For Christmas this year, I would like precognitive powers, please. That way I'll never be caught on the wrong side of the planet again when a volcano decides to explode.
Still, I had it easy. I was only stuck for six days. People on our final flight had been caught out for much longer than that. Thank you BA for getting us home!
Sorry to keep you all waiting. It's been a fun week, honest. I've missed you guys. Can you believe, this is the first year I haven't taken a pad or even a pen on holiday with me? Damn it! I bought one in the end, ideas for the fic, as well as so I could draw. Helps keep me sane. And, best of all, cost me about 60pence. Really nice pad, too
Hmm, I haven't caught up on any episodes since part 2 of the series started on tv, so I think I have about 3 episodes to watch. Hopefully, I'll get this fic completed before I start. I'll admit, I've read a few fics here, and I've realised that I'm well into the realms of AU now. Don't care though, I'm gonna finish it, don't want canon changing my ideas, though. Oh, and I caught an ad on Sky; omg, can you say 'rockin''? so looking forward to it!
I do, however, know for definite now that Gloria used to play the violin. Which is great, coz I'd always imagined that she could. At least that's canon!
Having read back through C6 (it's been long enough that I can't remember what I've written!) I've realised that it's full of spelling errors; I'll tidy these up later. I won't add anything that I'd missed to the chapter, as that'd confuse everyone who's keeping pace with me
Ah yes. Regarding the 'liquid breathing'- the film was The Abyss, a 1989 classic. I confess now it's where I stole the idea from. Love it. If you haven't seen it, go watch.
------ ----- ---- --- -- - o0o - -- --- ---- ----- ------
Can you imagine it? Other races, out there?
Hmm, aye. I don't believe we're alone, certainly. Can you imagine going there?
To the stars? Would you?
'Aye, but only if you came with me. You n' me, exploring the stars…
Romantic… I love you
Memoirs, Star gazing
------ ----- ---- --- -- - o0o - -- --- ---- ----- ------
"I have the Gate-map," the AI said softly. The scientist nodded, slowly bringing the consoles and screens to life. Everything was as he had left it. This was the first time he had been in the work room since- No, no, no, no….
"And I have plotted a course to each of the potential addresses you provided me with." The gentle voice drew him back. Had it known he'd nearly stumbled over the edge?
He nodded again. Returning now to Destiny seemed so very far away. Even if he got back, how would things ever be the same? They couldn't. Swallowing against the unpleasant taste in his mouth, he fought to ignore the myriad of new smells that invaded his senses. He'd fallen sideways out of his reality, and the universe had continued without him, unchanged, uncaring. He'd never belong again. He bowed his head, eyes tightly shut, hands grasping the edge of the console. I can't do this…
"I am sorry," it whispered. He couldn't stifle the small noise that escaped him. Another nod. And then, before he had time to engage his brain, to think, to change his mind, he asked-
"What-" But the words stuck, wouldn't come out. No, don't tell me… He didn't want to know. Really, he didn't. Still, the AI understood the unspoken question, and the look it gave him was sad.
"Exactly what you fear, what you already know." It sighed. Silence reigned for a while, leaving each to their own thoughts, or in Nicholas' case, a lack of thought that he was desperate to maintain. Absently, he brushed cold fingers over his lips, shuddered, eyes automatically seeking out the B.O. still in the room. Nausea swept through him as fragmented memories of the last few days rose in his mind, and he forced his attention away back to the AI. It was difficult. His focus wouldn't hold anywhere for more than a few minutes, the time it took for this thoughts to come full circle back to what he was trying to forget.
Picking up the touchpad –it was oddly jarring, disorientating, how everything was untouched-, he switched it on from standby, drew a ragged breath of surprise. The timer was still running. 83 hours. He really hadn't needed to know that. Shakily, he reset the device and put it down. Too late.
Waking. Burning pain, deep in his chest. Drowning over and over. He gasped again, clutched at his throat. Can't breathe…
"Nicholas," the voice was gentle, but enough to cut through the rising hysteria.
He snapped back to reality. Blinked. There was no tank, no water. He wasn't dying without dying. Looking up, meeting the fearful gaze of his ally was enough to ground him, and he stared at it wide-eyed, pleading, wishing for it to never have happened.
"It… is not their technology, I have recently discovered. They 'acquired' it."
He'd already figured that out. Kept staring. Didn't want it to continue, but knew it would.
"It is not something they could invent, they cannot even duplicate it. They have nothing similar. They took it from another race, and like many similar technological acquisitions, have perverted it to their own ends.
"I knew about the regeneration. I have seen the results before. This? I had no idea." It faltered. "I…was able to access those systems…too late. I could not have stopped it. I know… you know…" It sighed again. Gathered itself. "You were dying, and they wanted to keep you alive, now that you are again useful. They knew regeneration would ultimately fail, needed a better solution. This…was planned, it must have been. The work was too complicated to have simply been thrown together. They probably began work on it after the first regeneration. You were taken straight there, the procedure begun immediately.
"From what I can tell, it is dangerous, nearly as likely to kill you as not, which is why they left it so long; they didn't want to take the risk. I did not know…" a pained expression crossed its face. "Do you want details?"
He shuddered, and jerked his head in a nod, not trusting himself to speak.
"You have already figured it out, I expect, though you do not want to acknowledge it. Your inability to breathe their air, eat their food, drink their water. They have corrected these 'failings'. You can survive in their environment. They have modified your genome, spliced new genetic code into your DNA to rectify these weaknesses. You have been…altered to suit their atmosphere and diet. You no longer reject their food?"
He shook his head.
"Then they are successful. You are no longer in fear of dying. In their eyes, they have improved you; you can survive here indefinitely. Not an option, of course," the AI hastened to assure him, "but even upon returning to Destiny you will not bear the same fallibilities as those you left behind."
How do I go home?
"It's not…perfect. Breathing hurts. Burns." He managed to whisper. "I still feel sick."
"Much of what they have done is an...educated guess. They do not completely understand it, but they are able to make such changes possible and sustainable. You are correct, it is not perfect. They are skilled, but not the genetic manipulators the builders of the regeneration tank were. Do not fear, it will not kill you."
Wishful thinking… Nicholas watched the B.O. again, It was the same one, he could tell. The changes ran deeper than the AI knew; or perhaps deeper than it was willing to discuss right now. The distant part of his mind still capable of feeling something other than debilitating horror was grateful that it didn't continue.
It turned away, and he remembered how to breathe, though drawing air into his lungs resulted in a deep, aching burn in his chest. What the hell was going on? Healed fingers flew to his face, touching, searching. No mask, or tubes, or attachments. But how..? It moved closer again, and the nagging in his mind ratcheted up several notches. Really, he was too groggy for this, couldn't focus well enough. It was definitely breathing the same air as him, though, and Its appearance was…wrong, he realised with a start. Couldn't put his finger on it. Closed weary eyes.
DNA double helix gone wrong…
His mind skittered away from that. He didn't want to know, that much he knew, but he also knew that he wouldn't be able to leave such a puzzle alone forever. A human double helix. His. Didn't want to understand, what little he couldn't keep from filtering into his consciousness terrified him.
Breathing liquid fire.
He gasped, eyes snapping open, and It fixed a sharp gaze upon him. With no further sound forthcoming, It returned Its attention to the pad It held. It was…different, how? Wait. Everything was different. His pulse raced, breathing sped up. Rubbing his eyes didn't help, the colour remained. Except, it wasn't really colour. A shimmer? Yes. Like oil on water, a shine across Its carapace. How could he not have seen it before? Like liquid when it moved. Swirls of it, almost metallic. The material it wore wasn't grey like he'd thought, more an unusual shade of green. It, too, bore a sheen, though much fainter; beautiful patterns adorned the collar and cuffs, ran across the chest, down the back between the multiple shoulder joints. So much that'd he'd missed. The walls weren't plain like he'd assumed, either. Faint shadows, ripples, texture he could touch with his sight. It left his dizzy, unable to focus properly, almost seasick, and his stomach turned. What have they done to me?
The air smelt pungent, like old soil and leaf mould. It tickled his nose. He could smell himself. Did he really smell like that? He couldn't block it out, there was no escaping it. There was too much new. He could see so much more, like he'd been blind before, and now the world was a riot he couldn't process. Even the light was wrong. He curled on his side, facing away from the Bug; heard It raise Its head to observe. He couldn't cope with this. Shivering, he closed his eyes. It's a nightmare. It's not real. Please don't be real.
Blessedly, he was wrung out enough that sleep claimed him.
It hadn't been a nightmare, of course. Well, it had, but not one born from sleep. No, this nightmare was a waking one, one without escape or release. The changes had been just as pronounced upon waking again; the food forced down his throat had stayed, and didn't taste like it usually did, the same with the liquid; the journey to the lab had been a stressful one, flinching as he had at every corner, every glimpse of something he'd known and taken for granted and was now altered. The subtle changes were more disturbing than the obvious ones, flickers caught at the corner of his vision that made him jerk around, snippets of sound beyond human hearing that he strained to catch, and he was mentally exhausted when they'd lifted him onto a scanner bed and restrained him. He hadn't fought- what was the point? They'd already proven they could strip him of everything that defined who and what he was. He kept his eyes closed. If I don't look, it's not true…Didn't want to see the displays. He may not be a biologist, but he'd picked up enough from Gloria to have some idea of what he'd have seen had he looked, what he wanted to avoid, and now here he was, listening to an eons old Artificial Intelligence skirt around a truth neither of them really wanted to approach, knowing it was inevitable.
"What am I?" His voice cracked. Twisted, broken, perverted. Less than human. Something wrong. Something that shouldn't exist. Vile-
He jerked, head snapping up to the AI who was struggling to hold the Doctors' sanity together. It had never used that tone before. He couldn't look away, and surrendered himself to the control in that stare, knowing he had none himself. He didn't like being reliant on others, hated it passionately, but now the AI was the only thing preventing him from falling apart, and he clung to it. With a stern voice and sterner expression it stated, firmly,
"I said, you are still human"
He couldn't help himself. He giggled. Didn't even attempt to stop. Tears squeezed from his eyes and his hands formed tightly clenched fists- he moved them away from the sensitive console. Oh, wonderful…
"You are," it insisted. He caught his breath. Hiccupped; started all over again. Really not his fault. Please…
Eventually he calmed, found that he was sitting on the floor. Tilting his head back to look at the AI, he found its countenance expressionless, never a good sign. Oops. Stomach dropping, he wondered how deeply he had disappointed it.
It sighed. "Please refrain from doing that. It is most disturbing. Not to mention worrying. I have no idea how to bring you back to yourself. I abhor being so helpless." It winced, as though realising exactly who he was speaking to.
"Yeah, I know all about that." He stayed where he was, staring at the floor. The AI hesitated, unsure. The scientists' mental state was incredibly fragile, becoming more so every day, and they were both well aware of that fact. This…it may well be the final straw that destroyed him completely. When it spoke again, it opted for gentle cajoling, an attempt at neutrality that felt only somewhat forced
"Please, I dislike seeing you like this, especially when there is nothing I can do. Stand? We have much to accomplish, and the sooner we begin the better. Nicholas? Now that we have access to the Gate-map and sub-net, we should be able to work quickly. As I said, I have various courses plotted, and several ideas for your consideration, though we have much planning still to do, and I can not do so without you. You are again strong; let us make use of that. With you hale again, and unlikely to fall sick, time is no longer an issue…their patience is, and you are as aware as I that they will expect results soon; if we achieve nothing else, it is imperative that your virus is uploaded and we remove my unit from their possession as we originally planned. Please?"
Heavy silence fell for several minutes, before the man stirred with a quiet sigh, holding hands palm up to examine the perfectly healed flesh; eyes moved from wrist to elbow tracking invisible scars. One remained, he knew, had checked the back of his neck earlier. He was bodily strong again, and physically undamaged, it was just so…hard, it required so much effort, an inner strength that was at its lowest ebb. He wanted so badly to sleep and never wake up, to leave every horror and terror behind. To go with her… but he had made a promise, in a way, to remove the Ancient device from the K'rechǽ-v'rass' possession; he at least had to see that through.
"I meant what I said," the AI murmured, "your humanity is not in question, not ever. Even if they turned you green, with two heads and a tail, you would still be who and what you are. That is not something they can change. I rather expect that some people who are perfectly human are truly monsters, and some who appear less than human, through deformity perhaps, yet are exemplars of your race. You are still you, for better or worse, though I daresay there is room for improvement."
The scientist chuckled weakly, sniffled and wiped his nose before rising and moving back to a console.
"There usually is." The quiet that followed was a comfortable one, as Nicholas went through his notes and the information the AI had downloaded for him.
"I have been looking for information about this other race." The AI spoke suddenly. "There is a little in this area of the sub-net that is useful. They are old. Powerful. A formidable enemy. Or ally, depending. They defend their boundaries viciously, but they may be willing to treat with you. Or not. I do not know. No gate address for them is listed here, nor a racial name, so I cannot be certain, but I believe they were a space-faring race when Seeker passed through; this races' current location is identical to that of a race we encountered in our early sojourn into this galaxy, though their territory then was considerably smaller. The K'rechǽ-v'rass despise them, probably because they cannot defeat them. I have downloaded what information I can. Perhaps it will come in useful."
"The enemy of my enemy is my friend. Hopefully"
Nicholas looked up at it then, and frowned. "Speaking of downloading. How exactly am I going to get you out of here?"
The response was accompanied by a mysterious smile. "Well, that took you longer to ask than I expected."
He scowled. "I've been busy."
"Indeed. Look across the unit, at the central projector. Do you see the rounded surface there?" He nodded. "It is actually a sphere, approximately two hands length wide, not particularly heavy. It is detachable, an independent hub. Within is a folded, compressed backup of the data stored in the external units' databanks, as well as my primary programming core. When the time comes, you will initiate its separation from the main unit, it will take a mere few seconds to complete. I cannot be accessed again until I am reconnected to an Alteran workstation, dock or power source. Oh, and speaking of; I have found this facilities' primary and secondary power cores." Its smile was smug.
The Doctor was speechless. Unable to wrap his mind around that bombshell for a moment, he asked another question that had been troubling him. His was beginning to focus again, and he followed that focus with desperate zeal. Something to hang on to, to distract him…
"If I can't access ye on our way out, how the hell am I supposed t' know where I'm goin'?"
"Covered. Every…Bug…-I do like that- bears a personal dialler. You need to retrieve one. I can then transfer the relevant information to it."
"I'm not talking to you anymore." That was ridiculous. He busied himself at a different console, back to the AI to hide the fact that his hands were violently shaking, refusing to entertain such a preposterous notion. What the hell was it thinking? That was suicidal, insane. In fact it was so far past insane, it may as well have been in the Twilight Zone. His fingers slowed. Actually, it was so terrifyingly insane it might work. He turned back. It was still smiling.
"You've figured that one out, too, haven't you." His voice was flat; it wasn't a question.
The smile widened into a grin that was positively malevolent.
---- --- -- -o0o- -- --- ----
'I knew you could talk to him.' He could feel her smile. Oh, she sounded smug.
Where have you been?
She sighed. 'I was here, you just weren't…aware enough, sweetheart. No, don't do that.' She said firmly, responding to the sudden flare of his guilt. 'And this last day, you've been so busy. He's been a big help, hasn't he?'
Yeah, I guess he has. She smiled again.
'Good. Keep at it. I like him, and I think he actually likes you.'
Hey! She laughed softly.
'Sleep, sweetheart. Not long to go now.' She stroked his face. 'You know how much I love you, don't you? How much I've always loved you?'
Oh, yes. Every day. You know I love you? I've never stopped?
'Oh, Nicholas; yes and yes. Every day, without fail. But…maybe, sweetheart, it's time to stop hurting yourself? Maybe it's time to let me go…'
He sat bolt upright, staring at the wall. What? No way. No possible way. He couldn't do that. Couldn't lose her. Fingers twisted at a non existent ring, and unbearable pain resounded in his soul. How could she ask that of him?
Her voice whispered from behind him. 'Oh, love, because it hurts me so much to see you punish yourself for something far beyond your control. I want you to be happy. I want you to be again the laughing man I married. I want you to find peace…'
That's what she thought? He didn't turn around. My peace is with you.
She sighed, and he could hear the tears in her voice. 'I can't do right. Whether I stay or go, I hurt you.'
No, never. Please…
'Nicky… not now, love. I'll stay. Sleep sweetheart. I'll be here when you wake, I promise.'
He lay back down, on his side away from her, but his thoughts were too chaotic to even consider sleeping. She would leave him? Admittedly, she wasn't really- his mind jerked away from that truth. He needed her. My quiet sanity… no less now than… years ago. Before… he shivered. Don't go there. No. She wouldn't go. She'd promised.
'Yes, I promised. Sleep.' She gently stroked his back, butterfly fingertips tracing lazy patterns on the t-shirt, before stretching out behind him, touching, wrapping slender arms about his chest.
'I love you. Don't forget that I always will, whatever comes…'
I know. I love you too…
---- --- -- -o0o- -- --- ----
"Or morning. Or afternoon. Whatever."
It hesitated, obviously not willing to poke the proverbial irritable bear. The Doctor ignored it, though he knew he was being grossly unfair, and pulled up the facility schematics. Plotting a couple of courses to the gate-room was easy, and the journey there would be quick, providing he wasn't waylaid by Keepers. He had much of the base committed to memory by now; stolen moments over the last few days when the Bugs weren't looking. Straightening, he groaned as bruised muscles protested. He'd managed to fall into a troubled doze, when scarcely a few hours later the door had opened and another day had started. His bad temper had begun on waking fully, and the Keepers had been rather heavy-handed in their disproval. Rubbing his jaw, he winced, eliciting a sigh from the AI.
"Please do not aggravate them too much? You will not go far with a broken leg."
He scowled. Turning back, intending to lash out at the AI, to vent his anger and frustration against it, despite the disapproval of the quiet voice that seemed to be his consciousness- it really doesn't deserve this, now does it Rush?- its sorrowful expression pulled him up short, and the anger faded. How did it managed to make him feel six inches tall just by looking at him?
Because it actually cares, and you know it. Grow up, Nick.
"Sorry." He moved over, ran fingers over the console. Without looking up at it, he murmured, "yes, it was a bad night. And a bad morning. I didn't sleep well." The AI sighed again. It seemed to spend a lot of time doing that where he was concerned.
"Come, we should work on linking the facilities power core to my own." It made sense. In theory, it shouldn't be necessary; there was no reason why an attempt to remote detonate the base core should fail, but if it did at least this way the power surge from the unit exploding would feed back along the path and take care of it. With the added bonus, of course, that such would guarantee the units' destruction.
Moving to the adjacent console, he began tapping into the AIs' power core.
He paused, looked up wide eyed, but relaxed at the slight smile on its' features, felt his own lips twitch slightly in response.
"Good. Now, snap to!"
The Doctor actually laughed, froze instantly. That was the first time in longer than he could remember. The cell, was it? A lifetime ago. It felt good. A weight lifted, for however brief a time.
"Much better." It smiled again, and Nicholas fixed it with a rather sheepish expression, causing it to chuckle lightly.
"Now, the relay attached to the primary conduit- see it? Follow the junction from the resistor nodes…there. Good. Select the third and fourth outputs. You can run an external link through them, they are strong enough to support such a power increase. You will need to retune several crystals in the third quarter hub. If you link them all together and run the power through them as a conjoined whole, there should be no problem. I will start building a path to the power core. There are several layers of defence we need to bypass, but it should not take too much time. A day, perhaps?"
They both settled down to their tasks. This was better. He was working again, productively, successfully. It was a boost he desperately needed. Losing himself in such simple acts was easy, he was hardly unwilling to escape this place even if it was in mind only, and it wasn't until the AIs' voice quietly called him back that he realised he hadn't thought of his current situation once. It was hard to return, but necessary; the single word it spoke sent a fission of fear through him.
He was instantly the good, compliant slave, working unwaveringly to his masters' requirements. He didn't need to greatly change what was on the screen, just hide a few things; they would undoubtedly be interested in any internal layout of the Ancient machine. A hand on his shoulder made him flinch, and then wince in pain as he was pulled round and propelled towards the normal table. He shivered at the sight of the B.O. stood there, watched as it carefully traced the rim of one of the bowls with the tip of a claw, before pushing it towards him. The keeper shoved him onto a stool, rested a hand on either shoulder. Peering carefully into the bowl, he wrinkled his nose. Whatever it was, it was solid. Animal or vegetable? He must have progressed from liquid food now, then. Animal, I guess… it smelt… well, it didn't smell too bad, though he assumed that a week ago it would have been vile. I'll have to watch that, he thought miserably. With all his senses were altered, the crew'd be instantly suspicious if he suddenly decided Beckers' 'potatoes' tasted great. There was no way he was telling anyone that he'd been 'modified', the potential fallout was terrifying; Young'd have a field day with it, probably go bleating straight to the SGC that he'd been compromised, that he wanted him off the ship. That'd get the IOA involved. Well, if the Colonel didn't kill him first, anyway- a 'liability'. Perfectly justifiable. No questions asked. Well, not many, anyway. No great loss.
"What, nae fork?"
The smack to the side of his head made his ears ring. Why did he always manage to forget that the damn things had four arms at the most inconvenient times? One day, do ya think ye could try not winding them up?
Gingerly, he picked a piece up with his fingers- meat, he was almost certain- and put it in his mouth. No, it wasn't as bad as it probably should have been, a fact which itself actually made him feel ill. Forcing himself to swallow, he reached for the other bowl which contained, as he'd hoped, liquid. It was a very long meal, and he was sweating by the time he'd finished, from stress, though, rather than a result of the food. They didn't leave, and he squirmed. What were they waiting for?
Instantly aware that he'd made a mistake in speaking, he winced, but the expected blow didn't come; It squeezed his shoulders, hard enough to make him gasp, but that was easily bearable. Rather that than run the risk making me puke via concussion, he supposed. When am I gonna learn to keep my mouth shut?
Dumb question. Time passed, inexorably slow, and his confusion turned to worry, as his mind twisted through a number of possibilities, each darker than the last. He was making himself sick with dread.
Could that be it? Something so simple? Actually, it was most likely, thinking about it- they wanted to ensure the food would stay down. He felt giddy with relief, a feeling which grew when they finally retreated, the Keeper gathering the bowls as It went. Turning, he shakily stood, and made his way back to the A.
"Do I even want to know what I just ate?"
"Probably not." It smiled wryly. "Not that I even know, mind you. Organic, if that helps." It frowned, gaze going distant as it focused its attention elsewhere.
"Ah. That makes sense." At his confused expression, it spoke again. "In the Observation room. They are satisfied that you are able to consume whatever it is that passes for food with them." As he'd suspected. It sighed. "You are, however, now going to be closely observed for the rest of the day; I would advise we continue with our plans tomorrow. Best not make them antsy," it concluded with a smirk.
"Oh, and stop annoying them!"
---- --- -- -o0o- -- --- ----
He was tired again, the result of another bad rest periods' sleep. Not food related- that would have been easy. As predicted, a B.O. had been on hand through every meal, and Its presence had been a strain in itself. No, it was music again. He'd lost count of the amount of rest he'd spent with hands tight over his ears, staring off into space. Sometimes he hummed, sometimes he sang, once he'd spent most of the night repeating his latest doctorate ad verbatim. Once he'd wound up screaming, when it had echoed three rest periods in a row and he'd finally snapped.
It was both worse and better now. He could hear much more of it, pitch and depth denied him before, and it resounded through his head, along nerves and senses in a way Terran music didn't- it was considerably different, noticeably more alien, and therefore a large step away from the memories it used to bring. The problem was that he could hear more, and it was distraction enough that it kept him awake.
Wearily, he rubbed his eyes, squinted through a headache at the display before him.
"Today is not suitable." It wasn't a question. He answered in the negative anyway.
"Nicholas?" he looked up. "You do not bear further injuries- severe ones, anyway." There were, after all, always new bruises. "You do not appear jittery, either. You are, however, worryingly morose. Depressed, even. A lack of sleep?"
He hesitated. "Yeah." Its expression turned quizzical. "Their…music. I can't tune it out. Ever. It brings…memories." He broke off, unwilling to go into depth.
"Happier times?" He nodded, then shook his head as it went to speak further.
"Don't. Happier. Better. Gone. Irreclaimable. Leave it alone. Please…"
It waited a long moment, and when it eventually spoke it was on a different subject. "I have created a link to their power core. It is invisible right now, and merely needs to be activated." After a pause it continued. "This delay is just as well, perhaps. I am not sure our original plan to distract them was sufficient. We need something bigger, guaranteed to get their attention."
"Stop trying to sell it to me, would ye? Spit it out"
It frowned again, obviously confused by the colloquial style of speech. Its bafflement made smile slightly, but he was inexplicably pleased when it worked out the meaning.
"Ah. I was procrastinating? I see. My plan is this; I have located the facilities sensors, defences, and alarms. I propose we trick the sensors into believing an enemy fleet, this other race, for instance, has dropped out of hyperspace into the solar system and is approaching planetary orbit."
Once again, the AI had rendered him speechless. Fuck me…
It winced, and he realised he'd spoken out loud. "Quite. You approve?" It seemed oddly eager.
"It'll scare the shit out of them. Hell yes!" His voice was scarcely a whisper, he had to clear his throat and take a deep breath before he could speak properly. "But how? I thought their border was a considerable distance from here? They won't buy it, surely."
"Oh, they will," was the grim response, "they won't stop to think. Trust me, they hate them deeply, and the feeling from what I have learnt is mutual. They will not only rise to the threat, they will retaliate with everything they have. We will need to block their communications."
Nicholas nodded. Definitely. If they managed to report a threat that didn't exist, it may will be the trigger for an all out offensive against this other species, who wouldn't have a clue as to the real reason. If the AI was right, and doubtless it was, they would respond in kind and it would instigate an all out war. It could be catastrophic, and he shuddered at the thought of being responsible for such a tragedy.
As it turned out, it wasn't difficult. The AI provided the data, and the Scientist spent most of the day creating a suitable simulation. It was just as well it was trivial, but mind consuming work; he wasn't up to anything complicated, but didn't want his thoughts able to wander. Win-win. Time passed quickly, and baring a few interruptions from the K'rechǽ-v'rass, he was soon being bidden farewell.
"Try and sleep tonight."
---- --- -- -o0o- -- --- ----
He had butterflies. Seriously. How weird was that?
"Nicholas…" He bit his lip, looked up at the AI to discover it was amused.
"Sorry. It's just…"
The worked on in silence, though there was nothing strained about it. Mostly, they tidied their work, double checking what they had done and what lay in preparation. He had re-run through the viral program again, for no better reason than needing to keep his hands busy, when he looked up and found the AI frowning, staring at something behind him. Puzzled, he turned, and his stomach flipped. There, in the observation room, was one of the Three. Why? Its head came round, and it stared. Looking hurriedly away, he fought to control his breathing, well aware that he was close to panic.
"Peace. It is here for a progress report."
Peace? Seriously? He swallowed, realised he was shaking. He closed off all his ulterior programs just in case it decided to pay a visit, and went back to logging data onto the Bug systems. There were too many Bugs in the next room for them to do anything, and the presence of one of the Three strongly suggested there was a ship in orbit.
Time dragged by, and the Doctors' patience was beginning to wear out. Food came, but he was too jittery to eat, which caused the B.O. consternation. Had something gone wrong? It hovered, flanked by a Keeper. He could feel the Superior watching him intently from the other side of the glass, waiting, and eventually he grew fearful enough of it coming to him personally that he was finally able to choke down a small portion, and keep it down. It was some time before the Bugs left, but by then his nerves were in tatters.
"You are making yourself ill. Calm down."
He tried, he really did, but it wasn't working. He couldn't focus, and ended up sitting at a console, simply staring at it, mind frayed and exhausted. Raising heavy hands, he rubbed at his temples, pinched the bridge of his nose, wishing he could relieve the intense headache building behind his eyes.
"It has gone." But it was too late. Hope and determination lay in shreds and he wanted to cry. Even had there been time, he wouldn't have been able to make a break for it then, not given the state he was in.
The day ended in despair.
---- --- -- -o0o- -- --- ----
A broken nights' sleep is better than no sleep at all.
He felt like shit. The headache lingered, sapping his strength, and he'd already snapped at both the Keepers and the AI in the space of half an hour. The former had dealt him a well deserved blow; the latter had fixed him with a look of resignation and fallen silent. That was three hours before, and he now not only had a headache, still, but he felt guilty as sin on top. He was so tired of apologising. Tired of being in the wrong. Tired of feeling guilty. Tired of being wound so tight he bitched at the slightest provocation, deserved or not. God, but he was tired of being tired.
"I'm sorry," he sighed.
The AI echoed the sound. "I know. You are a trial, Nicholas, though that does not mean I do not enjoy your company. You are so completely different from my Alterans, for better or worse, but I fear I often do not know how to react to you. Admittedly, though, I have no idea how one of them would cope in your place." It sighed again. "I do not think today is a good day, either, child."
Crushing weight settled in his chest, and he sagged, bowed down by the depressing knowledge that it was right.
---- --- -- -o0o- -- --- ----
"I have accessed the facilities sensors."
He jumped, stared at it in shock. What??
"Close your mouth, and get ready."
On autopilot he jumped to obey. Frantically, his fingers flew across the console, bringing up the Gate-map, subnet access point, and virus. He wasn't ready for this. Shit. Was he forgetting something?
'No, sweetheart. You're fine. Calm down.' He took a deep breath, held himself frozen for a moment, then looked up.
"A warning would have been nice."
"You want bells and whistles? Maybe next time. Ready?"
He nodded, nervous anticipation dancing in his belly. God, but he felt alive. Blood roared through his veins, even his scalp prickled. Adrenaline shot through his system, numbing various bruises, and the broken fingers he'd earned that morning. He wanted to laugh, wanted to dance, wanted to throw up.
He sent the virus.
Both of them observed as it sank into the unit, beginning its destruction. Not yet. Damn, but that was a beautiful bit of programming. It picked up speed, multiplying, spread as far as the firewalls he'd created allowed; tilting his head back, he looked at the AI, who obviously recognised the fever in his eyes, and as a result pursed its lips in gentle admonishment. Calmly.
There was no stopping him, though. He could fly.
He had a moment to watch through the hacked feed as the ghost fleet dropped out of hyperspace before all hell broke lose.
It couldn't have been scripted better. The AI took control of communications and deceived the sensors, before setting off the alarms. A teeth-gritting wail resounded through the room, and the ironically typical 'this is not a drill' automated voice floated through the unseen PA system. Oh, come on…
Keepers rushed out, leaving him alone, bar one of them and a B.O. It pointed at him, voice and face twisted in fury.
Take him to the cell! Stay there!
Umm…in a moment of panic, he looked up at the AI, before ducking past the Keeper, whose claws raked his upper arm, it was so close, and round the bulk of the unit. The B.O. hissed in anger and frustration, and both approached, passing close enough to the station to brush against it. He backed off.
He dropped limp as an explosion shook the room and bits of the terminal flew over his head. It was just as well he was on the floor; the shockwave would have flattened him. As it was, he was rather singed, and a little deafened. Pushing himself to his knees, he crawled round so he could look at the AI, who itself looked rather stunned. The panels adjacent to each Bug were ripped to shreds, large chunks of the metal work were imbedded in the B.O. which stared blankly at the ceiling. He reached over and prodded it- nothing. Looked back at the AI. And the other one?
It looked down where he couldn't see and then back at him with a slight smile. The projection flickered, and it was again all business, though it had to shout for him to hear it.
Oh. Yeah. He'd forgotten that. Hauling himself to his feet, he staggered back to his console, and dropped the firewalls. It sped out, consuming every trace of Ancient information in the facility, spreading into the sub-net. It was a Hunter, all right, all sleekness and deadly strength. He felt a moment of perfect tranquillity as he watched a piece of his imagination take form and perform the incredible task he had designed it for, soaring with it towards the far flung corners of the sub-net. There was no stopping it. And then he turned, found the Keeper; stripped from It the dialler and Its knife, placing both on the station, before lifting Its gun, which turned out to be irritatingly heavy.
Quickly, they transferred the Gate data to the dialler, and he checked to make sure it was working properly. Unlocking the last bit of programming, he linked the power cores, watched in relief as the AI initiated the overload. Nothing else mattered now. We did it, we did it, we did it…
"Nicholas?" He looked up. For a long moment, they simply watched one another, sharing a moment no one else would ever understand, keen to remember, and then it smiled.
"I wish you luck. I will see you soon." He nodded, whispered a thank you, smiled in return, and felt an overwhelming pang of loss as the AI flickered out. Gathering himself, he initiated the spheres separation, watched as the protective sheets folded back; reaching in, he reverently freed it, disconnecting the couplings and cables. Resting it gently to the side, he accessed the bases' Stargate, set a timer to automatically dial his first stop in two minutes, and locked the Bugs out of the system.
He didn't even have the ability to gasp as a tremendous weight slammed him forward into the unit. The sphere rolled off and struck the floor with a sound loud enough for even him to hear. The gun fell from his grip, skittered a few feet across the floor. Hands gripped tightly his shoulders and hair, pain blazed as he felt it rip free, and he was bodily thrown across the room. He didn't feel the impact, or falling to the floor; he lay there too stunned to move for several long moments before the fact that the Keeper was making Its way rather laboriously towards him. Arms and legs flopped as he fought to rise; he managed to get to a kneeling position just as it fell on him, gripping his throat.
Time was suspended as he stared into Its' face, contorted in rage, laid bare by the imploded hood. Its broken visage stared out at him from the ruins, a twisted nightmarish mess of rent metal, shredded chitin and oozing blood. He could smell it burning. It was a scene so perfectly crystallised, so frozen in his mind that it would follow him for many years to come. And then It twisted, and he was thrown again, striking the unit in a tangle of heavy, unresponsive limbs. He groaned. Opened his eyes, tried to blink the blood from them. Something…
He focused on it, bent his entire will, even as his body screamed in protest to scrambling across the floor. Grabbing the gun, he raised it, fired. It barely slowed down. Shot again. Eight feet. Five. He screamed in terror and rage, not now, God damn it all! fired shot after shot until, finally, it slumped down, collapsed to the floor at arms length from him.
He slumped, raw and weeping. Shivering violently.
The wail of the alarm drew him back.
Dragging himself up, he scrambled for the knife- slipped in through his belt. The dialler went around his arm. Staggering to the workbench, he slipped his own tools and a couple besides into pockets on his combats; at last, he turned and scooped up the sphere. Chancing to look at the display, he choked.
Out of the room. Along the corridor. Pause; peer carefully round the corner. Nothing. Run. Keep going. He was running out of time. He had to make it! So close.. The shockwave of a blast that knocked the sphere from his grip numbed his arm, spun him about. Burning agony ripped through his left leg as he fell. Raising the gun, he fired blind. Movement caught his attention, and he turned towards it, feral panic driving him to his knees without thought, aiming this time for the hood. Please… It shattered, and he watched in slow motion as the head exploded. All his shock was used up for the day, and he simply stared, dumbly, at the horror he had wrought.
He scrambled for the sphere, managed to force himself upright. He had just enough presence of mind to slip his gun through his belt and grab a second, before he was hobbling off down the corridor.
The Gate-room. There. It was active. How long do I have?
Not long enough.
He sped across the floor as fast as his crippled leg would carry him. Not far, not far. Please… plasma sizzled past his ear, and he was through falling to grass on the other side. Rolling over onto his back he lay there, half expecting them to follow. He couldn't get up, he couldn't… didn't have to. An awesome, terrible fireball erupted from the gate, blocked out his view of the sky, screaming in his ears like a banshee- and died as the gate cut off.
The silence made his ears ring. I can't…
He stared upwards in stunned disbelief.
And when I die, take me and cut me out in little stars, and I will make the face of heaven so fine, all the world will be in love with night*
He blinked at the starlight. Felt tears well. How long had it been? A lifetime, in so many ways, since he'd last felt the starlight…
He followed the sound out into the garden, feet cold on the stone path, found her sitting on their bench. Sinking to the grass at her feet, he stared up at her, her adoring servant, not daring to interrupt. Her smile told him she knew he was there.
She played on, a haunting lilt that echoed out into the fields beyond. He rather imagined all manner of creatures paused to listen, so beautiful was the sound. At last she reached an end, and the final notes lingered on the air.
He rested his chin on her knee. 'How do you do that?'
She smiled that wonderfully mysterious smile he loved so much. 'Magic.'
He could well believe it. She rose smoothly, stretched her hands out to him
'Dance with me?' He let her pull him to his feet, and they spun slowly, hypnotically out onto the grass, bare feet whispering over the night-dark fibres.
She did this often. Played a song no one else knew. Danced to a tune no one else could hear. She may have been a Biologist, but she had the soul of a musician, and carried her own music with her, always, deep inside. He loved this part of her deeply, the wild woman, the dancing maiden. No ones rules but her own.
'I feel so much closer to everything in the dark, under the stars. Maybe there is magic out here.' He smiled, yes, right here, right now, he could believe it, and if there was it was hers to shape
'Pagan,' he whispered, smiling, knew she would understand.
'Perhaps.' She smiled archly. 'Maybe all women are, so close are we to the cycle of nature, the beat of the Earth herself…'
Nights like this… he treasured them.
They spun once more, before carefully falling to the ground to lie side by side on the grass, fingers entwined, staring up at the stars.
'Big Dipper!' They said together, laughed softly in the dark.
'Can you imagine it?' She breathed, breaking the silence. 'Other races, out there?'
'Hmm, aye. I don't believe we're alone, certainly. Can you imagine going there?'
'To the stars? Would you?' She propped herself up on an elbow, studying his profile with curiosity in the half-light. How often did they have conversations like this? She smiled at their flights of fancy. Nights like this…she lived for them.
He gave the question serious consideration. 'Aye, for sure, but only if you came with me. You n' me, exploring the stars…' Why give diamonds when you could give starlight?
She kissed him, gently. 'Romantic…I love you'
'I love you too, Mrs. Rush. Always and forever'
'Always and forever…'
'Please…' He stirred. 'Oh, thank God. Time to go, sweetheart'. Had he been here long?
'No, but best to get moving.'
Moving? He frowned.
'Yes love. Destiny. Go chase.'
Oh. Yeah… he sat up carefully, wincing and groaning at a whole new catalogue of different pains. I'm too old for this. His leg was the worst, pure agony still, but at least his head had mostly dried. He pushed bloodied hair back behind his ears, knowing it would set and stay there, and looked around absently. As his gaze fell upon the sphere gleaming in the half-light, he drew a sharp hiss of breath, remembering. Crawling to it, he rolled it gently; a soft wail of despair was drawn from him as he examined the damage.
No! Not after all this! He ghosted fingers across the damaged metalwork and fought back tears. That was not fair. Not after everything.
I will see you soon…
No, you won't, he thought sadly. Maybe, if he could get it back to Destiny. Maybe…
'I'm sorry, love. Please, it's time to go.'
He nodded. Fumbling around for the second gun, he drew it to his lap. Twisting the dialler round, he activated it, scrolling through the information stored there.
Looking up at the mighty structure, he dialled the first Gate.
------ ----- ---- --- -- - o0o - -- --- ---- ----- ------
*Shakespeare. He rocks.
Well, that's it, folks :) I hope you've enjoyed it as much as I have! Wow, you know, it's been great writing this. I've loved it, even the moments I've spent banging my head against the wall. It's been serious fun, and I'm thrilled ya'll have stuck with me through it.
I hope I've managed to answer any questions that have been lingering, although I have to confess to thelasteddis that I myself am still undecided as to nature of the Bugs as a whole. Both ideas work; 1) a completely xenophobic race who see every other species as either a stepping stone or a waste of space, or 2) a race who have themselves been misguided and misinformed by the ruling military cast. I guess if I get to revisit them I'll have to make up my mind! I like both ideas, it's gonna be hard to choose. Although, even if they do turn out to be the most hostile race in this galaxy, there is no reason why both ideas still couldn't work. It's annoying, but I'll figure it out eventually!
If there are still questions nagging you, let me know, and I'll answer them. I have not plot-spoilers to hide now, so you'll get a proper answer!
I hope you'll have liked my take on Rush, too. (thanks Mr. Evil!) it's been fun working with him (not that he'd agree) but getting him to play nice has sometimes been a bit of a mission. I find him bribable, though *smirks* he has been both a pleasure and a frustration to write, and I have greatly enjoyed the chance to delve into his character. I've also found writing this fic to be an interesting study of human nature, particularly his own opinion on things, some of which actually differ from mine. That was difficult, though again, fun. It's also been very interesting the different things you, the readers, have picked up on, what has drawn you and what has grabbed your attention, for better or worse. What you have liked and disliked, what has made you go 'bleurgh!' and what has left you head-scratching (I know I'm doing good when ya'll can't figure out where I'm going! Something I've desperately wanted to avoid is predictability) Many of your comments have not only been deeply insightful, but helpful and influential in shaping particular aspects of upcoming chapters
Proper reviews to C5 and C6 I'll do tomorrow, when I've slept! Please, if anyone happens to spot any errors, let me know, and I'll amend. I can't believe I've written this in less than 3 days, so there's bound to be some, though I have reread it a couple of times as I've gone, just to make sure it works.
Thank you for reading. Thank you especially for reviewing. Thank you for staying with me for the ride. It's been swell, and there will be future fics. I'm going to continue with this arc, I think, even though I know it's now AU, and I'll write some canon too, where I think I can slip something in. The antagonism between Rush and Young, while popular with writers, possesses huge potential, and I don't think it'll be getting old any time soon- I daresay I'll dabble there at some point. It's gonna make for nail biting viewing, seeing where they go from here.
Thanks again folks. This is not goodbye…