Sera tripped, fumbling with the straps on her pack as she ran towards the ring. She yelped as she fell, blinking back tears as the skin on her hands was rubbed raw and began to bleed, but she didn't stop, couldn't stop. Stumbling blindly to her feet she raced on, hearing the panic behind her and trying not to look up.
Darkness was falling quickly, the sky a mass of whirling black that continued to grow, followed closely by a sound that caused a chill to race down her spine. Her breath hitched as she raced forward, focusing on the silver ring. They'd finally worked it out.
At least she hoped they'd worked it out.
She nearly fell onto the control device and dropped to her knees before the open panel. The darkness was almost complete as she flicked on her wrist light and began to hum. She tried to block out the click and buzz of the noise vibrating the air around her with a melody known since childhood; the sweet simple song her mother had sung over her cradle. She let it echo inside her as people in the distance began to scream.
She worked quickly, her fingers steady even as her body trembled. Attach the blue, move the left crystal, three soft pressures on the panel to the left… She worked relentlessly, humming continuously until she couldn't hear the sound. Branching into lyrics, she sang in discord to the noise around her, "hush and be still, the Gods will watch over you, sleep little girl…"
The device gave a sudden whine and Sera's eyes widened. She fell backwards in her haste to stand, screaming suddenly at the movement in the darkness as her wrist light flickered upwards.
"Do not think of it," she commanded herself angrily.
She jumped to her feet, aiming her light at the pads in front of her and gently fingering the symbols; symbols seen only on the silver ring and the touchstone and nowhere else on her world that she knew of. From memory, she recalled the sequence from the touchstone, steadily locating each one, a prayer answered as they lit up. The ring began to light, began to move, and Sera's breathing quickened, a flood of hope within the darkness.
The ring erupted in a wave of light and water and she had a moment to think she could not swim before movement began to flicker between her and her escape. The sound was all around her now and she began to feel small hard bodies and beating wings against her shoulders, her legs, her hands. She could see only darkness, a fluid writhing of black that moved as one mass, separating briefly into smaller creatures that she couldn't identify; wings, feelers, legs, there one moment and gone the next. Without further thought she ran, praying to her Gods that she would survive and, with her, the legacy of her people.
It was a parade day. The words incited dread to Kamar, something akin to his feelings towards final exams and talking in front of large numbers. It wasn't that he hated everyone, just that he hated, well, people.
He sighed resignedly and hunched his shoulders as he clutched at the strap of his bag in the hope that he looked less approachable with his head down and his body screaming 'stay away'. He scurried down the stairs, past the breakfast table and studiously ignored his parents and younger siblings (who, quite honestly, were more than happy to ignore him in return) and all but fell into the oncoming pedestrian traffic.
It was early yet, well before First Shift, and the sun was barely peering over the edges of the Liynean Mountains that stretched languorously behind him in a haphazard array of peaks and troughs. The air was crisp with post-harvest chill and the ground was lightly dusted with snow, already beginning to darken and turn to slush along the main path. Yes, it was early, but people were going about their morning routines with more enjoyment than was usual; especially for the time of year.
"Mornin', Kamar," a gruff voice said loudly into his ear, as he walked into a solid wall of muscle.
"Morning, Tomlin," he replied, holding back the sigh of resignation.
"Now, what would you be having here?" Tomlin made a grab for his bag and years of habit dictated that Kamar let him have it.
"Nothing of interest I assure you."
"Are you saying I'm stupid? Too stupid to be interested in your shiny toys and all that money might be buying you?"
"I have no money, Tomlin. I've told you before that the money given to my work was not given to me, but to the Higher Schooling Institute. You will find only paper in my bag."
"And lunch," the man said with a smirk and, before Kamar could think of responding, Tomlin threw the bag back at him walked away. Taking Kamar's lunch with him.
"What's put you in a sour mood this morning, Kam?" Lunai asked, looking up from her instruments as he threw his bag on his desk.
"Ah, another run in with the Great and Mighty Tomlin Parabec, I take it."
"I said it was nothing, Lunai. Please desist."
"Of course, I shall let you to your foul mood." When he merely glared at her, however, she smiled tightly. "Shall I also desist from informing you of the changes I have observed this morning, or would you rather I called your mentor and informed him of your disinterest in the project?"
Kamar didn't answer, but continued to glare at her as he stalked across the room to his equipment. The seeing eye was something of a revolutionary piece of technology to their world, a long metal tube encompassing an array of lenses that allowed them to study the stars. Kamar had worked very closely with his mentor, who had checked and rechecked his numbers, helped with the design and (although he would never admit it), been more family to Kamar than his own flesh and blood.
Leaning over, he slowly blinked into the eyepiece and frowned. "You have altered the settings!" he cried, turning to Lunai in anger.
"I have altered nothing! The world you were observing is finally eclipsed by its satellite and I believed it would be of interest to you. I will not make the same mistake again."
"The world is not there. It will take weeks to reset my equipment."
"Do not be ridiculous," Lunai said and nudged him out of the way. She leaned forward and fiddled with the small focus knob before stepping back and blinking. She shook her head and tried again. "I… do not understand," she said, finally pulling away to look at him. "It is gone." Frowning in disbelief, she shook her head and leaned forward again, looking through the seeing glass once more.
"It cannot be gone," Kamar responded, almost disdainfully. "There were five recorded worlds; three full and two satellites. You have altered the settings."
"I am aware of what was once there, Kamar," she replied, icily. "But it is no longer and I altered nothing. Check your references if you will not believe my words."
"I have not moved anything, I have not changed the seeing glass and nor have I lost my sight since Third Shift past."
Kamar gulped and nodded somewhat shakily. It was not often that he found himself chastised (it was a rare occurrence when one was smarter then most), but Lunai did it so very well that he often wondered what powers of persuasion she possessed.
"May I?" he asked, gesturing to the equipment in front of her. It was his equipment of course, but the situation seemed to call for some negotiation on his part.
"I may insist," she said in clipped tones and folded her arms, stepping back to give him room.
He quickly checked his reference lines and noted that she was, indeed, correct; she had not altered his settings. It made no sense to him, but he shook his head and leaned in, focussing and zooming out slightly in the hopes that there would be something to explain the sudden disappearance of the worlds he had been observing. He blinked at the sudden black cloud that came into view and changed his dials again.
"There are…shadows," he said softly, straining his eyes as he fiddled gently with the focus and magnification. "Shadows that move."
"The black clouds were there before," she pointed out, wondering that he had managed to forget.
"But they are not in the same position. They are altered."
"Let me see," she said without preamble and pushed him out of the way. A moment later her breathing faltered. "They are…moving closer."
Stepping back, she looked at him with confusion in her eyes. "To us."
"Permission to speak freely, sir?"
Evan Lorne resisted the urge to smack his head on his desk. It wasn't that he didn't get where the Lieutenant was coming from, it was that he thought that where the Lieutenant was coming from should be blown to hell.
"Permission denied," he said, knowing that it wasn't perhaps the best way to deal with this particular soldier. "I think you've been speaking a little too freely of late, Banks, don't you?" The man standing in front of him didn't speak. It wasn't really much of a surprise. The twitch in his jaw, however, spoke of exactly how much he disagreed. "Look, I no longer have the option of shipping you back to another galaxy," Evan continued, ignoring the dull ache in his chest that always accompanied that realisation. "And Colonel Mitchell won't let me send you through a Space 'Gate without a jumper, because that causes endless amounts of paperwork and more internal politics than he's prepared to deal with. But don't think that I wouldn't happily space you given a choice."
Evan let that sink in a bit before standing. He crossed the room and stared at the marine for a moment. Banks was a tall guy, built like a tank and ugly to boot, but it took less than a minute before he was trying not to shift under his CO's stare.
"We're stuck together, Lieutenant, and the rules are there for a reason. We have about a hundred and fifty people in this city and, whether you like it or not, Americans are in the minority. Whatever issue you have with changes in rules and regulations, you have a right to have, but you do not have the right to raise your fists to any member of this city without my express permission. Do I make myself clear?"
"I don't want to see your face for at least a week. You're on kitchen duty until I relieve you of it, I want you helping out wherever Doctors McKay or Zelenka figure you won't be a hindrance, you will report to Doctor Parish to help botany harvest the latest crops and you will report to Specialist Dex every morning until he feels you're physically fit for duty, understood."
The man looked ready to explode, but he nodded, took a deep breath and ground out, "Yes, sir."
Evan waited until Banks had left before letting out a breath and dropping back into his chair. "God, I hate this job," he said softly.
"I believe you do it very well."
Evan smiled and turned to look at Teyla. She'd sat so silently in the background that he'd almost forgotten she was there. "You don't think I went a bit too far implying he was physically unfit?"
A smile played around Teyla's lips before as she shook her head. "I do not. Besides, I believe that he will feel physically unfit when he is finished with Ronon tomorrow."
Evan smiled and nodded. "Yeah, that's what I figured. It took me three weeks to even look like I might keep up with Ronon in the mornings. At least I was faster than Cam." He frowned. "I'm sorry you had to witness that, but it couldn't wait."
"I agree, it could not," she said, standing. "But you need not feel ashamed for doing what you must. Now, if you will excuse me, I must collect Torren."
"He still with Miko?"
Evan grinned. "You better tell her to watch out; he's got his eyes on her."
Teyla frowned. "I do not understand."
"He's looking at marrying that pretty scientist when he grows up and that can only lead to trouble, because I don't think her husband will want to share."
She laughed. "I believe I have some time yet before I must worry about my son's marriage."
"Hey, I'm just saying," he said, holding his hands up in surrender. "Four is not too young to be looking at potential brides." She continued to chuckle and he smiled. "See you in the mess for lunch?"
"I would like that, Evan," she said softly and nodded before exiting the room.
He turned to his desk, smiling, and shook his head, before logging into the mainframe to send off a quick message to Ronon, McKay, Radek and Raj, who was currently in charge of the kitchen, informing them all of Banks' schedule. He glanced at his watch and tapped his earpiece, calling on Colonel Mitchell, and really wasn't surprised not to receive a response.
Chuckling to himself, he quickly exited his office and made his way to the nearest transporter, smiling at Vala as she fell into step beside him.
"Morning, Vala," he said, grinning, as she linked her arm through his.
"Good morning, Evan, you seem very cheerful for someone who just made Lieutenant Banks cry."
"I didn't make him cry, Vala."
"Oh, perhaps not on the outside, but he was definitely quaking on the inside." She frowned. "Would you mind if I made him cry?"
"I can't authorise that," he said, even though he really wouldn't mind at all.
"Pity. Oh, well, I guess what you don't know can't hurt you. Actually, I've always found that saying rather ridiculous. There are many things humans don't know and there are a lot that would very happily hurt you. Possibly with an encore." She shook her head and turned to him with a smile. "Now, are we off to wake Cameron?"
"I'm off to wake Colonel Mitchell, you are going to leave me to it."
"Oh, well, if it's like that," she said with exaggerated motion, completely ignoring his glare. "I really must insist I come along."
"Vala, go bug Jennifer."
"She's in the infirmary."
"I can arrange to have you taken there."
"All right, I know when I'm not wanted."
"Really?" he asked, laughing when she rolled her eyes and skipped away in the opposite direction. He shook his head and thought open the transporter doors in front of him. He had a colonel to wake up and he was very much looking forward to it.
Cam blinked blearily and shook his head, regretting the motion almost instantly. It wasn't unusual for him to wake slightly parched and uncoordinated, but it was the marching band in his head that clued his somewhat stupefied mind in on the fact that this wasn't quite a normal morning. He groaned and sat up slowly, so as not to disturb his rather tenuous grip on equilibrium any more than necessary. Rubbing his eyes, he winced at the sound of his door buzzer.
He pulled on the trousers sitting at the bottom of his bed and stood slowly (very slowly). Stumbling into his living room, he trailed a hand along the wall, more for support than balance, before palming open his door and giving his 2IC his most withering glare. He had a feeling that it was a rather pitiful attempt, if the look on Lorne's face was anything to go by.
"Good morning, sir," he said cheerfully; Cam damned him to hell and grunted in response. "Feeling okay, sir?" Lorne continued. A passable attempt at looking concerned flickered across his features. "You look a little rough."
"I hate you."
"Just doing my job, sir. You ordered me to make sure you were up by 0900 this morning and I wouldn't dream of failing to follow orders." They both knew he was enjoying every minute of it and, despite having a vague recollection of a conversation that might have included a wake up call, Cam hated him a little more. "The Linayans are due at 1100 hours, wouldn't want to keep them waiting, sir."
"Did I mention that I hate you?"
"You might've. Once or twice."
Cam yelped slightly as Lorne pushed his way through the doorway, and manhandled him through the bedroom and into the bathroom. Lorne turned on the shower and pushed him under the spray with a wicked grin.
"God damn it! That's cold water!"
"Should wake you up, sir. I'll make the canna."
By the time Cam had showered, dressed and woken up enough to find something for his headache, he could smell the freshly ground canna beans brewing and what smelled like meat on the grill. As much as he'd like to bitch at Lorne for enjoying his pain a little too much, he couldn't fault the guy; Evan had been on duty since 2100 last night and Cam had gone a little overboard with the alcohol. And the guy was making him breakfast. With a grumbling stomach, he followed his nose through to the kitchen and decided that last part just might make up for it all.
"Smells good," Cam said by way of a peace offering and Lorne grinned at him.
"All part of the service."
"You decide you wanna move in there are three opportunities a day to feed me."
Lorne just laughed and Cam grinned at him, thinking it was a damn shame that the man didn't swing that way. Shaking his head, and instantly regretting the motion, he took a seat at the Ancient version of a breakfast bar and watched his second in command fry up not-bacon and flip pancakes at his stove.
Cam reached out and poured himself a cup of canna, incredibly thankful that it possessed a kick stronger than the coffee they'd come to do without, and tried his damndest to remember who the hell the Linayans were.
"Had a bit of trouble this morning, sir."
"Evan, I'm not on duty yet and we're alone, you can cut the 'sir'. What kind of trouble?"
Cam's eyes narrowed. "What now?"
"He punched Air Marshal Dillon, verbally abused Vala and had a few choice things to say about a few other people."
Cam paled. "He punched Kade?" he asked. His 2IC winced, nodding. He took a moment to try and imagine Banks taking down their six foot five CO. Whistling in grudging admiration, he asked, "Do I have a dead body to deal with?"
"Not yet," Lorne said, turning to serve up breakfast and sitting down to join Cam to eat. "Kade was possibly drunker than you were and Banks got in a lucky shot. He also wasn't aiming for the Air Marshal, which is his only saving grace. Kade's still out of it in the infirmary."
"Remind me to avoid the infirmary for a while. And Vala didn't, I don't know, strip him down, torture him and leave him naked in the middle of the 'Gate room?"
"Not yet and please do not give her any ideas. I figure Banks is in for a demotion, but I thought you might want to deal with that before the Air Marshal wakes up."
"Yeah," Cam winced. He really wasn't looking forward to handling that. He dug into his food and took another drink of canna before speaking again. "So, what'd he say about me?"
"I didn't say he said anything about you, sir."
"What did he say?"
Rolling his eyes, Lorne continued. "Not much before we hauled him off. He said more about your relationship with Ronon than your position, which, by the way, you 'shouldn't have because you take it up the ass', if I remember correctly."
Cam almost snorted canna out of his nose. "I have a relationship with Ronon?"
"I…seriously, Ronon?" When Lorne just shrugged, Cam shook his head. "So, you've been protecting my honour this morning, I take it?"
Lorne smirked. "I thought I'd let your boyfriend do that, sir, so I gave Banks a new fitness regime. Amongst other duties."
"Evan, remind me never to piss you off."
"You realise this would never have happened if we'd just done what I suggested about two years ago, right?"
"We are not spacing him."
"Now," Cam said, taking another bite of his pancakes. "The Linayans would be…?"
Lorne groaned. It was going to be a long morning.
"So, apparently we're doing it."
Cam turned around to see Ronon lounging in the doorway to his office and grinned. "Apparently so. How's your wife feel about that?"
"She wants to watch."
"It's always the quiet ones."
"You have no idea," Ronon said with a smirk.
"Okay, that's really more than I ever needed to know." Cam shook his head and walked around his desk to sit in his chair. "You need somethin'?"
Ronon frowned. "How do you do that?"
"Good memory," Cam said with a shrug. "Cadman remind you?" At Ronon's nod, he smirked. "Three days enough? Can't really do much more; McKay has some science thing he needs to test. It's scheduled for next week and it's all hands on deck."
"Yeah, Miko mentioned something."
"Any idea what it was?" Cam asked, not really wanting to have to admit to McKay that he'd been half asleep during the man's briefing.
"Wasn't really listening."
"How do you get away with that?"
"She likes to talk," Ronon said with a shrug. "I let her, doesn't mean she expects me to remember the science stuff."
"Just the anniversaries, right?"
"You're already booked off," he said, smirking at Ronon's confusion. "She asked about a month ago. She figured you'd forget, so my guess is you'll get brownie points for remembering."
"Cool." Ronon stood and headed for the door, turning before he exited. "Wait, so gifts are…?"
"Necessary. Do not forget."
Cam shifted his attention to his laptop and sighed, preparing to get started on his report for Kade.
There was a knock at the door and he glanced up to see Teyla smiling at him from the doorway. He grinned at her and waved her into the seat in front of his desk.
"What can I do for you, Teyla?"
"I wished to discuss the meeting with the Linayans."
Cam frowned. "Okay, was there a problem? I thought it went well."
"It went very well," she said with a smile and he relaxed.
"Okay, what's up?"
"I spoke with Lamare, as you requested," she continued and watched as recognition dawned.
"Sorry, Teyla," he said, bashfully. "I seem to be a bit slow today."
"You are not alone. I believe many people over-indulged last night."
"Well, it was Radek's birthday."
"And we have had little cause to celebrate these past few years," she finished, speaking what Cam was usually happy to leave unsaid. He often found that, with Teyla, very little was forgotten and he respected her a great deal for her honesty.
"No, we haven't." There was a moment of silence before Cam spoke again. "Teyla, can I ask you something?"
"Are you happy?"
She smiled slowly. "It is difficult for all of us, but we are making a new life and, I believe, a good one."
"Yeah, we are, but that's not really what I asked. You don't have to answer. I guess I just…wanted to check."
"I understand what you are asking, Cameron," she said and he smiled at her. It had taken two years to get her to drop 'Colonel Mitchell'. "But it is not an easy question to answer."
"No, it's not."
"There are times when I feel the loss of my people more than I could put into words, but that is something we share."
"There are 142 of us left, Teyla, and that's, God, that's hard to live with. You and Torren are two of the three Athosians left in the city. I just…I want you to tell me if we ever make it sound like we forget that."
She nodded and said, "Thank you", which told Cam he'd been right to bring it up. "Are you happy, Cameron?"
"I'm…" He sighed. "Sometimes I am. I guess I just miss my folks. The rest of the family." He studiously avoided mentioning the one person they both missed the most. "And cheeseburgers. I miss cheeseburgers."
She laughed and nodded. "I must admit that your fast food was not to my tastes. Kanaan, however…" Her smile faded, but she made the effort to keep trying. "Kanaan would have agreed with you."
"They'll have taken care of him, Teyla. Got him back to Pegasus if they could."
"I hope you're right." She took a deep breath and it was possibly the closest Cam had ever seen her to crying. His instincts kicked in, telling him to go and comfort her, but he knew her too well for that. "I fear for him," she continued. "He found your culture confusing and your ways were very strange to him. I fear that his being left behind could not have been easy for him."
"He lost you and his son. He lost the way home, I think you're right," he said, finally giving in to his urge and walking around to sit on his desk in front of her. "But he was left there with some people that I trust more than anyone in the whole universe. Sam will get him home if she can, you know that."
Teyla nodded and smiled. "I do. But I believe I needed to hear it from someone else, also."
"Anytime." When the tension seemed to slip out of her shoulders, he settled back a little more onto the desk and nodded. "So, you spoke with Lamare?"
"Yes. The Linayans would be pleased for us to join their Middlemark celebrations during the next turning of their moon."
"I…have no idea what that means. A month?"
"By your terms, it would be their month, but it will occur in nineteen of our days."
Cam nodded, but was pretty sure he looked confused as hell. Time was hard enough to follow when you'd lived in different time zones on the one planet, but at least Earth had always had 24 hours in a day wherever you stayed. He'd got used to travelling to planets that had different yearly cycles and fewer or more hours in a day, but he was finding it extremely difficult to get used to New Atlantis' 27.5 hour day. It just seemed messed up to him that there weren't a full number of hours in a day, but McKay and his scientists had assured him it was the only way to do it unless they wanted to change the number of minutes in an hour, or days in a week, or something equally wrong to him, and Cam was not remotely interested in having to re-learn an entirely new system of marking time. Thankfully the rest of the city had agreed when it had gone to vote.
"We okay to send a team through before that, get the lay of the land?"
"Lamare suggested it would be preferable."
"Okay, we'll see how the Air Marshal's doing and maybe send him through with a team in a few days. The planet's secure and I think he's safer going before the festival."
"They will see it as a sign of distrust if he does not personally attend."
"Yeah, I know." He sighed and ran a hand through his hair. "Doesn't mean I have to like being left in charge. That said, it might be best to get him out of the city for a bit," Cam said with a wince, thinking of the morning's altercation, and Teyla clearly shared the sentiment. "But if he's not up to it Cooper's team can take it."
Teyla nodded. "Might I suggest we send Doctor Parker either way? He is a skilled negotiator."
"Yeah, that's probably for the best. Last thing we need is to end up back at square one. We need this trade, Teyla," he said softly, letting his guard down for only a moment. He wouldn't do it with anyone else, but Teyla was in this with him, she understood how vital trading partners were and they needed them now more than ever.
"I know," she said. "We are making progress."
Cam let out a bitter laugh. "Teyla, I'm supposed to be flying planes; it's what I'm good at. I loved being in charge of SG1, but I wasn't cut out to lead a race of people."
"I was nine cycles old when I first uttered similar words."
"You really know how to put things into perspective," he said with a laugh and she smiled.
"You lead us well, Cameron, and you ask for help when you do not have the knowledge to make decisions on your own. You choose what is best for us all and not what is best for you. That is the mark of a good leader."
"I guess it helps to not be completely in charge, but I don't know how J-" He paused and cleared away the sudden lump in his throat, refusing to meet her eyes. "I don't know how anyone ever did this before me, but I can't mess this up. We're God knows where in the universe and the only hope we have that we're not completely screwed is that there's a 'Gate system here, that's not a lot of hope to offer people, but I can't mess it up." He looked down at her. "Promise me you won't let me."
"You asked the same of me three years ago," Teyla pointed out. "And you had handled your position well for many months before that."
"Three years ago today, Teyla," he said. "I asked you three years ago today."
"I know." She nodded. "Cameron, I promised you then and I have not broken that promise yet. Nor will I in the future."
"You are welcome."
"So," he said cheerfully, more in an effort to lift the mood than anything else, as he already knew the answer. "You have any plans for lunch?"
"I am meeting Evan. He has taken Torren for a nap and will meet me there."
"What's the bet Evan's the one looking to nap."
She arched a brow. "I believe he deserves one."
"Hey, no complaints from me," Cam said, smiling. "He missed out on one hell of a party and had to deal with me both last night and this morning. I think he's been up and running for about 20 hours. He deserves a medal. Just don't tell him I said that, he's got a big enough ego as it is."
She inclined her head and smiled. "You are welcome to join us."
He smirked. "Nah, I'll pass, thanks. Enjoy your date."
Teyla merely graced him with a look that said 'I am not going to dignify that with a response' and headed for the door.
When she turned, he frowned, trying to figure out the best way to word what he wanted to say.
"I…you're allowed to be happy, you know that, right?" He winced. "I mean… Kanaan would want you to move on."
"I know," she said sadly. "He is not the only one who would wish that for us all." She nodded at him and left, the door closing gently behind her.
"Touché," he murmured, before shaking his head and getting back to work.
The calculations were wrong. Again.
As the pad clattered to the floor, Rodney stood up and walked to the other side of his lab, pulling out a small cylindrical device and palming it gently. He closed his eyes for a moment before reaching out with his other hand to gently trace the delicate engraving and slowly taking breaths, almost as if regulating his breathing would regulate his mind and calm whatever torrent of thought was preparing to leap out at him. He'd found, lately, that his mind was wandering more than was usual, which was to say that his genius was slipping off into tangents, or what seemed like tangents at the moment. Random calculations, strange unrelated ideas and a torrent of seemingly unconnected epiphanies were slowly slipping into place, almost like squares in a hanjie puzzle; like he had to know where things didn't fit in so he could see where they did.
He turned the device around in his palm and stared at it, willing, no begging, it to open up in spirals of flowing silver. The device seemed unmoved by his pleas and he almost growled under his breath. It wasn't that he didn't know what the device did that was bugging him, it was that he knew exactly what it did, but couldn't get it to work for him.
Since arriving on Atlantis, those with the artificial gene had always had as much of an ability to work the Ancient technology as most of those with the natural gene and there were some devices that just didn't work for anyone. There were, of course, exceptions, but that was somewhere Rodney rarely let his thoughts wander anymore. Shaking his head, he turned his attentions back to the neural interface and tried to will it on once again. He wasn't really surprised when it didn't work, but he often found that if he concentrated on one seemingly-impossible thing, whatever he was subconsciously thinking on would solve itself.
"Rodney, you got a minute?"
Jerking out of his thoughts, he turned to the doorway and glared at the young marine. "What do you want, Charley?"
"Gee, nice to see you, too, Rodney." She marched over to him and plucked the device out of his open hand, grinning widely as it unravelled in her palm, the fluid tendrils of metal unpeeling and twisting backwards to wrap around her palm and fingers. Rodney felt instantly bitter and not even his usual thought that it made her hand looked like 7of9's was enough to amuse him. "God, I love this thing," she said, almost dreamily.
"Did you want something, Corporal?" he asked snippily. He still found it unnerving that someone who looked like a pixie managed to hold her own as a marine.
"I was interrupted."
"Yes, I can see how your staring menacingly at an inanimate object was such a valuable use of your time." She huffed out a breath. "Look, I just wanted to know if you need me in the think tank today."
"It's the central hub for the neural interface and it's broken; it's not a think tank."
"I know, I know, it's just a room where we all go to think real hard." She tilted her head sharply, causing her blonde curls to bounce in front of her face. "Do you need me, or not?"
"Of course we do, unless you're needed aboard the Good Ship Lollipop," he said, ignoring the death glare she was aiming at him. It still annoyed him that she could be snide and sarcastic and still manage to remain relatively peppy, something he suspected she did in order to annoy him. It annoyed him more that she was essentially right: the room was kind of a think tank. He wasn't entirely sure what it was they all 'thought' about in there, but whatever they were doing, their natural ATA genes were slowly repairing what he hoped was a city-wide neural interface that would give them direct control over the whole of Atlantis. Assuming he could ever get it to work. The Ancients had disabled the whole interface so successfully that Rodney wasn't entirely sure they would.
He shouldered past her and walked back to his desk, leaning down to pick up the PDA from the floor where he'd dropped it. "Did you come by just to ask me that? You could have radioed."
"Well, forgive me for thinking you might want company."
Rodney glared at her. "Did Ronon send you?"
"Rodney, come on."
"No, I will not come on! If you'd all just mind your own-" he stopped when a look of alarm flashed over her face. "Charley?"
"What? Where?" He grabbed his laptop and followed her as she ran out of the lab.
"Jumper bay, there's something…I don't know, the link still isn't clear enough yet."
He stayed beside her, watching as her eyelids flickered, the whites of her eyes showing as she navigated her way through the hallways of the city, around people and objects he knew she couldn't actually see. As much as Rodney had always wanted the device to link him to Atlantis, the whole thing still kind of creeped him out.
They ran into the jumper bay at high speed, just in time to see Radek forcibly ejected from the back end of the nearest jumper. The ship rocked from side to side, its lights flickering, and Rodney ran towards it without a second thought.
He let out a yelp as he was suddenly thrown to the ground by a brick wall. He grunted in pain and poked at the solid weight on top of him, stopping only when the high pitched whine that had been building in the background slowly began to fade.
"Sorry, Doc," the wall said as it moved off him, its sandy brown hair and freckles revealing it to be Major Kent. The Major grinned down at Rodney's irritated expression.
"You could have crushed me!"
"You were about to walk into an explosion, Rodney," Charley's voice came from his left, still sounding oddly distracted.
Before he could retort, Radek shouted his name, and he scrambled to his feet.
"What did you do?" he demanded, pushing at Major Kent until he moved. Radek scurried into the back of the jumper and Rodney hurried after him.
"I did not do anything," Radek responded, as he frantically tapped at the laptop he'd hooked into the controls. "Doctor Conrad said there was a strange sound on his return from the mainland. There is interference, but I cannot find the source." He muttered something in Czech and even if Rodney had cared to know, he didn't have to wonder what the man was saying; people only ever seemed to stop the Gate's translators when they were being uncomplimentary, or just not looking for input.
"Where's that signal coming from?" Rodney asked, having already hooked up his own equipment and hacked into the jumper's systems.
"I already told you, I do not know!"
"Not that one, there's one piggybacking-"
"Oh! Yes, yes, I see it."
They worked seamlessly for a few moments and all Rodney could see was the code in front of him. It flowed through him like an extension of his brain, his fingers responding automatically and his mind already ten paces ahead. He sometimes wondered if this was what it felt like to interface with the city, to see the patterns, to follow things through-
"Docs! You really need to hurry," Major Kent said, his massive bulk blocking the light from the jumper bay.
"If you think you can do this faster, Major, be my guest. Otherwise, please shut the hell up." He figured it was a testament to his time on Atlantis, his time surrounded by friends, that he'd bothered to add 'please'.
"Seriously, McKay, Corporal Harris is lookin' pretty sick back here. I don't think she can hold it much longer."
"I'm fine, Rodney." Charley gasped. "Just…hurry."
She didn't sound fine. Clenching his jaw and trying to pretend that it didn't matter that he suddenly had more pressure on him to get things fixed, Rodney immersed himself in what he was doing; tracking the signal, attempting to understand what it was, where it was coming from and how he could block it before it blew them all up. It seemed to take forever and no time at all before he had isolated the signal and blocked it and it wasn't until he heard the change in pitch that he realised just how close a call it had been.
"Yes," Radek said, letting out a breath. "Yes, it is blocked."
"Where was it coming from?"
"I traced it back to lab on the lower levels," Radek said. "We can-"
There was a yell from outside and they both raced out of the jumper to see Corporal Harris lying on the ground.
"Rodney, you promised you wouldn't push this until the safeties were online."
"I didn't push anything!"
Jennifer sighed and closed her eyes for a moment. "She was inside for too long and she wasn't protected from anything. If that ship had blown up, it wouldn't have mattered if her body had survived, her mind would have fried."
"You think I don't know that?" Rodney glared at her and she shook her head.
"I think you don't think about these things when you're working and you just can't do that anymore, Rodney."
"That's enough, Jennifer."
Rodney blinked and turned around to see Air Marshal Dillon sitting on the edge of one of the infirmary beds, rubbing at his bruising jaw. Jennifer nodded to him and glanced briefly at Rodney before returning to the isolation room where Corporal Harris was being kept.
"Seems to be a bad day all 'round," the Air Marshal said, jerking Rodney out of his thoughts. "It wasn't your fault, Rodney. Jennifer doesn't understand anymore than I think you do, but what Corporal Harris did? It's not a choice. She used the device because it called to her and she stabilised things until you could fix them, because to not do that would be like ignoring a bleeding wound. When you connect with the city, you become a part of it."
"Kade, she's…" Rodney cleared his throat. "We don't have the safety protocol engaged yet."
"I know that. She knew that, but she had to do it anyway. We all know you're working on it." Kade paused and seemed to study Rodney. After a moment, he smiled slightly. "Look, I'll head out to the think tank later on and see if I can help speed up the process."
"It's not a think tank!"
Kade smirked, and Rodney suddenly realised he'd made the remark for the specific purpose of distracting him. It was so familiar and yet so unexpected that Rodney wasn't prepared for the sharp pang of loss he suddenly felt.
"In the meantime, it wouldn't hurt to remind people that they shouldn't be using the interface devices unless it's absolutely necessary. I trust I can leave it to you to send out a suitably scathing email to the general populace?"
"Yes. Yes, of course." Rodney scowled and forced all unwanted thoughts out of his mind. "Don't you have work to do?"
"I could say the same to you, pal." Kade smiled and shook his head. "I've got a meeting to get to. Keep me informed on the progress with that signal. I'll see you later."
"Yes, yes." Rodney gave the isolation room one last look before turning and following Kade out the door.
"I'm not sure I understand what you mean here."
Kade laughed as Cam groaned and let his head fall forward onto the desk.
"How much are you wishing me dead right now?" he asked, leaning back in his chair and wincing as Cam almost knocked the new plant Kade had recently acquired from botany off his desk. He didn't care much for plants, but he had no desire to clean up the mess, which would undoubtedly be visible through the glass windows separating him from the control room.
"I'm too busy wishing I was dead." Cam looked up again and glared at him. "It's all your fault, you know."
"Don't blame me, you're the one who said you could drink me under the table."
"I don't think those were my exact words. And I'm pretty sure it was Carson I said I could out drink."
"You challenge one Scot, you challenge us all," Kade said, grinning wickedly.
"Carson's a one beer wonder!"
"Which is why I took on the challenge and, I have to say, you weren't objecting at the time."
Cam groaned again. "Remind me to do that next time."
Kade rolled his shoulders and closed the lid of his laptop. He rolled his eyes and took pity on his 2IC. "Check in with Lieutenant Patel, make sure she's okay to cover the rest of your shift and you can go die."
"Thank God." Cam sighed and leaned back, not quite having the energy to stand just yet. "So, before I do that…how do you want me to handle Banks?"
"Oh, don't you worry; I'll be handling that one myself."
After a slight pause, Cam nodded. "Okay," he said warily. "Can I just point out that, no matter how much we want to, we really can't space the guy."
"Evan asked again?"
"I've always liked Evan."
Cam opened his mouth to reply in what Kade was sure was going to be a reasonable request to keep Banks alive, but there was a noise from the doorway that had them both turning.
"What is it Chuck?" he asked, as Cam looked over his shoulder. Chuck seemed suddenly nervous, as Kade often noticed occurred when he asserted his command, but he'd found over the last few years that the best thing to do was ignore any discomfort. It was the price he paid for switching between friend and commander.
"We have a slight problem, sirs," the gate technician responded, glancing between the two men in the room.
Cam frowned, then looked at Kade and groaned. "T'loa?" he asked, not bothering to look back over his shoulder.
"Yes, sir." Chuck grimaced.
Sighing, Kade stood up and headed to the doorway, turning to Cam. "How many more times do you reckon we'll need to tell the T'loans that they can't keep Captain Cooper?"
"Depends," Cam said. "How long d'ya think it'll take us to train Derek to stop batting his eyelashes at them?"
There was a snort from Amelia as they walked past her station and Kade flashed her a grin before stepping onto the small, circular platform and turning to the hologram in front of him. "Parser Jayla," he said, addressing the man in the life-sized image in front of him.
"Ah, Overseer Dillon!"
Kade winced at the title and refrained from glaring at Cam, who was snickering in his peripheral vision. He had no idea how this newly discovered feature of Atlantis' worked, but he knew that his body was being projected in full to the man on the planet and sticking up his middle finger might just be taken the wrong way by the planet's Chancellor. "I understand we have a bit of a problem?"
"No, no problem, Overseer! We wish to negotiate!"
"We'd be happy to negotiate, Parser, but I need to reiterate that my people are not up for grabs."
"There has been no grabs!" Parser Jayla looked horrified at the prospect and Kade noted that the majority of the personnel in the control tower were now failing to control their laughter. He almost wished he could let the T'loans keep Cooper, because going through this every month was getting less and less amusing (for him, at least) every time.
"I apologise, Parser, I meant no offence," he said, remembering how much he hated politicking. "I simply intended to remind you that we cannot negotiate for you to keep Captain Cooper."
"Ah." He nodded, but looked rather like Kade had just kicked his puppy. "I had hoped we may offer more to persuade?"
"Unfortunately, that won't be possible. Each member of my city has a vital role to perform," Kade said sympathetically, inwardly cooking up all the 'vital roles' he was going to persuade Captain Derek Cooper to perform as payment for this. "I simply can't spare him. And we're not in the way of using people as payment."
"Such an odd system you have." The Parser shook his head. "We would provide well for his transfer. Fine beasts and even a younger boy as replacement?"
Kade took a deep breath, trying to look like he was considering the offer, and wondering if he could order Cam to deal with this next time so that he could be the one doubled up in the corner. If it wasn't that he didn't want another political incident (the people of Mallar still wouldn't let Cam on their planet after he'd appeared as a floating head courtesy of his weaker gene), he'd let Cam do all the negotiation.
"It's a very tempting offer, Parser," he continued. "I'm sure they're fine animals, but I'm afraid I have to stand by my initial decision. I hope we can continue to trade your grain and fruit for our medical supplies? Your generosity has been vital to us as a community and we'd hate to lose your friendship."
"No, no, friendship will remain strong between us," said the dejected man. "Your people shall return with grain within the moonspan and we shall await Healer Carson's return. Fine day, Overseer."
"Well blessed, Parser."
The image blinked out as the 'Gate closed and Kade took a deep breath before turning to Cam. "Next time, we can do it in person and then it's your turn!" he said, pointing his finger. "Amelia," he said, turning to the giggling gate tech. "Tell Captain Cooper to report to me when he gets in."
He nodded and pushed Cam towards the transporter before heading back to his office. A voice floated after him. "Air Marshal, are you sure we couldn't trade him in for a few cows and a younger model?"
"It is the better end of the deal," Cam agreed.
Kade laughed. "Maybe next time."
Glancing across at his companion, Chuck smiled smugly. He tilted his head to one side, sure he had everything in hand and that nothing could possibly go wrong; which was more than likely why, at the precise moment he reached out his hand, the Stargate sprung unexpectedly to life.
The sudden noise caused Chuck to jerk, his hand knocking over the board, sending the pieces into a scattered mess on the floor. He stared mutely for a moment, before turning to his computer console and trying very hard not to just scream.
"Check mate," he mumbled as he watched the computer screen. "I was going for check mate."
"Doesn't count," Amelia said, sounding very happy with herself. "You lose. Maybe we should have stuck with card games. At least then it won't take months to finish a game."
"Bit early for Sims to be checking in, isn't it, Chuck?" Cam asked, jogging towards them with Vala behind him.
"Yes, sir." Chuck glanced up as Cam came to a stop behind him, arms folded and eyes on the 'Gate.
Vala bounced slightly on the balls of her feet. "Perhaps there's been an incident," she said, sounding rather gleeful at the prospect.
"I'm sure it's nothing to worry about, whatever it is," Cam said. Chuck wondered if anyone believed that tone of voice.
When the connection finalised Chuck waited a moment, frowning when nothing appeared on his screen. "No IDC, sir. I don't think it's Team Six."
Amelia let out a startled noise and a moment later the 'Gate blinked out.
"What the hell?" Cam turned. "Amelia?"
"There's a message."
"I got nothing," Chuck said sharply.
"It came directly from the information port," she continued, referring to the docking port they had landed the city on four years ago. It was a helpful database, but as far as Chuck was aware, nothing had ever been sent directly to city systems before. Amelia continued to tap at her laptop as they surrounded her.
"Well," Vala demanded a moment later, "what is it?"
"It's…" Amelia frowned. "It's a 'Gate address."
"Huh. Chuck, call the Air Marshal and fill him in." Cam took a breath. "I guess we're going on a trip."
"Excellent. Since Evan's still sleeping it looks like our team's going to miss out, so I think I'll join you. For old time's sake," Vala said, grinning up at him. "It's been far too long since we last had an adventure."
"Vala, why is it that when you mean 'adventure', the rest of us usually mean 'nightmare'?"
"Well, maybe if you try not to lose your trousers-"
"Okay, and we're done talking," Cam said, pushing her out of the control tower.
Amelia and Chuck watched them leave, listening as Cam called the rest of his team to the meeting room.
"You ever wish you got to go with them?" Chuck asked.
"Not even remotely."
"Yeah, me either."
They turned back to the mess on the floor and Chuck sighed as they started to pick up the scattered chess pieces. A moment later Amelia smirked at him.
"I bet you a rotation in the mess that he loses his pants."
Cam took a deep breath and smiled, taking a moment to look out at the vast forest in front of him. The trees seemed tall enough to touch the sky, blocking out most of the sun's light and casting deep shadows around them. Despite the fact that Cam was fairly certain it was the middle of the day, it was a dark and moody surrounding they found themselves in.
It didn't seem to matter how many alien worlds they visited, Cam always felt the same surge of excitement every time he set foot on alien soil. It was with an element of wonder that he surveyed his surroundings, not in the slightest bit put off by the fact that he could have been standing in a forest on Earth for all that there was no apparent difference. He knew differently and that was what sent a thrill through him every time.
"Fan out," he said, taking a few steps forward and sensing Ronon and Teyla doing the same on either side of him. The sound of Rodney and Vala bickering fell under the heading of background noise to the rest of the team, but Cam knew that they were both still taking in their surroundings.
"Well, isn't this wonderful. More trees to add to our growing list, but there's no one here."
"Yes, thank you for stating the obvious," Rodney said scathingly and Vala just smiled at him. She found it fun to bait him and Cam had no doubt that Rodney enjoyed biting back just as much as she did. Vala hadn't been off world with them all that often since joining Lorne's team as a regular member when they lost Lieutenant Forman in the second year, but she always managed to fall back into place whenever she did; it was a natural ability that Cam almost envied, because she made it look so much easier than it ever was for him.
"Are we sure this is the planet that dialled our Stargate?" Teyla asked as the reached the tree line.
"Yeah, Chuck and Amelia seemed positive." Cam frowned when he spotted Ronon crouched down investigating the soil. "You got somethin'?"
"There was someone here." Ronon stood. "Recently, probably in the last hour."
"Well, someone had to dial the 'Gate," Rodney said, approaching Ronon and waving his scanner about. "There's no one nearby."
"Okay, well, let's check it out. After you." Cam gestured Ronon to take the point and he trusted Teyla and Vala to pick up the rear, as they fell into a familiar pattern of ensuring that Rodney was safely between them. It wasn't that Cam didn't trust that the scientist could take care of himself, more that he didn't want to take any risks. If there was one thing that was not going to happen on his watch, it was losing Rodney McKay; it was probably the one thing that Cam would never forgive himself for. It was the one thing he had left that he could do for John.
When Ronon held up a hand, Cam was instantly alert. He raised his weapon and indicated to the rest of his team to fan out slightly and take cover. Ronon glanced at him and he nodded, the two of them taking slightly different paths around a small gathering of trees. He edged around the side of a tree, eyes focussing intently, desperate to take in as much detail as he could in the patch of sunlight that was peeking through the trees.
He glanced at Ronon and, when he was sure they were both ready, nodded. They broke out of the tree line and into a small circular clearing, patchy with sunlight. Cam started for a moment and slowly lowered his gun, not sure what exactly he should be looking at: the woman who was lying prone on a bed of leaves, or the god damned fairies flitting around her.
Cam opened his mouth, but couldn't really think of what to say. Ronon seemed unperturbed by the small creatures and made his way over to the body on the ground. Cam glanced at the rest of his team, pleased to note that he wasn't the only one who'd been thrown by the creatures. He indicated to Teyla to keep watch, before making his way over to Ronon.
"Vala," Cam said, beckoning her over. "Think you can help?"
"Well, there's only one way to find out, isn't there?" She pulled the Goa'uld healing device from her pack and crouched down beside Ronon. It wasn't the first time Cam had been glad they had the device with them; if Vala hadn't been on Atlantis when they'd had to take off and save the Earth, they'd have lost a lot more people over the years.
Cam dropped a hand on Ronon's shoulder and gestured toward the perimeter. If half the team was going to be coping with a medical emergency, he needed to know they'd be safe. The woman lying in front of them certainly hadn't knocked herself out.
Cam crouched down and watched Vala attempt to heal the wound on the woman's leg. On closer inspection, she was young, perhaps just out of her teens. Her hair was matted to her head with sweat and muck, and so dark it seemed to have purple highlights. Her skin was dirty and her hands were patched with blood, no doubt from an attempt at healing her wound, and she looked thin and worn. Cam couldn't help but wonder at what she'd been through to end up there.
"There's something stuck in her leg, I think," Vala said, leaning closer. "I could pull it out, but Jennifer and Carson tend to frown on that."
Cam nodded. "Is there anything else you can do?"
"I think I've healed something, maybe an infection, or a poison, but unless we take this thing out, I don't think I can do anything else."
"Check her head," Ronon said, joining them again.
"Looks like she's had a fall," Cam said, turning her head to the other side and wincing at the bruised and broken skin.
"Well, that doesn't look pleasant." Vala winced sympathetically and reached out to heal the head wound.
Trusting that she had things in hand, Cam stood up and wandered over to McKay, keeping an eye on the area to make sure that they weren't about to be ambushed. He couldn't help but chuckle when he realised that Rodney was attempting to talk to the fairy-like creatures.
"Trying to catch Tinkerbell?" he asked.
Rodney turned to glare at him. "Ha ha."
"Any idea what they are?"
"No, I'm too busy looking for Peter Pan," Rodney retorted and, because Cam knew he was still blaming himself for what had happened to Corporal Harris, Cam didn't bait him further.
"Look like fairies to me."
Rodney scowled and turned sharply as two of the creatures landed on his shoulder. Cam laughed as one of them approached so close to Rodney's nose that his eyes crossed in his attempt to inspect the creature.
"What?" Cam asked, taking a step closer and holding out a hand. He wasn't disappointed when one landed on it.
"They don't have feet. They're like dragonflies with faces."
"Think they can talk?"
"To us? Not likely." Rodney pulled out his scanner and tried to hold it close enough to study one of the creatures, but it flitted out of range. "I doubt we'd be able to hear them properly even if we could understand them," he continued.
"So I guess they won't be explaining what happened to our friend over there."
"Just hold still a moment," Rodney said, approaching Cam and aiming his scanner at the fairy that was still perched on Cam's hand. He frowned and didn't make any sudden moments. A moment later, the machine let out a beep that sent all the creatures flitting away at the sudden noise.
"What's it say?"
Rodney shook his head, looking rather disappointed. "They're insects. It's unlikely they can understand us and I don't think they have much higher brain function."
Cam shrugged. "Oh, well. They're still pretty."
Rodney rolled his eyes and muttered something under his breath about 'stupid Colonels' and 'pretty airheads' that Cam chose to ignore completely. He really didn't want to think about what Rodney was referring to and his pleasant mood was effectively dissipated. Rodney winced slightly to himself and Cam got the impression that the man had realised that he didn't particularly want to think about it himself.
"Colonel, she is waking."
Cam turned at Teyla's words and approached the rest of his team, who were surrounding the woman. Teyla and Ronon were still facing outwards, eyes on the situation at all times, and Vala had cradled the girl's head in her lap, trying to keep her calm. She didn't look like she was trying to get away physically, but the rapid movements of her eyes and the tension in her body showed that it wasn't because she didn't want to.
"Hey, hey." He crouched, putting out his hands in a placating manner. Slowly, she started to calm.
"It's all right," Vala said, smiling down at her. "We won't hurt you. Well, not on purpose, I rather think that we might hurt your leg when we pull that thing out, but-"
"Vala," Cam said sharply. She promptly shut up. "Look, we don't want to hurt you, we're here to help."
The woman took a moment to think about it and looked at him intensely, almost as if she was searching his mind to determine his character. Cam forced himself not to shift uncomfortably and kept what he hoped was a pleasant smile on his face. After a few moments, she nodded slowly.
"I'm Cam, the woman behind you is Vala and this is Ronon, Teyla and Rodney."
She looked at each of them in turn before nodding again. "I am Sera."
"Hi there, Sera," he said and grinned at her. She seemed momentarily startled by the gesture, but returned it hesitantly a moment later. "We came because someone used the Stargate to call our city. Was that you?"
Sera frowned, as if trying to make sense of his words. "The silver ring?" she asked after a moment, and Cam nodded.
"That's right. We call it the Stargate."
"Stargate," she repeated, turning the word over as if trying to familiarise herself with it. "It is a magical device to my people," she said and Cam scowled at Rodney's muttered derogatory comment, before smiling reassuringly at her. Sera grinned more widely. "It is all right, I do not believe in magic. We found stone tablets that foretold of our ancient ancestors, a great race of people who brought us to this place and left us in protection. My instructor and I believed that the silver ring was an object of their creation and no more magical than the bulbs of light we use to light our villages at night."
"You're right," Cam said. "We call the race of ancestors the Ancients."
"Appropriate. We have examined the Ancient's tablets for many years, and have studied the strange symbols on the silver ring. We believed they would take us to our ancestors, but did not know how. When…when the darkness came," she said, a slight waver in her voice, "we were not quite ready to test our theories, but I had no choice. I…there was nothing but darkness and the noise…the noise was like nothing I have ever heard." She took a deep breath, but made no effort to wipe her eyes as tears began to fall. "No one would listen and my instructor ordered me to leave, to take with me the history of my people and to find those who may help us. I travelled through the silver ring to many places before this one. When I entered the last of the symbols this time, a voice told me to wait. Told me I must wait for them to come."
"Why did you enter the forest?" Teyla asked gently and Sera looked up at her.
"I heard the noise from the ring and I watched the first symbol turn into place and…I feared that it might not be someone coming to help. I…" She shook her head. "I do not know why, but I was very afraid."
"Likely delirious," Vala said softly. "How were you injured?"
"I fell, tripped as I ran from my world and left them. Left them all to die…" Sera suddenly let out a gasp of pain and clutched at her leg.
"Vala," Cam said, slightly alarmed to realise that the wound Vala had started to heal now looked worse than before.
Vala cursed and reached out her hand, but the device didn't seem to be doing anything. "I can't. We need to get her back to Atlantis and see if Jennifer or Carson can get that thing out of her. Whatever it is, I think it's poisoned."
"Okay." Cam nodded. "Sera, we're going to take you to our city." At her look of alarm, Cam placed a hand on her arm in reassurance. "We live in the city of the Ancients. If there's anything that can help you, it's there. We just need you to trust us."
Sera swallowed and, after a moment, nodded. "All right. I will trust you."
"I'll carry her." Ronon reached down and scooped her up as if she weighed nothing.
"I…thank you," Sera said, before passing out.
"We should hurry," Vala said as Cam helped her to her feet. "I think that whatever I did to heal her somehow made the poison work faster."
"How is that possible?" Teyla asked and Vala shook her head.
"I have no idea."
"Then let's get her back to the city," Cam said and led the way back to the 'Gate at a jog.
"How's our new patient?"
Cam jerked slightly and turned to face his CO. It wasn't unheard of for Kade to seek him out in his office, but his CO usually called on Cam to join him. Somehow, having Kade in the room made it feel much smaller, and not just because the man was tall; he had a presence that made everyone take notice. Cam sat up straighter and cleared his throat.
"Still unconscious. Carson's not sure what's in that stinger they fished out of her, but it's pretty serious stuff. Jennifer's finished operating and she thinks Sera'll pull through, but she can't guarantee anything."
"Do we know what happened?"
"With the healing device?" Cam asked and Kade nodded. "Yeah, Jennifer thinks the stinger was in so deep that the device thought it was part of Sera's physiology and tried to heal it to her leg." Kade winced. "Yeah, not pretty. She thinks that the healing released whatever toxin was in it at an even faster pace."
"But she woke up? You talked to her?"
"Yeah, we think she was unconscious the first time because of the head injury Vala healed, but the poison knocked her out the second time."
"And Carson's got nothing on the thing they took out of her?"
"No. He says there are tests he can run, but it could take a while. With the way the Goul'd device tried to heal it to her leg, there's a lot of Sera's DNA in there. It'll take him a while to sort through everything before he can even start any tests."
Kade sighed. "Right, so I guess we're just waiting now."
Cam watched as Kade nodded, seemingly distracted, before almost folding himself into the chair on the other side of Cam's desk.
"Anything wrong?" he asked and Kade blinked looking up at him, almost as if he'd forgotten he wasn't alone.
"No, just… d'you ever get the feeling like you're just waiting for something bad to happen?"
Cam snorted. "All the time."
"I guess, just…"
"Yeah, I know what you mean," Cam said with a sigh, leaning back in his chair. "Things've been going pretty good in the last few years. We haven't lost anyone since Lieutenant Forman, I guess it feels like things have been going too good, huh?"
"Something like that." Kade sat in silence for a moment and Cam was happy to wait him out. "You know," he finally said, leaning back and looking at Cam with a slight frown on his face. "I turned the SGC down when they first offered me the post."
Cam nodded. "I can understand that. It was a lot to take in."
"Not so much the alien stuff, I mean that's not why," Kade clarified. "It wasn't even the fact that we'd been at war for years with beings from other worlds without me knowing it. I just… I was getting married," he finished softly and Cam's eyes widened in surprise. "I thought America seemed too far away to even think about taking a permanent post." He chuckled mirthlessly. "Ended up a wee bit further away than America," he murmured.
"I had no idea," Cam said.
"Of course you didn't," Kade said with a smile. "The whole thing was called off before I finally accepted the post at the SGC anyway, but…the first time they asked I didn't really think much before turning it down."
Personally, Cam was still at a loss to understand how the post had been offered overseas in the first place. He frowned, trying to think about how to word what he wanted to ask, but Kade smiled and Cam realised that his CO knew what he was thinking.
"Pressure from the IOA mostly," he clarified and Cam nodded. "I think your president would've fought tooth and nail to keep the US military in charge of the SGC if he hadn't known my dad. As it was I guess he figured he'd have enough sway over me that he could accept my assignment and still be 'in charge' of it all and it would keep the IOA happy to know that it wasn't just one country running the show. I know that your military chiefs weren't all that impressed with the call."
"Never been much for politics," Cam said with a shrug, "but it surprised a lot of people when we heard you were getting the base. O'Neill seemed happy enough, said he knew you, so SG1 were okay with it and that meant most of the base was coming around to the idea. A lot of people weren't all that happy when O'Neill left, so Landry moving on didn't seem to bother them much, but I think they hoped we'd get the General back."
Kade smirked. "And instead they got some Scottish guy they'd never heard of? Yeah, I can see how that would go down like a lead balloon. They must have been pretty happy I was on Atlantis when it took off."
Cam frowned. "I wouldn't look at it like that, sir."
Kade rolled his eyes. "I'm off duty, Cam, and you pretty much always have permission to speak freely."
"I am, s-" He winced slightly. "I am speaking freely, Kade. Look," he continued, seeing that his CO, his friend, really was having a rare moment of self pity. "There were a lot of people in the city who weren't meant to be here when the Ori showed up. If I hadn't been here with Vala and asked to show you around before we went back to the SGC; if MJ hadn't been here to help McKay with that experiment; if Anders, Cooper and Wilson hadn't been shipping over those supplies; if-"
"Okay, okay, I get it; you've made your point." Kade smiled at him. "For what it's worth, Cam, even if I do wish you lot weren't stuck out here too, I'm glad to have you at my back."
"Happy to be here," he said, almost meaning it. He took a deep breath and tried not to think of home.
"And I'm sorry. For what you lost," Kade said, so softly that Cam took a moment to realise what he was getting at.
Cam nodded, but didn't say anything; he really kind of hated it sometimes that the whole city seemed to know about his personal life. He shifted in his seat and leaned forward picking at the few papers on his desk, shuffling a few things about in an attempt to clear his mind and he wasn't surprised when Kade stood to leave a few moments later.
"Hey, any idea where I can find Banks? He's been surprisingly absent," Kade said, eyeing 2IC suspiciously.
"I have no idea, sir," Cam answered, trying to act innocent. The last thing he needed was for his CO to actually find the man and… well, Cam didn't know what Kade had planned, but something told him the Air Marshal wouldn't be on duty when it happened. "Maybe you should speak to Lorne, I think he was dealing with it."
Kade didn't really look like he believed that, but he didn't push any further, instead just waved a hand at Cam and left the room.
"Cadman, have you got a minute?"
Laura lifted her head, looking up at the doorway, and smirked. "For you, handsome, anything. How's the face?" she asked, wincing at the bruise forming to the left of Kade's chin.
"Still pretty," he said. "But if you happen to know the location of one Lieutenant Marc Banks, I'd also be pretty happy."
"We're under orders not to tell you," Laura said gloomily.
"Okay, I know I'm off duty right now, but seriously?" Kade frowned, looking rather confused.
"Seriously. But if it makes you feel any better, Rodney pointed out yesterday that he's under no obligation to follow orders and I pointed out that you could countermand any orders. However, McKay's way seems less sticky for those of us being ordered in opposite directions. You planning on busting Banks down to toilet cleaner?" she asked with a hopeful gleam in her eyes.
"Thinking about it. In the meantime, I guess I'll be paying the good Doctor a visit."
"Well, Rodney also said that if you leave it to him you won't even have to get your hands dirty and no one will be able to prove a thing."
Kade grinned. "I think I like your boyfriend a little more every day."
"He's not ma boyfriend," Laura said, cheekily imitating his brogue and he rolled his eyes at her. "Although not through lack of trying. Any ideas?"
"I thought you were going for perseverance."
"Perseverance requires patience, of which I am completely out."
Kade chuckled and entered the room a little further. As much as he felt he could sometimes talk to Cam, Laura was his one complete sanctuary from his command; whilst they were on duty, she treated him as she would any other Three Star CO, but off duty, they'd managed to form a friendship that he was pretty sure had kept them both sane and happy over the last three years. Next to Douglas (whom he'd known most of his life and he was forever grateful they'd both been in the city when she was lost) Laura was his closest friend and he was fairly sure that it had taken a lot for her to get past the fact that he was her CO. It was something he didn't take for granted.
Shaking his head, Kade reached out a hand. "Come on lets get some food, it's been a long day. We can come up with a plan. Maybe the Major will have something."
Laura let Kade pull her to her feet and tucked her arms around his as they headed to the mess. "Evan refuses to discuss my sex life. He says it's like listening to his sister talk about sex. That and I gave him some vivid description last time and he couldn't look Carson in the face for about three months."
"I'll listen to any and all description you can come up with."
She grinned. "That's what I love about you, Kade."
"My wonderful listening skills?"
"That and you're a big slut."
"Takes one to know one, wench."
"You better believe it."
Laura chuckled and blushed slightly, not so much at the words, Kade was sure, but the fact that, every now and then, she had the realisation that she was speaking to her CO. He was willing to ignore it if she was, if only because he knew that she'd follow any order he gave her without question. Even the ones he hated giving.
They entered the mess to the smell of spices and fried food and Laura grinned. Raj was on kitchen duty this month, which meant an array of food that would make her mouth water, regardless of what ingredients had actually been available; she was convinced he could make a meal of dry bread and MRE's taste like five star cuisine.
"Air Marshal Dillon?"
Kade saw Laura bite back a chuckle as he winced, before turning to the attentions of Doctor Sheila Henry, a pretty, if somewhat terrifyingly efficient, woman who had decided to make the man her unwilling husband. She seemed incapable of realising that he wasn't interested and he had no idea how to get that across without being just plain rude. In fact he'd even tried that.
Kade held up a finger to stall off Doctor Henry's conversation and tapped his earpiece. "Go ahead, Colonel." It was rare for Mitchell to call him by his rank; it only seemed to occur when something serious was happening.
"Sir, we have a problem."
"I'm on my way." He signed off, trying to ignore the feeling of dread that had come over him at the tone of Mitchell's voice. "Sorry, Sheila," he said apologetically. "Duty calls. Lieutenant," he said and Laura nodded.
He jogged out of the mess and headed to the nearest transporter, almost knocking over Vala in the process. He grabbed hold of her arm and steadied her, chuckling slightly as she looked up at him from lowered lashes.
"If you want to jump me, Kincaid, we can find somewhere a little more comfortable than the hallway."
"I'm sure we could," he said with an easy grin, "but I'm a little busy at the moment."
"Oh, well, perhaps next time. I take it Cameron has summoned you also?" she said, entering the transporter and he followed her.
"You any idea what's going on? Cam sounded pretty serious."
"I'm not sure," she said. "Is anyone off world?"
"Team Four," he responded, sharply, wishing that thought hadn't already occurred to him. "Routine mission to Kalaris. They're not due back until tomorrow, but they were supposed to check in about two hours ago."
"I'm sure everything's fine," she said, placing a hand on his arm.
"Yeah, I'm sure it is," he muttered, but he didn't really believe it.
"Ideas? Suggestions?" Cam looked around the table at the blank faces of most of the command team. Lorne looked stressed, McKay and Zelenka looked more perplexed than Cam had ever seen them, Ronon looked like he wanted to hurt someone, and Teyla looked worried. It wasn't exactly reassuring that Cam felt a mixture of all of the above and had no idea what the hell to do about any of it.
"We are sure there is nothing there?"
"Positive. We pretty much lost Maggie," Cam said, referring to one of the three MALP-like devices they had created, and Teyla nodded.
"We sure the robot wasn't just broken?" Ronon asked and Rodney shook his head, still tapping away at his computer.
"Positive. It was in perfect working order. Unless Doctor Ingles managed to break it with the powers of her mind, which I wouldn't put past her, because that woman can break anything from any distance, then there's just nothing there."
"I don't understand," Lorne said, sitting up. "How can there be nothing there? There's a whole city there, heck there's a whole planet there and now there's nothing?"
"You misunderstand," Radek said, pushing his glasses up his nose and looking around the room as if he really didn't like what he was about to say. "The planet is still there; we received readings from Maggie, but there is nothing to see. It is just dark."
"What like all the lights went out?"
"Yes. All lights. All sound." He swallowed. "All life."
The door opened and Cam nodded to Vala as she entered. He sat up straighter as Air Marshal Dillon followed her into the room and tried not to wince again at the bruise on his CO's face, which was already turning dark purple. "Air Marshal."
"Colonel. What's the story?"
"How much did you hear?" he asked, referring to Atlantis' gossip grapevine.
"There's murmurings in the control tower," Kade confirmed. "I take it Brechin missed check in."
Cam tried not to think about the fact that the Kade and Douglas Brechin had known each other for about twenty years. "We've been unable to contact Team Four," he confirmed. "We sent Maggie through to see what was there and we got nothing."
"No," Rodney said looking up from his PDA. "We got darkness and silence, or we thought we did."
"Thought there was nothing on infrared either, Doc," Lorne said with a frown.
"There wasn't, but I think I've filtered out sound." Rodney tapped his pad a few times and they all remained silent, waiting with some trepidation for whatever Rodney had discovered. "Listen," he said and looked up as the room echoed with strange clicking noises.
Cam glanced at Teyla as the noise, somewhat like the sound of thousands of insects, sent shivers down his spine. The sound had everyone shifting in their seats, looking around edgily and more than a bit freaked out.
When Rodney finally turned off the noise there was silence for a long moment.
"Well, that can't be good."
"Gee, what gave you that idea?" Rodney said acidly, but Vala just smiled tightly at him.
Cam didn't thank her out loud, but he was eternally grateful to her for breaking the silence. He turned to his CO to find him staring across the table.
"What is it Teyla?" Kade asked.
"Perhaps nothing," she said, leaning forward. "The young woman we found, Sera, she said that a darkness came upon her world and that there was a noise unlike nothing she had ever heard before."
"Well, that sounds familiar," Cam murmured.
"Have we been able to contact her world?" Vala asked.
"The 'Gate won't connect," Lorne answered. "We can't be sure the co-ordinates are accurate, but if they are then…well, their 'Gate could be malfunctioning."
"Or there's no longer anything there," she continued, speaking what no one else wanted to say.
Cam cleared his throat. "Well, I guess we won't know anything more on that front until Sera wakes up. Carson's working on analysing what they got from her leg, hopefully that'll tell us more, too. So, what do we think?"
"Rescue mission?" Lorne asked and Cam really wanted to say yes.
"I don't think we can at this stage." He glanced at Kade, who gave an almost imperceptible shake of the head and Cam turned back to Lorne. "That Stargate wasn't exactly hiding in a forest on a deserted planet, it was in the centre of the village and it's all gone. I don't want to send anyone into this until we know what we're dealing with."
"Agreed," Kade said with a nod. "Rodney, d'you think you can get anything more out of those readings, or do you need more?"
"More would be best, yes?" Radek said and Rodney nodded.
"Yes, as much as we can get. I might be able to filter something else out."
"Hopefully something rather less frightening," Vala interjected.
"Okay," Cam said, standing up. "We'll dial it up, get more readings and try again to make contact."
As they entered the control room, Chuck was beginning to dial out and Cam took his place between Teyla and Kade. He could tell by the set of their shoulders that they were both tense and he wasn't really doing much better. Cam saw the chevrons light up one by one and couldn't help but hold his breath a little as he watched. He wanted nothing more than to hear Group Captain Brechin checking in to report that Maggie's readouts were shot and they'd missed check in for any reason other than one of the ones Cam's imagination was coming up with.
He already knew it wasn't going to happen.
"Sirs…the final chevron won't lock."
Kade nodded. "Try it again, Chuck."
Chuck tapped on his computer and they all watched the Stargate start up again. Somehow the dialling seemed to take ten times longer than usual, but no one looked away. Even though they knew they weren't going to get a different result.
"Thank you, Chuck." Kade looked at his command team, and Cam couldn't help but notice the bleak look in his eyes. "Rodney, Radek, see what you can do with those readouts. Everyone else; lets come up with some ideas. And Chuck, see if you can get Major Kent and Wing Commander Ryan up here, I think we're past containment on this."
"How is he?"
Cam's head jerked up and he caught sight of Lorne in his doorway. The meeting had been long and the failed attempts to dial up the planet had been stressful for them all. They were fast running out of ideas and Kalaris was just too far away for them to take a jumper, even if they gated to the nearest planet first.
"A mess," he answered honestly and gestured to the seat at the other side of his desk. Kade was still holed up in his office and Cam wasn't sure he'd ever seen the man look quite so lost. It was no real surprise that Lorne had come asking after their CO, because that was just the kind of guy that he was and it was something Cam was ever grateful for.
Lorne took a seat and, from the look on his face, tried very hard not to tell Cam that he looked like hell. He also looked like he didn't really want to be delivering whatever news he'd come with.
"I thought you'd want to know that we still haven't been able to raise the planet. Chuck's going to keep trying every hour, but we may need to think about calling it."
Cam nodded. "We'll give it one more try and then…yeah, we'll call it."
"Is there anything I can do?"
"Right now, Evan? You can go get some sleep, you look like crap."
Cam tried to laugh, but it fell flat. "Seriously, Major, go get some sleep. You've had, what, three hours in the last forty?"
"Not quite th-"
"Get some sleep. I'm making that an order."
"Thanks." Lorne stood and headed for the door, hesitating briefly before turning to face him. "You think McKay will figure it out?"
"I hope so," Cam said softly, flashing him a brief, if pained, smile. "Get some sleep."
Lorne nodded and left the room and the silence seemed to close in on Cam until he couldn't just sit there doing nothing any longer. It didn't take him long to pick up two mugs of canna from the mess and head down to the labs, but he was surprised to find Zelenka was alone when he got there. He'd taken to bringing caffeine down to the labs about a month after they'd set the city down on the planet, after one too many nights of having nothing to do and an itch to actually be useful. He knew that Rodney had resented it at first, that it had just driven home the fact that the person who used to bring him coffee never would again, but Cam had persisted. It was the least he could do for John.
"Hey, Doctor Z." Cam smiled and waved one of the mugs at the scientist. Radek looked pleasantly surprised and reached out, even as Cam took a drink from the other mug; he figured he could always get another one before he tracked down McKay.
"Rough day," he continued and Radek nodded, looking into his drink, as if it might provide him answers.
"Yes," he said after a moment. "It has been long since we had one, Rodney seems to think we had it coming."
"That's what I love about McKay, he always sees that glass half full," Cam said sarcastically, prompting a chuckle from his friend. "I don't think it works like that, but if it does I'd sure as hell like to know what we did to deserve this. It's not like we've had it easy before now."
"No, but we survive."
"Yeah, and we can always find a reason to celebrate. Happy Birthday, Radek."
"It does not feel very happy." He smiled sadly. "I do not believe I will be celebrating next year."
"From the way Carson tells it, it'd be an insult not to."
Radek smiled. "Yes, he liked Douglas very much. He said speaking to him and Kade was like having a piece of home."
"He was a good guy. Had a life worth celebrating."
"The Air Marshal is not taking it well, I presume."
"He's…heck he's Kade, he seems fine, but they knew each other since they were kids. He's got to be in a bad way. He…he looks like McKay did wh- He looks like-"
"Like he lost his best friend."
They shifted uncomfortably for a moment before Cam took a step closer and pointed to the laptop Radek had been working on.
Radek shook his head. "No, there is nothing new. We have cleared the sound, but it is no more pleasant to hear than before and the darkness? The darkness is…complete. We can get nothing from any filters."
"And there was nothing on the heat sensors?"
"No, there was nothing at all. The temperature was higher than normal, but there was no variation, everything was the same temperature and everything was nothing."
"Either you're really tired, too, or I'm understanding crazy talk, because I think I know what you mean." Cam sighed. "Go get some sleep."
"Yes, you should do the same. You look like back end of a bull."
Cam laughed, couldn't help but feel slightly relieved by the feeling, almost as if it brought a sense that everything would get better, even if it got worse first. "You always know how to make a guy feel good about himself, Radek."
"It is a gift."
"You can keep it," Cam said with another chuckle, leading the scientist to the door. "Any idea where I'd find McKay?"
"I believe he is in the think tank. He wanted to work on the systems."
Cam winced. "He's taking what happened to Corporal Harris pretty hard."
"Yes. He feels responsible, but he knows the interface could be important to our defence and it cannot be used like this."
"Yeah, I think we can all agree that having our brains fried is not the way we want to go." Radek tried to respond, but yawned instead. "Go on, get. I'll see you in the morning."
"We will try the planet again?"
Cam sighed. "Yeah, I think we will, but I don't see anything happening."
"Nor do I, but we will try."
"Yeah, we'll try."
He detoured by the mess again to refill his mug and pick up another for McKay, before heading to the base of the control tower. The room was heavily lit and occupied by three people, including Rodney. Doctor Conrad was seated in what Cam had always thought was one of the most uncomfortable chairs in the city and Doctor Shenai was settled in a lotus position at the other side of the room. It looked, to all intents and purposes, as if they were meditating and, Cam supposed, they kind of were.
He'd had very little interaction with the neural interface, mainly because his gene was so faint that he barely felt a gentle tickle in the back of his mind when trying to 'talk' to Atlantis, but he still put in what time he could spare when he could spare it, because Rodney was adamant that any natural gene, no matter its strength, was better then nothing and, as it had turned out, better than anyone's artificial gene, no matter its strength. It always baffled Cam that Rodney could turn on a light without having to do much more than think 'on' in the back of his mind, but it took Cam about ten minutes and a lot of sweating. And yet the neural interface they'd discovered about a year and a half ago would respond to Cam (albeit weakly), but wanted nothing to do with Rodney.
Cam blinked and turned in time to see Rodney pointing in alarm to the mug that was in danger of spilling its contents all over Cam's feet…and an open panel in the floor.
"Shit, sorry, Doc."
"Yeah, that's me. Thirsty?"
"Yes, well, it's the least you can do given that you almost destroyed the city," Rodney said, snatching the proffered mug and using his foot to close the open hatch Cam had almost fried with canna.
Cam didn't respond to the accusation, far too used to the man's bitching after years of hearing it. He knew it was just…well, Rodney.
"What do you want?"
"Nice to see you, too, McKay."
"I don't have time for this. In case you haven't noticed, I'm busy," Rodney said, turning back to his laptop. It was hooked into the open panel in the wall, right next to the open doorway to the think tank.
"You need me to head in?" Cam asked, gesturing to the room.
Rodney snorted. "Yes, I'm sure you'll be a great help."
"Hey, I thought my half assed attempt at switching on a light was better than nothing."
"It would be if you didn't look like death." Rodney waved a hand. "Go sleep or something. Come back when you're more useful."
Cam smirked. "You sure know how to make a guy feel loved."
"If you're looking for that, I suggest you try Sergeant Sanchez, I hear he's available. Now, go away." He waved his hand dismissively and slurped at his canna, but didn't bother looking back at Cam.
"Fine, but don't stay up all night."
"I'll be sure to call you if I need someone to tuck me in," he retorted, but it was clear that his mind was back on his work.
Sure that McKay was alive and well (and not about to push himself into a depression enforced all-nighter) Cam headed back to the nearest transporter, not even bothering to fight the urge to yawn. It was strangely satisfying and he blinked back sleep as he tried to navigate his way back to his room.
The new living areas were a lot more spacious, right down to the corridors, and even surrounded a small courtyard complete with fountain, but he was too tired to take in any of it. Cam was glad that his room wasn't far from the transporter, as he stumbled through the doorway and tripped over the clothes he'd left strewn around the day before. He'd told Lorne not to tidy that morning and, as he stumbled towards his room, kind of wished the man hadn't listened.
He thought the door open and made his way to his room, pulling his clothes off and just falling into bed naked. He wasn't sure how things could get any worse, but he was hopeful that, by sleeping for the next twelve hours or so, he might wake up to find things weren't as bad as they seemed.
His last thought as he fell asleep, however, was that he didn't believe for a minute that it wasn't about to get worse.
Evan hovered outside the doorway, bouncing slightly on the balls of his feet, feeling an abundance of energy that he couldn't seem to focus into anything productive. He'd tried writing reports and ended up writing letters to the families of Team Four, even though he knew there was no way to deliver them; he'd tried working out in the gym and had quite possibly sprained a muscle in his left leg, because whilst he had the energy to work out, he didn't have the focus; he'd even tried sleeping, but despite the fact that he'd had less sleep in the last three days than he'd had since they'd been fighting the Wraith, he simply lay there, unable to switch off his brain.
Without thinking, he'd left his room, crossed the courtyard and moonlit fountain and found himself in front of her door. Somehow, it was the lack of surprise at this action that was putting him even more on edge, but it all boiled down to the fact that he needed her. He took a deep breath and, without thinking on it any further, reached out a hand. The door chimed softly, respectful of the hour. After a few moments of waiting, he was preparing to leave when the door slid gently open.
"Hey," he said, wincing a little as he took in the fact that Teyla was dressed for bed. "Sorry, I didn't mean to-"
"It is all right, Evan. Please, come in."
He stepped inside the room, fingers flexing with nervous energy, and forced himself to take a deep breath, hating that it didn't sound all that steady. He glanced across the living area to the door that was sitting open, the sound of gentle music coming from within as the Ancient version of a nightlight sent shadows dancing from the doorway.
He turned to face her and shook his head. "Sorry, Teyla, I just…"
"You do not need to be sorry." She smiled sadly and reached out to take his hand. "We have still not been able to raise the planet?"
"No. Nothing. We're gonna have to call it tomorrow."
She nodded and closed her eyes. "It is a great loss."
"This is gonna hit everyone hard, Teyla. They just got used to things without Earth, without the Wraith, or the Ori, or the Goul'd, or the God-damned-replicators and just when we thought things were gonna be okay, this? It's just…" He let out a frustrated breath and forced himself to calm down. The last thing he wanted to do was to wake Torren.
"You are tired, Evan."
He laughed humourlessly. "Yeah, I really am."
She led him to the couch and he settled into one end, leaning his head back and closing his eyes. He didn't feel himself begin to relax until she joined him, curling her feet up beside her and settling herself against him. He lay his arm around her shoulders and squeezed gently.
"I don't know what to do." Evan swallowed hard, but wouldn't let himself break. He'd held things together when they were a lot worse than this…he was just so damn tired. "Cam's already running around, trying to make sure everyone else is okay so he doesn't have to think about it himself, Kade's in his office doing stuff so he doesn't have to think about the fact that we just lost his best friend and I have no idea what the hell I'm supposed to do to back them up this time."
Teyla sighed and he felt her breath on his chest as she reached on arm around him in a half-hug. "You need do nothing just now. When you are needed you will do what must be done, as you always do, but until then, you should sleep."
"I should go."
"Perhaps," she said, but neither one of them moved. They lay in silence for a while and he was fairly sure that Teyla must have thought he'd fallen asleep. She settled herself more securely against him and he just let himself fall into the illusion of safety with her in his arms; just for the moment. Tomorrow they would deal with their loss, but tonight they would not think of it.
Just as she was drifting off, Evan moved, settling himself more comfortably. He let out a breath and briefly tightened his arm around her.
"I just thought," he said softly, his voice trailing off. "I just thought that maybe this once, just this once, the universe might give us a break."
"Everything happens for a reason, Evan," she said sleepily. "Even that which we wish were not so; we can accept it for what it is and take from it what we can, but I believe that we are a strong people. All of us. We will make it through this."
"I really hope so, Teyla. I really do."
There door chimed but Kade ignored it, keeping his eyes on the photo album in front of him. He'd stuck it out in his office for going on four hours before Lieutenant Patel had politely informed him she was taking over the rest of his shift. He'd have argued with her if he'd had the energy, but he knew he didn't, and in the end it was easier to let her have her way.
He took another swig from his glass, relishing in the burn at the back of his throat, and lifted his glass.
When the door chimed again, he growled a little under his breath and threw the album on the floor. He charged over to the doorway and manually opened it by waving his palm over the sensor; he often felt that running Atlantis with his brain whilst under the influence of alcohol was a little like drink driving, or operating heavy machinery with a hangover: just not a good idea.
He wasn't really all that surprised to find Laura standing in front of him, eyes red, and stared at the bottle of malt in her hands. She held it up for him, trying to smile and failing miserably.
"Whisky for your thoughts," she said roughly and he let out a dry laugh that sounded a little bitter to even his own ears.
"I'm not sure they're worth that year, but buggers can't be choosers," he said, trying to joke. He stepped back and ushered her inside.
She crossed the lounge and headed straight for the balcony, which was their usual haunt, and Kade picked up a blanket as he passed the couch. He paused for a moment before reaching out and picking up the photo album he'd discarded, taking it with him as he joined her outside.
It wasn't really the time of year for sitting out, but it rarely stopped them from enjoying the view. They settled into the swinging chair and Kade pulled the blanket around them as she made herself comfortable beside him. He let her open the book as he reached for the bottle.
"Where did you get this?"
"Carson," she said softly. "He's going to come over in about ten minutes unless I end up back there without you."
"You thought I wouldn't let you in?"
"I thought you'd kick me out."
He took a deep breath and opened the bottle. "I might keep you for a bit."
"Only because I brought the booze."
"Doug always said 'there are two things in life you never turn away; a good woman and a good whisky.' You brought both."
"I'm so sorry, Kade," she said softly, and he took a deep breath.
"I know. I am, too."
"You knew him a long time."
"Yeah, I did. Met him when I was twelve, just after my parents divorced, and my mum and I moved down to Glasgow to stay near her family."
Laura smiled. "Where did you live before?"
He laughed. "If you can tell me, I'll give you a tenner."
"Your money means nothing out here, Dillon."
"Which makes no never mind, because you still can't say it."
She didn't argue, but reached out to take the bottle from him. Taking a sip, she winced. "Yuck. Tell me about him. I mean, tell me about him before I knew him."
Part of him didn't really want to talk about it, didn't want to think about what he'd lost or what he'd never have again, but it was Laura, and Kade didn't have many people left anymore, so he spoke. He told her about the trouble they'd got into at school; he told her about Mrs Menzies' crazy old cat that used to stalk the tenement building preying on young kids; he told her about how they'd once run away up North to visit Kade's father and had promptly been given a hiding and sent back on the next train, and how they'd had to work off the money to pay back the tickets; he told her about how they'd both joined the RAF together and that Doug had never seemed to care that they'd moved through the ranks at different paces; he told her everything and by the time Carson joined them, found himself laughing more than fighting the urge to cry.
He smiled as they began to tell their own stories, about Doug and his team, and realised that, even though he'd lost his best friend, his brother, he still had a family. He figured that, one day soon, that might help dull the ache and, if not, it might at least get him through it.
The world of Ilitora was a peaceful one, its people lived simple lives, with little heed for the world outwith their daily lives. On a small farm, a young boy played with ball, bouncing, bouncing, gently across the packed dirt outside his family's barn. In the sky, the sun shone bright, casting his shadow long and thin and slowly burning the skin on the back of his neck. He didn't notice or care, as he played with his ball, bouncing, bouncing it higher and higher until is got away from him and he had to start again.
The darkness came quickly, blotting out the sun. He turned his head skyward, trying to figure out who had turned out the light. He had brothers who liked to play tricks on him, but his mother had often told him that only the Great Being held control over the sun and, no matter how much his brothers said otherwise, even they couldn't switch off that light.
The noise started low, soft, a gentle buzz that made the hairs on his arms stand on end. He was sure he could feel it in his heart, too; like the thump that bounced inside him when his father played his drums, deep and loud. He didn't know what it was, didn't think much beyond staying where he was until his mother came to get him. He always had to stay still until she came, or he would get lost.
He thought he heard his name called, somewhere in the distance, but the buzzing and clicking was so loud that he couldn't be sure. He called out for his mother, but didn't move. Something brushed past his arm and he yelped, jumping out of the way. He wouldn't move until his mother came and he wouldn't cry or his brothers would tease him.
He cried out once more, the sound of his voice not even reaching his own ears over the noise that made him itch and shiver. He was scared, but he would not cry.
There was a different noise to his left and he thought he heard his ball, bouncing, bouncing, and then he heard nothing at all.
They found John the following Tuesday.
Captain Cooper saw him first, tripping over his own feet at the startling realisation that his former CO might not be dead after all. He pointed across the crowded street of Linaya's Capital and elbowed Doctor Parker forcefully.
"What?" Parker barked and he pointed again.
Cooper turned to Sanchez. "Colonel Sheppard," he muttered and pointed again, but the man was long gone. Glancing back at his team, he could see that they thought he'd gone a little crazy, but underneath there was the hope that he was right. "I'm telling you," he continued. "It was Colonel Sheppard."
"Should we…look for him?" Corporal Anders asked hesitantly, glancing at Parker.
"Perhaps we should dial it in," the Doctor said.
"No." Cooper shook his head. "Standing orders are to notify only the Air Marshal." Sanchez and Anders exchanged a look that had him sighing. "Do you really want to go back to Atlantis and tell them we've found Sheppard without proof? I didn't think so. Look, we all knew this might happen sometime, but you know what Team One would do if they thought he was here; they'd do anything to find him and they wouldn't stop until they did." Cooper took a deep breath.
"Look," he continued. "The Air Marshal will be here in about an hour to meet with the Council anyway. That gives us some time to see what we can dig up. We've already secured things for his arrival; Doc, you said the Chancellor was ready to receive him?" Parker nodded. "Good. Sanchez, we're sure that there's no way we can talk them into letting us keep our weapons?"
"No, sir," Sanchez grumbled. "Still can't believe the Colonel and the Air Marshal are okay with that."
"They've determined that the Linayans pose no threat. If they're happy with it, so are we, okay?"
"Okay, we split up. Sanchez, you and Anders start at the square and head west. Canvas the streets, make some enquiries, but try not to make it look suspicious."
"Eh, which square, sir?" Anders asked and Cooper had to admit he had a point.
Linaya's capital was box-like in layout; rows of parallel streets interspaced frequently with town squares that were home to large statues, up to thirty feet tall, of creatures that ranged from what looked like gryphons to strange dragon-like creatures with six limbs. Unfortunately, everything looked so similar that it was like being in a maze. The buildings were large and the streets wide and the markets that sprawled throughout were bustling. It made the prospect of finding Sheppard rather daunting.
"Start at that one," Cooper indicated, pointing towards the square where he'd spotted Sheppard. "I didn't see which way he went, but there are only two streets leading off at that end. Parker and I will take the other one. Check in regularly. Let me know if you see anything."
They headed off and Cooper took a deep breath before turning to Doctor Parker. "This way, Doc."
"Captain?" Parker said, jogging slightly to catch up.
"You're sure it was the Colonel?"
Cooper sighed. "I barely saw him, Doc, but…yeah. Yeah, I'm pretty sure it was."
Despite his assertion, Cooper found his hopes dwindling as they continued to search. The planet was somewhat more advanced than most of the trading partners they'd discovered in whatever galaxy they might be in (McKay and his scientists were still working on that one), which actually made things a little more difficult. The city wasn't as large as what they were used to on Earth, but it was still big enough to lose someone in, especially when they weren't really sure where to begin. The longer they searched, the more grateful Cooper was for the growing relationship between the Linayans and the people of Atlantis, because he was pretty sure that they were unnerving the locals with their questions.
Things in Atlantis had been bleak since they'd lost Brechin's team; with four people gone and the alien woman who may hold the explanation still in a coma, no one was quite up to pretending that things were okay. As much as Cooper wasn't entirely sure it was a good idea for Air Marshal Dillon to be coming out of the city so soon after losing his best friend, it wasn't his decision. Also, he was looking forward to having someone else make the call on the search for the Colonel, because as much as he'd been positive that he'd seen Sheppard, the longer they searched the less sure he became.
The voice in his ear startled him slightly. "Go ahead, Sanchez," he responded.
"The Air Marshal should be here soon. Do you want us to head to the 'Gate and fill him in?"
"Yeah, that might be an idea, Sergeant. We'll meet you there."
Kade couldn't say that his day had been going well. He'd spent the early morning hammering out the details for a trade agreement with the people of Kreyna, who were adept at putting even Teyla on edge, and had finished off his time in the city settling a dispute between two botanists about the naming of one of the plants they'd found on the mainland. He'd hoped that his time on Linaya would be an improvement to his day. On arrival, however, the looks on the faces of Team Five had quickly dispelled that notion.
Having made the decision not to alert Atlantis to Cooper's supposed sighting of Colonel Sheppard, they'd split into two teams and proceeded to search what they could of the city. The Linayan Chancellor had been confused by the request for a slight delay in their meeting, but had happy with the extra time it allowed him to deal with his other duties.
By the time they had searched half the city, Kade was feeling more than a little restless and a little bit annoyed with his people. It wasn't that he didn't want to find Colonel Sheppard, in fact he'd known the man a long time, after an emergency landing onto an USAF base about ten years ago. The truth was, however, that he wasn't entirely convinced by Captain Cooper's less than believable statement about seeing the man in the first place.
He wanted to believe that they would find him, wanted to believe it more than anything. It wouldn't bring Doug back, but it would be proof that there was hope and that was one thing he thought his people needed. Losing Sheppard had been hard on everyone, but Kade knew that it had hit some a lot harder than others. Those people who had been together since first going to Pegasus had been family to each other and losing someone who was so integral to that had hit them hard. And then there was Cam; Kade couldn't even imagine what he'd gone through. He didn't want to think what it might be like to have a slight hope lift them all up only to let them down again. It was for that reason that he hadn't let anyone in the city know what Cooper believed he'd seen.
Kade turned to Sanchez, moving quickly out of the way as a woman suddenly herded four children between them on her way to a nearby stall. It was almost time for the evening meal and some of the stalls around them were already closing for the day.
"I think we're going in circles, sir. I'm sure I've seen that statue before."
Kade turned to look at the large three legged animal that was displayed on a stone pedestal in the middle of the square and studied it for a moment. "No, it's not the same one."
"How can you tell, sir?"
"I'm a smart guy."
Kade laughed a little to himself and took point. Answers like that used to frustrate the hell out of him, but he and Doug had eventually come to see the fun that could be had. Not that they'd done it very often, but it was always amusing to come out with a random phrase in the middle of a previously serious conversation and see if any of your subordinates would call you on it. He'd only ever met one person who'd had the guts to do something like that, back when Kade himself wasn't that high on the food chain. He was currently searching a planet in the middle of god knows where looking for him.
Kade turned quickly and spotted exactly what Sanchez was pointing at, or rather who. The area was crowded and full of noise, but there was no mistaking the shock of dark hair that disappeared around the corner. Kade broke into a jog, Sanchez and Doctor Parker behind him. They found themselves in the main transit area before they were even aware what direction they were heading (Sanchez hadn't been entirely wrong to worry that they might have been going in circles, as the architecture and town planning in general had left Kade feeling a little lost and dizzy). The entered the building at high speed, but further behind the man than they'd wanted, having had to battle through the crowds.
The building was large, high ceilinged and crowded with people. It reminded Kade of an airport, or train station back on Earth, albeit one surrounded along the edges with stone creatures that made him think of Greek myths. To their left there were people crowding around a vehicle that looked like an old steam train with wheels that followed a single train track in the centre. The large carriages were filling quickly, but Kade couldn't see Sheppard anywhere. They pushed their way through and headed for the Stargate in the centre of the room and Kade was glad for the advantage of his height.
He followed Parker's outstretched hand with his eyes just in time to see the guy they'd been following walk through the 'Gate. The wormhole shut behind him with a whoosh, leaving them staring at the now inactive circle. Kade took a deep breath and turned to Sanchez.
"I think we need to find out where the hell that 'Gate was going."
Sanchez gave him a snappy salute and an almost-grin before jogging across to the man controlling the DHD.
"Kade," Doctor Parker said, sounding almost tentative. "Do you really think that was Colonel Sheppard?"
"I'm not sure," he said, letting out a breath. "But between you and me? It looked a hell of a lot like him."
"You want to tell me what the hell this is all about, McKay?"
Rodney didn't deign to answer him, continuing to tap at the console he was working on and Cam rolled his eyes. Deciding he might be of more use inside the room, he walked into the think tank and took a seat next to Corporal Harris. He was sure she'd spent more time in the room than before she'd almost fried her brain, but as she was there in her off duty hours, it really wasn't something he could comment on. Cam decided to ask Teyla to talk to her instead of trying to broach the subject himself, and closed his eyes, leaning his head back against the wall.
He shifted in his seat as he felt the wall behind him shift to cup the back of his head, and resisted the urge to bolt. It was something they all experienced in the room and was the main reason some people preferred to sit in the chair; it was a very strange sensation, almost as if the wall was trying to swallow his head. He took a deep breath and remained still, letting himself get comfortable before trying to reach out his mind.
He'd once asked some of his people what they thought about, what they saw, when they were in the tank and had got varying answers; for Corporal Harris, he knew she saw words, languages and stories, some that she could read and others she couldn't (which was rare, as it was her due to her linguistic skills that she had been recommended to the programme); Lieutenant Patel saw the systems, saw the circuitry and the schematics, and the security systems she likely knew by heart already; Kade said he saw people, heard them talking in Ancient tongue, heard whispers of the past that had since helped them discover new labs and machinery; and Evan said it felt like flying, said that he saw things in vivid watercolour and splashes of texture. Cam hadn't asked anyone else, because, from his initial discussions, it hadn't taken him long to realise that they all saw something different, something very personal.
Cam didn't really see anything at all.
He settled down and slowed his breathing and let his mind fall into the city. There was a tickle in the back of his thoughts, a gentle melody that sent tingles through his whole body, as he started to let Atlantis take shape. He sensed the city, but couldn't see her or control her the same way he knew the others could; instead he listened. It didn't take long for him to hear the soft drawl in the back of his mind, a gentle whisper that he had to listen hard to hear. He sometimes willed the city to show him something, willed it to let him see what others saw, or his own version of it at least, but somewhere deep down he wasn't sure he really wanted that at all. He knew he heard something no one else did, or at least something that no one else admitted to. Whether it was because John's was the voice what Cam wanted to hear the most, or whether he really was hearing some distant echo of the link John had once shared with Atlantis, Cam didn't really know. He also wasn't sure he cared either way, because it was in this room that he felt like he hadn't really lost anything at all.
Rodney's voice startled him, and he pulled away from the wall, blinking as John's voice faded and fell away.
Cam frowned and stood up, heading to the doorway. He stopped to peer over McKay's shoulder at the panel he'd been working on. "What is it?"
"I'm hoping you can tell me," Rodney said distractedly and, just as Cam was about to point out that he had no idea what the hell the man was talking about, Rodney shoved him back into the centre of the room. "Just think 'on'."
Cam thought real hard. He felt a slight 'click' in the place he normally felt Atlantis, like a cog was refusing to turn. Unsurprisingly, nothing happened.
"I don't think it's working," he said in a slow drawl designed to make McKay grit his teeth.
"Well, clearly you're not doing it right," Rodney snapped. "Charley!"
The woman jerked and pulled away from the city walls, blinking as she came fully awake, and Cam wondered how long she'd been immersed in the city. She scowled at McKay. "If you wanted to kill me, Rodney, there are better ways."
"Come here." When she simply raised her eyebrows at him he huffed in a harassed manner. "Come here, please."
"Now see, that wasn't too hard, was it?" she said sweetly, getting to her feet and walking to the centre of the room. "Colonel."
"Corporal Harris." She smiled at Cam and he grinned back. They were both used to Rodney.
Harris took her place in the small circle on the floor that Cam hadn't actually noticed before. It was similar in size to the platform that rose out of the floor of the control tower and allowed them to communicate by hologram through the Stargate to other planets. Cam had little aptitude for that device, so he was even less surprised that he was unable to activate whatever it was McKay was after.
"Well?" Rodney demanded, and Harris closed her eyes and tilted her head up.
Cam had seen Evan and Kade in similar stances before when communicating with the city, but it was the first time he'd realised it was a pose adopted by others. After a moment, Corporal Harris frowned and shook her head.
"There's something not quite right, Rodney. It's not fixed yet."
Rodney didn't say anything, but disappeared out into the hallway. He returned a moment later with a laptop and a small device that Cam knew would link the computer directly into the city network.
"Okay, try thinking 'activate' instead of 'on'," he said after tapping a few keys.
"Isn't that basically the same thing?"
"Not really, sir," Harris responded. "We've discovered that if we try to activate something it doesn't respond by switching on, but by preparing to work. If there's an error in the programme, or the device isn't fully functional, Atlantis usually helps us locate the problem."
"Huh," Cam said, looking impressed. "Useful."
"Yes, well, if you're finished with the Idiot Flyboy's Guide to Ancient Technology," Rodney griped. "Would you mind?"
Harris grinned at him. "Anything you say, Meredith," she said and, before McKay could retort, closed her eyes and activated the device.
Startled, Cam stepped back sharply as the small circle Corporal Harris was standing on rose from the floor. Looking up, he could see something descending from the high ceiling, a strange collection of tubes connected to what he couldn't help but compare to the strange full-head hair dryers he'd often seen his on his mama's head when she went to the hairdressers. Shaking his head as if to dislodge the thought, Cam watched as the platform stopped a few feet up and waited until the strange white helmet had stopped an inch above her head before he spoke.
"Corporal, I suggest you stop until we know what the heck that thing does."
McKay was tapping furiously on his laptop, but Cam was more interested in the fact that he'd received no response from his marine.
"This is incredible," Rodney murmured. "I think there are more, maybe another five, although they're not quite the same as this one. I can't quite tell, but-"
"Rodney!" Cam barked, startling the man into looking at him. "We have a problem."
They both looked up at Corporal Harris. Her eyes twitched behind their lids, as if she was in a waking dream. Her hands were raised slightly, flat palms facing the ceiling.
Rodney frowned and reached out to touch her hand. "She's freezing," he said, sounding surprised. "Corporal? Charley!"
There was no response. Cam looked at him for a moment before tapping his earpiece. "Doctor Beckett?" he called, knowing that Jennifer was off duty.
"Go ahead, Colonel."
"We need you in the think tank. Corporal Harris seems to be in some kind of trance."
"On my way."
Turning back to look at her, Cam noted that Rodney had abandoned his laptop and was trying to get a response from the young marine with panicked movements.
"What the hell's going on?"
Cam whirled around at the sound of Lorne's voice and found his 2IC in the doorway alongside Doctor Conrad. They were both staring in wonder at the device that Corporal Harris had activated and Cam couldn't help but notice that the room had brightened slightly on their arrival. If he tried hard enough, he was sure he'd be able to hear John's voice without physically touching the walls.
"Nora Charlotte Harris, you wake up right now!"
Cam jerked and whirled around in time to see Corporal Harris snap out of her trance and smack McKay upside the head. "Yes, Dad."
"Corporal," he said, causing her to turn her attentions to him. "You want to explain what's going on?"
"It's broken, sir," she said, and promptly fainted.
Carson ran through the door a few moments later and there was a groan from Corporal Harris. She attempted to sit, but was pushed back down by Lorne, who seemed to have reacted more out of instinct, as he was clearly focussed more on the device in the centre of the room.
"Sir, would you mind if I-"
"Yes, Major, I would," Cam said, cutting him off mid-sentence. "Until we can figure out what that thing is, none of you is to go near it. Understood?"
Lorne looked pained, but nodded all the same. Cam knew he wouldn't go against orders, but Doctor Conrad, however, was another matter. He glanced at Conrad who was staring at the device with an almost rapturous expression
"Doctor," he said sharply.
"Sorry, Colonel, what?"
"Don't go near that thing until you have permission from a senior member of staff, understood?"
Sighing, Doctor Conrad nodded. "Understood."
"Okay," Cam turned back to question McKay just in time to see the beginnings of what sounded like a familiar argument.
"-everything under control, Rodney. I'm not stupid!"
"You could have fooled me!"
"That wouldn't be hard!"
"That's it!" Rodney growled. "You're never touching another piece of Ancient technology ever again!"
"You won't last a week, McKay. You need my gene too much to-"
"Ever again!" Rodney reiterated, and Cam chose that moment to interrupt.
"McKay, what is that thing?"
Rodney looked up at him and blinked. "Oh," he said, "it's the interface to talk directly to Atlantis."
"What?" Lorne asked, awed. "Seriously, Doc? This thing will let me talk to her?"
"Well, not talk so much as interact. I think."
"You think?" Cam said, not letting Lorne get too drawn in by the possibilities.
"Well, it's broken," Rodney said. "I won't know exactly what it does until it's fixed."
"But you think that's what it does?" Lorne asked, grinning like a kid at Christmas.
"Okay, no," Cam said, pointing a finger at them all. "New rule. No one is allowed to play with the crazy space helmet until we know exactly what it does and that it's safe to do it. Understood?"
Lorne gave the device a look of longing before nodding. "Understood."
"McKay, you run all tests by me and if I say no, the answer's no, okay?"
"But if Air Marshal Dillon-"
"Not unless I say so, McKay," Cam said forcefully. "You know I've got final say when it comes to Ancient tech. The Air Marshal's gene is as strong as Major Lorne's and we're not risking the city because they're compelled to play with it, okay?"
Rodney didn't look too happy about it, but he nodded and Cam knew he'd play by the rules. It had become apparent in their first days on the planet that the platform they'd landed on interacted with the city in a slightly different way than anything they'd experienced in Pegasus. It was almost as if the docking bay were the original site of the city (a theory supported by many of their scientists), and, except for the city's 'Gate, it had the capacity to power up systems separately without the need for the ZPM. It also called those with the natural ATA gene like a siren. No one with a strong gene was immune to the city: the need to make Atlantis work properly was something they couldn't fight. As the highest ranking officer without a strong natural gene, Cam had become the default in deciding what to do with Ancient tech, because even if Rodney didn't have a natural gene, he had a natural scientific curiosity stronger than any ATA gene.
"Am I allowed to run diagnostics?" Rodney asked bitterly.
"Run anything you want, so long as not a single person with the natural gene goes near that thing."
Shaking his head, Cam ordered them all out of the room, siding with Carson when he suggested the Corporal accompany him to the infirmary for the night. He glanced back at McKay as he was leaving and tried very hard to ignore the fact that he could hear the voice in the back of his mind fading the further away he got from the device. It seemed that even he wasn't completely immune. He only hoped that something good might come of it all in the end.
Kade prodded at the food on his plate, more than a little disconcerted by the fact that it prodded back. He'd eaten many things over the years that he didn't think belonged on a dinner plate, but the green slug-like creatures in front of him were possibly one of the worst.
He glanced quickly around the dining room of the Linayan city chamber and wished time would speed up just a little so that they could be on their way. The room was, as he'd noticed was common with the Linayan architecture, large and high ceilinged. It was brashly decorated in gold and red, filled with tapestries and yet more statues that Kade figured must give the local kids nightmares. It was ostentatious, but somehow managed to be welcoming at the same time, and the people around him certainly didn't notice their overly flamboyant surroundings.
The Chancellor nodded at him from across the room and Kade lifted his glass in acknowledgement. The man was a good official, from what Kade could tell, he ran his city well, seemed to genuinely care for his people and was a fair man to trade with. He was, however, also boring as all hell, so the fact that he was seated at a table on the other side of the room was of great relief to Kade. The room was filled to the brim with people who were, in essence, politicians and he had the feeling that if they sat there much longer, he wouldn't be able to escape without talking to most of them. He really hated waiting.
The Ring Controller had been more than happy to inform them that the wormhole they'd witnessed disengaging was, in fact, nothing more than the equivalent of a trans-Atlantic flight (and, yes, of course, their world had two Stargates, each with their own 'home' symbol). He had also informed them that, no, they couldn't just hop on over whenever they felt like it. Instead, he had handed them a 'Gate time table and informed them that, barring any unforeseen delays, the next wormhole would open as listed. However, as it was a festive day, they should be aware that all travel was running on a Rest Day service.
Kade hadn't known whether to laugh or cry at the familiarity. "Just like getting a train from Central Station," he'd muttered and then led them all back to the town hall.
The Chancellor had been more than pleased to invite them to dine in the central chamber and Kade had happily accepted. However, he felt that if someone was expected to dine on food that wasn't actually dead yet, they should at least be given a little warning. He glanced at his men's plates and realised that none of them had touched anything.
"I think my dinner's eating my salad," Corporal Anders said, prodding the green slugs with the knife-like utensil. He looked decidedly ill as he watched them nibble on his salad.
"This is just crazy," Cooper said for what had to be the tenth time in the last five minutes.
"It's not the end of the world." Kade took a sip of his drink and smiled across the room at one of the Chancellor's right hand men. He was here to play diplomat (which he always hated) and the next wormhole to Adara wasn't opening for another hour and ten minutes, so he had every intention of enjoying the not-quite-cold, not-quite-beer that was being served. Even if he couldn't say the same about his dinner.
He leaned back in his chair and tried to look like he hadn't noticed the man creeping up to their table. He was short, maybe about five three, slim built, short hair, glasses perched on his large nose and worried eyes blinking rapidly behind them. He was also wearing a few too many layers of clothing, even by Linayan standards.
By the time the man reached their table, Kade had firmly crossed off assassin, military, and police from his list and was leaning towards scientist, as something about his manner reminded him of some of the guys in McKay's lab.
"Air Marshal," the man said softly, and Kade turned to look at him. "May I have a moment of your time?"
"Sure, what can I do for you?"
"Not here, I… there is information at the Institute of Higher Learning I would like to discuss with you." His gaze flickered around and Kade noted that the officials at the Chancellor's table weren't looking too pleased at his presence at their table.
"No bother," he said, and turned back, raising his eyebrows in the universal prompt for introductions. The man stuttered a little before hastily bowing in the traditional Linayan form.
"I am Jodra Aslon." He glanced quickly up at the head table.
"And you work at this Institute?"
"Yes, I am SiC of the Astrophysical Studies Unit."
It took Kade a moment to realise that Aslon wasn't so much sick of Astrophysics, as he was in charge of that area of study. There was a sudden hush in the conversations around them and Kade gave the room a quick once over. He noted that there were men approaching the table and glanced briefly at Cooper and his team to make sure that they had noticed that the situation may be about to change. He spotted the change in Sanchez's posture immediately and realised that he had back up, even if they didn't have firepower.
"And whereabouts would this Institute be?" he asked, smiling politely and trying to keep his tone neutral. He hoped that Aslon wasn't about to bolt; that only ever made matters worse.
"It is in Dunara, a small area on the edges of Adara."
Kade stood up just as three men reached their table. He'd liked to have given them the benefit of the doubt, but he often found that when one looked like a security guard, walked like a security guard and was built like a brick shithouse, the chances were it wasn't too hard to figure out what the person did for a living.
"Air Marshal Dillon," the tallest said and Kade grinned, pleased to note that he was taller yet.
"Is there a problem?" he asked, his tone friendly, his eyes not so much.
"We are to escort Mentor Aslon back to the Ring. He is needed back at the Institute."
"Well, isn't that handy," Kade said, grinning and slapping the man firmly on the back. To his credit, the man only stumbled a little. "We were just explaining to Mentor Aslon here that we were headed to Adara next. You all right to show us about?"
Aslon took a moment, as if trying to figure out what the question had actually been, before he jerked his head in what Kade assumed was an affirmative, albeit a vaguely terrified one. Captain Cooper took his place on the man's left.
"That's great, Doc," Cooper said, taking hold of Aslon's arm. "Always good to have a local show us the ropes. Say, you know anything about wormholes?"
The man looked so bewildered that Kade wasn't sure if something had gone wrong in translation, or if this world hadn't quite reached the level of scientific exploration that covered wormholes. Either way, Cooper was bound to learn a few more incorrect pieces of science to taunt the astrophysics back home with.
The three Linayans followed them as they made their way to the doorway, but seemed reluctant to do anything publicly. As they made their way past the Chancellor's table, Kade smiled and let Doctor Parker do all the talking. He nodded in the right places and firmly made his intentions clear; they were going to accompany Mentor Aslon back to the Institute. No one looked particularly happy at the prospect, but Kade noted that a few of the officials seemed to relax a little, almost like they were grateful, if not all that pleased.
He had a feeling that, whatever it was the man had to show them, it was pretty damn big. He also had a feeling that he wasn't going to like it very much.
The air in Adara was crisp and clear when they stepped from the 'Gate platform. They were greeted by the Ring Controller at their destination and took a few hasty steps into the inch deep snow, giving other travellers room to step through behind them. The contrast from the bustling city they had left behind was startling.
Before them lay a vast and seemingly endless spread of mountains. The snow fell steadily around them and the air clouded with each breath as they turned toward the village nestled into the shallow valley below them. To one side, the woods half-hid a castle-like structure; on the other, a lake gleamed, stretching back toward a narrow pass.
He turned to Captain Cooper. "Let's move out. Mentor Aslon, why don't you lead the way?"
They followed the man down the gentle slope, the swirling snow slowing their pace and making them extra careful with each step. The town looked like something out of a postcard, a remote and picturesque winter getaway that was looked nothing like home and yet felt so familiar it sent a pang of homesickness straight through him.
"You really think we'll find him?" Sanchez asked, his voice pitched for Parker's ears.
"Who knows?" Parker replied, and Kade dropped back a half step to leave them to their discussion.
He had met John no more than a handful of times and couldn't say he knew him overly well, but, until arriving on Atlantis, he wouldn't have said that anyone knew him all that well. The thing was, John was the white elephant in the city, the one presence that was sensed everywhere, that was missed everywhere, and yet the one person that no one spoke about. Kade knew they all blamed themselves for losing him in the first place. He carried a share of that blame himself and he'd left standing orders with all team leaders that only he should be notified in the event that someone spotted Sheppard, because nothing would have stopped Sheppard's old team, or Cam, or even Evan from coming through the 'Gate and turning over every stone until they found him. And Kade knew that they wouldn't be alone, which was why they had to be sure.
As they entered the village, Cooper took point, letting his team fall around the Linayan scientist, Kade and Parker. Sanchez took their six. It was rare for them to be out of the city unarmed, but Linaya was one of the few planets that they trusted that didn't allow weapons, and their trade was vital.
Cooper led the way down the main street. They hadn't told any of the Linayans what their purpose was in Adara, more through self preservation than lack of trust, as if to speak it aloud would somehow jinx it, but Aslon had merely nodded his assent at their request to check the town before going to his lab.
They walked through the narrow streets, stumbling occasionally on what seemed to be loose cobbles, although it was hard to tell through the slush and snow. The buildings were low roofed, stone structures, sturdy and made more to withstand the elements than to please the eye. People darted quickly in and out of stores, huddled in their no-longer-ridiculous-looking layers of warm clothing.
Unlike the train/bus service that ran around the edges of the capital, there was no mode of transportation in Adara, the streets too narrow and the village too small to really warrant any, although they had spotted a few young men trailing wooden carts behind them. The streets were busy, though, and filled with people.
None of whom were John Sheppard.
By the time they'd walked the village from end to end, Sanchez and Anders had decided to hell with it and begun to question people. They described Sheppard in loose terms, not speaking his name or clarifying how they knew him, but somehow that seemed only to make the locals suspicious. By the time they had doubled back to the main road through the forest that would lead them to the Institute, Cooper's team had pretty much made the entire village suspicious of their strange new visitors.
They fell into silence as they entered the darkness of the woods, but no one had the heart to point out the obvious: John Sheppard was nowhere to be found.
"You got something for me, McKay?"
Rodney jumped at Cam's sudden arrival and scowled. "Yes. I think I know why the jumper malfunctioned."
It took Cam a few moments to cast his mind back to the incident with Corporal Harris and he wasn't surprised that McKay had been working on it ever since - no doubt alongside a million and one other things. Sometimes just contemplating a handful of the things Rodney had running though his mind at any one time gave Cam a headache. Cam found it hard enough just coping with not thinking about things sometimes.
"What've you got?" he asked, coming up beside Rodney and looking at the lines of seeming gibberish running across the laptop's screen.
"The signal came from this device," Rodney said, pointing to a small object similar in size to the egg-shaped interface devices they'd discovered the day they'd found the think tank.
"Is that what I think it is?"
"Similar," Rodney said, reaching out and placing the object in Cam's hand.
Cam focussed his mind, thinking 'on' repeatedly. He felt the same strange click he had in the think tank and, instead of pushing it, gently thought 'activate' until it slowly unfurled, curling around his fingers in swirls of silver that sank into his skin. When McKay let out a squawk of surprise, Cam threw him a distracted glance and went back to the sensations awakening in his mind. There were flickers of schematics behind his eyelids, the first time he'd ever experienced a visual from an Ancient device, but it was as if this one was made for him. The sensation of engines turning on buzzed beneath his skin, phantom controls itched under his fingertips and the sense of being encased in a large room made him sway slightly on his feet.
"Oh!" he said softly. "Oh, wow. That's…it's the jumpers. I can…I can pick any of them, probably all of them if I had a stronger gene. Geez," he said, his tone low and reverent. "I could fly."
Rodney's voice snapped him out of it quickly and his tone made Cam think that he'd been calling for a while. Reluctantly, he thought the machine off and watched as the wisps of silver emerged from his skin and slowly curled back into the miniature egg-shape. He felt a strange pang of loss, but shook himself and turned to McKay with a grin.
"That is awesome."
"Yes, well, Colonel, while you were having an orgasm, I was actually collecting data. I think you've fixed it."
Cam thought about it for a moment. Rodney was right. He'd activated the device, but that hadn't been all. It was as if the knowledge of how to coax the device into working had just been there all along.
"I guess I did," he said with a grin. It wasn't often he felt like he'd done something productive with Ancient tech. His gene just wasn't strong enough, but that only further proved that something was happening in the city: she was waking up piece by piece. Cam hoped they were equipped to deal with her when she finally rolled out of bed and demanded waffles and a cup of coffee.
"So," he said, clearing his throat and putting the device out of reach on the table. "How did this thing cause the accident?"
"I think whoever was in the Interface Room turned it on by accident, but it was broken and the feed was looping back. With no one to direct it, or control it, it started to burn out the jumper controls."
"Why that one jumper and not them all?"
Rodney shook his head. "I don't know. At a guess, it was the last jumper the device was used on."
"Makes sense, I guess."
"Well, if you think you can do better, Colonel, be my guest."
"McKay." Cam shook his head. "So, how did someone in the think tank turn it on?"
"The Interface Room," Rodney said pointedly, "is linked to the whole city. I have no idea what it is that you all do when you're in there, so I have no idea who turned it on or why. There were three people in the room that day, it could have been any one of them and I doubt even they would know who did it."
"So it was an accident."
"I just said that!"
Cam smiled. "Great, well, thanks for getting to the bottom of it. Add this machine to the list of 'do not touch' and we'll think about throwing it into the training rotation when we've got it working. We should get Lorne or the Air Marshal to try and get it right first; they've got two of the strongest genes in the city and they're both pilots. Makes sense for them to be the ones to test it out."
"Colonel, about the device in the Interface Room-"
"Not until we know everything about it, Rodney."
Rodney huffed, but Cam wasn't about to budge on that one. He left the room before he could be persuaded otherwise and headed back to the control tower. He hoped things on Linaya were going better than things in the city, because if Cam had to deal with one more wacky Ancient device that might kill them all, he might just go nuts and jump off the South Pier to escape.
"So wait, I don't understand what I'm looking at."
Kade watched as the young man who was showing them the telescope ground his teeth and took a deep breath. He was fairly sure that Cooper wasn't purposefully baiting the young lad, but it was highly entertaining nonetheless. He glanced over to the far side of the lab where Sanchez was speaking in Spanish to a delighted young woman, who would no doubt have been heartbroken to discover that she was definitely not his type, and rolled his eyes.
There were an abundance of experiments and machinery that Kade couldn't even think to name scattered around the room and it reminded him uncomfortably of high school. The last time he'd been in a room like this one he and a few of his classmates had almost caused an explosion. He couldn't say it had been entirely accidental. Something told him that he should refrain from mentioning that to Aslon or his prize student.
"It is simple, you need to…" The man growled and pushed Cooper aside. "You have altered the dials. I asked that you touch nothing!"
"Kamar, please be respectful," Aslon chastised and Kade shot him a grin. He had no doubt that Kamar was incredibly intelligent, but he seemed to have a similar temperament to Rodney McKay and Kade had no doubt that it was a trial to mentor him.
"So what is it about this cloud that has everyone on edge?" Parker asked Aslon, who launched into a stuttered explanation that Kade couldn't help but tune out. He wandered to the other side of the room, glancing at the experiments, some with signs on them in a language that he couldn't read, but the exclamation points made Kade think they likely said 'Do not touch!', or something similar. He'd seen the same thing in the science labs back in the city.
He was just preparing to return to the other side of the room when something caught his eye. Frowning, he reached out to pick up one of the papers from the desk in front of him and studied it for a moment, not quite sure he was seeing things properly.
Crossing to Sanchez and the young woman who was gazing at him bashfully, he held out the paper. "Where did this come from?" he asked sharply, causing the girl to jump.
"Oh, it is mine," she said, frowning.
Sanchez glanced at it and then back at Kade. "Lunai's studying mathematics, amongst other things," he said, clearly trying to work out why his CO was looking a little insane. Kade moved his thumb and Sanchez's eyes widened. "Hijo de tu puta madre. Sir?"
"Lunai," Kade said, as they both turned to her. "Who marked this paper? Will you take us to him?"
She nodded slowly. "Of course," she said softly, looking very confused. "Please, come this way."
"Captain Cooper, Sanchez and I are going to check something out," he called across the room. When Cooper nodded, he led them both out of the room.
"You didn't want to tell them, sir?"
Shaking his head, Kade glanced at him as they made their way through the winding corridors of the Institute. "Let's just be sure."
The walk seemed to take forever. They crossed most of the building before heading up three flights of stairs into what appeared to be the top floor of the castle. Kade shivered as they crossed an area that was open to the elements, giving an incredible view across the forest, over the village hiding on the other side and right across the surrounding mountains. It would have been spectacular if Kade hadn't felt like his stomach was in knots.
"Sir, do you really think-"
"Let's just wait and see, Sanchez," Kade said softly.
"We are here," Lunai said, startling them both into stopping. She indicated the door in front of her and Kade took a deep breath as he read the words Mentor J Sheppard on the door.
"It might not be him," Kade murmured.
"Well, if it isn't Wing Commander Kincaid Dillon," a voice behind him drawled.
Kade turned sharply and just stared for a moment, seeing Sanchez in his peripheral vision looking as shell-shocked as he felt. He pulled himself together quickly and couldn't help but let out a laugh as he corrected the man. "That's Air Marshal, thank you, Colonel." Reaching out a hand, he grinned and shook his head. "How the hell are you not dead, Shep? I swear you've got more lives than a cat."
"I'm prettier than a cat," Sheppard said, smirking and shaking Kade's hand vigorously.
"All the boys at Bagram certainly thought so." Sheppard's eyes widened and he let out a guffaw that had Kade chuckling. "Seriously, Shep, how are you?"
"I'm good. I'd ask if you were just in the neighbourhood, but I'm told I'm wanted by some suspicious-looking cops."
Kade looked offended. "On what planet do I look like a Police Officer?" he asked, wincing the moment he finished speaking. "Bad choice of words. On this one apparently."
"Apparently." John grinned at him and turned his head slightly. "Sanchez."
"C-Colonel. It's…it's good to see you," Sanchez finally managed. "It's really good to see you, sir."
Tension seemed to slip off Sanchez's shoulders as the reality of Colonel John Sheppard sank in, and it was at that moment Kade realised all of the original expedition members had held that same weight on their shoulders since the day Sheppard disappeared. He knew that Sanchez hadn't been there that first year, but he'd transferred out to Atlantis not long before the thing with the Replicators that no one liked to talk about, and it was obvious to Kade from the beginning that any man who'd ever been one of Sheppard's would always be one of Sheppard's.
John shifted almost uncomfortably under Sanchez's scrutiny and smiled briefly before turning his attention back to Kade. "So, Air Marshal? They left you in charge?"
"I prefer to leave that mostly up to Colonel Mitchell."
Something flashed in John's eyes, but it was gone so quickly that Kade wasn't entirely sure he hadn't imagined it. "I don't suppose that sits well with him."
"It doesn't," Kade said with a smile. "So I made it an order."
"Huh. Well, he was always good at following those."
There was something wistful in John's voice, and Kade realised he had cheated both Cam and John out of something in his effort to protect his friend. He hadn't wanted to see the look on Cam's face if they'd tracked down the man they thought was John Sheppard only to discover that it wasn't. Hoping to spare Cam that pain, he'd taken away the chance to let Cam discover John for himself.
"He'll be glad to see you," Kade said softly and John swallowed. Sheppard glanced briefly at Sanchez, but there was no indication that he was hearing something he didn't already know.
"Well, I'd love to catch up, but I've got a class to teach," John said uncomfortably, clearing his throat and backing away. Kade glanced at Sanchez and saw that the Sergeant was as confused as he was. "Lunai, I'll see you at three and we can go over your paper."
"Yes, Mentor Sheppard."
Kade had almost forgotten the quiet young girl was with them and a quick glance told him that she was filled with curiosity, but clearly minding her manners and not just demanding to know what the hell was going on. Kade couldn't say that he had any manners in that regard at all.
"Sheppard, what the hell are you talking about?"
"I've got a class in five. I need to be there."
"Okay," Kade said slowly, watching him back away. "Well, we're not due to leave for another three hours; we'll swing by and pick you up on the way out."
"Don't," Sheppard said, shaking his head. "I can't…I can't come with you. Tell my team…just, tell them…" He quirked a smile. "Tell them I said 'hi'."
John gave them a messy salute and turned around, jogging quickly out of sight and leaving Kade and Sanchez staring after him in confusion.
"Tell them I said 'hi'?" Rodney cried incredulously. "Are you kidding me?"
"I wish I was," Kade said, rubbing at his eyes. He glanced around and shivered, stamping his feet in the snow as he rubbed his hands together for warmth. He looked over at the Ring Controller, who was having a heated discussion with Sanchez and Lunai about the legalities of them just randomly dialling off world with the secondary 'Gate completely disregarding the posted schedule and without authority to do so.
Rodney's voice filtered through his radio again. "Are you sure it was him and not, I don't know, some crazy, insane lookalike? What am I talking about, of course it was him!"
"Look, McKay, we don't have a lot of time here. Get your team together and get here as soon as you can. I want you to get some of your scientists ready, too. It looks like the Astronomy department might have uncovered a problem, something about a black cloud in space."
"Oh, yes, well, that's very informative, Air Marshal."
"Just do it, Rodney and…" he trailed off, not really sure how to deal with the next part. "Just make sure that someone tells Colonel Mitchell away from prying eyes."
"Oh, yes, because I'm a complete moron."
"I'm sorry, Rodney," he said, because deep down he knew that, for all that Rodney bitched at Cam, they were friends of a sort, and he wouldn't put Cam through that. He also wouldn't be very likely to tell Cam himself, so Kade was relatively sure that Teyla or Evan would be able to break it to the man as gently as was possible. He only hoped Cam and his team could talk some sense into John, otherwise things were going to end up worse off than they'd started. After losing Team Four, Kade wasn't sure any of them were strong enough to handle it.
It was raining. Cam tried really hard not to take that as a bad omen, but there was something in the air, something he'd felt since the moment Teyla had pulled him aside and changed his life all over again, and it wasn't just the clouds. He looked out at the sea, focussed on the choppy waves that splashed harshly against the edges of the city and tried not to think about much of anything at all. It wasn't really working.
The small balcony off John's room was in the older part of the city, the part the original expedition had inhabited in the very beginning and had remained in until they'd got lost for the second time, under a new command and with the sure knowledge that they weren't likely to get back home anytime soon. They'd moved away from the ghosts of those they'd lost, and spread out into smaller communities, surrounding themselves with the people they wanted to live beside and not just work with, and the quarters they'd once used were left alone. Yet, Cam had expected to find the rest of his team in John's old room when he'd snuck in after hearing Kade had found him on Linaya. But even that thought was a sudden, sharp reminder that they weren't exactly really his team at all; that they were just stuck with him because they'd all lost the one person that used to hold everything together.
Lost. To Cam that had once been a word associated only with keys or money; small, inanimate objects of little consequence. When that had changed, it had done so with a brutal force.
But John wasn't lost anymore. He just didn't want to come home.
Cam tried to tell himself that it wasn't him, it was 'circumstance', as Teyla had suggested. John had a life now, a new world and new people to live with and care for, and what the hell was Cam to that? Just some guy who'd managed not to notice that his ship was gone until it was too late.
He heard the door opening behind him and took a deep breath, trying to tell himself that he could handle things, that he wouldn't cave to whoever had decided to seek him out. John didn't want to come back and that was something Cam had to respect. Had to, because he'd lost John once because of events he couldn't control. No matter how much he didn't want to give up, part of him wasn't sure that he could handle losing him because John just didn't want him anymore.
Cam turned to look at Miko, frowning slightly. "Hey." Of all the people he'd expected, Miko wasn't even on the list.
She smiled, tucking her hair behind her ears, and tilted her head to the side. "They are wondering why you're not getting ready to visit the planet."
Cam shrugged and Miko marched up to him and punched him on the arm.
"Ouch! What the hell, Miko?"
"You are being an idiot. Ronon believes that idiots should be hit until they have sense knocked into them."
"Damn it, that hurt," he said, rubbing at his arm. "Ronon's been teaching you too much. And I'm not the one being stupid; he doesn't want to come home."
"How can you believe that, or his reasons, if you do not go to him?"
Cam turned and looked out at the ocean again. "He doesn't want to come home, Miko, who am I to change his mind?"
"I will hit you again."
"No," she said, her tone so sharp that he turned to look at her again. "No. You were the one who helped me to see that I was being stupid when Ronon first came to me, and you made me see that he did not want me to be anyone but myself. Now you are the one who does not see."
"I can see just fine, Miko, this is different."
"How? How is it different?"
"Look," Cam took a deep breath. "John and I were together for a long time, a really long time. If that was enough for him, he'd be here."
"No," she said again, this time grabbing hold of his sleeve and pulling him into the room. "What do you see? How often do you come here to look at these walls and remember?"
He shifted uncomfortably; he hadn't been aware that his wanderings into John's room had ever been noticed. He didn't do it often, didn't let himself wallow too much in his loss, because he'd had to come to terms with it. He'd had no choice.
"You will never know the truth unless you ask."
"And what if I don't like the answers?"
"At least you will no longer have questions."
"About time," Rodney barked at Cam when he arrived in the 'Gate room. He wasn't surprised to see his team geared up and ready to go and he wasn't really all that surprised that Evan and Vala were with them, either. There was a science team ready to be escorted to the Institute and a small team of marines for the heavy lifting.
"Mind if I join you, sir?" Evan asked and, even if Cam had thought to say no, it was clear that he was going either way.
"I'm not even going to ask," Vala stated, her eyes just daring him to contradict her. He hadn't the strength and the truth was that her show of support (for he had no doubt that that was why she was there) was just what he needed.
"More the merrier," Cam responded, trying to sound more enthusiastic than he really felt. Teyla offered him a smile that told him he wasn't really fooling anyone and he tried to return it before turning to the scientists. "You guys got everything you need to study this cloud?"
"Of course they do," Rodney said pointedly and Cam realised he was being pretty transparent if even McKay could see through him. Somehow, though, it was easier for him to pretend that they were only going to help out their trading partners with this strange space anomaly than to face the fact that he was going for John. They'd opted against announcing they'd found Sheppard, because the truth was they had no idea how to explain that the man didn't want to come home when they had no idea themselves. Cam wasn't fooling himself into believing that the Atlantis rumour mill hadn't already taken care of that anyway; just because people didn't officially know, didn't mean they didn't actually know.
He turned to look up at Lieutenant Patel. She gave Chuck the order to dial and Cam took a deep, steadying breath before leading the way through the wormhole.
Cam had never actually set foot on Linaya before, but he'd known to expect arrival in a transport hub of some description. What he hadn't really expected was to find himself in a busy building akin to some of the larger train stations on Earth. There was a feel of anticipation in the air and the hustle and bustle of people running late seemed to surround him immediately. There were queues of people lining up for their turn at the 'Gate and another area set aside for the strange train-cum-bus travel that the planet tended towards for internal transport. It all seemed so familiar and yet strangely off that Cam was momentarily thrown by it.
Shaking his head, he led their group to the check-in point and announced their arrival to a small, mouse-like man with large blinking eyes. He muttered under his breath, shook his head and handed Cam enough tokens to cover his entire team's travel to the other side of the planet – as they were now allies and not just guests, travel wasn't free. It was almost enough to make Cam grin at the inanity.
"How long before we can go?" Ronon asked, clearly not impressed by the holdup, and Cam turned to the large countdown boards.
"About an hour, I'd guess."
"An hour?" Rodney looked as if he were ready to start arguing with someone.
"Looks like. Don't worry, Doc, we'll get there soon enough, and you can wow them with your brain."
Rodney huffed and glared at him, and Cam instantly felt like a heel; they were, none of them, here to study some weird black space cloud and, even if Cam was still happy enough to ignore that fact, the others weren't.
"Well, I for one am just happy to be back in civilisation," Vala said with a grin, linking an arm through Cam's. "Now, where are the shops?"
The noise of the 'Gate closing behind them left them standing in silence. They had been the only passengers coming through to Adara and Cam could see that the Ring Controller didn't seem too pleased at the arrival of more Atlanteans.
Cam turned his attentions to Sanchez, who'd stayed to meet them, and nodded. He bit back the urge to just grab the man and demand to know everything about his interactions with John. Sanchez took a slight step back and Cam had to wonder if he was broadcasting his thoughts on all frequencies. When Teyla and Vala took their place at either side of him and Rodney, with Lorne and Ronon behind them, he thought that maybe he was.
"Sergeant, where's the Air Marshal?"
"He went back to the Institute with Lunai, sir. She had a class to get to."
Something in the tone of Sanchez's voice made Cam look at him for a moment. He slowly realised what he was being told: she was going to John's class, because John was her teacher and this was the life he had chosen to stick with instead of coming home to Atlantis. Instead of coming home to Cam.
"Colonel, perhaps we should begin our journey?" Teyla asked, and it wasn't a question.
"Yes," Vala said, linking arms with Cam once more and beginning to propel him forwards. "It's rather cold out here and unless that fine gentlemen over there would like to give me all of his ugly clothing, then I'd like to be inside as soon as possible."
Not having much of a choice other than to follow, Cam fell into step with Vala, letting her conversation continue to flow around him. She didn't require any input, more, Cam suspected, from design rather than a need to hear her own voice, and slowly Cam felt the tension loosen. He wasn't sure what to expect when he saw John, but Vala's words and the presence of those around him was enough to remind him that he wasn't alone. He'd survived losing John once and, even if he didn't think he was strong enough to do so again, he had other people around him, people who would also feel the loss.
The walk to the Institute took longer than Cam had expected, winding up a hilly trail through a short dense forest before coming out at the front gates of a large structure.
"Look, Cameron," Vala said with a grin. "We've reached Hogwarts."
Cam couldn't help but chuckle and he noted that Sanchez was also snickering. He put an arm around Vala's shoulder and gave her a brief squeeze before heading through the open gates and up to the main entrance. There were students everywhere in thick cloaks.
Cam indicated that Sanchez should take the lead. They followed the Sergeant through a maze of corridors and up so many stairs that Cam wasn't entirely convinced they weren't going to come out on the roof. They made their way past an open archway and were blasted with icy wind and a steady flow of snow that had begun to fall in earnest since they'd entered the building.
"Just here, sir," Sanchez said somewhat shakily and indicated the door in front of him.
Cam stared at the lettering, feeling something inside him dislodge at the realisation that John really was here, that he hadn't just been dreaming. Part of him was still unwilling to believe until he saw John with his own eyes, but, for the moment, it was enough.
"Mentor Sheppard?" Rodney sneered.
The tone of his voice was enough to remind Cam that he wasn't the only one hurt by John's refusal to come home. He glanced at Teyla and Ronon as well and suddenly realised he couldn't ask them to let him do this alone, because they'd lost John, too, and it wasn't just Cam that John was rejecting, it was his whole damn family.
"Sanchez, you and the marines take the science team and all this equipment to the Air Marshal. We're going to wait here for Colonel Sheppard."
"Yes, sir," Sanchez said and led the rest of the group away. One of the marines looked back at them, almost as if he wanted to stay and assure himself that Sheppard really was alive, but he followed Sanchez without question.
"Perhaps I should go as well," Vala said, almost posing it as a question.
"Nah, stick around. Never know when we might need you."
"Oh, well, with an offer like that, how could a girl possibly refuse? You know…"
Cam really didn't need to turn around to know why Vala's voice trailed off, didn't need to ask why Rodney had paled or Teyla, Ronon and Lorne had stood up straighter; he knew because he felt it deep inside. Swallowing, he turned, and saw John staring at him from less than ten feet away.
Students passed through the corridor, weaving in and out between them, but Cam barely noticed. For a moment, they just stood staring at each other in silence.
Cam could see John's hesitancy even over the distance between them, but after a few moments he moved forward and Cam couldn't have stopped his own feet from moving if he'd tried. They met somewhere in the middle and Cam let his gaze just drink in John's appearance. He took in everything: the slight stubble on his jaw that Cam had always loved to run his fingers over; the lines around his eyes, more than had been there before; the jagged scar that spanned the left of his face from the edge of his eyebrow to the lower tip of his ear. Cam took it all in and in the end, still didn't have a clue what the hell he could say.
John's voice sounded exactly the same and Cam licked his lips before responding.
"Hey," he said roughly and tried hard not to give into the urge to just pull John into his arms and never let go.
A moment later, John broke his gaze and glanced over Cam's shoulder. "Rodney, Teyla, Ronon, good to see you. Lorne, Vala."
"I'm glad you're not dead," Vala said happily. "I like your castle. Where's the potions classroom?"
John's lips twitched, but he didn't respond. Cam shook his head and smiled, glad she'd joined them. Vala was a master at dispelling tension. He turned around and looked over his shoulder at the others and, a moment later, stepped aside for Teyla.
"It is so good to see you, John," she said with feeling, her hands reaching up to cup his face and Cam watched John swallow before letting her pull their foreheads together. She closed her eyes and inhaled his scent and Cam couldn't help but wish he'd been able to offer the same greeting. "We have missed you," she said softly.
"Yeah," John said, clearing his throat and pulling back. "Yeah." He nodded at her and then at Ronon, who swept forward and pulled him into a bone-crushing hug without a single warning. John didn't have time to react before Ronon dropped him back on his feet and started pounding on his back and grinning in a way that made him look ten years younger.
"Good to see you, too, buddy," John said, chuckling.
"Well," Rodney said when the attention turned to him. "I'm glad you're… You know, you should really get your office moved, the stairs aren't convenient. What if I'd had a bad leg? It's been three years; I could've been shot since then. I could've been crippled, or-"
"I'll keep that in mind next time we have a staff meeting."
John smiled at Rodney and Cam couldn't help but be slightly jealous of the unspoken communication between the two of them. There was enough still there, even after more than three years, that it was clear that they were both exchanging a welcome that only they could understand, a reassurance that they were both okay and that they'd missed each other, even if they couldn't speak the words.
"Good to see you, sir," Evan said suddenly and Cam turned to let him through. He looked for a moment like he didn't know what to do, so John held out a hand and they shook heartily.
"Good to be seen."
"So," Rodney said. "Are you ready?"
The tension that suddenly appeared in the air was thick and Cam watched John for any sign of…well, he wasn't sure what, but some kind of explanation would've been nice.
"I'm not coming back, McKay."
"Don't be stupid," Rodney spat. "Of course you're coming back."
"Why? Is there some invisible force holding you here? I don't see any chains or handcuffs. I can't see anyone holding a gun to your head!"
"Rodney," Teyla said softly. Cam clenched his jaw and remained silent, hoping she could talk some sense into him. "Perhaps you are angry with us?"
"Angry?" John seemed so genuinely confused that the tension slipped instantly from Teyla's shoulders.
"For losing you. For being unable to find you all these years."
"Teyla, that wasn't anybody's fault. The shields flickered and my jumper just…fell out. You couldn't have stopped it. No one could've."
"Then why won't you come back?" Ronon asked.
"I just…I can't." He took a step back. "I'm sorry."
He turned and walked away so quickly that they were too shocked to follow.
"Hold it right there, John Sheppard!"
John closed his eyes, taking a deep breath before stopping and turning around. Somehow he'd known he wouldn't just get away with it, but he'd really hoped that Cam wouldn't be the one to follow him.
They stared at each other for a moment before John spoke. "I really have somewhere to be."
Cam clenched his jaw. "Fine. Then I'll walk with you."
John started walking back towards the village, picking up the pace, not surprised that Cam kept up with him easily. They were halfway through the forest when Cam suddenly pushed him against the nearest tree.
"What the hell is wrong with you?" he growled, hands clutching tightly to the collar of John's shirt.
"Nothing. I just can't-"
"It's okay, I get it," Cam said, cutting him off. "You moved on. Heck, it's been nearly four years, who cares, right," he finished bitterly, stepping back and letting John go. "But I would've thought you might give a little consideration to your friends. Guess I was wrong."
Cam turned on his heel and started back towards the Institute.
"That's not fair," John called after him, causing him to turn around.
"Then what the hell is the problem, John? I'd get it if you were mad, I mean, goddamnit, John, I failed you! We all failed you! We didn't even notice your ship was gone until it was all over."
"That wasn't your fault! The shields failed and the jumper fell behind. Not even McKay was able to stop it, how the hell were you supposed to do anything?"
"Then why? Just…tell me why. You don't want me anymore, then fine, I'll leave you alone, but… you had eight years of my life, John. You owe me at least that much."
John swallowed. There was something in Cam's voice that he hadn't heard in years, something in the way that he said John's name that always seemed to tug inside of him. God, he'd really missed him. He'd never thought he'd see any of his friends again, never thought Cam would ever be close enough to touch or talk to and now that he had it he had no choice but to turn it away.
With a defeated sigh, Cam took a step backwards. "Then I guess there's nothing to discuss."
"I'll show you," he said softly. "I'll show you, just…don't make this any harder. Please."
He figured it was possibly the last word that made all the difference.
Laura winced as Jennifer applied the salve to her still-stinging wound and pursed her lips as she inspected the cut. She looked sheepishly up at her friend and smiled.
"Do I get a lollipop?"
"You're lucky you're even getting a band-aid," Jennifer said, being none too gentle about applying the item in question. "How exactly did you manage to stab yourself with your own knife?"
"It wasn't my knife, it was Charley's! I don't carry sharp implements," she said impishly. "Just explosive ones."
"Okay, how did you manage to stab yourself with Corporal Harris' knife? Major Kent said it was supposed to be a fairly routine mission. You weren't even rescuing anyone this time and even Doctor Conrad made it out of this one without any stitches."
"Well, I didn't do it on purpose! I was just-"
They both turned around quickly at the groan from behind. As Jennifer scurried to the curtain, Laura slid off the bed she'd been sitting on and followed.
Since Team One had rescued her, Sera had been unconscious. A coma, Jennifer had said, and there was nothing that any of them could do but wait. Even though Carson had finally managed to get some genetic material for his tests, so much time had passed that Laura had almost thought Sera wasn't going to wake up at all.
"She coming around?" she asked, moving slowly to the other side of the bed.
"I think so," Jennifer replied distractedly, her fingers dancing over the display next to the bed. She leaned over her patient and waited as the woman's eyes flickered open. "Hi, Sera," she said gently. "My name's Jennifer. Don't worry, you're safe. Do you remember anything?"
Sera started to cough and Laura slipped into the other room to get some water. When she returned, Jennifer was helping Sera to sit up. She heard Jennifer's reassurances that her strength would return in time and, when Sera was settled, Laura handed over the cup of water.
"I'm Laura. How are you feeling?"
"I am… weary."
"Well, yeah, too much sleep will do that to you, I guess," Laura said with a grin and Sera responded in kind. "You remember much?" she asked, glancing briefly at Jennifer who was using the distraction to scan Sera's leg.
"I remember…I remember the great darkness and the creatures that came upon us," she said softly. "I know that I escaped. The people who came for me, the beautiful woman and the man with the pleasant smile and pretty eyes… he is of your world?"
Laura snickered a little at her description of Cam and nodded. "Yeah, we're stuck with him. He'll be glad to know you're awake - they all will."
"We've been very worried about you," Jennifer said and Sera looked down at her leg.
"I am healed?"
"We've done what we can," Jennifer replied. "I've removed the stinger that was in your leg and we've managed to flush your body of all the toxins, but it took its toll and your body needed time to repair itself. You've been in what we call a coma for over three weeks."
"A healing sleep," Sera confirmed. "My people, in times of great physical stress, our bodies will stop to near death and take time to repair. Some people do not wake from it, so I must thank you."
"You're very welcome."
Laura looked at Jennifer and indicated her intent to leave. She heard Jennifer's reassuring voice as she left. Laura knew that there were a lot of people who wanted to speak to Sera, a lot of people who hoped she might have some information relating to what had happened to Team Four. Unfortunately, most of the people who needed to do the talking weren't in the city. Shaking her head at the stupidity of 90% of the command team leaving at the same time, even if they hadn't had any emergencies lately, she jogged to the nearest transporter and made her way quickly to the control tower. She knew their mission was important, but it still seemed somewhat stupid to her.
"Lieutenant Patel?" Laura asked Amelia as she jogged up the stairs, and was directed to Kade's office. She knocked on the door and entered quickly.
"What is it, Lieutenant?"
"Sera just woke up. I thought we might want to let Air Marshal Dillon and the others know. They wanted to speak with her."
"Yes, dial up the planet. I'll get a security detail down to the infirmary."
Laura frowned. "I don't think she's in any condition to take over the city, Savita."
"Perhaps not, but we have learned the hard way that things are not always what they seem."
"About time!" Rodney shouted when Cam entered the room. "Well? Where is he?"
"He's not coming, McKay."
"Leave it, Rodney." Cam ignored the protests, ignored his own pain, and crossed the room to the Air Marshal. "I take it you heard that?"
Kade nodded. "And I trust there's a good reason, but for now I think we need to focus on this." He indicated the Linayan scientists to his left. "Kamar, now that we're all here, would you fill us in on what you told me earlier?"
"Of course," Kamar said with an air of impatience that had Cam wondering if, perhaps, he'd been trying to fill them all in for quite some time. "You have all witnessed the cloud we have seen approaching our world. We have been studying it for some time and have notified the authorities who seem reluctant to believe there is any cause for worry. I discovered it during my observations of a small planet not unlike our own. For many years have we searched to study the skies and make sense of the other worlds we visit from our Rings. I had found a distant world that we thought to be inhabited, but not of our allies, and our recent studies were of a planet we believe may have been our trading partners on Ilitora."
"Yes, yes, this is all very interesting," Rodney interrupted. "Would you please get to the point?"
Kamar glared at him. "These planets are no longer in the sky."
After a short silence, Cam cleared his throat. "I'm sorry, what do you mean by 'no longer in the sky'?" he asked, not really sure he could fathom what seemed to be implied in the words.
"Doctor Bennett studied the co-ordinates of the first planet Kamar was studying," Kade said and there was a tone to his voice that had Cam studying his CO intently. "It was Kalaris. And it's gone."
"How can it be gone?"
"Clearly because these people are morons," Rodney snapped, pushing his way forward. "Planets don't just disappear."
Rodney leaned over the telescope and fiddled with the knobs for a moment, before stepping back with a frown. He glanced at Kade for a moment and Cam couldn't help but shift uncomfortably, a tingling sensation of unease running up his spine.
"Mind if I take a look?"
"Be my guest," Rodney said faintly and stepped aside to join Doctor Bennett and the other scientists who were currently fiddling with their own equipment.
At first, as darkness filled his field of vision, Cam thought he might have shut the wrong eye. He blinked and pulled back for a moment, before taking another look. A flicker of light to one side, a star, made him focus, made him realise what he was looking at.
"McKay," he said, feeling somewhat faint. "How much sky am I looking at, exactly?"
"Space, not sky."
"It's hard to tell with this inferior equipment, but…at a guess," he said, fiddling with something the science team had brought with them. "Approximately 20,000 miles."
"That's…pretty damn big, huh?"
"It's more than twice the diameter of the Earth, you moron, yes! It's big."
Cam stared once more at the swirling black cloud and stood up. He looked at Kade and then McKay, his vision flicking quickly to the others in the room, before he sighed.
Kade rubbed at his arms trying to keep warm and looked back down the hill at the village of Adara. He was trying very hard not to cross over to the DHD and just growl in the Ring Controller's face. He'd resisted the urge to just tower over the man menacingly until he got his way, as he didn't think it was befitting of his rank. He'd let Ronon do it instead and it seemed to be working.
A few moments later he heard the 'Gate dialling and he gave Ronon with an appreciative smile, before turning his attentions to the opening wormhole. There was a slight flicker before Laura appeared in front of him in holographic green. At his frown, she inclined her head to the left and he heard a faint, 'he can't see all of me', before he realised there was a disembodied leg standing next to the Lieutenant.
Doctor Conrad's face suddenly appeared at Cadman's shoulder and Kade jerked, startled.
"Just powering it up for her, Air Marshal."
Kade nodded. "As you were," he said, feeling rather grateful when the floating head disappeared. He had a sudden realisation of what the people of Mallar had experienced when Cam had tried to use the hologram in their initial trade negotiations.
Cadman suddenly leaned forward, her lips twitching, and whispered, "Help me Obi Wan Kenobi, you're my only hope." He laughed and she grinned at him, standing up straight. "Sorry, sir, I've always wanted to do that," she said.
"What's up, Lieutenant?" he asked, rubbing his hands on his arms to ward off the cold. The messenger who had come to the Institute to find him had been less than pleased at having to walk the distance to fetch them, but Kade had been glad of the reprieve. Since their discovery, or rather their being informed of Kamar's discovery, a sense of foreboding had struck them and Kade was more than pleased with the opportunity to get out of the scientists' ways and head back to the 'Gate. He'd take crazy Ancient devices over creepy black space clouds any day of the week.
"It's Sera, sir, she's awake."
"Yes, sir. As in fully functioning. Awake, sir."
He'd always found it hard to call Cadman on it when she was being sarcastic on duty, because, like Lorne, she had in irritating ability to do it all with such a straight face that to do so would make him look like an idiot. She wasn't as good as Lorne, but she was getting there. He wondered if they practiced together.
"I get the point, Lieutenant. Has she said much?"
"A little, we thought you or the Colonel might want to speak with her."
"Thank you, Lieutenant." He turned to Lorne, Ronon and Sanchez, who had accompanied him to the 'Gate, ignoring the fuming Ring Controller in the background. "Sergeant, head back to the Institute and fill in Colonel Mitchell. Tell him I'm heading back to Atlantis to talk with Sera and see if we can get some answers. If Kamar is right and Kalaris is…no longer there, then this black cloud might have something to do with whatever happened to Team Four." Kade hoped he was doing all right pretending he was okay.
Sanchez snapped off a salute and jogged back down the snowy hill, and Kade could see from the set of his shoulders that he really hoped this cloud was something he could shoot at. Sanchez had been good friends with the marine on Team Four and Kade knew that he would be one of the first in the firing line if they got a chance to fight back for their lost friends. It was a sentiment Kade understood all too well.
He turned to the others. "Major, I want you back in the city, we need to get people organised for a possible evacuation." Evan nodded. "Ronon, if you want to head back to the Institute, feel free, but I'd rather take Vala back with me. I'm hoping Sera will remember you and it'll put her at ease."
"Of course," Vala said.
"I'd take the Colonel back," Kade continued, "but I think he might do more good here." He knew he didn't have to explain that he hoped Cam would make sure he wasn't the only Colonel coming back to the city.
"I'll catch up with Sanchez," Ronon said.
"Check in with an update in a couple of hours. If this thing's moving as fast as Kamar thinks it is, it'll be here before we know it. I'd really rather we weren't still on the planet if that's the case. We'll prepare the city for an evacuation."
"What about the capital?" Vala asked. "And all the other people living on this planet that don't have access to the Stargates?"
"That's where you come in again, Major," Kade said, turning to Lorne. "I want you to start co-ordinating a jumper evacuation schedule. If we need to get people out of here, we need to make sure we can actually get them safely back to the city. Ronon, tell Cooper and his team to head back to the capital. Get Parker to fill in the Chancellor with what we've got so far and see if he can convince him that this is serious; if we need to evacuate, they're going to have to come up with a plan of action from this end."
Ronon nodded and jogged off after Sanchez, leaving Kade, Evan and Vala with the Ring Controller, who was looking at them rather like he'd like to slice them both up into very small pieces and stamp on them. Kade grinned at the man, offered him a salute and stepped through the 'Gate, fairly sure he could hear Vala laughing behind him.
"I knew we shouldn't have let you go."
"Leave it, McKay," Cam said, resisting the urge to just snap at him. Rodney, however, looked like he had no qualms about snapping back. Before he could do so, however, Teyla stepped between them and placed a hand on Rodney's arm.
"Rodney," she said softly. "This is difficult for all of us. You know that Cameron wishes John's return to Atlantis. If there is something keeping him here, it must be important."
"Well, maybe if he'd tell us-"
"It's not my place," Cam said softly and turned away, walking quickly out of the room. The school day was over, from what Cam could tell, the number of students having diminished exponentially and twilight dimming the horizon, and he was grateful not to be stepping over people. He didn't really have any destination in mind, but he wasn't all that surprised to find himself standing outside John's office.
He reached out a finger, slowly tracing the carved letters of John's name, just staring at it as if it might give him some kind of answer. He reached for the door handle and was rather surprised when it opened easily, although he supposed that John had had enough of a distraction that locking his office door wasn't necessarily top of his to do list.
The room was small, which surprised Cam given the size of the castle in general. He'd expected that even the cupboards would be bigger than his kitchen back in Atlantis (which wasn't really all that small). He let himself wander slowly through the room, his fingers tracing the shelves, running over the books and knick knacks that adorned the room.
There were a few items Cam recognised, crudely made, but familiar enough if he thought back to his own high school days, and others he didn't know the name of. He wondered if John ever used them in his classes, or if he just liked playing with them when he was supposed to be marking papers. Cam had his money on the latter.
Papers scribbled with equations and numbers were stacked on John's desk, a lot of things he recognised and a few that he didn't. He knew John had an aptitude for math and a quick enough brain that he could fake it when his skills weren't quite up to speed, but he had to wonder just how much John had had to re-learn in this new life he was living. He supposed it helped that the civilisation that John was in didn't seem to have a particularly high understanding of certain things, but he didn't really see how John had managed to work his way into what was essentially a university position. Then again, there were a lot of things about John that he wasn't sure he understood anymore.
The door opened again and he turned quickly, hoping that it would be John, hoping that the last four hours had just been some stupid nightmare, but not surprised when Teyla stepped in behind him. She smiled and let her eyes wander, but didn't move from her position just inside the doorway.
"He has built a life with these people," she said softly and Cam wondered if she knew how sad she sounded. "We cannot blame him for that. He was lost and alone. He had to move on with his life as much as we did."
"Yeah," Cam said, because her statements were almost questions and he was convinced that she was talking to herself as much as him.
"Rodney will calm down. He does not blame you."
"He does, but he needs to blame someone. I get that."
"And who will you blame?"
Cam didn't answer her, but he didn't think she needed him to. He crossed to the window, watching the colours on the horizon as the sun faded from view, and tried to tell himself that it really wasn't his fault that he wasn't good enough, that he couldn't bring John back to everyone, not even himself. He wondered if he'd ever really believe it.
He felt more than saw Teyla slide into place beside him, the warmth of her body next to his a comfort in the cold. He was used to her presence, used to her smile when he couldn't find anything to be happy about, used to her words when he couldn't think what to say himself. He wondered if Evan realised how lucky he really was. He thought that if there was anyone who would see it, it would be his 2IC, but then Teyla wasn't quite ready to let go of the past herself.
"We will return," she said softly, "and we will continue to do so until he comes home."
"I wish it was that easy, Teyla."
She placed a hand on his arm and he looked down at her. She smiled at him.
"It will not be easy," she said simply. "That which is important never is."
Cam nodded, placing his other hand on top of hers and squeezed. He turned to take one last look at the horizon, ready to return to the lab, and stopped, his eyes widening.
"What the hell…?"
He took another step forward until his feet were against the wall and leaned closer to the glass.
"What is that?" Teyla asked.
There was a clatter in the hallway outside and Cam instinctively reached for a weapon that wasn't there. He cursed under his breath, but didn't have time to react further before Rodney burst into the room.
"It's coming," he cried, crossing the room and pushing between them, and pointed to the horizon. "It's coming."
Cam glanced at Teyla and then looked out of the window again. "Then we better get a message back to the city."
He turned on his heel and headed out of the room at a run, Teyla and Rodney behind him, but he didn't look out any of the open archways. He'd seen all he needed to see. As he raced down the stairs, he tried not to wonder if the sudden darkness was due to the sunset or the dark cloud coming their way.
They were seated on a balcony near the infirmary, watching the sea and the sky as the sun rose in the distance. Kade reached out to steady the cup of tea that Sera was clutching at and she smiled at him in thanks. He glanced at Vala and Laura, both of whom were seated on the other side of the Ancient hover chair she was seated in.
"Take your time."
"Your voice is not the same as the others," she said and he grinned disarmingly at her. "You are not of their world?"
"I am," he confirmed. "Just a different part of it. You'll find there are a lot of people in Atlantis who speak with different accents. We come from a planet of many cultures and languages."
"And yet you are the same?"
He nodded and she looked down at her drink. Not really sure how to get the conversation moving in the way he wanted, he glanced at his friends.
"Sera," Vala said, moving her chair closer to the hover chair Jennifer had found for the woman, it was certainly easier to navigate than a wheelchair and it didn't need the gene to activate. She reached out a hand, placing it over the blanked covering Sera's lap. "We know this isn't easy for you, it's hard to lose anyone, but to lose a whole planet? We know that's so much worse."
"We want to help you," Laura continued. "We want you to know that you're safe here and we'll do everything we can to make sure that you get back on your feet."
"You'll have a place in the city," Kade said. "If you want it, or we can help you find somewhere you'll be happier."
"But you need me to speak of the darkness," she finished and they all exchanged glances before Kade nodded.
"I understand that it'll be hard for you. I get that, but we've lost some people, too…some friends and we want to make sure that what happened to your planet and your people, that what happened to them, doesn't happen again. If we can stop it, we need to know how and to do that we need to get all the information we can."
She stared at him for a long moment. "I…I do not know everything. It came from the skies and I spent my life looking at the ground," she said, her mouth quirking briefly, as if she was reminiscing. "I grew up in a small village, a place where there was little to do but work hard and dream of more. I was not like my brothers, they were working men, men of the land and, whilst I loved the land also, I searched not for crops, but for our past. We did not have the currency that would pay for my schooling, but that changed when I discovered the touchstone."
She shook her head, as if to clear her mind. Kade reached out to squeeze her arm, and she continued, her voice getting stronger as she spoke.
"Our people had long since known of the silver ring, for it stood tall and proud and watched over our city. They built a University nearby, a building that would teach in the hopes that one day we might understand it. Long had my people studied the symbols on the ring, but no one could speak of them, or understand what they meant. There was a device found near the ring and its controller that most people did not know of. When I discovered the touchstone, an engraved tabled that listed the same symbols, I proved my worth and was taken in at the University by my mentor. Together we studied the touchstone and the device that he shared with me. We had almost worked out how we must fix the controller when…when the darkness came."
She fell into silence and Kade let her sit with her thoughts. She hadn't reached the bit he needed to know, not yet, but she was alone and scared and if she needed to tell him her whole life story then he would damn well listen. If it would give him the answer to what had happened to Doug and the others, he'd let her tell him how her whole civilisation had come about.
"What happened in the darkness?" Laura asked softly and Kade looked at her, grateful that she was able to sound encouraging and not demanding.
"There…there were people at the university, students who studied the skies just as we studied all that was beneath our feet. At first they were excited; they were happy. They had discovered something, some anomaly in the stars. They called it the shadow, for as it encompassed all that lit the sky, it changed and moved and the lights went out. But it did not stay as it was. It came quickly, closer and closer until my friends grew scared of their discovery."
"Did they tell anyone?" Vala asked. "Did your rulers or government do nothing?"
"They did not believe that it would come," she replied simply. "There was to be a meeting, our yearly council amongst the cities and townships, and we were told that all would be decided then."
"It came before the meeting," Laura said softly, "didn't it?"
Sera nodded and Kade reached out to brush a tear from her cheek. There was nothing he could do to change the fate of her world, and his heart ached for her. It was hard enough to lose your home when you knew it was still there waiting for you.
"The shadow came and the darkness fell so suddenly that we did not know what we must do. I ran to the ring as my mentor bid me, I ran and I did what could be done to fix the device and as I ran the darkness moved closer. It fell over my world like a blanket, but it did not come alone. It…it was as if the light had gone out of the universe."
"There was something in the darkness, Sera, something that hurt you." Laura's voice was barely audible over the sound of the sea below them.
"No," she said. "There was a sound, a clicking, hissing sound that made us shake and made my skin crawl, but no. No, there was nothing in the darkness. The something was the darkness. The darkness was alive."
The mountain air was crisp and clear, filled with the bite of snow. It was an easy hike to the cave, but the view was worth it. John had hoped that it would clear his mind, give him something to focus on that didn't involve the people he'd once thought he'd lost forever.
"Is it much further?"
"Yes, Mentor Sheppard, please tell me it is, for if Temra does not cease his griping, I will pitch him over the side!"
John turned to face his students and raised his eyebrows without saying a word. They fell into silence and glanced apologetically at each other. It was a small group, but that was the way John preferred things. He didn't often volunteer for babysitting duty, but then he rarely had the time to himself to do so. This time, he'd made the exception.
"We're almost there," he said, turning around and continuing forward, grateful that he couldn't feel much of the chill. He didn't much care for the style of Linayan clothing, but he'd got used to it over the years and it definitely made all the difference at high altitude.
"Yes, Prete?" he asked, almost sighing. He'd wondered how long it would take for Prete to start asking questions. The young boy had been in the village that morning when Kade and the others had been asking questions and he was also pretty sure he'd spotted Prete's father when he'd taken Cam back to the house.
"Who were those visitors who seemed to know you? If I can ask, Mentor."
John refrained from pointing out that he already had, mainly because he'd got fed up pointing that out over the years. It was a particularly Linayan form of wording; ask an uncomfortable question and follow it up with a request for permission to do so, as if it had only just occurred that it might not be polite to ask.
"Just some people I knew a long time ago," John answered vaguely.
"My father says they are from another world."
John made a noise that could have been an agreement, or an acknowledgement, but didn't really answer. His students at the University were used to his unwillingness to answer questions about his time before coming to Adara, but the younger kids that he sometimes helped out with didn't seem to care.
"But who was the man? If I may ask, Mentor."
"There were a few men, Temra."
"Yes, but the one man, the one that you took to-"
"I don't think this is appropriate conversation," John interrupted, turning to face them. "Now, that's us, see if you can set up camp and let me know if you have any questions." When both Temra and Prete opened their mouths, he rolled his eyes. "Questions about the excursion," he clarified. "Understood?"
"Yes, Mentor Sheppard."
He watched as the two headed up to the cave, slowly followed by the four other students who had been trailing slightly behind. Kerna, the other scholar who had been roped into helping out, approached at a slightly slower speed.
"You have survived?" she asked mockingly as she stopped next to him. "I am surprised Prete has not questioned you to death."
"Are you well, John? You seem distracted and I do not mean because of the visitors you will not tell me about."
"I'm fine, Kerna. Just…ever get that feeling when you're sure something's about to go to hell and you just don't know what?"
Well used to his turns of phrase, Kerna frowned. "You are not speaking merely of having to spend the night in the mountains with six mischievous teenagers, are you?"
"No, I'm not. Although, that's not got me jumping for joy either."
"You volunteered," she reminded him.
"Treece is sick, he said he's coming down with something and-"
"And he has you ready to jump on command," she finished with a smile. "I have seen how it is with you both."
John winced, trying not to picture Cam's face.
"But perhaps," she continued, softer, the look on her face almost knowingly patient, "we now know the reason you have not pursued a life with him. John, it has been many years since-"
"Yeah, I really don't want to talk about this, Kerna."
She sighed and looked skyward, an expression of exasperation that he was well used to. When she didn't come back with a rant almost immediately, he frowned, noting that her features had paled considerably.
"What is that?" she asked and he looked up into the fading light, his eyes widening.
"I really have no idea," he whispered. "But I have a feeling this might be where it all goes to hell."
"It was miles away when we left," Evan said, eyes wide as he looked at the image of Rodney that was standing in front of him.
"Yes, well, in space, Major, a few miles are meaningless. It's here and we have no back up and no idea what we're dealing with! Did the Air Marshal get anything from that woman?"
"He's talking with Sera now," Evan said. "I've just finished preparing the evacuation plan and the jumper schedule, we just need to know where to go and when. We still haven't heard from Doc Parker, so we have no idea what the Linayans have planned."
"Well, we're on the clock here; the cloud should be completely surrounding us in less than a few hours."
"A few hours?" Evan yelled. "You couldn't have warned us sooner, Doc?"
"Oh, I'm sorry, I left my cape at the dry cleaners and couldn't possibly have flown all this way without it," McKay snapped.
"Comic book references aside, Doc, we can't clear the planet in a few hours."
Rodney seemed to lose all his bluster. "I know," he said and shifted on his feet uncomfortably.
"Okay." Evan tried not to let it get to him. He had a job to do and if they couldn't save everyone, they could at least make sure they saved as many as they could. "I'll fill in the Air Marshal and get the jumper teams ready. We'll contact Doctor Parker and see what the Chancellor wants to do, but either way we need you guys to start getting things ready on your end. You could…see if you can get the Colonel to help out. He's got no choice now."
Evan could feel the eyes of everyone in the control tower on him, but focused only on Rodney, who looked suddenly like he'd been struck. It was as if he wasn't sure whether to be happy that Sheppard was going to have to come back, or angry that it had taken this to do it.
"We'll send some people down to the village and get everyone ready. There are only a couple of hundred people here. Most people will be in the city. But we can't have both 'Gates working at the same time."
"You let me worry about that, Doc. Just you get things sorted there. We'll get back to you when we're ready."
"Don't take too long. I have no intention of being disintegrated by a giant space cloud because you were too busy procrastinating, Major," Rodney snapped and then cut the connection before Evan could respond with anything more than a roll of his eyes.
He turned to look at Chuck and Amelia knowing that everyone knew McKay well enough by now to read between the lines. And if McKay was scared, then things were bad.
"Is it true, sir?" Amelia asked, breaking the silence. "Did Team Five really find Colonel Sheppard?"
Evan nodded, cringing inwardly when they all relaxed suddenly, as if the answer to all their troubles had been delivered. Truth was, he was pissed as all hell at his old CO. He figured John had to have his reasons, but until he was ready to share them, all Evan had was the knowledge that the hope he saw in front of him wasn't deserved.
"Lieutenant Patel," he said, turning to Savita, who had stood silently as he'd talked to McKay. "I need you pull out those plans we just went over and get everyone debriefed and ready in the jumper bay. We don't know how long we have, but we're not going to be able to get everyone out and they need to know the odds. Chuck, I need you to dial the planet and get Captain Cooper or Doctor Parker on the line. I need to know how things are going at their end and if we're going to have any resistance to an evacuation. Call me if there's any trouble. Amelia, I need you to talk to Doctor Zelenka. I want the science teams to split up and head out to Sections 28 and 29. We need to get them ready for the evacuation. Get them to get everything ready and call the kitchens and have them organise people to get food and supplies ready and transferred to that tower." When Amelia nodded, Evan headed for the transporter. "I'm going to fill in the Air Marshal."
"Okay, so I 'm officially creeped out."
"I second that," Vala said, smiling warily at Laura.
Kade had once thought that Vala and Laura were rather a terrifying duo and could probably effectively take over and rule the universe between them. To see them both looking so unnerved did little to ease his own, hopefully well-hidden, feelings.
"We've got all the information we can get from her, and Carson should have some test results in the next few days. McKay and his team should be back tomorrow with some theories, there's nothing to worry about. We'll figure this out."
Kade turned to see Major Lorne walking towards him. The expression on Evan's face wasn't doing a lot to back up what he'd just said.
"We have a problem."
"Somehow, Major, I had a feeling you were going to say that. What is it?"
"Communication from Linaya, sir. Doctor McKay says that the black cloud is already there. He thinks the planet will be surrounded in less than a few hours."
"Right," Kade said. What he really wanted to say was 'fuck'. He turned back to Vala and Laura, both of whom were looking at him with raised eyebrows. "Well, looks like we'll have to figure things out on the fly. Major, the evacuation plans we worked out?"
"Already being put into motion. Food, supplies and living quarters are being prepared and Chuck should be talking with Captain Cooper as we speak, sir."
"Good work, Major." Kade often wondered if he actually did his job, or if Evan did it for him and just didn't tell him. "I want you in the jumper's co-ordinating things on the planet," he said, starting to walk towards the transporter. "Lieutenant Patel can handle one squadron. Give Doctor Conrad the second and I want you keeping an eye on the rest. Let me know if you need anything else."
"We need to keep things running as smoothly as we can and we're going to have to deal with a lot of very panicky people. Vala, I'd like you to accompany the Major back to Linaya. I think he could use your persuasive skills - something tells me these people aren't just going to up and leave their lives until it's too late."
"Oh, I can be very persuasive," Vala said, bouncing a little. He didn't point out that she could also be rather terrifying and that was actually part of what made her so persuasive. The fact that she tried to keep the people around her upbeat wouldn't hurt for morale, either.
"Lieutenant, I want you to come with me. I'm going to need someone in the 'Gate room directing things when people start to arrive." He tapped his earpiece. "Major Kent."
"I need you to report to Section 28." He looked at Lorne, who nodded. "We're going to have a lot of confused and frightened refugees arriving over the next few hours. I need to you deal with setting up quarters."
"On my way, sir."
"Radek should have the scientists preparing things, sir," Lorne said and, as they headed towards the transporter, Kade filled in Major Kent.
They arrived in the control tower just in time to see the holographic image of Captain Cooper disappear as the Stargate shut down. Kade walked up to Doctor Conrad, who was stepping off of the platform.
"I was just about to radio you and then report to the jumper bay," Doctor Conrad said. "Captain Cooper says that the Linayans weren't very receptive to the evacuation idea."
"I had a feeling that might be the case, Doctor." Kade resisted the urge to sigh.
"They changed their mind rather quickly, Air Marshal."
"What did Doc Parker say to get them to agree?" Lorne asked, but Kade had the feeling it had nothing to do with Doctor Parker's negotiation skills.
"Very little, Major Lorne. The sky started getting dark about ten minutes ago."
"-appear to be calm at the moment, Colonel, but Vala seems to have things under control, so I don't think we'll have much of an issue at this end, sir. Lieutenant Patel has things moving quickly and Major Kent checked in a few minutes ago; things are moving slowly in the city, sir, but there are few outlying towns. It seems that most people are settled close to the 'Gates, so that should make things a little easier."
"Understood, thanks for the update. Keep me posted, Major," Cam said and tapped his ear piece. He turned to Mentor Aslon and pulled him to one side. "Jodra, how many people live in the surrounding area here?"
"No one," Aslon said, frowning. "We all live within the limits of the town, or within the walls of the Institute. There are some farms in the outer territories, but the soil in this area is tough and many people who work the land live closer to the other ring. We bring food through the ring and there are markets in the city."
"Well that makes things even easier at this end."
"May I ask what we are to do about the dark cloud?"
"We're not really sure what it is yet, so there's very little we can do. We'll do our best, but in the meantime and just to be safe, we're evacuating everyone to our home."
"Our whole world?" Aslon asked, looking horrified at the notion.
"It's all we can do for the time being."
"I understand," he said sadly. "I thank you and your people. Is there anything I may do to help?"
"Well, you could help me get these folks packed up and outside. We've got some of our ships coming to pick us up in about fifteen."
"Ships? Ships that will fly?"
Cam smiled, remembering a time when the same thought made him feel like that, too. "Ships that fly," he confirmed. "Okay, people, listen up," he said, turning to face the others. Teyla had gone back to the 'Gate with Rodney, and Cooper's team was still in the Capital, but there were a handful of marines, some scientists and a whole hell of a lot of equipment and only Ronon to help get them moving. If Cam was honest, though, Ronon tended to be a pretty good motivation for people.
"You've probably heard bits and pieces, but to confirm, we're evacuating the planet."
"The whole planet, sir?" Staff Sergeant Ramone cried incredulously.
"Our whole world?" Lunai asked, glancing at Kamar. "How is this possible?"
"We have ships that will bring everyone to our city. It's not going to be easy, but things are already underway. What we need you to do is gather everything that we need to take back to Atlantis and meet outside in the courtyard. Corporal Harris will be here in about fifteen minutes and we better be ready to get on board. We've got two evacuation sites to co-ordinate and we can only dial out from one ring at a time. Staff Sergeant Ramone," he said, and Ramone came to attention. Cam's lips quirked at the move, but he didn't comment on it. "I want you and Doctor Bennett to round up everyone still left in the Institute and get them downstairs. You take the top floors and work your way down, Ronon and I are going to start from the bottom up," he said and Ronon nodded. "We don't have a lot of time, people, let's get moving."
"My experiments cannot be moved!" Kamar cried suddenly. "They are sensitive and must not be altered or interfered with. I cannot leave them!"
"Our entire world may not be here in the morning," Lunai said, so sharply that even Cam felt chastised by her tone. "We have more important things to worry of! What of our families?"
"They're being evacuated as we speak."
Cam nodded and everyone got to work. It took longer than Cam thought, but by the time he and Ronon were ushering the last of the Institute's residents from the building, Ramone was getting everyone settled into the jumper. It was a bit of a squeeze, but not even Kamar was complaining. It took Cam longer than it should have to realise why.
"When did that start?" he asked Corporal Harris as the final few people piled into the waiting jumper. He shivered and tried not to react too visibly to the faint clicking noise that seemed to be coming from everywhere and yet nowhere at all.
"Not long ago, sir," Corporal Harris said, still looking as pale as she had the last time Cam had seen her. He didn't think it was just the lasting effects of the Interface room. A glance to his right proved that the noise was enough to drain the blood even from Ronon's face.
"Okay, we need to get these people back to Atlantis. How's the evacuation been going?" he continued, hoping that he didn't look as freaked out by the noise as he really was.
"Good, sir. I think we're almost done at this end. Doctor Conrad and the others have gone to join the evacuation in the capital. I think Major Lorne and Vala are the only two left in the town. They're mostly done, I think we've just the north end of the village to finish."
"The north?" Cam asked, feeling his heart stutter. "What about Colonel Sheppard? Has he joined the evacuation?"
"Colonel Sheppard?" Harris asked, wide-eyed. "So it's true? You found the Colonel?"
"I'll take that as a no," Cam said and turned to Ronon. "We need to-"
Cam spun around to see Lunai pushing her way out of the jumper until she fell free of it. He managed to grab hold of her arm to stop her hitting the ground and pulled her up onto her feet.
"My brother! He is on his survival test in the mountains. It is tradition at first snowfall; he was part of the second group, one of six. Mentors Taran and Sheppard are with them!"
"Damnit, John," Cam muttered and tapped his earpiece. "Lorne, how's that evac going?"
"We're almost done, sir. Slight problem in the north of the village. There are a few families with kids that won't come out of one of the houses and Vala's having a few problems persuading them, but we've managed to get them all together at least." Cam paled at Lorne's next words. "Still no sign of the Colonel, either."
"There won't be. It looks like he's in the mountains, some kind of survival training with a group of kids. I need you to get in the air and get out there as soon as possible. I'm on my way to the village, I'll get them out, you take care of the Colonel and tell him he has to trust me; I'll get them out. Lunai, where are they?"
Lunai pointed to one of the closer mountains and Cam gave Lorne his best idea of where to find John.
"Harris, I need you to get these people back to the city as soon as possible and then I need you to pick us up in the village, north side. There's a clearing with a well in the centre, you'll find us there."
Without another word, Cam turned to the woods and started running faster than he'd ever run in his life. He didn't have to look back to know that Ronon was right behind him. He flicked on his torch as they lost the light from the jumpers and saw the beam from Ronon's as he followed suit.
At Vala's words, Evan looked to the left, the screen in front of him already reacting to his thoughts and magnifying the small clearing she'd pointed out. There was a figure out on the ledge and Evan didn't really need further magnification to know that it was Sheppard.
He kept his hand on the physical controls and lowered the jumper to the clearing. Since they'd done their last run to Atlantis, the darkness had got thicker, as if it was more than just air around them, and the noise was so loud at this altitude that they could hear an echo of it inside the ship. He heard the door lowering behind him, even though he hadn't thought it open himself. A glance at Vala showed that she hadn't touched the release.
"Definitely Sheppard," he muttered, a smile coming to his face despite his earlier misgivings about his former CO.
"Get in!" Vala cried, jumping out of her chair and running into the back.
Evan looked over his shoulder to see Sheppard directing a small group of people into the jumper. He watched the darkness swirling around them, watched as Sheppard seemed to get knocked slightly on his feet, and didn't even have time to cry out as one of Sheppard's charges was swept off the edge of the mountain.
"Shit!" He called up the screens as quickly as he could, prepared to take off and do something, but the screens showed that there was no longer anyone there.
"Go! We've got to get back to the village!"
Evan swung around as John charged to the front of the jumper and into the seat that Vala had vacated. A glance into the back showed that Vala was consoling the five youths, one of the girls practically sitting on her she was so overcome with tears. Another woman sat beside her, muttering something to one of the boys at her side.
"Lorne! Village, now!"
"No, sir, I have to get you back to the 'Gate."
The jumper lurched into the air and Evan didn't even bother trying to fight for control, there was no way he could override John's gene. "This is not time for-"
"John!" he said, so sharply that he at least got Sheppard's attention. "Cam said he'll take care of it. You have to trust him; he'll get them all out."
"I have to-"
Evan frowned at the crackling quality to the Air Marshal's voice and glanced at John. "Go ahead, sir."
"We have a p-lem. Corp-l Har-' jumper took a hit c- through the 'Gate. She —— to go back to the village for Colonel M-"
"We're on it," John interrupted.
"I thought you m- be. Good to - you're a-, Colonel Sh-d. We're still evac- people from the main city. You have one ch- to get through the –ate. T– minutes. Don't be late."
The communication shut off and Evan looked at John. "Did you get that?"
"Ten minutes?" John asked and Evan shrugged.
"Could've been. It'll take us another two to get back to the village. We need to get everyone on board and it takes a few minutes to get out to the 'Gate. We can keep dialling and wait until she connects."
"And hope we're not too late," John muttered.
Evan glanced at the screen in front of him. Other than the information overlaying the view screen, he could no longer see anything. It was as if someone had covered the window with a black tarp.
"Do you have any idea where-"
The ship rocked so suddenly that neither of the two pilots had time to react. They felt the internal gravity kick in as the ship spun and it took a moment before they had things under control. Evan glanced at John, who turned back to the screen determinedly.
"We have got to get out of here."
They ran in silence. At first, all he could hear was the beating of his own heart filling his ears. He tried desperately not to think about how close it was getting, about how they might lose John again after all, about how they could lose so much more.
"It's getting closer."
Cam barely heard Ronon's words and realised with a jolt that the sound had got louder: the buzzing in his ears wasn't just the wind, and the sensation of insects crawling all over him wasn't from lack of oxygen; they were surrounded by the darkness.
The sudden impact threw Cam to one side. He rolled over twice and grunted as he smacked into a tree hard enough to break a rib.
"You okay?" Ronon asked, barely out of breath, and reached out to pull Cam to his feet.
Cam took a deep breath, pleased that, although it hurt, he didn't seem to have broken anything. "What the hell was that?" He spun around, feeling something else whiz by him.
"It's not good, whatever it is."
"Agreed," Cam said. "We need to get to the village."
Cam started running again, knowing that Ronon was easily keeping pace behind him, and it wasn't long before they entered the narrow streets of the village. The only thing he could hear now was the clicking and buzzing around him getting louder and louder, but he had the strange feeling that if that noise were to suddenly stop, the whole world would be quiet.
He continued to run through the maze of streets that John had led him through earlier, praying he was remembering it right, because if they all looked the same in the daylight, he had no chance of figuring them it out in a darkness so complete it swallowed his torch beam a meter in front of him.
"This way," he said and tore out of the narrow streets, across the courtyard he'd told Corporal Harris to meet them in, praying he wasn't about to do something monumentally stupid and fall down the damn well. He tripped slightly over a rock, missing the well, and ran straight into a small red house at the other side.
"Cora!" he cried, running through the rooms as the sound continued to get louder and louder. He could see Ronon's torchlight as it disappeared into another room. "Cora!" he yelled again, turning to check the back rooms and walking right into Ronon.
Ronon shook his head and Cam cursed, spinning around and heading right back out the front door. Come on, John, he thought angrily. Where the hell is she?
Remembering Evan's words and thinking back to the layout of the small village, he turned and ran around the left of the house, almost tripping over the small border of stones a few moments later. He knew they circled around a garden he remembered seeing a lot of flowers in that afternoon. He didn't think they were going to be winning any more prizes.
He burst through the door and ran into the main room. "Cora!" he yelled, coming to a stop as his torch beam flickered over a huddle of people. He ran his beam across them, searching for a small round face surrounded by brown curls. He may have only met the kid once, but her image was something he was never likely to forget. Ronon joined him and they scanned the room together, picking out about twenty people, including seven children. One of them suddenly dislodged herself from the woman who was holding her and Cam dropped to his knees as she ran right into his open arms.
He stroked her face gently as she wept, her words lost in the buffeting waves of sound. She looked scared, but unhurt and he felt something loosen in his chest. He scooped her up and turned his beam back onto the crowd of people, indicating to them that they had to follow him, but they couldn't hear him and looked too terrified to move. He turned to Ronon just in time to see a dark shape crash through the window and knock him to the floor.
Cam twisted around, protecting his small charge with his own body, before looking over his shoulder. Ronon had got back to his feet, reclaimed his torch and was standing holding onto his knife, which seemed to be embedded into the darkness itself.
Light poured in through the broken window and Cam turned to see a jumper landing in the clearing. He turned and gestured that they should follow him and, without another thought, pulled the nearest kid into his other arm and ran out of the house.
The darkness pressed into him on all sides and something brushed past him, but he didn't stop. He could feel the nails of the boy he'd grabbed digging into his neck as the child swivelled this way and that, as if trying to see into the darkness, whilst, on his other side, Cora burrowed her face into Cam's neck as if trusting him to keep her safe.
He kept his eyes on the light in front of him. The back of the jumper was open, but the light from inside kept flickering as the darkness wove in spirals in front of it. Something pierced the skin of his arm and he cried out, feeling the sharpness drag across his elbow and around his back where it stopped. He twisted away and kept on running. He couldn't be sure, but he was fairly certain it had spared both children.
He ran up the ramp and turned quickly, seeing figures running towards them through the swirling darkness. The boy in his arms, realising that they'd stopped, suddenly wiggled out of Cam's grasp and made a run for the door, screaming something that Cam could barely hear over the noise, which had grown so loud that he wouldn't have been surprised if his ears were bleeding.
He reached out to grab the kid, but didn't have to worry as someone burst past him and grabbed the boy by the armpits, hoisting him off the ground. A moment later more people started to pile in and Cam had to move further into the jumper, all the while focussing on the open ramp.
It seemed to take forever, but finally Ronon ran out of the darkness and up the ramp. At the last minute, he was slammed into the edge of the opening and fell forward into the jumper. John, whom Cam now realised had been the one to grab the boy, passed his charge to the nearest woman and ran over to pull Ronon in through the door.
"Go!" Cam cried, turning to Lorne, knowing Ronon would have waited until the last. He knew that Evan couldn't hear him, but the doors closed and the ship jerked upwards.
Cam stepped towards John and Ronon, stumbling as the ship suddenly jolted to the left, as if on impact with something outside. He reached out a hand to steady himself against the wall and the child in his arms squeezed tighter, as if she was worried he was about to let her go. He crouched down and made his way to the back of the jumper needing to be sure Ronon was okay. He tried to hand the girl to John, but she wouldn't let go. John shook his head and reached out a hand out to stroke down her back.
He stared at John for a moment, their eyes locked in an almost fearful embrace, and Cam ran his hand up Cora's back to lock his fingers with John's. Ronon shifted at their feet and they both looked down to see him struggling slightly with his knife. Cam's eyes widened as he shuffled backwards, staring in horrid fascination at the dark creature writhing on the end of Ronon's knife. It seemed almost fluid, swaying where it was pinned to the floor of the jumper.
The ship rocked again suddenly and Cam was fairly sure he'd have fallen on his ass if John's grip hadn't tightened on his hand, righting him at the last moment. He looked toward the front of the jumper where Lorne was fighting with the controls, console flashing and the display over the darkened window flickering in alarm. John pulled his fingers loose and headed toward Lorne.
Cam could see the dialling device lighting up on the jumper controls. No one was touching it, but given that Lorne was still struggling to pilot them through the darkness, Cam figured it was John who was handling the dial up. He saw orange lights in the distance, swimming in and out of the view screen between swirls of black, but nothing further happened.
Evan and John glanced at each other before Cam felt the ship swing around in a large circle. He could have been imagining it, as they were still being bumped from side to side, but he'd watched Evan flying for long enough to think that he was right. This time, John reached out to manually dial up the 'Gate and Cam realised that they were doing another flyby, because the 'Gate hadn't locked with Atlantis. Not knowing if the planet was locked on through the primary Stargate, or whether there was just something wrong, Cam took a deep breath, hoping that this wasn't the end.
He looked back at Ronon and, on seeing that Vala had joined him to help control the wriggling creature, he slowly got to his feet. He stumbled toward the front of the ship, knowing that if this was it, if this was the end of things, he was damn well going to be at John's side.
Cam stood between John and Evan, one hand clutching tightly to John's shoulder, the other still holding the little girl who had, miraculously, fallen asleep on his shoulder, and watched as the circle of lights started to form at a slight distance in front of them. He felt John's hand slip into his and squeeze his fingers and he looked down. Swallowing, he offered a slight smile and couldn't help feel a slight relief when John returned the gesture.
Cam glanced at Evan and nodded at his friend, who, like them, seemed to have come to the conclusion that this was their last shot; if they didn't make this, the chances were that they wouldn't survive another go around. The ship was losing power. The readouts showed the shields rapidly disappearing for no discernable reason other than the beating they were taking from Ronon's space cockroaches.
He dropped his gaze to John and wished he had time to say everything he'd wanted to say since the day they'd lost him. As John stared back up at him, his free hand reaching for the final symbol of the dial out, Cam realised that, in the end, all that really mattered was that they were together.
"Incoming wormhole!" Chuck shouted over the noise and Kade looked back as the Stargate burst to life, mere seconds after it had just closed. A quick glance down into the 'Gate room told him that Laura had managed to get everyone out of the shockwave in time. The place was pandemonium, but Kade was fairly certain that his people were running things more smoothly that he might have expected under the circumstances.
The evacuation from the city had turned nasty towards the end. There just hadn't been enough jumpers to get everyone out. Reports from his people told him that whatever was in the darkness had been picking people off in large groups, just encompassing them and moving on to leave nothing behind. They'd got out everyone they could and aside from Corporal Harris' jumper being rammed through the 'Gate from behind, all landings had gone smoothly.
As if to contradict his thoughts, a jumper suddenly flew through the 'Gate at high speed. Kade jumped back, instinctively calling the jumper force field to life just in time to stop it from crashing into anything. A huge net of energy sprung up in front of the moving vehicle, catching it and holding it in place, like a fly landing on a spider's web. The net held for a moment, before the blue energy faded and the 'Gate shut off.
There was a hush in the tower, the only sound that of heavy breathing, as the panic subsided. Kade, realising that Laura and the two others who had been co-ordinating the incoming jumpers were nowhere to be seen, ran down the stairs, almost tripping over her where she lay on the floor of the Gate room.
He crouched down beside her and felt for a pulse, then tapped his earpiece to call for assistance. Satisfied that she was alive and breathing, he looked for the others, finally spotting them behind a console. They nodded to him to let him know they were all right and Kade turned his attention back to Laura.
Kade turned to see Carson rushing towards him. "I think she got caught between the jumper and the net," he said gravely. Carson's eyes widened before he pushed Kade aside and started to check her out.
There was a noise as the back of the jumper opened and Kade turned to yell at them to head back to the jumper bay before disembarking, but the words died in his throat.
Colonel John Sheppard walked briskly towards him.
"Is she okay?" he asked, immediately dropping down next to Laura. "I think we missed her, but she jumped right into that thing to get out of our way. What the hell was that?"
"Jumper net," Kade replied briefly. He turned around in time to see Cam exiting the jumper with a child in his arms, and Vala behind him.
"Tell Lorne to get this thing down to the jumper bay before letting anyone else out."
"You're gonna want to get a science team ready with containment. Ronon caught one of the things."
Kade's eyes widened and he nodded, calling Rodney on the radio and filling him in. Knowing that he was leaving Laura in safe hands, he jogged to the back of the jumper and up the ramp before stopping and staring at the strange creature Ronon had pinned to the deck with his knife.
"You weren't meant to be armed," he said absently, crouching down to get a closer look. The clicking, buzzing noises it was making seemed even eerier than when it had been magnified by thousands of the creatures, and finally seeing it put him even more on edge. The creature seemed to be made of liquid or gas, but yet it clearly had some kind of solid form to be held under Ronon's blade. Leaning forward, he realised that the strange fluttering aura around it seemed to be feelers, legs and/or wings. He shuddered. It was the creepiest looking thing he'd ever seen.
"McKay will meet you in the jumper bay," he said. Ronon grunted in acknowledgement. He stood up and realised that there were at least fifteen other people crowded inside the jumper along with Major Lorne, who was watching him from the pilot seat.
"Major, I want you to fly this thing back to the bay. I'm going to get everyone else out of here; I don't want to risk that thing getting loose."
"Please, come this way. We'll direct you to the rest of your people. They're safe in another part of our city." Kade tried not to shuffle on his feet when he was pinned by the gaze of a woman who looked older than his Great Aunt Maggie and he felt somewhat like a small boy trying to get his way. Clearly the other people in the jumper agreed, as they all looked at the old woman for their cue and it wasn't until she stood up that they started to move.
"Right this way," he said, not sure if he should offer her an arm, or if that would offend her. The decision was taken out of his hands when she tucked her hand into the crook of his elbow and directed him down the ramp. He glanced briefly back at Lorne, who seemed faintly amused.
Kade helped the old lady over to Pilot Officer Davies. She gripped his arm and Kade nodded to Davies, who led the small group away. Kade watched as the jumper rose to the ceiling and disappeared through the hatch. Hopefully now that they had a live specimen, Carson would be able to find out something that would help them fight back.
He turned back to the man in question watching as he co-ordinated Laura's move onto a stretcher and Kade returned to her side. Her eyes were flickering open and she groaned, her fingers reaching out to tug at his sleeve.
"Trust you to launch yourself into an energy net," he said hoarsely and he could see that she tried to smile at him.
"Just trying to keep the day interesting," she mumbled.
"You don't think I've enough to worry about?"
"Helping you work on those grey hairs."
"Funny, Lieutenant, very funny."
"I'm a funny woman."
"All right," Carson interrupted, clearing his throat. "Best get her down to the infirmary."
"Is Jennifer there?" Vala asked and Carson nodded. "I'll come with you then," she said and smiled at Kade reassuringly as she took Laura's hand.
Kade turned back to the two Colonels standing to his right. Cam was still holding the sleeping girl in his arms and Sheppard kept flicking glances at them. He wasn't really sure where things stood with Sheppard, but it was a crisis, he reasoned, and even after three years MIA, John still had to follow his orders.
"Colonel Sheppard, we're going to need all hands on deck."
"Yes, sir," Sheppard responded instantly.
"Good. Colonel Mitchell, I think you should take your charge to the-" Kade frowned when he noticed that Cam was blinking furiously at him and stepped closer to his 2IC. "Colonel?" He reached out a hand, holding one of Cam's eyes open to see that his pupils were fully dilated and that he was pretty much holding the man steady.
"Carson!" he yelled, calling the Doctor back as he plucking the sleeping child out of Cam's arms just before he dropped to the ground. Sheppard was close enough to catch him, stopping his head from cracking against the floor. The girl in Kade's arms woke up with jerk.
"Cam!" Sheppard yelled and Kade watched as he tried to revive Cam by slapping at his face.
Kade changed his grip on the girl, pulling her up onto his hip as best he could given that she was struggling to get to John. It didn't take a genius to work things out and Kade had never claimed to be one, but it was pretty obvious who she was calling on. As Carson rushed back into the room and dropped to his knees at the Colonel's side, Kade cupped the girl's cheek and turned her face until she was looking at him.
"Just hold on a minute, pet," he said reassuringly, pulling her closer. "Your daddy's right there." She sniffled and nodded and, after Kade was sure that she wasn't going to attempt to leap out of his grip, he crouched down, pulling aside the tear in Cam's BDUs that he'd spotted a few moments before.
"Carson!" he cried, redirecting the Doctor's focus.
"Language, Doc," Sheppard said distractedly and Kade bit back a grin.
"What's her name, John?" he asked and Sheppard blinked, looking up at him. Realising that Kade was holding his daughter, he looked momentarily torn.
"Is there someone I can take her to?" Kade asked, indicating that Sheppard should stay where he was.
Cam groaned, his eyelids flickering and John looked down at the head cradled in his lap.
"Sheppard?" Kade pressed.
"Yeah, there's…yeah. Her friend Mikel, she was staying with his mother. Her name's Torel."
"We need to get him to the infirmary right now," Carson said and tapped his earpiece. "Doctor Keller, I need you to prepare for surgery. Colonel Mitchell's got a nasty cut, probably from one of those stingers and I think there's something lodged in his spine."
Kade couldn't hear the other Doctor's reply, but stood up as they all made to move Cam to the stretcher Carson had called for moments before. Sheppard helped load him on before turning to Kade and plucking the child from his arms. They watched as Carson led the medical team away and Kade could tell that John was desperate to follow, but he turned his attentions instead to his daughter.
"Cora, this is one of my friends. He's going to take you to Torel. I want you to stay with her until I come get you, okay."
"Will the shadows come to take me away?"
"No," John said, so forcefully that Kade understood what it was that made everyone in the city believe everything he'd ever told them. "Cora, this is Air M-"
John nodded at him. "Cora, this is Kade. He's going to take you Torel, okay?"
"Will you be home for sleeps?"
"Is Cam okay?" Cora sniffed and wiped her nose on her sleeve.
"That's what I need to go find out. You remember I told you about Atlantis?"
"Do you know where you are?"
Cora's eyes widened so much that Kade had to try not to laugh. He was also very aware that all eyes in the control tower were focussed on Sheppard and his kid and that the Colonel didn't have a clue.
"Lantis?" she said softly and he nodded.
"That's right. Now Kade's going to take you to Torel and Atlantis will make sure you're safe until I get back, okay?"
She nodded, looking solemn, and then leaned forward to kiss John's cheek. He hugged her tightly before turning her around and handing her over. Without even looking at the rest of the room, he smiled at Cora and jogged off to the infirmary.
There was a hush after his departure and Kade looked down at the girl in his arms. She was staring at him with large brown eyes, her dark hair sitting in waves around her earnest face and he smiled at her gently. She grinned back winningly and he couldn't help but chuckle slightly at her happy silence.
He turned and looked up at the control tower. "Chuck, Amelia, I want an up to date report on how things are going. Call me when you have something."
Kade shifted his grip on Cora and headed for the nearest transporter, hoping that, in the madness that was likely ensuing in the housing area for their new guests, he'd actually be able to find Torel. He glanced down again at the little face that was still staring at him, blinking expectantly, and shook his head with a laugh.
"I'll bet you've got your dad wrapped around your wee finger, don't you?" he said, entering the transporter, and she frowned, tilting her head to one side. "Yeah, that's what I thought."
She reached up her hands, placing them on either side of his face and smiled, before rubbing the top of her nose across his stubble. She giggled, as if playing a game, and Kade laughed as she started to repeat the process.
A moment later, the transporter door opened and the noise engulfed them. Startled, Cora threw her arms around his neck and hid her face in his collar. Kade watched the people around him, some screaming, some crying, some sitting in silent horror, as if they were frozen in place, and realised that things were far from over.
"Yeah," he said softly, patting her back. "I know exactly how you feel."
John started at the sound of Ronon's voice and turned to see his team – his old team – behind him. He shook his head and turned back to look through the window, transfixed on Cam's face below.
"You should not watch, John," Teyla said softly, reaching out to squeeze his elbow.
"I have to."
"Then we will wait with you."
They stood in silence for a long time, watching the movement below them as Carson and Jennifer worked on Cam. There was a lot more Ancient tech in use than John remembered and he could see Vala standing off to one side with what he was pretty sure was a Goul'd healing device in her hands.
"Why doesn't Vala just heal him?" he bit out suddenly.
"She tried to heal a young woman with a similar injury and the device did not react well. It fused part of the creature to her leg and released toxins into her blood stream. She almost did not survive."
Silence descended once more until Rodney began to fidget, looking slightly worried. He moved closer to the window and John had to wonder where Cam fit in since he'd been gone. Had he taken John's place on the team? It seemed likely, but he was reluctant to have it confirmed.
"You could've told us you know," Rodney said suddenly.
"Rodney," Teyla admonished.
"I'm just saying," he continued. "It's not like we wouldn't have understood. Or, well, you know."
"Yeah," John said softly, because a part of him did know, had known that bringing Cora to Atlantis wouldn't necessarily have been such a bad thing. He didn't know the city anymore, didn't know how much of their time was spent risking their lives, and maybe it wasn't so bad anymore, but he had decided that he couldn't take the chance.
Rodney waved his hands somewhat ineptly. "Look, I-"
"What's happening?" John moved quickly to the glass, watching as Vala rushed to Cam's side. John had no idea what Jennifer and Carson were doing, but suddenly light began to glow from Vala's hand and a moment later Cam sat up quickly, gasping for breath, before falling back to the bed.
John didn't even think, just ran for the door, vaguely aware that the others were following him. He burst into the room a moment later to find Cam arguing casually with Vala, as the medical staff cleaned up the mess.
"-think this puts me one up."
"Nope," Cam said, shaking his head. "You're forgetting the mudslide on Trenat."
"That was Team Three who saved us, not you."
"No, Team Three saved the others, I'm the one that pulled you out."
Vala shook her head. "I don't remember that being the case."
"Always," Vala said with a smile. "Now as much as I do like that I've saved your life more than you've saved mine-"
"Liar," he repeated.
"I'd really appreciate it if you would stop trying to die."
"As would we all," Teyla said, stepping forward to stand beside John and Cam turned around to look at them all.
For a moment, Cam held his gaze in silence, before turning to the others and grinning. He hopped off the table and reached out to pull Teyla towards him, leaning forward and resting his forehead against hers.
"I am glad you are well, Cameron."
"Yeah, me too," he responded and John watched as each of his team greeted Cam in a way that he hadn't expected. Part of him had always thought that the city would be exactly the same as she was before he'd got lost. That she would be waiting as if in limbo for his return, just like those who lived there. But time had moved on here as well and, as John slipped from the room, he had to wonder where he was supposed to fit in now.
"Keeping out of trouble?"
Laura looked up and grinned as Kade made his way across the room to sit on the side of her bed.
"Here to spring me?" she asked hopefully and he raised an eyebrow at her.
"Not a chance. You'll stay here until Carson and Jennifer medically clear you."
"But Kade, I'm going nuts in here! They cleared Cam and he had a much bigger injury than me. I didn't even need surgery."
"Cam was pretty much fully healed by Vala after Jennifer finished with him, and he still hasn't been cleared for duty."
"I don't need to be on duty," Laura said desperately. "I can just…not be here. Stuck in this bed. All. Day. Long."
"It's been 30 hours, Laura, not a month."
"It feels like a month."
Laura growled. "I hate you sometimes."
"I hate you, too."
"Fine, so long as we're on the same page."
Kade chuckled and ran a hand through his hair and Laura couldn't help but notice how tired he looked. He stifled a yawn and she reached out, placing a hand on his arm.
"How's everything going?"
"It's hard to tell," he said, kicking out his leg and hooking his foot under the chair next to her bed. He pulled it closer and then dropped into it, leaning back to give him more room for his legs. It always kind of amused her to see him folding himself into the small infirmary chairs; he was so tall he made them look like kiddie furniture.
"We had any hysterics yet?" she asked and he nodded.
"I think we've had to deal with everything under the sun. Our population just suddenly more than doubled in size and these people've just lost their entire lives. Their whole planet."
"We almost know how they feel," she pointed out.
"It's not really the same. Earth's out there, we just can't get to it. One day, when McKay figures out how that device was triggered we might just be able to go back. These people will never have that option and they can't sleep at night knowing that the people they left behind are still alive."
"Yeah," Laura said and sank further down into her cushions. "I guess I just don't want to think about it like that. It's hard to imagine."
"Yeah." He sighed and she glanced at him again, studying the lines in his face. He was pretty young for his rank, younger than she'd thought when she first met him, but at the moment he looked older than she'd ever seen him.
"You should get some sleep," she said softly and he shook his head.
"Too much to do."
"You can't do everything, Kade, that's what you have the rest of us for."
"I've already got all hands on deck and, no, you're not joining them."
"No." He stood up and stretched, as if it would suddenly make him more alert, and then leaned down to kiss her forehead. "Try to get some rest."
"It's not like I have much of a choice," she grumbled, but he was able to grin at her before he left and she figured that things could have been a lot worse.
"Hey, Teyla, what's up?"
"Cameron, thank you for coming," she said gratefully. "I am sorry to ask, but I am needed by the Linayans. There are some more…teething problems."
Cam bit back a grin, knowing that Kade had pulled her in to help Doctor Parker settle their new guests in. Initially, the Chancellor had been grateful to them for saving his people, but as it became clear that they would not quite have the freedom to roam the city at will, and that the control tower was definitely off limits for the general populace, things had got a little sticky.
"No problem," he said with an easy grin. "He asleep right now?"
"Yes, he should not wake until morning, but Evan will come by when his shift is over and you will be free to leave."
"Like I said, no problem." He wandered to the doorway leading to Torren's room and frowned when he spotted the boy was not alone. He turned to Teyla, who was grabbing her jacket from the closet.
"Yes, did I not say? John is meeting with Kincaid to try to help smooth things over from a more practical perspective. You do not mind?"
"Nah, it's fine. You go."
"Thank you. Please call me if there are any problems."
"We'll be fine and Evan finishes in a few hours. I think I can cope until then."
Teyla left and Cam glanced into the room, checking that both children seemed to be sleeping soundly, before making his way into the kitchen. He picked up a piece of fruit and headed into the living area, happy to see that Lorne had left his laptop on the table (Teyla still wasn't really one for watching TV, so she didn't have anything set up) and settled down to watch Battlestar Galactica.
He hadn't really been aware that he'd been falling asleep, but he jerked awake suddenly when something grabbed hold of his arm. It took him a moment to realise that he wasn't being attacked, but rather was being used as a climbing frame by a small child. He grunted as she accidentally kneed him between the legs, his eyes watering slightly.
"Cora," he said, picking her up and carefully settling her onto his lap. "You should be in bed."
She shook her head and gazed up at him wide eyed and not looking the least bit tired. "I'm 'wake," she said redundantly, looking so inordinately pleased with herself that Cam had to laugh.
"I can see that, but it's late. You should be asleep."
"Daddy didn't come home yet."
"He'll be back later." Cam tried really hard not to think about the fact that she was talking about John, but it was impossible. Cora was John's life now, she was his reason for surviving and Cam couldn't even be mad that he'd lost John because of her.
"I like your bracelet," he said, thinking back to his nieces who'd always loved to look pretty and dress up in their mother's baubles.
"Vala gave it to me," the girl said, grinning widely. "She said it's magic, just like 'Lantis."
"You, eh… Your daddy told you all about Atlantis, huh?"
"Uh huh. She's special and she sings to Daddy and she takes care of all the special people like Uncle Rodney and Uncle Ronon and Auntie Teyla and, most of all, you," she parroted.
"Me?" He tucked a piece of hair behind her ear as she nodded earnestly. "Your daddy told you about me?"
"He says you're the bravest man in the whooole universe, but you're really silly when you get hurt and don't tell Daddy and you can be an idiot." Her eyes widened. "I'm not s'posed to say that, 'cause it's not nice, but Daddy said it first."
Cam chuckled and the weight pressing against his heart started to fade. "Well, your daddy is just as bad. He ever tell you about all the times he did something silly?"
"My daddy isn't silly. He was a space pirate," Cora said sincerely, her eyes wide and serious. Cam managed to keep a straight face. "But he fell from the skies and my mother took care of him while he was sick and he loved her because she was pretty and she made him smile. And when she went away to the heavens, he stayed all alone to take care of me."
Cam swallowed. "Your daddy loves you very much," he said and Cora nodded.
"He says I'm the prettiest little girl in the whole wide universe. And I think he's maybe seen all of the universe."
"Because he was a space pirate."
Cam almost didn't feel right asking, but he had to know. "How old are you, Cora?"
"I'm nearly four whole years. It's my special name day in five moons."
"Yeah," Cam said, trying not to show the hurt he felt. "That's what I thought."
"Will you get me a present?"
"I don't know, have you been a good girl?"
"Uh huh. I'm always good."
"Then I'll see what I can do."
The light was an array of colours, as it filtered through the stained glass in the roof and down onto the water below. The fountain was large, but not too deep, and John felt fairly secure in that knowledge as he watched Cora splash around with Torren, Lorne and Teyla.
He hadn't been in the city for long, barely a fortnight, but it hadn't take him long to realise that things were wildly different. The city itself seemed more alive that it ever had before, speaking to John louder and stronger then ever. She seemed to will him to open and touch and play and fix everything around him. He could almost hear her singing to him in his sleep.
Lorne had assured him that it had happened gradually, that things were different since they'd docked the city on the platform they'd found in the ocean, the one that had called Atlantis to it the moment they'd fallen out of super-hyper-space, or whatever the hell it was that had sent them to a distant part of the universe. But to John, it hadn't been gradual at all and he hadn't realised just how much it felt like he'd lost more than just a small piece of himself until he got it back. The intensity with which he felt Atlantis living inside him now made him think he needed to stay away from the Neural Interface room that Rodney was so determined he visit.
He jumped at the sound of Cam's voice and tried not to lean closer when Cam slid onto the bench next to him. "Hey."
"Okay. She said you'd been in to see her." Cam nodded and John sighed. "I don't think she'll ever forgive herself."
"Will you?" John looked at him sharply. "It wasn't your fault that he got knocked of that cliff anymore than it was hers for arguing with him the day he died."
"Prete was a good kid."
"Yeah." Cam said, but John didn't say anything about not blaming himself, because he did. "Haven't seen you around much," Cam continued.
"Been busy settling in," John replied and did not look at Cam when he said it. He knew that he'd hurt everyone when he'd opted to move into the new sections with the rest of the Linayans and not into their spire and the excuse that he wanted to keep Cora around familiar faces sounded flimsy even to him.
The truth was that Cora was settling in better than he was. She adored the city, even though she couldn't speak to her the way John could, finding more to look at and play with than she'd ever had before. She loved everyone that John had introduced her to and he was even fairly sure that she had a bit of a baby crush on the Air Marshal, much to everyone's amusement. Most of all, she adored Cam, and somehow that was harder than everything else combined.
"She's a great kid," Cam said suddenly and John blinked, his daughter coming into focus once more.
"Look, Daddy! Look, Cam!" she cried, realising she had their attention, and then proceeded to kick water at Lorne.
"I see," he called back and they both waved as she turned her attention back to her companions. "Yeah," he said softly, finally speaking to Cam. "She is. You going to say it?" he asked, almost challengingly.
"You know what. You didn't say much when I introduced you to her the first time, so I figure you've let it stew long enough that you must be about ready to explode."
"Guess you do still know me," Cam said and John finally turned to look at him. "Hell, I didn't expect you to stay celibate, John, but you certainly moved fast."
"Well, I guess that's what you would think."
"Tell me what the hell I'm supposed to think," Cam hissed, his eyes almost begging John to do just that.
John simply stared at him. "You want me to wish I didn't have her? Because I can't do that."
"I guess I was wrong. If you really think that's what I meant then I don't know what the hell we're even arguing for; because you sure as hell don't know me at all."
Without waiting for him to answer, Cam stood up and walked away and John closed his eyes, wishing for just a moment that he didn't always have to make things so hard for himself. He wondered why he couldn't just tell Cam everything, why he couldn't just take what Cam was offering him, the life that Cam was offering and finally have what they'd always been denied before; the chance to live without hiding who they were.
"He's right, you know. She's a great kid."
John turned around as Ronon joined him, sliding onto the bench and watching everyone. It was like a small town, John marvelled, the doors to the apartments leading directly onto the large courtyard. The corridors led to different areas within the tower; everything from a football pitch to a food market, an indoor forest, a plantation, even some shops, where a few of the scientists and one of the marines had started making clothing for everyone. People had had more with them than the original expedition, when the city had taken flight to save the Earth, but four years was a long time to live in the same clothes and John wasn't sure why he was so surprised to see that Atlantis had come to life like an honest to God city and not just the memory of what she had once been.
A squeal brought his attention back to the present and he grinned as Lorne swung Cora upside down, as Torren tried to climb up his legs. Teyla, rather than helping him, was simply laughing at the situation, a delighted, carefree look on her face that John didn't think he'd ever seen before.
"A lot's changed," he said, finally acknowledging that he had been avoiding them all and it was about time he stopped. "How long have you been married?"
"Just over a year." He shrugged. "Took me a while to convince her," he said with a grin.
"Yet something tells me Miko's the one in charge."
"I like it that way."
John laughed. "So, Teyla and Lorne?" he continued, nudging his head towards the fountain.
"Not yet, but it's been a hell of a long time coming," Ronon said and something about the turn of phrase made John think that they weren't originally his words.
"You want the whole list?"
"Give me the highlights."
"Radek and Cera, she's the only other Athosian still here," Ronon said, confirming to John what he'd suspected, that Kanaan hadn't made it back to the city before they'd taken off. It also made John wonder if that was part of the 'not yet' that was holding Teyla back. "Sanchez and Ramone; Raj and MJ; Vala and Jennifer; and some others I don't think you know; a lot of them shipped in after you'd already started that training run in the jumper. And Cadman's been after McKay for about three years, but no one's really sure if she's serious about it and I don't think Rodney's even noticed."
John chuckled slightly before looking at him. "Sounds like Rodney. I take it he and Keller didn't last long."
Ronon shook his head. "You surprised?"
"Not really. He's been okay with the whole Vala thing?"
"Yeah. He dated some hot 'alien' chick about a year ago. He's fine."
John laughed and continued to watch Cora playing, happy to let the silence fall. Ronon had always been one for quiet and it was never uncomfortable for John. It was one of the things he'd missed the most.
"How was…how were things after?" he asked softly, not turning to look at his friend.
"Not good in the beginning. There was a lot going on and we couldn't get the 'Gate to lock onto Earth and we had no idea why. McKay still has no idea where we are, but he's working on it." John nodded and he could sense that Ronon was waiting for him to ask, but he couldn't do it. "We tried to find you. Every planet, every mission. Some of us never stopped."
"You had no idea where to look, but… thanks."
"You gonna ask?"
John almost said no, almost tried to pretend he didn't know what Ronon was talking about, but he owed his friend more than that for never really giving up on him. And, deep down, he wanted to know.
"How'd he take it?"
"How do you think? You were lost, Kanaan was back on Earth and there were about thirty people in the city who were never meant to be there when we left. Mitchell and Teyla did what they always do; they got on with it."
"You're an idiot."
Frowning, John looked at him. "What?"
"He was a mess. Doesn't mean he showed it. Felt worse because no one even realised your jumper wasn't there anymore until after we'd landed."
"Wasn't much of a jumper left in the end." He paused and took a deep breath. "No one's asked me," he said after a few moments.
"No need. If Harper had made it, he'd be here."
"He lived a couple days after the crash." He didn't spell out that those days hadn't been lived in peace.
They sat in silence for a while, content merely to watch the comings and goings. There were more people around than John would have thought for that time of day, but with things settling down slightly after the evacuation and teams out scouring for an uninhabited planet at the request of the Chancellor, it seemed that the city was back to running as close to normally as possible.
"She's not mine, you know," John said suddenly, his voice a little hoarse.
"Yeah, she is."
"No, I mean-"
"I know what you mean," Ronon interrupted. "That doesn't make her any less yours."
"I met Ahrina about three days after Harper died," John said softly. "We'd crashed into the mountains and it took a while to get down. She was just sitting there, crying."
"Cam always said you were a sucker for unhappy women."
"Like he's any different."
"He's worse," Ronon said with a grin and John realised that he'd been right in his initial impression. He knew now that Cam had taken over his role, both as head of the military and as leader of his team, but he hadn't been sure until that point just how close the team were.
As if sensing that something had changed, even if he didn't know what it was, Ronon prompted him. "She was pregnant already?"
"Yeah. She didn't tell me much, just that she was alone." John shrugged. "It made sense for us to stick together."
"What happened to her?"
"She died after she gave birth," John said, clearing his throat as it suddenly seemed to close on him. "Last thing she said was to name her Coralee, after her mother. She got to hold her, I guess that meant something."
"You ever find her family?"
John shook his head.
"But you never stopped looking."
"No. Not sure what I would've done if I ever found 'em."
"Like I said," Ronon smiled at him, "she's yours."
"Yeah. Yeah, she is."
Ronon glanced across the courtyard at a doorway that John was pretty sure belonged to Cam. "Don't you think you should tell him?"
"He reached his own conclusions. And when the hell did the whole damn city find out about us?"
Ronon merely snorted and John wondered if they'd ever really fooled anyone. They'd managed to keep it quiet for years before they'd both been pulled into the Stargate program, but he had to wonder if that was due more to proximity than anything else. Of course, if either of them had been 100% honest about certain things (wheelchairs and possible dismissals), John wasn't so sure they wouldn't have blown things before they'd even got the chance to leave the planet.
"You should talk to him," Ronon said, breaking into his thoughts. "He's never really got over losing you, none of us really did."
John frowned. "I seem to remember you being a lot less talkative."
"Things change. Talk to him."
Ronon patted him on the back and headed off in the direction John knew his rooms with Miko to be and he wondered when the hell everything had got so different. And if he'd ever really find his place again.
"What do you have, Doctor?"
Cam watched as Kade leaned closer to the force field, studying the creature that seemed to be hovering in the centre of the containment chamber. They were all gathered in the science lab that McKay had once designated the 'contamination room', watching the small dark cloud even as it seemed to be watching them.
Cam had thought that, once they had it contained, there would be a way to block out the sound, to proof their ears from it and stop the feeling of dread that came over him every time he heard it, but nothing McKay did seemed to work. It was almost a lonely sound, reverberating through the lower levels of the city like a siren song that seemed to sink inside him in such a way that he felt like he could shower for a week and still not rid himself of the feeling that hovered just under his skin.
A quick glance at the rest of the command team showed him that he wasn't the only one affected.
"I don't think this will hold it for long," Carson said and they all turned to look at him, even John, whom Cam had noticed had been studiously avoiding looking at anyone up until that point, especially him.
"It almost seems to be eating through the barrier," Carson continued. "I can't explain it, but from what I can tell, it seems to changes its molecular structure at will. It's not quite gas, not quite liquid, not quite solid."
"Well, that's very enlightening," Rodney snapped, but Cam could tell he was as disconcerted as the rest of them.
"So, how do we fight it?" Ronon asked.
"I really don't know. I've been working on the stinger we found in Sera for weeks now and I've very little to actually go on. We know it can eat through the Ancient shielding en masse," he said, which was something Rodney had confirmed after studying the jumpers, "but it seems that this wee thing can't do it at the same pace on his own. That said, this shield won't keep him forever."
"Can't we just, I don't know, fumigate them?" John asked. "I mean, they're bugs, right?"
"Yes, they're bugs," Rodney said, almost condescendingly. "Bugs who can function in a vacuum."
"Huh," Cam said, quirking an eyebrow at John, who'd actually looked at him for the first time. He'd actually thought it was a pretty good idea, too.
"Is there anything we can do, Doctor? Anything we can work on?" Kade asked and Carson shook his head.
"Short of breaking it down cell by cell, I couldn't even tell you what it is, let alone how to stop it."
"That's…unfortunate," Kade said, glancing at Cam and there was something in his eyes that put Cam instantly on alert.
Kade sighed. "Chuck picked the cloud up on long range sensors. It's headed this way."
"And you waited until now to tell us?"
"Rodney, I just found out myself before I came down here. It's pretty far away, but it seems to be moving fast."
"What made them change course, I wonder?" Radek asked and Cam watched as Rodney looked at him sharply.
"That's actually a very good point." He ran to the nearest wall panel and a screen dropped from the ceiling above him. He started to tap at panel, calling up images and flicking through information at a speed that made Cam queasy.
"What you got, Doc?" he asked at the same time that John said, "McKay?"
"That's it," he said suddenly and they all crossed the room to look at the screen. "They're following the path of the wormhole."
"What about Sera's planet? They didn't know how to use their Stargate until she powered it up for the first time," Kade asked and Cam watched as McKay clicked on a few buttons, zooming out and showing them a wider range of space.
"The Linayans were trading partners with this planet here, Ilitora."
"Wasn't that the second planet that Kamar saw disappear?"
"Yes," Rodney said. "And I think that they must have been trading with Kalaris, look. This is what the sky looked like a few months ago," he said, showing them a picture that Cam thought looked like a join the dot puzzle. "And this is it now."
The image changed suddenly to show a set path across the screen, a steady path from place to place that had once contained stars and now held nothing but space. The trail followed a path that looked set to hit Atlantis straight on.
"Sera's planet was here. I think it was just unlucky enough to be in their path," Rodney said, pointing to a spot in the darkness that lay on the opposite end of the screen from Atlantis. "Kalaris was here, Ilitora was there and Linaya was there."
"I have a question: I thought that, even after things burn up and die, we could still see them in the night sky," Cam said, confused. "How did Kamar see them disappearing in real time?"
"I don't know," Rodney admitted, clearly aggrieved by the answer. "All I can think is that it's something to do with these creatures."
"Given what we've seen them do," Kade said, "I'm not really that surprised."
"But it shouldn't-"
"Rodney," John interrupted. "It's not exactly the first time."
"That doesn't make it okay," he griped.
"Laws of physics aside," Kade interrupted before they could argue. "We need to figure out something fast."
"There might be a way to use the Interface," Rodney suggested and Cam glared at him.
"Not until we know everything about it."
"Some of us have been working, Colonel," Rodney snapped.
"Fine, bring me what you have and we'll see."
"It might be our only option."
"I said, we'll see, McKay. Don't push it."
The only sound around them was their footsteps and John had to admit that it was kind of nice. The city was vastly different to what he remembered and being in the company of only Rodney and Lorne in the lower levels of the city reminded him of a time when Atlantis had been only theirs.
He glanced at Rodney, still rather bemused by the fact that they'd fallen so easily back into their friendship. He'd worried that things would be strange, but the conversation had been easier than any he'd had since returning to Atlantis; Rodney had apologised for not being omnipotent and knowing that John was in trouble, had apologised for losing him and then not being able to find him. John had explained that it was fine, Linaya hadn't been so bad and the conversation had pretty much ended when Rodney had expressed that he was glad John wasn't dead and then offered to properly introduce him to Atlantis.
"So what the hell is this place?" John asked, curiously.
"We discovered it about six months after we landed," Lorne said, keeping pace next to John as Rodney tapped distractedly at his computer. "We're not exactly sure about the full extent of what it does, because the Ancients completely disabled it before they left, but McKay thinks it'll let us speak directly to the city."
John stopped walking and turned to look at his former 2IC. "Speak to Atlantis," he repeated and Lorne nodded with barely contained excitement. "Huh." He started walking, his mind already trying to comprehend what, exactly, that meant, even as he gestured for Lorne to continue.
"We discovered some hand held devices that will let us connect to certain systems in the city and, most recently, some that give remote access to the jumpers, but we think that this room is like a central hub that connects everything together."
"The problem is," Rodney interrupted, sounding rather irritated, "that it only responds to the natural gene."
"We don't know. We've studied the devices as much as we can, but they just won't respond. Even Mitchell can use them, but I can't even switch them on."
Ignoring that Rodney was clearly put out by that fact, John said, "Cam can barely even switch on a light with his gene. He walked into about three doors his first trip over, before he started using the manual controls. How is it that he can work this thing?"
"I don't know," Rodney repeated.
"You think…" John trailed off, eyes widening slowly as he felt the pull of the city get stronger. They'd just entered a part of Atlantis that had once been underwater and he couldn't say that he'd ever thought much still worked that far down. The corridors were brightening with every step he took and he could see the water lapping gently against the lower edge of the full length windows that lined the outside. If the lower part of the city had still been underwater, he figured this part of it would make a damn good aquarium.
He could feel something inside getting stronger, the urge to reach out and touch with his mind, the need to fix all the things around him that he could tell were broken, but the urge to move forward was even stronger. He broke into a jog, only vaguely aware that Rodney and Lorne were following close behind him, and it was like there was music in his head, slowly getting stronger, as if he were cranking up an old record player.
By the time he reached the end of the corridor, it was like the world was changing around him. The room in front of him was flooded with light, full of the music of Atlantis and just begging him to come closer, welcoming him home. He didn't realise he'd stopped running until he had to make himself start again, taking a step into the room and watching in awe as it began to change around him.
The walls began to realign themselves, twisting and rippling into shape as a small, circular platform rose up from the centre of the floor. He looked up as a device began to lower and knew what it was without having to ask. The room was filled with sights and sounds, an influx of information that he had no hope of understanding, because there was a sense of wrongness and he knew instantly that whatever they'd been doing over the last three years was working, but not very quickly. He knew he could do it faster, wanted to do it and couldn't have stopped himself even if he'd to.
He jerked as if he'd been slapped and it took him a moment to realise that he actually had been. He blinked and tried to focus on Cam, who was standing in front of him looking slightly panicked.
"I…what the hell?"
"We've been trying to wake you for about an hour," Cam said and it took John a moment to realise that the room was filled with people.
"An hour?" he asked and Cam nodded.
"You idiot!" Rodney yelled. "He was almost finished!"
"He was in a trance, McKay, we weren't leaving him in there."
"It's okay," Lorne interrupted before they could continue. "I think I got it," he said and smiled.
"Yeah, me too."
John turned at the Air Marshal's voice and watched them both as they looked upwards. It took less than ten seconds before John could sense what they were doing. He followed the path with them, allowed his mind to join the city and sensed others in the room doing the same. He didn't know exactly that it was that they were doing, but he knew that they were fixing the Interface. They were fixing the connection with Atlantis.
Cam's voice made John pull back from the city so quickly that he almost stumbled, even though he'd been standing still. A glance around the room told him that it had had the same effect on everyone else.
"It's okay," he said and Cam turned to look at him. "It's done."
"That's great, but we still don't know what this place is for. Other than playing pied piper on all of you."
John looked behind him to see a large group of people crowding the doorway. Somehow, even though he hadn't been aware of it at the time, the device had called everyone with the gene to help as he'd worked on fixing it.
"All right, everybody out." Jennifer's voice broke through the silence. "Colonel Sheppard, I'd like to check you out in the infirmary. Air Marshal, Major, you too. How are you feeling, Colonel Mitchell?"
"Barely even a headache," Cam responded. "She doesn't like me so much. Okay, you heard the doc, and I want everyone else out of here until we figure this thing out. McKay, not a soul gets into this room except you and Radek."
"Cam," John said, protesting.
"No. I get it, okay, I get that this place is calling you, because I can hear a little bit of it, too, but it's too dangerous. The answer's no."
"Fine," John snapped and left quickly, before he could say something he regretted. Somehow, leaving Cam behind him was harder than ignoring the city beckoning him back.
Twilight was his favourite time of the evening. The softness of the skies and the myriad of colours that splashed across the horizon, falling into the edges of the sea, always made him wish he was better equipped to capture them.
Evan frowned, twisting the brush slightly in his hand, making the bristles spiral paint across the canvas, but it just wasn't quite right. He sighed and put his things aside, knowing that he'd only continue to frustrate himself if he tried to finish and, this time, it wasn't just that he was beginning to run out of paint.
He ran a hand through his hair and turned at the sound of the glass behind him moving. Teyla smiled at him and he gladly accepted the wine she was offering. It was a sweet, fruity flavour that they had started trading for only months before, but it was her favourite.
"Torren get down okay?" he asked and she nodded.
"He requested another tale."
"I missed story hour?" he said, pouting and was pleased by her delighted laugh.
"There are times I think that you enjoy my stories more than my son."
"There are times you might be right."
She stepped forward and glanced at the canvas. "You are not content with this," she said and he no longer questioned how she understood his moods so easily.
"I just can't get it right." He sighed and stood up, moving his supplies inside and closing the door behind her as she made her way into the main living area.
She sat on the couch and looked up at him. "You are still angry."
He started to deny it, but there was little point in doing so. "Yeah. Yeah, I am. They just make me so mad sometimes." He growled, turning to put his wine on the table and, when he looked back, Teyla was smiling at him indulgently.
"They must find their own way back to each other," she said and he rolled his eyes and joined her on the couch.
"Then they might be waiting a while. They're both great pilots, but when it comes to relationships neither one of them has much sense of direction." He sighed and leaned back in his chair, reaching out a hand to pull her close. "I just don't understand them. They lost almost four years and now they're wasting it. Even Cora can see that they're being stupid and she's smart but she's only three years old."
"I know this frustrates you," she said and he felt her arms wrap around him. He smiled into her hair and felt her breath against his collar. "But you understand them better than most. It can be difficult for a lot of people to express their true feelings. Whether through fear of rejection or the knowledge that they will one day lose what has been offered. It is not an easy decision to make."
Evan swallowed, thinking over her words and wishing suddenly that he could see her face. Part of him wanted to leave it at that, to just let her lie in his arms until they fell asleep, or until she did and he was forced to carry her to her bed and leave her alone, returning to his own empty rooms, but he couldn't. He'd backed off every time, he'd left things settled in a comfortable nowhere that he was desperate to change, but didn't know how.
"Are you talking about Cam and John, or someone else?" he asked softly, taking the risk.
"I was not being specific," she responded and if he hadn't known her so well, he might have believed her.
"I think you're lying. I'm just not sure if you're lying to me, or to yourself."
She moved, pulling away from him and he had to fight the urge to keep her close. There was something in her eyes, a fear that he thought he understood and he wished he could take it away.
"I can't promise you'll never lose me, Teyla, that something won't happen to me. But I can promise you that I'll never leave willingly. I've seen what John and Cam are going through, all this time they're wasting and I don't want to do that with you. Not anymore. You and Torren are all I have, all I need. You're all I want."
"I know," she said, reaching out a hand to touch his cheek. He turned his head to kiss her palm. "I think I have known for a long time, but it is very difficult. I am scared," she whispered.
She laughed and, somehow, that made it all so much easier to just reach out and pull her into his arms. He kissed her before he had a moment to talk himself out of it and wondered why the hell he'd waited so long.
Kade looked across his desk at the two Colonels, noting that neither one of them looked particularly happy to be there. He had a feeling he knew why, but then he also knew that it had to be addressed.
"Have you given any thought to how you want this to go?" he asked. He noted that Cam looked at John, as if to gauge his reaction, but John was staring straight ahead.
"Seems to me you have things working just fine," John said, somewhat stiffly. Kade resisted the urge to groan; it was barely nine am, he'd only had one cup of canna and he could just tell that it was going to be one of those discussions.
"Sir, I think-"
Kade held up a hand and Cam shut up. "I want you to have a think about this: how do you feel about sharing?" This time they both looked at each other, a glance passing between them that Kade couldn't have even thought to translate. "I'm not suggesting that you work opposite shifts," he continued. "We all have lives and, whatever the two of you decide moving forward, I'm not about to have you on opposite sides of this. We've plenty senior staff to keep running this place just as we have been, but if you think I've never noticed that you work about twice as many hours as the rest of us, Cam, you must wonder how I ever got my rank."
Cam shifted in his seat, looking somewhat chastised. "I didn't-"
"That's not the point and it's not why we're here. Look, would it be more or less comfortable for us to have this chat off the record?"
John's eyes widened. "More," he said quickly and both Kade and Cam laughed at him.
"Fair enough. Just think about it. We'll work it out so that you can take turns in the city and on the field; we'll stagger your shifts so that Cam can finally get a life-"
"Thanks, sir," Cam interrupted, sarcastically, emphasising the 'Sir' and Kade knew it was just to irritate him.
"-and," he continued, "try to make sure that you get some time off together and we'll see how it goes. Take the rest of the day off and think about it."
He didn't dismiss them, but they hurried off on cue. Kade leaned back in his chair, wondering exactly how he got himself into the situation where he was trying to organise his work rota to play matchmaker for his two most senior officers. He blamed Teyla and her easy persuasion techniques and Lorne for his sneaky, underhand 'butter wouldn't melt' routine. He knew they'd purposefully caught him before he'd fully managed to wake up and he couldn't really argue that Lorne's idea made sense. He'd been wondering what exactly to do now that he had an extra Colonel on his hands and it had made perfect sense. Right up until the point where John Sheppard had looked at him in horror when he realised what was going on.
He jerked as a mug landed on the desk in front of him and looked up to see Laura grinning at him. She seated herself on the desk next to the mug and pushed it towards him.
"You trying to kill me?"
"If you don't want it, I'll take it back."
"Hand it over," he said and swiped the mug before she could react. He leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes, just inhaling the scent. He was waking up already. "Shouldn't you be in the infirmary?" he asked without opening his eyes.
"By an actual medical doctor?" He grunted as she poked him in the ribs and opened his eyes, finally taking his first drink. "Are you abusing a senior officer, Lieutenant?"
"I'm not cleared for duty yet, Kade." She grinned winningly at him. "Can we change that, please?"
"Speak to Evan and tell him to put you on light duty from tomorrow. Your team's grounded until Charley's out of the infirmary anyway."
"Yeah, looked like a nasty bump."
"We nearly didn't get the net up in time when she came through."
"I know, I was almost hit by that one, too."
Kade sighed and sat up straighter in his chair. "We'll need to make sure any future duties don't include you playing chicken with moving vehicles."
"I didn't get hit," she pointed out and he just looked at her. "Okay, so maybe I'll stay away from the jumpers for a while."
"See that you do."
"Aw, would you miss me?" she said, and he could tell that she regretted it when he flinched. "I'm sorry, Kade, I didn't mean it."
"No, it's not. I guess I just try not to think about Team Four. It's easier that way."
"Yeah, I guess it is." He took another long drink from his mug and reached out for the report he'd just received from McKay, doing his best to look like he was in control.
"You look tired, Kade."
"No, you're really not. Can't you take a break? Just go get some sleep, try to relax. Go play with Cora and Torren, I hear Teyla and John are looking for a sitter this afternoon."
"I have work to do," he said, looking up at her. "I'm fine."
"Your work will still be here tomorrow and if you don't take some time now you're going to lose it down the line."
"I'll take a break when we've figured out what killed Doug and the others."
He heard her sigh and part of him really wanted to take her advice, but he couldn't. Not until he had some answers. He immersed himself in the report, wanting as much information on the Interface as he could get, but he still smiled when he felt her kiss the top of his head before leaving the room. He'd lost one friend, but he still had others to protect and he was damn well going to do his best.
John wasn't all that surprised when Cam followed him after their meeting with Kade. He didn't slow down, even though he wasn't really sure where he was going either, but he soon found himself on the outer edges of one of the lower levels, on a low slung balcony that gave a view across the city. Cam joined him and stood silently at his side.
"We need to talk," Cam said eventually.
The silence descended once again and neither of them seemed inclined to break it. After a moment Cam started to chuckle and it wasn't long before John joined him, his laugh echoing around them.
"How the hell did we ever get started in the first place?"
John smirked. "A locked closet and a lot of alcohol."
"Not a bad start for something that lasted eight years."
"On and off," John said softly and Cam nodded. They'd, neither of them, been that good at informing the other of major events in their lives and the resulting arguments after John's reassignment from Afghanistan and Cam's crash in the Antarctic had resulted in a breakup that had lasted a long time. He still had no idea how the hell Cam's mother had managed to sort them out when he was in another galaxy most of the time, but their making up during his return to Earth after the Ancients had reclaimed the city had been of her doing, even if he'd never really figured out exactly how.
"I don't want to fight," Cam said resignedly. "I thought I'd lost you. I did lose you. And…I just don't want to fight anymore. For a start Mama's not here to knock some sense into you."
"Okay, fine, us." Cam smiled and moved a little closer, his hip resting against the rail. "I don't want to fight," he continued, his voice low, "I just want to know if you're…"
"If I'm what?"
"If you're still in, or if you've moved on. I mean really moved on. Because if you have, I'll step back, but I made my choice a long time ago and it hasn't changed."
"Yeah, well, your mama warned me you were stubborn," John said and hoped that Cam got what he didn't think he could say. But just in case, he cleared his throat and said, "And, you know. Me, too."
Cam laughed, shaking his head, and it was like something had lifted from John's chest. Cam reached out suddenly, one hand cupping John's neck and just pulled him forward. It was like coming home, more than the feeling he'd had when Atlantis had awoken inside him again, more than seeing with his own eyes that his friends were all still alive. Cam kissed him almost fiercely, thoroughly, and as if he never wanted to let go. John couldn't say that he had a problem with that.
"Just so you know," Cam said, pulling back suddenly, his breathing heavy. John tried to follow him, pressing him against the balcony and nipping at Cam's jaw when he turned his head to the side. "I'm trying to have a serious conversation here."
"Jesus." He gasped as John nuzzled the side of his neck, licking the spot behind his ear that always made Cam putty in his hands. "John-"
"Fine, what?" John pulled back. He was suddenly struck by the man in front of him. It was as if he'd never really seem Cam before; lips slightly swollen, eyes wide and focussed completely on him. And Cam was his. Had never really wanted to be anything else. John was suddenly struck by the realisation that he'd almost given that up willingly.
"You're right. We should…we need to talk. About Cora."
"No, it's okay. She's perfect and I'll be as much a part of her life as you'll let me. I don't… I don't care how… I just…"
"Yeah, I know," John said, grinning back, because he really did know. "But shut up and listen anyway."
"Okay, that is one kink we agreed we'd never touch."
Laughing, Cam slung an arm around his waist and led him back into the city. John almost shrugged it away until he remembered that it really was okay. They were both off duty and DADT was a distant memory. He wasn't entirely comfortable with it, but Cam had lived with these people for almost four years, had lived with the knowledge that he'd never have the same kind of life everyone else had started to live, because he'd made it clear to John that no one else would be that for him. The feeling that came with that knowledge was so intense that he didn't really know what to say. So he said nothing about it and just walked, slowly, haltingly telling Cam about how Cora had come into his life.
Cam laughed. "How the hell did you manage to raise such a smart kid, Shep?" he asked and John glared at him. "No, seriously, she's fully functional and she can put her clothes on the right way around."
"That was one time," John said, punching Cam's arm.
"Joking aside," Cam said as they entered one of the corridors near the main living area. "You raised a good kid. Seriously."
"Yeah, and I seriously have no idea how the hell it happened."
"You're not as dysfunctional as you thought." At John's look, he smirked. "Well, maybe you are, but she seems to have turned out okay so far."
"So far," John repeated, momentarily distracted by two marines arguing in the corridor. He was slowly learning the names of the people he'd never actually met, but he had no idea who the two men were. He did, however, know that one was of higher rank and that the other seemed disinclined to care. He turned to Cam questioningly, but Cam shook his head and they kept walking.
"You'll get used to it," he said. "Anders and Wilson don't know how to do anything but argue."
"Don't you think we should do something?"
Cam shrugged. "They're off duty. It's none of my business unless they get physical." John wasn't sure how to react to that. "It's hard to get used to, huh?"
"I heard Cadman call the Air Marshal a slut yesterday," John said incredulously and Cam winced a little. "It's just…weird."
"Yeah, that is a little weird." Cam sighed. "We've been here for going on four years, John. We all had to adjust. The lower ranks can bond easy enough and we all tried to keep something of home, make sure we spoke to people from our own countries from time to time and just remember, but… think about it. Kade was never meant for Atlantis, he was for the SGC. If Doug," Cam cleared his throat at the thought of the recently lost Group Captain and shook his head. "If Doug hadn't been in the city, Kade would've had no one. If Cadman can look past his rank and be his friend when he's off duty who the hell are we to say it's wrong?" Cam sighed. "Truth is, he kind of made it an order that we use first names off duty and don't interfere with anyone's personal lives; to let people get along, or not, without having to worry about it affecting their work. He tried to make it easier for people to find a normal life outside of survival."
"Looks like it worked," John said, looking at the bustling community around them. They'd arrived in the main courtyard and it wasn't hard to see that whatever they were doing now, they'd managed to find a way to live.
"Yeah," Cam said with a smile. "It wasn't home for most of us, not for a long time, but it worked out in the end."
There was a slight pause and John cleared his throat. "What about you?" he asked softly and Cam frowned. "Who did you have?"
"We've both known Evan a long time and I make friends easily." When John just looked at him, he rolled his eyes. "Yeah, okay, and Teyla beat the crap out of me until I agreed to stop moping."
"Sounds like Teyla."
"Yeah, well…she lost you, too. They all did."
John nodded and opened his mouth to speak, before shaking his head and turning away, his eyes automatically searching for Cora as she played on the grass with Torren, Ronon and Miko.
"What do you want to know?" Cam asked a moment later.
"Did you tell them? About…"
"Us?" Cam confirmed and John nodded. "When do you ever have to tell Teyla anything?"
"Yeah. I wondered if she knew."
"They all knew. I don't know how long, but they knew."
"Lorne, too?" John asked and Cam just looked at him. "Yeah, okay, of course he knew."
"Best kept secret in the city," Cam said with a chuckle and John couldn't help but laugh with him. "So, what do you think about Kade's offer?"
"Let's give it a go."
"You want to tell me why we're here in the middle of the night, McKay?" John asked, irritated and Cam really couldn't blame him. He wasn't feeling too pleased with Rodney himself. It was bad enough to be dragged down to the labs without being given the chance to do much more than throw some clothes on, but they'd had to take Cora across to Vala and Jennifer and the girl had woken up, none too happy with the world. When Teyla and Lorne had turned up a few moments later with Torren, it was fairly obvious that he and John weren't the only ones being summoned. They'd bumped into Kade on the way and the rest of the command team were already there when they arrived.
"I have an idea."
Rather than furthering his explanation, or giving them any indication as to what that idea might be, Rodney continued to do whatever the hell it was that he was doing with his computer and left the rest of them standing there watching and trying very hard to ignore the noise that was still echoing around them, louder than before. Why Rodney had asked them to meet in the contamination room was still a mystery, but being around the bug, which seemed to have doubled in size since the last time Cam saw it, wasn't doing anything for his nerves.
"Seriously, Rodney," Kade said and Cam wasn't sure when his CO had actually called it a night, but if he'd had to hazard a guess, it hadn't been too long ago. "If you don't explain yourself in the next ten minutes I might forget that I like you."
Rodney looked up at him and frowned. "Aren't you on duty? You're a lot easier to deal with when you're on duty."
"Then you should have had your epiphany about an hour ago." Kade sighed and stretched his neck and shoulders. Cam noted that he was still barefooted. "Okay, sorry. Just, can you tell us why we're here?"
"I think I know how to stop them. Hypothetically speaking."
"How hypothetically?" Cam asked.
"Entirely hypothetically. At least for the moment."
"You want to test it on our friend here," Kade guessed and Rodney nodded.
"What if it gets out?" Ronon asked.
"Then you can stab it again and I'll come up with something new."
"Glad you've thought this through, Rodney," John said through gritted teeth.
Lorne shook his head. "If that thing gets loose in the city, we might not be able to contain it again."
"And if we don't try it, we'll have nothing to do when they get here." There was a note of panic in Rodney's voice that made them all stand up straighter.
"What is it?" Kade asked, but something told Cam that he'd figured out the same thing Cam had.
"They're moving faster," Rodney confirmed. "They'll be here in less than two days at this speed. Possibly less if they speed up again."
Kade glanced at Cam and then nodded. "Do it."
Rodney turned back to his computer and this time no one complained about the wait. Not really caring about what it might look like, he slipped his hand briefly into John's and squeezed it in reassurance, pleased when John squeezed back before letting go.
"Okay," Rodney said a few moments later and Cam wasn't the only one who jumped. "Major." Lorne crossed the room and Rodney passed him one of the interface devices, which instantly unravelled in his hand.
"Cool," John muttered and Cam turned to him. He'd forgotten that they hadn't quite got around to showing John everything new they'd discovered about the city yet.
"Are you in?" Rodney asked and Lorne nodded, looking somewhat puzzled.
"What interface is this, McKay? I'm not really getting anything specific."
"I know, I've re-written some of the code. I need you to concentrate on this room," he said and when Lorne nodded, continued. "I want you to bring it in further until you've got the shields around the creature in your mind."
"Doesn't really work that way, McKay, but I think I know what you mean."
"Yes, well, I wouldn't know, would I?" Rodney snapped.
"Rodney, what are you hoping to do with this?"
"Oh," Rodney said, turning to Kade. "Something Carson said the other day was actually quite intelligent when I put it in the right context."
"Oh, thanks, Rodney," Carson said sarcastically.
Rodney continued, ignoring him. "I'm hoping to break the creature apart on a molecular level."
"Can we do that?" Cam asked, almost taking a step closer only to change his mind when he realised that would also take him closer to the bug.
"Hypothetically, yes. I'm hoping that the interface will allow Major Lorne to tell the city what he wants to do. Atlantis should be able to do the rest."
"Not that I'm against the idea in principal, Doc," Lorne interrupted. "But shouldn't Colonel Sheppard be doing this?"
"Ideally, yes, but he's had no experience with these devices."
"Okay," Kade said. "Then let's see if this works."
"Why doesn't everyone take a step back," Lorne requested, and Cam noticed that he directed the statement to Teyla. Personally, it was advice he was very happy to be taking. It didn't lessen the clicking noise any, but just the slight distance was an improvement on his nerves; the thing was almost half the size he was now.
"Okay, Major," Rodney said. "Try it now."
Cam watched along with the others, focussing more on Major Lorne than on the creature. Evan's eyes had rolled back in his head and his eyelids were flickering wildly. He noted that John moved to go to him and grabbed his arm, shaking his head.
"That's supposed to happen?" John hissed and Cam nodded.
There was a sudden shriek and Cam instinctively ducked and covered his ears. He looked over to see that everyone had done the same, except for Lorne, who didn't seem to be aware of anything at all. The creature in the shields was vibrating madly, pulsing and growing, seeming to change form in front of his eyes. It expanded suddenly into a large black cloud of writhing matter, the noise it emitted growing shriller by the second until Cam's head began to pound. He screamed at Lorne to stop, but his voice was lost in the noise, and he found himself struggling to his feet alongside Kade and John, trying desperately to cross the room to Lorne.
The containment shields began to fizz and spark, moving as the creature strained to get free. Cam stumbled into Kade as they reached Evan and he was horrified to see blood dripping from every orifice, but still Lorne wasn't waking up.
Suddenly the noise stopped and they all turned as the containment shield blinked off. Cam felt his heart stop as he stood watching the cloud, suspended for a moment in the same cylindrical shape as the shields that were no longer there. With a jerk, it flooded outward only to suddenly disappear in a puff of smoke. There was a humming noise and Cam looked up in time to see the remains, whatever they were, sucked into vents which then disappeared.
There was silence in the room until Lorne said, "It worked." But he'd already hit the floor before Cam turned back to him.
"He's going to be fine, lass."
"I wish to see him."
Evan could hear Carson sigh, but a moment later the curtain moved and Teyla made her way to his bedside, not looking all that happy. He watched as she seemed unable to decide whether she wanted to pace or sit by him, but he was happy when she opted to perch on the side of his bed.
"I have a strong urge to hit you, but I do not wish to cause you further injury."
Evan smiled. "Save it up and you can beat me up when I'm out of here." She pursed her lips and he reached out to take her hand. "I'm fine, Teyla. There's nothing to worry about."
"Of course there is something to worry about. These creatures will be here in mere hours and our only option to stop them may kill the very people I wish to be protected."
"Hours?" he asked, incredulously.
"Yes. Rodney thinks that they are answering the cry of the one we destroyed. He believes they are preparing to descend upon us."
"It'll be all right," he said, hoping he sounded more confident than he felt. "We'll work something out."
"I cannot help but think of Carson's words. He said that the creature was eating through the shields we placed around it. There are whole worlds missing from the skies as these creatures swarm to them and eat everything in their path. I do not want that end for my son."
"I won't let that happen. We won't let that happen, Teyla. We've faced worse that this before."
He felt a chill deep in his bones when she shook her head.
"I do not think we have."
"I really don't think this is a good idea," Cam said and John couldn't exactly disagree. He looked around the room, not really understanding what the big deal was to everyone else, but then he'd never seen it in it's original form; the room had started to change the moment he stepped inside.
"We don't really have much of a choice. McKay thinks if we use this room we can get Atlantis to work out there."
"Yeah, but he has no evidence that it's going to work."
"We don't really have any other options," John pointed out. "Look, this swarm is going to be here in less than two hours. Chuck reckons we'll be able to see it just by looking out the window pretty soon. You know I have to do this." Cam nodded, but John could see that he wasn't very happy about it.
Evan, Kade and Carson were still discussing options with Rodney and Radek and he knew that they were trying to decide who should test the five person-shaped holes that had appeared in the walls. Teyla, Vala and Cadman were off to one side listening and not looking too pleased about the whole thing. He had a feeling that Lorne was there against both Jennifer and Carson's orders, but there wasn't really much choice.
"-should be me."
"You shouldn't even be out of the infirmary!" Carson cried and Kade held his hands up to stall an argument.
"Look, we don't have time to discuss this," he said and promptly stepped into the nearest opening.
The result was instantaneous, the lights brightened and the room changed shape again, the space around Kade contracting and instantly surrounding the Air Marshal until he was completely embedded inside the wall, only the front of him visible to the room.
"Kade!" Cadman cried even as everyone rushed forward.
"It's okay. I'm fine."
The voice belonged to the Air Marshal, but he hadn't spoken. The words had an almost mechanical sound to them as they echoed through the room and John was struck by the realisation that he was talking through Atlantis.
"This is incredible. I can see everything in the city."
"That's great," Cadman snapped. "But can you get out?"
"Yes, Lieutenant," he replied, emphasising her rank. "I can get out just fine. However, there are a few technical issues we should sort out first. Colonel Sheppard, you can't use the main control yet, it's still not completely fixed, but I don't have the power to do it alone. We're going to need to get the rest of these pods filled up if we want her operational in time."
"If I have to go in there," Carson said, turning to the rest of them and not really looking too pleased with the prospect. "Then I want Jennifer monitoring all our vitals."
"Agreed," Cam said, as John radioed for Jennifer to join them.
Suddenly Corporal Harris and Doctor Conrad rushed through the door, looking wild-eyed and a little freaked out. Their gazes focussed instantly on the Air Marshal.
"That was the weirdest thing I've ever felt," Harris said, still breathless.
"I agree. Kade, not sure if you can hear me in there, but please never do that again."
"Understood, but this is important."
"What the hell?" John muttered and Doctor Conrad turned to face him.
"He asked us very calmly and politely to come down here."
"What's so wrong with that?" Cam asked, but John had an idea already.
"He did it from inside our heads."
"It's really not pleasant, sir," Harris said.
"Noted." Kade responded. "Now can we get started?"
Jennifer arrived a few moments later and John stepped back as Cam organised everyone. Against both Teyla's and Jennifer's advice, Evan was the second person to step into the device, closely followed by Carson, Harris and Conrad. For John, it felt like something in his head was slowly turning itself on, growing stronger and connecting him to Atlantis in a way he never could have imagined. He wasn't sure how long he stood there, just basking in the connection, but it felt like minutes and years all at once. He could have stayed there forever if he hadn't felt something tugging at his knee.
He blinked and looked down, frowning when he saw that Cora tugging at his trousers. What alarmed him more than the fact that she seemed to have made her way down to the depths of the city was that she was crying.
"Hey, hey, what's wrong?" He scooped her up and glanced at Cam, indicating that he was going to take her out of the room.
"I'm scared," she said, sniffing and John stroked her hair, holding her tighter against him as he walked down the corridor, settling about half way down and leaning against the window.
"There's nothing to be scared of."
"Uh huh, there is." She pointed behind him and John turned around, his eyes widening as he spotted the darkness on the horizon.
"We don't have time for this, McKay!"
"I'm doing the best I can!"
Cam tapped his earpiece to turn it off, growled and crossed to Chuck, looking over his shoulder at display that showed the dark mass that was surrounding the planet. The noise had already started, echoing through the city in a way that it hadn't on the Linaya. It was as if the sound itself was alive, lurking around every corner, hidden in every room of the city. There was no escape from it.
"How much time do we have?" he barked.
"They're moving fast, sir. At a guess, I think they'll breach the atmosphere in under three minutes."
"Great," Cam muttered. "So even if we do kill them, we'll have no god damn ozone layer left." He turned to Radek, who was tapping away at a console behind him. "We need to hold them off until they're ready downstairs."
"That's your job, Doc. Any bright ideas?"
Radek muttered in Czech and shook his head.
"Great." Cam rubbed a hand over his eyes and tried not to think about how quickly it could all end. "Is there no way we can, I don't know set one of the jumpers to do blow up and just fly it into the swarm? That could work right?"
Radek looked at him like he was incredibly stupid, which wasn't really all that unusual, before his eyes suddenly widened.
"A-ha! It will work," Cam cried.
"No, do not be stupid, but we can perhaps stall them. If I can set the jumper's shields to the same frequency we used on the containment shield, we can perhaps hold them off."
"Will a jumper have enough power to shield the whole planet?" Amelia asked sceptically and Radek shook his head.
"No, but perhaps six or seven of them." Radek looked up at Cam. "We will need people to fly them."
"No, Doc, we won't." Grinning as he held onto what was possibly a really slim hope, Cam closed his eyes and held out his hand. He'd felt the city coming to life over the last few hours, ever since they started using the Interface at full power. When John had come back, after returning Cora to Vala's care, he'd jumped straight onto the platform without another word and Cam had felt a surge as the helmet had dropped to cover him, growing and moulding itself around John, much in the same way the others had melded to the wall. John had reassured them he was okay, but even if he hadn't said it, Cam would have felt it in his bones. John had always been his link to the city and now that link was only stronger.
Looking for something?
Cam smiled as he heard John's voice in the back of his mind. No time, just help me out, okay?
You're supposed to say 'Accio'.
Fine. Don't die.
Back at you.
There was a startled noise that jerked Cam back to his surroundings and he looked down to see that the Jumper Interface had materialised just fine and was already unravelling in his palm. He felt a connection to the jumpers that was stronger than it had been the last time he'd tried the device and grinned, a feeling of exhilaration at them coming to life just for him.
He selected seven of them and waited.
"Okay, Radek, I'm ready when you are."
"Incredible. Yes, one moment."
He didn't need Radek to confirm when he'd finished with the changes to the shield, because he could sense them and he knew without asking what he had to do. Without waiting for confirmation, Cam sent the jumpers on their way, trusting that Chuck would open the hatch to let them out.
It was a strange sensation, feeling himself pulled seven different ways at once. He was no longer just himself, he was the readings and measurements of the instruments on each ship, he was the correction in each course and the energy behind every console. He activated the shields, spread them out until they connected and sent out a boost of power that he pulled from the city herself. The shield completed, covering the whole of the planet as it grew wider and wider, preceding the ascent of the ships into the atmosphere.
The swarm hit him like a brick wall and he felt the impact reverberate through every bone in his body. He struggled to maintain the shield, forced himself not to think about just how much everyone was depending on him, and held his position. The noise seemed to be coming from within him now, echoing through him and pulsing against his skin. He swore he could feel every writhing inch of the swarm as it pulsed and pushed against his shields.
Cam felt his strength beginning to wane, felt every ounce of energy being eaten away from the inside until all he had left was sheer willpower and a strong need to protect his city, his people, his family. He'd finally found everything he'd thought he'd lost and more, and he was damned if he was going to lose it again. If they made it through this, he was moving John and Cora into his apartment whether they wanted it or not. And this time it was going to be forever.
It was his last thought before everything went blank.
There was a sudden sense of alarm as the shield died and the swarm descended. Something in the back of John's mind wanted to react emotionally, but he barely had time to think, before he was flooded with information. The city knew what they wanted of her, knew what they needed, but they had to focus it.
John knew he had more of a complete picture than the others, knew he could see things that they couldn't and so he directed them, pushed their minds outward and towards the swarm, forming a kind of shield of thought, directing Atlantis to where they needed her to be. They needed more power, but John already knew it was there, lurking beneath them in the docking platform the city was resting on. It wasn't ZPM power, it wasn't like anything John had ever known, but it was there and even if he didn't know how to call it up one of the others seemed to have that under control.
He felt the darkness surround them the instant he reached out to help. Together they pushed the city to stretch out her senses and do whatever the hell it was that she'd done to destroy the one they'd captured. John already knew it wasn't going to be that easy this time.
There was almost a purpose to the darkness, a malevolence that seeped under his skin and made it itch. He could hear the clicking sound everywhere now, even inside his own head and he took a moment to think of Cora and prayed she wasn't too scared. It was harder to do his duty than it ever had been before, when it meant that he had to leave her alone.
He forced himself to focus. He could feel something in the city, feel something beginning to swell and push outwards and he urged it on. He didn't understand what she was doing, didn't know how she knew to do it, but the creatures were beginning to vibrate, beginning to shuffle and squirm and scream, so he urged Atlantis to keep going.
He could feel the strain in his head, could feel the headache that had started only moments ago pounding inside his skull, but he urged Atlantis onwards, pushed and pleaded with her until she complied.
He heard screaming, heard it echoing underneath the screeching and clicking of the creatures and was only distantly aware that it might have been him. He felt something disconnect and knew that one of the others had passed out or been pulled out by Jennifer, but he didn't have time to think about it, as he stepped in to pick up the slack.
The cloud of creatures was expanding, swelling so rapidly that John was pretty sure it encompassed the nearest planet to them and still it continued to grow. The noise was unbearable, the dread that had long since sunk into his bones was growing and one by one he felt the others fall away from him.
He was left alone, floating inside the city until he was Atlantis. He reached out through her hallways, felt the sea lapping against his toes and stretched his fingers deep into the well of energy beneath him. In one final burst, he threw everything he had at the swarm and when the darkness came, he welcomed it.
The city woke slowly that morning, coming to life with the same gradual pace as the rising sun and Laura held tightly onto her mug as she stared across the ocean. She'd been ordered out of the infirmary only hours ago, told to shower and get some sleep before she made herself sick and she didn't really blame herself for not being strong enough to resist.
"Thought I might find you out here."
She turned and tried to muster up a smile for her CO, but Cam waved a hand at her and she turned back to face the water.
"You're up early," she said, taking a sip of her now-cold canna.
"And I'm betting you haven't even been to bed."
"I'm not tired."
"That won't help."
She saw him indicate the mug she was holding and shrugged. "I'll be fine for my shift, sir."
"Cut the crap, Laura, I'm not worried about that. We get that you're worried about him, we all are, but you're not doing anyone any favours by burning yourself out."
"I just want to make sure that someone's there when he wakes up."
"I get that. Believe me, I get it," Cam said with feeling and she turned to face him. "But you have to have a little faith."
"It's been weeks," she said, swallowing the ball of grief in her throat. "Carson and Jasper have had headaches since they woke up and Charley's blind. Are you going to stand there and tell me that I shouldn't worry about it?"
"No, of course I'm not, but Jennifer thinks that the longer they're out the more the more time they'll have to heal. They're still connected to the city in some way, even now. Something tells me Atlantis'll fix them if she can."
Laura frowned. "Still connected?"
Cam nodded. "We don't have any proof, but…yeah. I don't know what it felt like to be in that thing, but I've got to think it was a hell of a lot more intense than what I went through. My gene's barely there and I can still sense an echo of the jumper's sometimes, even the one that Lieutenant Patel wasn't able to recall. My guess is that they've got to still be a part of her. It's a theory anyway. It might not be true, but it feels right."
"Faith, huh?" she asked and he smiled.
"Yeah," he said, pulling her into a hug. "Faith."
Coming back to life was, Kade thought, a lot less pleasant than one might expect. To be fair, he wasn't entirely convinced that he'd been dead, but the aches and pains that were making themselves known with all the finesse of a sledgehammer on glass made him think that he hadn't been too far off it.
There was a melody playing in the back of his head that he thought, at first, might be a sure sign that he was actually on his way to the great beyond, but quickly realised was coming from Atlantis. He took a moment to listen, to let himself settle into the harmony, and the gentle sensation of being so completely surrounded by her, felt like snuggling into a warm duvet on a winter morning. It was safe and he was content. Right up until the point where he tried to open his eyes.
His eyelids felt gummy and were stuck together so much that it took him a few minutes to pry them open. When he did he wished he hadn't bothered and grunted in pain as the light pierced his retinas and made his stomach do summersaults. He turned painfully to one side and dry retched, barely feeling the gentle hands holding him in place, stroking his face and trying to keep him calm.
He mumbled something barely intelligible and wasn't even sure what he'd been trying to say. He took a moment to let himself settle, to let the spinning in his head come to a complete halt, before he gently opened one eye.
He was startled to see someone's head about three inches from his face, but a hand held him in place so that he couldn't suddenly move back. Given his last reaction to movement, he was grateful. He could hear noises in the distance and it took him a moment to realise that it was the sound of people around him speaking. He felt like he was immersed in a swimming pool, listening to conversations going on above the water.
He opened his other eye and it took longer than normal for anything to focus. He tried to smile when Laura came into view, Jennifer just behind her, but couldn't be sure that he'd been very successful.
It came back to him slowly, the memory of what had happened, and he instantly tried to ask what had happened, tried to get up and do something, but Jennifer held him still and Laura was waving frantically at him to stop trying to move. He calmed and saw Laura smile at him in reassurance. She was speaking to him, but he couldn't make out the words and he saw the realisation dawn on her face. Instead, she gave him her cheesiest smile and two thumbs up. If he'd been able, he might have laughed, instead he simply let his eyes drift closed and didn't struggle when sleep took him.
The next time he woke, it happened even more gradually, but with considerably less pain. His ears still felt like they were waterlogged, but sounds were clearer and he could at least make out what was being asked of him when Jennifer checked him over and Laura tried to make sure he was still all there. He wasn't convinced by her assessment of his being brain damaged when he couldn't name the capital of Uzbekistan off the top of his head and he was fairly sure he'd never really been able to pronounce it without feeling like he was swallowing his tongue. Her impish grin had also been a bit of a giveaway.
He demanded a report right away and, against Jennifer's orders that he should rest, Laura had settled into the chair beside him to start filling him in. Cam had wandered in a few moments later, clearly happy to see him and looking no more worse for the wear than he had the last time Kade had seen him. Although, further inspection showed the strain of command was resting heavily on his shoulders.
"John's pretty much taken over with the military and Teyla and Lieutenant Patel have things with the Linayan's in hand."
"What's this I hear about a new planet?" he asked and indicated Laura when Cam frowned, not understanding how he'd known.
"Moving smoothly. We've got the beginnings of a settlement ready and about half the population will be moved in by the end of the week. They're grateful for our hospitality, but they're not really much for the ocean and they're keen to find their own place."
"Can't really blame them," Laura said with a shrug.
"And I can't say it's not a slight relief. We have enough to worry about with resources for our own people. We'd have found a way and I'm happy to help them as much as they need to get back on their feet, but from a practical standpoint it's the best option all 'round."
"Yeah," Cam agreed. "Can't say that didn't occur to me."
"How's John, by the way?" Kade asked.
"Fine. He did better than any of you," Cam said softly and they all glanced across the room to bed in the corner where Teyla sat vigil. "He was out for less than a day. Jennifer thinks that he was only unconscious because he was suddenly separated from the city. The strength of his gene and his connection with Atlantis are probably what protected him in the end."
Kade nodded. "Tell him I'd like to see him when he gets a minute. No one can really tell me what happened after I fell unconscious. I was second to last still in the interface, from what I'm told, but the swarm was still growing in size when I passed out."
"I'm not sure John will even be able to tell you. He can't really explain it and he was thrown out of the device when the energy back lashed through the system. Fried out about ten systems and McKay's barely got them all working again."
"Nothing serious, I hope."
"Nah, he got the quarantine protocols back on right away and the rest were fairly minor systems."
"None of the toilets worked for the first three days," Laura said darkly. "That's not minor."
"Oh, and Cadman got locked in her bathroom."
"Before they were fixed?" Kade had to ask, not even bothering to hide his smile. Her face told him the answer before Cam nodded.
"Aren't you needed in the control tower, Colonel?" Laura said, glaring at Cam.
"Okay," Jennifer interrupted and Kade, if he hadn't felt it was beneath his rank, would have groaned at her arrival. Possibly even pouted. "The Air Marshal needs to rest," she continued, shooing Cam out of the room.
"I'll tell John to swing by later," Cam called over his shoulder. "And I'll pull together a report."
Kade nodded his thanks and couldn't help but notice the light dimming in his friend's eyes as he glanced back across the room. Kade turned to Laura, who had fixed a smile on her face and was clearly refusing to follow Cam's gaze, as if not seeing it would make it any less true. He noticed that the doctor didn't ask Laura to leave and he wondered just how much time his friend had spent by his side that she didn't even try.
"Okay, Kade," Jennifer said, "I need to run a few scans and then you can get some rest."
"I feel fine," he replied, punctuating his statement with a yawn.
"I'm sure you do," she said, clearly humouring him, "but I'd still rather you didn't push yourself too hard."
"You're the boss."
"I like the sound of that. Now this will only hurt a little."
The city was dark and silent. The sound of the waves filtered gently through the open window and the chill breeze settled in the air. There was a noise, a scurrying of feet and a sudden crash as a photograph on the mantel fell to the floor.
"Sorry, Dad," came the whispered reply and Cam sighed.
"You're supposed to be asleep."
"I'm not sleepy," she said and started to climb onto the bed, stepping all over him in her quest to get to the centre of the bed.
John groaned beside him and suddenly snaked an arm out to pull her in between them. "Coralee," he said as she giggled. "I thought we agreed you'd stay in your own room tonight."
"But I'm not sleepy, Daddy."
"Last time," Cam conceded and turned onto his side. He stretched out an arm to cover her and his fingers settled on John's arm.
He was just falling asleep when he heard her whisper. "Dad."
"Will Uncle Evan wake up today?"
Cam's eyes opened as he felt John's arm stiffen. He knew John blamed himself, knew that, for all he was glad to be alive, he blamed himself for not managing to protect the others. Their gazes met over Cora's head and Cam wished he could say yes, for both of them. For all of them.
"I don't know, sweetie," he said finally. "Try to get some sleep."
He listened to Cora's breathing as it slowly evened out. For all her protestations that she wasn't tired, it didn't take her long to fall asleep and Cam only wished that her father could find it that easy. He'd run out of ways to reassure John that he wasn't responsible for Evan, that he couldn't possibly have stopped the Interface from draining them all and spitting them out when it was done, because that's what it had sounded like to him.
He'd woken in the infirmary two days after the attack to find John and Cora by his side, arguing over who got to hold his hand. He'd forgotten for a moment what it was that had happened and when it had all come back to him, he'd just stared at them both, trying to come to terms with the fact that he hadn't lost either of them.
"Hey," John had said and, like every time he tried to put his feelings into words, that one was enough.
"Hey. What happened?"
"You burned yourself out," John had replied, his voice accusatory. "Try not to do that again. Ever."
He'd wanted to know everything that had happened, but John had found it difficult to put into words, unable to explain what he couldn't really understand himself. John had a connection to Atlantis that no one really understood, they just knew that it was something they'd never question, because it had saved them so many times before and this time hadn't been an exception.
Cam had been determined to get on his feet right away and there hadn't been much that Jennifer could do when most of their command team was still unconscious and he had little more than a headache. He'd insisted and the doctor had relented, because she'd seen the strain in John, Teyla and Vala as they'd struggled to cope with running the city when it usually took a command team upwards of eight. Cam had no doubt that it was less of a struggle for the three of them than it would have been for anyone else, because John and Teyla had seen the city through worse and Vala had lived as a prisoner in her own body for longer than Cam thought he'd ever be able to comprehend.
Cam hadn't initially thought much about the fact that John had seemed fine, but he had soon realised that it was amazing that John was even alive. He'd stood by the beds of his friends, watched as Jennifer checked their vitals and uttered the words 'no change', for over a week before Corporal Harris had woken up, screaming and clawing at her skin, unable to silence the echo of the swarm in her head. It hadn't taken them long to realise that she was blind and Jennifer wasn't sure her sight would ever return.
Doctor Conrad and Carson had woken up within hours of each other, both feeling the effects of severe migraines, closely followed up with unrelenting headaches that were only just beginning to fade weeks later. They'd all thought that meant Kade and Evan would be next, but it had taken another two weeks before the Air Marshal had opened his eyes.
Cam shook his head a little, as if to clear his mind, and settled himself more comfortably. He ran his hand up John's arm and listened to the deepening breaths that told him he was the only one still awake. He closed his eyes and tried to will himself to sleep, all the while wondering how much longer they'd have to wait on Evan.
"Teyla, you should get some rest."
"I am not tired."
Kade watched as Jennifer sighed and walked away, leaving Teyla sitting vigil at Evan's side. He wished he knew what the hell to say to her, but there was nothing he could say. The last few months had been difficult for everyone. Losing Team Four had only been the beginning and he didn't think he'd ever understand what the rest of them had gone through whilst he had been unconscious.
"Teyla," he said and she turned.
"Kincaid, I did not mean to wake you."
"You didn't," he said softly. "My head did, but Carson assures me it won't last much longer and I think I got off better than he did. I've also been informed I've slept too much the last few weeks."
"Laura was worried for you, as we all were. I am glad you are well."
Kade glanced down at Laura, who had fallen asleep in the chair next to him. She'd barely left his side since he woke up and he'd been informed that she'd been there during the weeks of his coma as well. He glanced back across the room at Teyla, who was still looking at Lorne. Torren was asleep in the bed behind her, but he felt reassured that she hadn't been camping out in the infirmary, for Torren's sake if nothing else.
"He'll wake up, Teyla," Kade said softly. "I'm sure he'll wake up."
"How can you be sure?" she asked and he could tell that she was struggling to keep her composure.
"Because we've lost too much already. At this point, I'm willing to go on a bit of hope."
"I am not sure I have any hope left."
"Then I guess I'll have to try hard enough for the both of us."
There was a bright light before him, encompassing and full of warmth and he didn't question his willingness to step towards it. He felt light and free, as if he hadn't a care in the world. He blinked once and turned his head to look out of the window and smiled at the ocean view that greeted him.
There was a noise that made him turn around, the patter of bare feet coming towards him, and he smiled at the young face that grinned up at him before running away again.
A glance around the room told him he was in the infirmary, back in one of the isolated rooms they rarely used and he took a moment to wonder what that meant. Had he been out of it for such a long time that they'd had to move him, or was it all some kind of a dream? He hoped it was the former, but didn't give it much more thought when the door slid open once more, because he didn't really care if it was a dream.
He smiled up at Teyla and reached out to touch her face, startled by just how difficult it was for him to raise his arm. "Hey," he said softly and she leaned down, placing her forehead against his.
He was home.
"Not even a headache?"
"Not a thing. He's in better health than he was before."
"I really hate Lorne sometimes," John grumbled under his breath and Cam laughed, reaching out to catch Cora's bowl as she almost knocked it off the table.
"I'm sure he'll be pleased to see you, too. Cora, sweetie, try to get your food in your mouth and not on your face." Cam looked back at John who was merely shuffling his food around on his plate, staring at it unhappily. "God, you're actually upset about this."
"I am not!"
Cam raised an eyebrow.
"I just don't see how she couldn't have, you know, fixed me up a little too before she spat me out."
Cam laughed. "You're fine the way you are. I'm sure she thinks so, too."
"Fine," John repeated.
"You're perfect just the way you are, honey," Cam said sweetly and yelped when John's spoon hit him on the head.
Cora gasped. "Daddy!"
"See the example you're setting!" Cam said with a laugh, reaching out to grab hold of him. They wrestled slightly in their chairs, much to Cora's apparent delight, and finished on the floor, Cam straddling John's hips. "You give?"
John smiled and looked over at Cora, before turning back to him. "Everything."
Cam figured that was more than enough.
Sera smiled as she stepped into the sunshine. The silver ring stood on the hill before her and she couldn't help but smile as she began to walk. The settlement was still new, the houses not yet more than necessary living space, but she felt that would change in time. The Linayans were a productive people, who would not sit idly by and already the small settlement was beginning to fend for itself.
They still relied heavily on the people of Atlantis to help, but Sera had not been surprised when most of the Linayans had opted to settle off world. She was happy to have been offered a place there, even though it had meant giving up her space in the city for a single room in the house she shared with Kamar and Lunai.
She moved through the streets quickly, making her way up the hillside until she had passed the ring and beyond. She walked until she reached the tree line at the edge of the forest, feeling tears prickle her eyes. The world reminded her much of her home, reminded her of the people she had lost and the world that no one had been able to save.
She crouched down onto her knees and it didn't take long for her to dig the hole. She reached into the small sack she carried and pulled out the device she had kept with her, kept safe, since her mentor had left it in her keeping and buried it deep. It had withstood the years under the ground in her own world and had saved her life. But more than that, it held the history of a race that had only one survivor.