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Return to Pegasus, Part I, CH II

<<< Back to Return to Pegasus, Part I, CH 1 

 

“She is his what?”
 
“Ex.”
 
Radek Zelenka lowered his datapad, glancing at Ronon Dex in surprise. The Satedan was leaning casually against one of the tables in the Ancient lab most recently discovered, poking his finger at a purple-blue rubber disc the Czech scientist had placed on the table. “Colonel Sheppard’s ex-wife is the Homeworld Command advisor?”
 
“Yeah.”
 
“And are they on…friendly…terms? Do not touch that. Please.”
 
Ronon straightened, pulling his hand back. “Guess so. They spoke to each other last time I saw them together at Sheppard’s dad’s funeral. Didn’t seem to be on bad terms.”
 
“Then this is good, I would think. Better than a complete stranger who knows nothing about any of us, right? Perhaps Colonel Sheppard can use his powers of persuasion to convince her what is the correct course of action.”
 
Ronon tilted his head to the side in response, shrugging. From what he remembered of Nancy Sheppard—or whatever she was called—none of Sheppard’s ‘persuasive’ powers were going to come to very much use.
 
"This does not make sense.” Radek shook his head at the data on the table, messy hair flying. “I hate to say this…but I cannot continue without McKay.”
 
“Don’t let him know that,” Ronon retorted, pushing off from the lab table and heading towards the door.
 
--\--
 
“Why aren’t we in there? We should be in there.” Rodney stopped pacing through the control area long enough to throw a look John’s way. “Or, at least, you should be in there.”
 
“No, I shouldn’t,” John shot back, leaning back further in the chair and propping his feet on the dialer. “Believe me.”
 
“I thought you said you were on good terms with your ex-wife!”
 
Sheppard made a face, bobbing his head from side to side. “Kinda sorta.”
 
“Kinda sorta? That’s not an answer!”
 
“In general? We get along fine. Do I want to attend her and her boyfriend’s next Christmas party? Not so much.”
 
“Great.” Rodney folded his hands, resuming his pacing for a few moments. John puffed out his cheeks, checking his watch, and glanced back across the gate room at the tightly shut conference room doors.
 
Rodney paused, looking at John frankly. “So…what do you think? What are our chances?”
 
“Chances?”
 
“Chances! You know, expectations? Is she going to let us go back to Pegasus or not?”
 
“How am I supposed to know that?”
 
“You were married to her, right? You have to have some…”
 
“No, no, I don’t. Look, McKay, just because I was married to her does not mean I know what she’s thinking. In fact, the ‘ex’ part kinda means that I am pretty close to the last person who understands what she’s thinking.”
 
McKay made a face, leaning across the top of the dialer towards him. “Alright, then…ballpark.”
 
“Ballpark.”
 
“Gut instinct. Come on. Something.”
 
John frowned at him, pulling up out of his reclined position. “The only instinct I have right now is an overwhelming desire to dial the gate anywhere in the Milky Way and get the hell out of here.”
 
McKay threw him a dark look, frowning, until Radek’s voice broke across the comm. “Rodney? Can you come down here?”
 
“Sure.” He pointed a finger at John as he strode past. “You let me know what they say. Anything they say.”
 
“Right. Sure.” As Rodney turned down the back stairs, John rose, glancing over to Chuck, who was monitoring systems. “Let him know when they get out.”
 
“Yes, sir,” replied the technician. John ignored Chuck’s smirk and made for the mess.
 
--\--
 
“This has everything?” Nancy Sheppard reached for the datapad Strom had handed her way, tapping on it and scanning the desktop. “Everything on the capabilities of the base?”
 
Strom folded his hands before him. “Everything. Defensive capabilities, power requirements, history, assets. Including all modifications made by the Earth expedition.”
 
“And the crew members?”
 
“Crew members?” Strom blinked dumbly a couple of times. “Why would you need crew members?”
 
“Well, I presume any analysis I do about the security and safety of Atlantis would involve the people who run Atlantis, Doctor Strom. I can’t very well determine whether the City is safe without determining whether the people who run it are safe.”
 
“I’m sure Richard can help you with whatever you need,” Shen broke in. “The crew members of Atlantis have changed over the course of the Expedition’s history. He would have the most up-to-date information.”
 
Nancy turned towards him with a polite smile, which gave her lovely face a slightly suggestive sheen. Woolsey had to give Sheppard credit; he could certainly pick his women. “Then Mr. Woolsey and I will have to get to know each other a little better.”
 
Richard grinned uncomfortably.
 
“Is there anything else you might need, Ms. Sheppard, before we release you to have a look around?”
 
“Not so far as the City is concerned—but Doctor Strom, you are aware of my connection to Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard?”
 
“We are aware of your previous…relationship, if that’s what you mean.”
 
“Will this potentially compromise my results in any way as far as this committee’s concerned?”
 
“Only if you let it. Do you foresee a problem?”
 
“No.” She tapped her finger on the datapad, eyeing the IOA head with a focused gaze. “But I want it understood that my final decision regarding the security of Atlantis and its position on Earth is solely mine. I don’t want it implied that my former relationship with Colonel Sheppard swayed my decision one way or another. Otherwise we’re wasting everyone’s time here.“
 
“We will take that into consideration. If you feel at any point your judgment might be compromised, please let us know. However,” Strom rose, the rest of the IOA following his lead. He extended his hand as Nancy and Richard did the same. “I still believe you are, by far, the most qualified to make this decision. Good luck, and let us know if you need anything.”
 
Sheppard flashed her slightly suggestive smile once more. “Thank you, Doctor Strom.”
 
“Richard,” Strom gathered his paperwork. “We’ll be just a phone call away if you need us.”
 
“I’ll keep that in mind, Carl,” Richard said, disingenuously.
 
Strom’s smile faded. “Goodbye, Richard.”
 
Richard allowed the IOA members to leave first, turning back to Ms. Sheppard as the conference room doors flipped open. “I apologize if I seemed a little…rude.”
 
“I’ve known Doctor Strom long enough to understand, Mister Woolsey.”
 
“Richard. Please.”
 
“Richard. Nancy.”
 
“Nancy. I know you’re going to want to have a look around the base—anything in particular you’d like to see?”
 
“I suppose I’ll need to see all of it at some point.”
 
“Truthfully, that may be a hefty order. Not even we’ve seen all of it, just yet.”
 
“Really?” Nancy paused, looking a little incredulous. “You haven’t explored the entire thing? How is that possible? You’ve been on base for over five years.”
 
“The Ancients had a nasty habit of leaving their experiments unprotected—every new sector of the City we open has to be done with a great deal of care and caution, to prevent any potential disasters.”
 
“Really.”
 
“Yes…but don’t worry,” Richard quickly replied, “all of my staff is beyond trained to handle pretty much any situation that arises. Should we need to quarantine the City, we are more than well prepared to protect Atlantis and ourselves. And we’ve had plenty of practice.”
 
Nancy raised an eyebrow. “Really.”
 
“I take it you haven’t gotten to the reports on our quarantine situations?”
 
"Situations?”
 
“Why don’t we head into my office,” he remarked, ushering her out of the conference room. “We can start there.”
 
--/--
 
There was something disconcerting about not seeing the stars.
 
Mayel Serrana, wrapped in the thick furs supplied by the Travellers for the journey—heat was not a priority on board the ship—had difficulty looking out the windows of this battered vessel, the fastest in the fleet, according to Larrin.
 
What normally should have shone through, the bright, undimmed and numerous stars of her universe’s sky, was fogged by an unreal and oddly shimmering blue, one that throbbed and pulsed with an unnatural light. It was not unlike the strange nature of the portals through which they travelled from world to world, but less solid, less believable, as though travelling through a dream.
 
“Takes a little getting used to, doesn’t it?”
 
Sirina, Mayel believed, was the name of the engineer standing beside her, staring out at the blue abyss. Young, barely above what would be considered training age for the Genii, this girl held the fate of the ship’s engineering systems in her hands. But despite her youth, there was a depth of experience in her eyes, and knowledge of systems much greater than Mayel could comprehend.
 
“It seems unreal,” Mayel replied, shivering a little as her breath puffed in a cloud around her face.
 
“Did to me, too.” The engineer was dressed in a simple long sleeved uniform, her hair pulled back unconcernedly. Her life in the engine rooms seemed to make her immune to the cold, or at least grateful for it. “I still couldn’t believe we were travelling like we did when they installed it. But it is amazing technology, this hyperdrive system.”
 
“The…Lanteans did this for you?”
 
The girl’s smile increased a bit. “Yes. A…doctor? I believe they call him? Strange, for one who does not treat the sick, but he is a doctor of engineering, or mechanics. Doctor Zelenka. Quite a nice man, though his subordinate — someone named McKay — was not. He was constantly shouting out orders, even to Doctor Z.”
 
“I would not know. I did not know the Lanteans. Only the stories of what they did.”
 
Sirina took a seat across from her, picking up a piece of the dry rations provided by her own people. “I met a few. This Doctor Zelenka, McKay, Colonel Sheppard—their commander leader, he is known by Larrin quite well — and Teyla Emmagan, of Athos.”
 
“I have heard their names. Colonel Sheppard, as you call him, has a reputation among the Genii. As does Teyla Emmagan.”
 
Sirina glanced up at her. “I take it that they are not good reputations.”
 
“Our leader trusts them. And respects them.”
 
“But you do not?”
 
“They have a habit of abandoning those who would be allies. And sacrificing lives when it suits their needs. As far as I am concerned, they have not done much to earn respect. At least not mine.”
 
Sirina sat back, drawing a piece off the flatbread she held in hand. “I don’t know. I do not know of their exploits with the Genii. I know they have saved us a number of times and tested us even more. Whatever their purpose, they are worth something to a great many people. Enough to risk lives to find.”
 
“So many people say,” Mayel replied bitterly.
 
The engineer moved to reply, when suddenly the glossy blue scenery outside the window dissolved. Without the blue glow the ship’s interior went dark, regaining only a little of the brightness when the emergency lights flashed on.
 
“What is this?” murmured Sirina, leaping from the seat. “We were not due to arrive for one more day, at least.” Ignoring Mayel, she hurried from the cabin, shoving the rest of her half eaten ration into her mouth.
 
Outside, the disappearance of the blue glow did not settle Mayel’s heart. Instead of a picture she did not understand, she saw one she’d been taught to fear since talk began of this mission.
 
The stars remained hidden from view, swallowed this time not by glossy blue, but by nothing—a curtain of impenetrable blackness.
 
--/--
 
Richard hoped he’d been thorough; he’d given Nancy what he could. She was truly an objective judge, at least from what he could gather—she asked questions as sharply as any attorney and did not hedge from showing her displeasure at certain aspects of the Atlantis program that seemed failures in her eyes.
 
But she was understanding, too, and empathetic to the plights of peoples such as Ronon and Teyla. Yet her judgments were based on reports and his own conversation and summaries. Of the actual people, she would have to draw the conclusions herself, when and if she met them.
 
And they were only one part of a whole, and a rather insignificant part of the picture, Richard had to admit to himself. The largest concern for all of them, Nancy included, was Earth and how Atlantis could serve it. Only the greatest fool would fail to understand what benefits having the City here, in the Milky Way, could provide Earth. Even he would have a hard time being convinced of its relevance to another galaxy over this one.
 
And yet…
 
Nancy pored over some papers in her lap and Richard sat back, his eyes drifting to where she was perched on one of his chairs. Just behind her, three years earlier, in an office much simpler than the one he now occupied, he’d had the pleasure of informing Elizabeth Weir that her decisions, while controversial at times, were in the very best interests of Earth and the Atlantis expedition and that, despite the circumstances that had let a Wraith convoy out of the Pegasus galaxy, she and her team would be allowed to maintain and occupy the city as they always had. That decision had been his and his alone, and despite the logical conclusion to the contrary—one the IOA had been expecting him to make—he had determined that, overall, what Elizabeth and her team were doing was exactly what needed to be done—for both galaxies.
 
How she had convinced him of that, even he could not fully explain. It hadn’t dwelt in what she’d done on paper—the Atlantis expedition was full of dangerous mishaps, happenstance chances, and sometimes, as the IOA had pointed out earlier, sheer dumb luck—but despite so many times in which they had seemed inevitable failures, they’d somehow managed to survive. And they had bettered themselves in the process, overcoming incredible odds and securing the safety of not only themselves, but thousands, if not millions, of people.
 
It was who they were, not what they did, that had made all the difference to him.
 
But he’d only had to judge whether Elizabeth and her team were worthy enough to stay. Now, someone else would decide whether he and his contingent were worthy enough to leave. And that was a different issue altogether.
 
“Richard?”
 
His gaze drew back to where Nancy was sitting, her folders now neatly arranged and in hand. “I’m sorry, I was just—reminiscing.”
 
“I’m sure this inquiry will bring up a lot of memories.”
 
“Good and bad. Have you had a chance to look over everything?”
 
“Not by a long shot,” she said with a smile. “It’s probably going to take days to get through just the preliminary reports.”
 
“It may help if you take a tour of the City first. Get to know the areas and systems, and the staff.”
 
“That would be nice.”
 
Richard smiled. “And I know just the person who can help.”
 
--/--
 
“Colonel?”
 
John turned as Jennifer Keller trotted up beside him, dodging the busy traffic of the lower halls of the tower. He paused long enough for her to catch up before starting off again towards his quarters. “What’s up, Doc?”
 
She ignored the bad attempt at humor, as she always did. “Have you heard anything?”
 
“Bout what?”
 
“About… whether we’re going to be allowed to go back?”
 
He pinched his lips together and paused. She was the fourth person who’d asked him that question in the last five minutes and the fifteenth in the last hour. “Look, for the last time… just because she’s my ex-wife doesn’t mean she’s going to tell me anything. So you can tell McKay to just stop.
 
Keller looked at him oddly. “The Homeworld Security representative is your ex-wife?”
 
That was a new one. “You didn’t know that?”
 
“No… I’ve been in the labs all day long.”
 
“Rodney didn’t tell you.”
 
“I haven’t seen Rodney. Radek’s got him cooped up researching some kind of device they discovered in one of the new labs. She’s really your ex-wife?” Her eyebrow rose playfully. “Isn’t that sort of a conflict of interest?”
 
He turned away from her and started walking again.
 
“Although, I guess it could depend on how it ended. I mean, if you’re still on good terms…
 
The look he shot her as she walked beside him stopped her from going any farther. “Or not.”
 
“We didn’t ‘end’ on bad terms,” he said, narrowing his eyes. “We just ‘ended’, that’s…”
 
"Colonel Sheppard, please report to the control room.
 
Keller glanced at him as the citywide intercom went silent. He withdrew his earpiece from his pocket sheepishly. “Rodney kept buzzing me every five minutes.”
 
“Looks like they need you up there — hmmm. Wonder what that’s about,” Keller said with a devilish grin. “If you hear anything, Colonel…”
 
“You’ll be the first I tell…after McKay and about fifteen others,” he returned, as she headed back down the corridor. There could only be one purpose for his being summoned now, for reasons he wasn’t too thrilled to think about.
 
--/--
 
Teyla closed her eyes, allowing the feel of the energy rushing through her form to soothe her mind. The air smelled sweaty and the mat was slightly sticky beneath her feet, but she savored the feeling such sensations brought her.
 
She opened her lids slowly, allowing focus to return to the figure in front of her. Ronon stepped back into his traditional fighting stance, arms draped to the side, awaiting her movement.
 
The attack was swift, well-practiced and timed, but without a predictive nature, composed of a combination of kicks and strikes. Ronon was fast on his feet and physically stronger, but his prowess would have to match her determination if he wished to defeat her. And at this moment, there was very little that could challenge her resolve.
 
The Satedan hit the floor roughly, wincing where her rods had struck his shoulder and side. As she caught her breath, he pulled to his knees with something like a grin. “Feel better?”
 
Though her general feelings were to the contrary, she could not help but smile at the teasing expression of her friend and fellow ‘alien’, one of the few who truly understood, and had always understood, her heart.
 
“To be honest, not really,” she said, offering to assist him to his feet.
 
“Must be hard,” was all he said in response, working out a pain in his left arm.
 
There was no use in pretending she did not understand what he was referring to. “Kanaan tells me to remain patient—that we are lucky we are here, where our son can be kept safe from the attacks of the Wraith. But I cannot be so easy—though I am of course glad Torren is hidden from them, my thoughts turn to my people. I do not know where they are, if they are safe—and they do not know what has become of me—why I have not returned.”
 
“You let them know you were going. They knew there was a chance you wouldn’t come back.”
 
“Yes.” She toyed with a sliver of wood from the Bantos in her hand. Already they were wearing down and this galaxy offered no substitute to create new ones. Another portion of her Athosian world that she could not reclaim or repair.
 
“But?”
 
Her eyes traveled back to Ronon’s face. “They were…displeased with my decision. I have told you that.”
 
Ronon shrugged. “They knew why you went. It was a choice you had to make. You did this for them. Halling and the others know that.”
 
“Yes. But with my failure to return…” she moved away from him, her feet padding softly across the gym floor. He waited patiently until she could meet his gaze once more. “Ronon, what if they feel that I abandoned them for my own desires, my own family?”
 
“Did you?”
 
She glanced sharply at him. “No.”
 
“Then what are you worried for?” Ronon moved closer, tapping her on the shoulder with his fist. “Your people know you. And if they have any doubt, you can explain it to them when you see them again.”
 
“If I see them again.”
 
“You will.” He bent down a little, trying to catch her downturned eyes. “Now come on. I’m just getting warmed up.”
 
--/--
 
A few minutes later John had made his way to Woolsey’s office, pausing at the entranceway. The head of the Expedition was laughing at something Nancy had said, looking goofy and googly-eyed. John felt sorry for him.
 
“Colonel,” Woolsey remarked as he caught sight of John. “Come in!”
 
John raised an eyebrow at this but said nothing. Nancy turned to face him, smiling. “Hello.”
 
“Hello.”
 
“Colonel, Ms… Sheppard needs a — tour, I suppose is what you’d call it, of the City. I thought, well, considering your history — with the City, I mean… not your history…”
 
John spared Woolsey the uncomfortable dramatics. “Sure.”
 
Woolsey nodded, completely ignoring his tone and expression. Nancy, who knew him better, frowned.
 
“Colonel Sheppard can provide what I’m sure will be a comprehensive tour of Atlantis.”
 
“Without getting lost,” John directed at Nancy.
 
“Just once or twice,” Woolsey replied back, narrowing his eyes at Sheppard. “Some of us haven’t had the benefit of living here for five years.”
 
“Nope. Just the one,” said John, gesturing Nancy towards the door with a half-hearted smirk. Woolsey glared at him. Actually glared. Nancy tended to have that effect on people.
 
“Thank you, Richard, for everything,” she said, right on cue.
 
Woolsey’s glare faded back into that goofy grin. “If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask.”
 
John rolled his eyes and let Nancy move past him, to which Richard could do nothing other than clear his throat and return to his seat.
 
Their mutual presence didn’t go unobserved by the control room staff, which watched them walk past with poorly concealed interest. Nancy, thankfully, didn’t seem to notice the extra attention, but remained fixated on the papers in her hand.
 
He marched her past the gate, which did catch her eye. “I still can’t get used to the sight of that thing.”
 
“Becomes kinda commonplace the more you travel through it,” he said. “Just think of it as a really big door.”
 
That earned a smile, which pleased him a little, despite everything.
 
“You know, in some respects, you haven’t changed at all.”
 
“Neither have you,” he said politely. In truth, she hadn’t much. She was still beautiful, still vibrant, still in possession of that personality that won most people over in minutes—even hardasses like his father. It had taken Patrick Sheppard about half a day to determine that if John didn’t marry this ‘wonderful young woman’, he’d be making the biggest mistake of an already mistake-filled life.
 
John hadn’t disagreed with him at the time. It was about the only thing they could agree on at that point.
 
But like all of John’s ‘not mistakes’ it had turned out to be one of the biggest ‘not mistakes’ he could have made.
 
“Was the gate like this when you found the City?” she murmured, interrupting his thoughts.
 
“Yeah. When the Ancients abandoned the City in Pegasus, they had submerged it to protect it. It was just like this when we found it.”
 
“That was over five years ago?”
 
“Almost six.”
 
“Six. So it wasn’t too long…after…” she bent her head toward him, hair swinging.
 
He swallowed, glancing over at her for a split second. “Not too long. I was shipped out to McMurdo, hung around there for a little while. Sort of stumbled onto this.”
 
“’Stumbled’? You ‘stumbled’ into an intergalactic space mission.”
 
“Well, more like I had very compelling qualifications.”
 
“Qualifications.”
 
“I’ve got this special gene. It turns on things. Inanimate…things.”
 
“You mean the Ancient gene?”
 
“You know about that?”
 
“The Stargate program is a little bigger than just Atlantis, John. I’ve been getting briefs on pretty much everything, including the Ancients.”
 
“Right. So anyways, turns out I could operate equipment better than most people. They needed me, so here I am.”
 
“That was…” she glanced down at the papers in her hand again. “At the request of Doctor Elizabeth Weir, head of the Expedition at the time?”
 
“Yep,” he murmured, his throat suddenly feeling tight.
 
“It says here that the mission was perceived as a ‘high-risk scenario’.”
 
He shot a glance towards her. “Generally one-way trips to other galaxies are considered pretty high risk.”
 
She sighed, that perturbed look he’d always hated gracing her expression. “So you just left for another galaxy? Knowing you might never come back. Did your father know?”
 
“No. But to be fair, nobody’s fathers did. It was classified.”
 
“Now where have I heard that before?”
 
He paused, throwing her a frustrated glance, to which she shook her head. “Never mind. Where are we going?”
 
“Science labs,” he replied, resuming their walking after a moment’s pause. “Thought you might want to see what most of the Expedition members do around here all day.”
 
“Sounds great.”
 
Maybe. But suddenly the atmosphere didn’t feel so ‘great’.
 
--\--
 
“They are drained.”
 
Sirina held up a piece of hardware, which represented one of the power cells for the hyperdrive, pulled from one of the massive devices that crowded the small engine room. ”When we jumped early to avoid the Wraith blockade, we must have expended more energy than I anticipated. Now there is nothing left.”
 
“Is there nothing that can be done?” The captain of the ship, a woman named Terra, was not one to be put upon. “To fix it?”
 
Sirina shook her head. “If something was broken, it perhaps could be patched. But in this case, we simply do not have the energy to continue on.”
 
“What other options are there?” Raenic, representing one of the other cultures interested in petitioning Atlantis, crossed his arms across his chest. “What do we travel with now?”
 
“The ship is equipped with sublight engines.”
 
“And how long would that take?”
 
Terra gave him a perturbed look. “Longer than you or I would like.”
 
“How long do we have before supplies are exhausted?” asked Mayel.
 
“I am not certain—but it will be close. We do not know whether any ships have long-range sensors within the area of their galaxy we shall enter. Or whether there are viable planets there.”
 
“There is always the module we brought…”
 
“NO,” snapped Raenic. “That is not to be touched.”
 
“If our lives…”
 
“Everything will have been wasted,” Raenic said, “if they cannot return. There would be no point to our living or not.”
 
“There is another possibility,” Sirina said, almost in a whisper. The group, including the representatives from Hoff and Riva, looked up at her.
 
Terra pursed her lips together. “What?”
 
“I can reroute power from other functioning systems to the hyperdrive. It would give us a bit more time using the hyperdrive engines—at least the day we need to make it to their galaxy.”
 
“That sounds agreeable,” said Tinan of Santhal. “Why should we not do that?”
 
“Because all systems which use that significant an amount of power are important,” Terra answered. “Which systems would you target?”
 
“Shielding, short range communication, most weapons systems — and I would need to tap into life support.”
 
A murmur rose amongst the group. Terra glanced among them, then back at her pale and nervy engineer.
 
“If we do this, we must have complete and full cooperation and agreement from all members of this expedition,” she said aloud. Those speaking turned their attentions towards her. “Sirina, how much life support would be remaining once we made the galaxy of Atlantis?”
 
The engineer swallowed. “I could not be certain without taking readings, but I do not believe it would be more than twelve hours. If we confined life support to certain areas of the ship. And even then it would be very risky.”
 
Terra turned to the group. “Are you willing to take this risk?”
 
“You said that without hyperdrive, we would be travelling at risk of running out of resources,” Raenic responded. “So we would be risking much in any case.”
 
“But there is more of a chance we can ration those resources,” said Tinan. “We can partition and there is a greater probability of making contact with someone.”
 
“While wasting time.”
 
The group fell silent, casting glances towards one another. Terra remained firmly planted at the head of the circle, awaiting their response.
 
“The purpose of this mission,” Mayel said, “was to bring Atlantis back to our star system. We must either do that quickly, or not bother, for if we wait too long it will be too late and it will not matter whether Atlantis is contacted or not. We understood the risks. I believe we must take chances if we are to succeed—for all our people.”
 
Raenic caught her eye, puffing up his chest for a moment. “I agree with Commander Serrana.”
 
“As do I,” said the representative from Hoff. The Rivan nodded as well, as eyes turned to Tinan.
 
“Our warriors risk their lives everyday,” he said finally. His eyes met Mayel’s. “We must have their courage on this day.”
 
Terra turned to Sirina. “Very well. Do what you must. Limit life support to the engine room, forward cabins and the bridge. Inform those on board the ship to move to those sections—and be very careful about capacity so we don’t overload the filters.” She strode towards the exit, whipping back around to the small, slightly disheartened group. “May the Ancestors be with us.”
 
--/--
 
The next few days were an experiment in patience. John supposed he should be grateful than he and Nancy hadn’t ended on truly bad circumstances, otherwise the duty he was performing would have been much more difficult.
 
That didn’t stop him from wishing, at certain points in time, that he could be out bringing down Hive ships from the inside rather than this.
 
Most of the science staff was immediately taken with Nancy and had no problem showing her around their labs and experiments. All of which he’d already seen and sat through more than once. The only interesting part of the whole practice was when a rubber disc that Rodney and Zelenka had been working on exploded into life when Nancy touched it, bouncing around the room like a pinball and causing a whole lot of damage, not to mention a few bumps and bruises. The only explanation they could offer her was that it was Ancient tech and these sorts of things happened with stuff like that. The names ‘Fembot Flubber Frisbee’ and ‘Estrogen disk’ had been punched around after that.
 
She was impressed on a whole with the size with the City, enchanted with Carson Beckett and Jennifer Keller—especially their work as xenobiologists—and seemed to have a prodigious amount of respect for Woolsey, who couldn’t stop grinning like a twelve-year-old boy when she was around.
 
To John’s chagrin, she was also interested in meeting Todd, which had him on the edge of his seat from the moment the cell opened. Thankfully, the Wraith seemed to have lost his fire after nine months in the brig and John only had to wish he’d kept his promise to destroy him one or two times during the interview.
 
When they left, Nancy turned to him and shuddered, asking something about all of the Wraith being like that.
 
John had answered her, seriously, that he was the nicest she’d ever meet. And when he said nice it was like saying Howdy-Doody was nice in comparison with Darth Vader. Multiplied by a hundred.
 
It seemed to leave an impression on her, at least.
 
Also on her agenda — and a meeting that made John wish they were back with Todd — was a session with the Pegasus galaxy 'natives’, as Nancy had taken to calling them. He suggested a meeting with all of them together, because he wasn’t sure exactly what Teyla’s reaction would be with Nancy alone. He had bad visions of Bantos sticks flying everywhere.
 
Having Ronon and Kanaan there seemed to ease matters—a little. Ronon was jovial enough and Kanaan his typical reserved self.
 
Teyla was…Teyla. The last time he’d seen her like this was right after Michael got thrown off the tower for threatening Torren.
 
“They are two different issues,” Nancy was saying, about fifteen minutes in. “Whether the City returns and you return…”
 
“I understand the nature of these negotiations,” Teyla said. “As a leader of my own people I can empathize with the need to protect one’s own. My only concern is whether I, Kanaan and our son will be allowed to return to our homeworld should the decision be made for Atlantis to remain here.”
 
“I can’t answer that right now,” Nancy returned, trying her best to be sympathetic. “I don’t even know if I will be the one to make that call.”
 
“Then we are wasting time here,” Teyla said. “Yours and ours.”
 
Kanaan placed a hand on Teyla’s arm. “What Teyla means to say is that this has not been easy on us. We are unused to Earth customs. We are unable to travel, to journey outside to even your natural places, which would be a great comfort to us in the absence of our own homeworld. We just wish to know what our position will be in the process of these decisions.”
 
“I understand, I really do. But as I said before, I can’t answer that,” Nancy said. “I…”
 
“You have other alien races allowed to make decisions within your program,” Kanaan said. “I believe the one called Teal’c influences a number of decisions and there have been others, I understand, who have had a voice in matters concerning those called the Ori and the Goa’uld. Races such as the Jaffa, the Tok’ra and the Asgard.”
 
John almost laughed. Kanaan had been doing his homework. Gutsy.
 
Nancy seemed to acknowledge the argument; a smile graced her face for a split second. “This is true—but in those matters, Kanaan, it was more than the safety of Earth that was at stake. In this case, the IOA’s only concern is Earth.”
 
“Then our desire to return to Pegasus should not matter,” Teyla said. “I do not see how it should impact Earth’s safety or Atlantis’s position upon it.”
 
“That’s already been explained,” John hedged carefully, causing Teyla to turn the full force of that irritated gaze upon him. He’d never been the best at handling Teyla in situations like this, but then again, no one really could. “You know the IOA’s reasons, Teyla.”
 
Teyla looked away from him, staring at nothing in particular and sighing angrily.
 
Nancy leaned forward. “This does seem to be much more a political matter than anything else. But the IOA isn’t completely flippant in their decisions, either. Can you foresee issues related to your return to Pegasus, Teyla? Can you honestly say that you won’t jeopardize Earth or Atlantis should you be allowed to return?”
 
“Yes,” she remarked smartly. “I did not place the City in danger during my involvement with Michael—neither did Kanaan. We would do no differently here, no matter what the Wraith did.”
 
“And if the Wraith took over your mind?”
 
Teyla glanced at her in surprise. “I have not been manipulated by the Wraith in that manner for some time.”
 
“What about Kanaan? Or Torren?”
 
Teyla glanced towards Kanaan, who looked towards the table. “Kanaan’s gift has not been challenged in the same manner. There is no evidence the Wraith can manipulate him in such a way. And Torren…Torren is but a child.”
 
“Kanaan was still subject to mind control, even if it wasn’t the same type of manipulation as yours. And Torren’s age doesn’t matter if the Wraith can or will use that ability to exploit you or Kanaan. And we have no guarantee that they won’t.” Nancy sighed. “I’m sorry, Teyla. But there are too many questions for me, here, to be able to say what the end result could be. All I can assure you with is that we’re doing everything we can to be fair in judging what is in the best interest of everyone involved.”
 
“And we thank you for that,” Kanaan said diplomatically, cutting off whatever Teyla was about to remark. She glanced at him with a frown, then at John.
 
“I am certain you shall be fair where Earth is concerned,” Teyla said, her eyes narrowed. “It is a quality shared by even the best of your people.”
 
There was no love in her voice, John noted. Not that he was surprised, but from Teyla? It honestly gave him a chill greater than any he’d had facing a Wraith.
 
--/--
 
Mayel glanced around the chilly bridge, wrapping her furs more tightly around her. The blue of hyperspace lit the area dimly, emphasizing the crew’s breaths as they puffed in front of their face, thick and weak.
 
The ship shuddered and she glanced at Terra, who was huddled in her Captain’s chair. The captain switched on the com above her. “What’s going on?”
 
"Power…” Sirina’s voice cut off for a moment. “…drop from hyperspace.”
 
At almost her words, the blue around them vanished and the ship lurched. To Mayel’s relief the area they were in was peppered with distant, yet visible, stars.
 
The Earth system.
 
“Status?” Terra called. She nodded at her com officer, who flipped a switch. Mayel frowned. They were closing channels to prevent anyone, including herself, from overhearing.
 
The captain’s slightly flushed face remained impassive as her techs updated her on their status. “Levels?” she asked at one point, and though she maintained a steady grimace, her eyes seemed to flash with something like disappointment.
 
“I understand,” were her last words. Her eyes fell towards Tinan. Mayel stared between them, realizing they had a plan in place. One to which she had not been privy.
 
“Captain…”
 
“Commander Serrana, I must ask you to retire to your quarters.”
 
Mayel frowned. “I would prefer to stay on your bridge, Captain. If you are going to contact Earth…” she paused, taking a breath. It was getting much more difficult to breathe now.
 
“That is not a request,” said Terra. She motioned to two of her fellow Traveller officers. “See to it Commander Serrana is confined to her quarters. B2. And check on the remainder of our diplomats as well.”
 
“What? Captain Terra…”
 
The men grabbed her arms, and though she could easily have matched them, her breath was nearly gone and she found herself weak and without strength, though her pulse was racing. They grabbed her arms, and as she passed Tinan, he looked at her sympathetically.
 
“You will speak for us,” he whispered. “There is no one better.”
 
“Ti…Tinan…” she gasped. The door to the bridge shut on his saddened face.
 
--/--
 
John walked out onto the chilly balcony. Nancy was out by the rail, her hair blowing in the soft, bitter breeze that gusted up from the Antarctic Ocean. She seemed lost in thought and for a moment he was reminded of those days when all it would have taken to make him perfectly happy was a vision of her like this.
 
That was a long time ago.
 
A very long time ago.
 
She sighed at the sound of the door whooshing shut and turned. “It really is beautiful up here.”
 
He said nothing, just moved up alongside her. After a moment he shoved his hands in his pockets. “Listen, about Teyla…”
 
“There’s no need to explain, John. I certainly understand her desire to return to her people—and how angry she must be about being denied that ability. Though her being a mother, I’m surprised that she would risk her son so easily.”
 
“Believe me, she wouldn’t. And I don’t think it would be an issue, honestly. You don’t know Teyla.”
 
Nancy studied him for a moment. “I guess I don’t.”
 
There was an awkward silence, before she leaned forward, laying her arms upon the rail. “What was it like?”
 
When he raised a questioning eyebrow, she continued. “Pegasus. Lantea—whatever you called it. And the one after. What were they like?”
 
“Wet,” he replied, before he could stop himself. She threw a chastising look at him and he smiled softly.
 
“They were like this. Water-based planets. Atlantis needed an ocean, so…”
 
“Five years in another galaxy and that’s all you’ve got?”
 
“Wasn’t really good for surfing, at least not Lantea,” he added after a moment. She shook her head and laughed at him.
 
He placed his forearms on the chilly rail, covered, like hers, by a thankfully thick jacket. “The water on Lantea was relatively peaceful. Quiet most of the time.”
 
“No storms or anything?”
 
He threw her a sideways glance. “Only one comes to mind.”
 
“What about the mainland?”
 
“It was a mainland.” He shrugged. “Kinda looked like British Columbia.”
 
“British Columbia?” She shook her head, knowing better than to question further. “And what about the other?”
 
“The oceans there were darker. And the mainland wasn’t nearly so friendly. In fact there were a couple of rather nasty creatures living there. We didn’t visit it often.”
 
“Must have been amazing, though, seeing so many unbelievable places. No wonder you didn’t want to come back.”
 
He felt vaguely like he was walking into a well-woven trap. Not the first time she’d have pulled something like that. “I didn’t come back because I couldn’t. Then I had a duty here. It was my job to stay.”
 
“You could have at least written.”
 
“And said what? ‘Hi, hope you’re doing well, I’m enjoying life running from dangerous things I can’t tell you about in a place I can’t describe on a mission I shouldn’t even be mentioning. Hope you have a good life.’ It was better like it was.”
 
“Better for you.” She crossed her arms.
 
“Better for everyone. You were happy with what’s-his-face…”
 
“Grant.”
 
“Grant,” he waved his arm between them, “and I was good here.”
 
“Just because we were divorced didn’t mean I didn’t want to know how you were doing. I was in love with you at one time, remember? Those feelings just don’t disappear.”
 
When he didn’t respond she frowned. “And what about your father? Dave? Didn’t they have a right to know…”
 
“We’ve been over this before.”
 
“Actually, we haven’t.” As he turned away from her she darted around him, facing him. “John…”
 
The cool darkness above them suddenly exploded into a bright light. Instinctively John reached for Nancy. He caught a glimpse of what appeared to be a hyperspace window.
 
What the…
 
“What’s going on?” Nancy asked.
 
He didn’t answer; his eyes were locked to the sky at two star-like lights that had appeared in the horizon. Two flashes accompanied them, almost too quick for him to comprehend, and his heart dropped as he realized exactly what they were, and where they were headed.
 
“John?”
 
He had just enough time to throw his arms around her as the lights broke through the atmosphere, the projectiles detonating around them in a huge burst of angry white light.
 
>>> To be continued in  Return to Pegasus, Part I, CH III

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