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Nils Nisi Bonum

Notes & Warnings

Prologue

I loved you, so I drew these tides of men into my hands
and wrote my will across the sky in stars
To gain you Freedom, the seven-pillared worthy house,
that your eyes might be shining for me
When I came.
         T.E. Lawrence, 1922 Oxford text
         "Seven Pillars of Wisdom"

 

John Sheppard couldn't bring himself to go home; didn't think he could bear to face the adulation or disparagement for what he had done in Pegasus. He missed Teyla and his old life on Athos, but his horror and shame were still too great. O'Neill's standing offer—an unspoken apology, of sorts—was that Sheppard could step though the wormhole any time he liked, or wanted, but the SGC wasn't going to force him to go.

He couldn't say that he loved being back on Earth either, but the bland anonymity was a relief: no one knew who he was, and they didn't care what he had done. After a lengthy stay in Washington DC, a promotion to Lieutenant Colonel, and an even lengthier stay in the Academy hospital, he was finally free.

Sheppard had found every carnival in three states, and eaten his weight and more in funnel cakes, cotton candy and hamburgers in between the Ferris wheels and loop-de-loops. He even convinced an old friend stationed at Holloman to take him up in the new FA22 Raptor, and wasn't that a kick in the pants?

He'd decided that Juarez wasn't the same as he'd remembered it and that an eight hundred mile drive to L.A. was just what he needed to keep him from running away with the circus. The rented convertible wasn't as powerful as he might've wished for, but the night air rushing around him gave him a satisfactory illusion of speed.

The radio station finally fizzled out and he was far enough from civilization that there wasn't another strong enough to not annoy him. He looked over to the passenger seat for the Johnny Cash CD, but it wasn't there. He remembered that Bob had tossed it in the back seat when they'd gone to dinner the night before.

John reached into the back seat, but he couldn't lay his hands it, and he glanced back. Just at that moment the eighteen-wheeler in the next lane blew out a tire, and swerved into his lane. He lost control of the convertible, and no seat belt could save him as the car crashed through the guardrail, rolled down the steep mountainside and burst into flames.

 

PART I

(CLASSIFIED-EYES ONLY)
From the personal papers of John Sheppard, LTC USAF (deceased)

When Colonel Sumner collared me in the gate room, before we left the SGC for Atlantis and told me in no uncertain terms to stay out of his way, I didn't realize that he meant to completely sideline me.

He overrode Weir's request that I go with him to look for a place to evacuate the expedition, basically seconding me to the science department. Dr. McKay said something scathing and told me stay put; the city's shields were failing and they didn't need me turning more things on. He told me to think off, off, off to everything and anything that I could find. At the time I didn't realize that he was only thinking about the chair incident in Antarctica, Captain, think about where we are in the solar system, and not that I could actually hear the city's alarm wailing in my head, signaling that we were about to be drowned when the shields failed in the submerged city.

Sumner failed to secure us an evac site, but the City pulled a Hail Mary and saved us from imminent destruction with a majestic, thundering rise to the surface. After that, life for me settled down to a boring routine. Sumner and his team would go off-world looking for the legendary power source McKay called a ZedPM; the scientists worked on whatever the crisis du jour was, and I hung around the labs waiting to turn things on and off, in between rounds of guard duty in the gate room.

Sumner placed restrictions on anyone moving freely around the city; no one was to leave the small area we inhabited: we couldn't afford the power drain. The only good thing about that was it meant that I spent a lot of time in Central Ops. I saw and heard a lot of things, most of which I didn't like. After I figured out how to hack the server, with a little help from Dr. Zelenka, I also spent a lot of time reading through the classified mission reports.

The scientists whose gene therapy hadn't taken would drag me along when they explored the city in carefully controlled, scrutinized, pre-approved excursion, which was my only opportunity to see more of Atlantis. This particular day I sat at a console in a lab we'd discovered; two Marines hung out at the door, while Dr. Zelenka puttered around and did his thing.

"Captain, please activate the console." Zelenka was half hidden underneath, taking readings, or playing with wires.

I laid my hand on what looked like the main section, and the light in the room flickered as the console powered up. "Dr. Z., don't take this the wrong way, but this is pretty boring."

Dr. Zelenka extricated himself from the tangle of laptops and wires and sat up. He pushed his glasses up and gave me a put-upon look. "So, why do you not do something about this?"

"I'm sure that Sumner would jump right on that."

"So, do not speak to Sumner, speak to Elizabeth. What would you do instead of being glorified light switch?"

At least he smiled when he said that. I counted to ten; I knew that others referred to me as Captain LightSwitch with a snicker, and I detested it. "Nice." I lowered my voice; the Marines would probably repeat every thing I said to Sumner. "Sumner isn't making us any friends out there."

"And you could do better." I liked the way he said that, not a question but an affirmation.

"I couldn't do any worse." I gave him my number three cocky smile.

Zelenka made a humming noise and got up off the floor to poke around on the now-working console. "We are finished. Is merely another research lab like so many others. Shall we continue to search?"

"Oh, absolutely."

I liked Dr. Zelenka, and I was glad to take these little jaunts with him. They were more interesting than hanging around the gate room, my quarters, or more rarely, the mess. We spent a few more hours looking around, opening doors and exploring. It gave me time to decide that I would talk to Dr. Weir and to formulate a speech for her. Zelenka and I parted ways at the embarkation area, and I went up the stairs and knocked on Dr. Weir's open door.

She looked up from her laptop, and smiled. "What can I do for you, Captain?"

I stepped in and closed the door with a silent command, which never stopped being cool. I got right to the point, "I'd like to start going off-world."

Weir leaned back in her chair and folded her hands together, still smiling. "Exactly what do you propose?"

"Second contact, maybe find us some trading partners."

"Have you read Sumner's reports?"

"No," I lied promptly. I couldn't exactly admit that I'd managed to hack the server, but she saw through me anyway and politely ignored my offense.

"Why do you want to do this, and how will you accomplish it?"

"Well, I'm a nice guy, and it might be that maybe some of the folks he's visited got the wrong idea about us. I know what the supply situation is going to be like in a few months, and we're going to need friends out there. It's simple math. If it doesn't work out, then we'll call it a failed experiment."

She nodded as I spoke. "All true. I've been considering something similar, but Sumner has the impression that I'm too valuable to allow out of Atlantis."

"I'm sure he doesn't think that about me."

Dr. Weir gave me a sympathetic look. "No, I'm sure he doesn't. Would the science department say the same thing?"

"There's plenty of folks with the artificial gene now."

She leaned back in her chair, hands still clasped and thought for a moment. "All right, Captain." She handed me a data pad. "There's all of his reports, get back to me with your first choice, who you'd like to take, and a brief mission summary."

"Thank you Dr. Weir. You won't regret this."

She only gave me an enigmatic smile that made me think that I had somehow unwittingly flown into her web.

I took the data pad and went to my room. I read through all of Sumner's reports again, and decided that I'd start visiting them in the same order that he had—assuming there would be more than one trip. It had been a few months, and while they probably wouldn't forget Sumner, maybe time had softened their reactions.

I thought about whom I wanted to take with me. Sumner would insist on a military escort—never mind that I was Air Force—and decided on Lieutenant Ford. He was a personable sort, and we got along when we saw each other in the mess hall. I'd overheard Parrish bitching about Sumner's refusal to take any of the scientists with him, so I added Parrish to the list. I added 'medic,' but I wasn't sure who would want to go. I'd let Weir decide that and I sent the report to her.

The next day I went to return the data pad to her, but Dr. McKay was in her office. "I'm sorry, I'll come back later."

"No, Captain, come in and close the door, please. We were just talking about your plan."

"Oh, really?" I'd heard a few of McKay's verbal rampages in the gate room and labs and McKay didn't bother me, at least not as much as the rest of the expedition claimed to despise him.

McKay huffed. "Yes, Sumner is an idiot. We have no idea what's really out there, and the entire galaxy can't be as useless as he claims." At least McKay was on the same wavelength as me in that regard.

"Dr. McKay's requests to go off-world have been repeatedly rebuffed by Sumner. I was hoping that I could sway your choice of fourth."

This was a surprise. I recognized that this wasn't really a request, but I wasn't sure I wanted to be responsible for taking the self-styled smartest man in two galaxies through the gate. However, it would be a supreme nose thumbing to Sumner, and that definitely had appeal. In that case, I would rather have extra firepower since I was going to be responsible for keeping McKay out of trouble. "Take Parrish and the medic off, and I'll add Stackhouse and McKay."

This time McKay looked me in the eye and offered me a crooked smile. "Thank you Captain, you won't regret this."

It was odd hearing my words to Dr. Weir echoed back to me, and I suddenly understood what a chance she had taken by allowing me to leave Atlantis. I had my doubts about 'no regrets' in this case, but I nodded and smiled pleasantly in return. "What about Sumner?"

"This is primarily a civilian, scientific expedition, and it's time I reminded him of that."

"If he doesn't agree, he won't provide the military support. He might even go so far as to lock the gate."

"Perhaps," she said in a doubtful tone. "Speak with Ford and Stackhouse, and I'll handle Colonel Sumner." Elizabeth must have been looking for an opportunity to stick it to the man, and I was happy to give it to her. "Gentlemen, you have a go," she said, with a grim smile of determination.

 

I had some idea of what to expect on Athos, but felt sure that Sumner and his team's reports were either incomplete, or they had misconstrued the situation, though I didn't mention this to Ford. Our arrival coincided with early dawn on the planet, and we set out through the thin, gray mist towards the Athosian encampment. Ford had been here with Sumner, and he took point. McKay and Stackhouse were behind Ford, and I had the six.

We heard the percussive sound of wooden sticks being beaten together, before we saw them. As we broke through the tree line, Ford pitched his voice low, "that's Teyla Emmagan, and Halling."

She was a small woman with golden skin and copper hair, wearing a long, paneled skirt, fighting a man nearly twice her size, but it looked ritualistic rather than desperate. We stopped a respectful distance away and watched as they fought, twirling and striking. Halling lost despite his size advantage; Teyla had him down with the baton at his throat. She glanced over at us, and a quick look of recognition, and then disgust crossed her face before she lent her opponent a hand up. He leaned down and they clasped each other's arms and touched their foreheads together. "Thank you Halling. Be well this day." She smiled as she released him, and then turned towards us. The smile was gone, replaced by a wary look. Halling watched us with a suspicious glare.

"Good morning. I'm Captain John Sheppard; this is Dr. McKay, Lieutenant Ford, and Sergeant Stackhouse."

"And you are from Atlantis." She pointed at Ford. "I remember you. I did not have the opportunity to thank you for finding this." She touched the bright necklace on a woven thong that hung at her throat, and dipped her head in a gesture of thanks, and then turned to me. "Why have you come here?"

I stepped forward and gave her my number one charming smile. "I'm here because I think that maybe you got the wrong impression about us. I'd like to see if we could fix that."

"What do you want from us?"

I smiled again. "Just what I said."

She quirked an eyebrow at me, and there was a faint glimmer of a smile around her eyes, though it didn't reach her lips. "Among our people, we greet the dawn with a cup of stout tea to brace ourselves for the coming day."

I had the feeling that this was test, a question that had been asked before, and rebuffed. "I love a good cup of tea." I turned to my team, and gave them a pointed look.

McKay got the clue first. "Oh, yeah—sounds great." Stackhouse and Ford also nodded and agreed. Ford confirmed my suspicions with a thumbs-up and a grin.

"Very well, if you will join me, we can speak of this further." Teyla turned and Halling spoke to her urgently. I couldn't hear what he said, but I imagine he was opposed to dealing with us. She shook her head and ended the argument, and said, "Come with me."

The white, domed tent looked semi permanent, there was a heavy table with benches and fur-covered chairs, and she motioned us to sit. "Please, I will be but a moment," and left the tent.

We sat down. McKay briefly looked around the room with interest. "That went well."

"I think so, thanks for backing me up."

McKay gave me a crooked smile. "I haven't picked up any power readings. I'm probably just wasting my time here, but thanks for bringing me anyway."

I smiled, and nodded. He'd probably been as stir-crazy as me.

"There's some ruins not far from here, but we didn't see anything interesting last time we were here," Ford said. "They told us the city was dangerous."

"Many of my people believe that to visit the old city will call the Wraith to us." Teyla entered the tent as she spoke, followed by an older woman who began making the tea. "Do you believe in ghosts, Captain Sheppard?" Teyla sat down across from Sheppard.

"I haven't met any, but I've got an open mind."

"Your Colonel Sumner was very dismissive, and I had no desire to have your people among us, if he was your chosen representative." She paused and looked thoughtful. "I believe that you are different. You do not look through me. Are you still seeking sanctuary?"

"No, that little problem was solved for us. We're here to make friends, and possibly arrange to trade with you."

"The City of the Ancestors is safe?"

I nodded. "For the moment, though we're in a precarious situation."

"As I understand. You truly cannot return to your home?"

"No, we can't."

"What do you have to trade?"

I gave her a run down of the types of things we had, technical information, a limited supply of medicine and similar items that Weir had approved, and a list of the things we needed.

The older woman placed the tea and a plate of what looked like biscuits on the table, and Teyla thanked her as she left. "We have very little of what you are looking for, though I can introduce you to some of our trading partners, perhaps they will have what you need."

"That would be very helpful."

"However, in return for this introduction I require a promise, and an agreement to future considerations."

"Okay, what would that be?" That meant there were strings, but I wasn't going to turn down her offer without hearing her out.

"You must be the one to trade. I will not abide dealing with the Colonel again."

"I think I can promise that." I doubted that Sumner would want to return to Athos and it gave me leverage to secure a second trip through the gate.

Teyla smiled. "Very well, Captain Sheppard. I think we have a bargain. Would you like to see our haunted city?"

"Sounds interesting."

Stackhouse and Ford had been here before, so they stayed outside while Teyla gave me and McKay the dime tour, pointing out the drawings on the wall, and what she believed they represented—a history of Wraith cullings-and answered Dr. McKay's questions about the Ancestors, and the Wraith and what was known of them. We spent a couple more hours on Athos, shared a meal with them and then returned to Atlantis, with a promise to return in two days.

I recounted our mission to Weir by myself. McKay had been immediately besieged by problems that required his presence and Ford and Stackhouse had melted into the City. I requested that the same team accompany me to Athos with me for the return visit.

Sumner called me into his office the next day, and I stood at attention in front of his desk, no chairs or easy conversation like in Weir's office.

"Captain."

"Sir."

"Don't think I don't understand what you and Weir are doing."

"I'm sure I don't know what you mean, sir."

"Right." He paused and studied me for a moment. "Ford and Stackhouse are not available to you, they're with me. I'm assigning Sergeants Sykes and Picot to you."

Great, the ringleaders of the Captain LightSwitch mess. "Yes sir, I understand. Thank you."

"Dismissed."

I snapped a sharp salute and left, wondering just what else was going to go wrong. I knew that neither Sykes nor Picot had any great love for McKay, although that was no mystery; almost no one liked being called a mouth-breather or a knuckle dragger. I wondered if perhaps McKay was retaliating on behalf of Captain LightSwitch. I shook that idea off; there wasn't any reason for him to leap to my defense—he simply called it as he saw it.

I went down to the labs, to check in with McKay about the next day's mission.

"Captain, as dear as eating is to me, I don't have time right now. Actual food procurement is about number two hundred on my top ten list of crises to resolve today."

"So I guess that means no?"

"Oh, please—play the stupid card with some one who buys it. Call me when you're going to somewhere the inhabitants aren't a Stone Age civilization, and I use that term lightly."

"Okey dokey. See you round, Dr. McKay." I went with my fallback, Parrish. He would probably be more useful, anyway.

 

The Genii seemed to be nice folks, like twitchy Amish, who were worried about the weapons we carried, but were totally interested in the C4 we used to blow up a tree stump for them. Clearing fields was hard work, and we agreed to make it easier for them as part of the trade. I told them we didn't have very much of it, but we could be persuaded to use a little of it to help out. They seemed pretty disappointed by the fact that there was a very limited supply, and I got an odd feeling about that, but reassured them we had enough to clear a handful of stumps.

Teyla spent some time visiting with Sora and Tyrus while Parrish ran some tests on the tava beans and I went with Cowen, Sykes and Picot to clear a field.

Cowen didn't behave like a farmer, and he didn't speak like one, either. While Sykes and Picot were setting up the charges, I talked with Cowen about the Wraith; so far we'd only had Teyla's assurance that they were out there.

"I assure you Captain Sheppard, they are a very real threat, and we have been decimated by them time and again. How is it that you are unaware of the Wraith?"

"We're from a place that's pretty far away and we can't go back, which is why I'm here, trading for food."

"Those weapons you carry, and the explosives. Your culture appears to be more advanced than any other that I have ever met. I have heard the Wraith will decimate those with technology."

"I didn't know that."

Picot yelled fire in the hole and blew the charge, and Cowen dropped the subject. He was definitely impressed by the explosion, and its result.

When we returned to Tyrus' homestead, Teyla was slightly flushed and smiling, and she drew me aside. "Tyrus has agreed to trade tava to you for the medicine, and your assistance in clearing the field."

I gave Tyrus a slight bow. "Thank you."

"In return for brokering this deal, I will need a small portion of it for my people."

I had figured that was what she'd meant by 'future consideration'. I could deal with the tithe, anything I brought back was more than we had before, and she'd made the deal and offered me her friendship.

"It is our custom to conclude the negotiation with a drink," Tyrus said as he pressed a cup of the local moonshine into my hand.

I took a drink; it made my eyes water and took my breath away. "Smooth," I croaked to a roar of laughter from everyone in the room. Not actually Amish, then.

We returned to Athos, and Teyla asked to speak to me privately. I waved the Marines off and told Parrish to look around, but to not go too far, and entered the tent.

Teyla looked serious as she offered me water. "I hope that you did not mind that I handled the negotiations for you."

"Not at all. To be honest, I'm kind of new at all of this."

She smiled briefly. "I am aware of that, which why I took the liberty. Did you tell Cowen you were from the City of the Ancestors?"

"As a matter of fact, I didn't. Don't take this the wrong way, but he doesn't seem like a farmer to me."

"I am not offended; you must trust your instincts. The Genii have always been good trading partners, though we may soon meet some that aren't as trustworthy. It may be prudent to conceal your origins."

"What do you suggest?"

"Allow me to negotiate for you, while I teach you the skill. Also, is it necessary to always dress this way, to have an armed escort?"

I looked down at the uniform and tactical vest, machine-made polyester, which had been very much out of place among the simple dress of the Genii and the Athosians for that matter. "They were twitchy about the weapons too."

"As are many of the people we will meet in the future. The Wraith have made them...paranoid about technology."

"So I've been given to understand. So, lose the Marines and dress down?"

"Yes." Teyla put her head outside the tent and called for someone, who joined us a few minutes later. "Captain Sheppard, this is Toran." I nodded to him and he nodded back curiously. "If you would please stand, Captain?" I got her drift immediately and stood near Toran. "Yes, very good. Toran, would you please gather some clothing that would fit the Captain?"

"It will be only a matter of moments."

"Thank you." She grasped his shoulders and pulled him down for the forehead thing, and he left. "If I may have one of your boots?"

"Sure." I sat down and unlaced it. She took it and said she would return.

I sat cooling one socked foot in the tent sipping my water. Outside I could see the kids playing in the summer sun, people walking by and conversing. I liked being here, there seemed to be a freedom they enjoyed; a camaraderie that I didn't feel in Atlantis. My brain was also quiet, which was a relief.

Teyla returned with my boot and I put it back on as she explained. "I will have a pair of boots made for you, to complete your disguise."

"That's very kind of you, how should I pay for them?"

"They are a gift, Captain, for restoring my faith in those who live in Atlantis."

"In that case, thank you."

Toran returned with a large bundle, which he handed to me. I shot Teyla a questioning glance and she shook her head. "Thank you Toran."

"May you wear them in good health, Sheppard." He grabbed me by the arms and pulled me close, and touched his forehead against mine. I touched his shoulder and he released me, and left the tent without another word.

I must have looked dazed because Teyla laughed. "I am not the only one your presence gladdens. The colonel distressed us greatly."

"Then I'm glad to be here."

"Are you required to return immediately? If not, you should stay with us tonight, I believe that we have much to celebrate."

"I need to find Parrish and the Marines, check in and let Dr. Weir know about the trade you negotiated for us."

"You must say that you brokered the deal. I do not need the accolades of your leaders, but surely you must."

How Teyla figured that out in only two visits, I don't know, but she was incredibly sharp. Maybe not classically educated, but from what I had seen so far, she was certainly an excellent leader, and a skilled trader. I walked to the Stargate, and allowed Parrish and the others to go ahead, as I radioed Dr. Weir.

"Atlantis, this is Sheppard."

"Captain, where are you?"

"The Genii have agreed to what amounts to about a half ton of tava beans, Parrish has the particulars. I've been invited to dinner here, so I won't be home until tomorrow." I paused, "probably around 17:00." I had a feeling it was going to be a late night.

"Are you sure that's wise, Captain?"

"I think so. We're bonding, and I'm as safe here as I would be there."

"Very well, Captain. We'll debrief when you return."

It was as easy as that. None of the possible disasters I'd envisioned had happened and I felt buoyed by my success. I threw out all plans to follow in Sumner's footsteps, and cast myself to the wind that was Teyla.

Dinner was a communal affair and someone had thoughtfully provided a brew to drink that resembled beer. We spent hours at the tables under the stars talking, laughing and getting acquainted. Toran showed me to a tent and I collapsed into the most restful sleep I had had in a very long time.

Over the next several months, I fell into a pattern. I would stay out in the field for a week or so, meeting possible new allies and keeping in touch with those who were our current trading partners and then return to report to Weir in person. I had been told that the Atlantis gate was the only Stargate in the galaxy that could dial back to Earth, and that information was to be protected at all costs so I arranged to have all of our trade routed through the Athosian gate.

Under Teyla's careful tutelage, it didn't take long for me to begin negotiating successfully on my own, though I still gave her a cut of the proceeds as payment for my keep on Athos.

Athos was beautiful. The old forests with their high canopies were dappled with sunlight in the day and dim with mist in the evening; the animals they hunted grazed the broad plains that were covered in thick, tall golden grasses that brushed my thigh as I walked through it. The clear skies were almost the right color of blue, and the fall air was clean and redolent of the scent of late-blooming flowers. I imagined it would be very familiar to the pioneers of the Midwest.

Teyla taught me her stick fighting, and I put in my share of hard work around the small village, gathering firewood, hunting and learning to cure hides and preserving the meat. In exchange for fresh meat, I would bring things back from Atlantis to share, which was a novelty for them; they were hunters, and traded for the rest of what they needed. The Athosians easily accepted me within their ranks, so much so that when I finally realized that a young woman was flirting with me, my obliviousness was a source of great amusement to everyone. The unmarried men all shared a giant tent, and I bunked in with them when I stayed. Teyla had offered me a tent of my own, but I declined it. I didn't want to set myself apart and I was still returning to Atlantis enough that it would've been wasteful to have an empty tent.

Teyla and I grew to be great comrades. Not all of the places that Teyla took me to were strictly for trade; she felt that I needed to become acquainted with her galaxy in general, as well. Like me, Teyla had a strong adventurous streak and we indulged ourselves whenever possible, though not all of our extra sojourns were light-hearted larks.

In the late fall, one particularly memorable trip had us on Belkan to discuss a trade arrangement for flaxi. It had taken many hours of delicate negotiations and after we'd struck a bargain with Hendon, we were in dire need of refreshment. We stopped into a bustling tavern, and sat down at the bar. Some things never change—there were the usual suspects talking loudly and bragging over the local brew at a nearby table. Teyla and I discreetly eavesdropped on the conversation. When the bartender came to refill our drinks, we inquired about the speaker.

"Oh, Solen? He's Satedan; rumor has it that they were wiped out a few years back, just a few of them left here and there. He's a drunk, and this story keeps him in beer. It gets more far-fetched every time I hear it."

"Is there any truth to it?"

"Might've been, at some point. Now, it's just a fanciful tale."

I bought another one for Solen and we joined him at his table, I wanted to hear more about Sateda. He fed us one improbable story after another, and eventually, Teyla asked about the gate address for Sateda. I wasn't sure why she wanted it at that point, but for the price of a few more drinks, he scribbled down the symbols for her.

"Don't know why you want it, there's nothing left there."

"I believe that all knowledge is useful, don't you?"

"It didn't save Sateda."

Teyla dipped her head in agreement; it was a home truth that couldn't be denied. We left shortly after that to arrange for the flaxi to be delivered to Athos.

When I was finished transferring the grain to Atlantis, Teyla asked if I wanted to go to Sateda, to see for myself what the Wraith were capable of. I still hadn't had any appreciable experience with them, and Teyla admonished that was something that I should be grateful for.

The Satedan gate was in the wreck of a large city that seemed to go on for miles— the twisted remains of an elevated train were interspersed with scorched buildings razed to the ground, and atrophied corpses were strewn about the streets: an entire civilization lay in ruins.

There were a few places that were still standing and we investigated them; clothing, toys, broken dishes and pictures were scattered around, sometimes the tables were still set with the residue of uneaten meals rotted and dried beyond recognition. Dust had settled thickly on everything, and the scene was the same everywhere we went. Lives completely destroyed beyond any repair.

I was intimately familiar with the ravages of war, but I had never faced such complete devastation. On Earth, there was always a civilian population left, and those not affected by the war would step in with aid and succor. There had been no relief or comfort for the Satedans. It was a chilling sight, and one that I would never forget.

Sateda and other lost cultures—like Athos—fueled our late night conversations. She was curious about life on Earth, and we would often discuss the differences and similarities of Earth, Athos and the Pegasus in general. Quite often we would come to matters of faith. I didn't particularly subscribe to any organized religion from Earth, which did not bother Teyla at all, though she questioned me frequently.

Teyla carried within her much faith. She had the usual human-sized hopes—marriage, family and a comfortable place to live, but she also believed that one day her people could be free of the Wraith. She, and all the Athosians, also had a deep, abiding faith in the Ancestors. I couldn't classify the Athosian religion, having no training or knowledge, but what little dogma or doctrine there was seemed to relate to death and funerals, rather than guiding daily life. In the few rituals and services I'd participated in, it appeared that much of their liturgy was sung in Ancient. I had a passing knowledge of the language—I had spent a lot of time with the scientists who had all picked up a smattering of it by necessity. It felt very natural, but I feared that was the result of Atlantis herself. Teyla never asked directly, but I could tell that she wanted to see the City of the Ancestors, which was the focus of so much of their faith.

A bare glimmering of an idea began to form in my head, and it would be like leading a Muslim to Mecca, so when Dr. Weir called me in from Athos and told me that it was urgent that I return, I didn't even think to change before I grabbed Teyla and dialed up Atlantis.

I realized my error when we stepped through the event horizon; the noise and chatter of the busy control room slowed to a halt as I led Teyla across the embarkation room; we were very conspicuous in our winter furs and leather. Teyla smiled pleasantly, nodding to the gate room staff as we climbed the staircase. She spoke to me in a low, awestruck voice. "Why do you spend such long periods of time away? If I lived in the City of the Ancestors I would never leave."

I smiled. "It's very pretty isn't it?" The only thing I really missed about Atlantis was a hot shower. I was avoiding Sumner, and I could do without the nearly subconscious voice in my head; staying on Athos was a relief for me. I had never told anyone about it, as I had no desire to get locked up in an Ancient loony bin.

Dr. Weir met us at the top of the stairs with a barely concealed smile twitching at her lips. She knew that I wore an Athosian disguise when I was off-world, and she had wholly approved of the scheme.

"Sorry, you said it was urgent," I said with a sheepish grin.

"No need to apologize, Captain." She finally smiled, and tipped her head briefly towards Teyla. "Welcome to Atlantis."

"Oh, Dr. Weir, this is Teyla Emmagan, leader of the Athosians. Teyla, this is Dr. Elizabeth Weir."

"Teyla I'm very pleased to meet you at last." Dr. Weir turned towards the control room and gave the assembly a glare and a raised eyebrow, and they immediately returned to their work. "Shall we continue this in my office?"

I was suddenly aware that I positively reeked. The scent of leather and sweat was normal in the camp, but here in Atlantis, it was vastly out of place. "Are you sure you don't want me to change first?"

"Not at all, it's fine. Please, Teyla have a seat; Captain Sheppard has frequently mentioned you in reports." Dr. Weir sat behind her desk and looked interested.

Teyla smiled at me. "Thank you, it gives me great pleasure to meet you and to finally see the City of the Ancestors."

"You're welcome. I'd like to take the opportunity to thank you; we'd be in very dire straits without your aid."

Teyla smiled. "You must thank Captain Sheppard, he negotiates very well and he is an asset to us both, I think. He is quite a remarkable person."

Dr. Weir dipped her head in assent, but she glanced at me with a raised eyebrow. I shrugged, because I wasn't sure what to say. "I called you in, because Dr. McKay has figured out a way to send a message back to Earth," she said.

"Really? Like an SOS?"

She laughed. "He slapped Ford down for being 'so analog' when he asked that. It's a digitally compressed message, so apparently we have room to spare after all of the reports and parts of the data base that have been translated; 'pretty much everything' according to Dr. McKay."

"Wow." I knew that later I was going to have to explain this to Teyla, but at the moment she looked alert and attentive.

"Quite. Lieutenant Ford is recording video messages from everyone on Atlantis to send back to their loved ones, and I..."

I cut her off; I didn't want to have this discussion, especially with Teyla here. "Uh, thanks but that's really not necessary."

Dr. Weir gave me one of those sympathetic smiles that never felt like pity. "Very well. I would like you to put together a formal report on your work in the field, expand on your mission reports to date."

I nodded. "How much time do I have?"

"It will be a few days. Dr. McKay is doing simulations and dry runs now."

"I can do that."

"Then I will let you get to it. Teyla, again, it was my pleasure to meet you."

"And mine, Dr. Weir."

Teyla and I left Dr. Weir's office, and I gave her a short tour of the gate room, but she begged off staying for long. I had the on-duty tech dial up Athos, so Teyla could return home.

I took a shower and then got to work on the requested report. It felt very odd that I should be asked to provide information on our trading partners; who I had met, trade records, and my general opinions, but Sumner didn't know them the way I did—if at all. I spent a few days writing the reports for Weir.

After the data burst went through, I returned to Athos.

 

PART II

The weeks seemed to fly by and winter settled in. Teyla and I had negotiated several more agreements for various types of consumables, and I needed to give Dr. Weir a rundown of who I had met, what their strengths were, rumors of Ancient ruins, and what we had traded for. Teyla had reminded me several times that she would like to return to Atlantis for a slightly longer stay, so I arranged with Dr. Weir for an over night visit.

I had long since given up the charade of changing out of my Athosian leathers for these visits, as I normally only stayed long enough to get Weir's list of things that I could trade with, and a new procurement list. This time Teyla and I barely rated a glance from the gate room staff.

When we arrived at the conference room, she was with Dr. McKay, but the door was open. "Do you have a moment for me to interrupt?" I asked.

"Yes, of course, Captain. Please join us. Teyla, it's good to see you again." Dr. Weir stood to greet us, well, probably just Teyla, since she rarely stood when I came in. Teyla stepped into the office and I followed.

"Teyla, you remember Dr. McKay."

"I am very pleased to be here, Dr. Weir thank you. Dr. McKay, you are well?"

"Yes, thank you." Dr. McKay stood up to leave. "Well, I have things to do..."

"Rodney, stay a moment."

He fell back into the chair like a rock, and sighed gustily.

"Dr. McKay and I were just talking about adding a few technological requirements to the procurement list."

I looked at Weir, and McKay. I was definitely out of the loop on the daily political front, though I generally had the big picture. Teyla and I often talked about this. "Don't hesitate to speak on account of Teyla."

Dr. Weir nodded. "I see. Would you would close the door?"

I thought close, and the doors swung shut behind us. Teyla had a surprised look on her face; I had given her only a sketchy explanation of the ATA gene.

McKay noticed her expression. "Oh, please! It could have been me."

Teyla swung around to look at Dr. McKay. "You have this gene as well?"

"Artificially and not as strong as Sheppard, but yes I have it too."

"And you Dr. Weir? Does everyone in Atlantis have this capability?"

"No, I'm afraid not. I wasn't that lucky, though Captain Sheppard does have the strongest natural instance."

"I did not know this." Teyla regarded me coolly.

"It's not something I brag about." I shifted uncomfortably in my chair. I really didn't like talking about this.

Teyla turned back to Dr. Weir and urged her to continue, "I believe you were about to speak of technology?"

"One of the city exploration teams found a stasis pod with a very old...person in it, from an alternate time line, who gave us a list of five possible addresses where we might locate a power source for the city."

I shared a surprised look with Teyla, and we watched Weir and McKay closely, there was more to this story than we were getting. I would have to get McKay to tell us more about it later. "And you want us to go to these places to look for a ZPM?" I answered my own question of 'why me?' Sumner would never allow McKay off-world, possibly because he had no sense of tact.

"Yes, but I have to come along. This is too important to leave to a disgraced Air Force officer who's gone native."

Case in point. I glared at McKay and was about to fling back an equally scathing retort, but Weir got to it before me.

"Rodney! Sheppard has managed to keep you from eventually starving to death, how he's accomplished that is his own affair."

"Yes, yes. Fine." He crossed his arms and set his face in a mutinous stare.

It dawned on me. "You're jealous!"

"Don't be ridiculous." McKay thrust his chin up and didn't look at me.

"Enough, both of you. Sheppard, what do you think?" she asked.

It surprised me again to be asked my opinion; but Weir looked serious. "Teyla, do you have a problem with that?" It wasn't trading, but I liked having her at my back and wanted to continue to have her there.

"It would be my honor to join you for this task."

"Okay, we can do that. How about Ford, or does Sumner still have him tied up?"

"No, you can have Ford."

"I want Teyla armed like the rest of us. McKay, too."

"I agree that would be wise. Anything else?"

I went for broke. "I want one of the Gateships. We have no idea what we're getting into; plus, if we find anything we'll want to bring it back." I didn't know who had given the little ships such a pompous name, but I suspected Dr. McKay.

"Again, excellent idea."

Dr. Weir hadn't batted an eyelid so far. The Gateships had been clearly marked 'forever off limits to Sheppard, I don't care if he's a pilot' by Sumner, right after I'd been assigned to the scientists. Something was seriously up, and I figured it had something to do with the longstanding struggle between Sumner and Weir over just who was in control of Atlantis—the military or the civilians. "Teyla will need to stay, so we can do some training," I turned and addressed her, "if that's okay with you."

"I would like that very much." Teyla sounded excited by the prospect.

Weir dismissed us with a firm, "Very well, off you go," and I caught McKay before he raced back to his lab. "This old person—tell me what happened."

Dr. McKay stared at me for a minute, and was that pity I saw in his eyes? "Yeah, you probably should see it for yourself. I'll send you the video file," he said, and then he disappeared into his lair.

I took Teyla on a brief tour of the City, or at least the parts I was normally restricted to. About halfway through we picked up a pair of Marines, who followed Teyla around for the rest of her stay. I gave her an apologetic look, and she replied with a faint lift of her brow. I got her assigned to some quarters and settled in and then we went to my room to get my laptop and watch McKay's video.

It was quite shocking, seeing a ten millennia old Dr. Weir, and the story she told was almost unbelievable. What I took away from it most was that she kept asking where Major Sheppard was. I deserved the reduction in rank, and being assigned to Antarctica was supposed to be the insult added to injury; but I had liked McMurdo. I'd been generally ignored, because I was only there during the summer months, but it had been peaceful. The drowned Major Sheppard flying a time machine weighed on my mind for quite some time after the video had ended.

The marvels of Ancient technology from the video impressed Teyla. She carefully ignored the difference in our ranks, though I could tell that she was curious. I thought that someday I might tell her the whole, sad story.

I caught up with Ford the next day and he brought me up to speed with the news that I had missed while I'd been away from Atlantis. Sumner had temporarily stopped taking his team off-world because they had run into a Wraith that had killed Corporal Perez, the City was still without shields, and power was becoming a serious problem. Food wasn't currently an issue due to my success as a trader, but we would soon run out of goods to trade. Why this assignment had fallen to me finally made sense. Sergeant Bates had been made head of internal security, which also put a few things into perspective for me.

Training Teyla on the P-90 was easy. She was a lifelong hunter, and all I had to do was give her a few mechanical suggestions, and she was good to go; even the Marines assigned to shadow her seemed impressed. She quickly surpassed me in her skill with the Berretta.

McKay—not so much. He would flinch and cringe away from the noise, and despite his much-vaunted science-oriented fine motor control, he really had crap for aim. The P90 was his weapon, just sort of spray and run. And that was fine—I never expected him to have the same level of skill that Teyla displayed, although with practice he did eventually manage some reasonable competency.

 

Our first mission was a dry run of sorts; Ford, McKay, Teyla and I went to check out a satellite that hung in orbit at the LaGrange point of another planet at the farther reaches of this solar system. I had declined to take the scientists that had discovered it; I didn't know Dr's Gall or Abrams, or what we might encounter. Selfishly, I wanted to solidify what I was beginning to think of as my team. Dr. McKay was more than qualified to do the initial survey, and Weir backed me up on this.

This was the first time I had set foot in a Gateship, though Sergeant Stackhouse had given me a brief review of the control panel. His instructions were easy; all I had to do was think about it.

He was right. It was if I had partly merged with the ship. Heads-up-displays appeared, data was offered and every whim of the pilot was met, questions answered instantly, though it was less invasive than the chair in Antarctica. I carefully set us in motion and we rose through the bay doors in the roof and headed for space. While in the atmosphere, I took a moment to get in tune with the ship—it was different from Atlantis because the ship had no voice other than its responsiveness. It didn't fly like a jet, no gee's dragging us down.

It was also a perfect illustration of 'be careful what you ask for.' The ship performed an experimental barrel roll because I had thought that it might be fun. It was an incredibly stupid thing to do with passengers and no seat belts, but no damage done: the inertial dampeners acted like artificial gravity.

McKay's voice had an edge of hysteria to it. "Captain, are you trying to kill us before we get there?"

"Relax, McKay, it's fine."

And it was fine, it was the finest thing that I had laid hands on since coming to the Pegasus galaxy. I had to make an effort to not completely fall into the embrace of the ship. We left atmo and the sky faded behind us. We were finally in space and the wide view port in front of us was filled with vast, bright galaxies, colorful nebulae, stars of all sizes and types, black holes—all brilliant and beautiful. Though we were moving fast, it appeared that we were moving very slowly until we passed asteroids and other objects in motion. They whizzed by us so fast as to be barely seen.

As a child, I had always wanted to fly; as a pilot, I had always longed to break the bonds of the surly earth and surge forth into the great, unknowable reaches of space. I had come close once or twice, but I had never actually been in space before and it took my breath away. I spent a few moments just staring into star-filled space, the data from the Gateship streaming across the virtual heads-up-display before I set course towards the satellite.

The ship was fast, but it was still a fifteen-hour flight and so I gave McKay a flying lesson. He definitely wasn't any better at piloting than marksmanship, but he was able to get the ship from point A to B, so I let his snake wake pass with only minor ribbing. He was too easy.

I doubt that McKay got the full impact of what the ship could do, because either he was both too tightly strung and refusing to let go, or the artificial gene didn't allow him to fully integrate with the Gateship. It didn't matter; he understood. The look of sheer gratitude that he gave me spoke for him: the joy of piloting a space ship, his childhood fantasies come true. We never discussed that moment, but it was a sea change in our relationship.

McKay's piloting gave me the opportunity to explore the rest of the Gateship, to talk to Teyla and Ford, eat a meal, and take a nap. Everyone else did the same, except McKay who worked on his laptop whenever he wasn't flying.

Or at least he did until the satellite was in visual range, and then we were all lost in rapt attention.

"My god, it's huge. It fills the screen and we're miles away!"

"It's like the Christmas tree ornament version of the Death Star," Ford quipped.

McKay shot him a look that was both disgust and amusement.

Teyla asked, "What is a death star?"

I let Ford field that one; I had half a mind on the satellite and the other half on the ship. "I'm picking up a signal in the ultra low frequency range—it looks like it's coming from the planet."

After a little wrangling with Weir, we were given the go ahead to check out the signal after a little close-up recon of the dead satellite. She reminded us that Sumner would probably not authorize a rescue mission, and to be careful.

A fly-over showed us the signal was coming from a downed Wraith ship, and even though the HUD on the Gateship was clear of any life signs I landed out of sight, and we hiked back to it. McKay bitched the whole way—the heat, the distance, and the little firefly things he thought were too bee-like. I thought it was pretty funny, and Teyla looked conflicted—an annoyed smile played on her lips. Ford teased him about being afraid of fireflies.

We entered the ship, which in the dim light appeared to be made of shredded skin and bones, and began our investigation. "Okay, folks let's stay together and keep your eyes open. McKay, which way to the signal?"

He held up his scanner, and passed it in front of him in a slow, wide arc, then gestured to the right. "This way." Teyla went in the direction he'd pointed, P90 raised high with McKay just behind her. Ford and I followed. We searched the ship, and when we came to the first large, cavernous room, I felt the hair on the back of my neck prickle.

McKay gave voice to what we were all feeling. "Oh, my god—"

The room contained thousands of cubbyholes filled with the dry, dead husks of former human beings in them. Room after room of crumbling human remains; it was gruesome.

"The siege. Sheppard, there was a hologram that Beckett found just after we arrived, that spoke about a war that ended with the Ancients leaving the Pegasus galaxy after a long siege. This must have been a...Wraith supply ship that the satellite shot down."

I guess that I really had missed out on a lot of things being confined to the gate room, but now wasn't the time. "Let's keep moving, and get that signal turned off, we can look into this later."

Teyla took her place next to McKay and led the way, and Ford fell back to my six.

We found a dead wraith that had been the victim of cannibalization. The sight horrified us all, but we kept moving.

Teyla alerted me that we had a problem. "Captain, there is a Wraith here." She spoke in a low and urgent voice.

"What, your spidey sense is tingling?" McKay sputtered--he obviously disbelieved her assertion. "How can that be? It's been ten thousand years!" I wasn't sure if I believed her either, but I knew when to keep my mouth shut.

She was insistent. "I only know what I feel, and I have never been wrong." Teyla looked ready to physically defend herself, but I cut the argument off.

"McKay, what does your tricorder say?"

He laughed at my joke, but the smile disappeared instantly. "There's a fifth signal, and it's closing in!"

The Wraith materialized behind us, seemingly from thin air and it was an ugly sight. He stood at least a head taller than me, with slick, sick skin with a greenish cast and strange tattoos on his face, long white hair in tangled dreads and a maw of blackened shark-like teeth too big for his mouth. He leaned his head back and let out a roar that reverberated in my head and then attacked Ford, who was closest to him. Ford brought up his P90 to bear on his attacker even as he fell back in surprise, out of our line of fire. After a brief moment of frozen shock, Teyla and I fired at will, as did even McKay. It took a surprising amount of firepower, but it eventually went down.

Teyla didn't take any chances; she shot the corpse several more times in the head at close range for good measure and then thoroughly bound it up. Each of us was breathing heavily as if we had been running, even though the entire encounter hadn't even taken a minute. We stood around and stared at the bloody body, in complete shock.

"We need to take it back for Carson," McKay said slowly.

I thought Teyla's eyes were going to pop out of her head. "You must be joking."

"No, no seriously, Alien Autopsy! This is the first Wraith we've actually killed. It's important."

"I agree. We can seal off the rear compartment, though I don't want to ride home with it, really," I said. "Ford, are you okay?"

"I'm fine, sir. Just surprised me." Ford was irrepressible and he was already smiling again.

McKay snorted. "You have an amazingly understated sense of hyperbole, Lieutenant."

"If everyone's all right, we should go find that signal," I said.

Teyla and McKay headed out, and I motioned for Ford to go ahead, and I took up the rear position as we left the bleeding beast behind.

We found the bridge of the ship, McKay began to dig around in what looked like a control panel and eventually managed to turn off the signal. After endlessly talking about the incredible opportunity for study, he started pulling components out of the console, and stuffing them into his pack. When his was full, he insisted that we carry what he couldn't cram in his.

I found it pretty amusing. "McKay, this is what the ship is for."

"Oh, right," he said. "Well, what are you waiting for?"

"Teyla, stay with McKay—Ford, you're with me." I gave Teyla my Beretta and the few extra magazines from my vest. I wasn't at all sure that there weren't more really old Wraith lying in wait for us. "Be careful."

Ford and I set out at a fast clip and brought the Gateship back in short order. We wrestled the Wraith corpse out and secured it in the rear compartment. I emptied my pack out on the bench in order to give McKay more carrying space, and Ford did the same, and then he handed it to me. "I'll stand watch here."

"Good man, back in a few minutes." When I arrived back at the supply ships' control room, McKay had already amassed a huge pile of junky parts. "Jesus, McKay—are you going to have a garage sale?"

"Ha ha, very amusing, Captain. I don't know when, or if we'll make it back here." He pointed towards the smaller pile and the two packs stuffed to overflowing, "this pile is must-go, and this is of secondary importance, but I'd like to take as much back to Atlantis as possible."

"How much more time do you need here?"

"Realistically, probably weeks, but this should keep us busy in the lab for a while."

"Then let's pack it out. Ford's watching our passenger, and I don't want to leave him out there alone too long."

Almost all of McKay's booty was stuffed into the jumper along with the body, and we were still able to take off. The little ship that could, I liked it more and more.

The journey back to Atlantis wasn't nearly as enjoyable, with the Wraith corpse smelling up the Gateship, and the sight of Atlantis was a relief.

I had radioed ahead with a report on the contents of our cargo, and as expected Dr. Weir was waiting for our arrival, along with Sumner and what looked like the entirety of the military force on Atlantis. Dr. Beckett and the med staff were lurking in the hallway outside the Gateship bay, along with a handful of the scientists out of the labs, looking rather like fish that had landed outside of their aquarium.

Teyla and Sumner exchanged frosty nods as she exited the rear hatchway, and he called a few of the Marines forward to secure the body, then Beckett had them take it to his lab. The scientists fell on the Wraith junk like piranhas in a feeding frenzy, and soon the ship was completely empty.

Dr. Weir was the only one that looked glad to see us return. "Good work, gentlemen, Teyla. I'd like to debrief in my office in an hour."

The enormity of the events of a very long day came crashing down on my in the face of the banal return to base. McKay insisted that he needed more time to do even a cursory inventory of the Wraith technology. Beckett also advised that it was going to take a while to make an initial report on the autopsy. Teyla and I gave Weir a brief rundown of the mission from our point of view, and she asked, if Teyla wouldn't mind staying one more day, for the full meeting the next day.

In retrospect, I should have sent Teyla home for the night, and I should have hidden out. Teyla's escort of Marines picked us up right outside Weir's office, and while they were polite and unobtrusive, it still sent a clear message that rankled.

Teyla and I both were tired, but too overwrought to rest. We ate in the mess, staying for a while after the meal was done because it seemed everyone wanted to hear about our adventures. I sat back and listened, while she cheerfully answered their questions about what had happened, the Athosians, and anything else about the little-known galaxy they now lived in.

I withdrew even further when Kate Heightmeyer joined us, and the ever-observant Teyla took note of this while they chatted. I liked Dr. Heightmeyer as a person, but on principle never let myself fall into her grasp. She had an important role to play, and if someone needed her assistance, I would make them take advantage of it. I simply had no desire to put myself in that position, to bare my rotten core.

I relaxed after Heightmeyer left, but Teyla said nothing, just led me to the balcony on the 'west' side.

In the few days prior to our mission, Teyla had established a routine. At dusk, she would sit out on the balcony that faced the sinking sun and meditate. The sunsets were incredibly brilliant and unusually colored, and after the sun had dropped below the horizon, the entire sky would glow crimson for nearly an hour. One of the geologists had waxed lyrical about the effect; they theorized that there had been a recent volcanic eruption somewhere on the planet, and microscopic ash had been blasted into the upper reaches of the atmosphere, and explained that Rayleigh scattering caused the magnificent sunsets. Whatever the scientific explanation, it was an awesome spectacle.

Sergeant Bates joined us on the balcony just as the sun fell below the nautical horizon and the sky was in flames. Teyla turned and glanced at him, when he stopped immediately beside her.

"Ms. Emmagan, if I could have a word with you?"

"Of course, what can I do for you?"

I stayed out of it, but didn't leave. I suddenly remembered that Bates had gone with Sumner to Athos the first time, and she would already know him. I was interested in what Bates had to say, because it had already clicked into place that he was the one that had set the watchdogs on Teyla, having her tailed as if she was a criminal, rather than a guest and valuable trading partner.

Bates looked her straight in the eye and launched into his speech. "First, I'm pretty sure that Sheppard didn't broker those trade agreements on his own, and we have you to thank for that."

I had a great deal of affection for Teyla; she was loyal to those that had earned it, had a near-encyclopedic knowledge of the planets that she traded with, and a good ear for scratching the truth out of rumor. She accepted me as I was, and though I hadn't really given her a full accounting of my past exploits, good or bad, she didn't seem to need or want them. I gave her my loyalty partly because of this, and apparently I had earned hers as well, for whatever reason.

Teyla stepped towards Bates, closing the gap. "You should be thanking Captain Sheppard, not me; I only provided the introductions. He is very persuasive, and has gained you many allies. In fact, I find him very capable and trustworthy, and I do not understand your attitude."

Bates didn't back off; he leaned in closer until they were nearly nose-to-nose. "Captain Sheppard's record speaks for itself. He doesn't respect the chain of command, and he's a dangerous rogue. Did you know that he was penalized with a reduction rank because of that? Maybe you don't know him as well as you think."

"I know all I need of his character and courage." Teyla reached out and jabbed her finger into Bates' sternum to emphasize her point. "I would say that it is you who do not know him as well as you should. If your Colonel is typical of all the Lantean commanders, then none deserved his fealty." With that she turned and left with a swirl of her skirt.

Bates threw me a contemptuous look and left the balcony as well. I didn't know what he was thinking, but I guessed it was probably something in the order of tossing me into an opening wormhole.

He left me standing on the balcony, wondering whether the drowned Major Sheppard had had issues with Sumner; for surely, Bates was Sumner's long arm, doing the dirty work so Sumner could claim indemnity. As gratifying as it was for Teyla to defend me, the verbal scuffle didn't bode well for my future relationship with the military commander of Atlantis. Thank God Dr. Weir was strengthening her position as the civilian leader of the expedition.

I also found Teyla's slip of the tongue, 'Lantean commander' most interesting. She knew we came from Earth and another galaxy, but it appeared our place of residence had cemented our reputation in the galaxy.

 

The briefing was well attended the next day. McKay, Zelenka, and Beckett joined us, as did Colonel Sumner, though he only observed. Teyla listened with careful attention to the briefing, and I mostly watched Teyla.

McKay went first. "The wraith appear to use some biological components, but other than that, there is a distinct similarity to the Ancients' technology." He tossed onto the table an oddly shaped device that was approximately the size of his hand. "This is their version of a flash drive, and it operates similarly to what we see here in Atlantis every day."

Dr. Zelenka broke in. "We have already seen initial results, I believe it to be only a matter of the correct encryption. Peter is working with it now."

McKay grinned. "The good news, Grodin thinks it's a corrupt dialect of Ancient."

"And what do you think we'll find?" I was curious, and didn't feel bad about asking the stupid questions. I think it was rather expected of me.

"It could be anything, but since I pulled it out of the main control console on the bridge of the ship, I doubt it's Wraith pornography."

"Now there's a scary thought." I had to snicker; it was funny.

Sumner and Weir shot McKay and I matching dirty looks. "Did they scavenge the Ancients like the Goa'uld?" she asked.

"We can speculate all we want, but right now all we know is that there is some relationship between the Wraith and the Ancients—language and some technology. I don't know what else there might be, I'm not clairvoyant," McKay finished with his typical sarcastic flourish.

Dr. Weir gave them a short business-like nod. "Rodney, Radek—keep working on it. Carson, what do you have?"

Dr. Beckett illustrated his report with a slideshow of photos from the autopsy. The sight transfixed Teyla, and I carefully avoided looking. "The Wraith appears to be mainly humanoid, with complete set of human organs, with a vestigial alimentary canal. There seems to be an entire secondary system related to a curious fluid-filled organ that isn't analogous to any I've ever seen before; we'll have to do more research to determine its function. An examination of the cellular structure revealed none of the protein inhibitors that we see in human cells; in other words the cells themselves don't have a built in self-destruct. I canna see one of them ever dying of old age." He paused for a moment to let that sink in. "It stands to reason—if he had crash landed there during the siege."

McKay was thinking out loud again. "He resorted to cannibalism, and there must have been something on the planet he could eat. There was no sign of him on the life sign detector so they must hibernate for long periods of time."

"So, we were the dinner bell?" Ford asked. He didn't have a problem playing the straight man, either.

Dr. Beckett cut off that avenue of discussion. "Likely so, lad. But overall, I'd have to say that they would be very hard to kill."

Teyla added, "I have never seen one killed before, I did not think it was possible." She had a fiendish look in her eyes.

I confirmed that it had taken two hundred Armour-piercing rounds to put him down; it amazed me that there was enough left for Beckett to work with.

Business moved onto starting the search for a ZPM to replace our very old, nearly depleted one. They would all be very old—we just wanted one that had more power. A mission was scheduled for the following day to the first of the five planets given to us by the old Dr. Weir.

After the briefing was over Teyla spent a few minutes talking to Dr. Beckett; he was patient and answered all of her many questions about forensics and biology and they discussed at length his findings on the Wraith. Later, when Teyla went to McKay's lab, it was a gesture of respect that he did his best to not sound too terribly condescending when asked to explain about the Wraith technology. I didn't understand his explanation, and I'm sure she didn't either, but Teyla thanked him for his time just the same. As we sat to eat in the mess hall, I inquired about what she had learned. I was well used to her general inquisitiveness, and today hadn't surprised me at all.

Teyla gave me the Mona Lisa smile, the one that I never figured out what it meant. "One should know their enemy well and I have learned more about the Wraith today than I have in all of my days."

That shamed me a little, and I vowed to listen more closely in the future.

The mission to Dagan was fruitless. We pored over the old books with Allina's careful assistance. We solved the puzzle and found the ZPM, only to have it wrested away as McKay had let it slip that we were lately from another galaxy, so we were merely Lantean poseurs in the eyes of the New Brotherhood.

M7G-677 also had a ZPM, but through a series of circumstances not completely of Dr. McKay's doing, we nearly brought the Wraith down upon us, and the children that made up the entire population. The ZPM was depleted enough so that it would be nearly useless to us, but the shield it generated over the villages was the only thing keeping the Wraith out. The situation went from bad to worse and hostilities seemed imminent; I had no desire to open fire on the kids, even though they were armed and threatening us. Thankfully McKay was able to reinstall the device and bring the shield back online in time to prevent bloodshed.

We were unable to get a lock on the third address on Dr. Weir's list, which left us only two more known places to look for a ZPM.

The fourth address was a wasteland, and there wasn't any sign of technology among the remnants of the ur-humans that inhabited the planet. They feared us, and probably thought we were gods, coming down from the heavens in a chariot of fire. We didn't stay there very long, and since we weren't expected back until the next day, I had a mind to visit the Genii. We were running out of tava, and on my last visit they had been well on their way to replenishing their stocks. I cloaked the Gateship close to the Stargate and we walked to the settlement.

A curious thing happened; we discovered that the Genii were not who they appeared to be. McKay's ever present scanner picked up traces of neutron radiation, and we tracked it to a very un-Amish like hatch in a barn. McKay immediately wanted to investigate, but I insisted that Cowen must be confronted. By this time, I thought I knew him pretty well.

I knocked on Cowen's front door and Sora answered. "Captain Sheppard, we weren't expecting you."

"I hope you don't mind, we were in the neighborhood, and thought we'd drop in, see how the harvest was going."

Cowen came in from a back room. "Of course, it is good to see you."

"Cowen, this is Dr. McKay, the head of our science department."

"Is that so. Please, sit."

We sat at his table and some of the moonshine was poured for each of us. "Careful with that, McKay; it'll strip paint at twenty feet."

He rolled his eyes, but took a drink. I had to add a notch of respect for him, because he didn't cough and his eyes didn't even water. He gave me a smug look, and I rescinded his cool points.

"So, Cowen. An interesting thing happened when we were on our way over from the Stargate, Dr. McKay picked up some very interesting readings on his gadget over there."

McKay interuppted me. "Traces of radiation, neutron radiation, actually and..."

I gave him a dark look and continued, "and, of course, with us being such great trading partners, I insisted that we come and tell you immediately."

"The Genii were once a great confederation of planets, with many marvelous things that might still produce this radiation." The glib explanation slid out of Cowen too easily.

I took another drink and considered how to proceed. I didn't want to piss him off, and I wondered how far I could push our relationship. "I understand. But say, just hypothetically, that if this radiation was unchecked, it could be dangerous to your people."

"I have been told otherwise."

"Well, who ever told you that is wrong." McKay glared at Cowen, who merely smiled.

"You know, we might be able to help you with that radiation problem. We're pretty good with that sort of thing," I said.

He sat at the table, and stared at us for a while. I put on my number three trustworthy look and waited him out until he stood up. "Normally, you would have already been shot for discovering our secret, but as you say, you are trusted partners. Teyla and her people know us only as the simple farmers we show to outsiders."

I felt vindicated in my original assessment that Cowen wasn't a farmer. "So the whole farmer thing is just a front."

"So the Wraith do not suspect." Teyla sounded amazed that they had been able to fool the Wraith and a little disappointed that she had been fooled.

Cowen nodded. "Secrecy is our only defense against the Wraith. One day, all that will change."

"Do you think you can do that with an atomic bomb?" McKay asked.

"McKay?" I wondered where he had dragged that up, but I shouldn't have been surprised.

"It just occurred to me, the radiation and the way he said 'all that will change,'" McKay said conversationally.

"Really?"

"Surely you know by now that I am a genius."

"Maybe you could be a genius a little more quietly?"

He merely sniffed and lifted his chin, in that odd gesture of defiance.

"Dr. McKay is correct. Follow me." Cowen led us down into an underground bunker. "Our forefathers sought the protection of bunkers such as these, and it was here that a small number of our people managed to survive undetected. Over the course of many, many years, generation after generation, we have made many technological developments here in secret."

He opened a door and ushered us in. It resembled any scientific lab, with cluttered tables filled with equipment and monitors.

McKay immediately went over to an unfinished bomb on the table and began investigating. "Well, you're on the right track. We're about sixty years ahead of you—that is, if you survive. This shielding is woefully inadequate. Now, uranium—how much do you have?"

"We have a sufficient supply."

"But it's nowhere near weapons grade, right?"

"We have had problems in our purifying efforts. The molecular structure of the unwanted material is very similar to that of the desired material."

"It's diffusion—you need to separate the 235 from the 238. When you remove the barrier between the two substances, the slight difference in their mass causes them to separate at different rates." McKay smiled triumphantly. He just loved being right, and on stage.

"You could do this?" Cowen asked eagerly.

"Of course. I just need to get a few things..."

I cut McKay off, before he got me into any more holes I couldn't dig my way out of. "McKay, he gets it."

"He does? Oh, right. He gets it."

Cowen tentatively agreed that we might become allies in this, and I promised him our secrecy and as much help as would be possible with our dwindling supplies; though if something didn't turn up quick, we'd probably be coming to them, begging for help.

We returned to Atlantis, and as expected Weir was absolutely against us helping them build nuclear weapons. I did see her point—but the Genii plan to take the fight to the Wraith was pinging around in my mind. I considered asking McKay to find a way to aid them surreptitiously, but I never got the opportunity.

 

PART III

The fifth address on Dr. Weir's list led us to M3D-121. The area around the Stargate was a vast rocky plain, and the site of the ZPM was obvious; the massive structure appeared to have been carved out of a lone mountain, a huge ancient king upon his throne, though he was decapitated. It was easily the size of a Manhattan skyscraper, and far more impressive.

It was about five klicks from the gate, and it loomed larger and larger as we flew towards it. I landed the Gateship near the base, and I felt small and inconsequential in the shadow of that very old, very regal stone monarch.

Teyla and Ford investigated the perimeter of the ruins, while I stood watch over McKay as he worked to find an entrance. The silence was oppressive; the only sound other than McKay's running commentary was the rushing wind. I could say that he talked to fill the silence, but that was his default setting, and I merely let him ramble on unchecked.

Sooner than I expected, the heavy stone doorway rumbled and split open, and fetid, stale air rushed out. I recalled Teyla and Ford to the entrance, but the noise had alerted them and they were already on their way. They stood guard at the entrance while McKay and I went inside to investigate.

The interior could not have been more different from the exterior. The lights came on as we ventured in, traversing a long hallway that could have been any within Atlantis, while the outside would have been at home in any collection of antiquities. It was an interesting dichotomy, but I didn't linger on that thought.

We eventually came upon a door, which responded immediately to my touch, and the room beyond contained many familiar looking consoles. I pretended that I didn't read Ancient, and so I prowled about the various side doors and crannies of the room. McKay pulled his laptop from his back and began his investigation.

The third or fourth door I opened was to a room that contained a large triangular shape, and the feeling of power was almost palpable in the air. "McKay, I think I found it."

"It does look like. Yes, this is it—this is amazing." He went to the device and after fiddling with the controls found that it had not one, but three ZPMs. "Sheppard, these are enough to power Atlantis for the next ten thousand years. I can't even describe how incredible this is." He activated the controls, and two glowing devices rose up from the slots. McKay carefully pulled out the first one and handed it to me and motioned for me to turn around. He placed the second device in my backpack, and as I turned to face him again, he was considering the third one.

"What are you waiting for, McKay?"

"I'm calculating the odds that if I pull out the last one that this place will come crashing down on our heads."

"Is that likely?"

"It's the Pegasus galaxy—anything is likely, but I think the odds are low."

"Hmmm. Should we leave it here?"

"My initial gut reaction says no, we take it with us but I realize that I'm a selfish bastard."

"Then grab it and let's run like hell."

"No, not yet. I'm still running diagnostics in the other room; I want to know what they used this place for."

"Okay. I'll take these two to the Gateship and get them all tucked in for the ride home." So saying, I went to secure the ZPMs, while McKay returned to his laptop.

It took most of the day for McKay to assuage his curiosity. Ford, Teyla and I rotated through guard duty in the room and out on the perimeter; I wanted them to have a chance to see the inside of the lab, and to prevent boredom—mostly mine.

Finally McKay unhooked his laptop and powered down the console. "Okay that's it, we're done here."

I stood up and joined him at the power station. "Definitely not going to come crashing down on us, right?"

"Right." He pulled a flashlight from his vest and flipped it on, and I turned on the targeting light on my P90. "Ready?"

McKay nodded, disengaged the last ZPM from its slot and the room was plunged into darkness. We crashed from the room to the hallway, the uneven light from our lights playing on the walls and floors as we headed toward the light at the end of the tunnel. If there was ever a more apt metaphor, I couldn't tell you what it was.

Nothing happened.

We made Teyla and Ford's position without incident, and in the filtered shade of the Ancient king's big toe, we considered the open door. There was no power to close it, and McKay and I were of one mind—we didn't want to leave it open to anyone that cared to walk in.

"Is there any reason that we would ever need to get back in there?" I didn't look at him when I asked.

He shook his head, and stared at the open door. "It's an outpost—everything in there is probably duplicated in Atlantis' database."

"All right, let's do it." Ford and I set two charges of C4 at the entrance and a few feet inside the tunnel, and just in case of some freak occurrence and the entire structure was brought down, we set off the charges from the air in the Gateship. The force of the charge was so inconsequential in comparison to the size of the structure that it looked like a tiny puff of dust and rock at his toes. I brought the ship closer and we could see that the tunnel was effectively sealed. There was no other reason to stay on the planet, and we returned to Atlantis with our bounty.

The success of our mission was widely celebrated; Colonel Sumner and his lapdog Bates couldn't deny that we had saved the city and the expedition. Atlantis at full power was an amazing thing, completely lit for the first time. No more darkened hallways and dim corridors, and to see it from the air, floating on the ocean, ablaze with light was a glorious thing.

The slight, annoying murmur in my head became louder and more insistent, and made me anxious to escape the city as soon as possible. Power solved a lot of our problems, actually most of them. With the third ZPM, we could open a wormhole to Earth and take one back, and the issue of supplies became inconsequential.

The additional power also increased our sensor array's capability, and we had apparently just made it under the wire; a huge storm was detected, and it was so enormous that without full power, we would have been helpless in the path of its destruction.

The ease of travel to and from earth left me in a quandary. My self appointed charge of trading for food was at an end, but I had no desire to return to the SGC or my commission in the Air Force on Earth. There really was no way to return to a conventional life on Earth, after I had discovered the adventures in the Pegasus galaxy. It was something of a conundrum, because the city was an intruder in my mind, I was miserable and I wanted to stay out of it as much as possible, though I couldn't deny that I enjoyed the newfound respect in the eyes of the citizens of Atlantis. Still the truth was that it was the idea of fighting the Wraith that kept me at my post. In the end, I did what I always did, returned to Athos. Spring was just beginning there and I had been away too long.

A few weeks after the mission to the 'Mountain King,' as I called it, I returned to check in with Weir, and instead found one Colonel Steven Caldwell waiting for me in her office.

"Captain Sheppard?"

Even though I wasn't in uniform, he was a ranking officer, and I gave him a salute. "Yes sir. Captain John Sheppard, sir."

"At ease, Captain. Have a seat."

I sat up straight in the chair, and gave him my complete attention. I didn't know where Sumner was, or what this was about, but I wasn't planning on messing it up.

"First off, Sheppard, Colonel Sumner's been recalled to the SGC, and I've taken command of the military forces in Atlantis."

I was relieved to hear that Sumner was out; I had outlasted him. Caldwell's tone of voice gave me optimism about the expedition that I hadn't since the departure from the SGC. "Congratulations Colonel, I look forward to working with you."

He nodded, and went on. "I think you should know that the SGC has read all of the reports from Atlantis, particularly yours and Colonel Sumner's."

"I see." I felt a cold spot in my heart start to grow, as I recalled Bates' verbal scuffle with Teyla. My reports had been professional and to the point, but the content of them had widely diverged from Sumner's. I'd seen a different Pegasus than he had, but I never thought he was actually vindictive—I thought he just didn't care for my attitude.

"I don't think you do. The work you've done to keep the expedition alive and working has been noted, Captain, and it's greatly appreciated by the SGC. Also, Dr. Weir has spoken very highly of you and your accomplishments as has an unusual letter from Teyla Emmagan."

Now, that surprised me. Maybe the incident with Bates on the balcony had spurred her to do such a thing. "Thank you, sir."

"Don't thank me yet." He reached into Weir's desk, and stood. I did as well and he came around the desk beside me. "Captain John Sheppard, in light of your ongoing efforts and successes, I am pleased to restore to you the rank of Major in the Air Force of the United Sates of America." He handed me the little velvet box with gold leaf insignia nestled inside and shook my other hand. He smiled slightly, "I don't think I'll pin them on that uniform, though."

I smiled too, but I was stunned. I had undertaken my mission with the most selfish motives possible, and the fact that I had been successful really was Teyla's doing, despite what she had told Sumner, and evidently, the SGC.

"Congratulations, Major Sheppard."

"Thank you sir."

Caldwell returned to his seat, and I sank back into my chair, a little more relaxed than I'd been before.

"Now that supplies are not an issue, what are your plans?"

"You're aware of the Wraith?"

"I've been fully briefed on all aspects of the expedition to date."

"I've been thinking about a plan, sir, in regards to the Wraith..." I gave him the short version of the Genii plan to nuke the Wraith, and my intention to assist them.

"Interesting." Caldwell sat and looked at me for a few minutes, he was obviously coming to a decision. "My orders in regards to you are to solidify your position as liaison to the indigenous population, since you seem to have a talent for it. I don't think that would interfere with your plans, and it might even aid you. Keep in touch, Major."

"Thank you, sir, I will."

"Dismissed, Major."

I was still in a daze over being returned to rank as Major, so the position as liaison hardly struck a chord with me at that moment, but it was to become very important. I took a hot shower, had dinner with Dr. McKay and then picked up a few things to take back with me before I returned to Athos.

 

Some weeks later, Dr's Weir and Grodin had cracked the Wraith jump drive, and the wealth of intelligence it contained gave us a good understanding of their technology, but the specific information I was looking for was woefully old.

The idea of the attacking the Wraith became my all-consuming passion; I had the authority of my new position to continue my exploratory missions, it was a niche that I could adequately fill, and it allowed me to spend as little time as possible in Atlantis: even though I had regained the rank of Major, and led the expedition that found the ZPM's, there were still some of the original expedition that thought of me as Captain LightSwitch.

The Stargate now provided an influx of new personnel, and more and more of the Ancient Database was being translated, so we had a better idea of how the Ancients had fought the Wraith. The city was now fully shielded, and the Wraith slept on, and this gave me some time to devise a plan to deal with them.

Teyla was by now a frequent visitor to Atlantis, and at the first opportunity I introduced her to Colonel Caldwell. He was polite and respectful, and she thought him a far better commander than Sumner, if only because he showed consideration for my opinion, and supported our embryonic venture. She was also eager to deal a deathblow to the scourge that had razed Athos and left it to devolve into a hunter-gatherer society. The ruins on her planet were testament to how great they had been, and with the example of the New Lanteans, and even the Genii, she felt that they could be great again, if they could only overcome the obstacle of being mere cattle to be culled. I saw now that her report to the SGC on my behalf had been a clever maneuver. I knew I was her friend, and she trusted me, but she needed me to be an effective tool as well. I understood, and accepted that turnabout was fair play—I had also used her and the Athosians for my own ends.

Teyla and I once again visited Cowen. This time, I would be dealing with the Genii from an undeniable position of superior strength with Caldwell's approval.

I landed the Gateship in an obvious position for all to see, and it attracted quite the crowd. Cowen was there, and he led us to his house. "Captain Sheppard, what can I do for you today?"

"First, it's Major Sheppard now." Cowen nodded, and Teyla looked tremendously pleased on my behalf.

"Ah, then congratulations."

"Thank you. Second, we've solved our problem of a ride home, and our circumstances have changed dramatically for us on Atlantis."

"I can see that." He must've been thinking about the Gateship, because he showed little surprise at the mention of the City of the Ancestors.

"In light of this, I may be able to do something for you—I'd like to talk about how our alliance works."

"Not all of the Genii are convinced that we should be so open. It is still a sensitive subject."

"There's the possibility that we may be able to offer more than technical support, but here's the tradeoff—I need to know more about your whole plan for the Wraith, so I can advise my superior officers, and possibly get you that help."

At Cowen's dubious expression, Teyla spoke. "It is the hope of my people that one day we will all be free of the Wraith. We have spoken of this on many occasions, Cowen, and I believe that the aid of Major Sheppard's people would be a great boon to us all."

"Your plan will have a better chance at success with allies. We've proven that we can be trusted, and we're good trading partners." I gave him my number two convincing smile.

"Your ship would aid us tremendously." He looked as if he thought he was being sly and calculating, but that was the whole reason I had brought the Gateship out into the open.

"I'm the only one who can fly it, and I'd rather we worked together on this; it would be a lot more effective."

Cowen watched me for a moment with his flat, blank expression, and I was gearing up to offer him things that maybe I didn't have authorization to give yet, but he nodded. "Very well, Major."

Once again we followed him down into the underground tunnels, and Tyrus greeted us.

"Sheppard, Teyla, it is good to see you again. Where is Dr. McKay?"

"Back on Atlantis, in the middle of a project, and I couldn't tear him away, sorry."

"Tyrus, would you show the Major and Teyla the information from the device?" His eyes showed his surprise, both at the revelation of McKay's location and Cowen's request, but he opened a wooden box and took out a small device as Cowen continued. "Many generations ago, during a culling, the Genii were able to shoot down a Wraith Dart. Although many lives were lost that day, the ability to resist even in some small way gave the Genii the seeds of hope."

Tyrus broke in with a reverent voice. "This data storage device was recovered from the wreckage, and it contains information about the hive ship it was deployed from."

"Tyrus and Sora have been able to successfully access that information." Cowen said this with pride, and it was obvious that he expected me to praise Tyrus.

"That's quite an accomplishment, Tyrus." I glanced at Teyla, ever my advisor, and she tipped her head in assent. "We recently captured a device similar to this from a cruiser."

"You have?" Cowen asked with some admiration in his voice.

I tipped my head in acknowledgment, "Yes, but it's a little out of date, even more than yours."

Tyrus said, "We believe that the interface device will allow us to access the hive ship's data core, and learn the location of all the Wraith ships."

"Is the ship still there?" Finally, we were getting somewhere.

"It is still there, they sleep for centuries, and it will be many years before they awaken again."

We both needed more recent information, and I thought this was the perfect chance to prove that we could work together. I told him that I had to get approval to do this, but that I honestly didn't think it would be a problem, and that we'd be back soon. I wasn't exactly sure how far my prerogative as liaison extended, and I didn't want to repeat an old mistake.

Caldwell agreed that this was an excellent opportunity to build a bridge with the Genii and to obtain intelligence. We got the go ahead to set up a joint mission with Cowen to visit the site of the Hive ship and to attempt to download current information on the Wraith fleet's position and strength.

One of the Genii military commanders joined us. Acastus Kolya was a hard man; his attitude reminded me far too much of Sumner, and I knew he would bear watching. Our complement for the objective was Cowen, Kolya, Ford, McKay and Teyla with me at the helm.

I could see why Cowen had latched onto the idea of using the Gateship; the dormant target was many miles from the Stargate. We would have to be careful; Kolya told me with an evil smile that the guardians were still awake protecting their sleepers. I took a moment to wonder about how they had learned that piece of trivia. "You've been here before."

"We have been here before."

It didn't look like a ship, and they were right about the length of hibernation, because it appeared to be a hill covered in forest. I cloaked the Gateship and flew into their hangar, while Ford stayed behind to stand watch, and to guide us back into the cloaked ship when we were done.

It was very strange, being in a live Hive ship. Though there were very few Wraith awake and walking around, it felt crowded and claustrophobic. The worst part was when we came upon a room of still living, cocooned humans stashed away like so many jars of peaches on a shelf.

One poor soul awakened on our approach, and he began to scream for us to save him. It was an awful display of terror and desperation.

Teyla whirled and pinned me with an intense glare. "Major, we must save him. These people are cocooned for a later feeding, and many more of them may still be alive."

Cowen told her curtly, "We don't have time for this."

"They could be your people." She gave him an icy, desperate look.

"If they were Genii then they would gladly sacrifice themselves for the chance to defeat the Wraith." Kolya gave her a cold, wolfish smile.

Teyla's natural and admirable compassion was a tempting argument, but the hard fact was that if there were to be war, there would be casualties. I looked at the number of cubbyholes filled with sleeping people, and made a severe decision.

"Teyla, Kolya's right. We don't have room on the Gateship for more than a few, and if the plan goes accordingly, they are all dead anyway. We can't save them, we can't risk being captured—we have to move on."

McKay hadn't spoken, but at my pronouncement, he looked up from his scanner and pinned me with an intense look that I couldn't decipher.

My decision displeased Teyla tremendously, and at that moment I feared I had lost her trust and loyalty, but it simply wasn't possible—they were already dead, even though they hadn't actually expired. She nodded brusquely, and we left the pitiful man mewling his distress to follow Cowen. Teyla was subdued, and I knew that she was suffering from being in the ship with active Wraiths as well as her disappointment in me.

Behind us we heard a Wraith guard come and stop the man's howling. The crying man's death strengthened my resolve. This could not be allowed to continue. I don't know why the Ancients lost to the Wraith, but I began to think that it was their compassion and their failure to be as bloodthirsty and savage as their opponents. I had just demonstrated that we were not so nearly advanced.

Cowen had memorized the plans of the ship, and led us to the data core of the Hive ship, but his knowledge didn't extend to actually getting the door open.

"Do I have to do everything?" McKay said in annoyance, but as he spoke he studied the wall with his trusty scanner and then cut it open to activate the door mechanism. Teyla and Kolya stayed outside to guard against surprise though she looked more miserable by the minute.

McKay and Cowen together were able to reattach the flash drive and download the information we were looking for: the location and number of Hive ships, and whatever else they could get.

When that task was done, we found Kolya standing over Teyla in a protective stance, maintaining the watch outside the door. Teyla's overloaded Wraith sense had caused her to faint and we had to virtually carry her to the Gateship. We quickly escaped through the gate, and as far as we knew, the Wraith were none the wiser.

The success of this mission allowed me to convince the Genii to at least provide me with the names and addresses of other planets in Pegasus that might wish to take part in my private little war. They were still waiting for hard proof of our alliance before sharing the data.

Teyla had recovered and left for Athos without saying goodbye. I knew that I would have to account to her for my actions on the Hive ship, and I hoped that I could make her see that it had been a sound military decision.

The next day Caldwell called me to his office, and presented me with a new laptop that had had the data from the jump drive downloaded onto it. McKay had quietly copied the jump drive, while I had been negotiating with Kolya.

Caldwell and I reviewed the data together, and I was beginning to doubt the wisdom of this plan. We were going to need far more resources than I had ever guessed. It was utterly incomprehensible to think of waging a galactic war. My whole life I had thought of the galaxy as an incomprehensively large place, but the gate system had shrunk the distances down more effectively than airplanes and radios had made the entire globe of Earth accessible.

Caldwell was more pragmatic and he encouraged me to hold the course; he saw the numbers and thought it was still feasible; he told me that I needed to focus only on the number of ships.

We reconvened later with Weir and McKay, and Caldwell convinced Dr. Weir to assist us. The gate room staff dialed every planet that contained a Wraith ship and sent a MALP through. They also combed through Atlantis' database to find suitable planets that we could use for staging and deployment. I didn't want my allies to use their home planets, as it would leave them perilously exposed.

I returned to Athos, but this time it was because some of the Lanteans were avoiding meeting my eyes; Dr. Weir held sway over the scientists, and she did not like the idea of fighting the Wraith; she felt like we should leave sleeping dogs to lie. McKay was not one of them; he and I were able to collaborate for the entire initiative, and his trust in me never seemed to weaken.

I also had to do some serious groveling with Teyla, and to that end McKay had gifted me with a now spare Naquadah generator and some miscellaneous equipment for the Athosians. It would be a rich bribe, and also allow me to take my laptop to Athos; it was now a necessary tool for the development of the rough plan Caldwell and I had sketched out.

A few days of rest and meditation had done most of my work with Teyla for me and the Naquadah generator was also well received, although she still didn't like my callous disregard of the victims on the Hive ship.

I showed Teyla the information on the laptop, and we talked about possible strategies to rescue the culled victims in conjunction with the Genii plan. Teyla reluctantly accepted the fact that they were already doomed and we came to an agreement, that it would be impossible to rescue the humans aboard those ships. This saddened her, and I commiserated with her, but to try and do so would assuredly awaken the Wraith, and we had to rely upon their continued hibernation.

Strategic loss was a theory I had been inculcated with my entire career—even though I'd been busted down to Captain for ignoring that dictate in the past. It was a mistake that I couldn't promise never to make again, but I was doing my best to appreciate the concept now.

I thought that Teyla's attitude rendered the Athosians more like the Ancients than those of us humans from the Milky Way who carried the gene. Teyla thought so as well, but didn't let it color our working relationship.

The summer season was spent contacting our trading partners, and all of the people for whom the Genii had given us addresses, to carefully sound them out as possible allies beyond the trading of food and medicine. Those that worshipped the Ancestors, like the Athosians, were swayed by our command of Atlantis; others were simply persuaded by the hope of freedom. Some were greedy and mean, and we gave them as few promises as possible.

I taught Teyla to use the laptop and to read English. She was a quick study and took pleasure in the learning. We were both changing under the other's influence, and it was good for both of us.

We studied Weir's MALP surveys, and Caldwell began campaigning to have the SGC supply materials: munitions, equipment and increased troops. This made Dr. Weir very unhappy, though even she could see that the Wraith were dangerous—they had caused the Ancients to retreat in defeat—but the civilian expedition was thriving, growing and learning at an exponential rate, and our commencement of hostilities was to be considered a separate enterprise.

Over Weir's mild objection, McKay assigned some of his now-easily replaced staff to the Genii to assist them in their production of nuclear weapons, to overcome their problem of super criticality, and to give them a few lessons on the necessity of proper shielding. Our scientists and technicians were also able to upgrade the Genii electronics. The Genii were a very secretive people, but with our aid and assistance, their paranoia was slowly being over-come.

I had just returned to Athos from a visit to Menaria, when Caldwell recalled me to Atlantis. I reluctantly returned to find I had a visitor from Earth, General O'Neill, the man who had first introduced me to the Atlantis expedition in Antarctica.

"Major, I believe you know General O'Neill."

"Yes sir. Nice to see you again."

I didn't ask what he wanted; I already knew. My report with an analysis of the data and rough outline of a plan couldn't have been on his desk more than a day or two. I had a gut feeling that I was going to be replaced; this was too important to leave an officer of my caliber in charge. I felt a personal ownership of the intended war, and I did not want a General—even one I liked—to come in and take it away from me, but I recognized that it would be a sound course of action for the SGC to take.

Either O'Neill was a mind reader, or my expression betrayed me. "Don't get your knickers in a knot, Major—I just want to go over your plans. Your reports so far are pretty vague, and if I'm going to pour money and manpower into it, I need to know what's going on."

I took a deep breath and decided that O'Neill was being honest with me. "Okay, we can do that, sir."

I was still in my Athosian clothing. Caldwell, being used to me reporting in mufti, hadn't given me an opportunity to change into a more appropriate uniform in which to meet with a superior officer. I pulled my laptop out of a leather satchel that the ever-hopeful Donora had stitched for me.

"Nice togs." I looked up, and O'Neill was smiling.

"Teyla arranged for them. I was too different in the uniform and tactical vest, and I was scaring people."

"Good idea. You've come a long way since Antarctica."

I nodded. "I like to think so," I said in a neutral voice.

"You've done a good job, Major, and I want you to have the chance to continue to do so." His easy demeanor and understanding reminded me why it was that this man had still made Brigadier General with his history of insubordination and defiance of the rules. Maybe there was hope for me yet.

I laid out the plan I had so far, and the rough map of the galaxy with the Wraith marked on it. Our information indicated the whereabouts of sixty-seven Hive ships, four of which were not in hibernation. We had to believe this was the main bulk of their force, based on their own data. The plan was to simultaneously take out as many Hive ships as possible; because once we began the Wraith would surely strike back. He made a few suggestions, and we talked for hours about tactics, the strength of our Pegasus allies, and what would be needed to accomplish our goal.

O'Neill's advice was to spread my forces as far out as possible in order to avoid a single concentration that the Wraith could retaliate against: for every hive ship there would be one planet as a launch platform for the strike force and a second as rear support.

I would have to impress upon every person that took part that they could not be taken by the Wraith, that the location of Atlantis, and her important gateway, was to be protected at all costs. This was generally easy—the city was a focal point of Ancient hope through out Pegasus and they would be eager to protect her.

We also discussed measures to maintain information security. We would implement an old French resistance tactic; separate the forces into cells, so that very few would know where any of the other cells operated, including the City. We marked off territories and divided the target areas up into the cells, and then again by the number of planets within those cells, and I would assign one team to each planet, with a division leader for each of the cells. I firmly pushed the thought out of my head that the Wraith had implemented the same strategy, and that we might be looking at incomplete data. I also pushed out of my mind the humans still aboard those ships. The data gave me no indication of actual Wraith populations, either on board the ship or elsewhere.

It had been clear from the beginning that we didn't have enough Gateships to execute Cowen's plan of attacking from the air. O'Neill suggested using the Paratrooper's standby, the M-gator—battery powered, six wheeled ATV's that were sure, but not swift—to transport the weapons and men. The M-gators added another layer of danger; there would be no quick retreat if there was trouble, but once they'd withdrawn, a radio could detonate via wormhole. The Gateships would be reserved for the few planets where the Stargate hung in space.

Why would the SGC want to back a plan like this? Because the Wraith were a credible threat to Atlantis, an important resource for Earth and the Pegasus Galaxy, and it was the gateway between them. It was worth any number of losses and expenditures to protect this asset, since we had so much to gain from Atlantis. O'Neill also approved of the gesture; he saw the initiative as a way to secure some peace in the Pegasus galaxy.

I knew the expedition was evenly divided over what I was doing, but I pressed ahead. I thought it was important, and having General O'Neill's endorsement and support allowed me to ignore the disapproval of some of the Lantean personnel. I expected Dr. Weir's disappointment on principle, and I regretted that it had caused a rift between us; it felt like a deplorable way to thank her for her support, but it couldn't be helped.

I decided to set up my command center on Athos where I felt most comfortable; it was well known to the majority, a neutral zone where the participants could come and go without disrupting Weir's scientific expedition, and the fewer people that knew Atlantis' gate address, the better.

A month or so after our meeting, O'Neill offered the services of Colonel Pendergast, who would be arriving in the Prometheus, an Asgard hybrid ship, which would be at my disposal. In return he wanted more detailed mission specs, which he would vet and then make suggestions that I could integrate as I saw fit.

To partially assuage Dr. Weir, I assigned the Prometheus as the home guard, high above Atlantis. Atlantis had shields, and if necessary McKay would fire up the star drive, or sink the city beneath the ocean; she was well protected, even though the same could not be said for our allies.

Cowen reported that our assistance had allowed them to shorten their original timetable by many years, and that they would be soon able to begin mass-producing their bombs. The next step of the plan was to determine if a nuclear bomb could indeed destroy a Hive ship. Weir had the science team return to the satellite to affect repairs on it, and the Prometheus made that an easy mission. We tagged along.

My team for this was McKay, Dr. Zelenka, Ford, and Teyla. Kolya joined us as an observer for the Genii, and the Prometheus had made it clear to him that we were indeed a force to be reckoned with. I was sure that Cowen would be appropriately briefed.

The Prometheus dropped us off on the planet below the satellite. The nuclear warhead we used was one of the Genii's first to roll off their production line, and this mission also served the purpose of allowing them to test their weaponry with no risk to themselves. The strength of their bombs would be our weakest point, and though I didn't say that aloud, neither Cowen nor Kolya was stupid or blind.

McKay and Zelenka were critical to the mission, because they had to reassemble the Wraith ship controls, and try to raise any shields, so that our test could determine if they would render a nuclear attack inert.

It was fun to watch them work together. If Dr. Zelenka had any misgivings about the upcoming war, he kept them to himself. He seemed very nervous about being out of Atlantis, but the excitement of having the Wraith ship to play with over rode that. He and McKay bitched, groused, and sniped at one another, but they got the job done. The shields were up, and the Prometheus took us back aboard to detonate the bomb that sat outside the Wraith ship.

It was a spectacular blast that that barely made the Wraith shields shiver. The test was not an utter failure; we'd gathered data, but it would be several thousand years before anyone could approach the ship even in radiation gear, to run a second test. However, we knew if we caught them truly sleeping, the bombs could be effective. I thought about our mission to refresh the jump drive, and considered that the bombs might even be placed inside the hangar.

Even so, I lost quite a lot of sleep imagining that we were going to awaken the Wraith without damage, much like whacking a hornet's nest with a big stick.

Teyla and I visited each of the planets from Weir's survey, and we had to persuade the inhabitants, if any, of the righteousness of the war. This was really Teyla's forte; she spoke about freedom from the Wraith with an unquestionable passion, her skills as a leader and a negotiator gave her much patience. Her patent compassion and ability to listen allowed us to convince as much of the Pegasus galaxy as possible to take part in the offensive action. It took many months, but we knew we had time; the next great culling wouldn't take place for decades.

By and large, the inhabitants of the Pegasus galaxy were anxious to aid us. Those we had not contacted directly had heard of our plan through rumor and the wormhole grapevine, and offers of assistance had poured into Athos. The general consensus was the risk of waking the Wraith was outweighed by the hope that they could one day be free, and this particular fatalism would stand us in good stead.

One exception to that was the Olesians, who were nearly our downfall before we began in earnest. They had been collaborating with one of the Wraith who weren't hibernating, and in order to save themselves the Olesians had been feeding their prisoners to the Wraith. Teyla hypothesized that this was why that Wraith ship was awake—they didn't need to sleep for centuries in order to allow their food source to replenish itself.

It turned out that in order to swell the ranks of the prisoners the magistrate was inflicting unjust capitol punishment for petty crimes. This had inflamed my sense of justice, granted it was imported from another galaxy, but Teyla agreed that it was a despicable practice. When we escaped the planet, we freed the prisoners and left the Olesians to their fate.

This gained us the entirety of the Olesian penal colony as a fighting force. They were smart, vicious, and living in unsupervised prison had rendered most of them uncivilized, but the promise of settlement and freedom in payment for their services convinced them to join us. I set up a bivouac for them on the mainland, which was not too far by Gateship, to keep them at hand without mixing it up with the Marines. I definitely didn't want them free to use the gate and dial up Atlantis, so the mainland was essentially a nicer prison, without the threat of the Wraith coming to feed. The Prometheus and a trip through the city impressed upon them that we had the upper hand.

 

PART IV

The Genii were still building their arsenal, and the SGC was importing the Naquadah-enhanced Mark V nuclear warheads as fast as they could be produced. Cowen and I had agreed that each of us was to provide half of the necessary bombs. The thirty some Mark V's were amassed and stored long before the Genii's were ready, but Earth had a very large head start.

I selected the ten division captains—five Genii and five Lantean officers—and together we assigned the sixty-two assault team leaders that would be under their command. I then began to take division and team leaders to the planets that they would be responsible for. Major Lorne, a late arrival to Atlantis, accompanied us on these excursions. He was Colonel Caldwell's Executive Officer, and his observer in the field.

I was simply dropping off my reports and attending the occasional meeting in Atlantis, and I rarely stayed for very long. Perhaps McKay's prophetic words about my having 'gone native' had given them pause. Lorne was bright and sharp, and if he thought I was trouble, he never said so to my face. His reports to Caldwell must have been favorable, because the Colonel never appeared to lack for confidence in my activities.

Typically, one of these missions took a single day. A short aerial survey by Gateship with an M-gator in the rear compartment was performed to find any insurmountable obstacles, and then we took the ATV on the route that had just been mapped out. Time and distance was carefully marked, and discreet markers placed along the trail. It had to be done this way since the teams would be literally following in our footsteps, and we slogged through rain, mud, desert and forest for two months. The inspections of the planets with a gate in space were all done in a single day, and by necessity were assigned to Lantean teams. My division leaders were in charge of site preparations after this, and I left it in their capable hands.

 

It was a few weeks after this was accomplished, when Cowen reported they had completed construction of their bombs. Things were near to chaos. I was shuttling back and forth from Atlantis and Genus to oversee the deployment of tents, food, water, arms, ammunition and other equipment to the ten worlds that would host the division headquarters, and deploying the troops of men and women from Athos.

In a stroke of cosmic irony that was not lost on either me or Caldwell, I had to define a clear chain of command: each division leader would be responsible for the teams in their quadrant and for gathering their reports to relay them back to their designated command center. Athos would handle the teams with the Genii leaders, and Atlantis would take the teams with the Lantean officers. It would cause wormhole traffic jams of an enormous magnitude to have all sixty-three teams try and dial into a single gate, and cell security had to be maintained.

 

In the year since I had conceived this plan, I had become accustomed to thinking in the monumental terms of the galaxy and gained a tangible sense of belonging. I wasn't Captain LightSwitch anymore, scrabbling for something to occupy my time—I had gained the respect and friendship of people all over Pegasus. My name was known on more than a hundred worlds, and I had command of an army, fleets of M-gators, and nuclear bombs scattered across the starry expanse of the galaxy, all committed to the singular purpose of striking a death blow to the life-sucking vampires, as McKay so colorfully called the Wraith.

It was an overwhelming emotion, to know that I had made a place for myself here, that I was more at home among the cooking fires with smoke spiraling lazily into the air than I had ever been in any city on Earth. I had become an intergalactic hinge point, perhaps as important as any of the Ancients whose gene I carried. It was as humbling as it was awe-inspiring.

 

Colonel Emerson and the Daedalus joined the Prometheus as reinforcement and to provide us with another tool at our disposal. Everyone felt the tension as our D-Day fast approached. Now that the forces were in place, I needed to make an inspection trip of at least the division headquarters—it would take months to revisit every single planet, and I had to trust the men under my command to execute their orders.

Teyla stayed at headquarters to handle any last minute issues, and General O'Neill and Colonel Caldwell joined me on the stomach turning, dizzying trip. We inspected the staging points to determine their readiness, supervised the final deployments to the assault points and addressed any last minute details. It took us a little more than a week to visit them all in rapid succession, and we all felt a little ragged around the edges.

We ended the assessment at Athos, where my command center was a tent erected near the Stargate, outfitted with radio equipment and a bivouac for my team stationed there.

On our arrival, Teyla was waiting at the tent. "It is good to see you, Major." She laid her hands on my shoulders, and I leaned down to touch my forehead to hers. It's more than a simple handshake or greeting, it's a gesture of affection, and I took a moment to calm myself and breathe her in. When we broke apart, she turned to Caldwell, and O'Neill. "Welcome to Athos."

Caldwell handled the introductions. "Teyla, this is General O'Neill, from the SGC." At her look he added, "my commanding officer."

All the time that I had been picking up the Athosian culture, she had been learning my customs as well. She reached out and shook O'Neill's hand. "I am pleased to meet you General O'Neill."

He gave her a rakish grin. "The pleasure is all mine, believe me."

She tipped her head and gave him a brilliant smile. "Tell me of your travels, and I will have tea prepared for us."

"A cup of tea sounds great." The widely held belief that O'Neill avoided reports and paperwork like the plague was finally put to rest.

We sat and Teyla called for tea. I gave her the laptop, and as she booted it up, both O'Neill and Caldwell had surprised looks on their faces. "I have spent a lot of time here."

"I see." If O'Neill was speculating on any other aspect of my relationship with Teyla, he was going to be disappointed. I had taught her to read English, and to use the tools at my disposal, because we were equals in this together, and she needed to have those skills. I'd dismissed any security issues, because she had to intimately know every aspect of our plans.

We talked about the issues of each of the divisions and any potential problems that might arise, while tea was served. Teyla followed along as she referred to the reports on screen, commenting and offering her suggestions and opinions. Teyla, as I mentioned before, had a very sharp and incisive intellect, and she had no trouble maintaining her end of the conversation, but it felt as if there was an entire unspoken conversation going on underneath; a flash of a significant look, or a sideways glance. I chalked it up to the fact that I was tired and overwrought, and consumed with worry on the eve of the invasion.

When we were finished, Caldwell stood up. "I need to get back to Atlantis. General?"

Teyla rose with him. "It would please me greatly, if you would join us this evening, we will be gathering to celebrate the coming victory." I liked the way she said that, and I needed the reassurance.

"As much fun as that sounds, I really have to return to Atlantis." Caldwell sounded sincere in his regret.

Teyla briefly laid a hand on his arm, but he didn't understand the signal, or chose not to lean into her. She took his slight in good humor. "Then we will drink a toast to you in your absence, Colonel."

"Thank you." He glanced at O'Neill.

"I think I'll stay, Steven. You know, you can't ever attend too many feasts."

"Good enough. I'll catch up with you tomorrow." With a parting nod to Teyla, he left.

"General, would you like a tour of the camp?" I asked. It was going to be hours before the festivities began, and I was feeling a nervous and overwhelmed. I needed to keep moving. Spring had come to Athos again, and the weather that day was mild and enticing.

"That sounds good. Lead on, Major."

The camp was not that large, and the tour began in the crumbling ruins, but I could see O'Neill's eye start to glaze over almost immediately. We ended up mostly just walking as O'Neill and Teyla talked. They got along like a house afire, and I was lost in thought about the coming offensive.

When we returned to the encampment, the place was crackling with purpose and excitement. There were many of Teyla's people missing, as they were awaiting the signal to begin the attack, but those who were not off-world threw an unforgettable revel.

A great fire was lit to ward off the evening chill, the tables were groaning with food and drink. As the night wore on, O'Neill and I laughed and danced and drank. Somewhere along the way, he told me to call him Jack, since we were off duty.

It was late, and the Athosians were still going strong, but O'Neill and I had taken a break. We sat at the fire with our Athosian beer.

"I can see why you like them, John." He gestured towards the merriment where Halling was telling a story that had them in tears of laughter.

"I do, but it's more than that, actually." I drained my cup, and thought about how I could say this without seeming like an ungrateful wretch for the opportunity to join the expedition. "Have you experienced anything unusual in Atlantis?"

"What, like gating to a ten-thousand year old city in another Galaxy? Financing a war against albino, life-sucking vampires?"

I grinned. "Point taken. It's uhm, hard to describe. It's like the city's trying to... It's mostly background noise, I can almost hear it but I can't understand it."

"Yep. I hear it." He stopped and looked at me. "Not too long ago, I had an Ancient database dumped into my brain for the second time. It took over completely—I stopped speaking and thinking in English, and began thinking in Ancient instead."

"Wow, that must have been, weird."

"Not the only word I'd use to describe it. The first time, I eventually built a power booster, gated to Othalla and met the Asgard. They relieved me of my problem, and sent me home. Thor rescued me the second time."

O'Neill had had so many adventures, experiences and losses while leading the famous SG1, that the gossip couldn't even cover a tenth of it. "I hadn't heard that one, only that you were Thor's favorite."

He laughed. "I love that little guy. Anyway, if you tell Daniel, or anyone—I'll take you out back and shoot you. Maybe it's a left over imprint or something but I know what the city's saying, I understand it."

That floored me. "That's... I don't know what that is. What is it saying?"

He studied me for a moment, and replied. "She doesn't understand why you don't answer her."

I think my eyebrows shot up somewhere near my hairline. "She? I don't even know what it's saying, how could I answer?"

"Dunno why it sounds girlish to me. She knows that you don't understand her, but she keeps trying."

"That's a bit more than weird; it's creepy." I had an ancient city stalking me in my subconscious for a conversation. "I've never told anyone, I was afraid they'd lock me up. That's why I stay out of Atlantis, I hear that murmuring all the time, and it drives me crazy."

"Either no one else hears it, or they all think the same thing. Though I can't imagine McKay not shouting it from the rooftops," O'Neill said dryly.

I laughed fondly. "No, I can't see that either." McKay never changed, and he had steadfastly supported my cause.

It was then that Teyla came and pulled us from our seats and dragged us back into the revelry. It was nearly dawn when the party was over, and there was a long day ahead of us.

 

When I had stated that I planned to take on one of the hive ships myself, O'Neill hadn't tried to argue or command me otherwise; he understood that I had to take the same risks that I was asking many hundreds of others to take.

O'Neill volunteered to coordinate from the base camp near the Stargate, waiting for the reports to come in via wormhole. Caldwell was at his post in Atlantis for the same, and a check via wormhole to the division leaders confirmed that all was in readiness. They got their go-ahead: there would be no turning back now, despite yesterday's lingering misgivings.

I was concerned about taking Teyla into another Wraith ship. She had been overcome by her sensitivity to the Wraith on the data retrieval sortie, and I didn't want to put her at risk, and as a consequence, the entire team. But, it had taken a little time for that to happen, and the plan was to fly in, drop the payload and detonate from space. She convinced me that she needed to go as much as I did, so I relented, but added another Marine to the team. I didn't know Lieutenant Cadman, but Caldwell had given her a sterling recommendation. McKay was far too important to take into a situation as dangerous as this, and I regretfully overrode his request to join us.

My team had drawn a planet with a space gate, with Athos as our infiltration point. We were ready. Ford had stocked the little ship with P90's, hundreds of extra magazines for them and for the Berettas, and as a precaution, a case of C4. The Mark V was strapped to a dolly and carted aboard. Teyla, Ford, Lieutenant Cadman and I were preparing to take off when O'Neill wished us luck. I closed the hatch and Ford dialed the gate.

I cloaked the Gateship just after we exited the wormhole, and set course for the hive ship. I made its location from space and as expected, the ship was buried beneath the trees. I flew into the open hangar, and we waited for a few minutes to make sure that we were clear. I lowered the hatch and Ford and I wrestled the heavy nuke down the ramp, with Cadman and Teyla standing guard.

We must've not been as quiet as we thought, because three of the bone-faced drones came out of nowhere, and attacked. The sound of the P90's firing drew more of them to us, and suddenly we were engaged in a full-fledged firefight.

I took a stunner blast in the back, and as I fell, I twisted around and my arm and shoulder were caught by friendly fire, I didn't know whose. The paralyzing effect of the stunner blast didn't block the pain, and I was still conscious, could still see and hear what was going on. Ford was screaming orders to Cadman and Teyla over the deafening sound of P90's.

I felt a heavy hand slam against my chest, and all I saw was the grinning maw of a hissing Wraith. It felt like a rush of adrenaline, which made me sick and dizzy, and though it lasted for only a moment, it seemed to stretch out into hours. Ford let go a flash-bang, which knocked the Wraith off me, but left me blind and deaf along with the paralysis. My team must have been prepared for it, because they immediately began to drag me up the ramp and into the Gateship.

I was bleeding profusely, and the few seconds of feeding had left me nauseous and disoriented, but I was the only one who could fly the Gateship. It was then that I realized that maybe I wasn't such a great campaigner after all; I had definitely overlooked that detail. What else had I over looked? As I spun back through my memories, I could suddenly see so many things everywhere that could go wrong. My fear paralyzed me as effectively as a Wraith stunner.

Ford. Ford was talking to me, tapping the side of my face. "Sir, sir. Sheppard, we're taking fire, we have to get out of here."

I wanted to vomit; either from the gunshot wound, or whatever the Wraith had done to me. I swallowed the bile, and he pulled me up and into the pilot's seat and placed my hands on the flight controls.

The blood on my hands caused them to slip off, but he held them firm. "Can you do it?" He tried to sound calm, but I could hear the incipient panic in his voice.

I was suddenly intensely grateful for the mental capability of the ship and thought fiercely, "Get us the hell out of here." The ship instantly responded, and we shot forward out of the hangar. Ford didn't wait, but detonated the Mark V almost before we cleared the hive ship.

The blast was more than I could handle in my condition. I lost control, and the nuclear blast tossed the Gateship around like it was bathtub toy lost in an ocean. We crashed landed several miles away, but the force of the detonation was very much evident. The burning trees were all flattened outwards, and howling winds buffeted the ship.

Teyla looked pinched around the mouth and didn't look me in the eye as she bandaged my arm with what was in the first aid kit, and gave me some water to wash down the pills. Ford and Cadman avoided looking at me, too. The paralyzing effect of the stunner was wearing off, though I felt very sick and weak, more than I should, even with the GSW. I almost didn't want to know. "How bad is it?" I asked.

Teyla touched my arm and told me in a tender voice, "You are still alive, John."

"Yes. Yes I am." Pretty soon, I was able to move more freely, and though I was feeling pins and needles all over, managed to run a system check. "The miracle is that the shielding is holding up, so we're not going to die of radiation poisoning. The bad news is the drive pods are probably damaged, they're not responding. I don't think we're going anywhere soon, and we can't go out there."

"Can we dial the Stargate from here, and call for help?"

"I don't know. Give it a try, Ford."

He dialed and radioed out assistance, but we had no way of knowing if the Stargate in space had opened, and we'd been heard.

"Even if it didn't work, they'll know something's wrong when we miss the check in."

Ford was ever the optimist. There were sixty-two other teams out there, and god knows what else had gone wrong. It would take some time for them to get to us. I lied to him. "I'm sure they will."

I lay down on one of the benches in the rear compartment, and prayed that I didn't bleed to death in the meantime. Teyla sat beside me, keeping pressure on my wounds, and Cadman sat in the seat I had vacated. She wiped the blood off the control panel and talked quietly with Ford, and we waited.

"I'm sorry Teyla. I'm afraid that all I've done is to wake the Wraith, and they're going to storm through the galaxy raining down death and destruction. I've only made things worse."

"John, you've given us much hope for the future, and that is something that we have not had in many generations. It is that hope that we must now hold onto; do not give up."

"If you say so."

"I do. Please rest and do not worry. I will carry that burden for you."

"Thanks, Teyla."

"You're welcome, John."

I knew I had to be dying for her to call me by my given name. I slipped into the darkness, thankful for the relief even if I never woke up again.

 

When I gradually returned to consciousness, I knew that Teyla's hope had won. I didn't recognize where I was, but she was sitting beside me.

"Hey. Where are we?" My voice was a dry whisper.

"We are aboard the Daedalus, in their infirmary. How do you feel?"

She held a cup with a straw in it for me to drink, and I thought about it a minute. Pain, muffled by morphine, check. Sick to my stomach, check—but morphine always made me feel nauseous, so that was normal. I still felt weak, but not like it had been when the Wraith had tried to suck away my life. "Not too bad, all things considered. What's going on?"

"I do not know, I have not been told anything." She sounded annoyed, and well she should—this was as much, if not more, her war as it was mine. I had set the galaxy afire because she had given me her loyalty and trust, and this stonewalling was her repayment. I found that more and more often, people from Earth were a disappointment to me.

The doctor appeared at my bedside, checking the progress of the IV drip of blood, medication and other fluids, and the monitors that I was attached to. "I'm Dr. Lam. That was a close call, Major. How do you feel? Up to talking? Colonel Emerson wanted to know when you were awake."

"Yeah, that's fine." I closed my eyes and felt Teyla's hand steal into mine, and I held on tightly. It was another half hour before Colonel Emerson joined us, with Cadman and Ford in tow.

"Major, do you have a moment?" he asked.

"Anything you have to say to me, you can say it to my team, too."

Cadman and Ford moved closer to the bed to listen in. "What happened? Are you guys okay?" I asked.

"We're fine sir. Just worried about you." Ford spoke to my chest, but sounded genuinely anxious.

"That's good. I'm glad." I was glad they were fine, not that they were worried. I waved my hand as if to say sorry, still a little out of it. I think they understood.

Emerson dragged over a chair. "When you didn't check in, we dialed M7X-399 and Ford gave us the sit-rep. Caldwell sent the Daedalus to retrieve you. We found you at the edge of the blast zone, it looked close."

Closer than I would have liked, though Ford had snatched success from the jaws of defeat. "You have no idea."

"We beamed the Gateship aboard, and we're only a few hours out from Atlantis now."

"What's the status?"

"Fifty-six of the sixty-three teams have made it back so far including you. Two of the fifty-six encountered equipment failure and were unable to detonate. Seven teams are still missing, presumed lost. We read some serious radiation through the wormhole on a few of the planets, so we know they detonated, but whether or not they succeeded in taking out their target is unknown. After we reach Atlantis my orders are to search for the seven teams."

"How long were we there?"

"About twenty four hours. There was no sign of any Wraith."

Seven were missing, two had failed, and there were four Hive ships known to not be hibernating. Depending on the results of Emerson's reconnaissance, that potentially left us slightly more than a dozen hive ships left to deal with in the coming months and years, assuming our initial count was correct. Only time would tell.

 

We were beamed down to Atlantis, and the Daedalus left immediately for another search and hopefully, rescue mission. I spent a few days in the infirmary, Beckett monitoring the level of what he called a feeding enzyme in my blood, and administering medication to speed up the growth of white and red blood cells. I had indeed nearly bled out in the Gateship.

I had a steady stream of visitors. Dr. Weir's look of sympathy had turned to a mixture of guilt and pity, but at least she didn't keep focusing on my chest wound. She congratulated me on the success of the Wraith Offensive, and told me to get some rest.

Dr. McKay brought me my laptop and would come and visit regularly. He didn't speak about my condition, but he had the same look of pity in his eyes as had Dr. Weir.

O'Neill, Caldwell, and Teyla also came to visit, and eventually the list was so long that Dr. Beckett finally released me to cut down the traffic in the infirmary. He extracted a promise that I would return twice daily to have blood drawn, and instructions to eat often, as many as six or eight times a day. There wasn't very much else that he could do for me.

I really hadn't wanted to deal with what had happened to me in public, and so I waited until I was back in my bare quarters to take at myself. The pity, sympathy and horror on the faces of those who refused to look at me had told me as much as I had needed to know until now.

Standing in front of the mirror, I could see why. I looked much older and worse, felt much older. My hair had instantly gone completely white, and my face was thin and drawn with lines. A thought occurred to me, and it was so bizarre that I had to laugh—or cry—I looked like Jack O'Neill.

I didn't actually weigh any less than I had before, but I felt like a strong wind would blow me away. I peeled off the bandages, took a long shower, and put on a clean uniform. Empirically I knew it fit the same as before, but I couldn't help but feel that it hung on me as if I were a scarecrow.

My life was now divided, before and after. I lay down on my bed, locked the door, and wept myself to sleep. After I woke up and was considering going to the mess hall, I realized that I no longer heard the city, and hadn't since my return from the sortie. As much as it had disturbed me before, now it felt quiet and lonely without the constant susurration of noise in my head. I wondered if the city was ignoring me now because I was different, or if the feeding enzyme prevented me from hearing it.

I considered what O'Neill had said, and when I returned to the infirmary that evening for the bloodletting, I told Beckett about hearing the city, and its cessation. He didn't hear it, but would see if anyone else with the gene had had the same fear of being labeled crazy, and not said anything. He later reported to me that no one else admitted to hearing the City's voice.

Teyla had taken over the mop up operation while I had been laid up, but she came to Atlantis the day after I was released from the infirmary, and was my steady companion during the days. She made it her responsibility to see that I ate almost constantly, and we walked for hours around the city, not only for exercise, but also for the simple pleasure of it. As the enzyme slowly wore away, the voice of the City, and my ability to use the Ancient controls returned. This was duly reported to Beckett, though it was only of academic interest.

It took two weeks for the enzyme to disappear from my system, and during that time I also directed the return of men and equipment to Atlantis, while Teyla and I collaborated on writing the after-action report. Two teams straggled in a week late, but they had confirmed kills.

Kolya's team had vanished completely, absconding with their bomb, and Lorne and Ford were sent out to track them down. They had a lot of help; there were nearly four hundred men from the other teams that were offended by this theft. Fortunately it wasn't the Olesians, although I would have pegged them as the type.

We had to presume the last four teams as missing in action, and two of their assigned ships had survived the attack.

No word came in from any of our allies of Wraith reprisals, and we were cautiously optimistic. There were now only seven known Hive ships in the entire galaxy, and I had begun to think about how to solve that problem.

 

When Becket released me for gate travel, I returned to Athos. In the few weeks since the initiative had taken place, summer had come on Athos, and it was near the second anniversary of when I had first come to Teyla on bended knee. The years had flown by in a whirlwind.

The social gathering that we'd had the night before the attack was a child's tea party in comparison to the fete that awaited me. There were nearly a thousand people from a hundred planets in attendance, camping or traveling back and forth during the three-day gala. It seemed like every single one of them wanted to talk to me, and Teyla tried to shield me from the bulk of the supplicants; but I was glad to give them their due, for without their assistance, success would've been impossible.

The citizens of the Pegasus didn't even blink at my changed appearance—it was a miracle that I had survived, and they saw it only as another reason to celebrate.

Even if there were more Wraith we didn't know about, and even if they began to run amok, there were still fifty-eight less hive ships. In a speech on the last night, Cowen extolled the success of our mission, of how effective we had been, and he reminded them all that it had been the Genii that had given me the plan.

He described our monumental achievement—they knew the average population of a hive ship was as many as seventy thousand and we had eliminated nearly sixty ships.

Stunned didn't even begin to cover how I felt in that instant. In one fell swoop I had wiped out the equivalent of the population of Seattle, Washington; more than had been killed in the Korean War or Viet Nam and eleven times more than had been killed in Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and Tokyo combined. To think that I had felt proud of this was revolting.

The size of the galaxy had daunted me at first, and at Caldwell's advice I had tried to cut it down to size by thinking only in the number of ships and steadfastly not thinking of the human cost, but now—by my action, by my hand, I had perpetrated an unthinkable holocaust—three or four million beings that I barely had any knowledge of, swept up in a nuclear disaster of galactic proportions.

In a flash of awful insight, I saw that this knowledge had been kept from me on purpose, and those who had pulled away from me knew the real cost of my war. The averted eyes of Weir, and the others in Atlantis who had been avoiding me, O'Neill allowing a Major to command the offensive: all of it suddenly made sense. I wasn't just Teyla's blind tool—all parties involved had exploited me, leaving me blunt and useless. I thought that the Ascended Ancients who had failed at defeating their enemy were looking down on me with condemnation.

I pled illness, which was barely even a false excuse and escaped to my tent. Toran and a couple of the unmarried men that had been my bunkmates took it upon themselves to stand guard outside, and I was not disturbed. I threw up in the basin, and I lay in my comfortable bed and thought about the vengeance of a wronged people.

I hadn't wanted to know and willfully ignored the potential price tag, and I would pay for it. I deserved to have died at the hand of that Wraith.

 

The next day I took my leave of Teyla and Athos. Many of the revelers were still there and they looked at me with adoration in their eyes, even though I could barely stand to have them look at me. They formed a wide path with throngs on both sides; I walked slowly to the Stargate along that boulevard. I touched foreheads with them or grasped the arms of those who wished it, but I felt as numb as if I had been shot with a Wraith stunner. The figure four million dead kept cycling through my head.

At the DHD, Teyla waved her hand, and the crowd slowly dispersed. "John," she began, but I brought my hand up to touch her cheek and stop her. She looked as grief-stricken as I felt, and in that instant I forgave her.

"Don't. It's just sinking in, that's all."

"Will you return to us?" She sounded as concerned and tender as she had in the Gateship while I thought I was dying.

I reassured her, even though I didn't know what I would do. "Of course, yes of course I will. This is as close to home as it gets for me."

"Then I will see you on your return." She cradled my face with her hands, and pulled my head down to hers. I leaned against her strength, her hands holding me together. "Be well, Major John Sheppard."

"You too, Teyla Emmagan."

She released me and dialed the gate, and I returned to Atlantis.

 

I skulked around for a few days, avoiding people and lurking in the unused sections of the City. She spoke to me again, and even though I didn't know what she was saying, it was a comfort to me that the City had not abandoned me, that I was still worthy of her attention. It was precious little validation for my injured soul.

When General O'Neill recalled me to Earth, it was a blessing when SGC personnel ignored me, didn't look at me with adoration for my terrible deed.

O'Neill and I flew to Washington, DC, for a meeting with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, where I faithfully recounted all that I have written here. I was commended for securing Atlantis and Pegasus with a swift, sure victory, and for my efforts, I was given the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. It was ashes in my mouth, the ashes of the millions dead.

When we returned to Colorado, I spent several months at the Academy hospital dealing with a cascade of problems that had cropped up post-Wraith. After I was released, O'Neill insisted that I take some time off; he thought I looked like I could use some R&R before I made my decision to not return to Pegasus final.

End of document
(CLASSIFIED-EYES ONLY)

 

PART V

When Sergeant Campbell notified Elizabeth Weir that General O'Neill was on his way in from the SGC, it only piqued her curiosity—he had been coming and going a lot in the year since what had become known colloquially as Sheppard's War.

She waited for him at the top of the stairs. "General O'Neill, this is a surprise. To what do I owe the pleasure?"

"Let's go in your office." O'Neill looked entirely serious, not a common expression for him.

She quirked her head, and motioned him towards the door. They sat, but he didn't look at her.

"Is there a problem?" Elizabeth had always trusted her instincts, and at the moment they were crying out a loud warning.

"Elizabeth." He stopped and looked her in the eye. "There's been an accident. John Sheppard was killed in a car wreck two days ago. It took them that long to identify the remains and track down someone to notify. We just found out a few hours ago."

Elizabeth opened her mouth to speak, but she made no sound. In an uncharacteristic move, Jack laid his hand over hers, and squeezed it gently. "I'm sorry, Elizabeth." He didn't say if he was sorry for the death of Sheppard, or sorry for what they had done to him.

After a deep breath, she tried again. "They're certain it was him?"

"We had the...remains verified at the SGC. Yes."

Elizabeth closed her eyes, and struggled not to recall the old, bitter, white-haired man at the end, but rather the diffident and oddly brash, young and handsome Captain that had shipped out with the expedition. They had used him badly, and the haunted look of betrayal and shame on his face as he left Atlantis for the last time was a burden that she would have to bear, that they would all have to bear. "I'll call an emergency staff meeting, would you join us?"

O'Neill nodded wearily and wiped his hand across his face. "I'll stay."

She tapped the radio at her ear and asked the duty officer in the gate room to send someone to Athos immediately and fetch Teyla Emmagan, then opened the channel to the citywide intercom. "This is Doctor Weir. I need all of the senior staff in the main conference room, now. This is not optional."

They began to file in, looking curiously at General O'Neill and greeting each other. Dr. McKay walked in with his laptop under one arm, and a coffee cup in the other hand. "I hope this is important, I've got twenty things running in the lab." When he looked at Elizabeth, he blanched. "It's the Wraith, I bet it's the Wraith—oh my god, they're coming after us, aren't they!"

"Rodney, please. Just stop, okay?" Elizabeth said in a tired, quivering voice.

He looked surprised at Elizabeth's rebuke, but he stopped kvetching and took a seat between Steven and Carson. He leaned over and asked, "Do you have any idea what's going on?"

"None, Rodney. I'm sure Elizabeth won't keep us waiting."

Radek was last, and he took the only empty seat. The room was filled with the usual suspects for a war room briefing, but they had had enough of those to know that there was something different about this meeting.

Someone closed the doors, and Elizabeth stood up. "I'm sorry to interrupt you, I know that you are all very busy but I have some news, and I thought it best that you hear it first from me. Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard passed away a few days ago, he died in a car accident."

A stunned silence answered her; even the voluble Rodney McKay was shocked speechless. For Sheppard to have accomplished what he did, to have survived the Wraith, mobilized the entire galaxy in concerted action and then die so ignominiously—it was wrong, at every level and meaning of wrong.

Elizabeth continued. "I'd like all of you to personally inform your staff, as soon as possible. I don't want anyone finding out by overhearing a conversation. Thank you, all of you."

"Wait, wait—is there going to be a funeral?" Rodney asked in a fairly hostile voice.

O'Neill answered. "He's entitled to full military honors at Arlington, but I'm not actually sure that he would've wanted that."

Just then, the doors opened, and Teyla walked in. "Dr. Weir, your runner said it was urgent?" She looked around the room, and all eyes were on her with an unvarying look of sympathy that she didn't understand.

"Yes, I did. If you'll all please give us a moment?"

O'Neill stayed, but the rest left silently and without another word, to go and break the news to their staff.

"O'Neill, it has been many days. You are well?" She shook his hand and smiled, the correct greeting, just as John had taught her.

"No, not really. Please, have a seat." He didn't release her hand as they sat down, and her smile died with his words.

"Teyla, John died a few days ago, in an accident."

She gasped a little breath. "I see. When we spoke last, I thought that I would never see him again. We waited with the hope that he would keep his promise to return." Tears were streaming down her face as she began to speak faster. Elizabeth took pity on her and handed her a tissue. "He told me that he considered Athos his home. We have all missed him greatly." Her voice broke on the last, and she stopped. O'Neill touched her on the shoulder, and she turned to him. "Would it be possible for his journey to end on Athos?"

O'Neill was helpless against her distraught plea. "Yes, he can. I'll take care of it."

"I must be the one to watch over him as he returns home at last. In the past, so few of us have died with the chance—it is a sacred thing for the Athosians."

He glanced at Elizabeth and she nodded solemnly. "Ah, all right. When..."

"I am ready now."

 

Epilogue

The funeral at Arlington was held for an empty casket. The three rifle volleys that cracked into the bright, blue morning sky startled a murder of crows, tracing dark shadows onto the few gathered at the graveside. Elizabeth Weir, on behalf of a grateful nation, accepted the smartly folded flag. A lone trumpet keened Taps as the casket was lowered into the ground, and four F-16 jets blazed overhead, one breaking formation and streaking away into the distance. It was surreal to be here on Earth, giving full military honors to a man whose heart had belonged to another galaxy. When the ceremony was over, the empty grave was left alone with all of the other nearly forgotten, honored dead.

When Elizabeth returned to Pegasus, the ceremony on Athos was vastly different. A great crowd gathered in the chill wind and winter snow; weeping Athosians, grim faced Genii, and dry-eyed Lanteans came to grieve for John Sheppard.

Thirty-six stones were laid in a circle, and the mourners looked on as Teyla performed the traditional Ring Ceremony. She sang of battles won, circles renewed, peace and the new journey; all who were gathered could hear her but she sang only for her friend.

When Sheppard's ashes were spread to the curiously rising wind in the center of the mock Stargate, Elizabeth handed Teyla the folded American flag in silence. There were no words.

The news of Sheppard's death spread across Pegasus and thousands came to pay homage to the man that had saved them from many lifetimes of horror and sorrow. A small shrine went up inside the stone ring, and tributes of flowers, candles, books, food and Ancient trinkets grew and grew.

 

Though the Pegasus galaxy had held its collective breath for nearly a year, nothing was ever heard from the Wraith again—no trace of the remaining seven hive ships was ever found. Dr. McKay often joked that, "We scared them to death," but the grim facts later came to light that the Wraith had been telepathic, and McKay was as usual, absolutely right.

As the years passed, Teyla Emmagan rebuilt her city, with Sheppard's memorial at the heart of it. Atlantis regained her place as the focal point of genteel exchanges of every kind of knowledge. The Genii's quasi-military government collapsed but they were slowly rebuilding their society. Indeed the entire galaxy prospered in the new, Wraith-free era.

John Sheppard had managed to do the impossible, and no one but Teyla Emmagan was ever certain if he understood what he had done. The Lanteans' guilt slowly eroded away with time, but the rest of the Pegasus galaxy called Sheppard a hero and remembered him well.

People who were new to Atlantis, replacements and additions to the expedition that had never met Colonel Sheppard, were curious when they heard the stories of Sheppard's War—especially those they had heard off-world.

Inevitably they always asked the same question--"Did you know John Sheppard?" and the universal answer was always "I don't think anyone could say they really knew him."

~fini~

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Notes & Warnings

Fandom: Stargate: Atlantis

Category/Rated: Gen, E

Year/Length: 2006/ ~27,400 words

Disclaimer: Not mine, no profit, only having fun.

Summary: I had set the galaxy afire because she had given me her loyalty and trust.

Author's Notes: extended author's notes

Beta: My darling Sue, of course!

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