There was a simple routine in Atlantis – if everything was going well, then something was going to go horribly wrong, and usually when it was least expected. This was a fact of life that the expedition had long ago learned to accept. So when the Stargate splashed to life early one afternoon after his meeting with Colonel Carter, John figured their mini vacation was over.
“It’s the SOS, sir,” Chuck told him just as Kavanagh’s pale and bloody face appeared on their monitors.
The SOS was an IDC that had been left off the records they sent back to Earth when they’d regained contact. Some little voice had whispered to them about the lessons they had learned in Pegasus – lessons learned in blood and grief. Trust what you know, trust what you can see and touch, trust what you can prove, trust only what it yours. And after a year on their own, after the siege and the SGC’s attempt to gain control, Earth was no longer theirs.
“Lower the shield,” John ordered, reaching for the gun in his thigh holster and moving to the balcony overlooking the gate room. That IDC, when used, was a plea for sanctuary, safety, and home. For those in the city when it was used, that IDC was a call to arms – every able bodied person within shouting distance was armed and prepared to fight, to maim, to kill in defence of what was theirs.
Carter frowned as Chuck lowered the shield and un-holstered his gun, laying the weapon next to his terminal. “What’s going on, Doctor?” she asked. John looked back over his shoulder to see her frowning at the monitor and at Chuck’s gun.
Kavanagh’s voice echoed as he gave a rather cryptic report. “The land of the wicked shall burn for a hundred years, purging the world of the sinful and depraved, freeing it from the slavery of godlessness. And the fires will chase those wicked who flee that purifying touch, consuming the souls that turn away from the teachings of Origin, leaving them to torment eternal at the bottom of a watery grave.”
There was a pregnant pause where John’s mind chanted wasting time, wasting time, wasting time just as Rodney had once chanted wasting power, wasting power, wasting power. Everyone was waiting to see what would happen. The men in the gate room had P-90’s pointed at the Stargate, there were scientists and military personnel in the control room with weapons drawn, more people were coming in from the halls, armed for war. John turned his attention back to the gate, raising his gun, and like a ripple effect everyone began to brace themselves to fight.
“Raise the shield, Lieutenant,” Carter commanded in a hushed voice.
John’s head snapped back around to stare at her. Her face was just as ashen as Kavanagh’s was on the screen, and she had a white knuckled grip on the back of Chuck’s chair.
Kavanagh must have heard her over the radio because shouted over the connection, “Colonel, please!” Desperation tinged his voice, and John knew he wasn’t pleading with Carter. Everyone knew he wasn’t begging Carter to reconsider or even for mercy. He wasn’t even begging. Kavanagh was calling in the offerings and sacrifices he had made during his time in Atlantis. He was calling in the one debt John would never refuse to pay.
Chuck’s hand hovered over the keys that would raise the shield. The control tech turned a blank gaze up to John. An empty look that asked will you pay?
It was that moment that Carter seemed to realize that she was not in control of the situation. When the shield didn’t go back up over the Stargate, when Kavanagh didn’t plead or explain further, when everyone was looking at John with that same empty expression, that same question of will you pay?
“Raise the shield, Lieutenant,” Carter demanded, her voice gaining its usual strength. “That’s an order,” she added when Chuck didn’t move.
And between one heartbeat and the next John answered those questioning gazes. He turned an equally blank expression to Carter, the same one reflected in the eyes of everyone in the control room. Asking the same question or her – will you pay?
She couldn’t answer. She didn’t even know the question.
“You’re clear, Kav,” Chuck said into the thickening silence. He made a quick series of commands into the terminal when Carter jerked behind him, preventing her from overriding the shield controls. “Come on home.”