They have no inee, so everyone takes turns tending the eggs in the ovipods. Including Rodney. The work’s not onerous. The rate of survival from the nasce was high, almost 100% among those recipients who chose it freely. Rodney, however, has other opinions.
“I’m just pointing out that not only is this a waste of my valuable time, it follows the even more egregious waste that occurred yesterday when I was forced to spend the better part of the day slogging across the surface of a dusty, barren excuse for a plan...”
“Rodney, I know how you spent yesterday. I was there. I was the one who had to haul your ass out of a gully because you were paying attention to energy readings instead of your feet.”
“That was no mere gully, Sheppard, that qualified as a ravine.”
“Gully. If it had been any gullier, you could have climbed out on your own.”
“Ravine. And you’re missing the point which is that...”
“We’re all sharing egg duty. That means you too.”
“But it doesn’t include Radek, and the further ahead he tries to go with those equations on his own, the more likely he is to screw up, after which I’ll have to waste more time correcting his errors.”
“The ovipods are part of the ship. Seems to me like Radek’s on permanent egg duty, at least until they hatch. Not that everyone has to listen to him complaining about it.”
“Hey, since Radek’s a ship now, shouldn’t we be referring to ‘him’ as ‘her’?”
All the lights in the corridor go out.
“Nice going, Rodney,” drawls John.
In the early stages of development, the eggs are small and look like... eggs. Boring, boring, boring, Rodney sing-songs as he and John do their share of the rounds. Sometimes John bribes him with promises of sexual favours just to shut him up. The bribes are bogus, of course. They both know that alone in their quarters, Rodney can have anything and everything he wants of John.
The apparent privacy of their quarters is equally bogus. Their matings hum through the Hive-sense. Just like everyone else’s, except that no one else is one of Todd’s two chosen Consorts. They are, in a sense, royalty. After particularly intense matings, the other members of the Hive share winks and sly smiles. Laura in particular seems to enjoy teasing Rodney, making him blush.
John finds himself feeling sympathy for the British royals whose sex lives were splashed across the tabloids. When that line of thought progresses to wondering if either Britain or tabloids still exist, John hauls Rodney down to the gym to spar or makes him go for runs in the corridors.
The first time after the nasce that John took Rodney for a run, Rodney bitched and moaned, moaned and bitched about how he hated running – until John pointed out that he’d been complaining for forty minutes and was still running. At which point Rodney began to notice that actually? His reborn body felt pretty good. And ran pretty fast.
“But still not as fast as you,” he gripes, eying John.
“Faster than me when I was human,” John points out, and Rodney brightens.
John figures Rodney’s always been one of those people who live primarily through their minds, the demands of their bodies ignored as often and for as long as possible. Rodney’s delight as his physical horizons expand is infectious. In the gym, John shows him how to use those sturdy arms and lovely broad shoulders.
“But Teyla still kicks my ass,” Rodney observes ruefully, after having landed yet again on said portion of anatomy.
“Teyla kicks everyone’s ass, buddy.”
The embryos grow and grow within their permeable egg sacs, needing to be transferred to successively larger ovipods. Through the translucent sacs, certain features start to become more or less visible.
“Why are they all females?” asks Rodney.
By Wraith standards, their Hive is oversupplied with fully functional males and females. By instinct or design – and in Wraith even more so than in humans, it can be hard to tell the difference – Todd has coded this hatch to begin to correct the imbalance.
By Wraith standards, their Hive is also populated by perverts. Wraith don’t mate except for reproduction – “That could explain a lot about certain religious sects on Earth,” suggests Rodney – and in a Hive, no one but the queen gets to reproduce.
“Because oae won’t let anyone else’s hatches threaten oas?”
“Because oae can’t. Instinct won’t allow oa to let it happen.”
But Todd has, as a gift to John, designed the nasce to allow the former humans to retain their identities, which means that they carry the memory of sex and the will to be sexual. There was really only one logical step for Todd to take, and oae took it.
When the newly-made hybrids discover what has been done to them, reactions split mainly along gender lines. Many of the women might have been angrier, except that Hive-sense lets them escape neither the knowledge of Wraith biology that informs Todd’s choices nor Larrin’s knowledge of the exigencies of life in limited shipboard space. Instead, anger comes mixed with a large portion of pragmatic resignation.
“The complete absence of informed choice aside, the principles here are familiar,” says Carolyn. “For years women have taken birth control pills to alter their body chemistry in order to avoid unwanted conception. The nasce did the same thing, except long-term. Also? Our biological clocks are ticking more slowly now. Todd’s already promised to make Teyla a potential queen. There might be opportunities for others some century or millennia.”
When some of the other women flinch at this prospect, Larrin laughs at them. “Fussy, fussy. You want to breed or don’t you?”
Most of the men, on the other hand, seem torn between anger and a fierce determination not to talk about the reason they’re angry.
Rodney has no sympathy. “So they’re shooting blanks. So what? At least they’re still alive to shoot.”
“Maybe so, but let Carson handle the explanations. Seeing as how you and I...”
Rodney goes still and turns away before John can finish. John doesn’t need Hive-sense to know why, and even Hive-sense doesn’t tell him what to do about it.
John had promised Rodney that he would be there, and he is. He’s there as Rodney burns and shivers through the effects of the nasce, sharing whatever comfort he can. He’s there through the even more persistent psychological freak-outs.
John know, oh, he knows, how you can get used to everyone else’s slit-pupiled eyes and blue-tinged skin, but still freak out when you glance in a mirror and see your own. He knows what it’s like the first time – the first ten times – you hear yourself clicking. He knows how Wraith instinct can war with human and how much effort it takes for the rational, hybridized mind to override both.
Todd’s gift of identity was double-edged. However much John had loathed the submergence of his own identity as a hybrid drone in First Hive, he recognized that the Hive-sense there had been a comfort and a support as he adapted to his new life.
Rodney and the others are adapting under somewhat different conditions. In most cases, successfully. In Rodney’s case, one might even say superlatively successfully.
Rodney gets into long, theoretical arguments with Radek that ring through the Hive-sense and give everyone else headaches. As he and John lay together sweaty and entangled later on, John gets him to explain, more or less patiently, what the argument du jour was about. Even when John can’t understand the explanations – often enough, he does – he likes the eager, happy sound of Rodney’s voice at these times. It makes for an odd sort of pillow-talk, but that’s hardly where “odd” starts in this relationship.
Rodney, once lab-bound, goes through the gate at John’s side. Their core team has expanded to include Semyenov, who’d taken a liking to John, and Miko.
“Why not? We’ve already got Trucker...”
“That Russian guy for muscle. Miko’s almost as smart as I am, she pays attention, she’s dedicated to her work and she won medals for running when she was in school.”
John is less surprised about this informational tidbit than the fact that Rodney’s remembered it. Miko has obviously impressed him, which must have taken some doing. So, yes, Miko.
Anne, whom Todd seemed to regard as Chief Warrior, has formed a team of her own that alternates with John’s, and both teams take on additional members as necessary for the mission at hand. John’s been there, watching with some pride, as Rodney slowly learns how to respond to Dusty’s jokes and Laura’s teasing.
Hive-sense fills in the details Rodney had been clueless to as a human, reassuring him that the teasing and jokes are friendly, that he’s valued and appreciated. Hive-sense lets them all know when Rodney, engrossed in his work, has forgotten to eat, has gone too long without sleep, is ignoring electrical burns that needed attention. Hive-sense prompts other crew members to bring Rodney alien fruit, strange grain-and-nut concoctions, hot drinks made from roasted roots and leaves.
(“I miss coffee.”
“No you don’t, buddy. Trust me on this. It’s not the same, after.”)
Other crew members prompt Rodney to take breaks as needed. Since Hive-sense lets him hear (finally) the real kindness and concern in their voices, he sometimes cooperates. When he doesn’t, John comes looking for him and applies other inducements.
Matt – once – starts to give Rodney a massage to ease his knotted shoulder and neck muscles. John skids into the labs about two seconds later, hissing, clicking and murderous. When both human and Wraith instinct combine towards the same goal, reason doesn’t stand a chance. Matt wouldn’t either, but Rodney’s processing at his usual speed. He shoves Matt towards Miko and Svetlana, who grab him, and steps forward to meet John in a bruising kiss.
Teyla shows up moments later with Kanaan and Halling in tow, grimly expecting to have to break up a fight. Instead, she finds Matt, Miko and Svetlana outside in the corridor, laughing and flushed, “giving John and Rodney room” as the Hive-sense vibrates with desire and pleasure.
Rodney, used to sorting out flow in electrical circuits and computer code, grasps the most important aspect of the Hive’s social structure immediately. “Everything flows to and from the queen, doesn’t it?” he asks one off-shift, sitting on their bed. “That’s why oae isn’t jealous about me being with you. It’s a lateral connection that doesn’t conflict with the connections both of us have to oa. Now if another queen tried to take someone away from Todd...”
“Todd wouldn’t let that happen,” John replies. Then he puts an end to further theorizing by applying some lateral connection reinforcement techniques Rodney’s particularly fond of.
He and Rodney are both Todd’s Consorts, and that’s fine. But damned if he’s letting anyone else get handsy with his mate.
John and Rodney are both Todd’s Consorts, and that’s fine as long as the First Hatch still occupies the ovipods – by now, the largest set of ovipods.
“What are we going to do with a horde of adult-sized creatures who don’t know anything?” worries Rodney as he and John shift the last few embryos.
“Check your assumptions, buddy.”
“What, Radek’s been piping in educational tapes?”
“Radek’s part of the Hive.”
“Well, yes, of course, but... Right, the eggs started absorbing Hive-sense as soon as their brain cells differentiated. So all that social development crap that human schools waste time on to the detriment of real education and which never works anyway...”
“You would know,” says John seriously, then grins at Rodney’s eye-roll. “Wanna guess what percentage of basic training in the military is spent hammering across the concept of obeying orders?”
“In your case, obviously not enough.”
“Ow, I’m stung. How about the percentage of officers’ training that’s spent teaching people how to give orders?”
“Okay, okay, I get the point. We’re going to get adult-sized warriors who already know how to obey and in some cases give orders. I suppose they’ll also have strong aggressive and defensive instincts, but what they won’t know are things like weapons and fighting techniques.”
John shrugs. “Anne’s already set up a training roster.”
“Fine, that works for soldiers, but it won’t work for scientists.”
“Todd’s not doing high-level genetics and biochemical work?”
To John’s delight, Rodney actually stops for a moment to think about this. “Some of what oae does is instinctive.”
“Why’d you study physics?”
“I’ll have you know that at one point I considered a career as a concert pianist!” Rodney retorts. “But okay, yes, I was born with an aptitude for math and science. But on top of that I have years of study...”
“Todd has several millennia.”
“Oh. Okay, good point. So we might not get scientists right away, but we’ll get adults with the right aptitudes and a drive to learn?”
“Maybe. I’d guess that Todd’s planned most of First Hatch as workers and warriors. Maybe some techs for Larrin.”
Larrin has taken over as Chief of Shipboard Operations. She might have called herself Captain, except that John has pointed out that their ship is the Hive and the Hive is Todd’s.
“Second Captain?” Larrin pushes, because Larrin always pushes, even when it’s just for the hell of it. “Or would that be your job?”
“First Consort” is less a job title than an identity within the Hive. If John had wanted to put a title to the work he does, he might have gone with Executive Officer. Todd’s concerns lay mainly with the eggs and the long-term future of the Hive, less with the coordination of quotidian affairs. Hive-sense carries feelings and general purpose but often fails to convey specific details. John finds himself sorting things out, interpreting between Todd and the former humans, making things work.
It feels odd. For most of his military career, he’d been the guy the CO didn’t trust. After that, he’d been a traitor to humans and a drone to the Wraith. Now he keeps having to make decisions, keeps waiting for someone to call him on them. Instead, the trust and respect of the others continue to flow through the Hive-sense, a steady support.
“Give me a hand here, I can lift the weight but I want to be careful not to rip the egg sac,” says Rodney. John moves into position to assist with the last embryo.
“So, no scientists this round. Because Todd thinks warriors and ship techs are more important?”
John can just imagine Rodney storming into Todd’s chambers to correct that misapprehension. “Nah. It’s more about Second Hatch having...” He stops, realizing too late that this sentence will take him where Rodney won’t want to go.
“My genes. I knew that,” says Rodney flatly. “Are we done here? I left a simulation running in the lab.”
Rodney tosses and turns in his sleep. He doesn’t disturb John, already lying awake. The entire Hive shifts restlessly with the flux of Todd’s hormones.
First Hatch, finally freed from the ovipods, is settling in nicely. There had been an unexpected hitch when they all emerged expecting names, but the hybrids have coped. John contributed the names of ex-lovers and former COs to the effort.
He finds that the urge to search the new faces for any trace of his own features is made easier to resist by the hatchlings’ number and their physical maturity. They’re less like children, more like a batch of new recruits.
The time has come to start the Second Hatch.
Rodney’s perhaps as ready as he’ll ever be. Over the months, John’s watched how Rodney interacts with Todd. He knows that Rodney hears human instinct screaming at him to run away from the monster, Wraith instinct moving him to adoration of his queen. But Rodney’s long been used to quashing instinct with the force of his intellect and old habits serve him well now.
Rodney neither flinches nor quivers when Todd bends closer to study the data on Rodney’s computer screen. He simply continues explaining, at length and at volume, why even queens don’t get to break the laws of physics and that while Todd might know something about a few lesser sciences, oa attempts to intrude oa ideas into Rodney’s intellectual turf are wrong, wrong, wrong.
Todd is amused. But oae, with amazing patience, asks questions, listens to Rodney’s answers, keeps asking more questions until it finally gets through to Rodney that he isn’t being baited, he’s being consulted.
“Walk with me, John,” Todd requests as oae leaves the lab. “I would appreciate your observations on certain matters.”
It’s not an unusual request. Most of the time John spends with Todd these days is for the purpose of exchanging information relevant to the Hive. Sometimes Todd draws viand, never enough to harm, feeding from John as he knows oae feeds from others. If John misses their former companionship, well, their lives have changed.
Afterwards, John returns to the quarters he shares with Rodney.
Rodney wakes abruptly and sits bolt upright, staring into the not-quite dark of their quarters. The Hive’s never completely dark to hybrid eyes, their visual spectrum broader than human. The hybrids’ world is limned in colours humans have no name for.
John sits up too, rubs his mate’s back in slow circles.
“Todd’s calling me, John.”
“I know. Want me to tell oae you’ve changed your mind?”
“Is that an option at this point?”
“I’m pretty much okay with it – the genetic contribution part is even flattering – it’s just...”
“Oae’s not going to settle for a turkey baster.”
Rodney’s laughter is edgy, but at least he‘s laughing. “Part of me wants to go. I mean, really, really wants to go. And that’s scaring the hell out of another part of me. Hey! Cut that out! I can feel you feeling guilty and this is not your fault!”
“You’re here because I wanted you.”
It was true. He’d brought Rodney into the nest to keep him warm, begged Todd for Rodney’s life after the Goa’uld-incited beating that should have been fatal. Todd wants Rodney’s genes, but oae also wants John to be happy. Oae hadn’t offered Rodney the nasce for any single reason.
“John, you told me Todd meant me as a gift to you. But by sending you in particular to persuade me, oae boosted the chances that I’d accept. You never thought of that, did you? If I’m your gift, you’re my recruitment bonus.”
John blinks, startled, and then, chuckling, bends to kiss Rodney’s shoulder. Rodney tips his head sideways to rub against John’s hair.
“What’s it like?”
John thinks a moment. “Todd’s gentler than the queen of First Hive.”
“Ah. Humans tend to assume that the recipient partner’s not the dominant partner?”
John shrugs. Human assumptions have been irrelevant to their lives for some time now.
“Come with me? At least as far as the door, I don’t know if Todd will allow...”
“Oae said you might ask that,” says John gently.
“Does that mean yes?”
John smiles and kisses him on the mouth, a butterfly touch of closed lips.
Rodney gets out of bed, begins pulling on clothes. “Don’t bother” is on the tip of John’s tongue until it occurs to him that Rodney might want the symbolic protection. He stands and gets dressed himself.
They pass a few crew members on second shift in the corridors – Laura goes by with a squad of hatchlings she’s training – but no one speaks to them. Everyone knows where they’re headed.
At the door of Todd’s chambers, Rodney pauses. “Oh! You can...”
“Yeah. C’mon.” And they go in.
The scent of musk and anise hits John hard enough to make him stumble, ambushed by both instinct and memory. Rodney takes a couple of steps into the room, breathing hard with his nostrils flared and his mouth partly open. He starts clicking repeatedly – something he almost never does – then catches himself, embarrassed.
John can smell both Rodney’s arousal and his own.
“You are both welcome,” says Todd in oa low voice. The subsonics make John’s bones hum.
Oae extends oa non-feeding hand to Rodney, inviting when oae could command and force obedience. Oa blood-red hair lies loose over oa shoulders, but oae wears no robes. The sight of oa breastless, cockless body, oa swollen ovipositor peeking out from its slit, is powerfully sexual.
A few times, in combat, John has felt bullets pass close enough to stir the hair on his skin. He’s not Todd’s target here, not tonight, but he shivers with the memory of impact.
Rodney takes another step, stops again, looking back at John, looking torn. It can’t be easy, John thinks, for a man who lives so much through his mind to submit to instinct. And on that thought he himself steps forward until he can lay a hand on Rodney’s shoulder and squeeze. “I’ll be here,” John says.
Then Rodney does move forward, stumbling a little, to take Todd’s hand. Oae rubs the claws of oa feeding hand gently through his hair, against his face, and Rodney leans into it.
“Should I take my shirt off now, like last time?” he asks hoarsely.
Todd hisses with gentle laughter, but John can feel the effort behind oa restraint. The forces of attraction run both ways, and oae is more than ready to brood oa eggs.
“All off, Rodney,” says John. He catches the t-shirt Rodney pulls off and tosses it towards a corner, then goes to help Rodney with his pants. When Rodney’s shaky legs would cost him his balance, John kneels – and then gasps, the air he breathes thick with both Rodney’s musk and Todd’s. Unthinking, he leans forward to rub his face against Rodney’s cock, hears Todd’s clicking rise in frequency behind him.
Rodney is no longer the human male John had first met, but John’s never realized how much he still thinks of Rodney that way. Not now. Rodney is oan, Queen’s Consort, the fertilizer of the next hatch. His stocky, broad-shouldered body, flushing and sweating under Todd’s yellow gaze, promises strength for his offspring as well as fierce intelligence. The pheromones he emits sing of his readiness.
John wants them both, oaee and oan, with a pure desire untainted by any hope of satisfaction or release.
He watches, hard and aching, as Todd raises oa rima to Rodney’s chest, catches the momentary whiff of animal fear in Rodney’s scent, hears him sob as oae draws viand from him. John knows the moment oae reverses the flow, sends it pulsing back into Rodney, because Rodney yells, coming hard, hanging on to oa shoulders.
John isn’t needed here, perhaps shouldn’t be here, but he’s told Rodney he will be and now he can’t leave, can’t even look away.
Todd returns his gaze over Rodney’s shoulder and says, “Come.”
John leaves his clothes behind on the floor with Rodney’s. When he reaches to help oa get Rodney to the bed, Rodney grabs his wrist, bruising, growling, “John. Stay.”
Todd lies back across the bed, pulling Rodney across oaself, pulling him inside and holding him fast as he ruts against oa. John runs his hands along the flexing muscles in Rodney’s back and ass, bends his head to lick the musky skin, hot against his tongue. He twists to get Rodney’s solid flank between his legs so that he can rub and thrust, almost enough, not quite enough, he wants, he needs, there must be... more. He leans forward across Rodney’s back, biting at the tendons in Rodney’s neck, frustrated, searching.
Todd draws viand, returns it to Rodney once more, and when Rodney convulses, John’s cock slips in between Rodney’s sweat-slick ass cheeks and oh. It’s so good, it’s perfect as John thrusts again and again.
“Fuck,” gasps Rodney, “John, fuck me. Now, please, John.”
“No time,” John groans, and comes all over Rodney’s ass, so hard that when he’s done he collapses into the mess. Rodney and Todd are still moving, Todd’s clicking, all three of them are clicking to each other in patterns that sing of desire and fulfillment. John tucks his face against the back of Rodney’s neck and hangs on tight, riding the rhythm of the mating until he can no longer hang on to anything, not even consciousness.
John awakes to the feel of clawed hands running through his hair. He’s curled against Rodney’s back, he realizes, with the two of them lying partly across Todd’s lap. When he tries to sit, Todd hauls him up and tucks him against oa side, safe and warm. John thinks back to other times, other beds in which he’s shared the afterglow with Todd before oa metamorphosis. He smiles as he watches oae pet the disordered tufts of Rodney’s damp hair.
“I will keep certain recessives,” Todd says.
“He does have pretty eyes,” John agrees.
“And he is greedy.” Todd’s tone is approving. Strong appetites usually accompany a strong will to survive.
They sit comfortably together a while longer, until Todd says, “The eggs...”
So much for the afterglow. Their lives have indeed changed.
They shake Rodney gently awake, and John helps him stand so that Todd can leave. After oae’s gone, John and Rodney sort out their clothes and begin to dress. The gashes on Rodney’s belly from Todd’s abdominal blades have already healed into pale lines. John reaches out, strokes them gently, hears Rodney’s indrawn breath.
“I don’t even remember that happening.”
“I never do either.”
Rodney shivers and pulls his shirt on, says with a good attempt at casualness, “That was, ah, not too bad?”
John hides a smile. Hive-sense carries the double meaning of Rodney’s words, as much a request for reassurance that he’s done well as his opinion of the experience.
“Second Hatch will be a strong one.”
“Oh. Well.” Rodney flushes at the praise, then shifts immediately to demand mode. “But next time, you’re fucking me.”
John imagines what it would be like, an oan aroused and rutting, caught between queen and mate, held until they’ve both had what they want of him.
He tells Rodney, “Next time, buddy, it’s my turn.”