Why is it that we end up with the 'hello again, remember us?' missions that always end up with us running for our lives?"
Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard tried to suppress his laughter, but it came out as a cough.. He exchanged humorous looks with Major Evan Lorne. Lorne rolled his eyes to the ceiling, but said nothing. Doctor Elizabeth Weir only gazed at the speaker with a raised eyebrow. Doctor Rodney McKay, Ph.D, Ph.D. scowled at her from above the top edge of his laptop. Of course, Rodney looked highly irritated at having to leave yet another important experiment just when it was yielding results. In this case, John didn't blame him. Just WHY was his team the one stuck on these wine-and-cheese things? This was the third one in a row in as many weeks.
"What? It's true! We've been doing these things for the past month!" Rodney pointed out with a roll of his eyes.
"The Orrigans won't give you any problems, Rodney. They're very open-minded and willing to trade with Atlantis. They've been doing it with the Athosians for generations. You should be back by dinnertime," Elizabeth Weir reassured him with a slight smile. She was used to Rodney's crankiness concerning these types of missions, but there was a reason why it was more pronounced than usual.
Although he wasn't sure he wanted to know the answer, John had to ask the question. "McKay's got a point, Elizabeth. Just why are wegoing and not Lorne? His team made the initial contact."
"Because Major Lorne and his team will accompany me to MJR-117 and talk with the Leriean Council." Elizabeth's face sobered "I can't tell you how important their defense pact is to Atlantis."
"Yeah, it could gain us an ally and a brand, spanking new ZPM," Rodney said with a touch of excitement, "which makes it even more important that I go with you on this one, Elizabeth."
She smiled and reluctantly shook her head. Rodney's enthusiasm at a new discovery lit his entire face and she hated to be the one to dampen it. This would have been the perfect mission for him. "I wanted you to go, Rodney, but they were very specific on whom they wanted in the negotiating party. If this goes well, you should be able to go on the next trip and study their technology to your heart's content."
Rodney sighed and looked like he wanted to pout. John nearly chuckled again, but stopped himself in time. Rodney meant well, but he had the subtlety of a lead brick at times. The Lerieans were very touchy about protocol, which was why Elizabeth wanted to tackle this one herself.
Lorne chuckled and tapped his tablet. "Besides, I think Richardson and McGuire said something about Colonel Sheppard's prowess in the art of negotiation. They're very eager to meet you, sir," he said.
Rodney snorted in derision. "Yeah, I'm sure. His negotiation skills. Right."
"Okay, and maybe Richardson mentioned you played the guitar and told scary stories to the Athosian kids."
John smirked. "So they like music and horror tales. Okay, I think I can live with that."
Lorne's gray eyes sparkled with wicked humor. "And they've got a sport that's like football, sir. You're gonna love it."
John gave him the fisheye as Rodney sighed in exasperation. "The last time you told me that I was out for a week after I got pounded by a two-hundred pound Pegasus Rugby lineman."
A wicked grin twitched on Elizabeth's lips as she remembered Doctor Beckett's informal report over a cup of tea. The Scotsman relished telling the story about three burly men chasing Sheppard and McKay across their version of a golf green, complete with sandtraps and water hazards. For someone who claimed he wasn't a fan of his homeland's national sport, Carson's play-by-play had been remarkably technical.
"I believe the name of the game translated roughly as 'full contact golf', Colonel. And Carson said it definitely wasn't as 'gentlemanly' as rugby."
John groaned. "With two-meter, golf-shaped cattle prods. No thank you. I'll stick to the Milky Way version. Less dangerous that way."
The three of them laughed, their voices echoing from Elizabeth's office. She saw Sergeant Campbell as he glanced over his shoulder with a curious expression. The Gate technician saw all was well, then turned back to his work.
Elizabeth rolled her eyes at her top two military officers and her Chief of Science. She steered the conversation back to pertinent matters. "It's a rather simple mission this time. Teyla wants to talk to their leaders again and solidify the trade agreements. You're there for security and cultural exchange. Like I said to Rodney, you should be back by early evening. Major Lorne and his team will accompany me while you're on PXM-597 with Teyla. We should be fine." Elizabeth nodded decisively. "I'll see you later tonight, Colonel, when you return."
John nodded and straightened out from his slouch. "Yes, ma'am. Good luck."
"You too," she said with a slight smile.
"Yeah, we're gonna need it," Rodney groused as he closed his laptop and carried it under his arm .He followed the military officers out of her office and was about to head back to his lab.
"You're just disappointed you're not gonna get first crack at that ZPM," Evan said.
Rodney stopped and looked back at him. "Hello? That's my job! If it wasn't for the Lerieans and their protocols, I'd—"
John raised a hand. "Look at it this way, Rodney. Once Elizabeth sweet talks them into giving the okay, you'll be on the first team back there. Till then, you gotta let her do her job first." John grinned at his second-in-command and said, "But next time, you're going on the milk run."
Evan shrugged, unfazed by their antics. "Fine by me. Have fun with the Orrigans, sir."
"Until later, Major." He glanced over at Rodney and said, "We'll be going in half an hour."
"Yeah, might as well get this over with. The sooner we do, the sooner we'll get back." Rodney shrugged and said, "I've got a few things to check on, so I'll see you later."
John sighed as he made his way down the control room stairs. This was going to be a long day, he could already feel it.
Sergeant Chuck Campbell watched as Doctor McKay, Colonel Sheppard and Major Lorne came out of Doctor Weir's office. The three men conversed for a few minutes, then the military officers headed down the stairs. McKay entered the Control Room with his ever-present laptop under his arm.
"Everything all right, Sergeant?"
Chuck nodded. "So far, so good, Doctor McKay." He inclined his head toward the back of the room. "Coffee's over there."
"Thank God'" McKay didn't pause as he marched to the coffeepot. Chuck smiled and knew better than to be offended. Instead, he turned back to his console. He knew the city's systems pretty well and had Doctor Grodin to thank for that. Once again, he silently thanked Peter, as he did every day since Peter's untimely demise. Even now, three years later, Peter was definitely missed by the Control Room staff.
He ran a few diagnostics on the Gate, which was standard before a busy day of off-world missions. Usually the diagnostics came back clean, which was why today's results bothered him. "Dr. McKay?"
The acerbic scientist looked up from his laptop. "What is it, Sergeant?"
"The Gate diagnostics came back…and they're a little weird."
Rodney glowered at him, but Chuck was used to it. "Define 'weird'."
"I don't know, Doctor McKay. That's why I'd like you to check it, just to be on the safe side." Chuck shrugged; he knew how to appeal to Rodney's ego. "Normally, I'd ask Doctor Zelenka, but since you're here—"
"Fine. Let me see them." Rodney made his way over to Chuck's console."You mean this little fluctuation…here and here?"
Chuck nodded. "It's not a huge difference, but usually there are no signs of problems."
Rodney gave him an absent nod. "It doesn't look like it'll mess up Gate travel, but better safe than sorry. Run another diagnostic to be sure, and if it shows up there, get Zelenka to work on it.I've got to get ready for another mission."
"Yes, sir." Chuck sighed as McKay left the control room. As ordered, he started the diagnostic, drumming his fingers on his console as the analysis whirred away. Doctor Radek Zelenka poked his head into the Control Room with a curious expression; Chuck only raised up a hand in a silent request. Zelenka nodded and stepped inside the control room.
"Is there a problem?" Zelenka asked.
"I'm not sure. The latest Gate diagnostic showed a minor fluctuation—" He paused, as the results came up on his screen. Zelenka came up next to him and looked over his shoulder. "Huh. It's gone. Must've been some sort of hiccup in the systems."
"It is not the first time, nor would it be the last," Zelenka commented mildly. "Even after three years, the city has its ups and downs."
"Got that right, Doc." Chuck smiled at him and shrugged. "Sometimes Amelia calls me a 'nervous Nellie'."
Zelenka chuckled. "Sometimes, a little caution is a good thing, Sergeant. You will alert me if you find anything else amiss, yes?"
"Of course, Doc." Chuck grinned as the Czech scientist left the Gate Room. Yes, sometimes a little caution went a long way in making sure everyone came back safely. Chuck took that responsiblity seriously, as Peter Grodin had before him, and he wasn't about to fail now.
"Teyla, love, I've told you before, this is not a good idea."
"And I have told you already, Carson, even a doctor must learn to defend himself and his patients," she chided him gently. "There may be situations where it may be necessary."
He sighed and shook his head. "I know. It's just—"
"It will come with time, I do not expect you to become an expert after only two weeks. At least, keep an open mind."
He sighed as he held the bantos rods with a death grip. How in the bloody hell did I get myself into this? thought. Directly in front of him, just at arm's length, stood Teyla Emmagan. The Athosian wore one of her sleeveless shirts and the skirt slit high on both sides. She shifted her weight on the balls of her feet, causing Carson to swallow hard.
Focus, man, focus. She'll beat you to a pulp if you don't. Teyla smiled, then her right hand came up in a sweeping arc. He raised his arm to meet her and the rods met with a loud clack.
"Very good, Carson. Do you think you can do that again?"
He bit his lip and nodded. He'd done it completely out of reflex; the second time, he was too slow and she got under his guard. Teyla stepped forward and laid her rod on his chest. He froze like a deer in headlights.
"You hesitated." She inclined his head at him. "Don't think about it too much. That might be a costly mistake."
He took a breath. "You're right. I'm not exactly cut out for this."
Her smile was mysterious. "You underestimate yourself, Carson. Now, let us try it again."
He sighed and tried to concentrate on what he was doing. It felt strange, trying to hit Teyla with a bantos rod. It went against everything his mother had taught him: always treat a woman with respect and never, ever raise a hand to harm her. Of course, old, ingrained habits were difficult to break.
Teyla was a good friend, patient, kind, and generous, but also strong-willed and fiercely devoted to her people and her friends. Carson admired her, albeit from afar. It wouldn't do, if he even thought about…
TWACK! He lost his grip on the rod and it spun out of his hand. He cursed and shook out his fingers. Damn, but that hurt!
"I am sorry, Carson. Did I hurt you?" Teyla frowned and automatically reached for his hand. Before he could say anything, she'd taken it within hers and was examining it with gentle care. He tried not to flinch at the almost electric shock that went through his skin. She didn't seem to notice his reaction.
"Just a wee bit of a sting, Teyla. I don't think you did any major damage." He said and chuckled ruefully. "Forgive me, my mind was elsewhere."
Teyla nodded. "Should we reschedule the practice for another time?"
Carson shook his head. "Ach, no, lass. We've been doing this on a regular basis for close to two weeks now. I'd hate to break the routine."
"Very well. Then I must remind you to focus on the here and now." She softened the rebuke with a smile. "So. Shall we continue?"
"Please." He wrenched his attention back to the self-defense moves and not solely on the woman in front of him. It took somewhat of an effort, but as his injured hand reminded him, distraction could be deadly. So he focused on what he was doing, and firmly told his wandering heart to stop with the nonsense. It worked…for the most part.
He ended up trying to avoid most of her hits instead of countering, but Teyla didn't seem to mind that. It wasn't until he glanced over his shoulder and saw the wall looming behind him that he realized what she was doing.
She was driving him into a trap. Cornering him. Bloody hell,Carson thought. He suppressed a jolt of panic and turned it into action. He grabbed one of her wrists and shoved her off balance. She hadn't been expecting it and stumbled. He swore under his breath as he also lost his footing and ended up sprawled on his back, with Teyla on top of him, her head on his chest.
Carson froze again, suddenly very aware of her weight upon him, the warmth of her skin against him. Oh, crap…
She was motionless, except for her labored breathing. Neither of them said anything for a long moment. "Carson…are you injured?" she finally asked.
"Ah, no," he stammered, his cheeks flushed with embarrassment. "Teyla, are you all right? I'm sorry, I didn't mean to—"
He felt her smile and his blood pressure jumped several points. "It is all right. I was not expecting that and was not prepared. Although—" she chuckled, "—it was a pleasant surprise."
"Oh." He wasn't sure how to respond to that. "Um…"
She raised her head and her soft hair brushed against his chest. He was mesmerized by the look in her amber-brown eyes, such that he hardly noticed when she bent and brushed her lips against his.
"Ah, Teyla, I—"
"I do not wish to make you uncomfortable, Carson." She lowered her eyes. "I am sorry."
He managed a smile. "No, no, it's not that, it's just rather…unexpected, that's all. I just didn't think you'd regard me in that way."
The corners of her mouth lifted up. "In which way?"
He shifted uncomfortably under her. "Well, I thought you and the Colonel—?"
She chuckled, though she didn't seem offended or surprised. "John and I are good friends, nothing more."
"Oh." Despite himself, he grinned widely, not caring how idiotic it looked. "Oh. I suppose in that case…"
He didn't get to finish the sentence, as she kissed him again.
"So…these people friendly?"
John glanced over at Ronon Dex. The Satedan seemed nonplussed about the upcoming mission. Then again, Lorne's reports hadn't indicated there was any reason to be concerned. Still… "That's what Lorne said, and Teyla knows 'em. Should be a piece of cake."
"That's what you said the last time."
John winced; would he live that one down? It'd be a while before he could show his face at the driving range. "Hey, how could I have known we'd be chased by natives wielding cattle prods?"
Ronon smiled slightly. "I knew McKay could run fast if he had to."
"Yeah, well, self preservation is always a good motivation for—" John heard the sound of wood striking wood and tensed. "Wait a minute. What's that?"
"Come on." The commotion seemed to be coming from the gym. As they rounded the corner, John stopped so abruptly that Ronon nearly ran him over.
John pointed at the entrance. A few Marines stood there, some with surprised expressions, others with humorous looks. That wasn't unusual when Teyla ran practice sessions, but what wasunusual was the number of people wearing yellow jackets, most of them from Carson Beckett's medical teams.
"Are they expecting a fight or something?" Ronon rumbled in a low voice. That many medical personnel standing by couldn't be a good thing.
"I don't know, but there better not be one, or heads'll roll." John was not in the mood to break up a brawl, no matter what the reason. He saw one of Carson's nurses turn around and recognized her as Marie. She waved them over with a hand; the others made room for John and Ronon.
John stared into the practice arena, blinked, then looked again. Teyla was finishing a bantos lesson, but the student was someone John wasn't expecting. She sat on the floor next to Carson Beckett, who had a chagrined look on his face. John figured that Teyla must have knocked him on his ass. Someone had heard and called Medical, which explained the crowd at the door. John smirked slightly; Carson was never going to live this one down.
"She's teaching the doc?" Ronon didn't sound too surprised.
"Don't look at me. I didn't know about it, either." John watched as she reached over and took the bantos rod from his hand. " Was it his imagination, or did her fingers linger on Carson's wrist a few moments longer than necessary?
"Obviously, his staff knew about it."
Nurse Marie Cho overheard Ronon's comment and whispered, "Teyla came to his office and offered to teach him. She wouldn't take no for an answer; he came up with all sorts of excuses, but they didn't work. So, there they are."
"Two weeks? And no one told me?" John asked.
"Doctor Beckett didn't want it advertised all over the city, but you know how news travels here." She shrugged. "Anyway, they've kept it pretty hush-hush until a few days ago."
"Huh," Ronon grunted, but he made no other comment.
Teyla and Carson finished their conversation, and both finally realized they'd attracted an audience. Carson flushed crimson.
"You okay, Doc?' John asked, much to everyone's amusement.
Carson cleared his throat as he scrambled to his feet. "I'm fine, but I think my pride a little bruised."
"It takes practice, Doc. You'll get the hang of it."
Carson looked over at the audience at the gym doors. "What're you lot standin' around in the hall for? There's nothin' to see here."
Marie took pity on him and began shooing away the onlookers. She nodded at his grateful look before leaving herself. John caught the self-satisfied look on Marie's face, as if she was pleased at something.
He glanced over at Ronon, who was talking with Teyla. She looked up at Ronon with a pleasant smile, though her eyes showed a hint of irritation. It sounded like Ronon was teasing Teyla as well and she wasn't amused by it.
John decided to save her. "We have a mission, everyone. Meet up in the Gateroom in fifteen minutes."
Teyla looked over at him with a grateful expression. "Yes. I will see you there, Ronon."
Ronon only smiled. "Sure, Teyla."
She walked out with the dignity of a queen, pausing only to nod at John and Carson at the door. John stifled a grin as Ronon turned his curious look to Carson, and the Scotsman only looked back without a word. There was a wealth of words in the silent challenge. Then Ronon smirked slightly and Carson raised his eyebrows at him.
John glanced at one, then the other, and sighed. "C'mon, Chewie. You know how Rodney gets when he's kept waiting."
"Aye," Carson agreed.
"Okay." Ronon's smirk didn't waver as he passed Carson.
John only shrugged and mouthed, "Gotta go, Doc," then followed him.When he caught up, he said in a low voice, "You don't want to piss off Carson, Ronon. He's got the big pointy needles, remember?"
Ronon only shrugged. "Needles don't bother me as much as they do to McKay."
"Dial the Gate, Sergeant."
"Yes, ma'am." Chuck nodded at Doctor Weir and input the coordinates. The Stargate glowed and erupted into blue and white, then settled into its normal watery portal.
"Good luck, Doctor Weir, Major Lorne," John said formally.
"And you too, Colonel." Elizabeth nodded at Evan and the Marine detachment, then led the way through the wormhole. The Gate snapped shut behind them.
"Resetting coordinates for PXM-597," Chuck announced as he hit the buttons on the DHD. Again, the Gate opened like usual.
"Hold down the fort till we get back, Chuck," John said with a grin. "We'll be back in a few hours."
"Yes, sir." Chuck replied. He watched at the team stepped through the Gate—
—and suddenly his console went berserk. "What the—"
"What is it?" asked Radek Zelenka. The Czech scientist turned from where he'd watched the team leave to Chuck.
"Some sort of odd power surge——" The Gate snapped shut behind the team, then went dark. Chuck checked his readings, then added in a puzzled tone, "There doesn't seem to be any record of it."
"Are you certain you saw it?" Radek asked.
"Pretty sure, but now—"
"We should run some diagnostics, just in case. Hopefully, if there's a problem, we'll have it fixed before Doctor Weir's and Colonel Sheppard's teams return."
"I'll do a manual diagnostic, just in case." Chuck turned to do just that, as Radek called other engineers to the Control Room.
"Seems like a pleasant place," John commented. He looked around the pristine meadow in front of the Gate. A bubbling brook gurgled nearby and birds sang in welcome.
"It is the middle of their spring," said Teyla. She smiled as a warm breeze ruffled her hair around her shoulders. "This way."
They made their way down a well-marked path. John's mouth quirked as a curious, squirrel-like creature darted out in front of Rodney, who stumbled to avoid it. "Hey!" Rodney glared at it as it held its paws up to him and chittered wildly.
"It's hungry," Ronon commented.
Rodney glared at him. "Ever heard of 'don't feed the wildlife'?"
Teyla sighed and reached into the pocket of her tac vest. She knelt and offered a round, green nut to the "squirrel". The creature immediately abandoned Rodney and hopped to her. It took the nut, chattered its thanks, and disappeared into the trees, but not before giving Rodney a dirty look.
"Way to go, Rodney. Alienating the locals," John drawled.
Rodney glared at him. "How was I to know it was hungry? I don't speak Squirrel."
"The kyrthas are partially telepathic," Teyla commented, "but they choose to whom they speak. They are quite choosy about it."
Rodney shrugged and said, "Telepathic rodents? Better not tell Hamster. She'll want to record every squeak and squeal."
John grinned. "Hamster" referred to Doctor Zeina El-Hamra, the head of Atlantis's Linguistics Department and a close friend of Daniel Jackson. Rodney had stuck her with the nickname after an incident with Carson Beckett and mutant killer rodents. El-Hamra didn't seem to mind and took it as one of her boss's quirks.
"You know Hamster…always willing to make another first contact with the natives," John remarked breezily. Rodney harrumphed and looked at his Life Signs Detector.
It was an easy walk to the nearest village, Toras. The path gently sloped downward, following the babbling brook. An occasional signpost marked the way, and as they drew closer to their destination, the signs increased in number and size. John caught up to Teyla, as Ronon dropped back to match pace with Rodney. He nodded at John; although he didn't say anything, curiosity was in his eyes. John gave him a nod that said, "I'll take care of this."
"Teyla, can I ask you a question?" he inquired in a low voice. He hoped he would be able to ask without her dumping him on his backside. Maybe he should have let Ronon do this.
"You may ask," she replied, humor in her tone.
John hesitated, wondering if this really was none of his business, but Teyla was part of his team, and this would affect the team, so…I'm just looking out for her. That's all. Nothing more than that.He felt a twinge of…what? Jealousy? What would he be jealous about?
He firmly reined in his mind before it took him places he really didn't want to go. Instead, he just went out and asked, "What's going on between you and Beckett?"
She glanced sideways at him, as if she was expecting the question. "We are friends."
He raised an eyebrow at that. "Just friends. And…?" he prompted.
"If more comes of it, we shall see." Her smile was enigmatic. "If it does, I will not be disappointed."
"Wait a minute," Rodney interrupted. He glanced up with shocked surprise on his face, causing John to roll his eyes. "You're telling me…you and Carson? Of all people?"
"Carson's not that bad, Rodney," John pointed out.
"Yeah, but—" Rodney stared at Teyla, who stared right back. "When was this? And why didn't anyone tell me? I am so going to have a talk with Carson when we get back—"
"Hey, I didn't know either," John said.
"I figured it out," Ronon spoke up.
"Huh?" Rodney blurted out. "How? When?"
"Yeah, how?" John echoed. "And when?"
Ronon sighed and shook his head, then he smirked at Teyla. "First, he's always extra kind and considerate to you. He does things for you he wouldn't do for anything else. He drops whatever he's doing to help you, no matter what." He paused, aware he had a captive audience now. "When we had that Go'auld thing, he stayed behind with you and your people for the Ring Ceremony. You were with him when he took the tracker out of my back. And you thought I didn't notice you smiling at him, catching his little glances, that sort of thing?"
Rodney's jaw dropped. It was easily the longest set of statements they'd ever heard Ronon utter since he'd come to Atlantis. John couldn't say anything, either. Teyla only returned Ronon's measured look with one of cool calculation.
"Why didn't you say anything?" John asked him.
"Didn't need to. I thought it was obvious."
Rodney sputtered. "I knew Carson'd been mooning over Teyla since the very beginning, but I had no idea—"
"Since the very beginning?" John repeated.
"Yeah, remember that party we had the first week we were here? He was staring at Teyla and, I quote, 'Why can't I ever have friends like that?'. I told him he had to get out more."
"But he'd never said anything—"
Ronon cut in again. "Didn't have to. Like I said, obvious."
Teyla sighed and shook her head at him. "Then perhaps you knew before either of us were aware of it."
"You'd figure it out, if you hadn't already." Ronon gave her a slight smile and added, "I know how it is being in love with a medical person. Not the easiest thing in the world—" a slight shadow came across his face at that, "—but worth it."
Rodney looked over at Ronon and was about to say something when the sound of shouting and screaming echoed among the trees. "Come on," John shouted. Ronon slid his blaster out of its holster and even Rodney unbuckled his P-90. They charged farther down the path and nearly ran into a group of children.Rodney had to jump out of the way of a pair of little girls who weren't going to stop just because he happened to be there.
"Hey, watch it!" he shouted.
The children tossed an oval-shaped ball to each other as they ran among the trees. John grinned as he remembered Evan Lorne's comment about football. As he watched, one of the smaller children launched herself at the ball carrier and knocked him down with a vicious tackle.
"Ouch," John commented. He glanced sideways at Ronon, who looked suitably impressed.
The girl snatched the ball from him and took off. She jeered at him before disappearing into the trees. The boy bounced back onto his feet and followed the others, his face a mask of anger.
"Obviously not a friendly game," Rodney commented, with a roll of his eyes."Those kids'll be lucky if they don't have brain damage by the time they're ten."
"Yeah, that was pretty harsh." John glanced sideways at Teyla and what little of his good mood evaporated at her puzzled expression. "Teyla? What's wrong?"
"The game is called 'skansata', it is meant to teach cooperation. It is not supposed to be violent. And thisodd." She pointed at the tall posts on either side of the path. "The lanterns at the top are lit. That only happens during the daytime if there is some sort of tragedy."
John frowned as the words sank in. "Stay alert. Something must've happened since Lorne's team was here."
A shadow fell over the path and John took a step backward as a young man appeared from behind a stand of bushes. The yellow robes he wore had intricate symbols stitched on it, from collar to hem, and the hood obscured his features. The man raised his hands to show he had no weapons, then he pushed the hood from his face.
Teyla stared at him, then raised a hand in greeting. "Yorin? What has happened?"
He ignored her, and instead brought his gaze to John, Ronon, and finally to Rodney. "Good, you've returned. The High Chieftain wishes to speak with you. All of you."
Teyla blinked at the abrupt greeting and she tried again to address him. "Yorin—"
"All will be explained when we enter the village." Yorin nodded at all of them, then inclined his head at Rodney. "This way."
The team exchanged mystified looks, then followed him at a distance. "Nice guy," John quipped.
"What's going on?" Ronon asked Teyla in a low tone. "Isn't he supposed to be the Chieftain's son or something like that?
"He is," Teyla answered, but her face was carefully neutral, "but no one refers to his father as the High Chieftain, except during ceremonies."
Rodney frowned and asked, "Maybe we're walking in on a party?"
"There are no holidays scheduled, as far as I am aware, Doctor McKay."
"And why'd he look at me like that, as if he's expecting something? He's never seen me before."
"I do not know."
John had noticed that too. Although the young man obviously knew Teyla, he had addressed Rodneyinstead. It hadn't mattered that the group. It didn't make sense. "All right, keep your eyes peeled," he ordered.
The path led down into a valley, and at the bottom of that valley lay a huge village, surrounded by a tall, wooden stockade fence. Buildings towered three or four levels, crowded along narrow streets. Yorin led the team through a pair of heavy doors and into the village. The entrance courtyard was eerily empty, except for a small group of men dressed in simple tunics, unloading a bunch of wagons. Teyla raised her eyebrows at the guards around the upper perimeter of the stockade.
"Sheppard," Ronon said quietly. "They're heavily armed. I see several archers with their bowstrings already nocked."
"Don't like this," John murmured. All of his instincts were screaming at him, "Get out of here", he'd learned to trust those instincts. "Either Lorne's report was wrong, or…"
"Something drastic has happened," Teyla finished. "I suspect the latter."
Rodney swept the area with his LDS and shook his head. "I'm not picking up anything weird, No Wraith or any unusual anomalies. I wonder what—"
There was a piercing whistle that made all of them wince. The young men who had been loading the wagon immediately dropped to their knees and pressed their foreheads into the dirt. Yorin reappeared, with an older man and three others in tow. Yorin spoke quickly in their language, and the High Chieftain nodded.
"Ah, you have returned," the High Chieftain said. He gave Teyla the most cursory of glances, then nodded courteously at Rodney. Rodney wore a dumbfounded look, but kept silent. Even he had felt the tension in the air and knew that the wrong word at the wrong time could be very, very bad.
"Dorias," Teyla said softly. She would have said more, but Dorias swung his head at her voice. The iciness of his eyes grew even colder.
"Definitely not right," John said out of the corner of his mouth. "Not the same people Lorne met."
"Yeah," Ronon agreed. He scanned the plaza for an escape route. The plaza led to a maze of side streets that snaked into the village, but the only way out was through the front gate of the stockade.
"I will only speak with the one who is designated as leader," Dorias said coolly. He glanced at Rodney. "Would you like to see the merchandise?"
"M-Merchandise?" Rodney stammered. His expression mirrored John's and Ronon's:utter confusion. "I—"
"I can assure you that all of the items are in perfect condition. Your leader was quite insistent on the terms of the contract, and against our better judgment, we decided to accede to his request." Dorias turned to Yorin and snapped an order, then Yorin clapped his hands in response.
"What the hell?" Rodney muttered. "Teyla, do you have any idea what he's talking about? Because I sure don't."
Teyla's brow wrinkled as she shook her head. "I do not know, Rodney. He is not the same Dorias I have known for years."
"Wraith worshippers?" Ronon whispered in a low, strident tone.
"Definitely not same people Lorne met," John muttered. "You noticed that he referred to 'our leader' as 'he'?"
Rodney stiffened at the realization. "Oh, great. They probably think we're someone else. This is not good."
Shouts erupted from the other end of the courtyard. As Rodney, John and Ronon looked in that direction, Dorias shouted another order, then all hell broke loose. Yorin rushed forward and grabbed Teyla's arm. She turned and pulled free from him, but the bigger man grabbed her by the waist. She elbowed him in the face; he yelled and dropped her. Angry villagers boiled out of the surrounding buildings and into the streets like wasps out of a hive. A volley of sticks, stones and mud filled the air, forcing John, Teyla, Ronon and Rodney to take cover.
Dorias waved his hands and goaded the mob in a booming voice. John looked over his shoulder and saw that the villagers had taken hold of the double wooden doors of the village stockade. The wood groaned as the people began to drag the doors shut.
"It's a set-up! Let's get out of here!" he shouted.
Ronon immediately ran for the doors, blaster in hand, and fired warning shots into the air. The villagers saw him coming, panicked and scattered in all directions. He shoved the doors back open and held them as the other members of the team charged through.
"Head for the Gate!" John yelled as he fired his P-90 at their pursuers. A sharp piece of flint flew past his head and was lost in the trees. Another day, another trade expedition gone bust, the second one in as many weeks. And this one had barely lasted fifteen minutes before AR-1 was running for their lives from a projectile-wielding mob.
Yup, just another day,John thought, as he ejected the empty clip and slammed a new one into its place.
"This is ridiculous!" Rodney snapped. The scientist ducked in time to avoid being whacked in the head by a piece of broken terracotta. "We didn't even do anything. They took one look and decided to use us for target practice!"
"I thought you told us they were peaceful," Ronon said, as he fired a blast over his shoulder. He already had mud caked into his dreads and it was running down his face and into his eyes. Although he could barely see, his accuracy was still sharp.
Teyla sighed in frustration. The Athosian winced as a soft ball of mud hit her right hip with a definite splat, prompting a disgusted, "Ewww!" from Rodney.
"Even their kids have good aim," John commented. "They'd give Dan Marino a run for his money."
"Who?" Ronon asked. He didn't even sound the least bit winded.
"He used to be a football quarterback…remind me later to show you the video…"
Teyla remembered the last Bowl game she'd watched, shook her head as she addressed Ronon. "My people have traded peacefully with them for years. I do not understand why they have changed so drastically."
PXM-597's sole saving grace was its scenery: clear, blue streams and lush, green conifer trees. The team waded, splashed and stumbled their way back to the portal. Finally, they rounded a bend in the path and the sight of the Stargate was more than welcome. Rodney all but dove for the DHD, scaring a flock of birds perched there. His hands slapped the panel as he hit the coordinates for Atlantis. The portal flared brightly, and into existence for a fraction of a second.
"What the—" Rodney said, as the familiar blue light dimmed into darkness. "Oh, no, no, no…this is not the time for this!"
"Rodney!" John roared as the shouting became louder and louder. "What's the hold-up?"
"The DHD died on us. Gimme a couple of minutes to fix it!" He pushed buttons and accessed the secondary controls as the leading edge of the mob drew. "Okay, okay, the crystals are intact, the connections are stable, why isn't it working?"
John nodded at Ronon and Teyla, and the three of them moved smoothly into a protective perimeter around Rodney and the malfunctioning DHD. He didn't want to hurt any of the natives, if he could help it. After all, this was all just a misunderstanding. Just whatit had been still mystified him, but…
"Dammit, Sheppard, work faster! They're coming closer!"
"What—?" John glanced over at Rodney, who was furiously trying to get the DHD working. The Canadian focused all his energy on the task in front of him and didn't even look back at John or the others. John swore he'd just heard Rodney swear at him, but he must have been hearing things.
"Here they come!" warned Teyla. They heard the heavy thunk of mud as it flew through the air, impacting harmlessly away from the team.
The Stargate came to life behind them, its watery blue portal formed as the familiar "ka-woosh!" rang through the meadow. Rodney yelled, "That's it! It's up!"
"Go, go!" John shouted. He and Ronan fired as Rodney and Teyla ran for the Gate. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw their fuzzy images as they went through. For a second, he could have the Canadian had carried his P-90 in his hand, and Teyla had sported some kind of field kit on her belt, but John figured it was some strange trick of the light from the Gate.
"Right behind you!" John turned as Ronon disappeared into the gate. The last thing he saw was a hail of stone, pottery shards, sticks, and mud flying through the air, but not at him. At the DHD.
John threw himself into the Gate just as the controls began to hiss and spark—
—and landed, face-down, on the floor of the Gateroom with a hard thud. He lay there for a long minute, the wind knocked out of him. His heart pounded as the adrenaline still surged through him. He'd lost count of all the times they'd had close calls. Elizabeth was going to be furious at this one; she'd expected them to secure an agreement with the natives, and they managed to royally screw that up without even trying.
He opened his eyes and suddenly thought, Wait. When did the Gateroom get a new paint job? The floor's green. Did someone hire an interior decorator while we were gone?
The sounds of the mob still echoed through the Gate, and someone shouted, "Close the bloody door!" A minute later, the portal snapped shut and went dark. John was about to get up, but then an odd tickle passed over his mind, hesitant and unsure.
Who are you? I do not know you. You are not who you seem to be.
"Huh?" John froze as he heard the sound of clicking rifles above him. Less than fifteen seconds after arriving back home, and John already knew they were in trouble Uh-oh. Definitely not good. Elizabeth must be really pissed.
A voice above him said, "Sit up nice and slow, son. Hands away from your weapon."
John blinked at the familiar accent, but there was a coolness within it that wasn't at all familiar. Slowly, he drew himself up to a sitting position to find himself staring at the business end of a P-90. He raised his eyes and met the steely gaze from a pair of blue eyes that definitely wasn't familiar.
"Carson?! What the hell—?"
"Not another word." This Carson Beckett wore black fatigues, and his dark brown hair was cut short in a neat, military-regulation hairstyle. John nearly didn't recognize him at all. Even more unnerving was the quiet but menacing tone in his voice; there was no trace of the affable doctor that John knew. They locked gazes, both men assessing each other's strengths and weaknesses. The doctor had always reminded John that he "wasn't in the bloody military", but if Carson had been, he might have looked like this.
He got himself a haircut, John thought inanely.Not sure I like the style on him, though. He didn't dare say it aloud, for he instinctively understood that this Beckett wouldn't appreciate the humor. Instead, he turned his head slightly to see a dumbfounded Rodney McKay sitting on the floor with—Radek Zelenka?—covering him with a modified Wraith stunner. Like Beckett, Zelenka was radically different from his "normal" Atlantis counterpart: short-cropped graying hair and no glasses.
Teyla sat next to Rodney, outwardly calm, but John saw the confusion mirrored in her eyes. Ronon had six men covering him; the Satedan glowered at them and they retreated a step back.
"Easy, Big Guy," John told him a low voice. "I'm sure this is only a minor misunderstanding."
"Minor," Ronan growled. "You call this 'minor'?"
"Maybe it's a bit more than that." John winced. Okay, which screwed-up parallel universe did we end up in this time?
Your name is Colonel John Sheppard. Not the Sheppard I know, and I can speak with you, like I can speak with the Commander. He means well, Colonel, do not fault him.
"Stand down, Wing Commander," a calm voice said behind Beckett. "Give the man room to breathe. Obviously, he has no clue where he is or what happened to him. The same for his team…tell your squad to back away a few steps, Captain Zelenka."
"CaptainZelenka?" Rodney choked, as he glanced at the Czech behind him. John thought he saw a flash of amused sympathy on the man's face as he gave Rodney some space.
Beckett frowned, but lowered his weapon. John distinctly heard, Are you sure, lass? Then he nodded briskly and as the Scotsman stepped aside, a second man strode down the stairs from the control room. Dark hair, sun-tanned brown skin, and wearing a red expedition jacket with a Union Jack on the shoulder. John's eyes widened as Rodney's jaw dropped in complete and utter shock.
"Peter…Peter Grodin? Oh my God…" Rodney stammered. The scientist's face was unnaturally pale and he looked ready to faint. Ronon scowled and pushed his way to Rodney's side; the soldiers moved to intercept him, but Grodin raised a hand and stopped them.
"McKay?" Ronon said in a gruff tone. He glared at Grodin, as if blaming the man for Rodney's sudden change, but Grodin only returned the look.
John remembered a critical fact: the two had never met in the "normal" universe. By the time Ronon had joined the team, Grodin had already been dead. So Ronon wouldn't have known about the circumstances of Grodin's death.
Or the soul-crushing guilt that Rodney still carried within him.
Grodin seemed to sense that there was something going on. He knelt by Rodney's side, but was careful not to touch the scientist. Ronon bristled again; Teyla put her hands on Rodney's shoulders and said, "Breathe. Slow, deep breaths, Rodney."
Beckett's mouth tightened slightly at her words, but Grodin tossed a warning glare over his shoulder before he turned back to Rodney. "Easy there. You're beginning to hyperventilate. She's right; take slow, deep breaths."
"Yeah, yeah, breathing's good. Oxygen's good." Rodney closed his eyes. "This is just a dream. Just. Breathe."
"Your unexpected appearance has…unsettled him," Teyla said diplomatically. Although she kept her tone steady, John could tell that Grodin's miraculous reappearance had also rattled her. "More than the usual, I am afraid."
This time, the Englishman's voice was laced with dry humor. "I must admit, I've never had that of reaction from McKay about my appearance before. I thought nothing I did could ever shock him."
Rodney muttered something under his breath; it sounded something like, "You have noidea." His eyes were closed, and he stubbornly refused to look up at Grodin. A worried frown creased Grodin's brow, and he looked at Teyla.
"When was the last time he ate something?"
"I believe he has not eaten anything since this morning."
"Bloody idiot." Grodin's tone was of mixed affection and exasperation. "If you're anything like myMeredith—"
Rodney's eyes shot open, and typical for him, his sarcasm automatically kicked in. "Excuse me?You've never called me 'Meredith'. It'sRodney."
Grodin's smile widened. The Englishman looked torn between laughing out loud and smacking Rodney upside the head. "Ah. So, you go by your middle name in your universe, then. Captain Zelenka, send a runner down to the Mess Hall, and please fetch Rodneysomething to eat."
Zelenka nodded. "I'll go myself." The Czech gave Rodney a final glance, and then turned on his heel and strode out of the Gateroom.
John shook his head as Grodin got back to his feet. "So I take it you're charge here?"
"Yes. I think we have a lot to talk about…Colonel, is it?" He flashed a humorous glance at both him and Beckett. "Let's get them to the Infirmary, so we can begin to sort this all out, shall we?"
Peter Grodin stared at the duplicates as the medical team examined the members of his AR-1, just as if they'd normally would at the end of a mission. Now that he saw these alternate versions of his senior staff in action, Peter could spot the differences, and not just cosmetic. Some were obvious, like Ronan Dex's dreadlocks and Meredith McKay's loquaciousness…
No, "Rodney". His middle name. And he's a scientist. I can actually see that happening in another universe. The longer-haired Dex paced like a caged tiger, while Rodney lay on a nearby infirmary bed. Doctor Katie Brown fussed over him like a mother hen, much to Rodney's embarrassed dismay. Colonel Sheppard said nothing, but looked around him with equal parts curiosity and suspicion. Peter had the feeling that this Sheppard missed nothing.
"He's dangerous," Beckett spoke up, his voice deceptively quiet.
Peter only nodded in agreement and looked back at the commander. "He's a military man like yourself. Admit it, you'd do the same if you were in his place."
Beckett nodded in approval. "Aye, I would. That in itself tells me that he's been trained well."
Peter chuckled. "So, think you can go a few rounds with thisJohn Sheppard?"
"Perhaps." Beckett's raised eyebrow told Peter what he thought of the suggestion and Peter stifled a burst of laughter.
"Be careful. He just might kick your arse out into orbit, Carson."
Beckett shrugged, but didn't comment. Instead, Peter followed the commander's gaze back into the main part of the infirmary. Teyla Emmagan sat cross-legged on a bed as Doctor Marie Cho drew blood for a DNA comparison. "All finished," Marie said with a smile. "You're the last one."
"Thank you. You're very kind," Teyla replied.
"I learned from the best. You." Marie shook her head and corrected herself, "Well, our Doctor Emmagan, anyway."
Teyla raised her eyebrows in surprise. "I am the Chief Medical Officer here?"
Doctor Milena Biro nodded from where she watched Ronon. "Yes. Your patients love you. Who is it over there, where you're from?" she asked.
Teyla looked over at the commander and answered, "Doctor Beckett."
Marie nearly dropped the blood sample as she tried to stifle her laughter. Ronon topped pacing and looked over at Biro, while Katie Brown stopped in mid-sentence. A smile threatened to break out on Colonel Sheppard's lips at the medical team's dumbfounded reaction.Teyla chuckled ruefully at Beckett's nonplussed expression.
"You're joking. I hope he has a better bedside manner than the Commander," Marie quipped.
Rodney rolled his eyes. "Yeah, he's a sheep-herding voodoo practitioner."
Marie chuckled. "That's the most colorful description for a doctor that I've ever heard. I'm the head neurologist, Biro's our pharmocologist, and Kavanaugh's our resident xenogeneticist."
Rodney stared at her, aghast, then said flatly, "Oh, God help us. The universe is doomed if Kavanaugh's messing around with our DNA."
"Rodney," Teyla interrupted firmly and she smiled at Marie and Biro. "Obviously, there are many differences between our universes."
Biro snorted. "Right. What do I do over there? Cut up dead bodies for a living?"
Ronon rolled his eyes and muttered, "Yeah, pretty much."Biro gave him the fisheye, as if she wasn't sure whether or not to take his words seriously.
Doctor Ben Kavanaugh, second-in-command of the Infirmary, stuck his head out of the CMO's office. "Gentlemen, a word, please."
Peter and Beckett stepped into the office. It reflected the personality of their now-missing CMO. African statuettes and a djembe drum sat on the shelves, as well as pictures of family and home. Grodin felt a pang at the reminders; Beckett's lips tightened perceptibly.
"Well, they're not Replicators, Ori, or Go'auld," said Kavanaugh. He scowled at the results of his tests and scans. "And they're obviously not Wraith, either. Although—"
"What?" asked Peter. It wasn't like Kavanaugh to hesitate like this. "A problem?"
"Something came up in Doctor Emmagan's—ahem, this Teyla's—bioscan."
Peter frowned at the ominous tone; Kavanaugh didn't shy from telling difficult news, even if Peter didn't care to hear it. It was this brutal honesty that the expedition leader actually appreciated. "What is it?"
Kavanaugh scowled and shifted uncomfortably from foot to foot. "She's got Wraith DNA."
Beckett gaped at him, then exploded, "What? Are ye sure, man?"
Kavanaugh raised his hands, as if protecting himself from Beckett's outburst. "I ran the scan three times to be sure, Commander. It came up the same all three times." His tone grew softer as Beckett stared at Teyla, who was now talking with Katie Brown. "I'm sorry, Carson."
"Is she a threat?" Peter asked, his heart sinking for his military second-in-command.
"I don't know. I've never seen a Human with Wraith DNA. I don't know how strong it is, or even if she's aware of the fact. She's clearly not from Earth, and judging from her clothing and demeanor, she's Athosian."
Beckett shook his head. "No Athosian would work for the Wraith—"
"No Athosian whom we know, Commander," Kavanaugh reminded him. "We don't know what they're like over where they're from. We already know that people are very different in personality and role within their Atlantis."
Peter nodded reluctantly. Like Colonel Sheppard and Doctor McKay."As much as I hate to admit it, he's got a point, Carson."
"Another thing, Doctor Grodin, that I found pretty interesting." Kavanaugh brought up another test result.on his screen. "OurTeyla has the ATA Gene, but it's absent in her counterpart over there. And even more surprising, thisSheppard has it. In spades. It's stronger than even Commander Beckett's or Captain McKay's."
"Stronger?" Beckett echoed in disbelief. "I thought you said our McKay's got the strongest one possible."
"I did, but this Sheppard's got it stronger than the captain's. It's mind-boggling. I'm surprised he hasn't heard the City yet."
Peter shook his head, mystified. "Amazing. John's always trying to get Meredith to activate one thing or another—" He shook his head, then turned to Beckett. "While all this is fascinating, we need to find a way to send them where they came from, and get our team back."
"All right. Carson, I want you to keep a particular eye on Teyla. If she is a threat—" He left the sentence hanging, but Beckett understood the implication.
"Aye," Beckett muttered again. "Bloody hell, but you're right."
"As soon as you clear them, Ben, we need to inform them on this Atlantis and our situation here in Pegasus. I'm sure there are differences between our universes, but—"
Kavanaugh nodded. "I'll do my best to expedite the process, Peter."
He turned to Beckett. "Get Bates working on the problem with the Gate. We need to find out where Captain McKay and his team are and get them back."
"Aye," Beckett agreed. "I'll get right on it—"
Sergeant Campbell's voice interrupted, "Control Room to Grodin. Sir, the Orion just came into orbit. Shall I—"
"I'll be in my office in a few moments, Sergeant. I'll take the call there." Peter nodded at the other two. "Then let's be about it, gentlemen."
The sun was dipping over the ocean when Elizabeth and Evan Lorne returned to Atlantis. She stepped out of the Gate with a sense of achievement. The negotiations had gone well and the Leriean Council had given Rodney permission to examine their ZPM.
"McKay is going to be ecstatic," Evan said dryly. "He'll want to go back out right away."
"Probably," Elizabeth replied with a slight smile, and she could imagine Rodney's enthusiasm."Can you really blame him, though?"
"Not really, but—" Evan broke off as he realized how quiet the Gateroom was. "Where is McKay? I thought Sheppard's team would be back by now."
Elizabeth frowned, then called up to the control room. "Sergeant Campbell?"
Chuck shook his head, visibly worried. "They missed their check-in half an hour ago, ma'am. We've tried hailing them, but they aren't answering."
"Maybe they extended their hospitality to Teyla and the others?" Evan asked.
"Colonel Sheppard would have let us know." Elizabeth climbed the steps and entered the Control Room, "and given his team's track record—"
"I'll put my team on standby and alert the Doc." Evan turned to do so. Elizabeth couldn't help but sigh; unfortunately, this was beginning to become a standard operating procedure whenever John's team was late.
She glanced down at Chuck. "What is it?"
"I'm reading that fluctuation again." The Canadian hit the comm. "Doctor Zelenka—"
"Yes, I see it," Radek replied from his lab. "Where is that coming from?"
"I dunno, Doctor Z. It's definitely originating from the city's systems, but—" Chuck's tone suddenly became alarmed. "Unscheduled off-world activation! It's Doctor McKay's IDC…I think."
"You think?" Elizabeth demanded. "What…never mind. Major—"
Lorne's team and another squad of Marines took up positions in the Gateroom, just as Carson appeared from one of the side hallways with a stretcher and his medical team. The Gate activated, but for a long moment, no one came out of the event horizon. Elizabeth glanced at Chuck. Who looked back at her with a puzzled expression.
Finally, two shadows began to coalesce in the portal, but as soon as they began to emerge, light flashed and blinded everyone in the Gateroom. Elizabeth was forced to turn her face away, but her eyes still watered in reaction. She wiped tears from her face as chaos exploded in the room below her.
"Careful, they've been knocked unconscious," Carson said. He knelt next to John Sheppard's side. "Easy, Colonel, you'll be okay…holy crap!"
"Carson? Are they all right?" Elizabeth flew down the steps, but stopped short at the man sprawled on the Gate Room floor. John Sheppard.AJohn Sheppard—his flyaway black hair and silver-rimmed glasses bore a passing resemblance to Radek Zelenka, but he was still recognizable as a version of Sheppard.
Carson scowled at something on his scanner. "We can ask questions later. We need to get 'em to the Infirmary."
Elizabeth nodded and helped the teams move the man's body to a waiting stretcher. More medical personnel poured in with three more stretchers, and Evan Lorne managed to get Teyla onto another one.
"Emergency Quarantine protocol three," Evan said into his mike. "We don't know what happened to them—" Far above Elizabeth, Radek Zelenka swore violently in Czech.
Elizabeth knew that things had been going way too smoothly today."Damn," she muttered, as she ran alongside John's stretcher.
"Who is he?" she asked as she stared at the man lying unconscious in the Infirmary bed. He wore the same fatigues and tac vest the offworld teams wore, but with two noticeable differences. He had different military rank bars on his collar, and it was on the wrong man.
Carson shook his head. "According to our DNA tests, he's Rodney McKay."
Evan stared at McKay's prone form, his face mirroring Elizabeth's utter confusion. "McKay's never been military."
"Not our Rodney, no." Carson gently examined the dogtags around McKay's neck. "Group Captain Meredith R. McKay," he read aloud. "Royal Canadian Air Force. If I remember right, that makes him the equivalent of Colonel Sheppard."
"McKay's a colonel?" Lorne shook his head in disbelief.
Elizabeth shook her head and resisted a grin at Lorne's reaction. That meant this Rodney outrankedhim, and his reaction to that was priceless. She schooled her face into a concerned expression. "From another universe, Major. And the others?"
Carson inclined his head to an unconscious Teyla Emmagan. She lay there serenely, long lashes against bronze cheeks. Her jacket was the twin of Carson's—the yellow of the Atlantis medical staff. Ronon now sported a shorter version of the dreads, but seemed relatively unchanged. Elizabeth wasn't sure what was more disturbing: Ronon's shorter dreadlocks or John's looking like an Einstein who'd stood too close to a Van De Graph generator.
"Whatever happened to them affected their central nervous systems. Nothing permanent, but I'll keep on eye on 'em till they wake up."
"Let me know when they do." Elizabeth sighed and shook her head. "We need to know where our team is and how to get them back."
Aye." Carson sighed and moved over to the alternate Teyla's side. She seemed almost exactly like his Teyla, except she wore a yellow medical jacket. He didn't recognize the flag patch on her shoulder: a rectangle bisected into two triangles by a black stripe that was outlined in gold. The upper triangle was light green, the lower triangle was light blue. It meant this Teyla was from Earth and not Athos.
Suddenly, a choked cry startled him. A hand shot up and grabbed Elizabeth by the arm.She jumped in surprise because McKay's eyes were open. They were the same exact shade of blue, but she could instantly tell that this was not Rodney McKay of her Atlantis. He sat up abruptly, his eyes going wide in shock. She put a hand on McKay's upper arm to steady him. Evan had a hand on his sidearm, but Carson raised a hand to stop him.
"Easy," she said. "You've had quite a shock. Lie back; you need rest."
He didn't resist as she pushed him back onto the pillows. "E-Elizabeth?" he whispered. "Elizabeth? Oh God, what happened? Where am I? You-you can't be here—"
"Carson?" she asked quietly.
He approached McKay's side. "You've had a wee bit of a shock, as Elizabeth told you. Relax, Rodney."
The man stared at her as if she was a ghost. He reached for her hand and she allowed him to take it. "Oh my God," he breathed. "It's you. It's really you." His grip on her wrist tightened. "You're alive, but how is that possible?"
Elizabeth glanced over at Carson, then over at Evan Lorne. Both men were as confused as she was, but she thought she understood. "Rodney—"
The name snapped him out of his stupor. "It's Meredith, not Rodney and what the hell are you doing wearing a lab coat, Carson? Where's Peter?"
The simple question made her heart skip a beat. She tried to make her voice sound normal and failed miserably. "Peter?"
"Doctor Peter Grodin. He's the leader of the Atlantis Expedition—" McKay broke off as he saw her distress, then understanding dawned in his eyes. "This isn't my Atlantis." The captain gazed at Elizabeth and she suddenly noticed he hadn't let go of her wrist. "He's not here, is he?"
"A parallel universe, Mer," an unexpected voice said from behind them. "We must've gotten switched with our counterparts from a parallel universe. Something must've gone wrong when we went through the Gate. Again. Melia's gonna have a fit."
Elizabeth took a deep breath and turned to see the other John Sheppard wide awake. He had propped himself up on one elbow, his eyes narrowed behind the glasses. There was a flicker of emotion as she met his eyes, but it was quickly suppressed. If what Rodney…Meredith, said was true, then…
"Doctor Sheppard, I presume?"
He smiled, but it didn't reach his eyes. "At least some things are consistent between universes, that's a relief. Doctor Elizabeth Weir, Doctor John Sheppard, Chief of Science of another version of Atlantis. Over there is Group Captain Meredith 'don't-call-me-Rodney', our military leader; Specialist Ronon Dex of the Satedan Auxiliary, and Doctor Teyla Emmagan, our CMO."
Sheppard's lazy drawl hadn't changed much, and McKay rolled his eyes in exasperation. "Thanks, Sheppard, I was just getting to that."
Despite herself, Elizabeth had to smile. There were some things that didn't change and snarky McKay and a calmer Sheppard was an obvious constant in the space-time continuum.
"It looks like DoctorBeckett as well." Sheppard looked over at Evan. "Colonel Lorne?"
Evan chuckled. "Just Major, but I'll take the promotion, if you're offering."
"Can't help you there." Sheppard said. He brought his gaze back to Elizabeth. "Are you the expedition leader? Or is Peter around?"
She swallowed hard as she caught Carson's look of sympathy. "No. Peter's dead. He died three years ago."
McKay's eyes softened. "I'm sorry. It must still be hard for you."
She blinked at his words. How does he know about— She managed to recover enough to acknowledge his sad tone. "Thank you, Captain. Meredith. Sorry, it'll take me a while to get used to calling you that. Our McKay goes by Rodney; he hates his first name."
McKay chuckled. "I don't blame him, but it doesn't bother me as much. Ronon, relax." He glanced at Dex, who looked ready to leap out of bed. "We're among friends. Teyla, you all right?"
Elizabeth looked over at their version of Ronon Dex, who glared at her from his infirmary bed. His suspicious expression matched the one she'd expected from her Ronon . Doctor Teyla Emmagan stared at Carson with a mixture of surprise and reluctance. Elizabeth had the feeling that this Teyla was holding herself back from just flinging her arms around Carson in relief. Elizabeth resisted another smile; for his part, Carson tried to avoid Emmagan's eyes as he checked her blood pressure.
"I'm fine, Captain. Just a little disoriented." She frowned and cocked her head to the side, as if listening to some inner voice.
"What is it, lass?" Carson asked gently. "Are you hurt?"
She shook her head, then asked, "Do you hear anything?"
Carson frowned in confusion. "What? I hear nothing."
McKay understood about what she was asking. "You're right, Teyla. I don't hear Her, either."
Evan stared at them. "Her? Her who?"
The captain brought his attention back to Elizabeth. "The City. Atlantis."
McKay rolled his eyes. "Another thing that's different. This is gonna be interesting." He refocused on her and shook his head. "It's a long story. I think we've got a lot to talk about, Elizabeth.
There weren't many things that left Rodney McKay speechless, and as a galactic rule, those things didn't follow one another in quick succession in the space of a half hour. Usually, he had time to recover with a snarky remark or a scathing comment.
Not this time. First was the realization that this wasn''t Atlantis. If anything, Carson Beckett and Radek Zelenka in military fatigues made that a no-brainer. Then the shock of seeing a dead man alive and well. A man he should have saved, but didn't. A man who had been a friend, and who now sat across from him at the conference table, right where Elizabeth Weir would have been in his universe.
This Grodin looked almost exactly like his now-deceased counterpart, except that he was going silver around the temples. If Peter had lived, he might have aged just as well. Rodney didn't miss the strange look Peter gave him and winced as he realized why. His reaction in the Gateroom must have tipped Peter off that something wasn't quite right, and since then, Peter had kept his distance.
It should have been me on that space station. Three years hadn't softened any of Rodney's guilt, and the sight of Peter's counterpart brought it all back again.
Katie sat next to Rodney with a worried expression. She squeezed his hand in reassurance; he managed a slight smile, but didn't look at her directly. She seemed much like her "real" counterpart, so at least that was consistent. Rodney tried to ignore the sparkling diamond on her left ring finger, but it was like a beacon. He'd wanted to get married someday, and it looked like Group Captain McKay had already acted on it.
"Are you all right? You look like you've seen a ghost."
"I'm not sure if I haven't," he confessed, and winced again. "Sorry. That didn't come out right." He thought, Dammit, this is so awkward. I'm alone in a conference room with a dead man and a woman I'm not sure I'm that much in love with, never mind proposing to her. This is so screwed up.
He hadn't realized he'd said those last five words aloud until Peter said in a deadpan voice, "Believe me, Rodney, this is as awkward for us as it is for you and your team."
Rodney gave him a sharp look. "Since when have you become a mind reader?"
"You might not be Captain McKay, but you both share some of the same characteristics," Peter pointed out, "and there are times when I can tell the difference."
"You're right; I'mnot." Rodney bit back his retort when he saw Peter's mouth tighten. The Peter he had known had been slow to anger, but took a long time to calm once he got to that point. Rodney decided it was prudent not to push his luck.
John noticed the tension between Rodney and Peter and decided to quickly change the subject, but before he could open his mouth, another familiar military officer walked into the conference room…who was still completely different from the one he knew. John shot to his feet as Colonel Evan Lorne, USAF, grinned at them from the doorway.
"Colonel Lorne ," John said. "You got a promotion."
Lorne chuckled and extended a hand, which John shook. "Doc Grodin warned me about this, but it's still weird seeing you in off-world gear, Colonel. You have to drag our Sheppard out at gunpoint to get him to go through the Gate."
John sighed. The more he heard about his counterpart, the less he liked him. He had to remind himself this was a parallel universe and that people were different here, even himself. Especially himself, it sounded like.
Believe me, he's not quite that bad, Colonel. He's one of the smartest people here and he's saved us more than once.
"Sounds like our McKay," John answered automatically. "I guess he isn't so—" His voice slowed, then stopped as he realized what he was doing. "Wait a minute. Who are you and what're you doing in my head?"
Her laughter was like a pleasant tickle in the corner of his mind. My apologies, Colonel. My name is Melia. You know me as the city herself. I can choose to speak with those who possess the Touch of the Ancients. You hear me more clearly than anyone I have seen, including Captain McKay. Interesting.
"Uh—" He exchanged stunned looks with Rodney, whose expression resembled someone who'd been smacked on the back of the head with a board. Judging from the expression, Rodney might as well have been. Suddenly, John's perception of the City became fuzzy, like a bad satellite reception.
This is how your McKay hears me. His Touch of the Ancients is unnatural, so he cannot hear me well, but enough to understand. Enough came through for him to hear the sarcasm in the tone. And yes, he does tend to be single-minded when it comes to solving a problem, whether it is logistical or scientific.
The dry remark took Rodney off guard, and his mouth dropped open as he glared at Katie. "Excuse me?"
She gave him a confused look. "What? I didn't say anything."
"You just said I was single-minded, and not in a nice tone, either."
She flushed crimson at the accusation before she slowly replied, "No, I didn't."
"You just didn't say, 'Yes, he does tend to be single-minded when it comes to solving a problem'?"
"I didn't say anything, Mere-." She frowned at his angry, defensive tone and visibly tried to control her own voice. "Are you feeling all right?"
"Look, I'm not sick, and I'm not crazy-"
John interrupted before it got too far. "It's not her, Rodney. It's Atlantis. She can talk to people with the ATA Gene, with varying results. Apparently, She likes you a lot to insult you the way She has."
Yes, exactly, She said sweetly.
Rodney sputtered, "Thanks a lot." He glanced at Katie and murmured, "Sorry." Then he rolled his eyes to the ceiling. "Now that I know that I'm not certifiably insane—"
Peter smirked. "People with the ATA Gene can hear Her to some degree; the ones with the strongest genes can talk back. Beckett can, as well as our McKay, and Colonel Lorne, for example. Your Atlantis doesn't do the same?"
John shook his head. "I can 'feel' Atlantis, Carson, too-he's a doctor in our universe-but neither of us can actually talk to the City—"
"Wait, you called Atlantis 'Her'. The City's a Her?" Rodney winced as he felt a definite "smack" on the back of his head and John winced in sympathy. Beckett and Lorne tried not to laugh, and failed miserably. Rodney turned indignant. "Hey! What was that for?"
Yes, the City is a "Her". You certainly don't have the niceties like Meredith has. Not all Canadians are polite, like Chuck claims.
He rolled his eyes to the ceiling and snapped, "Well, Chuck Campbell's wrong. Okay, I stand corrected, thank you very much. You didn't have to do that. Ours isn't quite as chatty, so it's a little bit of an adjustment."
Peter laughed and raised up a hand. "I take it She's giving you both a hard time? Don't worry, She's cheeky only to the people she really likes."
"That's comforting," Rodney groused. "It's like having a woman stuck in your head."
Ronon made a sound that could have been coughing, but then again, it might not have. Teyla chuckled, and John glanced over at him with a raised eyebrow. The others gave Rodney strange looks that nearly scuttled John's composure. Rodney glared up and gave the ceiling another dirty look. Whatever Atlantis said, John missed it, because apparently, She could be selective to whom She talked.
John wasn't sure if that was necessarily a good thing.
Peter shook his head at Rodney and said, "I will not ask how you know that."
Peter chuckled. "I suppose there are some things that are consistent across parallel universes. As for the ones that aren't, let's start with the basics. Doctor Brown?"
Katie patted Rodney's hand, then explained the differences between her universe and Rodney's. Daniel Jackson was a renowned expert in Celtic and Roman archeology, as opposed to Egyptology, and he translated a codex of runes and ogham to discover what Stonehenge was really used for. The Druids had used it as a worship place, but also as a link to the Ancients, and the SG-1 team in this universe discovered a Stargate cleverly hidden underneath the ring of stones..
Rodney shook his head. "In some weird, convoluted way, that actually makes sense. So the Stargate program's based in the United Kingdom, instead of the States?"
"Yes. Stargate Command is based in Glastonbury, though the Americans also have their own SGC in Colorado."
Peter nodded and continued, "The Expedition's been here for almost four years now, and there are more than fifteen countries represented among its members. Captain Zelenka—" he nodded at the Czech, who nodded back, "—is our chief of Security, a long veteran of the Czech Republic army. Wing Commander Beckett is a member of the Royal Air Force, while Group Captain McKay is from the Royal Canadian Force." He smiled at John's raised eyebrow. "Don't worry, Colonel Lorne makes sure your government is represented, Colonel Sheppard. He's the commanding officer of the Orion."
Rodney's mouth dropped open. "The Orion?"
Lorne nodded. "I've got the Orion, Colonel Ellis commands Apollo, Colonel Carter comands the Hammond,and Colonel Caldwell commands the Daedelus.Four more Asgard-tech ships are due out of Earth's shipyards by the end of the year."
It was John's turn to gape. In his universe, Orion had been destroyed. But here? "Whoa. Eight ships…"
"We need 'em," Beckett said quietly. "I don't know how the Pegasus galaxy is in your universe, but being assigned to Atlantis or Midway could shorten your life expectancy."
Ronon scowled. "The Wraith."
"And the Genii. And the Ori. And the Replicators. We've been building an Alliance with the various Pegasus native people." Beckett glanced at Ronon and the Satedan met his eyes with cool aplomb. "Ronon, the Satedans are one of our strongest allies, second to the Athosians. Your counterpart is our Satedan military liaison."
"I'm…glad to hear that." Ronon struggled to keep a straight face; Teyla reached over and squeezed his shoulder in reassurance. "Where we come from…Sateda fell to the Wraith."
Another uncomfortable silence fell over the room and even Kavanaugh glanced at Ronon with sympathy Beckett's eyes clouded over with compassion. "Och, I'm sorry to hear that."
"It's all right." Ronon said, though he seemed uncomfortable at the commander's kind words.
By the Ancients. Many planets here have fallen to the Wraith or to the Replicators, but Sateda is not one of them. My condolences to your Ronon Dex. Atlantis—Melia, John reminded himself, She had a name—sounded both disturbed and sympathetic, but there was a definite undertone of anger. Commander Beckett's face became grim, and even Katie's eyes flashed with emotion. That was so odd that Rodney turned to stare at her.
Peter turned his attention to Teyla. "The Head of the Athosian Council is eager to talk and share stories. Doctor Emmagan isn't Athosian, but you are, and I'm sure you'll appreciate her company."
It was Teyla's turn to be speechless. Her eyes flickered over to Beckett for a brief moment before she bowed her head and whispered, "Thank you, Doctor Grodin."
"You're quite welcome. In the meantime, consider yourselves as our guests for as long as you stay." Peter nodded at Beckett. "Commander Beckett, I want you to escort Teyla and Colonel Sheppard to the Athosian quarter of the city. Captain Zelenka, the Satedans have requested help with one of their outposts; take Ronon with you."
Colonel Lorne reached forward and put a hand on Ronon's shoulder. "My next port of call is Sateda. If you want, I can get you there within a few days, if you want to visit."
Ronon hesitated, his expression torn, then he finally nodded. "I'd like that. Thank you."
"I'll let Major Novak know to expect you, then." Lorne glanced at Peter and said, "I've got some supplies for you…if you mind, I'd like to make sure they get down here in one piece."
"Of course, and Doctors Bates and Kusunagi are our experts in Ancient technology. We'll get things sorted out. I assume you'd want to assist them, Rodney?"
Rodney snapped out of the trance he was in.. "Yes, yes, of course. Sorry. This whole situation takes some getting used to." He looked back at Peter with a sad smile."It's good to hear you laugh again, Peter. It's been too long."
Peter watched as the scientist's voice went from sarcastic to serious in the space of a few seconds. He hadn't gotten to be expedition leader without knowing how to read people. Peter put two and two together from what Rodney had already said and shivered at the implication. He decided not to broach the subject; Rodney would speak of it when he was ready.
Instead, he said, "How about we see if we can sort out our Gate problem, shall we?"
Britgate, Genii Homeworld
Acastus Kolya shook his head as he read the report from his spy on Atlantis. It read like one of the tales he'd heard from his mother as a child, fantastic and completely implausible. Yet he'd seen too many things in the Pegasus galaxy to completely discount it, especially since the Atlanteans had come back to claim Atlantis as their own.
He scowled and pushed the paper aside with a finger. Cowen tried not to smirk at the expression on his fellow general's face. The curly-haired Genii was as different from Kolya as could be, both in looks and in temperment, but both came from the same military family.
"Acastus? You look like you've eaten something rotten."
Kolya growled and got up from his desk. "They must have been working on a secret project, right under our noses."
Cowen raised an eyebrow; if the Atlanteans had been doing that, he would have heard something long before now, but he didn't contradict Kolya. "Which means they've unlocked the City's secrets. I thought our agents have put precautions in place to prevent that."
The other man made a dismissive gesture. "Obviously, they weren't enough. We'll acquire those secrets soon enough. I have my agents moving into place as we speak, and Ladon is preparing a strike force to deal the Atlanteans the first blow."
"Ladon Radim?" Cowen scowled at the name. Ladon's star was quickly rising among the Genii military, much too quickly for his tastes. Too ambitious, too wild. He needs to be tamed, supervised. "He's young—"
"—but not untested in battle, and both he and his sister Sora are loyal to the Genii." Kolya laughed at his doubtful expression. "Come now, even you must acknowledge that."
"I don't trust Ladon, or Sora. He's hiding something."
Kolya raised an eyebrow. "Are you sure of that?"
His voice was grudging. "Not yet."
"Until you do, I would keep your suspicions to yourself. We cannot afford division among our people, not when we are so close."
Cowen nodded. Kolya's tone was deadly humorous, and heralded one of his most dangerous moods. The Genii needed Kolya as much as Ladon and Sora. At least the seed of doubt had been planted, to bloom at another time.
"In the meantime, I want you to consult with our Atlantean, um, 'advisor'. I'm sure he'd be more than willing to tell you what you need to know about the City's defenses. All you need to do is tell him how indispensible, how important, he is and he will do whatever you ask."
Cowen made a face. "Pathetic puppy, that's what he is."
"Pathetic, yes, but an invaluable source of information. Once he outlives his usefulness, then you can dispose of him as you see fit. Until that time, he stays."
"Very well. And what about the Wraith?"
Kolya smiled as he halted his pacing in front of Cowen. "Request an audience with our liaison with them and keep him updated on our plans. Unlike the pathetic puppy, that man has great potential."
Cowen shivered at the mention of the Wraith liaison. "I've seen him before, Kolya, and he makes me nervous. I don't even know what his name is."
Kolya chuckled and shrugged. "All you have to do is ask, Cowen. His name is Michael. Michael Kenmore."
Elizabeth sighed and rubbed her temples. She was going to have one heck of a migraine soon, and she couldn't afford it, not right now. Doctor Sheppard and Radek Zelenka were working on tracing the source of the problem in the City's systems. Doctor Emmagan and Carson concentrated their efforts on the Hoffan virus and the Wraith vaccine, for Emmagan had done significant research on both in her universe. As for Ronon…
She winced as she recalled his cry of utter shock when she'd told them about his planet's ruin at the hands of the Wraith. Ronon fled the conference room and the Control Tower; McKay followed him to make sure he didn't do anything rash.
"Let him go," Emmagan has said, in that soft voice. "Meredith will look after him. Ronon will listen to the captain." Elizabeth found it rather ironic that this Ronon and McKay were as close as brothers, while Ronon and Rodney were feuding siblings who still managed to like each other.
"You all right, Doctor Weir?"
She glanced up at Evan Lorne, who had entered her office. "I'm all right, Major. It's just…it's a bit of a shock to find out you're dead in another universe."
Evan nodded soberly. "Yeah, I can imagine. According to Captain McKay, their Elizabeth Weir was killed during a negotiation with the Genii. She and their Doctor Grodin were…'close'."
Her mouth curved into a bittersweet smile as she heard the quotation marks. "Close."
Evan hesitated, but she nodded at him to go on. "I know this is before I came to Atlantis, but I've heard the stories about Doctor Grodin, what he did and how he died, but I saw your reaction in the Infirmary and I wondered if…"
"…if Peter and I had been involved here as well?" Elizabeth shook her head and sighed as she got up from her seat. She wrapped her arms around herself as if trying to keep herself together.
"I know it's probably none of my business, but…"
"Evan." The use of his first name surprised him. "It wasn't exactly common knowledge. I couldn't afford to be involved with one of my team, and then at the time, there was Simon, back on Earth—" She stopped and shrugged. "Things happened."
He heard a wealth of words in that simple sentence. "Oh."
"Carson knew, and I suspect Rodney did as well. When he told me Peter had been aboard the space station…" She broke off, then continued, "In any case, I didn't have time to mourn him. We had the Wraith on our doorstep."
Evan nodded; he'd come to Atlantis as one of Colonel Everett's men, and he'd eventually stayed on Atlantis when his unit was transferred back to Earth. "I remember."
"And now hearing that he's alive and well over there, it's a lot to absorb."
"Yeah." Evan sighed. "And this Ronon hearing about his planet…it seems that Sateda's still there in his universe. I don't blame the guy for going ballistic. I would've too, if I were him."
Elizabeth nodded, then said, "I'd better go check with Radek and see if they've made any progress."
Evan accepted the change of subject. "Of course. And I'll see if Captain McKay's managed to get Ronon calmed down."
She managed a smile, then made her way past him and down the stairs.
Lieutenant Laura Cadman prided herself on expecting the unexpected, and Rodney McKay missing on a Gate mission wasn't exactly unexpected anymore. Still, she worried about him, despite the fact she'd knew way too much about him from her little sojourn in his head.
But she wasn't expecting the person who ran at her, full tilt, as he headed for the East Pier. She froze for one critical second and that hesitation nearly became her undoing. Ronon Dex—with shorter dreadlocks, but still carrying that formidable blaster—charged toward her and it didn't look like he was going to stop.
"Holy cr—" She dove out of his way as he thundered past without breaking stride. Laura blinked and thought, Wait a minute…isn't Ronon supposed to be missing too?
"For God's sake, Ronon! Where the hell do you think you're going?"
She blinked as Rodney McKay came around the corner in hot pursuit. To her shock, Rodney didn't seem winded at all; in fact, he was only a few minutes behind Ronon. He glanced over at her and demanded, "Where'd he go?"
"I think he's headed for the East Pier," Laura answered. "What's going—?"
"Thanks," he snapped, and then he was off again before she could blink. She watched him go, openmouthed, as she realized something. Not only was he in decent shape, but he'd worn some sort of rank bars, and he'd been armed with a P-90.
And he hadn't made any indication that he recognized her at all.
Her mouth worked itself a few times before she was able to speak. "Definitely notRodney," she said, then she tapped her headset mike. "Control, this is Cadman. I just saw two men who looked just like Ronon Dex and Rodney McKay barrel right past me. What the hell is going on?"
If he could run fast enough, far enough, maybe he could escape the pain. To hear that his world, Sateda, had been overrun and culled by the Wraith was simply unbearable. The faces of his family, his friends, his men flashed into his mind. Melena. Tyre, and countless others…all dead and gone, for the nearly a decade in this universe.
He couldn't envision it. Sateda was strong, with its allies in the Athosians, Hoffans, and countless others. How was it that the Wraith had managed to destroy thousands of years of culture and history in a single day? Then again, he'd seen their handiwork and knew that it was possible.
He hardly noticed the female soldier who'd had the bad luck to be in his way. Surely, she would know enough to move before she was injured. Dimly, he heard McKay shouting something far behind him, but he didn't care.
Suddenly, he ran out of room to run. His body automatically stopped at the edge of the East Pier before he tumbled off the edge. The cold spray of the ocean brought him back to sanity. Cold reality, like the chill of the ocean, and the realization followed on its heels: Why is the water cold and not warm, like our Atlantis?
"For Christ's sake, Ronon, you trying to give me a heart attack?" McKay swore as he screeched to a stop next to him. The captain gasped great lungfuls of fresh sea air. "Why'd you run?"
"They're all gone here, McKay. The Wraith killed them all." Ronon rumbled. "It's always a threat, being culled, but to hear of it, ten years after it happened…"
The captain nodded soberly. "Yeah. I was as shocked as you were.It isn't easy to see what might have been, if history had been a little different."
"Yeah." He tried to block out the truth from Elizabeth Weir's words. "I spent seven years as a Wraith runner. Held their versions of Sheppard and Teyla hostage while Doctor Beckett—" he snorted in dark humor, "—took the tracking device out of my back.What kind of a person am I here to have gone through these things?"
McKay grabbed his arm. "Listen to me, buddy. That person, their Ronon Dex…he's not you. He's made different choices, had different experiences. But there's one thing you have in common: you're both . He managed to spit in the Wraith's eye just for surviving, and you'll get through this too. Sheppard will find a way to get us back. Melena'll keep a hearty dinner warm for you until we get there, but right now, I need you here. All right?"
He was silent for a long moment, then he replied, "All right. But I pity their Ronon for losing so much."
"What doesn't break us makes us stronger," McKay quoted. "It could be your counterpart's life journey to go through adversity to be stronger."
"Yeah." Although he didn't really believe in any of Sateda's religions, McKay kept surprising him with his knowledge of them. It was this insight that helped cement a bond between them, a bond of brothers.
McKay laughed and gave him a smirk. "If it makes you feel any better, I'm supposed to be an arrogant ass here."
He smirked back "You still are."
"Watch it, Big Guy, or I'll sic their version of Bates on you. Or Kavanaugh."
Ronon pretended to shudder. "That's really frightening, McKay."
The captain laughed, then became serious again. "You okay?"
"Yeah, thanks. But if you don't mind, I'd like to just be out here for a while before I head back."
"No problem, it's kinda nice out here. A little chilly, but nice."
Ronon snorted, as they watched the sun set in companionable silence.
"Tanzania? You're from Tanzania?"
Doctor Emmagan nodded, her light brown hair swinging as she moved. "That's right. My mother is African, my father is from France. They were both doctors on the Continent before moving to my homeland." She chuckled. "My mother proudly traced her heritage to a succession of folk healers. I guess that's where my desire to heal others comes from."
"Aye, it makes sense." Carson grinned, for this version of Teyla had her genuine forthrightness and her strength of character. She was also a brilliant medical researcher, and as they pored over information in the Ancient database, her tenacity impressed him. She wouldn't give up very easily. The medical scanner lit up in her hands as she examined a sample of Wraith cells.
"You have the Ancient gene."
"Yes, that allows me to use the medical equipment." Emmagan's face grew worried. "It also allows me and Captain McKay to hear the City as well, when She speaks to us."
His eyebrows shot up. That was what she and McKay had meant when they'd said they "couldn't hear Her." Atlantis was sentinent? He'd had his suspicions for a long time, but…"The City actually talks to you?"
She nodded absently and replied, "Yes. She doesn't do it here, or we would've heard Her by now. It's like losing a part of yourself, like an arm or a leg.Very disconcerting."
Carson murmured in sympathy, but such a close connection made him uneasy. "I can only imagine. I can feel certain emotions, but that's the extent of it."
"It's scary and wonderful at the same time. Someday, you might be able to hear Her, if She allows it." She glanced sideways at him and smiled; Carson felt a sudden rush of heat in his face and the beep of the scanner gave him a few moments to recover.
She nodded at Carson as they surveyed the results. "Right there, Carson. That particular protein located here and here, and how it's synthesized."
"Not to mention how it's transported through the entire cell," Carson murmured. "If there was a way to isolate it—"
Emmagan sighed and leaned her head within her hands. "I've been working on this for nearly three years, but it's so elusive, so frustrating. Even with all the medical knowledge and technology from our Pegasus allies, we've only discovered a scant percentage of information to combat this…thing." She shook her head. "I'm tired of losing friends to this. I just want this stopped."
Carson said nothing during her rant. He only got to his feet and moved behind her, placing his hands on her shoulders and kneading the tension out of her muscles. She sighed and allowed her head to fall back.
"You know, love," he murmured. "I've told meself the same thing these past three years."
She closed her eyes. "Marie Cho told me about what happened to the Hoffans in this universe. There was little you could do to change their minds, Carson."
She opened her eyes and looked up at him with a steady gaze. "You tried to warn them; they decide to take the risk anyway."
"Aye. My mind knows that, but here—" He withdrew a hand and tapped his heart. "—I feel differently."
"That's what makes you a good doctor here, Carson. Any doctor who doesn't feel so deeply for their patients can't do their job properly."
Carson sighed. "I suppose my counterpart doesn't have that problem?"
She chuckled and her gaze turned humorous. "On the contrary. He is very much like you in many ways, except he manages to hide it much better."
Quantum theory. Rodney had explained it as a diferent universe that branched off the main one with every decision made. It was enough to give him a bloody headache. Carson flinched involuntarily as he wondered just what kind of life he would have had as an officer in the RAF, and second-in-command of Atlantis. "I would guess he'd need to."
"For what he does, yes." She turned to face him, her eyes sympathetic, "but you both are very much alike in more ways than one."
"Aye?" Carson swallowed hard at the way she was looking at him: serious and vulnerable at the same time, just like that time in the gym before his Teyla and the others had vanished. His heart ached at the prospect of never seeing her again. His Teyla.
When had he started to think of her as "his Teyla"? He couldn't remember, but it sounded right.
"Yes." She stood up, faced him, reached up and touched his cheek with her hand. "For one, you both value life above all things. You both would do anything for your friends. You both have seen terrible things, but you find the strength to go on."
He swallowed hard. "Lass, I—" Carson nearly jumped as she slid her hands around to the back of his head and gently pulled him down to her level. She brushed her lips against his, gently and without malice. Part of him wanted to pull away, but his body turned traitor on him as his arms slid around her and returned the kiss.
What're you doin' , man? Are you daft? This isn't the Teyla you know. You can't just—He closed his eyes and told that part of his brain to simply sod off.
The moment was broken by a polite cough at the doorway. He jumped as if someone had given him an electric shock.
"Ah, sorry. Am I interrupting something?" asked Meredith McKay. The Canadian captain leaned in the doorway with a bemused expression. Emmagan glared at him with an annoyed look, but the moment had already passed.
Carson tried to reorganize his addled thoughts. "You need to get some rest. It would do either of us any good if you collapse from exhaustion."
She sighed and shook her head at him. "I know, but—"
"No buts," he said firmly. "Off with you, love. I'll see you in the morning."
She nodded reluctantly then smiled. "Thank you, Carson, for taking care of me."
"You're welcome. Sleep well."
She nodded and headed for the door, shooting a glare at McKay as she left. The captain only gave her a measured look as she disappeared out of sight.
"I'm sorry," McKay said quietly. "I didn't mean—"
"Ach, don't worry about it." He reached over and turned off the computer monitor. "It's an awkward situation for all of us, I think."
A dry smile upturned the corner of McKay's lips. "She's in love with your counterpart, you know."
He flinched, despite himself. "I thought as much, but I'm not him."
"No, you aren't." Something flashed in McKay's eyes, but it was gone before Carson could be sure. "When's the last time you ate something, Doctor?"
"Here and there over the past couple of hours."
"Which usually means not enough. All right, that's it. I'm dragging you to the Mess Hall. "
Carson chuckled. "Now that's bloody ironic."
"I'm the one usually nagging you—I mean, my Rodney McKay—to eat and sleep."
Something flashed in McKay's eyes, but it was gone before Carson could be sure. "From what Zelenka told me about him, we're both pretty driven, just about different things."
"Aye, that's true." Carson shucked off his lab coat and closed his laptop. "All right, let's go." As they made their way through the darkened halls of Atlantis, he asked, "Is Ronon all right?"
McKay nodded, but his eyes were still shadowed. "He took the news of Sateda's fall here pretty badly. You have to understand, his planet's still thriving where we come from. So it was a bit of a shock."
"I can understand that." Carson sighed. "It must be a very different place where you come from."
"Somewhat. There are things that are easier, and things that are definitely harder." McKay fell silent, and Carson watched him out of the corner of his eye. Unlike Rodney, this man chose his words carefully, and controlled his emotions. It was disconcerting, and Carson wished Rodney was back. He had to admit it: he missed the verbal sparring, the minor medical emergencies.
He heard the sound of two people discussing something and noticed McKay had rolled his eyes. "Better keep the medkit handy, Carson. Sounds like Sheppard's on the warpath."
"That might work," Sheppard said as he tapped the information on his tablet. "If we can concentrate all of our power in one controlled burst, we might have enough to make a bridge between your universe and ours."
Radek took off his glasses and scrubbed his eyes with his other hand. Elizabeth had checked in with them hours ago, but he was no closer to solving the problem now as then. "We did that when a duplicate McKay came over—"
Sheppard rolled his eyes. "Another one?"
He gave Sheppard a tired smile. "But the problem was——"
"—you completely drained your ZPM." The scientist nodded and sprawled back in his chair with a troubled look on his face. "We need another power source, a supplemental one—"
"But where are we going to find something like that? A ZPM has a great amount of energy. We don't have anything that's more—"
Sheppard snapped his fingers once. "Is your Gate system interconnected like ours is?"
Radek frowned and put his glasses back on. "Interconnected? What do you mean?"
Sheppard leaned forward again and tapped the tablet. "Our Gate system is a network that connects all parts of the Pegasus Galaxy. The one in our Atlantis isn't directly connected to the rest, but the others…from Hoff to Sateda, each planetary system can control who comes through their Gate. Each checkpoint is powered by either a ZPM or an alternate power source." He brought up a star chart and used his stylus to draw lines from one planet to another.
Radek's mouth dropped open. "The amount of power—"
"—is enormous. Yeah. The problem is that we haven't found a way to harness it all. I'm not even sure if that's possible."
The Czech frowned. "But if you do that, won't that leave your allies open to attack? The shields—"
"Yeah." Sheppard's face was unwontedly serious. "Leaves everyone open to the Wraith, the Genii, the Ori, the Replicators…"
"We cannot do that."
"But there's got to be another way."
"Could we somehow—I do not know—share the load?"
"Between the universes?" Sheppard widened his eyes as he thought. "Holy crap, that'll be a neat trick if we can pull it off. We'd have to find a way to let Doctor Grodin know on the other side."
Radek sighed, his eyes softening. "Doctor Emmagan told me that Peter's alive and well in your universe, but—"
"Elizabeth isn't." Sheppard's eyes were shadowed. "Believe me, it's just as weird for me to see her here and not Peter. He was devastated when Kolya killed her. We all were, but Peter—" His voice broke, but he recovered quickly. "Anyway…what the hell are you still doing up, Mer?"
Captain McKay made a face. "Carson and I were going to have a late-night chat, but it looks like the two of you are busy."
"Actually, we could use your opinion, Mer. Radek and I've got the beginnings of a possible idea, but it's got a few…um, hangups."
McKay raised his eyebrows. "Hangups. This doesn't sound good."
"Yeah, some hangups."
As Sheppard began outlining the problem, McKay and Carson took seats at the table. Carson caught Radek's bemused expression. Sheppard explained his theory in the rapid-fire manner that Carson was used to hearing from Rodney. Captain McKay wore a look of skeptical amusement that usually belonged to Colonel John Sheppard. Carson nearly laughed aloud at the juxtiposition.
McKay sighed. "It's so crazy it might just work, but we need our Atlantis to help figure out the power problem. Bates is one of the best system guys we have over there."
"And Rodney's the best we've got here," Carson put in. "If there's a way, he'll help find it."
McKay's mouth quirked upward. "It's funny, Jeannie's always been better at this stuff than I am. I keep expecting her to walk through that door."
Radek chuckled softly, for Rodney would never make such an admission. Then an idea came to him. "Perhaps she could."
Carson frowned and asked, "Radek, are you suggesting she come here?"
Radek shrugged. "We will need all the help we can get, Carson. Jeannie is also a physicist, and she was here when we constructed the intergalactic bridge."
"How is she doing here?" McKay asked quietly. "Is she happy?"
Carson's eyes softened at the anxiety in his tone. "Aye, lad. She's married and has a wee lass, Madison. Last I heard, she was doing well."
The captain sighed. "That's good to hear."
Sheppard glanced at him, then turned back to Radek. "If she's anywhere close to her counterpart in our universe, we'd sure appreciate her help, if she'd come."
"I'll ask Doctor Weir." Radek shook his head. "She's probably still awake herself."
Someone lifted her and she could breathe just a little easier. "Elizabeth—"
She forced his name past the blockage in her throat. "Mer—"
"Save your breath. It'll be okay. We're gonna take care of you. Just stay with me."
She heard the conviction in his voice. He would save her, or die trying. Always putting his heart and soul into themission. Failure was never an option.
Yet she knew that even he couldn't save her, not this time.
She drifted for a moment. How could she be here, on a ruined battlefield, and also there, safe in her bed in Atlantis? The question flitted through her mind, then was gone. It was strange, as if she was split in two and worlds were dissolving, reforming around her. She could actually feel the shifting, as events unfolded differently in both worlds and lives were rewritten.
In one world, Elizabeth Weir commanded Atlantis, and Peter Grodin had died on an Ancient space staion. In another, Peter Grodin lived, but she had died at Kolya's hands. In one world, a man named Meredith McKay met an RAF pilot named Carson Beckett at a Canadian Air Force Base called Moose Jaw. In another, the same man, but known as Rodney McKay, met a doctor named Carson Beckett at a base in Antarctica.
Both worlds were slowly diverting off their respective tracks as the ripples between them grew stronger. Instinctively, Elizabeth knew that unless the main Atlantis teams were returned to their correct universes, those ripples would tear the space-time continuum apart.
Restore the balance, her deceased counterpart cried. The living Elizabeth Weir agreed, but how? She couldn't bring her double back to Peter Grodin, just as the murdered Elizabeth couldn't restore her Peter.
Trust your people. They will find a way. They know what they're doing.
Elizabeth couldn't stifle a cry as someone jarred her body. She struggled to open her eyes. Her mouth moved of its own volition.
"Peter? I'm sorry…I thought—"
His mouth moved, but she couldn't hear him. Elizabeth knew she was reliving her counterpart's final moments of life. She was flooded with emotion: anger, bitterness, regret, love.
Gratefulness, that at least her double had had the chance to say good bye. She wondered briefly what her Peter had thought about in his last moments on that space station. Alone.
"I'm sorry," had been his last words. Suddenly, she realized what they'd meant. I'm sorry, Elizabeth.
Then he was gone, as the Wraith had destroyed the space station. Her heart twisted again as she heard Rodney's words, "Elizabeth, Peter Grodin was aboard the space staion."
She'd never gotten the chance to say it. No, not again. With every fiber of strength she had left, she forced the words out of a shattered throat.
The dark current rose and swept her away into silence.
Her eyes snapped open as her radio mike crackled in her ear. She sat bolt upright, heart pounding, tears sliding down her face.
"Zelenka to Weir."
She hastily scrubbed away her tears as she tapped the receiver. "Weir."
"I'm sorry…did I wake you?" Radek's voice betrayed his concern.
Damn, the Czech was perceptive. She managed to keep an even tone. "It's all right, Radek. What is it?"
"Sheppard—Doctor Sheppard—and I may have found a way to solve our problem."
"You have?" She pushed the foreboding out of her mind. "How?"
"It would take some time to explain, and we need to make an unsual request."
Elizabeth frowned. Radek didn't ask for much, so this was unusual by itself. "What is it?"
He told her, and she wondered just how much more complicated this would get before this was all over.
"Damn. If I'd known my life would've gotten this complicated…"
Katie chuckled and shook her head. She and Rodney were alone on the balcony leading from the Gate Room. Peter had asked her to show him around Atlantis and she'd agreed, despite the awkwardness between the two of them. As far as she could tell, Rodney was not married, or even engaged, and finding out that his counterpart was, well, it had to be quite a shock.
"I'd thought about proposing to you. The other you. In my Atlantis."
His voice was so soft that she'd almost missed it. Katie glanced sideways at Rodney, whose gaze was riveted to the warm ocean waves surrounding the City. "What changed your mind?"
"It's a long story, way too complicated and way too convoluted to get into right now."
She only nodded sagely. That usually translated in "Mer-speak" into "I don't want to talk about it." At least that much was similar between the two. "You don't have to tell me.He nearly didn't do it, either."
That got his attention, although he still refused to look directly at her. "Really."
"Really. It was a little awkward. Okay, a lot awkward, but the point is that he didn't let it stop him."
An uncomfortable silence fell between them. Katie was more than content to just wait; she was a patient and observant woman, and it was going to take some time for both of them to get used to this strange situation. A man who was her fiancé…yet wasn't.
Finally, he asked, "So, what happened? How'd he get himself into…this?" She laughed, and he looked at her with an aggravated look. "It's not funny, Katie."
"Sorry." She got herself under control, then told him the story, one that sounded familiar.
"Meredith, how long are we going to be locked in here?"
McKay sighed and leaned back against the wall of the Medical Bay. Katie sighed and snuggled against his chest. His grip tightened on her. Unknown to her, his other hand gripped a small box in his jacket pocket.
"I don't know. The City's biohazard protocols kick in whenever She think there's a threat. She must've detected something we missed. In any case, I'm sure Sheppard and Teyla'll get us out."
"Can't you Hear Her? Talk to Her and ask what's going on?"
McKay sighed and shook his head. "Nothing, not even static. It's like She's completely isolated Herself."
Katie nodded. The temperature in the Infirmary had fallen another degree in the past several hours, but somehow, she didn't mind. She sighed and murmured, "Oh, this is lovely."
His tone was humorous as he agreed, "It is, yes."
"For the past year, you've really made an effort to make time for me, and it has been lovely."
"I like you a lot. I mean, I do."
She smiled at the seriousness of his tone. "I know you do, and I like you a lot too."
He chuckled, with the slightest bit of irony." I know. And to be honest, I find that just baffling."
Katie blinked as the words took her by surprise. "Come on, now—"
McKay laughed again. "No, it's other people— they find it baffling too."
She raised her head and gazed up at him. "I guess they just don't know you like I know you."
"Yeah, but, you see, that's what scares me. I mean, at some point, you're gonna know me the way they know me and then …"
She shook her head. Yes, he wasn't a very easy person to know, for he kept his true feelings locked away. Only a few knew what lay behind the facade. She did, and so did Teyla and Carson. Maybe John as well, and Ronon. His team. And Atlantis. She'd never been jealous of Melia's extraordinary bond with Meredith; Melia seemed to understand her feelings about him.
"Mer, I think I know you pretty well. There's not a lot of subtext with you."
He snorted. "Noticed that, did you?"
"It's one of your endearing qualities, Mer," she said as she laid her head back upon his shoulder.
He smiled, though she didn't see it. "It's funny, you know? I mean, much as I hate to admit it, seeing Jen Keller so happy with her family, I just … well, it kind of made me realise that, uh … well, I'd like to get married."
She froze, her breath suspended for a long moment. Then she whispered, " You would?!"
He shifted his weight under her and she looked up at him again. The bright blue eyes never left hers as he reached into his pocket and drew out a velvet box. With a quick snap of his wrist, he flipped it open to reveal a diamond ring set in a simple gold band.
She stared at it for a long minute. Her voice came out in a soft whisper. "You were gonna propose to me? Today?"
He blushed, and Katie couldn't help but grin. Not many people could embarrass him. "I was. Oh, I mean, before the … before the lockdown."
"So? Why don't you? Do you want to hear my answer?"
He smiled at her and cleared his throat. "Katie, I—um, would you—"
"YES!" she shouted and threw her arms around his neck. It startled him into laughter, which she readily joined in. And as he slipped the ring on her finger, she thought she was the luckiest woman in two galaxies.
Katie realized that she had his full attention now, as she finished her story. She saw emotion mirrored in his eyes, locked deep away. Regret. Something similar must have happened in his Atlantis, but the outcome had been different. Maybe his Katie had refused. Maybe he hadn't gotten up the courage to ask, and now it was too late. She felt a pang of sorrow for him. He must be so very lonely.
"I'm sorry, Rodney. I didn't mean to—"
He waved a dismissive hand. "No, it's okay. I mean, I'm happy for you, and for him. Good to know that at least somewhere it happened."
She bit her lip and nodded. He was withdrawing, just like Meredith would, when he was upset, taking refuge in defensive sarcasm. What can I do to make him feel better? I know…
"Are you up for taking a look at the Gate? I think Sergeant Campbell's expecting us."
The mention of work was like a charm, and Rodney seemed almost relieved. "Yeah, let's go. The sooner we find the problem, the better. That way, you can get your fiance back and I can get home."
Katie only nodded and led him back into the Gate Room, willing the tears not to fall.
How can you tolerate this version of McKay? He is loud, obnoxious, completely lacking in social graces, his counterpart's complete opposite! He does not think before he talks and managed to insult Doctor Grodin and Doctor Brown, in the space of a few moments! Even when I tried to correct his misconceptions, he simply plows ahead!
John stifled a curse and massaged his temples. "Okay, okay, we get the message. Honestly, Rodney isn't that bad. He just takes some getting used to. Once you get past the whole loud and obnoxious thing, he's not a bad guy. Really."
I suppose. Perhaps it is a good thing that I cannot hear most of his thoughts and talk with him as readily as I do you. I believe it will drive me insane!
"C'mon, give Rodney a break. He's saved our collective asses more than once. Besides, this accidental switcheroo has thrown all of us for a loop." John felt obligated to defend his friend's moral character, especially to the City. Next to him, Beckett spoke to Grodin on his headset; the commander didn't sound amused, either.
I think Beckett's headache is worse than mine. He gave the commander a lopsided grin and asked, "Does She get snippety like this often?"
"Now and then." Beckett closed his comm channel, and took a deep breath to clear his headache. It wasn't helping. "Usually when someone really does something stupid or someone She cares about in the City is in mortal danger. Only a handful of us can Hear her like we do, Colonel."
"No offense, but that's probably a good thing." He leaned casually against the balcony railing and looked down on the lower levels. Laughter and conversation rang through the halls of the City as Athosians, Satedans, Hoffans, and other people went about their daily lives. The streets were packed at this busy hour as people crowded the markets stalls and children ran free in a game of tag. It only reminded John how empty Atlantis seemed in comparison.
Your City must be lonely indeed.
"Yeah," he replied softly "It just seems so lively around here.". It still felt strange, how naturally he could talk to Her. Her, not It; both Beckett and Atlantis had set him straight on that little detail, and the last thing John wanted to do was to peeve off a living City, especially if it was a "Her".
"Your Atlantis isn't?" That came from Beckett.
"Not exactly." John nodded at an Athosian boy who reminded him of Halling's son, Jinto. "The Athosians live on the mainland in our reality."
"Some of ours do too, actually. They couldn't adjust to bein' within walls, even if it was the City of the Ancestors," Beckett said. He leaned casually against the balcony railing; John recognized it as a way it as a way to keep an eye on the people below. He didn't say anything for a minute, then he added, "I'm sure your people are trying to find a way to get you back."
"I'm sure they are." John chuckled and raised his eyebrows. "I'm still not used to seeing you as a military officer, Carson."
He grinned. "My counterpart is the chief medical officer. That's just as bizarre to me."
"I'm sure Doctor Emmagan's bedside manner's great."
Beckett cleared his throat. "She's a wonderful physician, aye."
Suddenly, he remembered seeing Teyla and his Beckett in the gym and finally put it all together. John grinned and asked, "A little sweet on her?"
Beckett shrugged, but his blush gave him away. For a moment, real emotion shone in the commander's face, and he resembled Doctor Beckett. So, this man still felt things deeply; he was just better at hiding it. John wondered howCommander Beckett managed to live with himself with some of the things he'd done as McKay's second in command.
"She's a good lass." Beckett glanced over at the Athosian with a small smile. John saw the unguarded emotions on his face and tried not to smirk.
"So…you and her counterpart. How long have you two been going out?"
Beckett turned back to him, raised his eyebrows at the blunt question and he hesitated for a moment.
Carson, there's no shame in telling him, and he does outrank you here.
"I'm aware of that, lass." Finally, he said, "Officially, almost a year. Unofficially…almost six."
John's eyes widened in surprise. "Six years? That's longer than you guys have been here in Atlantis, right?"
"Aye." Beckett turned back toward the crowd and his brogue became thicker as he explained, "I met her durin' a relief effort in her native Tanzania. She caught my eye almost immediately. We kept in touch and eventually, we were both ended up in Glastonbury. The rest is history."
John nodded and glanced over at Teyla, who appeared not to notice them at all as she surveyed the Athosian quarter. "She's the leader of the Athosians in our universe. She cares about her people, but I think she doesn't allow herself to get…personally tangled with anyone. Although, I think she might have finally found someone."
"My counterpart. The doctor."
"Yeah. I think she deserves a break after all she's done for us."
Beckett nodded and agreed, "Aye. If she's anything like my Teyla, she does."
Teyla stood nearby and gazed at the crowds below her. Tears gathered at the corner of her eyes. It had been so long, so long, since she'd seen her people so relaxed. Her Athosians had lived under the shadow of the Wraith for as long as she could remember. Yes, there were ceremonies of joy and thanksgiving, but nothing quite like this. She felt a smile tug at her lips even as she felt the conflicting emotions.
And of course, another source of those conflicting emotions stood almost directly behind her. For the countless time, she reminded herself, He is a different man. He is not Carson Beckett, she quickly amended, Yes, he is, but not the one you know. Why was she drawn to him, like a moth to a flame? She sternly reminded herself to retain her objectivity, for she knew they wouldn't be staying long in this universe.
She hoped. Rodney was going to find a way to get them back where they belonged.
"You okay, Teyla?" John asked, concern in his voice.
She turned and beamed at him with a brilliant smile, being careful not to betray her inner turmoil. "Yes. It is wonderful to see them all together here like this in the City of the Ancestors."
"Yeah." He also felt overwhelmed by the sights and the sounds of a noisy Atlantis.
Beckett eyed the organized chaos like a hawk. He glanced sideways at Teyla and said, "The Athosians still celebrate life, despite everything."
She nodded as his quick perception. "That is the way of my people. Even through the cullings and other tragedies…"
Beckett frowned. "Colonel Sheppard told me your people don't live in the City."
She hesitated for a moment, then shook her head. "We did at one time, after the Wraith first attacked, but my people eventually settled on the mainland. I chose to remain with Colonel Sheppard's team."
He raised his eyebrows. "They left the City? I'd thought they would've stayed for protection against the Wraith."
She winced and exchanged a painful look with John. The colonel clearly remembered the circumstances that caused their Athosians to leave Atlantis: the suspicion and distrust from the Expedition when they'd been suspected of collaborating with the Wraith. It hadn't been their most shining moment.
Teyla finally said, "They were not used to living within walls, and decided to move to a place where they could see the stars and feel the wind in the trees." Her expression became sad again. "This is how the City of the Ancestors should be. Full of life."
"Indeed," a voice said from behind her. "We try to make it so."
Teyla's breath froze in her throat. Her eyes brimmed with tears, but she refused to let them fall. Slowly, she turned to face the newcomer.
"Charin," she breathed.
The older woman smiled at her, just like she'd always done in the past. Charin's hair was long and silver, her posture stooped with age, but her eyes still undimmed. Teyla blinked hard as Charin approached and put her hands on Teyla's shoulders. She bent her head in the traditional Athosian greeting and Teyla matched it.
"Why do you weep, child?"
"Because I am happy to see you," Teyla whispered.
"And I, you." She drew back and looked Teyla in the eye. "You look like Grodin's doctor, but I can tell your heart is Athosian. It is good to hear our people survive and thrive in your world." Then she reached out and Teyla took her hand. It was warm, solid, and real. "You have the hands of a warrior, child. Have you seen much combat?"
Teyla nodded again. "Unfortunately, we still battle the Wraith, as well as other enemies."
Charin's eyes narrowed and she met Commander Beckett's grim expression. "It is here as well, but we have in the Satedans and the others." Her ominous tone hinted at things that were hidden beneath the surface. Then Charin's mood shifted again as she noticed the bantos rods on Teyla's belt.
"I practice regularly," Teyla answered her unspoken question. "My father made these for me when I came of age."
Charin chuckled and inclined her head at Beckett. "The commander is quite skilled in bantos fighting himself. He has a good teacher."
Teyla blinked and glanced over at him. She had to remind herself that this was not Carson she knew. This man was also a warrior. Beckett shrugged in a self-depreciative manner. "Halling," he explained.
"Ah. Then we should spar sometime, then." If this man was the opposite of Doctor Beckett, it would be an interesting challenge. John looked both amused and worried at the thought of fighting hand-to-hand with Beckett.and she didn't blame John one bit.
"Come, my dear. Let us show you what we have managed to build here in the City of the Ancestors." Charin nodded at her, then her gaze flickered to Beckett for a brief second before returning to her. "I believe you will be very surprised and pleased."
Teyla smiled and walked alongside Charin, with John and Beckett close behind. If she could capture this moment for all eternity, she would do so. It gave her hope that perhaps in her universe, she could do the same.
Peter pretended to look at the requisition orders on his tablet, but he watched Rodney as the Canadian leaned on the console next to Chuck. Doctor Kyle Bates stood on Chuck's other side, tight-lipped as he studied the readouts. Peter caught the flash in Bates's eyes that clearly told him, "That man doesn't belong here." Peter narrowed his own eyes at Bates, who immediately looked back down at the panel. Bates was their Atlantis's foremost expert on Ancient technology, and wasn't thrilled at being upstaged.
Of course, Rodney wouldn't have known that, but Meredith would have.
"No record of any energy spikes or foreign power readings," Bates said. "Nothing to indicate anything was wrong with the Gate at the time of transit."
If I'd known something was wrong when McKay and the others went through the Gate, I would have stopped it before it happened.
Chuck sighed and gave the console a pat. "You couldn't have known, dear. Don't blame yourself."
Rodney looked surprised at the sergeant's tone, and had that been an affectionate gesture? That was weirder than seeing Doctor Bates and Colonel Lorne. "You hear Her too."
Chuck shrugged and Bates spoke up. The sergeant—no, he was a scientist in this universe, Rodney reminded himself—had a touch of hostility in his words. "Of course. She wouldn't let anyone without the ATA Gene handle the Gate."
"A Cosmic Doorman," Chuck joked. "That's okay. I don't mind."
The breezy humor brought a sarcastic smile to Rodney's face. "I can see why She likes you, Sergeant. She yells at me."
"Yeah. She told me you ticked Her off."
"I didn't mean to." He rolled his eyes and huffed at the ceiling. "So, now You're broadcasting our little disagreement to everyone who can hear You?"
Not on purpose, Rodney. You project pretty loudly; I can't help it if you think as loud as you talk.
The admission took Bates by surprise, and he chuckled in response. Chuck choked on his laughter. At Peter's droll look of confusion, Bates repeated the City's reply. Peter's mouth twitched in humor.
Rodney tried to regain whatever remained of his dignity. "We had some strange readings on our end before the gate teams left, but they disappeared. It looks like our problem might be deep within Atlantis's systems, but it could be on my universe's side, yours, or both."
Miko Kusunagi nodded and pushed up her glasses farther up the bridge of her nose. "Do you believe it could be hidden so deeply that the City wasn't aware of it?"
"No." That came from Bates.
Bates frowned and said, "Explain."
Even my systems aren't completely foolproof, Kyle. When I was incorporated into the City's mainframe, Janus and the other engineers had already reprogrammed some of Atlantis's security protocols. They could have tampered with something and the effects are only apparent now.
"Figures," Rodney muttered. The Ancients could never seem to leave a system well enough alone when it actually worked.
Chuck sighed. "That's a reassuring thought, Melia."
"If that's true, we need access to Your programming within the mainframe," Bates said, "and that means we need to go down to the Chair Room."
Rodney looked sharply at him. "The Chair Room?"
Perhaps it would be advantageous if someone with a different perspective survey My systems, Kyle. He would be able to spot anomalous things more quickly than one who is overly familiar.
Bates scowled. "You're implying you want this McKay to enter Your mainframe?"
He is familiar with the systems of his Atlantis. There are a few differences between Me and the Other, but we are essentially the same.
"Is there a problem?" Peter asked. He'd noticed Bates's unhappy tone, and looked at him, then at Rodney. Rodney relayed the City's suggestion to him, and he only nodded. "You've also got the ATA Gene, so you should be able to do it."
"It's not as strong as my counterpart's," Rodney pointed out.
"Still, it's worth a try." Peter nodded again and said, "Kyle, Miko, take Rodney down to the Chair Room and we'll see if it's possible. If it is, we might be able to fix the problem."
Bates sighed and gestured at Rodney. "Fine. Follow me, then."
Rodney gazed at it with more than a hint of trepidation. Unlike the one in the Chair Room of his Atlantis, this one thrummed with suppressed power and glowed a brilliant sapphire. Rodney could feel that power and he wasn't even close to it. He resisted the urge to put the door between himself and the Chair.
This must be how Carson feels every time I make him sit in the Chair. No wonder he's such a chicken. And if Sheppard doesn't mind it so much… "This isn't a chair. It's a damned throne."
He heard Her dry laughter in his mind. Close enough, Rodney. So all you have to do is sit, and you'll have access to all of my systems.
"That's it?" Rodney still eyed it with suspicion.
That's it. Melia's tone was serious under the humor. If there was any other way…but if you don't want to, I suppose Kyle Bates can do it.
"The only way I can fix anything is if I see it myself. I just need a second to get my equipment ready. Bates, let's get this over with."
A slight smile came over Bates's face, but he allowed Rodney to fuss with the computers. Finally, Rodney stood in front ofthe Chair and there was only one thing to do.
"Okay, here goes." He gingerly lowered himself into the Chair, which automatically reclined beneath him.
Just relax and think of what you want to see.
"Okay…" Rodney closed his eyes and visualized the Gate, how it went all glowy and the ka-woosh when it activated; the wave like water that spilled out of it, before being sucked back inside…
He remembered his first step into Atlantis, how he was stunned into complete and utter speechlessness—a rare happening, but he could forgive himself for this one—at the size of it, the majestic wonder, the discoveries just waiting for him…he was once again in what would become the Gateroom, looking around at the consoles, dark and silent, and they all came alive at once…
…when Sheppard arrived, Rodney thought, then-Major Sheppard, who possessed the strongest ATA Gene besides General O'Neill. He turned slightly to see Peter Grodin already at a console, Elizabeth Weir on her walkie-talkie. Sheppard, Sumner and Ford would be nearby…
…but they weren't, and the realization derailed Rodney's train of thought. He frowned and searched for them; they must be overseeing the rest of the expedition's arrival, and knowing Sumner, he'd be already ordering a defense perimeter. To his surprise, he heard the Scottish brogue of Commander Beckett issuing the orders.
So this must have been when the joint British/Canadian expedition had arrived here, four years before. That meant he was reliving the moment from Captain McKay's eyes. Rodney walked toward the railing overlooking the Gate Room floor. Then he saw an odd blinking light on the DHD, one he didn't recall seeing before.
What the hell? He scowled at it, but there didn't seem to be a button or lever to turn it off. Rodney put his fingertips on the odd rectangle and felt a surge of energy slam into him—
Welcome, Rodney McKay, Melia greeted him, and she pulled him down a tunnel of light, all shot through with color—
Hypercharged atomic and sub-atomic particles, a detached part of his mind observed: protons, electrons, neutrons, quarks, quanta, the stuff of matter and anti-matter…
It was beautiful. Every tiny bit had its place in the whole puzzle, and Rodney could see where each system fit into Atlantis's scheme. Power conduits snaked around like blood vessels, commands flew at the speed of thought, and the City pulsed like a living thing.
And in the middle of it all stood a woman in a long, white gown. She had dark hair, brown eyes, and a brilliant smile.
"Hello, Rodney," she replied aloud, and he really heard her. "I knew you could find your way."
"I-I'm really in Atlantis? I mean—"
She grinned and answered, "You're in the City's mainframe. Well, your consciousness is, anyway. This is My domain."
"Uh——" Rodney looked around. Where could he start? There was so much to see, his mind almost exploded with possibilities.
"Let's start with something simple before we get into the more complicated tasks, Rodney." Melia took his hand and pressed his palm against hers. "I want you to access the personnel database."
He frowned. "The personnel database? Isn't that supposed to be restricted?"
"Usually, but we're not going to be looking at everyone's. Just yours. At least your counterpart's. If you can access that, then you can get to the other parts of the City's programming without any trouble."
Rodney wasn't sure he wanted to find out about this other Meredith McKay, but he only nodded. "All right, fine. How do I do that?"
Melia smiled. "Close your eyes and ask the City for what you want."
"That simple, huh?"
"That simple, at least while you're here."
"All right, here goes…" He closed his eyes and did so, and he felt a warm rush through his veins. When he opened his eyes, he glanced down at his tablet and saw the summary for Group Captain Meredith R. McKay, Royal Canadian Air Force. He concentrated on the screen in front of him as he read "his" military record.
"Born in Toronto, Ontario; one sister, Jean McKay, astrophysicist, currently head of the Physics department at McGill University—" Rodney shook his head in wonder as he read aloud, "She actually did it, she never married that English major—"
He shook his head again. "Officially assigned to a project with the Russian Armed Forces, but in reality, military head of the Atlantis Expedition for almost four years. What the—"
"What?" Melia asked, as if she knew exactly what he was thinking.
"Knight Commander? How the hell—"
Melia shrugged, and answered in an offhand tone, "Ah, that. Peter described it to me as a little adventure with a group called…MI-6? You earned the eternal gratitude of the sovereign of Peter's country; I believe she was surprised you survived through that one."
Rodney rolled his eyes as if praying to Heaven "James Bond. Me. I'd make a lousy superspy. That's more Sheppard's line of work."
"Ah, the Colonel. Yes, I could see that." She sobered. "He is not unlike my Sheppard in some ways, though their lives, like yours and the Captain's, have taken different turns."
He nodded. "Yeah, reading this is just too weird."
"At least we know that your Touch of the Ancestors is strong enough for you to work with My programming, and manipulate it with little trouble."
"Wait…Sheppard can do it too?"
"Possibly, but he does not have your knowledge, and time is growing short. We must correct the problem within our Gate system without delay."
He cleared his throat and forced himself back to the problem at hand. "Okay, let's get to work."
Elizabeth stared at the information on her screen. The words on it were short and formal, but they struck fear into her heart. It wasn't possible, it just wasn't possible, but…She tapped her mike. "Doctors Zelenka and Sheppard, Captain McKay, please report to my office."
Ten minutes later, the three men entered the room. It was odd to see Sheppard and McKay in opposite roles; she had to consciously address McKay the way she would her John Sheppard. She turned her laptop screen towards them. "Meredith, you said your sister, in your universe—she taught physics?"
McKay frowned. "That's right, at McGill University in Toronto. Why?"
Elizabeth looked over at Radek. "I think you'd better take a look at this."
"What is it?" Radek pushed his glasses farther on his nose and scaned the information on the screen. He glanced up as his cheeks flushed with horrified embarrassment. "Ty vole. This can't be right, Elizabeth! The Jeannie Miller we know…"
"—isn't Jeannie Miller anymore. Radek, I tried contacting her in Vancouver, but there isn't anyone by that name. No Kaleb Miller, no Madison."
McKay looked alarmed. "You said she was married, had a family—"
"She was." Elizabeth met his gaze. "At least, the woman we'd met before. Now, I tried looking up her information by her maiden name. And—"
Radek read part of the listing aloud. "Doctor Jean McKay, assistant professor, vice chair of the Department of Physics, McGill University, Toronto, Ontario, Canada."
Sheppard frowned. "The very fabric of the space-time continuum is being changed. History's being rewritten as we speak. Elizabeth, you told me it felt like a train being derailed from its track—"
"Wait a minute. Wouldn't we have felt something different?" McKay asked. "If everything's changing because we're here and they're over there—"
Sheppard shook his head. "Not at first. It'd be subtle, then as the timeline begins to change, our memories begin to readjust. Elizabeth, when you first saw this, did you immediately sense something was wrong?"
Another cold blast of fear hit her. "Not immediately. It was only after I read it the second time. That was when I remembered 'our' Jeannie Miller."
"Then it's already started." Sheppard's voice was grim. "Eventually, everyone in Atlantis will remember an altered versionof your universe and the same for ours." He glanced back at McKay. "We've got to get back as soon as possible, Meredith."
"Agreed." The captain frowned at Radek. "You've been quiet."
The Czech pointed at a single line in Jeannie McKay's bio. Elizabeth felt her mouth quirk upward, despite the circumstances. "Is not funny, Elizabeth. Rodney would kill me."
Sheppard wore an evil grin. "That's if he ever found out."
Radek flushed crimson as McKay read the line out loud. "Marital status:married. Spouse: Radevic Zelenka."
There were other changes. The Go'auld and the Jaffa were now allied with Earth, against the Ori. General Hammond was still in charge of the SGC, and the Wraith were in negotiations with the Replicators. Elizabeth shuddered at that, for it would tip the balance of power in the Pegasus Galaxy. If those negotiations were successful, Atlantis would be in grave danger.
Which meant they had to fix this problem before it got even worse. "Would this Jeannie still remember the Intergalactic Bridge?" Elizabeth asked.
Radek nodded. "According to this, she and I—we—were married not long after her first visit here, much to her brother's chagrin." He shifted uncomfortably. "But yes, that part of history remains the same."
"They we're still need her to help," Elizabeth said softly, "and she'll still need to come here."
Radek cursed under his breath. "Do prdele, you're right, but—"
"I know, Radek. I know."
Captain McKay raised an eyebrow at him. "At least she's not my sister."
Evan winced as he saw one of his soldiers hit the mat hard as Specialist Dex threw him over his shoulder. The poor corporal broke the fall as best as he could, but the grimace on the man's face told Evan all he needed to know.Ouch. Damn. This guy is just as good as our Ronon.
"Left yourself wide open," Ronon said shortly. "You need to watch that extension. Any more and you'll land on your neck instead of your back, and you'll be dead as soon as you hit the ground." He nodded at the corporal. "Are you okay?"
"I'll be fine," the corporal said with a rueful chuckle. "Thanks. I'll work on it."
Ronon sighed. "You'd better, because you only have a second to react when you're under attack. Isn't that right, Major?"
Evan nodded in agreement. "He's got a point, Corporal Thomas. Let me know if you need a sparring partner and I'll help you with it."
"Thank you, sir. I really do appreciate it," Thomas said.
"What about you, Major?" Think you're up for a little sparring yourself?"
Evan tried not to show his sudden apprehension at Ronon's invitation. Granted, this Ronon seemed more easygoing, more talkative than his normal counterpart, but this man had an extra decade in the Satedan militia. The glint in his eye was still the same, as so was the singleminded focus on the battlefield, or in this case, the mat.
"Sure, if you promise to take it easy on me."
Ronon smiled. "Take it easy on you? Don't disappoint me, Major."
"What, my double can take you on and win?" Evan winced as his mouth replied before he had time to think.
"No. But he can put up a good fight, even though he's commanding a ship now. The Colonel takes good care of himself." Ronon raised an approving eyebrow. "As do you."
"Um…thanks." He smiled a little at the mention of his counterpart's rank, but sobered quickly as he took up a stance across from Ronon. "Okay. Whenever you're ready."
Ronon smiled back, but Evan swore it looked liked he was baring his teeth. They circled each other around the mat; Evan was careful not to look at him directly in the eyes, for his Ronon had once told him, The eyes lie, do not trust what you see in them.
Then, Ronon feinted a punch to his left, but Evan was prepared for it and blocked the lightning-fast shot from Ronon's right hand. The pure force caused him to stagger back a few steps, but he turned it into a low roundhouse kick. Both men traded punches and kicks, blocks and foot sweeps. Evan found it difficult to keep up with the pure strength of Ronon's blows, but he used his smaller height and frame to his advantage.
Then he aimed a punch at Ronon's midsection, which Ronon blocked. Too late, he understood what Ronon meant when he'd told Thomas about overextending his arm. Ronon seized the opportunity to his advantage, and flipped Evan onto the mat before he could react. He landed hard, stunned.
"Looks like you need some practice too, Major." There was no rancor in Ronon's voice, just the cool observant tone of a trainer.
"Yeah," Evan gasped. "Good one."
Ronon offered a hand, and pulled Evan to his feet. He saw another slight smirk as Ronon addressed the entire squad of thoroughly humbled soldiers. "Watch carefully, then, and I will show you how to prevent that. Major, if you please…"
"Of course." Evan mentally sighed and thought, This is gonna be a long hour.
Home! I am home at last!
Ronon Dex stood on the bridge of the battle cruiser Orion as they slipped into orbit around Sateda. He stared at he blues, greens and yellows of a planet untouched by the Wraith. Emotion threatened to overwhelm him, but he managed to keep it at bay. Just barely.
"Specialist Dex? Are you ready?"
He glanced over his shoulder at Major——no, Colonel Lorne. This Lorne, like the one Ronon knew, showed a glimmer of dry humor under the calm, professional exterior. Lorne's blue eyes showed sympathy and understanding.
Ronon nodded once and tore his eyes from the screen. "I'm ready."
Lorne nodded back. "Lieutenant Colonel Marks, you have the Bridge."
"Yes, sir," Marks replied.
At Ronon's confused expression, Lorne explained, "I'm flying you down in a jumper. Give you a chance to brace yourself for the warm welcome you'll be getting." The colonel gave him a lopsided grin, then gestured to the lift. "You comin'?"
Datal, Sateda's second-largest city, loomed large in the horizon. Ronon watched, mesmerized, as transports and other vehicles went about their business like any ordinary day. The gardens, the plazas, the high-rise buildings…it was as if the Wraith had never touched his world. In this universe, they never had.
He glanced over his shoulder at Zelenka's inquisitive look. The captain seemed completely sympathetic. Ronon managed a smile. "Sorry, just a bit overwhelming."
Lorne nodded, then said quietly, "Doctor Grodin told me what had happened to your world, to the Sateda where you come from."
Ronon flinched; he didn't want to think about that, not right now, not when he was about to see so many friends who, for him, had been long dead. He pushed the painful thoughts away. "It was just like this. Now it all feels right. It feels like…home."
Lorne grinned and said, "They've got a bunch of people waiting for you. Don't wanna be late."
The colonel had underestimated the "bunch" of people. When he cracked the jumper hatch and Ronon stepped out, a flame-haired woman nearly knocked him down. She threw her arms around him; he automatically picked him up and swung her around. Her perfume filled his senses with almost unbearable joy.
"Ronon! It's so good to see you!" she cried. She regarded him with a brilliant smile that made his heart ache in his chest. "I've missed you."
"Melena," he choked out. "I—"
Her almond-shaped eyes crinkled in good-natured humor. "What, overwhelmed with emotion, my love?"
A jovial voice interrupted, "We all know how emotional he is, Melena." Tyre laughed and clapped Ronon on the shoulder. "Welcome home, my brother."
"Tyre." His best friend's face showed no trace of madness, no effects from the Wraith enzyme. Tyre was, once again, the man as Ronon once knew him.
He pushed the regret out of his mind. For once, everything was as it should be.
He was home.
Melena and Tyre threw him a welcome dinner and invited all their friends: members of Ronon's regiment, Melena's colleagues at the hospital, Colonel Lorne and Captain Zelenka. Ronon's mouth watered at the spiced beef, sauteed vegetables with a multitude of sauces, puddings and other forgotten delicacies. Ronon took second helpings of everything, much to the amusement of all present.
Tyre picked up a stringed gita and played a few traditional tunes. Melena added her voice to his, warm and hauntingly beautiful. Ronon watched her, remembering the glow on her face, the bright eyes filled with love and happiness, the smile meant only for him.
Much later, Ronon stood out on the balcony and enjoyed the night wind. Melena came up behind him and wrapped her arms around his waist.
"I'm not the man you think I am."
She said nothing for a moment, then replied, "I know. Colonel Lorne and Captain Zelenka told me. Tyre knows; the others do not."
"He won't tell the others?"
"Why should they know? You are him, in all ways that matter."
"No, I'm not." He looked at her, memorizing every feature of her face. "He and I have…had different lives. I think about him, and see the life I would have had. Should have had." The anger spilled out into his voice. "This is how Sateda should be. Not—" He broke off, not wanting to upset her.
She tightened her arms around him. "Tell me."
"Please. Let me understand."
She clucked her tongue at him. "If anything, it will lessen the burden on your heart. I want to help."
He gazed down at her. The loving compassion lit her like a beacon, her genuine desire to help. That was one thing he'd loved about her, one thing that had attracted him in the first place. That same compassion had ultimately killed her: she'd refused to leave her patients, as so she'd died.
He'd been a different man, all these years ago, before the Wraith. Now…
He felt a surge of jealousy for the other man, the other Ronon, the one who truly belonged to her. Instinctively, he knew that he could never go back to this life. He'd changed too much, but it wasn't Melena's fault. She was trying to help the only way way she knew how.
"It's not an easy story to tell. It will upset you."
"Ronon." Her eyes were unwontedly serious. "Let me help you."
He took a deep breath and looked over the slumbering city, savoring the view and locking it away in his memory. It wasn't his Sateda, but in a strange way, it still was. Perhaps they could learn and benefit from his pain.
Ronon stood on the balcony, held Melena in his arms, and told her everything. The coming of the Wraith, the destruction of his world, the seven-year nightmare as a Runner, his salvation with the Atlanteans. How he'd held Teyla at gunpoint as Carson Beckett removed the tracking device from his back, how he'd found another family with Sheppard, McKay and Teyla.
The Wraith worshippers, Tyre and the others, what they had become. By the time he'd finally finished, the stars were high overhead. Melena stood still, tears running down her face, but she let him talk until he had no words left.
"Ronon, you've always been a survivor, no matter how dire the situation, and you've kept your honor and your loyalty." She reached up and placed a hand on his cheek; he leaned into her touch. "I'm glad you found a place in another family, with honorable people. If we weren't with you—" she kept her tone steady, "I would wish that for you."
He bought his hands to her face. "Melena, we only have this short time—"
She smiled. "Let's make the most of it." Then she drew him down to her and kissed him.
Tyre sat just inside the open glass doors that led to the balcony. He closed his eyes and tried to digest what he had just heard. Sateda had fallen, their regiment slaughtered, he and the others tortured and turned into Wraith worshippers…
No.That will never happen here, he vowed.
He got up soundlessly and drufted back into the shadows, leaving the two to their privacy.
Night had fallen on Atlantis, and Peter stood on the balcony overlooking the ocean. The warm wind passed over him, but he still felt cold. He'd kept his emotions at bay when he talked to the other universe's flagship team. The calm, collected demeanor was legendary among this Atlantis's personnel, and Peter kept that appearance, but now, away from prying eyes, he could finally think about what he'd learned.
Elizabeth was alive, in that other universe. She was still alive.
He felt a painful pang under his heart and his hands clenched the railing. Memory rose from his thoughts, and he allowed it to happen…
"I assure you, Doctor Grodin, that my intentions are quite honorable."
He gritted his teeth at the false cheer within the tone. "Indeed so? Then you know she'd volunteered to work out an honorable agrement between our people, General."
Acastus Kolya chuckled. "And I reassure you again that I haven't harmed her. Yet. In fact, she's right here, if you wish to speak with her."
Peter glanced over at Sergeant Campbell, who only nodded. Captain McKay's units were in position; Peter hoped Meredith would reach her in time. "Put her on." There was the sound of movement on the other end of the line, then he heard her voice.
He nearly sobbed in relief, but he kept the emotions in check. He couldn't afford to let Kolya know just how badly he wanted her to be safe. "Elizabeth? Are you all right?"
Elizabeth Weir sounded shaken, but unharmed. "I'm fine; they haven't hurt me."
Kolya's voice came back on. "You have your proof, Doctor Grodin. Lower your shield and I will personally deliver your fianc<é>e back to you alive."
"Stand by." Peter glanced sideways at Chuck. whose hand was poised over the button. He took a deep breath, hoping Meredith would pull off yet another "McKay Miracle"
Then she screamed, and that sound would haunt him for the rest of his days. "Peter, don't drop the shield! They'll come through and—"
There were more sounds of scuffling and his heart leaped into his throat. "Elizabeth? Elizabeth!"
The sound of machine gun fire, followed by cries of pain. The Control Room heard the chaos, but no one could tell what was happening. Peter's hand gripped the edge of the console so hard that his knuckles turned white.
Finally, a voice—Meredith's. "Send the medteams through, Peter, we've got casualties."
He nodded at Chuck, who lowered the shield. Doctor Ben Kavanaugh and Doctor Teyla Emmagan plunged through the Gate first. Peter had to stop himself from following them.
"Emmagan to Grodin."
His heart stopped at her tone, but he still clung to hope. "Yes."
"You'd better get here, Peter." Teyla's voice caught. "Hurry."
Heart pounding, he charged down the stairs and ran for the Gate. It spit him out onto a battlefield littered with Genii and Atlantean bodies, but Peter hardly noticed them at all. His attention was focused on the woman lying in Meredith McKay's arms. The Canadian gave him a stricken look as he collapsed heavily to his knees beside them.
"Elizabeth," he choked out.
Her eyelids fluttered open. "I'm sorry…I thought I could—"
"Sssh. It's all right." Meredith helped settle her into his arms. Peter tried to ignore the blood; he'd seen enough trauma to know there was nothing to be done. Tears flowed down his face as he held her close. Her breaths were growing shallower now, and she weakly reached for his face. He caught and pressed it to his cheek as she managed a smile.
"Peter, I love you—" The light and life faded from her eyes forever. She was gone.
The knowledge shattered every trace of British reserve and he sobbed unashamedly into her shoulder. He barely heard Meredith's shaking voice.
"We'll get the bastard, Peter. I promise, Kolya will pay."
"Doctor Grodin, you okay?"
He straightened and glanced over his shoulder at Chuck. "I'm fine, Chuck. What is it?"
"Doctor Bates reports that he and Doctor McKay have decided to retire for the night. Well, Bates decided to retire and forced Rodney out of the Chair. Doctor Kavanaugh dragged him to the Mess Hall to get something other than Powerbars to eat, then marched him to guest quarters." Chuck paused, then added, "I think Ben spiked his jello. He's fast asleep."
Peter chuckled humorlessly. "He thinks he can live off coffee and Powerbars. It's been nearly forty-eight hours since they came here; I didn't think anyone could last that long without some sleep."
"Apparently, Rodney thinks he can. And begging your pardon, sir," Chuck raised an eyebrow at his superior, "neither can you."
Peter sighed and shook his head. "Have you promoted yourself to mother hen?"
"Doctor Emmagan and Captain McKay aren't here to do it, and you can't hear Her nagging at you, so She nags at me. I guess the job's mine for a while."
"Apparently so." He chuckled and sighed. "Point taken, Chuck, thank you. Speaking of…where is Teyla ? And I haven't seen Commander Beckett for some time now, either."
Chuck shrugged. "In the gym, trying to beat each other up with bantos rods."
"Ah.In that case, carry on, Sergeant." Peter sighed again; he'd noticed a growing tension between Teyla and Beckett during the past forty-eight hours. He hoped the two wouldn't do anything they'd regret later.
And there was still the problem of this Teyla's Wraith DNA. She had been quite frank with him when he and Beckett had asked about it. The Wraith had experimented on her ancestors, and so she possessed the ability to sense the Wraith whenever they were in close proximity. Teyla could even enter the Hive mind on occasion, but she was reluctant to do that unless as a last resort.
To be safe, Beckett had suggested that he keep Teyla from any sensitive areas of the City or any tactical information on Atlantis and their allies. Peter agreed. Better safe than sorry.
Peter hoped Beckett would take his own advice.
Teyla sidestepped the attack and countered with a swift jab with her bantos rods. It would have caught him in the side, but he twisted, cat-like out of the way.
By Athos, he has learned well.A slight smile flickered across her lips. The first time, she'd made the mistake of lowering her guard. DoctorBeckett would not have exploited her moment of weakness. Commander Beckett, on the other hand, had immediately taken advantage of it. He'd nearly disarmed her; she'd made sure not to repeat the same mistake twice.
"Good move," he grunted in approval. She only nodded as they circled around the mat, bantos rods at the ready. This is a different Carson, reminded herself. He is like a dangerous predator stalking his prey. Do not underestimate him.
She was very aware of Charin and Halling watching as she and Beckett sparred with each other. Charin's mouth quirked upward in a smile, while Halling's calm expression didn't change a bit. The tall Athosian still wore the dignity, with which Teyla was familiar, but there was a sense of peace that came from the years under Atlantis's protection. The sense of loss wasn't as sharp with this man.
This time, she took the initiative and launched a flurry of blows. He defended against them, meeting her attack, parrying and sidestepping. His reflexes were good, almost as good as hers. He had brute strength, but tempered with agility and finesse. She was impressed by his technique.
After a moment, Charin called a halt to the practice. "You have learned well, Teyla. I can see Tagan's hand in your training."
She nodded and struggled to keep an even tone. Charin had told her that Tagan, her father, had died a few seasons ago, and she felt his loss all over again. "Yes. He taught me my first moves."
Halling nodded in approval. "We have planned a celebration in the Athosian Quarter for tomorrow morning. It would be an honor if both you and Commander Beckett attended."
Teyla bowed her head slightly. "I would be honored to come, Halling."
"As would I," Beckett added.
Charin and Halling exchanged looks, and she thought she saw amusement flash between the two. Then Charin said, "Until tomorrow, then, my dear." They stepped forward and both extended the traditional Athosian head-touch before silently withdrawing from the gym. The doors slid shut behind them.
"They are not unlike the ones I know in my universe."
Beckett nodded and wiped the sweat from his forehead. "They're good people. Charin befriended us when we first came here, and she and Halling were the main negotiators of the peace treaty between us and the Athosians. Peter seeks Charin's advice on many things."
"Then he is a wise man to do so." She smiled as he twirled his sticks around in his hand with a casual gesture, as if he'd done it many times before. Her Carson Beckett would have already dropped them. "Perhaps you would like one more round before retiring for the night?"
He chuckled and replied, "If you're up for it, lass."
She assumed a ready stance and he matched it. This time, he was on the offensive, and she allowed him to believe he had the advantage and timed the strikes perfectly so that he didn't see her strategy. With a flick of her wrist, she sent one of his sticks flying out of his hand, caught his arm and twisted it behind him. He gasped in pain as she forced him to his knees and pressed her rod to his throat.
"Do you yield?"
"Aye," he muttered through gritted teeth.
She let up on his arm, With whipcord reflexes, he grabbed her around the waist and flipped her onto her back., She hadn't seen it coming, and the impact against the mat stunned for her a moment.
He smirked slightly. "Sorry about that, love. Reflexes."
She returned his smirk. Suddenly, she was very aware of his face hovering above hers, the depth of his stormy blue eyes. Her rational mind screamed, He is not your Carson Beckett!, but her body refused to move.
He bent down and brushed his lips against hers. It set off an unexpected explosion within her. She wrapped her arms around him and pulled him down to her. Two days of smothered desire exploded into a fury, and for once, Teyla didn't care.
He was everything she'd imagined him to be, and more.
Later, as she lay in his arms, spent and replete, she wondered just what she had been thinking. This was not what she had expected, nor what she'd planned. A part of her felt guilty for allowing it to happen, but…
"Any regrets, love?"
She blinked hard and tried to keep the tears from falling. "Carson, I—"
He sounded stricken. "Ach, I'm sorry, I didn't—"
She placed a finger on his lips. The pain in his eyes reflected the pain in her own soul, and her heart cried out for him. "No. No regrets."
"I know I'm not the one you really love," he whispered hoarsely. "If you want me to stay away, I will."
"No!" she cried fiercely. "I do not want you to do that. Please."
His arms tightened around her as he asked, "Are you sure?"
"Yes," she replied, "but perhaps we should find a place more comfortable than the floor? And what if someone walks into the gym?"
Beckett chuckled, and it brought a smile to her face. "They won't, unless they have my personal security codes for the door. But you're right; I'm gonna be hurtin' tomorrow unless I have a softer mattress under my back."
She smiled, then reached for him again. "In that case, we should move to a more suitable place without delay."
John sighed, leaned back in his chair and rubbed his temples. It was late and getting even later, but he couldn't sleep. He stared at the opposite wall of Doctor Sheppard's quarters and the wall-sized poster of Johnny Cash stared back. At least his counterpart shared the same kind of music, played a decent game of golf, and surfed the ocean waves with passable skill. He sighed again and looked at the information on the computer screen.
You should get some rest, Colonel. There is nothing more you can do about the current situation.
"I know," he muttered, "but I just want to check a few things."
This is not the same universe. Things are different here, sometimes very different.
He nodded absently as he scrolled through the situation reports of this Atlantis. This would be his job at home, in his City, but it was Captain McKay's here, and Peter insisted that John be as thoroughly briefed on their history here. Melia hinted that this universe was darker, grimmer than his own, but John had had no idea just how much more.
Grodin's Atlantis was fighting a desperate battle for survival, and even with their Allies, they were in serious trouble. The Genii and the Wraith, in particular, chipped away at their defenses bit by bit, until holes appeared in the net. John scowled at the successful hit and run tactics of the enemy; they were getting bolder, stronger, and more organized.
Who's behind it all? Whoever it is, they're brilliant in military tactics and definitely has the resources. John pored over the Intel reports; Acastus Kolya headed the Genii here, though Cowen was still alive, and the Wraith drones still answered to Queens. But John felt there was a missing piece.
Kolya hasn't changed much from your universe, Colonel. He's still a sadistic megalomaniac. Meredith's words, not mine.
John shivered at the memory of his torture at Kolya's hands. "Your McKay isn't too far off the truth, there, Melia…"
He did something to you, didn't he. I can feel your rage against him.
John hesitated again; he'd never allowed his feelings about that to interfere with his duty to Elizabeth and to Atlantis. Yet the City had seen them and it was useless to deny the fact. "Yes," he answered slowly.
The City's tone became soft steel. I do not pry into anyone's mind or their memories, Colonel. I can only surmise it from what I can feel from your emotions at the time. Yes, Kolya has done unspeakable things in the name of preserving his people. He and Grodin are sworn enemies; if Kolya doesn't kill Peter, Peter will kill him first. Of that I am certain.
"Grodin would kill Kolya?" That sounded unlike the Peter Grodin whom John had known. "What did Kolya do to piss him off?"
He murdered Peter's fiancèe.
John gave a low whistle. Grodin was supposed to be married? "Yeah, that'll do it. Even someone as even-tempered as Peter wouldn't forgive that."
Yes. So now you know the issues that complicates any peaceful solution to our problems here. And as for your arrival here…Rodney is working on that issue as we speak— Melia's voice broke off abruptly, breaking John's train of thought.
"What is it? What's wrong?"
Someone is here, who shouldn't be. Whomever it is, he is currently at the base of the Command Tower and making his way through the levels.
John hit the intercom. "Sheppard to…Grodin." He'd almost said Elizabeth's name, but caught himself just in time.
"Grodin." The Englishman sounded exhausted, but his tone was steady.
"The City says She's detected an intruder in the Command Tower, lower levels—"
—approaching the Gateroom through the service walkways and the ladders.
Peter's voice overlapped the City's. "She's alerted Beckett; rendezvous with his team on Level 15. Intruder alert protocols are being set into place; Rodney's in the Chair Room and taking care of it."
"Rodney's in the Chair?" John muttered to himself, but he shook his head and grabbed his P-90. "Acknowledged, Sheppard, out."
He took a transporter down several levels, then crossed over to Level 15. At least the layout of this Atlantis was similar to his own. The hallway was dimly lighted; he waited for his eyes to adjust, then crept forward with his weapon at the ready. He gritted his teeth against the bone-chilling cold and thought, You'd think they'd turn up the heat in here?
Ahead of you, five hundred meters, there is an intersection. Our intruder lurks there.
Gotcha. There were definite advantages to having an extra set of eyes, especially when those eyes belonged to Atlantis Herself. A part of him marveled at how naturally they'd worked in tandem; another part of him was terrified at it. Was this how She and Captain McKay were connected, or She and Beckett?
He felt, rather than saw, the punch aimed at his midsection. John sidestepped it, blocked it with one arm as another blow sent his P-90 spinning out into the darkness. Pain shot through his right hand and into his arm, followed by dizziness, as something sticky coated his palm.
Oh, damn…He could barely flex his fingers now, and the paralysis crept slowly up his arm and into his shoulder. John took a step back and hit the wall and sagged against it, holding himself upright by pure force of will.
He heard a clash of wood against metal and then the heavy thud of a body hitting the floor. John felt a wave of warmth flow into him, erasing the numbness in his limbs. The beam of a flashlight dazzled him for a moment before he realized it was Commander Beckett who held it aloft. The Scotsman hurried to his side and put an arm around his shoulders.
"Bloody hell, son. Are you all right?"
"Yeah, got poked by something sharp, but I'm okay." John's tongue felt fuzzy and he could barely speak the words. He saw Teyla in the cone of light as she hauled the intruder to his feet. Her feet. Curly red hair, aqua-green eyes, and skin as pale as milk…
"Skulking in the shadows again, Sora?" Beckett asked, his mouth turned up in a humorless smirk. "I thought we discussed this the last time you were here?"
Sora Radim scowled at him, then glanced over her shoulder at Teyla, who regarded her like a bug under a microscope. "Tell your bed partner to let me go, Beckett. I bring a message from my brother for Doctor Grodin. It concerns the latest intelligence on Kolya's whereabouts." She gasped as Teyla tightened her grip on her ever so slightly.
Beckett's eyes flashed, but he nodded at Teyla, who reluctantly let her go. Sora shook out the stiffness in her arms, then tossed a vial in John's direction. Beckett's hand intercepted it before it hit him in the face. She smirked. "Antidote for the poison. Apologies, Sheppard, I wasn't expecting you to be playing soldier tonight."
"Bring her," Beckett growled, his accent ominously thick. "Grodin will want to talk with her."
Sora Radim, soldier in the Genii militia, had heard the rumors of a different team arriving in this Atlantis, but she'd discounted them. Multiple universes, different realities, had no place in her upbringing or her training. She was a soldier, not a metaphysicist. Each time she brought messages regarding the Genii, she tolerated Captain McKay or Commander Beckett, or even Captain Zelenka. None of those men could even match her quickness, her strength, or her wiles.
McKay was not here, but the man who had taken his place was another matter entirely.
Sora met this John Sheppard's stare evenly and tried not to betray the fact she was terrified of this man. There was no mistaking him for his quieter, weaker counterpart. This John Sheppard was dangerous, even as he leaned against he doorway, his arms crosed casually in front ofhis chest. The hazel eyes burned with an intensity she normally associated with Ladon, or Acastus, or even Captain McKay.
This Sheppard was indeed a worthy opponent. She regretted stabbing him with the poisoned needle, but it had been an honest mistake.
"She's checked out fine," Dr. Ben Kavanaugh said. "No other hidden surprises. Oh, and just a few bumps and bruises."
Sora looked at him sourly, then glanced over at the alternate Teyla. This woman was Athosian, not Terran, and held herself like a banner. Sora noticed the almost imperceptible flicker of Beckett's eyes towards Teyla and she resisted a smile. So, Beckett's already made this one his own. His doctor might decide to give him her Hoffan virus, out of pure pique, when she returns.
She turned her attention back to Kavanaugh."Your sympathy is astounding, Doctor Kavanaugh. All the more reason I am as eager as you are for Dr. Emmagan's return." To her pleasure, she saw Beckett flinch slightly at the mention.
Kavanaugh smirked back. "I'm sure."
"That's enough," Peter told him. The Englishman gazed at her coldly. "How do I know you aren't the bait for another one of Kolya's traps?"
Sora met his glare. "Because I've never had a reason to lie to you, of all people. You know that I have no love for Acastus, either." Her gaze flickered in Beckett's direction. "Ask your Commander, if you have any doubts."
"Aye," Beckett said quietly. "She and her brother have provided the tactical information for me before."
Colonel Sheppard's eyebrows reached his hairline at that revelation, making Sora wonder just how much the man knew about that particular arrangement. After all, Doctor Sheppard didn't care for Kolya, but she'd never seen this murderous glint in the scientist's eyes. This Sheppard, on the other hand…
"So what brings you to Atlantis this time, Sora?" Peter asked quietly. His was nearly nonexistent, which Sora knew was a very bad sign. Apparently, the Colonel knew that too, for Sheppard's face was grim.
She looked over at Grodin. Atlantis's master was dangerous in his own right; Sora knew better than to underestimate him. So she buried the knowing smile and set the plan for the Genii's victory into motion.
"Your City will be under attack."
Rodney woke up with a god-awful headache. He didn't remember drinking anything alcoholic the night before, though he remembered that both Peter and John had been there, as well as Kyle Bates and Ben Kavanaugh…
Kyle Bates and Ben Kavanaugh…
Bates. Kavanaugh. Peter. He sat up in bed and glanced at the bare wall. There was no sign of his framed degrees or even the picture of his cat. "Nope, not a dream," he muttered aloud. "Great."
Bits and pieces of memory came back to him as he showered and shaved. The only thing in his closet was the black military uniform of his counterpart; not a science blue jacket in sight. Rodney gritted his teeth, picked one, and got dressed. He'd have to borrow a science uniform from somebody in that department…
Then he remembered one crucial fact: "Kavanaugh slipped me a mickey, the sniveling little weasel! When I get my hands on him…"
You'll do nothing of the sort, Rodney. It was for your own good. Besides, if you filed a complaint, I'm sure Peter would read it, eventually.
"Melia," he growled. "There better be coffee somewhere around here…"
There's a coffeepot on the desk behind you. Meredith has his own special blend of Kenyan, Jamaican and Blue Mountain, second shelf to the right. He can't function without coffee, either, though I don't think he drinks it as much as you do.
"Smart man, to have his own stash. I should do the same when I get back," Rodney muttered, as he brewed a full pot. At least his counterpart showed some intelligence, considering he'd decided to go into the RCAF, of all things. Again, he tried to imagine himself as a military pilot and couldn't do it.
He brought up the results of the system analysis from the night before onto his computer screen. There were a few minor differences between Melia's Atlantis and his, but for the most part, both cities were similar enough that he had no problem interpreting the data. While his Atlantis was still mostly uninhabited, except for the members of the Expedition, Melia's had the extra complication of 10,000 extra residents and expatriates from all over the Pegasus Galaxy.
This whole city was a security nightmare. No wonder this version of Zelenka had thinning hair.
We had an unwelcome visitor come last night while you were resting, Rodney.
"An unwelcome visitor?" He heard the dark undertone to Her voice. "Who?"
Melia told him about Sora Radim and her news. According to Sora, Kolya was planning an attack on Atlantis during the Athosian celebration that day, to disrupt relations between the Athosians and the Atlanteans. Rodney gulped down his coffee, poured himself a second cup, and downed that one too before Melia was finished.
"So I take it we're on full alert?" Anything with Kolya and the Genii was bad; Rodney still remembered that time his Atlantis had been in the Genii's hands during the Storm, and what Kolya had done to John. Rodney shivered at the memory.
Yes, Doctor Grodin and Commander Beckett have instituted security measures. Carson has his own spies within the population; if Kolya is planning something, the Commander will know.
"Where's Sheppard this morning?"
The colonel, Commander Beckett and your Teyla are going to attend with Charin and Halling. They are also on the lookout for Kolya's agents in the City. There was a pause, then She added, You are welcome to join them, if you wish.
Rodney shook his head. "I think I'd better concentrate on solving our problem with the Gate, Melia."
It is your decision. Though Meredith takes little time to relax, either. She sounded both disapproving and concerned about Captain McKay.
"He's probably a busy guy." Rodney frowned and pointed at a section of the scan. "Melia, can we look at this from the Control Room, or do I need to be in the Chair again?"
We can do the initial analysis from the Control Room. I'll alert Bates and Kusunagi. But first—
You will eat breakfast. Your blood sugar level is getting too low.
"I'll just grab something from the—"
No, Rodney. You will eat more than just a few Powerbars this time, or I will not cooperate. Your choice.
He scowled at the ceiling, but he distinctly felt the City's displeasure in his head. "Fine," he said brusquely. "I swear, you're worse than Carson."
She sounded both smug and satisfied. Then your Carson Beckett is a very wise man.
Teyla woke up with a start. The sunlight poured through the open window as the ocean beeze caressed her hair. Her sense of orientation was thrown off for several moments as the events of the night before came rushing back from memory.
Her cheeks burned with shame. By Athos, what have we done?
Commander Beckett's room was situated close to the Control Room; it made sense, considering his position in this Atlantis. She'd never been in Carson's room before, so she had no reference to compare the two, but from what she could tell, he was as private here as his counterpart was in her Atlantis. There were a few pictures scattered around: one of himself and his mother on his desk, some of himself and other RAF pilots, a few with Captain Zelenka and Captain McKay. She saw framed portrait of Beckett and herself.
No, not her. The other Teyla, the doctor. They seemed happy, with his arm around her shoulders, and the brilliant smile that lit up his entire face. She had seen the same expression on Carson's face before, but she had the feeling that the commander rarely smiled like that for anyone else. Just for his Teyla.
Again, she felt a pang of regret. What would her counterpart do if she'd found out what had happened? Granted, Beckett hadn't actually betrayed Doctor Emmagan, not technically, but Teyla refused to accept that as an excuse.
She had to find him. Quickly, she showered and dressed, then went in search of him. He wasn't in the Control Room, the Mess Hall or the Infirmary. Doctor Grodin had seen him briefly; Beckett had told him he was consulting with Charin and Halling. Teyla winced inwardly; had either of them known what would happen in the gym? If they had, neither had done anything to stop it. Why?
Suddenly, her senses tingled as something niggled at her subconscious. She frowned and glanced around, but no one else was in the corridor. Again, it pulled at her, like an urge that couldn't be denied. Teyla took a deep breath, closed her eyes and centered herself. She traced the source of the feeling…
The Wraith are here. Her special sense warned her of their presence. How could they be here, in Atlantis, without anyone knowing? During the Siege, the Wraith named "Bob" had hid in the City for weeks undetected. Yet Grodin's Atlantis was far from deserted; others would have seen and raised the alarm.
She opened her eyes and crossed over to a communications terminal. "Emmagan to Grodin. Respond." There was no response, not even a hint of static. "Hello? Is there anyone here?" Her voice echoed back to her, but there was no answer.
The Wraith make you see things. Teyla narrowed her eyes and murmured aloud, "What do you want?"
A blast of cold air hit her from behind. She whirled around to see a single open door at the end of the hall, a door that loomed invitingly in her vision. Come and find us, if you dare. There was nowhere else for her to go, except toward the door.
Teyla took out her bantos rods and slowly made her way up the corridor. She paused at the threshhold of the door, took a deep breath and stepped through. The sound of joyous music surrounded her as she emerged in sunlight. It blinded her for a moment before her eyes readjusted to the glare. The brightly colored flags hung from the entrances to private homes, the smell of roasting meat ticked her nose, and the laughter of children rang through the streets. She recognized this section of the Athosian Quarter of the City; she and Beckett had come here to talk with members of the Council two days before.
Cherish the sight of your people in jubliation, for they will be in mourning before too long.
"Where are you?" she whispered. "Are you such a coward that you hide in the shadows?"
An unexpected voice behind her whispered, "Over here, Doctor Emmagan. I need your help."
She whirled around to see a man leaning against a nearby wall. He was dressed in Athosian clothing, but she recognized him as no Athosian. Blond hair, blue eyes, and a soft accent from Earth.
A fully Human, fully restored Michael Kenmore,
John had attended several Athosian celebrations on the mainland, but nothing compared to this one. The chime of instruments echoed down the streets of the Athosian quarter, and bright colors greeted him everywhere he turned. There were plenty of food to eat and ruus wine to drink, even this early in the day. John skipped the ruus wine and stuck with fresh water. He needed to be sharp for whatever might happen.
It is good to see you like this, Colonel.
Social, even if you must be on alert. Rodney insists on working. As usual.
"That doesn't surprise me," John told Her mildly. "Gatherings like this aren't his thing."
Neither is it Meredith's. They are similar in that way. You are not as open, as my Sheppard is.
"Hazards of the job." He was uncomfortable at the City's observation; talking with Her made him painfully aware that She could see into his soul as well as his mind. It was a creepy feeling, one that made him shiver. She would never invade his privacy or force herself into his mind uninvited, but just the prospect of someone knowing you that well…
He glanced over at Halling, who had just finished giving instructions to a small Athosian security team. That was definitely a radical change from what John was used to, for Teyla's people were too few to even organize a militia. Halling's people had survived and multiplied far greater here, so such teams were commonplace.
Speaking of, where are Teyla and Beckett? I haven't seen either of them this morning. Peter had told him that Beckett had gone into the Athosian Quarter of the City earlier to speak with Charin about Sora's information. John shook his head; it was difficult to believe her story. Kolya was a tactician; the Genii would never split his forces among several fronts. That weakened the base of his strength, and Kolya knew it.
John's instincts told him it was a trap. He'd learned to follow his instincts.
Sora has given the Commander reliable information before, Colonel. Yet I find it unlikely that Kolya of all people would make such a grievous tactical error.
"Yeah. It doesn't fit what I know of him, even here." John watched as a tight knot of women eyed him with much appreciation. He grinned and them at waved jauntily, but mentally he asked, Where are Teyla and Beckett? I'd think they'd be here for the celebration by now.
Yes, their absences are puzzling. The Commander is several blocks away in the Quarter, while your Teyla is still within the main City. I cannot communicate to her like I can Doctor Emmagan—your Teyla does not have the Touch of the Ancestors—but I cannot understand why he is not responding to My summons, either.
"Keep trying. Maybe he's just distracted." John narrowed his eyes at the festival goers and looked for anything out of place, but found nothing.
"You are troubled, Colonel. What is the matter?" Halling had come up silently beside him. John jumped; how could such a big man move so quietly? It unnerved John to no end.
"The City can't get a hold of Beckett and Teyla hasn't arrived yet. I'm starting to get a little worried."
Halling frowned and said, "I will ask Charin. I know that Commander Beckett wished to speak with her this morning. One moment." He tapped the earpiece of his headset—yet another thing that John wasn't sure he'd get used to—and spoke softly to Charin.
Movement caught John's eye and he narrowed his eyes at a point across the plaza. There, almost directly across from him, was a man dressed in a neat Hoffan suit and tie, but the man's body language was definitely not a native of Hoff John met the man's cold glare.
"I see them, Colonel," murmured Halling. "There are four of them. Two are across from us and two down on the northwest corner of the plaza. They've been staring at us for the past few minutes."
John tapped his headset. "Doctor Grodin, we have suspicious men on the northwest plaza. Halling and I are going to check it out. Beckett's somewhere close, but we haven't been able to talk to him."
Peter's voice immediately answered, "Acknowledged, Colonel. I'm scrambling Major Cadman and her team and we're paging Beckett on his headset."
"Get Teyla too, if you can. I can't seem to reach her, either. I don't like this."
"That makes two of us. Grodin out."
John glanced over at Halling, whose face was a thundercloud. He'd seen Halling worried, even upset, but not angry like this. Then he felt a shift in the City's thoughts. They are moving, Colonel. I cannot stop them as long as they stay out in the open, and away from My halls.
"We don't have time to wait," John murmured. "We have to move now."
Halling nodded. "Follow me. I know the quickest way there."
"Lead on." He exchanged a quick salute with Halling, then they headed out. John noticed how he and Halling moved in tandem, as if they'd been on the same team for the past three, no, four, years. It was almost eerie how easily John could read his mind.
The City said, Whom do you think trained him? You and Captain McKay share some qualities, Colonel Sheppard. John felt a rueful shiver, as if She wished her McKay was back where he belonged .
He knew exactly how She felt. He wished he was back at his Atlantis too.
Ronon ran down the streets of Datal, his blaster in hand. People dove out of the way, but there were no panic-stricken shouts or screams. He wondered if incidents like this were commonplace here and the inhabitants were used to it. He pushed away flashbacks of Sateda's last stand against the Wraith, the dead and the dying…
Captain Zelenka preceded him, giving orders over his headset in both Czech and English. Ronon had had no idea that the smaller man could move so fast, or make such an impression on both the Marines and the Satedan contingent. He revised his opinions of Zelenka several notches upward.
There is hope for him yet, thought with a grin. He reminded himself to step up the scientists' training sessions when he got back to his Atlantis, especially for McKay and Zelenka. This universe proved that both men were definitely capable, if they set their minds to it.
"Orion to Sateda Control. We are in position. Wraith darts on approach, ETA ten minutes. We are launching countermeasures."
"Acknowledged, Colonel Lorne. We are fortifying our positions here. Good luck to you, Evan."
"You too, Radek. Lorne, out."
It was strange to hear Zelenka and Lorne call each other by their given names with the familiarity of military officers who had been serving for years in the same unit. Ronon knew the two had been on a different Orion,with an unfortunate outcome. He hoped they'd be luckier here.
His head snapped up as a squad rounded the corner. It took Ronon completely by surprise, especially when the group of men snapped salutes at him. He blinked, briefly taken back to that last battle on Sateda, the faces of his dead comrades superimposed on these living ones. Ronon opened his mouth, but nothing came out. Luckily, Zelenka saved him from an awkward moment.
"Specialist Crev, I want you, Malef, Nyru and Balos to stick close."
"Sir," said Crev. He nodded at Ronon, who had regained some of his calm. "What is the situation?"
"Unknown hostiles," Ronon replied. The soldier in him approved of the young man's professional demeanor.
"Wraith? Genii? Replicator? Ori?"
He shook his head. "Wraith."
Crev didn't seem to be offended by Ronon's curt replies. He only gave him a confident smile. "We'll take care of it, sir. Specialist Tyre's squad is on the south side of the city."
Ronon only inclined his head in agreement. Zelenka had covertly provided him with his squad's names, information he was already supposed to "know". More surprises were in store as they entered the city proper, and it took all of his self-control not to stop and stare. The yellow stone buildings, the chatter from the plaza, the smells from the food stands— a wave of terrible homesickness squeezed his chest. In his universe, Sateda was no more, and seeing it alive again gave him a bittersweet pang.
"There," said Nyru. The tracker pointed at a man pushing his way past a tight knot of children.
"With me," Ronon growled. "Let's get him."
"We will cover you," Zelenka said. "Be careful, my friend."
Ronon raised his eyebrows; it sounded as if the captain was genuinely concerned, and not acting a part. He made a mental note to talk more with Zelenka later, after they had taken care of business.
The suspect tried to double back on his path, duck into corners, and leave false clues to his whereabouts. Ronon could tell the man had some military training and was no amateur in tracking and evasion. Another Satedan, perhaps, or a Genii. Or an Atlantean.. The possibility made him grit his teeth; it was difficult to believe one of Earth's people could betray Atlantis, but there were so many unknowns in this universe.
The man disappeared into a private house. Ronon hesitated, for privacy was sacred to him, but Nyru only nodded. "He might try to escape out the back door, or the roof."
Ronon regained his composure. "Two of you, cover the ground. Nyru, with me."
He and Nyru entered the building, and Ronon forced himself to ignore the paintings that hung on the wall, the handcarved furniture, the meal items on the table. He took the steps two at a time, finally arriving on the roof of the building. The suspect was nowhere to be seen.
"We must've lost him," Nyru spat in disgust.
Ronon shook his head. "No. He's still here. I can feel it."
A roar alerted both men to the immediate danger. Ronon looked over his shoulder to see the man bearing down on them with a hoverbike and a maniacal grin on his face. Ronon had only seen the man a handful of times in his universe, but he recognized the attacker.
"Ford," he whispered.
Ford laughed and gunned the engine. Ronon pushed Nyru out of the way, then dove out of the path of the hoverbike. He rolled back onto his knees and fired his blaster at the retreating bike. A man appeared directly in Ford's path, his P-90 at the ready.
"Zelenka! Down!" Nyru yelled.
Zelenka held his ground as Ford bore down on him. He timed his shots to strike the bike a split second before he rolled out of the way, came back up, and fired again. The second volley of shots hit the bike's rear panel and Ford sailed out of sight, his engine smoking.
"He's getting away!" Ronon growled.
"Not for long," Zelenka replied, with an evil smirk. "I got his fuel tank."
Peter brought his attention back to the tasks at hand. even as he kept track of the events as they unfolded around the City. He and Chuck Campbell activated the defense protocols in the Tower and the surrounding buildings. Peter heard the doors to the Control Room snap shut and emergency bulkheads slide into place.He glanced over at Rodney McKay; the Canadian leaned on the console next to Chuck as Chuck tapped the Gate controls. Doctor Kyle Bates stood on Chuck's other side, tight-lipped as he studied the readouts.
Chuck looked up. "She says that all of her defense protocols have been activated."
"Deactivated for now. No one can walk in on us."
"Good. No weak points in the shield?"
"No." Chuck swiveled around in his seat. "Tightbeam communications from Orion. Sateda's under attack by a swarm of Wraith darts. Colonel Lorne's forces have intercepted the enemy in Sateda's airspace, while the Satedan militia has been mobilized—"
"Bloody hell!" Peter swore through gritted teeth. He glanced at Rodney, who was already on his laptop and pounding away at the keys. A coordinated attack, here and Sateda. Someone knows that the main team isn't who they seem to be…looks like Sora was right, damn her.
"Is Sora Radim still in Guest Quarters?"
Chuck nodded, his mouth pressed into a tight line. Peter noticed Rodney's questioning expression at the sergeant's expression, but said nothing. "Yes, Doctor Grodin, under heavy guard."
"Who's the soldier on watch?"
"Major Stackhouse, sir."
"Have Stackhouse escort her up here. I want to talk with her."
"Yes, sir." Chuck turned to relay his message as Miko pressed her receiver into her ear.
"Doctor Grodin, transmission relayed from Orion. It's Captain Zelenka," she reported.
Rodney glanced up in surprise. "What?"
"Put him on." For the millionth time, Peter thanked the Asgard for instantaneous hyperlight communications. As far as he knew, Rodney's universe wasn't even close to an equivalent, and he resisted a smirk. "Go ahead, Radek."
"Specialist Dex and I have encountered an old friend. It's Major Ford, Peter. He's still alive."
Rodney's head jerked up at Zelenka's words as they hit Rodney like a punch to the stomach. Was there any end to the surprises this universe threw at them? Obviously not. He pushed past the pounding in his temples.
"Ford?" he demanded. "Aiden Ford? Radek, lemme talk to Ronon." There was shuffling on that end of the line, then Rodney continued, "Are you sure, Ronon?"
"Pretty sure. Remember when we ran into him the first time you met me? How he and I fought while you were hanging from that tree—"
Rodney remembered not to yell back, at the last minute. "I remember that, thank you very much! Trussed up like a turkey!"
"He acted the same way, McKay. Fought like a tiger. Managed to get away on a hoverbike, but Zelenka got a couple of bullets into his tank."
"Under the Wraith enzyme?"
"Yeah. Looks like that still happened here. Except there's no trace of the Ford I've heard about from Sheppard. He took out a whole squad before Tyre was able to react."
Beckett's voice overlapped Ronon's; the commander's tone was grim and angry. "Looks like we've run into another old friend of ours—"
"Who?" Rodney demanded.
Beckett's voice was drowned out by gunfire. Everyone in the Control Room jumped, especially Rodney. That's Carson out there… He shoved the panic aside; that was Beckett, not Carson. Commander Beckett could handle himself in a firefight.
Suddenly, a stab of agony hit the left side of his chest and he lost his hold of the console. A second later, the City screamed in rage; Melia's voice echoed and re-echoed in his mind and overwhelmed his senses. Rodney felt with She felt, see what She saw, and his own heart pounded with fear.
Although the attackers wore clothing from different worlds, Beckett recognized their fighting styles and battle tactics. Genii. Kolya. A glance at Charin confirmed his suspicions. How did Kolya's agents manage to insinuate themselves into the City? He shook his head; Sora Radim had been truthful, for once.
The Athosians responded to the threat with the ease of a people used to defending themselves. Before long, they had routed the Genii forces out of their Quarter of the City, and drove them through the streets towards the East Pier. Captain Laura Cadman nodded a greeting to him and made her way to Beckett's side.
"Commander, this section is secure," Cadman told him.
"Aye, good work." He tried to focus on the job at hand; the City was unusually silent, and that worried him. It was as if an arm or a leg was missing, and his mind kept returning to that empty corner where Melia used to be.
And he hadn't seen or heard from Teyla, ever since he'd left her sleeping in his room. Bloody damn coward. You could've at least waited until she woke up, but you didn't want to see the disgusted shame in her eyes, didn't you? She isn't your Teyla, you stupid sod. You used her as a substitute and now she has every reason to hate you. Beckett wrenched his mind from that track and forced himself to listen to Cadman's report. As Charin had told him long before, distraction could be deadly in combat.
His head snapped up at Charin's shout. The silver-haired woman pointed across the plaza and he followed her gaze. His heart leaped into his throat as he saw Teyla struggling to free herself from the grip of a very familiar enemy.
"Michael!" he hissed. He took off at a run, leaving Cadman in his wake, and out of the corner of his eye, he saw Halling circling around to intercept Michael at the entrance of the plaza. Teyla cried out as Michael twisted her arms behind her, but she kept resisting against his superior strength, enhanced by the Wraith enzyme.
Beckett raised his P-90 and aimed it at Michael's head. "Teyla, love, get down!"
Michael snapped up at the warning in his voice, saw him, and smirked. "I don't think you really want to do that, Commander."
"Let her go. Now." He tightened his finger on the trigger, even as he thought, God help me, Teyla, hold on for a few more seconds…
Her eyes widened and she screamed his name a split second before he heard the whine of weapons fire. Something slammed hard into him, knocking him to his knees. Agony erupted in his chest; he automatically clutched the fabric of his tac vest to find it stained with red.
"Oh, crap," he whispered. He couldn't stop himself from collapsing to the ground and his P-90 fell from his nerveless fingers. A surge of rage went through him and cleared his mind for a brief minute. He heard Michael's soft Southern accent above him.
"You've failed her. I want to make sure your last thought is how you failed to save her. Good-bye…Commander."
Bloody bastard. He wanted to jump up, grab him by the throat and snap his neck, but his body wouldn't obey him. As Michael's laughter drifted above him, shame and humiliation scalded his throat. Teyla was now Michael's prisoner. He hadn't been able to save her.
He closed his eyes and allowed the blackness to claim him.
Katie Brown's voice screamed over the Control Room speakers, "Ben, I need Medteam Two over here!"
"Acknowledged," Kavanaugh confirmed.
Rodney squeezed his eyes shut through the panic as his chest constricted. He reached for the epipen in the front pocket of his tac vest, then remembered at the last minute that Captain McKay didn't carry one. Oh God, oh God, I'm gonna die. I can't breathe. I'm gonna die. Someone grabbed him by the shoulders and shook some sense back into him. Figuratively speaking.
You have to help Me, or we will lose both of you! Help me! She screamed.
Rodney gulped and nodded weakly. "What…what can I do? I can't—"
He isn't the man you know, but there is still a connection between you. I need you to hold onto him until Doctor Kavanaugh can get there.
"I—I'll try." He tried to clear his mind, but shock and exhaustion took its toll. It was like wading through a sea of molasses. C'mon, Kavanaugh, get there faster, dammit! I don't know if—. He fumbled the connection, nearly lost it, then seized it again. Carson was his friend, no matter which universe they were in, and Rodney wasn't going to give him up without a fight. The commander was unconscious; Rodney couldn't hear anything at all from him, and that fact terrified him.
Dammit, Carson, if you die, I'm gonna kick your ass so hard it'll bounce off the Ascended plane!
A new voice echoed within the dark curtain. Rodney? Can you hear me?
He managed to concentrate despite his surprise. < John?!>
He's pulling me in with him… I can't stop it—
Rodney felt a rumble of pure terror in his throat. "Hold on, John. I'm gonna try to grab a hold of you."
"Shut up…I'm concentrating!" There was a spark of something there…faint, but still there. He dove for it, grabbed it with one hand, then felt a tendril of warmth around his waist, anchoring him in place and stopping his slide into oblivion. It was not without effort; the City was straining to prevent him, John and Beckett from tumbling into the void.
"Kavanugh to Grodin, we've got Commander Beckett and we're rushing him to the Infirmary. He's critical, but he's hanging on."
"Acknowledged. Colonel Sheppard?"
"He's with us."
Rodney opened his eyes to find himself sitting on the floor, with Bates, Kusanagi, and Chuck supporting him. He felt lightheaded, as if he hadn't eaten in several days. "I've got to get down there. They need me."
Peter nodded at Bates and Chuck. "Get him down to the Infirmary. Miko, you've got charge of the Gateroom." He tapped his headset. "Ben, I'm sending Rodney down. He's going to need medical aid as well."
"Fine. Kavanaugh, out."
Rodney allowed the others to pull him to his feet and let them guide him to the stairs. He didn't see the look of concern that followed him from Peter; he was too busy keeping his sanity in one piece. He felt a gentle warmth envelope him, soothe away the pain and confusion, and he lost consciousness.
"Rodney? Rodney, can you hear me?"
He opened sore, gritty eyes at the sound of her voice. "Katie?" he whispered. "What—?"
"You passed out on the way to the Infirmary. We've got you hooked up to an IV, so try not to make any sudden moves." Her tear-stained face swam into view and she squeezed his hand.
"I'm sorry. I was an idiot."
She managed a smile. "There's nothing to be sorry about, Rodney. I forgive you."
For some reason, that only made him feel worse. "John? Carson?"
There was movement at his side, and a haggard-looking John Sheppard appeared to his right. "We're fine. Carson made it through surgery. It was touch and go for a little while, but Kavanaugh says he should recover." He took a deep breath. "Ronon and Zelenka are doing the mop-up on Sateda; they drove the Wraith off."
Rodney nodded and leaned back on the pillows. "Good." He closed his eyes. "Figures you guys would get into trouble. I wasn't even there and you still managed to get me involved. It's just not fair."
"There are some things that are the same in parallel universes," John joked, but it fell flat. "It's a massive cosmic joke."
"Yeah." Rodney fought to stay conscious. "How'd Carson get shot, anyway?"
John hesitated and glanced at Katie, who nodded. He went on, "He was trying to save Teyla from Michael."
"Michael? God." Rodney cracked an eye open. "Is she—?"
There was something in John's tone that Rodney couldn't identify. "Rodney, certain people were targeted. Ronon was one; I think someone was expecting Captain McKay and was thrown off by seeing me instead. We found out why Beckett was shot. Michael wanted Teyla and with Beckett out of the way…"
"Teyla…" Rodney's mind still tried to make sense of what John told him. "Teyla's gone? He took her?"
John nodded, his eyes blazing with anger. "Peter wants to hold a staff meeting, so get some rest. We're gonna need your genius brain to figure out why people are trying to kill us and why they took Teyla."
"Yeah." His eyes were growing heavier. "I—"
Kaite stroked his forehead. "Sssh, Rodney. Don't fight it. Sleep."
He turned his head and gave Katie a look of disbelief. "You put somethin' in my IV while Sheppard distracted me. First Kavanaugh, now you. Now that isn 't fair—"
He was asleep before finished the sentence.
Teyla tried to open open her eyes, but it took too much effort. Her head spun and nausea rose in her throat. She tried to remember the last time she'd felt so awful, but couldn't. Perhaps she'd been thrown off one of those "rollercoasters" John was so fond of riding.
John. Rodney. Suddenly, she remembered Carson crying out in pain just before everything went black. She whimpered and tried to move, but she couldn't.
"Ah, good, you're awake, my dear. I made sure you were unarmed. It wouldn't do for you to die before our plan is completed."
What? She blinked and willed the ceiling to stop moving. Wait, ceiling? Her vision slowly focused on the smiling face hovering over her.
Michael Kenmore's boyish grin became a leer as the he misinterpreted her expression. "Oh, that little incident concerning Doctor Grodin and Commander Beckett." Michael's mouth turned down at the corners. "Well, the dear doctor's punch shattered my jaw and your lover snapped a few of my ribs for good measure, but here I am, as good as new."
She tried not to gape at him. Unlike the Michael in her universe, this man was one-hundred percent Human with no visible trace of his Wraith origin. The soft Southern accent was broader than she'd remembered, the blue eyes harder. You come from a place called Texas. It seemed that the elaborate fiction they'd made up for Wraith Michael had translated into reality in this universe.
Teyla felt her skin flush with embarassment and anger and again, he misinterpreted her expression. "Not to worry, Doctor Emmagan. You are my honored guest, and will continue to be, as long as you cooperate."
She clenched her jaw and glared up at him. If she had the use of her body, she would repay him for what he'd done to Carson. No matter how hard she tried, she couldn't move.
"The paralyzing agent will keep you from escaping until such time I decide to free you." Michael's tone was low and menacing. "Until you give me what I want. You will work on perfecting the Hoffan virus, expanding on your work, until I can use it on my enemies. The Wraith. The Ori. The Replicators. Your friends on Atlantis."
She managed to shake her head slightly. The Hoffan virus? She remembered the devastation on Carson's face after that day, after he'd been forced to watch Perna and countless others die. And Michael claimed that she was responsible for it? Who am I here, that I would design a virus—?
His mouth nearly touched her ear. "I shall leave you to consider your options, Doctor Emmagan. Until later, my dear."
His footsteps echoed in the room, followed by the clang of a cell door. Leaving her all alone to contemplate her fate.
"Dammit, we nearly got it that time. There's got to be something we're overlooking, but what?"
Carson glanced over his shoulder at Doctor Emmagan's frustrated tone and stifled a smirk. It still sounded odd to hear her swear like that, for his Teyla would never do that. Not that Teyla never got upset or angry, but it was one more reminder of how different the two women were.
He wanted to take her into his arms and hold her, but made a concerted effort not to do it. The more time he spent with her, the more dangerous it was. He couldn't afford another complication, not now, not when there was a chance that Emmagan could go back to her own universe. He'd come so very close to doing something he'd regret, if Captain McKay hadn't interrupted them.
Speaking of…"Where's Captain McKay?"
She sounded distracted as she answered, "Meredith's talking with your Colonel…um, Major Lorne. Apparently, there was some issue last night that needed their attention."
"Issue? Do you know what it was?"
She shook her head. "No, Meredith told me not to worry about it, and concentrate on what I could control, instead of what I can't control."
"Smart man." Sounds like something the colonel would say. Carson turned back toward the Wraith cell sample under the molecular scanner. Emmagan's ATA Gene had been helpful in activating some of the long-dormant medical equipment in storage. If Rodney were here, he'd definitely be after her to test other Ancient devices. The thought of both John and Rodney in that other universe worried him. From what he'd gleaned from the other team, their Atlantis saw much conflict, and they lived in more dangerous times.
"You're worried about them."
He nodded, but didn't turn to face her. "Aye."
"If they're as strong as you say, I think they'll hold their own. And your Ronon and Teyla too."
He nodded again. Suddenly, his scanner beeped. "What on earth—"
She was at his side in an instant. "What is it?"
"Look at these results. I've never seen this before." He moved aside for her to look through the eyepiece. "What do you make of it?"
Emmagan frowned. "That's odd. Did this just happen?"
"Aye, it was spontaneous. One minute it was dormant, the next…"
She looked at him and raised an eyebrow. "Even this virus doesn't mutate this fast."
"Whatever happened, it's making it easier for the counteragent to attack its molecular structure," Carson replied, as he tried to keep his voice calm. "It's changing as we speak. I don't think we've got something that'll cure it yet, but—"
"—we can help it along." Her eyes gleamed with anticipation. "Good idea. I'll need to see the data from this and see if we can replicate the results. If this isn't a one-time accident, we might be able to use it to tweak what we've got into something better."
He grinned at her enthusiasm. "All right, love, let's do it."
Radek sighed and wished he could hole himself up in the Control Room. Daedelus was in orbit, and Colonel Caldwell had confirmed that Jeannie Miller…Jeannie McKay, Jeannie Zelenka, whatever, was on board and ready to transport down to Atlantis. His wife. Sort of.
Again, he muttered Czech invectives under his breath and tried to ignore Chuck's look of sympathy. What else had changed, thanks to this mess-up of dimensional proportions? Captain McKay had thought the whole situation grimly humorous; Doctor Sheppard was just as bad. He wondered what his counterpart in their universe did for a living, and whether or not the other Zelenka had to deal with things like this. Probably not.
"Thanks for the favor, Stephen," Elizabeth was saying. "I owe you for this one."
Caldwell's tone was dry. "Deduct it from the three I owe you. Transporting now. Good luck."
There was a flash of light in the Gate Room, and Radek sighed and headed towards the stairs. There, in front of the Gate, stood Jeannie. She blinked, looked around, then smiled and adjusted the pack she carried over one shoulder. Her eyes found Elizabeth first, and McKay standing next to her. Her smile widened as she crossed the space between them and flung her arms around her brother.
"Mer! It's good to see you!" Jeannie gave him a kiss on the cheek, much to McKay's surprise. "I take it you've been too busy to answer my letters again. You work too much, as usual. I thought I told Radek and Carson to take better care of you, since I can't be here."
Elizabeth managed to exchange stunned expressions with Radek, and she wasn't the only one. Evan Lorne's mouth quirked upward, but he kept his snarky remark to himself. Radek knew Evan was bursting at the seams to say it; he glared at the major to keep his mouth shut.
"Doctor McKay," Elizabeth said courteously. "Welcome back to Atlantis."
"Thank you, Doctor Weir." Jeannie nodded and looked past her at Radek. She immediately let go of McKay and ran across the Gateroom to fling herself into a startled Radek's arms. He stumbled as she nearly ran him over, landing on his rear on the floor with her in his lap. Whatever words he wanted to say flew out of his head as Jeannie wrapped her arms around him and gave him a passionate kiss.
"Damn. She's never greeted me like that," McKay groused.
"You're her brother," Sheppard said, as he slapped the captain lightly on the back of the head. "That'd be kind of sick. Besides, Katie would object."
Radek managed to come up for air. He stammered, "Milacku, I—"
"Sorry, dear, but I've missed you so much." She gave him an impish grin and a wink. "I'll make it up to you later."
Before Radek could faint or have a heart attack, Elizabeth smoothly intervened. "I'm sorry to interrupt your…ah…reunion, but we've got a pressing problem to address."
"Of course," Jeannie rose smoothly to her feet and extended a hand to Radek, who took it. She winked again and whispered, "Later."
Radek visibly gulped and thought silence was the better part of valor.
Elizabeth watched as Doctor Sheppard outlined their problem and possible solutions. Jeannie listened attentively, with an occasional nod. Her serious expression was a mirror image of Rodney's, whenever he tackled a scientific challenge. Unlike Rodney, Jeannie waited until Sheppard and Radek had finished before volunteering her insight.
"Is there a way to connect the Gates on this end in the same sort of massive system? Obviously, it's possible, since the Ancients did it on your side."
Sheppard shook his head. "We don't know exactly how they did it, but it's one hell of an engineering job. We do know it has something to do with Atlantis's Gate itself, that it's a major factor in its stability."
Radek frowned as he studied the schematics that Sheppard had given him. "So if the Gate in your City is unstable, it would affect the whole system, yes?"
"Not directly. As I said, it's not connected to the main system, but it's a separate portal. Melia did that to protect the City from anyone who wanted to invade." Sheppard's brow wrinkled as he had an idea. "Mer, you told me you couldn't hear this Atlantis. When we were in transit, did you feel anything else…weird?"
McKay frowned and searched his memory. "Before we got zapped unconscious, you mean? Kinda hard to tell. Your normal sense of disorientation—"
Ronon glanced at Shappard, then added, "Some sort of strange shift—"
"Shift?" Elizabeth asked. It was the first time she's spoken since the meeting began.
McKay tried to explain it. "Like being on a train that's stopped on the tracks, but your surroundings are moving. I think our Teyla would be able to put it in better words, but she's busy with that Hoffan virus with Doctor Beckett."
Jeannie leaned forward on her elbows, her blue eyes intense. "It could have been some sort of dimensional shift. Quantum theory says parallel universes are possible; at the exact moment both teams stepped through the Gate, your team shifted here and ours were moved into your places."
Sheppard rolled his eyes. "That would need a bunch of pretty damn specific coincidences, Jean. How would the Gates in both Atlantises know to make the switch at the exact time without, well, blowing both universes to hell in the process?"
"Melia's sentinent," McKay reminded him. "She could've engineered it."
"Why would She have done it on purpose, though? And this City isn't sentinent, Mer."
Radek shook his head. "If you ask Carson or the Colonel, or even Rodney, they'd tell you they could feel the City, even if the City doesn't talk."
"Then how the hell can we ask Her? It? Whatever the City is here?"
Elizabeth raised a hand to cut off Sheppard's rant. It was odd, seeing him go off on a tirade, when she was used to seeing Rodney do it. "The Chair. We have three strong ATA Gene carriers: Captain McKay, Doctor Emmagan, and Carson. Four, if you also count Major Lorne. I'm sure one of you could interface with Atlantis and find out what's going on."
Radek's mouth lifted in a dry smile. "You know how much Carson likes sitting in the Chair."
Sheppard raised an eyebrow at McKay and gave him a look that said, quite plainly, "You're sitting in the damn chair." The captain sighed and rolled his eyes in long-suffering patience.
"Fine. I can't promise I can talk to Her. She might be completely different from Melia and for all I know, She might kick my ass for intruding. If She does, I'll tell Her it's your fault."
"But I don't have the ATA Gene, so she can't do anything to me."
"Then don't complain when your shower runs cold again."
Elizabeth sighed, even as Radek and Jeannie stifled their laughter. "Gentlemen! Might I remind you that we're on a deadline?"
Both men had the good grace to look chagrined. "Sorry, Elizabeth," they murmured.
She smiled and began to stand up from the table. "Then let's do this before—" A wave of dizziness hit her, so hard that her knees buckled and her world tilted sideways. She barely noticed Radek had caught her before she hit her head on the table. Her vision blacked out for several seconds, then she found herself sitting on the floor, with McKay on one side and Jeannie on the other. Radek called for Carson on his headset.
"What happened?" Jeannie demanded. "Are you all right?"
Elizabeth squeezed her eyes shut as another blast of vertigo washed over her. "I don't know. I can't—" She concentrated on not losing her lunch right there on the Conference Room floor.
Jeannie looked up at Radek, visibly worried. "Where's Carson? What's taking him so long?"
"He's on his way." He blinked when he realized she'd spoken in Czech. I did not know she could do that, but then this is not my…our…Jeannie Miller.He opened his mouth to say something else, but then both Carson and Doctor Emmagan had exploded through the door, with orderlies and a gurney not far behind.
"Elizabeth? What happened?" Carson asked, unknowingly echoing Jeannie's previous question. He immediately checked her with his medical scanner. "Your blood pressure's at a dangerous level. We need to get you to the Infirmary."
"Heart rhythm's becoming erratic, Carson," Emmagan added. "We need to move her now."
"Aye." He looked over at McKay. "Can you—?"
The captain nodded and scooped Elizabeth up as if she was a child. He laid her down gently on the gurney. Her eyes were wide, terrified, but he squeezed her hand. "You're a fighter," he whispered. "Pull through this."
"Mer…help Shep…fix this…please."
He nodded and whispered back, "I will. I promise."
He stared as Carson and the others wheeled her out of the Conference Room. Then McKay closed his eyes, took a deep breath and open them again. He noticed Sheppard giving him a strange look, but ignored it, and nodded over at Radek instead.
"Where's your Chair Room?"
Even Atlantis's systems weren't immune to the changing timeline. Radek swore as he tried to access information that now didn't exist, and stumbled over others that he'd never seen before. Most of the data from the Intergalactic Bridge—and the alternate Rod's visit—were intact, but some details were missing or completely inaccurate.
"I don't believe this," he muttered under his breath. "If we can trust this data, it's possible to tie in some of the Stargates into a similar network that Sheppard's familiar with. It will be impossible to connect all of the possible Gates in the Pegasus Galaxy—there are too many of them—but some of them could give us enough power to stabilize the Bridge."
Jeannie nodded. "This is all theoretical, Radek. If it fails, we could have a recoil effect that would destroy all the Gates involved, including the one in Atlantis, and an explosion of that magnitude—"
"—would be catastrophic, yes." He took off his glasses and scrubbed his face. "More than enough to destroy the City and possibly rip a hole in the space-time continuum—"
"—which would be very, very bad."
Radek couldn't help but smile at the familiar words coming from Jeannie instead of Rodney. He'd become used to Rodney's so-called "McKayisms", as the Science department dubbed them. Jeannie smiled back, a shy, pretty smile that warmed his heart.
Ty vole, she is Rodney's sister! She has never been, nor ever will be, your wife. The thought gave him a painful pang, but he ignored it. When the universe is restored, you probably won't remember any of this, and Jeannie will once again be Jeannie Miller, and…
"Radek, you're spacing out on me again. Talk to me."
Again, she'd spoken in Czech, and he automatically responded in his native language. "Sorry. Just thinking. Assuming this plan works, we won't know if it'll correct all the temporal distortions, or—" He broke off as he felt her hands on his shoulders. She massaged the muscles there, then moved to the back of his neck. A warm wave of fatigue overcame him. "Jeannie, this isn't the time—"
"Hush, you." Her lips were close to his ear, and he could feel her warm breath. All sorts of scandalous ideas were filling his head and it was difficult to think, much less push them away. "Carson was right. You've been pushing yourself too hard. I know that Doctor Sheppard isn't an easy person to work with, but you've got to stop killing yourself to meet his impossible deadlines."
"Doctor Sheppard?" Radek repeated. Wasn't it supposed to be Colonel Sheppard? Then again…he tried to hang on to what he knew was the truth. "But—"
She quirked an eyebrow at him. "I haven't seen you in six months, Radek. Six months. The others are in the Chair Room; Lorne's in the Control Room, and there's no one around for a while. Besides, we can spare a few minutes, can't we?"
"Ah—" His mouth opened, closed, opened again, but no words came out.
She grinned. "I thought so." Then she drew his lips to hers and kissed him. And all rational thoughts flew out of his head, and stayed out for the meantime.
This is crazy, Evan thought, as his team responded to yet another distress call somewhere in the City. The calls were beginning to add up: people missing their shifts, strangers walking in and claiming they belonged to the Expedition, transporters malfunctioning or taking passengers to unknown sections of the City. A piercing wail came from over the ocean as Rodney's Whales (Evan capitalized the name in his mind) swam closer and closer to Atlantis. Never mind the fact that the whales were now on a different planet, in a different system.
For the first time since Evan had known him, Chuck looked panicked as he tried to keep up with his board in the Control Room. He had to pull people from various departments to cover everything. "Major, we've got someone claiming to be Colonel Ellis from the Apollo on frequency two, but the ship isn't showing up on our short or long-range scanners."
"Isn't Apollo supposed to be in drydock, on Earth?" Evan asked.
"Yes, sir," Chuck said, "and the transmission comes and goes."
"Don't think so, sir. Colonel Ellis says he wants to speak with whoever's in charge, then I lose him, then he comes back an hour later and repeats his request." Chuck frowned and tapped his laptop. "What the—?"
Evan shot him a harried look. "Now what?"
"Doctor Gaul wants to know where Zelenka is." Chuck shook his head. "He says Zelenka was supposed to fix something in his lab—"
His mouth dropped open. "Are you kidding? Gaul's dead!"
"Yes, sir, I know that!" Chuck sounded as if he would prefer good old-fashioned insanity to whatever was happening now. "I told him I'd find Zelenka and get back to him. He was really mad; I can tell when his British accent becomes so thick I can't understand him."
Evan rolled his eyes. "Next thing you know, Grodin's gonna walk through that door."
Chuck just gave him a look, and Evan regretted that remark. The sergeant sighed and turned back to his board. Evan shook his head; according to Sheppard, Zelenka and Jeannie McKay, the fabric of space-time was reforming at a rapid pace. People's memories were realigning to the "new" timeline, where Sheppard had always been a scientist, and McKay had always been in the military. Evan himself wasn't immune; he'd discovered that the family picture on his desk now included a brother, not a sister, and it had taken him several minutes to notice it wasn't quite "right".
They were running out of time.
"Beckett to Lorne."
Evan tapped his headset. "Here, Doc."
"Son, you'd better get down here. Captain McKay and Doctor Sheppard are in the Chair Room, and Elizabeth's condition is deteriorating."
His heart sank at Carson's words. "I'm on my way."
It took him a few minutes to get to the Infirmary and he stopped short. Carson and Doctor Emmagan both turned to look at him; Carson motioned him closer. Evan swallowed as he saw Elizabeth lying there, connected to IV drips and other machines. Her features stood out against chalky white skin. She seemed as fragile as rice paper.
"What's wrong with her?" he whispered.
Carson shook his head. "Her entire system's shutting down, lad. I can't find a damn thing wrong, but it's as if her body's just giving up, which isn't like the Elizabeth I know."
Emmagan's dark eyes were troubled as she added, "The Elizabeth Weir in my universe is dead. Perhaps as this universe is changed, it may be that she will be gone here as well."
"Not if I have anythin' to do with it, Teyla!"
She sighed and glanced at Evan. "Other people are coming in with the same symptoms. They're all heading towards a complete neural shutdown, despite the fact they were in perfect health an hour ago."
"Five, so far. Carson and I have sent some of our people through the City to find anyone who might be incapacitated and can't send for help."
Evan nodded. "I'll get Stackhouse and his men to assist you." He tapped his mike and issued the order. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw two others in similar beds, with similar tubes attached to their bodies.
"I'm…sorry." It was barely a whisper, but Evan heard it all the same. He crossed the few steps to Elizabeth's side. Her eyes were open, but she didn't seem to see him.
"It's all right," he soothed. "It's gonna be okay. We're gonna take care of you."
"No," she whispered. "I never…I never said good-bye, I miss him…my fault, my fault for sending him."
"Elizabeth—" He stopped, at a loss for what to say. Carson's eyes were filled with pain and regret as he squeezed her arm.
""Twasn't your fault, lass," he told her gently. "He was the best man for the job."
"No…didn't want him to go, he insisted…I let him go, and he died. My fault. I should have—" Her eyes closed and she fell silent. Evan glanced up at Carson with a stricken expression, but the doctor shook his head.
"She's still alive, but if we don't do something soon, she'll die."
"What can we—" Commotion broke into Evan's words and he managed to step aside fast enough to keep from being trampled. Both Sheppard and Ronon supported a weak and shaking McKay, who was trailed by Radek and Jeannie. Radek's hair was even mussed than usual, and Jeannie cheeks were flushed. Evan sighed and thought, I really don't wanna know.
"Bloody hell," Carson cursed. "Teyla, get me—"
Sheppard and Ronon deposited McKay in a nearby chair. The captain didn't seem injured, only winded. He looked over at Elizabeth, and his face became grim. Teyla came over with a cup of water, which he accepted and gulped down.
"Carson, I managed to get into Atlantis's systems," McKay said without preamble. "I think I know how we can fix this damn mess, but I'm gonna need your help."
"You mean to tell me that all of the Gates in your galaxy are basically connected into one big transportation system?"
"That's correct, Rodney." Melia reached over him to point at a glowing icon hovering on this Atlantis gate. It expanded into a tornado-shaped slice of light that grew until it reached another Gate much farther away. "Does this look familiar?"
Rodney recognized it. "The Intergalactic Bridge. My sister and I had to shut it down because it was too unstable, too much entropy in space-time causing rifts in the—" He slowed down as he stared at the screen. "You've found a way to stabilize it?"
"For the time being, but it won't hold for long. The ripple effects are already making themselves known across both universes. If we do not remedy the situation quickly, the changes will be such that it will not be possible for either Atlantean team to return to their proper universe."
Rodney nodded absently as he scanned the equations. "We were so close the first time. If we'd been more precise in these sets of variables—"
Melia rolled her eyes, as much as any disembodied Ancient could, at any rate. "Rodney."
"Oh yeah. Sorry." He traced the threats that connected the various stargates. "The power we'd need to keep the Bridge from collapsing, it'd take the whole system, and if we drain all the ZPMs like we did the last time…"
"…we leave the entire network open to attack. yes."
"There's got to be another way." Rodney thought furiously, snapping his fingers. "Wait. You said the Bridge between the universes is still there."
She nodded. "Yes, but it is taking me more and more effort to keep it open and stable by myself."
"What if we can send a message through to my Atlantis on the other side? Ask Elizabeth for help. If we can find a way to share the load between the universes—"
"It could work, but how do you propose on doing that?"
"I could go."
"You could, but remember, two versions of you in the same space-time could accelerate the deterioration. What do you call it? The Cascade Effect?"
"Not if I don't stay for a long time. Rod didn't."
Melia shook her head. "I don't know if I can still maintain the Bridge after you cross over, Rodney. If I can't and you are there at your Atlantis while your counterpart is also there…"
"Then have me and him cross at the same time."
"We'd risk losing both of you then."
He snapped in frustration. "So, what do you suggest?"
She closed her eyes, then opened them again. "Send someone on this side who does not exist in yours. There is less chance of something going wrong."
He frowned. "You mean, someone who's dead in my universe, but alive here? And vice versa?"
"Yes, just for the time it takes to align and recalibrate all the Stargates in both universes."
Rodney opened his mouth, then closed it. "I think I know who to ask, Melia."
"Let me get this straight, Rodney," John said. "We need to send someone through the Gate who—"
"—doesn't exist in our universe anymore, yes," Rodney interrupted. "And same from our side. None of us can go because we exist in both universes and the Bridge's unstable as it is."
"And we run the risk of the Bridge collapsing and trapping both versions in between," Bates put in, "or having it collapse while two versions of the same person are in one universe. Either way, it'd make things—"
"—really, really bad. Even worse than it is now," Rodney concluded.
"What if the Bridge collapsed after someone like myself goes across?" Peter Grodin asked quietly.
Bates gave Peter a sharp look. "You aren't going across, Peter."
"Kyle, you can't, and neither can Radek, or Miko or Chuck. And neither can Colonel Sheppard or any of his team. I'm dead in their universe."
"Peter—" Bates stopped, for he had a valid point.
"Then who'd be the messenger over here?" asked Chuck.
John saw a flicker of pain across Peter's face. "Elizabeth."
Silence came over the briefing room. "If we're going to do this, it has to be soon," Rodney said. "Melia doesn't know how long the Bridge will hold, even with her support."
Peter sighed heavily. "All right. Rodney, you, Melia, Bates and Campbell make the necessary adjustments."
"You sure you want to do this, Peter?"
Peter glanced sideways at Rodney. "I don't much of a choice. I'm the only one who can do it." An ironic smile touched his lips. "Being dead has its advantages, I suppose."
Rodney scowled. "Don't even joke about that. I just happened to be the one who saw you die."
Peter said nothing for a long moment, then reached over and clasped Rodney on the shoulder. "How did I die, in your universe?" he asked gently.
Rodney let out a frustrated sigh, but he wouldn't see Peter in the eye. "You really don't need to hear it."
"Something's been eating at you inside. I've seen it since you ended up here. What is it?"
"I'm all right."
"The bloody hell you're not."
"Dammit, Peter," Rodney exploded. "We don't have time for this."
"Tell me what happened."
The soft order took all the fight out of Rodney. He sighed heavily and sat on the Gate Room steps, as though his legs would no longer support him. Peter perched one step below him with an expectant look, though he was careful not to betray his own inner turmoil. How often did one hear how they died in another universe?
So Rodney told Peter about the Siege, about the Ancient space station, and the weapons platform. How the two of them and Miller had gone there to reactivate it, how a single broken pencil had sealed the other Peter's fate, and how Rodney's quadruple bypass of the systems had trapped him in the station. How Rodney and Miller had watched helplessly as the Wraith hives had blown the station apart, and how Rodney had to tell Atlantis the terrible news, that they'd all lost a friend and a comrade.
And tell Elizabeth that she'd lost her lover.
Finally, Rodney's words stumbled to a halt, and Peter sat here, trying to absorb what he'd just heard. He spotted John Sheppard standing nearby, out of Rodney's direct line of sight, with a carefully neutral expression. Above them, Zelenka, Bates and Miko Kusunagi hovered at the top of the stairs. Even Ronon said nothing as he leaned against a nearby wall, but his eyes relayed a mix of emotions.
"Rodney—" Peter began.
"It was my fault. It should have been me."
"You had no idea what would happen."
"I should've checked the connections, reversed them when we found out they'd diverted the power—"
"If the Wraith were coming as quickly as you said, there wouldn't have been enough time. I would have done the same thing he did. It was the only way."
Rodney laughed harshly. "You know what's the ironic thing? You—the other Peter—his last words were 'I'm sorry.' I couldn't figure out what you were apologizing for. It wasn't your fault. It was mine. British politeness, till the very end."
Peter smirked. "You've never seen me in a pub, then." He quickly sobered. "Rodney, let me repeat what I just said. It was not your fault. No one could have seen what would happen. And if my counterpart was anything like me, he would have never blamed you. There's nothing to forgive." He managed a slight smile. "Now you have to forgive yourself."
He snorted. "That old cliche."
"Well, that old cliche just happens to be the truth. Let go of the guilt. I certainly have no reason to blame you, and neither would he."
Peter watched as the words finally sank in. Rodney heaved a big sigh, as if a heavy burden had been lifted from the scientist's shoulders. He glanced up meet John's gaze and the colonel mouthed "Thank you."
"You and the Doc look the same, but you two are still very different."
Teyla raised an eyebrow at Aiden Ford. The former lieutenant—no, major—sounded exactly like his cheerful self, and she felt a sharp pang of loss. Here, as in my universe, Aiden is lost to us.
"How so, Aiden?"
He turned to see her with his one good eye; the other was an enlarged black orb. "She's a lot more emotional than you are. You're…quieter."
"Is that a bad thing?"
"Never said it was a bad thing." Ford crossed his arms and leaned against the outside of her cell. "It's actually kinda nice. Except for Michael, I don't get to talk with a lot of people."
Teyla shivered at the mention of Michael. "He was part of your unit under Commander Beckett, was he not?"
"Yeah," Ford replied with a shrug. "I dunno what went on between him and Beckett, but they've got really bad blood between 'em. He and McKay never got along, either."
She sighed and shook her head. "So he deserted and joined forces with the Genii."
"Well, he and Kolya have a sort of understanding. Michael's also been talking to the Ori and the Wraith, trying to find a common ground." Ford laughed again, this time with a manic edge. "The Wraith like him and the Genii like me, so lets me deal with Kolya. He trusts me."
Teyla inclined her head and replied smoothly, "Obviously, he does, because he knows you'd do an excellent job."
"Yeah." Ford signed and began to pace. "Michael trusts me. He let me prove it to him. Beckett didn't; the commander doesn't trust anybody." He chuckled and continued, more to himself than to her. "'Bloody Scottish single-mindedness,' as Captain McKay calls it. I tried to get him to relax a little, but no, he holds himself aloof from everyone else. No idea how to relate to us, how to treat us like equals…"
Teyla allowed him to rant; it gave her insight into not only Ford's mind, but Michael's…and Beckett's as well. The rage and despair in Ford's voice were heartbreaking to hear. She could see how Beckett could be perceived as cold, even aloof, and it was that part of Carson's personality that was foreign to her.
If Carson had been a military man, would he be like the commander? What horrors has he seen, here, that could change him to be this way? She wondered. Michael, on the other hand…Teyla shivered. As his Wraith counterpart, this man thought he knew what was best for the galaxy…his own vision.
"Dr. Grodin's blinded by his own stubbornness and his need for revenge. Michael just wants to make agreements with the Genii, the Ori and the Wraith, so they can all leave us alone."
She frowned. "Do you believe they will honor their word to him, Aiden?"
His head snapped up at her tone. "You don't know Kolya the way I do, Teyla. He's an honorable man."
Kolya? Honorable? Somehow, Teyla doubted that, but she needed to keep Ford talking. "So you're his liaison here, and Michael talks to the Wraith…"
"Yeah. Sometimes I talk with Cowen or Ladon. Ladon's a nice guy; his sister Sora's just like him. They've tried to make a peace treaty between the Genii and Atlantis, but…" Aiden shrugged. "Until then, I've got to keep trying, y'know?"
Despite herself, she smiled sadly. "Your effort is commendable, Aiden."
He beamed at her praise. "See? If we work together, we can do great things. Michael and I want to make things better, more peaceful, for everybody."
"The why does he hold me here, against my will?"
Ford sighed. "He wants a cure for the Hoffan virus. It's still out there, killing people. Kolya and Michael still think you're her, the other Teyla, the doctor, and that you know how to cure it."
Tears sprang to her eyes. "Aiden, I am no doctor. I cannot, as much as I want to—"
"I know." The insanity left him for a moment, and he appeared as the young, earnest soldier again. "And if they find out who you really are, they'll use you to get through the Stargate. That's why I haven't said a word." He brightened again. "I figured it out all by myself, you know."
She sighed and closed her eyes. "You always were resourceful, Aiden."
Teyla opened her eyes as a stirring of hope came to her. "I cannot cure it, but she can. She has the knowledge and the ability, but I do not. There must be a way to bring her back to the proper dimension—"
"—through the Gate? To do that—"
"—it means I must return to Atlantis to swap places with my counterpart. Two versions of myself cannot occupy the same time and space. For her to be here, I must go."
Ford looked suspicious and his eyes darted from side to side. "You mean I gotta let you go? Michael and Kolya said—"
She shook her head. "If you take me back to Atlantis, you will not be shirking your duties. Did you not say to Michael you would watch over me, 'no matter what'?"
"Yeah, I did, and we do need the doc…" Ford scowled. "How do I know you're not just gonna hand me over to your boyfriend? Beckett's gonna kill me…"
"Carson will do no such thing," she said firmly. "I will intercede on your behalf, so neither he nor Doctor Grodin will harm you."
"They'll listen to you? 'Cause I don't want to get shot as soon as I—" Suddenly Ford doubled up in agony, as if someone had punched him in the gut. His choked cry brought her to her feet.
He gritted his teeth and struggled to stay upright. "I'm okay. Just need…some rest, that's all."
"It's the enzyme. You're going through withdrawal—"
"I said I'm fine!" he shouted. He glared at her. "I'll think about what you've said, but I'm not making any promises."
Teyla nodded, her soul aching for him. "That is all I ask of you."
He staggered out of the prison and slammed the heavy door behind him. Teyla sighed and gripped the bars so tightly her knuckles hurt. In this universe, Michael had corrupted Aiden with the Enzyme. She tried to take deep calming breaths to stem the surge of anger that coursed through her. For some reason, it didn't help.
She's a lot more emotional than you are. You're…quieter.
She ran through several mental exercises, taking herself to a more peaceful place. A dry savannah with tall grass, with wildlife in stark beauty; a hut with a simple, thatched roof, and a dark-skinned woman with a bright smile on her face; the sound of crickets and hyenas at night, the crackle of the campfire as the elders beat on their djembe drums, sang songs and told tales passed on from generation to generation; dancers in native dress, appealing to the Gods for rain and a bountiful harvest…
Her eyes flickered open and she realized she was sitting cross-legged on the floor. It took her a full minute to realize it. These are not my memories. I never saw or did any of these things. If not mine, then whose are they? Teyla tried to remember her childhood, with Charin, Tagan and Halling, her being appointed leader of her people, learning bantos fighting under Tagan's steady hand. It took an effort, but she managed to dredge the memories from her subconscious, but it was odd, as if she was looking through the images of a stranger.
She was losing herself, Teyla Emmagan, daughter of Tagan, leader of the Athosians. The longer she remained here in the universe, the more she resembled her counterpart. Yet she felt as if she was floating, transparent, as if…
As if she was disappearing. In this universe, Teyla Emmagan was supposed to be a doctor. Now this universe was changing, reforming, into one that neither she nor her counterpart would recognize. Could it be that Teyla Emmagan might vanish, never to have been born, much less arrive in Atlantis?
The thought filled her with cold dread. She and the others must return back to their proper universe, without delay. Her problem was that her salvation depended on a man who wasn't completely sane, who answered to Kolya and Michael.
Not the best of situations, by any means. All she could do was hope and pray that Aiden would consider her offer.
The atmosphere in the Meeting Room was so tense John could cut it with a knife. It reminded him of the strategic meeting Elizabeth had held before the Siege, with every department head in Atlantis present, including Aiden Ford and Peter Grodin. John winced at the memory.
Aiden's alive.According to a tense explanation from Peter, a young lieutenant named Michael Kenmore had been taken by the Wraith and believed dead. Yet Michael had resurfaced and used his wits and his charm to regain entrance to Atlantis, where he'd injected several of his former unit with the Wraith enzyme. Three men died from withdrawal symptoms, but one had survived.
"Ford," John said in a toneless voice.
"Yes," Peter answered. The Englishman scowled as he'd paced the length of his office. "When Michael escaped, Ford went with him. They'd kept a low profile for more than a year, until Ford showed up on Sateda. It can only mean that whatever those two are plotting, it's bound to make our lives even more complicated."
"You think he's working for the Wraith?"
"I'm most certain. Michael has plenty of charisma; it wouldn't surprise me if he'd have a Wraith Queen eating out of his hand by now," Peter said dryly. "As for Ford, I believe Michael has him within his thrall, Colonel. If we can break the mental hold Michael has, I think we can still save Aiden and bring him back to us."
John heard his own resolute belief echoed in Peter's words. He's still alive. We can still save him. If John had failed in his own universe to save Aiden, perhaps he could help Peter succeed in this one. Even now, he could feel Ronon's and Rodney's eyes on his back as they listened to the intelligence reports from Colonel Lorne and Captain Zelenka. In both McKay's and Beckett's absence, Peter had asked John to serve as Acting Military Head of Atlantis.
Ronon's hooded expression told John what he thought about both Ford and Michael. Ronon had been against the attempt to convert Michael into a full Human and integrate him into City life, and John admitted that Ronon had been right in the long run. But Peter…he still had hope for both Ford and Michael, though he spoke only of Aiden.
Peter means well, but it's that trust that has gotten himself into trouble. It was the closest to a criticism that John had heard the City say about Grodin, but he could hear the undertone of warning to himself as well. John scowled, but nodded in acknowledgement.
Sora Radim sat between himself and Zelenka. The Genii was uncharacteristically silent; she only gazed straight ahead with a blank face. The news of Teyla's abduction seemed to have rattled her, though she had said nothing of Beckett's injury.
"Why would they take Teyla?" Ronon's question got to the heart of the matter.
"She has none of the medical skills of her counterpart," Zelenka agreed. "If they wanted to anger the Athosians, they would have targeted Charin or Halling."
Sora shook her head. "You are correct, but that's if they believed she was Athosian. The information that gets leaked to the Genii and to the Wraith tends to be haphazard, scattered, and incomplete. The Commander's network is thorough in feeding Kolya's spies misinformation."
"And you're one of those relaying that to Kolya."
"Of course." She turned to face John. "I may not like Beckett, but he and I have an understanding. As for Doctor Emmagan, I owe her my life. If I can help you find her…twin…I can make up part of that debt. I have an idea of where my people have hidden her, and where Kolya may be next."
Peter crossed his arms as he exchanged skeptical expressions with John. "Go on."
Sora met his gaze squarely as she said, "I need a starmap."
He nodded to Kusunagi, who brought up a map. Sora pointed at several planets gathered in a cluster near Genii territory. "Those bases also have Wraith laboratories, thanks to a mutual pact that Michael set up between Cowen and the Wraith. Kolya cares little for Michael, but he does understand the advantage of joining forces."
"Do prdele," Zelenka muttered.
"We are so screwed," agreed Major Stackhouse, who sat on Zelenka's far side.
John opened his mouth, but Colonel Lorne beat him to it. "As you were," Lorne ordered in a quiet tone. Stackhouse flushed, but nodded.
"So Teyla might be held somewhere here," Peter said, touching the area on the hologram, "where Michael has his laboratories."
"Yes. It's the logical place to take her. With the Genii and the Wraith both watching over, Kolya and Michael can hold Teyla for as long as they want without any fear of Atlantis sending forces to rescue her."
John leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms. "I beg to differ with you there, Sora."
"So do I," came an unexpected voice from the doorway. John looked over his shoulder and immediately straightened up as Commander Beckett came in, supported by Kavanaugh on one side and Chuck on the other.
"What the hell are you doing here, Carson?" Rodney snapped, as Beckett gently eased himself into the chair across from him. "You had major surgery; don't think you'd want to get even worse, especially now."
Beckett glared at him with icy blue eyes, so intense that Rodney actually swallowed hard in response. He'd never seen Carson like that, even at the most stubborn, and although he knew Carson usually controlled his Celtic temper with an iron will, Rodney knew there was a limit. He'd never seen that limit being reached.
Until now. And it scared him. Rodney glanced over at John, who wore the same worried expression. Ronon looked both disturbed and impressed, which meant a lot.
"I'm not gonna just lie in the Infirmary while Michael has her," Beckett said shortly. "I'm goin' with you."
"Carson—." Zelenka said in warning.
He glanced at Zelenka and said something in Czech. Zelenka seemed to consider that, then grudgingly nodded. Kavanaugh gave Peter a half-apologetic, half-exasperated look, and John got the distinct expression that Kavanaugh had dealt with a particular hardheaded Scotsman before.
Peter only said, "Fine, but I'm still going to have Colonel Sheppard command this mission. Is that clear?"
Beckett was about to protest, but John only raised an eyebrow at him. He settled back in his seat, clearly unhappy, but said through gritted teeth, "Aye."
Sora's mouth quirked upward in amusement, but she wisely didn't say anything to Beckett. Instead, she addressed John. "They will be expecting you, Colonel Sheppard."
"Yeah, but they don't know me." He exchanged a nod with Ronon, who had slid his blaster out of its holster and was sitting with it laying across his lap. "We won't give Teyla up without a fight."
Peter gazed at him. "Agreed. Assemble your team, Colonel, and take Sora with you. I trust that she might be useful to you."
Sora said nothing, but only raised her eyebrows at the lack of inflection in Peter's tone. That, combined with John's steady glare, worried her greatly. Still, she showed no sign of her emotions on her face as she replied, "Very well. I will help you, but only because it will be worse, much worse, if I do not."
"Good." Peter nodded at him. Don't bollix this up, said his expression, and John nodded back. While they were on a mission to save Teyla, Peter would be on a mission to save two universes. "You have a go, Colonel."
Everyone scattered at his dismissal. John and Rodney hung back as the others left the room. Rodney asked, "When are you planning on going through the Gate?"
"As soon as your team leaves, Colonel. I think it'd be a good idea for Sora not to see me leave."
"Smart idea." John took a deep breath and let it out. "Good luck to you."
"Good luck to all of us. Bring her back."
"It's looking better, Carson, but it's still not quite right." Emmagan said as she peered through the electron microscope. "A little more and we should get it."
"Aye," he replied. He paused to roll his shoulders; he couldn't remember how long he'd spent hunched over his laptop. Immediately, he felt Teyla's hands massaging the stiff muscles of his neck and shoulders, and relaxed, despite himself. They were making great progress on finding a counteragent to the Hoffan virus, but there was still a missing piece somewhere.
"Did you see Radek earlier? He was staring at Jeannie during lunch. They said they were going to work on Sheppard's Gate proposal in the lab, but—"
Carson turned his head to look at her; the teasing tone was so much like his Teyla's, but it was different somehow. "Are you sayin' that Radek's—"
"More than a bit distracted? Definitely. Don't blame the man, though. Jeannie's like her brother; if she's bound and determined to reach a goal, then she'll get it. She's just a lot sneakier about it."
"Ah? And how would you know that?"
She chuckled. "Because she just is. Let's face it…Radek needs someone like her, otherwise he'd be holed up in his lab all day without a break."
"Aye. That's true—" Carson frowned. Is it? I don't remember anything about— A cold dread filled his mind, but for the life of him, he couldn't understand why. It was as if there was a veil over his memory, something that he couldn't quite reach…
"Carson, love? What's wrong?"
He shook his head and tried to shake the cobwebs out of his thoughts. "Nothin', lass. I think I've been starin' at this screen for far too long."
She sighed and turned off the electron microscope with a snap. "We've been at this for a while. I think it's time to take a break."
"Couldn't agree more with you." He shrugged off his lab coat and took a deep breath. What was happening to him? He'd caught himself staring at her across the lab and thinking, Something isn't right about this. Teyla isn't supposed to be here in the Infirmary. She's… Then his common sense reasserted itself and said, This isn't supposed to be her shift, daft idiot. Teyla's puttin' in a lot of extra time helpin' you with this. She wouldn't do this unless she really loved you…
Wait a moment. She loved him? He loved her? When did that happen? He couldn't remember, but it felt right, so he stopped wondering. You still can't believe it, do you, after all this time? That she'd care for you the way she does…
A pair of lips gently pressed against his and startled him. Automatically, his arms went up around her, his hands buried themselves into her honey-brown hair. God Almighty…
"If McKay comes in again and interrupts us, I'll give him an emergency lobotomy," she murmured, when he lifted his lips from hers.
He laughed and shook his head. "Don't think that'll be necessary, love, not at all. Let me check on our patient and we'll get dinner—"
"Only if you promise we can have dessert first," she whispered.
"Bein' a little cheeky, are we?" he teased her.
"Just for you, Carson. Just for you."
"All right, if you wanna go on ahead, I'll catch up with you."
She smirked and whispered, "Dessert, just not in the Mess Hall. I promise."
"Promises, promises, lass. Off with ye, now." He grinned at her saucy wink as she left the Infirmary. All he had to do was check on his lone patient, then he could look forward to an enjoyable evening.
Elizabeth opened her eyes to a gray ceiling. Where was she? What had happened? She felt a lingering headache, but otherwise, she was fine. Did she collapse? Had she hit her head somewhere?
She managed to turn her head to see Carson at her side. So, she was in the Infirmary. Why? "Carson, what happened?" she whispered.
"Och, you had a bit of a fainting spell in the Conference Room. How do you feel?"
She frowned. "All right, just a bit of a headache."
"You scared the bejesus out of everyone there, including Doctor Sheppard and Captain McKay. I told both of 'em you'll be right as rain in the mornin'." He smiled and patted her arm. "Doctor Cole's takin' over for me, so if you got any problems, let her know."
Elizabeth nodded. Wait a minute, something didn't sound right. If her condition had been serious, Carson would've been reluctant to leave her; he'd be like that with any of his patients?
He seemed to read her mind, for he added, "Nothing serious, but it's better to be safe. Now, I want you to get as much rest as you can, all right?"
She managed a smile. Maybe her little "episode" hadn't been as traumatic as she'd thought. "Okay."
"I'm takin' Teyla to dinner, but I'll be back to check up on you in a bit, okay?"
"Okay—" She suddenly felt a cold chill. Wait, this wasn't…by the time she managed to pull her addled thoughts together, Carson had already left the Infirmary. A sense of urgency hit her. The shift, it's already causing major changes in the timeline. Now Carson and Teyla are co-workers and…oh, boy.
"Doctor Weir?"Ronon's deep bass startled her. She looked up to see him leaning against the doorframe.
"Ronon? Specialist Dex?"
He nodded soberly, indicating that was still aware of the "real" universe. "I see it, Doctor Weir. More and more people are forgetting."
"But you aren't."
"No. Sateda was never destroyed in my universe, remember? I still hold it here—" he tapped his temple, "and here." He tapped his chest, over his heart. "I don't want to accept the fact they're gone forever."
"That might be what's shielding you from the effects right now."
"Probably. What gonna happen when everyone forgets, even you, but I don't?"
She got up from the bed, but her legs refused to hold her. Ronon crossed the room in three quick strides and caught her. He steadied her until she regained her footing. "Thank you."
"Captain McKay? Doctor Sheppard?"
"They're in the Gate Room, still trying to figure out a way to connect the Stargate. As far as I know, they still remember, but I think we've lost Teyla."
"And Carson. I think he believes he and Teyla are…together."
She raised an eyebrow. "What?"
"They are in my universe. They aren't here?"
Elizabeth opened her mouth to say "no", but something stopped her from doing it. Instead, she replied, "I don't know."
Ronon only nodded sagely, but changed the subject. "Let's go see McKay."
They left the Infirmary together, out of the sight of Doctor Cole in her office. Elizabeth felt a twinge of guilt for leaving without permission; Carson was going to have a fit when he found out.
Suddenly, Chuck's voice came over the intercom. " Unscheduled offworld activation!"
She and Ronon looked at each other, then Elizabeth shouted, "Come on!" She began to walk as fast as she could towards the Gateroom; he kept pace, though he could have easily outran her. By the time they reached the Gateroom, it was chaos, with Sheppard, Radek, Jeannie and Chuck trying to figure out what was going on.
"Where's it coming from?" Radek demanded.
"I don't know," Chuck replied, unfazed by Radek's question, "but it's definitely something I haven't seen before."
"Alert Major Lorne," Elizabeth ordered, "and get a security and a medical team to the Gateroom." All heads turned to her as she slowly made her way to the command console. "Activate the shield."
Chuck shook his head. "Can't. Whoever it is managed to override it."
"What the hell are you doing up?" Sheppard demanded, sparing an angry look at Ronon. "You should be in the Infirmary—"
"Captain McKay, Doctors Beckett and Emmagan, Sergeant Stackhouse and Specialist Dex to the Gateroom!" Evan's order rang through the corridors.
Stackhouse and his men took up positions; Captain McKay joined them as the medical teams arrived. Ronon went down the Gateroom stairs to join McKay, blaster already in hand. The two men only nodded each other, and by some sort of unspoken agreement, Ronon took a position behind McKay.
Emmagan glanced over at Carson, who rolled his eyes. He marched up the stairs and into the Control Room. He looked over at the cycling Gate, then back at Elizabeth, who was staring at it, unblinkingly.
"I'm staying, Carson." Her tone brooked no argument; Carson clamped his mouth shut against what he really wanted to say to her, but she knew she'd hear about it later.
Chuck's panicked tone made her look at him. The normally calm sergeant sounded ready to have a breakdown, which told her things were very bad. "What the—? this isn't possible!"
"What is it?" she demanded, dreading the answer.
"The IDC's supposed to be canceled! It shouldn't be able to work, but it's working!"
"Cancelled?" Radek repeated. "Ford's?"
"No, Doctor Z, it's not Ford's. It's—"
The sound of the Stargate finally locking overrode Chuck's voice and the harsh light blinded everyone, He had to turn away, as did almost everyone else, but Elizabeth's steady gaze hadn't wavered one bit. The portal erupted into a plume of white and blue, then turned into a strange aquamarine that Elizabeth had never seen before. It reminded her of warm water in the Caribbean, and she instinctively knew it wasn't from anywhere in the Milky Way or Pegasus.
A shadow coalesced within the gate, one eerily familiar. Elizabeth gasped aloud. No, it can't be… She already knew who it was. Elizabeth made her down the Gate Room stairs; a part of her marveled at the fact she hadn't tripped over her own feet or gone into convulsions. In fact, the closer she came, the steadier she felt.
"Elizabeth!" Carson called, as he hurried after her. "What're you doin'?"
"Doctor Weir!" Evan shouted.
"Ma'am!" Sergeant Stackhouse echoed, as his squad raised their rifles, ready to fire at the intruder.
"Stand down, Sergeant." Her voice sounded strange, even to herself.
"What?" Stackhouse yelled back. He gave Evan a look of confusion.
"I said, stand down!"
Mystified, Evan glanced at the Marines and nodded. They lowered their weapons only a fraction. McKay came up to join Elizabeth, while Ronon waited a pace behind him. She already knew he was alive in that other universe. McKay and his team had alluded to it, but the sight of him was still like seeing a ghost.
"Peter," she whispered.
He halted just outside the Gate and met her gaze. Except for some silver around his temples and worry lines at his eyes, he looked exactly as he'd been, three years before. No, not exactly: he looked older, painfully older. The burden of being the Expedition leader in his universe had taken its toll, and her heart cried out for him.
Then he smiled, that slight quirk of his lips that she remembered so well. "Elizabeth."
Her knees threatened to give out on her, but he stepped forward and caught her before she collapsed. All of her emotions, tightly repressed and forgotten for three years, came rushing back, as she buried her head into his shoulder with a muffled sob. His arms tightened around her in response.
"Elizabeth, I've missed you so much."
She could only nod. A part of her wanted to just stay like this forever, safe and warm within his arms, and damn the consequences. Yet another part of her reminded her, He can't stay. You know that.
"Peter, what the hell are you doing here?" McKay snapped, breaking the moment. "And how did you manage it?"
Peter glanced at him as Elizabeth raised her head from his shoulder. His tone was bone-dry. "So good to see you too, Meredith."
"I'll be damned," said Sheppard, who'd come down from the Control Room. "You got here by—"
"—the Intergalactic Bridge. We've managed to stabilize it from our side, but we don't know for how long." He brought his gaze back to Elizabeth, his expression one of painful regret. "There isn't much time, Elizabeth. Rodney—your McKay—may have found a way to get our people home."
"Doctor Sheppard's as well," Elizabeth said. She struggled to regain her facade, but it took her more effort than she had. "Then we have a lot to do."
Peter nodded at her, then glanced once around the Gateroom. He met Carson's stunned expression, then Dr. Emmagan's, and smiled with a "later-for-you" look. She blushed.
"We can talk in my office," Elizabeth said. "This way."
Peter chuckled and shook his head. "Let me help you. I can tell you haven't been well."
"I—" She began to protest, but he cocked his head at her with a resolute twinkle in his eyes. "All right." Slowly, they made their way across the Gateroom, which had fallen into a deep silence. Most of the people in the room had arrived after Grodin had died, and had little idea who this man was, but they all sensed he had been important to Doctor Weir in some special way and respected that.
The few who had came with the original Expedition, though, was stunned to see a dead man come back to life. Grodin winked at Stackhouse, and nodded at Carson as he mouthed, "Talk later." The Scotsman only nodded in response. Chuck shot to his feet as Elizabeth and Grodin entered the Gate Room; Radek stared, openmouthed, then Jeannie nudged him in the ribs. He couldn't help but grin as his old friend reached over and clapped him on the shoulder.
"Peter. I must admit this is a shock."
Peter laughed and shrugged. "Always expect the unexpected in Atlantis, old friend."
Chuck's mouth worked several times before anything came out. "Doctor Grodin, sir, uh—it's good to see you again."
"Chuck." Peter extended a hand and shook the dumbfounded Gate tech's hand. "It's good to see you too, lad. Taking care of the Control Room, I see."
"Uh, yes, sir."
He chuckled and glanced at Elizabeth. "We're going to need his assistance as well."
She nodded, then said, "You're with us, Chuck."
He nodded enthusiastically. "Yes, ma'am!"
Peter grinned at her. "Some things don't change."
It didn't take long to outline the plan, much to Elizabeth's relief, for it was similar to Dr. Sheppard's and Radek's. As the science teams hashed out the particulars, Elizabeth sat in her chair, talking quietly to Peter. He'd given her a quick overview of his Atlantis, and how desperate they were over there. She listened as his accent grew thicker, which only happened when he was under tremendous stress. Automatically, she squeezed his hand in comfort.
"Sounds like you've been having a rough time of it," Carson commented from Elizabeth's other side. He'd insisted she wear a monitor in return for allowing her to remain out of the Infirmary, though he still hadn't said anything about her escape. His glare at Ronon said plenty. Peter's reappearance had seemed to jolt Carson's true memory, but how long would that last?
"Yes." Peter sighed and rubbed his temples. "The Wraith, the Replicators, the Ori, the Genii, you name it, we've got it. We've got allies throughout the Pegasus Galaxy, but I'm not sure if it'll be enough."
"We could send support troops through the Gate, sir," Stackhouse suggested. "Help you out."
Evan shook his head ruefully. "Not without screwing up the universes even more, Sergeant."
Peter smiled at Stackhouse's offer, but only nodded at Evan's words. "I appreciate the offer, but unfortunately, this is one war we'll have to win on our own."
Carson sighed, his blue eyes troubled. "But there's a real possibility that your Atlantis might lose."
Peter hesitated as he met Emmagan's gaze, then let out a heavy sigh. "Yes. Unfortunately. Rest assured, we're going to do everything we can not to let that happen, Carson."
"Got that right," rumbled Ronon.
McKay nodded in agreement, then frowned as something occurred to him. "Do you think that the worsening situation is directly related to the shift in the universes? That it might change when we get back?"
"Perhaps, but there's no way to know just what will change, or how much," Peter replied.
There was a sudden flurry among the scientists at the opposite end of the table. " Yes, yes, this should work," Radek said as he, Jeannie and Sheppard pored over the tablet Peter had given them. "With a few modifications on Rodney's original design…"
Jeannie chuckled. "Don't let my brother hear you say that, milacku."
Sheppard grinned and quipped, "We won't tell him."
Elizabeth asked, "How long do you need?"
Radek sighed. "We'll have to Gate to as many planets as we can to adjust the DHDs. Of course we can't go back to every one, for various reasons. Plus, we are on a deadline. Twenty-four hours. Forty-eight at the most."
"But there are hundreds of planets in the database, Radek."
"The more, the better."
"We'd better get started then. Major Lorne—?"
Evan straightened. "Ma'am?"
"Get as many Gate teams together as you can and take someone capable of making the necessary adjustments to the DHDs. I know that means most of the Science and Engineering departments, but if we can pull this off—"
He exchanged a glance with Stackhouse, then nodded. "Say no more, ma'am. We'll get it done."
"I'll go," Sheppard said. "I can do this in my sleep."
"So will we," Jeannie said, with Radek nodding in agreement.
Chuck nodded as well; Elizabeth could tell that he was already making arrangements in his head. "Doctor Grodin, I hate to ask you this, but…I'm going to need some help coordinating everything through the main Gate in the Control Room. Can—?"
Peter smiled and squeezed Elizabeth's hand. "Say no more, lad. I'll be happy to help. I'm not sure how much I'll be able to do. I get the impression that our Cities are a little different, but I'll do what I can."
"Thank you, sir."
Elizabeth caught his smile and found herself smiling back. Twenty-four hours, forty-eight at most. Might as well make the best of it.
Night fell over the compound, but Teyla couldn't sleep, as sounds from the other cells echoed from the hallway. Screams, sobs, curses…and much worse, and she tried to close her ears to them all. She felt the presence of many Wraith, all crowding her mind and trying to gain access to everything she knew about her universe, and Grodin's Atlantis. It was an effort to shield her thoughts, but as the hours went by, she grew weaker, her control slowly slipping away. It was as if little pieces of herself were being ripped away.
Tell us what you know, Teyla. Tell us and your friends will live. Stay silent, and they will die.
I will tell you nothing.
You will tell us everything. The only difference will be if your mind will be salvageable at all when we are finished with you.
You will not take over my thoughts. I will not allow you.
A shrill klaxon pierced her concentration and she sat up from her cot. What was happening? Blaster fire…down the hall, the sounds of Genii curses and locks ripped from their housings, the cry of prisoners free to turn onto their captors…Teyla went to the door, hoping against hope.
"John? Carson? I am here! I am here!" She pounded on her door as she screamed her reply.
She smelled the telltale smoke of C4 and dove behind her cot, just as a loud explosion shook the room. A piece of ceiling tile fell, splintering into pieces, and white-hot pain nearly knocked her senseless. Teyla tried to move, but saw a piece of debris buried into her side.
"Oh…" She sagged back and tried to stay awake. "Oh, no…"
"Teyla!" She felt a pair of strong hands grip her own. "Bloody hell—"
She clung to his voice. "Carson?"
"You've got debris that's impacted your side and you've lost a lot of blood. Stay still, love. We're going to help you."
She nodded as other hands gently examined her wound, then another unexpected voice cursed a blue streak. "Teyla, I'm going to give you something for the pain, then I'm going to immobilize this so it'll stay put. Dammit, Fumble Fingers, watch it, or I'll smash your paws to bits myself!" Ben Kavanaugh sounded more furious than she'd ever heard him in either universe. "Aiden, by all that's holy, go take care of those Genii shooting at us and leave the doctoring to me, okay?"
Aiden Ford's voice floated somewhere above her as the anesthetic took her. "I promised to help her and I will. Come on, Doc, let's use this cot's frame to make a stretcher for her…"
"Aiden, thank you," she mumbled as she fell headlong into darkness. The last thing she heard was his quiet, "You're welcome."
"That'll do it," muttered John. He glanced over his shoulder as Beckett, Kavanaugh, Ford, and Sora Radim helped secure Teyla's motionless body to the makeshift stretcher. A wave of guilt came over him; he should have known the Genii had rigged Teyla's door to blow if someone tried to rescue her. Aiden had tried to warn them, but too late, and…
"How is she?" Ronon demanded as he and John laid covering fire in the hallway.
"Bad," Kavanaugh snapped back. "We've got to get her back to Atlantis or she'll die!"
Ronon calmly let out a series of shots and Genii fell. He nodded to Tyre, who was keeping their avenue of escape open. Tyre bellowed an order and the Satedan squad moved out ahead of the rescue party. John tapped his mike and said, "Halling, we've got her, but she's hurt."
"Acknowledged," replied Halling. "We have cleared a way to the shuttle bay—" A squeal of static overwhelmed his voice, then he came back with "Wraith…five or six, heading in your direction, Colonel."
"Damn." He looked at Aiden, who nodded back calmly, as if he was the second-in-command that John remembered so well. "Another way out?"
"Follow me." Aiden said shortly and pointed to their right. "This way."
Ronon frowned as they followed him. "You trust him?"
"Don't have much of a choice." John hoped that Aiden wouldn't decide to hand them all over to the Genii and the Wraith. After all, he had been the contact who had disabled the security protocols that allowed them inside the compound. Aiden seemed more than eager to turn against his Genii allies. He had glared at John with his one good eye, and said:
"This is for her, not for you. Not for Beckett or Atlantis or anyone else. For her. She's the only one who's ever showed me any kindness, and I won't let anyone hurt her."
It was slow going, as both the Genii and Wraith fought back with everything they had, but Ronon's squad and the Atlantean forces cleared another way to the shuttle bay. Combatants on both sides fell as the air grew heavy with weapons fire. Finally, John spotted Halling and his group near the entrance to the bay; Halling waved him over.
"Take Teyla into the Jumper. Tyre's squad and mine will cover your escape and follow when we can."
John clapped Halling on the shoulder. "See you back at Atlantis."
"Go with the Ancestors, Colonel. Now, hurry!"
Tyre nodded in agreement as he fired his blaster over his shoulder. "Go with them, Ronon. We will hold here!"
Ronon looked like he wanted to protest, but said, "I will see you later, my friend." He and John looked over at Beckett, who nodded at Kavanaugh. The doctor's face was grim, but set in determination, which struck Ronon as odd, for he'd never seen Kavanaugh as anything as cowardly. Perhaps he had underestimated the man.
"When I tell you to run, you run. Got it?" John told him. Kavanaugh didn't protest, but gave him a curt nod in reply. John counted mentally to three, then yelled, "Go!" He and Aiden led the way, with Kavanaugh and Sora carrying Teyla's stretcher, and Ronon and Beckett covering them. John reached the Jumper first and hit the door control. As the others clambered into the Jumper, Beckett dove into the pilot's seat as John closed the hatch.
Aiden pointed ahead of them. "They've closed the bay doors."
Beckett growled, "Not for long, lad." Seconds later, a pair of drones leaped from the Jumper and slammed into the bay doors, just as the Jumper took off. The sudden acceleration knocked John off his feet, and he barely avoided landing on Kavanaugh.
"Where'd you learn how to drive, Carson?" John yelled.
"Shoulda strapped yourself in, Colonel," Beckett shouted back with a faint smirk.
"Yeah, a little warning would've been nice." He crawled over to Teyla's side and gripped her wrist. There was a faint pulse, but it was there. "How is she?"
Kavanaugh shook his head. "I need to get her into Surgery as soon as possible, Colonel. She's already lost a lot of blood, and I don't have the necessary equipment here."
"Do what you can, Doc." John staggered over to the front compartment and managed to sit down behind Beckett. "The Gate?"
"On approach. Retracting the drive pods now."
"Make sure they're in all the way. Now's not the time to get stuck halfway."
Beckett gave him a look. "Happened in your universe too, I take it?"
"Yeah…" John looked at the scanners and muttered, "That's odd."
"What?" Ronon asked.
"I'm not seeing any signs of pursuit. You'd think they'd sent somebody after us."
Aiden scowled, but addressed John instead of Beckett. "You're right. No Genii or Wraith ships after us."
"Too easy," Ronon commented, glaring at Aiden.
Kavanaugh snorted and turned to him. "You call this easy?"
"I'm not picking up Halling's or Tyre's ships either. Something's definitely not right." John also glanced at Aiden. "You know anything about this?"
Aiden shook his head, a hint of nervous fear in his eyes. "No. Nothing about this."
Ronon's hand swung up and gripped him by the throat. "You betrayed us, didn't you! You told them we were coming!"
"No, no…" Gray began to tinge Aiden's dark complexion. "No, I swear, I didn't say anything—"
"Three minutes to the Gate," Beckett announced. He didn't turn to address Aiden, but he didn't have to; the chill in his tone made Aiden pale even further. "Son, if you aren't telling the truth, I'm kicking you out the damn hatch without a spacesuit."
Movement at Teyla's side caught Ronon's eye, but before he could react, Kavanaugh's hands shot up and gripped Sora's right wrist. She held a syringe in her right hand, ready to stab it into Teyla's shoulder. Ronon dropped Aiden like a sack of potatoes, but Kavanaugh had already wrenched the syringe away from Sora and pinned her against the wall with surprising strength. Again, Ronon's estimation of the man went up considerably.
"You're too late. A fleet of Genii and Wraith ships are heading into Atlantis airspace right now," she hissed. "By the time you return, it will be all over!" Sora laughed hysterically, a high-pitched cackle, then she clenched her jaw and went limp. It was so unexpected that Kavanaugh nearly dropped her.
John launched himself out of his chair to help, but Kavanaugh shook his head. "Dead," he said bitterly. "Cyanide capsule between her teeth, damn her."
John nodded and looked up at Beckett. "We've got to get back to Atlantis."
"Already on our way. Strap in this time, Colonel, and we'll get there."
"Captain Zelenka, the Apollo and Daedelus report a fleet of Genii warships and Wraith Hive ships just hit our outermost sensory boundary," Chuck reported.
Zelenka let out a string of Czech invectives under his breath, then asked, "How many and how far away?"
"Eight Genii capital ships, six smaller vessels, and three Hive ships. Their ETA is thirty eight hours."
"Jeszi." It was his worst nightmare come true, but he pushed back any hesitation. "Scramble our defense forces, Sergeant Campbell, and send a call for backup to anyone who can assist us: Sateda, Hoff, Manaria…everyone you can."
"Yes, sir." Chuck nodded and did as ordered. Zelenka issued the evacuation order for all the civilians in Atlantis, then consulted with the Allied commanders about the emergency protocols.
Miko looked up from her board. "Captain Zelenka, tightbeam message from Colonel Lorne on the Orion."
"Put him on, Miko." At her nod, he continued, "Evan—?"
"We heard, Radek. I've got Captain Miller standing by on the Ancient space station, but they've been having power issues. Miller says that they're trying to find the source of the problems."
"Tell him he'd better hurry or—" He didn't finish the sentence; Rodney's words came back to him, about how his Peter Grodin had died on board a similar space station in an attempt to destroy the Hive ships.
Lorne didn't have to ask. "I'll tell Miller to speed it up. Lorne, out."
"Miko, get me the Chair Room." At her second nod, Zelenka asked, "Rodney?"
Bates replied, "He's in the Chair, talking with Melia. They're almost done realigning the Gate network on this side. It's pulling a hell of a lot of power, Radek. I don't want to activate the Bridge until we're ready, or we're liable to lose planetary shielding all over the network."
"And with the Genii and the Wraith coming, not a good thing."
"No. Melia says she'll be able to detect when the Bridge is ready on the other side, but the timing on this is gonna be tricky."
"Do prdele. How are we going to know when—?"
"Melia says that the extra power should enable Rodney to send some sort of signal over to the other side. Whoever's in the Chair over there would know."
Rodney's voice echoed on the speakers. "Our Carson Beckett's got the strongest Gene over there and if Peter's told them what to do, they'll have Carson in the Chair, even if they've got to tie him into it."
Despite himself, Zelenka chuckled. "He doesn't like the Chair?"
"Carson hates the Chair, but we make him sit in it anyway."
"Assuming Colonel Sheppard's team doesn't make it back in time—" Zelenka refused to give up hope, but the possibility was a strong one, if not a comfortable one.
Rodney's tone was sharp. "They'll be back. Don't even think that, Radek."
Zelenka sighed and looked at the monitor. The invasion fleet seemed to loom large on the screen, and he couldn't help but shiver at the destruction to come, if they couldn't prevent it.
Elizabeth sat in the Gateroom, monitoring the status of the various Gate teams as they went out to as many planets as they could. She still felt faint, as if floating away on a breeze, but she managed to keep her awareness in the here and now. She felt a hand brush against her elbow and when she looked up, she saw Peter's smile. She smiled back, and he turned towards the City's computers. They had fallen into an easy rapport in the past twenty-four hours, as if he had never been gone at all.
Carson and Emmagan made sure they got rest in between shifts; there was no shortage of volunteers to take their places. Elizabeth spent the time talking with Peter, sharing meals in the Commissary, walking down Atlantis's halls. It was almost like a dream, waking up in his arms and feeling his skin against hers. For this brief time, he had returned to her, and she had returned to him.
Would she remember any of this, when he and his team went back to their universe? Or would she forget? She decided not to worry about it too much and just treasure these stolen moments.
"Doctor Weir? Radio call from Doctor Zelenka."
"I'll take it, Chuck." She tapped her headset. "Go ahead, Radek."
"Jeannie and I have finished with the DHD on PXS-653. We're resetting it for PVK-921."
"Good work, Radek. Once you're done with PVK-921, come back for a break."
"Acknowledged. Zelenka, out."
She sighed and tapped her headset again. "Yes, Major Lorne?"
"Doctor Branson's done with PRY-812. Heading over to PJR-755," came Evan's voice.
"Acknowledged, Major. Good luck with the next one. Weir, out." She touched her computer and another glowing dot appeared on the main Atlantis screen."All right, we've reached most of the ones here, in this sector, and here…"
Peter shook his head. "If we can get at least half a dozen more, we should—" Suddenly, the lights winked out, then came back on again. "What the bloody hell—?"
"Sheppard to Weir."
Elizabeth tapped her headset. "Go ahead."
"Elizabeth, I'm going to have to get someone else in the Chair right now. Meredith's exhausted, and I don't want to push him too far.We still have some adjustments to do and I don't have the Touch of the Ancestors, the Gene, as you call it."
She glanced at Peter. "Carson? Or Teyla?"
Sheppard's tone was harried. "Who's stronger?"
Elizaabeth sighed. "Carson it is. All right, I'll send him down there to you."
"Thanks, Elizabeth. Sheppard, out."
"He's going to hate this, but…" Elizabeth made the call to the Infirmary. As she guessed, Carson wasn't happy about it, but after she explained the situation, he relented without too much argument.
Peter chuckled and said, "You've always been able to convince people to see it your way."
"My job," she said simply. He winced at her words, and she reached over and squeezed his hand. "I don't think it would—" Another wave of vertigo slammed into her and she grabbed the edge of the console with her other hand. "Peter—?"
"Elizabeth? Elizabeth? Damn!" He eased her down onto the floor and glanced up at a worried Chuck. "Get Doctor Emmagan and Doctor Beckett. Hurry!"
"Are our forces prepared for a space and ground assault?" Acastus Kolya asked.
"Yes," Michael replied. He gazed at the sensor readings. "We should be within the City's sensor range in twenty-two hours."
"Good." Kolya nodded at Cowen, who stood diligently at attention. "You will remain here on our flagship, while Michael and I lead our forces to Atlantis. We will finally seize the City and crush Grodin and his people under our heel. Then we will take our rightful place as the most powerful alliance in the Pegasus Galaxy."
Cowen smiled; young Ford had taken the bait beautifully, and had exposed himself as a traitor. He allowed himself a pang of regret for Sora Radim, then put it aside. Better to have taken care of the problem now than deal with it later. He glanced sideways at Michael, who turned to address Kolya.
"The Ancient space station has been taken care of. Pity we couldn't salvage it, but such is war."
Kolya smiled, pleased at the report. "And the Orion?"
"Drifting in space. They will not be able to help Atlantis."
"Good. Who's the commander on board the main Hive ship?"
Michael chuckled and replied, "One of the Queen's favorites. Todd."
Kolya scowled. "You mean Lord Ta'ad, don't you?"
Michael shrugged, but continued, "And with the Genii fleet and ground forces…there's no way Grodin and his allies can defend against them all." He chuckled and inclined his head to Kolya. "Shall we, General Kolya?"
"Of course, General Kenmore. General Cowen, you have the command center."
Cowen nodded. "Victory to us, sir."
Kolya's smirk was wide. "Victory to us, Cowen."
Michael smiled at his new promotion, then said a few words into his communicator. A flash of light and the next time Cowen looked, they were gone.
Cowen allowed himself the smirk he'd been hiding. After Atlantis was in their possession, the next step was to eliminate Michael and his Wraith allies. Only then could the Genii live in peace.
"They're taking way too long."
John sighed and glanced at his watch. He and Ronon waited in front of the Surgical Bay doors for what seemed like forever. It had been already three hours and was approaching the fourth. The Infirmary was in chaos, as Doctors Cho, Brown, Biro, and others prepared for the siege to come. Some of the City's inhabitants had already been evacuated via the Jumpers, Daedelus and Apollo, but others, like Charin, had refused to leave. Beckett had told her about Halling's loss at the Genii Compound. She'd taken the news stoically, but John saw the agony in her eyes.
Rodney came into the room, his face pale, and his eyes rimmed with red. John took one look, shot to his feet, and guided Rodney to the chair he'd been sitting in. "You okay, Rodney?"
He sighed and shook his head. "We've got the basic stuff set up, but I can't be in the Chair when Melia activates the Bridge. Once she does, the shielding for the Gates in the network will most probably be off-line, and with the Wraith and the Genii—"
"Yeah, we're putting a whole galaxy of people at risk to get home."
"Which is why we've got to do this as soon as we can." Rodney looked over at the doors to the surgery. "Any news yet?"
"Nothing yet," Ronon rumbled. "Never thought I'd say this, but Kavanaugh's her best hope right now."
"Hell of a note, isn't it?" Rodney said, as he leaned back in his seat.
"I kinda like the guy. This version of him, anyway. Makes you wonder what might've happened if he'd gone into medicine."
"Ugh. I don't wonder. Carson may practice voodoo, but at least he's tolerable."
The doors swung open and Kavanaugh stepped out. He sighed and rubbed the bridge of his nose before giving his report. "She's stable. I managed to stop the bleeding and clean the artery, so she should make a full recovery."
John sighed in relief, but Rodney gave him a look. "But—?"
"But she can't travel through the Gate in her condition. It'll put undue strain on her body…she wouldn't make it to the next planet, much less the next universe." Kavanaugh took off his glasses and wiped them on the hem of his scrubs before putting them back on.
Ronon crossed his arms and said, "But she'd be home."
Kavanaugh met his gaze, then sighed. "I know, and I'm pragmatic enough to know that if she does survive the transition, it could change her circumstances and she might be whole and healthy in your universe, or dead. I'm going against everything I believe in to allow this."
Rodney's mouth dropped open, Ronon raised his eyebrows in surprise, and John reached over to clap Kavanaugh on the shoulder. "Thanks, Doc. I'm sure she'd want to go through with it."
"She's as stubborn as the doctor I work for. No offense, but I'd really like to have her back."
"We'll get her back, Kavanaugh. Everything should be set before—" John's radio crackled. "Sheppard."
It was Captain Zelenka. "Colonel, you and your team must report the Gate Room. We're running out of time."
"These convulsive fits are coming closer and closer together, Elizabeth," Carson warned. "It's causing microstrokes in your system. If we can't stop them from happening, they'll kill you. I've already got four people in the Infirmary close to death."
Sheppard scowled and said, "We don't have a choice. We're gonna have to cross very soon."
Peter nodded and squeezed her hand. "Elizabeth—"
"I know," she whispered softly. It was taking her an effort to keep her eyes open, but she didn't want to lose sight of him. "You have to go."
McKay put a hand on her shoulder. "The longer we stay here, the worse you'll get, and who knows what else might happen. I just wish—"
"It's all right, Meredith." She managed a smile. "I understand. Go, while you still can."
"Take care of your Rodney when he gets back," McKay whispered. "If he's anything like me, he's going to need that."
She nodded and felt him let go of her shoulder. Peter brushed his lips against hers and tenderly stroked her hair. "I love you," he said softly. "Remember that."
"I love…you too, Peter." She struggled to stay awake, but sleep tugged at her eyes, and the last thing she remembered was his bittersweet smile.
Peter watched as her eyes closed, then looked up at Carson. The doctor shook his head and said, "An hour, maybe two."
"We have to hurry." Peter tapped his mike and called, "Chuck?"
"Recall Zelenka, Lorne and the rest of the teams. Our time's just about up."
"Right away, sir. Control Room, out."
Peter looked over at McKay, Ronon and Teyla Emmagan. "Let's go."
"We'll need you in the Chair, Carson," Rodney told Beckett. "You're the one with the strongest Gene."
Beckett took a deep breath and winced. His chest still ached fiercely, but he knew it was more than just his physical injury. "Aye, Rodney. I'll be there, and Rodney—"
He hesitated, but settled for a simple, "Good luck."
Rodney managed a smile back at him as he replied, "You, too."
He glanced over his shoulder as Kavanaugh, Marie Cho, Ronon, and John wheeled Teyla out of the Infirmary. She was still pale, her eyes closed, and unaware of her surroundings. Beckett reached over and squeezed her hand and whispered to her, "I'm sorry, Teyla. I only hope you can forgive me. You're going home, where you belong, to your Carson. He's a lucky man." He looked up at John, then at Ronon, and added hoarsely, "Take care of her."
"We will, Commander." John saluted him for the first and last time, while Ronon nodded gravely. Beckett returned the salute, turned and disappeared up the hall.
Chuck's voice echoed on John's mike. "Colonel, the Wraith and Genii ships are closing fast. If we're going to do this, we need to do it now, if we're going to have time to reset the shields."
"On our way." They took off at a run through the halls of Atlantis, pushing the gurney as they went. They entered the Gate Room, which was packed with people. John recognized several members of Zelenka's and Beckett's teams, of the Medical staff, and a mix of the Satedan and Athosian militias. Charin smiled at him and nodded her farewell.
Rodney tapped his mike. "Carson?"
Beckett's voice replied, "Aye. I'm here. Melia's ready to activate the Bridge as soon as your Atlantis signals ready."
I am awaiting their indication that the other team is ready to cross, Rodney. And…thank you.
Her words threw Rodney off balance. "For what?"
It has been a pleasure working with you. A welcome break from Doctor Sheppard.
Rodney chuckled and John rolled his eyes. "Thanks a lot, Melia."
He is much like you, but not like you, Colonel. I now have a few ideas on how to handle his…interesting attitude.
"Glad to have helped," John muttered, and he felt Her laughter. He looked over at Rodney, at Ronon, then down at Teyla. He looked over his shoulder at the rest of the crowd, then up to the Control Room, where Zelenka gazed back with a slight smile.
An alarm blared over Zelenka's shoulder, and he looked over at Chuck, who tapped his boards.
"They're launching Darts."
Zelenka's heart sank at Chuck's terse warning. There was no asking who "they" were. "What's their ETA?"
"Twenty-seven minutes, Captain."
"Scramble aerial defenses." He hit the comm to the Chair Room. "Commander, we have Darts incoming. As soon as the Bridge is formed and the team arrive, shunt all power to Atlantis's shield."
"Aye. Melia, lass—"
Zelenka didn't hear Her response, but he glanced over his shoulder at Bates, who nodded. "Positive flow on the Bridge, Captain."
Zelenka quickly crossed to the railing and called down to the Gate Room. "You have a go, Colonel."
"Thank you, Captain." John nodded at Ronon and Rodney. "Let's go home."
"About damn time," Rodney groused, as the Gate in front of them brightened into existence.
John chuckled and with Teyla's stretcher between them, they all walked through the Gate.
"Unscheduled offworld activation," said Chuck.
Evan nodded and opened the comm channel to the Chair Room. "Doctor Beckett?"
Carson's reply was slow in coming, the brogue thicker as he responded, "Aye, it's the other Atlantis, tryin' to make a connection…"
Radek looked over at Jeannie, who nodded. "All right, here goes," she said, and tapped several buttons on her console. "Intergalactic Bridge is forming—"
"My God," Radek whispered, as they watched the schematic on the screen. The funnel-shaped Bridge slowly coelesced into existence on their side, as its mirror image did on the other side. He frowned and pointed at the screen. "They're not quite synchronized—"
"Carson, we've got a problem," Jeannie said in alarm.
"Aye, lass," he replied, but he sounded distracted. "Takin' care of it." And as he spoke, the two points of the funnel met and expanded outward. "That's done it…I think."
The lights in the Control room dimmed abruptly and alarms blared. "Doctor Z?" Evan shouted.
"Even with the other Gates' support, we can barely hold it, and we're draining the ZPM at an alarming rate, just like the last time. We need to do this now!"
Evan went over to the Control Room railing, but Peter only nodded grimly up at him. "We heard. Thank you, Major and tell Elizabeth…to remember what I said."
"I will, sir. Good luck."
Peter smiled up at him, glanced at Chuck, then over at Captain McKay. "All right, let's go home."
"About damn time," Sheppard muttered, as they stepped through the Gate. The last thing everyone in the Control Room heard was the team's laughter at the acerbic doctor's remark.
"We're losing the Bridge!" Bates yelled.
"A couple more seconds!" Zelenka shouted back. "Commander Beckett—"
"Shields are down all over the network…reports of Wraith Darts and Genii battleships moving into position!" Chuck reported.
"Damn. We can't wait any longer—" There was a shout from the Gate Room and he looked up to see Peter Grodin stride into the Control Room. "Peter!"
"Divert all power back to the shields, now!" Peter gripped the console as the floor shuddered under him. "Status report!"
The overhead lights flickered as the City tried to compensate. Chuck looked up as Doctor John Sheppard tapped keys, muttering under his breath as he did so. "Where's McKay and Ronon?" Chuck asked.
"Organzing the City's defense," Peter replied grimly. "It seems that our unwelcome friends have decided to pay us a visit."
"Yeah, nice of them," Sheppard grumbled. "At least they waited till we got back."
"Glad to have you back, sir," Chuck said.
Sheppard nodded, but then he cursed under his breath at a readout on the screen. "Peter, we've got a problem with the power flow—"
"Some sort of surge!" Bates yelled. "It's backlashing all through the system! Failsafes are down! Beckett, get out of the Chair now!"
The City shuddered, knocking everyone to the floor, save Sheppard, who clung to the control board with all his might. Peter swore as he landed hard on his right arm and heard a bone snap. White-hot pain seared through him, but it was nothing compared to the mental scream the reverberated through his brain.
Melia screamed in anger and pain and everyone on Atlantis heard it, whether or not they could normally hear Her. Peter felt it slam into those with the Touch of the Ancestors, including Captain McKay and Doctor Emmagan, and with a heartsickening wrench, Teyla's consciousness winked out like a candle flame that had been extinguished. In that moment, Peter knew that the surge had instantly killed Beckett, and Melia's rage burst unchecked, spilling into anyone within reach…dangerous and untamed. At the last moment, Peter felt Her divert that deadly power away from the Expedition and outward, toward the Wraith/Genii invasion fleet. He struggled to hang on to coherent thought, but failed as the first waves of change washed over him, slowly at first, then more quickly.
Thank God, was his last thought before the universe turned upside down.
Present Day, Atlantis
"Colonel Sheppard!" Evan shouted as he pounded down the steps leading down to the Gateroom. He took in the sight of Teyla on the gurney and immediately hit his comm. "Medical—"
"We're on it!" shouted Doctor Irene Cole. She rushed up to take charge of her patient and snapped rapid-fire questions at Ronon, who happened to be the closest person. "What happened? She's obviously had some medical attention, so what's been done? Hm…surgery? By whom?"
"Shut the damn door!" Jeannie shouted from the Control Room. Her voice carried over the chaos and Rodney's head snapped up.
"Jeannie?" he shouted. Not only was he shocked by her appearance, but the fact that she'd used language he'd never heard her use before. "What—?"
Radek added some Czech invectives that Rodney hadn't heard before, either. "I can't! The Gate's stuck open! Chuck?"
The Gate tech shook his head and made a gesture of helplessness. Rodney thundered up the stairs, followed by John. "Who's in the Chair?" Rodney demanded.
"Carson," Radek answered.
"Get him out of there!" Rodney immediately began unlatching panels and yelling orders. "Shut off those connections before I get fried! I'm yanking the crystals. Bates—" He bit off the name and went on, "Radek, some help here!"
Radek squeezed Jeannie's hand briefly before going to help Rodney. Unfortunately, Rodney saw it and said, "What the…you getting comfy with my sister since I've been gone?"
Jeannie sighed, but didn't stop what she was doing. She only glared down at him as Rodney dove into the innards of the DHD. "Can we discuss this later, Mer?"
"Simpson to McKay. I can't get Beckett out of the Chair, not without causing him irreparable harm!"
"What?" Rodney shouted."Sheppard—"
John was already heading down the stairs as soon as he heard Simpson's report, but he only made it halfway down before a wave of pure agony struck him. He nearly lost his balance, and it was only reflex that saved him from a fatal tumble. All his nerves screamed in pain, his inner ear tried to convince him he was falling to his death, and his stomach threatened to revolt against him.
He heard shouts from the Control Room, but he couldn't respond. Is the universe changing 'cause we're back?
He hoped so.
The Universes, now with the balance restored, realigned themselves to their proper tracks. Not perfectly; some of the changes were too far ingrained to be reverse, but enough.
And time started once more…
"Oh, come on, Bates. That one was too easy. Give me another one."
"All right, then. 171."
Sheppard took off his glasses and wiped the lenses on the hem of his jacket. He made a disgusted noise. "Not prime."
Chuck glanced over his shoulder at them and rolled his eyes. "Divisible by 3."
Captain McKay shook his head as he came up the stairs. "Are you guys playing that game again?"
Sheppard smirked and replied, "Hey, McKay: 323."
The captain made a noise of irritation. "Prime. Oh, for crying out loud, Sheppard."
"Just checking." He straightened up from his slouch and put his glasses back on. "So, this mission to PXM-597 is a supply run?"
"Arrangement for some grain products and some really good Pegasus Galaxy ale in exchange for vaccinations for the kids. Teyla's almost done in the Infirmary."
"She with Beckett? Thought he was minding the store this time"
"Nah. Beckett needs to get out; he's spending way too much time doing paperwork. Besides, our resident negotiator can keep them both out of trouble."
Sheppard snorted in derision. "Yeah, she'll need to keep a close eye on those two—" He clamped his jaw shut as a soft Scottish brogue echoed in the Gateroom. Curious, he went over to the railing and saw Beckett and Teyla there, standing quite close to each other, talking and laughing. As he watched, a woman came in through one of the side entrances and greeted them. Doctor Elizabeth Weir-Grodin, wife of the Expedition leader and chief negotiator extraordinaire, said something that made Teyla laugh and Beckett blush scarlet.
"Marriage's been good for 'em, don't you think? Think Beckett might follow suit?"
McKay chuckled and caught Peter's look of contentment as he surveyed his domain from his office. "Maybe."
Sheppard raised his eyebrows. "You know something."
"Maybe. I do know Beckett asked Ronon to get something for him from Sateda…something that Melena owned. 'Something borrowed'."
"About damn time." Sheppard said with a grin. "So, it's gonna be me, Beckett, Elizabeth and Teyla going on this one, and you and Peter minding the store for a change."
McKay rolled his eyes. "Yeah. Now get outta here, Sheppard, before you make me change my mind."
"I'm gone. Oh…1521."
McKay groaned. "Not Prime. Now move before I throw you through the Gate."
Sheppard laughed and joined the team down in the Gate Room. McKay leaned on the railing and watched as Chuck opened the Gate and the four started through. He saw Beckett put an arm on Teyla as they walked into the Gate and thought, Yeah, about damn time.
"Indeed," Peter deadpanned. McKay jumped; he hadn't heard him approach. At Peter's wicked expression, McKay laughed and shook his head.
"Jeannie, I do not overwork that husband of yours!"
She snorted and rolled her eyes at him. "Mer, give him a break. It's been nearly three months and you promised, remember?"
Rodney shook his head and sighed as he gazed at his sister. Ever since she'd married Radek Zelenka last spring, she seemed so happy. Not only was she a brilliant physicist, but she was one of the best in Atlantis—save him, of course—and Rodney was so proud of her. Not that he'd tell her that to her face.
I think she knows anyway. I don't have to tell her. He huffed, "Fine. Two days on the mainland."
She frowned. "Four."
It was Rodney's turn to roll his eyes. "Fine. Three. Go. Have fun, and don't get into trouble."
"Oh, don't worry, Mer. We won't. Much." She winked at him and sauntered out the door, as he sputtered in frustration. John passed her on the way and raised his eyebrows in question.
"Don't ask. Just…don't ask," Rodney groaned.
John smirked. "Come on, Rodney, give 'em a break. She's your sister."
"Yes, she's my sister. I never should've introduced those two to each other." Rodney sighed and closed his laptop. "Where's Teyla?"
"In the Infirmary with Carson."
"Did she beat him up again?"
"What? No." John shook his head. "He's coming with us on this trip. Seems like the folks on PXM-597 need some medical supplies and Carson's volunteered to help 'em."
"Carson volunteered to go off world? Does this have anything to do with him mooning over Teyla?"
"For God's sake, Rodney, he hasn't been—"
Rodney snorted and interrupted him. "Sure, he hasn't. He's been doing it since the first day we met her, and after that Ring Ceremony for Charin, and that run-in with the Genii and—"
John raised his hands and said, "All right. If you're that curious, why don't you ask him?"
"And him sticking me with large, pointy needles? I like my gluteus maximus, thank you very much." Rodney sighed and shook his head. "I tell you, Sheppard, something's going on between those two."
"Then ask Teyla." John chuckled and inclined his head toward the door. "C'mon. They're waiting for us."
"Yeah, yeah. I'm coming."
When they reached the Gateroom, Elizabeth Weir stood at the railing. She smiled at John and Rodney, then looked over at Teyla and Carson, who were standing to one side, talking quietly with each other. Ronon hovered nearby with a bemused expression on his face, as if he knew something no one else did.
"All right, let's do this," John said.
"Good luck, Colonel. See you in twenty-four hours." She smiled and turned towards the man at the Gate controls. "Activate the gate, Peter."
Doctor Peter Grodin smiled back and nodded at Sergeant Chuck Campbell, who input the coordinates. The Gate activated like usual and Peter announced, "It's open."
Elizabeth watched as John, Rodney, Teyla, Ronon and Carson went through the Gate. Peter, with his usual quietness, moved to the railing next to her. She glanced sideways at him.
"You know something," she said.
"Maybe. I do know Carson asked Charin and Halling for their blessing yesterday."
"About damn time." Elizabeth laughed as he wrapped an arm around her waist. "Think marriage will be good for them?"
"It's good for us." He grinned and added, "So, Doctor Weir, shall I take you to lunch?"
She smiled back and said, "You may, Doctor Grodin."
Together, they went down the stairs, much to Chuck's bemusement. The sergeant shook his head and said to no one in particular, "Some things were meant to be in the universe. That's one of 'em."