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Adoremus, Epilogue

<<< Adoremus, Part V

“At the end of the day, there really wasn’t that much danger.  I hope you didn’t worry too much,” Rodney said, poking at one of the test tube trays he was sitting near.

“I didn’t.” 

He looked up sharply to where Jennifer was standing, writing down something on one of her clipboards and looking disheveled and beautiful, as usual.  She wasn’t looking at him, though a soft smile played on the corner of her lips.

“You didn’t?”

Her eyes glanced up from the clipboard to his face, and her smile broadened.  “You just told me I didn’t have to.”

“Well, I…” it took about five seconds for his supposed genius-level brain to figure out she was joking with him.  She had that effect, making the smartest of men go dumb with just a smile.  And Rodney wasn’t just an average smart man.  “Ha ha.”

She tilted her head, walked over to him, and planted a kiss on him.  “Of course I was worried.  But I know why you go and I think it’s very brave of you.  Especially on this mission.  All those kids.”

“Yeah.”  He tried to focus on the feeling he’d had when he found the children in the temple, suffering at the hands of the Wraith, rather than how he’d felt trapped on the Daedalus version of Disneyland.  “Poor things.”

Jennifer went back to her clipboard, jotting down some more notes.  “You know,” she said after a moment, “Mayel was pretty worried, too.”

“The Genii?”

She looked up again, this time with a disapproving grimace.  “I wish you’d stop calling her that.”

“Well, that’s what she is.

“Yes, I’m aware of that.”

“Well, sorry.”  He plopped his chin onto his hand.  “I’m glad everyone else is so hunky dory with a Genii getting free access to every single portion of Atlantis.  I don’t trust them.  And I don’t trust her.”

“She’s done nothing but try and assist in the Coalition efforts with Atlantis.”  Jennifer’s tone took on a doggedly persistent sound when she was advocating a cause.  “And she’s been good for Colonel Sheppard.  I think.”

“Yeah.  Until she’s bad for him.”

“Why do you say that?”

“Because ‘A’ she’s Genii; ‘B’ it’s Sheppard and his track record with women is…” he waved his hand about noncommittally.  “And ‘C’, I’ve had a bad feeling about this whole Coalition thing from the start.” 

She stared at him seriously for a second.  “You haven’t said anything to the colonel about your feelings, have you?”

“No, I’m not crazy.”

She made a face.  “Why not?”

He sank back in his chair.  “I don’t know.  I guess everyone deserves a shot to, you know, prove me wrong, I suppose?”

Her face broke into a beaming smile.  “I knew it.  You’re a softie, just like everyone else.”

“That doesn’t mean the other shoe isn’t going to drop here.  I still don’t trust her.”

“Well, she was plenty worried—and upset, I can tell you that.  We spent a lot of time bonding down here.”

“You did?  That must have been interesting.”

“We weren’t in fluffy slippers giggling over fashion magazines, if that’s what you’re picturing,” she said flatly.  “But sometimes a little girl talk is good.”

“And you actually talked girl talk?”

“Well, no, we talked Wraith drug talk, to be honest,” Jennifer said with a sort of laugh.  “She was interested in it.”

“I’m sure she was,” Rodney replied.

“There you go again.”

“How’s that coming, anyway?  The Wraith drug stuff,” he asked, suddenly feeling the dire need for a change of subject. 

“Pretty well.  When Carson’s done recuperating I’m going to show him the latest samples.  I think we’ve finally got enough to run a live test.”  Her gaze flickered back to the cabinet where she kept her samples locked up.

Her enthusiasm faded from her face as she peered at the cabinet, her brow furrowing.

“What is it?”

“That’s strange.  I could have sworn I put the tray towards the back.”  She hurried over to the cabinet, tapping in the code to unlock it, and opened the door.  Her hands pulled the tray from the top shelf, and as she glanced over it, her expression was strained enough to force Rodney up from his seat.

“Jennifer?”

When she looked up, her face had paled considerably.  “Two of the samples are missing.”

“What?”

She nodded and Rodney thought quickly for a second.  “Would one of the staff have taken them?”

She shook her head.  “No.  No one was supposed to touch these without either express permission from Carson or myself.”

“Did you move them somewhere?  Forget about it?”  He knew better than to ask her that question, considering how organized Jennifer typically was, but it was worth a shot.  And better than the alternative.

“No.  They were all there the last time I put the tray back in the cabinet.  I remember counting.”

She set the tray down on the table, the glass vials clinking a little with the force.  He went over to her, placing his hands gently on her shoulders.  “Okay.  Did anyone else know the combination to the chest?  Know that the samples would be there?”

“Woolsey.  Doctor Zelenka—I let him know we were almost finished.  And…”  Her eyes met his.  “Mayel Serrana.  She was with me when I locked them up.”

He put his arms around her and hugged her.  “I’m sure it’s just a…miscommunication.  We’ll check with Carson and Radek.  Easy enough to find out what happened.” 

That’s what he told her, anyway.  In his mind—and in hers, he was sure—only one thought was running, over and over: Other shoe.  Dropped.

 

--/--

 

There were a number of things Richard found difficult to handle in this position.  Some of the personal moments, especially—having to tell family members they’d lost loved ones, but not being able to disclose how; having to tell the SGC more good men were needed and would more than likely sacrifice themselves for this cause; trying to reassure Wraith-stricken planets or displaced people that they would be able to find a new home, a new world, with ease—it was all difficult.

But there was something inherently more personal to him when he had to have a heart-to-heart with one of his people—people he had come to know and respect more than he ever thought he could.  People who, in risking so much every day, deserved to have only the best happen to them, and yet they so often had to endure the complete opposite.

There were few people he respected more than John Sheppard.  Which made today, at this moment, as Sheppard walked up the control room steps toward his office, one of the most difficult days he was ever going to have to deal with as the expedition head of Atlantis.

Sheppard strode in looking a little forlorn and very, very tired.  Mayel’s departure had come, Woolsey had been told, with a very personal and very public goodbye in the gateroom.  Now that he knew what he knew, he wasn’t surprised at her behavior—only surprised how much he’d misjudged it.

In any case, it wasn’t going to make this particular task any easier.

God, he thought.  Why him?  Why does it never seem to go as planned?

“Mr. Woolsey,” John said, plopping himself down into one of Richard’s big leather chairs.  He looked thinner and the chair seemed to swallow him.  "I take it we're not here to discuss babysitting duties at the Alpha Site?  Because I volunteer McKay.  Or maybe Zelenka, I’m sure he’d love that."

“Colonel Sheppard.”  Richard stared at him across the desk, then changed his mind, rose, and came around the front of it.

John watched him, his expression immediately growing suspicious.  “What?”

Richard didn’t really even know where to start.  He sighed, picked himself up from his desk, and grabbed his tablet.  “This should probably have been a discussion held with the full administrative staff, but I felt like, given the circumstances, it would be better discussed in private first.”

“What circumstances?”  Sheppard asked warily.

“Your relationship with Commander Serrana,” Richard replied flatly.  There was no way to temper it.  And no point in softening up a situation like this for a man who’d lived through practically everything.

Sheppard was surprised, but his brow furrowed.  “Uh, what does that…have ta…?”

“It’s not so much the relationship that’s the issue,” Woolsey explained.  Sheppard’s confused expression deepened.  “Perhaps at some point we would have expected disclosure.  But right now, well…it’s more…” he trailed off, unable to figure out how to best explain this.

“It’s more what?  If it’s a problem for Atlantis…”

“No.  Your personal connection has nothing to do with the current situation other than my feeling the need to tell you about this before everyone else knows.”

Sheppard was utterly confused now.  “Uh...”

“This afternoon, a few hours after you returned, Doctor Keller discovered that two samples of the latest round of the Wraith drug were missing.  After checking with the staff and a few other individuals and turning up nothing, Doctor McKay decided to go through the security footage around the labs.” 

Sheppard sat stock still, his eyes locked on the tablet in Woolsey’s hand.  Richard turned it around and showed him the video footage he’d already had pulled up—footage he’d been reviewing for over an hour in the desperate hope of it being some kind of misunderstanding.

“We’ve examined it for editing and other tampering,” he said softly, handing the tablet to John.  “We found no evidence of that.  By every indication, what you’re seeing is real.”

In the video, black and white and downsized digitally, the infirmary lab was seen, silent and unoccupied.  The time stamp indicated it was around the time when the news of the siege on the Worshippers temple was about to take place.

Just minutes after Mayel Serrana had left him and Keller standing in the control room to presumably return to her quarters.

The door to the lab wasn’t visible, but a few moments after the start of the video, a figure was seeing walking in sight of the camera, her long curly hair and dark Genii uniform unmistakable.

Mayel didn’t bother to look around; didn’t bother to check for cameras.  She knew well enough she would be seen.  She was aware of Atlantis’s security measures.

What she had needed was the time and opportunity to get there, unobserved by human eyes, long enough to do what she did next.  Everyone being preoccupied, and no one patrolling the infirmary labs, had given her the opportunity she sought.

She went up to the cabinet, tried twice to punch in the lock code.  Failed.  On the third try, successful.  Keller had affirmed she’d been close enough once or twice to see Jennifer punch in the number sequence.

Her had flashed in; pulled a tray of vials forward.  Two clear tubes were visible in her hands.  She didn’t even bother to hide how many she’d taken, or conceal that she’d placed them in her pocket.  She pushed the tray back in, shut the door softly, straightened her jacket, and walked away.  It wasn’t clear the Wraith drug was exactly what she had taken, but the tray position was how Keller had found it, half a day later. 

Sheppard stared at the tablet as the picture went back to the empty isolation of the unoccupied lab.  His expression hadn’t changed; he just stared at the screen.

“A few hours after this, once we received word your mission was a success, Ladon ordered her back to the Genii homeworld.  He made a pretty convincing argument about her being reprimanded for the incident with the Wraith Worshippers, demanding her immediate return, but it seems fairly clear, now, what his true intentions were.  He needed an excuse to get her back home as soon as possible before she was discovered.  Her ‘failure’ to discover the Worshippers was a convenient excuse.”

“Did she know they were Worshippers?”  John’s nostrils flared for a moment, and he tossed the tablet down, with a thud, on the table in front of him.  His voice was gritty. “Did she know from the start?”

Richard reached for it and flicked off the tablet, for lack of anything else to do.  “I don’t think so.”

John rose, walking swiftly to the window overlooking the gate, placing his hands on his hips.  He stood there in silence for a moment.

“For the record,” Richard said softly, “I think this was something instructed by Ladon very recently.”  Sheppard’s head tilted towards him, though he didn’t turn. 

“She went on a debriefing to the Genii homeworld a few hours into your mission with the Artho.  When she returned, her attitude had changed.  We all thought…” he caught himself before going further.  “I believed for a while Ladon had spoken to her about her personal life.  But I think Ladon commanded her at that time to take those samples when she had the chance.”

“Doesn’t change the fact that she took them,” Sheppard replied, his voice low. “She obeyed his orders.”

“No.  It doesn’t.  But I think…I believe her intentions, as a Coalition liaison, were honorable enough.  At least until he made her choose between us.”

His words seemed to spark something in Sheppard, who turned swiftly, his eyes on fire.  “Well, she made her choice, didn’t she?”  He paced forward towards the door, then turned.  “What’s our next move?”

“For now, nothing.”

John’s eyes narrowed dangerously.  “Nothing?  The Coalition has the gene therapy.  Who knows what the hell they’ll do with it?” 

“The Genii have the therapy—not the Coalition.  We can’t assume they’re acting on behalf of the entire group.”

John opened his mouth to protest, but Richard raised a hand.  “We’ve all been through a lot today.  Doctor Keller assures me there is no way they can synthesize enough of the drug to make an impact for a least a couple of weeks, and then they have to figure out how to distribute it, which, as you know, isn't an easy task.  We may have almost a month to sort this out.”

He walked towards Sheppard, who stood frozen near the doorway.  “We need level heads about this.  Nothing’s going to get resolved by jumping the gun.  They still need our help—and if we want to defeat the Wraith, we need theirs.”

Sheppard dropped his eyes to the floor, jaw clenched.

“Why don’t you go—for now—and take some time off.  Clear your head.” 

John’s head snapped up and he looked at him fiercely, but Richard maintained a steady gaze.  “This city depends on you, Colonel Sheppard.  Once word gets out what’s happened, they’re all going to be wondering what the next move will be.  We need them to be assured that we’re handling it.”  He leaned in.  “And we need to be handling it.  So take the time, John.  God knows you deserve it.”

Richard stepped back.  Sheppard remained where he was for a split second, then strode off, turning sharply towards the steps leading to the Jumper Bay. 

Richard followed him across the bridge but turned into the control room, and nodded at the tech who was being asked permission to open the Jumper bay doors.    A few minutes later, through the glass of the Atlantis window, they could just make out a jumper shooting off into the distance.

Chuck was watching, too, a worried expression on his face.  “Is everything all right, sir?”

Richard let his gaze drift back to the console.  “I don’t know,” he replied frankly.  “But right now, we can’t worry about it.  We have other matters to attend to.  Dial up the Genii homeworld.  It’s time I had a conference with Commander Radim.”

 

--/--

 

Black and white.  It had all been laid out for him that way, no questions, no subterfuge, no deception.  She’s never lied; she’d just never spoken the truth. 

Even when she’d left him, goddamn her, she’d told him the truth.  Told him straight to his face she’d betrayed him, and Atlantis, and he’d still not seen it as clearly as he should have.

No, that was a lie.  He’d known the danger.  He’d heard the warnings.  From McKay, from Teyla.  They’d known what she was.  Who she was.  He’d been face to face with this sort of thing before, but at least with Kolya he knew what he was dealing with.  Or hadn’t he?  She had been one of that bastard’s pupils, so why shouldn’t she have a knife just as sharp?

The world was speeding by outside the windshield of the jumper, but John couldn’t feel the mad rush this much velocity was generating.  The unfortunate sidebar to inertial dampeners, so handy ninety-five percent of the time, was that the moment you needed to feel the power a machine like this possessed, they prohibited it. 

He slammed his fist into the console, the pain of it causing him to grimace.  Then again.  And again.

The Jumper spiraled a little to the left, trying to figure out the direction the pilot was taking.  He let it waver uncertainly for a second, let the feeling return to his hand, then dialed down the dampener settings and pushed forward on the controls.

The little ship spun into nosedive, and with the dampeners lowered, he could almost feel the rush of Gs as it sped towards the dark ocean.  Closer the surface drew, shifting slightly, looking like a solid, impenetrable mass of deep blue.  He tilted the controls further until the jumper was nearly vertical; nothing but the dark water could be seen through the windshield, closing in on him.

Even dialed down the dampeners were supposed to provide protection, but he flew the ship into the wall of water with such force that he felt the impact jar every inch of his body, slamming his head back against the seat, shaking the controls in his hands.   His knee struck the console and he felt a sharp pain radiate through it, down the shinbone. 

When his vision cleared he found the jumper was continuing the dive deeper into the ocean, the speed slowed but the trajectory still a sharp angle.  The water below him was growing blacker with each passing foot. 

His hands wouldn’t let off the controls.  They were pushed forward almost to the dash.  He squinted to relieve some of the pressure in his now throbbing head.

The lights from the cabin were the only lights to be seen around him, now.  Creatures darted past the ship, flickering silver and white in the glow of the scant illumination.  His arms trembled with effort and a nauseated feeling was rising in his stomach.  A warning beep echoed through the machine, and the HUD flickered on, numbers flashing across the screen indicating depth, pressure and temperature. 

He clenched his jaw and yanked his arms back, letting the jumper settle horizontally into a soft drop.  A rush of bubbles accompanied the action and he leaned back, closing his eyes, letting the darkness swallow him for a moment.

He’d have to watch it.  No telling how much he’d damaged the ship with the impact, and there were no whales here to point people to where he was. 

Whales.  What was it Rodney had called them, officially?  His mind danced toward that memory and he let it drift there.

Flagesallus.

The recollection brought back other things and he didn’t focus on any one in particular.   There were waves of warmth and waves of darkness fused together; one long timeline of survival, of living, and dying.  He’d told himself, long ago, that he went on this adventure for the chance for the greater good; because he believed in what Elizabeth had spoken about regarding the future and what they were giving the people who would live it.

And he’d had nothing left to lose.  He’d kept telling himself that, over and over, that at the end of the day, there had been nothing left for him to lose.  He thought that was the way it would always be.

But he was wrong.  Because he kept losing.  Again, and again, and again, he lost things he didn’t even realize he had until it was too late. 

The jumper bumped softly down upon what he presumed was the bottom; he opened his eyes slowly and watched silt float up and around the windshield, disturbing things that probably hadn’t been shifted in thousands, if not millions, of years.  The HUD blinked at him remorselessly; it didn’t like what it was sensing but hadn’t gone into full panic mode.

He leaned back in the chair, looking up into the blackness of the ocean, similar to the blackness of space, but without the light of the stars. 

He was deceiving himself now.  Things he never realized he had.  Maybe at first.  But the more he lost, the more he realized he wanted to hang on to things.  To take hold of them, just so he could feel they were there. 

And now, he’d lost.  Not something he’d reached for, but something he’d taken a chance on.  A risk. 

The HUD beeped more aggressively.  The pressure was mounting.  For a split second he wondered what it would feel like, to be crushed under the weight of something so enormous, so much larger than you.  At least then his body could catch up with his head.  Or his heart. 

McKay would be displeased.  He wouldn’t get the chance to say I told you so.  John owed him that.  And Teyla.  And Keller, who’d beat herself up more than anyone over being too friendly, too trusting of Mayel.  She was too friendly, but that was her job.  She was supposed to take care of people. 

He wasn’t.  Not in the caretaker sense, anyhow.   Distrusting people, suspecting them—that was supposed to be his job.  Somewhere along the line, he’d forgotten that.  And look where it had landed him.  Down at the bottom of the ocean, sitting in the dark, contemplating life like some kind of pathetic, weak-willed man.

Somewhere, the upstart Major who’d taken this job because he had nothing better to do had forgotten what his point was, and people had gotten hurt because of that.

Somehow, the guy who’d taken out sixty Genii protecting his home had lowered his defense to the point that it only took one to rip him to shreds, to compromise the security not only of Atlantis, but of the entire Pegasus Galaxy.  The man sitting here, wasting time in the bitter dark of the ocean, had shown mercy to a Wraith and placed trust in a Genii.  The John Sheppard who’d walked through the Gate the first time, who saved the people of Athos, who survived that impossible storm—he never would have allowed that to happen.

Nancy had been right.  He had changed.  And not for the better.

No more.

He sat up in the chair and cranked the inertial dampeners up to the correct setting.  Pushed slowly on the controls, let the Jumper creep up through the water, until the darkness began to fade into a lighter blue.  He’d gone deep; it took a number of minutes to find the aqua-white that denoted the surface above him.

The jumper burst through it with a crash, the breaking of the surface tension showering the nearby waves with glittering foam and froth.   Atlantis wasn’t too far ahead.  He’d make it shortly after nightfall.  Just enough time for everyone to get a good night’s sleep.  They were going to need it.

Because in the morning, everything was going to change.

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