The Epilogue,
In which the Old One gives away the Gifts and explains the Wishes.

Intent is not a thought, or an object, or a wish.
C.C.

"What is with the…" and Al's finger draw an upward spiral.

"I am just trying to keep myself to myself. They have a machine which starts to whine when it senses me."

"Fry it."

"I did. They repaired it."

"Fry it again."

Silence.

"You just evaporated a whole block of the City! Why not the machine?"

"That was a bad place. I could not clean it otherwise."

"They cannot see. They did not have a clue. And enough of this, you know it is bad for you…" Al stepped toward the Old One and took his head in both hands – one on the top, other at the back, close to the Wraith's neck.

The last thing technician saw before the world went blank was the pink life-sign on the screen of the Ancient device. It exploded, throwing off white-hot protuberances, blinding the screen. It looked like a supernova…

"Wha… what's wrong with them?" Rodney looked around in horror.

Every member of the Atlantis personnel was unconscious – inert shapes on the floor. Only Dr. Weir and Dr. Beckett stayed on their feet, and Major Sheppard was still sitting on the top step.

Al shrugged and went down the stairs without a word. And a moment later Carson's Wraith-brother followed him, looking rather lost and uncomfortable.

"Let them sleep," the Old One responded. "We are all tired. I just wanted to say farewell to the four of you."

-o0o-

"My people have a custom to give each other small gifts when parting," said the Old One, standing at the middle of the staircase, looking up at the four humans, who were sitting in a row on the top step. "I want to give something to every one of you."

He walked along the step to face Rodney.

Dr. McKay looked at the Old Wraith, his face going red, his eyes rolling, his jaw dropping.

"I knew it! I knew it!" he cried with delight. He got to his feet, tried to run, stumbled and fell on his face, then picked himself up and ran out of the Gate hall.

"I wish everyone was as easy to please," the Old One smiled. "Now you," and he walked to face Dr. Weir.

"I have nothing that you would want to have," he noted thoughtfully. "So I wish for you as few of those letters as possible."

Elizabeth bowed her head slightly.

"Now you," the Wraith walked to face Dr. Beckett. "You told me you wanted to see your new name."

"And you told me that it's vanity."

"And you told me, that it was unfair, because you did not even see your old name. I think you were right. Look."

Wraith showed him the palm of his hand. Doctor looked at the deadly slit in the middle of the Wraith's palm… and smiled with his childish, soft, and kind smile. The Wraith closed his fingers with an 'am I good or what?' expression on his face.

"Now you, Major Sheppard," the Old One walked couple of steps and halted, facing the seated man.

Sheppard raised his eyes. He looked like a prisoner who knows what his sentence is going to be, but is too tired to fight or object.

"I dislike you," began the Old Wraith.

"You mentioned that already," even John's voice showed that he was beyond caring.

"But I did like one of your thoughts. When you were talking to the one you called 'Steve', and later to…" the Wraith paused, then continued, "you kept asking yourself: 'Would I be able to behave with the same dignity in the similar circumstances? Locked up by somebody who does not think like me, without hope, starving and tortured?'"

Sheppard kept looking, his face getting paler with every second.

"I wish for you to find out," the voice of the Old One was a rustling whisper.

"Whatever," John said quietly and lowered his head.

-o0o-

The Old Wraith took a couple of steps down the stairs and stopped. He stood there, motionless, for a while, than turned to face the humans again.

"I do not know how to make you understand what I am about to say. I do not think you have enough life-force for such understanding. But I must say it anyway – I will feel… unfulfilled if I do not. Do you understand that the wheel of fate rotated non-randomly to create the present state of affairs?"

"I am not familiar with the term," Dr. Weir responded, "but I think I understand you. You are trying to say, that somebody deliberately created this situation?"

"Yes. Not 'deliberately' per se, but yes. Do not look at me, Major Sheppard, I do not possess such power. You misunderstand the… mechanics of what you call a 'wish'. Let us take one of your weapons…"

"Let's not take any more of our weapons," Sheppard interrupted, "we need them, and you'll take off somebody's fingers eventually."

"What I mean is that it is easy to make an explosive explode, if you can see. But I cannot wish a happy outcome. I can wish for a happy outcome, but my wish will not have any more power than yours. My mind is not empty enough. I have many concerns. Billions of them, to be exact."

The Old One glanced back, towards the Stargate. Al the Wraithling was pacing impatiently at the foot of the gate ramp, back and forth, like a caged Wraith.

"Neither could it be done by the one you sent after me. There is no single plot among my kind, big or small, where he would not be standing, if not behind, but somewhere in vicinity. He is too preoccupied with internal affairs to be interested in the Infinity. Though I think I know the responsible party. Remember where it all started?"

"It all started," Sheppard lowered his gaze, trying to put the recent events in order, "with the sick Wraith."

"Very good, Major Sheppard," the Old One smiled.

"But he is…" Sheppard glanced down.

The Wraith was standing at the middle of the gate ramp, observing the impatient movements of the Wraithling with visible mistrust. Somehow he managed to look clumsy, his hair covered in blood and matted again.

"Luckily for us, he is not a dangerous intellectual," the Old Wraith kept smiling. "He does not have any sophisticated desires. Basically, he has only one desire – to feed himself. If he were a human, he would be perfectly round by now. But his mind is absolutely empty. He does not bother to waste his energy on conversations with himself, as many of us do, humans even more than my kind," Old One turned his head toward the doctor. "What did his name look like to you?"

"Didn't you see it?"

"I did not see the same thing you did. I saw the energy. How did your brain interpret it?"

"It looked like an enormous flat surface made out of polished black stone."

"Very good. The mirror, then."

"Mirror?"

"Yes. Any wish dropped on that surface is as good as granted. Infinity will bend itself to make it be. Fortunately, he is not vicious as such. He obviously did not like the Cage – and Cage is no more. Do you realize what would happen if he would say – I do not like these people? This City? This planet? This Universe?"

"How could we let him go?" Dr. Weir gasped. "He will endanger everything and everyone around him!"

"How can you stop him? You did not kill him while you could. Now it is too late. And he is not the only one among my kind whose mind is built that way. All of us are similar to him. To a different extent, of course. There is nothing you can do about it. The only thing I can ask you to do is to remember this. You are at war with my kind. Kill them, if you must. Experiment upon them, if you must. But never, ever take hope away from one whose mind is empty and whose will is strong. My people have a saying, 'The howl of the Wraith can be heard from another Galaxy'. The universe is a very strange place. You can not even imagine what kinds of beasts live beyond its curtain…"

In front of the Sheppard's eyes the night starry sky rippled like old wallpaper, when mice crawl underneath it. He shuddered.

"Yes, Major Sheppard, yes. All sorts of beings can be attracted by the cry of utter desperation. Most of them will come with good intentions. Every one of them will carry the seed of your doom. It is not in my power to make you understand. I can only tell you what I see. Now, goodbye to you all."

He ran down the stairs and up the ramp, followed closely by the Wraith and the Wraithling, beyond the gleaming surface of the Gate, which dissolved immediately after they passed through.

And far above the planet, the Hive ships disappeared as though they had never existed.

-o0o-

"Where did they go?" Dr. Zelenka was frowning, trying the various buttons on the Ancient machine console. "They didn't seem to leave any trace…"

"Home, I suppose," sighed Rodney. He didn't even look at the screen, just turned around and walked from the control deck, and down the corridors, all the way to the kitchen, where a forgotten jar of chocolate sauce was waiting for him.