Author's Notes: I am grateful to CeeKay Sheppard for editing this story.
'Not all of us are smart. Some are not even clever.'
"May I come in? Please? I am small and not scary." The voice was definitely female, and it sounded sad and weary.
"There is no address on the other side," Dr. McKay noted flatly. "I don't know, how it is possible, but…"
The surface of the Gate rippled, and a woman stepped through. The one-sided Stargate wormhole stayed open.
She was wearing gray cargo-pants, a gray long-sleeved top, and a pair of wide bracelets made of dull gray metal. Her straight hair, matted and overgrown beyond any recognizable haircut, had perhaps been brown once, but was now sun-bleached to the shade of dirty straw. Her face would have been tan, but her skin had a sickly grayish cast.
Sheppard thought she looked like a half-starved and very unhappy mouse.
Without paying any attention to the people, she looked up and said, "You are beautiful." She walked a couple of steps, not taking her gaze from the Wraith dart hovering in midair above the Stargate, then spread her arms and made a small rocking motion – to the left, to the right. "Hello, there!"
And Rodney could swear that the transport, which had been completely immobile for more than half a year, responded, swaying from side to side in a silent greeting.
"I am so sorry for this intrusion." The woman was looking from one host to another with a little smile on her sunken face.
"Do you have a name?" asked Major Sheppard.
The woman blinked.
"What should we call you?" John repeated in very patient voice.
"Well, I suppose." The woman frowned and shifted her shoulder, "you can call me Mouse – I hear you are thinking it."
"Oh, I don't mind. Mice are cute." Mouse gave Sheppard her little smile.
"Do you need… help?" asked the major, and added, "Maybe you need a doctor? You don't look so… You look tired."
"I am. I mean tired. It's not contagious. I don't need a doctor. I need… I came to help." She looked from one face to another again. "Do you have all personnel accounted for?"
"That's what I am saying." Mouse looked utterly upset. "I heard it. I still hear it, but the walls here… they seem to disperse everything. I cannot tell where it's coming from. When we were far, I could pinpoint the direction easier."
"We believe you," said Dr. Weir tolerantly. "We are just trying to understand what it is you hear. How far you were, when you heard it?"
"Far. I don't know how to explain." Tears were evident in Mouse's voice. "Chris! How far were we?"
The Stargate surface sighed.
"Now you are here," said a calm man's voice, and a bright hologram appeared in the middle of the gate room – the City of Atlantis floating in the vast dark ocean. "When you got sick, we were here."
The hologram changed – Atlantis swiftly shrank into an invisible dot on the planet surface, then the solar system diminished into nothing, then the entire galaxy became a red dot surrounded by other dots and dust clouds, and moved into the far corner of the hall. The space ship appeared in the middle of the room instead – a long needle of frozen mercury.
"Then I jumped," continued the voice, and the red dot of the Pegasus galaxy leaped to the other corner of the hall. "You still didn't know where it is coming from. Then I jumped again." The red dot disappeared, covered by dust clouds. "You got better. So we figured out the direction. Then I jumped again." The red dot become a pink spot the size of an apple, then a melon, and then it exploded into myriads of solar systems. "Here you started to throw up."
"I don't think anyone here needs such details," Mouse stated irritably.
"I am just trying to be precise." The man's voice took on a clearly sarcastic tone. "It was too crowded, so I couldn't jump anymore. Damn suns really slow you down, don't they? You kept throwing up, and I was moving like a snail, until I saw all this… holes. Place looks like a termite pile, honest! So I dug a hole of my own. Boom, and you were there!"
"It was… very far away," noted Dr. Weir. "Even if you are telepathic, how can you hear from such distance?"
"I am not! And I usually can't. But it was… it is so… desperate. And sad. And so clear – free of fear, free of anger. No hope. So final…" Mouse's voice trailed away. Then she looked at Sheppard. "It as if you were responsible for this place, for this people. Then you went away, no one knew where. Then you were in the… cave, and the ceiling crumbled down… and you are trapped. In the small cavern. You can't see or hear anything, you can't get out, and no one knows you there. You are not scared, oh no, but… You are so hungry. And you are thinking about your City – who will protect it?"
Sheppard looked at Mouse for a long while, then turned to face Dr. Weir. "Trapped. No way out. Hungry. I think I know what it is."
Mouse's lips were trembling like those of a hurt baby about to cry. "I don't believe you," she said. "You look so normal. You wouldn't do that to a living being on purpose. It is… somebody just stuck in the elevator!"
"For a couple of weeks? Without food?" Major Sheppard raised his eyebrows. "Who would survive that? And we don't have any people missing."
"I will not believe you until I see it for myself," Mouse stated. "Will you let me see that creature?"
Sheppard shrugged. "Don't see why not."
"Chris, it's cold in here. Give me my sandals," she asked, looking at the Gate. Only then did everybody see that she was barefoot, warming one foot on top of another.
The Gate gave an annoyed sigh. A beach sandal flew through it, and landed in the middle of the gate ramp, by some miracle not hitting any of the people.
"Careful, you…" Mouse winced.
Nothing else happened.
"The second one!"
"I don't see it," Chris responded sarcastically.
"It's somewhere there. It couldn't fall out!"
"I don't see it."
"You are a cosmically-sized ass," muttered the woman, then picked up the lonely sandal. "Let's go."
Half way down the penitentiary corridor, Mouse lost orientation and walked head first into the wall. Sheppard automatically reached out to steady her, but stopped, considering the look on woman's face. She carefully slid along the wall out of his reach.
"I'm just trying to help," the man noted with a 'do you really think you are attractive?' expression.
"If you are the cause of how I am feeling now. Keep away from me." Mouse shook her sandal at the silent major, then looked down the corridor and gave a humorless chuckle. "It is never a moron in the elevator, is it?"
The sandal flew through the cage bars like a missile. The creature in the cage could be proud of its reaction speed – it awoke and jumped from the crouching position, easily avoiding contact with the piece of flying footwear. But apparently it forgot about the size of the cage – it slammed into the force field and landed on the floor with an angry cry. Then it leaped to its feet and turned to face the humans.
"Do you understand, young man, what a nuisance you are?" Mouse was shouting. "And how such a small creature can generate such a racket?" Her eyes swept the surroundings in the search of another object to throw.
Sheppard involuntarily stepped back.
"Aha!" Mouse took off one of her bracelets. The major couldn't understand how – the thing looked as solid as a manacle cuff. But somehow it was already in the woman's hand, she weighed it with satisfied 'it will do' expression, and threw it at the prisoner. The creature growled and caught the bracelet without any difficulty.
Mouse sighed, then moved her head, as if listening for something, or checking if the headache was truly gone. Finally, she smiled at the prisoner. "Thank you."
The creature didn't respond. It looked at the piece of metal in its hand, then back at the woman.
"It's a bracelet," said Mouse reassuringly. "Put it on."
"Why should I do that?" the voice of the prisoner sounded like a file dragging across rusty metal.
It all happened so fast, Sheppard couldn't believe that he managed to pull his handgun out of the holster. The Major felt as if he was caught in some mechanism. He was prone on the floor, one of Mouse's hands at the back of his neck locking his head, another jamming his right hand, with the gun still in it, pointing it at the prisoner's face. The woman wasn't even heavy, just enormously, unbelievably strong.
"Tell your boys to stand down. I will not harm you."
The remains of the major's pride made him jerk, and the next moment, the grip on his neck tightened so much that he almost heard his vertebrae cracking.
"Enough," he said in strangled whisper. "Stand down, guys."
Mouse turned her head to see the prisoner.
"Put it on," she stated, "because I want you to."
The creature looked at the bracelet, then back at the gun in the woman's hand.
"Put it on. You cannot afford to be shot."
The prisoner growled, baring his pointed teeth, and brought the bracelet close to his wrist, apparently unsure how to put it on. And the substance, which looked like a gray metal, suddenly melted, and moved of its own accord, forming a solid cuff around the creature's wrist. The prisoner tried to claw it off, and stopped, understanding the hopelessness of that idea. He looked at the woman with an expression of grim mistrust.
Sheppard tried, but couldn't do anything to stop what happened next – Mouse pulled the trigger, sending a couple of bullets right into the prisoner's face. Nothing happened; all the bullets seem to evaporate without causing any harm. Then Mouse released the major, walked away and set down, her back against the wall. The creature in the cage looked at her with visible disapprobation.
"Come on," said the woman waving her hand. "You didn't feel a thing."
"I didn't know if it would work for you. I had to check!"
"Oh, next time I'll shoot you in the ass, when you are not wearing any protection!"
"Now tell your boys to fetch some food for him." Mouse was standing by the wall, hugging herself from the cold.
"You can fetch it yourself," Sheppard noted sarcastically. "I mean, you can feed yourself to him. That'd be cool."
Woman raised her sun-bleached eyebrows.
"It's a Wraith. The only item on his menu is the human life-force," the major explained. "Didn't you know?"
"Didn't you? I mean when you caught him – how did you plan to feed him?" The sheer sincerity in the woman's voice was unnerving. "Or did you just lock him up, without bench to sit on, without wall he can lean on, without any hope?"
"He is a murderer."
"And what does it make you, I wonder? The f-word comes in mind. He doesn't have a choice, but you do…" the woman waved her hand, apparently loosing any interest in the future development of the subject, and turned to the prisoner. "Is it true? Or can you eat something else?"
The Wraith didn't respond. He shifted uneasily, looked aside and back to the woman.
"Oh, crap," and Mouse lowered her head, staring at her feet, one warming on top of the other.
"But this is bull," she announced eventually in clear and confident voice.
Sheppard and the Wraith exchanged glances.
"I mean, really. The other day, Chris caught a creature just like you. I think." Mouse looked at the prisoner. "I didn't get a clear look, I wasn't felling well. That thing lost its transport in a crash and was stuck on an empty planet for God knows how long. Chris fancied the idea that the creature made me sick. So he caught it and fed it until it couldn't eat anymore."
An expression of total disbelief settled on the Wraith's face.
"I was the only human aboard," Mouse continued, "and since I am still alive, Chris fed the thing with something else. Basically, stuff that you call the life-force is just a form of energy. It should be… some feeding machine or something." The woman looked at Sheppard and shrugged. "I can try to build one."
"May be you better ask… your friend… Chris?"
"I am not talking to that ass."
"Say it." Mouse, hands in her pockets, was standing right next to the cage bars.
"I give you my word," rasped the Wraith.
"Not to harm anyone in this place."
"Not to scratch anyone, not to make scary noises, not to give anyone nasty looks."
The Wraith snorted and looked aside.
"Or the deal is off," Mouse's voice was made of iron.
"I cannot spit."
The woman kept staring at him.
The Wraith rolled his eyes: "I swear to not spit at anyone here."
"Good." Mouse gave him a broad smile. "Boys, open the damned cage."
"You are insane!" Sheppard cried, looking at the grinning woman. "It's a starved Wraith! He'll kill everyone in the City!"
"And there's absolutely nothing you can do about it," said Mouse in a rather vindictive tone.
"Why would you not tell them the truth?" The Wraith's voice was very calm.
"Because I like teasing them."
"Why?" The Wraith cocked his head to one side.
"Because. I am tired. I haven't had a decent night's sleep for weeks. I am dehydrated, for crying out loud! And did one of these f-words offer me a glass of water? One can spare a glass of water to the worst enemy – which I am not. Not yet." Mouse looked aside. "Oh, well. He can't kill anyone while he is wearing the bracelet. And no one but Chris can take it off him. Happy? So open the damned cage, before I take it apart!"
"You are not touching that machine!" cried Rodney anxiously, keeping a relatively safe position behind the military team.
Mouse produced a small screwdriver from her pocket and gave the scientist the broadest of smiles.
"Watch me!" she said, and dived under the console of the Ancient device.
There was a scraping noise, than a loud thud, then more scraping.
"Should I help?" The Wraith was standing right next to the machine.
"Look at your index finger," the woman muttered from under the console.
The Wraith obediently examined his talon.
"Oh…" Mouse crawled out, took the Wraith's claw and turned it around, bringing it close to his face. "See?" she pointed at the perforated surface of his fingertip. "This is a feeding device, not the something you can handle tools with."
Mouse crawled back. The metal-ripping noises continued, making Dr. McKay grimace in anguish.
"Shit!" the woman's hand appeared from under the console and beckoned at the silent Wraith. "You, come. I need some sort of connection here," she said quietly looking right in the eyes of the crouching creature. "So, I am taking my bracelet off. Cover me."
"What do you think you're doing?" Sheppard stepped closer to the Ancient device.
"Taking away your excuse not to feed the prisoners of war," Mouse responded from under the console.
The man snorted. "Next thing you know, you'll ask us to apply the terms of the Geneva Convention to the Wraith."
"Why not? Those terms don't specify what the prisoners should look like to qualify."
"Oh, what do you know about the Geneva Convention?"
The scraping stopped. Mouse and the Wraith got out, screwdriver in her hand, the Wraith's hand around her waistline. There was very long silence, the woman watching the major with an unreadable expression on her face.
"My people lost over twenty million lives that f-words would be no more," she said eventually in a very level voice. The Wraith gave her an unnerved glance and tried to do two things at once – to move away and to keep hold of her. As a result, he jerked the woman and pulled her a couple of feet away from the machine. "Be still!" Mouse ordered, and elbowed him in the ribs. "There is no family in my land who was untouched by that war. My ancestors fought like beasts for the every scrap of our land, while your ancestors were observing the event with considerable interest." Mouse looked down, then up at Sheppard again. "The decisions of the Geneva Convention are not written for the sake of the prisoners, but for the sake of those who apply them. That's why they are not written by f-words, but by humans. And anyone who defines himself as a human should follow those rules. But apparently being an f-w… fascist is some special quality of the soul." She sighed and crawled back under the device, pulling the Wraith after her.
"What is she doing?" The voice coming from beyond the Gate surface was as quiet as the sigh of a distant hurricane.
"Destroying the Ancient machine!" cried Rodney.
"Don't let her energize anything. She is a technological imbecile."
"How am I going to stop her? I can't shoot her, and she is stronger then me."
"Enough of this. I am coming in."
"You will not fit," Mouse noted from underneath the console.
"I'll do my best." The man's voice was full of poison.