Whew! Well, this is much later than I expected. Apologies for the long delay, this story decided to be a real problem child.

Thank you to everyone who has read, left reviews and faves on my earlier SGA stories. I'm so glad you all are enjoying them because I really do enjoy writing them (problem children notwithstanding :) )

This story follows immediately after s2e13 Critical Mass.

As always, a million thanks to Lyn for the beta read.

Teyla stood a few feet from the pyre, staring at the flames licking the wood under the shrouded body. She was aware of the heat from the fire. She heard the crackle and snap as the flames ate into the wooden platform and smelt the smoke as it rose into the clear sky above, but part of her felt detached from the ceremony itself.

The entire village had made the trek to the clearing in the forest. Iranda and Rada stood on the other side of the pyre, tears in their eyes as they watched the fire. Isla stood beside Iranda, holding Jeeta. The toddler sat quietly in his mother's arms, watching the fire even though he couldn't understand what was happening. Halling stood on Teyla's right, his arm wrapped around Jinto beside him. Teyla saw Halling's lip quiver a few times, but he stood in stoic silence as the flames reached the body on the pyre.

Her team had surprised her that morning. Teyla had accepted Colonel Sheppard's offer to fly her out to the mainland for the ceremony, expecting he would be the only person to accompany her. But when she had walked into the jumper bay, all of them, Rodney included, had been waiting for her along with Doctor Weir and Doctor Beckett. She had stared at them for a moment until John stepped forward and rested a hand on her shoulder.

"You didn't think you'd have to do this alone, did you?" he had asked.

Teyla had ducked her head for a moment, then looked up at Sheppard with a smile. "Thank you." She nodded to Rodney, Ronon, Carson, and Weir. "Thank you all."

She glanced to her left where they stood in a group, Ronon in his long leather duster, while the others wore the red winter coats Teyla remembered from their trip to Lurra a year ago. As she watched them, Carson wiped a tear from his eye, and Ronon clapped him on the shoulder.

The crackling of the fire increased as the flames engulfed the platform, and Teyla closed her eyes. Once she was alone, then she could fall apart, she told herself. She could do this. She owed it to Charin to remain strong. She opened her eyes and stared into the fire.

As the fire consumed the rest of the pyre, the Athosians drifted back into the trees in groups of twos and threes. A few squeezed Teyla's hands or offered her watery smiles as they walked past her.

Halling stepped in front of Teyla, took her hands, and touched his forehead to hers.

"She lived a long, full life," he said in a whisper. "And she chose the moment of her passing. May we all be so fortunate."

Teyla smiled through her tears and nodded. "I know."

Halling stared into Teyla's eyes for a moment longer, then stepped back and wrapped his arm around Jinto's shoulders. "Once the fire is out, we will gather the ashes and return them to you. You have a place in mind?"

"Yes," Teyla replied and looked away.

Charin had told her about the meadow when she was a child. How at one time, long before the Wraith, their people had lived long, full lives, and after their deaths, their families buried their ashes in the Hallow and marked the spot with a stone. After hearing the story, Teyla had made a child's promise to Charin that she would do the same for her chaguo bibi when the time came.

"We shall see what the future allows, child," Charin had said at the time and smiled.

Over the years, Teyla had never forgotten that promise and was determined to fulfil it. It would mean a trip to Athos, she knew, and while she was sure Sheppard would agree to the visit, she was less confident Doctor Weir would allow him to take the risk.

"Teyla?" Halling asked.

Teyla focused on him and squeezed his fingers. "Yes, I have a place in mind."

Halling studied her face for a moment, then nodded, glanced at the pyre, then walked back to the village with Jinto.

Doctor Weir took Halling's place and said, "Teyla, I am so sorry for your loss. If there is anything you need, don't hesitate to ask."

"Thank you, Doctor Weir," Teyla replied.

Weir gave her a sad smile and a nod, then stepped back.

"You going to be okay?" John asked and rested a hand on Teyla's shoulder.

"I will be fine," Teyla replied. She glanced at Rodney standing next to John. "Thank you for coming. I -" Teyla glanced at the fire and ducked her head.

"Of course," John told her. He patted her shoulder, and Rodney gave her an awkward smile. "And like Elizabeth said, anything you need, just ask."

John stepped away, and Teyla was surprised when Rodney didn't immediately follow. "I'm umm, sorry for …" He nodded his head at the pyre. He gave her arm an awkward pat and hurried after Sheppard.

Ronon stepped forward and engulfed her in a hug. "Stay strong," he whispered in her ear.

Teyla nodded.

Ronon squeezed her shoulders, then joined John and Rodney.

"We'll wait for you by the jumper," John said. "Take whatever time you need."

Teyla watched as John led the others back through the trees to the village, then turned back to the pyre. As she watched the platform collapse, she felt the bubble of grief growing in her chest. Her vision blurred as tears welled in her eyes. The lump in her throat grew, almost choking her, as she turned toward the forest behind her and ran through the trees.

By the time she reached the beach, Teyla could barely see where she was going and collapsed on the sand near the water. She sat on the beach, ignoring the chilly weather, and listened to the water lap against the shore as tears ran down her cheeks and memories played in her mind.

She stood in the middle of the tent, her father's bow in her hands as she cried. She had never known her mother, and now her father was gone as well. Culled by the Wraith.

"Come with me, Teyla," Charin said with a gentle smile.

"Charin?" Teyla said and wiped the tears out of her eyes. "I-I … what happens now?"

Charin held out her hand. "We move forward," she replied. "Your father would not want you to mourn him forever."

Teyla grasped the bow in one hand, took Charin's outstretched hand in the other, and followed her out of the tent that had been her home for all of her eight years.

Teyla wiped her eyes and stared out at the water lapping against the shore.

"There is no reason for you to be so nervous," Charin admonished as Teyla paced back-and-forth near the back of the tent, clasping and unclasping her hands as she moved. "Everyone on the council knows you are the best choice to lead our people."

Teyla shook her head. "Telus is older and wiser," she countered. "He knows everyone, and all of our trade partners respect him."

"They respect you too," Charin told her. "Everything will be fine, you'll see."

"I do not know how you can remain so calm."

Charin smiled. "That is one of the advantages of age, my dear. I can see things for how they truly are."

Teyla wrapped her arms around her knees and stared at the water. Charin had been right, of course. The council vote had been unanimous, and she had been the leader of her people ever since. From the day the Wraith culled her father, leaving her alone in the world, Charin had been there for her. She had taught Teyla how to hunt, to track game. Charin had encouraged her to take on a larger role with their trade partners and on the council. When she had doubted her ability to both lead her people and remain in Atlantis with Sheppard and the others, it had been Charin who had shown her how she could succeed in living in two different worlds.

What was she supposed to do now? she wondered.

Her dearest friend, the last of her family, chosen or otherwise, was gone. She sat with her knees drawn up to her chest and watched the rhythmic movement of the water. After a time, her breathing matched the ebb and flow of the water, and she felt herself relax.

"Teyla, lass," Carson said from behind her a few minutes later.

"Doctor Beckett," Teyla replied in surprise and wiped her eyes. She started to stand, but Carson stepped forward and shook his head.

"I can go if you want me to," he offered, but Teyla shook her head.

"It is all right," she replied. "Please." She patted the sand beside her and waited until Carson sat down. "Was there something you needed?" she asked.

"No, no, nothing like that," Carson replied. He tugged on the hem of his coat and rested his arms on his drawn-up knees. He glanced at her for a moment, then stared out at the water, letting the silence grow.

"I am so sorry, my dear," Carson said. "I know how much Charin meant to you, and I wanted to come check on you."

"I am fine," she replied, ignoring how brittle her voice sounded to her ears.

Carson shook his head. "No. You're not," he told her. "But you will be." He reached out and squeezed Teyla's hand. "Charin was a special lady. I'm glad I had the chance to know her."

Teyla smiled and squeezed Carson's hand in return. "Thank you," she said. "For everything you did for Charin these last few months."

"Of course," he replied. "I only wish -" He gave Teyla a tight smile and ducked his head.

"I know," Teyla said. "But it was Charin's choice."

Carson nodded.

"She taught me so much," Teyla said after another brief silence. "When I was a child, Charin was one of the best trackers in the village. She taught me everything I know about hunting game."

She looked out at the water and felt her chest tighten as a different memory surfaced. Not of Charin, but of the pictures John had shown her of him and Rodney standing together at Niagara Falls.

"I only wish," she started to say and stopped.

"Teyla?" Carson asked.

Teyla wiped her eyes and pushed down the well of sadness. She turned to Carson and tried to smile.

"What's wrong?" Carson asked. "This is more than the funeral, I think."

Teyla ducked her head. "You will think it is foolish."

"I doubt that very much," Carson replied with a mock frown. "If there is something you need, love, please tell me."

Teyla took a deep breath and focused on the motion of the water. "I have no memory of what my mother looked like," she admitted in a whisper. "Even the memories of my father are little more than flashes." She glanced at Carson, then focused on the water, hoping to regain her sense of equilibrium in the repetitive motion of the waves. "I fear, in time, I will forget what Charin looks like as well."

"Teyla …" Carson started to say, but Teyla shook her head.

"Did you see the pictures Colonel Sheppard brought back from his recent trip to Earth?"

Carson shook his head. "I know about them, but I haven't seen them."

"He and Rodney will have those photos for the rest of their lives. No matter what happens, they will have those images to remember that event and each other. It struck me this morning that I have no such images to remember Charin."

Carson squeezed her fingers again, his expression full of empathy. "I wish there was something I could do for you, my dear," he said. "Some piece of wisdom I could offer that would help."

Teyla smiled and squeezed Carson's hand in reply.

They sat in companionable silence for a few more minutes, then Carson said, "The others are returning to Atlantis. Did you want to come back with us now?" He glanced at her with a raised eyebrow.

Teyla shook her head. "There are some things here I must attend to." She swallowed at the thought of sorting through Charin's belongings. "Once I am done, I will return to Atlantis."

"There's no rush. I'm sure the others won't mind if you wanted to stay longer, visit with your people," Carson told her.

"No," Teyla said. "I have one last promise to keep to Charin. For that, I will need Colonel Sheppard's assistance."

Carson studied her for a moment, then nodded. "I will let the others know you intend to stay here. At least for a little while," he told her and stood.

Teyla accepted Carson's offered hand, and together they walked back through the forest to the village. Carson hugged her when they reached the edge of the fields, now lying fallow for the winter. "Take care," he said with a smile and turned toward the clearing on the other side of the village. "We'll see you when you get back to the city."

"Thank you, Doctor Beckett," Teyla said. "For listening."

"Any time, love," Carson replied and walked back through the village and to the waiting jumper. He paused long enough to say something to John standing at the bottom of the ramp, then disappeared inside the ship.

John looked around the village, and Teyla raised a hand when he looked in her direction. John waved in reply, and a few moments later, the hatch closed, and the shuttle took off. The ship circled the village once, then turned toward Atlantis.

Teyla watched as the jumper disappeared over the ocean then wandered back through the village on her way to Charin's tent. The village was a bustle of activity with preparations already underway for the upcoming Festival of Light, and she felt her heart clench at the thought of celebrating the holiday alone. She watched as Halling directed several of the men digging holes for the poles that would line the edge of the square. Several women sat together at a table making paper lanterns and talking with one another.

She ducked under the flap for the meeting tent and found several older children, including Jinto and Wex, sitting at one of the long tables making garlands from dried berries and leaves. Another group of children sat at a different table, shelling nuts.

"Teyla!" Isla called from the back of the tent where she and Rada stood over several large bowls mixing dough. One of the children set her bowl of shelled nuts on the table, and Isla added with a smile, "Thank you, Rina."

Rina nodded and went back to the group of children cracking nuts.

"We are making the cakes for the celebration," Isla said to Teyla. "You are welcome to join us."

Teyla walked over to the table and felt a pang in her chest that Charin wasn't there to supervise the baking as she had for so many years.

Isla studied her for a moment. She glanced at Rada with a knowing expression and wiped her hands on a towel. "I know what you need," Isla said to Teyla.

She picked up a small decanter, poured some reddish-brown liquid into a cup, and handed the cup to Teyla. Isla filled two more cups, gave one to Rada and kept the third for herself.

"For Charin," Isla said, tapping her cup against Teyla's and Rada's.

"Charin," Rada echoed with a sniff.

Teyla took a sip from the cup and nearly choked as the alcohol grabbed the back of her throat.

"Kanaan traded for some different grain this year," Isla said with a smile. "Telus may have made the whiskey a bit stronger as a result."

Teyla took another sip, this time tasting the mellow sweetness of the whiskey behind the burn.

"It should make for good cakes," Isla continued as she took another sip from her cup. "If we can get all of them baked today, they will have several weeks to age."

"I am sure the cakes will turn out well," Teyla replied. She finished the whiskey and stepped back from the table, blinking back tears.

Was it the alcohol or grief? she wondered as she set the cup on the end of the table.

Isla reached out and took Teyla's hand. "I understand, you know," she said with a sad smile. "After losing Julen and Idun to a culling, I was sure I could never enjoy the festival again." She squeezed Teyla's hand and added, "It will take time, but it does get better."

Teyla nodded. "I must go to Charin's tent and …" She took a deep breath. "And begin to sort through her belongings."

"Mother is already there," Isla replied, letting go of Teyla's hand. "She wanted to do something to help you in some way."

Teyla swallowed against the lump in her throat. She glanced around at the children eagerly discussing the upcoming festival and left the tent. She stopped a few paces from the tent and took several deep breaths as the crisp air dried the tears on her cheeks. She waited until her breathing slowed, then walked through the village to Charin's tent. She pushed back the tent flap and found Iranda seated on a cushion near the stove, holding a small book in her hand.

"Iranda?" Teyla asked as she walked across the tent.

Iranda looked up with a start. "Teyla," she replied and climbed to her feet, the book still clutched in her hand. "I wanted to get a start on sorting through …" She set the book on the table next to Charin's favorite chair and wiped her eyes. "I thought you would want some assistance with Charin's things," she finished.

Teyla glanced down at the book on the table. The cover was dark green, and she recognised it as one of the blank books the scientists used for recording information when in the field.

She picked up the book and gave Iranda a questioning glance.

"One of the expedition people, a nice girl with red hair, she had many questions about the plants in the forest, she gave Charin the book a few months ago," Iranda explained as Teyla paged through the book. "Charin wanted to write down as many of our stories as she could before …" Iranda stopped and sniffed as she looked around the tent.

Teyla looked up from the book and reminded herself she wasn't the only one grieving Charin's loss. "Iranda -"

"She was my oldest friend," Iranda said in a whisper. "We grew up together, you know," she added with a smile. "She was one of the strongest people I ever knew. When she lost her husband and children in cullings, she could have closed herself off to people, but instead, she became a surrogate mother to so many children who had lost their parents the same way." Iranda looked at Teyla with a smile. "When she took you in as a little girl, however, I could tell there was something special between you."

Teyla felt the lump growing in her throat again.

Iranda smiled at her and patted her hand. "I will let you have some time alone," she said and turned toward the tent flap. "Let me know if you would like help with …" She looked around the tent. "Let me know if you would like help," she finished and left the tent.

~*~*~*~ SGA ~*~*~*~

John wandered through the city later that afternoon, replaying everything that had happened over the last few days in his head. Atlantis nearly discovered and destroyed by the Wraith. Finding out Caldwell had been made an unwitting host to a Goa'uld.

When? he wondered as he walked. He felt his back muscles twitch when he realised Caldwell was probably already a Goa'uld host when he had shuttled John and Rodney back to the city after everything with Vance. Was that when the Goa'uld had stolen the data files?

What worried him more was that the plan had almost worked. The only reason they were still there at all was due to Caldwell fighting the symbiote long enough to tell John the access codes needed to override the Goa'uld's program.

On the list of cutting things way too close, this had to be in the top five, maybe the top three, John thought as he left the generator room and turned toward the control room.

Even while dealing with everything surrounding the sabotage, he had been aware of Teyla's loss and the death of Charin, but at the time, his focus had been on making sure neither the bomb nor the Wraith destroyed the city. He was grateful that Beckett had been there for her while he had dealt with the immediate threat.

John walked through the control room, nodded to Chuck at the main control console, and tapped on the door to Elizabeth's office.

Elizabeth looked up from her computer and waved him into the office. "Colonel," she greeted as John sat down. "Is everything all right?"

John nodded and sat back in his chair. "I see the Daedalus left while we were on the mainland."

Elizabeth set down the pen in her hand. "Yes, though Colonel Caldwell is confined to quarters until they get back to Earth."

John frowned. "No one seriously believes he volunteered to be a host for a Goa'uld, do they?"

"I don't think so, but the IOA wants to be sure he is completely himself again." Elizabeth glanced down at her desk.

John grunted and shook his head. He had read several reports regarding various encounters SG-1 and other SGC teams had had with the Goa'uld system lords over the years. Given a choice, he would take the Wraith any day. The idea of losing all sense of self as a parasite took over his body … John mentally shuddered.

Better to be fed on and get it over with, he thought to himself.

He had no idea how someone recovered after such an experience. Would the Daedalus have a new commander the next time she arrived in Atlantis? he wondered.

"What about the rest of the city?" Elizabeth asked a moment later. "Are you sure the Goa'uld didn't leave any more surprises?"

John nodded. "Security teams have done a full sweep of the control tower, the ZPM room, the backup naquadah generators, even the 'gate itself. They didn't find any explosive devices or any other booby traps. If there is any good news, there weren't that many places Caldwell could go that wouldn't raise questions, so potential secondary targets were limited. Rodney is still running diagnostics on the computer systems, but so far, those seem clear as well."

Elizabeth nodded and picked up the pen.

John watched her twist the pen through her fingers as she stared at her desk, lost in thought. He knew she still felt guilty over what had almost happened with Kavanagh, but John was more pragmatic on the matter. His dislike for the man aside, they had needed information, Kavanagh had been a viable suspect for the sabotage, and time was of the essence.

"You did what you had to do," he reminded her.

Elizabeth looked over at him, and John saw the lingering doubt and guilt in her eyes. "So you said."

He watched Elizabeth for a few more seconds, then stood. "I'm just going to go see how McKay is doing with those diagnostics," he said as Elizabeth looked up at him.

"I'll need your report on the security sweep to send to the SGC with our next update."

John nodded and left the office. He stopped in the mess hall long enough to grab a couple of cups of coffee and then headed down to Rodney's lab.

"How's it going?" he asked a few minutes later as he set one of the cups on the work table.

"Slowly," Rodney replied, studying the computer screen in front of him. "Cadman checked the rest of the logs before she left. Good news, she didn't find any more gaps, but I want to make sure there aren't any more surprises hiding in the code itself. All we need is to think everything is fine, access some innocuous system, and have the city blown sky-high."

John had his cup almost to his mouth when he froze. "That can't happen, can it?"

Rodney glanced up at him and picked up the other coffee cup. "No, probably nothing that extreme, but that doesn't mean there couldn't be something that say, disables the Zed-PM when we need to raise the shield, or locks us out of the 'gate controls at the wrong time."

John grimaced as he considered other worst-case scenarios. "I'm surprised you didn't get Zelenka to help with the code."

Rodney snorted and swallowed some of his coffee. "Radek told me he needed to finish working on some important project."

"Still mad that he was stuck on M7G-677 with the kids?" John smiled into his cup at the reminder of what Radek looked like coming back through the 'gate with his hair braided and his face painted.

"Mmm," Rodney replied, distracted by the lines of code on the computer screen.

"Something wrong?" John asked.

"What? No, just double-checking the systems for the 'gate shield. Which reminds me," he looked up at John, "I'm almost ready to test my proto-type emitter design and could use some of that help you offered."

"You're sure this shield and cloak idea of yours is going to work?"

"Of course, it will work," Rodney retorted. "I've checked and rechecked the math and run dozens of computer simulations. There's no reason why it shouldn't work. The next logical step is a scale model test." He set the coffee cup back on the work table. "You promised you would help."

"Yeah, but that's when I thought I was going to be flying a dart," John replied with a grin.

Rodney rolled his eyes. "Yes, well, thanks to the Wraith, we no longer have a dart to use for the test." He focused on the computer again and added, "Probably a good thing considering how cold it's getting. At least, now I won't freeze to death while doing the tests out on the mainland or one of the piers. I'll set everything up in the silo and let you know when I'm ready."

"Fine," John said. "Don't forget the Light Festival thing is coming up soon. Teyla is expecting us to attend."

Rodney pursed his lips but nodded. "Can't forget about that," he muttered under his breath.


Rodney looked up from the computer with a shrug.

"This won't be easy for her, you know," John told him. "It's the first holiday after Charin's death. She's going to need some support."

"Yes, yes, fine. I said I'd go. I'll go," Rodney replied.

John gave him a last stern look and walked back toward the door to the lab. "Let me know if you find anything in the system files," he said.

Rodney looked up with a nod, and John walked back to the transporter.

~*~*~*~ SGA ~*~*~*~

Radek caught a glimpse of his reflection in the computer screen and grumbled under his breath. No matter how much he washed, some of the paint had refused to come off his face. The red and green colors, while more faint than when he had returned from the planet, were still visible, highlighting his forehead and chin in particular. There was a reason he disliked kids. His trip to M7G-677 had only served to reinforce his opinion that children were messy creatures who should be avoided at all costs.

"Už se tam nikdy nevrátím," he muttered as he scrubbed his forehead and glared at the wall separating his lab from McKay's. "Mister Mom," he added with a disgruntled sniff. "Next time, Rodney can fix the field generator himself."

He made one more fruitless swipe at the paint with his fingers, then went back to reading the information on the screen. It had been almost two months since their trip to the Wraith complex, and Radek was more confident than ever that he could find a way to shield against the Wraith culling beams. From what Doctor Chaudhri's team had translated so far, it appeared as though the beam was similar to the transporter system used in Atlantis in many ways.

"Convergent ideas?" he wondered, "Reverse engineering of stolen Ancient technology? A combination of the two?"

Regardless of how, he hoped the similarities meant he could use something akin to the dampening fields in the transporters to block the energy beam and prevent the Wraith from culling more planets.

He pulled up the schematics for the transporters and compared that system to the partial design they pulled from the Wraith database and nodded. "It might be possible, but the energy requirements …" Radek shook his head as he made several notes in a different file.

He heard a tap on his door, looked up, and saw Doctor Chaudhri standing in the doorway with a small book and a bundle of paper in his hand. "Doctor Zelenka?" Chaudhri said. "Am I interrupting?"

Radek sat back on the stool, several vertebrae popping as he moved, and waved Chaudhri into the room.

"No, no. I can use the break," Radek said with a smile. "Was there something you needed?"

"Umm, no, not really." Chaudhri walked into the lab and set the book and papers on the end of Radek's work table. "I finished translating that book you gave me a few months ago."

Radek glanced down at the book and saw the small volume Rodney had brought back from the archive on Mendar. Rodney had insisted the book be translated in full even though it appeared to have nothing to do with their survival or the fight against the Wraith.

"And?" Radek asked as he idly paged through the printed-out translation.

Chaudhri shrugged. "I still don't understand why Doctor McKay thought it would be important. It was pretty much what we thought it would be, some sort of personal diary about someone's journey to enlightenment from what we could tell."

Enlightenment? Radek asked himself. Why would Rodney be interested in such information?

"Thank you, Manish," Radek said with a nod. "I will pass this information along to Doctor McKay."

Chaudhri nodded. "We finished the last of the medical data from the Wraith complex yesterday. I should have more of the engineering information ready for you soon."

"Mmm," Radek replied with an absent nod as he skimmed one of the translated pages.

He heard Chaudhri speaking but stopped listening when the subject of the text caught his attention. Radek looked up a moment later, found Chaudhri giving him an expectant look, and replayed the last part of the conversation in his head.

"Oh, yes, yes," Radek said. "As soon as you have the engineering information, it will be fine."

"Umm … okay," Manish replied and backed toward the door.

Radek was only vaguely aware of Chaudhri leaving as he continued reading the translated text.

An hour later, he laid the last page on the pile, his brain running in circles as he digested what he had read. The book had been written by a woman, though she never stated her name. At first, Radek had merely skimmed the text, believing it was little more than a diary, as Chaudhri said, of the woman's journey along a chosen path of something called The Way.

It wasn't until the woman described the process of how she became mentally bonded to another woman that Radek's imagination kicked into high gear. The text explained how the two women had spent years training together before passing some sort of trial or test. The women spent the rest of their lives perfecting their mental link until they could ascend together. The text did not detail how the women achieved their ascension, but some of what the women experienced after their bonding sounded eerily familiar.

Radek thought back to Colonel Sheppard's reaction after the transformer explosion, running out of Doctor Weir's office and demanding to know where Rodney was in the city. Then there had been Rodney's increased moodiness and persistent headaches while Sheppard had been in the infirmary after his exposure to Beckett's retrovirus. And more recently, Rodney knowing Colonel Sheppard was injured after the trouble with the Ancient meditation device.

"It wasn't possible," he told himself, shaking his head. "The book talks about training for years, possibly decades before the link was established. There hasn't been enough time."

He picked up the book and riffled through the pages. The description of the mental link did explain the various anomalies in Rodney's behavior, Radek reminded himself. He stacked the papers, clipped them together, and placed the translation and the book in a drawer of his desk.

If he was right, this was not something anyone else needed to know about. He debated for a moment saying something to Chaudhri but then decided against it. With luck, Manish would chalk up Rodney's demand for the translation to McKay being McKay. Anything Radek did now would only highlight to Chaudhri and the rest of the translation team that something else was going on.

Should he mention his suspicions to Rodney? he wondered. He winced as he envisioned Rodney's reaction to Radek's hypothesis. Whether he was right or wrong, McKay's response would be explosive, to say the least.

"Neusnadňuješ, příteli," he muttered and locked the drawer.

~*~*~*~ SGA ~*~*~*~

John walked down the hallway the next morning, ignoring the strange looks from the scientists he passed in the hallways.

"Where are we going again?" Ronon asked.

"One of the buildings out on the north pier. Rodney calls it the silo," John replied. He shifted the Wraith stun rifle to his other hand and tapped the control for the transporter.


"Well, because," John said. He held his free hand out in front of him. "It's a big, open building that sort of looks like a grain silo."

Ronon shook his head. "Why are we going out there?"

"Oh." John grimaced and dropped his hand. "Rodney's been working on this idea that would allow us to use the city's shield and the cloak at the same time. He's spent the last few months building a model of the new emitters and some sort of combination generator. I might have promised I'd help him test it when it was ready."

"So you plan to shoot at it?" Ronon nodded at the stun rifle.

John grinned. "Yeah, something like that." He pointed at the particle weapon on Ronon's hip. "Thought you'd like to help out too."

Ronon grunted as John led the way out of the transporter and down the hall to a set of double doors.

"There is still a fluctuation in the shield harmonics," Zelenka said as the door opened and John stepped into the room. "Something is causing interference."

Rodney and Zelenka stood in front of several computers lined up on a work table to the left of the door. A set of six tripods stood in the middle of the room, each with what John recognised as a scaled-down version of the shield emitter attached to a two-foot-long pole. Wires led from the bottom of each emitter to one of the computers on the work table, and several large crates stood inside the circle of tripods.

As John watched, the air shimmered around the crates for a moment then wavered for a split second before stabilising again.

"Maybe we need to adjust the emitter output," Rodney replied and typed something into the computer. He stared at the computer screen for a few moments, then shook his head.

"This should be working," Rodney growled as he glared at the computer. "None of the computer models indicated anything about frequency conflicts."

"All of your tests were modelled using a ZPM as the energy source, yes?"

Rodney looked over at Radek. "Of course. What else would I use?"

Radek pursed his lips. "We are using a naquadah generator." He pointed to the bulky object under the work table. "It is possible the generator itself is interfering with the emitters in some way."

"Something wrong?" John asked as he walked over to the table.

"Just some minor technical difficulties," Rodney replied. "I'm sure I'll have it figured out in a few minutes."

Rodney's expression took on a far-away look, and he snapped his fingers several times. He typed another long string of code into the computer, then glanced at Zelenka. "How's that?" he asked.

Zelenka read through the data on a second computer and nodded. "Yes, yes, that is much better. The shield harmonics have stabilised."

John glanced at the stack of crates and noticed the air around them didn't blink and shudder anymore.

"See," Rodney said and turned to John with a grin. "All fixed."

John shook his head. "So, what do you want us to do?"

"Right." Rodney rubbed his hands together and turned back to the computer. "First, we need to test the shield and the cloak separately, just to make sure I've calibrated the emitters correctly. Once we know that, I'll run the program that will allow the shield and the cloak to function at the same time."

"Okay." John readied the stun rifle. "You're sure this will work?"

"Yes, I'm sure," Rodney retorted with an impatient glare. He checked the computer screen and turned back to John. "The shield is active. Whenever you're ready."

John aimed the rifle at the nearest crate, then hesitated. The memory of nearly shooting himself in the foot when he fired at the oily barrier blocking the exit to the Ancient sanctuary rose in his mind, and he lowered the rifle.

"In your own time," Rodney said with an impatient wave of his hand.

"What about ricochets?" John asked.

"What about them?"

"Shouldn't you guys, I don't know, take cover or something?"

Rodney pinched the bridge of his nose and shook his head. "Unbelievable," he muttered under his breath.

"There should be no danger of ricochets, Colonel," Zelenka said with a glance at Rodney. "The shield works by absorbing and dispersing the energy of the charge over the entire area of the shield itself."

John glanced at the stack of crates. "That's how the normal shield works. You're sure these new emitters of yours will do the same thing?"

"How many times do I have to say this?" Rodney asked. "The shield works. Now, if you don't mind …" He waved at the crates.

"All right," John said and readied the stun rifle again. "If you get hit and end up on the floor unconscious, don't blame me."

"I think I'll -" Rodney started to say and flinched as a red beam of light flew past John's shoulder and hit the shield.

The air around the crates glowed for a moment, then faded. John turned and saw Ronon standing near the door with his particle weapon raised.

"You had that set to stun, didn't you?" John asked.

"Wouldn't be much of a test if I did," Ronon replied and holstered the weapon.

John shook his head, then glanced over at Rodney, staring wide-eyed at Ronon.

"A little warning next time," Rodney grumbled even as he turned to the table with the computers.

"I thought you said the shield would work, and there was nothing to worry about," John replied.

Rodney looked up from the computer with a glare. "That's not the point."

John grinned and had a response on the tip of his tongue when he heard his name over the radio.

"Weir to Sheppard."

John tapped his radio. "Sheppard."

"Teyla just radioed," Elizabeth said. "She is ready to return to the city."

"Roger that," John replied. He tapped off his radio and turned to the huddle near the computers. "Rodney, your tests will have to wait."

"What?" Rodney exclaimed, looking up from the computer. "We've barely started."

"Teyla is ready to come back to the city. I need to run out in a jumper and pick her up. If any of your scientists need a lift, tell them to be in the jumper bay in the next five minutes."

"I do not believe we have any teams heading to the mainland today, Colonel," Radek said as Rodney grumbled under his breath.

"All right, I'll be back in an hour or so," John said and turned toward the door.

"Ronon?" Rodney asked with a hopeful look at Dex.

"Not a chance," Ronon replied and left the room.

Rodney glared at Ronon's retreating back.

"Don't sweat it, Rodney," John said. "It won't take that long to fly out the mainland and back. We'll finish your tests when I get back."

"Fine," Rodney grumbled and went back to typing on one of the computers.

"The computer recorded the energy dispersion across the emitters. We can use that information …" Zelenka said as John left the room.

John returned the stun rifle to the armoury, then headed up to the jumper bay.

He took his time running through the preflight checks just in case any of McKay's scientists had a last-minute change of heart, then sealed the hatch and powered up the engines.

"Jumper One ready to depart," John said over the radio a few moments later.

"You're cleared for launch, Colonel," Chuck replied.

"Roger that. Be back soon."

John cleared the sunroof and pointed the jumper in the direction of the mainland. It was another nice day. No clouds in the sky, barely any wind to worry about, and the sun glinted off the waves as he skimmed over the water.

The mainland came into view ahead of him, and John circled the village several minutes later before landing in the clearing.

He opened the hatch and zipped up his uniform jacket as a burst of cold air hit him. While it might be sunny, it was still winter, he reminded himself and stepped out of the shuttle.

Teyla waved as she crossed the clearing with Halling beside her.

John saw the squat clay jar Halling carried in his arms and felt a jolt in his stomach when he realised what was inside.

"You are certain you want to do this?" Halling said as they walked over to John.

"I am," Teyla replied. "I made a promise to Charin."

Halling pursed his lips and studied Teyla for a moment, then handed over the urn. He touched his forehead to Teyla's and stepped back.

"I will return in a few days," Teyla promised.

John nodded to Halling, who nodded back and then John tapped the control to seal the hatch.

"Is that what I think it is?" John asked as he settled into the pilot's seat and nodded to the jar in Teyla's arm.

"Charin's ashes, yes," Teyla replied and took a deep breath. "I have a favor to ask of you. And of Doctor Weir."

"What sort of favor?" John asked as they lifted off.

Teyla hesitated, and John glanced over at her. He saw the mix of uncertainty and determination in her expression and steeled himself for the bad news. "Teyla?"

"I wish to return to Athos," Teyla said. "I wish to return Charin to the place of our ancestors."