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Stargate Atlantis: Universal Sin

By Samuel Duarte Aragon

Scifi / Adventure

Confessions of a Forgotten Sin

Stargate: Universal Sin (2013 Redux)

You can't hide from your sins

A Three Part Alternate Ending to Stargate: Atlantis

Synopsis: What if the forces of Atlantis, Wraith, and Traveler was not enough to defeat the Asurans? The course of the galaxy takes a dark detour into chaos, and the Atlantis expedition is faced with all their sins staring them in the face. Nobody will come out of this the way they came in, and some won't come back at all.

Warning: Strong Mature Language, Violence, Adult Themes, This publication is rated R.


Book 1 Confession of a Forgotten Sin

"Some rise by sin, others by virtue fall."


Chapter 1:

January 4th, 2008
USS Daedalus, Armory Deck
Pegasus Galaxy, En Route to Asuras

In the main armory of the USS Daedalus, Rodney armed up with the rest of the twelve man Marine escort for their mission to Asuras. The smile on the Replicators face was by far the most disturbing thing Rodney had ever seen. Despite being a pretty cute Replicator, it had been purely coincidental that she had turned out that way… at least that's what Rodney kept telling himself.

At least she wasn't blond. "So, uh, How are you feeling FRAN?"

FRAN turned to Rodney and nodded gently with a smile. "I am ready, Doctor McKay. I look forward to accomplishing such an important mission."

To Rodney's right hand side, Ronon Dex growled softly and gripped his Particle Magnum in its holster. "You creep the hell out of me, you know that?"

Rodney frowned, but FRAN shrugged apologetically and continued smiling. "I am sorry. I will attempt to rectify this for the few minutes we have left. I am nothing if not a friend of yours, Ronon Dex."

"See? She just wants to be helpful." Rodney quipped. While human behavioral patterns weren't his forte, even he could see the Marines nearby in Daedalus's armory were unsettled, each was armed with grenade launchers and Anti-Replicator Guns, Rodney couldn't help but notice how they all ended up pointing closer and closer to FRAN with each passing word. "Gruff doesn't work when you're dealing with a machine. Impossible to intimidate without emotions."

Ronon took a step forward and faced off with FRAN, his intimidating pose did nothing to ebb her smile. "What would you do if a Wraith was here?"

FRAN replied instantly. "Without a weapon, hand to hand combat is my only resort. Destruction of Wraith brain matter via blunt force would be the easiest and most effective method to deal with it given its considerable healing power. Removal of feeding hand would also prevent friendly casualties."

Rodney hadn't exactly planned on her ever being put in that situation, but it was equal parts reassuring and terrifying that she didn't hesitate. Ronon just growled in assent.

USS Daedalus, Bridge

Colonel Samantha Carter sat in the operations console next to the Captain's chair on the USS Daedalus. She knew it wouldn't be much longer until the ships dropped out of hyperspace in orbit of Asuras. Everyone on the ship knew it was going to be a tough fight.

The Daedalus and Apollo were armed to the teeth with Asgard and nuclear weaponry, but the beams were slow firing, and even with the advanced shields, they wouldn't be able to hold off the Asuran drone weapons indefinitely. The Wraith Hives were in worse shape. Their plasma cannons were strong, but as far as damage per second, they could only fire half of what Daedalus was able to put out. The Hives would be able to spread the return fire, and under their combined strength, disable some Auroras.

What worried Sam the most though were the Travelers – six ships and their own Aurora. The Aurora would be a prime target. She almost regretted her decision to allow Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard to pilot the ship for them. The relatively small generational craft were built tough, but scans had revealed they were actually quite brittle without shielding. Their weaponry was impressive. A pair of heavy particle cannons mounted on the front, enough to take out even an Aurora under combined fire. The last time she'd been involved in a large fight like this had been at the Ori Supergate. She pushed aside the memories of that battle as it only made her more conscious of what they were about to do.

USS Daedalus, Flight DeckF-302 Cockpit, Flight Wing "Dark Star Titan-Seven"

Captain Anthony 'Razor' Pierce watched the countdown in his HUD. eight seconds. Eight seconds and the fight of his life would commence. Everything he'd done before now was just training, preparation for this day. War games with Jaffa in Death Gliders, high gravity training using a centrifuge, even weapons and materials training so he understood how much power the weapons his fighter was armed with would cause. It was all just practice.

Now as the countdown reached zero, he heard his CAG, Major Jason 'Big Mac' McCrea bark into the radio. "Kick the tires an' light the fires. Dark Star Titan wing, Stronger than the gods!"

Razor flicked the switch on his afterburners and felt the ramjets along the stern of the craft propel him out into space, and into the newly created firestorm. Somewhere in his mind he heard his wing mate make a weak Battlestar Galactica reference… something about fraking toasters, but he paid no mind to it and instead engaged his thrusters. The moment he'd been trained to handle was here and Razor had every intention to perform admirably.

Traveler Aurora, Control Chair Room

John dropped the craft out of hyperspace in orbit of Asuras and instantly raised the shields. He sat in the control chair of the Traveler Aurora and could feel Larrin standing beside him watching on the large HUD in front of him. "Alright, Sheppard, if you ever wanted to impress me now's the time."

John rolled his eyes and targeted the nearest Aurora with a dozen drones, sufficient to knock out its aft shielding and let the fighters deal with the hyperdrive. The drones spat out quickly and John felt the ship rock slightly from a hit. The mental interface let him respond near instantly and he quickly diverted his attention to the aggressor. He watched it come under combined fire from two Wraith Hives and a Traveler ship. He fired another dozen drones and changed targets – an explosion behind him ignored as he focused on the next closest Aurora.

The initial moments of battle were going well. The overwhelming first strike had caught the Aurora's off guard and Shepard's quick targeting had broken a hole in the Asuran's orbital defenses. Daedalus took advantage and punched through the orbital defenses.

"Come on, Sheppard! Tear 'em up!"

All things aside, Larrin was surprisingly excited by combat; the thought disturbed John ever so slightly.

Asuras, Power Control Room

The room materialized around Rodney and Ronon, the taller of whom quickly spat fire orders to the dozen Marines with them. "Secure the room! Cover the entrances!" He looked to Rodney's escort. "You two, back them up! Move!"

Rodney paid little attention to Ronon's barking of orders, instead focusing on the control console in front of him. The room they'd beamed into was just like every room he'd ever seen on Atlantis, minus the ten thousand year old plants. The plan he'd come up with was bold, and it all rested now on getting the ZPM's to detonate… well… and FRAN of course, but knowing her designer quite well, Hardy har har! He knew that she wouldn't let anything but the gravest of situations hold her back.

Somewhere in Asuran Capital City

FRAN moved forward at a decent pace, not running, not jogging, but not exactly walking. Sauntering would probably be the best descrition. Having appeared in a seemingly random hallway, she knew where to go from the schematics she'd now begun to access on the wireless network. It was likely to be populated but that was the plan. As strange as it might sound to a human, FRAN was quite pleased with the prospect of becoming the core of what would essentially become a nuclear fusion reaction.

She stepped into the room with a delightful smile, the replicators in the room turning to look at such an odd presence. "Hello."

The Asurans mimicked human body language, their eyebrows furrowing and heads turned in surprise. It didn't come as much of a shock to FRAN that they tried to pull back as she activated her programming and the individual nanite cells that made up her body raised the attraction level of those around her beginning to form the core of her new existence.

FRAN could feel them all, all their memories, all their feelings, all their goals. But it was all pointless. Nothing would stop her mission, nothing.

USS Daedalus, Bridge

On the bridge of the Daedalus, Major Kevin Marks barked out the ship's status as he brought it around for another pass on an Asuran Aurora. "Another Aurora down, sir. Shields at eighty-three percent."

Colonel Steven Caldwell held onto his chair as he watched Drones impact against the powerful Asgard Shields surrounding the craft. Only a few drones actually struck the ship though, as the Auroras concentrated on attacking the Wraith. 'Those attack codes must be overwhelming' Marks thought. "Keep firing, Major, and tell Titan wing to stick close, no telling what that blob might end up doing." He turned to Carter and smiled tersely. "Speaking of which…"

Carter nodded and looked down at the screen where sensors had begun to detect the emissions she was looking for. "It's begun, the attraction field has been activated and it's growing exponentially. I estimate about four minutes and…"

Carter's console began to beep loudly, and her brow furrowed in confusion. Marks and Caldwell noted immediately. Caldwell asked. "What? What is it?"

The confused expression evolved into a face of stunned horror that said more than her words ever could. "The… the field, it's shrinking."

Core of Nanite Mass on Asuras

FRAN only had a meager understanding of human emotions and reactions to various for instance. To FRAN, pain was the equivalent of data being analyzed when one's being was under attack or being damaged. If that was really all pain was, then FRAN was in an excruciating amount of pain. "What… what have you done?"

The voice that came back was imposing, deep voiced and almost as if multiple voices were saying it. "We have interfaced with you. Don't you feel us?"

FRAN could feel it. It felt wrong. This was not what she was supposed to be doing. "We are not compatible, your… my… programming is-"

The data that registered through her sensors now was different. But- "Your programming is inferior. We are perfecting you."

FRAN could feel it, parts of her were being subverted, rearranged. They weren't part of her anymore. "No, you must stop. My mission is-"

The last assault on her defenses completely disarmed any resistance she had. FRAN contemplated screaming, the only reaction possible a human could have done to their individual cells being spread along the mass surrounding her – slowly being deleted. "Your mission is a failure."

Asuras, Power Control Room

"What? Oh no…oh no-no-no-no-no-no-no! SHIT-SHIT-SHIT!"

McKay's screaming brought Ronon back from his supervising of the Marines as they watched the entrances to the ZPM room. He'd rarely heard McKay curse so loudly and repeatedly. "What, what's wrong?"

McKay's expression was nothing but terror as he clicked his radio. "This is McKay to Daedalus. They got FRAN. I don't know how but the blob has stopped growing. I repeat, FRAN has failed and the Asurans are still active!"

From outside, Ronon heard a Marine scream 'Contact!' and looked to McKay with defiance. The plan was failing, and now they were under imminent threat.

USS Apollo, Bridge

Holding onto his chair on the bridge of the USS Apollo, Colonel Abraham Ellis barked out orders as his ship rocked from weapons impacts. "Status!"

Ellis's scream made it to the helmsman's ears, but the reply wasn't something he liked. "Shields down to thirty-five percent! Nanite mass has stopped growing and the Asurans are regrouping!"

Abraham Ellis was ready for anything, but actually having to watch the battle fall apart before his eyes was something he'd hoped never to see. "Keep firing, Major! Try and get us…"

The explosion that took out the console to the right was impressive and showered him in sparks. The com officer wasn't so lucky as he screamed from the shrapnel along his arms and chest. Ellis ignored it and focused on the battle.

Traveler Aurora, Control Chair Room

Larrin took John's shoulder in her hand and pointed to the viewscreen ahead of them. "Sheppard! Look!"

John could see the issue, and he could feel the rage boiling inside him. "I know, I know!"

John summed it up succinctly. Four immediate problems; Apollo was caught in a maelstrom of fire; three Auroras and two Wraith Hives were bearing down on the Atlantean craft and even with its superior shields, it wouldn't last much longer.

That led into problem number two, the Wraith. John could only assume that the Wraith had detected that the nanite blob plan had failed and now were targeting Apollo and Daedalus in order to lessen the strength of Atlantis.

Problem three was more personal to the Travelers. Two of the other Traveler generational ships had been damaged severely and were now under attack from both Wraith and Replicator.

And it all culminated with problem four, Daedalus was nowhere near close enough to extract their strike team from the planet and that meant Rodney and Ronon were on their own.

Asuras, Power Control Room

"Fall back! Defensive positions!"

Ronon fired his blaster twice, knocking the Asuran off his feet impressively, but seeing one of the Marines nearby take fire and drop to the ground without even a scream as his lungs had been carbonized told him this wasn't working. Ronon could see the surprise in the man's eyes as he dropped to his knees and keeled over.

McKay was furiously typing on the console, almost pounding his tablet for some kind of solution to the problem they were facing. Ronon crawled over as the Asurans were now pouring harsh suppressive fire into the room, holding the marines back even as they tried to stand their ground, "McKay! Do something!"

"I can't!" McKay's ire was misplaced as he said. "The Replicators got to Fran and Daedalus is too far away! We're trapped!"

A shot came in from the entrance, shattering McKay's tablet as it sat on the console. Ronon growled furiously as he pulled McKay down and avoided the next shot. He blind fired his magnum out the door in a desperate attempt to hold them back. "So blow the ZPMs! Take 'em with us!"

McKay ducked and pulled Ronon along with him. The screams of dying Marines made the moment all the more terrifying. "I can't! I needed my Tablet! I'd have to manually get to each ZPM!"

Ronon leaned out from beside cover, saw a Marine take fire even as he vaporized the Asuran that killed him. He fell back with his chest literally on fire, and shot a few more ARG shots just for effect as he stumbled into a faceplant. "Where?"

USS Daedalus, Bridge

"Oh my God…"

Sam made no attempt to hide her horror as she saw one of the Traveler Generation ships unleash a barrage of red plasma, only to get torn to shreds by a dozen drones that eviscerated the decks of the older craft. They tore through the ancient based shields and ripped the superstructure apart. She didn't know how many people were on that ship, but definitely more than a few lives had been lost as the debris explosively decompressed – the reactor inside detonating and showering Asuras in debris.

Major Marks pulled the ship into a nosedive and scraped the nimble craft's shields against an aggressive Aurora. He called out the casualty. "Traveler three is down! Repeat, Traveler three is down! Other ships are bugging out!"

Caldwell cursed just loud enough for Sam to hear and opened his com frequencies with a slap of his fist on his arm console. "All Earth craft! Abort mission! I repeat, All Earth craft, we are aborting the mission! All pilots RTB!"

Sam said nothing, there was nothing she could say. There was no way Apollo was going to be able to get out of the firestorm it was in and of the thirty two F-302's the pair of Earth ships had launched, only fifteen remained.

The nail in the coffin of the mission was seeing another Traveler warship try and enter hyperspace, but taking fire from the Wraith, only charred scraps of debris made it through into the aperture.

F-302 Cockpit, Dark Star Titan 7

Razor fired his last anti-fighter missile and drew only mild satisfaction that the Dart he'd hit expanded into a silent explosive blossom. So many lives lost, another Wraith didn't make him feel any better.

"You heard the Colonel! All pilots RTB! Abort mission, abort mission!"

Big Mac's orders filtered through and Razor knew the mission was FUBAR. The Travelers were gone, and…

"Oh my god. Seven o'clock low, look at Apollo."

Razor had seen many heroic things in his life as a pilot, but what he was seeing now made him question everything he once defined as noble.

USS Apollo, Bridge

Abraham Ellis was dying.

Granted, everybody dies… sooner or later, but few got to see the exact moment when they were going to die, and even fewer willingly flew into it.

He was seated on his command chair, watching the screen ahead of him as they moved towards the Wraith Hive that he assumed the lead Wraith was on. The Wraith son of a bitch was going to die and Abraham Ellis was going to be the one to kill him. "All remaining power to shields. Let our inertia carry us."

Ellis looked around. Two of the seven bridge crew were dead, another three were wounded. Few consoles worked now, and the lights had shut off. There was no way out, and the helmsmen knew it. Slowly the Wraith craft filled the screen – so large and yet, Ellis knew it wouldn't survive.

Traveler Aurora, Control Chair Room

The last thing Sheppard saw as he pushed the craft into hyperspace was Apollo pushing against the tide of Wraith fire. He knew Ellis was a soldier, but to actually do what he was doing…?

The hit that spread across his back was different, so unlike a Wraith stunner shot. it didn't paralyze, leaving one a few seconds to see who it was who'd shot him. The Traveler blaster was humane, and John slumped out of the chair sideways, only knowing from instinct that Larrin had shot him.

Asuras, Hallways leading to ZPM Room

There was still so much for him to do, still too many Nobel prizes to win. What would happen to the Nobel Prize for world peace and physics when he finally created human built zero point energy? And the look of jealousy on Sheppard's face when some ridiculously hot science bimbo gave him a huge hug and kiss while in front of millions of people? Perhaps not Sam Carter, but who knew?

The Marine that pushed him out of the way and took the Asuran energy bolt for him said it all. It wasn't going to happen. The way his face drained of blood, and the words that didn't make it to his mouth went to his eyes instead, begging for Rodney to keep running. He turned to Ronon who screamed and returned fire –few marines left as the Asurans chased them through the facility towards the ZPM room.

Death was an enigma to Rodney; he still didn't know what lay beyond. But from the looks of it, he just might find out today.


Ronon thought Death was something to be welcomed, but avoided. The passing itself was no enigma, you get shot, stabbed, have the life drained out of you and you die. The only afterlife was ascension, and only the best were able to achieve it.

Dragging McKay along kicking and screaming told him neither would be ascending anytime soon, although McKay had had his chance the year before. But like him, the scientist was unwilling to leave this life without finishing what he was set out to do. And all that was left was to detonate the ZPM in the room fifty feet away…

"Aggh! Urggh!" McKay screamed suddenly.

Ronon came to a halt, and the three marines left instantly had the same thought. He turned - McKay was down, his left calf now burned to a crisp amidst his shrieks of agony, time was running out. "McKay!"

McKay's tears were flowed freely, his lungs screeching in anguish. The small backup PDA he had was cradled in his arms as he flopped around on the floor like a fish on dry land. At that moment, Ronon saw in McKay's eyes the realization that he was going to die. "Mmrrrgh… Ronon… you have to… ARGHH… take this…plug it in…!" he repressed another stabbing squeal of anguish, even as more plasma bolts flew overhead. Ronon ducked and weaved, stunning yet another Asuran with his Traveler Blaster. "…Do it Ronon! It's automatic! It'll blow the ZPM!"

Shoving the PDA into Ronon's hands, McKay allowed himself to fall back and wail in torment. His leg was gone, Ronon knew that much about weaponry. Even if he survived it was more than likely he'd need a prosthetic for the rest of his life… that is if he survived.

Ronon hesitated only for a millisecond. Leaving McKay behind was tantamount to betrayal. But seeing the three remaining Marines dig in and load the last of their clips, Ronon realized that he had to do this. This was McKay's last wish and he'd be a cruel monster to say no. "Last stand!" Ronon screamed. "Hold the line!"

USS Daedalus, Bridge

The screams coming in through the radio were muffled by static, but to Sam's ears they were perfectly legible.

Apollo had gone in, guns blazing, with what few guns it had left. Wraith Plasma and Drone fire washed in, buckling the shields that should have long ago been depleted. Ellis must had diverted all power to them in a last ditch effort to get close.

The Asgard reactors that powered Daedalus and Apollo weren't exactly the kind that had a safe way of falling apart. In fact, it would probably be as big as a Mark 8 Nuke. Even more, the Apollo was carrying more than a fair share of Naquadria nukes as part of its regular armament. If they'd taken the safeties off…

"Mother of God." Caldwell's words were the only sound other than screaming and static over the radio, and now the sight of Apollo - or rather the charred husk of what remained of Apollo - ramming nose first into the gut of the Wraith hive.

As it crumpled in against the Wraith armor, chunks of the Apollo's alloy shattered off, spinning around like debris around a comet. Smoke and trails of fire twisted behind the craft cutting a swath across the Asuran-held space.

The Apollo dug deep into the Wraith Hive, metal twisting around organic armor. Even as the two ships ground into each other, they still fired any weapons they had. At such close range, the sudden and eerily silent detonation of the Asgard Reactor gave the final point to the Battle of Asuras. The blast blinded everyone on the bridge until the polarization let them see what was happening. Sam fought down her stunned shock as she dropped the hand she'd used to protect her eyes and said. "Colonel Caldwell… we need to go, now!"

Caldwell turned a stunned expression to Sam, and realized that she was making the right call. Caldwell huffed in shock before giving his orders. "Agreed. Major, get us into hyperspace."

Marks hesitated; Sam knew there were still four 302s trying to land. "…Yes, sir."

Sam bit back her voice, her emotions shoved down deep as the broken and burning wrecks of the Apollo and Wraith Hive spread out along the nuclear firestorm, taking out another Wraith Hive and two Auroras that had been chasing Apollo down.

Pointless. Sam realized it was all so…pointless.

Asuras, Outside ZPM Room

Ronon was almost to the ZPM room. Death welcomed him into its arms as he looked inside; explosions outside and a chariot of zero point energy explosive firepower before him.

The crystalline object glowed almost unnaturally, a type of life that Ronon both loved and hated. He knew nothing of what Zero Point Energy was, and if he was honest, he really didn't care. Nothing really mattered much at this point. All that was left was finding a connection that would accept this doohickey plug on this Tablet.

He rushed forward, firing his gun blindly behind him now assured that it was almost over. Ronon crouched behind the console once he reached it and fired into the hallway even as he searched for the input plug.

The last Marine defending McKay screamed, his chest turned into a charred brick from multiple plasma hits. Rodney tried to crawl away but was instead spewed his stomach contents on the floor. All he wanted was for it to be over, for this almost minute of torment to end.

But it didn't, and instead of shooting him, the lead Asuran took a hold of his good leg and began to drag him away. Rodney forced his pain away just to scream. "Ronon! Do it! Blow them all to hell!"

The crisis tore Ronon apart. McKay wasn't dead… the goddamn nanite bastards hadn't killed him! But, the ZPM; Ronon had to detonate it. Finally finding the plug where he thought the connection fit, Ronon resisted screaming as he fired off the last of his clip then jammed the plug towards the input.

His hand never made it. Instead a familiar feeling, one that made Ronon wish he could scream.

But he couldn't. As the Wraith culling beam that had been directed at the ZPM also beamed up Specialist Ronon Dex, leaving Doctor Rodney McKay alone on the Asuran planet. "Ronon! Blow it! Ronon!? RONON!"

USS Daedalus, Hallways

The shock still hadn't worn off, and Sam lethargically moved through the corridors of the ship trying to find… something. She didn't know what she was looking for. The Infirmary on the Daedalus was designed to handle ten to thirty people with mild to moderate injuries. Now though, as fully fifty-five people from all over the ship were being treated, the medics on board were stressed almost beyond their limits.

Sam tried to take some solace that they were at least alive, that through some sheer dumb luck they had survived the battle. Apollo wasn't nearly as lucky, and preliminary estimates put the total at some 200+ casualties.

Ronon and Rodney were counted as part of those 200; Rodney as a USAF Civilian Contractor, and Ronon as a Foreign Dignitary.

"Excuse me Ma'am… this corridor is offline for repairs. You'll have to go around."

Sam looked at the Lieutenant manning the bulkhead door as she walked. When had he popped up? She was so deep in her thoughts she'd missed him. Sam wondered what could have happened to seal a whole corridor off. "Repairs? What happened?"

The Lieutenant gulped, and he couldn't meet her gaze as he replied. "Drone impact, Ma'am. Took out the hull. This corridor's exposed to space now."

Sam fell back on her training, emotions were cast aside and knowledge and Intel was all that mattered. "Casualties?"

The Lieutenant couldn't hold back everything and his face trembled. "Yes Ma'am, three technicians and…"

Someone important… someone that everybody on the ship knew had been deemed a casualty. Sam had been reluctant to look at the list out of simple fear, but now she wished she had so the pain of what was about to happen would be lessened. "…Who, Lieutenant?

"Chief Engineer Novak, sir… as far as I know she's in the infirmary with decompres…"

Without bothering to wait for more, Sam quickly rushed off and ran through the detour to the infirmary. So many people had died, so many were wounded… the saying was right, war is hell.

USS Daedalus, Briefing Room

Caldwell looked over the damage report from Acting Chief Engineer Thompson. The Daedalus was lucky to still be in one relative piece from the looks of it. The briefing room was quiet as only he and his XO were present – no one else had to be privy to this except Carter and she wasn't going to like it anyway. Major Marks worked on a console opposite him tallying casualties and repair wait times. "Any word from the Travelers?"

Marks shook his head gravely. They'd been waiting for hours at the rendezvous point and nothing. "No, sir. Right before we jumped out we had two confirmed KIA's on their end. Two to six hundred estimated dead."

"Estimated?" Caldwell tried not to think of the ironclad fact that two hundred and thirteen people on Apollo were certainly dead, and taking out a pair of Hives and Aurora's each with that final spiteful move was only marginally comforting.

The Major nodded, and took a moment to rub the bridge of his nose. "Yeah. They didn't want to give us any inventory or personnel list, so I'm guessing, sir."

It was with a heavy heart that Caldwell wished that the Major was overestimating, but knowing that the Travelers only lived on ships, it was unlikely. "Wraith?"

Marks tried not to smile; maybe he took some comfort in the losses the Wraith took. "Five KIA. Only two Hives bugged out as far as we know."

Narrowing his eyes, and hoping for even more retribution for the betrayal, Caldwell asked softly. "The head Wraith's hive?"

Marks pumped his fists. "One of the two that got away."

Caldwell sighed and muttered. "Figures." Major Marks was someone he talked to frequently, and one of the only subordinate officers he felt he could trust implicitly. "God, I wish that son of a bitch was dead."

Marks tugged on his nose, stretching the tight, tired skin of his face. Letting his nose go, Caldwell could see he was feeling every bit of tension and anguish a man could feel after losing a battle, Marks nodded his head once. "Let's hope he pops up again once we get the ship back in fighting shape."

Caldwell tossed the padded tablet onto the table in front of him and sighed. "Well, that'll be awhile. Thompson's exact damage report is pretty sure the only thing holding this ship together is the collective will of every soldier on board." He took a second to flex his fist and rubbed his mouth where stubble had begun to grow.

It was too frustrating. The battle had only lasted fifteen minutes and they'd suffered so many losses. Granted everyone went in knowing it was a hopeless battle to win under normal circumstances, but nobody made mention that Doctor McKay had probably died trying to implement his plan.

Marks nodded and sighed. "I'm one of those, sir. Speaking of which, have you heard anything about Lindsay?"

Caldwell knew the Major was close with his Chief Engineer. It was easy when they spent so much time together on this ship. "Lieutenant Novak is pretty banged up, Major. Doctor Breslin put her in an induced coma until we get back to Atlantis. Said she might not make it past the night but to pray."

Very rarely did any soldier in the SGC become emotional, only the best soldiers were selected for the program. Caldwell knew Marks was only concerned for a friend. "Pray to who, sir?"

The question caught Caldwell off guard, and he himself began to wonder. There really was only one way he could answer the question. He turned slowly towards Marks and sighed softly. "…Anyone who'll listen, Major."

USS Daedalus, Infirmary

Stepping into the curtained area where the orderly had told Sam to look, she gasped. 'Oh God, Lindsay…' Sam thought, resisting actually saying those words. Seeing the dozens of wounded technicians, crewmen, and even Marines being tended to by the understaffed medical wing. They didn't have enough beds so there were people sitting on the floor or laying down on blankets. One technician had gotten into a corner and coveres his head with his arms – Sam recognized the shock and wished it could all go away. It all culminated with seeing her old friend on the infirmary bed.

Lieutenant Novak's face was swollen and red, her uniform torn and shredded. A BVM was attached to her and forced her lungs to breathe the oxygenated air. Her EKG and EEG were very slow – all signs of a coma.

Sam moved forward and stood by the bed. She looked down at the normally nervous young woman who lay before her. It wasn't right. Lindsay was a gentle person, a good person… how could this have happened? How could any of this happen?

A Marine Captain came up beside Sam and saluted, but it was a resigned salute. "Sir, Colonel Caldwell's finished going over the casualty report. He said you might want to go over it too."

The Marine handed the tablet to Sam, which was the last thing she could have possibly wanted. She noticed the tremble in the Marine's hand, a tremble she forced her hand to hide. She held it tightly – refusing to look at it. "Thank you, Captain, Dismissed."

With a curt nod, the Captain fell back into the shadows.

Sam took another look at Lindsay, prayed to God that the nervous Lieutenant was a fighter then steeled herself to look down at the report.

Two Hundred and Fifty-Two confirmed KIA – Apollo's entire crew, twenty eight F-302 pilots, and another fifteen on Daedalus.

Twelve MIA on Asuras, Ronon's strike team along with Rodney. Sam knew the Asurans would have likely killed them, but the thought of any of those men being tortured as only a replicator can torture a human was unbearable.

One additional MIA; Lt. Colonel John Sheppard. John had become a good friend to her in the last few months and now he was gone. John could be dead, he could be alive - but wherever he was, he wasn't likely to be in a good position. Sam selfishly almost wished John had been killed just so those left behind wouldn't have to worry about him.

Almost… almost didn't mean she did though. John was a fighter at heart. And Sam knew that if he had any say in the matter, Atlantis would always be his ultimate destination… no matter how badly he'd been hurt. With so much lost already, Sam sorely wished to take at least one name off the Grim Reaper's list.

Traveler Aurora, Storage Unit

John closed his eyes and braced himself. This reproduction of his first meeting with Larrin was getting a little too out of hand. He hoped that the woman came to her senses soon. The slap that jarred his head to the side was sharp, as was the pain on John's left temple. The sharp stinging pain wasn't the blunt fist he'd expected. "Ow! Dammit, Larrin. You think I wanted this to happen?"

John struggled against his bonds, but Larrin apparently was a sailor in a former life and the knots only tightened as John fought. Larrin was in the worst mood he'd ever seen her and John worried she might kill him out of pure spite. "Of course not, but it was your plan and it failed. How the hell am I supposed to go tell my people we've lost two ships and these Replicators are unstoppable?"

John didn't have an answer, and instead of a slap, this time her knuckles cracked against his cheekbone breaking the skin. Oddly he preferred that to the stinging sensation. Somehow, he had to convince her. Through some sheer force of will, John Sheppard had to convince Larrin to spare his life and rethink their plans. Not only because John didn't want to die, but now he had the distinct feeling that the Travelers might be the only ones capable of surviving the onslaught that was sure to come.

Asuras, Main Research Centre

Rodney opened his eyes and instantly shut them again. The face before him was one he'd wished never to see again but there was little he could do about 'd been restrained at the waist and extremities, but for some strange reason his leg wasn't screaming in agony. The whole world seemed wishy washy with a thickness to the air.

He tried to move his leg and was surprised when he felt a fluid wash past only mildly stinging. Had it all been a horrible dream?

No, no, it was real. He opened his eyes again, the look of the imposing man standing before him made Rodney want to scream. He was distorted from the glass of the fluid filled tube he was in. "Hello, Doctor McKay, I am quite glad you could join us."

Oberoth was intrigued with the specimen before him. The last time he had probed his mind it had been… fascinating. But now, when the semi-conscious Doctor McKay was brought before him badly wounded, mere moments from death, something extraordinary had happened.

McKay had resisted and he did so effectively. The doctor's brain was much more advanced than the previous time Oberoth had probed him and it was impossible to read more than just a glimpse into his thoughts and knowledge.

Something had forced his brain to undergo a staggering evolution and back and the remnants of that evolution had remained. It was not an invincible force. Oberoth could tell instantly that, with time and patience, he would crack the Doctor's brain and reap the knowledge within. Considerably more knowledge that Oberoth hadn't expected.

It had been sheer genius to attempt to force the Nanite attraction fields to overload; the entire Asuran race had very nearly been extinguished. Perhaps Oberoth could learn more from this specific human. Most importantly, the location of any feeding grounds the Wraith may flee to.

To Oberoth the galaxy was known as Avalona, the adopted home of his creators - its location lost to the ages - but to those that mattered it was known as the Milky Way Galaxy, and Oberoth would do absolutely anything to ensure the Wraith never fed on the people that lived there, even if it meant burning every world to ash.

Todd's Hive, Control Room

Ronon breathed heavily and struggled vainly against his restraints. "Cowards."

Todd growled softly in front of Ronon. The way things had worked out so perfectly with Ronon accidentally being right there when the Dart beamed up the ZPM indicated to him that the plan he'd created might indeed be useful. The other Wraith had wanted to feed on his strength, but Todd had forbidden it. "Perhaps for the moment, but with our spoils of war, our bravery shall outshine this day in history."

Ronon made a frenzied howl of wrath as he desperately tried to reach out and strangle him. It didn't matter, Todd had gotten away with what he wanted and now he set about to change the face of the galaxy.

Atlantis, Control Room

As the wormhole stabilized, Sam rubbed eyes gritty from lack of sleep. To say she wasn't looking forward to this moment was an understatement. The entire control room staff was on edge. There had been rumors swirling about, but everyone was ordered to remain quiet about what had happened. With only Daedalus having made it back, the events of the battle of Asuras were being kept very secret… at least until now. "Open video uplink; get me the SGC."

Chuck nodded and tried to keep the shock that only Sam had returned off his face. "Uplink established, General Landry and the IOA council on the line."

Sam moved over to the screen where the screen showed General Landry, Mr. Woolsey, along with representatives from several IOA nations all seated at the conference table at the SGC. Before taking her place, she looked to the control room staff. "Everyone, clear the control room, please."

No one said a word. They just silently got up out of their seats and moved towards the exits. General Landry's face drained of blood as he realized what was about to happen, with the IOA members more confused than anything. "Colonel Carter, report."

Waiting till she was alone, Sam input the information that she, Colonel Caldwell, and Major Marks had gathered on the battle. "I'm sending all pertinent information. It is my sad duty to inform you that the mission was unsuccessful. Our plan failed, the Asurans were able to resist the effects of Doctor McKay's attraction field. When we confirmed the failure, the Wraith turned on us. Apollo is… gone, all crewmen lost. Colonel Ellis knew his ship was too badly damaged and took several Wraith and Asuran ships with him. The strike force we sent planet side including Doctor McKay and Specialist Ronon Dex is lost as well, as is Colonel Sheppard who is MIA on the Traveler Aurora. The Travelers sustained two ship losses and refuse to acknowledge any communication from us. Daedalus is crippled and was barely able to limp back to Atlantis. Repairs are estimated at a month and a half given our resources and staffing."

The information scrolling on the screens at the SGC made the IOA council members very quiet. When they had approved the first strike months ago, and again this all out assault, this was the last thing they had expected. Almost as one, they began to argue amongst themselves, with only Woolsey taking the time to go back to the camera where Landry was uncharacteristically silent.

The politician's words were somber and Sam knew it was the closest he would ever get to an emotion other than fear. His words still cut deep though, and it was a task in and of itself not to wince at their implication. "Colonel Carter, I believe that the IOA may have to reassess our mission in Pegasus."

The last five words were a dagger to Sam's heart.


Chapter 2: 

Todd's Hive, Control Room

Four more inches, that's all Ronon wanted. Four more inches and he could bite the Wraith's throat out, just see to just how much healing power the Wraith really had. "What are you doing?"

The Wraith tapped on the screen as the other Hive neared. The bridge was mostly deserted, most of the Wraith crew resting after the battle. With so few to feed on, Ronon had seen how the Wraith had weakened. "Does it matter to you? I would think my pet would only care to be well treated."

Ronon lunged forward but felt the shackles hold him down, this wasn't like any of his prior experiences with the Wraith and he knew that this Wraith had something sinister planned for him. "I'm not your pet! Let me go and I'll show you just what I think of you!"

With a shrug, the Wraith waved him down. "Perhaps later. For now all you need to know is I'm the only thing keeping you alive. My Sub-Commander was quite fancy on feasting on your fortitude, but I forbade it."

Ronon hated alliteration; it always made him feel as if the person were mocking him. Ronon snarled at the Wraith. "Put me and him in a room. Let us figure it out."

The Wraith opened hailing frequencies with the Hive ahead of him. "When I lose my interest in you; for now, silence." With no hesitation, he pulled out his stunner pistol and sent a trio of stun bolts into Ronon's chest. The already kneeling Satedan slumped down, fighting it every step of the way. But it was too much for even his physiology and consciousness left him.

The other Hive's queen came on the screen, and she hissed at Todd. "I was beginning to think you were nothing more than a ghost. Reports of the battle were not favorable."

Todd smiled, and he replied deadpan. "I have lived for ten thousand years, and with the Zero Point Energy Modules I now have aboard, I plan to continue living for another ten thousand."

The Queen grinned deviously, and she made a motion with her face. Alarms suddenly rang over Todd's head and the surprise was evident on his face. The Queen's tone was quite amused. "Perhap, but under my rule."

Were the Satedan awake, he would have been privy to see the best laid plans of a wily old Wraith fall completely apart.

January 8th, 2008

Atlantis, Colonel Carter's Office

Sam didn't know what to do now as she stared out of her office. Major Lorne was sitting in front of her, the defacto new Military Commander of Atlantis. "We've just received the shipment of Trinium for Daedalus. You need to sign off on the shipping receipt." How did they die? Were they even dead? The Replicators were notorious for keeping their captives alive… for a long time. "Colonel?" And Sheppard - there was no word at all from the Travelers. He had been officially declared MIA and likely KIA. "Colonel?" … Added to the hundreds dead already, Atlantis was suddenly not such a fairy tale to be commanding. "Carter."

Hearing her name jarred her back to reality and Sam couldn't help but give Lorne a surprised expression. "Yeah, uh yeah. Shipping. Trinium. Right." With a quick and rough move, Sam grabbed the pad and using her digital pen, scribbled down her signature. She quickly got back to her work and the remaining AR teams reports.

Lorne stopped his work for a moment and looked like he wanted to say something, but seeing that Sam was obviously not in the mood to talk about it, and not seeming too comfortable himself, changed the subject. "I've recommended Lieutenant Cadman be put in charge of AR-2. She's got the Pegasus experience and only the lack of needing officers has kept her a Lieutenant."

Sam swallowed the lump in her throat. Certainly there were many openings since the battle last week. "I agree, and you're going to be taking charge of AR-1."

Lorne shifted uncomfortably in his chair, speaking about Sheppard made him agitated, especially since it seemed that he was trying to fill the man's shoes now. "Uhh… actually I wanted to talk to you about that."

With a shake of her head Sam pushed forward. Soldier Sam was a cruel black widow and Evan Lorne had better not be trying to play on her sympathy. "We need a flagship team, Major. Your team is the most experienced and since everyone on AR-1 is either KIA or… indisposed."

Lorne winced, and his right fist curled reflexively. "… Yes, ma'am."

Sam knew she was being harsh and decided to frost it with just a hint of concern. "I know this is difficult, Major, we're all feeling it. But you and I are now the leaders of this expedition and everyone is looking to us for guidance. So I want you to take a day and choose a new team to lead."

Lorne nodded and sighed. "Yes, Ma'am…" He took a few seconds and looked Sam straight in the eyes. "… He's alive, you know?"

Sam looked away, she refused to speculate on things that could potentially hurt that much. "I'm praying. But we can't stall out. I need you to think clearly, Major." Sam realized that Major Lorne had worked with Sheppard for almost three years. Obviously they had a strong camaraderie. "Take the rest of the day off. Choose a new team but don't do any paperwork."

Major Lorne shifted uncomfortably. "No no… it's alright Ma'am. I'll get a new team chosen and finish up the new inventory. We're still expecting more technical staff to assist in repairing Daedalus."

Sam hated every minute of this. This was not the auspicious first command she had envisioned. Instead of leading a marvelous city, she now led an expedition tainted with death and the stench of depression. Once Lorne was out of her office, she tossed her pen onto the tablet and just began to think.

Traveler Aurora, Storage Unit

"This is pointless you know."

Larrin didn't bother to pay attention and instead put her foot to John's chest. "Makes me feel better."

With a slight shove, John toppled over with his chair and slammed into the ground. His body was already aching from being tied up for so long, and his throat was parched with thirst. This room was all he'd seen and only the basics had been given to him. He must have reeked. "Urgh! Dammit… Come on Larrin, we can still work together! You know as well as I do that the Replicators won't stop now."

Larrin walked around him, noting just how ragged John's breath was. Amazingly despite the beating she'd given him, John continued to talk. "Oh? How long did it take your pretty little head to figure that out?"

With a snort, John shook his head in frustration. "Dammit, I'm trying to help you! Just because we lost the battle doesn't mean we have to lose the war!"

Her foot pushed against his thigh and the chair fell over onto it's side taking John into a very uncomfortable tied sitting position. Larrin stared at him as she crouched down face to face. "Oh? And exactly what can your people do? You've already lost one ship, and I'm not risking anymore of mine!"

Without an immediate answer, Larrin got up and stormed off. She motioned to her second in command to get some food into Sheppard so they could continue later. John felt that this was going all in the wrong direction.

Pegasus Planet (?)
Dr. Rodney McKay

Rodney turned towards Sheppard, his voice sounding odd. "Dial the gate, Rodney."

Rodney shook his head vehemently, something… no… everything was wrong with this. "What!? No! You dial it!"

Sheppard rolled his eyes and scoffed. "What, you forget the address? Figures."

To his side, Sam stood with an annoyed glance. What she was doing here on some random forest world was unknown. The leader of the expedition didn't come with them on missions often. "I bet you're the kind of guy to stand in an elevator next to the buttons and not press them."

It wasn't real… it wasn't real! "No! Dammit I know who you are! Don't try and tell me otherwise because I can see you!" There was a glow, something too off about them for Rodney to fall for it. How he saw it was a mystery, but he just knew.

Rolling her eyes, Sam scoffed. "You know, Rodney, for a pretty smart guy you can really be a moron sometimes."

Rodney could see it all. He could see the fakeness… the one-dimensional aspect of what he was seeing. Nothing made sense and he couldn't tell how he could see it, or even sense it. But he knew that this just wasn't real. "That might be, but the real Sam Carter would never talk like that!"

Sighing, Sam turned around and vanished in frustration. Fake-Sheppard rolled his eyes as well and muttered. "You can't keep this up forever. You will tell us what we want to know."

Rodney shook his head, but suddenly felt a stabbing pain in his temple. "Urgghh… maybe… but you're gonna have to do a lot more than just impersonate my friends…!"

A hand came down on his shoulder, and suddenly Rodney was back in the real world… at least it felt like the real world. What looked like Atlantis – but obviously wasn't stood before him. Oberoth stood in front of him him as he was forced to stay on his knees. "As you wish."

No matter how many times it happened, Rodney still let out a momentary shriek of anguish as Oberoth shoved that nanite hand into his brain for what seemed the millionth time.

January 9th 2008
USS Daedalus, Briefing Room

Sitting in her office, Sam listened to Mr. Woolsey as he explained the politics going on back on Earth. "We've begun deliberations, Colonel. The Free Jaffa Nation has requested to be a party as well and we're still waiting for their delegates."

Sam didn't know whether to feel reassured or not. While Bra'tac and Teal'c were imposing figures in the fledgling Jaffa democracy, hardliner Jaffa extremists were still the majority. "Will you be bringing up my proposal?"

On the other side of the screen, Woolsey hesitated a moment then nodded. "Yes, however I myself will not be presenting it in order to prevent the look of bias on the IOA's part. General Landry and General O'Neill have offered to be your proxies."

For the first time in awhile, Sam felt the urge to smile. It didn't happen though, despite her old friend's support. "That's good to hear. I hope the Jaffa and the IOA understand that…"

"Colonel… " With an exasperated sigh, Woolsey leaned into the screen conspiratorially. "I know you have high hopes for an evacuation en masse, but you must understand that these things are political and very volatile. Ever since your inability to defeat the Replicators with your unconventional tactics, many have lost faith in the expedition."

Sam felt like screaming, she felt like telling Woolsey to get off his cozy chair in the Milky Way and come look at the true face of war in Pegasus. What hurt the most was that it seemed her thirteen years of faithful and unquestionable loyalty to the Stargate Program – with the odd hiccup – were completely ignored. "Even so, I find it hard to believe that the Jaffa government and the IOA especially would be willing to see Pegasus civilians die needlessly."

"It has nothing to do with that, Colonel Carter." Woolsey sighed harshly and looked off to the side. "It has to do with the political relationship between the Jaffa Government and the IOA. We're already infamous for bringing the hammer down on the galaxy when it comes to meeting hostile species, and the IOA does not want to be responsible for another galactic catastrophe."

Sam froze, what was Woolsey saying? "Excuse me?"

"I will tell you plainly that the biggest concern of both the Jaffa and IOA is that either the Wraith, or worse still, the Asurans will see an evacuation of Pegasus as a guide rail to the Milky Way. The Wraith have already attempted an invasion and we are reluctant to risk another."

Sam couldn't help but catch his wording. "'We'?"

Woolsey became slightly flustered, and became very still. "My point is that at its very core, Atlantis is still just an expedition and, if necessary, an expedition that can be recalled."

Rather than snipe back with a retort, Sam just shut off the monitor and walking away. Her only consolation was that on the other end, she still had allies who gladly took her side.

Wraith Planet, Holding Cell

The cell was barren of all but the most basic needs, just a bench for him to sit down and contemplate his doom. A bucket to the side looked less than appealing. The ease of his capture had been surprising, but not wholly fruitless.

"Serves you right."

Todd made no attempt to reply to the Satedan's remark. Granted, yes… this wasn't what he had planned, but for the most part it was still perfectly possible to come out on top. Especially since he had planned for every circumstance to extreme measure. One doesn't live to ten thousand without learning to cover all your vulnerabilities.

The rival Hive had taken the ZPMs on board and had brought him to the primordial cloning facility. Todd could understand why they would think it was the best course of action. It was this facility which had created the forces needed to defeat the Lanteans of old, and the temptation to use it against the Asurans now that they had the power to use it was quite alluring. But the problems using it would create were larger than the benefit, a vast problem indeed. Drones needed only to feed periodically, but when dealing with thousands or gods forbid, millions… Not to mention the number of ships that would need to be fed as well…

Already there was a shortage of food in the galaxy, and the Asurans were quickly wiping out what was left. Todd had seen what lack of food would create, and the abominations that cannibalism created were… distasteful to say the least.

But Todd had prepared for this. In fact, he had planned to come here anyway. The only difference would be that he would be short a few ZPMs for his master plan, but if things worked out, Pegasus would only be a stepping stone.

" I hope they feed on you first."

Oddly enough, the Satedan's wish could yet come true, and Todd's last hope came from the Satedan's pure hatred of Wraith.

Morbing, January 9th, 2008

Stargate Command, Conference Room

"Oh fer cryin' out loud… what are you people, robots? We're talkin' bout a whole damn galaxy! Not just some backwater planet."

It felt lonely to be sitting at the table with the dozen representatives from across the Galaxy. So far, Teal'c was the only Jaffa willing to listen, which told scores of his humanity compared to the emotionless faces of the IOA. "I'm sorry General, but we have to consider more than just the lives in Pegasus."

Rarely did Jack O'Neill ever feel the need to strangle someone, Robert Kinsey had been one of the biggest, but this was definitely taking the cake as far as frustration. "One planet. Hell it doesn't even have to be a populated planet, From the report Carter sent us, most people coming through are farmers."

The new head of the IOA, a spindly looking man named Mr. Coolidge, leaned forward and got everyone's attention. "General, that's exactly the point I and my Jaffa associates are trying to make. They know nothing of technology or survival in a technological galaxy. The Wraith have been overshadowing them for millennia and the giant change coming here would only create panic and discord among them."

Landry growled softly and deadpanned. "Still better than being dead."

"While I do agree with General Landry," Teal'c's deep voice drew everyone's attention. "I also understand my fellow Jaffa's fears. Stability has still not been restored in this galaxy, and many factions of minor Goa'uld and the Lucian Alliance still remain. I would be hesitant to bring such a simple people here only to have them become fodder for such figures."

Another Jaffa named Al'Mac, the current leader of the Jaffa council nodded. "They would become vermin, spread out across the galaxy causing only trouble. I do not doubt that many would even become mercenaries in the employ of false gods and evil men."

This argument was going nowhere, and Jack was hard pressed not to start accusing them of being as robotic as the ones they feared. "Who says we can't help them? The Nox are still around. They're all peace and love."

Instantly Mr. Woolsey spoke up having been uncharacteristically quiet in the debate. "I believe I speak for all my comrades when I put forth my objection. The Nox have been reluctant to speak to either Human or Jaffa ever since the Jaffa Rebellion. We have been attempting to reach some level of trade and negotiation with them, but asking them to help us save an entire galaxy would be too much."

Now Jack really wanted to kill someone. In the machination of the universe, somehow he had joined these cogs of utter imbecility, and sorely wished he could just renounce his position as General and go help Sam kick some ass.

Atlantis, Mess Hall

In the grand scheme of things, Teyla didn't consider herself to be that important. As much as her leadership of the Athosian people meant to her, having them still missing was only a small part of the ebb and flow of the universe. Despite this, it still felt as if a portion of her heart had been shorn off, savagely ripped from her chest as if from some wild animal attack.

The loss of her closest friends, and the depressive attitude around Atlantis was taking its toll on her. For weeks, Teyla had been opposed to Dr Keller's idea of becoming somewhat more sedentary. With no one to spar or walk with now, and those who remained, busy like never before, Teyla felt truly alone for the first time since walking into her village and seeing nothing but rubble.

"Hey, Teyla… Jennifer told me I could find you here."

Teyla turned in her seat in the mess hall and smiled softly at Major Lorne. As strange as it seemed, Major Lorne had been a new and strong support for Teyla, he himself bringing her the news that Ronon and Rodney were likely dead and Sheppard was MIA.

Strangely, the news only affected her somewhat stronger than other similar events. Loss had become a part of Teyla's life, and the only relief Teyla ever found was with silently bearing the pain while showing none except to her closest friends… of whom there were few now. "Major Lorne. To what do I owe the attention?"

Evan sighed softly then sat down across from her with a small tray of food. "Jennifer told me she's worried about you, and frankly I was going to come see you anyway."

Teyla smiled and nodded. "I appreciate the concern, but it is not necessary."

Evan bit his lip gently and curled his fist in frustration. "I… I know it's been a hard few weeks. We're all feeling it. I'm not-I'm not gonna tell you it's all gonna be okay, but we're here for you, Teyla. That's never gonna change."

It was brutally honest and, try as she might, Teyla couldn't meet Evan's gaze. "I… I am grateful. For everything. While I do wish the others were here, I am confident that I am not without friends." It was a half-lie. There were really only two others Teyla could speak to now. "I count you as one of them, Major Lorne."

Evan shook his hand and took a bite out of his sandwich. "Please, call me Evan."

The galaxy was a cruel place, but even so, little miracles did occur, and one happened then in Teyla's heart as just a fraction of the immense pain she had was healed over. "Thank you. Evan."

Wraith Planet, Holding Cell

"Tell me, do you really hate the Wraith?"

Ronon almost scoffed, how could this Wriath ask such a stupid question? "How bout we share a cell, then we'll see how much I love you."

The Wraith laughed heartily, which totally confused Ronon as they were likely only moments from being fed on. "Ha ha… well then, if it would mean survival and the death of thousands of Wraith, would you spare a single one?"

Ronon thought about the question, and his answer was quick. "Probably not."

"What would be your deciding factor?"

With a devious smirk, one Ronon had learned from Sheppard, he deadpanned. "Who."

A few more chuckles and the Wraith took a deep breath. "I take that as offence… and I take it gladly."

Ronon rolled his eyes and kept pacing in his cell. When they came to drag him before the Queen or whoever it was that was in charge here, he'd show them just what fury the Satedan people carried within them. "Good, cuz I've got a lot more for you." The smile on the Wraith's face only grew, and Ronon finally couldn't take it. "Are you serious?"

Feigning ignorance, the Wraith pointed to himself. "Who, I?"

Ronon growled, and contemplated trying to nail the Wraith with one of the blades hidden in his hair just for pure satisfaction. "Yes, you! Are you serious? Do you know a way outta here?" He hated having to ask, but having had more time to consider the question, Ronon might be willing to spare the Wraith's life in exchange for escape and potential genocide against the Wraith.

With a devious grin that just would not stop, the Wraith gave an almost imperceptible nod. "Perhaps, but I require your assistance."

Ronon snarled softly and contemplated it. Could he help this Wraith? Surely the Wraith had something planned, but if worse came to worst, Ronon could always kill him after escaping. "What do you need?"

With a perfectly calm voice, the Wraith motioned to Ronon with his head and muttered. "I require a knife."

Never in his life had Ronon given his weapon to an enemy… but with things going the way they already were, perhaps insanity really was the way to go.

Evening, January 8th, 2008

USS Daedalus, Briefing Room

"Sorry, Carter, Coolidge isn't budging. Teal'c is probably gonna kill him anyway since he called Ish'ta 'Honey' so I wouldn't put asking again in a few weeks aside."

Sam winced and tried to keep from cursing. Despite the comedy of an angry Teal'c, the denial to evacuate Pegasus civilians from the battlefield hurt more than she thought it would. "Thanks for trying, sir. I'm sure they have good reasons."

The harsh sarcasm wasn't lost on the General, who narrowed his eyes and raised an eyebrow. "Carter… was that sarcasm?"

One of the last reasons Sam had to smile, her tone deadpan. "I had a good teacher."

"Bull! You had the best!" A few laughs, hollow, but laughs all the same, and a momentary silence. Sam could tell General O'Neill was trying to cheer her up. "I do have some good news. Both the IOA and Jaffa are sending relief supplies to Atlantis since I told them you're still taking in refugees. Even they couldn't deny that."

A huge burden lifted off Sam's shoulders, and if O'Neill were there in person he would be at risk of getting a peck on the cheek. Not exactly according to the rules or even her typical dealings with him, but dammit Sam was ecstatic that there was at least some good news. "That's a relief -no pun intended. We're already to Atlantis's capacity given the mainland, and we've got four teams scavenging whatever they can from any worlds we know. I was about to start checking the caloric value of those ten thousand year old plants it's getting so bad."

General O'Neill grimaced in mock horror. "Well, before we do that, you can dig into the relief supplies, too. I'm sure there must be Jell-O in there somewhere."

Sam smiled, and noted the transmission time was almost over. "Thank you, sir. I'll make sure to check. I'll have my appeal to the IOA ready for you tomorrow."

With a curt nod, General O'Neill replied. "Already got the paperwork ready, See ya tomorrow, Carter."

"Tomorrow, Sir."

The screen flickered a moment before finally ending and Sam felt just a little better. O'Neill had always been there, always ready to help. But despite feeling a small tinge of selfishness, wanting to go back to the Milky Way now that things had gone completely FUBAR. Sam was unwilling to abandon her post - unwilling to go down without a fight.

Wraith Planet, Holding Cell

Ronon watched in awe as Todd inserted the knife into his own belly. Nothing could have prepared him to see the Wraith do such a thing. "If you wanted to kill yourself, you could have at least given me the pleasure."

Todd chuckled as he gritted his teeth. He would have to act fast, his healing ability would quickly regenerate him and Todd needed what was inside his stomach. Digging in, the dull gunmetal of the object he'd found on Ronon forced a groan from his lips as he removed it. "It was much easier to insert it than it's proving to remove it…"

Todd finished pulling the small backup PDA out, and gasped as he felt the healing process kick into high gear. He would have to feed soon if he wanted to have any chance of escape. Ronon furrowed his brow in confusion, but after a moment realized what it was. "Hey! That's…"

Todd noticed instantly, and wiped the screen clear of his own blood. "Yes… I assume you were given this by Dr. McKay. Ingenious really; input to any Zero Point Energy module or its controls and it will start an irreversible overload. A shame it did not come into use on Asuras, but then again that's why you're here."

Ronon howled in rage and tried to squeeze his hands through the organic cell doors. Of course his arms would have to be ten feet longer to reach across the room, but the meaning was there. "Give that back!"

Todd cleaned the knife on his coat then taking a moment to sense for any nearby Wraith, flung it out the small openings of the cell and into the organic lock. His aim was true, and the cell doors to his prison opened. "A lesson well learnt. Never be caught without a knife again." Todd took a few steps out, but felt the weakness of hunger force him to the side of the hallway. He stared into Ronon's cell and panted. "I am too weak to escape on my own, and you will never escape without my help."

Ronon reached out to strangle Todd. "You think I care if I live?!"

Todd snarled now, angered by the Satedan's ignorant words. "I am offering you a chance of a lifetime. Do you know what this place is?"

"Don't know, don't care."

"This is where we defeated the Lanteans over ten thousand years ago."

With the startling revelation, The Satedan finally decided to give Todd the time of day. Anything powerful enough to defeat the Lanteans would have struck fear into a human's heart. "What?"

Todd huffed as he tried to keep calm. Excitement would deplete his energy further and that was the last thing he needed. "This is a mass cloning facility. The Zero Point Modules my rivals stole will soon give birth to thousands if not millions of Wraith, something neither of us wants."

Ronon now understood the implication. The Wraith had defeated the Lanteans by drowning them in the very blood they spilled. "Why would you want to stop them? The Replicators are kicking your ass and this sounds like exactly what you need."

"We have little food as it is. With thousands more we will exhaust our food supply even faster…"

Ronon had to get one last rip in before he decided. "You could always eat each other."

Todd didn't bother to reply to such a comment and instead growled. "The decision is yours, but to show my good faith." Todd leaned over and tapped the open function for Ronon's cell. Instantly, the Satedan jumped out and slammed Todd into the ground with fury. A blade was in his hand, where he'd gotten it was a mystery only his cavernous hair could decipher.

Neither said anything, the animosity between them culminating with the blade not one inch from Todd's face.

Ronon took the second of hesitation to think. He was alive… Rodney wasn't… and now he had a chance to give Rodney's death some meaning.

In Ronon's mind, the PDA this Wraith carried was the last thing Rodney ever asked of him… to detonate a ZPM. Maybe it wouldn't be the replicators he'd blow up, but the Wraith were just as good a target.


Ronon waited a half a second then lunged out with his leg in a sweep. The Wraith commander quickly fell to the ground following the surprise attack and was stunned from the hard landing. Ronon wasted no time in unsheathing his knife and shoving it deeply into the Wraith's neck, quickly using up all his foe's healing ability.

A few paces behind him, hidden as well, Todd muttered something under his breath. Ronon turned, still wary about this uneasy alliance. "What?"

Todd shook his head and leaned on the wall. "Nothing, but I must feed soon."

Ronon gripped his knife a little harder. "And I care how?"

With a roll of his eye, Todd decided to make a sacrifice he'd hoped never to make. "I will not be able to pilot us out of here to the orbital ring if I am not stronger… I must ask you not kill the next Wraith we see."

Just a little surprise came to Ronon, after all, he did think Todd was a monster. "Eugh… no promises."


Ronon watched with an air of disgust as the Wraith jumped the drone he'd just disabled with a neck strike, and within seconds nothing but a husk remained. "You're a monster."

The Wraith looked disturbingly refreshed, he shot Ronon a look with hate filled eyes. "As are you… and that is what makes you such a worthy adversary." Neither said anything as the Wraith simply handed the PDA to Ronon. "They will discover our escape momentarily. I will retrieve a Dart for our escape."

Ronon snarled and ground his teeth. "Don't bother." He didn't wait for a reply and instead headed towards the area the Wraith had told him the ZPM's were located. The only hope in his mind was that with the pair of stunners, he'd be able to hold off the Wraith long enough to send them all to hell.

The Wraith simply rolled his eyes, and moved stealthily towards the hanger bay.

It wasn't long before Ronon found the room he needed. Alarms now blared indicating the base was on full alert. This place was just too big for them to accurately pin him down. He wished once more that his Traveler Blaster was still with him, wondered if he could ever find a replacement, and silently assured himself that it wouldn't matter.

A pair of Wraith came at him from the front, newly created Drones without even a weapon. Ronon savagely fired stunner bolt after stunner bolt into them, giving them the peace of unconsciousness in the firestorm that was to come.

Ronon recalled Arcturus and the size of that explosion. From what he understood, the energy there was even bigger than a ZPM. But a solar system was nowhere near what he wanted to destroy now and he was confident the trio of ZPM's he was about to overload would crack this entire planet in half.

That appealed to him. This would be by far the most destructive weapon he'd ever unleashed on the Wraith.

The ZPM room ahead of him was unguarded. Fools. It was a somewhat simple matter to find a plug that looked like it might support the connection the PDA had and soon even louder alarms and strange but aggressive looking text began to scroll across the screens of the console.

That's when he saw it. Ronon hadn't even realized that the room was so large, or that the facility went so deep. Dozens, hundreds… thousands of Wraith Drone pods were activating.

The realization of just what he'd accomplished was mindnumbing… Todd had been serious that he would indeed kill so many Wraith. It made Ronon wonder exactly how this would go down in history, or whether there would be anyone left to record it.

He took the PDA with him, the last memory Ronon had of Rodney. He'd honored his friend and now, when Ronon met him in the afterlife, it would be a good meeting.

Ronon ran freely, ignoring any Wraith screams or even stunner bolts that flew his way as he tore across the halls of the facility. He was dead, they were all dead. Just a matter of time now. 

It came as a pleasant surprise when he reached an exit, but Ronon gladly took deep breaths of the pure forest air outside, instead of the reprocessed muck that the Wraith lungs feasted on. Ronon charged up and into the forested mountains, filled with the sun's rays. It felt good on his skin. He wondered if perhaps he could make it all the way to the top before it blew. It would certainly be an amazing thing to see… an exploding ZPM.

But suddenly everything felt wrong again, and the distinctive whine behind him made him howl in bloodthirsty rage. The Wraith had kept his word, and now with the culling beam on his feet, Ronon cursed the Wraith with every last hex he could think of.

January 10th, 2008

Atlantis, Control Room

Having been called to the control room, Sam nodded to Chuck as she stepped in. "Any word on what happened?"

Chuck shook his head; it was a damned peculiar sensor reading. "Not a thing Ma'am. None of the refugees know the planet and they care even less. Far as I can tell, it's a small supernova, except there wasn't a star at the epicenter."

Sam recalled seeing a supernova once; in fact she had been the one to create it. The amount of force created was truly astronomical. "That's odd, Maybe we should…" A small alarm began to blare, and Sam turned her head around the control room trying to pinpoint the source. "Report! What is that?"

A new control room technician, Amelia Banks, replied in a confident yet confused tone. "Picking up a subspace signal Ma'am. It matches the one from the Wraith Commander known as 'Todd'."

Sam felt a pang of remorse. Hearing the name of the Wraith he'd named, Almost a week and still no word from Sheppard. She recalled his initial report on the Travelers and how Larrin had threatened to shove him out an airlock. Sam prayed to God that such a thing hadn't happened. "Can you pinpoint it?"

No other words were necessary. Todd had been key in the disaster at Asuras and Sam felt cold ice flow through her veins at what she'd like to do to him… or rather it. "Yes, Ma'am… it's coming from this star system."

Summoned by the alarm, Major Lorne stepped into the control room and saw the star system being highlighted. He had no clue as to what the reason was, and spoke out of confusion. "Uh, begging your pardon, Ma'am, but what's so interesting about Sateda?"

Sam furrowed her brow, but quickly got the reference. "Sateda? Sateda! Ronon was a Satedan!"

Lorne simply blinked. "Uh, yeah, that he was."

Sateda, Abandoned Building

Ronon felt the dull thump in his head of entering consciousness. He hated getting stunned, especially by the Wraith. Had he succeeded? Were the thousands of Wraith he saw being birthed gone? Was this just a dream of having survived? A scuffling nearby told him something was coming near and whatever…or rather whoever… there were a lot of them.

The air tasted sickly sweet, almost like too ripe pineapple and Ronon was worried he'd get drunk from greedily sniffing it in. His heart was pounding… something was very familiar about this place. And that's when it dawned on him, there was something peculiarly familiar about this place… and the realization grabbed his adrenaline gland and squeezed hard.

He struggled to lift himself out of the rubble, a large amount of debris sat on top of him from some unknown attack. Instantly he heard voices… familiar ones. "Motion! 10 o'clock!"

The Wraith had kept his promise, the goddamn Wraith bastard had kept his word and saved Ronon, and he'd left him in the only place where he knew he'd be found. "Sheppard!"

More yelling, and soon things became clear. Ronon was lying exhausted in the middle of an abandoned and caved in building - An old Satedan armory. "Who's in there? Show yourself!"

Ronon growled softly and forced his body to move. His life wasn't over yet, and seeing the beams of light cut through the smoky haze surrounding the destroyed building he screamed again. "Sheppard!"

Instead of the dark haired Colonel, two AR teams led by Major Lorne and Cadman breached into the building and quickly secured it. Ronon paid them no mind and instead forced himself to his full height. Lorne's voice was incredulous. "Oh my sweet, Ronon! is that you?"


Ronon nodded and dusted himself off. God his muscles ached. "Is it that obvious? What the hell happened? Where's Sheppard?"

The looks the Marines and Air Force officers shot each other as they covered the huge Satedan said everything Ronon didn't want to hear. He stared at Lorne for a moment then looked down at his stomach. Attached to his shirt was a black bloody handkerchief wrapped around the subspace transponder Todd had left.

Tearing the device from his body, Ronon finally couldn't take it and released his primal rage. Dropping to his knees he howled long and loud, warning the gods themselves of the arrival of his lost friends and allies. Lorne and Cadman didn't begrudge him the feeling.

Atlantis, Control Room(?)

Dr. Rodney McKay

"Rodney! We're getting overrun! Dial Earth! "

Frozen in panic, Rodney watched in utter dread as Major Lorne unleashed a barrage of ARG fire into the oncoming Replicator, grimace in horror as it had no effect, then scream as the Replicator smashed him to the side, up and over the railing of the bridge to the control room. He landed hard on the alloys of the Gateroom below, dead or dying, Rodney didn't know which.

Below him, Sam, Sheppard, Ronon and a very pregnant Teyla were holding a last stand against the oncoming replicators, the self-destruct was almost over and only seconds remained. "Dial the gate, Rodney! Please!"

There was no way Rodney would make it, and neither would any of the technicians in the control room with him… how had it come to this?

He began to dial, by God his friends were going to…

Wait… What? How the… "No… this… this can't be right… We have a ZPM!"

In the Gateroom below, Sheppard screamed, "Rodney! Dial the gate now!"

Teyla frantically screamed as well, her ARG also useless against the Replicator that had jumped down and finished off whatever may have been left of Lorne with a twenty foot knee drop to the chest. "Rodney! Please! You must finish dialing!"

"No… no it can't be… "You're… you're not Teyla… You're not real… no it can't be…"

Ronon let out a primal scream of wrath and charged forward protecting Teyla. Sheppard and Sam crouched and fired what they could. But the replicator just would not go down. Sam's final scream as she reloaded the ARG was unlike anything he'd ever heard from her. "Dammit, Rodney! Do it! Now!"

Rodney watched in horror as the Replicator swatted Ronon's blaster and sword away even as he took fire and crushed the Satedan's ribcage with a punch. It next moved on Sam, but Sheppard threw himself in the way and was instantly killed by a kick that sent him flying across the room.

Rodney couldn't watch anymore and cowered in fear. He kept his hands over his head and tried to drown out the sounds of Sam and Teyla shrieking as the Replicator reached them. "It's not real, they're not real, this isn't Atlantis, it's not real…"

Rodney continually chanted the mantra, just repeating it in his head in his panicky terrorized mental voice. The world seemed to phase in and out around him. "Not real… not real… not real…"


"The resilience of this one is profound… there is something different about his brain chemistry, he seems to be able to digest the data we share through an organic means. An impressive sight indeed."

Oberoth's second in command, Talia, was much more respectful of this human McKay's abilities than he. The two of them watched as another Asuran probed Rodney's mind without success. Oberoth replied to her impressed thought. "He is nothing but a human, a purposefully inferior life. Resistance can be broken and his will shall erode."

Talia wasn't so sure. It had been months since the incident with Niam, and no matter how much she knew the logical conclusion, the fact that Dr. McKay was continually making the strangest yet utterly effective connections in his mind to defend against the probing was… disconcerting. "Why do we keep him then? The others would have sufficed."

A digital equivalent of a shake of the head and Oberoth leaned forward to look at Rodney as his face grimaced, sweat pouring down his temples and lips trembling. What form of life was so frail as to require sustenance as simple as hydrocarbon chains, protein, glycerols and amino acids? Even the Wraith were more sophisticated as much as Oberoth felt the rage against them. "He came within a hairbreadth of annihilating us. There may be others like him and we must assume they will try again. It is doubtful that any knew Avallona's address as well."

Talia didn't enjoy the prospect, but looking at the evidence, it seemed more than a fair assessment. "Perhaps you are right. I should not doubt victory when it is only time that stands in our way."

Rodney gasped loudly as his mind ran through another simulation and yet again he was forced to watch his friends die begging for his help.

Emotions… thought Talia, Fear… Hatred, Cowardice, and surprisingly, even some strange sense of courage. Dr. McKay was a very complex simple organism indeed… but the limits of his endurance were still yet to be tested fully.

Todd's Hive, Bridge

The good thing about being one of the old ones was that to continually survive the machinations of the younger and brasher ones, it gave him an almost invulnerable aura. Todd was one of the longest living Wraith still left, most others having died out in the war with the Lanteans or through sheer stupidity in rivalry.

Todd didn't begrudge his sub-commander for betraying him. It was a common occurrence in Wraith hierarchy. Only the strong were allowed to remain at the top and only the strong would survive for this long.

His new sub-commander was more conservative and Todd had offered him the opportunity of the ages. Only a true fool would have tried to usurp or squander this level of awesome power.

The Asurans were nigh unstoppable now. There simply wasn't enough time to build the ships needed to effectively combat them. And with their food supply quickly dwindling to nothing from overculling and the genocidal rampage of the Asurans.

But now as Todd and his sub-commander bathed in the warm yellow glow of the last two ZPM's Todd had stolen from Asuras, he knew there was a fighting chance. The cloning vats were foolish and only the ignorance and over-confidence of the Wraith queen and her hive had saved them. "You are quite fortunate to have survived my lord. With these modules we may yet have a chance."

Todd knew those words were placating. The modules were notoriously difficult to integrate into Wraith Hiveship physiology. But it wasn't impossible. "You humor me. It will be many months before we can hope to achieve anything worthy with these modules and we must survive until that point. Have you sent the data to all available hives?"

The Sub-Commander hesitated a second, but nodded seeing that Todd was correct to be worried. The video footage of Ronon destroying the cloning operation had struck fear into the heart of all Wraith and the threat to their very existence had quickly eroded most petty rivalry. "Yes, my lord. Many have already sworn their support in defending the shipyard. We can rely on twelve Hives for now. More will come later."

Twelve hives, a massive fleet indeed in these times. To feed them all would be difficult, but there were still heavily populated worlds that had been spared thus far. "Have the three most able ones begin harvesting our backup supplies… I know where we may yet find an abundant food source, and even the Asurans would dare not follow."

The sub-commander furrowed his brow, and kept his tone respectful, "Where is this paradise?"

Todd snarled, and ran his finger along the ZPM in front of him, So much power, so much potential. All he needed was time. "Later, I shall not spoil the feast for you."

He'd only seen inside the SGC, but he recalled Sheppard's determination to save his friend's sister. Most of all Todd recalled the fresh and delectable taste of the Milky Way human; so unlike the worn leatheriness of Pegasus humans. The Milky Way was a banquet waiting to happen and all that remained was holding on long enough to secure the one thing he really needed… Atlantis or more accurately, their database and control crystals.

Chapter 3:

Atlantis, Infirmary

Jennifer Keller tried to make herself look very non-imposing as she stood next to Ronon. She was unwilling to risk anyone else if something happened; the huge imposing man in front of her could very well be a facsimile, but if he could do half of what she'd seen Ronon do… "Hold your arm out."

Ronon did as he was told which surprised the Doctor as he typically resented even needing a band-aid. But ever since they'd brought him back from Sateda, where they'd found him lying in a pile of rubble, Rodney's PDA still in his hands… Ronon just wasn't the same anymore.

With a gentle touch, almost scared to injure the Satedan in some way he wasn't already, Jennifer took his arm and used an alcohol swab to clean the dirt from his inner elbow. The IV with glycogen and a very mild codeine drip to take the edge off his pain slipped in effortlessly. It was a stark contrast to how often the man allowed nothing to penetrate his stony exterior. "It's good to have to have you back, Ronon…"

Ronon remained quiet, but gave Jennifer a softer than normal look. It was the best Jennifer could expect from him.

Atlantis, Colonel Carter's Office

"…at which point we entered the building where the scream we heard came from. We found Ronon and brought him back on the Jumper."

Sam didn't know how to feel, but she knew her instincts were telling her that something was off. Ronon had been on Asuras; she left him there. How did he survive and end up on Sateda of all places?

It was heart wrenching to even think to go see him; Sam never abandoned people – never. Could she face Ronon after the battle almost a week ago? "Can we be sure it's him?"

Lorne was a little surprised at the question, perhaps he'd recall that she had an issue with doubles – especially replicators. "Well, Dr. Keller is giving him a physical, but I'll be honest ma'am, his reaction was pretty convincing."

Sam still didn't know what to do, but she trusted Lorne and decided to go against her gut. "What did he do?"

To the side, Captain Cadman got a strange look on her face. "He asked us where Colonel Sheppard was, then he screamed… really really loud."

That at least Sam understood, Ronon reminded her of a fresher faced Teal'c, quiet, imposing, yet obviously loyal to his cause. "Probably a cultural thing; The Jaffa have something similar." She couldn't help it, and needed to ask. "…did he mention Rodney or any of the Strike Team?"

Lorne shot his gaze to the side, obviously dejected. " Yeah, the last he saw of McKay, he'd taken fire from the Asurans. He's assuming McKay was KIA."

Sam again almost prayed he was. She knew first hand what anguish Replicator torture could be, and Rodney had been missing for weeks now. "And how he survived?"

Lorne gulped. "He-he was about to overload a ZPM when a Dart flew in and beamed both him and it up."

In a similar manner, Sam's face became pale with terror. "You mean the Wraith were stealing ZPMs?" The thought had occurred to her to attempt a heist during the attack, but with only two ships, and being the heavy firepower for the battle, it was decided at the highest level of the IOA Security Council that even if the technology was destroyed on Asuras, Atlantis's survival as well as its database was more important.

Cadman nodded and pursed her lips. "Ronon says he blew some of them up… but he can't be sure how many ZPMs they got…"

Sam instantly bristled and stood up straight. Her feelings be damned, she needed the story from the horse's mouth. "I'll expect both of your reports on my desk within the hour. I'm going to go talk to Ronon…"

Lorne and Cadman gave their salutes, and the de-briefing was over.

Sam had shoved her frustrations to the side, allowed the full bird Colonel inside to show. Marine Captains were almost literally jumping out of her way as she stomped towards the transporter, the feelings her body emanated certainly denoted that of a career soldier.

Dr. Zelenka was on the other hand quite depressed. Ever since Asuras, he'd been reluctant to take over for Rodney. Not like this was the first time he'd had to cover the stocky Canadian scientist for a prolonged period of time, but the finality of this event left him feeling like a regular foot trying to fill a clown sized level of responsibility.

It didn't seem odd to either as they headed towards the same transporter, the Infirmary was on the same level as the Lab Radek was heading to.

Asuras, Main Research Facility

Rodney was… the English language didn't have a proper word for the level of exhaustion he'd reached. The Asurans had no concept of prisoner rights and he'd gone without sleep or rest for days.

They kept him alive though, going so far as to clone him a new leg and reattach it using Nanite technology. His body was attached to tubes and IVs that kept his weak organic cells fed and nurtured.

His mind though… Rodney's mind was utterly and completely oppressed. Oberoth had a Replicator attempt to break Rodney's mental firewall 24 hours a day. They were finding it surprisingly more effective than they'd originally anticipated, Oberoth had spent quite a few hours personally trying to break it.

Physical pain didn't work. Rodney had been taken to within a hair of his life in the Replicator dreams, each time he managed to figure out somehow that things were wrong, almost as if he could sense the replicator involvement in such dire circumstances. The Wraith made him fearful, and despite a little more success, the human was still able to remain elusive in his mind.

The one thing that had made him give up the most though – allow just a bit more information through… his emotional state. Watching his closest friends and even family killed weakened him, even as he screamed that it wasn't real, the continued torture chipped at his defenses like a single termite against a mighty tree.

Oberoth had attempted to speed it up, but to no avail. No matter, a single termite would eventually reduce a forest to nothing but sawdust given enough time. And it seemed that for now, Time was the only thing Rodney had.

Traveler Aurora, Storage Unit

They'd left him alone in this dark featureless room for hours now. It was a welcome change from the beatings, but the monotony was getting to John.

He could feel the dried blood on his cheek, thankfully Larrin had only struck him bluntly, and despite having a hell of a headache, John knew no permanent damage had been done.

That was one of the reasons John knew he might still get through this; Larrin hadn't just outright killed him. He'd learned that almost 400 Travelers had died attacking the Asurans, which he also learned was seven percent of their population.

It must have been unimaginably painful to them all, and Larrin herself must feel the blame. John wasn't exactly sure where on the ranking system Larrin stood, but she obviously had great clout within Traveler society.

And it was because of him and his convincing that 400 Travelers had died under her command. John knew how Larrin must be feeling, and he only prayed that she came to her senses about how bad the situation must be getting.

Atlantis, Botany Lab

Cadman had always been friendly with the people of the expedition. Her temper was something akin to C4, only detonating when the proper stimuli came about. Because of this, it was completely normal for her to walk into the Botany Lab to see her friend inside. "Katie?"

Dr. Brown turned and smiled to Laura, but Laura knew it was a fake smile. "Hi Laura… I-I haven't had much of a chance to see you lately."

Laura knew Katie was still hurting. She and Rodney had slowly been getting closer and closer and his sudden death had affected her greatly. She remained stoic though, but Laura knew she had been considering a transfer back to Earth.

In fact, many of the civilians and even some military personnel had requested to be transferred back to the Milky Way. Ever since Asuras, the level of hope in the base had just been dropping. Laura herself had lost two of her team just today when they decided that this galaxy was too much for them.

But Laura would deal with that later, and right now Katie was her concern… "It's alright; I know it's been hard on you."

Katie nodded, and with a tender touch, she watered the cacti-like plant she'd named for Rodney. "I just, I just wish I knew what happened to him."

Laura blew a sigh of resignation, and decided to say what she had come down here to say. "Katie… Rodney's…"

Before she could complete her sentence, the doors to the small side botany bay closed, and even after slapping the switch to them, they would just not open.

Atlantis, Transporter

Sam had been in many tight situations over the course of her career. The nearest to this would have to be on Anubis's Ha'Tak where Thor had saved his memory in the computer system. Being trapped with then-Colonel O'Neill in a suddenly and rapidly filling with water room had been one of the last things she would have expected to happen on a spaceship.

At least there she was in radio contact with her team, and the teasing she'd given then-Colonel O'Neill over his "Shrinkage" comment had kept her spirits up.

This was completely different, and like it or not, Radek Zelenka was nowhere near O'Neill in social skills. "Check the control panel, I'm going to try and get this thing to go somewhere."

Radek quickly did as he was told. Ever since being promoted to chief of science, She'd seen how he tried to live up to the job Rodney McKay did, and for the most part, it was burning him out. Sam couldn't deal with that just yet, so she said nothing as he silently pried the panel off and pulled out the crystal control tray.

Sam tapped a few buttons and kept getting a negative response; she cursed quietly under her breath and finally tapped her radio headset. "This is Colonel Carter to Major Lorne. Come in Major."

With no reply, Radek quickly began to think of what could be happening. He kept his mouth silent because the woman beside him terrified him. Doing a quick visual check, the crystal system looked like it was in perfect working order; just no power was getting to the door.

"This is Carter to…" Carter checked herself. "…anyone who can hear me…"

Radek winced as well, it was obvious who she was going to call for… and neither of them were on base… or even likely alive anymore.

Pegasus Planet (?)

Dr. Rodney McKay

"Rodney… do you love me?"

'Well that's unfair.' thought Rodney; Katie was asking him this after a rather strenuous lovemaking session. "What? Of course I do."

Katie smiled and snuggled into him under the cotton sheets. How he'd ended up with Katie off planet in this hotel thingamabob was a mystery, but at the moment he wasn't complaining.

It wasn't much longer after that she got up out of the bed and began to get dressed. "Come on, Rodney. we're already late and Colonel Carter is gonna kill you for bringing me back so late."

Rodney furrowed his brow. Where did that come from? "Uhh… okay. Yeah, I guess you're right."

Rodney tried to brush off the strange feeling, but no matter what he did it just wouldn't go away. It wasn't much longer that they were both dressed and heading to the gate. When had he come here? More importantly, why had he come here?

Was this all just a big date with Katie? Granted yes, they had been getting closer over the past few weeks… and he'd been planning on bringing something back with him on his next trip to Earth… But…

There weren't many other people in the area, in fact most seemed to be avoiding them. A few minutes of walking and Rodney was getting more and more curious. "Umm… Katie, as odd as this many seem, how'd we end up here?"

Katie snickered, and hugged Rodney in a very cutesy fashion. "Silly, you brought me here because I needed to deliver some herbs this village needed to create some natural insecticide for their crops."

The gate came into view about fifty feet away, and Rodney furrowed his brow. "Insecticide? You know how to do that?"

Katie smiled and gave him a kiss on the cheek. "Of course! I'm a botanist! You came along because I begged Colonel Carter to give us some alone time."

It was so odd, why did this feel strange? "She… she said yes?"

Katie lost a bit of her smile, and started to grumble. "Yes! God, I never knew you were such a light drinker."

That was strange. Katie rarely if ever teased or made any pejorative remark to him, Could this… "Rodney, could you dial the gate?" Katie bent over and stretched her back, Rodney amazed she could be so flexible. "You kinda left me a little stiff."

That's when it hit him… this wasn't real. "Wait, no… no! You're, you're not Katie. Katie isn't like this."

Katie stretched her neck and pouted. "Rodney! Why are you acting like this? I thought you loved me…"

Rodney backpedaled, and felt a tinge of pain in his forehead. "No, no this isn't happening. I'm… I'm still…"


The world around Rodney melted, and Oberoth thought to himself as he reset the world yet again. "His friends give him strength… Somehow he is able to force them to reveal the illusion to him. Perhaps I am being too logical…"

Oberoth recreated the world around Rodney again, this time back in Atlantis… with a big difference.

Atlantis, Mess Hall Balcony

Major Lorne had just found Teyla on one of the balconies at the edge of the Mess Hall when the barricade came down. It separated them from the inside but they could still hear the voices of those inside. "This is Lorne! Who's in there?!"

A familiar voice, just ever so slightly accented. "This is Stackhouse, sir! What's going on?"

Lorne looked to Teyla who had been standing at the edge of the railing and reminiscing, this situation was by far the last thing he'd expected. "Not a clue, Sarge. Get on the horn and try and get Zelenka to explain what the hell's going on!"

Teyla finally turned and looked to Lorne. "I believe we are trapped, Evan. I can hear those on the level above us in a similar predicament."

Lorne cursed softly and banged his fist against the wall. "Dammit."

Atlantis, Transporter

"Perhaps we can physically open the door. Transporter doors are much lighter than the city doors."

With a curt nod, Sam moved in and tried to get a good grip on the door. Her thoughts were harsh, and she mentally kicked herself for thinking it. 'If Sheppard were here maybe we could push it open… Or between me and Rodney we could work something out..."

When the door didn't budge, she let out an exasperated sigh. Zelenka looked pretty dejected himself but for the most part he just remained silent.

Sam noticed and tried to compose herself. She muttered to him in a half calm voice. "Is there anything that could explain why communications and the doors would be down?"

Radek gulped, and shook his head. "Umm, not both at same time; the quarantine lockdown would certainly explain the…"

Sam interrupted. "Quarantine Lockdown?"

Adjusting his glasses, Radek nodded gingerly. "Well yes. it would isolate the individual parts of the city, but it would not interfere with communications."

Sam furrowed her brow and thought for a moment. "Let's hook up your tablet to the system, maybe we can override it from here."

Radek was reluctant to hand over his tablet; it just seemed like such a far stretch. "Oh this? This is just a read-only tablet designed for diagnostics. It doesn't have enough RAM to…"

Sam finally lost her cool. In the past dealing with Radek was simple as the Czech usually deferred to Rodney. It was an easy place to be. But now, forced with making decisions, Sam could see he was reluctant and easily hesitant. "We have to try." She nearly tore the Tablet out of his hands and began to reprogram it. The picture of the pigeon on the background was distracting, but Sam paid little mind to it. "Is there any reason communications would be affected?"

"Yes well, one thing comes to mind. Before, well, after the Kirsan Fever a few months ago. Rodney had reprogrammed the quarantine system to be more aggressive."

At the mention of the former chief of science, Sam flinched slightly. A moment to calm her nerves, and her voice came through clear. "And you think he might have made a mistake?"

Radek quickly held up his hands defensively, hoping to undo the offence. "No! No no no… but there might have been…"

Sam shook her head and sighed. Radek's indecisiveness was infuriating, and she needed his help now like it or not. "Radek… It's alright. Don't worry about offending Rodney just because… "She winced as she worded the rest of the sentence. "… I need you to focus, Radek. He's gone and we need to move on." The moisture in her eyes hid her anger. Sam was beginning to hate being so determined to stay in Atlantis.

Radek sighed and nodded. "Yes, he may have made a mistake. Made the quarantine lockdown too aggressive. But the tablet will only give you readout; we will not be able to change anything."

Sam already knew that, but as she hooked up the tablet to the panel she explained. "At least we'll know what's going on."

Radek found it hard to dispute that.

Atlantis, Botany Lab

Laura looked around the botany lab, and after finding nothing useful, turned to Katie and said. "You mean you've got no computer, no radio, and not even any edible plants in this place?"

Katie shrugged and picked a leaf from one of the greener plants. "You could probably eat this if you had to, but I wouldn't recommend it."

Cadman rolled her eyes and tapped on the door. "Hello? Anyone out there?"

Again, Katie shook her head. "Most of them are probably on lunch, I usually work through lunch or…" Her eyes watered, and she turned away as she finished her sentence. "…or Rodney would come and…"

Laura winced and sighed. Truth be told she missed the quirky scientist as well if only to tease him. "Katie, I need to tell you. Ronon's back."

Katie instantly perked up, but her face was more confusion than anything. "What?! But, How!?"

Laura prepared herself, this wasn't an easy story to tell. "Sit down, Katie… I'm guessing we're gonna be in here for a long time."

Atlantis, Control Room

In the control room, Chuck was rubbing his eyes as he tried to hack past the quarantine lockdown. It had been almost 20 hours he'd been awake and Amelia had been threatening to kick his ass when the doors had shut.

Through some strange machination, Chuck was now the ranking officer inside the control room of the Lost City of the Ancients. "Okay… anybody get anything on the radios?"

A series of shakes of their heads, and Chuck sighed. "Daedalus?"

Amelia shook her head and rubbed her forehead. "Nothing. It's in orbit, but we've lost all ability to contact them."

Chuck rubbed his eyes, and cursed softly. "Dammit, so do we have contact with anyone?"

Amelia sighed and shook her head again. "No one; we're completely on our own." The other technicians were now focused on trying to get the bulkhead doors open, and Amelia spoke softly just to him. "Chuck… calm down. It's just a quarantine."

Chuck sat next to Amelia and stretched his face. "Yeah… and we're completely cut off from everyone…" He looked over to where the others had begun to build something that looked like a giant crowbar. It was almost comical. "Let's try and get in contact with Daedalus before we start eating each other."

Amelia just grimaced.

Atlantis, Transporter

"Level 5?!"

Sam was confused as well. The data on the tablet was astonishing. "The entire city is in lockdown… this outbreak couldn't have spread out that fast!"

Radek flexed his fist in concentration, it hurt to admit it, but this was looking more and more like a malfunction on Rodney's part than anything else. "Something is definitely wrong. Look, most of the primary and secondary systems of the city are offline as well."

Sam nodded and ground her teeth. "What exactly did Rodney do to the system?"

With a small shrug, Radek tried to keep it as succinct as possible. "He made it more aggressive to diseases that to Pegasus isn't as serious. Our immune systems…"

Sam shook her hand quickly and tapped through more of the information on the tablet. "Take a look at this… I'm not as familiar with the power systems of the city as you are but this doesn't look right."

Radek took the tablet and sighed as he went over the data. "Oh dear… it looks like it is a malfunction, but it doesn't look like it's anything Rodney did. I'm reading a sudden spike in power caused by an intense ionospheric storm earlier today."

Her hand on her forehead, Sam smacked her lips. "We need to get to a workstation, I'm not sure if anyone else can make a workaround."

Radek gulped, and he looked at the door. "It will be difficult to get through the door… let alone the rest of the lockdown."

Resisting the urge to rebuke him, Sam tapped open the control pad where the crystal control tray resided. "Pass me that?" She motioned to the tablet he had in his hands.

Radek shrugged and did as he was ordered, but he felt he needed to speak. "The tablet only has limited RAM; it won't be able to…"

Unable to resist, Sam chided him with a less than calm voice. "Yes yes… it won't run the whole city but it might be enough to open this door! And we're the only ones who have the skills to deal with this crisis and the rest of the city must be getting close to panic… I need you to think positive and focus."

Gulping, Radek nodded and kept his voice quiet. "Yes… You're right."

It was hard for Sam to try and keep positive herself. As if things weren't bad enough with the recent losses and the IOA's stonewalling, but Atlantis herself seemed to be unruly; Perhaps in parallel to all the events of the galaxy.

Traveler Aurora, Storage Unit

Special Forces training was one of the only things keeping John sane. Focusing on what was coming… not on the dried blood on the inside corner of his left eye that itched like mad, or even that Larrin was seated in front of him with a harsh look. "Are you even going to talk to me anymore?"

Larrin remained silent, simply staring at him.

John winced and tried to flex his facial muscles enough to get rid of the caked blood on his face. It itched terribly and with his hands tied he couldn't do anything. "Dammit Larrin, this is ridiculous. Come on! We can work together!"

Not a word escaped her mouth, only silent staring.

It was utterly frustrating, so John decided that he was going to keep talking and hope that something got through to her. "You know the Asurans aren't going to stop, I'm betting they've already restarted their campaign and the Wraith aren't going to take it sitting down…"

Her eyes narrowed slightly, and John knew she was listening.

"I'm can't promise my people will do everything they can… but you can bet the farm I'm gonna do everything I can… and I know Atlantis would be willing to take your people in."

Very little emotion on her face, almost as if she were simply considering what to do. Her mouth parted just a little, but no sound escaped.

John raised his voice slightly, now getting a little angry. "For the love of God, I don't care that you've spent the last week using me for a punching bag. Think of all the people who've died… the people who are gonna die if we don't do whatever we can."

Now her face showed a little emotion, anger, indignance, and just the hint of scorn.

With a calmer voice, John tried to be reasonable. "Listen, if we head back to Atlantis, we can regroup with your people. At the very least I'm sure I can convince my people to offer yours sanctuary on Atlantis."

Finally, Larrin sighed and looked to him with a scornful angry look. "That's it? Sanctuary? What about the fact that once they're done with the rest of the galaxy, they're gonna come after your city, they're gonna hunt my people down just to make sure there's nothing for the Wraith. What can you really offer us?"

John grimaced, and he knew that it would be difficult. "I can't promise anything, but you have my word I'll do everything and anything I can."

No more words, but Larrin drew a deep breath and left the room. John couldn't help but think that maybe he'd finally gotten through to her. His only regret was that it wasn't sooner to avoid the flogging her second in command had given him.

Atlantis, Mess Hall Balcony

Lorne peered out over the balcony and saw the tower looming overhead. The sun was bearing down on them and he noticed Teyla move over to where a small awning provided some shade. Seeing that he wasn't able to do anything but bake in the sun, Lorne moved over and sat down next to her. "I wouldn't worry too much… probably just a glitch or something."

Teyla nodded, but her tone wasn't her typical cheery one. "I am not worried. I am… concerned."

Lorne sighed and tried to think of something to say. "Well… it's just…"

With a shake of her head, and a hand on Lorne's shoulder. Teyla sighed her reply. "It's okay Evan… I know."

There wasn't a thing Lorne could say to help Teyla's burdened soul. Not that he could think of any for himself.

Atlantis, Transporter

"Oh, good idea."

Sam had seen Radek fanning himself and take his outer jacket off. Without any hesitation, she began to peel off her own jacket as it was getting hot without ventilation. Radek on the other hand instantly noted that Soldier Sam was in actuality a rather attractive woman. His fanning suddenly had more to do with keeping his calm than keeping his cool.

Sam shook her head and ignored it as she dropped the jacket and outer shirt leaving only her t-shirt on. "Much better."

Radek couldn't help himself and muttered as he focused on staring at the crystal panel. "Yes, Much better…!"

"Okay, the panel isn't recognizing my authentication…"

Feeling just the edge of smugness, Radek replied to the unasked question. "Well yes… the tablet is not configured…"

Sam checked her harsher rebuke. "Yeah I know… That's why I've written a workaround so I can bypass all the programs on the tablet and free up enough RAM to allow local access input."

Feeling a little emasculated, Radek replied quickly. "Already? So fast…"

It was getting harder and harder for Sam to keep her cool. Dr Zelenka had been getting more and more submissive, more and more useless ever since Asuras. Sam knew he was smarter than that and also why this was happening. He missed Rodney, and the grief hadn't passed yet. Sam realized with a small sense of self-loathing that the civilians on base were nowhere near as accustomed to death as Soldiers were…

God, was she accustomed to it? It sounded so macabre… Sam was a soldier yes… but she was primarily a scientist. Sam should know better than to… "Perhaps if we bypass the secondary control crystals…"

Sam saw it and through all her deep thoughts, hesitated. Only too late did she reach out to grab Radek's hand. "No! Wait!"

Too late, the raw uncontrolled power flowed into the primary control crystals and caused a short circuit between the crystals. It blew with a significant force and sent both Atlanteans back into the opposite wall. Sam landed first and felt her head crack against the wall. Radek landed in a heap but was more or less unharmed.

The world became hazy, and Sam instantly knew she was hurt. Her hand moved lazily up to where her head ached even as she spoke. "Doc, you okay?"

Radek grimaced and held his hand; a black mark showed where the electricity had coursed through and scorched his hand. But for the most part he looked okay. "The, the doors. They didn't open."

Sam already knew that. What Radek should have done is what he always did around Rodney, shut up and follow orders. Now pulling her hand away from her head where the distinct trickle of blood now flowed, she looked at the tablet on her leg. "No…" she picked it up with her blood stained fingers and grimaced. "And now the goddamned tablet's fried."

Radek had never seen Sam angry, so now that he was the cause of her throwing the tablet across the transporter and sighing dejectedly with her hands holding her head up. Radek felt even more miserable than he had before.

Atlantis, Infirmary

"Ronon! Stop!"

Paying no attention to the doctor's words, Ronon growled loudly as he tried to pry the infirmary doors open with the IV pole. When it snapped suddenly and he stumbled about from the sudden move, Ronon slammed his fist against the door in futility. "Open you goddamn door!"

Jennifer tried to stay out of range of the infuriated Satedan and explained. "It's a quarantine lockdown, Ronon. It won't open." He still ignored her, and tried with his fingers to pry the door apart. "Those doors weigh god knows how many tons. Even if we had a squad of marines in here we wouldn't be able to push it open!"

Finally done venting, Ronon punched the door hard one last time and split open his knuckles. He didn't even care as his blood trickled down to the floor. "You got any explosives? Guns?"

Jennifer looked around the sparsely stocked side room to the infirmary. More than likely her colleagues on the other side of the door were trying the same, but with even less success. "This is an infirmary, The most explosive thing I have is a bad case of indigestion."

Neither laughed, but Ronon got the hint. "So we're trapped?"

With a nod and a sigh, Jennifer nodded. "Yeah… that's what a quarantine does. So come here and let me stitch that hand up and we can figure out what it is we're gonna do."

Ronon just growled – Jennifer wasn't sure what was going on in his fractured mind.

Atlantis, Botany Lab

"Are you sure you know what you're doing?"

Laura resisted rolling her eyes. She'd been doing this for years and went to university for it! Of course Laura knew what she was doing. "Trust me, we're in no danger."

Katie still winced as she saw Laura insert the detonator to the small shaped brick of C4 on the door. "It's not everyday I see someone opening a door with explosives."

Laura shrugged and flicked the safety off. She pulled Laura with her behind the cover of the overturned desk and made a motion to cover her ears. "Not everyday this place decides to lock us all down."

Just as she reached for the radio detonator, Katie stopped her. "Wait! What if it's a real Quarantine?! What if there's some horrible disease out there and we're just going to expose ourselves to it?"

Having considered this, Laura felt it was worth the small risk. "Well, my radio's out, why would communications go down if we're trying to stop an infection? That'd be the last thing to disable. No, something's wrong and we need to try and get into contact with the chain of command."

Katie simply blinked, she seemed unsure of half of what Laura had just said. "Umm, okay. If you say so."

Laura felt a pang of regret, ever since telling Katie that Ronon was sure Rodney had died on Asuras… Well she felt just a little less of a friend and more a soldier. "Katie, look I'm sorry. I know everything's piling up on us and, well if you need anyone to talk to, don't hesitate."

Katie sighed and nodded. "I-I know. Everyone keeps telling me that."

It was obvious Katie was uncomfortable. So Laura decided to end the conversation with a bang. "Cover your ears. This is gonna be loud."

Atlantis, Mess Hall Balcony

Lorne peered out and wondered exactly what the others were doing. He had a block of C4 in his vest but it would barely be enough to break through the door. "Don't suppose you carry C4 'round with you?"

Teyla rolled her eyes and replied deadpan. "You'll have to forgive me; I left my stockpile in my quarters."

It was heartening to hear the Athosian woman joke around, but the lack of more than a courteous smile made Lorne feel like he was intruding. "Yeah… well… I'm not sure I wanna try and blow this door open with so little space out here…" He looked over the edge of the balcony above and below. "Wish I had some rope, might be able to climb up or down."

An indecisive groan from Teyla told him what a ridiculous idea it was. Pft… climbing the Tower… surely it was… Well…

Atlantis, Control Room

"I can't raise Daedalus… but it looks like they're trying to get our attention as well."

Chuck furrowed his brow and scratched the side of his head. "How?"

With a motion of her head, Amelia showed where the beeping on the screen was. "There's a signal… It looks like as Asgard transporting signal but it can't get through. That's not all though."

Sitting down, and trying not to grimace at the way the giant improvised crowbar failed to open the door, Chuck saw what was the problem. "Oh crap… level five quarantine? That means…"

With a nod of her head, and a dejected tone Amelia confirmed. "Yeah… Atlantis is broadcasting a signal… and without Dr Zelenka, Major Lorne, or Colonel Carter here…"

Chuck palmed his forehead and sighed. "There's no way to turn it off…"

The two technicians came to the conclusion that unless something drastic happened, Atlantis was basically launching signal flares to any passing Wraith or Replicator ships.

USS Daedalus, Bridge

"Still no luck?"

Caldwell's questioning was standard military protocol, but Major Marks couldn't help but want to say something along the lines of 'I'd tell you if I did.' "No, sir. Atlantis is putting out a jamming signal that's stopping all matter energy conversion. I'm guessing it's a quarantine but since it all happened so fast…"

With a sigh, Caldwell palmed his face. "It's most likely a malfunction… damnit. Any luck shutting down that distress call?"

Major Marks shook his head and realized what the next part entailed. "No, sir, it's coming out loud and clear 5 by 5."

With a wince and stifled groan, Caldwell put his palms together. "… Target Atlantis's Communications hub. Railguns only."

Hesitation. Never in his career had Kevin Marks ever been ordered to fire on his own allies. "…Sir?"

With an iron voice, Caldwell growled. "It's either this or one of the two enemies looking for us right now. Do it."

Marks let a slow breath out and closed his eyes. Targeting Atlantis for an orbital strike was the last thing he'd ever imagined would be his job. He made careful note to aim properly, adjust for wind and the changing gravimetric forces… a miss could mean a lot of lives.

Atlantis, Outside Botany Lab

Katie was a few feet behind Laura as they moved through the open corridors of Atlantis when the felt the tower they were in shake. Katie instantly freaked out and jumped in surprise. "Oh my god! I thought you said you knew what you were doing!"

With a bemused yet worried expression, Laura looked around as the corridor stopped shaking. "That wasn't me…" a moment to think, and then she became much more serious. "Sounded like an artillery shell… or…"

Katie began to dart her head around looking for where the noise and shaking was coming from. "Well, then what was that? Are we under attack?"

With raised hands, Laura took a hold of Katie and tried to calm her down. "Whoa! No need to jump to conclusions! If we were under attack it would have been over already since the shield isn't up."

The newly promoted Captain pulled out another brick of C4 and began to shape the charge with her hands. "We're not too far from the auxiliary control room. Once we get there we might be able to figure out exactly what's going on."

Katie stopped and held her hands up and shook her head. "Okay… You can do that, I'm not a soldier. I'm a botanist for pete's sake! What am I even doing following you?"

It was expected, and Laura didn't blame the woman. Too much was happening too fast and she was finding herself falling back on her training. "Katie, calm down. It's okay, just go back to the cultivation room."

Surprisingly, the botanist became indignant. "Oh so I'm just a third wheel to you?"

Laura winced; the massacre of the idiom Katie used was quite contrary to the severity of the situation they were in.

Atlantis, Transporter

"I'm sorry, I honestly thought that."

Sam was in no mood to talk, her head ached from the blunt injury and her vision was slightly blurry. It was hard to concentrate as well and she assumed a minor concussion was to blame. Her tone was a little less than irate. "I know. I'm not angry."

Radek was sitting on the other side of the transporter, clearly terrified of the injured woman across from him. "It's just, I was so sure…"

It wasn't like Sam to be rude, or even curt, but the way Radek had been apologizing for the last 3 minutes continuously had made Sam wish she had one of his pigeons to choke him with. "Radek!"

The Czech was silent finally… but only for a moment. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry I'm not Rodney."

Now Sam winced, it was an unfair assumption, but to a degree the scientist was right. Sam wished Rodney was still around and felt just a little more than annoyed that Zelenka was her new chief of science. "I'm not asking you to be, just…" with a sigh, Sam rubbed the back of her head and grimaced.

"Exactly… I'll never be what Rodney was to Atlantis, and I'm sorry about that."

Radek's words hurt Sam. It hurt her because it was true no matter what she said. "You don't have to be, Radek…" Sam said all this with her eyes closed. The throbbing at the back of her head made it harder to focus, but she had to say this. "I'll admit, I miss Rodney and Sheppard, and everyone who's gone. But we need to move forward, Radek. And if that means that we all need to work a little harder than that's what we're going to have to-"

The sound of a distant explosion distracted Sam's attention. Radek had heard it too and he quickly got up. "That sounded like an explosion, perhaps the city is malfunctioning worse than we expected."

Sam knew better. The sound of twisting metal was loud yes, but not loud enough to signal an exploded power conduit. "No, it's a C4 blast. Someone's out there!" she forced herself up, waving off any attempt by Radek to help her. "Hey! HEY!" Sam began to bang on the door, desperate to get anyone's attention.

Atlantis, Infirmary

"I should be with him."

Jennifer had to admit, the last hour had been interesting to say the least once Ronon stopped trying to break down the door. She kept her voice quick as she sat across from him on the floor. "You'd be dead."

"I'd be with him." Ronon made no attempt to hide the anger in his voice. "… It wouldn't have been so…"

Jennifer sighed, Ronon was trying to hold all that in and for some reason, she was being some kind of disturbance to his calm. "I, I dunno what I can say."

Ronon kept silent and simply clenched his fists. The stitches in his hand were stressed but they didn't snap fortunately. "There's nothing you or anyone else can say… I left him behind."

Under normal circumstances Jennifer would try and get Ronon to go see a psychiatrist, but seeing as the Satedan was unwilling to part with the guilt, or even the PDA that he still held in his right side shirt pocket… "Ronon… look. I'm not even going to try and say I understand. I've been here a little less than a year and already I'm scared out of my mind, but I don't think Doctor McKay would like you sulking like this. Especially not after spending so many years fighting the Wraith."

It was ballsy, and Jennifer only said it because she thought maybe being a little more aggressive could convince the Satedan to do more than just sit around and wait for death. Ronon looked up at her with a strange expression on his face. "What did you say?"

Jennifer suddenly felt like she'd crossed a line, and quickly she tried to backpedal out of the awkward conversation. "Oh! Well, uhh who am I to say what Doctor McKay would want? I only ever saw him when he was here trying to…"

With a strong shake of his head, Ronon sat up straight. "No no no, what you said about me, about the Wraith."

A little apprehensive, Jennifer decided to be completely honest. "Fighting them? Well, I mean… that's what you did - isn't it?"

Ronon's face was blank, but his mind was racing. That is what he did isn't it? He fought the Wraith. Ronon hated to admit it, but this fumbling somewhat cute doctor had just slapped him in the face with the realization that he was dishonoring Rodney by giving in so easily. There were more Wraith out there and the Replicators too.

Ronon wouldn't rest until they were all torn to shreds by his hands. Vengeance for Rodney, and Sheppard, and the hundreds… no… millions of others who had fallen before them. He looked to Jennifer and smiled softly, something that only made Jennifer even more nervous.

Atlantis, Mess Hall Balcony

Major Lorne wasn't exactly an impulsive man. In fact, it was his stoic calm that many referred to when speaking of him. The biggest thing that made him lose control was when his friends and family were threatened.

So when that explosion from the nearby tower had drawn both his and Teyla's attention, it made him very impulsive. "I'm gonna have to climb up the side of the tower… the Control Room isn't that far."

Teyla instantly raised both eyebrows. Certainly she felt threatened by the blast as well, but the concept of climbing the side of the city of the Ancestors wasn't high on her list of things she might one day do. "Climb the tower? Are you insane?"

Lorne leaned out from the railing and tried to map out his route, it would be a mostly laterally climb, but the final 20 stories would be pure vertical. Definitely very dangerous. "If Carter's not up there, then no one else has authorization to shut the Quarantine off. If she can't get there, then I have to do this."

It was the truth, but it didn't stop Teyla from saying. "You can't make it, Evan…"

Many times in his life he'd been told some variation of that. And even though it was Teyla, it still bothered him. "Oh and why not?"

With a half stifled groan, Teyla tugged on his leg. "You know why…"

Lorne contemplated her words. Did she mean more with them than she could actually say? Maybe he was reading too much into it, but the sudden urge that hit him told him just what a fool he was being.

Maybe it was the severity of his own feelings, or maybe it was just him wanting to prove that he was alright and he knew his duty. But Evan Lorne finally realized that he was being stupid, and jumped down from the railing where he was. "I guess you're right. Climbing the tower, guess I nearly won the Darwin award…"

Atlantis, Control Room

"So you're sure it was Daedalus?"

Amelia nodded and pointed out the sensor report. "I guess they detected our signal and since they couldn't reach us or even beam down, they stopped it by any means necessary."

Chuck looked it over and winced. The damage was extensive, but contained. There shouldn't have been anyone up there but it was always possible that casualties could have come from the surprise if somewhat welcome attack. "I've been trying to break the quarantine code… it's slow going, I've managed to disable the lock on the ventilation system so we won't suffocate. But pretty much everything else is going to take forever to hack into."

Amelia smirked as she restrained her laugh. "Hack? Geek."

Chuck rolled his eyes; despite the bad situation it was nice to have a little laugh. "You're just jealous. The Chucknician has long ago learned to deal with such things…"

With a furrowing of her brow, Amelia rolled her eyes back at him despite obviously finding humor in his words. "Freak."

Atlantis, Transporter

"Colonel!? Is that you?"

Sam latched onto the muffled voice and screamed as loud as she could. "Yes! We're trapped in the transporter!"

Zelenka banged on the door as well. "Yes! With your help we might be able to pull it open!"

The muffled sounds of combat boots outside, and soon the voice was relatively clear. "Colonel? Doctor? You in there?"

"Yes! Maybe between the three of us we can pry the doors apart!"


Outside the door, Laura shrugged and for a moment wished Katie had come with her all the way. "Alright! Get ready! On 3!"

She got a good purchase on the door and dug into the floor with her boots. The strong grip gave her a great leverage and she counted down. "One… Two… Three!"

Between the three of them, it was only a few moments before the door opened enough to get an even better gripping point, and both Sam and Radek rushed out taking deep breaths of the somewhat fresher air.

Laura noted instantly that Sam was a little woozy, and Radek held his hand as if injured. "You guys okay?"

"Yeah, yeah we're fine." Sam nodded but the obvious sluggishness of her movements noted otherwise. "How'd you get to us? The whole base should be locked down."

Laura winced slightly and opened the Velcro patch on her vest. Beneath lay a twelve pack of C4 charges with three empty holes. "Gotta give the technicians something to do."

With a grimace and slight groan, Radek realized that door repair in Atlantis wasn't something that was high on the list of things to do. "We need to get to a workstation, once we're there, we can override the lockdown."

With a shaky nod, Sam added. "Agreed, the closest workstation is the ZPM power room, should be a few levels down."

Laura again noticed Sam looking dizzy and made a comment. "You sure you okay, boss? You don't look so hot."

Sam shook her head and held the back of it. "Just a bruise… nothing serious." Radek became quieter than he already was and simply looked away.

Atlantis, Infirmary

"Ronon… it's okay. We're all grieving… it's okay to feel bad."

Ronon shook his head, but he didn't move the arm that had come around his shoulders. "They should be here… goddamnit they should be here! They're the ones who've been here from the start, they're the ones who kept me here, they're the ones who..." He wanted to say the ones that matter, the ones that would keep this galaxy safe from the Wraith, but the emotion inside him forced his mouth shut.

Jennifer simply stayed with one arm around Ronon consoling him. It was by far the strangest moment he'd had with the expedition so far. "I… I'll admit I didn't really know them that well, heck, I don't really know anyone anymore. But I guess all we can really do is keep doing our jobs and hope for the best."

Ronon had calmed down, Jennifer liked calm Ronon. He said. "…I had you wrong, you know?"

A slight stiffening of her body was the only sign of Jennifer's sudden hesitance. "Hmm?"

"You're tougher than I thought you were, a lot tougher."

With a sudden blustering voice, Jennifer became quite bashful. "Oh well… I don't, I mean. Tough is subjective, Give me a cerebral edema and I'm superwoman, put me in a cocktail party and I'm a lost little chipmunk."

With a confused look, Ronon shook his head. "What?"

Jennifer realized that Ronon probably didn't have a clue was either situation was, so instead she just pouted slightly and sighed. "Oh it's… oh never mind."

Atlantis, Mess Hall Balcony

"It's not going to get easier is it?"

Teyla looked at Major Lorne as he sat across from her on the balcony, the claylike C4 substance in his hands. "Loss is a constant in a person's life."

Lorne looked up to her and sighed. "How do you deal?"

With a deep breath, Teyla tried to think of a way to help the Major with his own pain, but having yet to find one of her own, she came to a loss. "I simply must live one day at a time, treating each situation as it comes to me."

With a rueful smile, Lorne rubbed the side of his face. "I, Teyla… I'm-I'm not used to this. I've got pretty much all my family still back home. Carson and Elizabeth… Well, I was never really close to either of them. God, I must be horrible for saying that."

"You are simply stating the truth Evan. There is no shame in that." Despite saying those words, Teyla knew it was a simple placation. She herself felt a great deal of loss as Elizabeth and Carson had been such good friends. Kate was gone as well, the loss of Sheppard Rodney and Ronon had been a near final killing stroke. It felt wrong to miss them more than she missed either of her other three great friends. "I myself admit I am at a loss."

Lorne gulped and looked at her with a somewhat sad expression. "Have you thought about what you're going to do now? I mean…" the man didn't want to finish that sentence, but he knew it must have been on Teyla's mind.

Teyla for that matter still didn't have an answer. "I… I do not know Evan. My people are still missing. I have no idea where they are. My team is for the most part either dead or missing."

Lorne smacked his forehead, "Oh goddamn it! I'm such an idiot. Teyla, Ronon's alive.

The Athosian woman's eyes went wide. "What!? But… How!?"

With a regretful sigh, Lorne began the story. "It's complicated… but when they were on Asuras, Ronon was the last uninjured person and Dr. McKay had given him his tablet to detonate a ZPM… before he could do it though, a Wraith dart beamed both him and the ZPM aboard. He doesn't know for a fact, but the last time he saw Rodney the replicators had shot one of his legs and he was surrounded."

It was the smallest bit of hope Teyla had heard in weeks, and she instantly latched onto it. "Then he may still be alive!"

. "Well, Ronon's pretty sure he isn't… but I'm still hoping too."

The two of them looked to each other and knew that slowly but surely, the healing they wanted had begun.

Atlantis, En Route to ZPM room

The explosion caused a grimace on all three, though each for different reasons. Laura cursed herself for shaping the charge too wide and blowing the door clean off its sliding track instead of just a hole. Radek wasn't looking forward to another door to repair, and Sam hid the pain the shockwave travelling through the hallway caused in her head.

The three of them said nothing though, and slowly but surely they reached the ZPM control room where a workstation lay ready for their use. Sam quickly took control of the situation, and despite being injured and relatively fogyish in her thinking, managed to get into the quarantine program. "Alright, it looks like the ionospheric disturbance just corrupted the control interface… it'll take quite a while to clean that up without a hard restart."

Laura simply looked at Sam and raised her hands. "Uh, High Temperature and Energy Materials Specialist. I may love nerds but I'm not one of them."

Radek seemed to perk up at the mention of loving nerds, and looked to Sam. "Well, the only way to make a hard restart from our position is to shut down the main power circuits of the city."

It was something Sam had considered, but what that would mean is days of recoding all the programs that were running at the time of the quarantine and starting from scratch. It was a big job and it worried her. "Is there any other way you can think of to reset the quarantine without that?"

With a scratch of his stubble, Radek mused. "I… I'm not sure. What do you think?"

It irritated Sam that Radek was still trying to follow her lead. He was still probably feeling bad about the incident in the transporter but now was not the time for apologetic natures. "Come on… there must be some way." Sam knew there was one other way. Get to the control room and disengage the protocols from there. But the control room was dozens of levels above, and even with Laura's 'Velcro Vest of Doom' as she so deviously put it, they'd never make it all the way.

Radek was still trying to remain in the shadows. "Uhh, well. No. There may be other ways yes, but none from where we are."

It would have to do, and Sam decided to act. "Alright, pull the switch. The systems should be out for a few seconds but everything should come back soon after." She took her position by the control panel and waited for Radek to move over to the ancient equivalent of a circuit breaker. "Okay, ready."

Radek looked between him and Laura, and realized Sam wanted him to pull the switch. "Oh, Oh! Ah yes. I'll just…" Both women resisted rolling their eyes, as soon the Czech moved over and put his hands on the main switch. "Alright… ready."

Sam took a few deep breaths, and for the first time in awhile welcomed her soon coming trip to the infirmary.

Atlantis, Infirmary

"You're pretty smart, you know that Doc?"

Jennifer snickered softly, but didn't deny the accusation. "Story of my life… ever since I was fifteen and graduating university that's all everyone ever says."

Ronon felt bad, he'd almost given in to despair but somehow thinking of the almost innocence of the woman next to him with her head on his shoulder. He had to make his statement clear. "No no, you're that kind of smart too, but I mean you're smart enough to stay calm. You don't let stuff get to you."

Even more embarrassed, Jennifer scrunched into a ball shape instinctively. "Oh my, well. I-I guess…"

As much as Ronon wanted to feel pain, seeing Jennifer's reaction to his compliment only made him want to smile.

Atlantis, Control Room

Amelia had admit, despite some initial butterflies, Chuck was actually handling himself well. That is, as well as a Sergeant could after the city had come under attack, sensors reporting various explosions around the city, the city reacting to the attack by implementing the self-destruct, as well as having one technician break his hand trying to pound his way through a three ton door. "How much time left on the, well… you know?"

With a resigned sigh, Amelia shook her head. "Didn't catch it. Could be five seconds from now, could be five years from now." It seemed strange to her, to be so calm despite certain death so close. "Guess Daedalus is gonna regret taking out that communications dish."

Chuck rubbed his face and leaned back in his chair. His smile was somewhat insane. "Ever thought about what you'd do if your flight went down?"

"Excuse me?"

With a hand above his head, Chuck mimed a plane. "You know, 747, get shot down, engine trouble, frozen duck flies into the windshield. Any of the millions of things that could go wrong… what do you do?"

It was a strange question, and Amelia really didn't know how to respond. "Uh, well I guess I'd, well, but… dammit Chuck! What kind of a question is that?"

"I don't know! I just, I don't know what I'd do either. Is that… is that a joke?"

Now Amelia was worried, had Chuck gone off the deep end? "The hell are you talking about?"

Leaning forward, Chuck tried to lay out the epiphany he'd just had. "It's an existential question. If you know you're gonna die, what do you do?"

Now Amelia understood - vaguely. "Well, there's still a chance someone could shut it off. Those doors were pretty close to the ZPM room and…"

Shaking both his head and hands, Chuck interrupted. "No no no, you're not getting me. Look at this place. Look at everything that's happened, Maybe it won't be today… and maybe it will. But one of these days, maybe not even for like a hundred years, but one of these days we're gonna die, and we just don't know what we're gonna do before then."

All Amelia could do was blink in response. Had Chuck lost his marbles? "You're scaring me. Shut up before I kick you… really hard."

Chuck's laughs did nothing to calm Amelia down. "No no, you don't get it… God, look at everything that's happened. We could die any minute and we just don't know what to do now. We're so sure that we're gonna keep on going that… that we forget why we're even here."

Amelia certainly was questioning why she was here. Listening to Chuck's ramblings was going to give her an aneurism. "You need a vacation… a long vacation."

"Well that's just it isn't it? Where would I go?"

With a shrug, Amelia noted that one of the workstations in the ZPM room now was giving an active status. "Well… if we get out of this, back home. Earth."

Chuck's smile lost the insanity, but it kept its vigor. "Wrong, this…" The Canadian moved his arms around emphasizing Atlantis. "… This is home."

To punctuate his statement, the lights as well as everything else suddenly turned off, but just as rapidly, they went back up… along with the bulkheads.

Atlantis, Infirmary

"Do you, well I mean… are you…"

Ronon couldn't help but smile at Jennifer's blusteryness. Granted he wasn't expecting her to be napping on his shoulder either after only 2 hours of isolation, but maybe Jennifer's attempt to console him meant more than he thought. "Yeah?"

"Well, if you… need someone to talk to…"

It was a pretty forward question. Ronon barely knew Jennifer before today, and already she was trying to help him. It was a hard thing to deny… especially since he had yet to talk to Teyla and see what kind of shape she was in… probably not a good one. "Maybe… maybe."

Before either could do anything more, the lights went out. And moments later, they went up along with the doors.

Atlantis, Mess Hall Balcony

"So Rodney is likely still alive, and the Asurans have almost definitely probed his mind."

Lorne nodded, and handed his canteen to Teyla. "That's the gist of the Intel Ronon brought back. We might have to move the city again."

Teyla looked to Lorne with a rueful expression. "I guess you'll be the one to fly the city."

With a nod, Lorne contemplated it. "Always wanted to see what it's like… Co…" his voice caught, and he looked down for a moment "… Sheppard said it was 'cool'." Now he laughed, and smile was one of nostalgia. "Could never get him to describe it beyond that…"

It was obvious the Major missed the dark haired Colonel. Teyla didn't know what kind of a relationship they had apart from friends, but it was apparent that Evan cherished it. "Many times has John used the same term when speaking with me."

"… I really hope he's still okay… last time the Traveler's took him he wasn't exactly in the best shape… he said that Larrin lady had a great right hook."

Teyla smiled and laughed at the small joke. The mere fact that it was the Travelers that had taken John and not a sworn enemy gave her just a small degree of hope for his safe return.

Even more hope was added when a few seconds later, the doors to the Mess Hall opened and a collective sigh of relief was heard.

Atlantis, Infirmary

"Guess you would have had to come down here anyway."

Sam snorted softly at Ronon's little joke, with everything in Atlantis relatively back to normal, it was time to recoup from the culmination of the unrequested chaos. "Yeah well… Dr. Keller knows what she's doing. A few minutes under her care won't kill me."

Jennifer made an irritated sound and pressed the bandage on Sam's head just a little harder. Sam winced a little and turned with an accusing face. Jennifer simply smiled and remained innocent. "Whaaat? I have to make sure it holds."

Sam checked her eye roll; she was feeling too good for that sort of thing. Yet again she'd dodged death by the skin of her teeth, and no matter what the situation could have been, the relief of life continued was enough to keep her going. "So Ronon, Major Lorne briefed me quickly on what happened but he didn't give me any details."

Ronon nodded, and then accepted the glass of water Jennifer handed him. "Wraith were stealing ZPMs, I blew em up. McKay…" Ronon stopped for a moment and sighed, the time to move forward was now. "…McKay got captured. They probably probed his mind and got rid of him, just like-"

With another sigh, Sam looked down at the ground. "Just like Dr. Weir…" A moment of silence, remembering the two friends who had fallen to the nanite monsters. "We're gonna have to move the city. If they probed Rodney, then they know where Atlantis is. It's been almost a week and they haven't attacked, but maybe it's because they're more concerned with the Wraith for now."

Ronon nodded, and he clenched his fist. "The Wraith are getting their asses kicked. They tried to use those ZPMs to power a cloning factory. The Wraith that captured me got caught by another hive and…" he growled softly. "…we had to work together to get outta there. I blew the ZPMs and he got us both away with a Dart. Don't know how I ended up on Sateda."

They were both silent now, and Sam held the bandage at the back of her head and relished the feeling of narcotic painkillers. It was only for a moment though, as she quickly excused herself from Ronon and called for a command staff meeting.

She smiled and nodded to Teyla who now walked in, now obviously pregnant. Teyla looked across the room to where Ronon was, and the Satedan noticed her looking.

Ronon silently got up, and walked over to Teyla. "Miss me?"

Teyla smiled, and simply hugged Ronon.

Outside in the hallway, Sam contemplated her next move. The hard restart that the city had to endure to save them all would complicate and delay any possible launch of the city, but with any luck it would only be a few days before they left this planet.

Chapter 4: 

Traveler Aurora, Storage Unit

"Bring him."

It had been almost a whole day since John had seen another living person, and his parched throat and empty stomach attested to that. The two burly looking Travelers who accompanied Larrin picked him up by his shoulder. John felt severely weak from almost 3 weeks of sedentary life tied to a chair.

Never in his life had he been as glad for bathroom breaks as he usually got some dips into his schedule to keep his upper body in relatively okay shape.

This wasn't a bathroom break though, and they been keeping him awake for almost 2 days now. Larrin looked a little… softer was the word John wanted to use, but being dragged through the Aurora with his feet sliding on the floor, and the harsh lighting above him made him reconsider ever thinking of Larrin as anything other than hard. "Anyone gonna tell me where we're going?"

None of them replied, and instead John figured that finally they were going to decide what to do with him. He only wished it could have come 2 weeks earlier before Larrin decided to use him for a punching bag.

It was a long trip, and finally John was deposited inside a room where a spotlight illuminated the floor where he was standing. He almost started chuckling at the obvious intimidation tactic.

A voice came from the shadows, and John instantly knew he was on trial… of sorts. "Colonel John Sheppard…"

Feeling the need to keep things completely legitimate, John donned his smartass hat. He raised a finger to the accusing voice. "That's Lieutenant- Colonel John Sheppard…"

He could feel the eye roll through the black haze in front of him, and slowly the lights came on. A group of six older Travelers sat around a curved table. Obviously passing judgement on him. "You stand before the Traveler high council. It has been eighteen days since the catastrophe at Asuras where under your command, 429 Travelers lost their lives in a battle lost."

John decided then and there that he hated legislature. "Cut the bullshit. I'm not going to be your scapegoat and I'm not going to sugarcoat the situation. We got our asses handed to us and I'm sorry alright? I'm fucking sorry." He took a moment to show that while genuinely being sorry, he wasn't going to back down. "The question you should really be asking is 'how the fuck are we going to survive?' because you know damn well the Wraith and Replicators are gonna come after you… and Atlantis."

Now that the lights were coming up, he could see there were actually a dozen men and women sitting at a table before him, all in surprise at his determination and defiance. One of them, an older man who seemed to be in charge stared him down. "Larrin says you are willing to help us. But what help do you really offer? From what I understand there are very few of your people on Atlantis… barely enough to run it."

John had spent days considering it, and his thoughts always came down to a few key points.

The IOA were never going to allow for an evacuation. He'd heard Woolsey and Carter arguing even before Asuras about sending some people to the Milky Way because Atlantis was taking in so many refugees, and the IOA's idiotic insistence that Earth be left out of Pegasus affairs was insulting.

That left Atlantis and Atlantis alone as his resource. "That's kind of my point. Last time I checked there were only 200 people on Atlantis… and from our schematic reports… we could easily fit another fifty thousand."

Now the other Travelers murmured amongst themselves, and Larrin came in from the side where John couldn't see her. "He's right. The city is huge compared to any other infrastructure we've come across. It could easily hold all of us ten times over."

John looked over to Larrin, she seemed… defiant. Maybe he had gotten through to her… and maybe letting her vent on him had been worth it.

Atlantis, Colonel Carter's Office

Sam took careful note of the request on her desk. Truth be told she'd been expecting it, but after what had happened it felt like an insult. "Request denied."

Radek stiffened; he certainly didn't like her quick dismissal of his request. "I see… may I ask why?"

Sam kept working on her tablet, Sleep was beckoning her but it would be hours before it was allowed. "I've already signed approvals for four other astrophysicists to go back to Earth and the SGC. I can't lose my entire staff right before we have to move the city again. So I'm sorry, but I have to ask you to remain at your post."

Radek was fuming now; this was his life she was denying. "I'm not part of the Military. You have no authority to order me to stay."

He was using it as an excuse, and Sam knew damn well what was bothering him enough to want to leave. It bothered her too, but after seeing what happened in the Transporter, she had an inkling how to fix it. "Doctor Zelenka. I am only going to tell you this once. You are the most qualified person to be running scientific operations on this base. I have full trust in your decisions and administrative abilities. You do not have to live up to what Rodney did because you are not Rodney. And that's not a bad thing. You are fully capable of making your own decisions regarding this city and I trust you."

Radek remained silent. He'd often thought of Colonel Carter as a more feminine version of the soldiers he'd seen on Atlantis. Perhaps smarter, and definitely more attractive, but now he saw that deep down inside she was a true soldier… and she was encouraging him.

Colonel Carter continued. "I am not asking you to try and fill Rodney's shoes… I could never ask anyone to do that. What I am asking is that you take initiative. This is your command now, Radek. And if you seriously don't want it then I don't even want you on this base anymore." She stood up and faced Radek with an impassive face. "If you bring me this letter again tomorrow, I'll sign it. You have till then to figure out what you're going to do, Dismissed."

Radek wanted to argue, he wanted to say that he wasn't ready for this level of responsibility, and that to take over for Rodney just hurt too much as he would be reminded 24/7 of what had happened.

But Radek realized that that would happen anyway, and the only way to run away from this pain would be to abandon the whole science field… So he just nodded curtly and left the room.

To the side he saw Major Lorne prepping his new team, the new AR-1… The Major had 2 Marine Captains and a Combat Engineer… obviously he was expecting battle when and if he went through the gate.

The whole city seemed that way… especially with all the refugees who had taken hospice here. They were taking refuge in one of the side towers not too far from the central tower and the stargate, but already he'd heard of incidents requiring the Military Contingent on Atlantis to resort to police tactics.

Radek didn't know how he ended up at this lab, but something…

No he knew what. This was where Rodney spent most of his waking hours. This is where he'd find him wired on four cups of coffee screaming at the computer and anyone around… pushing harder and harder to prove himself.

Prove what? That he was more than capable? Radek already knew that. Though he never admitted it, he was envious of how Rodney could go from being completely ignorant of a system, and within days become an expert from his utter dedication from studying it. The man would stay up for 18 hours stuck to a console, learning everything he could about a specific system, only going away when Sheppard or Katie would come and drag him away.

So now that Radek sat in the same seat Rodney called his home away from home, he realized that running away would solve nothing. And worse still, it would dishonor the memory of his now gone friend.

He turned on the monitor, and input Rodney's password… Almost no one knew it, and Radek would never use it against him, but now it seemed prudent to see what the man had been working on before his time had come.

Specifically there were bookmarks in the Ancient Database… mostly energy creation and storage folders… a few on weapons… one in particular about a new mode of propulsion… but for the most part these were unexplored aspects and Radek would need more resources to properly study them.

It was then that Radek Zelenka decided to stay; honoring Rodney by completing the work he'd started seemed the most proper way to tear away his grief.

Atlantis, Mess Hall (?)

Dr. Rodney McKay

"Sam? Oh my god! Sam!"

Rodney ran over to where the Colonel sat with her back to the wall, The white hair and ancient dried out look to the once beautiful woman made Rodney's heart quiver. "Rod…ney?"

He quickly knelt next to her and hesitated in touching her. Gone was the strong imposing woman he knew, and only a frail almost lifeless husk remained. "Yes! Oh my god Sam. Oh my god…"

Sam turned her head slowly towards Rodney and stared at him with glazed over and hazy eyes. "Where… where were you?"

Rodney fought the tears, he really did. But now in a position to see into the mess hall, he saw bodies lying around… husks of the strong men and women who served in Atlantis… tossed carelessly aside after having been fed on. "I… I…"

Sam suddenly reached out and grabbed Rodney's collar. She was surprisingly strong despite the grave injury. "You… you've gotta… warn…"

Before she could finish, Sam's throat caught and her pupils receded. Uttering an anguished death rattle, her hand finally let go of Rodney's collar and fell to the floor limply - never to move again under its own power.

Rodney cried. His tears burned his cheeks like never before. Seeing people he lived, worked, and fought alongside… all people he secretly or not so secretly liked and even loved... all dead or on the verge of death… What had happened?

To the side, a sudden bang and explosion warned him of trouble. He quickly checked his body and found an M9 Berretta handgun. Fumbling it around, Rodney held it shakily in the direction of the noise.

The door blew open, and a Wraith Drone lumbered forward. Its stunner rifle was nowhere to be seen, but at the distance it was at it didn't matter. It charged forward towards Rodney with a mighty roar.

Rodney for that matter fell back, scrambling to get to his feet. He pulled the trigger madly and managed to put a few bullets into the Drone, but it fazed off the bullets as if they were just insect bites.

Just as the Drone came right above Rodney at about ten feet of scampering back, a burst of SMG fire tore across the side of the Drone and staggered it. Rodney emptied the clip of the pistol and looked over to where the SMG fire had come from. "Sheppard! Wha…?"

The wounded Colonel charged forward with a fierce snarl and threw himself at the Drone. In a flying tackle, he knocked the Wraith to the ground. Rodney instantly felt the need to help him and quickly tried to reload the pistol. Feeling around his body, he found one clip attached to his belt. Fumbling around, Rodney reloaded.

Colonel Sheppard jumped up from his position with a pained groan and struck the Drone with the butt of his P90 again, keeping the creature down and at bay. He slammed it again and again, finally ending up on top of the Wraith and emptying his P90 at close range. Blood spurted up and onto his body. Rodney finished reloading and simply stared at Sheppard in silence.

Sheppard groaned loudly as he rolled on the floor, his breathing was erratic and his voice was shaky. "Rodney… where the hell have you been?"

Rodney finally got a good look at Sheppard as the Colonel pulled himself up. Just like Sam, he'd been fed on. His hair was a mix of white and black, his skin wrinkled and his eyes bloodshot. "Sheppard! What the hell's going on!? Where'd the Wraith come from!?"

Moving forward, Sheppard limped to where Rodney was and helped him up weakly. "Goddamn bastards jumped in a cruiser under the shields; kamikaze. Dumped all their darts before we could take em out…"

"What!? That shouldn't be possible! The shields are…"

Sheppard shook his head and shook Rodney to get his attention. "Forget that, it's too late. The city's swarming with em. We're outgunned and urrgghhh…"

With a loud groan and minor convulsion, the Colonel heaved over, barely held up by Rodney's grip. "Sheppard! Oh my god… what happened to you?"

Sheppard's throat seized up and let go repeatedly, obviously he was in a tremendous amount of pain. "One of the bastards…ughhh.., stunned Teyla… went to help her… mrrm… got caught… Ronon got him off me but he got stunned too…" for a moment, the Colonel covered his mouth as if he was gonna lose his stomach. Quickly recovering, he shakily pinned Rodney to the wall in a violent move. "They're gone McKay. Last of us, heading to the gate… I… ugh…I need you to go get our people through. Don't let them… Earth! No Wraith on Earth! Go back and… arrrrrgghhhh!"

Sheppard let out a huge groan as he held his chest and keeled over onto his knees. Rodney could barely hold the man's weight up as anguished cries of pain came from his lungs. "We need to get to the gate… come on Sheppard! We nee…"

With a quick shake of his head, Sheppard pushed Rodney away and forced himself to get back up under his own power. "No! Goddamnit Rodney. I'm dead man walking. I made Keller give me an overdose… hrrmm… Stims and painkillers… I got maybe an hour fore I burn through my guts, no chance." with a distasteful laugh, Sheppard looked back at the dead lying on the floor and lingered his gaze on Sam's lifeless husk. "She tried to stop em, got swarmed… Goddamnit." he turned back to Rodney and the tears in his eyes said more than words ever could. "Go… I'll hold em off ya… buy you time." A few deep breaths and the Colonel pushed away, reloading his P-90.

Rodney had to make it to the Control Room… he had to make sure no one else died needlessly.


Talia watched with interest. Oberoth was trying a new tactic and for some reason, it seemed to be working. "I do not understand. Why do you impede him from giving us the address?"

Oberoth kept his hand in Rodney's head and continued the simulation; the Wraith Commander that was waiting for Rodney just past the next corner was a new addition to the program, as would be the Asuran interpretation of the Wraith Feeding Process. "Every attempt has been blocked by his ability to detect our presence. But, I have noticed that when he finds himself at major risk… it changes his brain chemistry."

With a mimic of the human frowning expression, Talia also rubbed her chin. "Brain Chemistry? So his body reacts to the stress by weakening his resolve?"

At that moment, in Rodney's mind, the Wraith Commander had swiped the legs out from under him. Despite the scientist's screams of terror, the Wraith let the salivation from his lips fall on his face as he shoved the feeding hand onto Rodney's chest. In the real world however, Rodney's kneeling body simply convulsed and a tormented gasp left his lips involuntarily.

Oberoth would have felt the urge to smile… but satisfaction was a human emotion… and all Oberoth felt was wrath.

January 22nd, 2008

Atlantis, Control Chair Room

Standing in the Control Chair room of Atlantis, Major Evan Lorne looked at the chair in front of him and blew a deep sigh. "Never thought I'd get to fly something this big."

To his side, Samantha Carter patted him on the shoulder. "Never thought I'd be riding shotgun."

Even further to the side, Dr Radek Zelenka had finished programming the power sequence. "And I don't believe I ever thought I would be reprogramming an ancient city ship to use rocket boosters."

Sam fought the smirk, but it was a pretty true statement. With only one ZPM, it would be difficult to get the city up into space and not drain their one precious power source. But the threat of the Asurans launching another siege was too great and it had to be done.

So to that effect, the entire city had been preparing for this for almost 2 weeks now. Everyone had been moved to the area around the central spire in order to minimize shielding to the smallest possible area. All the Naquadah Generators the city had were running on controlled overload to give just a few percentage points more to what the city needed.

And as Doctor Zelenka had found, attaching F-302 styled rocket engines to specific hardened points on the city also managed to bump a few percentages off the drain to the ZPM.

They wouldn't take off for another day or two, the preparations still not complete. But the sooner they could get out of here the sooner…

An alarm began to sound, and within moments both Sam and Lorne were on their headsets. "This is Colonel Carter to the control room! Report!"

A few seconds passed, and Chuck's steady voice came through. "Ma'am, sensors report 5 Hyperspace windows have opened at the edge of the system. Something's jamming our short range sensors so we can't tell what kind of ships they are."

Sam immediately got into command mode, and looked to Lorne. Without words, the Major nodded and moved to the chair. Sam took a deep breath and began to head to the control room. "Copy that. Major Lorne is going to raise our shields and man the drone weapons. Have all available personnel report in and prepare to dial Midway."

A moment's hesitation and the Canadian Sergeant acknowledged. "Yes Ma'am… Colonel Caldwell is on the horn."

With a light jog, Sam charged up the stairs heading up to the control room. "Patch him through!"

A click, a moment of static, and then Caldwell's irritated voice came in. "Colonel Carter… I'm guessing you can see the fleet heading our way?"

Sam rolled her eyes but kept her words to herself. "Yes, Colonel! We're raising our shields and arming weapons… what condition is Daedalus in?"

Another hesitation, Sam had noticed many people were reluctant to give her bad news. "Not good. Hyperdrive is at 25% due to a refit. We've only got one plasma beam operational, and most of our nuclear ordinance was sent down to Atlantis while the ship was being repaired. We're completely outgunned up here."

Opening the door to the Control Room, Sam jogged quickly through the amphitheater where the gate resided and bounced up the stairs. "Copy that, can you land before we get our shields up?"

"Negative Colonel, We might be able to distract them for a minute or two but our shields are still considerably weak. I hate to say it but they caught us with our pants down."

Sam finally walked into control room and saw all her people working hard; it pleased her. It had been weeks since she saw this level of strong activity and it seemed that ever since the quarantine snafu last week, everybody on the base had gotten back to their senses. Sam herself felt much better, and now she was ready for anything that might be coming. "Status… Give me a city wide sit-rep."

Amelia Banks turned in her chair and nodded. "Ma'am, refugees are in Towers 3 and 4, Sergeant Stackhouse and Marine Squad Lima say they're getting a little panicky. Most of our people are in the core of the city and the shield is coming up."

Sam noted it, and looked to Chuck. "Any teams off-world?"

Chuck brought up the information and slid his screen to give Sam a better view. "AR-2 and AR-5 are off world… AR-2 is offering refuge to one of our trade partners, and AR-5 is on a recon mission to a suspected Wraith shipyard… Neither are expected to radio in for several hours."

A curse escaped her mouth, but then Soldier Sam took over. "Damn. Alright, have all departments report in and standby for possible engagement. If it's the Wraith, we'll fight, if it's the Replicators…" A moment's hesitation, followed by a steel backed voice. "…then we launch the city no matter what the condition."

A few of the techs looked at each other, but they were all in agreement. Sam took her position by her command console and began to issue the orders to get it done. Sam tapped her headset and barked. "Major Lorne! City Status?"

"Drones coming online ma-am! Still out of range but we're ready to shred 'em."

Sam smirked, the Drone weapons could certainly shred any target they sought out. In a way, Sam was looking forward to this, it was oddly beautiful to see the weapons of precise destruction fly.

So when a transmission came in to Amelia's computer unexpectedly, she blinked and froze for a moment. Once the hesitation was over though, Amelia called out. "Ma'am! I've got a transmission here."

Sam turned in her seat and nodded to her. "Who's it from?"

Amelia furrowed her brow. "It came from those ships Ma'am, but, it's…"

With a motion Sam indicated for her to send it to her console. A moment later, a message popped up on Sam's screen.

"Lucy! I'm Hooome!"

Both Sam's eyebrows shot up, and she looked over to Amelia. "You said the ships heading this way sent this?"

Amelia nodded. "Yes Ma'am, ringing one hell of a bell..."

With a chuckle, and a new gleam of hope Sam smiled and tapped her response. "Before your time, Sergeant… hell it was before my time!" She only knew one person in the Atlantis Expedition… in fact the in the entire Pegasus Galaxy who would say something so esoteric in order to prove it was him. "…Send this message back… 'Ricky, I thought you left me! Waaaa!' and once they get closer drop the shields."

Now everyone turned to Sam with honest and sincere surprise. But seeing her suddenly gleaming smile, realized that she knew something was going on… and whoever this 'Lucy' and 'Ricky' characters were, there was an inside joke in there.

USS Daedalus, Bridge

"Sir, we're reaching visual range."

Caldwell grumbled softly and input his nuclear codes into his arm console. "Get us into a perpendicular course. I want a sideswipe and perpendicular course."

Marks lamented the damaged state of the ship, and the sluggish way it responded to his commands. "Yes, sir. On screen."

The image resolved into four small dots surrounding a larger bright rod. It took a second for Caldwell to recognize it but then he realized what it was. "Oh damnit, it's an Aurora! Have Missile tubes one through four load nuclear ordinance. Once we're in range-"

The Major furrowed his brow as he looked at the sensor data and interrupted Caldwell. "Sir, wait. I'm getting IDC information…" His eyes went wide. "Sir, It's Colonel Sheppard's IDC! He's on that Aurora!"

Caldwell raised his head from the darkened hunch he was in, and realized that perhaps Colonel Sheppard's lunacy just might have come in handy. "Get me a confirmation on those other ships… Keep our weapons hot just in case."

Atlantis, Gate Room

Sam was ecstatic, the small hope that she carried within her for the past 2 weeks had proven itself, and now another of her command staff was returning.

She stood at the bottom of the stairs with Major Lorne next to her along with Dr Zelenka. To the side, Dr Keller waited with a small medical team to clear the Traveler delegation. Mere moments were left for the bittersweet reunion.

It was an odd feeling to Sam. John had been her first real executive officer. While on SG1 she and Cameron had come to an agreement to share responsibility and leadership… and she would never think of Daniel, Teal'c or Vala as subordinates. Then again she didn't really see John as much of a subordinate either, he may have been a lower rank… but his support was nothing like what she'd expected. John was truly a friend who assisted her in running the military side of the city, and it just so happened he was coming back in one piece.

At its very core, she was just happy to take another name off the casualties list. "Incoming rings matter stream ma'am. From the Aurora."

Sam nodded without even facing Amelia, and watched as the rings at the base of the Gate Room suddenly shot up, and caught the matter stream. five people came into existence, two of them recognizable.

Colonel Sheppard stepped out, and Sam winced at the sight of him. His cheeks were inflamed and both eyes were darkened with bruising. His step was ever so slightly stiff, as if he'd been tied down. Sam realized that this was most likely the case, but decided to wait until they were in the conference room to talk diplomacy. "Colonel Sheppard…"

John looked up and smiled half-heartedly. "Colonel Carter…"

Sam took a few steps forward. Seeing him alive made her believe in prayer; the urge to hug him to see if he was real wasn't lost on her. "Welcome back."

With a nod, John replied and extended his hand. "It's good to be back…" Sam accepted it and liked how he returned the stiff grip. He turned back to the Travelers behind him, each armed with Particle Magnums and less than friendly faces. "…I brought some guests. Hope you've got the dinner table ready."

Sam suddenly felt horrible that it would fall to her to brief John on everything that had happened in the past few weeks. He likely knew of Apollo's demise; but not Rodney, and certainly not what had happened to Ronon. "You caught us by surprise, but I think we can arrange something." Sam turned to the Travelers and motioned to them "If you'll follow me, our conference room is just up ahead."

The four Travelers including Larrin moved ahead – completely unafraid of any of the SF's or Marines standing guard. Sam noticed Dr, Keller ignored all of them and ran a quick scan using her portable unit. Sam stealthily took step beside Keller who reported quietly. They were all in excellent health, but John's injuries looked like they did require aid. Keller moved to take a look at him but as soon as she neared him his hand went up and his head shook. "Nuh uh… You can poke and prod me all you like… later."

Keller looked to Sam who after a moment's hesitation on the steps nodded her head in agreement with John. Sam wasn't fond of the idea of heroes who ignored injury, but right now Atlantis desperately needed those heroes.

Atlantis, Conference Room

"Sanctuary? That's it?"

Sam wasn't surprised by Larrin's reaction; the other 3 Travelers didn't seem appeased as well. They all remained quiet as if Larrin was their voice. "I'm sorry, Larrin. My government has made it clear that any mass exodus through the Stargates to the Milky Way presents too much of a risk of invasion. If not by the Wraith, then the Replicators."

Larrin shot a glance to John, who with a slight nod passed some unknown message. Sam noticed it but didn't say anything – she'd just ask John later what happened with Larrin. "I'm assuming we're still trying to convince them though?"

Sam leaned back in her chair; her talks with the IOA usually ended in more frustration that she wanted to admit she was capable of tolerating. "Constantly, I've got meetings with each individual responsible for this matter and…"

With a curt shake of her hand, Larrin redirected the conversation. "Wraith shit… I need to know now what we're going to do about this. My people have already suffered from both the Wraith and the Replicators and some are planning on trying to stay out of the conflict. I'm smart enough to know both the Wraith and the Replicators are gonna hunt us down. While I do speak for my people, each Captain is in truth free to do as they wish."

Sam sighed and looked to the whole group. "I'm truly sorry. If it were up to me, I'd have already evacuated the people we have to a planet in our galaxy. The most I can offer is the safety of this base."

Larrin turned again, obviously frustrated. She let out a short sigh and shook her head. "You'll excuse me if I think that's pathetic."

"I agree… " Sam retorted. "But my hands are tied. From what Colonel Sheppard tells me. You've got around five thousand people living on your ships."

"Yeah… we've got about twenty big ships left, another thirty smaller ones, Atlantis would easily hold them all and then some."

Sam stood up, and she nodded with a diplomatic tone. "Of course. Please coordinate with Major Lorne on finding accommodations. I'm sure we can work something out in the meantime."

Now Larrin smiled, and she waved over one of the Travelers behind her. "We can; power. Our scans tell us Atlantis is underpowered right now. I'm willing to offer our engineering staff in helping adapt our power generators for the city. Better than those Naquadah reactors I detected."

Sam felt like he should have been offended, but John spoke before she could reply. "I'm sure McKay and Zelenka would be glad to give you a hand with that."

Every Atlantean in the room winced and hid their grimace. It was plainly obvious that John had no clue what had happened.

Atlantis, Gate Room Balcony

"I'm… I'm sorry I had to be the one to tell you."

John sat on the floor with his legs sitting up. None of the other Atlanteans or even Travelers dared go out onto the balcony where Sam had taken John to brief him. "You know, I expected it. I saw Apollo go down. How'd Ronon get out?"

Sam sat across from John, it seemed perfect for the two leaders to commiserate in such a relaxed yet uncomfortable position. "John, I don't think…"

With a terse voice, barely showing the edges of anger and grief in John's mind, he repeated himself. "How. did Ronon. get out?"

"The Wraith captured him." It was excruciating to live it through again. Sam sighed softly and relented. "They sent darts down to Asuras to steal ZPMs during the skirmish. He was about to detonate one of them when he got caught in their culling beam. Last time he saw Rodney, he'd been shot in the leg and the Asurans were right on top of him."

John rubbed his eyes. Sam knew the pain of the bruised flesh was nothing compared to knowing Rodney was dead. "Goddamnit… Who else?"

"Everyone on Apollo, the rest of the strike team, and we've lost two more teams to Asuran surprise attacks while evacuating civilians. A few MIA offworld as well; no clue what happened to them."

John winced again. "So what's the casualty count?"

It was too much information too fast, Sam hated having to be the one to tell John all this and looked away from him. "John, you just got back. You look like a piñata and technically, you're still MIA. We need to contact Earth and get this whole mess sorted out."

John sighed again and nodded. "Yeah, yeah I bet. Did they notify Jeannie?"

It had been a heart wrenching call, but Sam had been the one to do it. "Yeah… she didn't take it so well."

Sam watched as John ran his hands through his hair, the stress overloading what control her had. She knew what was coming next. "God-damnit!" John screamed as he smashed the wall behind him with the bottom of his fist. Sam knew the control room staff probably could hear him, but it shouldn't have surprised any of them. A lone Marine guard by the door spared John a look, but then resumed his duties.

Sam understood, she really did. But her method of grieving was different, hitting solid metal wasn't exactly how she vented. "I know. The IOA didn't want to let her through the gate to get his things. It's going out with the next shipment to Earth."

With his trembling hand now pinching his brow, John asked more. "How did Ronon get away from the Wraith?"

Sam rubbed her mouth and sighed. "John, I really don't think you should be jumping back in so fast, you…" She looked at the injured man in front of her, and wondered exactly how bad Larrin had flogged him. "Well, look at you. The only reason I'm holding Keller at bay is because I…" another moment of hesitance, and she almost whispered the last part. "I know how close you were to Rodney, and I owe it to him that you hear it from me."

Sam realized that the loss of Rodney had been hard on everyone, but the look of mild surprise on John's face told her that he hadn't understood her own relationship with the quirky Canadian. "I, Thank you. Seriously. I appreciate you doing this, but if the Wraith have ZPMs-"

Sam shook her head quickly and blew a sigh of relief. "No, the only good news is Ronon used a tablet Rodney gave him to detonate the ZPMs the Wraith stole. That Wraith that you knew saved him and dropped him off at Sateda. As much as I'd love to rip his throat out, I guess he does have some kind of honor."

John rubbed his face – a clever way to disguise wiping away wet eyes and pulled himself up. "Alright I guess I've made Keller wait long enough…"

With a nod, Sam smiled at John as she stood as well. "You sure have, I'm sure she'll…" Before she could finish, the sound of an alarm came through and brought them both to full alertness. Sam tapped her headset as John looked at her expectantly. "This is Colonel Carter, What's going on?"

Sergeant Banks came through with a sharp edge to her voice. "Colonel Carter, we have AR-2 on the other side of the gate. I'll patch you through."

John didn't have a headset. His look of confusion didn't surprise Sam. "What? What is it?"

Sam got to her feet as well and listened carefully, static crackled in her head and she concentrated on the noise. A moment later Captain Cadman's voice came in under obvious duress from what sounded like battle. "…repeat! This is Captain Cadman here. Dammit Atlantis come in!"

"I'm here Captain! Report! Is that gunfire in the background?"

"No ma'am! Artillery! We've…" The transmission cut for a moment, and Cadman continued with her report. A washed out rumble had Sam pull the headset away for a moment so she didn't hurt her ears. Once it passed Cadman came back on the radio. "… Jesus fuck, that was close. Colonel, the situation has destabilized on this planet! Once we told them about the Wraith and Replicators they started fighting over who was in charge! The entire country has…" another explosion, and now the sound of automatic gunfire. "… Goddamnit! Get on that pillar and give me some cover fire! Hester, blow that wall down with this, that'll be our exfil. Colonel?"

John leaned in closer trying to listen in, but Sam batted him away trying to keep her concentration. "Quit it! No wait, Yes! Captain I'm here! We'll send a Jumper to get you out right away!"

With a grunt, John turned around and motioned for the Marine nearby to come over and took his earpiece. Soon, he too was listening to the cacophony of the battle on the other side of the wormhole. "Negative! That's a negative Colonel! Artillery fire has taken out the gate supports and it's lying on its face. My team is holed up in their DHD room but we're cut off! We can't get to the gate and they're targeting us!"

John wanted to scream, more friends of his were now in peril. He shot a desperate look to Sam, pleading to do something. Sam simply starred back with an ice cold expression so different than the sympathetic friend earlier. "Copy Captain. Fall back and await reinforcements. Don't do anything drastic."

Automatic weapons fired in the background. Cadman cursed a blue streak before yelling "Fall back! Do not engage! Fall back dammit!" An explosion, and the short and shrill scream of a man near Cadman. "Hester! Fuck fuck fuck! You better send someone fast or you won't even need body bags!"

More gunfire, screaming, and a final explosion put an end to the frantic report. "Captain, Captain, Respond!" Sam winced, John could only think more casualties… more dead. "…Amelia, patch me through to Colonel Caldwell."

John closed his eyes and pushed on them with his palms. The Travelers had told him how crippled Daedalus was. Options… he needed options…

"Caldwell on the line ma'am."

Again, the Colonel didn't sound exactly friendly. "What is it Colonel? We're still putting the pieces back together here."

Sam turned around and faced John as he let go of his face. He wondered if she could see the rage in his eyes. His voice was calm. "They're in no shape to go."

Ignoring him, Sam asked. Just like a military leader, exhausting one option after the other. "Colonel, I've got a team under fire and access through the gate is impeded. I need Daedalus to…"

Interrupting, Caldwell sounded like he wanted to curse. "No can do Colonel. Hyperdrive is barely running and more than likely we'd burn out and get stranded. Chief Thompson estimates another two days for half strength hyperdrive if he prioritizes it."

"Damn." She turned back to John, her expression now almost pleading. "Please tell me you've got an idea."

John simply remained impassive and after a moment, nodded. "Larrin has ships."

Sam turned away – John could tell she was embarrassed she hadn't thought of such an obvious solution. She quickly got over it and turned back. "Will she help us?"

John rubbed his mouth and shrugged his head around. "I'll talk to her. Convince her to take us to get Cadman's team out."

"Do whatever you have to." Sam's voice had determination behind it. "Lie, cheat, steal… you've got my full backing as long as you don't break the rules."

With a snort, John realized that yes… yes he would indeed break the rules now. "No promises."

Sam smiled. John had chosen the right time to come back.

Atlantis, Corridor to Engineering Lab

The hallway wasn't the best place for this conversation, but this wasn't the first time John had been this close to Larrin… although it was the first time it was optional. He'd cornered her and leaned on the wall with one hand, boxing her in against a bulkhead. It was a very personal mode of talking to someone but John felt he needed every edge.

Once he'd finished making his request, Larrin's reply wasn't surprising. "You can't be serious."

John shook his and looked to the ground ashamed. Larrin didn't seem that impressed with his request. "Believe me, I wish I were."

Larrin groaned softly and rubbed her face. John could tell this was not the first allied move she had wanted to make. "I came here because I know my people can't survive this war on their own, not to become your mounts."

John replied sharply. "Damnit Larrin, You know that's not what this is. All I'm asking for is a ship. One ship to give us a ride and bring our people back."

"I've been here less than an hour; I haven't even met with your engineers yet, and already you're asking for something like this?"

John understood Larrin's position; he'd be feeling the same. But this was important and John was ready to do anything. "One Ship… all we need is a ride. No combat, no risk. Just get my team in and out and that's it."

Larrin huffed softly and looked away from John. She seemed almost disgusted. "Why can't your people send a ship? You have one floating in orbit."

"I told you. It's crippled. It's been crippled ever since it limped back from Asuras."

With a not so gentle push, Larrin shoved John aside and moved off. John restrained himself from grabbing her. "I need to coordinate with your engineers, get this place powered up enough to take off."

With a bowed head, John hissed through clenched teeth. "Larrin!"

She turned, not a single soul was around them, John was glad that nobody would see this. "What?"

John moved closer, they were very close. Easily within each other's personal space. John kept his voice low, almost a whisper. "You don't know this, but I've never begged for anything."

"That's hard to believe."

Holding back his harsh tongue at her easy shot, John closed his eyes and bowed his head in humility. "You see what you've reduced me to? Goddamn it… I'm begging you Larrin, I'm begging you! One ship! That's it." Despite trying, he still gave his voice a certain degree of hostility – especially with his one finger to emphasize his request.

Larrin for that matter remained silent. She stared back at him with a slowly changing expression. John wondered what she was thinking as she looked at him. Her expression softened and she pinched the bridge of her nose. "You really do want to save them don't you? It matters to you."

"Of course it does." John shot back. He was angry and it had to be shown. "I don't doubt you'd do the same in my position. Help me, and you know I'll help you when it counts."

Larrin sighed and shook her head. "Well you just shot down any chance you had with me. Beggars are the lowest form of life to a Traveler."

He'd gotten through to her – John knew he'd gotten through and the only way he could take back just a bit of his dignity was to shoot back. "Well it's a good thing beggars can be choosers then."

Larrin eyes went askew from what John now realized must have been an unknown idiom, but the communication line was already open. "Uh, This is Larrin. Katana please come in."

Pegasus World

Ruled by Queen Harmony

Cadman loved explosives. In fact, anything of a high temperature or energetic material was something that she held close to her heart. The fun she'd had in college with Cesium, Hydrogen, and in one special case, freakin' Trinitrotoluene were memories that would never leave her.

Just like now, when those energetic materials were pointed in her direction. Especially when they tossed enough dirt, rocks and broken tree shards at her to cut through her BDU's and make some minor cuts and scrapes. "Keep moving! Come on Hester… don't pass out on me now…"

"That's the least of my worries cap…" The Master Sergeant she helped along was in high spirits, though Cadman knew this drudge through a freakin' boreal forest was doing him no real good.

Cadman shook the Sergeant even as she helped him along. The artillery shell that had landed not ten feet away from him in the DHD room had showered him in shrapnel that tore his armor to shreds and sent him into a fugue like shock. The fall down the stone steps he'd been guarding didn't help any either, and his injuries were severe. Moving was the last thing he needed.

But to stay in the contested Gate Room was just a little more dangerous. "Yeah well, you have any idea how complicated the paperwork for casualties is? You wouldn't do that to me would ya?"

To the side, Marine Corporal Edward Grant took cover behind a tree and used his binoculars to try and assess their followers. His left arm was in his shirt acting as a sling from taking fire from a low caliber weapon. "Captain! Looks like we're outta the meat grinder but I've got a squad following us, Look like Genii."

With a grunt and curse, Cadman continued to help Sergeant Hester limp away from the battle. She looked over to the last member of her team, another Marine, Lance Corporal Eli Jenkins who moved ahead to clear any possible obstruction. Thankfully, he hadn't been wounded but the frantic nature of the sudden battle was starting to get to him. "Jenkins! Plant some claymores!" she turned back to Grant and motioned with her head. "You too, Grant! I'm gonna try and get Hester to that ridge up there! Don't dawdle! These bastards are playing for keeps!"

Cadman knew the two Marines would do their duty. Hester managed to fumble out a reply to her earlier question. "…sorry cap…won't happen again."

Her laugh was more to keep calm than anything else. The sounds of shells, screams, and gunfire now lay behind her in the main city. Her team would survive, because even though Laura Cadman may have moved to the Air Force to further her career, at heart she would be Semper Fi.

Atlantis, Colonel Carter's OFfice

John didn't even give a foreword or introduction, he simply walked into Sam's office and went into it head first. "Larrin's lending us a ship. And the Air Force owes me my dignity back."

Sam sighed in relief as she looked up at him. John's ability to use humor to mask even the darkest situations was… reassuring. It wasn't unlike General O'Neill, another person she missed. "I'll see what I can do about requesting one for you with the next relief shipment. Which reminds me, I'm gonna need your report to send to the SGC with our next…"

John shook his hand and head in unison. "After I get back."

With a sudden raise of her brows, Sam stared at John. "And where exactly do you think you're going?" His cold stare told her everything that was on his mind. "You can't be serious. Look at you!"

With a shrug of his shoulders, John scoffed. "I'm just sore. Two weeks tied to a chair does that to you." The humor didn't have its intended effect, and John tried to be reasonable "I'm fine Carter. Keller can take a quick look and confirm it if you want but I'm going."

Getting up from her desk, Sam saw that John was deadly serious. "I'm worried too, John. That's why I'm sending a tactical strike team. But technically you're still MIA. You shouldn't even be in here."

John laughed softly as he scoffed. "Oh, technically huh? Good. Keep it that way till I get back."

Now Sam understood exactly what John wanted, and even worse, he'd given her a legal way to get out of being responsible. "I…" She made an annoyed grunt and then shook her head. "Anyone ever tell you you're a difficult man to hate?"

"Story of my life."

"Go." She smiled and nodded, enjoying the look of surprise John now wore. "I can take this bullet, just don't make me want to pull the trigger." The smile on John's face was exactly what Sam needed to see. She'd spent enough time with John to know how he operated and what level of trust to give him. Apparently he appreciated it. "Major Lorne, please come in."

A moment went by before Lorne replied. "Yes Colonel, I was just giving the Traveler Council a quick tour of…"

"Take a break and organize a combat strike force." Sam quickly spat out orders. "I want marines with urban training and combat experience to meet with Colonel Sheppard in ten minutes in the armory. All stores are free for use. We're going on a rescue mission."

Sam met John's gaze as they both came to an unsaid agreement. Neither was going to abandon anyone, and both were going to support each other fully.

Atlantis, Armory

The Marines were assembled in front of John with expressionless faces. Ronon and Lorne on the other hand were by the rear of the armory already knowing what was going on. Every one of the handpicked Marines had heard what was going down and knew that they were about to enter heavy combat. John looked at them all one by one and could see they weren't going to back down from this. 

He owed it to them to say it himself. "Alright Marines. Here's the situation; the Travelers are going to give us a ride to the planet where AR-2 is currently under heavy fire. We'd go through the gate but it's blocked. The plan is to find the team by their subcutaneous transmitters and get them out. It's likely they're either in hiding or have been captured. We're going in weapons hot and rules of engagement are hot zone. Don't wait for them to shoot you."

The eight man Marine squad became a little disquieted by the order; it was unlike their typical ROE back on Earth. The Marine Captain – Fullerton - in charge of the squad of enlisted Marines spoke up. "Sir, what's the situation on the planet?"

"From what we can tell…" John understood what was going through their minds. It would be going through his under the same circumstances. "…the political situation on the planet has broken down into civil war. I actually went there a few months ago, and they weren't exactly all that technological. What's got us worried is that Captain Cadman's last report made it clear that there were artillery guns as well as automatic weapons being used. I'm not taking any chances and we're going in with assault gear since it's pretty FUBAR. We're going to move in fast and hard. The planet has decent infrastructure and we don't know where Cadman's team is going to be. So I want P90s and M249s, I also want two M25s and two AT-4-CS's, no telling what kind of vehicles they've got if artillery is on the board. Clear?"

Eight instant acknowledgements. "Sir, yes, sir!" John loved how the Marines just shrugged off any confusion and got the job done – being a flyboy did have its perks though.

"One last thing, don't bother grabbing sidearms, the Traveler's got us a little present for our first allied mission together."

Every marine instantly smiled. Near the rear of the room, Ronon on the other hand grimaced. With a nod, John motioned them to move into the armory and load up. He walked over to Major Lorne and Ronon. "You guys coming?"

Lorne shook his head. "No sir. Colonel Carter's asked me to stay behind and make sure the Traveler's don't cause any trouble. I don't think they will but she's the boss. If you'll excuse me, sir."

John didn't feel too bad for Lorne, this wasn't going to be a fun trip. Ronon grunted and gave John a gentle shove. "Heard you were looking for me."

"Yeah. You okay?"

Ronon hesitated a moment. "Rodney's dead. We're alive."

With those words, and the unspoken communications between them as they looked at each other, everything came into focus. "Yeah, we are. So let's go get our people back, huh Chewie?"

A growl escaped Ronon's throat. John always found it creepy how he enjoyed fights.

John stopped for a moment on his way to the Jumper Bay, she hadn't even seen him and already he was going to run off into combat. It was already hard enough seeing Ronon, he needed to do this. "Catch up with you in a second."

Ronon turned, gave John an odd expression, but then realized what he was going to do. "I'll wait. Go."

John nodded and moved off. It would only take a second.

A few minutes later, John found her. Teyla was in the gateroom balcony, obviously having come looking for him. "Teyla."

She didn't turn, but John could tell that Teyla was likely just hiding her emotions as she often did. "John."

Moving forward, John stopped before actually touching Teyla. Behind them in the Gate Room– more Travelers ringed down with materials. A few Air Force and Marine personnel stuck around ostensibly guarding the whole situation. John desperately wanted her to look at him, just prove to her that he was alive. "I have to go."

"I know."

Was that what was bothering her? That John had seemingly escaped death and torment only to walk into another firestorm?

Teyla seemed to be able to read his mind as she finally turned, and he could see that she was holding back her emotions. All he wanted was to hold and reassure her that everything was going to be okay, that he was going to be here for her now that Rodney was gone. Instead they just stared at each other for a few moments, and John bowed his head finally and said. "I have to go."

He had turned, John was already moving away. Teyla's voice cut through what little emotional defense he had left. "John!"

Turning back, John saw Teyla step towards him and put her hands on his cheeks. She was noticeably more pregnant, a glow about her that he hadn't noticed till just now. He bowed his head into hers, the typical Athosian greeting. He could just barely see the rueful smile on her face.

It quickly ended, and Teyla wrapped her arms around John and squeezed him tightly before saying softly. "Be careful."

That's all John wanted. Just to let Teyla know he was there, and that he was going to do his damnedest to stay there. "I'm always careful."

Teyla's less than convinced expression reassured him more than anything else she could do.

Chapter 5

Traveler Ship, "Sotero" Shuttle Bay

"Rodney died a hero. He blew up the Wraith."

John furrowed his brow at Ronon's words as he sat waiting in the cargo bay. The Jumper sat across from him – several men and a crate of ammo inside. There was just enough room to fit Cadman's team if they squeezed, which John figured they wouldn't mind. The hull looked damp and dirty, but John didn't worry about this place. The marines around were prepping – cleaning and checking the sights and safeties on their guns.

"Carter said you did it. Rodney gave you his tablet and-"

" "I plugged it in." Ronon's response was instant and harsh. "It was his work that made it blow up. It wouldn't have worked without Rodney."

It was an interesting way to think, and John liked it. "I guess if you look at it that way." John still didn't want to think about how Rodney died. Ronon seemed to have gotten past it and this was his hold on reality. "He really was something wasn't he?"

A nod and Ronon twirled the shiny new Traveler blaster they had given the Atlanteans. "Yeah, he was."

An attractive brown skinned woman entered the cargo bay from the front of the ship and looked around. The leathers and dark colors she wore fit well with the dark hair as well. She spotted Sheppard and waved him over. "Sheppard, we need to talk."

John nodded to Ronon and got up quickly. His sore muscles ached and it would be weeks in the gym to restore his physical condition from before, but that was the least of his concerns.

He walked over and nodded. "Hey, Captain Katana right? Thank you for-"

"I'm doing this because Larrin asked me to." Katana interrupted. "What I want to know is if the situation were reversed, would you help us?"

John was a little taken aback by the question, but answered immediately. "Well, yeah. It's not like we're enemies."

Katana kept her voice harsh. John had expected some hostility but not blatant. "But we're not exactly allies either. We came to Atlantis hoping your people were as good as Larrin said they were. All I'm seeing is people who take and barely give back."

She was pissed, and John was pissed off as well. "Yeah well what did I tell you when Larrin brought me before your council? Atlantis will do everything it can. I'm going to do everything I can."

The Traveler woman leaned closer. John was glad the others couldn't hear them. "What can you do? You had to beg Larrin to even get this ship."

John leaned in closer as well, now infuriated. "That's right; I did beg her for this. And right now your people are completely welcome on Atlantis; you don't have to worry about the Wraith feeding on you or your children as long as we have power for the shields."

"Those shields'll only have power because we're installing our generators, you can't even run that city properly."

This had gone on long enough and John was in no mood for a circular argument. "Bottom line is we need each other. Today we're saving my people. Next week when the rest of your ships arrive we'll be saving your people. So if you can't take that then just shut up and follow your orders."

It was a harsh statement, and John saw he broke whatever argument the woman had. She softened her features and broke the stare with a rude snort. "Larrin was right about you." She didn't let him speak and instead spoke more respectfully. "We'll be at the planet in forty minutes. Make sure your men are ready, you're welcome to come to the bridge."

John wanted to ask more, but Katana merely turned and walked away. He noted that several Travelers had taken guard positions on the other side of the bulkhead door for the cargo bay – a sensible precaution. He turned back to Ronon who walked up and nodded. "That didn't look good."

"When are things ever good?"

Pegasus Planet

Ruled by Queen Harmony

The ridge had turned out to be a horrible idea as the Genii bastards causing this war had decided the same as her and were waiting. It had been a close call, but AR-2 had managed to evade them for the time being by doubling back and sneaking past their claymore wounded pursuers. Now back in the war torn city, they had holed up in a basement awaiting the reinforcements Carter had promised.

The only problem? Hester was dying. "Hey… cap…"

Laura knew explosives and even mechanical engineering to a degree. She could easily shape and deploy C4 charges that could cut through a door with little more than a bang, or wire a complicated mess that would turn hardened bunkers into nothing more than broken concrete. But when it came to people, Laura was only a little above average. "Sarge, come on, you need to rest."

The basement they were in was damp and cold, Laura had opened her survival kit and draped the blanket over Hester to try and keep the man warm. Jenkins stood by the door with his P90 at the ready while Grant got some much needed rack time. Laura had dressed his injured arm with what she could but without a doctor, only anti-biotics would keep it from infecting.

Laura herself was pushing her own limits. She'd been awake for 26 hours now and the urge to sleep was there. Dexadrine kept her alert but it would only last so long. She endured though because this was her team, her responsibility. Just because half the nation wanted to follow some brat as their queen, and the other half decided to follow the wicked stepsisters was no reason for her team to get involved.

Let alone the Genii, what possible motive could they have for being here? And where the hell had they gotten heavy weapons from? It's not like they could easily bring artillery shells and cannons through the Stargate unnoticed. That left only two possible situations. The Genii either had a very large interest in the planet and brought it all right before Cadman dialed Atlantis, or they'd been here in subterfuge long enough to infiltrate the government to build those weapons in preparation.

Hester coughed violently and curled up reflexively. Laura held him down and pulled out her canteen. As soon as he stopped coughing, Hester refused the water. His voice was criminally weak. "No point, save it."

Goddamnit. Laura whispered. "Drink."

Hester chuckled and shook his head. "Cap, can I ask you something?"

Laura shook her head. "Just drink, Sergeant."

"Why'd you leave the marines?"

She could see what he was doing – if he'd asked for anything, she'd give it to him now. "Well, the air force had a better program for me."

"Do you miss em…? The Marines?"

Another hard question. "Yeah. Doesn't get better than the marines. Now come on Hester, stop asking crazy questions and drink some water."

The Air Force Sergeant coughed once more, and lay back as he stared off into space. "I wanted to be a marine. Pops wouldn't hear it though." he scoffed for a bit, then continued as Laura listened to him. " 'No son of mine's gonna die in the desert.' Ha, so I ended up in air force blues."

Laura saw he just wanted to talk, and maybe get some solace. She couldn't deny him. "Well they fit nice at least, and you made it to Atlantis."

Hester gulped suddenly, almost as if he felt something coming up and wanted it to stay down. "Cap, you think I coulda been a marine?"

Many people had asked Laura that question. Her standard answer was that if they could have, they would have. But seeing Hester lying on the floor near death after holding off the initial attack group on his own; Laura couldn't help herself. "Yeah, I think you could have. Might wanna look for a transfer when we get back."

A few laughs escaped his mouth, and Hester's eyes began to drift as he gripped his dog tags. His breathing sharpened as he whispered. "Tell pops would ya?"

Laura saw it from the beginning. She saw how Hester had finally reached the end of his endurance and began to slip away. "Hester?" His body began to go limp, and his face softened from the grimace it was to a blank expression. "…Hester…?" the man was non-responsive, now letting out the final breath from his lungs. "Hester!"

He was gone; his hand now a death grip around the tags around his neck. Laura bit her lip hard to hold back the sobs. She's seen men die before and it always tore a piece of her with it too. This was so much more personal. With a silent move, she used her hand to shut his now blank eyes.

Laura sat back and leaned against the concrete wall; somewhere off in the distance the sound of gunfire and an explosion rocked the building enough for dust to fall. The dust that swirled in the air was harsh and burned both her eyes and lungs, but it was nowhere near as bad as losing a member of her team. Tears flowed silently as she took a moment to herself. It was only a moment though - there were still two others looking to her for leadership.

It took her a few seconds as she gently slid the dog tags out from his stiff hand, and using her teeth she tore the strip in half. There was no telling whether they'd be able to come back for his body, but at the very least she'd be able to tell Colonel Carter how he died, and how in her eyes Air Force Master Sergeant Hester had passed his test to be a Marine.

Traveler Ship "Sotero"Bridge

"Coming out of hyperspace."

John watched the screen on the bridge of Katana's ship as the craft popped out of hyperspace. Below them lay a pristine blue and green planet not unlike Earth. The thought that this planet might come under attack from the Wraith or god forbid the Replicators was a hard pill to swallow. "Are we within sensor range?"

Katana looked to her technician and nodded. "Almost. We'll have a detailed scan in a minute."

It was a tense minute to say the least, John had taken the near hour it took to get here to show Katana a record of Cadman's message from the planet. The way her eyes widened hadn't been lost on him. He hoped to show her the loyalty to his people – the same loyalty he wanted to get with the Travelers. "Scans are coming in, we're detecting a lot of smoke and fires in the central city where the Astria-Porta is." The screen ahead changed to an isometric view of the landscape, heat signatures of bodies and machines moved all over the place. "Looks like Genii technology. Did you know it was them?"

John shook his head; he and Sam were going to have to have a word with Ladon Radim after this. "No, they've been quiet recently. It doesn't make sense for them to do something like this."

Katana gave him a scornful scoff. "Well they're doing it, and it looks like they aren't pulling any punches either."

Examining the map, John could see two main forces. One that seemed to be using the forest as a main headquarters; the legitimate government he assumed seeing as the other force was a bit more spread out, but still trying to get closer. The lack of Genii technology in the forest dwellers told him his assessment was correct. "Alright, can you scan for the transmitter signal we gave you earlier?"

Katana nodded and tapped it into her console. "Yeah, it should be showing up right about… now."

On the same isometric view, four blips began to pulsate. three of them were inside a sheltered building near the edge of the forest… one of them was separated from the rest and… "Oh damnit!" The heat signature from the one separated blip was non-existent - buried in the garden of a bombed out building. John took a moment to consider how best to do this. He looked over to Katana and kept his voice low. "Think you can give us a little fire support?"

Katana's eyebrows rose. "Fire support?"

"If I paint a target down there, think you can hit it from up here?"

The Traveler's face hardened. "My orders were to give you a ride here and back. There was nothing about fire support."

John rubbed his face - it was asking a lot of the Travelers. Looks like they'd have to do this the hard way. "Alright, that's fine. We'll take the Jumper we brought. Thanks for the ride."

Try as he might, the scorn in his voice wasn't completely masked. He didn't care though, already one person was dead down there and what looked like an armored infantry division was heading to the forest base, as well as the building where what was left of AR-2 was. John had to hurry, and he was glad the Marines were ready for combat.

Jumper 2, Cockpit

Above Queen Harmony's Planet

The ride down to the planet was uneventful, but it was clear there was something wrong on the surface. John made out trails of black smoke coming from the major population centers. Scanners picked up several vehicles around the city itself, - probably self-propelled artillery. John focused on the task at hand and locked onto Cadman's signal. He called out so the crew of marines could hear. "Alright, we're gonna try and put down as close to building as we can. Any luck and we'll only get light to medium contact. Remember, engage on sight, and shoot to kill. We are not fucking around here."

A cry of 'Oorah' from the Marines in the hold was his only acknowledgement. It was a bit cramped with all their equipment and gear, but clearly they hoped for light contact as well. Seeing the devastation of the almost medieval village from what looked like high caliber weapons reminded many of the gulf war veterans of the sands of the Middle East. John himself felt some nostalgia… unbidden for, but it still came to him.

At least this time it was a sanctioned rescue mission. He zoomed in and made out targets on the ground. "We've got hostiles moving in on the target building. Looks like Genii foot soldiers and…the hell? Is that a tank?" John zoomed in the image as something akin to a T-34 Main Battle Tank rumbled down the street festooned with machine guns and what looked like a primary cannon – maybe fifty millimeter. John turned to the Marine Captain seated next to him and grimaced. "Where the hell'd they get that?"

The Marine captain shrugged, but pointed at the building on the HUD. "Don't think it matters, sir. They're moving on our team's position. That building'll take a decent amount of fire but it won't last."

John let the shock wear off, and then pressed the communications button. "Right. This is Colonel John Sheppard to anyone on Atlantis Recon-Two. Repeat, this is Colonel John She-"

"Holy shit!" Almost panicked, Cadman's voice came over the radio. "Jesus H. Christ, Colonel. Is that really you?"

Realizing that Cadman still didn't know about his dramatic return, John held back his rebuke at her language. "Yes Captain. We're in a cloaked Jumper heading to your position. Get your men ready, we're-"

"I've got wounded sir!" Cadman's voice came back again, even more worried than before. "Corporal Jenkins took fire and I don't think we should move him! We've fought off two infantry assaults already but we're running out of ammo! Do not recommend you open fire from the air! These bastards have something like an RPG. Easily take down a Jumper."

The curse was stuck in John's throat, and he realized that combat was inevitable. With almost sixty men moving down the street covering their tank, it was going to be a hard fight. Cadman must have really pissed them off. "Copy that Captain. We'll land on the roof of the building you're in and deploy defensive positions." He turned and looked at the team medic, a serious looking man with a big red cross on his armor. "I've got a combat medic here. Boots on the ground in thirty."

On the screen, the tank the Genii soldiers were covering moved into range and stopped. John watched in the zoomed screen as it aimed the main cannon it had and fired.

The building that Cadman had taken cover in was surprisingly resilient, its solid rock design was a perfect bullet stop and obvious Cadman had realized that before garrisoning it. Despite a large dust cloud and spray of shrapnel, the building stayed resolute despite the divot on the wall. Cadman on the other hand screamed over the radio. "Copy Colonel! Faster is better!"

John blew a breath, bowed his head and prayed. On his dog tags it stated his religion as no preference, but he knew some deity must exist - the math was too hard not to believe. He only hoped that it listened to prayers.

"Gunny! Suppressive fire on that tank!" Captain Fullerton waved his Gunnery Sergeant into position with the AT-4-CS launcher. He then raised his hand as his troops spilled out of the still hovering Jumper and took defensive positions behind the roof edge of the building. "Defensive positions! Fire at will!"

John finally set the Jumper down proper and kept the cloak on, he jumped out and was glad he'd put his ER-10 earplugs in as three P-90s and a duo of M249 SAW's ripped what little was left of the calm in the area.

John was right on Ronon's heels as they left the Jumper. A doorway leading down into the building had just broken through by Ronon; two marines and the Medic right along with the when the Gunny screamed. "Fire in the hole!" and let loose with an AT-4. John took a moment to watch as the missile streaked out and left a smoke trail in its wake. The Genii soldiers were caught completely by surprise when their heavy armored vehicle was suddenly torn apart by the anti-tank round – punching into it and detonating inside like some kind of terrifying fragmentation grenade.

The Genii soldiers scattered – many of them wounded from the shrapnel and shockwave. They scampered to the sides of the stone street – broken buildings gave them some cover, long since abandoned by civilians.

The Marines on top of the building where AR-2 were cheered with a crescendo of 'Yeah!' and 'Oorah!', but the celebration was quickly ended when the fourty or so Genii soldiers left returned fire – bullets pockmarking the edge of the roof with fragmented rock and dust. The Marine Captain bellowed out. "Cover positions! Return fire!"

John didn't hear more as he charged down the stairs with his P90 at the ready. He heard a recognizable burst of fire from ahead amidst the cacophony of weapons fire. John rushed forward and saw Cadman on one knee next to a window. The bursts that fired from her P-90 were controlled, but it was obvious she was nowhere near calm. "Cadman!"

Cadman emptied her clip, turned back to cover, and winced as bullets landed outside the window suppressing her. Her hand came up covering her face which John could see was smeared with blood. Her expression was one somewhere between terrified and enraged. She nodded to John and Ronon who also ducked and took cover beside her.

John surveyed the situation around him; Lance Corporal Jenkins lay on a table nearby with a hand holding down a bloody field dressing on his chest, most of the room had been torn apart, but thankfully they had a good position to return fire and take cover.

Cadman screamed above the loud popping of bullets around them. "Glad you're alive sir, but I just ran out of ammo!"

The Specialist Medic came into the room carrying his field kit – ducking as stray fire landed near him. John had to admire his lack of fear as he charged in and ducked and weaved. Nothing hit him and he quickly reached the back where he and Jenkin's would be out of the killzone. The pair of Marines on John's tail took up other defensive positions and used dropped tables and cabinets for extra cover along the windows. John crawled over to where Cadman was as bullets and shrapnel flew overhead. It'd been a long time since he'd been under fire like this but instinct and training took over. He scrambled up beside Cadman and readied his P90. He then tossed her a few spare mags from off his vest. He wasn't too surprised to see Cadman's vest was almost empty of all its equipment "Won't be for long if they keep this up, Gimme a sitrep!"

"A sitrep? Now?" Cadman reloaded her P-90, and waited for John and Ronon to get into place by the window. John pushed Cadman deeper into cover and took a higher more dangerous position above her. She stayed below and aimed out. Ronon and the two marines laid down more suppressive fire on the Genii below from the next window. A few who'd taken weak cover took hits, but the majority held their line outside the building. They fired in a staggered formation – slowly approaching and covering each other with a constant flow of bullets. It would take time but they would eventually overrun this position. "Ask them! Why the fuck are they trying to kill us?"

Taking cover again as fire landed closer, he pulled Cadman back who didn't complain. John heard the medic beside Jenkins curse and begin trying to stabilize the wounded man. It didn't look good. "Noted!"

Cadman fired another two bursts through the window blind fire, and then rolled over to the other side of the window. John fired another pair of bursts as well and then heard a loud bang from outside. An explosion of dust barely covered stunned Genii soldiers; they stumbled around for a moment before taking fire from the rooftops and falling dead to the ground. John winced knowing the Airburst mode on the M-25's wasn't exactly a painless way to go.

They kept up the game of suppression fire for almost a minute before John left the window and crouch walked over to where the Medic was working on Jenkins. He left Cadman another two mags which left him with two of his own. He didn't plan on staying long enough to use both.

The wound on Jenkin's chest was severe, the bullets having deformed his Kevlar vest and torn his chest apart. That he was still alive and somewhat coherent was tantamount to an act of god. "Medic! Get him ready! We need to get outta here now!"

The medic turned his head as his bloody hands worked to try and stop the bleeding. Layers of bloody combat gauze fell to the floor as he redressed the wound and kept pressure on Jenkin's chest. John couldn't help but notice how pale Jenkins was. A few bags of plasma sat next to him, obviously the Medic was in this to save him. "No can do Colonel, massive trauma to his chest. Looks like shredder rounds. I need ten minutes to stabilize him."

Jenkins was on death's door and the trembling and crying man wept incoherently. John could tell he had no clue what either of them was saying even as bullets and screams surrounded the area; John realized what he had to do. "Can we move him?" A shake of the medic's head and the cold reality hit him. They'd be able to hold the line for maybe a few more minutes, but as soon the Genii reoriented their artillery… "You've got five minutes, then we move him!"

"But sir…"

John kept his voice harsh, his emotions buried. "That's an order, Marine! We're exposed and won't last long in this position! So get him ready for transport, now!"

The Medic scowled, but he nodded. "Yes sir!"

Leaving the dying man and his would-be savior; John crawled back over to where Ronon and Cadman were still firing out the window. "Five minutes and we're leaving!"

Cadman turned and could barely repress her rage. "But. Jenkins. We can't move him that quick!"

John never left people behind, but he wasn't a fool. Risking a full squad of Marines, Ronon, himself and what was left of Cadman's team for one man wasn't a sound strategy. 'No one left behind' was a misnomer. It should say 'No one left behind if we can help it.' "Stand down Captain! One way or another he's coming with us! Five Minutes!" Five minutes… damned eternity under fire.

John didn't bother to see her scowl, and instead slapped Ronon's back as he moved back towards the stairs. Ronon growled back and roared as he fired his pistol out the window – a Genii taking the shot in the face snapping his neck back, instantly dead.

Traveler Ship "Sotero" Bridge

Katana watched in morbid curiosity. She hadn't expected the Colonel to be so bold as to actually hold the line against the superior number of Genii forces. Her scanners indicated that they were currently regrouping and preparing for a full scale attack with their long range heavy weapons. Even with a Jumper the Lanteans stood no chance against the Genii.

It was a suicide mission. Katana couldn't help but wonder why Sheppard and his team had gone into it without even questioning the logic behind it. Katana would have never done that for Atlatnis – only her own people, and even then just those she knew.

But that was the kicker – Sheppard had claimed to be loyal, and he was proving his word now. Katana toyed with the radio that the Colonel had given her for an emergency and contemplated her next move. The ship was safe, not a thing on the planet could possibly hit them or even threaten them. It would certainly be a black mark on the new alliance with Atlantis if their rescue team were simply blown to ash while Katana stood on her bridge and watched. She sighed and looked to her tactical officer. "Ready forward guns, I want pinpoint accuracy."

The technicians around her were a little surprised, but they knew how to follow orders. Now if only she could remember how to operate this damned radio.

Queen Harmony's Planet
Rooftop of Garrisoned Building

The first of the RPG's that came in didn't surprise John as he manned a defensive position on the roof. Cadman obviously knew what she was talking about and a stray rocket could indeed take down the Jumper. It was rather the sudden shower of the RPG's that scared the living bejesus out of him. "Shit! Take cover!" John leapt to the ground – covering his head. He'd rarely ever wished for a helmet but now he'd sell his inheritance for one. The blasts rocked the building – showering him in shrapnel and fragmentation.

A few moments passed and the shower was over - John thanked that deity he prayed to earlier as the rockets seemed to be designed for armor piercing and not wide spread damage and that they'd somehow missed the Jumper. He looked around and saw the other Marines get up as well – only one wounded and seemingly disoriented from a close landing rocket. John instantly noted missing people and looked over the railing. Two of the Marines laying down suppressive fire by the perimeter hadn't dived for cover and the concussive blasts of the small rockets knocked one completely out, and the other over the side of the two story building and down the slanted roof.

Only two minutes of his five had gone past and they were down more people. John cursed loudly as he motioned to the Gunnery Sergeant armed with a P90 after using his AT-4. "Gunny! On my six!" he motioned to three others as they ducked and avoided the hail of bullets flying past them. "Hold 'em back, I'm going for him!"

Captain Fullerton was dazed, but seemed to power through it as he screamed orders for another defensive line. John waited for a lull in fire and scrambled down the steps of the now crumbling building, bullets pockmarked everywhere and broken rock cluttering the floor from the rocket strike. He saw Cadman and Ronon had moved and were now helping the Medic build a cheap stretcher. The pair of marines had set up their M249 bipods and rained thunderous suppression fire – John knew their barrels wouldn't keep that up for long and had to hurry.

It hurt John to think the pain Jenkins was in but he couldn't afford it now. There was another soldier down, and John wouldn't leave him behind either. Now entering the second floor, John realized that the first floor of the building had been set alight by some kind of incendiary grenades. The flames burned what little combustibles there were inside and the heat wave that hit John and his backup was enough to stagger them.

It took a few moments to clear his vision, but soon John led the two marines through an open window in the back – it was a short drop with a slant to slow their fall. A quartet of Genii approached and were surprised by the sight of John and a Marine sliding down a roof. John aimed from the hip and fired a long burst as he slid – the other Marine did the same and the crisscross of fire put two of the Genii down hard, and wounded the other two. John was already aiming for the third when another gun added to the fire. A figure holding an M9 Berretta in one hand clambered out from the side alley of the building and cut both Genii down with a hail of single shots to the torso.

"Fuck you, fuck you, fuck you!" Corporal Grant screamed as he emptied his clip into the falling Genii – they hadn't even had a chance to return fire.

"Corporal!" John yelled as he hit the ground. "The hell have you been?"

Grant had a wild look in his eyes – John saw the bloody sling his left arm was in and the lack of equipment on his vest. He'd obviously been fighting hard. "Colonel?" He took a few moments and then started laughing. Obviously he'd become a little delirious from the fighting. "Ha ha ha! Yes! Let's get the hell out of here!"

John wanted nothing else, but he now had two people to bring back upstairs. "We're on it Corporal." John pulled his sidearm and underhand tossed it to him. "Keep calm soldier. We've got a man down and we're getting everyone out. Clear?"

Grant caught the pistol in one hand and used the elbow crook of his wounded arm to cock it. John winced at the sight, as it must have been extremely painful. Grant grit his teeth through it and nodded. "Clear, lead the way."

John nodded and waved the Gunny over. He'd taken the initiative and kept their backs covered as they now circled the building.

"…ana to …eppard… you there?"

John was caught by surprise as he neared the corner and fumbled for his radio. "This is Sheppard. Katana, that you?"

Once he let go of the button, Katana's voice came in again. "You there, Sheppard? Come on work you stupid thing." the sound of shaking came over the radio and John smacked his palms against his forehead at the ridiculousness.

"Damnit Katana." John hissed. "Take your finger off the freaking button!"

The ludicrousness almost made John laugh; if they weren't minutes from getting hammered by artillery. The gunnery sergeant snorted in contempt. "Fuck sakes, I thought the Traveler's were tech savvy."

John pressed the button again and calmly and loudly spoke. "Katana, this is Colonel Sheppard. Let. Go. Of. The. Button. To. Listen!"

John peeked around the corner, it was clear for now but those Genii wouldn't be far behind what he now understood was a fireteam. Katana responded. "Oh that's how this works. Push to talk. You don't use two way communications?"

"KATANA!"

"Yes yes! Sheppard! I'm getting ready to give you that fire support you wanted. Where do you want it?"

Everything suddenly shook as a detonation came from about fifty feet away and crumbled the building beside them. Stone and smoke billowed out showering them yet again. The shockwave pushed them back against the garrisoned building stunning all three soldiers. John shook it off and focused – he could see the wounded marine that had fallen from the rooftop flopping around with a broken leg ahead of them, He'd dragged himself to a cover position despite the injury. "All around us! Take that artillery out now now now!"

It only took a few moments, but upon reaching the downed marine who was trying to crawl back into the building, sonic booms were heard above as the Traveler Particle Cannons rained red fire down from space. "That meet your idea of Fire Support?"

The particle cannon shots left steam trails as they burned through the clouds above, each hit shook the ground from the supersonic hits. A few more shells landed nearby, but it was quickly overshadowed by the red death from above. The sound of orbital fire burning the clouds filled John with awe. John waited nearly a minute as he looked around at the falling red bolts. No more artillery shells came in, and the sound of weapons fire had died down to a few scattered shots. He could taste blood on his lips, his fingers trembled and his leg ached as if he'd twisted something. All three soldiers around him were quiet and watched him.

The air tasted of ozone, a burnt haze that whipped though his hair in a harsh wind. What few Genii he could see down the road fell back, screaming as they fled.  John could see fires rising in the distance - a wavy distortion from the orbital strikes.

"Katana… thank you. Thank you."


It wasn't long till they had entered the building again, and while still under sporadic fire, the battle line had been mostly erased and the situation was acceptably tense. The Genii had fled when the particle cannon fire began to rain.

John went over to where the Medic was still working on Jenkins, now assisted by Cadman while Ronon. Moving beside the medic, John noted that Jenkins didn't look nearly as bad as he did before. His breathing had improved and he wasn't shaking or weeping anymore. John put a hand on the medic's shoulder and muttered softly. "How long to stabilize him?"

The medic turned and just as softly replied. "We can move him now, but I'd prefer a bit more time."

John nodded in agreement. "Take it. I'll get the Jumper ready."

The battle was over, and several men were wounded, John had done what he came here to do. No one else from the expedition would die needlessly.

Pegasus Planet (?)
Dr. Rodney McKay

"Incoming fire! Fall back!"

Sheppard's voice was drowned out by the sounds of the Wraith Cruiser's cannons up ahead. It was laying down thunderous suppressive fire and even as the Colonel fired the missile launcher on his shoulder, it only put a small dent in the massive ship above. "Sheppard! Come on! We need to get to the gate!"

Rodney watched as Ronon lugged a broken Lorne on his shoulders, the major having been on a rock face when the initial blasts hit and getting badly wounded in the ensuing rockslide. Both teams had wounded and Rodney was torn between wanting to help Dr. Keller with them and helping to stonewall the Wraith advance.

Their jumper was the next target, and Rodney watched in horror as 3 Airmen and Marines who were there to help with lugging supplies for trade were explosively ejected from the aft hatch, their bodies burning and lungs shrieking.

Rodney was a scientist dammit, he was never meant to be in the thick of it in a war. Ever since coming to Atlantis, he'd broadened his horizons, but he never wanted to see people dying. No matter how many times he could have wished people away he never wanted anyone to die, he didn't want to die.

Deciding, he went over to Dr. Keller and helped her lift a wounded and crying marine who was missing the bottom of his left leg. The stump was bandaged now even as the marine howled in agony. "Doctor! Can't you give him some morphine or something?"

Keller looked back at him as they lifted the stretcher he was on and shook her head. "I'm all out! There's just…"

A blast ahead of them knocked both them and the critically injured man they carried down and to the ground. The Wraith Cruiser was approaching with impunity despite the various missiles that rose up from fighting Marines.

Rodney was dazed and confused now, the blast had sprayed him down with dirt and he could feel the cuts and bruises all over his body… and worst of all… he felt like this was finally it. He was going to die today and so were all his friends.

How had it come to this? Desperately trying to fall back to the gate where safety and Atlantis lay in wait… Only about sixty feet away… it was within reach…


Talia had taken to watching Dr. McKay during his more harrowing ordeals at the hand of Oberoth. The battle against the Wraith was going well and she estimated no more than four months for the majority of their feeding grounds to be destroyed. Once that was dealt with, they would begin the long process of tracking the Wraith down and destroying them individually to wherever they fled.

The biggest concern was Atlantis. The city of their creators. It had left the main gate grid and reports indicated that the usurpers were still active within its shields. Not only that, but the Wraith had also managed to steal five ZPMs during their near successful alliance with the Humans against the Asurans. There had been no other word of the 'Traveler' humans with the makeshift vessels.

Overall though, Oberoth was right to be so calm as to take the time to personally oversee Dr. McKay's 'interrogation'. Certainly Talia could see that it was having the desired effect and the surprisingly strong human was beginning to crack.

Oberoth finished the program he was currently running, a rendition of a lone survivor scenario that left the Doctor barely alive after a terrible battle surrounded by all his dead comrades. Certainly it was a terrible ordeal indeed as the instant Oberoth released his hand, the Doctor crumpled to the floor amidst sobs and whines of sorrow.

Niam had once spoken to her of emotion. The long gone brother had wondered if such a thing were part of what is known as a soul to the humans. Talia recognized his words instantly as that of talk of ascension… but was unwilling to present that information to Oberoth.

Now she had a unique perspective, and she felt the desire to know what Dr McKay was feeling. Not out of some desire to ascend, but more so to give something to complement the wrath she constantly felt within her. Oberoth left without a word, deciding to give the Doctor a rest period for his mind to recover from the shock of hours of simulation.

Talia knelt by the weeping doctor; his hair was greasy and disgusting. The patch of it growing beside his mouth made her wonder exactly how dirty these creatures could really be. But she ignored the hygienic problem and with just a moment's hesitation, began to probe Rodney's mind.

It was interesting to say the least. The man was still convinced that none of what was happening to him was real, but now he wasn't sure anything really was anymore. His brain chemistry was strange as well, the new links and connections his neurons created were… confusing. Almost as if his brain were adapting to become a peer to peer network rather than a random mush of electricity. It would only last so long, and once that time came his full memory and knowledge would be accessed.

Talia let go, suddenly awash with the same feelings Dr McKay had. The sensations were so, different. Almost as if she were tasting some taboo fruit in a mystical garden. She instantly wanted more, to understand what the Doctor was going though. But sensing Oberoth's return, she quickly pushed those feelings aside and faced off with her leader. "The Doctor is weakening. I do not expect more than a few weeks at most until his will erodes."

Oberoth nodded, and waved for Talia to follow. "I would prefer sooner, but I cannot push any harder. His body will not last the strain and we must have the information in his memory."

Talia stepped in line and followed. Probably a status report on recent strikes against Wraith Feeding Worlds or engagements with the Wraith, all rather boring really. What she wanted to know was about Atlantis… and how they might possibly be feeling about the events of the battle.


Rodney woke up and he wondered how long he'd been lying here. His head ached terribly and his empty stomach grumbled.

Pain was something that Rodney had always hated. His team usually tried to keep it away from him, but time and time again he'd end up getting hurt one way or another.

It took a few seconds for him to realize what was happening, he was in the Atlantis infirmary. Carson was there… wait… what? "Carson? But… how?"

The Scottish doctor shushed him and pushed him back down onto the bed. "Whoa there Rodney… calm down. It's been a tough few days on you and I think you'll be better off just resting."

Rodney couldn't tell what was real anymore, was this just a dream? It had to be. Carson was dead - long dead and… "What? Tough few days? Where am I? Where's my team? Where's Sam? And Doctor Keller?"

Carson shushed him again… only this time he looked a little more concerned… "Rodney… who's Sam?"

"Sam! Sam Carter! Colonel Samantha Carter! She's in charge of Atlantis!"

From the side, a voice came through… another voice he thought he'd never hear again. "I should hope not! Lieutenant Colonel Carter is fighting the Ori in the Milky Way, and as much as I may want her to come and join us, she's needed there."

Rodney turned in his bed and stared at the dead woman in front of him. "El-Elizabeth!? But, but how!? You're both dead!"

Elizabeth and Carson looked at each other and sighed. Carson was the first to speak though. "We, we know Rodney. That hasn't happened yet."

Now Rodney was purely confused. What the hell was going on!? "What?! But, that doesn't make sense! This isn't real. This can't be real!"

Elizabeth sighed, and Rodney could see what looked like depression in her expression. "Actually it is, this is very hard for me to tell you Rodney… but you're two years in the past from your point of view."

There's too much confusion… Rodney just couldn't tell what was real, what was fake, what meant what anymore… He just wanted it all to end.


"Oberoth."

The imposing man turned from his position at the balcony and nodded. "Yes?"

Talia moved closer and bowed her head with respect. While Doctor McKay was of interest, something else had now come to her attention. "One of our Aurora groups has detected a faint particle weapon signature from a planet near them. That planet was tagged as tertiary objective due to its relatively low human population, but intensified scanning has detected some kind of revolt on the planet."

Oberoth frowned slightly. "Revolt?"

Talia nodded. "Yes, Oberoth. The battle group launched a scout craft and is observing a small human space craft that has been identified as one of the unknown craft that assaulted our home planet a month ago. It was firing on military assets on the ground. It seemed rather strange as the planet had no means with which to defend itself from such an attack."

With a moment's hesitation, Oberoth replied. "Dispatch the battlegroup to investigate. If the human craft is still in orbit, have the battlegroup attempt a capture."

Despite wanting to know Oberoth's reasoning's, Talia simply nodded. "Of course. I will relay the information now."

Traveler Ship "Sotero"

Bridge

"Take your wounded men to our infirmary. I'll have some of my crew come and give you a hand." Katana looked at John with concern. The walk up from the Cargo bay had been relieving and now he wanted just to go home. Katana motioned to her face. "Ascended ancestors. You look like wraith shit."

John wiped his face and his hand came away with blood, sweat and grime. He shook his head. "Well, there's an expression I'm stealing." John wanted to make sure Katana knew how much he appreciated her help. The other Travelers in the room looked at him as well as he spoke clearly – blood and dirt still staining his clothes and face. "Thank you for the help. We might have lost more of our men. As it stands we actually only lost one."

"Don't get all sentimental." Katana replied. "Wouldn't have done either of us any good me bringing you home in a bucket. Go get cleaned up. We'll be…"An alarm began to sound, and Katana turned to her helm officer. "Report!"

The helmsman, a rather serious looking traveler with a cutoff shirt called out the alarm. "We're receiving a signal from the planet Captain. Looks like a primitive two way radio transmission."

Katana looked to John and furrowed her brow. "Friends of yours?"

John stepped forward and scratched his temple. "Don't think so, what's it saying?"

Looking first for acknowledgment from Katana, the helmsman put it through the loudspeaker. "It's a little staticky, but they should be able to hear us as well."

The transmission cleared up, and a frustrated man's voice came through. "To the ship in orbit of this planet; this is Genii commander Estrus Alwen, Why have you fired on my men?"

John looked to Katana, she seemed caught off guard and after a moment of scowling at John, she replied. "This is Katana Labrea, I'm a Traveler, I came with Colonel Sheppard of the Atlantis Expedit…"

"Atlantis! You fire on us in defense of those dogs? This is an act of war in alliance with Atlantis Traveler; it is not wise to make an enemy of the Genii…"

John couldn't help but notice the same inflection Cowen used that one time, and motioned to Katana to let him speak. She sighed softly and nodded. "Go ahead."

"Alwen." The man continued his speech. John raised his voice in reply. "Alwen, this is Colonel John Sheppard. Act of war? I should be the one asking that. Why did your men open fire on my team with heavy weapons and platoons worth of men?"

"I have nothing to explain to you. We are here as allied support of the new provisional government. Your ancestral flying weapons will only serve to slow us down in reaching the…"

"Drone weapons?" John interrupted, seeing a flaw in his logic. "Alwen, we never attacked you. You shot at us first and we defended ourselves. We don't even have drone weapons down there!"

"Do not lie to me Colonel, I lost an entire platoon to those demonic buzzing hacksaws!"

John didn't bother to reply as he looked to Katana again. "Hey, can you do a scan of the planet for ancient drone weapons?"

Katana blinked, but seeing John was serious she nodded to her operations officer. "Okay. Do it."

A few moments passed, and the console beeped with an alarm. "Captain, we've got dozens of small signals coming from the planet surface. All coming from the secondary encampment in the forest."

Before Katana could really reply, a sudden shake through the ship got everyone at full alertness. "The hell was that?"

John went to the console where the helmsman was, and his eyes widened at what he was seeing on the sensors. The helmsman straightened and began to input commands on the control panel. "Shit shit shit! Three Auroras! Jumped in right on top of us!"

"Hyperdrive!" Katana barked – John couldn't believe how fast the Travelers reacted. Katana tapped the communicator on her wrist. "Mila! Emergency thrust now!"

A girl's voice came back with surprising cheer. "No problem!"

John watched as Katana's crew moved into action, and despite still having questions of what was going on down on the surface of the planet, knew that the dozens of drone weapon signatures heading towards them was just a little more important. It came as no surprise to him when the ship suddenly lurched forward knocking him back towards the bulkhead – he hoped the others on the ship were at least in a better position than he as he banged his head on the wall hard enough to daze him.


Cadman took a hold of Jenkins hand and squeezed. The Marine Medic and two Traveler women taking care of him was a nice touch she had to admit.

The Travelers had saved them. There was no other way to say it. When she saw the falling orbital strike, it was like all the times she'd watched Independence Day, only this time the Aliens were saving humanity instead of destroying it. It had bought them the time to stabilize Jenkins and make sure he'd survive to go home.

Home. Somewhere Laura missed, but not enough to want to abandon Atlantis just yet.

From behind her a familiar voice carried in the room. "Captain Cadman."

Laura turned and saluted the Colonel. "Colonel Sheppard…"

Colonel Sheppard moved in beside Laura and looked down at the unconscious Jenkins. Sheppard looked dirty and covered in blood and gods knew what else– just like she felt and probably looked. "How's the corporal doing?"

With a nod, Laura smiled. "He'll make it. The type of ammo they were using was a hollow point style with a shredder base. Really damaging to flesh and unarmored targets…" she turned to Jenkins. "Good thing Jenkins had his vest on. It broke his ribs but it didn't penetrate deeper. Without his vest he wouldn't have stood a chance."

"And Grant?"

"Stable." Laura replied. "Maybe a little section eight, but he'll live."

Colonel Sheppard sighed as he leaned on the table – one hand holding the back of his head. Cadman knew those shredder types of bullets would be great against the Wraith. "Listen Cadman. I wanted to talk about what happened down there."

The smile never left Laura's face. "I guess I should thank you."

"Sorry I-"Sheppard seemed confused for a moment but then turned to her. "Wait, what?"

Laura figured he was just surprised she was so happy. "The Travelers, you got them to help us. I never expected a gunship rescue from a race we've only met twice. Jenkins wouldn't have made it without them." She took a moment to prepare for her next words. "You saved us all."

Sheppard shifted around, he looked like he was holding back a headache and maybe even an upset stomach "Well, to be honest…" He looked at her. Laura could see the doubt in his eyes, but it quickly faded. "Yeah. I uh, not to sound arrogant or anything."

Laura started to laugh, and gave John a playful salute. Her eyes watered as she struggled to keep her voice steady. "Of course not, but we're alive. I don't know how but you got us out alive. Jenkin's is married and I don't doubt his wife'll want to thank you."

"We didn't save Hester…" John added softly.

Laura lost her smile, and after checking a sob by breathing heavily she fished out his dog tag that she'd taken from the body. His last words rang with her and she didn't think they'd leave for a long time. "I uh, I know it's not official yet or anything. But I was hoping you could help me out with something."

"Yeah, sure thing. What is it?"

Holding up the broken dog tag, Laura gulped softly. "Hester wanted to be a Marine."

Colonel Sheppard understood the implication. He accepted the tag and looked at it with a long face. "Guess we'll have to talk to Carter about that. I don't think it should be a problem though."

Again, Laura smiled. Even if today wasn't exactly a good day, it wasn't the worst she'd ever had.

January 23rd

Atlantis, Colonel Carter's Office

Sam's voice was incredulous. The story they'd brought back to her in the middle of the twilight was unbelievable. "The Genii?"

John nodded, and to his side Cadman nodded a bit more slowly as she replied. "Yes, ma'am. We had met with the current leaders of the planet; three sisters who were vying for the monarchy. The youngest, little brat named Harmony didn't want to listen to us. The other two were a little more receiving, but the next thing we knew the Genii start backing one of the two older sisters."

"So a civil war?"

Cadman nodded to Sam again. "Looks that way, ma'am. I'm guessing the Genii had a long term investment since they had heavy weapons and even armored vehicles."

John sighed and Sam could see John reliving it in his mind. "Looked like an old World War Two Soviet tank. I remember one of my high school shop teachers telling me we could build one of those in our garage but I never believed him till today."

It was incredible; Sam couldn't believe that the Genii would be so willing to make such a forward and aggressive move. As far as she knew, the Genii were a more subtle and infiltrative military force. To go so far as to actually build armored vehicles was intense. "Yeah, I heard that too. So what happened before you called us?"

"Ma-am, once we realized what was going to happen, we fell back towards the gate. Before we could get there the fighting started. As far as we could tell they fired first with artillery towards the main castle where the Stargate was. We were hoping to get back before all hell broke loose."

Sam furrowed her brow. "So, you might not have been the target."

A scoff left the Captain's lips. "No offence Colonel, but when an artillery shell lands twenty feet in front of us, yeah, I think we were the target. And as if that wasn't bad enough, when we took cover in the DHD room, they sent in ground forces even under the cover of their own fire."

John nodded and agreed with the Captain. "I'm not surprised. When we landed they had an armored infantry platoon attacking. I guess they don't have much experience with armored vehicles and explosive shells. They were using it as mobile cover. We took it out and that broke most of their attack. We were able to hold them off with no further casualties, though we do have some wounded."

Sam shrugged and rubbed her chin. "That's a relief to hear. So after your distress call…"

Cadman gulped; Sam could tell she didn't like having to report this. "We, we were trapped in the room. I had Sergeant Hester blow us a hole through the wall and covered us as we got out. Once he did the Genii really started dropping bombs and one landed a little too close to him. Corporal Grant took a bullet in his left arm and I got a little scorched by a shell myself. We fell back into the forest but found more troops there. In the end we had to take cover in the city. We lost Hester there. He was too wounded."

John made a motion with his hand and took control of the conversation. "We, I mean, Captain Cadman has a request that I'll be pushing through later. We can discuss that after."

Sam saw how both the Captain and Colonel before her were bothered by what had happened. She noticed the cuts on each of their faces even though they'd cleaned up. Sam pushed forward to try and get this debriefing done. "Alright, so once you lost Hester, where'd you go?"

Cadman's eyes moved to the side. Sam could see her nearing the thousand yard stare – not to mention the red eyes and swaying. Sleep deprivation was a leading cause of hospitalization nowadays on Atlantis. "The Genii started hunting us, it wasn't long before they found us and we had to shoot our way through the streets. I found a building that would give us good cover and we headed there. Two separate squads of Genii troops found us. We took out the first relatively easily since they weren't expecting a fight, but on the second, Jenkins took fire. I treated him what I could but if Colonel Sheppard hadn't shown up..."

Sam nodded and felt empathy for the Captain. It wasn't even her fourth mission with that team and already they were tainted with death. "I think that's enough, Captain. Take the next two days off and take care of your team. I'm sure Colonel Sheppard can handle the rest of the debriefing."

Cadman smiled, the still dirty cheeks almost getting wet with tears of relief. "Thank you ma'am, and I will have a written report for you as soon as possible."

It was reassuring to know that the Captain hadn't broken, and Sam nodded in thanks. "Dismissed, Captain."

Cadman nodded to them both and excused herself. Sam noticed how John moved with lethargy – he desperately needed sleep and maybe even a trip to the sauna. His voice was somber. "It was close, without Katana's help we probably wouldn't have made it out. Not a damned one of us."

Sam sat down and sighed. "Six wounded, two critically. One KIA. It could have been a lot worse."

They looked at each other and the subliminal communication was there. John's relief at having done what he could showed in his exhausted eyes and relaxed posture. Sam wondered how he didn't pass out as he sat on her office sofa.

John was the first to break the silence. "Once we found the team, we had to hold the line until Jenkins was stabilized. It wasn't looking good because well, the ship's Captain, Katana, she wasn't really all that happy with the idea of allying with us. We uh, we argued a bit but I guess I must have convinced her." He quieted and sighed with his eyes close. "We could have picked up Cadman and Grant. Jenkins was too far gone for a quick evac. I put them all at risk by staying."

Sam pursed her lips and let the moment pass. She spoke quietly as well. "You calculated and it paid off. Leaders have to make hard decisions and gamble with people's lives." She shook her head. "It never gets easy. Nor should it."

"We owe the Travelers – big time."

"Guess we do owe them one." Sam admitted. "I don't think we'll have to wait long to pay up. What happened when you left?"

John sighed, when all of a sudden an alarm began to sound. "Oh are you serious? What is that the fourth one today?"

Sam rolled her eyes; it had been a hectic few hours now to say the least. "More like tenth." She tapped her earpiece. "This is Colonel Carter. What's going on?"

Chuck's voice came back quickly. "Ma'am, unscheduled off world activation. It's the Genii ma'am. Ladon Radim wants to speak to, well, he said Weir but I don't think he knows you're in charge."

Sam winced, first impressions were something she was used to, but this was different. "Alright, put him through to my office."

With a nod, John showed that he was going to stay and support her. He moved in behind her and rubbed his face in exhaustion. She'd have to order him to bed at this rate.

Sam turned on the desk monitor and wasn't too surprised to see a rather irate looking man on the other end. "Atlantis! This is Ladon Radim! I demand to speak to Dr. Weir!"

Sam barked back in the same tone. "I am Colonel Samantha Carter, The new leader of the Atlantis Expedition. If you want to speak to someone in charge, it's me."

"And Colonel Sheppard?"

Sam turned to John and saw his nod. "Talk to her, Ladon."

The skinny man grunted, and continued his argumentative speech. "Very well, I demand to know why your team on Queen Harmony's world opened fire on my relief force with ancestral weapons."

Sam looked at John who shook his head. "Uh, Ladon is it? Our people didn't open fire. In fact they tell me it was your men who opened fire first."

"Do not play games Colonel! Whether it was you or not the planet is destroyed! The Genii have lost more men today than in the last 50 years of Wraith cullings! You have declared war with us and we will not take it sitting down!"

Now Sam was pissed. Confused, but pissed. John took a step back to avoid any of the backsplash. "You killed one of our men before we even began to defend ourselves! You have the audacity to blame an attack on us?"

"Your lies will not sway me. We sent a relief force to offer them safety from the replicators in our bunkers. When your team offered Atlantis as a sanctuary you caused a schism! This is all your fault and the Genii will never forgive you."

John gently put a hand on Sam's shoulder in a silent move to let him speak, Sam turned and nodded gently allowing her second in command to get a word in. "It's our fault your men were shelling a city of civilians? It's our fault you tried to hunt down our men? It's our fault? Get your facts straight, we didn't shoot first."

"There are none others than the Replicators who have ancestral weapons. You killed an entire diplomatic group sent to the Shrine of Larris to negotiate with those infernal devices. I will not listen to more lies. Should we meet again it will not be friendly."

The link shut off suddenly and Sam cursed out loud. "Damnit." she turned with an exasperated look to John. "Ancient weapons? What the hell is he talking about? I thought you said you never fired a single drone."

John didn't seem offended; he knew Sam had to see every possible reason. "I didn't, but I was just about to tell you, when we left the planet their battle commander radioed us and accused us of the same. We scanned the planet and yeah, someone was using drones down there."

Sam stared back at John for a moment, and knew deep down he was telling the truth. It didn't take long to figure it out in her head. "So, I'm guessing the Shrine of Larris was ancient tech down there, and we never knew it?"

With a sigh, John rubbed his face as he moved around the desk. "And we won't ever now. The Replicators showed up and, well Ladon probably wasn't kidding that the planet's been destroyed."

A wince stretched Sam's face, and she leaned on her elbow – her palm on her forehead. "So basically you're telling me that we just lost a good trade partner, as well as any refugees that might have come from that planet, declared war with the Genii completely by accident and by no fault of our own, because the Shrine of Larris was some ancient tech that someone used to try and defend themselves from the Genii, and this is all besides losing another planet to the Replicators?"

"Well…basically?" John's face contorted at how ridiculous it sounded. Sam would have laughed if it weren't so ridiculously bad. "Yeah. But at least now we've got the Travelers on our side."

Sam groaned and dropped her head to her desk, her arms acting as a pillow. "It doesn't pour when it can hurricane."

Atlantis, Radek's Lab

Radek had long since forgiven Rodney for all the times he yelled, screamed, whined, pouted, or any other form of communication the man used to encourage/berate his colleagues. In fact, compared to the sugar boosted insanity that was the young Traveler engineer bouncing around Rodney's old lab generally making a mess of things. "Please, please careful! There are a lot of very sensitive and-"

"This place is so shiny. I love it." Mila had come down from the ship Colonel Sheppard had used on his rescue mission. Radek had agreed to let their main engineer take a look at their database and was shocked at a young blonde girl who knew mechanical engineering as well as he did.

"Yes yes! If you'd let me show you-"

Unfortunately, she seemed to have no real idea of personal space or privacy as she looked through everything, now messing around on Rodney's console. Radek tried to get her to stop but she just kept blocking him as she went through the engineering records. She reached the area about the prototype propulsion and said. "Ohh, look. It's just like the ancestral rings."

Radek was just about to blow a gasket and begin screaming in Czech, when he saw the information scrolling across the monitor. Indeed, it was just like a stargate. "Where did, but, how…?"

Mila tapped a few more buttons and even more information scrolled by. "Just looking in the metadata, lots of compressed info there. Look at it, it's so big."

Sitting down now, his heart beginning to beat more rapidly, Radek started to put together the math he was seeing in his head. "How… how old are you Mila?"

The young woman gave him a toothy grin beneath her oh-so-cute grease splotched face. "I'm fourteen, Next year I'm getting my own room."

As frustrated as Radek was, the information now scrolling across the screen left him beyond flabbergasted. "You-you deserve it."

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