There was a dull boom; Rodney felt it in his bones even as the Stargate spat him out and across the floor of the Gateroom.
"What the *hell* was that?" he demanded. He rolled up to his knees and winced, his whole body protesting. "Give me a report, someone!" A Marine offered him a hand and pulled him to his feet; he grunted a thanks, and hurried up the steps to Sergeant Campbell's desk, favoring one knee as he went.
"Also: ow. Let me in." His back hurt sharply as he leaned over, but it didn't matter. There was no sign of Ronon, Sheppard or Teyla coming through. They'd been right behind him - now they weren't, and the wormhole signal was lost.
"My boards were normal right up to--"
"Until they weren't, yes, thank you for that piece of insight, out of my way." He called up the gate logs. Nothing leapt out and he scowled more fiercely. It pulled on his face, and he winced. No time.
"Doctor McKay! What happened?" Woolsey was leaning on the railing above the steps, waiting, out of the way and anxious.
"If I knew, Mr. Woolsey, I wouldn't be standing here, I'd be doing something," he snapped. "There's nothing wrong with the Gate here, and the wormhole's gone." He stared at the empty Gate for a long, silent thirty seconds. He checked the logs again. "How far out is the Daedalus?"
"Six weeks," Woolsey said. "The repairs --"
"I know! I sent Carter the last set of specs on the engine tolerances myself." He closed his eyes.
"Doctor McKay?" Woolsey said, "What --"
"The wormhole evaporated practically while I was still in transit." He looked down at the readouts. "I should be trapped in the buffer. *Someone* ought to be tapped in the buffer. "
"Where are the others?" Woolsey asked quietly. They were both looking at the empty Gate now.
"If I knew I wouldn't be standing around here like a goddamned lemon," he snapped. "They were right behind me; Sheppard was right behind me." He stopped and took a deep breath. "The Gate kicked me out at the destination. Maybe it kicked them out at the point of origin. Maybe it kicked them somewhere else entirely. Maybe--"
"They could be gone?"
"Gone. Yes. Literally, metaphorically. I. Don't. Know."
His hand on Rodney's shoulder stopped him mid-flood. "What can we do?"
"Wait for the Daedalus so we can go to the planet without using the Gate, or dial back and hope no one is stuck in the buffer of the gate of origin."
"Is that likely?"
"No. Maybe. The data doesn't support it. But I can't --"
The Gate began to light up. "The hell? No! Stop it!" But there was no stopping a wormhole opening, only the possibility of killing whoever came through it. They all watched, the room utterly silent as the last symbol lit up and the plume of wormhole billowed out before settling into the familiar pool of blue.
"Shield is up," Campbell said to the air, and added, cautiously, "It looks pretty normal to me, sir."
"Thanks for your input," Rodney said sourly.
A moment later: "Receiving IDC: Ms Emmagan."
"Teyla? Teyla, come in." McKay's hand was clenched tightly on the side of the Gate board. "McKay to--" The silence broke with a hiss, and the sound of Teyla's voice.
"Doctor McKay, what happened?"
"Where's Sheppard? Is Ronon there? Are you okay?" He didn't mean it to be an afterthought, but if she was answering, and the others weren't ...
"Ronon is unconscious, but I am well. Rodney. There is no sign of John-- " she stopped. "He did not come through?"
"Would I be asking if he had?" he snapped, but there was no real edge to it, because everyone knew exactly what it meant.
Everything that had been on edge in McKay coalesced into coldness. He swept his eyes around the Gate room. "McKay to Medical."
"Keller here, Doctor McKay."
"I need you and a couple of lab mice in the Gateroom, right now."
He could almost see the blink, but he appreciated her professional, "On my way, Doctor McKay," more than any questions. He turned back to the boards. "Campbell, get every last bit of data for the last forty eight hours to Zelenka. Tell him I need a full analysis of the last two, no, make that five, uses of the gate, focusing on variants between the previous trip and the others. I want to know what happened, and where Sheppard is."
He stared at the Gate for a long, silent minute.
"Rodney, can we come through?"
"I'm thinking." He closed his eyes, but the data still didn't say what he badly -- desperately wanted it to.
"Sir, the Gate only received your data --" Campbell began, and was cut off by a sharp jerk of McKay's hand.
"I know that! Teyla?"
"I'm going to need the data crystals out of your DHD."
"Can the DHD function without that?" she asked, and he groaned, rubbing a frustrated hand through his hair.
"No, no, it won't, dammit--" God, he couldn't *think*, they shouldn't have opened the Gate up, but it couldn't be helped, Teyla wasn't to have known, and John might have been safe on the other side, safe in the buffer: he'd been following Rodney, the Gate might have collapsed before he stepped in. Not after. The second Teyla dialed out from P7Y-2JB, if John's pattern had been in the buffer, they'd overwritten it. Which, shit, meant no sending mice through to see if it was safe for organic life, because he wasn't overwriting John's pattern -- pattern was easier than 'body', no bodies -- with a fucking lab mouse. There was no pattern.
"Just, just wait, Teyla, okay? I need to think before we send anyone through the Gate, make sure it's safe."
"Should I shut it down?"
He hesitated, then, "No. Better keep it open for now, at least then we don't introduce any new variables, and Keller can talk you through helping Ronon." There. That made sense, and he didn't have to --
"Rodney! What happened with the Gate?" Zelenka rushed in, tablet in one hand, skimming through data as he ran in. "Interruption should not be--"
"I know! But look at it! The data just dumps out, like it--" He turned and stared at Zelenka. Oh!
"Like it was diverted to second Gate," Zelenka said, following his thought process instantly, and brightening.
"Exactly! Get Simpson to compare the data to the Antarctic Gate incident, see if we can triangulate the third Gate out of the data."
"Triangulate?" Zelenka raised an eyebrow at him for a terminological shortcut that would have had him tearing strips off of anyone else.
"In a non-Euclidean way," he snapped, too filled with hope to really put his back into an insult. "Less kvetching, more working!"
Zelenka's eyebrows twitched up dubiously, but he only nodded.
John had thirty eight minutes.
If he had any time at all.
"I am here, Rodney," she said steadily, grateful he could not see the worry on her face. Doctor Keller had talked her through a check on Ronon, who was still unconscious. For now she'd settled him to one side of the DHD, hoping that she would be able to drag him through when Rodney fixed the Gate.
"Is the secondary tablet okay? I mean, did it get damaged when you -- if anyone fell on it, and--"
"I have it, Rodney, and it appears to be 'booting up' normally."
There was a short pause, and he was clearly regrouping. She allowed herself a small smile. "I have worked with you for a number of years, Doctor McKay," she said mildly. "One picks up a few things, over time."
"Yes, yes. Do you have one of the usb/Gate crystal aperture cables there, it should be green, with--"
"The end marked 'Field repairs: Gate'?"
There was another pause, then, "Yes. Open the underside of the DHD, and clip it to the fourth crystal from the left. That's the DHD log, and slot in--"
Teyla was ahead of him, "Do you wish me to transmit the data to you in Atlantis?"
Another little hesitation, and Teyla smiled to herself despite the circumstances.
"Yes. Please. Do you know how to..." He trailed off, and she shook her head.
"Unless it is a matter of emailing it to you via the Gate signal--"
"That's close enough, yes. The computer should recognize a Gate transmission protocol when you tell it to send the files. Just download it all twice, once each to a different directory on the tablet first, don't overwrite it, and then send the duplicates separately, so we can cross check for data loss in transmission. And don't pull the crystal."
"Very well." It wasn't the most complex of tasks and took scant minutes to complete. "I have sent the files -- they are large, so-"
"Yes, yes, they'll take some time. Chuck, can we get an ETA on those files, and make sure they go into separate databases, well away from any of the Gate data for our side. Kusanagi, get someone to run comparisons on the data first, then start running it against our data in a clean environment and do it fast. There's maybe thirty minutes left."
Teyla closed her eyes briefly. Barely a single Gate cycle before John was lost forever to the Ancestors.
"Rodney? Is there anything else I can do?"
"Not right now -- we need to analyze what we have right now before we can do anything about it. Give us ten minutes."
"Very well." Ten minutes. Not quite a fourth of a Gate cycle, an endless time to sit and do nothing, and if she knew Rodney he was chafing as much if not more than she. But he at least could read meaning in the data and act on it.
She knelt by Ronon and checked his pulse again, timed against her own steady heartbeat. It ran slower than hers, but Jennifer had said that was acceptable and, in Teyla's experience, this was true. Ronon showed a knot at the base of his skull, probably from the moment he was thrown backwards out of the wormhole. He'd barely been a step inside, not even fully swallowed up when it spat him out again.
He shifted against her when she lifted an eyelid to check his pupils, which changed in size normally for the light available, and Teyla sighed. He would awaken soon, and would be worse by far than Rodney at the lack of action.
She updated Jennifer, who concurred with her conclusions, and then settled by the DHD, the tablet out of the way, the cable detached from the Gate, and waited patiently for Rodney to update her.
The locals had had nothing to offer them. It happened more and more often these days. The Wraith were a blight on the galaxy. The old songs of the long death spoke of such times, when the Wraith woke and took and took, with not a single planet left untouched. It had been a long time, but the people of Pegasus did not forget. Sometimes all they had was what they remembered, so they remembered hard, hard and vivid and bright.
Sheppard was not the first foolhardy man to plunge into a Wraith dortoir and wake them all -- though the stories more often had it done for love than honor. She had originally wondered if Sumner had been his lover, such was his burn to go and rescue them, but she had learned that he held his given word of more value than his life. The shock that he didn't know the stories was second only to the shock that they were not from her own galaxy.
And so she lived in times of remembrance. Sometimes she was sure that she was here as the story keeper; the one who would remember long after the brightly burning remembered had become only dust and ashes. And sometimes, when the whine of a Dart buzzed over the sounds of the wildlife, and the low tremor of Wraith minds curled around hers, she knew she was more.
"Atlantis, raise the shield!" she snapped into her radio. "Wraith!"
The first Dart was obliterated on the shield. The swearing over the radio was more than enough for her to work that out. Then the radio went silent, and she knew that if she needed to report in, they would hear her, but they would not answer.
She lay very still under the shadow of the DHD, one arm futilely over Ronon, and hoped that the next Dart would be too laden or too rushed to stop for them.
The second Dart went through and died too, but the third pulled up and saved itself. Worrying. They had not seen the Wraith, nor had the locals spoken of a Wraith homestead, which told her a number of things, potentially. None of them were good. A secret base; Wraith worshipers; an undetected hive taking advantage of an open Gate to find some planet as yet unculled...
Any was possible. Ronon shifted a little under her arm, and she reached up, one hand over his mouth, the other pinching sharply at his ear lobe. He twitched harder, and she said urgently,
"Wraith, do not move."
His stillness became that of a bow at its deepest curve, arrow nocked and ready for flight. One of the many things she appreciated about him: his silent faith in her judgment, where too many of those from Earth would ask and ask and ask.
"Drones at our five and seven," she said in a low voice. "Dart returning at one." He nodded and she removed her hands, rolled and loosened her bantos rods. "Gate shield up; wormhole broken, don't go through."
"Sheppard?" he said hoarsely, and she shook her head. "McKay?"
"Rodney is safely through, and working on the Gate."
Ronon jerked his head, a familiar 'work faster' gesture he'd learned from Sheppard and she felt a pang for it. This then, for remembrance, in case he was lost.
Then they were on their feet and fighting for their lives.
"The data is not there, Rodney!" Zelenka slammed his hand on the desk. "You cannot make something from nothing! It is there, and poof! Gone! I cannot change what it means any more than you or anyone else, no matter how much you yell at us."
"Unacceptable!" Rodney yelled straight back. "We just need more data to locate the third Gate."
"There may not even BE a third Gate! This is wishful thinking! Hope and prayer and superstition, not science!" Zelenka slowed as he saw the defeated set of Rodney's shoulders. "My friend, let us save the ones we can--"
He watched as Rodney dropped his head in defeat, his eyes closing briefly. "Very well. Sergeant Campbell?"
"Doctor McKay?" Chuck's voice was clear and crisp, not a hint that he had heard a word of their exchange. Rodney straightened and turned his head towards the shimmering Gate.
"Be ready to raise the shield on my mark."
"Teyla? When you can, let us know you're coming through."
There was a long pause.
"I have a team on standby," Lorne said, and Woolsey shook his head.
"Let's try one more time before dropping the wormhole. Rodney?"
"Teyla? Ronon. Any time you feel like joining us--"
Things burst into action -- something slammed into the shield. It flared brilliant white again, and everyone blinked or looked away. When Radek's sight cleared Rodney was staring at it white faced, still talking into his radio.
"Teyla, Ronon, you have to tell us you're coming. Tell us you're coming." The shift was slight and Radek wished he had not heard it, the fear that these friends, too, were lost, and then the radio burst into life, and McKay was bellowing, "Down, down, take it down!" even as Chuck spoke over him:
"IDC received! Teyla, Ronon, you are clear to go!" Chuck's hands were already in motion and the half-expected white blaze of another body obliterated on the shield never came.
Ronon came through first. He stumbled a little and held his balance by force of will alone, turning to wait for Teyla who was barely a second behind him, one bantos rod broken and a Wraith drone emerging after her, hand reaching out ominously close.
The marines in the Gateroom couldn't get a clear shot; Chuck slammed the shield back up and it blazed into life, half a drone falling to the floor beside Teyla's feet. The wormhole disengaged.
For a moment all Radek could hear was hard breathing. Then everything began again. Teyla dropped to one knee, and instantly a Marine was there helping her up.
"Teyla! Ronon!" Rodney rushed down, looking anxiously between them, "Are you okay?"
Ronon was painted with blood, face and white shirt lined with streamers of red, and Teyla was visibly favoring one leg, but they both smiled at him.
"We will be fine, Rodney," Teyla said, and Ronon holstered his gun and wiped his sword on his pants leg before sheathing it. Radek wasn't sure he'd ever seen either of the swords drawn before -- almost a meter of edged blade, smeared with blood and other muck. Ronon was moving slowly though, and then Keller was there, urging each of them towards the infirmary and care. Radek smiled a little. Teyla settled in a wheelchair with good grace, but Ronon refused, and Radek knew that he would insist on stumbling along under his own steam until he passed out rather than show weakness. Although -- and he watched, bemused, as Rodney offered a shoulder, griping even as he insisted. Ronon leaned on him, and they disappeared down the corridor together, mismatched but game.
It fell to him then. "Sergeant, if you would, I will need the data for the last fifteen minutes, same procedure as before, and we will appreciate any input you have for us with regards to the Gate malfunction."
Woolsey joined them by the DHD. "Doctor Zelenka?"
Radek looked at his tablet. "I cannot give you any more than we already have, at present. If we can send a team through to review the DHD there--"
"Out of the question until we are sure the Wraith are gone," Woolsey said immediately and Radek nodded. It wasn't unexpected, but it was just as well Rodney was distracted. He met Woolsey's eyes and saw a concern there that six months previously he would have been astounded by. In his own bean-counting way, Richard Woolsey was becoming part of the family. "Perhaps a debriefing in one hour?" Woolsey added, and Radek saw they comprehended each other entirely.
"We should know more before we act, if there is more to know, and there is nothing we can do until everyone is settled down," he agreed. They both looked towards the transporter where everyone had entered on their way to the infirmary. "I can inform Doctor McKay, if you wish?"
He could see Woolsey be visibly tempted, then steel himself. "No. I need to check on Ms. Emmagan and Mr. Dex in any case. "
Radek nodded, and didn't say 'good luck' out loud. From the quizzical look on Woolsey's face, he probably didn't need to.
Rodney waited in the infirmary until he was sure that Teyla and Ronon were both okay. He left Ronon arguing with Keller -- she felt ten minute's unconsciousness required a full scan of his head, Ronon figured it was just par for the course, and was determined to make his escape. He ducked out of range and headed for the mess hall, managing to dodge the compulsory post-mission medical in the ruckus.
Apart from avoiding an entirely unnecessary waste of his time being poked and prodded when there was absolutely nothing wrong with him, he was just as glad to avoid speaking to Jennifer. She'd spotted him, smiled politely, and then found something to be busy with. Awkward. Even he couldn't help wondering sometimes whether some of it might possibly have been his fault. The breakup had been a monument to failure to communicate on a par with Colonel Sheppard's usual modus operandi. Well. They hadn't so much broken up as gone to visit her family for four days and never spoken again -- unless there was absolutely no avoiding it. Sheppard seemed to find the entire thing unduly hilarious. People in glass houses.
Escape safely made, he found his feet taking him to his quarters. He hadn't really meant to; he'd meant to go back to the labs and make sure everyone was keeping on their toes tracking John. Sheppard. He stared at the inside of his room blankly, feeling almost as though he was seeing it for the first time. Voices in the corridor woke him to the realization that he was standing in the open doorway of his own room, and he hurried inside, locking it behind him.
Once inside, he didn't know what to do. He lay down on the bed, but staring at the ceiling was boring, and when he tried breathing slowly and steadily he ended up with a coughing fit. He didn't really want to be alone. All he could think was that the first interpretation, the most sensible interpretation of the data was that something -- galactic winds, a magnetic storm, an unexpected supernova or black hole -- had disrupted the wormhole.
The most sensible interpretation of the facts was that Sheppard was dead. And he flatly refused to allow that to be true. However irrational a belief it was, he was categorically certain that Sheppard was alive. He wouldn't dare die without him.
The idea of a vessel intersecting the wormhole at that precise moment in time ... the odds were far, far worse than any other scenario he could concoct. Worse, it could have been a Wraith ship. It probably was a Wraith ship, if the nearest inhabitable planet was a Wraith base.
He didn't even have to try to imagine Sheppard in Wraith hands; he'd seen it too many times already. Funny. You'd think eventually you'd become inured to it all. But it turned out that the more you cared the worse it was, and --
"Kusanagi to McKay."
"I have something, I think. Possibly, the data is hard to--"
"I'll be there in two minutes."
He was just as glad for the interruption.
"Oh, see now, you're a very long way from home."
The sting in his hands and knees didn't stop Sheppard from rolling to his feet, pulling his gun, and taking aim. A swift assessment of his surroundings told him it was just the two of them in a huge, bronze and oddly shaped room, with cables or ancient bones, or a vast metal lace strung here and there. There was no sign of a Gate anywhere. Or of the rest of his team.
"Who the hell are you?" he demanded, backed up to the wall.
"The Doctor." The lanky man grinned hugely at him, and Sheppard struggled not to respond in kind.
"Well, *Doc*, where the hell's my team?"
The man was frowning at something on the big console type arrangement in the middle of the room. "*Doc*!"
"What? Oh." He looked around as though expecting more people to appear out of thin air -- although on second thoughts, maybe that wasn't so unreasonable... "No, no team, just you. Though how you managed to-- oh. Oh!" His whole face lit up with glee, as happily pleased as a child given just the exact thing they'd longed for all year and he looked up from the console to grin at Sheppard. "Oh, wow. An actual traversable Lorentzian wormhole? I haven't seen one of those in *years*! When did you start --" He paused and frowned again, then hit the panel in front of him. "Well. Hmm."
He looked narrowly at Sheppard. "A very long way from home, aren't you?" he said again, and there was a kind of gentle compassion on his face that made Sheppard feel like sitting down and ... doing something he hadn't tried since he was six and wasn't trying right now, no matter what.
"Who are you?" he said again, and lifted the P90 meaningfully to emphasize the question.
"You can put that down you know," the Doctor said, rather kindly for someone on the wrong end of a P90. "It won't work anyway."
Sheppard blinked at him, and the Doctor nodded encouragingly at the weapon still trained on his heart. "You sure about that?"
"Well, actually, yes," the Doctor said apologetically. "She's quite particular about it." He patted the console, and Sheppard shook his head, trying to dislodge sense into the sheer irrationality surrounding him.
"Who are you? What is this? Where am I? And where the *hell* is my team?"
The Doctor grimaced. "This," he waved an expansive hand, "is the TARDIS. My ship. And -- I'm very much afraid that you were the only one she was able to save when the wormhole lost integrity."
Save? "Save?" he said, stumbling against the idea, not Teyla, not Ronon... not Rodney-- "What do you mean, 'save'? What happened to the Gate?"
"Let me take that, and --" His weapon was carefully removed from his slack hand.
"Save?" he whispered. Somehow it didn't occur to him to question the stranger. The Doctor.
"I'm so sorry," the man said. "Jellybaby?"
He held out a tattered paper bag, and Sheppard shook his head numbly. "Well, perhaps not," the Doctor said, peering rather dubiously into the bag. "I haven't tried one of these in a very long time." He popped one into his mouth, frowned, then swallowed manfully. "See here, what were you doing in the Pegasus Galaxy anyway? You lot aren't supposed to leave your solar system for another hundred years. Well, unless--" He looked thoughtfully at Sheppard, and abruptly switched subjects. "I can give you a lift home, if you'd like?"
"Back to Atlantis?" Sheppard said. If he sounded curt, well, it was better than --
"Atlantis? *Atlantis*! Of course! You've found the Rings! Well, well, well." He practically bounced back to the main console of the TARDIS, and Sheppard followed reluctantly. His sidearm had vanished into a pocket somewhere in the man's big coat, and somehow he didn't really fancy his chances at trying to get it back. The thought of Ronon trying, or McKay mocking him for being scared of -- not thinking about it.
The Doctor stilled for a second, staring at the console. "Your wormhole lost its end point and de-cohered," he said gently. "You'd already entered the stream, and -- you were lucky that the TARDIS caught it." He gave Sheppard a very direct, sharp look. "She doesn't do that often. The old girl has her own reasons for doing things," he added with a shrug. "I assume that the gate at the other end was destroyed."
"Or something interrupted the stream," the Doctor added thoughtfully. "Not all that likely, but better odds than one of the Alterans' gates blowing up. Very good engineers. Little stupid about other things, but we all have our faults." He looked dubiously at Sheppard, "You're not Alteran are you?" He peered closely at him, frowning, then walked around him. Cautiously, Sheppard turned to watch him, "No, no, don't move, let me see," he urged Sheppard to stand still, then: "Hmm. Now that's interesting--"
"You know about the Ancients?"
"Ancients?" The Doctor suddenly looked deeply amused, "Well, I suppose from your perspective they are. *Our* perspective was that they were a little short sighted, but that's usual for a species that young. Everything has its season." He stopped there, his face falling, the interest fading away. "Everything has its season," he repeated softly, to himself, and turned away.
The silence was painful. "Does that mean Rodney -- the others, my team," he stumbled, "are they okay?"
The Doctor looked thoughtful. "On the one hand, they might be. On the other, they might not." He flashed Sheppard a quick grin, which did nothing to soothe his irritation. Before he could take more than a couple of steps across the room to suggest that the Doctor might like to be a little less unhelpful, the Doctor started pulling levers, slapping buttons, and -- was he really using a bicycle pump?
"Why don't we go find out?"
"You can do that?" Sheppard asked dubiously.
"Oh yes." The Doctor frowned and bounded around the console to the other side. "Well, when I say definitely -- hold this down, would you? I mean that sometimes -- come on, there's a good girl, do -- she *can* be a little --" He stepped back and glared at the slowly moving cylinder at the center of the console, then slammed his hand down hard on the side of a panel. "--temperamental. Still," he smiled brightly at Sheppard, "keeps life interesting, doesn't it?"
The whole place lurched, and the low groaning sound rose to a whine. "Is that meant to sound like that?" Sheppard yelled, and the Doctor glanced at the central cylinder.
"Oh yes, nothing to be alarmed about!" he called back cheerily, and Sheppard was close enough to hear him add to the machine itself, "Do you hear me? Stop being alarming."
"That's reassuring," Sheppard said, and grabbed hold of one of the metal sculpture type things as the place shuddered and jerked unhappily around them. To his amazement it was warm and slightly yielding, almost organic in feel. Like a Wraith ship.
He let go reflexively, and regretted it instantly as he was flung half way across the room. His head hit something and he distinctly felt a crack of sound and blinding flash of pain as his shoulder took the rest of the impact.
"Oh dear," he heard in the wash of fog in his brain. "That really doesn't look right."
And all was dark.
Doctor Keller looked around the meeting room as she wrapped up. "Ronon should be on his feet in a day or so, Teyla --" she smiled across the table at her, "has been discharged." She sat back down, clearly relieved to be done with her part of the debriefing.
Richard Woolsey nodded and tried not to look too relieved that Jennifer had refrained from too much detail in her medical report this time. He turned to the four person science team, "Doctor McKay, can you fill us in on progress identifying the problem with the Gate since Ms Emmagan and Mr. Dex returned from P3R-8HT?"
McKay bounced to his feet with the barely repressed energy of a man for whom this moment was long overdue. "Finally!" he said, but quietly enough that Richard ignored it. "I'll start with what we do know: both Gates are working normally; neither Gate shows any sign of tampering. We have been unable to track Colonel Sheppard's subcutaneous tracker, no matter how hard we push."
He looked down for a moment, "The logs show interference with the wormhole while Sheppard was in transit. His data was received somewhere other than the Atlantis Gate, and he may or may not have arrived there. The interference with the wormhole took approximately seven picoseconds, which is the differential between the transmitting Gate ending data transmission and the Atlantis Gate losing signal."
Zelenka stepped in. "The most likely hypothesis is that a third Gate in the near vicinity of either P3R-8HT or Atlantis was briefly powered up, and diverted the signal.
"The problem is, that doesn't mesh with the data we have from the Antarctic incident, when Major Carter and Colonel O'Neill were diverted to a previously unknown Gate in the Antarctic ice. There are several significant deviations from that incident, the most important of which is that the interruption in that case was at initiation, and not after a wormhole was already established."
"So you don't know what caused it?" Woolsey summarized, and frowned. "Does this mean Colonel Sheppard is--"
McKay huffed an impatient sigh. "No, we know exactly what caused it -- a massive interruption by something that intersected the wormhole path for approximately seven picoseconds, moving extremely fast, and was capable of responding to the transmitting Gate in such a form that the transmitting Gate accepted the closure of the wormhole and registered the transmission as successful."
He looked around the room and shook his head. "In other words, a traveling Gate."
"Like on a Goa'uld vessel?" Lorne said intently. "Can you identify where the interruption happened --"
"We are ahead of you on that," Zelenka said when McKay's lips just narrowed. "Sergeant Campbell has been running long range scans for the areas indicated by the data. However, seven picoseconds -- this is a very short time, and implies that the vessel was traveling extremely fast. Probably a significant fraction of light speed, if it was in fact in real space-time at all, and not traveling in a dimension which allowed the intersection to occur in some other manner."
"Translation: we don't know anyone with ships that travel that fast in n-space," Rodney jumped in. "If it was a spaceship, it's nothing we've seen before. Wormholes do not exist in normal space-time, except at the Gates, which force an n-space aperture. Otherwise, they exist in their own..." he hesitated, "I'll call it a dimension, although that tragically misrepresents the actual underlying reality, but since only myself and Zelenka can even keep up with the idea, I won't waste my time."
"Thank you, Doctor McKay," Woolsey said, inclining his head in acknowledgement. McKay eyed him suspiciously, but Richard was genuinely relieved that McKay had refrained from trying to explain high science concepts in what was meant to be a debriefing session.
"So, not the Goa'uld, then," Lorne said, and McKay glanced at him.
"Not unless they know something we don't. Which isn't all that likely, all things considered."
"Agreed." Lorne leaned back a little, and asked, "So, alien vessel of unknown origins kidnapped Colonel Sheppard?"
"Possibly accidentally," Zelenka said quickly, "In fact, almost certainly accidentally--"
"You can't know that!" McKay snapped.
"The odds are--"
"Unlikely but that's *just* the kind of odds that Sheppard gets every roll of the dice!"
"--astronomically against! Rodney!"
"What difference does it make?" Lorne asked hastily, which didn't seem to improve things the way he had apparently hoped for.
"If it's deliberate then the Colonel may have survived and arrived at his new destination intact," McKay said tersely. "If not..." He threaded his fingers together then jerked his hands apart sharply. "Bam."
Zelenka dropped his eyes to the table, and after a few seconds, McKay sat down and stared at his tablet.
Lorne frowned. "Are there any Gates in the neighborhood of this theoretical intersection point?"
"The nearest Gate is P7G-KR5," Doctor Kusanagi said, barely looking up from her computer. "It would take twelve days in a puddlejumper to reach the intersection point."
"P7G-KR5 is a known Wraith base," Lorne said after a moment's checking. "There's no way we could risk a puddlejumper in Wraith territory for that long."
"Agreed," Woolsey said reluctantly. "I will notify the SGC when they dial in tomorrow, and ask them if they can send an alternative ship, or if the work on the Daedalus can be speeded up. In the meantime, we will operate on our best case scenario, and continue monitoring the area where the wormhole was interrupted."
"Could it have been a Wraith vessel that disrupted the wormhole?" Teyla asked.
"It's a Wraith system," Ronon agreed, "bound to be them."
"It would be a complete departure from the known behavior of the Wraith," Lorne said with a frown. "We've never heard of them incorporating the Gates into the hive ships."
"Doesn't mean they couldn't," Ronon said.
"Well they *could*, but they didn't. What part of 'no known vessel' are you missing? Not Wraith, not Goa'uld, not Asgard, not--"
"We take the point, Doctor McKay," Woolsey said hastily. "So we have a new player in the game?"
"Possibly. Probably. The point *is*, whoever they are, we need to find out what happened, whether it was deliberate, and how to stop it ever happening again."
"And retrieve Sheppard," Ronon said sharply.
McKay rolled his eyes, "That was what I said." He looked around the room. "If that's all," he said tersely, "then I'd like to get back to work."
"Of course, doctor," Woolsey said mildly, even though McKay was already on his feet and halfway out of the room. "Please keep me updated." He took the vague wave of McKay's hand as agreement and dismissed the rest of the meeting.
"Major Lorne, a moment, please?"
Lorne paused on his way out of the meeting room waiting for Woolsey to finish picking up his various bits and pieces.
"I assume you're prepared to carry on in Colonel Sheppard's absence," Woolsey said briskly.
"Yes, sir," Lorne said readily. It wasn't a particularly surprising request, but that didn't make it any easier.
"How will this affect morale?"
Lorne didn't need to think, "Everyone will be eager for action, sir. Just say the word."
"Hmm." Woolsey looked less than convinced. "Well, keep me informed," he said finally, and Lorne nodded again.
"I'm sure you have thing s to be getting on with," and Woolsey headed purposefully back to the office over the Gateroom. Lorne scratched his head, and turned on his heel for the nearest transporter. Depressing, but not hopeless, was the take home message, he figured. The marines would be champing at the bit to go after whoever had stolen the Colonel, which would make its own problems if this went on for too long.
Still, McKay was a good bet for pulling off the impossible in extremis, and Zelenka was solid if McKay faltered.
He headed over to his office, next door to Sheppard's and much tidier despite the considerable migration of paperwork downhill onto Lorne's desk. He was going to need to check over the rosters, make sure there would be enough men for any rescue mission, without keeping everyone on edge for so long they became useless.
Teyla stepped back from Ronon and bowed her head, waiting for him to respond. He tried to steady his breath first, then ducked down to offer the touch of respect to her.
"You are angry."
"We should be going after the Wraith, not fussing about protocol and data logs."
"It is not fussing," she said calmly, and he turned away, and punched the wall. "Do you feel better?"
"No," he snapped, and then took in another deep breath. "We should be--"
"Doing. I know. The good hunter knows where to wait; he does not chase the prey, he allows it to come to him." She guided him out of the training room onto one of the ubiquitous balconies.
"Which is why we should be out there," he said sharply gesturing up at the sky and the stars beyond it. "And I'm not the only one who thinks so. The Marines are just as eager for action."
"We will, as soon as we can. What good would you or even you and what, eight Marines and I? do against an established Hive ground? How would we help Colonel Sheppard when we do not even know he is there?"
"More good than we're doing here, listening to the scientists and doing *nothing*!"
Teyla shook her head thoughtfully. "This is not like you. Colonel Sheppard will be saved. If Rodney has to bend time itself to make it right, he will."
"That's not fighting."
"It's a different battlefield, Ronon, not a lesser one. You know this, what is the matter?"
Ronon looked away. "This time I *can* do something, and we're just sitting here."
"We have done something on many occasions. This is something more. Something else."
"I don't want him to --"
Teyla stopped, and touched her palm to his cheek. "To be lost?"
He looked away, and she could barely hear him when he spoke again. "I -- I could have done more. When the Wraith culled Sateda. I could have saved more people. I could have insisted. I could have made her come with me."
"Ahh. And you could stop her doing her job?"
"I should have acted. And now she's lost."
"And we should act, so that Colonel Sheppard is not lost also?"
"And if a two day wait allows us to reach the Wraith base sooner than leaving the moment it became a possibility?"
Ronon grunted. "You really think they'll send another ship? For one man?"
Teyla smiled wryly. "I think Doctor McKay is not to be underestimated."
"If, that is, you'd actually added the notation in the first place," McKay said. He cut the words out one by one, holding a dozen more behind his teeth by main effort.
"Here!" He shoved the screen at Zelenka. "Look!"
The notation regarding the hemiflex launch was not there. "I definitely put it in," Radek said. He pulled off his glasses and rubbed at his eyes tiredly. "I remember this clearly. I do not understand--"
McKay looked at him assessingly, blue eyes red-rimmed but unclouded, the mind behind them weighing faith against evidence; trust against loss. Faith won. "You're tired, Radek. Get some sleep, and I'll --" he paused for a long moment. "I'll think of something."
It wasn't like him, and Radek hesitated.
"You should sleep too, my friend," he said, a tentative hand on Rodney's shoulder. Rodney looked away, blinking fiercely, and Radek stared at the wall, because Rodney's face was so transparent. "The SGC dials in tomorrow. You should be rested for that." They both knew the conversation with the SGC was going to be tedious at best, and probably frustrating and fruitless.
"I'll lose that fine edge if I start sleeping now," he said gruffly, and Radek sighed.
"No more than three days without sleep, my friend," he warned, and Rodney chuckled under his breath.
"Underachievers," he said, and patted Radek on the back. "Go. I'll see you in eight hours."
Radek looked at him dubiously but Rodney wasn't taking no for an answer, and he ruthlessly used his height and strength to push Radek out of the lab. "Tomorrow."
"Tomorrow *you* will sleep, if I have to send Major Lorne to drag you out of lab."
"Yes, yes, beddy-byes for good little scientists," Rodney waved an encouraging goodbye, "Nighty-night." Radek growled, but Rodney shut the door in his face, and not even thumping the door sensor would open it again.
"Oh, my friend," he said, and rested a hand against the door for a moment. The hum of the city was suddenly loud in his ears, and he leaned against the door wearily. He hadn't sat down in hours, his back and feet ached; he could smell himself over the stifled smell of a closed environment. No sea breezes.
He didn't move, drooping with tiredness, his shoulders slumped, his eyes closed against the cool metal of the door.
"Doc?" A hand touched his shoulder and he couldn't help but be cheered by the touch, so little against so much. "You okay?"
"Yes, yes," he straightened, squaring his shoulders and pushing his glasses back on, the same gesture shoving his hair (too long and shaggy) back off his face. He felt oddly exposed, almost awake. "I am heading to bed," he said, with a wry sort of smile that the Marine returned.
"Need a hand on the way, sir?" she asked, and he shook his head, but didn't shake off her hand. "Not a problem." She called in softly to the Gateroom, reporting her position and self-appointed charge, and tugged Radek along with a hand on his elbow. "Let's get you home, sir."
"Thank you," he glanced across for her name, looked up again, "Lieutenant Mahoney."
"Not a problem, Doctor Zelenka," she smiled. "The Major asked us to be available for you guys."
Ah. Zelenka forced himself to take in his surroundings, and found two more soldiers standing sentry outside the lab. "Is not necessary," he said.
"No, sir. This way."
He found himself in the mess with no clear idea of how he'd gotten there, and Mahoney settled him at a corner table. "I'll get you some food, sir."
She didn't ask what he'd like -- it was pretty much irrelevant. He stared tiredly at the bowl of mystery stew, prodded a couple of lumps with a fork. The soft stuff would be plant matter. The tougher, animal. If it was served, it was ... nutritious. At least, sufficiently so that biosciences and the kitchen had put it on the tables. He took a mouthful. He'd had worse.
"I hoped we would not have to do this again." he said, mostly to himself, and was vaguely surprised when Mahoney spoke.
"Am not your superior officer. Call me Radek."
"Yes, sir," she smiled, and took another mouthful of the stew. He hadn't even noticed her sit down, but she was eating with him and somehow, that was good. "Sir?"
He blinked, and realized he hadn't answered her question. Also, she hadn't called him by his given name. He smiled, and took another mouthful, and then the food hit his stomach and for a while all he was interested in was wrapping himself around as much stew as he could swallow.
"Damn, hungrier than I thought," he murmured.
"I can get more, sir?"
"You are not my personal servant, Lieutenant," he said, waving her away from his tray. "And I do not --" he stopped to yawn hugely, and when his eyes reopened, Mahoney was up at the line, refilling his bowl, and adding some pudding.
He was only really half awake when the lieutenant finally steered him to his quarters, and left him to pass out, fully dressed, on top of the covers.
He got all of five hours sleep.
The first thought was that he was comfortable. Warm, the mattress just the right sort of solidity and springiness beneath him, and the coverings warm and cocoon-like around him. It was bizarre enough that his eyes snapped open.
Bright light filled his eyes.
"Slow down," someone said, and he blinked, clearing his vision. A man a little younger than himself was leaning against the wall near John's bed, hands stuffed into the pockets of his suit jacket. He took in the rest of the ensemble, and blinked again. "You took quite a crack to the noggin there," he said cheerfully, "You'll have a headache for a while yet."
"Thanks." He had been able to ignore it up to that moment. "What happened?"
"TARDIS got herself caught in an ion storm. Possibly." The man shot a narrow eyed look at the wall and added, "Or she thought it would be interesting to beat up a descendant of the Alterans. You are a descendant, aren't you?"
"Not intentionally," John said, somehow feeling defensive about a race that he'd not really come to like all that much himself. "I had no idea until I sat down in the wrong damn chair."
"Ah. I see." The Doctor, if anything, looked grimmer. "And what precisely are you doing back in the Pegasus Galaxy?"
"That's classified. Sir." He really wasn't happy with this whole conversation, and come to think of it: "Why are you holding me here?"
"Holding you? No, nothing like that!" He looked positively upset for a moment there, even taking a couple of steps forward, hands spread wide as though in earnest of his good intentions. Then he paused, head cocked as though he knew John was getting ready to jump him. "Well. Something like that, obviously, because I clearly can't send you back until I know what you people are up to out here: nothing good came of the last time you were allowed free rein in a galaxy."
"What do you mean, 'you people'."
"Alterans. You're at least fifty percent pureblood, and, hmm." He sniffed thoughtfully in John's direction, wrinkled his nose then sneezed. "Excuse me. Yes. Human and Alteran, definitely. Curiouser and curiouser. I thought we'd put a stop to all that."
John could feel the blood draining from his face. "What do you mean, fifty percent?"
"Mum -- or Dad, I could be wrong, though I'm not often wrong, but it does happen. But I'm pretty sure it was your mother. She was a full blood Alteran." The dark eyes were bright with interest and compassion. "You didn't know. I'm sorry. She must have had her reasons. But you must see, I can't just let you go running around like it doesn't matter that the Alterans are up to their old tricks again."
"Was that a question?" He didn't quite dare ask 'what tricks', not when this alien seemed to have a grudge against whoever had given him the ATA gene.
"Did you have an answer?" The man seemed genuinely interested, and then disappointed when John mutely shook his head. "Never mind. Breakfast?"
"No. Take me back." He swung his legs out of the bed and stood, arms folded. "Where are my clothes."
"Oh, somewhere," the Doctor said, with a vague wave at the room. "She's probably put them away, or found you something else. Either way, you'll find something in the wardrobe."
"That's not the point."
The Doctor blinked at him. "No? Lack of clothes. Wardrobe. Couldn't get much pointier without adding spikes."
"This is ridiculous! I have to go back. I'm needed in At-- at home."
"In Atlantis. Mmm. Yes, you said when you got here," the Doctor said. His face was not exactly unfriendly, but John felt his spine straighten. This man, however inane and bumbling an image he chose to cultivate, felt *dangerous*.
"See, here's the thing, Colonel, I was all set to take you back there, and the TARDIS flatly refused to go. And she hasn't done that in a long while. A long, long while. Admittedly, it could just be temperament, she didn't like getting hit by a wormhole."
"You mean your ship's broken?" and a moment later, "I thought you said it was an ion storm?"
The Doctor looked shifty. "I wouldn't say broken, per se, more... uncooperative."
"Whatever you call it, you can't -- or won't -- take me there?"
"Yes. And while she's sometimes temperamental, she usually has her reasons, so tell me, John Sheppard of Atlantis. What have you been doing in the Pegasus galaxy?"
Woolsey had tried, he really had, but McKay was something of a force of nature and pitted against mere human etiquette prevailed on all fronts. He winced as McKay started yelling at the SGC command team again.
"I don't *care*, you have more than one ship!"
"Rodney, there are no ships available," Carter enunciated with far more patience than anyone else in the conversation still could manage. Landry looked as though he was two insults away from an aneurysm. "We can't just pull them off duty whenever we feel like it?"
"Why not? You would if it was O'Neill."
"That's not the point, McKay. We don't have them to spare. They aren't here."
"And what if the Ori decide to turn up on Earth's doorstep? What good will all your warships be if you can't even produce them to defend the home planet?"
"That's why they're staying here. Daedalus is in the yard getting overhauled, Apollo is in high orbit around Earth, Odyssey is on a mission, and no, I can't bring her back just for one man, McKay, they're going after SG-7."
McKay's lips thinned, but he didn't explode, much to Woolsey's surprise. "Fine," he said. "I'm going to need to talk to the Canadian representative of the IOA. Immediately."
Carter spread her hands and shook her head. "There's nothing she can do that we can't, Rodney. We just don't have the physical capability to--"
"I heard you the first time," he snapped. "I need to speak to Joyce Li. Now."
"I. Don't. Care."
"Doctor McKay, there's no need to --" Woolsey stopped dead at the glare that McKay leveled at him. "There is really no need for threats," he said, but the pause had been too long and McKay had already dismissed him as no longer relevant to the battle. In the background, Landry was expostulating at Colonel Carter, while Doctor Jackson appeared to -- Woolsey frowned. Jackson was on the phone.
Landry leaned in, and snapped, "This is a clear abuse of resources. McKay, I'm making a formal complaint against you for your behavior and abuse of position."
"Whatever," McKay said, "now where's Li?"
"Here, Doctor McKay." An elegantly dressed woman walked into the meeting, and turned the pickup to face her. "The Apollo was kind enough to beam me over. Now, what's the fuss?"
"Colonel Sheppard is missing and these jackasses can't spare a ship to go looking for him for another six weeks. God knows where he'll be by then."
Li raised an eyebrow at him, "You require an alternative ship? Are you sure?"
McKay nodded sharply. "Yes, I think it's that important," he said firmly. "If you like I'll make it a formal request?"
"I think that would be best, if you don't mind?"
"Fine. The Torchwood Institute is formally requesting the presence of the Valiant for search and rescue duties in the Pegasus galaxy."
Li actually smiled at him. "I will notify UNIT. And, thank you, Doctor."
"Just send her quickly," he told her. He looked at Landry and Carter, both of whose jaws had dropped, and added, with the faintest hint of a smirk, "Thank *you*, Ms Li."
"I think we both have some urgent conversations to handle, Doctor -- I'll let you deal with your end of things."
McKay scowled. "More idiocy. Fine. I'll expect to hear from Captain Jamieson. Atlantis out."
"You can't just--" Woolsey protested, but too late, the link had been cut. "Doctor McKay. This is a very serious breach of the rules governing employees of the SGC."
Rodney rolled his eyes. "My role at Torchwood has been on file my entire career. It shouldn't be a surprise to anyone."
"We were -- you allowed us to believe you were inactivated."
McKay shrugged. "That's not my fault. You could have asked at any time and I'd've told you. Although it was much more convenient to manage things this way. And it has to be said, as organizations go, they've never been very good at honesty. Or full disclosure." He paused thoughtfully, "Or letting the right hand know that the left hand existed, but that's a problem for another day."
"Doctor McKay!" Woolsey rarely raised his voice, but this was beyond everything. "Are you seriously telling me that you have been reporting to Torchwood the entire time you've been in Atlantis?"
"No." Before Woolsey could relax, he went on, "I'm part of Torchwood Canada, so technically, as long as I keep a log of what I do, I've been reporting since I was about eleven years old."
"You tell Torchwood--"
"Oh, like the SGC didn't know. All those alphabet spaghetti agencies and intelligence services and what have you. And besides, the last six years I've been mostly reporting to myself."
"They discourage freelancing, but ... I have a very long leash. Also, I wrote their containment and security protocols, so it's not like they could do much about stopping me if they wanted to."
"Stop!" Woolsey's jaw muscles were starting to lock up from the sheer shock and anger. "Just. Stop. This is not a joke."
"You think I think it's a joke? You think I seriously just dumped all interest in helping my country when I signed contracts with the SGC? When I'd was half raised by Mike Tenna and his team in Torchwood Eight after you people tried to have me seized by the CIA?" McKay folded his arms and glared straight back at Woolsey, seemingly as angry, for far less cause.
"You were operating as a double agent--"
"Don't be a hypocrite, Richard," he said flatly.
"What?" Woolsey sounded genuinely shocked.
"You're on the IOA -- don't tell me you've never used that, or your position here, as leverage for US interests?"
"That's my job!"
"Well, this is mine!" Rodney sat back down. "Nothing has changed. You always knew about this -- I just never--"
"Never rubbed my face in it?" Woolsey said wryly, and settled back into his seat as well.
Rodney had the grace to redden somewhat. "I don't often get the chance to pull something like that, you have to admit."
Woolsey sat as well, and shook his head, but when he looked at Rodney he was smiling faintly. "You realize that we won't let you pretend this never happened, Doctor McKay?"
"Yes, yes, whatever. The point is, we can go get John now."
"So. The Valiant?"
Rodney grinned faintly. "When the SGC were laughing at the UN for daring to build an interstellar capital ship, founder nations of UNIT were supporting it with technology and manpower."
"You gave them the plans for the Prometheus."
"Oh please. Nothing so crude. I contributed to the engines, weapons and shielding, all of which," he said with a smirk, "are covered under the agreement for equitable data sharing with my home nation. Someone else entirely was responsible for the ship design." He pulled a disgruntled face. "If *I'd* been involved, it would have been a damn sight prettier. But it works. And it's not based on alien technology that we don't fully understand."
Woolsey eyed him, and McKay looked away shiftily. "It's based on alien technology we *do* understand?" Woolsey guessed, and McKay shrugged.
"Partially." He looked up and met Woolsey gaze squarely. "Now, are you going to arrest me or go looking for Colonel Sheppard?"
"We can start looking when the Valiant gets here," Woolsey gave in. "The political mess is Li's problem now."
"And she's going to make my life hell for it," McKay acknowledged. "Oh well. At least we're *doing* something," he added. "Now, if that's all, I have actual work to do before they get here."
"We're peaceful explorers--"
"We only fight to defend ourselves." Sheppard folded his arms and held the alien's eyes. "You have no idea what we've had to deal with out here."
"You're right. I don't. But I guarantee you I've seen worse. Who have you been fighting?"
Before Sheppard could answer, the lights flickered, and the Doctor frowned. A faint shudder seemed to run through the floor, and his frown deepened.
"That lot out there don't seem to be very pleased to see you." The Doctor waved behind him, and Sheppard hesitated. "Aha! I knew it. Who are those people and why are they shooting at me?"
"That depends where we are," Sheppard temporized, and the Doctor half smiled.
"Made *that* many enemies, eh? Well, we'd better see if you can identify these ones for us, and then we can decide what to do about them." He pushed the wall, and revealed a closet door. "Follow the lights once you've picked your outfit, they should take you back to the control room."
Sheppard thought he heard, receding into the distance, the Doctor's voice saying firmly, "Now, remember, bring him to the control room. I don't want to find his desiccated corpse in the further reaches of this place twenty years from now, understood?", but sincerely hoped he was mistaken.
He found a loose white button-down and some gray trousers that looked almost like BDU pants, but were in a fabric he couldn't identify. There were, of all things, a pair of red Converses, and he stuffed his feet into them, wishing he had his combat boots back.
Roundels in the wall lit up when he left the room, and soon enough he was walking into the great domed room that housed the central control panels. He fleetingly wished he could see the ship from the outside, wondering how the almost organic lines and repeated circular themes translated to the outside, and then caught sight of the view screen.
"Oh shit," he said.
"Old friends of yours I take it?" the Doctor said dryly.
"Wraith. What kind of weapons does this thing carry?"
"Weapons?" The Doctor looked around, as though puzzled, then dug into a pocket. "I have this."
"And that is..."
"A sonic screwdriver."
"A screwdriver. That's it." Sheppard said flatly.
"And what's up in here," he added brightly, tapping his head. "This and my old sonic screwdriver have got me out of more messes than you can imagine." He considered the statement, then with the air of one aiming for scrupulous veracity, "Technically, they've got me *into* a few too. But I think I'm still ahead on points."
"How fast can this TARDIS go?"
"Fast isn't exactly the right word-- Oh!" The Doctor's eyes widened. "Telepaths! I didn't know there were telepaths out here."
Sheppard took a step back, hand reflexively going for his weapon -- long since gone. "You can hear them?"
"Yes, of course? Can't you?" The Doctor seemed to be listening to some distant sound. "Oh dear."
Sheppard took another couple of steps back. He couldn't see anything that would work as a weapon if the Wraith managed to take this guy's mind over, but failing all else, he could run. There had to be someone else on a thing as huge as this place.
"Lantean!" the Doctor snarled, his eyes going black for a brief moment, and then he shook his head sharply. "No, thank you," he said in an entirely normal voice, "no circulars or junk mail." His eyes scrunched tightly shut and Sheppard waited tensely. Worst case scenario he reckoned he could probably take the guy out -- he was wiry but not in fighting trim.
The Doctor slumped forwards, one hand propping himself on the TARDIS console.
"Just a momentary--" he grunted, as though he was going to throw up, "momentary disagreement--*ow*--on *ownership*." He shook his head sharply. "Just got to--" He slapped himself sharply on the left ear twice and blinked his eyes back open. "There. That's better."
"Oh, it's quite safe," the Doctor said cheerfully. "Just didn't want to let them rummage around in my head. Not a good plan."
Sheppard snorted, "Can't disagree with that. They've been trying to get to my home world ever since they stole the knowledge from us."
"Really?" The Doctor shook his head. "Aliens and you lot. Like catnip."
"More like chum," Sheppard corrected grimly.
"Chum? Like friends?"
"Chum like an all you can eat buffet."
"Oh. Oh dear. Well, that's not very friendly."
"Friendly isn't the word that springs to mind, no."
"Have you tried talking to them?"
"They've not really been the chatty sort."
The TARDIS rocked, and they both stumbled, catching themselves on the main console. They looked at each other, and in a moment of complete understanding, Sheppard held out a hand.
"Colonel John Sheppard. Friends call me John."
"Friends call me the Doctor."
"Really? That doesn't sound friendly."
"Much friendlier than 'oi you!'."
"Point." The TARDIS rocked again and Sheppard said abruptly, "We could go some place else."
"Good point." The Doctor gripped a long lever and pulled, slapped his other hand onto an apparent snow globe and spun it. "Here, make yourself useful, grab that." He gestured at what appeared to be a bicycle pump.
"Seriously?" Despite himself he couldn't help the incredulity coming through.
"Yes, come on, no shilly-shallying." The Doctor's enthusiasm was infectious as he bounced around to another side of the console and moved levers and pressed buttons with apparent abandon. Sheppard shook his head, and joined in the madness.
"Hello!" the Doctor said cheerily. He smiled widely at the circle of drones and Wraith warriors surrounding them. "Lovely day, isn't it?" He breathed in deeply -- nothing quite like fresh air on a new world. Although, the air could have been a little fresher.
"I'm telling you this is a really bad idea."
"Ignore my friend here, he's such a pessimist. Hello, how are you, lovely to--" he held out his hand as the circle spread open and a tall female Wraith stalked down the middle.
"If you don't mind, my knees aren't what they were, I'll just --"
"I said kneel!" the Wraith woman roared, and beside him he saw Sheppard stumble to one knee. He reached a hand and gripped his elbow.
"No need to shout about it," he said, "Upsydaisy. Now. I'm the Doctor, and my friend is--"
"We know your friend. My sisters have met him before, have we not, Colonel Sheppard?"
"Seen one Wraith Queen, you've seen 'em all. Even the blue and purple hair isn't new," Sheppard said with admirable insouciance.
"Nicely said," he complimented, and Sheppard grinned at him.
"Anytime you want to rush headlong into total insanity, I'm your guy."
"I can tell that. Where was I? Oh yes. Wraith! Lovely to meet you, I just wanted a quick chat about--"
"What *are* you?" the Wraith Queen asked, hissing around what looked like exceptionally sharp teeth. She walked slowly around the two of them, eyes hot and hungry. "You look human, but you don't smell human."
"Well, I wouldn't, would I? Not being one. Now! Talking of smell," he breathed in deeply. That tang to the air, almost human but not quite. Not mixed with Lantean this time. "There's something very odd about you." He sniffed the air again, trying to identify that elusive scent. "Oh, you're not right." The Doctor frowned.
"Right or wrong, you'll do well enough," the Wraith Queen smiled cruelly. "Hold them!"
Two drones dragged a struggling Sheppard back, and another two seized the Doctor and held him as the queen approached. "Do I call you your majesty? Or is it more of a hive mind thing? Oh! That's *it*! Insect! Of course! You've got something of an insect theme going around here, tell me are you the only--"
"Silence." And the Wraith Queen slammed her hand onto his chest. "*Two* hearts," she said a second later, "how delicious." And threw her head back, face ecstatic with pleasure.
"Mr. Woolsey, Major Lorne, we have a vessel on long range scanners." Campbell's voice rang out in the quiet Gateroom. It had been three long days since Sheppard had gone missing. The scientists hadn't definitively reached any conclusions, and the waiting was killing everyone.
"Any ID?" Lorne straightened from his perch on the railings overlooking the Gateroom as Woolsey emerged from his office.
"Not yet, sir," Sergeant Campbell said, looking between the two of them. "It's not registering as anything we've seen before."
"Call Doctor McKay to the Gateroom," Woolsey said with a grimace. "His cavalry appears to have arrived."
McKay appeared minutes later, looking exhausted, his hair on end and his eyes red with lack of sleep.
"What now?" he snapped.
"I believe we have the UNS Valiant on long range scanners," Woolsey said surprisingly kindly.
"Really?" He leaned over Chuck's boards and traced the trajectory, then started pulling as much data as the scans would allow. His shoulders slumped.
"Yes, it's the Valiant. I'm going back to bed. Wake me in six hours. They should be in hailing range by then."
"They're already in subspace range," Campbell offered cautiously.
"Which would be lovely if our subspace and theirs was compatible, but feel free to hail them."
"UNS Valiant, this is Atlantis. UNS Valiant? This is Atlantis, do you receive?"
"Yes because doing that unencrypted across subspace was such a good--" he had to stop to yawn, and then carried straight on, "idea, hmm?"
"Hello Atlantis, this is UNS Valiant, receiving you loud and clear," a woman's voice came back, Canadian accented and clear as a bell.
McKay scowled, and Lorne had to look away to hide his grin. Campbell ducked his head, and Woolsey, with the aplomb of the born politician, leaned in and said,
"Welcome to the Pegasus Galaxy, ma'am. You've made good time. I'm Richard Woolsey."
"Thank you, Mr. Woolsey, this is Colonel Stacey Jamieson of the UNS Valiant. I hear you needed a hand."
"Yes, thank you, Colonel Jamieson. We're looking forward to meeting you."
"It'll be quick, Mr. Woolsey, I'm afraid," the colonel said politely. "We're planning on as fast a turnaround as possible. We'll come in, pick anyone up who's coming, and get going as soon as possible, if you don't mind. I understand that we're already a few days behind whoever took Colonel Sheppard."
"Is that the dulcet tones of Doctor Rodney McKay?" The woman's voice sharpened into painful sweetness, "Why, Rodney, dear, if I'd known it was you I'd've brought more oranges."
"Stacey, as unfunny as ever. I know you missed me, try not to overcompensate. Now, I need to send some charts and data sweeps to your navigation people."
"Charming as ever."
Rodney grinned. "I do my best. Are you just going to witter on or get on with watching the road?"
"A pleasure as always, McKay. Atlantis, we'll see you shortly."
Chuck glanced up at Woolsey. "They've ceased transmission."
Woolsey nodded. He glanced over at McKay, clearly contemplating calling him on his manner to Colonel Jamieson, but seemed to abandon the idea. Not without regret, judging by the flicker in his eyes.
"What's the ETA on the Valiant?" Lorne asked, hoping to divert attention before Woolsey did something they'd all regret.
"Another six hours," Campbell said, then looked up at McKay, puzzled. "I don't see why, they made it between galaxies in three days, what's taking them so long to cross the solar system?"
McKay shrugged. "They have to be at least a ninety light minutes away from a star before initiating the drive or exiting the transit point, which slows things down for them. At sublight, they're limited by the usual laws of physics, and can't make better time than most ships. Otherwise they'd've been here a couple of days ago."
Lorne blinked. "Why don't we have that technology?"
McKay picked up his tablet, and started tapping at the screen, transparently dodging the question. "I'm going to check in with Ronon and Teyla, make sure we're ready to go as soon as the Valiant gets here. You might want to check the marines are ready, too," he added, giving Lorne a dubious look.
Evan just rolled his eyes. "Thanks for the tip, McKay. I never would have thought of it without you."
"Well. Good. Good." Lorne knew better than to take that at face value. McKay was reacting to Sheppard's absence, it wasn't anything to do with Lorne's actual abilities. It would have been nice if McKay hadn't said it in front of the entire Gateroom, if only because he could already see the military guys starting to stiffen up.
He was halfway around his usual run when his radio chirruped. "Dex."
"Ronon, the Valiant is here," Teyla said. "Rodney is -- anxious that you not 'miss the boat'."
Ronon snorted. "I'll be there and ready to go in twenty minutes. Which is more than you can say for him."
Teyla laughed. "Rodney is enjoying berating his staff for now. They are making sure he has plenty to keep him occupied until we leave."
Ronon grinned. He'd seen McKay's staff managing him, and he'd seen the amusement on McKay's face when his staff started 'managing' him. The science department would be fully occupied for hours.
"Don't let anyone kill him," he said to Teyla, and cut off the transmission.
He got there five minutes later, which was worth it solely for the look of relief on McKay's face, closely followed by a tirade on timekeeping.
"Got a watch," Ronon said mildly. "Any time I'm late, you or Teyla tell me the time."
Muffled snickers around the Gateroom suggested that Ronon was not the only one who had noticed. McKay glared at him.
"Take this," was all he said, passing along a huge canvas holdall filled with things that clanked. "And this." A second bundle was pushed towards him.
He hefted it onto his shoulder, and said, "Is that all?" McKay looked at him narrowly, and Ronon almost spoiled the game by laughing.
"Put them in Puddlejumper Three and come back."
Ronon nodded, and hauled the bundles up to the puddlejumper bay. The Marines were organizing large quantities of armaments into the puddlejumper.
"How many of you are coming with us?" he asked.
"Half," one of the Marines said and shrugged at Ronon. Ronon shrugged back and headed for the Gateroom.
"Where are you going to put the Marines," he asked Lorne, who shook his head.
"We're hoping the Valiant has space for us."
"You're coming, too?"
"Wouldn't miss it," he said deadpan. "I'm not letting you guys have all the fun."
"We'll try to leave some Wraith for you. Surprised he," Ronon jerked a thumb towards Woolsey, "agreed to send you."
Lorne shrugged. "We had to send someone, and McKay felt I was the best person for the job." He smiled crookedly, "At least, I think that's what he meant."
They grinned at each other, and turned in unison when they heard McKay.
"Are you people ready or just lollygagging?"
"Been ready for days, McKay," Ronon said.
"Did you put the equipment in Puddlejumper Three?"
"Yes. Stop panicking."
"I'm not panicking, I'm making sure we have everything *before* we leave."
In the background communications with the Valiant reopened. Chuck directed them to the West pier where Woolsey, Teyla and the first of the Marine contingent were waiting.
"Shouldn't we be going?" Ronon said.
"Why didn't anyone tell me?"
"Telling you now."
McKay turned on his heel and stalked out of the Gateroom up to the puddlejumper bay.
"You coming with us?" Ronon asked Lorne, who shook his head.
"I'll see you on the Valiant. I don't think I want to get trapped in close quarters with him like that."
"He's just fretting."
"I know." Lorne stepped back, and waved a sloppy wave cum salute at Ronon. "See you on the Valiant."
Ronon nodded, and jogged up to the puddlejumper bay, in time to be sitting in the co-pilot seat before McKay could start again.
"You ready?" McKay asked quietly, and Ronon dropped a hand on his shoulder.
"We'll find him."
Rodney visibly straightened, and looked over at Ronon. "Yes. We will." He started the puddlejumper and added, his eyes firmly on the HUD, "Thank you."
They exited the jumper bay and second later were requesting, and receiving, permission to join the Valiant. They touched down lightly in one of the cargo bays, and headed out to join everyone else.
"Mr. Woolsey, Ms Emmagan," Colonel Jamieson shook hands with Woolsey, and smiled at Teyla.
"Welcome to Atlantis, Colonel," Woolsey said, "And thank you for coming to Colonel Sheppard's rescue, we--"
"Oh, that was more or less an excuse," Stacey said frankly, openly admiring the towers and spires of Atlantis. "We'd heard she was beautiful, but --" She smiled. "Words don't do her justice."
"We appreciate your help, nonetheless," Teyla said firmly. "We are ready to start at your convenience."
"You're very welcome," she replied politely, and then grinned at her. "You've been spending too much time with Rodney, I can tell. But you're right, time is of the essence." She took a swift look at the ranks of military neatly lined up behind Woolsey. "Best to get everyone on board and get moving. We can discuss details while we're in transit."
"Excellent," Woolsey said. A dark haired man came up beside him, probably Major Lorne, Sheppard's second. "Colonel, this is Major Lorne, USAF and acting commanding officer here. Evan, Colonel Jamieson, officer commanding UNS Valiant."
"Ma'am," Lorne said, saluting sharply.
"Major." Stacey returned it, and went on, "If you'd like to start getting your people on board, I'll introduce you to my XO, Major Alexiadis. The two of you can start to coordinate action plans once we're moving."
"Sounds good, ma'am." He turned to the Atlantis military and relayed the instructions. She listened for a moment or two, but he was as good as she'd been told, and the soldiers were moving in short order up the ramp and on board, with all their equipment.
"Mr. Woolsey, it's been a pleasure. Hopefully we'll see you in a few days. Ms Emmagan, shall we?"
"Thank you, Colonel." Teyla smiled as Stacey gestured for her to precede her onto the ship. ""Please, call me Teyla."
"Then it's Stacey, please." They threaded through the Atlantis military contingent, "We're going to set up temporary accommodation in the second cargo hold for most of you, but we've found some space for you and your team."
"Thank you, but that's not necessary," Teyla began. Stacey interrupted her.
"It's my pleasure. Also, I'm not spending the next week listening to Rodney complain about having to sleep on the floor."
"You have met Doctor McKay before?" Teyla didn't sound entirely approving, and Stacey considered her reply carefully before speaking.
"Up this way, Teyla. Rodney and I were both involved in some of the later meetings regarding the role of Valiant."
Teyla's eyebrows rose. "I was not aware that he had any --" she stopped herself, and said instead, "I understood he was principally concerned with the development of the engines and weaponry on board."
Stacey blinked. "Is that what he told you?"
"Well, that's awkward," she said, and opened a door on the left. "Through here and then second door on the left."
Teyla opened the door, "These are to be my quarters?" She looked around the tiny room, taking in the pictures on the walls, and the uniform hanging neatly in the open closet. "Surely this is someone else's room?"
"We don't have much space, so you'll be hot-bunking, I'm afraid. Switching out with the night watch officer," she clarified at Teyla's inquiring look. "We can't afford to have dead space if we can avoid it."
"Doctor McKay is next door to your left, and Mr. Dex to your right."
"Thank you, I appreciate that," Teyla said with a smile, and Stacey smiled back. "Is Doctor McKay on board?"
"Moretto tells me he and Mr. Dex arrived a couple of minutes ago. They should be on their way here shortly."
Teyla laughed. "Assuming Rodney does not get distracted on the way."
Stacey joined in laughing. "Yes, that's true. He has been on the Valiant before, but not while she was in flight. Talking of which, we should get underway. If you would like to join me on the bridge?"
Teyla put her bag neatly under the bunk, and turned. "I would be delighted. Thank you."
Rodney dumped his bag on the bed, and looked around the tiny room. Last time he'd been on the Valiant they were still finishing the crew quarters, and this whole area had been a skeleton of girders and wires. He half smiled, and patted the plastic covered wall. "Much prettier than the SGC's whales," he said, and headed for the main conference room, confident that if the meeting wasn't there already, it would be.
Lorne and another soldier were already in there, heads bent over the maps of P7G-KR5 and its solar system.
"We need better maps," the stranger said. "These are hopeless."
"Which is why we brought the puddlejumper," McKay said. "Doctor McKay."
The stranger stood and held out his hand, they shook briefly. "Major Alexiadis, Colonel Jamieson's XO."
"Where is she, anyway?" McKay said, pulling the maps over towards him. "We really ought to be getting on with sorting this mission out, not faffing around admiring the ship."
"Faffing around? That sounds more like you. You must be projecting again, Rodney," Stacey Jamieson said cheerfully. As she walked into the room, Alexiadis and Lorne both rose to their feet. "At ease, gentlemen." Rodney brightened as he caught sight of Teyla and Ronon following her into the room. "So, Rodney. No one's killed you yet? They must really need you out here."
"Hah! Contrary to popular belief, they like me around here."
Alexiadis looked like he was suppressing a horrified look only because he was facing Rodney. His eyes flickered to Lorne momentarily, who shrugged back.
"Oh, quit that," Rodney said. He settled into a chair. "It's only going to come back on you one of these days, and I'm too busy right now."
"Do we have everyone we need?" Jamieson said briskly. No one spoke up, and she went on. "We have about 23 hours before we arrive. I suggest that we put together a tentative plan of attack, get some sleep, and start fresh tomorrow."
"Sounds good to me," Lorne agreed. He glanced at Alexiadis, who conceded the floor with a wave of his hand.
"Mike and I have some ideas," He looked at Jamieson, who nodded for him to go on. "P7G-KR5 is the fourth planet in a twelve planet system. It is the only one habitable for humans and Wraith; the others are either largely gaseous, or have extremely hostile atmospheres that would do damage to anything that stayed there long term."
"How long term?" Ronon asked.
"A couple of days. Possibly less for Wraith ships?" Lorne looked at McKay, who stared thoughtfully at the tablet.
"Probably less, yes. Considering their organic components any seepage would be extremely hazardous to the operation of the ship's systems. Possibly as little as a couple of hours." He looked around the table, "Not that they would let that stop them if they were expecting an attack."
"Agreed, it's a great place to set up an ambush, which begs the question, do they know we're coming?" Jamieson looked expectantly around the table.
Alexiadis leaned forwards. "We need to plan as though they do know. If they have Colonel Sheppard they can reasonably expect that Atlantis will do everything in their power to retrieve him."
"We don't know that the Wraith have him," McKay said sharply.
"I think for now we'll operate on the basis that they do have him," Jamieson said calmly. She looked seriously at Rodney. "I hate to think of anyone in the hands of the Wraith but in a way, it's our best shot at retrieving him."
Rodney tried not to let everything he thought go straight across his face, but judging by the uncomfortable way Stacey and her XO looked away, he hadn't really succeeded. "You don't know what the Wraith are like, or you'd be hoping he was somewhere else," he said, then stopped himself. "Never mind. Where are we coming in to the system?"
"Behind the shadow of the eighth planet. That's well outside the limit for the engines, and we can probably make reasonable time from there to P7G-KR5. Mike?"
"We thought approach under cloak, and send in a cloaked puddlejumper, get a good look at the Wraith base. Sweep for Sheppard's sub-cu, get as much data as possible, then regroup to plan."
"We need to go to the intersection point where the wormhole got cut off," Rodney said. He had a horror of finding John's frozen body floating there, dumped out of the wormhole, and left to suffocate, but they had to look. "We might get more information about whoever took him," he added, trying to sound as though he had never for one second entertained the thought that John might be dead.
Teyla's hand pressed over his for a moment, and she spoke up, "The more information we have, the better."
He smiled at her briefly, grateful for the support.
"What sort of weapons do you carry?" Ronon asked abruptly. "If it comes to a firefight with a Wraith hive--"
"If it comes to that, I believe we will not have too much difficulty defending ourselves. It's extracting someone from an intact hive ship that will be the problem," Jamieson said easily. Rodney half smiled. The Valiant had been designed to handle anything that the universe could throw at it. Short of a Dalek horde, the Valiant would hold its own.
Alexiadis spoke up, tapping his computer to bring up a diagram of the solar system. "Major Lorne and I have developed two alternative scenarios, one for an attack on the groundside base, using stealth infiltration techniques, and sending a small extraction team, and the second for an extraction from shipboard, predicated on immediate overwhelming force, disabling the ship's systems as fast as possible, and searching in force."
"Good. Let's start with the shipboard scenario," the Colonel said intently. "Numbers and people?"
"At least two teams, each accompanied by a scientist familiar with Wraith tech. One to the nearest point to Colonel Sheppard if we can pinpoint him via subcu, and one to the bridge. Eliminate as many Wraith as necessary to allow the science teams to disable the vessel and secure the bridge and cocoon areas."
"Major Lorne and I have put together three eight man teams, a mix of personnel, and we would want to have each accompanied by a scientist from Atlantis, I assume Doctor McKay, and two of his science people who are familiar with Wraith tech."
Rodney nodded. "Myself, Zelenka and Kusanagi." He wasn't going to think about what he was committing them all to. He'd asked for volunteers on Atlantis, and practically everyone had offered to come. He'd picked the most experienced, and none of them were under any illusions about the risks. "I'll let them know to report to you, Major. Majors."
"Thank you, Doctor McKay. We can go into more detail once we know which scenario we're dealing with, and I've set up meetings to brief team members. We'll use smaller teams for the ground assault, and the personnel requirements are slightly different, but can I assume we can take the same science team members?"
"That's fine," Rodney agreed. "Stacey, I'd like to get started on prepping for scanning the system. The more information we have, the better."
"Agreed," she said. "And, McKay?"
He paused by the door. "Yes?"
"We'll get him back."
He nodded, and headed for the bridge, unconvinced.
"I am not persuaded," Zelenka shook his head. "This, and this, certainly, they are ship trails. The ionization pattern is quite distinct."
"Wraith. Hardly surprising, given the location," McKay agreed.
"True, yes. But this?" Zelenka tapped at a line in the map that Doctor Kusanagi had generated from the scan data. "This does not match the emissions of any known vessel or spatial phenomenon."
"Known being the key word here," Kal Brozovsky pointed out. "It could be something entirely new, some other spacefaring life form."
He got glares from Zelenka and McKay for his trouble, but went on regardless. "The particle trace indicates that they are decelerating, but the point of origin -- if the intersection with the wormhole really is the point of origin -- would imply that they emerged at supra-light speed. Which is impossible. I still think--"
"Hyperspace does not leave such a marker," Miko said firmly, "This was not a hyper footprint."
"It's the only explanation!" Kal snapped.
"Unless the point of origin was temporally shifted," Miko said, not for the first time.
"Not possible!" he shouted back, and slapped the computer shut. "You can't break the laws of thermodynamics like that! Conservation of energy is paramount!"
"Shut up," Rodney said, almost absently. "Miko, what would the temporal point of origin be?"
"If -- Doctor McKay, I cannot be sure, but--"
"Spit it out."
"Eight to twelve centuries in the future." She blinked, visibly relieved to have got the worst of it out. "The particles then show rapid but not complete deceleration, until they clear again at point omega."
"When they started time traveling again," McKay said flatly. "According to your hypothesis."
"Or entered hyperspace," Zelenka observed, even as Kal Brozovsky spluttered.
"Where is your evidence?" he snapped. "A sufficiently advanced technology might be using hyperspace in a different way, or even using a different level of hyperspace. There's no need to invent time traveling aliens just to get around your own lack of imagination!"
"Doctor Zelenka, correct me if I am wrong, but I believe that nothing in classical or quantum physics forbids time travel, correct?" Doctor McKay's voice was painfully, excruciatingly polite. Miko and Radek both winced. Miko picked up her computer and took a quiet step back.
"Quite correct, Doctor McKay," Zelenka said, and peered over the top of his glasses at Brozovsky. "Am surprised you do not know this."
"I am aware of the implications of--"
"And moreover, I seem to recollect that I *personally* notified Torchwood of at least five incidents of time travel which I have either participated in, or been directly affected by."
"Indeed, Doctor McKay has been most punctilious in his reports," Zelenka agreed. "They are a pleasure to read."
"Thank you, Doctor Zelenka."
"Temporal travel is nonsense! It's not possible! The paradoxes alone would--"
"It *seems* Doctor Brozovsky has not fully comprehended the realities of time travel."
"A symptom of small mind. Probably also small--" Zelenka made a small but definitive gesture which made Miko clap her hand over her mouth to hide a shocked giggle.
"Perhaps he has only recently joined UNIT," Miko offered.
"Then, he should shut up when those with more experience explain reality."
"I've been in the taskforce nearly a year!" Kal said, starting to look a little nervous. "Surely someone would have--"
"Oh dear," Zelenka said, and then added, "Assumptions. Never a good idea in secret organizations. If they told all they would not be secret, yes?"
McKay ignored the exchange, "Either the travel has always been part of the events, in which case there is no paradox, or the travel does not affect subsequent events, in which case." McKay paused, hand held out for audience contribution.
"There is no paradox," Miko said obligingly along with Zelenka, and found herself exchanging a grin with him. It was kind of fun working with Doctor McKay sometimes.
"Or, there is a potential paradox, and either the universe splits into alternate time streams, or the universe implodes in temporal paradox. Now, we are so far able to demonstrate the existence of alternate time streams, and we have traveled in time. Handily, by a stunning coincidence, we are still in existence, so I'm going with theory number one, since the universe hasn't imploded yet."
"Yet could be the sticking point," Zelenka murmured, not quite quietly enough.
"Yes, yes, and when we all die from temporal paradox I will let you say you told me so, should there be an afterlife in which we are able to a/ communicate, and b/ care about such things."
Zelenka grinned. "To have such opportunity, is tempting to practice for Ascension."
"Be my guest, but I won't be joining you. Waiting for the heat death of the universe with nothing to do but admire the rainbow effect of black holes on galaxies would probably lose its charm after the first few million years."
"Always so negative," Zelenka complained gently, and they grinned at each other, and turned in unison to Brozovsky.
"Fine. It might be temporal," he conceded dourly.
"Thank you!" McKay said. "Now, if we can move on to locating the time traveling son of a bitch and rescue Colonel Sheppard, that would be just peachy."
John woke slowly. From the way his head was aching, and the blur to his vision he was probably nursing a concussion -- a conclusion confirmed when he automatically touched the back of his head and found a sticky, tender knot at the base of his skull.
"You're lucky they didn't kill you."
John rolled his head to his left to see who was talking. He was still fuzzy on the details, although he was pretty clear on how this was a Hive holding cell. The smell was distinctive even if he couldn't pick out the fine detail on the architecture. All he could see was a dark haired blur, and the movement itself turned out to be a really bad plan. His stomach twisted and he spent an unpleasant few minutes coughing and choking through its attempts to expel every meal for the last month.
The woman's voice faded back into reality eventually, "Is it just the head injury?"
He spat and swallowed a couple of times, then cautiously righted himself to a sitting position, away from the bile. "Just?"
"Are you ill?"
He slowly lifted one hand up close and peered at it. It was trembling with the effort, and worse, lined and spotted with age. He let his head rest back against the cell wall and closed his eyes. Drained of life. Again. He rested his hand on his chest, his fingers finding and tracing the outlined handprint there.
"They didn't take it all," he said slowly. He didn't know what that meant, but it could be nothing good.
"They tried," the woman said in a whisper.
John froze. How would she know if she wasn't one of them, or worse, one of their human worshipers?
"They're still trying with your friend, but they can't," she went on, softer yet. "What *is* he?"
He shook his head slowly; he wouldn't tell her if he knew, but he wasn't about to tell her that he didn't know. If he could string her along for a while, maybe he could get some useful intel. He snorted quietly at himself. Sure, and then he'd bust out, rescue himself and get back to Atlantis -- all before he died of old age.
"It doesn't matter," she said quickly. It threw him a little -- it wasn't on the Wraith worshipper script to just abandon information gathering. Though maybe now came the snuggling and the offer to have sex or help him escape. He smiled, feeling as though every muscle in his face creaked and strained with the effort. A little snuggling would be good. He was cold.
"They're completely obsessed with him," the woman went on. "They haven't taken a single person from the cocoons or cells since they threw you in here."
"Wraith worshipper," he said, and stopped. He couldn't believe how much effort that had been. Just getting two short words out. He wasn't entirely sure he could spill all if he had wanted to.
She didn't answer at first, then, in a very low voice, she said, "You don't know what you're talking about."
There was a whole rant just waiting to happen, about Wraith worshiping villages, and women who tried to seduce him to the dark side, and collaborators with the enemy, but it was just beyond his reach, somehow. So cold, and so very tired.
His eyes reopened slowly. She'd been buzzing at him more and more urgently and loudly, and he couldn't ignore her any more. He drifted up into reality and blinked at it. Reality fucking sucked. He'd been dreaming of home, curled up on his own bed, wrapped up in warm arms. And he had to wake to blue tinged, ice cold hell.
"Fuck off," he mumbled, and let his eyes slide shut again.
"Wake up!" she snapped. "Your friend is coming back."
He blinked his eyes open, and blinked again, harder. The woman was in the next cell along from him. The Doctor was walking under his own steam into John's cell, complaining at every poke and jab from the Wraith drones.
He stumbled into the cell and it took a moment for him to register John, or perhaps a moment to comprehend what had been done to him. But a moment after that the man was kneeling at John's side, a gentle hand on his shoulder.
"'S me," John agreed, and aimed for a smile. His face still ached, and he figured it was either age or he'd gotten a beating at some point that he didn't yet remember.
"Don't worry," was the next thing out of the Doctor's mouth, and John started to laugh breathlessly. "That's the ticket," the Doctor said encouragingly, which hadn't really been what John was going for at all, and he shook his head slowly.
"Used to think... Ronon was crazy ... optimist." The Doctor was leaning in close. "You... worse," John said firmly, and chuckled under his breath -- all the breath he had to spare gone.
He didn't really register the next few minutes, more talking, a high pitched whining noise, and then he was being hoisted onto his feet, two people chivvying him along. It took a moment to parse why that was a bad thing, and then he remembered.
"Wraith worshipper," he warned the Doctor. "Not safe."
"Don't worry," the woman said softly. "You'll be fine. I promise."
He shook his head, and would have tried to break away from them except that their arms around him were pretty much the only things holding him up, and he was moderately sure he couldn't fight his way out of a wet paper bag.
"Not safe," he reiterated, and the Doctor tightened his grip.
"Don't worry," he said to John, "I know what I'm doing."
It wasn't entirely convincing, but he was in no state to complain. A few minutes later he could hear the woman on his right breathing hard. They had a quick exchange of words over his drooping head, mostly arguing about whether or not it would be safe to leave him where they were and come back, or whether they should keep him with them. The woman offered to stay with him, and he shook his head.
"Save... selves," he said, and managed to look up meeting first the woman's eyes, and then the Doctor's.
"I'd rather save everyone," the Doctor said mildly. "My ship isn't far from here, I can feel it."
"And I can feel the Wraith closing in on us," the woman said insistently. "We need to hide him and move faster. We can come back for him later."
The Doctor sighed. "Nope. We're all going or none of us will."
"You're crazy!" she cried, and the Doctor actually laughed. In the middle of an escape, in the middle of the Hive ship, he laughed.
"You just say that because you don't like my plan," he said cheerfully.
"Plan? There is no plan!" she snapped. "You're just going to get us killed!"
"Nope, *that's* not in the plan." He shifted and turned John so they were facing. "Do you trust me?"
John forced himself to look straight into the Doctor's eyes. He'd seen a lot in his years. He'd looked into the eyes of the dead and the dying, into the eyes of mass murderers and rapists and creatures so inimical to his life that he truly believed his only choices were kill or be killed. Some of those eyes had belonged to friends; some to enemies.
He couldn't even begin to parse what he saw in this man's eyes.
He nodded, once.
"We have a hit planetside on Colonel Sheppard's subcutaneous transceiver."
Rodney looked up sharply at the young NCO who'd just announced he'd found John. "You're sure?"
"Sir." The NCO swung back a little from his console, and gestured for McKay to take a look for himself. A fast sweep of the data, and Rodney felt like breathing for the first time in nearly a week.
"Good work," he said, and downloaded the proof to his tablet. The transmitter responded only to specific signals, and only if specific conditions were true. John was alive.
The whole ship seemed to move a little faster, look a little more optimistic. They were going to bring him home.
"Has someone notified the wonder twins?" Rodney said, and a ripple of laughter ran across the bridge.
Jamieson tapped her radio to the command channel. "Mike, Major Lorne, you should see some good news scrolling across your tac boards about now."
"Loud and clear, Captain," Mike Alexiadis replied, a grin in his voice. "We're updating right now, and should have a revised mission proposal across your screen in ten."
"Good to hear, Colonel," Lorne said almost the same moment, and Rodney found himself smiling, even if it was only briefly.
"Briefing in one hour, main conference," Jamieson said, "and boys? Try not to go too death or glory on me?"
"Aye, aye, captain!"
"Sir, yes, sir!"
She clicked off the channel and stood. "Rodney? A word?"
Rodney walked over, his good humor falling away in a second. "Colonel?"
"Walk with me?" She didn't pause for an answer, and headed off the bridge to her small private office.
"You seriously need to cut back on your Star Trek intake," Rodney said as he sat down. First rule: deflect and divert. His stomach was already churning with what he expected to hear.
"Rodney..." Stacey paused, took off her beret, and set it to one side in the table between them. "I can't in good conscience let you go down there."
"You can't send anyone else," he countered immediately.
"You're an asset we can't afford to lose or--" she raised her voice over his immediate protest, "or one we can afford to have taken! What if they take the knowledge of the engines out of your head? Or the shields?"
"What if you need knowledge only I have, while our people are down their risking their lives for my -- for Colonel Sheppard."
He gritted his teeth. That was a slip she could not and would not ignore. And she didn't.
"They turn a blind eye to US code of military justice violations out here, don't they?" She sounded sympathetic, and that was, to be honest, worse than having strips torn off him for being stupid enough to get involved.
He shrugged. "As long as we keep winning, they won't touch us. The second we fuck up, they'll hang us out to dry so fast you'll wonder how we beat you guys home."
She pursed her lips. "There's a faction that wants IOA oversight ended, and a UN council assigned."
"Swap one committee for another?" He grimaced. "I know. And I ... the reasoning isn't wrong." He shrugged. "But the moment it happens, the cat is out of the bag."
"Or vice versa," she said. "The second the cat is out of the bag, the IOA may find itself with some very difficult questions should it choose not to allow UN oversight."
"I know." He stared at his hands. "Getting you out here was the first stage."
He glanced up, and caught her satisfied look. "You knew?"
"I suspected." She settled back in her chair, folding her hands on the table in front of her. "If we've learned anything in the last four years, it's that time isn't a luxury we have any more. We *have* to be ready."
Rodney blinked twice, and Stacey laughed. "The more we have on our side when the moment comes," she went on, "the better our chances of surviving the panic and recriminations that will follow."
She smiled slyly at him, "But you know this, too."
Rodney shrugged. "Whatever I may know in my capacity as former head of Torchwood Canada is irrelevant to my current role in Pegasus."
"Are they that different?"
Rodney sighed. "We could be here all night and I still couldn't give you a straight answer." He leaned forwards. "But I *am* going down to the planet's surface, and I am bringing back John Sheppard, whether you like it or not."
"I can order you confined to quarters."
"You can order it all you like," he agreed genially. "Getting it to stick could be a problem. I helped build this thing."
She huffed a laugh, shaking her head. "You've changed, McKay."
He paused for a moment, and shrugged. "Yes. And?"
"I'm still processing 'and'," she said. "In the meantime, you have a go. Just don't get killed or it'll be my ass on the line next."
"You'll love managing Torchwood Canada," he said as brightly as he could manage and she bared her teeth at him.
"Git, McKay, before I change my mind."
The Doctor peeked around the corner cautiously, and jumped back just in time to dodge the stunner bolts that poured down the hall at him.
"They aren't very friendly," he said, rather offended. "I spent hours talking to them, and this is the way they repay me?"
"Maybe they don't like your jacket," the woman he'd rescued with Sheppard said.
He flashed her a quick smile, "There's nothing wrong with my jacket. M&S best, this is."
The woman looked quizzically at him. "Wherever it is from, they clearly are not admirers." She leaned forwards to take a look. "I don't see anyone."
"Hmm." The Doctor looked around, then rummaged in his pockets. He settled for the bag of jellybabys rather regretfully -- they'd been with him a long time -- and gently tossed them down the hallway.
A barrage of weapons fire turned the whole place bright blue. "Any idea how long they can go on firing?"
The woman shrugged. "I have never seen one stop before either they or the target is subdued."
"Oh dear." The Doctor frowned. "I suppose we'll just have to subdue them, then."
"How?!" She seemed rather agitated by the idea.
"Oh, I'll think of something. In the mean time, probably better if we don't walk into their trap."
"You amaze me," she muttered, and the Doctor grinned.
"You'd be surprised how many people would be surprised," he said cheerfully. "Now, let's go find another route."
She hauled Sheppard to his feet and gripped his arm firmly over her shoulders. "Keep up," she said fiercely, but her hands were careful, and she moved only as fast as they could both manage.
"So, who are you?" she said as he added his strength to the task of moving Sheppard.
"I'm the Doctor."
"What's your *name*," she repeated, as though he'd missed the point of her question, and added, "What sort of doctor?"
"Oh, this and that," he said. "And, not *a* doctor, the Doctor. And you?"
"Leni Havrar," she said tersely.
"Good to meet you, Leni."
"Less chat... more run?" Sheppard said from between them, and Leni rolled her eyes.
"Because you're up for a nice long sprint through the Wraith compound," she said sourly.
"I thought I'd find somewhere to hide the two of you and go--"
"Not *happening*, Doctor," Leni said. "We already had that argument, and just, no. Besides," she tugged them both across the corridor and opened an unseen door, "You need me." She pulled them both inside and closed the door behind them.
There was a cot to one side of the room, and they settled Sheppard on it.
"What did they do?" the Doctor asked.
"You don't know?" she said incredulously, and he shook his head.
"He was fine when they separated us."
"They drained him -- like every other decent human being in the galaxy."
"They -- the 'Wraith'?"
"*Yes* the Wraith, where the hell have you been living?"
"Not here," the Doctor said absently, heading over to crouch by Sheppard. "What do they do?"
"No, the process, how do they drain, what do they do? What do they get from it?" He lifted one eyelid, then the other. He picked up Sheppard's left hand and examined it carefully. "He appears to have aged dramatically-- is this normal?"
"That's what the Wraith do," Leni said. "They come to your planet, and steal people, steal their lives and dreams, drain it all away until you die. Better dead than this. Normal? That's not normal," she gestured at Sheppard. "Normally they leave a corpse. A skeleton wrapped in skin and sinew, sucked dry."
"Really?" He pinched the back of Sheppard's hand and let go, watching in fascination. The man didn't even twitch, his eyes mostly closed, his breathing barely perceptible. "How extraordinary." He turned a sharp look on her. "I notice they didn't do that to you."
She laughed hollowly. "You don't know, Doctor."
"What, Leni? What is it I don't know?" He stood up and slowly walked towards her. It wasn't exactly threatening, but she took a couple of steps back nonetheless.
"They do what they want," she whispered. "They take it and they give it back, and you'd --"
"What? What would you do, Leni?" he asked and there wasn't a hint of the accusation she'd expected, as though he'd never thought, never even considered the words 'Wraith Worshiper'. Her eyes flooded with tears.
"Anything," she said, helplessly. "You'd do anything for a breath of hope." Her eyes closed and the tears spilled down her thin face.
"Then what, Leni. Maybe I can help?"
"You can't. Not unless you kill the whole hideous generation of them. Every last Hive and nest." She scrubbed fiercely at her face. "Can you do that? Obliterate them? Unmake them and everything I --" She stopped dead, biting her lip hard.
"Did you make them like this," he said quietly.
"Did you offer to come here? Did you agree to what they did to you?"
"Yes!" Her voice was rough with pain. "In the end, yes! I agreed to anything, everything, if only they'd let him go, and let me live."
"Ah, Leni," he said, compassionately. "That's not you. That's them. The Wraith?" She nodded, and he gently brushed a hand over her wrist. "This was their doing."
"I know that!" she said.
"You have to forgive yourself," he said, even more gently. "You're the only person who can, you know?"
She shook her head. "My betrothed," she said, slow and pained, the words dragged out of her. "I gave him up to the Wraith, and he died. They came, through the Gate at first, and we fought, oh we fought so hard, Doctor. So hard. But then more came, and more, and more, pouring through the Gate, and then their great ships came, and culled every living being. They killed us all; everyone died. He came to save me -- he knew the planet would fall and he came, and I wanted to stay and help, and they blew up the clinic, and he died. He died." Tears were running unhindered down her face. "I should have gone--"
"You survived the blast?" he said.
"Not a scratch." She swallowed her tears and wiped her face almost angrily. "So don't tell me I'm the only one who has to forgive me, because he never will."
"But you said you wanted them to let him go?"
Her head jerked up. "I--"
"He's alive, isn't he? You both left the planet alive, in a Wraith ship?"
"No -- I, I don't know. I... but--"
He scowled. He'd already worked out they were telepaths, but this was... horrifying. No wonder he'd frightened them, when they looked into his mind, and couldn't read it, couldn't feed. "They put shadows in your mind. Lies and shadows and fear." He grimaced in disgust.
"When they feed, what do they do?"
She looked startled by the change in topic. "They put their hand--" She reached out to hold her hand just above his sternum, then jerked her hand back as though shocked at herself, rubbing her palm compulsively on her skirts.
"Was *that* what they were doing?" he said, his worst suspicions confirmed. "I did wonder what all the fuss was about."
"They--" she reached her hand out and snatched it back again. "But--"
"Looks like it doesn't work on everyone," he said cheerfully. "Must have been quite a shock when the food wouldn't behave itself."
"What *are* you?"
He considered her for a moment, then said, "I'm a Time Lord. The last Time Lord, to be precise. And apparently, immune to Wraith. Which is, you have to admit, rather fortunate in the circumstances."
A smile twitched at her mouth. "That's it," he encouraged. "Never say die, and all that."
She looked down at Sheppard, and said sadly, "I think he will die, quite soon."
"Really? I don't think we want that to happen, now do we? Not if we can avoid it. You said they take and give back?"
She nodded, "But Doctor, they will not--"
"They will," he said flatly, and she fell silent. "If I have to bring the Shadow Proclamation here myself, I will." He fished the sonic screwdriver out of his pocket, and started poking around at the side of the door. "But it shouldn't come to that. There we go!" He pulled the gap he'd made wider, and then stuck his hand in. "Fond of their organic technology, aren't they?" he said, looking at his goop covered hand. "Never mind. First things first, fix the good Colonel, then, find my ship and Bob's your uncle!"
Leni looked at him as though he'd lost his mind -- also not an uncommon reaction, he'd found. "Are you feeling quite well, Doctor?"
"Yes, yes, never better --" he turned back to face her, his hand still stuck inside the wall. "What exactly do they do with all that energy?"
"It is their food, they live on it. It powers their ships, heals their wounds, gives them immortality--"
"Aha! I knew it! Take this!" He handed her a small gooey blob of something, "Don't worry, it's a node, and I think I know how to reprogram it, I just need--" He shoved his arm in up to the shoulder, and Leni stared in fascinated horror. "Nothing to it. Reminds me of birthing a cow. Not that I ever birthed a cow myself, but there's always a first time." He held his other hand out, and when she just stared at it, said, "The blobby thing, quick as you like, lovely, thank you." He wrapped his hand around it carefully -- at first she thought he was squeezing it flat, but while goo trailed from his hand to the ground, not bits emerged. His hand opened abruptly and he was gasping for breath. "Lovely, now, let's just pop you back in--" he suited action to words, and slid both hands out. "Perfect. Well. Time we were going, I think."
"Doctor, what did you do?"
"Told them to ignore us. I think that will do for now."
"Help me up with the Colonel." They hauled Sheppard back to his feet. "Now, we just need to find a Wraith to donate a bit of energy, and he'll be back to his old self, and we'll be all set."
"They won't do it, Doctor, you're not listening, I--"
"I'm listening," he contradicted her, "you're wrong, but I'm still listening. Now, back to the TARDIS, and we should be able to get out with no harm done."
He opened the door, peeked out and then hauled all three of them down the corridor towards the TARDIS.
"Say you're right. What about the other humans here?"
The Doctor looked away. "I can't save everyone."
"You mean you won't even try."
They hurried around a corner: the corridors were deserted, and at the far end was the TARDIS.
"Nearly there," the Doctor said encouragingly. Sheppard was hanging between them, unmoving, "You just need to stay with me a few more minutes and--"
Right in front of him the air shimmered, twisted, and solidified into a group of soldiers who instantly aimed their weapons at them.
"No..." Leni said hopelessly.
"Hello! I recognize those hats!" The Doctor grinned and took a step forward. "UNIT!" He frowned, "You're a bit off your regular beat," he added. "I don't suppose you were looking for our friend here?" He indicated Sheppard unconscious between them, and looked up expectantly.
"Release him immediately!" snapped one of the soldiers, "Put Colonel Sheppard down and step away! You, too, ma'am--"
"Oh, now, don't be like that," the Doctor said rather plaintively. "He'll get cold, and right now that's the last thing he needs."
"Sir! Put him down or I will fire!"
"You aren't very well trained," the Doctor said. He'd got used to UNIT and Torchwood people recognizing him on sight. "What year is it?" he asked, but got no reply. "Never mind, I'm the Doctor, and this is Leni, and if you'll just let us through, I'm going to fix your Colonel and you can have him back, good as new."
The soldier tightened his grip on his weapon, clearly ready to fire, but unwilling to do so if it injured the Colonel. Whether he liked it or not, and no matter how benevolent his intentions this was turning into a hostage situation.
"Look, if you don't let us through, he'll die," he said, and all around the guns came up a little higher. He rolled his eyes. "I *mean*, he is dying right now, and if you let me through I may be able to save him!"
"Let him through!" someone said sharply, and he hurried through the hole that opened in the wall of soldiers before him, then stopped dead. The corridor was about twenty feet shorter than it had been minutes ago. And the TARDIS was nowhere in sight.
He looked around, just in case it had secreted itself in some nook or cranny, but no. The corridor seemed to have grown a wall, and the TARDIS was on the wrong side of it.
"Oh dear." He turned back to face the group of soldiers and found himself practically nose to nose with a very irritated looking man.
"What do you mean, oh dear? And what's so important through here that you had to stand and stare at a blank wall for five minutes?"
The Doctor blinked. "Not that it was five minutes, but is this really the time?" He nodded over the man's shoulder. Everyone turned, and saw three Wraith drones approaching.
"Now, hold on a minute.," he said hastily as everyone raised their weapons again. "Give me a minute." He let go of Sheppard, saying, "Leni, keep an eye on him, and make sure no one moves him until I'm back."
He winced as the soldiers opened fire, and hurried, scrabbling in his pocket for his sonic screwdriver and pointed it at the nearest wall. If the building could move itself around like that, then the chances were it had been doing it all along, and the place was a lot smaller than it had seemed.
His excited exclamation was obliterated by the rattle of gunfire as the wall shivered, and then opened up reluctantly, leaving gelatinous streamers hanging between the two sections.
"Come on!" He shook the nearest soldier's shoulder and jerked his head towards the opening when the man turned around. He saw the comprehension in the soldier's face, and breathed a sigh of relief, then turned to help Leni with Sheppard but the angry man had slipped his shoulder under Sheppard's. "I realize you're having fun," he shouted over the weapons fire, "but can I make a suggestion?"
"McKay, come in!" Lorne hissed into his radio. It hadn't been his idea to send Atlantis' CSO off with a handful of UNIT soldiers and three from Atlantis, but somehow McKay had not only managed to get his own way, but have his team be nearest to Sheppard's signal. The plan had been that Lorne and Alexiadis' teams would deal with the Wraith and the extraction, and Phillips' team would be backup, with McKay safely out of the way, but available to fry as much Wraith tech as humanly possible before they all beamed out. And then Sheppard suddenly started wandering all over the grid.
Either Sheppard's sick, or he's in a maze of twisty passages, all alike, McKay had said, when he'd seen the tracking. A couple of the scientists had giggled, but Lorne had just rolled his eyes. They'd made the best call they could when Sheppard seemed to stop moving, but somehow, the two primary extraction teams were on the wrong side of the maze, and McKay wasn't responding.
"McKay! Phillips! Come in!"
"Hello?" A total stranger came onto his frequency and he immediately cut the signal.
"Radios are compromised," he said to Teyla. "Pass the word." She nodded and turned instantly to the nearest soldier. Presumably that meant McKay had been taken, which was exactly why the man should have stayed on the damn Valiant. Now he was going to explain losing the pair of them to Woolsey.
"Hello?" He pulled the radio's earbud out, and looked at it. He was sure he'd switched it off. He turned it off again, and it promptly switched itself back on again. When he put it to his ear the man was still talking.
"--it would be really rather helpful if you'd just answer, you know? I'm not going to do you any harm. I've got your Colonel quite safe, and Doctor McKay and--"
Lorne let the man burble in his ear, and covered the pickup with his hand. "McKay and Sheppard have been seized by an unknown party. Contact Alexiadis on a different frequency, we're going to have to regroup. We need to localize the transmission: get Zelenka on it."
Teyla nodded and walked several steps away before tapping her radio. A moment or two later she was beckoning to Zelenka and began murmuring urgently to him. Zelenka tugged his tablet free, and hooked it to the LSD that one of the ATA soldiers was holding. Lorne let them get on with it -- they'd tap him if they needed him. For now, he needed more intel.
"Who is this?" Lorne said cautiously.
"The Doctor. And you are?"
"Is that important?"
"Well, I did give you my name." This Doctor character seemed quite put out by Lorne's lack of manners.
"So you did," even if it did sound more like an evil mastermind's pseudonym than a name. "I'm Major Lorne."
"Another soldier? UNIT, Major? "
"Who's UNIT?" he asked, gesturing at Lieutenant Bourke to listen in. She nodded, and started scribbling onto her PDA to capture the data and distribute it as fast as possible. "And why are you holding two of my friends hostage, Doctor?" Lorne asked, not allowing the man to distract him.
"Hostage? I think you've got the wrong end of the stick entirely. I'm rescuing them." This Doctor person definitely didn't like having his motives questioned -- he sounded indignant, which would probably be something to try leaning on.
"Of course you are, Doctor," he backtracked. Teyla was tapping his arm urgently, and he put a hand over the mic again. "Yes?" he said softly.
"Major Alexiadis says if he's calling himself 'the Doctor' he may be an ally."
Lorne's eyebrows went up. "Seriously?"
Teyla nodded with a slight smile, and returned to Zelenka's side. Lieutenant Bourke grimaced.
"Apparently intergalactic spacecraft and entire international alien taskforces aren't the only thing they were keeping from us, sir."
Lorne rubbed a hand over his face. "Great." He uncovered the mic. "Doctor, where are you?"
"Not far from you," the man said cheerfully.
A moment later Teyla and Zelenka were at Lorne's elbow, faces anxious.
"I have localized signal," Zelenka said quickly. "They are maybe twenty meters away," he gestured at a sidewall, "There is no route through. It's crazy! Walls, corridors -- nothing is stable! Every time I have lock, poof! It is gone!"
Lorne nodded, and tuned back into the Doctor, "--coming through any minute now."
"What?" he managed to get out before the wall Zelenka had pointed at shivered, and opened in front of their startled eyes. He raised his weapon, then caught sight of first McKay, half carrying an old, old man who wasn't wearing Atlantis uniform. He badly wanted to believe it wasn't the Colonel, but the look on McKay's face killed hope that a-borning. An unknown woman was helping McKay, and next to them, another rather over-excited looking man in an incongruous blue suit, the arms dripping with Wraithship goo, wielding something that looked like a cross between a multi-tool and a vibrator.
"I think if you can, you should probably head back to your ship," the Doctor said.
McKay was already shaking his head, "We need to find the son of a bitch Wraith that took his, took --" He swallowed and went on. "We need to get him back. He'll die if we don't."
Lorne eyed the pair of them, and shook his head. "The Colonel would have my head if I let you run around this place on your own."
"Leave Ronon and Teyla then," he said, chin tilting up dangerously. "I'm not going back without at least trying to fix him."
"Does it have to be the same Wraith?" the Doctor said, and looked around the group. McKay started to speak, then shrugged.
"I don't know," he said.
Leni shook her head, "I don't think so. It never seemed to matter--"
"Now, who are you?" Lorne said dubiously.
"I found her in the cells with Colonel Sheppard," the Doctor said, a little too fast, and Lorne frowned.
"Another Wraith worshipper making nice with Sheppard," McKay snapped, "I might have known."
The Doctor's face darkened even as Leni's fists tightened. McKay took a step back, and looked at Lorne.
"Ma'am?" Lorne said mildly. "Is that right?"
"You have already made up your minds. There is no point--" She stopped dead, her face blanching to the color of weak coffee. She stumbled backwards, a hand out.
Lorne whirled, sure he would see Wraith feeding on his men, but only found Alexiadis' team, Ronon shoulder to shoulder with Mike Alexiadis, approaching.
"Leni?" the Doctor said urgently.
"Ronon," she mouthed the word. "It's Ronon. Mother of Sateda, Ronon!"
Ronon stood stock still. "Who are you, woman," he snapped. "Don't lie!"
"It's me, it's Leni? Ronon?"
He shook his head. "You're dead."
"This is all very touching, but we really don't have time for it," the Doctor said, somehow the only person not transfixed by the scene before them. "Leni, I take it this is your fiancÚ? Lovely, delighted to meet you, yes, she's alive; yes, he's alive, yes you're both really real, congratulations, what part of 'Wraith are capable of telepathic compulsion and illusion' were we not paying attention to?" He snapped his fingers. "No dilly-dallying, we need to move!"
"Mostly, we need a lot fewer people," McKay snapped straight back. He waved at the score or so of people crowded around them. "How many do we need for this?" he asked the Doctor.
"Two for the Colonel--"
"That's me," McKay said swiftly.
"And me," Leni said. At the doubtful looks she straightened her back. "I know this place, you will need me."
"We have the LSD and --"
"And thank you, Leni, love to have you along, any more?" the Doctor asked. "No?"
Teyla, Lorne and Ronon stepped forward, as did most of the extraction teams.
"This is ridiculous," McKay said, "Lorne, pick three. Teyla and Ronon are coming too, obviously, I don't know whose idea it was to split us up in the first place," he grumbled a little more quietly -- but not much. "That leaves you with one."
Lorne shook his head. "Fine. Phillips, take everyone else back. Mike?"
"Wouldn't miss this for the world," Alexiadis said. "Running through an alien space station with the Doctor? My mates are going to be green."
"Glad to have you along," the Doctor said, looking rather pleased than otherwise. "Now. You lot, off, while we fix the Colonel."
"Aye, aye, sir," Phillips agreed, with a crisp salute, and called the Valiant. A moment later only the eight of them were left.
"Are you well, Ronon?" Teyla asked quietly as they hurried through the corridors to what McKay said was the main generator for stage one of the plan.
Ronon kept snatching glances back at her. Leni. Melena. He shook his head. "Later," he said. "I need to be here, not there."
"Are you here, Ronon?" she asked seriously.
He glanced down at her, so small and so strong, his warrior sister. "I will be," he said firmly, and her face cleared.
"Good. And later, I will be glad to meet your Leni."
Ronon felt a smile breaking onto his face. His Melena. Alive! Now to get them all out of this mess, Sheppard included, and then... His smile broadened to a reckless grin, and he picked up his pace, Teyla easily keeping up with him
"Give me two more minutes," McKay said, and then pulled his hands back and glared at the Doctor, "Oh, fine, your sonic screwdriver magically disabled access, but for how long?" he said sourly. "If you let me turn it off completely then we could be absolutely sure they wouldn't be along to bother us later."
"If we turn it off there's no knowing who might be killed," the Doctor said firmly.
"There may still be people trapped in the cocoons," Teyla put in, "if we can save them, it would be right to at least try. They should not be killed as some of your collateral damage," she said distastefully.
"Yes, yes, fine." McKay sighed. "I just --" He looked over at John, and his heart twisted. He couldn't even tell if he was breathing. He'd given up asking, too afraid to find out that while he was destroying the Wraith that John had slipped away from him.
"He'll be fine," the Doctor was standing beside him, a hand on his forearm. "Trust me."
He knew about the Doctor. He'd never seen this incarnation, but he'd heard about him, about Canary Wharf and the destruction of Torchwood One. Perhaps it was the distance, but he never much liked the British Torchwood, and anyone who managed to save the planet as frequently as he did couldn't be all bad. Besides.
He held out a hand. "Help him?"
Besides. The Canadian Torchwood had gone its own way more than fifty years ago. If he could convince the Doctor to take Atlantis under his wing the way he'd taken Earth... But really, all he needed was one miracle.
Leni was leaning over John, one hand on his throat. She looked calm; it took a real effort of will to refocus on the job at hand.
"We just need one of them," the Doctor said. "I'll do the talking."
Rodney said nothing. His worst case scenario included detonating the nuke they'd beamed down and secreted in a cupboard near the heart of the base. He'd settle for razing the place to the ground if he had to. If John died.
Lorne raised a hand by the door, and the four with weapons took their places. Alexiadis to the left of the door, Lorne to the right, and Teyla and Ronon backing them respectively.
The Wraith walked in, and stood still as they disarmed him, eyeing them curiously as Rodney closed the door remotely and locked it. The Wraith hissed as he took in Leni and John.
"What is this?"
"Hello! I'm the Doctor," and the Doctor held out his hand to shake.
The Wraith recoiled fractionally, barely enough to see, but noticeable nonetheless. Rodney's eyes widened.
"What do you want, abomination?" the Wraith said harshly.
The Doctor's eyebrows twitched together for a moment. "I'm not the one genetically derived from a blend of human and bug whose food of choice is fellow sentient beings."
"What *are* you?"
The Doctor shook his head. "It wouldn't mean anything to you."
"You said 'Time Lord', is that what your ship travels in? Does it give you mastery of time, and you bestow lordship upon yourself from a mere device?"
The Doctor shook his head, almost sadly. "My friend is dying," he said simply, and spread his empty hands.
"Heal him, Lord of time," the Wraith said with a sneer. "And when you fail, we will take your time ship, and we will feast in every era, on every planet, and you will be forgotten except as a curse."
"So be it. You aren't the first to say that. I don't suppose you will be the last."
The Doctor shrugged. "Perhaps. I am the last of my kind."
"You will taste the sweeter for knowing your death erases your people from the universe, then."
The Doctor just laughed. "You won't feed on me."
"Your Queen nearly killed herself trying."
"Perhaps she over-reached. She is young. I am ancient and full of time, Time Lord." He reached forward slowly, and the Doctor took his feeding hand, and placed it squarely on his chest. No one spoke, but the change in the atmosphere was unmistakable. Rodney swallowed, unable to tear his eyes away.
"Go on," the Doctor said. "Take my years if you can. The lives I have lived, and the lives I have not yet known. Take flesh and bones and blood, hearts and mind alike. And when you are done, and the weight of time is on your shoulders, and your mind crumbles under the pressure, think of me."
The Wraith fisted its hand against the Doctor's chest, clearly torn. "I should--"
"Do it, Wraith," Rodney said. "Kill yourself." He swallowed as its malevolent eyes flickered to him before dismissing him and returning its flat stare to the Doctor.
The Wraith threw the Doctor away from him into Alexiadis and Teyla, who caught him. "I am no fool, Doctor. I can wait."
"I knew you'd see it my way," the Doctor said, his eyes still holding the Wraith's. "Now. My friend."
They both looked at John, and Rodney found himself trying not to breathe, not to think, not to do anything but will the Doctor to succeed.
"He is almost gone," the Wraith observed clinically. "Much was taken."
"You can't spare the energy?" the Doctor asked, just the faintest hint of pity or maybe even sympathy in his voice. His face was implacable. "All your thousands of years, and tens of thousands of lives? All those souls and hearts and minds? And not a drop to spare?" He walked closer to the Wraith, who stepped back.
"Your fate does not lie here," the Wraith said finally. "The Wraith want no part of you. Everything you touch withers."
"We have that much in common, then," the Doctor said, very, very softly. "Now. My friend."
Sheppard was groggy but adamant. "We can't just let them follow us."
"They won't follow me," the Doctor said, and weathered the glare Rodney turned on him. "And not because I've been sneaking nuclear bombs onto their base and hoping no one would notice."
He raised an eyebrow and Rodney shifted uncomfortably, which judging by the looks on everyone else's faces was a moment being savored, right up until the Doctor swept the same look over the rest of them. "And I don't suppose for a moment he hid it up his sleeve and forgot to mention it."
Somehow even Teyla the utterly unflappable was looking uneasy. "The Wraith have been a scourge in this galaxy for thousands of years," she said, mild reproach in her voice. "You know for yourself how little they care for anything but feeding."
The Doctor nodded. "I have some experience of ultimate enemies," he said. "In the end, everyone loses, and innocent bystanders die unnoticed in the storm." He stopped, his face remote and unreadable.
John yawned beside Rodney and pressed in closer. He nodded knowingly and said, "The only way to win is not to play."
Rodney turned to him with some relief, "Of course you manage to summarize the fate of the universe with an aphorism from a film." But John just smiled at him, and he found himself ducking his head. "Yes. Well. It was just a precaution. We can take it with us when we go," he muttered.
John leaned into him, chuckling. "That's my Rodney," he said under his breath, still sounding shattered. "Prophylactics, power bars and a precautionary nuke." Rodney tightened his arm around him. He still couldn't quite believe that John was restored, young and well and healthy, if a little clingy. He wasn't going to call him on it. He was feeling a little clingy himself.
"So, what are you going to do?" Alexiadis said practically. "If we just leave they'll follow us to Earth, and that will be a disaster."
"I wish I hadn't woken them," John said slowly. Rodney winced, but before anyone could manage to get out a demurral the Doctor whirled on him.
"You woke them?"
John flushed a deep, painful red.
"He didn't mean--"
"For as long as a century at a time," Teyla said to him, puzzled. "John, you did not wake them all. Many worlds fell before the Keeper of the Hives died." She avoided looking at where Ronon and Leni were sitting together, not quite touching, not speaking, but not apart.
John shrugged. "Still."
"No, no, wait. How do they hibernate?"
Teyla shook her head. "I am told when the population reaches a lower threshold they sleep and allow the humans to breed and restore the feeding grounds."
"They knew Sateda was rich in people," Ronon said. "We had rebuilt and escaped Wraith attention for five or six centuries before the Great Culling."
Leni nodded in agreement. "Everyone knows that it is best to hide your technology, and spread your population between worlds. Too many people will bring the Wraith."
"And too few puts them to sleep?" The Doctor bounced back to the command center. "I wonder--"
"What?" Rodney asked. He tried to disentangle himself from John, but found it easier in the end to haul him to his feet too. He seemed in danger of falling over on his face, which was probably why they were hanging on to each other. Rodney tried not to see Alexiadis's grin, or Teyla's smile.
"What are you--ohhh." He looked at the Doctor in complete astonishment. "Of course."
"*What*?" John said impatiently. Rodney grinned hugely.
"The Keeper's death didn't just wake them all up. It triggered a wake up call. An automated wakeup call." He looked around the control room, seeing dawning understanding in their eyes.
"And the 'go to sleep' call is automatic too?" Ronon asked, his eyes bright.
"It's a little more complicated than--" Rodney stopped as the Doctor interrupted.
"Oh yes. And I just called time."
"They're falling asleep?" Leni asked, eyes wide with disbelief. "Just like that?"
"Not quite," the Doctor said. "They're going to return to planet based nests -- Hives, appoint Keepers, and wait for the satellite network to tell them the population has met the criteria for culling again."
His hands kept moving, and, he went on, "Slow and subtle. Nothing too fast or unexpected, just a little tweaking of the satellite data."
"It's like feeding a loop into a security camera," Rodney said, and shook his head. "Or, well, the satellites will lie. They'll underreport on a sliding scale, so that the Wraith just... don't wake up."
"How long can they sleep?" Alexiadis asked.
John and Rodney looked at each other. "Ten thousand years? If they get a snack every once in a while," Rodney said.
"A long time. But," John stopped.
"But we will have that time," Teyla said. "Doctor--"
"It might not work," he said quickly. "And there's no guarantee they won't notice and fix it. If their systems have multiple redundancies built in, then it will only need them to spot one incorrect satellite and the whole thing will fall apart."
"But it might." Teyla looked like she might cry. "If nothing else, you have given us another two generations, Doctor."
The Doctor actually looked embarrassed. "Well." He looked around the control room. "I suppose we should get going then. No rest for the ---" He coughed, and Rodney couldn't remember the end of the quote. He thought that might be just as well.
Sheppard kept wandering off around the Valiant. The first time Jamieson had put out an all-hands at the insistence of her Chief Medical Officer, who seemed to regard Sheppard's recovery as a personal affront.
He started with walking the corridors, smiling and nodding at any UNIT personnel , and cheerfully agreeing when told this area was off limits, or that area, and then finding another way in.
It wasn't like any space ship he'd been on, and frankly that was a sentence so awesome that he spent some time contemplating it before finding McKay.
"I wondered when you'd turn up," Rodney grumbled. "It's not like I chased you halfway around the galaxy and caused havoc on Earth rescuing you or anything." He glared at John, who just pulled a chair up close beside him and sat, leaning in to peer at the computer.
"Trying to forget about seeing -- again -- what you'll look like in the unlikely event you survive to your ninetieth birthday," he said grimly, and John winced.
"The Doctor's pretty cool. How come no one ever mentioned him before?"
"I don't know. Maybe it's because the US never asked."
John blinked. The subject perhaps required more caution than he'd expected from the cheerful admission from Colonel Jamieson that she was part of a completely different organization which knew about the SGC but were much more interested in pursuing their own agenda.
"Who knows about all this?" he asked.
Rodney shrugged. "I hate to disappoint you, but it's not like we have a secret handshake."
"You must have some idea."
"Commonwealth countries. Some of the EU forces and UN nations. Mostly people attached to special forces or secret services." He turned and looked John. "What are you working up to?"
"When were you going to tell me?"
Rodney sighed. "Never. It was never going to be necessary, because you weren't going to get yourself into a position where I had to."
"That file of yours is very misleading," he said after a long, uncomfortable silence. Rodney shrugged again, but John could feel the tension in him. "Any chance I could read a version that actually tells me something?"
Rodney shook his head, but said, "I'll see what I can do. I'm not sure you'll get clearance."
"Seriously? I command an extra-galactic military base, and two of my closest friends are aliens, and you think I won't have clearance?"
"You didn't before I called the Valiant in," Rodney pointed out. "And you were all those things then."
"So. Is Torchwood like the SGC?"
Rodney began to laugh. "We do a lot more catching of aliens on Earth than you lot. For some reason they don't like landing in North America. They all seem to have heard about the Roswell incident."
John stared. "I think I need a drink," he said.
"No fainting please," Rodney said. "And, as far as I know, Colonel Jamieson has a celebratory bottle of whiskey in her quarters for these occasions."
Woolsey looked around in considerable interest. The interior of the Valiant wasn't that different to the Daedalus - a little less gray, perhaps. The overall cubic volume was similar, although the Valiant spread outwards in a flat structure of three layers, and the Daedalus was narrower, but with more height.
Also, Colonel Jamieson was a much more congenial commander, he thought taking in the warm smile and bottle of single malt that she was passing around the room, filled with the principal players in the latest Atlantean misadventure. It was crowded but cheerful, and he thought to himself that perhaps it would be a good idea to do something like this themselves when a bad mission ended well. Everyone looked so much happier.
"Thank you, Colonel," he said politely as she topped up his glass. "She's an impressive ship."
Jamieson grinned slyly. "You have no idea, Mr. Woolsey." Across the room McKay snorted. Standing next to him was Colonel Sheppard, and Woolsey excused himself from Colonel Jamieson and headed over.
"We were very relieved to hear that you had been found safe and well, Colonel," he said. He'd said something like it in the infirmary, but it bore repeating. The thought of trying to survive in Pegasus without his veteran commander was the stuff of nightmares these days.
"Me too, Richard," he said, with a wry smile, and McKay looked irritated - Woolsey was not sure whether to be concerned or relieved that he had been in Atlantis long enough to know that McKay's irritation was directed at Sheppard, and not Woolsey. Although some was for himself, he conceded.
"Relieved that you people didn't have to do any of the work," McKay said sourly.
"And what exactly was Lorne's --" Sheppard started pointedly.
"Don't!" he said sharply. "Lorne and the Atlantis military contingent would have come even if they'd forbidden it. Saving face is not the same as helping."
Woolsey shook his head, rather offended. "I would not have tried to stop them, and it was the SGC who refused to help." He was aware that he ended up sounding a little plaintive.
Sheppard looped a hand discreetly around McKay's wrist. "The point is, I'm safely out, and we have some more options if this sort of thing happens again."
McKay looked disconcerted, and out of the corner of his eye, carefully not looking directly, he could see Rodney twist his hand around so they were holding hands behind the behind the cover of Sheppard's hip. "Well. I suppose so," he said rather weakly.
"I hope you're not expecting us to come to your rescue every time you get into trouble, Colonel," Colonel Jamieson said cheerfully from behind them. "More?" She tilted the bottle invitingly, but they all declined. "More for later," she said and put the bottle down.
"No, ma'am," Sheppard said easily. "I'll try not to drag you guys out here too often."
"Though if you manage to get the Doctor involved again, give us a call," she added, tilting her glass to the man -- if that was the right word -- standing across the room talking to Ronon and the young woman they'd rescued from the Wraith. Most of the evacuees were crowded into the second cargo hold. The Doctor had apparently insisted, and what the Doctor said went, on this ship at least.
McKay and Jamieson -- and Sheppard -- appeared to be satisfied of the Doctor's good intentions, but Woolsey wasn't entirely happy with how much influence he appeared to have over UNIT. But it wasn't his organization, and the US had explicitly declined to participate in the UN's extraterrestrial taskforce. Perhaps now was a good opportunity to manage some misconceptions that had clearly crept into the thinking on both sides. The Valiant was an asset for the whole planet, and the SGC could use additional help.
"Well," Jamieson said, "I don't suppose he'll stay for long." She too was looking at the Doctor. "He never does."
"Will we see him again?"
She shrugged. "Maybe. Maybe not. Now he's crossed paths with you once, you're more likely to see him, but there's no guarantee. And to be honest, you'd probably rather not." She grimaced a little. "His oldest enemies supposedly call him 'The Oncoming Storm', and some days I can see their point." She took a sip from her glass -- fruit juice, Woolsey noted absently -- and went on, "He only seems to come when you most desperately need help. And not always then. He says we should stand on our own feet, but he doesn't always like it when we do." She stopped abruptly. "Anyway. It all turned out well for everyone this time."
Woolsey nodded, and lifted his glass to it.
Across the room, Leni shook her head. "I want to see if there's something here," she said, looking up at Ronon, a little shyly. He was still watching her as though she might disappear at any moment, and the last thing she wanted to do was confirm his worst fears just when she'd found him.
The Doctor looked thoughtfully at Ronon too. "He could come with us," he said, finally. "See the universe, get to know each other again--"
Leni bit her lip. She'd never been off of Sateda until it fell, and from there to a Wraith base was hardly the romantic exploration of new worlds and peoples that every child dreamed of. It was so tempting.
Ronon was looking steadily at her. "Do you want to go?" he said, and she pulled a face.
"I want you to come too," she managed to get out. "I missed you so much, and I want to get away from, from the Wraith, and everything that ever was tainted by them."
Ronon shook his head. "You won't escape yourself by running, Leni," he said gently. He hesitated, and said, very quietly," They made me into a Runner, and I ran, Leni. For seven years all I knew was running, and in the end I learned that no matter where you are, the only thing you always bring is yourself."
"It's not running away," she protested. "I just want to, I don't want to think about it. What's wrong with that?"
The Doctor sighed. "He isn't wrong, Leni. You're both very welcome to come with me, but the TARDIS isn't for hiding in. Whatever you do, you'll bring your memories of the Wraith with you." He looked solemn, sad even, and she wondered what it was that he'd seen, what memories he carried that gave him that expression. "And sometimes, when you run away," he went on, "you hurt yourself more than just facing it head on would have."
Ronon met the Doctor's eyes, and they seemed to see something that they recognized in each other's eyes. Ronon took a step back, and pressed his fist to his heart, then turned back to her.
"It's your choice, Leni," he said gently. He touched his hand to her face. "I'll miss you, but you'll come back to me."
"Can I go with you later?" she said to the Doctor.
"Perhaps. I don't see many people more than once, but it happens, sometimes."
She smiled briefly. "That's really a no, isn't it?"
She drew a deep breath. "I want to go with you." She turned to Ronon, "You'll wait?"
"I know you're alive. I'll wait forever," he said, his eyes bright with tears.
"I think I can do a little better than that," the Doctor said. When they looked blankly at him, he grinned. "Time machine, remember? I can bring you back ten seconds after we leave."
They looked at him, and their smiles were blinding.
"Why don't we just slip away, then," he said. "I hate goodbyes."
Leni found herself enveloped in a hug, and couldn't help the couple of tears that fell into Ronon's shirt, but they didn't matter. She'd see him again.
"Look after her," Ronon growled, and the Doctor smiled at him.
"My word as a gentleman," he said, and they shook hands.
"Well," he said, a few minutes later, as the two of them slipped into the quiet meeting room where he'd parked the TARDIS. "Shall we?"
And he opened the door wide.