Consciousness returned long before Teyla was able to open her eyes or move her limbs. Piece by piece she came back to herself: sluggish thoughts followed by an awareness of the bed beneath her, and the thrum of a ship's hull beneath that; then her skin, too hot and too tight all over; the fretful twist of her son within her womb; the feeling that this had been going on for days she hadn't been counting; blurred and blinking vision that slowly resolved itself so she could see the dim, curved ceiling overhead. When she finally caught sight of Michael's still form standing watch in the doorway, she tried to stand but could manage only to sit up, propped up on arms that shook.
"You're awake," he said, tilting his head slightly.
Teyla looked up at him, trusting that the angle of her jaw and the set of her shoulders would convey what a dry throat and a clumsy tongue couldn't yet manage: her contempt for him, her longing to take her people and return home, her disdain of a statement so obvious. She was awake, yes, and pulling hair that felt tangled and lank with sweat back from her face as she struggled to remember what had brought her here. She clearly remembered seeing Carson—Carson!—fall to the ground when Michael stunned him; remembered watching through the viewscreen as Michael's ship took her away from her team; and then there were vague, disjointed recollections of a room, and the warm, humid air of a hive ship; the prick of a needle into her elbow; a pain that her mind slipped away from remembering, as if even grasping for the shape of it would be too much to bear.
"The side effects were more severe than I had anticipated," he continued, seemingly as oblivious as always to what she thought, what she wanted. "I hadn't factored in the additional strain on your heart from the pregnancy. It was very close, but I don't think there will be any more setbacks."
"What—" Teyla managed, then clapped one hand to her throat when she heard the strange, new timbre of her voice.
"You have water if you want it," Michael said. He gestured at one of the guards standing at attention just down the hallway. "He'll bring you food if you ask. You should eat. Keep up your strength." He nodded at her and turned to leave; the door closed behind him, a thin living membrane that kept her in as surely as the great doors of Atlantis had ever kept an invader out. Teyla raised shaking hands to her face and traced the lines of her cheekbones, along smooth skin that was suddenly cooler to the touch, running her fingertips over the two slits in her cheeks which had not been there before. A strange cry forced its way out of her throat, high and inhuman; and that, she thought, with a sudden, dizzying clarity, was appropriate. How could she be human now; what was she anymore?
It took another day before Teyla felt as if she had the strength to leave her room. Her limbs shook when she got up from the bed to eat or drink, or to wash the dried sweat from under her arms or her breasts with a damp rag torn from the hem of her jacket. While she waited for the power to return to her limbs, she sat on the narrow bed and thought of ways to get out of there, out of that room and back to Atlantis; and when she thought of what pain it would cause the others when they saw her, when she imagined all the fine glass of the city reflecting back at her the new face she still hadn't seen, she had to curve her palms around the distended curve of her belly to stop their trembling. She found that she was often cold; cold enough to overcome her distaste and press her back against the curved wall of the hive, to soak up some of the ship's living warmth.
It took another two restless days and sleepless nights before Michael nodded at the guards and they stood back to let her out. One of them she didn't recognise—a tall, stocky man with red hair in a tight braid down his back—but the other she did—lithe Hernan, whose mother had returned to her family on Athos for each New Year's Festival. Hernan stared past Teyla into her cell and gave no sign of even noticing her presence, not even when she took him by the elbow and shook him, called him by his name and reminded him of their kinship. His eyes were entirely blank, unfocused and uncaring. Teyla had danced the deva with him once.
"A waste of your time," Michael said curtly, turning to walk away down the hallway. He did not look back to see if she was following him. Teyla felt her upper lip curl. "Drones have no need for independence of thought. Come."
"I take no orders from you," she said, following him with some reluctance, "and I do not rely on you to tell me what is an appropriate use of my time. This person—Hernan—he should not be relying on you either, he is—"
"While his mind is subordinate to mine," Michael cut her off, turning to look at her, "then he very much does rely on me. And while your welfare and that of your child is guaranteed by my good will, then I think it would be wise of you to acquiesce to my requests." He paused for a moment, looked as if he wished to say more, but then shook his head almost imperceptibly. "This way. I have something to show you."
This time, he waited to see if she would follow. Teyla thought about resisting for the moment; but her cell held no attractions, and this narrow corridor offered neither allies nor a place to run to. She nodded curtly at Michael and followed him; she would bide her time.
There was a viewscreen set up in the control room; clearly cobbled together from many worlds beside the Wraith's, it was nothing so sophisticated as existed back on Atlantis, but displayed a crisp black and white image of the planet all the same. From the reading on the screen, written in the variety of Wraith scientific shorthand with which Rodney had had them all become passingly familiar, Teyla could tell that they were in high orbit above it. Given the lack of colour, Teyla couldn't tell if this planet's life was green, like Athos, or blue like Old Lantea, but she could see that it was wreathed in cloud, white wisps clinging to the planet's curves. It looked peaceful and distant and still, but there was something in Teyla that recoiled from looking at it.
"What is this place?" she asked, curiosity warring with disdain and winning, compelling her to peer as closely as she could at the screen.
"It will be the birthplace of our people," Michael said, pride rounding his vowels, coiling tight around his consonants, "and it will be the birthplace of your child. I thought you might like to see it before we landed, and the real work begins. It is a historic moment, after all."
"I will bear no witness to this," Teyla said. Every line of her body suddenly trembled with anger; every muscle was poised ready to flee, though she knew she could not get far in her condition and in this situation. "Michael, this is insanity. You cannot force people to become what they are not against their will. You must restore us all to what we once were, you must help my child—"
Teyla had never been one to be intimidated by another's height or breadth in comparison to her own, but Michael tried to force that intimidation on her now, leaning in so close to her that she could see the strange pupils of his eyes—pupils she was sure must now be so similar to her own—and smell the stink of sweat and leather coming from him which her mind rejected as wrong, wrong, not like us, but which something written into the new and unwanted form of her body recognised as kin, alike.
"Do not lecture me about what should not be done against someone's will." His voice was pitched low, quick and urgent. "Or have you forgotten the circumstances of our first meeting so quickly? I have remembered parts of it, you know, fragments—just enough to let me know how much it hurt—"
She pushed him away. "I never agreed with what was done to you," she said, gone beyond the limits of her patience, "and if we had our choice over again—"
"You would have chosen differently?" Michael's smile was a sharp curl of irony. "I am not a fool, Teyla Emmagan. Don't pretend that you'd change your mind from some feeling of fellowship."
"No," Teyla said, as evenly as she could, "I would argue against it all the more vehemently knowing that nothing good could have come of it. We chose, and we chose badly. We hurt you gravely, and we caused this, and for that I will always feel sorrow. But you had a choice here too, Michael, and you chose knowing full well what would happen."
Michael stared at her for a long moment, from eyes still so truly alien to her, so caught between Wraith and human that she could not read them. In the end, he merely said curtly that they would be landing on the planet the following morning, and gestured to one of the ubiquitous, drone-like guards to lead her back to her cell. Teyla tried her best to project calm as she went, but inwardly she catalogued each corridor down which she walked, marking off each door she passed, sought a means for escape around each bend, turned her anger to a better purpose. Her temper was such that were she back on Atlantis right now, even Ronon would have reconsidered before agreeing to a sparring session with her.
And that thought led to another: what Ronon would think if he saw her now, what agony of choice would be revealed on his face. The thought was enough to force Teyla to dig her fingernails into her palms, to use bodily pain to distract from mental; but her nails were longer than they had been just a few days before, a little more pointed, a little more cruel, and she quickly uncurled hands that now shook.
She lay awake in bed that night, listening for the noise of occasional movement in the hallway, and thinking. Her mind felt different. She wasn't certain if who she was had been changed, or if the genetic alterations had simply changed the boundaries of who she could be, how she could think. Teyla had lain awake for many nights when Carson first told her that her abilities were not a gift of the ancestors, but a remnant of Wraith DNA, wondering who she would be if her heritage didn't speak of her ancestors' past pain—knowing that what she'd thought to be a blessing was in reality a blemish and a twist in her genes; knowing that the abilities she'd valued, the way she could hear the faintly pulsing hum of an approaching hive ship at the edge of her mind, the way she could slip into a Wraith's consciousness if she wanted, were all markers of a past that had left her ancestors twisting helplessly in the grasp of an inquisitive scientist. In the grey hours before Lantea's sun bloomed over the horizon, with the bedsheets tangled around her restless legs, Teyla had wondered if something in her had changed on hearing Carson's words. She had no such luxury of doubt now.
Sometime around the hive ship's slowest cycle, when Teyla knew that the planet below them would be in deep darkness, and the rhythm she still clung to inside her said that it would shortly be morning on New Lantea, she pulled on her clothing and sat in the loosest ashees pose she could manage, her movements now curtailed by the weight of her belly. She didn't meditate, but she sang softly to the child within her—songs that had been sung on Athos and New Athos, Lantea and New Lantea and Earth—melodies to meet a harvest, and the strangely sweet popular songs which Teyla frequently caught Rodney singing absentmindedly while he worked.
When she had expressed an interest in what he was singing, Rodney had flushed scarlet enough to pique her interest in the song cycles of Whitney Houston. "Jeannie was a fan," he'd told Teyla later that evening, while loading the songs onto the iPod John had bought for her. "It was the late eighties, everything was all big hair and eyeliner and power ballads and mix tapes, and let me tell you, an eidetic memory can occasionally be more of a curse than a blessing. These are all her greatest hits, I've ignored the Bobby Brown period on purpose, and don't tell Sheppard or Ronon or you will—well, no, you won't live to regret it, you could break me with your pinky, just please don't tell them?"
She'd memorised enough of the lyrics that she could sing snatches of Rodney's favourite under her breath—of the desire to dance with a loved one close by, warm and welcome—while she planned what she could do, would do in the morning. Teyla thought of the future of her child, while the adrenaline and the music that coursed through her veins held her suspended somewhere between hope and despair.
Breakfast was more of the tepid porridge which Michael seemed to favour, but which reminded Teyla unpleasantly of her grandmother's cooking, flavourless and bland. She forced as much of it down as she could, though her throat felt raw from screams suppressed; she had the feeling that no matter what were to happen that day, she would need the energy.
She was not glad to be proved right. The hive ship set down on the planet an hour or so later, with enough of a shudder that she knew John would have winced. She accompanied Michael when he came to fetch her. It seemed at first as if he were not in the mood for conversation that morning—something Teyla would gladly have encouraged if it hadn't soon become apparent that his silence was only the result of anticipation. When she walked with him down the great ramp that led from the side of the ship, it was to see a meandering facility of many buildings on the rising ground in front of them, built in a flat-roofed, plastered style like that favoured on Tas Mirill. One at the centre was taller than the others, perhaps three floors high, and Teyla was sure that that was where Michael had his labs. The buildings were all surrounded by a fence low enough that Teyla didn't think it would serve to keep much out, but only to remind those inside that they were being kept in.
By the light of the rising sun, Teyla could see that there were several dozen people already moving around the compound. Some she recognised from the ship; some she knew only as Niewill or Ersen from the patchwork of their clothing and their tribal tattoos; one or two she even called out to as she and Michael drew closer, because they were Athosian, or related to her people, but not one of them looked up. They all moved with the leaden, uncaring certainty that Teyla associated with the hybrids whom Michael controlled directly: not so far removed from the hulking Wraith drones whose reputations Teyla had feared since she was a child, but now all of them wore faces so close to human that it was as if she were in a waking nightmare. She could feel her anxiety shivering through her veins, quick and sly as adrenaline and unsettling her pulse. Her palms felt damp, slick with the remembered nighttime fear of the touch of an alien hand against her, and Teyla felt them curl up slightly into half-fists.
Once they were inside the central building, Michael led her down instead of up; the building could hardly be as big as any structure in Atlantis, but it still felt enormous to Teyla after so many days cooped up in hive ships and cells: high, brightly lit corridors tunnelled away under the earth in various directions. "You have been planning, I see," Teyla said tightly as she walked beside Michael, counting off her steps and keeping note of turnings as she did so. The compound's layout was all well-organised and regular, with none of the organic asymmetry Teyla had come to associate with Wraith architecture.
Michael huffed softly to himself at that, as if he were laughing under his breath at some private joke. "You could say that," he said as he stopped in front of a door. He pressed his palm to it, and it slid open almost as smoothly as the doors on Atlantis. Teyla looked first at him, then at the open, echoing space that lay beyond the threshold, but he greeted her suspicion with nothing more than that same distant amusement. "Go on," he said, "it can do you no harm. I promise you."
"Your promises mean nothing to me," Teyla reminded him, but she stepped into the room anyway. If he did want to hurt her, he had already had many chances to do so—had already done so—though she did not think that he was likely to do so again before she had brought her child out into the sun. Just the thought of what he intended was enough to make her rest one hand on the comforting, still-living curve of her belly; though the other came up to join it when she startled, her eyes adjusting to the dim light of the room and making her realise just what lay inside this room.
"So many," she gasped: it was difficult for the mind to grasp the sight of row upon row of people, stretching up and back into the darkness of the room, lying there as if sleeping, and to know that none of them were at rest. The unnatural rigidity to their limbs, the too-quick rise and fall of their chests as they breathed, the deepening marks which so many of them already showed on their cheeks… "There must be hundreds."
"This chamber alone can hold nine hundred," Michael said, with every sign of deep satisfaction. He had moved to stand behind her when she hadn't been paying attention. "I have built six others, and once I move on to the next sector of planets there will be more than enough to fill them. We will make a very fine army soon enough."
"I will kill you," Teyla said, quick as a heartbeat and just as instinctive, because she meant it with an urgency that did not surprise her: for what he had done to her child, and to thousands of others, and to her, she would kill him.
"You will see how good it will be," he said blithely, "when there are more of us. An army that will put an end to the Wraith, and to the interference of any kind of Lantean in this galaxy. Isn't that what you always wanted?"
"Never like this," Teyla said to him, watching wide-eyed as a few feet away, another person gasped awake into a second and terrible birth. When she was a child, Charin had always told her that her quick temper was one of her worst traits, that it would be her undoing if she were not careful, and Teyla had always tried to guard against it, had worked her hardest to greet mistrust and suspicion with calm and consideration. The life of a trader had required it, and her own sense of self had demanded it of her, but now she wanted nothing more than to use the power of her body, the desecration that had been made of it, to force some of her pain onto Michael. Her anger made her breath come quick and shallow as she tried her best not to choke upon it.
Michael cocked his head to one side. "You know, Colonel Sheppard left many books in my quarters when you still hoped to make me think I was human. What he thought Lieutenant Michael Kenmore would read—adventure stories, mostly, and books about the game of football and an Earth religious text. There were several passages already underlined in that book. And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him." He pronounced his words very precisely, in English, not just letting the gate's translation field do the work for him, but they sounded strange in his mouth, as if he were still growing used to the unfamiliar shape of human-like teeth. "This will be just what Sheppard wanted—an end to all things, but no judgement."
For the first time since her earliest pregnancy, Teyla felt the swift, stomach-turning urge to empty herself of everything she had ever eaten, bile burning hot at the back of her throat. "John would want no hand, act or part in what you are doing here," she said, voice tremulous with anger. "You do not know him at all if you think that what he meant was this, that he could ever have wanted—"
Michael cocked his head to one side. "Sheppard gave me the words," he said, his mouth poised somewhere between a snarl and a smile. "Do not be surprised at the meaning I find there."
She expected more from him after that, thinking that surely he would press on immediately with what he had planned for the child in her belly, with the claims he had made for himself on her flesh and her bones—and each part of her was ready for that, prepared to resist even harder if he tried to do anything more to her son—but instead Michael left her in a large, dormitory-style room which contained perhaps forty low mattresses arranged in haphazard rows. There were small groups of people gathered here and there: some sitting or lying upon their beds, some sitting against the long wall at the far side of the room. All of them had clearly been through the full conversion process, but they did not seem to be entirely under Michael's control; they looked up at her with a vague curiosity as she stood there and cast around for a bed she could claim as her own, but their faces expressed little emotion beyond that. Their own conversations seemed to hold more interest than her arrival, and Teyla couldn't blame them: not when this had become their lives so unexpectedly, and not when all she seemed was a small, tired woman with tangled hair and circles under her eyes.
She dragged a mattress to the corner of the room, and was just about to sink down onto it and see if she could think of a solution to her predicament, find an inspiration inscribed on the inside of her eyelids, when she heard someone call her name. She looked up, startled and unable to place where it was coming from at first. Then "Teyla?" she heard again, in a clear, familiar voice that was pitched somewhere between shocked dismay and tremulous delight.
Before she could even stand, Maeta was running over to hug her: dear Maeta, whose mother had been sister to Teyla's mother, and who had learned to walk by toddling around in Teyla's wake. Maeta, who had always been so ready to laugh, and who now held Teyla tightly against her body with tears streaming down her marked cheeks; who exclaimed over the full curve of Teyla's belly with happiness and with grief.
"I am glad to see you," Maeta said, "though I wish the Ancestors had not seen fit to send you to me like this." She rested her head against Teyla's forehead. "The city has fallen, then? He attacked Atlantis? All our people—" Her voice broke slightly.
"No," Teyla shook her head, "No, it is not so bad as that. I was ambushed and taken by Michael, just like the rest of us here."
"Are we all..." Maeta's voice failed her, but Teyla knew what she meant: had they all been turned like she and Maeta had been, or had Michael decided that he had no use for them, and murdered the last remnants of the Athosian people.
"Not all of us," Teyla said, tugging Maeta to sit next to her. "I have seen some of us here—Hernan and Jinek for certain—all... all like us. But Halling and Gilla and many others, they are still whole and human, and I have every reason to believe that the Lanteans will have rescued them by now."
Teyla could feel Maeta start to shake, her whole body moving with a fine vibration that made her short brown braids tremble around her face. Teyla reached out and took one of Maeta's small hands in hers, stroking her thumb in soothing circles over the callused skin of her palm, pressing comfort into the work-worn flesh. Maeta shifted and raised her head to look Teyla in the eye. "I'm sorry," Maeta said, "I'm sorry."
"Shh," Teyla said, "All will be well. We will find a way for us all to be free, and whole, and singing the hymns to the Ancestors by the next full moon on New Athos." She projected as much reassurance into her voice as she could, all the hope she felt and could pretend to feel, and even some artificial element of cheer: that she would find a way to get them all out of here, that John and Ronon and Rodney could and would go beyond all barriers to find them and bring them home, because ties of kinship bound them as inextricably to her as she was bound to Athos. "We will be well," she said and tried to believe it.
"I'm sorry," Maeta repeated, resting her head against the wall and closing her eyes. Teyla could see the effort she was making to keep her breathing even and regular, in through her nose and out through her mouth, just as Charin had taught them all so long ago. "I just thought I would always be alone here. Teyla, my face..."
And Maeta's resolve broke, and so did her voice; and then she was sobbing silently next to Teyla, while Teyla held her hand, and tried not to think about the fact that Maeta's skin now felt just a little too cool to be recognisably human. Around them in the room, people and their voices ebbed and flowed as they walked and talked and slept and mourned; and Teyla kept on holding Maeta's hand, murmuring soothing nonsense over and over, wondering about the fate of the child moving fretfully in her belly.
Dinner stank worse than Teyla's attempts at tuttleroot stew, over-cooked from ingredients that had clearly not been recently gathered. It was not made easier to swallow by the tension in Teyla's stomach, a tension that came from waiting and waiting in one room for hours without knowing what Michael had planned. That knowledge came after they'd eaten, in the shape of three guards, one of whom brandished a wicked-looking syringe at Teyla. She backed up slowly, calculating all the ways she might be able to use their strength against them, but the guards acted before she had time to react; one of them grabbed Maeta, hauling viciously on her braids until her feet almost left the ground and she shrieked with pain. "The needle or her neck," the one with the syringe said to Teyla, and the choice between her child and her cousin was not one Teyla had ever thought she would have to make. The guard wrapped one beefy arm around Maeta's throat, and Teyla had to hope that Michael would not want to do away with either her or her son just yet. "Yes," she said, "yes, do not harm her," holding out her arm and hating herself for doing so. Teyla prepared herself for it, sure that they were going to inject her with something else, some new poison to pulse through her blood, but the sting of the needle took blood from her instead.
It was not what she had been expecting, and her confusion left her frowning as the needle was pulled out from her skin. "He will see you tomorrow," was all that the guard with the syringe said, and Teyla rubbed gingerly at the crook of her elbow and wondered what that meeting would bring. Michael had changed her, changed her son, brought her here—all for reasons of his own, most of which she could guess—and now he had taken her blood, for reasons which she could not. Teyla was certain he had not told her everything that he was planning, and did not know what he hoped to accomplish by keeping her waiting like this, uncertain and scared and angry: he'd never seemed to favour that particular kind of sadism, and she sincerely doubted that Michael had been overcome by a sudden desire to face her when she was at her most irate.
If he had, Teyla thought, it was not a desire he would harbour for long. Once, at a team movie night, Rodney, half-asleep and more than half-drunk, had stabbed a finger at the screen and mumbled around his mouthful of popcorn, "Bruce Banner! Totally like Teyla: you wouldn't like her when she's angry." His body had slumped warm against hers on the over-stuffed couch that John had commandeered for such nights, Ronon sitting on the floor at her feet with his head resting against her knees, and at the time, Teyla remembered, she had felt so far from being angry: warmed by the presence of her team and the product of Miko's attempt at recreating a traditional Athosian liqueur, the corners of her mouth twitching upwards at how silly Rodney always became when he was drunk, how Ronon's body shook with suppressed laughter.
Right now, Teyla was very angry.
When the lights were turned out that night, Teyla and Maeta curled up together on one pallet, as if they were still children, and whispered: Teyla describing the dimensions and layout of the exterior of the compound, which Maeta had only seen at night; Maeta telling her of the rooms she'd seen, calculating that the underground tunnels held perhaps three or four thousand like them, and that she was sure they had been built to hold perhaps three times more.
"What can he want with so many of us?" Maeta murmured, her breath stirring the fine hairs next to Teyla's ear. "Where will he stop?"
Teyla didn't want to answer her; she had nothing to console Maeta with just now, and giving voice to her own anxieties would help neither of them, not when the pulse of her heart seemed to be slowing for the first time that day.
"Have you seen Kanaan?" she asked instead, eyes wide open in the dark.
"Kerla's son? Or Halling's sister-son?"
"Kerla's son," Teyla replied, willing her voice to stay calm, trapped as she was between fear and hope. If something worse had been done to him... Not many of her people had known of her growing relationship with Kanaan, and this was not how she would want Maeta to learn of it. Not now.
"Yes," Maeta said, "but it was several days ago. He was dressed as a guard. Some of us—they do that. But his eyes..."
"What?" Teyla snapped, wincing when she heard the tone of her own voice. Maeta was not the one who deserved her anger.
"There was nothing behind them," Maeta continued, as if she had not picked up on the tension in Teyla's voice, drawn tight and fine as the wire in a hunting trap. "I've seen it happen before, when people resist too strongly, or if they try to get away and are caught. Michael does something to them, to their minds, and they..." Her voice caught for a moment, pitched high and wound tight around her own fears, the ones that distracted her from what Teyla was thinking. "They go away for good, as surely as if we had sung the lays for them. They never seem to survive for long afterwards; three, four days at most. There's a burial pit beyond the tree line."
"Gone," Teyla said flatly, and oh, Kanaan, Kanaan, she thought. Though she didn't want to believe it, though part of her refused to acknowledge that she might have lost Kanaan's sense of self to Michael, and his life soon to follow, something traitorous within her had begun to grieve at Maeta's words—she had carried the daydream of their future life together, the kernel of their family, inside her for so long, tended it past all hope, and now Maeta, all unknowing, had replaced that with the image of Kanaan's life slipping away from him by degrees and inches, a slow and attenuated version of the death which came from the touch of a Wraith's hand.
"Hmm," Maeta said quietly, and soon she was asleep, her slight frame breathing gently against Teyla's side. Her warmth was nothing at all like Kanaan's, the sound of Maeta's breathing not at all like Kanaan's rumbling snore; but having another living body pressed close to her out of companionship after so many days of fearing the touch of even her own fingertips made Teyla think of the night when she had lain awake next to Kanaan in the warmth of his bed, pressing dry and idle kisses to his collarbone, loving him and not yet knowing that their child had just sparked to life within her belly.
And for some reason, that thought more than any other broke something open in Teyla, something that went past her grief and as deep as her anger; and she curled in on herself on that thin, flat mattress, thought of Kanaan's smile in the morning, and breaking bread with her team on Atlantis' warm balconies, and the snug neatness of her people's tents in the evening light, and she wept.
The labs Michael had built would have been disdained by Rodney or Carson as much for their facilities as for what they could produce. They were dank and cluttered, and smelled strongly of fearful human sweat and Wraith blood. Michael was standing by a central console when Teyla walked in a few hours later, her eye sockets aching dully from sleep that had been too brief and too restless.
"You requested my presence?" Teyla said, lifting her head to look at him, her words little more than a dismissive sigh. All her patience—never strong to begin with, but usually reinforced by her stock of common sense and the diplomacy which Charin had drummed into her as a child—had been depleted, and all she had now was the defensive wall of her resistance, and the set of her jaw.
Either Michael didn't notice her tone, or he considered it irrelevant. "I wanted to thank you. To congratulate you," was all he said, flicking some switches on the console and nodding at the readings in apparent satisfaction. "Your contributions to the future of this galaxy will be remarkable. You have made sure that we will win this war."
"I do not stand with you in any battle," Teyla said, steeling herself not to wince at the ache in her back, the pain which had grown to be a familiar nuisance since the baby had learned how to kick; her son promised to have all his father's energy—all the energy his father had had. "Nor will I."
Michael shrugged. "You think you have a choice? I never thought you were one to ignore reality, Teyla." He leaned against the console behind him in a gesture far more relaxed than any Teyla had seen from him since Michael Kenmore had realised what he'd been, what he was. A deliberate echo of the way John would hold himself, or Ronon, Teyla thought, and she recognised it for what it was: an attempt to rile her. She breathed in.
"You were born Athosian, but you are not human anymore," Michael continued. "Your blood has helped me begin this war against the Wraith, and the blood of your son will help me win it against the humans and the Wraith both. And when it is all over, every world in this galaxy will have changed beyond all recognition."
Teyla stared at him for a long moment, seeing in his face the traces of both man and Wraith, of all the things he had been before she had ever set eyes on him, and all the things she had mistakenly helped him to become. He was so angry, and there were so many aspects of what it meant to be human that he would never understand; she didn't think that he would ever understand that being an individual, being apart from a hive, could bring joy as much as isolation.
"You did something to me," she said eventually, anger and grief making her words ring in the small room, "something I would never have chosen for myself or for my child. But even if you were to break my mind as thoroughly as you have broken Kanaan's, you could not make me choose to stand with you. I said this to you when you first injected me with that poison"—she'd remembered that much, though it was blurred and indistinct: she remembered how she'd been strapped down so that she couldn't break another guard's jaw, even in her slow and cumbersome state; the way blood had flowed warm down her side when he'd cut the tracking device from beneath her skin; she remembered her pride breaking when she'd begged him not to do this to her child; she remembered the sting of the needle as it sank into the crook of her elbow—"I said no. I still say no, I will always say no, because what you wish to do is not just ill-advised, it will destroy any chance for peace this galaxy ever had."
"You are naive," Michael said dismissively.
"And you," Teyla shot back, "are both condescending and likely insane. I want no part of this."
Michael laughed at that—actually laughed—and Teyla drew back her fist, putting all the force of her anger behind the punch she aimed at the twist of his smile. The blow would have been hard enough to break his jaw, if he had been human.
Teyla expected some retribution for that gesture, however futile it had been, braced herself for a blow in payment for a blow. Her body, so near to the end of pregnancy as it was, could not have sustained a fight for long, but she'd stood there in Michael's lab, hands clenched in fists, and waited for either him or one of the guards at the doorway to strike her back. There was no way Teyla could have won, but she would have welcomed the fight: the clean feeling of pitting her body against theirs, the burn of adrenaline fuelled by the anger that seethed inside her with no outlet before now. Yet there had been nothing; she had been returned to the dormitory, to the care of an anxious and cowering Maeta, and left there. A bruised face or a bloody mouth would have been better, she thought, than that indifference: Michael's eyes flickering over her and away as if she had no chance of winning, as if every thing he did had the weight of inevitability behind it.
Teyla hated him, and she hated that that hate could be turned to no good purpose: that every challenge she offered him could be dismissed without thought; that all her rage could be voiced but not expelled. It left an acid feeling in her stomach, a twist in her gut that she was sure made her child more restless inside her, the drum of his heels against her rib cage more frequent and more insistent.
Each morning, she waited for Michael or one of his guards to fetch her; she knew that something was going on in the base, not least because the dormitory she was being kept in emptied slowly but steadily on each successive day. She strained to hear the noises of great movements of people—human and Wraith moving in one direction, down towards the conversion chambers; hybrids moving out in the other. More than that, she craned her head each time she heard the distant rumble of an engine overhead, inwardly cursing when it grew closer and resolved into the high whine of a dart, clinging each time to the hope that it would be followed swiftly by the familiar sound of a puddlejumper. Though, Teyla thought wryly, lying on her too-short cot and rubbing one palm idly over the curve of her belly, knowing her men, it probably wouldn't be a single jumper—it would be several platoons of Marines and as many armed jumpers as Atlantis could spare, with the Daedalus covering them from orbit and John carrying as much C4 as he could fit into his tac vest. She turned over on the bed, closed her eyes, and prayed for the bloom of an explosion to dispel the darkness which lay behind her eyelids; more than that, she wanted to open them and see her team standing in front of her: Ronon, tall and bright and fierce; Rodney, all fluttering hands and anxious, earnest smiles; John, his loyalty and the fears he thought he could hide.
Teyla spent those days in frustrated, impotent waiting: waiting to see what Michael would do; waiting for signs that John and Rodney and Ronon had been following her trail, each in their own specific way—Ronon tracking her with the deliberation he'd learned from the Wraith; Rodney with his technology and his strange bursts of intuition; John following an instinct formed of bright and tenacious anger. Teyla didn't think that Michael would have been foolish enough to make their trail easy to follow, but she had grown used to thinking of her team as one body that could find its constituent parts across even the widest distances: a thread, thin but delicate, that linked her heart with theirs, and which had brought John and Rodney back to them even when the Ancients had briefly reclaimed Atlantis.
Teyla was used being the one to help reclaim her team; and yet here she was, in a room underground that was a cell, no matter how large it was or how high the ceilings, with no weapons and no way to get past the forcefields at the door, unable to act and unwilling to risk her child, and so frustrated with it that she snapped at Maeta even more than Maeta's fussing warranted.
Only in one area was her waiting curtailed: she had thought she had another two weeks left in her pregnancy, by the Lantean calendar, but between the stress of the past few weeks, and what Michael had done to her body, Teyla was not surprised when her pains came early in the morning about four days after Michael's men had taken her blood. She walked through the pain while she could, huffing out her breath in time with each pang, Maeta rubbing soothing circles over her back through all the long hours of her labour. When her body told her it was time, she knelt on her cot, Maeta hanging blankets around the bed to give her privacy she hardly cared about anymore; and by the time she readied herself for that last push, she was on all fours, bearing down and more tired than she could ever remember being, each muscle trembling with a fatigue that adrenaline could no longer work against.
It hurt and it hurt, and then it was over; and when Maeta laid her son at her breast, Teyla's smile trembled with the rush of emotion in her blood. Distantly, she heard the others in the room speak in soft murmurs of approval and welcome; even the slight patter of fingertips against one's left palm that was the Vajgernan method of expressing polite delight. But only distantly, because her son was perfectly formed, beautiful—healthy and crying with the shock of being born, ten tiny fingers and ten tiny toes, with a head of dark curls and a sweet slant of his mouth that reminded Teyla of her father. She sang softly to him, her voice breaking with tiredness and emotion while he rooted for her nipple, a song of the sunrise that he had not yet seen.
Maeta helped her to work the afterbirth free of her body, cleaned her up gently, and then stroked the astonishingly fragile curve of the baby's head with one dark fingertip. "What shall you call him?" she asked.
Teyla's voice shook when she told Maeta—when she told her son—his name. "You are Torren si Kanaan Emmagan," she told him, cradling him close; a strong name, a name in honour of his father and in honour of her own, the two names combined in an Athosian tradition that she was determined to see carried on. There was an immediacy to this emotion that she'd never felt before—this love she felt for a child she'd never stopped fighting for—and she didn't flinch at the slight scrape of teeth that no human child should be born with against the tender skin of her breast, or at the sight of two dark slits like wounds in his rounded cheeks.
She couldn't imagine what life would face him when they made it back to Atlantis, or when she had to present him to the other Athosians for the first time. She could only hope... and a song kept threatening to bubble up at the back of her throat as she cradled her now sleeping son against her chest, and she thought of the safe space in the world that she would fight to make for him.
There was a battle, they heard—Maeta turning a natural talent for gossip to good use, wheedling information from the guards and from the others in the room who'd been moved around the facility for one reason or another. She reported back to Teyla as Teyla lay with her son and wondered at the strange sensation of her body finding a new normal, settling into what seemed to be its rhythm beyond pregnancy and beyond human; careful not to let any of the others in the room hear what they were discussing, because who knew where Michael might have spies? They pretended to be bowing their heads together over little Torren, fussing over him, or that Maeta was using her nimble fingers to untangle and to plait Teyla's hair, a necessity given that Michael had not seen fit to supply them with combs or with shampoo. In reality, they were making a patchwork of Maeta's gleaned knowledge and Teyla's understanding.
"They said he won," Maeta said, voice low. "Against a hive ship that was in the middle of a culling fever. Hundreds of Wraith taken out in the skies over Nav Berlon."
"Saved," Maeta replied, tying up the braids into neat loops. Then she shook her head, her upper lip curling a little. "Or I should say, they are still alive. The hive had just started to burn when he released the sickness into the skies over the Berlonai capital."
"The Hoffan virus?" Teyla sat up straighter, and had to shush Torren when the sudden movement brought him half-awake.
"Is that its name?" Maeta said. "It starts with a cough, like crimson fever, but it kills many more. I've heard some say that if you survive it, no Wraith can stand to feed from you."
"That is the same virus," Teyla said, feeling a little breathless, a little stunned with the horror of knowing that it had been unleashed on yet another world that could not possibly defend against it. There had to have been at least nine million people living on Nav Berlon—more people than had lived on Athos in over three hundred years.
"And he brought some of them back."
"Yes. Another two thousand of them, Thylla said, brought into the laboratories this afternoon. All to be... all to be made like us."
Teyla had known all along that Michael must have been intending to do something like this; that once started, this process of conversion and destruction could do nothing but escalate, like so much else in this galaxy—like the battles she had known with the Wraith, the Genii, the Asurans, where neither side could bear nor afford to give. But hearing confirmation, proof positive that Michael had destroyed yet another world—a peaceful people, the Berlonai, who wove fabrics of surpassing beauty in their high mountain cities and carried no quarrels abroad; who lived in great, sprawling complexes of extended cousin-kin and made light honey cakes that a younger Teyla had taken every opportunity to gorge on—and would use her blood and that of her innocent son to do so more efficiently… His actions took away her breath as surely as a blow to the midriff, because of their finality and their horror, and because Teyla felt that the very marrow of her bones bore some share of the responsibility for them.
She took a deep breath and tried to rid her mind of distractions, to seek the clarity that would be the only way to guarantee that she would be able to get both herself and Maeta out of this place, back to Atlantis and her hope of a cure. "Tell me," she said to Maeta, "what else did you learn from them? We are one level below the ground now, but where are the exits, what are the guard rosters, how far we are from the stargate?" Teyla kept her face turned away from the rest of the room, because she knew by Maeta's raised eyebrows that her expression must be fierce indeed, but she was past caring. She listened to what Maeta had to say, and plotted stealth and angles and makeshift weaponry and thought that tomorrow, soon, she would take her son and her cousin, and she would go home.
Without the rise and fall of the sun, the only way to tell the time in the dormitory was by the rhythms of meal times and the noises of the guards walking in the hallways outside. Still, Teyla thought that it must have been shortly before dawn when Michael came into the room, the sound of the heavy door sliding open startling her from a deep sleep, her mind struggling to return to full alertness when she rose to meet him.
He was flanked this time not by two hybrids, but by at least a dozen of them: a mix of men and women, all of them tall and well-formed, the only emotion on their faces a quiet kind of readiness. Teyla knew that they must have been soldiers before they were taken and turned; most of them, perhaps, judging by the tattoos on their temples, had been members of the Erseneth royal guard. They had a reputation as ferocious fighters, highly-trained and determined, and if Michael had turned even part of their number, it would make him truly formidable in those bouts of hand-to-hand combat which took place with curious frequency even in this age of space battles and automated weaponry.
Formidable fighters—and the question, of course, was why Michael had brought them here, what trouble he was expecting from a room full of people still relatively weak from their transformation, with Teyla standing squarely in front of the bed on which her child lay, with Maeta—who only ever took up bow and arrow to hunt game for food—by her side. There were guns in holsters at their hips, but Teyla doubted that they would need them, any more than the Wraith ever had—whether they needed to feed on people or not, the hands of a hybrid had surely inherited the ability of those of the Wraith to kill and to maim.
"Teyla," Michael said, voice smooth and calm in a way that reminded Teyla sharply of John; just underneath that calm lay both a tension and a warning. "I understand that I am to congratulate you on the birth of your son."
"Let us go," Teyla said, enunciating her words as crisply as she always did when the desire to lash out was overwhelming, and it was overwhelming now, an effect of the Wraith-derived hormones that now pulsed in her veins, "and I promise you your death will be relatively quick."
Michael laughed softly, and gestured at someone behind him. When she stepped forward, Teyla saw a young woman, perhaps two or three years younger than Jennifer Keller, whose cheek slits looked like tear marks on her honey-warm skin, and whose flounced, patterned blue dress and severely cropped hair proclaimed her to be from Elassa. Her face was as perfectly blank as those of the guards, the distinctive absence of anything but waiting for what Michael would will them to do next. Teyla wondered if this poor woman's mind had already been broken as permanently as Kanaan's had been. She resolutely let slip no reaction, but tilted her head at Michael and raised an eyebrow in question.
"If you would hand the child over to Delu," Michael said, "I'm sure she will make a very good wet nurse." Delu held out her arms in front of her, waiting for the warm weight of the child to fill them.
Teyla felt her upper lip curl. "Are you fool enough to think that I would give you my son?"
"You have always been a sensible woman, Teyla Emmagan."
"Which is why, when you felt the need to take my son from me, you thought it appropriate to bring a dozen soldiers with you? I think that speaks more to sense on your part, Michael, because you will not leave this room with Torren." She took an involuntary step towards him, then another, not driven by any desire to be closer to him, but because she wanted to trade on the power her anger had given her, that sense of ferocity: remove the guards, forget that not two days ago she had been hard at the task of birthing her child, and there was no doubt in her mind but that she could take Michael out. The ways in which he had been trained to fight were not physical; more devastating in the long-term, certainly, but in the here and now, Teyla thought she would always have the edge.
She looked from Michael, to the door, to the guards surrounding him and back; perhaps, she thought, if she could knock him out cold, it would cause the hybrids under his control to waver for just long enough that she, Torren and Maeta could make it up out of the building and through the compound. She wondered if Michael understood what she was thinking—his gaze flicked back and forth between her face and the clenched fists of her hands.
"These guards are not here for you," Michael said, clasping his hands behind his back. "I know that threatening you with physical violence would never help me to achieve my goals."
Teyla huffed, as much to show him her derision as an expression of it. "You can threaten me all you wish, but I will not let you take him."
"I never thought you would say otherwise," Michael replied. He nodded, and the guards pulled their weapons from their holsters and unerringly aimed them, not at Teyla, but at the others who remained in their dormitory: at the clusters of teenagers and young adults, white-faced or sobbing, who made up the greatest proportion of people here because they were the most likely to have survived the immense strain which the change placed on every body; who were the most likely to feel terrified and unstable and alone; who were the most likely not to have lived yet, for all that this galaxy had forced early maturity on them all.
Some of them might have seen no more than twelve summers, the slits on their cheeks highlighting bones that had not yet begun to reveal their adult form, and now they had gun muzzles pressed against them. One of them—still a boy, something of a young Ronon about him in the colour of his eyes and the way he seemed to be struggling to keep his dignity in the face of yet another betrayal by the galaxy he'd been born into—looked over at Teyla. His face was impassive, as if he did not even have the hope that she would spare their lives, and that was enough for her.
"You can take me instead," she said, trying to hide desperation behind imperiousness. Not her son; but not these children, either. "I have the Wraith gene, everything that you have done to him has been done to me, and I can give you more knowledge about Atlantis or the Asurans or even Ancient technology than anyone else you have access to."
"Atlantis in return for your child's safety?"
"Yes," Teyla said without hesitation, and knew that what she had said was only half an untruth, and hated herself for it, for the possibility that she might give up the city entire in return for her son's safety. Behind her, she could hear Maeta soothe Torren, suddenly fretful, as if he could sense his mother's distress.
"Almost convincing," Michael said dismissively, "but I have very different plans for you, Teyla." He nodded at Delu, who stepped calmly forward and took Torren from a protesting Maeta's arms. "As I have for your son."
He ran one long, thin finger along Torren's cheek as Delu passed with the baby in her arms, and Teyla thought of all the ways she could kill Michael with her bare hands. She must have made some unconscious motion forwards, because she heard the gun of the nearest guard power up with a whine, heard the frightened whimper of the small girl against the nape of whose neck its muzzle was placed, and felt her muscles lock up as she restrained herself.
"You will have access to him, of course," Michael said as he followed Delu to the door. "But you needn't worry. He'll be raised well, and you'll have the satisfaction of knowing that he will be helping us in one way, even while you're helping in another."
"If you think that I—" Teyla began, giving up all attempt at placation and pretence.
"You can stand," Michael cut her off, "so I presume that you have recovered from your labour. I won't expect you to start in on the most physical of the work tomorrow, but you will be there, and you will start working with them."
"What?" Teyla spat, unable to take her eyes from the sight of her son in another woman's arms and thrown once more by not knowing what it was that Michael wanted from her.
"Training," Michael said. "My people here were part of the Erseneth Guard, but I'm sure that you could take out most of them by yourself and still not be breathing hard afterwards. You're going to teach as many of your skills as you can to them, and to some of the others who show promise. I want a force that will be unstoppable, and you will help me achieve it."
Teyla said nothing, keeping her hands immobile by her sides, because there was nothing for her to say; and then Michael left the room, the others filing out silently behind him, and there was nothing for her to do but to sit on the narrow little cot for the rest of the day, thinking of her son and feeling her breasts ache with milk she could not offer him, and wait for tomorrow.
Given a set of loose exercise clothes the next morning, and led with Maeta to a large room above ground perhaps twice the size of the dormitory, Teyla was surprised at how quickly the movements came back to her when she started in to the simple exercises which she often used to help Rodney work out the stiffness from which his back often suffered. So much enforced inactivity; the residual weakness from the gene alteration and from her pregnancy; the steady, dull ache in her breasts from the pressure of the milk her son couldn't drink; the anger and the sadness that tinged her every waking thought here: they all should have left her sluggish and clumsy. Yet when she moved through a series of stretching exercises on the mat, expecting to find that she would have to fight against her body, she was perhaps foolishly surprised that the strength she found in her limbs, the resilience she discovered, made her remember what it had been like for her and Ronon when Aiden had them take the enzyme. There was that same incredible strength, the endorphin rush that came with a reach which seemed to take her so much further than ever before; but this was cleaner and purer, a strength not tempered by a constant, itching desire for more.
She could see something like the same emotion written on Maeta's expressive face, in the frown that creased her forehead and in the set of her mouth. Her cousin had always been better with the bow and arrow than with the hand-to-hand combat, and she still did not possess that fluidity of movement which Teyla and Charin had tried so hard over the years to teach her; but there was a new strength to her, a new force to the blows that she tested tentatively against Teyla's, and when they paused after a few movements, they were both breathing more heavily, not from the exercise, but from surprise. It was yet another way they had been made to realise that these were not the bodies they were used to inhabiting.
Maeta opened her mouth to speak, but was forestalled by the sound of the door opening. They turned to see a group of people filing in: the guards from yesterday and one or two others, now stripped of their leathers and their weapons, and wearing the same loose clothing that both she and Maeta wore. Teyla counted twenty of them in total, and watched as they lined themselves up into four neat rows without having to be asked. They stood loosely at attention, and their faces betrayed no emotion, but there was some aspect to them today which allowed Teyla to detect that this blankness was not, for once, born of Michael's direct control, but rather of a career soldier's well-honed ability to wait for a superior to make a decision—as she had heard John term it, a tolerance for 'hurry up and wait.'
There was absolute silence in the room for a minute, before one of the guards in the first line spoke in clipped, loud tones, "Emmagan-sheh, we are ready for your teachings." The use of the honorific was more than a little surprising: to be considered a teacher by the Erseneth, a people notoriously bent on perfection, was to be judged worthy of a title which had been bestowed on few of the hundreds of thousands of Erseneth who now lay dead in their planet's dust. Teyla wondered what Michael had told them: if he had lauded her fighting skills far beyond what they deserved, or if he had bent their minds to an unwilling respect.
She cocked an eyebrow at Maeta, who shrugged back helplessly; clearly, she had no more idea what to do here than Teyla. Teyla had never taught more than one or two people at a time, preferring to build a tutoring relationship with her students rather than guide a full class of Marines as Ronon had often done, and she had never taught under such conditions as these: where it was not the student who was unwilling, but rather the teacher. She had never taught someone in the full and certain knowledge that they would be required to go out into the worlds and use those skills to hurt and maim innocents. There was no peace to be found here, as she so often had in the amber-glass warmth of the training rooms in Atlantis. There she had moved in the light and seen no shame in letting others see her movements, glad of how they tied her to her body; here, there was only the hope that one day she could use her hands to work as effectively towards atonement.
But practicality would have to win out here, as it did in nearly all things. She could not refuse to work with them, for fear of what Michael would do to her son, or to the other captives on the base; besides, there was always the slim chance that she could persuade some of them to use the skills which she was about to teach them in order to turn on Michael.
She straightened her back and willed her limbs to loosen. "What styles have you learned?"
"Meren phi," said one.
"Kev tollen," said another, "From Muirin-sheh."
The others murmured in agreement, all of them having studied either, or both, with perhaps a smattering of Gerenull kickboxing thrown in for good measure.
Teyla nodded in acknowledgement. All three styles of fighting had been taught on the Erseneth homeworld for generations, honed and refined into something almost as lethal as anything she or Ronon could unleash. Of course, they were also all styles of fighting which were taught to only those who could afford to pay for such tutoring; she would have been very surprised if any member of the Erseneth guard, for all their much vaunted physical prowess, had ever been in a street fight or fought through mud and rain to get to the aid of a fallen comrade. Those were skills you could only learn out of desperation, when you were all that stood between the Wraith and your family, or when you were left to Run from planet to planet with only your anguish to push you onwards; those were skills which were never codified, or given a name, but which were the best thing you could ever hope to learn—those were the ones which meant you would live.
She told them all to adopt the first stance of meren phi, then inclined her head almost imperceptibly at Maeta. While the twenty guards moved into position—raising their arms just so, twenty pairs of feet displaying perfect alignments on matting which covered the floor—Teyla sprang on the left, Maeta on the right, and between the two of them managed to inflict a thoroughly humiliating defeat on the guards. Even with the influence of their new physical makeup, they couldn't quite bring down all of them, not with such disparity in numbers, and not given that more than one had a build to rival Ronon's. Yet between them, Maeta and Teyla left a respectable number lying on the mats, clutching various parts of their anatomy, managed to make one or two others knock themselves out, and left the remaining few standing immobile in befuddlement.
"Your first lesson," Teyla said, grinning at them, making sure they could see as many of her teeth as was needed to create a strong impression. "When an opponent tries to guide your movements, do not let them. That is an advantage you will never be able to recover. No battle will ever be a neat, controlled exercise; you must be thinking before you even attempt to land your first blow. You," she said, pointing at a red-headed woman who was just heaving herself up from the ground. "Your name?"
"Heleth," the woman replied, tongue darting out to lick coppery blood from a split lip.
"Heleth," Teyla said, "Your timing is good, but you seem unwilling to move out to meet your opponent, and it unbalances you. Greater fluidity will help you. Move more like so." Teyla took a step forward, letting herself rock forwards on the balls of her feet and feeling the corresponding shift in her hips, in her spine, in the way she was braced for any blow. "You?" She nodded at a very tall man who wore his hair in a length of dark braids down his back.
"Kimell," he answered, his voice low-pitched but incongruously soft for his size. She thought his accent might have been Northern Erseneth, the rounded vowel sounds and elided consonants that were a hallmark of those who lived by the lakes.
"Kimell," Teyla repeated, trying to commit all of their names to memory. "Your left side seems to be weaker. A training injury?"
"Wraith," he said. "Killed it, but it got me before it went." He tugged down the top of his trousers just enough for Teyla to see a thick gnarl of scar tissue that hugged close to the curve of his hip bone and trailed away down to disappear beneath the loose fabric. She felt her eyebrows rise, involuntarily. With an injury as bad as that, it was a wonder the man was still walking, let alone that he had remained a member of the Erseneth Guard.
"I see," was all she said. "We can work on that."
She paused for a moment while she tied her braids back loosely from her face, as much to remove something which an opponent could cling to as to cool down the back of her neck. "So," she said calmly, looking around at the twenty of them, most of whom had stood again, the rest of whom would quickly learn that it would pay to get back on your feet quickly, "I think it is time we play a game that a friend of mine refers to as 'last one standing.'"
And though she could not offer the incentive of the last of the double chocolate chip cookies as a prize for the winner, she could surely throw herself into this fight with as much boundless energy as John always had when he had challenged her or Ronon; so Teyla crouched low, and swept her right leg out in a wide, shattering arc that brought two of them down at the ankles, and she moved.
She trained with them the next day, and the next, and the day after that. Teyla learned that as good as he still was, Kimell would always now make a better director of troops than a fighter himself; that Ferthi could use her comparative lack of stature to good effect, going in low to take out people much taller than she was; that the Erseneth would listen to what she said, and follow her actions, repeating them over and over until their movements were as good as they needed to be and better. By the end of the week, Teyla knew that she could take this group anywhere and win a bout of hand-to-hand combat; by the end of two, she knew that they would be ready to form the core of an army that could take on any challengers. Less time in physical proximity to Michael also seemed to be lessening his influence on them. They lost some of the awful blankness which at first Teyla had seen on their faces even while they were in the midst of running through an exercise, and she'd seen Kimell smile, shyly, when she complimented him on his movements. Haleth had even spoken up without being asked a direct question, once or twice, as if some of her own curiosity was returning.
Teyla enjoyed the activity, she had to admit, the new strength and power that flowed through the palms of her hands, potential energy converted to kinetic at her touch. It gave her something to do with her days, something to distract her from the pain of the milk building up in her swollen breasts; distracted her from looking up at a sky that somehow never darkened with the shadow of the Daedalus; something to fill up the long hours that came between waking in the morning, and seeing Torren for that one, precious, allocated hour before she went to sleep. She still doubted she would be able to face her reflection in a mirror, but she itched to hold her bantos rods in her hands once more, to feel the heft of them and to see what she could do with them now that she'd been changed.
Even this was tainted, of course, as everything in this place was tainted. Seeing her little band of students progress was satisfying, but always at the back of her mind was the thought that this was something she was only doing so that she could be bribed with moments of her child's time each evening, the thought that the skills she taught these people would be used to hurt and to kill people who had done no wrong. Teyla tried not to dwell on it; her actions here were unwilling, and the decisions Michael made were to be placed on his conscience alone. More than that, she tried to work with what she had, sounding out the group to see who she might be able to rely on to help her when she escaped—'make a break' for it, as John would say in his pleasing, rhyming slang.
Kimell could be a strong ally, she thought; of all of them, he seemed to be the one who was the most free of Michael's control, and the one who could shake it off the most quickly the farther he was from him. Teyla was less certain of Haleth; for all that the woman could speak her own will at times, unfettered by Michael's control, there were times when she seemed to have to actively fight to follow what Teyla was saying to her at the beginning of a lesson, her brow creased in concentration. Nivian and Banald seemed to have been truly converted to Michael's cause, parroting back his words to her whenever she spoke to them; perhaps not surprising for two orphans from Cephit, whose entire families had been taken by the Wraith, and for whom the final defeat of their enemy would be worth any heartbreak. There were several others in the group whom Maeta had volunteered to get the measure of, as well; Teyla trusted that Maeta's ability to find the best gossip, infamous on Athos and well-known even on Atlantis, would stand her in good stead here.
Kimell and Haleth were the two Teyla had earmarked most strongly as potential allies; and when, in the middle of the second week, Michael had them all moved from the below-ground dormitories to a row of barracks on the surface, she and Maeta made sure that they would share quarters with the two of them, as well as with Aleis, a tall, almost painfully thin woman from Vajgerna, and her son Dedan, who had not long since marked his seventh summer.
The new barracks were hardly better appointed than the old dormitories, with bare floors and curtainless windows and beds narrow and hard enough that Teyla would almost have sworn that they were of Lantean manufacture when she lay down on one for the first time. There was a curtained corner, however, with a toilet and a small shower unit, which was a marked improvement on what they had had before; the small windows looked out onto the dusty expanse of the compound, but also to blue sky and sunlight; and the building even provided a certain appearance of privacy, though Teyla could not be sure that no one reported back to Michael, nor that the room was not bugged.
But it turned out that Kimell was the child of traders, too, and that he spoke a little of the Guma, the secret dialect traders used amongst themselves for privacy, or for profit. The Guma was made up of words from half a dozen different languages—Athosian, yes, but also Sijpo and Genii and Etak and Ancient—all of them thrown together, their syllables inverted and inflected, all of it evolving year by year. An inelegant language, certainly, and one with a vocabulary so small and specific that it could never be used to write a work of great literature, or to allow for a philosophical debate.
Yet the Guma offered its speakers one great advantage—its constantly changing form, its inversion of all the languages which the gate system knew, meant that it could not be automatically translated, and could not be understood by anyone who did not have the key to its guttering, skipping code. The traders who invented it had used it to confide secrets about trade routes, caches of weapons and spices ready for sale, information on which planetary government was looking for investment in mining or weapons development or manufacturing, to tell of direction and time and planning—and for all these reasons, it was perfect for Teyla and her allies to use here. Teyla could sit on one of the uncomfortable beds in the evenings and talk softly with Kimell in the tongue, letting Haleth and Maeta drown out their words with discussions of supposed friends who had never existed.
Kimell and Haleth had been on the planet for longer, and knew the layout of the camp better than Teyla; they could tell her where to turn left, where to turn right; where the weapons were kept; when the guards changed; how to get to Michael's quarters; the best time to take him out with a single shot to the forehead so that she might take her child from the suite of rooms where he was being kept and go back to her city. Kimell, it turned out, had a gift for logistics second only to Ronon's, even when expressed in as clumsy a language as the Guma. He sketched out an outline of the central building on the thin bedspread, told her "left, right, right, he here, single," and Teyla bent over it, frowning, memorised it, this plan written with the edge of a thumbnail. Here was her hope.
She nurtured that hope over the next few days, waiting as Kimell and Haleth and Maeta sounded out more and more of the people on the base. Of the maybe five and a half thousand in the compound now, some fifteen hundred were still being converted, and three hundred more were sent on regular rotation up to the ships in orbit. There was no way of ascertaining what proportion were loyal to Michael, and what proportion to their own selves, but neither Teyla nor those helping her thought that the loyalists could form more than a thousand of the total—the ones whose minds had been the weakest and the most scattered; the ones whose minds had seemed the strongest, who had had one focus which Michael could easily subvert; the ones whom Michael could break most easily, or from whom he had most to lose if he couldn't break them; the ones whose hatred of the Wraith overcame all sense of logic, or the ones who feared a return home to a planet which had been emptied of life.
Teyla thought they could depend on perhaps no more than a thousand to fight with them, who would not just oppose Michael, but who would be willing to rise up with them, and she was painfully aware that most of them were teenagers, willing, but young, untrained and untested in battle. Still, all of them would have weapons—Kimell knew the code to get into the armoury, and Teyla knew that certain things were true: there had never been a flying craft invented that John Sheppard couldn't fly, or Rodney McKay couldn't hot-wire, and there was not a weapon in this galaxy that she couldn't wield. They would have the element of surprise, and the simplest of tactics: kill Michael; retrieve her son and her people; go home. Teyla hoped that if they were free of Michael, of the constant brush of his mind against theirs, that the incentive for most of those around him to revenge themselves on him would quickly fade away.
There was not much she could do herself in open support of the plan, of course. Michael had spies everywhere, used the eyes of others and perhaps even looked out through them himself, and she knew that he would be wary of her constantly—Michael was clever enough to fear what she could achieve when she had sufficient motivation.
She had to find other things to occupy her time: innocent tasks that could fill up the long hours between sunrise and sunset, repetitive chores that left her body aching pleasantly with the satisfaction of work, but which left her mind free to think. Teyla wouldn't inflict her cooking on anyone, but she could make and mend, and could contribute the strength of her arms and the labour of her back. Three days of helping with the communal laundry were rounded off with a stint standing outside with Maeta while they washed their clothes in a too-small tub with a the last of the swiftly dwindling supply of soap flakes. Michael had provided them with a spare set of clothes in which to train, but even though her changed body chemistry meant that she didn't perspire as much as she previously had, they had been working hard, had walked through the dust of the compound to get to the gym each morning and back each evening, and under the arms and at the cuffs of their clothing, sweat and dirt had gathered and caked. Though Teyla placed padding inside her camisole to soak up the milk her sore breasts leaked, it was not quite enough, and she had spots of milk on the front of her clothing, too, milk that she should have been using to feed her child but which she instead had to scrub from the fabric, bent over in the morning sunshine.
The work did not take up much of her mind, neither when she was rubbing at stubborn spots, nor when she was helping Maeta wring out the clothes before throwing them over a nearby stand of scrubby, struggling bushes to dry more quickly in the heavy air. It gave her time to talk with Maeta, or to exchange words with some of the others as they passed by on various errands, without appearing as if she were doing anything less innocuous than ensuring she would look at least vaguely presentable—a struggle, given how short they were on even this rough brown lye soap, which had to serve to wash both them and their clothes.
It provided her with a much-needed sense of freedom, too. Teyla could see the electrified fencing which ran along the perimeter of the compound, of course, the flat-roofed buildings which were slowly being constructed in order to house the others Michael had changed, the buildings at the centre which led down and down to where Michael was using her son's blood in order to create more and more like them. But there was clean earth underneath her toes as she worked, the mildest of breezes at her back, and a hot blue sky above her that stretched clear and empty to the mountains and the horizon. People wandered to and fro, only the set of their shoulders suggesting that they were not free, and a little to the north of them, beyond the compound's walls, the arc of the stargate, a crisp and clean metal form arcing up into the air.
Teyla bit her lip and scrubbed, and by the time she was wriggling into clean, sun-dried clothes, she felt ready to face Michael when one of his lieutenants came to summon her to his quarters. Teyla looked over at Maeta, wondering whether this was a sign that someone had spoken to the wrong person, that one of them had been overheard. Maeta shrugged slightly, an imperceptible lift of her shoulders which meant that she couldn't know, and inclined her head slightly, as close to a blessing as she could give without making the guard curious.
Teyla tied her braids back at the nape of her neck and followed the guard back across the beaten earth of the compound towards the main block of buildings. She had to blink for a moment when they passed from the white noonday sunlight into the cool darkness of the interior, but had recovered by the time she followed him down two levels of a clattering metal staircase, down to the main level of the base. It was unusually quiet inside, and Teyla passed only five people in the corridors. Some of the doors to the dormitories in which she and the others had been kept were propped open, and when Teyla peered in as she passed, she could see that they were empty, their beds stripped. She knew that some of the occupants must have been moved up to the barracks, but there were nowhere near enough buildings prepared yet to house the amount of people Michael had changed. One of the hive ships captured by Michael had taken off yesterday, while she and Maeta had training with the troops; now she supposed she knew what it had been carrying.
The guard left her at the door to Michael's lab. Teyla went in, only to find it empty but for some kind of scientific apparatus on the tables, its form vaguely kin to the kinds of things Carson had once used in his labs, and a bank of large, ungainly looking computers against one wall. Her steps slowed, and if there had been the time to explore the room, she would have done so: much as she knew that there was nothing she could find here that would be anything but distasteful to her, there was always the possibility that she would find something which she could use to help her people, to help herself, to free her son from what Michael had done to him. She had no training in medicine, true, but she had the barest smattering of the basics, acquired out of curiosity with Carson's work, which might be able to guide her towards what Michael was working towards, and the determination that should help her succeed.
A first glance showed her little, however, and there was no time for a second: the door which led from the lab into the room beyond was opened, and one of Michael's lab assistants appeared, jerking her head in a way which Teyla presumed meant that she was to follow. Inside this other room, the light was amber-tinted and dim, and it reminded Teyla oddly of being back in Atlantis at sunset, though the walls here were straight and sharp, and the floor was cold beneath her feet. Michael sat at a desk, head bowed, writing something down in the liquid, vertical lines that made up the Wraith script, his hand moving rapidly down the page. In a cot on the floor next to him—what a parody of fatherhood, as though he had been keeping watch—Torren lay sleeping, his tiny fists clenched next to his cheeks, and Teyla had taken a helpless step towards him before she even realised she had moved.
"Torren and I managed to increase the efficiency of the conversion process by seven per cent today," Michael said without looking up. "It was somewhat… trying for all involved. Delu's only just got him to sleep. I wouldn't wake him."
Teyla glared at the back of his head, but he didn't turn around, and he made no protest when she crossed the room and scooped her son up from his warm nest of blankets. Torren did stir, but he didn't cry out as she had been half-afraid that he might: Michael's promise of daily visits had swiftly been forgotten, and Teyla had feared that he might have forgotten her in the few days they had been parted, as if Michael could have twisted him away from her as surely as he had twisted them away from the rest of their family. Torren blinked awake and stared up at her with dark eyes, and though Teyla knew it was still a little too early for his smile to be anything more than a reflex, her heart would have sworn that it expressed happiness to see her again. She tugged up her shirt and offered him her breast, and when he rooted and took it, sucking with a healthy enthusiasm, she almost sobbed with relief at the cessation of two aches at once, the ease it brought to both body and mind.
She sat down carefully on one of the chairs in the corner and watched her son drink, his little hands curling and flexing in dreamy time with his sucking. "What do you want?" Teyla asked Michael, because she was quite certain that she had not been invited here merely so that she could see Torren for an extra few moments that day, nor that her son had just happened to be in the room while she was present. Michael was neither that kind, nor that possessed of subtlety.
The scratch of Michael's pen on the page didn't stop. "We took Nav Berlon's moon today," he said impassively, his posture still correct and straight in his chair. "Rooted out the last of the resistance. Their entire solar system is now under my control."
"If you brought me here seeking my congratulations," Teyla said, forcing her voice to something resembling Michael's impassivity, "then you are even more delusional than I thought you were."
He laid his pen down on the desk and turned to look at her. In the orange light, he looked like a strange parody of the man he had once thought he was—his hair almost blond, his skin almost a shade that could be human. "No," Michael said. "I called you here because I want you to work with me. It's time that we begin to expand."
Teyla blinked at him, at a loss for words. She felt something bubble up in her throat which might almost have been laughter, disbelieving, just as it once had when Charin had come to her with a grave look on her face and the confirmation of her father's death. She'd felt ashamed of herself afterwards, that she could have greeted such tragedy with something like levity, but she didn't think she could face such an obscenity with anything else. "What exactly, in any of my actions or my words, has made you think that I would be willing to work with you?"
"Nothing so far," Michael said, and it was that steady calm which offended her most of all. If her child had not been nursing at her breast, Teyla thought she might have killed him right there and then: used the unnatural strength he had given her hands to break his neck without the least remorse. "But you are the daughter of traders, Teyla Emmagan. You know the value of compromise, and the price of a bargain."
"I do," Teyla said, arching both her eyebrows at him, and enunciating all her words with great care, "Just as I know the value of trust. And the worth of any deal made with a Wraith."
He spread his hands wide, a calculated gesture of mock-supplication that also served to let her see the now-healed wounds on his hands with which he had once killed. "I am not a Wraith any more," Michael said softly.
She could not argue with the truth of that. "I do not know what you have made of any of us," Teyla said, and all of a sudden she felt very tired, as if she had been awake for months, as if she had been trying to stay ahead of a nightmare for so long and had only just realised that she could never outrun it. She fought the urge to let her head drop back against the wall, to close her eyes; she would not give him any other sign of weakness, even if she could not keep the weariness out of her voice.
"But I know what we will be in the end," Michael said. "And I need you to get us there. I can make it worth your while."
Teyla stared at him.
"As much as I need the guideline of your son's genes, I need your talents, Teyla," he said, and she thought that he must have studied more of John's body language for this—co-opted the nuances of posture and gesture, the tilt of the head, that one human used when asking a request of another, because it was not something she'd ever seen him do before, not something she'd ever seen any Wraith do. "There are nearly six thousand of us now, between this base and the ships, and my operatives on other worlds. Even if there were never any children, six thousand people will need food, clothing, weapons—a steady supply chain at least, and perhaps the ability to grown our own crops. These are not things I have much experience in, but you have been arranging them for the Athosians for years."
"And?" she said. She was not going to make this conversation easy for him.
"I am willing to trade. You will help me to arrange a supply chain—tell me which planets have the best markets, find me the best seed for planting here, organise the people needed for harvesting and food preparation."
"And in return?"
"In return, you gain your son back during daylight hours, though he will stay with his wet nurse at night."
"Unacceptable," Teyla said, a tiny smile on her face. She'd played this game many times since she was a small child. What he was asking her to do was no more and no less than ensuring the survival of all of them, of his entire venture, and Teyla was neither blind nor unintelligent. The food they were served here was always the same watery vegetable gruel each day, indifferently made and only occasionally supplemented by dry biscuit. The clothing supply had been adequate so far, but she thought they would run out of soap, soon; other necessities would soon follow. She had not even been here for three cycles of the moon, yet she did not think that this base could have been established for more than six. If he was asking for help from her this soon, for something this vital, then there was the tacit understanding that she was the one who held the power at this moment, and that she was the one who could set the terms.
"It is more than you have now," Michael said, sitting up straighter.
"I wonder," Teyla said lightly, settling a now full Torren on her shoulder and rubbed his back gently in case he had wind, "how much experience you have of leading a people whose empty bellies are speaking louder than their common sense? You like to remind us all that we are not human any longer. Very well. Nor are you Wraith. I will enjoy watching you learn just how different the hunger pangs are; not to mention how angry people can become when their bellies are empty and there is no near prospect of a harvest to fill them."
He stared at her quietly for a long moment, then leaned back in his chair. Teyla suppressed a triumphant smile; she knew that meant that she had won.
"You will cease your mental control over your infantry," she said, keeping her voice as decisive as she could make it without aggravating him so much that he would withdraw the offer. Michael made to protest, but she shook her head. "You will do so. It will serve you nothing in the long-term, except to make every one of them resent you. Giving them back their free will now lessens that chance; besides, where can they go if they desert you? We will always be marked." The lie tripped blandly off her tongue; she could think of the addresses of half a dozen empty worlds where people could go to wait before she joined them and dialled Atlantis, helped them to find their way back home.
Michael's mouth twisted, an ugly line that slashed across his face, made deeper and almost grotesque in the room's amber lighting. "You'd rather they have their freedom than you more time with your son?"
The corner of Teyla's mouth twitched; if he was being that careless, she certainly had him. "No," she said blithely, her blood thrilling with the joy of this one victory after so long with nothing but defeat, "You misunderstand me. You will release those people from your control while I take my son back with me to my quarters, where he will remain. You can release his wet nurse, as well; there will be no further need for her."
"If I agree to this," he said, tapping the fingers of one hand against his knee, a gesture that seemed almost nervous, incongruous given the usual casual arrogance of his bearing, "If I agree to this, you will give me your aid?"
"Certainly," Teyla said, as easily as if she were telling the truth to a trusted friend. All a trader ever had was his or her good name, and her father had impressed on her throughout her childhood the importance of every Athosian honouring their contracts, holding true to their words. She felt no compunction about lying to Michael now, not a qualm about making a promise she didn't intend to keep, not if it would give her back her son and her home and her city. Hopefully, she would be back on Atlantis before Michael had time to realise that she was lying; from the look on his face now, he was not certain whether she was telling the truth or not.
If he were as smart as he thought he was, Teyla thought, rising and securing a now-drowsing Torren in the crook of her arm, then Michael would be sure that she was lying. She was not about to disabuse him of the notion, however, not if it would give her her son back, and remove one more obstacle from her path when she and the others made their escape; with any luck, she would be gone before he had time to reconsider. She could feel Michael watching her as she left the room; she did not look back.
The next day, Michael sent one of his lieutenants, a burly former drone that everyone had taken to calling Brenn after the hulking character in the old folk tale—who, Teyla was gratified to see, seemed to be free of the mind control, though he had the slightly strained air of someone who was trying his best to hide a particularly bad ruus wine hangover—to fetch her. Teyla and Aleis had just finished their respective breakfasts--bowls of gruel which Maeta had eyes with a barely suppressed shudder before reheating them over their tiny portable stove--and Teyla was preparing to bring Torren with her to that morning's training when Brenn poked his head around the doorway. "You're wanted in the main building," he told her quietly, and waited without demur while Teyla slipped on her shoes and tied back her hair.
Brenn didn't speak as he walked at her side back through the compound, but he did not appear unwelcoming and she did not find him threatening: Teyla wondered if she should find that strange, considering what he had been only a few months ago. He toted her bag for her while she carried Torren in a sling at her front; next to her, Brenn's tattooed bulk was enough to shield her from the glare of the steadily rising sun. The man's silence was a welcome counterpoint to the hubbub of the compound as it started to come alive in so many ways: the chatter and the talk, waves of people emerging from their dormitories in groups of two and three to start in on their chores, their elongated morning shadows moving starkly against whitewashed walls. Many of them looked like they would far rather be in bed still, and more than one looked askance at Brenn, but some of them nodded at her as she passed, and one or two of them ventured a smile. There were always more people in the compound than Teyla thought there were, always more of them converted than her mind wanted to comprehend. She felt a responsibility for all of them—knew that she bore a part of the blame for the events which had brought them here; knew that she had taken on herself a role in their rescue—and the imagined weight of it was enough to make her spine and shoulders ache.
Teyla expected that Michael would be the one to meet her once inside, demanding more concessions from her in return for the safety of her child; or perhaps demanding even more of her son's blood. But Brenn showed her into a room above ground, one wall of it taken up with a large window, and the floorspace almost filled up with a heavy-looking wooden table. Michael wasn't present, but Brenn settled himself down at the table just as Delu, the woman who had served as Torren's wet-nurse, walked in and joined them. Teyla flinched a little at the sight of her; Delu had surely not volunteered willingly for the task, of course, and Teyla knew it was not logical to resent the woman for having had days with Torren that she had not. Not logical; and yet she found herself not quite able to look her full in the eye just yet.
Delu seemed scarcely more comfortable at first, looking forward and back between her square-fingered hands and Torren. At first, Teyla could not understand it, and then she remembered with a start that there must have been a child, lost thanks to Michael's actions. She had regained the son sitting in her arms, but Delu would never hold her child again, and the rush of blood to her cheeks was as hot and unsettling as the swoop of shame in her belly. She had been unkind.
"I take it he does not want to see me?" Teyla said, grasping for professionalism, stroking Torren's tuft of dark hair with one hand when he stirred against her in his sleep, a little fretful for all that his belly was full of her milk and his bottom clean—perhaps he was picking up something of his mother's curiosity and concern, through some instinctive grasp of the network that formed a delicate, dangerous tracery between the minds of everyone with Wraith genetic heritage. She arched an eyebrow at Brenn and Delu, waiting for some sign as to why it was the three of them together in this one room.
Brenn swiped his hand over a ridged section of the table, and above the tabletop, a hologram appeared: a map of light that charted out a smattering of the solar systems that were connected to one another through the gate system. One or two of them, Teyla thought she recognised: Nav Berlon, with its distinctive binary stars; the shatter of what had once been Kesper, now circling its sun in a far-flung asteroid field; perhaps even the ellipse of planets where Old Athos lay, one of twenty small planets that whirled around a slowly cooling sun in the bright heart of the galaxy. "He wanted you to see this." Another flick of his fingers, and Brenn had focused the light-chart so that it magnified to show only a single planetary system–three planets, the centre-most of them circled by two small moons, spinning around a white-hot sun.
"This is where we are?" Teyla asked Brenn, but it was Delu who answered her.
"Yes, the central planet. It was uninhabited for many years before we arrived here, but it was once a colony of Selek Maior. We are perhaps three systems away from their homeworld. Well positioned, you see, for any trade through the Rings, or trade by spaceship most places in this quadrant."
"He wants us to attempt both?"
"I think we will have to," Delu replied. "I don't believe he made it clear to you just how low our supplies are. The most recent batch of hybrids will awaken shortly, and even if we stretch what we have now, I don't think we can last much more than three weeks with what lies in our storerooms. He says his plans are… extensive, and will require hard work from everyone." Her mouth twisted a little at that. "Food must be found to feed each hungry mouth–and nearly every mouth here is hungry."
"So many?" Teyla felt her eyebrows rise. She settled back in her seat, and tried very hard to think; three weeks' supply of food was no buffer at all, and if Michael had allowed the situation to become this desperate… really, she thought, he had not realised just how different it was to have to earn your food with the work of your hands, not with the touch of them, let alone what it was to go from an intermediary who served a Hive Queen to having to care for so many thousands all by yourself. It was a population size that seemed like nothing compared to what she had glimpsed in John's imagined Earth, Teyla knew, but six thousand was more than she had ever cared for at one time, either on Atlantis or back on Athos.
She sat up straight again, and shifted Torren so that he was settled into the crook of her other arm. Regardless of what her experience had been before, she was here now, and she would have to make the best of things. Charin would surely have counselled her to do as much—for all that she could never have conceived of such circumstances. "Do you know of anyone amongst us who has knowledge of the plants most likely found on a planet such as this? The animals?"
Brenn nodded. "Some of the Berlonai said here is like their southern continent. Sent a couple of them out this morning to see what game there is. There's a big river, too; the mouth's about half a day's walk, shorter if we take one of the transports. Should be fish."
"And there are two women who were apothecaries. They should be able to tell us what is edible, and even what we might be able to cultivate," Delu said.
"Encouraging," Teyla said, "But not enough."
"No," Delu agreed. Brenn shook his head.
"So we must travel outwards to trade," Teyla continued, stroking the soft, warm skin of Torren's cheek.
"I thought perhaps Kinnon," Delu said, folding her hands in front of her on the table. "They have good markets there for foodstuffs to tide us over, and for seeds to let us start afresh."
"That is what I would have suggested myself," Teyla said. She tilted her head, realising she had forgotten one very important thing. "What has he given us to trade with?"
Delu's mouth quirked upwards at the corner, a strangely sharp expression to be written in such a mobile mouth. "Nothing," she said dryly, "That I know of. And at the moment we do not have the resources to take food by force. Which I imagine is why he sought your help."
Teyla sighed, and though she opened her mouth, for a moment she could not find the words to speak. The desire to emulate Rodney, to cast her eyes up to the sky and wonder why the Ancestors had marked her out for such a path in life, to declare you have got to be kidding me, was indeed strong. She wondered if these were the emotions which Rodney endured constantly; fortunate, then, that he had not yet developed a stomach ulcer. "I see," she said, when she felt she could call on her verbal skills again without feeling the overwhelming desire to simply take up her bantos sticks instead and beat some sense into Michael. "Well then. Here is where I think we should begin."
They sent the first trading team out the next day, carefully cloaked and wearing half veils so that at first glance, no one could see the faint pallor of their skin, or the marks on their cheeks—most people, Teyla knew, would take the three of them for Meneth traders, who had strong taboos concerning the gaze of those who were not of their nation. Teyla stood in the first dawn light and watched them pass out through the compound gates, three slight figures, whom Delu had recommended for their quick wits and tongues that were sharp at haggling, vanishing through the wormhole. She stood there and watched for a little time after they'd gone, arms wrapped around herself and thinking—of all the things that could go wrong; of her first trip through the wormhole as a trader in her own right, when Halling had stood and watched as she did now; of the shock of cold you felt on each inch of bare skin if it had been a while since your last trip through the gate—before she walked back towards the dormitory where Torren was no doubt awaiting his breakfast, her bare feet and ankles growing damp from morning dew.
By mid-morning, the temperature had climbed high enough that Torren was fretful and grizzling, tiny feet kicking and his little face, so like his father's, screwed up in an expression of extreme disgust with a world which would make him so sweaty and uncomfortable. Teyla had certainly become aware that there were some aspects of a hybrid's anatomy which made them all better able to withstand higher temperatures, much higher than high summer on New Lantea or Athos, but apparently the white heat of the sun here could be too much even for them. Teyla made no attempt at getting her team to train, letting almost everyone else retreat either to their dormitories or to the underground floors of the complex where there was a chance that things might be cooler. Teyla saw no sign of Michael throughout the day, nor of any of his most loyal lieutenants. She thought it must have been too warm and humid for them as well; an observation of which she made careful note.
Even Maeta had been sweated out of her usual cheerful good humour, her braids scraped back from her face and her tunic knotted up around her belly in an attempt to cool her down just that little bit more. Her conversation had been turning to the green and temperate forests of Athos—no surprise there—but Teyla could not but help be irritated at her complaints, which she had to know that Teyla shared, and which could be nothing more than a fruitless expenditure of energy on Maeta's account, a refusal to heed everything Charin had always taught them.
"I have every faith that my team members are looking for me," Teyla said, as sure of it as she was of the pulse in her blood. "And that they will find us."
"Can you be that sure?" Maeta said. "Can we afford to be that sure? They may well think that we are all dead. We have heard no rumour of them looking for us."
"And Michael controls all communications on this world," Teyla snapped, switching Torren to her other breast and looking down at him as he rooted for a moment before latching on successfully. "Do you really think that he would allow us to hear if the Lanteans were still looking for us? Let alone if they were close to finding us!"
The set of Maeta's jaw was mutinous.
Teyla sighed, took a moment to steady her breathing and order her thoughts, to reach for the calm which had served her so well in the past. "I am sorry," she said. "My anger is not meant for you, Maeta, truly. But hope is the most effective and dangerous weapon we still have against Michael. No matter how truly he thinks he may control the minds of the people on this base, if there is still a seed of hope there…"
"You sound like Halling."
"Yes," Teyla said, a bite and a snap in her voice which she had not allowed to surface in years, perhaps not since Sergeant Bates had found the soft parts of her underbelly and realised how to target them. She took advantage of Torren's fretful need to be winded to turn her face away, settling him against her shoulder and patting his back. "And how often he was proved correct."
"Perhaps," was all Maeta would say, voice tight and quiet, before she stripped down to her undergarments and lay down on her cot with Torren when Teyla handed him over, an attempt to sleep through the worst of the day's heat. Teyla could not blame her, but she could not join her. She would have to keep up her end of the bargain with Michael for the moment by helping to establish and secure supply lines. It was the only way to ensure that those around her did not starve while she worked to secure that one chance which was all she would need to make a break for the stargate with her family.
Teyla was writing out a list of things for Brenn and the others to get on with that afternoon, struggling to remember the blocky calligraphy of Wraith script which was all that Brenn could read, when off near the horizon, she saw the blue spark which signalled that the stargate had rushed into life. She lifted her head to look—it was too early for the others to be coming back from the market planet, though perhaps they had been unusually successful; or maybe it was some unknown group of travellers who had misdialled and would have to be politely, silently, herded back in the direction of the 'gate.
It was her traders, but they did not come through the wormhole laden with baskets of vegetables, pulling cartloads of seed-grain and bearing the promise of more, as Teyla had hoped—they staggered through, two of them holding up a slight figure that had to be Tekkil. Even from this distance, Teyla could see the blood on his tunic. She picked up her skirts and ran towards them, calling back over her shoulder to Brenn to fetch someone who had better medical training than she did; the guards opened the gates to her without demur, seeming as alarmed as she was by the sight of so much blood, and as she ran, she thought of all the times Elizabeth must have experienced something similar, the heart-shattering panic, the impotence of the moment between finding out that something had gone horribly wrong, and knowing what it was so that will and wisdom could be applied to righting the situation.
"What happened?" she was calling even before she reached them. "What—"
Tekkil's twin, Sheren, and a friend of his—Anagat, Teyla thought her name was—began to lower him to the blue-grey grass just as she skidded to a halt next to them. At first, she had the wild thought that it was so they could begin to render him assistance, but her first glimpse of his face told her there was no hope: his breaths were slow and shallow, his eyes already taking on the glassy look that spoke of coming death. There was a bloody palm print on his face, smeared over his cheek and the dark hair of his beard, as if someone had touched the wound in his gut, and then his face, as if to try to pull his attention back to them from wherever it was that he was going. Sheren bent her head over her brother, kissed his forehead and his eyelids and his cooling lips, and began to recite the words of farewell, her voice hitching with grief and horror.
"What happened?" Teyla turned to Anagat, whose mouth was set in a thin line, the hood of her cloak pushed back from her face, the beads in her braids shivering in sympathy with the shaking of her body.
"We—we got to the market safely," Anagat began. "We wore our hoods up, just as you asked, and the veils over them. Everyone took us for Meneth traders, I don't think anyone— Sheren and I were at the central stall, bargaining for the seed grain, and… He saw some of his cousins, there with the uncle he was named for, crossing the square, and he didn't stop to think. He called out to them—we had thought them all dead—and he hurried over to say hello—"
"'Don't you know us, uncle?'" Sheren said coolly, arranging her brother's arms according to custom so that one lay straight by his side, the other across his chest; several hundred years ago, Teyla knew, his left hand would have been flexed so that it would hold a great broadsword. "That was what he said. 'Don't you know us, uncle?' And he pulled back his hood so that he would be known for Tekkil, but as soon as they saw his face, the marks…"
Sheren lifted her head to look directly at Teyla, and there was such strain quivering in all the lines of her face that Teyla did not dare to reach out and touch her arm, for fear of the reaction it would provoke. Teyla had seen that wild-eyed look before, too many times, on too many well-beloved faces. "What happened?" Teyla said again, very gently.
"My uncle had a knife," Sheren said shortly. "My uncle had a knife, and he said we were an abomination, Wraith-born, and he killed his nephew as coldly as you would put down a stray dog that had water madness. We ran to save all our lives." Her jaw closed with a sudden click of teeth.
Teyla bowed her head, and wished she did not have to ask this question. "They must have followed you back to the 'gate," she said. "Is there any chance they saw the address for this planet? I know it is—"
Sheren stood up, her back painfully straight. "You don't need to worry. I am not half the fool my brother was." Then she ran off in the direction of the dormitories, the navy cloth of her cloak streaming out behind her, dark against the paler blue-green of the grassy slope beneath her feet.
Anagat looked after Sheren, then back at the corpse lying at her feet, a look of indecision on her face, but Teyla shook her head slightly at her. "Go," Teyla said, "sit with her. She will need you very soon. I will look after Tekkil."
Anagat nodded at her, then rested her fingertips very briefly on Tekkil's forehead before she hurried off with light, quick steps to find her place. And Teyla stayed behind; helped Brenn to carry the corpse when at last he lumbered up the slope to help her, washed the body and laid it out for burial, and all the time she thought of what it meant—this sudden, forceful, new realisation that perhaps none of them, perhaps not even she herself, would ever be able to go home; that the family she had with her here—her son, her cousin, the relationships she was slowly making with the people around her—were a wonderful, unlooked-for thing to have gained, but that Michael's actions might have lost her the family she had fought so hard to keep safe back home.
The next few days were difficult.
They agreed to burn Tekkil's body at dawn the following morning. Sheren stayed up all night with her brother's body, speaking to him in low tones that Teyla could not make out, though truth be told, she was trying her best not to listen; some things should always be private, especially at the end. Teyla sat at the back of the dormitory which had been given over to Tekkil's wake for that night, cross-legged on the floor with her back to the wall. Such vigils were always tiring, and not because of the sleepless nights they required. Teyla had sat Rememberer for family members since she was old enough to do so—four nights in a row once, during the awful month when sweating fever had carried off so many of her people with swift efficiency. Even when her job was done, and she could have sought her bed with a clear conscience, Teyla had not been able to sleep; she remembered going to sit on the shore of the lake, her bare feet dangling in the clear water made warm by the summer sun, her heart full with a grief she had not yet known how to express, until Charin had come to put a hand on her shoulder and guide her back to her tent.
Sheren's grief now was no less than Teyla's had been then, an eleven-year-old staggering under the weight of losing so many of her own, all at once, the last of her father's side of the family, the last of the people she could call 'aunt' and 'uncle.' Teyla knew that Sheren hadn't just lost her brother, the sibling with whom she had shared the womb; she had lost the chance of ever regaining her family, had lost the hope that if she could just free herself from the compound here and make it back to one of the main trading planets, she'd somehow be able to find those of her people who still survived. Tekkil's death had told her she would never be able to go back, and Teyla thought that that was something which was slowly dawning on others here—on those who had been human before their change, and even perhaps on the hulking, slow-moving men who had once worn the bone face mask of a Wraith drone. It was a realisation that spread slowly through the compound as the news of the failed trading expedition was passed along from mouth to mouth: the realisation that they may never be able to truly leave here, never able to leave behind what Michael had done to them, was a hard one; anger and grief warred for the upper hand in Teyla's heart. She had never been given to weeping, had always sought to channel her feelings in different ways, but just now she was not sure of how best to channel her grief so that she could live up to her responsibilities.
When the first grey half-light started to work its way into the room in the hour before full dawn, Sheren stirred and spoke. "I would have… I was going to do the same thing, you know," she said, in tones that were almost conversational. In front of her, her brother's body lay shrouded in brightly patterned cloth, shades of green and orange and blue like the blouse of a trader seeking notice in a marketplace; all that they had had to wrap him in. "I saw my uncle at the same time Tekkil did, but he was quicker to call out than I was. He was not a fool"—she laughed softly here—"well, no, he was my little brother, of course he was a fool. But he was quicker to love than he was to think, and our own blood killed him for it."
She stood up, and went to open the door to summon those waiting in the compound square, so that they could help her carry her brother's corpse to the low pyre they had readied for him outside. Teyla stayed seated, for she would not be needed for this part, but she looked up when Sheren paused for a moment in the doorway. "I will never be able to go home," Sheren said, voice still far too light for the conversation they were having.
"Perhaps," Teyla said, after a moment's pause, thinking of the green woods of Athos, the tangle of seawater and light that was Atlantis.
Teyla saw Michael once over the course of the next ten days. Brenn and Maeta both heard, from varying people, through varying channels, that he was having trouble fine-tuning the conversion machines as he tried to make them more stable while expanding them to use on more and more people. Frustration led to raised voices on his part, and ever more sullen responses from those he kept around him, an anger that Teyla suspected was letting even greater numbers of people slip free of his immediate mental control. Whatever components Michael may have thought he had built into their hybrid genetic code, whatever power he may have thought he would gain from being the first of their kind, seemed to be slipping just a little; with so many of them now, his control could not be anything but stretched thin, and as they adapted to their new bodies, their new capabilities, Teyla was sure that more of them would begin to loose themselves from his grasp.
There was a new tension humming through the compound, like a wire vibrating with an unseen but dangerous electricity. People spoke to one another more, spoke to her more when she walked among them, eating lunch with this group of Vajgernans, or sharing her knowledge of a particular stitch with a seamstress from Niithlis. Those around her were slowly recovering their sense of self; each night's sleep brought a new clarity of thinking, like a besom brush sweeping away cobwebs from the vaulted frame of an Athosian tent. Thoughts were sharper, smiles were readier, those from Nav Berlonai teasing the Thernans for their drawling accents, and Teyla found it thrilling to see people wake up, to watch them regain the sharp edge of their anger—and all of it seemingly unnoticed by Michael, who was always less of a leader and more of a scientist, and like Rodney or Carson, often too caught up in the possibilities of his work to see the consequences it was having outside of his laboratory door.
He did not even feign politeness towards her during their one brief meeting; his manner was brusque, impatient as a Wraith wracked with hunger pangs. Teyla stood there facing him, inwardly cursing the fact that Michael had decreed that when she was alone with him, Torren was to be left in the care of one of his personal guards—two hulking, nameless men who had once been Wraith drones, and whose lack of independent thinking had been a continuous trait, no matter what their genetic makeup.
Teyla told him what had happened on the trading planet: that one had died and many were shaken, but though he nodded when she spoke, he seemed blithely unconcerned, more focused on the formulae he was tapping into the computer interface in front of him than in listening to the details of what she was telling him. Teyla was not quite sure why she was bothering at all; he would never care about the damage he had caused, and the less he knew about what was going on in the compound around him, the quicker and easier it would be for them to break free of him. An idle hope, maybe, that she could make him realise that his vanity, his certainty that he could decide the fate of a whole galaxy, had sent a young man, still not grown enough to sit in Council back on Athos, out to one of the most horrible deaths any inhabitant of the Ringed systems could think of: a death at the hands of one's own family.
Michael cut her off in mid-sentence when a device built into the wall began to beep, thin lights that ran the length of it flashing amber and green, over and over. "Organise another group," he said. "Send them out tomorrow. A different planet this time, but make sure they're coached on what to do. I want planting to begin as soon as they return."
Teyla arched an eyebrow at him. "My people have not been farmers in many generations," she said, "but even I am aware that now is not a planting season."
He turned away from her, back towards the results which the wall device was relaying to him, everything in his demeanour proclaiming that he had stopped paying attention to her some time ago. If she were back in one of the labs on Atlantis right now, Teyla thought, faced with a Rodney rapt and enthused about some new piece of Ancient technology, she could not have been blocked out of someone's immediate environment more effectively. "I shall let myself out then," she said, not bothering to stop her upper lip from curling, and went to fetch her son.
She retrieved a sleeping Torren from the arms of one of the stolid, unspeaking guards who stood at the door, and settled her into the crook of her arm before she set off back up the stairs and across the open compound to their dormitory, shading him a little from the great heat of the sun with a fold of his linen blanket. Her steps were quick and rhythmic, in time with her thoughts; there was so much to discuss with Maeta and the others, so much she wished she could talk over with Charin or with Elizabeth, lay out before Colonel Carter's patient calm.
Torren woke when she sat down with him on her bed, though the dormitory at this time of the day was empty and still. He looked up at her with bright eyes, and Teyla's smile was instinctive and heartfelt. "Hello, little man," she said, "did you sleep well?" Torren's expression turned considering, as if even at his age, he could understand her, and was truly giving her question some thought—but when he opened his mouth, it was not to answer her, but only to bring up a healthy amount of milky baby vomit all over her shoulder and arm. That smell was swiftly joined by another, one both suspicious and wearily familiar.
Teyla sighed and quirked an eyebrow at him. "I do believe not even Jinto produced this many bodily fluids," she said wryly, moving to clean them both up. "Your Cousin Halling would be most impressed."
She changed him with all the deftness and the indifference to dirty diapers which her months as a mother had taught her. Teyla thought that, by now, she could have done this in her sleep, and that perhaps she already had once or twice. Night feeds and night fears did not allow for much deep sleep, however exhausted she might be at the end of the day, however close she had pushed her mind and her body to their limits. Difficult as it had been to stay alert and focused during the long days and nights when the Wraith had been attacking Atlantis, difficult as it was to take on a new leadership role in this place, a role she had neither looked for nor wanted, there were times when she thought that neither of those things could compare in any way to the difficulties of being a parent.
Torren gurgled at her as she tied the diaper's strings securely around his waist. "There is no need to be so smug," Teyla told him, all mock severity and laughing eyes. "Creating a mess is no achievement, despite what your Uncles John and Ronon will tell you one day." Her son's small legs and arms were kicking and flailing in earnest now, as if he were truly eager to learn the kinds of lessons Ronon and John could teach him. Teyla's mouth quirked up wryly; she was sure the innumerable lessons in the correct use and care of weapons would be very useful, but perhaps she might try to get Rodney to inculcate some sense of self-preservation in Torren.
She stopped herself when she realised the turn her thoughts were taking; perhaps there would be plenty of time for her team to teach her son the rules of American football, or how to run through the woods so fleet and light of foot that you left not a broken twig in your wake, or about the vast distances that lay between the stars and how best to bridge them, but it was so far from certain. Perhaps they would not want to. Teyla rubbed at her forehead with one hand; she could feel a headache building, a headache of the kind which she so rarely let afflict her, but which was ceaselessly tiring when it hit.
With Torren clean, she settled down on the bed, and undid her top so that her son could drink; he latched on with enthusiasm, nursing greedily while his small fists twitched and he looked up at her with wide brown eyes. Teyla stroked his black curls, and tried not to think of what would happen should she have to wean him in the near future; tried not to think of what would happen to her son should she not get enough food to enable her to keep producing milk, or what would happen to him should Michael take it into his head that he needed more from her son than his blood.
"I do not suppose you have any idea as to what I should do, hmm, little one?" she asked him. Torren, his belly full, hiccuped and closed his eyes, a look of supreme contentment on his face. "No," Teyla sighed, "I thought not." She settled back against the one thin pillow, still cradling her son to her breast; sleeping on things might be for the best, advice she'd heard from both Charin and Carson at different times, advice that had not yet failed her.
Each passing day demanded that every person in the compound keep a careful eye on how much they ate. The stocks of grain that were kept in large stores on the north side of the compound were diminishing by the day, and even the greater strength afforded them all by the changes in their genetic code could not keep them going for much longer if there was no food to be had. If the next trading mission, or at the very latest the one after, did not provide seed grain and stocks to tide them over in the interim, they would all be in real trouble.
Teyla found Delu and Kimell the most effective people with whom to work, the ones who could think clearly and strategically, the ones who could help her to set up the networks of communication that those like Maeta and Aleis could exploit. Kimell was trained to it, of course, and Delu had the keen mind of someone who had been an archivist before all this began, accustomed to looking for patterns and meaning in thousands of years of her people's dynastic history.
It was Delu who realised it in the end, the first step they could take which would put them on the path to their goal. "Nav Berlon," she said, sitting up on the thin, browned grass that struggled to grow in the earth in front of the dormitories, pounded down by the passage of so many feet each day.
Kimell and Teyla blinked at the seeming non sequitur for a moment before Teyla realised what she meant. "You think the looms would have survived?" Teyla said, thinking of all those bright fabrics which the Berlonai had sold by the armload, so light that layers of them could be worn even in the heaviest heat, so fine that they always fetched more than a respectable price in the marketplace. Teyla's best dress, now lying unworn in a chest back on Atlantis, was made of the fluid cloth everyone referred to as Berlonai Blue, and had been a name-day present from Charin.
"Some of them must have," Delu said, "nearly every home on the planet contained at least one. Looms, and surely some supplies, or nearly finished pieces. Even if some of them were destroyed, or if there has been some looting since then—surely there still has to be something there which we can salvage."
Kimell smiled, understanding what she intended. "And we have over two thousand Berlonai here."
"All of whom," Teyla said with a small smile of satisfaction, "have been taught to weave almost since they were in the cradle."
Delu grinned at her; it startled Teyla a little, the first of Delu's smiles she'd seen. It was broad and generous, and dispelled much of that sense of awful, still containment which the woman seemed to have imposed on herself.
"I will speak to them," Teyla said, shifting so that her legs were crossed comfortably beneath her. "There are some Berlonai in the group I will teach this evening, and I believe they have substantial influence with the rest of their people here. I will find out where would be the best places in the city to begin looking, and who of them would be willing to help us once we bring the equipment back here."
Kimell arched an eyebrow at her; the expression on his face was grave enough to make her sure he was gently teasing her. "Maybe you should ask them before you beat them up. Mightn't be so willing afterwards."
"I will bear that in mind," she informed him archly. "Particularly the next time I have something to discuss with you before one of our sessions."
Delu snorted, and Kimell grinned at her, blushed a little and acknowledged the hit with a duck of his head.
Michael refused to let her go off world, even though she pointed out to him that she knew Nav Berlon well. She had climbed up the steep paths from the green valley where its stargate lay to the white rock spires of the city half a hundred times, carefully watching how her father in front of her placed his feet until she was as sure-footed as he was. Her father had been a trader most of his life, and Teyla had watched him work from the time she could toddle; she knew she could tell exactly which cloth would be the best to take, which would fetch the highest price in the most lucrative markets.
He approved of their plan—of what she had told him of what they hoped to do, and of the teams she wanted to send out to achieve it—but when she told him that she would be accompanying them, his only response was, "No."
They were speaking outside—rare for Michael, who was usually only seen underneath the blue curve of the sky when walking back and forth between his commandeered hive ship and the central building block—and he squinted at her a little through the increasing glare of a sun rising towards its zenith. He still wore his coat tightly-fastened, buttoned to the neck despite the heat of the day.
"I have been working with all of the groups who are going there; I will be best able to coordinate them," she said, folding her arms across her chest and trying her best to keep her patience. "And you need not fear me breaking my word; Torren will remain here with—"
"I'm sure you wouldn't leave without your son," Michael replied, "but it would be impossible for you to go there without carrying the gate address for Atlantis with you, and if you were to speak with them even briefly—"
Teyla tried her best not to grind her teeth, feeling the tension in her jaw build. How freeing it would be, she thought, to throw back her head and scream in public; how uncomfortable, at times, to fight to keep the sense of dignity her mother had worked so hard to instil in her unruly little girl. "I have given you my word."
His mouth quirked upwards, a slanting smirk. "I'm not stupid, Teyla Emmagan."
Teyla could feel upper teeth click against lower in her mouth, her nails curling into the soft flesh of her forearm. "When my team find us," she told him quietly, "they will take great joy in helping me grind your bones into dust."
"I think that presupposes the idea they are still searching for you," Michael said, voice cool as silk.
Teyla felt her eyes narrow. "They would never stop looking for me."
"They would, if they thought you were dead."
A muscle in Teyla's jaw twitched. "If you believe that to be so, you do not know John Sheppard so well as you think you do."
"You will recall your good Dr Beckett," he said, a note of triumph in his voice, a smile pulling his mouth upwards when he saw how that made her still, stunned. "I do possess cloning technology, Teyla. You may not be dead, but they did find a body. Believe me when I say that your team has grieved you as gone for many, many months now."
The urge to punch him again was strong, and she could see from the slight shift in the way he held himself that Michael was anticipating the same thing, lifting his chin and bracing his shoulders against the anticipated force of her blow. Teyla was smarter than that, and she'd never been one to play up to people's expectations of her; though her hands tightened into fists, she dropped and lashed out with her right leg, taking him at the ankles and sending him crashing onto the ground.
He looked up at her, gaping a little in astonishment, and Teyla waited until he had blinked the dust of his impact out of his eyes before she grinned at him, letting her smile do most of the work of conveying her contempt of him. "One day, the weight of your regret," she told him, "will not be proportional to the weight of the grief and the guilt you have placed upon us here. It will be exponential."
Michael pulled his feet underneath him and stood back up; he seemed indifferent to the dust which clung to his clothing, bleaching the dark leather of his coat to an ashen grey. "I'm amused that you think you will gain that control."
"And I am amused that you do not think you have already lost it," Teyla replied. She turned and pointed a little way across the compound to where Gekerr—a big, lumbering man who did not know his own strength, and who had once worn the bone mask of a Wraith drone—was carrying boxes of supplies out of one of the store rooms to stack outside for distribution. His disproportionately small mouth worked as he sang the words of a song he must have learned from some Thernan here, though Teyla didn't know who.
Teyla remembered that the first time she had heard one of the hybrids who had once been Wraith singing, the shock was all the greater because she truly didn't know why it should affect her so. Now Gekerr was singing of the plains of Therna, a vast expanse which, for all Teyla knew, he had never seen—a place of two blue moons and rolling waves of bluer grass. If he had ever set foot there, it would most likely have been to assist in a culling—Teyla wondered if he knew the meaning the words he sang held for the Thernans, or why the movement of his body as he worked pulled a working song from him.
She cocked her head and asked him "Do Wraith sing?"
"No," he replied after a brief pause. From the wary look on his face, Teyla was sure that he had never noticed this before, and that even now he was not quite sure why she was pointing it out to him.
"You have no idea who these people are becoming," Teyla said. "You do not know who they are. All the power you ever tried to claim over them is slipping from your grasp." Michael stared at her, but made no response; Teyla rolled her eyes.
"The teams will leave at first light tomorrow," she told him, and turning on her heel, she walked back across the flat brown earth of the compound to her family.
Against all odds, the expedition to Nav Berlon was successful. It took all day, of course, something which Teyla had allowed for—an age for the teams Teyla had sent out to clamber up the paths which the Berlonai had left in a deliberate state of disrepair so as to hamper the progress of those who might wish to invade; even longer for them to slip-slide back down again, bearing great bales of cloth and the dismantled parts of looms on travois made of the green boughs of trees. Teyla didn't expect them to return before sundown, but kept vigil from mid-afternoon walking up and down, Torren balanced against on one hip, her eyes trained on the horizon. She was still there an hour or so after sunset, Torren long since entrusted to Maeta's care for a nap, the brightest stars beginning to appear in the bruise-dark sky.
The flare of the gate was a relief, its outward rush like an exhalation of the breath that the whole compound had been holding all day. Teyla hurried out through the gates and up the slope to meet the returning teams, fast enough that her braids slapped heavily against the back of her neck. "You were successful?" she asked, venturing a smile at the sight of each successive team—thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, all of them—stepped through the 'gate with their heavily laden travois trailing behind them. Teyla could see not just bundles of cloth, bales of fine yarns, and the looms, but also great sacks marked with the Berlonai symbol for seed, and wrapped slabs of something which Teyla presumed to be dehydrated lumon—a flavourless but valuable staple which, when dropped into boiling water, would form a nutritious stock that would help them eke out their other supplies of food.
Kimell beamed at her, despite the scrapes along his arms and the twigs and bits of leaf that were tangled in his long, thin braids. Teyla anticipated much wincing on his part when he went to clean up before dinner that evening. "Delu's father was a consul of trade here; she remembered where the main municipal warehouse was," he said. "Roof was gone on the upper floor, and everything up there was spoiled by rain and damp, but there was a basement. We took back what we could, and there was enough there for at least three more trips. There's every chance we'll find more like that, too; Delu says there was at least one storehouse in every district."
Teyla closed her eyes briefly in thanksgiving. If they were moderately frugal, and supplemented their diet with hunting and fishing, they could surely salvage enough from Nav Berlon to keep them going for some weeks; enough to support them while the weavers bent to their work and created cloth for them to sell on other worlds; their fingers spinning out an even greater safety net until they could start harvesting food of their own. Relief rushed through her body as sweet and as quick as adrenaline. She would not have to watch her son cry with hunger.
When she blinked her eyes back open again, she clapped a hand to Kimell's shoulder and watched as others came up to help haul the heavily-laden travois the last short distance to the main store buildings. "You are all well?" she asked.
"We're fine. Leg aches a little, but it held up well." He patted his hip with one broad hand, right over that knot of reddened scar-tissue.
"No serious cuts or bruises? If you are, Haleth is waiting with—"
Kimell shook his head, and stooped his tall form down to touch his forehead to hers in the Athosian embrace he had picked up on so quickly. "We are all well, Teyla. It went as smoothly as if we had dreamed it into being. Most of the damage is on the northern slopes of the city, and we came in from the west." He pulled away from her and stooped to pick up one of the bags he had carried once more.
"Only one thing worth mentioning," he continued as Teyla hurried to help him—his bags were packed full of spindles and shuttles, needles small and large, all the little things which would be needed to get their enterprise started.
"We took the fast way back down," he told her, "came down around that big outcropping of rock on the south-western face."
Teyla nodded; she knew the place, a steep slope which had once been a grand processional route into the city, but which later generations had let fall into careful decay, tended only just enough for it not to be a lethal ascent. It was the shortest way down, but challenging to ascend or descend even for those who had visited the city many times before. Most people tended to take the eastern path; while that way was hardly easy, and took much longer to scale, it was much less difficult for newcomers to traverse.
"We were about halfway down when Delu saw a small group headed up the other slope. All armed. Don't worry," he said when he saw her open her mouth, half a dozen concerned questions poised on the tip of her tongue, ready to fly out, "they didn't see us. We waited behind the outcrop until they were out of sight, then kept going, picked up the pace. There were no sentries at the gate, and it didn't seem like they were looking for anyone in particular, just like they were heading up to the city and were too interested in the ruins and figuring out what had happened to the Berlonai than in looking across the valley."
"Berlonai survivors?" Teyla asked him, grunting a little as she swung the bag off her back and dropped it just inside the doorway of the store building, to be left there until the workers would need it come morning.
Kimell shook his head. "Didn't dress like Berlonai. Not colourful enough, everyone dressed too alike."
Teyla's head came up so quickly that she was surprised her neck didn't ache with it. "Almost all of them in black?"
"And heavily armed? With weapons about so long?" She held her hands out in front of her, a P90's length apart.
He nodded again, his deep-set grey eyes widening a little at her sudden vehemence. "You know of these people?"
Teyla could feel her heart starting to beat faster at the thought of it—her team, it had to be, and if only she had been on Nav Berlon there would have been nothing between them but an expanse of space between two cliffs, a distance narrow enough that voices could carry clearly on a calm day. "Three of them?"
"Four," Kimell said, leaning against the doorjamb so that he could take a little weight off his weaker leg. He didn't wince, but there was a tension in the fine lines around his eyes which told Teyla that for all his protestations of well-being, he had over-exerted himself today. "The one in the lead perhaps three lel high, dark-haired; the three others were shorter and with lighter hair. All three of them fair skinned. One of them almost my height, maybe."
"That last one," Teyla said, not heeding the urgency in her words; she had not been truly aware of how much she had feared that while she was here, trapped and unable to break her way out, something had happened to her city, to her team, some awful fate that she would never know, "He wore his hair in thick locks, pulled back from his face?"
Kimell shrugged. "No, hacked almost as short as Delu's."
Teyla frowned and considered. That did not sound much like Ronon, who still took so much pride in dressing his hair like a true son of a Satedan aristocratic house would; yet perhaps he might have…
Seeing her waver, Kimell visibly searched his memory for what else he could recall of four strangers seen at a distance and regarded with tension. White teeth bit into his lower lip, and he screwed his eyes up until they were almost closed; Teyla huffed out the smallest of laughs at that, a gesture so reminiscent of how she remembered her older brother behaving before he too had gone.
"Uh," he said, letting more of his weight sag back against the building behind him. "I think one of them had something across his eyes? Like spectacles, but darker. And one of them stumbled a lot, I think because he was carrying something very small in his hands—like it was precious. He looked down at it a lot, paid no mind to where he was going."
Teyla allowed herself the luxury of a real grin. John with those dark glasses of his, a favourite no matter if the weather was sunny or grey; Rodney with his tablet computers, constantly running, constantly scanning for the telltale sign of a ZPM's power signature or of a cache of naquadah to be mined. That had to be her men Kimell had seen, along with some unknown fourth who had been drafted in to take her place on the team.
"A good sign?" Kimell said softly, his eyes flickering across her face. Teyla knew what he was searching for—the signs that so many in their galaxy were trained by experience to see from a very young age—the grief at hearing lost ones confirmed dead; the bright, shattering hope on hearing that a culling had not taken everyone. Signs that people were trained to look for, to monitor, because extremes of both joy and grief could take people in unusual ways, ways that were not always for the best.
"A very good one," Teyla replied, just as softly, reaching out and resting her hand on his wrist for a moment before she turned to go, trusting that the gesture would convey at least some of the gratitude she felt towards him for having restored a little of her hope. "Though some day soon, I hope to have a conversation with a dear friend of mine about his choice of hairstyles." She smiled up at him, and then shook herself a little, as though to rid herself of a mood which had turned a little too introspective for a day such as this, a day which demanded as much action and as much energy from them both as did every other day on this unnamed little world. "Come," she said, "the kitchens will have started work on dinner by now. If we hurry, I believe we will be allowed a second helping of lumon broth in celebration of your heroic feats today."
Kimell closed the door to the storeroom, and followed her across the compound, the slight drag in his weaker leg kicking up a little cloud of dust behind him. "Truly heroic," he said wryly, "fetching some grain from the houses of the dead, and running up and down a mountainside in a poor imitation of a dreezak goat."
"A dreezak!" Teyla said, peering up at him in mock surprise. "You know, I have often noticed a resemblance."
"Yes, Emmagan-sheh," he told her with deadpan mock-earnestness, as wide-eyed as a green student in the first flush of infatuation with a teacher, anxious to absorb every pearl of wisdom, no matter how ludicrous they might be. "Just as you say, Emmagan-sheh."
They went in to their evening meal still teasing one another gently, Kimell swearing in the name of the Ancestors that one day he would live up to her illustrious wisdom.
The next few days gave Teyla little time for leisure, little time to mourn that she had been so close to seeing her team again and yet so far. There was so much to organise, and somehow Teyla found herself at the heart of it all, the one to whom the others turned when they wanted some issue settled, some decision made. For all that he had been the one to require her involvement in the supply issue in the first place, Michael seemed to have no interest in working to ensure its success. Though the hybrid conversion chambers were currently empty of new victims, he had withdrawn to his labs; Teyla didn't know if he was trying to create a more efficient conversion process, or if he were planning some new attack on a Wraith population centre; she did not have the energy to care nor to ask.
Her days were taken up with helping to establish the rhythms of breaking up ground for planting; of setting lures for the small game which roamed the stands of trees which lay on the far side of the compound; of helping the small group of Erseneth men who had once earned their living from fishing to weave great traps from pliable reeds and thin wattle—strong enough, Teyla hoped, to offer them up a great catch from the slow-moving estuary which lay not so far away. By the end of each day, the back of her neck was tender from the sun's heat, clean earth was embedded thick and dark under her nails, and Teyla had a thirst powerful enough to make her drain the water gourd that Brenn passed her when she stood up to stretch. But there contentment to be found in her work, something which brought the old, familiar melodies of working songs to her lips while she moved down the fields—something, she realised, at the end of the second day, which reminded her of how Athos had been in the days of her childhood, when there had still been enough surviving Athosians to allow them to undertake great projects, like the clearing of meadows.
There was little time for the kind of training she had been occupied with for so many weeks, but Teyla was glad of the break. It was one less way for her to be reminded that in a building not so far away, Michael was preparing for a war for which she was readying people to take part. This was a cleaner kind of work, rooting her in the soil of this strange new world, making her glad of the people who were working at her side—the people they called out from their dormitories each morning, the ones who came eagerly to the job and the ones who seemed strangers to hard work, the ones who still seemed to be a little attached to the gospel of war which Michael had preached, and the teenagers who chased one another across the brown, damp soil which had been turned for the planting, bare feet growing muddy as they called to one another with all the exuberance of youth.
More simply than that, she was glad to be doing this work, with Torren strapped gurgling and yawning on her back. Teyla wanted to help those around her, because just as she'd felt drawn to Atlantis four years ago, found common cause with people who wanted to fight as fierce and as hard as she did, now she felt as though there was good work she could do here—whether that work was planting a field with menga beans or smoking fish or listening to the others around her talk. Each evening she sat around the fires which it was the practice to light in the cleared areas between the dormitories; she sat with her family and spoke with her friends, and they solidified their plans for escape, their contingency plans for what they would have to do if they were forced to stay here for much longer. It was not like being amongst family back on green Athos; it was not like the sense of belonging she had found in the light of Atlantis; it was entirely a new thing, this new people that was growing up together in the midst of their captivity, a town that was coming to life in the midst of a prison, and Teyla had the thrilling sense that it was this fellow-feeling which would lead to their being able to get rid of Michael entirely, some day soon.
They were almost finished with the planting of great swathes of fast-growing grain, and Teyla was conferring with Haleth and Maeta as to whether establishing small vegetable patches in front of each individual dormitory block would be a good idea—encouraging greater production and greater individual responsibility for their food—when Michael sent for her again. Teyla looked at her friends, but neither of them could provide any clues, any rumours which would explain why she was being sent for this time; and so, with a sigh, Teyla corralled her chuckling, squirming son from the blanket in the shade where he was demonstrating his new-found ability to roll over and over, and deposited him in Maeta's lap. Teyla tickled him gently under the chin, beaming at the generosity of his smile, and told Maeta to look after him until she had returned.
It was not to the compound that Michael's lieutenant led her, but rather to the great clearing in the woods where the hive ship lay. Inside the ship, the atmosphere was cooler than it was under the summer sun, but humid, too humid for a hybrid, and Teyla couldn't fathom why Michael would keep the environmental controls attuned to Wraith physiology, all damp and redolent with water vapour. She sincerely doubted that sentimentality was at play.
They headed to the heart of the ship. Where on a craft of Ancient or Traveller or Earth design the bridge seemed always to be located high up in the structure, with screens that let one look out and forward at the stars, Wraith architects seemed to delight in burying themselves away, placing their Queens and themselves at the beating heart of their living ships. Michael was there, a slim figure clad in black in the middle of the dim room—one hand placed on an interface which was calling up star charts and schematics and a text in formal written Wraith which was scrolling past far too rapidly for Teyla to grasp more than a word or two, the other tapping at a keypad which Teyla thought was used to enter in a course.
"You are going somewhere?" Teyla asked, hoping that he would read the bright twist to her voice as sarcasm, as her wishing him to the darkest part of the Wraith afterlife, and not the wild hope that if he were to leave today, there would be enough time for those who stood with her to overwhelm the remaining loyalists and run for the gate before he could be alerted.
"No," Michael said, turning to look at her, his hands hanging stiff and formal at his sides. "We are."
Teyla blinked at him. "I beg your pardon? What do you mean, we—"
"You will find better boots and some tactical equipment waiting for you in your assigned quarters." Michael inclined his head at one of the guards standing at the door. "She will take you there to change, and then bring you back here. No weapons for you, of course, until we reach our destination."
"Do I have to repeat myself?" Teyla said tartly, forming her words with the infinitely careful diction that the weight of the anger in her chest demanded. There was no chance that she was going to go anywhere new with Michael; no chance that she was going to leave her son for even a moment. "While I appreciate that good manners are perhaps not a matter of course for Wraith during their social interactions, I believe that most people consider it polite to answer the questions posed to them."
"There is no need for such anger, Teyla Emmagan." He folded his hands in front of him, looking for all the world as calm and as unperturbed as a Notik priest presiding over a group of fervently praying pilgrims. He did not even have the good grace to appear embarrassed.
"I am not even going to justify that with a response," Teyla said. "I will instead settle for you telling me exactly why you want me to accompany you and where you are going to bring us, and you will be very glad that I do not break your neck for you this instant."
"All will become clear in good time, I—"
It was good to know that she could still make him blink, and there was a grim kind of satisfaction to be derived from the fact that he said "Very well" and turned back to the computer interface behind him. A swipe of his hand and he called up a star chart, a black mass of space that was enlivened with the random scatter of stars and a thin red line which showed a path between them—their anticipated course, Teyla presumed.
"We are here," Michael said, pointing to the star which lay at the lower end of the map. "It will take us perhaps four hours in hyperspace to reach our destination which is here, in the Donten Cluster."
"But isn't that—"
"Wraith home territories, yes. There are ship-growing yards here and here," Michael continued, a flick of his wrist focusing the map inwards on the system so that Teyla could see a red giant of a sun, circled by one blue-green world and a smaller, gaseous planet. "Operatives of mine have passed their location on to the Replicators; the yards themselves should be destroyed within a matter of days, and the ability of the Wraith to produce new ships will be severely hampered for years to come. But before they get there, I wish to launch my own attack."
"And this does not seem rather excessive to you," Teyla said dryly, not bothering to make a question out of her words. She felt that if Colonel Carter or Elizabeth were to have heard a similar plan from the lips of John—for as much as Teyla was fond of him, she had no doubt but that his strategic abilities were sometimes on a par with Michael's—they would have termed it overkill, one of those succinct Earth phrases Teyla had grown to quite like.
"Not in the least. At present, there is only one fully operational hive ship there, the lead ship of Hive Ak'tan. None of the fifteen others have working weapons systems yet, and there will be no way for allied hive ships to get back to this system in time to defend against our attack. By the time they return, we will have left, with a new captured battle cruiser and the head of the Ak'tano Queen."
"You seem to have it all planned to perfection," Teyla said, though she could instantly think of half a dozen things which could go wrong very quickly. She had found, through long and painful experience, that no plan based on a best-case scenario was ever was ever the one to follow when you were walking into a situation which could claim your life and the lives of those around you. "I am sure you do not require my assistance or my advice. So if you will let me return to my—"
"My plans," Michael interrupted her, "are much larger than you realise; as is your place in them. I did not bring you here, I did not lay the plans for an empire built on your son's blood, only to leave you working in the fields forever."
"Honest work," Teyla said coolly.
Michael's upper lip curled up in a sneer, exposing teeth that still startled her every time she saw how human they now appeared; his voice still carried that basso, distorted rumble that could be associated with no race other than the Wraith, though he no longer had a mouthful of vicious incisors to speak around. "I'm sure. But if you join with me, think of what you will be able to achieve, what we will be able to establish. A great empire, an entire galaxy which will know no dissension because there will be no struggle for dominance—just our rule."
Teyla sighed. Dealing with megalomaniacs had never been her favourite part of what life had required of her since she had first met the Lantean colonists. "I will not fight alongside you. I believe I have made that sufficiently clear, time and again, and if you think that you will be able to ask this of—"
Michael shrugged. "No matter. In a short time, you will have to, whether you want to or not, because it will be a matter of your survival, and then you will see the truth of what I am trying to achieve. The assault troops required are all on board now—the groups that you were so good as to have trained for me. I hope you have not been… how did Dr McKay put it when talking of his lab assistants?" He tilted his head to one side. "Sparing the rod to spoil the unduly uneducated? This will be the first real assessment of how well you have been teaching them, after all."
Teyla's mouth gaped in shock, and her eyes widened as beneath her feet, she could feel the first, familiar vibrations of a hive ship powering up, shaking off its slumber as it began to build up the energy needed to break free of the grip of the planet's gravity.
"As I said," Michael continued blithely, "you will be given more suitable clothing, and then your presence will be required here."
Teyla ground her teeth together, feeling that nothing could be gained by an outburst, and let the silent, plump blonde guard who had been standing behind her lead her away.
"Oh, and Teyla?" Michael called out to her before she had left the room; he had already stooped back over his work at the console.
"Should you take it into your head that wresting the gun from your guard and shooting me would be a good idea, there is someone back at the compound who is only waiting for the right signal in order to get rid of that nice cousin of yours. And Torren…"
Teyla did not acknowledge him, but simply walked, stiff-backed, from the room.
Teyla changed as she had been ordered, though with an ill-grace tempered only by her fears for Torren. Her skin felt soiled by the heavy garb he wanted her to wear—the thick-soled boots; the heavy, high-fastening coat which would offer some protection from blades but which required slits up the side to allow for any kind of easy movement. It did not help that when she passed back along the corridor to the bridge, she saw cells filled with her friends and colleagues, all of them waiting to be forced into a fight they did not want, most of them still struggling into the ill-fitting attire. In this light, in these surroundings, it almost made them look like Wraith: and that, Teyla knew, was what Michael wanted. For all his rhetoric about creating a hybrid species that would combine the best aspects of its parent races and be better than both of them, it was something that he would forever be unable to create. What he truly wanted was Wraith culture refashioned in human form, for the hybrids he had created to don scavenged Wraith clothing and mimic the way they fought. It could not work.
Teyla felt nervous and off-kilter, but she was calmed somewhat when she passed the cell which contained Kimell and Haleth; Haleth reached out through the bars with one hand, fingertips outstretched, and there was comfort in the warmth of skin, in another person reaching out for her. "Torren is well," Haleth whispered, and Teyla shot a smile at them over her shoulder, seeing Kimell's tall form and Haleth's shock of red hair clearly even in the ship's dim interior—the outline of them a talisman she carried all the way back to the bridge.
"The squads have been formed," he said as soon as she walked in. His head was held high, his hands clasped tightly at the small of his back and his shoulders tight-set. "Twenty in each. They will be under your command; though of course, if you wish to delegate, that will also be acceptable."
He was speaking more rapidly than normal, his hands curled against the warm almost-flesh of the console in front of him, and Teyla managed to keep her face blank when she realised that his tone of voice, his movements, belied nervousness. She realised that scientists such as Michael were surely called upon to lead drones into battle only rarely. His place in the Wraith hive had been in the laboratories—here, then, was something she might exploit, something with which to work.
"I have invented a pulse weapon which will disrupt the electro-magnetic shielding of the other hive long enough to allow you and your teams to transport on board. I thought perhaps that a split assault might be best once you're there," he said, looking at her out of the corner of one yellow eye. "The bridge, of course, but the weapons systems too. I trust you have past experience with locating where they are on a Wraith vessel." He was not openly asking for her advice, but his words were a halting staccato, and he was clearly waiting for her reaction to his suggestions.
Teyla felt her sense of confidence grow, and she repressed a smirk as smug as anything that had ever graced Rodney McKay's face. "Perhaps," she said mildly, choosing her words with care. "That might prove... adequate. Though I might suggest some alterations." This was the kind of thing she had been trained to do from childhood: to look at the world with generosity and an open heart, yes, but also with the eye of a trader, one attuned to see the obvious cracks and the hidden fault lines, the things which could be worried wider so as to secure the best deal for her people. This was something she could turn to good account.
Teyla was a little surprised that they did truly exit hyperspace in four standard hours and three minutes, just as Michael had said. The ship gave a small lurch, the only sign that it had dropped back from the blue slipstream into the blackness of regular space, lit only by the distant light of stars. Some thousands of lel in front of them, Teyla knew, the shipyards lay, Wraith engineers busy at work coaxing hive ships into horrible, thrumming life; slightly nearer would drift the sole operational ship, which had stayed behind to guard the growing vessels while its allies went out to feed. The only sight Teyla had of them in the windowless ship was refracted through the shadowy grey-on-white of the display screen, an image thrown up against vapour that was best seen by Wraith eyes. There was no time for an in-depth inspection, however; the other hive was turning; their presence had been noted; the thin wail of an alarm signalled that the enemy ship's weapons were powering up.
"Now!" Michael snapped at one of his techs, and a flick of a switch sent out an electromagnetic pulse that counteracted the one generated by the other hive, which was accelerating towards them now, small ships whose high-pitched whine Teyla could imagine clearly, even though she couldn't hear them. There was a moment for them to take advantage of here, a few seconds where it would be possible to transport from one hive to the other, and Michael had it timed to perfection. Teyla inhaled on one ship, feeling the shields start to shudder under the impact of weapons fire, and exhaled on the other.
She allowed herself the luxury of a moment to collect herself, a moment measured by the space of a heartbeat, before she nodded at the others assembled in formation around her in the hive's upper docking bay, at Kimell and Haleth and Brenn, to whom she had assigned the leadership of various teams. While she spoke to them, Teyla could feel the strange-familiar sense of adrenaline starting to course through her veins again: the knowledge that whether she fought or fell here would decide the fate of son allied itself with her new ease of movement, the greater spur towards combat which she sometimes felt her changed body had given her.
"Kimell, engine room," she said briskly, reiterating instructions which she had given to them back on their ship, "Haleth, forward; Brenn, aft. Clear them, no damage to the engines." They nodded at her and went without protest, trusting her not to lead them astray and knowing as well as she did that now that Michael had brought them here that there was no way for them to back out; the only path which would lead them home lay through the Wraith who were surely rushing to meet them even now.
With three to back her up, Teyla ran up the curving ramp which led from the lowest levels to the middle of the ship, felling any resistance they met along the way. It felt curiously familiar, as if at any minute she would hear the sound of P90 fire and turn the corner to see John and Ronon and Rodney, holding their ground for her, as was the quickening rush of blood thrilling through her with the prospect of a fight, but the thrill of command in battle was a first, something she had not felt before—the Athosians fielded no armies, and the command structures on Atlantis rarely allowed her to lead.
It buoyed her up, a strange, wild feeling that coursed through her blood as she ran, and the Wraith scientists who were managing the bridge were easy to take out; maybe because since they were unprepared, they had no drones guarding them, and though they barked out threats, strode forward with hands outstretched to feed from them, it would do them no good. Teyla's training held true: her soldiers kept their calm, took aim, and felled the scientists with the modified Wraith stunners Michael had manufactured; they moved forward without hesitation to slit the Wraiths' throats.
The fight was easy as it had always been when anger had driven her into combat—there was no desire to bend the knee to the Wraith, as she had been half-afraid her changed genes might induce in her. There were only her thoughts of her son, mingling with the memories of family slain, of cities culled, of Athos and Sateda and Olesia, of watching helplessly at a video screen while John's life was drained from him decades at a time. Teyla walked quickly around puddles of fast-spreading, dark blood to get to the central control console, pushing aside the body of one who had remained at the interface, trying to get in one last fatal hit at the other ship. She stopped the engines of the Wraith darts outside with a thought—easy targets now for the laser weapons on Michael's ship—and stopped the engines of this hive with another. Around her, the hive felt curiously quiet and still, the throb of its heartbeat slowing, waiting.
Activating the communications systems of the ship, she could hear the echo of weapons fire from around the ship build to a crescendo, and then fade away. "Haleth?" she called after a moment's silence, "Kimell? Brenn?" A heartbeat's tension, and then she could hear the voices of her friends, confirming that they were well, and that all the defending Wraith were dead, or were about to be so very soon; they had two men stunned, one woman who had acquired some free-bleeding flesh wounds, but nothing beyond that aside from some rather nasty bruises.
"Good," Teyla said, breathing out, her heart hammering in her chest half with the thrill of victory, half with the relief that her friends were safe. "Make sure that the ship is secure; check the hanger bays, ensure no darts made it back. I will be down to meet you shortly, once we are finished on the bridge." It would take a little while, she knew; they had the control room, but not all of the Wraith—there was still the Queen, likely lurking in the set of rooms beyond where she stood now.
She left brief instructions to those who had come with her, telling Nirtya to check through the inventory on the ship's computer for captive humans that they could free, asking Yariel to open a comm channel back to Michael's hive ship to let him know that they had been successful so far. She stayed there long enough to hear Michael's acknowledgement, the pleasure in his voice at having won a battle that had not put him in harm's way, and to feel the slight shudder of changing direction as the consciousness of this hive ship turned sluggish and obedient, responding to the commands which would keep it slaved to Michael's for the trip back.
Teyla knew where to find her—she could smell the Queen, salt and copper and old blood, and Teyla followed that strong, rank smell from the bridge to where the Wraith lurking in her throne room: a bitter, upright creature with a forceful mind and a fall of hair as red as Teyla's blood had once been. The Queen had the strength of her arms and her age and her desperation, but Teyla had trained for this. Teyla had been fighting for her life since she was born, had been taught at her mother's knee how to turn a corner into a place from which to fight.
"You are not a Queen," the Wraith said, the undertones of her voice rumbling rich with amusement and disdain. Her nostrils and the slits in her cheeks flared, as if to drink in the sweet smell of Teyla's sweat; Teyla could feel her try to push against the boundaries of her mind, testing for weakness, a sly pressure that was at once both aggressive and arrogant. "You smell like one, but you are not. You are a freak manufactured by an abomination, and I will spare your life only as long as it takes for me to follow you back to wherever it is he is keeping you, and then I shall delight in killing—your son, is it?—in front of you. Human infants scream so readily."
Teyla pulled her bantos sticks from their holster on her back. They were not the ones her grandfather had crafted so long ago under the Athosian sun, carving them to a perfect balance and heft from dark frooma wood and polishing them with rich oil; those she presumed still lay in a chest at the foot of her old bed back in Atlantis. These she had made herself, carved with her own hands and her own knife, and though they were new and largely untested, she knew that she could work well with them; Michael must have thought so too, for he had had someone retrieve them from her dormitory so that they would be waiting for her on the hive ship when she went to arm, left waiting for her instead of a gun or a stunner. "Fight me," Teyla said calmly, and every line of her body was waiting, "and we shall see."
The Queen leapt. She was strong and fast, and Teyla gloried in pitting herself against her: there would be no holding back here, no way to hold back even if either of them had wanted to. There was just the satisfaction that came from driving the heel of her hand upwards into the Queen's chin, sending her staggering backwards, a momentary imbalance that Teyla could exploit. She pushed her back and back, teeth bared in something like a grin, using her sticks to strike at the soft, vulnerable parts of the Queen's sides, to bruise those dangerous hands. It was a perilous thing to rejoice in the defeat of your enemy before you knew they had been overcome, but Teyla could see the way to defeating her, as clear as it had never been when facing any Wraith before now: the Queen's hands could bruise and batter and break, but they could no longer bring death with just a touch. Teyla had been made stronger, and she could see the Queen now for what she had always simply been: a creature of cold flesh and sharp bones, who was made weak by the very things which Teyla had always feared made her strong. The method of defeating a Queen was clearer now than it had ever been.
Regaining her balance, the Queen used the sweep of one long leg to try to take Teyla down; unsuccessful, but distracting enough that she could land blows on Teyla's arms and against her head, hard enough to make her ears ring and her arms ache gloriously from the bruises. She took a step back, a breath that gave her time to clear her head and regain her balance, and then Teyla struck back, aiming for the Queen's arms this time, with quick hard blows that she tried to aim at one spot, over and over, until she heard a bone snap and the Queen scream, her now-useless right arm cradled to her chest.
She hissed at Teyla. "Stupid. I will heal."
Teyla could feel how dangerous her grin was, as wild a curve as anything Ronon had ever displayed in the heat of battle. "Not fast enough." And she pressed home her advantage, on and on, countering each blow the Queen managed to make with three of her own, hitting the weakened arm again and again, making her opponent stumble so that she fell to her knees; and then Teyla dropped her sticks, caught the Queen's injured arm and twisted it up behind the Wraith's back so that she screamed again, high and inhuman and pained.
Teyla paused for a moment, her panting breath stirring the bright hair near the Queen's ear, and she thought perhaps that she might have something so say to her, one last phrase, one last curse, that would echo in her ears as she died. But there was nothing that she wanted to say, no last injury Teyla could offer other than this: her hands curved around the sharp, cool jaw of the Queen and then with a quick, powerful jerk pulled it up and to the side. She felt the Queen give one convulsive jerk before her body slumped to the ground, her hair falling over rapidly-dulling eyes and tangling in the sharp mess of teeth that were bared by her dying, choking breath.
Her breath coming in fast, juddering gasps, Teyla stood for a moment, looking down at the corpse, wondering that it had taken no more effort to wring her neck in the end than it would have to catch and kill a chicken for dinner back on Athos. She was vaguely aware that she was stunned a little, thrilled at the realisation of how easy it was to fight with this body, how easy to rely on the strength of her sinews and muscle and bone. She looked down at her hands, at the slim strength of them, the skin that was always now a little cooler than room temperature, and wondered when she had come to think of this body as truly hers.
Teyla shook herself, and stepped over the body, and walked from the room.
The trip back seemed to take no length of time at all, the tension of the outward trip dissipated now thanks to the burn of adrenaline, the knowledge that they were all returning home safe with nothing more than some cuts and bruises. Michael's cruiser hadn't sustained enough damage to stop them from getting home easily, the newly-won hive ship slipping along in their wake through the blue horizon of hyperspace. Kimell and Haleth grinned at her when she passed them, sitting on the floor with their backs against the yielding wall of one of the main corridors, slumped companionably together while Kimell stretched out his no-doubt aching leg in front of him; Brenn nodded gravely at her as she passed, cleaning a knife of dark blood before he re-sheathed it; nearly every person she passed acknowledging her in some way, and she could hear the whispers which said that she had been the one to take down the Wraith Queen, completely by herself.
Teyla felt like she was about to crawl out of her own skin.
She walked past them with nothing more than the most perfunctory of nods, and headed for the bridge where Michael was poring over the schematics of his newly captured ship—one larger and better equipped than his present ship, one which had been the pride of Hive Ak'tan—visibly gloating.
He looked up at her when she entered, but she gave him no time to speak. "With me," Teyla said, and kept walking, through the bridge and out into the private suite of rooms at the far side. Michael maintained a bedchamber here, one sparse by any human standards, containing nothing more than a low, flat bed and some rumpled blankets, but Teyla did not care. She pushed him down with no ceremony, and straddled him—stopped him when he made an attempt to kiss her, and told him instead what she wanted of him. She did not trouble to make it sound like a request.
Teyla did not want Michael for himself; there was no attraction for her in the words he spoke or the things he did, nothing about him that drew her eye to him as with Kanaan or Ronon or even Rodney, on occasion, nothing in her that would listen gladly for the sound of his voice. She was here in this room because he'd sent her out there to kill, and she had, and she had realised how much power she had. Her skin felt as if it were on fire with adrenaline, her pupils blown wide with it as she tightened her thighs against his hips; Teyla was here because he had done this to her, made her so that half of her felt that this was her body now and half of her hated it, and there was some traitorous part of her which wanted to see how far she could push this, how far she could overcome it, how far she had changed from being Teyla Emmagan. To see if she could sate the rush that had come from killing the Queen, to channel it into his body as he had channeled so many changes through hers. Part of her knew that she was not thinking clearly, but her hands were not shaking.
Teyla did not think Michael had ever shared someone's bed before. Wraith sexual practices, she'd gathered from conversations with converted Wraith like Brenn and Kikma, were infrequent between male and Queen, and perfunctory and impersonal when shared between two men—characterised almost entirely by the 'helping hand' which John had referred to with a red face and an abortive hand gesture one afternoon when they'd accidentally stumbled across Lieutenant Gutierrez and Sergeant Wilmore together in a closet and entirely without underpants. There was something about the way Michael touched her, however, which made Teyla think that Michael's sexual encounters had been even rarer than was usual.
His hands trembled noticeably as he pulled off his own clothing, and she could feel that same nervousness when he traced his fingertips from her neck down to the curve of her breast, the pads of his fingers stuttering over her skin and keeping frantic time with his heart. Teyla could smell it, too, the wet-salt sweat of his fear and anticipation layered over the bitter musk of his arousal, and it made her almost irritable: his reverence unnerved her, because this was not about him, and not about her in the way that he clearly thought it was. She flipped him down onto the bed and straddled him; grabbed his arms at the wrists and guided his hands to where she wanted them most: a scientist's clever fingers at her breasts and at her clit, curling inside her, making her throw her head back to laugh with pleasure but not with amusement, making her hands grip tight around his forearms.
Her mind could not find him attractive, but her body had no qualms, responding to his touch and to the sight of him, long and lean and hairless, spread out beneath her. Teyla shuddered her way through two orgasms on top of him before she let the hard, curved length of him inside; he came too soon, of course, biting his lip in shock at the sensation of another person surrounding him, hot and wet. When he came, he reached out to touch her heavy, swinging braids where they fell over her shoulders, and it reminded Teyla of being back on Athos, fifteen and laughing with Nikel and thinking that her first love would be her last: how it had been awkward and painful and quick between them, how Nikel had kissed her so carefully afterwards, one hand tentatively touching her small, still unformed breast as they lay together in the summer-sun-filled warmth of Nikel's tent.
Nikel had not lived to see twenty, and it made Teyla angry, that this encounter now would bring back all the first joy of that summer. She was angry with Michael, and she was angry with what she had been turned into, and she was even, she realised, her eyes widening, angry with herself: that as much as Michael had done to her, her choices and her circumstances had conspired to change her also, and almost without her knowing it. When she had fought that Queen she had been so close to Wraith within her mind that it made no matter of difference what she chose to call herself: her blood and her mind had been singing out in unison for vengeance and for the sweet taste of the kill. She was panting as she pulled another orgasm from Michael's willing fingers before she pulled off quickly enough to make him wince.
Teyla was almost afraid that he would say something to her, but there was apparently another way in which hybrids resembled humans: the males of both species tended to fall asleep quickly and deeply after sex. Next to her, Michael slept soundly, breathing even and his head pillowed on his curled arm. Teyla watched him for a while, looking for something unknown in the lines of his face, until she couldn't bear it any longer. Then she lay on her back and stared at the ceiling, running through calming breathing exercises which Charin had taught her so many years ago, and felt an ache in her chest that she could not name. For the first time in a long time, she wished to have a mirror in front of her, so that she could trace the marks that had been made on her face, the still-surviving pale-cherry birthmark on the outside of her right knee, the bruises on her arms and legs from her fight with the Wraith Queen, the reddened trails that she was sure Michael's touch must have left on her skin—see all the ways her body had changed, and all the ways that she had remained the same.
There was nothing, she realised suddenly, that he could do to her which she could not overcome and still remain Teyla Emmagan, her mother's daughter; that all the marks he might inflict on her were written on skin that had always been her own; that they would fade with time or become faint twists of scar tissue, lines that might ache when the weather was changing but which would always remind her that she had survived. All the victories he had ever won, could ever win, required her aid--she would triumph on her own.
"Did you ever have a name?" she asked him when he woke up shortly after the ship dropped out of hyperspace, when he sat on the edge of the bed and laced up his boots; she had been wondering at the answer to her question for some time. Teyla saw how the line of Michael's back went stiff and straight, but his fingers didn't cease at their task. "Before we gave you one," she pressed on, "what did the others call you? Can a Wraith have a name?"
"Yes," he said, standing and looking at her for a quick, sharp moment before he pulled on his undershirt. "I was named for my clutch by my Queen, as were all my brothers."
"What was it?"
His mouth twisted and he shook his head as he walked towards the door. "My name is for my Queen to know, and her alone, because a Wraith's true name has power," he said, his voice taking on a strange, rolling quality as if he were reciting something he'd learned as a child. A remnant of Wraith religion, perhaps: the worship of themselves that they encouraged in others; the veneration of a Queen who could be mother and sister and lover all at once; a focus turned always inwards, centred on the power of their hive.
Teyla felt her mouth curl up in a smile that had sharp edges to it; regardless of what he might claim, she knew his name, the name that was his by right of his second birth on Atlantis; the name John had given him because it signified a tangled mass of unhappiness and things lost; the name he had earned because he had not learned what not to reach for. And just as the door opened: "Your name," she said, "is Michael."
When she walked down the ramp and off the ship, it was the middle of the night on their world, but the heart of the compound was lit up with the flames of bonfires. Those left behind must have been waiting up for them, Teyla realised with a gladdened heart—worried for the fates of siblings and cousins and the friends they had made from unwilling bunkmates—all of them moving away from the warmth of the fires to the compound gates when they realised that not one ship had returned, but two, and that hybrids were emerging from both.
Michael, she realised swiftly, thought that they were waiting for news of his return, news of the victory which he would claim over one of the most powerful of the Wraith alliances, though he had paid for it with the potential deaths of so many of the hybrids he had created. He strode out ahead of her, into the semicircle created by the press of thousands of peoples, delineated by the soft light of the bonfires. In his hand was the head of the Wraith Queen that she had killed—the head that he had sent someone to hack from her body, a trophy with a gaping mouth and a trail of bright hair dyed dark at the tips with Wraith blood. Teyla stood at the foot of the ramp and wondered at him—wondered that he could have had a hand in the recreation of all these people standing here, in turning them into what they were today, and still fail so utterly to read their mood.
A trader's life had taught Teyla to hedge her bets, to keep watch for a thousand small things—the way a person held themselves, the way they spoke or didn't speak, how they watched, how they were still. There was a murmur running through the crowd here, a slow rustle that had started at the back and was working its way forward, something which had people standing up straighter even while Michael declared today to be a great victory for all of them. "It is a vindication of my techniques and proof of my methods," he said. "I took you from where you were and made a new race from you--a new species who will fear neither human nor Wraith--a race which can conquer without fear of failure." His tone was triumphant, arrogant, righteous, like a preacher of the True Path Ascension sect standing in the marketplace to harangue the unheeding, uncaring unbelievers; his subject was one which the crowd here did not want to hear, and Teyla realised with a thrill of triumph that he had lost them finally, lost them all. More than that, if she walked the line just right here, pushed in just the right place, she could gather them all to herself.
Tamping down on the urge to act now, before she could be sure that the time was right, Teyla caught the eyes of Haleth and Brenn, Kimell and Sheren and Delu, all the trusted allies who had been waiting for the sign to move; all of whom she knew would share her excitement that it had been created by an inexorable moment and not by the force of their arms. They spread out into the crowd—and yes, even Maeta's braided head was there too, Torren strapped to her back—encouraging the whispers, stirring up clusters of people here and there, so that when Teyla stepped out from the shadow of the twin hive ships down into the open circle of light that surrounded Michael, few were paying attention to what he was saying about the new war that their work today had begun, and all were watching her.
She looked out at all of them, at the massed group of people whose fate had been changed because of the hopes for a different galaxy which Michael had pinned on the twist in her son's genes. "We will take the fight to the core systems," Michael said, the Queen's head now lying forgotten at his feet, "to all those wealthy worlds that the Ancients and the Wraith squabbled over for generations and with my help you will take them for your own, a new race to dominate--"
Teyla pitched her voice so that it would carry down the slope, rolling out into the heart of the crowd, calling to each one of them to listen to what she was saying, drowning out Michael's rhetoric and his angry objections with her own clear speech. "I am Teyla si Torren Emmagan, daughter of Tagan" she said over the noise of his preaching about plans to take the rich Dinfahlu mining worlds, stepping closer to the firelight when Michael's words slowed, then stopped. "I was born on Athos and chose to ally myself with Atlantis. Just like the rest of you, I have lost many things to this man--I have been taken from my home, separated from my loved ones, birthed a son who will never now know his father. And now he stands here and dares to speak for me; he dares to speak for all of us."
Michael made to speak, but she held up a hand to quell him, and he subsided.
"I do not claim that right," Teyla said. "I have not been elected by you to speak on your behalf. With most of you, I can claim no ties of kinship or of family. But I can claim this—a tie of blood. What has been done to each one of you has been done to me; what has been taken from you has been taken from me, and we have all been marked out in ways which mean we can never go back to what we were." In the crowd, here and there, Teyla could see people reach up to trace the sensitive, flared edges of their cheek slits, the dark marks in cool skin that were an instant advertisement for how their bodies had been remade. She pressed on. "We had no choice in what was done to us, no chance to say yes or no when that needle was pressed into our skin. But we can make a decision now—follow him, and let him lead us into a war which will be the ruin of every planet all of us have ever called home, watch as he takes away hope from thousands, millions of others…"
She let the thought of it, the promise that acquiescence now would lead to so much pain later, drift out over the crowd, curling over their heads like wood smoke from the bonfires, spreading out as quickly and as lightly, and waited for one of them to take her lure.
"Or?" someone called out, a row or two from the front—a small, middle-aged woman, Teyla saw, with almond-shaped eyes and straight, dark hair cropped to her shoulders, her arms folded over her chest in mingled belligerence and anticipation. "What would you have us do?"
Teyla lifted her head. "Choose to be free."
"Easy words," the woman shot back, but there were only scattered murmurs of assent with her declaration, and Teyla could see her shift from foot to foot—uncomfortable; willing to be persuaded out of her anger.
Teyla gained much more approval when she smiled and said slowly, "Better to choose the difficult path than stay living like this. We can have a future better than this," and the weight of her conviction gave her words a furious power, filled her with an adrenaline better than fighting when she could feel the fierce approval and the hope rolling off the crowd in waves.
She nodded at one or two of the larger men she saw standing at the edges of the crowd, members of the Erseneth royal guard whom she had been training for so long now, and who knew all the instructions she could telegraph to them with the flicker of an eyelid. They moved quietly out of the press of people and moved to stand, one on either side of Michael. He had made no move to get away, but had instead stood staring at her, his hands clenched in loose fists at his sides.
Kimell had come up behind her and passed her a gun, obtained from who knew where, perhaps given willingly by one of Michael's former lieutenants. Michael seemed curiously passive, as if he thought he knew what was about to happen; indeed, for just a moment, Teyla indulged herself with the thought of what it would be like—to step out and face him, hold the gun out straight with a hand that didn't shake before she shot him once, cleanly, through the forehead. It was very tempting to think of a solution so quick and almost painless; with him dead, Teyla could finally be sure that no other people would be snatched from their homes, their very beings twisted and changed to serve someone else's purpose.
The crowd would approve, she knew; they needed only the slightest push, the slightest hint of permission, to kill him and throw his corpse out beyond the boundaries of the compound, a worthless thing to be neither consumed by bright flames or consigned to clean earth, but instead to be eaten by scavengers with no one to care for its fate. Tempting to consider, but Michael's fate was not her priority—what she had to work for was the future of these people, six thousand strong, such as no galaxy had ever seen before. She hefted the gun in her hand, felt the weight of it—and then she clicked back on the safety, and holstered the gun at her hip.
Michael shifted, restless and wary, his gaze still fixed on the gun. "Teyla," Kimell murmured, but she shook her head slightly without looking up at him. This could be handled differently; the quality of her mercy would be kinder to herself, and its effects more longer-lasting for Michael. A bullet would be quick, but its lessons were not what Teyla wanted. Violence had served earlier against the Wraith Queen; what she had done with Michael in his bed had been in itself a conflict; but Teyla was not a Wraith, no matter what had been done to her, no matter how changed she was, and she was done with war.
"You wanted to remake the galaxy in your image," she said, choosing her words with care, watching how the firelight painted Michael's face with light and shadow, making him both more and less human, all at once. "We will give you a planet instead."
Michael made as if to speak, but Teyla did not allow it. "You will not interrupt me any more," she said, words gaining in bite and snap as she spoke. "You will listen to what I have to say. You will not be harmed, nor will you be forced to stay here. When you go, I will see to it that you have such rations and supplies as will last you for thirty days." Out of the corner of her eye, Teyla could see both Maeta and Kimell stiffen a little in shock.
"I—" Michael began, clearly no less startled than the others, "That is to say—"
"I have not finished," Teyla said, arching her eyebrows. "When you leave this place, it will be in one of our ships, under guard, and you will be taken to a planet of our choosing. It will be uninhabited, and it will have no stargate, whether on the planet's surface or in orbit. You will have sufficient technology given to you to light a fire and ensure you have clean water, but no more than that—no power supplies, no means of communication, no means of experimentation. You will be left there, the sovereign and inviolate ruler of your own world, and you will be forgotten."
He started to speak, but then thought better of it; the light in his eyes changed, defiance and desperation mingled there, and Michael started toward her, as if there was some advantage he might gain. Teyla crossed her arms, unaffected by this expected show of aggression, and watched with approval as a well-timed kick from Kimell brought Michael crashing to the ground. Kimell pressed his left foot down onto Michael's back and kept him pinned there until Teyla nodded; then he bound Michael's hands and dragged him over into the nearest ship, no doubt to find Michael a cell.
Teyla turned back to the crowd. "It is done," she said, feeling her mouth reshape itself into the beginnings of a smile, and breathed in deep. "Now let us speak of how we can return home." Her voice carried high under the bruised sky of a planet that was turning slowly towards morning. Teyla listened to them tell her what they hoped for the future--to see their families again, their homes, to return to lives where everyday troubles were not outweighed by fears of what one would be forced to do to others. She told them in turn what she thought they could come together to achieve, used all her skill with words to shape the possibility of a better future for them all, a return to a safer kind of normalcy. The response was almost overwhelming, a full-throated chorus of conversation interspersed with cries here and there of "Emmagan for leader! Teyla to speak for us!"; a great rush of enthusiasm that Teyla hoped could be harnessed, for all their sakes.
As the hours passed, people drifted away—some back to the dormitories where they no longer had to sleep; some to gather up their families, pack up their meagre belongings, and head for the stargate as Teyla had told them that they were now free to do. But more than she had expected stayed, sinking to sit cross-legged on the pounded-down grass while she told them exactly what faced them, where Michael had left them, and how she thought they could best proceed, debating their future while the increase of bird song away in the trees, and the slow greying of the sky, heralded the coming of dawn.
It felt like a strange cross between a summer's evening on Athos, discussing what was to be achieved tomorrow while muscles still ached with the labour of a day not yet past, and one of the general meetings which those from Earth seemed inordinately fond of—talk that whirled in circles around the gathering, people standing in turn to advocate their particular viewpoint, earning jeers or the stamp of feet in earth in accordance to what the crowd felt of their suggestions, while Teyla sat with a piece of paper, produced by Brenn from the Ancestors knew where, balanced on her knee while she wrote out in shorthand all the things which would need to be accomplished by them in short order. Torren, restored to her by a relieved and sleepy Maeta, slept by her side while she worked, his little feet occasionally thrumming gently against her kneecap while he slept and blew spit bubbles in time with the rise and fall of his little chest.
As a list, it seemed simple and easy, a progression from the beginning of the alphabet to the end, though Teyla knew that it would not be so easy as it was to list things out on a page in dark and simple ink. First: to make sure, as best they were able, that there were no supporters of Michael's left, no one so brainwashed by him that they would want to carry on his work or oppose his transfer to some isolated planet where he could cause no further harm. Delu and Brenn would be more than happy to question those thought suspect, Teyla knew, and Haleth was visibly itching to go down onto the levels where Michael's laboratories, his conversion chambers, still lay, and to set fire to them so that all that remained was blackened ruin.
Second: to see that those who wanted to go back were able to get there safely and with adequate provisions from what they could spare; that those who wanted to leave, but who were teenagers with no family left, or whose worlds had been destroyed, had gate addresses passed on to them of worlds where they could blend in enough to be safe. Teyla counselled gently against their leaving; she did not know how they could think it a wise thing to do, when the fates of Tekkil and Sheren were still something raw for so many of them. They had to know that the chances of being greeted with fear and suspicion, even loathing, were far greater than the chances of being met with open arms and the glad shouts of a family who had thought them lost. Even so, perhaps fifteen hundred of them left; Teyla watched from the corner of her eye as the stargate shone blue with their passage to half a dozen different worlds, over and over, while she spoke with those who had opted to stay. Most of those leaving had swathed themselves in makeshift veils, or trusted to the shadows of their cloaks to hide their oddly marbled skin, the slits in their cheeks, from inquisitive eyes.
By the time the last of them had slipped through the 'gate, Teyla and her people had moved on to the third point, the one that was the most problematic and the most pressing: the question of how to feed those who remained, four thousand of them who were anxious to know the security of a full belly and a well-stocked storehouse once more; a question which was only going to grow more pressing the longer they sat there and debated it.
"We go back to Nav Berlon," one man said when it was his turn to stand, worrying the hem of his tunic beneath impatient fingers. "All of us, rebuild there. There'll be more than enough homes for us all."
"Yes," a woman with close-shaved blonde hair said, standing when the previous speaker had sat, "and abandon all that we have planted here in favour of a city that's half-destroyed, that was only supported where it was by a trade network that's been gone for months? How do you think we'd keep ourselves alive there? It doesn't make any sense!"
"Do we stay here, then?" the first speaker responded, jumping back to his feet, his shyness at speaking out in public vanishing beneath the red flush that stained his sheets. "Do I ask my wife and my brother-husbands and our children to stay here within sight of the place where, where—"
"You would rather they starve than face what happened to them?" the woman sneered, not even bothering to scramble back to her feet this time, and Teyla knew she had to step in before this deteriorated into a shouting match—something she never appreciated even in the close confines of a general staff meeting on Atlantis, and which would surely be disastrous here when so many hundreds were trying to decide their fate.
She ran a soothing hand over Torren's sleeping back, then got to her feet. Teyla stood silently and waited until she had the attention of all of them, and then said "Sit" in so calm and measured a voice that the plump little man who had been so red-faced a moment before turned pale and sat down as suddenly as a puppet whose strings had been cut.
Teyla took a breath. "Because of circumstance," she said, purposefully keeping her words even, "I have found myself on this world. Circumstance and the choice of others brought us all here. In the time I have been here, many of you here have turned to me for advice, and it is advice that I have offered freely because there is nothing I desire more than seeing all of us free and returned to a place we can call home." She turned in a loose semicircle so that she could see the faces of everyone there—the old faces and the young, the pale and the brown and the dark, freckled and with dark circles under the eyes, bald and framed with braids and haloed with clouds of dark hair, anxious and determined and hopeful—all at once.
"I said it before and I will repeat it now," she continued, "we have been made a family through our shared blood, though we were not born kin. There is no one in any world that I know of who will be able to stand with us now as well as we will be able to stand together, who would fight for us more strongly than we can fight for one another, if we stay united. We are human, and we are Wraith, and we are neither—there have never been people like us in the galaxy before, and we have ensured there will never be more forcibly turned as we were. But we have to ensure that we survive, for our sakes and for the sake of our children. We have to make our own choices, and we have to survive."
"Yeah," Kimell said, from where he was lying on the brown grass, propped up on his elbows and regarding her with a look on his face that was almost whimsical. "We get that. They want to know what you're going to do about it."
Teyla rolled her eyes at him fondly, and felt her shoulders relax a little; she had been carrying too much tension about this, too much adrenaline still in her body and too anxious to ensure that people would listen to what she had to say. Too much like Rodney, she thought ruefully to herself—too caught up in the message she wanted to get across to consider how she was saying it.
"My plan," she said, standing there in a too-thin tunic and ill-fitting pants, while the sun started to fight its way over the horizon, true dawn coming at last, "works like this."
Her plan was approved, after some deliberation and some slight changes following suggestions from the other hybrids—some better than others, Teyla thought wryly, and some certainly cruder than others; she thought that John and Ronon's senses of humour would align very well with those from Vajgerna, who thought that there was no joke the telling of which was not improved by hand gestures. It was a compromise plan, but one which Teyla thought would have the best chance of keeping all of them safe and secure: they would leave this planet, yes, because it was one which held nothing but bad memories for them, and because the open plan of the compound offered no security to anyone who was not a madman focused on keeping his captives contained behind its walls. But they would not leave it right away—they would take the time to repair what damage had been done to Michael's cruiser in the battle, to train up enough people to fly and to repair them effectively, and to harvest in enough of the quickest growing of the crops to keep them adequately fed during their flight.
"Where are we going?" one of the Thernans had asked, a man whose name Teyla couldn't remember though his mane of glossy red hair and his full beard were distinctive enough that she certainly remembered seeing him around the compound before.
Teyla had grinned at him, and said "Atlantis."
The name of the city of the ancestors held all the charm, the magic, for an inhabitant of this galaxy as it did for someone from Earth. Elizabeth had told her once that for most Earth people, Atlantis was a tale to charm children with, an impossible picture painted in watercolours, a place that had most likely never existed outside of the imaginations of people long dead. For anyone who had grown up within the bounds of the system of gates in this galaxy, who had been raised to think themselves watched over always by the benevolent gaze of their Ancestors, Atlantis had always been a certainty, a real place whose location they had forgotten for a time, but which was waiting to be found by them if they had faith.
Her mention of it was a talisman, an encouragement to them all to work harder, faster, stronger, and soon there were great canvases spread out under the heat of the sun covered with freshly harvested menga beans laid out to dry. Teyla spent her time struggling to remember what she had learned of Wraith technology, pulling together facts from various corners of her memory: things Rodney and Radek had mentioned in passing, her own experience with flying hive ships in the past, the things she had seen echoing in the minds of the drones and the Queens whose minds she had brushed for a time.
People worked more easily together, they smiled more, and the songs they sang and hummed as they worked were lighter, becoming more joyous still the day that Brenn took off in a dart through the stargate and headed for a solar system in the Quijrin Sector. They had all voted, not that Michael would be left on Difla itself, of course, where he could use its stargate to leave, but on Difla's moon—which had once been farmed, but which had long since been abandoned when the Diflari overpopulation that had led to the moon's cultivation had led to that civilisation's eventual collapse. It was an unfrequented part of the galaxy, and he would not be discovered there.
Michael's departure lifted the last of a tension from their shoulders, that lingering fear that somehow Michael would find a way to break out of his cell and retake control. Teyla even thought, to her amusement, that Kimell and Maeta were beginning to flirt with one another in a somewhat shy and awkward manner. It gave her a little pain to contemplate, remembering the beginning of her own courtship with Kanaan—how it had surprised them both, that someone they had known best as a childhood playmate might now become a bedfellow—but she was happy for them both. She rejoiced to see her cousin happy, glad to see her mouth more upturned now than not, as she was to see Kimell's great form stooped shyly to help Maeta with some small activity, his face turned towards hers like a flower would seek the sun.
In the evenings, Maeta sang nonsense songs to Torren, making him clap his tiny hands in excitement at the trip and flow of syllables from her tongue—mouth music, syllables arranged and rearranged to fit the song that she was composing, and that he would try to match with his ever more fluent command of babbling and cooing. Teyla would hum along with them both as she sat at Maeta's back and tightened her braids for her with fingers stiffening from a long day's work. "We must have you looking your best for Kimell tonight," she teased.
"Do you think it will help?" Maeta said wryly, twisting to look over her shoulder at Teyla.
Teyla batted at Maeta until she turned back around and let Teyla continue with her efforts, bringing the tight brown curls back into order. "A lovers' quarrel so soon?" she teased gently, "I would not have thought that Kimell was so prone to argument."
"No," Maeta said with a sigh. "Not argumentative at all. But he is from Erseneth, and well. You know their reputation. He doesn't think it would be right to do anything which has not been sanctioned by the Rule of the Ancestors, I won't do anything when I have no method of preventing conception right now, and so we are both left rather… frustrated."
Teyla blinked. "Not even—?"
"Not even that," Maeta sighed. "They have some prohibition against it which I do not understand. Well, no—I understand that it is stupid."
"Yes," Teyla agreed, "I would not be happy were I in your situation. But you must remember that he is not Athosian." Differences in sexual practices between the cultures she had met travelling through the 'gate still had the potential to take Teyla aback at times. It was not even the more… elaborate cultural practices which had the potential to raise her eyebrows most, like the Kalscaf nobility and the odalisques they would trail behind them in public at the end of long leashes. Rodney had tried to explain some of the subtleties of Earth sexual mores once, when Teyla had been confused by some things she had overheard the Marines say the day after one of them had walked in on Elizabeth and Ronon. He had told her how in most of their cultures, the recipient of oral sex was considered to be the dominant one, and that many regarded it as demeaning for a woman to pleasure her partner in such a way. Teyla had blinked at him when he'd finished speaking, the hands that had awkwardly sketched out euphemisms in the air coming to rest uneasily in his lap. There were many things amiss with such a statement, she thought, but it was the inherent illogic of it which disturbed her most: surely, when a woman's teeth were that close to a man's genitalia, it would be incredibly foolish of him to claim that she were the one in the subordinate position.
"Give him time," she continued to Maeta. "And remember," she said, leaning in close to whisper in Maeta's ear, "we shall be back on Atlantis soon enough, and Jennifer has many, many—"
"Teyla!" Maeta gasped, horrified, "Not in front of the baby!"
Teyla bit her lip so that she would not laugh.
It took them longer to repair the battle cruiser than Teyla had thought it would—its hold was filled with enough food to last them the two weeks it would take them to get to Atlantis at middling speed in hyperspace, and its crew quarters fitted out with hammocks and bedrolls and blankets long before they had succeeded in repairing more than half the harm that had been done to the navigational systems. Though it had seemed merely cosmetic damage at the time, repair teams had uncovered a gash that was narrow, but far from shallow, destruction from lasers that had cut and cauterised half a dozen of the arteries which kept the ship flying. "Another two, three hours on the way back," one of the engineers told her when Teyla went to inspect their progress, "and the whole thing would have exploded. You were lucky."
Teyla raised her eyebrows at him. An understatement.
It was an extra week they could ill-afford to lose—not because they faced any immediate crisis of supplies, but because she was impatient to be home now that the prospect of it was so close. Impatient to be back in her little room by the sea, with her son and her friends and the memories of Athos gathered around her in all the mementoes she had managed to save over the years—to see John and Rodney and Ronon again, to gather her team close to her and to hug them, for all that she knew they would splutter at such emotional assaults on their manly dignity--if, of course, they were glad to see her at all.
Rather, she used her time remaining on the planet—this place she had been for months, but had never given a name—to accomplish something different. She sought out someone who had the skills to do it, and when she mentioned it to Brenn and Delu, Haleth and Maeta and Kimell, they all proclaimed that it was something they wished for themselves, too. Teyla was a little wary that they would think that she had gleaned the idea of it from the marks the Wraith had been using for generations: the tattoos that curled around their cheekbones, or that snaked down their arms, ink flowing dark against pale skin, marks that proclaimed to which hive you belonged and to which Queen you owed your loyalty. And she supposed she had, in part, because she knew that until they had a way to mark themselves out as distinct by choice—whether human-born or Wraith-born—to signal their belonging in this group now, that even when they got back to Atlantis and had a chance at a better future, they would forever be marked out as different. This was as good a way as any other, really, Wraith ink in an Athosian pattern on new skin.
But when she sat at the great table in the room where she had once met to plan with Brenn and Delu, with all of those who had jokingly dubbed themselves her lieutenants sitting around her and waiting their turn with Tebi, Teyla found herself thinking not of the present but of the past: of sitting in a dingy public house on a backwater world and watching Ronon as he'd held his arm out for Tyre and Ara and Rakai and let them use the vulnerable skin of his inner arm to mark him as one of theirs. She remembered feeling vaguely... appalled, she supposed, at the time, at the traits the four of them had seemed to pull out in one another, and worried for Ronon afterwards, that he would carry the marks of their betrayal burned new and permanent into his flesh, even more evident than the scars from the Wraith tracker had been on his back.
This would be seen by everyone, as surely as would the marks on her cheeks and the deep creases on her palms. This would set her apart by her own choosing; and so she sat with her own favoured lieutenants, with Kimell and Haleth and Brenn, and breathed carefully as Tebi used the long, thin piece of abar wood to mark her skin. Tebi's assistant Megar sat behind her and held the skin of her neck taut while the elderly man worked. It hurt a great deal—though much less, she realised ruefully, than childbirth had; what a wonderful thing perspective was—but she did not flinch once, not even when the steady, rhythmical pain of it made her pulse speed up.
"This will look well," little Tebi said, his voice quiet and his hands gentle as he worked the curves of the Athosian sun into her skin, barely audible even over the soft, repetitive sound of the stick puncturing her flesh.
Behind him, Teyla could see Brenn and Delu and Kimell, all of them waiting their turn; and behind them, through the open door of the room, she could see even more people, some of them very young and some of them very old, and all of them wanting to unite with her and behind her. "I hope so," Teyla said, and tilted her head back to allow him greater access. "I hope so."
The repairs to the hive ship were just starting to scar over when they had their first inkling of what was coming—a dart that dropped out of hyperspace in atmosphere above them, the herald of an assault to come. Teyla had been napping with her son when it happened, but the sound of it woke her up and sent her running from the building, peering up into the cloud-strewn sky at it. It dived low not to attack and scoop people up, but rather in a pattern which Teyla recognised as a classic reconnaissance move before it disappeared again; its steep ascent made its engines screech at such a pitch that those in its path had to clap their hands over their ears in pain.
By the time Delu came running to find her, her skirts held up above her knees so that she could move more quickly, Teyla was already heading for the ship. "You are sure it did not take anyone?" she asked Delu as they both ran in the direction of the hive ship, words shaken out of her in time with the thudding of her feet. "How many—"
"None," Delu gasped out; though she was slender, she was far from being the fittest of them. "No culling beam at all; looked like it was checking we were here."
Teyla swore, the most vicious and colourful of Athosian curses that would have made Charin or her father cuff her upside the head if they had heard. A dart that was not interested in feeding for itself was worse even than if it had scooped up five or six unfortunates to carry back to a hive; a dart that was carrying out reconnaissance was inevitably one which was just an advance scout ship for an oncoming army. There could be thousands of Wraith descending on them soon, an army no doubt bent on vengeance thanks to Michael's assault on their shipyards, and Teyla cursed him again for still bringing destruction on them even while millions of lel away.
Inside the dark warmth of the cruiser, she found Brenn and Haleth, consulting anxiously over the displays which the ship was showing them—a grey wash of a star chart projected into mid-air which showed that the ship's sensors had picked up some approaching the edge of their solar system at sub-light speed. "Four of them?" Teyla gasped as she made sense of what the display was showing her, more winded by that than by her flat-out sprint to the bridge. "They cannot all belong to the hive we attacked." She looked at Brenn for confirmation.
He shook his head and pointed out the small symbols which were displayed, one each above the four red dots that represented the four individual ships. "No," he rumbled, "Don't know which hives they stand for, but that's three separate hives working as a team. Not normal."
Teyla could feel her teeth grinding together. Trust Michael to have succeeded only in uniting disparate hives into an alliance against them. "How long until they reach here?"
Haleth called up another display screen—stark figures in Wraith script that made Teyla's eyebrows shoot up. "That short a time?"
"Less," Brenn said, "If they send darts on ahead, or if they jump back into hyperspace. Probably they figure he's still here, and that he'd rather stand to face them. Be his style."
One corner of Teyla's mouth quirked up, though the motion made her face hurt. "His style is not ours. Send out the word around the compound and make sure that everyone is in from the fields. Half an hour to get everyone loaded up, half on this ship and half on the other, and then we are gone."
"But the repairs—" Haleth said.
"We will have to trust that they will hold," Teyla said. "I do not like it any more than you do, but in a fight against such unequal numbers? The hull will not hold. I am going to fetch Torren, and then I will be back to help." She turned to leave, heading back towards the building where her son lay sleeping, and called back over her shoulder, "Start the engines while I'm gone, and make sure that someone does the same for the other ship."
Torren was happy to see her, tugging on her braids with chubby little fingers when she stooped to pick him up and chattering away at her, thankfully none the worse for the fact that she had left him alone for nearly fifteen minutes. "I know, I know," Teyla told him, trying her best to make her voice reassuring while she settled his weight onto her left hip, "but we must be on our way now so that you can meet your uncles. Won't that be fun?"
"Amamamambaaa," Torren offered, before blowing a spit bubble against her neck.
"Yes," Teyla replied ruefully, "I'm sure that their discourse with you will be at the same level." She found a blanket at the foot of the bed in which to wrap him, a small bag containing several clean diaper cloths, and picked up the brightly coloured sling in which she or Maeta frequently carried Torren. Her arms full with her son and his belongings, Teyla turned on her heel and headed back to the ship; there was nothing else in the dormitory that she needed or wanted, and everything that she wanted to leave behind.
Outside, she found herself in the middle of a stream of people, all of them heading for the ships. It reminded Teyla of being back on Taranis, helping an entire civilisation to try to outrun earth tremors and the fires of volcanoes. The ground beneath their feet here was steady, but Teyla knew that shortly the sky would fall, and so joined Kimell and Maeta and Aleis in urging people to move faster, not to dawdle on the ramps that led up into the bowels of the ships but to keep moving once they were inside, to spread out and claim a place in the quarters which had already been made ready for them.
There was no time for a head count, and it could not have been accurate anyway—Teyla had no idea how many of the hybrids had remained on the planet with her, no true knowledge of how many people had entrusted themselves to her care, and when she gave the nod to Maeta to raise the ramp of the ship after a tense and active half hour, she could only hope and call on the benevolence of every ancestor that there was no straggler out there in the compound, no forgotten hunter cheerfully unaware wandering through the woods.
The rumble of hurried ascent through the atmosphere shook the ships, especially since there were two of them rising at once, each of them disturbing the other with the force of their passage. Still, they achieved high orbit without difficulty, though Teyla could hear startled, bitten-off cries come over the intercom from those who hadn't managed to find a safe place to sit before they took off. Balanced on her hip, Torren began to sniffle and then to wail, and Teyla absent-mindedly jogged him up and down a little to help soothe him. Glancing up at the display overhead, Teyla could see telltale energy emissions from the four approaching hive ships which meant that their flight had been noticed, and that they were preparing to jump deeper into the system.
"Delu," she said, hailing the other ship, "You have the coordinates?"
"Yes," Delu replied, her voice crackling with tension and with distance, "Ready to enter hyperspace on your mark."
"Now," Teyla said, just as on the outskirts of their solar system, the approaching hive ships began their jump. Teyla never knew how close they came, because the bright, variegated blue of the hyperspace tunnel enclosed both their ships before the other hives could reappear closer to them, but she was sure they must have been close indeed. She pressed the heel of her hand to her chest, feeling how quickly her heart was beating. Many more days like these past few, she thought ruefully, and she was in real danger of ending up with a heart rhythm like Rodney's, her adrenal gland burnt out.
Next to her, Kimell was still staring up at the display screen, which now showed nothing more than the random static sparked by their travel outside the dimensions they knew. "How can we know they won't follow us?"
Teyla shrugged. "We cannot be sure. But they have no reason to believe that Michael is not still in charge, and it would be incredible to believe that he would seek refuge on Atlantis. They will look in his old haunts first, I believe. We are safe for now."
They could have made the trip in two weeks at an easy pace, but Teyla urged them on to just below the point of straining the engines, so that they made it there in the space of ten Athosian days rather than twelve. She could not have said why she felt the necessity of such urgency, save to say that there was something in her gut which told her it was necessary—perhaps a fear that the repairs to the ship would fail, Maeta suggested, when Teyla confided her worries to her, though she did not think that was quite right. There was no sign that they were being followed, no indication from the readings watched with anxious eyes by those of them who had technical backgrounds, that there would be imminent engine failure, but there was something in her heart which told her that the sooner she was back in Atlantis, the better.
When their ships finally dropped back into normal space, just beyond the limits of New Lantea's solar system, Teyla was quick to realise why—to think that perhaps even stronger than the ability to brush minds with the Wraith was her ability to know when her team was in trouble, and to know that she had to get home. Her ship's long-range sensors showed the bright beacons of Atlantis and her ZPMs, the stolid strength of the Daedalus in low orbit overhead—but also two large ships which could only be of Asuran design, the space between them all lit up with the arc of weapons fire and the bright flare of explosions. Even if the city's shields managed to stay solid, Teyla saw quickly, the Daedalus could not hold out much longer.
"We have weapons capability?" she asked Kimell, her gaze locked on what the screen was showing her.
"The other ship, yes," he responded. "Delu can fire whenever we're ready, but we're probably going to be able to fire only from our right side, not our left."
Teyla nodded, then opened a channel to the other ship so that she could explain to everyone at once what she was planning to do, how they could help to save the city of the Ancestors and destroy another threat to them, all at once; and then she led the two ships on one last short jump into close orbit around New Lantea, and said "Fire."
The sight of two hive ships joining in the fight on the side of the Lanteans was clearly enough to confuse the Asurans, who could not have calculated for such an eventuality. Two Asuran battleships against the Daedalus and an Atlantis which still did not have its intended complement of ZPMs was an even fight; add in the Wraith battle cruisers, and the balance was inevitably shifted away from the Asurans' favour. Teyla ordered those in control of weapons to concentrate their fire power in the same point on the Asuran ships' hulls that the Daedalus was firing on—a recognised weak spot, Teyla was sure—and that certainty was rewarded within minutes by the sight of one of the Asuran ships blooming outwards into silent red and white flame, the other turning to flee, and a rather confused hail from Atlantis.
Teyla recognised the voice of Sergeant Campbell, and felt something catch tight in her throat at the familiarity of it, the sheer, bizarre mundanity of his worry at yet another stranger come to his city with unknown intentions.
"I repeat, this is Atlantis," Campbell said. "Please identify yourself and state—"
Teyla could not quite find the words to respond to him at first—how could she, how should she, best say who she was, after all these months apart, after the length of time they had all thought her dead? For all the hours she had spent daydreaming of the moment when she would step back into the city, she had not thought of what exactly she would say when she returned—how she could claim to be the same Teyla Emmagan that the Lanteans had thought lost when so much about her had changed completely. Her hesitation took a moment too long, because she could hear the sounds of a slight scuffle, transmitted in crackling stereo, and then John's dear, familiar voice say, "The hell with diplomacy. You mind telling us who the fuck you are and what you—"
"John," Teyla said, stunned with the force of emotion the mere sound of his voice, ragged with anger and long nights, could evoke in her; she thought she might have been crying, or smiling, or both, but she was not certain; there was a certain strange numbness to her body with her heart and her mind so full. "We thought you might need some help."
There was nothing for a moment but the sound of John's breathing, heavy and suspiciously wet; and then, hollowly, as though they were standing some distance away from the speaker, Ronon saying "Teyla?", and a yelp that could only come from Rodney: "Son of a fuck!"
"Would you be willing to allow us to come down to talk with you?"
"Us?" Ronon's voice sounded suspicious, wary; Teyla could not blame him.
"Michael is gone," Teyla said, clasping her hands in front of her. "For some time now. It is just me and some friends of mine. Some family."
Another pause, and Teyla could imagine them looking at one another, weighing the possibility—even the probability, knowing this galaxy—that this was an elaborate trap, some shade that Michael was throwing up to confuse them as surely as a Wraith's illusions could confuse its prey. Then John said, "No weapons. No more than five of you. We'll transmit coordinates for you to beam down to in five minutes. Shields will only be down for thirty seconds. Anything happens, the Daedalus will open fire on both your ships. Got it?"
"Understood," Teyla said. She had expected nothing less. "I am looking forward to seeing you all again."
"Yeah," John said after a moment, his tone something she couldn't quite read; the connection was closed abruptly.
Teyla called together her little landing party, feeling oddly nervous, as if she were going somewhere she had never ventured before rather than a place she had called home for many years; gathered around her, Torren and Maeta, Kimell and Haleth, were a comforting presence. She nodded at Brenn, who would stay behind to man the bridge, then closed her eyes when she felt the familiar cold tingle of the transporter beam on her skin. When she opened them again, she was standing in the gate room of Atlantis, and oh, it still felt like coming home, even after all this time away: the soaring arc of the stargate behind her, the sense of achievement that she'd made it back here, the faces which were waiting for her. Samantha Carter, hands clasped expectantly in front of her, standing at the foot of the steps; behind her, Ronon, his hair cropped short as Kimell had described to her, hovering next to Jennifer, who was just beginning to look obviously pregnant, her stomach starting to strain against her blue shirt. Ronon had one hand resting on her back. There behind them, Rodney and John, both looking a little older, a little greyer and thinner than she remembered them. There were more fine wrinkles around Rodney's eyes than she recalled, and John's face showed a shocking, wicked scar that pulled down at the corner of his left eye and pulled upwards the left corner of his mouth.
More people lining the balcony, some of whom she knew—the wild tufts of Radek's hair; Marie; an anxious-looking Carson; Major Lorne; Jeannie Miller's dark blonde head amongst them, craning to see—and some of whom she didn't—mostly the soldiers in their identical, anonymous uniforms who lined the gate room and made no show of subtlety in the way they held their P90s. It was likely they had been trained by John, and taught that this galaxy often did not reward subtlety and demanded readiness instead. Teyla approved.
There was silence in the room for the space of an endless inhalation, an awkward tension that expanded upwards to fill the high, open space above their heads. Teyla could tell that they were examining her face, the high twists of her braids, the tattoos that ran down her neck, relearning her features and learning for the first time the changes Michael had wrought. Torren, picking up on the adults' anxiety, turned to hide his face against her chest, wrinkling the fabric of her dress with the clench of his chubby fists. Teyla thought that he must be thrown by the city, too. There had been nothing like Atlantis in his life so far—its cool breezes and high, open ceilings, the tang of salt in the air, were so very different from the low, welcome warmth of the hive ships and the small, cramped dormitories where he had spent so many hours—not to mention the sight of so many strange people all at once, standing stiff and strange and apart. She stroked one hand over his curls while she raised an eyebrow at her team and waited for one of them to speak.
Rodney broke first—Teyla was hardly surprised—clomping down the last of the steps, combat boots ringing against Ancient metal and stone while he huffed, "This is ridiculous, this is— Teyla, they're all being idiots, I always said there was a chance, welcome back, welcome home—is this?—can I say hello?"
"Hello, Rodney," Teyla said, feeling the stretch in her cheeks from the force of her smile. "This is Torren, my son, who is currently being unaccountably shy, though I am sure he will yell at you shortly when he decides it is his nap time."
"Well," Rodney said, a little awkwardly, as tentative as the hand he was extending to brush against Torren's curls too, as if he didn't know whether he would be allowed to touch. "He should fit in very well here. I, uh. I have it on good authority that I can behave in a rather similar manner, um. Sometimes. On occasion."
Teyla was certain that the soft sound she heard was John snorting. She hid her own smile and ducked her head to look at her son. "Torren, I think you should go play with your Uncle Rodney for a little while. Mama has some things to discuss with your Aunt Sam." Rodney made a noise of protest, not realising that his interest had volunteered him for childminding duty, but Teyla started the process of detaching Torren from her torso—a lengthy process, since he sometimes seemed to have more limbs than a Settayan octopus. He still had his face buried against her, but turned just enough to look at Rodney out of the corner of his eye.
Rodney tried, very obviously and painfully, to make himself seem unthreatening, stooping a little and holding out one hand, palm turned upwards. "Hey, little man," he said, voice overly mannered and formal, "You want to come visit with me for a little bit? I know a very fun game which involves elementary number problems? Or you could go with your Aunt Jeannie, or, or, Jennifer, she knows all about babies and their emotional requirements and digestive systems, and, um… things."
"I don't mind," Jennifer piped up, taking quick steps forward before she slowed, looking from Rodney to Teyla as if afraid she might have overstepped the bounds of politeness. "I mean, if you want… I'm from Wisconsin, I have a lot of cousins."
Torren's small body rocked for a moment between desire to stay with his mother and curiosity to go investigate these strangers, to pull at the pockets on their clothing, stick his fingers into Rodney's nose and ears and pull at the long fall of Jennifer's hair; when Teyla smiled down at him said "Go on, it's all right," he launched himself over into Jennifer's grasp with the wide-extended arms of a baby. Teyla could tell the moment when they all caught sight of Torren's cheeks and the dull gold of his eyes—a slight intake of Rodney's breath, a sudden stiffness in the line of John's back—and John's head snapped up to look at her. He was angry, Teyla knew, and possibly with reason; but he couldn't know what had happened to them, and so she shook her head at him once, and was silently grateful when he said nothing, perhaps because Ronon had reached out to place a restraining hand on John's rigid shoulder.
Sam inclined her head at Teyla. "The conference room?" she said neutrally, and Teyla could not quite parse the intonation of her words.
"That would be fine," she said, and did not look behind her or to the side as she walked with Sam up the steps, trusting the rest of her retinue to stay by the gate, and trusting in the lessons Charin had given her in always holding her head just high enough to carry her past the stares and the obvious lack of whispering from the Lanteans standing around. So many of these people had been her friends, once, and Teyla fervently hoped that they would be again.
She sat down at one end of the table, now arranged into a rectangle, and Sam sat at the other, flanked by Ronon and John, Rodney and Lorne. It felt to Teyla very much like her first year in this city, when she had known none of them, but Sergeant Bates' suspicion of her had been enough to have her questioned for fear that she really would have sold them out to the Wraith. There was a silence coming from the direction of the gate room which made Teyla suspect that the whole city was waiting out there, breathing as shallowly and quietly as possible so as to hear what was going on in here. She took a breath to compose herself, to think through once more all the ways she could and should approach this, and then began.
Teyla leaned forward slightly in her chair and let her hands rest in loose curls upon the table in front of her: a simple, easy gesture which could be construed as nothing more than Teyla making herself comfortable, but which also showed that her hands neither carried weapons, nor were weapons themselves. She heard John shift in his chair when he saw her unscarred palms, heard Ronon make a low noise of relief in the back of his throat, but no one made any comment. She breathed out, and let her gaze rest on a point a little over the heads of those she loved, because it was easier not to look quite at them while she spoke. "My captivity afforded me many idle moments to think, but even during the worst of them, I thought of you all constantly. Every day, I thought of what it would be like to be back amongst you once more, but I feared so often that my hopes were not grounded in reality that… I never thought of what I would say to you all on my return. I am at somewhat of a loss as to where to begin."
John spoke up. "You could start with telling us what you're doing with, with—" He gestured at her, his hands nowhere near so eloquent as Rodney's, but there could be no doubt that he was indicating her cheeks, her tightly braided hair, her high-collared shirt. "And you show up with hive ships, Teyla, what the—"
"John!" Rodney squawked. "That's just—"
Sam's hand didn't quite touch John's forearm, but hovered in mid-air just above it, an almost-touch that served to recall John to himself but not to aggravate him further; Rodney's mouth took on a mutinous line, but it closed. Sam didn't look over at either of them, but instead smiled steadily at Teyla, the bright, encouraging smile that was doubtless learned from years of struggle and diplomacy, but which had just enough honest feeling behind it to allow Teyla to meet her eyes. "I think, Teyla, if you start at the beginning, we will all have enough patience and manners to listen to you." There was enough honeyed-over bite to her voice to remind Teyla just why Sam made for a good commander; that, and the fact that she had had such a team herself, that she doubtless understood just why John was hiding his upset behind anger.
Teyla made herself return smile with smile, and then let that expression fade from her face while she spoke to them all: told them what Michael had done to her and to her son and to all the others, what she had endured while she had hoped for rescue, and what she had achieved when she had helped her new-won family to save themselves. She did not tell them everything—kept to herself some of the lowest moments, the details of some of the things she'd had to do—but she laid out the truth of what she had been through, used all the skills and the inadequacies of language to tell them of the hurts of so many months trapped away from home. By the time she was finished, Teyla's hands were shaking, Ronon's eyes as bright as Rodney's, and John's jaw was locked tight enough that it was a wonder it did not shatter.
There was silence for a moment, and then John cleared his throat and spoke again, his voice just steady enough to let Teyla know that he was uncertain; one of his hands was splayed out across the tabletop in front of him, and his gaze was fixed upon it. "But you're—you're okay, right? The kid's okay?"
"Both Torren and I are very well, John," Teyla replied, as gently as she could, wishing that she were not on the other side of the table from him, wishing that the way he held himself did not speak of long months of hurt.
"Good," John said, head nodding as jerkily as would a puppet made to move by an inexperienced puppeteer; his tongue darted to lick at his lower lip, a familiar nervous tic, before he looked up and met her eyes, forced an uncertain smile. "That's—good."
He did not look as if he wished to say anything else; perhaps he could not. Rodney shifted uncomfortably in his seat, and from her vantage point, Teyla could see Ronon's knee pressed against John's underneath the table in a mute attempt at comfort. Sam, with the innate kindness for which Teyla was so very grateful, turned the conversation to talk of logistics, to the kind of supplies which would be required to help sustain those on the newly arrived hive ships, and the kind of precautions which Atlantis would have to take in order to avoid attracting the attention of those Wraith who were bent on revenge against Michael. "Yes," Teyla said, "that would be wise. They do not know that Michael no longer controls us, and I am sure they are set on vengeance."
Rodney snapped his fingers rapidly at Sam, close enough to her face that she swatted at him, annoyed. "Whatever, no," he said, dismissing her aggravation with a flick of his fingers. "This is the ideal time to test the, the hyperspace jammer? We scatter their energy trace in a couple different directions, lay some false communication trails in subspace, they'll be chasing their own tails for weeks and never come near us."
Sam tilted her head at him. "Wraith technology is very different from Ancient-derived tech on a number of levels, Rodney. Are you sure that the technique will still work?"
He rolled his eyes. "Yes, yes, of course, there might be variations, but if you start from first principles, the process is identical, and—"
The two of them were off, the sounds of their debate filling up the room, and hearing Rodney affectionately denigrate the intelligence of other people was so familiar a thing that if Teyla closed her eyes for just a moment, she could almost pretend that she had never left. She blinked them open again to catch Ronon looking at her; she ventured a smile at him, and he returned it with the tiny upturn of his mouth that had always meant that he was sharing a secret and a personal joy. He cocked an eyebrow at her and inclined his head towards Rodney just a little, the movement a little looser now that he was free of the weight of hair from his head, and Teyla could read it for what it was: the usual amused huff at McKay being McKay, an invitation to her to share that amusement with him. That was a relief in so many ways; she joined Ronon in smirking at Rodney, just a little, and let that expression become a whole-hearted grin when Rodney noticed and said "What? What?"
One of Rodney's infamous discussions could take hours, days, if he was left to his own devices, but Teyla and Sam between them managed to divert his train of thought from the theoretical to the practical in a reasonable amount of time. He was the first to leave the conference room, disappearing off towards the labs, trailing engineers, physicists and mathematicians of varying degrees of cowedness in his wake and yelling for a fresh supply of coffee. Half of the milling occupants of the gate room went with him—though Jeannie Miller took the time first to beam at Teyla, and then wrap her arms around her in a hug before bestowing lesneesh on her, forehead touching forehead—and Sam soon had the others rounded up and assigned to preparing for the influx that would soon be arriving in the city.
Atlantis was as large as the ruins of Old Athos and its suburbs, and there would be room enough and to spare for even so many thousands as were contained on the two hive ships: but all those people would have to be fed, assigned rooms, and given such medical care as was needed and could be provided by Jennifer and her team, perhaps even quarantined if necessary. Emergency supplies had to be hauled up from the Lantean storerooms; Kimell and Maeta and Haleth shown who to liaise with; the staff in the mess given extra help with their task of making enormous quantities of food. Even with Teyla and Sam overseeing everything with skills honed over long years, the hours following the landing of the two hive ships on the western piers teetered on the verge of chaotic. Long lines of people stretched from the ships' ramps, along the piers and into the city. Lorne and some of his lieutenants patiently helped create some semblance of order from the confusion while the exhausted and nervous hybrids gazed up in awe at the tangle of refracted light that was Atlantis: the city that some of them had long believed was just a myth, another vague hope.
Teyla helped for as long as she was able, until tiredness had traced dark circles under her eyes and her mind was silt-water sluggish from long hours of telling this group of Nav Berlonai to proceed with Lieutenant Cadman to the rooms in B Corridor, Section 4, or of rounding up the dozen or so teenaged Vajgernan orphans whom she thought would need to be seen by a medic. By the time the flood of humanity leaving the ships had lessened to the merest trickle, she was swaying with exhaustion, as cranky and discontented as she had ever seen Torren or Rodney when they had gone too long between feedings, and her feet ached.
She said as much to John when he came over to check on her progress, his hands stuck in the pockets of his BDUs and his eyes unreadable behind the black sunglasses he favoured. "Your feet still hurt with you like this?" he said, sounding just blank enough that Teyla was sure he was blinking behind his glasses.
The arching of one eyebrow had generally always been enough to make John realise that he was sounding like a fool. It was no different now.
"Of course your feet still hurt," he said slowly, awkwardly. "Been standing for a while, right?"
"Well," she said, injecting just enough tartness into her tone that he would know that she was teasing, but hopefully not so much that he would be offended, "Not so much now that I am able to levitate…"
"I get it, I get it." John held up his hands in mock surrender. "Listen, just—you want to go get some rest? We kept your rooms."
Teyla stretched while she considered, and feeling each and every vertebra in her spine crack when she did so made up her mind for her. "A good night's sleep would be appreciated, I think." She walked at his side through the curve of corridors that led to the area where most of the expedition's quarters were located, the faint warmth of Atlantis' floors a guiding comfort beneath the soles of her feet.
They walked in silence until they were almost there, John's hands balled into fists and thrust deep into his pockets and Teyla resisting the urge to rest a comforting hand against his arm. Finally, John cleared his throat. "So, I was talking to Carson, and he saw some of what Michael got up to and… well, between him and Dr Keller he thinks he's got a decent shot at coming up with some kind of cure."
Teyla tilted her head to look at him, considering. "That is good to know," she said noncommittally as she opened the door to her room with the swipe of a hand, inwardly a little relieved that Atlantis still knew her well enough to let her in. Her quarters inside were just as she'd left them—the bed neatly made; the stack of books on the table a mixture of books on Earth culture and fat, cheaply-printed tales of romance and adventure bought from market stalls in Nithe'aal—though the surfaces all held a thin layer of dust, and the air held the still, stale quality that meant it had not been breathed in in far too long. Jeannie had managed to find a cradle, it seemed—an intricately worked bed of wood and metal which had been hidden the Ancestors' knew where in a city that hadn't known children in over ten millennia—and placed it next to her bed. Torren lay in it, one chubby thumb jammed into his mouth as he slept, a headset taped to the cradle's canopy as a makeshift baby monitor. Teyla checked to make sure that he was well, carefully so that he wouldn't wake, before crossing to open the windows in her room far enough to let in the rich smell of salt-wet air.
That done, she sat down on the foot of her bed with a soft oof, and kicked off the hated boots. John hovered anxiously between the door and where she sat; his sunglasses hung from his shirt pocket now, and Teyla could see how his gaze was drawn continuously and unconsciously over towards Torren. She thought she might have to assign John diaper-changing duty soon; being faced with the realities of a child's digestive processes tended to remove much of the mystique of parenthood.
"So, uh," John continued, with all the articulacy he was capable of when faced with something that meant much to him, shoulders hitching loosely. "Carson said give him a week or ten days, he should have something for you guys to try and—"
"John," Teyla cut him off, trying very hard to keep her exasperation in check, because she was tired and she knew he meant well. "I am very grateful for Carson's efforts, and for your concern, but at this moment I am in no hurry to begin another round of medical tests." She pulled her legs up beneath her and crossed them into a more comfortable position.
"What—" John paused to modulate his voice, pitching it low so as not to wake up Torren, though he was still audibly angry. "You don't mean you want to stay like this!"
Teyla raised her eyebrows. "That is not what I said. There is nothing I want more than to know that my son and my people and I have been restored to what we were. But I do not know if I can ask them to face the trauma of another round of experimentation when the outcome is uncertain—I neither want to disappoint them nor endanger them."
"Hey, they'd be doing their best to help you guys, they'd never do anything that'd hurt you!"
"Not intentionally, no. Yet the chance would be there." She sighed, thinking of everything Michael had done to her with the avowed aim of creating a better world—thinking of how it had caused her distress and fear, how it had left her with aching muscles and broken sleep and shaken to her core. "Let them work at a more comfortable pace, John, let them have the time to be certain of their work, and I promise you that I will be the first in line to receive a treatment that they can be truly confident in. I will gladly function as a… what does Jennifer term it, a guinea pig? But I will not ask any of the others to take a cure until I am certain that it works, and I will not take it until I am certain that I will not leave my son an orphan."
John shifted from foot to foot, the look on his face balanced between upset and mutiny, all of it tinged with desperation, before his expression smoothed out. "I suppose that's… fair," he conceded. "You got back here even with…" His voice trailed off and he gestured at her with one hand.
Teyla crooked a finger at John, gesturing for him to come closer. He did so, but warily, no doubt fearing that she would embarrass him with one of those hugs he never knew how to respond to; but when he stooped over, arms stiff at his sides, Teyla reached up and cuffed him smartly over the ear.
"Teyla, what the hell?" he yelped, standing back up hurriedly, rubbing at his hair.
"I have worn this face with honour for many months now, John Sheppard," she said pointedly, "And even if I had not, the changes in my appearance have had no effect on my faculties. Or my abilities to wield my bantos rods."
"Point taken," John said, little-boy rueful.
John went to get her some food while she showered; Teyla relished the luxury of hot water pounding against her skin for much longer than had been her custom, of rubbing sweet-scented oils into her skin, before she towelled off. Teyla was just tying on a loose, comfortable wrap dress she had found in the bottom of her chest of drawers when John returned; he looked a little bowled over at the level of enthusiasm she displayed for the contents of the tray he carried. "Hey," John said with a smirk, "If only what's-his-name, Lieutenant Gutierrez, had realised the way to your heart was through a cup of stout tea."
"Tea," Teyla said blissfully, savouring the feeling of the drink settling warm and welcome in her stomach before she turned her attention to the rest of her meal—a big bowl of spiced tuttleroot stew, chunks of Satedan frasech bread still warm from the oven, a little dish of fruit for afterwards—and she ate with as good an appetite as Ronon or Rodney had ever displayed, mind and body sated by good food that had been favourites since childhood. John seemed a little awed by how much she ate, contenting himself only with a steaming cup of coffee.
She had barely swallowed the last mouthful when an overwhelming desire for sleep overcame her, as suddenly as if she'd been hit over the head. Teyla set the tray down on the low table beside her bed and then lay down on top of the covers, her head resting comfortably on the soft pillows that carried traces of a familiar incense. Dimly, she was aware of John settling a blanket over her, gently smoothing some of her braids back from her face, his fingertips brushing against her cheeks; he didn't flinch from touching her, and her rediscovered contentment traced a smile over her face while she slept.
Her sleep was not unbroken—Torren needed to be changed after an hour or so, and afterwards would only settle down next to her, curled up with his small feet pressed against her belly—but it left her feeling more rested than she had been in many months. Her son safe and warm next to her; John curled up on a sleeping bag at the foot of her bed; Ronon slipping into the room in the middle of the night and Rodney shortly before dawn; in rooms all around her, high and low, spiralling out through the city, the sleeping members of the family she had gathered to her, Athosian and Lantean, human and hybrid, all of them breathing in unison.
Late autumn on New Lantea was always hot and humid, with long afternoons that left Atlantis a smudge of dark blue against the horizon, and made the settlers themselves feel no less blurred and insubstantial. Most people—especially those originally from the mountains of Nav Berlonai, who were unused to such extremes of temperature—slept through the worst heat of the afternoon. Torren, however, with all the intrepidness of a five year old ("Six in th'winter!" he would inform anyone who would listen, six small fingers held up with childish imperiousness) preferred instead to accompany his Uncle Ronon and his smaller cousins on what Torren referred to as 'adventures': innocent afternoons spent exploring rock pools along the shore, or learning to swim in the sea, or being taught to identify the birds whose song brought alive the canopy of the woods which surrounded their steadily growing town.
Teyla was content to let Torren go, with Rodney's patented childproof sunscreen smeared white on his nose, a broad hat on top of his dark curls, and one small hand placed trustingly in Ronon's large one. It was a good way for him to grow up knowing this world as thoroughly as she had known Athos, and as safely. Moreover, on a day like today, it gave her a welcome few hours of freedom with which to finalise the preparations for the harvest celebration: a three-day festival of music and food which would be attended not only by the slowly mingling populations of Atlantis and Urbeis, by the former hybrids whose skills now helped to keep the Ancient city safe and the Earth-born scientists and soldiers who had decided they would rather turn their hand to helping till the soil, but by the representatives of all the nations with whom Teyla and Kimell had helped forge alliances and trade treaties over the past several years. It would be a time of celebration and a time to make deals, driving bargains which the other side would think equitable but which would make Teyla smile slyly: the kind of activity which Teyla had enjoyed since childhood, and which was made all the sweeter when carried out in the midst of friends.
The short walk from her house across the newly-paved main square of the town had reminded her of the trip across the compound back on that unnamed planet when they had first moved out here: the wide open space, the pale-blue bowl of the sky overhead, the constant mill of people were all the same. Yet as the weeks passed and they settled into a closer community with one another, Teyla was a little astounded that she could ever have felt there was a similarity: she could breathe so freely here, could walk where she would knowing that the hands of those around her offered nothing but friendship to her and her family, and when she slipped into the long, low meeting hall which bounded one side of the square, she was greeted only by friends, by Brenn passing by with his arms full of great bolts of fabric, a family which had grown large enough to encompass all those living in the spill of white-washed houses which ran up from the sea to the woods behind them, east towards the meadows and the hydroponics warehouses.
Rodney, John, Maeta and Jennifer were seated at one of the tables set up against the wall; Rodney was halfway through his afternoon meal, John steadfastly averting his eyes and pulling some rather amusing faces while Jennifer's youngest grasped at her mother's top with tiny fists and began her own lunch. "I see," Teyla said archly, "that you two have made good progress with those decorations."
"Those beads are small!" Rodney mumbled around a mouthful of heavily spiced keefa flour noodles, "Wires hurt m'fingers!" He waggled the reddened tips of his fingers at her by way of explanation.
The look Teyla turned on John was one honed over five years of dealing with a son who had a penchant for mischief. His mouth worked a little bit, making him look much closer in age to Torren than to the leader of an independent city state, before he finally pointed a finger at Jennifer and Maeta and said, "They're not doing anything either."
"I'm looking forward to your next prostate exam," Jennifer said with a sweet smile, clearly enjoying John's wince. "I really am. Latex gloves, cold ones…"
Teyla's smile wobbled, threatening to tip over into full-throated laughter. "She is doing exactly what I asked of her—keeping you both out of trouble."
"Hey," Rodney said, spoon scraping the bottom of his bowl, "we haven't started a single intergalactic incident in years."
"Months," John corrected. "But they were totally asking for it."
They were off and bickering, and Teyla left them to it with an apologetic smile and a touch to her shoulder for Jennifer; Ronon would be back soon enough to rescue her from the sibling squabbles of his teammates, and between now and then Jennifer would be more than able to hold her own. Teyla had work to do, and she threaded her own path between clusters of loudly chattering friends and family. She approved their preparations here and advised on decisions there, offering encouragement along with her smiles, moving always with the certainty that came from being where she belonged, from having founded her home here on clean and solid earth.