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Ark of Truth

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It takes nearly six months for Rodney to find a good schedule between Lemuria and his duties on SG-20. Though Vala continues to kidnap him for the odd evening, Rodney is officially on John's team—and yes, that gives him just a bit of a thrill every time he thinks about it; and yes, everyone can tell. It isn't all fun and games, though. Three weeks a month, they travel off-world and encounter aliens that are either too blind to turn away from the gifts of the Priors or ones that want to take the place of the Goa’uld using narcotics and thugs.

And that’s just off-world. On Earth, things haven’t been going so smoothly either, especially at home. Ever since the unfortunate practical joke with the skeleton in their backyard, John’s noticed a not-so-subtle shift as families moved out and military personnel moved in to his neighborhood. Lorne was first, of course, before Cameron’s very tasteless joke.

(At least their revenge went off without a hitch. Teal’c had apparently locked himself in the apartment and vowed to keep Cameron out until his precious movies were either fixed, or new ones purchased to replace the glued cases. The kicked dog look Mitchell sported almost got to John, but then Rodney commented that the Swans, a lovely three-kid family with dog who lived across the street, had put their home of twenty years up for sale. It had been the third in less than a month within the immediate vicinity of their house. And John had liked them. They were good people. And now they thought John and Rodney were, well, people who kept skeletons in their backyard. He made sure to have a front row seat when the supply sergeant called for Colonel Mitchell to pick up his sex toys. The “Oh come on!” following by the sound grinding teeth was very satisfying, for both him and Rodney according to the smirk McKay sported for the rest of the day.)

Nonetheless, Wicklebleck is sprouting “For Sale” signs in the yards of practically every other house. Rodney, being Rodney, snoops about to see if there’s a better deal than O’Neill’s house. John rolls his eyes and tries to ignore the part of his mind calculating property values and what O’Neill will do to them when he finds out his house is worth oh so much less than when he left.

And then, almost as if pre-planned, John wakes one weekend to moving vans along the entire block. Rodney, having come in late from Lemuria, just stands in the doorway, boxers and t-shirt, blinking blearily at the sun with a sneer that says, ‘I could extinguish you, and if you didn’t sustain life and I wasn’t so tired, I would, you asshole.’ The reflection from the vans is disrupting his sleep even through the curtains.

John manages to coax him into the Game room to sleep on the floor—there’ll be bitching about that later—before going back to the front window and narrowing his focus on the people unloading the trucks. They aren’t a private firm. They’re Marines. All Marines. Most of which, he figures out after a few minutes of squinting, were once under his command on Atlantis.

Stackhouse is moving in across the street from them, sharing it with at least two other guys from his team. Doctor Biro is clinically watching the Marines as they unpack what looks like a full chemistry lab into the garage of the house next to Lorne. And his new neighbor pauses to wave at him. John hollowly waves back at Wallace and, apparently, Doctor Santos. Moving in. Next door.

Euler hops onto the coffee table, takes one look outside, and lets out a growl like he’d like to kill all the big metal trucks and the people they brought.

And for thirty seconds, John seriously considers it. It’s Wallace.

Instead, the next week on the 4th of July he throws a huge neighborhood party. A block party, actually. A bit “welcome to the neighborhood” and a bit “yay! The Ori supervirus didn’t exterminate the population of Earth!”

The latter is thanks to Rodney and Lemuria and finding the cure to the Ancient virus in their databanks; or rather, an antibody the Lemurians produced that protected them from the virus. There had been two fatalities, Patient Zero and the nurse in isolation who’d been caring for him, but Rodney pulled through at the last minute as the disease spread to Europe and Canada.

So really, he’s not surprised when more than just his new neighbors show up. He wasn’t expecting half the mountain, but not really surprised.

Rodney isn’t complaining since everyone’s giving him kudos for saving the world. John’s cooking more burgers. Lorne’s got hot dogs beside him. And it looks like Biro is cutting up a mean salad. Half their street has brought grills or cutting tables to cook on their lawns, and John, John can’t help but grin and laugh as Stackhouse trips over one of Bambus’ kids and lands his ass in their kiddy pool.

SG-1 is mingling as well. He doesn’t know where they all are. At one point Teal’c shoves Cameron away from his grill until the man comes over and mutters an apology to John. John just shrugs. “No big deal. We can take a joke.” The gaping look lasts for a good five minutes before Mitchell bursts out laughing and waves him off, going out to the crowds. Vala is probably out pick-pocketing everyone in sight, and no doubt Daniel’s trying to curtail it.

Carter, Carter is standing nearby with her fiancé and there is a good moment where John’s worried it’ll spoil Rodney’s mood. John’s finally ready to forgive her comments regarding Atlantis once they were exiled, but hasn’t shown any signs. Not until Rodney does. And it looks like today might be that day. Good spirits, ego stroking, and fabulous food are all very good at putting Rodney in a forgiving mood. He even smiles and shakes hands with Pete.

All in all it’s actually going really well, which is why he doesn’t notice the kid approaching Carter from behind until he’s plastered up against her back, and his hands are resting comfortably on her breasts. Not expecting such an attack, her soldier training hasn’t kicked in, which gives John enough time to run around his grill and get to Pete before the cop’s instincts—or jealous boyfriend instincts—kick in.

“They are larger than I remember,” the kid says in a muffled voice. “And your skin has more wrinkles. But you are still the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen.”

A red fury spreads across her face just as Rodney grabs the kid by the shoulders and pulls him bodily away from Carter. He’s fourteen, sixteen at the oldest, with brown hair in a bowl-cut and eyes a pale blue that remind John of a wise older man. He’s almost awkward standing there, a bit in the way that all teenagers are, yet also like he’ s not use to being in a body at all. It sets John edge, but not enough to let the pissed off Pete get around his body block.

The kid’s on his own with regards to Carter, though.

Rodney, surprisingly, tries to come to the rescue. “I know it’s tempting to grope your, I don’t know, past babysitter when the hormones kick in, but trust me. That’s just—I mean—it leads to heartbreak, and also, it’s sort of a bit creepy. Like, stalker creepy.” He’s using a bit of bravado in his words, which John knows means he’s speaking not just as an adult, but as someone who’s definitely had some personal experience. John makes a mental note to tease him about it later. “It seems like a good idea, but you really, really shouldn’t.”

There’s some confusion in the kid’s eyes as he looks at Rodney, as if he understands the words, but doesn’t comprehend the meaning or intent behind them. “But we’ve shared. Samantha and I once shared intimacies.”

Pete makes a strangled, angry sound and John braces himself against the man again. He’s also worried about the fact that it’s become very, very quiet around them, and everyone heard that last statement. He really didn’t peg Carter as the pedophile type, so it must be something else.

Something she’s already identified, because the anger fades a bit, and her stance relaxes. “Orlin?”

The smile the kid breaks out is both brilliant and a failure. Like he’s never smiled before, or he did once, and has forgotten how. “Hello Samantha.”

“But, what are you-”

“I’ve returned to see you. And to bring you a warning.” The kid looks up, straight at the sun. “The Ori have begun building a stronghold.” He points up, at a random angle to John, but one that must mean something to him. “Their Priors are carrying them, giving their lives so they can pass through the Stargate without interference.” His arm lowers as his gaze returns to Carter. “They have enough followers, we can’t stop their settlement.”

By now, the entire block is dead silent. John can see that the outer-most edges are confused, but everyone nearby looks grim-faced, terrified.

Cadman snaps out of it first. “Talk about a party killer,” she jokes weakly.

There’s not a single person who laughs.

~*()*~

SG-1 and Rodney bring Orlin to John’s house. John takes a minute to ask Lorne to get everything cleaned up and set a mass evac to the mountain before joining them. He hasn’t missed much, since apparently Rodney’s scanning the kid with the Life Signs Detector they’re not supposed to have. No one seems to care, save Pete, who still looks like he’s going to burst a blood vessel.

John can understand on some level. Orlin looks like any kid on the block, in jeans and an open button-down over a t-shirt. But the eyes, there’s something about them, like Adria’s, only to the other extreme. Gentle, old, and just a touch of fear. He’s not sure which is scarier, which is perhaps the most frightening fact of all. He takes a seat on one of the dining room chairs, trying to see the Ancient in the kid. He can’t, though. No arrogance, no attitude; just a kid with all the knowledge of the universe in his mind.

“As far as I can tell, he’s clean.” Rodney powers down the Detector and takes a seat next to John. “But if he has the ATA gene, he may be able to override the device and ask it to show us what he wants.”

Orlin’s brow furrows. “Why would I deceive you?”

“Your people-”

“Rodney,” Sam says sternly as she touches the kid’s shoulder. “Orlin,” she continues in a softer tone, “why did you descend?”

“To assist in your war against the Ori.” He looks back over to Rodney. “They don’t know it’s you, but they know something has tainted the energy in this galaxy. And when the Priors returned home, the taint followed. They are weakened.”

“And that makes them desperate. Damn.” Cameron punches the back of the couch.

“If they have come to do battle,” Teal’c intones, “then they must have a plan.”

“I’ve personally seen how quickly they can raise an armada.” Vala crosses her arms and leans towards Daniel. “If they can conquer even half of this galaxy, it won’t matter how powerful Rodney’s device is.”

“And they know we won’t interfere on this level,” Orlin continues. “They don’t know I’ve descended before.”

Sam kneels down, so she’s eye level with the teen. John can hear Pete grinding his teeth from across the room. “Now that you’ve told us, can you ascend again? With the help of the Others?”

Orlin shakes his head. “I won’t be going back.” A pause. “The Others are leaving this galaxy.” There’s an awkward quiet at the pronouncement.

Rodney pushes himself to his feet. “Leaving?! The biggest crisis we’ve ever faced and they’re leaving?! Those cowardly-”

“They can’t be here, Doctor McKay. Merlin’s weapon would kill them.”

Rodney waves a hand wildly. “We haven’t even built it yet! We don’t want to condemn anyone to death by sticking their head in the device!”

John sinks further down his seat at the calm in Orlin’s tone. He has a really bad feeling about what’s coming next, and he really, really, really hopes he’s wrong.

Unfortunately, Orlin confirms his suspicion. “I will accept Merlin’s knowledge and construct the device.”

It silences even Rodney. John would be impressed, but the Ancients have screwed them over before. A few times, really. So he’s not totally surprised they would sacrifice a kid—no, no, that’s not right. He’s an Ancient. Even so, sacrificing one of their own doesn’t ring true.

“The Others didn’t originally know of your plan, did they,” Daniel almost whispers. Orlin doesn’t meet the accusation.

He stays quiet for a minute. “The Others,” Orlin starts, hesitates, then, “The Others are returning to Pegasus. To Atlantis.” Another pause with an almost guilty look in John’s direction. “There is…much we left unfinished there. Many have expressed the desire to…return to their corporeal form.”

“But you didn’t want to leave. You did this for—for this galaxy.” The substitution is forced, even to John’s ears. Pete gives the teen a final disgusted look before stomping out the patio door. Only Rodney flinches as it slams shut. Sam merely closes her eyes.

Daniel finally steps forward, moving until he’s abreast with Carter. “They discovered your plan. They forced you into this form.”

Orlin’s expression goes neutral, but he nods. “The knowledge I possess will cause this mind to breakdown and terminate within days if I do not access a repository.” He glances over to Cameron and Teal’c. “You may wish to inform your Stargate Command that the Others will be utilizing the Stargate. Before leaving they will set up wards in certain systems to continue hiding their actions from the sight of the Ori.”

“But not for long, gotcha.” Cameron pulls out a cell phone and hits the speed dial. “McKay, you might want to get him down to Antarctica.”

Rodney gets a pinched look, but some sort of silent communication passes between him, Daniel, and Sam, before he stands up. “Right. Let me get my laptop and the emergency beacon to the Odyssey.” He leaves for the Game Room. He and John had agreed it’d be the best place for the super-secret SGC objects that they couldn’t get away with hiding out in the open.

“Asgard cruisers will also be arriving,” Orlin says as Cameron waits for his security clearance to check out. “They will be retrieving Merlin’s devices for the other galaxies the Ori have begun to inhabit.”

“Merlin’s device can construct more than one weapon?”

And now John sees the similarities between this teen and the Ancients in Atlantis. There’s a superior look as he states, “It was designed with that contingency in mind. All that it requires is two of your naquadah reactors.”

“Which we’ll have to pick up at the mountain,” Rodney says as he comes back with a laptop, an earpiece, and their emergency ‘SGC is Beaming Us Up’ backpack, which he tosses straight at John. He catches it with ease before hopping out of the chair. “Just as well. All the data I really need is in my lab.”

Cameron hangs up the phone a second later, joining the group as they cluster around Orlin. “Landry’s ready to see us.”

I forgot to clean Euler’s litter box, is John’s last thought before a white light transports him away.

~*()*~

John makes sure not to join them in Antarctica for fear of his own gene conflicting with whatever Orlin has planned. The kid and Rodney are on base for all of an hour, long enough to confirm that Orlin appears to have the same brain-scan as the Ancients, then they’re off with Daniel and Carter to work with Zelenka’s team. While waiting for any updates, John works with Cam to prep as many teams as possible for Ori incursions either on Earth or off-world.

There’s still a voice in the back of his head saying the Ori may just destroy their sun, try to destroy them from orbit, that all of this is futile. John very bluntly tells that voice to shut up. They have Lemuria and a small fleet. Granted, nowhere near enough drone weapons, but enough to give even an Ori fleet cause to turn tail.

He grasps onto that belief, because otherwise they’re all fucked, and he cannot accept that. At all.

On the second day, the Stargate activates on its own, dialing Atlantis without any prompt from Siler. He makes it to the control room in time to see the stream of white floating squids stream from the ceiling and straight into the event horizon. There‘s hundreds, thousands. He vaguely recalls that Oma Desala once ascended all of Abydos, and rounds his tally up to at least a million.

It takes the full thirty-eight minutes for all the Ancients to float through. The Gate doesn’t dial again, and his eyes are strained from the instant absence of light. He, along with the command staff, his team, and SG-1, are all staring into the Gateroom. Cameron breaks the silence with a low whistle and a “Damn, man.”

John’s thoughts are more along the lines of, Bastards, and Cowards, and We’re done fighting your god-damned wars you chicken shits! But he doesn’t say anything, just clenches his fists and wishes Rodney were there. Lorne and Cadman lead him away for some target practice when Landry asks to be connected to the Antarctic base. Firing at targets isn’t nearly as satisfying as kicking ass—okay, getting his ass kicked—by Teyla or Ronon, but it does seem to take the edge off his homicidal desire.

Rodney calls him that night, breaking about fifty security guidelines, but John can feel the tension bleed from his shoulders as he curses out the Ancients, Landry for being a pushover to their demands, and Orlin for accepting his mental demise as a foregone conclusion. “For god’s sake, they‘re going to just let him die so we can finally win their war! I’ve half a mind to ship him off to Atlantis and tell O’Neill to make them fix him. Oh, and brilliant minds that they are, they’ve built in a failsafe so his mind can’t be properly uploaded into a repository! They want him to become a vegetable!” There’s a snort. “Enlightened my ass.”

“Always knew you didn’t hate kids, McKay,” he says, because that’s better than letting out the half dozen other thoughts in his head.

“You’re the one who taught me never leave a man behind. It’s just,” a pause, “it’s wrong, John. He’s actually fighting their war, and his reward is brain death. And I can’t think of how to fix it.” He sounds slightly broken at the end.

“Maybe Lemuria-”

“I’m having Miko research it, but…” But they both know that trying to find something specific in an alien database—any database—is a shot in the dark.

“Then we’ll throw him a badass party when we save the universe. Even if he doesn’t remember. Everyone likes parties.”

That gets a huff, then about a minute of warm silence. “He’s provided the coordinates for the Ori galaxy. Even though we can wipe out the Ori, their followers will be around. Daniel keeps talking about an Ark of Truth, but Orlin’s too distracted to help him figure out what that is other than some Ancient weapon.”

“Something to stop the Priors hopefully.” The followers of the Ori are on a crusade. Even if their Gods fall, they’ll fight in their name. Hell, they might be pissed enough to follow the Ori’s words to the letter and burn this galaxy. “How much longer will you be down there?”

Another sigh. “Another day before we have enough weapons for the Asgard to take. We can only use each one once, so we can’t set off any of them until the source is gone.”

John feels his stomach clench. “Which means flying to the Ori galaxy.”

“Carter updated Landry. He’s going to bring it to the IOA. Not that they can make a decision faster than a geologic era.”

“One problem at a time, McKay.”

“Since when?”

It’s John’s turn to snort. He clutches the phone a little tighter, then, “Don’t annoy Zelenka too much.”

Rodney hears it for the ‘I miss you’ he means. “Piss off, Sheppard.”

John feels his lips curl up at the ‘me too,’ hidden behind the words and hangs up. They don’t say goodbye, never have since returning to Earth. Goodbye is too much like ‘so long Rodney’, it’s meant for specific situations, ones they try not to focus on too much.

Exactly like this one.

~*()*~

The briefing room, when John arrives the next evening, is in a heated debate. SG-1 is having a whispered argument with each other while SG-20 are trying to calm down Rodney and Zelenka. General Landry and some stranger John doesn’t know are trying to talk over everyone, and Orlin is the only calm in the storm, staring absently out at the Stargate through the window.

Deciding discretion is the better part of valor, John takes the empty seat beside Orlin and asks quietly, “What’s up, buddy?”

His gaze shifts over to John momentarily, then returns to the Stargate. “The Asgard are prepared to take Sangraal devices to the various galaxies. Samantha is discussing with her team the possible location of the Ark of Truth, and the fact that the knowledge may be among that which was downloaded into my mind. Doctor McKay wishes to send me to Atlantis, demand the Others fix me.” There’s no distress in the words, not even a pained smile. Just the dull recitation of facts. “Your team is attempting to calm him. General Landry and Mister Merrick have yet to decide on whether to use the Supergate or not in the attack against the Ori.”

John ponders this for a minute. “And you? Just sitting here?”

The kid blinks twice, then tilts his head to the left. “I am already forgetting details, but with the memories of Moros, I have retained more of my abilities than anticipated.”

“Moros…Merlin, right?”

That gets him a single nod. “That is as Daniel referred to him, yes.” The head tilts the other way. “His insights are proving most useful. For instance, did you know Vala’s husband is here in this galaxy?”

John vaguely recalled reading that in a report. “One of the Ori soldiers, right?”

“Yes. He is currently awaiting the arrival of a Prior upon one of your worlds.” Another pause. “The Icarus Site.”

“Wait, what? You didn’t think to tell us?!”

Orlin blinks slowly at him, as if such a concept was unimportant. “He will not be there long. I believe he and the Prior will be coming here soon.”

John shoots up from his chair and dodges around SG-1 to get into the control room. The Icarus base is one of their newer ones, designed to mine naquadria to enhance their shipbuilding and research endeavors. He arrives at the bottom of the stairs just as the Gate starts dialing. “Get an Anti-Prior device ready,” he tells Siler. “And prepare for an invading force.”

“Colonel.” Landry’s voice carries down the stairs before he arrives. “Care to explain?”

“Orlin said a Prior’s coming through. With Vala’s husband. Who knows who else.” He meets Landry’s eye. “From the Icarus Site.”

Landry isn’t prone to swearing, but John can tell he wants to. Big time. As SG-1 heads down John heads back up to join his team and watch from the conference room. The man Orlin identified as Merrick has a sour look on his face, but Orlin is in front of the window, staring unblinking as the wormhole engages and the iris refuses to close.

John stands beside the kid, even though as an Ancient he can probably protect himself better John can. Rodney approaches him out of the corner of his eye, and he feels a Wraith stunner get pushed into his hand. He nudges Rodney with his shoulder and together they watch the ramp.

The man who steps out has dark hair, stubble and beard, and even from this high a weary look on his face. He wears the standard Ori soldier armor, a marble looking metal that protects against blades, but not guns or staff weapons. No other soldiers follow him, but a second later a bald, albino Prior steps through, the blue bulb on his staff glowing faintly. Though there are no microphones, John easily hears the “Hallowed are the Ori,” come from the disfigured priest.

“State your purpose here,” Landry responds over the speakers. Direct, to the point. Lorne’s glancing down the stairs and shakes his head at John’s silent inquiry. They haven’t been able to reach anyone on Icarus base.

The soldier, Vala’s husband if Orlin is to be believed, steps off the ramp and bows his head, unwilling to meet anyone’s gaze. The Prior has no such qualm. “I have come to show you the price of denying Origin, of defying the true Gods.”

“And you’ll find your tricks aren’t nearly that impressive when we’re blocking your abilities.”

Orlin sucks in a sharp breath just before the Prior turns to the control room, a deathshead grin on his features, and his eyes fiery red.

“Fuck,” Rodney gasps beside him. “Shit, shit, it’s an Ori. General!” He yells. “Ori!”

As if his voice carries to the Gateroom, two Wraith blasts immediately strike the Prior. Instead of stunning him, the blasts seem to ignite both his robes and his skin. Within minutes the man is completely immolated and a firestorm rages midair in the Gateroom. Another soldier attempts to blast the fire, it passes harmlessly through. Unaffected, the Ori flows back into the wormhole, which fluctuates momentarily, and then they can see through to the other side, to the inside of the mountain at the heart of Icarus base.

Dozens lie dead on the ground, most with Ori staff blasts. One looks like mummified remains as if a Wraith had sucked out their life, another is still kneeling, choking as a Prior stands watch. It takes John a moment to realize it’s not just one or two Priors, it’s a dozen. A dozen Priors, and as one they turn to the Stargate, each with the same fire in their eyes as the one that burned away moments ago. At some unspoken signal they also burst into flames, burn away until an inferno spreads across the room. The bodies of their people aren’t consumed in the flames, just washed over as if they’re stones in a river, but beneath that, the walls, the room, the ground, it all fluctuates.

The view starts to change, and John realizes seconds later that one of the Ori must be moving the Stargate away from the surface, away from the planet, until it’s in high orbit and they can all see the fires burning into the planet, peeling away the surface and reforging it at the same time.

“The naquadria,” Rodney mumbles. “Oh my—oh god!”

“McKay,” Lorne steps forward then, “what’s going on?”

“The Supergate is composed of a naquadria composite.”

Lorne actually pales, “You mean they’re going to-“

Before he can finish, the world is consumed and reformed, becoming a planet-sized ring, the fires forming individual links familiar to everyone. And then, then the flames merge to the center of the ring and explode outward, a blinding light that even John can tell is a wormhole backwash. When he blinks the spots away, a new Supergate is floating in space, its wormhole active, and an Ori warship flies through. A second, a third. As the fourth one emerges, the first fires upon the viewing Stargate.

John has enough time to realize the Ori on their side of the Gate has vanished before the energy discharge hits and the entire mountain shakes, equipment exploding in the Gateroom, the Control room, the lights overloading and John grabs Orlin and ducks away just as the window shatters before them.

It’s impossible to tell how long before the world stops seeming to end, but there’s a tinkle of someone stepping in glass, and then he feels Rodney’s hand on his shoulder, his back. John shakes some glass out of his hair and looks down to Orlin, who’s still staring off in the distance. “You okay,” he asks quietly.

“The fleet comes for Earth,” is the faint reply. “The Ori are here to burn Avalon.”

~*()*~

This time the conference room is deathly silent, running only on emergency power. “I’d say,” Landry says, “this changes our priorities.”

“We have to get to Dakara,” Daniel says immediately. “Without the Ark, even if the Ori are dead, their followers will continue the war.”

“We don’t know the Ark is on Dakara,” Carter counters. “We keep pushing, but Orlin still doesn’t remember where it is.”

“And we don’t have the time to see if he can pull the memory from Merlin’s mind,” Daniel argues back. “Dakara was the first planet the Alterans founded when they arrived. If it’s anywhere-“

“More pressing,” Merrick interrupts, “is whether Lemuria and the ships can hold off an Ori fleet.” James Merrick has a cherub-like face and perfectly coifed dark hair. His suit is formal and he’s reads as every bit the politician. John doesn’t trust him, an air of NID about him, of smiling words and slippery morals and a knife aimed right at your back.

It doesn’t help that he’s an IOA representative.

After Merrick’s question, all eyes turn to Rodney, who turns red, but nods. “Yes. We can launch the city, and its weapons should be enough to defend us. But,” he scowls, “not against all of the ships. We don’t know how much power it’ll take to destroy one ship, much less six or eight or twenty that arrive. For every one we destroy, another will get a shot off to Earth. Assuming they aim for Earth and not, I don’t know, the sun.”

“Can we shield the planet,” Landry suggests. “Expand Lemuria’s defenses so nothing gets through?”

“Not without considerable strain. And,” Rodney leans back in his chair, “not without a lot of reprogramming. The Ancients wanted to protect cultures and worlds. The Furlings destroyed entire civilizations to prevent their tech from being rediscovered in the future. They don’t have a planetary shield parameter.” Yet another old, wise alien race that John can’t help but think of as having shit priorities.

“How long before the fleet arrives,” Merrick asks again.

Carter folds her hands together. “Given their engine technology, no more than five days.”

Daniel bites his lip, then says again, “Dakara-“

“No.” Teal’c merely raises an eyebrow at the attention on him. “Dakara is currently in the hands of the Ori. We will not be able to conduct a proper investigation without retaking the planet.”

Daniel slumps at the analysis. “That’s our best bet to locate it.”

“Later, man,” Mitchell answers. “In the meantime, what’re we gonna do about the demons invading in Prior bodies?”

“What we were planning to do before,” Zelenka speaks up then. “We use the Sangraal so Orlin’s plight was not futile.”

“He’s right,” Lorne leans forward and looks at Landry. “The armies may still march, but we need to get rid of the major players before we can get rid of the pawns.”

“The IOA is willing to authorize one ship only on for such a mission,” Merrick says immediately. “My recommendation is to send the Odyssey. It’s been recently fitted with a cloaking device and the Asgard just updated its shields.”

Mitchell points at the man. “That’s what I’m talkin’ about.” He turns towards Landry. “Permission to take SG-1 and SG-20 to defeat the Ori.”

“It could take weeks to get there by hyperspace,” Landry shoots back.

“Not by Supergate,” Carter says. The room goes silent again. “It’s pointless to keep blockading the one we dialed. They’ve got a new one to send reinforcements through.”

“And if we deactivate it and they send ships through it as well?”

She shrugs, but Rodney rolls his eyes. “It won’t matter, General. They see us as the keystone of resistance. Whether it’s one Supergate or two, they’ll be sending their fleets either way. The Icarus base was in the same quadrant, so it’s not like it would make much difference.”

“Except there’d be two ingresses, not one.”

“Hello! The Ori are in the galaxy now! They don’t need the Supergates to send ships. They can build them here! Or did you miss the fact that they’ll actually change the universe on our level to suit their whims?!”

There’s a collective holding of breath, recent events a little too raw for everyone. Even as Landry’s face puckers, though, John can see Merrick nod far, far too quickly.

“He’s right.” Merrick stands up. “SG-1 plan out what you need. The IOA will authorize any resources. Just make sure to include whatever’s necessary to take out the Supergates on the other side.” Rodney opens his mouth, but before he can say anything else, Merrick looks at him. “And you, Dr. McKay, you and SG-20 need to prep Lemuria and the ships to defend the planet.”

John straightens from his slouch at that. “SG-20 should accompany SG-1,” he says. “We have a successful history.”

“Correct me if I’m wrong,” Landry replies sternly, “but isn’t SG-20 most familiar with Lemuria and its systems?”

John bites back his response because it’s true. Rodney’s not in charge of Lemuria, but everyone defers to him when it comes to the workings of the city. He wants to protest, but can’t even justify it to himself, not when they’re the best chance at preparing for the defense of Earth. “Of course, sir. We’ll have the city and ships ready within a day.”

“Glad to hear it,” is the gruff reply.

Dismissing them, Merrick turns back to the General. “General Landry, I’d like permission to bring the prisoner and the Ancient along, both could have invaluable information in our efforts.”

“He’s a guest,” Daniel tries.

“Prisoner,” Merrick reiterates, looking at the archeologist. “An enemy combatant.” He turns back to Landry. “We’ll interrogate them on the way. Maybe we can find this Ark of Truth Jackson keeps mentioning.”

“I’ll clear it with the President.” He turns to the table. “SG-1, SG-20, you have your missions.”

~*()*~

SG-1 and the Odyssey take off at 0600 the next morning, staying just long enough to beam up Orlin, Merrick, and Tomin—the name of their Ori soldier. John ends up shuttling first SG-20, then about three dozen gene carriers to Lemuria to help get the Ancient warships up and running. He’s on his last run, having just broken Earth’s atmosphere, when he hears chaos over the radio coming from Lemuria. John narrows the frequency to Rodney’s personal comm. “McKay, report!”

“The Ancient ships just powered up! They’re attempting to leave—no, don’t divert power from weapons systems—their launch sequence just activated and Lemuria is letting them go!”

John punches the Jumper equivalent of afterburners to bring him under the moon and into view of the city. It takes longer than he wants, and as he passes the boundary into the lunar shadow, he sees all seven ships—three Aurora-class vessels, two cargo ships, and what he’s pretty sure is a passenger liner—shaking off the gravimetric pull of the city and start shifting into some sort of flying arrangement.

“Sheppard to Daedalus,” he radios, already spotting the Earth ship trying to intercept.

“Sheppard, any idea what’s going on?”

“Negative, but I’ve got six gene-strong soldiers on board. Can you beam any of them onto the ships?”

There’s a pregnant silence. “Negative. The shield systems are online. I can’t guarantee stable rematerialization.”

“Understood.” He makes a sharp turn and pushes for every ounce of speed he can get from ship. The nearest warship has its Jumper bay aimed in their direction. “I’m going to attempt to board one. Maybe the Jumper protocols will let me in.”

“Copy that. Good luck.”

Rodney isn’t quite so calm. “Sheppard! If you get yourself killed-“

“Can’t talk now, McKay.” A warning indicator flashes that he’s about to burn out the engine pods. “Got some stray ships to catch.” He cuts off the channel before Rodney can reply. To the rear cabin he calls, “Brace yourselves!”

He’s approximately twenty meters from the shuttle bay when the hyperspace windows open. He pushes the Jumper harder, faster, trying to make the distance before it’s too late. Just as he’s about to reach the hull, a shield repels him, crashing him into the dash before the backlash from the hyperspace jump sends the ship tumbling and he’s very, very grateful for the seatbelts because otherwise he’d probably be a spatter on the window.

As it is, his ears are ringing and alarms are going off and yes, that is definitely one of the Marines in back bleeding, but he’ll focus on that later. Instead, he turns the ship, tries to stabilize it and catches a glimpse of the Daedalus taking off in pursuit. It takes another four involuntary barrel rolls before he finally brings the Jumper to heel and is able to angle it towards Lemuria. By the time the automated systems from the city lock on his headache has diminished to reasonable levels, and he’s able to exit the ship and take in the Lemurian bay. The other two Jumpers are still there, still depowered. So it was just the starships that decided to leave them.

He heads to the central tower where he finds Rodney fuming at the holographic screen depicting the blue of a wormhole event horizon. Grimacing, he makes his way over. “McKay.”

“Infirmary,” is his terse reply, not even looking at him.

Definitely bad, he can’t help but think. Rodney’s storing up his explosion for whoever’s about to come onto the screen. Rather than following the order, he takes one of the seats at the auxiliary sensor stations. It’s a matter of a few finger swipes to bring up the hyperspace scans, and find that the ships are already halfway across their galaxy, headed towards Pegasus.

It takes him a minute to realize that the recall order that had summoned the Aurora their second year must have kicked in for thee seven ships. Even if that’s the case, though, why would the Ancients activate it now? They can always build more on Atlantis, and it isn’t like they’d known about the ones he and his team had discovered.

Unless…

“Doctor McKay, now’s not a good time,” says a man in a suit. He’s bald with glasses and evokes pure bureaucrat through and through. Woolsey, the official liaison between Earth and Atlantis. “Couldn’t this have waited for the regular check-in?”

“Sure, assuming we survive the Ori armada headed this way, due in, oh,” he makes a production of checking his watch, “four days! Now tell me why the fuck Atlantis recalled those ships! How the hell did they even find out they existed?!”

John’s actually wondering how they’re talking to Atlantis when he realizes the signal must be going through the SGC and the Stargate on Earth. And that everyone there can hear this conversation. The fact that Landry hasn’t interrupted or tried to calm Rodney means he’s just as pissed.

There’s a heaving sigh over the communication. “The ships do belong to Helia and the other Lanteans. They were rather upset to discover we had them in our possession without notifying them of the discovery.”

“Because they would just want them for themselves! Which they don’t need because, you know, the Ori aren’t invading their galaxy with a fleet to scour them from existence! We need those ships!”

“I’m very aware of that, Doctor.” There’s a weariness, exhaustion in his tone that John picks up, but he isn’t sure Rodney does. “Once the Asgard have additional vessels, they will be joining in the defense of Earth. Their first priority, though, is ending the Ori threat.”

“And if a few million people on Earth die until they arrive, that’s not much in the grand cosmic scale,” Rodney sneers. “I’ll be sure to pass along those sentiments to the grieving families. ‘Sorry for the deaths, but the advanced aliens who could have helped us were too concerned protecting their own asses rather than fighting their own war.’”

For the first time John can remember, Woolsey actually looks defeated. “I pointed that out. That it’s their war we’re fighting.” Rodney’s mouth snaps shut. “Which is why they are graciously,” the word is almost spit out of the man’s mouth, “allowing us to keep Lemuria and the Furling vessels.”

He’d never heard the IOA representative sound so hostile, so sick of who he’s working with. Rodney just has a gob-smacked expression on his face, either at the implication, or at Woolsey’s tone. John finally steps into view and nudges Rodney aside. “If they won’t let us have the ships, can they offer any assistance, anything to give us an edge over the Ori?”

Woolsey shakes his head. “I’ve done all I can. O’Neill is still arguing for additional support, but with more of their people descending—that’s who noticed the ships, by the by—and of taking up the research they left behind…they’re just not concerned. They trust the Asgard will prevent Earth’s total annihilation.”

“What if the Ori discover Atlantis while they’re attacking? Or if they get to the Antarctic outpost?”

This time, Woolsey grimaces. “They’re keeping an eye on that. At the first sign of Ori incursion, they intend to shutdown the Gate.”

And cut themselves off from the rest of the galaxy. Of all galaxies. Bastards, John thinks, grinding his teeth.

What he says instead, through clenched teeth, is “Understood.”

“For what it’s worth,” he continues, “I wish you the best of luck.”

John nods as Rodney snorts and cuts the connection. “Luck,” he mutters. “Those fucking, arrogant, holier than thou-“

“McKay.”

The man whirls on him, glares, and a million emotions fly across his face. John recognizes them, knows that, if he could, he’d let loose with his own anger, own frustration. Instead, he just says, “Going to medical. Lemme know when the IOA wants their gene-specific platoons brought back.”

“Bastards,” Rodney mutters again, but he brushes his shoulder against John’s as he stalks by, and John knows that’s the best comfort he’s going to get for now.

He just hopes his headache is completely abated before Landry calls up to yell at him for letting McKay run roughshod over their contact in Atlantis.

~*()*~

Though he doesn’t have a concussion, it’s easier to avoid Landry by faking one and staying in Lemuria’s infirmary for ‘observation.’ Instead Colonel Caldwell gets the talking to, and is ordered to give the message to John. The Colonel, however, merely nods at John when he arrives, gruffly saying Rodney’d done good, before leaving.

They may not be close, but Caldwell understands what jerks the Ancients are. And in his own way, he’d loved Atlantis, too.

When John does leave the infirmary that afternoon, SG-20 (sans Rodney) is just down the hall, waiting for him. “McKay call you to keep an eye on me?”

“No, sir.” Lorne stands up from leaning on the wall. “Just figured we’d help you with whatever half-baked plan you came up with to fight the Ori.”

“Major, my plans are never half-baked.”

“Of course not, sir.” Lorne says smirking. “I must be thinking of some other ex-commander of Atlantis.”

John nods and leads them towards nearest transporter. “Shouldn’t really put stock in any of Cadman’s rumors, Lorne.”

“Really,” the lieutenant teases, elbowing Lorne none-too-gently, “you should know by now everything out of my mouth is a scurrilous lie.”

“Just as Rodney says,” Chuck adds on, deadpan, “because he’s never wrong about people.”

There’s a titter of laughter from the trio and John even feels himself smiling. He’ll take the distraction, the attempt at levity. It’s not like they’ll have much time for it in the near future.

He takes them to the pier harboring the largest Furling vessels. He can already see some of the gene-strong personnel getting familiar with the largest of the warships. The Sheppard, Weir, and McKay are as powerful as the Ancient vessels, so they’ll naturally be part of the first line of defense to keep Earth safe.

John trusts that Rodney will be guiding the city in its battle, and he’s not needed to pilot it since there’s no control chair or gene interface. The city is already made up of most of the Atlantis personnel not assigned to the SGC, and though John is a pilot, without the interface he doesn’t think he’ll be the best one on board to fly the thing.

The recently officered Captain Stackhouse has been instrumental in coordinating the military on Lemuria, and John knows the man has been studying how the city flies. He also knows the value of Rodney’s opinions, and that his advice is worth listening to, especially in a pressure situation.

He couldn’t trust the city or McKay to another person not of his team.

That said, John has no intention of sitting out this battle or just shooting the occasional weapon from the control tower. He intends to be out there, fighting directly with the enemy. He turns his attention to the smaller vessels. From what they’ve been able to determine of the Furling ships, the Gall is a scientific vessel and the Grodin is a merchant ship, but the Ford is a small strike craft; enough to house a hundred people with the same amount of firepower as an Asgard heavy cruiser. He only eyes it for a second, but Lorne’s already nodding, as if he can read John’s mind.

“It couldn’t be anything else,” the Major says. “Rodney’s been making sure it’s a priority for months.”

“Wouldn’t feel right,” Chuck says quietly, “taking another ship.”

“Hoorah,” Cadman adds.

John’s always hated that whole ‘his heart grew three sizes that day’ bit, but the feeling swelling in his chest doesn’t fit any other description. Screw SG-1. He has the best fucking team of the entire SGC. “Let’s make a final check, and contact the SGC before requesting a formal crew,” he says with just a touch a thickness to his voice.

The section for the smaller craft is like a giant airfield, save that there’s no runway and it’s all beneath a silver ceiling and surrounded by obsidian walls. The crafts lie about fifty meters apart from each other, but from the experiments, whenever the ships land or takeoff, they’re surrounded by fields that match their contours exactly to prevent collisions and accidents. Even now, with the city landed, there’s a gravimetric field holding them all in place, a safety feature the Ancients had never seemed to employ except when Jumpers were arriving or departing.

It’s kind of nice to be in a city constructed by a safety-conscious race. Even if they are sitting atop five micro-stars that, if Rodney is to be believed, will one day convert into micro-singularities that could suck them all into oblivion.

Ancient ships are designed more for function than form and are essentially interchangeable despite ship-type—though the Aurora-class and Jumpers are still second in his heart to Rodney; maybe even first. Asgard and even earth vessels are fairly straightforward in design, bridge forward, engines in the rear, and wings to handle shuttles, technology, anything else. The less said about Wraith eyesores, the better. Furling ships are not like any of those, but they’re also fairly familiar in appearance.

Furling ships finally answer the question of where the Goa’uld got their pyramidal designs. Like the transport rings and wrist device, the derivative isn’t nearly as impressive or powerful as the original, but John hates that this is yet another thing the snakes were able to steal from an advanced race. A race that did all in its power to prevent such a travesty from happening.

Perhaps not unsurprisingly, the Weir, McKay, and other warships look most like Anubis’ mothership, the one that was destroyed over Antarctica. Rather than an octagon, the pentagonal theme continues with a rather large pentagon folded over a five-sided pyramid. Unlike the Goa’uld design, however, the spokes at the corner are curved, creating not harbor-looking weapons ports, but sharp tendrils evoking cephalopods and death. They’re still in the obsidian-black, and the windows are of the same curved sigils as the city. They are, essentially, miniatures of the central area of Lemuria.

The Grodin is more like a ha’tak, surrounded by the skeleton pentagonal framework and a stepped pyramid that can disembark and land—probably to easily load and unload cargo—from that structure. It’s nowhere near as large as the Goa’uld ships, but nearly outclasses the Odyssey in size. The Gall is the opposite, with the pyramid inverted and the five-sided framework looking more solid than the central construct. It sports multiple apertures that end in strange curved antennae and the tip of the pyramid can recede, allowing for direct observation to whatever’s below the vessel.

The Ford is slightly larger than the other two, but still smaller than the primary Goa’uld pyramid ships. Like the Grodin, its five-sided pyramid is stepped, but the similarities end there. All levels of the pyramid have a pentagram superstructure, each diminishing in size to accommodate the narrowing area of the pyramid level. The result is a ship that, from above, looks like multiple stars stacked atop one another, like a child’s conical toy. Though like the rest of Lemuria the underlying structure is black stone, the edges of each pentagram layer seem to have dull silver ribs along the side hulls, though John isn’t sure if it’s armor or aesthetic design.

It doesn’t look too fierce on the surface, but its beam weapons are an easy match for the La Grange Satellite or the latest Asgard weapons, both able to puncture Ori shields. There are no drone weapons, but each branch of each star tier can detach from the main structure, becoming automated cruisers and forming a minor armada against any enemy. Like Lemuria itself, it has a layered shield structure and power sources—three—in addition to a matching number of engines and twenty-five sublight systems for the cruisers.

It’s yet to be tested, and John’s impressed that such a vessel is merely considered a strike cruiser to the Furlings; but then compared to the full warships, the firepower is highly underwhelming and the shields are nowhere near as all encompassing. Still, that puts it close to matching the smaller Ori ships, at least in theory. Rodney’s run a few simulations. The Weir might have greater firepower, but the maneuverability of the Ford gives them an advantage over the Ori.

Unlike Atlantis, Lemuria’s transporters can send people straight onto the ships. John and his team arrive on Ford’s bridge in minutes. Like the rest of Lemurian design, it’s not at the top of the pyramid or even in one of the cruisers, but at the very heart of the vessel, in the middle of tier three in a room that looks exactly like Lemuria’s control room. The only difference is the transporter is next to the glass office, and the walls and ceilings are a non-reflective silver glass that John knows can change into screens of whatever’s necessary: tactical displays, the view outside, even comm transmissions. There’s only two levels leading down to the pentagonal main control station in the center of the room, each with their own control panels and seats. Still, only five people are absolutely needed to fly this thing.

Not that it’ll only be a five-man team on this mission.

His team breaks apart as soon as they arrive. Lorne takes a seat at navigation, checking engine capabilities and power levels. Cadman is on weapons and shields, running diagnostics and adding notes in an iPad she pulls from her vest. Chuck is looking over logistics, life support, even crew quarters and supply requirements. He doesn’t make notes anywhere, but John can tell the man is making mental requisitions for what they’ll need.

Since all the easy jobs are done, John tests the sensors, tapping into Lemuria to see what’s going on around the surface of the moon, out in the solar system. He also checks out the stealth system. The Furlings didn’t have cloaking technology, like the Ancients, but their shields doubled as a form of reflective stealth, hiding the power variables, lifesigns, everything behind a fascade of false readings. It’s why Lemuria itself was initially so hard to detect. The shields kept adjusting to scans, kept trying to hide behind the false readings. If they’re going to fight an Ori armada, he definitely wants that edge over the enemy running perfectly.

His own diagnostics don’t take too long, and it’s less than an hour before his team have gathered in the windowed commander’s office. There’s no table, but Lorne is passing around a laptop so they can each add their input to the plan, to map out their crew requirements and requests. Lorne’s putting it all together in a final report as John flies them back towards Earth in the Jumper. Three Asgard cruisers are in orbit around the South Pole to pick up the Sangraal weapons, and he’s only a little bitter that they’re not staying to fight.

In some ways, they’re just as bad as the Ancients. At least they’re willing to return, to help in the end.

He just hopes there’s a world left to defend when they finally get their little grey butts in gear.

~*()*~

It takes another day for Lemuria to move to a stationary orbit above the North Pole. Lifting off from the dark side of the moon goes smoothly, but then they have to coordinate with Earth’s satellites to ensure no civilians accidentally catch a glimpse of the city mid-flight. The IOA continues to hope that Earth will remain ignorant of the SGC and what’s going on in the grander universe, but John’s pretty sure after this attack the secrecy of the program will be blown wide open.

He’s got some mixed feelings about that.

The Weir, McKay, and Sheppard are flying in concert with the Daedalus and the newly completed Apollo and Sun Tzu. There’s a fourth, the Phoenix, that the SGC is trying to rush to completion, but John doubts they’ll even get it into orbit, much less battle ready. The six ships are at a midpoint between Mars and Earth orbit, equidistant and constantly patrolling.

Though highly underpowered, both the Grodin and Gall still have basic weapons and shields that theoretically can withstand a shot or two from an Ori warship. They’re staying close to Earth and staffed with skeleton crews, all of whom are aware that their job is to act as blockades, nothing more. There’s a couple Atlantis personnel on board, but most are those who were staffed on the Prometheus, the ones who felt they should’ve gone down with their ship and have been living half-lives at the SGC.

John knows exactly how they feel, and really wishes they had their own versions of SG-20 to help them through the darkness. He ended up being one of the lucky ones.

On the bridge of the Ford, he’s manning the pilot controls and keeping them in a parallel orbit to the moon. Cadman’s on the weapon console and Chuck is almost bouncing in his seat, once again in charge of ship logistics and sensors. Lorne isn’t at the central pentagon of stations, he’s behind John, manning the cruiser controls for when they launch the twenty-five automated vessels. For a change, Miko has actually left the safety of Lemuria and is stationed at engineering. In fact, almost the entire staff of the Ford are ex-Atlantis personnel. Supposedly, they all volunteered the instant they heard both the name of the ship and that John was captaining.

There was that chest-swelling feeling again, but at least this time he wasn’t alone, if the look on Rodney’s face at the announcement was anything to go by.

Rodney and Radek worked miracles and got two more Furling strike cruisers operational, giving them a fleet of nearly 80 small cruisers to fight off Ori darts—fighters. They’re functionally the same, and John keeps getting the terms mixed up in his head. Doesn’t help that except for coloring, they look the same. He and Rodney had a small celebration when Radek reported both strike ships were fully operational.

He certainly didn’t argue with the christening of the Teyla and Ronon. They aren’t manned by Atlantis personnel, but just the fact that his old team has been invoked in spirit is enough to make him think they have a shot.

Like the Ford, they’re keeping a close parallel orbit to the moon. They’re the second line of defense, in case the warships get past the six ships farther out.

“I’ve got something,” Chuck says suddenly.

“Yes, that’s the crystal clarity we all relied upon in Atlantis,” is Rodney’s acerbic reply from Lemuria.

“I’ve got another blip,” comes Caldwell’s voice. “Still no reply from the Supergate.”

Before travelling through, the Odyssey dropped off a cloaked Jumper. Supposedly, once the weapon was deployed, SG-1 will dial back and give them the go-ahead to exterminate the Ori here.

“Yes, thank you, Colonel. It’s not as if we’re not all watching the comm obsessively in the hopes of hearing-“

“McKay,” comes the heaving sigh from General Landry, who’s currently in the Antarctic outpost with Carson preparing to use what few drone weapons are still left in the platform. “Just confirm the situation.”

There’s a huff and nearly inaudible mutters before, “I’m reading seven—no, eight. Shit. Nine. Nine Ori warships entering the system. They’ll be passing Jupiter in under eleven minutes. I’d estimate no more than twenty before they’re in weapon’s range of the first line.”

“You heard the man,” Landry replies. “Furling warships and Daedalus-class ships, focus on the warships themselves. Sheppard, I want you to take out as many of their fighters as you can.”

“Yes sir.” A tall order, considering each warship holds 500 fighters. He glances back at Lorne, who nods and starts coordinating the cruiser launches with the Teyla and Ronon. There’s a deep, almost rhythmic pulse to the engines as the separation takes place, and the lights of the bridge change from an ambient orange to a crimson purple. With a few strokes of the crystal keys, Chuck brings two visuals up, one an overview of the entire Sol system, including the ships. The other, a visual of the three strike ships and their now launched cruisers.

Seventy-five differently sized triangular ships all zipping and flying in a controlled dance. There’s a deadly poetry to it that, if John were better at words, he’d definitely write down. From the way Lorne’s staring, he’s pretty sure there’ll be a few drawings of it in the future. “How’s it look?”

Lorne snaps back to attention and works his own controls. A third of the ships do lazy barrel rolls before the narrowest corner on the cruises start glowing an eerie lavender. “All ships responsive, weapons systems online, shields at full strength.”

John glances at Miko and raises an eyebrow. “Versus Ori fighters?”

She pushes her glasses up and ducks, trying to avoid his gaze. “Our cruisers should have no difficulty penetrating their shields, nor are the fighter weapons a sizable threat individually. There is likely, however, to be heavy losses on our side.”

Cadman grimaces. “Death by a thousand stings.”

Miko bobs her head. “Yes. They have nearly five thousand fighters. We have no method to replenish our own ships at this time.”

“Don’t worry,” Lorne says, “we’ll make every shot count.”

“Plus, there’s the Ford’s secret weapon,” Cadman throws in.

“One trick pony, Lieutenant,” John reminds her. The Furlings had an extra bit of cunning when designing their strike ships. While the cruisers are the main weaponry of the vessels, the pyramid structure itself has a shockwave pulse it can emit. Something like that, though, the enemy will learn early on. It seems more like a last resort weapon, considering the strain it puts on the power sources.

“It is our shields,” Miko speaks up again quietly, “that may give us the best advantage.”

John looks to the screen at the Weir, which is the closest Furling ship to the approaching armada. “We’ll know soon enough.” With luck, the stealth shields will be something the Ori can’t see through—much like the Ancients, according to Lemuria’s records.

It’s a tense silence that descends over the radio, and John feels his shoulders twitch as they watch the slowly approaching ships. The two warships leading the pack unleash their swarm of fighters as they pass the asteroid belt. The Sun Tzu has moved close enough to take the first shot, to see if new Asgard weaponry is enough.

John winces when the warship’s shields flare. A hundred fighters break off to attack the Earth ship, when it makes its second shot.

This one burns straight through and destroys one of the launch bays.

There is cheering over the radio, even among the sounds of battle taking place, and through it John can just make out, “Hermiod you little asshole I could kiss you!”

If it weren’t for the pants thing, John would totally agree with Rodney.

As it is, the Sun Tsu’s own shields are starting to flare at the onslaught, and while the shot damaged one warship, the second one opens fire with its main weapon. He can see sparks on the hull upon impact, and while the Asgard weapon upgrades may be great, apparently the shields are still shaky at best.

Weir,” Landry says, “let’s see what you can do.”

Chuck obligingly changes the view to the Weir and the damaged warship. Though hundreds of fighters are still approaching, none seem to have noticed the rather large ship. The edges at the top of the pentagon seem to spark purple lightning, and then three bolts shoot out, striking a half dozen fighters in a single blow.

Then the energy jumps to another dozen. And another.

Nearly sixty fighters are destroyed in their first shot. And from the reactions, the rest are scrambling, completely unaware of who or what fired the weapon.

Which is when the Ori warship unleashes its own yellow beam of destruction.

And misses.

Not by much. The Weir’s shields are glanced, but it’s already moving, still destroying fighters with its weapon. Other warships are releasing their fighters, but the McKay and Sheppard are now within range.

Five thousand fighters. 4500, his mind corrects automatically. Considering how effecting the Furling weapons are, John’s beginning to wonder if they’ll even have more than a few hundred get through.

Shouldn’t have thought it. A thousand suddenly break off from the massive swarm and just make a straight run towards Earth. “That’s us,” he says to the sister ships, and seventy-five cruisers break orbit to intercept the fighters. John coordinates with the three pyramids to be just far enough apart that each pulse shockwave, should they have to use it, won’t overlap with each other.

Before the screen changes, the McKay tilts on its axis, its top pentagon unfolding into a pentagram. The purple lightning jumps from each point to the other of the star, until they arch together in the center in an effect reminiscent of the Death Star and, what John can best describe as ball lightning, hurtles through space, cuts through the Ori shields and blasts apart one of the warship’s main canons. The energy dances across the hull and entire sections are disintegrated as the discharge fades.

“Holy shit,” Chuck mutters.

Cadman exchanges a look with Lorne. “Could we actually win this?”

John’s question is more focused on, if this is the warship weapon, what the hell can Lemuria itself do?

And more frighteningly, just how devastating was the war between the Furlings and the Ancients?

Then there’s no time for thoughts because the cruisers and darts are in range and though the cruisers weapons are more familiar directed energy beams, it’s allowing the dart pilots to hone in for more accurate shots against the invisible enemy. They manage to wipe out nearly two hundred in cross-lances of violet energy before one of the smaller cruisers is destroyed by fifty well-placed shots.

Then one of the largest ones is lost as well, a mix of good shots and at least four suicide runs.

By the time they’ve lost half their fleet, there’s still six hundred darts trying to make a run for Earth. The nearest group is closest to the Ronon, whose shields seem to have inverted and the stealth vanished, if the pot shots of the fighters are any indication.

Nearly half of the remaining darts converge to exterminate the Ronon, which is when there’s a blinding flare of white light from the ship. Even John has to shield his eyes a moment, but when he looks back, the Furling ship is surrounded by debris. A quick glance at Chuck’s screen shows two of the five sides of the pyramid are without power, but its shields are up at quarter power. “Kelly, you’re done. Go join the Grodin and Gall.”

“Understood,” comes the harried reply, though she doesn’t sound exhausted or frightened. Given that the darts seem to have lost her, it looks like the stealth shield is still functional and no major damage was done to the ship itself.

A glance at the map overlay shows they’ve lost all but seven of their cruisers, and the darts are being a little more careful approaching Earth, aware that there might be more traps like the Ronon. Farther out, additional fighters have been launched, but five of the Ori warships are down, and the Sheppard and McKay are tag-teaming the two closest to Earth.

It’s not all good news. Another thousand fighters has made it through, approaching Earth from another vector. The Sun Tsu and Apollo are limping—in the case of the Sun Tsu, the bridge is missing, along with entire chunks of the ship. The Deadalus is staying strong, but only because it’s weaving around the Furling ships. And the Weir appears have lost its stealth, one warship focusing its fire along with hundreds of darts—though its shield is holding so far.

They’re close to winning, but there’s still a good chance there’ll be damage to Earth before the day is out.

Which is when Rodney jumps on the line and says, “We have confirmation from the Supergate! Radek, activate the Sangraal!”

“Zaplat panbuh! Weapon is activated. Vysrat se na Ori!”

For half a second, John thinks they’ve won, but a curse from Lorne reminds him that the Gods are dead, but the crusade is still on. A glance at the screen shows three cruisers left, and yes, nearly twelve hundred fighters and one Ori warship have made it past their defense line.

“Rodney,” comes Carson’s slightly unsteady voice, “Should I use the chair?”

“Not yet. Stackhouse?” And then Lemuria moves, sliding over the planet and in front of the invading force in such a smooth move that he really has to buy the Marine a drink. Flying a city that effectively deserves to be admired and praised for years.

“Daaaaamn,” Lorne says as Cadman lets out a low whistle.

While the stealth shield has proven effective, it appears Rodney has turned it off as the fighters all veer towards the city, and the warship actually halts its approach, as if it’s surprised at the city’s appearance. There’s an epic pause that covers the moment.

Then all five towers at the center of each pentagram’s point erupts purple light in the form of a wave around it—akin to the wave Chaya used to defend her planet. It’s just as effective, too, as in that one bold stroke all the fighters are gone. No debris, none flying as if knocked out of orbit, not even bits of ash floating in the solar wind. Just gone.

If anything, the warship backs up.

Then its engines burst to full strength and it’s approaching the city.

Ramming speed.

“McKay,” he yells involuntarily. He doubts even the Furling shields can handle that sort of damage.

The weapons fire again, this time reminiscent of the Death Star ball lightning of the McKay, but to a much, much larger scale. The impact against the Ori ship isn’t just an energy strike, it actually flings the oval vessel away, tilting it up and back as the shields struggle and fail to keep the destructive energy out. The next shot obliterates the ship entirely.

“Fifteen percent power,” McKay says smugly.

John’s starting to get a picture of just how the Furlings destroyed the planets they impacted before leaving for their technology-free utopia. The Ancients have their faults, but they’re intentions were initially benevolent, and at one point they felt sympathetic to the natives they observed.

For the first time, he’s really, really glad the SGC never encountered the Furlings. The destruction potential of their technology, their methods upon departing this galaxy…

There’s a darkness about them that John never, ever wants to meet in person.

There’s another scan, to make sure there’s no stragglers. The Sheppard finishes off the ships hounding the Weir, which apparently lost some of its shields, if the hole in one of its sides is any indication. The strike ships have lost all of their cruisers, and the Sun Tzu is essentially a derelict.

They won the battle.

Now the question is can they win the war.

~*()*~

They reconvene on Lemuria, where Rodney laments the damage done to the ships—“And just where do you think we can get spare cruisers from, Colonel, where? Do you think the Furlings just left those plans lying around?!”—and gloats about their success in fighting off the armada.

John just keeps his thoughts to himself, though he sees the rest of his team connecting the same dots he did earlier.

General Landry join them by holographic projection in the meeting room. Like the rest of Furling design, it’s a pentagonal table made of the strange obsidian composite and silver, intricately designed seats with no backs. Though the Apollo and Daedalus are parked on Lemuria to handle repairs before shipping the crews Earthside, both Caldwell and Ellis asked if he could report in on their behalf so they could focus on their ships. From some of the sounds of it, the commanders of the Furling vessels put the same request to Rodney as well.

Once they’re all seated in the Furling meeting room, Landry starts them off. “Good work everyone. The President has a commendation waiting for all of you.” Rodney rolls his eyes, but otherwise keeps quiet. John just nudges him with his elbow. “McKay, what’s our status?”

He huffs and sets his hands on the table. “Lemuria is fine, they never got a shot off. We’ll be back on the moon in about an hour.” He grimaces then. “The strike cruisers have lost their entire fleet, and one of the power sources in the Ronon was knocked offline. I’m not sure I can get it restarted.”

“Understandable. Considering everything, they still performed admirably.”

Rodney scoffs. “Of course they did. I wouldn’t let them out there if they weren’t in peak condition.” This time, it’s Landry that rolls his eyes. “The McKay and Sheppard are fine. Shields need some repair, but otherwise the Ori couldn’t land any devastating hits. The Weir, however, will definitely need repairs. The stealth system has been completely fried, and seven decks are exposed to space.”

“And the Earth ships?”

At this, Rodney slumps a bit. “The Sun Tzu will require a massive overhaul. Or maybe melted for slag and remade. I don’t know yet. It’s still out there, we’ll tow it in when we’re settled. The Apollo is out for the count, half the systems are dead and the other half barely function. The Daedalus lost three shield emitters and its weapons systems.”

Landry nods, then looks to John. “Casualties?”

Letting his emotions fall behind a blank stare, John dutifully reports, “Fifty-eight from the Sun Tzu are dead, another thirty-three wounded. Apollo and Daedalus rescued as many survivors as they could. The Weir crew was only in engineering and the main bridge, which are exceptionally protected. Minor injuries. About sixteen burns between the Furling controls overloading.”

It could be a lot worse. A whole lot worse. He doesn’t even want to think what would’ve happened if they hadn’t found Lemuria.

“Any signs of survivors from the Ori?”

“Not yet, sir. But once Lemuria lands we’ll be making another sweep to confirm.”

“Good. Any other word from SG-1?”

Chuck shakes his head, but it’s Rodney who answers. “No. The Jumper’s been silent since the announcement came. No sign of the Odyssey or additional Ori warships.”

“Let’s pray the latter stays that way. How about the weapon? Can we confirm it was deployed successfully?”

At this, projection screen with Zelenka appears, hair crazier than normal, but otherwise looking exceptionally calm. “Orlin said it would work, I assume it works. Unless we have an ascended sensor somewhere and I was neglectfully uninformed.”

“Not yet. Give me a week,” Rodney mutters.

“Yes, of course.” There’s actually little sarcasm in the tone, though some challenge does bleed through. “Device is still active. I believe any Ori or Ancient will die if they enter the galaxy.”

Landry nods. “All right. We’ll leave it active until SG-1 returns. Dr. McKay, please continue scanning for Ori incursion. Considering the strength of the Furling ships, they’ll be our first line of defense.”

“Assuming I can get the Weir active again.” He types his fingers on the table as if there were a laptop. He frowns momentarily, confused. Looking closely, he can see Rodney’s as exhausted as John feels, probably more so since getting the Ronon and Teyla operational ate into his rest time.

“Sir, I’d recommend at least four hours down-time for anyone who was engaged in the battle, or helped prep for it.”

Rodney opens his mouth to object, but Landry cuts him off with an, “Agreed. Four hours. We’ll check in in five, unless there’s any additional Ori sighting. Landry out.”

The connection’s cut. Zelenka doesn’t bother saying goodbye, just waving at them absently as his feed vanishes.

It leaves the rest of them in the briefing room. John exchanges a brief nod with Lorne and Stackhouse, and then he prods Rodney with his foot. “Come on, time for all astrophysicists and saviors of humanity to get some rest.”

A scowl is aimed at him. “In case you’ve forgotten, Colonel, I still need to get repair inventories, determine just how much strain Lemuria suffered by using its weapons, not to mention-“

“After.” He kicks Rodney’s ankle gently. “You need to sleep.”

“What I need is for Colonels-“

“McKay,” he uses his quiet command tone, “four hours minimum. If I have to drug you and drag you to quarters, I will.”

Rodney’s mouth clicks closed, and then he harrumphs and pulls himself out of his chair. “Fine. Four hours. Not a minute more,” he points a finger at John’s face.

John offers him his most trustworthy grin. “Scout’s honor.” The ‘bullshit’ is plain to read in the glare Rodney gives him. John makes sure to take an extra minute to stretch as he gets up, before heading for the door, Rodney at his side. “So, where do you think SG-1 is?”

“Probably chasing down Daniel’s theory on the Ark. Or maybe fighting Adria. Even ascended I bet she didn’t die, crazy power-hungry prophet wannabe.” There’s a thoughtful look. “Maybe they’ll find a cure for Orlin.”

“That really bugs you, doesn’t it.”

“It’s bad enough the Ancients,” it’s said with a sneer, “left us to not only fight, but win their war. They won’t even let the man—boy—whatever, keep what sanity he has left. If there’s any sort of cure, we’ll find it.”

“Maybe,” John hedges. “You think you can get him back to Atlantis?”

“I’d like to,” he sighs, “but probably not. If he’s stuck on Earth, maybe I’ll…you know, visit. To have all that knowledge, and then have it taken away bit by bit, to lose your mind…”

Glancing around and seeing the coast is clear, John puts his arm around Rodney as they reach the transporter and he presses the destination to Rodney’s quarters. “Maybe I can teach him football.”

Rodney reads between the lines and offers him a crooked grin. It isn’t until they’re at the room door that he nudges John with his elbow. “So, savior of the human race?”

“Thought I’d play to your ego.”

“Thoughtful, but not necessary.”

“Yeah, but completely true.” Twice in a month, he can’t help but think as he presses his hand against the metal surface to the left of the door. The silver non-Euclidian lattice retracts from the wall and he can feel the static from the field vanish. To get into quarters in Lemuria, one has to actually walk through a holographic wall that doubles as a shield. It’s pretty cool, John thinks, once you get used to walking through what looks like stone.

The inside of Rodney’s quarters are much as they were on Atlantis, including a large bathroom and tub, a special extra wide mattress, and degrees and diplomas hanging on the walls. There’s also a picture of Euler, and Jeannie and family, and some from their time on Atlantis. Only someone really sharp would notice that the images of John actually outnumber all the others, cleverly hidden in plain sight.

John actually likes it. There’s no balcony, but it feels almost like the home he lost. Spinning around, he sits on the edge of the bed and unlaces his boots.

Rodney sits beside him. “Four hours,” he accuses.

“Yes dear.” John makes a point of setting his watch.

Rodney smacks his arm before lying down. “Ass.”

John grins and rolls over to lay beside him, reaching to the wall to glide his hand over the strange square bit of lattice that controls the light. In the dark, he wiggles closer to Rodney. Quietly, he says, “We won.”

“Yeah,” Rodney says back.

There’s a moment of silence.

“Rodney?”

“Hrm?”

“Do you still miss it?” They both know what it is, never need to actually say the name.

“Of course,” he mumbles. “Don’t you?”

John shuts his eyes. “Yeah.”

Neither of them calls the other out on lie.