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Return to Pegasus, Part I, CH V

<<< Back to Return to Pegasus, Part I, CH IV
 
 
John trotted slowly up the gate room steps, glancing up at the control room area for any sign of Nancy.
 
It wasn’t that he didn’t want to see his ex-wife—okay, well maybe ‘avoiding her’ was the correct term—but given what she was going to say in the next 24 hours or so, he didn’t really feel like chatting casually about something over which he had no influence. Especially given the tenacity shown by Mayel Serrana, the anger Teyla felt—heck, even Todd probably deserved better than this fate.
 
Well, maybe not Todd.
 
In any case, avoiding her felt like the right thing to do. And thankfully, she didn’t appear to be in sight.
 
Check that. She was coming out of Woolsey’s office.
 
He diverted to the other side of the staircase, heading for the balcony.
 
Too bad she’d always been good at finding him in a crowd. The door to the balcony slid open after only a few seconds peace. He looked upwards at the sky, letting the wind ruffle his hair. “Nice day for flying.”
 
“I wouldn’t know,” she returned.
 
“Well, if we could fly, then trust me, it’d be a good day for it.”
 
He heard her clatter on those heels towards him, pausing beneath the butterfly tresses that held the balcony to the tower. They stood there for a moment, letting the peace of the day settle over them. It brought back some memories. Good ones.
 
“Listen…”
 
“John, why did you really go to Pegasus?”
 
He frowned, wondering where on Earth this question had come from. “I…”
 
“Was it…did you feel like it was…a second chance?”
 
Then it hit him. Somehow, she’d overheard the conversation with Mayel Serrana.
 
He stiffened, clearing his throat. “It was a long time ago.”
 
“Making the decision to come to another galaxy isn’t one you’re likely to forget,” she replied, her voice a little harsher. “Was it? Did you really feel like it was the only option you had left?”
 
John frowned, turning away from her. “It was an opportunity. They needed me. And I had nothing better to do.”
 
Nancy laughed softly. “You never change in some respects, you know that? You think you’re downplaying your own significance, or making light of things, but a lot of people here rely on you, John. I can see that and I know you’re aware of it. I just want to know why you put yourself in that position. Who convinced you that it would be worth it to leave everything you knew behind in order to risk your life for a bunch of people you didn’t know in a galaxy you might never come back from. I want to know the real reason you chose to go.”
 
He bowed his head, staring down at the ocean far beneath him. It didn’t have the majesty it once had, when it was the oceans of Pegasus.
 
She waited for an answer that never came. Her tone turned biting. “I guess I shouldn’t ask that. You could never explain why you went running off to fly mystery missions in God-knows-where on this planet—why should I expect you to explain why you’d do it in another galaxy?”
 
“I was in the Air Force. It was my duty to go,” he snapped back.
 
“Not into the heart of darkness, John. There were other pilots who could have run the missions you ran. Single pilots. Without families.
 
“Oh, please,” she said, as he stared at her in surprise, “you don’t think I enquired about what you were doing when I got the clearance for it? You ran Black Ops. The highest risk out there. You could have been killed at any time. And it never stopped you from going back again and again, did it? Even though you had a wife and a family at home—you had to put yourself at risk.”
 
He narrowed his eyes. “There were men—good men—dying out there. I could help them. Why shouldn’t I have tried? It wasn’t any less than they were doing. And they had families, too. Where in that equation was my life worth any more than theirs?”
 
“You were one man, John. You couldn’t save the world. And you can’t save galaxies, either, no matter how much you want to try.”
 
His eyes widened, anger bubbling in his chest. “How do you know that? Last I recall, we were doing pretty damn well. We destroyed the Replicators. We had the Wraith fighting a civil war amongst themselves. It was only when we left that everything went to hell!”
 
Nancy sighed, moving closer to him. “Okay. But at what cost?”
 
He blinked a few times, staring at her.
 
“How many of your people did you lose, fixing all those things? The Head of your Expedition. Countless soldiers, doctors, and scientists. They died to serve those purposes. And maybe that was noble—but was it worth it?
 
“If Atlantis remains here—John, you wouldn’t run that risk any more, like you’d face in the Pegasus Galaxy. You wouldn’t have to risk losing more good people, like the ones who died on that ship. Like the people you’ve already lost. People like you.”
 
He moistened his lips, Mayel’s face flashing through his mind. The memory of her determination and the risks she’d taken. The reason why.
 
He raised his eyes to her face, shaking his head slightly. “I don’t want to lose people. But that’s the gamble we make. There’s no guarantee on life. Those three Expedition members that died yesterday? They still died, and they were here, on Earth, presumably safe. But they understood that things like what happened yesterday are the types of risks we faced when we signed onto this mission. A guy named Aiden Ford knew that. So did the man I replaced. And Peter Grodin. And Kate Heightmeyer—hell, even Beckett. And Elizabeth Weir. She knew it when she agreed to lead the Expedition. And when she asked me to be a part of it. She knew what we’d be getting into and what it might cost.
 
“But it was about taking those chances so that we could do more. Sitting around on our asses, waiting for something to strike—that was never what Atlantis was about. It was about exploring and finding new things—protecting what we found. You want to know why I was willing to go? Because they were willing to go. People who could—and did—make a greater difference on this planet than I ever could, they were willing to sacrifice everything to go even further. Their future, their lives, their loved ones—all for a shot at making this planet a better place. And I believed in that. I believed in them. Was it a second chance for me? You’re damn right it was. It was a chance to do something much bigger than anything that had been done before. For a guy who at that point had nothing? It was everything.
 
“And if we stay here playing the IOA’s armed guard,” he said, drawing closer to her and raising his hand to his hips, “then everything they died for will have been for nothing. Every risk they took, every person they saved, who they died trying to save—it will be for nothing. If you think that sits well with me, that I could just sit back and let that be okay, then you really never knew me.”
 
Nancy’s frown deepened. “Don’t try and play into my personal feelings here, John.”
 
John sighed. “Okay, fine. If you want me to make a list of immediate threats, then, yes, you’re right. Atlantis would be in more danger there than here. The Wraith are out there. And they’re a threat. A real threat. Not the Lucian Alliance, with a couple of ships and a few aces up their sleeve. Nothing like you saw the last few days. The danger there…it’s immeasurable.
 
“But we’re not immune from that here, either. Maybe a few months, a few years. But if nothing is done to stop them, then trust me—they will come. And when they come? There won’t be a soul left on this planet that won’t be in danger. And there won’t be a second chance for anyone.”
 
“That’s not certain. You don’t know whether they’ll ever make it…they…”
 
“I’ve fought these guys for five years, Nancy! I’ve been inside their hives—their heads. Trust me when I say that they’re not going to give up. Ever. It’s just a matter of time before they make it here.”
 
“Even if they do…if,” she stressed, holding up a finger, “you will be here ready for them. All around…”
 
John cut her off with a bitter laugh. “You think by the time they figure out how to make it here we are going to be able to stop them? By the time they get here, there will be nothing that will stop them. It won’t just be Earth you’ll be condemning—it’ll be the whole of this galaxy.”
 
She drew her lips together, eyes narrowed. “So then what makes you think you can stop them now? That it won’t just be a sacrifice of your lives?”
 
“Because now we have a fighting chance,” he said softly. “Mayel, the Genii girl, and those people who came with her across the void—they knew that. Teyla knows that. Ronon knows that. Our people here know that. Even the damn IOA knows that, they just don’t want to cop to the fact that they’ll have to give up their biggest political bargaining tool if they let us go.”
 
His hands found her shoulders, drawing her eyes up to his. “There’s no guarantee of success. Believe me, we understand that. But if we go now, we stand a chance to be able to cut them off without letting them get to the point where they threaten Earth or anyone else. While doing some good in the process and maybe getting to continue what it was we started when we first left. And giving a second chance to an entire galaxy.”
 
She met his gaze. “John…I…”
 
She couldn’t finish. He let his hands drop from her, squeezing her arms. “You need to do your job. I’m not gonna ask any more of you than that. And I know you will—because I do know you that well. I hope you remember that.”
 
--/--
 
Rodney swallowed, trying his best to keep his eyes away from the sight of Todd’s long fingers typing rhythmically upon his keyboard.
 
He always though the best thing about a laptop was that it had the capability of being taken or brought anywhere. So why Todd had to be brought here, rather than his laptop brought to Todd’s cell, had escaped him.
 
“This programming is quite complex,” Todd said suddenly, causing Rodney to jump.
 
“Conversational heads up!” Rodney snapped, causing the Wraith to look at him in consternation.
 
“I was not aware I had to give heads anything to speak,” rattled the Wraith in his monotone voice.
 
“It’s…never mind. Did you find anything?”
 
“As I said…the programming is quite complex.”
 
“Yes, I got that. He decrypted my programming. Anything we can do to prevent it happening again?”
 
“Do not allow them access to the database?”
 
“Oh, why didn’t I think of that?” Rodney snapped.
 
“If you did not wish my help, you should not have asked.”
 
“I didn’t, Sheppard did, and…it doesn’t matter anyway. Any other suggestions beyond the completely and blatantly obvious?”
 
The Wraith was presumably thinking, though Rodney could never get over the sense he was contemplating lunch when he stared like that.
 
“Hmmm. Perhaps a cipher that is illegible to them,” he murmured finally. “Perhaps one in a language this Alliance would not understand.”
 
The idea had merit. “Such as Ancient.”
 
“Or Wraith,” Todd suggested.
 
“You want me to put a Wraith encryption on our Zed PM database.”
 
“It is not a language with which they would be familiar. Even if they were to understand the derivative connection with Ancient it would take a key cipher to be able to fully comprehend it, which they could not obtain here save through the Atlantis database.”
 
Rodney’s sneer faded. “True.”
 
“I can write one up for you.”
 
“No thanks,” Rodney said, edging over close enough to take the laptop back. “I think I can manage, I’ve actually re-written Wraith code before.”
 
“As I am aware.”
 
Rodney smiled disingenuously, tapping upon the programming code as the Wraith looked on.
 
“Has there been any word?” the Wraith asked suddenly.
 
“Word about what?”
 
“The return.”
 
Rodney glanced back at the Wraith, whose expression, if he didn’t know better, looked rather forlorn. “Nothing,” he said. “Only what Sheppard told you before.”
 
“Then it is not promising.”
 
He stopped typing for a minute, long enough to sigh. “It is not promising.”
 
“What is to become of me? I presume I will not be allowed to remain on this City if it is to become a defensive outpost for your planet.”
 
“You’ll probably be transferred to an outlying prison planet. Or kept at the SGC.”
 
“Treated as I was at the hands of the Genii.” The Wraith’s hands clenched. “And now I wish Sheppard had been true to his promise.”
 
“What promise?”
 
Todd’s face narrowed darkly. “To kill me.”
 
--\--
 
Nancy watched John walk through the balcony doorway, a careworn and weary expression on his face. He looked older, and harder—much, much harder than the younger man she’d loved.
 
She hadn’t known what she’d expected to find when she arrived on Atlantis in possession of the knowledge that John—her John—had been the second in command to an intergalactic expedition.
 
Life with him had been full more of hurt than of joy; too much youth, too many secrets. And John had an irascible way of shutting himself off from anyone and anything and retreating to his own safety zone; a world that belonged only to him. He’d done it for as long as she could remember and there had been nothing she could do, even leaving him, to break him of it.
 
And yet, here, that retreat seemed tempered by age—and responsibility. As though, in finally being a leader, he had found a part of himself suited to giving comfort and guidance rather than running away. What it took to truly save someone. And in doing so, he’d saved himself in the process. Whatever he’d found on Atlantis, it had given his life meaning.
 
A second chance. Without her.
 
The door behind her slid open; she knew better than to expect John again, but it was curious who might be joining her. The wind whipped her hair as she turned, smiling at the sight of Richard Woolsey walking towards her.
 
“Ms. Sheppard. Oh, pardon me, I mean, Nancy.”
 
She liked Richard; he was to the point but obviously cared a lot about his people. A good leader.
 
He handed her a datapad. “I thought you should have this. I found this going through some old archival footage. I know it won’t weigh too much into your decision, but I thought you should see it. It might give you a little insight into what so many of us have a difficult time trying to explain.”
 
She smiled at him. “Thank you, Richard. For all your help.”
 
“You’re welcome.” He turned. “Let me know if you need anything else.”
 
“I will.”
 
She heard the door hiss behind her and tapped on the icon he’d created for her, pulling up a video player. A woman, brunette, was seated behind a desk, wearing a tan colored suit, her short hair pulled neatly back.
 
The former head of the Expedition. Doctor Elizabeth Weir.
 
Nancy frowned. This was a bit ironic.
 
Weir wasn’t an unfamiliar presence; studying within the world of politics and international security Nancy had seen the name of Elizabeth Weir come up more than once because of her strong stance on nuclear non-proliferation and her political savvy. Nancy had even heard her lecture once, during a seminar on disarmament. She was considered a woman of great influence—until she disappeared from the governmental circles altogether.
 
To think the project she’d taken on was such a task as this.
 
The footage was dated near the beginning of the Expedition—when they would have been stranded in Pegasus. She pushed the play button.
 
The head of the Expedition cleared her throat, looking seriously and forlornly into the camera. Nancy was uncertain of the context of the video, but it appeared that the situation had been grave.
 
“Finally,” she was saying softly, “I would like to say something to the families of every member of this Expedition. I wish I could tell you more about what your loved ones are doing – and some day I hope you find out, because you will be amazed. But I will tell you that I could not be more proud of each and every one of them. Their heroism has amazed me. Their resourcefulness has staggered me. We face a terrible enemy and an uncertain future, but if we are never heard from again, know that your loved ones did not face that uncertainty alone. We are facing our future together.”
 
The video rolled to another face, a young man, waving at the camera, then another expedition member, and another. McKay, Weir again.
 
John.
 
She clicked the screen to pause. He looked much younger, and uncomfortable in front of the camera. Certainly not the man he was today, who could speak with a political prisoner with more feeling than she’d ever seen; who could address her now with the same nonchalance as his younger days, and yet with a depth to him she’d never felt before. He’d been so lost when he was younger and when they’d split she felt like he’d never find where he belonged. But he had.
 
It wasn’t just him who felt that way. Everyone here echoed the same message, from Richard, in his gentility, to McKay and his awkward genius—even Teyla, with her alien values. Everything circled back to one thing—Atlantis, and the purpose it had served.
 
She lowered her head. It was noble, but was it what Earth needed? Her job wasn’t to admire those whose tenacity made them heroes. It was, in a practical sense, to determine what was in the best interest of Earth and her people.
 
I would not expect you to understand.
 
Teyla’s soft voice, tinged with anger, rang through her mind.
 
You believe you understand death and fear, but in truth, you do not.
 
Weir’s face stared at her through the video player once more, cued to the beginning, her eyes sad and pondering. She’d seen the same expression in John’s eyes more than once during this trip. They understood death. Loss. And fear. And what had it brought them? More of the same?
 
The wind whipped around her and she found herself looking back towards the stained glass window, many of the panes shattered and broken in places from the last attack. And through them, the Stargate, standing solitary and silent, watching over the City. After numerous attacks, after all the City had been through, and seen, still standing. A testament to those who had come before and those who would go after.
 
Weir’s face continued to stare at her from the screen.
 
And, suddenly, she knew the answer.
 
--/--
 
Ronon took a look down the makeshift greenway—no, that was wrong—fairway—Sheppard had constructed off the South pier. He’d been warned to conserve the golf balls because apparently the IOA was not interested in resupplying recreational ‘activities’. Sheppard could get really grumpy without his golf balls.
 
The door behind him slid open; Teyla appeared, rocking Torren. “Here you are.”
 
He nodded and smiled, tilting his head to get a better look at the baby, if he could be called that anymore. “You need something?”
 
“You have not heard anything, have you?” she asked, looking tense. “I have not been able to put my headset in.”
 
“Nothing.” He grabbed one of the balls, swinging the club in his hand around in a circle.
 
“I thought you disliked this game,” Teyla said, flashing a smile, which was rare nowadays.
 
“Needed something to do that was away from everyone. This was the only thing I could think of.”
 
“Well, you may need the practice. A great many people play this game on this planet, I believe.”
 
“I don’t believe it,” he muttered. “Maybe people with nothing to do. Besides, who says we’re going to be here?”
 
Her smile faded. “Ronon…”
 
“We haven’t heard anything yet, right? No reason to give up hope.”
 
“You are a great deal more optimistic than I am.”
 
“That’s kinda strange, isn’t it?”
 
Her smile returned, though sadder.
 
“Ronon.”
 
Sheppard’s voice crackled through his headset. He gave Teyla a surprised look and tapped on the radio. “Yeah?”
 
“Get up to the conference room. Decision-time.”
 
"Do I need to be there?”
 
“Nancy asked for you. And Teyla. I’ve…”
 
“Teyla’s here. We’re coming.” As the radio shut off, he turned to Teyla, whose face folded into worry. “They want us in the meeting room. It’s time.”
 
“I must go leave him with Kanaan,” she said. Ronon nodded, following her back through the door, casting one last glance over the cold seas of southern Earth and wondering if this would be the view for good.
 
--/--
 
John threw a frown in Rodney’s direction, causing the scientist to stop his hands mid-tap.
 
Ronon and Teyla had entered a few minutes ago, joining a rather prestigious crowd—Generals Landry and O’Neill were there, along with the IOA contingent headed up by Strom. The remaining Homeworld Command executives had been conferenced in; McKay, seated next to Keller, was there, as well as other heads of departments, and the Captains of the Earth fleet ships within the area, Colonels Caldwell, Carter, & Ellis.
 
He had to wonder a little what Nancy would be wanting with Ronon and Teyla, unless she wanted to tell them the bad news herself. Wouldn’t that be considerate of her.
 
The room shifted as she appeared in the doorway, toting a datapad—so Rodney had converted her—and followed by Woolsey.
 
“Thank you, everyone. As you can see, I felt the nature of this decision concerned all aspects of the program, hence your invitation to the City.”
 
“Glad I could make your list,” quipped O’Neill, which earned him a chastising frown from Nancy. Considering the way she frowned, with pouty lips and a toss of lush hair, it generally had more impact than the chastisement and O’Neill, even as her boss, was no exception, shifting uncomfortably in his chair.
 
“I’ve had the privilege of meeting the people of this Expedition and going through the City, and the City records during my time here. Thank you to Mister Woolsey, Colonel Sheppard and their teams for granting me that access. It’s been invaluable.”
 
She took a seat, her eyes absorbing the crowd in the room. “I’ll get right to the point, because I know most of you have been waiting a long time for this decision. The issue I was sent to assess on the part of Homeworld Command was whether Earth and Atlantis would be better served by retaining Atlantis here on the planet—or whether the City should be allowed to continue its work in the Pegasus galaxy.
 
“From a logistics standpoint, the position of Atlantis on Earth is nothing less than that of an extremely valuable asset. I believe we’re all aware of that. The City’s weapons systems, shielding systems, and Stargate all make it an impressive defensive base. In addition, the City’s flight capabilities make it a very useful tool within the Milky Way. Should it be needed, it would serve as a very capable back up to any of the ships in our current fleet and any of those of our Milky Way allies.
 
“I’ve read some of the proposals as to what is intended for the City should it remain here and they are all sound. Whether as a defensive base or an intergalactic passing station, Atlantis would be a benefit to this planet. Among the goals proposed almost immediately would be for the City to replace the Antarctic base and the drone Chair, which was destroyed last year in the Super Hive attack, by taking up position on the moon. At the moment, the Earth is without a major weapons’ system for protection save for the ships in the Earth fleet and could very much use the defensive capabilities Atlantis has to offer.
 
“In addition, the laboratories within the City can be put to good use while there. There is no denying that the City has as many civilian uses as military and defensive ones. Overall, it seems pretty clear initially that from Earth’s standpoint, Homeworld Command should mandate Atlantis remain in this galaxy.”
 
From his position across the table, Strom smiled. John resisted the urge to chuck his datapad at him.
 
“Which is why I’m going to explain, very carefully, why I won’t.”
 
The room went silent.
 
John blinked a few times, trying to figure out exactly what she’d just said. He wasn’t the only one; no one else seemed to remember how to breathe.
 
A crash startled them all out of dumbstruck silence. McKay, not moving, had apparently lost his grip on his datapad but didn’t seem to care; he was staring at Nancy with wide eyes and an open-mouth. John noticed most of the IOA was following suit.
 
Nancy sat back in her chair. “More than a decade ago, Doctor Daniel Jackson translated a set of glyphs on a Stargate and opened this planet to dangers the likes of which we’d not known, apparently, for thousands of years. Shortly thereafter, a program was begun whose sole purpose was exploration and discovery. No matter what problems were wrought by it, or whose lives were lost, the overall goal of the program was to find a way to make a better future for the people of Earth.
 
“Had consideration been given to the safety of this planet, the decision would have been made, then, when there were no protective forces here, to cease such exploration. But the decision makers at the time believed that it was worth the risk, even for the six billion people here who had no idea what they were up to, to continue and press on.
 
“When the Expedition for Atlantis left for Pegasus, it was with the same goal in mind. Doctor Elizabeth Weir and her team left knowing not what dangers they would face or who they would lose. But they did so because they felt that what they found would be invaluable for the future of their race. The people who sanctioned their journey felt the same.
 
“What they found was a danger far greater than they anticipated. And a people in need of their help. And they gave it, despite the costs associated with it. It was no different from what the first explorers through the gate, including such as yourself, General O’Neill, gave to those they found who didn’t have the ability to protect themselves.
 
“Initially, it was in the best interest of Earth to protect portions of the Milky Way, because it was their home. But as our explorations grew, that protection extended to others beyond our home system. There was never a requirement to help those people or give that aid, but given it was, freely and sometimes at the cost of our own people’s lives. Because of this, Earth can now be defined as a leader within the Milky Way and has a responsibility to maintain its position here.
 
“In Pegasus, that responsibility seems greater. Not only was this Expedition directly involved in the waking of the Wraith in greater numbers, but more Pegasus natives have lent help and aid when Atlantis needed it, and that need was much greater initially than it had ever been on Earth. Without the help of the people of Pegasus, there is no question the Expedition would have been a failure in its first few years.”
 
Strom cleared his throat, but Nancy cut off whatever his question was to be with a flip of her hand.
 
“I know that the history of Atlantis in Pegasus, or even our own early explorations, may seem to have little bearing on whether its presence can benefit Earth directly now and that is the principal question at hand. The rational argument seems clear at first glance, and I might have continued with that initial assessment on this had the Lucian Alliance not attacked this City twice within a span of twenty-four hours.”
 
John couldn’t help but notice a few of the IOA members throw glances at one another.
 
“The first attack proved Atlantis’s capabilities as a defensive weapon. But in the second, the City was rendered helpless and depended on the aid of the ships within the Earth fleet for assistance, proving Atlantis is not invulnerable—and the Earth not defenseless. While we no longer have the use of the drone Chair at the moment, Atlantis is also not our last line of defense.
 
“The second attack demonstrated that Atlantis might be a potential liability as much as an asset. The Alliance had no reason to attack Earth other than to obtain information on Atlantis. That it could breach the City walls so easily demonstrates that such measures would more than likely be taken again and Earth might be exposed to more such attacks. Given the relatively peaceful situation of the planet in the last few years, with the defeat of the Ori, it is certainly not in Earth’s best interest to provide a potential target to what remains of its enemies. Not to mention the danger that might be posed should our enemies find a way to infiltrate Atlantis itself.”
 
Sam looked over at John, a smile on her face. He acknowledged that knowing glance with a subtle smirk.
 
“But I believe what was most telling for me, during that experience, was something I did not expect.” Her voice lowered a bit. “I knew that all Expedition members were well trained and capable of handling an attack on the City. But were it not for the resourcefulness of both Ronon Dex and Teyla Emmagan, more people would have died in that attack than the three that were lost—including, perhaps, myself.”
 
John glanced over at Ronon in surprise, who shrugged.
 
“Ronon saved my life by risking his own to pull me to safety. Teyla’s quick thinking identified the problem almost immediately and sealed a dangerous breach within the Stargate program. Without either, Atlantis may have suffered more damage—and many more casualties.
 
“Both of them are ‘alien’ as we would address them. Pegasus galaxy natives. And neither of them,” she said, leaning forward, “had any obligation to risk their lives for this City or this Expedition. Why they did this was because they consider themselves a part of it. Because they value the City and the people here. And that is telling, not just of their cultures, but also of the impact Atlantis, and through it, Earth, has had on the people of Pegasus.
 
“There is a woman in the Atlantis confinement area who risked her life to find this City and beg its help for her people. Twenty-two others died trying to do the same thing. If that doesn’t speak to the value this Expedition has in that galaxy, what it means for those people, I don’t know what could.
 
“We began this program because we wanted to explore and discover, in the hopes of delivering a better future for upcoming generations. That cannot be accomplished without risk. Doctor Elizabeth Weir and her team understood that. They understood, as someone told me not too long ago, that death is something we, sitting comfortably on this planet, sometimes take for granted. What they learned in Pegasus is that they could not.
 
“But the trade off for that knowledge was a reward that, in the end, was, and is, priceless. And that’s what’s truly being measured here--the value of what we earn from allowing Atlantis to return over what we gain by keeping it here. If the City remains on Earth, we will sacrifice millions of allies, thousands of potential new discoveries, and the ability to eliminate a dangerous race that is already searching for a way to destroy us.
 
“But if it returns, we open the chance to make a better future, not just for us, but for thousands of other races across these galaxies and beyond them. To provide a second chance for all of us. In the short term, Earth would be satisfied with the few luxuries Atlantis affords it—luxuries that could be attained by maintaining one of our fleet nearby. But in the long run, I believe this planet would suffer a far greater failure if Atlantis were not allowed to return to Pegasus and continue what this Expedition set out to do. In the salvation of that galaxy and its people is, perhaps, the salvation of our own planet and our own future. It was my job to assess what was in this planet’s best interest as far as Atlantis is concerned. In my opinion, based on what I’ve seen, the future of Earth will be much better served if Atlantis is permitted to return and the Expedition to continue what they started.”
 
She rose. Half the room rose with her; the other half sat motionless, still in somewhat dumbstruck silence. “This is the final analysis of Homeworld Security on this matter. I will pass along my information to the Homeworld Command office for further review, at which point, providing my decision is upheld, control of Atlantis will be returned to Mister Richard Woolsey at the joint command of the Stargate program and the IOA, who can coordinate the City’s return to Pegasus.”
 
She acknowledged her contemporaries via conference, who nodded at her, then General O’Neill, who offered her up a short smile. With that she turned, looking back over her shoulder, her eyes searching for John’s before drifting across the Atlantis members.
 
“To the people of this Expedition—all I can say to you is good luck and Godspeed. You don’t just hold the future of Atlantis and Pegasus in your hands, you’ve now been charged with the well being of Earth’s future as well. It’s not an easy task and I don’t envy you for it, but I think you can handle it. You’ve got the support of each other.”
 
She was the first to withdraw from the room. O’Neill tapped his pen on his desk. “I knew I chose her for a reason.” The pen came up and pointed at John. “It had nothing to do with you, either, so don’t get cocky.”
 
Strom and his cronies were also standing, not speaking, and angrily shoving papers into their briefcases. John was pretty sure a number of strings were about to be yanked in a dozen different directions, but if Nancy’s silent acknowledgment between her and O’Neill was any indication, he and the rest of his office wouldn’t be backing off her decision. He rose, throwing a small smile towards the IOA contingent. Shen was the only one to look in their direction, her face impassive, before she followed the others out the doors.
 
General Landry drew into the center of the room, where the remainder of the Atlantis group, including the fleet captains, were coming together. He held out his hand towards Woolsey.
 
“Looks like you’re going back, Richard.”
 
“So it would seem, General,” Woolsey said modestly.
 
“Who wouldn’t want to go back and battle life-sucking aliens, man-eating snakes, doppelganger crystals and all that,” said General O’Neill. “Sounds fun.” Rodney’s face folded into a worried frown.
 
“Oh, it’s a blast,” John said, crossing his arms. “We wouldn’t miss it for the world. Not even this one.”
 
“What will be the status of the Daedalus, General?” asked Caldwell.
 
“I have a feeling we’ll have to let one storm blow over before we bring up another one, Colonel Caldwell,” said Landry. “But I’m guessing that, with the proper encouragement, the Daedalus can resume its normal operations between galaxies as before. The General Hammond, the Apollo, maybe even the Sun Tzu can handle full support of the Milky Way.”
 
“Wouldn’t have it any other way,” said Colonel Ellis.
 
“You haven’t said much,” John said, turning to Teyla with a grin. He was smiling, which was sort of an odd feeling, considering how long it’d been. All heads looked towards the Athosian, whose eyes had been cast towards the floor. She looked up at John, her eyes filled with tears, the best she could muster a soft, wobbly smile.
 
John leaned in and nudged her shoulder. “Hey, guess what? We’re going home.”
 
“Home,” she repeated. Ronon reached over, putting an arm around her shoulders and shaking her a bit, which caused her to burst into laughter. The silence around the room dissolved into lighthearted giggles.
 
“Never thought I’d be glad to be going back to eleventh hour saves,” Rodney said, though he was smiling.
 
“We’ll try and avoid those,” John said. “As much as possible.”
 
“I think we’d all be glad for that, Colonel Sheppard,” said O’Neill. “And the whole draining the ZPM thing. Let’s stay away from that, too, if you can help it?”
 
“We’ll do our best,” John said.
 
“No promises, though—this is Atlantis,” Rodney said with unusual candor. As the rest of the group glanced at him, he shrugged. “What? I’m just being realistic.”
 
Another round of laughter and talk became of how the City was going to prep to return.
 
John glanced through the doors at where the Stargate stood, overseeing the beaming transport of the IOA members back to their headquarters. A Pegasus gate, which would soon be returning to Pegasus.
 
Though he had no idea how, he was sure that, somewhere, Elizabeth was smiling.
 
--/--
 
As Colonel Sheppard stated rather accurately, ‘They’ll be a pain in our ass for about a week.’ the IOA had more than one comment to make on the decision of Homeworld Command.
 
One of the strengths of Nancy Sheppard, Richard found out, was that she was extremely resolute when it came to her decisions. And her preparedness. When the first words Strom started with involved John Sheppard, she was quick to yank out both a recording and transcript of his avowal to her during their first meeting. She watched him with a flat stare as his own voice assured her her judgment would not be questioned, no matter what the result.
 
Her written report to Homeworld Command—over 50 pages long—supported her decision with statistical data, historical references and even theoretical analysis. She was particularly detailed about Earth’s security and the role Atlantis would play in it, weighing the distinction between protection using the City and the protection ships like the General Hammond could afford.
 
She was also unreserved in her opinions about the Atlantis program, remaining stalwart in her belief that the City needed to go back to Pegasus for a variety of reasons and also advocating for the destruction of the Wraith. But she had some criticism for the program too, which Richard didn’t find too far removed from his own judgment in places.
 
She warmed to the staff on Atlantis quickly after her decision and remained on Atlantis throughout the preparation for departure, learning as much as she could about the Stargate program, though Richard suspected ulterior motives.
 
Whatever they were, Sheppard didn’t comply. He kept a respectful distance, whether out of acknowledgement of her importance to the whole of what was happening, or protecting his own privacy and the life he’d established here, beyond his past with her. If Richard had to harbor a guess it would be for the second reason, but Sheppard himself would never let the world know.
 
The rest of the staff had their own duties to perform. A comprehensive evaluation of the City’s systems was started by Rodney and Zelenka’s teams, completed within a month, to the satisfaction of the SG program—a feat that Rodney said should normally have taken half a year. It would have been completed sooner, had not both he and Richard been called off-site to assist in a complicated maneuver concerning the Langarans and the Destiny, at the insistence of General O’Neill as a sort of good will gesture towards the IOA. Considering how much political maneuvering was going on between HC and the IOA around the Destiny project, Richard was rather glad Atlantis was no longer going to be involved.
 
Re-staffing of the military contingent took a bit more time, with the intensive screenings to prevent further spies and sabotage. Repairs on the City took the longest, but were accomplished eventually.
 
It was decided by the Homeworld Command that re-establishing communication with Pegasus was not necessary until the arrival to prevent risk of discovery by the Wraith, whose presence was more pronounced in the galaxy now. The assistance of Mayel Serrana, now enthusiastic and almost a different woman since learning the City was to return her to her people, was invaluable in learning of the situation of the Wraith in Pegasus.
 
To Teyla’s disappointment, Mayel said she knew nothing of the Athosians beyond the information that New Athos had been attacked almost immediately after a truce between warring Wraith factions had been struck. But there had been rumors, said the Genii, that the Athosians had disbanded and were now in hiding. For Teyla this was enough to hope on, though Richard suspected, as did Sheppard, that Serrana wasn’t being entirely truthful on this point.
 
To everyone’s surprise, clearance was given by the IOA to continue the experimentation with the Hoffan drug, and Carson Beckett given lead in the project, though Doctor Keller was to retain her title as chief of medicine on Atlantis.
 
On the day before departure, as General Landry was leaving, he handed Richard a lead container. “Just in case.”
 
Richard flipped open the case to find two strange purple stones tucked into thick lining. “Jump Stones? General, you know the issues those on the Destiny have had with this technology—not to mention our own problems with them. If these got into the wrong hands…”
 
“But they won’t, Richard, will they? They’ve come to great use helping us maintain communication with Destiny—good and bad. It’s just another way to make sure we don’t lose sight of you guys again, alright?”
 
“Very well. I’ll make sure they’re well taken care of.”
 
“Godspeed, Richard. And good luck.” He raised an eyebrow. “You’re definitely gonna need it.”
 
--/--
 
John walked slowly towards the newly repaired Gate area, with Nancy, folders and briefcase in hand, walking beside him. He couldn’t pretend that the last few weeks hadn’t been awkward, but they hadn’t been unpleasant either.
 
“Are you going to call your brother?”
 
And then again…
 
“I did call him,” John replied, eyebrows lowered. “When I got back.”
 
“That was a year ago.”
 
“Little more, actually. He was fine, kids were fine…”
 
“Call him. Tell him you love him. You’re going to another galaxy. It can’t be that hard to muster up the courage to call your family.”
 
“You do remember my family.”
 
"I do. Fondly.” She smiled up at him. “You know, I was wrong.”
 
“About what?”
 
“You have changed.” Her hand reached up and brushed the hair above his ear, which he’d noted had been speckled with gray, lately.
 
“Older, I know.”
 
“No,” she shook her head. “It’s something else. You don’t smile as much. Not as cheeky.”
 
“’Cheeky’? I don’t ever recall being considered ‘cheeky’.”
 
“Well, you were. It’s not a bad thing. Just don’t let go of all of it.” Her eyes met his. “That boy I first met is still in there.”
 
He shook his head, the smile dropping from his face. “I think he got left behind somewhere.”
 
“Then go find him, John. I miss him.” She leaned in towards him, brushing his lips softly with a kiss. “Take care of yourself.”
 
He swallowed, nodding, then motioned to Chuck to radio the Daedalus. Nancy stepped back from him, towards the duffels that had been laid out on the dais, and smiled.
 
“No more five year hiatuses, huh?”
 
He smiled. “I’ll make sure to call.”
 
“You better.”
 
As the light from the beam started to fade in and he stepped forward, his eyes met hers. “Thanks.”
 
The earnestness of his tone caught her, and she smiled broadly, her hair falling to her shoulder as she tilted her head to the side. “You’re welcome.”
 
The light swallowed her, and she was gone.
 
--/--
 
John met Rodney in the control room, where the main techs were assembled, double-checking systems. Everyone was decked out in Atlantis’s finest, a newly redone version of the old uniforms—a last minute gift from General O’Neill for the new launch of the Expedition. It beat the bottle of champagne he sent last time.
 
Rodney’s eyes were on the power generators, encrypted with his version of the protective security code John had nicknamed ‘the Wraithtrix’, considering Todd’s involvement. He thought it was catchy; McKay had disagreed.
 
“How’s it looking?”
 
“All systems are a go,” McKay responded. “Looking good, actually. Apparently no lasting damage from our little run in with the Lucian Alliance.”
 
“I should hope not,” John retorted. “You’ve had more than a few days to make sure there weren’t.”
 
“I know. I have,” Rodney said. “It just felt like the right thing to say.”
 
As John frowned at him Richard Woolsey came into the control area, his red jersey firmly in place. “Doctor McKay, Colonel Sheppard. Are we ready, Doctor?”
 
Rodney blew out a breath, and nodded. “We’re ready.”
 
Woolsey nodded to Chuck, who flipped on Citywide. “Ladies and gentlemen, Doctor McKay has informed me that all systems are a go. In less than five minutes, we’ll be departing for the Pegasus Galaxy. This time, we know where we’re going and why we’re going. And though we all know it will be possible for us to return home should we need to, our goal there is as important as it was the first time around — we are preparing a better future for ourselves and for the peoples of this galaxy as well as the Pegasus. It will be dangerous — perhaps even deadly for some of us. And for some of us, we will not get the chance to return home. And so, I’ll repeat the words addressed to some of you the first time anyone set out for that galaxy: I'd like to offer you all one last chance to withdraw your participation.”
 
The radio remained silent for about thirty seconds. Woolsey smiled. “Well, in that case—Doctor, please, take us home.”
 
Rodney looked back at him with a surprisingly serious expression, then nodded. “Here we go.”
 
The balcony doors slid open, revealing Teyla and Ronon. John quirked an eyebrow as they joined him and Rodney. “What were you doing out there?”
 
“Taking one last look around your planet,” Teyla said. “It will be the last time I will make such a visit.”
 
John ignored the implication of that. “Wasn’t exactly the best vista of our planet.”
 
“Perhaps not,” she returned. “But I would like to remember it as I experienced it.”
 
“Well, at least you picked up some of Earth’s best sarcasm.”
 
Ronon grinned at John as she made a face. “Aren’t you going to have a last look?”
 
“Nah. Too cold outside.”
 
“Alright,” Rodney interrupted. “The Wormhole drive is online.”
 
“Was the Wormhole drive really necessary?” John asked. “Considering the danger—and it’s not like…”
 
“We have a good reason to try it out,” Rodney replied, nodding his head towards Teyla. “Some of us want to get home as soon as possible.”
 
“Right,” John said, trying to ignore Teyla’s small smile. “And this has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that you missed out the first time it was run?”
 
Rodney stiffened. “I don’t need to put everyone’s lives in jeopardy just to try out a…a…”
 
“A really cool toy?”
 
“A highly complicated one-of-a-kind transportation system, thank you very much.”
 
“Sure.” John leaned over his shoulder, studying the monitors. “Are you sure you’ve got the right calculations for this thing?”
 
“If Zelenka can do them, I can do them!” Rodney bit back. “We’re ready!”
 
“One minute, Rodney,” Zelenka replied from a nearby console. “I need to look everything over again.”
 
Rodney made a face. As Woolsey verified the final liftoff with the ships hovering in space above them, Teyla glanced over at John. “Why are you not in the Control Chair, John? I would have believed…”
 
As the smile dropped from John’s face, Rodney smirked. “He wasn’t the first choice.”
 
Teyla frowned. “He was not? Then who…”
 
“Are we a go?” spoke Carson across the com.
 
Ronon and Teyla both looked at him in surprise.
 
“He has more experience with the Wormhole Drive,” John shrugged. “Apparently the geniuses up here thought that was more relevant than real piloting.”
 
“I don’t recall any flight schools teaching anyone how to drive a big huge spaceship with the tips of their fingers,” Rodney said. “Carson was the more qualified one here. When we need to land, you can take over.”
 
John fixed him with a look, voice dripping with sarcasm. “Well, then, so can you.”
 
“Doctor Zelenka, we have clearance. Please, set us on course for Pegasus,” said Woolsey. Teyla and Ronon turned their gazes towards Rodney, identical smiles in place, who in returned mumbled something about the B-team getting their chance to shine.
 
“Everything is ready,” Zelenka said. “Mr. Woolsey, we are ready to go.”
 
“Do it.”
 
John drew in a deep breath, his eyes drifting past the stained glass window to what he could see of Earth. The City rumbled beneath his feet.
 
“Beckett okay down there?”
 
“Fine!” came the response via com.
 
The sky around them began to move, the slim line of gray visible to them all eventually fading to a darker blue, then an even darker blue, and then suddenly the City lit up with a different set of colors, accentuated by the blackness of space.
 
“Shields are holding…we’re far enough away now,” Rodney reported.
 
“Then take us home, Doctor, er, Zelenka,” Woolsey replied. He was almost smiling.
 
“Wormhole drive set to go in three… two… one,” said Zelenka. The City thundered with an unusual sound and John glanced around worriedly.
 
“Rodney…”
 
The blackness disappeared into spiraling beam of blue, which John and Rodney stared at in wonder. It was similar to hyperspace, but different, somehow.
 
“Power holding,” Zelenka said.
 
Rodney shook out of his stupor and went back to monitoring the system. “Zed PM use is at a very escalated level, but we’re okay.”
 
A few minutes passed, at which John crossed his arms. “I thought you said this thing was instantaneous?”
 
“In comparison to a hyperspace journey? It basically is,” returned Rodney. “Man, this thing is a power drain isn’t it? Like an American SUV.”
 
“As opposed to a Canadian SUV?”
 
“We are nearing the coordinates,” Zelenka said.
 
“Oh,” Rodney murmured. “Zed PM power on one of the three is diminishing rapidly.”
 
“Are we okay?” Woolsey asked.
 
“Oh, oh yes. We still have the other two. I just didn’t know it was going to be this significant…”
 
The City shook for a moment.
 
“What was that?” John asked. Rodney flipped back to his machines. “I don’t know.”
 
“The Chair is losing power.”
 
“How? That can’t be right.”
 
“Rodney,” said Beckett, “this thing is getting harder to steer.”
 
“Just hold on, Carson,” Rodney replied back. “We’re almost there.”
 
“We’re in Pegasus,” Zelenka said. “We should just drop out now.”
 
“Don’t we run the risk of landing in the middle of a star or something if we do that?” John said.
 
“This isn’t Star Wars, Han,” Rodney snapped. “We’ve already made those calculations and we’re fine."
 
“Rodney!” Beckett’s voice was higher-pitched. “Something is happening here!”
 
“Okay, fine! Cut power!” he said. “That first Zed PM is almost fully drained.”
 
“And half the second,” said Zelenka.
 
“The second?” Rodney’s eyes danced to another console. “What the…? Drop us out, Radek.”
 
The City shuddered a third time, with all eyes on McKay. The blue around them dissolved and everything seemed to come to a standstill.
 
“We’re out,” Rodney said, his eyes looking up to the view beyond the City walls.
 
A flash lit up the area around them.
 
“What the hell was that?” asked John.
 
“I don’t know. We have the shields,” said Rodney. “Power fluc…”
 
The sky lit up again, this time to the west, and the City shook.
 
John looked back at Rodney, all sense of humor gone. “McKay?”
 
“Uh oh,” said Radek.
 
“What uh oh?” John said, moving over to his monitor. Woolsey joined him, along with Teyla. “What the hell?”
 
On his monitor, the black screen was lighting up with different yellow-white blips—tons of them, flashing and popping like a techno light show.
 
“What are those?” asked Teyla.
 
“Ships,” Ronon replied. He was standing by the balcony door.
 
John stalked towards him, moving through the door onto the balcony, followed by Woolsey and McKay. His heart skipped a beat at the sight beyond the glimmering shield.
 
Ships—hundred of ships, floating nearby. As far as he could see, and some beyond even that. It didn’t take a Pegasus native to recognize what race they belonged to.
 
A white light roared towards the City, slamming into the shield with such impact the inertial dampeners were overridden for a moment and the City tilted. John tottered forward, trying to maintain his balance.
 
“We’re in the middle of a Wraith fleet!” Rodney shouted. A second and third explosion rocked the City, and suddenly a contingent of the Wraith turned towards them, cannons blazing.
 
Around them, the alarms suddenly sounded.
 
“Power is fluctuating!” Zelenka shouted.
 
“We need to get the hell out of here,” John said, pushing past a stunned Teyla and Woolsey. The barrage being fired at the shield was constant now, coming from so many sides that the sky almost looked like daylight. “And have Carson fire some drones, see if he can’t stop those nearby ships from attacking!”
 
“Colonel, I’ve lost command of the Chair,” Carson said. “It won’t respond.”
 
John’s gaze flickered towards Rodney, who shook his head, eyes wide. “Everything was fine—I’m not sure what’s going on!”
 
“The shield cannot sustain much more of this,” said Zelenka, shaking his head. “And it is impacting the ZPMs as well.”
 
“McKay!” John shook his head. “I am not going to be the one who informs General O’Neill we broke both of his rules in our first five minutes back. Fix this!”
 
“Colonel Sheppard!” Teyla’s voice rang out through the control room. John glanced back in her direction, through the balcony door. He didn’t need the physical visual—the blip on the radar told him everything.
 
A Hive Ship. Three, to be precise. Heading straight for them.
 
“Welcome back to Pegasus,” John snapped, as the first blasts from the ships slammed into the shield, rocking the City. “It’s so damn good to be home!”
 
***END***
 

 

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