Honestly, this is probably the weakest chapter so far. I'm expecting the next one to be the strongest, but this one is kind of necessary filler. It was very difficult to write and took me the better part of a month.
Teyla sighed as she rocked her child back and forth in her arms. Torren was a beautiful child and the shining star of her life, but he could be a handful sometimes. She felt like she hadn't got a full night's rest in months. Part of that was her own doing, she knew, as much as she hated to admit it. Seemingly half the city wanted to step up to help with Torren, but more often than not she doggedly resisted.
For a brief moment, it had appeared they would soon be home, back with Kanaan and the rest of her people. When Atlantis returned to the Pegasus Galaxy, she would be able to return to New Athos regardless of the success of the mission itself. Now it seemed they were farther away than ever.
"How's he doing?" a voice asked from the open doorway.
"Torren is restless," Teyla admitted, managing a slight smile. "I think he wants to get back to Pegasus even more than we do."
"We'll get home," John assured her, still langering in the doorway. "When Rodney says it's impossible, it just means it's going to take a while."
She motioned him inside, and he hesitated before stepping into the room and sitting across from the Athosian woman.
"Would you like to hold Torren?" Teyla offered.
"Sure," John answered, reaching for the cloth-wrapped child and snuggling him tightly into his arms. He said to Teyla, "You know I love the little guy."
A look of concern crossed Teyla's face, and he mentally kicked himself.
"Hey," John said as Torren cooed and smiled at him. He told the baby, "Your father's not here right now, but he loves you very much. He's very far away right now, but you'll be together soon."
"If you are concerned about being too close to Torren, you need not worry," Teyla assuaged with a smile. "It is sadly all too common for Athosian children to be raised by relatives, close friends, or even the entire village. I recall many a night caring for Jinto after his mother was taken."
"I just don't know if I'm such a good influence," John excused lamely. As he handed Torren back to his mother, he remarked, "He's a great little guy, though."
"Do not undersell yourself, John," Teyla warned quietly. "I can think of no one here I would rather have in his life."
John couldn't help but smirk. "Don't tell Ronon that."
"Ronon is very headstrong, and can often be rather direct," Teyla stated. "Still, if Torren can learn even half his tenacity..."
"You're talking like we'll never get back to Pegasus and Kanaan," John said seriously. It came out as much a question as a statement.
"John, I have been away from home for months already," Teyla reminded him. For John, Atlantis itself was home enough, but for her, it was Pegasus. "Forgive me if my faith is beginning to waver."
"We'll get back," John repeated. There were a million things he wanted to say, but he could never figure out how to say them, so with that he turned and left.
"I hate these things," Colonel John Sheppard muttered to himself, stepping into the upper conference room.
His department heads and a few other senior staff were present. He knew exactly how each of them felt without even looking- well, almost all of them. Evan Lorne was stoic but inwardly concerned, Rodney McKay was in a high-efficiency panic, Radek Zelenka was more annoyed by Rodney than anything, Jennifer Keller was visibly nervous, Carson Beckett was less visibly nervous. Dr. Robinson and Lt. Winston he wasn't as familiar with, though they both looked concerned.
He stood behind Elizabeth's chair- his chair now- and asked, "How are we doing?"
A chorus of noise answered, with half the room trying to answer his question, and he held up a hand for silence. "One at a time please. Zelenka, power?"
"One ZPM is totally dead," Rodney answered, cutting off his associate. "The other two are partially drained. Maybe half full, maybe a little more. We're running off the naquadah generators for now and keeping the ZPMs in reserve."
He nodded. That wasn't good, but they'd had worse. The first year they'd been there, they would have killed for one half-full ZPM, let alone two. "How are the repairs going?"
"It's been a few hours!" Rodney protested.
Zelenka answered for him. "We can raise the shield without anything exploding, but we are nowhere near a hundred percent."
"Lieutenant Winston, how's our supply situation?" John asked, glancing toward his supply officer.
"Sir, the city is well stocked with tools, scientific equipment, and other essentials. As I understand it, most of it was never removed during our time on Earth," he answered, slightly unsure. "Food, sir, is the limiting factor, and we're going to run out quick."
"I'll have to do a full inventory, but my best guess is three months. Maybe we can stretch it to four."
He exhaled deeply. Part of him wanted to think it was fine, that Rodney would get them back in a few days, but part of him realized that it was different this time- he could read it in the scientist- and they could be stuck here for much longer than that. In his position, he couldn't afford to assume the former. "I thought we had a year's supply?"
"We did, sir, when we landed on Earth," the Lieutenant answered apologetically. "When the IOA made the decision to decommission the city, they started moving supplies out right away. That, sir, started with perishables, including food."
"And when they reversed that decision, they didn't put it all back, and only gave us the bare minimum." John sighed. Reluctantly, he moved on. "Medical supplies?"
Jennifer answered first. "They hadn't got to those yet. We're stocked up pretty well, but short-staffed. If something bad happens and we end up with a lot of casualties, we could end up overwhelmed."
He turned to their psychologist. "Doctor Robinson, how are our people doing?"
"I'd be lying if I said I wasn't scared, and I'm not the only one who's feeling it," she answered carefully. "The enormity of our situation is starting to sink in. Another universe feels a lot farther away than another galaxy. Most of us were mentally prepared for a short trip to familiar territory, not the long haul in a strange land."
"Okay." John paused, chewing his lip. It wasn't the first time he'd been in command of the city, but it was the first time he was assigned to it rather than it ending up falling to him, and now he was playing expedition leader an impossibly far distance away.
"So, now what?" Rodney asked, voice snippy.
"I want you to find us a way back," Sheppard ordered.
"What? Weren't you listening? That could take a really long time!" the scientist protested.
"Which is why you should get started now," he shot back before continuing. "Zelenka, get the city fixed. Lieutenant Winston, I want you to figure out exactly how long we have. Major Lorne, start searching the city for anything we can use. I doubt there are any Ancient granerys we haven't found, but you never know. We'll coordinate with our ships and SG-1 and try to find out more about this galaxy, who we can trust and who we can't."
"It's a plan, sir," Lorne echoed positively.
A tinny voice buzzed in John's ear, interrupting him before he could reply. "Colonel Sheppard, the Odyssey just arrived in orbit and is hailing us."
"Speak of the devil," John muttered. He answered, "Put them on."
"Atlantis Base, this is the Odyssey," Sam's voice announced. "Requesting permission to beam down with a special guest. We have a lot to discuss."
"Odyssey, this is Atlantis Base," he replied. "Welcome back. Feel free to beam down when you're ready."
A few minutes later, five familiar and one unfamiliar figure appeared in the gateroom, the familiar flash of light and chime-like sound indicating their arrival.
The unfamiliar figure, a tall red-haired woman in ill-fitting fatigues, quickly wiped a shocked look off her face and asked, "Was that a-"
"Transporter, yes," John confirmed, stepping down the stairs into the gateroom. "Colonel John Sheppard. You must be our mystery guest. Welcome to Atlantis."
She suppressed a smirk at that, briefly glancing around before replying. "Commander Jane Shepard, Systems Alliance Navy. Nice place you have, Colonel."
"Well, it was basically all here when we got it. We just did a little repainting, hung up a few posters," John joked. He turned to the rest of the group and motioned to the side hall. "I assume you want to meet our guests?"
Jiahao drummed his fingers on the table. He sighed before leaning back in his chair and stated simply, "I'm bored."
Sara turned and replied, slightly irritated. "You said that already."
"And you've been standing in front of that window for hours-"
"It has a view, Jiahao!" Sara exclaimed, waving with one arm. "Look at this place, it's amazing!"
"Doesn't look that special," he dismissed before clarifying, "Tech's impressive, sure. View is only okay."
"This city flew," she expounded. "I mean, it had to. We were investigating an impact event before we saw the blip. It's what, maybe three-quarters the size of the Presidium ring? Yet capable of atmospheric entry. As far as I can tell, this building isn't sealed against vacuum. That means all these buildings have barriers. And if they're telling the truth, this city is capable of intergalactic flight!"
Jiahao harrumphed. "I'll believe it when I see- Commander Shepard?"
"When you see..." Sara trailed off as she turned and saw the woman stepping into the room, along with John and four people in similar uniforms. Idly, she smoothed out her jumpsuit. "Oh. Hello. I'm Sara Nikolayeva, doctor of-"
"Commander, please excuse her," Jiahao said quickly, standing at attention. "Staff Lieutenant Jiahao Wójcik, Alliance Marines, retired. It's an-"
"Wait, you know her?" John interrupted, pointing between them.
"Well, by reputation," Jiahao clarified, irritated. "The Lion of Elysium. The Hero of the Citadel."
"Don't tell me you're some kind of local celebrity?" one of the new arrivals asked, a slight Southern accent in his voice.
"Local?" Jiahao scoffed, almost "She's a galactic hero. The first human spectre, one of the handful of people who shaped our place in the galaxy!"
John cleared his throat. "As much as I love this hero worshipping, I don't believe you've been introduced. Colonel Carter, commander of the Odyssey. Colonel Mitchell, Doctor Daniel Jackson, Vala Mal Doran and Teal'c. These are our guests, Doctor Sara Nikolayeva-"
"I heard your names on the way in," Vala interrupted.
"Vala!" Daniel snapped.
"We have a few questions we'd like to ask," Carter began, sitting down across from their guests. In truth, just watching them meet would probably tell them more than they would get out of them. "I assume you're already aware of our general situation."
"You're from another universe," Jiahao repeated, voice full of skepticism. "Forgive me if I'm-"
"I believe them."
All eyes turned to face the Commander, most of them shocked at her firm declaration.
"I believe them," she repeated. "They explained it to me, and from what I've seen, they couldn't have come from anywhere else. I've went over the alternatives, they don't make sense. As crazy as it sounds, we really are dealing with an alternate reality."
"So, what now?" Jiahao asked.
"Our plan is to get home as soon as possible," John answered. He glanced at Sam. "But that could take a while."
"They're hoping we can show them the neighbourhood," Jane preempted. "Do you have a contact package?"
Jiahao shook his head.
"Well, sort of," Sara dissented. "I can load one onto a datapad from what I've got on my omni-tool."
"It's an information package, just basic stuff about us and the galaxy," Jane explained to the others. "Probably a lot like what you have. Golden Record was about your time, right? Like that, but a lot more advanced. Are you okay with that?"
Carter nodded. "That's great."
Vala held out one of the Atlantis-issue computers, a brand-new Thinkpad X201T. "You can put that on here?"
"Not that. That's a museum piece- no offense," Sara answered, shaking her head. "I'll need to grab one of our datapads from the shuttle."
"I'll get Major Lorne to bring you guys out there," John told them, standing and motioning to the door. "Quarters should be ready by the time you get back."
"Great!" Sara exclaimed. She not-so-quietly whispered to Jiahao, "This is amazing! These people are weird, but look at what they've done."
"You know we can hear you, right?" Mitchell mentioned from the other end of the table.
"Oh, sorry!" Sara excused. "No offense."
"It's okay, this is actually a pretty good first contact so far," John said with a smile. He nodded toward their last guest, still in her seat. "Commander?"
She understood the meaning, standing and following the others out. At the last minute, she paused at the door. "I understand you have your reasons and I have mine. But I don't like being cut out, Colonel."
Director Pablo Carpenter leaned back in his flimsy metal chair. His terminal was open on the prefabricated polymer desk in front of him. He tented his fingers and tried his best to appear deeply contemplative.
Though he was deep in thought, he was anything but calm. On the best of days, director of the Abunda colony was a stressful job. There was the day-to-day shuffling of resources that always seemed short, a smattering of profiteers, smugglers, and thieves, and- thankfully only once- a pirate raid. He knew before he'd taken it that it would be far different from his mostly-bureaucratic former position on Bekenstein, and on most days he managed, but... some were worse than others.
Ultimately, everything that happened on the colony ended up back at him. Perhaps it wasn't the healthiest position to take, but it was one of the principles he stuck to. His father was a wet-navy captain, and the meaning of responsibility was drilled into him from an early age.
"They should be back by now," a stern female voice reminded him, coming up behind his desk.
Lorna Aliyev could be a handful, but she was smarter than she let on, and her militia had saved the colony, so the notoriously strait-laced director was inclined to cut her some slack. He turned his chair to face the dark-haired woman. "It's a survey shuttle. Surveying can take a while."
She hopped up and sat on the desk, right on top of a stack of datapads. "Come on, Pabs. Ji would've checked in, he's got a book shoved so far up his ass he can taste it. Something's happened out there. Maybe they're splattered across the ocean, or maybe that wasn't a meteor."
He raised an eyebrow. "Are you saying we're dealing with a new alien race?"
"I don't know," Lorna said. "We sent out what amounts to our science team, and now, poof, they're gone. Could just be a freak accident, sure. Could be ET. Grey goo. Liria storms. Whatever it is, we shouldn't be dealing with it. We need to call the Alliance, Pabs."
He sighed. "I know."
Softly, she implored, "Then make the call."
"How long have you worked with Colonel Sheppard, Major?" Jane asked, following her escort down the hallways of the city. They'd swung by the shuttle- using the transporter again- grabbed what they needed, and now were headed back to the main tower. Sara and Jiahao were behind her, followed by a Sergeant who was doing a bad job of appearing non-threatening.
She had to admit the place was impressive. It had an odd look to it, with a classic charm and futuristic feel at the same time. But it was pleasant and inviting rather than dull and sterile, and almost seemed to be calling to her. The city looked like a city, and if she hadn't known better she never would have guessed it could fly. Arcology, sure. City-ship, no.
"About four years, give or take," Major Lorne answered. "He was here from the very beginning, I came on later."
"How is he?"
"I'll admit he's got his quirks, but we live on the edge and he's the kind of officer we need here," he half-answered, unsure of how much he should give away.
She nodded in understanding. "I know that feeling. Good CO?"
"Best I've had." He cracked a smile, then waved his hand over a panel on the wall. A door opened, revealing large but mostly empty quarters that clashed with the generally lavish city.
As she stepped inside, Jane asked, "How long will we be here?"
"We're kinda playing it by ear right now," Lorne admitted. "You can use the panel on the wall if you need something. Someone will be down to show you to breakfast... might be dinner. We're still trying to figure that out. This kind of thing isn't normal, even for us."
"So, what is?" she baited with a raised eyebrow.
"Another time, Commander," Lorne dodged. "Enjoy your stay."
"The Citadel Council is an executive committee composed of representatives from the Asari Republics, the Turian Hierarchy, the Salarian Union, and the Systems Alliance," Sam read from the tablet in her hand.
"Sounds fancy," John quipped. Idly, he reached forward for the coffee cup on his desk, only to find it empty.
"If I'm reading this right, humanity- the Systems Alliance- only became a member recently," Steven mentioned. "The details are light, but there's something about a Battle of the Citadel and a Geth attack."
John snapped his fingers. "Hold on, our guests mentioned that Jane is the 'Hero of the Citadel' and the 'first human spectre'. She isn't the linchpin of all that, is she?"
He raised an eyebrow. "Jane? We're on a first name basis now?"
"Well, I can't call her Shepard, that would be confusing," Sheppard stated.
Eager to move on, Sam pointed out, "Jack O'Neill made quite the impression on more than a few alien races. It's possible the Commander did the same thing."
"Provided it's not an elaborate set-up."
Sam shook her head. "I don't think so, Steven. They're figuring things out as they go, same as we are."
"So, we have three main races besides us," John repeated, bringing the conversation back on track. "Each one seems to wear their own hat. The asari are the old, peaceful ones... and all-female, huh. Salarians are the smart, quick ones. Turians are the warhawks."
"Keep in mind this was written by humans. It might not be an exactly balanced account," the Daedalus commander opined.
"At least they're a stable galactic government," Sam argued. "The last war was when they made contact with humanity, and it was barely a skirmish. That's a pretty impressive achievement in and of itself."
He crossed his arms. "It also means they're going to be all that more dangerous if they turn against us."
"Okay, so, Council's a mixed bag," John said, gesturing with a tilted hand. "What about everyone else? What do you think of the... quarians?"
Steven immediately answered. "They made a big mistake. I'm not saying they deserve to wander the proverbial desert- nobody deserves that- but they made a stupid choice and it came back to bite them in a big way."
Sam glanced down at her tablet. "Yeah. The geth aren't Replicators, but they're not good news. I mean, the last time they showed up they devastated the galactic capital."
"Should we get eyes on them?" he asked.
She pursed her lips. "Maybe. It could be risky."
"Batarians?" John asked. "Kind of funny looking, aren't they? Not funny guys, though."
"I doubt they're all bad, and the situation is probably a lot more complicated than this says," she replied, tapping her tablet. "Still, probably best we give them a wide berth."
"They're a rogue state right now. That's dangerous," Steven concurred. "Krogan?"
John sucked in a deep breath. "Even wider berth. Fortunately for us, they don't seem have much in the way of organization. No organized fleet to go after us."
"Let's go back to the Systems Alliance," Steven suggested. "Sam, what did you get from your pass on Earth?"
She shook her head. "Strong encryption is ubquitous, and surface scans can only reveal so much. High population, lots of space assets, but most of our data is on their technology. I've got Rodney looking at that already."
"Who's going to be our friends?" John asked quietly.
"It will probably end being the Alliance. They have a presence on this world and strictly speaking, we've already made contact." She shrugged. "Honestly it may be an inevitability at this point, and there are worse choices."
"Could be better ones," Steven pointed out. "As much as I'd like to trust this Earth, they could be feeding false information. They could be the bad guys."
"We don't have to make that choice yet."
To call his colleague's behavior irritating was an understatement. Radek Zelenka swore under his breath in Czech before asking, in a slightly more polite tone, "Why are you laughing, Rodney?"
In his usual manner, Rodney replied as if the answer was obvious, "Their technology is a joke!"
"I think that's rather unfair, do you not?" Radek countered. "Genetic engineering is commonplace, most energy is from fusion. FTL, artificial gravity, antimatter thrusters. Artificial intelligence is outlawed but the way this is written it seems possible."
"Their FTL is fourteen light-years per day," Rodney shot back. "Their ships are hugely inefficient for the kind of capabilities. Fake shields, weak weapons, and they need the Mass Relays for any sort of long trip. We could take on one of their dreadnoughts with a puddlejumper."
"I think that is an exaggeration."
"Not as much as it should be."
"Admit it, Rodney, you don't want to admit that they are two hundred years ahead of where we should be," Radek stated harshly. "If we had not discovered the Stargate, if we had not met the Goa'uld and the Asgard, if we had not discovered Atlantis, perhaps this is where we would be, or worse. For lack of better word, our tech is stolen."
"So? They stole theirs, too!" the irate scientist snapped. "Oh, don't look so surprised. It was right there in the package."
Radek had an inkling of what he was getting at, but in a spur-of-the-moment decision decided to play dumb. "I mean, it didn't state that-"
"Read between the lines, Radek!" he elaborated. "Prothean relics this, Mass Relays that, alien meddling there. They literally just found the Citadel lying there. If we're thieves, so are they."
"Some of our most powerful technology was literally given to us," Radek contrasted. "They found a smattering of ancient ruins but very little in the way of functional technology. The Mass Relays and the Citadel are the exception, not the rule."
"So you're saying they're better than us?" he spat.
Radek was taken aback by the insecurity evident in the man's voice. "I'm just saying that considering the context in which these civilizations evolved, there is no reason to demean their technological base, even- no, especially because of the difference in context."
"Did I mention they practically had a cheat code," Rodney continued, going back to smug after a moment of weakness. "This 'Element Zero' doesn't even exist in our universe."
"Actually, that's not strictly true," Zelenka pointed out.
He looked up from his tablet for the first time in their conversation. "What?"
"While you were laughing at the primitive locals, I was searching Atlantis database for points of comparison," he answered matter-of-factly. "In some point in the past, the Ancients, they experimented with bombarding various elements with exotic radiation. One of the results was stable material, with properties exactly as Element Zero. Of course, small quantities, created with a lot of difficulty."
"The difference is that it exists naturally here, for some reason," Rodney immediately surmised, snapping his fingers. "Or was created in the distant past by some now-extinct race, all over the galaxy. And that changed everything... except, all things being equal, there should be Stargates and there should be Ancients."
"Unless, in the past, someone else rose up with this technological base and destroyed them," Radek theorized. "Or for the same reasons this element exists, it changed the conditions enough for the Ancient civilization as we know to not rise in the first place. Such as if there was-"
"No naquadah," Rodney suggested. His face fell he hurriedly went back to his tablet. "No naquadah?"
"What do you mean, no naquadah?" Radek asked, now panicking slightly.
"Of all the scans we made of this planet and everything on the way here, we never detected any naquadah," Rodney summarized. "None. I mean, it's possible that where we scanned just happened not to have any, but we should have at least found traces somewhere."
"That is worrying," Radek reluctantly admitted. "If we get stuck-"
"No, no, we won't get stuck here."
"Ugh, I thought this would be exciting," Vala Mal Doran complained, hopping up and sitting on the desk. "I was hoping we'd get to see another galaxy and all the weird and wonderful things in it. Not sit around in a stuffy office all day- what are you doing?"
"Reading up on this universe," Daniel Jackson answered, eyes scanning the screen of his tablet as he scribbled away in a notebook beside it. "When life give you lemons, make lemonade."
"Why would I make lemonade?" she asked, confused. "Why not just sell the lemons?"
"It's an expression. That's not what it means. It means-"
"Don't take advantage of an opportunity? Clearly they're not seeing the arbitrage potential here."
"You know, you don't have to be here," Daniel pointed out. He reached forward, grabbing a book from the edge of the table before Vala could grab it. "Atlantis is a big place. I know we didn't see a lot last time and you could explore it a bit."
"Half of it is shut down to save power, the other half is off-limits," Vala moaned. "They said something about search parties but they're still trying to get those organized. I said I could find treasure on my own and the little angry man said something about exploding tumours."
"Yeah, that would be bad," he muttered, going back to the tablet in his hands.
Vala reached down and snatched it out of his hands. "What's this?"
He folded his arms. "Well, I was skimming some notes on the current state of galactic affairs before you interrupted."
She glanced at the screen, then back up. "Which is?"
"The Systems Alliance," Daniel began. "Earth and her colonies, in this universe. An independent supranational government representing the interests of humanity as a whole. It's not quite a world government, but humanity is more or less united here."
She raised an eyebrow, sensing his unease. "But?"
"Frankly all of it seems rather optimistic, and it has me wondering if there are divides that run deeper than they let on," he answered. "Then again, we've faced a lot of enemies that are more or less human. This time, it's humanity against aliens, and that's a powerful force to unite people."
"What about the aliens?" Vala asked. She took another look at the tablet
"Everyone gets along, except when they don't. The occasional diplomatic spat or border skirmish, but no big war in years," he expounded. "Frankly it feels kind of like what Earth was like in our time, just a lot bigger. Again, I'm wondering what they're not telling us."
She nodded in agreement. "For all we know, this could all be a lie. Or at least a gross, gross exaggeration."
"Yeah. Cynicism aside, what interests me more is the Protheans," Daniel continued, ignoring her. "I mean, constants and variables. They're definitely not our Ancients, but their role is strangely analogous. An extinct precursor race that left a network of gateways behind, that all the younger races built their technology around."
"Do you think it's a coincidence or that it's somehow connected?" Vala asked.
"They're definitely not connected, no," he clarified. "I just found it interesting. I mean, maybe on a multiversal scale it's a common cycle. One race rises up, builds a galaxy-spanning empire, then something wipes them out and a younger race finds it and builds their own around it."
"But with what we know, all we can to is speculate- you're not listening, are you?" Daniel put the tablet down and glared at Vala.
"Sort of," she admitted, picking up the tablet and scrolling through it. "Omega is a major hub of narcotics, weapons, and eezo trafficking without even a pretense of civilian government or military control. Ooh, can we go?"
"It looks like a good place to pick up tetanus and a gunshot wound," Daniel argued, taking the tablet back. "We are not going to Omega."
"Killjoy," Vala complained. She hopped off the desk. "I'm going to go bother Cameron."
"You do that," he muttered before going back to his tablet.
"Not the best food I've had, but it's not bad," Jiahao commented, shoveling a chunk of mystery meat into his mouth. "Why aren't you eating?"
Sara poked her meal around with a plastic fork. "It's just that... I saw a butter packet like this in a museum. I know it's not, but I keep thinking everything is very old."
"Seems fresh enough," he countered. "Commander, what do you think?"
I'm at the dinner table in an interdimensional city, and people still want my opinion on the most trivial shit. She sighed, pausing in her consumption of a fruit cup. "Think of it as a reproduction. Old-style, but not old. Besides, two centuries out of date or not, I've had worse."
"I meant the city, Commander."
"They're on the level," she answered honestly, switching to a packaged roll. "I'm still trying to figure out how we fit into it, but they just want to go home. Problem is, I don't think that's as easy as they thought it would be."
"We're talking inter-universal travel!" Sara pointed out. "That's not easy or even hard, we thought it was impossible. I mean, just the kind of energy involved is staggering by our most optimistic calculations..."
As she trailed off, Jiahao asked, "What is it?"
"I'm wondering what's powering this city," she explained.
Jane inquired, "Big energy requirements?"
The scientist nodded. "Huge. There was this paper on intergalactic travel maybe a year ago. Okay, so they said this city was found in the Pegasus Galaxy. I know of three Pegasus Galaxies, which are all about two or three million light-years away. Close enough to Andromeda, which is what the paper I read focused on. They would have had to run a drive for five hundred years-"
"I don't think it took them that long," Jiahao pointed out. "It sounded like the people we talked to are the ones that discovered this city."
She nodded again. "Right, but that just makes it all that more impressive. Assuming the same efficiency numbers, the requirements would be the same. The thing is, you start to hit diminishing returns, and the power requirements go up exponentially. If they wanted to go fast, they'd need an incredible amount of power."
"Hold on," Jane interrupted. "Colonel Mitchell mentioned something called hyperspace that their starship flies through. It could be by definition more efficient than our own drive systems."
"Right!" Sara acknowledged. "If they're using something else, that would throw all the numbers off, though I still don't see the energy requirements being that low for a ship this size. Do you know how fast the Odyssey made it from Earth to here?"
"I didn't have a watch. Hours, though, as a back-of-the-envelope estimate."
Sara mumbled under her breath, bringing up her omni-tool and tapping in a few calculations. Her eyes widened. "Wow."
"Like I said, I'm thinking about what's powering this city, because it can't be fusion," Sara stated. "At first I thought it probably wasn't fusion, but after running the numbers- and of course I could be completely wrong on all of them- it can't be fusion. At maximum theoretical efficiency, they'd need a reactor the size of this tower, and the rest of the city would have to be made up of metallic deuterium."
"So they've found something better," Jiahao suggested. "Maybe antimatter or something exotic like black holes?"
"It's possible," she agreed. "Honestly, this is beyond me. I'm a geologist. I just really like this kind of stuff because of my aunt's collection of old vids."
Jiahao suppressed a laugh.
"So, do they know you're armed?" Jane asked bluntly, putting down her fork.
"If they do, they aren't showing it," Jiahao answered with a smirk. The smirk disappeared when he saw her disapproving look. "Ma'am?"
"You had to protect yourself during first contact," she allowed, unable to object given her own experiences. "But we need to build trust with this people. And carrying around guns without their knowledge isn't a good way to do it."
"I told you so!" Sara hissed at Jiahao before turning back to Jane and asking, "What should we do?"
She rubbed her temples, thinking. "Give them to me. I'll deal with it."
Colonel John Sheppard idly flipped the stylus back in forth in his hand, his mind aflurry with thoughts. Waiting never really sat well with him, especially when they were in a crisis. Yet there was nothing else for him to do, and for the past hour he'd been pretending to catch up on paperwork.
It was a welcome interruption when a security guard appeared at his office door. She announced, "Sir, Commander Shepard wishes to see you."
John sighed. "You know what I've said about- nevermind. Send her in."
The guards kept their weapons down, but at the ready as they motioned the Commander in. She strode halfway to John's desk, then halted in a vaguely military pose.
He refused to be intimidated, whether that effect was intentional or not. Instead, he smiled pleasantly. "What can I do for you, Commander?"
"Please, Jane is fine," the woman suggested.
He nodded. "John, then."
"John." She smirked slightly. "I must say, you do have a nice city. I could think of much worse places to be locked up in."
"Look, we're just-"
Jane held up a hand. "Being careful, I know. Sorry. That's not what this is about." She stepped forward and sat down across from John, dropping a pair of rectangular objects on the desk.
"What are these?" he asked suspiciously, resisting the urge to pick up one of the devices. He recognized them as the devices their first visitors had with them. He'd figured they were some equivalent of tricorders, and they hadn't had a chance to scan them yet.
"Hahne-Kedar Kessler light pistols," Jane answered. "Light, compact, deadly enough against soft targets."
The entirety of the message was not lost on John. A wry smile crossed his face before he asked, "Where'd you get these?"
"Sara and Jiahao brought them," she answered honestly. "Don't pin this on them. We've had some pretty bad first contact situations."
"Yeah, so have we," he replied. "I don't like that you brought weapons into my city, especially without my knowledge. But I know why you did, and I'm glad you've decided to end it this way. Now, you don't have any more surprises, do you?"
"No, not that I know of." She paused. "Look, you have a missing survey vessel out on that pad- I know, not really true, but that's how the Alliance will see it. Sooner or later they're going to come and investigate."
John dodged, "We have a plan for that."
She burst out into laughter. "I'm sure you do."
"If there's anything else-"
"Actually, there is," Jane mentioned, a slight hesitation in her voice. "Something very important about this galaxy that isn't in the files we gave you. It's… well, people will tell you it's a conspiracy theory, but I was there. This is beyond important."
John tented his fingers on the table. "Okay, I'm listening."
"They're called the Reapers," she began. "An ancient race of sentient-organic starships who hibernate in dark space, coming out to cull the galaxy of all life every fifty thousand years. The Protheans didn't build the Mass Relays or the Citadel, the Reapers did, and they're the ones who wiped them out. They're the ones behind Eden Prime and they're the ones who attacked the Citadel. Turns out it's time for another harvest."
He raised an eyebrow. "I thought the geth attacked the Citadel?"
"It wasn't the geth," she corrected, shaking her head. "The geth were there, but they weren't behind it. An enemy, sure, but as far as I can tell, they're just pawns of the Reapers."
"Okay, so you're telling me everything here is lying and you know the truth," John said skeptically, tapping the datapad on his desk for emphasis. "How do you know all this?"
"Like I said, I was there," she repeated. "I was there when we made first contact at Eden Prime, I fought their pawns on the Citadel, I actually talked to a Reaper on Virmire. The reason I was made the galaxy's first human Spectre was to track down another Spectre, Saren Arterius, who was turned by the Reapers- they have one hell of a brainwashing trick." She paused and couldn't help but laugh. "I'm not really helping my case, am I?"
"Well, there's two possibilities here. Either you're making up a crazy story for one reason or another and there's no such thing as Reapers, or you're telling the truth and there's an apocalypse on the horizon," John said carefully. "Thing is, you would not believe the number of times it's turned out to be the latter."
Jane asked quietly, "So what are you going to do?"
"We're in a very precarious position right now," he admitted. "See this from my point of view. If this is true, it changes a lot. I hear an implied 'and you have to help us', and I have a really bad record when it comes to walking away from this sort of thing. But you'll understand why we don't want to send a ship out to look, especially on the advice of a guest. If it's not true, it could be a trap. And we are in a really tense situation right now."
She gritted her teeth. "I thought you were over this."
"Hey, I'm not the one who walked in and dropped two pistols on my desk." He sighed. "Look, tell you what, I'll get Rodney on it. See if we can use the long-range sensors to get a reading from here. If we can catch a glimpse, we'll talk."
"Well, believe it or not this is more than my people gave me." She stood to leave. "Thank you, Colonel."
"My name is Hannah Shepard," the woman in the crisp Alliance dress uniform began. Her movements were stiff, her speech halting, her expression stone-faced. She was clearly on the edge of breaking down, but stubbornly refusing to do so. Forcing herself to straighten, she added, "Captain, Alliance Navy. CO PCU Orizaba, Fifth Fleet."
"I have stood here before, but never in this position. I had always feared, but never expected..." She paused and took a deep breath, regaining her composure somewhat. "I speak not as the superior officer informing a family that their loved one was killed in the line of duty, but as the family of one of those loved ones."
"I have said, before, more times than I would have liked, that nothing I can say or do will ever make up for that loss." She spoke quickly, knuckles white on the edge of the podium. "No Star of Terra, no Nova Cluster or Silver Dagger will erase that pain. Every military family knows that this is a possibility. Our jobs are dangerous on the edge. We hope, we pray, but sometimes that is not enough. And nothing can prepare us for this."
Another deep breath, glancing down before looking up at the crowd again.. "I grieve my daughter's death, but I could not be more proud of her life. Jane joined as soon as she could, graduated the academy with top marks, and racked up and exemplary service record. During the Skyllian Blitz, she saved many innocent lives on Elysium, despite being on shore leave. After the attack on Eden Prime, she fought against all odds to stop the rogue Spectre and save the Citadel. She laid down her life and ultimately lost it to protect not Earth, not the Alliance, but the galaxy."
"She was the galaxy's hero. She was my daughter."
Pressing a button on his terminal, Admiral Hackett ended the feed. He turned to the officer seated across from him in his office. "What do you say to that, Captain?"
"Sir, human factors is not my area of expertise," the man answered coldly.
The Admiral sighed. "The face of humanity is dead. One of our greatest heroes, perhaps the greatest. Surely you have some feeling on that?"
"For many of our greatest heroes, death is what elevates their status," he allowed after a moment of consideration. "Space is very dangerous, sir. This was always a risk. A PR tour within Council space would have been safer, but the Commander never would have accepted that."
"No, she wouldn't have," Hackett agreed before changing topics. "I assume you've already read and analyzed the message from Abunda."
"Yes, sir," the Captain answered. "A missing survey shuttle and strange sensor readings shortly after an unknown impact. It's suspicious to say the least."
"Our task force will be there in a few days. What are they going to find?" the admiral asked.
He shook his head. "There's a good possibility that it will be hostile. Beyond that, I can't answer, sir."
Admiral Hackett sighed. "One way or another, we'll find out soon enough."
The krogan got exactly the reaction he expected when he stepped into the Flux nightclub. He ignored the glare of the bouncer and the suspicious look of the bartender, ambling his way to a booth near the back of the bar.
He would never admit that the reaction bothered him more than it did even just a year ago.
"Wrex. I didn't know you were here," Joker greeted as he approached. The rest of the ground crew was already here, which made just about everyone he wanted to see. "I didn't see you at the service."
"Krogan don't really do funerals," Wrex told him, taking a seat. "We raise feasts in their honour. Drink to their memory." He glanced around at the others. "Which I hope is what we'll be doing tonight."
"She would not have wanted us to grieve," Liara agreed, though her voice was strained as she said it. "She would want us to continue the fight. I believe she would have said 'kick ass for me'."
They shared a laugh at that, and Garrus handed the new arrival a glass of clear liquid. "It's ryncol, figured you'd appreciate it."
Wrex laughed a deep, rumbling laugh. "You know, for a turian, you're all right."
"Excuse me," a quiet voice interrupted. "May I join you?"
Almost in unison, they turned to face the new arrival. She was young woman in casual clothes, with light brown hair in a ponytail and light green eyes. She looked familiar, but none of them could place it.
"Amelia Shepard. My friends call me Melia," the woman introduced.
"I didn't know the Commander had a sister," Ash commented, surprised and more than slightly supicious.
"Yes, she does, and in the Alliance as well, no less," a grey-haired woman stated, stepping toward them. "The joys of having access to medical files. Captain Anderson and Engineer Adams send their regrets."
"And here I was thinking it was going to be the whole damn Citadel," Joker quipped. "Alright, sit down and grab a drink. Both of you."
Chakwas took a seat beside Wrex, on the edge of the booth. Seeing no other option, Melia grabbed a chair from a nearby table and awkwardly wedged herself in the corner between Tali and Liara.
"Right, so this is going to be a bit awkward," Joker began. "I didn't put together a wake."
"Really?" Liara said, surprised. "I thought this was the custom?"
"No, it definitely is," Garrus argued. "What are you getting at, Joker?"
"There's a chance the Commander might still be alive," he blurted out.
"What?" Wrex snapped.
"Excuse me?" Melia said, shocked.
"How much have you had?" Garrus asked.
"It's not the booze talking," Joker implored. He put down his glass and folded his hands on the table. "I don't know how much you know about the attack, but it wasn't the geth. It must have been the Reapers, because whatever it was hit without warning, saw right through our stealth, and cut through the Normandy in minutes. The thing is, just after Shepard got spaced, I saw her disappear in a flash of light."
"Are you sure you really saw that?" Chakwas said, as gently as possible. "You've been through a lot, Jeff. In times of extreme stress, our memories can become fuzzy-"
"I know what I saw!" he snapped. "Spaced, losing air, boom, gone in a flash of light. Like an old sci-fi vid."
"I don't know," Tali argued. "You are saying that they used some kind of transporters, and as far as I know that is not possible."
Half-drunk, Garrus pointed out, "You live on a spaceship."
Before they could fight, the pilot shot back, "It's the Reapers, who knows what kind of stuff they have? Look, if it is the Reapers, and they do have-"
"You must be her friends," a slurred voice interrupted. Save for one, none recognized the map stumbling his way toward the booth. Dirty dark hair surrounded the haggared face of a man who had too much alcohol and not enough sleep.
Melia was the first one to respond. "Reggie, I thought you were-"
"The fuck is wrong with you all?" he asked rhetorically, speading his arms wide and dropping a glass to the floor in the process. "Transporters this, Reapers that. What a bunch of bullshit!"
"I don't give a fuck who you arrogant pricks think you are," Reggie shouted, tossing his glass to the floor and standing. "Your idol is dead. Commander Shepard, Hero of the Citadel, space dust. The mighty fall hard. Deal with it."
Joker stood at the same time and drew his arm back. "You motherf-"
"Lieutenant, no!" Ash shouted, grabbing Joker and holding him back. "You want to break your arm on that asshole?"
It mattered little, because Garrus literally beat him to the punch. His taloned fingers left bloody streaks as he slugged him in the face. The drunk man dropped like a fly, crashing to the floor.
Garrus remarked wryly, "You know, I'm tempted to go on another wild goose chase just to prove that asshole wrong. Who was he, anyway?"
"That would be Reginald Shepard," Melia answered reluctantly. "My brother."
Joker's jaw dropped at that. "You're kidding."
A pair of guards flanked the trio of guests as they made their way up the stairs to the control room. Jane strode confidently, refusing to act the prisoner which she was pretty sure she was. Jiahao moved with his head down, glancing around, while Sara still hadn't stopped gawking at her surroundings.
John was there to greet them, along bespectacled man that they didn't recognize. Jane couldn't help herself. She immediately pointed out, "You're not Rodney."
"No, I'm Doctor Radek Zelenka," the man introduced, adjusting his glasses. "I do a lot of work fixing the city. Rodney, uh, he thinks this is not important enough so he gets me to work on it."
"It happens," John explained.
"Yes, Rodney can be... difficult, but he is the best at what he does," Zelenka said. He added quickly, "Please, do not tell him I said that, he will never live it down."
"I won't, I promise," Jane said lightly. "What do you have?"
"So, I was working on the long-range sensor array hoping to get a look at these Reapers, and, well, it's slow going," Zelenka explained. "We haven't been able to extend the range enough to find them. But take a look at this."
With a tap on his tablet, he brought up what appeared to be a star chart in front of him. A few seconds later, several graphics appeared on the screen. One of them was labeled as their current position, along with the Daedalus and the Odyssey. Several others could be identified as ships of various types. Zelenka zoomed in on the map, focusing on a pair of ships. A dotted line showed their course tracks.
"Ooh, that's neat," Sara commented.
"Those are probably Alliance vessels on a routine patrol," Jane informed, pointing at the ships on the screen. She didn't tell them that she could tell because the course track started at an important Alliance Navy starbase.
Zelenka zoomed the map out and scrolled to another area. This time, the course tracks were shorter and more erratic. "Okay, what about these ones?"
She shook her head. "Uh, can't tell. Could be Alliance, could be something else."
"Hold on, let me bring up a closer scan," the scientist suggested. "Maybe you'll be able to identify it by appearance."
"You can get enough detail for that?" Jane asked, surprise.
"Well, usually." He tapped away on his archaic tablet, and a few seconds later a much better image appeared on the flat-panel monitor.
It still wasn't a great image- it was blurry and lacked detail, and didn't have real shading or surface markings, only some kind of false-color representation. Still, it was enough. Her blood ran cold when she realized what she was looking at. "Those are not Alliance."
The scientist evidently failed to realize the gravity of that. "Really? Then whose are they?"
It was Sara who answered, voice quiet and fearful. "Batarian slavers."
So, it's a little slow, but as you can probably guess from the ending, the next chapter is going to have some serious action.