You learned about the basics of genetics along with the rest of your freshman biology class, so when you get pulled into a briefing at the SGC because of some new type of gene they’ve discovered, it doesn’t surprise you half as much as it might. Hell, if rows of chemicals and connections tangled together in your blood can give your cousin Harry cystic fibrosis, then why not another bunch that can give you the power to control an entire city?
(An entire room of students bent over notebooks, trying explain how likely it is that a blond-haired blue-eyed woman has a child with the same.)
You’ve heard about the new outpost in Atlantis, even on a secret base that requires more security clearance than God, people still talk. So when General Landry welcomes you into his office to sit down, you’re not too surprised that the next words out of his mouth are, “ever heard of Atlantis, Major Lorne?”
Of course, just because you’ve heard all about the cut-off but now thriving settlement, you’re not a complete idiot, so you show polite interest and the proper amount of awe and excitement as he explains that they’re sending a new shipment of men and supplies to Atlantis, because the group that they’d thought lost for good finally had the power to light the gate back up.
You mumble something about being pleased that you were recommended, and Landry almost smiles.
“Well, you’ve shown an ability to get the job done without being overcome by details,” and you are sure he’s talking about the time you were unimpressed by Dr. Jackson’s rant about moving the mining tools on P3X-403, and how it all paled in comparison to the weight of carrying Lieutenant Ritter’s body bag back through the gate.
“Also, you have a certain skill that will be useful there,” and you know they’re talking about the fact that it turns out you have the ATA gene, a glittering anomaly on your curled DNA.
So there are forms to sign (in the military, there are always forms to sign) and the standard of speech of how much you're not supposed to tell anyone about this. But you’ve been in the SGC for awhile now, and the Air Force before that, and you know that your family is familiar with the rhythms of this version of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, so you promise your mother you’ll write when you can and stick a picture of your sister and her kids (dark haired but with their father’s blue eyes) in with your gear.
You find out right away that the gene doesn’t work the same for everyone. Some of the scientists can only open certain doors (which makes for some amusing calls over the radio at bizarre times of the night), while your commanding officer can fly the entire city. Every time he’s called to do it (because, no matter the galaxy, Stargate missions always go to hell once every two of three weeks) your fingers itch and you feel your hands clench in some kind of bizarre jealousy. But at least you have the gene; the crowd of ATA carriers isn't that big, even with the added people who got the gene therapy that Dr. Beckett cooked up.
More Marines don't have it than do, which builds this weird kind of tension between civilians and military that makes the jokes meaner, the divide stronger. You’ve seen Dr. McKay play into it, and even Lt. Col. Sheppard doesn’t do much to help.
(Your father’s voice in your head reminds you that an officer should help foster strong relationships under his command, and create unity. You’re pretty sure Dad wouldn’t be able to handle Atlantis.)
Still, you have this old and highly stereotyped idea that the military gets the job done and the civilians merely help out in the background (a concept that people like Teyla and Ronon are forcing you to rework by the hour) so you’re surprised when you head to the jumper bay and it’s one of McKay’s minions (you really shouldn’t think of them that way, but you’ve seen the way they are around him, and man, it sure fits), a small Asian woman who doesn’t look like she’d have the strength of hold a gun, let alone use it.
But when she opens the door to the jumper and gestures you in, you feel it, the hyper awareness of the power within the city even sharper than usual, a sense that here is something that has been waiting for you, an energy that can be channeled like this, forced like so.
Some of this must have shown on your face, because Miko smiles happily, a prickle of something that must be her own gene powering the ship’s systems, informing the city of their desire to fly.
“Maybe you would like to do the ascent,” she tells you, and yes, yes, you could do nothing but this for the rest of your life.
After your 'jumper lesson, it’s like you’d never really seen Atlantis before. The rift between gene and not seems sharper, like those without can sense that there is a connection that they are missing, a link to something greater that their body cries out for without knowing its true name.
What’s more, now that you’ve recognized where the power of Atlantis stops and a person begins, you can almost feel those around you, each subtly different. Sheppard’s is the most distinctive, something in it that commands attention and notice, while Dr. McKay’s prickly, an edge to it that might be because it’s synthetic or simply because you’re projecting too much of his personality into it. It’s not foolproof (especially with those whose gene isn’t that strong) but sometimes you can tell where they are in the city, almost as if Atlantis were some giant GPS and each gene carrier the signal.
(Sheppard’s team has disappeared again, which would seem routine except you’re pretty sure you can’t feel any of them anymore, not John’s brash blaze of power nor McKay’s prickly crackle. You find yourself straining to feel it, an ache that takes you to the infirmary, where Beckette gives you painkillers even when you can’t adequately explain where it hurts. “We’ll find them, lad,” he promises, and you can feel the warm flicker of his gene’s place in the flow of Atlantis that is almost a promise.)
You have your own team on Atlantis, a promotion of sorts that you can mention in cagey and vague phrases when you send a letter to your mother on a data burst back to Earth. Other details can fit in there too, but usually you can’t think of a nice way to say that Ford is now somewhere between a Wraith and a man and his replacement is someone who was hunted like an animal, or to explain a recent lack of writing is due to a long, involved capture by the Genii when they found out that they wanted some ATA gene carriers of their own.
But there are dangers that not even the gene (or lacking it) can help, so there are more body bags and carefully worded obituaries to send back to Earth. It makes the rhythm of Atlantis falter, slightly, every time, and you know you don’t imagine the way that all of Atlantis is starting to pull together, bit by bit, with little gestures (saving a seat at the mess, remembering who can’t stand mentions that you’ve seen a Wraith, almost been killed by one) and all the stupid in-jokes and gossip that makes a random group of people into something closer to a family. You remember that you’d heard the first group to Atlantis was sent because they were misfits, loners without close ties. It makes you laugh.
The emptiness when you are all forced to return back to Earth (though you are sure that the reanimated Ancients would like to say they asked, politely) is almost too much, and you can hear others crying in their quarters on the trip, an answering wetness in your own eyes, because this was more than a mission, now it’s more than a recall. It’s being alone, utterly alone, again. So, even with all your military training, you can’t lie to yourself and say that you’re not anything but relieved when Sheppard and his team buck regulations and head back, reclaiming the city (your city, all of your’s city) again.
(There’s a new picture of your nephews to put with your gear, the same old meal with your mother, Dad’s off a business trip and your mother frets, wishes you could have given some advance notice. You can’t really tell her that you and Dad haven’t gotten along in years, but simply smile. “I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t show up without notice,” you say, which makes her laugh.)
While you remember telling McKay a while back that it was a miracle Colonel Sheppard hadn’t killed him (which then prompted Rodney to tell you all about the Ancient device that created a force field, one tested by Sheppard shooting McKay in the leg), the divide between military and civilian seems stupid now, unimportant, and you’re glad when you see one of the botanists gossiping about some stupid new film brought over on the Daedulus with three Marines and a nurse, or when you half-heartedly try to break up a game of touch football (new arrivals vs. old, Chuck in the corner taking bets to be paid off in PS3s and guard duty shifts) in a large storage closet on the west pier. Your mother sends a care package of a sketch pad and pencils, and you almost delight in the irony of it, that you can shoot people and paint about it, and if you were one of the people who thought of Atlantis as having a personality, you’d feel like she’d enjoy the joke of it too.
You never finish the painting of Atlantis you were working on that Sunday when Carson asked you to fish (you dream that you'd said yes and none of that painful Sunday had hapened) but you hang it in your quarters, some of the angles still just sketched in pencil and a huge patch of the ocean missing its highlights. The artist in your complains, loudly, but the rest of you (your solder gene?) is proud of it.
All catastrophes aside, Atlantis finally makes sense, as much as anything does, and you’ve almost gotten used to the way your skin tickles a bit as you walk down the halls, or how even when you close your eyes you can feel others, soft hums inside you, the way it might have felt back before you can remember, when your DNA was coiling, twisting itself into something that could make the world glow green.