After sitting untouched for months, I finished this up in the space of about a week. The order here is slightly anachronic. The events on Atlantis are happening sort of simultaneously with the events on the Odyssey.

2: Revealed

Reginald Shepard groaned as he gradually slipped back into consciousness. Though he was barely aware of the bed beneath him and the thin sheet above, he already wanted to return to his catatonic state. His head pounded and his body ached as if he'd just woken up after spending a long lonely night slamming down a collection of exotic alien beverages.

It might have been a long lonely night slamming down a collection of exotic alien beverages, but if it had been, wouldn't he remember it?

Probably not.

An incessant beeping wormed its way into his awareness. That was probably what had woken him up, he realized. Before he could perform his usual morning routine of rolling over and smashing the shit out of his quaintly old-fashioned alarm clock, the beeping stopped.

Good. Maybe he could go back to his dream. He'd been dreaming about... damn it, what had he been dreaming about? He had been dreaming, right?

Something about salarians. Hot sexy salarian babes- in the dream, he thought so, he had no idea how that could be true- offering him the galaxy on a platter. Literally, he thought, although his memory of the dream was fading rapidly as it always did. It was a good dream. Excellent, even.

Well, almost. Why salarians of all things? Why couldn't they be asari? Irritated, he forced his eyes open, resisting the urge to slam them shut again against the mostly-artificial light streaming through the windows of his studio apartment.

He brought up the clock on his omni-tool. It was 1314 already. Shit! He threw off his covers and bolted out of bed, nearly falling over as a wave of vertigo washed over him. He managed to stumble halfway to the small lavatory before remembering he'd been fired from his last job three days ago.

Absentmindedly, he sat down on the edge of his bed and checked his omni-tool again, able to make out more as his eyes adjusted to the light. Sixty new messages. He frowned and scrolled through them, hoping that he'd won the lottery or at least got an interview with ExoGeni and knowing that he hadn't got either break. Some of the glut of messages was the usual spam, but most of the messages were from his younger sister, urging him to contact her as soon as possible.

"What do you want, Melia?" Reggie muttered to himself. He initiated a video call to his sister, and after half a minute of waiting it connected. A familiar face appeared in holographic form above his omni-tool, and with an awkward flick of his hand he moved it to the holoscreen across from his bed.

"Hey," his sister said quietly. Her slim, round face was dour, her brown eyes glassy and her regulation-length golden brown locks unusually frazzled.

"You haven't said a word to me since Christmas," Reggie snapped before he could stop himself. "Now you're blowing up my phone. What the fuck do you want?"

Melia bit her lip, struggling to keep her composure. "Just check the news."

"Great, what did our illustrious sister do this time? Stop a slaver attack? Kill a thresher maw? Feed a bunch of starving volus orphans?" he snarked, nevertheless using his omni-tool to bring up the ANN news feed beside his sister on the same holoscreen. His jaw dropped once he saw the headline. "Fuuuuuuck."

"It's not on the news yet, but the Alliance has already started the search," his younger sister stated matter-of-factly. "It's not looking good. I don't know the details, but they're pretty sure this isn't a communications glitch."

"Why the hell didn't you tell me earlier?" he seethed over the line.

"I tried," Melia corrected harshly. "I called you three hours ago, as soon as I found out. You muttered something about salarians and hung up on me."

"Sorry," he said unconvincingly.

"Hopefully, this is just a false alarm, but-"

Reggie cut her off rudely. "She's probably dead along with everyone on that ship. The Geth don't piss around."

Melia knew her brother well, and was tempted to dismiss his pessimism, but knew he had a point, "Yeah. If it comes to that, the ceremony's going to be there on the Citadel. That's where they're going to take whatever's left to find. I'm already cleared to be there and Mom says she's gonna try to get leave. You should be there too, Reg. I know it's not too far out of the way for you."

"Why?" the elder Shepard snapped. He regretted it immediately, as always, but just couldn't stop himself. The words rolled off his tongue like venom. "Our sister hated me even more than you do, and I don't exactly have a lot of love for her either. I'm not a hero, but you know what? I'm fine with that. I'm still alive. Hero of the Citadel, martyr against the Geth, good for her. She got what she always wanted, and I want nothing to do with it. Tell me again, why should I be there?"

His sister's forced calm broke. She seethed, "You're a real piece of-"

With a flick of his wrist, Reggie hung up once again. He reached for a bottle on his nightstand, grabbed it, and tipped it back into his mouth. Two drops landed on his tongue, stinging slightly when they hit.

He threw the bottle across the room. It bounced twice before coming to rest under a pile of unwashed clothing.

"Fuck the universe."

The blonde-haired woman tapped her fingers lightly against her legs as she stepped into the infirmary. Like the rest of the Odyssey, it was a drab, utilitarian affair. It was quiet, but far from silent, with the hum of ventilation fans and the low thrum of the engines reverberating through the space. She could get used to this. Not the infirmary part- hospitals were awful anywhere no matter how high-tech the equipment and how great the staff- but the starship part.

Colonel Carter asked quietly, "How's our patient doing?"

"Surprisingly well, considering the circumstances. I think you pulled her out fast enough," the young doctor answered. "She's still functional and should make a full recovery. But... even on the Odyssey, vacuum exposure isn't something we deal with a lot. She's tough, though. And it looks like she's been through a lot before."

A lot like us, Carter didn't say. Instead, she asked, "When can we talk to her?"

"We think she's actually awake now, but she refuses to respond," he offered with an apologetic shrug. "Sorry. Usually my patients are pretty cooperative. I'm not really into the whole getting them to talk thing..." He trailed off awkwardly.

The Colonel offered a smile. "That's quite alright, Doctor. You've done a great job. I'll talk to her."

The infirmary was currently empty except for their guest. She was laying on a standard infirmary bed on one end of the room. An IV drip ran into her arm and a monitor beeped softly beside her. Her red hair was cut short, military-like, and a faint scar cut across her face. The suit the woman had been wearing- or what was left of it- sat in a plastic bin on the other side of the room. She made a mental note to examine the technology at the soonest opportunity.

On close inspection, the woman looked like she was trying her damnedest to appear asleep. She'd never been very good at that, but Jack was, and she knew how to tell the subtle difference. Well, she could for Jack. With their mystery guest, she wasn't quite sure. Still, she said confidently but quietly. "I know you're awake."

She offered no response.

Carter pressed forward. If the woman were awake, hopefully she's listen. If she wasn't, well, there was no loss. "The ship you were aboard was destroyed and you were ejected into space. We were able to bring you aboard before your suit failed."

The woman's eyes snapped open. Green irises flicked too and fro, a brief look of confusion crossing the woman's face before it turned into a blank mask. She said in a monotone voice, "Jane Shepard. Lieutenant Commander. 5923-AC-2826."

She suppressed a smirk and answered in the same tone. "Samantha Carter. Colonel. 521432988." The humor faded from her voice. "I know you're confused, but I assure you we don't mean you any harm. We can help you get home, but we'd really like to know who you are, where you came from, and what attacked you."

"Where's the rest of my crew?"

"Everyone left on your ship when it was destroyed made it to the escape pods," she replied, trying to put it gently and at the same time hoping the other woman would understand the implications. "You were the only one blown into space."

The Commander nodded, digesting the information. She asked, "This is your ship, Colonel?"

"Yes," she replied, a hint of pride in her voice. "It's called the Odyssey."

"Which service?"

"United States Air Force. That name probably doesn't mean a lot to you, although we have been active around the galaxy," she answered. "I'm from a planet called Earth. To the rest of the galaxy we're usually known as the Tau'ri."

A look of confusion crossed her face, but she suppressed it quickly. "The ship that attacked us. Why didn't it attack you?"

Carter explained that easily. "This ship is equipped with technology that makes it undetectable to most known sensors. They had no idea we were here."

"We have technology like that, too."

Though similar in intent, whatever they were using was extremely crude in comparison to the Odyssey's cloak. They had seen right through it, after all. "Respectfully, Commander, while I don't doubt your stealth technology works against your own technology, it didn't affect our ability to detect you at all. I'd imagine the ship that attacked you also has better sensors than your own."

The commander began, "So why-"

The colonel raised her hand for silence, leaning into her earpiece. A look of worry crossed her face. "I'm sorry, I have to go."

Commander Jane Shepard knew something was going on. She wasn't sure what, exactly, but these people were not on the level with her. Things were not how they seemed. None of it made any sense.

She started organizing the facts in her head, running through the possibilities.

Was she dead? She wasn't the terribly spiritual type. Her focus was to endure and survive, and if there was a higher power out there she'd let the chips fall where they may. Maybe she was dead, but it wasn't a useful perspective to consider. Anything was possible, she supposed.

Could the Colonel have been telling the truth? The United North American States did have their own fleet, but as far as she knew, they didn't operate anything this far out and it was their Navy, not their Air Force, that was responsible for the fleet. It also left the question of how a patrol frigate- their largest vessels were just barely bigger than the Normandy and far less advanced- survived the attack.

Of the scenarios, it was the one that was the most possible in that it didn't require any really weird shit. Under the known rules of the universe, it was all possible. The United North American States could build a starship. They could operate out here. They could have a black as hell starship that belonged to their air force. They could build something that could kill whatever it was that killed the Normandy. Even the question of how she ended up aboard was easy to answer. She blacked out and they picked her up in a shuttle. But it was still quite a stretch. And it was going a little far into the conspiracy theories for her liking.

It was also possible that she had been knocked out at some point during the Like the "actually dead" theory, it wasn't terribly useful. If this was a dream, how much of her life was a dream? There were some deep philosophical questions there, but she was a soldier, not a philosopher.

The most likely answer, in her current understanding, was the one she liked the least.

She was pretty sure it was a Reaper ship that attacked the Normandy. What else could have seen right through their stealth systems and wrecked them in a few hits? It could, she admitted, be a Geth ship using Reaper technology, but that wasn't a lot better. If the Reapers had attacked them, it was possible that they picked her up, too. She didn't know exactly why they might do that, but she knew they didn't like her one bit and probably had some horrifying plan in mind.

That meant that this was not a human ship at all. She was in the hands of the Reapers. This ship might be all in her mind, her body connected to some kind of machine. Or it was possible that they actually built a replica and it was really just a few rooms in the corner of a giant space cuttlefish. Either way, they were trying to get something out of her via deception. Perhaps the Prothean knowledge in her mind.

It wasn't a perfect theory. Why would the Reapers portray a strange USAF ship instead of a familiar Alliance one? Why bring in people she'd never known or heard of instead of ones she trusted? Was this the best they could do? Did they think this was somehow more plausible? That might be the best answer. Maybe they were hoping she'd ask questions, but the wrong ones.

For the time being, she would play along. She would search for answers, and if they gave her an opening, she would take it.

Shortly after the Colonel left, a brown-haired man with square-rimmed glasses hurried into the room, muttering something to the doctor as he scurried past. "Sorry, I ran into Vala on the way and-" He stopped suddenly, looking around, then sighed.

"Looking for someone?" Jane asked from her position in bed.

"Uh, yes, I'm assuming Sam ran off," the man told her. "Was she here?"

"Yeah. It looked like someone told her something she really didn't want to hear. Guess it comes with the job," she answered naturally before introducing herself. "Lieutenant Commander Jane Shepard."

"Doctor Daniel Jackson. I'm an archaeologist, as odd as it sounds," he reciprocated, taking a seat beside her bed. "Actually it's a very useful skill set to have out in the galaxy."

She suppressed a smile. As it turned out, it was, as she'd found out firsthand. It wasn't just the profession that reminded her of Liara, but the awkward mannerisms as well.

"You're the commander of the Normandy?" Daniel asked curiously, taking her silence as an invitation to continue.

In her mind, she went back to the destruction of her ship. The lethal beams cutting it apart, the fires and escaping atmosphere and the men and women who didn't make it to the escape pods. If anyone really made it out- No. Now was not the time to grieve. She nodded sharply. "I was."

"Your crew is safe," he reassured her, sensing her tension.

"Not everyone made it to the escape pods," Jane surmised. The Colonel- Sam, Daniel had called her- had implied as much.

"No." He cringed. "I'm sorry. We wanted to stop the attack, but you have to understand we've ended up in hot water intervening in the past. Sometimes it ends badly, for us and for them. We couldn't risk making things worse."

In Jane's eyes, his story had just gone from sane to absurd. "This happened before? Where?"

"We once visited a world called Tegalus," Daniel explained. His voice was sad, and she could tell that he'd personally witnessed it. "There were two countries on this world, Rand and Caledonia, locked in a state of civil war. When we came through the Stargate, we inadvertently motivated a radical religious minority to rise up and take control of the government. We sort of fixed that, but eventually they destroyed each other, and arguably that was our fault too."

"Stargate?" she asked skeptically. His story was believable enough, in an alternate universe where any of those words made sense. What the hell were they- Reapers or otherwise- playing at?

"It's a device that allows near-instantaneous transportation between worlds using wormholes," Daniel told her. He flipped through his notebook and held it out to her.

Inside was a crude but fairly detailed drawing of a ring encircled by nine chevrons. Inside the ring was another ring, this one inscribed with several symbols. She couldn't read the scribbled notes, some of them recognizably English and some in a language she'd never seen before. "Never seen one of those before."

"These were built by a race we called the Ancients a very long time ago. It's how we took our first steps into the stars. We discovered it buried on our world, and there's a very long story behind that-"

"Why are you talking to me like I'm an alien?" Jane finally asked. Whatever he was spouting, she was done playing along with it. "You're human, aren't you?"

"Yes, and..." A look of realization dawned on Daniel's face. "Oh. You've been assuming we're from your homeworld, haven't you?"

"Well, yes. Why wouldn't I? You're human, aren't you?" She eyed him suspiciously. "Aren't you?"

"Yes, but you may not realize that humans live on many worlds in the galaxy. Some of them were seeded by the Ancients, the ones who built the Stargates-"

She raised an eyebrow. "The Ancients?"

"Well, that's not what they called themselves, obviously," Daniel answered, irritated. "Anyway, my point is that yes, I'm human, and you're human, but we're from different planets and that's actually very common. Some of the people on this ship, in fact, are not from my planet."

She laughed. "You're crazy. Humans come from Earth, that's where we evolved. If there were more, we would have discovered them by now."

To her surprise, utter confusion crossed his face. "You're from Earth?"

"Technically I'm from Mindoir, but it's a colony of Earth, yes," she answered, a hint of frustration in her voice.

He tapped his fingers against his notebook. "That's a problem."

"That's a problem?" Of all the things that had come up, this was somehow the problem?

"Yes." Daniel pinched his nose. "Okay. You say you're from a colony of Earth. We didn't have any when we left, but it could happen some time in the future. What year is it?"

Jane was pretty sure he knew what the strange archaeologist was getting at, as much sense as it made. "Twenty-one eighty-three."

"And that's common era, same calendar system as used in the late twentieth century?"

She shrugged. "Hasn't changed in a really long time."

"Well, that almost makes sense," Daniel replied after a moment of thought. "Something happened with our drive on our way here. It could have shot us into the future."

"Time travel almost makes sense." Jane deadpanned. They weren't discussing this as a serious possibility, were they?

"If this is the future- from our perspective, obviously from yours it's very much the present- it explains the colonies and it explains why we found you way out here. It all fits," he stated before frowning. "Except for the part were you don't seem to recognize any of this. You should know about the Stargate, you should know about this ship and maybe I'm being a little narcissistic but you should recognize me from the history books. Obviously, disclosure must have happened-"

"Disclosure of what?"

"The Stargate."

"The what now?" she asked.

"Exactly." Daniel toyed idly with his notebook. "Damn it."


"Your galaxy is clearly very different from mine," he mused. "It could be the same galaxy at a different time, but you don't know about the Stargate and you're confused about humanity being out there in the galaxy. Even if we buried the gate tomorrow- tomorrow in my time, that is- you'd run into those things long before making it out here. Which leaves only one possibility that I know of."

"Which is that you're making everything up," she finished smugly.

"You're actually reasonable in saying that, because from your point of view everything I say is wrong. See, this could be an alternate reality, another universe similar to but distinct from my own," the archaeologist answered, surprisingly calm and serious about the possibility. "Of course, that is assuming you're telling us the truth and not just making everything up."

"An alternate reality?" She laughed. "What the hell are you playing at?"

"A very real possibility. I understand your skepticism, but believe me, it could happen," Daniel told her sharply. "The first time I went to an alternate universe, they didn't believe me, either."

She couldn't believe what she was hearing. Was this man serious? Was he trying to unbalance her? Or was he simply batshit crazy? "You're telling me you've actually been to an alternate universe."

"Very briefly," he answered with absolute sincerity.

"You know, you're right about one thing," Jane said after a moment's pause. "I could be totally bullshitting you."

"Or that." He stood up. "You going to be alright here? I have to run this by Sam."

"You do that." She could probably take him, the awkward-looking doctor and the spindly little nurse. But she had no idea what was on the other side of the bulkhead outside the sickbay. The time to escape was not now. She waved him off. "Take all the time you want."

"And you think she's telling the truth," Colonel Carter said incredulously. Her well-trained eyes briefly scanned the bridge. Her crew was good, excellent even, but it was her job to watch over them. Of course, they were all doing their jobs with perfect efficiency. She ran a tight ship.

"I don't see why she'd be lying," Daniel responded. "I mean, she seemed just as confused about this as we are."

Sam exhaled, biting her lip. "I thought we were done with alternate realities."

Daniel shrugged. "Apparently not."

"Well, Atlantis says their visitor isn't going anywhere," she mentioned. "I'll float this to Sheppard. But whether this is an alternate reality or not, making contact is risky. Really risky."

"Oh, I know," he agreed.

"I was thinking about that. Ideally, if this is an alternate reality we should make our way back as soon as possible, with as little interference as possible. But if we can't find a way back, we could be here for a while." She went through the math in her head. The limiting factor was food, and they'd brought enough for a short mission only. Maybe they could rig the transporters to replicate food, but then they'd run into energy limitations. "And if that's the case, we're going to need friends."

"Yeah, I think I might have already told our guest too much to keep this quiet," Daniel added with a wince.

"No, I started that," Sam assured him. "We couldn't have known. We were operating under our usual first-contact assumptions."

"Of course, that's all assuming this really is an alternate reality," Daniel reiterated. "Any luck contacting Earth?"

She shook her head. "No."

"Any other ideas?"

She nodded. "I have a few, but it'll take some time to try any of them."

"Ma'am, I'm picking up three vessels approaching at faster-than-light speeds and slowing rapidly," Major Marks reported. "Starships are of a similar configuration to the Normandy and have similar energy signatures."

"How long until we have visual?" Carter asked. Though nice to look at, getting a visual-light image of a starship was one of the hardest things to do. Their electro-optical systems- basically highly advanced telescopes- had limited resolving power, and a starship wasn't very bright. Like their radar and infrared scanners- but unlike their subspace sensors- it was also subject to light lag. Fortunately, that wasn't a big problem at these distances, but the resolving power was.

"Three minutes," he answered before adding helpfully, "I'm picking up transmissions from the starships to the escape pods."

"Can we listen in?"

The Major tapped on his console before shaking his head. "No, ma'am, it's encrypted."

"Damn." They could probably decode the transmissions with their computers, but it would take time. It could be useful intel later, but wouldn't do them any good now.

"Starships are launching small craft," Marks reported. "They're vectoring for the escape pods."

"Rescue operation?" Daniel asked quietly.

Carter dropped into her command chair. "If it's not, we'll blast them into dust. Standby on forward railguns."

Jeff Moreau, known to his friends as Joker, said nothing as the rescue shuttle docked with the escape pod and a pair of burly Marines carried him aboard.

He was in shock. Well, not shock, exactly. Okay, maybe it was shock, but not because his legs were broken in a dozen different places. No, this was something else. It wasn't the pain that had him reeling. It was the loss of the Normandy, or rather someone aboard it.

He said nothing as the shuttle made the five-minute trip back to the New York. He was pretty sure it was the New York- one of their rescuers mentioned the name.

The Commander's last moments kept replaying in his mind. She'd dumped his half-broken ass into the escape pod, but never made it in herself. He watched helplessly from the window as an explosion knocked her away. Watched helplessly as puffs of vapour sprang from her suit and she struggled to no avail. Watched helplessly as she disappeared in a flash of light.

He said nothing as they strapped him onto a gurney after the shuttle landed and began wheeling him toward the sickbay.

It was his fault. He'd insisted on trying to save his dead ship, and now she was dead or worse.

He reached up toward the ensign pushing the gurney and grabbed her shirt, startling her. "I need to speak to your commanding officer."

She recovered quickly, reassuring him, "We're aware of your condition, and we have some of the best doctors in the fleet. You're in good hands, Lieutenant."

"It's not about me," he insisted. "It's about the attack. I need to speak to your captain, now!"

That seemed to work. The- nurse? doctor? Marine?- reached up and tapped her ear. He couldn't make out the words, but hoped she was calling for the captain and not a shrink.

They rounded the corner, and a tall man in a crisp uniform met them halfway down the hallway. The stripes on his sleeves identified him as a full commander.

He leaned down, helping push the gurney as he went. "I'm the commander of this ship. What can you tell me, Lieutenant?"

"Commander Shepard might still be alive," Joker told him. His voice came out raspy and pained.

"Commander Shepard was not among the survivors," he said firmly but sadly. "I'm sorry, Lieutenant."

He nodded grimly, an action that sent pain reeling through his body. "I know. They took her."


"The... whatever it was that attacked us," he answered.

"How do you know this?" Joker could tell he was skeptical, but interested.

"I watched her get spaced. And then she disappeared in some kind of beam of light." Joker answered. In retrospect, it was probably an absurd statement in context, but they'd already given him painkillers that left him with no verbal filters.

The ensign stabbed him in the back. She told the captain, "Sir, Lieutenant Moreau is in shock. It's probably a hallucination or false recollection brought on by the trauma."

"It wasn't a hallucination," he insisted. "I saw them take her."

The captain shook his head. "Using what? A transporter? These things exist only in science fiction, Lieutenant. You know that."

"I don't know," Joker answered honestly. "They saw through our stealth systems and cut right through our barriers. Who knows what kind of technology they have?"

"We'll search the wreckage," the captain assuaged before tempering, "Don't get your hopes up. Even if we can't find an obvious body, there might simply not have been enough left to identify."

"You won't find her," he insisted. "It's the Reapers, I know it. They have Commander Shepard!"

Admiral Hackett studied the footage closely before swiping it to the side, placing it on a holoscreen on the wall of his small office. Arcturus Station was a military installation, and even the commander of the entire Navy didn't get a lot of space. He asked, "You're telling me this was not a meteor?"

A dark-skinned man wearing the strips of a Captain responded, "We don't believe so, sir. Analysis of the course track tells us this was a controlled atmospheric entry, and analysis of the footage tells us the object was ellipsoid in shape. We know the colonists went to investigate, but if they found anything they haven't contacted us yet."

"Or they weren't able to."

"That is also a possibility, sir."

Hackett got right to the point. "Do you believe these events are all connected?"

"There is a good possibility, sir," the Captain answered.

"A good possibility? A strange object dropping from the sky in a remote colony, the disappearance of the Normandy with Commander Shepard aboard, and some spurious energy readings, in close but not adjacent sectors," the Admiral said incredulously. "Forgive me for being skeptical, Captain."

"Yes, sir, but consider that both locations are close to the edge of the known galaxy," he defended. "The Normandy was headed into Geth space, and we know the geth are allied with the Reapers. If that's what this is, it could be the pretext to an invasion."

"You believe the Reapers exist?" Hackett asked, an eyebrow raised.

"Sir, I'm trained to evaluate threats as they appear without passing judgment on their plausibility," "If you're asking for my personal opinion, Admiral, I think it's all absurd. It's possible these are unconnected events. But it's also possible that I'm wrong, and if that's the case..."

"We can't ignore this." With a flick of his hand, Hackett brought up a map of the galaxy marked with the positions of several Alliance units. He studied it only briefly before making his decision. "I'm assigning the Perugia and the Aleppo. We need to find out what the hell is going on."

"What do you mean the cloak's going to fail?" Colonel John Sheppard asked, leaning over the scientist's shoulder. The readouts didn't mean a lot to him, but he could tell by the flashing red that they were not good.

"It means that in a very short period of time we will be visible to anyone looking for us," Rodney McKay answered.

"Is this because of the damage to the city?" John asked immediately.

"Yes and no," Rodney answered. "It certainly hasn't helped any. The control crystals that modulate the cloak are burning out. That would have happened anyway, but it probably would have been a lot slower if the power was steady and the shield emitters were working properly."

John couldn't help himself. "Why?"

"Look, the cloak was always a hack. Yes, you can convert a shield into a cloak and a cloak into a shield, but it was never designed to do that. And, I'll admit, our patch job wasn't great. We literally just plugged in a jumper cloaking generator, rearranged a few control crystals, and turned it on." He sighed. "I'm amazed it's kept working this long."

"Tell me the good news," John pressed.

"The good news is that it's the cloaking generator that's burning out, not the shield emitters themselves," he answered reluctantly. "Once the cloak fails, we'll be able to get the shield up with maybe a few minutes of recalibration."

"I meant the part where you tell me you can fix it," He paused. "You can't fix it?"

"No. What part of the crystals are burning out don't you understand?" the scientist answered, irritated. "I can't fix a pile of ash. Maybe we could swap in fresh ones from a jumper, but that would take more time than we have."

"It's been hours. They must be leaving soon," John pointed out, glancing at the sensor readout. "Can't you rig something up? Make it last a little longer?"

"No. There's nothing I can do," Rodney told him. "The cloak is going, it's only a matter of time. You've got maybe seven minutes before they'll be able to see us."

"Seven?" John asked. "Why seven?"

"Because that's what it is!" the scientist replied, annoyed. "By the way, closer to six now."

John mulled over the information. Hiding was no longer an option. The craft didn't seem to be a threat, and he hoped their intentions were as peaceful as his own. If they weren't, though...

He ordered, "Get jumpers in the air. The moment our cloak drops, open a channel to our visitor."

Jiahao blinked hard at the readings on his console. It wasn't the same energy signature, not exactly, but it was similar. It started out faint, but quickly climbed. He couldn't believe it. Was the crazy scientist right? "I'm picking up some kind of power spike!"

"Power spike!" Sara scrambled to bring up the readouts on her interface. The energy reading was significant now. She had no idea what it was- although she had a few theories- but whatever it was, it was big, loud, and about to do something. "This is it! It has to be!"

"It's growing," Jiahao warned. He manipulated the controls and pulled up, the Kodiak drop-shuttle rapidly gaining altitude on its mass effect drives. "I'm putting some distance between us. It doesn't look like any weapon we've seen, but..."

"It's not a weapon," Sara called, noticing something in the corner of her eyes. "It's... huge. Turn us around! We have to see this!"

The pilot grumbled, but complied, swinging the Kodiak around to point toward the errant energy reading. They had a clear view of its source through the virtual viewport projected in front of them, overlaid with data that hardly made any sense even to a trained observer.

Before them shimmered the towering spires of a city unlike any they had ever seen. The shape of the towers was vaguely reminiscent of turian architecture of mid-21st century human trends, yet their sheen and texture was at the same time completely alien. They sat atop a snowflake-shaped base floating impossibly on the surface of the water, waves crashing gently against its edges. It was not a large city, but the fact that it had seemingly dropped out of the sky and become invisible spoke to the level of technology that must have been present within it.

Sara's jaw dropped. "Oh my god."

Yes, I reused an old Shepard or two. Melia was in Insert Obligatory Physics Joke Here, and Reggie was planned to be in it as well but I stopped long before his first appearance.