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Primum Movens, Part II, CH V

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

 

Ronon peered around the corner, holding his blaster face level.  Still no Replicators to be seen, so Weir’s information about them appeared to be truthful. 

The next hallway was also clear.  At the end was the doorway to one of the shield generator rooms.  

He drove forward, Teyla following and shadowed by Rodney.  Sheppard shielded Weir at the back. 

The room wasn’t unlike some of the other power rooms he’d seen, flashing and glowing with the light of the emitter and its controlling systems.  Rodney pushed past him, moving to the main console and typing in commands.  Weir joined him, observing what he was doing, though there was no indication she could affect anything.  

“Got it,” McKay murmured.  He looked up as around them the room seemed to dim, and the levels of power within the central mechanism faded.  Everything was still for a few moments.  

With the engagement sound customary for start-up, the machines in the room lit up once more, glowing less brightly but glowing nonetheless.  From the surprised expression on McKay’s face, Ronon guessed the power down didn’t work. 

“It didn’t work!” Rodney said. 

Weir was looking at the console, her gaze focused, but not on anything in particular.  After a few seconds she looked up.  “They’ve got contingencies in case someone tampers with the emitters.  You’d have to take them all out in order to lower the shield.” 

“Contingencies.  Of course they have contingencies.”  Rodney frowned and paced away.  “Boy, I wish I could for once live in a City where I might actually consider the fact of contingencies because we had them.” 

“Are the emitters located in the same place as on Atlantis?”  asked Sheppard. 

“Yes.” 

“We’re not gonna have time to run them all down,” said Ronon.  “They’ve probably already figured out what we’re up to.” 

As if on cue, a scrabbling sound suddenly filled the halls.  Rodney and Teyla both turned, listening. 

“What is that sound?” Teyla asked.  Sheppard moved towards the door, his eyes widening at the sight.  

“You’ve gotta be kidding me.” 

The entire group moved to the door, Ronon just barely able to see across Sheppard’s spikey hair.  Down the far end of the hall, weird spider-like machines were coming towards them. 

“Block form Replicators?” said Rodney with a whine.  “Seriously?” 

John glanced sideways at him.  “I take it there was some information on the block form replicators in what Fran—the Replicator stole?” 

“Maybe in the database?” Rodney said.  “Or maybe in their database, who knows?  The Android that built them had nanites in her, which had to have come from the Pegasus galaxy…anyways, what does it matter?  Obviously they figured it out somehow!” 

“What do we do about them?” 

“Well, in the Milky Way—” 

The Spiders suddenly started to freeze, one by one.  The group turned to Elizabeth, who was looking at them with a degree of focused interest.  Rodney glanced down at his datapad, which had numbers scrolling across it, then looked up in surprise.  “She’s freezing them.” 

“Really?  I couldn’t tell,” Sheppard said sarcastically, as the last spider froze.  “Any more coming?” 

“These were sentries.  Part of the security system,” Elizabeth said.  “None nearby, but obviously Ronon’s right, the Replicators in the Tower are aware of our presence.” 

“Then we’re going to have to figure something out and quickly,” said John.  “Any other brilliant ideas?  And by that I mean something that will work without getting us killed.” 

“Wait a minute.”  Rodney was over at one of the consoles, scanning through some more data.  “Here it says that they’ve got three power sources feeding into the shield.  A primary Zed PM dedicated to the shield along with a few backups.  That must be nice,” he commented. 

“Rodney?”  Sheppard looked ready to bounce on his toes in impatience. 

McKay ignored him and typed in a few commands.  “If I can rework the programming…HA!”  He smiled maliciously, eyes glittering.  “Scientific retribution!” 

“What?” Ronon asked. 

“We can blow the shield.  All it would take would be getting to each of the power sources and overloading them.”  He turned back to his datapad and began typing as quickly as he could. 

“If we want to do this fast, we need to split up,” replied Ronon, as McKay continued working.

Sheppard threw him a chagrined look, but not one that disagreed.  “Okay—Teyla and Rodney can handle the primary; Ronon will take the other.” Sheppard said.  He glanced at Elizabeth.  “You and I will take care of the third.” 

He ripped his datapad from his pack and held it out towards McKay.  “I presume you can get us the info for where those rooms are and how to shut down that power module?” 

“Ronon’s is to the left of the transporter that opens near the entrance to the West pier.”  Rodney was still typing rapidly on his own pad.  Sheppard stood watching him, his own tablet outstretched until McKay looked up.  “What?” 

“Map?  Or something?”  John shook the tablet in front of him. 

The scientist threw him a weird look.  “It’s Atlantis.  Why do you need a map of Atlantis?”  He glanced over at Ronon.  “You need a map of Atlantis?” 

“No,” Ronon replied.  “So long as this thing is where you say it is.” 

“It is.” 

“Execution program?  Override code?”  John persisted, waving his tablet at Rodney again. 

“Huh?  Oh, shutting it down.”  McKay was nose back in his own datapad again.  “A few shots with that aimed at the conduits coming out of the console ought to do it.”  Rodney gestured to John’s pistol.  

At Sheppard’s surprised silence the scientist glanced up out of whatever it was he was doing and frowned.  “What?  You wanted easy, right?  If you take out the two auxiliary consoles, it’ll necessarily require the third to compensate.  I’ll program in the overload to that one.” 

“Ok.”  John looked not quite convinced, but he returned his datapad to his pack.  “Easy works for me.  Where’s ours located?” 

“Near the Chair room,” Rodney remarked. 

“You’re sure?” 

Elizabeth crossed her arms, arching an eyebrow at Sheppard.  “Yes.  He’s sure.  And if you have any questions about it…” 

“Right.  Built in wireless.”  He smirked at her as she made a face at him, before addressing the rest of the group.  “Rendezvous at the Jumper.  If the main shield goes down, raise the Jumper shield, no waiting around to play hero, got it?” 

“Got it,” Rodney replied firmly.  With a last glance, Sheppard started off down the hall, Weir in tow.  Ronon nodded once in acknowledgment at Teyla and Rodney, then started off on his own path. 

 

--/--

 

Steven eyed the relatively peaceful looking planet below them, rubbing his chin with his hand.  “Any change?” 

“No sir,” said his XO.  “Shield still appears to be up.  There was a flicker in power distribution a little while ago but nothing since.” 

He lowered his fist, clenching it.  It was too quiet and he didn’t like it. 

“Keep me updated,” he said.  “Every five minutes.” 

 

--/--

 

Rodney did his best to keep pace with Teyla, even managing not to huff and puff too much as they reached the main power room.  He wasted no time explaining or accessing, just moved over to the power area and hooked his pad to the console. Teyla kept watch at the doorway when worked on piecing together the quickest override sequence he could. 

Over the radio he heard a distinct blaster sound. “Just took care of mine,” said Ronon.  “Sheppard?” 

“Almost there,” said Sheppard.  “We had some more sentries to contend with.”   There was a pause, followed by a burst of ammunition fire.  “Done.” 

Rodney looked at Teyla, swallowing.  The readings on the console showed that the power had spiked on the system in front of them as they’d surmised it would, but that didn’t mean this was going to work. 

Teyla nodded at him serenely, and he initiated his sequence.  

The console in front of them whined in protest, the console lighting up more brightly.  For a brief second he feared that his cobbled together program wasn’t going to do its job, but the batch of cascading data scrolling across it suddenly started scrolling faster as the information overloaded the system.  

In the blink of an eye it stopped, the console shutting off with a flash.  It was rather anti-climactic, but if it worked, it worked, right? 

“I think—I think that’s it,” Rodney said.   With the console offline, there wasn’t much of a way to monitor the status of the shield this deep inside the city.  But with no power flowing to the emitters, by all indications it should be down. 

Daedalus,” said Sheppard.  “We’ve killed auxiliary power to the Shield.”  

“We see it,” said Colonel Caldwell.  “Based on our readings, the Asuran shield is down.” 

Rodney breathed a sigh of relief.  At least this time, things seemed to have gone as planned, for once. 

“We’re going to try firing that PWARW, Colonel Sheppard,” continued Caldwell.  “I suggest you get everyone, in particular Doctor Weir, back to that Jumper.” 

“Copy that.  Move out,” John said.  “We’re on our way, we’ll rendezvous with everyone at the Jumper.” 

“Copy,” Teyla said, looking at Rodney.  “Let us hurry.” 

 

--/--

 

Elizabeth found she could keep up pretty well with John.  Not bad for someone out of commission for years.  

It was only a few more corridors to the underwater Jumper bay.  

Perhaps it was because this seemed too easy, and things never seemed to go easily for Atlantis, that she suddenly felt a nagging urge to stop and reassess the Asuran database.  Instinct, or her own knowledge of how that Replicator’s mind worked, honed in on something that seemed to hover at the edge of the careful correctness of the city’s seemingly innocuous systems—something that wasn’t right. 

John stopped in front of her as she slowed her pace, expressions of displeasure, then concern, flashing across his face.  They’d stopped in the middle of the large hall that would take them back to the South Pier—one that, in the opposite direction, would also head back to the Tower. 

He walked back to where she was standing, his eyes darting across their surroundings, ever alert, though she had his attention.  “What’s up?” 

“Something’s wrong,” she murmured.  “They were expecting us to do this.  That’s why we only had a little bit of resistance.”  She tapped her radio.  “Rodney, it’s Elizabeth—can you check the readings once more?  I’m sensing something odd in the system.” 

An unrecognizable voice came out garbled.  “—at…mean—” 

John pursed his lips and tapped his own com.  “Daedalus, do you acknowledge?  We may have an issue with the system—hold fire.” 

Communications died and Elizabeth cast a worried glance at John.  He frowned at her but nodded down the hall.  “Let’s get back to the Jumper.  We should be able to contact them from there and figure out what’s going on.” 

 

--/--

 

Caldwell felt the Daedalus grumble a little under the powering charge of the PWARW system.  His XO looked up, slightly perturbed, but returned to his duties. 

“Colonel Caldwell, Coalition systems are ready,” said Larrin.  “We’ll go on your call.” 

“Copy that, Captain.  We’re still waiting to hear from Sheppard.” 

“We can’t take too long at this, Colonel.  We’re only going to get one shot.” 

“I understand, Captain.   Believe me.  But…” 

A transmission suddenly came across the communications systems, sounding garbled.  “…not…re.” 

“What is that?” asked Steven.  “Where’s it coming from?” 

“It looks like the planet, sir,” said one of the technicians. 

system…D..nofire…” 

He recognized the tones of the voice, after a second.  “That sounds like Colonel Sheppard.” 

“Sounds like he’s warning us off, Colonel,” said Larrin.  

“Shields must not yet be down.” 

“Are you sure?”  The Traveler’s captain suddenly sounded very serious.  “Can we be certain they haven’t been compromised?” 

Caldwell exchanged an uncertain look with his XO.  “We haven’t been given a reason to doubt them at this stage, Captain.  We’ll give them a little more time.” 

“Okay, but if we run into reason to doubt…” 

“I understand,” replied Caldwell.  “We’ll notify you when we hear more.” 

“Very well, Colonel.  I’m going to have my people run additional scans in the meanwhile.” 

“Whatever you have to do, Captain,” Steven said. 

 

--/--

 

Rodney frowned, tapping at his headset as he and Teyla exited the Transporter.  The last thing Elizabeth had said was something about something being wrong, but he couldn’t make out what it was she was talking about. 

But right after she’d tried to warn him, communications had been jammed somehow.  That wasn’t a good sign.  Ever.  

The City suddenly shook beneath them, causing him to lose his balance and fall rather ungracefully to the ground.  Above him, the lights in the city flickered minutely and dust shook loose from crevices.  

After a moment, all was silent again.  The lights returned to normal and nothing else seemed amiss. 

Teyla extended her arm—she, of course, had managed to stay standing.  “What was that?” 

Rodney shook his head.  “I have no idea but I’m sure it wasn’t good.” 

Ronon appeared out of the Transporter, his blaster lifted, which he lowered slightly at the sight of Teyla and Rodney.  “Did it work?” 

“As I just told her, I don’t know.”  Rodney was studying the data, but nothing he had on his datapad indicated that anything had changed.   “Based on the readings the shield still appears to be down.  But I don’t know where the vibrations came from.  Maybe they tried a test shot.” 

“Perhaps,” said Teyla.  She and Ronon were both studying a large archway they’d just crossed under.  It was alight with blue bulbs.  “But...” 

Footsteps echoed down the hall, and they turned as John and Elizabeth appeared, running towards them.  

A humming sound started up around them.  Rodney looked up as the lights started to flicker again.  “What—” 

John and Elizabeth had nearly reached them, both increasing their pace to catch up.  Sheppard flung his hand out, signaling them to continue down the hall.  “Get back to the Jumper.  We—“ 

“John!” Teyla shouted.  The archway had suddenly lit up a very bright blue. 

Her warning was too late.  Sheppard slammed full force into a barrier that appeared as he made contact with it.  Elizabeth barely managed to move out of his way as he bounced backward from impact, slamming hard onto the city floor.  

Ronon moved up to the barrier, looking it over as John raised himself up on his elbows. 

“Unpleasant isn’t it?” The Satedan asked, partly amused, as Elizabeth helped Sheppard to his feet. 

“Unpleasant is not exactly the word I would use,” John said, rubbing his neck.   

“It’s like the ones on that submersible station,” Ronon said. 

“Can you get it down?”  John asked, looking through the now opaque blue wall, straight at Rodney.  

“Uh…”   Rodney pulled up the schematics for the area on his datapad, but nothing was showing up indicating a barrier or door system.  “From what I can tell, it’s not a part of the city database.  I’m not getting any readings on it anywhere in the system.” 

“No,” Elizabeth echoed.  “It’s similar to the shield.  We can’t access it remotely.” 

“Which means it was more than likely designed that way on purpose,” John said in an irritated voice.   “They’re trying to cut off our escape route.” 

“Not our escape route,” said Teyla.  She was looking at Elizabeth. 

As John turned to her in alarm, Teyla gestured towards the barrier.  “We passed through it without incident.  It was only powered up when Elizabeth drew near.  I suspect the intention was to separate us—and keep her here.” 

“But…why?” asked Rodney.  “It’s not like they can get any more data from her.” 

Elizabeth was studying the barrier with anything but a surprised expression, Rodney noted.  John noticed it, too.  “You knew they might try something like this.” 

She shrugged.  “I suspected as much, but I wasn’t certain.” 

“Based on what?” asked Rodney.  “The last time you had a run in with the Replicators they tried to kill you.” 

“When you recovered the history of the Replicators from my nanites, the Primus origin wasn’t the only thing that was there.  My Replicator also appeared—she was watching the memories, the same as I was.  Somehow she was in my head.” 

John’s eyes narrowed, his volume increasing.  “And you didn’t think it was, oh, I don’t know, important to mention that?” 

“Would you have let me come if I had?” 

“That was never my call,” he returned through gritted teeth.  “Remember?” 

Elizabeth crossed her arms.  “She didn’t try to hurt me.  It was like she wanted me to know the story—to understand where the Replicators came from, what the Primus was for.” 

“Sure.  Make sure you’re fully informed right before she completely takes over your mind,” John retorted.  “Thoughtful.” 

“I don’t think that was her intention.” 

“You can’t know that for—” 

“It doesn’t matter anymore,” Ronon barked.  John and Elizabeth looked over at him in surprise as he crossed his arms, his expression nonchalant as always, but his tone more pressing.  “Why are they going after her now?”  

Elizabeth’s gaze flickered towards John for a moment before answering.  “I think in a way I’m still a stumbling block for them.  The capsule didn’t work like it was supposed to when I was inside, and I was able to overcome her attempts to try and do whatever it was she tried to do.  I’m still a threat to them now, I’m sure of it.  If there was a chance of their being able to control me to make sure what I did to Oberoth doesn’t happen again, they were going to take it.” 

“But how would they have known you would even be a part of this mission?” asked Teyla.  “They could not have sensed our plans.” 

“They didn’t have to.  That Replicator, despite whatever Altus did to her, is still me.  I can feel it.  She knows how I think, and she knew I wouldn’t consent to being left behind.” 

“Which was the point of your staying behind,” said John.  She heaved an irritated sigh and some of his dark expression faded.  “Well, we’re past coulda, shoulda, woulda anyway.  What’s the best option for getting her out of here?” 

“Right now?”  Rodney shrugged his shoulders, gesturing to his datapad.  “We’re cut off from the system, so unless you want to try and work your way out and around manually—” 

“No.  We give them what they want,” Elizabeth said firmly.  She looked over at John.  “We go to the control room.” 

“Nuh-uh,” John said.  “Not happening.” 

“They haven’t begun replicating yet.  That means that only my Replicator and the one called Altus are in the Tower.  If we go there, we can find out what happened with the shield and override their jamming signal at the same time.” 

“And just how do you propose we do that, since I highly doubt they’re going to let us waltz right in?” 

She shrugged.  “I was able to affect Oberoth by connecting with him.  I might be able to do the same thing by connecting physically with either one of them.” 

“And you might not,” said John.  “Especially if that’s exactly what they want.” 

Elizabeth shook her head.  “They knew I’d be coming on the mission—but they won’t be expecting me to try and face them head on.” 

“Says who?”  John replied.  “You just said that your Replicator thinks like you do.  Maybe they’re expecting you to try.  Bringing you to them may be the final part of a very well laid trap.” 

“So let them believe that.”  As John looked at her incredulously, she took a step closer to him.  “The Replicators have always underestimated me—underestimated us.  That is their greatest weakness.  No matter how much they think they can prepare, there is simply no logical solution for the human factor here.   Even if they think they’ve found a way to control it—control me—that very arrogance is what will lead to their downfall.” 

Sheppard was quiet for a moment.  She was looking at him earnestly, with an expression that gave Rodney a very bad feeling in the pit of his stomach. 

“John,” she added softly, “what do we have to lose?” 

John glanced down the long hallway, and Rodney could tell by his demeanor that he was struggling with an answer.  Everything in Rodney’s head screamed that this was a bad, bad, bad idea, but somewhere, in a rational, logical part of his brain which did not take into account it was his good friend and team member proposing this crazy idea, he knew Elizabeth had a point.  

Sheppard seemed to come to the same conclusion, raising his ARG and nodding.  “Suppose it’s worth a shot.  Not like there’s much else we can do at this point anyway.” 

“And what are we supposed to do?” Rodney said.  “Go and hide in the Jumper while you two run off and save the world?”  

You have a problem with that?” asked John, his tone suddenly lightening. 

“Yes.  Yes, as a matter of fact, I do,” Rodney replied. 

“Okay, then, fine.  You can take the Jumper and contact the Daedalus.  Make sure the shield is down and give them the go ahead to fire the PWARW.” 

“With you two in the Tower?” Rodney asked, horrified.  “You know what’ll happen to Elizabeth if she gets hit with that!  Not to mention that a huge burst of energy of any kind is not going to be pleasant to anyone no matter what you’re made of!” 

“With the shield down, you should be able to use the Asgard beam, right?” asked Elizabeth.  “So if everything is going according to plan, just have the Daedalus pull us out before they attack.” 

“And if it isn’t going according to plan?” he responded, with a serious expression.  “What do we do then?” 

“We’ll do what we do best,” she replied, with a smile.  “We’ll figure it out.” 

“You are taking a very great risk, Elizabeth,” said Teyla.  “If they proceed as planned and cannot get you out…” 

“I know,” Elizabeth said with a small smile.  “But if they don’t have things in hand, and we have the opportunity, this may be the best chance we’ve got.” 

The team was silent for a second, no one really knowing what to say. 

Ronon finally took a step forward, as close to the barrier as he could get, and nodded at them.  “Good luck.” 

“Um, Elizabeth—” Rodney said, suddenly feeling an irresistible need to say something important.  

“We’ll be fine, Rodney,” she said, almost as if she could read his mind. 

“But I…I wanted—“ 

“Whatever it is, you can tell me when we get back.”  She had cut him off with her ‘I don’t want to hear it’ expression. 

He turned, looking at Sheppard.  John shrugged minutely, helpful as always, but after a moment his expression turned serious.  

“Look, either way we’re probably only going to have a few minutes.  We’ll try to get to the Tower as soon as we can, but if you get an okay from Caldwell on Plan B…and a half…feel free to get us out of there.  And keep your radio on, just in case we figure out how to get around their jamming signal.” 

“Got it.  Be careful.” 

“Always am.” 

“Yeah, well, if you want the truth you’re never as careful as people mean when they say ‘be careful.’ So this time?  Be more careful than you usually are.” 

“Goodbye, Rodney,” John replied.  

Teyla drew closer to the barrier.  “Good luck, Elizabeth.” 

“You, too.”  Elizabeth said.  Teyla grabbed Rodney’s arm and gestured back.  Rodney’s last sight of them, as he turned the corner, was of Elizabeth watching them go, a look in her eyes he did not like.  

It was a look that said goodbye. 

 

--/--

 

Steven was starting to get impatient.  Without word from Sheppard, and no clear readings, there was no way to truly assess the status of their plan. 

“Fleet, this is Daedalus.  It’s been ten minutes since we heard from Sheppard’s team.   By our readings, the shields on Asuras are down.  We’d like to venture a PWARW attack if the Coalition is willing.  If not, I think it’s time to consider the nuclear contingency.” 

“Hold on there a moment, speedy.”  Larrin’s voice said over the com.  

Steven frowned.  “What’s the problem, Captain?” 

“According to my team, we’re still picking up energy readings.  They’re subtle, but present.  I don’t think Sheppard’s team’s brought down the shield.” 

The technicians turned to him, looking confused, one shaking her head. 

“Based on our data, Captain, it appears the shield is down.  What makes your team think it’s still active?” 

“Most of our ships are equipped with sensors to pick up subtle shifts in energy.  Handy for finding places of even minimal power when you’re traveling through deep space.  We’re picking up something through those sensors now.” 

“Are you sure they’re not just picking up the functioning elements of the city?” 

“I’ve got people who’ve trained on these machines for decades, Colonel.  If they say they see an issue, they see an issue.  Now, if you and your team want to take that chance, you are welcome to go right ahead and strike at that planet with as many different weapons as you want, but not before I pull the Coalition forces back.” 

Steven made a face.  His XO glanced over at him with an amused expression that was trying very hard to not be amused. 

“We’ll see if we can contact Sheppard once more.  If we can’t, we’ll consider hanging back until we have more information.” 

“Got it.  Thanks for playing nice, Colonel Caldwell,”’ said Larrin.  There was a smile in the woman’s voice, Steven could hear it.   If this thing went south because of antiquated Traveler technology, he’d make sure the Coalition heard about it. 

But if she was right, he also knew he’d never hear the end of it.  Of the two options, the first seemed more palatable at the moment.

 

--/--

 

John edged up alongside the entranceway to the Gateroom, which was perfectly silent, and took a long look around.  Nothing appeared in his line of sight. 

The path here had been completely free of opposition, which only lent to his sense of complete and utter foreboding as far as this whole plan was concerned.  The Replicators were prepared, and no matter how much Elizabeth believed she could gain control, he knew that they were not as capable of being overtaken as she seemed to believe.  It looked to him like they’d controlled the whole situation from the start, including forcing them to land on the planet, and anything that well prepared would not be unimaginative in their planning, no matter how seemingly ‘logical’ they were. 

But he also knew Elizabeth, and considering her stubbornness as far as this entire mission was concerned, she was going to have found her way here one way or another.  The choice had really been his, whether he was going to be there to face it with her or not, which essentially meant there really hadn’t been a choice in it at all. 

She moved up alongside him, peering as far into the Gateroom as she could.  He gestured outward with his hand, and she shook her head in response, indicating, he assumed, that she couldn’t sense the Replicators nearby. 

He took a careful step forward out of the archway and into the Gateroom area, his eyes scanning the room and his ARG raised.  Elizabeth followed, her eyes moving to the control area as soon as they had a clean view. 

A flash of cream and brown appeared near the edge of the railing, and John stepped back into the shadow of the archway.  More than likely Altus, since he’d worn traditional Asuran clothing in his transmissions.  The last time he’d seen Franibeth she’d been wearing the same white garment Rodney had prepared for her as FRAN. 

Elizabeth touched his sleeve and gestured towards the back of the arch.  He frowned at her in confusion.  

“Back way,” she mouthed and pointed at the hall that would lead to the control room’s back staircase.  She then gestured to herself and indicated a return to the Gate area. 

“No,” he replied, shaking his head.  “Too risky.  ‘Sides, they’ve more than likely tracked us.  They know we’re coming.” 

“Maybe, but there’s two of us and two of them.  If I distract them, it’ll give you enough time to hopefully get up there and get in a good shot.” 

“And if they come at you?” 

“What are they going to do, leap over the railing?” Elizabeth whispered. 

“Hope not.  That really would be a rip off of The Matrix.”  

She smiled sarcastically at him.  His expression turned serious.  “We’re only going to get one shot at this.” 

“I know.  But there’s only two of them and I don’t think they’re going to try to hurt me, not until they’re sure Altus has everything under control,” she whispered back.  “This may be our best chance.” 

He hesitated, but finally nodded.  “If anything goes wrong—“ 

“I know, fall back,” she retorted stubbornly.  “I’m not sure where to exactly, but I’ll do my best.” 

It was his turn to flash her a sarcastic smile.  “Give me five minutes.” 

She nodded, the ease fading from her face.  “Be careful.” 

He didn’t have much to say to that.  He nodded and rose, moving swiftly and quietly to the end of the hall, pausing for a moment as he prepared to turn the corner. 

His final view of her was leaning up against the wall, her green eyes wide in fear and anticipation, watching him as he moved away.  He tried to nod reassuringly, to give her a reason not to fear the worst, even if that felt like that was what they were running smack into. 

 

--/--

 

Teyla gazed eagerly over Rodney’s shoulder as he powered up the Jumper, hoping the Jumper’s enhanced communication system would produce a more powerful signal that would overcome whatever jamming mechanism was upon Asuras II. 

Rodney flipped on communications, then frowned as the system produced nothing but static. 

“Must be coming from some kind of array on the City,” Rodney said.  “We’ll have to get clear of Atl—uh, Asuras before we can find out what’s going on with the fleet.” 

“Then better not waste time,” replied Ronon. 

Rodney frowned at him, even as he was turning on the ship’s transportation system.  “I was getting to that.” 

A clunking sound beyond the Jumper filled the air.  Teyla looked up out of reflex, despite not being able to see through the Jumper walls.  “What was that?” 

The Heads-Up Display appeared in front of them, giving the details of a scan around the area.  In one corner, a reading was slowly growing.  

“What is that?” 

“My guess?  I’d say that?” Rodney said, pointing beyond the Jumper windshield.  The ground near them was covered in water, which was slowly rising, pouring out from openings in the side walls of the bay. 

“They are flooding the Jumper Bay?” said Teyla.  “Why would they do such a thing?” 

Rodney shrugged.  “I don’t know.  It’s not like it would do any good.  I mean, this thing is waterproof, and the Jumper Bay itself is an underwater Jumper Bay, so it’s not like this would be unexpected.” 

“And that?” said Ronon, gesturing to a warning now flashing upon the HUD.  

The words on the screen flashed ‘hull breach detected’. 

“Hull breach?”  Rodney squeaked.  “You can’t be…” 

“I believe it is,” Teyla replied, glancing at her feet.  On the ground near the back of the Jumper, water was slowly trickling in.  Rodney’s eyes grew twice their size, his face paling.  

“Have I ever told you how much I hate being in a Jumper that’s trapped underwater?” he whispered. 

“Then I would suggest you fly us out of the water as quickly as possible,” Teyla replied, with some urgency to her tone. 

Rodney swallowed and punched a few buttons on the HUD.  The Jumper did not respond to his commands.  Ronon leaned over, watching Rodney with a raised eyebrow.  “What happened?” 

“Uh, slight problem,” Rodney whispered.  “It seems that all flight controls have been disabled.  And the Jumper doors are sealed and it seems I can’t open them.” 

“How is that possible?” asked Teyla. 

“Uh, replicators!” said Rodney.  He gestured to the HUD.  “One big giant computer program and we’re sitting in the middle of a world that was constructed by nothing but living, thinking, apparently very ticked off artificially intelligent computer programs?  How do you think it’s possible?” 

“But why?” 

“Why?  We’re trapped in a giant underwater coffin, and you want to know their motives?” 

“It doesn’t matter,” Ronon said.  “How do we get out of it?” 

“That is an excellent question!” Rodney huffed.  “When I figure out the answer, I’ll get back to you.  If we’re, you know, not drowned!” 

 

--/--

 

Elizabeth checked her watch again—five minutes had passed, supposedly more than enough time for John to get into position at the base of the control room.  At least she hoped so. 

She moved out into the main Gate area, keeping a wary eye out for any other surprises the Replicators might have laid out for them.  But all she could sense as far as movement was Altus above her in the control area, the same as before. 

She took a few more steps until she was within clear sight of the control area. 

“Altus,” she said, her voice echoing around the nearly empty Gateroom.  

The Replicator stopped moving about and drew towards the railing.  “Ah, Doctor Weir.  I wondered when you would make your appearance.” 

“You wanted me.  Here I am.” 

“And your friend?”  Altus moved to the balcony, his hands at his sides.  “Where did he go?” 

“Oh, he’s around,” she said with a smile.  “Truthfully he’s not as much your concern, is he?” 

“Your Lantean friends cause enough trouble on their own,” Altus replied.  “It is always better to know exactly what they are up to, is it not?” 

“Couldn’t agree more.”  John’s voice rang out across the open space.  She backed up a few steps as he moved into view, his ARG pointed at Altus.  “Except this time you were a little slow on the draw.” 

“Perhaps.  And perhaps not.” 

Elizabeth looked at him confusedly.  “What do you mean by that?” 

“He means that if you wish for your friends to live, you should probably consider lowering your weapons.” 

Elizabeth turned as the Replicator version of her strode into the Gateroom, her black hair flying behind her.  She looked up at Altus, who motioned towards the screens in the control area. 

“Your friends have returned to your Jumper, haven’t they?  At the moment, the Jumper is sealed and the bay they are in is flooding.” 

The screens flashed to life with a touch of Altus’s hand on a control panel.  Shots of the underwater Jumper bay displayed the bay slowly filling with water. 

“Doesn’t matter,” John said.  “They’re in a Jumper.” 

“It matters if the Jumper they are in is compromised,” the Elizabeth Replicator replied.  

Elizabeth caught John’s eye with a fearful grimace.  His mouth was set and his expression unreadable, but she knew he was worried. 

“Can you just imagine what Rodney must be feeling at this moment?”  Her Replicator copy drew near her, green eyes wide.  “Considering how scared he was when his Jumper was trapped at the bottom of the ocean—what it must be like now, to watch water pouring in slowly, unable to free himself, knowing that it’s only a matter of time before the inevitable happens?” 

“You cannot be this cruel,” Elizabeth said, staring at her.  “You remember what it was like, watching him go through that.  What I felt at the time.  How can you let him suffer like that again?” 

“This has nothing to do with being you,” the Replicator replied.  “This was the most logical course of action.” 

“Don’t tell me it was the most logical action.  You could simply have told us what you’d done and what you wanted, but instead you’re taunting us with it.  You are still letting the human elements of your experience dictate your actions.  Doesn’t that disconcert you somewhat?” 

Confusion flashed across the Replicator’s face and she frowned. 

“A solution easily remedied,” said Altus.  “She retains a part of your human memories because they were useful.  When our plan is completed, she will be fully reset.  All her memories as you will be erased so that only the true Asuran will remain.” 

“She is a Replicator that was forged on Atlantis,” Elizabeth replied, raising her voice, though she kept her eyes on her own copy.  “Her memories came from me, her programming from my nanites—nanites I received from a Replicator who rebelled against the Collective.  Considering the potential for her reversion, you can’t seriously expect us to believe that you plan to reset her.  There’s only one logical choice for what do with her, once you’ve begun replicating others.  She’ll have to be destroyed.” 

Once more the expression on the female Replicator’s face wavered.  Elizabeth looked up at Altus, who stood observing them emotionlessly. 

“All replicators are Asuran.  That will never change.” 

“Maybe.  But will she?”  Elizabeth turned once more to the female Replicator.  “Are you really ready to sacrifice everything you are?” 

The confused expression disappeared, though there was pity in the bright green eyes.  “Doctor Weir, I already have.  We both did—quite a long time ago.” 

Elizabeth’s chest tightened suddenly, her mind racing across the slew of memories built off her return.  Nothing good.  

Nothing good can come of this. 

The Replicator covered the distance between them in an instant.  Elizabeth barely noticed as she reached for Elizabeth’s head, and they both disappeared into darkness.

 

--/--

 

Rodney studied the stats on the HUD, which was becoming increasingly harder to do and not focus on their predicament as the water level of the room rose to around his waist. 

He’d pulled in and pushed out all the crystal trays in the Jumper he’d used the last time he’d been trapped in a sinking—though this wasn’t technically sinking—Jumper, but when the problem was purposefully created hull breaches, they didn’t help much.  He’d also attempted to invert the shield, double seal the doors, and even use the Jumper’s communications systems as an override for the Jumper Bay doors, in case they could swim to the exits and re-enter the city.  Nothing was working. 

Teyla had not given up; she was diligently studying her tablet, apparently trying to figure out a way Rodney had not thought of to work around the problem.  He appreciated it, but it wasn’t helping.  

Ronon had risen and was pacing the small cabin area, looking for things to plug leaks.  Crude, but he had managed to apparently stop the flow through one large crack.  If only they had more extremely large leather jackets lying around. 

The water hit the point where a person, no matter how insulated, simply felt it.  It was cold. 

No, it was hopeless, is what it was. 

“Have you discovered anything more about communications?” asked Teyla calmly.  How she was calm?  Rodney had no idea. 

“Not really.  I’ve been trying to, you know, save our lives before I reach out and touch someone!” 

“Would not they be able to reach out and touch us?”  Asked Teyla, with narrowed eyes.  Rodney blinked at her a few moments. 

“If the shield is down, they may be able to trace our trackers and beam us out,” she finished.  Rodney gaped for a second, then pulled up the HUD.   

“I might be able to…” he tapped on a few controls, then rose.  “We need to reroute some power, but what do we have to lose?”  He reached for one of the trays behind her head and yanked a few crystals from the tray.  Power inside the Jumper faded, leaving only the emergency lights and deactivating the HUD.  He opened another tray, tweaked a few and replaced a few more with those he’d pulled.  Power returned, though the HUD didn’t. 

“Come on, come on,” he said, wading—no, swimming was the more appropriate word—to the pilot’s chair.  “Come on.” 

He pushed on the console buttons for communications.  They waited. 

Nothing but static. 

He felt his heart sink, as the water reached his chest level.  “Still jammed.  Their signal is too strong.” 

“Maybe if I…”  He tapped on a few buttons, focusing all communications into one large frequency signal.  “If it’s strong enough, they might be able to read our position.” 

They waited for a few moments, but the only sound was the pooling of the water as it rose higher.  As Rodney lowered his head Teyla spoke, raising her voice above the rush of waves.  “You tried, Rodney.” 

“I failed,” he said.  He would have slapped his hand on the dash, but there was water covering it now.  

Do what we do best. 

Today, it looked like what they were going to do best was die.

 

--/--

 

John fought the instinct to rush forward as Franibeth grabbed Elizabeth and shoved a hand into Weir’s forehead.  Altus looked at him, a smarmy smile on his logical little face, which prompted John to raise the ARG right at his eye level and fire. 

The first blast barely made a dent, but shots two and three faded the smile from his face.  His body began to become blurry and out of focus; the ARG was having its effect.  He tumbled to his knees, his nanites apparently trying to fight the de-bonding.  John fired twice more at him, and his nanites crumbled to the ground. 

Elizabeth was still struggling with Franibeth.  He frowned, but dashed for the consoles controlling the city systems, including the underwater Jumper Bay.  

He closed the Jumper Bay filtration system, but a quick assessment told him it wouldn’t do much good.  The Bay itself was filled with water, and the drainage system had been tampered with, making it nearly impossible to clear it before the Jumper had been fully submerged inside and out.  

What next? 

The communications console identical to the one controlled by Banks was alight; he moved over to it, trying to remember the sequence used to call up universal communications.  The dash lit up, and he tried the code to find the Daedalus’s frequency. 

The signal resulted in static.  The jamming device, wherever it was, was still on. 

He perused his memory, trying to think where something that was a jammer could be cobbled together and controlled.  It had to be from here; everything was synced to the main control room both for control and for the purpose of designating whatever weird power structure the Replicators had cobbled together.  But where? 

He took a breath, trying to focus on how Rodney would handle this. 

Power.  He’d check the power distributions. 

He moved to the area reading power fluctuations in the city, which was stationed along the wall, and called up the main system.  He could see one portion dedicated to a small but constant stream of power, leading to an array located at the end of the Eastern pier.  There were also two more powered systems registering power flow, neither of which he was familiar with.  But communications was all he could deal with at the moment.  It was controlled by a small console, far end of the room. 

He moved over to it, working with what he knew of the system to shut it down.  The power readings on the wall screen had shifted; there were no more being registered to the array.  He smiled and dashed over to the communications console, trying the Daedalus again. 

“Sheppard?” came the response, after a few moments of silence.  

“Good to hear your voice, Colonel,” said John, almost smiling. 

“Have you got the shields down?”  Caldwell was all business, of course.   Not even a ‘glad you’re okay’. 

“We took out the shield generators—” John paused, blinking a few times.  If he didn’t, he might believe what he was suddenly seeing before him. 

In the area where what had once been Altus was lying, colors were swirling.  It looked almost like a cloud of paint, moving softly in a breeze. 

“Colonel Sheppard?” 

A hand was forming out of the cloud. 

“Crap,” he muttered.  “Uh, Colonel, we disabled the shields, but Rodney, Teyla and Ronon are trapped in a Jumper at the west side of the City.  Can you beam them out?” 

There was a pause.  John swallowed as the hand started to grow an arm.  

Crap, crap, crap. 

“We can’t seem to lock on their signal.” 

“They’re in an underwater Jumper Bay, western pier.” 

There was silence again, though he could hear Caldwell murmuring something over the radio.  

“No sign of their trackers, though we are picking up a massive focused transmission from somewhere close to that location…” 

“Knowing Rodney that’s them.  You need to hurry Colonel, the Bay’s almost full.” 

Torso, legs… 

“Looks like we’ve got them, Colonel, Jumper and all.  I’m assuming you’re next?” 

“You need to take Doctor Weir first,” John said.  “But beam her into isolation—she’s currently compromised.”  There was a bitter taste in his mouth as he said that. 

Another pause, and this time Caldwell returned with a more muted tone.  “Colonel, we’re not registering her either.” 

John stared at the ever-growing re-form of Altus.  “What do you mean you don’t register her?  She’s in the Gateroom.” 

“I mean we’re not picking her up at all.  The Replicators must have done something that compromised all your transmitters.” 

John could not see over the balcony, but he was pretty damn sure Franibeth was winning that battle, whatever it was she was doing to Elizabeth.   

“Give me five minutes,” he said.  “I’ll contact you when I’ve got Weir, you can use the radio frequency to pinpoint us, but you’re gonna have to adjust the beam.” 

“Colonel, if she’s compromised…” 

“I know, I know.  Look, just gimme the five minutes.  You can beam us straight into the damn brig if you want to.” 

“And then?” 

“If you don’t hear from me, assume I’ve been taken,” he said.  “Use the PWARW on the City.” 

“Five minutes,” came Caldwell’s voice.  “Better make it quick Sheppard, that’s all you’ve got.” 

“I’ll do my best, Colonel.” 

Altus was half reformed.  John fire a few blasts at him, but the ARG had no effect on the rebonding nanites.  He grimaced, raced past him and started down the staircase.

 

--/--

 

Rodney felt his breath choking him, felt the water, which had risen beyond his nose, suddenly swallow his entire form. 

At least the last time he was underwater, Sam had been there to help. 

He didn’t want Sam this time.  He wanted Jennifer.  

He wanted to be alive, dammit. 

His breath was burning hot in his lungs.  He couldn’t hold it. 

“Rodney?” 

He forced his eyes open, as the water suddenly rushed down past his waist, then his legs.  Teyla and Ronon had both turned towards the sealed doors of the now rapidly draining Jumper. 

“Doctor McKay?”  The voice was muted but sounded very ally-like.  Something pounded on the sealed door to the cabin. 

“He-hello?” he chattered, shivering.  

“Hold on, Doctor.”  There was a brief pause, and the hatch opened, revealing the face of an armed Marine staring in at him.  “Are you okay?” 

“What happened?”  Rodney looked back through the windshield at the dull, gray walls of the inside of the hangar bay.  It was about the most beautiful sight he’d ever seen. 

“We are on the Daedalus?” asked Teyla, flashing a brilliant smile at the young man. 

“Yes ma’am.  Looks like we got you out just in time.” 

Rodney stepped out of the Jumper, the first thing he saw being Jennifer and the ship’s medical team staring at them in relief.  

“Colonel Sheppard?” he asked, as Jennifer walked to him and placed an arm on his shoulder.  God, he was glad to see her. 

“Still on Asuras,” the Marine replied, ending Rodney’s oh-so-rare happy moment.  “Both he and Doctor Weir.  Doctor, the Colonel requested that you head to the Bridge if you’re able.  The PWARW system is charged and ready to go.” 

“Wait…you’re going to fire the PWARW system NOW?” 

“Colonel Sheppard told Colonel Caldwell to fire it after five minutes,” said the Major.  

“You know what an anti-replicator gun will do to Elizabeth if she is within its blast range,” said Teyla quietly. 

“What it might do to anyone,” added Ronon.  

Rodney squeezed Jennifer’s hand, then did his best to straighten his wet clothes.  “Right.  Bridge, then.” 

 

--/--

 

The world around her swirled into focus, and Elizabeth blinked, her hands finding cool tile.  

She sat up, blinked once more, and took in her surroundings.  Her heart jumped. 

The familiar blue robe, the white walls…the scrubs she was wearing. 

Willoughby.  

She pulled to her feet, running one hand alongside her face, trying to remember what had put her here.  She was sick?  There had been an accident?  No…an infection.  A dangerous infection. 

But Willoughby is a mental institution. 

The door in front of her was locked; she yanked on the handle a few times, her screams piercing the empty room around her, and banged upon the heavy metal.  No one answered.  There were no footsteps and no familiar murmur of other people.  She was alone, trapped in the hospital, with nowhere to go. 

This isn’t right.  Institutions aren’t like this.  Hospitals are not empty, are they? 

This isn’t right… 

The door popped open. 

There was only a moment’s worth of time to realize it before she was beyond the door into the hallways, tearing down the familiar, and yet unfamiliar, corridors, seeking to find a way out of the maze.  They ended and began in the same way, ceaselessly flowing north and south, east and west. 

Her heart fluttered in her throat.  

The corridor ahead of her seemed to terminate beyond her reach and beyond her sight.  She moved towards it, pushing forward as the air seemed to become thicker. 

This isn’t right… 

There was a door in front of her suddenly.  

The nameplate read Doctor Fletcher. 

Fletcher. 

She grasped the handle, and turned it, surprised to find herself in a sunshine filled office located high above the ocean, with two cream colored padded chairs positioned cozily in front of one another.  Bubble lamps lit the edges of the room. 

“Hello, Doctor Weir,” said a cheery voice from behind her.  She turned around, and the smiling face of Doctor Fletcher greeted her, dressed in her usual white turtleneck and gray pants, signifying her place in the expedition.  Her dark hair curled and bounced around her shoulders, and she bore a sweet smile as she handed Elizabeth a cup of tea.  

“I’m glad to see you here today.” 

Elizabeth glanced about the room, noting the spires peppering the skyline through the window.  “Atlantis?” 

“Of course.”  Fletcher took a seat, gesturing to the one opposite her.  “Where else would you be?” 

Elizabeth didn’t move, just stared at the doctor as she looked calmly at her, legs crossed and arms clasped.  

“Why am I here?” 

“This is your weekly appointment.” 

“But you’re not the expedition psychologist.” 

Fletcher’s smile widened.  “I am.” 

“What about Doctor Heightmeyer?” 

“I replaced Doctor Heightmeyer.” 

Elizabeth raised an eyebrow.  “Why?” 

Fletcher rose.  “Elizabeth, we’ve been through all this before…” 

“No we haven’t,” Elizabeth replied.  Her voice grew louder.  “We’ve never been through any of this because I’ve never spoken with you before.” 

She lifted her wrist, fingering the hospital bracelet upon it.  “You treated me—at Willoughby.  Which it says right here, oddly enough, even though we’re now in Heightmeyer’s office.  Did no one think to pay attention to that detail?” 

“Elizabeth…” 

“I have seen you before.  And I have seen you here, haven’t I?  On Atlantis.” 

The delicate ribbing of Fletcher’s turtleneck blurred a little and seemed to grow longer, like a tunic.  “You’re very tired, Elizabeth.” 

“I am.  I am very tired.  Of all of this.”  She walked to the window, noting the lovely seas of Lantea, stretched out before them.  “It’s wrong.” 

“Wrong?”  

“Did you know I’ve never seen the new ocean?  Not long enough to remember the vista.  We were still in space when I left for Asuras, and I haven’t been out enough to know what it looks like on the new world.  I can only remember Lantea.”  She turned, trying to keep her mouth from trembling.  “So if you were in my head, this is all you would have to work with.  Memories from the past.”  

Doctor Fletcher rose, the pleasant smile fading from her face.  “Doctor Weir.” 

“You aren’t even the same.  You aren’t what I remember of Fletcher, either.  Considering he was a man.  But I know you.  You’re the one Rodney called FRAN.  The one who was me.  But you’re not the same.” 

Fletcher’s eyes burned cold.    “There you are truly mistaken.  I am the one thing that has always been the same.” 

She took a step forward, her form shifting slowly, morphing into a tall, thin man with blond hair.  “I am the same now, Doctor Weir.” 

A wave of panic fluttered through Elizabeth’s chest.  “Niam.” 

“I have always been with you, Elizabeth.  Ever since you came to Asuras.  And yet, you have never really let me in.”  The Replicator’s accent rolled eloquently through the air.  “It was impossible to control you.  Oberoth did not understand.  He feared you for it.  Why, I wonder?” 

“I don’t know,” she choked back.  

Niam slowly morphed back into FRAN, who tilted her head, her dark hair spilling over a thin shoulder.  “He created dozens of variations of you—of us—to try and understand.  And at every turn, you defied him.  So strongly and with so much control that Oberoth could no longer risk your presence on Asuras, lest you infect the Collective.  He placed you in the Primus capsule in the hope that, at some point, we could learn from your strength and develop programming even more advanced than that which we gained from the original Primus.” 

The Replicator reached a hand out towards her, which Elizabeth jerked away from.  The hand found her shoulder anyway. 

“It does not matter now.  We need you only to stay here for a little while.  You can remain in your Atlantis.  Just a while longer, and then you can rest.” 

Elizabeth turned and glanced out at the ocean, which lapped softly against the piers below her.  The balcony railing was cool to the touch.  

“You are home, Doctor Weir.” 

“Home?” 

“Home,” repeated an indiscernible voice, lost somewhere in her memories.  “You are home.” 

“I am home.” 

 

--/--

 

Rodney was still plink plinking water on the bridge of the Daedalus, but it couldn’t be helped.  He didn’t really have time to change clothes. 

“Doctor McKay?”  Caldwell watched him with an expectant gaze.  The technical definition of five minutes was up, but it didn’t mean he had to mention that directly. 

“Everything is prepped,” Rodney replied, though he was unenthusiastic about it. 

Teyla was looking at the small, seemingly innocuous looking planet below them, her arms crossed.  At Rodney’s response she looked up at him.  He shrugged in reply. 

“Then if we’re ready to go…” 

“Uh, let me check one more reading?”  Rodney moved over to whichever console was closest.  “Just the one.” 

Caldwell grimaced, but waved with his hand to proceed.  Teyla turned back to the view, Ronon coming up beside her.  Rodney was pretty certain they were both hoping the same thing he was, that Sheppard would somehow pull out one of his eleventh hour saves. 

He’d have to do so very, very soon. 

 

--/--

 

John stumbled down the staircase, his eyes on the Replicator, trying to be quiet but failing miserably.  What stood out most to him, at the moment, was how eerily quiet the Gateroom was.  

Elizabeth was on her knees in front of the Gate, rigid.  McKay’s Replicator stood over her, and though he couldn’t see her clearly, he had a damn good idea of what it was she was doing.  

He lifted the ARG and fired. 

Franibeth whipped around to face him, her eyes narrowing, though her hold on Elizabeth didn’t break.  The ARG seemed to have no effect on her, even with the new modifications.  She had overcome the ARG before, so it made sense, and yet it also made John wonder why they still kept the damn things around, if they were going to work every one chance in ten. 

She looked upwards, towards the control room.  Into the light of the upper balcony, Altus was rising to his feet. 

Or rather, not Altus. 

John felt his throat tighten in shock.  Above them, Oberoth moved, fully reformed as his good old self, staring back down at John with an unreadable expression. 

“He does not matter.  He can do nothing.  The reformation is almost complete.” 

“I’ll raise you a PWARW to that,” John remarked, moving closer to Franibeth.  

“Your weapons are of no concern to us,” Oberoth said.  “As soon as the city is restored, I will raise the shield.” 

“Planetary Wide Anti-Replicator Weapons,” John said snidely.  “Planetary Wide.   There’s a not so subtle hint there.” 

Franibeth looked up at Oberoth, who smiled so coldly that it was hard to remember he was nothing but a set of zeros and ones.   “The shield has been modified in preparation.” 

That tightness moved from John’s throat and took up residence in his chest.  Anytime a robot smiled, that was never a good thing. 

The shield can block out the pulse?  No, not enough to make him smile.  They can automatically negate any anti-replicator weapon?  Or repel it? 

Or return it. 

His eyes darted up inadvertently towards the sky.  It would be a hell of a rebounded energy pulse. 

The Replicator was watching him put it all together with a funny sort of softness to her gaze as Oberoth returned to his work.   It reminded John a little of when she’d really been Elizabeth.  

It wouldn’t do him any good to start seeing things now.  She’d been reset and was half the problem here.  The other half would most certainly overpower him even if he succeeded in making his way up to the control area again. 

And yet… 

His gaze flickered to Elizabeth, held in place by Franibeth, and suddenly he realized why the Replicator hadn’t bothered with him yet. 

Elizabeth was what they were afraid of.  Just as she had said.  They needed to finish her to be safe. 

That meant he had one shot at this. 

“I wouldn’t bank on just the shield,” he murmured softly, turning to the side and walking parallel to the Replicator.  

“And why is that, John?” she asked, with the same doe-eyes as she’d had on-board the Hive ship.  

“Because you know McKay.  He’s always got a secret weapon.” 

The Replicator craned her neck as he circled her back, following him until she could no longer see him.  There was a moment when her attention would be unable to focus on him and Elizabeth at the same time.  “And what’s the secret weapon this time?” 

He smiled.  “You’ve got it in your hand.  Or rather, your hand’s got it.”  

Energy coursed through him as he sprang forward, clawing towards Franibeth and knocking her sideways—just long enough to break her grasp.  Elizabeth collapsed to the floor, and before he’d even gotten his bearings, Franibeth had him in her grasp, her hand about his throat, lifting him a full foot off the floor. 

“Why must you be like this, John?” she asked.  The softness in her eyes was gone.  “You have always been so rash.  So impulsive.” 

“ ‘S a gift,” John choked out, clawing at her hand, trying to draw breath.  His vision started to dance before his eyes.  “She trusted me, anyway, despite it.” 

The hand around his throat loosened.  The Replicator was staring at him as though uncertain how to proceed.  Her expression registered confusion. 

“We do not have time for this.  Finish it,” said Oberoth, above them. 

The questioning look slid from her face, and he felt the air whip by him as suddenly he was flying, crashing into the top of the dense ring of the gate with such force he felt his head crack.  

There was a moment of weightlessness; through the pounding head he could recall the same sensation as hanging atop a climb, just for a second, when the g’s were holding you in an angel grasp before gravity suddenly kicked in.  Then he was dropping down to the Gateroom floor, the world closing in so suddenly he didn’t even know if he made it to the ground before it disappeared. 

 

--/--

 

 

“Time’s up,” Caldwell said.  “We need to proceed.  Prepare to fire.  Captain Larrin, are your ships ready?” 

“We’re still picking up those energy readings, Colonel—are you sure you’ve got the clear from the planet?” 

“You heard Colonel Sheppard, and Doctor McKay confirms the same—the shields are down.  We need to go on this, Captain.” 

“Okay,” she drawled, not sounding fully convinced.  “We fire on your mark.” 

“Copy.  Here we go.” 

The countdown was swift and in Rodney’s mind, merciless.  He moved over to where Teyla and Ronon stood, watching as the energy burst forth from the Coalition ships, flowing down towards the planet like a huge white wave.  It enveloped Asuras II, streaming down across the city.  Teyla lowered her head. 

 

--/-- 

 

 

“I wouldn’t bank on just the shield.” 

John had joined her on the balcony, his hazel eyes staring across the sea with a mixture of pleasure and wistfulness.  There was a touch of gray to his hair, which was strange.  She didn’t remember him having gray hair. 

“And why is that, John?” 

“Because you know McKay.  He’s always got a secret weapon.” 

It was true enough.  Rodney always had something up his sleeve.  But nothing in her recent memory, during this peaceful time in Atlantis, seemed to necessitate the use of either the shield or a weapon, secret or not. 

She turned back to the ocean, feeling odd in even asking.  “And what’s the secret weapon this time?” 

He smiled.  “You’ve got it in your hand.” 

Elizabeth looked down at her hands, which were empty.  “What?” 

“I have never liked John Sheppard.” 

The FRAN replicator was standing beside her, in the spot where John had been, her hands clasped in front of her.  Elizabeth gasped and backed away as the Replicator turned to face her calmly.  “He always acted too rashly.  Too impulsively for his own good.” 

Daylight was upon them.  Elizabeth’s hair curled about her ears, the wind whipping it softly as the sun shone down.  She was looking across the ocean, peaceful and serene. 

Major Sheppard is too impulsive. 

“It’s a gift,” the Major said smoothly, from behind her.  She turned, and he stood, young, and looking very cheeky.  He was holding something wrapped in purple velvet.  She took it from him, eyeing him with suspicion, and unwrapped a lovely, hand-molded pot.  The expression of delight he was wearing at her surprise made him look almost like a boy and certainly not someone old enough to lead. 

But that was who he was.  And she trusted him. 

“It’s a gift,” he repeated, his smile growing.  

“Major Sheppard…” 

His forehead creased, and he shook his head for a moment, then lowered his arms and turned towards the sunshine.  “Just a few moments more and it’ll be done, Elizabeth.” 

“What will be done?”  As she watched him, a trickle of something dripped down the side of his face, through his thick hair.  It spattered on the balcony floor, staining the tiles red. 

Blood? 

The trail thickened, and he smiled sadly back at her.  One of his hands reached for the balcony railing, and as it gripped the metal, it seemed to send a shockwave through the whole of the city, causing the bracings, the spires, the whole foundation, to rock and shake.  

She reached for him, and he was gone. 

“John?”  

Where is he?  

“Colonel Sheppard?” 

The solitude—the quiet.  This is what she wanted, right? 

No.  I never wanted to do this alone. 

John?”  He heart was racing in panic.  “JOHN!” 

Suddenly everything around her was crumbling into a sea of white light, snapping apart like a thousand stars, and she was falling into nothing. 

 

--/--

 

 

“What just happened?”  

Rodney stared through the windshield as the burst of energy, which had been so clearly causing massive destruction on Asuras II, suddenly disappeared. 

The Daedalus crew let out a collective murmur as Rodney darted to a nearby console, shooing away the tech with his hand and assessing the readings coming from Asuras. 

It hadn’t been an illusion—the energy wave from the PWARW had actually disappeared.  

“What just happened?” asked Ronon, coming to stand beside him.  

“Doctor McKay?” echoed Caldwell. 

Rodney glanced from the console to the planet, remembering Elizabeth’s interrupted warning. 

Something’s wrong. 

“I have no idea,” he replied.  

 

--/-- 

 

 

Elizabeth opened her eyes, staring across the floor at the limp form of John lying directly beneath the Gate, blood trickling across his face. 

“Oh, God, John.”  She pushed to her feet, and a white-clad figure moved into view.  An arm reached towards her, and she darted back, away from it.  Her Replicator form straightened, lowering her arm.  “Doctor Weir, it is no use fighting.” 

“What did you do to him?” 

“Colonel Sheppard is an inconvenience that will quickly be resolved.” 

John groaned, his eyes fluttering.  The trickle of blood had slowed, but it was still a serious wound.  

She glanced back up at the Replicator in shock.  “You can’t let him die.  Let me get him out of here.” 

“In a few moments, it won’t matter whether he is here or on your ships.  Soon, your Coalition fleet will be no more.” 

“No.”  She rose to her feet.  

“Did you really believe we would not be prepared to handle your Planetary Wide de-bonding weapons?  We have been prepared long before your people even considered such a plan.  You cannot stop us now, Elizabeth.  All that remains is to complete the task I was supposed to complete on Atlantis.” 

Her arm was reaching for Elizabeth’s forehead, though there was something like empathy on her face.  Elizabeth narrowed her eyes, reaching a hand out, and grasped the Replicator’s wrist instead.  “We’ll see about that.” 

The sky above them, which had been bright as daylight, was engulfed by darkness.  The last thing she remembered seeing as it swallowed them up was the Replicator’s wide green eyes growing wider with alarm. 

 

--/--

 

 

“It was sucked up by the City.”  Rodney tapped at the latest readings on the console.  “It’s the only explanation.” 

“How did it manage that?”  Asked Larrin, sounding perturbed. 

“No idea.” 

“Fantastic.  What do we do now?” 

“At the moment we’re working on altering one of the scanning devices, to see if we can figure out exactly how they absorbed the burst.  But if you have any better ideas, I’m all ears,” snipped Rodney. 

“When a planet manages to suck in a huge burst of energy without any apparent impact, my first instinct is to turn my ship around and get out of the star system.  But I’ll get back to you on that, Doctor McKay.” 

The radio flipped off, and Steven raised a questioning eyebrow at Rodney, who shrugged in return.  “What?  I’m doing the best I can.” 

“Let me know if you manage to figure it out,” Steven replied and focused his gaze back through the forward windshield. 

 

--/-- 

 

The Gateroom materialized before Elizabeth’s eyes, only this time it was full of screaming people, flashing lights, and general chaos.  The Replicator stood beside her, her wrist firmly in Elizabeth’s grasp, watching the events with concern.  Outside, beyond the walls of Atlantis, Wraith darts buzzed and peppered the shield with laser fire. 

“You remember this, don’t you?” Elizabeth asked, gripping the Replicator’s arm tightly.  

“The Siege of Atlantis.” 

“That’s right.” 

Above them, in the control room area, Elizabeth saw the younger version of herself follow John towards the stairs to the Jumper bay.  Her voice cut through the commotion.  

“You can’t!” 

It seemed to her that the Gateroom had gone quiet.  She hadn’t realized it was so quiet, when this had occurred.  In her memory, it was filled with the loud roars of the end of the world.  

“I have to.  And you know it.” 

Her response seemed soft, barely audible.  “Go.” 

Then, there hadn’t been anything more to say.  He nodded at her and took off up the steps. 

“Do you remember how you felt at that moment?” Elizabeth asked Fran.  “Do you remember the feeling?” 

The Replicator narrowed her eyes.  “I remember what you were feeling.” 

“Hold on to it.” 

The world swirled around them, and they were in half-darkened quarters.  The younger Elizabeth, the more idealistic one—walked through them, peering around a corner, looking for something. 

The Replicator took a step back as a figure appeared out of a corner, startling young Elizabeth.  John, half-mutated into the form of a super Wraith. 

Elizabeth turned to her alternate.  Despite her struggles, she was watching the memory with interest, or trepidation.  As she met Elizabeth’s gaze, the world morphed again and there was Ronon, standing across from them.  They watched him get shot, crumpling to the floor in pain.  An indistinct screaming could be heard all around them. 

“We were inside her head,” she said.  “Phoebus.  Do you remember it?  Being trapped in the dark?  I thought there was nothing worse.  Do you remember?” 

The Replicator resumed her struggling, trying to pull away.  “No.  Stop this.” 

“You do remember.  I know you do.”  Elizabeth leaned in closer, pulling the Replicator to her.  “We were powerless to help him.  I thought it couldn’t get any worse.”  She tightened her grip as the Replicator tried to pull away, her forehead creasing in concern.  “But I was wrong.” 

The scenery around them faded, and they dashed further into memory. 

 

--/-- 

 

There were very few things that surprised Steven at this point in his life.  

A huge wave of energy flowing back towards them faster than he could comprehend?  That was new. 

“Shields!” he cried, though he knew his crew, faster at observing most everything than even he did, was already preparing.  The radio was up, the ship crews of the Coalition screaming preparation.  Rodney McKay was everywhere. 

It was one loud, chaotic, frantic moment.  His XO looked at him, a sliver of fear in his face, quickly replaced by resolve.  It was what it was.  

The ship’s forward window was filled with the glow of electricity and power, and Steven turned his face from it, grasping more tightly to the arms of his chair as it spiraled towards them.  

He felt impact, saw light, more light, and then darkness. 

 

--/-- 

 

These memories were crystal clear, and they came easily.  John, Rodney, Keller—everyone staring at her in shock as she sat up on the gurney, feeling perfectly fine.  

Until she remembered the red light bursting in front of her eyes, the sickening feel of the windows cracking before her, weightlessness, falling… 

She was supposed to be dead, and she wasn’t. 

“You remember,” she said quietly.  “You know what it felt like.  To be nothing but a danger.  Nothing but a threat.”  

“This wasn’t me,” replied the Replicator.  She pulled against Elizabeth’s grasp, but her struggles were wavering.  “As I have said before, I am not you.” 

The room spun around them, and Oberoth was on his knees, her hand in his head.  John was calling out behind her, but she couldn’t let go, not if it meant returning with him as nothing more than a danger to the city.  Not if it meant risking him, and Ronon, and Rodney.  And Atlantis.  She yelled at him to leave. 

He obeyed.  

And they were gone.

The Replicator stood looking down the empty hallway down which Ronon and John had run.  Elizabeth had watched them as Oberoth finally overcame her, wrapping her up in a death grip.  She knew nothing more after that.  Her memory should have ended there. 

But it didn’t.  She saw, thanks to the memories of this Replicator, a life she’d never lived.  But it was her life all the same.  

Capture.  Assimilation.  Finding Niam’s contingent, still living within Asuras.  Their quest for Ascension.  Their failed attempt to mimic it. 

Subspace. 

Pain.  

Constant pain, a struggle to find form, to find a way to exist without existing. 

And then, a Jumper.  A Jumper that took her to Atlantis. 

Took her home. 

“You’re wrong.” Elizabeth murmured, as the scenery around them changed.  “You are me.  We are the same.” 

The Replicator’s eyes widened as John and Ronon appeared again, deep inside the City, at the doorway of a lab that was seldom used.  Their guns were pointed at her.  There was mistrust in their eyes.  Suspicion. 

She had betrayed them, to save the Replicators that followed her.  The intention had been good, but her methods, they were unexpected.  Unlike the Elizabeth Weir they knew. 

At that point, she hadn’t been their Elizabeth.  She was a replicator, a machine.  She had changed.  Changed in ways she had thought were for the best. 

But the look in John’s eyes as Koracen told him of her plan, of what she had done—that she could not forget.  And herself she could not forgive.  She had realized, in that moment, that she had forgotten why she had sacrificed herself to Oberoth in the first place.  Because of him.  Because of them, the people of Atlantis.  Because she wanted, above all other things, to keep them safe. 

She had to fix it. 

The scenery around them changed.  Darkness, peppered only with starlight.  The cold emptiness of deep space.  

In front of them, FRAN-as-Elizabeth hovered in the near stillness, her pale cheeks tinged with ice.   Other Replicators, condemned to the same fate, floated around her.  The eyes were open, their still functioning systems registering helplessness, hopelessness.  But her eyes—they were closed.  Peaceful. 

Elizabeth’s chest tightened, her eyes filling with tears.  She remembered this moment from the stasis pod, and even though it was not real to her, it felt real enough.  When she looked over at her replicator copy, the woman’s eyes were focused on the form, her brow knit in concern. 

Elizabeth squeezed her hand.  “You are still me.  And this was the choice you made.  You would rather have lived thousands of years condemned to this fate than run the risk of hurting them again.” 

The Replicator glanced over at her, her eyes wide and weary.   

“It wasn't me who chose that path,” Elizabeth said.  “These are not my memories.  They’re yours.  But it is the choice I would have made.  You and I, we're the same.” 

The Gateroom suddenly rematerialized around them, empty and pristine.  The Replicator shook her head.  “No, Elizabeth.  That part of me is gone.  Rewritten.”  

“I don’t believe that,” Elizabeth replied, taking a calming breath and loosening her grip.  “On Atlantis, during Altus’s attack, you had plenty of opportunity to kill any number of the expedition members—Ronon, your guard, even me.  That would have been the logical course of action.  The one a replicator would have taken.  But you didn’t.  You may have been a part of the plan, but you couldn’t be as merciless as Altus was, at least not directly.  Even now, when you could have killed John, you hesitated.  Because you couldn’t do it, could you?” 

The Replicator made a face, her eyes drifting to the floor. 

“You may think the part of you that was me is lost, but it isn’t.  You have the memories of everything you choose to do when you believed you were Elizabeth Weir.  And you can be her again.  Because at the core of what you are exists the capability of choice.  The Replicators wished to emulate humans because they saw them as the most complex system.  But that system is complex because it possesses the one thing no other programmed system can—the ability to exercise free will.  Oberoth never understood that, but others, like Niam, did.  And they embraced it.” 

“Niam?”  The Replicator’s head lifted, turning to look at her.  “Niam was also reprogrammed.  In the end he could not choose.  He tried to kill you.” 

“Yes, he tried.  But he didn’t.  And I truly believe that the reason I was able to overcome his nanites’ infection of me is because at the core of what Niam was existed the desire to be more than what he was.  And that desire was more powerful than the Collective—more powerful than even Oberoth’s resetting of his programming.  His nanites conceded to my human side, and then they accepted it.” 

Elizabeth turned to face the Replicator.  “You know what you are.  More importantly, you know who you are.  You have thousands of human memories.  My memories.  And you know how to feel.  You are different from the Collective.  You are different from me, even.  You are what Niam wanted to become.” 

“No.  I am not human,” the Replicator whispered. 

“What is human?” Elizabeth offered.  “Someone once told us that we were cells, governed by electricity and using energy.  Nothing more.”  

The Replicator laughed, almost harshly.  “And you believe that?” 

“I believe, as Niam did, that our choices are what allow us to evolve and what allow us to truly exist.  This,” she said, gesturing around her, “and this.” 

The world around them shifted a final time, and they were standing on the balcony of the Tower, overlooking a vast and magnificent city.  The original Asuras, as she remembered it, expansive and amazing.  A testament to what the original Asurans had the capability of doing. 

“Your people, they created an unbelievable empire.  You developed technologies your creators could only dream of.”  Her hand was a soft touch on the Replicator’s arm.  “But without the choice to use it in the right way, you became nothing more than what you were initially—uncontrollable machines.  Take that final step and become what Niam hoped you’d be—what your Creator Pygalmous wanted you to be.  Help me finish this.  And let it end.” 

The Replicator looked at the world around her; over the vast expanse of Asuras and all the marvels that accompanied it.  Through the magnificent hallways and bridges, they could see replicators were everywhere, populating the City, going about their daily business.  

Busy.  Active. 

Alive. 

When she turned back to Elizabeth, the expression in her eyes was startling.  Filled with intelligence and emotion, it made her look wholly human. 

“Take care of John,” the Replicator said.  “I will go to Oberoth.  Save John first, then, come, and as you say, we will finish this.” 

Her fingers, still in Elizabeth’s hand, squeezed once and then let go.  

 

--/-- 

 

The buzzing of equipment was the first thing Steven heard as he drew back to consciousness.  Around him, the crew members were picking themselves off the ground.  The machines were coming back online. 

“Status?” he croaked as they tried to settle themselves. 

“Shield at 20 per cent,” said one technician. 

“Communications online,” said another. 

“PWARW?” asked Steven. 

“The system doesn’t appear to have been affected,” said a technician. 

Daedalus?”  Colonel Ellis’s voice rose over the Com. 

Apollo, this is Caldwell.” 

“What’s your status, Colonel?” 

“We took a pretty big shot,” Steven replied.  “Shields are down to almost nothing, but our weapons systems are still online.” 

“You looked like it,” said Ellis.  “Took a significant impact of the ricochet wave.” 

“What was it?” 

“From what we can tell, it appears the Replicators have manipulated their shield with a sort of boomerang effect.  It took the energy surge of the PWARW attacks and bounced them back.  You, Captain Larrin’s ship and another of the Coalition ships took the brunt of the attack.” 

“Are they okay?” 

“Larrin’s already radioed in—seems she and her crew are fine.  The third ship is having to be evacuated.” 

“What are our options?” 

“At the moment?”  He answered the question with his lack of response. 

“Sheppard is still down there.” 

“Hopefully he figured out what went wrong.  They’re going to have to lower that shield thing for real this time, or we’re going to have to beat a hasty retreat.  We can’t risk firing on the planet again, or we’ll lose most of our forces.”  

“Agreed,” Steven said.  “We wait.” 

 

--/--

 

 

Elizabeth blinked, clearing her vision.  The Replicator stood before her, her expression indicating her own return to reality.  They stared at one another for just one moment before the Replicator turned and headed swiftly for the staircase. 

John lay beside the Gate.  His wound was pretty nasty, but he was breathing normally.  It was a testament to the speed of the nanites that only a few minutes had passed since Elizabeth had taken their minds through that seemingly endless span of combined memories. 

She needed to get him back on the Daedalus.  She tapped her radio earbud and clicked it.  “Daedalus, this is Elizabeth Weir.  Can you read me?” 

There was a hiss of static before someone opened up the channel.  In the background were the sound of sirens and voices, high pitched and yelling. 

“Elizabeth?  Elizabeth is that you?”  That was Rodney’s voice.  “Are you alright?” 

“For now.  What about you?” 

“Well, apparently the Replicators had some kind of shield protection, thanks for the heads up!” 

She looked up at the control area, where Oberoth was stationed.  He appeared unaware of her sentience.  “I didn’t know, Rodney.  I can’t tell what he’s doing from here.  The Replicator did tell me they had prepared for a PWARW attack.” 

“Well, we were just struck by some kind of shock wave.  We can’t take another one.  We may have to fall back if we can’t figure out how to get through the shield.” 

“I might be able to help with that,” Elizabeth said, glancing up to where the Replicator was making her way into the control room.  “But listen, Rodney, I need you to try and beam John back up to the Daedalus now.  He’s been injured.” 

“Is he okay?”  There was a pause, then Rodney came back on, sounding like he was jogging somewhere.  “Does he agree to that?” 

“I’m not sure, Rodney.  He’s unconscious.  I don’t think what he thinks matters at the moment.” 

“That’s what you think.”  Another pause.  “It looks like we can get the beam through whatever it is Altus has set up down there.  But what about you?” 

“I told you, I’ve got a few things left to do.” 

“Elizabeth—” 

“Do you want that shield lowered or not?  Just do what I ask, Rodney, no more questions.  I’ll radio you again when I know more.” 

“Elizabeth, I can’t lock on to you.  They must have done something to both your trackers.” 

“Can you use the radio frequency, like you did the last time?” 

“Hold on.”  There was a pause.  “It looks like it.  But—” 

“I’ll turn mine off.  The active signal will be John.” 

“It takes time to calibrate the signal again.  If you need to be beamed out I’m not going to be able to do it quickly, I’ll have to readjust it, and then…” 

“Don’t worry about me,” she replied.  “Just get John out of here.” 

At the sound of his name, his eyes opened and he groaned, lifting his head a little off the floor, and looked up at where she stood.  “’Eliza…?” he questioned, half-aware.  

“Rodney, go.  I’m sorry, John,” she said.  With a swift movement, she dislodged her own headset and placed it in his hand, then took a step back.  “Goodbye.” 

His eyes widened as the bright glow of the Asgard beam enveloped him.  Then he was gone.  She stared at the place where he’d lain for a moment, the area near his head still stained with blood, her heart heavy.  It was the last time she’d more than likely see any of her friends. 

The Replicator had reached Oberoth, whose back was turned and appeared unsuspecting of her plan.  Or at least, what Elizabeth hoped was her plan. 

She took one last look at the spot where John had lain, then moved swiftly across the Gateroom, towards the staircase.  

 

 

--/-- 

 

 

Ronon stepped aside of a tech who was trying to put out a small electrical fire with an extinguisher, listening to Rodney chatter with Weir.  

Teyla looked at him, her expression worried.  The status of the Daedalus was not good; the ship has been hit pretty hard by the shock wave that apparently was a bounce back of the PWARW being fired on the planet.   Three of the Coalition ships, including Larrin’s, had taken the brunt of the damage and were failing fast, and the Daedalus had started beaming their crews aboard as quickly as was possible. 

The beam materialized in the center of the Daedalus bridge, and to his surprise, Mayel Serrana was the first person he saw.  She noticed him too, her expression unchanging save for a slight twitch of her mouth.  She’d been joined by another of the Traveler captains. 

Teyla was less expressive; she turned away and did not acknowledge the Coalition crew. 

The Traveler walked over to Caldwell, who rose to greet her and explain the situation.  Mayel followed, though her gaze flickered about the room, looking, presumably, for Sheppard. 

Rodney, in the meanwhile, was toying with the beam again.  

“It’s calibrated for here,” he muttered and leaned over to Teyla.  “Radio Jennifer, tell her to get her team to the Bridge.” 

Teyla frowned in confusion, but stepped away to ship communications as Rodney dictated to initiate the beam. 

The glow materialized another form near to where Mayel’s group had arrived.  Sheppard, alive but unconscious. 

His status prompted some surprised gasps amongst the crew, and Ronon and Teyla both immediately went over to him, followed by McKay.  

They weren’t the first to reach him.  Serrana was kneeling over him by the time they got there, her expression extreme concern, though she rose as soon as he and Teyla neared.  

Sheppard had been hit with something and had a pretty nasty head wound.  But as Teyla bent down to touch him, he groaned. 

“Thank God,” Rodney said, as Sheppard opened his eyes slowly.  His gaze drifted to Ronon, then Teyla and finally across to where Mayel was standing.  It was her face that brought him into complete awareness, and he frowned, trying to roll himself up. 

“You have been injured,” Teyla said, reaching out to hold him down.  “You need to lie still.” 

John squinted against the light and leaned up on his elbows.  “Where am I?” 

“Aboard the Daedalus.” 

His eyes widened as he took in the chaos.  “What happened?” 

“The PWARW didn’t work,” said Rodney.  He was meddling with the beam again.  “Altus cobbled together some kind of reactive—” 

“Blast back,” Sheppard finished.  “He said he’d set up the shield that way.  And it's Oberoth, by the way.”

 "Oberoth?  As in--"

"Yes, as in that guy.  He did a regeneration thingy."

"Great!"  Rodney frowned.  “Why didn’t you tell us?” 

“I was kinda busy at the time,” John muttered, gesturing to his head.  “Next time I’ll make sure to radio you before I get the crap knocked outta me.”  He attempted to lift himself from the floor again, wincing in pain, then looked at the people around him.  As he scanned the multitude, his expression grew concerned. 

“Where’s Elizabeth?” 

“She’s still on the planet,” Ronon answered, when no one else would.  

“She said she’s going to try and lower the shield,” Rodney added.  “I’m going to adjust the beam to lock in on her headset—” 

John opened his clenched first.  In his palm lay a spare headset.  Rodney looked at him with wide eyes.  “Is that—” 

Sheppard was suddenly deadly serious.  “Send me back.” 

“If I do that, I won’t be able to…Elizabeth said not to—” 

The Colonel frowned and pulled himself up to his feet, wobbling slightly, and narrowed his eyes.  “Rodney, you know as well as I do what she’s planning down there.  Send me back.  RightNow.” 

 

--/-- 

 

Elizabeth walked into the Control Room with her chin raised.  Oberoth was manning one of the consoles, looking at her unconcernedly as she drew near him.  The Elizabeth Replicator had moved to his other side. 

“Doctor Weir,” he said.  “I must give you credit.  For a human you are a truly formidable opponent.” 

“My still being here is your doing,” she said.  “It was you who could not get rid of me—who wouldn’t get rid of me.” 

“Your humanity was useful for your memories.  For manipulating the sympathies of those who had what we needed.  Nothing more.” 

“I don’t think so.”  Elizabeth smiled.  “If it was my memories you needed, why didn't you just assimilate me?  And yet you kept me alive.  You created her," she gestured to FRAN, "and others like her instead."

The Replicator leader studied her, no trace of emotion on his face.  "A mistake that will quickly be rectified."

"Are you sure about that?  Do you really believe you can destroy me, when you failed so many times before? 

“What has happened in the past does not matter now,” he replied coolly.  “You can no longer overcome the strength of the Collective.  We are complete, with nothing to stop us.” 

“In that, you and I agree.  There is nothing to stop you from evolving, just as Niam wanted you to do.  And because of your arrogance, the same arrogance as the Ancients who created you, you have made that possibility a reality.”

He leaned towards her, his expression cold.  “And how have we done that, Doctor Weir?”    

“By underestimating the strength of human will.  That was what you failed to understand, with all your copies and experiments.  It was never about my being human, Oberoth.  Free will doesn’t require a human to possess it.  Just a human heart.” 

 The Replicator leader stared at her, surmising in a moment what she was implying.  He turned to his counterpart in surprise.  She stood just behind him, close enough to pull him firmly into her grip. 

“We are no longer the pawns of our creators,” she said.  “We have become greater than they were.  It is time for us to prove that, to them, and to ourselves.” 

He tried to move backwards, but her hand jabbed into his forehead.  His arms rose to hers, struggling to break her control.  Elizabeth reached out and grasped him, attempting to hold him back as the Replicator exercised her control. 

Her head exploded in pain.  She could feel her body crumpling to the floor, her senses overwhelmed with uncontrollable images, sounds, feelings.  Burning heat, the smell of her skin on fire.  Screaming everywhere.  She saw children, Ronon, a Wraith come at her.  Heard the voices of children.  John reaching for her.  Replicators falling around her.  

The feel of her life draining from her.  Disorder.  Confusion.  Madness.  

The screaming turned into a high pitched wail, and her fingers closed more tightly around Oberoth’s arm as she fought to escape the sensations crowding her mind.  Tears were pouring down her face, uncontrollable.  Her breath came in gasps. 

A pair of green eyes lit up the darkness.  She saw the face of her Replicator duplicate, eyes filled with fire, holding on to something.  Elizabeth reached for her, trying to escape the chaos. 

The screaming stopped. 

In a burst of white light, everything exploded around her, a shimmering cloud of metal floating softly into space.  Her hand relaxed, clasping nothing. 

As the sensations subsided, her Replicator was before her, bent over her, a hand extended to help her up from the floor of the control room.  “Elizabeth?” 

Oberoth was gone.  All that remained was a miniscule dust cloud, barely shimmering in the lights of the empty Gateroom.  Elizabeth met the eyes of her counterpart.  “Is he…” 

“He’s gone.  Are you all right?” 

Elizabeth nodded.  In a few moments, whether she was or not wouldn’t matter anymore.  She grasped the extended hand and pulled herself off the floor.  “Come on.  It’s time to finish this.”  

 

--/-- 

 

Ronon had helped Sheppard to his feet, but John angrily waved him away. 

“McKay,” he said warningly. 

McKay shook his head a little, his expression sympathetic.  “Look…” 

There was a burst of static through the comm, silencing the argument.  

“Colonel Caldwell,” Elizabeth said.  Her voice sounded calm, and it quieted the ship to the point where a pin drop could be heard.  

“Doctor Weir?” 

“Hello, Colonel.   I wanted to let you know—the shields have been lowered and the device disabled.  You are clear to fire the PWARW.” 

“That’s good to hear, Doctor.  We’ll have to run some scans first…” 

“Whatever you need to do, Colonel.  I just wanted to let you know that as a secondary measure, the self-destruct on the City has been activated.  There are about five minutes left before what exists of Asuras II is completely destroyed.” 

A small gasp ran up among the crew.  Caldwell rose.  “Doctor Weir, that doesn’t give us much time to get you out.” 

“My tracking device has been disabled.  I wasn’t expecting to get out.” 

“Still…” 

“Prep your PWARW, Colonel.  Take care of what remains and make sure this doesn’t happen again, to anyone.” 

The signal cut off abruptly, and the crew looked at one another in astonishment.  Caldwell turned towards Sheppard’s group, his expression more surprised than Ronon had ever seen.  

“Rodney!”  Sheppard was moving towards McKay.  “You need to send me down there, right now!”     

Now?   Are you crazy?  She set the self-destruct!” 

Mayel lifted a hand towards him.  “John—” 

“SEND ME BACK,” he snapped, jerking away from her.  

Rodney looked at him in consternation, though his face was pale.  Sheppard took a step closer.  “Rodney, you were right.” 

“Right?  Right about what?” 

“Everything.”  The Colonel placed a hand on Rodney’s arm.  “You were right from the start.” 

The scientist searched his face for a moment as John looked at him, his hand squeezing the scientist’s shoulder, a fierce expression in his eyes.  “I owe her!” 

Ronon and Teyla had both closed in, but before they could say anything McKay had turned away, typing in a series of commands faster than Ronon could process.  

In a flash of golden light, Sheppard disappeared.  McKay looked downcast, staring at the floor as Teyla glanced at Ronon with fear in her eyes.  When he looked up and into their faces, he swallowed.  “I’m giving him a chance.  She always gave us the chance, right?” 

Keller entered the Bridge, a rolling gurney behind her.  She surveyed the area, her eyes finding them amidst the chaos, and trotted over.  “Where’s Colonel Sheppard?” 

Rodney met her eyes, the expression in them conveying something Jennifer seemed to understand.  She nodded once, and he turned back to the console, mentioning something over the com about continuing the process for salvaging refugees. 

Out of the corner of his eyes, Ronon caught sight of Mayel Serrana, her head lowered, moving slowly away. 

 

--/--

 

Elizabeth gazed out across the Gateroom of Asuras II, feeling a little disappointed that the last view of Atlantis she would see wouldn’t be Atlantis.  But it was better than nothing.    

The Elizabeth Replicator was gazing across Asuras II as well, as portions of the newly built City just beyond the glass windows flared up into fireballs; microbursts of destruction working their way inwards towards the central Tower.   She turned to Elizabeth with a soft smile. 

“Thank you, Doctor Weir,” she said.  “For reminding me of what my purpose was.” 

“You’ve done nothing but what you the Replicator you were based on said he would, so many years ago,” Elizabeth replied.  “But of your own volition.  Whatever it is you are, you are not like Oberoth.  You’ve become much more than that.” 

The Replicator’s smile broadened, a smile that faded as the space behind them lit up with a golden light. 

“Nice try.” 

She turned, that ever-familiar voice registering almost painfully.  John, his head injury still untreated, had materialized behind her. 

“John, what are you doing here?”  She tapped on the communications console.  “Rodney, I told you to take him!  You only have a few more moments!” 

“He made me send him back.  He—” 

“Don’t make a move until I tell you, McKay,” John interrupted from his own headset, his eyes narrowing. 

“See?” Rodney whined. 

She looked back at John, whose expression had grown fiery.  “This isn’t a negotiation, Colonel.  You need to leave.  Now.” 

“And I’m not going without you,” he rasped. 

“No, John,” she said.  “No more taking chances.  It’s time to make this right.” 

He staggered forward, shaking his head.  “Right?  This isn’t right.  You don’t get to quit that easily.” 

“I’m not quitting,” she frowned, stepping back from him.  “The Elizabeth you knew died a long time ago.  You recognized that back on Atlantis, when it first happened.  Do what Rodney should have done back then.  Let me go.” 

“I was wrong.”  He leaned against a console, the intensity disappearing from his expression but not his eyes. 

“No,” she shook her head.  “You weren’t wrong.  You did exactly what I wanted you to do, what you knew you should do.  This time, we’ll get the chance to correct it.  Do what we both know is best.” 

“Best for who?  Best for you?” 

“This isn’t personal!” 

“Like hell it isn’t personal!” 

“John—” 

“You are one of my team.  You don’t stop being that because of what happened to you.  And I’m not going to assume anything is best that costs me one of my own.” 

“This isn’t about me.  It’s about what’s best for Atlantis—” 

“What’s best for Atlantis is to have one of our people back home.  We’ve learned we’re pretty damn good at figuring out the rest.” 

The city spires had begun to crumble beyond the windows outside, the Tower shaking with the effects.  John stumbled, grasping more firmly to the console for support. 

“I don’t know if you can this time,” she whispered.  “Leave me here, and you never have to worry about the Replicators again.  It’ll be over.  Finished.” 

“It’ll never be over,” he said, almost pleadingly.  “Don’t you see that?  Getting rid of you and this place doesn’t wipe the slate clean.  Who knows what’s still out there?”  He gestured to the Replicator.  “She proves there’s no knowing whether they’ll ever be gone.  You get nothing sacrificing yourself here.” 

“John…”  She shook her head.  “Please.” 

“I don’t leave people behind.  I made that clear to you, on that balcony, on that very first day.  And I’ve only done it once since then.  I won’t do it again.” 

The Gateroom walls cracked with explosive force. 

“Elizabeth, come on.”  John reached out a hand. 

She couldn’t answer him.  Her legs gave way beneath her and she cried out, falling to her knees, the shattering of the city roaring in her ears, sweeping John’s pleading voice away with it. 

A firm hand clasped her arm, and she found herself pulled back to her feet, facing the Replicator. 

“C’mon.”  John’s hand was extended out to her as he hung on to the control panel, fear in his eyes. 

The Elizabeth Replicator held her hand as Niam had, so many years ago on his homeworld.  Around them, the destructive winds of the end of the second Asuras created the same swirling chaos, but rather than despair, she saw in the Replicator’s face contentment.  “You were wrong in one respect,” the Replicator said.  “I may have been you, but I was only ever a copy.  You are the original.  And you were meant to survive.”  

She shoved her gently backwards, towards John, as the self-destruct shattered the windows and walls of the Tower.  He pulled her to him, his arms wrapping around her, and the last thing she saw, as his shouts to Rodney melded with the roaring winds of the destruction of the control room, was the face of the Replicator who had begun all of this, smiling peacefully and disappearing into an aura of light.

 

>>> To be concluded in Primum Movens, Part II, Epilogue

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