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Evolution, CH II

<<< Back to Evolution, Chapter I

 

"Could you repeat that, please?” asked Richard, attempting to keep his voice level and not within the squeaky range of an eight-year-old girl. “Did you say vegetarian Wraith?” 

“Not exactly,” said Sheppard. “They’re neither vegetarian nor, according to them, Wraith.” 

“Okay, so it’s more a general descriptor than an accurate one,” said Doctor McKay. “Point is, they don’t eat humans.” 

“I’m afraid I’m having a hard time picturing this,” Richard said. “If they don’t feed, how exactly are they Wraith-like?” 

“You remember that whole Mirror Universe thing from Star Trek? Well, we just found the happy version of the Wraith. They’re pretty much alike in every way, only without that troublesome need to, you know, eat people.” 

“I would never have believed it myself had they not shown us their hands,” McKay said. By the sound of his voice he was nearly beside himself in excitement. “I mean, these things look completely, completely like Wraith, only they don’t have feeding slits. Not really—vague scarring. Almost like they…” 

“Evolved out of it,” Sheppard finished. “According to their Queen, they’ve not fed on humans for millennia.” 

“Millennia?” 

“Mill-enn-ee-uh. Short story is they were a part of a Hive that crashed on this planet during the war with the Ancients. But the planet was uninhabited. They had basically no choice, as far as I get, other than evolving into animal-eaters.” 

“Promising as that sounds, I think I’d prefer the long version before we declare them not-Wraith. How did this evolution happen, exactly?” 

“She promised to tell us that over the next meal,” Sheppard said, a little coyly. “Apparently a nice deer steak and some veggies.” 

“Sounds like an invitation,” Richard replied. “I’m presuming she wants the head of our expedition to pay them a visit?” 

“We might have offered up the suggestion. Didn’t seem like something you’d want to pass up.” 

“You’re really that certain they’re not a threat, Colonel Sheppard?” 

“If I wasn’t, would I be inviting you to supper?” 

“Point taken.” 

“May want to pack light—a few Marines. Just to be safe.” 

“And Jennifer and Carson,” said Rodney. “Considering the medical and genetic implications I don’t think they’re going to want to miss this.”

 

--/--

 

Teyla studied the group of females before them, who were busily setting out dinnerware for their upcoming banquet. None appeared to be the least bit wary of the presence of her and Ronon, though a few cast curious glances their way, as though they had never seen people of their appearance before. 

The discovery of these strange Wraith-like creatures who were not in possession of feeding hands left her mind in a state of discontentment. From birth, she had been trained to fear and despise their appearance, but such feelings were not applicable to this new race of beings. By their own admissions, they were not like the Wraith and yet the similarities were disturbing, to say the least. 

Ronon seemed to share her apprehension, but he appeared even more discontented than she. Even with the Wraith who had given them a reason to establish shaky alliances—such as Todd—they were to Ronon nothing more than nuisances to be tolerated. He allowed them to live because doing so was the will of those he trusted more than the Wraith. 

But in this instance, these creatures appeared to be genuinely distinct, and as such, had done nothing to earn disdain or dislike. They had even allowed Colonel Sheppard and Rodney to leave, so they could contact Atlantis for a mission report. Nothing in their behavior or their attitudes indicated subterfuge. It appeared they were true to their word and their evolution. They indeed were not Wraith. 

One of the females drew close to them. “We shall be ready to serve when your friends return. We have set out a number of places, do you believe they will be adequate?” 

Teyla smiled. “I am sure they will be fine.” 

The young female returned her grin. “Thank you.” 

“Where are your men?” Ronon asked suddenly. 

The female blinked at him. “Men?” 

“Drones.” 

A dark look passed over the female’s face. “We do not have many drones. They serve the Queen when necessary, no more.” 

Teyla glanced over at him; he returned her look with a semi-curious one. 

“Our people should be arriving shortly,” Teyla said finally, as the female waited upon them. 

“Very well. I will let our Queen know.” 

 

--/--

 

The planet’s surface was lush and populated with thick-trunked trees. Sort of par for the course in the Pegasus, or so Jennifer had found in her travels. It had taken them a few moments to find places to park the Jumpers and make their way through the forest to where Colonel Sheppard had designated them to meet. 

The difference here was they could move about with ease, or at least it seemed so, thanks to the alliance Colonel Sheppard had established with this new group of beings. 

Richard had told her a little of what to expect—Wraith-like but not Wraith—and yet the descriptions did nothing to provide a good mental picture of what she was about to face. That Rodney had called for her indicated he didn’t feel they were dangerous, which was a good sign, especially since Rodney considered most everything dangerous. 

The Marine group with them drew to a halt as Colonel Sheppard greeted them atop a small rise, which stood in the shadow of the overgrown Hive. Rodney was nowhere to be seen. 

Mr. Woolsey gave him a nod, and they proceeded forward, the group drawing back to flank her. “Where’s Doctor McKay?” 

“Socializing,” the Colonel replied, with a quick backwards glance at Jennifer, who frowned. 

“Socializing?” 

“They promised to show him some of their tech…something-or-other…” he said, with a wave of his hand. “Rodney couldn’t resist. Where’s Carson?” 

“Socializing,” Jennifer muttered. Sheppard made a questioning face and she shrugged. “Got called off-world to one of the Coalition planets right before you guys rang in. We sent him a message but he can’t get away for a while.” 

“He’s gonna be sorry for that.” 

“So these people truly are a peaceable race?” Woolsey asked. 

“Seems so. I’m almost expecting them to break out with names like Flower Child and Starsinger, though if they do I’m on the first jumper back to Atlantis.” 

Woolsey gave him a disapproving look, which quickly faded as they neared a dark tunnel leading into the Hive. “But you said they were just like the Wraith.” 

“They are....but…they aren’t,” the Colonel said. “Look, it doesn’t really do any good to explain. You’ve just got to see them.” 

“But you do really think they’re descended from Wraith? I mean, directly descended?” Jennifer asked, skipping a few steps to catch up with them. 

John paused and turned towards her as the tunnel entrance lit up. “Why don’t you check ‘em out for yourself?” 

Jennifer looked to the doorway, nearly barreling into Richard as he froze in front of her, his eyes wide in surprise. Before them, a female Wraith stood, holding up a torch and using her long, pale arm to gesture them inward. 

“Welcome, visitors from Atlantis,” she said softly, with the same guttural growl of the Wraith, but lacking the malice Jennifer so often heard in their voices. 

Sheppard glanced over at them, smirking a little at their expressions. “See what I mean?” 

“Uh huh,” was the best Jennifer could manage in response.

 

--/--

 

For a dinner party of half-human, half-Wraith-like-things-that-didn’t-eat-humans, John had to admit that the spread was pretty nice. 

The Queen had accommodated their very human palates with an assortment of meats and vegetables, along with what appeared to be fish and some fruit. As if to appease their guests, the Queen and her contingent—a group of four female assistants, apparently commanders, and one male—ate heartily, and through the mouth, even dining with some sort of primitive fork. 

Woolsey had wasted no time; as soon as the introductions had been made, he launched into twenty questions, asking the Queen about their people, their lifestyle and how exactly they had come to be so similar to Wraith. 

Or rather, descendants of Wraith, because that’s what they were. 

“According to our histories,” the Queen was saying, her hands folded neatly before her pushed-away plate, “our Hive crash landed during the war with the Lanteans. This planet was remote and with the communication mechanisms inside the Hive completely destroyed in the crash, it was impossible for them to contact the others.” 

“What about your darts?” 

“Destruction of the vehicle bay area was apparently what caused the Hive to crash. From what I understand, there were not enough darts aboard to fuel the destruction of the entire Hive. Many of them had been deployed, and as it was, we were not as fully equipped with darts as some of our sister Hives. Large portions of our members were scientific researchers, working on weapons development, genetic enhancement and other such assets to the Wraith. 

“All our vehicles were lost, as was, as I mentioned before, our ability to communicate with the other Wraith. Seeing the damage done to our Hive, I can only presume they believed us a lost Hive and abandoned us. And as you know, we are separated from the only functioning Stargate by a very great distance that was nearly impossible to reach on foot.” 

“How many of you survived?” 

“I am not certain, but of the areas that remained intact after the crash, our hibernation pods took the least damage. But it quickly became apparent to the Queen of the Hive that this planet was uninhabited and therefore a poor source of food for such a large number of Wraith. It was to our advantage that she was a progressive-thinking Wraith, rather than one who would have sacrificed her Hive for her own well-being.” 

“Yeah, we’re all too familiar with that type of Queen,” John murmured, drawing a few surprised glances from their hosts. 

“The Queen of this Hive appealed to the scientists who were aboard—masters in genetic manipulation—to see if there was a way to preserve her Wraith without forcing self-feeding. The scientists could promise no short-term solutions, but they could offer the chance for future generations to adapt better to the circumstances, to allow the Hive population to continue on. 

“What you see before you now is the result of their work. Once, we were Wraith—but no longer. We are free of the burden of feeding upon other races to survive.” 

“Sounds a little too good to be true,” grumbled Ronon, earning him a disparaging look from Woolsey. “Once a Wraith always a Wraith in my experience.” 

“What defines a Wraith in your eyes, Lantean?” asked the male commander seated alongside the Queen. He was studying Ronon curiously, his hands folded in front of his chin. He wore his long white hair back in a ponytail. 

“Satedan. And I’m looking at it,” Ronon returned with an unfriendly grin. 

“Ronon,” Woolsey chided. “I apologize. We’ve not had a good history with the Wraith.” 

“Apparently no one has, Mr. Woolsey,” said the Queen. “It is not an uncommon story from the few other humans we’ve encountered who have made it this far upon our world. That is the reason why so many on board the Hive, as the evolution progressed, were willing to undergo a change away from the traditional ways of the Wraith. We no longer saw the need to feed upon humans as a benefit.” 

“But if there had been humans on this planet, you wouldn’t have been forced to evolve. It was sort of a necessity.” Keller said. 

The Queen looked towards her, her dark eyes vaguely amused. “When has great change not been wrought from necessity? The history of the Wraith, at least what has been contained in the memory archives of this Hive, demonstrates that change has often been affected by the most dire of circumstances. Until we are forced to alter our course, we more than likely will continue straight on our paths.” 

“You have archives?” asked Rodney, looking upon the group with sudden interest. “Wraith scientist archives?” 

“They are old and rather limited,” returned the Queen. “But we would be happy to show you what we can.” 

“What I’m curious about is your nature,” said Keller. She’d not touched her food—her eyes had been darting around at their hosts too quickly for her to take any interest in the meal. “You’ve stopped feeding on humans, but what about the desire for it? How did you curb the natural instinct to feed?” 

“And dominate,” said Woolsey. “It’s been my experience that the Wraith sought as much to control this galaxy as to feed on the humans here.” 

The Queen smiled again. “The two are not mutually exclusive, Mr. Woolsey. In order to feed, the Wraith need to control the food source, since the food source is itself what had to be conquered. Humans are not going to allow the Wraith to feed on them voluntarily, after all. 

“We have not had need to control our food source for quite some time, and as such, have no desire to conquer other races. You will find we are content with our ways here.” 

A shadow passed over the face of one of the female commanders, which piqued John’s curiosity. 

“As I have mentioned before, you are not our first human visitors,” the Queen continued. “We have been visited by a handful of advanced races over the course of our time on this planet. Not all were as open-minded as you in accepting us for our word, but many learned through numerous interactions that we were capable of being trusted—not feared. All we asked is that they leave us as they find us—in peace.” 

“And what of the Wraith?” Teyla asked quietly. “What contact do you have with them?” 

The Queen sat back sharply. “We do not maintain contact with the Wraith.” 

Even Ronon seemed surprised by her reaction. 

“According to our histories,” said the male, “we were once visited by the Wraith. Their response to our situation was not favorable.” 

“They would have killed us all. We were forced to take exacting measures.” Another of the commanders sat back in her chair. “Since then, we have kept out of Wraith sight.” 

“Apparently the choices we have made place us among the category of those they would dominate and destroy. We are abominations in their eyes,” said the Queen. “We are no more secure than humans. We know they are aware of our existence, but so long as we remain out of their foremost thinking, we believe we are safe.” 

“That explains the database information,” Rodney said. “You were on the short list.” 

“Short list?” 

“The Wraith had archival records of the planet. They were coming to check on you,” John answered, throwing Rodney a look. “More than likely sooner rather than later. They may still.” 

“Where did you learn this?” 

“We attacked a Wraith facility a couple of months ago. Got this address from their database, along with a bunch of other strange or seemingly uninhabited planets.” 

The Queen frowned in confusion. “They have record of this place?” 

“Yes,” said Richard softly. “They know more about you than you think they do.” 

“But this is no longer a threat? You said you attacked this facility?” 

“Attacked but it wasn’t destroyed. We don’t know what they know or what their plans are.” 

“Then you do not know if we are any more noticed than before,” the Queen said. “And so we are in the same situation we have been for the entirety of our existence. We will stay out of their sight and continue to evolve.” 

John felt a little like pointing out that the Wraith, when they came, weren’t exactly going to come diplomatically, but it seemed a moot point. It’d been his experience that most races, once they thought they had a Wraith plan, were content to stick to it until the Wraith actually came and defeated said plan. By then it was too late, but he supposed the argument could be that the plan worked until it didn’t. 

“I know this may sound forward,” said Keller, with a ravenous look in her eye, “but did your…scientists…happen to document any of the changes made to your species?” 

“We have records of all their work, if this is what you mean,” said the Queen, looking almost thankful to get off the subject of impending Wraith invasions. “Compiled by our research scientists and healers. You are a healer among your people, I understand?” 

“Yes.” A sheepish grin accompanied that answer. “And sort of a research scientist myself.” 

“She’s a great scientist,” said Rodney. 

“We’ve been sort of studying some of the Wraith physiology, and there are a few questions I have that might actually be answered by learning from your people. Would it be possible to have a look at those records?” 

“I would be glad to send you one of our healers to assist you. They will grant you whatever you would like.” At her slight nod, one of the female drones gestured to Jennifer, who rose from the table eagerly. 

“Uh…” Rodney raised a hand. “Should I…do you want me to…go with you?” 

“I’ll be fine,” replied Keller, her attention apparently elsewhere and ignorant of Rodney’s dejected look. It reminded John a little of the face Keller had made when Rodney didn’t meet them earlier. Those two were made for each other. 

“Keep your radio on,” said John as she exited. A wave of her hand was the only response he got. 

“I’d like to know a little more about the history of your people, too,” said Richard. “Such as the structure you employ here. Your methods of governance seem very different from your ancestors.” His eyes flickered towards the three female commanders. 

The observation wasn’t lost on the Queen, who raised her head a little indignantly, but quickly covered up the motion. “We are very different from our predecessors. But perhaps this discussion is better continued in my private chambers.” 

As the group rose, she gestured to two of the female commanders, who left almost immediately. The remaining two, the male and another female, trailed her, all three waiting for Richard as he walked to her side. 

“Your men are welcome, but I’ve instructed two of my people to show them around, if they would like to learn more of our Hive.” She glanced at John with a wry smile. “And you may keep your weapons, if it would make you feel better, Colonel Sheppard.” 

He smiled back without much enthusiasm. “Thanks.”

“I know we have much to prove to overcome your feelings about the Wraith,” she replied. “We will do what we can to show you that we are not like them, even if we share common traits.” 

John’s eyes glanced at Ronon, who was watching the Queen impassively. As Woolsey followed her out of the room he turned to Teyla, drawing closer. 

“You buying this?” 

“It would seem there is little reason to doubt them,” she replied. “I certainly cannot sense anything dangerous in their manner. And while their gift is not the same as the one I am used to sensing, the link does exist, and nothing passes through it which appears to be threatening.” 

“We don’t know anything about them. Just what they’re telling us. You know as well as I do that usually things aren’t what they seem,” said Ronon, finally turning to look at them. 

“And sometimes they are,” John said, more as an assurance to Rodney, whose eyebrows had risen to an alarming level as he glanced back at the door through which Keller had disappeared. “Maybe we’ll get lucky.” 

“That would be a first,” muttered the scientist. 

 

--/--

 

The appearance of the Hive inside wasn’t much different from a true Wraith hive. They’d already travelled down a number of corridors, and the look and feel was so Wraith-like it gave Jennifer the chills. It also didn’t make the job of trying to remember she wasn’t among the Wraith any easier. 

“Most of our researchers practice here,” said her escort, waving her arm at various doorways located down the hallway. “Our healers work with them.” 

“What kind of injuries do they heal, if you don’t mind me asking?” As the female drone—Jennifer guessed that was what she should call her—studied her curiously, she tried to smile. “It’s just that with the Wraith we have never seen what they do for injuries. Not really, I mean.” 

The drone nodded in acquiescence. “We suffer the same injuries as most organic creatures. We are cut, we break.” 

“Illnesses?” 

“Sometimes. We are here.” The female gestured with her hand. Through an open doorway, a large room with recognizable tables and equipment was visible. 

“This woman is a healer,” announced her escort to the nearest non-Wraith in the room. Another female Wraith glanced at Jennifer with interest. “They will take care of you.” 

“Welcome,” said the woman, with a smile. “We welcome all those who practice the art of healing.” 

Jennifer returned the smile uncomfortably as a few more female healers encircled her. “Thanks.” 

 

--/--

 

“What’s up with the Stepford wives?” Rodney whispered to John as they ascended an open stair in the Hive’s extremely large central area. 

“Stepford wives?” asked Teyla. “What type of wives are these?” 

“Movie ones,” John replied. 

“I see.” 

“Yeah, yeah, about this group of women who were seemingly perfect and did everything they were supposed to--only it wasn’t that they were perfect, but that they’d been forced to be that way because their husbands thought they weren’t being the right type of wife.” Rodney frowned. “Actually, that’s not all that bad an idea. In some cases…” 

A blistering look from Teyla cut that line of reasoning short. “Never mind.” 

“There are a lot of females,” Ronon observed. “Wonder why.” 

“Almost like they’ve taken the place of the drones,” said John. “Warriors for…female…warriors?” 

“Or workers,” said Teyla, her eyes scanning over the buzz of activity that was easily seen from their vantage point. 

Rodney pursed his lips together. “Kinda like worker bees?” 

“Perhaps this race has truly adapted to be like the Iratus bugs it was descended from, more than the Wraith.” 

“Do their Hives have predominantly females? I thought it was Queens only with those things.” 

“I don’t think we ever conducted a ton of research into that area of Iratus bug Hives,” said John. “It’s not like we could just peek in and see which of them wore skirts.” 

“And obtaining samples was rather difficult.” Teyla reminded them. 

Rodney seemed to relax a bit. “Well, it is true that many social Hive structures are composed mainly of females. If they evolved along the same lines, then perhaps they are telling the truth. Maybe they do have a true Hive mentality and they’re all what they say.” 

One of their tour guides turned, gesturing down another Hive-like corridor, smiling and apparently trying to look pleasing, which only served to creep out John more. 

“And then again,” John quipped quietly, smiling at their host, “maybe not.”

 

--/--

 

Richard sipped the tea in front of him, taking a moment to savor both the flavor and the unique cup it was placed in, a smoky sort of glass that felt as hard as plastic, yet had a lovely petal-shaped design. 

The Queen, across from him, did the same, observing him with half-lidded eyes. 

The sensation of taking tea with a Wraith left him disconcerted. It felt almost like a charade, as though they were just going through the motions. They were ‘too good’ almost, and his instincts warned him never to trust the too good. He’d learned to listen to those instincts the longer he stayed in Pegasus; they were usually correct. 

“Can I ask you a personal question?” He asked suddenly, almost surprising himself. The Queen placed her glass upon the table nearby and turned to him with a nod. 

“Why the pretense?” 

“Pretense?” 

“Why do you pretend to be Wraith?” 

“Why do you believe we pretend?” 

“The Hive, the appearance—even the weapons you use. They all give the appearance of the Wraith.” 

“Is there any way to make our appearance and method of living any less Wraith?” 

He studied her for a moment. In every way she was a Queen, and yet…there was something different. Something very different. He smiled sheepishly. “I suppose that is a foolish question.” 

She grinned at his expression. “Evolution over ten millennia does not mean complete restructuring of a race, even with the advances made in our science. Look at yourselves, and how much you have changed since the time of the Ancient War. You are no more resilient now than your ancestors were then. Why should we be very different from our predecessors? Our home, our ways of interacting—those were not impacted by our circumstances. Only how we sustained ourselves. It was only natural that we would no longer feel the need to brutalize if we no longer felt the need to control in order to consume. You have noticed, of course, a large portion of the Hive is comprised of female workers. This is because we had no use for drones as the Wraith did. They serve a purpose of which we were not in need. The natural evolution led to the balance of the societal structure as you see it now.” 

He studied her for a moment. Her gaze flickered towards the skylight. 

“I will confess that you are not entirely incorrect in your observations. I do not have to point out to you that there are advantages to maintaining the appearance of the Wraith as far as our own safety is concerned. I believe our early scientists took that into consideration and I am sure there is no need to elaborate further.” 

“No, I suppose there is not.” 

“Everything we are, Mr. Woolsey, is to preserve and protect our people,” she said with a cordial, if slightly chilling, smile. “I hope you will be capable of accepting that.” 

“The more I understand of it, the likelier it seems,” he replied, reaching for his cup once more. “But you will have to be patient, your Highness. Years of being hunted by the Wraith is something not easy to look beyond—and even with all your ‘advancements’, forgetting what you are evolved from isn’t something that can be easily accomplished over one cup of tea.” 

“Then you must return and enjoy another,” she replied. “As many as it may take.”

 

--/--

 

Jennifer studied the phial in her hand carefully, watching the liquids separate out with a trained eye. It was fascinating, truthfully, all the information she was gathering from just a few hours’ study of this amazing race. Everything she and Carson had discussed in the past few years about genetic mutation seemed to be personified in these Wraith-like creatures. She very much regretted he’d been out visiting colonies when the call came in to come here, because he’d be in seventh heaven right now. She hoped he would get over here quickly. 

“You have Iratus bug DNA samples too?” she asked one of the scientists, a ‘healer’ who’d been extremely helpful in showing her around. 

“Apparently there were samples on board the Hive when it crashed. They were old, but functional. It was thought they were originally taken to perfect the feeding mechanism, but we used it to study the baseline DNA—to see if the sequences could be altered.” 

“We had evidence the Ancients might have experimented with these bugs and humans. Do you have any proof of that?” 

“None directly. But it would seem almost impossible to think otherwise, would it not? Considering the appearance of the Wraith, the human elements to them are almost too perfect for a true natural evolution.” 

“Hmmm.” Jennifer shook the phial once more as the serums completely separated. “I’ve always thought so too.” 

“Do you have records of that?” 

“No. Nothing except our own.” 

The scientist stared at her. “You have experimented with the Iratus?” 

“Oh, no.” Jennifer smiled. “Well, not exactly. It’s complicated.” 

“Compli…” 

The ground around them shook, and Jennifer clutched at the table, the phial slipping from her grasp and shattering on the floor. The female grabbed her, hustling her into a crouch. As a few more workers entered the small space, her companion hissed a little at a nearby drone. “Another attack. They will not cease. Inform the Queen at once.” 

“Another what?” asked Jennifer, as she was pulled to her feet and shoved towards the door. 

An explosion sent them tumbling to the ground, and daylight poured into the Hive. Jennifer blinked for a few moments, trying to adjust to the light and dust and regain her center of balance, when a large hand grasped her arm, dragging her up off the floor. 

Her eyesight finally cleared, and she found herself face to face with a large creature wearing a drone mask. “Human,” it growled deeply. 

A second figure came up behind it—a male, who tilted his head in curiosity at the sight of her. “Consorting with humans now, are we?” 

“Leave her. She is of no interest to you,” snapped Jennifer’s companion, who was in the grasp of another drone. 

“I disagree,” said the male, with a grin. 

“What’s going on?” Jennifer managed to choke out, trying to control her fear. 

The male drew near her, his face nearly level with hers. “I would not ask questions, human,” he murmured, raising his hand to her face. “It would be unfortunate if your attitude became—unbearable.” 

As she watched, the smooth skin of his palm split into a gaping mouth lined with sharp points. A feeding slit. 

He was a Wraith. 

A real one.

 

>>> Continued in Evolution, CH III

 

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