Are less than horrible imaginings."
Aeryn knew she was in trouble as soon as she felt the sting of the dart on her skin. A sharp prick to the neck was never good. At the time she simply thanked whatever remaining luck she had that it wasn't a drug to knock her unconscious, she never for once doubted that she would find out all too soon what exactly the tip had been dipped in.
She was sweating by the time she landed at their camp on Dori. She was uncomfortably hot by the time Garren noticed she was packing to leave.
"At least stop by the medics!" he said as she shoved her spare clothing into her bag. Aeryn fastened it closed; she had nothing else to take from this room. The walls were blank and cold, lacking the warmth of her cell on Moya.
"It's the early stages of the Living Death," she told him, finally turning. She knew the signs. "There's nothing they can do without an antidote to whatever hit me."
Garren grabbed her arm as she tried to slide past him into the corridor. "So you're going leave in your Prowler and die alone?"
Aeryn shook his arm off and tried to convince herself that her heart was pounding because of the poison. Once, that would have been her answer, to run away, but now she couldn't shake the need to run back. One last chance to see him. She doubted Garren would understand the garbled mess of fear and hope and home that twined around one man in her heart. "I'm not going to die alone."
While John still refused to go running with Ronon and the Colonel at the ass-crack of dawn, sunrise these days found him on the East Pier. Sometimes he stripped down to nothing and went swimming, reveling in the shock of cold water that was sure to wake him up after a long night. Most days, however, John just dangled his feet and watched the new day turn the water into gold.
It was a throwback to his childhood and getting up while it was still dark outside to go fishing with his dad. Calm and quiet with the promise of a new day, it was a good time for not thinking about much of anything, a grounded reminder of another lifetime. A reminder of his recent life, too, when John had been on his own, running from planet to planet from the Wraith. As he watched a jumper cruise back from from the mainland, a half-formed dream from when he was on the run fluttered on the horizon, sunlight reflecting leviathan gold.
What? John squinted at Harvey's non-sequitur. Harvey sat beside him, his yellow rubber boots trailing in the water next to John's bare feet.
You remember what it tastes like. What it really tastes like.
On Atlantis, John remembered a lot of things that he'd almost forgotten about Earth. Not the big things, but the little ones like the taste of orange juice or the sound of a guitar. Ironically, now that he was here, surrounded by humans, it was the taste of Chiana's baked roshi and the sound of D'argo's shiliqin that he couldn't quite remember.
Moya hadn't had sunrises, not like this. Just the deep black of space. His childhood dreams realized in a wondrous nightmare.
Coffee ice cream.
John shot Harvey a sideways look. Are you trying to tell me something?
Harvey leveled a look at him. You're being morose and depressing.
John kicked water at him. Well excuse me for ruining your mood.
Go eat breakfast. Go to work, man. Stop goldbricking.
Day off remember?
Harvey harumphed, annoyed. I was hoping you had forgotten.
A half smile graced John's face just as the sun inched that last little bit above the horizon. I never forget.
"Shhhh. Deep breaths. The act of breathing will pump the coolant through the suit."
The disembodied voice hovered beyond Aeryn's eyelids. She wanted it to stay that way. The taste of desperation was the only thing that had allowed him this close. She had to survive. Just a little longer. Find Moya.
"That's good. Deep breaths. Shhhh. Once youre stable, we'll find Crichton."
Rodney tracked Crichton to the mess hall grateful for the small mercy of having coffee nearby for when his Crichton-induced headache exploded his brain. For the moment, however, he had a new hole to tear.
"What is this?" he demanded as he thrust his tablet between Crichton and his food. The man shot him a derisive look and pushed it away, but Rodney at least had his attention now.
"Go away, McKay. It's my day off."
Rodney rolled his eyes. "It's your day off when you turn in your proposal. This?" he shook the tablet meaningfully, "This is a suggestion!"
"Have you eaten yet?" Ronon looked up with a smile hovering just behind his completely transparent question.
"Oh, right. Blame my bad mood on low blood sugar instead of this piece of crap that could have been written by a preschooler," snapped Rodney with a glare that should have made Ronon wilt, but that he knew from experience very rarely worked. "And yes, I have eaten and had my coffee, and this is still the worst proposal I have ever read in my life. Does that give you a better idea of how bad this is? I'm beginning to think you got your PhD out of a Cracker Jack box. If you even have one."
Crichton sighed with an air of humoring him and took the tablet. The proposal document that he'd emailed Rodney the night before was open, consisting of little more than two pages of, Because-I-wanna childish reasoning.
"It's the best I can do with what I know," Crichton finally said, handing the tablet back.
"The best you can do?" Rodney repeated incredulously. "Well your best is getting rejected until you can come up with something better than observe near space from orbit during stargate activation. Because I can tell you right now what youll see."
That made Crichton look up at him through his eyelashes. "Who said anything about seeing?"
Semantics, Rodney thought, even as his mind whirred through possible subspace spectrum that a planetary wormhole could influence from a distance. Crichton stood up to make his escape while he thought Rodney was distracted, but oh, no, he wasn't getting away that easily. "Wait! Where do you think youre going? Explain that!"
"Approve it. I'll let you know what I find out." Crichton grinned smugly, and all Rodney wanted to do was smack his attitude off his face, the bastard. This? This was why he hated Crichton. He refused to do what Rodney said and had no fear of retribution. Insults, threats, even the one time Rodney had threatened the environmental controls in his room, all of it had rolled off Crichton who was duly unimpressed and amused.
"No." Rodney grit his teeth and tried to be intimidating anyway. "You have two hours to make this legible and explain what you mean coherently, or I'm assigning you to Maintenance and to hell with anything else you want to try."
Huffing, annoyed, Crichton snatched back the tablet and practically dropped it on the table before typing quickly and shoving it back across to Rodney, stomping away while Rodney took two seconds to read the "fuck off" that blinked back at him.
"Nine am, Crichton!" he shouted after him. "Revisions or you'll be cleaning grates for the rest of your life."
Crichton snorted. "Who's gonna make me?" he asked turning and walking backwards a few steps. "See you around." He sauntered out.
God, he hated that man. Rodney was going to get him, somehow, and soon. Ronon's amused snort behind him had him glaring at his teammate and snatching the pastry off his plate. "You shut up. Don't you have Marines to beat up?"
Ronon just grinned toothily and said, "Get your own, McKay."
When she heard Pilot's voice it was like new life had been breathed into her. Aeryn staggered out of the confines of Scorpius's damaged Marauder and inhaled the tang of Moya's recirculated air.
She gasped, short of breath. Heat pressed down on her like a blanket, urging her to sleep. "Pilot?" she croaked. The maintenance bay was empty. Why was it empty?
"Aeryn!" His image appeared in the clamshell. "What is wrong? Are you hurt?"
"Others?" she asked. Scorpius's booted feet came steadily closer. Pilot was halfway through telling her that she was the only one aboard when he stopped abruptly in shock at her companion.
John was halfway through the second of the gargantuan Lord of the Rings movies and happily brain fried when Ronon plopped down on the couch next to him. He smelled like sweat and his arms glistened. John got an eyeful when Ronon immediately shanghaied the popcorn.
"Whole day off and you spend it cooped up inside?" Ronon repeated the question he'd asked at breakfast.
"Already spent a cycle in the wild," John replied as he had earlier.
Ronon gave him another disgusted look and then nodded at the screen. "I like the horsemen."
John grinned for lack of anything to say. The horsemen were pretty cool. The whole thing was pretty cool; John couldn't get over the fact that the film existed at all. Didn't mean he wanted to be anywhere resembling grassy fields and orcs though. Ronon on the other hand was definitely one for adventure in the great outdoors and kept asking if John wanted to go hunting with him on the mainland. He probably would sometime out of boredom, but for now, John was content to be spoiled by the comforts of home.
A home anyway.
Hey, he got to see Gandalf and Aragorn walking around, that was pretty damn amazing, even if the Balrog was entirely CG. And they kept changing things from the books.
Ronon slapped the popcorn bowl back into his chest, grinning when John startled. "Bastard," John muttered, but it only made Ronon smile wider as Eowyn led her people into Helm's Deep. The clamor of battle preparations drew in random scientists on the way to lunch. Most just poked their heads in the rec room to see what was playing, but a few came in and sat down. As things got grimmer for Rohan, people started bringing back lunch trays and settling in.
Distracted, John recognized a few faces from the physics and engineering meetings, a couple of Radek's friends. Caitlin and Erik showed up and grinned at John, a few others he knew from the socials Radek dragged him to, but since John hadn't been to one in several weeks, he didn't remember anyone's name except for one of the chemists. She smiled at him, and John nodded in return before going back to the movie.
The battle was spectacular. Arrows, explosions, elves who weren't supposed to be there, swords, battering rams, death and glory. Sunrise. John had to close his eyes on Frodo and Sam in Osgiliath.
Well, isn't that interesting. And exciting!
Evil ring. Emphasis on evil.
Frodo still succumbs in the end.
His friends rescue him.
Maybe they changed the ending. Maybe you dreamed it.
I highly doubt the director would risk getting lynched by four billion people. And get your own popcorn. John picked Harvey's hand up and pointedly dropped it back in the fignment's own lap. Harvey grumbled the rest of the way to the end until John was forced to gag him with his hotdog.
With the extended lunch break over, everyone else who had joined them made noises about going back to work. John ignored them and popped in the next DVD.
"So what's with the blond?" Ronon broke the silence that had settled in after everyone else left.
"The blond doc. She kept looking at you and you kept ignoring her."
"Nothing's with her." John flipped to the menu. "Her name is Laurie."
"Really." Ronon watched him with way too much perception for John to handle right now.
"I dont want to talk about it."
Ronon was quiet for all of two microts. "You sleep with her?"
John hit play and didn't answer. It hadn't been bad or anything, the flesh was willing and all that, and it wasn't as if, realistically, he was ever going to get home. See examples wormholes through wraith for how well that ever worked out. Still.
Why are you only honest with yourself after the fact?
"It was a mistake," he said quietly. He felt Ronon's eyes on him for a long while, but he didn't say anything else. Grateful, John concentrated on the drama onscreen.
Rygel said, "I'm sorry. Pilot hasn't heard from him?"
Chiana said, "When we came back there was just some old leviathan and the new stray."
D'argo said, "You don't know that he's dead."
Hesitantly, Pilot said, "Moya and I . . . were pulled into a wormhole."
Aeryn retreated into the cool depths of Moya's tiers, half hoping that they would freeze her heart as they did her body and keep it from breaking. She couldn't do this again. She wouldn't do this again. Her body was breaking down around her but she refused to die alone. Anything, for the chance she'd given up.
After things got interesting, and D'argo and Chiana, the new girl and the old woman managed to get her the antidote, Aeryn went down to where D'argo had locked up Scorpius.
She had let fate decide before, and fate had answered. Fate could go frell itself.
She said, "I need your help."
Radek joined Crichton at dinner with a cheerful grin. "Rodney is very upset with you," he said in greeting. "It was Crichton the moron, and Crichton thinks he's so smart, and Crichton thinks he can bully me, all day long. He is like turkey in suspense."
"It was my day off," replied Crichton mildly.
"Yes, which you spent distracting everybody with Lord of the Rings." Radek pointed out with his fork. It had been maddening. At first it had been people returning late from lunch, and then they had gone completely missing for the afternoon, stealing everyone who went to fetch them back until Rodney had issued dire threats over the radio.
"Sorry you missed it?" asked Crichton with a grin. "It was pretty badass."
Radek sighed wistfully. "I remember when I first saw it. Like magic. True magic. And in Czech," he added, "which is how I read the books as a boy." Magic perhaps was not a sufficient term for that first viewing. Nothing matched it until coming to Atlantis. Even those movies could not measure up to the real adventure
Crichton chuckled. "I'm sure the Ancients would be happy to know they beat out Peter Jackson for Best Thing Ever."
"Barely," Radek qualified. "With the movie, I at least get to watch others fix things for a change."
"The perils of being good at your job," said Crichton.
Radek rolled his eyes. "Perils of being only one Rodney thinks is good enough to do half the things around here. Including write your proposals."
Crichton's fork hesitated on the way to his mouth. "The Shroom said that?"
"The Shroom," - the nickname tickled Radek no end although he rarely used it - "told me to make sure you do not conveniently forget to rewrite you project proposal. He thinks because you like me you will be less stubborn."
"I'm not giving him anything that will get sent back to the U.S. government," said Crichton. They had talked about this before, late one night after the rumor mill had rumbled of directives from on high. Radek could understand his caution as governments were not always the wisest caretakers of dangerous toys, but Crichton's attitude bordered on paranoia.
Crichton shook his head. "It's all still kind of nebulous. I don't even know if I could explain it."
"Well, Rodney is giving me a half pound of German chocolate to make sure you come up with a coherent proposal by nine a.m. I am certain we will manage something. To both of your satisfactions." Radek had no doubt about that. Despite his reservations, Crichton had a driving need to figure out his wormholes that bordered on obsession, and talking his ideas into shape would only help. If Crichton let him help. As much as Crichton had become his friend over the last few months, there was still much that Radek did not understand about the man.
Radek focused on his food to give him space to think, hoping that this would not become another stubborn battle between Crichton and Rodney.
"All right then," Crichton finally said, his face calm and closed off. Unreadable. "But there will be conditions. You bringing the Gargle Blasters?"
"Yes, yes." Radek couldn't help the thrill of relief or the burst of curiosity. Crichton had been working on this project since he had arrived and had remained so closed mouthed about it that it would have been easier to teach the whales to talk again. "In good time. Now tell me of why you want to go into space to activate the stargate."
Crichton grabbed his dessert - the vanilla cake that tasted like applesauce - and shook his head. "Later," he said with a wave of his spoon. "Tell me about The Lord of the Rings. Did it win an Oscar? Fame and acclaim?"
The change of subject earned him a hard stare but after a minute, Radek relented and sighed. Later was such a painful wait away. "Yes. Nominated every year, but third film was one to break all records."
John grinned at that, bright and brilliant.
Aeryn didn't hesitate before entering John's quarters. They were a mess, a remnant of the crazed tension of the days after the Command Carrier. His notebooks were still scattered on his bed on rumpled blankets. Markings dotted surfaces, the tops of the shelves, and the bars of the door like small tattoos that echoed the ones that he'd drawn on his skin.
She hadn't been in here for a long time and quickly shook herself of anything but her mission. Scorpius had agreed to help her in exchange for full rights and resources to all and any wormhole information obtained through looking for and upon discovery of John Crichton.
He would hate it. Curse her for it. It was terrible knowledge that the other John had died for. Aeryn chose not to think of the day she may be asked to pay the price.
The paper crackled under her fingertips, and Aeryn gave into the temptation to flip through the notebook. It was the newer of the two, a project restarted, with fewer pages filled with equations and John's sprawling writing. Notes of the everyday, thoughts, messages to his father. Aeryn couldn't do more than pick out letters of the alphabet here and there, but it felt like a lifeline nonetheless.
The last few pages were star charts, and she recognized her star in the center. No name attached to it, but drawn all the brighter for it. The strangled gasp that came out of her throat surprised Aeryn as much as the sudden sting of tears. John was out there, somewhere, alone - not dead, he couldnt be dead - and she wasn't there to protect him.
John ignored the hum of voices around him. His hands were quite comfortable where his forehead lay upon them on the table, thick with sleep from being raked over the coals all night. Radek hadn't been kidding when he'd said he'd help out with the proposal. He'd made John start from the beginning, page one - except page one took half an hour to find in the convoluted mess that was John's quarters - trying to understand what is was that John was talking about.
Nine dimensions. X, y, z. Dimensional stacking, parallelism, and perpendicularity. Three distinct time components.
John didn't have words for half of the ideas that had been scrambling around in his head for the past year and three months. Numbers, equations, yes, but not in any form a human could naturally parse. Hell, despite all the work that he'd done, what John knew about wormholes was more emotion and intuition than actual factual knowledge. Stuff came pouring out of him before he understood it.
By having him try to explain it, Radek forced John to understand it. It was the peer review from hell, and John still didn't think he'd explained it all that well. Between what he didn't know and what he was holding back, he was just rehashing what Radek already knew from a different angle. But it would be enough to get his wormhole. The whole reason he wanted to try to call one was so that he could understand it better. Practical experience and all that.
"What!" At his name, John's head snapped up so fast it took his brain a second to catch up with the adrenaline jolt.
"With us here?" McKay's voice snapped with his fingers, and after John blinked away the spots, he saw that he was the center of attention of the mess hall too. Blearily, he rubbed his eyes.
McKay pointedly tapped his watch. "Science briefing?"
"Thought we had one of those."
"Science briefing with Elizabeth. You do want her to approve your hair-brained idea, right? Because she has the final word and for some reason she likes to randomly pick project proposals to hear in person to, and I quote, promote positive communication between the scientists and the administration. She really just doesn't want to read the proposals."
"I cannot blame her," Radek mumbled in the background. He was hugging his laptop to his chest and looked as tired as John felt.
"Random, huh?" asked John, because he seriously doubted that.
"It's the only explanation I've got for why she wants to listen to ideas about Ancient design aesthetics, and obviously she didn't pick you randomly. Now hurry up."
John groaned, wishing for sleep but he only received Radek's laptop and a wan smile before the bastard left him to follow Rodney to the conference room alone.
Dr. Weir smiled when they trooped in and said, "I'm very excited to hear about this project," as John tried to hook the laptop to the projector.
"It's not much," shrugged John, because despite the complexities of the underlying principles, what he wanted to do was very simple. That and he and Radek had pared it down as much as they could, for both simplicity and in attempt to make the whole thing as uninteresting as possible to anyone who might want a closer look.
"It only revolutionizes our current understanding of wormholes," said McKay, his tone dripping with sarcasm. "Are you ready yet?"
"I've barely used this thing since I got here." John waved a hand in the Shroom's direction as he figured out what cable went where. Soon enough he had Radek's presentation up and running. He just hoped he remembered what to talk about.
"Okay," he said blinking at the first slide of a wormhole shown in graph-space. He didn't remember putting that in, but looking at Weir as he began, he figured it would work as well as anything else.
"Wormholes connect two points in space-time. That's the basic theory. They do it by creating a fold such that two points are brought together close enough to step from point A to point B in a lot less time than it would take to travel in normal space-time. McKay and Radek I'm sure have and can tell you more of the details if you want but for this project that's the base theory were working with." Weir smiled, and McKay grumbled but for once didn't interrupt. "The Ancients here, in your universe, figured out a way to create wormholes using the stargates, the properties of naquadah, and a hell of a lot of energy. Again, McKay knows a hell of a lot more about that than I do and it's not really relevant except for three things."
John moved to the next slide where numbers one, two, and three appeared in bold type. "First. They figured out how to create stable wormholes where ones didn't exist before, making the mouth small enough to fit on a planet. Second, they figured out how to get people through the wormhole without them disintegrating into goo by dematerializing and rematerializing them at the event horizon. Third, they figured out how to keep you in the same universe as where you started, and, I think, the same time. All these things are problems where I'm from."
"And by problems he means this is how he ended up here," interjected McKay. "The 9D wormhole he arrived through brought him to our reality."
"9D?" Weir raised her eyebrows.
"You're getting ahead of us, McKay," said John. "Unless you want to explain this?"
"Well, if you would just hurry up -"
"Rodney, please." Weir gave him a mom-look before turning back to John. "If you would, Dr. Crichton."
"John," he said. The title still sounded like a ghost.
I thought you were past jumping at your own shadow.
"Right. 9D wormholes are the wormholes I'm familiar with back home." John ignored the ironic grin Harvey gave him from across the table. "They're huge, blue vortexes in deep space. You can sometimes tell they're there from the dimensional variances, if your sensors can pick them up. These guys are whales to your minnows. Wild. No clear way to make them; you have to go looking for them."
The next slide showed a 3D coordinate system and it took a moment for John to remember what to do with it.
"The aliens I learned all this stuff from, left it to me to work out the math. What I get is nine dimensions. Three spatial variables: x, y, z, the ones we live in. Three quantum dimensional variables that control for points of divergence -"
"The multi-verse theory," McKay interrupted again. "Similar to or even the same as what controls the quantum mirror."
John didn't know what the quantum mirror was, but since it seemed to make sense to Weir he didn't dispute it. "And what I think are three time dimensions in a non-linear conception of time. That's the way the math works out. It gets a little messy with relativity but for practical purposes of this project, it doesn't really matter." He half shrugged, not wanting them to press the point because this was one of the points he felt instinctually rather than understood.
"The time factors -"
"McKay, shut up. The time factors are all twisted up with the quantum mechanics and aren't even relevant to the discussion."
"How are they not relevant? They are part of the convergence of -"
"Gentlemen," Weir raised her voice slightly. "Why don't we get back to the proposal at hand? You can debate the importance of time when youre not wasting mine."
"Not relevant," John said loudly over McKay's counter argument to that. "The point is," he waited for McKay to get the hint and shut up. "The point is, these wormholes are unconstrained. Their stability is also a problem. Because of all these dimensional forces, the wormhole has to be in a stable phase with your location in order for you pass through it safely. But that's a problem for another day."
You were close, Harvey reminded him.
"What I want to do is just try to open one."
"I thought -"
"Yeah," John cut Weir off. "I just said wasn't possible, but I think it is with the help of the stargate." He moved on to the next slide that showed two stargate wormholes and a diverted matter stream. "A second stargate in use on the same planet can hijack an incoming wormhole from the intended stargate. The plan is to get a proto-wormhole going, have someone phone from another planet, and see what happens."
"A proto-wormhole?" asked Weir.
"From what I've seen certain conditions seem to make a wormhole more likely to appear, and if we can create those conditions, we're more likely to get the wormhole going."
"That's the end goal," said McKay. "We will of course be taking this one step at a time. The stages and anticipated schedule are detailed in the proposal, but basically were looking at a series of puddlejumper missions to take baseline readings at every stage."
"Have you done a safety and threat assessment?" asked Weir, looking up from skimming the text.
"We'll have one tomorrow," said McKay. "Crichton just finished with this this morning."
"It was done yesterday," John said, just to irritate the Shroom.
McKay shoot him a look down his nose. "Please, your first proposal looked like it had been written by my niece."
"Thank you, gentlemen," Weir once again raised her voice. "I look forward to the complete proposal by the end of the week."
Knowing a dismissal when they heard one, McKay gathered his things, muttering to himself about them letting just anyone get a degree these days and left while John disconnected the computer. It took him two tries before he remembered that the cord was screwed in. By the time he had everything pulled apart, Weir had come around and was leaning on the table next to him.
"It's quite a project," she said when he looked up.
"Yeah, it's one for the textbooks. Inter-reality Space Travel in Five Easy Pieces."
She smiled. "If only it were that simple."
"Textbooks make everything simple."
"You know you are welcome to stay here, even if you succeed."
The offer surprised John both for its implication and the fact that it came at all. He'd known from the beginning what he hoped for - home, in a galaxy far, far away - but until now that had been something only between him and Harvey. Staring at the offer to stay in Weir's knowing gaze made that hope suddenly real, as if the barrier between dreaming and awake had finally broken. And if it didnt work . . . He blinked twice quickly, thinking of Radek and Ronon, Caitlin, Erik, and Phil and playing poker for junk food. Arguing with McKay and watching the sunrise before breakfast in the mess.
"Thanks," John said. He hadn't thought through leaving yet and was surprised that the thought felt bittersweet. "I appreciate it."
"I know we got off with a bit of a rough start," said Weir. "I just wanted to make it clear that you are welcome here for as long as you wish."
"I know," he smiled, startled a bit at his own certainty. Three months and he barely remembered wandering in the wilderness, barely remembered what it was like to eat squirrels and beg for mercy when the Wraith hunted him down.
He'd asked Ronon once, if he ever thought about it, and he'd simply replied, "I dream about it sometimes." That's what his Running days felt like, a dream, far off and unable to hurt him. Atlantis on the other hand was becoming more real every day.
"Good." Weir smiled again, softer, easier. She walked out with him, splitting off at the landing between balconies. "And please don't kill Rodney during this project. We do need him."
"I'll try not to," replied John, returning her friendly grin, although honestly, it was probably going to be a near thing.
Scorpius was useless. Aeryn bashed the exercise pad. Scorpius, for all his cleverness. Did not. Know. Anything. Useful. About. Wormholes. Aeryn paused to take a breath, then smashed her fist into the pad again and watched it vibrate from the blow. He needed scientists and computers and notes that weren't written in two different alien languages on fifty walls and a man that wasn't there. Almost a monen - she lashed out with her foot - and they were no closer to anything.
"D'argo, I dont want to talk." Out of the corner of her eye she saw him pause by the door and sigh.
"I figured," he said. "Chiana and Pilot are worried, and since I'm the captain now, they said I had to talk to you, or at least get you to take a break. Eat something."
"Right," he said, clearly disbelieving her. But all he did was stay, silent and patient first standing, then sitting against a rib, until Aeryn wore herself and her anger out. She didn't know how much time had passed. Her knuckles were sore and she'd pulled her hamstring a bit on a kick, but the dull throb felt good as she leaned her head against the pad.
"I have an idea," she said to the floor. "But I don't like it."
"What is it?" asked Dargo softly.
When she spoke, her voice held a calm she didn't feel. "We need to find Furlow."
Sheppard hovered around the jumper bay the week that Crichton and Zelenka spent modifying Jumper Four. It wasn't that he was worried about the jumper per se, just that he wanted to make sure everything went smoothly. With Rodney wrapped up in this stage of the project, his team was on stand down giving them all a well needed break and just a little too much free time. The way Sheppard figured it, he was doing the scientists a favor by distracting Rodney every few hours.
He also got to watch Crichton in his element. He fit under the jumper console like he was born to it after only a few weeks of working with Ancient systems. His knives were still tucked securely into their sheaths at his belt, a remnant of the Runner he had been that Sheppard doubted Crichton would ever give up. Expedition pants had finally worked their way into his laundry rotation, but he still wore the heavy black boots that looked like they'd survive a nuclear holocaust. It was a different version of the dual competence that many of Atlantis's field scientists were coming to embody, one of a transition between scientist and soldier that had long since taken place.
It wasn't just from the Running either, Sheppard was sure of it. Something about the way Crichton carried himself in that temple on his one and only offworld mission, how he'd shot the lead crazy in the head, spoke of a man already transformed. The man who kept banging his head on the underside of the jumper console still had that intensity, but lacked the manic homicidal tendencies, even when arguing with McKay.
It was like a flip had switched on in the temple, Crichton the ex-Runner scientist had become Crichton the ex-Runner mad-scientist suicidal-marksman, who walked into the line of fire like he couldn't die. Sheppard was familiar with that feeling every time he went into battle - you couldn't worry about dying because you had a job to do. Of course, he wasn't crazy enough to walk into an angry mob, despite what Rodney thought about his own suicidal tendencies. Crichton was his own brand of crazy.
"Radek, I need more optic cable!" Crichton called from inside the jumper. Zelenka, toe to toe with Rodney over a tablet, didn't hear him through the cursing, so Sheppard capped his water bottle and rummaged through the open cases scattered nearby until he found the cables.
"Here," Sheppard said to the pair of legs sticking out, squatting so Crichton could reach the cables without moving.
"Thanks," Crichton said, accepting and sorting through them until he found one the right length.
Sheppard peered under trying to see what he was doing, but he wasn't at a good angle to see. He didn't know the jumper systems from the hardware standpoint well enough to know how the sensors were being modified anyway, but the gentle thrum he felt was smooth and normal. "Doesn't look like you've changed much," he commented.
"We're not near any dimensional variances," Crichton replied. He fitted the cable and hooked it in. It only took him a few minutes to connect it, and then he was shimmying out from under the dash. "And the jumper is not turned on yet."
Sheppard got out of his way and settled into the pilot's seat with a grin. He offered Crichton his water which the other man accepted with a nod of thanks, taking the co-pilot's seat, one hand running over the console absently.
"We'll need a pilot in a couple days," he said.
Sheppard nodded. He'd cleared it with Elizabeth once Rodney had signed on to the first mission. "With Rodney caught up no all this, I figure I might as well be, too."
"You're flying?" Crichton was surprised.
Sheppard shrugged, glad for the break from the usual routine. "I finally got around to reading your project proposal," he added lightly. With all the mental energy that was going into this project, he expected nothing less than fireworks. Something spectacular. "Sounds pretty ambitious."
"Just an idea that's been banging around in my head."
"Yeah," Sheppard agreed. He'd heard all about that little idea from Rodney and how not so little it was. "I hear you've been working on it for a while."
Crichton shrugged noncommittally, taking another sip of water.
"Rodney's gotten a few crazy and ambitious ideas in his head before," Sheppard continued. "Sometimes hasn't known when to quit." He caught Crichton's eye. As much as he was expecting a show, he hadn't forgotten that this whole project was tied to how Crichton arrived here from an alternate universe, and they didn't have a good track record with alternate universes.
Crichton stilled, his pale blue eyes staring back from somewhere Sheppard didn't know. He was a hard man to read when he wanted to be, except for those eyes. He got the message.
Satisfied with that, Sheppard stood. He should probably make sure Rodney and Radek hadn't killed anyone. "Just be careful. If there's anything living in Atlantis has taught me, it's that Murphy's Law is an understatement."
Crichton tossed him his water bottle. "I'll keep that in mind." Sheppard nodded and let him get back to his work.
The Den was drafty but not cold. Aeryn stood apart from Pilot, staring over the dim abyss that felt like looking into her future. One misstep and she would fall. They all would fall.
Pilot hadn't said anything when Aeryn asked him to change course. He had paused and waited for D'argo's nod, but his eyes were for Aeryn. Unwilling to talk, she nevertheless stayed and wondered if what they were doing was worth it. She hadn't told Scorpius yet. She hadn't wanted to be in the same space as him, feeling stupid and weak for asking for his help in the first place. John was dead more likely than not.
Aeryn should be dead, too. But for Scorpius. But for D'argo and Chiana and Zhaan and John a hundred times over. Somewhere along the way, Aeryn had forgotten how to give up. Forgotten what it was like not to have hope. She thought of the hope waiting inside of her, tiny and terrifying. She wasn't ready to make the choice her mother had.
The jumper hummed, and Crichton couldn't tell if it was the machine or the excitement of those within it. They were in a parking orbit in the first Lagrange point between the planet Atlantis lived on and the sun. McKay hadn't stopped arguing with Radek about every last thing that had already been argued about and double checked ten times over. John knew it was excitement and nerves and the fact that the Shroom was anal retentive to the nth degree.
As lead on the project, John sat in the copilot seat next to Sheppard, only needing a glare and twitch toward Angelica and Whitney to get McKay to quit hovering over his shoulder. McKay rolled his eyes but retreated. John was also the one to radio Control and tell them to light 'er up, much to McKay's further annoyance.
John sneezed and the juiced up sensors came to life.
"It's working!" said Radek.
"Something's working," McKay corrected him, hovering once more. "Let me see -"
"Shroom, shut up and sit down." John shoved him back again to keep him from heavy breathing down his neck. "You're in my way."
"Fine." McKay went back to his tablet and the secondary instrument panel behind Sheppard, already yelling back and forth with Radek in that semi-telepathic way they had.
"So it's working?" Sheppard asked in the space left by McKay's wake. Nothing was visible outside but the sensors were indeed picking something up.
John closed his eyes and took a deep breath. "Yeah," he murmured. This close, he could feel it.
Aeryn had lost track of the number of dead ends and false leads they had followed. Lost track of the blur of planets, dodging scarrans, nearly running out of supplies twice, and Moya getting sick in an unpleasant stretch of space that resulted in being joined at the hip to the annoying know-it-all to get her healed. Luckily, Sikozu's body parts reattached easily.
Weekens spent in deep space staring at the stars.
The others were ready to give up. Without anywhere else to go except away, only Rygel voiced it. He also stayed with her after their fight while Aeryn lost herself in a bottle of raslak and doubt.
Then they found her.
Furlow's new place was as seedy as the last but thankfully not a desert. "Well, well, well, look what fortune favored me?" She greeted Aeryn before Aeryn slammed her into a wall and put a pistol to her head. Furlow had lost all her data. She was pursuing less dangerous projects. If Aeryn killed her it'd do her no good.
Aeryn trumped her with Scorpius and his talent for bluffing. Furlow had built a replica of John's module before. Even if she had lost all the specs, between her memory and Aeryn's they would build another one.
"You are wrong! There are three covarying peaks, two of them well above the detection limit -"
"Which doesn't mean anything except -"
"- that the error associated with them is probably not significant!"
"And nothing else! Not if you take into account the secondary -"
"Now, who's grasping at straws!"
Ronon watched the familiar back and forth as he entered the lab and resisted the urge to grin. From the way McKay and Zelenka were going at it, you would think lives were on the line. Which they could be, Ronon supposed, except he knew that they were talking about Crichton's project. The man himself was ignoring them from in front of his own computer with his instrumental music bleeding into the room from his ear buds. He pulled them out when Ronon came up beside him.
"They been going long?" asked Ronon, snagging a nearby stool to perch on.
Crichton rolled his eyes. "Like bunnies."
"Bunnies?" Ronon quirked an eyebrow at him. He was pretty sure they were animals of some kind.
"Cute, fuzzy. Deadly." John shrugged. "You getting me for lunch?"
Ronon nodded. "Teyla's waiting."
John had been tied up with his project so much over the last few weeks that the only time Ronon and Teyla saw him was at mealtimes, more than ready for a break from McKay's ego. Ronon glanced back at McKay and Zelenka who hadn't even noticed his arrival while Crichton saved what he was working on and put his computer to sleep before standing and stretching. Several loud cracks told him that John had been inside for much too long.
"So who's right?" Ronon asked once they were safely out in the hallway.
John shrugged. "McKay probably. I don't think it matters though. They're talking about the limits of the wormhole's stability field - what keeps it where it is," he clarified off of Ronon's blank look. "We're gonna try to break through to the wormhole in a couple days which will make what it does when not interfered with irrelevant."
"They seem to care a lot," said Ronon.
"Yeah, well, I guess it matters if you really want to understand the nature of wormholes."
"You don't?" Ronon asked, surprised. From what he'd gathered, that was the whole point of the project.
John didn't answer, withdrawn into his own thoughts. Ronon was near certain he was thinking of his home, the one in that distant part of the universe where his woman had been left behind. Except for the one time after the offworld mission when he'd killed the priest, John never talked about where he'd come from. But sometimes he let things slip that spoke volumes of what he'd left behind. He'd get this look about him that Ronon understood because he saw it in the mirror. He wore it now like grief and hope were inseparable companions.
Then John grinned suddenly, fiercely. "I'm gonna make a wormhole," he said.
Ronon gave him a wry look. "That simple?"
The question caught John off guard and startled a, "Yeah," from his lips before he could catch it, but it didn't change that look of wonder.
Scorpius smiled, calm and infuriating. "And give you a chance to betray me? No, I think not."
Aeryn's jaw clenched. "What's to stop me from killing you when we're alone?"
"The fact," Scorpius stepped closer, his breath a whisper on her cheek, "that I did not save you from the Living Death and come aboard Moya with no plan in mind."
"You're bluffing," Aeryn snapped, refusing to give him the satisfaction of flinching from the certainty in his voice.
"No." He stepped back abruptly, cheerfully. "I'm not. Should I not be . . . available . . . to speak with my associates, this ship and her crew will be atomized. Make no mistake." His smile widened though it remained close-lipped, and Aeryn wanted nothing more than to bash it in. She was tempted, but it would accomplish nothing, not even make her feel better because in the end she would still take him with her. "Now, how are preparations coming?" he asked.
She walked away.
"Wormhole engaged," said Chuck over the radio as John sneezed. Sheppard looked at him for confirmation and John nodded for him to go.
"Beginning slingshot maneuver," Sheppard said.
John couldn't feel the difference because of the inertial dampeners on the jumper, but it wasn't long until their angle of entry into the atmosphere created enough friction against the shields to ignite the sky around them.
His eyes flickered back to the readings before him. Sheppard was on course for the dimensional variances that represented the hidden wormhole on the far side of the planet.
"Now. Pull up now!"
Sheppard pulled up, skipping them out of the atmosphere into . . . blooming blue light.
"Jesus!" The Colonel swerved them off to the side, skimming along the funnel that dwarfed them and any wormhole the stargate could create. "That's what you call a wormhole?"
"Yeah," John breathed, air catching in his lungs as if he couldn't remember how to draw it in. A wormhole, real and shimmering. Sheer untapped and uncaring power. The power of the universe. The way home.
The wormhole was bumpy. It took all of Aeryn's concentration to keep them off the walls and somewhat under control. Her eyes flickered to the comms channel that showed how strong the signal was to Moya, how it pulsed with every revolution of the wormhole. She resolutely did not think about how she had no idea how to find John.
Scorpius was quiet after their first trip and didn't emerge from his room for days. "We need to enhance the sensors," he said when he found Aeryn later.
She wasn't sure what they'd accomplished, but looking at the results after their next four flights showed patterns of regular peaks and valleys. "The broader tunnels," said Scorpius curiously, and he and Sikozu started talking over her head.
"Any luck?" asked Chiana. Aeryn glanced over her shoulder at her leaning around the doorway.
"Scorpius thinks so." Aeryn sighed and ran her hands over her head. "I don't know. We're going out again tomorrow."
Chiana sidled closer and stopped beside her, taking Aeryn's hand and studying her fingers. "Come back, yeah?" she said softly. Startled, Aeryn stared at Chiana's bowed head for a heartbeat then closed her fingers around Chi's.
"Stability at eighty-eight percent." Rodney's voice was steady over the radio. Elizabeth watched the main display that showed the wormhole that he and Crichton had opened. It was the second successful wormhole they had made appear, huge and gaping, and nothing like the water-like spout that erupted from the stargate. This wormhole simply opened, like Charybdis waiting for a ship to pass. "Ninety percent."
At this stage in the project, they were waiting for full stability before launching a probe. Radek's hands danced over a laptop slaved to Atlantis's sensors, augmenting as well as receiving and recording the jumper's readings. From what Elizabeth understood, they had a narrow window after full stability was reached before the wormhole shut down again.
"Ninety-four percent," said McKay. "And I'm picking up a flutter. Crichton, check the modulation. This doesn't look right."
"What the -" Radek muttered, and a split second later Elizabeth was asking "What's happening?" as she watched the readings on the screen go crazy.
"Atlantis, Jumper Four," Sheppard snapped over the radio, but his voice was already breaking up.
"Jumper Four," Elizabeth called out sharply. "Colonel Sheppard!"
"No, no, no!" Radek was swearing and shouting while spikes flared up across the graph on the main screen. "Rodney, come in!" The spikes cut out. Everything cut out. Elizabeth looked at Radek who was staring at the screen with his hands in his hair.
It was Chuck who broke the devastating silence. "The wormhole has closed."
Not even static remained.
Black and bright.
Two little ships not facing each other, but not turned away either. Soon they would be. Soon one would disappear. The other would stay behind.
"We're in the hands of fate now. We have to trust in that." Aeryn's voice was steady but her cheek was wet. "Fly safe."
She powered up, her last words fracturing in her wake. "Goodbye, John Crichton."
When John came to, he had a raging headache and the copilot controls imprinted on his face. It took a couple of blinks to right himself. Beside him, Sheppard was just starting to stir, and in back McKay was still out, slumped over and held in his chair only by his seat belt. John didn't see any blood so he was disinclined to worry until his head stopped pounding. Or until he figured out why the jumper was in a snow bank. The last thing he remembered was the wall of the fork in the wormhole coming up fast.
"Nnggg," Sheppard groaned. "Everyone all right?" His eyes were still tightly closed but after a moment they squinted open and he peeled himself off the console.
"In one piece," John answered. "I think McKay's still unconscious."
Sheppard checked over his shoulder. "What happened?"
"Wormhole ate us." That John remembered distinctly. A series of ripples had shuddered through the wormhole, undulations like a snake. They couldn't get through on the radio, but after about five seconds it hadn't mattered; they'd been swallowed whole.
"Where are we?"
"I dont know."
"Oh, my back!" McKay had returned to the land of the living. Wherever that was.
"Okay, Rodney?" asked Sheppard turning to look again. He was fiddling with controls that weren't responding. Nothing was lighting up.
"Oh my god, what did you do to my jumper?"
"Where are we? What happened? Did we go through the wormhole?"
"Calm down," Sheppard said in an overly reasonable tone that McKay ignored.
"What did you do?" he demanded of John who was still staring out at the snow bank, trying to see anything in the inky blackness beyond. He had a real bad feeling about this.
"Rodney, we need to get the jumper working," said Sheppard. The sounds of McKay unbuckling himself filtered forward but John tuned him out. "Crichton . . . Crichton."
"I'm here," said John absently.
"I need you with me," said Sheppard sharply, snapping John's eyes back to him. The Colonel gave him an intense look, waiting for a response and relaxing a little when John nodded. "Any idea where we are?"
"No." John couldn't help but glance back out the windshield. "Last time I went through a wormhole I ended up back in space."
"Well, we're obviously somewhere," McKay piped up from the cargo section of the jumper. "And you managed to completely drain the energy reserves of the jumper. We're down to minimal power." He slammed closed the crystal port and huffed back into the cockpit. "Good job."
John just rolled his eyes at the Shroom's glare. This wasn't his fault. He didn't control the damn wormhole. Thankfully before McKay could get started, Sheppard was up and herding him back into the rear compartment. "I guess that leaves us with checking this place out," he said, pulling out his kit and clipping on his gun. "Crichton, you coming?"
McKay was following suit, and while they waited for John to strap on a handgun, he pulled out a scanner. "No life signs," McKay said.
"Let's hope it stays that way," said Sheppard. "How's the atmosphere?"
"Breathable," McKay answered.
"All right. Stay together," Sheppard glanced back at John who nodded, still feeling tingly. A tickle in the back of his nose was building up, like a sneeze but not enough to actually go through with it. When Sheppard hit the hatch and the ramp lowered, the outside air hit John like a punch to the gut, not because it was cold, but because it smelled like wormholes. Wormholes that he hadn't scented in over a cycle.
The snow crunched beneath Sheppard's feet as he ventured out, John and McKay just behind him. Once they cleared the side of the jumper, Sheppard stopped.
"Well, that's disappointing," he said, lowering his gun.
They were on a tiny little iceberg, and the jumper took up about a third of the level ground. A little cliff about ten feet high was thirty feet away, part of it carved out in an arch. Beyond was nothing. Black water, black horizon lit from above with no discernible light source.
"I think this goes into the top ten of weird," said Sheppard. "Beats the Planet with the Talking Cows by a mile."
"All we're waiting on is the Titanic," said John peering through the arch. Nothing and more nothing. "No Eskimos back here."
"Still not picking up anything on the scanner," said McKay. He looked up as John rejoined him and Sheppard by the jumper. "Not to be a pessimist or anything, but we're dead in the water." The three of them all glanced at the water surrounding them. "Literally," he added quietly.
Sheppard grimaced, and John just knew that he was about to pep talk them into fiddling with the jumper, for whatever good it would do. John knew those systems well enough to know that out of juice was out of juice. If the power was as low as McKay said, no amount of rerouting would fire up the engines. Before he could say as much, however, a sound caught his ear.
"You hear that?" he asked, turning to the water that was lightly frothing. John didn't stop to wonder how or why because his attention was caught instead by what lay below. Just beneath the surface were swirling vortexes that were all too familiar.
Harvey was surprisingly silent.
"Oh," McKay breathed.
White, blinding light flared for a second, and John knew without a doubt that someone was behind them. He spun at the same time Sheppard did, the Colonel's gun coming up on a man - pale white skin, suit and tie, and black on black eyes. He was unarmed, but the suit was more than enough to unsettle John.
"Hi," said Sheppard after a long beat. He stepped so he was out front, between the threat and the two scientists. "Nice suit. I hope you're not going to a funeral."
The man or alien or whatever he was that appeared out of nothing didn't move, letting the silence draw out uncomfortably. His eyes were so dark it was almost like they weren't even there. "Time."
"Well, it was 1530 when we left, but forgive me for not looking at my watch," said Sheppard, not moving. "You mind telling me who you are, why you brought us here, and where we are exactly?"
"Time," the man repeated, ignoring Sheppard and looking - John's breath caught as something tickled his brain - looking at John.
"'S up," said John.
"Right very cute. You want to tell us what's going on now?" McKay said, loud and demanding, but as with Sheppard, the man ignored him.
"Time," he repeated.
"Time." He moved closer and the game was a lot less fun at closer proximity.
"Wounds all heels."
"Crichton, what's going on?" asked Sheppard. His voice held a not quite nervous edge, asking do I shoot or not. John's own hand had drifted to his sidearm.
"'S up." He drew and shot, the kick stronger than Winona's had ever been.
The bullet stopped in midair.
John wasn't surprised by anything except that Sheppard hadn't fired either. Instead the Colonel was still. Too still. John did a double take but McKay was frozen too, caught in a moment of startlement and fear.
"What did you do to them?" He spun on the alien.
The man reached out and touched the bullet unconcerned, blinking slowly back at John. And okay, it was obvious, but that didn't change the uneasy feeling in his gut at seeing two people, two coworkers, friends maybe, caught in a moment, leaving him alone with someone too powerful for John's own good.
"Time is . . ." The man turned and started walking back to the arch.
John didn't want to play anymore but he seemed to have little choice if he wanted answers. Sheppard and McKay looked like parodies of themselves. Fleeting. The man was staring at him again when he glanced back, like a shadow against the ice, black on white on black.
"Infinite," John answered. The man didn't twitch, as still as the others in this place. This little pocket in the middle of a sea of wormholes. John could feel them, smell them, taste them in the back of his throat. "Relative."
The bullet fell to the ground.
"You are quite a simple organism to possess the knowledge that you do," said the man. Hell, John was going to call him Einstein.
"You only say that 'cause you don't know me." Like a spell had been broken, John stepped away from the jumper and the other two.
"Time is meaningless, yet it is all that exists." Einstein turned with him, intent.
"You should write songs with lines like that. My name is -"
"And yours is . . ."
"Unimportant to this encounter."
"Great." But John did have to give him credit for style. "I love how you lay it out there, Einstein. So let me ask you, without… getting existential on me - why am I, why are we… here?"
"The others are an accessory to your presence. You are here to perish. I am here to effect that outcome."
Angelica was in his hand even as John stumbled away as fast as he could. But there was nowhere to run, and too close to the edge of the berg, he slipped -
- he was on Moya, Command, a battle outside the window, D'argo and Zhaan at the controls and John couldn't understand them. It was real, too real, realer than it had been for over a cycle and all he could think while D'argo hoisted him by his neck and yelled incomprehensibly was, I haven't forgotten you, I haven't forgotten you, I haven't forgotten you. When Rygel slammed past him, all John wanted to do was kiss him -
- then he was back on the iceberg, stumbling for breath, his heart racing, aching. "What . . . how . . ."
"Space and time are fused. A set of coordinates for each required to locate a specific event."
John blinked his eyes open, hardly aware that he had closed them. His breathing slowed, no longer catching in his chest as his eyes slid over Sheppard and McKay and the jumper. "Everything happens at a time in a place," he said softly. Another breath. In. Out. "Relativity."
"Movement at speed through space becomes movement through time. Wormholes bridge space-time . . . creating a unique ability to navigate."
"Yeah," John agreed, a rueful laugh escaping. "No kidding. One end of the universe to the other and back again only to get shanghaied somewhere in the middle."
Einstein didn't seem amused, however. "You created a wormhole entrance in your locality. How do you possess this knowledge?"
John laughed again at the literal crapshoot that was his life. "That's a bedtime story for another time. Might give you nightmares," he said, but it wasn't enough to satisfy Einstein because the next thing John knew his brain was getting riffled through. "No!" he shouted. "Get out of my head!" He scrambled away again but he couldn't get away. Where was Harvey when you needed him and his tin foil hat?
"Time . . . Ancients?" asked Einstein with a frown.
"What? No!" John hadn't even heard of the Ancients until - wait. Jack-the-mind-bending-alien had called his people the Ancients. He shook his head. They couldn't be the same. The Ancestors of the stargates looked human, preceded humans on the evolutionary scale somewhere, and definitely weren't as buggy as the first people to mess with his mind were. He opened his eyes. "Yes."
-John was always a stand up guy. Compassionate, kind. He gave of himself. He was the kind of man who would finish a game with a broken leg -
John shook his head, trying to dislodge the voices. It wasn't that they surprised him so much as they came from life on Earth. Before. Who he'd been then, people he hadn't thought of in ages and ages.
"Wormholes are the one feature that traverse both our realms, which adjoin though never intersect. An aggressive perforation of one would allow an unacceptable incursion of material… from your existence into ours," said Einstein. "It has happened before. It nearly destroyed both realms and resulted in sections of grievous instability in space-time."
"Who did that?" asked John, turning to follow Einstein as he circled the edge of the iceberg toward the jumper.
"The biologics of your realm are infinitely more aggressive than ours. The beings you met four cycles ago and call the Ancients are members of my species that have been heavily modified to exist in your realm."
"To prevent incursions," said John.
"To catalogue, report and influence. When they disappeared we decided to investigate the state of wormhole knowledge in your realm."
So Einstein had brought him here when he made the wormhole. But why now, John wondered, why not one of a thousand times that he'd stood in front of a stargate, why not when he got dragged here in the first place -
"You dragged mine and Moya's asses down that wormhole," he breathed, realization turning to horror because this critter was what had brought him to Pegasus. Brought him to the wraith and the life of a Runner, starving, fighting, dying day by day in baby steps.
"Yes. Unfortunately, the strain of maintaining both vessels within the wormhole required more control than I was able to retain. The leviathan was my primary target."
"So you dropped me." John didn't remember much of that first wormhole trip except that it was one bumpy ride.
"I released you but was unable to return you to normal space. I only realized my error after I had queried those on the leviathan. They mentioned you."
"What about Moya, did you drop her too?" John demanded, stalking closer.
"No. Once subdued, I was able to return the leviathan to the point of extraction."
"And then you came to find me."
"It was only your recent experiments that allowed me to do so. Your knowledge is quite extraordinary for one of your realm."
"Thanks." John grit his teeth, resisting the urge to let Angelica and Whitney loose.
"And your many travels inside wormholes… troubling," Einstein continued.
"Yeah, well, I'm not the only one," John made a halfhearted gesture back toward Sheppard and McKay. He wasn't the only one with extensive experience with wormholes yet here he was, the only one on trial for it.
"It is unfortunate that you ended up in their reality."
"Hey," John flashed a plastic smile, "Who says alternate universes aren't fun?"
The brush of rifling fingers was back, this time hitting the highlights of wraith, Running, and Atlantis.
"Hey!" John reacted instantly twisting to get away. "You stay the hell away from me." Again he misjudged the space he had to maneuver, falling, falling.
"What are you hiding?" Aeryn mused, circling slowly behind John to better view the neural output on the chair. John's head throbbed, battered but with no visible wounds, raw like no memory of this ever was.
"Sir." The man who interrupted was Scorpius, shoulders rounded as he ignored John and waited for Aeryn to acknowledge him.
"I took the liberty of expediting his genetic and biologic profiles. I believe with this data I can enhance the effectiveness of the chair on the creature."
Aeryn smiled, one hand trailing down from John's head to the back of his neck, warm but holding no comfort. "I hope for your sake that it does. Proceed."
"Next!" A cantankerous voice shouted into the hall where John waited with three other candidates. A blond woman left the office, looking a little stunned, turning the wrong direction down the corridor and having to backtrack to get to the elevator. John didn't blame her. The gray concrete of the SGC was bad enough when you hadn't just been interviewed by the renowned Rodney McKay.
And it was his turn. John grinned at Radek Zelenka and said, "Wish me luck," then took a deep breath and pushed open the door.
Dr. McKay was seated at a desk that was covered in file folders; most were closed sitting in stacks, others open, and quite a few torn up and in shreds littering the floor.
"Sit," Dr. McKay said without looking up. The chair in front of his desk was the only uncluttered spot in the whole room. "Dr. John Crichton. PhD from MIT but with a thesis that reads like it came out of a Cracker Jack box. You're coming from NASA." Dr. McKay looked up then, sharp blue eyes catching John's.
"Yes, sir," said John, nerves catching him flat-footed. "I, uh . . . was in the Shuttle program."
"Yes. Astronaut. I can read." Dr. McKay rolled his eyes. "Now, why should I take you to Atlantis?"
"Well," was about as far as John got before Dr. McKay steamrolled over him.
"You havent published anything in four years. The science you have done is obsolete since we already have hyperdrive engines, and your grasp of wormhole mechanics is atrocious. I'd be better off taking that monkey you astronaut types are fond of sending in your place - what's-its-name.
"Ham," said John faintly, seeing his chance at going to another galaxy fading fast.
Not right, part of his brain whispered. You've been to space. You've been to the ass end of the galaxy and you certainly don't take this dren from Rodney McKay.
"You don't even believe in the Multiverse Theory of the Universe!" Dr. McKay held up a printout of what looked like forum comments.
"Universes splitting off at every decision ever made by anyone anywhere to infinity seems a little ridiculous," John found his voice.
"Well, I've seen proof of it," McKay countered, crossing his arms across his chest. "So what do you have to offer me on a one way trip to another galaxy?"
John blinked. This was it.
This hadn't happened.
"I'm a hell of an engineer," he said with all the confidence of someone who had not only rebuilt his T-bird but had been working on his own space ship before the call from the SGC had come along. "And I can brew beer."
Dr. McKay eyed him for a tense moment. John was certain he was going the way of the rejects. Finally McKay said, "The Atlantis briefing is at nine a.m. If you're late, you're fired."
John and Aeryn stood close on Command, their ease in each others space offset by the tension around them. "Are we gonna do this? Bail?" John dropped his voice to ask her softly.
Aeryn looked at him. Her hair was very long and completely straight. "Safest for Moya," she said.
"What about the . . ." John cradled his hands and rocked them to his chest because away from Moya how would they - but Aeryn was frowning at him. "Baby," John said. "What about the baby?"
Confusion crossed Aeryn's face and she shook her head with a lost little smile and said, "What . . ."
John's breath caught and he stared. Aeryn didn't understand and he just kept staring and staring, eye squinting, twitching, trying to understand, trying to "Where's the beacon . . . Aeryn?"
But Aeryn, lost, said, "We don't know."
John stepped away, said louder, "Where's the beacon, Aeryn?" He drew Winona. It was wrong, terribly, terribly wrong.
"We don't know," Aeryn repeated, confusion turning to fear.
"Crichton, what . . .?" Sikozu stopped when Winona found her before turning back on Aeryn.
"Wait!" said D'argo.
Aeryn, standing utterly still, could only stare at the gun aimed at her and the man holding it.
"Where's the beacon?" John demanded.
When John opened his eyes he was back on the iceberg, lying down and breathing hard. He'd just been . . . "That was quite an illusion. You do rabbit tricks?"
"What you experienced was real," said Einstein.
It felt real. Even the damn meeting with McKay, where he'd been himself, but not himself, as if he was feeling the press of a past life mingling with his real one.
"Real," Einstein repeated.
"What? Real like this place is real?" John sat up, frowning when Einstein merely pointed to the hand that wasn't supporting him. In it was Winona.
"No." John stared. He hadn't even brought Winona on the jumper. That last vision. . . There was no way he'd ever draw on Aeryn, accuse her of betraying them because she would never . . .
"Time. . . Wormholes. The knowledge to unravel events," said Einstein. "For that alone I should kill you."
"No," John shook his head, dropped the fake Winona. The real weapon was in his room in Atlantis. He quickly looked up; Sheppard, McKay and the jumper were still there, were still real.
"The weapon represents a possible outcome. An unrealized reality."
- He was so self-absorbed. It was always him, him, him. You could never get a word in edgewise around him. He always took all the credit, even when he didn't do anything. Especially then.
Voices again, people from Earth talking about a John that wasn't him.
"Tell me why you created this wormhole," said Einstein. It wasn't a question and John couldn't help but chuckle mirthlessly up at him from where he sat leaning against the mini cliff. He was tired. He was so tired.
"I want to go home," said John. "Tell me about unrealized realities."
Einstein regarded him with his black, empty eyes and was silent for so long that John began to doubt he would answer. His own head was spinning, trying to process what he had seen, where he had been, trying to judge whether this was just another mind-frell, wondering where Harvey was, what Einstein had done to him, worried about Sheppard and McKay frozen out of time. Or maybe they were in time and it was John who was out of it.
"Every wormhole system has millions of exits," Einstein spoke, snapping John's attention back to focus. "Each to a distinct time and place. Travel from A to B. Now, attempt to travel back. You could arrive at point A immediately after you left, or… a cycle later, or a cycle earlier, or ten or ten thousand, or… millions of permutations."
It was no more outlandish than he expected. "The secret," said John feeling his way, "is understanding time."
"Not so much understanding it as accounting for it," Einstein raised a finger to correct him. "Unskilled wanderings" - the bullet from the beginning of this conversation appeared in midair before him - "create unrealized realities."
John got to his feet and went closer, brow furrowed. "So what you showed me wasn't real. Couldn't have been. No way."
"If I had not pulled you back, wherever it was you went would have become your reality from then on."
"You're talking about Multiverse Theory: millions of me running around with millions of pathetic lives." John saw McKay's smug expression again as he told John he'd seen proof of it.
"One of you with millions of potential realities. Depending on where and when you emerge from this system," Einstein countered. "What you describe as Multiverse Theory is an artifact of the damaged space-time you currently reside in."
"I didnt break it," John said quickly.
"No," Einstein said humorlessly. "It took me so long to find you was because I did not expect to find you in this segment of space-time."
He'd said something about their reality before John had fallen into the whirlpool. "Why?"
"It is unstable." Einstein tilted his head. "An aggressive species from your realm destabilized this segment and nearly destroyed both our realms."
"The Ancestors," John said, feeling the answer more than realizing it. Einstein riffled through his mind again, but this time John forced himself not to flinch.
"Yes," Einstein said when he stopped. "Their wanderings were both haphazard and numerous, creating infinite unrealized realities that they passed between with disregard to the consequences."
"They didn't pay attention to time." John was starting to get it. The ancient Ancients, the Ancestors of the Pegasus galaxy, had played with toys they didn't understand. "Hundreds of them, creating wormholes, traveling through space and time backwards and forwards creating more unrealized realities for them to fall into. And they realized unrealized realities."
"Your Multiverse Theory, yes. It is a side effect of the damage done."
"What stopped it?" asked John because the universe was still here after all.
"The ancients who gave you your knowledge acted as our agents and negotiated a compromise with those you call the Ancestors," said Einstein.
"They force the accounting of time on the wormholes they create."
"Time," John repeated, feeling it slip into place within him. He stared at the bullet between them. Life or death. He raised a hand, touched it. Concentrated on the tickle in his throat. It winked out of existence. "Going forward is no problem." He met Einstein's black gaze. "Going backwards. That screws the pooch."
"Should a traveler appear earlier in the timeline of his own existence, he would be but… as a pebble… cast upon still waters. But the ripples he creates would, over time, radiate upon far distant shores… geometrically altering events in its path."
"Like the Ancestors did."
"Their research and experimentation led to this situation and resulted in instability and its unforeseen consequences."
Entropic cascade failure. It's why they thought John didn't otherwise exist in this universe. The Atlantis universe. Reality. Whatever. He just remembered McKay trying to convince him that he didn't exist.
"But I can do it, too. Travel where I've been."
"Without the knowledge given to you by the ancients, your chance of doing so would have been so small as to be mathematically inconsequential."
"Then why am I not dead already?" John demanded. Were it not so inconvenient, he'd be the first to off himself.
"I trust the one who entrusted you. Do you fear this knowledge?"
John stared a beat. Did he? John wasn't sure he knew how to fear anymore. It was too much effort when everything always went pear-shaped anyway. "No," he said. He wasn't sure if it was the truth. He didn't think it mattered.
Einstein stepped away. "There is still time." John slipped -
- John was sitting on the roof of a building, moss covered and chilly through his worn leather pants. He opened his eyes, disturbed by noises coming from inside what he'd thought was a locked ruin. He stuck his head over the edge, into the now open door and grinned when he saw them: Sheppard, McKay, Ronon, and Teyla, all suspicious as they greeted him with weapons. John hadn't known it then, hadn't had the strength to hope or care. You saved me, he thought. You saved me. -
- The iceberg shook as he returned.
"My ability to maintain this environment grows weaker," said Einstein.
John glanced at Sheppard and McKay. "Then send us back," he said. "Send them back, at least."
"The knowledge to navigate wormholes must be suppressed," said Einstein.
"Then remove it!" said John angrily.
"Impossible, impractical, and likely imprudent." Einstein came and stood between him and the others, a step too far into John's personal space. "Others from your space-time of origin already follow in your wake and others in your present space-time possess too much of what was entrusted to you. Their access to wormholes must be stopped. From the moment the ancients implanted the knowledge, you exist to serve -"
"No." John cut him off. No, he was not going there, he was not being drafted, he was not going to be Einstein's errand boy. "I'm not your pawn." He stared the other being down. "All I want is to go home."
"Your place of origin is where you can do the most damage," said Einstein.
-He was never faithful to his girlfriends. The womanizing, the drinking, the drugs. Want, take, have. That was his motto. Didn't matter who got in the way.-
"Okay, okay, I get the point," John waved ineffectually at the voices of people he'd known. People he'd loved, who he'd never hurt - that thought he was scum.
"Forming such a wormhole in your current reality would do even more to destabilize your current region of space-time."
"So we go back, dismantle the project. You can't keep us in Santa's miniature vacation home forever." John spun, arms wide, encompassing the oh-so-spacious iceberg.
The iceberg shuddered, knocking him to the ground, Einstein stumbling behind him. By the jumper, McKay toppled over like a statue, and Sheppard wobbled dangerously before tipping over. When the iceberg stilled, John lay on his back, panting. "It's getting worse," he said.
"I cannot hold it for much longer."
"So send us back. You sent Moya back."
"I encountered the leviathan in a stable wormhole system. I will not be able to send you back, only set you on your journey."
John rolled his head to look at Einstein who was pushing himself into sitting. "You're letting me go?"
"I cannot terminate you. The risk of further encroachment by those already emulating your example is too great. I can only trust that you will do what is necessary to prevent the incursion of aggressive species."
"Great. You want me to save the universe."
"No," said Einstein. "I want you to abstain from destroying it."
The iceberg shook again.
The Leviathan was in their sights. "Fire a warning shot," ordered Captain Sun.
"Fire," repeated the deck officer. A microt later, red frag cannon fire made a direct hit on the nose of the escaped ship, knocking her sideways.
"They're hailing us, ma'am."
"Ignore them. Launch the Marauders and remind them that Crichton must be captured alive. The others may be disposed of."
"I'm sorry, Dr. Crichton." John blinked at Dr. Weir. He was sitting across from her in her office. Her hands were folded in the laptop's usual place. Whatever she was apologizing for, she didn't look very sorry. "In order to maintain our truce with the wraith, we must turn you over to them."
"What?" John sat up and tried to get to his feet. It was then that he realized his hands and feet were shackled and he nearly fell. He was in his old clothes, and his face itched with four days of stubble.
"Stay calm," Sheppard's voice drifted over his shoulder as his hand steadied John - forcefully. "It's for the greater good. Your life for all of Atlantis."
"Surely, you can't ask us to risk everyone here, just for you," added Weir.
"No!" John wasn't going back to Running. He couldn't. He wouldn't survive it again. He shook off Sheppard's hand, tried to find Angelica and Whitney but they'd been taken from him and that stabbed as bad as this betrayal.
"Oh, shut up," McKay said, walking in. "What is he still doing here?" he asked Weir and Sheppard. "And why was my request to look at the wraith engine drives not on the final trade agreement?"
Weir sighed the way she always did when McKay came in with unreasonable demands. "I tried, Rodney, but were dealing with a different hive and this Queen wasn't interested."
"I got three days for the one with the dreadlocks!" McKay said, outraged. "This one at least has two brain cells to rub together." He gave John a withering look. "Well, maybe not, but he can't be more useless than the other one."
Ronon. They were talking about Ronon, John realized with growing horror. And they were going to sell him down the river.
"Dr. Weir, the wraith are here," Chuck stuck his head in the door to say. John started fighting then, half aware that he was doing it, just needing to get away, get away, get away, but his hands and feet were chained and two Marines were more than enough to manhandle him out of the office. Although he did have the satisfaction of giving Colonel Sheppard a bloody nose.
Two wraith were waiting in the gate room, both grinning with all their teeth, when John's chains were handed over as if he were a dog on a leash. "Aaaahhhhh," the male hissed in pleasure, pulling John close enough to stroke his cheek. John tried not to flinch but he couldn't help the shudder that ran through him while in his mind he screamed helplessly.
A small, spindly woman picked up what looked like a gun from the tray, a vial of blue liquid attached to it catching the light.
The scarran breathing down her neck said, "And that won't hurt the embryo?"
"No," said the woman. "This will just pry the truth out of her."
Aeryn was strapped to the gurney between them. Sweat and fear plastered her hair to her face, and her skin was as sallow as the yellow jumpsuit she wore. "No," she said weakly. "Don't use that. I won't lie to you." Her breathing was shallow and her eyes were drugged. "I'll just tell you what you want to know."
"You wouldn't lie to me?" the nurse asked.
The nurse pursed her lips and placed the injection against Aeryn's arm anyway. Two prongs dug in, the fluid following, pulling a gasp from Aeryn, her face twisting in pain.
"Yes, of course I'd lie to you, you stupid bitch," she bit out.
The scarran growled deep in his chest, displeased as the nurse began the interrogation. "Aeryn . . . whose child is inside you?"
"Yours," Aeryn breathed through the pain, clenching her teeth.
"I dont know."
"Is it John Crichton's?" asked the scarran.
Aeryn gasped again, closed her eyes. "I . . . uh . . ."
"Is it his?" The scarran bent until his breath tickled her cheek, causing her to flinch.
Aeryn couldn't move away. "I don't kn . . .know." She couldnt breathe but the words came anyway. "I don't . . . there was another man."
"Another?" said the scarran.
Aeryn's eyes were shut tight. "Mm."
"I grow weak." A large crack ran down the middle of the iceberg. Einstein slumped against the cliff on one side. John sat against the arch on the other. "You must go soon."
John focused on breathing. Aeryn . . . chains ghosted around his wrists and ankles . . . betrayed, betrayed . . . It couldn't end like that. Wasn't like that. Couldn't be like that. His head hurt just trying to wrap his mind around the visions, realities, even as it shied away from the possibilities.
"Tell me what I gotta do."
Einstein shifted himself to his heels with one hand out for support against the cliff. "Listen. Sagaciously. There is much you need exposure to in the short time we have left." He caught John's eyes and held them, having his full attention. "From every point of entry, a wormhole branches into multiple paths. The subdivision continues until at last you are deposited back into space-time."
John heard voices repeating back the words. People from Earth, his cousin, DK, his third grade teacher. "The journey can be random, or with purpose. Destination is the key. Every portal has a distinct space-time signature. The only destinations you can realize by design are those of which you have foreknowledge. The more you travel, the more signatures you will catalogue." Voices from a second lifetime, whom hed thought he'd never see again, that he might finally be able to see again.
But it was Einstein's voice that finished it. Alien but not cold. Urgent. "Our ancients have given you the ability to recognize these subtle differences. Since every destination is surrounded by similar unrealized realities the closer you travel, the more you must maintain absolute engrossment. And never return to a familiar place prior to the last time you left. Your next journey may lead to a permanent unrealized reality."
Already the words were fading. Already they made a perfect kind of sense, fragile and on the tip of his brain, and John couldn't quite keep them there.
Einstein slumped back again, drained by the effort of talking. The crack in the iceberg grew larger but didn't quite split. John should move, get to the other side so he wouldn't be separated from McKay and Sheppard, but he couldn't make himself move.
What he'd seen, the betrayal of Atlantis. Would they? It wasn't real. Wasn't his reality, but what if he fell there? What if the push Einstein gave them back wasn't enough? What if John couldn't get them the rest of the way? What if he searched for home and found Aeryn, pumped full of truth drugs - it wasn't his.
Not real. Not real.
But even of that he didn't really know, did he? He'd been gone from uncharted territory for so long, and seeing her so clearly - seeing all of them so clearly, smelling them, hearing their voices, it hurt. Because as close as he was to getting everything back, it could all go so terribly, terribly wrong. He was better off just going back to Atlantis. -
- The gate room was hot when he descended the stairs to the control gallery. No one looked up at his arrival, except Ronon who was walking out of his office. "Crichton!" he said. "Akhna wants to see you. They're sending another shipment to Earth." As he drew closer, John saw that Ronon didn't look right. He was too pale and his nose was too long. He looked eighty instead of thirty. "Better not keep her waiting. And don't give her any crap, all right? The scarrans got rid of the wraith. You should show a little gratitude." -
-John lay on his side on the iceberg, winded. "Don't let me go again," he said. Atlantis gone, everything gone. "You gotta put us back."
"I can . . . only start you . . . on your . . . journey." Einstein's breathing was labored. He hadn't moved from his collapse at the base of the cliff.
John pushed himself to his feet. "I can't. I don't understand any of this!"
"There is nothing . . . to understand," said Einstein.
-It's not a science. It's an art.-
"I failed art!" John yelled at the voices in his head.
-Are you afraid, buddy?-
"No, yes, maybe. Yes." He was frelling terrified. He could feel it now, the instability Einstein was talking about. How moving one inch to the left and the house of cards would crumble around him. Around everyone. Prairie dog town, overnight. If he fucked this up . . . well, he'd thought life had been pretty bad before . . .
"Fear," Einstein said from behind him. "Fear is the correct answer."
John turned. Einstein was on his feet now, standing straight. "You must return to the reality you came from." John glanced at Sheppard, McKay, and the jumper over his shoulder. "This system is too damaged for me to return you while maintaining its integrity. I will be able to send you forward, but you must finish the journey."
"Focus on the space-time signature where you entered the wormhole. Every system is like a maze that loops back upon itself." Einstein raised a finger and pointed it at John's forehead. "Focus. Your ship is of a design that will attempt to maintain temporal accuracy, but you cannot allow it to stray."
"What happens if I screw it up? What if I get there at the wrong time?"
"Fix the first thing that goes wrong. Time is elastic. If events are matched closely enough to course, they have a way of restructuring themselves to familiar outcomes."
John stared at Einstein. That couldnt be it. He couldn't -
The iceberg rattled like a house in an earthquake. John fell to his knees, but this time not into another horrifying possibility. The rift in the ice got wider and on the other side, he heard, McKay yell, "Ow! Sheppard!"
"Go," Einstein repeated.
John had a thousand questions, a thousand things he needed answers to, but the shaking was getting worse, and Sheppard was getting to his feet, confused and armed, so John left it and jumped the rift, jogging toward his colleagues. "We have to go," he said.
"Yes, thank you! How?" McKay demanded, flailing to keep his balance.
"We just got here," Sheppard said at the same time.
"We have to go," John repeated, pushing them both on the shoulder to get them moving. The deteriorating iceberg was a great incentive and soon the three of them were tumbling into the jumper. As he struggled into the copilot's seat, John wondered how the hell he was going to fly the jumper without the gene. Screwed, screwed, they were so screwed . . . but when he met Einstein's eyes through the windshield, black on white on black on white on black -
Focus. Focus. Focus.
- and focused, he could feel it.
"Feel the Force," he murmured.
"What?" asked Sheppard as he powered up, McKay babbling in the background about why that was impossible. "Where am I going?"
"Just let her fly," said John. He closed his eyes. "Einstein's taking care of the rest."
"Einstein," said McKay, voice high and thready, a sure sign of his nerves that struck John as odd and calming all at once.
In his head, he heard Einstein say, "Do you now know what it is?"
John opened his eyes, ignoring Sheppard and McKay as they all watched the iceberg blink out of existence. "Time."
He felt the shove. He smelled the path. He felt the ripples. He focused.
Aeryn stood before him in the blood red of her uniform. A ghost of a smile traced her lips but traveled no further. Over her shoulder, Scorpius grinned, secretive and unobtrusive.
John stood in chains so heavy he could barely move his feet or hands. Something trickled down the side of his face and he couldn't tell if it was blood or tears.
"We meet again, John Crichton," Aeryn said, sending shivers of dread through John that his body was too cold to hide. "I have looked forward to this day for a very long time."
"Ow! What?" John's hand went to his radio, not quite rubbing where the sound had knifed through his ear. With his other hand he backspaced the gibberish that the current program had turned into.
"We were meeting for dinner? Half an hour ago?"
"What? Oh, shit!" John looked at his watch then toggled out of the compiler to the main screen where the computer's clock confirmed it. Hastily, he saved everything, grabbed his jacket and ran out of the lab, ignoring the Shroom's demands for an explanation that followed him. Family dinner was just a little bit more important than the updated jumper protocols.
"Sorry, sorry," John dropped a kiss each on two little blond heads and sat down across from his wife in the Atlantis mess where his tray had gone cold. "Sorry," he said.
"Just . . ." Laurie sighed. "Just eat."
"We must go here!" Scorpius's deep, reptilian voice roared in Aeryn's ear as his hands crushed her wrists in a grip that ground her bones together.
Scorpius was strong, and despite her better position in the pilot's seat, he was strong enough to force them to bounce against the wormhole wall and out into normal space. They were spinning out of control, a planet looming large, wormhole well behind them and if they didn't get back soon they would be cut off from Moya.
When Scorpius's grip slackened, Aeryn wrenched her arms out of his hands and slammed her elbow into his face with a crunch that reverberated up her arm. "You frelling bastard!"
A heavy weight landed on her shoulder, accompanied by a hard squeeze uncomfortably close to her neck. "Crichton is here, Officer Sun," he said with no trace of pain. "You can thank me later."
Aeryn refused to believe him even as her heartbeat sped up. She struggled for a moment to regain control of the clunky module and grit her teeth when the wormhole blinked out of existence behind them. Regardless of whether or not Scorpius was right, they were trapped.
"Jumper Four do you copy?"
Black space appeared in front of them like a brick wall, abrupt and fast but infinitely welcome. Crichton let out a sigh of relief, space smelling like . . . like it was right. God, he hoped it was right.
"This is Jumper Four," Sheppard responded, relief clear in his voice as he threw John another unreadable look. Sheppard had flown, but it was John who had told him where to go. In the blinding speeds of the wormhole, it had been neither easy nor reassuring, especially with McKay griping in the background until the dual shouts from the two pilots had shut him up. "We read you loud and clear."
"It's good to hear you," Weir said. "We thought we'd lost you for a minute there."
"Minute?" said John sharply.
"We were gone for at least twenty," said Sheppard wryly.
John didn't bother looking at him. "Try an hour."
"We were not gone for an hour," said McKay.
"Colonel!" Chuck interrupted.
"I see it." The HUD popped up in radar mode - the wormhole opened again with a dot barreling faster than a speeding bullet out of its mouth. "Crap! Crichton!"
"No idea, but I bet it ain't friendly," said John. Einstein had mentioned others from his place of origin and he hadn't been kidding. Now the sixty four thousand dollar question was were they bad guys or Bad Guys?
Why must they be bad?
Harvey! Where the hell have you been?
Trapped in the second grade. Harvey forcibly pulled John into the minuscule seat beside him. Peddling Graham crackers, he added darkly. You seem to have been busy.
John slammed that door shut and spun the lock. I am busy. He shook himself back into the jumper, present and accounted for. He would worry about Harvey's disappearing act later.
The other ship was already too far away to see. It had exited at about twice the jumper's velocity and was now a dot against the glow of the planet below. Sheppard wasted no time getting them back to Atlantis amid a flurry of radio transmissions that were unable to raise anyone on the other ship. All they knew was that it was heading for the city. Rapidly.
The little ship landed before they did, and by the time Sheppard got them to the jumper bay, parked, and powered down, Major Lorne had scrambled a welcoming committee. Weir met them outside of the quarantine room with a handful of Marines, Lorne, Teyla, and Ronon. "Gentlemen. Dr. Crichton, any ideas as to who our guests may be?"
John shook his head, a little sick with the possibilities. "Don't count on them being friendly."
"Trust me, we're not," said Weir archly.
"There are two of them," Lorne gave them the rundown. "One human woman and one alien. So far they have been cooperative. Only the woman was armed."
"Colonel," Weir invited Sheppard to the door with her and the two disappeared inside.
Once they were gone McKay started talking, his tablet cradled in his elbow. "What were the last readings we got?" he asked Crichton. "Do remember which dimensional frequency we were receiving?"
John stared at him blankly for a second then crossed the hall to stand beside Ronon. He didn't realize just how tense he was until his friend asked, "You okay?" and all he could do was watch the door to quarantine.
It was all too much. Einstein's warnings rang loudly in his head. The travelers following him, the Ancestors who'd poked gopher holes in this region of space-time, the fearsome possibilities, outcomes, fuckups, ways that the universe could be so much worse than it already was. His thoughts were spinning and spinning, so fast he couldn't string a coherent thought together.
All John wanted to do was . . . make a wormhole. He hadn't let himself think too much about going through the wormhole. They hadn't gotten to that part of the project yet, and even if every dream he had was tinted blue, he couldn't give in to the hope. Now the hope he'd had was replaced by terror.
A human and an alien. Not a wraith, but someone from outside at least one of their dimensional fields. And a human. Or sebacean. Or any other infinite permutations of a host of variables John could only now imagine crystal clearly. How close were these two from this part of space-time? How far? Why were they in the wormhole, what did they know? McKay was prattling on about the last time they had had a quantum incident, but John couldn't get the thoughts in his head under control enough to listen.
"John?" Ronon prodded his shoulder.
"No," he managed. "I'm not okay."
"Hey, hey, Crichton." McKay snapped the fingers that weren't tapping his radio. "They want us in there."
John pushed himself off the wall, unsurprised, and strode forward, comforted when Ronon followed. Everyone stood when they entered. Weir and Sheppard on one side of the cozy living room set up - John froze - Aeryn and Scorpius on the other.
Oh my, Harvey breathed in his ear.
John's brain stopped. He blinked twice. Aeryn. Scorpius. Here. In the flesh as he remembered them. It was the last thing he had expected.
Somehow Ronon's blaster was in John's right hand and Angelica was in his left. Pure reflex. The startled shouts and the hand on his arm - Ronon's - registered as if they were happening to someone else. All John saw was Aeryn stepping between him and Scorpius, and all he heard was the "No" that fell from her lips even as Scorpy gave him the smile Harvey did when he was making a point and said, "John! How good to see you again," completely unsurprised.
"You're not here," said John, barely louder than the rushing noise in his ears. His eyes didn't know where to go, back and forth and back between the two of them. This wasn't real. This was Einstein again. This. Was. Not. Happening.
They are here, Harvey said. Shock, awe, and disbelief colored his voice. "They found us."
"I'm here," said Aeryn, her eyes never leaving John's. Her hair was pulled back in a loose ponytail and she still wore black leather like a second skin. She didn't flinch away from his gaze, didn't do anything but look at him with her eyes brimming with unshed tears. Not cold, not the Peacekeeper. Just Aeryn.
Johns eyes flickered to Scorpius.
"I made a deal," said Aeryn.
They found us.
John let his arm fall and his grip loosen. Someone grabbed his weapons.
They found him. Aeryn came after him and found him.
"So you all know each other," Sheppard's voice broke the spell and sound came rushing back with a vengeance. It took John two steps to meet Aeryn, and then she was in his arms, solid and real and smelling like Moya and hugging him fiercely in return.
John stared at her after they finally broke apart, drinking her in, and Aeryn stared back doing the same. He was alive, he was whole, he was right in front of her.
"Dr. Crichton," said the woman in charge, Weir. "These people are from your universe?"
"Yeah," croaked John after a beat, his eyes flickering briefly to Scorpius before settling back on Aeryn.
"That's impossible," snapped a man in blue. "The odds against the wormhole connecting to your universe from this one at our precise location are astronomically bad. It would take -"
"Fate." John whispered so softly, Aeryn read it in his eyes more than heard it. The man in blue was still talking, as obnoxious as Rygel as he explained how none of this could be happening, until Weir cut him off abruptly.
He stopped, staring over Aeryn's shoulder at Scorpius, and whatever he saw staring back must have made him nervous because he blanched, and said, "Fine. I've got important things waiting for me," and left.
Watching him leave, Aeryn wanted to ask what important thing, wary of these strangers. The symbols of John's homeworld were on the Colonel's sleeve, but this planet was not Earth. This wasn't their galaxy. She'd heard the theory before of alternate realities, done enough damage to a certain timeline to believe it.
"They're from my reality," said John, his nostrils flaring. "Aeryn's the good guy. Scorpius is the bad guy, in case you were wondering," he added, finally looking away to Weir, earning him a frown.
"Come, John. While we have had our disagreements in the past, I assure you I am not your enemy here."
"Scorpy, you spent two years hunting me down!" John snapped. Aeryn watched the human Colonel give both him and Scorpius a considering look.
Scorpius hissed, irritated, but did not deny it. "Have you forgotten so much, Crichton?"
"No," John snapped back. "I haven't."
"John," said Aeryn, but he was oblivious, focused only on Scorpius.
"Gentlemen!" Weir's voice demanded attention, cutting the tension like a knife. The woman stood straight and tall, looking from one to the other for signs of the same explosion Aeryn was waiting for.
"Ronon, why don't you and Crichton get dinner. We'll let you know when we're done here," said the Colonel in a lazy drawl that was no less an order for it. The tall man behind John, Ronon she presumed, put a hand on John's shoulder drawing him back. To Aeryn's surprise, John let him. Their eyes met again, and this time she couldn't read them. Walking backwards, he followed Ronon out, only turning when the door opened behind him.
Aeryn kept staring at the door long after it closed. She heard Weir speak and forced herself to pay attention. They had found John, yes, but they were now at the mercy of the humans he had fallen in with. That it seemed he trusted. Aeryn still remembered what they could do.
"I'm afraid were going to need to ask you some questions," Weir said to them. "Scorpius, would you join me?" She gestured ahead of her to the door, receiving a gallant nod in return from the half-breed. He was turning on the charm, leaving Aeryn with a sinking feeling in her stomach, worried about the lies and half-truths that he would use to his advantage. All too soon, they were gone, leaving Aeryn with the Colonel and the other guard.
"You have a remarkable city, Dr. Weir." Scorpius regarded the walls of the small conference room with interest that Elizabeth couldn't tell was real or not. Real, she decided as the alien's eyes lingered on the wall fountain. "This surely can't be the work of your people. Who constructed this?"
A little startled by his brush off of human ability, Elizabeth blinked. "A race we call the Ancients," she replied.
"And we are in another galaxy?" Scorpius turned to his attention to her with a smile that was more chilling than reassuring. "Remarkable."
"No more remarkable than the journey you must have taken to arrive here," Elizabeth said. "You're from the same universe as John Crichton."
"Oh, yes. We thought him lost to us. I cannot tell you how relived we were to find him alive and whole. Thank you. I am in your debt."
Elizabeth smiled, her instincts telling her that Scorpius was being sincere even if it didn't sound like it was for the right reasons. "You're welcome. Although most of the credit goes to Dr. Crichton. He survived on his own for almost a year before we met him. He's only been with us a short time."
"And what remarkable things he's done in that short time. The wormhole was quite extraordinary," said Scorpius, gesturing toward the ceiling and the wormhole that was no longer there. He seemed quite pleased about it for some reason.
"How do you know Dr. Crichton?" Elizabeth asked. The question had been on her mind from the moment Crichton had drawn Ronon's weapon on the newcomers. Hadn't that meeting been a surprise to everyone, not least Crichton, Sun, and Scorpius who had clearly not expected to find each other.
Crichton had said very little to anyone about the place he had ended up after leaving Earth. Elizabeth knew few of the details of that story and had very low expectations of ever hearing it all of it. Ronon probably knew more than most but he was a friend who kept his confidences, which was frustrating for the curious. Wondering what made the alien before her tick, Elizabeth couldn't help but be curious.
"We had a business arrangement," said Scorpius. "And Crichton failed to uphold his end of the bargain."
"So you traced him to another reality to collect?" Extreme measures, and it spoke of either easier modes of transportation or great dedication on the part of Scorpius.
Scorpius half turned, his eyes roaming the walls again before returning his pale blue stare to her, all traces of good humor gone. "You have to understand, Dr. Weir. My people are on the brink of a war that will annihilate us. Crichton is obstructing my efforts to change that outcome. And I will not let that happen."
This time Elizabeth had no doubt about his sincerity or the cold glint of determination in the gaze that met hers. She couldn't fault him for it. She knew what it felt like to be staring down the barrel of a gun aimed at not only your home, but your existence. She knew what it was like to stare at choices that stared back.
Crichton was a difficult man to understand, caught somewhere between a soldier and a scientist and thwarting any attempt to pigeon hole him. But for all that he was a mystery, Elizabeth didn't think he'd turn his back on a threatened people if he could help. Despite his knives and facility with a gun, he was a scientist at heart: driven, dedicated, and given the caution he'd shown in his current project, wary of letting the wrong people get their hands on his work.
Elizabeth wondered if Scorpius, his back against a wall, had one of those pairs of hands.
"He said you hunted him?" she asked.
Scorpius smiled, all teeth. "I'm sure you've become familiar with his many talents during your short acquaintance. Tell me, was forming the wormhole his idea or yours?"
"You didn't answer my question," Elizabeth pointed out.
"His then," Scorpius said. "But you want it. That power."
Elizabeth wanted a lot of things. She wanted to be able to protect her people from the wraith. She wanted a way to communicate with Earth that didn't drain their power supply. She wanted to lead a truly peaceful expedition in this new galaxy.
"Clearly, you do," she replied carefully, wondering what exactly he meant when he talked about power wormholes would bring for his war effort. Trying to read his facial features was almost as difficult as trying to read a wraith, and no less unsettling when his pale eyes fixed on her. Elizabeth didn't flinch away. "Whatever you want from John Crichton, I suggest you leave it at the door," she said. Crichton was one of hers now.
Colonel Sheppard gestured to the soft chairs. "This must be quite a shock to you," he said with an easy smile as he sat down across from her. "Finding the guy you've been looking for all this time."
Aeryn held herself still and raised an eyebrow. He had no idea, but she wasn't about to let anything slip during this interrogation. They knew too much already, and now Scorpius was alone with their leader. It had been a bad decision to make that deal. She should have let John go, like Rygel said. Let him go and fade from her memory instead of help Scorpius get his hands on him again.
But John was here.
The sudden bubble rising in her chest threatened to burst so Aeryn thrust the thought aside and focused. Sheppard watched her with his smile still in place but his eyes were too clever for their own good.
"So how do you know Crichton?" he broke the silence.
"He's a shipmate. He went missing."
"So you came after him?"
"Yes." A short, simple answer to the question.
"How did you find him?"
They'd briefly covered this earlier, before Crichton had come in. We mean you no harm. Just wormhole travelers looking for a friend.
"I don't know," she finally admitted. "Scorpius did. He chose the path we took."
It wasn't quite true. Aeryn had an idea but the neural clone was a problem that had supposedly been solved.
"Through the wormhole."
Sheppard nodded like he understood and thankfully let it go. "Tell me about your friend. Scorpius, is it?"
Aeryn felt her face go cold. "He's not my friend. Or John's. He only wants what John knows and he'll stop at nothing to get it. Do not trust him."
Sheppard's smile disappeared, replaced by a considering look that revealed the soldier beneath the charm. "And you are obviously Crichton's friend," he said dryly. "If this Scorpius guy is such a danger, why is he here?"
Aeryn's jaw shifted, clicked. Saying anything would give away more than she was ready to give, but her silence was just as damning.
Sheppard let it speak for itself. He didn't ask any more questions.
Aeryn's smell lingered on his shirt, leather and safety, and the whole surreal meeting hit Crichton, like waking from a dream, ice cold and covered in sweat.
"That just happened, right?" he asked. The geometric walls of Atlantis still held their familiarity of harsh angles and cool colors. They looked right. Felt right. No nagging feeling of being out of place hammering in his brain. No sudden appearance of Einstein and the iceberg.
"John?" Ronon said from behind him, concerned.
"I'm fine," he said, shaking off the paranoia. Except if that was his Scorpius, he should be paranoid. He could still feel Scorpius's smile oozing over him, and he wondered - knew - just what Aeryn had traded for his help.
We disappeared down a wormhole. How do you recreate that trick?
An arm, a leg, and a brain. It's a trap. Why would she make a deal?
Harvey gave him a disbelieving look, surprised that he had voiced the question. Why would she not?
Because it's Scorpius! John swept his hands through the giant house of cards they stood in, sending them snowing down around them. He's supposed to be dead! Gone! Not here! He waved his hand at the falling construct. Not in Atlantis in another frelling universe!
Scorpius was like the wraith, a thousand times over and a thousand times worse. They at least only wanted to use John as a punching bag. They only wanted to eat the people on Atlantis. Scorpius wanted to strip John to the core. He wanted to open the door to the end of the universe.
John jerked when Ronon put a hand on his shoulder. "Ronon," he said warningly.
"Hey." Ronon raised his hands in the universal signal for 'not a threat.' "You're jumpy. What's going on?"
John didn't know. He shook his head, trying to think straight, but all his thoughts were spinning, spinning, always spinning. "I gotta -" John couldn't do this.
Twisting, he slid around Ronon and made for the closest transporter. He didn't stop until he was on the East Pier. This time of day it was dappled in shadows, but the breeze off the water felt like calm washing through him. The ocean stretched forever, as familiar now as the black of space still was. Water and sky, he laughed to himself, never solid ground beneath his feet.
You float well, said Harvey, leaning against the rail beside him. I must say I never would have expected it when I first met you, but you are . . . adept at surviving. As adept as Scorpius.
Don't compare me to him, John sighed. I hate the bastard enough.
It remains true.
John didn't care. He cared about one thing really and it seemed he'd gotten his wish. "Be careful what you wish for," he whispered. She'd come with a price following in her wake, and John could hear Einstein's warnings and threats, choices that were no choice at all.
My, my, I did miss a lot, didn't I?
Harvey hadn't been there. Harvey was here.
Aeryn was here. She'd been warm and solid, startlingly real where he was used to her talking to a figment of his memory, with Harvey in the background. God, she'd been real. Was real.
Do you believe in fate?
The King and Queen of Thebes decided to cheat fate by choosing to leave their son in the mountains to die. Harvey turned to face him. Look how that turned out.
When they were escorted to the evening meal, Scorpius fell into step beside her. "I find this place . . . fascinating. Don't you, Officer Sun?"
Aeryn remained silent and pretended he hadn't spoken. Scorpius didn't seem to mind.
"Although, I do hope our stay will not be too long. We do have obligations to return to. I would not wish anything . . . untoward to befall Moya should we linger here too long."
Weapons to build, planets to destroy, populations to decimate. Deals to break, people to protect.
"Thank you," Aeryn said quietly. "For finding John," she added when Scorpius turned toward her. She held still under his considering gaze, refusing to give more than simple gratitude. Hope was a terrible thing, perhaps, but Aeryn didn't want to stop the blossom of it she felt growing inside of her.
"I do not understand," said Teyla leaning forward on the conference table. "Only you were out of time?"
"Or they were. Look it doesn't matter, just that we weren't in the same time. Or it wasn't flowing at the same rate for me as them." Crichton waved his hands in frustration, and Teyla understood that he was impatient with them for not following - he was much like Rodney in that regard - but that did not help clarify his story. "The point is," he went on, "that while Sheppard and the Shroom were sitting like bumps on a log, I was getting a crash course in wormholes from one of the people who info-dumped it into my head without an instruction manual."
"So that means we're on the right track," said Rodney, perking up from the scowl Crichton's nickname produced. "This is amazing. Confirmation that your 9-dimensional description of space-time is a functional model. Not that I doubted it, of course." His eyes flickered back and forth, his mind already away on his work.
"It means we have to stop," said Crichton sharply. Rodney spluttered, but Crichton went on. "Before they figured out stargates, your Ancients, the Ancestors, whatever, made this section of space-time Swiss cheese. Any more tampering and we'll just make the situation worse."
"Oh, please, we haven't seen anything to suggest that we are damaging the space-time continuum," countered Rodney. "Obviously the Ancients survived just fine for thousands of years. I mean, we could be talking destabilization on the scale of millions of years. You don't know -"
"I saw what could happen!"
"You saw what your imaginary friend showed you! He was probably messing with your mind to scare you off!"
"Gentlemen!" Elizabeth barked. Rodney and Crichton continued to glare at each other. "While I appreciate the inherent danger in pursuing this project, the potential it represents is too important to ignore. The possibility of creating a wormhole to Earth without the need for a ZPM is our first priority, and the IOA agrees with me."
"IOA?" Crichton broke his staring contest with Rodney. "Earth, you mean."
"Yes, the oversight committee," said Elizabeth. "Now, we'll take your concerns into account. In fact, I want you to head up a team to look into this destabilization problem. But the project moves forward."
"No," said Crichton.
"This technology is too dangerous. If you understand these wormholes, you could tear the universe apart. No one should have that power, not even me."
"Don't be stupid. We're not going to destroy the universe," snapped Rodney.
"Do your people on Earth know that? Or do they just see a convenient weapon?" Crichton's bitterness carried in his glare as well as his voice.
Teyla glanced at Sheppard and saw the same thought in his eye that had occurred to her, even as Elizabeth said, "Weapon?" not entirely unsurprised.
Crichton gave a short sharp laugh that held no humor. "Don't give me that. I know McKay at least would be able to figure out how to weaponize a fold in space-time."
"Of course I do!" said Rodney, offended. "It's not like I don't read science fiction or SG-1 mission reports. The acceleration rate alone between a two-way wormhole would make the whole particle physics community wet themselves. It's probably another reason the Ancients made the stargates one-way."
"You mean we could harness that," Sheppard pointed at the ceiling, "and use it to take out a wraith ship."
"Hypothetically," said Rodney. "But we're nowhere near that stage of development, and need I remind you how mad you got at me the last time we tried harnessing a lot of power into a weapon?"
"You're not going to be harnessing anything." Crichton pushed himself away from the table and stood, visibly shaken.
"If it's something that we can use against the wraith, then it's worth at least looking at," said the Colonel.
"And if it falls into the wrong hands?"
"It won't," said Sheppard testily.
"You don't know that." Crichton leveled one last look at all of them. "Scorpius is here now -"
"And I have taken your warnings about him into consideration. He and Aeryn Sun will remain with an escort at all times," Elizabeth said over him. "As for weaponizing the wormhole, we a re a long way off from even broaching that subject -with anyone," Elizabeth sent a direct look to Sheppard. "I'm not going to ignore your concerns. But for the communication benefit alone, the project goes on. I won't even broach the other possibilities to the IOA," she added in an effort to soothe Crichton's fears. It didn't appear to work.
Crichton stared at her for a moment, but Teyla knew Elizabeth's expression well. It left no room for negotiation. Crichton seemed to understand that, his shoulders settling back in stiff acquiescence, even as he uttered one last defiant, "No," and left the conference room.
"Well. That went well," Sheppard said.
"I shall go speak with him," Teyla volunteered. John Crichton was a man of many moods and, despite his origins on Earth, he was less like the people of Atlantis than they thought.
Teyla trailed him down the hallway, giving him time to cool his temper. She wasn't sure what he'd seen within the wormhole, but his changed attitude toward the project was disquieting. It had been his whole focus since he had arrived. Now with the arrival of the people from his home and the vision he'd experienced, he was fearful, which was unlike him. With all that he had been through, John was not a man who feared easily.
When he stopped on a balcony in the clear evening air, Teyla was unsurprised. He did not protest her presence when she stepped out to join him. The door closed behind her, and she waited for him to speak while John stood with his hands on the railing, staring upward. The silence built, but Teyla was patient. He was not a man afraid to speak his mind, however troubled it was. John would speak when he was ready and not before.
The air was brisk but not cold enough for Teyla to wish for her jacket. The sun was setting on a long day, casting the horizon into gold.
Finally, John dropped his head. "When I was there, I fell . . ." he began. "Unrealized realities." He twisted toward her over his shoulder. "Places that could be. I saw . . . terrible possibilities." He looked back over the water. "Atlantis buddies with the wraith. Aeryn hunting me down. The scarrans here. Teyla, if the walls break . . ."
"John." Teyla approached him slowly, careful not to spook him. She tried to gather her thoughts, wanting to reassure him that the nightmare was not what was. She understood the power of visions, but they only held power if you let them. "You saw possibilities that have not come to pass. And they will not. I know you fear them but you are speaking of changes so great that . . ." She stopped, unsure how to even wrap her mind around what he'd seen.
Rodney had explained alternate universes, possibilities breaking off to infinity, but this was the universe they lived in. Where the wraith continued to feed upon the galaxy, and they on Atlantis were fighting back.
"My people have been slaves to the whim of the wraith for tens of thousands of years." She paused, gripping onto the feeling coiling inside, one that she thought John of all people would understand. "If these wormholes can help us, help everyone in Pegasus, even if only to better arm Atlantis, then isn't that worth the risk?"
John laughed shortly but it was a hollow sound full of weariness and grief. "But see," he half whispered, bending his head to hers. "The risk is already here. Scorpius is here." When he pulled back he was laughing, and Teyla caught her breath because of the wildness in his eyes. "Scorpy, Scorpy, quite contrary, how does your garden grow?" He pushed away from the rail, spinning with his arms thrown wide, his voice rising to a shout. "With bombs and chairs in torture lairs, and information no one should know."
He came to a stop beside her, too close for comfort, but Teyla reached out anyway, put her hands to his face, and bowed his forehead to hers. She felt him calm, even as she felt less calm herself at his display.
"If this goes forward, he'll get his hands on it, Teyla." John's voice cracked, his manic energy as suddenly dampened as it had come. "And he'll take it home and the Peacekeepers will have it and I can't let that happen. I can't."
"It won't," said Teyla with a confidence she wasn't certain of. The possibility of using these wormholes to fend off the wraith was worth the risk, but if this was what John feared then it was a fear worth listening to.
The floor of John's room was awash in parchment covered in symbols that Aeryn had last seen in his quarters on Moya and inked onto his skin. He stepped aside to let her enter, not meeting her eyes as he returned to his task. Paper ripped and fluttered to the growing pile on the floor.
"You look well," she said, and he did. He wore the Earth clothing, loose black pants and a blue shirt, a uniform she'd seen on other non-military personel. His hair was a little longer than it had been, curling around his ears, clean and healthy like the rest of him.
"So do you." John looked up and once their eyes met, they caught. Aeryn returned his watery smile and couldn't move, waiting for a sign, anything that she was welcome here.
"How did you find me?"
"Luck. Scorpius," said Aeryn remembering the growl in her ear and those last wrenching moments in the wormhole. "When Pilot told me he and Moya had been drawn down a wormhole just after I left, I had one hope of finding you."
"So you went to Scorpius."
Aeryn shook her head. "He came to Moya for amnesty. I gave it to him in exchange for my life." John's attention sharpened. "I was poisoned," Aeryn explained. "From a mission I went on while I was away. He kept me alive long enough for D'argo and the others to get the antidote. It wasn't until later that I discovered no one knew where you were."
"Poisoned." John closed his eyes and shook his head, his regret at not being there clear.
"I'm fine now," Aeryn hastened to reassure him. "I'm fine."
He nodded, accepting it and reaching for another piece of parchment to tear to shreds. "Wait," he looked up again. "D'argo and the others? They came back?"
"They couldn't stay away." Aeryn smiled faintly. "They miss you. We all missed you." Missed him like a hole in her heart. Aeryn couldn't look away from him now, half afraid she was dreaming. The last cycle she had moved forward on one slim hope, and at any moment she half expected him to disappear.
John ducked his head and reached for more work to destroy. She watched him, his movements quick and methodical, peaceful even to the casual glance. His hands didn't shake.
"The deal?" he asked after a few hundred microts, his voice creaking slightly.
"He gets anything we learn about wormholes. And anything you know."
John chuckled harshly. "So you sold my soul," he said, finally looking up.
Aeryn refused to flinch from the accusations she saw there. "You," she said slowly, willing him to understand. "You are worth any price."
"But not enough to stick around for. Not enough to tell about the baby."
The words cut like a knife to the gut - how did he know? - Aeryn couldn't breathe, couldn't move, now immobilized by the utter lack of warmth staring back at her. John looked away first, turning to pick up something from the table. Fire bloomed in his hands and he crouched, setting the large pile in the middle of his floor alight.
John stared at the fire and listened to Aeryn suck in her breath. He listened to her leave. When the door closed so did his eyes. The heat of the fire was blistering this close, but he didn't move.
That showed her, Harvey sniffed. Can't just sweep away the past.
John didn't reply, already feeling horrible and stupid. I love her but . . . An ache curled in his chest, so familiar he barely noticed it any more, but now it was there again at full force.
She abandoned you. I know. Harvey pulled out his violin and started playing slow and deep, something sad, that John didn't recognize. When he smiled, all John saw was his creator.
I won't give him anything. No matter what. No matter the cost.
Oh, John, it's too late for that.
He stood abruptly, a thousand things to do and the memory of the hurt on Aeryn's face to scrub away. The face of Aeryn the Captain, cold and inhuman stared back in his mind's eye, a could-have-been that John wouldn't allow.
Harvey sucked in a breath. How we have fallen, he whispered, shaken by the image.
It took John a minute to realize he was staring at Scorpius hovering behind her, shoulders hunched and tense, a shade of the man John knew, of who Harvey used to be.
John pushed the thought away as he grabbed his radio and hurried out of his quarters. The doors closed on his fire, and John just hoped it had enough time to burn everything before the hall sensors kicked in and figured out that his room was a hundred degrees hotter and off the grid. He figured he had twenty minutes at the most, five if he was unlucky.
It was late in the work day, but no one ever left before dinner so the lab was full when he got there. Erik and Caitlin both looked up when he walked in, worried smiles telling John that they'd heard about the experiment and the visitors and weren't certain whether or not they should say anything. Radek and Rodney were arguing by the white board so John shook his head and ducked his chin, not wanting to draw attention to himself, not with what he was planning on his mind. Erik and Caitlin had both worked with McKay long enough to respect his unspoken request and turned back to their own machines.
It didn't take John long to trash his hard drive. He'd known computers well once upon a time and relearning Unix hadn't taken long when he'd joined the science team. The tricky part was going to be hacking the back up files on the server since John had turned into more of a hardware man through necessity. It didn't help that all the scientists on Atlantis were paranoid sons of bitches and clever enough to keep everyone out of their stuff.
John glanced over his screen at the others. Radek and McKay hadn't noticed him in his corner yet, and the others were riding out the storm of swearing and shouting that was going on.
"No! Is impossible! Look! The frequency is two orders of magnitude too big!" Radek's fury had the marker squeaking against the white board while McKay waved his hands and said, "You moron! Look. You're not taking into consideration the distance, which clearly amplifies the effects of the subspace harmonics." He snatched the marker from Radek and began furiously writing to the tune of Czech cursing.
You will have to destroy the classroom, too, said Harvey. It should be fairly simple after the last time.
Notes from the wormhole project covered two of the four whiteboards. On the one next to the argument, Harvey had started writing lines: I will not give wormholes to humans. I will not give wormholes to humans. . .
They probably wouldn't even notice if John just went and grabbed their computers. If they were logged on, then he wouldn't even have to destroy the rest of the hardware. Picking up his own computer, John went to the Shroom's bench as if he needed to check on something. McKay was logged in.
Data flashed before John's eyes as he deleted every file he could find with no regrets.
Not even a little? Not even if it saves the galaxy from annihilation at the hands of the scarrans? The wraith?
They stood in a forest. The leaves on the trees were round, and John remembered that this was the forest he almost hadn't left. He'd let the wraith come, too weak from hunger to move or care or even hope that this would end.
Quit it. You know exactly what the threat is.
Harvey remained silent which as good as conceded that he was just screwing with John because he could. He went back to the root menu to make sure he hadn't missed anything. If John were more honest with himself, he would admit that Harvey was only voicing what they both were thinking.
Her shadow faithfully kept two paces behind her as she stalked down the hallway, back straight, shoulders square. Aeryn kept her breathing calm and steady and her eyes on the transporter at the end of the hallway. Smashing the soldier's face and getting rid of the surveillance would make Aeryn feel better but solve none of her problems.
She wanted to be alone. She wasn't going to cause any commotion, however, not in the midst of these humans, but she did need a moment alone. To collect herself. To put aside the cold that was growing like a cancer through her chest.
"Where to, ma'am?" the soldier asked. The door to the transporter slid open as they neared. Aeryn didn't know his name; she hadn't asked. "Your choices are the mess, the rec rooms, or your quarters."
Aeryn stared at the unfamiliar map for a second, then chose her quarters. She and Scorpius had been given separate rooms. Sterile and practical, like the barracks she had grown up in, but at least they were private.
Except for the woman waiting outside who turned and smiled when she saw Aeryn. She had brown skin and was not dressed in the full military uniform, but it was her smile that carved out Aeryn's insides. Hers was the first welcoming face outside of that first meeting with John that she had seen in this place, and Aeryn had to rein in the urge to strike out against it for fear of what it may hide.
"Hello. I am Teyla," said the woman, her smile dimming into something more diplomatic as Aeryn and her shadow drew closer. The guard stopped a respectful distance away.
Aeryn wanted her to go away. "What do you want?"
"To talk," said Teyla with another smile. "I know we are cautious here, sometimes overly so, but I would like to get to know you. This is a peace offering," she added when Aeryn continued to regard her with suspicion. "John Crichton is my friend."
"I don't need your peace," Aeryn said coldly. This was nothing more than another interrogation in disguise, and she wanted nothing to do with it or these people who had taken John in. When she had left him to join the Peacekeeper rebels, Aeryn didn't regret it, but in the sting of his words today she couldn't deny that she hated herself for it all the same.
"Then we do not have to talk." The smile was gone, replaced by understanding that was almost too much to bear. "Perhaps I can show you the fighting art of my people."
Aeryn took in Teyla's small frame and the definition of muscle on her bare arms. She smiled serenely, but Aeryn recognized the challenge in her eyes as the challenge of a fellow warrior. If Aeryn said no, Teyla would judge her weak, and part of her bristled at that. Aeryn felt weak, had since she'd returned to Moya on the edge of the Living Death. Most days she felt like she hadn't ever stepped off that edge. Scorpius, smug in his upper hand, only made it ten times worse.
She nodded, uncertain whether it was wise when Teyla smiled again, but this time it seemed more genuine.
The room Teyla led her and her shadow to was large and open with a mat covering the central part of the floor. It was familiar the way all training spaces were familiar to Aeryn, and thankfully empty.
The two staves Teyla handed her felt strange in hands more used to carrying a pulse pistol. Hand to hand combat had never been Aeryn's strength, but like all peacekeepers, she'd trained until her Pantak was effective if not graceful. She quickly picked up the first routine Teyla showed her and soon was learning a second. The forms were fluid, built around deflection, moving from defense to offense and back without breaking the movement. It reminded Aeryn of the Pantak forms designed for heavier and stronger creatures. When they started the sequence again, she thought through how to modify her hand to hand training into the sticks.
Teyla reacted on instinct, blocking the change and holding her staves solidly against Aeryn's. Her eyes flickering surprised to Aeryn's face before Aeryn shifted back into the pattern.
When Teyla threw in a new move, Aeryn almost missed it, just barely shifting her weight not to be swept off her feet. After that, they abandoned the sequence and sparred in earnest.
Teyla was good and she was holding back. Only when Aeryn began to push, did Teyla respond in a flurry of moves so fast that Aeryn wasn't really certain how she ended up flat on her back.
"You're very good for someone who has just picked up the bantos," said Teyla, offering Aeryn a hand up.
"Not good enough," Aeryn scoffed, but with little self-recrimination. She'd struggled through training enough as a child to recognize the feeling of embarrassed incompetence and push it aside.
"You lasted longer than any of the men and women here that I have trained with. Except Ronon, of course. Your reflexes are very quick."
Ronon was the other native to this galaxy, Aeryn assumed, the tall one whom John let touch his shoulder. She remained silent, without an answer she was willing to give. Teyla just smiled, more a grin this time, her chest heaving slightly. She raised her staves again, and they resumed more slowly.
"John refuses to learn," said Teyla after a minute.
"He would," said Aeryn blocking her side-attack, turning into it.
"He refuses to spar with anyone." Teyla side stepped, arms wide to either side before striking. Aeryn blocked again and tried another move from Pantak, translated into sticks. It didn't work, leaving her open, and Teyla thwapped her side, hard, before Aeryn ducked, rolled, and recovered.
They circled. It felt good. The movement settled Aeryn's mind in a way she hadn't been able to achieve since she decided to track down Furlow. Aeryn's breath came quickly and her muscles ached and burned with the unfamiliar fighting style. It felt good to have a matched opponent to strike out against, even if this was only a friendly match. The last time she had done this, it had been with John on the hard floor of Talyn's fledgling docking bay.
"How did you find him?" Aeryn asked when they came to a pause.
"By accident," said Teyla with a softer smile. "We were exploring some ruins and he was on the roof. He took us all by surprise."
Aeryn couldn't help smiling in return. It felt strange on her face. "He does that."
"Is he your . . ." Teyla stopped when the smile fell off of Aeryn's face. There were so many answers to that unasked question.
Aeryn didn't have to answer, but she found herself saying, "He was," into the space they had carved out for themselves in this room. Teyla regarded her with solemn eyes that saw too much. Aeryn didn't want to talk anymore, so she attacked.
"Not now, Sheppard." Rodney typed in the file name for the last data download from the jumper. File not found flashed again. "Radek, what the hell did you do to the files?"
"Files? Rodney, what are you talking about?"
"Rodney," Sheppard got snippy through the radio. "We have a situation up here. This is not up for negotiation."
"Well we have a situation down here and it can't wait either," Rodney snapped back, typing as quickly as he could, a bad feeling building in his stomach. "Radek! The files from the last run. They're gone."
"That is impossible." Radek crossed to his computer and bent over it.
"Rodney?" Simpson stood up on the the other side of the room. "I can't access the back ups on the server."
"McKay!" Sheppard snapped into his ear.
Rodney felt his head spinning, trying to process too many bad things at once. "Shut up. Shut up, shut up, shut up!" He took a breath and stared at Simpson who stared back nervously. Radek shook his head.
"Sheppard," Rodney said. "I think we just had a major breach in security down here. All the data on the new wormholes is gone."
"That's funny," said Sheppard with no humor in his voice. "We just had a major breach in security up here. Someone set fire to Crichton's quarters."
"Fire? What? Crichton? Where's Crichton?" Rodney knew he was babbling as he cast about the room, already knowing what he wasn't going to find. Crichton was an ass at the best of times, but he wouldn't destroy all their work. Would he? Except Rodney had a sinking feeling that that's exactly the kind of person Crichton was.
He looked down at the screen again, thinking of all the places he'd backed up recently. It wasn't many. This was seriously, seriously bad.
"Crichton's missing," said Sheppard. "Get up here."
"I'm on my way." Rodney tapped off the channel and pointed to Radek as he headed for the transporter. "Find those files. They can't have gotten them all."
Aeryn was enjoying herself. The fast pace forced her to clear her mind and exist only in the moment of the fight. Teyla did not try to talk further, and the only sound was the clack of the sticks and sound of their breathing. Their meeting of their staves felt like a test of skill once they settled into their rhythm. Attack, parry, pause, break, pull back, pause, and attack again. It felt good to let out the pent up worry and stress from the past months.
They had spent at least half an arn on the mat when the pauses began to lengthen. Aeryn's shoulders held a satisfyingly low burn that she knew she would feel in the morning. It was during one of these lulls that her escort went on alert
It was nothing overt, the young soldier simply tensed at whatever he heard over his comms and she felt his eyes sharpened on her across the room.
Teyla noticed her attention and followed it back to the guard. "What is it?"
The guard eyed Aeryn warily and didn't answer right away. Instead he spoke into his comms - "Yes, sir," and "No, sir," and, "We left there about an hour ago. No, nothing was wrong when we left."
Aeryn held still while Teyla went to the bench where she had left her own comms and slid the small device in her ear. Aeryn watched them both as they listened. The guard didn't take his eyes off of her, cautious. Teyla's eyes only flickered to her once and her face was unreadable as she listened, saying only, "She is with me," and "No. I will take care of it."
Aeryn couldn't help drifting closer, straining her ears to hear what was going on over the comms, but the guard frowned on her movement with the flex of his fingers near his weapon, so Aeryn stilled, which did not come naturally, but she managed it.
When Teyla finally turned toward her, Aeryn asked, "Is something wrong?"
"Yes," Teyla said, pulling her shoulders back. Aeryn was of average height for a sebacean, but Teyla was shorter still. Her presence, however, commanded the room, making her seem taller.
"Someone set fire to John Crichton's quarters, and you were the last person seen to leave."
"I see," said Aeryn carefully. She remembered the flame and hadn't been sorry to see all of John's wormholes burn. Sometimes she didn't know whether to hate them or love them for bringing him into her life. "I didn't set it. My guard can vouch for me."
"He did." Teyla nodded to the young man. He had come closer to them, clearly looking for orders from Teyla. "Do you have any idea who may have done so?"
"You know who did it." Aeryn could see it in her eyes. Teyla was too sharp not to know what John was capable of. But it seemed she didn't want to believe it.
"But why would Crichton do such a thing?"
"I brought Scorpius here," Aeryn said.
Teyla nodded slowly like she understood but she remained uncertain. Aeryn wondered how much John had told her. He must have told them about Scorpius.
"He fears him."
"He's dangerous." Aeryn should never have brought Scorpius here. Should have given up her stupid need to find Crichton. John would never forgive her, and he didn't even want -
But Teyla interrupted the memory of John's harsh stare. "Scorpius told Dr. Weir that his people are on the brink of annihilation -"
Aeryn laughed without humor, cutting Teyla off. Of course he did. And he wasn't wrong if the rumblings they'd heard over the last cycle were anything to go by. The scarrans out matched the peacekeepers and any allies they could scrape up ten to one.
"Have I said something?" Teyla asked.
"Don't believe everything Scorpius tells you."
"So his people are not-"
"No, we are threatened," said Aeryn, enjoying the slight raise in Teyla's eyebrows as her words caught the other woman off guard. "Scorpius is a half-breed of two powerful races determine to exterminate each other. Peacekeeper," she pointed to herself, "and scarran."
Back on Moya when Scorpius talked incessantly about why he needed John so badly, the picture he painted made her sometimes want to give in and say yes, take the wormholes, destroy the scarrans. Let the peacekeepers survive and have free reign over even more territory. Who were they to say what empires should rise and fall so long as her people survived?
"Neither side is exactly what you would call nice."
Teyla was listening. Whether or not she understood that her universe was between John's stone and a hard place, she didn't know. If Aeryn was going to get them out of here without having to fight Scorpius and the humans both, she had to understand.
"If we hand over the wormholes, and he figures out how to weaponize them, Scorpius will use them to destroy the scarrans," said Aeryn. "And then the peacekeepers will be in control of the most powerful weapon in the galaxy with no rival to keep them in check."
"You said you were a peacekeeper."
"I was once. I'm a renegade, now. I know what they will do to keep their peace. What they have done." And Aeryn had made her own peace with it. But theirs was not a territory she wanted to live in, not any more.
Teyla nodded. "I'm not sure I can fully know what your universe is like," she said. "But we, too, have an enemy here. Has anyone told you of the wraith?"
Aeryn shook her head and listened as Teyla told her about the constant threat and lives torn apart for no more reason than that humans here were food for a dominant species. It sounded terrible. It sounded an awful lot like the way the peacekeepers terrified a population into submission.
Aeryn's peacekeeper training could certainly see the appeal of a powerful weapon to defeat an enemy. Teyla obviously thought that humans here could be trusted not to abuse such a weapon. And Teyla was worthy of that trust; her own assessment of the other woman surprised Aeryn. They'd only met after all, and Teyla was a warrior who knew what she was doing. But she was calm and thoughtful, and spoke her case well.
What Aeryn couldn't forget, however, was that the final say did not rest with Teyla. Humans were like the peacekeepers in once respect: someone higher up the hierarchy sent down the orders, and Aeryn knew how dangerous those humans in power could be. John did not trust them.
"What do you want from me?" Aeryn asked when Teyla finally ran out of words.
"Consider yourself in our place. What would you do?" Teyla asked. "When we find John, speak with him. You are obviously close and he will listen to you."
Aeryn couldn't help the laughter, dark and sad. "And what do you want me to say to him?"
"He cannot take our hope of freedom from the wraith. Keep it form Scorpius if you must, but let Dr. McKay keep what we have learned."
Aeryn already knew what the answer was. She had seen what humans would do with their power, too. "No promises."
Crichton lay on his back in the cockpit of the jumper, under the console. He was digging for data crystals and wishing Radek were there to help. It was taking much longer than he thought it would. Hardware, navigation, that he could do, but he still wasn't comfortable with the Ancestors' weird software-hardware interface. He might have to yank them all. It would probably destroy the jumper, but Radek could probably salvage some of it, and hell, the number of firefights the away teams got in, they could probably use the spare parts. It was better than the alternative.
He was almost done, or hoped he was almost done, when he heard the door to the hangar open, followed by the rapid footsteps of a squad of Marines. The jumper was about halfway down the row. John started yanking crystals.
"Lights on here!" one of the Marines shouted, and a moment later, "Sir?"
John pulled his head out from under the console. "Yeah," he said as casually as he could. Nothing to see here. "What's up?"
"We have to secure the jumpers, sir," said one of the two soldiers who'd stepped just inside the back compartment. "Sorry. Was this scheduled maintenance?"
"No." John sat up and put the last handful of crystals as casually as he could into his toolbox. "I was just fiddling with a few things from after our last ride." They'd know as soon as they checked the logs that this was the jumper from the wormhole experiment. Maybe being upfront with them now would buy him a few minutes later. It didn't really matter now.
He carefully closed the lid on his toolbox and gathered everything up. The soldier watched him, and even offered to give him a hand tidying up the mess he'd made under the console. John thanked him, and it didn't take long to make the jumper look as if he hadn't been there at all.
At the door that led back into the city, another of the Marines stopped him. She was one of the young lieutenants that Ronon worked with with. They'd been introduced once, Cadman, John thought her name was.
"Sir," she said, when he reached her. "Dr. Weir has requested your presence in the conference room." Cadman turned and looked over her shoulder to make sure he was following as she led him the pathetically short way to the main gallery. She was alert, and her right hand stayed near her sidearm.
"Trouble?" asked John casually. He set down his toolbox, and nudged it as casually as he could to the wall.
"I don't know, sir," said Cadman without giving anything away. This wasn't going anywhere good, but John gestured for her to lead on anyway.
The whole gang was in the conference room - Weir, Sheppard, and McKay, - and yep, John was definitely in trouble. Weir was giving him the evil eye. McKay was the only one who didn't look up as Cadman brought John in, half bent over his laptop while he spoke.
"That's just it," he was saying.
Cadman didn't leave, standing guard outside the doors when Sheppard with a tilt of his head shuttered them closed. He didn't look away from John and he didn't smile.
"It definitely wasn't corrupted. This was-" McKay stopped, finally noticing the focal point of the growing suspicion in the room.
Oh yeah, the jig was up.
"Dr. Crichton," Weir greeted him.
"You!" McKay pointed at him before she could get any further. "What the hell did you do to my data?"
"My data," John bounced on his toes lightly. "Just so we're clear."
"Regardless of whose data it technically is or is not," Weir spoke over them both, giving McKay a look. "Did you tamper with it on the servers?"
John considered lying. He considered telling the truth. Then he shrugged since they would probably find out soon anyway. "It was unsecure," he said.
"Unsecure!" McKay blustered. "It was doubly encrypted and you had to steal my access code to kill it. And who else would even be able to access it out here?"
"It was outside my head," John spelled it out for them.
"Your head's more secure?" Sheppard's eyebrows went up. "I thought you didn't even know what you were doing. Hence the experiments."
"And since our little jaunt to the little iceberg from nowhere, I now know more than I should," said John. "And I can't let Scorpius get it." He looked at Weir.
Of course not, because it is your paranoia that has clouded your judgement.
And when Scorpy gets what he wants?
"Just what is your relationship with Scorpius?" asked Weir, arms folded across her chest.
And wasn't that a pickled question. "He didn't tell you? He's Captain Ahab and I'm the white whale," said John. "Except when he gets ahold of me he's going to stick his harpoon in my brain and dig out everything I know. And since he's already done that to me once, I'm not too keen on it happening again. Not to mention that what he wants to do with wormholes is pretty much genocide with a helping of massive collateral damage." He looked around at all of them, seeing nothing reassuring. McKay and Sheppard shared a glance that held far too much speculation, and John could practically see them wondering if they could do the same to the wraith.
I should have kept my damn mouth shut.
You hate the wraith, too.
And who do they kill after the wraith?
Aeryn was locked in a room with Scorpius after her conversation with Teyla. The other woman had been called on her comm unit with orders to secure them both. She'd been very polite about it, but Aeryn didn't miss the extra guards that came to the rec room to escort her here.
She and Scorpius regarded each other in silence, a frank assessment that was no stranger after the past cycle of working together.
"What did they want with you?" He was sitting, seemingly relaxed in one of the room's two chairs.
"The same thing you do," Aeryn said.
Scorpius smiled, a thin, knowing expression. "I assume you are no more willing to help them as you are me," he said, getting to his feet. Aeryn gave him a look, crossing the room and ignoring him as he loomed close. "Fortunately for me, I have insurance, but time is running short."
"John has destroyed everything he knows. All the work he did for the humans. It's what they are upset about."
"But he has not yet committed suicide," Scorpius noted, and Aeryn gave him a sharp look. John would not go so far. Even after a cycle apart, running from these wraith as Teyla had told her, he did not have the same despair in his eyes as the last time he had given up.
"The humans want him to do their bidding," Scorpius mused. "You want him back on Moya. I merely want what he knows, and I'm as happy to get that from him when we return to our realm of space."
Aeryn had no doubt what was waiting for them at the other end of the wormhole when they did indeed return. But what was the human phrase? With Moya and D'argo and the others they would have home surf advantage. And more importantly, John would be home with them.
"You're suggesting we escape this place."
"Are you so eager to stay here?" Scorpius gestured to the room around them, the locked door. And no, Aeryn didn't fancy staying among humans and their fear of aliens for longer than she had to.
Rodney was a paranoid bastard and while the science team might sometimes disparage this behind his back, most of them were grateful for it when disaster came knocking. Radek would not call this a disaster except for the way that Rodney was yelling and shouting as if indeed the wraith were on their doorstep.
The problem at the moment were the redundant server back-ups that should still hold the data Crichton destroyed. To access them required multiple passwords and verification checks since, as was well known and previously stated, Rodney was paranoid. Radek would help, but alas, he was not allowed.
"Did you also save the algorithms for analyzing the data?" he asked as Rodney cursed again at his monitor. "He was never good at explaining how he linked the dimensional variables."
"We can figure them out." Rodney said sharply, not bothering to look over. "I'm a genius, and that upstart wild-man who calls himself a scientist -"
"He does not like to be called 'doctor,'" Radek pointed out.
"-can go stuff himself if he thinks he's the only one with a right to the data. Who does he think he is?"
It was the same as had been already said when Rodney first stormed back into the lab and scared the rest of the team away with his bad temper. Radek did not bother repeating what he had already said on the matter. Rodney did not grow up under the Soviets, and as much as he might complain about the United States military he still had enough trust in them to work for them without fear. His only true fear was of the wraith, which Radek could not fault since it was neither paranoia nor an irrational fear.
It was why Radek felt so torn about helping Rodney recover the data. On the one hand, he'd seen John's eyes when he spoke of not letting his wormholes fall into dangerous hands. On the other, if they could be used against the wraith to defend the city, it was a risk Radek was willing to take. He did not understand how John, who had been a runner from the wraith for a year, could not understand this.
"What the hell was I thinking when I did this?" Rodney muttered. "Was I high? Was I on the good drugs?"
"Amphetamines," said Radek helpfully. During a lull in the siege, Rodney had added layers of protection. "You did not want yourself to be able to access it so easily."
"Hmm." Rodney's irritation faded as his eyes darted to Radek, who stared back solemnly. If he were tortured, he would not be able to give access away so easily. Rodney turned back to hacking his own work. He interrupted himself a minute later with a sharp, "I'm busy," in the way that meant he was being paged on the radio.
Radek was already reaching for his own radio he'd left resting on the desk when Rodney waved an irritated hand in his direction.
"Yes, Zelenka here," said Radek, switching to the command channel.
"We need you and Rodney in the control room," said Dr. Weir. "I've got a team trying to gate back in and the stargate is not responding."
"On my way." Radek slapped Rodney's shoulder as he passed. "You must come, too. Leave that."
"Right, yes, fine. What the hell did they touch up there this time?" But the worry was easy to hear under his voice as he locked his computer and packed it up to take with them to the transporter.
They arrived on the second level and hurried over to Chuck's station. Below, the stargate was lit up like it was functioning, but no event horizon filled the arc. Both Elizabeth and Colonel Sheppard hovered behind Chuck who looked relieved to see them, easily vacating his post before Rodney had to tell him to move. Radek slid into the secondary console to look at the power output.
"It opened fine when Team 3 made their check-in," said Chuck. "But then the gate cut out just after I dropped the shield and they haven't dialed back in."
"We tried dialing out," added Elizabeth.
"Yes, yes, yes," Rodney scrolled quickly through the log before tapping the chevrons himself.
"Power at nominal levels," said Radek. They both watched the stargate spin, lock its chevrons one after another, and fail to engage. "Increase output?" he suggested.
"Ten percent increments," said Rodney.
They adjusted the power. Then they tried different addresses. Then they tried a different phase modulation, which made an event horizon flicker into existence for a moment, but it cut out before it could form a spout.
"McKay?" asked Sheppard when that happened. He'd been surprisingly patient and hadn't been demanding answers.
"I don't know!" Rodney snapped preemptively. "Just go away for a minute and let us work!" Radek was already moving to the secondary sensor unit to check on fluctuations in the sun's gravity field. Sometimes modulations could adversely affect a wormhole's trajectory, and if it altered it at all - he tuned the sensors to detect the smallest shifts they could, levels they normally avoided to prevent false alarms - they could affect the formation of the wormhole.
On the laptop interface, he called up the gravity graph. It took a moment to parse what he was seeing. "Rodney!"
"What?" Rodney had the panel beneath the console open to check for cracks in the crystals.
"Rodney, look at this," Radek reached for his shoulder to pull him up faster.
"That's not good," said Chuck.
"What is it?" Elizabeth demanded as she and Sheppard crowded around.
Rodney didn't quite push Radek out of the way to get to the keyboard, but every scan said the same. "The wormhole. Crichton's wormhole. It didn't shut down," said Rodney. "It's hijacking the wormhole from PX3-276 like a second stargate would."
"So they might be walking through it right now into space?" Sheppard said sharply, his voice raising. He didn't wait for an answer, already turning as he shouted orders over the radio to scramble a jumper and a med team. "Find out if they came through, McKay," he called as ran for the jumper bay.
"I'm trying!" said Rodney, switching sensors, but Radek did not think it would work. In the visible portion of space, the wormhole had not opened even though it was physically there, just under the metaphysical surface. "I can't tell. No, life signs will be useless because they'll be dead!" he snapped as Chuck tried to help.
"I don't know!"
"You have to shut that wormhole down," said Elizabeth, her voice a command.
"If I knew how the hell that wormhole up there worked, I would, in a heartbeat, but I don't so I can't-"
"Then get Crichton up here and have him help fix this. Cadman," Elizabeth had barely got her name out before the Lieutenant was snapping a salute and jogging off.
Radek hoped it wasn't too late but the sinking feeling in his gut was anything but comforting.
A direct escape from their prison was impossible. They had no weapons and no tools, and the doors were locked by an unfamiliar mechanism. Scorpius was able to get the door panel off, but held off from simply destroying the odd components in case they became permanently stuck closed.
Aeryn turned to the door with a sigh, then banged her fist against it. "Hello! Guards! I need to talk to you!"
They didn't answer right away, so Aeryn banged again, and this time, the door shushed open. Only one of the guards had come forward; the other stood at attention with his weapon ready well out of reach. Scorpius came to stand beside her as Aeryn said, "I need to speak with Teyla."
"We had a conversation earlier. I need to tell her something I just thought of."
The young guard didn't look convinced, but he did raise his hand to his comm unit and was suitably distracted when he turned that he didn't see Aeryn's hand dart for his throat until it was too late. Scorpius covered her side from the other guard, rushing him. It was over in seconds.
But she had only begun taking arming themselves when the sound of a ready weapon being aimed her way made Aeryn pause.
"Stop!" Teyla stood with her pistol pointed at Aeryn's head. If her skill with a gun was as good as her skill with a pair of staves, Aeryn would not be able to dodge in time. Still, she did not think Teyla wanted to shoot her.
Aeryn kept hold of the guard's weapon and stood. "It's not what you think."
"You're trying to escape. You have nowhere to go."
"We just want to make sure John is all right," Aeryn said.
"He is fine. Put down the weapon."
"We can't let you detain him," Aeryn said.
"He is not our prisoner," said Teyla, but off of Aeryn's skepticism she did grimace and add, "But he is in custody while we try to resolve the situation."
"This is bad."
"Yes, we realize that."
But Crichton tuned out the Shroom. He focused on the readings that showed the 9 dimensional wormhole still in existence above them. He could barely think straight, his head instead full of Einstein's warnings of fractured space-time. So many wormholes made by the Ancestors before they figured out to stabilize them with the stargates, keep the timelines straight.
And there you go breaking the space-time continuum, said Harvey, voice leaden with disappointment. He wore a yellow Starfleet uniform and a Geordi Laforge visor.
Frell, frell, frell. What the frell had he done when he'd gone poking holes?
Not to worry! Harvey's hands emerged from behind his back and with a screech, he abruptly yanked out a stretch of duct tape. We can fix it.
"Shut up!" John said to both Harvey and McKay.
"Oh, well, if you have any grand ideas, now would be a great time to air them," said McKay, snotty as ever.
"Crichton, just how bad is this?" demanded Weir.
"Bad. I don't know. I've never exactly done this before," said John. "Inside, Einstein said this region of space was unstable, and opening the wormhole was a bad idea, could destabilize it more. He said he was supposed to kill me for it, but now I'm getting why he sent us back."
"To fix this? Well, that's just great. He didn't happen to tell you how at all, did he?" McKay snarked. "No, I didn't think so. Typical."
"Dr. Weir." Sheppard's voice came over the radio tapped into the console next to the stargate controls.
"Colonel," said Weir. "Any sign of the gate team?"
"Yeah. We found them," said Sheppard flatly. "They're dead. We're picking them up now."
Weir closed her eyes for a moment. John watched her. Numbness edging on crushing guilt settled over him.
Everything I touch turns to dust.
Ashes to ashes, we all fall down.
"How many teams do we still have out?" Weir asked when her private moment of silence ended.
"Just one other. Major Lorne's team," said Chuck.
"If they manage to check in, warn them off," she said. She turned to McKay and John with a hard stare. "Gentlemen, fix this."
"You're with me, Crichton," said McKay, grabbing John's arm and pulling him toward the sensor console. "You! Give me that!" He snapped his fingers at one of the techs to give him the tablet in his hands. Radek materialized a second later with a laptop in each hand.
"I hope you're choking on the fact that you just destroyed any useful data we had on this thing," said McKay.
The bitter pill was that John was if it meant more people would die. From the handful of times he'd run into him, John liked Major Lorne.
Only the most recent readings from the jumper were still intact, but one data point wasn't likely to be very helpful right now. Visions of wrong time, wrong place, wrong people danced with Harvey down on the gateroom floor. They got to work pulling the sensor data. The gate, McKay said, had opened long enough for the team to check in and almost opened again later.
"We have to know why and see if we can do that again, unless you have any bright ideas for shutting that thing down," said McKay.
"No," said John, fresh out of ideas. He didn't know enough, had barely scratched the surface of what was buried in his subconscious. Staring at the screens, thoughts and reason kept slipping sideways. It was the same feeling he always had before he gave in and covered all the paper he could get his hands on in equations. But when mixing and matching between two wormhole systems, where did he start detangling them?
John glanced at McKay and Radek who had both turned to stare at him. He threw a hand at the readings they were pouring over. "It's not about power," he said. "It's not about the addresses or where the stream goes between points. It's about time."
He could hear Einstein in the back of his head, telling him all about navigating, nothing about shutting them down, and yet. . .wormholes were all about time.
"What's the phase resonance between the wormhole and the stargate?" he asked.
"The phase resonance?" asked Radek.
"You said that you almost got a lock from the gate," said Crichton, calling up the subspace readings from the 9D wormhole above them. "It almost engaged and locked the destination. Now the wormhole we made, it's not blooming, it's just sitting there, out of phase so we can't see it, can't enter it until the right time." He looked for the cycle of when it opened and closed. "But it's open up there enough, just under the surface of our reality to steal the location lock from the stargate."
"Except the stargate almost engaged," said McKay, getting it. "You think the 9D wormhole's ability to dominate the wormholes coming into the solar system ebbs and flows. It cycles around from being strong to weak to strong again."
"Bingo," said John, this time pointing to the screen where the record of when the stargate had almost engaged coincided with a lower fluctuation in the subspace region around the 9D wormhole. "Now we need to figure out the cycle."
"I'll set up an autodial program," said Radek.
He and McKay were off, setting up the Ancestor's programming faster than John ever could. He watched them work for a moment, just grateful that they were there, that they understood, that he didn't have to resort to pantomimes or back up plans when they didn't have time for the technical solution.
Then, as suddenly as the though occurred, another followed. Pilot would have gotten it. Pilot would have hated it too, but he would have understood, been able to feel the wormhole with Moya.
John bit back the sudden homesickenss, wondering where Aeryn was while all this was going on. But then the Shroom was snapping his fingers in his face, and the stargate was spinning, and he had to get back to the problem he'd made when he opened the wormhole like so much Pandora's Box. He hadn't told McKay yet, but from the frantic way he was attacking the problem, John figured he'd at least guessed. If they didn't get the 9D wormhole closed or under control, it had the potential to collapse subspace around them. Atlantis would be the new epicenter for a black hole.
They had to get to John. That was Aeryn's only thought. Teyla only had one weapon, and when her comm unit activated, a disembodied voice speaking in her ear, Aeryn knew that was their one chance.
She darted right, back toward the open doors of the room they'd been detained in. Teyla tracked her with her pistol, and Scorpius barreled into her from the other direction. Teyla didn't know what hit her.
She was knocked flat, her weapon clattering across the floor and her comm unit falling our of her ear. She was out cold. Aeryn ran over, made sure she was still breathing, and picked up the comms. She had a moment of sympathy for the headache Teyla would have when she woke up, but then she was tuning into the frantic voices over the radio - Sheppard issuing orders, scientists being called up to help with something. Aeryn didn't have enough context to figure out what was going on. But she did learn one thing.
"John's in the control center," she told Scorpius. At the heart of the chaos. Where else.
Sheppard had barely landed with the bodies of four of his men when Weir was calling him to join her. They had a potential fix. He jogged into the gallery above the gate room in time to see Rodney, Zelenka and Crichton frantically punching at the consoles and yelling to each other.
"Now, now now!" Rodney was saying, and Sheppard heard the gate spinning to life.
"Come on," Rodney muttered under his breath. Zelenka had his eyes on the console, calling out numbers, and Crichton was just staring at the gate. He sneezed right when the wormhole burst into life. He was also the only one who didn't cheer.
Sheppard, however, let the relief wash through him for a moment before asking, "Is it fixed?"
"Working, yes," said Rodney. "Fixed, no. The friendly space-based wormhole is still there, we were just able to get the stream back to the gate. We'll keep it open, keep dialing -"
"What planet? Where Lorne is?" Sheppard interrupted.
"Yes, yes, of course. When he radios in, we'll shut it down and wait for the next cycle so that gate stream is primary over the other one for them to gate in."
"Okay. Let me know as soon-"
"Yes, yes yes." Rodney waved him off. "Working now."
Sheppard turned to Elizabeth who nodded for him to join her in her office. Now that the crisis was over, they had to deal with the dead. It was the worst part of the job, and one he was too familiar with.
Twenty minutes later though, Chuck was interrupting. "Sir, ma'am, Lorne's checking in."
"Major Lorne!" Elizabeth tapped her radio, relief in he voice. "It's good to hear from you."
"You too. McKay says we're having wormhole problems?"
"I did not-"
"Yes. Yes, we are," said Elizabeth. "What's your status?"
"Cold and wet, and we could use a hot meal," said Lorne. "Locals weren't sorry to see us go, but they're not openly hostile. Do we need to sit tight?"
"Yes. For now. Dr. McKay is going to make sure you have a safe window for your return, which will be in . . ."
"Sixteen minutes," said Rodney. "Set your watch. You'll have to radio for confirmation, and if you don't hear anything from us, assume you're talking to empty, deadly space."
"Roger, that," said Lorne wryly. "Big empty space."
"We'll get you home," said Sheppard.
"We could send them a jumper," said Radek, after Lorne signed off. "Then they could return through either wormhole."
"Yeah, not a good idea," said Crichton then, turning to finally join the group. "There's no telling whether the wormhole up there will spit them out here or in Candyland."
"The other gate team made it back," said Rodney without thinking, stumbling them all into silence that Crichton broke.
"We went into that thing and almost didn't make it out."
"We'll do both," Sheppard cut over both of them. Rodney had his back up, and Crichton had gone still, not a good sign from someone who had hair triggers all over the place. "We'll send them a jumper, and you do your thing so they come back through our gate here. If it doesn't work, they'll be able to survive at least."
He glanced at Elizabeth for confirmation, and she nodded, so Sheppard called Ramirez to go suit up for a jaunt offworld.
The sixteen minutes till the next window opened up was tense. Rodney, Radek, and Crichton hovered around the console, watching the readings. Elizabeth paced back and forth behind them. Sheppard took the time to check in with Teyla - their visitors were under control for the moment. Aeryn Sun was not amenable to helping them reason with Crichton. Although, now that his wormhole was causing more problems than it was helping, Sheppard wasn't sure he wanted to see what he could do with unlocked wormholes after all. New offensive tactics against the wraith were not worth risking everyone who left Atlantis.
Finally, with Rodney leading the count down, the wormhole roared to life, just as it was supposed to.
"Atlantis, come in?" Lorne's voice came over the radio.
"Lorne, we read you." Sheppard glanced at Rodney who nodded. "You're clear to come back."
"Roger. See you in a few."
The jumper came through the wormhole. Sheppard let out the breath he was holding. Crichton sneezed again, twice, and frowned at him and Elizabeth.
"Something's not right," he said.
"The wormhole cycle is turning more quickly," said Radek. "It's at a slightly faster rate than the last time."
"Really?" said Rodney and the two of them were off in geek speak, and Sheppard really didn't want to know what that meant yet. He headed up the stairs to the jumper bay, Crichton surprisingly on his heels. He'd had enough disasters for one day.
But when the ramp on the jumper lowered, he frowned because the lights were down. And when Lorne and his team trooped out, pausing uncertainly on the edge of the ramp, Sheppard froze. Crichton stood stiff and still behind him.
"Frell," Crichton breathed.
It was Lorne. The features were there - square jaw, round face, straight brow. But his nose was longer, his cheeks hollowed out, and his hair was dusted with gray. He almost looked like a wraith, so did Stillson and Haggerty, but the fourth member of the team, who should have been Bells, was tall and scaly with an enormous head whose two eyes were the only things remotely human about him. It. He held a weapon in his hand. There was no sign of Ramirez.
They stared at each other. "Hi," said Sheppard, stupidly.
"What's going on here," said Lorne's twisted double.
"It's a trap," said the alien, and fired at them.
Alarms blared from the walls, lights going bright then dark as abruptly. Aeryn reacted, feeling Scorpius move beside her. They grabbed the scientists and spun into the closest room. The comm in Aeryn's ear burst to life with chatter about the stargate and intruders and orders for every team to go to battle stations.
Suddenly their escape became three times more complicated. Frell.
"Don't hurt us, please!" one of the scientists wailed as Scorpius closed in. Neither one of them were armed, and Aeryn had no intention of making more enemies than they had to in the middle of a battle.
"Leave them. They don't know anything," she told Scorpius. It was only bad luck they'd run into them. The scientists seemed happy to cower in the background. One continued to mess with his comm for help but he must have been hearing the chaos that Aeryn was.
Too many people were yelling for information, and no one in a position of authority was giving any answers. It was impossible to tell what had happened or who the new intruders were. Aeryn wondered if it was the wraith that Teyla spoke of. Maybe they would eat Scorpius and solve all of her problems.
Sitting in a closet wasn't going to find them answers or John, so she and Scorpius ventured back into the hallways. The sector of the city they were in did not have many soldiers and the science personnel they encountered didn't pay them any mind as long as Aeryn walked behind Scorpius as if he were her prisoner. But it didn't last long.
"Rodney! I need you to explain to me slowly and coherently," Teyla's measured words were no less commanding coming both through the comm and from around the corner.
Like with the scientists before, they all froze when suddenly confronted with each other. Teyla's eyes flickered to the weapons they'd stolen. She wasn't armed. Nevertheless, she stood at her full height and gave them both a stern glare.
"Nevermind," she said on the comm. "I'm coming to you. I'll be there shortly." She tapped a the control on her ear and looked from Aeryn to Scorpius and back.
"Is it the wraith?" asked Aeryn.
"No," said Teyla. "Something to do with the wormholes."
"Where is John Crichton?" asked Scorpius.
"In the control tower, helping Dr. McKay." Teyla looked them both in the eye again before coming to a decision. "You better come with me."
Aeryn didn't have the time to be surprised by the invitation. As she fell into step beside Teyla, back the way they'd come, she passed her the side arm she'd taken from one of their guards. Teyla smiled her thanks and checked the ammunition.
Crichton was moving before the scarran finished quoting Star Wars. He bowled into Weir from behind, knocking Sheppard with them as the good old-fashioned energy blast went over their heads.
"Hold your fire!" fake-Lorne yelled and they all but landed at his feet. His two other men were already scrabbling to get a hold of the three of them. Off-balance and a pile of mess on the floor, John didn't have a lot of room to maneuver. Behind them, the soldiers on duty who'd followed them into the jumper bay were yelling too, and soon it was gangbusters shooting up the place - bullets and energy weapons until fake-Lorne retreated inside the jumper with his team dragging John, Weir, and Sheppard with them.
They ended up on the floor of the back compartment, unable to break away from the genetically enhanced strength of their captors as they searched them for weapons. The ramp closed, sealing them in, and for a long drawn out moment, they all stared at each other.
"All right, who the hell are you and what the fuck have you done to Atlantis?" fake-Lorne flung his pale hand out toward the city outside. Outrage, shock, his wraith-like face was still easy to read.
"Impostors," said the scarran, his voice trailing off into a growl. He'd retreated to the cockpit, barely short enough to fit without his head brushing the ceiling. His hands twitched, and yeah, though John, it was absolutely getting hot in here.
"We could be asking you the same question," said Weir, pushing herself to her feet. The two other more human-like soldiers both stepped back and raised their weapons in response. The one on the right, Mr. Pasty Face Version Short, put his gun in Sheppard's face when he moved to rise. John stilled as Version Tall did the same to him.
"I'm Dr. Elizabeth Weir, head of the Atlantis expedition," said Weir.
"Yeah, I know," said fake-Lorne. "You just look wrong." He stared at her like he couldn't believe what he was seeing.
"Sir?" Version Short asked, and fake-Lorne said, "Just give me a moment."
"Of course," said Weir, clearly unsettled by his recognition.
Fake-Lorne took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "Okay. Colonel Evan Lorne. Sergeants Haggerty and Stillson. Lieutenant Ekmar." He nodded toward the floor. "I don't know them."
"These are Colonel John Sheppard and Dr. John Crichton," said Weir. "Lately we've been having a little trouble with wormholes, and it seems that's you've unwittingly crossed into an alternate universe."
"Really." Fake-Lorne eyed the three of them, waving his hand to keep Ekmar quiet when the scarran shifted unhappily. In this small, enclosed space, they were so screwed if he wanted to try anything.
"So you're saying you're from an alternate Atlantis," said fake-Lorne.
Weir's eyes found Crichton's. "Yes, I believe that to be the case," she said. It took John a moment to realize that they were all waiting on him to give them an explanation. He didn't want to take his eyes off of Ekmar, not down on his knees like this. And fake-Lorne, for all his similarities to their Lorne, didn't look like he was going to allow his men let them up any time soon.
"When did the scarrans meet the earthlings?" he asked, getting a quick look from both Weir and Sheppard, though fake-Lorne didn't seem bothered by the question.
"Fifty years ago," he said. "You know them?"
"Yeah," said John.
Scarrans, hissed Harvey from behind Ekmar, peering over his shoulder, his face twisted. He stepped around Ekmar and glared at fake-Lorne with his arms crossed across his chest, so angry he didn't even bother dressing up in John's head. What have they done?
Looks like they made you some kissing cousins.
Harvey seethed, steam billowing from his ears as he abruptly turned and stalked into a red-tinged room - John couldn't tell whether it was a peacekeeper or scarran shade. He paced back and forth, and John gave him a tail just so he could twitch it angrily.
But really John couldn't blame him. Fake-Lorne looked like the Ronon he'd seen when he'd fallen over the edge of the iceberg in Einstein's little floe of horrors. They were screwed, screwed. So screwed.
Weir started talking over the uncomfortable gap left by John's internal freaking out. "We have a mutual problem," she said. "You are not where you are supposed to be and we have our Major Lorne's team missing. If we work together I'm sure we can resolve both situations."
"You have a working knowledge of wormholes? Wormholes outside of the stargate system?" asked Ekmar.
"Yes," said Weir, with an absolutely straight face. Woman had balls, but then she didn't know whose face she was lying to.
Sheppard was wearing his poker face to work today, too, and didn't even look in John's direction.
They probably think the have this sewn up, said Harvey. Move along, nothing to worry about here, let's just hand over the greatest power in the known universe to the scarrans.
Shut up, we have to get out of this jumper before we can do anything. Trapped in here, we're as much use as a fly in amber.
Flies are already useless, Harvey scoffed.
Flies are survivors. Besides, we still need to get rid of them.
"All right," fake-Lorne nodded his agreement. "We'll work with you on this. But we'll need assurance of our safety."
"Colonel," fake-Lorne corrected her.
"Colonel," said Weir. "I give you my word-"
"Not good enough. I'm sorry, Dr. Weir, but we can't risk it." He glanced at Ekmar. "One of you will have to stay with us at all times."
"A hostage?" Weir said, offended.
"Not it," said John quickly, getting stares from everyone. "I need to be out there. Helping McKay," he added.
Fake-Lorne gave him a funny look, not sure what to do with him, especially when John turned his best Sunday-picnic grin on him. "A show of good faith," fake-Lorne said to Weir.
"Right," Sheppard drawled, not buying it.
"I don't think we need to resort to hostages," Weir began, but fake-Lorne cut her off.
"Your men shot at us when we got here."
"You shot first!" Sheppard protested.
"This isn't up for negotiation!" fake-Lorne snapped. He glanced over his shoulder at Ekmar, whose hands were loose and free.
"You said you had working wormhole knowledge," he said. "Show us, and let us return to our space and we will all be happy."
"Very well. I'll stay," said Weir, and Sheppard immediately protested, but fake-Lorne nodded his acceptance.
"No, offense, sir, but we'll take your leader, and let you handle keeping your men in line, " he said. He motioned for his men to let Sheppard and John to their feet. "Haggerty, you stay here with Doctor Weir. Wait for our signal."
Sheppard radioed the men outside to stand down. John felt Ekmar standing uncomfortably close behind him as they waited for the ramp to lower.
Teyla led them quickly and surely through the city halls. The radio chatter had calmed down, one of the Lieutenants and Ronon taking charge in the absence of any other voices.
They had just entered the transporter when Teyla's radio crackled again, but Colonel Sheppard's voice came over the announcement system for everyone to hear. "All hands, stand down," he said. "We have come to an agreement with our guests. Senior officers not on shift to the control tower."
Teyla stilled, and Aeryn didn't take the firming of her mouth as a good sign. "What is it?" she asked.
Teyla didn't look like she wanted to share, but she said, "He did not give the all clear code phrase." Sharply, she stepped into Aeryn's space. "When you left your universe, were there others who would come after?"
Startled by the question, Aeryn looked to Scorpius before answering. "No. Even if they wanted to, they can't come after us. Not my crew mates."
"Nor would my men follow," said Scorpius. "These intruders did not come from our reality."
"And your intentions are still only to find John and leave?" Teyla asked, looking at both of them.
"Yes," said Aeryn. Teyla was looking for an alliance. Aeryn vowed to herself to keep Scorpius in line if she had to, but she didn't think would.
"Very well. We must deal with these intruders first, then. John Crichton was with McKay when they arrived. And when it is over then it is John's choice what he does," said Teyla. "Are we agreed?"
"Yes," said Aeryn.
"Perhaps-" Scorpius began, but Aeryn cut him off before he got any ideas.
"No, you stay with me," she said. "You won't get far on your own if the city really is on high alert."
"They are," said Teyla, giving him a cool look as she finally opened the transporter door. "And the humans from Earth are not so forgiving of those who look different."
Scorpius looked like he wanted to argue the point, but he nodded his head somewhat gracefully in the end. If only he were always so easy to bend. Aeryn never knew when to trust his word and when to be on high guard. But for now, it seemed they were still aligned in the same direction.
They hurried on to the transporter, and soon they were stepping out on the lower level of the main tower room where the giant circle that housed the wormhole of this universe stuck out of the floor. A pair of soldiers stood at attention outside the doors and nodded to Teyla as they passed, giving Aeryn and Scorpius only a second look but not objecting to their presence.
Already Aeryn could hear raised voices from above them where a cluster of people were gathered, almost too many to properly see as she searched for John. Scorpius hissed from behind her, and a second later she noticed what he had - a scarran among the humans.
"Frell." Aeryn didn't even think about it, she just grabbed the back of Teyla's shirt before she could cross the open floor and hauled her back into the corridor with Scorpius.
"What-" Teyla began, but Aeryn didn't let her finish. The soldiers on guard raised their weapons but they were not ready for Scorpius, who struck fast and hard, disarming them but not knocking them unconscious.
"Quiet!" he snapped at Teyla, covering the soldiers. Teyla recovered her calm quickly, anger flashing in her eyes as she looked between them.
"You recognized them," she stated flatly.
"Not the people," said Aeryn. She hadn't gotten more than a glimpse of unfamiliar if changed faces. "But the non-human was a scarran."
That got Teyla's attention. "From your universe?"
"Yes. They are strong and vicious and we'll have an advantage if he doesn't know we're here." Aeryn's mind was already racing, trying to think.
"You don't believe he's friendly."
Scorpius laughed. "No."
"Please," Aeryn looked Teyla in the eye, one warrior to another. "Trust us."
Ronon did not like this one bit. It was little consolation that Sheppard was hating this too. The conversation had escalated from a simple return of the disturbing strangers to their universe to what Ronon's Atlantis knew about wormholes and what their power source was when Rodney went on about how of course they knew how the stargate worked but the rest was a mystery because somebody decided to wreck everything.
That was when Ronon glanced around and realized that John Crichton had disappeared.
"So you're saying you can't help us?" the wraith-like Lorne bristled at McKay.
Ronon had seen Crichton come in with the others. The wraith-like Stillson had been standing behind him like a guard. But John had somehow slipped away while Stillson was distracted by the conversation.
"No, he didn't say that, did you, Rodney," Sheppard stepped in between them. "Especially when Elizabeth is being so gracefully hosted by Sergeant Haggerty in their jumper."
Rodney's eyes had gone wide, but he was quick to cover with his usual bluster. "Oh, right. Of course, I can get them back. I don't want them to stay here forever. I'm a genius, but that means I need space to work and everything we know about the situation, which is not here-"
He moved fast for a creature the size that he was, but before Ronon could pull his weapon, the hulking alien had Rodney by the throat, a heat shimmer emanating from his hand and engulfing Rodney's head.
"You will stop stalling," its voice was gravelly and loud. "Where is the wormhole information?"
Ronon was shooting but the energy pulses of his own weapon had no effect. Bullets ricocheted off its skin. And before Rodney could so much as protest and babble about not having what he needed right there, wraith-Lorne was holding up his radio and shouting at Sheppard, "One word and she's dead."
"Stand down!" Sheppard yelled at everyone. The room went still. "That's not how this has to go," he said.
"It wouldn't if your people would stop shooting at us," said wraith-Lorne, angrily.
"They wouldn't shoot if your pet lizard would stop attacking my people!" Sheppard shouted right back, and it was the wrong thing to say because the alien threw Rodney like he weighed nothing over the second row of consoles and went for Sheppard.
He barely dodged in time, and chaos erupted once more. Sheppard was already retreating over the bridge to Elizabeth's office with Chuck behind him. Ronon grabbed Zelenka by the collar and leaped for Rodney, shoving him toward the transporter. "Go! Go!" he said, shooing Cadman too, and pulling Rodney's arm over his shoulder. Of the Atlantis soldiers on duty, four were dead, the others were retreating. As soon as Ronon and Rodney slammed into the transporter, Zelenka got them out of there. Only just in time. They stumbled into the hallway that led to the labs and the lights winked out. The dim glow of the moon and stars filtering in from the windows was their only light.
The aliens had control of the city.
Rodney stumbled, his hand going to his head.
"You okay?" asked Ronon.
"No," said Rodney. "I feel like my head has been shaken and stirred. What the hell was that?"
"No idea. But it's not going to be easy to kill."
Author: And this is as far as I got before I got stuck in logic and logistics. WHAT HAPPENS NEXT: On Atlantis the scarren-Lorne's gate team is going after the wormhole information in trade for Weir, while the various groups of Atlantis people try to stop them. There is cat and mouse fighting in the halls as they race for the info. John Crichton has destroyed most of it, but one back-up remains because McKay is paranoid about backups. Aeryn, Scorpius, and Teyla are one group. Ronon, Radek and Rodney are another. John Sheppard and John Crichton are together. Elizabeth is with part of the scarren-Atlantis team to start with. While they are all running around, the wormhole outside is destabilizing, and if they don't close it properly, it could take this section of space-time with them. At some point, Crichton and Aeryn's group intersect. At some point, McKay gets the wormhole data backup, though then he, Ronon and Radek are faced with part of the scarren-Atlantis team (or just Ekmar) who catches up to them. They escape at the last minute thanks to a distraction from Sheppard, Crichton and the others. The question is, do they destroy it or not? Rodney thinks they need the data to figure out how to stabilize the wormhole and wins that argument. The groups shuffle, Rodney, Radek, Crichton, Aeryn to go work on the wormhole problem. Ronon, Sheppard, Teyla, and Scoripus to go deal with the scarren-Atlantis team, who they are holding off. Meanwhile, Elizabeth and Cadman are dealing with the members of the scarren-Atlantis team at the jumper. In the end, the wormhole is stabilized, the scarren-Atlanis team is successfully dealt with. Crichton pulls a fast one to destroy the wormhole data because Scorpius wants it. Many feelings are hurt and there is much outrage from McKay. Crichton and Aeryn finally deal with some of their shit. They have to decide whether or not they go back through the wormhole to the Uncharted Terrirories, but Scorpius's threats really force their hand to going back. Everyone says goodbye, and they make a new wormhole (that won't destabilize because reasons) and go back.