A Priori – Chapters Seven to Eleven (End)

Status:
  • Complete
Content Rating:
  • R
Fandom(s):
Stargate: Atlantis, Stargate: SG1

Relationship(s):
Rodney McKay/John Sheppard, Past Past Jack O'Neill/Daniel Jackson

Warning(s):
  • Violence - Canon-Level
Genre(s):
  • Alternate Universe
  • Canon Divergence
Word Count:
32,868

Author's Note:
Originally written for the Rough Trade Challenge July 2017: 5-15k episodes – Battle of the 5 Fandoms. I've since changed this into a chaptered work. My thanks to HarleyJQuin and Izzy hound, both of whom did Alpha reads for me, and to my Beta and great chum Ed Ronhia. I couldn't have finished this without their help.

Summary:
A Priori - translation: From before. The last couple of years had not been good for Jack O’Neill. Not quite as bad as when Charlie had died, but certainly close. Daniel died and ascended; Ba’al killed him, over and over again; and then he was accused of trying to assassinate Kinsey, the fucker. If Jack had wanted Kinsey dead, he’d be dead, no messing about with ‘trying’ at all. Finally, Anubis threatened to destroy Earth and Jack had to stick his head in an Ancient head-grabber thingy - again. There had to be an easier way of earning a living.


Chapter Seven

Monday 22nd November 2004 18:00 AST

Jack stared down at the sleeping man who, he decided, was of a larger build than Teal’c and could probably whop the Jaffa’s ass – or at least have a good try.  Now that’s a fight I wouldn’t mind watching.  ‘And you say he was a…a Runner for seven years?’

John nodded.  ‘They implanted a tracking device in his back and released him on a planet with a gate, then set the Wraith loose to see if they could catch him.’

‘A Wraith version of tag.’

‘Yeah.  He says he’s killed over two thousand Wraith, I forget the actual number, and I believe him.  He thinks he’s the last of his people, although Teyla said she’d heard some Satedans settled on a couple of different worlds.’

‘And he threatened to kill you all?’

John shifted restlessly.  ’Not…exactly.  He threatened to kill McKay if he didn’t stop whining, but hey, we’ve all done that at sometime!  He probably wouldn’t have done it.’

‘Probably?’

‘It’s McKay!  He has that effect on most people until they get to know him!’

Jack grinned at him.  ‘I might just tell him you said that.  But in all seriousness, you want to keep Dex?’

‘I think he’d be a great asset to us.  You know how helpful Teyla’s been.  Ronon could help us fight the Wraith and explore the galaxy.  He’s been to hundreds of worlds.’

Jack turned around and folded his arms, leaning back against the railing which ran around the gallery above the infirmary isolation room.   They’d settled Ronon in there while he slept off the pain killers Carolyn had given him after he fainted while she was removing the tracker.

‘Okay,’ he said at length.  ‘If he wants to stay, you can keep him, but you have to walk and feed him, and tidy up after him!’

John grinned.  ‘Thanks, Dad.  I’d like to put him on my team and let Ford try a team of his own.  We can give him a good NCO to keep him straight.’

Jack opened his mouth to say something, then closed it again.  It wasn’t quite the right time.  John gave him an odd look but let it go and they both turned around again to watch the sleeping man.

‘He’s got a really cool space gun,’ John said wistfully.  ‘Some sort of plasma pistol.  I’m gonna ask McKay if he can build one like it for me.’

‘Get him to make one for me as well.  We can’t be proper space pirates without space guns,’ Jack said promptly, and they grinned at each other.

*****

Tuesday 23rd November 2004 10:30 AST

Jack decided Ronon would be more comfortable in the mess for his debrief, especially as the Satedan seemed to be perpetually hungry, but as John explained, Ronon had been eating only what he could catch or steal for seven years.  Jack couldn’t even imagine what it would be like to lose his entire planet and have to not only scavenge for food, but never to be safe for more than a couple of hours at a time.  It was truly incomprehensible.

They gathered out on the balcony again and, with a plate of food piled high for Ronon and mugs of coffee for the others, Jack, along with John’s team, listened to the story of their new friend.

It didn’t take long.

’The Wraith bombed your planet, culled you and couldn’t feed on you so they made you into a runner, and you’ve been hunting each other ever since.  That’s it?’ Jack asked.  ‘That’s the story of the last seven years?’

Ronon shrugged.  ‘Not much else to say.  I kill them, they send more.’

‘Wow.  Your AA reports are going to be fantastic!’

‘What’s an AA report?’

‘After Action report,’ Teyla explained.  ‘We all have to write a report on what happened after each mission or incident in which we take part, voluntary or otherwise.’

‘What’s that got to do with me?’

‘We’re hoping you’ll stay and join our mission here,’ John said, smiling at the younger man.  ‘You know this galaxy and can show us around.’

‘Isn’t that what she does?’

‘Teyla.  Her name is Teyla and yes, she introduces us to people to trade with.’

‘I can’t do that.  I avoided people.’

Because otherwise you’d bring the Wraith down on them.  Jack’s heart hurt for a moment as he looked at this man who couldn’t be more than twenty-five.  He’s young enough to be my son.  ‘Part of our mission is to explore and discover new technology,’ he said quietly.  ‘I’m sure you could help us with that.’  He paused for a moment, studying the former runner.  ‘And we want to kill as many Wraith as we can.  I know you can help us do that.’

Ronon gave a grin that could only be described as feral.  ‘I’m really good at killing Wraith.’

‘Then that’s settled.’  Jack clapped his hands.  ‘We need to celebrate.  Is there any pie?’

*****

As the weeks passed and Ronon got more used to the members of the Expedition – and Jack, John, Teyla, and Rodney in particular –  he opened up a little more about the last seven years and each time John wondered just how he’d had the fortitude to carry on and on, never knowing when – or even if – it would ever end.

‘I’d have just curled up and died,’ Rodney admitted one evening when he and John were sitting out on the East Pier watching the sunset together.

‘No, you wouldn’t,’ John told him, nudging Rodney’s shoulder with his own.  ‘You’d have made the biggest bomb out of a couple of rocks and some chewing gum and blown them all to hell.’

‘There is no chewing gum in Pegasus.’

‘You don’t know that.’

‘Most of the people here don’t even live in houses made from bricks and mortar.  They haven’t had the chance to invent chewing gum.’

‘Okay.  You’d invent chewing gum and then you’d build a giant bomb to blow them all to hell,’ John grinned, pressing a gentle kiss to Rodney’s hair.

‘I would.  I really would,’ Rodney agreed and turned his head so John’s next kiss landed on his lips.

A short while later, the conversation resumed.

‘I wonder how Elizabeth Weir would have handled Ronon’s arrival on the city,’ Rodney mused.

John gave a humourless laugh.  ‘From the very little I saw of her, I don’t think she’d have allowed him to stay.  She hated non-Americans so much I can’t think how she’d have reacted to the Athosians let alone Ronon.’

‘Her xenophobia is clearly visible to anyone with any form of perception,’ Rodney agreed.  ‘Her only exception was with Carson and that was likely because of what she thought she could get from him.’

‘Which was…?’

Rodney shrugged.  ‘I’m not certain, except that I think it was something to do with the gene therapy.  Maybe she hoped it would work with her and she’d be able to use Ancient technology.  None of it really makes sense to me.’

‘Although Beckett seems to be trying to make an effort to distance himself from Keller, and to be pleasant to us and Jack.’

‘And he’s co-operating with Carolyn over the peer review of his work,’ Rodney added.  ‘He apparently told her his mother would be ashamed of him for his previous behaviour and he was determined to make up for it.  Keller is still apparently sulking, though, according to Carolyn.’  He paused for a moment and frowned.  ‘Why are we discussing Carson and Keller and not making the most of our date night?’

John laughed and tightened his arm around Rodney’s shoulders.  ‘We were talking about Weir, remember?’

‘Oh, yeah, that’s right.  I always wondered why Hayes made her head of an organisation which explores different worlds.  Maybe he didn’t see it in her.  She was apparently a well-known diplomat.’.

‘I think he did see it and he just didn’t care.  I spoke to my father before we left and asked about her.  He said that he’d come across her a time or two in Washington and had never had much time for her.  She preferred people who fawned over her and he definitely wouldn’t do that.’

Rodney turned his upper body to stare at John.  ‘That’s the first time you’ve mentioned your family, you know?’

‘It is not.’

‘It is.  I had no idea if you even had family, let alone were on speaking terms with them.  What did you tell your father about coming here?’  He waved his hand around, indicating the sleeping city around them.

‘I couldn’t tell him about Atlantis, if that’s what you mean.  I just said I was going on an important top secret mission and might be away some time.’

‘And he accepted that?’

John shrugged.  ‘He was in the Navy, so he understands about service.  And secrecy.’

‘What does he do now if he’s left the Navy?’

‘He runs the family business.  What is this?  An interrogation?’

‘Hey, I’m just finding out about your family while I can.’

‘And what about your family?’

Rodney was silent for a moment.  ‘There’s only me and my sister and I haven’t spoken to her for years.  We fell out over her ditching her post grad studies to get married because her boyfriend knocked her up.’

John pressed another soft kiss to Rodney’s hair, hoping it would say everything for which he knew he didn’t have the words.

*****

Tuesday 7th December 2004 08:57 AST

The ready room was packed.  Four teams were due to gate out that morning; two on trade missions with both John and Ford’s teams both going on science missions to planets Ronon suggested, one which had a series of Ancient ruins which AT1 would explore and one which AT5, Ford’s new team, would explore with Miko Kusanagi as their scientist.  Rodney had become very excited when they’d sent an aerial MALP through to M67-9PX  the previous day to do a scan of the planet as he found a couple of strong energy signals some few miles from the gate.  As there was nothing close to the Stargate, they could take a Jumper, much to Rodney’s relief, as he still disliked having to walk miles when they could fly perfectly well – and wasn’t afraid of making his opinion known.

Lorne’s team was going on a trade mission with Halling as their guide since Kevork and Bohdan were both off-world on one of their own trading missions on behalf of the Athosians.  Stackhouse’s team had one of the younger Athosian guides, Doran, who was very proud to be going on his first mission with one of the Tau’ri teams.

John’s team left first and as they made their way up to the Jumper Bay, Ronon walked alongside John.

‘Who was the man with Lorne’s team?  He wasn’t their usual guide.’

‘That was Halling.  Kevork’s off-world with Bohdan, so Halling volunteered to step in.  Why?’

‘I’ve seen him before somewhere.’

‘Really?  Where?’

‘I can’t remember, but I’m sure I’ve seen him before.’

They’d reached the Jumper Bay by this time and Rodney came barrelling along, his arms loaded with various bits of electronics.

‘I want you to do a scan of the planet before we land,’ he instructed John.

‘Why?  The MALP did a scan.’

‘But the Jumper’s scans are better.  It might give us a clearer idea of what it is we’re looking at.’

‘And what are we looking at?’

Rodney glared at him and opened his mouth to give a blistering reply, then changed his mind.  ‘No.  Absolutely not.  You are not getting me to rise to that.  Just do as you’re told.’  He glared once again for good measure then plonked himself in the co-pilot’s seat and began connecting bits to the Jumper console and his data pad.

John shook his head, grinned at his two teammates, and took his place at the controls.  ‘You do know I give the orders around here, don’t you?’

‘Ha!  Not today, Colonel.  This is a science mission, which means I’m in charge!’

‘Uh.  No, it doesn’t, McKay.  Colonel Sheppard’s still in charge of the team and the mission.  He’ll just listen to you when it comes to the…sciency stuff,’ Jack said over the Jumper radio.

‘Sciency stuff?  Sciency stuff!  Did you talk like this to Daniel and Sam?’

‘Nah.  It used to piss them off.’

Rodney could see Sheppard trying to hide his smile with his hand, and a choked cough behind him made him suspect his other teammates were also trying to hide their amusement.  At one time, this would have upset him, but now he just turned and smiled wryly at John, Teyla and Ronon and shook his head.  ‘Jumper One requesting permission for launch,’ he said into his radio.

‘Permission to launch, Jumper One.  God speed.’

*****

Tuesday 7th December 2004 09:42 AST

‘Unscheduled off-world activation.’

‘For fuck’s sake,’ Jack muttered to himself and threw his pen down.

‘It’s…it’s AT2, sir.  Private du Pres’s IDC.’

‘Du Pres?  Raise the shield, Chuck, and let them through.’

Jack turned to walk to the railings, but as he did, the young Private stumbled into the gateroom and collapsed on the floor.

‘Call for a medical team!’ Jack yelled, running towards the stairs as one of the Marines on duty got to du Pres first.

‘He’s alive, sir,’ he called out, ‘but he’s badly beaten.’

‘Where’s the rest of his team?’ Jack asked, looking around as though they’d jump out from behind a pillar, but no one answered him.  He stayed with the young man until the medical team arrived, led by Beckett, who gave Jack a grim nod.

‘Dial the planet again,’ Jack called to Chuck as he made his way back up the stairs.  ‘And open a channel.  Let’s see if we can raise Major Lorne or any of the others.’

They tried for almost fifteen minutes, but eventually Jack had to tell Chuck to close down the gate.  He took a few moments to think what his next step should be, then nodded to himself and turned again to Chuck.

‘Dial M67-9PX and get Colonel Sheppard on the radio.’

Chuck paused for a moment.  ‘Will he not be too far from the gate, sir?  The ruins they were going to look at were several miles away.’

Damn!  I forgot that.  ‘Try him anyway. We might be lucky.’  He turned away from Chuck and clicked his radio to the all-military channel.  ‘Captain Reid?  Gunnery Sergeant Bates?  Report to my office immediately.’  He clicked his radio to the science channel.  ‘Dr Zelenka?  Will you gear-up for a rescue mission by Jumper, please?  We may need your expertise.’

‘Ano, ano,’ Radek replied, sighing heavily through the radio.  ‘If McKay has got himself in trouble again…’

‘It’s not Sheppard or McKay, Radek, it’s Lorne’s team.’

‘On my way, General.’

The two Marines arrived within seconds of each other while Chuck had managed to raise Sheppard on the radio.

‘Lorne, Davis and Halling are missing,’ Jack explained to Sheppard succinctly.  ‘We can’t raise them on their radios and although du Pres made it back to the gate, we haven’t been able to speak to him yet.  How soon could you get back if you need to?’

‘We can be back at the gate in a few minutes, but McKay is gonna want to stay because he thinks there’s something interesting here.  The important kind of interesting.  Is there another gene carrier you can send out here with a Jumper?’

Jack thought for a moment.  ‘Yes, but you’re going to have to trust me on this,’ he said slowly.

‘Jack?’

‘I can send Private Newson out with a Jumper.’

‘Sir!’ Bates said from behind him and Jack swung round.

‘I know what I’m doing, Gunney.  Stand down.  John?  Can you hear me?’

‘Private Jamie Newson?’

‘Yeah.’  Jack waited for a moment as Sheppard spoke to someone, not quite hearing what was being said.

Sheppard then spoke again.  ‘Yes, that’s fine.  Send him through in a second Jumper and I’ll leave when he gets here.’

‘But, sir!’ Bates tried again.

‘Stand down, Bates.  The General knows what he’s doing.  Sheppard out.’

Jack watched Bates battle with himself to argue the decision and saw when he’d decided to trust both his commanding officer and the leader of the Expedition.  ‘Okay, Dean?’ Jack asked quietly.

‘Yes, sir.  But I’m hoping for an explanation at some point.’

Jack nodded, then clicked his radio again to call for Private Newson.

‘Can he fly a Jumper?’ Reid – who’d so far remained silent – asked.

‘He won’t have any trouble with it,’ Jack told him with a hint of a smirk.  ’Now gather your teams and gear-up for a rescue mission.’

*****

Half an hour later Sheppard was back on the city and a nineteen-year-old Private had taken his place off-world.  Despite the seriousness of the situation, Sheppard had a smirk on his face that had probably pissed off several senior officers before Jack, but Jack himself simply nodded and grinned back at him.

Du Pres hadn’t regained consciousness yet, so was unable to give them any indication of what had happened to his team, but Jack had been on enough rescue missions through the gate to know what to do.  That he’d been the rescuee on many of those occasions wasn’t really relevant, he told himself.

One of the biggest issues they’d had in the Milky Way was the inability to download the last few dialled addresses in any kind of order from the DHDs on a planet.  Fortunately, the DHDs in Pegasus were of a newer design and one of the first things Jack had asked the science department to look at was a means to download previously dialled addresses in sequence.  They hadn’t disappointed him.

The rescue team would go first to the planet AT2 had originally gated to and Radek would pull the previous dialled addresses from the DHD.  This would tell them where their people had gone – been taken, Jack told himself – at least initially.  They’d follow the trail until they discovered the subcutaneous transmitters of their people, or they’d been through ten gates.  Whichever came first.  If by ten gates worth of information they still had no idea where their people had been taken, they’d return to Atlantis and think again.

‘General.  We don’t—’ John began.

‘—leave our people behind.  No, Colonel, we don’t.  But we can’t just keep following the gate trail forever.  I’m hoping when du Pres wakes up he can give us some clearer information, but until then, we’re stuck with the DHD data and hoping we find their transmitters responding.  Now, are you all ready to move out?’

Jack watched the rescue Jumper leave, filled with a burning desire to be the one who led the rescue mission to find their people.  His people.  He sighed and went back to his office and tried for a while to finish the never-ending paperwork, but soon gave that up and went to stand over Chuck again.  He could feel the frustration building up in himself, along with the irritation of the control room staff, so he heaved another heavy sigh and took himself off to the mess hall, where he toyed with a mug of coffee until his radio activated.

‘General?  Colonel Sheppard is returning.’

He sprang to his feet then cursed as his knee twinged alarmingly, reminding him of just why he was sitting waiting at home with his knitting while the kids went off to war.  Limping a little, he hurried back to the control room.

Sheppard met him on the staircase, and the grim look on his face told Jack all he needed to know.  He tilted his head towards the conference room and led the way.

‘Zelenka said he can’t be a hundred percent sure the data he pulled from the DHD is accurate, so I brought us back,’ John explained as they walked.

‘You didn’t check ten addresses?’

‘Yes, we did, but we might have to think again if he isn’t sure about the data.’  John sank into one of the chairs in the conference room, Bates and Reid on either side of him while Radek sat a couple of seats down, his head buried in his laptop.

‘Dr Zelenka?’  Jack decided to be formal.  ‘I thought you said the data would be accurate.  Have we lost the opportunity to find them?’

‘No, no.  I downloaded the last fifty gate addresses from each DHD and kept them separate, but I cannot be one hundred percent certain the data is correct.’  Radek looked up at him, and Jack could see the pain on his face.  “You must never tell him this, but I need Rodney to return and look at the programme.’

Just as he finished speaking, they all heard Chuck announce a further unscheduled gate activation.  On the off chance it was Lorne and his two teammates returning, Jack and John hurried back round to the control room.

‘It’s Dr McKay’s IDC.’  Chuck pointed to the laptop displaying the code from the GDO.

‘Rodney?’ John asked.  ‘Why?  He said he wanted to finish looking at the ruins.’  John sounded more than a little confused and Jack said a brief prayer to a god he didn’t believe in that no one else was in trouble.

The Jumper stopped in the gateroom and before the automatic protocols could take it up to the Jumper Bay, the rear hatch opened and Ronon, then Rodney jumped down to the gateroom floor.

‘Come on, Conan!’ Rodney snapped, even though Ronon was slightly ahead of him.  ‘Come and tell the General and the Colonel what you told me.’

Jack and John exchanged puzzled looks as the pair ran up the stairs, Ronon able to take three at a time.  Jack led the way back into the conference room and looked at the former runner as they all sat down, Reid moving seats so Rodney could sit next to John, an action which made Jack’s lips twitch..

‘I remembered where I saw that man,’ Ronon rumbled.  ‘I usually avoided anywhere with many people.’

Jack raised his eyebrows.  ‘And, so, therefore?’

‘Oh, for goodness sake!’ McKay snapped.  ‘Let me tell him.  We’ll be here all day if you do it.’  He took a breath as the door slid open and Teyla and Private Newson slipped into the room, Teyla with the blackest look on her face Jack had ever seen.

‘McKay?’ he growled.

‘Give me a chance!  Right.  The short version.  Ronon told us he thought he’d seen Halling before but couldn’t remember where.  He’s now remembered, and it was with a bunch of Wraith Worshippers when the Wraith came through the gate onto a world where Ronon had been hiding.’

‘Huh?’ John asked inelegantly, and Jack was glad to see he wasn’t the only one confused .

Rodney scowled at him.  ‘Halling is a fucking Wraith Worshipper.  Is that clear enough for you?’

‘But…’ John began when Teyla spoke quietly, but with anger inherent in each word.

‘It is true, General.  After Ronon told us where he had seen Halling, I recalled many occasions when Halling either disappeared when we were off-world, or was late to meet us, or he returned with no explanation of where he had been.’

‘And I remembered seeing him use a radio not long after we arrived on Athos,’ Newson added.  ‘At the time I disregarded it, thinking I hadn’t seen clearly, but after Ronon told us where he’d seen Halling, and Teyla remembered the other stuff, it makes sense that I did see it.’

‘And you never thought to mention this before?’ Bates demanded.

Newson shrugged.  ‘What was there to mention?  I thought I’d seen a member of the population who’d offered us shelter with what might or might not have been a radio?  You’d have called me an idiot and told me to cut down on the sauce.’

Bates opened his mouth to reprimand the young Private when John nudged him and Jack heard him mutter, ‘Let it go.’

Jack shook his head, hoping to clear it and looked across the table to Ronon, Teyla sitting on his left, still looking furious.  ‘So…’

‘I know the address of where I saw him,’ Ronon said.  ‘There was a hive in space.  It might still be there.’

‘But why would Wraith Worshippers want Lorne and Davis?’ John asked, clearly confused.  ‘Why would they let du Pres go?’

No one appeared to have an answer to this, but Jack noticed McKay staring into space.  He’d seen him do this before, usually when he was about to make a huge jump of logic no one else could make.  He’d seen Carter do it as well, but not as often as McKay, who really was the cleverest man in, huh, two galaxies.  He held up his hand to keep the others silent, and, sure enough, within a couple of minutes McKay was snapping his fingers.

‘Those attacks on us by the Wraith.  They didn’t want to feed from us, they wanted information.  They want to know where Earth is.’

There was a silence while they all digested this.

‘Teyla,’ John said suddenly.  ‘You said the Wraith wanted to know where we came from when you were culled off Athos.  You mentioned they were telepathic and might be able to read minds—

‘—But they can’t.’ Newson finished.  ‘They were reacting to the radio call, or however it was Halling contacted them.  It was an ideal situation.  Almost two hundred people, new to the galaxy.  Who’d miss them, especially as their new home might not be there for long?’

‘But he didn’t realise we had the means to rescue them,’ Rodney added.  ‘It didn’t matter as long as no one could connect Halling with the attack.  He’s probably the one who had your necklace initialised, Teyla.  We knew someone activated it.  He found it, recognised it, and took it to the Wraith, who activated it and then returned it to you.’

‘And the attacks off-world mostly stopped after the Athosians moved to the mainland.’  John took over again.  ‘I bet anything the few attacks we did have happened when Halling was on the city.  Or there might be more than one Wraith Worshipper among your people, Teyla.’

Her face paled, but she was unable to deny it.

‘Right then.  We need the gate address from Ronon,’ Newson said, rubbing his hands together.  ‘Then we…’  He trailed off and shot a look at Jack.

‘Then we send a cloaked Jumper though and see if we can find their transmitters,’ Jack finished.  ‘Colonel?  Will you take your team and a squad of Marines with you?  Reid, Bates, get geared up and choose a squad.  Newson can fly your Jumper.’

‘Yes, sir,’ Newson nodded.

John stood up and shook his head as both Bates and Reid opened their mouths to argue.  ‘Later,’ he told them, then looked around.  ‘Do you all need engraved invitations?  Let’s get moving, people.  We’ve got teammates to rescue!’

Hopefully still alive, Jack added to himself.

*****

In the end, it was surprisingly straightforward.  Following the rescue on their first day in Pegasus, John had drilled his men in performing a rescue from a hive – or as much as he could without having an actual hive.  The two squads of Marines they took with them were all experienced Marines, most of them with gate experience from the SGC.  The Sergeants knew exactly what they were doing with none of the officers really having to say anything.

They took cloaked Jumpers through to the address Ronon supplied and two lights in space blinked on the HUD of John’s Jumper which Radek had previously adjusted to recognise the subcutaneous transmitters implanted into all members of the Expedition before they left Earth.  It was the work of minutes to land the Jumpers in the dart bay of the hive, and the twenty-odd men and women made their way towards the blinking lights now showing on Rodney’s Life Sign Detector, the newly renamed Tricorder.  John called Newson up to take point with him and ignored the intakes of breath he heard behind him.  They crept through the surprisingly empty hive although Newson dispatched the couple of Wraith drones they came across with a quick slash of his K-bar across their throats.  The Marines closest to them saw how successful – and silent – this method of killing Wraith was and after a rapid exchange of glances, eight Marines pulled out a K-bar, the others keeping hold of their M4s.

It took almost ten minutes to move closer and closer to the centre of the hive, Marines remaining at each intersection to ensure a rapid egress.  John’s team, along with Newson and Bates, came to a halt outside the room in which Lorne and Davis were being held.  Rodney showed John the eight life signs on his LSD and John thought quickly, but before he could speak, Newson leaned forward.

‘Bates, Ronon.  We’ll go for the bastards while the others grab Lorne and Davis.’

Ronon nodded while Bates scowled and looked at John for confirmation.  He simply nodded his agreement and held up a hand to begin counting down.

‘Go for their heads and neck,’ Newson advised quickly, and John was pleased to see Bates just nod and allow the younger man to take the lead.

John counted down with his fingers, and they all moved together.

Lorne was being held by a female Wraith – a queen, John thought to himself, having learned about the hierarchy of a hive from Teyla.  She shrieked when she saw the Lanteans entering, but within a couple of minutes, John had managed to slash her throat while Rodney grabbed Lorne and dragged him away.  Davis was laying unconscious to one side of the now dying queen and John bent and slashed again, cutting the queen’s head almost fully off while Teyla dragged Davis out of the way.  An alarm sounded throughout the ship and John cursed, but all the Wraith in the room were now dead.

Ronon picked up Lorne and threw him over his shoulder while John picked up Davis.  There was no quiet and steady retreat. They simply ran as fast as they could, Newson and Bates now using their M4s on any Wraith they met while Ronon strode forward and finished them off with his blaster.  Teyla and Rodney brought up the rear, but the other Marines caught them up as they raced through the ship.

Within minutes they were in the Jumpers and taking off, followed by surprisingly few darts.  John and Newson destroyed the few who followed them with drones and Rodney dialled the gate to the Alpha site, just in case a dart they hadn’t seen followed them through.  Thankfully, no one followed them and they gated through to Atlantis barely an hour after they’d taken off.

A medical team was waiting in the Jumper Bay when the Jumpers docked, Carolyn having given Jack a tongue lashing when she realised the rescue team had gone without a medic.  He allowed her to tell him off for a minute or so in the privacy of his office, then he tapped his desk firmly.

‘Dr Lam.’

This brought her tirade to a halt as Jack almost always used her christian name.

‘There wasn’t room in the Jumper for a medic and, if there are injuries, there would be little time for you to treat them.  They’re probably going into a hive and they’ll get out as fast as they can.  Get a team ready in the Jumper Bay to treat anyone when they get back.  And while I’m happy to give you a good amount of latitude, don’t forget who’s actually in charge.’

‘Yes, sir,’ she said with a rueful smile.  ‘And I apologise.’

He waved that off.  ‘Just don’t tell me off in public,’ he told her with a small smile, thinking how different she was to her father, Hank.  Now there’s an implacable bastard.

*****

Lorne and Davis were taken off to the infirmary, Lorne complaining all the way that he was fine, just a little beaten up.  Neither of them had, thankfully, been fed upon and while Davis was being kept in the infirmary as she’d only just come round, Lorne was quickly released to join the debrief in the conference room.

Jack had arranged for lunch to be delivered to the conference room and Rodney’s face lit up when he saw it.  ‘I take back every bad word I’ve ever said about you,’ he told O’Neill.  ‘Well, most of them!’

John cuffed him on the back of his head and shook his head at Jack, while Lorne peered curiously at Private Newson.

‘I thought I was imagining seeing you in the hive, Private.’

Newson looked towards Jack for help and Jack nodded at him, scratching his head.  ‘Yeah, I figure there are a few things we need to discuss.  Grab some food and gather round, children.’

There was a mix of emotions in the gathering around the conference table.  Jack could see the mix of misery and anger in Teyla’s eyes as she settled into a seat next to John and Rodney, while Lorne was simply relieved to be rescued.  Jack brought him up to speed on what they’d deduced about Halling, and Lorne nodded.

‘The village we were going to is a couple of miles from the gate, but we couldn’t take a Jumper because of the number of trees close to it.  Six Wraith and Halling were waiting about half a mile away and they just jumped out on us.  I guess they didn’t use darts there for the same reason we didn’t use a Jumper.’

Jack nodded.  It was something they’d seen quite a lot.  Many societies grew trees close to the Stargate to prevent darts coming through, and although darts from an overhead hive sometimes set them on fire, they couldn’t be bombed from space for fear of the Stargate itself blowing up and killing their ‘food supply’.

‘Davis was hit straight away with a stunner and fell down,’ Lorne continued, ‘but I managed to dodge and it only caught my left side.  I still went down, but I saw du Pres run into the trees to get away.   I assume he got back here after they took us through the gate.  They certainly didn’t bother to look for him, which is why I knew they were after us for more than just simple feeding.  I saw one of the Wraith talking to Halling, but they didn’t try to hurt him at all, which was surprising.  Then one of them stunned me again and I don’t know what happened then as the next thing I knew I was waking up in a chamber on what I assumed was a hive ship.  It certainly looked like the one we rescued our people from before.  My watch was broken so I had no idea how long we’d been there.  Davis was still out cold, but after a few minutes I was able to stand, although I hurt like a bitch.’  He took a breath and a bite of his sandwich.  ‘A couple of drones came and dragged me to the queen,’ he continued, ‘and she’d just begun to question me about where we came from when you all arrived.  I never saw Halling again after they stunned me a second time.  Has he tried to come back yet?’

‘Not yet,’ Jack said grimly.  ‘We’ll let him through if he does try, but we’ll make sure there’re some big and mean Marines waiting for him.  If nothing else, Teyla wants to know when and how he turned.’

Teyla nodded her head, her eyes still burning with anger, although she said nothing.

‘Then I guess I’m up next,’ Newson said cheerfully.  ‘D’you want to do the honours, Jack?’

Lorne’s face was a picture, and Jack wished he’d had a camera ready.  John gave him a smirk, which Jack guessed meant that he’d thought the same thing.

‘I think Colonel Sheppard knows what I’m about to say,’ Jack began, ‘and I suspect Reid and Bates have also guessed at this point.’

‘And me,’ Rodney chipped in.  ‘John only knows because I was able to fill in some details he didn’t have.’

‘And I don’t know why you didn’t tell me before,’ John added, glaring at Jack, who hung his head.  ‘Sir.’

‘I wanted to tell you before we left but…I was so used to keeping everything about Jamie a secret I guess I couldn’t relax my vigilance.’

There was a long silence, then, finally Jack spoke again, quietly.  ‘There are a number of people and organisations on Earth who would love to get their hands on Jamie both because of what he is and because of the adjustments Thor made to him after Loki fucked up the original cloning process.  It’s why I brought him into the SGC to begin with, just over a year ago.  General Hammond was happy to help me—us.  I think he felt as guilty as I did for just letting the kid loose in the world, but at the time, it was the best thing to do.  Initially, at least, we were able to lose him in the education system.  We hoped he’d be safe through school and college, but he…’

‘I got bored and frustrated and dropped out of school,’ Jamie said quietly while Lorne looked around the table, his brows drawn together.

‘Newson’s a clone?’ he demanded, then his face cleared.  ‘Oh.  Newson’s the clone we all heard rumours about.’

‘We kept it as quiet as we could and General Hammond ensured all mention of him was deleted from the SGC records.  From anywhere I think, but the rumour still got round, obviously,’ Jack finished dryly.

‘No one could ever agree which member of SG1 the Asgard had cloned, though, sir,’ Lorne told him.  ‘And even though some people looked hard, there were no records of it—him anywhere.’

It was a slight slip, but it made both Jack and Jamie frown.

‘What happened after you dropped out of school?’ Bates asked.

Jack and Jamie looked at each other and Jamie nodded to Jack.  ‘Go ahead.’

‘He dropped out of school and bummed around for a while,’ Jack explained.  ‘Got himself into trouble a couple of times, but nothing serious, until he called one day and begged me to go get him.  It was about a year after we’d…abandoned him, although we had set him up with a back story and papers.  And money, of course.’  Jack took a deep breath.  It was more painful to explain than he’d thought it would be.  Thankfully, Jamie recognised this and continued the tale.

‘The plan was that I’d stay with Jack and Daniel until I was 17 and old enough to enlist in the Marines.  That was my idea.  I thought it’d keep me away from too many people who might remember Jack at a similar age and allow me to make my own way.  To cut a long story short, I joined up and everything was going okay.  I was studying for a bachelors with the AMU – the American Military University where I was studying for an advanced level of education,’ he explained to Ronon and Teyla.  ‘Then suddenly a few people began asking me questions about things they shouldn’t have known anything about.  I denied all knowledge about any of it to them, of course, but General Hammond and Jack decided to pull me into the SGC, and when Jack took over as lead of the Expedition it made sense for me to come as well, especially as I have as strong an ATA gene as he has.’

‘So you are a…a copy of General O’Neill?’ Teyla clarified, clearly a little confused about the entire process.

‘There’s a race of…of people who are very advanced technologically who have befriended Earth, our home planet,’ Jack explained carefully to Teyla, ‘who can make copies of people.  They made a copy of me and…’ he shrugged, ‘here he is.’

Teyla looked a little confused, but Ronon simply nodded. ‘Okay.’

‘They had a problem in making me the same age as Jack—General O’Neill,’ Jamie added, ‘so I came out as a fifteen-year-old.  I’m nineteen now, but I have the same memories and experience as Jack up until four years ago.’

‘But you had to stop your studies,’ McKay said, and while it wasn’t a question, Jamie nodded anyway.  ‘Right.  Come and see me in my lab tomorrow morning,’ he told Jamie, who nodded again.  McKay wasn’t finished, though.  ‘You two as well.’  He pointed to Jack and John, who both looked surprised.

‘Why?’ John demanded, sitting up from his customary slouch.  Chuck’s voice  prevented Rodney from answering.

‘Unscheduled off-world activation.’

Jack and John swung round to look at each other.

‘Halling?’ John asked, and Jack nodded.  John clicked his radio to call for an extra squad to come to the gateroom as they all trooped out onto the balcony.

Jack waited until the new Marines were in place then looked at Chuck.  ‘Has he sent his IDC through?’

Chuck nodded.

‘Lower the shield and let him come through.’

As soon as Halling breached the event horizon, he began calling for help, then stopped just in front of the gate and looked at all the guns pointing straight at him.  He raised his eyes to look at the group watching him, staring at them for a while, then jutted out his chin.

‘I regret nothing.’

‘Did Edith Piaf get to Pegasus before us?’ John whispered to Rodney, who tried to stop a laugh from coming out  but only succeeded in gulping loudly.

‘Idiot!’

*****

Jack ordered his men to lock Halling in the recently discovered Wraith cage while Teyla met with her people on the mainland the following morning, accompanied by John, Ronon, and Lorne – the latter to explain first-hand to the Athosians what had happened off-world and what he’d seen.  John and Ronon, meanwhile, searched Halling’s tent and discovered a second radio to the one he’d had on him.  John took it over to where Teyla had gathered the Athosians and where Lorne was now explaining the events on P6K 844.

Teyla was hugging a crying Jinto tightly to her and John closed his eyes in pain.  The Expedition had been betrayed by a man they’d trusted, but Jinto had been betrayed by his own father.

‘What will happen to him now?’ Jinto sobbed.

‘That will depend on our people,’ Teyla told him gently.  ‘But you are safe with us and will remain safe for as long as you wish to be with us.’

‘What usually happens to a Wraith Worshipper?’ John asked quietly.

Her face hardened.  ‘They forfeit their lives.’

‘As they should,’ shouted one of the Athosians, close enough to Teyla to hear both the question and her answer.  ‘And we should banish the child.  We cannot trust him.’

Jinto cried even harder and before John could say anything, Teyla stood, still holding the weeping boy.  ‘Eldra, he is a boy.  We must not cast the sins of the father upon the child.’

‘We cannot trust him,’ Eldra repeated stubbornly.

‘Then Teyla will take him to live on Atlantis with us,’ John found himself saying.

‘You would permit the child of a Wraith Worshipper to walk the halls of the Ancestors?’ someone else called out.

‘Yes, we would,’ John told her firmly.  ‘It’s not Jinto’s fault his father sold himself to the Wraith.’

Teyla gave him a wan smile, and Jinto’s tears subsided a little.

‘Can I really go and live with you and Colonel John, Teyla?’ he managed to say and she bent and kissed his head.

‘Yes, you can.’

A few of the other Athosians began muttering, and Eldra frowned at them.  ‘We must banish him.  He—’

‘That’s not up to you, lady,’ John growled, firming his grip on his M4 and that appeared to settle that.  John just hoped Jack would be okay with Jinto living on the city, although he suspected he’d agree.

‘And what of Halling?’  Eldra still wasn’t finished.  ‘Will you have him remain in the halls of the Ancestors?’

‘No,’ Teyla said firmly.  ‘We must decide what will be done with Halling amongst ourselves when tempers have cooled.’

*****

‘And they were happy with that?’ Jack asked, chasing a piece of pie around his plate.  They had agreed to discuss the Halling affair over lunch on the mess balcony, which had become a favourite place for the senior staff to meet.

John shrugged.  ‘They appeared to be.  Teyla asked us to keep Halling locked up until the Athosians decided what to do with him.’

‘Are they going to want to kill him?’

‘I…don’t think so,’ John said slowly.  ‘The Athosians strike me as a generally peaceful people and when they’ve had time to think about this, I suspect they’ll just throw him through the gate to the planet with the hive where Lorne and Davis were taken to.’

Jack gave him a level look.  ‘That’s what you’ve suggested to Teyla, isn’t it?’

‘Well, yes.  What was I supposed to say?  No, we’ll shoot him for you?’

‘It’s probably what I’d have said myself,’ Jack admitted with a sigh.

‘What would you have said, and to whom?’ Rodney demanded, appearing suddenly and pushing John’s tray towards him and sitting down next to him while Jamie slipped into place next to Jack.

‘Rodney’s offered to tutor me for my bachelors,’ Jamie announced, grinning happily.

Jack and John exchanged glances.  ‘Crap!’ John muttered, closing his eyes while Jack screwed up his face.

‘Sorry, Rodney,’ Jack began.

‘Yeah, sorry,’ John added.  ‘We were busy and forgot.’

‘Don’t think you’ve got away with it.’  Rodney pointed his fork at John.  ‘You’ll be working with either myself or Miko Kusanagi, Sheppard.  Or Philip Abrams if you wanted to divert into Pure Maths.’

‘What?’ John demanded, sitting up from his customary slouch.

‘Your PhD.  I know you’re ABD, so you get one of us as your advisor and can defend when we get back in contact with Earth.’  He turned to look at Jack.  ‘And you.  You’ve got to be pretty close to finishing.’

‘How…?’ Jack tried to ask.

‘Oh, please.  Daniel and I discussed it one night when we were stuck off-world waiting for you to come and rescue us.  Carter and I were wondering which one of us you’d ask to be your supervisor.’  He suddenly grinned.  ‘If you choose me, I’ll split my winnings with you.  We had a bet on who you’d ask.’

Jack opened his mouth to speak, but Jamie got in first.  ‘You can be annoying at times, McKay, but you’ve got a good heart.’

Rodney pointed his fork at him again.  ‘Don’t you dare repeat that!  The monkeys already think I’m a soft touch. Don’t make it worse!’

Jack sat back and watched the others bicker good-naturedly.  The months Jamie had spent with him and Danny had been good for all of them and while neither he nor Jamie were too good after Danny died, together they’d managed to get through it.  Now?  He still missed Danny, but the pain was easing ever so slightly, especially with these new members of his family.

Danny?  I think I’m going to be okay.

*****

Chapter Eight

Thursday 23rd December 2004

The sound of laughing voices, of music, and the shouts of the children filled the cool air while the scent of roasting meat, wood smoke, and sea-salt mingled to whet the appetites of the people gathered to celebrate the two-day winter solstice, or Christmas, as most of the Lanteans were calling it.  Some of the Marines had cut down a second tree – the first being on the city in the mess – and set it up close – but not too close – to the fires, and encouraged the children to decorate it with any number of different items: coloured paper ‘ornaments,’ broken crystals, old CDS, and long lengths of coloured organic garlands they’d taught the children to make in the days leading up to the festival itself.  Jack wasn’t sure who’d had the most fun; the young Athosians or the older but certainly no wiser Marines.

‘The Marines, definitely,’ John said, and Jack swung around to look at his Military Commander and friend.

‘What?’

‘You were thinking who’d had the most fun putting up and decorating the tree, weren’t you?’ John asked with a grin.  ‘I’m just saying it was the Marines.’

‘How did…’

‘Because it’s what almost every other person on Atlantis has asked me.  The Marines have been like excited five-year-olds, waiting for Christmas.’

Jack laughed.  ‘I had noticed you can’t go anywhere in the city without hearing Christmas songs and carols being played.’

‘Much to the dismay of the social scientists and McKay.  And try explaining Santa Claus to Teyla and Ronon.  Especially the part where he comes down the chimney.’

‘It’s an obsolete pagan rite appropriated by a group of religious zealots from a fascist society to mark the mythological birth of a monotheism which has become a festival of overindulgence and materialism perpetrated by corporate profiteers,’ a voice behind them said.

‘Hey, Rodney,’ John replied without even turning round.  ‘He’s been saying this to Teyla and Ronon,’ he told Jack, ‘and they don’t have a clue what he’s talking about.  Although, to be fair, neither do I.  I just tell them Rodney’s like the Grinch and hates everything about Christmas, including the food and presents.’

‘Hey!’ Rodney said indignantly.  ‘I never said I hated the materialistic part.  Just that I don’t think we should be foisting our misguided belief system on the population of a galaxy who’ve never been exposed to the delights of Black Friday shopping, corporate Christmas celebrations, and Auntie Mabel’s knitted socks.’

‘You have an Auntie Mabel?  That’s such a coincidence—’ Jack began.

‘No, I don’t have an Auntie Mabel!  I was just using that as an illustration,’ Rodney snapped, then saw the gleam in Jack’s eyes and visibly deflated and sighed.  ‘Okay, I probably deserved that,’ he said with a small self-depreciating smile.  ‘It’s just…I don’t have any good memories of this time of year.  Christmas in the McKay household wasn’t exactly a time of glad tidings and peace to all mankind.’

‘I was just teasing,’ Jack admitted, reaching out and patting Rodney’s arm.  ‘Danny wasn’t exactly thrilled about Christmas either, as it brought back so many unhappy memories of his years in foster care.  And you know this wasn’t meant as a Christmas celebration until the Marines took hold of it.’

‘And when Marines decide to do anything, they throw themselves into it one hundred and fifty percent,’ John added a little wryly.

‘Which still doesn’t quite explain the amount of tinsel around Atlantis.’

‘If you know Marines, it sort of does.’

*****

It had originally been intended as a simple celebration of the fact they were still alive and, it could be argued, even thriving.  They had an adequate supply of food; the Athosians were settled on the mainland along with a few other peoples the Lanteans had rescued from culled worlds and – best of all – the Wraith had stopped showing up every time a gate team went off-world.

‘My people have a celebration we hold in the middle of the darkest months to mark the coming of new life in spring,’ Teyla informed Jack, John and Rodney at a senior staff meeting.  She and Ronon were invited to join the senior staff after the original trio realised they so frequently had to ask her advice or opinion on a subject, she might just save them all time and effort and join them permanently, Ronon joining at the same time for similar reasons.  ‘We have not yet had time to establish when that date might fall on this planet, but we would be happy to join with you and celebrate on a day of your choosing,’ she continued.

‘That sounds very much like a winter solstice festival,’ Rodney said thoughtfully  ‘The climatologists are working on a calendar of this planet for us to determine our own important dates.  I’ll ask them to speak to you about your needs, Teyla.’

‘In the meantime, I suggest we use the Earth date for Christmas for our celebration this year,’ Jack said.  ‘Or at least as close to it as we can get.  We can adjust the date next year if we need to.’

‘And we will hold our festival two days before yours,’ Teyla agreed.

’Not all of us celebrate Christmas,’ Rodney frowned.  ‘We’re a secular society.’

‘Then we’ll call it a multi-or-non-belief celebration,’ John suggested.  ‘Whatever we call it, most folk will end up calling it Christmas, particularly the Marines.’

This proved to be remarkably prescient.  Once the Marines decided it was going to be a Christmas celebration there was no swaying them from this idea.  That many of them must have packed tinsel as part of their limited personal allowance when they arrived on Atlantis was beyond Rodney’s comprehension, but, as John had pointed out, it made complete sense for Marines.

Sergeant Smith liaised with Jack over the provision of a meal which would meet the expectations of a multicultural population, the outcome of which was a massive hunt led by Perran, the chief hunter for the Athosians, in which many of the military and some of the civilians on Atlantis joined.  Two large deer-like creatures were killed and butchered, along with several smaller animals.  One of the almost-venison was to be the star of the not-Christmas celebrations on Atlantis while the Athosians would roast the other as part of their not-quite-a-winter-solstice two days before not-Christmas.

The giving – or not – of presents was hotly debated and eventually Miko Kusanagi lost her patience and suggested a form of Secret Santa whereby each member of the expedition would both give and receive a present – most of which were homemade – and she organised the draw of names to deter any cheating.  Cheating did, of course, take place and it cost John several bars of his hoarded chocolate to become the giver of Rodney’s gift while he was able to ‘sell’ his gift recipient of Carolyn Lam to Evan Lorne.

Craft groups sprang up around Atlantis and John had to admit being curious as to the beneficiary of the necklace made from spent bullet casings he saw when he visited the craft group mostly frequented by the military, the men closely observed by an eager Jinto who had taken to sitting and watching them until Corporal Brown had grinned and shown him how to use one of the tools to cut and flatten out the metal casings to be used for something else.  It then became quite common to find Jinto busy helping the Marines make Christmas gifts and decorations for the city, and the beam on Jinto’s face when he was able, on Christmas Day, to present Teyla with a gift he’d made himself made many of the expedition wipe their eyes surreptitiously.

Carson Beckett, still adhering to his vow to make amends for his previous behaviour, became an extremely popular man after it became known that his mother had taught him how to knit, and almost everyone on the city was asked at least once if they had any old sweaters they no longer wanted until Teyla suggested a visit to a group of planets which held a regular market – moved after each session so as not to attract the Wraith.  Jack put a notice in the mess for people to add their names, what item they were looking for, and what they were willing to donate or do to pay for it, and both AT1 and 2 made the trip to the market, Rodney moaning about the colossal waste of time with each step he took.  He eventually came home with the most purchases, although he argued that every single one was necessary for the continued maintenance of Atlantis.

*****

‘I spent most of last Christmas fighting Kull Warriors,’ Jack said to John, while they leaned on the balcony just off the control level, each sipping a glass of not-quite-eggnog made with the product of a still in the bowels of Atlantis that Jack and John pretended to know nothing about, even while being the beneficiaries of a bottle of the liquor from each batch made.  As John pointed out, wherever three or more Marines were gathered, there would be a still not too far away, although on Atlantis the main distiller was Radek Zelenka, a man brought up in the exigencies of a communist regime where most things had to be home-produced and kept secret.

‘I was…Huh.  I still don’t think I’m allowed to say what I was doing last Christmas, except that it was in Afghanistan and didn’t involve eggnog,’ John replied.  ‘In fact, this is the closest I’ve come to a family Christmas for years.’

‘I thought you got on with your family?’

‘Meh.  My father and I had a massive row about my joining the Air Force instead of taking my place in the family company as he wanted.  Once he realised I wasn’t going to back down, he sort of accepted it, but we’re still not exactly close.  And Christmas was always a difficult time for us after my mother died.  None of us could really be bothered with the effort required, although our housekeeper tried her best.’

‘How old were you when she died?’

‘Ten.  I was in my first year at boarding school and my brother was in his fourth when Dad called to say she’d been in a car crash and was badly injured.  She died a couple of days later, so I at least got to say goodbye.’

‘That sucks,’ Jack said.  ‘My mother just walked out on us.  Left one day and never came back.  We never heard from her again.’

‘How old were you?’

‘Ten as well.  Old enough to know what’d happened, but not the reasons behind it.  It’s why I enlisted as soon as I could.  I just wanted to get away from home.  The Air Force offered a way out.’

‘Well, don’t you two look like a pair of carnivores at a vegan Christmas?’ Rodney commented as he joined them.  ‘Who pissed in your cornflakes?’

‘Just talking about our mutual miserable family Christmases,’ John told him.

‘Oh, then I’m sure I can better either of you.  There was the Christmas when my parents ‘forgot’ to buy me a present as opposed to the fortune they’d spent on my little sister.  The one where my mother stuffed the turkey with lemons and I went into anaphylactic shock and ‘ruined’ their day or—’  Whatever he was about to say was cut off by John’s hand over his mouth.

‘Stop, please.  You win the prize for the most god awful Christmases.  Jesus!  Did your parents not want you or something?’  John tried to make a small joke.

‘No.  That was the problem,’ Rodney said quite matter-of-factly.  ‘They couldn’t cope with a genius son in their family, so they pretty much ignored me until a college agreed to accept me.  I left home at 13 and never went back.’

John moved his hand to brush his fingers against Rodney’s cheek.  ‘Well, we can cope with you.  You’d better stick with us and we can be your family.’  John’s gaze moved between Rodney and Jack.  ‘We can all be family to each other.’

*****

Tuesday 3rd February 2005

At the start of February, Carolyn Lam declared the gene therapy Carson had been working on was ready to be used on humans.

‘Thank you, Carson, for working with me on this,’ Carolyn told him.

‘You’re welcome, lass, and I apologise for not being stringent enough to start with.  Dr Weir had encouraged me to…Well, I don’t need to go into that,’ he said, hanging his head.  ‘Not my finest hour, I’ll admit.’

‘We can all be taken in by smooth talkers.’  Carolyn gave a rueful smile.  ‘I think my mother would be the first to agree with that.  She fell in love with a pilot who took her to the US and promptly forgot about her and her baby.  Not quite Madam Butterfly, but not far off either.’

‘Your mother killed herself?’ Carson asked, a horrified look on his face.

‘No, but I think she came close once or twice.  Now, have you thought about how you want to administer the gene therapy?’

‘Rodney was badgering me about being the first to try it out,’ Carson said.  ‘We’d never hear the last of it if we didn’t start with him, then how about alphabetical order?’

A couple of hours later, John was roused from a doze he’d deny ever having as Rodney ran into his office waving the Life Sign Detector at him.

‘Look!  Look!  I did it myself!’

‘Did what yourself?’

‘I initialised this myself.  I won’t have to wait for you to turn it on for me anymore and I won’t need you to come and play light-switch for me.  I can do it all by myself!’

John looked a little mournful at the thought of not legitimately spending hours in Rodney’s lab, and Rodney must have noticed it.

‘Don’t worry, you can still come and turn things on for me if you want.  Your gene is still the strongest on the city, Carson says.’

John grinned at him.  ‘As long as I can still turn you on,’ he began and Rodney pulled a face.

‘Do you know how sleazy that sounds?  Anyway, I can help with the exploration of the city now and learn to fly a jumper and maybe use the control chair if we ever find a ZPM and…’  He continued listing the things he could do now he had an active ATA gene and while John still had a smile on his face, he was thinking mostly about how happy Rodney was on Atlantis and how much it had felt like home for all of them.

*****

Thursday 10th February 2005

A week later, John decided that the Pegasus Galaxy must have its own version of Karma.  He’d been in plenty of war zones on Earth, but he’d never actually died there.

‘You’ve got the biggest hickey I’ve ever seen, but Carson says you’ll be fine after a couple of days of rest,’ Rodney said, gripping John’s hand tightly, Teyla, Ronon and Jinto looking on to make sure John would have no further problems.

‘I don’t need rest, I need feeding,’ John complained.

‘You can have some chicken soup, but I want to keep you on a light diet for a day or so,’ Carson told him, appearing at his bedside.

‘Chicken soup?  I want a nice big steak with—’

‘Chicken soup,’ he said firmly.  ‘You can have a steak in a few days.  Another hunting party’s going out tomorrow and we’ll hopefully get some venison steaks out of it.  I’ll make sure one’s saved for you.’

John scowled at him, but he wasn’t going to be moved on this.

‘The exobiologists are fighting over who gets to do what to that bug thing that was attached to your neck,’ Rodney told him.  ‘It’ll keep them quiet for weeks.’

‘Well, I’m glad someone’s benefitting from my troubles,’ John said bitterly.  ‘I’d hate to have gone through all that for nothing.’  He moved a hand to touch the heavily bandaged area on his neck.  ‘I’ve been shot several times, but this was the worst pain I’ve ever experienced.  I’m not doing it again just for their benefit.’

‘In other news,’ Rodney began, clearly hoping to take John’s mind off his injury and recent death, ‘one of my team has discovered what appears to be a defensive satellite in our solar system.’

John perked up at this and looked hopefully at his boyfriend.

‘I swear it’s a Pavlovian response,’ Rodney griped, rolling his eyes.  ‘Mention weapons to anyone military and they get excited.’

‘You do the same with new technology.’

‘Well, yes.  But new technology is exciting and possibly beneficial to everyone.’

‘Weapons are beneficial in keeping everyone safe.  Especially out here in Pegasus.  If it really is a defensive satellite, it can be of enormous benefit to us all when the Wraith come to call.’

They’d realised the Wraith coming to attack Atlantis wasn’t just a possibility but a certainty, given that they’d fought the Ancients on Atlantis and all but defeated them.  The Wraith knew about Atlantis and it was only a matter of time before one of them decided to do a recce on the planet where Atlantis was last seen ten thousand years ago.  So far the Lanteans  – as they’d begun calling themselves while on Atlantis after the Athosians had first used it – had managed to keep their location secret, despite the fact Halling had used a transmitter from there.  One of the principal duties of the control room staff was to monitor the long range sensors for any sign of a hive or even a sole Wraith dart.

‘We’ll only know if it’s in working order by going there,’ Rodney told John.  ‘And our only option is a fifteen hour journey in a jumper.’

John pulled a face at this.  ‘That’s a hell of a long time in a small craft and if anything goes wrong, it’ll take an age to mount a rescue.’

‘I agree, but it’s something we need to do because if the satellite does work, it will probably prevent the Wraith from even getting close to Atlantis.’

*****

When Jack was informed of the satellite and the single option to examine it, he agreed with John’s conclusion.  ‘It’s a hell of a long time for the people who go.  We’ll need to adapt one of the jumpers to have some sort of bathroom facility for a mission that’ll take a minimum of thirty hours.  Who needs to go from the science department?’

Rodney thought for a moment.  ‘Well, Gall, of course, since he actually spotted it on the sensors.  Ideally, I’d like to go myself, but it is an opportunity for the scientists who don’t go off-world to do some fairly safe exploration, so I suggest Gall and a mechanical engineer at least.  Possibly someone other than Radek or myself, who has experience with weapons and or aerospace engineering.’

‘I did my postgraduate in aeronautical engineering,’ Jack admitted.  ‘And I’ve always kept an interest in it.  If you remember, I helped Sam with the designs for the X-302.’

‘I do remember.  I also remember trying to keep us both afloat after we ejected from the first X-302 after we were sent into space.’

Jack pulled a face at the memory.  ’Anyway, what I was getting at is that Jamie knows everything I do about aeronautical engineering and can also fly a jumper.  If we send him as pilot, he could double as an engineer if his knowledge is needed.  And if we send his gate team with him, it gives them full security in case something goes wrong.  This is Pegasus after all.’

When this plan was relayed to John and Lorne, they agreed with Jack’s reasoning. Jamie was given a field promotion to Captain after the knowledge of his origins had become known amongst the military, he himself arguing that to give him a higher rank would make things even more awkward because he looked so young.  Jack requested the military members of the expedition keep Jamie’s background to themselves.  He remembered all too well the regular requests from Area 51 that they be allowed to study ‘the clone’, as they referred to Jamie, when rumours of his creation reached them.  Thankfully, General Hammond had stamped very firmly on all such requests and rumours, but the odd proposal still occasionally arrived at the SGC from scientists who had heard the original rumours.

The prospect of exploring the ‘death star’, as Jamie insisted on calling it, excited everyone who heard about the mission and Jack, John and Rodney all received requests from scientists, soldiers and civilians keen to participate.  It was decided, though, to keep the numbers down due to the lack of space in a jumper and the length of the mission to prevent any murders occurring on the journey.  Jack and John decided, however, to send a back-up/rescue Jumper which would depart Atlantis five hours after the first one, just in case of any emergency.

As it turned out, it was a good job they sent a second Jumper as Jamie’s team had decided to investigate a Wraith distress call emanating from the closest moon to the satellite.

‘What the hell did you think you were doing?’ John demanded of his newest captain when both Jumpers had returned to Atlantis along with the carefully wrapped husk of Dr Brendan Gall, who had been killed by a ten-thousand year old Wraith.

‘I was investigating a Wraith beacon which might have brought the Wraith down on Atlantis,’ Jamie retorted.  ‘You’d have done exactly the same thing.’

‘Not with a bunch of civilians who don’t even know how to fire a gun,’ John told him.  ‘The sensible thing to have done was to contact Atlantis and ask for a team to be sent to investigate it, not do it yourself.  The beacon had probably been transmitting for ten thousand years.  A few more hours would have made no difference.’

‘Like you’ve always done the sensible thing and not gone off half cocked!’

‘Watch your mouth!  What I’ve done or not done is irrelevant here and you don’t get to question me.  You made the wrong decision and are now refusing to take responsibility for it.  Perhaps I made a mistake promoting you to Captain because you sure as hell haven’t acted like a responsible officer.’

Jamie glared at him.  ‘I was a Captain when you were still in short pants, you—’

John brought his hand down hard on his desk.  ‘No, you weren’t!’  He took a breath and continued in a measured tone, his voice making far more impact than if he’d shouted.  ‘Jonathon O’Neill might have been, but you weren’t around then.  And the Jack O’Neill I know wouldn’t treat the very people he’s sworn to protect like you have.  Nor would he speak to a superior officer in that way either, especially if he knew he was in the wrong.’

Jamie coloured and jutted out his chin, but remained silent.

John rested his hands upon his desk and leaned forward, meeting the young man’s eyes with his own level gaze.  ‘You can keep your rank, but you’re on probation for three months.  Any further stupid decisions, arguments with a senior officer, or refusal to accept responsibility for your actions, and I’ll bust you down so fast you’ll think you’ve fallen in a hole!  You’re also to go and see Dr Zelenka and volunteer to give him no less than ten hours a week voluntary service for a month.  He’ll decide what you’ll be doing, although I might suggest the sewage tanks need cleaning out.’  He kept his eyes firmly on Jamie’s face and watched as he battled with himself to overcome his anger and accept his responsibilities.  Finally, Jamie’s shoulders sank a little, and he nodded.

‘Sir, yes, sir!’

‘Dismissed!’

Jamie about-faced and marched out of the office while John heaved a sigh of relief and sank down in his chair.

‘You handled that well,’ Jack commented, strolling back into the office from the balcony where he’d been listening, unnoticed by Jamie.

‘Didn’t feel like it.’

‘No, believe me, you handled it well.  You separated your knowledge of who he is from the need to reprimand him for something for which you’d reprimand anyone in your command.  That’s not an easy thing to do.’

‘Especially as he’s right that I would probably have done the exact same thing,’ John said, rubbing the back of his neck.  ‘Does that make me a hypocrite?’

‘No, it just makes you a good commanding officer.’

‘’I’ll have Bates and Reid monitor him, although doing Radek’s scut work for a few weeks will hopefully make him smarten himself up.’

‘I noticed you sent him to Zelenka and not McKay,’ Jack said slyly.

‘Even Jamie doesn’t deserve that!’

*****

Once the gene therapy had been administered to all the military and any scientists who wanted it, Carolyn and Carson were able to analyse the results.

‘Forty-seven percent success rate?  I suppose that means about three billion people on Earth would be able to use Ancient technology,’ Jack mused as the senior staff and their seconds – along with Drs. Lam and Beckett – met to discuss the results.  ‘That’s much higher than I thought.’

‘It doesn’t work like that,’ Beckett said, looking at his notes.  ‘I suspect there are areas of Earth where the ATA gene would never be found.  What we might think of as Third-World countries, perhaps.  The other areas will have a percentage of people with a gene marker, but nowhere near the number you suggest.’

This surprised John.  ‘I thought the Ancients mixed with the population of Earth after they left Atlantis?’

‘Aye.  That’s what we assumed from the history given in the holograph room,’ Beckett replied.  ‘But from examining the racial origins of the members of the expedition who could and couldn’t accept the gene therapy, I think we can make some hypotheses of the dispersion on Earth.’

‘And, so, therefore?’  Jack waved a hand.

‘Europe and North America definitely,’ Beckett began.  ‘Japan, certainly, given the strength of Dr Kusanagi’s gene.  I’m not sure about Africa, South America and the Indian sub-continent as I don’t have enough data.  I don’t know about Australasia either.’

‘Well, since the British originally populated it, I would make an educated guess that yes, we’d find ATA gene carriers there,’ Rodney pointed out.

‘Possibly those with a…a dormant gene such as yours, laddie,’ Carson said.  ‘But full active genes like the General and the Colonel have, probably not.’

‘That doesn’t make sense.’  Rodney frowned as he considered what Carson had just said.  ‘Why would there be such a difference in distribution between active and dormant genes?  And why do you think there’d be such a distinction?’

‘That’ll be what we’re struggling with, laddie.’

John smiled to himself as Carson became more and more Scottish, the more flustered he became.  Then he sobered as he realised just what Beckett was saying.  ‘Hang on, Doc.  I thought a dormant gene was the same as an active gene, just not, you know, not active.’

Rodney glared at him.  ‘That’s what I’ve just asked.’  The ‘moron’ was unsaid but understood by everyone.

‘No, they’re not the same.’  Carson ran his fingers through his hair.  ‘We expected that a dormant gene would require a slight push, if you like, to turn it ‘on’.’  He made quote marks with his fingers.  ‘It turns out that a dormant gene, or those with a gene marker since it isn’t actually dormant, have a very diluted form of the gene and while in some cases the gene carrier who has their gene altered through the gene therapy can use Ancient technology with ease – like Rodney, for example – others will struggle to even open a door with their gene.’

‘But that’s about the strength of the gene,’ John argued, ‘not anything else.’

‘No, it isn’t.’  Carson shook his head and sighed.  ’Forty-seven percent of the expedition might have an active gene following the gene therapy, but it’s likely very few of those will be able to fully use it.  Their gene is…is too old for it to work.  And of those who can activate Ancient equipment, it’s likely their ability will deteriorate pretty rapidly.’

John looked around the table and was pleased to see that almost everyone looked as confused as he was.

Carolyn Lam gave a gentle cough.  ‘If I may try to explain.  The hand-held scanners in the infirmary can measure the strength of the ATA gene.  Of the ninety-four people whose gene was activated artificially only six of them have a strong enough gene to be measured, but all the ninety-four, according to their blood tests, have an active gene.  That is, they show the positive gene marker in their blood.’  She paused and looked around the table.  ‘Based on what we believe is the racial worldwide spread of the gene, this would equate to around 0.0001%, or around seven thousand people with a usable gene worldwide.’

‘Seven thousand out of six billion people?’  Jack wasn’t the only person to look aghast.  ‘Why?  How?’

‘We’re still working on that,’ Carolyn replied grimly.  ‘There are a number of references in the database, but we need to take great care in translating them.  Since there are only a few people who can read Ancient fluently, it’s taking a long time to get to the bottom of this, if indeed we ever do.’

‘I don’t mind having a look at the relevant entries,’ Jack offered.

‘You can speak Ancient?’ Rodney demanded.  ‘When did that happen?  I know for a fact you couldn’t understand what you were saying when you had the Ancient download in your head.’

‘I can read Ancient,’ Jack clarified, then shrugged as everyone looked at him.  ‘It was when Teal’c and I were stuck in that time loop.  Danny taught us both.’

‘Huh.’  Rodney appeared slightly mollified.  ‘I’ll make sure you get included on the list of translators, then.’

‘You can add me to it as well.’  John held his hand up.  ‘Although I don’t have as much free time as Jack,’ he qualified.

‘And how did you learn it?  Were you stuck in a time loop as well?’

‘No, Rodney.’  John made the name several syllables long.  ‘But I’m good at learning languages and I had some free time while I was at the SGC.’  He shrugged.  ‘I’m not saying I’m fluent, but I can certainly help out.’

Rodney glared at him with narrowed eyes.  ‘How many languages do you speak?’

‘Can’t we discuss this later?’ John pleaded.

Rodney made a noise like a grumpy hippopotamus.  ‘Fine.  But I won’t forget.’

‘You never do,’ John muttered quietly, but Jack heard him and was forced to choke back his laughter.

*****

Several more weeks passed by in a mixture of crises, calamities, and calm.  Exploration of the city unearthed a number of things; some good, some bad, and most of them extremely dangerous.  The expedition members were pretty unanimous in their belief the Ancients were fuckwits.

‘They left an energy-eating creature in a box for ten thousand years?’ Jack demanded.

‘Well, no, not exactly in a box.  It’s a containment device that appears to use subspace to… to…’ Rodney struggled to describe what the device actually was and what it actually did.

‘To store the creature in,’ John supplied, helpfully.  ‘To store a living entity in a box.’

‘It’s not a box,’ Rodney snapped.  ‘It’s a…a place to keep something safe.’

‘It’s a box, Rodney,’ John said dryly.  ‘Maybe a box like the TARDIS, but it’s still a box.’

‘Why would the Ancients leave a living…thing in a box?’  Jack was struggling to get his head around this.

‘Because they’re dicks.’

The energy-eating creature had, fortunately, been discovered before the box (‘I keep telling you it’s not a box!’  ‘Face it, Rodney.  It’s a box.’) could be opened.  Rodney and Radek were able to design and create a container in which to put the creature so it could be taken off Atlantis and left on a planet with a space-gate as they wanted to examine the box the Ancients had designed.

‘It may be the step we’re missing to recharge or even create a ZPM,’ Rodney told Jack and John over dinner one night.  ‘If we can work out how the Ancients were able to encapsulate subspace in the device it’ll be a massive step forward.’

‘So it’s a good thing we found it?’ Jack asked.

‘Hell, yeah.  Although if the entity had been released on Atlantis, it would have been a bad thing.  A very bad thing.  It could have easily sucked our naquadah generators dry.’

‘Fucking Ancients!’

*****

‘A machine which implants explosive tumours?  Explosive.  Tumours.  And there was no note on it warning people of what it would do?  Really?’

‘Fucking dickheaded fuckwits!’

*****

‘It forces someone to ascend?’ Jack asked.  ‘For fuck’s sake.  Would it have killed them to put a sign on it saying ‘Dangerous shit, do not touch?  Fucking dickheaded asswiping fuckwits!’

*****

Chapter Nine

Friday 1st April 2005

‘So, all this dangerous stuff lying around the city was to help them ascend?’ Jack asked Rodney over dinner one evening in early April.

Rodney tilted his head.  ‘Not quite all of it.  The tumour machine was to kill Wraith, except the tumours grew too quickly.’

‘And they just left this stuff scattered around for anyone to stumble upon?’

‘To be fair to the Ancients, I don’t suppose they thought any pure humans would ever find their way to Atlantis,’ John pointed out.  ‘They all had the ATA gene so the nanites wouldn’t affect them.’

‘Are you trying to defend them, Sheppard?’ Rodney asked, pausing with a fork full of food balanced precariously.

‘No, not at all, but they could hardly expect it to be ten thousand years before anyone came back to Atlantis and that they’d all be dead and buried by then,’ John pointed out.

Carolyn Lam, Lorne, and Carson Beckett joined them at their table.  John had noticed Keller wasn’t ever in Carson’s company these days.  In fact, not since well before Christmas, he realised, thinking back.

‘Who’d be dead and buried, sir?’ Lorne asked, setting out both his and Carolyn’s food on the table.  They were now rarely seen without each other outside of working hours.  ‘If you’re talking about Finch and Knox, I’ve already given them early morning PT with Ronon and banned them from the enlisted rec-room for a week.’

John closed his eyes and sighed.  ‘What did they do?’

‘You weren’t talking about Finch and Knox fighting?’  Lorne screwed his nose up.  ‘Oops?’

‘You can fill me in on what they’ve been up to later.  I was talking about the Ancients not expecting it to be ten thousand years before anyone returned to Atlantis and that they’d all be dead and buried by that time, or ascended at the very least.’

No one at the table missed the glances Carolyn and Carson exchanged

‘Now what?’ Jack sighed.  ‘Aren’t deadly nanites enough for today?’

‘We’ve been doing some more work on the ATA gene,’ Carolyn said hesitantly.  ‘And…’

Jack gave a short laugh.  ‘They’re not all gone, are they?  Of course they’re not.  What is it?  Some of them are stuck on a spaceship halfway to Earth?’

Carson looked around the mess hall as though checking they couldn’t be overheard and John found himself doing the same before they all bent forward to listen.

‘We got a chunk of the database translated, a chunk about the ATA gene,’ he began in a low voice.  ‘It came from the medical files in the infirmary so probably isn’t available anywhere else on the city unless someone deliberately goes looking, and we took the precaution of having bits of it translated by different linguists so no-one would have the whole thing to read.’

‘Why is that important?’ Jack asked, and John could see his worry that something else was going to bite them on the ass.

Fucking Ancients.

‘Well, first of all, the gene isn’t a natural gene,’ Carson explained.  ‘Although we suspected that already.  The Ancients created it to prevent their technology being used by anyone else, particularly the Wraith – who they did create by the way.’

Fucking Ancients – again.

John glanced around the table and saw his own anger and frustration reflected on the faces of both Jack and Rodney.  Their ancestors were directly responsible for the murder of countless millions of humans in Pegasus and those who couldn’t – or wouldn’t – ascend had just fucked off back to Earth where they’d be safe and left the rest of the galaxy to suffer and die.  Fucking dickheads.

‘It’s good to have it confirmed,’ Jack said on behalf of them all, ‘but why is this important or such a great secret?’

Carolyn sighed.  ‘Because it’s not even half the story.  The notes we discovered explained that what we call the ATA gene could be passed on genetically, but if the gene carrier mated with a non-carrier, the gene would decay exponentially through the generations.  They tried all ways to prevent this but…couldn’t,’ she finished with a shrug.

Carson took up the tale again while Carolyn took a few bites of her dinner.  ‘When they returned to Earth, some Ancients at least mated with the native humans because there are a number of ATA gene carriers spread about on Earth today, as we all know.  But because of the exponential decay, we can hypothesise that anyone with a CIA of over eighty percent must have had a full gene carrier in their recent ancestry, and by recent, we mean two or three generations at most.’

There was silence around the table, except for the sound of cutlery on plates, while they all tried to understand what the medics were telling them.

‘I…’ Lorne began, a puzzled look on his face.  ‘I don’t think I’m following this properly.  For a start, what’s a CIA?’

‘Chair Interface Aptitude,’ Carolyn explained.  ‘It’s how well a person can use Ancient technology – the control chair specifically – although it’s not a perfect test since technically Carson has a very strong gene, but he has little to no skill with the chair.’  She grinned at the face Carson pulled at her comment.

‘So who came up with this…this measuring scale?’ Lorne asked, still looking puzzled.  ‘Someone at the SGC?’

‘Sam Carter,’ Rodney told him.  ‘And it’s a quantification, not a scale per se.

‘But how can anyone know what my…quantification is?  I’ve never sat in the control chair, either here or back on Earth.’

‘And I thought a gadget in the infirmary could measure the strength of the gene,’ John said.  ‘That’s what you told us a couple of months ago, Carson.’

‘That was me,’ Carolyn told him.  ‘The medical scanners can measure the strength of the gene: the CIA is more of a ranking system.  As Rodney said, it’s a quantification, although we do generally talk about the strength of a gene.’

‘But what on earth does it all mean?’ Lorne asked again, and both John and Jack nodded their heads in agreement.

‘If I’m understanding correctly,’ Rodney began, ‘it means if you have a strong natural gene that actually works, as opposed to having a gene ‘turned on’ by Carson’s therapy which doesn’t necessarily allow you to get anything to work, it means that one or maybe even both of your parents, grandparents or possibly great grandparents was an honest-to-god Ancient.’

This time, not even the sound of cutlery broke the silence.

‘So my grandpa might have been an Ancient?’ Jack asked slowly.  ‘How?  I mean, I remember him… How?

‘And why?’ John added.  ‘How are they still around and why would they be…breeding with our families?’

‘Well, that one’s easy,’ Rodney said immediately.  ‘They need to keep the ATA gene active in the present generation so there is at least someone with the gene who can operate Atlantis when she’s found.  I imagine that’s why some of us have a…a dormant gene, because it’s more than two or three generations since an Ancient breed with our families.’

‘That’s the conclusion we’ve reached, too,’ Carolyn admitted, nodding.  ‘It deteriorates exponentially so after a few generations it won’t work unless it’s…it’s kick-started by a newer gene, in our case, John’s gene, since his is the strongest.’

‘What?’ John demanded, straightening from his customary slouch.  ‘You used my gene to create the gene therapy?’

‘Yes.  Why…’  Carolyn was puzzled for only a moment, then she groaned.  ‘That fucking bitch!  I’ll…’

Now a shocked silence stilled the table.  Carson made a strangled sound and buried his head in his hands.

‘Beckett?’ John growled.  ‘Is there something you want to tell me?’

Carson shook his head, but Carolyn sighed.  ‘Weir told me she’d discussed the gene therapy with you, John, and that you’d agreed for your gene to be used in the new therapy.  She even gave me some paperwork with your signature on it.’

‘I never signed anything for her.  I didn’t even speak to her above once, and that was enough to tell me what sort of woman she was.’

‘It didn’t matter, because she knew you’d be safely on Atlantis when, or even if, her deception came to light,’ Rodney surmised.  ‘I think Carolyn summed it up pretty well.  Fucking bitch.’

‘But surely she knew she’d be called on it at some point?’ Lorne asked, and John realised he’d not been party to most of their discussions about her.

‘I suspect she’s relying on her friendship with the President and Vice President to protect her,’ Jack said wryly.  ‘Or that we never make it back to Earth.’

Privately, John thought the latter was likely closest to the truth.  He cleared his throat.  ‘Beckett?  Did you know about this?’

Carson peeped over his fingers.  ’No, laddie.  I didn’t actually know but…’  He gave a great sigh and lifted his head to meet John’s eyes.  ’She told me she’d taken care of it all.  I think a part of me knew she was lying, but I chose to ignore it, then forgot all about it.  Shortly after she told me it was sorted out, Keller arrived to help me with the gene therapy.  She kept babbling on about what a wonderful woman Weir was to work for, how honest and trustworthy she was and how we should both be very proud she supported our work.  I…I allowed myself to listen to her and believe her.’

‘So you think Weir planted Keller to keep an eye on you and keep you trusting her?’ Jack asked.

‘Aye, I do now.’  Carson straightened up.  ‘But I’ve kept myself away from her after she had words with you, General.  I refused to work with her anymore when I realised she was manipulating me.’

‘So just what is she doing?’ Jack asked.  ‘I know she went off-world a couple of times – before Stackhouse asked for another team to go out with her and we decided it wasn’t fair to inflict her on anyone else – but if Carolyn won’t let her in the infirmary, and Carson won’t work with her, where is she and what’s she doing?’

‘She’s working with some of the chemists as they try to synthesise some of our most used drugs,’ Carolyn told them.  ’As John said, I won’t allow her in the infirmary or in the genetics lab, so that seemed like the best option.  The chemists know to double or even triple check all her work.  I wouldn’t put it past her to try and poison us if she got the chance.’

‘Jesus fucking Christ!  I had no idea things were so bad you have to keep surveillance on her.’  Jack ran his fingers through his hair.  ‘Why didn’t you tell me?  This is the sort of thing I need to know about.  Fucking bastard hell!’

‘What he said.’  Rodney jerked a thumb at Jack, who was now muttering to himself.  ‘Why wasn’t I told about the problems Keller was causing?  I’m the CSO and I should have been informed, as should General O’Neill.  If anything should happen because of Keller, if she hurt anyone, both O’Neill and I would be responsible because of our roles on Atlantis.  You can’t keep this sort of thing to yourself, Dr Lam.  I want a full report on why Keller isn’t allowed to work in the infirmary or the genetics lab and exactly what she’s doing now.  And I want it yesterday.  If anything happens because of her, it’s my career on the line, not yours, and I’ll thank you for remembering that.’  Rodney stood and gathered his things together, his hands shaking slightly, John noticed.

Lorne opened his mouth to defend Carolyn, but John held up his hand to forestall him.

‘He’s right, Evan,’ he said quietly.  ‘He’s responsible for everything that happens within the science department, and medical comes under him.  He needs to know these things, as does the General.’

Carolyn looked contrite.  ‘I know and I was wrong to not tell you about this, Dr McKay.  I’m so used to dealing with matters myself that I forgot the proper chain of command.  I apologise.  I’ll have a report with you as soon as possible.’

Rodney gave a single nod, moved to stack his tray and left, John following after him.

‘Fucking hell!’ Jack repeated, his eyes scrunched closed.  He sighed again and opened them.  ‘Carolyn, copy me in on that report.  Is there anything else we should know about?’

‘No, sir, and I am sorry.  I never thought of reporting this to anyone.  The Mountain wasn’t organised like this and we all just looked after our own departments.  I’m not excusing myself, sir, just…’  She trailed off and shook her head.  Lorne put his hand on her arm as if to comfort her and she gave him a wan smile.   ‘I need to go, Evan.  I have a report to write.’

*****

True to her word, Carolyn emailed a report detailing her actions regarding Jennifer Keller to Rodney early the following morning.  Rodney sighed as he opened it.

‘We’ve been so focussed firstly on staying alive, then exploring, that every day procedures have gone out the window,’ he told John who’d accompanied him to his office after breakfast and remained ostensibly to play light-switch.

John nodded, twisting a small oval-shaped item between his fingers.

‘What do you think that is?’  Rodney nodded at the badge-like thing, seeing John frown at it.

‘I’m not sure.  I’m getting a feeling of protection from it, but whatever it is it’s out of juice.’

‘Mmm.  That’s what I thought.  We found a whole bunch of them, all out of power.  Chuck it in the box marked ‘Crap’.  We’re going to look at trying to recycle some of the stuff in there.’

John nodded, but kept playing with the item.  ‘What do you think about the possibility of an Ancient colony in the Milky Way galaxy?’

Rodney gave a short, unamused laugh.  ‘If there is, I want to give them a piece of my mind for all the fucked up shit we’ve discovered here.  Plus, they’re responsible for creating the Wraith.  That alone means they’re negligent at best and most definitely cowards.’

‘So you believe in collective guilt?’

‘What?  No!’  Rodney glared at him.  ‘That’s bordering on philosophy and you know how I feel about that!

‘What do you think about the possibility of an Ancient colony, then?’ John pressed.

Rodney sighed and sat back in his chair, swinging slightly from side to side as he considered John’s question.  ‘Last summer I’d have been thrilled to meet an honest-to-god Ancient,’ he said at last.  ‘There’s so much I wanted to ask them, to talk about with them.  Now?  Now I just want to kick their glowey-asses.’

John opened his mouth to speak, but Rodney continued.  ‘If there are Ancients in the Milky Way, or even on Earth, and they’re interfering with humans, then Earth has a problem, and I’m not sure what the various world governments would, or even could, do about it.  It would be bad, very bad.  I mean, can you imagine the IOA if they thought there were Ancients around who might make claims upon the Stargate, for example?  Or try to claim back Atlantis?  The IOA’d lose their collective shit, as would their governments.  And did you read the mission reports about the NID?  They were willing to steal various pieces of technology off-world to, supposedly, help protect Earth from the Goa’uld.  In reality, it was mostly for the personal gain of a few politicians like Robert Kinsey, and various industrialists who wanted to line their own pockets.

‘If they found out there were Ancients still around, and could find them, I have no doubts the colony would quickly disappear into a large hole and/or be forced to work for the NID and shits like Kinsey, and who knows where that would end?  Imagine some of the most unscrupulous individuals you can think of armed with Ancient technology.  It wouldn’t end happily for anyone, to say nothing of what might happen if the Ancients decided to fight back.’  He shook his head, then frowned up at John.  ‘What were you going to say?’

John sighed.  ‘It’s just…I remember my grandparents, those on my father’s side, at least.  They were perfectly normal people, from what I can recall.  My grandmother made cakes for us and my grandfather helped build a treehouse for me and my brother.  I just can’t imagine one of them, or even both of them, being Ancients, and if they were, that they’d have approved of the nightmare stuff we’ve found in Pegasus.’

‘What about your mother’s side?’

‘They died before I was born and I don’t remember her ever really talking about them.  Dad and Dave never spoke about them either.’

‘Your brother is older than you?’

‘Yes, by four years.  I’ve not spoken to him for years.  He was angry that I wouldn’t go into the family firm.’  John shrugged.  ‘I exchange the odd email with my father, though, and speak to him a couple of times a year.  He’s forgiven me for joining the Air Force, although I don’t think Dave has.’  He shrugged again.  ‘It doesn’t matter now because I’ve made a family for myself.’  He stood and stretched.  ‘Right.  I’m off to do Colonely things.  See you at lunch?’  He gave a lazy wave and strolled out.

Rodney reread the email from Carolyn Lam, sighed, and rubbed his eyes.  He needed to get a handle on everything that was happening in the various areas of the science department.  He sat for a moment just thinking, then pulled forward his laptop and began typing.

*****

‘So how exactly will this work?’ John asked, his eyes skimming the report Rodney had produced.  For once, the tri-weekly Senior Staff meeting was being held in Jack’s office, a spell of bad weather making the balcony of the mess hall too wet for comfort.  ‘I get there’ll be weekly progress reports from the sciences, but how will we get hold of the various doodads and help they want?’

‘Doodads?  Really?  You and Jack have spent far too much time together,’ Rodney told John, who joined Jack in grinning at him.  He shook his head at them both.  ‘I’m hoping some of the Marines will have useful skills we can use in the science departments.  We did talk about this before we left Earth, but we’ve not had time to follow up on it as yet.  I know you have a couple of people qualified as welders, for example, and we have a few needs in that area.  Other stuff we’ll trade for off-world.  We just need the teams who go to the monthly markets to keep an eye out for anything that will fit the bill.  Several gate-teams have scientists attached to them now.’

‘I don’t have a problem with that,’ John agreed.  ‘And it might encourage a couple more scientists to qualify for off-world missions and—.’

There was a knock on the open door of Jack’s office, and they all looked round.

‘Do you have a moment?’ Carolyn Lam asked, Carson standing beside her with a worried look on his face.

‘Me?’ Jack asked.

‘No, you and Colonel Sheppard.  And we need to speak privately.’  She gave Rodney a little smile.

‘I’ll go and tempt the monkeys with shopping trips.’  Rodney stood up.  ‘See you for dinner?’ he asked John, who nodded.

The two doctors settled themselves in chairs in front of Jack’s desk and Jack thought the door closed and the windows to darken.

‘So?’

‘Carson came to me earlier with some…interesting information,’ Carolyn began, then paused.

‘Interesting how?’ Jack prodded when the pause went on for a little too long.

Carolyn and Carson exchanged looks.

‘I was doing some more work on the ATA gene and…’  Carson didn’t finish the sentence.

‘For fuck’s sake!  Will neither of you tell us what the problem is?’ Jack demanded.

‘There’s no problem, as such,’ Carolyn began again.  ‘But—’

‘—the pair of you have the same mother,’ Carson said quickly, as though to get it over and done with.

‘What?’

‘Huh?’

Jack and John now exchanged looks.

‘Say that again, more slowly,’ Jack told Carson.

‘I was working on blood samples from the pair of you to look at your microarray-based autosomal relationship and even though I expected you would have some degree of common ancestry, given the strength of each of your ATA genes, I wasn’t expecting the match that I discovered.’

John rolled his eyes.  ‘In English, please, Doc.’

‘You and the General are half brothers and share the same mother.’

‘How…He…I…’  Jack couldn’t even form a sentence, while John’s jaw simply fell open.

‘How is that possible?  My mother died when I was ten years old,’ he managed to say.

‘But the General is older than you, laddie,’ Carson said gently.  ‘My guess would be she gave birth to him, then left to marry someone else and spread the ATA gene around.’

‘My mother left us when I was ten, and I’m thirteen years older than you, John.  It is possible.’  Jack tried to smile, but was fairly sure he didn’t manage it.

‘No, it’s not, because my brother is four years older than me so she couldn’t have given birth to him.’

‘Are you sure he’s your full brother?’ Carolyn asked.

‘What?  Of course he’s my brother!’ John snapped.  ‘We might not have spoken for years, but he’s still my older brother.’

’No one’s saying he’s not your brother, Colonel.’  Carson’s voice was still gentle, trying to placate John.  ‘But you might not share the same mother.’

’No, I don’t believe it.  You’ve made a mistake.  And I can prove it.  I have a photo of my mother in my room.  I’ll go and get it.’  John jumped to his feet and left the office.

‘I think I’ve got some photos of me as a kid as well,’ Jack murmured.  ‘I’ll go fetch the album.  Wait here, you two.’

They were both back within a few minutes.

‘Here.’  John held out a framed photo of a young woman holding a messy haired young boy, clearly John.  There was a second, smaller photo in the frame of two young boys with their parents.  John clearly took after his mother while the other boy, presumably John’s brother, resembled his father.

Jack looked at the picture and paled.  He sat down abruptly and opened the album he was holding.  It was filled with pictures of himself with Daniel Jackson, and it was clear why he’d brought it to Atlantis.  Towards the back, however, were a few black and white photos of Jack as a young boy with just one or two in colour.  One of the colour photos showed a young boy laughing with a woman…who was identical to the woman in John’s framed photograph.  He passed it silently to John.

John sank back into his chair, gripping the album.  ‘How?’ he whispered.  ‘Why?  Why would she do that?  Why would my father lie about Dave and I sharing a mother?’

Carson looked as though he was almost in tears as he stretched out a hand to touch John’s shoulder.  ‘I don’t know, laddie.  I don’t know.’

Carolyn stood up.  ‘I’ll…we’ll leave you both alone.  You have a lot to talk about.’

Carson squeezed John’s shoulder and followed Carolyn, leaving the two Air Force men sitting in silence.

Jack was the first to break it.  ‘I’m so sorry, John.  I didn’t know, and I don’t know how to fix this.’

John looked up from where he’d been gazing at the album.  ‘Jack, no, don’t apologise.  It’s not your fault.  It’s no one’s fault but…m—our mother’s.  Hell, I’m glad to find out you’re my brother.  If I had to choose one man to be my brother, it’d be you.  I just…’  His voice faltered for a moment, then he continued.  ‘Everything changed after Mom died.  Dad was never the same.  He became more distant and more involved with the business, and Dave and I only had each other as our grandparents were both dead by then as well, although…’  He gave a despondent, humourless smile.  ‘I guess this explains why my mother’s parents weren’t around.’

‘Are you…’  Jack hesitated.  ‘Are you sure she died, John?’

‘Yeah, I’m sure.  She was in a car crash.  A drunk driver hit her car right by the driver’s door.  It was a miracle she wasn’t killed outright.  She was in a coma and never came out of it.  We were all with her when the doctors turned off her life-support machine.’  He paused for a moment.  ‘D’you think she might have been able to heal herself if they’d given her more time?’

Jack shook his head.  ‘I doubt it.  Ayiana, the Ancient we discovered close to the Outpost in Antarctica, wasn’t able to cure herself of the plague, although she was able to cure one of our people when they caught it.  Unfortunately, she wasn’t strong enough to cure all of us.’

‘Is that when you were implanted with a symbiote?  I read that mission report.’

Jack nodded, scowling at the memory that rose to the surface.  ‘Anyway,’ he continued with a shake of his head, ‘I doubt your…our mother could have cured herself.  What surprises me, though, is that no one discovered she was different to a regular human.  Janet Fraiser said their physiology is very different to our own.  Wouldn’t the hospital have spotted that?’

John shrugged.  ‘I don’t know.  I was only ten and was losing my mother.  I do know, though, that both Dave and I were born at home.’  He paused for a moment.  ‘At least, I was born at home.  I’ve seen the photos of her sitting up in bed with me as a newborn.  I was led to believe that Dave was too, but now…I’m not sure.  I didn’t even know he had a different mother and I’m not sure he did–does.  Fuck!  I need to speak to my father when we make contact with Earth.  Find out just what he knows and why he lied to me.’

‘It’s likely he didn’t know your mother was an Ancient.’

‘But he did know she wasn’t Dave’s mom and he kept it from us both, unless he’s told Dave by now.’  John shuffled around in his seat and passed the photo album back to Jack.  ‘How do you feel about having a baby brother?’ he asked, carefully not meeting Jack’s eyes.

‘I always wanted a brother.  And like you said, if I had to choose someone to be that brother, I’d happily choose you.  Although, you do realise you’ve now got two extra brothers?’

John frowned, then smiled.  ‘Of course.  Jamie.  Now I’ve got a baby brother too.  Should we call him in and tell him?’

‘It’ll mean revealing his status as my clone to the whole expedition if you do acknowledge him,’ Jack warned.

‘Then that’s a decision only he can make.  I’m happy to do that if you are and he is.  And I also need to tell Rodney.  He’ll be worrying himself sick that there’s something seriously wrong with one or both of us.’

*****

It didn’t take long for the news about Jack and John being brothers to make its way around Atlantis.  It was greeted with a mixture of eager congratulations and mild interest depending upon who you spoke to.  The news about Jamie was met very differently.

Within hours of it first being made generally known that Jamie Newson was Jack O’Neill’s clone, there were three requests in Jack and Rodney’s emails demanding access to him for testing.  Jack just deleted every single one, but Rodney went on the rampage.

‘You’re a fucking moron, Kavanagh!  He’s as human as the rest of us, so no, you are not authorised to do any experiments on him.  It’s strictly prohibited by the fucking Geneva Convention in case you’ve forgotten, and while we may not be on Earth, we will never, ever allow such a thing to take place on Atlantis.’

‘He’s not human, so he isn’t covered by the Geneva Convention, and neither are Sheppard and O’Neill,’ Kavanagh spat.  ‘We should be allowed to do what experiments we want, especially if it’ll extend our knowledge of cloning and the Ancients.’  He stuck his chin up belligerently, which just made it a better target for Rodney to punch.  Kavanagh went down like a nine-pin.

Radek and Miko strolled over to look at the body laying on the floor of the main lab.  All the other scientists had fled when Rodney began yelling.

‘Should we call medical?’ Radek asked, poking the unconscious Kavanagh with his foot.

‘Should we take the opportunity to get rid of him?’ Miko suggested, and Rodney looked at her thoughtfully, rubbing his right hand to try to ease the pain.

‘Good idea.  What do you suggest?’

‘Throwing him off a pier would be easiest.’

‘Wouldn’t he float to the surface?  Although I suppose we could weigh him down.’

The door slid open right at that moment and John rushed in, followed closely by Ronon.

‘Rodney!  Simpson reported you were yelling at Kavanagh and she was worried what he might do!  Are you alright?  Are you hurt?’  John began to pat him down until Rodney pushed him away.

‘No, Im fine although I hurt my hand punching that idiot.’

‘I’ll teach you how to punch properly, McKay,’ Ronon rumbled.  ‘Next time you won’t hurt yourself.’

‘Next time?’ John demanded, turning and looking at him.  ‘There won’t be a next time!’  He turned back to Rodney and entirely missed the wink Ronon gave McKay, who grinned and poked Kavanagh with his foot.

‘We were just discussing the best way to get rid of him.’

‘What?’ John asked, looking between the three scientists.

‘Miko suggested we throw him off a pier,’ Rodney explained, ‘but I was worried he’d float to the surface, although I don’t suppose it’d matter as long as he’s dead.’

‘What?  You can’t throw him off a pier,’ John told him in bemusement.

‘Why not?  No one would miss him.’

‘You can’t just throw people you don’t like off a pier.’

‘Why not?’ a fresh voice asked.  ‘Seems like a good plan to me.’

‘For fuck’s sake, Jack!  You can’t throw people you don’t like off a pier,’ John repeated.

‘Why?’

‘Well…For a start, some of the scientists don’t like Rodney.  I’ll not have him thrown off a pier.’

‘Fair enough.  But we could have a vote,’ Jack suggested.

Rodney snapped his fingers several times.  ‘Yes, yes.  Exactly.  And if you don’t get over, say, ten votes, we can throw you off a pier.’

‘No!’  John stared at the surrounding people.  ‘Will you all just listen to yourselves?  No one’s throwing anyone off a pier!’

‘Spoil sport,’ Rodney muttered, and Jack pointed a finger at him.

‘What he said,’ he told John.

‘I can’t believe you people,’ John muttered.  He walked over to where Kavanagh was still laid out and stared down at him.  He was still out cold.  ‘Did any of you call the infirmary?’

‘Umm.  No?’ Rodney admitted.

‘We got a little waylaid by the idea of throwing him off a pier,’ Miko explained.

‘Well?’ John prompted.

‘Well what, Colonel?’ Radek asked, pushing his specs up his nose.

John sighed.  ‘Will one of you please call for a medical team?’

There was a pause, which was finally broken by Rodney.  ‘Why don’t you call them?’

‘Because I’m not the reason he’s laying on the fucking floor!’

‘Well, technically, Colonel, you are the reason,’ Radek explained, moving back to his desk.  ‘You and the General and Captain Newson.’

John shook his head in frustration, then saw Kavanagh move slightly.  ‘Well, at least he’s alive.’

There was a collective sigh.

‘We never catch a single break,’ Jack complained.

They all watched as Kavanagh sat up very slowly.  ‘What the hell happened?’  He rubbed his chin where a bruise was already forming.

‘What can you remember?’ Jack asked carefully.

‘I don’t…McKay was yelling at me about something, I think.  I don’t remember.  Why is my face hurting?’

‘We think you ran into something,’ Jack told him.  ‘Colonel Sheppard and I arrived to find you laid out cold.  Maybe you should go to the infirmary and get checked out.’

Kavanagh managed to get to his feet but swayed a little.  No one offered to help him.

‘I’ll just…’  He waved his hand and stumbled out, the others watching him.

‘Okay.’  Rodney rubbed his hands together.  ‘Is it lunchtime yet?  I’m starving.’

John looked between them all.  ‘Is no one going to talk about what happened?’

‘What is there to say?’ Rodney shrugged.  ‘You wouldn’t let us throw him off a pier even though he wanted to experiment on you.  And he wasn’t the only one.’

John gaped at him.  ‘What?  Who else wanted to experiment on me, on us?’  He waved a hand between himself and his half brother.

‘’Well, Keller for one.  We should think about throwing her off a pier.’

‘I agree,’ Jack nodded.  ‘Especially as we think she’s only on the expedition because of Weir.  Now there’s a person no one could argue against throwing off a pier.’

The scientists and Ronon – who didn’t even know Weir – all nodded their heads in agreement while John just shook his.  ‘You’re all crazy.’

‘Perhaps, but we’re also very practical, Colonel,’ Miko pointed out.  ‘Some people just deserve to be thrown off a pier.  And I’m hungry as well, Rodney.  Let’s go and get some lunch.’

Ronon, never one to decline a meal, nodded his agreement.  ‘I’m game.’

The scientists and Ronon filed out, leaving Jack and John alone.

‘Miko’s right, you know, John.  Some people just deserve it.  And they did want to experiment on you and your brothers.’

John grinned at him.  ‘I still like hearing that.’

‘So you’re over your snit about your parents?’

‘I was not in a snit.’

‘Yeah, you really were.  Come on, bro.’  Jack slung his arm over John’s shoulder.  ‘Let’s go and find Jamie and plot murder and mayhem.  He’ll be up for throwing folk off a pier.’

John allowed himself to be led out of the lab.  ‘Of course he will.  He’s you.’

*****

Chapter Ten

Friday 22nd April 2005

‘There’s an area about a mile away from the city according to the scan Captain Newson took of the sea floor.’  Rodney pointed to an image on the screen in the conference room.  ‘If we can get aboard the drilling platform, we can move it to this area,’ he pointed again, ‘then connect it to the city and bingo.’  He gave a satisfied nod, then raised his eyebrows and looked around the room.

Almost three weeks had passed since Jack and John discovered they were half-brothers.  Already close friends, they spent time discussing their mutual childhoods and memories of their common mother, with Jamie joining them many evenings.  John fully accepted Jamie as a younger brother and, although it took some time, Jack began to view him as such instead of a copy of himself.  It made it much easier for him to accept the younger man and it meant they could build a proper relationship between themselves rather than the sometimes difficult one they’d previously had.

‘Bingo?’ John repeated.

‘Yes, Colonel,’ Rodney told him.  ‘Bingo.  It’s an expression of satisfaction at a sudden positive event or outcome.  If we set the platform to drill there, it will find an area of hot rocks about a mile under the seabed.  The plant will pump cold water into a well, move it over and around the hot fractured rock and draw off the heated water from another well, which will in turn be used to drive a generator, creating power for the city.  Bingo.  We have power.’

‘But if the plant is a mile from the city, how will it get the power back here?’ Teyla asked.  ‘Does it connect with a cable as other of your equipment does?’

’That’s an over-simplification of the process, but essentially, yes,’ Rodney nodded.  ‘From what we’ve discovered through the database, the plant can be up to a hundred miles away from the city.  It is a mobile drilling platform after all and once set going it’ll seek out new areas in the seabed as it needs them.  It’s also equipped for long-term living as well as having emergency systems, like a force field, and equipment for repairs outside as needed.’

‘Obviously, there will be a decrease in the power it provides over longer distances,’ Radek pointed out.

‘Yes, yes, obviously.’  Rodney waved a hand.  ‘That’s just basic physics, although I suspect we’ll find the umbilical cord will be a superconductor.  We’ll need to do some deeper research into it at some point as it could transform power production and usage on Earth if we can replicate it.’

‘How much power do we expect it to produce?’ Jack asked, doodling on his notepad.  ‘Enough to open a gate back to Earth?’

Rodney paused for a moment, thinking.  ‘To open an intergalactic gate, we estimate we’d need an initial power supply of somewhere around two terawatts.  Keeping it open for the full thirty-eight minutes would use a further terawatt, based on what was left in the Proclarush Taonas ZPM we used to get here, although it might not be as much as that given some of the power will come from the kinetic sea energy the city uses to power the gate generally.’

‘We think the plant will produce around six-hundred gigawatts,’ Radek added.  ‘A sufficient amount to power the shield, although this will only be when the plant is active.  At the times it moves to find new areas to drill into, it won’t produce anything as we have no means of storing electricity.’

‘And I’d have thought the Ancients would’ve managed to solve that problem given they built a flying city,’ Rodney complained.

‘So no opening a gate back to Earth?’ Jack clarified.

‘No.’

‘Not even allowing for the additional power provided by the kinetic sea energy and the naquadah generators?’

‘Naquadah generators can’t be linked up in series like normal batteries can,’ Rodney told him with a sigh.  ‘I thought you knew this.  You worked with Sam Carter for long enough.’

‘Yeah, but I switched off when she went into geek-speak,’ Jack said lazily, leaning back in his chair and grinning at Rodney.  ‘What will it power, then?’

‘The city shield,’ replied Rodney promptly.  ‘As Radek said, it’s powerful enough for us to use the shield for a number of years while it’s active.’

‘How about while under fire from a Hive?’ John asked with a frown.  ‘How long will it last, then?’

Rodney hesitated for a moment.  ‘We’ve run a few simulations and we think, think mind you, that it wouldn’t last long.’

‘How long is not long?’ John growled.

‘A few hours at most,’ Radek reluctantly admitted.

‘A few hours?  What use is that?’

‘It’ll protect the city from the massive storm that happens every twenty years or so on this planet,’ Rodney retorted.

‘Hang on a minute, what massive storm?’ Jack demanded.  ‘This is the first I’ve heard about a massive storm.’

‘It’s something the climatologists discovered a few days ago.  The report should be in your inbox,’ Rodney told him.  ‘Every twenty years or so there’s a monster storm that covers over thirty percent of the planet, but it won’t bother us when it does come since we’ll have use of the shield.’

‘Perhaps it will not affect the city,’ Teyla began, frowning, ‘but the mainland is not protected.  Will it cause danger to my people and to our settlement and crops?’

‘Crap, I’d forgotten about the mainland,’ Rodney admitted.  ‘I’m sorry, Teyla.  The storm will undoubtedly cause damage to both the settlement and the crops.  We’ll work on trying to make a shield for them as well, won’t we, Radek?’

‘Since the geothermal plant has a force field surrounding it, it may guide us in creating a shield for the mainland,’ Radek agreed.

‘Do we know when the next monster storm is due?’ John asked.

‘According to the data the climatologists got from the database and the information satellites, in the next couple of years,’ Rodney replied, tapping and reading his tablet.

‘What information satellites?’ Jack asked with a frown.

‘Oh, come on!’  Rodney raised his eyes heavenward.  ‘Don’t you read anything the science department puts out?  I know there was a report on the satellites just a few weeks ago.’

‘There’re a couple of dozen satellites around this solar system and this planet,’ John explained with a grin at his brother.  ‘They’ve been recording information for the last million years, even while Atlantis was under water.  As soon as she came to the surface, she began to download the information from them.  I’m guessing the info on the storms was in there somewhere?’

Rodney nodded.  ‘There’s a heap of data we’ve not even touched as yet.  Enough to keep an entire department busy for a few years, in fact.  At the moment, Miko spends a few hours a week distributing the info around the various departments, but she’s got a lot of other work to do as well.’

‘Does it need a lot of technical ability to understand it?’ John asked, doodling on his notepad.

Rodney and Radek looked at each other.  ‘Not a huge amount,’ Radek admitted.  ‘Why?  Do you have someone in mind who may help Miko?’

‘Well, I’ve got several guys with undergrad degrees in IT.  Would they be any help?’

‘Yes,’ Rodney said immediately.  ‘Send them to Miko as soon as you can and she can assess their skills and set them to work.  Copy me in on any emails you send her, please.  We never did get around to evaluating your people for work in the science departments.  Can we talk about it later today?’

‘Yeah, but I’ll get Lorne along as well as he’s got the lists we made up before we left Earth,’ John told him.  ‘He’s also got a few people who’ve requested some training in various areas or who want to continue with courses they began on Earth.’

Rodney nodded.  ‘I’ll speak to my department and sort something out.’

*****

The upshot was a series of classes arranged by the various science departments to cover a wide range of subjects.  In their turn, the Marines offered to teach the scientists any skills they had that the scientists wished to learn, and which resulted in John coming across tiny Miko in a welding mask several sizes too large for her being taught how to repair a section of panelling which had been underwater for millennia and had become unstable.  He watched for a moment, unseen by both tutor and pupil, shook his head and carried on his way.

‘Have you seen the notice board on the intranet?’ Jack asked him later over a coffee in the mess – they were rationed to one cup a day each now as supplies were getting very low and vouchers had been issued for them allowing those who didn’t like coffee to trade them for something they did like.  John knew, however, that Rodney still had some of his secret stash left and he suspected that a few of the other scientists did, too.

‘Not today.  Why?’  John sipped his coffee slowly, savouring the taste.

‘There’re several adverts from both military and scientists offering tutoring in a wide variety of subjects.’

John laughed.  ‘I saw Miko learning how to weld earlier.  Her mask was far too big.  We could do with getting one made that actually fits her.  I’ll ask Rodney to look into it.  Have you offered to tutor a subject?’

‘There’s not much I can do.’

‘Oh, come on.  You must know something you could teach?’

‘Fishing, maybe.  What about you?’

John thought for a moment.  ‘I could teach surfing.  I’d need to get some boards made first, but I’m sure I can get the chemists to make some polyurethane for me.’

‘Do you know how to build a surfboard?’

‘I made a couple while I was at school, and I still have the book I used then.’

Their conversation drifted into other ideas for hobbies to introduce to the expedition members, a few of whom were still missing the freedoms they’d had on Earth and were struggling with making a life in a new galaxy.

Not everyone is suited to being a pioneer, John mused to himself.  He’d been adamant his men had regular visits to the base psychologist to discuss any misgivings or problems they might have, and he knew Rodney had done the same, all the while complaining about the amount of time it took and that it was merely pandering to the weaknesses of those who found it useful.

‘Rodney, admitting you need help is not a weakness,’ John told him, scowling at his partner  ‘It’s sensible and responsible.  Don’t let me hear you saying that again.  It’s not helpful, but it is rude and judgemental.’

Rodney stared at him in astonishment.  ‘Wow.  I never expected you to take that tone with me.  “Don’t let me hear you say that again”?  What?  You’ll spank me if I do?’

John glared at him.  ‘I’m serious, Rodney.  If that’s what it takes, I might.  Mental health is just as important as physical health.  I discovered that in Afghanistan and Iraq, and there’s no shame in admitting you need help.’

Rodney caved in pretty quickly after that, but John still wasn’t sure if it was because he accepted counselling would be helpful, or if he was afraid John might carry out his threat.  Hmmm.  I must remember that.

*****

Monday 9th May 2005

Jack leaned on the balcony between his office and the control room, looking down into the gateroom.  It was one of his favourite places to stand and watch people busily doing their jobs while he neglected his own paperwork.  He watched the Marines change shifts in the gateroom, the laughing and joking as the relief team came in, then the sudden change in their mien as they moved into position while those going off duty began to laugh and chat.

He heard the new staff arrive in the control room to take over from the ones going off duty, and the shuffling, clicking and sighing that took place as each person made themselves comfortable, and updated themselves with what had happened over the last few hours.  Suddenly there was a muffled sound which made him turn towards it.  Chuck Campbell, the only Canadian Mountie in the Stargate programme, had cursed softly as he went through the sensor logs of the last shift, although no one else had apparently heard him.  Campbell lifted his eyes and saw Jack looking over at him.

‘Sir?’ he called, just loud enough to reach Jack, but not cause undue concern to those about him.  ‘Will you come and look at this, please?’

Jack peered over Chuck’s shoulder at the logs, then straightened, giving the shoulder a firm squeeze.  ‘Well done,’ he said quietly.  ‘Ask Colonel Sheppard and Dr McKay to step up to my office, please.’  He moved to go to his office, then turned his head around to look back at Chuck.  ‘And keep it to yourself for the moment.’

*****

‘Three Hives?’ Rodney asked incredulously.  ‘Three Hives and no one noticed?’

‘The note in the log said the screens needed to be cleaned,’ Jack said to his two companions and ran his hand over his face.  ‘I’m not sure whether to give Campbell a medal or to ream the ass of Rutherford who was on duty and made the note a couple of days ago.’

‘Both,’ said his brother succinctly.  ‘And then I’ll take my turn with Rutherford, and let Ronon have a go.’

Jack laughed somewhat bitterly.  ‘It won’t change the fact that three Hive ships and six cruisers are headed our way and have been on our sensors for forty-eight hours without being noticed.’

‘It might make me feel a bit happier,’ John muttered as he slouched further into his chair.  ‘What?’ he demanded of Rodney, who was eyeing him in wonderment.

‘I was just thinking it’s a miracle you haven’t damaged your spine with all the slouching you do.  I never saw anyone sit in that position for any length of time before I met you.’

‘Fuck off, McKay, and leave my spine alone.’

‘That’s not what you said—’

‘Gentlemen!’ Jack said with a smile he tried – unsuccessfully – to hide.  ‘Let’s at least try to stay on topic.’

‘Okay.  There’re three Hive ships heading for Atlantis.’  Rodney continued to pace around Jack’s office.  ‘We know our shield won’t stand up to any significant bombardment; we’ve no ZPM; and we’re not sure if the satellite works.  That topic?’

Jack rubbed his face again.  ‘Yeah, that one.  And by the way, McKay?  Way to go on depressing us all.’

‘The outlook seems pretty bleak – shut up, Rodney!  That’s not helping,’ John said as he heard McKay mutter, ‘oh, really?’  ‘As I was saying.  Let’s do everything by the numbers and see where that gets us.  We need—’

‘What the fuck does that actually mean?’ Rodney demanded, glaring at John, hands on his hips.  ‘“Do everything by the numbers”’ he mocked in a high voice.

‘Jack, can I throw him off a pier?  Please?’

‘Nah, we might need him.  And you’d miss him.’

’No, I really wouldn’t,’ John muttered sotto voce, then continued in a louder voice, ‘It means we do things step by step.  We have approximately three weeks before the Hives get to us, so firstly, we send a team back to the defence satellite to make sure it works, then we put all our off-world teams on looking for a ZPM.  We’ll talk to Ronon and Teyla again about anything they might have heard about power sources.’

‘The other Athosians as well,’ Jack added.  ‘You never know who might have heard or seen anything that might be helpful.’

‘We could send Ford on a First-contact mission,’ John suggested thoughtfully.  ‘He’s done well with his science and follow-up missions, and the couple of Trade missions he’s done.  Maybe this is a good time to try him out on a First-contact.  Pick a couple of ’safe’ planets for him to visit first, perhaps?  Ones where Teyla at least knows of the people there.’

Rodney gave a bark of laughter.  ‘There’s no such thing as a ‘safe’ planet.  Not in Pegasus at any rate.’

’Not in the Milky Way either,’ Jack agreed.  ‘I think it’s a good idea, John.  Having Staff Sergeant Dickson as his NCO was a good decision.  I’ve known Brent Dickson for years and he’s got plenty of off-world experience.’

‘Right.  I’ll let Ford know later.’  John nodded and sat back.

‘Good.’  Jack looked down at the list he’d scribbled.  ‘Now, do you want to send Jamie and his team back to the satellite and hope that this time he obeys orders?’

‘If he does disobey again, he knows what’ll happen, but I’ve no worries that he will.’

‘And who do you want to send in place of Dr Gall, McKay?’ Jack asked, looking at his list again, his mind not on his choice of words.

Rodney gulped and took a deep breath.  Jack looked up from his list and realised what he’d just said.

‘Christ, Rodney, I’m sorry.  I wasn’t thinking and—’

‘No, no, it’s alright.  It took me unawares, that’s all.  Maybe I should go this time in case there’re any further problems.’

Jack was convinced he heard John growl at Rodney’s suggestion.  ‘No, Rodney.  I need you and Zelenka to see if you can get any extra juice from the geothermal plant.’

‘I’m not sure if we can do that, but we’ll give it a go.’  Rodney frowned at his laptop.  ‘How about Peter Grodin?  He’s got a Masters in electronic engineering and he’s pretty level-headed.’

‘Sounds good to me.’  Jack nodded.  ‘Will you speak to him?’

‘Yeah, and how about we put the linguists on searching the database for references of planets with Ancient tech and or ZPMs?’

‘I thought we’d already done that?’ John asked.

‘It won’t hurt to go through it again.’

*****

Sunday 15th May 2005.  T-minus 14 days until Wraith attack

John was with his older brother leaning on the balcony above the gateroom when AT4, Bates’s team, came back through the gate, having made it a policy to be there when a team left or returned if he was on the city.  He’d done the same in Afghanistan whenever he sent teams out on missions and saw no reason to change his ways on Atlantis.

‘Any luck, Gunney?’ he called down.

‘Perhaps, sir,’ came the surprising reply.

‘Perhaps?’ John repeated.  ‘Gunney, did you find a ZPM?’

‘Yes, sir, we did.  But it was being used by a bunch of kids.’

John and Jack exchanged looks of surprise.

‘Okay, Bates,’ Jack instructed  ‘Get your team through Medical and come and debrief in the conference room.  All of you, please.’

‘Yes, sir.’

An hour later, Bates, Radek, Corporal Yamato, and Frane, their Athosian guide, joined Jack and John at the large table.  Chuck had helpfully arranged for tea to be brought in, and although Jack scowled at it, he accepted a cup when Chuck brought it over.

‘So, Gunney.  A bunch of kids, eh?’ John began.  ‘Want to fill in a few details?’

Bates explained, interrupted by Radek a few times, how the residents of M7G-677 were a group of under twenty-fives, numbering around 600 in various villages, Bates thought, who were protected from the Wraith by a shield powered by a ZPM.

‘Zelenka managed to enlarge the field of the shield, which means the kids can stop killing themselves when they reach twenty-five, but he felt we couldn’t just take their ZPM from them.’

No, we can’t,’ John agreed.  ‘You did the right thing, Bates.  And good work, Radek, extending the field of the shield.  Is it possible to replicate it to use on the mainland?’

‘Yes, Colonel.  I think, with McKay’s help, we can replicate the shield, but we have no ZPM to power it.’

‘Could it run off one of the naquadah generators?’ Jack asked, doodling on his notepad.  ‘We don’t need it on indefinitely like the kids appear to.  We can just turn it on and off as needed.’

‘Perhaps.’  Zelenka looked thoughtful.  ‘I would have to run some simulations to test the theory.’

‘I suppose the kids wouldn’t consider coming here to Atlantis if we had no other option?’ Jack mused.

Could we guarantee their safety?’ John asked, raising an eyebrow.

‘Well, no, not guarantee,’ Jack admitted.  ‘I mean, we’d do our best, but…No.  Bad idea.  Forget I said anything.’

‘Okay.’  John looked around at Bates’ team.  ‘Mission reports from everyone by 09:00 tomorrow, Bates.  Dismissed.’

The meeting broke up, and just Jack and John were left in the conference room.

‘So…Bates is having problems with Zelenka, then,’ Jack said, still doodling on his notepad.

John gave a short laugh.  “I wasn’t certain you’d noticed.’

‘I don’t have to look as though I’m paying attention to actually pay attention, y’know.’  He looked up.  ‘Is it anything we need to worry about, d’you think?’

‘Not sure,’ John said thoughtfully.  ‘I’ll certainly have a word with Bates.  If necessary, we can change the teams around a little.  Make Bates’ team a First-Contact or Follow-Up team only.  Goodness knows we need them.  We might think about making a second dedicated-science team and move Radek to it with Clare Davies as leader.  Between her and Radek, they have plenty of experience.  How many science teams did the SGC have?’

Their conversation drifted into talk of the Milky Way, and then John’s experiences in Afghanistan, when they were interrupted by the sound of the gate dialling.

‘Anyone due in?’ Jack asked, looking towards the door as if it might have the answer.

‘No one due in, but a couple of teams are still off-world ZPM hunting.  I just hope one of them is successful,’ John told him, standing up.

As they both made their way to the on duty gate technician – Rutherford again, with Chuck Campbell standing over him, supervising – they heard Rutherford announce, ‘Major Lorne’s IDC.’

‘Let’s hope they’re back early because they’ve found something,’ Jack muttered to his brother.

‘Fat chance of that!’ John muttered back.

Lorne’s four-man team came through the gate quite normally – except for the wide grins they each sported.

‘General O’Neill, Colonel Sheppard,’ Lorne announced, bouncing on his feet.  ‘I wish to report that we have secured a ZPM!’

There was a burst of cheering from the people in the control room, in which the Marines on guard in the gateroom quickly joined.

‘Major Lorne?  Get your team through medical then report to the conference room,’ John told him, a wide beam on his face.  ‘And, Major?’ he called as AT2 turned towards the exit.  ‘Well done, all of you.’

*****

It was an excited Command team, augmented by Radek, who met with Lorne and his teammates a bare half-hour or so later.  Once again, there was tea to drink, along with a few sandwiches.

‘I feel as though we should be breaking out champagne,’ Jack admitted as he accepted a cup of tea from his brother with a sigh.

‘Do we actually have any champagne?’ John asked sceptically, taking his seat next to Rodney.

‘Nah.  Just Radek’s smurf-piss.’  Everyone stilled and there was a deadly hush.  ‘Which I know nothing about,’ Jack added quickly.

‘We don’t yet know if the ZPM is undamaged or if it has any charge, so let’s not get ahead of ourselves,’ Rodney muttered.

‘You’re just annoyed that you didn’t find it,’ John told him quietly, and pretty accurately, if the flush on McKay’s face was anything to go by.

‘They’re not even a science team.  I should have been called as soon as they discovered it, to make sure it was handled correctly.  Who knows what damage they might have caused.’

‘We were as careful as we could be, doc,’ Lorne told him with a smile.  ‘And we were several klicks from the gate, with no clearance for a jumper.’

Rodney muttered under his breath, then glared at Lorne again.  ‘Well?  Hand it over, Captain.’

‘Major,’ John corrected, giving McKay a slap upside the head.  He leaned closer to Rodney.  ‘Watch it or I’m gonna let Radek take charge of installing it,’ he murmured into Rodney’s ear.

‘You wouldn’t dare,’ Rodney said, a horrified look on his face.  ‘You don’t have the authority!’ he added, a little uncertainly.

‘Maybe not, but Jack does!’

‘I apologise, Major,’ Rodney said quickly.  ‘In my excitement—’

‘No problem, doc,’ Lorne told him with a wry smile.  ‘Du Pres, give the ZPM to Dr McKay.’

Private du Pres reached into his rucksack and carefully pulled out a wrapped bundle.  He gently unwound several sweaters and reached into a grubby sack, then passed a large red and orange crystal across the table to McKay.  ‘Here you are, sir.  I was very careful with it.’

Rodney accepted it, his mouth slightly open in wonder.  ‘Do you know if it has any charge?’

‘I’m afraid not, Doc,’ Lorne replied regretfully.  ‘But Davos, the leader of the small population of Vedeena, said they’d been guarding it until one of the Ancestors returned.  It was all very weird.  As we arrived in the village, we had to pass through an arch which lit up as we went through.  It didn’t hurt us but they knew straight away that I had the ATA gene as I went through first.  Davos asked me if I had returned for the potentia so I said yes.  They invited us to sit and share a meal while one of the men dashed off to get the ZPM.  He passed the sack to Davos when he got back, who gave it to me and told me to use it wisely.  He suggested we go back to the city as soon as we could, although none of us had mentioned Atlantis at all.  When I asked him about that, he just gave a smile and told me we should come back as soon as we were safe, with the ‘brothers’.’  He made air quotes with his fingers.

‘What?’  John demanded.

‘I swear, sir, we didn’t say anything to them about you or the General, or Atlantis, or anything.  He just knew.  It was pretty unnerving, to be honest.’

‘Yes, yes, all very interesting.’  McKay stood up and glared at Zelenka.  ‘Well?  Are you coming to help or are you staying here with your mouth open?’

Radek glared at him but stood up, muttering underneath his breath all the time.  Jack hid a grin behind his hand and nodded to them both.

‘Buzz off, then.  Call us when you’re about to shove it in.’

‘Shove it in it?’ Rodney repeated in horror.  ‘It’s not a battery, General.  It’s a very delicate piece of—’

‘Come on, Rodney.  Let us leave these Philistines while we go and do the real work, as usual,’ Radek said as he grabbed McKay’s arm and dragged him out of the room.

Jack and John turned back to Lorne and his team members.

‘Have you visited this planet before, Kevork?’ Jack asked the Athosian guide.

‘Never,’ he replied.  ‘But I have heard speak of it.  There are strange stories, how sometimes the ring will not turn, for many days at a time.’

‘The ring won’t turn?’ Jack asked in confusion.

‘No, General Jack.  They may dial and dial, but the ring will not turn.  Then other days visitors will pass through, but there is nothing.  No people, no village, nothing at all.’

‘Sounds like Brigadoon,’ John muttered.

‘I didn’t know you were a fan of musicals, Colonel,’ Jack grinned.

John shrugged.  ‘My mother was…’  He paused and looked down at the table.

After a moment, Lorne coughed.  ‘We, er, we were able to get a lock on the gate the first time we dialled,’ he continued with a quick glance at John.  ‘An item in the database suggested there may be an Ancient outpost there but instead…we got a ZPM.’

‘Indeed you did.’  John gave a wan smile.  ‘Well done, Major, everyone.  Reports by 0900 tomorrow, please.’

There was a chorus of ‘Yes, sir’, then John and Jack were on their own again.

‘Still hurts, doesn’t it?’ Jack said softly.

‘It still hurts both of us, I suspect.  I can’t help wondering if my mother did die or if she…’

‘Ascended?’

‘Yeah, or just disappeared to go and have another baby with another family.  How many brothers and sisters might we have out there?’  John waved a hand in the air.

‘I don’t know,’ Jack admitted.  ‘But since we’re here and she and or her progeny are back in the Milky Way galaxy, there’s just us.’

‘And Jamie.’

‘Yeah, and Jamie.’  Jack smiled  ‘Y’know, it’s much easier for me to think of him as a brother, like you, than to think of him as my clone.’

‘Then think of him like that.  I doubt he’ll argue: he probably finds the relationship between you both as difficult as you do.  Either way, he’s my brother.  And you both know I’m much closer to you two than I ever was to Dave.’

*****

It was the following morning before Rodney, Radek and Miko decided that everything was ready to ‘shove in’ the ZPM.  Jack, John, and Lorne, each of them pressed back against the wall of the ZPM room trying to keep out of the way, watched as Rodney pressed gently on the top of the ZPM.  It sank slowly into the station designed to hold three of the vital crystals, and they waited for a moment while the three scientists tapped furiously on their laptops.

‘It’s…it’s…’ Rodney stuttered.

‘Fully charged!’ Miko said in a voice full of glee.  ‘It’s a fully charged ZPM!’

‘Many, many new systems have online come,’ Radek said, his words tumbling over themselves in his excitement.  ‘Rodney, look.  The—’

‘Yes, I see it.  And have you seen—’

‘Ano, ano.’

The three officers hugged and slapped each other on the back, grinning like wild loons, and through the open door, where people were lining the corridor to hear the news, they heard shouts of joy and relief as the news was passed along.

They might yet survive.

*****

Monday 16th May 2005 T-minus 12 days until Wraith attack

That same evening, Jamie and his passengers returned from the Ancient Satellite.

‘We’ve managed to get it online,’ Peter Grodin reported to the senior staff, plus Radek and Evan Lorne.  ‘But I’m not sure if it will take out all three of the Hives.  There was a problem somewhere.  I could feel it, I just couldn’t find it.’

‘It felt…wrong, somehow,’ Jamie added.

‘Wrong?’ Jack repeated.  ‘Wrong, how?’

With a sigh of frustration, Jamie shook his head.  ‘I can’t explain it, it just felt…’

‘Wrong,’ Jack said again, then turned back to Peter Grodin.  ‘Is it worth having the Colonel and Dr McKay go back and take a look?  Colonel Sheppard has the strongest gene of any of us.’

Peter hesitated for a moment.  ‘I don’t think so.  There was nothing to find, I don’t think.  I just—we just both got the feeling that there was something—’

‘Wrong,’ they all chorused.

John found it very difficult to sleep that night as Rodney was still busy discovering new systems and information coming on line.

‘Radek, have you seen the—’

‘Yes, yes.  We can use it to—’

‘I agree, but first we need to—’

‘Yes, and then—’

‘Rodney,’ John complained after trying to get to sleep for over an hour.  ‘Either come to bed or go back to your own room.  I need to be up early in the morning and it’s after midnight already.’

Rodney looked up from his seat at John’s desk where he had three laptops and his tablet open, with a frown and his lips turned down.  ‘Go back to my own room?  Don’t you want me here?  I haven’t slept in my own room for…Huh.  Months, I think.’

‘No, I don’t want you to go back to your own room,’ John told him, sitting up and glaring at him.  ‘But if you’re not going to come to bed, you’re going to have to.  I need some sleep!’  He lay down again, tucked the blankets around himself, and pulled the pillow over his head.

Rodney’s tone didn’t change.  ‘But it’s all just so exciting.  We’ve had all number of new systems and technology appear, including some weapons we didn’t know we had.’

John pushed the pillow aside.  ‘Weapons?’  He sat up again.  ‘What sort of weapons?’

‘I swear it’s Pavlovian,’ Rodney muttered.

‘Rodney,’ drawled John, making his partner’s name several syllables long.  ‘What sort of weapons?’

‘Oh, you’re interested now when I mention things that go boom, I see.  What happened to ‘I need my sleep’?’

‘In case you’ve forgotten, McKay, we have three Hive ships heading towards us and they’ll be here within two weeks.  Weapons are important to everyone on this city, not just me.’

Rodney scowled at him for a moment, then subsided.  ‘Yeah, yeah, I know.  It’s just…She’s so much more than we ever realised.’

John looked at him, head tipped to one side.  Up until this point, only people who had a strong natural gene had mentioned the gender of the city.  It was simply a feeling they’d each had, not dissimilar to the sense of wrongness Peter Grodin and Jamie had reported feeling whilst on the defence satellite, both of whom had a strong natural gene.  John wouldn’t have been at all surprised to find that Grodin was another half brother, except the dates were wrong.

‘She?’ he repeated, trying for casual but – if the expression on McKay’s face was anything to go by – failing miserably.

‘Yes, she.’

‘And yet you ridiculed the idea that Atlantis was female when Jack, Jamie, and I mentioned it.’

‘Yeah, I did,’ Rodney admitted, looking away.  ‘But since the ZPM’s been in place, I’m getting a very definite sense of her.

‘Is it anything we need to worry about?’

‘Nooo, I don’t think so.  It’s not as though it’s an A—’ he began, then gasped.  ‘Huh.  Okay.  Apparently it is an AI, and she has a sense of humour.’  He held out his tablet for John to see.

Hello, John, Rodney.  I can assure you that I am unlikely to turn into HAL or to begin singing ‘Daisy Bell’.

‘Atlantis?’ John asked in shock.  ‘You’re alive?’

No, John.  I am, as Rodney deduced, a form of Artificial Intelligence placed within the city’s central processing unit to aid the people who live and work on the city.

‘You can hear what we say?’

Yes, John.

‘What is your primary purpose?’ Rodney demanded.

I was created to help my people function on the city.  I can offer help on using my technology, such as my database, which I know your people are struggling with, and how to use the various pieces of equipment you have found as well as that which is still hidden from you.

‘Do people need the gene to communicate with you?’ Rodney asked thoughtfully.

No, those without what you call the ATA gene can only communicate with me through a device which is networked to the city systems, such as your computers.  Gene holders can simply touch a part of my infrastructure to communicate with me, although the best means of communication is through the control chair.  Communicating with multiple people is done via a screen, as we are doing now with Rodney’s tablet .

‘You’ve been in the back of mind since we arrived, haven’t you?’

Yes, John.  Also in the minds of your brothers.

Rodney narrowed his eyes and glared at John.  ‘Have you been flirting with Atlantis?  Are you trying to corrupt her?’

‘No!’ John protested with a grin.  ‘I wasn’t flirting.  I was just aware of a sense of…of warmth in my mind whenever I touched a wall or something.’

‘Huh,’ Rodney muttered, still looking disgruntled.

Rodney.  Without the energy source you call a ZPM, I had insufficient power to communicate properly with anyone.  The best I could do was to nudge John and his brothers towards a solution to a problem, just as I did with how to trigger my failsafe to rise from the ocean bed.

‘Atlantis, do you know how to create a ZPM?’ Rodney asked in growing excitement.

No, Rodney.  I do not.  The ones you call the Ancients removed that from my systems before they left the city.

Rodney heaved a great sigh.  ‘That’s unfortunate.  Do you have any information where we may find a ZPM?’

The only information I have is ten thousand years old.  I will direct the relevant files to your laptop, but I have no way of knowing if any of them will be of any use.  Now that I have more power, I can begin to update my records.

‘How will you do that?’ Rodney asked.  ‘Do I need to allocate personnel to help you?  If I do, it will have to wait until the threat from the Wraith is passed.’

‘Can you help us fight the Wraith Hives on their way?’ John asked carefully.

Yes.  I can show your men how to use the auxiliary weapons Rodney has just mentioned.  I can also begin to produce drones for you to use in the control chair, John, although I will need some additional materials.  Rodney?  I have sent a list of requirements to your tablet and a list of where to find them.  I have also provided a map of where to find my manufacturing facilities.

‘Facilities, plural?’

Yes, Rodney.  I have five manufacturing facilities, each devoted to a different area of need, one on or close to each pier.  With current power levels, I can only use one at a time, but I will begin drone production as soon as I have sufficient components.

‘Have you made yourself known to any other expedition members?’ John asked suddenly.

I am having a conversation with General Jack as we speak.

‘So you’re able to converse with multiple people at a time?’

Yes, but if many people are using my systems, my responses might be a little slower.

‘That makes sense, even for a CPU as big as this one,’ Rodney murmured.

‘Do you think we can defeat the Wraith that are on their way?’ John asked.

I will do my very best.

*****

Tuesday 17th May 2005 T-minus 11 days until Wraith attack

‘That was a really odd question you asked Atlantis last night, John,’ mused Rodney over breakfast.

Much of the meal thus far had been taken up with discussing the newly discovered AI and what abilities she had to show them.  Predictably, Rodney was interested in the sciency bits – as Jack described them – and Jack and John in the military bits.  Rodney’s question made Jack raise his brow.

‘What question was that, McKay?’

‘John asked Atlantis if she thought ‘we’ – meaning the expedition, I think – could defeat the Wraith who are on their way here.’

‘And what did she say?’

‘That she’ll do her best.’

Jack looked at John, his head tipped on one side.  ‘I would say it was a very astute question.’

‘Astute?  How?’ Rodney frowned.

‘John?  Want to explain to the class?’

John gave a wry grin.  ‘I wasn’t particularly interested in her exact reply.  I was more interested if she could answer an indirect question which required assessment of a situation.  It showed her…mental abilities, I suppose we’d call it.  As she gave a reasonable reply, I guess she is more than a simple machine.’

‘Simple machine?’ repeated Rodney.  ‘How can you even think that about her?  She’s—’

‘Okay, okay.’  John held up his hands.  ‘Simple machine was the wrong description.  I was curious whether she could think logically and scientifically.  Don’t forget, she’s far more complex than anything I’ve ever come across before, maybe more than any of us have come across.’

‘True,’ Jack nodded, thoughtfully.  ‘Danny would have been ecstatic at the thought of an AI created by the Ancients.  She’d have been tied up in conversations with him forever!’

Rodney suddenly grabbed his tablet up from where he’d left it on the table next to his plate.  ’She says she’s sad that she’ll never get to meet Dr Jackson.’  He handed the tablet with its communication from Atlantis to Jack, who looked concerned.

‘Atlantis?  How do you know about Danny?  Are you able to read my mind?’

No, Jack, not read your mind.  I can, however, read your emotions and I know you miss him very much, although you are dealing with his loss.  You have mentioned him many times, as have other Expedition members, so I have been able to collect much information about him.

‘You can read emotions?  Are you able to tell if people have…negative emotions that might make them a danger to us?’

You speak of Dr Keller.  She is someone I would like removed from the city.

‘Jack?’ John asked in a low voice after peering over his shoulder to see what was written on the tablet.  ‘Don’t you think we should move this conversation to your office?’

‘Yeah, good idea.  You joining us, McKay?’

‘No.  I have a long list of things to do to get ready for the Wraith, including briefing my department.  Can I have my tablet back?  Keep me posted about anything important.’  He hurried out of the mess, quickly followed by Radek, who’d been eating at another table.

‘I have an equally long list,’ John told his brother.  ‘Give me a few hours to sort things out and we’ll have a discussion with Atlantis.’  He lowered his voice again.  ‘In the meantime, you could get Atlantis to provide a list of people we need to consider removing.  Maybe we should get Kate Heightmeyer to join us?’

‘Good idea.’

*****

The brothers met again at 14:00 with Dr Heightmeyer, each of them having eaten a sandwich at their desks due to the number of things they had to deal with in the short time frame they had.

‘Have there been any particular concerns regarding the appearance of the AI?’ Jack asked their psychologist.

‘Beyond natural curiosity, not really.  I’ve overheard a few comments along the lines of ‘told you so’, but nothing particularly negative.  A couple of people have wondered how wide her…senses I suppose we’d call them, are.  If she can see them in the shower, for example, but other than that, not really, although I have by no means spoken to everyone.  Some folk have said they hope she can lead us to a few more ZPMs so we can contact Earth, but I’ve heard that mentioned a few times since the new ZPM was found, and might be unrelated to her.’

‘Do you think there’re many people who want to return to Earth?’ John asked with a frown.

‘Not return per se: more that we can now get in contact with family and friends.  Only a couple of people want to actually go back.’

‘And they are?’ Jack asked casually, one eye on the list Atlantis had provided him with to see if he and John, the city, and their psychologist were in agreement.

Kate paused for a moment.  ‘I can’t give you any names without speaking to the people concerned first.  These things were told to me in confidence.’

‘If I gave you a couple of names, would you be willing to nod or shake your head?’  Jack watched her think about that.

‘Why are you asking?’

‘There are one or two people on the city who I think would prefer to return to Earth,’ Jack said carefully.

Kate looked at him thoughtfully.  ‘And your reason for asking this is a genuine concern for their well being?’ she finally asked.

‘As much as it can be for the leader of an expedition in another galaxy, yes.’

‘Then give me your names and I’ll see if I’m willing to give you an answer.’

Jack decided this was the best he was going to get, so he slid a slip of paper across the desk to her.  She turned it over and read it, her brows raising as she looked through the names.

‘Two of the names I expected, two I didn’t.’

Jack and John glanced at each other.

‘There are two people who we would prefer they return to Earth,’ John explained, and raised his eyebrows at her sudden frown.

‘Okay.’  Kate sighed.  ‘I know that’s not quite the whole story, but I’ll leave it alone.  Are we going to be able to send them back?’

‘We’re intending to send a data burst of reports back to the SGC,’ Jack explained.  ‘We’ll open the gate at the same time and send them through.  We’re also going to ask the SGC to send any help they can, but I don’t expect they’ll be able to unless they’ve managed to find a ZPM or Carter’s discovered how to recharge one.’

‘Rodney’ll be pissed off if she has,’ John added with a grin.  ‘I think they’ve got some sort of bet on as to who’ll manage it first.’

Jack and Kate both laughed at this.

‘When are you sending the data burst?’ Kate asked.

‘Rodney’s sent an email round asking for all reports to be updated and sent to him asap,’ John explained.  ‘He’s working on a compression algorithm so we can send back any personal messages, too.  I guess he’ll be ready to go in a couple of days.’

Jack nodded and took a deep breath.  ’Good.  We have eleven days before the Wraith arrive.’

*****

Chapter Eleven

Tuesday 24th May 2005 T-minus 4 days until Wraith attack

All their plans were laid.  Two civilian scientists, Jennifer Keller, and Peter Kavanagh, had returned to Earth the previous day along with copies of the mission reports Jack, John, and Rodney were willing to share and selected scientific information.  The existance of the Wraith, and the threat they posed was fully explained as was their intention to restrict them to Pegasus if at all possible.  Help and additional supplies were requested, although no one actually expected they’d arrive. 

‘We’ve not discovered any bright shiny toys for them to come and steal,’ Rodney said caustically when the point was raised in the staff meeting five days before the Wraith were due to arrive.

‘I know,’ Carolyn Lam sighed.  ‘I just thought I’d voice the question we’ve all been thinking.’

Jack tipped his head to one side.  ‘You do know you could have gone back to Earth if you wished?’ Jack told her.

‘And leave you two medics short?  Even if Carson has now got his head out of his ass.’

‘We’d have coped, I’m sure.’

‘I do know, and I’m fine, really.  I’m happy here.  Happier than I was on Earth, if truth be told.  I just think the entire city is on edge and I’m no exception.  We’ll all be on anti-anxiety meds before we’re through.’

‘That or Zelenka’s rot gut for sure,’ John added with a grin.  ‘Which I know nothing about, of course.’

‘Fuck you very much,’ Radek muttered, not quite under his breath.  ‘For that, you’re not getting a bottle from the latest batch, Colonel!’

‘My liver thanks you, Dr Zelenka.’

The others laughed, then Rodney stood and picked up his tablet.  ‘Well, if we’re done, we’ve still got things to do and can’t sit around chatting and sipping coffee like you lot,’ he told them as he poked Radek.

‘The mere scent of coffee would be good, let alone a whole cup full,’ Jack retorted.  ‘Go on, then.  I know you’re busy.’  He took a sip of the Athosian tea, which the biologists assured him contained a low dose of caffeine.

‘So, should we go and do a recce on the planet Radek suggested?’ John asked, returning to the subject they’d previously discussed.

‘What will we gain by it?’ Jamie asked, twirling a pencil between his fingers in the same way Jack had seen John doing.

‘We’ll know just what we’re facing?’ John suggested.

‘If we can do it with no danger to ourselves, I think it’s worth a look,’ Jack said thoughtfully.  ‘Atlantis, can you bring up a map of their expected route?’

A holographic image of their section of the Pegasus galaxy appeared above the table, rotating slowly.

‘Sweet,’ Jack grinned.

John stood and leaned over towards it.  ‘This is the route Zelenka thinks they’ll take.’  He pointed towards a line of flashing red lights.  ‘They’re expected to pause here, here, and here.’  He pointed at three planets, only one of which was marked with a tiny Stargate.

‘And why are they pausing?’ Carolyn asked with a frown.  ‘I missed that part of the discussion.’

John turned to look at her, his face sporting a similar frown until he recalled she’d arrived at the meeting slightly late, the infirmary now one doctor down.

‘Zelenka’s been tracking their progress and has noticed they drop out of hyperspace at fairly regular intervals, possibly because their hyperspace technology or their shields are inefficient, maybe both.’

‘Or they’re stopping to cull,’ Ronon added.

John grimaced.  ‘Or, as Ronon says, they’re stopping to cull.  Either way, he estimates they’ll drop out of hyperspace here, here, and here.’

‘And you are certain there is nothing we can do to help those they cull?’ Teyla asked again.

‘We simply don’t have the resources or the time to try and rescue anyone on board any of the Hives,’ Jack told her.

‘I know, I know,’ she sighed.  ‘But…’

The others nodded.  They all understood and shared her desire to help, but the simple truth was that they couldn’t help any of those on board.

‘Since this planet has a Stargate,’ John continued after a moment, ‘we can gate there with a Jumper and collect what intel we can when they drop out of hyperspace.’

‘And if Radek is wrong and they don’t?’ Carolyn asked.

John shrugged.  ‘We’ve lost nothing except a little time.  We can cloak the jumper before we leave Atlantis, and as long as we don’t fly directly in their path, we should stay undetected.’

‘Since it’s a fairly risk-free mission, I’d like to go with you,’ Jack told him.

There was a chorus of groans from around the table.  ‘It should have been fairly risk free, but you’ve gone and jinxed it now,’ Jamie complained.

‘I just meant—’

‘We know what you meant,’ John told him.  ‘But like Jamie says, you’ve now jinxed it.  Permission denied.  Jamie and I’ll go.  It doesn’t need more than two of us.’

‘Hey!’ Jack protested.  ‘I’m the boss around here.’

‘And I’m the Military Commander.  Permission denied!’  John grinned at his brother’s frustration but refused to back down.

*****

‘Jesus fucking Christ!’ Jamie muttered as he and his brother stared out through the windshield at the three enormous Hive ships that had just dropped out of hyperspace in front of them.  Two smaller cruisers accompanied each Hive and, as they watched, hundreds of darts emerged from the Hives and headed for the planet below.

‘Agreed,’ John murmured in reply.  He turned the jumper around and made for the planet himself, moving onto a trajectory which would keep them out of the way of the darts.  ‘Those poor bastards.  Dial the gate as soon as we’re in range, Jamie, and let’s get out of here.’

As they approached the planet, Jamie began to dial, but after the first two symbols lit on the jumper console, they saw the kawoosh of the Stargate.

‘What the fuck?’ Jamie demanded.

John groaned.  ‘Teyla said the Wraith often dial into a gate to stop it being used as a means of escape.  I guess that’s what they’ve done here.’

‘And what are we supposed to do until it’s free?  Just keep flying around?’

‘I suggest we find somewhere out of the way to park up and wait.’

‘And how long is that likely to be?’

‘How do I know?’ John snapped.

‘This is all Jack’s fault.  If he hadn’t said—’

‘Jamie?’ John interrupted.  ‘Shut the fuck up!  And that’s an order,’ he added as Jamie opened his mouth again.

It was difficult to watch the darts buzzing over the village, sweeping people up in their beams.  Fires were breaking out here and there, villagers running to try to escape the culling beams with people screaming and crying.  John and Jamie watched helplessly as an entire family was swept up.

‘Fuck this!’ John muttered.  ‘We can’t just sit here and watch while hundreds of people are culled.’  He slapped the button to open the partition between cockpit and cargo area and stood up.  Jamie grabbed his arm.

‘John.  No.  There’s nothing we can do.’

‘Yes, there is.  We can save a few people, at the very least.’

‘And how are you going to explain how you appeared from an invisible ship?  The time it takes to explain who you are and what you’re doing, you and the people you’re talking to, will be culled.  Sit down, man.  There’s nothing we can do.’

John sank back into his seat and buried his head in his hands.  He felt his brother’s hand grip his shoulder, offering silent sympathy and support.

By the time the gate shut off, there was no one left in or around the village.  John engaged the jumper’s life signs detector and widened the area and found a clump of life signs some five miles away.  All that was left there were burnt-out shells of buildings, some still smoking.

‘Come on, bro,’ Jamie muttered.  ‘Let’s go home.’

*****

‘Where the hell were you?’ Jack demanded as they left the Jumper.  ‘We’ve all been worried sick.’

‘We tried to dial the planet, but the gate was always engaged,’ Rodney added, hugging John.  ‘Then I remembered what Teyla had said about the Wraith keeping gates busy so we knew they must be culling the planet.’

‘How can they keep a gate active for so long?’ John asked as they all made their way down to the mess.  ‘I thought a gate could only stay open for thirty-eight minutes?’

‘Unless there’s something incredibly powerful on the dialling-in side,’ Rodney explained.  ‘It’s happened a couple of times at the SGC: once when the gate was connected to a planet being swallowed by a black hole and once when Anubis tried to blow up the gate through a buildup of energy.’

‘So what do the Wraith have on their Hives that allows them to keep a gate open for almost eight hours?’

‘They…’  Rodney stopped suddenly, causing Jamie – who was walking just behind him – to crash into him and almost fall.

‘McKay!  What the—’

‘That’s a very good question,’ Rodney told John, ignoring Jamie’s complaints.  ‘What do the Wraith have on a Hive that allows them to keep a gate open for so long?’

‘That’s what I just asked.’

Rodney stared at him silently for a moment, then spun around.  ‘I need Radek and Miko.’

‘What’s that all about?’ Jack asked, watching Rodney disappear around a corner.  ‘I thought he was coming to get some dinner?’

‘He’s had an idea.’

‘Is it a good one?’

‘I certainly hope so.’

*****

Thursday 26th May 2005 T-minus 2 days until Wraith attack

Another day, another meeting, John thought to himself as he joined Jack, Jamie, Ronon, and Teyla to hear what Rodney, Radek and Miko had discovered about Hive Ships.

‘As Colonel Sheppard pointed out yesterday,’ Rodney began, ‘Hives can hold a Stargate open indefinitely, which means they must have an extremely powerful er…power source.  Since we’re fairly certain they don’t use ZPMs, the list of what they might be using is quite short.  We think—’

‘Why are you certain they don’t use ZPMs?’ Jamie interrupted.

‘Well, we’re not absolutely sure which is why I said ‘fairly—’’

‘They would have no need to stop quite so frequently if a ZPM powered a Hive,’ Miko interjected smoothly.  ‘While they would still periodically need to regenerate the organic hull from the radiation damage it sustains while it is in hyperspace, the overall increase in power they would have from using a ZPM would lessen the damage, and the Hives themselves would travel much faster.  Also, if the Hive which the Colonel destroyed just after we first arrived had been powered by a ZPM, he wouldn’t now be here since the explosion would have taken out most of that solar system and everything in it.’

‘Thank you, Dr Kusanagi,’ Rodney told her with a smile, bowing his head to her slightly.  ‘So.  Their power source.  We’re fairly certain they’re using some sort of energy crystal since, as Dr Kusanagi has helpfully pointed out, a ZPM would have blown the Colonel up.  An energy crystal wouldn’t pose that sort of danger and it makes sense, given what we know about the Wraith being created by the Ancients, they would develop an energy source based on that of the Ancients.

‘However, it doesn’t actually matter what the power source is at the moment, since all we care about right now is how to defeat the three Hives heading our way.  We hope the satellite will take care of all three of them and their cruisers, but in case it doesn’t, or only defeats one or two, we need to prepare to fight the Hives ourselves from Atlantis.  Dr Zelenka, if you will?’

Radek moved towards the screen in a corner of the conference room.  ‘This is a plan of a Hive based on our observations and information supplied by Atlantis.  If they force us to fight them from here, we will rely on drones directed by Colonel Sheppard from the control chair.  We have worked out the engines and their power source are located here.’  He pointed to the lower part of the back of the Hive.  ‘You, Colonel, will need to direct drones to this part, just here.’

‘But wouldn’t it be better to try to take out the centre of the ship?  To try to break it up?’ John asked with a frown.

Radek shook his head.  ‘No.  If you direct the drones here, you have a better chance of destroying the Hive as, like I said, both engines and power source are here.’

‘I also stand a better chance of missing if I’m aiming at its ass,’ John grumbled, making Jack and Jamie smile.

‘You’re not going to miss,’ Jack told him.  ‘You have the best control of all three of us in the chair.  You direct the drones there; that’s where they’ll go.’

The screen changed to show a Wraith cruiser.  General, you and Captain Newson will be in the air in cloaked jumpers and you will aim at this point,’ Radek continued, pointing at a similar point on the image.

‘What about the darts?’ Jamie asked.  ‘I thought we were going to use the jumpers to pick off the darts?’

‘Yes, but those are being flown by other pilots,’ Rodney reminded him.  ‘You three are our best pilots.  You have the most experience of flying in combat and the best control of Ancient tech.’

‘I can’t believe we’re basing our military plans to defend the city on advice from a couple of geeks,’ Jamie muttered to himself, loud enough to be heard by Jack and John, one on either side of him, who both slapped him upside the head at the same moment.  ‘Hey!  Brother abuse!’

‘Cut it out, Newson, or you’ll be scrubbing the gateroom floor with a toothbrush,’ John told him with a scowl.

‘At the very least,’ Jack agreed.

‘Sorry,’ Jamie muttered, a little shamefaced.  ‘I know how important the scientists are, honestly I do.’

A note suddenly flashed up on the screen Radek was using:  Play nicely, Jamie, or I’ll turn off your hot water.

‘Geez, another person to nag me,’ Jamie groused, but they could all see the small smile on his face.  ‘Sorry, Rodney, Dr Kusanagi, Dr Zelenka.  I was out of line.’

‘Yes, you were,’ Rodney agreed.  ‘But we’ll forgive you.’

Jack slapped his hands on the table.  ‘We done here?’  The three scientists exchanged glances and nodded, and he stood up.  ‘We’re two days out from the Wraith.  I need everyone to get a good night’s sleep tonight and be ready for battle from 06:00 tomorrow morning.  We don’t think they’ll be here until the following day, but we all need to be ready just in case.  Okay?  Any questions?’

There was a chorus of ‘no’s’ in reply, and John and Jamie left to brief their men on the recent developments.

‘Are we going to get through this?’ Miko asked Jack quietly while Rodney and Radek were gathering together their tablets and notes.

Jack looked directly into Miko’s eyes.  ‘Yes, we are.  If I thought for a moment there was any danger, I’d have sent all the civilians to the Alpha Site instead of just those we don’t need to run the city.’

Miko nodded, somewhat comforted.

‘You’ve got your revolver,’ Jack continued.  ‘You know how to use it.  In fact, you’re one of our best civilian shots.  You’ve got plenty of ammo and you know where extra ammo has been stashed.  With your link to Atlantis, she’ll be able to warn you of any Wraith coming your way.  We’re the best prepared we can possibly be: you know this.  Go and get some dinner and have an early night, Miko.  That’s an order!’  His grin removed any sting there might have been from his words, but just to make sure, he gave the young Japanese scientist a quick hug, then pushed her gently on her way.

Danny?  If you’re up there, keep an eye on us and do anything you can to help us survive, eh?

*****

Saturday 28th May 2005 07:04

‘Crap,’ John muttered.

Jack glared at him.  ‘Crap?  That’s all you can say?  Crap?  The satellite, our primary form of defence, took out only one Hive before being destroyed and all you can say is ‘crap’?’

‘What difference would it make if I said anything else?’  John glared back at his brother.  ‘We’ve got two Hive ships and four cruisers to take out and you’re focussing on my vocabulary?  Fuck this, I’m going to the chair room.  You need to get to your Jumper.’

He met Rodney just outside the transporter closest to the control chair.

‘One measly Hive?  All that work and effort for just one Hive?’ Rodney grumbled as they walked into the chair room.

‘You sound like Jack,’ John told him, settling into the control chair while Rodney fussed about connecting his laptop to supervise all the systems John would be able to view and use.  ‘He was muttering something along those lines.’

‘Well, you’re just going to have to make an extra effort now, Colonel.  We’ve got two Hives to kill.’

John sank back, both physically and metaphorically, as the chair reclined and the Atlantis systems became accessible through his mind.  It was almost beyond description, his ability to see the Hives close up without leaving the chair.

‘The satellite did take out the two cruisers travelling with the Hive it destroyed,’ John murmured to Rodney.

‘So I see.  Try to zoom in on the back of the Hive in front.  I want to see if there’s anything obvious to aim at close to the engines.’

John sank deeper into the city systems, remembering to send anything he thought Rodney should know about directly to his laptop.  He saw the fleet of jumpers rise from the city behind him, and two separate from the group, heading closer to the Hives.  ‘Cloak, damn it!’ he muttered and felt, more than heard, Atlantis tell him that the jumpers were cloaked.  He could only see them because he was viewing though the city.  Each Hive suddenly released hundreds of tiny darts, all of which headed for the city below.  John noticed, almost absently, that none of them paid any attention to the mainland.  Good.  The cloak is holding.

He concentrated drone fire on the rear of the two Hives as Radek had instructed and before long, an explosion rocked the rear of the front Hive and began to spread throughout the ship in a chain reaction.  The two cruisers travelling close to the burning Hive pulled back, as did the second Hive behind it.  John saw the two jumpers close to the Hives also fall back and concentrate fire upon the two cruisers while he focussed on the remaining Hive.

The second Hive, however, had learnt from the destruction of the first and began what could only be called evasive manoeuvres, but since it was both massive and cumbersome, evasion was useless.  When it was clear the second Hive was mortally damaged, John switched his concentration to the two remaining cruisers, his brothers having destroyed the other two.  It was soon clear that neither the Hive nor the cruisers could do any further damage to the city, and since most of the Darts had also disappeared, John pulled out of the chair interface, astonished that it had taken so little time to do such extensive damage.

‘Well done, John!  We did it!  We did it!’ he heard Rodney say, and he felt arms around his shoulders, both hugging and pulling him up from the chair.  He tried to stand, but stumbled as his feet touched the floor.

‘Easy there,’ he heard Carolyn Lam say, and he wondered how he hadn’t noticed she was in the chair room.  ‘Come on, onto this gurney, Colonel.  I need to get some electrolytes into you.  You were in the chair for almost nine hours.’

‘Nine hours?  How come?  I thought it wasn’t much above an hour.’

Both Rodney and Carolyn laughed.

’No, John.’  Rodney squeezed his shoulder.  ‘Just under nine hours.  We tried to get you out after four hours to take a break.  Jack was ready to come back and take your place, but we couldn’t get you to even acknowledge us, so we didn’t dare try to pull you out while you were still connected to the city.  Atlantis just said you were fine, so we had no choice but to leave you.’

‘But the next time you have to use the chair for any length of time, I’ll fit you with an IV port so we can connect you up while you’re there,’ Carolyn told him severely.  ‘You’ll be spending at least the next twelve hours in the infirmary now.’

‘Did we lose anyone?’ John demanded, knowing better than to argue with Carolyn Lam.  ‘Was there much damage to the city?  I know the shields failed at one point, but I couldn’t move my focus from the Hives.’

‘A part of the shield dropped under constant bombardment from a group of about fifty darts, but as soon as we broke up the group, the shield re-stabilised.  Atlantis instructed us what systems needed to be shut down.  After that, the jumpers could make sure no large groups of darts formed.  No one was culled, but two marines were killed and we have three unaccounted for.’  Rodney swallowed.  ‘John,’ he said gently, his hand still on John’s shoulder as they moved through the corridors.  ‘Aiden Ford is missing.  We’ve got Atlantis sweeping the sea as one of the marines reported seeing him fall into the water while fighting hand to hand with a Wraith.’

John closed his eyes, partly from bone deep exhaustion and partly from the news Ford was missing.  He’d been so excited and proud to be given his own gate team, John remembered.  He felt a hand clutch his own.

‘He’s just missing at the moment.  We might find him yet,’ Rodney murmured, but that was the last thing John was aware of for several hours.

*****

Sunday 29th May 2005 07:50

The first thing he was aware of when he awoke in the infirmary was Rodney curled up on the bed around him.  They lay in their usual spoon position, but this time Rodney was the big spoon, curled protectively around John instead of the usual other way round.  John lay for a moment, hearing the soft snuffling noises Rodney made when he was asleep, basking in the warmth and protection of their position.  He’d make sure they slept like this again, he promised himself.  The noise of a door opening made him move gently, taking care not to wake his partner, and he raised his head a little to see Carolyn Lam smiling indulgently at the pair of them.

‘Shh.  He’s still asleep,’ John told her in an undertone.

‘How are you feeling, Colonel?’ she asked him, taking his chart from the foot of the bed.

‘I feel fine.  I just needed a good sleep, I think.’  He raised his left arm carefully.  ‘Any chance we can take this out now?’ he asked, nodding towards the IV connecting him to an almost empty plastic bag at the side of the bed.

‘We’ll see what your levels are like after you’ve eaten some breakfast.  Did you want some coffee?’

‘I’ll wake until Rodney wakes up,’ he said, only to hear a snort from behind him.

‘D’you think anyone could sleep through all the racket you two are making?’ a sleepy voice demanded.  ‘And did I hear someone mention coffee?  I thought there was none left on the city.  Even my secret stash is gone.’

‘We have a very small amount left for patients,’ Carolyn told him and smiled as he made a grabby-hands motion towards her.  ‘For patients, I said.’

‘Give some to John, then.  He’s a patient,’ Rodney ordered, struggling to sit up without falling out of the narrow infirmary bed.

‘I’m not sharing, y’know,’ John grumbled, fighting for some space for himself.

‘Yes, you will,’ Rodney told him confidently.  ‘You love me.’

John gazed at him and reached out to touch his face with his fingers.  ‘I do, you know.’

Carolyn cleared her throat.  ‘Right, I’ll just go and sort out some food, should I?’

John held up a hand.  ‘Before you go, can you give me an update on what’s happened while I was asleep?’

‘I’ll do that while Jamie brings breakfast for us all,’ Jack said, appearing in the doorway.  ‘Have you eaten yet, Carolyn?  Jamie can bring something for you too if you like?’

‘No, thank you.’  Her cheeks coloured.  ‘I’ve arranged to have breakfast with Major Lorne now he’s back from the Alpha site.’

‘Good for you,’ Jack told her, making himself comfortable in the armchair by John’s bed.

Rodney stumbled towards the bathroom attached to the room.  ‘We need bigger beds in here.  Add it to the list, will you, General?’

‘Last night was a one-off under exceptional circumstances,’ Carolyn told him firmly.  ‘There’ll be no more doubling up again.’

’Spoil-sport,’ John muttered, not quite under his breath, then grinned as she gave him a mock scowl and dodged her hand.  ‘Hey!  Don’t attack your patient.  Didn’t you promise to ‘do no harm’?’

‘We’re not on Earth any longer.  My Hippocratic Oath no longer applies!’

‘I’ll pretend I didn’t hear that!’ Jack said, raising his eyebrows.  ‘Go and find your boyfriend!’

Rodney returned from the bathroom and climbed back onto the bed again, pushing John to one side to share his pillow.  ‘It’s a good job you’re so scrawny.’  He wriggled a little, making himself comfortable.  ‘Right, sit-rep, General!’

Jack glared at him for a moment, then smiled and shook his head.  ‘I can’t be bothered to be mad at you, McKay.  I’m still too happy we defeated those Hives.’  He took a deep breath.  ‘So.  We lost four Marines in total, and two more are in the main part of the infirmary, including Ford.  Atlantis picked up his life sign just after you were packed off to bed.  He was cold and wet, obviously, but otherwise had no injuries other than a few bruises.  He hadn’t been fed on at all, and Atlantis found the remains of the Wraith he was fighting just to ensure it was dead.

‘As Carolyn said, Major Lorne has returned everyone from the Alpha site, and Stackhouse has flown Teyla out to the mainland to check on the Athosians who didn’t want to go off-world.’

‘’I knew the shield held up,’ John told him.  ‘I could see it through the chair.  The Wraith made no sign they even realised there was a mainland.’

‘Which means the shield technology may be a useful item for trade,’ Rodney added.

Jack frowned.  ‘What about powering it?  We don’t have enough Naquadah generators to give them away.’

‘We won’t need to.  Atlantis has sent details of three planets where we can find Naquadah, which are mined by automation.  The Ancients moth-balled them before they skipped back to Earth, but they should be fine to get working again.  She also has several worlds which have automation for other minerals which, again, probably just require initialising.’

Jack and John exchanged glances.

‘This…isn’t information we should share with Earth,’ Jack said quietly.  ‘Can you imagine the glee of the IOA if they discovered we had an almost unlimited source of Naquadah?  I really wouldn’t like to see what they’d do with it.  It certainly wouldn’t be pretty.’

‘Even though our mandate here was to search for new technology to help Earth?’ John asked carefully.

Rodney turned and stared at him.  ‘Are you proposing we tell them?’

‘No, not at all.  I just wanted to bring it up.  I think we’re hell and gone from re-establishing contact with Earth.  They didn’t send us any help when we asked for it, even though the new ship they were building should be finished by now, shouldn’t it?’

‘Mmm.  The Daedalus,’ Jack replied.  ’Stupid name for a ship, I always thought.  I lobbied for the Millennium Falcon or Death Star.’

‘You did not,’ Rodney said in exasperation, while John burst out laughing.

Jack grinned at them both happily.  Mission accomplished!

*****

Sunday 29th May 2005 22:34

John stepped out onto the gateroom balcony overlooking the city and the door closed silently behind him.  He could still hear the merry voices of the Expedition members busy celebrating their victory over the Wraith Hives.  Teyla had returned from the mainland earlier that day and had brought a dozen large stoneware jars filled with ruus wine, the major cause of the merriment inside.  John stood and watched as burning remnants of the Hives they’d destroyed the previous day still fell, some hitting the shield and bursting into wondrous flames that lit the night sky.

After a short while, his brothers and Rodney joined him.

‘Too loud for you in there?’ Rodney asked sympathetically.

‘I’m not feeling much like celebrating,’ John confessed as Rodney burrowed under his arm.

‘Why not?’ Jamie asked, leaning on the railing.  ‘We won a famous victory.’

‘We destroyed three Hives and their cruisers.  Who knows how many more are out there?  And we might have beaten the three that came this time, but we know they won’t stop coming after us.’

‘So what do you want us to do?’ Jack asked, raising his eyebrows.

‘Leave.’

‘Leave the city?’ Rodney asked in surprise.  ‘But—’

‘No.  Leave this planet.  Move the city to someplace new.  Sure, the Wraith will no doubt find us again, but we keep on moving until we’ve destroyed them all.’

‘Isn’t that a bit like running away?’ Jamie asked dubiously.

‘Not at all.’  John stood for a moment, trying to think of how to explain his idea.  ‘Look, the Wraith know where we are.  More Hives could be on their way even as we speak and we have nothing to defend ourselves with now the satellite’s gone.  We need to make more drones, a lot more, since they’re our only useful weapon against the Hives at the moment.  We also need time to regroup and find new ways of destroying a Hive ship.  The satellite and drones surely weren’t the only weapons the Ancients had.  We need to find what they had and see if we can’t make them work for us.  To do that in any safety, we need to move the city.  Atlantis may be able to suggest a planet to us’.  He paused and looked at his brothers and his partner.  ‘This is a flying city, people.  Let’s use it to the best advantage.’

There was silence after John finished what was, for him, a long speech.

‘Do we have enough power with one ZPM?’ Jack asked.

‘Atlantis is saying not really, but she still has a list of where ZPMs might be found that we didn’t have enough time to explore before the Wraith came,’ Jamie replied.

‘I think that sentence made sense,’ Jack said with a grin.  ‘So we send out the gate teams tomorrow with the emphasis on finding a second ZPM.  What about Earth?  Should we leave some sort of message to say where we’re going?’

John and Rodney exchanged glances, and Rodney shrugged.  ‘We can leave some sort of subspace communication for them if they get this far, but I wouldn’t be keen on just telling them where we are.  Maybe set it to alert us if they should appear.  I don’t trust the Earth Powers-that-be to deal with us fairly if they think we have stuff they might want, especially after Atlantis told us about a source of Naquadah.’

‘So you’re wanting us to effectively secede from Earth?’ John asked him in surprise.  ‘I wasn’t proposing to go that far.’

Rodney lifted his chin slightly, always a sign he was feeling challenged.  ‘Maybe?  Perhaps?’

‘That’ll make those of us in uniform guilty of treason,’ John pointed out.  ‘I have no love for either Hayes or Weir, but I did swear an oath to defend my country, and the enlisted men swore to obey the President as well as their Officers.  How can we ask them to renege that oath?’

‘We don’t have to,’ Jack told him, a smirk on his face.  ‘There’s a clause built into the charter that I…umm…might have forgotten to point out to either Hayes or Weir.  It allows for us to declare independence from Earth should we be out of contact with them for over twelve months.’

‘You forgot?’  John laughed, feeling very relieved at his brother’s subterfuge.

‘Meh.  So sue me.  I had a lot on my mind at that time,’ Jack told him with a grin, and shrugged.  ‘They should have read it properly, including the small print.’

‘Does the data burst we sent count as contact?’ Rodney asked, his brows drawn together.

‘No, I checked the clause before we sent it,’ Jack replied, an expression of satisfaction on his face  ‘It specifies contact from Earth.  I put in it to enable us to change the parameters of the Expedition should we find ourselves alone out here for any reason and/or if we found ourselves in a combat situation where we might have to make decisions that are counter to our oaths.  I think this qualifies as a combat situation, don’t you?’

‘So, we’re essentially leaving Earth behind?’ John clarified.

‘In every way,’ his brother told him, slinging an arm around his shoulder and leading him back inside to rejoin the celebrating Lanteans.  ‘In every single way.’

*****

fin

 

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Story Archive





About Daisy May

A menopausal woman writing fanfiction as a way to delay encroaching old age, grey hair, and wrinkles

9 Comments

  1. Definitely a new favorite!

  2. Great story, thank you, I enjoyed it very much!

  3. Wonderful, wonderful story! I loved it. It was especially great to see Jack in charge of Atlantis, along with John and Rodney! The ending was perfect, when they leave the corrupt Earth to make a new life on Atlantis in Pegasus. Many thanks for sharing it with us.

  4. This was great. Loved your changes. I’ll definitely be back to reread.
    Thank you

  5. I really enjoyed this! As sad as it was to see Jack grieve Daniel, it was nice to see him find a way to move on. I loved the relationship you built between Jack and John and eventually Jamie which definitely put a new spin on found family. And that last reveal by Jack about the charter gave me a lot of hope for the future of Atlantis.

  6. I loved this! A competent expedition, warm relationships, and a hope for the future.

  7. Great Story. Thank you for sharing

  8. This was a fabulous “the way it should have gone” story! Thank you for sharing!

  9. Wow, that was an awesome story.
    I love the way you explained John and Jack both having such a strong gene, they certainly have a lot of traits in common.

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In short, don't be an asshole.
 

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