Bloodfire – Chapter 2: Genius loci (spirit of the place)

Status:
  • Work in Progress
Content Rating:
  • NC-17
Fandom(s):
Stargate Atlantis, Stargate SG-1

Relationship(s):
McKay/Sheppard

Warning(s):
  • Character Bashing
  • Explicit Sex
  • Hate Crimes
  • Racism
  • Violence - Canon-Level
Genre(s):
  • Action Adventure
  • Alternate Universe
  • Challenge Response
  • Drama
  • First Time
  • Pre-Relationship
  • Science Fiction
Word Count:
5664

Author's Note:
Genres and warnings apply to the story as a whole, not this chapter in particular.

Summary:
They arrived to Atlantis. Now they need to make sure they are allowed to stay.


“It says, ‘Welcome to Atlantis, Praetor’, Sir,” Lieutenant Lindsay translated. McKay snorted and Sheppard shot him a glare.

“Please, occupy the cathedra to complete the initialization process” Lieutenant Lindsay added. John whipped around to look puzzledly at her. “It just appeared on the screen, sir,” she explained.

John looked at the screen and saw a new phrase under the first one. “What’s the cathedra?” he asked.

“In Latin, it was a chair of some office or a throne,” Lindsay added.

“The control chair,” McKay said.

“I believe it’s a good guess, Dr. McKay,” the Lieutenant agreed.

“So… any idea where this cathedra is?” Sheppard asked.

“Do I look like Google Maps to you, Colonel?” McKay grumbled, crossing his arms over his chest.

“Well…”

“Colonel!” Lieutenant Kemp called out and John looked down to the gate floor.

“Yes, Lieutenant?”

“The door, Sir. It just opened.” Kemp pointed at the gate room door, which had been sealed shut when they arrived.

Sheppard turned to McKay and smiled at him. “Let’s follow the yellow brick road!” he quipped.

McKay glared at him and pushed him aside to walk down the stairs. Sheppard just chuckled and followed him down.

“Lorne, Harris, Kemp and Reese, you’re with me,” he ordered. “Teldy, you’re in charge. Don’t let anyone leave the gate room until we return.”

“Yes, sir,” Teldy acknowledged. As they left the room, she turned around and signaled Vega and Mehra to guard the door.

They followed a brown metallic corridor, passing several closed doors. A water column burbled as they passed, startling Kemp.

“Afraid of a little water, Kemp?” Reese teased.

“Fuck you, Brian,” Kemp retorted, which earned him the chuckles of his companions.

After they rounded a corner, a door opened. Reese was the first to enter.

“Clear, sir.”

“Everybody inside,” Sheppard instructed.

The room was a tight fit with the six of them, but they managed. As the door closed, a dot started blinking on a screen mounted on the back wall. McKay raised an eyebrow. Sheppard extended his index finger and, with exaggerated slowness, pressed on the dot. He smirked at McKay, who just rolled his eyes.

A second later, the door opened again. Though they hadn’t felt any movement, the corridor outside was not the one they just left.

“Transporters!” McKay exclaimed. “I wonder if…” McKay moved to exit, but Sheppard stopped him by grabbing his arm. “What?”

“We don’t know if the zone is secure, McKay. Stay in the middle.” McKay harrumphed but allowed Sheppard to push him back. “Harris, bring the rear. Kemp, Reese, protect McKay. Lorne, cover us,” John ordered, glaring at McKay when he tried to protest.

This corridor was dark, illuminated by just a few blue-tinted lights. With his senses dialed-up, John could feel the smooth static of Lorne’s force field around them, and the buzz of Reese’s Lighting under his skin. John took point and started advancing.

The way was blocked by a door about 200 meters later. When John approached it, a rectangular panel on the right side illuminated. After a quick sense check, John signaled Lorne to drop his shield. Cautiously, John touched the panel, and the door opened to a circular room. In the middle, perched on a dais, stood the control chair.

McKay pushed past John to the chair, taking out his tablet PC. He squatted on the side of the chair and tried to pry open a panel.

“Damn!” McKay cursed when he received a small electric shock. He cradled his singed hand to his chest, looking angrily at the chair.

“Your mom didn’t teach you to not put your hand under a lady’s skirts, McKay?” John smirked. His men chuckled while McKay shot Sheppard an incinerating glare.

“Let’s see what you can do, Colonel,” McKay snarled.

John did a cursory sense check as he approached the chair. When he sat down, the chair illuminated with a blue light like the one on the Antarctic outpost, and whirled around.

A moment later, John’s mind sank through a blue light to the core of Atlantis.

Blue. His world was blue.

Electric blue… royal blue… midnight blue… swirls of color chasing each other in circles only to stop for a moment, like formless shapes suspended in mid-air, before starting to swirl again. Flashes of white that seemed to want to coalesce into something, but that dissolved like mist in a hot day before he could make sense of them.

“Stop…” he asked, but they ignored him. “Stop!” he repeated, but the formless shapes kept reforming and racing around him even faster. “Stop!” he yelled.

They did. And then dissolved into each other into a uniform shadow of steel blue.

Seven shapes flashed in white, vaguely rectangular but extremely blurry, as if seen through a white curtain. He tried to focus on them, his eyes moving instinctively under his closed eyelids.

“I don’t know what it is,” he said. “It’s all like a dense cloud.”

John felt a tingle traverse his head from forehead to nape. It didn’t hurt, but it was uncomfortable. Afterwards, the whole image wavered for a second, like the static of a TV screen, and the color shifted to the shade of the clear sky at noon. The seven shapes started coming into focus, coalescing into seven boxy symbols in a style he recognized: Ancient script.

“I don’t understand,” he said. “I can’t read it.”

The symbols disappeared.

John felt another tingle, this time in the left side of his head. The sensation increased until it felt like low-voltage shocks. He hissed, his hands reflexively pressing down on the chair’s gel pads. The sensation disappeared as gradually as it started, and John could relax.

The symbols appeared again. This time he could read them:

PRAETOR

“That’s what you called me,” he thought.

A diagram of a DNA spiral came into view, with the words “Rea bloodline: Positive match,” superimposed in Ancient.

“OK, I believe you. Now what?”

A new phrase replaced the diagram:

ARE YOU WILLING TO BECOME THE PRAETOR OF ATLANTIS?

“Well, that depends. What does a Praetor do?”

THE PRAETOR DEFENDS AND PROTECTS ATLANTIS AND THOSE WHO LIVE IN IT, FROM INTERNAL AND EXTERNAL THREATS.

“That seems pretty simple, so what’s the catch? What will happen if I choose to not be the Praetor?”

YOU AND ALL THOSE WHO CAME WITH YOU WILL BE FORCED TO LEAVE.

“Why?”

THE PRAETOR IS THE MAIN INTERFACE WITH THE SYSTEM.

OPERATION IS LIMITED WITHOUT A PRAETOR.

“To guarantee the city is not misused or taken by the enemy?” John hypothesized.

THAT IS ONE OF THE REASONS.

“So, I either become your Praetor or you kick us all out.”

YES.

“Succinct and to the point,” John murmured. “Just tell me one thing. What happened when I sat down?”

MY SYSTEM WAS CALIBRATED FOR THE BRAIN PATTERNS OF MY CREATORS.

THOUGH YOU ARE THEIR DESCENDANT, YOUR BRAIN PATTERNS ARE DIFFERENT AND I HAD TO RE-CALIBRATE MYSELF.

“It’s not going to happen again, then?”

THE ISSUE IS FIXED.

“OK. So, what I have to do to become your Praetor?”

RUNNING INITIALIZATION PROCESS.

A new screen flashed in, with a human male silhouette. Once again, John felt that tingling sensation, only this time it was across all his body. Several diagrams flashed in and out quickly. He recognized a brain, an eye and a heart, all accompanied with long series of numbers that probably would make sense to people like Beckett or Callahan, but that he couldn’t understand.

BIOLOGICAL DATA GATHERED SUCCESSFULLY.

PLEASE SPEAK YOUR NAME ALOUD.

“John Sheppard.”

VOICE IMPRINT SUCCESSFUL.

DATA INCORPORATED TO MATRIX.

IMPRINTING SUCCESSFUL.

John felt a short, sharp burn to the back of his neck, to the left of the spinal column.

“What have you done?” he shouted.

I IMPLANTED A BIOSENSOR THAT WILL MONITOR YOUR VITAL SIGNS AND CAN LOCATE YOU ANYWHERE IN THIS GALAXY.

“It’s not nanites, isn’t it?”

NO, IT IS A DERMAL IMPRINT. IT CAN BE DISSOLVED, IF YOU WISH.

“Dermal imprint? You tattooed me?”

THE PROCESS IS DIFFERENT, BUT ESSENTIALLY YES.

“Great. Another one,” John grumbled. “Now what?”

INITIALIZATION PROCESS FINALIZED.

The white letters disappeared. Instead, John heard a strangely warm modulated voice:

“I am at your service, Praetor John Sheppard of Atlantis.”

Disengaging from the deep merging with Atlantis’ matrix was like waking up after not having slept enough. His limbs felt heavy and it was like his mind was stuffed with cotton. John blinked up several times while his eyes adapted to the light in the room.

“Colonel, how are you feeling?”

The voice was familiar but it took him a moment to place it. Callahan.

“Water,” he croaked. He was not only thirsty, but his mouth felt like sandpaper. Callahan brought a bottle of water to his lips. After a couple of gulps, he managed to take the bottle himself. It was one of the smaller bottles, but he drank it all.

“Colonel, tell me, how are you feeling?” Callahan repeated.

“Like I could sleep 18 hours straight.” John sat up, and the chair disengaged.

“No surprise,” McKay said. “You’ve been gone for five hours!”

“Five?” John asked. “It didn’t feel that long.”

Callahan took his wrist to check his pulse. “McKay’s right,” he confirmed. “And your pulse and blood pressure had been over what’s safe, even for us, for much of that time. Your eyes moved like in REM sleep and your brain activity was over the roof, but you didn’t react to us.” He let go of John’s wrist, and moved to press a hand to his forehead and another to his chest. John could feel the warm and slightly tingling sensation he associated with a Healer’s bioscan. “You need to eat; your metabolism has burned calories even faster than normal.” He checked Sheppard’s eyes. “You don’t seem to… What’s that?” he asked, pointing to Sheppard’s neck.

“Atlantis called it a dermal imprint that works as a health biosensor and locator,” John explained. “Does it look bad?”

“No, it looks like the tattoo of a gate glyph,” Callahan answered, examining the mark. “Still a little red, your body needs energy to finish the Healing.” Callahan straightened and pinned him with a glare. “You’ve earned yourself a full checkup, Colonel, and don’t think I won’t sync Beckett on you if necessary.”

John grimaced. It hadn’t taken them long to discover that, as gentle as the older Healer can be, he could give an angry bear a run for his money when it came to his patients’ health.

“You won’t,” he whined. “I’m your boss.”

“He’s my boss, too,” Callahan smirked, “and he has the big ass needles.”

John groaned. Callahan activated his radio. “Major Teldy, could you get someone to bring an MRE-B for the Colonel, please?”

“Not fajitas,” Sheppard asked while pushing away McKay, who was trying, not very tactfully, to get a look at the tattoo.

“Sgt. Mehra is bringing you one, Liuteneant You can assure the Colonel it’s not fajitas.” Teldy chuckled. “Teldy out.”

“MRE-B on its way.” Callahan repeated. “Not fajitas.”

“As interesting as the Colonel’s gastronomic preferences are, could we go back to the main issue here?” McKay scowled, while his right feet tapped the floor like a woodpecker on steroids. “What happened in there, Colonel? We have several systems that have been waking up in the last hours, but they don’t obey anyone!”

Sheppard sighed and sagged in the chair, but it did not activate.

“The Atlantis AI recognized me as the city’s Praetor, and…” he informed the scientist.

“What? AI? A real, working AI?” McKay interrupted him.

“Yes, McKay, a real one. She said her creator called her Lania.”

McKay looked to the screens right and left. “How I can speak to her?”

“You can’t, McKay. Not yet.”

“Why the hell not?” the scientist demanded.

“If you’d let me explain…”

Sgt. Mehra choose that moment to arrive, an MRE-B on hand. She handed it to Sheppard.

“Chicken with noodles, Sir, already heated,” she informed him. “And I thought you’d like more water too,” she added, handing him an unopened bottle.

“Good idea. Thank you, Sergeant.” Sheppard opened the MRE-B pouch and added the contents of the hot sauce sachet. “How are things in the gate room?” He asked, taking a bite.

“Boring, sir. We distributed MREs two hours ago, and now some people are dozing while a couple of PSP’s are making the rounds around those not on guard,” she informed him. Behind her, McKay snorted. “The screens lit up a while ago, and the geeks are engrossed in the technical data they’re showing, even if they can’t interact with them. Was that your doing, Sir?”

“In a way of speaking. Atlantis did it after accepting me as Praetor.” John took another spoonful of chicken and vegetables. It tasted better than it usually did. He hadn’t realized he was that hungry.

“Which you were going to tell us about, weren’t you?” McKay chided.

Sheppard swallowed. “Stay, Sergeant, and you can report this back to Major Teldy and the others,” he ordered. “As I was saying, Lania — that’s the Atlantis AI, Mehra — accepted me as Praetor. She had to teach me Ancient first, though, so I could understand the rest. She uploaded it directly to my mind or something.” McKay opened his mouth but John beat him to it. “She’ll have to do that with everyone else too, but that’s for later.” Sheppard opened the water bottle and swallowed a mouthful. “Anyway, she told me I could set up access levels for everyone with the ATA gene, but not for mundanes, at this moment. As it turns out,” he stressed, glaring at McKay who was ready to interrupt again,” the Ancients hard-coded some security protocols into her that I can’t disable. She can’t give mundanes access unless she can monitor them and she can’t at her current power levels. Which brings me to the other issue…”

Sheppard leaned his head back against the chair and the headrest illuminated. Above the dais, a holographic representation of Atlantis and its shield appeared, with a ZPM on the side. A few words and several long strings of numbers rolled in around them. McKay approached the display to get a better look while John kept eating. He’d already seen them.

“Wait!” McKay said. “There’s only one ZPM and it will reach entropy in 89 hours?”

“That’s… about three days?” Reese guessed.

“3.7,” McKay replied.

“More like 3.4,” John corrected. “Atlantis days are 26 hours long,” he added when McKay glared at him.

“It doesn’t change the fact that we’re screwed,” McKay replied, looking back to the screen. “Umm… does it says ‘failsafe’ here, Colonel?” he asked, pointing a work on the display.

John swallowed before answering. “Yeah. It’s set to raise the city one minute before the ZPM reaches entropy.”

“Which means that, once we reach the surface, we’ll be just an inert heap of metal for at least 24 hours until the Daedalus arrives!”

“Can’t you connect the naquadah generators we brought, Dr. McKay?” Major Lorne asked.

“Maybe, but not that quickly. They require adjustments to power Ancient technology and we never used them to power something so big before,” McKay explained. “I’ll have to check the power grid, calculate the load…”

“Or we can raise the city and save ZPM power,” John suggested after swallowing the last bite of his MRE-B. “Maybe even enough to give access to mundanes,” he added, smiling pointedly at McKay, who just glared back.

“And you can’t say that first, Colonel?” he snarled.

“I was busy,” Sheppard answered, pointing to the remains of his meal.

“The Ancients submerged the city for a reason,” Lorne’s observed.

“Yes, and we’ll talk about that,” John winced. “It’s a really nasty reason,” he added, at Lorne questioning look. “Lania tells me she doesn’t detect any danger for us on the surface at the moment, but her long-range sensors don’t work while underwater.”

“So, we either stay down until the ZPM couldn’t power the shield anymore and become sitting ducks on the surface before we have to leave the city, or we rise now and take a chance with possible nasties out there,” Mehra summarized.

“Yeah, that’s it,” Sheppard confirmed. “Personally, I don’t like hiding like a scared rabbit. Besides, I think we have better chances on the surface, especially if we can work on connecting the naquadah generators.” His eyes gazed around the room, looking at both McKay and his men directly. “We came here for a reason, and between here and the Daedalus, we’ve got the best we could find. I prefer to bet on us.” His gaze stopped on McKay. “What do you say, McKay?”

“Smartest man in two galaxies,” he answered, gesturing at himself. “And your combat engineer here isn’t half bad either,” he added, pointing over his shoulder at Harris.

“Geez, thanks McKay,” Harris snorted.

“So, I give us very good odds. I vote for rising.” McKay finished.

“Any objections?” Sheppard asked. Everyone shook their heads. “Perfect. Mehra and Reese, return to the gate room and explain everything to them. Tell them also to secure the crates and themselves. We’ll rise in 15 minutes,” he instructed the sergeants.

“Yes, Sir!” Mehra turned around towards the door. Reese joined her and both ran out the chair room.

Sheppard turned to McKay, who was rubbing his temples. “You ok, McKay?” he inquired.

“Yeah, just a headache,” McKay replied. “I’ll take a couple of Tylenol later,” he added, straightening out. “So, how is this going to work?”

Sheppard activated his radio. “Attention, everyone! We’re going to raise the city now.”

“Everyone’s ready here, Colonel,” Major Teldy informed through the radio.

“Understood, Major. Sheppard out.” He looked at his XO. “Lorne?”

“We’re ready, Sir.”

With a nod, John relaxed back in the chair, closed his eyes, and activated it. A clear blue sky flooded his mind, but, this time, he didn’t lose awareness of his surroundings.

“Lania,” he called in his mind.

“Yes, Praetor?”

“Prepare for rising,” he ordered.

“Initializing rising protocols.”

Several screens materialized in John’s mind as the systems started relaying information to him. “Project the data for the others, Lania.”

“Done, Praetor.”

John heard a sharp intake of breath on his right. “Amazing,” McKay whispered, too low for anyone but a Sentinel to hear.

In the central tower, a myriad of luminous dots showed him the location of his people, with five more dots on the side where the chair room was. He discarded that with all the data feeds he didn’t need and concentrated on the rising protocols.

“Interesting,” he heard McKay comment. “The shield not only keeps the ocean away, it also uses the water pressure to help keep the city underwater. Sheppard, we won’t be able to rise like this.”

John manipulated the shield controls, altering the shield’s shape to a more streamlined configuration.

“That’s better,” McKay commented. John snorted, but didn’t reply. Yet, the fact that he had to do this manually raised a question.

“Lania, the rising protocols had been used before? Has the city ever emerged?”

No, Praetor,” Lania confirmed. “Submerging me was sort of a desperate effort on the part of my creators. My previous Praetor coded the rising protocols, but never used them.

“Fantastic,” John thought. “Lania, take over monitoring the structural stress and ZPM output. Warm me immediately of any problems.”

“Controls transferred, Praetor.”

“OK. Let’s take you to the surface.”

John activated the seabed grip release. The city shook as the big metallic grips unhooked from the rocky ocean bed for first time in centuries. Once the grips retreated into the city structure, he activated the ballast release protocols, and the city started releasing the water from the tanks at a predetermined velocity. The metal groaned as they gained speed and the whole structure shook, while John concentrated in keeping the city as stable as possible.

After a few long minutes, Atlantis finally pierced the ocean’s surface, creating a giant tidal wave around her. The city rocked until the sea evened out again. John activated the surface controls that stabilized the city, and disengaged the shield. All controls flashed green.

“Lania, take over.”

“Controls transferred, Praetor.”

“Do we have enough energy to activate mundane access?”

New screens flashed on, shoving calculations on power output and energy required. “Only if they don’t leave the inner city, Praetor. I can’t activate security controls all over the city.”

“OK, do it, and give Dr. McKay the maximum access allowed.”

“One last thing. Can you run a self-diagnostic? I need to know exactly in what shape you’re in and which repairs you need.”

“It doesn’t matter. Do it.”

John pulled himself out the interface. As he opened his eyes, he saw the holographic representation of the city dissolve over his head.

John woke to the smell of fresh brewed coffee. Still bleary-eyed, he took the offered cup and drank deeply. He opened his eyes to a smirking Major Lorne.

“Good morning, Sir,” Lorne greeted him. “I thought you’d like a cup before McKay wakes up and monopolizes the pot. We’ve broken out the good stuff, not that instant crap.”

“You’re the best XO ever, Lorne,” John told him, inhaling deeply the rich aroma rising from the cup.

“I’ll remind you when the yearly evaluations hit your desk, Sir,” Lorne smirked, sitting down on the air mattress besides Sheppard’s.

John looked around while he finished his cup. The room they’ve used as a dorm last night was almost empty, though the air mattresses and sleeping bags were still on the floor. McKay and his fellow geeks were the only ones still sleeping.

“So, how are things going?” Sheppard asked.

“We’re using the room next door as a temporary mess.” Lorne explained. “Sgt. Mahoney and her people have prepared cold cuts sandwiches, fruit and cereals for breakfast. Nothing fancy, but at least is not MREs.”

“Thank the Goddess!” John muttered wholeheartedly.

“I hear you!” Lorne chuckled. “Lania prepared us a communal shower room during the night. It’s three corridors over that way.” Lorne pointed at a corridor that branched out the junction the room’s opened to. “Vega, Mehra and Reese are leading teams that are clearing out the living quarters in this tower. Campbell, Banks and Esposito are on gateroom duty.”

“How long you’ve been awake, Major?”

“Just three hours, Sir.”

“Why you didn’t wake me up sooner?” John demanded.

“You needed the sleep. Doctor’s orders,” Lorne stared steadily back at him.

“I think that I’ll have to remind Callahan who’s the Colonel here,” John muttered.

“If I were you, I’ll stay away from him, sir. He’s convinced Lania to show him the medical facilities and the last time I saw them, he and the other medics were looking gleeful at the possibility of trying out their new toys,” Lorne advised with a smirk. “Especially the scanner.”

Sheppard groaned. “Anything else?”

“Well, Cadman and Donovan are setting up the armory in a room Lania guided them to. Teldy is supervising the unpacking of the supplies. Oh, and Harris has found you spaceships.”

The ship’s hatch opened at John’s mental command and he stepped in. The small ships’ design was sleek and utilitarian, with none of the frills found in the city itself, and John liked it. As soon as he sat on the pilot chair, the HUD came to life. He moved through the screens, checking what the little ship could do: atmospheric flying, deep-space travel, even underwater operation; it fit through the gate, it could also cloak and fire drones. It was much more than he imagined.

These little ships were seriously cool. And they were his. John was grinning while he checked the controls carefully, getting used to them.

“Are you going to fly it or make love to it?” McKay asked from behind him.

Smiling, John turned his head to look at the scientist. “Do I have to choose?”

McKay snorted, walking inside to sit in the copilot’s chair. He connected his tablet to an access port on the console. John raised an eyebrow.

“Harris managed to convince Atlantis to let us interface our tech with her,” he explained. “Something about you giving him full technical access?” he asked, bitterness coloring his voice.

“I would give you that access if I could, McKay. But the mundane restrictions are hard-coded into Lania…” John apologized.

“Yeah, I know, I know…” McKay interrupted him and sighed. “Sorry, it’s not your fault. Just the frustration talking.” He typed quickly on his tablet. “So, are we going to fly today or do you need more time alone with her?”

“You want to fly?” John asked, surprised.

McKay looked at him. “I want to know how they work, and a trip around will tell me more than just looking at the specs. And since I don’t need to be an Empath to know that you’re dying to take it out, it’s a win-win situation, isn’t it?” McKay asked with a grin.

John was tempted to reply something withering about presumptions, but, really, it will be like shooting himself in the foot since he really wanted to take the ship out for a trek.

“Chop, chop, gateship’s waiting!”

“Gateship?”

“It’s how the Ancients called them. Or do you prefer porta navis?” McKay retorted.

Porta navis? A little Puddle Jumper like this? Nah!” John replied and activated his radio. “Control Room, this is Sheppard in Puddle Jumper One.”

“I thought they were called gateships?” Chuck asked.

“Nah, too pompous for these little Puddle Jumpers,” John answered.

“As you say, Sir,” Chuck replied.

“I’m taking Jumper One and McKay out for a trip. Keep an eye on us on the sensors. Teldy, tell Lorne he’s in charge while I’m out.”

“Yes, sir,” Teldy replied.

“Sheppard out.”

Sheppard closed the hatch and activated the drive pods. As the ship rose inside the bay’s shaft, the exit hatch opened. Once outside, he chose a direction at random. The ship quickly accelerated to Match 2, but they didn’t feel it at all. It was the smoothest ride he had ever piloted. John guided the jumper though increasingly complicated maneuvers, while McKay was immersed on the data the jumper was transmitting to his tablet. Sheppard changed their angle and steered the ship out the planet’s atmosphere, until they achieved geosynchronous orbit.

The view was spectacular. Under him, Lantea was a deep blue marble, sprinkled with a few landmasses here and there. To the left, the planet’s only moon hung up alone, its surface marked by craters of asteroids impacts. Further away, a nebula sparkled with new stars. John adjusted his sight to behold the intricate play of blue, red and orange clouds chasing each other against the big black.

Several minutes later, John turned around and frowned when he noticed McKay still had his nose on the tablet. Swiftly, he pulled it away from the scientist.

“Hey!” McKay protested. “You can’t…”

“Look up, McKay! You’re supposed to be an astrophysicist and you’re missing everything!”

“It’s not that…” McKay shut up when he looked out. “OK, maybe you’re right,” he conceded, leaning forward over the control panel.

After several minutes, John leaned towards McKay without taking his eyes off the view and asked: “Want to see how the jumper behaves underwater?”

John was the last one to arrive to the meeting the next day. Lorne, Teldy, Callahan and Porter smirked at him, making him blush. McKay frowned, looking around the table. John was sure he was about to ask, so he started talking even before he was completely seated.

“OK, let’s start. Major Lorne, how are things going?”

“Everyone is settling along. Most people have chosen individual quarters, but a few had chosen to double up. We still have rooms free, but we should start clearing out more space for the people arriving on the Daedalus,” Lorne explained.

“Yes, that’s a good idea. Major Teldy, could you take care of it?” John asked.

“Yes, Sir. If possible, I’d like to use the same teams who scouted the rooms yesterday. They already know what to look for.”

“OK, do that. Anything else, Lorne?”

“Well, Sgt. Mahoney and her people found the mess hall, which has a real kitchen, so we should expect real food today.” Everyone looked relieved at that. “About the control room, I’d like to assign Sgt. Campbell, Master Corporal Banks and Sgt. Rollins as shift leaders until the rest of our people arrive. They’ve got the most experience as gate technicians.”

“Agreed, Major. Unless you have any other suggestions, McKay?” John asked, looking at the scientist.

“No, no, I agree. At least, with them I won’t have to worry about someone breaking the gate.”

“Errr… OK,” John looked puzzled, but continued. “Implement it, Major. Anything else?”

“We need to set turns for Lania to teach people Ancient on the chair. We’ve had a few misunderstandings since her ability to communicate off the chair is limited and people can’t read the messages she sends out.”

“Yes, you’re right. Make a list and get them all through the chair between today and tomorrow. And add yourself and Teldy at the top of the list. Warn them she’ll give them the locator tattoo too.” John ordered and the Major nodded. “Is that all?”

“Yes, Sir.”

“Are there any problems due to the restricted access for mundanes?”

“Not for now. Most of them understand the Ancients are to blame,” Lorne said.

“OK.” John looked at the right side of the table. “Dr. McKay?”

“I have Esposito and Branton going through the self-diagnostic you asked Lania to do. There are lots of things to check, but they haven’t found anything vital for now. Hewston is cataloguing what we’re found so far, which is not that much but I don’t want anyone getting blown up or, worse, breaking anything.”

“Nice to know your priorities,” Lorne muttered. McKay glared at him, but continued.

“The third and fourth floors are labs, so I’ll need a couple of your goons to clear them out with Porter and Monroe.”

John frowned at him. “You just called highly-trained soldiers goons, McKay?”

“How I should call them? Outstanding examples of military excellence?” McKay retorted.

Sheppard snorted. “Major Lorne, assign a team to escort Dr. McKay’s people, please.”

“Yes, Sir.”

“Anything else, McKay?” John asked. Before answering, McKay swallowed two Tylenol. Sheppard frowned, since it was the third day in a row he’d seen the scientist do that. He looked at Callahan, who mouthed I’ll keep an eye on him.

“I’m going to examine the ZPM room today,” McKay informed him, having not noticed the exchange. “So, you’ll have to do without Harris for a few hours since I need his advanced access.”

“I’m sure we’ll manage,” John snarked mildly. “That’s all?”

“Since I only have six of my people here, and that’s counting your man Harris, there’s not much more I can do right now,” McKay retorted.

“I’ll take that as a yes.” John looked down the table. “Lieutenant Callahan?”

“The infirmary is up and running, Sir. We’re still cataloguing the medical equipment, but I think we’ll have it done by the time Dr. Beckett arrives. On the patient side, we’ve only had a couple of minor injuries so far. And speaking of, someone owes me a full checkup,” the medic grinned.

“I remember, Lieutenant,” John replied, stressing the man’s rank, but though Callahan smoothed out the smirk, he could still see the merriment in the Lieutenant’s gaze. “I’ll come by later.” Sheppard took down a couple of notes on his own tablet. “Well, now that’s taken care of… the other issue: the first expedition.”

McKay straightened in his chair. “Did Lania tell you anything about them?”

“Yeah, but not much. She confirmed that they gated there 13 Earth months ago. Since they didn’t have a Praetor with them, she forced them to dial out. They didn’t go willingly, which probably accounts for the trampled evidence we found. She says a woman, which I believe was Dr. Weir, ordered a man to hack into her.”

“Radek,” Rodney muttered.

“Probably. But Lania rejected his attempts. So, if we find him…”

When we find him,” McKay corrected.

“When we find him,” Sheppard acknowledged, “he’d have some groveling to do for Lania to forgive him,” John smirked. “She had to use force fields to push them out of the city.”

“Do we know where she sent them to?” Lorne asked.

“Yes. It was a planet known to the Ancients as Athos.”

“We need to check if they’re still here!” McKay demanded. “We can use a Jumper…”

“What about the Wraith?” Teldy interrupted him.

John could feel the mood on the room turn somber. Last night, he’d explained to the rest of their expedition what Lania had taught him about the Wraith. Watching the visual explanation on the hologram room helped them believe it. Even worse, Lania confirmed that she could detect hive ship signals on her long-range sensors.

After the Goa’uld and the Ori, no one believed they could find an enemy that could be worse.

Nobody imagined one that would think of them as food.

Later that night, Sheppard could overhear several mundanes praying to their particular incarnation of God, as the Goddess received pleas from some of his own people.

“That’s why we need to find them!” McKay insisted.

“Yes, but I’m not risking our people by going blind.” Sheppard continued before McKay could interject. “We’ll wait for the Daedalus. After 13 months, one or two more days doesn’t matter. The Daedalus can be our air cover when go to Athos to investigate,” John stated, looking directly at McKay, who held his gaze for a few seconds before slumping.

“Yes, you’re right.” McKay looked back up at John. “I’m going to do a thorough check-up on the Puddle Jumpers. I want to make sure they don’t break on us. We’ll need them.”

“Good idea, McKay. Tell me if you need help,” John said. He looked around the table. “Everyone knows what to do. Let’s make sure we’re ready to bring our people home.”

Don't be an asshole!

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