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Box of Dreams, Part III

Box of Dreams, Part II

The first thing she was aware of was the sound. The air and space around her felt dry and somehow hollow, and when she opened her eyes, she met darkness.

Teyla sat up slowly, trying to determine where she was. She felt disoriented as the room around her started to take shape. She could see panels lined along the walls, their lights flickering in the dark. She started to recognize the room, and got to her feet. Something felt wrong though, she was experiencing a strange pressure inside of her head.  

“You’re awake.” There was a female voice to her left, and Teyla turned around. She could see a silhouette first, a tall woman with hair cut short. When she came closer, Teyla could see her face and her clothes, which seemed odd. The first thing she thought about were the hallucinations she had seen when the whales surrounded the city, and she realized this woman was wearing Ancient clothes. 

 

“Who are you?” Teyla asked, studying the woman’s expression. Her face was pleasant and calm, but there was something slightly unnerving about the way she was smiling. 

 

“My name is Irinia,” she said, and that, to Teyla, sounded like an Ancient name. “You are Teyla,” the woman continued, and this was a definite sign that something wasn’t right. Teyla took a slight step back, and her mind started to race, while Irinia remained where she was. “I can explain this to you.”

 

“That would be very favorable,” Teyla answered, looking suspiciously at the woman. 

 

“You are asleep, and this is your consciousness that is awake.” She continued to explain, and Teyla noticed how her expression wasn’t changing. There was something almost artificial about her. 

 

“How can that be?”

 

“You have activated a machine and were placed into a stasis pod. That is where your body is now, and it’s asleep. You are safe,” Irinia claimed, but her words were no comfort to Teyla. 

 

“I would like to wake up,” Teyla said. 

 

“You will be able to wake up once the program runs its course,” Irinia said. 

 

Teyla didn’t like the sound of this, but the things she had learned on Atlantis over the years, especially working close with Rodney, started to echo through her mind. Assess the situation and try to determine the best course of action. Over the years, various teams had encountered artificial intelligence and machines that could essentially trap one’s consciousness, and the most important thing one could do was to stay safe. She assumed her team would notice that she was missing, sooner or later, and she knew they would do everything to get her out of trouble. 

 

“Oh no,” Irinia’s smile faltered a little. “You cannot do that. You cannot wait. The program must run its course. You have to enter the program, or —”

 

“Or?” The image of the young woman stood motionlessly, and Teyla suddenly realized she was not a real person. She was part of the computer, the program. 

 

“The machine accesses your higher brain functions once its activated,” the artificial intelligence guide explained the matter placidly, and Teyla felt completely the opposite of calm. “The machine depends on your mind, and your mind depends on the machine. I am a part of the machine, which is why I know your thoughts. As long as your mind takes part in the program, both will be active and supporting each other. If you choose to stay here, then both will cease to function.”

 

Teyla took a breath to steady herself. “Are you saying that this machine is going to shut down — my mind?”

 

Irinia nodded. “Essentially, yes. That is what is going to happen.”

 

“Then I do not have a choice.” Teyla’s voice filled with a bitter undertone. 

 

“Oh, no, that is where you are wrong. We always have a choice. What matters is, what kind of choice we are willing to accept.” There was something about Irinia’s eyes that made Teyla shiver. “You can choose to examine your life. It is what the program is designed for. To search your heart, examine your choices. Or, you can choose to stay asleep. Give up. That choice is painless —”

 

“No,” Teyla said quickly, forcefully. She was not a quitter, and she was not a coward. Irinia’s lips curved in a smile. 

 

“Just as I thought,” she said, and added, “Make sure to remember that our choices shape our destiny.”

 

She waved her hand and the room started to spin, and the next thing Teyla knew was a bottomless dark. 

 

“Remember Teyla. Your time —”

 

The voice was forming words, but they floated out of Teyla’s mind and became nothingness. 

 

*

 

Ronon walked into the lab warily. He understood basics of technology, but he did not enjoy things he couldn’t manipulate with sheer force of his hands. Science and technology were a different language, and while Ronon was familiar with it, enough to keep himself safe, but he was not fluent in it. 

 

The room he walked into was long and narrow, filled with machines and panels and screens.  A multitude of people were there — Rodney was frantically working near one of the consoles, simultaneously typing on the panel and the data pad in his hands. Doctor Zelenka and Doctor Keller were standing near the pod settled against the far wall of the lab. There were two Marines standing by the door and two more inside the room. His chest ached as he observed the sight — Teyla was trapped inside, unmoving and unconscious. 

 

At first he didn’t like spending his time around the scientists. It had changed to the point where he patiently waited until there was news or something he could do. Ronon nodded to several people and walked towards Keller and Zelenka. 

 

“How is she doing?” he asked. Jennifer was frowning at the readings on the data pad in her hand. 

 

“This is confusing,” she started. “It looks like she is asleep. Everything about her, everything I can check looks like she is asleep, only we can’t wake her up. Other than that she seems fine, but I’m worried. We still don’t know what the machine does -”

 

“Actually, Doctor —” The linguist Sandra Brie, whom Ronon accompanied several times to various off world monuments and ruins, along with Elizabeth Weir, was standing nearby, staring at the writings on the wall with a notebook in her hand. Ronon always found it interesting how Doctor Brie preferred making handwritten notes. Sandra looked toward them with a worried expression on her face. “From what I’ve translated, it seems that this machine was intended for some form of mind manipulation.”

 

The chatter in the room instantly died. This couldn’t be good. Ronon glanced at Teyla, then back at Sandra Brie, who continued to explain what she found. 

 

“It’s intended to be activated by sound; spoken words. One must read that inscription —” She pointed towards a piece of written text above Teyla’s pod — “in order to activate the process. What the exact process is, I am not sure, but I assume the machine is able to scan you and then gain control over you in some way. Once you enter it, it’s able to manipulate your mind.”

 

“How?” Rodney asked, leaving his post and nearing Doctor Brie. 

 

“I’m not sure. But past experiences are mentioned more than once. Almost like this machine is supposed to help you reexamine your past.”

 

“That doesn’t sound pleasant,” Ronon remarked. 

 

“Sometimes I wonder if the Ancients ever built anything, you know, normal,” Jennifer said. “There always seems to be a Catch-22 with their inventions.”

 

“There’s also a name in the writings,” Doctor Brie said. “Or, I think it’s a name. Irinia.” 

 

“Definitely sounds like a name,” Doctor Zelenka remarked. 

 

“We can check in the database,” Rodney suggested, tapping his earpiece. “McKay to Kanaan or Kovach. Either of you would do — ah Kovach. Can you check in the database if there was a certain Irinia among the Ancient science staff? You can exclude people like botanists and professions that had nothing to do with artificial intelli — no, I can’t be more specific. Yes, now, Kovach,” Rodney waited, frowning and tapping his foot. Everyone in the room carried grave expressions on their faces. “Okay. No, that wouldn’t be it. Is there anything else? What —” Rodney’s face suddenly changed, switching from irritated to alarmed. “Are you certain? Yes, yes, I’m perfectly aware that nothing good could come out of something made by a woman named Pandora.” As Rodney said the name, there was a commotion in the room. This couldn’t be good news, and Ronon waited worriedly as Rodney was finishing his conversation with Doctor Kovach. “No, you and Kanaan better go find Woolsey and Sheppard. Yes, I know about that expedition prep meeting. This is far more important. See what else you can find out and keep me posted. McKay out —” 

 

“What do you mean, Pandora?” Zelenka asked immediately after Rodney cut the link. 

 

“I assume you know that particular story,” Rodney snapped.

 

“Yes, I do know the story, Rodney! I wanted to know, is he sure —”

 

“He’s sure, because when he searched the name Irinia and artificial intelligence, he came up with an invention called Irinia. And the inventor’s name was Pandora.”

 

“Dear God. That’s not good,” Zelenka rubbed his chin as he stared at Rodney. “The legend of Pandora —”

 

“Yeah, tell me about it. We had a legend of Atlantis on Earth since ancient times and look how it translated into reality —”

 

“What is this legend of Pandora?” Ronon asked. “What does it say?”

 

Doctor Brie was the one who answered. “According to ancient Greek legend, she was the first woman that the god Zeus gifted to human kind. Zeus ordered one of the other gods, Hephaestus to make her as a punishment because men stole fire from the gods.”

 

“Then Zeus sounds like a dangerous god to deal with,” Ronon said. “What happened with Pandora?”

 

“Other gods were ordered to give Pandora gifts for men — all of them placed in a box she opened once she was among them. The legend says that when she opened the box, all evils known to mankind came out —”

 

“I understand,” Ronon frowned. Sheppard and McKay had told him about the history of Earth, and Doctor Weir told him about various Earth mythologies. He was familiar with the basics, and he also knew that bits and pieces of the Ancients’ history had become mythology on Earth, just as it had turned into stories and legends in his own galaxy. If Pandora existed on Atlantis, and dealt with scientific research and inventions, then they couldn’t be good, considering the legend surrounding her name. 

 

“You’ve forgotten that only hope remained,” Zelenka added. He noticed Ronon’s confused look. “In the legend, when Pandora closed her box, only hope remained inside. You can interpret that in different ways — either hope existed but it was closed in the darkness of the box and not allowed out, or, hope existed and it was still there. All Pandora had to do was open the box again.”

 

“So, either everything was lost, or there was still hope,” Ronon summarized. 

 

“Exactly. Greeks enjoyed ambiguous legends.” Zelenka pushed his glasses up his nose. “I wonder if this is Pandora’s box.”

 

“That is a frightening suggestion, Radek,” Jennifer said. 

 

“If it is, one has to wonder where are all the evils,” he said. The rest of people in the room gave him an alarmed looks. “Atlantis from the legend was lost under the waves of the sea, and that’s exactly where we found the city. Under the sea.”

 

“I get your point,” Rodney said. “She activated the mechanism, the box — and if I’m not mistaken the term ‘box of dreams’ is repeated several times. The evils from Pandora’s box in the legend —”

 

“Famine, diseases, war —” Zelenka started to count. 

 

“They sound more metaphorical to me than like a real threat,” Jennifer interjected.  “Except for diseases, but I suppose the city’s sensors would react to sudden outbreaks of infections.”

 

“You’ve got a point,” Doctor Brie said. “They certainly reacted to that nanovirus.”

 

“Didn’t Doctor Brie say that the machine was intended to manipulate the mind?” Ronon asked. 

 

“If that’s the case, I think we should be more concerned about Teyla and what the machine could do to her,” Doctor Brie said. “There are a lot of options how ‘all known evils’ and ‘reexamining one’s past’ could relate to the legend of Pandora —”

 

At that moment Rodney received a radio call from Doctor Kovach. 

 

“Yes, go ahead. Yes. Anesidora was her real name?” Rodney talked. 

 

“It’s the other name for Pandora,” Doctor Brie supplied quietly before Rodney’s shout startled everyone. 

 

“What? She was working with Janus? <i>Janus</i>?? Kovach are you certain —”

 

“Oh, Bože to není dobré. Je to tak není dobré,” Zelenka started muttering. 

 

“What? What does this mean -” Ronon asked, even though the name Janus was very familiar. He wasn’t certain, but he had heard Sheppard, McKay and Elizabeth mention him. He was a scientist of some kind, but the details were uncertain. However, Ronon remembered that this name was linked to trouble, and he felt just as alarmed as the rest of them did. In the meantime, Rodney finished his conversation with Kovach.

 

“Janus was a guy who liked to push the limits of his research into things better not touched,” Rodney sighed. “Time travel. Which means —”

 

“The ‘all evils’ theory gains a completely new meaning now,” Jennifer said, biting her lip. “With — oh no,” Jennifer was cut off by the sounds of her own medical machines she had set up next to the pod where Teyla was trapped. 

 

“What’s wrong?” Rodney asked but the beeping signals were telling a story on their own. 

 

“She —” Jennifer looked at the Ancient panel next to Teyla’s pod, then her own scanners and the data pad in her hand. Teyla was still completely motionless behind the thick glass, but everything around her was angrily beeping. Jennifer took a deep breath. “She’s not asleep any more.”

 

*

 

Your time is limited.

 

The darkness dissolved into pain. 

 

“Teyla? Teyla!?”

 

She took a breath and opened her eyes. At first she felt disoriented as she looked around, and then she realized chaos was erupting everywhere her eyes could see. There was smoke and loud voices, there were calls for help and shrieks of pain and injured people. Wounds and pain were everywhere and the city itself seemed to shake. 

 

“Teyla?”

 

She refocused and realized Jennifer Keller was standing in front of her; in green scrubs, with a mask hanging about her neck and sweaty strands of hair peeking from under her cap. There was blood on her sleeve and a smear of something black on her forehead, and she looked exhausted. 

 

“What happened?” Teyla asked. The air smelled like burnt things and danger. 

 

“Teyla, did you hit your head?” Jennifer’s hands were prodding various spots on Teyla’s body. 

 

“I do not recall it,” Teyla said. 

 

“Do you recall falling?”

 

“Falling?” she questioned, and the young doctor looked at her worriedly, like she only realized something now. “Where would I fall?”

 

“Teyla, you fell in the control room... when they attacked us,” Doctor Keller said. 

 

Attacked? Who attacked? What happened? For a moment Teyla’s mind felt empty and hollow as she stared at Jennifer, while people hurried in and out of the infirmary, which resembled a battlefield. 

 

Doctor Zelenka limped inside. At first Teyla thought he was injured, but then she realized he was half carrying someone else, someone she didn’t readily recognize. The city shook again, and the lights in the infirmary flickered; there was a shout from somewhere behind her, and everything looked so familiar. 

 

Then she remembered. 

 

The Replicator attack. The main control room; and the way the beam cut through the glass of the window like it was a slice of bread. Ronon flew to the floor and shattered glass washed over the two of them, and at the other end of the room —

 

“Elizabeth,” Teyla said, her eyes snapping to Jennifer’s. 

 

“She’s—-” the Doctor paused, holding Teyla’s eyes. “She’s seriously injured,” Jennifer said, resuming her work on Teyla, who felt stunned. 

 

There was a half formed thought at the back of her mind. It felt heavy and alarming, looming over the horizon of her consciousness like a stormy cloud. Teyla couldn’t distinguish its shape yet, but she had a strong feeling of purpose. Something wasn’t right. Something was going to happen, something terrible, and she had to change it. 

 

*

 

“What are we looking at here, Doctor McKay?” 

 

Richard Woolsey looked like he had a severe headache, and Rodney couldn’t blame him. Next to him, John sat looking grim and worried, while Kanaan’s jaw was clenched in a way Rodney hadn’t seen yet. Ronon was obviously more comfortable standing on his feet, and Doctor Kovach was next to him. Zelenka was sitting next to Rodney, Jennifer to his other side, and next to her was Doctor Brie. 

 

“A mind time travel machine,” Rodney said, and Zelenka raised his hand, possibly to correct him. Again. “It’s a working title, because the other name for it is box of dreams,” he added. 

 

“More like box of nightmares,” Sheppard supplied with dark sarcasm. 

 

“Not a bad name,” Ronon added. 

 

“Well, we can’t sit around waiting for the Sandman,” Woolsey folded his hands. “Please continue, Doctor.”

 

“Doctor Brie was able to translate pieces of the text written on the walls. It seems that the mechanism was voice triggered. In other words, Teyla probably read something out loud and that started the machine —”

 

“We’re not sure how she ended up inside,” Zelenka supplied. 

 

“Right. It seems that the machine was meant to be used for mind manipulation.” Rodney looked at Sandra Brie, who had her hand written notes scattered in front of her. She nodded. 

 

“It was described in several different ways, but the term “reexamining one’s past” was the most prominent. Other than that, I managed to find the name Irinia, and the search conducted by Doctor Kovach lead us to some unsettling information.”

 

“Irinia wasn’t a person, as we suspected, but the invention. A virtual personality developed by one of the city’s young scientists.” Doctor Kovach took over the explaining. “When I focused my search on artificial intelligence and mind manipulation, I came up with the name Pandora. I mean, the search resulted in that name, and it turned out she was a scientist working with another scientist named Janus. Pandora’s name is mentioned several times, in  reference to projects she and Janus both worked on —”

 

“With all this information combined, I think it’s justified to consider this as a situation of grave concern,” Zelenka said. “We know Janus was involved in time travel research, and it’s only wise to presume —”

 

Rodney nodded, and Sandra Brie continued explaining. “The inscriptions inside the lab are vague and seem to be symbolic in nature, and yes, I agree with Doctor McKay’s assumptions from the beginning. We’re not certain but what we’re looking at just might be a time machine... for the mind.”

 

“The question now is, if it is a … mind TARDIS, what does it do?” Sheppard leaned forward, looking irritated and grim. 

 

“Whatever it does, Teyla’s vital signs have changed drastically,” Jennifer said. 

 

“What does that mean?” Kanaan asked worriedly. 

 

“Before, all of her life signs indicated that she was asleep. Right now her body and her brain are acting as if she were awake and engaged in vigorous activity.”

 

“What’s going on with her?” asked John then. 

 

“Perhaps the machine is doing what it is designed to do. Manipulating her mind,” Kanaan offered. “But how?”

 

“That’s what we have to find out.” Rodney took over again. “What the ultimate purpose of this machine is. Manipulating the mind and reexamining one’s past, okay, but why? What’s the ultimate goal?”

 

“If what you’re all saying is true —” Sheppard paused and looked at all of them. “What’s the ultimate goal of the DeLorean, McKay?” Sheppard said. Rodney looked at him, feeling his heart sinking low into the pit of his chest. “Why would you build a time machine? If that’s what we’re dealing with here? I remember the Janus fiasco as well as you do, but hold your horses. We can’t be sure —” 

 

“I’m aware of that, but we must also consider it a possibility,” Rodney countered.

 

“Fine. Then I’ll ask you again, why would you build a time traveling DeLorean? With one purpose only. You want to change something, either in the future or in the past. So —”

 

“What you’re saying, Colonel, is that this machine could be used to change your personal past?” Woolsey was the one who put it into words. Then he looked at Rodney and Zelenka. “Doctors?”  

 

“We can’t exclude that possibility, sir,” Zelenka said. 

 

John leaned back into his chair and rubbed his face. “Here we go. A typical day in the Pegasus Galaxy, take two thousand thirty-two.”

 

“Thank you very much.” Rodney glared at Sheppard, who glared back at him. His glare, however, seemed to have lost the bitter edge it had a short while ago. “If we find out what the purpose of the machine is, and when and how it’s achieved, we might be able to stop the process.”

 

“Can you do that?” Woolsey asked. 

 

“We don’t know. At this point, there are more things we don’t know, than those we do.”

 

“Then I suggest getting to know more about Pandora, her research, her cooperation with Janus, and this machine should be our top priority,” Woolsey said. “If what you’re implying is correct, the consequences of what happens to Teyla might affect us all,” Woolsey was completely serious as he stood up from his spot. He looked at Kanaan and Doctor Kovach. “We’ll need more people searching through the database,” he said. 

 

“I’ll join them,” John volunteered. It was an atypical thing for John to do, but Rodney had seen him join a search like this before, once to save Rodney’s very neck. “I’m familiar with the database and it won’t be the first time. Besides, Teyla is part of my team —” 

 

Woolsey nodded and Kanaan smiled thankfully. “Your help will be very valuable.”

 

“I want to help as well,” Ronon said. 

 

“You can join us,” Doctor Kovach offered. “You do know how to —?”

 

“He does,” Rodney said. “He just doesn’t enjoy working with computers.”

 

“As Sheppard said, Teyla is part of the team.”

 

“Fine,” Woolsey concluded. “I will assign more people to help out, but in the meantime, we need to find out as much about the machine as we can,” he said this looking at Zelenka and Rodney. “Especially if the process can be stopped.”

 

“I am assuming that the notes on the walls were written by Pandora herself,” Doctor Brie spoke up. 

 

“It’s a valid hypothesis, Doctor,” Woolsey said. “I suggest you continue with the translations.”

 

“Yes Sir,” the doctor answered. 

 

“Well, then.” Sheppard stood up and looked around the room, his eyes finally settling on Rodney. His friend’s eyes were firm and determined and Rodney felt as if they had reached an agreement on something troubling and heavy. “No time to lose now,” he said and with that they left the conference room, each of them walking with a sense of purpose. 

 

*

 

Your time is limited.

 

The words were echoing in Teyla’s head and she wasn’t certain how she knew what would happen; but from the moment Elizabeth woke up, seemingly healed and without a scratch, Teyla just knew. 

 

Her friend, and the leader of this city, was going to die. 

 

She was running through darkened corridors; some parts of the city were damaged, and most of them were still not functioning. They were dangerously vulnerable with their energy levels depleted, and Teyla knew the only place where they could find a replacement for their depleted ZPM.

 

Elizabeth was going to die at the hands of the enemy. Teyla knew this, and her throat was tight at the very thought of it. Her previous conversation with Elizabeth left her feeling disheartened and sad; it seemed that Elizabeth believed her condition couldn’t be helped any more. She saw herself as a liability, a beacon which could be used by the Replicators out there. Elizabeth’s concern was a valid one, but then, wasn’t Teyla herself a liability? The Wraith were able to connect to her mind and even manipulate it, as they were able to do in the past, and yet — 

 

Elizabeth was invaluable. Losing her would affect them in countless ways and drag them down; and Teyla felt like she could actually remember it. An image was stuck in her mind; she saw her own hands packing Elizabeth’s belongings into a box and closing it, and writing her name in Ancient script. This image felt more like a dream than a memory, but Teyla was certain that it wasn’t a dream. She couldn’t explain it, she only knew it was too strong, and too entirely in the realm of the possible to ignore it. Someone ought to know, and she had to decide quickly. 

 

She couldn’t tell Elizabeth; Teyla knew it would never result in a desirable effect. Her first thought was to tell John, but with each step she took, she was more certain that John was the wrong choice. He already blamed himself for what happened, and then he was ready to give the order and allow Elizabeth’s life to end. He felt too guilty, and his mind was too burdened to add this on it. 

 

It seemed that circumstances decided for her. When she entered the puddle jumper bay she found Rodney, preparing the jumper, and somehow she knew John was on his way, with Elizabeth. 

 

Elizabeth between John and a squad of Marines, walking like she was headed to her execution.

 

Teyla blinked and shuddered. “Rodney?”

 

The scientist exited the jumper. His face was tired and pale, and his eyes were full of worry and guilt. 

 

“What’s wrong?” he asked, and she knew that worry was reflected on her face as well. 

 

Her heart hammered in her chest. The heavy premonition grew in her chest, and she felt split in two; wanting to tell him and at the same time feeling that perhaps she shouldn’t. But as she thought of simply wishing him good luck and turning around, the image flashed in front of her eyes again — her hands and Elizabeth’s watch, and all her belongings neatly packed and closed in a box. Teyla felt hopeless and powerless at that moment, and chose differently. 

 

“Rodney. I — I need to tell you something.”

 

*

 

The jumper that left the city with four people returned only with three of them alive. 

 

As Teyla stood in Rodney’s lab, her hands unmoving as she stared at the cardboard box ready to be filled with his belongings, her mind started to spin. In the span of one day her entire world had changed, not for the better, and she felt that she had caused this. 

 

It was something she didn’t know how to accept. As she closed her eyes, an unfamiliar voice echoed through her mind. 

 

Your time is up.

 

Box of Dreams, Part IV >

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