Elizabeth goes to the ocean and it smells wrong: seaweed and brackish tide-water, trash and rot and shallowness. She thinks about buying a boat, but that would mean she’d agreed to staying, and even if she goes out so far that land doesn’t so much as smudge the horizon it won’t be the same.
She starts writing, trying to build something out of her memories solid enough for her to inhabit.
When we walked through the Stargate to Atlantis the city was dark and cavernous around us. It wasn’t until we took our first steps away from where we huddled on the floor that the city started powering up. Lights came on and doors swung open as we walked toward them, and the spaces that had been huge and unknowable became merely spacious.
It was as if Atlantis herself was welcoming us.
Her first day back she walked into a door.
She buys touch-activated lamps, a white noise generator, one of those clap-on-clap-off devices she sees advertised on late-night TV. She leaves all the doors inside her apartment open and spends her nights listening to static.
Atlantis had a heartbeat, something low and slow and inorganic. It was the murmur of the air-filtration systems, the climate control, any one of a hundred other things Rodney and Radek hadn’t figured out and now never would. Beneath them, always, was the sound of the ocean, never quite so soft she couldn’t hear it—it was like the walls picked it up and held it, like a seashell—and it all blended into something that seemed alive.
Her city, her beautiful city… Her gene was too weak to sense Atlantis as a concrete presence, the way she rather thought John had—for her it was just a flicker, dim and lovely as the stars—but she feels its absence as a dull ache, as grief.
Sometimes she has dreams that this is another Replicator trick, that if she wills it hard enough she’ll wake up in Atlantis again, and she wakes up and can’t get away from Earth and knows she’s trapped, they’re going to take her this time because she’s not fighting hard enough, and she pulls her blankets over her head and bites down on them so she can’t scream.
Rodney calls her three times in the first week. John doesn’t contact her, and she wonders whether he feels the same way she does—whether the missions he’s doubtless going on are any substitute at all. Carson calls.
She doesn’t respond but she doesn’t delete the messages either. The glowing red number gets bigger every week she’s there.
Radek sends her an e-mail informing her he got a teaching position in the Czech Republic and asking how she is. She replies as fast as she can type, Congratulations and good luck.; doesn’t sign it; hits Send before the loss overwhelms her. He doesn’t write again, and neither does anyone else.
It’s too much work to be professional around the people she used to lead, to be smooth and smiling and in control, to keep her voice even and cheerful.
We all tumbled to the floor as the city tore loose from the seabed, as my other self had ensured it would. We were afraid: none of us knew what was happening. I think I thought that the city was rocking because of the shield failure, that we were all about to die.
But it got brighter instead of darker. Windows began to glow, dark blue and then teal and finally pale green, and then we burst through the surface of the ocean with water streaming down around us. The light was white and gold, filtering through stained-glass windows like none I’ve ever seen.
There were ripples all around us, white-capped waves running off to the horizon. When I went out onto one of the balconies I could smell the ocean, alien and filled with promise.
She goes from church to church, wandering beneath the stained-glass windows. It’s too quiet, too dim and rough between carved-stone walls, and the aftertaste of incense is bitter in her mouth.
She looks at saints and angels, strange stylized landscapes—at colors like jewels: garnet and sapphire and emerald, citrine, deep amethyst.
In her mind there are windows blazing white-gold with sunlight, spare and stark. There are long slim panes and tilted short ones, and the colors are warm but bright, airy, unimpeded.
She turns away from the florid windows and goes back to her apartment. She thinks of silver-blue towers and the soft cool tones of metal as the asphalt and concrete of the road stretch grubbily out in front of her.
“Hello, you’ve reached Elizabeth Weir. I’m afraid I can’t take your call right now, but leave a message after the tone and I’ll get back to you as soon as I’m available.”
“—a lie—oh! Elizabeth? It’s Rodney. Again. Listen, I’m flying out the day after tomorrow, and I was thinking that you might want to—to actually spend some time with someone who isn’t a complete idiot.”
She bathes and washes her hair and puts on a new dress for the dinner Carson is making her go to. She converses. Rodney and Carson banter, helped on by John, and she joins in whenever something easy comes to mind because they seem to expect it of her.
It’s too noisy and crowded and dim, though; she feels the strain building as tension in her neck, her shoulders, the small of her back. She’s making her escape when John’s phone rings, and then Rodney’s and hers, and as she stares at the display she feels almost like she did when she picked up the brief on the Stargate program, like something’s about to happen, like everything’s about to change.
She takes what seems like the first real breath she’s taken since she stepped back onto Earth and says, “Hello?”