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Return to Pegasus, Part II, CH II

<<< Back to Return to Pegasus, Part II, CH I

 

John Sheppard stood at attention as he and Richard Woolsey explained the events of the last few hours to General O’Neill in his wood-paneled office at Homeworld Command. O’Neill was one of the few commanding officers John had ever had that he’d truly respected, not only for the fact that O’Neill actually gave a damn about the men and women who served under him, but also because he’d just as soon rather be back in the trenches with them instead of playing desk jockey. Plus, he was just a cool guy all around. The scowl on O’Neill’s face now gave John a slight feeling of dread and shame at disappointing the man.

Of course, it was just as possible that the odd feelings were from the fact that John was currently residing in someone else’s body. It was his first time being “stoned,” as those aboard the faraway Destiny had unofficially nicknamed the procedure, and he wasn’t relishing the experience. He wondered vaguely if this was anything like what Steven Caldwell had felt while he’d been under the control of a Goa’uld symbiote. Neither man had really discussed their “possessed by aliens” incidents with each other at the time, as those events were still a little too fresh and raw, but with a few years having passed since then... Before he started drawing up plans to compare notes with Caldwell the next time the two met, O’Neill drew John’s attention with an arch look across his desk.

“Sheppard, what did I tell you before you took off with Atlantis?”

“Avoid eleventh hour saves and draining the ZPM,” John answered automatically.

O’Neill rolled his eyes. “So why is it that you and Woolsey are now standing before me in the guise of two young, strapping junior airmen who look nothing like you, and you’re saying that you’ve just gone and done both?”

“To be fair, General,” Woolsey broke in, the voice of his borrowed body a bit higher than his normal voice and prompting John to think that this would all be incredibly funny if they were merely spectators to this latest train wreck rather than living it themselves, “We didn’t plan on doing either. It just sort of...”

“Happened?” O’Neill finished, then sighed. “I guess it figures something would go wrong. The IOA’s gonna be pissed, though.”

“We don’t doubt that for a second,” Woolsey replied, while John snorted in the background.

“All right, what do you need? Aside from the ZPM from the Coria, since you obviously don’t have the power to open the gate long enough to send even a databurst? And the Daedalus, since you’ll just as obviously need a ship to bring the ZPM to you, and Caldwell is chomping at the bit to get outta the Milky Way just for old times’ sake?”

John and Woolsey exchanged looks.

“More bullets?”

“And lots more coffee. McKay’s probably gonna go through our stock in a week, the way he’s going.”

“You think it’ll take him that long? I’d give him two more days, tops.”

“Good point.”

 

--/--

 

At the same time that Woolsey and Sheppard were speaking with O’Neill, Mayel Serrana was also making contact with home. Amelia Banks had set up a comm terminal for her in the main conference room, and once Atlantis had reestablished its link to the Pegasus Galaxy’s Stargate network, she had asked to dial in to the Genii homeworld.

It was only a minute or so before the image of Ladon Radim appeared on the monitor. The relief on his face was unmistakable.

“I am very glad to see you, Commander,” he began. “That you’ve brought Atlantis back makes me doubly glad. Well done.”

Mayel shook her head and sighed. “Thank you, General. However, I regret to inform you that not all went as well as we had hoped. I am the only survivor of those on the Coria.”

A shadow seemed to pass over Ladon’s face. “What happened?”

“We dropped out of hyperspace too soon, and found ourselves in the void between our galaxy and the Milky Way. The ship’s power cells were drained, apparently from an undetected leak. Sirina, the Coria’s engineer...” Mayel paused in sad remembrance of the young Traveller girl. “She proposed diverting power from essential systems, including life support, to the engines. Her plan worked, and we reached the Milky Way, but there was not enough power left to keep life support functioning for all of us. Captain Terra ordered me confined to my quarters...” She stopped again and sighed. “It seems that Captain Terra and some of the other delegates had made their own plans, that should the worst happen, I had been chosen to survive, and to speak for the rest. The captain must have ordered whatever life support remained to be diverted to my quarters, to keep me alive long enough to deliver our message to Earth, and then activated the ship’s beacon so that the Coria could be found. When I awoke here in Atlantis, I was told that the rest of the Coria’s crew and the Coalition delegates were already dead or dying when I was found.”

Ladon sat back in his chair and closed his eyes, pinching the bridge of his nose. “There had been some talk between myself and the other Coalition leaders about what might be done in such circumstances, though no plan had been devised. I suppose Captain Terra and the other delegates must have come to a decision on their own.” He looked up, straight at Mayel. “But the important thing is, their plan worked. You were able to deliver our message, and Atlantis has returned. The sacrifice of the Coria and her crew was not in vain. We can take heart in that much, at least.”

“And now that Atlantis has returned?”

“We move to the next phase. I have some new information that we have learned since you left, that the Lanteans will need to be made aware of.”

Mayel nodded. “I have been invited to attend a briefing of Atlantis’s senior staff in a little while, once Mister Woolsey and Colonel Sheppard have finished speaking with their superiors on Earth. I imagine they will want as much information as possible about the current situation with the Wraith.”

“Then we had best get started.”

 

--/--

 

While Sheppard and Woolsey were meeting with O’Neill and Mayel Serrana was busy in discussions with Ladon Radim, the rest of Atlantis was engaged with a multitude of tasks of their own. McKay and Zelenka were leading engineering teams in a thorough damage assessment of Atlantis’s power systems and stardrive, McKay characteristically howling injury at every broken item they came across. At the same time, technicians were unpacking and installing newly upgraded computers and equipment, and Marines were setting up new barracks and training facilities that would keep everyone on their toes. In the infirmary, Keller and Beckett had finished treating those injured in the course of the city’s latest mishap-laden flight, and were checking on the research lab that they had set up to continue experimentation on the Hoffan drug. With the Wraith now on a new rampage throughout the Pegasus Galaxy, their work had taken on new importance, and no small amount of urgency.

No one had yet come up with a catchy nickname for their new planet, though before heading off to meet with O’Neill, Sheppard had declared that ‘New New Lantea’ was not in the running. Once the initial jumper flyover had been completed, teams from Life Sciences and Earth Sciences started poring over the collected data. M2K-701 had never possessed a Stargate or been inhabited by humans, making it far less likely that the Wraith would have an interest in the planet. Two years earlier, the Daedalus had performed a cursory orbital survey of 701, along with a few other ‘off the grid’ worlds that had turned up in the city’s database. With a mild climate and Earth-like rotation, numerous groups of islands scattered throughout the northern hemisphere with abundant plant life but no significant animal life to speak of, and a massive ocean covering the southern hemisphere where Atlantis had landed, 701 was, in a word, perfect for Atlantis’s needs. The scans from the jumper flyover were consistent with the Daedalus survey, indicating that nothing had changed; a piece of news that had prompted more than one sigh of relief that at least something had gone right this day.

Mayel was subdued but resolute when she emerged from her video conference with Ladon, leading to some speculation among the techs working in the control room about what kind of news she might have received from the Genii homeworld. That was tempered by Woolsey and Sheppard’s return from their meeting with O’Neill in good humor, and obviously ready to get to work. Within minutes, all three, along with the rest of Atlantis’s senior staff, had assembled in the main conference room.

Woosley folded his hands, resting them on the edge of the table. “Okay, first things first. Doctor McKay, Doctor Zelenka, how are the repairs coming? Especially the wormhole drive?”

McKay and Zelenka exchanged dark looks. “As we feared, the wormhole drive is totally shot,” McKay groused. “While we can repair the power conduits from the Zed-PM hub with relative ease, there’s just too much damage to the dimensional transition buffers that allow the wormhole drive to shift Atlantis from normal hyperspace to the same phase frequencies used by the Stargates. And it’s not like we can just run down to the local auto parts store and pick up new ones. We don’t even know how the Ancients manufactured some of the components of the drive system.”

Zelenka snorted in agreement. “In comparison, completing the computer coding for the wormhole drive was easy enough. But without physical components for the drive, there is no point in continuing to work on it.”

Everyone grimaced. The wormhole drive had been a remarkable ace-in-the-hole at getting Atlantis to Earth in time to stop the Wraith Superhive, and its loss now could be a serious strategic blow.

“And the hyperdrive?” Sheppard pressed on.

Now McKay’s frown lessened a bit. “Fortunately, the hyperdrive looks to be in good shape. Atlantis was designed from the beginning to use the hyperdrive as its primary propulsion system, so the Ancients were a little more careful in making sure the construction was sturdy enough to handle the occasional intergalactic jump. By contrast, the wormhole drive was invented later and just tacked on with spit and wire. Our main problem, as always, is power. Two Zed-PMs are fully drained, and the third is down to four percent of its capacity. We’ve got enough power left to run the shield for a couple of weeks at best, and that’s if it’s not taking, oh, planetary bombardment from a few Wraith Hive Ships, or the weight of the ocean on top of it. If the Wraith do track us down, we’re sitting ducks.”

“Again,” Sheppard put in. McKay rolled his eyes.

“We brought several of the new Mark III naquadah generators with us,” Woolsey stated. “How difficult would it be to integrate them into the power grid?”

“Well, now that SGC has worked out the kinks?“ Zelenka began, but McKay snorted.

“They think they’ve worked out the kinks!”

This time it was Zelenka who rolled his eyes before continuing, “We can use generators to run control chair and drone weapons, if needed, and power additional advanced systems. The older Mark II generators had to be run at overload levels to achieve that kind of output, but the Mark IIIs are designed for those levels. However, shields and stardrive require much more power than even the generators we brought with us can provide. We must have more ZPMs.”

“Fortunately, we have one. General O’Neill and Director Sheppard were able to secure the ZPM originally brought by the Coria for our use,” Here Woolsey nodded deferentially to Mayel, who nodded back.

Ronon grunted. “I’ll bet the IOA wasn’t too happy about that.”

Woolsey managed to keep himself from smirking triumphantly, but just barely. “Not really. However, it means we do have an insurance policy.”

“What about the solar energy collectors that you found a while back? Why can’t we get those online to supplement the generators?” Sheppard ventured.

Zelenka shrugged. “We’ve been working on trying to get those operational for months, with little success. Parts of the system appear to be damaged or simply non-functional from lack of use for so long. Probably best not to count on them for now.”

“In the meantime, it’s still gonna take the Daedalus four days to reach us, and that’s with them using the Zed-PM to boost power to the engines,” McKay mused. “Gee, why does that sound familiar?” Everyone at the table who had been present for the Wraith siege of Atlantis at the end of the expedition’s first year in the city shared an ironic grin.

Woolsey joined in that grin briefly, then continued, “All right, Doctor McKay, Doctor Zelenka, do what you can to refine power conservation and consumption with the naquadah generators to hold our energy reserves. Once the Daedalus delivers the Coria’s ZPM, we’ll want to save it for when we absolutely need it.” He exchanged a look with Sheppard, who nodded briefly in agreement. “Which brings us to the second major issue we’re facing; this new Wraith alliance. We need to learn everything we can about their numbers, where they’re going and what they’re doing.”

Sheppard grimaced. “Besides feeding.”

Woolsey coughed. “Well, yes, there is that. Major Lorne, what’s the current status of the Wraith fleet?”

“Long-range sensors still aren’t picking up any sign that the Wraith are headed this way,” Lorne reported. “Right now, they’re still sitting in the same system where we ran into them. If anything, it looks like they’ve stopped to think things over now that they know we’re back.”

“Well, I’d say that gives us a little breathing room,” Sheppard said. “I hate to bring this up, but what about Todd? Now that we’re back in Pegasus, how useful might his connections be?”

“We could just shoot him,” Ronon said. A few people snickered at that.

“I’ll keep that in mind,” Woolsey remarked dryly, then turned back to Sheppard. “I think we’ll have to have a little chat with Todd later. In the meantime, we need to get as much up-to-date information as soon as possible.”

Now, Mayel spoke up. “In anticipation of this meeting, I made contact with General Radim to update him on the situation here in Atlantis, and he in turn passed along the latest intelligence the Coalition has gathered.”

“Good for him,” McKay’s voice was still a bit snippy, and Mayel arched a brow at him.

“In our absence, the Wraith forces have continued to grow into the armada that we encountered earlier. It is believed that the Wraith are preparing to strike directly at the heart of the Coalition worlds to completely break their resistance.”

“How soon?” Sheppard asked.

“General Radim believes it may be within days. The Wraith have already begun culling worlds in the vicinity to strengthen their troops.”

Teyla shuddered. “That sounds very much like what the Wraith did before they laid siege to Atlantis during our first year in the city.”

Mayel nodded. “Which is why the Coalition had apparently decided to initiate a last-ditch effort to stop the Wraith. According to General Radim, they chose to move forward with this plan in case our attempt to contact Earth and convince you to return with Atlantis failed.”

“And that plan is?” Woolsey inquired.

“The Genii, as you know, have been developing atomic weapons for some time. As part of the exchange of information and expertise between members of the Coalition, scientists from among the Travelers have assisted us in refining our weapon designs, as well as streamlining the manufacturing process. At this time, we have enough weapons to arm several Traveller ships for a sustained assault against the Wraith armada.”

Sheppard’s eyes grew intent. “Just how many weapons are we talking about?”

Mayel hesitated. “Approximately three dozen.”

Sheppard whistled, and varying exclamations of shock and surprise spread across the entire group.

“Ambitious, much?” Lorne muttered.

“We have had considerable time to prepare. The fleet is assembling as we speak,” Mayel continued. “They will be ready within days, hopefully before the Wraith are finished with their own preparations.”

“Do you think they can hold out for another four days until the Daedalus arrives?” Woolsey asked her.

“I believe so,” she replied. “The Coalition is well aware of the power of the Earth ships, after the Battle of Asuras. I think that, combined with our new weapons, the presence of even one such ship would be enough to help tip the balance of power away from the Wraith. General Radim has asked me to remain on Atlantis to help coordinate our plans and strategy for the attack, if that is acceptable.”

There were nods of agreement all around, but Sheppard wasn’t finished. “Look, even if we’re successful in stopping the Wraith this time, I think we all realize it’s not going to stop them permanently. We need to think about what our next move will be.”

“I concur,” Woolsey added. “To that end... Doctor Beckett, I’m aware that we’ve only just returned, but I’d like a status report on your latest research into the Hoffan drug as soon as possible.”

Beckett glanced over at Keller, who nodded. “We should have something for you in the morning. Doctor Keller and I have already been discussing a couple of new strategies for increasing the potency of the treatment, and we’re ready to begin testing immediately. We do still have a number of concerns about the safety of the drug and its long-term effects on those who receive the treatment.”

Mayel’s face darkened at Beckett’s words. “You speak of the Hoffan drug... You cannot seriously mean to unleash that horror on the people of this galaxy again? Did you understand nothing of what I said when I was first brought here? The Wraith are deliberately targeting those who have been exposed to the Plague!”

Beckett sighed. “Look, none of us likes the idea any more than you, but if we can figure out how to make treatment viable, it will be the key to stopping the conflict with the Wraith for good. We won’t have to keep killing them just to prevent them from killing all of us.”

Mayel shook her head violently. “We would all be better off if the Wraith were wiped out entirely.”

“I’ve always thought that would be the best solution,” Ronon shrugged.

Woolsey grimaced. “Nevertheless, as long as the Hoffan drug remains a viable option, Earth is expecting us to move forward with its development. Obviously, we intend to take all possible precautions in its use, but we are committed to finding a solution that does not place more lives at risk.” Mayel snorted angrily and sat back in her seat, folding her arms and glaring at nothing, clearly wishing for the meeting to be over.

Woolsey sighed, then turned to Teyla and Ronon. “Teyla, I know you and Kanaan are eager to get in touch with your people; I’d like you to leave as soon as you’re ready. If you can check in with any of our other allies as well, and find out if they have additional information on current Wraith movements, that would be of great help to us. Ronon, I know you’re spoiling for another fight with the Wraith.“ There were a few grins around the table at that. “But given that we’re trying to avoid having any Wraith boarding parties, there may not be very much for you to do if you go with the fleet. So I’d like you to accompany Teyla and Kanaan to New Athos.” He looked back at Teyla. “If that’s acceptable?”

Teyla nodded, a smile playing at her lips. “That would be very acceptable. We should be ready to leave within the hour.”

 

--/--

 

As the meeting broke up and the others began to head off to continue their work, Mayel found herself torn. She needed to speak with Teyla and Ronon about the information that Ladon had given to her to pass on to them, but she couldn’t shake off the mingled feelings of dread and shock that had gripped her upon hearing of the Lanteans’ plans to continue developing the Hoffan Plague. Teyla had said they would be ready to leave in an hour; Mayel was confident she’d have time to catch up with them before they left Atlantis. In the meantime, Woolsey and Sheppard were walking down the main stairs into the gate room itself. Mayel jogged to catch up to them as their steps swung to the right, clearly heading toward the transporter to the lower levels of the central tower.

“Mister Woolsey, Colonel Sheppard,” she called out to them. They both turned at the sound of her voice and waited for her to catch up. “I do not think we have finished discussing the Hoffan Plague.” She found it hard to keep her voice from shaking.

Woolsey and Sheppard exchanged a brief glance, then turned back to her. “We’re about to go have that chat with Todd,” Woolsey told her. “We can talk on the way down to the brig, if you’d like to accompany us?” She nodded curtly, and the three entered the transporter. Sheppard tapped a particular spot on the transporter’s touchscreen map of the city. There was a brief flash of light, and the doors opened onto another corridor. Unlike the hallways in the living quarters and working areas in the central tower, this corridor, deep in the base of the city and below the waterline, was much darker. It even felt colder, though she knew it shouldn’t have. Or should it?

She shook off the thought as they stepped out into the corridor. “How can you countenance this?” she began. “You know what the Plague has done to the people of this galaxy! Your superiors have not seen the results first hand, that is true, but you have! Your own Doctor Beckett and Doctor Keller have gone out among us to treat those who have been afflicted.” She turned her glare on Sheppard. “You and your team have seen what the Wraith do to those who have been afflicted, and those who shelter them. You know. Too many have died because of the Plague already.”

As they approached the entrance to the brig facility, Sheppard and Woolsey nodded to the guards on duty, and they continued walking toward the area where Todd’s cell was located.

“Yes, too many have died. Not just from the Plague, but also from ten millennia of the Wraith rampaging through this galaxy.” Woolsey’s retort was firm, but remained sympathetic. He stopped and turned to face her. “All we’re trying to do is find a way to end this conflict without further bloodshed, on either side. If we were simply to go out and wipe out their entire race when there might be a way for us to coexist without killing each other, wouldn’t that make us the real monsters?”

Mayel rounded on Sheppard. “And I suppose you are in agreement with this… plan to use the Plague?”

“I am. Look, Mayel, I know there’s a lot of ifs and maybes involved, but this attack plan that the Coalition has is just as risky in its own way. Ten thousand years ago, the Ancients were forced to abandon Atlantis and flee the Pegasus Galaxy entirely because they were outnumbered by the Wraith. Even though the Ancients were technologically more advanced, they were overwhelmed by sheer numbers. We’re facing those same odds now. We just don’t have the resources to sweep the galaxy from one end to the other, killing every Wraith in sight. If we can make the retrovirus work permanently, it’ll give us a tactical edge over the Wraith that we’ve never had before.“

“Commander Serrana.” Woolsey looked her straight in the eye. “On Earth, we have a saying. ‘Desperate times call for desperate measures.’ From everything you’ve told us, I’d say we’ve gotten to that point, don’t you agree?”

She glared at them both, then spun on her heel and stalked back to the transporter without another word.

 

--/--

 

John grimaced as he and Woolsey watched Mayel Serrana’s retreating figure vanish around the corner. “Well, I suppose that could’ve gone better.”

“I would hope that this next meeting won’t be as bad,” Woolsey began, “but somehow, I doubt it.”

“Gee, I thought I was supposed to be the pessimist.”

Woolsey’s lips twitched in amusement. “Shall we?”

John snorted. “Let’s get this over with.”

They walked into the holding room that contained Todd’s cell, nodding to the guards at the door as they entered. Todd himself was sitting cross-legged on the floor, his eyes closed, looking for all the world like he was meditating. They waited a moment, then two, but Todd gave no indication that he knew he had visitors.

Finally, John reached out and knocked on the outside of one of the cell’s support posts. “Wake up, sunshine.”

There was a rusty chuckle. “I heard your steps coming down the hall, John Sheppard.” Todd opened his eyes. “And Mister Woolsey. To what do I owe the pleasure of your visit?”

Woolsey got right to the point. “As I’m sure you’ve guessed, we’ve returned to the Pegasus Galaxy. It seems your Wraith brethren have put aside their own rivalries to unite and terrorize the humans who have formed a resistance movement against your race’s dominance of this galaxy.”

Todd chuckled. “I suppose you want to know what I might know of this new alliance. How could I know anything, as I have been here in this cell for an entire year? Surely any information I have is woefully out of date.”

“That does present a problem, doesn’t it?” John drawled.

Todd cocked his head toward John. “It would be easier if I were allowed to return to the alliance of Hives that I lead.”

“On Teyla’s behalf,” John couldn’t resist sounding smug.

Todd grinned wickedly. “Of course.”

“However, that’s assuming those hives are still loyal,” Woolsey put in. “Can you even be certain that if you go back, your leadership will be accepted? When you came to us last year, one of your own underlings had just staged a rather convincing coup.”

“An underling who was never heard from again after he stole the ZPM-enhanced hive ship. That he failed to return is all anyone needs to know.”

“You do realize that the same could apply to you,” John said. “They haven’t heard from you in a year, either. Who knows what they’ve decided to do since then?”

Todd grimaced. “What would you have me do, John Sheppard? If it is information you want, the quickest way to get it is to let me go back.”

Woolsey caught John’s eye and inclined his head, indicating that he wanted to discuss something quietly. John looked back at Todd for a moment, then both John and Woolsey withdrew to the doorway, still remaining in sight of Todd in his cell, but far enough away that he could not hear what they were saying.

“On the one hand,” Woolsey began in a low voice, “I can agree with his assertion that he’d be able to find out what’s going on with the Wraith if we let him go. On the other hand?“

“It comes down to the same old question: Can we trust him?” John finished. “He’s jerked us around before, but he’s also come through before.”

“Exactly.”

“There’s something else to consider, too. Can we risk cutting him loose now when we’re about to hook up with the Coalition to launch an attack on the Wraith fleet?”

“You think he might tip them off.” John knew Woolsey didn’t intend it as a question.

“I think at this point, we can’t take any chances. If this attack by the Coalition has any chance of being even a marginal success, they’ve got to maintain secrecy. Which means we’ve got to do our part, too. After all,” John added with a wry smirk, “We wouldn’t be very good allies not to.”

Woolsey rolled his eyes, and they walked back to Todd’s cell.

“I’m afraid that for the moment, you’re going to have to remain in our custody,” Woolsey announced.

Todd glared, stepping closer to the bars. Much closer. “How much longer can you continue to keep me here before I become too much of a risk?”

“The fact is, you’re probably more of a liability if we cut you loose,” John told him. “There’s no way we can guarantee if your faction of the Wraith is still yours.”

“If they are not, then they will kill me,” Todd countered. “Then I would no longer be such a liability to you, would I?”

“They would probably extract whatever information on Atlantis they could get out of you before they killed you,” Woolsey stated. “That’s definitely a liability.”

“You should just kill me now and be done with it.”

John smirked. “Now, you don’t really mean that.” Todd growled as John and Woolsey walked out of the cell block. Neither of them said a word as they returned to the transporter, but just before John hit the touchpad to return them to the hallway outside the gate room, he finally spoke.

“Okay. That definitely went better.”

 

--/--

 

As Teyla, Kanaan and Ronon stepped from the ready room into the hallway leading to the gate room, Mayel Serrana swiftly approached from the other direction, her auburn curls catching the light as they bounced in time with her steps.

“Teyla Emmagan. I would speak with you, if you would permit it.” The formal language and sober expression on Mayel’s face gave Teyla a sudden feeling of dread.

“I will permit it,” Teyla responded. Mayel nodded and stepped forward. She looked a little uncertain, a curious change from her confidence during the staff briefing earlier.

“You are going to New Athos in search of your people, correct?”

Teyla raised an eyebrow, and answered with a question of her own. “You do know more about my people than you are telling, do you not?”

Mayel sighed and nodded in acknowledgement. “I apologize. When we spoke before, there were things I still did not know that I wished to clarify, as I had not been on the Genii homeworld at the time those events occurred. I felt that you should know as much as possible, and that you deserved to be informed privately. We were not exactly alone then,” she ruefully added in memory of the discreet presence of a guard that had shadowed her while Atlantis was still on Earth, a condition imposed by the IOA that Woolsey and Colonel Sheppard had dispensed with once Atlantis had safely landed on their new world.

Teyla’s lips quirked in shared understanding. “And now?”

“I spoke with General Radim before the briefing, and I do have some more information to give you. I am afraid not all of it is good.”

The dread turned to ice in Teyla’s stomach as she felt Kanaan and Ronon freeze behind her.

Mayel continued, “As I told you before we left Earth, shortly after the time that we now know Atlantis left for the?Milky Way,“ her voice stumbled over the still unfamiliar Earth words, “the people of Athos were attacked, by the Wraith. According to the survivors, many were taken. Not killed, but taken.” No further explanation was needed to know what that meant.

Teyla closed her eyes. Not again. Please, not again. “How many?”

“We were not able to get a full count, but we believe that fully two-thirds are missing. Possibly more. Some of the survivors came to the Genii for help; from what they did say, it seems that there were others who chose to remain in hiding and await the return of those who came to meet with my people. We offered to take them all in ourselves, since there were so few, but they refused. They said they did not wish to bring further trouble. So we resettled them on a new planet with no other inhabitants. We did have regular contact for a while, but after a few moons had passed, we lost contact with the new settlement. The people we sent to check on them found little sign of them, and what they did find was old, as though they had been gone for a long time. However...”

She paused then, as if considering her next words. “We did not find any of the usual signs that the Wraith had ever been there. I suppose it is possible that your people may simply have moved to a different location that they felt would be better defense against the Wraith. General Radim had wanted to send additional people to conduct a more thorough search, but with the Wraith moving in force against so many worlds all at once, we had not the resources to continue when there were others who needed our assistance.” Mayel took a breath. “I know that is surely not what you wished to hear?“

“It is something,” Teyla sighed. “It is a hope.”

“That you found no sign of the Wraith at all is a comfort,” Kanaan mused. “It may be as you said, that they simply moved elsewhere. We do move our camps with the turn of the seasons. It is a likelihood that this is all that has happened.”

Mayel nodded, trying to dredge up a confident smile. “I sincerely hope so. The daughters and sons of Athos have been a strong voice of wisdom among the peoples of this galaxy for many years. I hope they will remain so for many years to come.”

Teyla nodded her head in gratitude, her throat too choked by worry and doubt to say anything. Kanaan’s fingers found her own, squeezing lightly in comfort. Mayel tried to smile, touched by the gesture. She herself had experienced in the past weeks how hope could be a powerful force.

“This world you settled the Athosians on,” Ronon’s voice rumbled, and Teyla found herself startled by the sound, having forgotten in the midst of pain and discomfort that he was also there. “Where is it?”

Mayel fished a piece of the lined yellow paper that some of the expedition members favored using out of her vest pocket and held it out to Teyla, who unfolded it to reveal an unfamiliar gate address scrawled across the page. “It is a world long known to the Genii. We have used it in times past as a place to train our youth,” she explained, “though it has not been used as such since around the time I was born. Our scout mission to check the area over before your people moved there could find no sign that the Wraith had any presence there, nor of any animal predators that might pose a danger. It has mild seasons, good soil for cultivation, and plentiful game in the nearby forests. Your people seemed pleased with the site and were eager to go.”

“You mentioned that the Genii had not used this world in some time. Can you tell us why that is?” Kanaan inquired.

“Honestly, I do not know,” Mayel answered with a shake of her head. “General Radim was not certain either, when I asked him about it. Of course, much as your people move your camps from time to time, so too do the Genii rotate our training grounds.” Her face took on a thoughtful expression. “General Radim did mention that Commanders Cowen and Kolya might have known the reason, as they were among the last groups to train there. But with them dead and their own year-mates dead themselves or scattered, no one really knows. I am sorry I cannot be of more help in this matter.” The others nodded in understanding, as Mayel turned her attention to Ronon. “There is one other matter I wish to discuss,” she began, her reluctance returning. “It concerns you, Ronon Dex. You are aware that Manaria is home to one of the largest groups of survivors from Sateda, are you not?”

Ronon nodded, and the sinking feeling in Teyla’s stomach seemed to grow deeper.

“Shortly before I left on the Coria to find Atlantis, we lost contact with the Manarians. I have been informed by General Radim that a Coalition team sent to investigate found...” She sighed. “They found that the townships nearest to the Ancestral Ring had been culled. Fully culled. The search teams had not yet reached the townships further away from the Ring, though they did report seeing a large amount of smoke in that general direction. If anyone escaped, we have yet to learn of it.” She looked up at him, genuine sorrow in her eyes. “I am truly sorry.”

Ronon did not speak at first, and Teyla wondered if Ronon was in shock. Then, he spoke. “I thought I was the last for a long time before I came to Atlantis. I’ve mourned my people once already.”

Mayel shook her head. “Even if you are the last, the heart of Sateda still beats in you.”

Teyla wondered at the tone of Mayel’s statement, and she could see in Kanaan’s and Ronon’s eyes that they seemed to be similarly at a loss for how to interpret it. She was too bold, this slip of a female.  And yet, in that moment, as she had when Teyla had first met her, Mayel reminded her of another bold and brave woman they had all once known. For whatever the thought might be worth, she only hoped that Mayel Serrana didn’t meet as dark an end as Elizabeth Weir.

 

--/--

 

After Mayel had taken her leave of them, Teyla, Kanaan and Ronon had stepped into one of the alcoves off the main corridor to the gate room to discuss what Mayel had told them. Her news had left them all deeply shaken, but her words had not lessened their determination to find the truth of what had happened to the Athosians. After a brief discussion, the three decided to proceed with their original plan to go to New Athos and search for signs of the Athosians there, then follow up with visits to a few of Atlantis’s allies. If time permitted and they had found no other clues, they would make a separate visit to the planet at the address Mayel had provided.

Woolsey and Sheppard had not yet returned from their visit to the brig to talk to Todd about the current activities of the Wraith, so it was Zelenka, working with Chuck and Amelia in the control room, who saw the trio off.

As Chuck gave them a little wave, then punched in the address to New Athos and the gate began dialing, Ronon felt a strange sense of detachment, as though he was viewing everything that was happening around him from somewhere outside himself. Perhaps it was the feeling of rightness that enveloped him now that he was back in the Pegasus Galaxy. Maybe it was the excitement of finally being free to step through the Stargate to somewhere other than Atlantis. There was certainly a bit of hope as well, hope that this journey might provide some answers for Teyla and Kanaan. The lengthy time away from their people had been a drain on them both, and Ronon heartily wished that they would find some good news.

That thought brought him circling back to the news Mayel Serrana had given to him. It was true that he’d resigned himself long ago to the possibility that he might have been the last of his people. He still wasn’t; even if the Satedans in exile on Manaria were gone, there were other, smaller fragments of their people scattered across the Pegasus Galaxy. When they finally succeeded in defeating the Wraith?he refused to think of it as anything but a foregone conclusion?what would they do next? Would they wish to return to Sateda, to rebuild? It was a thought that had teased him more and more often of late.

The Stargate finished dialing, and the water-like rush of the wormhole’s event horizon splashed through the air, then settled into its normal, calm puddle. Ronon shook off his current train of thought, and focused on the task at hand. He turned to his companions. Teyla looked anxious but elated, and Kanaan’s face held a look of serene expectation. Ronon sighed inwardly. He really needed to work on that meditation stuff some time.

They looked up at the control room, where Zelenka stood at the railing overlooking the gate room. Amelia had left her station to join him, and smiled down at Ronon. He nodded back with a little grin of his own, and wondered what she might make of the thoughts that were running through his head, especially those of Sateda, and the future.

Chuck sent the MALP through the gate first. While New Athos was a known planet to them, the fact that they had been gone for so long made caution a necessity. Nevertheless, everyone seemed to hold their breath while waiting for the MALP to begin transmitting back to Atlantis. Within a few moments, Chuck relaxed back into his seat.

“The MALP is reading nothing unusual in the vicinity of the Stargate,” he reported. “Looks like it’s all clear.”

Zelenka nodded and raised his hand to wave to the three of them. “Good luck, all of you,” he told them.

“Thank you, Radek,” Teyla replied with a smile. Kanaan and Ronon both nodded. Then, they turned to the gate.

“We ready?” Ronon asked.

Kanaan nodded, and Teyla smiled over at him. “We are.”

“Let’s do it.”

They walked forward into the shimmering blue light, the familiar rush of light and color flooding their senses for a brief moment, then in the next moment they were stepping onto the soil of New Athos. Behind them, the gate disengaged with a flash of light and sound.

First things first. Ronon checked out the edges of the clearing around the gate, while Teyla and Kanaan turned the MALP around, then dialed into Atlantis, reported that all was well, and sent the MALP back. Once the gate had disengaged a second time, Teyla and Kanaan joined Ronon at the edge of the clearing. Ronon fell into step on Teyla’s left side, while Kanaan stood at her right, and together, they walked down the wooded path towards the site of the main Athosian camp.

The forest was quieter than Ronon remembered. There was a pervading sense of something... Not wrong, but different. It wasn’t just the knowledge that the Athosians weren’t here, but Ronon couldn’t quite put his finger on what it might be. He glanced over at his companions, and judging from their expressions, they seemed to be feeling the same way. Teyla in particular had a desperate look in her eyes, that Ronon recognized from the first time the Athosians disappeared. He couldn’t help but wonder, and fear, what her reaction would be when they reached the camp site. He didn’t want to think about what her reaction might be if they never found the Athosians at all. Kanaan, on the other hand, still remained outwardly serene, though Ronon could see the tenseness creeping into his shoulders. It was different for him, Ronon supposed, since Kanaan had been one of those missing and in need of rescue the last time.

Finally, the path broadened and the trees thinned as they approached the camp site. Just as Mayel had warned them, they found the clearing that had once held the camp empty. Whatever had happened, it had been long months ago, and weather and time had blurred the tracks that had been left. Only a bare patch of ground with weeds and grass starting to grow over the paths that had been worn between where tents had once stood. A few bits of scorched wood here and there. Shards of pottery, half-ground into the mud. One shiny metal bead.

“The tents, everyone’s belongings... it is all gone,” Teyla breathed, her steps faltering as she stepped further into the center of the clearing. She looked to and fro across the clearing, and it seemed to Ronon as though she were almost trying to will the camp to appear out of thin air, in a manner similar to the cloaking devices on the puddle jumpers.

“That’s a good sign,” Ronon said just as quietly. “At least they had time to pack up.”

“Yes,” Kanaan agreed. “It is much like when we fled Athos, years ago.” Ronon noticed Kanaan’s eyes were drawn toward the thicker stand of trees to the north, toward the river and the area where their people had established roving hunting camps after the Ancestors had originally settled them on New Athos nearly three years earlier. A few trees looked to have been recently blackened by fire, probably from the attack.

Teyla had apparently noticed the direction of Kanaan’s gaze, as well. “You believe they may have left a sign for us to follow?” she asked.

“Perhaps. At least to where they went next, if not their final destination.” He shook his head. “They knew, when we helped to evacuate them from the mainland on New Lantea back to New Athos, that Atlantis had to leave this galaxy hastily in order to stop the Wraith from reaching Earth. They knew that we would look for them here when we returned.”

“If they were able to leave any sign in the first place,” Ronon muttered darkly. “They might not have thought it was safe to come back again to do that.”

Kanaan sighed. “That is true.”

“There is no harm in looking,” Teyla told them, though her voice shook a little as she said it. Ronon exchanged a look with Kanaan, then, in silent agreement, they continued to follow the path away from the camp site and toward the river.

>>> To be continued in Return to Pegasus, Part II, CH III

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