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Episode 5: Evolution

“Come again?” John glanced back over his shoulder from the pilot’s seat of Jumper One, trying to get a good look at McKay, who was seated behind him, nose-to-datapad. 

“I’m just saying,” Rodney said, not bothering to look up, “sometimes you win some, sometimes you…you know. Not everyone in Pegasus will be a part of the John Sheppard fan club. The people on Talus just happen to be a group of the, um, ‘antis’.” 

“Antis?” John questioned, keeping an eye on the windshield and the blanket of treetops fanning out below them. “I don’t have ‘antis’.” 

Rodney finally lifted his head from the datapad and looked at him. “After that little demonstration in the town square, I distinctly recall they mentioned complete banishment from their planet. I think that would basically constitute ‘anti-you’.” 

“It wasn’t complete banishment.” 

“You don’t consider ‘if you ever set foot on our planet again we’ll sacrifice you to our gods’ complete banishment?” 

“That’s not what they said.” 

“It’s what was implied. Same difference.” 

“They overreacted, that’s all. They just need a few days to calm down, get to know me—it’ll be fine.” 

Teyla, seated next to him in the co-pilot seat, raised an eyebrow. 

“I don’t even know why they were upset,” John remarked in response to her expression. “We were giving them items that would help them in the future.” 

“The items were not directly the cause of their misfortune,” Teyla said quietly. “At least not when they were offered. The demonstration was what prompted the displeasure.” 

“It was NOT my fault that they’d never heard the sound of a gun before. If they can’t take a little yelling and gunfire and maybe one tiny little flash-bang…” 

“The flash-bang set fire to half of their village and food stores.” 

John made a face. “I was trying to help them.” 

“Which would have been fine until you made that statement about their homes being made of straw,” Ronon remarked. “And comparing them to pigs.” 

“I wasn’t comparing them to pigs,” John snapped. “It’s a part of a story, The Three Little Pigs, that first they built their homes out of straw, and if they’d just built out of bricks…look, the point is it doesn’t matter. They took it out of context, that’s all. And don’t you think they were a little overdramatic about the whole thing? It’s not like we couldn’t replace what they lost.” 

“Such damage is not easily repaired. I do not believe they were being overdramatic about the loss of their personal possessions and treasures.” Teyla’s face was drawn into a displeased expression. “They had a right to be angry.” 

“Since basically you were just showing off,” Ronon added. 

Rodney glanced over at the Satedan, a smile suddenly flitting across his face. “You mean showing off for a certain Coalition member who may have just happened to have joined us on that mission?” 

John’s expression must have alerted Rodney to the precarious predicament his last statement placed him in, because the smile slid from the scientist’s face and he hurriedly returned to his datapad. Teyla exchanged a knowing look with Ronon, which John didn’t miss, though there was nothing he could say to counteract what they were all apparently thinking. 

Not that he’d been doing what they said, of course—that was speculation on their part. Mayel’s presence had had nothing to do with the unfortunate circumstances on P25-999. 

Mostly. 

A sudden, horrifying thought ran through his mind. Was the whole base thinking the same thing? Surely not—these guys were his teammates, they enjoyed finding ways to egg him on. He’d probably spent more time than not with her lately, but that made sense—head of Atlantis military detail, Atlantis Coalition contact—hanging out with her was a part of his job. 

Though there was that look Woolsey had given them when John offered her the ‘ladies first’ excuse into the Jumper, and she’d smiled back at him in that slightly sensuous way of hers, full lips pursing and that auburn hair just caressing her cheeks… 

Had he just honestly thought that? 

Crap. 

“Got something,” McKay said, finger poised above his datapad. “There’s some kind of unusual structure on the planet’s surface—located here.” 

Coordinates flashed up on the HUD. 

“What is it?” John asked, thankful for the distraction. He turned the jumper in the direction of McKay’s anomaly. It was nearly half the planet away from the Stargate, separated by a large sea. 

“Don’t know…whatever it is, it’s big and overgrown.” 

More than few minutes passed, thankfully in silence, as they darted up into the upper atmosphere and then down again, cruising through the blue sky of the relatively unobtrusive planet to which they’d decided to gate. The landmark Rodney had mentioned slowly rolled into view, looking like some kind of hill or mountain covered in vegetation. 

“Interesting,” John noted, casting a glance over at Teyla. The Athosian had a concerned look on her face. “What is it?” 

“I…” She wet her lips, then met his eyes. “I am sensing something.” 

“What?” barked Rodney from the back seat. “Wraith? We didn’t pick up any Wraith around here!” 

“On the surface?” John queried. 

“I think so…but it is unusual. Strange. I am not sensing what I normally do when I sense the Wraith.” 

“Maybe not so strange,” said Ronon, nodding his head towards the large structure now in front of them. 

John and Rodney both glanced through the windshield, examining the mound that had come up on McKay’s scans, a weirdly shaped mountain that was now rising before them. Though it was covered in thick, low-lying vegetation, the shape of certain parts was definitely unmistakable. 

“That’s a Hive,” said John, suddenly and utterly thankful they were cloaked. 

 

--/-- 

 

“A Hive Ship?” Richard Woolsey stared at the shimmering pool of blue that signified the active Stargate. “On M1M-247? I thought Doctor McKay said those worlds were uninhabited.” 

“Most were uninhabited,” interrupted Rodney. “We didn’t have intel on all the worlds we got off Serrana’s Wraith device, and this was one of the unknown ones.” He sounded perturbed, despite the fact Sheppard had assured them he’d flown the jumper back towards the gate and away from the threatening structure. Of course, McKay generally sounded perturbed if the Wraith—or anything dangerous—was involved. 

“Are you picking up life signs?” 

“Some,” Sheppard said. 

“And they’re Wraith?” 

“I would presume with a Wraith Hive you’re more than likely going to find Wraith!” snapped McKay. 

“That may not be the case,” said Teyla softly. “I do not detect the Wraith—at least, not as strongly as I would a Wraith Hive.” 

“Maybe they’re hibernating,” Woolsey said. “Would that affect your gift?” 

“It is possible,” Teyla said. 

“’Sides, I thought all the Wraith were supposed to have awoken at the same time. How’d these guys get missed?” Sheppard asked. 

Richard could almost sense the wheels in Sheppard’s head turning. “I take it you want to get a closer look, Colonel?” 

“No, no, he doesn’t,” said McKay quickly. “There is NO reason to go back down there and…and…” 

“Look, these planets were on that Wraith facility’s database for a reason. We want to find out what makes them special, and something’s definitely not right here.” 

“Yeah, like maybe the fact that there’s a Wraith HIVE parked in the middle of the planet?” 

“We’re aware of that, Rodney.” Sheppard retorted, drawing out the last word with emphasis. “Point is, that Hive itself might be what got this planet on the list to begin with. We need to find out more.” 

“I agree,” Richard said, before Doctor McKay could interject again. “Take your team in—but be careful. Two hour check in. And Colonel, at the first sign of any trouble…” 

“We’ll head on home. Don’t worry. We’ll make sure not to stay for dinner.” 

The radio clicked off between them. Richard threw a glance at Chuck, who met his gaze with a tentative look.

 

--/--

 

Rodney eyed the massive structure the jumper was now hovering beside, swallowing and trying to maintain a normal sequence of breaths. 

There were some days he loved being on the Alpha team—the A-Team, he secretly called it in his mind, sometimes. 

And then there were days like this, when Sheppard insisted on doing something absolutely stupid, which defied all logic and reason and was probably, at best, going to get them locked in a dungeon cell and, at worst, get them served up as a snack. And even after all they’d seen and done, he still insisted on doing it. 

“Sensing anything?” 

Sheppard was looking at Teyla, whose face was turned away from the HUD. She appeared to be concentrating, which did nothing to relieve Rodney’s anxiety. 

“No.” Her forehead crinkled in confusion. “I feel…something, but it is very different from anything I have sensed before. Almost as though…” 

“As though…” 

She glanced up, meeting Sheppard’s eye. “As though it is not quite Wraith.” 

Sheppard studied her for a moment, before glancing over at Rodney. 

“Michael’s little hybrid experiments were not quite Wraith,” Rodney said quickly. “Wouldn’t want to meet up with them, either.” 

“Time for that closer look.” John said, after a moment. The jumper started to settle towards the surface. 

“Oh…why…how did I know you were going to say that?” Rodney flicked an annoyed hand at Ronon, who rose, giving him a presumably irritated look, and pushed past him. “What? Am I the only one here who thinks this is probably potentially the world’s worst idea?” 

Teyla moved past as well, lifting her P-90 and shaking her head a little as she brushed by him. 

Sheppard, who’d landed the jumper in a semi-concealed grove, rose and followed her, pausing for a moment beside Rodney. “We’ve had plenty worse ideas than this one. At least we’re not flying into the Hive.” 

Rodney narrowed his eyes, reaching behind him reluctantly for his weapon. “Right. Thanks for reminding me.” 

 

--/--

 

The landscape around the jumper when they exited did not feel unfamiliar to Teyla. Massive trees rose overhead, towering over the scenery and bathing most of the dark soil with thick shadows. The air was damp and slightly cold. 

But the cold did not reach into her chest, as she was accustomed to feeling being so close to a Hive. If she did not see it before her with her own eyes, she might not have believed there was so large a potential for a Wraith presence. Though the sensation pulled at her mind, it did not feel as strong as even with one Wraith nearby. 

John paused ahead of her, watching and listening carefully for any sign of life through the semi-lit forest. He motioned with his hand to continue forward progression; Ronon carefully keeping watch on their six and Rodney plodding along behind her. 

They progressed about one hundred more paces when the Colonel paused once again, this time cocking his head towards the mound that signaled the Hive. It was perhaps a half a kilometer away and overgrown with vegetation; had she not known them by sight at this point it may have seemed nothing more than a harmless hill. 

The Colonel was listening intently; she herself could sense nothing and Ronon did not appear to have his senses tweaked, but there were occasions when John seemed in possession of a sixth sense, perhaps attributed to the alertness he surrendered to when placed in tactical command. 

They waited a moment more before he appeared fully satisfied, and he nodded, directing them all forward once more. 

The brush underneath their feet crackled softly as they covered the ground with as much speed as the Colonel would allow. Long ago they’d learned the careful balance of swiftness and alertness it took to scout terrain, managing to work around Rodney’s natural clumsiness and Ronon’s need to point his weapon at every moving target within sight. Now their movements were quick and fluid and even Rodney’s reluctance to draw closer to the Hive ship did not hinder them much. 

They reached the wall as a cloud passed over the sun, making the structure appear even more menacing in the semi-lit gloom. The outside was composed of the same material of every Hive ship, an organic substance she was unfortunately all too familiar with. 

John studied the structure carefully, poring over it for an entrance. 

A subtle clicking indicated Ronon gesturing with his gun; she turned enough to see the blaster point towards a half-buried cave in the side of the Hive. 

There was a sound; something of a cross between a whimper and a protest from Rodney, but he held his tongue. She was not entirely inclined to disagree with him; walking into darkness at the base of a Hive was not an intelligent move, but using anything to light the blackness might signal the Wraith to their presence. 

John opted for the cover of darkness. 

It took them only moments to reach the cave; the air smelled dank, but not entirely stale. Fresh air was somehow filtering through the structure. Welcome as that was, it was not a positive sign as far as they were concerned. 

The Colonel progressed slowly, taking the time to peer around every bump. The glow from Ronon’s gun added just enough light for them to be able to keep upon the trail; she could see that the tunnel had been made and was not the result of natural forces. The trail beneath their feet was well-trod. 

They approached a nearby corner and John motioned Ronon forward. She quickly took up his position as Ronon joined John at the head of their line, using the scant light from his gun to check the path. 

John made a small sound at the back of his throat; he appeared displeased. A moment later Ronon returned to the back of the line and gestured her to turn around, retracing their steps towards the entrance. Apparently, the situation was too uncertain for John’s taste and they were retreating. 

“Thank God,” Rodney sighed quietly. He tripped on something upon the floor, stumbling, the sound of which echoed through the tunnel. “Ow.” 

She could almost sense John glaring at him through the darkness, but the Colonel said nothing. Ronon approached the entrance cautiously, peered out and took a few steps forward. 

“Well, that was fun,” Rodney whispered harshly, as soon as they were outside—and as though their being away from the tunnel made a difference to the precariousness of their position. “Remind me never to…” 

He cut off abruptly, eyes locked on something moving towards them, down the path upon which sat the Jumper. Teyla raised her P-90, trying to make out the moving figure, as Ronon held his gun at arm’s length. 

“I would suggest you lower your weapons,” said a guttural voice nearby. Ronon remained trained on the first figure as Teyla whirled around to face their new assaulter. 

From the shadow of the ship structure, a pale form moved into the twilight. Teyla felt her heart leap at the sight of skin. White, with an inhuman shimmer, eyes like slats and white hair that fell down upon thin, strong shoulders. 

Wraith. 

More of the figures emerged from the shadows of the trees. John, even Rodney with his pistol raised, knew not where to turn as they found themselves surrounded. The Wraith sported their stunner weapons, all save the one who had spoken to Teyla. 

“Lower your weapons,” the Wraith repeated. Teyla felt her mind go numb, aware that this may quite possibly be the end, one she was not expecting. 

And yet, something felt wrong. Not in the sense of the predicament, but in the sense of the danger. She felt unafraid. 

The Wraith warriors drew closer to them, surrounding them in a circle. 

“Please lower your weapons,” said the Wraith once more. Teyla rose out of her defensive crouch, feeling not so much compelled as…acquiescent. There was something about the Wraith’s tone that was not menacing. 

John, too, appeared more interested than worried, though Ronon kept his weapon raised and ready to fire. As the Colonel took a closer look at their captors, he frowned, eyes widening as he caught her gaze, and nodded towards the one who’d spoken. 

Teyla suddenly understood his concern. Their leader drew into a beam of light, and despite the depth of the voice and the appearance of the armor, there was something quite clear—and very different—about the Wraith before them. 

She was a Queen. A female. 

Teyla’s eyes darted around the circle, scanning the faces of all the warrior drones within her periphery, and felt her heartbeat begin to race. 

“They’re all Queens,” Rodney said softly, his surprise, combined with terror, vocalizing the feelings of them all. 

 

--/--

 

If there was a Wonderland somewhere in the Pegasus galaxy, John felt as though he’d just fallen down the rabbit hole. Minus the cute blue dress. 

After a moment of uncomfortable stand-off, the Wraith Queens who’d found them de-armed them casually, then pressed them forward, back into the Hive cave. To his surprise, however, the most aggressively violent they got was when one of the guards prodded McKay’s backside to get him to move a little more quickly. John himself had poked him with more aggression. 

Moving single file with a Wraith guard alongside them had given him the opportunity to study their captors, and if Teyla’s mental gift was working properly, she was correct in stating these were not ordinary Wraith. For one thing, they didn’t act at all like any of the Wraith John had ever run into, and for a second, they were female, though apparently none of them were true Queens, at least not in the sense of the ones he’d had the misfortune to know. 

Upon closer observation their appearance was just a little different from traditional Wraith. Though they were still gaunt and tall, they weren’t as muscular, and their faces weren’t quite as angular. John could have sworn, in one of the rare moments when one spoke to another, that the teeth weren’t quite as toothy. Most peculiar had to be their eyes, which were human-like in appearance, the irises being a variety of colors. 

They’d passed the portion of the tunnel where John had encouraged the team to turn back earlier; just a few hundred feet more and it opened into a wide room that wasn’t too different from some of the larger chambers of a traditional Hive, only this one spiraled upward until it disappeared into some kind of skylight and was decorated along the sides with what appeared to be stairways, balconies and landings. In fact, the thing was almost pretty, if it hadn’t been the inside of a Hive. 

They stopped in the center of the room, the leader of their captors scurrying up one of the nearby paths, probably to report what her scout team had found. All above them, the Hive was buzzing with Wraith moving about. Activity hadn’t stopped at their appearance, though a few of the Wraith were peering with them curiously with their strange, human-like eyes. 

Rodney leaned over as the group gathered together, one of the other guards watching them but not looking at all interested in separating them. 

“It’s like an evil version of the elf world in Lord of the Rings,” McKay muttered. 

John threw him an annoyed look and he frowned. “What? You have to admit, it is weird. I mean, have you ever seen anything so…so…” 

“Beautiful,” Teyla breathed, her eyes on the designs lining the stairways. They appeared to look like carved scrollwork. 

“That’s not exactly the word I’d use to describe Wraith,” Rodney muttered back, but not with a great deal of protest. 

“They’re Wraith and they haven’t made one attempt to threaten, dismember or feed on us. Anything other than that is going to seem weird.” John glanced around the chamber they were standing in. “These guys are acting like they could care less their next meal was just handed to them on a platter.” 

“And they’re all female,” Ronon added. “Haven’t seen a drone yet. The women seem to be the warriors.” 

“They are certainly not in possession of the abilities of a Queen,” Teyla said. “I sense no strong mental capabilities among them. There is a psychic bond of some sort, but it is very weak. I do not believe they are…wait,” she paused, her eyes travelling upwards to where the leader of their captors had disappeared. “Something has awakened.” 

“Just what I wanted to hear. Great,” Rodney murmured. The leader reappeared on the balcony and gestured to one of their guards. 

“Bring them up.” 

They followed the escort up one of the ornate staircases, which felt solid enough, if a little squishy, to their feet. The room they entered, via a door with strangely decorative hangings, opened into a chamber best described as a Wraith throne room, but it was like no Hive throne room John had ever seen. 

The throne itself sat upon a dais and had the same organic look of the ship, only it was surrounded by a framework of tree branches through which were woven vines and fresh flowers. Above them, two large skylights were covered with a thin membrane, allowing in the moonlight and presumably sunlight during the day. For now the dusk of the evening lit other decorative panels and furniture around the room, demonstrating something of a designer aesthetic to the area. 

To their left a door opened and a lithe figure walked through. By the expression on Teyla’s face, this was the creature who had possessed the strong mental abilities, but she did not regard them with anything more than curiosity as she approached. 

Her demeanor—and her dress, she wore a long one—denoted her as closer to a Wraith Queen than many of the other Wraith…women, but she still acted like no Queen John had ever met before. There was no hissing, no menacing claw moves, not even a little bobbing and weaving. She simply stood in front of them, arms crossed and studied them as though she was any normal human leader. 

He was definitely down the rabbit hole. 

“Who are you?” she asked, her voice low and with a slight rasp, but almost pleasant, had it not been coming from the face of a Wraith. “Are you Lanteans?” 

“Not exactly,” John replied. 

“Your ship, I am told, is of Lantean design. Though I would not know; to be honest I only know stories of the Lanteans as spoken of in the old tales,” the Queen said. “I was not alive to witness their dominance. Or the Great Wraith war. Tell me—have you come to this land for a particular purpose?” 

“Uh…” John shot a look towards the team, all of whom were staring back at him in concern. “Not…exactly…a particular purpose?” 

The Queen smiled. “I see the stories of your duplicity ring true.” She turned, moving gracefully towards her throne and taking a seat. “Little changed in ten thousand years.” 

“I thought you said you didn’t remember the Lanteans,” John remarked carefully. 

“I do not,” she said, her smile broadening. John noticed her teeth were, indeed, less pointed. In fact, they looked very much like human teeth. “But we have our histories that tell us of your natures. And we have met other humans. I find that the nature of your species does not vary much between races.” 

“I’m afraid our histories are a little less thorough when it comes to you,” John said. “What game are you playing at, exactly?” 

The Queen’s smile faded. “Game?” 

“Well, we’re not exactly accustomed to the ‘royal treatment’ when we’re the guests of a Hive Queen.” 

The Queen leaned one arm upon her throne, her chin resting on her upraised fingers and her dark eyes studying them carefully. “Why?” 

“Why? Well, let’s see…most Queens don’t really indulge in the pleasure of, uh, playing with their food.” 

There was a low grumble among the guards as the Queen sat upright, her complacent expression disappearing. “You think we are going to eat you?” 

John glanced at his group, who looked about as confused as he felt. “That is typically what Wraith in my experience tend to do.” 

“Wraith?” She rose swiftly. “We are not Wraith.” 

John bent backwards just a touch as she drew close to him, her expression perturbed. 

“Once we had a kinship with those…creatures,” she said clearly. “But it has been a long, long time since we shared any connection with them.” Her hand flashed up towards him and John flinched as it glided over his chest. 

Her palm came to a rest level with his face, and he tried to focus upon it, studying the luminescent skin, clear, long fingers—and perfectly whole palm. As he looked over it in confusion, she raised her other towards him, where only the faint trace of a scar ran down the middle of it. 

There was no feeding hole. 

His eyes travelled from her hands to her dark brown eyes, which looked back at him in indignation. 

“We do not deny our origins, children of Atlantis,” the Queen said softly. “But as you have admitted for yourselves, allow us the courtesy of having evolved as well. Wraith, we once might have been, but now most certainly are not.” 

 

>>> On to Evolution, CH II

 

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