Chapter Twenty Six – Revisit the Promised Land
Military Organizer Sha Rodin strode into the gate room, his uniform crisp and fresh. His hands were clasped behind his back, his blue eyes twinkled and his lips curved upwards faintly as he stopped to glance around the room. It had been six weeks since they'd first come into contact with the Wraith, the so called Travelers and the Atlantis expedition. He straightened as he walked up to the Stargate seeing Dadan standing there.
The old leader of the tribe looked up as he saw the younger man approach, and he smiled. "Sha," he said curtly. He hadn't seen much of the military man for over two weeks and then it had only been brief. There had been so much to do for them both that there simply hadn't been any time left. "You are looking well."
Sha looked smug for a moment, seemingly enjoying himself. "I feel well, Dadan," he replied. "And, seeing what's been done to this place and the rest of the city, I can't feel anything but proud."
Dadan nodded thoughtfully. At the same time as the new city as it was now called, was being rebuilt, Askula was being repaired. The Central spire was almost fully restored with all its beauty.
"This is like a dream coming true," Dadan said, thinking back on everything that had happened and where they were going.
Sha was about to say something when Rackie appeared on the gangway to the large office situated near the control stations one level up from the Stargate.
"There you are, Sha. I thought I heard your voice," Rackie said with a wide grin. "I wanted to wait for you until I dialled Atlantis but I nearly lost patience and went ahead without you."
Sha turned to look up at the happy engineer who leaned lazily against the railing. He then shook his head and let out a low chuckle before turning serious again, hands on his hips. "You can't dial without my permission to do so," he replied smugly.
Rackie stood up straight and gave a mock salute as he glanced down at the leading military officer. "If you don't mind, sir. I think there's someone waiting for us from a faraway distance," he said.
Sha frowned innocently, deliberately teasing the now impatient engineer. "Why didn't you say so, Rackie?" he asked, although he knew full well that the engineer was right. Then with a nonchalant wave of his hand he added; "Dial Atlantis."
Sha and Dadan watched as the symbols on the gate lit up one by one until the whole address had been given. The Stargate responded with a whooshing sound and the shimmer of the blue puddle lit up the room, giving it a glow that seemed almost supernatural.
They heard the engineer talking to a man at the other end, then suddenly Colonel Sheppard and his team walked through the ring. The Stargate, sensing that everyone had walked through, quickly disengaged, leaving only the daylight to stream in from the large window behind it.
"Sha," Teyla said softly and they met halfway to bow in the traditional Athosian custom.
"Teyla," he replied, then turned to the others. "Doctor McKay, Ronon." His eyes lingered on Sheppard for a moment. "Colonel Sheppard, I'm pleased to see you up and about without any shredded clothes or bleeding wounds."
John chuckled as they shook hands, they eyed each other for a moment. One black haired, fairly lean man with hazel eyes and the other blond haired and muscular with broad shoulders and the deepest blue eyes to see. However, there was no competition between them, they were equal. The fact was that they shared a similar view of military ways, honor and friendship. They both fought for what they believed was right, even if it would cost them greatly.
Dadan chose that moment to walk up to John. "I regret the things we did when you first came here, Colonel Sheppard," he said solemnly. "You brought order out of chaos, brought purpose to our people and told us our history. I'm truly grateful that you came."
They shook hands in respect for one another.
"There were times when I wished I'd never come, Dadan," Sheppard returned truthfully with a serious look on his face before an enigmatic smirk played on it. "But perhaps it was meant to be?"
"We did not know any better, please forgive us," Dadan added. "You are welcome here anytime you want and we'll restore this old girl, perhaps not in my lifetime but she will be restored to her former glory, of that I'm sure."
"You've done wonders with this place already," Teyla said cheerfully as she glanced around the bright room until her eyes settled on the large window behind the gate, the sun refracting through the richly colored glass.
"Teyla, I thought I heard your voice!" Rackie exclaimed as he bounced down the stairs and then nodded at Ronon and the others.
"John, this is Rackie," the Athosian said with a smile. "Rackie, this is Colonel Sheppard."
"Please to finally meet you, sir," Rackie said curtly. "I've heard a lot about you. The fact is that you're becoming something of a legend here."
"John, Rackie's a brilliant engineer, he's been helping us out a lot," she explained.
Rodney huffed. "It's not like he's got a PhD or two."
John snorted in amusement, knowing that the whining meant only that Rodney was feeling a little threatened by the handsome younger engineer. He shook hands with Rackie and rolled his eyes slightly. "Just ignore him," he advised, nodding at the scientist behind his back.
"Any trouble?" Ronon asked, looking directly at Sha.
He shook his head. "No, everything is quiet. A lot of things has happened here; a lot of mending. No one wishes to fight when there is no cause to fight for," Sha explained then motioned upstairs toward the large conference room. "Shall we?"
A chorus of mumbled agreements was heard from the group as Sha took the lead.
The room was identical to the one on Atlantis, even the table looked the same. The doors automatically closed behind them as John, being the last to enter, unconsciously gave the command.
Sha raised a cautious eyebrow as he took up a seat at the center. "I see I have a few things to learn," he let on with a smirk.
John shrugged casually as he plopped down on the chair at the end of the table. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Rodney McKay sigh in annoyance as he sat down next to Sha and to the scientist's left he saw Teyla raise an impeccable eyebrow at him.
There was a sudden sharp knock on one of the panels surrounding the room, causing Ronon to look straight at Sha. "Expecting anyone?"
He nodded, his lips curling slightly upwards in amusement otherwise he kept a straight and neutral face. "A woman with a sharp wit and a short fuse that usually doesn't take no for an answer," he replied enigmatically.
John chuckled and shook his head. "We'd better let Lani in then," he said.
One of the large panels that enclosed the room, dividing it from the rest of the control room, slowly slid around its axis to reveal a petite woman with long black hair and golden eyes. She appeared anything but amused as she stood waiting to be let in with her hands on her hips. She was dressed in her light grey medical uniform that did nothing to hide her curved body. The hair was mostly pulled back by a bun leaving only a few strands to frame her face and highlight her high cheekbones.
John spared Rodney a discreet look and saw the scientist practically drool. He carefully leaned forward over the table and nodded at his friend. "Close your mouth Rodney," he quipped cockily.
"What?" I wasn't-" he protested. "I've met M.E Nadim before. In fact I've worked alongside her."
Lani, however, focused on the curly haired and laid back engineer that sat at the end of the table. "How did you do that?" she asked with her usual straight forwardness, thinking it was a practical joke.
"Don't look at me," he said innocently, raising his hands in a gesture of surrender.
"Think close and it closes – that is of course if you have the ATA gene," Rodney informed dryly, still annoyed at Sheppard.
"Another MOTA," Lani said with a raised eyebrow as she headed for last unoccupied chair, which happened to be between Ronon and Sheppard.
"MOTA?" Ronon asked with a frown.
"Magic of the Ancients," Sha filled in for him. "Leave it to Rackie to name things."
Lani gently sat down and placed a hand on her former patient's shoulder, her golden eyes sparkling softly. "Hello John, I'm glad to see you up and about," she said genuinely.
"And I'm glad to be up and about," he let on with a smirk. "Not that I didn't like your care. It's just that I have an aversion to hospitals."
"Is this supposed to be a meeting or what?" Rodney piped up, twiddling his thumbs unconsciously.
"I can never repay you Lani," John whispered in gratitude for her ears only.
"You've helped all of us, opened our eyes, and made us see things clearly. It is we who should thank you," she corrected in low tones.
"Since some of us are more eager than others," Sha said with a smirk as he cast a careful glance at Rodney who immediately stopped twiddling. "Maybe we should begin?"
John found himself with a smile on his lips. He and Sha would get along just fine.
"Who are these people?" Rackie asked as he reached for a pad and touched it gently to bring up a picture of the ancient ship in the middle of the room.
"They are travelers," Teyla said solemnly. "They are natives to this galaxy but their origin is not from one place but from many. Some of their home worlds didn't survive the Wraith cullings."
"They are remnants that don't belong anywhere," Ronon spoke up. "Many call themselves Travelers but the travelers are in fact many smaller groups. They live on board spaceships, constantly shifting position to avoid being taken by the Wraith. They usually do a pretty good job of hiding. I've only come across a faction once while I was a runner."
"But they are descendants too?" Dadan asked in confusion.
Rodney shook his head. "No, they're not. They may have come across an Ancient- or should I say Lantean ship – but they're not related. My guess is that they've excavated it from somewhere where no one will miss it."
"We have come across several worlds where Ancient technology has been present but not used," Teyla explained. "Or at least not used the way it should be."
"As you know by now, Lantean technology only responds to people that are ATA gene carriers. Some gadgets do respond to others too, if they have been initiated first, like life signs detectors for example," John pointed out.
"Brilliant engineers can bypass circuits, start up several components of a Lantean system but you have to know how to handle the rather sensitive equipment. Need to perfect your technique. One wrong thought or an unfocused moment can lead to disaster," Rodney cautioned. "And in this case I'd say it did."
"So they didn't fire on purpose?" Dadan questioned. "They didn't target the Stargate, as you call it?"
"Their trajectory is all wrong, indicating that they had engine troubles. The angle at which they directed the fire leaves a lot to be desired. In fact, I don't even think they meant to be that close to the planet," Rodney reasoned.
"What do you mean?" Sha asked curiously as he leaned back in his chair with his hands across his chest and narrowed his eyes.
"Askula's shields were set to protect all those years ago. It was set to protect from danger, from Wraith and their allies. It wasn't designed to fight off other Lanteans. My guess is that the shield pulled the ship through as it appeared in close proximity, causing whoever was trying to fly it to lose the little control he or she had over it."
"An unfortunate coincidence," Sheppard drawled. "A few more minutes, that's all I would've needed."
"Then we would still be fighting a civil war, the new city would lie in ruins and our people would have been decimated by an alien enemy we didn't know how to fight off as the shield came offline. The story of Askula and her brave inhabitants would have forever been lost," Sha mused, his voice hollow.
"They said they would one day return," Dadan filled in. "And you did come."
"A coincidence," Rodney reasoned.
"That is not what I chose to believe," Dadan argued softly. "But I accept that is your belief."
"So," Teyla broke in diplomatically. "What is going to happen now?"
"Our government has given us the all clear about using the Stargate the way you do," Sha informed as he focused his attention solely on Teyla for a moment. "The…what did he call it? Crash course? That Major Lorne has given us is one step in the right direction."
"Do you have access to every part of the city that's still intact?" John asked as he gingerly shifted in his chair, still feeling the injuries caused by Katan.
Sha shook his head. "Askula's size is impressive. Rackie and your Doctor Zelenka are still trying to piece together which sections that are still intact and fairly easy to access."
"They've taken over my work," Rodney filled in.
Sheppard couldn't help himself as he tilted his head and glanced toward his team mate. "I'm sure they can manage it, Rodney," he assured him with a teasing smirk.
"Doctor McKay was a great help in restoring most of the systems on the main frame and also in the process of repairing the overloaded failsafe system in the chair room," Sha explained.
"About that," John began. "The drone storage is zip. It won't be restocked. Atlantis' own supply is getting awfully low and we've not exactly figured out how they're made."
"If I hadn't been called away on missions, asked to fine tune other systems, constantly save someone's ass and so on, then maybe I would have had time to crack that little mystery," Rodney snapped.
"We didn't expect you to fill up our storage," Sha answered, ignoring the bickering team mates. I see no reason for us to use such weapons of mass destruction. This way it can't fall into wrong hands."
"I thought you said everything was well?" Rodney piped up curiously.
"For the moment," Sha replied with a shrug. "If we handle things correctly there will be no cause for concern. Anyway, as for the power distribution problem now that Askula has been disconnected from the overlaying city's yield will be solved by the building of two new power plants in the outskirts. We'll use sun power mostly but our most promising solar energy system is not up to the monstrous task of supplying the whole city and its suburban areas so several hydrogen factories will be used as well."
"The only problem is that it will take us several years to complete everything and reroute the distribution," Rackie added. "Therefore Askula will have to help until then. We will reconnect her temporarily but since we've been running on her old zero point modules for centuries I don't think the new ones will be drained in just a few years."
"I have another one with me," Rodney said, talking about a ZPM. "You'll connect it to the main power station so that it supports the shield."
Dadan smiled as he slowly vacated his chair. "Well, it has been good to know you all. Unfortunately I must go now."
"Dadan?" Teyla asked curiously as she saw the spark in the old man's eyes.
Lani quickly got up to aid him. When he shook his head at her efforts she gently squeezed his shoulder in a gesture of comfort and encouragement.
"Dadan and his people have been welcomed back to the city if they wish," Lani replied proudly. "However, our old master has never liked to sit still. He's come to an agreement with the government about leading excursions in the safe places of Askula and to help our historians to rewrite history the way it should be."
"I do expect that you come and visit in the future," the old man said softly, as he waited for the door to open. "I do in fact demand that you do."
"Dadan, I think you ought to see another city. Like your ancestors said; a city so vast, so brilliant in all its glory that it leaves you in awe. So filled with magic and wisdom-" Sheppard trailed off, thinking about a pictogram from the caves in the savages land. "You should see Atlantis, Dadan, that way you'll see how Askula once looked, before the Wraith took her apart."
"I do not deserve such honor," he said solemnly.
"Of course you do," Teyla reasoned. "You've helped us as much as anyone else."
"You're too kind, Teyla," he said humbly, his eyes moist as he glanced around the room. "All of you." With that he left the room in silence, his presence so rich that it left a void to fill.
Finally Sha spoke up. "I regret he won't live to see Askula being fully restored."
Sheppard's attention perked at the announcement. And he saw that he wasn't the only one.
"It's a long timetable set and it will take months just to plan but the money has already been marked for it. Askula will be freed of the overlaying city. Rackie is part of the group of engineers, scientists, geologists and structural specialists that will see to it," Sha explained and glanced at the engineer for further explanation.
"Ongoing repairs of the city will continue for a long time. When she's deemed ready and she holds in terms of structural integrity she will be- I suppose you could say excavated from where she's been sitting for the last ten thousand years. A new foundation will be inserted beneath the surface while Askula is being dug out. When she's no longer part of the foundation water will be pumped into the large cave that has been made. Askula is, like you said, made to sit on the ocean so she'll float and we'll use that to our advantage and let her float away from the upper city," Rackie said.
Rodney nodded, thinking it sounded like a fairly good idea. Not that he would ever admit such a thing. However, he always spotted other's weaknesses and like so many other times he went in for the kill. "That sounds like a terrific idea if it weren't for the fact that the top spire and a couple of larger buildings have been integrated in the so called new city," he said.
Rackie leaned forward to look at the scientist, not liking to be brought down, to be told that the plan that had been drafted had flaws. However, he'd counted on being countermanded. "As I said, it isn't a straight forward operation. There are challenges, big ones in fact. The top spire will be kept intact as we cut through the surface and create a sort of a channel for the tower to pass until the city is free. As for the other buildings they will be disassembled and then reassembled," he answered.
"Looks like you have your job cut out for you," John mused.
Something sparked in Rackie's eyes and he enthusiastically began to talk again. "The idea is that she'll once again sit on top of the ocean like she's supposed to do. Repairs will then continue till that day when she's finally ready to fly again."
Rackie said it with such conviction that Sheppard saw no reason not to believe him. In fact he hoped they'd pull it off. Askula deserved that, she deserved to once again travel the galaxy. John just found himself in doubt that it would even be in his lifetime.
"I hate to bring you back to the present," Rodney began somewhat testily. "But are you capable of working Askula's system?"
Sha nodded. "You, Major Lorne, Captain Gaspari and several others from your expedition have been great assets when it comes to activating things that has been dormant for so long," he said. "I don't expect it to be smooth ride- a walk in the park as you say, but I'm intent on getting there no matter what happens."
"I've worked with Jennifer," Lani cut in. "She's been an invaluable help for me when it comes to screening the population in search for the ATA gene carriers. So far I regret to tell that there are none that have such a strong gene that they can operate any equipment."
"But you've found gene carriers?" Teyla asked.
Lani nodded. "Yes, Sha is one of them."
"I believe that Colonel Carter has given the all clear for Doctor Keller to aid you and to give some of you the gene therapy," Sheppard stated.
"That is correct, she'll gate over here in a week or so to begin," Lani added. "There is no major rush at the moment."
"There is only one thing that remains then," Sheppard said coyly as he shifted in his chair, remembering when he'd been in the same situation. "You'd better pick a team, Sha, and set up the base of operations."
The statement elicited a chuckle from the military man sitting a few chairs to his right. Then he nodded curtly. "Base of operations will be the military headquarters. Since the Wraith took an instant dislike in the last one and blew it up we've decided to move in here, in the top spire of Askula. As base commander and military organizer I'll unfortunately be stuck with a lot of paperwork and other trivial matters that concerns our society, but I'll try and get away from time to time."
"A sound word of advice," John said casually. "Delegate some of the paperwork to your SIC."
Sha chuckled again. "Already thought of that," he said. "Anyway, I like to have my Triple colleagues close so Lani and Rackie are given in my group. It leaves room for one more and who that's going to be-" he trailed off and spared a glance at his mentioned members. "I'll get back to you."
"A trained Alpha," Ronon suggested. "That's who I'd chosen. Someone who's not afraid of blowing those creeps to pieces should you stumble upon any."
"He means the Wraith," Rodney clarified.
"I'm sure they'd already guessed that, Rodney," Sheppard added sarcastically.
"There is one more thing," Sha said seriously, his voice stern, as he glanced around the room. "We are in debt to you even though you refuse to acknowledge it."
"Therefore, we've negotiated and reached an agreement," Rackie added cryptically as he got out of his chair.
"Askula has several of the craft you call puddlejumpers, in fact she's got more than she should have," Sha said with a wry smile.
"Who named it that anyway?" Rackie asked with a grimace.
Rodney leaned forward in his chair and glared at the engineer.
"Don't get him started," John said as he waved his hand lazily at Rodney.
"Anyway," Sha said, trying to break the tension that had settled in the room. "I dare to say we've something that belongs to you."
The Atlantis team members shared a confused look and followed the military organizer out of the room, up the staircase and down below in the large cavernous space that was the jumper bay.
There, neatly parked along the marked zones sat several intact jumpers. Sha walked up to one of them, the one which stood closest to a roof inlet. "I believe this one as well as the next one, is yours," he said.
John felt the jumper powering up on standby as he walked around the back with the rest of them following. The ramp lowered faithfully at his command.
Rackie strode past him and walked over to an auxiliary control station at the back of the jumper, reached in to push a lever to reveal several rods of power crystals, then smiled triumphantly. He scraped his fingernail on upraised letters written in Lantean till they were readable for everyone.
The old worn letters, their golden surface long gone, formed a name. A name that had always captivated people on earth for as long anyone could remember; it said Atlantis.
Rodney and John stared at each other, the former raising a curious eyebrow.
"Like I said, I think it belongs to you," Rackie said with a large grin, enjoying the look on their faces. "They must have been left behind in the battle when Atlantis made a run for it. I guess there was no way to catch up with her and they had to return here."
"I'll arrange for them to be brought back home," Sheppard said in appreciation.
"I'll drive one back," Rodney volunteered.
"Okay, then Teyla and Ronon will join you. I'll be with you shortly, bringing the other one back," Sheppard said.
"Don't know about that," Ronon said grumpily. "I've kind of had my yearly share with McKay in a jumper."
"Where are you going, John?" Teyla asked softly.
"There's something I have to do," he said, not really answering her question. "I'll be home shortly."
"Just make sure that you are. I'm not going to come get you again," Rodney returned sternly although his underlying worry for his friend gave him away.
Sheppard nodded as the rest of them walked into the jumper. He watched as the hatch closed behind them and stepped back as the vehicle powered up, lifted and headed for the Stargate.
"We'll scatter and return to our respective duties," Sha said from behind him as Rackie was already on his way toward the ICTW. Just call when you want to go home."
Sheppard nodded as Sha turned on his heels to walk away, leaving him alone with his thoughts. With a deep sigh he made for the staircase to the gate room once again and caught the end of the jumper being swallowed by the blue shimmer. He stared after it as the gate shut down, giving him a view of the large window behind it. He took a moment to glance around the room and noticed that the ornaments that marked the distinctly Lantean architecture had been restored with great care of the craftsmen on the planet. If it weren't for the slightly different material in the new wall behind the gate and the beautiful view of the large city below the spire that wasn't of Lantean design, he would have believed he was already on Atlantis.
John unconsciously strolled over to the balcony, the doors obediently opening before him. He walked out and gripped the railing with his hands, took a deep breath and let the crisp wind tousle his hair. Then, suddenly, he felt a presence next to him and turned to see Carson appear at his side.
"It's good to see you again, doc," John said seriously yet he broke into a wide smile.
"Aye, lad," the Scottish doctor said as he too gripped the railing and glanced out over the rebuilding city.
Then they turned to look at each other, both silently scrutinizing the other for a while.
"There is so much I want to talk about," John began slowly. "So much I wanted to say."
"Spare that till later, John," Carson said with a twinkle in his eyes. "Life works in mysterious ways."
John chuckled suddenly. "So that's it? No other explanation?" he asked curiously.
Carson shook his head. "No, not really, lad. Well, maybe one more thing; stay out of trouble," he added amusedly as he put a hand on John's shoulder. "This is where you belong."
Sheppard frowned. "On Askula?" he asked innocently, unable not to smirk.
"You know where I mean, John. Take care of them now; Rodney, Teyla, Ronon, Jennifer..."
"I will, Carson, I will not let anything happen to them as long as I live," he promised.
The good doctor smiled as he began to shimmer out of existence. "Of that I have no doubt, John. Just remember that they'll do the same for you."
With that he was gone, leaving the colonel alone on the balcony.
Sheppard sighed, feeling weary all of a sudden, almost sad that this little adventure was over. He shook his head and he let out a deep breath as he turned to walk into the gate room once again.
John came to a halt just inside the door to the balcony and let his eyes roam over the room which was so familiar yet so alien to him. As he lifted his head and turned his eyes upward he saw Sha glancing down at him from where he stood on the gang way to what would have been the Expedition leader's office. He didn't acknowledge John at first, seemingly lost in thought, his hands, like John's had only minutes before, gripped the railing so hard the knuckles had turned white. Then suddenly the military man seemed to snap out of whatever was occupying his mind. John nodded at him and locked hazel green, determined eyes with Sha's piercing blue ones. They shared a look of mutual understanding before the blond man turned around and disappeared, only to turn up at the same floor as Sheppard the moment later.
Sha's uniform was crisp, the white half collar rising over the dark green jacket that his broad shoulders filled delicately. The mop of blond hair perfectly framing his high cheekbones and firm jaw. John found himself suddenly jealous of the friendship Teyla had started with this man but then quickly caught himself as he remembered the lovely Lani Nadim.
"I don't know," John drawled as he reached out his hand. "I can't say it's been a pleasure coming here-"
A faint smile flickered across Sha's lips as he gently shook John's hand. "No, I'll have to agree with you," he deduced sombrely.
"-the first time," John finished with a smile of his own. "Goodbye, Sha. It's time for me to head home. I believe my time is up."
"Anytime you'll decide to visit you're welcome to do so," Sha began seriously. "I'm glad we're on the same side."
"Likewise," John concurred as he nodded to his equal and then turned to quickly cross the room and start to head upstairs for the jumper bay. "Take care."
Sha nodded and gave him a moment to settle in the jumper while he headed up to the control stations. A middle aged technician glanced up as the Military Organizer appeared behind her. "Dial the gate," he commanded as they jumper was being lowered into the room.
John Sheppard smiled as the blue shimmer appeared in the middle of the ring. He longed to hear the waves lapping the piers of Atlantis and to see all his friends again.
/Wow, I'm finished. Thanks a lot for everything along the way folks. It's been somewhat tricky to write but I have enjoyed it anyway and treasured every review, alert and PM! Maybe this is the beginning of a series? I hate to let Sha, Lani, Rackie, Dadan and the others go ;) Take care now!