Jen starts talking to Todd because… Look. She’s just broken up with Rodney McKay, which even he agrees was for the best but she still feels kind of bad about. They’re back in the Pegasus galaxy, where their absence – or probably the immense effort put into reconnecting since the city’s return – has made most of the natives a lot less hostile toward them. There are still a high amount of injuries and illnesses to deal with on a weekly basis but even with Carson back to traveling she is not so busy that work takes her mind off her personal life all the time.
And he’s there.
At first, everyone believes the Wraith will stage a grand escape now that there’s a chance to reconnect with other Hives. Some people would certainly sleep better if he were out there somewhere where they won’t personally have to keep an eye on him all the time. Yet weeks slide into months and Todd is still in Atlantis, imparting informed guesses about the movements of other Hives that turn out to be correct most of the time.
Jennifer remembers how much he abhorred captivity when the Colonel first met him. His continued presence here must be a part of some kind of plan, but after half a year has passed even Ronon seems inclined to believe he is not an immediate threat to the expedition.
It’s Colette Biro who actually approaches him first with a question about Wraith anatomy and hints at maybe wanting to test a few things. She consults Jennifer because Colette may be a good doctor but is not that keen on cutting into living things. The two of them argue about different approaches and what goals they are actually hoping to achieve while he (it?) looks at them bemusedly until he suggests, “Perhaps you should look into the matter of nutrition.”
Which… yes. Carolyn Lam may have discovered a stop-gap by way of animals while they were on Earth, the diet may be tasteless to him but it’s enough to keep him alive at the moment… In the long run, however, it means he will die of malnutrition. Another reason why it’s kind of hard to grasp what he’s still doing in Atlantis.
What is it that the Wraith absorb when they take a human’s life force? What are the differences when the victims are young? Old? Sick? Healthy?
“The potential of years,” is what Todd’s convoluted explanation boils down to. “When it’s a human. If we eat another Wraith, we absorb the nn’t’enn he has accumulated up to that point.”
Transforming Todd into a hybrid-or-human, they agree, has been proven as the wrong answer. Her and Carson’s newest iteration of the retrovirus is still worth considering if all other opportunities are exhausted. The knowledge they’ve gained from years of research are certainly invaluable to them in more than one sense. But – it might be a good idea, now, to think in another direction entirely, especially if a Wraith is involved from the beginning.
What does “the potential of life” actually mean?
“Babies,” Biro says dully and jerks away from her whiteboard, horrified.
“There once was a Queen who initiated a breeding colony,” Todd informs them, “but the project was abandoned before the first cycle ended. It was deemed to be too much work.”
Marie starts mumbling about cattle farms as opposed to herds in the wild and Jennifer has to shake her head against the images.
It doesn’t work. Something about the idea follows her into the night.
It follows her on the mission she undertakes with Major Lorne, to the senior staff meeting, to girl’s poker night. And it transforms.
Sometimes Jen gets scared by her own brain.
And yet… if it would work….
If it would work… Then she is pondering the beginnings of something potentially brilliant.
She keeps her thoughts to herself for about a week because she knows there is no way she can ask anyone else to volunteer for this. ‘Ethically dubious’ is the understatement of understatements. But the thought won’t leave her head and in the end it might just be another failed experiment, so in the morning the first thing she says to Biro is, “I need you to extract an egg sample from me.”
Biro’s eyes go wide – Colette has never been quite the child prodigy Jennifer was but she is smart – but then she pauses for a minute and thinks through all the implications. In the end, scientific inquiry wins out.
The egg cell Biro and Jennifer isolate is invisible to the naked eye, but that is what microscopes and really precise Ancient instruments are for.
It’s always been difficult to really read his alien facial expression, yet when Jennifer asks Todd to give her his feeding hand palm up he frowns.
What happens next is grotesque and horrible and will probably give her nightmares for the rest of her life. But it works. In a matter of minutes the three of them are staring at a seemingly – oh please, oh God, let her be right about that – mindless clone of herself.
The thing is consumed and withers into a husk without ever gaining consciousness.
How could I do that? Jennifer thinks and sees the same thought reflected in Biro’s eyes. However, Todd tells her, “Jennifer Keller, this was quite ingenious of you.” When she shakes herself out of her shocked stupor enough to check on him – this is why we were doing this in the first place – he looks… better. Well-fed for the first time in over a year.
Rodney stares at her in horror for the whole two hours of the briefing. Woolsey, too, seems at a loss for words, which he gets over by stating – if rather weakly – that, “CMO or not,” she should have cleared a project of such magnitude with him. Jen could argue that everything she and Colette have done is covered under the section the Colonel has so aptly named “find a good way to keep Todd from starving”, but she is still too rattled so she doesn’t say anything. The Colonel’s eyes are wary but he only asks her to never use his cell material of any kind in any form and seems to take it at face value when she claims, “I would never dream of doing this without seeking the donor’s permission.” And his acceptance, flimsy as it is, appears enough to prompt Richard and Rodney into allowing her to continue as long as she can reconcile the benefits with her own conscience and judgment.
For almost two weeks, none of the citizens of Atlantis look her right in the eye.
Then Carson comes back, and he, too, turns horrified and silent. But after half a day he is speaking to Biro, who was there back when the then-Major brought him his very first Wraith corpse. When Jen wanders into the medical lab after dinner he looks up from where he is making annotations and with a weak smile, draws her into the discussion.
They throw thoughts around on whether or not they should repeat the experiment or maybe even use one of Colette’s eggs. Carson thinks they should try it with a sperm sample, which makes sense from a long-term perspective in that sperm is certainly easier to get a hold of than a fertile human ovum.
They’re interrupted by the first real crisis Atlantis has had in a while, and by the time it’s over the initial experiment is one month behind them. Rodney looks green when he recommends, “I guess you ought to be methodical about it,” but he is right.
The first time around the whole procedure went so fast all she and Colette could really do was stare.
“Stop,” Jen manages to call when her clone looks to be about fifteen. Todd backs off and lets Carson and Colette attach an EEG and EKG and one of the Ancient medical vitals monitors. “Go slower.” She is going to lose all her dinner and should probably put herself on nutrient support and forget about sleep for the next few years, but they need to learn as much as possible.
“As you say, Jennifer,” Todd says, earning a bewildered glance from Carson. The remainder of the feeding process takes over an hour.
Jennifer should look, needs to look, will look at the recorded data later on, but at the moment she is too much of a coward to verify if the EEG is receiving any impulse from her clone’s brain.
Colette would stop it, she thinks. Carson would. Marie would, and she doesn’t. By the time the clone’s body crumbles to dust there hasn’t been a single indication of… life.
No brain wave. No breathing. No heartbeat.
Todd, on the other hand, looks very healthy indeed.
They now have proof that the clone is, in every sense but the elusive ‘potential of life’ Todd keeps talking about, permanently dead. Having seen it rise with his own eyes, however, Carson goes cagey about the subject of a sperm sample, even though it was his idea to begin with. He doesn’t have to remind them aloud that he’s a clone himself, that but for Michael’s cruel experiments, he wouldn’t be alive. Jen understands that this might make him hesitate before causing the existence, however short-lived, of another clone of the original Carson Beckett. Even if, but maybe especially since, it never would get to experience life. No matter how horrible the first years of his existence under the mad hybrid, he has a pretty good life now. Making another clone and it never having a chance at all… well.
Jen and Colette put their heads together about who of the other men might be available. It can’t be a soldier, except for maybe Sheppard, whom Jen won't ask after he has already refused. She'd also rather avoid potential complictions from Carson's retrovirus. Even if someone else were to volunteer Sheppard would fear they were pressured into it, even if neither he nor Lorne nor Teldy would ever give the order. Sheppard would wonder even if the volunteer was Lorne. The same goes for the scientists, although if Radek were to put himself forward no one would think Rodney bullied him into it. If it were but a medical trial, sure. If it were merely a matter of simple blood work or a saliva sample or even sperm for something similar to stem cell treatment… The procurement would still be sketchy but at least there already exists some kind of precedent. Members of the SGC are required to donate genetic material for trials in a variety of emergencies. Making a clone, however… The material has to come from the researchers themselves, at least initially, because otherwise they can just say goodbye to ethics forever.
Biro argues against asking Woolsey because she isn't sure he's made of stern enough stuff to live with himself afterwards. They can’t ask Rodney because the image of a version of McKay whose brain never had a single thought… There go the nightmares again.
It takes Carson nearly a month of brooding and meditation before science prevails.
Carson spends the rest of the week losing every little bit of food he eats. For his part, Todd declares that the nn t’enn tasted “differently” from what he got of Jen’s clone. Whether that’s because Carson is male, a clone, or has the ATA gene, stays anyone’s guess until Dr. Parrish puts a sample onto Colette’s desk and, ever further sliding down the slope, they conclude that it’s probably the gene. Carson is forbidden from contributing biological material henceforth.
They have found Todd a replenishable food source. Go Jen's brain.
Then - after over a year without contact with his own species – as far as they know – Todd makes noise about wanting to connect with a Hive.
He, Sheppard, Woolsey and Lorne argue back and forth, before long there are a bunch of uncomfortable meetings with Teyla and Kanaan. In the end, after Todd and Rodney have spent several weeks hacking into various Hive communications and, wonders upon wonders, have come across a Hive that has not had much success replacing a queen killed in confrontation with, in all likelihood, the Travelers, there is green light for a Wraith rendezvous far, far away from the current Lantea and any other populated world they know of.
Todd, who is well-fed, has spent hours meditating with ‘The Emmagan’ as recently as that morning and exits his dart carrying two vials of David’s sperm in his hand, is very persuasive.
Jen knows that since the expedition arrived in Pegasus their best intentions have forever had unintended consequences for the worse. She dares not say for sure but she has hope that this time, their luck will turn. A year, ten years, a hundred years from now and more it will not have been a mistake that she has helped Todd’s new Hive - Teyla’s new Hive? – become the healthiest swarm of Wraith in the galaxy.