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Primum Movens, Part II, CH IV

<<< Back to Primum Movens, Part II, CH III

Rodney zeroed in on the next planet on the list he and Zelenka had gleaned from Elizabeth’s nanites, amazed at how many of them had remained untouched since the Ancients had first gathered them together.  Running them against data in the Ancient database and their own records, he’d found a remarkable few had been explored.  Perhaps the neutronium made it difficult for them to support life, but they were considered so remote there weren’t even Stargates located near them.  

Radek straightened from his own workbench, shifting his glasses from the bridge of his nose and rubbing it. 

“How many have you found?” asked Rodney. 

“Ten—eleven, with this one,” said Radek.  “There is very little information on any of them.” 

“Yeah.  Same here.”  He tapped on his computer keyboard and added the next one to the growing list for the Daedalus and Apollo.   “This may take a while.” 

“Based on what we have surmised, it appears we do not have a while,” said Radek.  

“We’ll figure something out, we always do,” snapped Rodney.  Radek went silent, with only the sound of his keyboard breaking the stillness in the room. 

“For the record,” said the Czech a few minutes later, “I do not believe you were wrong in wanting to open the pod.” 

Rodney looked up.  Zelenka was diligently working, his eyes on the monitor.  “Nor were you wrong to want to save Doctor Weir.  I would have made the same choice, despite Colonel’s Sheppard’s concerns or anyone else’s.  She is family.  I would hope that would the same decision need to be made for me, you would do the same.” 

The computer beeped as he zeroed in on another planet.  Rodney had no idea, really, what to say.  

“This one,” Radek said, saving him the trouble of having to reply.  “It is the same composition and size as the original Asuras.  It is also located in an area of the Pegasus where there are very few Wraith patrols.  And it is not a great distance from this area, meaning it would not have been difficult to jump to with that modified Hive.” 

Rodney moved over to take a look at the monitor.  Zelenka was right; it was probably the best place to start, given everything.  

“I will notify Mister Woolsey,” said Radek. 

“Yeah,” Rodney replied.  As Radek headed towards the door, Rodney placed his hands on the lab table.  “Radek?” 

“Yes, Rodney?” 

“I would, you know,” he said.  He looked over at his fellow scientist, who had a puzzled look on his face, and continued.  “Do what I could.” 

Radek’s eyes widened slightly behind his glasses, then he smiled.  “I know, Rodney.”

 

--/-- 

 

“I still can’t believe that’s what happened to you,” said Elizabeth, staring at Carson with wide eyes.  He leaned back a little in his chair with a smile. 

“All true.”  

She was enjoying this time with him.  Not that she was left alone all that much anymore—she’d had a steady stream of visitors since the rebuilding of Atlantis, including the welcome face of Kate Heightmeyer and some of the personnel who had been with them since the beginning.  

But Carson—he was special.  Not just because he was one of her oldest friends but also because he was one she thought she’d lost. 

He smiled at her, his bright blue eyes flashing with pleasure. “So, I suppose we have to thank Michael for one small favor.” 

She grinned a little.  “I suppose.” 

“Truthfully, the entire thing was extremely strange.  I knew nothing about what happened here to the original—me.  Sounds almost farcical, if you’d pardon the observation.  An exploding tumor?” 

She smiled again, this time sadly.  “Perhaps, but we still lost you and I promise, that was no farce.” 

“Well.”  He patted her hand.  “Now we have you as well.  All one happy family.” 

She eyed him skeptically.  To his credit, the expression on his face did not waver.  “I’m glad that you’re still the optimist, Carson,” Elizabeth said. 

“Come on now.  Do you really think Colonel Sheppard, Rodney or any of the rest are going to let the IOA have their way?  They’ll think of something first.” 

“I don’t doubt their loyalty, even if they weren’t completely certain I was not a threat,” Elizabeth replied.  “But I expect them to treat me as one, because not even I know if I’m not.  I don’t want any special treatment because I look like someone you once trusted.” 

“Oh no?”  He tilted his head to the side, giving her the eye.  “Where in the world would anyone here get the idea to trust someone who wasn’t exactly like they were from the start?” 

“You do not have nanites in your head, Carson.” 

“No, I was just cloned, brought back to life by a Wraith-human hybrid whose entire purpose boiled down to destroying anything that wasn’t a Wraith-human hybrid.” 

“You know what I mean,” Elizabeth said. 

“Oh, do I?”  Carson’s smiled faded.  “Teyla, the poor dear, has been able to sync mentally with the Wraith since her first year on Atlantis.  That ability has led Wraith Queens not only to be able to discover secrets from her but also to take her over physically to the point where she became a terrible threat to you all, more than once.” 

Elizabeth made a face.  “Teyla learned to control that a long time ago.” 

“I believe I read the last time it happened wasn’t too long after what happened to me.” 

“A fluke,” she said, though her voice lacked the confidence it had a second ago.  “That Queen was incredibly powerful.” 

“And any more like her might make Teyla a threat yet.  Still, she remains a free walking member of Atlantis.” 

“You know why that is,” Elizabeth said seriously.  “She was assessed as not being a threat—” 

“Because you argued she wasn’t,” Carson interrupted.  “And for the record, never once, at any point, have your nanites ever turned you against us.  They attacked you, but after that, they were only ever a cause for concern, not an actual threat.  You have controlled them almost from the very start.  So this argument you, and Colonel Sheppard and anyone else make about your being more dangerous than anything else that’s ever threatened Atlantis is a bit absurd, in my honest opinion.” 

She folded her arms in front of herself, staring.   He did the same and cocked his head with a smirk. 

She sighed.  “Teyla’s gift was because it was a part of her DNA.  And yes, in some ways it is a security risk.  But Carson, even when those Queens did the worse they could to her, Teyla did not experience what I did.  If the Replicators can affect Atlantis like they did me when they gained control…I cannot let that happen.  I’m sorry, but you have no idea what we’d be up against.” 

She reached forward, splaying her hands.  “The Wraith want control because it means they’d be the dominant force in this galaxy.  That I understand.  The Replicators?  Their initiative is to destroy.  We’ve seen what they will do to eliminate the Wraith.  And with their programming altered to remove any of the protections Rodney or the Ancients programmed in, who knows what target they will attack next?  It won’t just be death.  It will be utter and complete annihilation of everything that breathes.” 

Carson’s expression changed from smug to serious.  “It’s not that I don’t appreciate the gravity of the situation.  What I don’t want to see is your taking for granted how important you are in it.  Yes, those things can destroy everything in their path.  And yes, they will use utterly inhumane and horrifying ways to do it.  

“But Elizabeth,” he rose, walking over to where she stood, and stared her in the face. “You are the one thing that has stood between them and that fate for the rest of us.   When they tried to take that code from you, they were willing to sink Atlantis to ensure you did not survive to challenge them again.  Can you not see why?” 

She tilted her head a little, her eyes shining.  “Yes, I understand that.  What I need everyone else to understand is what the cost might be.  The end of the Replicators means the end of everything that is a part of their world, Carson.”  She reached out, clasping his hand.  “With no exceptions.” 

 

--/-- 

 

John stretched himself off the wall, staring down through the observation glass at the isolation room, where Carson was still trying to make an argument to Elizabeth about her not being a danger.  She wasn’t buying it, but it was nice of the Doc to try. 

The door slid open, and Woolsey walked in, pausing for a moment at the sight of him standing over the windows.  “Everything okay?” 

“Yep.”  John shoved his hands in his pockets, not really feeling up to offering a summary of what he’d just heard.  “What’s up?” 

“I came to tell Doctor Weir that it appears we’ve got a hit off the list of planets Rodney took from her nanites.  The Apollo is heading back to the planet for more scans and data collecting.  But it looks like we might have found them.” 

“Good news or bad?” 

“From the transmission from Colonel Ellis, it didn’t sound good.” 

John cast a glance down at Elizabeth.  Carson had convinced her to sit down, but whatever lightheartedness he’d brought in the room had obviously faded.  “You want me to tell her?” 

“Not until we know more.  I’m sure you’re well aware that, despite the fact that she’s offered to help, taking her on a mission to destroy the Replicators may be a much bigger risk than an asset.  Considering what just happened I’m pretty sure the SGC isn’t going to allow her to go, even if they do consider her a ‘trump card’.” 

“She’s not gonna like that.” 

“It’s not really her choice.”  Richard turned to leave.  “She’s not military.  Missions aren’t her forte.” 

“No, they never were,” said John. 

Woolsey moved towards the door, then paused, looking back at John.   “I’m one of the last people who’s going to argue that her staying here and out of danger is a bad thing.  But I’d rather not be the one who informs her of it.” 

“I’ll tell her,” John said.  “As soon as we’ve got confirmation.”  

Richard shook his head, looking almost sympathetic at what he seemed to consider an unenviable task.  But as John thought back to all the times he’d had to deal with Elizabeth Weir, it wasn’t dread or even anticipation of displeasure he was feeling at the moment. 

It was relief.

 

--/--

 

Sluggish and slow was not Ronon’s typical mode of operation, but he felt that way now as he ducked down and barely missed getting struck by one of Teyla’s bantos.  He countered with an upward block, putting as much force into the defense as he could. 

The Athosian reeled backward, her sticks breaking out of their X formation and falling to her sides.  She took a panting breath, circling him on her toes, her eyes focused in concentration.  

He paused, waiting.  Teyla’s sticks rose into an attack formation.  He counted, and counted again, in beats of ten, waiting for her to move.  She stepped swiftly to one side and another.  He felt the hair’s breath of movement forward and stretched swiftly out with his hand. 

It was uncompromisingly irritating, the patience Teyla possessed.  He might have thought himself moving slowly, but what he had mistaken for an attack movement had only been bait for him.  He possessed little patience, and she was more than well aware of that.  Now he was off-balance and she turned, lifting one of her legs, and struck him in the side with her bare foot, causing him to grimace in pain as he flew a few feet across the mat. 

This was not his month. 

Teyla’s expression softened, the concentration gone now that he was down.   She smiled at the glare he threw her way.  

“I’m going to call up a few of the Marines,” he said with a tight voice.  “The past few months have been worse than some of those where I was running.  I need someone I can beat.” 

She flashed him her brightest smile.  “I’ve told you that patience is your weakness, Ronon.” 

“So, apparently, are small, petite women.” 

“I am not a Replicator,” Teyla replied jauntily, arching her eyebrow. 

He met her gaze with a questioning stare, and she lifted her sticks threateningly. 

“Teyla Emmagan, Ronon Dex, please report to the conference room,” said Amelia over the loudspeaker.  Her voice left a heavy feeling in his chest.  He thought the issue had basically been resolved by Amelia’s rejecting his attempts at talking, but apparently not.  His heart would not let it go. 

Beside him, Teyla wore a curious expression.  “This must be the information from the Apollo.”  She offered a hand up, which he took, wincing. 

“Let’s hope we’ve found what we’re looking for,” he said. 

“Let us hope we have found what we hope for,” she modified.  “And not what we fear.”

 

--/-- 

 

The images being projected on the conference room walls were doing nothing to improve Richard’s already pessimistic mood—or the headache he was trying to stave off.  “And we’re sure these are the Replicators?” 

“Neutronium laden planet, same set-up as Asuras…” Rodney trailed off, his arms crossed.  “I’d say ninety-nine percent probability.” 

“Not to mention this entire thing is going up fast,” added Ellis, through the projection monitor.  “We’re seeing more portions of the City being added within hours.  They’ve already got up, from what we can tell, a makeshift shield.  According to our estimates, if construction continues, it’ll be a full-fledged Asuras within two days.” 

“A fully functioning Asuras,” Rodney added.  “Cloak, weapons—ships, maybe.  The whole shebang.” 

“What about human form replicators?” Richard asked. 

“At the moment, we’re don’t have any indication the nanites have consolidated themselves into life forms,” said Rodney.  

“Why not?” asked Teyla.  “Would that not be their primary concern?” 

“Honestly I think it might have something to do with the blueprints,” answered McKay.  “What the Replicators stole from Elizabeth definitely had the information about the Collective and Asuras on it.  But components for people?  Even with the information from Oberoth, they’d have to be creative about reworking an entire population.  And honestly I don’t think they’re all that keen on copying their creators like they might have wanted to try the first time around.  I think they’re going to have to rework the base code between what Altus and Franibeth are currently remember…” 

“Would you stop calling it that?” Sheppard interjected, with an annoyed expression.  

“What am I supposed to call it?  It’s not exactly a Friendly Replicator Android anymore,” Rodney sniped back.  

“It’s also not Elizabeth anymore.” 

“What would you call it, then?” 

“I don’t know—HALANTIS?” John offered. 

Rodney narrowed his eyes at him.  “Fine.  The Replicators are going to have to rewrite components and consolidate it with what Elizabeth’s nanites provided.  My guess is it was simpler to build up the City and its defenses first, which would then give them ample protection and time to work on repopulating Asuras.” 

”So if we’re going to strike, it’s going to have to be soon,” Colonel Caldwell said, returning a grave tone to the room. 

“And with force,” added Colonel Ellis.  “We are going to have to use the PWARWs, but we’ll need additional firepower to back them up in case they don’t work the first time.” 

“Or the second or third,” said John.  “Not to mention what they’re actually constructing over there will also need to be physically destroyed with nukes—better than what the Ancients did, anyway.” 

“Not one nanite can survive,” said Rodney.  “That was the beginning of this mess in the first place.”  At John’s spurious expression, he added, “when the Ancients tried to take care of it, you know, ten millennia ago.” 

Richard tapped his pen on his folder and sighed.  “We’re going to need more than just our forces to handle this.” 

Sheppard rose up a little in his chair, frowning.  “Meaning?” 

“I’m going to contact the Coalition.” 

Before the Colonel could open his mouth, Richard held up a hand, which caused him to wince with pain.  Sheppard noticed and kept silent to allow Richard to speak. 

“I know that we’re not in the most trusting of modes with the Coalition at the moment, but the truth is, they’ve gained a significant amount of power and support throughout this galaxy.  They have the ships and firepower we need and the personnel to staff them. 

“Plus,” Richard stared at Sheppard as he spoke, “the greatest reason why the Coalition rose to power in the first place and was able to do what they did to us a few weeks ago was because of our failure to alert the Pegasus worlds of our attack strategy concerning the Replicators.  It caused a lot of planets significant losses because they were unprepared, and they, in turn, retaliated.  Considering the support they now possess, I’m not going to risk playing games with the Replicators again without informing them about it.” 

“I’m in the same boat as Colonel Sheppard,” said Colonel Ellis, surprisingly.  “I’m not sure these people are what we’re going to need to be able to defeat these things, so why bring in a potential political mess?” 

“We aren’t alone in being a military power in this galaxy anymore, Colonel,” Richard said, rising.  “And the sooner we start acting like that is the case, the less we invite them to work against us.  Whether we like it or not, this is a political mess.  But if we can eliminate the Replicators with a joint effort, it may be the prime opportunity to try and clean it up a little.  And get back some control in the Coalition in the process.” 

John opened his mouth, but Richard shook his head.  “If we’re lucky enough to survive these events, we’ve got the future to consider.  The Coalition is no longer just a thorn in our side, Colonel Sheppard.  They have power in the Pegasus Galaxy.  They have a fleet of ships that can stand up to an armada.  They have the retrovirus in their possession, and they have the Wraith on the run.  Whether we like it or not, they are a legitimate force to be reckoned with.  It’s time we start treating them like they are, before we’re the ones who end up having to manage our battles alone.” 

The room rose with him, most looking rather unhappy at this last turn of events.  He didn’t really care at the moment, his head was pounding and truthfully, he knew in his gut that this was the right move. 

Much as he hated it. 

As he moved beyond the control room towards his office, he motioned to Amelia.  “Send a message to Ladon Radim.  I need a meeting of the Pegasus Coalition representatives as soon as possible.  And get Kanaan here as well, I’m going to need every last bit of his Athosian negotiation skills.”

 

--/--

 

John took a deep breath at the entrance to the isolation chamber, trying his best not to let the anger over the result of the military conference taint his attitude.  He was going to need to exercise some calm in front of Elizabeth, given what he was going to have to tell her. 

She looked up expectantly as the door opened, a tablet in hand.  He had to smile a little; she was playing solitaire.  At the sight of him, she set it down.  “You found them?” 

He nodded.  “Thanks to that list of yours.” 

A smile flittered across her face, but she knew, based on his reaction, there wasn’t much to be humored about.  “What else?” 

“They’ve rebuilt half of Asuras, from what we can tell.  Complete with a shield.  And, probably as a precaution, have also built up their ship arsenal and weaponry at the same time.” 

She rose from her chair and paced for a few moments.  When she turned, her face displaying her chagrin.  “And the Replicators themselves?” 

“No way to tell, but Rodney seems to think that would be the most difficult part of the process.  Our guess, and it’s only a guess, is that they haven’t begun replicating yet.” 

“Whatever they got from me probably wouldn’t have the forms they used on Asuras.  Providing they don’t have record of anyone else’s body besides Oberoth, they don’t have a blueprint to go by.” 

“They’re going to need bodies to pilot those ships, though, so it won’t be long.” 

“How long are we talking here?” 

“Few more days at most.” 

“Hmm.  Not much time to organize a strike.” 

“Not with our current ships and weapons.” 

There was something in his tone, probably an edge he hadn’t realized he’d used, that caused her to look over at him.  “There’s a contingency?” 

John leaned up against the wall, shoving his hands in his pockets.  “More like a brand new strategy.” 

She studied his face, trying to piece out what it was he was thinking.  “Who else is going to be involved?” 

“The Coalition.”  

She knew his dislike of the prospect, but in that pacifying way of hers, she pursed her lips and tilted her head a little, trying to find a unifying solution.  “Well, apparently they have the ships, and if they’re willing, why not use them?” 

“They have the ships.  And the people.  They also have the clout, and I guarantee you they’re going to show us exactly how they’re going to use it.” 

“Well, of course they would.  They’re going to try and demonstrate their control,” Elizabeth said with a smile.  “But this is an alliance organized by Atlantis.  If the Coalition agrees to help, they’re going to have to accept a secondary role because we have the necessary information.  It’s a unification maneuver on Richard’s part.  And I have to give him credit, it’s a smart one.” 

“Guess so.”  John lifted himself from the wall.  “It’s not the principle, it’s the people that bother me.” 

She grinned.  “Considering Ladon and the Genii’s role in it, I can’t say I’m surprised.” 

“What’s that supposed to mean?”   

“Mean?” she replied, with an alarmed expression at his tone of voice.  “It means that you and the Genii have never gotten along, even when Ladon was trying to play nice.  What else would it mean?” 

Her curiosity was sincere, which led him to believe she didn’t know more than she was literally asking about.  And he wasn’t all that eager to fill her in.  “Nothing.  Never mind.” 

When he didn’t go any further, she stood staring for a second, then returned to her seat.  “So when are you thinking we’re going to head out?” 

We’re not going anywhere,” he replied, taking a seat across from her.  “I’m hoping everything will be organized within a day, and then a few of my strike teams will be heading out with the Daedalus.” 

She frowned, her green eyes searching his face.  “I’m not going.” 

He shook his head slowly. 

“Why not?” 

“Too much of a risk, for one,” he said.  

“Risk?”  She rose again and strode angrily across the room.  “My being here is the risk!  Over there, I might actually be able to be of some good, instead of just sitting around waiting for the inevitable!” 

“And take the chance that Altus does what he did to the other you and resets you?  Turns you against us like they did Niam?  You wanna take that chance?” 

“That won’t happen, you know that,” she said. 

“Why, because now you think you can control them?”  He rose and moved closer to her.  “You’ve been saying this entire time the reason you need to be locked up is because you don’t know if you can keep those things in your head under control.  But you think that somehow, when we’re closer to the one thing that would pose the greatest danger to us because of them, you’re all of a sudden sure you’ve got it handled?” 

“Here or there I’m being monitored and maintained for the exact same reason.  Here, I’m wasting away doing nothing.  There, at least, I can try and do something.” 

“You could do a lot of something over there, none of which we guarantee we could control.  The answer is no.  You’re not going.” 

She lifted her hand in frustration.  “And what about all those arguments Rodney made about my being of some use to Atlantis against them?  How’s it going to look to the IOA that the one positive he listed about me isn’t being used?” 

John made a face, straightening.  “Your usefulness against the Replicators isn’t the only reason we have for keeping you around, you know.” 

“Well, it’s the only one the IOA will consider.” 

He watched her as she paced around, surprised by her negativity.  Hope was not something Elizabeth Weir let go of lightly.  

“Replicator nanites or not, we’re not letting you off this base without a fight,” he said.  “You outta know that by now.” 

“Please,” she chastised.  “No matter how many times you, or I, or Rodney or anyone else tries and argues with them that I’m not a threat, the truth is, we don’t know.  The IOA and the SGC are both aware of that, which is why neither one of them has offered up any sort of compromise that allows me to stay me.  The best help I can offer is to use what we know I can do to take down the Replicators and let it end there.  Take me on this mission and let me try and connect to the Collective.  Let me try and help you.” 

“No,” John snapped.  “Not gonna happen.” 

“Then you might as well shut them off!” 

John felt the frown slide off his face.  “What?” 

“It’s not going to end any other way,” she cut him off, her voice full of fire.  “I’m potentially compromising the safety of Atlantis because of my presence here.  Why would I want to live like that?”  She lowered her voice, moving closer to him.  “I don't mean to sound fatalistic.  But it is the reality--as long as I am alive, the shadow of the Replicators will always hang over this place.  Let’s be done with them, once and for all.” 

“No."  He placed his hands on his hips, looking at her squarely.  "We’re not there yet, Elizabeth.” 

Her expression grew frustrated and she looked away.  “Keeping me alive here is not going to serve any other purpose beyond making every day that I’m like this harder.  You, of all people, know what it’s like to want to do everything you possibly can—to sacrifice everything you can—to help protect the people you care about.  All I’m asking is for that same kind of chance.” 

He stared at her, taking a heavy breath and feeling just as frustrated as she looked.  He understood it, sure, but coming from her the entire conversation felt wrong. 

Her face took on an expectant expression, the kind she got when she was on her toes about an answer.  He turned away instead, walking towards the door with a heavy tread.  Behind him, he heard her move to one of the chairs and plop down. 

As he reached the door he looked back at her.  “You know, you always explored any and every other possible option before you would let me take a chance that seemed hopeless.  You wouldn’t let me risk it if there was any other way.”  

When she looked up at him, it was with sad eyes.  “There isn’t any other way, John. Don’t start believing otherwise.  It’s better for the both of us if you don’t.” 

 

--/-- 

 

The blue of the event horizon looked welcome and inviting.  The contingent of Marines stationed in front of it, not so much.  For the guests Richard was expecting, however, they were a cautious necessity as much as an honor guard.  

Ladon Radim appeared through the wormhole, taking a cursory glance around before stepping forward.  He was joined by a few other members of the Pegasus Coalition, including Mayel Serrana, who entered the Gateroom with an awkward look on her face. 

Colonel Sheppard’s expression twisted into a frown but a barely perceptible one.  He was standing alongside Richard; they’d both agreed that the negotiations with the Coalition should be handled as up front as possible. 

“Commander Radim,” said Kanaan, making a slight bow.  He was standing to Richard’s left and had agreed to play mediator.  “You are most welcome to Atlantis.” 

“Thank you, Kanaan of Athos.  It is always a pleasure to see you,” said Radim pleasantly.  His eyes landed on Richard and Sheppard, and he smiled more broadly at the sight of them.  “Mister Woolsey.  I am glad we had this opportunity to talk.” 

“You and the Coalition are welcome,” said Richard, as the Gate shut down behind them.  “We’ll be meeting in our conference room, but I thought you and your friends would perhaps like to rest before proceeding.  I know gathering them together in so quickly a time has been taxing.” 

“I think that would be appreciated.”  Ladon stepped closer to him.  Mayel followed, her eyes everywhere except on John.  Sheppard shifted his stance, tightening his expression, but made no effort to indicate he felt anything other than caution at the Coalition’s presence. 

“You are welcome to join us in our dining hall,” said Richard.  “Or, we can visit in my office.  Whatever would suit.” 

“Actually,” Ladon paused, leaning close to Richard’s ear and lowering his voice.  “I’ve heard you have a special guest on Atlantis that I would really like to meet with.” 

“Oh?  Who’s that?” asked Richard. 

Ladon smiled again, though this time it made him look more like a shark than a gentile Genii.  “Doctor Elizabeth Weir.” 

“Elizabeth’s off limits,” answered Sheppard in a brusque tone.  Mayel’s head snapped towards him in surprise. 

Ladon flashed him a glance, then turned to Richard.  “I understand that she has some valuable information about the Replicators.  I’d really like to know what she knows in order to make a better judgment call about the Coalition’s involvement in this little adventure.” 

“Without the Coalition’s involvement there’s a very great chance the Replicators will succeed in their plans,” said Richard.  “I don’t know how Doctor’s Weir’s information will sway you one way or another.” 

“I’ve always valued what Doctor Weir had to say about anything,” answered Ladon.  

“No—“ John began, but Richard held up a hand. 

“I’m sure Doctor Weir would be happy to speak with you,” he said, as Sheppard looked at him incredulously. 

“Excellent.  The sooner the better.” 

“I’ll arrange it.” 

As the Genii made their way to the dining area with a Marine escort, John turned to him.  “What the hell are you doing?” 

Richard watched Ladon go.  “He’s not going to give us what we want until he’s satisfied.  If he wants to run the risk of seeing Elizabeth, I say let him.  We don’t have time to play games.  Whether he’s hoping to make her a pawn in the Coalition’s plans or whether it’s just because he’s curious, I’m not going to hold her out in front of him like a trump card.  She wouldn’t want that, and I’m not going to disrespect her by acting like she is.” 

He walked off, leaving the Colonel standing in the middle of the Gateroom, frowning.

 

--/--

 

“Ow.”  Rodney winced as a portion of the panel under which he was working pinched his finger.  

“Problems?”  The chipper voice of Colonel Samantha Carter filled his earpiece, and he grimaced, pushing himself out from under the console. 

“No.” 

Sam’s face was being projected on one of the Daedalus’ monitors, smiling congenially at him.  “I’m just wondering, since it’s taking you a little while.” 

“Genius takes time,” he shot back, flexing his finger.  Her grin grew. 

“Installing my modifications on the George Hammond’s PWARW system didn’t take too long,” she said.  “If you need some help, let me know.  I’m sure I can find a way...” 

“Don’t you think the two and a half week or so it would take you to get your ship here might, I don’t know, give the Replicators a slight advantage in their weapons stockpiling?  And I’m fine anyway.  Thank you.”  He rolled himself back under the console, wondering how it was he’d ever had a crush on this woman.  Beyond her obvious attractions.  Jennifer was so much more…Jennifer. 

“Okay,” Sam said.  “Just make sure that the bonding disruptor—“ 

“I know.” 

“And that the—” 

“I know.” 

“And—” 

“Have we already established that I know?”  He rolled himself quickly out again and stared at the screen.  “I have the schematics, I understand the changes, I know, I know!” 

Her smile disappeared.  “I know you know, Rodney.  I just want to make sure there aren’t any errors.  We can’t afford to, you know, lose you.  Any of you.” 

And then again, maybe he did remember.  “There won’t be,” he answered and rolled himself back under the console again.  “And you won’t.  You’ll be dealing with me proving how much smarter I am for a long time yet.” 

With his head under the machinery he couldn’t see her, but he knew she smiled.

 

--/--

 

 

Elizabeth had racked her brain for the last hour, trying to come up with a solution to Atlantis’s stonewalling her going to the Replicator’s new homeworld.  

She understood why and she appreciated the danger, but it frustrated her that the one thing she could do she wasn’t going to be allowed to do because of a controllable risk.  

Of course, had she been in Richard’s position, she might have agreed with John.  And yet, then again, she’d been in this position before and they’d considered her a valuable resource.  So why not now?  There was more to it than she was giving them credit for, she knew.  But she couldn’t let herself consider the other reasons.  She was what she was, and it didn’t matter what anyone else wanted to hope.  It wasn’t going to change. 

The door to the isolation room slid open and she rose expectantly.  Ladon Radim was the first through the door, a smile rising on his face at the sight of her.  She smiled back genuinely.  

A few Marines followed him, though they were the only Atlantis escorts.  She glanced upward at the observation window, pretty sure she knew exactly who was watching this little exchange. 

The Marines took up position at the doors as Ladon walked up to her.  “Doctor Weir.” 

“Commander Radim.”  She nodded her head at him.  

“I have to say, Doctor, seeing you is…well, it’s good.  It’s very good.” 

“I wish I could say the same, Commander.  I’m afraid neither the circumstances nor the current situation warrant my considering it good at the moment.” 

A shadow passed across his face, but he cleared his throat and took a seat.  “When I’d heard that you’d been found I was certain it was a trick of some kind.  Imagine my surprise to find that now even Atlantis considers your recovery a true success.” 

“For the most part,” she hedged. 

“Well, in whatever capacity, we are glad you are here.  Atlantis was not the same without you.” 

She flashed him an unconvinced smile. 

There was awkward silence for a moment.  Elizabeth glanced once more up at the windows housing the observation room, then leaned in towards Radim. 

“Truthfully, Ladon, the only reason I agreed to this little meeting was because I was hoping you could help me,” she said quietly.  

He leaned closer to her, his voice lowering.  “Help you?  Are you prisoner here?” 

“Not exactly.”  A part of her felt traitorous for this move, but it was the only option she now had.  “I’m sure, if you are aware of my recovery, you’re aware of the reason you’re meeting with me in here.” 

“We’d been given a basic rundown of the problem with the nanites in your system,” he replied congenially, acting as though this was nothing out of the ordinary.   He leaned in a moment later, the cheerfulness fading a bit.  “And truthfully, my own…resources…have informed me of a great deal more than that.” 

Figured.  Typical Genii.  Though today, she was grateful for it.  It made her request a thousand times easier. 

“Then I’m sure you know those nanites can be used to connect with the Replicator Collective.  I’ve done it before and in doing so, managed to exercise control over them.  It’s risky, but I truly think it’s the best weapon we have in order to defeat them.” 

Ladon’s expression remained unchanged, as though this bit of news didn’t surprise him at all.  “And why is this option not being considered?” 

She glanced upward, honestly surprised the bent of their conversation hadn’t brought someone down yet.  “Some people here think it would be too much of a risk.  I tend to disagree with them.” 

His eyes brightened and he smiled.  “I cannot say I’m surprised.  Tell me how I can help.” 

 

--/-- 

 

Ladon walked into the isolation room with a carefully placed grin on his weaselly little face.  From his position in the observation room overhead, John could see Elizabeth greeted him coolly, but congenially, and was buying none of what he came selling.  Typically the way she played the Genii. 

The door to the observation room opened, and he looked across out of curiosity, an emotion which quickly turned to ire at the sight of Mayel Serrana. 

She nearly leapt out of her Genii boots, staring at him with wide eyes.  “John.” 

He pulled himself off the wall he’d been leaning against, crossing his arms.  “Commander.”  

“I came to—“ she motioned towards Ladon, down below her.  “I didn’t know you’d be in here.” 

“I guess that was just both our bad luck,” he retorted.  

The surprise melted from her face, replaced with a mask of stoicism.  “I suppose it was.” 

She drew closer to the window about as far away from him as she could.  There was silence between them, filled only with the barely perceptible sound of Ladon and Elizabeth’s conversation, which was mostly Elizabeth complaining about the current state of things. 

“John—“ 

“Don’t,” he said quickly.  

“I never had the opportunity to explain properly.” 

“What’s there to explain?”  He glared at her.  “You made a choice.  Stabbed us in the back in the process, but at the end of the day it was a choice for the benefit of your people.  What else do you need to justify?” 

“That I didn’t do it to hurt you.” 

He clenched his teeth together.  “I never thought you did.  You did it despite me.  Now, you have to live with the consequences.  We both do.” 

Her eyes drifted to the floor.  

Ladon was leaning in towards Elizabeth, his voice lowered.  John frowned and cranked the sound a little in the room.   

“Tell me how I can help,” the Genii commander was saying. 

Elizabeth sat back up.  “I can’t do anything here on my end, but I’m sure if our allies in the Coalition were willing to support the strategy, there wouldn’t be much objection.” 

A bolt of shock ran through him, and he straightened, his ire at Mayel all but forgotten as he watched Elizabeth smile.  “You didn’t.” 

“What?” said Mayel. 

“I don’t think I have to venture very far to guess who might be impeding your plan,” Ladon continued, somewhat conspiratorially.  “And to be honest, this rumor was part of the reason why I came to Atlantis in person.  I hadn’t heard your…expertise…incorporated into the attack strategy, and I wondered why.” 

Elizabeth regarded him with a smile.  “That would probably take far too long to explain.  Just be assured none of the reasons are more of a threat than my getting left behind.” 

You did. 

John clenched his fists, trying to maintain calm.    

“John?” Mayel questioned in a small voice.  “What—”  

“I would suggest you get your Genii Commander out of that room,” he hissed as he stalked towards the door, slashing his hand across the crystal panel.  He turned back to look at her, narrowing his eyes.  “Or I’m going to do it for him, and it may not be so good for his health.”

 

--/--

 

“That’s good to know.  Before I, um, suggested the option, I wanted to make certain it was something you wanted.  As I recall from prior conversations, we do not risk heads of state, even former ones.  Certainly not without their consent.”  Ladon leaned back in his chair, a knowing smile on his face. 

The door behind them opened, and John walked in, a murderous expression on his face, followed by a Genii woman Elizabeth did not recognize.  She looked up at Ladon and nodded.  “I'm no longer a Head of State, Ladon.  And if it’s my consent you needed, you most certainly have it.” 

Ladon rose and turned, pulling to full height just as John walked up to him.  

“Colonel Sheppard,” he said in a pleasant tone.  “I believe we’re ready to proceed with our meeting.” 

John’s eyes stayed locked on his face for a moment, then flickered towards Elizabeth.  She pursed her lips, keeping her expression steady, and didn’t look away.  

He returned his gaze to Ladon’s, his eyes narrowing. 

Ladon met his burning stare without flinching.  “If you’d be so kind as to let Mr. Woolsey know.” 

Without a further word to either of them, Ladon joined his red-haired comrade and marched from the room. 

John stood staring at the floor for a moment, then, inexplicably, smiled and shook his head. 

She rose.  “I’m sorry John.  But Ladon was my only option here.  If I thought it—“ 

“Don’t bother,” he said, and when he lifted his face towards her, his expression was so changed Elizabeth felt her anger dissolve into concern.  

He looked old.  And tired.

“This isn’t the first time I’ve been manipulated by someone I trusted.  Thought I have to admit, you’ve got more skill than most.  I didn’t even suspect it.”  He shook his head.  “You and Ladon Radim.  Who woulda thought?” 

She swallowed.  “John—” 

“You made your choice,” he said as the door opened.  “Just don’t expect me to like it.” 

“You don’t have to.”  She met his gaze firmly and crossed her arms.  “You just have to respect it.” 

“Don’t have to do that either,” he returned, eyes narrowed.  “You are right about one thing, though.  The Atlantis you remember is gone.  Seems like we both needed you to remind us of that.” 

 

--/-- 

 

“I see no problem with this,” said Shiana, looking first at Richard, then at Colonel Sheppard.  The latter sunk further into his chair, his face twisted into a dark expression Teyla had not seen since before they recovered Elizabeth. 

She looked over to Ronon, who shrugged.  

“The obvious problem,” said Mr. Woolsey, “is that we have no gauge as to how to ensure Doctor Weir does not become a threat.” 

“She has controlled this problem before?” asked Shiana. 

Richard hesitated a moment, looking down before answering.  “Yes.” 

“And she has not encountered problems because of them?” 

“Since her initial infection, no.” 

“Then I fail to see the problem.  It sounds as though this woman would be a valuable component of this strategy, especially as, if what Doctor McKay said was true, she has done such a thing before.” 

The eyes of the Atlantis contingency turned to Rodney, who surprisingly kept his expression stoic.  

“I believe the Colonel’s concern lies with the fact that Doctor Weir is now more connected to these Replicators than any before,” said Kanaan.  “If she is indeed compromised this time around, it may mean the entire mission will be put in danger.” 

“Perhaps,” said Ladon.  “But without her, I see a much greater chance of failure.” 

“Not to mention a much greater loss of life potential,” said Larrin.  She turned to John with a grin on her face.  “I don’t mean to be blunt, boys, but it seems like this reticence on your part isn’t so much a military concern...” she turned to Richard at just the last minute, as John looked up, “…as a personal one.” 

Richard sighed.  “Elizabeth Weir, yes, is a very valued member of this expedition and has been from day one.  Of course we would factor in the risk to her as well.” 

“And yet Doctor Weir does not seem to mind,” said Ladon.  There was no smile now on his face.  “She asked me personally to request this.  And considering all the evidence, it seems like the best possible scenario our Coalition could hope for would be her inclusion.  The risks to her jeopardizing the mission are minimal considering the valuable assets she possesses.  The chance that she might possess the ability to freeze the entire Replicator Collective?  That alone is worth the risk.” 

“And if she ends up under the control of the Collective and working against us?” asked John.  “What would the Coalition do about that?” 

“We would have to kill her,” said Mayel Serrana. 

Teyla stared at her in shock as the rest of the conference went silent.  

“She is human, is she not?  Then if the Collective overtakes her, we will have to eliminate the threat.  I believe it is as simple as that.”  With no one able to answer, the Genii continued.  “Doctor Weir is an intelligent woman.  I know she is well aware not only of the risks but of this possible outcome.  If you doubt, ask her.  But as someone recently told me,” she looked pointedly at John in this case, “when we make our choices, we must live with the consequences of those decisions, whatever the ramifications may be.  I believe, quite frankly, that she has made hers.” 

The room went silent.  John’s gaze had drifted to the table, his jaw clenched. 

“The short choice is this, Mr. Woolsey,” said Ladon.  “Either Elizabeth Weir goes in the capacity we have just mentioned—or the Coalition does not back Atlantis in this venture.” 

“And run the risk of subjecting every single one of your people to death at the hands of the Replicators?” said Richard. 

“That has already happened, for some,” said Shiana coldly. 

“I will not send our people into a guaranteed failure,” said Ladon.  His words were supported by a curt nod from Larrin.  “We agree that Doctor Weir is vital to this operation.  If she does not join, then neither shall the Coalition.” 

Richard rubbed his forehead and glanced over at John, who frowned minutely.  He offered the Colonel a sympathetic glance but shook his head. 

“Very well,” he said.  “I’ll clear this with Doctor Weir myself, but if that is the decision of the Coalition, then we have an agreement.  You have one day to prepare.” 

“We won’t need it,” said Larrin, with a smile.  “But if you want it—” she looked over at John once more.  “You may want to take it.  Just to resolve a few things, here and there.  Seems like you people have quite a lot to resolve.” 

Teyla found she did not disagree with her.

 

--/-- 

 

Rodney walked into the Jumper toting his datapad and started at the sight of Elizabeth sitting in his normal seat.  She turned and looked at him as he stood watching her, her expression twisting into a frown.  

“If it’s better that I get beamed up to the Daedalus, I can still go—” 

“No, no, we wanted you here so you didn’t have to deal with the security detail Caldwell wanted to put on you.  It’s just that—that’s my…you know, my seat.” 

Her eyebrow rose.  “Your seat?  You have assigned seats?” 

“Not exactly.  It’s just that I can see better what’s going on over the pilot’s shoulder, and I have better access to the systems back there from here.” 

Her eyes drifted to the co-pilot’s chair.  He watched her expectantly, and with a sigh she heaved herself upwards and moved over to it, crossing her arms. 

He shook his head, wondering what was wrong with that chair.  True, he never liked to be up front unless he had to be—something about that huge exposed window that made him leery nowadays—but there was no reason why Elizabeth should be bothered with it.  That had been where she pretty much always sat. 

Sheppard strode in, decked out in tactical gear, and paused for a moment at the sight of Elizabeth in the co-pilot’s chair.  He frowned, and she turned away from him, fiddling with something on the console. 

So that was it. 

In the last twenty-four hours, all of which had been prep time for the mission to what Sheppard had nicknamed ‘Asuras II’ he hadn’t seen them speak once.  Which more than likely had to do with the manipulation Elizabeth had used to get herself on the mission in the first place.  It had been a brilliant piece of work on Elizabeth’s part to use Ladon Radim as her stepping stone, but as none of them were particularly fond of the idea of throwing her back into the Replicators’ clutches, he couldn’t say he admired it fully. 

But Elizabeth had always possessed a sort of quiet strength and stubbornness that very rarely met with opposition when pushed to the limit.  She’d merely done what she’d always done, make the tough choice for all of them, even when it meant danger to herself. 

Still, given the recent problems John had with the Genii, it was fully understandable why he was ticked.  And he was ticked, that much was certain.  When Caldwell has proposed a security detail for Elizabeth, Sheppard, surprisingly, had been perfectly fine with it, until Teyla insisted Elizabeth’s security be handled by them, for Elizabeth’s sake.  While the Colonel hadn’t argued with her—that was better for all their sakes—he certainly hadn’t championed the idea, either. 

Sheppard plopped himself in the pilot’s chair, looking over the HUD and making final preparation checks without a word to anyone.  Elizabeth kept her face turned towards the far side of the window, admiring what Rodney could only presume was the lovely view of the inside of the Jumper Bay. 

Teyla and Ronon strode in, Teyla pausing for a brief moment to note the situation between the two in the front seats, look at Rodney, sigh, and then take her own seat.  Ronon threw himself into the back chair and kicked his feet up, apparently oblivious to anything other than his need to relax. 

Daedalus, this is Sheppard.  Are you ready for us?” 

The ship’s communications officer took a moment to respond but affirmed the order.  John hesitated for a moment, then asked quietly, “you got an armed escort ready?” 

Teyla heaved another audible sigh at this request.  Elizabeth, on the other hand, kept her face turned towards the far side of the window.  

“Yes, Colonel,” said Colonel Caldwell.  “We’re all set for your arrival.” 

“In that case, we’re departing.” 

“Copy that.” 

“Good luck, Colonel Sheppard,” broke in Woolsey.  “And Godspeed." 

“Thanks.  I have a feeling we’ll need both.” 

 

--/-- 

 

The blue glow of hyperspace was an appealing distraction from Rodney’s droning on about the set-up around Asuras II.  Having heard this speech three times today, John figured he could teach it as well as Rodney at this point. 

“And where does she come in?” Larrin asked suddenly, diverting John’s attention from the windows and back to the group.  She was looking at Elizabeth, who sat at the far end of the table, not too removed from her Marine escort.  Her eyes glanced towards Larrin, and he could tell from her expression she was amused, though she didn’t openly show it. 

“We’ll be taking in a cloaked Jumper close to the planet,” answered John.  “We’ll try and connect to the Replicator Collective from there.  Once we do, we’ll have her lower the shield to allow for weapons strikes.” 

“It’s how we did it last time,” Rodney put in hurriedly, at Larrin’s skeptical look.  “And it worked.” 

“Yes, but perhaps now they know you’re coming.” 

“Maybe,” said Elizabeth, the sound of her voice, heard for the first time by many of the Coalition members, silencing the room.  “But the Replicators assess everything in a logical order.  Despite my past interference, they would still consider my breach a minor nuisance in comparison with a full scale assault and focus upon that first.” 

“Which will hopefully give us a window of opportunity to take the system down,” said Rodney.  “At least enough to get a few good shots in with the PWARW system.” 

“This ‘P-War’ system—it will not put a strain on our ship engines?” asked another of the Traveler captains. 

“No.  All your ships are adequately powered to be able to charge at least one blast,” Rodney replied.  “Just don’t try massive fire.” 

“And if her ability to connect to the Collective fails?” asked Larrin. 

“The connection won’t fail,” said Rodney.  

Larrin’s eyebrow rose.  “If it does?” 

Rodney sighed.  “If, for some completely unfathomable reason we’re unable to lower the Shield, we will create a breach using a modified disrupter beam, allowing us to slip a Jumper through.” 

“Then we’ll head down to the planet and attempt to lower it manually,” answered John.  At this, Mayel’s head turned towards him, her eyes wide.  He tried to ignore the obvious concern in her face and cleared his throat.  “It’s been outlined that way from the start.” 

“And you are okay with this?” asked Larrin in surprise, at Elizabeth.  “Sounds dangerous for a diplomat.” 

“Yes,” Elizabeth replied, with a steady look on her face.  “It was what I was insisting on.  The Replicators, even with only half their operations completed, will have protocols in place for their protection.  Only by introducing an unpredictable factor do I believe we stand a chance to defeat them.  Simply put, they should be expecting me to be there and we’ll take advantage of that.” 

“You are most certainly unpredictable,” said Mayel, quietly.  Elizabeth frowned at her, and John found himself almost amused.  Almost. 

“And if you become too unpredictable?”  Larrin asked.  As a few of the Atlantis contingent eyed her disdainfully, she grinned.  “It’s a question that has to be asked.” 

Elizabeth raised her chin, her focus on the Traveler’s captain.  “Should anything unexpected happen, I’m confident that Colonel Sheppard and his team will be able to do what is needed.  I trust both him and them completely.” 

Larrin’s smiled broadened.  “Well, providing we can capitalize on it, I suppose so can I.”  She looked over at Rodney.  “How long do we have?” 

“Two hours,” he answered. 

“In that case, as we would say, time for a last look around the landing pad,” the Traveler’s captain said.     

Most of the group rose, leaving for their respective quarters or the bridge of the Daedalus, where they could beam out to their ships once the fleet exited hyperspace.  Elizabeth moved on with the rest, walking up to her escorts without so much as a glance towards John and his team.  Teyla paused at the door, staring at him disapprovingly, and followed Elizabeth.

He leaned in to gather his things, taking time to allow the remainder of the group to shuffle out. 

“Women troubles?” 

Larrin startled him, having snuck up behind him with a smarmy smile on her pretty face.  “You seem to be—how is it your boys put it?  Zero for Three?” 

“Funny,” he replied, leaning down to grab his datapad.  “You trying to work your way into my good graces using bad Earth slang?” 

“I like your ‘slang’.  It’s very fitting in many cases,”  Larrin said.  “And speaking of which, your Doctor Weir is something else.  How is it I was never introduced after we first met?” 

“She wasn’t around,” he replied.  “Colonel Carter was in charge at that point.” 

“Ah.”  Larrin’s smile faded a little.  “Well, all due respect to the Colonel but this one looks like she could talk down Wraith Queens.” 

“She could.  And has.” 

“I suppose anyone who could manage you and McKay at the same time would have to.” 

“Does this conversation have a point?”  John asked.  “Cause we have to destroy a Replicator homeworld in about two hours, and I have important things to do.  Like crossword puzzles.  And washing my hair.” 

She tilted her head a little, his sarcasm not lost on her even if his Earth reference was.  “Probably not.  But whatever beef with her you’re holding onto, John Sheppard, I would suggest you fix it.” 

The observation caught him by surprise, and he stared at her in chagrin.  “What—” 

“Look, any woman who can cause the whole of the Atlantis contingent to walk around mopey-eyed and pouty over the risk to her life—” 

“Mopey-eyed?  We’re not—” 

“Don’t change the subject.  You guys, Ladon—look, she’s obviously earned a decent amount of respect in a lot of corners of this galaxy.  Which means, knowing you like I do, that if you’re keeping her at arm’s length now, somewhere up the line something broke.  Put it back together, Sheppard, or you’re going to regret it, especially if this thing doesn’t go as planned.”  

“Aww, I’m touched,” he snipped back.  “You really do care.” 

“About your personal problems, not so much.  About my ships and crews, you better believe it.”  She pushed a finger into his chest.  “You are welcome to fly into the heart of danger like you always do.  You want to take her with you, that’s fine too.  Personally, I think she’s headed that way in any case.  Just don’t let it interfere with what needs to get done.  Fix it, before we all suffer the consequences.”  

He made a face.  Larrin, of all people, was giving him advice now.  The galaxy really was coming to an end.  

She grinned.  “Fix things with Teyla, too.  Grumpy Athosians scare me.  Though maybe not as much as grumpy Genii,” she said, dropping her voice to a whisper and nodding her head towards the far side of the room.  

Mayel was still in the room, gathering up her data at a turtle’s pace.  Larrin turned from him with a wink.  “Like I said, zero for three.  You’re a real catch, Sheppard.” 

She turned and strode out confidently, her brown curls flying.  Mayel watched her walk out, then looked at John with a pinched face. 

He offered up a shrug, letting her imagine what she wanted—with a little bit of mean-spirited enjoyment on his part for that—and left the room without a word. 

 

--/-- 

 

Rodney looked over the tablet he was taking, though he didn’t really know why he was even bothering.  It wasn’t on.  He supposed it was something to do in a time when he really needed something to do. 

The doors to his temporary quarters slid open, and Jennifer walked in.  He swallowed, not certain exactly what to say.  She was still miffed about the choices he and Sheppard had made about Elizabeth and the stasis pod. 

“Ah, hi—” 

She walked over to him and enveloped him in a strong hug.  Strange that someone so small could elicit that much power.  But he was glad she could. 

And then she kissed him, which made everything else about this mission and all the confusion from before simply melt away. 

“No hero business on this thing, okay?” she said, putting her head against his shoulder.  “Get out there, lower the shield, get back safe.” 

“Yeah.  I’ll do my best.” 

Her expression changed from softly smiling to serious, her eyes searching his.  “I’m not just saying that, Rodney.” 

He gave her his best sincere smile, which faded as he stared at her.  “Listen, about what happened with Elizabeth—” 

She closed her eyes and shook her head.  “You don’t have to explain.  And considering what she did to get herself on this mission, I think laying blame on either you or Colonel Sheppard for anything else that’s happened is sort of a short-change anyway.” 

“Well, Elizabeth is tenacious.  She kinda always was, you know.” 

“Yes.  She’s also very dedicated to protecting Atlantis, which I think is dangerous, at least for her.” 

As she released him, he frowned.  “What does that mean?” 

“It means that Elizabeth still considers herself a threat.  And I’m not so sure, if, given the opportunity, that she wouldn’t see to it that that threat is taken care of the same way the Replicators are.” 

 He stared at her in horror.  “She wouldn’t do that.  It’d be suicide.” 

Jennifer tilted her head.  “She’s not living in this world, Rodney.  She’s been keeping her distance for weeks now.  This little maneuver with the Genii was an effective method of adding to that.  She’s alienating herself from everyone.” 

“You know, I’m really tired of my friends thinking they have the right to just go around throwing themselves at death’s door because ‘it’ll protect someone else’.”  He grimaced and tossed the datapad on his desk.  “For once I’d like them to recognize that the death is what causes the damage, not the danger.” 

“Then maybe you should tell her that,” Jennifer replied. 

“It won’t do any good.  She’s as stubborn as Sheppard.”  His gaze drifted to the far wall, remembering a time, long ago, when he and Jennifer had first worked together to bring Elizabeth back from the brink. 

“What is it?” Jennifer asked.  

“I was just thinking—John might be able to say something.  He always claimed to know her best.  He might be able to convince her to change her mind.” 

“Then tell him that.” 

“Yeah, right.  You ever tried to talk to John Sheppard about anything personal?” 

“Yes,” she said softly.  “About you.” 

“What?”  He blinked, then blinked again.  “Really?” 

“Maybe you don’t have to tell him—but maybe, I don’t know, just give him the opportunity.  If he won’t let her die without a fight, then make sure he gets the chance to try.” 

Rodney sighed, releasing some of the tension of the conversation, and moved over to kiss her forehead.  “You’re right.  Like you usually are.” 

Her finger poked into his chest, through his TAC vest.  “You just remember that.  I’ll be reminding you of it for a long time to come.”  

“And I might actually look forward to it.” 

 

--/--  

 

Asuras II floated before them majestically, looking beautiful and blue against the darkness of deep space.  Just looking down at the atmosphere, Elizabeth noted, one would never know there was so much danger lurking beneath the surface. 

“We’re in position,” said Colonel Caldwell, through the com.  John, his focus on the HUD and Jumper prep, nodded. 

“Copy.”  

“We’re also ready,” said Larrin.  “All ships in position.” 

“Activity on the planet seems to indicate the Replicators haven’t detected us yet.  I would say you have a go, Colonel.” 

“Then let’s get this party started.”  For the first time in nearly a day, John looked directly at her, his expression carefully neutral, even when she returned the gaze with surprise.  “You ready?” 

She sighed, and despite her feelings at the moment, offered him a smile.  “As I’ll ever be.” 

There was a slight twitch of his mouth, but he tilted his head back towards Rodney.  “Let’s do this, McKay.” 

Elizabeth couldn’t help the feeling that rose in her chest, remembering what this had felt like the last time she tried it.  It honestly wasn’t that far removed in her memory, though she knew that significant time had passed for everyone else. 

The wireless ‘connection’ initiated, and her focus returned to the HUD, though she wasn’t looking at the system.  Like a magnificent numeric diagram the Collective of Asuras II spread out before her, with every portion and section lined out in a way that she could instinctively read. 

“Are you seeing it?” 

“Yes,” she replied.  “Just like before.” 

“Hold on,” Rodney said.  “I’m going to try and use your nanites to manipulate the code and see if I can affect the programming of the shield.” 

Rodney’s work sped her through the numbers like a dizzying circus ride.  She could understand what it was he was doing, but she was glad he had the control of it. 

The numbers turned sideways, and she felt the ride slow a bit.  Behind her, Rodney cursed. 

“What’s wrong?” asked John. 

“Stupid smart little creeps,” Rodney muttered. 

“McKay?” 

“The Collective isn’t controlling the Shield generators,” Elizabeth answered for him.  “They’ve separated primary systems from the network.  We can’t access the system remotely.  We’ll have to go down manually and do it.” 

“Guess they were prepared,” John said.  He punched the communications system.  “Looks like Plan A is a wash.  We’re prepping the disrupter system now.  Be prepared, they’re definitely going to notice that.” 

“Copy,” said Caldwell.  “Good luck, Colonel.  Doctor,” he added, after a second. 

Rodney was working with the system, tapping in commands as fast as he could.  “I’ve got it online.  We need to work fast; my guess is they’ll be preparing for this, since we tried it last time.  The modifications should be enough to give us time before they override it again.” 

“We’re ready, Rodney,” John said. 

The Jumper de-cloaked as the disrupter enveloped them, carving a Jumper-sized hole below them.  John dropped the little ship through it quickly, immediately flipping back to cloak as soon as Rodney had shut the disrupter off.  

“Any ideas where to land on this rock?”  John asked quietly.  

Rodney didn’t have to access the Collective again; Elizabeth could recall some of the information she’d sped through.  “They’re still constructing the East pier.  Remember that underwater Jumper Bay we found on Atlantis when they attempted to take it over?  That’s been built but is currently unmonitored.  It’s not too far from one of the emitters.  We should be able to take down the shield if we destroy at least one, right?” 

John glanced back to Rodney, who, wide-eyed, nodded.  “Yes.  Um, what she said.” 

He flew the Jumper carefully through the towers of the City, observing the half rebuilt Asuras II.  She could see where the expansion projects would end up creating the City they had seen when they first traveled to Asuras, the one that had built upon the original Atlantis and impressively grown to consume nearly half the planet.  

The Jumper went into a dive, cutting through the water quickly and into the hidden Jumper Bay, which looked exactly the same as it had when they’d first visited it on Atlantis.  But unlike before, only the entrance didn’t remain flooded—the bay could be drained of water. 

“At least we won’t need General O’Neill this time,” Elizabeth said quietly. 

“Hopefully we won’t need a plan F,” John retorted.  

“Hey, Plan F worked,” Rodney replied.  “And it was brilliantly executed, if I do say so myself.” 

“Let’s ask Woolsey whether he agrees with you on that,” John replied automatically.  The banter between them made her smile.  It felt a little like old times. 

The HUD flashed up in front of them and John scanned it quickly.  “Area looks clear.  Any Replicators nearby?” 

She shook her head.  “Not that I can sense.” 

“Then it looks like we’re a go.”   He released the door behind them, and Teyla and Ronon rose automatically, moving out to assess the surroundings.  Rodney went behind them, fumbling to get his datapad in his pack and grabbing the whole thing awkwardly, probably so as to assure he’d be right behind Ronon when they went into Asuras II. 

She moved to stand. 

“Hey.”  John had turned slightly in his seat, his focus on the dash before him, but after a second he looked over at her.  “Listen, about the whole Ladon thing—” 

“You don’t have to say anything,” she said, settling back in the chair.  “I went behind your back and betrayed your trust.  And I’m sorry for that, John, I truly am.  But you have to understand why I did it.  You didn’t give me a choice.” 

He frowned and looked down towards the ground. 

“I know why you and Richard wanted to keep me there.  And I know it’s more complicated than I’m making it out to be but understand my perspective.  Either I help here, or I take the chance of watching you all die because I wasn’t allowed to help.  I was not going to let that happen.” 

“I know that.  I don’t even begrudge you using Ladon,” he replied quietly.  “Almost.  But you’ve always respected our ability to make the call when we needed to.  I’m asking you to respect that now.  It’s not like we’re not considering all the factors or making snap judgments here.” 

She raised an eyebrow and it forced a smile out of him.  “Most of the time.” 

“I know that, John.  And I fully respect your position.  But I’m asking you to respect my judgment, too.  Even if it means going against what your instinct tells you.  I’m not the head of the expedition anymore.  You don’t need to protect me like I am.” 

The smile faded.  “Maybe not.  But you are a member of my team and a member of Atlantis.  The same rules apply to you as apply to anyone else in that position.  That’s what you need to understand.” 

She didn’t answer him.  She honestly wasn’t quite sure what to say.  

He leaned in a little closer, his expression firm.  “If we want this to work, Elizabeth, we have to work together.  You’ve always believed that, from the very start.  Don’t give up on me now.” 

There was just enough of that John Sheppard optimism in his expression, that sense that even in the face of the greatest danger they had a remote chance of success, to make her believe him.  

She smiled.  “I won’t.” 

“Good.”  He rose, and reached over for his ARG.  “Now what do you say we go and take care of some Replicators?”  

“I thought you’d never ask,” she replied, rising.  He let her pass and followed, the soft, human expression in his eyes dissolving into the hardness of a military commander as they made their way out of the safety of the Jumper and onto Asuras Two.

 

>>> Continued in Primum Movens, Part II, CH V

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