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Adoremus, CH V

<<< Back to Adoremus, Chapter IV

Jennifer poked idly at a test tube in one of her trays, glancing up at Mayel, who was staring at a phial of the gene therapy.

“So the only difficulty with this, after your tests confirm its potency, is how to distribute it?”

“Pretty much,” said Jennifer, stretching to take it from her.  “An effective viral delivery system is a lot harder than it sounds.  If it is injected it’ll get the best results but obviously we can’t go around and inject every Wraith.”

“What if it were dispersed in the air, so they could breathe it?”

“That would work, but the problem with airborne delivery is usually transmission and infection happens over a very quick period of time—not long enough to infect another group.  We’d have to infect them Hive by Hive.

“Truthfully,” she said, perching herself on a stool, “if we could figure out how to get it in the hands of the people of Pegasus directly, that would be the best option.  Then airborne transmission would work, because every time the Wraith were encountered, they could be exposed.”

“And it would not affect the humans?”

“We haven’t exactly done human trials, but physiologically humans are dissimilar enough that, in this case, we don’t think they would be affected.  But again, we need more tests.”

Mayel placed the phial back in the tray.  “If it works, then you have truly done a great thing for this galaxy.”

“Just doing our jobs,” Jennifer said.   She returned the tray to her locked cabinet as Woolsey beeped into her headset.

“Doctor Keller, can you come up here for a moment?  And bring Commander Serrana.”

Jennifer glanced over at Mayel.  “Sure.”  She tapped on the headset to shut it off.  “Mr. Woolsey wants to see us.” 

“What has happened?”

“He didn’t say,” she replied.  “But he wants us to go up to the Control Room.”

“It must be about the mission,” Mayel replied.  Her face had paled somewhat.

Jennifer swallowed.  “Let’s hope it’s good news.”

 

--/--

 

John leaned up against the tree trunk, his brain ticking off the possible options.

One: go in directly.  Pros—unexpected.  Cons—no idea how many Wraith were in there.  More than likely they’d get stunned immediately.

Two: sneak in.  Pros—less chance of being spotted.  Cons—took time, and no guarantee of safety.

Three: Go back, get a Jumper, go in from the top.  Pros—good cover.  Cons—way too much time wasted. 

“We do not have much time to think about our course of action,” whispered Teyla, in her ever-rational manner.  “Carson and Amelia will not be ignored for long.”

“We don’t know that,” hissed Rodney.  John looked at him in consternation. 

“What?  This could be what they do all the time—take in the kids and a couple of adults—could be plenty of time.”

“I have a feeling what they did to the Artho is what they do all the time,” John said.  “I think Amelia and Carson being from Atlantis warrant them as special circumstances.  Which means they’ve got special plans for them.”

“Which means we’re wasting time,” Ronon interjected from somewhere behind him.  Helpful.

John frowned and tapped his headset.  “Rodgers?”

There was no response.  They’d lost contact with the Jumpers a little while ago, and he suspected the Jumpers had probably lost sight of them, too.

“If they don’t know we’re here…” began Rodney

“Something tells me the Wraith Cruiser landing on the big stone mountain probably clued them in to our general whereabouts,” John replied. 

“Then give them time to find us.”

Teyla shook her head.  “The presence of the Queen here more than likely means they will not remain long.”

“Yeah, they’re not going to risk her safety,” John replied.  “I’m guessing she comes down and gets her pick of the kids and heads back up to her Hive ship, which is probably parked overhead.”

“Woolsey may have already sent in more Jumpers with back-up,” John said.  “But we can’t bank on that and if we want to get Carson and Banks now, we’re going to have to go it alone.  But we’ve got to figure out what our best options are for getting inside that rock-temple-thing.”

“Ah, I don’t think we really have a choice,” Rodney said despondently.  John narrowed his eyes.

“What do you mean?”

Rodney nodded his head.  “Because the genius over there has already made that decision for us.”

John scooted around.  Ronon had disappeared from behind them and was stalking towards the edge of the temple, gun in hand.

“Dammit!”  John hissed, scrambling to his feet.  He could hear Teyla, and more slowly Rodney, moving behind him.

Ronon disappeared around the western side of the formation, into the shadows.  The last of the group of worshippers had entered the mouth of the edifice.  No Wraith in sight so far, but given their nature, John knew it was only a matter of time.

He tucked his gun more tightly into his side, and followed Ronon into the dark.

 

--/--

 

The inside of the stone temple was cool, and by the expression on Carson’s face, probably reminiscent of a Wraith ship.  The outside hadn’t been very impressive, but once they’d been shoved through the entrance, it had become a very obvious place of worship.

The sounds of the Cruiser overhead had done nothing for Amelia’s nerves; some small part of her had still hoped the whole thing was just the work of a crazy race of Pegasus natives with their own strange rituals. 

No such luck.

Two of the Worshippers continued to shove them down the corridor, towards a light filled opening.  Amelia blinked a few times as they drew near, trying to adjust to the brightness.

The scene cleared before her—a huge, cavernous room, with a throne at the far end.  The children had been ushered in and were standing before it, looking scared, but offering no protests, almost as though they really didn’t understand what was going on.  Considering how little they’d protested, she pretty much guessed they didn’t.

Off to the right, the sounds of footsteps filled the arena, and within a few moments, an entourage of Wraith entered, a dozen or so drones escorting what appeared to be a few commanders—and a Queen.

The entrance of the Wraith sparked a sudden change in the children that not even the approach of the Cruiser had set off.  More than a few visibly panicked, the mass of them suddenly rising and pressing away from the approaching group.  Tiny screams and shouts echoed off the walls of the cavern, as the individual youths became a frightened, trembling mob.

Stunner blasts resounded throughout the cave; Amelia pressed up against her captors as the Wraith drones shot dozens of beams into the crowd.  As their comrades fell, the children grew quiet and still, though the cavern echoed with their tiny whimpers and cries.  It was heartbreaking.

Carson wore an expression of absolute hatred, his eyes blazing as the Wraith continued their progression towards the throne at the front of the room.  When they reached it the Queen turned, her voice rising above the sounds of the children’s voices.

“Be honored, young ones.  You have been brought here for a glorious purpose.  Your lives will be dedicated to the most powerful race among your stars, until the ends of them.”

“Most honored Queen,” said the Elder of the village, bowing before the Queen’s throne.  “We are pleased to serve you.”

“You have done well, my sister,” said the Queen.  “You do your entire race very proud by your dedication to us.”

“We have a gift for you, my Queen.”  The Elder gestured towards the back.  Amelia’s guards seized her hands, and began to drag her forward, towards the front.  “We hope you can use them to your purposes.”

The Queen watched their approach with curiosity.  “Why do these adult humans matter?  We cannot shape them to our will.”

“They are from Atlantis.  They hold very valuable information in your struggles against the humans who defy you.”

A flash of concern passed across the Queen’s face.  “Atlantis—do others of their kind know they are here?”

The Elderly woman glanced at the two of them, concern flashing across her face.  It was gone within a moment.  “No.  We encountered them on our excursions.  They attempted to stop our culling, so we took them captive, once we realized who they were.”

“You are certain?”

“They do not know where we are,” the woman replied, with perhaps a little more determination than was needed.  But the Queen seemed to pay her tone no regard.

“Our experience with Atlantis is they are often more trouble than they are worth,” the Queen said coolly.  “But if there is no danger, we will make good use of these gifts.” 

The Queen smiled, and gestured for the elder to rise.  “And now, Sister, for your dedication to the Wraith, you shall be rewarded.”

The Elder rose slowly, her face alight.  The Queen smiled upon her, then thrust her feeding hand upon the woman’s chest with a vengeance.  Amelia turned away, horrified, until Carson’s soft gasp made her turn back.

The woman’s face was locked in a mix of pain and ecstasy, but it was her appearance that was shocking.  Rather than an older and more decrepit version of the Elder, a young, beautiful woman was tethered to the Queen’s hand.

Amelia stared, opened mouthed, as the Queen released her, the snarl gone from her face.  The young woman dropped to the floor, breathing hard, before looking up and beaming broadly.  “Thank you, my Queen.  Thank you.”

“Bring forth the ten who receive life.”  She gestured to her commanders.  “Gather the children—only those who suit our purposes.  Kill the rest.”

Her eyes turned to Amelia and Carson.  “Hold them for now, and when we return to our Hive, place these in my chambers.  We will deal with them and find out what they know, when we have finished with this planet.”

 

--/--

 

Richard tapped his fingers on the communications console, watching Jennifer Keller, trailed by Mayel Serrana, make her way across the Atlantis gateroom floor. 

Informing people their loved ones might be in danger was regular here on Atlantis, but it was never easy.  And when it came to Team Sheppard, it seemed like he was having to tell Keller something new and heart-wrenching week after week, though he often felt like Kanaan was the most difficult to inform.  Not just a lover, or a significant other, he was also a father hearing of the danger his child’s mother had just placed herself in.  This time around he was on Athos, and Richard had sort of made a cutthroat decision not to let him know what was going on until he had a definitive answer.

And now adding Serrana to the picture—it was odd, most assuredly, but he felt like she should be included.  Sheppard never made clear the nature of his attachment to people, but it seemed pretty evident that what they had here was a little larger than just mutual respect.

“Mr. Woolsey.”  Jennifer met his gaze with the same controlled, gentle expression she wore when telling people bad news in the infirmary. 

He cleared his throat.  “I just wanted to inform you that a Wraith Cruiser has landed on the planet where Colonel Sheppard’s team is currently located.”

“What for?” asked Keller.

Richard frowned.  “For?”

“I believe she means to ask why the Cruiser has descended onto the planet, Mr. Woolsey,” said Mayel calmly.  “Are they aware of the presence of Colonel Sheppard’s team, or is it because the inhabitants of the planet are Wraith Worshippers as was suspected?” 

“According to Major Lorne’s last report, we believe them to be there because of the Worshippers.  There was a Queen among the party, from what one of our cloaked jumpers could see.  Colonel Sheppard’s presence, as of yet, was undiscovered.”

“I’m sure that’ll change,” said Jennifer.  Mayel turned to her in surprise and the doctor shrugged.

“A bunch of captured kids at the mercy of a Wraith Queen?  There’s no way Colonel Sheppard or Teyla will let that pass without trying to do something.”

Serrana turned to him and he nodded in agreement.  She sighed.  “I believe I will return to my quarters until you have further updates.  Will you remain up here, Doctor Keller?”

“Yeah, I find this is the best spot for updates,” Jennifer said casually, though her voice trembled a little.  “Don’t worry, this is sort of the norm for these guys.  And they’re still alive and kicking.”

“So far,” replied Mayel.  “Please, let me know if you hear any more.”

She stalked off, her auburn hair bouncing along her back.  Jennifer watched her descend back down the steps, then shrugged.

“Sorta her first go around at this, I guess,” she said.  “I mean, as a, you know…”

“Yes, I know,” he replied.  “I think we all know.”

 

--/--

 

Scouting around the side of the temple had proven unsuccessful.  Ronon edged around the corner, a rounded extension of the natural rock formation that provided the temple its base.

As soon as he reached the back, he saw it.

All along the face were dozens of ledges, protruding boulders, and snake-like vines trailing down towards the floor.  This portion of the rock formation faced the setting sun and did not have the protection of the tall trees, as the sides and fronts did.  More than likely, erosion and time had carved it into a much more accessible portion of the cliff than the sides, hidden as they were in shadows.

Sheppard made his way around the cliff face, noted the state of it, and nodded.  Due to their proximity to the temple, they’d not spoken to each other, though Sheppard had made his displeasure at Ronon’s impromptu launch of their scouting mission very evident via the displeased expressions he’d been throwing Ronon’s way.  More than likely he’d get an earful back on Atlantis.

Normally, he’d never trump Sheppard’s authority.  Not only did he respect John, he trusted him.  He was one of the most skilled military minds Ronon had ever encountered. 

But this time, everything just seemed like it was taking too long.  The Wraith were there, and as Teyla had said, they wouldn’t be there for long.  And what they had to lose was too valuable for them to waste time trying to figure out the best way for a four-man team to enter a temple of Wraith.  Doc Beckett and Amelia were counting on them.

He was trying to keep thoughts of Amelia, what she might be going through, from his mind.  This kind of entanglement is exactly what he’d been hoping to avoid, what he’d tried to explain to her in the last conversation they had.  Too close—it meant distraction.  It meant impediment.  It meant confusion.

It meant pain.

Too many times, he’d allowed the thought of Melena, of watching that explosion on Sateda take everything that had ever meant anything to him, infiltrate his thoughts where Amelia was concerned.  On the one side, she didn’t deserve to be compared to Melena.  She was her own person, and very different from who Melena had been.  On the other, he didn’t want to have to face that kind of pain again.  Melena had been one chance for him at what others had considered ‘normal’, but all that type of life had ended with the end of Sateda; with the Running, with Atlantis.  It wasn’t that he wasn’t entitled to what Teyla or Rodney or even now maybe Sheppard had, but he’d had that type of life before and he didn’t feel like he’d earned it again.  It was gone, as was the man who’d lived it.

He couldn’t expect Amelia, whose life was very different, from understanding that.  And yet a part of him stubbornly refused to let her go, to let her live her life, as she should, free of the burden of his attachment.  He’d freed Keller—or maybe she’d freed him, he didn’t know for certain—but he hadn’t had to worry about the depth of things there.  With Amelia, he could see the path they were following, and it was always going to run across Melena, Sateda, and what he’d once been.  What he could not be again.  He hated himself, in a way, for being so weak and incapable of letting go.  Why he couldn’t, when he still saw Melena in his dreams, he didn’t understand.

Sheppard had already clipped his P-90 to his TAC vest and was starting to scale the wall.  Surprisingly, McKay was trying to follow, without even one word of complaint.  Maybe he had weighed the value of complaining against being heard by the Wraith and figured the cost wasn’t worth the effort.

Plus, he was attached to Beckett.  Ronon couldn’t discredit him completely; he’d shown great fortitude where those he cared about were concerned.

Teyla’s progress was much quicker than the others; she was already one-fourth of the way up the rock by the time Ronon managed to pack away his blaster and start to make his own way up. 

They climbed in silence, Teyla leading, Sheppard following and on occasion hitting a ledge and pausing to assist McKay, who Ronon kept a careful distance behind. 

He did his best to wipe the image of Melena from his mind.  He couldn’t be burdened by memories of the past. 

The only problem was, by the time he’d successfully managed it, Amelia’s had replaced it, bearing the look of hurt and disappointment she’d worn the last time he’d seen her.  And that image was not nearly as simple to repress.

 

--/--

 

Carson clenched his jaw, fighting the bile threatening to rise in his throat.  He was angry and disgusted by what he’d been privy to the last hour or so, to the point where if he was addressed by any of the Wraith or the humans beyond Amelia Banks, he might launch into single-handed martyrdom. 

The Wraith had apparently turned the devotion of these Wraith Worshippers into some kind of large and appalling ceremony, complete with worshipping chants, prayers and ceremonial adornments.  The children had to sit in terrified silence as the creatures went through their rituals, which had only recently ended with the bedecking of each child with a strange necklace of what appeared to be human bones.   

From what he could gather, most of the children would be taken aboard the Wraith ship.  For what, God only knew.  He didn’t know what particular kind of nourishment could be gotten from a child, but there were indications that food would not be the only service they would provide.  Apparently, the Wraith believed younger test subjects might teach them more about their food sources.  He’d never questioned how Wraith research was done, but this made sense, particular in villages where mass cullings had taken place.  Why assume the Wraith were any more merciful towards human children than they were adults?

In exchange, ten of the Wraith Worshippers had been given the gift of life.  The Wraith also made a ceremony of this, taking time to honor the chosen one with the necklaces of bone and special chants.  It had taken some time to go through each one, and it was utterly ridiculous each time.  Ridiculous and disgusting.

And the most horrifying—it didn’t seem the Worshippers distinguished between their own children, if they had any, and those they’d taken.  With the gift of life renewing the current population, they apparently had no need to continue their own bloodlines.  Perhaps it depended on when the Wraith arrived and how often they did this, but it seemed like this culture had no value for their own race beyond those who could adequately serve the Wraith by capturing children. 

The Wraith had moved on to the ninth Worshipper, and were preparing the adornments for her.  Amelia squirmed around in her bindings, casting a glance at Carson. 

They didn’t have much longer. 

 

--/--

John yanked himself over the edge of the projecting ledge, his legs dangling precariously for a moment before he was able to swing his entire body up.   He rested for a moment, then pulled to his feet, moving over to help Teyla and Ronon, currently focused on getting McKay over this last little difficult part.

Their combined effort hauled the scientist over the edge, landing him on his stomach.

“Ouch,” he whispered, making a face.

“Nicely done, Rodney,” John murmured.  Teyla’s face scrunched into that Mom look she sometimes got when he was doing something that was probably not the smartest move.  He waved a hand halfheartedly behind him to indicate that if Wraith were in the base, which apparently they were, nobody had bothered to put sentries on the outside. 

Rodney now safely up top, Ronon had moved to the more solid center of the formation.  The structure didn’t have the outward appearance of a constructed temple, but the way it was set up, with a sort of natural ledge about three feet wide circling it all around, made it feel a little like a natural one.  The massive rock in the center had cracks and juts in it and scrub growing out of its sides.

Ronon poked and prodded some of the growth towards the back of it, pausing as a strong wind blew across the top.  It seemed to be rolling off the plateau of the landmass from which they’d just come, which probably explained why this ledge was here—wind erosion from directed breezes had etched it out.  The softer slope to the front led up to it as well, and all the peasants had to do was dig out the inside.

Ronon grunted, pushing at some growth near the base where the ledge met the center rock.  There was a crevasse about two and a half feet wide cut near the bottom, just large enough to slide through.

“I can’t fit in there,” huffed McKay. 

“If he can, you can,” John shot back, motioning to Ronon, who was already halfway in. 

“Tall and thin, maybe.  Short and big boned?  No.”

“He may be of better use to us if he remains behind,” Teyla said.  “He could forewarn us if anything alerts the Wraith Cruiser above.”  She gestured to the large ship, which was hovering just above the rock’s pinnacle.

Rodney made a face.  “Fine.  I’ll go.  But if this thing drops straight down a two hundred foot cavern, it’s your fault.” 

“Noted,” John said.  “Now go.”  He exchanged a smile with Teyla as the scientist squirmed down through the crack on his belly.  Teyla was next, her agile form moving swiftly, and John followed. 

The crevasse did lead into a cavern—one that was definitely man made.  John shimmied twenty feet or so on his belly until the crack dropped him into the room, just a few feet high but a number of feet wide.  Something unpleasant crunched beneath his feet.

“Please don’t let this be a Temple of Doom moment,” he whispered.   Ronon drew near him—he could tell by the light on the end of his gun—and bent down to allow the light to beam onto the floor.

Bones.

“Great.”  Rodney said.  “Why do we always…”

John gestured to him to shut it.  In the distance, they could hear chanting.  At the risk of being caught, he flicked on the light of his P-90.

The room was covered wall-to-wall with bones.  He was no scientist, but he was pretty sure he could make out what species they were.

Human.

Ronon was at the far end of the room, gesturing towards a door.  They followed swiftly, Teyla taking their six as Ronon led. 

The first signs of light were only a few feet ahead, around a corner.  The lights on their guns went dark, and they crept softly and slowly towards it.  The chanting grew louder, as did the sounds of moving and scraping, as one might expect with a crowd.

He peered around the edge, his eyes re-adjusting to the light.  Beside him, Ronon tensed up, and even Teyla could barely contain a gasp. 

They were looking into a massive chamber, filled with children.  They all appeared scared and frightened and were guarded over by a combination of people from the tribe and Wraith drones.

Near the front of the room, the Wraith Queen and her entourage of commanders were addressing a line of tribesman.  One of them, a thin, elderly man, was gazing up at a commander with eyes full of devotion.

The Wraith attacked him.

Rodney was quick to drop his gaze, but John couldn’t.  Especially seeing what happened next.

The man, rather than shriveling up like a prune, began to have life restored to him.  John was more than well-informed about this kind of gift giving, having been the subject of it himself via Todd, but he hadn’t realized how fascinating the process was.  The man’s youth literally returned to him, full force, and the elderly tribesman was all but gone in a matter of seconds.

To live forever.  The method was horrifying, but the reward abundantly clear. 

Ronon made a sort of groan in his throat.  John could see, as the entourage moved towards lucky worshipper number ten, two human adults bound towards the back of the room.

Banks and Carson. 

Ronon moved a pace forward but John tapped his boot, shaking his head.  There weren’t that many commanders and drones within the temple, but with all the kids, plus the Queen, they needed some sort of a plan.  Running in willy nilly was just going to get them, a number of children, and possibly Amelia and the doc killed.

 

--/--

 

“Just one Hive?” 

The voice of Colonel Stephen Caldwell, Commander of the Daedalus, echoed through the sound system, his tone as placid as always. 

The ship was parked near an Atlantis friendly planet only a swift hyperspace jump away from the Worshippers planet.  Under Caldwell’s deductions, this was the fastest and safest way to come up with a game plan.

“We had word from the Jumpers on the planet about an hour ago that Sheppard’s team is more than likely inside the rock formation to the south of village.  That is where the Cruiser touched down, and where the Wraith Queen entered, and where the villagers entered as well.  The Jumpers were cloaked but couldn’t get too close, so they weren’t able to put eyes on Beckett and Ms. Banks, but we suspect they are there, too.”

“But no hard confirmation.”

“No…apparently their sensors can’t be tracked.  Doctor Zelenka thinks the Wraith might have a jammer somewhere in the vicinity.”

“That wouldn’t surprise me.  So no word from Sheppard on how he’d like us to proceed?”

“No.  All we know for certain is that there is one Hive ship on the outskirts of the planet and one Cruiser on the planet surface.  We’re more than open for options.”

“Seems to me that a ship missing a Queen is a more than perfect opportunity to take out a Hive.” 

“I agree.  The only hesitation I have is what the Queen will do to the children once her Hive has been destroyed.”

“You think it’s any different from what she’d do to them if she got them on board?”

“Point taken,” Woolsey said. 

“You said you’ve got two teams of Marines on those cloaked jumpers, correct, Mr. Woolsey?”

“Yes.”

“If I know Colonel Sheppard he’s going to be somewhere around those kids already.  The Hive’s destruction might afford them the perfect opportunity to move in on the remaining Wraith.  You said there are no sentries watching the outside of the temple?”

“None that our Jumpers could detect.” 

“Then I’d suggest sending your men in on foot.  Once the Hive is destroyed we’ll lock onto the Cruiser and try and take it out.”

“Are you going to be able to take out the Hive that quickly?” 

“It won’t be a cake walk, but we seem to have down the basics at this point.  Just get your men into position as close as you can to the temple without being seen.”

“How long will you need?” 

“According to our calculations the jump will take no more than ten minutes to complete.  Once we arrive, we’re going straight in—so have your guys ready.” 

“Understood.  Thank you, Colonel.”

“Soon as you hear word from Sheppard let us know.  Daedalus, out.”  

Richard turned to Keller, who had her arms crossed, her face unreadable.  She glanced at him and nodded, softly, one time.

He set his jaw and turned to Chuck.  “Dial up Major Lorne.”

 

--/--

 

Lorne tapped his fingers on the Jumper’s control console, trying to quell the rising agitation.  They’d been able to do nothing but watch the Cruiser floating in the distance, with no word from Colonel Sheppard or his team.

The Wraith had not seemed to take heed of the dialing of the gate; for some reason, they apparently weren’t focused on it.  Woolsey’s last orders had come through nearly ten minutes ago, which left them enough time to get comfortably in position and await the Daedalus’s arrival.

He just hoped it would be in time.

“Sir,” said Rinson, from the navigation chair.  “A hyperspace window just opened up above us.” 

There was no need for a report of what happened next.  Barely a minute passed, when the sky lit up in a gigantic fireball far above them. 

He held his breath.

“Atlantis, this is the Daedalus.  The Hive has been destroyed.  You are cleared to proceed.”

“Copy,” Woolsey said.  Lorne punched forward on the Jumper controls and covered the ground between they and the temple as swiftly as he could.  The second Jumper should have been on his left flank.

He settled it to the ground in front of the temple ramp, opening the rear hatch, and jumped up from the chair, leaving the controls in the hands of Rinson.  From the trees beyond the hatch, he could see the group of Marines they’d sent after Colonel Sheppard in the cave system, coming to meet them as his team disembarked.  Together, they marched swiftly out and up, double timing it towards the steep stone walkway.

“MOVE!” Lorne hollered.  The Cruiser above them shifted slightly, and a hatch opened, releasing a handful of darts. 

The Marines on the ground were scurrying up the platform as quickly as they could.  The second jumper de-cloaked and fired two drones towards the incoming darts, knocking two out of the air. 

“Someone got a handle on that Cruiser?” he questioned.  There was no answer—the signal was still being jammed.  He could only hope the Daedalus had already assessed and was moving in to take care of the situation.  And that the Wraith in the temple had not yet figured out what was going on.

Panicked screams from inside the stone walls answered his question.

 

--/--

 

The Wraith were on their last Worshipper.  There wasn’t going to be much time left for them to do anything.

The problem was, John had no idea what to do.  The best option still seemed to be Ronon’s, to just go in with guns blazing at the Wraith, and take whatever risks that afforded.  They didn’t have time to sneak in, and the crowd of children was far too large for anything subversive.  It was going to have to be a now or never shot.

His team got it, they did.  By the looks on Rodney and Teyla’s faces, they already knew what was coming.  Ronon was poised to move, as though just waiting for John to acknowledge that his really was the only one open to them.

He pulled himself into an active squat.

The Queen suddenly let out a roar, as the remainder of the Commanders with her suddenly glanced up at the same time, towards the ceiling.  He studied her in confusion; felt something move to his right.  Teyla had a hand to her temple, her eyes scrunched closed.

When she opened them again, she shook her head.  “Her telepathy is quite powerful,” she whispered.  “She surprised me.”

“With what?”

“Something has happened to the Hive above the planet,” Teyla returned.  “Something very disturbing.”

Daedalus,” John whispered.  For a second, Rodney’s face glowed with hope.

“If we’re gonna go…” Ronon said.

“Yeah.  Go.” 

Rodney frowned. 

Ronon strode into the room, arm raised, and aimed his stunner towards the closest Wraith Commander.  The sounds of stunner fire echoed through the room, startling the already agitated children into a perfect panic.

Their screams started bouncing off the high walls as John rushed forward, firing his weapon at the Wraith and any of the Worshippers that got in his way.  He had to lay off the trigger, though, as panicked children starting cutting off the clear routes to the real danger to them.

“Find some way to corral them!” he shouted at Teyla, who had long enough a pause to give him a look of consternation.  “Something!”

He looked back around.  Ronon was making his way towards the Queen, taking out Wraith as he went.

The drones, startled by their initial entrance, suddenly began firing back.

He couldn’t see Amelia or the Doc anywhere.

 

--/--

 

Amelia gasped beside Carson as two red blasts emerged from the darkness on the far side of the room.  He saw what had caught her by surprise a moment later, as Ronon charged onto the scene, blaster raised and face a twist of fury and concentration.

He glanced about, seeking their captors, but all the Wraith seemed preoccupied with the new arrivals and the mass of children, who suddenly burst out into all out panic.

What had caused the Queen so much anger Carson wasn’t sure, but its source apparently had discombobulated the Wraith group enough to give the Colonel time to attack.  Sure enough, the sounds of P-90 fire echoed through the cavern a few seconds later.

He hoped Sheppard was taking care. 

He felt a light touch on the back of his hands and twisted around.  The young fellow who’d first clued him into this charade was deftly working at the vine ropes binding his wrists, focus and concentration on his face.

“Hello there,” Carson murmured.  The boy didn’t answer, but after a second, he felt the bindings loosen.  He shifted behind the column they’d used as a pole as the boy moved on to Amelia, his little hands working quickly at the ropes.

“You’re something special, aren’t you?”

The boy flashed a small smile, his attention never wavering from his task.  Within moments, Amelia was free.  Carson put his hands on the boy’s shoulders, and pushed him gently.  “Stay behind me.  We’ll start gathering your friends.”

The room had erupted into chaos, with children screaming and trying to push back against the Wraith and the Worshippers who were trying to keep them corralled into the front of the cavern.  Some had already been stunned, and the drones were doing their best to put down every single child who broke through the lines. 

He could barely make out Colonel Sheppard, Teyla, and even Rodney, who were locked in close combat with some of the restored Worshippers and the drones.  Contained as they were, even with the size of the cavern, they did not have the opportunity to fire upon the Wraith as they might out of doors.  There was too much risk they’d hit a child, and none of them would take that risk.

“We need to get the children out of here,” Carson said.

Amelia nodded, her eyes on a Worshipper standing nearby, prodding at scared children and holding a stunner.  She marched up to him, eyes narrowed, and launched a solid right hook, martial arts style, at his head.  He tumbled to the ground in a heartbeat.

She picked up his stunner, and started forward, towards the nearest drone.  She’d procured a stunner for Carson within a minute and together, they started pinpointing the Wraith and Worshippers they could.  Many of the Worshippers, at an advanced age, were no match.

The children, sensing their opportunity, had begun to push against the dwindling group at the rear of the cavern.  A number were still getting pushed back, and there were too many drones for Carson and Amelia to take out alone.  Already more than a safe number of stunner beams were being aimed at them.

P-90 fire suddenly came from the back side of the cavern, and two of the Wraith nearest the entrance fell.  The welcome face of Major Lorne appeared next, leading a group of Marines.

They already had their orders, this most trained group of soldiers, and they immediately rushed forward into the crowd, taking out the Wraith by close combat to avoid hurting the little ones. 

Amelia shoved him towards the group.  “Get the kids out of here.”  She then pushed her way through the mob of children towards the front, where Ronon and the others of team Sheppard had taken cover in their fight against the Queen and her entourage.

“Doc,” the Major said, as they neared one another.

“We need to get them somewhere safe,” Carson yelled over the din. 

“Workin’ on it!”  Was the Major’s very businesslike answer.  It didn’t take the group long.  The children were already pushing through the cavern, seeking the light that promised freedom, and life.  

Carson grabbed the hand of his young charge and pushed his way to the front, out into the warm air and sunshine.

 

--/--

 

The small space that comprised the throne area of the cavern had made a frontal assault rather difficult.  Despite their lesser numbers, the Wraith were still good strategists, and they’d taken advantage of every bit of cover they could.  While not in the best position to directly attack Sheppard’s team, they could still stun them, and in the chaos surrounding them, find an opportunity to strike a deadly blow.

Ronon had made it to the throne, using the high stone back as cover against two of the Commanders bent on protecting the Queen, who was trying to make her way back towards a side entrance, probably the fastest way to the Cruiser.

He fired another round of blaster shots near the doorway, keeping the Queen pinned behind a sharp cave growth—stalactite, McKay called it.  Or something.

There was a rumble outside, and a few voices from beyond the doorway at the back of the room rose in fright.  Something was happening outside.

Above him, a trickle of dust fell from the ceiling.

The Wraith in front of him immediately aimed their stunners above him, towards the roof of the cavern.  Ronon barely had time to move before some of the fixtures on the ceiling came crashing down, slamming into the area where he’d been and breaking the throne into a dozen pieces.

He scrambled to his feet as the effort caused a chain reaction, showering rocks, dust and debris through the front of the cavern.  Most of the kids were beyond the reach of the Wraith, but Sheppard, Teyla and Rodney were still trapped towards the front of the room.  He saw Sheppard wave at him; indicate an area towards the back.

Amelia.

She and Carson were trying to corral kids towards the back of the room, towards the door.  Her eyes lifted, finding him, and within an instant she was moving towards him.

A tight grip locked onto his shoulder, nearly picking him off the ground, and slammed him into the wall nearby.  He shook the spots from his vision, in time to see the furious face of the Wraith Queen herself, coated in dust and dirt, eyeing him maliciously.

Her hand slammed into his chest.

 

--/--

 

Jennifer really hated this part.  Hated the waiting, hated the not knowing.  It was worse than discovering what they were going to do, and worse than finding out what had happened.  There was just nothing to be done while someone was waiting.

Mayel had apparently figured this out; she was back with them in the control room, pacing near the staircase, occasionally exiting onto the balcony and then back again.  Twice, she’d asked Woolsey for permission to dial the Genii homeworld, but he’d forbidden any transmissions save those incoming that were critical.

Now she’d parked herself on the inner balcony overlooking the Gate, arms crossed, perfectly still.  Not even a foot tapping.

Jennifer moved over to her quietly, trying not to disturb the concentration she was obviously focusing on the Gate, and perhaps good wishes for John and his team.  She touched Mayel with the lightest grip possible.  It didn’t stop the Genii from jumping almost four feet into the air and throwing her an angry look.

It seemed to take her a moment to recollect where she was and who she was addressing before the look faded.  “I’m sorry.”

Jennifer smiled kindly, and folded her arms.  “No worries.” 

“I don’t know why I’m so unfocused,” Mayel replied.  “I wish Mr. Woolsey would let me dial home.”

Jennifer nodded.  “It helps to hear from familiar faces in times like these.”

Mayel’s expression changed from concern to appeasement.  “But not because I’m worried about John’s mission.”  Mayel pushed the last few words emphatically.  “I hope he’s all right of course.  He’ll be fine.  I’d just really like to...talk...with my people.”

“Fine, fine, you don’t have to explain,” Jennifer said.  “Look, whatever it is, just know you’re among friends.”

Mayel attempted a smile.  “Of course.”

“They’ll be done with this soon enough.  Then you’ll be free to call home, though I’m pretty sure you won’t need to at that point,” Jennifer said, almost winking.  The Genii’s brow scrunched into a confused frown.   “Thanks.”

 

--/--

 

Ronon arched up in anticipation of the pain.  But it never came.

The Queen was knocked forcefully to the side, her leather robes flinging about the dust that had coated her with the collapse of the cave roof.  Amelia stood above her, her hands in a protective block, settling softly from the roundhouse she’d just launched at the Wraith.

Behind her, one of the commanders was scrambling towards them; Ronon pulled to his feet and grabbed Amelia, shuttling them both off to the left.  The commander had no time to pursue as he attempted to attend the Queen. 

They paused long enough to glance around the cavern; Sheppard and Teyla were taking care of the last of the drones, who’d focused their attention on trying to retake the children, most of whom had escaped through the front.  Lorne and some of the Atlantis Marines were herding the stragglers out and carrying the stun victims, knocking out the few Wraith who remained in their path.

Across from them, the commander was lifting the Queen to her feet, assisting her towards that makeshift exit.  Ronon glanced at Amelia, who was watching the same thing.  She looked at him and nodded.

They started to make their way there, hoping to cut them off.  He was so intent on the Queen herself, hobbling her way to an escape, he almost missed the glint of light that rose off to their left.  It was his instinct, more than anything, which shoved Amelia to the right, out of the line of fire.

Standing between them and the Queen was a pretty young woman, one who held up a gun just like Ronon’s right at his eye level.  Recognition rushed up on him with a startled chill.

The Elder.

Her expression darkened.  “You’ve ruined everything.”

 

--/--

 

The kids were almost out, all save a few who’d been stunned in the crossfire and by the unsympathetic Wraith.  The cavern was still rumbling around them, bits of debris showering down from the unstable ceiling.  John figured they had a good five minutes before the whole thing caved in. 

McKay had a child in his arms and was hurrying out the front exit.  Teyla was bending down to help another to her feet.  Wraith Worshippers and Wraith drones were strewn across the floor, in what had been a mostly effective assault, though he felt sharp pangs of regret at the few children who’d been the subject of the Wraiths’ anger and desperation. 

His eyes scanned the cavern; to the far left, the Queen was being half-carried, half-dragged through a small exit.  He took two steps forward when a stunner blast startled him, driving his focus to the middle of the room, where Amelia and Ronon were on their knees, staring up into the face of a Worshipper.

One who had a gun like Ronon’s. 

There was no time; he couldn’t get to his P-90 in time, and even as he reached for it, he knew it would be too late.  He heard the shot before he saw it.

But it was the woman, not Ronon, who was convulsing under the effects of the blast, who crumpled to the floor.  His turned towards the entrance, where Beckett was standing, his eyes narrowed, a Wraith stunner in his hand. 

Carson glanced over to him.  John shrugged.  “Do no harm?”

“It was just a stunner,” the doctor replied.  Then his eyes narrowed.  “It was the best I could do.”

The cavern rumbled once more, and Ronon pulled Amelia to her feet.  They both glanced at the unconscious form of the Wraith Worshipper.

“No time,” John barked, nodding his head towards the door.  They didn’t take too long to think about it.  They sprinted for the cavern door, squinting as they entered the bright light.

A final rumbled echoed from the cave and the sounds of the cavern collapsing trailed them as they exited into absolute chaos.

 

--/--

 

Lorne felt himself pulled every which way at once.   Overhead, darts released from the Cruiser were skimming down towards the surface, engaged in battle with the remaining jumper and F-302s from the Daedalus, who’d thankfully managed to hold their own.

The explosions overhead had startled the children as they’d fled from the temple, sending them screaming down the ramp and into a hundred different directions.  It was nearly impossible to corral them at this point; all Lorne and his team could do was attempt to take out any Wraith that might be beamed down.

Colonel Sheppard emerged from the temple, which had begun to tremble.  He was followed by Ronon and Banks, and Doc Beckett.

He paused halfway down the ramp, seeming to forget the cloud of dust that was trailing in his wake, and stared in astonishment at the mass of screaming children scattering below.  “What the…”

“Sir!”  Lorne said.  The colonel jogged down to him. 

“What the hell is going on?”

“They came out like this sir—in a panic.  Those didn’t help much.”  He gestured to the fighters overhead.

“That’s not gonna help much either,” Sheppard muttered, noting that the Cruiser was slowly lifting from the top of the temple.  The vibrations from the ship seemed to be the last little bit of influence the cave needed; the top of it sunk heavily downward, collapsing with a huge explosion of sound and debris.

Lorne and the Colonel hit the deck, as did half of the group around them.  A wave of smoke-like dust and debris wafted overhead, temporarily blocking out the action in the sky above.

Evan coughed and squinted through the muck, trying to pick out figures nearby.  A few of the kids were coughing.  He pulled to his feet and the Colonel did the same, each moving instinctively to the nearest victim and trying to keep them calm. 

The destruction of the cave seemed to have a tranquilizing effect; at least most of the screaming had stopped.

As the dust cleared, Evan could make out the shape of the Cruiser just overhead.  With no Hive to return to, the Queen couldn’t be very happy at the moment.  There’s no telling what she might decide to do. 

It lifted higher into the atmosphere, pulling away from them.  Evan watched curiously, surprised, wondering what their next move could be.

He never got the chance to find out.

As it pulled away just out of sight of the crumpled temple, the Cruiser exploded into a huge fireball.  Debris rained down on the jungle a safe distance away.

“That’s what he was waiting for,” murmured the Colonel.  He wasted no time admiring the spectacular fireworks; instead, he started ordering Marines to round up the kids and talking on his radio to the Jumpers about finishing off the darts.

The hiss of static in his ear reminded Evan how long it had been since they’d been able to use the radio.  The jamming device must have been in the cave or the Cruiser.  He punched into the channel the Colonel was using, and started moving towards a few of the kids hiding among the trees.

 

--/--

 

“Everybody from Atlantis has reported in, sir…there were a few casualties at the hands of the Wraith from the prisoners, though.”

“Do we know how many?”

“No sir.  Colonel Sheppard said he would report in as soon as they’d secured everyone.”

“Thank you, Major Greene.”

The gate shut down, and Richard turned to Keller with a smile.  “Safe and sound.”

“Did we ever doubt?” she returned, smiling as well, though her tone was tempered.

“Yes,” Mayel said. 

Richard glanced at her.  “Well, that’s sort of the story with us most…”

“I am familiar enough with the practices of Atlantis to know the outcomes of the majority of your missions,” she said sharply.  As they stared at her in surprise, she dropped her eyes to the floor.  “I’m sorry.  I do not…I am not…I am glad they are well.”

“As are we all,” Richard returned kindly.  She looked back up at him, but said nothing.

“And now, I believe you had some business to attend to?  Please dial up the Genii homeworld,” he said to Chuck.

Mayel’s smile faded.  “Yes.  Thank you.”

In the few seconds it took to establish the connection to the Genii, Richard somewhat expected Mayel to seem eager, considering how insistent she’d been on speaking with Ladon earlier.  But now, she seemed concerned.

“Commander Radim,” Richard said, as soon as communication had been established. 

“Mister Woolsey,” Radim replied smoothly.  “Always a pleasure to speak with the head of Atlantis.”

“Thank you.  I have Commander Serrana here.”

“Commander.”

“Commander Radim,” her eyes flickered towards Richard before returning to the floor.  “There is a business matter we need to discuss concerning our latest contacts among the Alliance.”

“What has happened?”

“The planet that we first scouted turned out to be Wraith Worshippers, Commander.”

“Wraith Worshippers?”  There was surprise in Ladon’s voice.  “When was this discovered?”

“We suspected it about a day ago,” Richard said, interrupting whatever Serrana was going to say next.  “Confirmed when they kidnapped two of our people.”

“Are they all right?”

“Yes…we’ve just received word that the mission to recover them was successful.  But there’s a larger issue at hand.  The Worshippers were using their cover to kidnap children, as a sacrifice to the Wraith.”

There was silence across the Gateroom.  When Ladon returned, his voice was hardened.

“Children?”

“I’m afraid so.”

“There have been rumors for a while among some of our contacts that children were being abducted from colonies and towns.  Wraith Worshippers were suspected, but I had no idea their location was so out in the open.  This was not discovered by our scouting party before we sent Atlantis to engage with them?”

“No sir,” Mayel said.  “We had no indication they were untrustworthy.  We did not discover their true nature until after Atlantis had made contact.”

“You placed Atlantis’s members directly into danger by failing to adequately assess the situation, Commander.”

Richard frowned.  Radim was being unusually forceful in his chastisement.  “It wasn’t exactly Commander Serrana’s fault, Commander.  Even our own people did not discover the deception until they’d been led down a false trail.”

“Still, Mr. Woolsey, it is not in the nature of the Genii to underestimate an opponent—or fail to discover when one exists.  Our role in this alliance is very important to us and we cannot afford these kinds of mistakes.  Commander Serrana, I’m going to have to insist you return to the Genii homeworld until an inquiry can be made into the actions of you and your team.”

Mayel said nothing.  Keller looked at Richard with concern.

At least this explained, in part, Serrana’s negative attitude.  She knew she’d have to let Ladon know about the Worshippers and that he’d react this way.  “Commander—perhaps you’re being a bit hasty in this.  Commander Serrana is considered a highly valuable asset upon Atlantis—”

“Our relationship with Atlantis is one of our most valuable assets,” Radim replied curtly.  “We will not endanger it for anything less than the most important of circumstances.”  His tone softened.  “I promise, Mr. Woolsey, I will do everything I can to see that your liaison is returned to you.  I know she has made an impression.  But for now, we must ensure that our own operations remain at their most effective.  Commander, gather your thing together—the inquiry will more than likely take a couple of weeks.  We will expect you on our homeworld as soon as possible.”

There was uncomfortable silence through the gateroom.  Keller’s frown deepened as Richard tapped his fingers on the rail, trying to figure out what to say next.

“Mr. Woolsey—did any of the children survive?”  Ladon asked.

“Yes…the majority of them did,” Richard said.

“I am certain you will need help placing them back amongst their people.  If you would like the assistance of the Coalition in this, we will gladly contact them and send representatives.”

“That would be very helpful, Commander.”

“It would be the least we could do.  Will they be brought to Atlantis?”

“No…I’m planning on having them sent to a secure planet.  Once I contact Colonel Sheppard, I’ll inform you as to the Gate coordinates.”

“Excellent.  Might I ask one thing in exchange?”

“What would that be?”

“When we arrive to assist with the children, you hand over whatever remains of the Wraith Worshippers to the Coalition.”

“Commander…”

“I am quite certain that the Coalition will be able to handle these traitors—and will want to—especially since many of them will be more personally affected by the actions of these people than Atlantis.”

“In my findings, Commander, it is often the objective party who works best in situations such as this.”

“These people were willing to sacrifice children to the Wraith?  I do not believe many of your people would be very objective in this circumstance, Mr. Woolsey.”

Richard paused, uncertain.

“If we are to be allies, and the Coalition to be respected, I believe it would be most fitting in a situation such as this, where so many of the ‘Pegasus’, as you call them, tribes are affected, that they take command and decide the fate of those who would harm their people.  It would most certainly be considered a token of respect for all the Coalition members—may even help to alleviate any prior…doubts…some of those races had with Atlantis.“

Richard crossed his arms.  No one said Ladon wasn’t shrewd.  “Very well, Commander.  We’ll hand over custody of the Wraith Worshippers, so long as you keep us informed of the proceedings surrounding them.”

“I believe we can do that, Mr. Woolsey.  We will be speaking later, then.  Commander, we anticipate your return shortly.”

“Yes, sir,” Mayel said. 

The gate shut down abruptly, ending transmission.  Without a second word or glance at Richard, Mayel marched towards the stairs, head down and arms crossed.

“Remind me to be thankful I only have the IOC to report to,” Keller murmured as they both watched her go.

 

--/--

 

“You’ve found them all?”

“We think so,” John replied, turning around so he could look out of the Daedalus’s forward shield, at the shimmering field of stars (and Wraith Hive debris) in front of them.  “There may be a few still out there—McKay’s using infrared scans now.”

“How many were killed in the crossfire?”

“Can’t be sure.”  He couldn’t stop the grit in his voice, thinking about the Wraith showing so little mercy to these tiniest of victims.  “Only a handful or so were down when the temple was collapsing.  Those we left behind were already gone.  We’ll probably send teams out to recover what we can when the dust’s cleared.”

“What about the Worshippers?”

“Couple made it out.  We’ve got ‘em now.  Any ideas what to do with the kids?”

“Major Greene did a full assessment of the Alpha Site.  As we’ve already got a refugee camp now established there, I thought it would be easiest to have the Daedalus deliver them there.”

“You want us to stow all those kids on board?” Caldwell asked incredulously.  John did his best to conceal a smile.

“The Alpha Site planet isn’t far from your location, Colonel.  It wouldn’t be a long trip.”

“I take it you’ve never travelled with kids before, Mr. Woolsey.”

There was a long pause over the radio.  “It would take almost as long to transport the kids back to the Gate on the world you’re currently on—and more traumatic for them, I would think.”

Caldwell made a face.  “So long as the Alpha Site is ready for them,” he muttered.

“And the Worshippers?”   John asked.

“We’ve agreed to hand the Worshippers over to the Pegasus Coalition,” Woolsey explained hurriedly.

John balked.  “What?”

“The Coalition has generously volunteered to help us screen the children and return them to their planets of origin—some of which we’re not going to know or have connection with, but which they, through their connections, should know.  They’ll be able to place the children much more swiftly than we would, Colonel.  This is all they ask in exchange.”

“All they ask.”

“Yes.  And that decision is final.”

“Understood.  Daedalus, out.” Caldwell said, cutting short anything John might have argued.  He threw the Colonel a frustrated look—a feeling that faded after seeing Caldwell felt almost the same as he did.

 

--/--

 

There was something very soothing about the glow of hyperspace through the windows of the Daedalus.  Amelia vaguely remembered it from when she travelled to Atlantis, which seemed like forever ago, now.

There were footsteps in the galley behind her; she didn’t bother to turn.  She recognized the heavy tread well enough.

Ronon sat down across the table from her, stretching across the cool metal before straightening, staring at her face.  She ignored him for a moment, then slowly turned to face him, surprised to find a rather intense look in his bright blue eyes.  Generally, his expression was unconcerned, almost lackadaisical. 

“Scared us there, for a moment,” he said finally. 

She broke away for his stare.  “Scared ‘us’?”

He sighed in frustration, and folded his hands on the tabletop. 

“I told you before…this is part of my job, Ronon,” she replied.  “And what is it you were so fond of saying?  ‘It’s in the past’ now.  It doesn’t matter any more.”

“Are you planning on going out again?”

“Of course!”  She snapped up in her chair.  “You think one more encounter with the Wraith is going to make me quit my job?  We were accepted for the expedition to Atlantis because we were capable of handling stuff like this.  We expected it.  I expected it.  And it’s not going to make me stop doing what I can to help the people out here.”

“Even if it gets you killed.”

It was more a statement than a question, and she didn’t respond, just looked back at him, straight into his eyes.  He broke the gaze first, leaning back in his chair and crossing his arms.

Silence filled the room, broken after a moment by a soft giggle.  A barefoot child darted into the galley, a wide smile on her face, trailed after a moment by a Marine, who looked frustrated.  The child darted back out again, and the Marine didn’t even acknowledge their presence, just followed the child back into the main hall.

“She believed the same thing,” Ronon said.

Amelia frowned in confusion.  “What?”

“Melena.”

Something tightened in Amelia’s chest.  “Who’s Melena?”

He lowered his gaze to the table, then back up to her face.  “She was my wife.”

Amelia’s mouth was suddenly very dry. 

“She was a healer—I guess what you’d call a nurse,” he said.  “Kind.  Good at what she did.  During the final assault on Sateda, she insisted on remaining behind with the wounded, even as the Wraith ships were tearing our cities apart.”

He swallowed.  “I tried to get back to where they all were when the Wraith starting bombing that area.  She wouldn’t leave.  And then the building exploded.”

“I…I’m sorry.”

“There was nothing to be done.  It was her decision to stay.”  His gaze floated out towards the windows, and the hazy blue of hyperspace.  “It’s in the past.”

“No, it’s not.”

He looked back at her sharply.

“That kind of stuff stays with you, Ronon, even when you want to let it go.  You can’t.  You loved her.  She’s a part of who you are.”

“She’s gone.  I can’t bring her back.”

“No.  But that doesn’t seem to try and stop you preventing others from suffering the same fate she did.”  She felt like she was being a little cold-hearted, but there was a bitterness inside her, too, at this newly discovered part of Ronon’s past.  Suddenly every one of his actions towards her made sense.

“No one wants someone they care about to be put in danger, Amelia,” he said, his eyes narrowed. 

“Maybe not—but then why do I get this special lecture when Colonel Sheppard and Teyla don’t?”

 His expression flashed from angry to alarmed.  “What?”

“You going to argue they’re ‘trained’?  Warriors?  Then what about Rodney McKay?  You can’t possibly argue that I’m less trained or prepared for the field than he is.  You don’t seem to care about his getting put in the line of fire.  So what makes me different?”

Ronon met her gaze, his expression softening, becoming lost.  “Amelia…”

She rose and moved around the table, pausing next to him.  “I care about you, Ronon.  I want to be with you.  But I can’t be the one to make up for the past.  And I can’t be a part of your future until you realize that.”

Her gaze slid from his face and she walked slowly away.  When she turned the corner, he was still seated, his back to the door.

As usual, he didn’t try to follow her.

 

--/--

 

For one of the few times in his life, John was completely and utterly glad Colonel Caldwell was the superior officer of this operation.  While normally he might have been bothered by Caldwell’s taking control—mostly old habit from the days when the guy wanted his job—today, he was more than willing to hand over the reigns to the Daedalus commander and order his team to dial it in—and dial up Atlantis.

The Daedalus crew members were still trying to work the children into manageable groups at the Alpha Site refugee camp as Woolsey greeted them through the wormhole and welcomed them to step back through into Atlantis.   John, tired, dirty and still slightly irritated for no particular reason, was happy to oblige.

Plus, he wanted to talk to Mayel.

Ironically, she was one of the first faces he saw as he and the rest of the group stepped into Atlantis, the welcome buzz of activity—and adult life—the first thing their tired eyes took in.  He waved off Teyla and McKay, who took off for their respective quarters.  He’d already released them from mission reports for the moment, figuring everyone needed a little R&R before the administrative work began.

Ronon, too, stepped off without a secondary glance at anyone, though his eyes did trail up to the control room where Banks might have been stationed.  She and Beckett had headed home a few hours earlier than John’s team, almost as soon as the Daedalus reached the Alpha Site.  It had been clear to pretty much all of them that something had happened between them on the Daedalus flight between planets, because Banks refused to be anywhere near Ronon, and Ronon had worn the most murderous puppy dog expression John had ever seen.  None of them had dared try and talk to him about it, not even Teyla, who knew her friend’s moods well enough to know that there were some moments it was better for everyone’s health just to leave him alone.

Facing Mayel now, he sort of felt he could understand some of Ronon’s mood.  Whatever had happened, it hadn’t been good.  He could empathize.  She met his gaze with an expressionless face, her arms crossed.  “Colonel Sheppard.”

The gate shut behind him with a soft swoosh, and he stepped forward, resting his arms on the P-90 clipped to his vest.  She might be all nice and pretend-y in front of the staff, but he wasn’t going to play her games.  Everyone damn knew well enough anyway.  “Mayel.”

She turned to look up at the control room console, where Chuck nodded at her.  He took that to mean the Gate was about to be dialed up, and he moved around her, safely out of geyser range.

She bent down, her hair tumbling about her shoulders, bringing to mind the memory of a few nights ago, when she’d bent down to sit beside him, the same curls swirling around one soft, bare shoulder.  He’d reached for them, catching them in his fingers.

He tramped down the image angrily, focusing instead on the pack she was swinging on her shoulder—a rather large one, as a matter of fact.

The gate swirled back to life behind her, lighting her silhouette with a soft blue as she glanced at the activated wormhole, then started forward.

Swiftly, before he could even think about it, his hand shot out and caught her arm.  “You’re leaving?”

She turned to face him.  “I’m going home.”

Panic suddenly ran through him, much more intense than he was prepared for.  “Why?”

“There is an inquiry being held for our part in leading Atlantis and the Coalition into a planet of Wraith Worshippers.  Ladon…” she swallowed, dropping her eyes to the floor.  “Commander Radim faults us for not discovering sooner what they really were.”

“You couldn’t have known that after first contact,” he said.  Suddenly he felt a whole lot less angry.  At her, at least.  “If it hadn’t been for the kids and our people being taken, we might still have been in the dark.”

“Perhaps.  But the Commander feels the Genii should not be so easily fooled.  We pride ourselves on our knowledge of this…galaxy…and our ability to discern information about its peoples.  This was a failure on our part.”

He released her arm slowly.  “Ladon can’t expect you to be right all the time.  That’s impossible.”

“No.  But I can.”  She looked back at him, frowning.  “If I felt Commander Radim was pushing too much about this, I would tell him so.  But I…I agree with him.  I have betrayed so many people I care about at this point…” Her voice cracked and she was unable to go on.  She hugged herself tightly and looked off into the distance at nothing in particular. 

He let her gather herself together, glancing down at the floor.

“I will be punished for my betrayal,” she said finally, looking back over at him.  “This is all I can do.”

“But you didn’t betray anyone.”

“I did.”  He looked to her for an explanation and she hesitated.  “I nearly got you and your team members killed, for one.  That is something I must answer for.  Among other things.”

He stepped closer to her, his hands rising to her arms.  “Nobody is perfect, Mayel.  Sometimes you make the wrong choices.  Mistakes.  Like accusing someone of being unfair, when in truth, they’re just trying to be completely fair.”

She frowned, trying to follow him.

“I shouldn’t have gotten upset over Ladon,” he murmured, pulling her closer.  She stiffened in his arms.  He’d really done a number on her.  That was also an unfortunate part of the John Sheppard history with women.  “You did it to be honest.  I don’t have the best history with Ladon, but there was a time…I know what it means to keep those who trust you informed, even if it’s personal.  And the consequences of not doing it.  You were just being loyal to your people.  I get that, even if those people happen to be Ladon Radim.”

Her head fell forward and he thought for a moment she was laughing at him until she looked back up, her eyes full of tears.  She threw herself at him with such force it nearly knocked him backwards, in full sight of the entire gateroom and she apparently not caring a bit.

“I should not have to do this,” she whispered, squeezing him tightly.    When she released him she caught his face in her hands, drawing his forehead to hers.  “Just remember that were it not for my people, I would not have done as he asked.  You remember that.  That for a moment, it was you and you alone that could have changed my mind.”

He looked at her in confusion.  “What?”

“Remember it.”  Her eyes bored into his for a moment, and she gave his head a little shake.  “You were worth more than him, and I would have betrayed him for you.  I just can't betray them all.”

She started to back away, but he reached out to her shoulder and she turned, drawing him into a kiss, one that burned with so much intensity he almost couldn’t breathe.

Then, in a swirl of auburn hair, she broke away, and was gone. 

 

>>> Continue to the Epilogue

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