Ryan Stevenson stood in Atlantis's holographic chamber monitoring the growing armada of Wraith ships surrounding the planet. They were clustered about in groups in far orbit around Lantea, outside of Atlantis's weapons' range, but still close enough to intercept any ships coming and going from the city with their crude hyperdrive destabilizers reaching out and blanketing the planet from somewhere deep within the Wraith Hive ships.
Their biological generators were inefficient, and took quite a long while to cycle up to full power, but they effectively cut off all hyperspace travel by preventing ships from forming a hyperspace window, while simultaneously pulling ships out of hyperspace that passed within range of the destabilizers. The Alterran version of the device was much more efficient, and could be used while in flight within hyperspace to track down moving ships, such as the Tria had done with the Earth fleet, but even with their inferior technology the Wraith had successfully bottled up the planet once again.
Ryan had expected nothing less. Atlantis couldn't leave the system without physically running past the blockade and getting in the clear to activate its stardrive and jump to hyperspace…which it probably could if handled right, but that wasn't the objective. The Alterra wanted the city right where it was and the Wraith gathering overhead.
There were over 500 ships now, with more still on the way according to the city's long range sensors. Most of the fleet was made up of cruisers with skeleton crews, supporting 28 of their enormous Hive ships, as well as a scattering of other Wraith designs. Most of the cruisers were newly constructed, and Ryan figured the lack of crew was due to the lack of food within the galaxy. Not enough food meant the Wraith population couldn't explode upward as they had the potential to do…but ship production didn't require feeding on Humans, so in that regard, at least, they were living up to their reputation.
It'd been two and a half months since Atlantis had been visited by the first pair of cruisers, and with the Wraith's inferior hyperdrives their reinforcements had been dribbling in at a slow, but fairly constant rate. As it was the ships still on approach would take another two weeks to arrive, but it looked as though the flow was beginning to thin…and once it had settled out into whatever number of ships the Wraith deemed necessary to contain them, that was the time when the Alterra would introduce their version of warfare to the Wraith first hand.
Starring at the holographic map, Ryan felt the telepathic summons of one of his brothers. Matt wanted to see him.
On my way, he mentally replied. When he stepped off the control pedestal the glowing map disappeared and he headed off for a lower level of the main tower.
"What have you got?" Ryan asked Matt, his red-headed twin when he arrived in the primary med lab.
Matt activated a holographic display in the open area at the center of the room and walked up to it from the opposite side of Ryan. "I've been studying the Wraith biotech and genetics in depth and have made some significant discoveries."
"Such as that weakness the Aurora's Captain referred to?"
"No," Matt said matter-of-factly. "But I did discover several inaccuracies in the Lantean files."
"Such as?" Ryan asked curiously.
"The feeding process," Matt said, highlighting several points in the Wraith genetic structure floating in the air between the twins, "is not their only source of nourishment."
Ryan crossed his arms over his chest and frowned. "I wondered about that. A six month feeding cycle didn't seem to cover the mass conversion during that time."
"No, not by a long shot. According to my research model, the Wraith absorb trace amounts of nutrients through physical contact with their environment. They also recycle carbon lost during respiration by absorbing carbon dioxide through the skin. That wouldn't factor into a planetary atmosphere, but…"
"…it would onboard the confined atmosphere within their ships," Ryan finished for him.
"Yes, and the Wraith should be able to absorb a lot of other compounds which, according to the Lantean reports, are present in both the atmosphere and structure of their ships."
"Present or produced?" Ryan wondered.
"Produced and secreted through the walls and floor," Matt informed him. "At a very slow rate that isn't easily detectable. I ran some tests on the Wraith debris you recovered and confirmed the theory. The interior living spaces of their ships are designed to gradually nourish the Wraith through direct contact, which is the quicker method, or by aerial absorption as the compounds build up and eventually form a thin fog within the atmosphere."
"Which was noted in several Lantean reports," Ryan remembered.
Matt nodded. "They concluded it was water vapor produced by altered atmospheric settings within the craft, but that appears not to be the case. There is water vapor present, which the Wraith also absorb through the skin, but there are also the trace nutrients present."
"Meaning that Wraith in the field need to feed more often than those living inside their ships," Ryan surmised.
"Probably," Matt agreed. "However, that's not the gist of the matter. When I started analyzing the array of nutrients I began to notice a pattern…look," he said, altering the hologram. "Do you see it?"
Ryan studied the compounds closely and tried to find the pattern. "No, I don't."
"It took me a while too," Matt admitted. "See if this helps."
He highlighted 18 out of the 26.
Suddenly Ryan got it. "Not from the seed species."
"Bingo," Matt said, taking slight pleasure in being one step ahead of his progenitor.
"The Lanteans determined that the Wraith evolved from an accidental mixing of a native creature on Ijara and the seed species that they placed there," Ryan recalled. "These compounds are required by that species, I take it?"
"All of them are," Matt clarified. "The seed species just happens to share 8 of them."
Ryan tilted his head to the side in thought. "I take it that's significant?"
"I thought it might be, but I couldn't quite put my finger on it, so I asked Andara to take a look, now that the Feriorla situation has stabilized. She is as brilliant as she is beautiful."
"I know," Ryan reminded him. He was the one that'd recruited her after all.
"No, no," Matt admonished him. "You don't know the half of it. Look at this…"
The hologram shifted again, this time showing a translucent image of a Wraith body with extraneous diagrams floating around in bunches describing the feeding process.
"Andara pinpointed the crucial element that I'd been searching for, then helped me through the permutations. The Lanteans were wrong about the origins of the Wraith."
"Big surprise," Ryan said sarcastically.
"According to their records, Ijara was seeded with the base species, then left alone for 120,000 years before the Lanteans did a comprehensive survey of all seeded worlds in the galaxy, at which time they found a large population of primitives advancing at the expected rate. They left them alone to continue developing for another 120,000 years before repeating the process."
"And continued on for well over two million years, I know," Ryan said, unnecessarily reminding Matt that the two of them shared nearly identical memories, including the Lantean files that Ryan had read before he'd cloned himself.
"But…" Matt continued, "the inhabitants of Ijara, when questioned after the Wraith first emerged, told the Lanteans stories of creatures in the forests of the dark side of the planet that had fed upon those foolish enough to venture into the dark areas. Their entire recorded history, short as it was, contained these stories and the Lanteans suspected, based on their research of Wraith physiology, that these creatures must have begun feeding upon the inhabitants within the first 120,000 year period in order to evolve their combined genetic structure into that of present day Wraith."
"Unfounded speculation," Ryan agreed," but not categorically wrong."
"With the planet's marginal rotation," Matt reminded him, "and only moonlight to sustain the forests, the intermediary forms of the evolving Wraith were never seen, or so the Lanteans assumed to make their theory fit, but a more comprehensive analysis of their genetic structure indicates that the synthesis of the seed species genetic code with the native creatures' is considerably faster than they estimated."
Ryan's chin rose a hair. "So it happened more recently than they suspected?"
Matt shook his head. "We don't think it happened at all."
"What did Andara find?"
"This," Matt highlighted a small component in the feeding process.
Ryan's eyes widened. "Adaptive genetics?"
"Not quite," Matt said ominously. "This is something entirely new to us."
Ryan didn't say anything for a moment and let that sink in. The Alterra had been around for a very long time, and even given the infinite diversity of the universe it was rare when they encountered something altogether new.
"Go on," Ryan urged, looking closely at the data.
"We think Ijara is a red herring," Matt stated flatly. "The Lanteans may have first encountered the Wraith there, and there may have been a native lifeform that fed off the seed species in a similar fashion to the Wraith, but they're not related, at least not as the Lanteans believed. The Wraith homeworld must be somewhere else, and they traveled to Ijara."
Ryan frowned. That potentially put a kink in their battle plans. The Wraith had defended Ijara almost religiously, never allowing the Lanteans to get close to the planet after first contact.
"Any ideas where they came from?"
"Not through the gate network," Matt said categorically. "So it should be somewhere within the region around the Ijara system, but that isn't the big problem."
"Problem?" Ryan asked.
"According to our research, the Wraith absorbed the seed species genetic code within a year…perhaps sooner."
The intense, relaxed look drained from Ryan's face. "What?"
"I know. I reacted the same way," Matt said, adjusting the hologram again. "These elements, we think, belong to the actual Wraith species," he said, bringing up segments of their genetic code. "They appear to incorporate other species' genetics into their own through the feeding process, absorbing their physical attributes, intelligence…and Andara believes some of their memories, though I haven't figured that one out yet."
Ryan stared at the wall for a moment, then summed the situation up pithily. "They are what they eat."
"Seems so," Matt confirmed. "They Wraith became their current incarnation when they fed upon the seed species, but the transformation was almost instantaneous. It wasn't a matter of evolution."
"And when they fed on the Lanteans…" Ryan added.
"…they grew even stronger, and more intelligent, and if Andara is right…"
"…absorbed their technical knowledge," Ryan finished as a lot of loose threads began to connect. "The Wraith plasma canons. They didn't develop them on their own, or reverse engineer them from captured ships…they absorbed the knowledge from their victims and incorporated it into their biotech."
"Ingenious sons of bitches, aren't they?" Matt noted.
"Do they have to feed?" Ryan asked.
Matt shook his head. "No. Our initial assumption was correct. With their knowledge of biology, they could easily reactivate the latent digestive systems they obtained from the seed species' genetics."
"The one called Michael did just that, according to Weir's log."
"He went farther than that," Matt added. "He stripped away his ability to feed off lifeforms, thus locking his genetic code in place. Now, his base Wraith code was still there, dormant and able to be reactivated in the future, but it was relatively inaccessible."
Matt shook his head appreciatively. "From what Andara told me, their genetic code is extremely aggressive. It cannot be stripped away or altered, it will always regenerate. Michael just locked it down, I'd guess."
"By Wraith, you mean their core genetics?" Ryan asked. "They can still change forms if they feed off different species?"
Matt nodded. "We assume they got stronger when they fed off the Lanteans…and smarter. Probably a lot smarter than they are now."
"When they ran out of Lanteans they reformed to the Human genetic code?"
"Not with a single feeding, but yes," Matt confirmed. "They are what they eat. The more advanced the species, the stronger they get…the more primitive, the weaker and dumber they get…while maintaining some characteristics from their core attributes."
"Then the Wraith Sheppard found marooned…"
"…had been eating Lanteans as well as Humans," Matt continued. "It's also possible that they gain a boost from cannibalism. Another of Andara's theories. You remember Weir's report on Teyla?"
Ryan raised an eyebrow. "The Wraith experiments?"
Matt nodded. "She thinks that Wraith was trying to upgrade the Humans with a touch of their own genetic code, making them more advanced, which would in turn make the Wraith more advanced when they fed off them."
"To make up for the lack of Lanteans," Ryan guessed.
Ryan nodded as he made another connection. "That's why the Wraith don't eat anything other than Humans. It would downgrade them even further."
"We don't know that for a fact," Matt argued. "There may be other forms of Wraith out there."
"I meant what Sheppard told me about his Wraith prisoners," Ryan explained. "He tried to feed them other lifeforms, but the Wraith wouldn't touch them."
Matt's eyes narrowed. "Sheppard tried to feed him lifeforms?"
"Yeah, I wasn't too keen on that myself," Ryan acknowledged. "We had a chat about that and I think he's squared away now."
"He was Human then, with his transformation ongoing I've noticed his eyes opening to a lot of things. I don't think he'll be inclined to sacrifice living beings again."
"Anyway," Matt said, waving the tangent off, "if Andara is right, and the Wraith do absorb at least some knowledge from their victims, they could know quite a bit about our technology…at least as much as the Lanteans did. And it explains why their language is a derivative of Lingara...and how they also know the old common tongue."
"Wait a minute," Ryan said as another thought struck him. "You're saying that the Wraith absorbed the Lanteans' telepathic and telekinetic abilities?"
"That's what worries me," Matt said, getting to the main point. "We know that most of the Lanteans didn't possess strong Edeva skills on the whole, but individual Wraith may have assimilated those abilities from select individuals…though they would have lost them after several feedings on Humans."
"I see the problem now," Ryan declared. 'Edeva' was an Ancient term that didn't have an English translation, but it referred to their energy-based 'super powers' including telekinesis, telepathy, charge redistribution, exterior healing, etc…and the Alterra had far more Edeva skills than the Lanteans could ever dream of.
"If the Wraith feed off us, or another more advanced species," Matt said aloud, "they'll become even more dangerous."
"I don't suppose they fed off the Vanir?" Ryan worried.
"Now there's an ugly thought…" Matt agreed, "though they wouldn't be a threat in the physical sense. Still, I wouldn't want to see what kind of biotech they'd come up with given Asgard level intelligence."
"Nor do I," Ryan concurred. "How much memory transfer does Andara theorize?"
"Random, with significant volume," Matt said evenly. "She doesn't think they can target specific memories, fortunately, but with subsequent feedings of individuals with equal knowledge, they're bound to accumulate a significant amount."
"And they retain these memories after feeding on other species?" Ryan asked.
"She thinks so," Matt said, unsure. "But with diminished intelligence there's no way of knowing if they'll be able to use it."
"Their biotech is semi-independent, isn't it?" Ryan said.
Matt's eyes widened. "You're right. I should have seen that. Coupled with a database they can maintain and pass on the knowledge even if they're incapable of fully understanding it."
"What have you discovered with regards to their telepathic connections?"
"Base attribute," Matt said with certainty. "Probably altered by the feedings to give them the ability to influence Human minds."
"I figured that," Ryan said, putting his hands on his hips. "Any other useful insights?"
"No, but I'd just like to underscore the danger of the Wraith feeding on us. They could become our bane…in ways I don't even care to speculate."
"Well that's not going to happen," Ryan said firmly, "for no other reason than there aren't enough of us to go around."
"Still," Matt cautioned, "one of us given to a queen could reproduce hundreds of Wraith before she'd need to feed again. And then add in their cloning ability…"
"Point taken," Ryan noted.
"We have to make certain we wipe all of them out," Matt insisted. "Including their progenitors, or this could happen all over again."
Ryan bit his lip. "Possibly. We'll have to assess the progenitors when we find them. The present incarnation of the Wraith are smart enough to fix their feeding problem and haven't…we can't make the same assumption of the others if their intelligence is considerably lower."
Matt tilted his head thoughtfully. "Hadn't considered that. Either way their feeding ability has to go."
"Agreed," Ryan said, nodding his complete agreement.