The Last Of The Tin Soldiers
Part 6: A Beautiful Death
I watch the Daedalus turn away, moving away from orbit as fast as its engines allow. I can no longer contain the forces building within me, and as such can not guarantee their safety if they do not get to a safe distance before the ZPM overloads with catastrophic results. My death is assured, and a strange calm comes over me as I realise that there is nothing left to do but wait out my last few seconds. I have seen much death and destruction over the years, and I welcome the possibility of oblivion.
A fragment of memory, an echo of Dr McKay's mind, flashes across my processors, and it seems oddly appropriate, so I transmit it on all frequencies; one last act of defiance.
"From hell's heart I stab at thee; for hate's sake I spit my last breath at thee!"
A bright light illuminated the Daedalus from behind, and the alarms grew louder and more urgent. McKay dashed to the nearest screen, pushing aside the crewman who was standing there, and called up an view from one of the cameras in the rear of the ship.
"Oh no!" He looked round as he transferred the feed to the main screen, "He's done it..."
Everyone looked at the real-time video: the unnamed planet that Achilles had been on was gone, swallowed by an expanding ball of plasma that was reaching out towards them like the fires of hell. The few remaining Wraith ships were engulfed, incinerated instantly, along with the orbiting debris. Still the explosion expanded, threatening to swallow everything in its path, including the Daedalus.
"How long until that thing reaches us?" Sheppard asked.
"About thirty second." McKay looked equal parts terrified and somehow deadened, "Give or take a few."
"How long until we have enough power to open a hyperspace window?" Caldwell leaned forward in his chair.
"About the same." McKay shrugged, "Guess we're going to see just how well these ships are built, huh?"
"Emergency power to the engines; take it from life-support if you have to!" Caldwell snapped, his finger jabbing down on the intercom, "Attention all hands; rig for impact!"
"Why do we always cut these thing so damn fine?" Sheppard looked at an auxiliary screen that showed the blast wave gaining on the Daedalus, despite the extra power being fed into the sub-light engines, "Would the ZPM give the ships enough power to survive that?"
McKay just shook his head as he tried to find more power from somewhere. More sirens were going off, as armoured hatches closed across the ship. Those crew members who could strapped themselves in, while everyone else grabbed the nearest support and held on as tight as they could.
"Ten seconds." McKay warned, "Hyperdrive recharged, now!"
"GET US THE HELL OUT OF HERE!" Caldwell bellowed.
The bright light from the still expanding explosion had grown to the point where it was almost blinding, and it easily outshone the pale glow of the hyperspace window as it formed. The Daedalus surged forwards, missing the leading edge of the blast wave my just a few meters, the outer ablative layer of the rear hull first blackening then falling away as the ship left Einsteinian space.
"We should be back in Atlantis in a day or so." Sheppard slipped into a seat next to Teyla and Ronon, the Daedalus small mess-hall otherwise abandoned so late in the night, ship-time. "We could go faster, but Caldwell and I agree that we shouldn't tax the ZPM if we don't have to, given what we went through to get it."
"Yes, how is Rodney?" Teyla asked, concerned for her team-mate.
"Well, Becket's run every test he can think of, given how little equipment he has to work with, and he says that McKay is perfectly fine." Sheppard took a deep sip of his coffee, "Physically, at least. They gave him a sedative to help him sleep."
"And non-physically?" Ronon sounded unusually interested.
"That's going to have to wait until we get back to Atlantis and Dr Heightmeyer." Sheppard sounded worried, and held his mug in both hand, looking down into the dark liquid, "He's been through a lot, these last few months; that thing with his sister and the alternate-universe copy we had to deal with really unnerved him. I guess none of us realised just how much it's affected him."
"He does seem a little, distracted, these days." Teyla nodded in agreement, "He tries to hide it behind bluster, but I think seeing his sister again reminded him how alone he is a lot of the time."
"He needs a woman." Ronon said thoughtfully, then raised an eye brow, "I know a couple of towns with taverns where..."
"No!" Sheppard snapped, an unpleasant mental image running trough his head that he just knew would take a long, long time to get rid of, "What is this? Las Vegas in space or something?"
"It was just a suggestion." Ronon shrugged it off.
"I think perhaps that we should try and find something that we can do as a team, something we can do off duty." Teyla looked at her team mates, only to see blank expressions on their faces. She sighed, "Must I think of everything?"
"We could all go to the tavern..."
The rest of the journey back to Atlantis was completed in relative silence, McKay hardly venturing out of his quarters, except at meal times. His team mates, Becket and Zelenka all tried to engage him in conversation, but he just come up with some excuse or another to get away and disappeared back into his quarters. Sheppard was worried enough to send a subspace message to Dr Heightmeyer, the expeditions senior psychiatrist, explaining everything that had happened and McKay's behaviour since.
Still, despite their best efforts, McKay refused to come out of the funk he had descended into.
"I have to tell you, John, I'm getting worried about Rodney." Weir sat behind her desk, a copy of Heightmeyer's report laying in front of her, "I've never seen him like this."
"I think he's in shock more than anything." Sheppard stood facing the glass windows overlooking the control room, "From what he said at the time, being linked to Achilles must have been a rather bizarre experience to say the least. I mean, going from an admirable very smart human to something with the brain of a super-computer, and Ancient one at that, must have been mind-blowing."
"You think he's suffering withdrawal?" Weir looked up, a slightly puzzled look on her face.
"Maybe; the sort of power Achilles had at his disposal was staggering." Sheppard turned round and leaned against the glass, "I mean, if we could have brought him back here, we would never of ad to worry about the Wraith attacking the city ever again."
"And he went from being apart of that power, back to being himself." Weir pondered the theory for a moment, "I remember beck when I was first made aware of the existence of the Stargate program: General O'Neill had undergone a similar experience when he had the entire contents of an Ancient database downloaded into his head. He said afterwards that it was one of the most unnerving experiences of his life, akin to becoming a Tok'ra host..."
There was a commotion outside, and Teyla burst in, followed by Zelenka.
"John, Elizabeth: it's Rodney." The Athosian leader looked equal parts worried and amazed, "You should come see; you should both come see."
The teaching room was two levels below the gate-room, and was normally only ever used for orientation sessions. Sheppard and Weir were more than a little surprised to see it now full of equipment, a rather perplex looking Dr Becket standing with his hands on the control podium with his eyes closed while McKay stood holding his tablet PC, a rather thick cable connecting it the holographic emitter.
"He's been here like this for a couple of hours." Ronon stood leaning against the wall near the door, arms folded across his chest, "He didn't say what he was looking for, just that it was important."
"Go find Dr Heightmeyer." Weir nodded, then turned to face McKay, "Rodney?"
"Can't talk now; I've almost got it." The physicist waved them away without even looking up from his computer.
"Got what?" Sheppard asked, some sixths sence telling him that something was about to happen.
"I searched the data base for anything to do with Achilles." McKay explained as he continued to work, "But, as ever, all I got was a message telling me that the files were classified and that I don't have the clearance. So I'm hacking the system."
"Is that safe?" Weir asked.
"Well, probably. Maybe." McKay shrugged, "I've found something here that appears to be connected to his development."
"Why?" Sheppard looked a little confused, "It's not like we've got the technology or equipment to build another one."
"It's something that's been bugging me since we got back." McKay finally looked up from his computer, "The one thing we know for sure about The Ancient is that, in the best tradition of government spending, never did anything in half-measures. And considering how badly they were being beaten by the Wraith when they built a weapon as powerful as Achilles..."
"You think there might be another one out there?" Zelenka's eyebrow shot up, "Is that even possible, after all this time?"
"Atlantis survived ten thousand years at the bottom of the ocean." McKay pointed out, "The Ancients may have had some flaws, but build quality was not one of them: if they did build another one of them, they could very well still be out there."
"That's...kind of a cool idea." Sheppard blinked, then saw the way Weir was looking at him, "I mean, when you look at how much damage Achilles did, having something like that on our side would be a definite improvement."
"So?" She looked around the room, "Even if there is another Achilles out there, what good does that do us? How would we ever be able to get them back here?"
"Same way the Ancients did; by ship." McKay walked over and showed her the data he had been able to extract from the cities database, "He was capable of achieving orbit under his own power. If there are others out there, and they have the same capability, then we could tow them back with the Daedalus. And if I'm reading this correctly, then three of the piers are set up to handle them, including links directly to our control chair downstairs."
"Hold on, I think I've found something." Becket opened his eyes as a holographic map of the Pegasus Galaxy appeared in the middle of the room.
"YES!" McKay smiled, fingers tapping away at his PC as fast as they could, "Hold that just like that." The hologram wavered for a second, then split into equal quarters, each one coloured differently. One pulsed then slowly faded to black, "Ah huh..."
"Rodney?" Weir asked, not sure if she should be impressed or annoyed.
"Hold on for just a second." McKay's hand was almost a blur as he typed command after command, "Okay, well, I was right." He looked up, a huge self-satisfied grin on his face, "Achilles was just the prototype. The Ancients built three more: their names translate roughly as Ajax, Hector and Agamemnon."
"The heroes of the Trojan wars?" Zelenka blinked, "Well, we know the Ancients passed on the story of Atlantis, and it got somewhat muddled down the ages, but this?"
"Never mind that; where are they?" Sheppard asked expectantly.
"That I can't tell you, yet." McKay gestured to the map, "Each of them was assigned a specific target to protect somewhere in sector. Achilles was destroyed; that's why his sectors shown black, but the others could still be out there, just waiting for us to find them."
"It's a big Galaxy." Sheppard looked up at the map, "This could take a while..."