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Of the Charade

Chapter Text

The Daedalus left Atlantis, her engines running hot across the Void. She was the faster ship, capable of making the Pegasus Run in 18 days under normal conditions versus the Apollo's 27 days. If Caldwell pushed his engines hot to burnout he could potentially drop their expected crossing time to 13 days. It wouldn't bring them anywhere close to their ZPM-induced record of 4 days but it would put them under two weeks.

Ellis would stay behind with his ship and Atlantis. He couldn't order Caldwell to burn the Daedalus's engines but he made it clear he expected just that.

Atlantis was a mess after the Replicator attack. Power conduits were shredded, requiring the complete shutdown of the ZPM system after landing. The city was on generator power, Zelenka was running, or rather limping, himself ragged to coordinate repairs.

Elizabeth was gone, missing and presumed dead. Or worse. The Replicators had her, it could easily be worse.

Rodney was gone, AWOL and presumed hiding out on Scrinia. Opinions differed as to what to do about this, from Zelenka's insistence he be dragged back forcibly for his own share of the repairs to Ellis's insistence his IDC be purged from the system and he be arrested for desertion.

Despite Ellis's greater rank, it was still Sheppard's city. What he said carried weight here, especially among the scientists and the Atlantis military. So he'd taken Ellis's demands for secrecy and his insistence the city stay isolated from the galaxy and immediately told Teyla New Lantea's address, trusting the Athosians to disseminate the information wisely.

As Teyla and Ronon walked through the gate Ellis scowled while Sheppard ignored him. Sheppard hadn't even bothered to hide his bias, telling her while Ellis watched.

“You made a mistake, Sheppard,” Ellis warned. “I wouldn't trust them.”

“You wouldn't,” Sheppard agreed. “And you would be wrong.”

Sheppard walked off, not deigning to listen to this Colonel of higher rank. Commanding a ship didn't mean Ellis had any idea how this galaxy worked. And now Ellis had woken the Replicators, angered McKay, and lost them Elizabeth.

This would not be forgotten.

*****

“SON OF A MOTHERFUCKING PIECE OF SHIT!”

The sound of a socket wrench being forcibly abused shrieked louder than the swearing. Then the sound of tortured metal ceased, morphing into the simpler sound of something heavy and steel being beaten against something equally heavy though not metallic.

“Zastavte mučení kovu!” Zelenka shouted down the shaft where below Dr. Stewart was supposed to be threading Ancient power cables, not beating pipes.

Stewart growled and shouted up the shaft. “Then get me an acetylene torch! The cables are fused!”

“We cannot use acetylene on these cables, they are too fragile!”

“FRAGILE MY ARSE!”

“Není nic křehký o tom zadek,” Zelenka muttered.

“I heard that!”

“You have no idea what I said!”

“Bite me!”

Zelenka groaned. Repairs were behind schedule, if the haphazard list of wishes and pleas were a 'schedule' at all. Major power conduits had been severed and that meant power had to be rerouted through all manner of secondary systems. Of course, many of those systems had shorted out during the initial reroute attempt and the cables had to be rethreaded. The cables themselves were a strange crystalline substance that only bent when it felt like it, or was sufficiently torqued until it gave. But that second option inevitably led to ruptured cabling, swearing, and the need to beat things with socket wrenches.

Stewart climbed the ladder out of the access shaft, salt crusted on her boots and clothes. Salt was a common problem below the water line, one that made most of the engineers cringe out of habit. Except Dr. Stoveck, he was still too giddy at the prospect of every one of his crystalline theories not just being proven right but seeing real application.

“I need an elf,” Stewart said.

Zelenka sighed. “You are taking things too seriously,” he said. “And ATA-active people are occupied elsewhere.”

“Yet you knew exactly what I meant,” Stewart said, grinning. “What's the occupation?”

The 'occupation' was apparently a problem with Atlantis's current senior staff, or lack thereof. Stewart cracked her knuckles, squared her shoulders, and stormed into Dr. Weir's office with what she felt was sufficient indignance.

It seemed to be enough. Not enough to make Colonel Sheppard care but it was enough to make Colonel Ellis jump and stare. Or maybe that was because she'd neglected shaving this week and had more facial hair than he did.

“I demand elves,” Stewart said. It took effort to keep a straight face as Ellis's confusion reached some impressive levels.

“How are repairs going?” Sheppard asked. “Has Zelenka stopped swearing yet?”

“There's been some outsourcing of the swearing,” Stewart admitted. “But repairs are, to be frank, shit. There's a six foot hole in the main power conduits, the backups are half-fused, Dr. Stoveck is busy designing replacement parts, and we need elves to convince the glass wires to fucking bend right before we end up breaking anything else important.”

“'Anything else' important?” Ellis asked.

“Three conduits, eight socket wrenches, four toes, and a finger. Middle one. Not mine.”

Ellis looked like he wanted to demand answers. Sheppard looked like he knew better. Stewart stroked her face, running her fingers over the scraggly mustache General O'Neill said she wasn't supposed to shave off.

“So you need elves,” Sheppard said. He wasn't fooling anyone, that stupid grin was right there hiding under the veneer of detached authority he still never managed.

“I can call them pointy-eared dandelion-eating poncy elves or I can call them Ancient-blooded demihuman ATA-active people,” Stewart said.

“I feel like I should be insulted,” Sheppard said.

“Be insulted after you sweet-talk the city into letting me lay cables, elf,” Stewart growled.

Sheppard took the opportunity to not be in charge. In fact, he convinced the city to close off Dr. Weir's office so no one could be in charge while he was gone, forcing Ellis out into the gateroom amidst muffled snickering and a distinct lack of respect.

There was something wrong with this city. Ellis took a deep breath and glared at the technicians around him. The gateroom was a fair mess. Dr. Stephan was halfway under a console, his sword cane nearby and that was another thing Ellis disapproved of. Not only were the scientists armed but apparently some of those scientists were allowed to carry their weapons at all times. It didn't matter at the sword cane was sheathed, it looked like nothing more than a silver-topped black cane, but it was the principle of the thing.

One of the technicians passed Stephan a crystal. He handed it back and asked for the round one instead. None of them were round and Stephan had to crawl out and pick one from the pile. It didn't seem round from Ellis's perspective but maybe it looked differently when one was under a console and perhaps nuts.

That was quickly becoming Ellis's official opinion of this entire expedition: they were all nuts. There was some time dilation out here, they'd all but admitted it, and the time between Daedalus runs wasn't merely weeks. Rather he was going to be stuck out here for months with these armed and dangerous Tolkienites.

He shook off the sudden... Ellis wasn't going to call it despair. He wasn't going to acknowledge it at all. He wasn't out of his element, these people were an international group of civilians under vague command of the United States Air Force. Their chain of command was broken with the civilian head MIA and the civilian second in command AWOL, possibly gone rogue. Dr. Beckett would be the logical replacement but he was having nothing to do with commanding anything except his infirmary, to the point where he'd barricaded himself in his office for a day and a half while Dr. Zelenka pleaded outside.

That left Dr. Zelenka to handle the civilians and oversee all repairs. It didn't take a genius to realize which half of that job he spent all his energy on, getting the city up and running again was of utmost importance. At the moment half of the city didn't have power, ballast systems weren't responding and the North-West Pier kept trying to sink. The Apollo was docked on the East Pier to try and balance out the city so it didn't flounder. The ZPM was unplugged to preserve power in the damaged system, naquadah generators set up in most of the labs and the inner spires to run the transporters.

At least the military command structure was unaffected, such as it was. Sheppard didn't seem to control this place at all, leaving the civilians to run wild and...

Oh. The display on one wall showed the city, large sections of it flashing red with little warning tags in some strange language. As he watched another section came back online, the warning tags disappearing and the section turning the same pleasing blue-green as the gateroom section. Several technicians cheered, leading to a smattering of applause then they all got back to work.

Still, Sheppard was leaving the civilians to run wild.

Dr. Stephan pulled himself from under the console and grabbed his cane. He pushed himself into a standing position and stood leaning on the cane like he... wait. Ellis watched as Stephan actually used that sword cane for its less violent purpose. “How did you pass physical?” Ellis demanded.

Dr. Stephan stood with his cane cocked for emphasis more than to help him stand. “Do I look military to you?” he asked.

“Andre, give it up.”

Dr. Stephan lifted his cane to tip a nonexistent hat as Lorne scolded him from the balcony.

Ellis relaxed at the familiar face. Better yet, it was someone with a familiar rank, someone who likely took that rank seriously and hadn't spent some indeterminate amount of time going native while General O'Neill padded the expedition with people who shouldn't be here. “The charade has gone too far,” Ellis declared.

Lorne simply nodded. “Walk with me, sir,” he said. And then he jumped down from the balcony, landing with nowhere near enough force on Ellis's level.

“I'm not doing that,” Ellis warned.

“Don't expect you to,” Lorne said as he led Ellis out of the gateroom. There was a nearby balcony that overlooked the damaged portion of the city. Entire spires were missing from the asteroid impact on the North-West Pier. Waves overtopped the damaged areas, flooding into the lower levels. The view gave the city an eerie feeling, the illusion that it was tilting toward that side even though every instrument said otherwise.

“The charade has gone too far,” Ellis said as soon as they were outside.

Lorne hummed as he looked out over the balcony's edge. The drop was straight down into a scorched patch, it wasn't the main weapon burn, merely a short along the main conduits resulting from the burn. “Permission to speak freely,” he said.

“Granted.”

Lorne looked Ellis in the eye. “The Ancients of the Tria all had pointed ears,” he said. “McKay has a kid with furry feet. We have half a dozen engineers under 5 foot 6, none of them make weight and all of them have beards. We are in a galaxy that is terrified of open music, almost like they consider it a weapon. And to be honest, sir, the number of naturally ATA-active people here who have archery experience is uncanny. Including me. It is my personal opinion that ending the charade would be a horrible mistake and it wouldn't even be effective.”

“You don't honestly believe it?” Ellis looked like he wasn't sure to laugh or be ill.

“I don't have to, sir,” Lorne said. “The rest of Pegasus believes it, that's enough for me. If we prove them wrong the political and religious fallout would drive us from this galaxy. If we hint they're wrong no one would believe us at this point.”

“That's no reason to continue the charade here where there's no one to see,” Ellis said.

“That was General O'Neill's call,” Lorne said. “I don't think he considered the scope of his own orders.”

“He could reverse them,” Ellis offered.

“With all due respect, sir, as injured as Dr. Zelenka still is, he will fight you to keep his dwarrow and I'd put my money on him. This isn't something you control. This isn't something that can be controlled. Not anymore.”

Lorne left Ellis on the balcony. Ellis stared out over the damaged Pier, decidedly not watching as tiny figures threw ropes across a broken span between spires.

*****

Mornings were calm and cool on this world. It was the only time this world wasn't hot and windy, a drawback of having to use a world that hadn't just been a Plan B, it wasn't even considered worthy of a letter before Atlantis was forced to use this place. The science department was concerned this might be a short term world, something about a greenhouse effect, but Ellis wasn't concerned. The next few months concerned him, not the next few hundred or thousand years.

Ellis jogged through the corridors, nodding as he passed marines and airmen on similar endeavors. Even some of the scientists partook in the physical exercise, though Ellis didn't feel compelled to acknowledge them nor did they salute him in return. It was strange, like this base truly was civilian despite its mission and leadership.

He planned on hitting the weights for a few reps with the machines but as he approached he heard the sounds of someone in the main gym. He wiped his face on his own shirt and chanced a look inside.

Two people were sparring. He would have moved on with his day and ignored them but one of them was a scientist, tiny lithe Dr. Kusanagi with her Yakuza tattoo of Inari's white foxes on one shoulder. She faced down Colonel Sheppard with some kind of wooden polearm in her hands while he held two sticks.

A naginata and bantos rods, he remembered. He wiped his face with his shirt again and took the opportunity to watch.

Both attackers moved like cats, low and graceful as they circled each other. Her movements spoke of many years of training while his were more instinctual. He twirled the rods in his hands and struck, driving her back. She danced away from him, her feet barely touching the mat. His own movements had the same strange light quality, like they were less bound by gravity than normal.

And then she struck and he was put on the defensive, bringing his bantos rods up to counter the blows of her naginata as she wielded it like a staff. He dodged out of a pommel strike and she twisted below a swing at her neck. He vaulted over a hook to the shins and she sidestepped a stab to the belly. He ducked a slice to the head and she jumped over a stab at the legs, landing on his rods. But either she didn't weigh enough or Sheppard was stronger than he looked because he flipped her off of his sticks. She curled in mid-air, landing on her feet with almost no sound as she reoriented her weapon and struck again.

Dr. Kusanagi was ATA-active, a natural carrier of decent strength. Colonel Sheppard was also ATA-active, one of the strongest expressions of the gene that the SGC had in their file.

From here, with this view, Ellis could almost see why the charade was maintained. It would be hard to convince anyone these weren't elves.