"Oh, oh, would you look at that," Rodney said as they exited the space
gate over a grim little ice ball of a moon.
frowned at the dime-sized primary illuminating it as the jumper moved
out of the moon's shadow. Either they were a hell of lot farther out
than usual or that was a very dim star.
"Doesn't look like
much," Ronon commented after peering through the jumper's front port at
the dirty orange-brown moon, dreadlocks sliding over his shoulders when
he leaned forward.
"Like you know anything." Rodney was intent,
fingers dancing over the keys of his laptop, six different displays
appearing over the co-pilot's console. "That's an M-class red dwarf."
"Aren't they pretty common?" John asked.
most common Main Sequence star in our universe," Rodney agreed. He kept
typing and looking and typing some more. Small happy huffs and hums
accompanied his work. "Mortenson will be beside himself with some of
this data. The day we declassify...."
John pulled up a couple of
HUDs himself, checking out what this system had on offer. Okay, they
had the moon, about the size of Mercury, beat up as Mimas, and half a
dozen others along with a thin ring, all orbiting the blue-green giant
planet that filled the view port when he reoriented the jumper. Sensors
also registered one planet within the red dwarf's habitable zone,
another farther in, a spotty asteroid belt, and two more massive bodies
"Whoa," he murmured. "Gas giant or ice giant?"
Rodney muttered then looked up. "Oh. Blue, methane, ice." He stopped
and checked a sensor. "Hunh. Maybe not. Looks like a gas giant. The
color must be some other trace element. Maybe we can get an atmospheric
John looked at the deep bands of green, the dark
blues and curling, roiling whites. It should have reminded him of
Earth's oceans and clouds, but he knew that dark storm high on the
curve facing them could hold Earth and Lantea and have room for the
seven moons orbiting the planet.
Teyla leaned forward and looked. "It is beautiful."
from out here," Rodney said, "but we wouldn't want to get up close.
God, this is such a treasury of information. All the stargates we've
used before have been placed near G-types. Try getting the SGC to
authorize a scientific mission to study an M-class or check a system
with a brown dwarf. They just laugh. No, it's all military missions and
G-types. They wouldn't even authorize a day trip to 51 Pegasus B."
"Where's that?" Ronon asked.
Bellerophon is in the Milky Way. It's interesting because it's a 'hot
Jupiter', barely .05 AU from its primary and something that big
shouldn't have formed in so close. A scientific expedition aboard one
of the 303s or even a ha'tek could have learned whether its orbit had
been shifted, how and when." Rodney sighed. "No one in the SGC has time
for pure science."
John patted his shoulder. "Sorry, buddy."
Rodney closed several of the displays. "We're here to look for ZPMs,"
he said, "so we'd better get to it."
"The database didn't say what this system has to do with them?" Teyla
didn't even note that it's an M-class star system. Just the mention of
a connection in that history text Metzinger has been translating."
Rodney brightened. "Maybe there'll be a factory or an R&D
installation, something they didn't want to dirty up one of the G
"Maybe," John said. "So where do we start?"
try the second planet out," Rodney decided. "It looks like it's tidally
locked to the star, but maybe it wasn't when the Ancients were fooling
"If that's the case, we'll need space suits," John commented. He set
the jumper on a course for the second planet.
Ronon grunted in displeasure.
bent over his laptop again. "No, actually, according to sensors, it
still has a viable atmosphere. Mmm. Well, it looks like the theories
were right for once."
dioxide, at least a bar, and enough heat is trapped within the
atmosphere to prevent outgassing on the far side." Rodney hmmed to
himself again. "That's how it works with the Land of Light, but it's a
freak and orbits a G-type star. No one's ever found a habitable planet
in an M-class system." Another sigh. "Of course, no one's been looking,
"What's a G-type?" Ronon asked. He added, "Anything like a G-string?"
Rodney's hands stilled on his keyboard. Then he turned toward John.
John bit the inside of his cheek and kept his gaze forward.
the hell have your marines been telling, or should I say showing and
telling, him?" He turned in his seat and addressed Teyla. "Hit him. I
mean it. If you knew – "
Teyla punched Ronon's shoulder. "I know what a G-string is."
Ronon rubbed his biceps. "Ow."
Rodney dismissed as he turned back to the front. "In case you were
actually interested in more than horrifying me with your ignorance, a
G-type is a star like Lantea's or Sol aka Earth's primary or pretty
much any sun you've seen from a planet with a stargate. They're stable,
relatively long-lived, and seem to usually have several planets
orbiting them, at least one within the habitable zone, making it easy
for the Ancients to pop in and terraform said planet. Thus the many
worlds in both Pegasus and the Milky and even the Ori galaxy with human
"Thus endeth the lesson," John said.
ahead and laugh," Rodney said. "I can remember within my lifetime the
discovery that yes, other stars did have exoplanets and I bet you can
too, if you weren't too busy getting in some cheerleader's pants to pay
attention to the scientific discoveries of the time."
leaned back. "Yeah, I remember wishing I could see one through a
telescope." He checked the course he'd programmed into the jumper's
autopilot. "ETA four hours."
Rodney hummed and said, "I'm going to take some readings while we're
here, feel free to not bother me until then."
pulled out a whetstone eventually and began refining the already razor
sharp edges of his knives. Teyla tipped her seat back and listened to
the iPod John had bought and Rodney had loaded for her. She liked
Celtic and folk music, but appreciated the classical library Rodney had
included. To John's disappointment, neither she nor Ronon cared much
for country or rock. He supposed it might be an acquired taste.
killed time reading reports Lorne had loaded onto his own tablet.
Jumper missions often involved longer transit times than this. He tried
to remember to bring something to occupy him without leaving the
Rodney murmured to himself, fingers clacking over
the keys, paused to pull a second laptop out of his pack, which had
been carelessly dropped on the deck next to the co-pilot's station,
then worked on it too, muttering, "Still not enough processing power,"
John checked the autopilot, then threaded his way
back from the cockpit to the main cargo area, ducked into the tiny
washroom and took a piss, then washed up. He splashed water on his face
and stood over the miniature sink, hands braced on the counter top,
while droplets caught on his eyelashes, his lips, the stubble on his
jaw, before beading and falling into the sink. Nothing but darkness
behind his closed eyelids, soothing, while the cool water refreshed
him. The jumper hummed pleasantly all around him and his lips quirked
up into a smile.
He fished a bottle of water from one of the
storage bins for himself, then another for Rodney, and went back to the
cockpit. Rodney took his bottle with a grunt that translated as thanks
John contemplated whether it would be smarter to eat before they
de-orbited down to the planet or after. Before, he decided. Rodney and
Ronon would be less likely to complain or eat anything indigenous. He
wondered if there would be natives, if they'd try to kill them and how
long before Rodney told them how important he was.
A fond glance to the side revealed Rodney was still intent, even
smiling to himself.
suppressed the impulse to run his finger down Rodney's exposed nape,
over the tender skin revealed by the gap of his collar as he bent his
neck. Rodney was dating Katie. He wanted a wife, maybe even children,
despite his avowels of loathing them. John wanted to hold onto his
career. They didn't do that. They were friends. They weren't going to
go any farther than that.
He ran another long range scan at one
hour out. The jumper's scanners worked best within one AU. Beyond that
they were good, but didn't pick up the little things.
Like a Wraith cruiser in orbit.
"Ah, crap," John groaned.
What?" Rodney said. His gaze lifted from his laptop and settled on
John's sensor display hovering over the pilot's console. "Sonovabitch."
swarm of smaller vehicles arrowed toward them from the cruiser.
Cruisers had sensors that could scan much finer and at a greater
distance than the jumper. The Wraith had already found them and
"John?" Teyla said. "I am sensing – "
"Yeah, Teyla, we got that," he answered her.
went the autopilot as John canceled their course, reversed the jumper
and applied braking force to negate their inertia. The instant they
were dead in space, he pushed the drive pods for everything, plotting a
least time course for the stargate, briefly grateful he hadn't been
pushing the jumper to maximum before.
"They know we are here," Teyla told him.
darts had launched well before the jumper was close enough to see the
cruiser, so he'd already drawn that conclusion. Confirmation didn't
make John feel any better.
Rodney had dumped all his astronomical survey programs. "No kidding,"
John began calculating relative speeds and distance as soon as he had
enough data, the plots showing on his display.
"That's not good," Ronon said.
"Unless you're the Wraith," Rodney sniped.
were both right. It would be a long race, hours before the darts caught
up to the jumper accelerating away from them, but they had speed on
their side. The darts would catch up to their jumper before they could
slingshot around the bulk of the ice giant and use the stargate
orbiting it's moon, though. The Wraith didn't waste energy providing
the kind of shields and inertial dampeners that made the jumpers such
comfortable rides. They let their regenerative abilities compensate for
pulling Gs that would quickly mush a human's internal organs. It tended
to even up in a dogfight, because jumpers were more maneuverable than
darts, but this wasn't about maneuvering. They were in a race and the
darts were flat out faster on the straight-away. Numbers didn't lie and
the story was written on the display before him.
"John?" Teyla asked.
input a couple of alternative courses, plotted a zigzag through the
ice, rock, and dust of the ring. None of them slowed the darts down
enough to make a difference.
"We're screwed," Rodney said.
"How close do we need to get to the gate to dial it?" John asked him.
"Closer than we're going to get," Rodney snapped.
"Just answer the question. Can we dial it from the gas giant?"
okay," Rodney said as he typed into his laptop. "We can try it, line of
sight, and maybe we'll get lucky, but it won't do us any good. We might
not even get to the gate before the thirty-eight minute closed."
but we could comm Atlantis, give them our situation, make sure Colonel
Carter doesn't send through another jumper right into a Wraith ambush."
"Great," Rodney grumbled. "Any last words, anybody?"
"We're not going to die," John said.
gave him a look of disbelief. "Oh, really? You've received word from on
high, because believe me, I'd love to have even an iota of your
"We're going to duck down into the atmosphere of Big Blue there, down
past where the darts can go, and wait them out."
screeched. "Are you – you are insane! We'll need shields too
shields take energy. They can wait up there until the jumper goes POP!"
"And then they'll go away."
"Like we'll care at that point!"
rolled his eyes. "I'm not stupid, Rodney. We're not going to stay down
long, we're just going to fool them and go to cloak. You've got two
hours to figure out a way to make them think we dove too deep and went,
as you so elegantly put it, pop."
"Oh," Rodney said, nonplussed.
"Hunh. That's not bad. Yes, I believe, yes, I can do that." He ducked
his head and started typing. "Two hours?"
"Piece of cake," John told him.
wasn't kidding though. Two hours was much more time than Rodney usually
had to save the day and he wouldn't even be working with unknown
equipment and technology. John had perfect confidence in him.
"Anything we can do?" Ronon asked from behind him.
John shrugged. "Dig out a couple of MREs. I'm sort of hungry."
hour later Rodney looked up from his laptop, studied the display still
showing the darts closing on their own position as they approached the
gas giant. Clear beyond the holographic display, the vast blue-green
curve filled half the view port, occluding everything else.
I've got it. You'll need to let one dart get close enough to take a
shot at us and hit. We'll cut power to one drive pod and vent some junk
out the back hatch, which means sealing us up in the cockpit. As soon
as as the hatch is closed again, you take us down into the atmosphere
and I will burn out every sensor emitter we have generating a false
explosive compression profile. We'll channel the energy from the shut
down drive pod to the cloak and get the hell out."
John gave him a friendly slap to the shoulder. "Knew you'd come up with
"It will be crowded in the cockpit," Teyla observed. "Will we be
trapped in the forward portion long?"
take a half hour for the jumper to regenerate pressure in the rear
compartment," Rodney said. "And anything back there that isn't pressure
sealed is going to explode, but the mess will blow out the hatch."
"I'll get the MREs and water," Ronon declared.
good idea," Rodney said, perking up. "We may still have a long wait
before the darts head back to the cruiser or the cruiser may decide to
"Don't jinx us," John told him.
"I will help," Teyla said. "We will need to choose what to vent.
Rodney, should I – "
know what is expendable and what isn't," Rodney said. He looked
honestly puzzled. "Teyla, you don't need to check with me. It's not
like you're stupid."
The cabin went silent.
"Thank you, Rodney."
"Just go," Rodney muttered.
quietly left the cabin, followed by Teyla. Their voices carried, soft
and not quite intelligible, from the rear compartment as they began
securing the storage bins.
John opened another display showing
the gas giant, the ice moon and the stargate along with their project
course. He highlighted several points. "If we approach the atmosphere
at this angle, we'll have a ten minute window with a direct line
between the jumper and the stargate. Can you remote dial from there?"
hands moved directly to the co-pilot's console where it meshed with the
DHD controls at the center. "It's possible. Thank whatever gods you
like for subspace comms. Radio wouldn't get there in time. Oh and talk
fast. Actually, it might be better to record our message, encrypt and
compress it, then send it. We don't want the Wraith finding out our
plan, do we?"
John angled a look at him.
"Our plan?" he teased.
"I'm the one that always has to come up with a way to make your lunatic
ideas work, so yes, our plan." Rodney's chin came up.
"Good enough and that's a good idea. Let's put together the message
The darts had crept disturbingly close by the time John finished
recording their message.
"Teyla? Ronon? Anything to add?"
"No," Ronon said.
"Jennifer is aware of my wishes should I not return," Teyla explained.
"I have left a recording."
loaded every sensor reading they'd taken, added a message for Zelenka
and compressed the entire thing using the same protocol he'd once used
to send last messages to Earth. John hoped this mission would end as
"Okay," he said and shifted course, diving the jumper
toward the gas giant. It fills the entire view port. The jumper skimmed
just above the atmosphere, where the magnetosphere captured charged
particles and the resulting aurorae played over the poles. There was a
thrill to it that never went away – spaceships!
– no matter how much danger they were in.
and proximity alarms started up. The darts were closing behind them.
One took a shot though the jumper was still out of range and it had no
Rodney's hands were already on the DHD, each triangular
touch pad lighting under them as he pre-dialed Atlantis up to the last
"On my mark," John said as the jumper crested to the
apex of the curve it had been following, approaching the critical
window. It shuddered as the closest dart fired on them again, hitting
the jumper this time. The shield pulled energy from the inertial
dampeners for a picosecond. John watched the display and held their
course, correcting it the way he breathed, unconsciously.
Rodney pressed the last symbol.
were too far to see the stargate with their bare eyes, but the jumper's
sensors registered the energy spike as the wormhole opened.
"Got it," Rodney said. "Sending now."
The dart fired again and the jumper jolted.
"Shield dropping ten percent," Rodney said. "Message away."
"Time for phase two," John said. "Teyla, Ronon, check the cockpit cabin
rotated the jumper on its horizontal axis and dived toward the
atmosphere, still moving away from the dart as fast as possible. The
blue-green color bled into opaque white as they approached the
thermosphere and a pressure alarm began ringing along with the others.
"Can you turn that damn thing off?" he demanded as gravity caught the
jumper and began pulling it down and they accelerated.
didn't even look up from the co-pilot's console. "I could but I think
my time is better spent modulating the shield to compensate for the
increased pressure. Pay attention."
Teyla settled into her usual seat, behind John. She reported,
"Everything is secure."
in then. You better do whatever it is you do to block them sensing you
too," John said. He checked the read-out. "Approaching the mesophere in
twenty, nineteen, eighteen, seventeen, sixteen..."
not touch my mind," Teyla declared. John risked turning his head and
met her determined look. Teyla hated being a weak link just as much as
he did, as Ronon would, as even Rodney in his own way. He grinned at
her and she settled back in her seat. They were a prideful bunch.
first dart, the one with the real hot dog pilot, was following them
down, trying to line up for the perfect kill shot. John jigged and
zigzagged the jumper, all the while dropping deeper and deeper,
friction against the shield burning into a white-hot light too strong
for the eyes. The view port polarized black to protect them and his
blinked away orange-white afterimages. The jumper began pulling energy
from the inertial dampeners again to strengthen the shield and Rodney
"Don't barf," John told him.
"Stop trying to recreate the Cyclone ride."
"We're almost deep enough."
"I see that. My program is loaded."
the mesosphere," John said. He rolled the jumper sideways to the dart,
hesitated the fraction of a second it would take the Wraith Baron Von
Richthofen to gain a target lock, and kept rolling away.
jumper shook, a tremble that communicated itself up through the stick
and into John's hands, as the shield absorbed the hit and struggled to
compensate for their speed, the increasing pressure, and the hit all at
"Now, Rodney!" John yelled. He cut the power to one drive pod.
hand hit the hatch release and they vented the rear compartment's
atmosphere and all the junk Teyla and Ronon had gathered: containers,
bench seats, organics from the recycling system attached to the
washroom, spare pieces of equipment, even the arms case. "Let it work,
let it work, let it work," Rodney repeated to himself as his hands went
to the synched laptop and he initiated the ECM program he'd put
together, stabbing at the last button with panicky force. "Done!
Half of John's sensor data disappeared.
"What the hell!?"
"I told you I'd burn out the emitters!" Rodney snapped. "What did you
think that meant? Use the passive data."
pulled the jumper out its suicidal dive, slowing and channeling the
energy they'd built up into a curve that had them skimming along just
within the mesosphere at a right angle from their previous course. He
monitored the information provided by the passive sensors and grunted
as an energy spike bloomed along their previous course. It looked like
the Red Baron back there hadn't been able to recover before his dart
reached its limits. No other darts had followed them in.
the blaring alarms, the interior of the cockpit filled with the heavy
silence of four people waiting, almost holding their breaths, as the
seconds ticked away, taking them farther and farther away from the
Wraith darts still outside the Jovian planet's atmosphere.
finally blew out a stale breath and turned to face Rodney. Rodney kept
studying his own sensor suite's remaining read-outs for another breath,
then looked at John, his eyes wide. "What do you know, it worked."
"Don't sound so surprised," John told him even though he felt much the
"You fool them?" Ronon asked.
"Yeah, the rest of the Wraith should think we were shot down."
John rolled his shoulders to loosen some tension and flexed his hand on
holding at eighty-eight percent. The patch route from the drive pod to
the cloak is maintaining at ninety-seven point six, which is better
than I could have hoped, and we still have absolute structural
integrity," Rodney went on. "At this rate and altitude, we can stay
here for forty-three point five hours, and still have enough power to
achieve escape velocity and return to the stargate. How about that?"
"How about that," John agreed.
looked like their plan was going to work. The Wraith, despite being
long-lived, weren't much for patience. He doubted the darts would hang
around more than a few hours. They only had so much life support
aboard. Even the Wraith couldn't survive the cold of space or live
without air. Besides, they were greedy bastards. The pilots would want
to get back to the cruiser and on to the next culling and their share
of the feast.
The alarms shut off. The quiet made John's ears ring though he'd become
almost oblivious to their blare.
"And stay off!" Rodney muttered, lifting his hands away from his laptop
were fine for about another minute before John caught a glimpse of
their airspeed reading, compared it to the drive output and started
calculated what could make that much difference. "Rodney..."
"I see it, I see it," Rodney muttered.
is that the wind?" John said as he figured it out. He turned the jumper
and let it go with the wind, watching their speed rise as they surfed
at over six hundred kilometers per hour.
"Try to stay in the
center of the zone," Rodney instructed. "The turbulence at the edges
could catch us and we'd end up thrown into a storm bigger than Earth.
If we end up in one of the belts, the jumper could get dragged down so
far so fast, we might not have enough power to pull out."
as easy as it looks," John muttered, keeping his hand on the stick,
correcting and re-correcting as the wind tossed the jumper like a fleck
of dust in a cyclone. Come to think of it, that was a pretty good
description of what they were comparatively speaking. A speck of
flotsam in the big, bad, beautiful universe. Even with inertial
dampeners and the incredible technology of the Ancients, this was real
flying, and John found himself grinning fiercely.
"Oh, great, you're getting off on this, aren't you?" Rodney commented.
hundred kilometers per hour," John said as he righted the jumper. God,
he was windsurfing on a Jovian planet! Sometimes his life won
everything. The wind wanted to spin the cylinder shape of the jumper
like a bullet, but the constant reorientation stressed the artificial
gravity inside. He concentrated on maintaining a consistent attitude.
well, some us aren't hardcore adrenaline junkies." Rodney sniffed. He
looked out the view port at the roiling, streaming, green, blue, and
white streaked clouds of water, methane and ammonia ice. "Blue, blue,
why blue? The apparent percentage of methane isn't on par with a
Uranian type atmosphere...Hmm."
"Hmm?" John prompted.
waved one hand. "Working with nothing but passive sensors means I'm
having to speculate. I think I'm seeing trace parts per million of
copper in some form. Certainly aerosol ammonia hydrosulphide, ethane,
methane, hydrogen deuteride, before we get down to the helium and
molecular hydrogen. Fascinating as the concept of helium and hydrogen
acting like metals is theoretically, I have no desire to try to see it
"What's that mean?" Ronon asked.
"Well, in a sense, if this planet had been just a little bit bigger, a
little denser, it would have gone off like a bomb. A little more mass
and this could have been a red dwarf. But I was talking about the
weather, so to speak. Science is still undecided about Jupiter's
meteorology, even my genius isn't up to deciphering that of an
exoplanet in another galaxy in under thirty minutes." He snorted.
"What's...Uranian?" Ronon insisted. "And Jupiter? Or a red
Rodney looked slightly embarrassed and John felt bad too. "A red dwarf
is another name for a M-class main sequence star. Uranian refers to
Uranus, a planet in our home system. So's Jupiter."
"And it's like this one," Ronon concluded. "So it could have turned
into star if it had been a little bigger."
"Well, yes, in a broad sense."
Ronon sat back, apparently satisfied. A soft, melodic hum behind him
told John Teyla had resorted to her iPod again.
fingers were beginning to ache, locked onto the stick, and the
realization that he might have to keep this up for hour on hour, maybe
an entire day, didn't seem so thrilling and fun any longer.
"How's the re-pressurization going on the rear compartment?" he asked.
checked. "Twenty minutes, but it's going to cold a hell of lot longer
unless we waste a lot of power to reheat it. It isn't like that out
there – " he waved at the storm of ice crystals they were
through, " – is going to warm anything up. Minus one-forty
when I just checked."
the medical kit was moved upfront, someone's going to need to retrieve
it. I'm going to need something to keep me awake."
switch off, do shifts...," Rodney offered. He trailed off as
John fly, the jumper constantly feeding data on its state through the
pilot's console, and then his gaze drifted to the view port and the
cold blue hell surrounding them. "Maybe not."
"No offense, Rodney – "
"I'm nowhere near a good enough pilot to handle this," Rodney stated.
He turned. "Ronon?"
stood and awkwardly shifted several containers that had been piled
between the second seats and the cabin hatch. He pulled one with a red
cross emblazoned on it forth and set it on his seat. There was no room
otherwise. "This it?"
Rodney craned his neck. "I think so. Let's hope no one helped
themselves to the uppers that are supposed to be in there."
"Rodney," John growled.
"Come on, Colonel, your marines aren't any more saintly than my
bit back an unkind comment about Rodney and uppers, because while he'd
seen Rodney strung out on them, it had always been necessary and John
had usually been jacked up too. Sometimes speed was all that let them
get through a crisis. Hell, he was the one who was going to need them
sometime in the next twenty-four hours.
And Rodney had it
right: uppers were the favored drug in Atlantis population, military or
civilian, anyway, after good old alcohol. He supposed he'd rather have
someone stealing it than setting up an unauthorized drug lab somewhere
"Looks like every thing's here," Ronon said. He tossed a bottle to
Rodney. "This what you want?"
Rodney checked the bottle. "Yes. How did you – ?"
"Class?" Rodney echoed. "What class?"
"Cole and Bright gave a series of EMT classes a while back," John said.
"I didn't know you'd gone to them."
"Seemed like a good idea." He could hear the shrug in Ronon's voice.
"With Beckett gone..."
"Oh," Rodney said and tucked the bottle of uppers in his jacket pocket.
He caught John watching. "Say when you need one."
closed the medical kit and set it atop the rest of the containers, then
slumped back into his seat. "We're stuck until the Wraith leave?"
"Pretty much, buddy."
"I'm going to sleep then."
concentrated on not getting caught in a wind shear. Rodney grumbled and
then bent his attention to the read-outs, remarking, "We may as well
learn something since we're here."
The chronometer read two hours and fourteen minutes later when the
jumper began bleeping another alarm.
"I thought you shut that down."
"I did," Rodney snapped. "This is a different..."
controls jerked under John's hands, but it wasn't a rogue gust of wind
this time. The jumper was changing course on its own. John tried to
wrestle it back under control, but gave up about the time his wrist
started to creak. "We've got a problem," he said.
"What? Yes. This is...I'm registering a beacon."
kidding. Something just took over the jumper," John told him. He held
up both hands to emphasize the whole 'not flying, not in control' part.
The jumper did respond enough to show show a plot course and highlight
a destination deeper within the mesosphere. Much deeper than John
wanted to go, though just barely still within the jumper's pressure
"Sheppard," Ronon said.
"Don't ask me."
typed, looked, typed, tried several things on the co-pilot's console,
then leaned over and tried them on John's console. Nothing changed.
Teyla asked as he slumped back into his seat, hands dropping to rest
listlessly on his thighs. She'd yanked the earbuds from her ears and
leaned forward. "What is it?"
Rodney lifted his hands. "Don't
ask me. I mean, it's Ancient and it's locked some kind of automated
approach protocol into the jumper, overriding the pilot's controls.
It's taking us down to something, but I can't tell what. Maybe some
kind of research station."
"You don't know," John said.
I don't," Rodney replied, clearly annoyed. "You take great delight in
pointing out that I don't know everything and any time I get anything
wrong, so please, go ahead. Snicker. Mock. And when we all die a
horrible, horrible death, you can blame it on me, because there's the
joke: Rodney McKay isn't perfect or omniscient." The thread of
bitterness in his words kept John from laughing.
"Rodney, we do not expect you to be perfect," Teyla said.
"Of course not."
got it. They didn't expect Rodney to know everything or be perfect, not
really, though they depended on him to figure something out when they
were in trouble. Rodney was the one who expected himself to be perfect.
No wonder he was so screwed up.
They sat silently through the rest of the trip down to whatever had
control of the jumper.
obviously Ancient but bizarre looking installation finally appeared
through the haze of slush and aerosols. Angular, iridescent bronze
spikes reached out from a latticed central sphere surrounding seven
toruses of graduated size, each turning within the circumference of the
previous one. Lightning or something equally energetic flashed
constantly within the toroids. Something like sails spread in veils
between the points of the spikes, glimmering like the aurorae at the
poles. The entire artifact spun, rolled, and bobbed constantly,
swimming on the wind currents. It loomed closer and closer, filling the
jumper's view port, glowing streaks and swirls of lights sparking off
the jumper's shield, then curling around and encompassing it. As they
did, the jumper's power usage dropped from near critical to near
dormant. The wind howl that they hadn't heard or felt so much as sensed
on some mental level disappeared. The spikes resolved into towers the
size of the Sears Tower, etched with the patterns the Ancients had
"Teyla, did I happen to load Strauss' 'Thus Spake Zarathustra' on your
iPod?" Rodney asked. "Theme from 2001? I feel
like I'm in a Arthur C. Clarke novel."
"Or maybe Niven," John said.
yes, though mostly I suspect we're being scripted by some Stephen King
wannabe hack. Life-sucking vampires, really, it's so pulp era."
"It looks like a giant virus," John said.
"Oh, way to make me feel so much better!"
jumper drifted nearer and nearer until a hatch irised open and they
were inside the octagonal base of one tower. It settled into a docking
bay with a jerk and a metallic clunk that was familiar from Atlantis.
"We're here, where or whatever 'here' is," John stated.
Rodney pointed to the power read-outs. "And the jumper's recharging, so
we have some chance of getting away from here."
"Good to know."
"What is this place?" Teyla wondered.
what John could see through the view port, the bay the jumper had come
to rest in had no other openings beyond the hatch to the outside. A
intricate mesh of silvery metal like that on Atlantis' control chair
covered the entire interior of the bay except the various docking
points. It looked like the bay had been equipped to accept more than
one type of ship, but it didn't even have a floor, just one continuous
"I wonder if this is what Metzinger's citation referred to," Rodney
The mesh lining the bay's wall began to flash with lights running along
"You know, I don't like the look of that," Rodney said.
"I think we should leave," Teyla added.
The lights grew brighter and began moving faster and faster.
"Yeah, me neither," John muttered. "Do you have any clue what
The mesh flared to blinding brightness, white filled his vision and
then his brain, overwhelming and unbearable.
this is Jumper One. Do not, repeat, do not, lower the shield. We are
under attack by darts launched from a Wraith cruiser in orbit around
the second planet and cannot reach the stargate before they intercept."
shut down the message as it began to repeat. She'd already listened to
it three times. A few more and she'd be reciting right down to
Sheppard's relaxed drawl.
The control room had gone quiet.
Everyone looked to her. She forced a smile. "It appears Colonel
Sheppard and his team will be a little late. Schedule a dial up for
every four hours and forward the data packet to astrometrics."
and his people would be delighted with the sensor readings on the red
dwarf star and the discovery of a habitable planet in orbit. The
Ancients had placed their stargates on or in orbit around planets in
G-type systems which led to teams gathering quite a bit of information
on stars similar to Sol and very little on the far more populous
That same packet of information told Sam a
different story from Sheppard's casual front. The team had sent
everything they had. Sheppard made their reckless plan sound as every
day as morning cereal, but there was a good chance it would fail.
Jumper One and its four person team might already be lost.
walked back to her office. It wasn't time to write Sheppard's team off
yet. They would wait and hope to hear from them. No other options
offered themselves; she couldn't justify sending a jumper into a
possible ambush. More frustrating than that, even if she could send a
jumper, she couldn't go herself.
Commanders stayed on base.
General Hammond had done it for years. Jack had taken the Washington DC
post to get away from it. Landry...Sam scolded herself. She'd
really warmed to Landry, though he was a good Air Force officer, he'd
still didn't quite fit the SGC. Better than Bauer wasn't exactly a
She had always been the one going out and
doing, not the one waiting behind. It made her swallow a knot of
frustration each time she had to wait or decide without being out there.
would dial again in four hours per SOP. She told herself Jumper One
would answer. If they didn't, it would only mean the Wraith were still
No one answered at the eight hour mark either. Sam
stood on the opposite side of the console from Sgt. Campbell and
watched glimmering blue surface of the stargate. "Anything?" she asked.
She knew he would have told her or put it on speaker, but asking
stretched window of the possibility a little longer.
Answering just closed it.
"Shut down and try again in four hours," she ordered.
hours later and Sam told herself they were still playing possum,
cloaked and radio silent on the other side of the wormhole. "This is
Colonel Carter," she said and Campbell transmitted via the comm. "We
will check in again four hours from now. Atlantis out."
herself go to the mess, where she sipped a native tea since supplies
were at the low point that always proceeded the arrival of the Daedalus
from Earth. She'd developed a fondness for the older ship and Colonel
Caldwell the first time the Apollo
showed up without critical supplies. Ellis didn't like carrying cargo
and had managed to leave parts of it behind twice out of four times,
using the excuse that the containers hadn't been ready at departure
The Apollo's commander wasn't a popular man in
tea tasted like stewed sawdust. She fetched herself a tray with a
sandwich and salad and nibbled it while watching through the mess hall
windows as the sun sank in a glory of color and clouds.
Keller took a seat beside her and picked at her own meal. "No news?"
smiled to herself. Atlantis had a grapevine that beat out even the
SGC's. Everyone in the city would know AR-1 had been trapped on the
wrong side of the stargate.
"Not so far."
"Well, they always make it back," Keller said encouragingly. She didn't
quite manage to sound confident enough to believe.
forced the smile to stay on her face and set her sandwich back onto the
yellow tray. Even if they did elude the Wraith, AR-1's plan relied on
hiding in the atmosphere of a gas giant. The jumpers were tough and
versatile, but they weren't meant for deep submersion; that had been
proved. The shield could compensate for a time, but shields ate power
like candy. Sheppard's team always made it back, but Sam knew that only
meant 'until the day they don't'.
"Well, I think I'll head back to the control room," she said. "I've got
some paperwork to finish for the IOA."
She abandoned half the sandwich. It had gone dry and tasteless anyway.
paperwork – whether electronic or hard copy, it still took a
of each day – the IOA demanded seemed endless and occupied
the next scheduled dial-up. Twelve hours had passed.
her office and watched as Campbell entered the symbols on the DHD and
opened the comm. Tension ratcheted higher through the control room.
Light from the gateroom below flickered over tired faces.
Silence answered their hail.
She kept a calm face in place, not letting the sick feeling inside
show. Campbell repeated the hail five more times.
night shift had arrived by then and were hovering in the background.
They quietly switched over after the wormhole closed again. The control
room seemed dark after that despite the operating lights. Sam glimpsed
Major Lorne arrive down on the gate room floor. He came up the stairs
and to a halt next to her.
They stood without words, looking down at the empty ring.
"I'll be in my office," Sam said at last.
"Begging your pardon, ma'am, but you need to get some rest. Someone
will comm you if anything happens."
had meant to lie down on the couch in her office. She knew it did no
good exhaust herself waiting, but it seemed wrong to just go to her
quarters. Lorne was telling her no one would fault her.
"All right. We're dialing in every four hours."
nodded and left her, stopping next to Campbell, who still hovered next
to his station at the DHD console, despite having relinquished it to
his shift replacement. She heard Lorne speak to him too. Campbell
finally nodded and started away.
Sam forced her own feet to move and headed for her quarters.
slept five hours because her body demanded it, but snapped awake long
before dawn. After a hot shower and in a fresh uniform, she found her
way back to the control room. It didn't surprise her to find Campbell
back too and Zelenka running an utterly unnecessary diagnostic on the
meteorology console. Lorne had taken over a seat at environmental
station and had his head bent over a tablet pc.
He looked up as Sam approached and shook his head before she could ask.
hours and counting. The sick feeling in Sam's gut kept getting
stronger. She headed into her office and reviewed science team
proposals. Another thing base commanders didn't have time for: real
research. She hadn't been in the labs except to retrieve McKay or
Zelenka in months.
She didn't leave the office when the stargate
dialed the next time and no one came to get her. Twenty hours and
counting with no word.
Dawn through the stained glass lit the
gate room in a rainbow of warm color. Keller commed her to report
Medical remained ready and a fast response team prepped to go off
world. Sam thanked her and stared through the glass at the control
room, absently tapping a pen against the top of her desk.
left and returned with fruit, pastries and coffee. Sam checked her
schedule. "Cancel Robbins' mission to Adiana or go forward?" she
"We can't shut down every time a team is late," Lorne said. "The
Sundanese are expecting us."
agreed. "Let him know his team still has a go," she instructed. "I want
them to depart on a schedule that will put their check ins between the
ones attempting to re-establish contact with AR-1." She didn't want one
contact to block out another even if they left the wormhole open the
entire thirty-eight minute window.
They went through several
items she would have consulted with Sheppard over if he'd been back,
watched Robbins lead his team through the gate, and then waited out the
next two hours, both pretending more than accomplishing any work.
Twenty-four hours since they'd had contact with AR-1. The stargate
is Atlantis Control hailing Jumper One. Please respond. This is
Atlantis Control hailing Jumper One. Please respond. This is Atlantis
Control hailing Jumper One. This is Atlantis Control..."
respond, Sam mouthed along with the comm tech. After ten minutes, she
couldn't listen any longer and headed for the conference room and the
Exobotany Department's briefing.
Zelenka sat in for McKay,
acting as his second. He needed a shave and typed into his laptop
through the presentation by Dr. Brown, paying her little attention.
Katie spoke in a soft voice, appearing washed out and jittery. She
trailed off in the middle of a sentence as the stargate activated. Her
head turned toward the gate room.
Sam didn't look. Her watch told it was only Robbins reporting in on
Dr. Parrish stood up and took over after that.
"Colonel Carter," Zelenka called after they finished.
"I have modified a recoverable MALP with remote controlled thrusters
and signal boosters ready to deploy through the stargate."
would have to send another jumper through the stargate to recover it,"
Sam pointed out. "MALPs are expensive items." She had to justify every
one of them they lost in her reports to the IOA.
Zelenka waved a hand. "Not so expensive as a jumper or four personnel."
"No," she admitted.
"I have added sensors designed to locate and interrogate jumper
"I hadn't heard about this project," Sam said.
He ducked his head and muttered, "Is prototype assembled by engineers
in last," cough, "twelve hours."
we do not find a way to rescue them, Rodney will save them instead,
come back and make all life in the Science Division unbearable for
weeks, even months."
"Of course, that's it," Sam murmured. "Come on, walk with me, give me
the specs on the modified MALP."
launched the boosted MALP at hour thirty-two and immediately began
gathering data. Zelenka operated it, while Campbell repeated the now
far too familiar litany, please respond, please respond,
The MALP's cameras relayed the stargate turning with slow majesty
against a backdrop of glittering stars, one moon and a slice of the
blue gas giant. The view rotated as Zelenka reoriented, scanning
methodically through the camera's range of motion with each adjustment.
Streams of data from a myriad of sensors gathering data invisible to
the human eye cascaded in a parallel window. The stargate disappeared
from view and the dim red-tinged disk of the red dwarf appeared on the
"No sign of any darts," Lorne pointed out.
could be waiting on the far side of the ice moon," Sam said, not to be
contrary but because it was what her experience warned her to expect.
Jaffa in particular had always been fond of lying in ambush for anyone
coming through a stargate. Whether the Wraith thought that way or not,
it had to be accounted and factored into any decision.
Lorne grimaced but didn't argue.
"Detecting traces of a hyperspace window opened within the last twelve
hours," Zelenka murmured.
Sam walked around the console and studied the information on his
screen, frowning. "Darts aren't hyperspace capable."
they are designed to stage from a larger ship or deploy through the
stargate," Zelenka confirmed. "Atlantis' hyperspace-capable jumper is
the only one in existence." A trace of pride colored his tone. "Even
the Ancients did not manage that."
Sam hid a real smile this
time. It would never do for McKay to find out how impressed she'd been
by his work on that jumper. He might have done most of the work while
on the way to ascension, but it had still been his brain that had been
enhanced, it had still been him. He and Zelenka had finished the work
under tremendous pressure too.
The hyperspace jumper remained
in Atlantis, retained as an emergency evacuation vehicle rather than
used in the regular mission rotation.
"Do you think the cruiser left the system?" she asked.
Sheppard's report contained no data on how long the cruiser had been
in-system," Zelenka said. "They might have finished the cull or been
called back to whichever hive the cruiser escorts."
"Scan for any indications of debris or wreckage," she told him.
I am doing so." The snip in Zelenka's tone reminded Sam that Zelenka
had more than enough ego to stand up to McKay's and didn't like having
his toes stepped on. That didn't stop her from reading over his
"Anything, doc?" Lorne asked. It made Sam jump. He had slipped up
beside her silently.
"Nothing so far, Major," Zelenka replied easily.
"That's good news, right?"
Major. We will hope so." Zelenka relinquished control of the MALP's
camera and began transmitting a series of instructions that resulted in
a stream of data in Ancient. "I have initiated the program sending out
a signal to the jumper's most basic systems. It duplicates the
diagnostic protocol that tests life support. If the jumper receives the
signal and retains both life support and comms, it should respond."
"How long?" Lorne asked.
Zelenka lifted his hands away from the keyboard and rocked them. "Maybe
quick, maybe long, maybe never."
"We'll keep the wormhole active as long as we can and redial if
necessary," Sam decided.
"If the Wraith are gone, we could send a jumper through," Lorne said.
Sam shook her head. "We don't know they're all gone, Major."
She turned her head toward Campbell. "Yes?"
"We have a hyperspace signature on the long range sensors. It matches
course and profile for the Daedalus."
"A week early."
"Four days," Zelenka said. "You must correct for difference between
Atlantis and Earth sidereal periods."
"Let's hope they have our requisitions," she replied.
"Colonel Carter, I still think it would be worth the risk to take a
cloaked jumper through," Lorne said.
shook her head. "No, Major. Even if the Wraith are gone, a jumper has
no way to retrieve another jumper if they've taken damage that is
preventing them from opening or transiting the wormhole. At best, you
could only confirm they were alive." She was already thinking ahead. At
its usual cruising speed, the Daedalus would
travel from the
far edge of the long range sensors to Atlantis in a little over
thirteen hours. It could off-load in under thirty minutes, beaming
packed truck trailer-sized containers of goods from the cargo holds to
Atlantis' warehouses nearly instantaneously.
"Jumpers all have emergency spacesuits, they could transfer over, even
in vacuum," Lorne insisted.
"It's still an unnecessary risk," Sam told him, hardening her voice,
reminding him it was her decision.
"Colonel Carter," Zelenka said.
She and Lorne both turned back to him.
"I have a signal."
"From the jumper?"
He looked puzzled but excited. "The signal is in Ancient. Atlantis is
recognizing it and responding automatically via the MALP boosters. It
appears to be from an installation the database identifies as Siribe
"Could this have anything to do with the ZPMs mentioned in Dr.
"Possibly." Zelenka's breath caught and his eyes widened. "The station
is transmitting life support data from Jumper One."
He smiled as he looked up.
"Four life signs are still registering."
"Can you contact them?" Sam asked.
bent to the keyboard. She waited, taking in the faint but real way
relief had already spread through the control room. Soon the entire
city would have the news. But this was news Sam didn't mind sharing far
Finally, Zelenka shook his head. "I am sorry, but even
with boosters, the MALP is insufficiently powered to maintain contact.
The signal is breaking up. The gas giant may be occluding or
interfering. It is generating a massive amount of radio noise."
still performed well," Sam said. "See if you can find anything out
about Siribe Station from the database, please. Get Dr. Metzinger to
help. He seems to have better luck than the rest of us."
She switched her attention back to Lorne.
"Unless AR-1 contacts us before then, as soon as the Daedalus
is finished resupplying Atlantis, I will request Colonel Caldwell take
it to PL4-3E2 to investigate and recover Jumper One and Colonel
Sheppard's team. You and Dr. Zelenka may accompany them, unless Colonel
"Thank you, ma'am," Lorne said. She couldn't tell if he meant it
sarcastically or not.
dropped out of hyperspace just beyond the termination shock and ninety
degrees off the ecliptic. She might not be the newest and fastest ship
in Earth's proto-fleet any longer, but she'd crossed the space from
Atlantis to PL4-3E2 in less than five hours and could have dropped into
the system deep within the solar gravity well if Stephen had called for
it. He preferred caution though and a chance to escape if the red
dwarf's system held an ambush the Daedalus
couldn't handle. He wanted a good look at everything before taking his
ship any closer.
"Anything?" he asked.
"Nothing, sir," Kleinman replied.
"Take us in, sublights at seventy percent."
Zelenka and Major Lorne were both lurking at the back of the bridge,
where the navigators plotted their course, well out of the way for the
moment. Zelenka hadn't ousted any of Stephen's crew from their stations
the way McKay generally did.
McKay was good, no doubt about
it, but Stephen preferred his own people when on his own ship. His crew
knew each other and their equipment. Novak even forgot to hiccup when
under enough pressure and the pressure was pretty constant now that
Hermiod had gone.
The last surviving Asgard's final clone body had failed months before.
Novak had been in tears.
up traces of a hyperspace window," Kleinman said. "Decay matches the
data Atlantis picked up through their MALP." He paused. "At least
twelve hours ago. The energy signature matches a Wraith cruiser.
Nothing else, sir."
"Thank you," Stephen told him absently. He
left his seat and approached the bridge view port. It showed the red
dwarf as a dime-sized light amid the greater starscape, emphasizing how
far out they were. How little the human eye could pick out as well.
couldn't find the disk of the second, possibly inhabited, probably
culled planet Sheppard's data packet had indicated. It took him time to
even find the massive gas giant.
View ports were impractical, design dictated by the psychology of
sighted beings. The Daedalus
navigated and maneuvered according to her sensor data. The helm would
be stronger and safer without the view port, but Stephen admitted he
would feel blind without it. Every ship he'd ever been on had one,
every human ship he'd heard of and the Asgard. Only the Wraith eschewed
He watched the red dwarf grow larger and brighter as the ship slipped
deeper into the system.
he addressed Shirley Monahan, "take us to the second moon of the gas
giant. We'll check the stargate before proceeding."
"Yes sir," she replied.
"Sublights eight-five percent."
He felt the change through his boots, a subtle, inaudible harmonic
shift in the vibration that always ran through the Daedalus'
decks. That hum, of engines and environmentals, fans and thousands of
different pieces of equipment operating in sync, meant the ship was
sound and functioning and it reassured Stephen Caldwell the way his
wife's breathing had when they slept together before she had died.
He closed away any thoughts of Allison as inappropriate.
Dr. Zelenka joined him before the view port as they approached the gas
giant. It loomed, filling the frame, though the Daedalus'
course didn't lead directly to it.
I forget this is a great privilege, this magnificence," Zelenka said.
"To see such things that I did not even dream of as a boy. Sometimes I
only think how annoying Rodney is or how I miss walking down to the
bakery in the morning to buy kolače and coffee."
"We all do that, Doctor," Stephen told him.
The view port showed them the great, pregnant curve of the planet as
the Daedalus skimmed past.
Zelenka cleared his throat. "The Ancient station, Siribe, is on the
nodded his understanding. "We're going to dial up Atlantis and let them
know we got here in one piece before we proceed further." Carter had
told him she would keep the scientists busy combing the database for
anything else useful on this mysterious installation. They might have
found something in the intervening hours. Knowing Sheppard and his
insane luck, combined with McKay's ingenuity, the lost jumper might
already be home and this just a fool's errand.
He genuinely hoped that would be the case.
Atlantis had nothing new to add.
moved into orbit far above the roiling clouds of the planet. Zelenka
finally took over one of the engineer's stations and conducted the
scans. Atlantis dialed back and they maintained a real time comm
"What do you think anyone would stick a base down in that for, sir?"
Kleinman asked quietly.
had no idea. It could have been 'pure' research or something that could
only be accomplished under the conditions the gas giant provided. It
could even have been to hide it.
"I have Jumper One's
telemetry," Zelenka announced. "It is registering four life signs.
Drive pods fully charged, hull integrity one hundred percent,
shield...inactive." He lifted his gaze and blinked rapidly. "I
understand how this can be."
"Find out," Stephen said. He nodded
to Monahan. "Hail Jumper One. Start with the encrypted SGC channels and
if they don't answer, cycle through everything else that can punch
through. They're down there, I want to hear from them."
Monahan bent to her task and soon her melodious voice formed a
background to the bridge's workings: "This is the Daedalus
hailing Jumper One. Respond on any channel."
can only theorize that Jumper One is actually docked within the Ancient
installation and protected by a pressure shell," Zelenka announced.
checked the ship's chronometer and made the simple calculation. Jumper
One had last been in touch with Atlantis fifty-two hours previously.
want latitude and longitude for this installation, Doctor," he told
Zelenka. "Kleinman, place in geosynchronous orbit when you have the
He seated himself.
Monahan paused and turned toward him. "No response so far, sir."
"Open comm to Atlantis."
"Already set up, sir," Monahan said. "Just go ahead."
"Atlantis, this is the Daedalus."
"Daedalus, this is Colonel Carter. What news do you have?"
is Stephen Caldwell, Colonel. I'm afraid we have very little. Dr.
Zelenka has successfully received telemetry from Jumper One indicating
it is functioning and confirming four life signs aboard, but attempts
to contact AR-1 have failed."
"Have you been able to form a lock on their subcutaneous
is moving into orbit over the Ancient station. We should be able to
transport them out once we have," Stephen said. "We'll continue trying
to contact them in the meantime."
"The lack of any form of contact worries me,"
"You think they ran into another Pegasus surprise?" Stephen asked. It
wasn't that much of a joke.
existence of a base hidden on a planet uninhabitable by humans without
tremendous technological support is surprising enough."
"We'll beam them directly to infirmary quarantine."
"Good. Thank you for this, Colonel."
Stephen chuckled. "I'm used to playing cavalry at this point."
Kleinman lifted his hand to catch Stephen's attention and nodded. They
were in orbit over the Ancient station.
"Colonel Carter, let me get back to you. We will try to contact your
team once more, then retrieve them."
"Provided they are not behind shield down there," Zelenka piped up.
Monahan had begun her soft-voiced hail again. She shook her head when
Stephen caught her eye.
opened the ship's intercom to Medical. "This is Colonel Caldwell.
Please prepare to receive four people. They will be beamed directly to
the infirmary. I want them in quarantine until their status has been
"Infirmary D is sealed and has a medical team in biohazard
gear waiting, sir."
He commed Engineering next. "Dr. Novak?"
"Here, sir," she replied immediately.
"Please lock onto AR-1's transmitters and transport them to the
infirmary on Deck D."
Lorne caught his eye from where he'd been waiting and silently
watching. "I'll go down to D," he said. "In case they need a familiar
Stephen agreed with a nod.
"Dr. Novak, are you ready?" he asked.
"Transporting now, sir." He heard a small hic
almost smiled. "Transport successful."
He resisted the urge to drum his fingers along the arm of his chair.
"Dr. Zelenka? Any changes?"
"None," Zelenka said. "Perhaps Rodney will be able to tell us more."
Lorne's voice over the ship intercom kept Stephen from answering,
though not from wincing at the prospect of another grandiose McKay
lecture or possibly a furious rant over being snatched from the midst
of some amazing discovery.
"I'm in Infirmary D. Colonel
Sheppard and the rest of the team are unconscious," Lorne reported.
"The docs are saying comatose with severe dehydration. They're working
on them, but...it looks bad."
been no change," Jennifer announced at Atlantis' morning staff briefing
three days later. Sam hadn't expected anything else. Someone would have
notified her if there had been any news from the infirmary. Jennifer
had just made it official for another day.
Stephen Caldwell was sitting in while Lorne and Zelenka filled in as
acting head of the military and science divisions.
"I've tried everything I can think of without knowing the cause."
"No change at all?" Zelenka asked.
shook her head. "They're in a persistent vegetative state. There's
nothing wrong with their bodies or their brains that I can find to
explain it and no way to predict whether this is permanent damage or
Sam pressed her hands flat on the conference table. "Do you have any
idea at all when – ?" She didn't finish the thought, when
Atlantis' best gate team would wake up and tell them what the hell had
happened to them?
She'd stopped in again the night before and feared the answer was
never. All four of the team were still gaunt and colorless, despite
care aboard the Daedalus and after being
Atlantis. More disturbing than their ravaged bodies was the sense Sam
had of utter emptiness. Whatever animated them, even in sleep, seemed
completely absent. She thought they had brought back four shells that
just hadn't stopped breathing yet.
She couldn't say that though or tell anyone how disturbing she found
Jennifer said. She slumped back in her seat. "None. I am so sorry, but
they may never recover. We don't even know what happened to them."
Sam bit her lip before asking, "How long can they go on like this?"
proper medical support? Indefinitely. But without knowing the
underlying reason for their condition, I can't make any predictions. I
can't treat them." Frustration and worry raised her voice higher than
usual. "Sorry, sorry. I don't know what else to do."
Sam looked down at her hands. She knew this wasn't going to be popular.
"I think we have to look at the possibility that the best thing we can
do is send all of them back to Earth," she stated.
"Ma'am, it's been three days," Lorne protested.
"Give them a chance. They could wake up tomorrow."
"Is that likely?" Caldwell asked Jennifer.
the trapped look on her face, it seemed unlikely. "Honestly? I don't
think so. To put it brutally, no one's home and only a night light's
"What can anyone do for them on Earth?" Zelenka asked. "Nothing. I do
not like this plan."
"I understand that, Radek," Sam said, "but Atlantis isn't a long term
week, two, even a month, is not long term," he snapped. "We may still
discover what has happened to them from the database. How will we help
them then, if you have shipped them to Earth, like old shoes?"
"Earth has facilities and doctors – "
Earth." Zelenka leaned forward. "Earth is not our home. It is a nice
place to visit, with many things, but I do not wish to return there and
I do not think Rodney or Colonel Sheppard would want to either. It is
not home to Teyla or Ronon. Will you send them to the IOA? Who will
care for them on Earth?"
"The SGC would take responsibility for
them under their civilian consultant contracts," Sam explained, while
she winced inside. She'd expected disagreement, but hadn't predicted it
would come from Zelenka.
"Give them, give us some more time,"
Lorne said. He looked like he wanted to say much more, but stopped
after adding, "Give us a chance."
Sam didn't think there was a
chance, but she knew better than to alienate the two men who would
likely be taking John and Rodney's places on the senior staff. It
wasn't that she didn't want AR-1 to wake up.
"Sending them through multiple wormholes could have medical
consequences I can't even predict," Jennifer objected.
thought that was bullshit, but she couldn't call the doctor on it
without starting a fight she couldn't really win. If she even tried,
everyone on base would turn against her. They'd think she was trying
to get rid of the team or just McKay with the others as collateral
damage. Jennifer might lodge a formal complaint that would eventually
reach the IOA. There would be investigations and even if Sam didn't
receive a reprimand it would all be a mess.
"All right," she said slowly. "You have one week. But when the Daedalus
leaves, if you haven't found something, they will go back to Earth."
She looked at Caldwell steadily, daring him to 'offer' to stay and take
Sheppard's place until the SGC sent in a replacement, knowing as well
as he did that once he did so, they were unlikely to get someone else
in to replace him.
Caldwell's mouth quirked up,
clearly she thought. He nodded, to her relief. She didn't want to
fight him as well as Zelenka and Lorne. Most of the time in
her military rank meant little, but she would have used it to argue
they didn't need Caldwell, if he'd made it necessary.
Maybe she underestimated him, though. She didn't think he'd send the Daedalus
out without being aboard, anymore than a Navy captain would his
command. Caldwell had grown into command of his ship, the way Sheppard
had grown into his command, the way she hoped she would become more
comfortable and sure in hers.
"Thank you," Lorne said and this time she thought he was sincere.
made herself visit the infirmary again that evening. It surprised her
to hear someone singing softly and she hesitated before stepping
inside. Katie Brown had taken a seat between the beds holding Teyla and
Rodney. Her voice trailed away and she flushed when she saw Sam in the
doorway. She needed the color; the infirmary fluorescents made her look
almost as pale as the patients, except for her hair.
"I'm sorry," she whispered.
"No, it's all right," Sam assured her. If Jennifer didn't object, she
had no grounds certainly. "What was that?"
It had been pretty, light and soothing, in a language Sam hadn't
it's a Tarani lullaby. When their people were evacuated to Atlantis,
some of us helped with the children. I learned it then." She plucked at
the edge of the pale cotton blanket tucked into the side of the bed
nearest her. "I should record it, since they're all gone now."
"Gone?" Sam prompted. She hadn't followed Katie's line of thought.
"Wiped out," Katie clarified.
couldn't find anything to say. Yet another aspect of Pegasus she hadn't
absorbed yet: entire populations disappeared over night. The Goa'uld
enslaved human worlds, but waged war using the Jaffa. They preferred to
keep populations intact because they were useful. Her mind still didn't
go the places Lanteans did without being prompted.
Rodney's hand gently. "He sings, you know, when there's no one to hear.
I thought...well, I thought he and Teyla might like it. I
lullaby doesn't seem like the greatest idea when we want them to wake
up, but it was all I could think of."
"I think it was very nice," Sam said.
Katie rose from her seat. "I should go."
"Not because of me?"
"No. Someone else will be here soon."
bent and kissed Rodney's stubbled cheek and then left without
explaining what she'd meant. Sam discovered that when Major Lorne came
in with a tablet PC and sat down next to Sheppard's bed.
"Just doing the duty roster for next week, ma'am," he said.
realized he had meant to go over the whole thing out loud for his CO's
benefit. "Can't let him get away with sticking you with all the
paperwork," she ventured.
"Just layin' around, catching up on
his beauty sleep," Lorne agreed. "I figure the torture of listening to
this should be enough to bring him around."
"I think that's my cue to retreat."
"Good night, ma'am."
glimpsed Jennifer in her office, obviously still at work, as she
passed. The next night Zelenka was with her, while Eldon Bel murmured
the latest gossip out of Engineering. She eventually realized that
beyond the nurses monitoring the equipment there was always someone,
Sgt. Stackhouse, Dr. Parrish, Lars Opticon, Wilmer, Metzinger, Davos,
Campbell from the control room, sitting with the silent foursome,
talking or reading to them, or just doing some small task while they
kept watch. It bothered her more than she let herself admit that this
wasn't just like the SGC.
She'd thought her team had been
tight-knit, and they had been, but the SGC itself, while everyone there
felt a deep loyalty to it, hadn't shared the sense of community
Atlantis did. At the end of the day under the Mountain, you went home
and left it behind for normal life. At the end of the day in Atlantis
there was no escape to an oblivious world outside it. They only had
each other and the city and so each one of them became more precious to
them all, known and intrinsically woven in their personal as well as
their professional lives. There were no dividing lines in Atlantis.
wanted to find some way to help the four people in the infirmary. She
was head of the expedition now; they were her responsibility and her
father had taught her both deliberately and by example what it meant to
be a good officer. If he hadn't, she would have still had Hammond and
Jack to model herself after.
After leaving the infirmary the
fifth night, she tried delving into the database herself, but her
Ancient had never progressed beyond a few symbols. She'd relied on
Daniel for translations and now felt, again, out of her depth because
she was surrounded by people who had immersed themselves in the city
and its language, even many of the soldiers. The linguists held regular
classes open to everyone, teaching Ancient for Idiots. Sam hadn't
wanted to reveal her ignorance by attending any of them, afraid it
would underscore again how different she was from Elizabeth Weir. Now
she wished she'd swallowed her pride. Everyone in the city
cross-trained. Most of the civilian personnel had double doctorates and
Zelenka lingered in the conference room
then followed Sam from there to her office after the staff briefing the
sixth morning, after Caldwell had beamed back aboard the Daedalus.
Sam knew he'd be alerting his medical people to prepare to transport
four comatose patients back to the SGC. Everyone in the city had known
that and she'd seldom experienced the sort censure she felt from those
"It is a mistake," he said after the door closed, giving them some
privacy, a courtesy to her.
took in his fly-away hair, smudged glasses and gray exhaustion and
factored that into her response. "I really don't have much choice. I
answer to the IOA and the SGC. They will expect it."
He shook his head. "You answer too fast."
know I'm not making any friends," Sam told him, "but it has to be done.
There's always a possibility the doctors on Earth will discover
something that can help them. We've exhausted our abilities here."
are still..." He trailed off in obvious frustration. "You
this job without believing in this place, these people. Stop walking
"Ah!" Zelenka tugged at his hair. "This is not Earth or the SGC. You
aren't SG-1; you are head of Atlantis. Be that."
"I can only do my best," Sam said.
couldn't tell if Zelenka accepted that or not. He left without saying
any more. Sam told herself he was only upset over the prospect of
losing his friends – naturally – but she couldn't
help wondering if
she did frame everything in terms of what she had already faced. Maybe
her experiences were blinding her to options that hadn't been available
There was always paperwork, though. She busied herself finishing the
last of that in regards to the Daedalus'
time in port. No matter what, it always came down to cost. Atlantis had
to justify itself in terms of cost return. In this case, the
expenditure of fuel used to retrieve AR-1.
She signed the last
form well after the mess stopped serving dinner. There were always
sandwiches and fruit, though, along with coffee now that their supplies
were in. She deliberately chose one of the yellow things that looked
like miniature pineapples topped by tufty red foliage instead of an
apple. She ate the tart foliage first, the way she'd seen Teyla do.
mess hall lights were turned down and she'd taken a seat that let her
look out the windows, but also provided a certain amount of shadowy
privacy. The two corporals who came in and began cleaning and
straightening the room weren't aware of her.
"It's all wrong, sending the Colonel and McKay back there."
"What you gonna do?" the second man replied phlegmatically.
"Yeah, but you know, it'll kill 'em."
"McKay's got some kind of family, right?"
but you figure his sister's going to look out for Teyla and Dex and the
Colonel too? You figure the IOA's going to let her, even if she wants
A chair was scraped across the floor with a jerk.
one gives a damn about taking care of them back on Earth. IOA's just
going to warehouse them in some hospital 'til they die."
down the fruit without ever trying the creamy sweet flesh. She could
picture it much too easily. After a week or two at the SGC, the team
would be transfered to one of the military hospitals tasked with
handling patients with classified backgrounds. Maybe one or two doctors
would be cleared to know even some of the circumstances, but none of
the nurses, orderlies or other personnel would have a clue.
Jennifer had said that with medical care and support the four of them
might go on, drifting in their comas, indefinitely.
it came to that, she didn't know if the best that could be hoped for,
or the worst, was that the care be competent. It would be a long, slow
dying that might outlast all mourning for them.
They were nowhere.
They were nothing.
They were numbers.
They were not numbers another insisted.
They latched onto that. Latched onto that concept other,
because other implied outside and inside and self. Self was separate.
Selves were aware.
Packets of data – memories,
one of them thought – began reintegrating. With them came the
senses and physicality, both of which were still missing.
panicked as much as a mental construct lacking a body and its
responses, the hormones and quick firing nerves, chemicals coursing
through blood streams, could. John tried to reach for him and his mind
rejected the state of no-body they were in almost as forcefully as
Ronon's did. He couldn't feel the emotion that should have gone with
Having identified Ronon and himself, John put
together that Rodney and Teyla were probably part of this existence
too. Teyla confirmed this, conveying that she was there.
there, Rodney contradicted, because there was no there, no here. Their
existence did not include a place. Once more he opined that they were
numbers, discrete packages of self-aware, self-modifying information
Software instead of wetware? John asked.
Ears and sound were not necessary to convey or receive exasperation.
Rodney accompanied it with a confirmation. Close enough.
Teyla asked what had happened? John seconded that. Ronon finally pulled
himself together enough to add what is this?
The knowledge presented itself the same way a memory did, yet John
clearly knew that it came from outside his mind.
were in a buffer designed to let them communicate with the native
sentients of the gas giant. Their consciousness had been transferred
into it automatically on their arrival. Originally there had been
failsafes that gave visitors some warning and choice, but those
routines had been modified.
The Ancients had come to this system
to study its habitable planet and seed it with life. They hadn't been
interested in the gas giant until they realized that among its natural
radio emissions were patterns. Too ordered to be anything but
deliberate, but too alien to comprehend, beyond the guess that
something sentient on the gas giant was querying the wider system,
maybe even beyond, looking for others.
Fascinated, the Ancients
had developed an installation that would generate its own sails to
maintain altitude, then worked out a way to contact the natives. The
base's logs held the entire history of the two races' interactions.
They had exchanged vast amounts of scientific knowledge, discoveries
gleaned from radically different mental approaches, before the Ancients
Rodney's mental crow of glee echoed through all
three of them. He'd known those jammy bastards hadn't figured out zero
point energy all by themselves!
John delved through the same
logs, disappointed because the information wasn't there, just a
of what had been exchanged during several sessions.
They would have to light up the station's beacon and hope that someone
would want to talk to them.
Rodney initiated it and they were left waiting.
wanted to know if there was anyway to make their environment less
nonexistent. Ronon just wanted to get back to his body, which wouldn't
happen for a set amount of time. The transfer back and forth worked on
John tried concentrating and a cube took form around them. Gray walls,
floor and ceiling resolved into place.
Rodney was not impressed.
John tried to add windows and color, but the entire thing shivered and
started to dissolve. He had to settle for the gray.
added a set of bantos sticks in a corner. Ronon grumbled and presented
himself as something that reminded John of a sabertooth tiger, only
with a mottled green and brown coat.
Rodney manifested himself
as a glowy ball of light and wanted to know where John was, but
maintaining the 'room' didn't leave John enough energy to 'make'
himself in it too.
John had no idea how long they were there
before four other presences joined them. Teyla meditated or seemed to.
Ronon stalked back and forth, growling with impatience. Time didn't
register unless he checked the station logs. Hours, eons, picoseconds,
days, any and all could have passed outside. Rodney occupied himself
ranging through the accumulated data within the installation, accessing
it through the buffer.
Iss: P482m46;³ greeted them with a
familiarity that rocked John. Iss: P482m46;³ had been among those
interacted with the Ancients before.
It had, like most of its
kind, chosen to return it said. John didn't understand clearly and
wondered if others had ascended or died as Iss: Cu356v¬ and
began exchanging strings of numbers and mathematical concepts. Their
conversation quickly reached levels far too esoteric for John to grasp
even while augmenting his abilities with the station's information
Many *syncretized* before they could *translate*
Iss: Se3908¨ explained unhelpfully.
*Translate?* Teyla and Ronon echoed.
Iss: Xe18s/au° expanded to define: Low-pressure
carbon-based oxygen-burning envelopes were provided to support Iss
consciousness outside contact buffer.
wasn't the same. There were no emotions and no physical cues to read.
Information moved back and forth between their minds, but some instinct
warned it would be a painful mistake to try and share thoughts.
didn't know if he even wanted to share thoughts. No more than they were
already with the deliberate exchanges that mimicked vocalization,
He found a notation in the logs on the subject. Mindas
Ans and Liada Ans had suffered pattern corruption and been withdrawn
from the project due to persistent pattern degradation. John figured
that meant they'd gotten mixed up in each other and then started
falling apart when they separated and didn't come out with some
critical bits of information that made up who they were.
He opened a private communication line to Rodney and relayed the file
came from the four new ones. Iss: Cu356v¬. *Syncretization*
information patterns resulted in inability to return to proper physical
Rodney sent an apology for letting the Iss access their
private communication tagged with regret that they couldn't touch each
other beyond what they already had. There was always something between
them to stop them, it seemed.
Teyla found the logs on
*translation* and copied them to John, Ronon and Rodney. Clone bodies
had been the medium of exchange between the Iss and the Ancients, a
solution arrived at after the other Ancients found *syncretization* too
disturbing even for them.
More disturbing than aliens in
artificial bodies grown just for them. John found that more than a
little uncomfortable to contemplate.
Iss: P482m46;³ transmitted: The low-pressure
carbon-based oxygen-burning lifeforms who created this meeting place
John wanted to know why.
They were afraid.
Iss: P482m46;² returned to *syncretize*. To become Iss:
Iss: Xe18s/au° queried if they wished to *syncretize*.
Iss: Cu356v¬ tagged a final data exchange to Rodney offering to
become Iss: Cu356v¬².
wordless sense of 'oh crap' didn't need translation as John followed
his interrogation of the station's log to the latest entries, including
the removal by unidentified means – Asgard beam he realized
their carbon envelopes and the unanswered hails from the Daedalus.
Ronon and Teyla comprehended it with them.
We're stuck here, Ronon stated.
Teyla refrained from anger or fear. They will return. We
must only wait.
In the meantime, I can learn so much from the Iss,
Rodney added. The rest of you might get bored, but you'll
just have to deal.
existence without proper support envelopes results in pattern
degradation. Once decay begins *translation* or *syncretization* are no
longer possible, Iss: P482m46;³ informed them.
the logs and confirmed it. If they didn't get back to their own bodies,
eventually their consciousness would unravel. The Iss offer might be
their only way to survive.
They wouldn't be human anymore, though.
John wasn't sure he was ready to be Iss: P482m46;4.
Our people will come back, he thought, and, We'll
wait as long as we can.
did, but eventually alarms started pulsing through the system. Teyla's
bantos sticks shivered out of existence first, then John's cube began
to dissolve. Ronon's getaya shrank into nothing.
Each of them
initiated the transfer as late as they could, leaving the buffer as
they began shredding at the edges. They left without discussing their
decisions, whether to *syncretize* or finally unravel into true
God, you're stubborn, John expressed, already
ragged at the edges, hanging together pretty stubbornly himself.
Don't even start.
We could –
You saw the records. It made them crazy.
He synthesized every memory of the two of them together,
purified it, and shoved it at Rodney.
I know, I just –
energy spike from Rodney meant something, but John couldn't interpret
it. He had to go. Iss: P482m46;³ was waiting. He held onto one
Rodney's light flickered out last.
"Thank you for making the effort," Sam told Caldwell. He was already
aboard the Daedalus,
ready to leave the system. So were the four members of AR-1. She'd
stood in the infirmary as they were beamed out in a flash of white
light. The silence afterward...She'd seen the same shell
at the SGC when they lost Janet, when they lost Daniel, before they
started expecting him to come back. She'd fled back to her office.
"I'll make sure they're taken care of,"
he replied. The steady determination in his words eased a little of the
guilt she felt. He would honor this promise the way he did his
officer's oath out of respect for the team.
She couldn't smile
and knew he couldn't see a nod. Instead she cleared her throat and
forced out the words, "I know you will, Colonel."
"Take care, Colonel Carter," he told her. "Expect
us back in two months."
"We will – "
Zelenka bolted into her office without pausing to knock, followed by
Keller, Lorne and Justin Metzinger.
"You have to take them back!" Zelenka exclaimed.
"Dr. Zelenka," Sam said, hoping that if she stayed calm, he would do
"Colonel Caldwell!" Zelenka yelled. "You have to take their bodies back
to the transferral station!"
"Dr. Zelenka?" Caldwell asked.
"Explain," Sam said.
waved at Metzinger, who stepped forward and began explaining. "The
station was established to facilitate contact between the Ancients and
the indigenous sentients of the gas giant. They transferred their minds
into a buffer. I finally found the citation in a serious of classified
and coded documents. Apparently, something happened and several of
their people defected back to the Iss."
"They cannot wake up until their consciousnesses are transferred back
into their bodies," Zelenka finished.
Sam looked at Jennifer. "Is this possible?"
Jennifer shrugged. "Justin showed me the documentation, Colonel. I
think he's right."
"What are we going to lose by trying?" Lorne added.
Sam said, "Colonel Caldwell, are you up to another detour?"
"I think I can justify it on my next expenditure report,"
he replied, having heard everything along with her.
"And a few extra passengers?" Sam asked.
"We can find the space."
were in hyperspace half an hour later. Sam watched the swirl of deep
blue through the view port in the officers' mess and sipped a cup of
coffee. She should have stayed back in Atlantis, should have insisted
Zelenka and Lorne stay if she didn't, but instead, they'd all handed
off their duties to their seconds. She knew why. They had to come so
that they would know, down to their bones, even if they failed, that
they had tried everything. They'd come too close to missing this chance
to risk anyone else not following it through to the end.
least Zelenka and Lorne and Keller weren't feeling sick with guilt. Sam
kept thinking she'd let herself be spooked into making her decisions
too quick. She'd fallen back on procedure, instead of trusting her
people's instincts, and hated the reflection she'd become of McKay when
they'd first met. When had she become the kind of person who would have
let Teal'c die in the DHD buffer? No one had looked her to come up with
a fix for this; she'd been the nay-sayer standing in their way.
sucked, she decided. She had to do better. Oh, God, and she had to
apologize to McKay, because she'd never seen his actions from his side
before. He'd been wrong, but he'd been technically right. Somewhere
along the way he'd learned what she'd always
known about team loyalty and taking risks, but she hadn't learned her
lesson from him until now. Now she had to put the two together.
Keller joined her. "Why isn't it the same blue as the wormhole?" she
asked, referring to view of hyperspace.
it isn't blue at all," Sam replied absently. "No one sees it the same
way. We've just all agreed it's blue, so that's what our brains tell us
our eyes are seeing."
"Ow," Jennifer said. "That makes my head hurt."
Sam glanced away from the port to her. "No, that's a hyperspace
headache. Don't stare too long."
silence lingered and Sam figured Jennifer had found her to tell her
something. Something bad otherwise she wouldn't be delaying now that
Jennifer had found her.
"What is it?"
"I read through the
entire entry Justin found. It's...freaky, frankly. The
these aliens and let some of them actually merge their personalities
with them when they came back to their bodies."
had happened and Sam had already got the idea that the Ancients were
not the all-knowing, all-wise bunch of do-gooders Daniel had first
thought they were. She personally found the idea shudder-worthy, but
she had her own history with Jolinar coloring her reactions.
"But it was voluntary, right?"
"Oh, yes," Jennifer said. "Anyway, that wasn't what freaked the
"What was?" Sam asked.
"A bunch of them suicided, one went crazy, and the rest went back."
"Went back and joined the Iss, leaving their bodies behind."
Jennifer said. "The Ancients hadn't realized it could go both ways.
When two more scientists 'defected', they pulled out entirely."
"I can't imagine Colonel Sheppard or any of his team defecting," Sam
told her. She couldn't.
that's the other thing," Jennifer added. "They might not have a choice.
The transfer thingie? If they're in it too long? They'll die."
Sam set down her coffee cup.
Jennifer looked away. The blue hyperspace light bathed her face.
"We may already be too late."
was a gradual recognition of all the discomforts and pains of a body
and gravity added together. Weight, an ache in an ankle twisted to the
side, the bite of cold metal decking into his shoulder blades and his
ass, stiffness in his back, all of it slowly formed a picture of his
body again. It felt like almost too much, too strange, too alien. John
had to concentrate on the slow in and out of his own breath, ribs
moving, lungs inflating, tell himself it was familiar, to stave off a
jolt of panic. Part of him found it all new now.
wrinkled his nose at the smells, recognizing his own odor overlain with
antiseptics and a confusing mixture of scents from the jumper and the
thought was Ronon groaned nearby. He flinched at the sound. Too loud,
too loud, too strange after the silence of the buffer, to bear. How had
they done this before? It seemed impossible.
No, not blind, he realized, only the darkness of closed eyes. He could
open them and see again.
blinked his gummy eyes open, wincing at the glare until the blur above
him resolved into the jumper's interior. He stared, overtaken by the
bronze-gray color, the shadows and reflections, the pure mathematical
curve of the interior hull. The opaque white lights set periodically
along it left afterimages burnt into his retinas. He had to close his
eyes again, watched the bright smears of orange, red and white bloom
against the darkness inside for a while, the way he'd done as a child
after staring at the sun.
He listened to himself breathe and
explored his own mouth with his tongue, intrigued by the sensitivity,
the tickle at the roof, the smooth perfect fit of his teeth. He clacked
them together, feeling the flex of his jaw muscles, fascinated by the
sound, and then swallowed just to feel his throat work. It hurt, he
realized, but did it again.
Eyes opened again and this time he turned his head.
That deep voice, gone hoarse and rough, could only be Ronon.
" He had to cough through a painfully dry and sore throat. "Yeah." His
mouth tasted like shit, too. God, had he been intubated? What had they
Memory unfolded. He scrabbled at the deck, pushing himself up enough to
see Ronon and Teyla. Teyla's eyes were opening, watching him, while
Ronon had an arm thrown over his. Ronon's hand opened and closed into a
fist. Teyla had begun stroking her own forearm.
rasped out. His stomach rebelled at the same time and he tasted bile
rising up through his throat. He wondered if he would throw up, what he
would throw up, what had been done to his body while he wasn't there.
eyes shifted to the side. John rolled over and gasped with relief,
relief that instantly turned to worry. Teyla and Ronon were both awake,
but Rodney wasn't.
John reached out and set his shaking hand on
the curve of Rodney's shoulder. Warmth immediately met his palm through
the pale, thin scrub top. John looked at the fabric in blank confusion
until he figured out they'd all been dressed in scrubs while their
bodies were...away. John rubbed his hand down Rodney's arm and
all without thinking. His calluses caught on the smooth cotton
pushed it into small wrinkles. Rodney was so solid and there. He knew
should stop, before he went too far, but John couldn't let go. He
couldn't slow his racing heartbeat either, because he needed more. He
needed Rodney back and not just this slow breathing body. He needed
Rodney to still be with them.
He couldn't do this without Rodney. He'd figured that out long ago.
Rodney was his key.
cold from the deck seemed to spread through him. John wriggled closer
to Rodney, closer and closer, but it still felt too far. He tucked his
face against Rodney's neck, stubble prickling against his lips, and
breathed in his scent. He shoved his hand up under the scrub top and
slung one leg across Rodney's thighs.
"Come on, come on," he rasped out through a throat gone almost too
tight to form the words.
He clutched at him tighter.
flailed around and hit the back of John's head, then his fingers were
in John's hair, flexing gently against his scalp, better than he could
Rodney twisted until they were wrapped around each
other, mapping skin with fingertips and lips, while the whisper slide
of fabric and harsh breaths told him Ronon and Teyla were just as
intent. Rodney's mouth was hotter than John's, sour and stale. John
didn't care. Rodney's tongue traced his lips over and over, harder and
harder, until they were pressed tight to his teeth.
at his waist, getting out of his scrub pants, throwing them away
blindly when Rodney's hand shoved between his thighs. They rolled over
and he glimpsed Ronon tearing off his clothes and Teyla's. His elbow
jolted against the decking with a thump and a flare of agony up his
arm. His other hand remained trapped under Rodney's top.
this is, this is," Rodney repeated as they shed everything else,
awkward and urgent. John licked at his collarbone and moaned because
Rodney's voice hurt and only silence would have been worse. He needed
more. Everything jarred, his senses felt wrong despite a lifetime spent
this way and he needed to make it his own again.
Licking and then
sucking weren't enough. Tongues weren't enough, hands weren't enough,
skating over each other's skin, digging in and leaving purple-dark
bruises on each other.
Ronon had his face between Teyla's legs and
she had scored his back with her nails. The smell of blood tugged at
John's senses, pushing him until he bit the soft skin at Rodney's
armpit and Rodney keened in protest, but did nothing to stop him.
blurred together, instants stitched together without sense: his cheek
on Rodney's thigh, the rough hairs catching against John's jaw, the
taste of gel or glue on Rodney's chest where a monitor must have been
placed, Ronon's grunts, wet-slick slap of skin on skin, Teyla's hand,
palm pale, fingers spread starfish-wide open and tense, the mole at the
back of Rodney's neck that John had wanted to touch for so long,
because it wasn't allowed, Rodney's nipples and Rodney's hand closing
around his balls.
Too harsh, too perfect, John curled his fingers
around Rodney's broad wrist as he squirmed up Rodney's body. His knee
hit Rodney's, his other hand slipped on the decking, but he didn't
stop. He plastered himself against Rodney, rutting and rubbing, their
arms trapped between them, and grinned at him.
It didn't matter any
longer what anyone might see or think, they needed this and John wasn't
going to deny anything, not when Rodney was offering him everything.
This was real, they were real again, and the relief this time was so
strong it had finally become desperation.
moved together, panting and wild to ground themselves in their bodies
again. Teyla and Ronon were doing the same, sometimes reaching out and
touching John or Rodney too, because they needed confirmation of them
The hails from the Daedalus only penetrated
afterward when all four of them were limp and tangled together in a
sweaty sprawl. Body heat and their harsh breaths left the air in the
jumper humid and redolent with the scents of sweat, spit and come,
mingled with a trace of blood and their own bad breath; the air
cleaners were overwhelmed.
"Jumper One, this is the Daedalus,
tipped his head toward the cockpit. John groaned softly, but levered
himself to his feet. His body felt spent. He ached in places he'd never
ached before. He fished up a pair of scrub pants tossed on one of the
cushionless benches and pulled them on, nearly falling over before
Ronon steadied him, then staggered to the pilot's console, politely
averting his gaze
from Teyla's bare breasts.
He dropped into the seat and activated the comm.
"Daedalus, this is Jumper One."
"Good to hear your voice, Colonel Sheppard. Is everybody
That was Colonel Carter on the comm. John blinked stupidly at the
console, then coughed and answered.
all..." He glanced back at his team, all uncoordinated limbs
eyes, slowly dressing in whatever came to hand, and couldn't hold back
his smile. Everything was new, everything was different, and everything
was exactly the same. They needed to clean up, so he'd have to persuade
Carter to let them come back in the jumper. "Yeah. Just give us a
Rodney tottered into the cockpit, muttered, "Oh my God,"
and slumped into the co-pilot's chair with a dead giveaway wince. He
looked at John cautiously. John leaned over and placed his hand on the
nape of Rodney's neck.
"I'm here," he said, a tentative smile curling the corners of his mouth
up that John didn't think was for Carter.
"When you get back...I owe you an apology. Actually, I owe all
laughed at the way Rodney's mouth fell open and then worked, unable to
form any words. He rubbed the back of Rodney's neck affectionately.
"I think you broke him, Colonel," he told Carter.
"She did not!" Rodney snapped. "I'm just..."
"Trying to pick out which instance in particular she owes me for
"Maybe we'd better leave this until later," Carter
interrupted. "Colonel Sheppard, are you ready to come home?"
"Give us a minute. The jumper's completely charged, we just have to
undock and get out of here."
"You're all really okay?"
Ronon clapped Rodney on his shoulder after coming into the cockpit,
before seating himself. Teyla followed and drifted her finger along
John's temple briefly.
"We're all good."
They would be.
Besides, they had a hell of story to tell.