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Episode 1: Return to Pegasus, Part I

The world felt desolate, a barren landscape littered with rocks and patches of thin, scraggly trees. There was relative quiet here, no sounds of animals moving or birds chirping, none of the usual life signs of the more lush and inhabitable planets of the star system.
 
The stars themselves were the only light, until a dim blue glare broke through the darkness. The light moved, dancing around in a circle, until it came to rest on a peculiar symbol. A second light followed it, then a third, darting around the same pattern until seven bright symbols decorated a now visible and ancient-looking stone ring.
 
There was a pause as the lights glimmered briefly, and then, suddenly, a fountain of blue burst from the center, shattering the stillness. It came slowly to a rest, rippling and shimmering like a body of water turned upon its side. The pool stabilized, highlighting with its brightness thin figures standing around it, clothed in somewhat tatty green and brown-trimmed uniforms. They moved forward silently, emerging from the darkness with little ceremony, into a half circle around the ring.
 
The pool parted for five figures wearing uniforms that matched the others and led by a tall woman with dark red hair, who paused on the dais upon which the ring sat. Her face puckered into a frown as she surveyed the ugly landscape before her.
 
“It’s different from what we’re used to, I know.” One of the figures stepped up to greet her, his blue eyes tired, but concerned, his face hidden beneath a newly re-grown yet somewhat unkempt beard. “Welcome back, Commander Serrana.”
 
“Thank you, General. We have the supplies you requested.” The strike team that had accompanied the Commander ushered forward dutifully, carrying their cargo and following the rest of the General’s scant party into the sparse trees. “It was not as difficult as anticipated.”
 
“Good.” The gate shut down behind the woman, casting shadows across the leader’s emotionless face and betraying none of his thoughts on the method of ‘acquiring’ things. He rarely ever showed emotion where such things were concerned. “I am sorry to have to confront you with this immediately upon your return, but I have an important job for you, Mayel.”
 
“Another?”
 
“Yes. Though this one will be more dangerous than the last.”
 
“More dangerous than stealing from under the noses of the Wraith?” It was more a statement than an inquiry, though she could not help the small smile that flashed across her face. “I serve the Genii with honor, General Radim.”
 
“I know you do.” His voice lowered and some of the mask of leader faded from his face. “It is why I chose you for this, though I want you to remember that my choice was about our survival, Mayel. I hope you understand that as I ask this of you.”
 
Her smile faded. “I will do whatever it takes to protect my people. You know that, Ladon.”
 
“That is why I’m asking you in particular.” He drew close to her, his eyes drifting to the nighttime sky. As she followed his line of sight, one of the stars suddenly grew in brightness, then faded out.
 
As she raised an eyebrow in question, his frown deepened. “Coalition ship.”
 
“What?” Surprise replaced serenity. “The Wraith are in this star system?”
 
“Just one Hive ship, but no doubt in communication with others. We have had to be extra cautious not to alert them to our presence.”
 
“Many other races have gone into hiding,” she returned softly. “We were unable to establish contact with the Manarians last week. We do not know if it is because they have broken communication—or if they have been culled.”
 
“Or killed.”
 
“Killed?” She looked back at him in surprise. “The Wraith have not been known to wipe out entire races…”
 
“Unless they may be carriers of the Plague. We received word yesterday that what were left of the Olesians after the last culling were wiped out because the Plague had appeared on their planet. The tide, it seems, may be turning,” Ladon explained.
 
"But how could they know?”
 
“I am not sure. But however they are doing it, the Wraith are gaining the upper hand against the disease. We do not know how many of the Wraith have allied with one another, but it is clear they are no longer engaged in a civil war, at least not as before, in order to fight this. Though they have not yet made a strike on the Coalition planets because their attentions are focused elsewhere, it is very possible we will be overrun by them sooner than we anticipated.” He lowered his eyes back to hers. “In any case, Mayel, we are running out of time.”
 
She pursed her lips, studying him for a moment. “And what would you have me do, General?”
 
He reached out to her, grasping her arm gently. “I need to send you away.”
 
“Away?”
 
“Away. To the star system of Earth.”
 
“Earth?” Her eyes narrowed. “General…”
 
“I need you to find Atlantis. Find a way to bring them back.”
 
“Atlantis!” She twisted out of his grasp angrily. “Atlantis is worthless! They abandoned our worlds without a second thought and left us to the mercy of the Wraith!”
 
“They left to defend their own people. The same as we are doing.”
 
“After waking the Wraith to begin with! No, General, I cannot seek out Atlantis and ask for their help. I won’t.”
 
“You MUST.” He moved towards her, the sympathy fading beneath the calculated demeanor of a leader. “We have no options left to us. Without their ships and weapons we have very little offense to use against the Wraith. The races we know that could fight them have gone into hiding simply because of their size. Only the Lanteans and the people of Earth were willing to take on such a challenge.”
 
“I thought you distrusted Atlantis.”
 
“I do. But I am not foolish enough to believe they bring no benefit to our galaxy. If they are the leaders in the fight, others will join them. We need them if we hope to have any chance against the Wraith. ” He clasped her shoulders gently. “Mayel, we need them to survive.”
 
She stared into his eyes for a moment. “What am I to do?”
 
A small smile lightened his face. “There is a Traveller’s ship waiting on a planet not far from here. The Coria, it is called.”
 
“Travellers? I thought they were incapable of travelling as far as the planet of Earth.”
 
“Apparently part of the negotiations Atlantis made with them in the war against the Replicators was to enhance their hyperdrive engines. They claim to now have a ship that can travel between star systems. But they admit to it being risky—there may not be enough power to make it all the way.”
 
“And if there is not?” She studied him carefully as his smile faded.
 
“Power could be expended and the ship would be left stranded. Unless you were lucky enough to reach someone through a close-range signal…”
 
She took in a breath. “When do I leave for this planet?”
 
“As soon as possible.” His voice dropped. “Commander…”
 
“I am ready, General,” she said, stiffening into a salute. “I will be prepared to leave by morning.”
 
The faint flicker of a smile once again graced his face. “The fate of the Genii rests with you, Mayel. May the Ancestors protect you.”
 
“And you as well, sir.”
 
He turned, making his way through the thin trees, where two more of his security detail waited in the shadows, nearly invisible in the darkness.
 
She looked back up to the stars, which hovered lightly across the horizon and frowned. “Atlantis.”
 
It would take hours to prepare for this mission. She had no time to waste.
 
--/--
 
He couldn’t see much difference in the stars.
 
He should probably have been more sentimental about it. Or maybe just wiser, considering he was supposed to be someone who could navigate by them. But truthfully they were just stars and in the non-functional, non-sentimental sense they crowded the sky here as much as they had on any other planet he’d visited.
 
The door to the balcony slid open and John glanced behind him, turning casually back to the vista as Rodney McKay moved onto the balcony. “There you are.”
 
John shrugged by way of a response as the scientist joined him by the railing. “They back in session?”
 
“Not yet. Not that it matters to you with all the attention you’re paying in there. I thought you’d have bolted in a Jumper for sure after that last meeting.”
 
“Well, if it weren’t for the fact that opening the Jumper Bay doors would be considered a violation of the Antarctic Treaty—and that I’d probably freak out half of Tierra del Fuego—I might. Certainly beats the bureaucratic whining and manipulating going on in there.”
 
“Hmm.” Rodney stuck his hands in his pockets, taking a glance across the horizon. “Jeez, how can you stand this? It’s freezing!”
 
“Really? I hadn’t noticed.”
 
Rodney frowned at his nonchalance, but said nothing. Spreading out before them was the landmass of Antarctica, looking as cold and desolate as he remembered it from five years before. To the left, the lights of McMurdo formed a small halo on its island, acknowledging life in human form but doing nothing for the view.
 
“I guess it could be worse,” the scientist said with a sigh. When John looked at him sideways, he shrugged. “I mean, it beats, you know, being attacked by the Wraith or lost and drifting with minimal power, or something else my super genius skills would be required to save us from, right?”
 
John rolled his eyes. “Yeah. Sure.”
 
“Yeah.” Rodney leaned forward as John turned to leave, clasping his bare hands to the rail—which he immediately drew back as the cold bit into them. “Ow. That’s cold.”
 
“Some super genius.”
 
McKay narrowed his eyes and made a face in response.
 
John straightened, not bothering to keep his smirk in check, and turned towards the door. He’d almost reached it when McKay spoke again, his voice barely audible above the slapping of the waves on the piers below. “You know, Elizabeth would have hated this.”
 
John stopped, staring at the back of his head sharply, but Rodney didn’t turn. It wasn’t like McKay to reminiscence about any of their lost comrades, especially someone he’d considered close enough to be family. His gaze drifted back across the cold, choppy water, now being graced by an oil-streaked and graying science freighter.
 
Stranded just a few hundred miles from where the Expedition had started, their future lying in the hands of a bunch of bureaucrats whose greatest assets were their ability to gab, and the City being completely wasted as a waypoint for SG teams and down on their luck Milky Way refugees?
 
Rodney was right. Elizabeth would have hated this.
 
Then again, if Elizabeth had been here, he was pretty damn sure they’d be back in Pegasus by now.
 
“I’ll be in the conference room,” he said.
 
--/--
 
Richard Woolsey turned his attention back to Doctor Carl Strom, trying to ignore the supercilious expression on the IOA head’s face. “While I understand your concerns, you must understand—this is a tall request, for everyone on Atlantis.”
 
“The Antarctic base managed the defense of Earth quite capably, Mister Woolsey, without half the weapons and capabilities of Atlantis. I think the city will hold up very well.”
 
“I’m not referring to Atlantis’s defensive prowess, Doctor Strom. I’m referring to the purpose of this expedition and what the Atlantis members, for lack of a better term, ‘signed up for’. It certainly wasn’t to be sitting here on Earth, serving as a waystation and defensive base.”
 
“With all due respect to the people of the expedition and the original intentions of the first members of the Atlantis project, circumstances have changed. We are no longer a planet seeking to discover the bold and great ‘beyond’ of Pegasus. We are a planet that has come under attack from numerous races, with another very dangerous race sitting a galaxy away that may eventually develop the capabilities to travel here. We need Atlantis’s defensive capabilities to protect the future of our people, Richard, certainly you can understand that.”
 
“From what I understand you have control of most of the Milky Way races well in hand—at least, for the most part.” It was a cut on the current events concerning the Lucian Alliance, and Strom knew it. The IOA head frowned.
 
“As to the other group,” Richard continued, not allowing him to speak, “I presume you’re referring to the Wraith—and it may be possible for us to prevent any kind of threat to Earth from them. If Atlantis is allowed to return to Pegasus and continue to do what it was doing.”
 
“Do you really believe,” Shen Xiaoyi spoke up, her face a mixture of incredulity and the overbearing demeanor she was known for, “that Atlantis by itself is capable of taking on the Wraith?”
 
Richard looked over at Sheppard, who shrugged.
 
Helpful.
 
“I think you’d be surprised at what Atlantis is capable of,” Richard returned softly.
 
Shen’s eyes lit up, a sign she thought she’d just gotten the upper hand. “Whatever Atlantis’s record has been in the past, I think we all here can admit that it was more luck and good timing than truly overwhelming the Wraith in the small skirmishes you have had. With the assistance of some of Earth’s more powerful ships, I believe, as well. No one here, including you, Richard, believes that Atlantis itself can take down the entirety of the Wraith.”
 
“It’s not a matter of taking down the Wraith,” McKay interjected. The group turned to him and his eyes widened, probably surprised he’d spoken aloud. “I mean, not exactly.” 
 
“Then what is it a matter of, Doctor McKay?” queried one of the other members.
 
McKay sat up a little straighter, looking vaguely uncomfortable and more than slightly irritated. “When we were in Pegasus, we managed to turn them against each other. After that, all we had to do was add fuel to the fire, so to speak.”
 
“Fuel to the fire? Is that what you called the attack on Earth last year? Or was that just a Wraith Hive who didn’t get the message that it was supposed to be targeting other Wraith?” snapped Strom.
 
“That was an unusual circumstance,” Rodney snapped back. “As far as we’re aware, none of the other Wraith have the ability to travel between galaxies. That Hive ship was a Super Hive, enhanced by…”
 
“Yes, I have a copy of the report, Doctor. And it brings up another matter that supports my first point, about this ‘super hive’ possibly being the wave of the future. If that is the case and the Hives do come calling, what is to keep Earth from befalling the same fate as the Ancients ten thousand years ago? And I will point out that it won’t be as easy to evacuate six billion people through one gate in the same way they did when they left.”
 
Rodney’s nostrils flared.
 
“If we get attacked by the Wraith in the same manner as the attack on Atlantis ten thousand years ago, Carl—or even the one five years ago—this City isn’t going to be much use,” said Richard. “I’ll remind you it required nuclear weapons from the Genii, the Daedalus, and a neat hat trick to convince the Wraith to stop that attack, and that was just to keep the Expedition members safe. Even at full power and with all three ZPMs at our disposal, we could only afford the people of Earth a little protection.”
 
Strom narrowed his eyes, but remained silent, as did the rest of the IOA members.
 
“But if we’re allowed to go back,” Richard continued cautiously, “we have the opportunity to curb the potential growth of the Wraith with well-placed, strategic strikes on their ships and, potentially, their hierarchical structure. What we were doing did not prevent the attack on Earth, no, but it was making a difference in the war against them.”
 
“Mr. Woolsey’s right.” The group turned to where Sheppard, leaning casually back in his chair, had spoken up. “All we’ve had to do so far is keep the Wraith at each other’s throats. We were managing that pretty handily when we were still in Pegasus.”
 
“Before we came back here,” McKay added, grumbling.
 
“We’re aware of your diversionary ‘tactics’,” Strom said. “The Wraith you’ve still got here has informed us of the nature of your alliances and your strategies.”
 
At the mention of Todd, Sheppard’s nonchalance dissolved and he straightened a little. “Well, wasn’t that nice of him to share.”
 
“He also informed us that most of what occurred could be attributed to being at the right place and the right time—and in some cases, dumb luck.”
 
“We prefer to think of it as strategic dumb luck,” Sheppard shot back snidely. “And, personally, I don’t give much credit to the word of a starving, imprisoned Wraith.”
 
“You have trusted him before,” remarked Shen. “In fact, I believe it was this Wraith who informed you of the imminent attack on Earth.”
 
“We pay attention to him because our experiences from the past have taught us that nothing should be overlooked, even with the Wraith. That does not mean that we either trust or believe what he says all the time,” Richard returned. “We use discretion where discretion is warranted, Xiaoyi.”
 
“Point is,” John said, before she could reply, “that Atlantis was making a difference over there. Here, it’s just…sitting.”
 
“I very much doubt the governments of the Earth would see it that way, Colonel Sheppard,” Shen said. “Atlantis is a safeguard against any number of threats we might face, no matter what the circumstances might be—or whether the City could withstand the attack.”
 
“Hasn’t been very useful so far,” Sheppard said. “Considering we haven’t been allowed to ‘safeguard’ anything, including Homeworld Command.”
 
“That attack by the Lucian Alliance was unexpected—and thwarted, I might remind you, Colonel. And as it stands, Atlantis has not yet been cleared for defensive capabilities. Once it is, everything Atlantis is capable of doing will be put to use.”
 
“You really think it’s worth losing everything Atlantis is—the technologies, the undiscovered…there are still laboratories and machines here we’ve never even seen, much less know what they do!” Rodney stared at her in incredulity. “And you just want to give all that up so you can have your…your…defensive version of the Death Star?”
 
“What?” Shen made a face, obviously not a Star Wars fan.
 
“We’re not asking for the experiments on Atlantis to cease completely, Doctor McKay,” Strom interjected, with a poorly concealed smile. “Obviously exploration of the City and its mechanisms will have to proceed with caution while on Earth, as we don’t want any unforeseen accidents to occur—like blowing up one-third of our solar system.”
 
“It was five-sixths…and that’s just…does that always have to come up? Look—what you’re proposing here essentially renders everything we’ve done for the past five years useless. Not only that, you’re subjecting an entire galaxy to the mercy of an enemy they absolutely do not have the capability to defend themselves against!”
 
“I didn’t know you were so philanthropic, Doctor,” remarked Strom snidely. “But noble as your sentiments may be, it is not the responsibility of Earth to be the watchdog or guardian of an entire galaxy of people—ones who would have been subject to this same holocaust anyway.Atlantis may have accelerated the Wraith’s timetable, but they did not trigger an unanticipated event. The Wraith would have laid siege to that galaxy whether or not we had taken control of the City. All you have done is give them hope where they did not have it before. Unfortunate, but not our primary concern.”
 
“Well, perhaps it should be,” Richard returned. A little of Strom’s supercilious expression faded. “You forget that most of what we’ve accomplished—and incurred—because of this program has been because chances were taken. What led us to this moment was a combination of risk and reward. And more than a little, as you put it, ‘dumb luck’. Together with assistance from many of the races in this galaxy—some that you might consider lesser—that’s the only way the Goa’uld were overcome and the Ori were able to be defeated. What’s to say that we will not encounter that race or technology in Pegasus that would allow us to defeat the Wraith once and for all, and end that threat for two galaxies?
 
“You have no guarantee of that, Richard,” Strom returned.
 
“As far as I recall, Carl, we’ve not had much of a guarantee on anything, lately. But that hasn’t stopped us from pushing on and continuing to take those chances. Five years ago, this organization took a chance on and supported Doctor Elizabeth Weir and her team in their endeavor to find and reclaim this City. They did exactly that. What we’re asking now is for the opportunity to continue what she started and hopefully, build upon it for a better future.”
 
“That is no different from what we want,” Shen said. “It is just whose future needs to be considered. The people of Earth—or the people of a galaxy wholly unrelated to Earth? I would think the answer to that would be easy.”
 
“Well, it’s NOT,” said Sheppard, an edge to his voice. The easy expression he’d been sporting had faded into a dark look. “And anyone who’d spent the last five years in the Pegasus galaxy would know that.”
 
“Perhaps,” returned Shen coldly. “But you are no longer in the Pegasus galaxy, Colonel Sheppard.”
 
“That much I’m aware of,” John shot back.
 
The group settled into an uncomfortable silence.
 
“We are not unsympathetic to your position, Colonel,” Shen said, her voice easing up considerably. “And we want to show that we are not making this decision arbitrarily. Tomorrow, we are going to invite a member of Homeworld Command to visit Atlantis and make a general assessment of the city and its usefulness. If she finds it is better served returning to Pegasus, the IOA will honor her decision.”
 
Rodney let out a strangled chortle. Richard glanced at him in consternation and he shrugged. “What? They’re going to call in a representative from Homeworld Command to see if Atlantis, the most powerful, well-protected base in two galaxies, is sufficient enough ‘protection’ for Earth? What do you think the answer’s going to be? ‘Oh, no, sorry, we don’t think Atlantis quite meets our requirements.’ Please.”
 
“Thank you, Doctor McKay,” Richard replied.
 
John shook his head at Rodney as Strom rose, gathering his portfolios. “We’ll reconvene after the Homeworld representative has reported back her findings. In the meanwhile,” he turned his attention to Richard, “I would suggest you speak with your Expeditionmembers about the possibility of settling in.”
 
Richard rose as well, Sheppard and McKay following suit. “Thank you.”
 
“For nothing,” Rodney tacked on, eyes boring into Richard’s. Woolsey shook his head at him, but said nothing more.
 
--/--
 
The doors to the Atlantis conference room swung open slowly, revealing a group of dour appearing IOA representatives, followed by John, Richard Woolsey and Rodney, who looked no happier than the Earth diplomats.
 
Teyla glanced up at Ronon, who met her gaze with seeming disinterestedness, though she knew Ronon well enough to know he bore feelings similar to hers.
 
Richard slowed to a halt as he neared them, an already downcast appearance growing into a deeper frown. “Teyla. Ronon.”
 
Behind him, John bit his lip and Rodney’s expression immediately became sympathetic, signs from two men she knew quite well that they did not wish to tell her what decisions had been made in the last meeting. Though, even without their obvious hints as to the proceedings of the talks, she would have been able to tell the IOA had not changed their position on Atlantis.
 
She found it difficult to form words; thankfully Ronon took the initiative. “Nothing?”
 
“I’m afraid not.” Woolsey’s gaze was upon her face, not Ronon’s, with good reason. Ronon had already dedicated himself to remaining on Atlantis, and, though he would have much preferred being engaged in direct battle with the Wraith, his loyalty to the Expedition had not shifted.
 
She, too, had been forewarned of the possibilities she might face when travelling to the Milky Way. Yet, she had not anticipated that the difficulty would come from bureaucracy rather than power fluctuations or damage to the City. To know that it was impossible to return to her people would have been one hardship to bear. But to know nothing barred her way beyond rules and discussion was of a different matter.
 
“There’s supposed to be a representative from Homeworld Command visiting Atlantis sometime later in the week,” John said cautiously. “Apparently he…”
 
“She,” interrupted Rodney. “It’s a her.”
 
“She,” John returned, throwing Rodney a glance, “will be the one making the determination as to whether Atlantis will be returning anytime soon to Pegasus.”
 
“Or any of its residents,” Woolsey was quick to add. “But that may be another matter entirely. No one has really brought up what the position of Pegasus native inhabitants will be.”
 
“It would seem obvious in one regard what they would like it to be,” Teyla said, gesturing to the Expedition uniforms she and Ronon both wore. The requirements of wearing Expedition gear had been a measure passed a few weeks back by the IOA contingent, targeted at her, Kanaan and Ronon.
 
“That was more for your protection than anything,” said John. “If we’re discovered…”
 
“There will be a great deal more to explain to those who discover the existence of Atlantis than our clothing, John,” Teyla finished edgily.
 
“Teyla,” Woolsey began softly, “it is not as though they are keeping you here arbitrarily.”
 
“I understand the need for the people of Earth to protect their planet and their people, Mr. Woolsey.That is not what I question. What I do not understand is their need to control the choices of those who should not concern them. Neither Kanaan nor myself will endanger the position of Atlantis on Earth. Allowing us to return to our homeworld—or at least contact them—will pose no threat…”
 
“I’m afraid that’s not true,” said Richard. “There is no telling what the Wraith would do to try and learn the location of Atlantis and of Earth right now. I know these precautions are frustrating, but in the end they are for both your benefit and ours.”
 
“There is no benefit to my people by my remaining here. That is all that concerns me.”
 
“What about Torren? And Kanaan? If the Wraith discover you’ve returned to Pegasus, what might they do to them to learn about the location of Earth? These are things the IOA is taking into consideration.”
 
Teyla drew in a breath, narrowing her eyes at him. “I would hope the people of this base would know me well enough by now to know the costs I would bear to ensure their safety. If they do not, then they do not understand me as well as I hoped.”
 
John’s nostrils flared a little, his eyes flickering towards Richard, whose frown deepened. Teyla felt her frustration growing at his inability to speak. For as long as she had known them all, they had been kind, caring people, but with one small failing—they had never chosen her people, or the Pegasus galaxy, over their own, even in matters where their people made unwise decisions.
 
“When we first encountered your Expedition, people here took a chance on us,” Ronon said. “That’s all Teyla’s asking for now.”
 
“That was back in the days when we called the shots, buddy,” John replied in a soft tone. “And if it was just us…”
 
“But it is not,” Teyla interrupted edgily. “And it appears from the ongoing nature of these discussions, it perhaps shall never be again.”
 
John’s gaze dropped from her face to the floor, while Rodney’s expression drooped further.
 
Woolsey took a step closer, looking at her so intently she turned her face away. “All matters like these take time, Teyla. We haven’t forgotten you, or what this is costing you as leader of your people. Believe me. We are doing what we can to get you back to them. I promise.”
 
“It has been nine months since I have seen them. If it takes any more time, I fear it will matter little how much is done. If there is anything left to which I may return.”
 
She turned from them, unable to look upon John, Rodney or Richard at that moment. What she needed was the comfort of her family and what remained of her home.
 
--/--
 
“Well…that went well,” John murmured, trying to ignore the slight slump in Teyla’s normally perfect posture as she retreated down the gate room steps. “Score another for the IOA.”
 
“Score another for us, you mean,” Rodney muttered, and John found he couldn’t disagree.
 
“They’re not entirely wrong, you know,” Woolsey muttered, as he started towards the control room. “It may not be in Teyla’s best interest—or ours—to allow her to return home at this moment.”
 
“Not in her best interest? The woman has been a year away from her people. How is that in her best interest?”
 
“She’d be in danger there, as you well know. Even with Teyla being…Teyla, we have no guarantee that she wouldn’t get caught or be able to withstand some of the Wraith interrogation methods. And where Torren was concerned…if they got their hands on him…”
 
“I’d feel sorry for the Wraith,” said Ronon with a smile. “Almost.”
 
“The point is, we don’t know what the Wraith would do to them and we don’t have the guarantee they’d be safe back there.” Woolsey stopped at the bridge to his office, turning back to them. “I respect Teyla’s need to return to her people. I really do. But until the IOA has a guarantee that the location of Earth won’t be compromised, they’re not going to budge on this.” His eyes flickered up to Ronon. “I’m sorry.”
 
The Satedan shrugged in response. “You don’t have to apologize to me. I made a promise. I go where Atlantis goes.”
 
The Expedition head’s frown flickered upwards into a brief smile. “I’m glad you still feel that way.”
 
“But,” Ronon’s pleasant expression faded, “I also know what it’s like to not know the fate of your people and to fear the worst. And if you think that Teyla would put the safety of Atlantis in danger, even with people she loves threatened—well, she’s right about you not knowing her that well.”
 
He turned and brushed past John and Rodney, who watched him stalk back through the control room with downcast expressions.
 
“He’s right, too,” John said.
 
Rodney frowned in response. “You can’t know that. I mean, sure, Teyla’s strong, but if they got their hands on Torren?”
 
“Teyla wouldn’t let them—even if it meant she had to leave him here,” John retorted, though he looked less than sure of himself. “And I happen to remember the last person who threatened Torren got his ass thrown off the side of the tower.”
 
“WE know Teyla,” Richard said. “The IOA does not. And no matter how good an argument that you make about Teyla’s strengths and weaknesses, it won’t matter to them.”
 
“Because she’s not from Earth.”
 
“Because she wants to return to Pegasus,” Woolsey returned. “And that, to them, is where the danger lies.”
 
--\--
 
Doctor Jennifer Keller stared aimlessly at the microscope in front of her, eyes drifting towards the pretty, though plain, walls of the Atlantis infirmary.
 
After everything that had happened to her in Pegasus she considered herself pretty much immune to any kind of major surprise, so it was a testament to how boring her life was now that the sudden appearance of Carson Beckett in her line of sight made her jump nearly two feet into the air.
 
“Are you alright?” he asked with a half-smile, as she grabbed the cost-more-than-her-life equipment to prevent it toppling sideways.
 
“Yeah. Sorry, you sort of startled me.”
 
“I figured as much.” Carson pulled up a stool across from her, nodding towards the microscope. “What’s that?”
 
“Oh.” Her grin grew sheepish. “Nothing. Just some old research.”
 
“Hoffan virus, then?” As her face paled, his grin widened and he leaned in conspiratorially. “I’ve been studying it myself in my spare time.”
 
“I know we’ve been ‘forbidden’ to do anything with it, but I can’t help it. All those people…”
 
“I know.” Carson’s expression grew serious. “That we’re not allowed to go back is a bloody tragedy.”
 
“They still haven’t given you clearance?”
 
“No, and according to Mister Woolsey, they’re not like to. Seems anyone who might potentially reveal the location of Earth to the Wraith poses a threat. Even someone technically considered dead in this galaxy.”
 
Jennifer paused in her shuffling slides around to glance up at him. “You know, I don’t get that. Not the ‘you as dead part,’ I mean…but this whole argument about someone like Teyla or you revealing where Earth is. It’s not like we didn’t have that information when we were in Pegasus, so what’s the difference?”
 
“If I had to harbor a guess, I’d say it was the Super Hive ship that leveled half of our defenses. I think they’d always perceived the Wraith as a chancy risk until then.”
 
“Yeah, but Rodney explained to them that the hive ship was an anomaly and that it probably couldn’t happen again. And it’s not like Teyla’s got the galactic coordinates to Earth memorized. I mean, what information could they possibly torture her for? She’s been so cooped up she barely knows the Earth dialing sequence anymore.”
 
“It’s not what she knows, dear. It’s who she is.”
 
Jennifer blinked at him, and he leaned in closer. “Teyla is a Pegasus native. And we all know that whatever argument the IOA might make, the truth as I see it is they don’t want any reason for the City to return to Pegasus. Anybody who might be able to argue that Atlantis is needed more there than here isn’t going to get their backing to do anything in the Pegasus galaxy. Especially someone who has been as vital to the city as Teyla has been. They don’t want to give anyone reason to argue that Atlantis has a duty to go back.”
 
“Well, that’s just…stupid.”
 
“No argument from me on that count.”
 
“What’s stupid?” Rodney buzzed in, looking pale and perturbed—not far from the usual.
 
“Oh, the IOA, the military, the bureaucrats, the government…take your pick.”
 
Rodney’s frown deepened. “How about all of the above?”
 
“Meeting with the IOA go badly?” Carson asked.
 
“You could say that.”
 
“Still no luck on the return front, then?”
 
“No. And you know what’s the worst part of this? That there’s nothing we can do about it. I mean, we’ve been able to get ourselves out of impossible situations—give me a conduit to reroute or a shield to charge up or a City to fake destroy and I can get it done with no—almost no—problem. But here? There’s nothing I can do to fix this. It’s a situation out of my hands.”
 
“I know how you feel,” Carson said.
 
“Still not letting you go back either, huh?”
 
“Apparently Doctors without Borders isn’t exactly an appropriate name if you’re trying to travel intergalactically.”
 
“Hmm. So what are you going to do?”
 
“Nothing really I can do…except wait. And perhaps hope, a little.”
 
Rodney wrapped an arm around Jennifer, who snuggled into his side. “Yeah, well, don’t count your chickens.”
 
--/--
 
“So who is this representative from Homeworld Command?” John asked casually, staring at the activating gate as he walked towards it. “And why is she coming by gate again? I thought they couldn’t use the other one while we’re here.”
 
“They can’t. She’s been off-world speaking with the leaders of the Jaffa.” Woolsey paused at the steps, emotionless face turned towards the lights dancing around the ring.
 
“The Jaffa, huh? Real security threat there.”
 
“They’re one of our greatest allies and she wanted to survey the rebuilding on Dakara—and to get to know them. Apparently she’s working on negotiations with them and some of the other races as to our role in the Milky Way alliance.”
 
“Oh.” The final Chevron lit up. “Look, I know that this is all about trying to make Earth first priority and all, but why exactly is the IOA allowing Homeworld Command to make the call here? I mean, it’s General O’Neill’s program right? Isn’t that sort of counterproductive, considering he’s more military than anything?”
 
“Because General O’Neill’s in a bit of a difficult spot at the moment.” At John’s confused expression Richard turned to face him. “Ever since the explosion on Icarus and the Destiny fiasco, Homeworld Command and the other Earth military defensive programs have been battling those who want to bring them under civilian governmental control. The Earth powers have gotten more involved and the military’s in danger of losing their standing in the program”
 
“Yeah, but surely they can’t argue that the IOA needs full autonomy here. With the Lucian Alliance still out there, causing problems for everyone?”
 
“That’s why I think Strom brought in Homeworld Command. The IOA has the upper hand, but they know they have to play their cards right, too, because if it looks like they’re compromising Earth’s safety for politics, the governments won’t provide them that necessary support. Another attack like the one on Homeworld Command not to long ago and it makes for a quite good argument that the military, not the IOA, deserves the stronger role.”
 
John nodded. “So bringing in Homeworld Command lets the military have a say in a way that makes it look like the IOA is fully backing it. ”
 
“Something like that. Homeworld Command is trusted by most of the countries that back the IOA, so it was a compromise on Strom’s part, but a smart one. General O’Neill knows the situation’s edgy, so we’re not guaranteed his support, no matter how much he advocates for the program.”
 
“It’s weird to imagine General O’Neill trying to play the diplomat.”
 
“I’m sure it’s not his favorite exercise at the moment.”
 
“Okay, so then explain to me why the person they chose is green with the whole space-gates-and-aliens-are-real thing?”
 
“Essentially that’s exactly why the IOA wanted her. Because she isn’t familiar with other races or much of the program, she won’t be swayed by their individual concerns. Her focus is on Earth and Earth alone. I’m sure that’s part of the compromise General O’Neill made to be allowed full autonomy.”
 
“Great. Someone perfectly suited to make this kind of decision,” John grumbled as the pool exploded into life. “A Homeworld cheerleader.”
 
“She’s had a lot of experience on the security front and that’s the IOA’s primary concern. She was highly regarded at Homeland Security.”
 
“Homeland security? Nobody said anything about Homeland security.”
 
“Apparently she was one of their directors there.”
 
John suddenly had visions of a very unpleasant conflict of interest. It was impossible to even consider that it might be…but… “What area of Homeland security?”
 
“I’m not sure, but I do know that she impressed a few people with the way she handled a few of the more surprising threats that came across her desk. In fact, she somehow got involved in cleaning up that Earth-based replicator incident you were involved in a few years ago.”
 
And then again, Rodney would say impossible was relative, right? John’s eyes flickered back to the gate as a slim, chestnut-haired figure toting a backpack strode through the pool, pausing to glance around Atlantis in amazement, as many newcomers often did. “Great.”
 
Her attention turned his way at the sound of his voice, eyes travelling to where he and Woolsey stood at the outskirts of the floor.
 
She heaved a sigh at the sight of him, a small smile gracing her pretty face. “You know John, when you used to tell me you couldn’t talk about your missions, this wasn’t exactly the sort of thing I had in mind.”
 
He smirked at her unenthusiastically, shrugging his shoulders. “To be fair, this wasn’t the kind of mission I was involved with at the time.”
 
He glanced back at Woolsey, who was staring at him in more confusion than if he’d suddenly grown another head, and shrugged.
 
The Expedition leader at least managed to clear his throat before choking out, “You know her?”
 
“You could say that,” John muttered, crossing his arms as she walked towards them. “I was kinda…married…to her.”
 
As Woolsey’s eye’s widened John turned back to her, extending his hand long enough to sweep it between them. “Richard Woolsey, meet Nancy Shep…uh, Nancy...”
 
“It’s still Sheppard.”
 
John smiled uncomfortably. “Nancy Sheppard. My ex-wife. And Homeworld Command analyst, apparently. Or something.”
 
Nancy cocked an eyebrow at him, smile fading to a smirk at his lackluster tone. “It’s good to see you again, too.”
 
 
>>> To be continued in Return to Pegasus, Part I, CH II

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