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Return to Pegasus, Part I, CH III

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

The City shook with the weapons’ impact upon the glimmering shield. John looked up from his crouch, glad that his people had enough memory of their wars with the Wraith to remember how to switch from cloak to shield faster than a massive warship could fire.
 
He hustled Nancy through the balcony doors, releasing her as soon as he was through. The control room had come alive with people and Woolsey was already standing next to Chuck, monitoring the situation.
 
“We’ve got three ships hovering just above the planet,” he said, not even bothering to ask if they were all right.
 
“Wraith?” John asked. It seemed impossible, but…
 
“No sir,” replied the tech. “They don’t appear to be Wraith. If I didn’t think…but they appear to be a Ha’tak and Al’kesh.”
 
“Ha’tak and Al’kesh? Aren’t those Goa’uld ships?”
 
Woolsey glanced at him pointedly. “Yes.”
 
A second barrage pinged off the shield, lighting up the sky around them. Nancy glanced at him in worry as he pursed his lips. Who the hell would be attacking them now? And in Goa’uld ships? They hadn’t posed a threat in years.
 
“What’s going on?” Rodney, trailed by Zelenka, emerged from the back staircase, ducking a little in true McKay fashion as the ships sent out a third strike. “We’re in the Milky Way! I thought we’d at least get a heads up before someone tried to blow us to kingdom come.”
 
Zelenka was by the sensors, edging the communications officer to the side to get a better look at the data. “These ships are Goa’uld in design.”
 
“Goa’uld?”
 
“What can we do about them?” John asked.
 
McKay, studying the readings, waved his fingers in the air. “Goa’uld ships are subject to the same flaws as anyone else’s—shields can be damaged, power drained. But it would take a massive amount of firepower. We don’t have a ship with that kind of arsenal — the Daedalus is near deep space, the General Hammond is still out near the Nox homeworld with hyperdrive issues, the Apollo is…” He paused, glancing from Woolsey to John, who were staring at him with disbelieving expressions. “What? It would take a ship with an unbelievable amount of drones, increased shield capacity AND the ability to get here within minutes.”
 
John shook his head. “You mean, like the ship we’re standing in?”
 
Rodney raised a finger, thought about it, and put it down. “Right.”
 
“Right.” John marched past him, moving towards the staircase, where Nancy stood, looking tentatively up through the stained glass window at the glimmering shield above them.
 
“Is there any way they can get through that thing?”
 
“Nah.” He craned his head up to see through one of the panels. “Wraith bombarded that thing for years in their war with the Ancients. It’ll hold, so long as we have the power to supply it.”
 
“Do we?”
 
He smiled and moved past her. “Surprisingly, yes. Stay here.”
 
“Where are you going?”
 
“To swat a few pests. Just another day in the…Milky Way.”
 
--/--
 
Rodney was at the control panel when Sheppard radioed he’d reached the Drone Chair.
 
“Ready.”
 
He frowned a little at Sheppard’s tone, which sounded supercilious. Probably showing off for the ex. Then again, considering Rodney’s recent jaunt into the realm of the stupid, maybe he was entitled to it.
 
He really needed to get back to Pegasus. He could literally feel his IQ starting to drop. Who ever thought he’d miss the eleventh hour heroism—or coming up with solutions to out think the Wraith?
 
Woolsey was standing near Chuck, speaking with the SGC via Sat Com. “Thank you, General.” The call ended and he nodded at his communications tech. “SGC has cleared us to open communications with the vessel. And any other measures that might be necessary.”
 
Rodney raised a skeptical eyebrow. “Communications? Really? They just unloaded half their arsenal at us. You really think they’re going to want to discuss peaceful resolution?”
 
“Unidentified vessels,” Woolsey began, ignoring him, “you have breached our airspace and are in violation of a number of treaties. A direct strike on our planet will result in retaliation. I would suggest you withdraw immediately.”
 
The channel went silent, while the control room staff eyed one another, waiting patiently. He could hear the tap of Sheppard’s fingers on the chair’s siding.
 
The response, another barrage of fire upon Atlantis’s shield, came a minute later.
 
“So much for negotiations,” drawled Sheppard through the com.
 
“Unidentified vessels, you have been warned,” Woolsey replied. “You have two minutes to withdraw.”
 
Nancy Sheppard, who’d moved away from the window, turned to Rodney. “Is the shield still holding?”
 
Rodney eyed her in consternation, to which she straightened, narrowing her eyes. Patience, was what the Jennifer-voice in his head said. Ex-Sheppard has never seen Atlantis in action, remember that, Rodney.
 
“Yes, there is actually plenty of power for the shield. Considering we’ve held our own against entire Wraith fleets, this is…easy.”
 
“Easy? Spaceships are attacking us!”
 
“I can see that. But there are only three.”
 
She frowned. “Only three?”
 
“Considering what we’ve gone up against in the past? This is like a mosquito facing a machine gun.” Another barrage pounded upon the shield, lighting up the sky above them. “Or maybe one mosquito and two gnats.”
 
“Whoever they are, their intent is obviously not an attack on Earth,” said Woolsey. “They’re systematically attacking our defenses.”
 
Nancy frowned. “You mean they’re attacking Atlantis, specifically?”
 
“If they’d wanted to do damage to the planet, they’d have done it already,” said Rodney. “Before the giant armed-and-shielded City appeared.”
 
“What I want to know is how they knew we were here,” Woolsey said. “We’ve been cloaked the entire time.”
 
“Their time up yet?” interrupted Sheppard. “I’ve got stuff to do.”
 
“What? Like what? What have you got to do that’s more important than what any of the rest of us have to do?”
 
“That is none of your business.”
 
Nancy made a face, looking at Chuck and gesturing. The mild-mannered technician smiled. “Normal.”
 
Rodney glared at him as Woolsey switched back on his com. “Unidentified vessels, you have been warned.” He nodded at Rodney. “Fire at will.”
 
“Firing drones,” Rodney repeated. There was a brief pause and then the sky lit up as the Atlantis arsenal released a barrage of bright yellow lights, spiraling upward into space. The group turned to where Zelenka was standing, eyes on the short-range sensors screen.
 
“A direct hit,” he said after a moment. “On more than one vessel.” Rodney and the others waited as he studied the results that were coming across the sensor panel. “It appears the ships’ defenses have held out against the first strike. But there is a weakening of two of the fleet’s shields—one by nearly sixty per cent.”
 
“Fire again,” Woolsey ordered. This time Sheppard didn’t even bother with waiting for Rodney and the second wave of drones launched, lighting up the slightly darkened sky. Heaven only knew what they were being told in the Antarctic outposts and McMurdo as to what was happening.
 
“Second direct hit,” Zelenka murmured. “One shield is down, the other two are faltering. Damage to some systems. Though I cannot tell which.”
 
“Want me to finish ‘em?” Sheppard asked.
 
“Wait.” Woolsey motioned at the communications officer, who opened the short-range communications line. “Unidentified vessels, you have one minute to vacate Earth airspace or we will fire again.”
 
“Wait, what?” Rodney turned to him. “You don’t know who they are! We should…”
 
“It’s either destroy them or let them go, Doctor McKay,” Woolsey said. “As you so astutely pointed out, we have no ships that can board them.”
 
“Wouldn’t destroying them be safer?” Nancy asked.
 
“Maybe,” Woolsey replied. “But I’m not a military commander, Ms. Sheppard. This is a civilian expedition and where we can, we try to remain true to that.” He looked pointedly at her. “If we are reassigned to Earth for other purposes, then perhaps that will change. But while the City is under my command, our only concern is defense.”
 
“They are retreating,” Zelenka called out suddenly. “It appears their hyperdrives are still online.” In response, a blue blip appeared in the skies above them. The dots on Zelenka’s screen went dark, and he turned. “They are gone.”
 
--/--
 
“The best we can gather,” said General Hank Landry, a few hours later from SGC, “is that they were Lucian Alliance.”
 
“Lucian Alliance?” Rodney frowned. “Why would they attack Atlantis now? After that botched attempt at Homeworld? Besides, I thought their fleet had been nearly destroyed.”
 
“Your guess is as good as mine, Doctor,” Landry replied. “But apparently they still have viable ships.” He glanced over a monitor on his screen, where Carl Strom heaved a sigh.
 
“I do not know what their motivation would be, General,” Strom said, “or the amount of firepower they still possess. We had no notification of this attack.”
 
“Seems to be par for the course,” Sheppard remarked, earning him a dirty look from the IOA head.
 
“Whatever their motivation might have been, their intent was pretty clear,” said Woolsey. “They were testing us.”
 
“Testing for what?”
 
“Defensive capabilities, weapon type, shield strength—there are any number of possibilities, Carl. What is clear is that their attack was aimed solely at Atlantis and no other parts of the planet.”
 
“What I don’t get is why even try,” Rodney said. “They have to know from any of the research they’ve ‘gathered’ that Atlantis’s shield system would have deflected any and all direct attacks. And their main interest seems to have been the Icarus program anyway. Why bother with such a strike?”
 
“The Lucian Alliance isn’t exactly the most intelligent group in the star system. Their motivations are always shady at best,” Strom said. “In any case, there was no harm done and we can be fairly certain they won’t be trying something of this nature again.”
 
“This being the same group that managed to blow up two planets, ally with the Goa’uld, insert spies on the Destiny, infiltrate the SGC, attack Homeworld Command and who we can’t be sure hasn’t infiltrated other levels of the Stargate program?” Sheppard remarked with narrowed eyes. “I’d say it’ a damn certainty they’ll be trying something like this again.” Strom frowned.
 
“We have no evidence…”
 
“What about the people on Earth who saw the attack?” Nancy asked impatiently.
 
“Dissemination of pertinent information has already been passed along to the appropriate authorities,” Landry replied, apparently glad for a reason to move beyond the Lucian Alliance discussion. “This isn’t our first rodeo, Ms. Sheppard. Everything’s been taken care of from a logistics standpoint.”
 
“When we have more information on the exact nature of the attack we’ll contact you. In the meanwhile, you may continue the rest of your assessment with the full assurance that you are perfectly safe.”
 
“Thank you, Doctor Strom.”
 
Landry and Strom clicked off the communications telesat as the rest of the control room relaxed. The attack hadn’t been nerve-racking, given everything they’d experienced in the past. In fact, Rodney felt as though the last few minutes with Strom were the tensest he’d experienced all day.
 
“Well, at least they know now what they’re dealing with,” he muttered. “Strom’s right, we probably won’t be seeing them again for a while.” Sheppard looked at him with a frown but said nothing.
 
“Are you so sure about that?” Nancy asked, tilting her head to the side. She was incredibly attractive when she did that.
 
“Well, why would they attack again?”
 
“I don’t know.” Nancy was staring thoughtfully at the monitors. “Strange, isn’t it? That after not bothering with Atlantis for so long they’d just randomly attack now?”
 
“We were concealed for a large portion of that time,” Woolsey replied. “Only in the last few months did we give a traceable location. And as Colonel Sheppard pointed out, they more than likely have moles buried within the IOA.”
 
“Yes, but…”
 
“Considering their ships were almost completely destroyed this go around, it’s highly unlikely they’d attempt to attack again anytime soon,” Rodney replied, attempting a smile. Nancy looked at him suspiciously and Sheppard narrowed his eyes.
 
“We have another ship on the sensors,” interrupted Zelenka, from behind them.
 
“What?” Rodney whirled around, moving over to him.
 
Radek was studying the monitor, which happened to be the long-range device. “Not…not nearby. It has appeared on the long-range sensors.”
 
“Long range?” The group gathered around Zelenka’s position, with Woolsey studying the blip that had appeared. “Is it possible they fell out of hyperspace to that location?”
 
“I do not believe so.” The Czech motioned towards the monitors. “Their ships were pretty badly crippled, but even so, this power reading indicates the presence of only one vessel. And it is transmitting a weak subspace signal. I do not believe they would wish to give away their position so obviously.”
 
“Move,” Rodney said, shoving Zelenka unceremoniously to the side. He tapped on the controls, pinpointing the signal. The room went silent as he held up his hand, only to be met with a hiss of static over the open line. John threw Rodney a frustrated look; he didn’t bother to return it, just fussed over the controls a few more times. “That’s weird. It’s really weak.”
 
A second later a distinct bleep appeared through the line. It was followed by a couple more that seemed to repeat in sequence. “What is this?”
 
“Morse code?” suggested Nancy.
 
“No,” Rodney shook his head as Chuck did the same. They listened intently for another minute before Zelenka waved a hand.
 
“I have heard this before.”
 
“Where…”
 
The Czech held up a hand, cutting him off annoyingly. Radek fussed for a moment with his glasses, then snapped his fingers. “I remember…it was…when we were working with the Travellers, setting up the hyperdrive on their ship. An Ancient code signal, like Morse Code, that they use for quite a few subspace communications.”
 
“Right,” Rodney replied, the memory vague, but familiar. “Let me see, it was…” he tapped his finger on the console, trying to remember the correlating Ancient characters with the tones. “Got it. It’s ‘Travellers Cor…Cor…ah’…”
 
“Coria?” Zelenka asked.
 
Rodney shrugged. “Could be. It’s some word I’m not familiar with. Why?”
 
“It was the name of the ship. The Coria.”
 
“Who are the Travellers?” asked Nancy.
 
“Allies we had in Pegasus,” Sheppard replied, his expression serious. “Does it say anything else?”
 
The next word sent a chill through Rodney, and he glanced, a little concernedly, at John.
 
“’Help’.”
 
Sheppard’s eyes widened.
 
“What else?” Woolsey asked.
 
“’Power failing. Systems down. Seek Atlantis. Travellers Coria.’ That’s it. It’s on a loop of some kind. It just keeps repeating.”
 
The Coria was the only ship in the Pegasus galaxy that possessed a hyperdrive beyond ours and the Wraith—and perhaps the renegade Asgard,” said Zelenka.
 
“But that hyperdrive wasn’t fully functional,” Rodney said. “It still needed tweaking. Plus, they didn’t have any power source that was even close to what they’d need to power intergalactic travel. It would have sucked anything they possessed dry in days, unless they found a Zed PM. To get here without one would have required a major overhaul to their power grid…”
 
“If they did that…” Zelenka looked at them, crossing his arms. “They are registering quite faintly. It is possible they have been on the long range radar for some time, we were just unable to pick them up until now.”
 
“Meaning they more than likely don’t have a ZPM,” John said. “What would they have had to do to accommodate?”
 
“Realignment of major systems...weapons, definitely, communications…” Rodney frowned. “That must be why they’re only broadcasting on a subspace frequency. Direct communications is down. More than likely shields, perhaps sublight engines…”
 
“Life support?” John asked.
 
Rodney met his gaze in consternation. “There’s no way they could have maintained it at even half capacity with those power requirements.”
 
John exchanged an uncomfortable look with Rodney and Richard. “Any way we can…”
 
“The Daedalus was near that quadrant helping one of the outlying settlements,” Rodney said. “If we could get…”
 
“I’ll speak with General Landry,” Richard said. “Let’s hope it’s not too late for them.”
 
“Seek Atlantis?” Nancy moved towards them, gazing at the screen, as Richard turned away. “Is it possible they came here to find you?”
 
“I’d say that was the only reason they came here,” said John.
 
“They’d consider Atlantis important enough to die for?”
 
“Some do,” John replied, his eyes on the faint blip that was the only light in an otherwise pervasive darkness.
 
--/--
 
Colonel Stephen Caldwell had to admit that life in the Milky Way was a great deal less complicated than in Pegasus. Whether that was good or bad he’d yet to decide, but the days were relatively easier, at least from an engagement standpoint.
 
It was almost boring, quite frankly.
 
They’d finished up dropping supplies—and Doctor Daniel Jackson—off at the last outlying settlement and were now working an errand for Atlantis-via-General-Landry, who’d informed them of a stranded ship not too far from their present location. Based on the readings, they should be approaching it any minute.
 
Lieutenant Aiden, the navigator, responded in kind. “Sir, we’ve got the ship in sight.”
 
“Shields up,” Caldwell barked, as per routine. “Open a communications channel.”
 
“Trying, sir,” said the Comm officer. “There don’t appear to be any frequencies occupied.”
 
They waited a few more moments, with the officer shaking his head. “Nothing.”
 
“Are we getting any readings at all on that thing?” Stephen asked. “Life signs?”
 
“There appears to be a few weak signals throughout the forward part of the ship, sir. But we’re not registering significant energy readings from any of the major systems.”
 
“Looks dead in the water.”
 
“Yes, sir.”
 
Stephen raised a hand to his chin, observing the ship now visible through their forward shield. It was clunky; true to the nature of the message sent by Atlantis it looked like the ships cobbled together by the Travellers, whom he’d encountered from time to time in Pegasus. It certainly wasn’t maintained to the best of abilities—it appeared old and ungainly, which was saying something considering the age of ships like the Daedalus.
 
They risked a lot to get here.
 
“Send out a scout team,” he said. “Let’s see who was so desperate to get over here.”
 
--/--
 
An hour later, two of the scout teams had successfully breached the hull. All indications, from what they were sending, were that the power stores in the ship had been drained, more than likely by the hyperdrive system.
 
They hadn’t just risked a lot; they’d risked everything.
 
Two of the handful of life signs registering had disappeared before the teams set foot in the hold; a further three were weakening. One of the teams had reached the bridge portion of the ship and was sending back video.
 
“My God,” breathed one of the Marines, as the bridge doors slid open.
 
Even Stephen, with all his years of military training, flinched at the scene being broadcast.
 
The bridge had lost all power, including inertial dampeners, so anything unattached was now hovering in almost suspended animation, wafted only by the minute to-and-fro of the ship. It was dark, not even emergency power capable of being sustained, so the only light within the dimly lit space was the glare of the lamps their rescue team had brought.
 
The beams cut across the empty blackness, touching briefly on the objects that littered the room.
 
Bodies.
 
It was these that had raised the first call of alarm from the search team. Their beams glistened across a host of crew members—at least ten, from first count—floating lifelessly in the confined space, their skin clammy and eyes open, results of the carbon dioxide poisoning that had taken their lives.
 
The captain remained in her chair, fastened there somehow, her long dark hair trailing upwards in the weightless air, like something out of a hallucinatory dream. Others, not so lucky, twirled slowly in front of their posts, occasionally bumping into the remainder of floating objects, making for an almost macabre carnival dancing in the blackness.
 
“We count ten, sir,” came the voice of the leader of the team, thrusting Stephen and the rest of the Daedalus crew back into reality—and duty.
 
“Are you picking up any other life signs?” Stephen asked. The crew leader turned away, observing his hand-held life signs detector. “We lost two more before we could get to them. Both dead on arrival. Beta team should be coming upon the one that’s remaining. Scrubbers were on full power in that part of the ship.”
 
“We’ve got her, sir,” said the voice of the Beta team’s leader. “Weak, but alive. We’re treating her now.”
 
“Prep the infirmary,” Stephen said to the Comm officer. “Scan her, then bring her on-board. Sergeant, are you picking up anything else?”
 
“No sir. It all seems pretty drained here. They’re stocked with food supplies; we didn’t pick up any signs of contaminants.”
 
“Weapons?”
 
“Negligible. For Travellers, they were poorly armed.”
 
“Then it appears their intention wasn’t combative.”
 
“If I had to venture a guess, sir, I would say they were prepped and stocked for a long journey—probably a diplomatic one.”
 
“Why do you say that?”
 
“Many of the passengers are of different Pegasus races, sir. We’ve seen evidence of at least seven different races on board.”
 
Stephen threw a glance at the navigator, who frowned slightly, which was about as expressive as one in his position could get. “Return to ship, Sergeant and bring your teams. We need to get the survivor to Atlantis and await further instruction from the SGC. Where’s the nearest gate?”
 
The navigator leaned forward, punching in a few commands. “Not too far—couple of hours journey, sir.”
 
“Set a course,” Stephen said. “Let’s hope she lives long enough to tell us what the hell happened here.”
 
--/--
 
John relaxed his grip on his P-90, eyes locked to the shimmering pool of the Stargate as it rolled gently before them. Woolsey was above, looking down upon the mass of Marines who’d taken up position in front of it in preparation for the Pegasus visitor they were about to receive.
 
Results had come back from the Daedalus infirmary that she was one hundred percent alien human, which was a relief, and that, based on her possessions, she may be Genii. Beyond that, however, Colonel Caldwell had not been able to ascertain the purpose of the Traveller’s ship or her presence on it.
 
The best guess that could be ventured presumed the mission had been a diplomatic one, given the remainder of the crew—the ones who hadn’t survived. They wouldn’t know for sure until this one woke up, but if that was the case, John felt a little sick inside.
 
Twenty-two crew members dead. Risking their lives in search of one thing—Atlantis.
 
The pool parted and he reflexively raised his gun, eyeing the group of Daedalus med techs who came in, carrying a stretcher between them.
 
A woman lay upon it, her dark hair spilling over the side, a breathing mask strapped to her nose and mouth. She appeared pale and thin, and her fingernails and lips were almost white.
 
Keller moved forward with her rolling gurney and the exchange was done quickly; within a few seconds the visitor was strapped in and on her way to the Atlantis infirmary. John motioned for Lorne to dismiss the rest of the Marines who’d crowded the gate room, leading the eight he’d chosen as escort behind Keller and her team.
 
As he passed underneath the balcony, he saw Nancy watching the scene below her with interest. She caught his gaze, her eyes filled with compassion. He clenched his jaw, frustrated, turning away and trying to loosen the tightness in his chest.
 
Lives were being lost again. He never would have thought he’d say that when Atlantis was safe and sound on Earth, but it was true enough, now. And to be here, impotent and useless, was frustrating.
 
For all the lives that had been lost on the Expedition in all the years past, they had felt like a waste, but they’d served a purpose, too. They’d fought evil. They’d fought oppression. They’d brought hope to millions.
 
But this loss, these deaths—they served no purpose. And if the IOA had their way, they would have served no purpose. Useless, wasted death.
 
To realize that he could do nothing about that was the most frustrating thing of all.
 
--/--
 
There was a quiet, gentle beeping nearby.
 
Mayel shifted a little, conscious of the warmth and softness that cushioned her back. Different from what she remembered before the air had gone stale and the blackness had taken her. There was a vague memory of sound, of eyes studying her face, but nothing more.
 
The light was threatening; as she became more perceptive of it, waves of pain coursed through her head, causing her stomach to turn.
 
Someone was hovering near her bedside.
 
“Relax,” said a sweet, high-pitched voice. A woman. “Lie still for me.”
 
There was the sound of something being fiddled with nearby. The change wasn’t perceptible at first, until the pain in her head began to subside, replaced with a sort of foggy awareness that forced her to turn her head to hear.
 
The light burst through, the pain in her head jumping, but only for a moment. The world came into slight focus, though everything was still blurry.
 
The woman, wide-eyed and pretty with straw-colored hair, smiled at her. “How are you feeling?”
 
“Who are you?” Her voice came out slurred; there was difficulty with her tongue. “Where am I?”
 
“You’re in the Atlantis infirmary.”
 
“Atlantis…” it took a minute for her foggy mind to process the word, but it became clear enough. “Atlantis!”
 
She sat up in bed, the nausea rolling over her uncontrollably. The young woman beside her helped her, holding a container for her and handing across a cloth. “Feel better? Lie still, or it may happen again.”
 
“I am in Atlantis?” Mayel said, her throat still thick. “Atlantis — in the ‘Milk Way?’”
 
This description caused the young woman to grin more broadly. “Basically, yes. I’m Doctor Keller, the chief of medicine here. You were in pretty bad condition when you arrived. Hypercapnia. Space risk.” At Mayel’s questioning look, she continued. “Your body suffered from lack of oxygen — or more correctly, an overload of carbon dioxide — when your ship’s life support failed.”
 
The memories of her last few minutes of consciousness were unclear. There had been a struggle with Terra, something about placing Mayel, and some of the others, in sealed rooms. She believed she’d struggled against it.
 
“The captain,” she whispered. “Where are they? The crew…the other representatives?”
 
The medic’s smile faded. “They…didn’t make it.”
 
The response took a moment for Mayel to process. “Did not…there were over twenty people on board the ship.”
 
“I’m afraid you were the only survivor. From what they tell me, there were…measures taken to try and prolong your life.”
 
“No…”
 
Keller watched her with sympathy, though Mayel could not meet her gaze. “There were over twenty.”
 
“You need to rest, now,” said the medic, placing a gentle hand on Mayel’s shoulder. “Get your strength back.”
 
“I need to speak with the heads of Atlantis…with Colonel John Sheppard, and Mister Richard…Wool…Woolsey,” Mayel murmured. Keller was adjusting something on the bag of medicine next to the bed. Once more, fogginess clouded her mind, cutting away pain and nausea. “I must speak with them…”
 
“Later. You need to rest first,” said Keller, her words echoing from somewhere beyond the fading light.
 
“Our worlds…they’re…dying…”
 
The blackness was all consuming, frightening, as it had been on the ship. But she could not find a way out.
 
--/--
 
“The question is what do we do with her?” John asked, glancing around the small group gathered in the Atlantis conference room. They’d decided to keep this meeting internal, for now, until they figured out what they should do with both the SGC and the IOA.
 
Well, almost internal. Nancy had insisted.
 
“Is she a threat?” his ex-wife asked, pencil tapping against the notepad that lay atop her datapad. Strange, she still went old school on certain things. Rodney’d have a field day trying to get her to adapt to Atlantis tech.
 
“At the present moment, no,” said Keller, leaning against the tabletop. “She’s suffering from extreme oxygen deprivation and carbon dioxide poisoning. It’s going to take a few days for her to get her strength back.”
 
“Not to mention she’s completely cut off from her people and has no weapons or access to anything she’d be familiar with,” added Woolsey. “I think the initial assessment made by Colonel Caldwell is true—her purpose for making the journey was diplomatic, to discuss Atlantis’s position in Pegasus.”
 
“She was wearing a Genii military uniform,” said Rodney. “Not really diplomatic.”
 
“Genii rarely appear without their uniforms,” said Ronon, looking his normally passive self, though he’d voiced initial displeasure at a conspicuously absent member of their normal party. Teyla had not yet been informed of the origin of the girl or this meeting, for reasons Woolsey had deemed ‘not in her best interest.’ Ronon disagreed, as did John, but Woolsey had been adamant. John understood them to a degree—Teyla had no true authority on Atlantis, and discussing someone who knew of her people would only have excited and upset her. But she’d been a part of all of this from the start and had earned the right to be here.
 
But that wasn’t his call.
 
“He’s right,” John said, in reply to Ronon’s remark.
 
“Every government has a breaking point,” Woolsey said quietly. “These people risked a great deal making this journey—one that was almost completely unsuccessful. If they were willing to take that risk, I’d say they’ve probably reached that point.”
 
“Meaning what?” Nancy asked.
 
“Meaning the situation in Pegasus is more desperate than we imagined.”
 
Worry lit up Ronon’s eyes, probably more for the Athosians, the remaining Satedans and other races he cared for more than himself.
 
“When we left Pegasus, we weren’t on very friendly terms with the coalition their homeworlds had formed for defense against the Wraith. In fact, they tried to pin most of the blame for what was happening on us.”
 
“They blamed you? For what?”
 
“For waking the Wraith and exacerbating the conditions of the galaxy. They weren’t entirely wrong in these accusations,” Woolsey explained. Nancy’s eyes narrowed at this.
 
“They even put us on trial for it.” John added. At Nancy’s confused expression, he nodded to her datapad. “That’s in Year Five.”
 
“The point is, if they have reached that breaking point and the coalition is asking our help? The Wraith must be a serious threat at this point.” Even Rodney looked worried.
 
“If that is the case, what good would Atlantis be able to do?” Nancy leaned forward, placing her hands on the table and gazing at Richard. “Homeworlds are falling. You are just one expedition with a couple hundred inhabitants. We’re talking the loss of millions of people.”
 
“True. But none of them are equipped as Atlantis is. We’ve seen the destruction of enemy armadas, the elimination of the human-form replicators and the downfall of the Wraith as a dominant race in Pegasus. That was with just this one expedition and a couple hundred inhabitants. I’d say as an experiment in fortitude, Ms. Sheppard, we’ve done pretty well.”
 
“Even the smallest person can change the course of the future,” John said. Rodney and Nancy both turned and gave him flat looks. “What? It’s applicable.”
 
“When I first came here,” Ronon interjected, silencing them all, though his words were directed at Nancy, “I didn’t think there was a lot these people could do. I’d seen my homeworld destroyed by the Wraith. I understood the extent of their power. There wasn’t a lot of hope on any world and I felt like what Atlantis was doing was a waste of time. I didn’t give them a chance. But they gave me one.”
 
He paused. Nancy had directed her full attention to him. She was listening, John noted. She’d been good at that, too—listening.
 
“Being a part of these people brought hope. And that hope is the same for the people in that galaxy. They could feel the change. When the Wraith started fighting each other, there was a chance for a future they never hoped for. Atlantis was responsible for it. They knew it; the Wraith knew it. That is why this woman risked her journey. She knows, like Teyla and I do, that whatever chance we have against the Wraith lies here. I don’t think she’ll tell you any differently.”
 
Silence followed his speech, the most words Ronon had cobbled together in a long while. Nancy looked grave, eyes dropping upon her blank notepad. Richard shifted uncomfortably in his chair.
 
“Guess we’ll have to find that out,” John finally said, looking over at Keller.
 
She pushed herself off the table. “She should be well enough to speak to you by tomorrow.”
 
“Make it a couple of hours,” Woolsey said. Before the doctor could object, he held up his hand. “If her life’s not in danger, then the sooner the better. And I’m more than willing to bet, doctor, that she’ll say the same when she wakes.”
 
--/--
 
Nancy paused in the hallway, checking both directions, trying to remember which one led towards the residential quarters. John had given her a fairly thorough tour, but she would no longer share in his mocking of Mr. Woolsey about getting lost in the City. It was gigantic, with corridors that looked the same at every turn. It was a miracle anyone could find her way around.
 
“Can I help you find something?” asked a voice behind her. Scottish. She turned, the man named Carson Beckett—a doctor—standing behind her. She hadn’t even heard him come up.
 
“Maybe,” she replied, smiling sheepishly. “I’m trying to find the quarters of Teyla Emmagan.”
 
“Teyla?” He gestured down the right hallway with his hand. “She’s down this way.” They walked for a few moments in silence, before he spoke again. “Any particular reason you want to speak with Teyla?”
 
“We’ve spoken before, but it didn’t go very well. I wanted to see if I could discuss a few things further. I figured now would be a good time to try, considering everyone else is concerned with the girl from that ship.”
 
“You’re not interested in her, too?”
 
“I am. But until John and Richard have all the details about the situation I know John won’t let me anywhere near that interrogation.”
 
“You would know,” he said with a smile.
 
They walked together for a few moments in silence. Nancy didn’t have the full story of the happenings involved with Carson Beckett. There were some things that were completely sealed, even from her. But she knew whatever had occurred, it had been significant. The talented former chief of medicine had been replaced and relegated to an off-world position, though nothing in his portfolio had seemed to change.
 
“Is it difficult, adjusting to life back here?”
 
Carson smiled gently. “Not really. Being cooped up is a bit of an annoyance.”
 
“They won’t let you visit your family?”
 
Again Carson smiled, though his eyes were tight. “There are certain restrictions that can’t be lifted.”
 
“That must be hard.”
 
“Not as hard as you might imagine, though there are a few things I miss. Scotland. My mother’s cooking. Dressing in clothes that don’t pinch under your arms.”
 
She laughed softly; he joined in. They walked for a little while more. “You were working with the races of the Pegasus galaxy before you were called back here, weren’t you? Fighting that plague that broke out?”
 
“Yes. The Hoffan plague. We’d found something of a way to contain it before we returned to Earth.”
 
“You must have learned a lot about the people of Pegasus.”
 
“Enough to get by. Some were quite helpful and willing to work with us, others were a bit distrustful — but that is to be expected, I supposed, given the Wraith.”
 
“Do you believe as John and Richard do, that this woman’s intent was to find Atlantis and ask it to return?”
 
He smiled. “I’m not sure, dear. Though there is quite a strong argument for it, given the message being broadcast by that ship.”
 
“I’m afraid I still don’t understand. I know that I haven’t seen firsthand all that Atlantis is capable of, but in an entire galaxy? The fate of those people can’t seem to depend on one City.”
 
“One City, some well-equipped ships, of course, and the support of Earth.”
 
“Still…”
 
Carson stopped, clasping his hands. “You have to understand—the people of that galaxy, most of them don’t have anything close to the technology Atlantis is equipped with. That’s one good reason. But it was more than just the resources of the City they relied upon—it was the very people at the heart of Atlantis itself.”
 
Nancy raised an eyebrow.
 
His smile grew. “I know it sounds a bit boastful, but truthfully, no one has been able to ally the races of the Pegasus galaxy like Atlantis. It was part of the reason Pegasus natives were distrustful of us. Because we wielded power and influence the likes of which hadn’t been seen. And we took on the Wraith on something of a grand scale.”
 
“Most of that was just chance, wasn’t it?”
 
“Or ingenuity. You don’t have many Rodney McKays or Colonel John Sheppards running about. So when there are two in the same place…”
 
“An unbeatable combination?”
 
“Something like that. Or a tempest in a teapot. I believe you can take your pick.”
 
She laughed softly. “They’re really that much of an influence?”
 
“Well, if you can’t take my word solely for it, you can ask Teyla. Consider what she and Ronon have given up to be a part of this expedition, and I think it explains quite a bit about what most Pegasus people think of Atlantis.”
 
“But they’re cut off from Pegasus now.”
 
“Aye, that they are, but it didn’t change why they came in the first place.” He paused outside a door. “Or why the woman in the isolation room risked everything to find us. They believe in what we’re capable of, and they know we can help. If I hadn’t seen what was done to the Wraith or the Replicators first hand, I might not have believed it myself. But having seen it—been a part of it—I can say with certainty that it is absolutely possible for Atlantis to make a difference. And I’m certain I’m not the first or the last person on this base who will avow to that.”
 
Her gaze dropped to the floor. “I suppose then, the only question is whether Earth can afford to let that kind of resourcefulness go.”
 
Carson smiled kindly, patting her shoulder. “Now that, that is a question I can’t answer. That, I believe, is your job.”
 
He left her standing in front of Teyla’s quarters, lost in thought.
 
--/--
 
John narrowed his eyes a little, staring intently at the woman now seated at the table in Atlantis’s isolation room. She did not look much worse for wear following her ordeal, save for the dark circles under her eyes.
 
Her demeanor was calm and yet commanding as she surveyed her surroundings, as though she knew her place was to be here and she didn’t resent it in the slightest.
 
She reminded him of someone, though he couldn’t quite put his finger on whom.
 
“Ready?” Woolsey moved up next to him, also scanning the girl’s face on the monitor. “Has she said anything more?”
 
“Only wants to speak to the representatives of Atlantis,” John said casually. “Wouldn’t even give her name, rank, serial number.”
 
Woolsey’s response was a flat stare, to which John offered up a shrug.
 
They entered the room a few seconds later, John standing alongside Woolsey’s chair as the Expedition head opened a folder in front of him. “Miss…Mayel Serrana, is that right?”
 
The girl glanced up at John first, then directed her attention to Woolsey. “Commander.”
 
“Commander Serrana. And you are Genii.”
 
“I am.”
 
“Of Ladon Radim’s faction?”
 
Serrana’s eyebrow rose. “I was not aware the Genii were split into more than one faction.”
 
Richard flipped a second page casually. “It is only that the Atlantis expedition has run into trouble with the Genii a few times lately. I presumed they were not working under the orders of Ladon Radim, as we have a treaty in place with him.”
 
“There have been some rogue operators we have heard tell of,” the woman responded, her expression casual. “That would be expected, given the sudden change in power from General Cowen to General Radim, and those who did not agree to support the way in which that exchange was handled. But no Genii who is loyal to Ladon works contrary to his orders, no matter what treaties are in place.”
 
Richard stared at her for a moment while John tilted his head, intrigued. This woman had just essentially confirmed Ladon’s ability to betray them and yet had not affirmed it in the slightest.
 
He had a feeling they’d be underestimating this one.
 
“What is your business with Atlantis, Miss Serrana?” Richard folded his hands atop her folder, meeting her gaze.
 
“Commander Serrana,” she repeated. “I came on behalf of General Radim to seek…to request, at his command, the aid of Atlantis. At his command and on behalf of the Coalition.”
 
“The Coalition?” John asked, crossing his arms. “What would the Coalition want with Atlantis? Last I remember they weren’t all that thrilled with anything we were doing in Pegasus.”
 
“Since the departure of Atlantis, the ‘Pegasus,’ as you call it, has come under significant attack by the Wraith.”
 
Richard glanced up at John, showing a little concern, then turned back to her. “Well, I am sorry to hear this. But to be honest with you, what is happening in the Pegasus galaxy at this moment is not of principle concern to us.”
 
“Not to mention the Coalition pretty much told us point blank that we were neither wanted nor needed as far as they were concerned.”
 
“I do not believe that was the decision that was reached, Colonel Sheppard,” Serrana returned, leaning forward and crossing her arms upon the table. “While the Coalition may not have appreciated some of the unilateral decisions Atlantis made with regards to actions, nobody denied the strength and power of your Expedition or how much that strength and power was relied upon in the war against the Wraith.”
 
John frowned at her. “So, basically, we’re okay to hang around as the muscle, but only when you tell us where to go and when to fire.”
 
A smile crept along the corners of her mouth. “I don’t think I’d put it quite that way.”
 
Woolsey smiled humorlessly. “Whatever the Coalition desires of Atlantis, I’m afraid that at this moment, we are unable to offer any kind of assistance. We are being retained in this galaxy with no clearance to return to the Pegasus galaxy in the foreseeable future.”
 
The woman’s smile faded. “What do you mean? If it is power you lack…”
 
“Power is the least of our concerns.”
 
“We have procured what your people refer to as a ‘ZPM’ for your use. Almost fully charged. We did not even dare use it for our ship, for fear that we might drain too much power from it.”
 
John shot a quick glance at Woolsey, who quite literally flinched. “Could your ship have run on that ZPM? Your hyperspace drive?”
 
“I am not certain,” she replied slowly, glancing between them. “I know they proposed it, but they were afraid…”
 
The look on his face must have expressed his sympathy, because Mayel suddenly sat back sharply, eyes narrowed. “You do not need it.”
 
“We have had the capability to return to Pegasus for quite some time,” Richard answered softly.
 
Despite her obvious exhaustion, the girl rose, pushing away from them and the table. John held a hand up to the armed guard at the door as she paced around the far corner of the room, arms wrapped around herself.
 
It took a few moments, but when she returned, her face was calm, though with hardness in her eyes that had not been there before. John recognized the look—it was the wall all good soldiers put up when there was still a duty to complete, despite disaster.
 
“What has held you back?” she asked quietly a moment later.
 
“Our government—our Earth government—wishes to use Atlantis for the protection of our own planet.”
 
“What threats do you face here?”
 
“They are of a varied nature,” Woolsey responded. “We were attacked yesterday by one of them.”
 
“But they’re nothing like the Wraith,” John added, which earned a confused look from the girl and the head of Atlantis. As Woolsey glanced at him sideways, John shrugged. “There’s no point in qualifying.”
 
Woolsey’s grimace told him otherwise, but the Expedition head didn’t push the issue. “Unfortunately, we are not the ones who would make the decision to return.”
 
“Is there nothing that can be said to persuade them? Can I not go before your council and describe the condition my people, and others, face?”
 
“What exactly do you face, Commander Serrana? What is the condition of Pegasus right now?”
 
She sat back down. “The Wraith are allied and attacking planets in great numbers at the moment. Any planet with the Plague was attacked first, followed by those whose people travel often through the rings. They managed to control the disease before it spread further. It appears fully contained now, so it no longer poses a threat.
 
“After that, any societies that might have stepped forward to work against them, or developed some new kind of weapon, have been targeted, so people such as the Genii are constantly being forced to move. Those who are known as members of the Coalition are systematically sought out, tortured for information and then left to die. They are not even drained of their life as a respite.
 
“Most people are revolting against their Wraith masters, which has forced many of the Wraith to imprison many groups for food and stock. Any place that is known to their Wraith worshippers, no matter how small the settlement, is targeted now. And they have begun to guard the gates with small masses of Wraith warriors.
 
“Within months, if we do not receive the assistance that is needed, the great bulk of those who could oppose the Wraith will be gone. Already, my people’s numbers begin to dwindle. We cannot move fast enough to escape them.
 
“We sought the help of Atlantis because your people have weapons the Wraith fear and a knowledge of their technologies. You are our last chance to establish dominance against them in any way. Without your assistance, General Radim fears that the war with them will be lost.”
 
Woolsey greeted this response with silence. John studied the girl, who looked away from them now, head held high, though her eyes were weary.
 
“What do you believe?” he asked, to his own surprise. The girl glanced over at him, took in a breath, and sighed.
 
“I have seen nothing that can be done to stop them. Even with your weapons, I see nothing Atlantis can provide that would turn the tide. No longer.”
 
“We might surprise you,” he said.
 
“I do not believe so, Colonel Sheppard,” she returned. “And it appears from what you have told me that it does not matter now anyhow. If you would not mind now, Mister Woolsey, I would prefer to be left in peace.”
 
--/--
 
The bell outside her quarters rang quietly and Teyla threw a fretful glance at Torren, wondering who would be disturbing their peace when they had just laid him down to slumber. Kanaan offered her a sympathetic smile and took the whimpering child from the crib.
 
She drew to the door, waving her hand across the crystal panel, only to be met, to her surprise, by Nancy Sheppard.
 
“Hello, Ms. Emmagan,” Nancy said, peering casually behind Teyla, before meeting her gaze. “Do you have a moment?”
 
Teyla smiled awkwardly and glanced back at Kanaan, who nodded. “I believe I shall take a walk. Would you like me to take him?”
 
“No. Leave him. He is in need of the rest.”
 
He laid a hand upon her shoulder as he passed Torren to her. “Pardon me,” he said quietly to Nancy, before leaving.
 
Teyla hoisted Torren to her shoulder as the door to their quarters shut behind him. Nancy remained standing in the middle of the room, her eyes wandering across the many Athosian reminders that decorated the walls and tables. “You have a lovely room.”
 
“Thank you.” Torren fussed a bit more and Teyla cradled him, which was becoming difficult to do with his ever-increasing size. “Many of the items are Athosian.”
 
“I gathered.”
 
Teyla offered no further comment and Nancy’s small smile faded. “May I ask you a personal question?”
 
There was something of strength to Nancy Sheppard, though she appeared frail at first glance. Teyla could sense it in the way she positioned herself and the tone of her voice. Though she was very lovely and her attractions obvious, Teyla knew enough of John to know that only a special type of woman would have been able to secure him as a long-term companion. Though the John she knew was probably much older and with a less innocent soul than the one who had loved this woman.
 
“Of course,” Teyla nodded, as Torren’s fussing quieted to a soft whimper. “But I am afraid I cannot speak too long. He is tired.”
 
“I understand.” Nancy moved closer to her, almost having to bend to catch her eyes. “Why do you wish to take him back there?”
 
Whatever Teyla had expected to be asked, this was not the question she was prepared to answer.
 
“I know that you wish him to return to your people, to learn your culture. But as I understand it, life in the Pegasus galaxy is hard and that death by natural causes is unusual. Why would you wish for your son to be subject to that risk? When you can stay here, where he will be safe?”
 
“He would be safe, yes. But he…” Teyla searched her heart for the words to explain. “He would be nothing. Of nothing. From nowhere.”
 
Nancy looked at her in confusion. “His parents are Athosian. He would be Athosian. That wouldn’t change, no matter where you are.”
 
“It would not be the same.”
 
“It would be a life free of the Wraith. Of fear of the Wraith.”
 
“The Wraith are only a part of what his world would be. The rest would be filled with the spirit of his people. With the love of his kin—with the cultures and traditions in which his father, mother, grandparents were raised. This is not something that can be explained to a child. It must be felt. Experienced.”
 
“Even if that experience brings death?”
 
Teyla met her eyes, the anger and frustration of the past few months rising in her chest. “I would not expect you to understand.”
 
“Then explain it to me. I want to see your point of view, Teyla. I owe you, Kanaan, and Ronon that much. Help me to understand.”
 
“I fear that is something I cannot do.” She placed Torren in his crib, where he immediately rolled over, pulling into a seated position and whimpering. She closed her eyes, trying to find a center of calm.
 
“Why not?” Nancy approached her, head bent to the side. The clattering of her heels on the hard floor disturbed Torren, whose whimpering turned into a bawl.
 
There was no peace to be had here, at this moment. Teyla felt anger grow in her heart and despite her efforts, it found its way into her words.
 
“Because you have never known the fear of the extinction of your people! You believe you understand death and fear, but in truth, you do not.” She turned back to Nancy, who watched her in surprise. “Death for you is something to prepare for, even if it comes unexpectedly. It is an inevitability, but it is not something that chases you each day. You do not wake each morning and wonder if this is the day that marks the end of your people. Or prepare for sleep with the knowledge that you may not once again see the sun rise.
 
“You treat my heritage as the manner of my speech, the clothing I prefer to wear or the decorations you see around this room. But this is not who I, or Kanaan, or my son are! My heart beats with the spirit of the Athosians. With the bond that ties us together, with what we have suffered each day of our lives, throughout our history.
 
“All these things can be taken from me—my clothing, my weapons, the way I speak, everything you see here. But what cannot be taken from me is what I am. What I have learned since I was a child and what I will carry with me until my death. And though I understand what everyone wishes for my son, I would rather risk one day of his life with his people than all the days he may have here alive and separated from them.” There were tears upon her face.
 
Torren seemed to sense her discomfort, for his wails had quieted and he reached a small hand towards her. She met his tiny hands with her fingers and he grasped them tightly, already strong despite his young age. He was the child of his parents. “I do not expect you to understand. It may seem foolish, to wish to place one’s child into a world full of such dangers. Here, I know he would have life until he grows old, if he wants it. But…“
 
“But he would not be who you want him to be.”
 
“He would not be who he is,” she returned, smiling down at the baby. “It was not something I understood before. Had I known…”
 
“You might not have made this journey.”
 
The woman next to her stood quietly, waiting for her to compose herself. Nancy’s smile was kind, though her eyes seemed troubled. “Teyla, answer me honestly—do you believe going back to the Pegasus galaxy would do any good? Do you really believe this City—this Expedition—can save them?”
 
She took a moment to answer. “Of that I cannot be certain. This is a great battle, greater than this City will ever have faced. The Wraith are powerful.
 
“But what I can testify to is that from the time of the Ancestors’ departure, there was no way for the people of ‘the Pegasus,’ as you call it, to oppose the Wraith. My people traded with many planets throughout those years and all cowered in fear. We were cattle to them—stock. And we had accepted that as our roles.
 
“When this Expedition arrived, those feelings changed. The people began to hope. For a future that might not involve the Wraith. And the Wraith began to fear them for it. Never before had so great a hope been engendered by so many races. I believe that hope, even now, continues to exist.”
 
Torren held tight to her hand, soothed either by her words or the fingers that stroked his tiny ones gently. “I fear that if Atlantis is not allowed to return, that hope will die. And so will all those who held it. They will not go back to being what they were. And they will die for it.”
 
“She must have believed that, too,” Nancy murmured.
 
“She?” Teyla turned from Torren, whose eyes had closed gently as he slipped into slumber.
 
“The woman who was brought here. The Genii.”
 
“Genii?” The word came out harsh and coldly, as Teyla’s heart skipped a beat. “The woman who was brought here was Genii?”
 
Nancy’s eyes widened. “Yes. She was on a ship that supposedly came from Pegasus…I thought you knew.”
 
Teyla’s eyes narrowed. “I was told her ship was damaged in the Milky Way. I was not informed she was Genii!”
 
The door behind them slid open and Kanaan returned, apparently bearing the same information as he approached her with a concerned expression. It took no words for him to understand Teyla’s thoughts. “She is in the isolation room…”
 
“Excuse me,” Teyla said, her sharp tone causing Torren to jerk in his sleep. “There is someone to whom I must speak. Please forgive me.”
 
She left Nancy Sheppard staring behind her in consternation.
 
--/--
 
Sheppard let out a low whistle as they exited the isolation room. “Wonder where the Genii get them?”
 
“You are referring, I presume, to the women?” Richard returned blithely.
 
“Haven’t met a soft one yet,” the Colonel said, staring at a figure coming down the hall. “They’re almost as impressive as the Athosians.”
 
Teyla drew near them, her usually calm face notably angry. “I understand the woman brought to Atlantis is Genii. Why was I not informed of this sooner? Have I become so distanced from the proceedings on this base, now?”
 
“It had nothing to do with your position on Atlantis, Teyla. She hasn’t been well enough to speak to anyone, and there was no point in raising your hopes when she first arrived,” Sheppard replied in that tone he reserved only for the most delicate times. “It wouldn’t have done you any good.”
 
“She is well enough to speak now, I take it?” Teyla replied curtly, giving them both that look which had sold the Wraith on her ruse as Queen. “Then I would like to speak with her. She would know something of my people, I am sure.”
 
Richard held up a hand. “I am sure you are anxious to meet with her, but at the moment that is not a good idea. She is exhausted and in need of rest.”
 
The look Sheppard was shooting him indicated that was probably not the best answer to give his teammate. Teyla’s face indicated the same.
 
Sheppard cut off the Athosian’s reply by way, more than likely, of saving Richard the trouble of backpedaling. “Just a couple of hours. I know that you want to find out about your people, but her entire crew just died and she’s still recovering. She’s not exactly the friendliest of people, and I don’t know how helpful she’ll be at the moment.“
 
Teyla had crossed her arms, turning her face from him. He stepped forward, bending down a little to try and catch her eye. “Just a couple of hours, Teyla. That’s all we’re asking.”
 
“It has been a couple of hours,” she replied, still not looking at them. “But as I will obviously have no say in these matters, I believe I will have to accept the decisions as they are made.” When she looked back at him, her eyes sparkled with tears, more of anger then sadness. “I believe that is what is expected of Kanaan and myself now.”
 
John’s face crumpled into a pained expression.
 
“That isn’t true,” Richard interjected. There was a measure of diplomacy needed here. “You are still valuable to us and you always will be. But your involvement here, with the personal interest in the well-being of your people as your first priority, is simply not going to help the situation. When she is ready to speak of the Athosians, you’ll be the first we call. I can promise you that.”
 
The Athosian met his gaze; he returned it resolutely, raising his chin. Finally, she nodded her head, turning slowly, before walking down the hall away from them.
 
Sheppard rolled his head towards Woolsey, but Richard raised a hand. “I don’t want to hear it. Whatever personal interest Teyla has in Commander Serrana, it doesn’t mean that she is to be given free rein around Atlantis. I pity Teyla, I really do, but the decision as to her fate doesn’t lie in our hands, and we have to accept that—and so does she.”
 
“I was gonna say thanks.”
 
Richard frowned. “Oh.”
 
Sheppard gazed back down to where the Athosian had gone. “I know what Teyla wants. I just don’t know whether what this woman can tell her would be what she wants to hear.”
 
Richard shook his head. Sheppard was so easy to misjudge, at times, given his sometimes off-handed quips and making light of serious situations. Though he was much more reserved in that now than he used to be. But it took moments like this to sometimes remind Richard just how smart he really was—and that he knew exactly what the stakes were here.
 
“The Athosians have been rebels against the Wraith since the day we arrived. Of course they’re going to be targeted. And as a tribal culture, they don’t have a lot in the way of defense, which you know. I’m afraid that Teyla is going to have her worst fears confirmed. That, or she’ll learn nothing more than she knows now.”
 
“Meaning…”
 
“It would probably be best if she didn’t know as much as she wants to know.”
 
Sheppard looked at him to respond, when suddenly the ground around them shook, nearly knocking them to their feet. John’s expression went from serious to concerned. “What the…”
 
A second explosion rattled the lights, sending Richard crashing to the floor as Sheppard held out his arms to maintain balance. From his position on the tiles, Richard hit his headset.
 
“What’s going on?”
 
“Another attack, sir,” Chuck responded, his voice slightly raised against the yelling going on in the control room. “Five ships this time. Looks like the Lucian Alliance again, at least…”
 
Rodney’s voice broke through. “Where’s Sheppard? We need him in the chair room, NOW.”
 
Sheppard rolled his eyes, holding out a hand to help Richard up, the other jumping to his headset. “I’m on my way.”
 
Richard nodded as Sheppard took off, the latter casting one last glance in the direction of the isolation room before heading to the nearest transporter. Above them, he could hear the ring of blaster attacks, now distanced by the shield, peppering the air around them.
 
 
>>> To be continued in Return to Pegasus, Part I, CH IV

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