The stargate on resource outpost 13 opened with the standard kawoosh illuminating the nighttime forest. It quickly retracted into the subtle fluctuations of the event horizon, dimming the ambient glow on the thick vegetation that engulfed the gate in all directions save one.
In front of the gate set on a perfectly perpendicular angle a long, narrow clearing had been sheered through the forest. Even the ground had been scorched clean of any vegetation and only now had thin sprouts of grass begun to reintroduce themselves to the hard packed dirt trail that stretched ahead for kilometers.
Out of the event horizon stepped a solitary Wraith, eyes covered in some type of tracking goggles. It spied the artificial clearing and hissed with a mix of satisfaction and wrath before blending into the vegetation and traveling parallel to the path to avoid detection.
It moved off barely half a kilometer before it came to a small clearing adjacent to the main line. Nothing was present, but the dusty ground bore angular lines…some type of buried structure lay here unused and the forest had begun to cover it over.
The Wraith cocked its head in consideration then moved on, making sure not to cross into the open. It traveled farther up the long corridor until it widened out into a 400 meter wide clearing…with three other corridors exiting at various angles.
Anger building, the Wraith continued on, taking the leftmost of the tracks and followed it to where it dead-ended in a wide open valley with several structures of Lantean design arrayed in neat rows, some of which extended up several dozens of meters into the air.
Several small craft sat adjacent to one of the buildings, attached end to end, and appeared to be the approximate width of the forest corridors. Off in the distance several dozen individuals could be seen moving in and out of multiple buildings with robotic precision.
The Wraith had seen enough. It backtracked slowly to the stargate, then waited patiently for several minutes to make sure it hadn't been followed. When no activity resulted, it pulled back the vegetation from the unused dialing device and activated the stargate.
With the wormhole established and no enemy in sight, the Wraith smoothly detached from the forest and slid back through the gate…
The Wraith emerged on the outskirts of one of their surface bases and immediately felt his connection with his brethren return. He communicated what he had found with a few simple thoughts, allowing them to see what he had seen.
A chill ran through him as he felt the queen's mind connect with his. She drew from him all of his memories and issued new orders… all within a handful of seconds.
The Wraith turned about and redialed the stargate to the world it had just scouted. Seven more Wraith emerged from the shadows and joined it, all 'males' and all scouts. They returned through the stargate and dispersed…
"That is not possible," Rodney protested to Stevenson in one of Atlantis's many scientific labs. This one Ryan had set up to assist in the retraining of acquired personnel.
Stevenson lifted an eyebrow patiently. "Why not?"
"Well, for starters, half of everything I know about space/time comes from his postulates…and more than that I've seen evidence of it firsthand."
"Really?" Stevenson asked curious, yet he knew for a fact that he was completely wrong.
"Yes, really," Rodney replied indignantly. "Einstein's theory of relativity is a proven fact. Nothing can exceed the speed of light in our dimension and will experience time dilation the closer it approaches that barrier. The only way you can achieve FTL is through transition to an alternate dimensional state that allows you to bypass the relativistic effects."
Stevenson leaned a bit closer. "For a self-proclaimed genius, you are rather gullible."
"Gullible?!" Rodney complained loudly.
"A universal speed limit is nonsense. The very definition of relative means you can have no absolutes."
"That's what one would think," Rodney said, raising a knowing finger for emphasis, "but when you do the math you find an undisputable escalating power ratio required to reach light speed…and even with your nifty Zed Pee Ems you can't produce enough power to breach that barrier, because infinite is rather…unreachable."
Stevenson rolled his eyes. Even with the basic neural download he'd given him, McKay wasn't about to drop this nonsense. The man HAD to be right, even when he was wrong.
"What was this evidence you were referring to?"
"As you're doubtlessly familiar with the Tria, that shouldn't be a great leap of logic...considering you're an ancient and all."
"What about it?" Ryan humored him with infinite patience.
"What about it? The ship's hyperdrive was damaged, so it had to use thruster-based technology to leave the Pegasus galaxy. They suffered from time dilation effects due to relativity as a result, which was the only reason why they survived 10,000 years and made our meeting them possible."
"Have you heard of stasis technology, McKay?" Stevenson asked sarcastically.
"So, what, they tucked themselves into stasis for the entire 10,000 year trip? We saw what kind of degradation that led to on the Aurora. No matter how advanced you are you can't cheat old age, not even with your fancy stasis tech. The only way they could have survived that long was due to time dilation, which was the result of their velocity approaching the speed of light. The faster they went, the more they slowed down."
"Do you have any idea how ridiculous that sounds? You just contradicted yourself."
Rodney held up his hands. "I know it may look that way to the untrained eye, but if you do the calculations it all adds up."
"Before you ramble on any more, it might be helpful for you to know that I've read the Tria's logs."
"If that's so, then why are we even having this conversation?"
"First off, the stasis technology that the Lanteans' used was designed for Alterra. That's why the crew you found on the Aurora decayed."
Rodney frowned. "Why?"
"Because Alterra have a higher regenerative ability than Lanteans do, and way more than Humans."
"Slight offense taken at that, but go on."
"Some minor degradation occurs during stasis…think of it as freezer burn. Our physiology can heal itself as it happens, the Lanteans couldn't, not completely. The only way it works for them is to take breaks in between bouts of stasis to allow their bodies to rejuvenate. This is what the crew of the Tria did. They rotated in and out every two years or so for a three day interval."
"Ok, so for the crew of the Aurora that wasn't a possibility because the ship was damaged and the decks depressurized. Mystery solved there. But that doesn't have anything to do with the Tria's time dilation."
"There was none."
"Not possible," Rodney said, determined.
"Ok, genius. The logs show that you contacted the Tria while it was still at near light speed."
"Was it a text message, or real time audio?"
"As I recall, they used a real time holographic image of the ship's captain," Rodney said, proud to show off his detailed memory.
"Then answer me this…how could the Tria's captain communicate with you in real time if she was, as you say, experiencing time dilation at the moment of communication? It would have taken several of your months for her to utter a single word, given the differences between the timeframes."
"Well…" Rodney said, catching himself. "Actually, I…"
"See," Stevenson said, patting McKay on the back, "simple logic."
"What…" Rodney said to himself as he tried to reconcile the disparate data. "Wait a minute…if that's true, and I'm not saying it is, then why were they only traveling at near light speed?"
"Dark route paradox," Stevenson explained. "Everything within a galaxy is moving at approximately the same speed due to the velocities required to maintain galactic orbit."
Rodney nodded. "Anything remarkably faster would spin out of the galaxy and anything remarkably slower would fall to the center."
"Correct. This creates a relative medium through which a ship must travel. This medium is comprised of all matter within the galaxy, whether it be a planet, a cloud of dust…or a rock the size of your thumb."
Rodney glanced down at his digit, trying to comprehend. "Impact velocities."
Stevenson nodded. "Since everything else is moving at about the same speed, if you accelerate yourself multiple times light speed you run the risk of impacting the debris from the galactic medium…assuming, of course, that you can navigate your way around the big stuff. Now, a rock the size of your thumb floating in space as you hit it at ten times the speed of light is equivalent to a projectile fired at you at a velocity of ten times the speed of light. Do the calculations and you will see the kinetic force that has to be absorbed by the ship. In the Tria's case, by her shields."
"You're saying the Tria couldn't go faster than light speed anyway?"
"No, I'm saying that the faster you go, the more you risk destroying your ship. With a potentia enhancing their shields, they could absorb debris velocities around 1.3-1.4 times the speed of light. That number drops as the debris gets larger. They could have gambled that they wouldn't run into anything in the intergalactic void and accelerated much faster, say 1000 times light speed, but doing so means even smaller objects will kill the ship…or at least put holes in it, and possibly the crew inside. And when you get to such great velocities that a few molecules are enough to cause damage…well, it isn't worth the risk. The Tria kept her speed within range of what the crew knew was a safe speed, given their shield strength. Anything else, given how long the trip would be, was deemed too hazardous to try."
Rodney considered that. "Why not just use sensors to spot and avoid incoming debris?" he asked, realizing his own error. "Wait, wait…the sensors would be limited due to the relative incoming speeds."
"And the small size of the debris. The Tria's sensors can't detect a marble at 100,000 kilometers."
"But all our…Earth's…hyperdrive designs are based around the theory of relativity, plus I don't know how many other technologies, and those technologies work. If his theories weren't correct we'd…"
"Just remember this simple formula and you should be alright," Stevenson offered. "E = M."
"Energy equals mass?" Rodney asked, more confused.
"No…Einstein equals moron."
Rodney sneered. "Very funny."
"I'm serious. Just disregard everything he said and it'll make understanding things a lot easier."
"Even his first postulate?" Rodney asked amicably, his defiance gone.
"Scientists don't get credit for stating the obvious," Stevenson said, leaving. "I'll be back in two hours. Hopefully by then you'll have your wits about you and we can continue from where we left off."
"Where are you going?"
"Zelenka needs help with a project."
"What! You've already given him work to do?"
Stevenson waved goodbye, leaving Rodney to stew. A dozen steps down the hallway Sheppard caught him.
"We have a problem."
"Somehow the Wraith found one of your mining sites. We just got an automated distress signal and a bit of telemetry. Looks like they blasted it to hell."