The last of the cloned bodies was beamed into its niche in the floating hoversled from the growth chamber in one of the many secure Alterran labs inside Atlantis. Ryan checked to insure the life support systems were functioning properly, then telekinetically pulled the cylindrical container behind him as he headed out the lab's door.
Taking the long route to the gateroom, due to the fact that the hoversled was too long to fit inside one of the transporters, Stevenson drew several alarming looks from the Human population inside the city. Even the Lanteans seemed surprised, evidenced by the blank look of shock on Lorne's face as he saw the six alien bodies inside the clear bubble.
Not caring to explain to every passerby what he was doing, he silently made his way up to the gateroom where he felt obliged to say something to Elizabeth when her jaw dropped.
"What's going on?" she asked a moment later as Ryan stepped up onto the control platform and began dialing the gate. "If I didn't know better I'd say those were Asgard bodies."
"Adept observation," Ryan said sarcastically as the gate activated.
Elizabeth's eyes narrowed. "Were we invaded again, or is this your doing?"
Ryan frowned for a moment, then took her meaning, literally, from her mind. "These aren't Pegasus Asgard…you should be able to tell that from the physique."
"They are a bit larger than I remember," Elizabeth noted, "but who are they? Are they even alive, or just corpses?"
"Neither," Ryan said, finally pausing long enough to look her in the eye. "They're empty, cloned bodies."
"Clones?!" Elizabeth gasped, grasping the implications. "You're trying to rebuild their race, aren't you?"
"You'll note I said 'empty' cloned bodies," Ryan corrected her. "You of all people should know what that means."
Elizabeth thought about that for a moment. "Are these some sort of peace offering for the Asgard? To replace they're degenerate bodies?"
Ryan raised a sarcastic eyebrow. "I don't care about the renegades in Pegasus. Their brethren will deal with them when the time comes."
Now Elizabeth frowned. "What brethren?"
"The Asgard didn't commit suicide," he finally said, throwing her a bone. "It was just a show to mask their escape and keep their technology out of enemy hands."
The Lantean's eyes went wide. "They downloaded their consciousnesses into the Odyssey's data core, didn't they?"
"Nope," Ryan said, turning around and walking down the steps to where the hoversled was floating.
"Then where are they?" Elizabeth yelled after him.
"You don't know?"
"I know where to look," he said as the hoversled began to follow him.
"Don't suppose I could tag along?" Elizabeth asked hopefully.
Ryan stopped just in front of the event horizon and turned around. "Sorry, Liz. This is something I HAVE to do alone."
She nodded, but sensed something more than his usual secrecy. "That why Sheppard's not going with you?"
"He's busy on Yavin anyway."
Elizabeth sighed. "Well, whatever you're up to…good luck."
Ryan threw her a friendly wink and pushed the hoversled through the wormhole ahead of him.
The Alterran emerged from the stargate onto a very flat plain covered with small blue plants as far as the eye could see…save for the massive pyramid at the end of the long stone path leading from the gate.
Ryan walked ahead of the hoversled and pulled it behind him as he patiently hiked the half mile distance to the massive structure.
The Asgard datacore on the Odyssey had hinted that they'd taken refuge in Jotunheym, which to the Tauri or anyone else wouldn't have meant anything…but to the Alterra that meant only one thing…they'd taken refuge with another ally of the Alterra, one which, ironically, the Asgard had never been on good terms with. They were called the Tuohocan, the Omeyocan, and the Nethocotz by the few species they had come in contact with over their long history, but to the Alterra they had always been the Aetheria.
The Aetheria had never given themselves a name, due to the fact that they were essentially alone in Jotunheym, and had not needed vocabulary to differentiate themselves from others. They dominated their realm without challenge…the only companions they had were a variety of lesser lifeforms, of which they could communicate with only a few, and even then that communication was base and of little interest to them.
Thus the Aetheria had taken an observational interest in Midgar and eventually made direct contact with the Alterra when their scientists began to probe into Jotunheym. It was a peaceful encounter, and the two races had been distant, but close friends ever since…despite the fact that they existed in different dimensions.
Jotunheym was the dimension the Aetheria existed within and dominated. They also had the ability to manifest themselves in Midgar, the Alterra's dimension, though it took an amount of effort and energy expenditure on their part to do so.
In order to diminish this expenditure and facilitate easier communications between the realms, the Aetheria built a number of nexuses that would bring the two dimensions together technologically. The pyramid that Ryan was approaching was the Aetheria's equivalent of an embassy in Ida and allowed lifeforms in Midgar to initiate communication across the dimensional gap.
After Ryan entered the pyramid he emerged into the vast interior that extended deep underground, so far down that even Ryan's enhanced eyesight couldn't see the bottom. A narrow path led across the chasm to a small platform in the center. He took to it without hesitation, mentally dragging the oversized stasis pod behind him.
The stone path was just wider than his shoulders and easy enough to walk across, but the sheer drop off of either side made the approach intimidating…at least to someone who wasn't familiar with the temples. If one fell off the side they'd be caught partway down by a reversed gravity field that would cycle them around the chamber and deposit them back on the entry platform.
Not only did it act as a safety feature, but the narrow approach made it abundantly clear that you were at the Aetheria's mercy when you entered their temple…and if you proved yourself to be an enemy they would have little trouble killing you, either by deactivating the safety protocols and knocking you off the edge, or taking the effort to cross the dimensional gap and do so in a more personal way.
Their power made the narrow walkway almost immaterial to the defense of the pyramid, but the Aetheria had built it for a more…comical purpose. Fear of death and how corporeals reacted to such had taken on a perverse pleasure for the other-dimensional beings and they'd been known to play the occasional prank regarding such 'fates.'
Such an instance had started the bad blood with the Asgard when one of their envoy had slipped and fell off the narrow path in sheer horror, knowing exactly how he would die in the precise way that the Asgard mind evaluated everything. Even as the shock of his impending death wracked his body with fear, he anticipated seventeen possible outcomes of a fall from such a height in combination with his weak, cartilage-framed body.
By the time the safeties had kicked in both he and the rest of the Asgard contingent were considerably distraught…made all the worse by the Aetheria having quite a laugh about it once the Asgard finished their journey up the path and used the crystal skull to make contact.
Had that been the only incident, Ryan was sure that the bad feelings would have passed with time, but having sensed the Asgard's inherent fear and sense of helplessness due to their physical limitations, the Aetheria had made a point of 'scaring' the Asgard from time to time when the opportunity presented itself…though they never put their small friends in any real jeopardy.
When Ryan reached the end of the path he pulled the hoversled off to the right side of the central platform while he approached the crystal skull on top of the short podium. It was similar to those used in Avalona, but this one had been patterned after the Asgard cranium. It didn't precisely match that of the clone bodies he'd brought with him, but then again the Asgard had gone through many physiological changes over the eons in the Alterra's absence. Ryan had restored much of their former 'strength,' but he couldn't undo all the physical losses and maintain their mental gains at the same time.
Stevenson knelt down and starred into the eyes of the old-style Asgard skull…though it was obvious that the Aetheria had lowered the height of the pedestal in recent millennia to accommodate the Asgard's loss of height.
For a moment nothing happened, but as Ryan kept his eye line straight ahead small amounts of light began swirling around his peripheral vision in a wash of mixing colors that a poetic Asgard had once referred to as 'the rainbow bridge.'
As quickly as the process had begun the lights vanished and Ryan stood up.
Opposite the skull a large misty mass billowed up into a crude approximation of an Alterran form.
"At long last the Alterra return to us," the Aetheria said in Lingara as two more forms appeared flanking the one who spoke.
"As was foretold," the left one said.
"What is your name, young one?" the other of the three asked.
"I am Ryan Stevenson," he said, smiling slightly. "Good to see you again…Nidhogg."