Once you've gone through the 'Gate, you can never go back.
It is disturbingly true; no one transfers out of the Stargate Program of their own free will. Most servicemen leave the program in body bags. This accounts for the fact that the program has remained a remarkably well-kept secret for as long as it has. The first words anyone learns upon transferring to any aspect of the program – Area 51, SGC, or Atlantis – is a variation on the theme of "What happens at the mountain, stays at the mountain."
I have dedicated the last thirty years of my life to the Stargate Program, and they have been good years – first at the SGC and later in Atlantis. There are rumors that when (then) Colonel O'Neill was brought back into the Stargate Program, General Hammond asked him if he'd thought about writing memoirs. O'Neill is reputed to have said that he'd thought about it, but that he'd have to shoot anyone who read it because a large portion of his career up until that point had been classified. I don't know if he ever followed up on the conversation or not. I find myself in a similar situation. Someday, the Stargate Program will be declassified and what I write may or may not be published. Regardless, I feel I have an obligation to leave a record of events as I have seen them.
I was not a member of the first Atlantis Expedition, I arrived on the USAF Daedalus following the expedition's reconnection with Earth. All of us in the second wave were warned that there was a very real possibility Atlantis would be a one-way trip. Stories of life-sucking-aliens, a vindictively sentient city, and hostile natives were plentiful. We went out there fully expecting to end up on the wrong end of the city's rumored AI. We ended up on the wrong side, all right, just not in a way anyone considered. The city loved those with the ATA gene, natural or artificial, and there were a lot of us. Everyone who shipped out for Atlantis received the gene therapy to allow interaction with Ancient technology; it took in just under 50% of us. The problem wasn't that the city didn't love us, it was that she loved us all too well.
When the world learns of Atlantis, they will learn of the brave explorers who risked their lives to establish the base there and befriend the natives. They will learn about the unspeakable enemy that so many of us gave our lives fighting against. They will learn about the mysterious and wonderful technology that was discovered. They will learn of the lives of brave volunteers lost to countless incidents whose details will never be remembered.
All of this is true. Every single expedition member faced hundreds of threats during their time in the city; we each surmounted innumerable odds to make it through a year alive, never mind five.
What they will not learn is that there were side-effects to living in the city that we never imagined. They will not learn about those who decided to rotate back to the SGC after a tour in Atlantis and collapsed in seizures on their first home leave in three years, because the chemical associated with Ancient Technology use (Known now as ATA-S) had built up in their bloodstreams and overloaded their nervous systems. They will not learn about the children born in Atlantis who received the therapy in their first year of life as a protective measure, whose parents learned far too late that they would never be able to take their children 'home' to Earth. They will not learn of the children whose parents decided to take them to Earth anyway, attempting to counter the ATA-S build-up with experimental treatments; children who invariably died of rare neurological diseases and inoperable brain tumors.
Atlantis has been a blessing and a curse to those of us who have lived within her walls. She welcomed us with open arms, but she is an unforgiving mistress. The stories contained within these pages may seem fantastical, even impossible, but believe me when I say that they are only a small portion of all that we have seen and done in the Pegasus Galaxy.
In closing, I dedicate this book to my children:
Thomas, who has never known the grandfather he was named for
Beth, who has grown up in the shadow of her namesake.
Author's Note: This was originally written for the SGA Flashfiction DarkSide challenge. It has since spawned its own concrete evolutionary universe. Beta'd by Wychwood.