.
"How's that gonna help us?" Miller asked.
"Why couldn't they see you?" Elizabeth asked and Ronon shrugged.
"I think a better question is how can you see them?" John put in and Elizabeth's brows rose.
Silence fell again and Elizabeth's brain ran wildly through all the information she'd accumulated over the past week. Every conversation with Rodney and Radek, every medical test Carson had put her through. And then she found it, the possible reason Ronon couldn't be seen but could see the Xe-ne.
"Your genes," she said and looked up at him. "Carson said you have a specific gene that stops you being fed on by the Wraith. I have a similar gene or at least one in the same marker location. It must be the key to seeing these... things."
"Does this help us in some way?" Cole asked.
"Means I can shoot them without being attacked," Ronon said dryly.
"We need to get to that weapon," John said and opened his mouth to continue before Elizabeth cut him off.
"No," she said, "I won't resort to using a weapon like that until we have to."
"It's not gonna kill them," John said, getting angrier with her. "Mara said..."
"Mara's a five year old girl, John. What are the chances she was even born when they had to use it? She's telling you what they tell her, which for all we know could be a lie."
"We can't fight these things," he spat back. "I unloaded a whole clip of bullets into one and it barely stumbled. Ronon's gun has no effect at all and a stunner freezes them for a few seconds. What other options do we have?"
She didn't have an answer for him, just a stern look as she tried to ignore all the other eyes in the room on them. She had so many questions right now it was scaring her. Why were these people here? What had the Ancients done to annoy them so much? Why couldn't they see that her team were not the same people they once fought? Nothing made sense and chances were they would have to put their evacuation plan into effect before the day was done.
That was something she didn't want to contemplate. They didn't have enough power in the ZPM to open the gate to Earth, not while running the shield to stop an orbital attack. That meant they'd have to take refuge on another planet, on their alpha site with no way of telling the SGC where they'd gone. It made it twice as bad that they had been forced to reselect their alpha site in the last two weeks and the report back to Earth was still waiting to be sent.
Atlantis was her home. She suspected others felt this way too, but it was her home. She found comfort in its gentle hum and flowing ocean and despite the horrible memories that occasionally woke her in the night, this is where her relationship with John had started.
She wanted nothing more right now than to go back in time and change a few things she did wrong. Her dealings with the Genii for a start. She should have pulled John and his team back from the Genii Homeworld the minute things started to get crazy and they offered up too much. She should never have let the Hoffans use "Steve" for their experiments. And above all, she should have told John how she felt about him earlier. Much earlier. That way she wouldn't have felt so unnatural in her own skin for so long. She would have told him she loved him, would have made love to him and possibly could have had more by now.
"Let's just get to the weapon room Radek found," Lorne said. "We can work things out from there at the very least."
Elizabeth nodded and got up from the desk to follow them to the door.
"Wait," Miller said, stopping them. "We could do this trip better; Ronon, Teyla and Chuck can't be seen. They can walk around corners ahead of us and see what's there."
"Sometimes," Cole said, patting him on the shoulder, "your brain works."
"Like me thinking we should split up instead of all protecting Doctor Weir. No offence," Miller said quickly and Elizabeth smiled at him. "If we split up, we can make them think she's been taken somewhere else."
"Good idea," John said. "Ronon, you and Cole head west side, Lorne, you, Miller and Teyla to the south. We're heading for the weapon. Tell everyone you meet to stun them and try locking them in a room."
"Problem," Chuck said, a hand raised slightly. "I can't see them."
"We'll figure something out," John offered.
By the time Rodney was up the last flight of stairs, his chest was burning from the exercise. It was the adrenaline that pushed him across the hallway and into the room, only to be met with the barrel of a gun again. This time, however, it was quickly withdrawn at Rodney's shout of surprise.
"Sorry, Doctor McKay," the dark haired Marine took a step back. "You caught us a bit by surprise."
McKay took a few moments to breathe deeply and muttered something about Marines and their reflexes as he glanced into the room and was stunned into silence for a moment. "Katie?" he blurted out.
Katie Brown was standing with two cords in her hand around the console helping Doctor Zelenka prep the machine for transport. She turned her head and offered a weak smile at him.
"We picked up an extra passenger on the way here," the Marine, whose uniform read 'Tipson' on the chest, said and gave a small smile before he started towards the doorway.
Rodney shook his head. "No, no, no, no, no. You're supposed to be in one of the civilian designated zones."
Katie gave him a bit of a sad look. "I was on my way there when the transport got sealed off and then Lieutenant Tipson and his team found me and said there were enemy behind them," she had just gotten swept up in the action that had followed.
Radek stood up from under the console. "You should have seen it. Icicles coming out of thin air. Only Lieutenant Tipson and Sergeant Houghton seemed to be able to see them," he explained, ducking back behind the console as another soldier in the room moved to help him with something.
Rodney continued to look stunned. "How did you guys escape?"
"I was able to initiate a lockdown procedure behind us. I sealed them in."
Rodney opened his mouth to protest further when Tipson came back into the room. "Where's Lambert?"
The colour in Rodney's face drained. "He was hit. He's dead."
Tipson went quiet, his eyes frowning for a moment before he nodded. "Alright. Well, let's get this console to where it needs to be."
Teyla stepped around the corner of the seemingly empty corridor and positioned the mirror for Lorne and Miller to see down the hallway. A moment later they moved around and started quietly down the hall to the next turning.
"Does anyone else find this extremely spooky?" Lorne asked in a low whisper.
"We have not seen a single Xe-ne for almost half an hour," Teyla confirmed. "Perhaps they are gathering their forces."
"Or maybe they found out where the weapon is," Miller suggested, making Lorne stop and give him a look. Again Teyla turned the corner and positioned herself for her friends to see. They quickly motioned her back. "Spoke too soon."
"How many were there?" Teyla asked, moving with them back the way they had come.
"About ten," Lorne said. They looked the other way down the corridor and found more positioned there. "Its times like this that I wish Atlantis had air ducts."
"Would they be of use?" Teyla asked.
"Sure," Miller said, a touch of sarcasm in his voice. "For creating bad knees and back problems or for giving you the sensation of being less than a year old and not being able to stand on your own two feet."
Teyla's brow rose and she brushed the comment off as another Earth device she would never find out about. Unless of course she spared a moment later to ask John or Elizabeth. For now though she would have to be content with ignoring the conversation.
"Teyla," Lorne said and she watched him swallow as though he was about to ask something difficult. "Can you go down the corridor," he said digging into his vest for something and finally pulling out a camera, "and take a picture of the next one."
"Of course," she said, accepting the device and taking a second to familiarise herself with it. She powered it up and took a deep breath before moving off around the corner.
She walked confidently to the end and turned and took a photo of the hallway before she turned back and paused. Her mind ran through the layout of the city. She'd lived here for two and a half years now and knew the layout pretty well. Where they stood right now was close to the lab Radek had been working in that morning. It wouldn't take her a minute to go see if he was still there.
Teyla turned back to the corridor and walked easily down it to the next junction. She snapped another picture before walking down to the lab door. It was open and she looked into the empty room with a quirked brow. Radek had been there since finding the weapon, the console she had seen earlier that day was gone. She photographed the room and headed back to Lorne and Miller.
"What took you so long?" Lorne asked as she turned back the final corner and handed him the camera.
"We are near Radek's latest lab," she offered. "The console he has been working on has been moved."
"And replaced by twenty something Xe-ne," Miller said, looking at the picture over Lorne's shoulder.
"One of us needs to go find Weir and Sheppard," Lorne said. "These guys are looking for the weapon."
John's hands were on her waist again as they watched Chuck very tentatively approach the corner of the corridor. Every corner they had come to he'd done the same thing: tell Chuck he could do this, watch the man take a few steps and turn back for her nod before stepping forwards and placing his hands on her hips or waist. Despite their tentative situation, he had become daring each time. It started with just the hands, then he would rest his chin on her shoulder, his chest against her back and the last time they'd stopped, he'd placed a quick kiss on her neck as well.
He was about to do the same again. She felt him press against her and his chin rest on her shoulder when one of the Xe-ne stepped up to the corner right next to Chuck. The alien was looking straight down the corridor behind the tech who continued to take photos of the corridor.
John detached himself from Elizabeth without a sound and slowly pulled her several steps back to the nearest door. Ahead of her, Chuck turned and headed back their way and she watched his brow crease as he watched John indicate for her to open the door. She turned to the panel as the Xe-ne turned and looked right at them. John's reaction was much faster than hers and he slapped the panel, catching her hand in the process. He shoved her against the door as the alien started towards them and Elizabeth caught sight of a terrified Chuck and three more Xe-ne before she was shoved inside the room. John pulled the crystal to stop the door being opened from the outside and turned to face her.
"What good will that do?"
"It will stop them from getting in."
"It will stop Chuck from getting in and they won't leave while they know we're in here."
"Chuck's safe," John said. "They don't know he's there, and they can't touch him."
"We don't know that. They could still hurt him."
Silence fell for a moment and Elizabeth watched him as the cogs in his brain worked over what she had said and what he needed to do. She knew as well as he did that his priority was to protect her. If the Xe-ne wanted her before they destroyed the city, then keeping her safe and in Atlantis was top of his to do list.
"My concern is you," he said and she swallowed back how horrible that sounded in her head. For some reason that sounded far too over protective and she pushed away thoughts of what their relationship was doing for their command. She wanted to protest, wanted to complain, to tell him that she didn't need protecting. But she knew she did.
"I can't just run and hide," she said in a low voice. "There are 87 civilians in this city that are currently hidden and locked in a room at the bottom of the city. Right now," she said, feeling her hands start to shake, "I have no idea if the route to the Stargate is free for them to be evacuated."
"That's why we need to use that weapon," he pointed out. "Mara said it doesn't kill them. And don't tell me that's just what they told her to say. For all we know, it's the rebel faction of the Ancients who are helping us."
If she didn't love him so much, she'd hate him right now. Once again he was right and a bastard for it. Though she'd never admit he was right, at least not until they were safe and alone and she could pop that big head of his with a snarky comment.
"How do we get out of here?"
"Well," John said and licked his lips. "That's a good question."
Ronon rounded the corner and fired his stunner in quick succession. He easily stunned three very confused Xe-ne without blinking and then opened the door somewhere in the middle of them. Cole followed him around with a quirked brow. No matter how many times he saw the man make the move, it would still be impressive.
"When do I get to shoot?" he asked, straining to pull the closest alien into the room.
"When you learn to be faster than me," Ronon said, shoving one easily into the room and turning to find the other starting to glow. He shot the alien quickly and then dragged him down the corridor and into the room.
"Ah," Cole said. "Never, then."
Ronon grinned at him and they moved to the next corner. This time, Cole was only a step behind him and he turned the corner in time to shoot one of the aliens before rushing ahead and dragging his stunned alien into a room.
"Thirty three," Ronon said as he disabled another door.
"Is that rooms or aliens?"
"Aliens," Ronon confirmed and turned as another rounded the corner. Cole beat Ronon by raising his gun and stunning the beast before it could react.
"Well, that's five for me," he told the Satedan with a grin. "I guess I have some catching up to do."
"Why are you carrying a stunner if you refuse to use it?"
It was the only explanation Elizabeth had to offer. It was the only one that made sense anyway, especially to him. Elizabeth hated all kinds of weapons and yet she wore the stunner anyway. A spark of jealousy flittered through John's heart as he realised there was no way in hell she'd actually strap the thing to her own thigh, which meant Lorne did that himself. He shook the thought away and narrowed his eyes at her.
"You need to use it."
"You need to shoot them, Elizabeth. We need to get out of here."
"Chuck can help you."
"How exactly do I tell Chuck to shoot? We're in radio silence."
He saw her jaw clench. There was also the unvoiced point that Chuck couldn't see the aliens to shoot them. His previous shot back in the control room had been extremely lucky and if it had missed, would have struck the Marine directly opposite him. The poor man had muttered several times that he hadn't meant to fire, that it had been an accident and for a while John wondered what freaked him out so much. That was until they passed another military officer who told them it was very weird seeing bullets stop in mid air and move around on their own. Then he understood.
"You just have to fire a few shots, stick the stunner back in the holster and run. We're only a few corridors from the place Radek and Lorne were heading."
He moved closer, his voice low and his hand back on her waist as he forced her to meet his eye. He just had to get her out of the room; he would be right behind her, after that he could shoot any others they found and get her into the confines of what they hoped was the weapon room. He moved in closer to her, feeling her hands slide up his arms and licked his lips as though he wanted to kiss her. Well he did, but now wasn't the time.
At least he thought not.
Elizabeth moved in first, her lips brushing against his before he finally relented and kissed her. What was a guy to do when he was trapped in a room pressed close to a beautiful woman?
"Give me your gun," he said, another idea striking him before he could pull back.
"You're gonna fire both?" she asked, licking him off her lips.
"I've done it before," he said with a coy grin.
"Really?" she asked and he nodded. "I should not be turned on by this," she muttered.
John quirked a brow before wrapping his arms quickly around her and pinning her body to his. He purposely ran his hand down her back, over her buttock and down her thigh to the holster strapped in place.
"This is definitely not the best time," she pointed out with a slight groan to her voice.
"You started it," he said, quickly kissing her before separating.
He gave her a small push to the door and waited for her to step up beside the panel with the removed crystal before getting ready to take on whatever was outside. He spared a horrible thought of Rodney in a dress to cool his body before he nodded to her. Elizabeth replaced the crystal and opened the door and John squeezed the triggers slightly before stopping. There was nothing there, not a thing or person outside the door. He took a step to one side as Elizabeth pulled slightly back from the wall she'd flattened herself against.
"Where are they?" she asked in a whisper.
"Not a clue," he said.
John shook his head and stepped out into the corridor and looked both ways down it, his guns still clenched in his hands and ready to fire. Elizabeth slipped around the door jamb and edged along the wall behind him as he side stepped down the hallway. John stopped her before he reached the end and poked his head out to look either way down the next passage. Nothing.
"This is very freaky," he said.
John swung around quickly, his heart beating wildly, gun raised and right in Chuck's face. He barely managed to resist pulling the trigger and silently thanked someone for the fact that he only had stunners in his hands.
"Do not ever sneak up on a man carrying two guns," he said sharply before lowing the stunner.
"Yes sir," Chuck said, sounding tense and as though he'd just wet himself.
"Chuck, where were you?" Elizabeth asked as John checked back down the corridor and then back the way they'd come.
"When you vanished into the room and I couldn't get in, I figured the Xe-ne had you trapped and started looking for help. I found a couple of Marines a few corridors away and they distracted them so you could leave. I was just looking for a spare crystal I could use to rig the door open."
"Lovely, a new genius in the making," John said sarcastically, his heart still beating a mile a minute.
"There shouldn't be any Xe-ne between here and the weapon room," Chuck offered, giving John a stern look.
"Good," Elizabeth said. "Let's get there before they come back for us."
"I'm telling you, your calculations are wrong," Rodney said following the Czech scientist with a portable tablet computer in his hands. In front of them was Tipson with his gun poised and ready. Behind them two officers were pushing the metal console with the help of Katie Brown and behind them another Marine was watching their backs.
"Rodney," Zelenka fixed his glasses out of frustration, "I assure you, they are correct."
Rodney scoffed. "Yeah, if you were planning on making the city explode."
Radek rolled his eyes. "What do you suggest, then, hmm?"
"Not to worry," Rodney continued, pressing buttons on the screen. "I've already started correcting your mistakes. You're welcome."
Radek did another eye roll and muttered something in Czech before running into the back of Lieutenant Tipson. The scientist took an awkward step back and looked at the Marine. "What is it?"
Tipson cautiously peered around the corner and jerked back the moment his eyes fell upon four Xe-ne making their way towards their position. He turned and motioned the retreat gesture to the soldier at the other end of the group. The soldier nodded, only to glance around the corner and jerk back like Tipson had.
They were trapped. Four Xe-ne were closing in on either side of them. The four military personnel readied their weapons as Katie joined Radek and Rodney in the middle of the group. Rodney poured his nervousness into the algorithms on the computer screen as the soldiers closed the distance between the civilians and themselves.
Finishing the code on the screen, McKay looked up just in time to hear one of the soldiers cry out as a Xe-ne seemed to step through the man, freezing him instantly. A split second later and bullets were flying. Rodney, Radek, and Katie ducked around the console. Projectiles were flying in both directions.
"Come on! Move!" Tipson grabbed hold of the chain being used to secure the console on the trolley and started pulling it forward while continuing to shoot. The others scrambled, crouched as they were, to follow the Marine who was darting into the fray.
They rounded a corner. Tipson was out in front, followed by Radek and an officer and then Katie. McKay was lagging behind. Tipson glanced behind him, shouting. "Hurry up, Doc!"
Rodney winced. "I'm trying!" His legs felt heavy and limp and hard to move.
"What's the matter?"
A sudden, sickening thought flooded his mind. "The pills!" he blurted out. Oh God. He had taken muscle relaxants.
Katie turned with a worried expression and ran backwards toward Rodney. Rodney's eyes shot up. "Wait, what are you doing?"
"You need a hand," Katie offered him a reassuring smile as she looped her arm around his and helped pull him forward.
The door to a room along the hallway opened.
"Katie!" Rodney shoved the botanist aside as a Xe-ne exited the room and stepped through him. He froze instantly – one leg up and his hands out in a position that would have looked comical in any other situation.
"Rodney!" Katie's face twisted with shock and horror as she stared at the frozen man, but saw no signs of the aggressor. She was stunned, stuck on the ground where she had fallen, looking up at Rodney. It was only when hands grabbed her shoulders and lifted her up did she snap out of it. Zelenka had her arm in his hand and he was pulling her forward. "We need to get the weapon activated."
Lorne knew it was a bad idea to separate from Teyla and Miller, but he had no choice. Doctor Weir and Colonel Sheppard had to know about the aliens' secondary objective and they had to know quickly. With radio silence in place the only possible way for them to find out was to tell them directly. So Evan ordered them to get to the civilian area and add themselves to the guard in whatever capacity they could. Teyla didn't argue, she simply nodded and turned to head in the right direction. He assumed the chance to protect her people was extremely appealing. Miller, however, hesitated and Lorne could see the concern on his face.
Evan paused at the corner and used the mirror to discreetly look around the corner and then turned it. He could guess what Miller would have said if he hadn't just snapped at the man to get going. 'What if they get you before you get to Doctor Weir and Colonel Sheppard?' It was a reasonable possibility, but alone Evan could take more time getting around corners, move quicker along hallways and be twice as quiet.
He turned another corner and spotted a Marine laying face down about halfway down the corridor. He approached with caution and reached down to check for a pulse. It was beating away at a steady, though slightly fast pace. At least the man was alive. He pulled him over and raised a brow at how stiff he was. It was as though he'd frozen mid walk and lost balance.
Evan had seen three different kinds of attack from the aliens. Shortly after splitting up from Sheppard and Weir, he watched one alien stand in front of an Airman and spit smoke at him. The smoke passed through the Airman and he froze as though he'd been struck before crumpling to the floor, he'd checked as soon as he could to see if the man was still alive and breathed a sigh of relief that he was. Later, he watched one of the aliens walk through an unsuspecting and unseen human. It was the lack of gene in this person that Lorne hoped was the reason it happened. The simple walk through the man had turned him literally into a statue. Lorne had walked up to him after the Xe-ne moved on and found the man was not only still alive, but still breathing in his unusually stiff state.
It had only been a few minutes ago that he watched them fire an actual weapon. It seemed they did so in the inability to catch or see their victim. In this particular case it was catch and Lorne hadn't been able to see where they shot this weapon from, but he did watch the sharp spike shoot out and strike one of the men in the back. With a stunned expression he watched the wound crystallise before it started to spread. Again Lorne had checked to see if the man was alive, but this time, he was absolutely and completely dead.
Moving away from the frozen man, Lorne returned his concentration back on reaching the weapon room. He darted around corners, using rooms to avoid being seen by passing groups of Xe-ne and stunning individual ones who were stupid enough to get separated. He stuffed them into empty rooms and stole the crystals from the panel.
When he finally stepped into the weapon room again, he found it empty save for the little girl sitting on the other side of the machine with a pack of crayons and blank patch of floor.
Radek barrelled into the room first, followed by Katie and then Tipson with the machine. They were the only ones to make it. The moment Tipson was in the room, he dropped the chain to the console and gave a brief nod to Major Lorne. "They're a level down. I'll try to buy you guys some time," Tipson said before there could be any protest. The Marine lieutenant disappeared back out of the room.
Radek grabbed the console and dragged it as close to the machine as he possibly could. He unhooked all the chains and dropped them noisily to the floor before attempting to hoist the device up into the centre of the room. He let out a sharp huff of breath and a slight groan at the discomfort and was thankful when both Lorne and Katie moved over to help him. As they turned away to leave him to his work, the door opened. Lorne's gun came up so fast Radek's head spun for a second before he could focus on Tipson's return.
"I found some stragglers," he said, stepping aside as Chuck, Elizabeth and John stepped into the room.
"Elizabeth!" Mara screamed, darting through the middle of the weapon and straight into the woman's arms. "It was scary waiting here alone."
"Are we ready?" John asked, stepping up into the weapon room and looking around.
"Almost," Radek replied. "I think."
"Good," John said, turning back to Elizabeth and taking the step down off the machine to stand in front of her. "You ready for this?"
"I won't," Elizabeth said, moving around the side of the room to the place Mara had been.
"Elizabeth," John called before following her and noting that Lorne followed them. "You've seen what they can do. They killed Penny."
"What did they do to Penny?" Lorne asked and John shot him a look.
"Some breathe on her thing."
"She's not dead, just... asleep, I think. The only way they kill is if they fire these sharp icicle things at you. I've seen two guys killed by that."
"Wonderful," Elizabeth said. "I needed that added to my nightmares."
"I emptied an entire clip into one of them, and it barely faltered. As far as I know, we can't kill them."
"I will not risk using a weapon we know nothing about," she said sharply.
"It doesn't kill. It's just a long range transporter," Lorne put in.
"If they get in here..." John started.
"They are looking for the weapon as well as you," Lorne interrupted.
"If they get in here, they can kill us all. There's no other way out. Do you really want them to hurt you... or Mara?"
Elizabeth turned to face him at this. She'd been watching the girl drawing on the floor for a while and listening to their conversation. For a moment it crossed her mind that to have that breath thing on a five year old girl would not only be horrific for the child, but for the person caring for her to see. At the moment, although not completely officially, Elizabeth was that carer and she really didn't want to see that. But Mara wasn't even really there. She wasn't human. She was an ascended being.
"Mara can't get hurt, John. She's ascended."
"I can," Mara said.
John watched the flicker of fear that crossed Elizabeth's face as she watched Mara add brown curls to the person she had drawn on the grey floor.
"Who have we lost, Major?" John asked.
"I passed Hellton and Morrison with spikes in either their back or arm," he counted them off on his fingers. "Milton, Tomin and Natal were frozen solid in their stance. And Max Beddin was only unconscious."
"McKay said Lambert was dead, probably with the spike." Tipson added, joining them. "Rodney got walked through and turned solid."
"Not to mention the two others who were with Tipson to help me and whoever was with Lambert to get to Rodney," Radek called out from under the console.
John stopped Tipson from adding his death count on after that and crouched down in front of Elizabeth. She'd dropped her head down somewhere in the middle of the list and he had a slight fear that she was crying as she fought against the need to use this weapon. When he was on her level though, he didn't see any tears. Her brow was creased and her eyes were closed. He took her hand and waited for her to look at him.
"Mara's told us that it won't kill," he said in a calm and almost too quiet voice. "We just have to trust that and we need to do this before anyone else gets killed by these things."
"Erm," Radek said before she could respond. "Who has the crystals?"
"I do," Tipson said quickly and pulled the backpack off his shoulders and handed it to the scientist.
"I know you," John continued. "You don't want to lose the city. You don't like writing home that you've lost people and you sure as hell don't want them to hurt the Athosians or their children. I saw you with Mara when she wouldn't go to sleep," Elizabeth's head dropped again and John moved closer, pressing himself against her knees. "If you won't do this for anyone else, do it for her."
Her eyes came back up to his and he could see a fear in them. She had a question for him and there were too many others around for her to ask it. He watched her eyes flick to the five year old girl now colouring the t-shirt of the person in red and he understood. He nodded when her eyes came back to him and she nodded back and stood up.
"Keep that door secure," John ordered, standing up with Elizabeth and taking off his vest. He handed his gun to Lorne and his stunner to Tipson. He reached down and without hesitation, unclipped the holster around Elizabeth's thigh and handed that to them as well before he took her hand and moved into the middle of the weapon.
"If I understand correctly," Radek said while slipping the last connector into place and picking up Tipson's bag, "this is Elizabeth's console." He gave her an apologetic look. It's called Priloxi, which translates roughly to 'Lure Forth'. And that one, Colonel, is Subvenio, which means "Assist'.
"I'm always here to help," John said with a smile as Elizabeth stepped around the console and looked down at the simple design.
"This section of the city was flooded back when we arrived," Radek continued.
"Hence the damp smell," John said. He was trying to get a response from Elizabeth, stop her from shutting him out for the next few days like she had done when the replicator nanites had infested her. The haunted look she'd had for a few days had scared the life out of him and he didn't ever want to see it again.
"Yes," Radek said, slotting the yellow crystal in place and moving off to the green. "Well, that means I have no idea if this will work or not and as I have no idea how this thing functions or is put together, that will make it extremely hard to fix," he inserted the green crystal and moved to the blue. "From what I've read," he continued, placing the blue and moving to the red. "It's designed to activate your genes as high as they will go and use them to seek out all the alien life in the city and remove them," he placed the last crystal in the pedestal and turned to face them. "So I have no idea what to expect in how that will feel or if you will even be conscious after."
John could hear the underlining 'or dead' that lingered on the man's lips and was thankful he hadn't actually voiced that thought.
"It also said it wouldn't work if any other life was inside the chamber when it was activated," Radek added before he took a step back and out of the machine. John watched Elizabeth's eyes follow him and then flick down to Radek's right to where Mara now had a black crayon and was furiously trying to finish her picture.
"Elizabeth," he said, drawing her attention back to him. She nodded and took a deep breath before stepping up to the console.
John looked down at his, a button and several setting levers on one side and hand plate on the other. John pushed the button experimentally and waited to see if something would happen. When nothing did he glanced at Elizabeth and quirked a brow. With a shaking hand, she reached out and pressed the button on her console. Almost instantly the doors around them closed. The creak of it turned both Lorne and Tipson to face them with weapons at the ready and John saw Katie Brown straighten before she walked off towards Radek and Mara.
"Good luck," Chuck said from behind him and John turned to give him a smile before the last glass panel closed in place.
John had barely a few seconds to look at everyone one last time before the panels fogged and blocked his view. A low whirring sound started and the floor beneath their feet started to vibrate slightly as though the long forgotten machine was now powering up for the first time. He turned back to Elizabeth and watched her for a second as she wiped her right palm on her pants leg and stretched her fingers out. One of her knuckles cracked as she shakily let it hover over the hand plate for a moment, then settled it down on the cool surface and she finally looked up at him.
"I love you," he said before placing his hand on the plate on his console.
Ronon turned the corner to one of the civilian hide outs and froze. It wasn't by choice and he had a moment of realisation that the other two people ahead of him and the one behind him were no longer able to take another step or raise their guns. The alien a few paces to his right had also stopped and he could see the white glow that usually accompanied a stunned beast pushing through the daze. This time however, nothing happened and Ronon watched in amusement as the Xe-ne tried again. Nothing.
A piercing sound echoed through the corridor behind him and a gust of wind that exploded with colour in front of his eyes pushed around him. He tried to close his eyes but found he had no control over his eyelids. He darted them back to the beast. He watched as the beast was pulled apart in its place and each speck of the being was pulled upwards before finally vanishing through the ceiling.
As the shriek passed, Ronon saw the colours fade with it and instead of focusing in on the corridor and the two armed men ahead of him, he found himself surrounded with darkness for a few seconds before he drifted off into a deep sleep.
Her heart was racing and all she could see was white. The panels she and John had been standing in front of had gone and there was no room around them. She knew John was there, though she hadn't actually seen him. She could feel him, like she did in a half dazed state as she shifted in bed at night. To her left, a spark of red flickered to life and suddenly burst into flames. She wanted to step back, but a blue spark to her right turned her attention and she watched it hover for a second before splitting into a stream of water as though a waterfall has appeared out of thin air.
Curiously, she turned and watched a green spark develop into a small field of grass and long stemmed green-faced flowers. Then a yellow spark appeared and split into millions of little dots floating in the air and started to slowly swirl as though they were bits of corn that had been picked up by a gust of wind. She turned back to see John standing close by, watching the yellow swirl in a lazy whirlwind. The white began to fade.
The colours expanded out, turning the horrible dull, fogged screen around them into a lush landscape with a field below their feet and a waterfall in the distance and a fire flickering to one side. Elizabeth quirked a brow at it as the fire shifted in the air and formed a circle and rose to take its place as the sun above their heads. The wind picked up as the blue from the waterfall expanded and created a sky above them. It was beautiful and reminded her of a landscape painting her uncle had once done.
"Wow," John said. "It's like the holodeck on Star Trek."
Elizabeth smiled and considered him for a moment as he continued to look around.
"You said you loved me," she said, when he finally looked back at her.
"Yes, I did," he said and licked his lips before stepping closer to her. "And I meant it," he added, reaching up and running a finger down her cheek before he moved in and kissed her.
She let him take control, his body pressing against hers and his arms around her rested on her back. The kiss was firm and at the same time soft and it made Elizabeth feel as though every fibre of his love and being was put into it. There was no way she could stop loving this man. He made her head swim from a simple touch and a kiss like this was making every inch of her body tingle.
He'd waited six long months for her to be ready, for her to realise just what her feelings were and she had absolutely no doubt in her mind that he would wait another six if she wasn't ready for more. But she was. She'd been ready days ago, before this started. She just hadn't realised it then and wouldn't have known how to go about moving on. Over the last few days as things became tense and emotions began to run high, they had taken the steps forward. Their first kiss had moved into a second and after that, standing in his room with him, she'd tried then to move. Tried to seduce him and had been doing a pretty good job of it until they were interrupted. Barring this machine working in the space of a few seconds, there was nothing to stop her now and she intended to make good use of such time.
Daringly, she slipped her hands down from his neck to the front of his jacket; it was still zipped up as it always was under a vest. She found the zipper easily and slid it down before pushing the material off his shoulders. John broke the kiss at this point and moved his lips down to trail along her shoulders.
"Are you sure about this?" he asked. "I mean, we're still in that grotty chamber and we have no idea how long this will take."
"This or the weapon?" she asked with a grin. John pulled back and arched a brow at her before smiling his usual charming grin at her.
"I don't want to rush this," he said despite the look he gave her.
"Then don't," she said quietly and slowly untucked his shirt from his pants. "We're in control of this room. I bet those walls won't open until we push the button. And I'll assume that while this lovely scenery is around, that we still have time."
"You make a very convincing argument, Doctor," he said, moving his lips back to her neck.
"I try my best," she said and pushed at his shoulders to stop him. "John, I don't want to rush us, but..." she stopped and swallowed the lump in her throat. "I want children and," she smiled nervously, "it's not like I have unlimited time."
"It's not like I carried a condom," he said, eliciting a small laugh from her. "Standard field equipment consists of everything but that," he said with a smile and leaned in to kiss her softly. "I want kids too. I want a little Mara, just as playful and sweet with brown curls and green eyes."
"I'm gonna miss her," Elizabeth admitted, her hands slipping onto his sides under his t-shirt.
"Maybe we can get her to stay and we'll adopt her," he offered and watched as she bit her top lip. "Or maybe we'll just start creating our own."
He stepped in again and kissed her before sharply tugging her shirt from her pants and edging it up her torso. When he had it high enough he splayed his fingers out over her belly and she hissed at the sudden touch of cold fingers.
"Sorry," he whispered, moving once more to her neck. "Not like I stuff my hands in my pockets while holding a gun. You'll have to warm them up."
"And how would you recommend I do that?"
"I can think of a few ways," he said, sliding his hands up under her shirt to cup her breasts. The drag of his fingers up her skin sent a shiver down her spine and tightened her nipples under the material. John hummed against her neck as he teased them and she pulled her lower lip in to stop from groaning.
When John pulled away, he lifted her shirt, forcing her hands up over her head so he could remove it completely. For some reason, she wished she'd put on better underwear, though the thought of wearing her sexiest underwear when in the middle of an alien war wasn't that appealing. John didn't seem bothered by her plain white bra though. He licked his lips and reached for the front clasp, but she stopped him. Placing his hands on her sides, Elizabeth unhooked the clips and separated them slowly. She learned a few boyfriends back that the first time a man saw you he didn't want any distractions. John's eyes were fixed on her breasts as she parted the material and pulled it from her shoulders before dropping it to the ground. She spared a second of thought that it would be soaked with the wet floor of the machine when she put it back on but was distracted when John moved in and suckled on her left nipple.
She let out a low, uncontrolled groan and gripped his shoulders tightly. As he teased, she bunched up his t-shirt, pulling it high up his back until she had no choice but to pull back from him to remove it. He moved away willingly, letting her remove the garment and then returned the task of teasing her other nipple. John bent at the knees, his hands slipping down her waist as he trailed kisses down her stomach until he was kneeling in front of her. She could feel him fumbling with her boots as he teased around her navel until he became frustrated and had to pull away to look at what he was doing.
With her boots gone, John moved to undoing her pants and she smiled as he placed a delicate kiss on her lower stomach. He pulled them down to the ground and helped her step out of them. Elizabeth's hands vanished into his hair when he placed a kiss on her thigh and then sucked at the same spot. He repeated it on the other side, just a little higher, before switching back and again moving higher. Getting the idea, Elizabeth shifted her stance wider and tilted her hips towards his face. Her body was already reacting to his ministration and she bit her lip the closer he got.
Again, the plain white underwear didn't bother him, or at least he didn't show that it did. He reached the edge of the garment and slipped up to kiss her hip before kissing the other side. She was beginning to think he was going to tease her like this forever when he dipped his chin between her legs and sucked on the small, and quickly growing, wet patch of her panties. Her fingers tightened in his hair and her hips pushed forward more until she could feel the bone of his nose press sharply against her. He teased for a few seconds more before pushing back against her hands and separating them. He kissed her thigh again before looking up at her flushed face and then slowly eased the panties down over her hips and to the ground.
After she stepped out of them, his eyes began a trail up her body. He took in her legs, the patch of hair between them and moved up over her stomach to her breasts and she couldn't fight the blush that reached her face before his eyes did. John's hands moved from her ankles where they'd come to rest and he took her hands, now dangling at her sides.
"Come here, beautiful," he said, pulling her down into his lap on the ground. He shifted, getting comfortable on the floor before kissing her again.
"This isn't fair," she said, pressing her chest against his. "I'm naked and you're still half dressed."
"Seems fair to me," he teased and then groaned as she shifted her hip against his erection.
"Does that mean I get all the attention?"
John groaned again as she pushed harder against him. He leaned back, moving his feet out from underneath himself and then dropped back onto the soft grass behind him. Elizabeth followed him down and kissed him before starting her own trail down his neck. She worked slowly over his chest, flicking her tongue at his nipples and placing kisses at points around his belly button before skipping over his pants and down to his boots. Kneeling at his side, she undid them and pulled them off along with his socks, just as he had done for her. Before moving back up, she tucked her fingers up under the ankle of his pants and grazed her nails slowly up his legs until the material snagged just a little too tightly over her arm. She pulled out just as slowly and listened to the growl of protest he let out.
Elizabeth shifted up his side, placing her knees just next to his waistline and started to unbuckle his belt. She teased the button and zipper open and grinned when John lifted his hips slightly so she could remove his clothes. Instead, though, she placed another kiss on his stomach and turned to look at him.
"Rotten tease," he said, reaching his hand down to rest on her calf.
She grinned back at him before pushing his pants down and letting his boxers go with them. His cock released with a slight slap against his stomach. She avoided looking at him directly while pulling his clothes off and then started to tease her fingers up over his legs towards his groin. She considered teasing him as he had done to her, but when she reached her goal the idea promptly vanished from her mind and she wrapped her hand tightly around his length.
John groaned and his hips lifted just slightly as she leaned in and licked the tip. His hand shifted up her leg as she wrapped her lips around his length and he paused with his hand on her thigh just below her backside. His fingers stretched out to tease her sex and she adjusted herself on her knees to give him better access. Without warning, John leaned over, grabbed her hips and pulled her over him to straddle his chest. He quickly adjusted his arms over her and leaned up to take a quick swipe at her sex with his tongue. She hummed around his cock and she heard the soft moan he let out as his head dropped back.
Elizabeth moved on, taking as much of him in as she could and using her hand to massage the rest and occasionally tease his balls. John took a moment to regain himself before he pulled her down to him and began his own little feast of her flesh. Six months of sexual build up forced them both to stop, though much to Elizabeth's delight, John caved first and had to literally tell her to stop when he came too close to the edge. He joked about her not getting her kids if she finished him that way and then resumed his feast of her sex. His tongue was bliss, just enough pressure in the right places to bring her up quickly and when he stopped to suck her clit into his mouth she almost exploded. She knew he had that same cheeky grin whenever he pulled back.
After a few minutes though, Elizabeth crawled away from him before he could repeat his torture and she dropped down onto the surprisingly soft and dry grass that still made up their surroundings. John followed, placing kisses up her leg, over her hips and side before kissing her shoulder at the front to push her onto her back. She shifted to lay flat and accepted his kiss as he leaned over her.
"I love you," she said, finally returning the comment he had said earlier.
He kissed her again before they both shifted naturally and comfortably into position. Elizabeth parted her legs for him and he set himself between them as he leaned close to her body with a hand around his cock. He brushed the head against her lips and Elizabeth's arms came up to wrap around his neck. Her fingers scratched at his shoulders for a second before he repeated the motion of brushing the head of his cock through her folds to flick at her clit. She moaned loudly as he dragged back down and positioned himself at her entrance.
John kissed at her shoulder, her neck and then took her lips before he finally pushed into her warmth. Elizabeth groaned into his mouth. He refused to break the kiss, pushing against her tight tunnel for a moment before drawing back and starting again. It had been a while for him, months actually, but as far as he knew, she hadn't slept with anyone since they were back on Earth; before they'd even met. The deeper he got, the harder Elizabeth found it to keep kissing him and eventually she turned her face away and took several deep breaths to calm herself. He felt so good and at the same, he was stretching her as though he was beyond anything she'd ever had before. Almost three years with nothing but her fingers for company was finally taking its toll, but she didn't care. This was John, she loved him and the pain would ease. John shifted his knees as he finally hit home inside her and he turned his head to nibble at her ear for a second before he finally spoke.
"You okay?" he asked and she took a sharp intake of breath before nodding.
"God, yes," she answered and he chuckled low in his throat.
He rocked his hips experimentally and they both groaned at the sensation. He did it again and Elizabeth wrapped her legs up around his waist. His heels dug into his backside and he adjusted his knees and sunk deeper into her warm bliss. He pulled back, ever so slowly, finding he missed the feel of her before he was even halfway out and slowly, almost as slowly as his initial thrust, pushed back in. She groaned and it sent a shiver of pleasure down his back and straight to his balls. They tightened dangerously so he pulled back again and thrust forward just a little harder and faster than the previous time.
He found the rhythm quickly, thrusting deep and slow against her, listening to her moans and pants as he wrapped his arms under her back and pulled her body flush to his. He could feel her breath on his neck, her stomach pressing against his as she took each breath and her hips rocked in counter movement to his, thrusting against him as he pushed into her. She began to falter, her breathing becoming sharp pants of air and her hips rocking out of time until she went stiff and he groaned at the pressure she placed on him as her sex contracted with her orgasm. He didn't stop, riding her through all of it until her nails dug deep into his back and she relaxed into a beautiful pile of goo below him.
John separated himself from her, keeping them joined at the hip and looked down at her face. There was lovely glint in her eyes from the aftermath, something he'd only seen when she was excited or extremely happy about something. Her hand came up to caress his face, her delicate fingers against the two day stubble he hadn't had time to shave. Her slow, sweet orgasm still tingled her body. John began to move again, his eyes on hers as he thrust faster and a little harder into her.
"Oh god," she breathed, just before her eyes slid closed.
He could feel her body building up and building quicker to what promised to be a much more intense ending. He picked up the pace, thrusting faster into her and dropped his head down to suckle on her nipple. He could feel his balls tighten dangerously as though they would pop if he didn't come soon and he hummed around the nipple as she started to tighten on his length. He had to release her nipple from fear of biting it when he heard a small mewling come from her, her hips thrust up hard against him, her arms around his neck tightened and she pulled him down against her chest as her orgasm hit hard. Again, John rode her, though he was barely holding on this time. She breathed his name and he couldn't stop himself from thrusting hard against her hips and letting his seed loose inside her.
He collapsed, his body feeling like jelly on top of her and he listened to the race of her heart and the harsh breaths of air she took in. Several minutes passed before a low beep from the somewhere in their new environment started and he picked up his head to see the two white consoles back in the middle of the room. Or what he assumed was the middle of the room. He pulled up and slipped out of Elizabeth before helping her to sit up.
"I think we better get dressed," he said and reached for her pants sitting on the grass nearby.
She nodded and took them from him before getting up and starting to collect her clothes. She had barely pulled her top on under John's gaze when the environment faded and the pedestals reappeared, drawing their colour in as though they had summoned it to them. The fogged glass panels lost their colour and as Elizabeth ran a hand through her hair to straighten it, they faded back to their transparent selves.
Outside, they could see their people standing frozen. Lorne was against the side of the door, his gun pointed and a look on his face that told John something had entered his line of vision. Tipson was just outside the door with one foot raised to take a step backwards into the room. They turned, taking in Chuck, mid sit on one of the sofas around the edge. Radek was standing, watching as though he expected to see everything, and they hoped he didn't. And Katie Brown was crouched in front of where Mara should have been, but the girl was gone. John drew Elizabeth close to him as he realised where she was looking and placed a kiss on her forehead just as everything returned to normal. He didn't release her, keeping her close and letting her rest her head on his chest as movement began to form in the people around them. Radek blinked at them and smiled as Katie stretched herself up into a standing position.
"What happened?" Lorne asked, "I saw that Xe-ne vanish," he added a little confused. "I watched it go to pieces and vanish."
"You've only just gone in," Tipson said. "It can't be over already."
John checked his watch behind Elizabeth and smiled, almost an hour had passed since they stepped in. He had glanced at the time before Elizabeth had agreed to go into the weapon in the first place. Everyone outside, possibly on the whole planet had frozen, paused in time and place while for them, nothing changed except their surroundings.
Elizabeth pulled away from him and moved over to stand by Katie. She was looking down at the ground where Mara had been drawing and she smiled at the picture. On the grey floor stood two people, one in red and black with brown curls and green eyes. The other was dressed all in black and has black spiky hair and brown eyes. On the floor between them, drawn by an adult instead of a child, was a baby basinet with a small fist poking out over the top of the side. Underneath the picture written in Ancient text were the words 'The fifth element is life.'