Epilogue: "...that is forever [Earth]."
“Peace is a journey of a thousand miles and it must be taken one step at a time.” – Lyndon B. Johnson
November 10th, 2009 – A few weeks after the Wraith attack
Two weeks in isolation and four days of self-imposed starvation had finally put its mark on Shen Xiaoyi. Her shoulders were slumped, her face was gaunt, her eyes were dull and she’d lost weight. According to Keller, Xiaoyi was resisting nearly all types of nutrition, only allowing herself water to drink.
“Why starve?” Letting his folders lie unopened on the table, Woolsey gave Xiaoyi a level stare.
There was no response and he hadn’t really expected one. Nevertheless, he held back a sigh and thought of a time when things had been different.
“Okay,” he said. “Let us begin.”
Woolsey glanced at his two companions, who had been chosen by citywide vote to represent the military and the civilians respectively; they had both managed to stay neutral in the earlier internal strife. Major Hudson was a medic veteran from the former SGC, while Dr Bryce was one of Atlantis’ original Expedition scientists.
Bryce turned on a recorder, put it down in front of them, and stated, “Case #26-09: Shen Xiaoyi versus the People. Interview on November 10th, 2009. It is 09:35 Atlantis standard time.”
Woolsey nodded his thanks and settled his eyes on Xiaoyi, who was staring dully at a point next to his head. “In previous interviews, you have explained the following: the Chinese government’s plan to use Atlantis as a new, mobile base in the Milky Way from which to rebuild Earth society and fight back the alien invasion force. This was an order given to you through the captain of and the logs on the Sun Tzu. To this end, you initiated plans under false pretences to stock up on resources and provisions for the trip to Earth, to upgrade the city’s defences, and to fix the city’s Wormhole Drive, an Ancient transportation project that had been dismissed by its creators.”
He paused for effect, but there was none. Xiaoyi remained silent and dull.
Woolsey continued, reading from the papers in his folder, “You have further explained that while some of your followers were privy to your full plans, such as Dr Takahashi, others did not know the full extent of them. We’ve received statements from for instance Lieutenant Colonel Dawkins, who claims you told him that Earth was not destroyed at all and that the previous leadership had covered up the truth on orders from Homeworld Command.” He paused and glanced at Xiaoyi. “You have not denied the validity of these claims.”
And she didn’t now, either. For all intents and purposes, Xiaoyi had not tried to cover up what she’d done…until five days ago when he’d confronted her with a certain missing database entry. Then she’d stopped answering questions, refused to eat and started to become a shell of the tiger she’d once been.
“Well, this brings us to the next item on the list.” Woolsey narrowed his eyes. “The Aleirians.”
A lock of hair fell into Xiaoyi’s face. She didn’t move, but her eyes seemed to spark for a fraction of a second. It was enough.
“According to witnesses, after the incident on Aleira, you received a case from the Tikwa Administration. It was given to you by Envoy Ypresa.” Straightening in his seat, Woolsey folded his hands on top of each other. “One of the witnesses claims the contents were of Ancient design: data crystals that were vital for the Wormhole Drive as the ones on Atlantis had either been removed or destroyed and could not be replaced or reconfigured by our more generic crystals.”
“We have studied the inventory logs,” Bryce said, “and found traces of doctoring. Those crystals weren’t the only things you brought into this city.” She picked up a piece of paper and showed it to Xiaoyi, whose eyes had become unfocused. “For the most part, they’re simple construction components. Wires, crystals, and the like. But those particular crystals you received from the Administration…they are unique. They could only have been found in another city-ship.”
Xiaoyi shifted. It was a minute action, but an action nevertheless. They were reaching her, perhaps helped by the fact that her starvation had weakened her already. It might be unethical to rely on it, but Woolsey reminded himself that she was fully aware that she had a right to remain silent.
“There was an entry in the Atlantis database of a city-ship called Dagda that disappeared during the Wraith-Ancient war,” Woolsey said evenly. “It has been removed now, but I remember the story clearly. The city was lost on the planet we know as Aleira. One possibility was a Wraith attack, the other a volcanic eruption, or perhaps it was both. We do not know.” He paused, tensing his fingers for a moment. “However, if their shields worked, it would have been theoretically possible for the city to have survived while being covered in lava. And if they did, it would have been possible to dig its way into it to retrieve…whatever had survived.”
“We are planning to confirm that once the current eruption has calmed down,” Hudson supplied, speaking up calmly. “For now, some of the Aleirians we helped evacuate have stated that the Tikwa Administration has been interested in their mountains for years, and they allowed the Tikwee to send many scientific expeditions to ‘study’ the volcano.” His inflection clearly signified that what the Tikwee had done was probably anything but studying.
But the implication was worse. If Dagda was buried too close to the volcano, using explosives or digging to get to it could potentially trigger an early eruption; the volcano could still have slumbered on for decades before another volcanic event. If that were the case…those behind the digging were also responsible for the innocent natives that had been lost in the consequent eruption.
Xiaoyi’s face paled and she looked as if she had to be sick. She shifted again, more visibly this time, and her eyes flickered to Woolsey’s. It was a change from the last interview, but at the time they hadn’t been as close to acquiring the needed evidence as they were now. The noose was probably tightening and she was feeling it.
They needed that. They needed her confession. It wasn’t just about justice, but also about their relationship with the Tikwa Administration. Their mining operations on Tirana depended on it. It wasn’t as if they could just stride in and accuse their economic allies of brutality, or potential dubious connections, without evidence.
Woolsey narrowed his eyes. “Whose plan was it? The Administration or Envoy Ypresa?”
Looking away, Xiaoyi reached up to touch her throat. She swallowed visibly, her eyes closing for a second while she appeared to hold back something foul-tasting.
Woolsey leaned forward, staring at her without blinking. “Did you know Ypresa and her family are dead?”
Xiaoyi startled. Her eyes burst open and she glanced at him in shock.
“They were found by the Tikwa stargate eight days ago. Apparently, their bodies showed clear signs of having been fed upon,” Woolsey continued, recalling the details the new Envoy had given him in their last trade meeting three days ago. The man had seemed unsettled by the news he brought and anxious about Woolsey’s reaction.
“The Administration believes it to be a message from someone with whom Ypresa had consorted,” Hudson said, picking up where Woolsey left off. “Apparently, they have found evidence of long-time embezzlement and numerous unscheduled off-world trips that point to Ypresa having certain friends elsewhere. Add the fact that multiple devices and parts of Ancient design were found prepped for shipping in a factory she administered…”
“…As well as the fact that Ypresa and her family disappeared from the Tikwa home world with all their riches about a week before Atlantis was attacked by the Wraith,” Bryce added, narrowing her eyes, “And we have all these coincidences that, when looking more closely at them, seem very little coincidental at all.”
Twirling a pen between his fingers, Woolsey gave Xiaoyi a hard stare. “This isn’t a time to be a martyr, Shen, or a time for your personal demons. The theories brought forth by the Administration are just that: theories. But they suggest something far more devastating, namely how the Wraith learned of Atlantis’ location when we had taken every precaution to limit that knowledge.” He paused, unconsciously clenching his hands on top of the table. “We need to know the depth of the Administration’s involvement on Aleira, so I ask you again: Whose plan was it?”
“Ypresa,” Xiaoyi said hoarsely, raising her chin slightly to meet him at eye level. Her face had gone white. “The Administration didn’t know the real reason behind the evacuation. It was her personal agenda. I assumed she was doing research or selling the Ancient devices on the black market, but…”
Exhaling a deep breath, Woolsey felt the tension leave his neck. “But you didn’t ask, because you were in the same position as her.”
Tears welled up in Xiaoyi’s eyes and she lowered her head in shame.
“Very well.” Straightening in his seat, Woolsey glanced to his two companions. Bryce gave him a nod of approval and Hudson a level stare. “Interview suspended at 09:53 Atlantis standard time, to be resumed in 15 minutes.”
He reached out to stop the recorder while Bryce and Hudson got silently to their feet. After they’d left, Woolsey turned back to Xiaoyi with an appraising look.
The powerful enigma that’d been Shen Xiaoyi was gone. Only her demons remained, weighing her down so heavily that she seemed nothing more than a small mouse.
“James let his grief be the end of him,” Woolsey said lowly, almost gently. “You nearly let yours be the end of us.” He paused, hesitating. “But starving yourself as penance will not make up for what your actions have done. You were the leader of this city for several months, Shen. What secrets you know, you must share. For our future…”
Slowly, Woolsey rose to his feet. Xiaoyi raised her head to stare at him, tears freely running down her face, and Woolsey felt a familiar ache of pity and caring in the pit of his stomach.
“We were colleagues, Shen. I hope that, at times, you knew that we were also friends.”
Xiaoyi closed her eyes, lips twisted as if holding back something painful…but this time he knew it wasn’t something bad. It was that piercing, exposed, horrible gut-wrenching storm of grief that everyone in Atlantis shared because of the loss of Earth, and he was witnessing its emergence.
Christmas Day, 2009
As Sam walked through the dim hallways of Atlantis, breathing in recycled air, touching the cold metal walls and glancing at the few Christmas ornaments that someone had painstakingly made and put up, she was alone.
She took that as a good sign. Perhaps the one-year memorial service and the speeches and the hugs and the music (and the booze) had been enough to ease people’s minds. Perhaps they were sleeping peacefully in their beds; finally unafraid of the threats they had encountered and beaten in the past year.
At least she could hope that were the case. There were still reports and stories of people who struggled. She could understand that. Some days were good, others weren’t. Grief didn’t have an expiration date. You had to go through the stages, even though the stages didn’t necessarily go the way you planned or in the order you expected. Some days you were angry, some days you pleaded, some days you accepted the way things were. That was just another aspect of life.
Coming around the corner, Sam arrived at her destination and froze. The numbness she’d felt all day as she went through the motions wavered and it was difficult to breathe past the sudden lump in her throat.
The Memorial Wall was covered in a collage of mismatched photos, letters, drawings and assorted items. At intervals, someone had lit candles and it had become an unspoken rule that they should never go out. Whether late at night or early morning, they were supposed to remain a silent vigil, flickering in the small draft from people passing by. Seeing as she didn’t have the ATA gene for Atlantis to respond to, the candles were her only source of light in the hallway.
Slowly, her chest beginning to tremble in anticipation of her tears, Sam walked to the middle of the wall. There, above the wall-mounted tablet computer where personnel photos of people who had died or gone MIA since the Evacuation were displayed, were written the words she’d seen on similar memorials at some point or another in her long military career.
“Here we remember the price of freedom.”
Sam reached out to touch the writing, which was made out of shimmering metal created here in this very city from material mined from Tirana. It was beautifully done. Far more beautiful than she’d expected when they’d first unveiled it. She didn’t know why, but it’d touched her heartstrings in some way. Given her hope. Made her see the city and its survivors in a new light.
A smile crossed her lips despite the fresh tears welling up in her eyes, despite the hollow sensation in the pit of her stomach that always seemed unsatisfied in moments like this.
With shaking hands, Sam pulled four folded pictures from her pocket: one of Cassie, one of the General, one of her brother’s family…and one of SG-1. She picked a relatively empty spot and tacked them in-between the other pictures so that only their smiling, happy faces were visible.
And then she was no longer Colonel Carter, former Commander of Atlantis. She was Sam: friend, sister, aunt and godmother, and a sob ripped painfully through her body, shredding her throat, leaving her more alone than she’d ever felt in her life.
John stirred awake to the sound of his door closing. Squinting, his mind fuddled, he looked up. Sam was but a silhouette against the backdrop of silver moonlight streaming in from the window behind her. Even without seeing her face clearly, he could see her hesitate.
He shifted on the bed so that he could face her. “You okay?”
“… No.” Her voice was low, vulnerable, hurting.
Something within him responded automatically. John sat up, skin turning cold as the sheets fell down to his waist. He then scooted sideways and patted the empty spot beside him, rubbing the last traces of sleep from his eyes.
Sam wavered but accepted his invitation in the end. Although fully dressed, she was shivering when she sat down. Hesitating only for a moment, John pulled her close and covered her with one of his sheets.
The rough material of her uniform chafed his bare skin, but John didn’t care. As she laid her head on his shoulder, sniffling loudly several times in a poor attempt to restrain her shuddering sob, he hugged her tightly and kissed her brow. It was the best he could do. Words, especially today of all days, failed him.
John held her until Sam had cried herself to exhaustion, and then left her on his bed to fetch a glass of water. As he drank it, he found an old, faded picture he’d kept hidden away in his wallet for a long time and held it up in the ray of moonlight from the window.
Two young boys and their father grinned back at him, standing on the putting green with their putters proudly in their hands. The father had his hands on either boy’s shoulder. Staring at it now, John could almost remember the sense of security that hand had once brought.
His chest aching oddly, John brushed his thumb across the taller boy’s face and wondered if this was how Sam felt when she thought of her lost brother.
Then, unable to look at it anymore, John put the picture back in his wallet and found his way back to Sam and her soothing warmth.
Sleep didn’t find him easily again that night, but at least she was there with him. At least he wasn’t alone. That was all that mattered.
December 27th, 2010
The breeze coming in from an open window cooled her skin. A bee-like bug buzzed around the windowpane, crashing against the glass. Hailey stared at its lack of progress. What was the point? Why did it keep trying to get out? She knew it wouldn’t. It’d tried yesterday too. Even with the window open, it hadn’t managed to get out.
The buzzing continued. Hailey’s eyes remained on the bug, even as the door to her quarters opened and someone stepped inside.
Heavy, slow footsteps sounded on the metal floor. A shadow landed across her face, but Hailey didn’t blink. For a long while, nothing was said. The newcomer just stared at her staring at the bug trying to get out.
Then, the presence squatted down next to her bed. The gruff voice was a familiar baritone. “Time to get moving, Captain. Break’s over. New session with MacKenzie today.”
Hailey blinked, but didn’t move. Distantly, she knew this was one of her bad days. Normally she could get herself to the sessions, but not today. Today, something held her back. She didn’t know what, though. She rarely did.
With a barely concealed grunt, the visitor rose and started to bustle around her quarters. Hailey heard cabinets open and close, the rustle of clothes, and more of those heavy, familiar footsteps.
Suddenly, something landed across her feet. It was heavy and soon joined by more. Hailey turned her head slightly. A heap of clothes was piling up at the end of her bed. Ronon was gathering more, also locating her shoes and dropping them unceremoniously on the floor next to her bed.
“Get up.” Ronon’s command brooked not argument. Done with finding the necessary equipment, he stood in one place, arms crossed. His eyes narrowed when she didn’t make a move. “Get up, Captain.”
Hailey turned her head back to the window and stared at the bug. It was still crashing into the glass, albeit closer to the opening than before. She didn’t say anything.
A rough hand grabbed her blanket and jerked it away, leaving Hailey lying in just her standard underwear: shorts and a tank top. Goosebumps rose on her flesh at the sudden loss of warmth, but she still didn’t move.
“Have it your way,” Ronon said and got hold of her shoulders, forcibly pulling her into a sitting position.
She let him do it, slumping forward and staring at the floor as he continued his ministrations. Ronon’s feet were large. She’d never noticed.
As if from a distance, Hailey felt Ronon lift her arm and carefully, almost tenderly, pull a shirtsleeve on it, followed soon by its brother on the other side. Her eyes focused on the texture of Ronon’s dreadlocks as he buttoned down her shirt, then on the coarse hairs peeking out from his neckline as he pulled on her socks and pants. He pulled her up to her feet and dragged her pants over her bum, fastening her shirt within, then sat her back down and started putting on her shoes. Hailey’s eyes went to his beard: dark and coarse like the rest of his hair, yet neatly trimmed.
Once the shoelaces were tied, Ronon pulled her to her feet again and looked at her critically. She barely met his eyes, nor paid him any more mind as he found a rubber band and collected her hair into what felt like a lopsided and messy ponytail.
“Time to go, Captain.” Ronon’s voice still brooked no argument.
Hailey swayed slightly on her feet, her head swimming with the rising blood pressure from having gotten to a standing position so quickly. She looked back at the bug again. It was still struggling against the glass, and it resonated within her.
Then, before Hailey could react, Ronon leaned down, caught hold of her legs and swung her unceremoniously over his shoulder. Her world turned upside down and bumpy as Ronon walked to the door, opened it and went outside.
The light of the Atlantis corridor was glaringly bright compared to her quarters, stabbing her eyes, but the sensation drifted to the background as a memory appeared out of the darkness of her mind. He’d carried her like this on their first mission together. Then, like now, the action had annoyed her.
“This isn’t the Stone Age, Ronon. I can walk myself.”
The words weren’t passionate, not like back then, but they nevertheless elicited a reaction from Ronon. “Prove it.”
Hailey sighed as Ronon stopped. With some effort, she started shimmying down from his shoulder until she stood swaying on her feet once more, the world spinning a little from a rush of blood to her head. Ronon’s hand steadied her as she slowly raised her head to finally meet his eyes.
“See?” she said. “A modern woman.”
Ronon smirked, and then nudged her on. “Come on, ‘modern woman’. Food, then MacKenzie.”
Hailey didn’t protest. She just followed his lead.
And later that day, when she returned to her quarters drained and weary and saw that the bug was gone, she smiled.
January 7th, 2010
How easy Pegasus history changed with just a touch. A tablet computer was passed from Chief Radim to Councillor Treya to Richard Woolsey, each putting their thumb and signature on the screen. The alliance treaty would be printed out and given to each leader in turn, phrased in their original language by Atlantis’ resident linguists.
No longer just trading partners. Now, they stood together should either be attacked by the Wraith again. They had proved it could be done. In addition, they had agreed to exchange resources and expertise in order to help each other improve social, medical and military conditions, the details of which were outlined in the treaty document.
For now, their first goal was to build two more Ascalons so that each homeworld was protected from the Wraith; Atlantis already had theirs in orbit again, despite the fact that the Wraith seemed to steer well clear of them after the failed attack. The up-and-running dyson ring would continue to be a coordinative effort and would, for now, power all three Ascalons, as the chances for the Wraith making a coordinated strike against all three homeworlds was minimal.
Accepting the tablet computer from Woolsey, Sam added her thumbprint and signature above the headline ‘Mediator’. Then she looked up and smiled.
“Please tell me it’s time for drinks now,” Larrin said immediately. Next to her, John rolled his eyes excessively. On the other side, Treya shot her a disapproving look. Some of the Genii representatives accompanying Radim looked offended, but Radim himself only smiled briefly. It wasn’t the first outburst they’d heard from Larrin in these talks, and he seemed to appreciate her candour.
Woolsey cleared his throat and donned his best diplomatic expression. “On Earth, it is customary to let the guests have a chance to freshen up or relax before the formal dinner. We have prepared quarters for you should you like to do so.”
“Thank you, Mr Woolsey.” Treya rose to her feet, followed by her fellow Traveler representatives and then the rest of the people around table. “We accept your offer.”
“As do we,” Radim said. He’d paled a little when standing up and now seemed very tired despite his polite smile. Massan, ever at his side, looked a bit concerned. “I am afraid my stamina is not what it once was.”
Sam gestured to the conference room doors, which opened at the wave of her hand. “If you’ll follow—“
“Gladly.” Larrin grinned as she passed behind John, who suddenly jerked and turned to glare at her. One of his hands moved surreptitiously towards his buttocks before it halted and fisted instead. The Traveler, however, had already moved on with a large, teasing grin on her face. As she passed Sam, she actually winked.
Shaking her head in resignation, Sam turned to Radim, who was one of the last to leave; Woolsey, the Travelers and the other Genii representatives apart from Massan had already exited the room. “Dr Keller is also available should you like to see her, Chief Radim.”
“Thank you for your consideration, Colonel Carter, but I will be fine.” Radim smiled, erasing some of his tired facial lines. He gestured to his hair, which had been cut short a few weeks ago to correspond with the patches of hair he’d lost during treatment and was growing back. “The radiation treatment has worked very well. I am stronger each day.”
“That’s good to hear,” Sam said, smiling back, and gestured towards the open doors through which the rest of Radim’s entourage had left.
They exited together, exchanging polite pleasantries, and then Sam left him, Massan and the Genii entourage in the care of Airman Polinski and two other security escorts. She watched them leave down the grand staircase in direction of the transporter, and then glanced sideways at John, who’d been waiting for her.
John spoke first, his voice nothing more than a mutter. “I swear, if she doesn’t start keeping her hands to herself…”
Sam smirked. “Then she wouldn’t be Larrin.”
“You’re defending her now?” John gave her an annoyed glare, crossing his arms defensively across his chest.
“Only because I’m no longer threatened by her.” With a gentle touch, Sam grasped John’s arm and met his glare with a smile. “We still on for movie night?”
With a touch of melodrama, John heaved a sigh and shrugged. “I guess. Since you insist.”
It earned him a sharp jab in the side that made him yelp and rub the sore spot with a grumble. Sam only grinned, feeling as if they were finally back to where they were before the Evacuation. She loved the feeling.
February 8th, 2010
Another loud ping issued from Woolsey’s computer and the man noted the action with a deep sigh.
“I know the feeling,” Caldwell said simply, glancing up from his own laptop computer.
“I am tempted to implement a restriction on how many messages the science department can send each day. Either that or I’m going to need a secretary to screen my calls.” Rolling his eyes, Woolsey turned away from the laptop in front of him. “Anyway, back to the matter at hand… How serious is it?”
“Overall?” Caldwell did the calculations in his head. “We’re looking at about 10 % drop in military personnel since December. That’s on top of those who are currently undergoing medical and psychological treatment, serving disciplinary actions or have been given administrative discharges. Overall, it leaves us at about 60 % combat effectiveness.”
Woolsey’s eyes widened. “So many have decided to quit?”
I’d rather have half our original strength than have soldiers in our ranks that refuse to follow direct orders or don’t have their heads in the game, Caldwell thought quietly. Aloud, he said, “We’ll make do for now. In the near future, however, we should consider recruiting off world. This ‘reproduction’ policy you and the council have condoned won’t bring enough new blood into our ranks for at least two decades. In fact, it’ll bring our combat effectiveness even further down once the female soldiers go off on maternity leave.”
Caldwell resisted the urge to fist his hand in annoyance. Even though he knew the Council’s reproduction policy was the only way to go if they were to survive as a society, he didn’t like the military being weakened like this. It was just another reminder that they were in a clusterfuck without Earth to back them up.
On the plus side, though, it meant the scientists were beginning to research ways to make the remaining soldiers more efficient despite low numbers, McKay and Zelenka’s latest project being improved body armour based on Vanir suit designs.
Sighing, Caldwell said, “Bringing in recruits now would shorten that to two years. In addition, we should train everyone on this base in the use of weaponry and basic tactics. Even the scientists and politicians should be able to defend this base from any potential incursions.”
The Genii and the Travelers might be our allies and train with us for now, but history should warn us to be prepared for anything, including a double-cross. Caldwell knew that thought wouldn’t sit well with Carter and Sheppard, but he was a pragmatic at heart and he had seniority. They would listen to him.
“I see,” Woolsey said, nodding grimly. “I’ll bring the topic up on the next council meeting. There will be some protests, I’m sure, but I’ll stand behind your decision one hundred per cent. Caution has served us well in the past, as you and Colonel Carter’s actions against the Wraith proved.” He paused and gave Caldwell a pensive look. “Speaking of which, I understand you, Carter and Sheppard are laying the finishing touches to the new fraternisation framework.”
“We are.” This time, Caldwell was unable to resist fisting his hand. A grimace also touched his lips briefly. “However, I’ve been informed to expect some bias.”
“Oh?” Woolsey raised an eyebrow, leaning forward slightly on his desktop, then seemed to realise what wasn’t being said and nodded slowly. “Oh. Well, it is perhaps only natural. They’ve worked closely together for several years, and the past year has been…extraordinary.”
“You suspected then?” Caldwell wasn’t sure whether that fact angered him or not. He hadn’t seen it. Probably hadn’t been close enough to see it, but thinking back, though…he nevertheless felt like a fool. He should’ve seen it. Why else did their falling out have such a long-lasting effect? They were both professionals. They were both military. Discipline should’ve kept their heads on the job, but it hadn’t, at least not until Carter was shipped off to Tirana.
“I wondered,” Woolsey said diplomatically, though a secret smile seemed to touch the corners of his lips. When Caldwell glanced at him sharply, he added, “While on Tirana, I saw many things; some I deemed important and some I deemed less so. My focus was on Atlantis’ survival. Everything else took a back seat.”
They broke the rules, though, Caldwell wanted to say. If this had been Earth, they would’ve been court-martialled and kicked out of the Air Force. Technically, the rules are still in effect.
‘But they’re not alone,’ another part of him said. ‘Who knows how many have sought comfort in each other this past year? Extreme circumstances drive people together. You know that. Besides, we’re already short of seasoned commanders and at reduced combat effectiveness. We can’t lose anyone else.’
As such, Caldwell said aloud, “The past is the past,” as a way of concession, though the words felt bitter and sour.
“Indeed it is.” Lips blossoming into a half-smile, Woolsey nodded with approval, then sat back more calmly in his chair and picked up a new stack of papers. “I realise we have difficult times ahead, Colonel, but we will get through them as we have gone through the previous ones. And hopefully, at the end, we’ll be able to look back and be proud of what we have accomplished under the circumstances.”
As his laptop pinged with a third new message in the last ten minutes, Woolsey paused and pinched the ridge of his nose in an attempt to restrain his annoyance. “And my first accomplishment will be to find a way to reroute McKay’s messages to someone else.”
March 14th, 2010
“I still say cloning might be a viable option,” John said with his mouth still stuffed with food. Swallowing, he picked up his cup of coffee and waved it a little in the air with a slight smirk. “We’ll be back at 100 % combat effectiveness in no time and can finally chase down that bastard Rathorn and his goons.”
Enjoying her own morning coffee more leisurely, Sam rolled her eyes. “One, that’s ripping off Star Wars, John. Two, the Genii wanted to take care of that business themselves. We’ve already offered our help and they said no.”
“And there’s not an inch of you that wouldn’t relish the opportunity to tear Rathorn a new one?” All serious now, John’s eyes narrowed as he put his cup down with a little too much force. “He shot Hailey. He wanted to sell you to the Wraith. That’s after he’d roughed you up first. He could’ve—”
“Yes, he could have done worse,” Sam interjected, slightly annoyed. She gave John a hard look. “I’ve been captured before, John. I’m familiar with what can be and has been done, especially to women. Believe me, what Rathorn was able to do to me doesn’t compare to what the Goa’uld or Fifth have done in the past.”
“And you say that without batting an eye,” John countered, frowning. Some of the fire diminished in his eyes as he shook his head and sighed. “Remind me again: Why are we still doing this job?”
Sighing too, Sam contemplated John’s words for a moment, then decided the topic was too heavy to pursue right now, especially since she was due back on Tirana for her shift soon. Instead, she cocked an eyebrow at him and attempted to defuse the tension. “Wanna make a break for it? We could be at the other side of the galaxy in an hour.”
Chuckling slightly, John leaned back somewhat heavily in his chair. “Tempting. I always wondered what that side would be like.” He paused and smirked at her. “Don’t know about you, but I think it’s about time we find a society that’s been able to develop a DeLorean or an inline-four engine motorcycle. Been too long since I’ve felt the wind in my face at 80 mph.”
Sam smiled softly at the look of reminiscence on John’s face. “Yeah… Some days, I still miss my Indian and the long, open roads in Colorado. Really took the edge off things.”
John smirked more widely. “If you’d approved my requisition at the time…”
Sam rolled her eyes. He was referring to before the Evacuation when, after learning of her similar passion for motorcycles, he’d promptly handed her a requisition order for two motorcycles and claimed it was a vital spare time activity for the Atlantis personnel. He’d wanted to establish a racing track on one of the piers and have an annual tournament for those interested.
“Long shot, John, and you knew it,” Sam said, smiling. “But now I know I should’ve fought harder. Who knows if we’ll ever have the time, resources or the need to create something like that? Not that many places to ride a bike.”
John’s smile slipped. “And here I was trying to get our minds on something cheerful.” He sighed. “Guess the world’s really changed, huh?”
“If it hadn’t, though, I wouldn’t be able to do this.” Reaching out, Sam grasped John’s hand openly, without fear of persecution, and smiled sadly. “That’s something, at least. Despite everything.”
John’s expression softened as he squeezed her hand in return. “True.”
April 24th, 2010
As she weaved her way through the thick crowd headed in the opposite direction for lunch, Shen Xiaoyi couldn’t quench a deep-rooted flash of annoyance at the shoulders and elbows bumping inconsiderately into her.
Once, people stepped aside in the corridor for her to pass and darkened her doorstep to gain her favour. Now, she was no one: the pariah no one but a few devotees dared approach in public, doomed to a diminished life in the shadows after a highly publicised hearing that discredited her actions and, by extension, beliefs. Always watched, always under scrutiny, but never spoken to unless necessary.
For the most part, Shen didn’t really care anymore. She rarely ventured outside her quarters anyway, except to visit the mess hall and the stasis pods, and for her community duties.
The latter was Woolsey’s doing, a decision made either out of pity or out of some desire to keep her busy so as to avoid the same fate as met James Coolidge; she didn’t know which. All she knew was that he was one of the few who still took the time to talk with her, or at least try to; she didn’t always take part in the conversation.
Though the suggestion that she was susceptible to committing suicide annoyed her to no end – she would never do as James had done – she nevertheless found some comfort in her community duties, which involved translating for the Chinese survivors recovering under Keller and MacKenzie’s care, and teaching them English so they could partake in society.
Pushing past the stragglers of the crowd, Shen was able to breathe again. She glanced back with annoyance at the backs of the lunch crowd disappearing around the corner, then turned and walked away with slow, measured steps.
When solitude surrounded her, though, her thoughts grew solemn, the annoyance from before disappeared, and her steps faltered slightly.
So much has changed, Baba, Shen thought inwardly, picturing the face of her father standing before her with familiar stoicism. Her mental image of him had been her only company while in isolation last November, and he’d stayed with her ever since, like a ghost of Christmas past.
Atlantis is changed. The tension had lessened after her hearing, at least publicly. There was a more relaxed atmosphere in the city. More smiles and laughter, children running in the halls, even two babies being born. There was less fear of the Wraith and new incursions. With the Alliance treaty signed and Traveler ships bringing in resources, a shared sense of optimism had spread, at least among the majority now in support of Atlantis taking a more active role in Pegasus. Among the minority, there were still seeds of discontent, even mutters of new actions being taken unless more conservative measures were won through on a political level. Woolsey had his work cut out for him.
I am changed too.Although a few of her former supporters urged her to keep fighting and to return to politics, Shen recognised defeat when it stared her in the face. She’d suffered an act of public shaming. Despite her years spent living among Americans, her deeply ingrained upbringing didn’t allow her any relief from the accompanying sense of shame and dishonour. Instead, she felt like a child again, seeking a parent’s atonement for her sins.
Pausing in the middle of the hallway, Shen stared out through a nearby window at the bright sunny day outside. Her chest felt hollow and tears threatened to well up in her eyes as she thought back to happier times with her family, when she was still a child and didn’t have to worry about how to survive the end of it all.
And for a moment, she wished to be that child again.
May 17th, 2010
A prolonged, excited cry preceded Reika as she was catapulted through the air into the small lake, landing with a large splash. On the shore, John quickly limped to the edge in case he needed to dive in, but Reika’s head broke the lake surface within moments and the two of them laughed. The sound carried across the water to the opposite side where Sam, Daniel and Teyla sat enjoying a cool, fruity Athosian drink reserved for hot days like today.
“He’s going to sleep well tonight,” Daniel remarked with a light tone as four other children, both Athosian and Kadarian, flocked around John and demanded to be catapulted as well. Torren was among them. “I’m exhausted just from looking at them.”
Teyla smiled as she refilled his cup. “John has a kind heart and much endurance.”
Bringing the cup to his lips, Daniel paused and cocked an eyebrow in fake offense. “I read to them.”
“You are very brave,” Teyla agreed, though her smile seemed far more teasing than diplomatic, which prompted Daniel into further indignant retort.
Smirking, Sam tuned out their bantering and turned her attention to John. She watched as he caught hold of the next child and repeated the catapult he’d performed with Reika. His wide, effortless grin at the action, despite having injured his leg on a previous mission, made her stomach twinge slightly.
We’re going to need to have that talk soon, Sam mused. We’re not getting any younger.
Although they’d only dated openly for four months, Sam recognised a biological need to talk of something further than a few months ahead. Last December, she’d turned forty. According to Keller, she was still ‘eligible’, in a sense, to contribute to the baby boom that was sure to come in the next few years, but as she grew older, the risks increased exponentially as well.
Thus far, Sam hadn’t dared mention it to John. She didn’t want to drive him away, especially since things were going so well. They’d even discussed moving in together when Sam transferred back from her administrative position on Tirana next month to focus more on scientific research and development.
Seeing him and Reika together, though, only reminded her that she might have lost her one and only chance at being a mother.
Sam blinked, realised Reika was waving and calling for her, and she pulled herself together. Getting to her feet, she glanced at Daniel with a raised eyebrow and a smirk. “Coming for a swim too, Dad?”
“Eh…” Daniel seemed to retreat further back into the shadows of the surrounding trees and hide behind his cup of Athosian fruit drink.
“Chicken,” Sam teased and walked off into the water before he could retort. She waded out until the bottom began to disappear beneath her feet and then plunged under the surface and swam to the middle of the lake. When she resurfaced, she took a moment to gain her bearings and then swam until she reached Reika, John and the other children.
“Auntie Sam!” Reika called again with glee as she bounced up and down and gesticulated for John to throw her into the water again.
Eyes on the other children teaming up on the shore, Sam didn’t see John’s mischievous wink at Reika before the girl was launched so close to Sam that she was drenched with water.
Spluttering, Sam glared at John. “Careful. You don’t want to pull another muscle and sit on the sideline for another few weeks.”
Hunching down by the shore, John shrugged. “Not so bad if I get to do this instead of paperwork.”
As Reika resurfaced and began to swim around her in circles to show off her chest strokes, Sam rolled her eyes and continued to address John. “You should be resting that leg. Didn’t you complain all yesterday about having to send Lorne’s team with the Genii commandos instead of yours?”
“Whatever happens, I can still pilot,” John said, then added with a teasing tone, “I’m turning into an old man, you know. Gotta start looking at my options.”
“Those are six words I never expected to hear from you,” Sam deadpanned, then threw in a smile and some praise for the Kadarian girl calling for her to ‘Look, look, Auntie Sam! Look what I can do!’
A splash and accompanying waves told her John had joined them in the water, to the general disappointment from the children wanting to be catapulted once more. Sam turned to watch him as he waded out with Torren in his arms, the soon-to-be three-year-old itching to get into the water; his feet splashed impatiently against the surface.
“What can I say,” John said once he reached her and held Torren securely around the middle so the boy could splash around for a moment. “For the past three months, I’ve spent three-quarters of my time on either paperwork or training regimes. Then, the first time I get to go off-world on a mission in a month, I pull a muscle walking down a hill...” He grimaced, letting her glimpse the frustration behind his casual tone. “It kinda puts things into perspective.”
Sam’s heart went out to him. It wasn’t easy to admit you weren’t the same anymore, that you had limitations now despite your training. It reminded her that, as of next month, they’d be the same age.
If they’d been back on Earth, by now they’d no longer have ground combat operational status since they were at an increased risk for injuries, and their career would’ve taken a natural turn for more administrative or specialist duties. Sam would’ve probably gone back to the science labs. John would’ve probably turned to pilot training if given the option: anything to be able to keep flying.
This wasn’t Earth, though. Atlantis was just a remnant, a piece that survived the alien attack on Earth seventeen months ago, and it had needed to adapt. A new military framework had been implemented, keeping much of the old but introducing new rules and guidelines as well to account for their new circumstances.
For instance, the retirement age and the limit for active operational status had been raised due to the lack of new recruits and an already high average age. If she chose to and her health allowed it, Sam could partake in ground combat missions until she was 45 and stay a CO until she hit 70.
Also, fraternisation was no longer a court-martial offense, unless it was used in some way to hinder military operations or wilfully break down military cohesion. Those engaged in a relationship were transferred if necessary so that they weren’t in the same chain of command, and you were not allowed to fraternise with someone far below you in rank. In addition, an agreement needed to be signed in which both parties swore to keep things professional while on the job, or face the penalty of a demotion and disciplinary actions, all depending on the severity of the infraction. In essence, it meant you were watched and scrutinised all the time. One step out of line and Caldwell would come down on you hard.
“Well… look at it this way,” Sam told John as Reika turned over on her back to show her still rudimentary backstrokes. “If McKay and Zelenka succeeds with their defensive suit project, you can be a veritable Terminator out there. From the designs they showed me, the suit’s exoskeleton is designed to keep you walking whatever injuries you sustain.”
“Great, so I’ll be Darth Vader.” John snorted and looked down at Torren. “Well, maybe then I’ll be able to win in a bantos fight against you when you’re all grown up, kid.”
The boy barely paid attention to him; his small feet were kicking frantically at the lake surface. Sighing and making it seem the most natural thing in the world, John shifted his grip on Torren so that he could bounce him up and down in the water. The action made the boy giggle loudly and Sam smiled.
Yeah… We definitely need to have that talk, she thought as John’s features became enigmatic and relaxed once more.
June 12th, 2010
Lying disassembled on the firing range table, the gun looked so innocent. Even so, Hailey’s heart was beating fast despite her constant reminder to breathe deeply. She watched it from three metres away, Ronon and Dr MacKenzie standing behind her with gentle encouragement.
It seemed so silly to go through something that’d once been as natural as slipping on a pair of pants, but this was what being shot had done to her. The sounds of the firing range could launch her into panic attacks. The sight of a fully assembled weapon still sent cold shivers down her spine and made her forget to breathe.
“One step at a time, Captain,” Dr MacKenzie reminded her.
“I know,” Hailey snapped, feeling frustrated by the situation, by her own weakness.
Taking another deep breath, she walked slowly to the table and stopped. Every fibre in her being pleaded with her to run away, but she held her ground. She was determined to get through it this time; she was getting sick of being sick.
Prolonged immersion therapy had been Ronon’s suggestion, although the Satedans had had a different word for it. He’d revealed that he’d seen her ‘affliction’, as he called it, before on Sateda, and that this was the therapy that’d seemed to work best for his comrades-in-arms.
Dr MacKenzie had agreed and as such, for the past month, she’d gradually immersed herself in the once-familiar presence of a gun. It’d lain on a table like this, although fully assembled, while she gradually approached it for various stretches of time. She’d tried holding it in her hand and aiming it at targets with various degrees of success. She’d also tried disassembling and assembling it, again with various results. Other people had tried holding it in her presence too, but that was still a too powerful trigger and so they’d instead focused on ‘empowering her’, as MacKenzie said.
Hailey stared at each of the disassembled parts, hesitating. In the corner of her eye, she saw Ronon move as if to intercept, and she knew there was no point giving up this early. She’d worked too bloody hard for that.
With surprising ease despite a thundering heart, Hailey assembled the gun and let it rest in her hand for a moment. All the while, she breathed deeply like MacKenzie had taught her and felt, if only for a moment, the confident clarity she’d once possessed. The next step was harder, though.
“You can do this, Captain,” MacKenzie said, his voice calm and sure. “Just like you practiced.”
A new breath of oxygen filled her nostrils, went all the way down to her stomach and filled her entire body. Focusing on her breathing and fixing her eyes on the target in the distance, Hailey cocked the magazine into its slot and felt the weight rest with past familiarity. Then, she laid the gun down on the table, inserted a pair of earplugs underneath her head earmuffs, picked up the gun again, got into position and touched her finger upon the trigger.
Her eyes closed as she pulled the trigger and the force of the shot vibrated through her entire upper body. Her legs started to shake violently and she forgot to breathe…
But even though her heart was racing, she didn’t succumb to the all-blackout panic she’d experienced before. Instead, hands shaking, Hailey opened her eyes and laid the gun back down on the table. Then, gasping slightly as if suddenly breaking surface after swimming underwater too long, she stepped back and lost all strength in her legs. She began heaving for air, tears welling up into her eyes, and she clawed at the ground for control.
“You did excellently, Captain,” MacKenzie was at her side immediately, his hand put comfortingly on her shoulder. “Just breathe it out. You can do it.”
As the spell passed, Hailey began to laugh, whether from hysteria or pure relief, she didn’t know. However, when she finally sat back and wiped the tears from her eyes, she looked up at Ronon and grinned.
“I did it,” she said. “You owe me dinner.”
Ronon smirked and nodded.
July 29th, 2010
The smallest sounds woke him up now. That was one of the first lessons Daniel had learned after adopting Reika. Some nights, he was grateful for his experiences with SG-1 and the need to respond quickly to unexpected situations in the middle of the night. In a sense, they’d prepared him for this, even though it was a far cry between a Goa’uld system lord’s attack and a little girl’s sleepy whimpers.
Groggily, Daniel rolled out of bed and rubbed his eyes, walking sluggishly toward the second bedroom. A small night lamp in the corner that was always turned on gave him enough light to see that Reika had curled up on the floor against the opposite wall again, sobbing brokenly.
“Hey, sweetie,” Daniel mumbled as he reached down and picked her up. Still trapped somewhat in her nightmare, she resisted slightly and squirmed in his lap, but eventually recognised him and clung to him instead. As her broken sobs vibrated against his chest, Daniel agonised with her.
It had started a week ago, completely out of the blue. Reika woke up several times a night with terrible nightmares and cried inconsolably for hours. From what he could get out of her, it was about monsters eating and killing her family, and chasing her too. Even without the base therapist confirming his hypothesis, Daniel knew she was reliving the attack on New Kadara.
The knowledge pained him and reminded him that this tiny little girl, who was usually so full of life and laughter, was a survivor of the most heinous act he’d ever heard the Wraith perform. It seemed only natural that she, too, would have to deal with what had happened to her. He was only surprised that it’d taken this long to manifest.
I’ll keep you safe from now on, Daniel always told her. You’re safe here. The Wraith can’t hurt you anymore. Your auntie and uncle stopped them, and made them flee far, far away. They will protect you too. Always.
It seemed to help. Despite bouts of crankiness and bad temper on both parts during the day due to lack of proper sleep and those other dark thoughts lurking unresolved in their sub-consciousness, they were two peas in a pod. No matter how angry she could be with him for the little things, Reika still relied on him, as he did her. He, too, was a survivor, and her smiles and laughter would be his salvation.
He was parent first, though. As such, holding Reika tightly in his arms and ignoring the bone-deep weariness in his body, Daniel rubbed her back soothingly and settled in for the long haul.
August 20th, 2010
The more things changed, the more they stayed the same. As he got older and more experienced, John knew the truth of that too well. While these past few months had been bliss compared to a year before, with people finding back to the joy and happiness in their lives, shit still found a way to hit the fan and expose the underbelly of their new chapter in life.
“Did he have anyone close in the city?” Keller’s voice was soft, her eyes looking up from the blue-white face of Private Johnson, who lay stretched out on the cold steel gurney underneath a white sheet. An angry purple bruise circled his neck just below the jawline.
John’s insides twisted. “Yeah. I’ll talk to them.”
It wasn’t easy. He hated the looks in their faces – disbelief, anger, and grief. He’d hoped they’d be done with that by now. He’d hoped there wouldn’t be anymore pointless deaths, at least not of this kind, not when things were better than they’d ever been and there were so few of them left…
By the time he reached their quarters that night, John felt drained. He hardly noticed Sam before she spoke up.
“I heard the news.” She rose from the couch, the table in front of her set with dinner from Little Chow. Her voice was solemn, yet sympathetic.
They were the last words uttered for a long while. Sam found a bottle of Master Togar’s strongest brew and they spent an hour drinking in silence, sitting out on their small balcony in the cool night. Nothing really needed saying. They’d already said it countless times before.
Peace was the hardest time. No actions to keep you busy or to keep you from your thoughts and nightmares; to keep you sane. After all his years in the service, John knew that. It didn’t make it easier, however. It made it that much harder.
You had to find other ways to cope – whatever worked for you. For some, it was continued off-world missions and hanging out with friends. For others, it was drugs, alcohol or even sex. For a few, like Johnson, it was opting out.
Eventually, the cold drew them inside. They ate the food Sam had brought – cold now – and washed it down with water to stave off the fuzziness from the Tikwee brew. Then, after Sam had cleared away the dishes in the small kitchenette, he took her hand and pulled her close.
“We’ll be okay, right?” His words were muttered low in her ear as if someone might overhear, as if their very existence was too terrible to acknowledge.
Sam snuggled into the crook of his neck, her voice equally low. “Yeah, we will.”
John inhaled her scent, sighing deeply. “I should’ve suspected something. I’ve—“
“Shh… You couldn’t have known.” Pulling back, Sam caressed John’s cheek softly. Her eyes shone brightly with unshed tears in the dim light of their quarters. “Johnson passed all his psych and fitness tests. His friends hadn’t noticed anything different about him. There were no warning signs.” She paused and ran her hand through his hair. “Don’t add that weight to your shoulders, John.”
“If no one knew,” John said slowly, ignoring her last counsel, “then he dealt with his demons alone. That just makes it worse.” He looked down at her, his lips thinning in renewed frustration. “No one should bear that darkness on their own.”
“Except sometimes they do,” said Sam in resignation. “We can do our very best to help shoulder that darkness, John, and sometimes that helps…but we’re only human. We can’t help everyone. We’ll wind up carrying our own darkness too in the end.”
John knew this was a side of her that wouldn’t have been present unless she’d been in the same position as him: dealing with people under her command who struggled, and with her own feelings of inadequacy. She’d gone through several rounds with the base therapist in order to overcome that, and was still working on it. Even so, he found it difficult to admit she was right. Maybe he wasn’t ready to hear it.
Whatever it was, John wound up pushing Sam forcibly away and narrowing his eyes in accusation. “We should try, or would you say the same thing to Hailey? ‘I’m sorry, but we can’t help everyone. You’re on your own’?”
Hurt flashed in Sam’s face and her eyes trembled with tears. “Don’t, John.”
Don’t start this. Don’t push us into a fight over this again.
But John didn’t care. There was a tightly wound ball of frustration in his nervous system that wanted relief and Sam was the only person present.