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Return to Pegasus, Part I, CH IV

<<< Back to Return to Pegasus, Part I, CH III
The Lucian Alliance, Rodney had decided, had to be composed of some of the stupidest races in the universe.
Their second attack in less than two days and they’d done nothing else spectacular. It was five Goa’uld ships instead of three; they were using no jammers, scanners or any other route beyond the obvious barrage of weaponry upon the Atlantis shield. They weren’t even hitting them in the correct places. As soon as Sheppard was to the Chair, they’d be dust.
Compared to the Wraith, it was almost laughable. He felt wasted, like it was time to call for—what was the football term Sheppard used? Second stringers?
“I’m here,” Sheppard called through the radio, as Woolsey ascended the back stairs.
“What’s the status?”
“Five ships on radar,” Rodney replied. “Two motherships and some Al’kesh. Same method as before.”
“What’s the point?” Richard said. “We’re just going to do what we did last time.”
“I don’t know—they like challenges?”
“Are we going?” asked Sheppard.
Richard nodded at Rodney, who raised an eyebrow. “What, no diplomatic negotiation?”
“I think they forfeited that last go around,” Woolsey replied. “Fire at will.”
Nancy Sheppard was walking slowly up to the staircase landing, her eyes on the multitude of drones now ascending through the sky, heading for the Lucian Alliance ships. A few seconds confirmed some direct hits and damage to the ships.
“Fire again,” Woolsey said.
There was a brief pause. Rodney eyed Woolsey, and tapped his headset. “Fire."
Another silence, then Sheppard’s voice: “I’m trying.”
“What do you mean ‘you’re trying’?”
“I mean I’m sending the drones—the Chair’s not responding!”
The control room went silent. Rodney dashed over to the console that fed him power readings. There had been a dangerous drop in the conduit powering the Chair. “This can’t be right…”
“Hold on! Something’s disrupting the power…”
Zelenka’s frantic voice drew his attention to a second power level. The shield generators were dropping dangerously close to…
“What the…”
The shield suddenly deactivated, descending with a fading glimmer down into the ocean.
The barrage slammed into the City. Rodney had just enough time to notice a third power level drop—the inertial dampeners—before he was thrown from his position in front of the console. The City shifted in its position, the roll of the impact causing it to rock atop the thick waters of the Antarctic Ocean.
The alarms went off as the control room assembly tried to gather themselves together, pulling to their feet and checking their monitors. There was damage to certain parts of the City. What Rodney didn’t understand were the readings—nothing appeared damaged. “What the hell is going on?”
“They are sending a second barrage,” Zelenka shouted.
Woolsey motioned Chuck to the City wide communications line, “Everyone, prepare for incoming fire!”
He’d managed to get the message off just a split second before the second wave hit. Nancy, still on the landing, was crouched against the wall as the light beams from the lasers coursed down upon them—two hitting dangerously close to the stained glass window.
“WATCH OUT!” he shouted, holding out his hand.
Ronon beat him to it, grabbing Nancy from her position and hustling her up the stairs just as two more laser beams punched through the stained glass, sending shards of the massive window crashing to the ground. He pinned her against the inner wall of the control room as the City shook again, Rodney barely being able to maintain his position against the sickening tilt of the City.
The lights were starting to dim. Rodney checked his readings again. None of them made sense. Save for the obvious damage now being done, there was nothing to explain why the shield and Chair had failed.
“What the hell’s going on?” Sheppard barked as he ran into the gate room.
“What are you doing up here?” Rodney snapped. “We might need…”
“Carson’s ready to go. We might need Jumpers. What’s going on?” His eyes passed Nancy, a shadow of worry crossing his face at her expression, but within an instant he was back to business. 
“We’re losing power,” Rodney said. “But I don’t understand it. There’s no damage to the system!”
A third barrage was heading for them. Rodney bore down upon the console as it hit, this time one of the blasts cracking the massive roof above the gate room. Sheppard was thrown into one of the control panels, and Woolsey almost backpedaled off the bridge leading to his office.
“We can’t take much more of this,” Zelenka said. “We need to find…”
“I know…I…”
Teyla’s voice rang through the headset. “I believe I have found the source of the power problem. Someone has deactivated the ZPMs. They are all offline.”
Rodney frowned. “What…that’s impossible. The readings from the room are…”
“I am in the ZPM room now,” she returned. “I have apprehended someone who was tampering with the grids. From everything I can see the ZPMs have been disconnected.”
“Someone has re-routed the power to a weaker source to make it appear as though they are online,” Zelenka said.
“Thank you Captain Obvious.” Rodney was already halfway through the control room. “I’m on my way. See if you can get them up before I get there, I’ll feed you instructions.”
“We need to find a way to stall the attacks,” John said. “Can the Jumpers go?”
“The Jumper Bay doors do not function at the moment,” Zelenka said.
“Neither does the gate,” said Chuck, worriedly.
“So basically, we’re sitting ducks?” Woolsey said.
John glanced at Nancy, who was curled in a corner away from the action, looking a bit shaken up. She caught his eyes, and he tried to look reassuring, though he knew at the moment that was difficult. “Maybe…”
Again a wave of laser fire descended upon the city, only this time there were two or three powerful explosions to accompany it. Another explosion rang through after the first.
“One of the secondary towers has been hit,” said Zelenka.
“Was there anyone in it?” John questioned. The scientist’s forlorn expression answered his question. Casualties. “Dammit.”
Woosley moved to communications to start ordering emergency evacs to the central tower. John clenched his fist. There hadn’t been many situations where they’d been completely handicapped. The entire thing was ridiculous, in a way, if only five ships could take them down this easily.
“I’m here,” McKay said. That man could run when his life depended on it. “She’s right…someone completely screwed with the system.”
“Can you fix it?”
“Of course I can fix it!” There was a pause. “It may take some time.”
“Another incoming, sir,” said another tech.
John’s retort was cut short by the next wave, which shook the City once more. More explosions rocked the City. They were upping the firepower. “MCKAY?”
“The City can’t take much more of this,” Woolsey said.
“GOING AS FAST AS I CAN!” McKay snapped back.
A sudden explosion shook the gate room and a huge chunk of ceiling came crashing down, the Marines at the gate leaping clear as it shattered upon the floor, cracking it. The gate shook in its supports, as some of the windows above it cracked in their panes.
“John…” Nancy said softly.
“Another ship,” said Zelenka. John moved to his console, eyeing the newest member of the group.
“They calling in more attack dogs?”
“I do not…”
The ship on screen suddenly appeared to counter maneuver the other four. For a second, there was blessed silence. Another hyperspace window opened, and a sixth ship made its way on the screen. John watched with baited breath as the sixth ship approached the other five, also appearing to flank them in an aggressive manner.
“Those do not look like Lucian Alliance,” Zelenka said.
Two more ships appeared on screen, much smaller than the previous two that had just emerged. About a minute passed, John clenching and unclenching his fists, watching as the small light show in front of them unfolded.
“Shield!” McKay said, through the headset. Zelenka drew himself away from the screen long enough to activate the shield, which drew up around them in a reassuring way. Not that it would have mattered. There was a bright pop above them, as one of the five ships that had originally appeared disappeared from the radar screen. The other four hung around for a minute before turning away, retreating for a few moments until they too disappeared, though John knew for a completely different reason.
He turned to Woolsey as the communications console lit up. “Anyone call for backup?” asked Colonel Stephen Caldwell.
“Who is with you, Colonel?” Woolsey asked.
“Good to hear your voice, Richard,” said the warm voice of Colonel Samantha Carter. “The General Hammond is at your assistance, as well as some Jaffa who felt the need to join the party.”
“How did you…”
“SGC saw the attack, and realized they couldn’t contact you. They sent for us, and the General Hammond happened to be in the area.”
“Thankfully,” said Sheppard. “Thank you, Colonels. And to the Jaffa.” He turned to Nancy. “Looks like that visit of yours made an impression.”
“Been a while since we did a dance like this, hasn’t it, Colonel Sheppard?” asked an unusually cheerful sounding Caldwell.
“Seems like it,” replied John. “Always good to have you saving our asses, Colonel.”
“It’s what we do, Colonel. We’ll hang around, make sure they don’t reappear.”
"That would be appreciated.”
Richard eyed the group gathered in the conference room, which included Carter, Caldwell, General Landry conferenced in, most of the heads of the department, as well as Ronon, and this time, Teyla. No one could deny her importance in the capture of the perpetrator and the prevention of another such occurrence in the future.
The Lucian Alliance spy—a Goa’uld who’d infested one of the Marines supplied by the SGC, and who’d been a part of the Atlantis contingent for nearly six months—had been beamed out of the City and back to the SGC faster almost than Richard could blink. They hadn’t even been given the chance to interrogate him, and all Marines assigned to Atlantis following its arrival on Earth had been recalled until further testing could be done.
Rodney had been going through the technical issues of what had caused the systems to fail, though to Richard it seemed pretty simply summarized. The spy had re-written the programming that fed the power from the ZPMs to the City’s primary systems. With the uneventful position of Atlantis on Earth, as well as the spy’s own clearance—not to mention a dash of McKay’s arrogance in believing no one could decrypt his program—no one had anticipated an attack of this nature. Rodney still seemed to think it was far too difficult for anybody to master, until Zelenka reminded him that someone actually had.
“We obviously need better encryption on the programming,” Rodney muttered.
“It wouldn’t matter if they could decrypt it. You’re going to have to get used to the fact that there are actually people as smart as you, Rodney, in this universe,” said Sam.
“Not many,” McKay hissed back.
“One is apparently all it takes,” cut back Sheppard. “But for now, we can put a round the clock—trustworthy—detail on the ZPM room.”
Nancy Sheppard appeared to be listening to the reports half-heartedly. The breach of the shield had shaken her, as it had many of the civilian personnel on the base, who had not been used to the City taking firepower of this magnitude. Stories had cropped up from the veterans of what life had been like during the first year of the Expedition, when power was so limited the shield had to be run at minimum capacity and the City was under constant threat of attack.
It had reminded Richard that a great deal more had been experienced here prior to his tenure and he was glad, in a way, he’d not been there to see it.
“We lost three people today, Rodney,” Sheppard was saying, vehemently. Richard hadn’t noticed that the Colonel had lost his typical lackadaisical persona, but obviously something McKay had said had angered him, for he was now seated upright in his seat, eyes dangerously narrowed. “Good men and women who were just trying to do their jobs, the same as you and the rest of those in this City who were in danger. So don’t try and pin this on the Marines or the SGC just because the spy came from that part of the world. If you were so damn smart and had taken the additional measures needed to protect the systems, there never would have been a breach of security and none of this would have happened in the first place!”
McKay’s mouth opened and shut for a moment as the rest of the room stared on uncomfortably. Sheppard’s eyes shone with irritation; challenged McKay to say something, but the scientist had nothing.
“Seems to me a failure on all parts,” General Landry said, breaking the tension, “including my own. And obviously something we’ll have to look at more closely going forward. The level at which the Lucian Alliance has been able to penetrate all aspects of the Stargate program is disturbing, to say the least.”
“My question is why…and why now?” asked Sam. “What possible motive could they have to attack Atlantis now? The Lucian Alliance spy has been on base for six months. So why hasn’t this happened before?”
“They…didn’t have everything that they needed,” McKay answered, almost timidly. “The coding was too difficult.”
Colonel Carter frowned. “That’s possible, but the encryption wasn’t that complicated…” At McKay’s grimace she paused with a smile. “For someone skilled enough, it wasn’t a difficult program to override. It could have been accomplished in a matter of weeks, not months.”
“Perhaps he did not have the opportunity to access the systems he needed,” said Teyla.
John shook his head. “The Marine host had pretty significant clearance. He was on security detail in that area and could have accessed them anytime he wanted.”
“So what’s your point?” Ronon asked. “They wanted to attack. They succeeded.”
“Did they?” Sam shook her head. “They obviously succeeded in breaching the City security—but honestly, if your intent is to destroy the City by completely eliminating its defense mechanism, why don’t you go for the main point of control?”
John raised his chin, realization washing across his face. “Why not focus all firepower on the central tower.”
“They had more than enough time to destroy the tower, which has both the gate room and the control room in it. Plus, all your major players would be present in that location.”
“And the spy would have well known such information,” Teyla said respectfully. “It would have been quite simple to destroy Atlantis within a matter of minutes.”
“So why do you fire upon the smaller towers, piers and outer edges of the City? Especially with the shield completely dismantled? He had completely crippled you. Completely. You were sitting ducks and we weren’t going to get there in time. So why didn’t they just go for it? It doesn’t make sense.”
“Unless your intent wasn’t to destroy the City at all,” murmured Landry. Sam nodded at him.
“Then what was the point?” asked Ronon. “Further sabotage?”
“I don’t think so,” replied Sam. “But if I wanted to make an argument for why Atlantis needs to stay on Earth, I think you’ve made a pretty damn good case after these two attacks.”
“Strom doesn’t need an alien attack to make a good argument for keeping the City on Earth,” Woolsey said.
“He doesn’t,” said Nancy. “But I might.”
You could have heard a pin drop with the silence that suddenly flooded the conference room. The group turned to her as she eyed Colonel Carter.
Sheppard swallowed, eyes at full ‘puppy’, as McKay liked to say. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“If the person assessing whether the City should remain here is present during both these attacks, what would that do for her analysis? Seeing how easily the City can thwart an attack like the first one makes for a good argument for its use as a defensive base. Seeing that’s it’s vulnerable to attack gives another, even greater reason to keep it here—for its own protection and safety. Together, they make the argument that the relationship between it and Earth would be mutually beneficial. So Colonel Carter’s right—it is curious that both attacks would happen to occur while I was here.”
“That would mean they would have to have been aware you were visiting,” said John. “Infiltration at almost every level, including Homeworld Command.”
“It’s very possible,” said Richard. “The Lucian Alliance has been found to have spies within the SGC and the government. Not to mention what’s ongoing on The Destiny. That they still have spies within the program, Homeworld Command and the IOA is completely believable.”
“And all it would take was one leak to connect the two together,” Nancy returned, with a shake of her head. “Makes sense.”
“It does and it doesn’t.” Richard said. “You’ve got an argument for the method—but what’s the motive? Why do they want Atlantis to remain on Earth?”
“At the end of the day, I don’t think it matters, does it?” Sheppard leaned back in his seat, his eyes on his ex-wife.
“No, it doesn’t.” All eyes on the room turned to Nancy. She met John’s gaze with her calm, resolved one, laid her pencil down on her notepad, and sat back. “Whatever the intention of these attacks, they don’t change the fundamental question here—whether Earth is better served with Atlantis here, or back in Pegasus. As far as I can tell an attack on Atlantis, whatever the motive, doesn’t change that question. At all.”
John stood beside the hydraulic doors, waiting for the group to file out. A lot of forlorn faces passed him, and he didn’t blame them. Nancy’s last few words had been pretty telling as far as what she intended as her final decision.
She was in the back corner now, talking to Woolsey. She glanced in his direction, but he quickly shifted his gaze. She was the last person he wanted to speak with at the moment.
Colonel Carter, flanked by Colonel Caldwell, strode out the doors, and he jumped a step to catch her. “Colonel.”
“Colonel,” she said kindly. Caldwell paused alongside them.
John lowered his voice. “You have a theory behind this? The attack, I mean?”
Sam’s eyes lit up as Caldwell frowned. “It’s just a hunch,” she said. They started walking slowly down the steps, John beside her, Caldwell at their heels. “But it seems strange that, even using their contacts within the IOA or Stargate program that they’d launch an all-out attack on Atlantis. Having the City remain here would not be to their benefit.”
“Especially after we discovered what could happen with a breach of this magnitude. Security would be upped, making Atlantis almost impenetrable.”
“But what if that’s what they want?” At John’s confused expression she clasped her hands together. “An almost impenetrable City—one armed to the teeth with powerful drones and capable of travelling anywhere in multiples galaxies—and with a Stargate inside—would be a really powerful commodity.”
“But to take the City they’d have to literally strike from the inside. That seems nearly impossible to fathom,” said Caldwell.
“Impossible is sort of the Lucian Alliance’s MO,” Carter replied. “You know they have some of the remaining Goa’uld in their membership—meaning they have some of their brainwashing devices and technology. Not to mention a working knowledge of Ancient devices—you’ve heard of the Jump Stones? Long range communication devices? I understand Doctor Keller had a run in with them not too long ago.” 
“Right,” John said, making a face.
“Well, there is a chance the Alliance is manipulating more than we think they are aboard the Destiny. Which means they’d have access to the Jump Stones as well. And I have a feeling that’s only one of the tricks they’ve got up their sleeves. If they wanted Atlantis, it’s not impossible to imagine that they would bide their time until they had the opportunity for an internal strike. It could be as simple as infiltrating our Expedition members, a few at a time, and gating in a force when they have the chance. They’ve done it before—why wouldn’t they try again?”
“And tougher defenses would mean nothing Earth did could get it back,” John replied. “Their interest in Atlantis remaining here would be as strong as the IOA’s. If they got their hands on the City…”
Caldwell shook his head. “They’d have an incredibly powerful weapon that could travel almost anywhere. A flagship. One that would be nearly indestructible for a long period of time, given the ZPM power.”
“And one that would be extremely difficult to take back, if they were successful, Not to mention they’d have the Ancient database at their disposal and all the information about the ninth chevron they could want,” said Sam. “It’s probably a long shot for them, but an appealing one, you have to admit. Considering how desperate they’ve been to get control of the Destiny, it makes sense they’d start trying to find a way to get their hands on Atlantis as well.”
They’d reached the gate. Colonel Carter turned to face him. “I can’t say for certain that’s what they had in mind…”
“But it makes sense,” John finished.
“Let’s hope, whatever Nancy Sheppard’s decision, that we’re prepared for it,” Colonel Caldwell said.
“I think we have a pretty good idea what that ‘decision’ will be,” murmured John.
Sam nodded at Chuck, who was in communication with their ships, then turned back to John. “I reviewed your ex-wife’s file, Colonel. It’s impressive.”
He smiled half-heartedly. “She‘s an impressive lady.”
“So don’t be so quick to jump to conclusions,” Sam said. “You might be surprised.”
“I always was,” John said, though without much conviction. Even he, for all he felt the City deserved to return home, knew the argument wasn’t in their favor.
“Good luck, Colonel,” said Caldwell politely, as the golden light from the Asgard beaming technology ushered the ship captains away to their respective commands.
Richard cast a quick glance at Nancy, who was busy typing information from her notes to her datapad, face focused and a little shadowed. Not surprising, considering the attack and everything following, but it certainly wasn’t a positive sign as to which way her decision was swinging.
Most everyone in the Expedition was aware, he believed, of what her decision would be. But no one had spoken of it, at least not yet. Perhaps holding onto some kind of hope—or avoiding inevitability.
In either case, nothing would be said until the IOA announced its intention. And all of that rested on what Nancy would report.
He drew himself out of his thoughts; she was staring at him with an intense expression, her hands folded before her.
“I’m sorry, I was just…”
“It’s all right. Can I ask you a candid question?”
He swallowed. “Of course.”
“Would these attacks have happened had Atlantis not been here?”
He thought for a moment. “Considering it was the Lucian Alliance, probably not. I do think you and Colonel Carter were correct and that they timed them to coincide with your time in the City.”
“So Atlantis drew fire.”
“In a sense, I suppose it did.”
“And if Atlantis hadn’t been here and this type of an attack had occurred, what would Earth’s response have been, as far as you know?”
“Earth’s response?” Though he knew the answer he should give, it wasn’t in him to err on the side of hopeful. And how many would hate him for this?
“In truth, Nancy, what you saw with the Daedalus and General Hammond probably and not much more, unless one of our other ships were in the area.”
“Just the ships?”
“We have a few ground-to-space forces, but nothing like we had with the Antarctic base.”
“But the Antarctic Base was only discovered in 2003, correct?”<
“Yes, I believe that’s correct.”
“And what did we do before we discovered the drone Chair?”
“Prior to?” Richard frowned, trying to remember what his role had been in that world. “Well, we had alliances established—some space firepower, relative to what we have now, though now we certainly have more vessels. Otherwise…”
“So, we were exploring with the gate from 1998, and yet within that time period, we had no overall defensive systems in place to protect Earth?”
Somewhere, in the back of his mind, a tiny flame of hope emerged. “No, I don’t believe we did.”
“That seems a bit of a gamble,” she murmured.
“Exploration and discovery has always been a gamble.”
Her expression grew humored. “Yes, but when Columbus decided to cross the Atlantic, I don’t think he imagined he’d run into blood-sucking humanoids or snake creatures that take over your mind.”
“I don’t think he realized he’d be encountering the illnesses, parasites, or rough conditions they encountered, either. Whether from domination or illness, death still came to them, the same as it does for anyone who steps beyond the boundaries of the safe and known. Those are the risks that are taken.”
“And what about those who don’t wish to take those risks?”
“What do you mean?”
“The Earth isn’t a ship Columbus built. More than six billion people here didn’t volunteer to be space explorers or head out to other galaxies. They didn’t ask for risks to be taken with their lives. Whether these attacks were a ploy to keep Atlantis or not, the fact remains that if Atlantis is not here, we either need to maintain a ship in orbit at all times to protect the planet, or take our chances that a hostile enemy wouldn’t take advantage of the defenselessness of Earth. People would die, Richard. As far as Homeworld Command is concerned, no matter what the issue was in the past, that is what matters now.”
The flame of hope flickered out.
He sighed. “What you say is true. In the future, both Roswell and the drone Chair will be reconstructed, but no, at the moment, we do not have defenses on Earth that are as powerful as Atlantis. But consider this.” He leaned forward. “We do have ships, we do have our allies, and as you saw today, they can protect us if called upon. The people in Pegasus—they don’t. We are one of the last things left that can help them.”
Nancy’s eyes drew into a frown, her voice soft. “I understand that, Richard. And I feel for them. I just have a hard time seeing how they matter more than we do.” She stood. “I’m sorry.”
The observation room was handy, in a creepy sort of stalker kind of way. At least it served its purpose when you wanted to find out someone’s mood but didn’t want to confront them head on.
Such as Commander Serrana and the news that, more than likely, she wasn’t going to see even the dark side of Pegasus anytime soon.
She was pacing now; she did that a lot, John had noticed. Arms crossed, eyes to the ceiling, back and forth, like she was on some sort of meticulous, calculated route. It was a little obsessive compulsive. Even the presence of Keller in the room this time around hadn’t slowed that habitual circuit.
It was soothing, a little. Like watching fish in a tank.
The door behind him hissed open; John had been expecting Woolsey, so Rodney’s face popping up alongside him was a surprise.
“Hey,” the scientist said, glancing down at the Genii soldier. Keller’s presence captured his attention and he studied her in surprised, as though weighing whether to hit the speaker and warn his girlfriend that being alone with a Genii was probably not the smartest move.
“Any word?”
“On what?” was McKay’s immediate response; a sidelong look from John cleared up the mental mystery. “Oh, the decision. No, nothing. You know, wouldn’t you be the one to know something first? I mean, considering the decision is going to come from your ex-wife?”
Another glance cut that train of thought short. “Right. Never mind.”
Silence hovered between them for a few moments before John sighed, raising his hands to his hips. “She deserves to know.”
“She deserves to know what?”
“Not Nancy,” John said, three steps ahead of Rodney. “The Genii girl. If we don’t get to go back she certainly doesn’t, that’s pretty clear.”
“The Genii? Why do we have to tell her? I mean, she’s…you know…”
“She’s what?”
“Well, it’s not like we’ve ever been able to really trust them. Remember the last time we ran into them? That whole ‘knock us out and move us to an unidentifiable world where we’ll hold you responsible for the destruction of the universe’ bit? They didn’t exactly do the same for us.”
“Well, we’re not them,” John replied. “Besides, this isn’t a power struggle anymore. We’re here, they’re there…not exactly a conflict of interest.”
“Depends on who’s interested in whom,” Rodney muttered.
John narrowed his eyes. “We told Todd what the decision would probably be, meaning a Wraith knows more than she does. You don’t think she deserves at least a little consideration?”
“Not really, no.” At John’s irritated expression Rodney shoved his hands in his pockets. “Ok, fine. Better than a Wraith. But not by much.”
“She came over on a Traveller’s ship that was barely equipped to make the jump between galaxies. The rest of her crew died in transit, Rodney. She risked her life to get here. Genii or not, she deserves to know.” He glanced down at the woman in the fishbowl again, who’d stopped pacing and was now staring at the glass above her, near to where they stood. “It’s the least we can do.”
Jennifer stopped short at the doorway to prevent herself running into Colonel Sheppard, who stood just beyond the doorframe.
“Colonel,” she choked out.
He stared beyond her head towards their guest, something of a forlorn look on his face. “How’s she doing?”
“She’ll recover,” Jennifer replied. “I think her health is the least of her worries, to be honest.”
Her candor didn’t contribute to Sheppard’s mood. He frowned, whispered half-hearted thanks, and allowed her to pass.
She cast a glance back at him. He was obviously preoccupied with something, but what business it had with Mayel Serrana was anyone’s guess.
“Doctor Keller?”
Jennifer turned to find Nancy Sheppard walking swiftly down the hall, her long hair trailing behind her. “Doctor? Can I speak with you?”
“Sure. What can I help you with, Ms. Sheppard?
“Oh, Nancy, please.”
"Right. It is a little weird, isn’t it? The whole ‘Sheppard-Sheppard’ thing.”
Nancy frowned. Jennifer made a mental note to do more ‘open-mouth/insert-foot’ pre-screening before she spoke again.
“What’s up?”
“Jennifer!” Rodney’s head peered out from the observation room, a sort of goofy smile on his face, which immediately faded at the sight of Nancy. “Oh, sorry.”
“No, it’s… I was just talking with Nancy about…”
“The visitor from Pegasus. I wanted to find out how she was doing.”
“Oh. Well, physically, she’s fine. The asphyxia from her journey took a toll on her, but she’ll recover to a hundred-percent within a few days. Otherwise…”
“Would you like to see her?” Rodney asked, ushering them towards the door.
Jennifer frowned. “She’s not an animal in a zoo, Rodney.”
He looked at her suspiciously, but Nancy had already taken him up on his offer and was entering the observation room’s two-way viewing area. When they reached the top of the staircase, they could see Mayel standing, looking across the room at someone else leaning against one of the chairs.
Nancy strode forward, arms crossed, her eyes widening a little at the sight of Colonel Sheppard conversing with the girl. Rodney caught Jennifer’s eye, who shook her head. Super genius or not, there were a few things he was absolutely clueless about. Guess they shared that foot-in-mouth thing.
“Can we hear what they’re saying?” Nancy asked quietly. Despite Jennifer’s glare, Rodney stepped forward and flipped on the switch.
John took a breath, placing his hands on his hips as the door to the observation room shut behind him.
Serrana, standing in one of the corners of the room, glanced up at him as he walked in and waved off the guard posted just inside the door. She raised an eyebrow with an arrogant expression, one that quickly faded into concern as she caught sight of his face.
“You have decided,” she said flatly. “Atlantis is to remain here.”
“Nothing’s final, but might as well be. After that last attack it’s pretty unlikely they’re going to let go of us anytime soon.”
Mayel sank onto one of the couches, eyes downcast. “I see,” was all she replied.
He resisted the urge to move closer to her and instead leaned his arm against the opposite chair, keeping his distance.
“And what of me?” she asked, following a few moments of silence. “Will I be allowed to return?”
“No.” He fought sympathy, remembering McKay’s words a few moments ago. It was difficult, for some reason. Not so much because she looked like she needed it, but because she appeared as though she didn’t.
He knew that pretense pretty well.
“Then where will I go?”
“For the time being, you’ll stay here. After that, I don’t know. You could become a permanent resident here, or be relocated somewhere in the Milky Way — this galaxy, I mean.”
“Will General Radim be allowed to know?”
“Probably not.”
“Then he will believe me dead.” She rose, crossing her arms once more and pacing — angrily, if John were to harbor a guess, though she refused to look at him.
“There may be a chance we’ll be able to contact Pegasus again but right now we’re on complete gate silence. So to speak.”
“I understand your desire to explain, Colonel, but believe me it is not necessary. You have done enough.”
John made a face and straightened. He didn’t feel satisfied, though he’d told Rodney earlier all he wanted was to grant her the right to know the truth. There was something else—something he needed to know.
“Why did you risk it?”
The Genii turned, her expression one of surprise. “What?”
“This. The voyage. Or mission, or whatever you want to call it. What did Ladon have on you that got you to go?”
“’Have on me?’” She smiled wryly. “You believe he manipulated me into going?”
“Let’s just say I know enough of Ladon not to put it past him.”
“Well, perhaps you should. ‘Ladon’, as you refer to him, has nothing on me but support and respect.” She moved back towards the center of the room, the light from the ceiling above playing across her hair. “Flatter yourself as you may that you know Ladon or the Genii, the truth is, you know nothing.”
“I know what I need to. Like how, despite a treaty developed between the Genii and Atlantis, Ladon didn’t exactly keep his word. He hasn’t done us many favors in the last few years.”
“Everything he has ever done has been in the best interest of the Genii. No matter what treaties are in place, he puts the well-being of his people first. That is a concept I believe you and your people understand quite well.” She gestured with her hand at Atlantis.
“Ok. Point taken. Then let’s just pretend it wasn’t Ladon’s manipulation that got you here, for a second,” John moved into the room, towards her. “Why risk it? Going on what seems like a suicide mission with little to no hope for success seems pushing the loyalty envelope, even for a Genii. So why did you really volunteer to go?”
She studied him for a moment. “You would not understand.”
“Try me.”
There was silence between them, before Mayel dropped her arms, moving closer to him and tilting her head. “Have you ever had anyone place their complete faith in you, Colonel? Without question? No matter what your past, what you had done—what they knew you had done—they trusted you? More than you ever felt they should have?”
John met her eyes, feeling the hardness and unconcern fade away, despite his will to the contrary. She returned his stare with a flat look, though her voice spoke with passion.
“Ladon did that for me. He knew what I was before he recruited me to his forces. He knew of my past—of my connection to Acastus Kolya. And yes,” a smile flitted across her face as she caught sight of John’s surprise, “I know you knew Kolya. And I know you killed him. That does not matter to me. I was beyond him at that point.
“All that matters now is that Ladon was aware of my loyalty to Kolya. But despite this, he trusted me anyway, where others would have had me killed for my disloyalty, or certainly shunned me for my past. Ladon put his faith in me. Without that, I would have been nothing. I would have had nothing. No life, no second chance, no family. I would have been lost.
“I would do anything for him, now. There is no way in which I can repay him. But I can try. For him. For our people—to ensure their survival. I would be willing to sacrifice almost anything.” The fire died from her eyes and she collapsed into the nearby chair, glancing up at him, frowning. “I would not expect you to understand.”
He remained silent for a moment, watching her face, before moving back towards the door. As it slid open he paused, turning back to meet her eyes. The expression in them must have caught her by surprise, for the darkness slid from her face, replaced with something like sympathy.
“You might be surprised,” he managed to say, before he walked away.
Nancy Sheppard stood, watching, as the young woman stared at the retreating figure of Sheppard. He’d presumably exited before the Genii girl looked away from the door, an expression somewhere between thoughtfulness and distrust present on her face.
But she smiled, Rodney noticed.
“Kolya was the Genii who took John hostage, right?”
Rodney nearly jumped at the sound of Nancy’s voice. “Uh, yes. Not the most pleasant experience.”
“And he killed him?”
“Later on. Self-defense,” Rodney hedged quickly. “Kolya had it in for Sheppard especially. Had a kind of a grudge.”
“Considering John killed sixty of his men, I’m not surprised,” Nancy retorted. She glanced up, her arms wrapped tightly around herself. “I never honestly imagined him capable of that. I knew he was a soldier, but I thought…was that why he was chosen for the Expedition? Because he could do things like that? Was that what he was really like? In the beginning?”
Rodney cast a sideways glance at Jennifer, who shrugged. “Uh, I don’t…think…so.”
Nancy stared at him, her expression sad. It made him want to comfort her—probably not a good idea, with Jennifer standing there. Rodney took a step back for safety. “He was just…he was Sheppard. He was a good soldier. A good man.”
She frowned. “Then why would he say that? About understanding that girl? Understanding second chances?”
Rodney blinked a few times, uncertain of what to say, and unsure of why she’d want to know why Sheppard had been thinking that. Jennifer, in her more gracious manner, answered her.
“I wasn’t here in the early years of the Expedition, but if I had to guess, I think it would be because he feels he got one, too. Here.”
“On Atlantis.”
Rodney swallowed, chest tightening a little at those early memories of Atlantis. What Jennifer said made sense, if he thought about it. “Sheppard had been black marked for something before he was stationed at McMurdo—I think it’s what got him there, actually. Anyway, he had remarkable control of the Ancient gene, which was what convinced the military to let him go on the Expedition, but there was more to it than that. The Head of the Expedition at the time — Elizabeth Weir — saw something in his record that she liked. She argued with General O’Neill to allow him to come, even when the brass didn’t want him along. When we lost our first military commander she supported him even though he didn’t have the experience. And fought to keep him as her military commander, even when we re-established connection to Earth. She trusted him.” Rodney cleared his throat. “We all trusted him.”
“We still do,” Jennifer said, with something like a smile. “He’s never disappointed any of us. I guess because we’ve always believed in him. I suppose you could say that was his second chance.”
“I see.” Nancy unwrapped her arms from around her slender form. “I guess I better get back to Mr. Woolsey. Thank you, Doctor McKay. Doctor Keller.”
“Uh, sure,” he said, as she turned for the door. Jennifer moved beside him as Nancy disappeared from view. “Way to go there, Doctor Love.”
“What? What did I do now?”
Jennifer smiled. “Never you mind. Come on. Let’s grab something to eat, I’m starving.”

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