Disclaimer: All characters belong to MGM/Gecko. I own nothing.
Timeline: Tag to the "Daedalus Variations". AU
Spoilers: minor for "The Daedalus Variations".
Summary: Its all in the past.
"So, what do you think happened here?"
Rodney raised his head, and with a frown followed his friend's and team leader's line of sight towards the panoramic window in the front of "Daedalus's" bridge. The view had not changed since he looked out last time: hundreds upon hundreds or rocks of all sizes and shapes swirled lazily in the great, black expanse of space.
"Didn't I tell you already? All scans indicate that this version of New Lantea was shattered by the impact of a large asteroid or the collision with a small planet almost..."
"Im not talking about this." - Sheppard cut him off making a waving gesture at the asteroid field. "What do you think happened to Atlantis in this reality?"
"Oh." - Rodney absently scratched the stubble forming on his chin. "I hope that's a rherthorical question Colonel, because clairvoyance sadly is not one of my many talents."
"Really?" - Sheppard cast him a smirk. "Because I could've been fooled with your know-it-all attitude, Rodney."
"Laugh all you want Sheppard." –The scientist returned to his calculations with a disdainful snort." We both know to whom you will run for answers every time we meet a problem that can't be shot to death or blown up." There was no immediate answer to the barb, so Rodney looked up sharply. Sheppard was at the window again, his head touching the smooth surface, shoulders slumped.
"I hope they are all right." He whispered almost too quietly to make his words out. For a moment McKay was torn between irritation and compassion: here they were – hopelessly lost in the Multiverse, threatened by the same fate that had befallen their dead counterparts. And yet Sheppard still worked himself into his infamous routine of feeling responsible for, well...everything and everyone around.
"Hey, uh - alternative reality, remember? I'm sure they picked a nice, safe planet to relocate Atlantis. If they had to move her at all."
"Or they died."
Rodney blew an aggravated sigh. "Yes. Or they died. Or maybe there never was an Atlantis expedition in this world. Maybe the local version of me is still stuck in the middle of Siberia, and yours is still in McMurdo scaring penguins and irritating everyone around." - Stabbing angrily at the keyboard he saved his work and went to join the pilot. "We don't know, we will never know. What I know is that we will jump again in three minutes. So let's get ready for the new world – hmm?"
"Right." - Sheppard straightened and with a friendly bump to Rodney's shoulder headed towards the commander's chair. "Ronon, Teyla – McKay says we have about two minutes to the next jump. Get ready."
Ten thousands years ago.
The whine of the Dart grew louder and louder. Falka tried to run faster, mentally cursing herself for picking the route straight through the large, open space of the plaza. She was desperate to get to the starport, scared to the core of her being that she had already run out of time – that all the ships sent by the Council had picked their share of evacuees and returned to Atlantis. She couldn't bear the thought of being stranded in the dying city, so foolishly she took the risk. And now, with the Wraith craft closing in on her position, the perspective of becoming part of a statistic grew with every passing second. What would her father do? Louder! Why hadn't she listened to his orders ten days ago? Closer! If she'd listened, she would be safe now, under the invincible shield of Atlantis. Almost here! But no she thought, Nerai – one of the oldest and most important Lantean colonies will be protected sufficiently. No. No! NO! The dart was almost directly above her. There was no hideout in sight, no cover. Daddy! With a panicked scream Falka covered her ears, shut her eyes tightly and braced for the cold sensation of being sucked into the culling beam.
Only a heartbeat later she ran headfirst into something solid. Something caught her, swept from the ground and swung around. The air around her crackled, charged by a beam passing so close she felt the wind tugging at her hair and tunic. Another panicked heartbeat, and the dart was flying away, the hated shriek of the engines fading quickly.
"My lady! You are safe now, you can open your eyes." - with a start, the young woman realized she was still tightly squeezing her eyelids. She also realized she was being held upright by a pair of strong arms wrapped around her body. With a startled gasp she did as the voice suggested and blinked at the tall stranger holding her in a rather embarrasingly intimate way. Dark brown eyes, a tanned angular face covered in dirt, a trail of dried blood on his cheek and neck, the utilitarian brown and gray uniform of the planetary troops – her Lantean mind needed only a second to register and interprete his emotional aura and body language...she was safe.
"My lady? Are you unhurt?" – The human soldier shook her arms gently. She could feel worry and uncertainty in his aura.
"Yes." - Falka braced herself taking a deep breath, concentrating all the strength remaining in her body to stand straight. "I am just a bit shaken. That was very close."
"Yes, it was." - Her saviour agreed to release her finally and took a small, respectful step back. She noticed though he still was close enough to grab her if she'd decided to keel over. The young Lantean could feel the corners of her eyes crinkle minutely in amusement – some humans really took their devotion seriously. Even faced with the proof of fallability and weakness of their creators.
"You really should stay away from any open areas. With the air defence grid in tatters those accursed malaro are free to hunt us everywhere they want." – The human continued oblivious to the train of her thoughts. Yet she noticed his eyes scanning the sky and surrounding continuously, and that reminded her she was still far from being safe.
"Yes, I know. But I thought I would make it to the starport faster this way. I really should know better than to take such risk." - She said with shame.
"Starport? Of course, the evacuation fleet." – The soldier nodded in understanding. "It's not far now. The nearest gate is almost five hundred gradii this way" - He indicated to their left. "But I know a small maintenance passage that is much closer. I worked in the cargo delivery service before the Wraith invaded and I volunteered." - He added by way of an explanation. "I will lead you there if you so wish."
"Yes, please. We don't have much time left." - Falka shuddered when her acute hearing picked up the whine of several more darts circling nearby, and the all too familiar sound of their cannons discharging. Not safe. Still not safe. The human nodded at her and stretched out his hand. Unused to their 'seed species' fondness of physical contact the Lantean blinked back in confusion, but finally her brain caught up, and she placed her small, soft hand in his large, calloused one. For one, blinding moment something in her mind awakened – a small window opening, offering her a fleeting chance to peek into things to be. Fire. Scream. Blood. Run. Run. Run. Gate. Trees. Fire. Scream. Scream. Joy. Small, smiling face. Laughter. Tired. Trees. White light.
"My lady? Do you hear me?" - She was bent in half, greedily gasping huge gulps of air. Her precognitive abilities had only surfaced a couple of times so far – and like before left her dizzy and exhausted both mentally and physically. Her companion was hovering , awkwardly touching her back, flooding her empathic sense with anxiety and fear.
"I'm fine. I'm fine." - She straightened with an effort. Her face felt numb, but she managed to give him a somewhat weak, but reassuring smile. "I'm just tired, that's all." - The soldier didn't look very convinced by her act, but apparently decided to let it pass. Feeling slightly better, Falka turned to inspect her surroundings, with a start noticing that her trance had taken more time than she had suspected. Somehow they had made it to the tall, grey wall surrounding the starport. Just a gradius or two away there was a small archway leading to a tunnel.
"Is this the passage you mentioned?" - She asked pointing to the tunnel. The soldier nodded.
"Yes, it's not long and will lead you straight to the launch pads." She caught his meaning even before he finished the sentence, and inquiringly looked into his darkened eyes.
"Only me? Are you not going with me?" No, of course not. His fate lies elsewhere.
"No, miss. I just got an order from my commander over aetherum." - He pointed to small comm-badge on his uniform's collar. "Our cohort is forming a defensive perimeter around the starport. I have to go back to my comrades." Falka swallowed – if ground forces were withdrawing so deep into the city then it meant only...
"The Wraith are so close?" – The soldier nodded grimly, fingering the safety button of his handarm. "They are coming from all sides now. Apparently the plan is to try and stop their advance before they reach the starport and Astria Porta Plaza." His gaze was suddenly tired and lost, and Falka felt her throat tightening to the point of drawing tears. Another planet lost. Soon Nerai would be the scene of atrocities that would make even Ori shudder in fear. She started to speak, wanting to convince him into going with her – but his eyes hardened, and she knew her efforts would be futile.
"I don't even know your name." - She said softly instead. His face broke in a boyish grin – the exhausted expression vanishing for a moment, and he bowed formally before her.
"Decurion Doral Emmagan of Athos - son of Mivan. At your service, lady...?" - She smiled back, and bowed just as formally.
"I am Falka Cel of Atlantis – daughter of Moros." Introductions completed, they stared at each other awkwardly for a moment. He was the first to break the silence.
"You should go now, Lady Falka." - And again she could feel tears threatening to spill. She had known him for less than an one hora. But he had saved her life, risked his own to lead her to safety – and she did feel safe with him despite everything. But she couldn't stay here, and he wouldn't go with her.
"Thank you for your kindness and courage, Doral. May our Ascended guide your path." She whispered.
"May They guide you to safety too, Lady Falka" His voice was unwavering, when he replied nodding resolutely with a small smile. « Go now and fare ye well »
And with that, they just parted ways – never to meet again. But he would remember her until the end of his days, and draw strength from her image in the dark times to come.
Running through the short tunnel Falka hazily wondered what her stern and strict father would think if he'd been there to meet her protector. Councillor Moros did not consider humans as 'lesser beings', ot treated them unjustly – but he thought about 'seedlings' simply as children: irresponsible, fickle and too immature to be trusted with any serious matter. Would the strength, courage and unshakeable loyalty of the human defenders of Nerai be enough to convince him? Her thoughts drew to a close when she finally reached the exit and noticed the state of the starport. There were dozens of wrecks in various states of disarray littering the great, gray surface. With a jolt of shock she recognized one enormous pile of metal as the broken in half hull of the Aurora battleship – once a mighty warship now mangled and burned from the inside out.
Many columns of dark smoke billowed in the sky around the perimeter of the wall – pyres of destroyed defence turrets. Those still operational filled the sky with streams of yellow bolts, trying to scare away dozens of darts circling above the starport like carrion birds – looking for any opening to do more strafing runs.
There! She sobbed in sudden relief when her eyes finally spotted the sole intact vessel still on the tarmac – the bulky silhouette of a passenger freighter. Her legs started moving seemingly on their own – and in seconds she broke into a run towards the waiting ship. She was barely halfway when her life almost ended for the second time this day – a single, low flying dart suddenly burst out from behind one of smoke pillars and sharply turned straight for her. She froze in her tracks, but before she had time to panic, or think about running back into the safety of the maintenance tunnel her luck proved it still held. Nearby a still working turret swung sharply around and spat a short burst of plasma, neatly cutting the attacking craft in half, and sending it tumbling to a fiery death. It crashed so close to the girl, she had to shield her face from the heat. Falka almost collapsed to the ground numbly staring at the burning wreckage – this was much, much too close, and even her sharp Lantean mind was overwhelmed by the sheer chaos that had taken reign of her life recently
"Hey, you! Girl! Over here, quick!" – The young woman woodenly turned in the direction of urgent yelling, and noticed a man in a white Fleet uniform gesturing at her frantically from the open ramp of a freighter.
"Come on! Faster!" - He kept calling, and dazedly she crossed the remaining distance to the ship – only to be grabbed and unceremoniously dragged up the ramp by the crewman.
"You are the luckiest person I've seen all day." - He told her seriously, flicking the switch on the wall. Behind her the ramp retracted with a grinding noise, and the hatch closed with a finality that sent a cold shiver down her spine. The fellow Lantean noticed her unease, and nodded grimly in confirmation.
"Yes, we are taking off in a couple of minutes. I noticed you just as I was about to close the hatch. You are the last person on board. Lucky, as I said. You are not injured, are you?" - Falka shook her head, and without a word he beckoned her to follow. Trailing behind him through the maze of corridors and passages she noticed the cause of his brusqueness – a thick cloud of exhaustion kept in check only by sheer determination. Just like Doral's. Was everyone around her so tired? And she was no better, she noticed when her steps faltered, and she had to put a hand on the wall to steady herself.
"Come on, it's not far now." - She thought the crewman noticed her state, because he slowed down a bit. Gritting her teeth Falka picked up the pace, and indeed, soon enough they stopped at the entrance to one of the large passenger bays.
"Take a seat and rest, miss. We'll be on our way to Atlantis soon." - With that, he turned away and disappeared before his charge had the chance to utter her thanks. With a resigned sigh Falka entered the bay and bonelessly slid into the nearest empty seat. After taking a few moments to compose herself the young woman finally took a look at her surroundings. The huge room was packed with hundreds of people – Lanteans and humans alike. Some were talking in hushed voices with their neighbours, other were silent, closed in their own small bubbles of tiredness and shock. A man and woman with blue badges of the Healer's caste on their sleeves circled between refugees offering help to the humans, and those Lanteans who were too shocked or exhausted to heal themselves. Another haggard looking crewman was distributing packages of emergency rations. Next to her sat a Lantean woman with a smudge of dried blood on her cheek. Tightly wrapped in her arms was a human child – not more than two years old. Falka was sure there was a tale there – but the empty look in the older woman's eyes, and mechanical way in which she was rubbing the child's back discouraged her from asking any questions.
With another sigh Falka looked away and absently began massaging her aching knees. Memories of the last three day returned to her in a blur. She distincly remembered shock and disbelief on her colleagues' faces when datanet announced that orbital defences of their planet were failing, and all civillians were ordered to the nearest starport for evacuation. Nerai held off invaders longer than any other planet up to date. For three gruelling tendays the Fleet Battle Group valiantly fought against an overwhelming Wraith armada, destroying tens and dozens of enemy ships for any of their own lost. But seemingly there was no end to theWraith reinforcements jumping into the system every day. Beasts attacked relentlessly with suicidal savagery – thinning out defending forces until finally first darts, and later bigger transport crafts managed to break onto the planet's surface and unload waves of footsoldiers. Ground defences woefully inadequate for the task couldn't stop their advance from all directions at once – and fell in just a couple of days. She barely managed to flee from her agricultural research station and catch one of the last mag-trains heading for the main city. But tracks were destroyed by an orbital bombardment, and the train had to stop on the outskirts of metropolis. First as a part of a small group of refugees, and later alone she continued on foot. Two days of avoiding hunting darts and dodging small groups of Wraith warriors already trickling towards the center of the planetary defense finally led her to meeting with Doral, and ultimately here. But what was to happen now? During her escape she saw starport as a beacon of hope – promising safety and a way home, back to Atlantis and father. But with the state of things as they were – was she really safer? Was even Atlantis safe? Mother, if you are near, if you are watching me – please help me now.
Shipmaster Tolos – the skipper of Surana slapped the armrests of his command chair in frustration.
"This is unnacceptable! We are the last spaceworthy ship on the planet. We have thousands of refugees on board. Surely the Group Commander can send even one of his ships as an escort." His Comm Officer turned from the console to face him, and with a start Tolos noticed how pale his subordinate was.
"That's the thing, Sir." - Comm whispered in a trembling voice, still staring at his commander with wide eyes. "We just got the last update on Battle Group's status via datanet. They have only three battleships and one cruiser left. No gateships, and no more drones – ships have been using only plasma cannons for the last hour. The Group Commander advises that his ships can cover us only in Theta One to Theta Three sectors. And his Tactical is recommending a full retreat in maximum one hora. Or else they will be surrounded and overwhelmed by the Wraith"
"Theta sectors..." - Tolos felt the weight on his shoulders increasing to the point of crushing him into the deck. "They are on the other side of the planet. How in Universe's name are we to reach that far without any escort?" - Comm only kept looking at him helplessly, so Tolos leaned back in his chair – seeking refuge and advice in the embrace of the neural link of his ship. The Red dots, circles and triangles representing Wraith ships were scattered almost everywhere, but seemingly without any recognizable pattern to their placement. But he was not fooled – in past years he had seen many times how fast they could react after detecting a Lantean vessel. They would converge from all directions with lightning speed: darts harassing their target, cruisers cutting off any way of escape, and finally a Hive lumbering into the fray to finish its prey with cannon fire or boarding. Next his gaze was drawn to the huge cluster of red symbols surrounding a pitiful handful of blue icons – oh yes, remnants of the Battle Group had their hands full. With dark satisfaction Tolos observed one of the huge circles representing an enemy Hive ship wink out of existence. White ripples representing a shockwave washed over nearby ships wiping out darts and even two cruisers. He felt satisfaction mixed with pride seeing that even without drones Lantean ships were not to be trifled with. But it was too little, too late – Nerai was lost, and he had to somehow find a way out of this nightmare and deliver his precious cargo to the relative safety of Atlantis.
Basically he had two choices. First was to take off and go straight up into space – pushing the old freighter's engines to the maximum, and praying that no Wraith ship would be close enough to stop them from escaping the planet's gravity and jumping into hyperspace. The second option was to stay in the atmosphere as long as possible, hiding from the laughably weak Wraith sensors until they reached sectors still controlled by friendly warships. Then he would be able to hyperspace out of the system along with the rest of the Battle Group. The first option definitely had its advantages: the biggest of them was of course the relatively short time they would be in danger of being intercepted. But if they stumbled over just a single cruiser...Surana had drones onboard, and was refitted with military grade shields – but any attempts to fight a real warship could end only in the swift destruction of a vessel that was built well before the war started. If he chose the second option Surana would have to face only a negligible threat of darts during her trip in atmosphere. When they would have to finally enter space, the Lantean warships should be close enough to provide protection. And there was no hiding the truth - he was both too old, and too tired to play hotheaded, reckless warrior.
His mind made up, Tolos plotted the course around the planet and sent the data to the helmsman's console for execution. Almost immediately a rumble of powering up sub-light engines vibrated through the hull of the old freighter. A trio of passing-by darts futilely pelted her shimmering forcefield with bolts of plasma, but it was not enough to disrupt the starting sequence. Mere minutes later Surana was on the verge of the stratosphere, offering to her captain and crew a horrible view of Nerai's burning cities and a surface scarred by orbital fire from the Wraith armada.
When his ship finally started climbing into space, and Tolos was about to relax a bit, a sudden shout from his sensor operator cut into the silence of the bridge like a knife. In mute horror, the old captain watched a hyperspace window opening straight on the course of his vessel, and two Wraith cruisers burst into normal space so close he could see them with his naked eye. Just moments later both silhouettes started to change shape from wedges into triangles – undoubtely changing their course and coming straight at the Lantean vessel. Tolos mentally shook himself – there was no time to lose if he wanted to ever see Atlantis again.
"Helmsman, change of course: abort previous orders, and take us out of gravity NOW! Tactical – bring drones online. Flag both cruisers engines as primary targets. Engineering – all available power to the engines and shields!" - Orders given, the shipmaster braced himself in his chair. They still had a chance, he thought grimly. One full salvo of drones at each of the pursuing cruisers should slow them down, thanks to the sheer amount of damage to their unshielded hulls. His crew was good – Tolos knew they would be in hyperspace the second it was possible. Come on. Come on! Just a little faster. He sent an urgent plea through the neural link, and his old friend responded – the roar of engines growing louder and louder.
"First target in range!" – the tactical officer yelled without turning away from her station. "Firing drones!" There was no perceptible effect of dozens of smart missiles leaving the launchers en-masse. Only a string of golden lights appeared on the sensor display and sped towards the nearest cruiser. The eyes of entire bridge crew remained glued to the image even when the tactical officer announced a second salvo away. Finally golden lights reached their target...and the command staff cheered as one when the enemy ship veered sharply off course and started tumbling drunkenly through space.
"Good shot, Delime." – The Shipmaster nodded at his officer solemnly, the young woman beaming back at him with pride. "That should give us enough time to escape..."
"Captain!" - Tolos started at Sensor's panicked shriek. Another cloud of swirling blues and greens appeared in the void near Surana. No one on the bridge made a sound when the monstrous bulk of a hive ship, followed by four cruisers dropped from hyperspace. Tolos was silent too, his mind blank – there were no orders that could get him and his crew to safety anymore. He had taken his gamble...and lost.
Huge, living mothership almost casually turned around to give her cannons a better bearing – and fired. A cloud of powerful bolts of superheated plasma slammed into the freighter'sshields. They were of military grade – a necessity when there was virtually no safe space for Lantean ships anymore, and as such were designed to survive this onslaught. But the Surana was built in a time of peace – and her outdated main power grid lacked numerous redundancies and safety features usually found on real warships. All condensator coils and conduits connected to shield generators flared white hot when the flow of energy increased a hundredfold. Dozens of fuses blew instantly when the main computer engaged circuit breakers all along the ship in a futile attempt to control the maelstrom of force. Finally one of five main plasma conduits ruptured under the stress, sending a fireball of star-hot gases into the hull. The explosion instantly killed two hundred crewmen and passengers, shattering bulkheads and ripping through walls like they were made of paper, until it hit inside the main hull. Even thick plates of naquadah alloy were too weak to stop raging inferno. From approaching Wraith ships it looked like a fiery blade bursting from the insides of the dying freighter. Half of her engines instantly going offline, a forty meter long wound in her side disgorging smoke, atmosphere and debris, the Surana heavily rolled over like mortally wounded flagisallus.
Shipmaster Tolos was miraculously still alive. Lying on the deck broken and bleeding, he helplessly watched a handful of escape pods that somehow managed to disengage from his ship. A small group of survivors would make it back to the surface of the planet – only to become trapped in the nightmare of never-ending culling. Moments later one of cruisers escorting the hive gracefully slid closer and fired another volley of shots into the exposed belly of the Lantean ship. One of the energy blasts served as the coup de grace, hitting the main reactor and releasing its full destructive force in an explosion that for a moment rivaled the local sun in brightness.
A thousand kilometers away, the last remnants of the Battle Group finally broke out from between Wraith ships and escaped into hyperspace. Left behind them was wreckage of almost eighty destroyed hives, cruisers and transports – but that didn't matter. On the other side of the planet, an even bigger Wraith fleet had just arrived.
The commanding queen sneered viciously at the sight of the fleeing Lanteans. A pity, but she decided it was of no real consequence – soon there would be no place for them to escape. She turned her attention to the freshly conquered world, and laughed with cruel satisfaction watching swarms of darts launching from all her ships and diving into the atmosphere. Her clan took heavy losses fighting for this planet, but it was worth the effort. Nerai was an old and well developed world – even partially evacuated, its Lantean and human population counted in several millions. It would be a rich feeding ground for many decades. She had already sent orders to her sub-commanders – soon many new ships would be grown, and thousands of warriors would be cloned. Her clan would rest, heal and regain its strength – and in time would rejoin other clans in the attack on the heart of the Lantean empire, to conquer even more worlds. Still laughing, the tall willowy creature turned away and left her chamber – it was time to properly divide the spoils of war between her loyal commanders.
She would have laughed even louder if she'd known how important her recent victory really was in the long run. Falka Cel died in the initial explosion of the overloaded plasma conduit. She never made it back to Atlantis. Never married a young operator of the City's defence systems. Never escaped to Earth when her race ultimately lost the war. She never gave birth to a beautiful baby girl – a child that many years later would fall in love with the brave captain of a merchant ship cruising between cities and islands of Ancient Greece. There was no beginning of a long, strong bloodline that in more fortunate realities after thousands of years would produce a worthy heir. A warrior that would travel to the Lost City and reclaim his birthright.
"OK! This is it guys, we're jumping!" - Rodney McKay excitedly adjusted sensors for the upteenth time. Sure - they were lost, and in danger, and there were four sickeningly familiar bodies on the deck. But with the reality drive thrumming behind him, and incredible readings blooming on the screen in front of him, this scientist was as close to bliss as it was possible under such circumstancies. They would find a way home – of this he was sure. Somehow. And for now...I'll be damned if this is not pure Nobel material.
Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard smiled briefly at McKay's gleeful announcement. Waiting for the telltale flash of light that would sweep them into yet another dimension, the pilot cast a last glance at the asteroid field. Impressive sights aside, he was glad that in his own reality there was a habitable planet to settle on. Asteroids would be fun to do some quality flying in a puddle jumper – but no space rock could compete with an ocean, beach, or a lush green forest to hike through with friends at his side.
Finally the Daedalus vanished in the flash of white light, continuing its journey through alternative universes.
Thousands of light years away an empty Atlantis still slept in the crushing embrace of Lantea's ocean. Closer to destruction with each passing day.